• 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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A Bright Light in a Dark Place, Part 3/3

Twilight Sparkle wasn’t normally a fan of sherbet. She had been when she was a filly, along with ice cream. Of course, all fillies are fans of ice cream and sherbet. These days, however, her tastes were more aligned with spicy things, thanks to a fateful encounter with a bottle of hot sauce.

All this having been said, Celestia’s private, carefully hidden stash of sherbet was the best sherbet in the universe. This could likely even be proven by science.

She scooped another spoonful of green-apple-blueberry-raspberry and watched her mentor as she tackled the lemon-strawberry. Seeing her with her muzzle half in a large, half-eaten bucket of it somehow made her seem more, for lack of a better word, mortal, even while in her luxurious chambers.

Twilight put a hoof to her forehead, gently massaging against the incoming ice cream headache; something apparently alicorns could still have. “So, I take it things didn’t go as planned?”

Celestia stopped eating and froze, causing Twilight to instantly regret her choice of words.

Argh. No, bad Twilight. We do not take that kind of tone with the Princess!

A sigh echoed in the bucket before Celestia gently lowered it to the floor. “That is a mild way of putting it. But, you are correct. Although first and foremost, I must apologize to you. What you see here is more or less pure frustration. It’s wrong to include you in a squabble between me and my sister, but I’m afraid you’re inexorably tied to the situation now.”

Twilight set her own bucket down along with the spoon. “I take it that’s what you tried to prevent by not telling us about the Council.”

Celestia nodded. “I wanted to spare you the pain and perhaps prevent you from becoming too angry with me. I also needed you to be able to focus on your training. Yet, what is done is done. I shall have to simply adapt.”

“Princess, Tia, you’re stalling. Adapt to what?”

The larger alicorn flexed her wings a little and sighed. Twilight gave her a raised eyebrow just in time for Celestia to quickly look at her and away again.

“When the attack on Canterlot came, I knew that even though it would almost certainly be repelled, Shining Armor would lose his position as a result. He was the single most vulnerable major supporter I—” Celestia stopped, her mouth frozen in place.

Several seconds passed while Celestia seemed to merely sit there, transfixed on something Twilight simply couldn’t see.


Celestia blinked and shook her head. “Forgive me, Twilight. I should come clean better than that. The truth is, I suspected Shining’s days as a Captain were numbered far sooner than this. The sharks have been circling for some time. The attack just poured blood into the water. However, during that time, I laid a trap for the Council. One that my sister, in a childish fit, just thwarted.”

“A trap? So, Shining getting fired was a good thing?” Twilight crossed her forelegs and laid her head down on them. “I have to say, Tia, you’re losing me here.”

Celestia stole a look at Twilight from the corner of her eye, lurching back like she’d been hurt. “I understand and empathize with your feelings, Twilight. Yet, he would have found new purpose in time. Just as I molded you as a filly, so have I been molding him. You saw Shining defend himself in the Empyreal Hall? Ten years ago, that wouldn’t have been possible. They would have destroyed him. Now? If they had tried this four months ago, I’d imagine he would have received a split vote in the Council.”

Twilight nodded. “Okay. You’re saying you’ve been teaching him political skills. But Shining’s cutie mark is a shield. He’s been a soldier since entering adulthood, and that’s been his dream since before I was born. How is allowing his discharge from the Royal Guard fair to him?”

“His cutie mark is a shield because he wanted to protect you. Protecting others need not be done with a magic barrier or through use of warfare. Every single day, as Princess of the Lost, Cadence, protects millions of ponies with her words alone. And your brother? His passion makes him a natural speaker and leader. With my help along with advice from my niece, he would have been an unreal force on the political battlefield. Even Charlemane would fear him.”

Twilight sighed. “Hmmm, I think I get it. You were trying to turn an inevitable loss into a long-term victory, and give him the opportunity to do something his cutie mark calls for. A mercy in the face of certain defeat. But, Shining joining the Night Guard precludes this possibility, because Luna and her soldiers are so feared. Now he looks more like a villain than a protector, figuratively and literally.”

Celestia sighed. “I’m afraid it gets worse.”

She tilted her head, jaw open a bit. “How can it get worse?”

“I’m fully aware that my sister does not and has never limited her Night Guard’s actions as demanded by the Council. She would rather have tea with Discord. Well, that last statement may be hyperbole, but the one before is not. However, Luna trains her soldiers well. They are the epitome of stealth, and I know Luna did limit her activities to much less than she would have liked to lower the risk and keep me happy. Your brother, on the other hoof, is… bombastic in most everything he does. I am not only worried but almost certain he will eventually be caught. If that happens…”

“Ah.” Twilight shuddered. “I think I see what you mean.”

A sherbet bucket twirled in the air a little, Celestia looking down at it. “I love my sister dearly, but she doesn’t think like us. It’s taken me millennia, but I’ve become reasonably adept at political maneuvering and anticipating scenarios. Luna has never mastered that. Political strategy is simply… beyond her bailiwick.”

