Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

Through The Eye Of A Needle

A strange sound was resonating from Twilight’s doors. Granted, somepony was knocking on them, but that wasn’t the strange part. No, the strange part was the accompanying voice and what she was asking.

“Twilight? It’s Celestia. May I come in?”

Twilight lifted herself up and stood on her cloud bed. Celestia? Why is she…? Never mind, it’s Celestia… right? “Come in!”

Princess Celestia did indeed open the doors and step inside. “Hello, Twilight. How are you feeling?”

“As well as can be expected.” Twilight yawned, sweeping away the pile of tissues with her magic. “Though, I am wondering why you’re here instead of on tour. And, um, why did you knock? It’s your castle.”

Celestia then did something Twilight hadn’t ever seen or, at the very least, hadn’t ever noticed her do before. She tilted her head in confusion. “What do you mean, ‘why did I knock?’ Twilight, this is your room. I’m not about to just barge in, barring an absolute emergency, at least.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide, and she started fidgeting with her tail. “Oh. Right. Sorry. I’m still not used to the whole ‘royal chambers that are actually mine’ thing.”

Celestia chuckled. “Oh, Twilight! This is your home too! You needn’t worry so much.” She walked up to her, lay down, and wrapped a wing over Twilight’s back. “Although, I should remember who I’m talking to. Honestly, you’re just like your brother. It took him ages to realize that Cadence wasn’t going to dump him over the slightest offense.”

“That…” Twilight looked away over to her closet. “That sounds a lot like Shiny. And, well, me. I guess we have that in common. Still, I have to ask. What brought you back?”

“You did! Sister messaged me, saying you banished a dragon. Quite the adventure for your first outing. How are you holding up?”

Twilight swallowed. “I’m still having trouble with it. But doing better than I thought I would. I mean, I basically just killed that dragon. But he was hurting ponies, and if he escaped, there’s no telling what he would’ve done. Now I’m sitting here, debating with myself over what I should have done differently, but I’m not really getting anywhere. The worst part is that I’m more unnerved by how calm I am, rather than what I actually did. Although, I suppose I can’t call myself ‘calm’ if I am unnerved and really, really worried about what you’re going to say…”

Celestia shifted around on the cloud, pulling Twilight closer. “Luna filled me on on everything. She already said what I needed to. Protect yourself, Twilight. You are far more important than you give yourself credit for, okay?”

Twilight leaned into the nuzzle, letting her worry melt away. “Okay. I’ll try.”

“And, if it’s any consolation, I just received word back from the clan he claimed to belong to. The dragon was who he said he was. After some prodding, they were quite… well, let’s just say, ‘apologetic’ over the trouble and have agreed to compensate the survivors of the town. They may not need the mine for income anymore.”

Twilight felt herself melt into the cloud. “That, actually, makes me feel a lot better. I’m more sorry I couldn’t save more ponies than I am over the dragon himself. He was a monster. I suppose I’m mostly angry with myself for having been so desperate. When I think of how you or Luna would have handled it, I feel… weak.”

Celestia nodded. “I understand. It is true that, had I sent Luna, she would have killed him without hesitation, and likely in her first strike. A blue dragon simply regenerates too quickly to risk capture. Yet, even with your meager experience, you emerged victorious. That alone is a reason for celebration.

“In addition, this will send a clear message to other young dragons out there: do not harm our ponies.”

“But…” Twilight buried her head in a piece of the cloud. “I feel like Shining here. ‘Is it right?’ That’s what he might ask about this. Is it right that I took a life? More importantly, is it right that I don’t feel like I’ve done something wrong?”

Celestia scratched her chin with a primary feather. “Shining Armor was my Captain of the Royal Guard. Had he been in your place, I imagine he would have killed that dragon, or attempted to, without hesitation. While he’s certainly not at Luna’s level, he’s still more than capable of handling the typical dragon.”

Twilight shuddered. “Shiny’s that skilled? I could barely do anything against Bloodtide...”

“Your brother’s abilities notwithstanding, would it be ‘right’ to allow the dragon to escape and possibly eat or dominate more ponies? This is a deep moral gray area, Twilight, so there’s no ‘right’ answer. I recommend using the gem from earlier to meditate or seeing the castle psychiatrist. Or just talking it through with your friends. Any of those can do wonders.”

