• 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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New Homes

Twilight breathed in the post-storm air of the night sky. Since they broke up the last storm, they had to have another one and had rescheduled it for today, giving the tail end of summer a few more hot and humid days.

“Twilight! Twilight!” Applejack ran up to her, galloping down the road in front of the fort, stetson on her head. “Look! My hat! It’s back!”

Twilight smiled. She kept her word! “I can see that! Where’d you find it? Did Phantasm put it back in your room or something?”

“Shoot, no!” Applejack tilted her hat, laughing. “I just turned around, and there it was, right on my head! Darnedest thing. How in blazes does a pony go about stealing the clothes off another pony, and then puttin’ ‘em back without them even noticing?”

“I have no idea!” Twilight laughed. “I honestly wish I could have caught her so I can ask, but at least we nailed a different criminal.”

Applejack’s face fell. “So y’all couldn’t catch her? That’s a shame…”

Twilight sighed. “Well, I kind of doubt it’ll be the last I hear of her. I don’t think she’ll target Ponyville again, though. I let Rainbow and Spike take some off time at Sugarcube Corner so I could walk through town and relax a little. Everything seems so quiet here all of a sudden.”

“Quiet can be good. Can’t have the town in crisis all the time, ya know.” Applejack winked.

“Quiet can be very good indeed.” She took in a deep breath as they approached the heavily-armored blast doors of the fort. The walls were gunmetal gray, easily six meters high, and shaped like a six-pointed star. Heh. They modeled it after my cutie mark. Well, maybe. Actually, probably not at all, I bet it’s made to make it hard to assault from the ground and funnel hostiles into crossfires.

“O’ course, I don’t know how quiet things’re gonna be with this thing ’round.” Applejack tilted her hat. “Seems overkill, if’n ya ask me.”

Twilight couldn’t help but think back on her memories and smirk. “Well, it does have an emergency underground bunker for the whole town. Given how often we’ve nearly been wiped out, I suppose we should’ve had this ages ago.”

Applejack chuckled. “I suppose I could see that. Well, I’m gonna get back to th’ farm. Anything else ya need from me?”

“Tell Fluttershy I said hello, and that I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to visit yet. I should be by later at some point, but you know how things go with me.” Twilight winked. “Crazy ponies can happen at any moment.”

“Will do!” Applejack trotted off down the road, leaving Twilight to her thoughts and the large, steel doors.

Well, I’m finally getting around to doing what I came to Ponyville for. I sure hope the Major in charge here isn’t pissed at me for delaying so many times. Twilight lifted up a hoof, ready to knock, but the doors began opening with a golden glow even before she tapped.

“Hello, Twilight! So good to see you!”

Twilight’s jaw dropped. “Princess!”

Celestia opened the door the rest of the way and signaled for Twilight to enter. “Luna has been sending me regular updates. After hearing what you’ve been through, I decided to make a stop here for a little while. I thought you might like to hear some updates of my own.”

“Of course!” Twilight dropped into a bow. “But I hope you haven’t been waiting for me too long…”

“Just an hour or so. Come, you’ve had a busy few days.”

Celestia opened her wing and Twilight trotted up beside her, the feathers lightly touching her back as they walked.

“As I said before, Twilight, I was surprised when General Blueblood asked to not only expand this fort, but create additional ones surrounding Canterlot. The idea being that the capitol will be defended in case another large attack comes. I do not think such an event is likely, but then, that’s what I believed before, too.”

They passed through another large set of armored doors, and as they entered the interior of the fort Twilight noticed ponies going about their construction business even during the night. Many were working on electrical or plumbing tasks, while others were attending to wards, cannon emplacements, and a myriad other things. However, it was the large anti-airship cannon that caught her eye.

“Well, the military sure likes big guns. Although I suppose that should that ever get fired, you’d be able to see it all the way from Canterlot. That’s enough time to raise its shield.”

Celestia nodded. “Quite so! They are as much an early warning system as they are a weapons platform.”

Sparks and light shot abruptly from a device on floor as a pony brought a welding torch to it. Twilight had to shield her eyes with a hoof, and even afterwards had to look at it through spots in her vision. “That’s a… shield generator, I think. So the fort itself has both shields and armored walls. Meant to withstand a siege, then?”

“Indeed. Airships like the Bellerophon have powerful weapons and shields of their own. This will allow them to even the odds in the event of an attack. Take a look over there, too.” Celestia pointed to a pony hooking a hose into the wall, pumping it full of some fluid.

