• Published 13th Oct 2011
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The Quiet Place - Aynine



Twilight fights against sinister manipulations, struggling to overcome a deep-seated darkness within. As she battles to preserve everything she cares about, she will sacrifice anything necessary to succeed. But the price of victory may be herself.

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Chapter 4: Mirrors of Ascension

The Quiet Place

By: Aynine

[Disclaimer: I own nothing of the MLP franchise and all rights are reserved by Hasbro and the respective parties involved.]

Chapter 4: Mirrors of Ascension

-Six Months Later-

"Hey, are you good to perform today? You managed to play off yesterday, but you crashed pretty hard out there," asked a yellow pegasus mare, concern etched into her face. She wore a fiery, slicked back orange and red mane. The rest of her body could not be seen beneath the veil of her blue, lightning-streaked uniform but her identity was not hidden.

Rainbow Dash sat on the locker room bench hunched over and leaning onto her hind legs. She refused to turn around, choosing instead to distract herself with tugs on her own uniform in places already snug. "I'm fine, Spitfire. Really. It wasn't that bad," she returned. Extending and retracting her wings for a demonstration, the cyan pegasus stood up and added a short stretch. "I'll be ready in a minute." Her face cast looks of managed pain and agony to the silent lockers before her.

Spitfire continued to lay a stern gaze upon Dash's wings, but finally sighed and relented. "Alright, Rainbow. I just don't want you overdoing it." The Wonderbolt captain left the locker room, passing the newest member, Scootaloo, as she headed outside.

"Heya, Rainbow Dash!" she chirped, only for her sunny disposition to fade slightly at the sight of her idol's brooding demeanor.

The tough facade of the older pegasus softened immediately at the familiar voice, and she turned around and put up a grin. "Hey, kid." Her wings folded back down quickly, still sore from the accident prior. She did her best to hide the pain using a forced sigh. When Scootaloo hadn't shifted her eyes to them, relief washed over her.

"So, how're the wings? You hit the ground pretty hard. What happened out there?" Scootaloo asked quickly.

An aggravated huff threatened to make its way out, but Dash pushed subdued her frustration for the time being. "Look. I'm fine. I just finished telling Spitfire the same thing. Today's show is going to be just as awesome as any other Wonderbolts show." She stepped over the bench and put a hoof on her shoulder. The orange filly had grown into a mare and the lack of a height difference seemed out of place to Dash now.

"If it were anypony else, I'd say you should sit this one out, but... you're the one and only Rainbow Dash." The cyan pegasus closed her eyes and beamed in confidence. "But you also hit the ground like a wet bag of cement." Dash's expression crumbled immediately and her brow twitched. Scootaloo was right. The truth brought doubts that chipped away at her resolve briefly.

"I'm fine!" she reiterated a bit too loudly. Rubbing a hoof on her head, she met Scootaloo's frown with an incredulous stare. "Look, I'll prove it to you today. We'll do our usual routine and I'll perform my Sonic Rainboom without any problems. I just need a little more altitude to make it work is all."

"Okay, but the moment you start to hurt, or you don't think you can do it, you stop and signal us, alright?" Scootaloo's expression turned to pure worry as she looked Dash up and down with her own doubts.

"I promise," Dash said while displaying her best poker face.

Scootaloo rolled her eyes and left, leaving the injured pegasus alone for the final few minutes before the show. Oh, man. What am I going to do? This really hurts. I shouldn't fly today, but I've got so many fans counting on me. I can't just let them down, she thought in haste. Her own worries and stress boiled into frustration and she punched one of the lockers as hard as she could. The door dented and she retracted her hoof, rubbing it vigorously while lost in thought. A throbbing pain took over, but it distracted her from the pain in her wings briefly. Alright, I've got this. I can do this. With a few deep breaths, she regained her confidence. Yeah, I can handle this.

She left the locker room and stepped into the bright light of the sun lighting up the open sky stadium. Cloudsdale always had clear skies for a Wonderbolts show, but the dark locker room had left her eyes dilated and the radiance of the afternoon became too much and shielded her eyes. The cheerful rays poured into her face and she squinted until her eyes adjusted. She pulled down her flight goggles and everything dampened into a more comfortable tone.

The rising roar of cheering filled the stadium, growing louder as she moved closer and closer. Her teammates had already taken to the skies and she was the last to join them. She coiled down, preparing to leap into flight, but a few starting beats of her wings elicited a dull groan and a pained tear into her goggles. Her jaw clenched and soon they numbed slightly to the repeated agony permeating through them. Sharp breaths were all she could manage while rising to the rest of the team and hovering with them.

"Alright, Rainbow Dash. This is your last chance to sit this one out. You can just apologize to your fans and say you'll make it up to them next time," said Soarin with open concern.

"I'm not sitting this one out, you guys. I just need some extra altitude for the Sonic Rainboom this time. I won't be able to go as fast as I normally can," she replied coolly. She did her best not to let her tone slip under the frustration, or the pain.