“Is that what you do?” Twilight leaned into her. “See a psychiatrist? It seems like something so small for problems this big.”

“Twilight…” She leaned down, showing a glimpse of the true pain behind her eyes. “I banished my sister to the moon for a thousand years. I can assure you, the psychiatrist is not here for the servants. He’s here because Luna and I have… issues. Ones that will take millennia and generations of psychiatrists to get through. But get through them we must, and we will use whatever techniques we can find that are safe and effective.”

Twilight groaned. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I suppose these problems I have are minor to you.”

Celestria stroked Twilight with a wing, letting the primaries dance over her back. “Not at all. The thing you must realize is that though alicorns face difficult problems, our solutions to the emotional havoc they may cause are no different from the solutions that ordinary ponies have, nor are they any less effective, provided you do not allow yourself to stray too far down the path of the Nightmare. And for that, we shall always be here for you.”

Twilight reached up and hugged Celestia around the neck, pulling her deep into an embrace. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

A long white foreleg wrapped around her to return the hug. “Anytime, Twilight.”

The two sat there like that for some time, the tension flowing away from Twilight like water down a river. She knew it could not last, but was still altogether surprised at how it ended when there came a frantic pounding at the door.

“Highness! Highness, come quick! Something is happening in the dungeon!”

They both broke the hug and, with a single look, shared the same important question. “What?”

“Highness, please!”

Twilight remembered, at that point, that these were her chambers and pulled open the door with her magic, letting an armored Day Guard in.

“Thank— Oh! Princess Celestia! You’re here too. Thank Celestia! Er—”

The Princess held up a hoof to calm him. “Out with it, Guardian Steel. What’s happening in the dungeon?”

He pulled off his helmet. “We aren’t exactly sure how, but the prisoners from the Siege of Canterlot are gone!”

Twilight’s jaw dropped. “Gone?! All of them?”

He swallowed and shook his head. “Well, no, just most of them. They used…” The stallion winced. “My apologies, but words won’t suffice for this. It would be best to see for yourself, Highness.”

Celestia stood and spread her wings. “Very well.”

Twilight was used to Celestia teleporting them places at this point and expected the warm glow that came and whisked her away. However, they stopped short of materializing in the dungeon itself. Instead, she found herself a few corridors away and rushing to keep up with the Princess as they ran.

“What do you think is happening?” Twilight asked between breaths.

“I’m not sure,” Celestia replied, skidding around a corner. “To lose so many prisoners at once? The only way is teleportation, but the wards there are iron-clad. I need to see this with my own eyes.”

One more turn and they were before what were probably the heaviest, sturdiest, and most enchanted doors in Canterlot Castle. One was already cracked open, and a Guard was in front, pushing it the rest of the way.

“Over here, Your Highness!” He waved at them.

Celestia didn’t pay him any heed as she rushed past and down into the holding block. The white marble of the castle gave way to hardened brown stone blocks, and the warm lighting was replaced with fluorescent lamps. Every steel bar making up the prison had subtly visible enchantments etched on it. Combined with the other lighting, it was almost warm, but the spartan contents of the rooms made it plain to see that these were not meant to be comforting.

The third cell Twilight saw held the first clue as to what happened, along with the fourth, fifth, seventh, and almost every single one after that. Maybe only one in four lacked the tell-tale sign the others had on their back walls: a bloody, glowing magic circle inscribed with runes she’d never seen before.

“What… What is going on here? Is that really blood on the walls?” Twilight tried to tear open the door, but the enchantments resisted her telekinesis, forcing it away like she was trying to grab onto water with a hoof.

“Twilight.” Celestia ran back to the cell her student was trying to get into. “Look at the structure of the magic circles. See the penetration lines? The beacon rune at the top?”

Twilight glimpsed at it only for a short second before turning her head away as her blood ran cold and sweat started to leak from her pores. “A teleportation marker? They were trying to break through the wards? I can’t believe they’d be able to escape like that.”

Celestia shook her head, words dripping with anger and worry. “They can’t. Our wards use a recursive spell, among other things, to prevent it. Forcing it like this, I honestly rather doubt any of them survived.”

Twilight cringed. “There’s nothing we can do?”