“I’m guessing that’s not water, but hot oil has been outlawed by international treaty for a few centuries. So either General Blueblood is willing to commit a war crime, or…” Twilight waited for Celestia’s inevitable chuckle and response.

“Ah! Sharp as ever, my student. The ‘or’ here is a new invention from our labs. It’s a very special oil-like substance. We don’t heat it, and it doesn’t burn easily, as that’s not how it’s meant to work. Instead, when released around the fort it refuses to drain into the soil and forms an extremely slick sheen.”

It wasn’t meant to burn ponies, but Twilight still had to cringe at its purpose. “So anypony assaulting the fort either has to move very slowly or slip and fall. Making them a sitting duck for ponies with cored cannons on the ramparts.”

“It is a bit brutal, but quite effective and may encourage a retreat. The fort was even made on a slight hill so those that fall would slide down. They call it ‘Mega-slip.’ Or at least that’s the brand name. The fort also has more standard gunnery holes in the side that can be covered, along with numerous anti-air emplacements to shoot down hostile fliers. All in all, the design is impressive, although we all hope it is never needed.”

Twilight shuddered. “I’ll say. I’m not a huge fan of so many weapons in Ponyville, but at least the right ponies have them.”

“That is more or less the truth about all weapons, my student.” Celestia stopped as they approached an additional set of blast doors, these embedded into the ground near the far side of the fort, then waved to what looked like a command center of sorts. “Corporal? Could you please lower the door for us?”

Twilight raised an eyebrow after a few seconds passed. “Are you sure they heard you? In fact, those windows are completely opaque from this angle. Are you sure they’re even in there?”

Celestia nodded. “They have to talk to the ponies on the inside as well to open them. Give it a few more—ah, there we go.”

The doors in front of them opened, leading to a ramp going down underneath the facility, which in turn led to one more set of doors. The first set had to close behind them before the next opened, which led them to a large underground space that spiraled downwards. There was no exposed dirt anywhere, and they had to go in a circle a few times before reaching the bottom.

Twilight furrowed her brow and tried her best to scrutinize her surroundings, looking for signs of cracks. “When you said ‘secured residence,’ you meant it. I’m surprised they were able to build all this so fast. In fact, I’m worried about that given how fast the shoddy orphanage went up.”

“Our military building contractors are generally much faster than the civilian ones, primarily because we’re often willing to spend the bits for speed. Magic helps it along, but it’s not cheap. This particular project was deemed to be worth the premium, while the other forts in the network will be constructed a bit more slowly and should be finished in another six months or so. Try not to worry so much, Twilight, as this is meant to be your home. Or rather, this is.” Celestia lit her horn and opened one of the large doors at the end of the tunnel, then stepped inside with Twilight close behind.

“Ah, there you are, Princess!” Grand General Blueblood and a pony Twilight assumed was the base’s commanding officer stepped into a bow in the lavishly-appointed room.

Everything about it screamed ‘antique luxury.’ Twilight even wrinkled her nose at the reds and golds being used. It was like what the castle was decorated in a couple hundred years ago. I sure hope I can tweak things over time…

Blueblood put down his teacup. “Oh my, it seems you don’t quite approve, Grand Mage Sparkle.”

“It’s… luxurious…” Twilight forced herself to admit out loud, switching to a tone and accent she wished hadn’t been trained into her by her mother. “But also not quite what I’m used to. I’m not a Canterlot noble, General. Or rather, I am, but I was not until recently. My family comes from more humble means. A doctor and a housewife rather than a line of land-owning barons. Six months ago, I resided in this town’s library.”

Celestia laughed. “I told you she wasn’t a pony with an eye on wealth, General. It seems that you still need to learn more about our new Grand Mage and her tastes.”

“Quite… I apologize, Lady Sparkle.” He bowed again. “When one runs with the elite, it can become difficult to discern a pony’s true desires when they are experts at professing humility. Most are not genuine.”

And that might well be part of the problem, General. It took everything Twilight had not to say that out loud. “It’s fine, I can adapt and redecorate over time. Although…” She looked around, finding something amiss, or rather, was unnerved at what she didn’t find. “I have to say, it is missing something already.”

The Major stepped forward and saluted. “My name is Major Longsword, Lady Sparkle, and I have served under General Blueblood for twenty years now. We have set aside some leftover bits for just such an occasion. Speak your desire, and I shall see that it is provided for you.”

