• Published 22nd Jul 2012
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Rites of Ascension - CvBrony

Twilight makes a new spell and starts the gears of fate with her ascension to alicornhood. (Writing started before Season 3.)

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Horseshoes Toward A Mountain Path

“Twilight! We’re going to be late for the dinner!”

Twilight’s head jerked up, the words ringing through her skull like an unexpected explosion. She rubbed her head while glancing over to Spike, her ever-faithful assistant.

The dragon crossed his arms, giving her a little glare. “You know AJ is going to be pissed if we miss this one.”

“In a minute, Spike.” She levitated a quill and put the finishing touches to her document, his yell still echoing in her head. I knew dragons could be loud. I guess I never expected it to happen to my little Spike

“And just when are you going to tell me what the heck you’re working on, anyway? You’ve been up for four days. I’d think that if the Princess needed you to do something this badly, she’d tell me.” Spike scratched his head.

Twilight chuckled, arranging the papers on her desk. “Actually this is meant to be a bit of a surprise for her, too. I’ve been thinking about the mechanics for a long time, but just this week, I discovered a way to actually pull it off. This is going to be a doozy, Spike.” She stood with a stretch and a yawn. “I’ll tell you more about it on the way to the dinner.”

Spike smirked. “Does this mean we’re ready? And are you sure your stomach won’t just explode from not having eaten anything for ages?” He looked over to the barely touched dinners he’d prepared for her during the study spree.

Twilight’s ears went back against her head. “Uh, heh heh. Sorry, I’ve just been wanting to get this done so badly… I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

Spike shrugged. “Fair enough, but you know I’ll hold you to it. Should we get going?”

Twilight arched her back in a stretch and shook her head. “Not quite yet.”

Spike stood in front of her and raised an eyebrow, his gaze traveling slightly downwards to meet her in the eyes.

I am never going to get used to him being taller than me—even if it’s not by much… “Just need to do one quick thing first, Spike. Care to take a letter to Princess Celestia?”

He sighed and deflated a little, but Twilight caught the smile he tried to suppress. “Okay. Let me get a piece of paper.”

You’re always happy to do that, and you know it, Twilight thought, smiling as Spike dipped a quill in ink.

She cleared her throat.

“Dear Princess Celestia,

I’m writing to let you know that I've completed the first version of my latest spell. With luck, it will be the first unicorn spell ever created capable of being cast through one’s hooves, instead of through the horn. I’m very excited by the possibilities this presents! I’m including a copy of the spell script. Let me know what you think!

Your faithful student,

Twilight Sparkle

P.S. Thanks again for being at Fluttershy and Big Macintosh’s wedding last month. It meant the world to them. I’m going to their first dinner back from their honeymoon now.”

Spike quickly caught up to the words then grinned as he added another line.

“P.P.S. Spike here. She’s got that look in her eyes again. If you find any new craters in Ponyville, you know what happened to us.”

Twilight rolled her eyes and laughed. “Smart-alecky dragon.”

“You make me late for Apple family food, you get snark in your letter to Celestia.” Spike stuck out his tongue.

“Fair enough. I suppose I deserve a little ribbing after ignoring you like this.” Twilight lifted up the copy of her research and tied a string around it. “Here, send this with the letter.”

Spike took the package in his hands and rolled it up with the letter then stepped over to an open window. Taking a deep breath, he held out the package and brought forth his flames, their bright green light vaporizing the papers and sending them on their way in his spell. “Done and done. Heh. Big package like that? I’m just glad she thought that time with the typewriter was funny.”

“I wouldn’t worry. She adjusted her receiving spell to prevent anything else landing directly on top of her.” Twilight’s hooves clip-clopped as she made her way down the stairs to the library entrance and strapped her saddlebags to her back. Leftovers. There’s always leftovers. “Ready to go?”

“Been ready for an hour now.” Spike jumped from the top of the stairs, landing in a squat. “If we hurry, we might get there in time for the main course.”

Twilight flipped the library’s sign to “closed” and trotted out the door with Spike close behind.

They made their way down the road to Sweet Apple Acres as the final vestiges of the day bled away into the moonlit, starry night. The warmth and humidity of late summer lingered on in the air while the fireflies danced over the fields of corn, wheat, and alfalfa.

Spike stretched, then ran for a moment to catch up to Twilight. He might have been taller than her now, but four legs beat two for walking speed every time. “So,” he started, yawning. “Are you going to share the details of this ‘casting a spell through your hooves’ thing, or leave your number one assistant in the dark?”

