Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

Battle Royale

"End me, you say? I find that doubtful." He sighed, all but deflating. "You cannot even follow my movements. How is it that the Grand Mage doesn't know anything of Passage? I'm so... disappointed."

"Disappointed?" Twilight spat, getting her knees under control. "Cry me a Celestia-damned river. The only reason I'm down here is because something here is hurting my friend, and right now, you're what's stopping me from saving her." Her horn flared to life, pulling out a telekinetic blade slightly less damaging than her glare. "So guess what? I'm running you over. Get out of the way."

"Such eyes! Now there is the look of a warrior! But you say you're here to save somepony? You are the only pony here, little thing. Lies do not serve warriors. Come, let me show you!"

"Now, Twilight!"

By the time Aurora had given the warning, her horn was already alive and spewing magic. She had jumped into the air, firing bolts of magic ahead of her, above, and to the left and right. The individual bolts were too weak to even hurt an anemic puppy, but that wasn’t the point. With the ground so close, the gryphon had only two options left: get spotted running into the bolts, or attack from behind.

Actually, at such speed, he probably could have plowed through anyway, but he wouldn’t have known the strength of the bolts, and it set up a psychological path her enemy was bound to follow.

Twilight pushed herself up with her pegasus magic, kicking into the air with a backflip.

She’d been right. The gryphon was behind her, taking a massive horizontal swing at what would have been her cutie mark. At the same time her Sight kicked in, and she focused. Glare wasn’t the right word, nor was stare, nor gaze, nor look. It wasn’t just a physical thing. It was heat, passion, an opening of the heart to probability, possibility, theory, and truth. That was when she saw it; the structure of the spell inside the gem.

That was all she needed.

The swing of the hammer had not been during the Gryphon’s use of Passage. It couldn’t have been. The magic in the hammer wouldn’t allow it.

She pushed even harder with her pegasus wind, blasting herself with a current to send her right back at the gryphon at the start of his swing and the smug, crooked beak on his face.

Gryphons look absolutely ridiculous when they’re stunned. That’s what Twilight would have thought if she had time,  as her hind hoof reached out and kicked Aldrik’s cheek, slowing her down as her vicious energy and earth pony magic tore into his face. That’s when the gryphon made his move.

He vanished from the scene, once again moving faster than Twilight could see.

But it wasn’t faster than she could think. Not now, when her friend was in trouble. She had been ground almost to a halt by her attack, and there was no time to charge up to fire a hail of bolts. She had only her telekinetic blade, which she brought around from behind her, slashing it around to her right.  With her hind legs, she kicked forward, sliding and laying into the dirt like she was trying to make it to base in that sport she read about once. A shadow appeared and foretold the hammer flicking the tips of her ears in the nearest of misses. That was her cue.

The blade continued its arc, deliberately missing the hammer; it wouldn’t have been able to parry such a weapon anyway. Rather, it cut as low as her slide, and flew out and away from her as only a telekinetic weapon could, finding its way through the air, in between the joints of Aldrik’s armour, and into his ankle’s tendon.

The gryphon cried out in pain, screeching so loud Twilight’s ears were hurt worse than her back. He tumbled like a sweater in a clothes dryer, covering his feathers in dust, dirt, and smeared chlorophyll.

Twilight tumbled into a somersault, then jumped into the air with a single hoof, sending her magic into the ground and the earth. It resonated with her as she landed, helping her launch forward in a full-tilt gallop to press her attack, which was met in kind as the gryphon stood and parried her with the haft of his warhammer.

She didn’t let up with that one attack. Her horn flared again, summoning a second blade and bringing it around for his head, to which Aldrik lifted the other end of the hammer like it was made of balsa wood, but blocked the blow as if it was made of enchanted titanium.

This only served to confirm everything in Twilight’s mind. Each blade pulled back and slashed again, clashing with sparks of white hot magic that scorched the grass beneath them.

“You’re good,” she said, wiping some blood off her lips.. “I was hoping after I cut your leg and took away your ability to use Passage, you’d try to fly so I could neutralize you quickly.” Power raged out of her, cracking a stone under her, whipping the wind into a frenzy, and forced black fire from her blades. “If you did, then maybe I could get on with saving my friend!”

The gryphon smiled right back. “Area denial, vector prediction, advantage neutralization, yes, yes!” He swung the hammer at her again, this time hitting both blades so hard the feedback pushed Twilight away enough to make her mane flutter in her own wake. “This is the battle I have longed for, O Grand Mage!”

“Glad to help. Now, get out of my way!” Twilight locked her gaze on that hammer. That was the key. “Or so help me, the next time you miss, whatever Trixie is going through right now will be a fate you will be envious of.”

"Yes! Yes, that's what I'm talking about, O Grand Mage! Your eyes are brilliant!" He lifted his hammer, twirling it over his head like a baton.

"Buck it." Twilight's words came out of her mouth only after she charged forward and jumped, slicing downward with both blades and letting them clash against the hammer. The parry gave her what she needed: a hoof. She stomped down on the scaly appendage where it was gripping the pole, and launched herself into a front flip over him, then brought down the blades on either side of his spine.

Another cry from the gryphon heralded the destruction of his flight muscles, eliminating the second of his major advantages. Smoke and tiny licks of black flame ate into the wound, cauterizing it and most certainly severing nerves in the process.

Twilight's heart pounded as she pressed forward, springing into her enemy from a coiled set of hind leg muscles. She buried her forehooves into his back, punching into the wounded muscles, seeking bones but finding only feathers. She kicked down low, aiming for his wounded leg. He stepped away, leaving her to carry her kick around, spinning on the ground like a breakdancer.


It would hurt, but she would have to be close to him for her idea to work. She had to not only see her target, but know it. Nothing else would work.

She let her second blade fizzle and fall, setting the grass on fire. The other blade dimmed and narrowed to a pinpoint tip. Her body moved in partnership with the earth, one helping the other. It was a twitch, not a lunge or a leap. She twirled, moving only slightly to the side, just in time and just at the right angle to watch the hammer come down.

