• 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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Giving Chase

“So it's confirmed?”

“Memoranda” twitched her ears, listening intently to the conversation behind the closed doors of the Empyreal Tower in Manehatten.

“Yes, the Grand Mage is here.”

“Damn. I was hoping not to have to deal with her for some time. But what’s done is done, and we have contingency plans for this. Execute them; get our key player in place for our tertiary plan.”

Inside “Memoranda”’s mind, the Hive spoke, and her path was chosen even though the words sounded like they came from underwater. “INVESTIGATE TERTIARY PLAN. DELAY REINFORCEMENTS. IDENTIFY HOSTILE FORCE LOCATION.”

“Memoranda” nodded to herself, grinding her teeth while a mental buzzsaw ground against her skull. Each word from the Hive was like chewing on aluminum foil while drowning. It was the same for all changelings in the city, and the Hive knew not why. It only knew that it must be stopped, and so stop it they would.

Duchess Demesne of Manehatten barged through the golden double doors to her office, and adjusted her glasses as she eyed Memoranda. “Transmit these orders immediately, Memo.”

“Right away, Your Eminence.” Memo took the page into her hoof and pushed herself in her chair to a little table at the side of her desk. Her ear twitched at the Duchess retreating back to her office, and she switched the cables on the telegraph machine. She readied to send two messages: both Demesne’s and her own.

With a glance, she took in the encrypted message in full.

“DECRYPTING. THE DOCUMENT CONTAINS ORDERS FOR HOSTILE TEAMS. ORDERS ARE FOR AGENT F TO TRAVEL TO MANEHATTEN. AGENT F MUST NOT ARRIVE IN MANEHATTEN UNTIL OUR OBJECTIVES ARE COMPLETE. DIVERT BY INCLUDING EXCESS STOPS. DRONE SWARMS WILL INTERCEPT TO SABOTAGE RAIL LINES.

“DOCUMENT ORDERS INCLUDE DIRECTIVES FOR SCIENCE TEAM ONE TO TAKE WHAT THEY CAN CARRY AND PROCEED EVACUATION THROUGH EXFIL ROUTE 3, AND TO NOT DESTROY IRREPLACEABLE EQUIPMENT. THE ROUTE THEY ARE TAKING IS UNKNOWN TO THE HIVE. TIME TO INVESTIGATE INSUFFICIENT. SWARM 220 WILL ATTEMPT INTERCEPTION REGARDLESS, THOUGH SUCCESS IS NOT EXPECTED.

ORDERS ARE FOR A FIRE TEAM TO ARRIVE TO ELIMINATE EXPENDABLE RESOURCES AND EVIDENCE. THEIR CURRENT LOCATION IS LISTED IN THE DOCUMENT AND IT'S KNOWN TO THE HIVE TO BE IN SUBGRID 917-224, BUT THEIR DESTINATION LOCATION IS STILL UNKNOWN.

“THE GRAND MAGE’S PRESENCE GIVES US AN OPPORTUNITY. BASED ON HER KNOWN PROFILE, THE ODDS OF HER SUCCEEDING IN HER OBJECTIVES ARE HIGH. WITH THE CORRECT ORCHESTRATION, HER OBJECTIVES AND OURS CAN COINCIDE.

“THE FIRE TEAM MUST BE STOPPED AT ALL COSTS. SWARM 115, INTERCEPT BEFORE THEY ENTER THE UNDERGROUND.”

Memo finished sending the messages, then put the paper into a thaumic incinerator next to her desk. She could feel the trepidation of the drones on the ground, even through the stabbing haze blanketing the city.

She put her hooves on her typewriter, and light overtook her.

A screaming, ringing, crushing wave of sound twisted her mind inside out, and she didn't hear the rest of the hive going through the same until it started to fade. Her lungs heaved as she panted, wheezing out her gasps against her will. When she could see again, she grabbed the papers she'd drooled on and stuffed them in the wastebasket.

The hive spoke again, this time clearer. “UNKNOWN EXPLOSION. TRANSMISSION NOISE REDUCED. NEW SEARCH GRID FOR PRIMARY GOAL: 300-900, 500-1300. SEARCH GRID REDUCED BY FIFTEEN PERCENT. SWARM 116, INVESTIGATE SOURCE.

“ALERT. SWARM 117 HAS DETECTED THE GRAND MAGE AND PRINCESS LUNA ENTERING TELEPORTS. TWO TELEPORTS DETECTED. THE— SWARM HAS LOST CONTACT. MOVE TO REESTABLISH CON—”

“Belay that.” Chrysalis, the Queen herself, spoke in her mind, as well as the minds of all the drones. “Avoid all contact with them. Princess Luna would slaughter you all in a blink if she detects you, and the Grand Mage could easily defeat a large number of you herself.”

