• Published 1st Oct 2020
  • 1,859 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 6

Twilight immediately teleported out to the end of the hall as soon as she realized the basics of the situation, which was that somepony had been out in the hall and was now running away. Unfortunately, that wasn’t much to go on. It could be something entirely innocent—one of the castle staff or one of Twilight’s friends—or… it could be a figure in a brown cloak who evidently had something to hide.

All she could think to do was yell, “Stop!” as the mysterious figure was already about to barrel into her.

Just when she expected to be bowled over and trampled, though, there was a teal flash of teleportation—and then something hit her anyway. It took her a moment to realize that the figure had left their cloak behind when they’d teleported past her and another moment to get herself untangled from it and resume the chase.

Without the cloak, Twilight could finally see that the figure was a unicorn mare that she had never seen before with a red and gold mane who looked shaken and uncertain. Not to be deterred, Twilight teleported in front of the mare again, only for there to be another flash as the mare repeated the action. In that manner, they hopscotched through the Crystal Castle at an incredible rate. Though she wasn’t one for competing with other ponies, Twilight was impressed and beginning to get an idea who this mystery pony might be.

Okay, admittedly they had been literally, explicitly waiting for her, so maybe it wasn’t that great a leap of logic to make.

“Sunset Shimmer!” Twilight shouted, pleading for her to stop. “Wait!”

And to Twilight’s everlasting surprise, Sunset actually did stop.

Twilight, on the other hoof, found it a little harder to do so. The moment she let go of her teleportation spell, it went off anyway, skipping her forward half the distance to Sunset, who immediately backed away, teleporting the same distance away. Before Twilight could get a hold of the spell, she had blinked forward a half a dozen more times in increasingly shorter and quicker intervals, inadvertently backing Sunset into a corner.

Sunset was glancing around in panic, trying to decide which way to go when she seemed to come to a realization. While Twilight was still struggling to wrest control of her teleportation spell from her alicorn magic, Sunset levitated something out from behind herself.

It was the Element of Magic.

The moment recognition reached Twilight’s face, Sunset tossed the crown out of the window and teleported off in the other direction.

Twilight had no real choice; she instinctively loosened up on the tight grip she had on her teleport spell and went after the Element of Magic. It took three rapid-fire blinks to grab the Element of Magic out of the air, by which time the reality of her actions had caught up to her. Her heart began to race as she realized just how high up she was and she began to remember not just her swan-dive into the ground at her coronation but also all of Rainbow Dash’s repeated attempts to get her to fly.

Logically, if she’d had the chance to think about it she would have realized that she was in no actual danger. There was a part of her that knew that she could teleport to safety at any moment and, in fact, would likely do so the instant she lost control of her spell again. However, that part of her was buried deep at the moment, drowned out by the fact that she was so high up—a fact that was changing very fast as she raced to the crystal courtyard below.

Somehow the fact that she’d survived her last such situation wasn’t much comfort.

And then a shimmering blue light caught her.

“Is that what I think it is?” Princess Luna asked as she levitated Twilight back to the Crystal Castle, hovering beside her as she did so.

It took Twilight a moment to gather her wits and answer. Uncurling herself from around the ancient artifact, she showed it to the Princess. “Yes; the Element of Magic,” she confirmed. “I don’t know why she had it, but it allowed her to get away. You didn’t see which way she went?”

Princess Luna shook her head as she landed Twilight back inside, not far from where she’d left. There was no sign of Sunset Shimmer. “No, she seems to have gone to ground.”

“Well, maybe Princess Celestia had more luck?” Twilight suggested as she attempted to stand on trembling legs, but Princess Luna shot her down.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “Celestia stayed behind to guard the mirror in case she looped back and was to send Cadance to check on the Crystal Heart, assuming she was able to wake her. I am afraid that we have lost her for now, though she will not easily leave the city, with the train running infrequently and under our control.”

Well, that was something, Twilight supposed. Still shaking and unsteady on her hooves but not wanting to dwell on it, Twilight did her best to walk off her nerves and bleed the magic out of her teleport spell as she and Princess Luna made their way back to Celestia.

***

The room with the mirror hadn’t changed in the short while that Twilight had been gone, though the same could not be said for Princess Celestia, who looked as twitchy and shaken as Twilight, leaping to her hooves the moment she and Princess Luna came through the door.

“Sunset…?” she asked hopefully and looked crushed when Princess Luna shook her head. “It was her, though, wasn’t it?”

Princess Luna looked to Twilight, who could only tell the princess what she saw. “Cream yellow coat, red and gold mane, cutie mark of a two-tone sun?”