A horn blared out from below and it was time to start the show. The Wonderbolts blasted into full bore, spinning and twirling, leaving smoke trails and zigzagging between clouds. It quickly became apparent that Dash could not keep her word when she gradually trailed behind more and more as the show went on. During one of the breaks between tricks, Spitfire was the first to speak out as Dash struggled to catch up.

"Rainbow Dash stop this. It's over. You can't go on like this or you're going to end up in the hospital," she warned sternly.

Dash whipped a hoof outward. "I can perform just fine," she snapped. "Just watch me."

She flew away from the pack and they all watched in worry and disbelief as she climbed in altitude. Hovering high above the sky stadium now, she descended into a sharp dive with the help of gravity to bolster her speed. With hooves forward and mane and tail leaving her signature rainbow trail, she stormed downward to the astonishing speeds necessary for her signature trick. Her face stretched back as the wind ripped by all around her, pushing the goggles into her face.

Just a little more...! she encouraged herself.

*BOOM*

The massive wave of prismatic light exploded into a ring with the thunderous boom blaring out in her wake just above the stadium. The fans and other Wonderbolts watched the beautiful nova of light in equal awe; however, a chaotic rainbow trail surged by the Wonderbolts soon after. The audience had been too distracted to even notice the pegasus continuing to speed downward below the stadium.

"She can't stop!" shrieked Scootaloo, pointing a hoof down below.

Dash continued at high speeds in a dead drop to the ground. Her wings had long since given up resisting, too sore and bruised to fight the free fall, and she began to spiral out of control. Am I going to die? she wondered. Tears welled up behind her goggles as a rush of memories overwhelmed her, a sense of regret filling her along with them.

The Wonderbolts raced after her, but they weren't gaining in speed on their teammate. Despite Dash being the fastest among them they gave it their all. "We're not going to make it..." shouted Sptifire over the wind resistance.

A white light surged past them suddenly, splitting the team apart and threatening to knock them all off course. "What the hay was that?" one member cried. They stopped and watched as it easily surpassed the falling pegasus's speed. The light trail seemed to slow and match her speed before expanding and enveloping her completely. The light twirled for a moment then stabilized as it neared the ground..

The white light crashed into the earth before darting away into a nearby tree line and vanishing altogether, never slowing in its turn. The rest of the Wonderbolts dropped to the ground to find Dash laying in a small crater, each one in awe. Dash was laying face down on her chest, her wings protruding out twisted and mangled, both being completely broken now. Scootaloo grimaced and tried not to cry or heave as bloody bones stuck out through some of the feathers.

The injured pegasus was unconscious, but still alive. "I'll go get the medics," announced Soarin before he blasted off back to the stadium.

The two mares knelt down and inspected her closely, taking care not to disturb or adjust her position.

"You're an idiot. You could've died!" scolded Spitfire with a crestfallen look, slamming both hooves in the ground. She stroked Dash's head while waiting for the medics, shuddering and unable to look at the pegasus.

"She's gonna be alright... right?" Scootaloo watched the slow rise and fall of her idol's chest earnestly. Her face carried distraught, uncertainty burning into her.

"Yeah, she'll be fine," Spitfire muttered, hints of doubt and relief in her voice at the same time.

***

Princess Celestia rested comfortably on a plump red pillow, watching the show with subtle interest. The shuffling of clouds behind her invoked an automatic response; she already knew who her visitor was. "Will she be alright?" she asked without turning.

An armored pegasus stepped up beside her and peered over the edge of the cloud platform to the stadium below. "She'll be fine, but I think she'll have learned her lesson this time. I'm glad I was here..."

Celestia stood up and moved to share her viewpoint. "Oh? And why is that?"

"I saved her life, but now she'll pay more attention to her limits." She turned and looked up to the princess with an almost guilty expression. "You didn't say she had to be unharmed."

Celestia cast the armored pegasus a disbelieving, yet understanding look. "Well, I didn't give you any instructions, just that she will be alright in the end. How bad are her injuries?"

Their gazes returned to the stadium where medics were beginning to fly down with a stretcher and recover Rainbow Dash. "I let her wings absorb most of the impact without letting her risk permanent damage. I'm trying to recruit her and this wake up call should help with her recklessness."

"And you felt such crippling injuries were necessary?"

The knight cast the clouds below her a pained look, but she tilted her head back up and nodded. "I wanted to make sure this worked on the first try. It's... hard to do this to her, but it's for her own good."

Celestia returned to her pillow and sat back down. "How did you know she would endanger her own life like this?" Her eyes scanned the crowd around as the Wonderbolts and medics returned with the mangled pegasus on a stretcher and hauled her out of sight. For a moment, gasps signaled a silence, and then to cheering as Spitfire announced that Dash would be alright.

"I didn't. I just knew... I guess."

The princess chuckled and smiled. "From now on, please try to keep her safe from avoidable harm. At least until the time comes."

The pegasus rubbed at the back of her helmet and looked away in a vain attempt to hide a blush. "Oh, well, you know how I am about her."