Twilight smirked, lowering her tired head a little. “Yeah. Sorry for keeping it from you, Spike, but I wasn’t sure it was going to work at first. I think I’ve got it nailed, though.”

“Nailed, huh?” Spike raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t casting stuff through your hooves, like, impossible?”

Twilight nodded, examining her hoof. “That’s the prevailing theory, yes. I’m aiming to prove it wrong.”

“Are you sure you want to try the impossible again so soon?” Spike shook his head, cringing a little and bracing himself. Twilight trying the impossible wasn't unheard of, but when she wasn't being forced to do it by some disaster, it usually created a disaster itself. “Remember that time you tried to invent a perpetual motion machine?”

Twilight scoffed, waving off the protest with a hoof. “Spike, that was years ago! I’ve learned a lot since then!”

“Soooo much flooding…” He grabbed his arms, the humidity in the air providing a choking reminder of ‘the incident.’

“Besides, this isn’t impossible!”

“That's what you said about the machine.”

“I’ve already tested this spell! Albeit on a small scale, but it works!”

“You said that too.”

Twilight clenched her teeth and rubbed her head, the bags under her eyes becoming more and more clear under the soft light of the moon. “Okay, fine, Mr. Doubtful. I’ll just show you. Here, race me to the farm.”

Spike blinked a few times. “Uh, Twi?”

She grimaced and lit her horn, sparks and lights dancing and bursting to life.

“Look, Twi, I believe you! Are you sure you want to—?”

“Too late! I’ve already started…” Bits of magic popped in the air as the ground started to smoke. “Can’t shut it down now. Get going, Spike! You need to get clear!”

Spike clenched his teeth and ran backwards. Little bits of dirt kicked up from the ground as he kept an eye on Twilight. His pace ground to a halt when the earth underneath her erupted in magical fire.

This is either going to end in a crash or an atomizing explosion. Or Both. Twice. Again!

Twilight relaxed her breathing, letting the air into her lungs more and more slowly as the spell increased its pace. A purple field of ambient magic glowed around her in a circle on the ground, flaring to an inferno as an image of her parents as potted plants invaded her mind. No. No, that won’t happen. It can’t happen. I’m in control. I’m calm. I can do this. I just need to keep… focus

Another burst of flashes and ash roared to life around her, the soot stinging her nose. Calm. Controlled. Magic is the source of life, and the horn gives us control over the cosmos around us. My power is one with the universe, and is under my command.

The fire died down, coalescing near her hooves as the magic changed direction, exiting from her hooves. All the fury and combustion retreated directly under her, condensing into four glowing, white-hot horseshoes affixed to her hooves. She quickly checked the rest of her body, finding only slight traces of soot and ash. I was right! Flames from combusting mana can’t harm their source, only what’s around the source!

“Uh, Twilight?”

She picked up her hoof and looked at the horseshoe under it. It still glowed white hot, and as she hovered it over a blade of grass, it incinerated instantly. “Ha! See, Spike? It worked perfectly!”

He scratched his head. “You… made magic shoes? Couldn’t you just have visited Rarity’s boutique in Canterlot or something?”

“Oh, these are way more than just shoes. Remember when I said I’d race you to the farm? Well…” She laughed and ducked down, preparing her next test. “On your mark…”

“Aw, man.” Spike bent over and put his hands on the ground. “I don’t care if I have gotten a lot stronger lately. Four legs against two just isn’t fair.”

“Get set…” Twilight’s tail twitched as a warm breeze washed over the field around them.

“And all the way to the farm? I’m going to need a nap after this.”

“Go!” Twilight pushed off the ground with a carefully placed and calculated kick, sending her flying into the air like a boulder out of a Cutie Mark Crusader Catapult.

“Waiiiit uuuuppp!”

Spike’s cry faded into the background as she soared, bouncing higher and higher with each successive landing. The glow of fireflies became streaks of light over the fields, and the wind knocked away the sweat from the humid night air. Halfway to the farm, she soared higher than the treetops at the apex of her bounds, though the birds in them most certainly heard her laughter. “Captain Dash, eat your heart out!”

“Crap oh crap oh crap…” Spike huffed and puffed, pushing his mere two legs to try and keep up. With each jump, Twilight put more and more distance between them. Crap! Come on, Spike! You’re a dragon! You can do better than this!

Spike’s vision blurred out, save for one thing: the fast-moving Twilight. Grays and blacks replaced the green and amber of the farmland fields, yet his mentor only grew brighter. Fire licked out from his nostrils, and the magic of the gems he consumed coursed through his arteries all the way down to his legs. On the next step, he leaned forward.

