• 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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Crashing Metal

Twilight covered her mouth with her cloak and wished she had brought a scarf, and maybe vinegar. Celestia hadn't warned her about this.

Sierra Maredre was deep in the San Palomino desert. The area was rocky and covered in canyons and mesas, but that didn't stop sand and dust from choking the air. Yet even that was only just a part of what she saw.

The ground was painted orange naturally, but there was nothing natural about the city they were approaching. The entire thing was blanketed in a strangling green haze that oozed more than floated through the sky. Entire clouds of the stuff hung around, flipping an obscene gesture to the natural wind that just couldn't seem to dislodge them.

When they got close, things were no better. The buildings themselves were a patchwork of metal, bolted and welded together. Remnants of metal objects of all kinds - chairs, wheels, chariots, light posts, buckets, and more - were all broken down and fused together to create monstrosities of “architecture” that would haunt the nightmares of the ponies that designed the Harmony State Building. The bright neon signs attached all over them were signal beacons for pegasi as much as they were advertising; without them, the polluted smog was so thick that anything with wings risked breaking their skulls on metal walls if they moved at anything faster than a hover. Somehow, defying the odds, and maybe even sanity considering the amount of corrosion on them, the buildings here were every bit as tall as the skyscrapers in Manehatten.

The wind itself was sick with disease. Most ponies that were outside had some kind of mask. A few had full-fledged gas masks, while most used bandanas or construction dust masks. Many had goggles, especially the pegasi.

“Well, we're here.” Rose pulled down her own goggles. “Where did you want to go?”

“The Duchy Government building. I'm assuming it's around here somewhere,” Twilight said between coughs. “Then probably somewhere I can buy a gas mask or something if I'm going to have to be here. How can anypony live like this?”

“We're not pampered princesses out here, Lady Sparkle. It takes a tougher breed to make it in San Palomino. Lotsa ponies don't realize that and wind up running home.”

“More like ‘breed immune to poison.’ This level of pollution cannot be legal!”

“It isn't.” Aurora made a sound like smacking lips that she didn't have. “I'm detecting low-level thaumic contamination. It's oddly weak, despite the density. A pony could survive this, but would have a very high risk of serious health problems over the long term. Either way, it definitely exceeds Crown safety regulations.”

“I don't know what you think the law in San Palomino is, Lady Sparkle, but here it's more of a guideline. Or maybe an optional service.”

Twilight would have dropped her jaw, but didn't want the smog to corrode away teeth. “The law isn't supposed to be optional, Rose. It's why they're called laws.”

“Maybe, but that's not how it works here. Trust me, I know. Here, let me show you.” Rose went into a dive, taking them down to street level near the core of the city. Strangely, the air was slightly clearer and less green than the space a hundred feet or so higher. The dirt and stone boulevard was quite spacious, especially compared to older large cities. Ponies didn't mill about like they did at the markets there or in Ponyville, though. They made beelines from one building to another, going directly to their destinations without slowing down for anything.

Rose led them to the center of a large intersection, in the middle of which was a five-story bulletin board. The pages were normal on the bottom, easy to read for anypony with normal vision. Higher up they were either exclusively for pegasi, or were extra large with huge print for those without wings (or perhaps binoculars). In the middle was another neon sign reading, “Dominion of Dust Bounty Hunters.”

The posts themselves featured just about anything and everything you'd expect of a community bulletin board. There were job offers, job seekers, advertising for rooms, bands, businesses, and any manner of other things. About half, though, were rewards for bounties, which meant there were hundreds of them. Some were nothing but lists of names next to bit values. The cheapest landed at a couple hundred bits, while others easily broke five figures.

“So, let's say your apartment gets robbed.” Rose pulled out a canteen and guzzled some of it. “Here, you don't go and get the police. There's no police to get, really. You—”

“I'm aware of the general state of things.” Twilight pulled off one of the bounty ads and scanned it. “Public services are minimal here. Law enforcement agencies are largely limited to either private entities or Crown agents, the latter of which is usually only concerned with major crimes. The former are largely bounty hunters, who are often loosely organized into associations such as Dominion of Dust. Quite frankly, this system is a catastrophic failure.”

Rose dropped her jaw despite the pollution all around. “But… It's how we do things! You aren't going to stop it, are you? There's a lot of bounty hunters that rely on this for a job!”

