Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

Last Act of a Traitor

Twilight stood in the heavy doorway of the dark hospital room, knocking on the heavy metal door. “Hello? What’s taking so long?”

“Sorry about the wait. I just finished. He’s ready to see you. Page me when you’re ready to leave.” The nurse bowed, exiting the room and closing the door behind Twilight.

Twilight approached the bed, glaring at the disgraced pony in the iron lung. A raspy noise permeated the room each time he strained to take in a breath and an IV slowly dripped fluids and healing medicines into his body. Small head movements from the traitor indicated that she should come closer, and she slowly did. A few final steps brought her into the light of Luna’s moon, which also illuminated Towers’ face.

“How are you faring, young alicorn?”

Twilight turned her head away from the little puddle of drool forming on his pillow. “My initial training is complete if that’s what you’re asking. Yet I doubt you asked me here to make small talk. But, that leads me to my first question. I was told you didn’t spill about my ascension to anypony else. Why?”

“Because I didn’t believe it until you told me.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide. “What!?”

“Was a hunch. Putting together pieces. Here and there. Thought it possible, but… I was about to order… my most loyal soldiers to turn traitor. Couldn’t break… their trust, make them think I’m mad… I needed confirmation… before I said anything to them… Or especially anything to my benefactors…” He breathed in again. The sound was already grating on Twilight’s nerves. “They were already… Questioning my competence… They were right. You surprised them, probably. By surviving.”

“‘Them?’ Who, exactly?”

“Who indeed… Ponies ‘in charge’ of me… middle ponies? Maybe fall ponies, now. Can’t say for sure…”

“Who!?” Twilight glared at him, stomping a hoof.

“Very smart ponies. Used memory wipe spells. Can’t remember names, faces.” Another breath. “Thought their plans good for Equestria. Still do. But, are those their true intentions? I don’t know now.”

Twilight facehooved. Memory-altering spells! Damnit, that’s why nopony knows who they are. You meet them, but you never remember anything! “You mention ‘plans,’ but you sound uncertain now. Do you think they told you what you wanted to hear?”

He nodded with another raspy inhalation. “I think, attack was never meant to work. They wanted you dead, Celestia off balance. I was expendable.”

“Yeah, well, I’m still here.”

“I know.” His facial muscles moved with slow twitches for several seconds before giving up. “Smiling has become difficult for me.”

Twilight’s nose flared. “Somehow, I’m not terribly sympathetic. You killed ponies I know.”

“Indeed. Indeed I did. I regret that, now.”

Twilight growled and stomped a hoof on the floor, cracking the tile underneath. “It’s a little late for apologies! I don’t know what Celestia sentenced you to, but I’m not about to try to change her mind.”

“Would mean nothing. Wish to atone for my deeds. However little I can.”

She slammed her forehooves on the bed. “And you thought I would be a sympathetic ear? You. Tried. To. Kill. Me.”

“Not sympathy. Needed to give you a warning: do not trust the Inner Council.”

“And I should trust you instead?”

“Council has been… pulling power away from Celestia. If she resists, they steal more. If she relents, they take more anyway.” He coughed and gasped, spitting out mucus. “Been like this for decades. At least one councilp-p-pony… with the coup.”

A slight shiver ran down her spine, and her mouth went dry. “Who?” Even if I don’t believe him, he might reveal something worthwhile.

“If I knew… I would tell you.” He shifted around, breathing faster. “All I know… at least one. So can’t trust any.” He hacked and coughed. “Celestia does trust some… her undoing.”

“I’ve known Celestia since I got my cutie mark. She’s a good judge of character.”

He coughed violently, and the machine made a grinding sound. “No. No, she isn’t. These ponies… know her too well. Inside source… If right… She is involved with one…”

“Involved with? What do you—!” She spun around to look right in the old stallion’s eyes. “Celestia would neve—!” Brief images of Celestia having sex flashed in her mind but were quickly replaced with her words earlier. Whether that was a mercy or not, she didn’t know. “If she does, that’s her business, not mine. She’s not stupid. She’d never compromise her secrets like that. Plus, I trust her. That’s what counts most.”

“Foolish girl. She is in… over her head. Celestia alone cannot win. Luna isn’t enough either, though she does stall them.” He gasped and coughed, cringing. “She… Luna cheats. She lies, spies, and sabotages. Your enemies get frustrated. She uses their tactics… Not the rules they have with Celestia. But Celestia holds her sister back. She has to.” He coughed and twitched more, straining to breathe outside the rhythm of the machine. “Unrestrained, her deviousness would ruin… what little trust is left… between the diarchy… and the ponies. Neither are able to win. It has to be you.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “And what do you think I should do?”