"Bring her some books," Celestia added suddenly. Her expression remained warm and unchanging to the now confused knight.

"What?" asked the pegasus as she gawked Celestia. "Rainbow Dash doesn't like reading... Does she?"

"She does enjoy reading. Since she will no doubt be spending an extended period of time in the hospital and inactive while recovering, you should bring her some books to read while she heals."

"Oh. Thank you for the advice, Princess," the pegasus chirped. She turned and began to flap her wings to leave.

"Oh, and one more thing..." said Celestia.

The pegasus stopped and turned, eagerly, to face the princess. "Yes, your majesty?"

"Today you are hereby placed on suspension of primary duties without pay until..." Tears welled up in the pegasus's eyes and her mouth hung open in disbelief. "...the pegasus that has been injured as a direct result of your negligence has fully recovered." The pegasus fell to her haunches and smiled through teary eyes. "At which point, you will return to active duty and have such a mark stricken from your record. During your modified duty, you are to become the guardian and primary caregiver to said pegasus."

"Th-Thank you, Princess," she squeaked.

Celestia smiled warmly to her. "Now, go. You are... not fit for my service right now."

***

Rainbow Dash opened her eyes into tiny slits. An annoying, repetitious beep sang into the air, though it came more as a grating blare to her. A grey blanket had been draped over her and the bed she found herself in was slightly raised for her comfort. Colorful cards covered a nightstand beside her while balloons and other Get Well gifts were placed around the room. She slowly sat up and opened her eyes fully. The excruciating pain involved in the simple task forced a yelp out of her. She winced and crumbled back down to the pillows in defeat, but even the soft, puffy pillows she lay on felt like battering rams to her sensitive, splinted wings.

The room was painted white with pale green curtains over the windows to further compliment its blandness. She had been attached to the most state of the art medical equipment, though, and that provided most of the culture to the room's lack of artistic love. A light green hospital gown had been fastened over her and she found more bandages, bruises, and casts than she would have liked, but everything seemed to still be attached.

A mirror on the wall to her right allowed her to see her face, but she grimaced at her image. The reflection threw back a badly bruised complexion: both eyes blackened, several head wrappings, and a neck brace for good measure. She definitely looked the part of someone who had hit the ground at phenomenal speeds and lost the fight. To her surprise, and relief, she still had all of her teeth and no broken facial bones. To the left of the mirror were large windows with the curtains pulled back to shed in a bright noon ray of light. A nightstand was positioned directly next to the left side of the bed, and on the left wall a counter ran its length with a chair pushed against it.

"Now don't yah look mighty awful." The words took her interest immediately and she looked to the door. "And y'all know I can't lie," added Applejack before chuckling.

"H-Hey..." managed Dash hoarsely. Her voice cut itself off as she found her throat to be too dry to speak. Applejack moved to the counter and grabbed a pitcher of water left behind for her. She poured some water into a cup for the injured pegasus, but Dash gazed at it with a yearning.

The thin stream of liquid seemed more like a waterfall from the mythical fountain of youth than a simple pitcher of filtered water to her. When Applejack brought it to her, she had to place both hooves on it to raise it to her mouth. They'd both been bandaged and too shaky to confidently grasp the cup with just one. "Thanks, AJ."

"No problem. Now, yah mind tellin' me just what yah did to yourself?" she asked while examining the flier's injuries with disbelief.

"I crashed. ...Again," she grumbled. The pegasus rolled her eyes away and tried to avoid Applejack's concerned stare.

"Well, that ain't what Scootaloo told me. They said yah should've died from a fall like that--that you were saved by some kinda white light or somethin'. Care to explain that and why yah were so reckless?"

"I..." She stopped and thought about it. White light? But nothing came to her mind, only a haze of the performance came from her memory, reminding her no better than a memory of a blurry horizon. Everything after the Sonic Rainboom came as a blank. "I don't... remember anything. Maybe it was Princess Celestia."

"Nope. I checked. She didn't even move. Maybe she somehow knew yah'd be safe, though." Applejack's eyes became distant for a moment as she imagined something.

A knock on the door followed by a small cough brought the attention away from the subject. An armored pegasus knight stood in the doorway fully clad in intricate armor, a dark blue undergarment filling the gaps between the plating. A tight baldric holding a sheathed sword had been fastidiously wrapped around the breastplate. The armored pegasus wore a helmet with the grated visor down.

"Well, I guess that's mah cue to leave, sugarcube. I'll let the others know you'll be alright, but you had best take it easy for a while. Fame ain't worth dyin' over yah know." With the parting wisdom, Applejack waved goodbye to her friend, then bowed to the armored knight and slipped out the door.

The knight leaned out into the hallway and watched Applejack until she turned down a branching corridor and disappeared. The knight fully stepped into the room and closed the door behind them with care before straightening their posture.

"Do I... know you?" Dash asked while narrowing her eyes suspiciously and folding her forelegs across her chest.

