• Published 1st Jan 2024
  • 962 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 3

The Day Prior

“Be good now, you hear?” the guard said, as he ushered Lady Turquoise, Knight Jubilant, back into her cell.

Turquoise did not know his name. They rotated too often, and didn’t often introduce themselves. What she did know, very intimately by this point, was her cell. With practiced motions, she undid the straps on her wheels and hauled herself onto her cot. By the time she had, the other prisoners had also been locked in, and the guard departed.

It was time to resume her self-imposed task. Now that they were back in their cells, her two crystal pony neighbors could not escape from her sermons.

The Book, her faith, was correct. Any alternative spat on a thousand years of history. If her ceaseless efforts could guide even one soul down the path of truth, it would be worth it. And Turquoise still knew that path in its exactness.

With her efforts here, she could make up for her mistakes, in some small way. What she’d failed to do before she could achieve now. Her destiny might not yet be lost.

It couldn’t be. Without that hope, she was nothing.

Any doubts would be smothered in verse.

Clearing her throat, Turquoise picked up her Book of the Saints from where it rested on her splintering, rickety table. She turned to Mirror Facet, the shiny, silver-coated mare groaning in annoyance from across the bars. The linen of her prison garb chafed at Turquoise’s back as she moved. She’d focused on her other neighbor, Cubic Lattice, yesterday, and both were potential converts.

“I know they were trying to show compassion, but I really wish the palace staff hadn’t given you a copy of that book,” Mirror sighed.

Turquoise’s eyes flicked downward, and her grip on its pages tightened. It’s presence gave her comfort, even if it wasn’t her treasured personal copy. This one had been printed as a lowly paperback instead of the hardcover it warranted!

Still, Mirror’s demeanor would not deter her. “Let us begin with another passage from the Book. The Diarchs spoke to Saint Applejack, saying ‘You shall go to the town north of the forest wild, and there you shall find a plague of deceit which must be cured, otherwise the lives of good mares and stallions might be lost.’ And Saint Applejack listened.”

Mirror Facet groaned, slamming her face into her pillow. “Ugh, not this one again, you nutcase. I get it, scamming creatures is a bad idea, I’m already in the freaking dungeons!”

“But you must internalize why doing so is wrong. Show real remorse,” Turquoise explained patiently. “Otherwise, you may make further incorrect moral judgments in the future.”

“This was never an issue of morals, you already know I wanted to help ponies. I just didn’t have the money to pay for law school, despite it literally being my special talent!” she insisted. “Besides, you’re one to talk about showing remorse! Didn’t you—”

Turquoise’s ears fell. Don’t let her say it.

Shaking her head once, Turquoise cut her off, continuing. “After a journey of many days, the Saint arrived. When she did, she found the town in a buoyant state. A duo of salescolts were distributing an elixir to the worn and battered residents. They claimed the elixir was blessed by the Diarchs themselves, and had the power to cure any ailment. And so they sold many bottles.”

Mirror Facet turned away, her ears folding down as she made a point of trying as hard as possible to ignore Turquoise. But this was as much for herself as it was for Mirror, so she kept going.

“Saint Applejack, in her eloquence, explained to the ponies that this was a lie. ‘The Diarchs granted ponykind knowledge of different medicines to cure what ails them. There is no singular cure for all sickness. This is either a false promise or, worse, zebra witchcraft, which will afflict you with curses.’ However, only the wisest amongst those present listened to her. The rest continued to believe the wicked words of the salescolts.”

Turquoise turned to the next page. “One such pony was a beloved elder, strong of will but weak of body. After taking the elixir, she incorrectly judged that her age-begotten frailties had vanished. ‘I wish to frolic about in the river as I did in my youth,’ she said, and leapt into the water. However, her limbs lacked the strength to fight the current, and she was swept away, drowning before any noble pegasi could save her.

“Upon discovering her, washed up on the riverbank, the ponies of the town realized their error, and were as furious at the salescolts as they were ashamed of the fact they had not heeded Saint Applejack’s words. Their cries of regret reached the ears of the Diarchs, and they transformed the ill-gotten coin of the terrible colts into a golden viper, which bit both of them before slithering away into the woods.”

“What a waste of precious bits,” quipped Guzuko, the griffon hen from Turquoise’s neighboring cell. Turquoise ignored her. Even if she hadn’t been forbidden to interact with her kind, she wouldn’t have. Disgusting carrion-eaters, the lot of them. The griffon could earn salvation in her next life.

They probably couldn’t even feel guilt. At least, not in the way Turquoise did, like waves lapping at the shore, slowly eroding every wall she built. She pressed on, ignoring that errant thought.

“As the pair of evildoers writhed on the ground in pain, the venom eating through their flesh, Saint Applejack gestured to their remaining stock. ‘It seems you are in need of a cure. Why not imbibe your miraculous elixir?’ she proposed.