“I’m afraid not. The deed is already done. The question is, where did they try to teleport to?” Celestia gazed at the circles, her eyes going over them as rapidly as Twilight had ever seen them move. “Guards! Organize patrols! I want the entire ground within ten kilometers checked! Any survivors or suspicious ponies are to be arrested and brought here!”

“Yes ma’am!” The guards saluted and ran out at a full gallop.

Twilight kept looking at the circle. Something was off about it, and it wasn’t just the blood. There was something else, but the blood was as good a place as any to start. “Why are these written in blood rather than magic?”

“Blood contains lots of magic, Twilight. These ponies…” Celestia paused a moment, visibly cringing. “As they were prisoners, we put inhibitor rings on their horns as standard procedure. The only way these ponies had to create the circles was to grind their horns on the walls. Blood from anyplace else wouldn’t have enough magic in it.”

Twilight wobbled and nearly fell over, her legs shaking and knocking together. “You… You’re kidding…”

A remaining prisoner behind her retched in a sink. “It was awful… The worst sound I’d ever heard… They weren’t even screaming! They just.. started scraping… Urk…”

Twilight wished there was an open cell so she could get to one of the sinks. Her stomach was ready to evacuate her dinner all over the dungeon floors. “What… How did they even know to do that? How did they even know to make these runes? I’ve never seen some of them before!”

Celestia’s wings snapped open in shock, her eyes wider than Twilight had ever seen before as they locked onto the runes. “No… No, it can’t be. It just can’t…”

“Tia?” Twilight covered her mouth with a hoof. Don’t talk… Don’t talk yet. Mustn’t open mouth…

“The circles, they are all precisely identical. That shouldn’t happen. If I’m right, and I pray to the heavens I’m not, but if I am, we have a much more serious situation on our hooves. Come.” Celestia leaned down and cast a spell on Twilight, pulling a golden light over her. “This should help with the nausea.”

It did. In fact, she felt like she could eat a record-setting meal and not get sick, and she was still thinking about her ponies’ horns. “I don’t even know if I want to not be sick at the thought of this…”

“No time. Hurry! On me!”

Twilight took off running with her mentor just ahead of her, twisting and turning through the hallways towards the top of the tower that held their private chambers. They didn’t even stop there. Rather, Celestia swung her chamber doors open well ahead of time.

“Twilight, when I tell you to, jump!”

“What? Jump? What are you—”

They didn’t even stop at the chamber doors; they just kept barreling through, over the royal bed and to the balcony.



“Do it!”

Twilight obeyed as she always did. This time, however, she found herself literally leaping off the absolute tallest tower in all of Canterlot, which was itself situated on a mountain.

This was not an especially tenable situation.

“Aaaaaaaiiiiiieeeee!” Twilight flailed her limbs again, forgetting all of her training as she plummeted.

Twilight reached out with her forelegs, desperately reaching for her mentor to catch her. Celestia, however, did more than that. She spread her wings and pulled back, slowing her drop to a glide and catching Twilight directly on her back. There was barely a dip in her flight while Twilight clutched her mentor’s neck for dear life, and with one mighty flap, they were off.

“You could have warned me!” Twilight screamed.

“I apologize, but time is of the essence. I want to see if I can catch them in time! Hold on!”

Another mighty flap from her wings and Celestia was at speeds Rainbow Dash would easily be proud of, and Twilight had the feeling that the Princess was capable of far more.
“Can you see anything, Twilight? Use your sight if you can!”

Twilight swallowed and nodded, trying to call upon her sight but only hurt her eyes. “I can’t! We’re going too fast! Or recklessly! Or something!”

“Never mind! I think I see it!”

Celestia dove left, swooping to the ground in a dive bomb. Only Twilight’s faith in Celestia kept her from screaming out like a little filly while the wind rushed past them in the night sky.

Celestia’s wings flared and tipped, pulling them out of the dive and breaking their speed in time for a swift but smooth landing on one of the hills surrounding the city. Twilight wasted no time getting to the ground but immediately wished she had stayed on the Princess’s back instead.

“This… This is…” Her sight finally came to her, and even in the dark of night, she saw what was under her hooves. “Miasma! Like back in the Everfree! Somepony died here! Wait…” She took another step, and the ground squished under her like there had been a rain. “Is this blood?”

“Indeed. There’s nopony left. Look.” Celestia pointed with a hoof.