Things became even more blurry.

The heat in the air was irrelevant. The rocks in the road couldn’t hope to damage the scales on his feet. There was only gravity, traction, and draconic strength. A cloud of dust and dirt kicked up behind him as a new pace took over his legs that even Applejack would have been proud of.

Yet, Twilight was still putting distance between them.

Hang on, Twilight! I’m coming

“Woohoo!” Twilight spun around in the air, doing little stunts between jumps. “‘Impossible’, eat my dust!” She could see the study she’d submit to Canterlot University already. It had six different colors of paper, logically organized and arranged, and several proofs aimed at a specific subset of her prior professors.

“Ah, there’s the farmhouse!” She pushed off the ground again, watching as her friend’s home grew closer and closer. “Now I just have to… stop… oh horseapples…”

The singular flaw in her brilliant plan exposed, Twilight flailed her hooves around in midair. The next bounce was the last she had. The next would send her into the orchard, and the ones after that she didn’t have time to think about. Avoiding the ground’s eager desire to meet her and preventing becoming a red and purple splotch on Sweet Apple Acre’s welcome sign took a somewhat higher priority.

Turn around and reverse the impact angle? No, I'd just go tumbling. Turn the ground into water? No, that'd need too much power and would take an age to cast. Maybe… Eeeep!

Time was up, the ground was here, and it was very interested to see how she thought she was going to get out of their intimate encounter.

As with so many bad situations, Twilight had only one answer. She closed her eyes, charged her horn, and braced herself for the teleportation shock.

Light and pressure overwhelmed her senses, and air rushed out her lungs as if she were in deep space. She could feel the energy of her spell explode outwards, but it wasn’t until an instant later that the true sound of thunder pounded her ears, the air rushing back as in a lightning strike.

She coughed and heaved, waving a hoof to try and clear the air of dust while trying to think of why and how she remained alive. When her vision finally returned, she froze. Around her was a six-meter-wide crater with her rump dead in the center of it all.

“Twiiiliiight!” A voice cried out, fighting through the ringing in her ears.

“Spike?” She coughed again, spattering some blood on the ground. “Is that you?”

A scaly hand reach down under her chest, helping her stand. “Twilight, are you okay?”

Her vision slowly returned to normal, along with her other senses, as her legs shook and trembled. Little white sparkles popped and fizzled in the ground, vanishing as an idea crept its way into her mind.

“Hey, Twilight, talk to me!” Spike flopped on the ground, rubbing his leg. “Are you alright?”

“S… Spike?”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s me. Looks like you’re okay. Whew.” He lay down, curling and stretching his legs. “Ow! Ttttthhhhh… Ouch. Don’t do that to me, Twilight. You know I can’t run like that for long!”

“That… that…” The new idea grew and grew inside Twilight’s thoughts, formulas and magic script racing and filling dozens of mental blackboards. Being covered in dirt could barely even find a square centimeter to spare as a grin took over her face by force. “That… was… amazing! Spike! Did you see that? The teleportation must have tried to compress the bounding-mass spell down to the point where it caused a criticality event! Oh, do you know what this means?! I could completely rewrite the rules for creating solidified magic! Tell me we brought paper! I need to start writing this down! Wait, no paper, I’ll just write it here.” She lit her horn and started moving around the soil, scribbling in an arcane sequence of symbols.

Twilight! Just what in the hay is going on out here?”

Twilight swung her head around just in time for Applejack’s expression to go from one of anger to one of shock. The farmer’s hooves pounded on dirt as she raced towards Twilight and the crater where she sat.

“Landsakes, girl! What in tarnat—”

“Applejack! Did you see? I was casting magic through my hooves! I beat Spike here! There was this most amazing thing when I tried to land. You see, I—”

Applejack grabbed her by the shoulder with one hoof and used the other to muffle her. “Twilight, I’m gonna need ya t’ slow down a mite. First, are you okay?”

Twilight nodded her head, the grin on her face growing ever larger.

“Good. Now, is there any part of my orchard blasted to bits other than the windows and this here crater?”

Twilight looked around a bit at the scene. The windows on the house were all blown out, but for all the ferocity of the blast, the house itself stood strong. Even the new barn in the distance seemed untouched. “I don’t think so…”

Applejack lowered her hooves and breathed a deep sigh of relief. Turning around, she waved at the small crowd of Apple family relatives gathering just outside the front door of the house, including the newly added Fluttershy and the small grouping of animals around her. “It’s okay, everypony!” Applejack yelled. “False alarm, no disaster this time! We can go back inside!”

