• 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 Majestic Reveal

"That's General Blaze?!" Twilight watched the fire zoom across the sky, covering the city in an enormous, if temporary, blanket of magical flame. Though the flames died down as Blaze progressed, it was still bright enough to turn night into day. "I thought our reinforcements weren't due for hours!"

"Wait, General Blaze?" Spike scratched his head. "Does that mean you're related, Mr. Blaze?"

"Not at all, but I've seen this a couple times before at Wonderbolt shows."

"Yeah." Rainbow grimaced at the pegasus flying with fire. "She's the general that the Wonderbolts report to. I'm not a fan, but she is a seriously tough customer."

"What do you think she'll... She'll... Urp..." Spike belched out a scroll, nearly singing the hair of everypony in the bunker, and definitely making it smell like gunpowder and sulphur. "Gah. Well, guess we're in range of dragon mail."

Rainbow Blaze blinked. "He just belched up a scroll."

"Yeah, cool, ain't it? Let's see..." Spike scanned through the page. "Ha! Apparently, Luna scouted out a new, small leyline, so those Night Guard you sent to harass the Duke took advantage of it. They broke into the mechanisms that control the city's flight, then deliberately sped it up and changed its direction over time so nopony would notice until it was too late. Luna is teleporting in soldiers and police as we speak, and Royal Guard reinforcements are standing by."

"Excellent!" Twilight poked her head out of the top of the bunker, watching pegasi on both sides run away from General Blaze's display, while many others just looked on in awe. "Spike, message Luna back and have her deploy the Royal Guard to secure the HQ. Nopony other than us gets in.

“Also, and this is critical, have RGIS head to that bar we ran across. Have Flak and his crew leave, but make it looks like our ponies have left them alone. If Wing leaves, have him followed. If he stays, and for that matter, even if he leaves, keep watch over the place for any who enter. Make sure our ponies are not noticed while doing so.

“Send additional teams to watch all the other similar businesses that they know are flaunting that law. I have a feeling those are the first places ponies of interest to my investigation will be heading — if we're lucky, our murderer will seek refuge in one of them.”

Spike was already scribbling a reply as fast as his hand could go. "You got it!"

"Attention! Attention!"

Twilight and the others looked up at a mare with gold and black armor and a megaphone.

"This city is now under martial law! Non-military ponies are to return to their homes immediately! Curfew is in effect! Any attempt to enter protected facilities by unauthorized ponies will be met with lethal force! All protesters will disperse and return to their homes!

"Cloudsdale PD has been disbanded pending Crown review! Non-pegasi that need assistance getting home, do not approach Cloudsdale PD officers! Instead, lie down and put your hooves on your head! You will be transported safely to your home by military personnel!"

"Whoa." Dash poked Twilight on the shoulder. "Do you think this is really necessary? It's going to piss a lot of ponies off."

"True, but we were attacked by Cloudsdale PD, and quite frankly the two groups here were ready to kill each other." Twilight lit her horn and prepared the calculations for a relatively long teleport. "Spike, Dash, you're with me. Mr. Blaze, thank you for all your assistance, but you aren't authorized to be outside now. You should return to your home as soon as you can."

"Don't have to tell me twice." Blaze gave his daughter a quick hug and flew off, making a beeline for home.

"Everypony ready? Grab on!" Twilight aimed her spell for the air above and in between her and the tower. Hands and hooves grabbed onto her shoulders and stomach the second before the spell fired, sending herself and her guards into the air. Pegasi froze or dodged out of the way, all stunned as a unicorn "flew" passed them, soaring to the top of the mountainous cloud tower.

Rainbow took off on her own power after the first teleport, while Spike clinged on for the next. Twilight's legs pawed at the air, reaching for the ground that wasn't anywhere near them. She teleported again, then again and again, each time climbing farther than before and finally zooming over the top of the structure. A slight spin in her body and a burst of pegasus magic tossed her at its roof.

Her hooves squished into the cloud like a soaked mattress, and her knees cried out in pain from supporting both her own weight and Spike's in the impact. "Oof. Spike, either you learn to fly, or remind me to land with a teleport when I'm carrying you. You're freaking heavy."

"Well, I am wearing armor." He climbed off, sinking even deeper into the cloud than Twilight had. "This stuff seems tampered with. The cloud, I mean. Loosened so most amulets wouldn't be enough to support a pony."

"Agreed. Another thing to look into when we have time." Twilight's ears twitched at a buzz, sending a hoof up to swat at something involuntarily. Her tail even swished back and forth. "What is that? There's not many bugs up this high, especially outdoors."

"Hey, Twilight!" Rainbow shouted. "Nice moves! That new spell is really useful! You can almost— Wait, that noise... Oh, crap."

"You know what it is?" Twilight asked.

"Yeah. Look up there." Rainbow pointed at a large, unoccupied cloud high in the now-cooled sky. Seconds later, several wings of pegasi punched through it, diving down into the city. Their buzz droned throughout the sky, pushing other sounds into a bathtub and trying to drown them. They wore gold and black armor, and their wings were a nearly invisible blur. "They're the yellow jackets. General Blaze's elite attack squadron."

"She had better not attack the crowds with them." Twilight thought back to the warehouses the group had destroyed per the newspaper General Blueblood had shown her. "That's the last thing we need right now. Military provocation will just make things worse."

"You there!" A Yellowjacket crashed into the roof next to them, creating a small crater in the cloud. Her wings kept vibrating, charging with electricity. "One chance. Identify yourselves!"

"Grand Mage Sparkle, Lady of the House of the Lost, Element of Magic." Twilight sat down, holding her hooves up and in front of her. "Stand down, I'm authorized to be here. These two are my guards, and they're authorized as well."

"And how do I know you're telling the tru—" WHAM!


