• Published 1st Oct 2020
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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 21

The lesson went… better than Twilight had expected, at least, with Sunset and Cadance only taking minor shots at each other. Cadance, for her part, was in a hurry since she really shouldn’t have been in Ponyville in the first place, while Sunset didn’t seem to actually have anything to say once Cadance proved that she had, in fact, become rather adept at magic in the decade or more since Sunset had last seen her.

Eventually, they ran out of time and Nurse Redheart came to tell them that visiting hours were over.

“Well, I think I’ve just about got it,” Cadance said. “If I have any problems, I’ll—well, mail you the slow way, I guess.”

“I still can’t believe that you managed to make it trail little pink hearts,” Sunset grumbled. “It’s supposed to be a fire spell.”

“Are you at least going to stay for dinner, Cadance?” Twilight asked, standing and stretching.

Cadance stopped halfway to the door to think. “I should be able to do that much, I suppose,” she said. “But I really do need to be getting back to the empire.”

“Hey, uhh, Twilight?” Sunset said, getting her attention. “Could you stay a second?”

Twilight raised an eyebrow in question, but shrugged and sent Cadance and Spike on to the library.

“What was it you wanted?” she asked once the two of them were alone.

“Well, since I’m kinda stuck here,” she joked with a self-deprecating chuckle. “I was just wondering if you could have somepony take a cart out to the Everfree and bring back some things.”

That was… an interesting request. Twilight wouldn’t have expected Sunset to want anypony to know where she’d been holed up. Maybe her close call with the timberwolves had really shaken her?

…Nah, she probably just intended to move camp somewhere else.

“I suppose we can do that,” Twilight said, glancing out the window. “Not tonight though.”

Sunset shook her head. “No, that’s fine. It’s not urgent.” She paused. “Not super urgent, anyway. Eventually, the cake and the like will go bad, but thick ice lasts longer than you’d think, so any time in the next week is probably fine.”

Twilight blinked and had to ask, “…Cake?”

“Not that I would mind if it was sooner rather than later,” Sunset clarified. “They haven’t put me on a restricted diet or anything, and day-old pastries are still better than hospital fare.”

“…Pastries?”

“I should probably be more concerned about the presents,” she added, thoughtful. “I left those more out in the open, and I'd really rather that nothing gets into them.”

“Presents…?”

“Seriously—that was a nice blender and I’d rather not have squirrels using it to make acorn smoothies,” Sunset said. “I mean, there’s no power grid in the Everfree, but they’re smart enough to hold a conversation with, right? I’m just saying, if that thing goes missing and ends up at Fluttershy’s place stuffed full of nuts, I’ll be kinda ticked. Do you have any idea how much a decent blender costs?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Twilight said. “But I’m pretty sure I know who does.”

***

The next morning, Twilight found her way to Sugarcube Corner after an embarrassingly good night’s rest. She supposed that if she was going to derive pleasure from Sunset being out of commission for the immediate future, then fulfilling her request was the least that she could do.

It had nothing to do with what she might learn from the site of Sunset’s camp.

No, really. It didn't.

She was sure going to take advantage of it, though. Sure, Sunset hadn't seemed at all concerned about sending Twilight out to go gather her things, but there could have been a whole research station out there and she probably would have acted the same. So long as Princess Celestia considered her student’s focus on the Everfree to be ‘harmless,’ Sunset would be able to get away with just about anything and she knew it.

Getting Twilight to pack up actual proof of what Sunset was doing in the forest and bring it back for her was absolutely something that she would do.

The bell above the door jingled as Twilight entered Sugarcube Corner.

“Hiya, Twilight!” Pinkie Pie welcomed her from behind the counter with her signature inexhaustible pep. Pinkie Pie wasn’t exactly a morning pony so much as she was just an all-day, all-the-time pony. “Did you come to try our donut Johns?” she asked, pointing at a selection of donuts with cookies jammed in vertically on one side. “They’re like donut Joes, but with an extra surprise!”

Half of them were covered in chocolate icing.

“I… already ate, thanks,” Twilight said, eyeing the pastries with some concern. They were also labelled as having either chocolate or custard filling. “Actually, I came to ask about Sunset’s party.”

Pinkie Pie squeed and eagerly asked, “Did she like it?!”

“Just to be clear… You mean to tell me that after Sunset stormed off, you followed her and threw a party for her all alone in the middle of the Everfree?”

“Don’t be silly, Twilight!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed.

Twilight just sat and waited for the inevitable stinger that would end up confirming her assumptions after all.

“It wasn’t anywhere near the middle of the Everfree—more off to the side, really—and my Pinkie Sense told me there’d be guests!”

Twilight opened her mouth, paused, and said, “I… see.” A moment later, she added with a grimace, “Well, you’re not wrong.”

“Did they like it?” Pinkie Pie repeated.