Images of Twilight Sparkle fighting in the failed attempt to take over Canterlot more than a decade and a half ago appeared in her head. Bolts streamed from her horn, knocking dozens of changelings out of the fight.

I'm fairly certain she was holding back then, and she is at least an order of magnitude more powerful now. Reports are that she literally ripped a hole in time just a little while ago. Under no circumstances will you allow yourself to come into contact with her or Luna. Your Queen has commanded you.”

The hive cowered before her. “ORDERS UPDATED. SWARM 117, PULL BACK. STAY IN RESERVE. SWARM 115, BE ADVISED, TARGET TOO DANGEROUS TO ATTEMPT CAPTURE. ENGAGE TO DESTROY.”

The battle between the swarm and fire team took ages, even if the clock told her it was over in under ten seconds. Normally, she should be able to feel, see, and hear everything the six changelings in Swarm 115 experienced. Under the haze, though, only the pain made it through.

In the end, all six minds were extinguished. Each line to the drones grew cold, and vanished.

“SWARM 115 HAS BEEN DESTROYED. HOWEVER, THEIR TARGET WAS ALSO DESTROYED. SWARM 118, DIVERT TO GRID.

Memo shivered and pressed her hooves to her forehead. The pain from 115 lasted only moments, but the background metallic grinding ever-present in the city hadn't faded. If anything, it was worse.

The Hive pressed its influence in the back of her mind, releasing pain-blocking chemicals to ease her. Yet to her senses, it was as effective as trying to drown out a meat grinder with only a few soft words. But she couldn't stop now. The Hive wouldn't allow it. The Queen wouldn't allow it. She would be Memoranda for as long as it took.


Twilight sipped her coffee in Luna's floor of the war room, waiting for Intelligentsia to read her report. With each sip, another possibility ran through her mind, and was put into a pile labelled “What the heck am I doing I don't have enough information to speculate right now.”

“Well, this is a fine mess.” Intelligentsia leaned back in her chair. “I wasn't aware that changelings had dug so deep into Manehatten.”

“And that blood circle? Something is up.” Twilight pulled a loose thread off Intelligentsia’s uniform. “I feel like all I've got is this. I don't have sight of the whole garment. But… what's interesting is that, so far, I don't have any evidence that the changelings are doing anything other than their usual shtick. What do you think, Gen?”

“I agree with you so far. But I need more information to do a connection map.” Intelligentsia unscrewed her energy-drink flask and took a swig. “One thing I want to know is if there are more of those blood circles. Many spells like that work with more than one.

“Another thing I want to know is what, if anything, Duchess Demesne is doing about the changelings. I absolutely understand wanting to keep things quiet. No need to cause a panic. But the Crown needs to know about these things. We have resources she doesn't.”

Twilight leaned back and folded her forelegs. “Yeah. Like me. About the only solace I have is that I have no evidence that any ponies that have been taken are in mortal danger. That will change if we’re looking at an invasion, though.”

“I seriously doubt that's what's up,” Intelligentsia answered. “The only reason they nearly succeeded all those years ago was because they nearly had Celestia, Armor, Cadence, and yourself all at once. That's enough of a hostage situation to stay Luna's hoof.

“But taking on Manehatten? I doubt they have the numbers to really pull that off, and quite frankly, if it comes down to it, the Crown will be happy to sacrifice the life of a Duchess to save such a large city. Luna would charge in and start some carnage, and Chrysalis knows it.

“No, there's something else going on. Something we can't imagine yet. Whether it's the changelings or some other group, I have no idea.”

Twilight tapped her hoof on her chin. “What I need is a way to find those other circles, if they exist. I only stumbled upon the first one. Maybe that's the whole ‘Ascension is eventful’ thing at play, or maybe it was a subconscious pull in my magic that noticed it, but I kinda doubt I'll pull that off twice. Problem is, I don't know any magic that would help here. The powers at work are just so different from anything I've seen before.”

Intelligentsia took off her glasses and sighed. “Not my area of expertise. You'll have to ask the Sisters, but I don't know if even they know anything that would help.”

“Then I suppose I need to look at another resource. I'll be back to check in later. Right now, I need a mountain of caffeine.”