“Restore the ponies’ trust in Celestia… Drive a wedge in the Council.” Towers spasmed a little, coughing up more mucus. “Drive it… between the right ponies. Some of them… on your side. Just, disagree on policy. But some of them… behind this. Or helping it. You must divide the latter. Make them fight… each other. Split them wrong way, you hurt yourself.” He took in a deep breath against the iron lung. “You’ll never win if they stay together.”

Another wave of spasms went through his body, shaking the bed and the machine.

Something’s wrong. “Are you alright? I shouldn’t be straining you like this. Calm down and breathe.” She lifted the chart and looked at it before realizing that although she understood the vast majority of the information it held, she didn’t have the medical training needed to do anything about it in context.

After a few more coughs, Towers responded. “No… Breathing not a worry for me anymore… Nurse put… angel extract… poison… in my IV.”

The chart clattered on the tile.

“Shocked… it took them this long… to kill me. I’m glad we… we could talk.”

“I’ll call a doctor. That poison has an antidote! They have to have some!” She started to the door.

“Not when… it’s intravenous. No antidote, then.”

His words stopped her in her tracks. “I… I can try a healing spell!”

He shook and spasmed, coughing up blood. “Angel extract cannot be--” He turned his head, hacking mucus and blood onto the floor. “Cannot be healed away. Poison… works too quickly. It’s too late now.” Another spasm tore through his body, straining his body against his restraints.

She grabbed him with magic to try and still his movements, even going so far as to add her hooves to the mix. “What do I do?” She shivered.

A few more coughs and the wave settled down, leaving the stallion sagging. “Training… can’t prepare you… for everything… girl… If you… have kindness… left… morphine… in table… use it…”

She rushed to the table next to the bed and rummaged through various medical supplies before finding a bottle labelled ‘morphine’ and some empty syringes, picking one of the latter up. “How much do I use?”

“Dying… as much as… you like…”

She dropped the syringe and picked up a much larger one from the drawer then froze. Am I really going to… She looked back to Towers, wincing at the dark trail of blood oozing from his nose. Her ears went flat against her head, and she picked up the morphine.

Twilight’s telekinetic field shook and flickered, shaking the bottle. Sucking on her upper lip, she lined up the needle and slipped it into the bottle. She pulled back on the stopper, the clear liquid slowly filling the syringe. She took a deep breath and unscrewed the needle. When the syringe’s open tip met the catheter in the IV, her heart started pounding like a series of bombs going off.  Her legs shook she buckled to the floor, tears welling up in her eyes. Brushing them out with a forehoof, she connected the syringe to the drip.

Towers shook and convulsed again, coughing and throwing up off to the other side. “Hurry, girl! I can’t… I—”

Her teeth were ready to crumble from her tightly clenched jaw and her forelegs pushed her back up then locked tight. Closing her eyes with the force of a vice, tears fell all the way down her chin as the plunger began to push forward. Twenty-five percent. Dose equivalent, seven hundred fifty milligrams.

Twilight peeked with one eye to make sure she still had hold of the needle and ground her teeth even more as she pushed the plunger in more. Sixty percent. One-point-eight grams. That could be a lethal dose… I… How do I…?

The iron lung began to clatter and grind again as Towers shook and jolted.

Twilight pushed the plunger almost all the way down in one swift motion, trying to swallow, but her throat was completely dry. Two-point-seven grams.

Tower finally began to calm down, his muscles slowing along with his lungs. A puddle of mucus, pus, blood, and vomit lay on the floor next to the bed. She looked at the last ten percent of the drug in the syringe and pushed it in with a slight exhale.

“Thank you… kind girl… merciful ascendant… Don’t lose that spark…” He began to sing ever so softly, a whisper. “Angels from above… sweep thee to rest… Sing the judgement… of the highest…”

“W-what are you singing? Towers?” She pressed her hoof against him, shaking him gently. No… I couldn’t…

She sat there, crying and watching the moon move across the window for some time, water streaming down her face. “I… I…” Every word she tried died in her mouth. Time ticked on in silence. Every breath was a reminder that the pony before her wasn’t breathing, nor moving. Her eyes, still filled with tears, blinked, and she saw him with her magic sight.