It wasn't an impact. It was an earthquake. The shockwave didn't simply kick dirt and rock into her eyes and mane, it sent a torrent of vibrating heat into her legs. The world around her sunk as she buckled to the ground.

The hammer lifted off the ground. It was now or never.

Twilight locked her eyes on the gem inside the head, and held her breath. The core was key. It was everything. Her Sight came online, and her heart stopped. There it was. She thrust out her blade, aiming for the slightest sliver of a target as it rose.

It hit the metal plate. She had missed.

Her heart restarted, this time at a fever pitch. She was on her back with an enraged gryphon standing and screeching over her, ready to tear her limb from limb with three inch talons.  

Yet, he didn't. Instead, he raised the hammer again, eclipsing the sun.

This was it. She slammed her forehooves into the dirt and launched herself forward, pushing closer to the gryphon and inside the range of the wide-swinging hammer. It hit again, just as hard as before. Even her ears burned from its power. It didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was saving Trixie, and this gryphon was the only thing stopping her.  

He just made a critical mistake.

The hammer always hit with far more power than its weight suggested, but there was no hint of earth magic at play. It wouldn't have worked remotely as well against an earth pony like her if that was it. Nor could it have been a simple projection of energy triggered by impact; her armour would have stopped that cold. No, this was something else. This was astral magic, and given what she’d seen the hammer do, that could mean only one thing.

She aimed for a point no wider than a period on a book with exceptionally tiny print. The advantage she had, though, was her horn and the incredible precision it offered. Her blade sunk into the gem like a dart into an apple, finding its way into the control rune, short circuiting the architecture.

The gryphon tried to lift his weapon and stopped dead. The hammer wouldn't budge, but instead shook the ground with ever more force as the dirt compressed and rock buckled.

Twilight kicked with her hind legs directly into his chest plate. No Passage, no hammer, no wings. Now it's an even fight! She resummoned the second blade and shoved energy into both like a  firehose. Each burned purple and black with enough heat to melt tin.

She brought both blades to bear on his head, each crackling with a deadly, almost corrosive hymn as they narrowly missed thanks to Aldrik's dodge. Each came around a second later, moving with an unnatural rhythm only possible to those capable of telekinesis. Still, he avoided each slash like he knew just where to be. He even managed to flap a wing and launch himself backwards, out of her reach.

Oh no you don't!

She was late giving chase. Aldrik reared up on his hind legs and smacked his claws together. A silver sheen covered them as folds of metal cascaded down over his fingers and claws. By the time Twilight was moving forward again, so was he.

"Thrusts are a thing too, you know."  Twilight put one blade behind her, then raised the other over her head. When the gryphon moved to the side to dodge the slash, she brought the other blade straight forward, aiming for his heart.

Aldrik grabbed her blade. He didn't dodge it, or parry. He reached out and grabbed it, crushing it into pieces like it was made of pumice. Not even the little fires raining down could make him flinch.

Twilight swung the other down low, hoping to catch him off guard. That blade, too, erupted into a shower of flame as it collapsed against the gauntlet.

The gauntlets! They disrupt telekinesis! I need to get--

There was a blur, and something punched into her gut, lifting her off the ground and throwing her back. Only her pegasus magic saved her from breaking her spine on the rock she landed on. She pushed herself up, almost tripping over the same loose stone. It was gray and smooth, with yellow and white arcane script in an ancient gryphon language. The healing stones! I forgot about them! No, even that wouldn’t be enough… Which means...

She got up to run, but was already in the air, lifted by some mysterious force, then slammed down, then once more before getting kicked off into the distance by Aldrik, shattering what little was left of her shield. It didn't hurt as bad as the hammer, but it didn't need to. The world circled around her like she was in the Wonderbolts derby, and her attempt to stand only made her flop to the ground.

"I have to offer my sincerest apologies, Grand Mage. When you first fell to my hammer, I assumed you to be unskilled and let up for you to preserve some honour." The currently-upside-down gryphon folded an arm over his chest and bowed. "I never expected you to rally so well, and to destroy my weapon, no less! But it is now evident, you are not ready to fight here." He cracked his knuckles. "But fear not, there is no dishonour in defeat; only in cowardice."

Twilight pushed one eye closed. The dust and tears in it weren't helping anything. The other was close to swelling itself shut, but she kept it open. She needed to see. She had to watch the Gryphon, and more importantly, the tower behind him.

"I told you, I need to save my friend." She coughed, spitting mucus and blood as she got up. "But if this is what it takes, I'll make things interesting for you. Let's make a bet."

"I'm not interested, Grand Mage. You have nothing to --"

"I'll stop holding back."

Aldrik raised an eyebrow. "Why would you hold back if you were being beaten?"

Time to get creative. Twilight began to walk around him, lining herself up for the shot, but leaving it at an angle. "Princess Celestia put a seal on my power. I'm too dangerous to be allowed in public without it. I can release it, even though she warned me not to. Honestly, you wouldn't last two minutes against me, even without my horn."

Aldrik gave her a flat stare. "You ponies, always so easy to read. You're bluffing. Like I said, lies do not suit one of your--"

"Try me." Twilight opened the floodgates, letting the power feast on freedom by dancing around her horn in a cyclonic torrent. It swirled around like a pulsar, crying out for direction. She met his eyes, breathing deep and slow. With each inhalation her Sight grew brighter, and crimson particles started to dance in the air all over the arena. "I'll humour you, but regardless of whether you fight or surrender, you’ve already lost."

Aldrik vanished in a blur and reappeared in front of her. "I told you, ponies are easy to read. A light show, nothing more."

"You're right, there is no such seal. But it’s no bluff. See, there's a little phrase I've learned for times like this. Una Salus Victis!" Raging power turned the world into a spectrum of violet and rose, a heralding a song of destruction and entropy.

Twilight could have aimed it for her enemy's head, but that wouldn't have solved the issue, even if it would have been cathartic. Instead, she aimed off to the side, at the one thing she'd really been after.

