• Published 22nd Jul 2012
  • 39,954 Views, 7,445 Comments

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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Pride Cometh

“I'm telling you, there's something there.” Twilight folded her forelegs. “Trust me on this one.”

The two military detectives looked at the blank, stone wall and shook their heads.

One even took off his hat and scratched his head. “Ma'am, with all due respect, that's just a wall. We've already analyzed the outside walls of the base, and it's solid stone.”

Twilight shook her head. “I have means you don't have access to — or clearance to know about — and I say there's something there. Get ponies here to clear the stone and make a tunnel. If you're worried about it, just say this was an order from the Grand Mage. I'll take any heat for the decision, but I'm telling you, there's a power source back there.”

“If you say so, Ma'am, we'll get it done.” The stallion sighed and nodded, then saluted and walked off with his subordinate.

Twilight, meanwhile, kept staring at the little cluster of lights on the other side of the rock. They must have been deep into the stone to be missed by the inspection, yet they were bright enough to shine through the red haze of magic in the ground. Whatever was there, it wasn't a pony — the colours were all wrong — but it had to have been substantial to create a shine like that.

“Twilight!” Trixie trotted through the bottom of the docking bay, over to Twilight. Her armor was covered in dirt and grease from rummaging through things for evidence. “We're about half done cataloguing the stolen goods. There's a cache of blank cores we just turned up, too.”

Twilight perked her ears up. “Any bonded?”

Trixie shook her head. “No such luck. Just from what I can see, we have a lot of stuff that tells us what we already know. Pirates bad, should have been stopped ages ago, yadda yadda. It doesn't tell us who our mystery group is.”

“Well…” Twilight stole a quick glance at the rapidly growing piles of goods being brought up from below and catalogued. “It might. I need this stuff catalogued so we know what trains were hit, what was taken, and what isn't accounted for.”

Trixie pulled out her canteen and emptied down her throat. “Won't that only tell us what they've fenced?”

“For older stuff, yes, but I'm thinking that over the last few days there's a chance they haven't had an opportunity to move much yet. But we're reasonably sure that the Majestics came by to at least get the psychstone, and maybe something else. If we figure out what, it could give us a clue… Maybe, anyway. I know it's a stretch, but I'll take that over nothing at all.

“That being said, I'm certain there's something behind this wall.” Twilight pointed in the direction of the lights. “But it's going to take time to dig it out safely. Hours, if not days. It's buried so deep, the normal detection spells the agents used couldn't find it. Whatever is there, somepony wanted it sealed off completely.”

“Hours?” Trixie’s face twisted in incredulous frustration. “Oh boy, more cataloguing, my favourite thing.”

“Okay, okay, you can come with me. I was just about to visit a friend and get something to eat.”

“I'm up for anything that isn't paperwork. Where to?”

“The Bellerophon. Follow me.” Twilight marched to a doorway and up some stairs, then to the main docking bay. The bay’s doors had been blown off in the battle, and there was a clear path to the desert floor. The rubble of the doors had crumbled, being partially made of rock, and formed a steep slope of stone for them to slide down.

The ship was a short walk away, powered down and anchored to the ground. It was serving as both hospital and command center of the operation, now largely led by General Stone.

After arriving at the ship, Twilight lit her horn and sparked herself up to one of the entry ports. Her chest welled with a bit of pride when Trixie followed suit with her own teleportation, and the two made their way inside.

A blast of cool air greeted them; obviously the engine core was running enough to provide for the environmental systems, and likely the defensive guns as well. It was a welcome change from the hot base and desert.

Before long, they were close to the sick bay, which brought with it something else: screaming. Wretched, panicked screaming of a mare desperate for her life scraping against the metal walls and striking Twilight in her heart.

Twilight broke into a run, banging dents into the metal floor with her hooves as she rounded the corner into the hospital. Rose was the one screaming, eyes closed, flailing and fighting the nurses and orderlies, tossing them about like dolls. One flew through a privacy curtain, only to land on an injured pony who cried out in pain.

“Rose! Calm down!” Twilight watched and yelled while her heart sank inside her chest. Tears seemed to come from nowhere, or perhaps a phantom blade in her stomach.

Rose picked up a bedpan and hit a nurse over the head, and swung at anypony near her.

“Rose, please, it's me! Twilight! I'm your friend!”

Her only answer was more screaming, as Rose turned her weapon on herself, bending the metal with blows to her head.

“Twilight, we have to stop her!”

“I know,” Twilight whispered through the tears. She lit her horn, and sniffled through the spell. “Rose, forgive me. Diamond Light!

Triangular planes of light spun into existence around Rose, then slammed into her, pinning her against the wall. All the same, her screams rattled bottles off tables, and she fought and struggled against the light holding her down.

Dr. Full burst through the chaos, a syringe in her magic, and pressed the needle into Rose's leg. All the ponies in the sick bay watched the two as the trapped mare cried out. It took a few minutes, but eventually, Rose was sound asleep.