Twilight shook her head and put a hoof on her mentor’s foreleg. “I don’t think you’re giving her enough credit. She seemed to have a good grasp of what was going on in the Council and what was going to happen. She even knew you’d be upset, although not exactly why.”

Celestia sighed and lit her horn, opening her closet.

Twilight could hear the sound of a drawer opening, and a painting floated into the room, landing before them. She looked over it and gasped.

“It’s beautiful…”

The colors of the night were awash over the whole thing. Blues and grays and purples danced across the features of a cityscape, the details present in the realistic style making it seem more photograph than oil painting.

Celestia smiled, humming slightly. “One of her many works she’s too shy to show the public for fear of rejection. Do not misunderstand, Twilight. Luna is not stupid. Far from it. In fact, in some ways, she’s a genius. Her intelligence is merely different. She does not analyze things objectively like you do. Rather, she uses her intuition, feelings, and most importantly, passion. This allows her some abilities in the political arena, like giving speeches, and she can intuit motives, lies, and initial reactions very well. But, long-term planning simply isn’t something she’s good at.

“If and when Shining is caught, I severely doubt either myself or Luna will be able to counter it politically. At the very least, Luna could lose her crown completely. Even if I refused to give it up and suffer the inevitable insurrection, ponies would no longer wish to follow her authority or mine. They would actively resist it.”

Twilight swallowed. “And then, your only choices are to be a tyrant or lose everything. Best case, return in a few hundred years, try again. If there’s anything left.”

Celestia nodded. “Exactly. Now you understand.”

Twilight blinked and thought, tapping her hoof on her chin. “No, there’re still some things I don’t understand.”

The Princess closed her eyes. “Then ask, and I will answer.”

The student swallowed. Normally, asking questions of her mentor was no big deal. This, however, was an exceptionally touchy subject. “If you’re sure…”

“I take my vow seriously, Twilight.” A large wing unfolded and draped over her. “If you have questions, I wish to answer them.”

Then why aren’t you looking at me? Twilight thought. But, she’ll insist if I back out now, so… She took a deep breath and continued. “If all this is the case, why didn’t you talk to Luna? She’s your sister.”

“Ha!” A laugh exploded form Celestia’s lungs before being muffled by a closed mouth. One of the buckets of sherbet lifted back up into the air and another scoop found itself in the Diarch’s mouth.

Twilight lowered her head. “I don’t see what’s funny…” Crap, did I say that out loud!?

Celestia swallowed her frozen treat. “Ugh. In truth, it is not at all funny. But, the simple reality is that whenever I try to include her in making my plans, we wind up fighting while she desperately tries to put some of her own unworkable ideas in them. It always ends in an argument. One time, we were shouting at each other so loud I’m fairly confident most of the castle heard. Not surprisingly, those plans were ruined.”

“So… it’s a difference of opinion?” Twilight chuckled nervously, scratching the back of her head.

Celestia squeezed her with her wing. “We are of different minds, she and I. I’d make the obvious ‘night and day’ comparison, but it’s been done. Ultimately, I simply do not have the time to consult her on all my plans anymore, so… I stopped. I… Well, that’s not entirely true either. I also do not wish to deal with the heartache.”

“Hmmm. Even when it causes more heartache down the line?”

The Princess cringed, lurching like she’d been struck.

“Sorry…” Twilight squeaked, ducking down again.

“No. No, don’t be.” She lowered her head down to Twilight’s level, looking her right in the eyes. “I deserved that. Thoroughly.”

I always forget how much larger she is than me… Twilight exhaled and leaned on her mentor a little, relaxing. “My other question, then, is why not tell Shining? Or me? About your plans, I mean.”

“My reasoning for you is relatively simple, honestly.” Celestia contorted her body a bit, shifting her position. “You needed to be completely focused on your training. Had you learned of any of this sooner, your mind would have been elsewhere. In such a state, you would have been in grave peril in your training, to say nothing of in a real fight later on if you did not learn all you could. I couldn’t allow that. As for Shining…”

A few moments passed in silence, Celestia looking off into the distance.

“Tia?” Twilight asked.

The Princess winced, shedding a lone tear. “Forgive me, my student, but I do not think you will like my response. Shining knew I was training him; he was the one to ask me for advice, after all. But my future plans? The reason I couldn’t tell him was because I needed his reaction in the Empyreal Hall to be absolutely perfect.”

“I’m… not sure I follow, Princess. How could that reaction be ‘perfect?’ He was devastated.” Twilight took in a deep breath. “I’ve never seen him shed a tear before…”

“It was perfect because it would have thrown Charlemane off track.” Celestia levitated a small case in the corner over to them, unpacking it to reveal a marble chess set with glass pieces and a small piece of paper. The pieces all lifted up from their resting place and arranged themselves on the board to match a diagram on the parchment. “Charlemane and I are of different minds politically. Our priorities are different, our methodologies and ideologies are different… but he is not truly an ‘enemy.’ He is an adversary, but we both want Equestria to prosper. We merely have different ideas about how to do that.”