The gryphon reached first to protect himself with his gauntlets, but then as it missed him, he plunged his hands into the beam. Some of it did fizzle and fade, but the beam was too wide and too loose to be grabbed in its entirety.

Checkmate.  Her power was sloppy and uncontrolled compared to the spell in Zebrica, but more raw and much faster. Besides that, control wasn't necessary this time. This wasn't a complicated incantation or intricate masterwork.

This was the fury of a young Alicorn Ascendant protecting her ponies.

The lance all but ripped apart the atmosphere as it flew to its target, undeterred by wind or gravity, or by the metal covering the tower in the center of the valley. It punched through like an arrow through an apple, breaking apart the plating to reveal the cylindrical tube of a crystal hidden inside.

In the first instant, it was a translucent blue. The next, it bathed itself a crimson red. Gryphons carrying ponies took off from the top as dozens of small explosions rattled the entire structure. Metal supports groaned their death rattles, collapsing from the loss of their peer. The bottom of the crystal shattered as the entire thing toppled over like a sandcastle that'd been kicked by a bully. Further explosions crawled upwards, breaking the device into shards before it hit the ground.

"What... What have you done?!"

Twilight smirked and turned to him, watching his yellow leylines already starting to bleed. "I just saved my friend, and won this fight."

"Won? Won?!" He thrust a finger towards the fallen tower. "You would start a war just to beat us?!"

If Twilight had fangs, they'd have been devilishly sharp in her smile. "'Us?' Just as I thought. It's a shame we were so close to that crystal - my counter-spell against your illusions almost certainly wouldn't have worked against something that size. Good thing you didn't think to protect it instead of your ‘body.’"

A bubble of red spawned from the base of the fallen tower, spreading out as a shock wave while Aldrik fell to his knees.

"I'll do everything in my power to avoid a war, illusion. But I won't let you hurt Trixie ever again. Take that message to your masters; Trixie Lulamoon is off limits and under my protection."

The “illusory” gryphon let out a chuckle. "I was wrong. You are most interesting indee--" The blast wave passed through him, turning the gryphon into scattered photons and thaumic dust, leaving behind only the equipment, which clattered to the ground in a pile of steel.

A cloud of what looked like gaseous blood bubbled up from the destroyed tower, swelling out and swallowing her as would a storm's rain. This miasma looked like no natural thing, however. It boiled and flowed over her head and sent tendrils out to grasp anything it could reach.

There was a spark, and there was thunder, and then she was flying. It wasn't quite in the direction Twilight wanted, thanks to the miasma interference, but she was above the cloud now, and that was enough. The bottom of the valley had filled like a bowl, though almost all of the seats and buildings in between the mountains were too high for the contamination to reach.

She turned her body in the air and teleported again, this time having her brother's spell catapult her back towards her friend in need. She repeated this several times as she climbed, but the first thing she saw was not Trixie running for her life.

It was Rainbow about to lose hers.

"Did you see what I saw, Highness?"

Prince Ragnar replayed the events in his head, asking himself if he was crazy or if pony magic had actually improved that much without the Gryphons noticing. "Have we grown so complacent?"


The Prince shook his head, then lay down and peered back over the clouds edge. "Sorry, talking to myself. What was your question?"

The Chief swallowed hard enough that if he could sweat, Ragnar could safely assume that he would already have a gallon of it under him. "I asked if you saw what I saw. If not, then I--"

"Oh, I saw it alright. Monsters popping in and out of reality. The Grand Mage guard-breaking solid objects into nothing, like they were never there. Smoke and mirrors."

"I think they were illusions, but I couldn't find a single giveaway. No illusion is that perfect! Ponies can't even see that much detail!"

Ragnar grinned as he watched the unicorn mare --Trixie, that was her name -- pace around in a circle with the unknown stallion mirroring her. However large the crisis, at least it was interesting. "Never underestimate your opponents, Chief. The ponies may not have the same warrior spirit as gryphons, but that doesn't make them weak. Earth ponies can withstand a lot of punishment, feed a small army with a tiny farm, and break bones like twigs with a single kick. Pegasi can wipe whole cities off the map with tornadoes larger than an entire storm of ancient dragons piled on each other. Unicorns are the trickiest of all. The array of spells at their disposal means you can assume nothing."

The Chief seemed to chew on this a moment, tasting something profound, if bitter. "Yes, Your Highness." He joined his prince at the edge of the cloud, undoubtedly wondering about the fight below. "Shouldn't we intervene? That is the Grand Mage's guard. No matter what we think of them personally, they are guests, and we are obligated to protect them."

"Oh?" Ragnar’s grin grew by an order of magnitude. "Who is to say that she isn't trying to undermine the Empire, and the other pony isn't just trying to help?"

The Chief didn't even entertain the possibility. "I'm not a fledgling anymore, Your Highness. Trixie refused to engage the citizens we couldn't arrive in time to save. The stallion executed them without a second thought."

"Are you sure?"

The Chief froze. "How can you even--"

"If these illusions are so grand as to fool my eyes, then we don't know what we are seeing. For the record, I do believe you are correct that the stallion is the aggressor and an enemy. But if we start the fight now, you could wind up driving your sword into Trixie instead of him, thanks to a well-timed illusion."

Realization dawned on the Chief's face. "But she needs help! And Gryphonhelm needs protecting! What do we do?!"

Ragnar shrugged. "For now, we watch and wait for an opportunity. For the moment when we can be sure of who is who and where they are. Besides," he said, ruffling his feathers and catching a glimpse of a royal set of purple tail feathers fly off and over the edge of the coliseum, "I'm quite interested to see just what the Evening Guard is capable of!"

Trixie angled her hoof, tilting it ever so slightly up from the pavement. She had paced around her enemy to place herself in what should have been the worst possible position; if the stallion hit her with that rod, she'd fly off the edge of the coliseum walkway and fall some thousand meters down a mountainside.

At least, that was what she wanted the stallion to think. With her armor, falls were meaningless. Given that, it was she who had the advantage. He was stuck between a rock -- the mountain -- and a hard place: her hooves.