Intelligentsia yawned and picked up some of her work. “Go for it. I have a priority chariot to catch to get to Manehatten. The Princess wants me to ruffle some feathers at MPD. I'll probably meet you there.”

Twilight giggled as her mind turned more and more towards coffee. “Good luck!”


Twilight sat down next to the fireplace and her giant carafe of coffee, then pulled the first book from her stack. Normally, she'd do this with her guards, particularly next to Rainbow, who was still in the hospital. However, these books could not leave the Sisters’ private library.

The ancient walls and floor were made of stone hundreds of years old, and despite being cool to the touch, they were dry as a desert. The bookshelves were much older than her, and not as well-maintained as she would have liked. Though she supposed Celestia was too busy for such matters, that didn't excuse Luna for the last decade and a half.

It took her an hour just to comb through the shelves to find some books that looked like they might help. The only reason it was even done that quickly was that many of the books were written in languages utterly lost to time, and the Princesses were too busy to sit there and translate for her.

Halfway into the first book, a message from the throne room arrived.

Twilight,

What you are describing is called Hemothaumaturgy. It's not officially banned, but only because doing so would announce its existence to the world. The prisoners from the coup attempt who escaped were using a crude variant of it. Though mostly the work of the outside agent, the circles had enough magic to form a kind of beacon.

Yet, that isn't the end of that school of magic. It is ancient and powerful, but easily leads to places dark and evil. With fresh blood from the right ponies, anyone could cast spells derived from the magic taken from the blood. Earth pony, unicorn, zebra, gryphon: it matters not who is casting, but only whose blood is used.

I know that there exist some notes on the topic in our library, but for the life of me, I cannot remember which book they're in. You'll have to search the library yourself. When you do find it, please take careful heed of the warnings within.

My own knowledge is generally limited to how to defend against it, though the truth is that the best defense against the worst of those spells is simply to deny the enemy a sample of your blood.

Still, there are examples of Hemothaumaturgy spells in there somewhere; it's just been too long for me to remember where off the top of my head. Should you find it, you have my express permission to use any of them that you feel you must, but I would request that you only do so when you absolutely must. I tremble at the thought of losing you to the temptations of dark magic.

-Tia

Twilight shuddered at what she may be about to find, and set herself to work.

By the time she finished the third pile, Twilight was half asleep and thinking about the coming dawn, and had long ago drank the last drop of her coffee. There was enough caffeine in her system to bring back the dead, but that didn't stop her eyelids from weighing as much as an anvil. It would have helped if more of the books had indexes or tables of contents. Most, though, were collections of notes from mages long since passed, along with a few written by the Princesses themselves.

At least my guards are probably getting some good sleep for once. Wish I could say the same. She fought her yawns, but her defenses were quickly overwhelmed. Note to self: have Celestia cast that wake-up spell on you again. You're going to need it to not waste the coming daylight.

She eyed the books she'd gone through. It was a respectable cross-section of high-level magic across many fields, and some looked like props in a horror play. Others less so, but none had anything of use.

I need to change up my approach. Twilight stood, swallowing her yawn down, only for it to become an inevitable burp later. I've been looking at topics and schools so far, trying to find stuff that might be in the same ballpark. That's gotten me nada so far. What can I look for instead?

Authors.

What ponies, what mages of times past do I know of who sound like the kind of deranged minds that would love this stuff? Starswirl was nuts, but he was mainly looking into, or rather obsessed with, higher-dimensional magic. Crimson Spectre wasn't the type. He was home on the battlefield, and Stellar Horizon was too level-headed.

That leaves the non-ascendants.

Twilight went through the shelves, adding book after book to a growing cloud of magic. The books on the shelves were stored in what could be called a haphazard manner, if one was being extremely generous. It was a mass of entropy hastily thrown together in an effort to “clean” up after the Siege of Canterlot, and neither Twilight nor the Sisters really had time to sort through the mess.

It was the perfect time to separate what was written by the Princesses, what was notes from an individual pony, those she didn't know the language of, and everything else. Anything from the first category was lovingly placed back on a shelf, while all the books from the second were quickly examined and placed in piles alphabetised by the author’s name. Naturally, the ones in an unknown tongue had their own pile.

The thought of the phrase “unknown tongue” made Twilight dizzy until she could shudder hard enough to put the incident where Luna sliced off a part of herself out of her mind. Sorting! She had to focus on sorting, especially on books and notes from individual mages. Those were placed in reserve for her own, more thorough examination.

Midway through, though, a singular book caught her eye. It was small, and recent if the typeface had anything to say about it. The cover depicted a tall, almost comically handsome stallion with a rose in his mane and a blade on his back.