“No disaster…” Spike groaned, still lying on the ground. “Speak for yourselves.”

“I’m just glad yer both alright. We can talk about the windows after dinner.” Applejack winked at Twilight, who cringed and rubbed the back of her head.

“Heh. Yeah, sorry about that. You too, Spike. I guess I got a little carried away. I’m sure Celestia will be okay with replacing them after I show her what I’ve been working on.” Or when I win some kind of prize for coming up with it.

She opened her mouth to speak again but stopped as her vision was blanketed in a pure, warm, white light so intense she had to cover her eyes. A serene feeling welling up her in stomach followed, but was squelched as soon as she heard the voice accompanying it.

“Twilight Sparkle!”

Twilight didn’t wait for her eyesight to adjust. She could see the tall, white alicorn standing in front of her all too clearly. “P-P-Princess Celestia!” she yelped far more loudly than she’d expected, jolting her back to sit up like she was in a witness stand about to be sentenced to magic kindergarten. A dawning realization that she was still in the middle of a crater hit her, and her nervousness reached new heights as she bit her hoof in a last-ditch attempt to think straight.

“Twilight, my student, what happened here? I didn’t expect Spike’s comment about a crater to be literal.”

Spike groaned and kept rubbing his legs. “Neither did I… Ooowww…”

Applejack tilted her hat. “Heh. I think our little genius here was messin’ with ‘powers beyond her control’ again. Doesn’t look like it worked too well.”

“It worked perfectly!” Twilight said, stomping a hoof. “My work was flawless! I just, well, didn’t think of a way to stop myself is all.”

Celestia looked at her two subjects and sighed as her wings drooped. Even her gaze was off, like she was looking at something far away instead of the student in front of her.

“You told her?” the Princess asked, wincing and wiping away the formula Twilight wrote in the ground with a hoof. “Does anypony else know about the spell being through your hooves? Anypony at all?”

Twilight looked around, recounting the events of her research. “Just you, AJ, and Spike. Why? I mean, I know this could be big, but it’s not like it’s that… I did something wrong, didn’t I?” Her voice squeaked at the last two words.

Her mentor shook her head. “No, not really. However, despite that, I’m afraid there will be consequences. I’m going to have to ask the three of you to accompany me to the castle. Nopony must know of the nature of this spell.”

“The castle? Fer how long? I mean, it’s just a spell. High-falutin’, maybe, but—”

“I’m afraid, my little pony, that this will take at least a few months.”

“Months!?” all three cried out in unison.

“But the farm! I can’t just leave it! There are windows broke, and the first of the harvest is coming, and it’s not like Fluttershy can work too hard, bein’… Oh, oh ponyfeathers… I done spoiled the secret…” Applejack looked down at her hooves.

“Being what, Applejack? Is she sick?” Spike asked through a yawn as he tried to stand.

Celestia looked up at the farmhouse for a moment. “She’s pregnant, I’d imagine. And that utterance is all the more evidence you must come with me. I’m sorry, Applejack. This isn't a request. I’ll send expert farmhooves and a stipend to help; you needn’t worry about the farm. Or the library. All will be taken care of. But we must go, and now.”

None of them had time to protest before the light came again, whisking them away.

Even closing her eyes and covering them with her hooves didn’t help them any. Celestia’s teleportation spell was so bright this time the light still hurt her retinas like staring into a camera flashbulb that didn’t want to turn off. Must be because she’s moving all of us at once

When it finally subsided, she found herself and her friends in front of the castle gates. An armored Day Guard was already bowing to the Princess.

Celestia held out a hoof with her command. “Soldier, rise. I have orders.”

“My liege,” he said as he stood up. “What is your command?”

“Take these two and arrange quarters for them. In addition, provide some gems and a painkiller for Spike; it looks like he overexerted his legs.”

“Yeah.” Spike leaned against Applejack. “Yeah. Ow. I’m going to feel this for a while…”

Celestia lit her horn and weaved a spell around the dragon. “It will pass in time, and the painkiller will help, as should this. Now, both of you are to stay in the secured areas of the castle and speak of what happened to nopony. I cannot stress that enough. Nopony.” The Princess leaned in close, looking as if her stare alone could set them on fire. “Am I understood?”

Applejack and Spike nodded, crouching down more in fear than in a bow.

“At once, Your Highness.” The soldier waved and pointed to the main doors. “Miss, Sir, if you would follow me.”