Twilight looked around more, making sure what she needed wasn’t present. “The two doors over there, one of them is a bedroom?”

Major Longsword nodded, stroking his rather ridiculous—but impressively detailed—facial hair. “Of course. To your right is a bedroom appointed with all the finest materials, and to the left is a kitchen and dining room. Would you care to see them?”

Twilight nodded before trotting towards them. “I would. Just one moment…” She poked her head in each one, finding the decorative theme the same between each. “Yeah, this is definitely missing something.”

When Twilight turned around, she found the Princess to have one of the largest cheshire grins she’d ever seen. Of course, she was also the tallest and largest pony in Equestria, but it was still huge. “I think I have an idea what it is, and I agree. Shame on you two. Have you learned nothing of our Grand Mage?”

The two started to sweat.

“We… apologize, Your Highness.” Blueblood lowered his head. “Grand Mage, please, allow us to correct our transgresion. What is it that you desire? I shall dip into my personal funds if necessary—”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “I rather doubt that’ll be needed. It’s just that there are no bookshelves here! I was a librarian, guys. And, well, I still plan on performing magical research from time to time if I can, if nothing else but to improve my skills to help Equestria. I need someplace to store books! It’s a fire hazard to just pile them on the floor all the time.”

“That never stopped you before during your late-night study binges, my student.” Celestia winked.

Twilight’s ears dropped flat against her head. “Well, yeah, but I put them back. Eventually. Still, you have to admit, there’s a critical lack of book storage here.”

Blueblood picked up his hat from the desk and put it on, straightening it. “I shall go out at once and see to it that this home for you has plenty of ‘book storage,’ as you put it. And, Princess, I shall make good on our bet. Your Highnesses. Come, Major, let us leave. I’m sure they have much to discuss. This is their private home, after all.” He bowed, then began a march out the door alongside his subordinate.

Twilight waited for the doors to shut before asking, “Okay, spill, what did you bet him?”

Celestia finally roared with laughter. “‘Tis a small thing. I wagered that your tastes would be simple, and that even living in your new special quarters in the castle couldn’t change that. Blueblood was sure that you had been the type to take to high society and all its trimmings. Oh, how little you know my student, you old fart.”

Twilight couldn’t stop the smile from leaking out the corner of her mouth, but pressed on. “And what was the prize of this ‘wager’ you made?”

Celestia smiled even wider. “You shall see eventually, my student.”

“You said you’d never hide anything from me if I asked. ‘On your crown,’ you said.”

“It’s a surprise, Twilight. I’m allowed to have some fun. And I doubt you’d really want to take my position in any case.”

Should have known not to verbally spar with her. “Alright, I’ll wait. Let’s switch topics, then. I sent you a message a while ago about this ‘extended mission.’ Do you have anything you can share with me yet?”

The mirth drained from Celestia’s face like someone had pulled the plug on a sink, and her eyes darted to the reinforced door. “Yes. Yes I do. I didn’t want to send you so far this early in your ascension, but I’m even more hesitant to trust this to anypony else.”

Twilight swallowed. “Is it that dangerous?”

Celestia shook her head. “If everything goes according to plan, it’s much ado about nothing. Yet I can’t help but shake the feeling that this could be a fool’s endeavour, which is why I want you to oversee things.”

“So… what is it, exactly?”

“The mission is twofold. Your primary objective will be to head the Bellerophon’s maiden voyage, which will take you over the sea to the coast of Zebrica.”

Twilight pulled out her book and started writing. “Isn’t Zebrica kind of… well, not our biggest ally right now? Wouldn’t parking a warship off its coast be seen as a threat?”

“Which is exactly why caution is needed.” Celestia pulled out a piece of paper and floated it over to Twilight. “Here. These are your objectives.”

“This is… a checklist. Plant names, it looks like. I recognize a few from Zecora’s potions.”

“Correct. Zecora originally arrived here on the run from certain elements from within Zebrica. I granted her citizenship in exchange for services to the crown, in particular, access to some of her rare potions and stock of plants. Things we simply cannot get here in Equestria. Unfortunately, there was only so much she brought with her, and we are now disastrously low in supply.”

Twilight started copying the names over. “Let me guess. The Zebrican government isn’t in the mood to share or trade and still has it out for Zecora.”