A diving pegasus crashed right into the Yellowjacket, deepening the crater and sending tufts of cloud into the air. The new pegasus, also a Yellowjacket, picked up her comrade and forced her head into a bow to Twilight. "We do not threaten the Grand Mage, Corporal! I see you do that again and I'll let her ex-Wonderbolt Captain fry your flank, you hear me!?"

"Y-Yes ma'am…," came the squeak of a reply. "Sorry ma'am."

"Carry on, Lady Sparkle. We'll secure the building." The Yellowjacket flew off, followed by her subordinate, although the latter mostly moved like a partially squashed bug.

"Well, that was something. Come on, you two. Let's check out the CEO's office." Twilight led them into a door leading to a cloud lift. Though intended for pegasi, it had a standard lever that worked well enough like a normal elevator. One floor down, and they arrived to a scene of chaos.

Broken glass was absolutely everywhere, and every single window had been destroyed. The first room was devoid of most decoration, consisting only of a desk by a large window, a painting above the entrance, and a chandelier. The second was to the right of the desk, and consisted a long, wide area directly attached to the first with no door or wall separating the two, only a small set of stairs. It was all broken window on the left and filing cabinets on the right, though several of the cabinets were tossed over on the ground.

The most immediate thing, however, was the stack of papers on the desk yelling, "Hey! Over here! Look at me!"

"Well, I know where I'm looking first. Rainbow, Spike, spread out and look for evidence." Twilight trotted over to the desk and flipped through the pages, reading entry after entry of numbers, deposits, and withdrawals.

"Whoa, Twilight, check this out." Rainbow flew up over the entrance and pulled open the painting over the entryway, revealing a badly damaged safe. The door was warped and scorched, and parts of the cloud wall around it was missing. Most of the damage was contained to the left side, where the latching mechanism was. "Somepony wanted in here bad. Didn't even bother to crack it, just blew it up."

"Yeah. Probably magic-enhanced plastic explosive. Dynamite wouldn't–" Twilight's eye caught a stick of red strapped to the inside of the door. "Dash. Back away. Calmly, slowly, back away."

Rainbow's mane frazzled instantly, and she fell to the floor, then scooted back on her rear.

"Not quite what I said, but close enough." Twilight approached it, slowly, head held low. She switched to her magic sight, and built up a shield in front of her to the best thickness it could go.

"Uh-Oh," Spike said, noticing what was going on. "Careful there. Maybe we should get a bomb squad."

"Probably. In fact, have Luna send a bomb squad through this building STAT.” Twilight arrived directly underneath the painting, gazing at the bomb from below. “That being said, if my suspicions are correct, the safe itself was a booby trap."

The painting was well over her head, in a position only a pegasus could get to. Rather, a pegasus, or a creative unicorn.

Twilight walked back into the other room, grabbing a couple of the undisturbed filing cabinets and stacking them on top of each other. One teleportation later, and she was standing on top of them with a perfect view of the safe and the bomb.

"Safe is empty, and it looks like I was right. The bomb is made of several sticks of incendiary explosive wired into the lock. I'm guessing there's some kind of special combination you have to put in to disarm the bomb before putting in another code to actually unlock it. If you just try to crack it, boom!"

"Whew!" Spike whistled. "Talk about your paranoid security measures."

“Yeah. Hmmm…” She surveyed the damage, poking at the exposed and twisted metal with a hoof. A chunk of formerly solid steel crumbled into sand. “Whatever explosive they used was magic; something that could reduce the molecular cohesion of the metal. I don't see any wards or their remains, so it would have been highly vulnerable to thaumic attack.”

Rainbow chuckled. “So? Most mages would have tried to use a lockpick spell or something on it. Then, like you said, boom!”

"But," Twilight continued, "whoever it was that was here either knew about the trap or was exceptionally lucky. The weakened metal either flung the safe open from the blast, or they could have just pulled it open, and the casing would have turned to dust.

“Either way, blowing the latch like this didn't trigger the bomb, so they could get what they were after. The question is, what were they after?

"Keep looking around, guys. Spike, have a bomb squad get here to sweep the building and then disarm this thing. I don't think it'll blow on us, but better safe than sorry. I'll put up a blast shield."

Twilight hardened a stationary shield around the safe door, and split it into several layers. In the end, six purple bubbles surrounded the safe and part of the painting it was hidden behind.

Job done, she went back to the desk, and looked closer at the papers. It was standard ledger sheet, with unencrypted entries. Now, to address the elephant in the room. If this is a ledger, where is the cover?

She turned it over, finding a bark-thread back cover, but no front. The spine was slit lengthwise, the fabric cut with surgical precision. Each fibre was split cleanly, with a hint of moisture damage in the very edge. "Why would they leave something so valuable here like this? If they wanted to keep this from me, they'd have taken or destroyed the whole thing, which means they wanted me to find it. Specifically, they wanted me to find this part, but not the first half. Why? What was on the first part?"

"Hey, Twilight!" Rainbow flew into the side room and picked up a chain attached to a metal cage. "We got a mana bomb over here!"

"Lends credibility to the idea that the ponies that murdered Artfeather are either the same pair or are related to those that hit this place. Good find, Rainbow." Twilight flipped through a few pages of her own evidence. "My find is more... untrustworthy? It's hard to tell if this is legit or not. At first glance, I say it is, otherwise why go through the trouble? And if it's real, the sheer number of transactions and accounts would be a huge coup. But given the skill we've seen from various groups so far, it could still be a ruse."

"Any way to verify it?" Spike pulled open a filing cabinet and thumbed through its contents. "I suppose we can cross-reference it with information at the banks. Would be easier if we knew what was on the first half. Find out what they wanted to hide."

Twilight's ears pricked up. "Actually, there is a way to find out! It's one of the spells I read in the CSI books I've been going over. And, it's a brand-new spell. They might not know that we can look back not four pages, but nine. Spike, take a picture of the area around the desk before I move it. I'll need space for this."