Twilight put the paper back. “I'm not saying bounty hunters can't somehow be part of the solution. What I am saying is that this…” Twilight motioned to the buildings around her. “... is completely unacceptable. Not even Shanghay has this kind of pollution, or general lack of public safety.”

Rose sighed. “Maybe, but you can't just go tearing everything apart. It's already here, you know? If you start pulling stuff out, it'll hurt. There's nothing we can do about it.”

“Sometimes it's necessary to go through a little pain for greater long-term gain, like getting an injection.

“Also, I can understand how you might feel there's nothing you can do about this. Me, though? That's another story.” Twilight turned to the top of the large tower in the distance. It was far more solid than any of the others, like it was made by a pony that had some clue of what they were doing rather than slapped together with whatever was lying around. That would be where the Duke would live and work, if the nature of the nobility had taught her anything. “Time to go have a talk with the Duke!”

The ground rumbled.

Twilight shared a look with Rose. “I didn't think I wasthat loud. Earthquake, maybe?”

Metal groaned and cried out. Pieces fell from the tower ahead and to their left.

No… No, tell me this isn't…

Twenty stories of metal and wood and objects screamed out as the entire thing listed to the side from some failing point a few levels up, only to be joined by the chorus of terror from the ponies inside. Pegasi jumped out of windows and flittered away, and a stampede rushed out from the doors.

“Hold it up! I'm going to try and catch some of them!” Rose was gone in an instant, pulling ponies out of windows and getting them to safety.

Twilight lashed out with her horn, grabbing hold of the tower itself and pulling on one side to even it out. The building laughed at her feeble magic; this was no mere water tower.

With a blink, she shifted to her magic sight. The green smoke was replaced with red, and it slathered itself on her corneas. The faintest of pinpoints were in front of her, but those were the wellsprings of the ponies already outside the tower. She needed much more.

She lit her horn and sparked her way through reality, but the smog grabbed her and tossed her about like a cat playing on the control panel of her magic. My spell! She fell through the air, now six stories up and with nothing to stand on. There was plenty of space, though, inside the tower.

Twilight locked onto the sight of a frightened pony inside a window. She sparked her spell again, this time slamming her body into the interior wall of the room while the miasma laughed at her miscalculation. Her hoof scraped against a rough metal floor as she recovered, launching herself at the mare she saw desperately grasping a sofa for stability. As her hooves made contact, she teleported one last time, exciting somewhere roughly close to the ground. At least, it was close enough to land without dying.

“Run!” Twilight screamed, firing her horn once more while the tower continued its listing. Whether the pony actually moved or not after that point was irrelevant; the Grand Mage was already back in the air, looking for another scared pony, magic distortion be damned.

She had found one, and another, and another. Purple blips of magic crackled through the sky one after another as ponies found a saviour tearing spacetime asunder to bring them to safety despite the odds.

Yet said odds were too great for some.

A crack broke through the polluted air, and debris exploded out from the side of the tower even though no bomb ever went off. Random chunks of metal spewed forth, powered by the sheer, unsustainable weight of the monstrosity. The sky was falling.

Twilight's heart pumped only tears as a second crack exploded up above her. The tower broke into three pieces, folding in on itself as it fell. More and more ponies jumped from windows, but not all of them had wings.

She sparked her horn again, ignoring her inner ear as it turned her stomach and vision into a whirl. Another pony was saved, followed by another and another.

Dozens more hit the ground, somewhere in the cloud birthed from the formation of untold thousands of tons of rubble. Icy death reached out in silence, muffled by the roaring destruction.

“Medic!” The smoke ripped apart her lungs as Twilight screamed out. “Get medics here! Get them here now!”

Rose was somewhere in the cloud. “They’re on their way. Count on it. There's a fortune to be made on it.”

“To Tartarus with the bills! I'll pay them myself if it'll get them here faster! Just get me some medics!” Twilight sparked forward once more, and found herself standing atop the brand-new mountain of debris. Sharp metal and concrete was everywhere. Twisted, pointed steel reached out for anypony stupid and unlucky enough to climb onto it. Sight, please, don't let me down… “There's one here!”

A tiny point of violet light pulsed in her vision. There was a unicorn buried underneath her hooves. Piece by piece, she tossed away the rubble, lifting entire water towers’ worth of weight at a time with her magic until, at last, an adolescent stallion coughed and cried in the sickly green sunlight.

A couple of brave ponies came up behind them, carefully tip-hoofing around the makeshift swords jutting out of the fallen building. They went to carry the pony out and add him to the growing number of injured. About the only saving grace was that he wasn't added to the list of deaths.