The two followed the guard, looking nervously back to Twilight and Celestia as they walked away.

Twilight swallowed, her dry throat protesting with pain as her friends left her sight. “Um, Princess? If we aren’t following them, then where—?”

Celestia was silent as a scroll appeared out of thin air in front of her. Faster than even Twilight could read, words etched themselves in the parchment without so much as a quill to guide them.

All that Twilight could make out before it was rolled up, sealed, and sent on its way was that there was an official order on it.

I guess I’m not meant to know

The light from Celestia’s teleportation overtook them both once more.

Somewhere high above a desert, a small, purple unicorn mare quietly muttered to herself.

“It is a commonly accepted fact that very high places are not especially friendly environments for a unicorn. However, when a unicorn finds him or herself in such an environment, there are any number of helpful actions to take. Screaming like a little filly and flailing one’s legs about is not one of them, however natural it seems.”


“Yes, Princess?”

“Are you done?” Celestia said, her tone as calm and unreadable as ever.

Twilight shivered and shifted over from on her back to her belly, forcing her hooves against the cold cloud to stand up. “Sorry, I’m just embarrassed. You taught me better than that. I should’ve cast those butterfly wings for myself again or something. Thanks for the cloud-walking spell.”

Celestia looked back at her student from the edge of the stratus cloud and smiled. “I could never let you fall, Twilight. Now, look out here. I want you to see this.”

Twilight approached the edge of the cloud to join her mentor, moving cautiously as her hooves sunk slightly into the strangely supportive water vapor. The brilliant light of Luna’s moon seemed especially strong; it was about half as bright as day with nothing but a full moon. When she reached the end of the cloud, she peered over the side and saw why: the solid ground far below reflected the light like a mirror in a dazzling spectacle.

“Do you know where we are, Twilight?”

Twilight nodded. “The Glass Desert… I’ve read about this, but never seen it before. The book said pegasi can’t fly here during the day; they get blinded. Supposedly, at some point, a meteor exploded in the air, melting the sand and cooking it to glass. Incredible!”

The desert stretched out to the horizon, even from the vantage of the cloud. It twisted Twilight’s sense of scale nearly to its breaking point. Giant glass mountains to the north, flat, glazed desert in the south. Every bit of it sparkled and reflected the moon’s light back into her eyes.

Celestia nodded. “Very good, Twilight. But, I’m afraid the books are wrong. It wasn’t a meteor.”

Twilight started to tilt her head before catching herself and righting it. She’d become somewhat self-conscious of the habit after Celestia called it “adorkable” during a Pinkie party.

“Four thousand years or so ago, Discord made his first appearance to our world. He seemed an odd curiosity at first; certainly, we didn’t think him a threat. Then, when we tried to put a stop to his toying with our subjects, we found out just how wrong we were.

“He absolutely ravaged our world. Our civilizations were utterly annihilated, their history wiped clean from the planet. Some remnants can still be found from time to time, but he was quite thorough. Not to say we didn’t try to stop him. Luna and a dozen other alicorns… We all fought to save our ponies in a conflict that spanned centuries. Eventually, we gained the upper hoof, but it wouldn’t last.

“To split us up, Discord did something utterly inconceivable. He increased the size of our world, of Equus itself, blowing it up like a balloon and increasing its diameter by an order of magnitude. Towns and cities were splintered and scattered across the landscape by hundreds or thousands of kilometers, the connections between them pulled apart and snapped like string. Everywhere was isolated, and our nations’ supply lines were cut off. Luna and I were flung thousands and thousands of kilometers away from each other.”

The scientist in Twilight demanded she speak up. “He grew the size of the world? But I have globes that—”

Celestia snorted, almost laughing at the idea. “Our globes and maps are a reasonable guess at the amount of the world we actually know. After all, Luna and I made them. Yet, everypony knows that at their edges, their accuracy is a joke at best. Worse, Discord’s work was more damaging than that. Equus still bears the scars of that day. There are pockets of chaos magic scattered everywhere, many of which are impossible to remove. Even now, deep in the oceans, beyond any point which our ponies have dared yet explore, there are permanent, stationary squalls of chaotic storms that encircle the known lands and bar sea and air travel. To even attempt to sail through them is to invite being whisked away to some other, far-flung corner of the world where there are no maps, no civilizations, nothing but wilderness.