Spike's flashbulb went off a few times as he worked, the light imitating the flashes of lightning from the storms outside. Next, the desk was moved off to the side of the room, followed by the start of the spell.

Violet light subsumed the entire floor as Twilight etched a vertical magic circle into the air, constructing it to be as large as the tall room could fit. Twelve sub-circles formed in groups, with three each at the top, left, right, and bottom. Symbols engraved themselves as the spell progressed, with each smaller circle firing a portion of the spell into the very center of the assembly. Each piece bent and curved as it travelled, turning the circle into a funnel "draining" towards the large, broken window.

Twilight then started a second circle behind the first, made up of ten smaller circles with one in the center and the others surrounding it. With the symbols there complete, she finished with the third circle, this one ahead of the other two. It was small and simple, acting as a purple lantern feeding magic light into the rest of the spell.

"Spike, take the first page and put it in the center of middle circle." Twilight readied the next stage as Spike did as she asked. The page stuck there in mid air, affixed to the invisible cork board of magic.

She conjured two basic barriers, and put them on either side of the page. The magic glowed as it came together and squeezed the paper like a vice. The middle circle caught and activated, spinning and analyzing the specimen.

"What's it doing, Twilight?" Spike leaned over, watching each piece of the clockwork spell grind away.

"It's measuring the pressure and thickness on each square micron of each barrier, as well as the electrostatic variance and light filtration rate through the paper. Give it a minute." Twilight walked around her spell to the far circle, watching as line after line of writing appeared from the ether into the center circle.

"Huh. It's like a puzzle." Rainbow tilted her head and folded her forelegs. "Never did like this kind of thing."

"Good thing our Grand Mage is an expert at them, then!" Spike put an arm over Twilight's back. "Whatcha think, Twi?"

"I think I have my work cut out for me, that's what I think." Twilight mirrored Rainbow's expression. "Okay, guard the door and windows. Time to get analytical."


"They have what?!" Esteem kicked the table into one of the officers. "How can they have reinforcements?! We were supposed to have more time!"

"We think the city sped up. Slowly, so we wouldn’t notice. We don't know how they slipped through our guards--"

Esteem bucked again, knocking the wind out of the mare and buckling her to the floor. "And now we have General mother-bucking Blaze knocking on our door!" He punched the wall, growling and tearing out tufts of cloud. He didn't stop until he reached the next room.

"We don't have a choice." He sucked in a breath through his teeth. "Backup plan. Now."


"Spike, you getting all this?" Twilight asked, tossing line after line into the various circles surrounding the center one. Each receptacle was one of the pages that was written on top of the one they had; a canvas to rearrange the paint from the original, even if the result was a violet, fluorescent chicken scratch.

"Writing as fast as I can, Twi." Spike flipped a page in the notebook. "And look at that one! Three hundred thousand units, nearly three billion bits, and the name 'Wavu.' We have a winner! Or loser, plural, I guess. They're going to need to build a whole new prison to house all the ponies we're about to bust."

"Oh, that's not all." Rainbow held up the rest of the book. "I found a listing for Cheval Industries. Prench name, Shanghay company. They'll counterfeit anything. When they're sued, their lawyers drag out the court cases so long they're already on to their next twenty kinds of rip offs by the time they pay out some pocket change to settle.

"One of the Wonderbolts got caught by a tabloid drinking fake Alpine Cola and AlpineCo had an aneurysm that there were fakes out there. Our guy didn't know, he was just at a restaurant, but the picture was solid proof. The letters on the logo weren't spaced right."

"The rabbit hole keeps getting deeper, and here comes the bottom, or at least a twist." Twilight pushed the remaining writing into the final unoccupied circle. "Last entries, but they're fragmented. Pieces of a whole." Twilight grinned. "I was doing ‘connect the dots’ when I was six months old."

"Nail'em, Twi!" Spike gave Rainbow a hoof bump. "Let's see what's behind door number nine!"

Twilight tossed a few lines into the air, just outside the circle to keep them from interacting with the magic. One by one, the probabilities and possibilities collapsed in her mind.

M__E___IC_

_____4__0000

"I'm getting there, just need a bit more time." Twilight hit the lamp spell behind her, shining it's light on the page and letting the magnifying glass of her spell make more guesses.

MA_ES_IC_

2__3_4_90000

"Yeah, keep going! Twilight! Twilight! Twilight!" Rainbow led Spike in a chant as the pieces came together, giving her one name, and one very large number.

MAJESTICS 2 324 790 000

"That is a lot of money going to something wonderfully cryptic." Twilight finalized the spell, burning the letters into the air for at least a few hours. "Anypony know what this group or individual is?"

"Nope, but I'm writing it down." Spike said.

"Not a clue." Rainbow looked up and pointed a hoof out the window. "But maybe she does. We have incoming!"

An orange pegasus pulled back on her angle of attack, slowing as she came in through the window. Heat and smoke followed her like a puppy, but blew passed her in a wave of thaumic exhaust. She pulled up her goggles, letting them rest on her head. Her long red mane was as windswept as windswept could get, and the two wing blades on her sides glowed with magical heat. The most important thing, however, was the four stars on her uniform.

"Lady Sparkle, I presume? I'm General Blaze. We have a problem. I hope you aren't going to disappoint me."


Silence dropped over them as Twilight looked to her friends, who were as lost as she was. "Okay, what's the problem, exactly?"

"You are," she said with her old, gravely voice. It sounded like she'd been inhaling smoke for a good portion of her life, and the lines around her eyes wrote stories of her experience. "You come here to this city of pegasi expecting to solve our problems, yet from all I hear you aren't experienced in either sky nor sword. Quite frankly, I don't think you're up for the challenge, and for me, that is a huge problem.