"Rivelare!" It had been quiet too long. She fired the spell and kicked forward, the armour under her hooves leaving a skid mark of fire. The stallion had shattered where he was, and reappeared in front of her, already rushing in for an attack. The next step had her spinning around his attack and slamming an elbow into his side. It was only a broader at best, but it bought her time.

"Hello?! Hello!? Rainbow, tell Twilight to get her flank over here!" Trixie screamed into the microphone as it crackled to life.

"Trixie?! What did you say? Slow down, I don’t copy!”

"I said I'm under atta--"

A hoof appeared from a cloud of dust and hit her square in the gut, spawning another starburst shield from the armour and punching the wind out of Trixie's lungs. A stallion's body flipped around her and slammed her to the ground. Before she could even inhale again a pair of hooves was lifting her up.

Should've finished me when you had the chance! "Ripulsa!" A little pulse of magic into the gem was all it took to send the stallion reeling back, covered in arcs of purple electricity that danced around him, shimmering and popping like champagne bubbles.

Trixie was on her hooves in a heartbeat, reading the situation and planning her next attack. She still had him against the wall, but the gem in her armor wouldn't be able to keep this up forever. If it failed, there would be no more starburst shields. She looked down at her hooves and the fading glow in their padding. It's not like I can hold back... She stomped on the ground, feeding the armour's enchantments with her earth pony magic and fanning the flames beneath her.

The stallion had already recovered and lit his horn, pushing out another projection, then another and another. In the end, at least two dozen perfect clones of himself stood around Trixie, each as dangerous as the next, each looking down at her through the black, lifeless glasses.

Is this the same kind of projection? Or does he think a simple tweak will protect against my spell? She charged up her horn. Well, he's got another thing comi--" She flipped into the air to dodge the obvious attack from behind, getting a solid view of each of the hostiles, and cancelled her reveal spell. Actually, he's just done me a favour!

A little, crooked grin peeked out from the corner of her mouth as she charged her horn with one of her own illusion spells. She landed and set off the flash, blasting not just light, but also enough sound that it was more explosion than anything. Each and every one of the stallions flew backwards. Some landed on their hooves, others on their side or face. What's the matter? Can't keep focus with so many clones? Oh, but I bet your horn felt that.

Trixie arched her back and popped some joints in her neck. Well, here's something else I'm going to make you feel. A push from a single hind leg was all it took to launch her forward as fast as a pegasus, plowing into the first stallion with an outstretched forehoof, the sound of a breaking jawbone echoing off the coliseum wall.

Trixie's second punch didn't just pound into flesh and bone, it seared it out of existence. The earth pony magic she had put into her armor mixed with the power of the gem on her chest, burning first orange, then silver. Wherever the flames touched, the magic of the illusions warped and broke, sending feedback to the one controlling it and forcing him to dissolve that copy.

She rolled to her left and jumped, rolling again in mid air then landing on the back of a copy and crushing him to shards. Her smile only grew when she saw that the clones all staggered slightly, like they were hit by something she couldn't see. The constructs were so much more than mere illusions; will and feeling were being communicated between them, even if somewhat muted. Her own illusions had no such weakness.

That's right, she thought, punching another one, grabbing it by the neck and throwing it down. Then, she summoned a telekinetic blade and stabbed it in the heart. I'm going to kill you. She brought down her hind hoof on a head, exploding it like a watermelon meeting a flaming hammer. I'm going to kill you over -- she broke a clone's leg and hip -- and over -- her sword sliced one's neck and bisected his horn -- and over again, until you finally understand.

The pure rose light of her blade swung around her in a dance of speed and precision, a rapier of focused desperation responding to a will with nothing to lose and nothing but hate for her targets.

"I am no longer your prey!"

A clone appeared from some unknown, impossible ledge that didn't exist and dove at Trixie, only to meet marble and a blade sweeping through his legs. Another lifted a small quarry's worth of pebbles and stones in a telekinetic grasp and shot them at her, this time finding three different Trixies to shoot at. All three met a hail of calcite, but they weren't Trixie. They were other clones.

Trixie pushed another illusion out of her horn as she rushed forward, practically flying on her hooves. The clones went for the mirror image she had projected to her left, letting her sneak around the group. It wouldn't fool them long, but in the heat of battle, speed was queen.

She spun around and bucked a clone into the air, then backflipped after it, throwing her blade and imbuing it with enough mass and force to toss the clone upwards a second time. As it flew, however, she grabbed hold of the rose-hued sword with her power and pulled it back to her, landing it on her hind hooves and leading it and her into a tumble before smashing him into the ground.

"Do you get it yet? Do you finally bucking get it?!" Trixie leapt back while leaving an after-image illusion in her place, letting two of the attacking clones trip into it and bash their heads together. "You aren't hunting me anymore!" She clapped her front hooves together on the two clones' heads, breaking them into burning splinters of magic.

Trixie dragged her blade along the floor in a wide arc, then lifted it and point the tip at the throat of the nearest clone. "From here on out, I'm hunting you!"

One of the six remaining stallions looked down on her ever so slightly while they all charged, horns blazing with color.

That was just what she needed.

Trixie flared her magic again, almost missing her target, given how close it was. When she practiced, her teleportations were always much farther. That wasn't the goal here. All that she was going for was a slight tick, a momentary shift in the flow of the fight. She pulled back her forehoof and jumped through the impossible plane, re-appearing less than a body length closer.

There was a crunch, and a crack. Her hoof pushed into a face feeling even more solid than the supposedly perfect illusions around her. The flames on her armor didn't dissolve him like they did the others, nor did the beating she'd given his muzzle. Instead, the rest of the clones dissolved away like sugar in water, leaving only one stallion sliding back on all fours, glaring at her.

The eyes. She had never seen their eyes. It was always a pony with the same colours, looking like a perfect mirror image of all the others. If not for certain clues, like location and the rare appearance of females, she might’ve thought them one pony. But no matter what, they had always worn sunglasses, even at night; ones so dark she had never been able to get more than a glimpse of their eyes.