Twilight gathered herself, breathing and focusing on the newfound silence. “Doctor, what happened?”

Dr. Full grabbed a clipboard that had fallen to the ground, and said, “This happened. She woke up as I was reading her lab reports. You said she'd been injected with Everfree Elixir?”

Twilight's heart thumped the inside of her ribs. “The Elixir did that?”

Trixie whistled. “Just how much did the pirates stick her with? Trixie thinks it was… excessive, to say the least!”

Dr. Full flipped to the third page of the report. “Yes, but not the dose you're thinking of. We ran a test of her mane hairs along with a full toxicology panel. The results are conclusive: she's been on Elixir for years.”

Twilight sucked in a breath to yell a denial, but it died before she could even form the words. “I… I get it now!”

Trixie tilted her head. “Get what?”

Twilight walked to the doctor’s side to peek at the test results. “If I'm right… Rose told me she suffered from nightmares every single night, and couldn't get much sleep. She said she was seeing a doctor that gave her pills to help her, and couldn't afford a trip out of the Duchy to see a specialist. I'm betting that the pills were Elixir in dry form.”

Dr. Full pulled out her pen to make a note in the chart. “Makes perfect sense to me. The pills would help her stay awake, if they were a low dose, but would eventually lead to a crash, which could contribute to vivid ‘experiences’ during sleep. If she steadily increased her dose, she would have built a partial tolerance — but Elixir isn't kind enough to let you get away with that totally. Eventually, she would have succumbed to hallucinations and paranoia, followed by a total mental breakdown. The large dose from the pirates probably sped that up.”

Twilight stepped up to the trapped Rose, who was snoozing soundly despite the magic pressing into her. She brought a hoof to the mare's muzzle, and stroked her. “I'm sorry I didn't see it sooner, Rose. I would have brought you to a real doctor right away, had I known.”

Dr. Full cleared her throat. “My Lady, could you please release your spell on her? We’ll put her on anesthizine gas until we’re sure she'll be safe to wake.”

Twilight nodded, cancelling her spell and allowing Rose to fall into the waiting care of three stallion orderlies, who carried her to her bed.

Trixie helped them, tucking the poor mare into her bed. “What's her prognosis?”

Dr. Full adjusted her glasses. “Under the gas, she'll be out of immediate danger, but honestly? She's going to have to be sent to a better facility, and the sooner, the better. We're equipped for combat trauma and common medical emergencies, not things like this.”

“Have her transferred to Canterlot Castle's medical wing, and let me know if there's any paperwork obstacles. I'll bulldoze them for you. And if Luna turns up anytime soon, tell her I said she needs to be teleported. I don't want to wait around on this if I don't have to.”

Dr. Full blinked and leaned to the side. “I don't think that will be too much of an issue.”

Twilight put her ears flat. “She's right behind me, isn't she?”

Trixie must have jumped out in shock, because she careened into a small table and scrambled like a cat to get her legs under her. “Empty night!”

“Ha ha ha ha ha! Well, I'm glad I meet with your approval, ‘Specialist!’” Luna's grin melted along with her laugh. “Alas, my being here is not for good news. Twilight, I need you to return with me to the Empyreal Hall. Sister's gambit has hit a bit of a wall.”

Dr. Full turned and marched away. “I'm not hearing anything. Do whatever you need.”

Twilight folded her forelegs. “I'm not leaving without Rose. You're taking her with us.”

Luna shrugged. “There's no time to argue, so I won't. Pull her over here.”

Twilight grabbed Rose's bed, removed the IV, and moved her over to Luna, alongside Trixie. Seconds later, they were in Canterlot Castle, though whether Twilight's stomach had accompanied them was up for debate. At the very least, she knew they were near the Empyreal Hall, and the area was empty.

“Mergle…” Twilight held back a burp.

“Sorry. That wasn't an easy teleportation.” Luna clapped her hooves lightly, and a half-dozen members of the Night Guard stepped out of the shadows. “Take Ms. Rose to the hospital, Gentlecolts. Trixie, you may go with them. This is for Twilight.”

Trixie looked briefly to Twilight, then nodded and walked away with the rest of the group.

“Okay, what's going on?” Twilight looked up to the Princess, who only lowered her ears. “It's that bad?”

“Honestly? I have no idea. I'm not a lawyer, and I was never any good at parliamentary maneuvers. All I know for certain is that word of your exploits reached Charlemane earlier than expected; he moved to formally oust Badlands before we could.

“Celestia tried to explain the detailed ramifications of this to me, but she might as well have spoken in tongues. All I've gleaned is that the Council is moving to replace the Duke with a pony of their own choosing.”

“Oof.” Twilight got up and started a pace around the hall. “Celestia wanted to replace the Duke with an elected Premier, and I have no doubt they'd want to put a stop to that. But how did they know of that plan? Who else knew?”


Twilight froze in place, and stood silent for some time. “That… There's no leak?”

“Well, no conventional leak.” Luna lit her horn, drawing a magic circle on the ground. “There are ways to perform divinations, or attempt to listen in on something far away. However, these methods are unreliable at best.”