Twilight nodded and tipped over a queen on the board. “So you wanted Charlemane to think Shining no longer a piece on the board. One that had been taken.”

“Yes. I wanted him to think that Shining was politically gelded. Of course, I know Charlemane is not stupid. In fact, he is astoundingly smart. Quite possibly the best politician I’ve met in many generations. We’ve been playing chess for a few decades now. He’s beaten me a number of times. Thus, I knew he would have figured this all out eventually, but all I needed was a little time to catch him off balance. If your brother had given even the slightest flinch to hint at a future plan, my advantage would have been lost. But that’s all moot now.”

Celestia spread out her wings, and wrapped them around Twilight, bringing them close together. “Twilight, understand me, please. I took no pleasure in what I had to do. I did not want it. I didn’t want any of this to happen. I am in the fight of my life, and I don’t even know who all my opponents are.”

Twilight backed up a little, her back brushing up against the primary feathers as Celestia looked ever more pained.

“I know it hurts, but your brother is strong. He’ll recover, and I will help him as much as I can…”

Twilight huffed and sighed. “I’m… I am angry with you, but I… I recognize the odd circumstances. But I want a promise from you that you’ll talk to us more. Me, Shining, Luna, Cadence. We might be pieces on the board to you, but we’re playing the game too. If you don’t talk to us, we’re going to make assumptions based on what we know, not on what you know. We’re more effective working together.”

Celestia slumped to the ground, her wings going limp. “I… I’ve been alone too long. It’s not something I do, anymore.”

Twilight shook her head. “If I ascend and become a princess, I’m going to be involved with this stuff. I’m going to have to make some of the same decisions you do, and I need you to help me with that. What am I supposed to do if you don’t talk to me? We’re going to be back here, doing this whole thing again.”

Celestia sighed, her lip quivering. “You’re right, of course. I know this, logically. Doesn’t make it any easier. ‘Old habits’ are even worse when they’re reinforced over a millennium… or longer, really.”

Twilight slumped back, resting on the oversized pillow. “I know, but…” A chill ran down her spine as she went over what she’d been saying. “I’m sorry, Princess, I shouldn’t be lecturing you. I guess I overstepped my—“

Celestia picked up Twilight’s hoof. “No. You are absolutely right. About everything.”

“So does this mean you’ll talk with her? With Luna? About your plans?”

Celestia looked away, towards her desk. “I…”

She gave the Princess a small poke on the shoulder. “Tia?”

‘Tia’ kept gazing outward, her eyes all but burning holes in the wall. “I… I want to tell you that I will. I know it may end in tears, but I will talk to her… It’s just… I’m afraid that, at the moment, most of my plans have gone up in smoke.”

“Oh! Oh…” Twilight fidgeted with her hooves a little. “So, you don’t have any plans to share anymore.”

“I have… some plans. But, they are doors, windows, and fixtures. Alone, they are salvageable, but the framework of the house has been demolished.”

Twilight buried her head in her forelegs. “Ah. I’m… sorry. I didn’t realize.” Several moments of silence passed, each one amping up Twilight’s nerves a little more. She was shaking by the time she was able to speak again. “What… What are we going to do now?”

“Now?” Celestia stood up, glancing at the cluttered paperwork strewn over her desk. “Now I do something I probably should have done ages ago.” Her horn lit up, and the entire desk floated up and tipped over. All but one of the drawers flew open, dumping paper after paper, scroll after scroll onto the floor.

“Right now, everypony is completely off balance.” Celestia smirked. “I’m reeling from the loss of my next populist politician. I have no doubt that the Council is going to ‘freak out’ over the idea of Shining Armor with the ability to command Luna’s stealthy troops. The conspiracy, whoever is behind it, is going to scramble at finding both of the Sparkle siblings hunting them down. This means that whoever acts first is going to be at an advantage. Which means I need new plans from a clean perspective.”

“So, you’re trashing all your old plans?” Twilight pointed a hoof at the pile. “What’s that going to do?”

“Outside of cathartic relief?” Celestia turned, putting herself in between Twilight and the pile while her teleportation spell bloomed again. “It will force me to think outside the box I’ve put myself in. Come, Twilight. It’s time I showed you Caballo Verde.”

Twilight’s body twisted and flailed in the light, gut wrenching itself into knots before finally getting deposited onto hot, desert soil. She rolled to her hooves, heaving and coughing, tasting some of the sherbet returning for round two.

“I apologize, Twilight. It’s never easy to navigate the leyline stream here.”

She clenched her teeth, breathing slowly to get control of herself again under the dark, sunless sky. “What… Where are we? Why is it already night?”

