• Published 1st Jan 2024
  • 958 Views, 42 Comments

Rising Flames - Thought Prism

After Emberglow and her friends showed the Diarchy a better path, the ponies living there begin to slowly let go of their fear. However, when impossible figures from the distant past make their return, she finds her greatest trials are yet to come.

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Chapter 1

1115 AF

Two years after the Battle of New Canterlot City

Emberglow awoke gently, like the petals of a flower unfurling in the light. The warmth of the silken sheets against her fur and camisole did not compare to that of her princess, who was also stirring from sleep beneath an outstretched hoof. Feathers shifted as mare and wife rose in sync, limbs pulling up and back, their bodies long used to rising at this early hour.

“Morning,” Emberglow greeted, smiling softly. Even with her mane bent and bunched up from the pillow, Rarity was still the most beautiful thing in the room. And their room, fit for royalty, had some of the finest furnishings in the palace.

“Not yet,” Rarity quipped. It was an old joke, but Emberglow would never tire of what came next.

Stepping onto the carpet, Rarity approached their bedside window, pink and purple pre-dawn light filtering through gossamer curtains. She lit her horn, and the moon fell, pushed below the distant horizon. At the same time, the sun rose opposite it, lifted aloft by Sunset from across the castle.

She still almost couldn’t believe that it was she herself who had touched the heart of such a divine pony.

This sacred ritual complete, Emberglow stood and stretched her back. After planting a quick kiss on her wife’s cheek, she headed off to their shared bathroom to take care of business and have a quick shower. She always went first, as Rarity’s morning routine took far longer. Meanwhile, she knew Rarity would usually spend this time double-checking her schedule for the day and picking out an ensemble. The work of a princess was never done. Except for today.

As she showered, Emberglow called out through the door. “I imagine you planned out your outfit for the grand opening of Sunset’s School for Gifted Unicorns in advance, right?”

“Of course,” Rarity confirmed, tittering. “I’m going for something more subdued. Wouldn’t want to take the spotlight away from the mare of the hour!”

That certainly made sense to Emberglow. Sunset had been working on getting a magic school up and running for a while now, both as a means of honoring the legacy of her predecessors and ensuring that many of the lost spells from her era didn’t stay lost. Even just finding and training enough competent teachers for all the requisite grade levels had been a struggle.

“Well, sure, but you are still going to be teaching there a few times a week,” Emberglow pointed out as she lathered shampoo into her mane and tail. “You’re entitled to some attention. In fact, how could anypony ignore you?”

Rarity laughed at that, figuratively waving the statement off. “Oh, darling, you flatter me. Teaching may not be my true forté, but it is something I grew to enjoy in the old days. I agreed to take up the Intermediate Magic and Spell Multitasking class only because Sunset insisted I was needed.”

“If you say so. I still think part of it was to have an excuse to interact with cute foals more often.”

A polite huff emanated through the door. “I shall neither confirm nor deny that accusation.”

Emberglow beamed softly to herself. Her wife could be so silly sometimes. Headstrong, too, especially regarding more personal topics. Like foals. But what couple never argued at all? They were still only equine. And they vowed to take the good times with the bad.

“At any rate, you’re going flying with Terminus today, I believe?” Rarity asked.

“Yes,” she replied, nodding automatically while she scrubbed. Working at the hospital for this long had ingrained her with a fast and thorough personal hygiene technique.

“And Heartwing still doesn’t mind you spending time alone together, hmm?” she posed, coy.

Rinsing off, Emberglow rolled her eyes, her smile widening. “Oh, stop. If you’re so concerned, you can ask them yourself at group therapy this evening.”

“‘Twas merely a jest, darling. I know the two of you are the last ponies in the Empire who’d be unfaithful. In the romantic sense, at least,” she clarified.

“Ha,” Emberglow chuckled dryly.