His wellspring was gone.
She ran out the door at a full gallop.

Wind tore at Twilight’s eyes, but not from the weather. It was just the air moving past her as she rocketed through the castle on nothing but her four hooves, her limbs propelling her fast enough to streak the tears from her eyes and fling them behind her. A small trail of salt water marked her path through the halls.

She had been heading back to Celestia’s chambers, her path being followed on habit and instinct. She didn’t need to get that far. A white blob topped with wavy pastel colors passed into her water-obscured vision, and she changed direction to run right at it. When she stopped, she didn’t slow. She just put all of her hooves on the ground and sat down, sliding right into the mass of luxurious white hair.

“Twilight?” Celestia asked. “Twilight, what’s wrong?”

Twilight panted, in and out, over and over while she fought back the tears, but it was like trying to fight the tide.

“Something’s not right. I wouldn’t have expected Towers to be able to break her.” She couldn’t see her clearly, but Luna sounded like her ‘public’ self again.

“Twilight, please. Steel yourself. What happened?” Celestia’s wings draped over her.

“Princess… Princess, I had no choice…” She sniffled. “I killed him!”

What!?” The Princesses asked in unison.

“He was poisoned! I had to!” She cringed and yelled at once, her face drenched in tears. “He was convulsing and there was blood everywhere and… and… I used the morphine…”

Celestia stomped her hoof. “Luna, investigate this. You have the Day Guard’s authority on this matter.”

Luna gave a small bow. “Of course, Sister.” Her mane whipped into a frenzy, and just like that, she was gone.

A gold-clad hoof embraced her as a teleportation spell swallowed them both. “Come, Twilight. It will be okay. Tell me everything.”

“And then he stopped moving, and I ran. I ran like a coward.” Twilight finished her story for the tenth time. A pile of tissues surrounded them, along with more buckets of sherbet and a half-eaten cake.

Celestia’s ethereal mane shifted direction, wafting over Twilight along with her giant wing. “Taking a life is never an easy thing. It never feels ‘good.’ It should never feel good. I know Luna tried to prepare you, but that’s not something anyone is ever truly ready for.”

Twilight nodded. “I think that’s why she used the illusion spell on the golems. Made them look like ‘real’ ponies. But this…”

“Is different, I know. Although Towers was once an enemy combatant, here he was utterly helpless. It would be more surprising, and troubling, if you didn’t experience such turmoil. Given his state, it’s natural for your instinct to want to be his protector even though you might have also hated him for what he did.”

Twilight put her hooves on top of her head. “Sometimes it’s amazing how well you understand…” Warm, white feathers stroked along her back.

 “It’s something else when you have to take the life of a pony that is threatening you or loved ones. The same alicorn instinct that compels us to protect our ponies provides a type of psychological cover for times when our ponies are in trouble. The thing you must be careful of is not being unable to fight for your ponies sake but rather falling down a slippery slope of justifications to kill when you need not. I will help you with that. Luna will, too. We, sadly, have experience that will help you.”

“Ugh…” Twilight flopped her head down on the pillow. “I did not want to hear that. Me? A Nightmare? I couldn’t stop myself with Towers. I even wound up killing him even if it was a ‘mercy’ as you say. How am I supposed to calm myself after all of this?”

“Hmm…” Celestia scratched her chin with a primary feather.

“I mean, what if I kill somepony in a fight, and then I freeze up?”

Celestia nodded. “Well, normally adrenaline can help keep you—“

“And then there’s the fact that I thought of that first instead of worrying about the fact that I might have to kill in the first place. What if I start and I can’t stop myself? What if I become a monster?”

The wing hugged her again. “Oh, Twilight, I don’t think—“

“I know that some soldiers have difficulty differentiating between civilian life and the battlefield after traumatic experiences when they’re under stress. What if that happens to me? Or worse, you know how my head is. I can’t unlearn things, and they really like to stick with me. If I really do become proficient at fighting, what if that’s what I try to do all the time?”


Twilight buried her head in between her forelegs. “Luna’s always so aggressive. What if I become like her? I mean, she seems to be well restrained most of the time, but the way she talks? It’s like she doesn’t even care about who she’s hurting, even though I know that makes me sound silly when they’re trying to kill her as well. Why do ponies even do this?”


She groaned and ducked her head even farther down. “What if I lose all feeling when I fight and just go on a rampage and wind up hurting somepony innocent? What if I start to enjoy it? What if I wind up becoming a Nightmare?”