“As I said,” Celestia flared out her wings, “the city of Caballo Verde. Or rather, what little remains of a once lush canyon. And it is always night here, or at least appears to be.”

A few more heavy breaths and Twilight finally regained most of her composure. At the very least, it was enough to finally gaze at her surroundings. Crimson desert sand was under her hooves, and the night sky all but burned overhead with blood-red stars. Towering mesas dotted the landscape, and there was a path forward leading into a canyon in the center of a particularly large one.

“Come,” Celestia beaconed with a wing. “You have to see this for yourself.”

Twilight shakily nodded, nervous about what was ahead. The last time Celestia had taken her somewhere, it was the crater in the Everfree, which was eerie enough on its own. This time, her nerves were even worse, and it went beyond the fact that it should be daytime or the red stars. Something was very wrong here, and she needed only the sign in front of her to tell her what.








There were two important revelatory things within the sign. One, despite how important it seemed, was completely overshadowed by the other.

“Th-th-thaumatic contamination!?” Twilight yelled, her voice echoing off the mesa. “We can’t be here! We’re dead if we stay any longer!”

Celestia shook her head and picked up the pile of papers from her room that had accompanied them through the teleport. “No, alicorns do not suffer the effects of this normally mortal danger. In fact, even some exceptionally strong unicorns, those halfway or more to the ascendancy threshold, are resistant to it as well. Just as the pressure of our wellsprings prevents us from bearing foals, it also keeps the contamination out of our bodies, much like how a positive-pressure room will not have airborne pathogens enter it. You and I could wade through ten thousand times this and emerge unharmed.”

Twilight took in a deep breath and exhaled. It would be okay. Still, this left one other point of discussion untouched. Twilight slowly began her march next to her mentor, watching as the alicorn’s telekinesis glowed ever brighter around the papers and allowing some time to pass before asking her question. “The sign says ‘Army of the Lunar Republic.’ This was from the Lunar Rebellions?”

Celestia nodded, leaving her head a little low as they entered the canyon proper. “Yes, that is correct. The Rebellions were, in truth, an all-out civil war that raged for years on end, and this was the site of an epic battle. We are deep in the San Palomino desert, and this was one of my sister’s greatest strongholds. After it fell, the city was abandoned for obvious reasons. The contamination is so thick it blocks out the sunlight, creating a realm of perpetual night.”

The San Palomino Desert, Twilight thought. Some areas are so inundated with flame magic that water literally cannot stay on the surface. It evaporates instantly.

They kept up their walk, passing through the narrow path bordered by wind-eroded, wavy sandstone. Twilight dropped her head down as walls around them closed in more and more. “I can see why it was a stronghold. It’s using the mesas here as natural defenses; that would make this place a fortress. You could only assault openly from the air, and they’d no doubt be ready for it.”

“Quite so, Twilight. This was a costly battle, although for reasons you’ve not yet seen.” Celestia’s voice choked and hushed a little at the last few words, enough that Twilight didn’t want to push any further until her mentor was ready to discuss it.

It didn’t take long for Twilight to see that it wasn’t going to be as long a walk as their last outing, as she could already see an entrance to the center. It also didn’t take long for her to see why the sign was posted. The general feeling of unease in the Everfree was nothing compared to this. Her skin was crawling all over her like it was made out of spiders. Each step forward made her wobble around more like a drunk than a scared mare. The dark red lights from the stars seem to boil down to the ground, overcoming her in a red mist before, at last, a bright white light flooded through her senses, burning away the miasma.

“Curious. You appear to be unharmed, but the contamination still seems to affect you,” the light said, fading softly until Celestia’s form was once again revealed.

Twilight shuddered and shook her whole body, finally able to jettison the feelings the air was giving her. “I think… I think you’re probably right. Thanks for clearing it out.”

Her mentor smiled warmly. “Oh, it’s no trouble, my student. Come, we are nearly there.”

Twilight leapt up to follow directly next to her, staying in the pressure of Celestia’s magic. The miasma burned and rolled away at its edge, creating a safe region for her to walk in.

Now safe, she was able to look around again. They were fast approaching the center of a small city—or at least the remains of one. A few metal cranes jutting out of the rock walls were still recognizable, but the rest was rubble. Only the bottoms of walls remained in most cases, and they didn’t even look like they were made out of anything Twilight recognized.

As they passed nearby one, she reached out with a hoof and gave it a poke. The merest touch set half the remaining wall cracking and crumbling into a brown dust. In fact, all of the walls looked like that slightly compacted brown dust. Not a single one appeared to be anything more substantial.

The red mist began to encroach on her again, and she jumped to get away from it and back into Celestia’s light. A few short city blocks later and they were directly in the center of it all.

“There’s almost nothing left,” Twilight commented. “What happened here?”