After finishing up in the bathroom, a very fluffy towel wrapped around her drying mane, Emberglow switched places with her wife, the two of them reaching out to touch wingtips as they passed.

Smiling upon hearing Rarity begin humming a cheery tune to herself, Emberglow got dressed and put on her hairpin. Then she sat down on the plush sofa, taking advantage of the free moment by grabbing her reading material from the crystal coffee table. It was the latest medical journal, covering some recent breakthroughs in non-invasive surgery. The Knights Radiant were finally beginning to incorporate the medical knowledge of unicorns and other races into their repertoire, despite pushback from those who would obstinately let their loved ones suffer rather than admit unicorn expertise had value.

She shook her head to clear it, not wanting to dive down that rabbit hole again. Honestly, after everything she’d been through, having a set routine again had done wonders for Emberglow’s mood. She and Rarity were busy, yes, but it was a good busy. The worst Emberglow had to deal with on the regular were cranky patients and awkward conversations with Radiants or her parents. A far cry from some of her far more hostile interactions with other ponies during the war.

Lost in her thoughts and the journal both, it took a hoof on her shoulder and a polite clearing of the throat to call her back to the present. She closed the publication and turned.

“How do I look?” Rarity asked, striking a pose. She had actually picked out a sort of educator’s look befitting the day, with a sleek charcoal gray skirt, lighter grey blouse, and a bright blue ascot. Her ‘casual’ silver tiara - not the one with her Element - still made her status clear.

“Amazing as always,” Emberglow replied.

“Flatterer,” Rarity tittered. “Now let’s go have breakfast.”

Side by side, they pulled open their doors to the hallway, where their long-time guards, Iron Shod and Crossguard, flanked the egress, at the ready with patient smiles. They followed Emberglow and Rarity at a close but respectful distance as they trotted down sparkling passageways to their destination.

The royal dining room, unlike the banquet hall, was a small, intimate space, lit with gently glowing wall sconces that sent orange firelight dancing across the rose quartz walls. The hardwood table was large, but not massive, with room for only a dozen pony-sized creatures. Empress Cadance and Princess Sunset were already chatting over their food at one end of the table, and Sunset waved hello as they entered.

“Hello, friends,” Emberglow greeted, settling atop a floor pillow. To her, these mares weren’t the unapproachable leaders of a nation-state, they were her dear, long-time companions. Their familiar faces were a comfort.

“Oh my, that looks scrumptious,” Rarity noted, eyeing the spinach quiche hungrily. Emberglow had to agree. In addition, there was a dish of sauteed crystal berries and toast as well as the usual coffee, tea service, and biscuits. Every day, the castle chef, Thorkell, proved anew that yaks were indeed best at cooking.

As Emberglow thanked Rarity while she served their portions with magic, Cadance looked towards them after dabbing her mouth with a napkin.

“Morning you two!” Sunset exclaimed after swallowing her bite of toast. “I was just telling Cadance how nice it is to finally be done with all the logistical headaches of setting up the school.”

“So you can get to the good part?” Emberglow asked as she sat down. “The actual teaching?”

“Exactly,” Sunset confirmed. “Plenty of foals look up to me already, and this is my chance to really connect with them and make a difference in their lives. Pay it forward, after what Celestia and Twilight did for me.”

Emberglow agreed one hundred percent. Someday she also wanted to pass on her medicinal skills to the next generation.

As Rarity cut out a small section of quiche, Cadance looked between them and Sunset, head inclined in a pointed gesture. “The relationship between a student and teacher is quite the fulfilling one, yes. Of course, that’s not the best kind, in my humble opinion.”

Sunset sighed. “Look, I told you before, I have no intention to start dating again at this point,” she insisted, pouting slightly.

“Well, I’m inclined to agree with Cadance, here,” Rarity said with a grin. “‘Tis a most worthwhile pursuit.”

“See?” Cadence declared, resting her chin on her hoof impishly.

