• Published 1st Oct 2020
  • 1,894 Views, 297 Comments

Equal Opportunity Ascension - Cast-Iron Caryatid



Twilight Sparkle is a bit underwhelmed with her ascension to alicornhood and, after a disastrous coronation ceremony, it becomes clear that something is missing. It'd be a shame if somepony else got to it before she did.

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Chapter 12

“Well, that happened,” Rainbow Dash rudely exclaimed, dropping herself as heavily as a pegasus could back into her seat on the train, crossing her forelegs in annoyance. “We had her! We had her and she got away!”

As one of the ponies who had gone searching for Sunset after she’d teleported away in the middle of having some sort of seizure, Twilight supposed that Rainbow Dash had the right to be frustrated, but for the most part she was alone in that—or at least in expressing it quite so loudly.

Fluttershy, on the other hoof, was very clearly upset; possibly even more than Princess Celestia, who was at least confident that if Sunset Shimmer could escape, then that meant that she was fine.

Fluttershy was more deeply affected. As a pegasus, she hadn’t recognized the telltale signs of a teleport and had believed that the mare had crumbled to dust under her care.

Rarity was doing what she could to comfort her.

Twilight… had mixed feelings. Yes, she still felt the shadow of the threat that Sunset Shimmer posed to her and her magic looming over her, lending a sense of malice to everything Princess Celestia’s ex-student did, but at the same time…

Laying there on the floor suffering from some sort of magical backlash, Twilight had come to a realization that she had completely missed back in the castle when she’d been keeping her distance.

Maybe it was that she’d been vulnerable or maybe it was something to do with her crystalline form—Twilight didn’t think so, but it was possible—but laying there scared, crying and shaking, Sunset had just looked so… young.

Sunset Shimmer hadn’t looked like a mare ten years her senior, bitter and jaded after living a life in exile and planning revenge; she had looked like a lost and lonely teenager lashing out at the life and the mare who had failed to love her.

Admittedly, she was probably both, but still. The idea that Sunset had actually looked younger than Twilight by a few years… well, it got her thinking.

***

The remainder of the trip back home was quiet and uneventful, giving Twilight a lot of time to think. That wasn't always a good thing with her, but in this case, a little time and distance did help her get some perspective.

“Really, Twilight,” Rarity admonished her for moping a bit over breakfast the next morning. “You don’t actually have much to complain about.”

“Don’t have…?” Twilight wasn’t angry over the statement because she was just that dumbstruck.

“Well, yes,” Rarity said. “If you think about it, we may not have caught Sunset Shimmer—or even really ‘won’ this encounter to any extent that feels good—but Sunset Shimmer has definitely lost. Here we are, on a train, hurtling towards our destination at eighty miles an hour while she cowers in the dirt somewhere. It is far from the ideal situation, not the least because leaving somepony in her condition out in the middle of nowhere isn’t something I can condone, but your magic, at least, is safe.”

Twilight wasn’t so sure that ‘safe’ was accurate so long as Sunset Shimmer was still out there, but she didn’t argue the point and did her best to see it from that perspective.

Paradoxically, what helped the most was actually the source of her remaining uneasiness in the first place—because everypony still seemed to be operating on the unspoken assumption that Twilight would just show up at the Everfree, instantly receive her missing magic and be home in time for dinner. On the one hoof, it meant that she couldn’t just let the issue of Sunset Shimmer go—but on the other, there was nothing she could actually do about that and figuring out just how she was going to reclaim her magic was much more important right then.

It wasn’t exactly inner peace, but it worked for her.

***

As expected, trying to solve a problem with no new information to go on was not wildly successful and by the time the train was pulling up to Ponyville, Twilight was no closer to figuring out how exactly she was going to get the ancient and mysterious powers of the Everfree inside of her.

A fact of which the rest of her friends were woefully unaware. They all waved happily at her as the group split up, eager to see family members, get back to their usual routines and sleep in their own beds for the first time in a week and a half. Even Spike was in a hurry to leave her behind at the station in favor of eagerly digging through the mail for the comics he’d missed.

That was fine, though. Honestly, Twilight thought as she made her way out to the outskirts of the city where it met the Everfree, it was probably better this way.

It would be less embarrassing when she failed.

And fail she did—if she could call standing there just inside the forest scrunching her face for twenty minutes even trying.