The stallion stood as a statue, time itself seeming to pause in shock. He reached up with a hoof to his broken glasses, and slowly tossed them to the side. His eyes, each a wheel of every colour in the rainbow, practically tore a hole in the air as they reached out to stab Trixie directly in her wellspring.

"The real you. Finally." Trixie lifted up her blade, holding it above her head. "This is it. No backing down. No retreat." She licked away the beads of sweat at the corner of her mouth, and probed the gem in her chest with her magic, finding it mostly drained. "No holding back. Time to die."

The stallion summoned the rod from before, twirling it in his magic before blowing some of his mane out of his eyes. "You have no idea."

Trixie rushed him, ignoring the cold nipping at her ears and the pain in her chest. She reared up and readied a punch to take him down for good.

A sudden pain in her gut stopped her. The stallion had blocked her foreleg and punched her. She never saw a warning from her illusion sensing spell. He was simply there.

He followed this with four more punches into her chest and abdomen. At least, Trixie assumed it was four; with his speed, it might have been four hundred. Each hit like an airship crash, eliciting a whine from the gem in her armour as it strained to absorb the blows.

Trixie managed to block one of the punches with a leg, possibly giving her a hairline fracture for her trouble. Still, it made him open to counterattack, in theory.

Then the rod whipped around and hit her in the chest.

A starburst shield flared once for the rod, and once against the wall she had flown into, though she couldn't remember the sensation of moving through the air at all.

The stallion hit her again, punching her head into the wall. Pain smashed its way through her jaw and scattered stars throughout her vision. He grabbed her body and threw it into the air for something like a pile driver, only for the rod to swing again. A final starburst shield fired, then shattered as the gem finally gave out.

It wasn't until she had landed back-first on the level below where she had been that she realized all this. Pain was a fact of life for every part of her body now. Blood was leaking into her mouth, down her back and chest, and practically flowing down her head and into her eyes. Another wave rocked through her as the stallion landed on her floor, all four hooves hitting not only at the same time but with enough of an impact to leave a crater and nearly buckle the supports under them.

"Impossible... Th-that's impossible!" Trixie choked on her words and her blood, spitting a red puddle on the marble. "I'm not finished yet!"

"Yes, you are." The stallion pulled out some kind of device from his pocket. It was a disc the size of a dinner plate, and covered in glowing runes. It expanded out like an iris, becoming as large and hefty-looking as a sewer grate.

"Like hell!" Trixie summoned telekinetic blade again and aimed it at his head. " I told you, I'm not letting you take me again. I'll die before I surrender!"

The stallion sighed. "Fine. I'll humour you for a while. I can do this just as easily with you beaten unconscious." He lit his horn, summoning two more clones.

Two clones that were six meters tall, and surrounded by floating spears and swords.

Stalagmites burst out of the ground, carving a trail around her as a kind of cage. More materialized above her head; these made of flat quartz that immediately began to fall as the clones and their weapons closed in.

Trixie didn't so much as flinch. If this was to be it, that was fine. She was going out on her terms. She would be free. She would never let these monsters take that precious gift away from her ever again.  

She pulled back her blade, ready for the last blow. Twilight Sparkle, thank you. The tension drained from her, spilling down with her blood and sweat as she lunged forward to meet the onslaught with open hooves. Here we --

A barely perceptible wave of magic swept through the walls of the coliseum, its red light almost totally obscured by the blood in her eyes. As it passed, each of the projections it touched dissolved instantly, wiped out of existence. The rumble and explosions came a couple seconds later, while the stallion stumbled over himself.

What just... How? Trixie gaped in awe, watching her tormentor as he rubbed his head. His horn did light up, but the barely-there illusions he tried to conjure only brought a chuckle to Trixie's lips. Twilight... She took out the projection crystal!

The stallion pulled out the rod again, but this time the energy around it wasn't enough to even light one's way through a dark alley. His clenched teeth told Trixie he knew he was in trouble. Then, he did something Trixie never thought she'd see one of these ponies do in a million years.

He ran.

"Oh no you don't!"  She tore after him, her hooves kicking up loose marble and dust into a huge cloud. "Do you have any bucking idea what you put me through!?" Her calm boiled over into rage like water falling into lava. The pain in her body vanished, feeding her anger. Even her wellspring seemed to have life breathed into it. No, more than that. Give her a hundred of these bastards, she'd take them all on.  This wasn't their time anymore. This was hers. This was her life, and he was about to find out just what he had wrought.

She slashed her blade through the ground and scored a glowing pink line into the marble. The stallion had dodged, but that was according to plan. Three more times she swung, each time missing, but on purpose. She floated her blade into the stallion’s path; it was a weak edge that far out, but he didn't have armour or his illusions to protect him this time. Each time he moved, Trixie blocked his path with blade or body, pulling out all the magic she could into one last spell being etched into the magic square below them.

Trixie leapt back out of the square and clapped her two front hooves together, focusing in on her spell. She knew the stallion would try to run, but that didn't matter since phase two was already beginning. Columns of light, every bit as sharp as her swords, rose up from the square, blocking him in. The square flashed and filled with symbols as it drank greedily from her horn.

"I am not the mare I was before." Trixie resummoned her blade back out and threw it into the air, letting it explode into sparks of magic over the stallion. "I'm not the mare you chased and tortured all over Equestria!"

The stallion reared and whinnied, firing cancelling spells at the cage. Each hit bounced off; this wasn't a simple barrier. This was something so much more. It was meant to be given as a last insult to her tormentors as they finally killed her, a self-destruction spell first thought up and crafted oh so long ago. She was stronger now, thanks to Twilight, which meant that certain modifications were called for.

She wouldn’t be the one the requiem called for. Not today.

"Now, at long last, I can see myself as what I've always tried to be!" Sub-circles formed inside the square, dancing around the lines and floating up into the air around them. "I am light and spectacle, I am celebration and fanfare brought to the masses!"

The stallion fired bolt after bolt from his horn, each passing through the bars but going wide of Trixie as she danced, dodged, and even pirouetted around them.

