Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony


It’s kind of ironic, really. Charlemane licked his lips, waiting in the shadows. In truth, he could’ve made his move at almost any point in the last hour, but it was important to leave them wondering after you had left. To do that, there were few better ways than to make it impossible for them to get a timeline on just what had happened.
He lifted his hoof off of the marble floor and placed it behind the ceremonial set of armour standing next to him. On the other side of the round room, the twinkling lights of Luna’s night sky shimmered through the wide, windowless openings. In the middle, a single large desk stood imposingly in the light of the two torches at either end as it served as a dinner table for the lone, large gryphon behind it. The gryphon who held more power in a single claw than any other individual in the Aries. The King of Gryphonia herself: Morvana.
Charlemane smiled to himself, feeling the cold chill of the night’s breeze. This is going to be fun. Ordinarily, manipulating the gryphons was a time-consuming and laborious process, even as talented at it as he was. The current situation, though, required a much more expedient method. As the hour struck, he pushed forward on the armour, sending it to the ground as he cancelled the stealth spell around him.
Had he been intruding on a pony’s inner sanctum, guards would’ve been called immediately.
Morvana was not a pony.
In front of him was a blur of motion so fast and so subtle that had he been anypony else, he would have been dead before noticing it. It was a simple fact: a gryphon King was almost always the single most powerful warrior in any given area, with strength, speed, and precision far beyond the match of any normal pony’s ken.
Charlemane was not a normal pony.
The spear in the king’s talons did indeed find a target, but it crushed marble, not bone. The second attack came with the swing, finding only a pillar, not the pony’s head. The third attack was simply laughable, the tip finding only an unfortunately placed desk.
The gryphoness turned her head, facing squarely in his direction. “Who are you?”
Charlemane gave her a Cheshire’s grin. “My, my. Trying to talk instead of take my head off?”
In the blink of an eye, the king stood before him, swift as lightning, and yet, slow as molasses. “Chairpony Charlemane, I presume. There are very few ponies capable of avoiding a strike like that. I would never have imagined that a fat politician would be among them.”
“Fat? Oh come now, that’s hardly fair. I have a very healthy diet, I can assure you. Aside from the whiskey. Beyond that, though, all I shall say is, like so many, I am more than I appear. Now then.” Charlemane pulled out his telekinetic blade, the sea green light tracing a gash in the floor. “Shall we dance, or would you rather listen to what I have to say?”
The King’s red-highlighted feathers bristled as she puffed herself out, pulling the spear out of the desk and slamming its blunt end on the ground hard enough to leave cracks in the tile. “It is only by curiosity that I am allowing you to live. Speak.”
“It’s quite simple, really. You are going to do me a little favour. You are going to issue a statement saying that you disapprove of Equestria’s war against Zebrica. You will demand that they scale back their operations or face war with Gryphonia.”
There was a slight pause, and though it lasted only a fraction of a second, it may as well have had a telegraphed notice sent a month in advance.
Charlemane tilted his head to the left.
The spear brushed through his mane and landed in the wall behind them.
“Idiocy.” Morvana cracked the knuckles in her forefeet. “President Malkia is a fool, and deserves be left to her fate.”
“Oddly enough, I agree with you. Yet I have my own reasons for requiring this course of action from you.”
Another burst of feathers and speed came towards him, but this time, Charlemane let it come. Talons the size of chef's knives wrapped around his neck as the bumpy, scale-like skin of Morvana’s forefeet closed around his trachea. Upwards he went as she lifted him to his face like some kind of doll.
Charlemane could see the individual fibers of the giant irises in the gryphon’s eyes, and smell the fish flesh on her breath. The individual barbs on her feathers were clear as day this close, and as she spoke, he could tell how strangely superfluous her beak was to speech; her vastly more complex voicebox was doing all the work by itself.
“Give me one reason I shouldn’t just choke the life out of you right here instead.”
“For one, even like this, you couldn’t kill me if you tried. But that’s not as important as this.” Moving his head as far forward as he could in the gryphoness’s grip, he whispered his threat into her feathered ear. They were merely words, but no poison had ever been so caustic.
It was such a small little phrase; the span of merely five words. Yet balanced on them was the fate of the nation.
Charlemane’s head whipped back and forwards as Morvana brought him around to face her again.
“No! I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Oh, but you know it’s the truth,” Charlemane coughed out through the king’s chokehold. “And should that message ever get to the ears of either Crown Prince, your reign will come to an end. Five hundred years of disgrace will weigh down on your family, and your country.”
“Not if I kill you fir—”
Charlemane walked through the world of grey, laughing to himself over Morvana’s threat. By the time she realized what was going on, he was already behind her, with his blade to her throat. “Follow your orders, little pawn, or be removed from the game.”
The blade vanished, as did Charlemane.
Morvana was crying out; something about an intruder. Lights across the aerie flickered to life, and Charlemane watched on in amusement, safe on his perch on a nearby cliff.
