• Published 25th Jun 2012
  • 11,613 Views, 1,211 Comments

Ascension - cloudedguardian

Celestia is dying. Or at least it seems so. Afflicted with a curse that is destroying her very nature, she sets a plan in action. The Bearers of the Elements of Harmony will take the throne in her wake... Not that they know that yet...

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A Spark of Truth Shall Set a Blaze, Part 1
The Spark


It was a beautiful day in the orchard. The skies were clear, the sun bright and shining, and the wind a welcome cold breeze. The orchard itself was a sight to see on its own, as well. Brilliantly colored, ripe apples hung from every branch, weighing the trees limbs down slightly as they waited to be harvested by their keepers. Speaking of which…

“Hey Applejack!”

The orange earth pony’s legs slammed into the worn bark of a particularly well-bearing tree in a perfect buck. The whole tree shuddered for a moment, before gratefully giving up its load into the waiting baskets below. The young mare smiled at her work, wiping several drops of sweat off her brow, before pushing up the brim of her hat and stepping out into the sun. It didn’t take very long for her to spot who had been calling her name.

“Well, howdy do RD! What’s got you so riled up?”

Rainbow Dash blinked at her friend’s laughing smile, before returning it with a chuckle herself. The pegasus carefully shifted her wings, settling to the ground with great more care than she normally would give. Despite her best attempts at a gentle landing, it still kicked up a large cloud of dust.

“Blech!” Coughing and spluttering, Rainbow hastily backed out of the dust cloud she had inadvertently created. Blinking tears from her watering eyes, Dash shook the dirt and sand out of her bright mane before turning to her farmer friend.

“Wow. It’s getting really, really dusty up here. I think we might be needing that rain sooner than the weather-ponies think. I mean, another week? Ch’ya right. We need it now!”

AJ chuckled, “Aha, if ya ask me, scheduling’s for Canterlot. A sudden autumn shower never hurt nopony. Maybe you should whoop’em all into shape yerself, Dash.”

The pegasus grinned. “I might just do that. I guess you guys are needing it pretty bad up here, huh?”

Applejack frowned as she heaved the heaped baskets of apples up onto her back. As heavy as they were, she wasn’t feeling too keen on making two trips. Once the baskets were firmly settled on her back, she started off towards the barn, only pausing to make sure Rainbow was following her before replying.

“Eeyup. It’s not so bad deeper in the orchards, but out in the fields…?” AJ grimaced as she shook her head, “It’s a darn good thing that all we have left to do is the harvesting. We could lose most of our crops otherwise… Mind you, having to haul water to the more fragile fields isn’t exactly how I like to spend my mornings..”

Rainbow Dash blinked again as her mind put together at what time exactly it was that Applejack considered morning, and how much work the pony did at that time. Respectively, that would be, “before Celestia” and, “More than you could ever pay me to do. Ever.”

“One autumn shower coming right up,” Rainbow Dash deadpanned, with a decided grimace from her inner night hawk.

AJ smiled at her friend’s reaction, which only grew as she realized that she’d probably have rain-fall by that evening. “Thank you kindly Dash.”

“Heh heh, no problem!”

Wicker baskets slid carefully to the barn floor as Applejack dropped them into their proper spots with practiced ease. She took a step back to examine her work, giving another basket a nudge or two into place, before turning to talk to her friend properly.

“Now! What had you coming here all excited in the first place?”

“Oh! Right! I nearly forgot…” Rainbow trailed off as she stopped to rifle through her saddle bags. After a second of struggling with the over-filled canvas, she produced a slightly battered scroll from their depths. “This came for you,” Dash explained as she passed it into the orange mare’s bemused grasp.

“For me? Delivered by Spike?” If Applejack’s disbelief hadn’t been evident before, the fact that she actually paused for a confirmation to what would otherwise be a rhetorical question certainly made it so.

“Why didn’t they just mail it?” She muttered as she sat down to examine the rolled parchment.

“Going by the seal, I’d guess it’s because it’s really freakin’ important. Twilight thinks it might be a royal summons!” Rainbow Dash was positively beaming with excitement at the idea.