“I happened.” Celestia answered, flopping to the ground and kicking up some sand. The papers, too, fluttered down to the ground. “Or rather, I did something to enable it. But just as surely as if I’d used Sol Invictus, I destroyed this city. We’re standing in the battlefield that marked a major turning point in the war.”

She lifted up a wing, signaling for Twilight to approach. Ears ducked down, she complied. Each step closer, though, made the pain on Celestia’s face that much easier to see. She wasn’t hiding as much as she was before. The mask again had cracks.

Celestia’s wing draped over her, holding her tight against her mentor’s side.

“Tia,” she whispered. “Tell me. I can feel your pain already. Please, tell me.”

Celestia inhaled and slowly let the breath go, whimpering. “You are correct, my student,” she whispered back, clearing her throat. “After the Rebellions, I swore a sacred oath to myself. Luna also agreed to it wholeheartedly upon her return. We promised we would never again merely give new magical or technological knowledge to our ponies. They would have to learn it for themselves, always.”

Twilight shuddered with her mentor. The meaning behind her words was all around them. “You gave your ponies something. A weapon, or spell. Something to give them an edge over Luna. And this… This happened?”

Celestia snorted. “Technology. Magically based, but technology. A science, something Luna was never well versed in and wouldn’t be able to reproduce easily. In my arrogance, I thought that Luna would have no means of fighting back, and that it would shock her so thoroughly that she would surrender.”

A tear fell down from her face and evaporated instantly upon touching the sand. “I could not have been more painfully mistaken. She countered by teaching her ponies magic I didn’t even know she remembered. Magic from before Discord.”

Twilight tilted her head. “Is that different from magic today? I thought magic was magic. There are many different kinds, sure, but ultimately it all follows the same rules.”

Celestia pulled her in tighter. “You are correct, but you must understand, Discord destroyed everything. By the end of the Chaos War, we were back to straw huts and nomadic herds. Our ‘brightest minds’ that could have once brought us back quickly had been driven permanently mad, and the rest of our ponies weren’t in much better shape. Only Luna and I kept our minds fully intact. We had to wait for the next generation of ponies to truly begin rebuilding from scratch.”

“Oh,” she breathed. “So before Discord, you were more advanced than we are now. And when you gave your ponies hidden knowledge to fight in the civil war…”

“It was like giving a foal a stick of dynamite and a match,” the Princess sobbed. “They didn’t just use them in combat; they turned on each other in their own petty squabbles, and we both ignored it, carrying on with our stupid, frivolous war. Millions upon millions died while our egos stretched to proportions only an alicorn can have. We were so cocksure, so certain in our righteousness. And when I finally used the Elements, Luna was gone, and my eyes were opened.”

She sniffed and sobbed, steam hissing from the ground as the tears rained. “My ponies… My little ponies… The Elements were not content to simply let me win. A price had to be paid. They made me see; made me watch. I was forced to relive every event leading up to and through Luna’s banishment, now fully aware of the sins I was committing but unable to alter my actions. When the light from the Elements subsided and I caught up to the world, all of my ponies that were left were celebrating. There was this one colt, he…” She reached out with a hoof, stretching to touch the ghost. “He was in a soldier’s uniform. He couldn’t have been older than fourteen. He looked at me with his remaining eye and said, ‘Why are you sad, Princess? We won! We won!’”

Celestia cringed, her teeth grinding as she struggled to breathe. “And they were all so happy. Rejoicing next to the bodies… So happy that their Princess…” She choked on her tears. “No, at that point, Luna wasn’t the only one being worshipped. They were so happy their goddess had emerged victorious…” A creaking sob escaped her lips. “I asked about that colt’s sister lying dead on the ground next to him. He said, ‘It’s okay, Princess. She died for you.’

“‘It’s never okay,’” she barely squeaked. “That’s what I told him. ‘It’s never okay.’ She didn’t have to… My ponies… All my ponies…” Her head reared up to the sky, inhaling deep. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, my ponies! I’m so sorry…”

She collapsed with a flop and an almighty sob, pawing at the ground, wailing in regret.

Twilight did the only thing she could think to, wrap her forelegs around the Princess’s neck, embracing her in a hug. “It’s okay, Tia. I’m here. I’m still here.”

The sob slowly faded to a cry and then a whimper. “It turns out Discord isn’t the only one able to destroy a civilization. In our own petty feud, my sister and I, we… I had to spend centuries to undo the damage. Confiscating books, parchments, anything that held knowledge of the accursed weapons or magic we had used. I even spread rumors of the dangers of the spells to those who used them, some true, others not. And to cap it all off, I turned my sister into a fairytale in a vain hope she might be accepted upon her return.”