A mist pooled in the circle, coalescing into a liquid mirror. Inside was a blurry vision of foals playing, of shouts in games of tag. One foal managed to touch another, but got no further as the circle shredded itself into chunks.

Luna pursed her lips in annoyance. “I'm not very good at it, I'm afraid. But even if somepony else out there is trying to spy on us, the wards in the castle should shut them out. Alicorns in particular are hard to divine, though you'll have to talk to Tia about the particulars.”

Twilight resumed her pace, but her mind ran in circles as much as her body. “So either they have a way to circumvent all that, or… Maybe Charlemane is just that good at reading Celestia? Or maybe they're just being difficult for the sake for being difficult?”

“It's not impossible. He may have suspected Badlands to be compromised in some way, and had everything in motion just waiting for you to get him.” Luna's mane bristled at some unpleasant thought. “But this may be too much a coincidence.”

“True. But…” Twilight clopped her forehooves together. “No, Celestia said she's had plans in place for a while. It's logical to assume Charlemane has plans around this as well.

“Either way, it's a bit moot now,” Twilight reasoned. “I can't stop them directly… If I recall, any Duke removed by the Council can be replaced by them. Celestia can counteract that, but it'd be an unprecedented move, seen as a power grab. She'd need to make a deal with them for that kind of move.”

Luna blew a raspberry in the Council general direction. “That's what I think of any deal. The price tag would be much too high.”

“Yeah, we'd get sticker shock for sure.” Twilight froze again, perking her head up. “Unless… Unless we prove they knew of the corruption! Then they're just as culpable as Badlands is!”

“Pfft.” Luna waved off the idea with a hoof. “There's no way you're going to be able to do that in the next half hour, Twilight, and I doubt Sister could stall them longer than that.”

“Maybe not, but… What if we could show they knew of the general problems in the Duchy, and did nothing? I certainly didn't know how bad piracy had gotten, and it's been downplayed in the papers, characterized as robberies rather than the destruction of trains. But if they knew what was happening, they should have forced the issue in front of the Council, and I know for a fact that they didn't. It's not enough to completely outweigh their leverage, but it could force a compromise.”

Luna scratched her chin with the edge of her metal shoe. “Maybe? But how would you prove something like that?”

“Through Westfalen Defensive! They move so much material to Fort Earthborne, I'd bet bits to donuts that they had a train that was robbed. If we find anything from one of them in that pirate base, and it wasn't reported, we have them! Can you take us back to San Palomino real quick?”

Luna lit her horn, and they found themselves back in the heat of the desert. They were in the encampment, and just outside that, several acres of goods had been arranged in the ground, complete with evidence tags.

“There we go.” Twilight rubbed her hooves together. “Let's get started. You go deep, I'll go across. Look for new military hardware from Westfalen.”

“Oh, is that all?” A pony with a Scottish brogue chuckled. Double Blind stepped up to them through the morass of ponies picking apart the base. Like the rest, he was covered in dust, though it didn't show up very well on his brown coat. Despite the oppressive heat, he wore the same goofy grin as always. “If it's Westfalen hardware you're looking for, I got just the thing. Follow me!”

Twelve rows in, they stopped, and Double banged a hoof on a huge metal something-or-other. It was a shiny chrome, with a cylindrical tube sticking up out of it. Ports for wires were all over, as were mounting points intended for welding.

“This here is a Westfalen weapon - a bucking torpedo launcher. Found it in the base’s hold. It was meant to be replacement parts for the Bellerophon ships, if any ever needed repairs at Earthborne. We're drawing up the orders to cross-check with the fort’s inventory, see if any are missing, but I doubt it was reported. Intelligentsia would've had kittens the moment word came in.”

Luna crushed a rock under her hoof. “I cannot believe pirates got their hooves on a weapon like this. It could kill hundreds, or even thousands!”

Twilight groaned, wishing for a camera just so she could take a picture of Bismare’s face when she dropped this bombshell. “Okay, that's step one. Thank you, Feint.

“Now, time for step two. Luna, can you teleport us to the Hinterlands? I need to speak with a pony in the capital.”

Twilight marched towards the Empyreal Hall, not even bothering to talk to the two Day Guard standing at the doors. She reached out with her magic, undid the lock, and pushed them open with a resounding ka-chunk. The echo slammed into the conversation inside, interrupting it, though only for a moment.

The back and forth between Council members, plus Princess Celestia, kept plodding on, meandering from point of order to argument to baseless claim to rule citing.

Twilight, meanwhile, sat back at the podium reserved for outsiders who were addressing them. They could argue and pretend she wasn't there for a while, but eventually, she'd be too big an elephant to ignore.

Charlemane stood at his place near the top of hall, looking like he wanted to fire a spitball at Bismare. “Please note, Your Highness, there is no direct provision in the Equestrian Compact for what you propose. I would request that you wait for the appropriate time to renegotiate it to insert such a provision.”