Celestia waved a hoof in the air. “Yes and no. They are certainly not in the trading or giving mood, but I’m told the new President of Zebrica has nothing to do with said elements. This is small comfort, however. The President has risen to power on a wave of fervent nationalism and aggression, and is rattling sabres for war against Saddle Arabia. The whole place is a powder keg in desperate search for a match, which is why this must be kept relatively quiet. If they find out after the fact, we’ll step in and claim responsibility to avert a war, but if they find out too soon we’ll have to abort the mission and lose access to these potions for a long time.”

“And let me guess. The Bellerophon is well suited to getting there quickly and has the firepower to deal with any threats that emerge, from pirates to flying sea serpents.” Twilight moved to the next page and put away the list. “Yet I’m still not exactly keen on the idea of sending such a large ship into the fray. They might fire on us just because.”

“And if they do, you have my permission to fire back. The good news is that they have no ship that’s a match for Bellerophon. You’ll be safe there. It will also have support teams on board to help protect you and complete your mission. Zecora will be coming with you as well, as only she can quickly identify the plants needed.

“Also, Admiral Tempest will be there with you. She is a talented young warrior and mage, and she’ll be able to use her magic to create a cloud large enough to hide the ship off shore. Plus, the area we’re targeting for the plants is a small inland town surrounded by jungle and far from any major city. If all goes according to plan they’ll never even know the Grand Mage paid them a visit.”

Twilight frowned. “Ah. So, I’m not to interact with anypony there. I was hoping I’d get a chance to—”

“The Grand Mage shouldn’t be seen there,” Celestia said, a devious smile forming on her lips. “However, unicorns have been seen there from time to time, mostly from universities. If you dress properly and use a cover, then you may interact with the locals. In fact, the second part of the mission may require it.” She lit her horn and pulled something wrapped in newspaper out of the desk behind her.

Twilight caught it and unwrapped it, revealing a blue gem the size of a small melon. “It’s… cracked. And burned, somehow. Like somepony put it in a low-pressure incinerator for a while.” She spun it around in her magic, counting the fractures on it’s surface. “I think if I even tried putting a spell or magic in this it’d go off like a grenade.”

“Indeed. But that’s not what’s special about it. This is a broken bond-class core.”

The gem dropped to the floor.

“Bond-class? Whoa.” Twilight picked it back up, looking at it from a new light. “So, this could have been part of a bonded blade, if it wasn’t, you know, broken like crazy. What happened to it?”

“We do not know. However, we have intelligence that suggests it came from or passed through the same area that you’re going to. If this is true, more may be found there. When you pose as a young researcher, you might be able to find the truth of the matter. If it’s at all possible, acquire one. If it’s sufficiently intact, unlike this one, we can verify its origin and see if it’s Zebrican or Equestrian.”

Twilight squinted at the gem, running possibilities in her head. “So you’re going to have me track these down, try to find where they’re really from… You’re thinking these are the gems we should have found over the last few decades, aren’t you? That they’re possibly stolen or otherwise smuggled from Equestrian mines and traded in the black market to Zebrica?”

Celestia looked over to the doors, her mane starting to sway a bit more quickly. “Honestly, lately I’ve been thinking the Robber Barons are behind that, but now I don’t know what to think. If you find the gems, buy one if you can, steal it if not. Go after even more if you’re feeling brave, but we only need one relatively undamaged core to test and find where it came from.”

Twilight tapped her chin. “I’ll try to avoid stealing if I can. I’ve seen enough of that latel—”

Celestia put her hoof on Twilight’s. “Steel yourself, my student. This is the work of a spy, and they don’t always have the option to follow the tenets of harmony. War between Zebrica and Saddle Arabia is a real possibility, and if Zebrica truly does have a wealth of these gems, then the results could be disastrous. We must determine where these gems are coming from, and find out if they pose a threat to peace. Stealing is generally wrong and should be avoided, yes, but politics is rarely so black and white. Getting ahold of one of those gems now could save hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives down the line.”

“Okay, I understand.” Twilight sighed. “Any advice if we are caught?”

“Yes, and this is made all the more important due to the fact that we have reports of armed zebras spotted nearby. If you are caught, leave immediately, but do not hesitate to defend yourself. Zebrica might be willing to scream cries of war to their neighbor, but they are in no position to be a threat to Equestria. Their economy is improving, but their crops are wracked with drought as they have no pegasi to regulate the weather, and their potions are ill-suited to such a task. We have ten times as many ponies under our flag, and twenty-five times their economic activity. Don’t let threats to Equestria coerce you into an immediate concession for your ‘trespass,’ either. With such a wide ocean between us, and given the state of our navies, any threats they make are empty.”