Twilight shuddered and ran towards where Celestia was pointing. She didn’t even care what was there; she wanted out of the miasma, out of the blood. Fortunately, the top of the hill proved to be a dry sanctuary, but there was something else: some sort of bronze-colored machine with three glowing white rods sticking out of it and holes for three more. It was the only piece of technology anywhere in sight, abandoned by whomever had been using it.

“They’re long gone. Damn. I could have used confirmation.”

“What…” Twilight swallowed. “Ugh. I hope I never have to see something like this again. What is this thing? Looks like it’s just here to hold these solidified magic rods. Seems there are only three left.”

Celestia leaned over it, examining the device. “Most likely they needed the magic to perform the teleportation. Since they are only half drained, I assume they meant to use the rest in a getaway with all of the ponies they recovered. The circles in their cells were beacons, a means of locating the prisoners. I do not believe they expected their teleportation to fail.”

Twilight steadied herself on the object. She wasn’t so much physically dizzy as overwhelmed, and her hooves itched from the dark magic on the ground. “That still doesn’t answer how those ponies even knew how to make that circle!”

The Princess lit her horn, pouring her aura over the land below them. “They were told how, I think. Or more accurately, forced to do it. I don’t want to admit it, but it all makes sense. I think some of the ponies we captured, the ones from the airship that were resistant to interrogation, were under a geas.”

Twilight’s stumbled back. “A geas? How? I thought you and Luna had talked to them! And the ponies in the town had draconic magic deep in their leylines! The geas was plain as day under the sight!”

“I know. Believe me, I know. We did examine them with our sight. Not all geasa are so obvious, but still, we should have seen it. The fact that we did not, plus the fact that whoever is behind it was able to control so many at once, means that this is a geas spell far beyond any I’ve ever encountered before. Something so subtle our sight cannot see it and so absolute it can force anything from a subtle suggestion to specific commands given over a large distance. It explains far too much to be mere coincidence.”

Twilight felt the blood draining from her face as her cheeks went numb. “So some of those ponies that attacked us… they were innocent…”

Celestia sneered at the horizon. “I imagine that somehow that dragon is connected. Or was. Now I wish we had captured him alive.”

“Ionos,” Twilight said, swallowing. “Somepony named Ionos showed the dragon how to perform a geas. I don’t know how; dragon and unicorn magic are so different, but… if Bloodtide’s spell was an amateur imitation of this geas and if this pony found out I had banished Bloodtide, or killed him…”

Celestia picked up the thread. “He or she would have reasoned that we may have been close to discovering the secret and breaking the geas on our captives to interrogate them. Perhaps even restore the memories. Now we cannot even test a detection spell, let alone a counter-spell. This was desperation on their part, a stop-loss maneuver. And it worked.”

“I think… I think I need to sit down.” Twilight flopped to the ground, which was mercifully free of blood. “This is huge. But… why do all this?”

Celestia dropped down next to her, covering Twilight in the glow of the aura. “Power of some sort, I would think. As to the exact reason? I do not know. But now, finally, we have the beginnings of some answers. We now know why it’s so hard to find leads; the ponies we talk to cannot tell us.”

“Could this be the reason for all of it? The coup? The Robber Barons? The unrest? Towers’ treason?” Twilight ran the numbers in her head. “Could they have thousands of ponies under control like this? Tens of thousands? Could they control everypony?”

Celestia took in a deep breath and closed her eyes. Twilight could just barely see her mentor’s pupils bounce around as she thought, considering every angle.

It’s just like she taught me to do…

“No, Twilight. I don’t think they’re out to simply mind-control everypony. Think about it. If they were, why launch the attack at all?”

“That’s right!” Twilight closed her eyes and copied her mentor, letting her mind run down the road her mentor had paved. “If they were out to mind-control everypony, it’d be in their best interest not to be noticed until it was too late. Further, only a portion of the ponies captured are gone—the ones that RGIS couldn’t get any information from. The rest were more cooperative and, more importantly, being paid to join the attack. If they could mind-control any number of ponies with the geas, why bother paying for muscle? It doesn’t make sense.