Twilight yawned, covering her mouth with her hoof. Unless pandering. After a stretch, she took more note of the other ponies. Not all of the Dukes were present. Buckheart, the Duke of the Hinterlands, was absent, as were Cadence and Obsidian. The Dukes of the Bittish Isles, Marelaysia, and Shanghay were all absent as well.

Celestia, clad in her trademark calm despite the situation, gazed down at him and sipped at her tea. “You'll find, Chairpony, that there is also no provision explicitly limiting me from such a course of action.”

The others were all accounted for, at least physically. Some were quietly chatting between themselves, and Naponion was lightly snoring in a dream. Whether he was drunk was indeterminate at the time.

Charlemane shook his head. “There is, Your Highness. The Equestrian Compact is quite clear about the form of the leadership of the Duchies, and—”

“Unless, Chairpony, there are no acceptable candidates from said Duchy.” Celestia interrupted. “As I've said, the entirety of the nobility of San Palomino, thin though the bench is, has been placed under formal investigation by RGIS. None of them may assume the post.”

“I would suggest, then, that we wait for the conclusion of the investigations. Afterwards, the highest ranking noble that has been inevitably cleared shall—”

Wham! “Unacceptable!” Twilight slammed her hooves on her podium, earning the attention of the entire room. “Chairpony, my report isn't complete yet, but rest assured, what I witnessed in San Palomino disgusted me. It was nothing short of dereliction of duty by the entire nobility!”

Charlemane's eyes of cold steel gazed into her. “That's quite a claim, Grand Mage. Do you have—”

“Damn straight I have evidence.” Twilight pulled out her notebook and flipped through the pages. “My notes are all here, Chairpony. Everything from slavery to towns dying of thirst. Not to mention I uncovered a piracy problem allowed to grow so large that a vicious, merciless pirate was allowed free rein for so long that he managed to build one incredible ship. He had firepower second only to the Bellerophon, and a cloaking device that our military still hasn't figured out.

“It's an unqualified failure of governance, period. That the distress of our ponies did not reach the Council’s ears is a disaster on every single level. So shove your hierarchy, Celestia is absolutely right to reject it.”

Bismare rose up and clicked on her microphone. “I suggest you retract your words, Grand Mage, lest you face censure.”

Duchess Demesne of Manehatten was also eyeing Twilight carefully, and the chatting quickly hushed.

“I'm sorry, Duchess.” Twilight bowed her head slightly. “I retract the words, but not the overall point. This was an unimaginable failure. You have no right to determine the next leader of San Palomino.”

“Yes we do.” Bismare scoffed. “Don't disrespect the Compact, Grand Mage.”

“Right back at you!” Twilight thrust a hoof on her direction. “You're the one disrespecting it! You've failed to live up to your end of the bargain to serve the nation in support of her ponies!”

I am not the one in charge of San Palomino.” Bismare flicked her mane with a hoof. “Maybe if Badlands were here, we could ask him about it.”

“I'm not talking about him. I'm talking about you!

Objection!” Charlemane banged his gavel. “That is out of line, Grand Mage Sparkle! We are discussing San Palomino and Duke Badlands, not Germaney! Leave your baseless accusations at the door, or I shall have them and you removed! Is that clear?”

“Well then, good thing I didn't bring any baseless accusations with me. All I have is grounded accusations and evidence.” Twilight pulled out her documents and smacked them down on her podium. “Duchess Bismare, you are in majority control of Westfalen Defensive Systems, are you not?”

Bismare blinked and stammered. “W-what? What in Tartarus are you even talking about? This doesn't even make any sense!”

Twilight drank on her target’s confusion. There was no fear in her voice — though Twilight hoped it would come. It was mere, simple confusion, and such suited her just fine. “Dukes and Duchesses of the Empyreal Hall, the pirate known as Farriér has been carrying out a campaign of terror on our ponies for years. Entire cargo trains have been hit, with cannons destroying their locomotives, ponies captured to be sold into slavery, and their goods plundered.”

“We are aware.” Charlemane leaned his head on a hoof. “It's been rather a major topic here for a while, Grand Mage. Especially the last few days.”

“And were you aware they've been regularly attacking shipments meant for Fort Earthborne?”

Silence chilled the Hall for a moment. “Go on…” Charlemane said.

“I found a weapon in the pirate base: a torpedo launcher. The kind intended for a Bellerophon-class warship. It was manufactured by Westfalen Defensive Systems.”

Bismare broke out into an instant sweat. “What…”

Twilight smiled and stepped down from the podium to approach the stands of the Dukes. “Here's a copy of the exact model, its picture, serial number, and manufacture date.” She gave out several copies to the lower Dukes, who passed the rest upwards. “It was made over half a year ago. Luna teleported me back to Fort Earthborne to check their records. It was declared a warehouse mix-up that it never arrived. The train also apparently had engine trouble, as it showed up late. Very late.”

Charlemane took a copy, but didn't even look at it. “Bismare, you…” He practically snarled at her. “How many ponies did you lose, Duchess? An attack like that must be reported!”