Twilight put away her book, notes completed. “Okay. I think I can handle this. When do I leave?”

A burst of light appeared over Celestia’s head, and a bundle of papers formed into existence and dropped at her hooves. The Princess began unpacking them while she continued. “Whenever the Bellerophon is finally finished. It was originally supposed to be complete by now, but things are behind schedule, and it may be another month. In the meantime, you should do whatever you feel you need to prepare. I may have other work for you as well, but that remains to be seen.

“Also, although our friend Zecora will accompany you, I feel you should brush up on your Zebrican. It may also be wise to give Spike a few lessons as well.”

Twilight nodded. “I can do that. Rainbow’s pretty bad at learning languages, but Spike actually already knows some phrases. What’s in the packet?”

Celestia smiled, and Twilight couldn’t help but relax at finally seeing her mentor looking happy again. “It appears Luna has managed to get ahold of an advanced copy of tomorrow’s Canterlot Times. Take a look.”

CORRUPT CONTRACTOR CAPTURED!

In a series of daring raids, Grand Mage Twilight Sparkle has arrested dozens of ponies suspected of defrauding the Crown of tens of millions of bits. The arrested stand accused of building unsafe structures and passing them off as secure, including many schools and even a new orphanage in Grand Mage Sparkle’s hometown of Ponyville. All foals and ponies have been removed from these buildings as of last night. One structure in Manehatten stands with a large, red “CONDEMNED” sign out front.

Independent inspectors who have visited the Ponyville Orphanage have told the Times that it would not have survived a planned afternoon storm had the Grand Mage not discovered the problems in time.

In addition, sources have told the Times that the company president, one Foible Plinth, has reportedly confessed to the wrongdoing and now faces a staggering number of charges…

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Technically my ‘hometown’ is Canterlot. The way this is written, it’s subtly trying to make me look like I’m playing favorites with a small town…”

Celestia laughed hard enough to have vibrated windows had there been any. “True, Twilight, but most ponies aren’t going to get too far past the ‘Twilight Sparkle saves orphans and busts crooks’ part. I know it seems small to nail a building contractor, but in terms of public opinion, this is a stunning victory! It could buy us months, if not years of time! If I were you, I’d hit the town sometime soon to celebrate. You’ve earned it.”

Twilight allowed herself to smile some. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Even if I didn’t catch Phantasm.”

Celestia chuckled. “Oh, we’ve been after her for ages, but honestly I’m content to let her go for now if it means saving the lives of my dear ponies. That you even got shackles on her at all, however, is another thing worth celebrating! Come, I want some pastries from the Cakes. My treat.”

Twilight tossed the newspaper on the desk behind her, then got up to follow her mentor towards the door. “Actually I was just about to go to the Apples and join them for dinner. I’m sure if you wanted, they’d be honored to have you as well.”

“Hmm…” Celestia looked up and off to her right in what Twilight guessed was the direction of the farm.

Twilight tilted her head. Can her magic sight really go through to the surface? Wait, mine kind of does, too… Well, only one story, actually.

“I suppose. I cannot visit too often, lest it become an issue of ‘playing favorites,’ but if my student is there, I have an excuse. Shall we?”

Twilight smiled and got up to follow the Princess. “Right behind you!”

As they walked to the door, something caught the attention of Twilight’s eye, and she turned her head to face some wall scrolls hung on either side of the large room. “Hmm…” Each one was painted like the sky on a sunny, partly cloudy day, and were arranged to appear as if they were windows rather than paintings. In the center one of the set of five, she noticed a familiar little swirl in one of the clouds. Could it be? “Did Luna paint these?”

Celestia put a wing over her. “Sharp eye, my student! She did indeed! She also wanted to decorate the whole room, but didn’t have time, given that it had to be ready the moment the physical building was complete. So, I told her to paint something as a compromise. She’ll be overjoyed to know that you noticed.”

Twilight chuckled to herself. Thank you, Luna. “The Apples always have a ton of leftovers. I’ll make sure to send Luna some. They’re even better after a night in a fridge.”


“I must admit, I do feel somewhat self-conscious imposing on my ponies like this.” Celestia said, walking down the now-paved path to Sweet Apple Acres. “Not just from the stress of having a Princess for dinner, but also the inevitable fit I’m going to hear from Gustave and the others later.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Tia.” Twilight smiled next to her. “You’re practically family to them. You gave them this land, after all. And if the chefs complain about a day off, you could always have them cook for a crowd. Say, an impromptu free dinner at whatever city’s homeless shelters you’re visiting.”