"Here and now, always and forever!" Trixie jumped up and slammed another blade straight down into the square. The bars erupted into a storm of fireworks and explosions, sending shards and small energy blades up and into the stallion, blasting him higher and higher into the air with each additional burst. "I am the Great and Powerful--" A small star of light overtook the stallion, shining light down like a beacon before detonating in an enormous pink firework blast. "Trixie!"

She turned from his limp body, tilted her hat, and put away her blade. "You can cheer with your final breath."

Prince Ragnar landed on the broken marble flooring, feeling the stone chips from cracked marble on his toes, and started applauding. "Bravo, Miss Lulamoon. Bravo."

The little blue mare in front of him was panting and practically crying, saying "I did it. I finally did it." over and over. She was battered, bruised, and cut, and her armor was singed and dinged just about everywhere.

"It's not good form to lose awareness of your surroundings, Miss," Enok said, pulling out his sword.

"Chief," Ragnar grumbled.

"I was only going to bonk her with the flat of the blade," he said, putting it away.

"What," the mare swallowed, finally seeing them, her knees shaking as she turned. "You... You're real?"

"Indeed. I'm impressed you managed a victory against such odds. We were about to intervene in your fight, but the illusions gave the both of us great pause. We did not wish to attack the wrong pony." Ragnar stroked his beard and examined the body of the stallion, zooming in on it with his eyes to keep his distance. "Tell me, who was that?"

"I..." Trixie took a step back and wiped the blood from her mouth with an armoured fetlock. "I do not know his name. More than that, I am... I can't tell you."

Enok took a step forward. "Can't, or won't?"

"I'm under orders not to." She took another step back, lighting her horn, but it flickered and sputtered, her magic likely depleted. "You'll have to take it up with Lady Sparkle."

"I intend to!"

"Chief! Down boy!" Ragnar snapped, then smiled when he saw Enok grumble and bow. "I understand your situation, Miss Lulamoon, there are evacuation alarms ringing throughout the city, and my home was clearly the site of some kind of attack. I mean you no harm, and want to help you. I also have a duty to defend my city. Please, let us work together." He outstretched his claw, palm up, trying to look as gentle as something with talons and claws could to a herd species.

"I... I..." Trixie sucked in a breath and then deflated. "I can't. Twilight is the best friend I've had since I was a filly. I can't betray her."

"That's interesting to hear." Enok sat up straight and folded his arms. "I did some digging before you arrived. My research said you two had a bitter rivalry going."

"Had. Past tense. And it was one-sided. When I needed help, she saved my life." Trixie shot a glare of steel and stone at them. "If she wants to tell you, fine. That's her call. But the Great and Powerful Trixie will never betray her friends."

Ragnar bowed his head in defeat. "Very well. I can respect that. Perhaps, then, you could tell us where to find the Grand Mage so I might ask her myself?"

"Knowing her, just look for the explosions." Trixie chuckled. "One second, I'll ask the Captain." She raised a hoof up to her helmet, and opened her mouth to speak.

That was when the metal disk clanked underneath her belly.

Gryphons have excellent reaction speeds. They are far faster than most ponies, but even with Passage, they still have their limits when it comes to fighting physics and inertia. If they aren’t moving, they have to get moving, which takes time. There is always that little heartbeat of delay. This was why Ragnar could do nothing but watch as the disk sparked to life in an instant, shooting white electricity into the mare and ensnaring her with ropes made out of electrons before yanking her into the sky. Lines of purple and green magic extended out from her body, looking almost like a diagram of a magnetic field, with a little star as its source.

Ragnar had never heard a mare scream in agony before. He'd heard the screeches of gryphons of both genders and all ages as they were hurt in battle, but this was something different. Even if Trixie could fight, this was a mare at the end of her rope physically and magically, and it came through in her voice as she was pushed past her limits.


The Prince could barely make out Enok’s voice over the din of the scream, but he did see where he was pointing. There was a mare standing on the coliseum wall like the completely vertical surface was actually a regular floor. Her dress and colouring was exactly like the stallion lying dead below her. In her hooves was a strange device the size of a volleyball. It looked like a camera with a half dozen too many lenses, and the mare was pulling down on some kind of attached lever.

"Go!" The Prince spread his wings and charged into the air, pulling out his sword and slicing into the mare, only to pass through her and hit the solid stone of the coliseum wall. He turned his gaze up, finding the mare, or perhaps another vision, standing above him and putting away the device.

He flapped his wings to push himself upwards, but the lack of momentum meant he had to  flap hard to get even a few inches of height. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the lightning around Trixie fade, and her limp and unconscious body falling out of the air and into Enok's waiting arms shortly after.

Ragnar let go of his sword and plunged his talons into the stone wall, pulling his body upwards along with a flap of his wings.  His might launched him up at the camera mare as he made ready to tear out her throat.

The mare simply smiled and pulled out a strange, octahedral object with glass faces and steel edges. It dangled on a chain, and each side glowed bright green with an unknown fluid. The suited pony grabbed onto the end of the chain with her magic and threw it at the fallen stallion’s chest.

Ragnar beat his left wing hard, spinning his body to his right fast get clear in case it was a grenade. He followed it with his eyes as it flew, arcing down to the ground and shattering on the nose of the deceased stallion.

Even with his nearly unmatched reflexes, Ragnar couldn't see the liquid actually catch fire. One instant it wasn't burning, and the next it was. Green flames sprayed out from the device, completely covering the body of the stallion.

Ragnar flew backwards away from the radiant heat as Enok rushed away too, still carrying Trixie in his arms. Her body had those strange lines covering her body now, as if they had been ripped out of her very heart, and it was trying to reel them back in. He turned back to the camera mare as he flew in reverse, only to grind his beak as he watched her vanish into nothing.

"Sire, look!"

Enok words snapped him out of his anger and back to the fire. It was consuming the body like water did salt, but that wasn't all. It was burning through the marble floor itself. 