“None!” Bismare snapped. “They were left near the tracks, and we recovered them all. The attack went unreported to protect the interests of Westfalen. Had we reported it, the collapse in stock price would have mandated layoffs. I would not subject my ponies to that.”

Suisaiga flapped her wings, striking her desk with a thunk. “They took a torpedo launcher! A weapon like that on the black market needed to be intercepted at all cost!”

“A launcher, Watercolour.” Bismare rolled her eyes. “They didn't get any torpedoes. Without the warheads, it's just a fancy hunk of metal.”

“Regardless!” Charlemane slapped Bismare upside her head with the papers.

The wide-eyed mare rubbed her cheek and seethed. “You… Insolent…”

“An attack on that scale must be reported, Duchess!” Charlemane banged his gavel, breaking the piece of wood under it. “You will face consequences for this.”

“Indeed!” Celestia's mane flared with pastel fire, leaving burn marks on her throne and driving every single pony in the room to jump back. “Duchess Bismare, I hereby censure you, and reduce your rank in this Empyreal Hall to twelfth! Further consequences may come from further investigation. By order of the Crown, you are not to leave the city without my permission. Is that understood?”

For an instant, a fire in Bismare's eyes blazed as hot as the one in Celestia’s mane. Yet, it was only for that instant, as it died like a match under a waterfall. “Understood, Your Highness.” Ears back, she picked up her things, and the entire room began a shuffle. Each pony under her moved one seat, leaving space for her at the very bottom.

The Princess’ power waned, returning to its normal, comforting, wavy self. The tea she sipped from, though, was still boiling, and the carpet under her was smoking. “I apologize for my outburst. Would somepony mind retrieving some fresh tea for me? Mine is now quite bitter.”

A Day Guard member marched up and took the tea set from her.

“Thank you. Now, to the matter at hoof.

“Mr. Chairpony, I am refusing your selection of a new Duke. This Council has failed San Palomino at every turn. The ponies of this great nation deserve representation chosen by themselves, not those who abandoned them for so long.”

Twilight cleared her throat. “I couldn't agree more, Your Highness. However, if I may be so bold, the implementation of such a system is fraught with hazards. Leadership is still needed to guide our subjects through to election day, and to organize the election itself. Furthermore, there are pressing issues in the Duchy that must be addressed as soon as possible. I am sceptical that elections are something we can hope to implement anytime soon.”

Celestia looked at her with something somewhere in between shock, hurt, confusion, and incredulity as if Twilight had started wearing a possum for a hat. The rest of the Council wasn't much different.

Twilight swallowed and hoped they didn't see it. “To that end, I've reached out to a pony willing to take the steps necessary to make this vision a reality. Fillies and Gentlecolts, may I introduce Marquis Earthen Pride of the Hinterlands.”

The doors behind her opened on cue, and the tall stallion strode in.

The Empyreal Hall was, much like the throne room, designed to instill a sense of awe into a pony when they entered. It was meant to be a humbling experience to step into the presence of the Sisters and those who helped them rule. It was a reminder of one's place in the world.

Marquis Earthen Pride stood there, in the middle of it all, and crushed that humility under his hoof. “Your Highness, you have failed. Mr. Chairpony, you have failed. Dukes and Duchesses of the Council, you have failed. You have all failed.”

After a brief pause, he added “And indeed, I too have failed.

“While I am not a Marquis of San Palomino, I am a Marquis. I am a leader ponies have placed their trust in, and I have failed to call out the injustices of that state. In fact, it is in such a state of failure that no comparison can be drawn to it in modern history. This is unacceptable.”

He thrusted a hoof towards the entrance. “When I leave through those doors, I am going to San Palomino, and I will save it. I do not care if you hate me. I do not care if you strip me of my rank and assets here and now. I cannot be stopped. You have but two choices: aid me, or be crushed under my advance.

“Which will you choose?”

If Celestia looked surprised before, now she was shocked to her core. However, that was nothing compared to the range of emotions from the Council. Most were astounded out enraged. Naponion, against all odds, still appeared to be dozing, but there was one who was smiling.

“I like him!” Bismare rubbed her hooves together. “He'll need to be brought to heel, of course, but I’ll have him. Somepony have him sent to my—”

Charlemane pinched the bridge of his muzzle. “Finish that sentence, Bismare, and I'll find you in contempt.

“And you, Grand Mage, what bizarre spectacle is this? Some play at a compromise? What do you think—” WHACK!

Earthen Pride had pulled off his boot and thrown it at Charlemane in one remarkable movement.

The Chairpony, wide-eyed, rubbed his cheek. “You… You dare?”

Pride stomped his bare hoof on the ground. “No, Chairpony, it is you who is guilty of brazen behaviour. You speak past me to the Grand Mage without thinking to acknowledge my challenge to this Council. I will not be belittled in such a manner!” Orange eyes every bit as fearless as those of Charlemane himself threatened to set the Empyreal Hall on fire.