Twilight swallowed as she felt the blood rush to her cheeks. This can't be… Tell me this isn't. She opened to a random page, and read. Her head burned from her blush, and it threatened to set her mane on fire from embarrassment. Swallowing, she flipped the page. They actually included a picture of—

The staircase to the outside groaned a bit, and Twilight’s heart stopped, dropping all the books in hey magic to the floor. Her mental committees were screaming in a panic, and only the silence of the next few seconds restarted her heart.

Sweet Celestia, that was close. Okay, no more of that. She dropped the book into a new pile she mentally labelled “fiction” and continued her sorting algorithm, growing her piles at a solid two books per second. When that was done, her ear twitched at the fact that the “fiction” pile had grown. She didn't remember putting anything there, at which point her brand new mental committee on maintaining alicorn sanity told her that the associated memories must have been deleted for her own safety.

This explanation was accepted without argument.

The next task focused on the books written by individual mages, especially the personal notes. Those few written by her predecessors were quickly sorted out, and the next filter was anything with titles or authors that were highly unlikely to be involved with blood magic. In the process, though, some dirt caught her eye.

It was very fine and crusty, and seemed to infest the edges of the book. This… Twilight opened it up, flipping through pages until she found a drawing of a magic circle. Though the symbols were nothing like those in the changeling circle, she still couldn't take her eyes off it. Particularly because it was written in blood.


“Tia!” Twilight yelled, holding up her notebook. “I have a plan I need your help with!”

The crowd in the throne room all turned to her, murmuring about what the Grand Mage was talking about. What earth shattering thing was about to happen?

Celestia sipped her tea. “I do apologize, everypony, but I'm afraid this must be done in private. Please file out in an orderly fashion; this shouldn't be long.”

The ponies leaving grumbled about leaving when they finally had an audience with Her Highness, but they left nonetheless. In a moment, only the Princess, Raven, a Day Guard, and Twilight herself were left.

“Princess,” Twilight said, bowing formally as the throne room all but forced her to. “I found the spell book, and I have the start of a plan. But I've been up all night and I'm dead on my hooves. I need you to cast the wakefulness spell on me so I can continue for another day or so.”

Celestia frowned. “I will do so if you wish, but there's a limit to how far the spell can push things. Be warned, after it wears off, it will feel as if the air weighs like water, and you will pass out shortly thereafter.”

Twilight nodded. “I understand and accept the risk. But I must put things into motion.”

“Very well.” Celestia lit her horn, and a moment later, Twilight felt liquid energy course through her veins, lighting her nerves up like the Manehatten skyline.

“Thank you, Tia.” Twilight tapped her book. “And don't worry about me with this magic. I've figured out a trick I can do without resorting to direct Hemothamauturgy.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

Twilight smiled. “Yup. All I need to finish it is to visit a very particular pony.”


CLACK!

Ow!”

Twilight let go of the trigger and pulled out the needle from Moon Petal. “Got it! This should be plenty!”

Luna turned up an amused smile, but stayed silent next to Trixie and the other ponies in her secret base in Manehatten.

Moon Petal rubbed the spot between her chitin plates. “Freaking hurt.”

“Sorry.” Twilight pulled out the vial and eyed the neon green goo inside. “Never did that before. And even if I had, it wouldn't have been on a changeling. Until yesterday I didn't even know we had a changeling friend. But this should let me start figuring out what the heck is going on in this city.”

A gold flare appeared over Luna's head, and unfurled into a scroll. “Oh, Sister has a message.” She opened it up and read, then twisted her smile into a frown. “For the love of Mystery… Twilight, we must away; there's a pony waiting for us in the city.”

Trixie automatically moved closer to Luna. “Glad I got sleep. My stomach might not have been up for teleportation if I hadn't.”

Twilight waggled her notebook. “Yeah, took me a while to find the book because somepony didn't organize the private library.”

Luna chuckled as the bloom of teleportation overtook them. “I admit nothing!”

It took a few jumps for Luna to home in on the target, but once they did, they found themselves on a nearly empty rooftop café. A couple at a table and the employees were somewhat shocked at first, but kept things to quiet whispers.

The other pony at the café was just finishing a breakfast, but stood and bowed at the presence of royalty. “Thank you for coming, Your Highness.” Intelligentsia said, rising. “I apologize for springing this on you.”

Luna stood, raised her horn, and cast a blue privacy spell around the group to block eavesdropping and spies. “Something must be urgent for a summons like this.”