Twilight gasped. “What if I figure out a way to become immune from the Elements!? What if I’m an unstoppable monster that locks the world in a perpetual sunset!? What if I send you to the sun and Luna to the moon in a fit of illogical rage and maniacal laughter and enslave everypony for a thousand years!? What if I—“

A gold glow surrounded her muzzle, locking it open just in time for a large slice of vanilla cake to shove itself into her mouth.

Twilight looked up at her mentor, who was wearing a skeptically raised eyebrow and an ever so slight grin. Lowering her ears, she chewed on the cake and swallowed it, leaving an aftertaste of lemon and vanilla.

“Sorry… I was freaking out again, wasn’t I?” She curled her tail around to grab and stroke it with her forehooves. “Sorry…”

“As I said, it’s normal to be distraught, Twilight.” Celestia leaned down and gave her a slight nuzzle. “But yes, you were freaking out a little more than was, shall we say, logical.”

Twilight blinked. “So… you shoved some cake in my mouth?”

“Well, it always helps me.” Celestia winked. “Although that does usually lead to Luna teasing me a little over it. Truth be told, though, I think she’s just jealous. She couldn’t gain weight if she tried. But, that’s getting off topic. You want reassurance that you won’t become a monster.”

Twilight nodded and put her head back down, shivering.

The wing gripped her tight. “Twilight, you will not become a monster. You are a kind, wonderful pony, and the fact that you’re worried about it at all means just that. Trust me.”

“I do trust you.” Twilight sighed, leaning into her mentor. “I just wish I trusted myself more.”

Celestia looked off towards her closet. “It is in your nature to be worried about things, but I have confidence in you. Yet I gather you’re looking for something more than those words, and I may have something that can help. While the world and I recovered from the Lunar Rebellions, a Zebrican ambassador gave me a gift. Well, several gifts, but the most important one was this.” She lit her horn, and something ruffled in her closet before a small necklace floated over and landed in front of Twilight.

The necklace itself was mere string, but the jewel on it was anything but ordinary. A large, cylindrical emerald coiled over and over in a spiral, and a faint glow ran outward from its center.

“It looks like something Zecora would use to hypnotize somepony.” Twilight deadpanned. “Wait, something else…” She squinted, and the leylines within the object became visible.

“Oh ho, I see you’re beginning to see it now.” Celestia chuckled.

“It’s a core! A cored artifact! A small one, and the tiny bit of gold on it is the least amount of magically conductive material I’ve ever seen on something like this, but it’s definitely a core. What’s it used for?”

“Meditation,” Celestia said, giving her a small nuzzle. “It helps the mind focus. Normally such things are a mere placebo, but this, I can assure you, is authentic.”

Twilight sighed. “Then it’s useless for me. You know I can’t meditate. I’ve never been able to do that. I have to focus on something, even if it’s trivial. I’m just not capable of ‘emptying my mind.’”

“Give it—”

“Give it a try, I know, I know.” Twilight rolled her eyes. “It’s what you always say. And I always try, and I always fail.” She sighed. “But, here I go again anyway.”

Twilight put the gem down and stared at it. She stared at it like it was the only thing in the room, despite the wing over her back, the bed under her, and the slight wind from the balcony and all the other things distracting her. Naturally, this was a process that needed the utmost of focus. …And there’s no way this is going to work. “Sorry, Princess,” she said, lowering her ears.

Celestia leaned down to her. “Hold it in your magic, and try again.”

Twilight sighed. “Okay, here goes.” She did as she was told, lifting it up in front of her face with her magic. The little, glowing sparks in the gem sped up, swirling around. That’s an interesting reaction… She focused in on the gem, following its reaction as it swirled around, carefully monitoring each… little… change…

Twilight yawned, twitching her ears at the strange “whooshing” sound going through them, but elected to keep her eyes shut as she tried to find a more comfortable position on the… whatever it was she was lying on.

You’re not supposed to be here yet. I’m not ready for you.

Her eye popped open at the sound of the voice. It was a familiar one, but she couldn’t place it. This, however, radically dropped in priority to what she saw.

She was in the air or, perhaps more accurately, the sky. That is to say, she was very, very high up in the sky. She was also screaming and flailing her limbs about, flapping her legs like they were wings and getting nowhere. In particular, this last truth was slowly starting to creep into her mind. She was going nowhere, which meant that she was actually not falling to her high-velocity, splatter-filled doom.