“I imagine ponies will find out about this soon enough. They’re finally back to a point where their ships and explorers can reach these places, and perhaps someday, they’ll find a way to navigate the storms. Luna and I can teleport past them, but that isn’t a thing our subjects can imitate. Until then, our globes will do to help ponies navigate what was left after the Chaos War. I wish they were better and more complete, but there were barely enough resources to keep everything from falling apart, let alone map such a huge expanse.”

Her voice cracked a little as she explained, giving hints as to the depth of the history being summarized.

Twilight covered her mouth with her hoof, taking everything in as it was told to her. “Expanded the world by an order of magnitude… is that what made the Glass Desert?”

Celestia cringed and whispered, “No. That was me.” She swallowed, turning her face from the land below.

“I was with a small scouting force when it happened. Two hundred thirty-five of the bravest ponies I’ve ever known. Since I was the second youngest alicorn with such a small force, Discord must have decided I would be easy pickings, even though he was drastically weakened from altering the world. He marched an army of one hundred thousand discordant ponies, griffons, and all other manner of creatures on us.” The Princess cringed, clenching her teeth and looking out to the mountains. “I can still hear his laughter echoing in the valley. He must have thought forcing our ponies to fight each other some kind of sick joke.”

Celestia paused a moment, taking a few deep breaths. “We couldn’t outrun them. We didn’t even know where we could run to. Before long, they were upon us. We knew they would wipe us out and move on to Luna or some other alicorn. To prevent that, my ponies made the ultimate sacrifice. They told me to fight with my full strength… even though they’d never escape my flames in time.

“So I fought. On that day, in that battle… I created my most destructive spell: Sol Invictus.

“I summoned every ounce of my power in that spell, completely incinerating an entire legion, along with my brave ponies who willingly faced that fate so I could ‘win.’ Their ashes were fused with the sands below them and melted to glass as an eternal monument to my sins. What you see before you is the result of that battle. One hundred thousand lives lost, and all I managed to do was hurt Discord and make him retreat.”

Celestia stopped, wiping away some tears as Twilight continued to soak in the information she’d heard along with the sight before her. It had beauty enough to be a natural wonder, instead of a warning of what the Unconquered Sun was capable of. It seemed inconceivable that the very same loving being now hugging her with a wing was capable of, let alone responsible for, such an act.

“Later, the alicorns split up to defend their own civilizations even though Luna and I pointed out how we’d be vulnerable. They were worried about their ponies—we understood that—but we were right all the same. We fell, one at a time. Nation after nation, our institutions and infrastructure was demolished and burned to the ground. After each, he toyed with the ponies left until he was bored and left them, mad, to die from exposure. Eventually, ours was the sole civilization that remained, ruled by the last two living alicorns, plus one other that retreated to join us, Lord Glacien.

“When it came to be our turn, we nearly lost our civilization, too. In many ways, we did. Almost everything was destroyed, but Glacien stalled Discord long enough for us to summon and connect to the Elements. They were legends back then too, their origins unknown even to us. But our summoning techniques were sloppy and our information on the Elements extremely limited. We had no idea what we were really doing; we were just desperate. It was a true miracle that Luna and I hit on the right ideas and brought them forth to us.

“When we finally sealed Discord away, we saw our friend, the last alicorn other than us, finally succumb to his wounds. Just like dragons, our magic burns when we die; the flames shoot dozens of kilometers into the sky. There’s nothing left when it’s over.”

Celestia sighed slowly, seemingly releasing some of her tension only to have it tighten back up as her lower lip quivered and her eyes poured out a river of soundless tears. “I’ve been alive a long time, Twilight. Few ponies know just how long, so know how much I trust you when I tell you I’m almost ten thousand years old. And every single day I see the faces of those brave ponies and millions of others I’ve either killed directly, sent to die, or seen die because of my mistakes. Their memories are with me every waking moment. It’s the burden of the alicorn. We push forward. We must push forward for those still alive and those yet to live. Yet they all die, and we keep going on while an ever increasing line of ghosts follow us to remind us of every major mistake in our long lives to help us learn from them.”

“It’s allowed me to grow so strong, and so useless. I can’t fight anymore, Twilight. I’ve become far too much like the sun I represent. I can guide my ponies from afar, but when I get too close… it all just burns. Especially if I try to use my magic to fight, and that pains me more than anything. Thank the Heavens you redeemed Luna so she can help me.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. Why mention Luna like that? “Umm… Princess?” Twilight nudged her mentor again, this time with a specific motion. It had been a little sign they knew about and had built with each other through experience. Roughly translated, it meant ‘Hey, can I interrupt to ask a question I’m kinda sure is rude without you adding me to the statue garden?’

