• 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 3

The train ride up to the Crystal Empire was a breath of fresh air that Twilight hadn’t realized that she’d needed. She really had spent too much time in her basement as of late, which was hard to admit, as she’d been doing science. Fairly boring science consisting mostly of measuring things, admittedly, but outside of fiction and newspapers—so, fiction and fiction—that was mostly what science was.

It was good to get out and remind herself that there was a world outside of her library, though. Watching the scenery that represented ponies entire lives go by in seconds was something she hadn’t yet gotten tired of—though there was a niggling thought in the back of her head telling her that it would be so much better if she could actually fly.

“Bit for your thoughts?” Applejack asked.

“Do you think the stewards would mind if I attached myself to the top of the train car with my magic?” Twilight answered honestly, then blinked and realized what she said. “Err, no—I mean—”

Applejack snickered in mirth. “Hey now, no need to be ashamed of being honest,” she said with a wink.

Twilight scratched under her chin, thinking. “You know, that’s another thing that me being a princess has kind of messed up.”

“What’s that?” Applejack asked, and the ears of the others seated nearby also went up in interest.

Twilight waved her hoof vaguely. “Just that out of the six of us there used to be two unicorns, two pegasi and two earth ponies. Now everything is lopsided… sort of… I guess I’m still mostly unicorn anyway.”

“Yeah, well, while it does seem mighty convenient that it all worked out that way to begin with, Ah don’t think the elements chose us specifically just to meet some diversity quota.”

“Oh man, I hate when ponies do that,” Rainbow Dash griped. “It never works. I mean—news flash—if you have to consciously add it in, you’re probably not gonna do it justice anyway. You’ve got to write what you know. That’s one of the things that makes Daring Do so great; you can tell that A.K. Yearling has actually been to all those places all over the world and it shows in how she writes the ponies there.”

“Err, right,” Applejack said, having lost her train of thought.

Outside, the landscape was beginning to show signs of snow in the shadows and Twilight’s mind began to wander again.

To Twilight, ruling Equestria was just something that Celestia had always done, but it was much more difficult to reconcile Cadance out here in the frozen north ruling a nation with only Shining Armor beside her, and while Shining Armor was a leader, he wasn’t really a diplomat. He was likely learning, she supposed, but it still seemed like a daunting task.

Twilight wondered if she would be able to do it if it was her. For all that Ponyville and Canterlot were as different as night and day, it was hard to forget that the capital of Equestria was always looking over them. With not just Princess Celestia, but now Princess Luna as well being so close, there really was no likelihood that Twilight would ever have to actually find out what it would be like to rule her own nation. She certainly wasn’t going to leave all her friends behind to go beyond Equestria’s borders and find or found one any time in the near future.

Twilight glanced around to see if anypony was paying attention to her and gently knocked twice on the wooden legrest of her seat.

You couldn’t be too careful with these things.

Five minutes of sourceless anxiety later Twilight waited for a lull in the ongoing conversation and said, “You girls did bring your elements with you, right?”

“They’d better have” Rarity declared with a snap in her voice that promised repercussions to anypony who answered otherwise. “There are dresses for each of you that absolutely require those necklaces. If any of you has forgotten yours then I’ll—well, I shall be very cross and disappointed with you.”

“Easy, Rarity,” Applejack soothed. “Ah’m sure we’ve all got them in our luggage. Right girls?” There was a round of nods all around. “There, see? Nothing to worry about.”

“Well, allright,” Rarity said, mollified, then stopped for a moment to think. “Actually, Twilight, it is likely that there will be a formal greeting of some sort when we arrive at the Crystal Empire, so you should probably have your crown at hoof before then so you can wear it off the train.”

Twilight chewed her bottom lip as she considered this, and asked, “Do you mean my element, or my crown crown.”

Rarity gave this some careful thought. “I suppose that is up to you. I would normally scoff at the mere suggestion that it be anything but your crown of office, but the Element of Magic is an ancient magical artifact that is unique in all of the world, so you could make an argument that it takes precedence…

“Then again, you are here expressly in your official capacity as a princess, and this is your first such event. It might send the wrong message if you were to completely disregard that.”

That was a good point, Twilight admitted. She probably should wear her crown of office.

Hrm.

She probably shouldn’t admit that she hadn’t brought it.

“Or,” Rainbow Dash piped in. “Why not both?”

The ice in the look that Rarity gave Rainbow Dash would have lowered the temperature in the room by twenty degrees. “I will end you.”

***

It was late in the day when the train finally reached the sole remaining city of what was once the Crystal Empire. Farms had been started out near the edges of the area protected from the cold by the Crystal Heart and eventually they would spread the magic further and further out, but it wasn’t likely that it would ever actually merit the title of ‘empire’ again.

Twilight was going to do her best not to point that out.

Truthfully, she was exhausted from the overnight trip, but that was to be expected. The Crystal Empire was about as far from Ponyville as Appleoosa, but the roundabout route the train took through Galloping Gorge resulted in the actual travel time being nearly twice as long. At just that moment, she wouldn’t have minded skipping dinner and going straight to bed.

She was a princess now, though, so that had about as much chance of happening as she had of joining the Wonderbolts.

There was a squad of crystal pony guards waiting for them as they disembarked onto the train platform and Twilight put on her best chipper smile to greet them. No need to actually come off as unapproachable when she was really just tired.

After gathering their luggage—ninety percent of it Rarity’s—onto a cart, the seven of them were escorted down the central thoroughfare that led to the Crystal Castle, perched over the Crystal Heart like a four-legged crystal spider.

That was another thing that Twilight wasn’t going to mention.