Charlemane seethed and hissed. “I refuse. Even if it would keep San Palomino under Council control, I refuse. Nopony such as you should be in our number.”

“Then fight, coward!” The ground rumbled under Earthen Pride, and his horseshoes glowed red.

Bonded artifact! Twilight’s breath stopped. This is bad. Charlemane is unarmed. If

“I hereby invalidate the challenge issued by Marquis Earthen Pride.” Celestia banged her gavel while a Day Guard calmly served her a fresh pot of tea. “Challenges may not be fought in the Empyreal Hall, Marquis. But since emotions are running high right now, I’ll forgive you that trespass provided you avoid further such outbursts.

“Furthermore, I would hear of your thoughts. Tell me, if I gave you the seat of Duke—”


She hushed Charlemane with a bang of a gavel. “If I did, what would you do?”

The Marquis smiled. “Your Highness, I would stop at nothing to save San Palomino. No, not just save it. Make it the crown jewel of Equestria. But, I am assuming you meant to refer to those nobles serving the Duke.”

He took in a breath and closed his eyes. “They would be allowed to stay.”

The nobles stood silent at that, and Celestia frowned.

“Provided, of course,” Earthen Pride said with a devilish grin, “that they sell all their assets except for their houses, and work for me full time. I have no use for corrupt, idiotic layabouts that refuse their full commitment to the Duchy. Anypony who refuses will be replaced first by an interim manager, followed by an elected official.

“And before you ask, no, I won't be limiting elections to nobles. Quite frankly, there are only a hoofful of them in the Duchy in the first place. Worse, so many have had or are most certainly going to have their titles stripped that even if I hired all of the San Palomino nobles left, I wouldn't have near enough ponies. You have all failed that thoroughly.”

“If you are quite done maligning us, you can leave now.” Charlemane stretched his jaw. “Go do whatever it is you think you're doing.”

Celestia sipped her tea and nodded. “Indeed, Duke Earthen Pride. You have much to do.”

If a record had been playing, it would have scratched to a halt and shattered into a dozen pieces. Every other pony in the room had their jaws open, including Twilight.

“What?” Celestia asked, waving a stack of papers. “He's the only candidate who recognized our failure to date, and he spoke of the need to help the Duchy instead of the boilerplate ‘duty to crown and country’ I read from ponies every time there's a spot open.”

She flipped to a page, seemingly hunting for a specific passage. “Honestly, I think I've read a few of these exact paragraphs at least seven times in the last century. Do you really think flowery language is enough to satisfy me when I know it's pulled from a stock pool that the nobility has used for ages?

“Now, I know you all have consultants for this telling you to do it, seemingly forgetting that I’m older than all of them put together. The only reason I put up with it is because of all the time it saves. I can skip all the parts I've seen before.

“The Honourable Earthen Pride showed me pride in his work instead of merely in himself, determination against insurmountable odds, and a willingness to accept both nobles and civilians based on their dedication to the Duchy. That's better than anything you've shown me thus far.

“I gave Duke Badlands and the Council wide latitude and authority in San Palomino as part of a bargain, and they promised it would be a magnificent success. Through failure or negligence, that promise has been broken. More than that, this Council tried to downplay the situation in front of the Crown, to the point of lies by omission.

“And yet, Earthen Pride is a noble. One of your own is taking the seat. Be happy about this, Chairpony. It's the best deal you'll get all day.” The Princess banged her gavel twice. “This docket is closed. The Council will now take a thirty-minute recess.”

Twilight blinked and chuckled to herself. Wow. Either Celestia has a ton of trust in me or I just managed the luckiest political move in over a century. Or she was just that ticked at them that she put him in just to annoy Charlemane…

Her thoughts jumped back on track, and she watched the Council stream out for the recess. Moreover, she waited for Duke Pride to join them, but he strode out of the room only after the others had left. She hopped up from her seat and gave chase, catching him when he stopped in the mezzanine. “Duke! Congratulations!”

Earthen Pride closed his eyes and smiled. “You know, I meant every word I said in there, but I still never expected Her Highness to grant me a seat.” He paused and looked down. “I appear to be quite stunned. Somehow, I left without my boot.”

“Well, the real work starts now, so I hope those boots are comfortable.” Twilight turned her leg ever so slightly, feeling the need for a shower catching up to her. “San Palomino is a mess, Duke. I don't envy your task. But, I was wondering if you would be willing to listen to an idea real quick. Something that may help you in your new Duchy.”

Pride straightened his tie. “Allow me to retrieve my boot, and we have a deal.”

Moments later, they found themselves in Badlands’ old office, which was appropriately covered in dust from misuse. Otherwise, it was much like Charlemane’s, only smaller, and with blue paint on the walls instead of wallpaper.

Pride wiped away dust on the desk with a rag, but thought better of sitting down. “Before we begin, I am curious, Lady Sparkle. Why me? Why not my sister?”