Intelligentsia pulled out a manila folder. “Duchess Demesne is being catty. Yesterday evening, a group of changelings attacked a group of ponies. Nopony on either side survived. The authorities were on the scene in moments, and sanitized the scene extremely quickly, referring to the changeling remains as an undisclosed “biohazard” on official paperwork.

“The morning papers claimed it was a mafia shootout with many casualties, which didn't set off alarm bells for us at first. But a smaller paper claimed there was a changeling in the mix, and now extra editions from the other papers are agreeing.

“The Duchess should have notified us immediately, but delayed until the papers had the story. Her office claims it was a miscommunication and they didn't know until just before we did, but given Manehatten’s bureaucracy, I find that suspicious despite its believability.

“Moreover, the ponies killed belonged to a small security company whose address is a P.O. box and didn't seem to have a real, physical location for a headquarters… at first. But we tracked it to a larger company. RGIS is questioning them now, but there’s a good chance it’s a red herring.

“As for me, Princess Celestia sent me here to launch a concurrent, separate, but parallel investigation with Lady Sparkle. That Captain Armor trained me in tactics to counter changelings makes me a natural choice. With both of us here, odds are that one of us is going to be overlooked. And if worse comes to worst, I can provide material military reinforcement.”

Twilight skimmed over the documents. “Stranger and stranger still. Doesn't change my plans, but I'll keep in touch. Any advice on how to deal with changelings?”

“Yeah, keep back to back with your teammate, and use area-of-effect magic. Preferably a kind that can puncture chitin armor. They’re tricky but squishy. Friendly fire might happen, but any civilian ponies with any sense will be running for their lives.”

Twilight nodded. “Squishy. Gotcha.”

Trixie held up a hoof. “Um, does that mean we're going to be breaking down the door of a Duchess?”

Twilight gave back the documents to Intelligentsia and shook her head. “Nope. I'm not going to make a move as obvious as that. She's likely already prepared for me, so it would probably be a waste of time. Thus, we continue my original plan… after coffee and a croissant or two, since we're at a café and I'm hungry.”


“So, what's the plan, exactly?”

Breaking away from staring off the edge of the building, Twilight opened the flap of her saddlebags, then found the vial of Moon Petal’s blood. “This. Changeling magic is rather uniform, and I have a hot sample right here. We're going to cast a linear detection spell together, using this vial to tell the spell what to look for. Then, we'll walk down the road on opposite sides. If we pass a changeling, it'll ping us, and we can close in and try to catch them.

“If we're really lucky, we'll be able to interrogate them, maybe sever their connection to the hive like Luna did to Moon Petal. That should help us find their hidden base of operations, and save the victims.”

Trixie nodded. “And then we nail Duchess Demesne?”

“If possible. Though right now, my priority is the kidnapped ponies.” Twilight pulled out Trixie’s copy of the spell. “Here. Your end is pretty simple; mine is the part that needs the vial.”

“Gotcha. Shall we head down?”

“Let's!” Twilight opened the roof access door behind them and led the pair down the stairs. The building was an unremarkable office tower, one of hundreds in the city, but also one attached to an especially busy street in downtown Manehatten. At all hours of the day, there would be thousands of ponies coming and going every which way.

Though yesterday had been a local holiday, today was a workday, and nowhere was that more clear than at the ground-level lobby. Ponies were walking in a steady stream, clocking in to their jobs.

Nudging past and against the flow, Twilight made her way outside and into the late summer's day. The sun had a good dollop of edge to it, enough for Twilight to know that it would be a hot one. The sweat sticking to her legs almost immediately told Twilight that this wasn't the desert, but that the city weather would find still find a way to be miserable.

Trixie took off across the street and through the flowing crowd, horn subtly aglow with magic.

Twilight turned right, keeping pace with Trixie as they went down the street. She tried to hide her vial, but sighed as some immediately gave her odd looks. No point hiding it. She started her walk, finishing and tying her spell to Trixie’s. Amazingly enough, after she stopped trying to not be creepy, ponies stopped paying her any mind.

The gold glow of morning had already long given way to a bright, sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky, at least so far. With all this humidity, I bet the weather response teams are going to have a busy afternoon.

Passing the third falafel cart of the walk made her thankful she'd already eaten at a café. When she'd been a filly, she got to see where the home base for the city’s food carts were when she was on a field trip. “Never again” was what she had sworn to herself. Not even when they looked stupendously mouth-water—You stop that, brain!