Princess Celestia collapsed with relief. “Yes, that’s her,” she said, letting out a sigh as if the weight of the world had been lifted from her.

“She escaped,” Princess Luna reminded her sister.

Princess Celestia brushed her off and said, “We can worry about that later,” as she turned to the mirror.

Twilight was about to ask what the princess was going to do with the magical item in question when Princess Celestia flapped her wings and kicked it over, toppling the heavy frame, the glass shattering when it hit the ground.

“What—!” Luna attempted to interject, but she was cut off by the sudden daylight of a miniature sun swallowing the corner of the room where the mirror had been.

And then, as quickly as it had appeared, the ball of solar fire was gone and Twilight was left attempting to blink the single giant spot out of her eyes. “Was that really necessary?” she griped, rubbing her eyes.

“My apologies, Twilight,” the Princess said, sounding contrite. “But you have no idea how long I’ve been wanting to do that.”

“Since Sunset Shimmer went through the mirror in the first place?” Luna suggested, raising an eyebrow at her sister.

Princess Celestia paused, then admitted. “Okay, you know exactly how long I’ve been wanting to do that, then.”

"Regardless, it makes good tactical sense to cut off any avenues of escape,” Princess Luna said in approval. “If Sunset Shimmer had managed to flee through the portal again, we would not be able to follow lest we risk becoming trapped there ourselves. Even if we were to follow, there would be no catching her with an entire world for her to hide in.”

“Luna!” Princess Celestia scolded. “The aim is not to catch her. She is not a criminal.”

“Technically, she did steal the Element of Magic,” Twilight timidly pointed out, levitating the crown out in front of herself. “If she hadn’t used it as a distraction in her escape, we might not have even realized that it was missing until it was too late.”

Princess Celestia frowned. “That is… not like her,” she said uneasily.

“It has been a long time,” Princess Luna suggested tactfully. “Ponies do change.”

Princess Celestia shook her head in denial. “No. Not that much. The Sunset that I knew would never throw away what she’d come for just to make an escape. Not unless she was truly desperate.”

Twilight had to stop and readjust her expectations before she could continue. “…Well, we were at a stalemate with teleportation and I did have her cornered,” she said, though she admitted to herself that the former had mattered more than the latter.

Princess Celestia was unconvinced. “The castle isn’t on fire,” she said. “Ergo, she wasn’t desperate.”

Luna gave the crater in the corner a dubious look and said, “The castle is made of crystal. It is not flammable.”

“She would have found a way,” Princess Celestia said with complete confidence, having faith in her once-student and pseudo-daughter.

Luna sighed and decided to drop the subject. “Fine, then. If she was not here for the Element of Magic, then what was she here for?” she asked.

“Well, it has always been my earnest hope that she would one day come back to me so that we could talk about what happened and apologize,” Princess Celestia offered.

Twilight and Princess Luna both gave her the exact same deadpan look.

Princess Celestia sighed. “Very well. Let us go check on Cadance and the Crystal Heart.”

***

Twilight wasn’t sure what she had expected and therefore had no idea how to react.

On the one hoof, Cadance was sleeping on the job.

…But on the other hoof, she was sleeping on the job—or, to be more specific, laying on top of the job and curled around it for warmth, making happy sounds in her sleep.

“Well, the Crystal Heart does seem to be secure,” Luna admitted. “Perhaps we should simply leave her be until morning?”

As if prompted by the idea, Princess Celestia was unable to quite stifle a yawn. “Err… yes. Perhaps that would be for the best.”

Princess Luna nodded. “I will inform the proper ponies that no trains are to leave until this matter is settled.”

Princess Celestia briefly hesitated, but agreed. “So long as Cadance doesn’t object, I think that would be a good idea, but do not turn this into a marehunt. We can sort all of this out if I can just talk to her.”

Princess Luna looked like she wanted to disagree, but relented. “Very well. I suppose that she would not be the first to attempt to keep the elements from their bearers and receive no more than a slap on the wrist for it.”

Twilight felt there was something off about that statement considering that Princess Luna would technically be one of those in question and Discord the other, but she wasn’t about to actually say that.

“Very well, then,” Princess Celestia said, yawning again. “We will decide what more to do about this in the morning when Cadance is able to participate. This is her city, after all.”

Luna agreed and the two eldest princesses each went on their way, leaving Twilight alone with the sleeping Cadance.

Giving her old foalsitter a look and appreciating the irony, Twilight went off to find a blanket to put over her.

***

Breakfast was a late affair for the four princesses and their guests. Cadance had needed all the sleep that she could get and Princess Celestia hadn’t actually been that much better off, no matter how much she’d tried to hide it.