"I honestly wonder if I should disable you now and do Cloudsdale a favour. This isn't your city."

Twilight shifted to her magic sight and looked her over. The weapons on her wings were, at a minimum, powerful, specialized cored blades. She had a strong wellspring, but the pulse of magic through her leylines had a different rhythm than most, and it moved exceptionally fast in her hooves. The sight pierced her clothes enough to note a defined muscle tone, and there was a distinct raucous note to her magic.

"I agree with your assessment, Twilight. But, shall I deploy, just in case?"

Twilight shook her head at both of them. "I'm not here to fight anypony, General Blaze. I'm here to investigate the murder of Duchess Artfeather and any surrounding implications. You are here to secure the city.

"That being said, if you wish to throw your life away, feel free to attack me."

"Brave words, filly." Blaze spread out her wings. "What makes you so confident? That horn on your head doesn't mean everything, you know."

Twilight sucked in a breath, filling every cubic millimetre of air she could find. "Your trick heading into the city indicates your weapons are fire based, and by your cutie mark I'm guessing you're one of the few pegasi with a deviant wellspring. In this case, I think you have fire in your thaumic profile. I'm also guessing you're capable of Passage. Impressive, and ultimately useless.

"Spike's armor is still fully charged and more than capable of taking a few of your hits, and he's immune to any flames you can muster. By the time you try anything, he'll use his superior reaction times to burn you to ash with dragon fire. No scenario involving you attacking me lets you out of here alive."

Twilight let go of the control on her breath. "Any questions?"

General Blaze raised her eyebrow in silent contemplation for a moment, then curled a smile into a smirk. "You know what, I think I like you. Anything I can do to help?"

"Yes, ensure this building stays secure, and sweep it for bombs. We’ve already found one. Also, if a stallion named Cloud Burner comes by, let him in. He's with me, and is ex-Day Guard."

"Stallion? Are you sure you want to trust him?"

Twilight folded her forelegs, and shot a look directly into Blaze's presumably empty head.

"Very well. I shall talk to you later, then, Lady Sparkle." She flew off out the window, hopefully to do something helpful instead of tribalist or sexist.

"Seriously." Spike flashed his claws, pretending to grip something hard. "What's she got against males? What did Cloud Burner and I ever do to her? Not like I had a choice what gender I'd be born as."

"Some ponies are just idiots." Rainbow walked to the desk at the edge of the room and started pulling out drawers and emptying them on the floor. "Help me search in here. You can laugh at Blaze when you're five hundred years old and she's deader than Commander Hurricane."

Twilight joined in with Spike as they tossed the contents, going through everything until they arrived at the top right drawer.

"Huh." Spike yanked on the handle to no avail. "This one's locked. Should we get a locksmith?"

Twilight rubbed his head. "Spike, it's a desk drawer, not a safe. Watch." She grabbed hold of it with her magic, then paused to place a spell on the desk. Yellow light washed over it, then shifted to green before vanishing altogether.

“What was that?” Spike asked.

“Safety precaution. It's a spell to dampen electric voltage, which should disable any bombs in it. As far as the lock goes…” Twilight yanked hard on the drawer, a loud crack smacked into her eardrum. The lock had broke clean off the drawer and now lay inside along with some splinters. "Now, let's see what was worth locking away."

The three pulled out a pile of documents, sharing and going through the bounty of papers, most of which shared a common theme.

"These are insurance papers." Spike quickly thumbed through his batch. "A lot of insurance papers."

"It’s not too unusual for large companies to have thorough insurance on things. Hmmm…" Twilight ran some quick numbers in her head and she added up her pages. "We’re easily talking billions and billions of bits. Every single piece of property the company has, especially the buildings, are insured to the hilt. The weather factories, the weapons and armor plants, the warehouses, the headquarters, they're all covered on everything from animal attack to spontaneous meteors falling from the sky. They even have life insurance policies on key employees."

"And not-so-key employees." Spike held up a page with a long list of names.

“Not as common, but still not unheard of.”

"But that's not all." Rainbow pointed to a part of a page. "Check this out. They changed the policy the day after the Bellerophon got back from Zebrica."

"Interesting. They explicitly added riot and terrorism sections to the plans at that time. Smells off. It's suspicious, but circumstantial at best, and—” Twilight blinked. “Wait a minute. Wait just an apple-bucking minute. Spike, Rainbow! Find that Emergency Redistribution Plan! There has to be details on it in here somewhere!”

“We're on it!” Rainbow saluted and dashed to the cabinets with Spike close behind. The latter rushed back a couple minutes later.

“I think I found them.” Spike handed over a pile of papers as tall as his fist.

Twilight plopped them on the desk and started in on the last pages. “Beauty of government documents is that there's always summaries at the end…” She ran through line after line, turning back to check the hard numbers earlier on. With each sentence, her blood boiled more.

“They're double-dipping,” she said through clenched teeth. “I don't know if it's illegal, but… Basically, everything here is already protected financially through the Crown, so insurance should be moot. In a catastrophic loss, Celestia would step in and cover not just the losses, but the cost of implementing the plan. But they're still buying policies!

“Under this, they'd actually make out like bandits if everything was destroyed. The insurance only has a stop in case other insurance companies are paying for something, so a government bailout would mean the insurance still has to pay!

“This can't be a coincidence. Why buy more insurance when the government is basically insuring you for free?”

Spike folded his arms. “Because you're counting on rioters tearing this place apart. How much you want to bet it was Esteem’s guys amping the rioters?”

“Guaranteed.” Rainbow looked off to her right, like something in her memory was playing out. “Editorials in Cloudsdale papers have been ‘pro-pegasus’ for a while. Some have been downright hateful of other tribes, and they love to complain that Cloudsdale Armories hires non-pegasi.”