Emberglow was too preoccupied enjoying the ripe berries to comment, but she did smile. Of course the wise old matchmaker would bring this up. After her long period of recovery, the empress was in peak health again, with an abundance of energy. She would never have expected Cadance to have such a mischievous side, but definitely didn’t mind her ensuing antics. Cadance had lost a great deal in her life, especially recently, so Emberglow was glad to see the impish joy of matchmaking replace her frequent sad, distant stare.

Princess Sunset was the only remaining creature in her immediate circle of friends who didn’t have or hadn't once had a life partner. Well, besides Oak Chips, and Emberglow was pretty sure he possessed zero interest in romance. Meanwhile, in addition to being royalty, Sunset was pansexual, she knew, so the mare had no shortage of interested parties to get to know better.

“In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a bit preoccupied running an empire,” Sunset pointed out, with emphasis. “I get the most done on that front out of anypony at this table!”

“Well, yes,” Emberglow confirmed, “but that’s because you take your responsibility a bit too seriously, I think.” Feeling guilty about not doing enough to help was something she was very familiar with. “You need to keep your own happiness in mind.”

“Well said, darling,” Rarity confirmed, sipping her tea. “The Empress and I have gotten rather practiced at delegating to the right ponies; our subjects aren’t a bunch of children.”

Cadence nodded firmly. “You have nothing to lose and the world to gain!”

Under the kind yet insistent stares from Emberglow and her fellow alicorns, Sunset at last caved, rolling her eyes. “Fine, I’ll keep my eyes open. Happy?”

“Very much so,” Rarity replied primly, putting a pin on it by extending a wing to rest affectionately on Emberglow’s back, making an effective demonstration of what she was missing. Emberglow savored the contact.

The Empress’ smirk grew sly. “Just don’t try to bed any of your older students. That dynamic almost never ends well.”

Sunset nearly dropped her fork as she sputtered, a blush coloring her cheeks. “C-Cadance!”

Emberglow burst out into good-natured laughter.

It was a warm, pleasant day in the Empire. Thanks to the Crystal Heart, all days were warm and pleasant as long as love flourished. Creatures were now able to come and go freely across the Empire’s borders, which had expanded over the last thousand years. Though they could move freely, the polar winds could not, leaving the remaining air currents to be gentle at most. The city, therefore, was an ideal environment for long exercise flights. Here in the center of the city, plenty of creatures, both pegasi and griffons, were out and about, traipsing through the heavens.

Still, as much as she and her wife spent their time together, this was one thing Rarity often passed on, despite having earned wings. Though she reveled in flight, soaring at any significant speed ruffled her mane too much, she insisted.

Emberglow glided along through the air, the magic in her wings carrying her aloft. Even now, the simple act brought her joy. Idly watching the ground-bound residents going about their days, she made her way over to the humble set of condominiums where Heartwing and Terminus lived.

Built to accommodate those with mobility issues, each single-story home was built entirely flush with the ground. It made Heartwing’s life far easier. Cadance had of course offered the pair rooms in the palace after everything they’d done, but the structure’s ancient architects had been rather fond of staircases. Lots and lots of staircases.

When Emberglow arrived, Terminus was already waiting on the roof, stretching his wings. His movements were automatic, devoid of enthusiasm.

Hmm. Something was eating at him. She didn’t want to pry, but as long as she was there for him, hopefully he’d confide in her.

Emberglow waved down at the stallion to catch his attention, hovering in place. “Hi, Terminus. Ready to go?”

“Yeah,” he said, cracking his neck. Not wasting any time, he leapt into the air to join her.

For a little while, they flew in silence, slowly rising higher into the sky and building up speed. Emberglow’s thoughts quieted, and she focused on the experience. Feeling the air rush across her feathers, the steady in-and-out of her breathing, just being.

“So, how are you?” Terminus eventually asked. “Anything exciting going on?”

The words pulled Emberglow back into herself. “A bit. Cadance finally convinced Sunset to start looking for somepony. And the school is opening up today.”