Twilight started dusting with her magic. One way or another, the books in the bookshelf would be clean when she left. “One, while I find you rather severe and extreme, I admire your dedication. Two, your sister is basically guaranteed a seat in the Empyreal Hall. Giving her one early does her no favors.”

Pride sighed. “And giving me one does, which you expect a return on. And here I thought you weren't like the others.”

“I'm still rather new to the game, I'm afraid.” She carried on her dusting to some comics. “But truthfully, I didn't hope it would buy me a favour; I hoped it would earn me a friend. I'm very short on those in the Empyreal Hall.”

He grabbed the cord to the blinds and pulled them up, only to have the entire assembly fall to the ground. Sunlight burned in, lighting the whole room. “Well now, that's a good omen.”

Twilight tilted her head. “It is?”

“My dear Lady, sunlight disinfects. Now, what was this idea of yours?”

“To get the cleaning staff in here ASAP.” Twilight sneezed. “Ugh. Anyway, what do you know of mage guilds?”

Pride became grim. “They were outlawed two hundred years ago. Unicorns were abusing them to maintain a tribalist superiority.”

“Correct. But what if we could rectify that?”

He raised an eyebrow. ”As an earth pony, I find that impossible.”

“I'm not so sure. You see, there are some incredible earth ponies at Fort Earthborne. I saw General Stone take out a bunker emplacement on his own, by crumbling the earth below it with nothing but a stomp of his hooves.

“Now, I'm aware that not everypony is capable of such things. But most unicorns aren't especially powerful, either. Overall, I'm starting to think pegasi and earth ponies aren't as magically weak as some think. I'm actually thinking it's the opposite. The real difference is that we unicorns have an intuitive and flexible way to tap into our power.

“But what if we could level the playing field?” Twilight swiped her magic over the desk, clearing and cleaning it off. One by one, she put tiny dots of light on the surface, each representing a city or town of San Palomino. “Guilds, this time led by earth ponies and pegasi of our choosing, could establish themselves in towns, which in turn could protect and help grow the towns. Though, unlike before when they were quasi-authoritarian agencies, I have a different idea this time around.

“Each town faces unique issues, but all face the untamed wilds. There are numerous hazards in the desert, not least of which are the creatures therein. Instead of having the guilds be overglorified brute squads, this time I want them to be rescue teams!

“They could patrol near their host towns, rescuing ponies from heat stroke, sand traps, sand crabs, or any of the dangers nearby. Search and rescue, not enforcement. Or, if need be, town evacuation in the face of a disaster. All the while under the watchful eye of military representatives, and a caring Duke, of course.”

Pride stroked his chin. “I'm weary of it, to be honest. San Palomino is already rife with corruption. The justice system—”

“I'm not talking about the justice system. I'm talking about protecting towns, or at least the ponies in them.”

There was a pause. “I'm afraid I don't follow.”

Twilight pulled out a blank sheet of paper from the disused desk. “I'm afraid, Duke, that ponies aren't your only worry. I found… something in the desert. Something awful. And, I'm worried it may have been the tip of the iceberg.”

Luna chafed in her seat, shifting around while waiting for the Empyreal Hall to get their collective rears together and get on with the next docket. Celestia had told them they had thirty minutes for their break, not forty.

She scoffed at herself. Like you're one to talk. Calm down, mare. Just because you feel the torture Esteem is going through doesn't mean you should take it out on them. She then remembered who she was talking about. Okay, you should take it out on them, that's just not the reason why.

“Order! Order! This Council is now resuming its session!” Charlemane banged his gavel, now on a new piece of wood. “Next docket is—”

“Pardon me, Chairpony,” Celestia said, now with another fresh pot of water for tea. “There's an urgent matter to attend to. Would the Sergeant at Arms please seal the chambers?”

Lights clicked off, guards led the ponies here for the next docket out, and doors sealed themselves afterwards. Spotlights illuminated the members, but beyond them was darkness.

“I assume we aren't talking about tariffs?” Charlemane asked, folding his forelegs.

“No, Chairpony. Sister?”

Here we go. Luna spread her wings, gliding to the floor of the chambers. Her skin crawled at the idea of what she had to do, but it was necessary. “Fillies and Gentlecolts of the Empyreal Hall, what I am about to tell you is currently classified to Indigo-Cosmic-Magick. Under no circumstances are you to share this with anypony without authorization from the Crown, under penalty of treason.”

She picked the paper in her binder, and put it on the floor. Magic rhythms and words poured from her horn and lips, summoning a spell long since lost to time. Ink on the page glowed blue, and rose from its prison. It grew like a tumor, bubbling out with belches until a form of a beast two stories tall hovered above her.

It was the spitting image of Twilight's drawing.

“This, Dukes and Duchesses of the Empyreal Hall, is a grave threat to Equestria.” Luna eyed them, locking eye contact with a few. Even Naponion was paying attention. “It is a scale representation of what is known as a Titan. What you see before you is but a fraction of the size of the real thing.”

“Surely you're joking!” Suisaiga looked like she lost several shades of colour. “That would make it half as tall as Mount Canterlot!”