“It was so easy at first; my ponies worshipped me, after all. And without their goddess, even most of those who followed my sister gave up in a few short years, willingly having the knowledge locked away by magic in exchange for clemency. I was relentless, and at long last, successful… But by the time I was ‘done,’ we had gone back so far…”

Celestia swallowed, her voice shaking from barely hidden agony. “Looking back now, it was the war itself that did the bulk of the damage, destroying our infrastructure and pushing us back technologically, but none of it could not have happened without my participation. I am still culpable. And after my efforts to wipe away knowledge of those terrible things were done, I kept advancement and reconstruction slow for a while as we rebuilt and otherwise withdrew myself from many state affairs. Although it seemed like it took ages, this eventually did allow my ponies to finally stop worshipping me once and for all. After some time, things stabilized, and Equestria survived, but regardless, it was still the second time I had failed and been left with ruins. First against Discord, and then against my own sister.”

Celestia sniffed and coughed a little, plainly still holding back the tears. “Thus, whenever my plans fail, I like to come here,” she breathed. “I come here to remind myself. I am not infallible. I have failed and been defeated so much already. Despite the contamination, this is, to me, a place of… cleansing.”

Her horn sparked to life again, brightly flaring to reshape the pile of papers and pull one dirty set of them out, floating them over to Twilight.

“Keep a hold of those,” Celestia said, a new fire in her eye. “And stand back.”

Twilight felt a searing heat on her side from her mentor’s body, and she scrambled backwards, the small bundle of papers in tow, though it took far more effort to hold them than it should have.

When she couldn’t feel the heat anymore, she spun around in the miasma, looking back at the Princess, and found her mumbling something under her breath.

“Princess?” she asked, ears back against her head. The corrosive magic around her wasn’t moving anymore. It was rumbling and bubbling but not shifting around like it had been. “Princess, are you okay?”

The mumbling continued, this time louder, and Twilight took a nervous step back followed quickly by another. The words were something completely foreign, but she could feel the power within them.

Alicorn magic!

A last few words all but came in a growl, and she could see the literal fire in Celestia’s eyes.


An eruption of white-hot fire blasted into the air from underneath the documents, creating a vortex that vaporized anything that was dragged in, even the miasma. Twilight gripped her own papers in a vice-like hug as they struggled to get away. Smaller explosions and pops danced through the air with little bursts of magic catching light in the flames, the spells being destroyed and turning into what looked like fireworks.

There must have been security spells on the papers. She had to destroy them and the parchment… She’s literally burning magic!

Bits of ash and tiny embers began to rain down on them as the fire subsided. A wave of heat roared past Twilight as her mentor turned to face her, the alicorn’s very hooves burning and melting the sand beneath them.

“I seem to have overdone it a bit,” Celestia sniffed. “Come, let’s leave this dark place and find somewhere I can cool off. Do you still have your papers?”

Twilight nodded, still grasping them with her forelegs.

“Then we should run. I feel… I do not wish to be in this place anymore.” Celestia reared up on her hind legs and took off at a gallop.

Twilight followed, placing the papers in a telekinetic field. They began to fall, and she redoubled her efforts. The miasma must be so strong it’s disrupting my magic…

The documents flapped in the wind as they ran, Twilight only barely able to keep pace with her mentor’s long stride while avoiding the melted glass the Princess’s hoofprints left. Left and right she dodged, landing her hooves on the rough, uneven sandstone. Wind and red mist swept past them, the latter dying out quickly as they left the canyon and mesa behind. Even then, they just kept running, and with the miasma behind them, Twilight’s grip on the papers become far more solid. Despite the oppressive heat, she couldn’t help but smile. Running with her teacher and mentor like this was somehow, for lack of a better word, fun.

Their run continued for some time, going much farther than where they had arived. More signs flew past them as their speed increased, and the stars’ redness overhead faded away while sunlight started to force through the miasma. As they kept going and the mesas in the background started to get larger, Celestia’s light returned.

One teleportation later and Twilight braked hard, bringing her hooves to a skidding halt and tumbling forward, getting a mouthful of beach sand. Princess Celestia, however, kept right on going, right into the huge body of water ahead of them. It hissed and bubbled, her body so unimaginably hot that the water couldn’t actually touch her as she rolled around in the water with her wings flared out. Eventually, she cooled enough for that effect to fade, and the water met her skin, sending a huge cloud of steam into the air.

Twilight couldn’t help but smirk in the tropical sun while watching her teacher splash about like a foal on summer vacation. That’s one way to cool off when your body is the temperature of white-hot steel. Run into an ocean. She took in a breath of the salty air and turned her attention to the few remaining papers. They were tattered, filthy, and slightly singed, although she couldn’t tell if it was from the spell Celestia used or if it had been like that for a while.

Wait a minute… She squinted at the text. This is my hornwriting! Flipping to the next page confirmed it; this was the research from her bounding mass spell she’d written in Shining’s office.

“What the hell!?” she yelled, eye twitching as the sound of wet hoofsteps approached from behind her.

“I was wondering why you did not find better paper, my student.” Celestia chuckled. “If you needed some, any of my guards or servants would have gladly provided it.”