Once she realized this, she blinked exactly three times and then stopped moving, followed by looking down. She was still very, very high up in the air and was most certainly not on anything soft, fluffy, and supportive like a cloud. The fact that she now thought of clouds as supportive didn’t enter her mind. Far more important was where she was and why she wasn’t falling.

With a little grunt, Twilight flipped herself over and stood up… on nothing. She was literally standing in midair. Far below her was a small patch of ground visible through a modest hole in the clouds. She could see the greenery in the sunlight, though the trees were mere specks.

The noise of the air was creeping back into the forefront of her mind now. She felt little wind on her face, but this place sounded like a hurricane, and she was in the eye. It wasn’t anything so simple as a thunderstorm or a hurricane. A torrent of wind swirled around her as if she was in the center of a tornado that reached all the way to the stars. The clouds had patches of white, dark blue, and everything in between, yet no black. She watched as it circled her, drifting to the very top of the funnel to make another realization.

There was no sun in the sky.

Sure, the ground below her was bathed in sunlight, and the clouds around her screamed ‘daytime,’ but the opening at the top of this place was all night. A black and dark purple heaven hung above her with little violet stars dotted through. Yet she could only see a maybe twenty degrees worth from the opening of the funnel.

“So…” she muttered to herself. “Just what happened? This isn’t meditation. It’s more like, hypnosis? No, that’s not quite right either.” Perhaps it’s more like a psychotic episode. 

The thoughts in her head yelled out into the air rather than stayed put, echoing across the entire skyscape.

Oooookay, guess nothing’s private here, her mind announced to the world.

The wind raged, but there wasn’t anything else happening. The ground below her didn’t appear to move, so she and the funnel were stationary.

A couple more moments passed with nothing but her suspended in midair surrounded by the wind.

“Well, this is boring. Hmm…” She pondered at her position. “The air is surprisingly soft. Is it influenced by the fact that I was on Celestia’s bed? Could I be in some kind of strange, reflective mental state? If that’s true, can I move around in here, maybe fffffffflllllllyyyyyyyyyiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeee!?”

She flailed her legs, dropping like a stone towards the ground. “Badideabadideabadideabadideaveryverybadidea!”

Revisualize the surface underneath you! the voice from before yelled.

Twilight was not in the habit of hearing, much less listening to strange, disembodied voices. This one odd instance, however, was extreme enough to break both of those rules.

“Pleaseohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease…” She quickly thought of the air itself as a cloud or bed or something, anything.

Her fall came to a sudden stop as a cloud materialized under her, miraculously cushioning her fall enough to avoid broken legs. Twilight decided to take this in the best way possible.

She hugged the cloud and started kissing it. “Yes! Mwuah! Yes! Oh, thank you, little cloud! Thank you for being illogically solid in the face of all physics! And thank you, pegasus magic! Thank you!”

You cannot be injured here except by yourself. Please don’t do that.

Twilight frowned a little. Hearing voices was very much not something she wanted to add to her list of abilities she kept in her diary. However, as long as it was being obviously helpful, she chose to ignore this inconvenient fact as she grumbled and sat up on her newfound surface.

“Okay, let’s stop dawdling. Why am I here again? Oh, right, Towers, meditation, that stuff.”

The sky around her grew darker.

“Ugh!” She grabbed her head with her hooves. “Stupid Towers. Stupid rebellion. Stupid everything. Why’d he have to go and get poisoned in front of me? Couldn’t he have waited a few moments!?” She gritted her teeth and slowly inhaled. Okay, now I’m just being unreasonable.

She sighed and flopped on her cloud. Tears fell from her eyes as the surroundings grew ever more somber. “What would it have taken to see what that nurse was doing… No, I can’t think like that. I can’t think I’m supposed to be perfect. Celestia’s already taught me that. And I can’t just be suspicious of everypony. That’s not what she taught me, either. It’s just…”

She sighed again and let the feelings flow. If there was anypony below her, they might’ve felt her tears as rain. Even the clouds around her looked like a storm now, and the day was fading. Her heart sat there with her, sobbing.

It will be okay…

“Thank you, strange voice.” Twilight chuckled. “I guess I do feel better… and… rested, I suppose. I can’t bring Towers back, but I can still try to figure out what’s really going on.”

Thunder rumbled in the background.