Terminus grunted in acknowledgement, matching Emberglow’s speed without visible effort. “Rarity doesn’t mind you missing it?”

“She says she’d be too distracted by my radiance to teach,” she admitted with a laugh. “Besides, I’ll be keeping her company during her dressmaking hour as usual.”

“Still only one hour a day for her cutie mark talent?” Terminus questioned. “Damn, and here I thought Heartwing was keeping too busy despite his 'retirement.' He’s been out most of the day dealing with some Discordant matters.”

Emberglow nodded sagely as her smile widened. “Such is the price we pay for marrying ponies in power.”

Terminus snorted. “Indeed.”

There was a lull, then, as they continued soaring along. They’d reached the outskirts of the city now, grown and built homes and workplaces giving way to close-packed acres of farmland. In the distance, the exterior of the glacier-carved changeling hive was just barely visible through the edge of the crystal heart’s barrier. Sweat was beginning to form beneath her clothes. Terminus, wearing nothing, did not have this problem.

Emberglow turned her good eye toward him, resuming the conversation. “So, any luck on your project? Topaz won’t be mad either way, but still.”

“A bit, sort of,” he admitted.

A while ago, Terminus had admitted to the Elements during group therapy that he’d been feeling listless without any soldiering to do. Cooking and housekeeping were entirely different kinds of work. So, Topaz had encouraged him to find a hobby he enjoyed. But so far, nothing he’d tried really clicked. Emberglow hadn’t realized it was weighing on him quite this much, but “sort of” meant he probably had good news!

“Care to share a bit early?” she asked, gently curious.

His ears lowered. “It’s not a sport this time. You’ll think it’s foalish.”

Well, that wouldn’t do. Time to reassure him, lighten the mood again. “I doubt it. My idea of a foal’s pastime was going to medical school, remember?”

At this, he grinned a little. “Okay, Emberglow. I’ve been setting up some model trains.”

She blinked, slowing down just enough that he overtook her. Not quite the answer she’d been expecting. “Model trains?” Emberglow echoed.

“Yeah. It’s… oddly familiar. Building and painting them is reminiscent of cleaning and reassembling a rifle, only with more little wheels.”

Now Emberglow was grinning along with him. The mental image that evoked - of solid, unwavering Terminus Flash hunched over a worktable carefully painting the Crystal Empire Express in its official pinks and purples - was both deeply incongruous and deeply amusing.

Terminus glared over his shoulder at her. “Don’t laugh. It’s a perfectly respectable pastime.”

Emberglow took a deep, careful breath. “I w-wasn’t going to,” she insisted, barely holding herself together.

In response, Terminus flapped hard to the side, hip-checking her. Emberglow yelped in surprise, her trajectory shifting a good bit away before she could course-correct and return to her former relative position.

Terminus scrunched his muzzle and sighed.

Her ears fell. Now Emberglow felt badly for reacting the way she did, but she couldn’t help it! “I’m sorry, Terminus. But you have to admit it’s a little funny. I was expecting something like yeti wrangling or blacksmithing.”

“Really? Blacksmithing?” Now Terminus was smiling again, to her relief. He rolled his eyes. “When was the last time you’ve seen a pegasus in a forge? My feathers would get all singed!”

“Good point,” she admitted. Wings required enough personal maintenance as it was. It was worth it, though, to feel the rush of air moving past her like this, faster than any gallop. “Still, I’m sure the others will be more composed at the news than I was.”

Terminus hummed in agreement. With nothing further forthcoming, their conversation lapsed back into silence. Emberglow went back to taking in the green pastures below. Though they were smaller than many farms in the Diarchy, the sight of so much cultivated land gave her renewed appreciation for all the hard work earth ponies did to ensure the people had full bellies. It was a beautiful thing to see everycreature contributing what they could.

