• 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 8: The Deafening Fate

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 8: The Deafening Fate

Twilight stood quietly by the edge of one of the Canterlot castle's many balconies, her face enjoying the warmth of the late morning sun. She stared down below, observing the city's landscape with occasional wistful glances towards Ponyville far off into the distance below. Nothing but the vague blotches of the buildings could be made out, save for the large tree library and town hall standing above the others. As the minutes ticked away, she caught herself looking towards the quaint town more and more. I really should go... She closed her eyes as a cool wind flowed over the balcony, ruffling her cloak as it held fast beneath her staff. It chilled her cheeks and she tugged at the edge of her cowl instinctively.

"Twilight Sparkle." The voice of a colt cut through her moment of peace and she stifled a gasp, choosing to take in quick breath instead. She was too engrossed in thought to realize he had already approached her. "You have been summoned by Her Majesties, Princesses Celestia and Luna." His voice quavered as Twilight turned her head slightly to glimpse him. Only one eye peeked out from beneath the brim of her cowl, and he flinched as she focused in on him, a stoic expression casting to him. "If you'll come with me," he said, then bowed quickly.

As he raised his head up, he leaned backwards slightly when he noticed Twilight was still staring at him. "Well, are you going to lead the way?" she asked casually. He flinched again and turned on his hind hooves, almost losing his balance. Twilight followed after him, throwing her eyes over the countless castle decorations she had seen so many times before. Eventually, she passed a portrait of Starswirl the Bearded and came to the realization of the colt's behavior. "Are you afraid of me?" she asked just loud enough for him to hear.

The colt skipped a step and nearly fell, stumbling several meters and regaining his balance gracelessly. "O-Of course not," he stammered, forcing a smile and trying to keep his head lower than hers. "Why would I be afraid of you, Lady Archmage Sparkle?"

Twilight blinked several times and lowered herself to study him, revealing her entire face. "I heard a rumor that archmagi are feared because they present as bad omens, and usually mean something unsettling has been going on. The princess probably just has a mission for me to go help another settlement. Don't worry."

The words seemed to relax the colt and he nodded calmly. "I'm sorry. Some of the other magi are a bit... pushy," he whispered. "Please don't tell them I said that," he added quickly.

Twilight giggled and nodded. "I won't." As they continued to the throne, Twilight took notice of a decreased number of staff the closer they got to the throne. I wonder what's going on, she thought.

The large, ornate doors to the throne were already wide open when they arrived. The colt bowed and departed down another corridor to elsewhere within the castle. Two guards were stationed on each side of the door with two more opposite of them, their eyes trailing over to her as Twilight neared. "They await you inside, milady," said one, barely casting a side glance to her.

She made her way inside to find Celestia, Luna, Rainbow Dash, and a few of the magi Council gathered near the throne. The radiant room seemed to flash its brilliance momentarily and a gust flowed past her. She held down her hood and cocked an eyebrow, scanning the empty space behind her. Weird. Shrugging, she stepped closer and observed the group. They were talking amongst themselves, but too far to eavesdrop on what they were discussing.

"Ah, Archmage Twilight Sparkle. I'm glad you were available," Celestia greeted. She nodded and swirled a hoof in the air as she refocused back on the other magi. "I trust that everything shall be taken care of accordingly." The group nodded back to her. "Then Luna and I must busy myself with another duty for much of the afternoon. Please defer yourself to Chancellor Leo or Commander Minuette should you need anything. Give us the throne, please."

The magi didn't even look up to Twilight as they filed past her on their way out, each keeping their heads level beneath their cowls in thought. All but one had departed at Celestia's command, and when they were out of sight the guards closed the doors. Twilight looked up to the throne to see the last magi remaining. A stallion with a sandy beige muzzle poking out beneath the cowl of a grey cloak stood motionless, following the gaze of the others. A golden chain looped through the corner of a large tome that hung from his neck and dangled in front of his chest.

Despite never having seen this particular pony, something about him felt familiar to her. She attempted to feel out his magical presence much in the same way of preparing to mimic another unicorn's magical actions, but she could feel no presence; nothing about him indicated he could be an archmage of the Council. Then, as she withdrew her attempts of identifying him, he shook his form and she realized that the familiar feeling was emanating from the tome. Pure magic? What is in that book?

"Twilight," started Celestia, snapping the unicorn's attention back to her, "I have some grim news in regards to the Brood." She cast a sidelong glance towards Luna who nodded back.

"Spike?" exclaimed Twilight, her heart rate increasing. She didn't realize she was at the bottom steps of the throne until her eyes caught Celestia's extended hoof to ease her.

"No. Spike is fine. You need not worry about that, Twilight," Luna replied softly.

Twilight exhaled in relief and rubbed at her chest, the beating of her heart slowing back to a normal pace. "I'm sorry. What's going on with the Brood? I rarely hear about them, so I've always just assumed everything is fine with them."

The princesses exchanged blank looks before Celestia took a step forward. "I'm afraid,"--Celestia cleared her throat--"that within a few years' time, we will be going to war with them."

Twilight blinked a few times as the information began to sink in. "Wh-what!?" she croaked. She shook her head violently and took a step back. "No. Spike couldn't have failed us. I refuse to believe that we'll be going to war until I talk to him."