They passed from a largely office-filled area to a more mixed commercial zone, which really just meant the office buildings had lucrative retail space at the bottom level. The mix of businesses was as diverse as the city itself, and many of the shops were just opening their doors for the day.

Ping!

Twilight perked her ears up, and slowed her pace to a crawl. The next clop of her hooves on the pavement was painstakingly made to reconnect with that sound only audible to herself and her guard.

Trixie had slowed, too, and an instant later, it came again.

Ping!

Twilight's eyes darted to the left, but her head stayed frozen stiff. There were a few ponies lined up between them, but they could only go after one target. Moreover, in all likelihood, only one was even a changeling.

Noticing that Trixie was slowing down, Twilight picked up the pace, eventually lining up to just one of the original trio.

Ping!

Target confirmed. Twilight nodded so Trixie could see, and the two angled just a bit inwards to come alongside the target, getting closer with each step. The sea of ponies seemed to sense what was coming, and parted a way for them through the crowd.

The changeling perked up as if coming out of a daze, and met eyes with the Grand Mage.

Twilight leaned into him. “Keep walking. Don't make a scene, don't try to run. Cooperate and I'll be willing to negotiate. Don't, and—”

In a flash of green, the changeling took off into the air without its disguise. It weaved through a few pegasi, leaving a streak of green behind it.

Twilight sighed, and powered her horn. A moment later, she appeared in the path of the changeling, and braced herself for the impact. Hot wind and an insectoid buzz tickled her ear as her target narrowly avoided her tackle, and Twilight reached out to swat its leg as it passed.

The changeling tumbled in mid air, landing on the back of its head with a CRACK and went into a roll on the pavement. Wobbling and chittering, it tried desperately to enter a run while little stars of green magic sputtered around its head.

Twilight ran after it, horn charged and ready. Sweat turned to ice as Aurora deployed, and lightning kicked through her hind legs. Scenery blurred as she focused in on her target. She grabbed hold of it at the abdomen, yanking as she fell and pulling it to the pavement. Her horn lit, and she squeezed harder as the changeling kicked and bucked.

“No you don't!” Twilight twisted her spell and fired it, only to feel the changeling squish and twist itself at an angle no pony could manage. The spell hit the ground and fizzled, while the changeling flexed its chitin and managed to make a literal pop as it escaped from her grasp.

Twilight followed the changeling through the air with her teleports, soaring by the crowds and reaching a small plaza with a fountain. She pushed her magic hard, coming out of her teleport ahead of the changeling. She landed on all fours and pushed down hard on one side, spinning around as she slid.

The changeling turned and bolted towards one of the shops around the plaza, and Twilight followed suit.

She burst into a fancy, high-end kitchenware store. Normally, the warm wood walls, the scent of cookies baking, and the careful arrangement of goods would either put a pony at ease or in concern solely about her wallet. But suddenly, the place was overcome by chaos, with most of the customers screaming and running out where Twilight had entered. A few others cowered in a corner, and the lone employee hid behind the cashiers’ counter. One blue unicorn stallion was still staring wide-eyed at a wall of expensive frying pans, so blissfully unaware of what was going on around him that he didn't even try to move his blond mane, which had fallen in front of his eyes.

The changeling was trying to buck at the door to the storeroom and was lighting its horn. It blasted at the door, buckling the wood and splashing a magic shockwave back behind it.

Twilight dove to the counter, and the blast soared overhead and slammed into all the walls, knocking almost all the merchandise off the walls in a thunderous cacophony of clanging metal. The entranced stallion had been thrown into the wall, and at least half a dozen frying pans landed square on his head.

Twilight let out a growl and leapt over the counter and registers, racing into the back storeroom. The inside was more like a small office, narrow and a depressing grey. To the left was an employee bathroom, and to the right was the office and a metal emergency exit, which the changeling was aiming its horn at.

The changeling tried to blast it like the other door, but its magic had gotten weaker with the pursuit, and the heavy door only groaned in response. The changeling bucked at it, then pushed with all its might, flailing and pounding its forehooves on it in desperation.

“Hey,” Twilight said in a hushed voice. “It's okay. Let's just talk about this. I don't want to hurt you.”

The changeling rammed a shoulder into the door, and the lock finally clicked, but the door still would not budge, so the changeling returned to kicking it.

Twilight gave it a second look and noticed that it was a delayed fire door. A pony would have to push the lever for ten seconds before it would unlock, but the box that was locking the door had been twisted by the spell. It panicked and tried to blast its way to freedom, but that just sealed the door shut.