All too predictable. He pulled out his pocket watch and examined the date. His victory over her wouldn’t come overnight, but it would happen all the same. In just days, a couple of weeks at the most, she would break down and issue the proclamation. That, or accuse him without any proof, which would be every bit as self-destructive as if he had carried out his threat.
He turned away and covered his head with a cloak. That was such fun. It’s too bad it will be a while before I can do that again. An image of Celestia flashed in his mind as he made his way down the mountain and into the forest. After all, if you use the same move too many times, any perceptive opponent will eventually see through it.

As beautiful as Twilight thought her room was when it was set to night, it took on a whole new beauty during its day cycle. The sun overhead felt as warm as the real thing; so bright that it could threaten to give her a sunburn, given that her coat had yet to start regrowing. The clouds around her had shed their evening hue, and now it appeared as though a giant, white, fluffy stratus cloud was surrounding her. Given the magics involved with her bathroom, Twilight was fairly certain that if she tried to peek over them, they would stretch on to the illusory horizon.
“Welcome home, Twilight.” Celestia lifted her student up with her magic and gently placed her on her bed. “It is a great relief to see you recovering so quickly.”
“Tell me about it.” Twilight stretched her legs and flopped over on her side, letting her surreally warm bed take over for her missing hairs. She reached up and touched her horn, which was still encased in a cast and inhibitor. “Long way to go, though.”
“At least you will be more comfortable in your own room. Should you need anything, use this.” Celestia pointed over to a small bell next to the bed. “It’s enchanted. Ring it, and a bell downstairs will ring to summon a nurse. It's also linked to a bell in Spike's room. Alternatively, one of Sister’s Night Guards will also be outside twenty-four seven, and will screen any visitors you receive.”
“Sounds good to me. Maybe this will give me some reading time. You know, while there’s a war going on half a world away that I started.” Twilight buried her face in the cloud.
“I know it’s difficult to put it out of your mind, but stay strong. The war between Zebrica and Saddle Arabia probably would have started without your help. All you did was move up the timetable.”
“And did that timetable include Equestria joining the war? Because honestly, I can’t see how that would’ve been part of your plans.”
“It wasn’t. At least, not originally. However, this war is about food as much as greed. Thanks to our airships, Saddle Arabia is proving successful at blunting Zebrica’s advance, and if they’re able to hold them for a couple more weeks, the Zebrican frontline should collapse, and they will sue for peace. It’s the fastest way to end the conflict.”
“How do you do it?” Twilight started to draw something in her cloud, but the squiggles were quickly abandoned. “How do you compartmentalize, abstract away the individual ponies and groups and nations? Make it so that in your heart, this is nothing but numbers?” Twilight sniffled. “I don’t think I could do that.”
Celestia lay down next to her, and wrapped her in one of her wings. “I don’t. I can’t.” She paused momentarily, “I must. It is, by far, the greatest burden of a leader.”
Twilight made a noise somewhere between a groan and a wail, and leaned in hard against Celestia’s side. “So how do I do that?”
“Experience. Will. Heart. It is something that cannot truly be taught, only learned by hard familiarity.” She stroked her pinions against the smaller mare’s side. “Stay strong, my student. I believe in you. And so do your ponies.”
There was a chime at the door, and a pulse of purple light quickly worked its way through the room.

“In fact, I think that’s one of them right there.” Celestia leaned in to Twilight’s ear. “While you were away, Luna installed the doorbell. I’m honestly kind of jealous. You still have to knock at my door.”
Twilight didn’t think she should smile at that, given what was going on in the rest of the world, but her muscles apparently had other ideas. With a nod, she gave in and wiped the tears from her face. “They can come in…”
“Enter!” Celestia cried out, to Twilight’s relief; she didn’t quite have it in her to yell through the door just yet.
An armour-clad hoof pushed open the door, and a striped old friend stepped inside, a large basket being carried in her mouth.
Six steps inside, however, it appeared as though Zecora’s brain had caught up to her body, and both basket and her rump dropped to the floor. “Sweet seedlings…”
<<Hi Zecora,>> Twilight chuckled nervously. <<Welcome to my room! Although, I feel kind of bad saying that considering—>>
<<No, no! It is I who should apologize to you, Twilight. I should have warned you more thoroughly about my father. I blame him for my land's loss, not you.>> She picked up the basket and walked up next to the cloud. <<If anything, I am simply relieved to see that you are okay.>>
Twilight, choking back tears, nodded her head and mouthed a thank you.
<<Celestia tells me that you are eating again?>> She opened up the basket, revealing a thermos, a couple of paintbrushes, and a large tin of some kind of slimy paste. <<If that is the case, then I have just the thing to restore your coat, and with it, perhaps your spirits.>>
<<I’ll settle for the coat.>> Twilight looked down at her body, seeing all the individual little goose bumps rising up. <<I’m getting a little sick of being completely naked.>>
<<Then here, drink up.>> She opened the thermos before hoofing it over, which let loose a stench like black mold mixed with turpentine.  Even Celestia recoiled, getting up and stepping somewhat away.