The knight chuckled. Though it was muffled by the helmet, the laugh was recognizably feminine. Removing the helmet, it was revealed as an unexpected, yet familiar face to the pegasus laying in bed. Dash couldn't keep her mouth from launching open. "D-Derpy!?"

"H-heya, Rainbow Dash," she greeted awkwardly. She blushed and rubbed the back of her head with a free hoof, all the while trying to ready herself for what came next.

"W-What are you doing here? And what are you doing wearing all that armor. And is that a real sword?" The questions came one after the other, all bearing equal confusion in their asking tone. The knight chuckled at a few of them while Dash failed to truly convey her disbelief.

Derpy held out an authoritative hoof to silence Dash and let her speak. She gave a small smile and cleared her throat. "Well, for starters, I kinda saved you."

Dash guffawed at first, but quickly cast her an irritated look. "So you were the white light Applejack was talking about? Yeah, right." The injured pegasus rolled her eyes.

"Yes, I was," Derpy replied simplistically.

"If you saved me then why the heck did you let me crash into the ground!?" Dash attempted to flail her forelegs, but the moment she tried to move them quickly, they revolted with throbbing vibes of agony. She clenched her jaw shut and winced slightly, doing her best to try and hide the pain, but it only served to fuel her frustration.

"Because I only made sure you didn't die or suffer too many lasting injuries." Rainbow Dash froze at the confirmation that she nearly killed herself. Her eyes fell to the floor and all of her anger subsided in that instant. "Yes, Rainbow Dash. You almost died that day." Derpy let out a slow, unsteady sigh.

"But... But if you caught up to me, why didn't you just save me completely? How did even you catch up to me? The other Wonderbolts couldn't even do it."

Derpy set her helmet on the counter and pulled the chair up to the bed. Moving closer, she sat down and gazed into Dash's eyes softly. "I want to recruit you," she replied, dodging the first question.

"...Recruit me? To be what? Some boring old guard?" Dash paused before pointing a bandaged, accusing hoof at her. "Hey! Why didn't you save me from... from... from this!" she screeched, motioning to all of her crippling injuries.

"Because you're so reckless and prideful. You show off and try to get as much attention as possible, not thinking about anyone but yourself. I wanted to teach you some humiliation and modesty. It's not always about you. There are other ponies in the Wonderbolts, and you're supposed to be working together as a team. You should never trade your life for something as shallow as being famous," she chastised.

Dash huffed defiantly. "Oh, yeah? And why would I want to become some guard over being a Wonderbolt, huh?"

Derpy rolled her eyes and sighed again, this time with her own frustration. "Well, you would have to go through training to be a basic soldier before you could become a Celestial Knight."

Dash raised an eyebrow to the unusual rank and title. "Celestial Knight? What's that?" she asked skeptically, but with piqued curiosity.

"That is the highest, most prestigious position in the Equestrian Royal Army. You work directly under the princesses. I guess it's kinda like special ops but with more free time and better benefits. They pay... well, the benefits are really good."

"I'm in the Wonderbolts--my dream come true. Why would I want to leave them and become a Celestial Knight?" Dash cocked her head, fully confident no words could break her belief that there was no greater achievement for her.

Derpy gently snatched one of Dash's hooves into her own and leaned closer, a gasp escaping Dash from surprise at the delicate touch. "I thought you might like it since you like being a hero. You're also a thrill seeker... Maybe it can mean something to you, or just..." She leaned in ever closer, a powerful blush unknowingly painting itself upon her cheeks. When Rainbow Dash leaned back, Derpy stood up and wrapped a foreleg slyly around her neck brace. "...Mean something for me," Derpy murmured softly.

She leaned in and closed her eyes, planting her lips on Dash's before she could speak. Her heart felt as if it would give out at any moment while she leaned further into the other pegasus. Dash's eyes went wide and darted to the door, but she soon relaxed, returning the kiss and blushing furiously as she closed her eyes. In that moment, she could not name a reason as to why Derpy would kiss her, only knowing that they were alone, and it was happening. What...? Does this...? Half coherent questions about the kiss flowed into her mind, but slipped away in the same instant. She hopelessly tried to rationalize everything, but all her mind rounded back to was the bliss.

Derpy broke the kiss and pulled away, gasping for air as quietly as she could. Dash wasn't nearly as subtle, taking noisy breaths while holding one bandaged hoof to her chest and the other to her lips. They turned away from one another, the burning of their hot blushes still overriding the color of their faces. Neither dared to look the other in the eye, and each attempted to hold onto the lingering bliss within the awkward silence that had followed.

Derpy broke the silence. "I-I heard you l-like reading... s-so I brought you a b-book. You should've t-told me... or something." Without making eye contact, Derpy reached beneath her shield and procured a large novel and set it down on the nightstand beside the bed.

Dash remained looking the other way, even avoiding eye contact with her battered reflection in the mirror. "T-thanks... Derpy. I'm sorry I never told you..."