“It was perfect when I wrote it!” She kept flipping through pages, making sure all the notes were intact. “It was good paper! I got it from Shiny’s desk! What in Tartarus happened to it?”

“Hmm. It appears I need to have words with Officer Straight Shot. But, Intelligentsia's seal was intact on it, and I thought you would want to discuss it with me.”

Twilight sighed. “Yeah, I did. And I—” her words stopped and her heart skipped a beat before pounding like thunder, her mind putting together what just happened in the desert with the information here. “You… You’re not going to let me publish it, are you? I know too much, so… so you showed me why I can’t...” She looked up at her in with a quiver.

Celestia smiled. “Actually, because you were able to understand the basis of it before you were made aware of your alicornhood, I shall allow you to publish it as you see fit. However, after this, I’m afraid you’ve read too much of the prior Grand Mages’ books. You are… unfairly ahead of our ponies.”

Twilight looked back down at her papers, watching all of her research in her life flash before her eyes. All the discovery, all the secrets being unlocked passed by in a heartbeat. “But, but…” Twilight sniffed. “That isn't… I mean, that isn't what I wanted! I wanted to learn! I wanted to learn everything! From you! So I could share it! What you do! What I thought you did…"

Celestia leaned in close to her. “That is indeed what I do, Twilight. I know things. I learn them. And I find students and share with them what they are ready to hear. I am not telling you that you cannot continue to learn. I imagine it would be easier to get Discord to reform than to get you to stop learning. What it means is that you must keep what you learn between us until it is time to reveal it to a ready world. Then, when our ponies figure it out for themselves, you may discuss it openly and to your heart’s content.”

Twilight started to calm down and breathe more steady as she realized what was being said. “By teaching a student?”

Celestia gave her a slight nuzzle. “By teaching a student. A wonderful student, deserving of everything you can help her learn.”

The student leaned back into her mentor while she felt her own muscles relax again, her hooves shifting in the sand. “That’s why you only had me read the books and train with Luna instead of just read your library. If I didn’t take the time to learn everything in there correctly, it would’ve been even more dangerous than sending me out unprepared. Even most of Starswirl’s magic, of what I could understand, was obviously dangerous and practically unusable. I might not be able to wield Crimson’s spells in battle yet, but at least they don’t tear holes in reality.”

Celestia stroked Twilight’s back with her wet wing. “Precisely. You see, my student? You have wisdom too. That will serve you very well in the future, I think.”

Twilight inhaled deeply and then slowly let the air out, relaxing as she did so. “Okay. I think I get it. I’m not entirely happy about a lot of it, but I get it.”

Celestia let out a light chuckle. “I think you would be surprised indeed to understand just how many times I’ve had to say something like that either out loud or to myself, Twilight. Life is merely like that oftentimes. It speaks to your maturity that you react in such a manner.”

Twilight thought back to their ‘pre-lunch’ and snickered. “Yeah. Maturity. Say the mares that went through two tubs of sherbet a few hours ago.”

Celestia blushed a little. “You’re never too old for sherbet. Ever. And I’m the Princess, so I’m right.”

The Grand Mage smirked. “Yuh-huh.”

“Although, thinking back to my ponies, I’m reminded of something that, for your sake, I need to ask you to do.”

Twilight grabbed her papers again. “I don’t like the sound of this…”

Celestia leaned her head down to her student’s level. “Since you’re staying in Canterlot and finally trained, I want you to visit your parents. Tell them what’s happening to you. Everything.”

Twilight shuddered. Not what I was expecting, but still. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Princess. My mother and I… aren’t on the best of terms, and to be frank, she’s a bigger gossip than Rarity.”

“Luna has already set up some precautions for them on that.” She wrapped a wing around her. “I know it may be hard, but I miss my own mother and father terribly. It’s been millenia for me, Twilight. You want to build good memories while you can. Trust me on that.”

She sighed. Ten thousand years of wisdom, staring me in the face. “Okay, Princess. I’ll…” She gagged a bit. “I’ll try. But you should talk to Luna, too. She’s probably just as hurt as you are.”

Celestia nodded. “I agree. I know she’ll be waiting for me when we get back. Probably. Whether it’s with a battleaxe in hoof or not remains to be seen.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Battleaxe? Really?”

“The last time we had a tiff like this, our ensuing fight blew up part of a mountain. Granted, nopony was on it at the time, and we hugged and forgave each other afterwards, but it was still quite an argument.” Celestia gave her another hug with her wing. “And I suppose we should have a real lunch after we get back. That is, if you haven’t spoiled your appetite with sherbet.”

“Hehe. Look who’s talking! You ate half that bucket!”

Celestia stood up. “Yes, but you went through a quarter of yours, and I’m four times your size, so you ate twice as much as me.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow in protest. “It doesn’t work that way, and you know it!”

“It does if the Princess says it does! And I’m a Princess. Hence, it does. So there.”