Stars above… “I can see why I had to be eating solid foods again… But is that really supposed to restore my spirits?” Twilight held her head as far away from the thermos as she could while still keeping it in her hooves. “It feels like I’m going to have to move into my bathroom after I drink this… Granted, my bathroom is awesome, but still…”
“A moment of discomfort there will be, but it will get better. You’ll see.”
Twilight looked to Celestia who shrugged. Shrugged! Celestia, she who moves the sun, shrugged! Bracing herself, the Grand Mage took in a deep breath and instantly regretted it, gagging and coughing from the smell. After timing out her spasms, she picked a short gap between them and forced the entire contents of the small thermos down her throat.
She would have almost preferred to face the explosion again.
Whatever it was she had just downed, it was black, tasted like tar, quite possibly had its own coat of hair, and Twilight was fairly confident that it was, in fact, alive and moving.
Yet by some miracle it also had a somewhat cool aftertaste, something akin to spritzing some mint oil on a mountain of sewage.
“That’s…” Twilight let the thermos drop clear through the cloud and all the way down to the lowest floor. “I don’t ever want to have to drink that again. Celestia, if I ever go and nuke my coat off a second time, you tell me that I have to just complete my Grand Mage duties without it.”
Celestia, paragon of unflappability, and mare with the mightiest, heaviest, most unbreakable visage in the cosmos, was waving a hoof in front of her face. A couple seconds later, she only stopped so she could switch to her wing. “My student, I do not blame you in the slightest. I am… I’m going to go open the balcony doors and get some air in here. And then get us some tea. I imagine you need something to… Wash that down with.”
“More like, wash out, but yes. Yes I do. Zecora?” She looked her friend directly in the eyes. “You know I love your cooking, but that was—”
“Cures often are as bad as the disease, but I assure you, soon you will feel at ease.” Zecora opened up the tin of paste, and dipped one of the paintbrushes in it before motioning for Twilight to give her one of her legs. After sniffing the air to make certain the new substance didn’t smell like the previous one, she complied, and in short, heavy strokes, the paste was applied.
By the time Zecora was most of the way up her leg, Twilight couldn’t help but watch what was happening on her fetlock. Her skin was eating the paste, absorbing it like a sponge.
Wait… Twilight brought her fetlock closer to her eyes, finding tiny little hairs beginning to grow where the paste had once been. “Amazing! It’s already growing back!”
Zecora set the paintbrush back down in the paste. “You will get a burst of growth, but must wait three days for a full coat.”
“Anything is better than nothing! Thanks, Zecora. I don’t know what I would’ve done…”
“Think nothing of it, my dearest friend. Let us apply more, so your nakedness will end.”
Twilight didn’t need to be told twice. She picked up a brush and started painting herself, and the two had covered her completely in just a few minutes. Extra-large globs of the substance were placed on her head, neck, and dock, restoring the start of a mane and tail in moments instead of months.
<<Thank Celestia! I feel like a pony again… In fact…>> She trotted over to her closet, pushing aside the cloud doors and pulling out a mirror. <<I never was one to have a short mane, but this is still much, much better. Thank you, Zecora.>>
<<It was my pleasure, my friend. You helped me gather some of these ingredients, so it is only right that you are the first to benefit from them. Here, keep what is left, just in case we missed a spot.>>
Twilight picked up the tin and put it in a drawer. Definitely a good idea.
The chime and purple pulse from before returned just before the doors opened and more ponies walked in.
“I brought the tea.” Celestia floated a tray with a pot and four cups over towards Twilight’s bed. “Something strong to mask the taste of whatever that was. Also, I found a pacing unicorn outside. It appears she has something to ask you, Twilight.”
Pacing unicorn? Twilight walked back to the centre of the room to see what Celestia was talking about, and found a light blue mare carrying a large pile of papers and scrolls.
“That would be me, Lady Sparkle.” Trixie bowed her head and moved a little to the side, away from the Princess. “I was wondering if you could help me with something…”
“Of course.” Twilight motion for her to come closer. “And you don’t need to use my title, Trixie. We’re friends.”
Trixie stole a nervous glance upwards towards the Princess. “Yes, ma’am, if you say so…”
Twilight shook her head. “Celestia won’t mind, trust me.”
The Princess seemingly ignored them, pouring tea for the entire group as Zecora moved closer to join them.
“Now, what did you need help with?” Twilight asked, picking up one of the papers.
“I’ve been working on these illusion spells. Princess Luna was kind enough to give Trixie a sample mock up of the crystals they use, and I’ve had some success, but I’m a long way from where I thought I’d be.”
Twilight looked up at her horn and its cast. “Well, I’d like to help, but as you can see…”
“Trixie doe- I don’t think it’s my execution of the spells. I think I’m casting them as written, but I don’t think the actual formulas are correct. As much as it pains Trix- me to admit it, I am … in over my  head. I need… I mean, please, Lady Sparkle, I need help with the academics of the spell.”
Twilight rubbed her hooves together. “Trixie, you just said the magic word.”
Trixie blinked. “You mean, ‘please?’”
Twilight and Celestia shared a look and an answer. “No, academics.”