Derpy turned to leave, but caught the other pegasus's face in the mirror. Despite the bruising and bandages, she still smiled sheepishly and admired it. Dash caught the knight looking into the mirror. The momentary eye contact prompted the knight to redouble the speed of gathering her things and heading for the door. As she swung it open for an escape from the awkwardness, Princess Celestia appeared on the other side preparing to knock. Derpy yelped and fell to her haunches, dropping her helmet and creating a startling cacophony.

"And where are you going my faithful knight?" she asked casually, ignoring the clatter of the helmet and looking past to the blushing Rainbow Dash. Derpy sputtered out a jumble of words that had no connection to each other before Celestia cut her off with a hoof. "Why don't you go grab some food? I hear the muffins are exquisite." The love-struck knight quickly nodded and snatched up her helmet before dashing out of the room past her, her face only having grown redder by her gracelessness in the encounter.

"Good morning, Rainbow Dash," Celestia greeted the pegasus. "I see the young knight has brought you an excellent novel to read."

The pegasus had still been daydreaming about the kiss, still lost in the bliss of that moment. She snapped back as her brain processed Celestia's words. "Princess... When I get better, can I... Is the royal guard recruiting?" she asked, still letting her reflection cast back the same love-struck look.

Celestia looked over her for a long while before replying. "What about the Wonderbolts?"

Dash turned to her, still maintaining her goofy expression. "I think they'll understand if I tell them why I'd want to leave. M-Maybe there's something more for me... Something bigger."

Celestia took the seat beside the bed and raised an eyebrow to her. Her form seemed to tower over the bedridden pegasus, but her serene presence made her sooth Dash's rampant emotions. "Oh? And what reason might that be?"

"I..." she turned and looked up the princess. "I think I'm in love with Derpy." The fire of her blush only rekindled as she confessed, threatening to override the tint of her dark bruises. "Princess, what exactly is a Celestial Knight?"

The princess chuckled briefly as she realized Derpy's approach. "A Celestial Knight is a pony whom dedicates service solely to the commands of the crown. They usually do it for a greater servitude, but it also require a much stronger tie to life."

"A much stronger tie to life? What do you mean?" Dash murmured confusedly.

"A bond of love... but not necessarily one of romance, is what is most common," stated the princess simply.

"Wait a minute... Derpy is trying to recruit me because she loves me?" she blurted to herself.

"I cannot speak for miss Hooves's intentions, as to whether or not she is recruiting you out of love or not. Perhaps you can ask her yourself. I must warn you though, love does not have intentions so easily understood."

Upon sensing the knight's clanging hooves emanating from the hallway, she stood up and moved towards the door. She turned and gave the injured pegasus a sidelong glance. "You cannot become a Celestial Knight without a strong bond to life. Ask yourself: Is Derpy Hooves that bond?" She opened the door with her magic and stepped past Derpy as she returned with a bag of muffins hanging from her mouth.

Rainbow Dash cast a thoughtful look at both Celestia's words and Derpy's returning presence. "Hey, Derpy."

"Yes, Rainbow Dash?" She replied more enthusiastically than she intended, sheepishly rubbing the back of her helmet and smiling.

"Uhh..." Dash started, lightly rubbing the back of her head as well. "My hooves kinda hurt too much to hold a book up right now. Can you... Can you read it to me?"

The knight set the bag of muffins over the cards on the nightstand and grinned. "I'd love to."

------------------------------------------------------

"Twilight..." came a distant, sing-song murmur. "Twiiiiliiiight..." it echoed again, this time louder and closer. The word continued to repeat and grow in volume, until it became an overwhelming sound of disdain. Twilight moaned for it to stop, but it only continued to repeat in its tone, becoming clearer and clearer with each utterance.

With a growl, the purple unicorn shot up from her bed. "What!?" Wide, bloodshot eyes with crinkles beneath them darted around the room, evidence of a sleepless night--and irritation--displaying through them. Those same eyes immediately softened at the recognition of both the voice and its owner simultaneously.

"Ah-hem!" Princess Luna cleared her throat and the unicorn sank down into the comfortable pools silky sheets and blankets, sheepish, guilty flush taking hold of her face. "I did not think one such as yourself would dare sleep in on such a glorious day as this one."

Twilight glanced at an alarm clock resting on the nightstand beside her bed. 6:00 a.m. Luna woke me up this early!? She loosed a discontented groan and crawled back into the welcoming depths of her covers. "Oh, Luna," she moaned, "Why did you wake me up so early? The ceremony isn't even until noon."

The princess moved closer to the bed and prodded Twilight's buried form. "Come now. I'd think you would be wide awake by now, even practicing a heartfelt speech for the ceremony. You are being given a well earned title. It has only been a few short years and you are being promoted to an archmage. This is by far the fastest that anypony has ever been accepted. You should be honored, proud."

The bed covers magically pulled themselves further over the unicorn's head and she groaned again. With a defeated sigh, she pushed it all down and glanced at Luna through half-lidded and incredulous eyes. "Is Celestia awake at least?" Luna nodded. Twilight glanced at the alarm clock again. 6:03 a.m. "Alright, alright. I'll get up. Just let me wake up and grab some things first."