“Look, I know you know who I am.” Twilight pulled at Aurora, and undeployed her armor. “You should know through the hive that I always prefer talking over fighting. There's no reason for this to end in bloodshed. I can assure your safety and release if you cooperate.”

The changeling gave her a look of sorrow and sniffed.

“I know it looks bad, bu—” Twilight's jaw fell open, and her heart squeezed itself in her chest.

The changeling’s chitin grew pustules and cuts, and its body swelled up like a balloon. Cracks and impossible, horrible sounds sent Twilight's ears back, and the changeling’s limbs merged into its body. In one final act, it burst with a ground-shaking boom, the whole corpse instantly dissolving into a green goo that splattered and covered every surface in the tiny office, save for a vaguely Twilight-shaped gap behind her.

Twilight stood still for several more moments while her heart either calmed down or restarted; she wasn't sure which.

“I can't comprehend this…” Aurora said through tears. “It didn't want to do that. You could see it in its eyes. It just… did…”

Twilight finally closed her mouth, then spat out some of the goo. “Celestia wept… Queen Chrysalis…she must have seen this happen over the hive mind and forced the poor thing to take its own life.”

Aurora paused, and if she had tear ducts, they would have been overflowing. “Twilight… I think I want us to go after Chrysalis. She has to answer for this.”

If we ever get the chance, I'll face her, Twilight replied. Without question. And I'll bring my brother. If you think we're angry at her, it's nothing compared to him.

But as for right now, my plans just shifted. We don't have a reliable way to capture a changeling and interrogate it. In a combat situation, we may not have the luxury of being able to focus on merely cutting off the horn instead of incapacitating the changeling.

We're going to have to turn this case on its head, and the first step is… She looked down at herself. The goo was slimy, runny, and was already leaving a tacky, sticky feeling as it was drying. Getting clean. By the way, why didn't you redeploy?

Aurora sniffled. “I was caught off guard! I… I just couldn't believe what we were seeing…”

That makes two of us. Twilight turned and marched out of the office and back out into the store. She winced at the eyes on her. “The changeling has been… neutralized. Sorry about the mess.”

Trixie had stepped into the store at that moment, quickly taking in the situation with her wide eyes. “Sorry Trixie was late, Lady Sparkle…”

“It's okay; just let me pass,” Twilight said, nudging her way past and making a beeline for the nearest fountain. The crowd was already at a minimum of a hundred strong and growing ever larger, and looking up, she saw that police pegasi were already in a dive. Time for Sender's Shower.

She cast it in the fountain, and hopped in before the waterfall fell on her. The goo readily washed off, dissolving in the universal solvent, though she still had to splash around to get her underside.

“Lady Sparkle!” Trixie had pulled out the blue stallion from before, and he was still completely out of it, groaning and drooling. “I think he's really hurt!”

Twilight motioned to a nearby flarewell as the police landed and took the stallion off her hooves. “Trixie, fire a flare and get some medics here.” As Twilight finished her impromptu shower, she watched Trixie rush over to the flarewell.


Trixie pumped her legs down the street, though she didn't have to go far, as the nearest flarewell was under a block away.

Flarewells were an invention Manehatten had invested in heavily. Each was a trio of little boxes on top of a short pole, and they lined the streets all over the city. There was at least one between every intersection of road, and they were the crown jewel of the city's public safety.

Each of the three boxes were a different colour. Blue stood for police, while red was for firefighters, and white for medics. On the side of each box was a little door, and when Trixie pulled the white one open, it revealed a lever with the text “PULL FOR EMERGENCY MEDICAL RESPONSE — PENALTY FOR MISUSE.”

She yanked it out hard, and there was a barely audible hiss for only a second before a white flare shot up from a tube on top of the box. It flew higher than any of the mighty buildings of Manehatten, its bright light silently crying out help.

Several ambulance chariots were on the ground and following Trixie’s direction to the injured stallion in under thirty seconds. This was why obvious, noisy crimes that drew attention to the criminals — such as the bank robbery from the other day — were so rare in Manehatten. Police, fire, and medical ponies were always orbiting high above the neighbourhoods. If somepony used a flarewell, emergency assistance could be nearly guaranteed to arrive in a minute or less, to say nothing about the flying personnel just straight-up seeing something wrong and heading down to check.

All this combined to give Manehatten the finest emergency services anywhere in the entire world.

It also meant crime had become more stealthy. Mob attacks weren't done with drive-by spells or guns like they had been in the past — now they had to resort to poison or time bombs. The city also had more pickpockets than anywhere else, along with so much white-collar crime that the police had thousands of ponies investigating nothing but that.