Most of the other ponies weren't so lucky.

Within minutes, ponies from a nearby hospital were triaging the wounded and organizing them. Some, dressed in suits, were loading the less fortunate onto carts. All the while, Twilight found countless blips of light, pulling them out even as their wellsprings faded. Eventually, though, the lights went out.

“That's all of them…” Twilight panted and licked her dry, cracked lips. “I don't see any more.”

“Are you sure.” Rose sucked on her long since dry canteen, presumably out of habit. “How can you even tell?”

Twilight started to spin some lie in her mind, but gave up. There just didn't seem to be a point. “I can see wellsprings, even through a few walls. There's nopony left alive in there. No more wellsprings still shining.”

Even without her water, Rose swallowed. “Whoa. That's… Whoa.”

“Yeah. Keep quiet about it. Or don't. I don't really care much right now.” Twilight climbed off the rubble, then made her way through an entire maze of debris that had been cleared off by ponies. Outside that, at the makeshift ER, were even more bodies. Nurses, doctors, and medics were scattered about, but there wasn't near enough to cover everypony.

Twilight's ear twitched.

“Do you have employment or means to pay your bill?”

You have got to be kidding me. Twilight followed the sound, making her way to a mare with a clipboard hovering over a wounded stallion. “I wasn't aware asking somepony for their bank details was part of medical treatment, Miss.”

The mare tilted her glasses at her. “It's standard procedure. We aren't a charity. If they can't afford to pay for their care, we send them on their way.”

“Not anymore.” Twilight sucked in a full breath of the putrid, dust-filled air and beat back the need to cough with a mental baseball bat. “Attention! As Grand Mage, I am making an emergency decree! Henceforth, it shall be unlawful to the degree of a felony to refuse medical evaluation and emergency treatment to anypony, regardless of their ability to pay! It shall be unlawful to the degree of a felony to medially triage anypony by ability to pay or by any other measure except by medical need! Anypony needing financial assistance for medical bills relating to this disaster should contact Canterlot Castle!”

“You can't--”

Twilight glared at her and flared her nostrils. “I just did. Grand Mages have the ability to issue laws by decree in emergency situations. Oh, sure, the Council might counteract me, but they won't be in session again for a few more weeks. Odds are Celestia will uphold it for at least the duration of this disaster.

“But if you really want to push it…” Twilight pulled out a piece of paper from her bag and started scribbling on it.

---- WANTED!!!! ----

REWARD! INFORMATION LEADING TO ARREST AND CONVICTION OF MEDICAL PERSONNEL IN VIOLATION OF THE DECREE OF THE GRAND MAGE REGARDING TREATMENT OF THE INJURED DUE TO TOWER COLLAPSES!

INFORMATION REWARD: 10,000 BITS
CAPTURE BOUNTY: 15,000 BITS

INQUIRE AT CANTERLOT CASTLE!

One spell later, and the page was affixed to the bulletin board.

“There.” Twilight shot one last glare to the mare. “Disobey me at your own risk. That kind of money will have ponies all over you the moment you step out of line. And if I hear of you or anypony else breaking this law, you'll go from ‘source of frustration’ to ‘actionable objective.’ Clear?”

The mare sighed and grumbled, then packed up her things and left in a huff.

“What now?” Rose shook out her wings. “You know healing magic?”

Twilight shook her head. “I know a little, but nothing that would help much here. My thaumic profile isn't very well attuned to it. The doctors here will do far more than I ever could.

“Come on, I'm going to go hunt down Badlands and scare the piss out of him for letting things get this bad. Follow me and look tough; they'll think you're a member of my Guard.”

“I'd ask if I was getting paid for this, but at this point I'm more afraid of you tearing my wellspring out of my chest.”

Twilight froze just as the words hit home. It didn't help that her adrenaline was fading, too. “I'm not like that. You can go if you want.”

Rose did something akin to cringing, but not quite. Even Twilight's vocabulary wasn't able to really describe the reaction succinctly, but the message was clear: she was surprised. “I'm… I'm not one to leave somepony hanging, or hurt them for no reason,” Rose said. “I won't even take most of the jobs in the board; don't like the idea of nabbing somepony innocent. The ponies that call themselves bandits are a lot easier on the conscience. Pay better, too.”

“So you'll help me?”

“Why not?” Rose shrugged. “I don't have anything better to do. Besides, walking around with the Grand Mage will be huge for my reputat—” Her ear twitched, and her teeth clenched down.