The princess nodded again and moved to leave. "I shall see you at breakfast," she said before departing the unicorn's chambers.

Hopping out of bed, Twilight wandered over to a vanity mirror resting atop a large armoire. Her horn began glowing and a staff, cloak, and brush immediately floated to her. The cloak was a plain dark blue with a black lining along the edges. Her staff slid beneath it and fastened to her torso, the spire poking out beside her head. The brush raked itself through her tangled bedmane and tail until it appeared as a finely groomed masterpiece. Maybe I should change my style, she thought, pondering at its straightness.

She left her chambers and wandered through the halls at a sluggish pace, her fatigue from the night reflecting strongly in her lazy strides. She tried to put up a cheerful disposition, but she still didn't even feel awake, yet. Nonetheless, guards and servants greeted her with the respect she earned as the good-natured royal protégé. The red carpeted corridors seemed to stretch on as long roads to everywhere in the universe.

After several minutes of walking and several pauses to loose loud, uncharacteristic yawns, the unicorn made it to the enormous dining hall. Upon entrance, more ponies waved and offered their sunny curtsies. The princesses were already seated side by side at one of the large banquet tables, and she took a seat opposite of them and half-forced a smile to them.

"Good morning, Twilight," Celestia greeted first. "I trust you slept well in preparation for today." Despite the words, she could see the signs that what her student had gone through could hardly have been labeled sleep. "Hmm, I suppose not."

"I'll be fine. I just... need some breakfast... and coffee. It's just a little hard keeping up with Trixie and Rainbow sometimes," she confessed.

Luna raised her eyebrows and offered a sympathetic expression. "Perhaps you should move on. Maybe she will never fully reciprocate your feelings again."

The words stung Twilight; the grim possibility she always ignored. She glanced down at the table anxiously. A white cloth, perfect and clean, covered it completely, a shield to anything that would dare mar the table. Her eyes sank into the innocent color until an idea hit her. "She will be at the ceremony. That's when I'll tell her." Celestia offered her a questioning look. Before she could speak, a chef approached and sat down food for the trio. "Yeah. It'll be perfect. She's always big on showing off in front of crowds."

"Do you think it is wise to corner her into such an extreme situation?" Luna said as several leafy vegetables floated up to her mouth.

"Well, she doesn't have to come," replied Twilight while rolling her eyes. "But I just know she'll be there. She won't miss the chance to try and put me down in front of all of my peers."

Celestia finished a bite of her own food and propped her head up on her left hoof. She stared at Twilight and the two locked their eyes for a moment. "Can I fully trust you will handle the situation with grace, no matter the outcome?"

"Yes. I promise you it will be fine."

"Even if faced with reject?"

Twilight hesitated for a moment. She gave a defeated, "Yes," before giving a reluctant nod.

Returning her head to eat, Celestia cracked a smile. "Very well. I look forward to it either way. I hope that everything works out in your favor."

"Oh, speaking of the ceremony. What of her taking her own pupil once she has received her title at the end of it?" chimed in Luna.

Twilight shot her a confused look. "Me, take on my own student?" Her eyes soon expanded as if she had just been star struck. The prospect of teaching another unicorn much as she had been taught was exciting, though she had doubts as to finding a particular unicorn who could fill the apprentice position.

Celestia finished a bite of food and answered. "Indeed. While it's not a requirement, archmagi are highly encouraged to take on their own apprentice. They are typically wise beyond their years and have much to teach and share."

"Wow... My very own student. It'll be just like you and I!" She continued to daydream about the mystery unicorn she may soon be teaching while Celestia blushed and nodded.

"Did you have any particular unicorn in mind?" asked Luna.

Twilight took in a large mouthful of food and pondered the question. She chewed and bounced around a few acquaintances in her head, but only one really seemed to stick. "Well, Trixie would be perfect. She's the most talented unicorn I know. She has a lot of potential, but..." She rolled her eyes and sighed. "She's just so full of herself sometimes. I'm not sure she'd like the idea."

"Well, it is different from your personal business," started Celestia. "Perhaps she would be interested in seeking the opportunity. Archmage apprentice positions are few and far. Many unicorns will leap at the opportunity to be taught by one, especially one who had been tutored directly by Luna and I." The sun princess motioned for a servant and they placed a set of glasses and a wine bottle on the table.

Twilight stared at the dark bottle and frowned. "I don't really want to teach anypony else... And wine with breakfast?"

Luna smiled. "Come now, Twilight. You shall celebrate the day away--barring getting drunk before the ceremony itself of course." Despite her reservations, Twilight was parched and didn't want to disappoint her by asking for something else. She took her glass and downed it in one gulp. "If Trixie declines, who else would you take on as a student?" Luna asked the moment she finished.

"Hmm... Rarity is happy with what she does and she doesn't have the capacity for magic that I do. There's that one unicorn I know. I think her name was Colgate. She seemed like she might be interested." Twilight glanced to the ceiling while pondering memories of the unicorn to gauge the choice. Both princesses exchanged blank looks before meeting the unicorn's eyes again. "I don't know. I'll think about it."