“Oh-ho! I think I’ll have to put that idea into practice. Have to be careful with the media spin on it, though…”

The two turned right onto the dirt road in front of the house, the moonlight giving Celestia’s mane a subtle glow.

“Well, here we are. Shall we knock?”

Twilight smirked and trotted up to the door, opening it into their family room. “Applejack! It’s me, Twilight! I brought a guest!”

“A guest?” Came the reply from her friend in the dining room. “Just who did you bri— Great Horseshoes in the Evenin’!”

Twilight chuckled as Applejack dove into a bow at the sight of Celestia squeezing her large form into the small farmhouse. “Relax, AJ. It’s a social visit. Off the books. I thought maybe you could divert some of the would-be leftovers to the crown.”

“Oh, right! Sure thing!” Applejack swallowed heavily, approaching the Princess with her head still held low. “It’d be a big honor to have you at our table, Princess. I, uh… I think we can take away some of the chairs and find a cushion or somethin’…”

Celestia chuckled while stepping into the house, her heavier than normal frame causing the old wood to creak in protest. “I’m sure anything you have would be fine, my little pony. I’m not so pampered I can’t enjoy things as others do, despite my servants’ best efforts.”

“Eh heh heh…” Applejack wiped her brow. “I’m sure hopin’ that’s the case,” she said just loud enough for Twilight to hear. “Apple Bloom! Big Mac! Go an’ get the company cushions! The nice ones! We uh… We’re having royalty over for dinner!”

“Really?” Apple Bloom poked her head out from around the corner. “So Twilight made i—Oh, horseapples…”

“Apple Bloom!” Applejack stomped a hoof. “You watch your mouth around the Princess!”

“But… I mean, I—”

Celestia let out a belly laugh while the two sisters started arguing over company etiquette.

Twilight raised an eyebrow as she watched her mentor take off her shoes. “You enjoy watching ponies do this, don’t you?”

“Oh, Twilight.” The smile on her face grew twice as large. “You have no idea…”


“Okay!” Applejack circled around the table to get back to her seat. They had to play some sort of songless musical chairs from having a full grown alicorn join the group, but wound up having room to spare, even with Rainbow and Spike joining them. “Everypony comfortable? Need anything, Yer Majesty? Majesties?”

“We’re fine, AJ.” Twilight sat back into the chair and started pouring water into glasses. “And you don’t need to call me ‘Majesty.’ I’ve decided my official moniker is going to be ‘Lady Sparkle,’ but even then you don’t have to use that unless you find yourself in a super-formal setting.”

“Right, okay.” Applejack rubbed her head. “Sorry, it’s just done thrown me for a loop here, havin’ the Princess over for dinner an’ all.”

“Oh, I think it’s quite nice!” Fluttershy sipped from her teacup. “I’m not one for large gatherings, but this feels like we’re all family.”

“Eeyup!” Big Macintosh reached over for a large mug of cider and tipped it up for a gulp, only to be caught by the most subtle of disapproving looks from his wife.

He froze in an instant and put it down, then returned it to his lips for a much slower, controlled drink.

Spike leaned over to Twilight and whispered, “Ee-yeah, dude’s definitely married now.”

“Hehe. Well, I, for one, am glad to be back in town for a few days, even if I’m not staying in the tree anymore.” Twilight reached over and gave Spike a quick hug with a foreleg. “We’ve definitely missed this place.”

“Heck yeah!” Rainbow lifted up a glass. “To Ponyville, and all the crazy ponies that live here!”

“Cheers!” The group lifted their glasses, some in magic, some in hooves, and drank.

“Whew! Now that’s good cider!” Rainbow said with a belch. “Hey, AJ, there’s this bar in Cloudsdale that needs to order some of this. Next time I’m there I’ll threaten to break a few more of their windows if they don’t stock up.”

More windows? What did you do? And you shouldn’t go threatening random sub—” Twilight stopped as a knock came from the door, forcing her ear to twitch. “Are we expecting anypony else?”

Applejack gave her a smirk. “Maaaaaaybe. Why don’tch’all answer it, Twi?”