To be fair, though, it was a very unusual design for a castle, forgoing the large central door leading to a throne room that was typical in favor of making the Crystal Heart the focus.

It made sense, then, that Cadance would use the area beneath the castle as a sort of proto-throne-room and greet ponies there, as she was evidently doing. The path down to the Crystal Heart was lined with crystal pony guards standing at attention, with Cadance and Shining Armor standing at the end. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna were there as well having arrived not too long ago.

Twilight was calmly walking down the aisle of guards, Element of Magic on her head, when the trumpets started, nearly causing her to jump out of her skin.

“Her Highness, Princess Twilight Sparkle!” she was announced as she settled herself with a nervous giggle.

“Welcome, Princess, to this inaugural Princess Summit,” Princess Celestia greeted with open pride.

Twilight was about to bow and make her own greeting, but froze when she realized that she no longer needed to. She wanted to kick herself. More than a full day just sitting in a train and she hadn’t even thought to brush up on her official procedures—not that she didn’t know them from years watching Princess Celestia at court, but—

Fortunately for Twilight, Cadance was much less formal in spite of it actually being her own ceremony and ran forward to give Twilight a hug, which she automatically reciprocated. “Twilight! I’m so sorry about what happened at your coronation! Shiny and I wanted to stay at least until you woke up but we just didn’t have the time with how short-notice everything was to begin with.”

“I was fine,” she insisted, which was true enough. She had spent several days unconscious, but she’d been fine when she’d actually awoken. “How have things been going here? You must be busy planning things out for the Equestria Games.”

“It has been difficult,” Cadance agreed. “But having such a big event here will go a long way to introduce us to the rest of Equestria and help us gain some economic stability. Organizing the games is one of the reasons for this summit and why it’s being held here instead of Canterlot.”

“I see,” Twilight said and was caught glancing at Princess Celestia. “Well, hopefully I can help out.”

“Don’t worry, Twilight,” Princess Celestia said. “We have many things to discuss… but they can wait until tomorrow. You all look tired from your journey—” Somewhere behind Twilight, Rarity gasped in quiet horror. “—And I think that a good night’s rest will do you good.”

“Oh thank Celestia,” Twilight said under her breath then realized a moment later what she’d just said. “Err, I mean, thank you Princess Celestia. It has been a long trip, and I think you’re right. It’ll be a lot easier to approach things with a clear head after some sleep.”

***

As it so happened, given how early Twilight had turned in the night before, ‘after some sleep’ ended up being two o’clock in the morning and it didn’t really bring much in the way of a clearer head. Spike had had no trouble sleeping on the train, so Twilight didn’t know when he’d actually gone to bed.

Being as quiet as possible, Twilight inched her way out from under the covers, doing her best not to wake him. Sitting on the edge of her bed, she briefly contemplated the Element of Magic on her nightstand and the crown that she had left behind in Ponyville.

There was an interesting sort of irony in the fact that she hadn’t even blinked in becoming a Hero of Equestria, yet her second crown had been the cause of so much more hesitation.

It should really be the other way around, shouldn’t it? She, the princess’ student, had been all but groomed for the position, and if you had asked her at any moment before that thousandth Summer Sun Celebration, the idea of putting herself in danger, entering a wild, dangerous forest to seek out a slim hope of bringing back the day would have sounded ridiculous, and she certainly wouldn’t have expected to then be called on on a regular basis to handle similar issues. What place would an asocial, nerdy bookworm have in challenging a chaos god, fighting a hopeless battle against an army of changelings, or freeing the very ancient empire she was sitting in from the domination of a mad tyrant?

Yet she had done those things, and she had done them just by being herself. In hindsight, her experience with the changelings especially impressed her because she and her friends had lost. They’d failed to get the elements and use them, and it was only Shining Armor and Cadance who had saved them. And yet… and yet, when the next crisis came, there had been no more hesitation than there had been the first time that she had gone out into the unknown to save Equestria.

She couldn’t explain that.

There were plenty of possibilities, of course, but too many to nail it down. Who knows? Maybe it was just all of them.

There was the fact that with the elements, she always knew with certainty that she had the tools to succeed and all she had to do was live up to her end of the bargain.

Here and now, though, she had somehow ascended to an alicorn in a process that she still didn’t understand, and yet her alicornhood had failed her at step one.

And that step had hurt—maybe more than she knew. It wasn’t unheard of for ponies to have fears about things that they couldn’t actively remember.

Sighing, she gave it up as a bad job. All stewing over it in her head would do is make things worse—and really, how relevant were her physical qualities as an alicorn in doing the job of a princess anyway? Her coronation probably hadn’t given her the best reputation, and maybe some ponies and creatures would contest her right to her position, but the one thing she did know was that when the time came to actually do something and live up to her title, she would do everything she could. She would step up… and hopefully not jump off any more balconies.

Rather awkwardly, it was that exact moment when she decided that it would be nice to go get some fresh air. Her own room didn’t have a balcony, nor did she expect any of the rooms that her friends were staying in did. Balconies didn’t really fit the whole ‘towering crystal’ aesthetic that the castle had going on, though she knew there was at least one front and center that led straight into the throne room on the first actual floor of the castle.

Hrm.

Was it possible that there were crystal pegasi in the past, and King Sombra had gotten rid of them? It would be interesting to see if they started to show up once more outside ponies were introduced into the population.

That wasn’t important, though. Twilight stood up off the bed and crept quietly past Spike. Maybe she would find that balcony, or maybe she’d just walk the halls for a bit and stretch her legs. The halls were anything but claustrophobic, so why not?