"Think carefully. There is, however, no restriction on who you choose or how many. Just try not to bite off more than you can chew." Celestia finished her food and stood up. "Well, I have some duties that I must attend to this morning. I shall see you at the ceremony, my faithful student, for how much longer that may be." She winked to her before leaving.

Twilight nodded and rose. She poured herself another glass of wine and downed it again. Luna eyed her cautiously until the glass was set back on the table. "Alright, I'll see you later, too, Luna."

"Where are you going?"

"I've got some things to do as well. I'll see you at the ceremony."

Luna nodded. "Do not tarry in your free time. Noon sharp, Twilight Sparkle," she called as the unicorn trotted out of the dining hall.

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Twilight arrived at her own ceremony just on time, the guests having already arrived and engaged in idle banter. She carried a slightly worried look, constantly glancing around the crowd during the speeches of her peers and superiors. All of the royal magi council made an appearance, each one an archmage themselves. They offered her praise, and they offered her critique, but none of their words had immediate impact upon the newest addition to their order. When the speeches came to an end, her friends moved out from the crowd and offered their own words of congratulations.

The first to speak was Rainbow Dash. The pegasus stood in the armor of the royal guard, but bearing insignias the standard guards did not wear. A sheathed broadsword and heater shield rested on her back, and Scootaloo stood beside her with a perky expression. "Hey, big congrats, Twilight. We knew you could do it." The royal soldier offered a hoofshake at the end. Scootaloo smiled and offered her own congratulations before wandering off to find the other Cutie Mark Crusaders.

"Oh, my! And everypony is going to know that I'm close friends with an archmage!" squealed Rarity. She disappeared into a daydream for a moment before coughing and collecting herself. "You're the true Element of Magic, Twilight. Always wear your title proud, and never forget about us."

"Thanks, everyone. But-"

"Wow, another archmage? You don't see those every day." Twilight had glanced to Rarity as she spoke, but the familiar voice came from behind Dash.

"D-Derpy!? Where did you come from?" she sputtered. To everyone's surprise, the grey pegasus appeared beside the knighted one with a grin. Twilight had scanned the crowd endlessly and never once spotted the grey pegasus among them.

"Oh, you know. I was just around," she said casually, rolling her eyes and subtly leaning closer to Dash.

"Well, thank you for coming, Derpy." Twilight grinned and cast a glance to the way of her royal mentors, but she froze as another voice cut into that moment.

"Really now, they let a unicorn like you become an archmage? My, my how the standards have sunk so low in these quaint times," snapped Trixie sarcastically. The unexpected guest held a wine glass with her magic, taking a sip at the end of her sentence. She was met with gasps and glares all around her, but she held her muzzle high and ignored them as a silence overtook the crowd. The princesses and magi council said nothing and, instead, observed Twilight more closely.

Twilight turned around to face the unicorn who loathed her presence and scholastic upbringing, and put up a smile. Despite the harsh tone and words, she was completely unfazed by the verbal attack. She took one of Trixie's hooves in her own, earning a shocked look from the magically inferior unicorn, and felt herself fill with glee.

"Ah, Trixie. I'm so glad you're here! I just knew you would come," blurted Twilight with a bit more cheerfulness than intended.

Trixie blinked a couple times, unable to believe what she had just heard. Twilight was expecting her to show up? It seemed too far fetched to be true. She huffed and decided to find out Twilight's motives in the most superior manner she could muster.

"So, is the 'Archmage' Twilight Sparkle finally realizing that 'The Great and Powerful' Trixie is truly her better?" she snorted, taking another sip from her wine glass and raising her muzzle to stare down at her again.

"Um... Trixie..." trailed off Twilight, doing her best not to laugh... or cringe.

"What, then?" she snapped indignantly. "Well? Out with it already!" she added with a an impatient stamp of a hoof, leveling with Twilight but cocking her head.

By now all of Twilight's friends and the guests of the ceremony had formed a large circle around the two unicorns. They were the center of attention, but given enough room to move about. Trixie took as much of the space as she could to ensure her presence appeared as grand as possible while Twilight simply remained near her position for the ceremony.

"Well..." she started, rolling her eyes to Celestia. "Now that I'm an archmage I'm supposed to take on an apprentice of my own. And I've given it a lot of thought, but there's only one unicorn I want to be my apprentice and that's... Well... I want you to become my apprentice, Trixie. That's why I was hoping you would show up here today at my inauguration," she explained sheepishly, turning her head away slightly to hide a threatening blush.

Trixie's pride--and her dropped wine glass--shattered to the words while the crowd began whispering amongst themselves. The showmare drowned herself in thoughts, her face blanking to process. Thoughts of repercussions came; thoughts of her fame; thoughts of her reputation; thoughts of the other mare's ulterior motives; thoughts of the gesture being interpreted beyond simple honors. Twilight was asking her to become her own student, her own protégé. That meant Trixie could be viewed as a weaker unicorn--an inferior pony.