"Spike won't be participating in their war. I will have him withdraw from his position in Draconis before this war comes to pass. I'm sorry, Twilight, but I can only keep it at bay for the time being. This is not something I can stop, and it will happen." The princess closed her eyes and grimaced.

Twilight threw her cowl back and tugged at her collar, stepping back from the throne. The loose binding that held it together now felt like a noose prepared to end her at the gallows. "So... So now what? I'm an archmage, what... what do you want me to do? How can I help stop this? There has to be a way..." She looked to the floor for answers, a long silence hanging over the air, but no words of enlightenment filled it. When she looked up, Rainbow Dash was forcing herself to look away. The cloaked pony continued to remain idle, and Luna stepped up beside her sister and whispered something Twilight couldn't hear.

"You will ascend," Celestia declared cryptically.

"...Ascend? What do you mean?" Twilight moved back to the bottom steps of the throne and stared up to Celestia, expectantly.

"You will become an alicorn," chimed in Luna. "We have-"

Twilight gaped at her. "Become an alicorn!?" she echoed. Luna nodded, compounding the sudden haze of confusion Twilight had become lost in. Alicorns, she thought, can't be created... can they? Her thirst for knowledge began to win the battle against her disbelief and she found herself motivated by curiosity and intrigue. "Is that... really possible?"

"Indeed, Twilight. We have watched you for years," Luna said, shooting her sister an unreadable look, "and have decided that you, above all others, are the prime candidate to bestow such a power to--the Element of Magic incarnate. That is, should you accept such a divine blessing."

"I..." Twilight found it difficult to articulate any response. Her head began to swim with ideas, with questions, with desire. She sat down, now unsure of her own thought process. The scarlet carpet of the throne room felt as if it stretched on into infinity. Despite her dry throat becoming dry, a moment of pause allowed her to force out words once she took hold of her mind once more. "Why make me an alicorn? What will that do?" she asked hoarsely.

"It will grant you greater power and resilience," Twilight's head snapped to the cloaked pony, "the natural ability to fly, and immortality." He had tilted his head enough to glimpse her, and he spoke with a practiced, polite voice, uncharacteristic of a pony of his questionable status. "Alicorns have a much greater capacity for magic, as well as a stronger alignment with the elements. You will have access to abilities that unicorns do not."

"But I'm just one unicorn. If we're going to war with the Brood, how much will making me an alicorn even help?" Twilight tugged at her cloak collar again, still loose.

"We have carefully constructed a plan to avert the tragedy and bloodshed of a full scale war when they do finally attack our kingdom. This plan requires at least two ponies of your caliber," Celestia answered, her tone becoming wistful. She nodded towards Rainbow Dash before focusing back on Twilight.

"Celestia," Twilight started slowly, "just what are you asking me to do?" She raised an eyebrow with her widening eyes, and shifted her gaze between the counsel before her.

"What I'm about to ask of you is the impossible. To ascend; to kill in the name of duty; to bear the weight of our entire kingdom's hopes," she replied while narrowing her eyes. She looked up to the ceiling briefly, then brought her head down, her eyes darting to the robed pony quickly, then back to Twilight.

Twilight's eyes widened further, and she wanted to throw off her cloak, the collar continuing to feel as if it were choking her. "Y-you... want me to kill... dragons--Spike's own race?" The carpeted steps before her seemed to stretch to the heavens now, her head swimming once more beneath the gravity of the words.

"Yes," replied Celestia simply. "But it isn't just that. You are going to kill the dragon king, Render."

Twilight caught a gasp in her throat and looked to the scarlet carpet. Blood...

"Twi, they've already briefed me on most of this stuff--except for some of the crazier details. This isn't going to be easy, but if Princess Celestia is right about the war, this really is the best chance we have," interjected Dash with some reassuring hope. It did nothing to ease her friend's queasy feeling about the entire situation.

"Why... why me? Why this? Why tell me all of this now of all times?" she asked with forced calm. Luna opened her mouth to speak, but the robed pony moved beside Celestia and coughed.

"Unicorns everywhere would leap at the opportunity of ascension. Why must a wisdom-seeker such as yourself question the circumstance before indulging your own curiosity at such an idea?" he stated, barely moving his head when speaking. Twilight stared at him, unable to come up with an answer.

"Twilight, your magical potential rivals that of the most powerful archmages to ever live--even so young; however, you are still weaker than us," Luna said casually. "You must walk among us in power, or you risk dying because we did not take the extra step. This is not a decision we have come to lightly. You have been meticulously monitored for years in advance." Luna cast her a sympathetic look, but Twilight paid no mind to the sudden revelation that she lacked privacy.

Become an alicorn... The idea itself seemed even more fictitious than the tales of Nightmare Moon's rebellion when she was reading through the old history books as a student. Twilight stared forward to the carpeted steps blankly, her head filling with images and ideas to go along with what had already been stated. Even with her imagination, it was still surreal. "I trust you, Celestia," she said after a long silence. "How does this work?"