“And hopefully keep more from being hurt. Hopefully.”

Although she couldn’t see a sun, she could feel its warmth growing stronger, and the light overwhelmed her.

Twilight stretched out and yawned, pushing her hooves against Celestia’s bed.

Celestia’s bed! She snapped open her eyes and quickly looked around, and everything was as it had been when she tried ‘meditation.’ However, there was a critical difference. There were now a couple of tables filled with mostly eaten food, save for one large salad in front of her that hadn’t been touched.

“Aha, you’re awake! Well, technically you were never asleep, but I do find the gem’s meditation to be restful. How are you feeling?”

Twilight turned her head to see Celestia dining on some vanilla cake and smiling at her.

“I feel… better,” Twilight said, feeling the cues from her body. “A little sore, a little tired. But also rested and… calmer? What was that?” 

Celestia bit down on another piece of cake. “It is said that the jewel is a mirror for the mind’s eye. What each pony sees in it is unique, personal. I myself find it to be a wonderful stress-reliever. Keep it. You may just find it useful in the future.”

“I heard voices,” Twilight deadpanned. “Not what I would normally classify as ‘stress-relieving.’”

Celetia laughed, covering her mouth with a napkin. “Well, that must have been interesting. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, though. Again, each pony is unique. You should reflect on it on your own, however. I shouldn’t taint your interpretation with my own ideas. This is all up to you.”

Twilight sighed. “I was afraid of that. Well, I suppose I should get up and—” She glanced out the window, seeing the sun already almost completely under the horizon. “How long was I out?”

“Several hours, my student. Such is natural, and in each instance you use it, the timespan should decrease. I actually left and performed more duties in the Council, lowered the sun, and returned to find you still entranced. Then, I ordered us dinner. And, well, ate mine.”

Twilight glanced at the salad in front of her, and her stomach grumbled. “Okay, I guess I could eat.”

“Good plan.” Celestia winked. “Although I’m afraid I have to get back to the Empyreal Hall. They’re all panicking over what to do now that they can’t strip Shining, or Obsidian, of his crown anymore. They’ve tried every parliamentary trick in the book at this point, but the compact is absolute. I think they’re finally giving up and going on to new business. After that I have to visit the war room to discuss these memory wipe spells. That’s a possibility we hadn’t considered yet.”

“Ah.” She poked at her salad. “What about Luna?”

Celestia froze for a moment. “We… talked. It went better than I expected, but there are still raw feelings there. We came to an agreement that I would include her more in planning but that she should trust my judgement on them.”

“And what are your plans?” Twilight instantly regretted asking it. “Sorry, sorry! I know that’s not for—”

“No,” Celestia interrupted. “You may know if you like. I don’t have much time to go into details, but Luna made a very astute observation, even if she didn’t realize it at the time. Certain members of the Council have been attacking my strengths in the court of public opinion, and politics is different from a physical battle. In Luna’s fights, she looks for vulnerabilities. My political adversaries, however, have been diminishing my strengths so that ponies perceive only weaknesses. It’s an ingenious ploy, one I intend to use myself, now, along with a few other tricks. Most important is to again try to rebuild Luna’s reputation. Turn a weakness into a strength.”

“And you think my brother might help with that?” Twilight asked. “Since he’s a ‘politician’ you molded?”

“Correct.” Celestia redonned her shoes and decorative torc. “I still think this idea of inducting him into the Night Guard is a mistake, but I believe I have something I can work with now. I can only hope Luna trains him even more thoroughly than she did you.”

“Heh. Poor BBBFF. At least he’s in shape already.” Twilight took a deep breath and sighed.

“Is there something wrong, Twilight?” Celestia stretched her back. “You look like there’s something else on your mind.”

Twilight shook her head. “No, I’m fine. I—” Her ears went flat against her head. Fool. You know she can read you better than that. “Actually, there is one thing, but…”

Celestia’s smile was so warm it practically glowed. “You can ask me, Twilight. Anything you wish to know, remember?”

Twilight nodded. “I know. This just isn’t easy to ask. Princess, do you…” She shuddered, swallowing her words. “I mean, Towers, he… He said you were compromised.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Compromised? If he means we have leaks, I already know that. We’re still looking for them.”

“No, not that…” Twilight clenched her teeth. “I mean… He meant…” She swallowed again. Damnit, filly, spit it out! “He said you had sex with a council member!”