"Stay back from it! We don't know what magic is at work here! Put Miss Lulamoon down next to me, then find anyone that didn't evacuate with the alarm and get them out of here!"

"Yes, Your Highness!"

Ragnar took Trixie's limp body from his Chief, then looked back to the coliseum. "Lady Sparkle, you had better have a good explanation for all this..."

Rainbow watched Gilda's body, looking for any sign of movement, or a hint of where she was going to make her move. The first moment was critical. Technically, every movement was, but Rainbow didn't have to watch the Gryphon’s muscles flex under her fur and feathers to know just how dangerous she was: four inch talons and claws, a beak way too sharp to risk a head butt, and a polearm that definitely had some kind of core in it. Rainbow needed every possible advantage, and not even the siren from the ground was going to distract her. Distraction meant death.

"Not going to make the first move, Dash?"

Rainbow scoffed, not once taking her eyes off of Gilda. "Like I'd give you an opportunity like that."

The gryphon narrowed her eyes. "Fine by me. I'll just wait for reinforcements."

Crap. I don't have any bucking time for this. "You always were a chicken."

"Excuse me?!" Gilda pointed the tip of her weapon at Rainbow, making little jabs with her words.

"You heard me." Rainbow folded her forelegs. "I wrote you letters for years, Gilda. Years. I was ready to patch things up any time, but you were too Celestia-damned afraid to even compromise an inch, so you never once wrote back."

"That's not how it was!" Gilda screeched, lifting the pike and bringing down its glowing blade in Rainbow's direction.

Dash swung to her left, barely moving at all, and felt the wake of a rush of nearly invisible magic fly past her at the speed of sound. "An airblade? Gilda, I'm not bucking stupid. Stop acting like I am. I know why you never wrote back. You're so damned concerned about what others think of y--"

"Like you're one to talk!" Gilda finally rushed forward, each individual beat of her wings sounding like an airship's engine blade beating the air.

Rainbow flew forward, but dove at the last possible second, slowing only enough to ensure the chase began. She raced off into the winter sky, turning with the walls of the stadium to follow the clusters of clouds the Gryphons had been using as perches to watch the action below.

They were empty now; their former occupants were mere dots in the distance as they had heeded the evacuation alarms. Whatever Freya had done, it did the trick. The entire coliseum had cleared out, save for the fighters in the arena. Which meant, Gilda was likely on her own here.

Then again, so was she.  

A little tingle formed at the base of Rainbow's spine; her current was being disrupted. She pitched up hard, catching a glimpse of the airblade as it shaved off the tips of her tail hairs. She leaned hard into the turn, pulling two hundred seventy degrees to angle straight down.

Gilda, meanwhile, brought a smile to Rainbow as she struggled in her wake, flapping about to make a hard turn and losing speed.  

She never could turn worth a damn. Rainbow boosted her speed and levelled out, aiming for a large seating cloud near the ground. She ducked under it, tipping her body back and putting on the brakes. Her feathers twitched and crackled with power, each moving independently to generate static suspended in magic.

With one more flap she rose above the cloud and aimed her body at the only dot moving towards her. A second later she could see the gold in her former friend's eyes, and the tip of the spear pointed at her.

"Gilda, I'm sorry."

Thunder. That's what always stood out to Rainbow the most when she did this, but it was never really about the sound her lightning made. It was about the current, about the magic. It was about the sheer power behind the hundred arcing bolts shooting out from the edge of her wings, the dance of every prismatic color saturating all of them. The shock wave kicked her back like she was firing an airship cannon instead of something innate, and even vaporized the cloud underneath her. The explosion it could create rivalled that of the strikes of wild Everfree storms.

The only problem was that the explosion never came. Gilda’s pike struck it first, and vacuumed it up in an instant.

Crap! Rainbow turned to fly away, knowing exactly what was coming. Thunder rocked her ears and force punched into her back as yellow arcs shot out from the polearm. The bright, six-pointed star projected into the space around her by her armor was the only reason she wasn't crashing to the ground in a ball of fire.

Come on Rainbow, focus! She bobbed and rocked her body to face a new direction, and let gravity boost her speed back to something resembling "Fluttershy" levels of speed before finally taking off properly into the blue. Her wings flapped to the point of being blurry, and the magic pouring out of the primaries was so dense it was visible. Her normally solid rainbow streak was warped by a shimmering distortion that wafted behind her as she flew.

I said focus, dammit! Time slowed, the once-blurry blotches of clouds came into focus, and the wings of the Gryphoness behind her hung in mid-beat. Even the waves of magic behind her froze. Wait, that's it! Distortion!

Her head darted left and right, scanning the ground beneath her. The coliseum city was surrounded by massive coniferous trees far too large to grow naturally, even with earth ponies to help. They supported the tree homes many of the Gryphons lived in. Snow-covered mountains dotted the landscape in the distance, but that wasn't what she needed. I just need the right spot. The trees mean that’s where the earth mana krene is, which means there's lots of magic, so I just need a... There!

She banked to her left and dove. Jagged rocks on the mountainside reached for her as she flew, each trying to slice open her underside. Even erosion-smoothed boulders would be lethal to clip at this speed, pegasus magic or no. The sun burned ahead of her, but not near enough to do what she needed on its own.

Rainbow followed the very bottom of the valley, and was able to make out her reflection in the frozen river under her belly in places. She could also make out Gilda's.

The river was a source of water, but she needed something larger, something warmer. Her answer was right in front of her; Lake Aerie. Steam rose from it like one of Fluttershy's tea kettles, with not so much as a cube of ice in sight.

She banked into a flat spin over the geothermal lake, pushing the magic of her pinions down and to her right, but pulling air currents around it up, creating an instant cloud. The sheer quantity of vapour swirling around her was growing faster than a parasprite swarm.

Plus, with such a sharp stop, Gilda had to climb and turn around to even get close to Rainbow, and by the time she did, the cloud was the size of a large airship.