“That isn’t to say it’s not useful. One could place them on key political figures or those with access to large amounts of bits. They could prevent a pony from spilling their secrets or control a small group that they need to perform certain jobs. Like, say, pilot or build an airship…”
Celestia turned her attention off to the horizon. “Twilight. The dragon you fought… did he put you on anything resembling a geas stone?”
Twilight shook her head. “I don’t think so. Most of his lair was crystal.”
The Princess brought her head down to Twilight’s level. “Think hard and carefully. Was there anywhere in the cave with a dark ore? It could be something you stepped on or rubbed up against. Anything you touched. In its natural form, it would be in thin veins, with a green aura in our sight. It wouldn’t feel like normal rock, either.”
“I didn’t look with my sight, but there was a moment where some dark rocks and dust fell on me. It was… oddly sticky.”
“Hmm… If that’s the case, then…” Celestia peered over Twilight’s head and ran her magic through her mane like a comb, pulling and tugging at the hairs.
“What is it?” Twilight asked, pulling her head away. “You think the dust was a crumbled geas stone?”
“For a relatively crude geas, the psy ore itself can suffice, but that makes the spell less effective. To be of better use, there is a refinement process to create a proper stone. Luna did not mention seeing any of the ore, but even though it may have been mostly mined out, only a little is needed for a short-term spell. Aha.” A speck of a pebble floated up and out of Twilight’s mane, surrounded by Celestia’s powerful aura. “One moment.”
Lines of magic and inscriptions formed in the air around the tiny stone, weaving themselves into a complex magical circle. “It has been some time since I’ve cast this spell, but it should tell us what we’re dealing with.” The space inside the circle hummed, and green glow emanated from the center. Dark lines swiped across the disk, followed by a new series of symbols at the bottom.
“Lato, Ail, Toru, Koan, Chros… Nothing so far. Wait!” Celestia spun the little pebble around, and the symbols shifted again.

♃ ♅ ♆ ♓︎ ♅ ♊︎

“Zuepe, Oran, Maru, Erat, Oran, Daiyo. Twilight, what do you know of—?”
"The base symbol representation for the same class of spells as the geas.” Twilight pointed a hoof at the symbols as they continued to shift and scroll. “If I’m right, and you’re using some kind of analysis spell to figure out the ore’s thaumatic properties, then this ore has a really crude, basic recursive geas spell already embedded into it. Also, I want that analysis spell.”
“You’ll get a copy, and as for your guess, you are precisely correct. A pony must be touching this ore while the spell is cast for a geas to have any kind of long-term effect. That’s one of the secrets about geas spells that we’ve been keeping hidden to prevent their development and use.
“Whoever this ‘Ionos’ is, I’m betting he wanted the ore, not the crystals. And now, he probably has it. What few veins exist are always very small in size, so it was likely recovered quickly, and the rest of the mine and some small amount of the ore left to the dragon.”

“But what about the dragon? He told me about Ionos! And these ponies don’t leave loose ends.”

“True. That’s a hole in their plan. When we finally found him, we would have—”

The conversation froze, and their eyes met. The words passed between them without so much as a whisper.

“While capturing is preferable, had I sent Luna, she still would have killed him without hesitation, and likely in her first strike.”

Celestia’s eyes grew cold. “He knew. This ‘Ionos’ knew we’d find out about the town and the dragon. But he counted on Luna and her impulsiveness, not Grand Mage Sparkle. This was set in motion before we made your promotion public.”

Twilight started to nod but quickly switched to shaking her head. “But what about the ponies of Wintervale? They’d be a loose end!”

Celestia looked off to the side for a moment, but when their eyes met once again, Twilight recoiled like a filly would if struck. Flames licked and spat off the Princess’s torc as she spoke. “You are correct. Which means that the geas, as implemented by Bloodtide, would probably have killed the denizens of the town had the dragon perished, most likely by tearing out their wellsprings. If that is the case, the only reason they are still alive is because we sent you, not Luna. The dragon was alive when he was banished and the thaumic link severed, so a failsafe spell never could have fired and cannot reach our subjects from The Dark.”

Twilight swallowed down a gag that never came, thanks to Celestia’s spell from earlier, as silence fell over them. Her legs marked time as they shook, and her mind struggled to find words in a desperate bid to change the subject. “The… The geas. If there’s somepony that can use one, who else do you think is… being controlled?”