“A royal summons? What on earth would Celestia want with just me?” AJ muttered, as she rolled the scroll ever to carefully peel off the wax seal.

“Oh trust me, Twilight wants to know that too. You should have seen the look on her face when Spike got it! Ha!”

Applejack paused in unrolling the scroll to look up at the smirking pegasus with a raised eyebrow and more than a hint of amusement.

“And you did?”

Rainbow Dash blinked before shooting her friend an awkward lop-sided smile. “I, uh, just happened to be at the library at the time, that’s all.”

Up went the other eyebrow. “Uh-huh.”

Having more than caught Applejack’s utterly disbelieving look, Rainbow gave an almost defeated-sounding sigh. “Yeah, okay, I was at Twilight’s place reading Daring Do… For… Several hours…”

AJ chuckled at her friend’s embarrassment of being an “Egghead,” to quote the speedster herself. It was completely unfounded, as she was pretty sure that the only pony that actually cared about who read and who didn’t was the pegasus herself. Still shaking her head slightly, she finally finished unrolling the scroll, her eyes widening as they took in what she was reading.

“Well. Looks like Twilight was right, Dash. It really is a royal summons.”

“Seriously?! Neat! Do you think it might be about that weird early sunset a couple days ago?”

Applejack frowned as she thought back to earlier that week. It had certainly been strange, but not unappreciated. That day had been ridiculously hot, and, although unexpectedly early, the cold night’s breeze had made the rest of the day’s work far more pleasant to complete. Back then, she had just figured that maybe even the great Princess Celestia needed a break once in a while, or maybe that Princess Luna simply had a new constellation she wanted to show off. An early, well-appreciated twilight was certainly more welcome than an eternal night if Luna simply wanted to show off her sky a little.

“Ah don’t know Dash. It doesn’t say.”

“Well, gee, you could at least pretend to be excited about it. You sound like you’re going to a funeral!”

“It’s more to do with nerves than a lack of excitement Dash. Ah don’t like the idea of going up there without Twilight, to be honest…”

“You always are,” Dash smirked, “But don’t worry about it, okay? You’ll be fine. We blew up her Gala and the Princess still liked us, so I’m pretty sure you’d have a hard time screwing up.”

Applejack laughed as she pulled herself back up to her hooves. “Yer probably right, Dash. Well, wish me luck. It’s probably not the best idea to keep royalty waiting and all. Ah’ll see y’all when I get back!”

“You got it, AJ!”

The train ride to Canterlot was only a short two hours most days. Today however, it seemed to be taking far longer than that. It wasn’t that the train was running late, or that there was a problem with the tracks, or even any odd weather that would slow things down. No, the train was running perfectly and completely on time. There was absolutely nothing wrong.

…For the train.

For Applejack however, there was just a few things wrong, and they were making her mind spin faster than the wheels beneath her. Even though Dash’s teasing had eased her the “Holy crap what if I screw up” aspect of her nerves, she still couldn’t help but feel a sense of utter and impending doom. She knew it was overly dramatic of her, but despite her best attempts, she simply couldn’t shake it.

Her eyes darted up to the clock hanging at the front of the car. It was one in the afternoon, which meant that the train had already been on route for half-an-hour. The mare shifted uncomfortably, pulling her hat into her hooves, leaving her blond mane a little messier than usual. She swallowed uneasily, tracing the worn edge of her Stetson with an absent-minded fidget as she stared out the window at the speeding scenery.

It simply didn’t make sense. What could Celestia possibly want with her? Yes, she was one of The Elements’ Bearers, but if it had to do with that, all six of them would have been called. Applejack felt like a chess piece that had lost its place on the board. By herself, she was simply an apple farmer, wasn’t she? What in all of Equestria would the Solar Princess of Equestria want with a single apple farmer?

It was this question that kept her thoughts in an eternal, ever increasing, loop. With a near-automatic motion, AJ pulled her hat back on and looked up at the clock. It said the exact same thing it had thirty seconds ago; One in the afternoon. It would be another hour and a half before they reached Canterlot. It already felt like it had been that hour and a half and another three besides.