Twilight slapped her mouth shut with both hooves, holding him there and ducking down to prepare for Celestia’s seemingly inevitable, harsh reaction.

Instead, Celestia did something Twilight had never seen her do before. She blushed.

“Oh my.” Celestia blinked and lowered her own head. “It appears I was not as discreet as I thought.”

There was no flash, nor thunder, nor smell of ozone, but Twilight still flinched as though struck by lightning. “So it’s true…”

Celestia sighed and nodded. “There is indeed a pony on the Council I have… occasional relations with. But we have a strict rule to never talk about work. It’s little more than stress relief and endorphins for the both of us. I can assure you, I am not ‘compromised.’ If anything, I try my best to make his life, politically, a living hell for it just to ensure otherwise.”

Twilight clenched her eyes shut. “Tia…”

Celestia took a step forward. “Yes, Twilight?”

“That entire room voted against my brother. Whoever you’re seeing, they voted against him.” Twilight opened her eyes, staring directly into Celestia’s pupils. “I’m not going to forget that. Not now, not ever.”

Celestia’s wings dropped a little. “I understand. Truly, I do. If you find conclusive evidence of wrongdoing by any of them, I will impeach them myself, no matter who it is, and I won’t think less of you for it. I promise.”

Twilight stood up and strode over to her. “Are you sure? I don’t want this to come between us in the future. I know you’re the one giving me my missions, but I can’t help but feel Towers was right. Somepony in the Empyreal Hall is behind this. Or at least complicit in it. I am going to go after them.”

“Twilight…” Celestia sat down, bringing herself to Twilight’s level. “I promise you. If you find out that any of the Council is behind this, I won’t care who it is. I will bring the full weight of the crown’s justice upon them, and I won’t hold you back. I am up against a wall, and you are my secret weapon. When I find an opening, I will turn you loose on them such that they will all learn the fury of the alicorns first-hoof.”

Twilight’s gaze locked onto Celestia’s magenta eyes, looking for one all-important thing. No mask. She’s telling the truth. She reached up and gave her mentor a hug. “Thank you. I needed to hear that.”

Celestia’s wings unfurled and wrapped around Twilight as the hug was returned. “I am on your side, Twilight. Always. We can’t allow these ponies to divide us. We can only win working together.”

A lone tear rolled down Twilight face. Work together. Divide the conspirators. Towers was right about that, at least. “I know. I’m sorry, I just had to know. Thank you for being honest with me.”

The two broke the hug, sharing warm smiles.

“You should probably get going to the Council before they try to pass a law or something without you. If you’re leaving, though, I guess I’m eating alone,” Twilight said, contemplating her salad. 

“You may take it with you to your friends if you like.” She donned the last piece of regalia: her crown. “Speaking of, I have some good news I’ve been meaning to share! While you were in training, we began construction on a new fort in Ponyville, equipped with a royal residence just for you. It’s getting close to finished already.”

Twilight blinked. “A royal re— You mean I’m moving out of the library? Although, I suppose a Grand Mage living in a tree isn’t the most normal thing…”

Celestia nodded. “Your tree is also unsecured, unlike the fort. This way, you may live either here or there at the fort as you please when you aren’t out and about. My, or rather our, servants have already started moving your things. The fort itself was actually supposed to be started sooner, but General Blueblood raised a fuss over its design in light of the attack. I half expected him to quibble over the bits, but he actually wanted to expand it. The new design has a catastrophe bunker for the whole town populace now, and he plans to install anti-airship cannons.”

“Aaaahhh, in case another fake Bellerophon comes around, they can try to shoot it down before it even gets to Canterlot. I’m guessing he’s putting in similar forts in the other towns in the area so they can catch things at any angle.” Twilight smiled. “I think I may have misjudged him. He’s just so…”

“Serious? Yes, he is.” Celestia opened her chamber doors and stepped into the archway. “But his heart is in the right place. Anyway, relax for tonight, see your friends, tell them what happened. Shed more tears if you must, for you will need your strength for your coming mission. I’ll make sure the Council can’t pull anymore surprises today. Tomorrow, you and Obsidian can both go visit your parents, and we’ll go through the final ceremony to formally install you as Grand Mage.”

Twilight fell backwards onto the bed. “I do not want to do that. The parents thing, I mean.”

“We had a deal, Twilight. I talk with Luna, and you talk with your parents.” Celestia chuckled.

“I know, I know. I’ll do it. Doesn’t mean it’s not going to suck.”