The robed pony stepped forward and the chain around him unlocked. The tome bound to it silently slipped off and moved before Twilight. The subtle feeling of magic from the book hadn't become any clearer to her with its new proximity. It sprang open to a page depicting the transformation of a unicorn into an alicorn, complete with archaic text and pictures. She could read some of it, but parts of it were not immediately decipherable.

"As has been said, you will become an alicorn through a sacred ritual known as the 'Rites of the Alicorn', and spend the time before this war training and studying in arts beyond that which you normally would." His voice sounded almost intoned, but his words entranced her. "You will not, however, be completing the aforementioned tasks with Commander Dash. We wish for her to utilize her speed to steal documents pertaining to the Brood's plans for war, and then return to us as you assassinate the king."

"Assassinating," the word rolled off Twilight's tongue with unfamiliarity, "the king now won't prevent the war?"

"A preemptive attack on the Brood would only incite hostilities within their nation were it to be done now," Celestia said softly. "Assassinating Render after the war begins would cripple their morale and they would lose the will to fight having seen their king laid to rest so quickly and easily in his own kingdom. Hopefully," she said with a rising tone, "they will surrender or cease this foolish conflict altogether."

"Your mission could cost both of you your lives. Equestria will be depending on you and not the likes of a capable army outright," said the robed pony. His dull tone seemed more like the narrator of a documentary than a pony explaining a dire.

"I don't know if I could kill a dragon. Spike would never..." Twilight trailed off, the opinion of her childhood dragon assistant and friend hinging upon her impending acceptance.

The princesses pursed their lips and Rainbow Dash let loose an empathic sigh, but the robed pony continued unfazed. "The Rites will imbue you with the power to slay dragons, and we will guide you in controlling your new powers. You will be trained to fight, survive, and hide yourselves. Normally, it would take an entire contingent of soldiers to bring down a single, adult dragon, but you will become strong enough to fell many by yourself, and your friend more than one. Your ability will be equal to that of a legendary Dragon Slayer, a title that is rare among even amongst the mightiest ponies in history."

"Please, Twilight. Be absolutely sure before you accept something like this," Celestia pleaded, her eyes filled with solemn desperation. Her heart weighed heavily with guilt, but already knew Twilight would never say no to an opportunity like this. A small part of her wished she would decline the monumental task, even if it meant they could be together for eternity--and cost the lives of many of her subjects.

Twilight mulled over the situation for several minutes longer, losing herself in the passing of time. More years of dedicated study, a greater power; war. The thought of killing other sentient beings was harrowing, let alone for the good of her kingdom. She bit her lip, unsure if she could ever live up to her oath. But... it had been Celestia that asked her. With a glance into Celestia's eyes one last time, she closed her own. With a deep breath, she readjusted the collar of her cloak and tightened it back to a normal position.

"If I am to wind up immortal because of this transformation, and more... I have a request. Please come to me Celestia," commanded Twilight with a motioning hoof.

Celestia quickly strode to her side and hesitated before lowering her head. Twilight opened her eyes and motioned to come even closer, then whispered into her ear. Celestia's face flushed, and she gave Twilight a surprised but thoughtful look.

"If that is your request, then so be it. Please, let us both survive this conflict. I’m sure that’s not your only wish and we will accommodate your every need as everything progresses," remarked Celestia with a pained smile before hugging Twilight and nuzzling her. "I promise you, Twilight... If you really want that."

"Since we're starting today, where do we begin?" asked Twilight, looking at the robed pony intently. A devious smile began to tug at the corners of his mouth.

Twilight eyed him suspiciously for a long while, still loosely pondering his origins. Suddenly, the magical book snapped shut and returned to his side, binding itself under no visible sources of magic. Celestia motioned for everyone's company and they exited the throne room, Twilight following at the back of the party. Her heart began to beat faster as she was led down stairs and through corridors into parts of the castle unfamiliar to her. She had wandered through the royal halls for most of her life, but nothing about these lower levels could be found in her memory.

After walking until she had lost their exact location in the new area, they arrived before a small chamber deep within the castle. The chamber door had been adorned with old etchings of the alicorns, but they weren't depictions of Celestia or Luna. Their cutie marks and color combinations differed slightly between them, with a blank unicorn standing between them. As she studied each of them, a trickle of sweat rolled down the side of her head. They're not the only alicorns to do this?

"Wait outside, Rainbow Dash," Celestia said before goading open the doors with her magic, a grinding creak echoing down the hall as they parted. The knight saluted and leaned against one of the walls.

Entering the chamber, Twilight examined the new surroundings immediately. The walls were illuminated by the princesses' horns as they led the way, light revealing they were decorated with murals of more alicorns and odd magic, much like the ones of the Mare in the Moon tale. She felt a powerful magical presence permeating through the stone around her. The presence felt inert, but it brought with it a sense of creeping dread. She could hear her heartbeat thudding against her chest now.

In the center sat a small, flat altar beneath an overhead window. Sunlight poured through over the altar and became lost in the glow of the horns. Where is this window located? Twilight wondered while attempting to determine where they were again. The princesses moved to stand on opposite sides of each other while the robed pony moved to loom directly over the altar. He motioned forward and Twilight laid down upon it, swallowing hard as the cool stone caused her to flinch. As the princesses' horns began shining with more power, the chamber doors grinded shut and sealed themselves. The sound startled Twilight and it took all of her willpower not to leap from the altar.