Now, though, while Princess Celestia was figuratively glowing with the relief of knowing that her old student was no longer trapped in another world, Princess Cadance looked more like she’d slept on a strangely-shaped rock.

Mainly because she had slept on a strangely-shaped rock.

That said, she too was glowing, though not in the sense of being in a bright and sunny mood. No, she was looking rather crystal-y that morning and quite literally glowing.

Again, this was the fault of the strangely-shaped rock that she’d slept on, and the combination of the two was quite the sight.

Rarity was aghast.

Shining Armor was just confused and rather hungry.

Rainbow Dash looked about the same as Cadance, but didn’t have the excuse of being overworked and woken up in the middle of the night, nor did she have the crystalline form to counterbalance it.

She just wasn’t a morning pony.

The fact that it could barely be called morning any more didn’t really factor into it.

Once everypony had something in their stomachs, Princess Celestia began to explain the events of the previous night regarding Sunset Shimmer, covering the princess’ history with her with significantly less commentary from Princess Luna this time and a little more from Cadance now that she wasn’t sleeping through most of it. Cadance still wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about digging up the past with Sunset, except for the fact that with her actually in the city, it wasn’t quite the past any more and she seemed to be tentatively melancholy about the idea of maybe actually making peace with her after all these years.

Of course, it was also clear to Twilight that that part of her was kept well in line by the fact that she had actually met Sunset Shimmer.

“She stole your element?” Cadance asked, directing the question at Twilight. “Why does that not surprise me? No, wait—what actually surprises me is that she actually let it go. She must have actually come for something else.”

Princess Celestia was happily nodding along, sipping her tea and looking quite vindicated.

“About that…” Twilight said, levitating the Element of Magic up and set it down on the table, getting curious looks from most of those present. “After everything was over, I went back to my room to rest and relax and found this.” The looks turned to surprise when she levitated another, nearly identical copy of the Element of Magic up and placed it next to the first.

“Two Elements of Magic?!” Pinkie Pie gasped. “Does this mean she’s actually you from an alternate timeline come back to prevent a horrible future where cupcakes and muffins have been at war for forty thousand years and it doesn’t even matter why anymore because both sides are gluten free?!”

“No.”

“Oh, good,” Pinkie Pie said in clear relief. “We sure dodged a bullet on that one.”

Rainbow Dash blinked and began to ask, “What’s a—” before she was interrupted by Rarity clearing her throat and giving her a look that said not to encourage her.

“This one is fake,” Rarity declared, levitating up one of the two crowns that had made their way over to her side of the table while the rest had been distracted by Pinkie Pie.

This was welcome news to Princess Celestia. “Really, now? That’s… fascinating. Is it a variation on the want-it-need-it spell that actually creates a simulacra of something the target wants, I wonder…?”

Rarity shook her head. “Sorry, Princess, but no. This was prepared beforehoof. It’s actually quite fascinating; the tooling marks aren’t like anything I’ve seen before. It was definitely made, but I would hesitate to say that it was made by hoof.”

“I see,” Princess Celestia said, a little let down. “So it was a premeditated distraction, then. That is, admittedly, very much like my old student, though it does also imply a worrying amount of foreknowledge on her part. If she has been using the mirror as a scrying focus, then she may know a great deal more about what has happened in her absence than we might expect.”

“That’s… a good point, actually,” Twilight said, then proceeded to give Princess Celestia an apologetic look. “Though, sorry, Princess, but I really should clarify that it was the crown in my room that was the fake. She not only stole the Element of Magic, but she came here to steal it.”

“I… see,” Princess Celestia repeated, more troubled than the last time. “That is… difficult to reconcile.”

“Yes, you and Cadance have already said that she should have been much more tenacious about holding onto it,” Princess Luna said. “I am even inclined to agree. If she has gone to all the trouble of commissioning such a well-made imitation, it seems unlikely that she would simply abandon it unless she had laid her eyes on a greater prize.”

Cadance and Princess Celestia both shared a worried look. “That would do it,’ Cadance said. “But what? I can’t imagine what she thought she could use the Element of Magic for in the first place and she didn’t go after the Crystal Heart. What other sources of power were there in the city that she could be after?”

“Maybe she tried to use the Element of Magic and it showed her that what she wanted was a loving family all along?” Applejack suggested to the chagrin of the table. “Yeah, didn’t think so.”

“Maybe it’s not something in the city?” Fluttershy suggested. “If she was just outside of the room, maybe she heard something. You tend to hear a lot when people don’t realize that you’re there.”

Twilight frowned, trying to recall what they’d been talking about when Sunset Shimmer had interrupted them, but she didn’t think that anything had come up except—Oh.

Oh no.

“The Everfree.”