Trixie swallowed a lump in her throat at the sight of it all. The flying in of bearers of help, compassion, and unconditional aid at the pull off a lever. At the very least, that poor stallion with a quill and scroll cutie mark would be alright. That was a pretty nasty bump on his head. The frying pans must have fallen off the wall and right onto his skull. It's too easy to forget that not every unicorn has my earth pony magic to prevent injuries like that.

Trixie nudged her way through the first few layers of the now huge crowd, then gave up on that idea. Ponies could be stubbornly curious, at times. As Twilight says, time for some lateral thinking. Or in this case, vertical!

She charged her horn, and ran through the calculations. There were two major parts to Twilight's short range teleportation spell, and the first was literally a bunch of math that Trixie just didn't have much practice with, and it was the main reason her own attempts at teleportation had failed for so long. It took Twilight to teach her the right way to do it, albeit while Rainbow complained about being bored.

The second was what she thought she could already do, but Twilight showed her a better way. She took the math, and turned it into a point in space where she wanted to be, which was what she always did before. Then, she imagined space around her pushing her through to her destination, like a surfer who braved the waves of spacetime instead of water.

Pink light overcame her, and she popped into existence above the opening in the crowd. Her hooves touched down next to a soaked but clean Twilight, and she got a few looks from the police before they realized from her armor that she was obviously with the Grand Mage herself. Afterwards, they started marching out to clear the crowd from the area.

Ears back, Trixie stood next to the Grand Mage. She glanced at Twilight, but quickly gave herself a mental slap to the back of the head to stand straight. She was a member of the Evening Guard, and had to act the part.

Still, her chest was shivering. Something happened in there, and Twilight had to destroy the changeling completely. The rage in Twilight's eyes was the same she had for Farriér, and he wound up disintegrated through a temporal wound in space-time. Whatever she was angry at was in for it, and Trixie wanted to make sure she wasn't in the crossfire, be it emotional or otherwise.

“L-Lady Sparkle?” Trixie whispered. “What now?”

“Now we change up our strategy. I want to get back to our base of operations, maybe find Luna and talk to the Night Guard again. Among other things…” Twilight narrowed her eyes at an incoming chariot, this one long and black. The four pegasi pulling it had suits instead of uniforms, and it came in for a much smoother landing than most cabbies would ever bother attempting.

Trixie glanced from her friend to the chariot and back again. What is in an alicorn’s eyes that we can't see? “What's wrong?”

“Nothing, not yet. I'm pretty sure that vehicle is for us. Come on, let's go.”

Trixie hopped into a trot to follow Twilight to the vehicle. Ice ran through her veins and froze one of her legs as a pair of stallions exited, each also wearing a fancy suit.

Get it together, GP. Trixie sucked in a breath and moved to Twilight's side to meet the newcomers. Every Templar I’ve ever seen had the same colour coats and manes, but these guys have different heights and colours, and even their suits are all wrong.

“Gentlecolts, how may we help you today?” Twilight asked, a formal if insincere smile on her face. “We are rather busy today, as you can see.”

The tan earth pony smiled back. “Yes, catastrophic messes don't make themselves. Allow me to introduce myself, Lady Sparkle. I'm Mr. Clock, special assistant and security detail of Duchess Demesne. She has attempted to reach you lately, but apparently our messages could not reach you.

“Our sincerest apologies on that front. To rectify this, she has sent us to find you to take you to her office downtown. The Duchess wishes to meet with you, urgently.”

Trixie raised an eyebrow and huffed. “And if we refuse?”

Mr. Clock shrugged. “Normally at this point I'd get aggressive and say ‘I insist,’ but I know quite well that won't work this time. But understand that refusal would be a grave insult.”

“That's quite alright, Mr. Clock.” Twilight motioned to the open chariot door. “In fact, I would love to formally meet Duchess Demesne. May we trouble you for a lift?”

Mr. Clock bowed his head. “Of course, My Lady. It would be our honour. Please, step inside and make yourself comfortable.”

Trixie’s eyebrow shot to the sky. “Are you certain, Lady Sparkle?”

Twilight nodded. “Quite so. I've already scanned them, and they are unarmed. If they were going to cause trouble, they wouldn't have come like that when dealing with a protected Grand Mage. Come, we have a noble to meet.”

Trixie fought the urge to shrug. “By your command, Lady Sparkle.” She ducked inside after the others, and in seconds, they were in the air, off to meet the Duchess of Manehatten.

Author's Note:

Must... write... more...

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