"Celestia... Is this really going to be alright?" Twilight asked anxiously. She peered up to the window, then back around to the dark edges of the room. She craned her neck around as the magic between the alicorns expanded. The presence of dread within the room had intensified into a pressure that sank into her; a feeling of claustrophobia began setting in on her nerves.

"Yes, Twilight. I'm afraid it will not be comfortable, though. Please endure this, it will not be long," she muttered with a regretful tone. Her eyes watered as she avoided an accurate description of what the unicorn was about to experience.

Twilight laid her head flat as both princesses began to channel their magic into her. The window above became a solid black, and now the only light in the room was emitted from the horns of the regal sisters. Their magic flowed directly into Twilight’s body, fighting back the gloom with a furious glow of intermixed blue and orange. The robed pony began reciting an incantation in a language she couldn't understand, and her heart sank beneath the feelings of dread and unfamiliarity. Anxiety soon crippled her with fear and her body refused to move, petrified. Though the words uttered were foreign, the chant entranced her, and soon she began to feel the power of the celestial magic sweep throughout her body.

It felt energizing at first, but another feeling overtook it several moments later: pain. Twilight screeched out in horror as she wrenched her body in an attempt to quell the agony in some way. She barreled onto her stomach and gripped the edge of the altar with her forehooves, eyes clenched shut, teeth bared. The pain grew in intensity and she wanted to scream more, but her voice refused to oblige in that moment. As it peaked, ethereal wings ripped free from Twilight's back, her image distorting under the veil of the magic. Her voice suddenly freed itself, and she screamed as loud as her lungs could afford. Her mind filled itself with thoughts to distract her from the tearing, burning sensation of the new appendages, tears trickling down her eyes. Outside, Rainbow Dash jumped and winced as the harrowing cry pierced the thick stone doors and echoed down the empty corridor.

The pain slowly started to subside and the sensations of the magic began to warm and numb the pain in her back and wings. The feeling was almost pleasuring and she found herself relaxing and calming to it. After several more moments, she slipped into unconsciousness while the magic continued to course throughout her being, changing her.

***

Twilight awoke much later in the comfort of her own bed, a burning, sore sensation where her wings now appeared furled up and carefully wrapped in bandages. Standing before her were the robed pony and Princess Celestia, both watching her intently. She looked to her nightstand to see sunlight shining upon gauze and half-used containers of ointment covering it.

She sat up and winced, the pain eliciting a groan from her, and she rubbed her eyes clear of the blurry images from a dream already vanishing from memory. "When... How long was I asleep?" She followed up with a large yawn, the sound failing to faze her audience.

"The toll upon your body is great, and your body and mind have spent two weeks recovering from the process," answered Celestia first.

"You have successfully become an alicorn, Archmage Sparkle," informed the robed pony. "Congratulations."

Twilight choked briefly as she attempted to speak, only to find herself with a dry throat. Celestia readily levitated a glass of water to her and she downed it in one gulp. "The ritual can fail? What happens if it does?"

"It is possible to die from it. Though, it is extremely rare. Only those who have not attained the capacity of an archmage risk dying," said the robed pony casually. Twilight swallowed hard at being uninformed of that detail. "You are far above the necessary requirements, Twilight Sparkle," he added to quell her sinking heart. "You will require an extended period to rest, and you will be unable to use your magic to any significant degree. Take this period to acquaint yourself with your wings, and use all of the time you need to familiarize yourself with your body again," he added. Twilight gave him a confused look and he motioned to a large mirror.

Gritting her teeth as she climbed out of bed, Twilight moved to stand in front of the tall mirror with her wings slowly unfurling out. Each step, and her wings most of all, had felt extremely foreign. They didn't feel like they belonged to her, but rather, she felt like she was moving someone else's body entirely. The mirror reflected back the image of her coat, the natural purple having acquired an underlying, majestic boost in depth. It appeared more vibrant without losing its base color. After several moments, the noted detail seemed normal and lost among her appearance unless she focused on it.

Drifting at the ends, her mane and tail had begun to gain the floating property of the princess'. The color faintly rippled within and throughout itself. She blinked a few times before glancing twice to the robed pony. He was now shorter than her where he previously stood at the same height before the transformation. He coughed and motioned to her wings. She slowly stretched them out and attempted bending them, though they were much too sore to flap. Maybe I can race Rainbow Dash now, she thought, snickering at the idea.

"Do not attempt to use any of your new powers and simply rest," echoed the robed pony again.

Princess Luna entered the room as he finished speaking, her dark form lightening in the sunshine. "Ah, Twilight, it is good to see you've awoken. I know you must be eager and have many inquiries. Please be at ease for the time being, though. Speak your mind of any questions you may have of your ascension," she said as she moved to avoid the window light.

"Are you and Celestia both alicorns from these Rites?" she asked quickly. The sisters exchanged glances, prompting Twilight to flush, feeling abashed of the question.