“Yes, Twilight?” The translated reply there was ‘Of course, I’ll tell the pigeon firing squad to stand down,’ or so Twilight felt. It was hard to tell through her mentor’s tears.

“If your magic causes… that, wouldn’t Luna’s do something similar?” she asked, motioning to the Glass Desert below.

“No, actually. She’s mostly as strong as me, true, but she doesn’t have any spells as destructive as Sol Invictus. She has much finer control, too. She can still fight without collateral costs. Heavens, it sounds awful to call my ponies that… Still, a little colt could be right next to her enemy, and he’d escape unharmed. She’s a true master on the battlefield, Twilight, and perhaps the only one still living. Even if an enemy was twice my strength, I’d still advise betting on Luna to win that fight. I’ve seen her halt an army’s—actually, my army’s—advance and make them turn in terror just from her arrival. I’ve seen her use spells I still cannot prove are actually possible. I’ve even seen her rally forces to march against enemies ten times their number and emerge victorious.”

A wistful smile slowly formed on Celestia’s face as the tears subsided. “And more recently, she’s taken to teaching archeology to an earth pony named Pip. What did I tell you about the bookish ones becoming powerful? You’re certainly becoming a good example of that too, Twilight.”

Twilight took a step back into Celestia’s wing. Something’s not right… She’s praising me, yeah, and that’s awesome, but why mention my power? I should ask—No, if I do, she’ll… she’ll… She’ll talk about what she wants to no matter what I do… Twilight ducked her head down. “Princess, I’m a librarian, not a general. I’m not that powerful.”

“Yes, you are, Twilight. In terms of the depth of your wellspring, the amount of magic you have? You are most powerful unicorn in existence by a wide margin.”

Twilight would have fallen over backwards if not for Celestia’s wing. “What? That’s just not possible, Princess. I mean, Shining can shield all of Canterlot—”

“And he has only roughly a quarter of your wellspring size—although to be fair, he is in a comfortable second place.”

Twilight focused in on Celestia’s face and her newly calm, neutral demeanor. Somewhere in this conversation there was a ton of bricks with Twilight’s name written all over it, but she could only make a rough guess as to what form it would take.

Celestia quickly continued, “It’s quite an achievement, what you’ve done. You should be proud. Hundreds and hundreds of unicorns could band together and not be able to boast of having such magic.”

Twilight’s jaw dropped as the metaphorical bricks landed on her head. “Hundreds? Princess, you can’t be—”

Celestia stood up, her new tone curt and cutting. “I’m completely serious, Twilight. You’ve achieved a level very few dream of, let alone live to see. And now, what you’ve accomplished today with this new spell of yours will mark a turning point in your life.”

Celestia walked in front of her student and sat again with Twilight between her and the edge, the alicorn’s gaze gaze piercing her very soul. Though her eyes saw no light, she felt as if she was mere glass in front of a sun, as though everything about her was being laid bare.

I can’t take it… “Princess,” she began, stomping her hoof in a demand. “Please, tell me what’s really going on! You tear me and my friends from our homes, lock us in the castle, and then whisk me thousands of kilometers away. None of that is something you’d do on a whim. You’re trying to tell me something. Just please, say it!”

Celestia lowered her ears as if she was hurt. “Twilight, you have to understand, no unicorn can cast magic through their hooves. At least, not in a controlled manner. It simply cannot be done.”

Twilight shook her head and stood up in a defensive stance, legs wide apart. “But… I did it… I mean, it didn’t work as well as I wanted, but it worked, mostly. And it took a lot of practice. But I did it, and… I… thought you would be proud…”

“Oh, Twilight, my Twilight. I am infinitely proud of you!” Celestia said, standing up and spreading her wings. “I told you, you’ve done nothing wrong. It’s wonderful that you have performed that spell! It’s just that the fact that you have does not contradict my earlier statement. No unicorn, no matter how talented, can cast magic through her hooves.”

“But I did it! What’s wrong with that? Why all the fuss? So I cast through my hooves, and I'm a unicorn! Why is this such a huge deal?”

Celestia broke her gaze, looking down at the cloud as she began breathing more heavily. “Not anymore…”

Twilight just looked up at her in confusion, watching as the Princess’ face became more and more pained.

”I… how do I…?” The Princess took in a deep breath and sighed, her gaze returning to her pupil as she spoke with more calm and conviction than Twilight had ever heard before.

“Twilight Sparkle, welcome to the alicorn race.”