Soon, they reached the point which had long marked the midway point of their flights: a tall grain silo of varnished wood. Emberglow banked into a turn, arcing around the structure as if it extended many times as tall as it was, Terminus matching her movements. Then, without preamble, he picked up speed, putting more energy into each of his wingbeats and pulling ahead.

Time for the real workout. Emberglow followed suit, and they powered their way back to the Empire.

After Emberglow returned home, sore in a good way, the rest of her day proceeded as usual, for the most part. Lunch, a bit of time to herself as Rarity handled matters of state, checking her mail for anything notable, keeping Rarity company in her workshop, and then dinner.

Now, she and Rarity were arriving at the cozy private lounge where Topaz conducted their regular group therapy sessions. Unlike most of the castle, the lounge was carpeted, and there were plenty of couches suitable for sitting and reclining. Cheerful landscape paintings hung on each wall, and a skylight ensured the room was naturally illuminated.

Lofty and Topaz were already present, sitting side by side. Topaz was totally in her element, chipper and ready to facilitate with a clipboard in one hoof and a pen capped with a yellow smiley face in the other. True would be with Empress Cadance, learning to read and avoiding any potentially heavy subject matters that the Elements might discuss.

Lofty raised a hoof as she and Rarity entered. “Hello, you two! Ready for another riveting discussion about our persistent anxieties?”

Topaz elbowed him in the ribs as Emberglow’s lips curled upwards. “Stop leading with that!” Topaz protested. Her friend wasn’t actually angry; Lofty did this every time. And it wasn’t even accurate anymore. Their sessions were now mostly just a way of staying in touch coupled with affirmations that they were now much better.

As Topaz had once told her, the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, when properly remedied with therapy and medication, could be mitigated or made to vanish almost completely. Emberglow was certainly grateful for that; no longer did she hear the voices of deceased ponies whispering lingering words of guilt into her ears.

Her failures had not brought her low; they’d strengthened her. Enough that she’d helped stave off eternal winter. Even Rarity insisted she was a worthy successor to Applejack, brushing off any denials of such on Emberglow’s part. The last, lingering wisps of pain in her heart were kept at bay with everyone’s help.

Emberglow was brought out of her musings and back to the present by a nudge from her wife, whom she immediately followed over to the couch across from the one Topaz and Lofty occupied. Exhaling in contentment, she shimmied herself into Rarity’s side, basking in her touch.

“You two seem to be doing well,” Lofty noted, mirroring her motion and adding a nuzzle to Topaz’s cheek. “I’d ask how your week was, but Heartwing and Terminus are a bit late.”

“I’m sure they’ll be here in a moment,” Rarity reassured. “Celestia knows we’re all busy ponies.”

“Don’t I know it,” said Topaz. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Emberglow nodded firmly in agreement. So long as there were creatures that needed her help, she would be there. And Topaz was of the same mind.

Nevertheless, as if summoned, a crystal guard - one wearing the livery of House Cadenza - pushed open the door to admit Heartwing and Terminus, the latter pushing the former in his wood and metal wheel harness. Emberglow did a bit of a double take when she saw the looks on their faces. Heartwing seemed quite troubled by something, judging by his serious frown and narrowed brow, and Terminus’ expression showed obvious concern.

She wanted to ask what was wrong, but held her tongue. Topaz would doubtless broach the subject during the session. Stepping on the expert’s hooves would be counterproductive. Instead, she just waved to them.

“Hi there, we’re all glad to see you,” Topaz said, maintaining her gentle, practiced smile.

Rarity hummed in agreement. Emberglow knew her more than well enough to tell that she was also struggling not to jump the gun. The tension in her wing was a giveaway.

Glancing at Heartwing, his lips pursing momentarily, Terminus replied, “We’re happy to see you too, friends.”

Topaz simply waited patiently, even as Lofty glanced sidelong at her, his own brow now creased with worry. Terminus helped Heartwing up and settle into the plush sofa on Emberglow’s left.