"No, we are both natural," started Luna. "The ritual of ascension you have undergone is not the first and was created as a contingency for a back-up ruler in case of a conflict where an alicorn ruler, like ourselves, may perish. In other words, should Celestia and I fall, you would take our place and lead Equestria onward," she added casually.

Twilight curled her bottom lip and chewed on it while mulling the prospect of ruling. "Luna, I-I don't mean to sound u-ungrateful or anything, but"--she swallowed hard--"I'm not leadership material. I don’t want to r-rule Equestria," she stammered quickly.

Celestia chuckled and shook her head. "We have given you this power to prevent the fall of our kingdom--of us, I hope. These gifts can be taken away." She examined Twilight thoroughly before adding, "I don't think that's what you would want, though."

Twilight nodded. "I don't know what I'll think after all of this, but I'm going to do whatever it takes to succeed, Celestia. So, what does this new transformation mean for me?" she asked.

"You will be capable of erasing most of your presence at night, and blend in with the world in a more perfect method. At the same time, the sunlight can be used to increase your regeneration, both physically and magically. You have gained strong, permanent wings and your latent magical ability should have increased significantly. Eventually, telepathy with one of us is possible. Through training, you will become strong enough to end the war with the dragons in a controlled manner," Luna answered, a hint of eagerness laced in her voice.

"What about Rainbow Dash? What's her part in all of this if I'm the one that's becoming stronger?" Twilight glanced around, taking note of the knight's lack of presence.

Coughing into a hoof, Celestia answered. "She will undergo conditioning to assist you. Her role will be minor in comparison to yours, but she is not to be underestimated either. I'm hoping that she can retrieve the Brood's military plans and return in haste. The assassination is more crucial, however. That is why our blessing is necessary. A pegasus cannot become an alicorn like a unicorn, as they do not possess any magic to build upon already."

"That is the outline of the mission," intoned the robed pony, "and we will provide all of the details later. For now, you can prepare yourself mentally. The journey to the Imperial City of Draconis itself will be long, as traveling on the ground is more difficult to detect." Twilight began to wish Pinkie Pie would be the one to speak for him, the lack of enthusiasm in his voice seemingly dragging out everything he said.

"I've never been to Draconis. I heard the city is beautiful," said Twilight.

"The method of infiltration is left to you, Twilight Sparkle. Do not tarry to sightsee. You have the gift of teleportation, so your escape should not be an issue. But be warned, you are far from invincible. Do not allow your powers to go to your head," he added in the same, flat tone.

Twilight pawed at the floor to help her get through the explanations. "I understand. I'll learn my new limits in time, but are we really just going to complete this mission through study and training? Will anything else be provided to help us?"

The robed pony finally showed signs of life when he cracked a grin. "I am glad that you asked. You will be provided with the Holy Wand of Telos,"--Twilight loosed a loud gasp and straightened her posture--"a mythril artifact that you will utilize and bond with," he finished, his voice rising with an inflection.

"N-no way. That thing is real? I've only heard of it in legends!" Twilight blurted as she remembered its tale only in passing.

A powerful and enigmatic wizard, long before the alicorn sisters' rule, was heralded in ancient texts and stories as a hero. He had done great things in his time and helped the world. When he passed on suddenly, he left behind his mythical staff. It was said to hold the greatest magical capabilities and live much like its master did. Both him and his weapon are believed to be forever lost, circulating as only a myth.

Luna blinked several times and turned to Celestia sharply, her mane whipping with the movement. "Sister, are you absolutely sure we should give her such an artifact?"

"Have faith in Twilight. I trust her fully, and I would trust no other beyond this conversation to wield it. We must bolster her strength in any way we can," replied Celestia with a confident, soothing smile. "The mythical weapon of Telos. Indestructible, its shape can be manipulated into many forms. It rests in the natural state of a staff more powerful than any other, and it is capable of acting to the user's will. Yes, Twilight, the very one. You are to inherit it," she added softly.

Twilight stared at her, wide eyed, imagining what it looked like, what she could do, showing it off. But most of all, the thought that she could even confirm that it existed, let alone wield it, suddenly converted her into a well of excitement. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! I get to wield it! Me! She began to grin and fidget in anticipation.

The chamber doors swung open silently, a draft of air sweeping through the room. Rainbow Dash entered clad in her unique knight's armor. The polished metal shined just bright enough to stand out, with intricate carvings across the breastplate and winged helm. Fastened to her back were a longsword and heater shield, equally as cared for. "Heya, Twi. I just heard you woke up, and everything went well. How're you feeling?" she asked in a cheerful tone.

With a groan she nodded to the knight. "Aside from my back and wings, I feel pretty good. It looks like we'll be training together for this. Have you told all of our friends?"

"No," she said with a defeated look. "We'll get to see them between our training, but..." she trailed off, looking up to the princesses.

"You cannot reveal this to anyone until after this is all over," Celestia finished sternly.

Twilight looked at the floor again, suddenly feeling isolated. "I understand, but how exactly can I hide... these?" she asked, looking back up and spreading her wings again.

With a silent, subtle movement, the robed pony procured a strange piece of black cloth from one of his sleeves. The color seemed to shift around and conform to the patterns of light that shined through the room. Twilight found herself gazing at it, its contrast to the surroundings becoming less apparent the longer she studied it.