“Snap out of it, silly filly,” Applejack muttered to herself, giving her head a hard enough of a shake to knock her hat off-balance.

Eyes darted up again, this time in mild embarrassment as she corrected her hat. Nopony was even paying attention to her, each and every one of them busy with books, files, and even the occasional artist sketching madly away at a canvas. Still blushing slightly, she stared out the window again. The pale ghost of her reflection stared back.

Why would anyone notice her strange behaviour anyway? She was just another earth pony mare taking a train up to Canterlot, after all.

Little did Applejack know, but far off in the Canterlot Palace, the Princess herself was dealing with a certain case of nerves as well. Celestia ruffled her wings, brushed her pink mane out of her eyes, and fluffed the pillow in front of her, all for the fifth time, in a most likely futile attempt to ease the frantic energy that seemed to be coursing through her stomach. She couldn’t help but wonder if this, perhaps, was what ponies meant when they said they had “butterflies in their stomach.” Then again, butterflies generally fluttered gently around, not whiz around and bash into things at high speeds as hers seemed to be doing, so perhaps it wasn’t the correct expression after all.

It wasn’t as if Celestia was unsure of the decision she had made, on the contrary, she was positive that it was her one and only option. All other last resorts had already been pulled out and tested, every possible solution already examined- They all knew this was what had to be done. Of course, that wasn’t really what was bothering her, if she were only willing to admit it.

The simple fact was that she was hiding the biggest thing that would ever happen to her, from her dearest student. It had hurt hiding it from Luna, yes, but back then there had still been a chance- There were still possibilities she hadn’t checked, still another person she hadn’t asked for help, she wasn’t sure of what was going to happen, then… But now she did. She knew she was… That she wasn’t going to be able to look after Equestria forever, and it was for the good of the country that she was setting up this last great scheme… And Twilight didn’t know a word of it. She wouldn’t even be the first piece to be moved.

No, Celestia had decided, after as much careful planning as she could afford with the time she had, that Applejack would be her first pawn. She had been playing this twisted game of chess for over a millennia, and yet it still didn’t sit well with her when she had to use somepony she had grown to love. It was necessary, and it was always for the good of her little ponies, but- But it never felt quite right. The fact that she was using not only her student, but her student’s most precious friends as well, and then on top of that, one of them above her- Celestia let out a rather dismal sigh as she forced her thoughts out of their guilty loop of ‘what’s and onto the much simpler ‘why’s.

Applejack wouldn’t question her. Celestia could give her orders, and send her off, and that would be that. There would be no drama, no bragging or boasting, no foofaraw or commotion about it- It would be taken at face value, and done as quietly and quickly as needed. And in this still very young and fragile plan, that was what was necessary. If she could, she would make sure that the one person that could upset and ruin it all would be the very last to find about her plan.

“Your Highness, Lady Applejack has just arrived.”

I’m sorry, Twilight.

“Thank you, Gold. Send her in please,” Celestia said, and her guard gave her a quick bow before trotting off to do as ordered.

The doors to the throne room swung open, and the Princess took one last deep breath before transfixing the calm lying smile she had perfected over the centuries across her face.

“Applejack! How nice to see you again.”

The orange mare in question returned her smile with a slightly nervous one of her own. The anxiety on AJ’s face changed slightly as she began to register the changes to the throne room. Gone was the bright golden throne with the proud and regal, and sometimes mischievous, Solar Goddess upon its seat- Instead, in its place sat a marble platform littered with cushions, a tired, and somehow almost sad, Princess resting among them. For a few long seconds, the young mare stood stock still, a look of confusion and genuine concern clear across her face. Then the moment passed, and with the quiet cough of clearing one’s throat, Applejack looked back up at Celestia with a calm lying smile of her own.

“Good afternoon to you too, Princess. Are ya feelin’ any better?”

“Oh, I’m afraid this little bug has thrown me for a bit of a loop,” Celestia replied lightly, “but it’ll be fine. I am feeling much better today, as well, thank you.”