Only once Terminus himself was seated did Topaz begin. “Alright then! The six of us are all here, so let’s get started. Per usual, I’d like us to start off by sharing one word with the group which summarizes how you’re feeling. Today, I’m feeling hopeful. I hope that everyone’s days are going well, and that if they’re not, they can trust others in their lives to support them with love however they need it.”

Then she paused, tapping her pen against the clipboard before turning to Heartwing. “Heartwing? Why don’t you go next?”

Emberglow’s gut, as well as her experiences with Heartwing, told her this wouldn’t be a simple issue. Echoing Topaz’s sentiments, she faced the stallion, ears perked.

Heartwing took a long time to answer, meeting each of their inquisitive gazes in turn, as if to judge whether or not this was a matter he could freely share. Or perhaps whether or not he should. For the first time in a while, Emberglow couldn’t place the emotion behind his eyes. Sadness? Fear? Disbelief?

Eventually, he answered. “I’m feeling… disturbed.”

Emberglow tensed.

When he failed to elaborate further, Topaz - maintaining her patient demeanor - continued. “And why are you feeling 'disturbed,' Heartwing?”

Terminus wordlessly draped a wing over his partner's back in support, but it still took Heartwing a few very long seconds to answer. “There’s a rumor spreading like wildfire through the Diarchy at the moment. And if it wasn’t for the fact that so many of my clandestine contacts thought it substantial enough to report up the chain, I would have dismissed it out of hoof as blatant fabrication.”

Pausing, he sighed in concession. “There are rumors down south, unsubstantiated as of yet, that the Saints have returned.”

Many heartbeats passed as Emberglow processed this. She turned the idea over in her mind. But before she could voice just how patently absurd that was, Rarity beat her to it. “I’m sorry, Heartwing, darling, but could you repeat that? It sounded like you said the Saints were back.”

“Oh, they’re definitely not our old friends,” Heartwing elaborated. “Their actions aren’t even close to how any of them would actually react to being thrust into this disharmonious future of ours. Otherwise we’d be hearing of a major ruckus from the Diarchy and not just rumors. Pinkie Pie’s antics alone would trigger a witch hunt,” he added, chuckling at his own joke.

“Really, Heartwing, that’s not funny,” said Lofty, who stared at him in disappointment. “This is supposed to be a space where we’re genuine with each other.”

“He wouldn’t lie about something like this,” Terminus insisted, even as his own doubts flickered across his face. Topaz was furiously taking down notes.

“I mean, yes, but…” Emberglow trailed off. It was just completely unbelievable, for multiple reasons. Heartwing seemed to be genuinely concerned, yes, and she trusted his judgment, but in this case he had to be jumping at shadows.


To prove her point, Emberglow rested her head against her wife’s. “Rarity is right here. The real Rarity, back after a millennium of stasis. Not the made-up earth pony Rarity written as propaganda for the Book. You were the one who taught me the truth!”

“Exactly,” agreed Lofty, his concerned gaze shifting away from her and back to Heartwing. “And say what you will about the ponies living in the Diarchy, but if there's one trait they all share, it’s some level of stubbornness. Even now, they still live their lives by the Book of Saints. Those who don’t have pretty much all left by now.”

Emberglow nodded at that, her thoughts reeling at a breakneck pace. She no longer had a copy of the Book, but as she sifted through her memory, she couldn’t recall anything about a prophesied day when the Saints would return. They were ostensibly watching from on high with the Diarchs. So then how exactly were so many ponies so convinced?

Before Emberglow could voice these questions, Topaz beat her to it. “Okay, and what exactly makes these rumors so believable?” Even she couldn’t keep the confusion off her expression any longer.

Heartwing tapped his hoof against the sofa. “Just to be clear, I don’t believe them yet, either. It’s just that according to my Discordant, others are saying that they believe the Saints are back. Because there have been reported sightings of - and interactions with - all six at different locations. Each matches their popular depictions in Diarchy statuary and artwork. And there’s a second Rarity among them.”