Now that she knew what she was feeling for, she could sense the magic of the Everfree, sure; it was vast and so much more present than anything natural had a right to be, but did that extend to her having some connection to it or was it just the same feeling of being watched that had been keeping ponies away from it for a thousand years?

There was no way to tell. It wasn’t as if she could calculate her feelings and compare the 32.4 megaeverfrees that she felt to the 16.6 that another pony like Rarity experienced.

“I feel ridiculous,” Twilight said, sitting down with a groan.

“Well, that makes two of us!” said a very distinct voice from right next to her.

“Gah!” Twilight shouted, leaping away and pointing her horn at the Draconequus in a very well-made Starswirl the Bearded costume sized for a pony.

Twilight couldn’t help it. After all the stress and worry of the past week, she laughed. It was a short laugh—more of a giggle, really—but the look of seemingly innocent glee that crossed Discord’s face at her reaction came as a complete surprise. She was still wary of the Draconequus’ supposed reformation, but if she thought of him as another Pinkie Pie, then maybe she could give him a real chance.

Not that two Pinkie Pies wasn’t a sign to get out of Ponyville while she still could, but it was hardly unique in that and she was still living there.

Discord’s chance lasted exactly negative two seconds. “Wait, isn’t that my Starswirl the Bearded costume?!”

Discord coughed into his fist and snapped his claws on his other hand, vanishing the whole getup. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Sparkle,” he insisted, affecting an offended mein. “It is nice to accuse your friends of things like that, you know—and besides, I'm not the pony who spent an entire official holiday publically cross-dressing.”

Twilight blushed. “I—wha—you! They’re robes!” she sputtered and yelled. “It doesn’t—”

“You know…” Discord said, looping over backwards so that he was laying down in the air in a set of fluffy pink pyjamas decorated with the faces of all four alicorns and leaning in to whisper. “Just between you and me, if there was a princess that could really pull off a nice fitted suit, it’d be miss tall, dark and shouty.”

Twilight… Twilight had no idea what she was supposed to say to that aside from imagining a tiny Rarity voice in the corner of her head nodding along and saying, “He’s right, you know.”

Wait, that wasn’t her imagination. There was an actual, tiny plastic Rarity on Twilight’s shoulder performing said actions.

Twilight may have taken a little too much pleasure in flicking the offending doll aside regardless of whether it was objectively right or not.

She did her best to ignore the other five little plastic ponies that rushed up to tiny Rarity, shouting in grief while she bemoaned what kind of cold, cruel princess would do such a thing… to her mane.

“Discord,” she said, growing irritated, but he seemed to have disappeared while the tiny plastic ponies continued their little skit. “Discord,” she said again, raising her voice a little as tiny Applejack began bucking at Twilight’s hooves and tiny Rainbow dash swore vengeance for making Fluttershy cry. She was about to properly yell at him when she remembered the look on his face when he’d gotten a laugh at her.

“Discord, please,” she said, sighing and sitting down—inadvertently crushing tiny Pinkie Pie, who had been sneaking up on her. Then, she said the magic words. “I’m not having fun.”

Just like that, the plastic ponies all stopped and clattered to the ground like dice. Moments later, Discord was there, sulking and picking them up one by one. The way he was acting, she almost thought that he would apologize, but maybe that was expecting a bit much at this stage.

“Look, Discord. I… appreciate your trying to cheer me up,” she said. It was a bit of a stretch, but the fact that he was trying at all said a whole lot more about him than getting his cooperation by threatening him with Fluttershy ever could. “But distractions aren’t what I need right now. I have a head start on this for now, but that's not going to last for very long.”

Discord didn’t say anything, so she just continued. “Everypony thinks I can just flash my horn and do this, but I don’t even know where to start. I've studied a lot of magic; I've even done some of my own research—but I'm a generalist. I can do anything from turning apples into oranges—and outrages if Applejack is nearby—to spells that affect gravity, space and even time… but I have no idea how to feel out a connection to some vast and diffuse source of magic that may or may not feel like having anything to do with me.

“And I think Sunset might. She’s the princess’ previous student who grew up seeking power and she somehow managed to turn herself into a crystal pony—probably within hours of her initial escape into the city. How can I compete with that?”