"This piece of cloth is known as duskweave. It can absorb and reflect light, and perfectly shape itself to your body. This will be how you hide your wings. I'm sure you can fabricate an explanation as to the rest of your appearance changes. Everypony in the castle is sworn to secrecy and most will never even know of what you have become. You don't need to worry about your transformation leaving these halls. Should the dragons catch wind of our plan, and your existence as an alicorn, this plan could fail before it starts." His voice took on a heavy tone as he spoke on.

"I know," she replied. The mood became sullen at the sudden call for absolute secrecy. Lying to her friends wouldn't be too hard, but there was one pony in particular she couldn't lie to--one she wouldn't lie to.

"Lord Devon, may we begin the process of attunement now, or shall we wait until she has recovered more?" asked Celestia. Twilight shot them a confused look.

"It is of no tax to the new wielder. The quicker she becomes attuned, the quicker she can master its abilities," replied the robed pony, Devon, casually.

"Attuned?" asked Twilight, tilting her head to one side.

"Indeed. You must become attuned to Telos, and the duskweave, so to speak," he replied, tossing the mysterious piece of cloth to Twilight. "Put this on," he commanded.

Twilight furled her wings back up, bracing herself in pain, and unfolded the cloth with her magic. It was more than it appeared, seeming to fold into itself. After putting it on, it fit snug and secure to her form like a second skin, stretching as it needed to. It enshrouded her body allowing only her head, neck, tail, and her hooves to peak out when she was wearing all of it. She failed to notice one of its unusual effects.

"It's very comfortable, but I'm getting a strange feeling from it."

"Give it a moment longer," Devon encouraged.

The colors of the shroud shifted before becoming purple to match her coat. It gave an unusual sensation, as if her skin was faintly itchy. After a moment, her covered body matched her mane and tail again, appearing as though she had nothing covering her at all. The cloth over her wings hid them and made it appear as if nothing had ever been there. She looked like her typical unicorn self. Whoa, she thought, I'll need to research this.

"You will be able to blend in nearly to the point of invisibility in the veil of night, as Luna mentioned, though it requires this garment. You will be almost impossible to track, but close proximity and your magic could still allow you to be sensed and discovered, of course. Here, imagine your wings extending," he instructed.

Twilight focused on her new wings, the first thought being the distracting pain, and soon she reflexively spread them outward. "Huh?" she blurted out. Her wings had moved seamlessly through the cloth. She glanced at her body and they appeared natural and unhindered, no evidence of the duskweave restricting them at all.

"Do not be alarmed. It is merely a function of the cloth for your convenience. You will be unable to accidentally tear it. At your will your wings can unfurl and slip through the material, as can your mane and tail."

She spread and folded her wings several times, watching them in awe as they seemed to vanish from her back each time they came to rest at her side. How the hay is this possible? I really need to study this now.

"Now, for Telos itself," started Devon. "You may call to it by the name Telos when initially willing it. Commander Dash, if you will," he said, bowing to her.

Dash stepped outside for a moment and returned with an object wrapped in a white cloth. She unraveled it slowly, and Devon motioned to it with a hoof. As soon as the wrapping was undone, a large, platinum staff floated free, hovering just above the floor between everyone. It gleamed in the sunlight like a decorative showpiece, flawless creation and beautiful design reflecting back from their eyes. Affixed to the spire were pieces of metal that slowly floated around what appeared to be a prismatic crystal, sparkling with a single color briefly. Lavender. Twilight felt compelled to move closer to the staff as she gazed into the gem.

Devon cleared his throat and started, "Now, as you work to become its-"

"Come to me, Telos," Twilight commanded, entranced.

The staff immediately moved to the new alicorn, perching itself over her back without magical application, but not resting against her body. Twilight moved around the room and twisted and turned, but the staff remained inert on her back, always mimicking her movements seamlessly. With each stance she attempted the staff moved in a way that didn't impede or restrict her body.

"Unbelievable!" exclaimed Devon, his first real display of unrestrained emotion. A small grin appeared upon his face. "I never thought it would move to her so readily. Princess Celestia, what do you make of this?"

"It would seem by its own accord that Telos has chosen its new master. Twilight is a physical embodiment of magic, so it's only fitting," she said, smiling.

"Aside from the pain, I just realized I've been feeling really amazing since the Rites, as if I've become supercharged, but now..." muttered Twilight. She began to laugh out loud, shocking the others in the room. "This is... this is... hahaha... this exhilaration! This energy!" she rambled to herself, a sweeping force levitating her mane.

"*Ahem!*" alerted Luna loudly, snapping her out of her magical high.

Twilight cleared herself of the power intoxication the artifact brought. It felt like a second horn, but instead amplifying the feelings of magic coursing throughout her being.

"I-I'm... sorry," she apologized, reaching her normal calm. "I've never felt such a rush of... feeling before," she said sheepishly. “It feels alive, like it's a part of me, but still separate.” She found the feeling the staff invoked difficult to articulate.

"I assure you, it's not the first time such a thing has happened," consoled Celestia.