“So there’s an earth pony with my figure prancing about, is there?” posed Rarity, nonplussed. “I’m sure her uncanny resemblance to moi is entirely coincidental and not, say, a changeling copying my likeness. Because that wouldn’t be the first time.” She peered at Heartwing in concern. “I’m sorry to dismiss your worries, Heartwing, especially now, but this is simply too far-fetched.”

Heartwing started to frown, but pushed it away. Terminus clutched him tightly. “No, no, I understand how this sounds. But it’s not that simple. What do you think the first thing any Knight Vigilant who met them did?” he posed. “Whatever they are, they’re not changelings, veiled beneath illusions, or wild magic clones. And supposedly they can perform miracles, or at least cast spells without horns or gauntlets.”

Seriously?” The question slipped out of Emberglow, the pace of her breathing accelerating. Everything about this situation was unbelievable, and yet it was somehow happening. There was zero chance these Saints were real, of course. If that were the case, then… She looked at Rarity, focused on where their bodies met. Rarity caught her gaze, and squeezed her reassuringly with a wing.

No. That was beyond consideration.

“So they tell me,” Heartwing said in reply before going quiet. There was a silence as the five of them processed the news.

The more she mulled it over, the more Emberglow found herself coming to one conclusion: She had to fly down to the Diarchy and see these supposed Saints for herself. One way or another, she had to uncover the truth and confront these convincing imposters for what they were. She couldn’t abide the thought of anypony else misleading ponies back down the path of hate, nor giving her beloved a bad name, or her Element wasn’t Honesty.

“I can certainly see why this news would be troubling to you,” Topaz noted, studying Heartwing and the rest of them carefully, salvaging what she could of their therapy session. “How do you feel we might be able to help?”

“Investigate the issue ourselves,” he answered matter-of-factly, clearly on the same page as Emberglow. His eyes narrowed. “I won’t be able to rest properly until I nip this desecration of their memory in the bud. The Knights Discordant may be trained for this, but they don’t know these mares like we do,” he added, giving Rarity a purposeful look.

“Indeed,” she agreed, determination writ large in her voice. “This is something which absolutely demands our attention. The sheer gall.”

“That would mean going to the Diarchy, though,” Lofty pointed out, running a hoof through his mane. “And neither of you are exactly popular over there. It would be incredibly dangerous for Heartwing especially, given his physical condition.”

“They’ll be too busy paying attention to these ‘Saints’ to care, I wager,” Heartwing said. “And I won’t be alone.”

“Yeah,” Terminus confirmed. “No chance I’m not going with him. I imagine it’s the same for you, Emberglow?”

As if it even needed to be said. “Where Rarity goes, I go,” she declared with conviction.

“I would never leave you behind,” Rarity declared. Emberglow met her subsequent loving sidelong glance with one of her own.

Lofty shot them a smirk, only half-forced. “I’d expect nothing less.” Then his expression soured once more. “However, I still think you should leave this to the others, Heartwing,” he insisted.

“I agree,” said Topaz, gesturing to him. “The others can fly away if there’s trouble, but…”

“I’ve evaded their grasp for this long, my friend. What’s another day or two dancing with danger?” Heartwing quipped. “And Termie will be watching my back, as always.”

Terminus met Topaz’s eyes, conveying the fire within his own, and she relented.

Lofty, though, did not. “I’m still far from convinced that it would be safe for you to do this, Heartwing. What if I went in your place? I’m more than capable in a fight in case events proceed in that direction, and you can only use half your limbs! I’d be very worried about you.”

Heartwing pursed his lips at Lofty. “I still have centuries more experience than everyone else in this room, a working horn, and the skill to use it. I’ll be fine, as always. Dealing with the unpredictable is still my forté. Besides, think about the logistics for a moment. If you waltzed into New Canterlot with a spear and gauntlet, you’d be stopped and questioned immediately, whereas I can just wear a large hat or something to evade detection.”