“…The guests were timberwolves,” Twilight deadpanned.

“Aaand…?” Pinkie Pie asked leadingly.

“They… had a bite, but had to leave early,” Twilight told her, managing to be both truthful and dishonest. Sunset was probably rubbing off on her. “They definitely left their mark, though. I dare say, the party wouldn’t have been the same without them.”

“I knew it!” Pinkie Pie beamed.

“…Right,” Twilight said. “Anyway, on a completely unrelated note, Sunset is in the hospital and asked me if I could go out there, clean everything up for her and bring all of her things back to town now that she has a place to live. I was hoping you could show me the way, since you’ve apparently been there, but I guess you’re busy with the shop…?”

“Yep!” Pinkie Pie confirmed. “The cakes are taking the twins to see their parents—the Cakes’ parents, not the twins’ parents; that would be silly since the Cakes are the twins’ parents—so I’m a~all alone for the next couple of days!”

Twilight took another look at the ‘Donut Johns’ and said, “That explains… a lot.”

“Oh! But don’t worry! I can totally bake you a map!” she insisted and ducked down behind the counter looking for something.

“…Bake?”

“Yeppers!”

“You mean make, right?”

“Just let me find the icing.”

***

“…And that’s why I’m here,” Twilight finished.

Sunset Shimmer was sitting up in her hospital bed, looking at the giant, awkwardly-shaped pastry in her lap and trying not to laugh. “No, no,” she reassured Twilight, grinning ear to ear. “This is pretty accurate.”

***

In spite of the relatively simple concept, it was nearly noon before Twilight finally rolled up to a clearing next to a cliff with one of Applejacks carts.

And Applejack.

And Rainbow Dash.

And Fluttershy.

Admittedly, it made sense not to go alone when somepony had already been ambushed by timberwolves in the area, but Twilight hadn’t expected more than half of her friends to be both willing and available.

Applejack whistled appreciatively as she unhitched herself from the wagon and walked closer. “Well, now. Ain’t that a sight.”

“Do you mean the cave full of ice or the giant crater out front?” Rainbow Dash asked. “’Cause I could go either way.”

That just about summed up what Twilight could see. As far as campsites went, it was an okay one. The cave was wide and shallow and there was a stream nearby. As Rainbow Dash had observed, though, the cave was now faced over with a solid chunk of ice.

It was… kind of a mess, if Twilight was being honest. She could immediately tell that ice spells were not Sunset Shimmer’s forté. Rather than a nice, clean block filling the cave, the whole thing was layered, blobby and rounded.

“Looks like she used separate spells for creating the water and freezing it,” Twilight said, squinting into the ice. The way it had been frozen in rapid layers meant that there was too much air and frost trapped in it to see anything. Twilight tsked. “This is going to take a while to melt.”

“Seems like an awful lot of bother to go through for some cake,” Applejack commented, tapping at the ice with her hoof.

“And a blender,” Twilight reminded her. “Supposedly, there are other gifts and things in there, too.”

“It’s too bad Pinkie couldn’t come,” Rainbow Dash said. “She’d have loved ‘digging for buried treasure' in all of this.”

“Considerin’ she got a whole two weeks off for the Princess Summit when the cakes have the twins to take care of, Ah’d say it’s only fair that she let them get a vacation in now that we’re back,” Applejack commented.

Twilight was looking at Applejack expectantly. “Aren't you going to say something about having an old blender that's better than anything they make these days?”

“Nah,” Applejack said. “The girl is right; a good blender's worth it's weight in gold. We did have an old one that Applebloom couldn't even lift, but it was gas-powered and damn near shook itself apart when she and her friends tried to be Cutie Mark Crusader smoothie makers.”

“So, how are we gonna do this?” Rainbow Dash asked, bucking the ice like she would a cloud. She managed to leave some surprising craters in it thanks to her pegasus magic, but it still only scattered about as much ice as it would take to cool a couple of drinks.

“Well, Ah didn’t bring any tools, so Ah guess it’s up to Twilight,” Applejack said, scratching her chin with a hoof. “First things first, Ah’d suggest a trench so the water has someplace to go. Ain’t nothing worse than trying to get real work done when you’re hock-deep in mud.”

Twilight agreed and got to work.

Two minutes later, Rainbow Dash was bored. “Why are we doing this, again?”

“Compassion for an injured pony?” Fluttershy suggested, but Twilight didn’t even have to look away from her work to know how that went over. Still, it was Fluttershy saying it, so Rainbow Dash didn’t actually make the expected sarcastic response.

“That,” Twilight said. “And I was also hoping to learn something about what she was actually doing out here in the Everfree.”

“Living in a cave and making reeeally big bonfires,” Rainbow Dash concluded, flying over to the crater and landing at the edge. “What kind of spell do you figure makes a crater like this?”