“I don’t think any of the Council are. Or the Generals. Any individual I know well enough would eventually be exposed if they were under the effects of a geas. I’d notice at some point. Still, we can’t judge anypony solely by apparent intentions anymore.”

Twilight raised her eyebrow. “Yes, but… I can’t help but think that this is a very, very fragile plan. Even if we’d never be able to tell if a pony is under its effects through behavior, there’s still a critical flaw. If we find or develop a counterspell that’s easy and safe to use on everypony, mind-controlled or not, this whole thing comes crashing down.”
“I agree. Which begs the question, why go through all the effort? We were bound to find out at some point once they launched their attack. It doesn’t make sense if they were out to influence ponies in our government. I have a theory, but I would like to hear your thoughts, Twilight.”
Twilight blinked. “Me?”
“Yes, you, Twilight. You don’t have a crown yet, but being the Grand Mage means you are well on your way.”
Twilight felt the hair on her back stand on end. “Well… The ponies that didn’t want to talk were on the fake Bellerophon, so maybe they’re using them for labor? They were the ones flying the airship. If they’re ‘only’ labor, it might mean they think the geas ponies are ultimately expendable? Which means this is only one tiny part of their plan!”

The flames on Celestia’s neck and back flickered and died down. “Precisely. Whatever is truly going on, it’s far larger than the geas. My gut says that this is beyond any of my old theories. Though as of yet, I have no proof.

“Worse, the fact that I could not see the geas in those ponies’ leylines tells me this one is indeed different from the one Bloodtide used, and further, it was not cast by an amatuer; there wasn’t even the slightest hint of contamination in their leylines. Whoever this ‘Ionos’ is, he has mastered the spell completely. Even if it’s only a piece of the puzzle, this is monumentally disturbing.”

Twilight took a tentative step closer to her mentor, feeling the heat in the air to see how safe it would be. “Meanwhile, we’re at square one. Actually, square zero. We have no idea how this spell is even structured, so we don’t have a clue as to where to start with building our counter-spell.”

Celestia shook her head. “There is one silver lining. The fact that you could tell which ponies were affected by the dragon’s geas tells me that those responsible are not aware of our thaumic sight. It is something we may be able to use against them.

Twilight shuddered. “Is there anything we can do right now to stop it from being placed on ponies? On alicorns?”

“Alicorns are normally immune… Regardless, I’m going to go ahead and have Luna apply a ward on your body, as well as on Rainbow Dash. Spike’s body can’t support that, so we can’t put a ward on him — though, I’ve never heard of a dragon falling prey to such a spell as a geas, either.

“I considered giving you the ward from the start, but Luna didn’t want you become reliant on them. The discovery of the geas changes this — we can’t take chances now. They need an expensive material to make, so we can’t do it for everypony, but we need to make certain you do not fall victim to it.”

“And they’ll protect me? And what do they need? Only a few spells consume normal matter…”

Celestia nodded. “They should protect you. Though, she’ll have to modify it from her usual ward; normally they only protect a pony against toxins and poisons. I have no idea how effective they’ll be against a geas, especially this one, so be on your guard and take nothing for granted. We’ll need to go to the armory to get the Thanatos Tear that Luna will need in order to apply the ward.”

The colors in Twilight’s vision practically inverted. She’d heard that term before, though never from Celestia. The Thanatos Tear was known to a scant few ponies. Twilight had only ever heard it muttered in the most dire of warnings from one pony: Zecora. Supposedly ‘impossible’ to make, and one of, if not the most, rare substance in the world, it was also the single most horrifyingly deadly poison in all of existence. Unlike all the others known to ponykind, it did not just attack the body.

It also attacked the wellspring directly.

“A Th-th-th-thanatos Tear… Those are…”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “How do you know what they are? Wait, I forget who I’m talking to. I can assure you, the application process is safe. At no point do you ingest the Tear… Ah, finally, the patrols have found us.”

Twilight looked up and saw not a patrol, but at least four wings of five pegasi each approaching at their top speed. Canterlot was starting to light up, too, with the Royal Guard’s searchlights combing the skies.

The first wing arrived in just seconds, but unlike the others, this one was pulling a chariot with an old unicorn riding on it. Even before it landed, a little flash announced his teleportation to the ground.

“Your Majesties,” Grand General Blueblood said, bowing to the ground. “I apologize for this breach of security. Shall we raise Canterlot’s shield?”