“He’s got you there, honey,” Topaz said, nudging Lofty in the side.

Sighing in defeat, Lofty turned to face Emberglow instead. “Aren’t you going to object to any of this?”

Emberglow shook her head. “I’m worried, too, but I trust Heartwing’s judgment. As for me, my wife seems to be decided, and there’s no chance I’m letting the world lose another alicorn, especially not this one,” Emberglow declared, pulling Rarity closer with a wing and planting a kiss on her cheek.

She cooed appreciatively in response. “I don’t doubt it,” Rarity said. “Still, my new students are going to be rather disappointed. Alas, I am needed elsewhere. Somepony has to remind the ponies down south what a real Rarity looks like.” She flipped her mane for dramatic affect.

“Regardless, this information stays confidential until further notice,” Rarity continued, changing the subject. “I trust our guards to maintain discretion, but if this news reaches the general public in the Empire, it could cause a panic. I’m sure Cadance and Sunset will agree; they should be informed, at minimum.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Heartwing said. “It also wouldn’t do to have all six of us be absent at once, as that would be equally concerning. If your colleagues want to disseminate the news further, that’s their prerogative.”

Topaz’s ears fell. “I suppose there’s no stopping you, is there? In that case, Lofty and I can stay here,” she suggested. “I don’t believe either of us have as much stake in the matter, right honey?”

“I guess not,” Lofty admitted. “Besides, I realize we can’t just leave True alone with Cadance at the drop of a hat. We’re his parents. He needs us.”

“That leaves the four of us to investigate, in two groups,” said Terminus, his tail flicking in deep thought. He turned to Heartwing.

“We can prepare to fly tonight and leave first thing in the morning,” Heartwing suggested. Emberglow could practically see the well-worn gears turning in his head. “While I can’t predict their movements for certain, the best places to look will likely be Old and New Canterlot. Emberglow, you’ve been building a rapport with the Knights Radiant, so you and Rarity can head to the Canterhorn. Terminus and I will fly for New Canterlot City. Assuming that’s acceptable, Princess?”

Rarity straightened and met his gaze, the fire in her eyes matching his. “It is, Heartwing. Emberglow?”

“Yes,” she said. She certainly didn’t have any better ideas.

“We’ll make sure the nation doesn’t collapse while you’re gone, Princess,” Lofty joked. Though his smile was clearly just pasted on to conceal dire misgivings.

“That settles it,” Terminus said, rising from the couch to all four hooves. “Time to get our ducks in a row and get moving.”

“I guess I'll have to postpone this session for later, huh?” said Topaz, stowing her notepad. “Hopefully this is all just a huge misunderstanding and we can all meet up again next week for a double length one, yeah?”

“Hopefully,” Heartwing agreed, as he allowed Terminus to help him back into his harness.

“Good luck, and take care,” bid Lofty.

Emberglow almost said goodbye, but the nature of the situation made her pause. It felt too needlessly final, or so said her superstition. So instead, she just reached forward and swept him up in a hug. The others joined in, and soon all the Elements were trading embraces in turn.

No more words needed to be said. They left the lounge to make their preparations for this new mystery that awaited them in the Diarchy. She’d unravel it one thread at a time. Hah, even Rarity’s choice in metaphors was rubbing off on her.

As they walked, Emberglow cast a sidelong glance at her, and Rarity looked back, full of care.

Whatever fate had in store for Emberglow, she wouldn’t be facing these ‘Saints’ alone, and that was all she needed to know they’d be alright.

Author's Note:

Eee, it's out at last! I'm so excited to see what y'all think!

That said, expect a three week wait for the next chapter, as this gives time for zombi's busy work season to wind down, and for the RP to develop some more. To paraphrase Shigeru Miyamoto, a delayed release will eventually be as great as it can be, and I want to do these characters - and this world - justice.