“You okay?”

“Yeah. Sorry, little twitch I have. It's worse on the nights with the really bad nightmares. Like I said, being seen with you will help my reputation, so I don't really see a downside here.”

Twilight smiled as wistfully as one could in the middle of the world's worst pollution cloud. “Glad to hear it. Come on, let's get going.”

They left the scene of carnage behind, though it refused to leave Twilight. The ghosts behind her followed, just as they would forever.


“Whoa. This place isn't half bad. Never been here before.”

Twilight curled her lip at the sight. She wanted to be way more angry than she was. She wanted to agree with Rose and be impressed at the opulence so that she could scorn Badlands for living high on the hog while his ponies died. After growing up at the side of the Princess, though, she just couldn't find a way to do it.

The decor of the building was a step up from the others, but it was still scrap cobbled together from the waste of broken trash Manehatten would throw out. Desks, tables, chairs, lamps, they all had telltale damage and wear from age. Some of them were literally created from trash welded and nailed together. A series of machines in the wall pumped in filtered air, though they couldn't remove all of the miasma.

Was it nice? Certainly not by Canterlot standards. By San Palomino standards, though, it was luxury.

“Wow,” Rose whistled. “The walls are painted drywall! Don't see that much in this city.”

Twilight fought against raising an eyebrow and merely grunted in agreement as they made their way to a lobby with a sign and a set of elevators. Some hired security guards, or more accurately, thugs, eyed them both as they approached. “Duke's office, floor sixty. Figures, he's on the top level.”

“Pardon me, Miss.” One of the thugs half-growled. “Nopony sees the boss without an appointment. And you're definitely not on the list.”

Rose dropped into a combat stance, but Twilight held her off with a raised hoof.

Hmmm… Twilight eyed the elevator. It looked as cobbled together as anything else in the tower, but there was something else that raised the hairs on the back of her neck. “Alright, I'll go. For now. But he and I are going to have words very soon. Tell him that I'll be back - unannounced - and we will talk then.”

She left the tower and the smug, amused thugs, a confused Rose close behind. When they were outside, the heavy pegasus cleared her throat to demand attention.

“Ahem! Mind filling me in here? You looked like you were ready to break his door down a few minutes ago.” Rose scratched her head with a wing tip. “And you dealt with Dagger’s crew without breaking a sweat. Those guys wouldn't have stood a chance.”

“Maybe not, but I'm not eager to go up that building’s elevator.” Twilight folded her forelegs and closed one eye to look at the tower in the setting sun. “I imagine this wouldn't come naturally to a pegasus, but creaky elevators are freaky to those of us without wings. But that's not what I'm most worried about.

“Going in there could be committing suicide. If they wanted to off us, they could cut the cable. Without line of sight, teleporting is extremely risky, and this pollution is messing with my spell, so even if we tried to escape that way, we would probably die. They could even stop it at a floor they wanted and just fire a ton of cored cannons at it, filling us with holes. It's a literal death trap.”

Rose shuddered. “I didn't even think of that. This is why I don't like bounty hunting in the city. Too many variables. I prefer to catch my bad guys out in the desert. Nowhere to hide.”

“I doubt Badlands is going to give us the luxury of falling into a trap like that. Besides…” Twilight looked aaround to keep an eye out for the thugs, making sure she was out of earshot. “Right now I can't do anything to him directly. Not enough evidence. But I can try to shake him up, see if he screws up down the line.

“Meanwhile, I need to track down any leads on Farriér. If I find his base, I'll find my friend. First things first, though. I need to get a gas mask. Any ideas where I can buy one?”

“Yeah, follow me.”

Twilight did so, pushing against the polluted wind as a sandstorm birthed into being around them. Ponies fled into doors and even windows as the monster kicked up so much dirt, dust, and debris that Twilight had to fight to keep Aurora from deploying. Eventually, they arrived under a pair of glowing pink and green neon signs. The pink read “Hunter's Hovel,” while the green was a stylized outline of a small mounted gun, some classes of which were legal in San Palomino.

The other classes were sold anyway.

There was a grid of bars over the tiny, round window in the door. The larger storefront windows had a display hiding the inside of the shop, and were also covered in makeshift bars welded out of pipes. What rust was left on the walls would certainly be sandblasted away by the storm: a twisted convenience in a punishing landscape.

Twilight tucked her cloak in tight to cover up her torc as they marched inside. A little bell over the door rang as it opened, then kept ringing from the wind until the entryway was sealed up once again.