Twilight raised an eyebrow and looked at her and the other ponies in the room. Only Applejack didn’t looked at least a little confused. “Okaaay…”

Twilight turned and hopped off the chair, only to have Applejack follow her through the living room and to the front door. She lit her horn and slowly started to turn the handle, opening it up and finding the last pony she’d ever think to see.

“Oh…” Twilight Velvet said, putting her ears back. “Hi, Twilight.”

She was carrying a basket of sweets in her mouth, rather than her magic.

Carrying it like an earth pony… She’s trying to make peace with the Apples… Although, to be fair, she never slighted them in their presence. “Hello, mom. I take it Applejack was expecting you?”

Applejack slapped Twilight on the back. “Eeyup. Come on in, Mrs. Velvet, and grab a seat.”

“Please, call me Velvet.” She placed the basket on the ground every bit as gently as Fluttershy might have done. “I’m terribly sorry it’s just me. Lucid, my husband, had to go on a housecall. He doesn’t normally do that, but there aren’t a lot of doctors out here, so he’s taking on some general practitioner work.”

“Aw, shucks, Velvet.” Applejack put a hoof over her heart. “Healin’ folks is a rare and mighty fine talent. I’m not ‘bout ta be upset over somepony lookin’ out for another. That’s the height of Harmony, there. Come on in, we’re just about to get started.”

“Thank you, Applejack, I appreciate the invitation. I—Oh!” Velvet lifted the basket up with her magic before catching herself and lifting it with her hooves instead. “I’m afraid I’m not much of a cook, so I brought a basket of sweets from the town’s café instead. Maybe for dessert?”

“Sounds mighty fine. Y’all can set it over on the corner of the table; I think there’s some space there.” Applejack pointed to a spot as Velvet entered the farmhouse, basket in tow. “And, heh, between you and me, Twi’s not much of a cook, either.”

“Hey, at least I come by it honestly.”

“Quite,” Velvet said, rounding the corner. “I’m sorry I seemed to have passed on my lousy coo—”

The basket hit the floor.

Velvet dropped to the ground, at first in a bow but later covered her head with her hooves as if expecting a great blow from above.

Why is she… Oh, right. Celestia is here. Twilight cleared her throat. “Mom, it’s alright. Celestia is here as a guest of the Apples, as are you. I know there’s… history, recent history here, but I’d very much like it if we could get along tonight, okay?”

“I… I…” Velvet started to back up, opening her eyes for only the briefest of seconds before turning away like the Princess was some blinding light.

“Mrs. Velvet,” Celestia said, her voice as sweet as a song. “We would very much enjoy your company this evening. Won’t you please have a seat at the table? The Apple family has graciously provided quite the elaborate spread.”

Velvet jolted forward like her rump has touched something as cold as dry ice. She struggled as she forced her legs forward, one by one.

The instinct. Mom fought it back at the castle and wound up being punished; it must be reinforced in her now. Celestia invited her in, and now she’s caught between wanting to leave for fear of further punishment, and the orders to stay. Twilight turned and switched to her magic sight, squinting in the bright light that was Celestia’s wellspring. And with Luna’s transformations, there’s evidence to suggest that although familiarity and a pony’s own wellspring size provides substantial protection, the feeling also becomes more forceful as the alicorn’s power grows. Tia, just how powerful are you?

Velvet slid out a chair across from the Princess and climbed up onto it, looking a bit like a scolded foal, ears flat against the back of her head. “Um, thank you, for inviting me, especially after…”

“None of that talk now, ya hear?” Applejack got back in her own seat and took off her hair tie. “This here is supposed to be a family gatherin’, not some fancy shmancy Canterlot socialite stuff. Y’all gotta learn that the Canterlot way ain’t the only way ta do things. Come on, Twi, have a seat!”

Twilight breathed a sigh of relief as she moved back to her place at the Princess’ side. Good sign, good sign. Thank you, Applejack. Now I just have to survive the next couple of hours.

“Well said, Applejack.” Celestia lit her horn and floated the basket over to the table. “And it seems you brought an addition to the feast, Mrs Velvet.”

“Just, candies, Your Highness.” Velvet gulped. “I’m afraid I’m not much of a cook.”

“My little pony, there’s nothing wrong at all with sweets. I’m sure you’ve heard I’m quite the fan of them myself. Now then, what sort do we have here today?” Celestia opened the plastic around the goods and pulled out a small wrapped gumdrop of some kind.

“Tia, you’re going to spoil your appetite!” Twilight rubbed Spike on the head a little. “You’re as bad as a dragon!”