Well… I—”

“Oh, I don't expect you to understand,” Twilight said, brushing Discord off. “You're a millennias-old spirit of chaos who could probably snap his fingers and solve this whole—” Suddenly, Twilight realized what she was saying, gasped and turned to him. “You’re a millenias-old spirit of chaos who could probably solve this whole thing with a snap of his fingers!” she said excitedly. “You took away our magic in the hedge maze, it’d only make sense that you could give it back!”

Discord winced just the slightest amount before bouncing back wearing a Trottingham police uniform and holding a sign. “Well, that’s just the thing, Sparkle—it would make sense, and that automatically makes it a no-go.” He showed her the sign, which read in big, block letters, ‘IN THIS HOUSE WE OBEY THE LAWS OF THERMODYNAMICS,’ only the words ‘DO NOT’ were scribbled in between ‘we’ and ‘obey’ in red.

“What?” Twilight said, befuddled. “How does that—”

“I’m going to stop you right there,” Discord interrupted, placing a finger over her mouth to shush her. He then flipped over backwards, and appeared to be sunning himself in a hammock—sans sun and sans hammock, of course. “Tell me, Twilight, how much do you know about chemistry?”

Twilight’s train of thought had to stop and change tracks to answer that, and she could have done without the visual aids that Discord provided to represent it. Doing her best to ignore the blinking lights, she responded. “Well, I don’t exactly have lab coats stored around town in case of lab coat emergencies,” she said dryly, not sure where this was going and only barely willing to play along. “But I know my way around a chromatogram and have all the relevant licenses.”

Discord opened his mouth to comment, but Twilight preempted him. “Yes, that means I have a distilling license. I don’t see what this has to do with the Everfree unless you’re suggesting I chop the whole thing down, ferment and boil the magic out of it and get smashed.” Twilight frowned. “…Would that work?” she asked.

“That’s not the point,” Discord said, dodging the question. Twilight wanted dearly to ask him when that had ever mattered to him, but she wasn’t given a chance. “The point is that an understanding of chemistry implies an understanding of entropy.”

“Of course,” Twilight acknowledged, stating, “Any chemical reaction always results in a product of a lower energy state than its components. You mean you can’t help me because it would make me more powerful?”

“Oh no,” Discord said. “Quite the opposite, actually.”

Twilight’s face twisted up in confusion as she tried to untangle that statement, but she didn’t quite manage it before he continued to explain.

“You see, my dear Twilight, chaos is the opposite of entropy—the antithesis of order.

“In order for order to act, it needs to make things more boring, sending us further and further into the eventual heat-death of the universe

“In chaos for chaos to do something, on the other tentacle, it has to be something that livens up the universe.”

“But that doesn’t make—” Twilight had to stop herself before insisting that Discord make sense again. “I mean—doesn’t it follow that returning the rest of my alicorn powers to me would be a higher—energy state?”

Discord tsked, waving a claw at Twilight. “Twilight, Twilight, Twilight,” he said with an overly dramatic sigh. “You’re overthinking it. It’s not about energy states and free electrons; it’s all much simpler than that. A higher level of abstraction, if you will. Less thermodynamics, more—and I feel this should have been obvious—chaos theory.”

“Are you saying you can’t help me because…”

“I don’t solve problems,” he said with a shrug. “Sorry, princess.”

“That… makes far too much sense,” Twilight said, dropping into a chair that hadn’t been there a moment ago as she contemplated the implications. “Wait,” she said, coming up with an idea. “In chemistry, an imbalance of energy on one side of the reaction can be made up for by heating the solution—couldn’t you do something like that?”

“Well, I could…” Discord said, tapping his chin. Twilight began to have hope that this whole thing could be solved here and now only for those hopes to be immediately crushed. “I suppose the question would be, how many tentacles do you want with that? Not that you’d get to choose, of course. You never know, though? Maybe scorpion tails and lobster claws will be the ‘in’ thing this season?” he said, spinning around to show off a brocade dress with said appendages lifting it up indecently.

All the color seemed to drain from Twilight’s face. “N—no—that’s—”

“Are you sure I couldn’t interest you in an eye-stalk or several?”

There was a flash of light, and Twilight was gone.

“Huh,” Discord said to the empty forest path. “I didn’t even get to ask if these pseudopods made my butt look fat.”