“Not to mention that bar!” Spike said. “Artfeather ran interference for it, which only would have made things worse. I bet you're right about the being others, Twilight. This was all part of a plan to make this place a powder keg!”

“And the Emergency Redistribution Plan was the match.” Twilight slapped the papers down on the desk. “It's called ‘stochastic terrorism.’ You use rhetoric to get ponies amped up, knowing some lunatic somewhere will take it to heart enough to do something horrible. You don't know who, so you get to keep your legal distance and stay out of jail.

“So the rioters hate this company, and when the plan is leaked go out of control and destroy stuff. Their stock price falls through the floor — temporarily. Six weeks later, once it’s clear how much cash they’re about to get from both insurance payouts and the crown, it takes off into the stratosphere. Even if they aren’t doing an insider investing scam, they’d make a mind-blowing amount of bits.”

Twilight paused to chew on her lip along with implication, then let out a sigh and pulled all the papers into a neat, organized stack on the table. "This is too much for me to consider a coincidence, but I don’t think there’s enough information here for a smoking gun. Regardless, it’s an incredible lead.

“Let's check the side room next. I have a partial timeline on the greater events, now I want to figure out what happened here specifically."

Twilight led the way, stepping down the small flight of stairs and around the scattered filing cabinets. This room was darker, had no lights on, and was an utter mess. Pockmarks were scattered about the wall where something had dug out pieces of it by the stairs, and large claw marks scratched their way through both the walls and floor. Many of the tossed cabinets were dented or even torn, despite being made of metal. Like the other windows, the ones here were blown out as well, their remains scattered about the carpet like cloud floor.

Spike held his hand up to some of the claw marks. "What do you think? Gryphon? Dragon?"

"A dragon would've likely left evidence of flames, and a gryphon would leave wider marks." Twilight tapped a ruined cabinet. "Also, while gryphons are strong, they’re not this strong. You would need a minotaur to deal this kind of damage, but they don't have claws."

"So, what was it? I'm starting to draw a... Wait..." Rainbow's ear twitched. "Anypony else hear that beep?"

"Hmm? Oh, yeah!" Spike reached into his bag and pulled out the miasma detector. "This thing is... Well, I was going to say 'going off,' but it's barely reading anything at all. Like, as minimum of a reading as this thing can sense." He smacked it on his hand. "Maybe it's broken."

"Maybe, but I'm not ready to say it's a coincidence just yet. Rainbow, take the detector and fly around a bit, see if you can find a source."

"One nasty gas scan, coming up!" Rainbow caught the device after Spike tossed it, then flew out the window, looping around in circles.

"Hey, what's Rainbow doing?" Cloud Burner popped his head up over the bottom edge of a window. "And freaking Yellowjackets, man. I feel like I've been roasted on a spit. I probably would've had to fight them if the General herself hadn't come by. Never thought I'd be vouched for by her, that's for sure."

"Hey Cloud, come on in!" Twilight waved. "You're just in time. I was about to crack this thing like a walnut."

"You were?" Spike asked.

"I was. All I need is Rainbow's findings."

Rainbow zoomed in to land as Cloud flew in, then tossed the device back to Spike. "Nothing. Either that thing is broken, or we only have the tiniest trace here."

"Oh, wait!" Cloud scratched his head. "I had something I was going to tell you... Right, now I remember. One of the guys at the base said he has a friend that works security here. He said that last night there was a huge green flash, followed by an explosion that broke the windows. Some ponies even said that they saw a green fireball fall from the sky nearby."

"And that clinches it. Thank you, Cloud Burner." Twilight turned and walked back to the main room. "I now have a general timeline of what happened, even if this place is too much a mess for exact specifics."

"Then enlighten us, oh great and wise sahib." Rainbow and the others gathered around like it was story time. "Was it the butler in the library with the pipe?"

"Ha ha, Rainbow. Just sit down and listen. This one is going to get complicated." Twilight thought about taking in another deep breath, but this was going to take way more than one lungfull. Her Celestia impression would have to wait.


"So, here's what I think happened. Based on the sheer quantity of funds being moved, I'm betting the 'Majestics' are our Robber Barons. We finally have a real name. I think they were being at least partially funded through the sale of weapons to Zebrica through Cloudsdale Armories, probably using Cheval as an intermediary. For all we know, it’s been going on for a long time. But, that's a risky business.

"So, Artfeather went to Celestia with concerns about what would happen to weather control if the company was ever attacked by the Gryphons, who was the boogeypony du jour back then. She used her influence in the Council to workout a sweetheart protection deal in case she ever needed to enact her backup plan — a riot that would destroy her company, along with its assets and all evidence. The most important evidence would be the easiest to destroy; I’m betting that ledger was in the safe. If anypony tried to crack it, the incendiary would have turned the ledger to ash. And because greed knows no bounds, she also insured everything as icing on the cake.

“Thus, she had to keep Cloudsdale a pressure cooker of tribalist activity, just in case, and that’s exactly what she did by enabling bars like Wing Warrior’s. Rainbow’s theory about the papers is sound, too.

“She realized the jig was up when we found her weapons going to the Wavu. That was when she leaked the Emergency Redistribution Plan, which got the ponies hopping mad.

"But, it wasn't enough. The Majestics must have thought her a loose end, and sent assassins to shut her up for good. They killed her, then made their way here. They destroyed or stole what they didn't want us to see. While they were doing that, they got into a fight with…” Twilight glanced over to the damage on some of the cabinets. “Something."

"'Ooooooh, ‘something!' So dramatic!" Spike shared a snicker with Rainbow while Cloud looked on them like a disapproving parent.

Twilight continued, "I'm not exactly sure what attacked them, but it looks like there was a fight. Given the size of the claw marks, it must have been something terrifying they fought.

"Still, they knew what they were doing. Instead of attacking the probably-monstrous illusion head on, they killed the illusionists instead, likely by splitting up. One stayed here to keep the Illusionist’s force on them, while the other quietly slipped out, then went and found them overlooking the office, and killed them."