"Indeed, I suppose it is not," added Devon. "The staff is now, in a way, soul bound to you. Please, give its shapeshifting abilities a try. Will it into another form," he encouraged.

Twilight thought for a moment. Dragonslayer, she thought into it. The staff quietly morphed into a gigantic greatsword larger than even a weapon of Celestia’s large frame would seem capable of wielding. It remained as light as the idle state and retained its signature platinum shine on the blade. With another thought, it returned back into its staff form.

"Never forget its abilities and continue to train yourself to use it independently. Imprint your soul into it and you will link together allowing it to move seamlessly in tandem with your thoughts. As long as it is with you, your magic will be amplified by it," Devon explained.

"Be at ease for now, Twilight. There are many trials and tribulations ahead of you. Perhaps you may visit your friends in Ponyville tomorrow if you are feeling up to it," suggested Luna, casting a warming smile.

"Thank you, but I think I'll just spend some time in the courtyard for now. I have a lot to think about," she mused.

"Call upon us if you have any more questions," added Celestia.

Everyone began to file out of the room, and Rainbow Dash followed Twilight to the main royal courtyard. Twilight sat on the grass in the warmth of the sun and Telos floated from her back and stood in front of her. The magical pieces of the spire continued to quietly gyrate around it.

Dash broke the silence with a heavy sigh. "We can't even tell our friends about any of this," she said softly. "But... It's for their own protection, and when we go see them tomorrow you've gotta hide your new wings and we have to lie to them about what's really happening,” she lamented. “...This is gonna suck," she added, at last relaxing to her usual, candid demeanor.

"Yes but maybe--some day--they will understand and thank us. Some will call us heroes. Still, I have something else on my mind," replied Twilight, glancing up to the open sky.

"That promise must mean a lot, huh?" asked Dash.

"Just for right now, you could say it’s something like that," Twilight responded without looking away.

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

Twilight and Rainbow Dash returned to Ponyville after a week of rest, eager to join their friends for some relaxation. Twilight had opted to take extra time to recover from the ritual, finding herself drained even after the first few days. The pair had previously visited as often as they could, but now the capacity for honesty amongst them had been diminished. Despite the secrecy, they didn't need to lie unless they were asked about any of their new work, but they both loathed the idea of it.

They flew silently to Ponyville, landing off in the distance beyond sight where Twilight could be seen in the air. Her control over her duskweave hadn't yet culminated to using it without requiring great focus, losing the illusion properties once distracted; however, hiding her wings had become second nature in the short amount of time she had the garment.

Dash joined her in casual but proud attire. She wore a small, red sash adorned with some of her honors while Twilight brought Telos and wore her traditional sorceress's cloak over the duskweave. They aimed to appear as normal as possible to their friends, taking care to avoid the unwanted questions. The usual cheerful atmosphere of Ponyville seemed to be subdued to them as they entered the town.

"Oh-my-Celestia! Dashie and Twilight are back!" cried Pinkie Pie as they entered the town square on hoof, Rarity trailing just after the party pony. Pinkie dived at Dash, the knight catching her in a big hug and twirling around gracefully as she squeezed her tight.

"It's good to see you, too, Pinkie Pie," exclaimed Dash, relinquishing the embrace and giving her a welcoming smile.

"Oh, how lovely it is to see you again, Twilight. I hear you’re quite the busy archmage in the royal court these days. Why don't you tell me all about it," Rarity chimed in as she approached her friends.

Twilight offered a nervous laugh. Well, I don't have to tell her everything, she thought. "Well, the princesses have given me much to be thankful for, namely their wisdom. And even though I'm a member of the Royal Court of Magi, that's really a bit of a stretch most days. Celestia usually assigns me missions herself, so I don’t interact with the other archmagi too much. Enough about that, though. I’m here to visit all of my friends," she explained, removing her cowl and beaming.

Rarity's eyes followed the design of the cloak up and down, her eyebrows bowing slightly as she scanned it. "Really now, Twilight. I could spruce that old thing up for you, add a little more flair to it," she said, pointing at the cloak's lack of detail among the cowl and around the royal crest.

Twilight looked at it for a moment, imagining all of the potential designs. Her mind wandered back to the invisible rune within Trixie's cloak. "I think that'd be great. I guess it could use some decorating," she said while giggling and ruffling an edge of it.

Twilight glanced around and noticed that they were the only two friends ready to greet them. The town's liveliness failed to wane with the presence of an archmage this time, and ponies began to make their way over to them, but none of their immediate friends were among them.

"Hey, Rarity, where is everypony else? I sent word to Applejack we would be coming, but even she isn't here," asked Dash as she glanced around, frowning in disappointment.

By now, many of the ponies out and about in the square had begun to gather around them. Pinkie Pie had cleared the misconceptions of the archmagi since her initial visit after becoming one, and they were now revered among the residents. Though from Canterlot and Cloudsdale respectively, they were widely accepted as residents of the happy earth pony town as well.

"Hello, everypony," Twilight greeted to the crowd. "It's just a personal visit, so I hope you don't mind." She bowed down graciously, but quickly pulled herself back up when she realized her height difference might become more noticeable. The crowd all waved and greeted, some shaking their hooves out of respect or fan affection.