The nerve of that mare! How dare she! was all that played over in her mind.

Trixie's rage boiled over and she suddenly closed the distance to Twilight. "You think that I, The Great and Powerful Trixie, would ever become your student?!" she fumed.

Twilight shrank back, crushed that the idea, an honor on Trixie's part, was rejected outright. It seemed hard to swallow that Trixie still had her head in the clouds, especially at Twilight's own ceremony promoting her to an archmage; a ceremony observed and sanctioned by the magi council and the princesses. She blinked and took in a deep breath silently, caught off guard by the other unicorn's prideful reaction.

Twilight looked away briefly. "Well... Yeah. It's obvious you have a great talent for magic and you could learn so much from me." Her eyes returned to meet Trixie's, but the magician's still held the same anger within. "Please... think it over," she pleaded with a slightly forced, yet sincere smile.

"How insulting! To think the likes of you would ever pass me over for the title of archmage, and then you would rub it in my face by asking me to become your... your subordinate! Who do you think you are?" Trixie said, pointing an accusing hoof to the new archmage.

In the same instant she pointed her hoof, Twilight teleported behind her and latched onto her. Trixie gasped, failing to even notice Twilight had vanished before her eyes until the other unicorn's grip tightened.

"You need to calm down, Trixie," whispered Twilight with urgency. Trixie's newfound plight of humiliation sank in. Her face reddened as the crowd began chuckling earnestly.

Her face burned as ponies in the crowd laughed quietly amongst themselves. Their laughs sought to mock her. They didn't take her seriously. Trixie violently shrugged off Twilight's grasp and jumped forward, spinning back to face her. She seethed with anger and indignity as Twilight stared at her empathically. With all of her hatred fueling her, she fired the biggest blast of magic she could from her horn. It ripped through the air towards Twilight only to be completely dispelled by Twilight's own magic, coupled with her hoof batting through it. The spell fizzled and vanished in a tiny puff of smoke.

"Please calm down, Trixie. This is supposed to be a great day for me and I only want to make it better by taking on my own student," said Twilight as politely as possible. "If you refuse then you can just leave," she added loud and curt, shooting the magician a hard stare and pointing a hoof to the entrance.

Trixie stared at her, dumbfounded by her own lack of magical power. It wasn't just blocked by a magical barrier or countered with another spell. Twilight had completely dispelled it without so much as a scratch on her. She collapsed to the floor, her resolve now crushed by the truly superior unicorn's display.

She's always been stronger...Damn it... She punched a hoof into the floor. I always knew it... I just didn't... want to admit it... she thought to herself regretfully. Her eyes glued to the floor, a heavy shame forcing her away from eye contact with others.

She tried not to cry, not to bawl out her frustrations. She thought it made her look weak and helpless, especially in front of a crowd of Twilight's peers. Among them were the unicorns who made the decision to appoint Twilight as an archmage, the very ones she had hoped to some day join in their prestige and glory.

She looked up with teary eyes to all of the expectant ponies in the room. Celestia and Luna were standing tall by their throne, observing the entire situation within the confines of stoic grace. Somehow, Celestia's usual, but accidentally intimidating, stare did nothing to her where it would've destroyed the will of any other pony on her situation. The most anguishing eyes of all were those of Twilight's as she slowly walked up to her. They seemed like the eyes of pity raining from a bettered soul, or the eyes of authority handing down a judgment too cruel to bear. Twilight knelt down in front of her and whispered.

"I know it's hard to accept that there's something more when being the best is all you've ever known. Please, reconsider becoming my student," she whispered as she lifted Trixie back to her hooves. "I know you're not exactly fond of me, so I understand if you don't want to accept."

"I... I'm sorry I made such a scene at your ceremony, Twilight. Please... please forgive me for..." She paused and looked at the floor, taking in a deep breath as memories rushed back. "...Everything," she finished with a moment of eye contact. She lowered her head in shame once more and sighed. Her silvery mane fell over one side of her face and obscured her eyes.

Twilight tilted her head back up with a gentle hoof. "That's quite alright, Trixie. I forgive you. Now, please just enjoy yourself as my personal guest if you want to stay, alright?" she said in a soothing tone.

Trixie's expression warmed, and Twilight smiled to her as she let go of her hoof. "I would like that very much," she replied as she wiped her eyes quickly and sniffled several times. "Oh, and Twilight?"

"Yes, Trixie? What is it?"

"I accept your offer. Please... teach me." Trixie couldn't quite grin, but within her, a warmth welled up and pushed the sadness and regret away. Something the other mare said or did triggered a fleeting sense of comfort. She calmed and rubbed her face, a look of happy content scattered weakly upon her features.

Twilight turned to the crowd of ponies. "From this day forward, Trixie Lulamoon is my apprentice!" she announced, beaming to the princess in particular. They exchanged looks and smiled back, with the magician fainting, her face flushed.

Author's Note:

2/9/2013 - Final edit, pending Peppy's proofing after my own.

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