"Wait, wait wait." Spike held up his hands like Twilight was about to barrel into him. "You're saying the Illusionists were here? Why? Are they not with the Majestics, or Robber Barons or whoever?"

"I've no idea, but the fact that somepony saw a green fireball makes me think another chlorine trifluoride bomb went off, killing them if they weren't dead already. The fact that the windows were broken tells me that the Majestics agent who set it off probably snuck up on the Illusionists, and then used an explosion spell on the bomb to amplify the effects. Which means the Majestics are aware of, and are opposed to, and are capable of fighting, the Illusionists. It does not mean the Illusionists are on our side. It also means they were after something here, but were stopped or at least delayed.

"Now, we're stuck dealing with the fallout. Worse, we don't know how much Esteem is involved. That said, based on the fact that we were attacked by police, I'm betting he's still trying to carry out the plan. This makes secrecy all the more important, and it makes me glad we went through the effort to misdirect him."

"So, what do we do now?" Rainbow did a little flying backflip. "Bust into his house and arrest him?"

"Let's keep gathering evidence. Temporary or not, he's a Duke, so we need to be absolutely sure with as much evidence as possible before we drag his butt into the Empyreal Hall for a tribunal. Speaking of, Spike, collect our evidence so far."

"Already done!" Spike put his notes together with the papers and ledger, holding them in a stack.

"Good, now we..." Twilight froze as she saw the blinding, all-consuming light swallow the room, then fade slowly to a point in the distance. "Get down!" She grabbed her friends and pushed them to the floor, covering them with her body and deploying armor just before the electrified blast wave hit.


"Corporal, hold him!"

The Commander pulled the stallion's wing with her hooves, giving her subordinate a clean grip on him to wrestle him to the ground in a hold.

"Let me go, let me go!" He stained and cried, screaming out as the tears flowed down his face. "You don't understand! You have to let me go!"

"No, we don't. Quit struggling or I'll shoot you." The Commander tapped the barrel of her back mounted gun and walked back down the walkway they had found the intruder. Stacks of weapons crates six rows deep and a mile long, each containing untold guns and munitions. It was only a dozen or so paces to the large metal control unit their quarry had been messing with. The main panel was filled with buttons, lights, and switches, but the box extended higher than that. She'd have to stand on her hind legs to reach the dials and readouts on the top part. It controlled all kinds of things in the warehouse, from temperature to doors to power top the cranes. The lower panel had its screws off, and there was a pile of tools and loose wires on the ground.

"Hey, flank wipe!" The Commander picked up a wrench. "Start talking or I'll try to invent new uses for this thing! What'd you do, sabotage the weather factory controls?"

"I can't tell you! I have to fly! Now!" He bit down on the Corporal's leg, and she screamed, flinching just enough for him to get away.

"Idiot." The Commander flipped up her crosshairs and lined them up on the stallion's rear.

BBRRRRAP!

What was left of the body fell onto the clouds, the only thing keeping the remains from going clear through to the ground miles below was the ultra dense clouds meant to hold up huge stores of heavy weapons.

"Sorry, Commander." The Corporal held her foreleg and rubbed the bite wound, smearing blood on her coat. "Should've watched where his mouth was."

"Don't worry about it. He should have listened to my warning. Besides, less paperwork this way." The Commander jimmied the panel, but it barely budged. "Give me a hoof with this."

The two pegasi punched the cover open, tossing the metal with the buttons onto the floor. Inside was a host of wires, along with a large cylinder tapered at both ends and fins at one side. Next to it was a partially-disassembled clock with a nail in it, which the minute hand was three seconds away from touching.

"Oh, buck."


Twilight felt the shockwave hit after a few more seconds, and all the cells in her body screamed over the electric fire in her body. Every single thing in the office was picked up and tossed into the wall, from glass to ponies. Electricity powered by magic crackled and shot from surface to surface, burning through their bodies with their nerves serving as wires.

Even as it passed, the static fought to keep them affixed to the wall like balloons. Yet, after a time, down they fell, collapsing into a heap on the uneven floor. Some, though not all, of the debris followed. Worse, the entire structure was like a boat in a violent storm, rocking from side to side and trying to attain balance.

"I really didn't want to get blown up again on my first outing since getting blown up the last time." Twilight coughed and blinked, forcing her vision back into focus to check on her ponies. "Everypony okay?"

"I think I burned my everything..." Cloud Burner rolled onto his belly. "What the hell was that?"

"Lightning magic. A lot of lightning magic. Ow." Rainbow grabbed her shoulder after falling to stand. "I think all of us are resistant, but anypony else caught in that is in real trouble."

"Oh, crap..." Spike cupped a pile of ashes in his hands, searching for something in the mess. "Twilight, I think that blast just torched the evidence!"

"What?!" Twilight leapt up, finding nothing left of her forensics spell. She ran back and forth between the two rooms, searching for something, anything that remained. "Check the filing cabinets, maybe we'll..." She pulled one open, releasing a cloud of hot ash. "There's... There's nothing left! We are resistant to lightning, paper isn't!"

"But that doesn't matter, right?" Rainbow limped over, keeping weight off her bad shoulder. "You're the Grand Mage. If you arrest a pony, they're already guilty, case closed."

Twilight shook her head. "Not case closed, Dash. We're talking about going after a Duke. Guilty or not, new or not, we're going to need a mountain of evidence to get anything more than a slap on the fetlock!"

"What the heck just exploded, anyway?" Cloud Burner flapped his wings free of soot as he approached the windows. "That was more lightning magic than a supercell thunderstorm. What could... Oh, that."

The group joined him, looking out at what was once a massive cloud structure. All that remained was a cooling fireball.