Applejack’s smile grew into an honest one, and she pulled off her hat in a belated sign of respect as she spoke.

“Glad to hear that Princess. So, what can Ah do for ya?”

“I have a small task I need you to do, and it is in essence, very simple- but the explanation might be a little complicated.

For, I don’t know if Twilight’s ever mentioned this, but there are protective barriers all around Equestria. They’ve been in place for several centuries now, and they keep some of the less friendly species out of our lands. They can easily be bypassed by any sentient creature’s natural magic, but to do so without permission, as Chrysalis had, is generally considered an act of war.”

Applejack was nodding slowly, brow furrowed, as she did her best to keep up with the explanation she was getting. It was simple enough, so far, although she wasn’t exactly sure what it had to do with her.

“Unfortunately, with my illness, these barriers have begun to weaken and degrade, and in areas with powerful and natural magic of their own, have vanished completely. Although Luna and I will be able to get them repaired and at full power again as soon as I am feeling up to the task- I need to have a few ponies keeping a lookout for me in the meantime.”

“And me and my farm are right near the Everfree Forest,” Applejack muttered, as she started to realize that she might have finally found her answer.

“A place with great natural magic, yes,” Celestia nodded, “I think it is safe to assume that it may be one of the first areas that will be breached. All I want you to do is keep an eye on it, and alert me or Luna if you see anything especially unusual about the area. Strange coloured fire, or out-of season weather, for example.”

Applejack grinned, “We can do that, no problem. Was that all then?”

“For the most part, yes. There are, however, a couple more things I need to mention before you go-” Celestia hesitated for a second, as she suppressed the urge to grimace, “-the first being that you must not tell Twilight about any of this.”

Applejack’s face fell as confusion replaced her previously slowly growing confidence.

“I don’t like it any more than you do, Applejack, but we both know that Twilight has a tendency to, let’s say, blow things out of proportion? I have no doubt that if she were to find out about this, she would run off and do something unnecessary in an attempt to try and repair the barriers herself.”

The young mare nodded sadly as she acknowledged the truth behind the Princess’s words. She had seen how worked up her unicorn friend had gotten over a simple friendship report… With something as important as the barriers the Princess was talking about, the idea of Twilight running off and doing something stupid was not only well-within the realm of reason, but a good bet as well.

“Ah understand Princess,” Applejack sighed sadly. She was tempted to ask about her other friends, but she already had a good idea of what the answer would be. ‘If they could keep quiet about it and take it seriously, yes,’ which ruled out…Just about everybody outside of family anyway.

“Good. One last thing, then,” Celestia said softly, as she pulled out a small wooden box out from under a pillow. With a flicker of magic, the box sprung open, and a red tear-drop pendant necklace was lifted out from its depths. Applejack blinked in mild surprise as the amulet was draped around her neck, before looking back up at the Princess with a look of bemusement.

“It’s a protective gem that my sister and I have created especially for this situation. If you ever find yourself in dire circumstances, or desperately in need of assistance, it will help you. I couldn’t send one of my little ponies off on such a task without some sort of aid, after all.”

“Thank you, Princess,” Applejack said softly, returning the Princess’s soft smile with one of her own, “Is that all, then?”

“That is all. Have a safe trip home.”

With that, AJ bowed quickly as formal etiquette demanded, before then turning and quickly leaving the throne room behind as she disappeared beyond the closing doors.

Celestia’s guards exchanged a look of concern as with the sound of the doors clicking shut, their Princess nearly seemed to deflate, exhaustion suddenly clear on her features as she sunk even further into her seat. She was clearly straining herself by holding court today, so why was she insisting on doing so? There were five more meetings yet, and she already looked as if she needed a nap. Sword Swinger let out a sigh as he flipped through the clipboard that listed the meetings yet to be held. As much as he disliked it, it wasn’t a guard’s place to question their ruler’s decisions. All he knew was that whatever Celestia was plotting now, it was most likely part of something bigger than anything they could ever expect.