“It’s not so much a breach, General,” Celestia replied. “This is a highly unusual scenario, and I doubt the shield will be of any use here. But, there is some… useful news in that we now know a lot more than we did about our enemies. I’ll brief you before I return to my tour and further coordinate efforts while on the go. Prepare courier pegasi for immediate emergency deployment to the other generals and secure the area for an RGIS evidence comb. Right now, I must return to Canterlot to inform my sister.”

“Right away, Highness.” He bowed again. “Let me know if you need further help. The Guard Shall Serve! Wings Alpha and Bravo, perimeter sweep, now!”

He gives orders like my brother… The light of teleportation enveloped them, and they were away.

“I do not approve of this, Sister. We only have two Tears. This will deplete our reserves, and the current Zebrican President is, to put it lightly, uncooperative.” Luna followed her sister through the armory, passing through locked door after locked door, each made of enchanted steel, to progressively more dangerous and rare equipment.

“I’m aware of this, Sister. But we must take every precaution against this threat. It is far worse than I imagined.”

“Um, about that.” Rainbow hovered behind them, flapping her wings lightly.

Twilight’s focus drifted just a moment from a new sensation. I can feel the breeze from her pegasus magic better now. I wonder if that’s from having it myself

“Can these ponies really control someone?” Rainbow was holding her chest with her forelegs and shivering. “Like, tell them to do anything they want? Even kill themselves?”

“Yes, Rainbow,” Celestia warned. “They appear to even be able to control ponies without a voice command. Even give them complex instructions through mere thought. This is why we need to give you the wards to prevent the geas from being used on you.”

One final set of doors opened into a room filled with heavily secured cabinets, the air around them magically charged. On the back wall was something akin to a medicine cabinet, albeit made of metal with a face dominated by a large gem lock, similar to the one Twilight had seen on the chest containing her brother’s new armor.

Celestia turned around and gave them a warm smile. “Be at ease, my ponies. The warding process is painless, if boring. Sister will do all the work.”

“Hmph. We’re just lucky I ever studied geas counter spells. But I must warn you, Sister.” Luna put her horn to the gem and began to work her magic into it. “My knowledge of them is modest at best. If this geas is as powerful as you say, I don’t know what I’m going to do to stop them or free our ponies.”

Celestia sighed. “Right now, I’m going to settle for finding a way to detect it. If we can get that far, I have confidence one of us, be it you, Twilight, or myself, will be able to figure out a way to analyze and break it. In the meantime, we must take whatever precautions we can.”

“That much I agree with.” The gem vanished, and two clear, nearly empty bottles were revealed to be behind it. Each only had a single drop inside of them. “The Tears are ready. Rainbow Dash, remove your armor.”

Rainbow looked over to Twilight, clearly nervous, but began removing her chestplate.

“Okay, the ward isn’t so much scary as it is… itchy. These glowy blue lines on our bodies will fade, right?” Rainbow was kicking her hoof every few steps like she was trying to shake something off.

Twilight nodded as they walked back to their rooms, their bodies covered in runes and intricate lines. “Yeah, they should vanish in an hour or so, but the protection apparently lasts for decades. They might glow if they have to start working, so let’s be mindful of that. It means we’re being poisoned or somepony is attempting to put a geas on us.”

“And what about Spike? How come he gets outta this?” Rainbow scratched her flank, gritting her teeth.

“Dragons are immune to just about every toxin we know about, and their magic is completely different. He’s probably safer than we are just by being a dragon. Also, Luna’s wards apparently won’t work on them, so I want us to look out for him when we can, just in case.”

“Can do, boss. If this ever stops itching…” Rainbow bit and gnawed at her shoulder. “Seriously!”

“I wouldn’t bite at that if I were you. She used a Thanatos Tear. Those don’t just kill you — they corrode your wellspring.”

Rainbow froze, her pupils shrinking to pinpricks. “Whoa. No wonder they had it locked up…”

Nodding, she stopped to look at the final stretch to her chambers. “Time to climb the stairs again. I imagine we’ll have more to do in the morning, so get some rest… if you can.”

Rainbow sighed. “This geas thing is going to get uglier before it gets better, isn’t it?”

Twilight swallowed as she took her next step. “Yes. Yes it is.”