“Princesses get to eat sweets whenever they want, Twilight. It’s one of the perks.” Celestia untied the little blue wrapper around the treat.

“Wait…” Spike leaned over Twilight and stared at the scene. “Twi! Blue wrapper! Blue wrapper!”

“Blue… Wra—” Twilight’s eyes went wide. “Princess! Don’t eat tha—”

The candy flew into the diarch’s mouth, followed by a large, royal chew.

“What?” Celestia shrugged. “It’s not the best, but it’s not… bad… Wait, what’s… What’s happening to.. To my…”

The entire table sat in stark, unbelieving silence. The fear from Velvet had all but washed over the table to every single diner at hearing Celestia’s regal, confident, and undeniably ultra-high-pitched voice.

Celestia pulled a card out of the basket that listed the various kinds of candies contained therein, and read along, again in a voice so squeaky even Fluttershy’s mice sounded deeper. “Blue wrapper… Voice Changers…”

The field around the card fizzled, letting it float gently down to the plate in front of the Princess.

Silence ruled the room with an iron hoof. Not even Twilight knew what to do. There was no logical solution. There was only the intense, unparalleled awkwardness.

“SSSRRRRNK-HA! Hahahahahahahahahahahaha!”

Just like that, the silence was overthrown by Celestia’s jovial, but still embarrassingly squeaky, laughter that quickly spread to a revolution of chuckles and guffaws as everyone, even Velvet joined her and at long last relaxed.

“Oh, what will my ponies think of next? Hehe…” Celestia brought a napkin up to wipe her mouth. “If Luna were here… Oh, she’d never let me live this down!”

Twilight wiped a tear of laughter from her eyes as she pulled out a green-wrapped candy. “Here, Princess. The green ones are the antidote.”

Celestia quickly popped it in her mouth and chewed. “Ah, I can feel it,” she said, voice returning to normal. “Thank you, Twilight. I haven’t sounded like that since I visited the Helium Caves.”

“There are caves filled with helium?” Apple Bloom asked as Fluttershy poured the princess a cup of tea.

“Thank you, Fluttershy. And indeed there are, my little pony. There are a great many wonders in this world. I do hope, Twilight, that your travels will take you to some of them.”

“And so do I.” Velvet said.

Twilight tilted her head as she turned her gaze to her mother. “You do?”

“I do.” Velvet sighed, a sad smile creasing her lips. “Go, Twilight, and see this world you’re going to inherit. This town is far too small to contain all your genius. But don’t worry; I’ll hold down the fort here for you. It’s the least I can do.”

“Mom…” Twilight sniffled.

Velvet continued, “And thank you, Princess, for letting me stay. I’m—”

“Mrs. Velvet, this is not my home, so it is not my say. I do not go about wantonly forcing and overstepping the authority of my crown on my subjects to satisfy old grudges.” An uncharacteristically devilish grin formed on her face as she picked up one of the blue-wrapped candies, stuffed it in a scroll, and floated it over to Spike.

Spike aimed his breath at the open window and hit the scroll with a flare, sending it off through his mail spell.

Celestia took a sip of her tea. “That, my little pony, is something I reserve exclusively for my sister.”

Another round of laughs passed across the table as the dinner finally started.

I know I’m about to leave again, but for now… It’s so good to be home.

Author's Note:

Hi all.

Thus marks the end of block four! About time, right? I hope you guys enjoyed the first three missions! Next up is mission four and block five! Story wise, there is going to be a bit of a time skip between this chapter and the next. It's a big chapter, though, at over 10k words!

But, I can't post 40 just yet! Here's what I have to do first:

-Catch up with Designing Intrigue. This means being through at least four more chapters of it than I have written now, which means around chapter eight. It's possible that it'll need through chapter ten or even later, though, as it's hard to estimate that far out.
-Write around fifteen thousand more words into Rites, which will allow me to replace chapter 40's words twice over. Why do many? Because block six, comprised of missions six and seven, is going to be freaking huge. Seven is likely to be one of the longest missions in the whole fic! So, I need to write a lot to make it so that I finish writing block six around the time five is all posted.
-Crack the whip on my prereader to hurry up and finally read all of block five to make sure it's all fitting together.
-Edit chapter 40.

Quite a lot to do! But, so far, at least using swipe on the iPad is improving my writing speed.

So, quick question for you guys: which has been your favourite mission so far, and why?

Again, thank you all for sticking with me!

-Cv

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