"That was Cloudsdale Armories' main warehouse. Employed a ton of ponies." Cloud swallowed. "They... They must have set off every single gun crystal at once. Thousands — no, tens of thousands of guns, complete with ammo."

"Holy crap..." Spike slumped to the floor. "What are we going to do?"

"Twilight. I deployed just in time, and your new microphone is ready. I believe it should have better range than the normal model."

Perfect timing, Aurora. How do I use it?

"Keep calm, and I'll know when you want to transit. It's hard to know your thoughts when you're panicked or thinking too fast."

Got it. Twilight opened her mouth to say something, but froze. "Wait, he doesn't know we're here yet, does he? If he didn't get word thanks to the mess outside..." The gears turned in her head like they were powered by the seams. "Actually, I might have another idea..."

"Hold on, Twi... Ugh-Urp!" Silver-green fire belched into existence, along with a scroll. "Let's see... Luna says they managed to disarm a bomb here in the HQ before it went off. But, two of the main weather factories have been destroyed, as has Cloudsdale Armories' factories. No suspects yet. They're sending teams to stop the third and fourth weather factories from being bombed."

Twilight took in a deep breath. "Okay, so, this area is probably safe if the blast from before didn't set it off. Have them continue sweeps here, and we'll need some more paper along with a couple other ponies to set this up. It's high time we set a trap of our own."


Intelligentsia didn't waste any time. After years of searching, she'd finally found her target. The lock handle clicked and opened with a hiss, releasing freezing air that birthed the fog on her glasses. She pressed onwards, not slowing her stride an iota as her magic cleared her vision. She passed freezer after freezer, counting every single one.

Something's wrong, it's not here. Wait… She ran a hoof over the back wall, then tapped it lightly, listening to the clangs. Hollow!

She tore off the thin metal with her magic, popping the weak bolts like little fireworks. One more freezer lay hidden in the exposed secret room, keeping it's forbidden contents safe in the redundant cold.

The padlock was a trifle, really. After all, who'd think to look here but her? Off it fell, and the freezer opened up.

Intelligentsia pulled out one of the canisters inside, pulled off its lid. Slowly, she took out the spoon in her pocket, and extracted a sample of the substance. Years of planning came down to one last thing. She put the cold, smooth substance in her mouth and let it melt and coat her tongue.

"I knew it! There's thirty-two flavours!" She whipped out her camera and snapped pictures of the whole thing, documenting every inch she could before dumping some of the more creamy, concrete proof in an enchanted thermos. "Who's the crazy mare now, Feint? In yo face!"

She closed the door behind her with a light kick, then stopped when she heard a clang far too loud for just the door. More importantly, it came from her right, in the direction of a weather factory that should be empty.

"Duty calls, I guess." Intelligentsia trotted down the hall as fast as she could without running or galloping, hitting the end and a cloud wall where none should be. She felt it with a fetlock, pushing against the magically thick moisture as it chilled her and fought back against her efforts. Well, no matter.

She unsnapped her 'pocket of tricks' and pulled out a pill the size of a plum, then untwisted its top. She pursed her lips and blew, scattering the fire dust ahead of her and melting away the wall.

On the other side was a pegasus mare working on a large control system that had its main panel off. To her side was a pile of tools, and inside the metal casing was a cylindrical object with a clock.

"Oh ho, the game's ahoof, is it?" Intelligentsia asked.

The mare banged her head on the control box.

"I suppose I should try to arrest you or something. This is a real pain in the flank, though. I'm making discoveries left and right, here! And you had to come along and distract me." Intelligentsia adjusted her glasses as the other mare rubbed her head and gave off a death glare. "Don't look at me like that. You didn't pay attention to your surroundings, probably because of the giant bomb you have there. That's military issue, meant only for airships. Where did you get it?"

The mare spun around and flared her wings, revealing a hidden set of pinion blades. "Like I'm going to tell you."

"You will if you ever want to see daylight again."

The mare lunged, striking from Intelligentsia's high left.

Standard attack style, basic training. Not a problem. Intelligentsia swung back and to her left, her coat flowing out with her movements. As the attack missed, she hit back with an uppercut, knocking the mare clear over the control panel and into the factory area.

The pegasus took to the air, circling around and readying a lightning strike.

Mistake. Intelligentsia punched a hole in space time, teleporting to the other end in the blink of an eye. She looked up above her, finding the pegasus looking everywhere but missing the most obvious exit point. She teleported again, this time directly above the mare and with a spin to her movement. The blades on her back answered the call of her magic, detaching from her coat and springing open. The double-ended guan dao twirled around her, adding her fall into the strike.

The pegasus brought her blades up just in time, but couldn't stop the momentum to prevent their fall to the factory floor. She squirmed her way out of a follow up attack, flying back and hovering in the air.

"Look, I'm a Lieutenant in the Royal Guard. You're out matched, pure and simple. Surrender, cooperate, and I'll see what I can do for you. If you don't..." Intelligentsia looked around her. She was standing on a raised pathway with intermittent metal rail guards situated in between nearly innumerable rows of machines to her left and right, each longer than several football fields. Ahead of her was the entrance she came in, and behind her was one of the most awesome things in all of Cloudsdale.

The seams funnelled wind energy to the factory, and it all cumulated here. Behind her, inside the mind-blowingly large facility, was a tornado with nearly supersonic winds. Miles wide, yet never touching the ground below, it was the most raw, unrelenting force ponies had ever tamed outside of the Sister's own magic. It was right there, a few miles away, but it didn't make even a breath of wind, nor the slightest whistle of speed. It just sat there, sealing away the force of the seams.

Intelligentsia carved a line into the cloud she was standing on. "If you don't surrender, I can't guarantee that you'll survive this."

"If that means ridding Cloudsdale of your kind, I'm prepared to die!"