“I am not. Fortunately, these beings have been heretofore nonexistent for the last four thousand years.”

“The Chaos War.” Charlemane wiped his brow with a neckerchief. “Summerlands preserve us.”

“Just so, Chairpony.” Luna continued her spell, summoning an outline of Equestria. “They used to be much more common, even before Discord. He wiped them all out for unknown reasons. Now, however, one was detected here, in Northern San Palomino.”

She lit a star at its approximate location, and continued. “Worse, intelligence gathered by Twilight Sparkle during her recent mission indicates there have been yet further sightings. Much as I don't want to admit it, the Titans have returned.

“Our saving grace is time. Titans do not usually approach populated areas… But that's not a rule. Eventually, one will attack our ponies, and you can trust me when I say their destructive potential is catastrophic.”

Bismare fidgeted with her pen. “Can we destroy them with the Bellerophon’s cannons?”

Luna shook her head. “Our current weaponry is not up to the task of engaging a Titan. Twilight Sparkle fought one head-on, and used powerful, devastating magic the likes of which haven't been seen from a unicorn in centuries. She only gave it moderate injuries. It was only by a stroke of purest luck that it was felled. Other ponies were fighting it, and an extremely fortunate citizen was able to destroy it from the inside after she was eaten.

“Obviously, that is not a reliable method of attack. Only some Titans can be destroyed in such a manner. Had it been different, that pony would merely have been digested.”

The Duke of the Bittish Isles was clutching his top hat and shaking. Such was the presence of a Titan. Alicorns had a limited ability to affect their ponies into submission, but it had many limitations. Titans could chill ponies to the bone, or possibly drive them mad from an encounter. Even the image of one was enough to terrify.

Blueblood raised his hoof like a schoolcolt. “How do we defeat them? For that matter, how many are there?”

Luna exhaled a breath she didn't realize she was holding. “In the old days, they sometimes simply appeared in the wilderness when we weren't looking. Their numbers fluctuate, and always replenish.

“As for defeating them, that fell to an alicorn.”

“You.” Charlemane's word rang like a hammer on steel. “You were the one who did it, weren't you? You're going to ask for your blade back.”

I wasn’t usually the one, but there’s no reason to reveal that here. Luna closed her eyes. “Yes. That is what I must ask of you.” I already have Selene back, ingrates. But I can't keep it a secret and fight the Titans.

Suisaiga glared at her. “And how do we know you won't turn it on us?”

Silence draped over the chambers.

“What? That is what we're all thinking.”

“No, Watercolour, that's not it.” Charlemane locked eyes with Luna. “Think about it. If she really fought these things, then whether she has her sword is immaterial. If she were planning on turning on us, she's already powerful enough to wipe us all out with a mere thought.”

Their reactions churned Luna's stomach. “Such is truth, my little pony.” But you knew that already, Charlemane. So why the show?

“Then why do you need your sword?” Bismare asked. “If you're that powerful?”

Well, what do you know, an intelligent question from Bismare. Luna pointed to the image of the titan. “I am afraid that what you see here is a… juvenile, for lack of a better term. It's much smaller and weaker than most.”

Somepony retched, though Luna wasn't sure who. She continued, “If one is spotted too close to a city, even I will have great difficulty defeating it without substantial collateral damage. Selene, my blade, would go a long way to avoiding that.”

A quiet stillness overtook the Empyreal Hall. Luna sat in it, feeling Esteem's torture wracking her back all the while. Yet she didn't so much as twitch.

Charlemagne audibly swallowed. “All in favour of the return of bonded blade Selene to Princess Luna, raise your hoof.”

All the ponies present raised their hooves.

“The decision is unanimous.” Celestia banged her gavel. “Selene will be restored to Princess Luna. However, I believe that it is not all you require, is it, sister?”

“It is not.” Luna pointed to her map. “Titans appear in unpopulated areas. We are woefully ill-prepared to detect them early. I am requesting that you grant me command over a scouting force. I currently estimate I'll need approximately three thousand pegasi to be fully effective — but that number may change. In a pinch, one thousand may suffice, but a Titan could then slip through.”

Blueblood leaned forward. “And you can train them to fight the Titans?”

“Fight? No, that would be madness.” Luna put her hoof on her chest. “I will bear that burden for Equestria. Their task would be to locate, track, and report. The fighting would be left to me.”

“You'll have them.” Charlemane sighed and rubbed his eyes. “But they won't be Night Guard. They'll fall under joint operational command of General Blaze and yourself.”

“That is acceptable.” Luna broke the spell keeping the titan of ink in the air, and it turned to dust. “I thank you for your time, honourable Council. I shall get to work immediately.”

Author's Note:

Chapter time!

March wasn't very productive. But it was better than February. So things are getting better with time.

I'm always a bit nervous about posting a chapter, but I wasn't too nervous on this one. Which meant that my subconscious needed to inform me that not being nervous is the best reason to be nervous.

My subconscious is a jerk.

Hope you all liked this one, and thanks again for sticking with me!

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