The inside was as worn and improvised as the outside. Old wood counters and tables with fading, peeling paint were the norm. Behind the counter, cubbie holes of various sizes held equally diverse pieces of equipment for sale. Along the walls were heavier pieces like mounted cannons and even full suits of enchanted armor. All of it was being watched over from behind the counter by a lanky salespony with more piercings than teeth.

“Hey, Topper.” Rose sat down next to one of the displays. “Heck of a day, huh? Don't suppose you got any gas masks that can put up with the weather today?”

“Sure thing!” Topper pressed something under the counter. “You're right. She's here!”

The lights cut out.

Twilight's armor replaced them, burning bright as Aurora deployed. Something long and round, like a pipe, cut through the darkness and flew at her quicker than she could blink. Her spell charged in her horn, ready to put up a shield for battle, but the object already filled her vision. Pain ran down her head and into each of her limbs, setting every nerve on fire.

It had hit her horn.

Twilight swam in the pain, paddling in her mind to surface to fight for her life. More blows came, eventually beating through her half-formed shield. Aurora hardened, trapping Twilight in place, blocking every bit of damage they could dish out. Just as the fog of agony was lifting, a glass bottle shoved its way into her mouth. Foamy, fizzy light poured over her tongue and cheered the sounds of struggle from the other side of the room. It played like campers around a campfire who had too many tambourines and bongos, but more and more gathered until the waving, laughing lights pulled a psychedelic canopy over her her eyes as she finished every last drop.

“Freeze! Down on the ground!”

The sounds of cannons ripped through the room and Twilight's otherworldly haze. She felt herself dragged along, limp and choking on blue while something metal pressed against her head.

Another shot rang out, and she was free. Free as a--

Light burned through the haze, leaving nothing but ash in its wake. Twilight blinked a few times, bringing the real world back a little more each time. The bodies of four ponies lay on the floor, each pumped full of gunshot, save for one that only had a single hole in his head. Her own body was blessedly free of such violation, though her skin and armor were screaming about another problem.

Lines of magic power and enchantment were lit along her body like a living magic circle, or even a Hearth’s Warming tree. The intricacies and detail flaring in sky-blue light could only mean one thing: she had been poisoned, and Luna's protective ward had to fight to keep up. The magic bore through Aurora like she'd been made of glass instead of opaque metal. The fact that it was fading without sending her back into a psychedelic episode meant that even if it was late, it was working.

Rose, meanwhile, was choking and spitting out as much of the stuff as she could while a stallion wearing a Crown Agent’s badge looked over her. Behind her was a secret door left open to a dingy back room, which was no doubt where the ambush came from.

“Hold still!” The officer pony, clad in a trench coat, jabbed a needle into Rose’s side and pressed down on the syringe. “This’ll counteract the Elixir.”

“Elixir?” Twilight asked, spitting up the traces of the poison.

“It's okay. Ow…” Rose sucked in a breath through her clenched teeth as the needle came out. “I only downed a few drops. But I think she had a whole bottle.”

“I'll be fine.” Twilight rubbed the enchantments on her body. “A gift from Princess Luna. It took a moment to kick in, but it put a hard stop to whatever that was.”

“Everfree Elixir. Nasty stuff. It'll send youze on a trip, then give youze an energetic high like nothin’ else. Then comes the crash, and youze realize jus’ how addictive dat stuff is,” a mare in a stetson, also equipped with a badge, said in a curious accent. Her light brown coat and red mane were decidedly familiar, as was the large shield cutie mark. Her trench coat and saddle bags with a smoking gun poking out of one side, however, were new. “What up, Sparkle? Long time no see.”

“Babs?!” Twilight rubbed her eyes in case the Elixir was still messing with her. “Babs Seed?! Is that you?”

Babs took off her stetson and smiled. “In da flesh.”

Author's Note:

So you're probably wondering what Babs is doing here. After all, she's from season three!

Truth be told, I just really liked her. I gave her a law enforcement anti-bullying cutie mark and decided to make her a kind of sheriff. Then the show gave her a different mark. Well, I reject that reality and substitute my own! So she's here as a bit of a cameo. Enjoy!

There's probably a few hiccups in the formating in this chapter as I'm posting it with my phone. I'll try to fix them as soon as I can. I'm off visiting in laws this week so I don't have all my usual tech on me.

Hope you enjoyed the chapter!

-Cv

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