Intelligentsia parried with her guan dao, backing away from the strike and leading the mare like a dog in a leash. She swung with the other blade, slicing through her enemy's tail hairs. She hadn't drawn blood, but that wasn't the point. The point was to watch the reaction at such a close, effortless blow.

The other mare didn't so much as flinch. She dove in for another attack, bringing both wings to bare, then kicking with her front legs when those were blocked.

A fast tango of a fight broke out. Intelligentsia dodged each little kick, matching the other mare leg for leg in a flurry of punches, kicks, wing strikes, and feints. One large flutter feint from her pinions tried to lead her eyes away for the follow up kick: a full on buck. Intelligentsia stuck her guan dao into the floor and fired a barrier in front of her. It shattered, sending her flying back, but she grabbed her weapon with her fetlocks and spun around it, returning the kick to the mare twofold.

The pegasus flew back, tumbling from the blow, and a metallic clang resounded in the expansive factory as she landed on the side of a machine. The mare struggled to her hooves, standing upright as a cut bled down her skull.

Intelligentsia teleported again to close the distance, then grabbed the mare's head and banged it on the machine once more. The follow up was smashing her face down on a control panel that managed to get a tooth donated to it. The mare bucked at her, but missed, allowing Intelligentsia to swat her stomach with the flat of her polearm and toss her over the control panel.

The mare took the opportunity to get airborne, swooping around and charging lighting.

Another mistake. Amateur. Intelligentsia rocketed forward in a blink, the world around her stretching into color streaks and smears as she appeared back at the center walkway in an instant.

While the other mare fired at a position that her enemy had long ago vacated, Intelligentsia readied capture spells, filling the bucket of magic it demanded with only a sip of power, then fired it at her hoof. Three more followed in fast succession as her enemy looked on in confusion.

"You... Bound yourself to the floor? You're a sitting duck now!"

"I told you, I'm a Lieutenant in the Royal Guard. The only reason I'm not a Star Lieutenant and Captain Candidate is because my wellspring isn't large enough yet. You are out matched. I don't need to move to beat you, let alone kill you.”

Intelligentsia charged her horn, letting the magic flow to her weapon. "And because of that, you should also know that the only reason I haven't cut you in half with my power is because I don't want my beams to go through the cloud walls and hurt an innocent. But I also don't have time to play anymore, so this is it, your final warning. Surrender, cooperate, or die." Light enveloped the guan dao, building a perfect photonic shell around itself. As one of the blades passed the cloud floor, the brilliance boiled a piece of it away.

"And I told you, I'm okay with dying for my cause!" The mare dove at Intelligentsia, hoof outstretched for a killing blow.

Intelligentsia swung her blade, yanking back hard on her magic to bundle it up in one explosive blob instead of a fine cutting beam. It screamed out, a ghost of light looking for a soul to haunt.

The enemy mare ducked her head, bringing her attack to a stop and scorching her mane while dodging the blast. "Ha! Some Lieutenant! You freaking missed, four eyes!"

Intelligentsia put her eyeglasses into her pocket, then snapped it shut. "I'm sorry, truly, but I wasn’t aiming at you."

A flash of light bloomed in the distance, calling the attention of the terrorist, then vanished just as quick. Noise and wind built up from nil to unreal in a scant couple of seconds, drawing everything not sealed to the floor towards the gaping maw that her spell had opened in the hyper-tornado in the distance. Papers, tools, even the vapour making up the clouds were all being swallowed by the dark void.

The pegasus grabbed on for dear life onto one of the walkway's guardrails, only to discover cloud can make for a poor anchoring material. It, too, began to pop loose from its home, each piece flying back and dangling at the tornado like a long piece of spaghetti.

With one step at a time, Intelligentsia prodded towards the helpless mare, reasserting the spell over and over to stay fastened to the flooring. After she got close, she carefully pulled a set of null all shackles and showed them to the mare. "Let me put these on you! They'll let me carry you to safety!" She lowered one of them, only to have the mare refuse, sliding away down the rail.

"Please!" Intelligentsia shouted over the impossible wind whipping at her eyes. "Life in prison beats dying in the seams!"

"Maybe for you!" The mare let go.

She was gone in a blink, possibly flying faster than she had ever before or ever would again.

Intelligentsia sighed and put away her shackles, then started the trek back to the entrance. Each step saw the wind get a little bit weaker as the tornado repaired itself bit by bit. By the time she arrived back at the entrance, there was nought but a breeze.

Before leaving for good, she stopped and examined the bomb at the control panel. The timing mechanism was simple, just a clock with a nail in it and a battery. If the minute hand hit the nail, an electric current would trigger the far more sophisticated warhead.

"It's a Cloudsdale Armories bomb warhead. Figures. Something like this could expose seams and set off some of the machines, start a cascade reaction. The whole place would collapse in on itself, taking out a chunk of the core of the city."

Intelligentsia yanked off the minute hand. "Fortunately, the timing mechanism leaves a lot to be desired. But, I'm willing to speculate that this isn't the only bomb they set. Time to get back to the surface. I presume that's why you're here, Night Guard?" She put her glasses back on, giving the pony in the shallows a wave.

"Lieutenant Intelligentsia," Cardinal Bloodmoon cooed. "Such an honour to work with you once again. And, you speak truth. The Grand Mage has need of your services."

Author's Note:

This chapter needed a lot of patching up. There were a few glaring plot holes in it. We think we’ve caught everything, but if not, I’ll go back and patch things more. Life happens, after all. Nopony’s perfect. ;)

This arc has been an incredible learning experience, to be sure. I’m overjoyed most have generally liked it. I hope everyone likes this chapter even more! :D

I’ve also updated my blog with more health news. Suffice it to say, there’s been a major revelation.

Patreon will be updated soon, and as always, there’s links to the chats down below.

Thanks again for sticking with me! Enjoy the chapter!

-Cv

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