"Where are Applejack and Fluttershy? They should've been here by now." Twilight peered through the crowd again, hoping they were just stuck waiting by the edge of the crowd.

"They're waiting for you two at Sugarcube Corner, silly. Where else?" said Pinkie.

Dash chuckled and placed a hoof on her head. "Hah, I should've known you'd throw a party for us."

"Come dears. Let us join them," added Rarity as she led the way to the happy bakery.

Inside were all of their friends with what was to originally be a surprise party. The place had already been decorated despite Dash and Twilight's record travel time from Canterlot, to which they were glad no one had bothered to question. Games were already being played with happy music blaring up from the background. Even karaoke was setup with an enthusiastic colt singing his off-key rendition of a famous pop song.

"Well, if it ain't our old pals. Heya there Rainbow, Twi," started Applejack, throwing the latter a playful jab to the ribs. Twilight winced and shuddered slightly, doing her best not to show that she was still painfully sensitive.

With a quick, distracting cough, she returned the jab. "It's good to see you too, AJ. How are Apple Bloom and the Sweet Apple Acres?" she asked.

"Well, yah know it’s been alright, even since Granny Smith passed on--bless her soul. Apple Bloom is growin’ up to be mighty strong like her big sis. She's out playin' with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. She's got that spirit, yah know," she said. "Big Mac's still the same old Big Mac. Stallion of few words." Applejack rolled her eyes at reminiscing about her brother's lack of loquacity.

"I'm glad you're doing fine. What about you, Fluttershy?" Twilight asked next, turning to the pegasus and almost flinching her.

"Oh, me? Um, I run the local animal shelter now. Really, it's so wonderful taking care of all the cute little critters there. It's always so peaceful and fun," she said, gushing in her soft tone.

Twilight and Dash exchanged glances, both sharing the same pained thought. She's going to be devastated... Animals and forestry would not last long beneath the flame of an overzealous dragon's breath.

"So Rarity, how's your business doing these days?" asked Dash to keep the conversation going.

"Oh, it's been stellar. I've expanded further and my designs are very popular. My name is now a house design to ask for in Canterlot!" She clasped her face in her hooves, trying not to squeal. "It's almost too good to be true," she added with subdued glee, daydreaming of the fame outside of Ponyville.

"What about you, Pinkie?"

"Oh c'mon, you girls know me! Same old, Pinkie Pie. You I'm never gonna change!" she chirped.

I hope... thought Dash, maintaining a matching grin to Pinkie's endless cheerfulness.

Rarity coughed and began in a hushed voice, "You know, Twilight, your apprentice has been patiently awaiting your next reunion. Perhaps you should speak to her once she arrives herself."

Twilight smacked her head and groaned. "Ohhhh, I completely forgot. I've been so busy lately and she hasn't even come back Canterlot since her last assignment. I'm so sorry, I'll bring her with me when we go back. She’s going to be so upset with me...”

"Oh, my. Speak of the mare now," said Rarity, pointing to the door and giggling.

"Master Sparkle!" cried Trixie in an excited voice as she charged to Twilight. The magician leaped the last stretch of distance, tackling her. Twilight loosed a sharp groan, this time unable to hide the sudden burst of pain.

"A hello would've been just fine my faithful student," she grinded out as she rubbed at a hidden wing. Trixie rose to her hooves first and helped her master to her own.

"I'm sorry, but it's been so long. I've missed you oh so much," she said, lowering her voice as she spoke, and squeezing more pain into Twilight with an affectionate hug.

"I'm sorry for being away. We have lot to discuss, but all of that is for later. Now... let... me... go... please,” she squeaked before her student relinquished her mighty embrace. “Let's just enjoy ourselves today," she added with a gasp of air, and smiling towards some dancing ponies. She discarded her cloak and placed it upon a nearby rack, pausing to breathe out in relief.

"Oooh... I'd love to dance with you," Trixie whispered into her ear, moving to nibble on the end as she finished.

Twilight blushed hard, quickly looking around to see her friends encouraging and cheering the magician's flirty behavior on. "A-Alright, Trixie. I'm on a bit of a vacation, so let’s party as hard as we can," replied Twilight with a bashful grin. Pinkie Pie jumped and cheered in delight at the idea.

"Alright!" Trixie quickly pulled Twilight to the dance floor, and the alicorn was forced to leave her staff and garment with Dash. "I heard you're going to be training again. Please take it easy and don't overdo it," she said, "or involve Rainbow Dash and I in some kind of social experiment again," she added in a serious tone with a frown.

Twilight offered her an embarrassed laugh. "Is my Great and Powerful student concerned for me?" she asked playfully, steering the subject away from anything that might dampen the mood.

"Yes," she replied with a pout. "I really do worry about you, you know..." she added with a concerned look.

"I know," whispered Twilight, leaning closer, "and I worry about you, too," she added, leaning in for a kiss.

The magician closed her eyes and returned the kiss. This doesn't make up for the Everfree Forest. You still owe me for that, she thought, a sly smirk spreading as the two parted lips and joined hooves.

Author's Note:

3/19/2013 -- Last edit/proofing complete. Just weeding out errors.

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