Twilight glanced over to give it a second look, but her first impression hadn’t really changed. “That’s the Princess’ sun spell, I’m pretty sure,” she said. “A pony-sized one, from the looks of it. That’s… more than a little scary.”

“Sun spell?” Rainbow Dash asked. “You don’t mean like…” she pointed up at the sky, disbelieving. “I mean, come on, I know enough Equestrian history to know that Princess Celestia didn’t make the sun.”

“She didn't make the sun, no,” Twilight assured her. “But her cutie mark is in raising and lowering it and that's no small feat. Not only does it take a lot of power like you’d expect, but a lot of control as well—and practice.

“Of course, ponies don’t tend to like it when the sun goes all wibbly-wobbly because the princess is getting a feel for it, so she created the sun spell. It’s functionally identical to the real thing, just a whole lot smaller.”

Rainbow Dash scoffed. “So it’s a fake. Gotcha. Sounds about right.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “You say that, but Sunset got her cutie mark by casting that spell. Think about it for a second. The princess has a cutie mark in moving the sun; Sunset has a cutie mark in making them. If they were both alicorns…” She left the rest unsaid.

“Yeah, well, they’re not,” Rainbow Dash insisted. “One is an alicorn and one is some chump with delusions of grandeur.”

Twilight rolled her eyes and got back to work. After a short while doing little more than blasting things with her horn, she had a nice, three-hoof-deep furrow leading to the nearby stream. She was also slowly getting used to the way that her alicorn magic affected various spells and had little issue bleeding off the extra energy when she was done.

“Looks good to me,” Applejack said, tamping down some of the loose dirt around the furrow with her hoof. “Gosh, I feel right useless. If Ah’d had a plough, Ah coulda done this in a cricket’s minute.”

“Couldn’t Twilight have just magicked one up?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“In practical terms, not really, no, ” Twilight said. “The spell I used to fix up so much of Sunset’s place relies on things being both conceptually and materially similar to the end product; it just so happens that broken things are very similar to brand new things—though even then, there’s a significant amount of magic that goes into bridging the conceptual gap. In order to make a one hundred kilogram plough, I would need a hundred kilograms of metal at the very least, and ideally it would be in the form of other farm tools. It’s an extremely useful spell, but it doesn’t let me just wish things into being.”

“Alright, so, what next, then?” Applejack asked, approaching the ice. “You gonna use that sun spell?”

“I… actually don’t know it,” Twilight admitted, her cheeks reddening. “I wouldn’t use it here even if I did, though,” she insisted.

“You got something better?” Rainbow Dash eagerly asked.

“Err, well, it’s an ice-melting spell,” Twilight said. “It’s not very exciting.”

And it wasn’t. Twilight’s horn glowed and the ice just started turning to liquid, quickly and efficiently.

Rainbow Dash was not impressed.

Neither was Twilight, but in the opposite way. “When I get back to the library, I think I’ll look up a sublimation spell.”

“Huh,” Rainbow Dash said, thinking. “That might be kinda cool?”

“You know what sublimation is?” Twilight said, surprised, then added, “Err, no offense.”

“I’m a pegasus,” Rainbow Dash said, rolling her eyes. “Phase transitions are kinda my entire job.”

“Oh,” Twilight said, considering this. “Well, when you put it that way…”

In the silence that followed, Fluttershy abashedly asked, “…What's sublimation?”

“Ah’d kinda like to know, too,” Applejack chimed in, curious.

Twilight waited a second to give Rainbow Dash a chance to explain, but she apparently wasn't interested in sharing her institutional knowledge. “To put it succinctly, sublimation is the transition of a substance from solid to gas without passing through the liquid stage.”

“That can happen?” Applejack asked.

“You’ve heard of dry ice, right?” Twilight asked and got a nod. “Well, that’s where it gets its name; frozen carbon dioxide sublimates at normal pressures and temperatures. Sublimating water, on the other hoof, requires something close to vacuum, but magic can get around that.”

“Actually…” Rainbow Dash said, eyeing the mass of ice that Twilight had by then made a significant dent in. Without saying anything, she flew up and bucked the ice. Then, she bucked it again. On the first buck, all she did was scatter another few hooffuls of ice, but on the second, she buried her hooves into the ice down to the hock and there was a hissing, crackling puff of vapor instead.

“Wah!” she shouted, struggling to stay flying as she extracted her hooves from the ice. “Okay, so that kinda works, but also kinda doesn’t,” she said and didn’t try again.

By the time Twilight had melted nearly all of the ice, Rainbow Dash wasn’t the only one who was bored. Twilight had been really hoping to find something, but, “It’s… just a cave,” she said, rather disappointed at the lack of any real clue on how Sunset was planning to usurp the magics of the Everfree. “Honestly, it looks like she’s barely done anything with it at all.”

“Hey,” Rainbow Dash said, talking with her mouth full. “At least there’s cake.”