The Grand Mage sighed and shook her head while the teleportation spell began to envelope them again. “I’m going to live for thousands of years, and in every single one of them, you’re going to tease the stuffing out of me, aren’t you?”

“Of course! What’s agelessness if you can’t have a little fun with it?”

“Hello, Tia.” The ‘Nightmare’ Luna growled even before the spell’s light faded.

When she could see again, Twilight found herself and her mentor face to face with the Princess of the Night, who was lying in Celestia’s bed with her forelegs crossed.

Luna continued, “The meeting with the Council was… satisfactory. My new Cardinal is unexpectedly talented in that arena. Your doing, I presume.”

Celestia shook her body, sending water droplets flying all over the room and onto both Luna and Twilight.

“Cute, Sister,” Luna grumbled.

“I’m glad it went well for you, Sister, I truly am. I also presume you’re here to talk about things.”

“Just so.” Luna nodded before turning to Twilight. “However, there’s been another development you should know about first. The treasonous Ex-General Towers is finally awake and has agreed to talk. But only to Twilight.”

Celestia and Twilight looked at each other.

“Trap?” Twilight asked.

Celestia shook her head. “While he’s in an iron lung and his magic is restrained? Doubtful. Go, Twilight. See what you can learn. This could be a valuable opportunity.”

“I agree,” Luna said, standing up. “I would ignore his request and interrogate him myself, but to be frank, he looks so frail he might die just from the sight of me. Twilight’s more gentle touch may be what’s needed to get information out of him. I caution you, though, ascendant. Do not push him too hard. His life hangs by a thread as it is.”

Twilight swallowed. “I guess I hurt him more than I realized.”

“He attacked you,” Luna sneered at the doors behind her. “Had he faced me in battle, his head would have been liberated from his shoulders already. He should be grateful for your mercy.”

“Enough, Sister.” Celestia grabbed Twilight by the shoulders and brought her into an embrace before continuing. “You have done nothing wrong. You protected your ponies from an aggressor, just as an alicorn should. But, Towers is a patsy. A pawn. I’m more convinced of this than ever. Now, though, we may have a chance to learn about the masterminds that are still out there.”

Twilight nodded, swallowing. “Yeah. Any advice?” I don’t think any of Luna’s interrogation techniques are going to work on a pony in an iron lung…

Celestia scratched her chin. “Yes. Intelligence has been worried about Towers knowing about your ascension. Leaking that secret early would be a wonderful way to sow dissent and distrust between the crown and our ponies, but so far, these Robber Barons haven’t done it. We need to know why. Other than any information on who is behind this, that’s the most important thing to find out. Focus on those two things. I shall remain here with my sister while we… discuss what must be discussed.”

“On it.” The Grand Mage bowed out of the embrace and started out the door. Time for my first real test.

Author's Note:

Whew. Yeah, this one was a doozy. If you had doubts as to whether Tia was a perfect chess master, well, they were justified. She's not. She's stubborn, has trouble asking for help, and has an ego. This has cost her immensely in the past and present, and pains her to this day, despite the brave face she puts on. If she were perfect, there would be no story, and no chance for her to grow as a character. So, here are her flaws, along with her heart, laid bare.

And, well, I'm afraid another doozy is on the way. And then another. And another. Several doozies in a row, folks. Different types of doozies, but doozies all the same. Bear with me.

I'm still out of it medically. I may have to wait to return to the US and get treatment before I can resume writing. (I fly back June 1.) If this is a trapped nerve, they might give me a cortisone shot and that may be the end of it, at least for a while. Here's hoping. Insoles are on their way. I have the chair, table, keyboard, and braces thanks to all of you. Thank you so much!

Time for a bunch of links.

First and foremost, Rites now has a TVTropes page! Please go show it some love and add some tropes! :)

Love and Barriers is a thing, and has been accepted by The Royal Guard. Whoo!

The Rites Encyclopedia should be updated soon. Maybe tonight, if not, within the next few days.

I did a little blog with a bunch of questions circling around on FimFic. 50 questions, 50 Rites head canon answers. Well, nearly 50. Some are redacted 'cause SPOILERS!

A new non-canon EU story (written by me) is also up. Rites of Ascension: Fireside Tales

Also, what happened with Officer Straight Shot and Twi's notes? Well, I'm leaving it as a "noodle incident"... unless anyone wants to write an EU story about it! :) That's why I described his personality several chapters ago. Always tries to follow the rules, but his friends keep convincing him to bend/break them (often as part of a group), and he's the only one that ever gets in trouble.

Oh, remember the food fight that was mentioned waaaaay back in this chapter? If anyone wants to write that as an EU project, go for it! I was originally going to write it, but I couldn't make it funny enough. It's real hard to sit down and write comedy, and since my attempt failed, I never included it.

So, yeah, here be the chapter, folks. Once again, constructive criticism is always welcome. (However, antagonistic criticism is not welcome. Please be respectful not just to me but to other commenters especially.)


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