Now this is what I'm talking about! Rainbow shot up through the cloud just before Gilda dove in, the pike hitting nothing but air and vapour. She then punched out the side of the cloud and started up a second one to merge and feed into the first. They two formed a single, huge mass in seconds. Static build up reached a fever pitch and raged within the clouds, sparking lightning to life all around her, which was just what she wanted.

"Just what are you doing, Dash?!"

Rainbow's ears swiveled around, locking on to Gilda's voice.

"Stop hiding and fight me, coward!"

Gotcha. Rainbow curved up and around to the rear of the voice's source, then dove at it with all the force she could muster. She couldn't see Gilda, but that was the point. In a cloud this dense, Gilda couldn't see her, either. The single largest advantage a gryphon had was useless here. Rainbow's pony ears, however, were as sharp as ever.

Her hooves hit something soft and furry, but it was only a glancing blow. It still elicited a screech from the cat-bird. The whiff of a pike moving through the air caught her attention, but she was long gone by the time it happened.

"You coward! You bitch! Get back here and face me!"

Rainbow rolled her eyes. "I'm a pony, remember? Of course I'm a 'coward!' But I'd rather be called that by you than die here and fail my friends!" She pushed higher into the cloud, and by the sound of things, Gilda was swinging wildly where she had been a moment ago.

"It didn't have to be this way, Dash! You were supposed to be loyal, remember?! How the hell do you get to spurn me?! I was there first!"

"Because you couldn't take a bucking joke!" Rainbow didn't move to dodge. She flared out her wings and fired a quick lightning bolt in the direction of Gilda’s voice. Another screech filled the cloud, and Rainbow fired again, and again. "You were so stuck up you couldn't bear the thought of not being the coolest thing since dry ice!"

An airblade shot past her head, nicing Rainbow's ear. Blood trickled down, but slowly.

Dash snapped her wings to her side, embracing the pull of gravity to let Gilda flail about some more. "If you could have put your ego aside for even one minute, we could have all been friends!" Rainbow pulled out of the dive and climbed again, weaving left and right to keep Gilda guessing, and waited for the next clue.

There was nothing. No screeches, no voices, no retorts or incomprehensible babble, not even the sound of any wingbeats other than her own. Silence reigned with an icy grip in the cloud, and sent pins up Rainbow's spine.

"You never really got it then, did you, Dash."

Rainbow snapped her head around and fired another bolt into the void, but it just went off into the nothingness.

"You were never a 'friend' to me."

The pegasus went into a corkscrew, scrambling the swirls of her wake to shake the sound of the approaching voice. She stopped again, listening for even the slightest clue.

There was a muffled sound of wind, and the feel of talons gripping her foreleg, and the rage of a golden iris.

"You were family."

The foreleg was yanked, and pain tore through Rainbow's shoulder with the pop of a joint pulled out of place.  The rest of her body soon followed, thrown like a hoofball into the distance.

Rainbow burst out of the cloud and careened to the ground. A few desperate flaps of her wings and her innate pegasus magic was the only reason she didn't break a bone, let alone every bone in her body. The pain in her shoulder was, for one brief moment, the second worst she had. The cushioning effect of her magic was small comfort, though, when there was an enraged Gryphoness charging at her with a pike pointed right between her eyes.

Rainbow rolled over and limped and pushed with her good foreleg, then took to the sky. Even in a straight line, she was normally faster than Gilda, but pain and flying didn't mix. Gilda was gaining.

They rocketed through clouds and up the mountainside. With each flap she lost ground. Even uninjured, Gilda had always been better at climbing, and any gryphon was extremely dangerous at close range.

Rainbow zipped over the top of the coliseum, pitching down into the valley to gain speed and race over the stands. She darted her eyes over each row, wishing all the while for gryphonic eyes. She didn't need supervision to see the valley below, though. It was filled with a red miasma cloud; thaumic contamination so thick even she could see it. Twilight did it! Gotta find her, turn the tide--

Light burned into Rainbow's eyes and into her side, the thunder knocking her towards the stands all by itself. Her air current swirled in every direction, sending her into a death spiral and threatening to break her back on the stone seating she was headed for. She spread her wings out as much as she could, keeping them angled parallel to the ground and flapping. She'd stopped her uncontrolled tumble, and slowed her descent somewhat, but not enough.  

She put her dislocated foreleg out in front of her, and landed on it.

What she screamed, she couldn't remember, but she'd likely have gotten a public indecency charge for it back in Equestria. The pain was unlike anything she'd ever felt before. She'd experienced all manner of crashes in her life, but none like this. Even with a starburst shield firing from her armor, the force turned her shoulder into agony given physical form as the joint popped back in. The rest of her body soon got a taste of the hell her shoulder was in as she tumbled down two flights of hard, freezing cold stadium stairs.

"Twilight..." She coughed, barely able to eek out that single word.

Three clawed limbs touched down all at once, their owner singed but standing. The fourth carried a pike with a glowing blade that seemed to itch to be used.

"Any last words, Dash?"

Rainbow opened her mouth to speak, but the pike was already raised up and coming down. She could see the anger in Gilda's face reflected in the menace of the swing, and her hoof involuntarily pushing against the stone to try to move out of the way. The finishing blow still came.

There was a boom, but it wasn’t anything a gryphon, especially Gilda, could made. It was richer and deeper than something sonic, and resonated to the core of her being. It was the sound of magic.

Rainbow could see something new; something horrible, something far more terrifying than Gilda could ever be, even when the gryphon was about to kill her.

She saw a pony. One with a purple coat, dark mane, a horn, and eyes of fire so black they were eating the light around them. The floating telekinetic blade raised up behind the mare was an impossible fusion of purple and darkness that was warping and burning the very air around it.

She saw Gilda's pike fly out of her hands seemingly of its own accord. She saw the terror in the Gryphon’s face.

She saw the mare, a being of power beyond that of any mortal, charge forward. The entity, the metaphor of life and eternity, was larger than anything she'd ever seen. Larger than Canterlot, larger than Gryphonhelm, larger than the world itself even while being no taller than Rainbow.

Most of all, she saw Twilight’s incomprehensible void of a blade swing down and meet gryphonic flesh.