‘Ton of bricks’ ceased to be an apt metaphor. This was a bombshell, one that knocked her back on her flank then collapsed her front legs too, forcing her all the way down on the cloud. “A-alicorn? No, I— Princess, look at me! Look at you! I can’t be an alicorn! I don’t have the billowy mane or the huge wings. I’m tiny, my mane is definitely not glowing, and I’m—”

“Standing on a stratus cloud without a cloud-walking spell,” Celestia said, her voice as smooth as glass as she turned away from her student. “I never put one on you, Twilight. You didn’t need it.”

Panic hit in an instant as her mind rushed to think of what to do while her jaw did its best to reach the ground. In an impossible moment of clarity, she responded by checking herself and her hooves with magic, her horn alight with a cancel spell, which fizzled instantly when it found nothing to cancel.

Twilight looked back up at her mentor, pupils shrunk, eye twitching, and jaw completely unresponsive to neural commands. Her mind couldn’t form a coherent thought, but the message seemed to get through loud and clear: “Help!

Celestia closed her eyes and raised her horn. “I suppose, once again, it is better to see and experience.”

Celestia’s words barely registered with Twilight before the coronal glow around Celestia flashed into existence, bathing the sky with light that began to rush towards her. For a split second, she worried about being witness to Sol Invictus, but the magic didn’t burn. Instead, it flowed into and through her.

The sheer amount of magic penetrating her was incomprehensible. She’d just been told she had the power of a thousand unicorns; that was a trifle compared to this. She could feel it warm her as her world warped and her breathing stopped, the flow focusing in her heart and rushing out her limbs and horn. Her back ached, her eyes saw nothing but light, and then her mind expanded.

Blinded by the light, she forced her eyes closed, but that only opened her to a new world of sight, seeing things clear as crystal in a way she never had before. An unreal amount of magic flowed in bright ribbons from Celestia into her body, transforming it into something completely different. Her legs were even longer than her brother’s, her horn as great as Celestia’s, and a new coat of hair more luxurious than anything she’d ever felt. On her back, two great wings with primary feathers the size of most pegasus’ wingspans. While her body glowed and burned, her ears heard a whole symphony as her mentor again began to speak.

“This is you, Twilight, in perhaps ten years’ time. Observe. Reach out with your senses and experience the world for the first time.”

Her mind stretched out as if on instinct and took in more data than should be possible. The intricate structure of the spell her mentor was using appeared in front of her, etching itself into the very fabric of reality. Farther her mind stretched, feeling the exact composition of the air as it expanded around her. Even the rough, worn glass of the desert below could be felt as if she was there on the ground, and the flow of magic in the sky and stars became obvious at once as the very pulse of the planet below lit up the ground with magic currents. She shouldn’t be able to think and feel all this at once, yet her mind moved through it all with effortless ease.

“Alicorns are not born. We ascend. We that reach this level of power are changed, forever. Unable to survive as unicorns any further due to the immense power of our own magic, we take on the aspects of the other races in addition to our own.”

She was telling the truth. Power flowed from her mentor to her, and in turn through her body. Her heart radiated with the warmth of the planet, strengthening her and everything around her. Her spine sent massive amounts of energy out through her hooves and wings. Her horn couldn’t keep up with the amount of power in it, expelling excess energy at random into the sky as she frantically turned about to look at herself and everywhere else.

“We gain new insight and instincts. We lose our age and our ability to have children. And we remove all the limits on our power.”

Once she remembered she had lungs, her breathing resumed at a frantic pace as she looked into her much, much longer mane. She could see the sky though it. Not Equestria’s sky, her sky. A view of a perfect night, deep in space.

“We are not immortal. We can be killed, just not by old age. And we are not gods. Gods are beyond even this. We must never be worshipped, for it drives us mad and makes our worshippers dependent. But we are the guardians of our ponies, a duty our minds and bodies compel us to fulfill.”

The magic subsided, and her form and senses returned to normal. She didn’t feel herself shrink or lose limbs. It was as if the senses she had before just went silent, leaving her cold, scared, and overwhelmed in her tiny frame, thin coat of hair, wingless back, and supremely frazzled but non-luminous mane.

“You’ve only just started this journey, my student. It may take years to reach your first summit, but that in and of itself is a record pace. It took me a millennium to fully ascend.”

Twilight couldn’t remain sitting anymore as her legs gave out and she flopped into the cloud, straining to get her breathing under control as her body screamed in agony over having the entire universe torn out from her.

The world faded with the pain, and the sweet release of sleep washed over her a moment later.

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