“Through their anguish, they replied in unison. ‘We were deceiving everypony! The elixir’s power is a fabrication we devised to scam those too trusting out of their wealth!’ Saint Applejack and the townsponies did not move to aid them. Thus did the Saint impart her wisdom: ‘Then take this lesson with you into your next lives: Do not make untrue claims of your works, lest you bring about great misfortune for yourselves and others.’ And so the virtue of Honesty was reaffirmed.”

“Again, there’s no chance that’s what happened,” Mirror Facet insisted, shooting Turquoise a look over her shoulder. “You’ve been indoctrinated by hostile rhetoric, dumbass. The kind ponies of that era’s Equestria wouldn’t have just sat back and watched as two stallions died of snake bites for any reason. Doesn’t matter if it was murder or an accident. You want me to cite the legal definitions of each?”

“Oh, please, stop interacting with her already,” Cubic Lattice chimed in before Turquoise could respond, tapping her sapphire hoof on her table. “She won’t let us do anything else until she’s finished. And I’d like to have the chance to hear myself think, today.”

Turquoise welcomed the interference. It gave her something to focus on besides what Mirror had said. She frequently rebuked the content of the Book, as heretics did, and these rebuttals disturbed her. Made her question, in a way that was growing more and more difficult to ignore. A churning in her stomach, a dreadful retrospection.

No, that would not do. She took a breath. Focus on your charges. Your mission.

“Thinking? About what?” Turquoise posed. “We’re in prison; there isn’t much to think about besides how exactly you wound up in here and why. I’ve done plenty of that, myself, and it’s far from pleasant or illuminating.”

“Oh? Care to share? I could go for some schadenfreude,” Cubic said with a smirk, crossing her hooves behind her head as she reclined on her threadbare cot.

“Yeah, that I would appreciate,” echoed Guzuko, who folded her wings.

Turquoise, however, frowned. The churning redoubled as her focus returned inward.

Yes, she had done a lot of self-reflection on that during her time here over these past two years, as well as a lot of listening.

Even in prison, she heard rumors. From what she’d overheard, her comrades had eventually succeeded in slaying the abomination Flurry Heart, only for two more “alicorns” to take her place. One claimed to be the Great Heretic Sunset Shimmer, and the other the false Rarity who had landed Turquoise in this situation to begin with. Neither mare had been that manner of creature in life, and to present otherwise was utter nonsense.

Now, this Rarity was helping run the Empire. Yet while she had risen, Grandmaster Steadfast Word and Grandmaster Proud Stone had fallen. It left a sour taste in her mouth. The Diarchy was surely on the side of justice, so how had her brothers- and sisters-in-arms failed so spectacularly?

How had she failed so spectacularly? Was it her mistake siding with Steadfast, even though he’d sounded so reasonable, tasking her with the mission that had led to both of them being struck down, crippled and caged?

Was it even further back, when she let her friend fall from her Radiant place?

Turquoise still didn’t know the real reason why she’d had to lose everything, and it ate at her.

Of course, she wasn’t about to admit all this to them.

She shoved her introspection aside, returning her attention to her fellow prisoners. “Is reveling in the suffering of others how you cope with the repetitive nature of this continued existence, settled upon us like a shroud?

“Every day here is indistinguishable from the last. Wake up, eat the provided breakfast, stretch in the exercise courtyard, eat the provided meals, sleep, repeat. It seems that this depressing place has gotten to you, without faith to buoy your spirits,” she noted.

“See, Cube? As if that’d work,” Mirror said, rolling her eyes. “All this lady does is recite verses at us or start lecturing like this. She’ll just keep going anyway.”

“That’s not true, I don’t only proselytize,” Turquoise insisted. “I also pray in silence. For my country, my family, the salvation of all who might stray.”

Mirror’s brows furrowed as she stared more intently at her. “And you believe that’s enough, after everything? I’ll state it plainly, since you clearly didn’t catch on: you’re a hypocrite, Turquoise. The officers literally offered to move you into a special condominium for house arrest because of your condition, and you refused. Because of all the ‘good behavior’ you’ve shown, they said all you’d needed to do was apologize. Express some form of regret for your actions. And you couldn’t even do that.”

Turquoise sighed. They didn’t understand. “Of course I have regrets. Who doesn’t? But I don’t care about the ability to cook my own food, make my own schedule, or wear actual clothes next to my pride and dignity as a Knight. It’s the one thing that wasn’t stolen from me.”

There was the tiniest hint of uncertainty in her mind as she said it, though she kept it from creeping into her voice.

Even her faith threatened to slip away from her, the longer she spent trapped in this accursed city. Having another pony from home to talk to would have helped, but Turquoise hadn’t even gotten any letters. Her family and friends had probably been told she’d been killed in the line of duty.

She pushed herself as upright as she could, projecting her voice. “The abominations needed to be purged, and I was glad to carry out the task,” Turquoise declared, speaking it into truth. “Even if you would have taken that deal, I refuse to compromise my principles for mere creature comforts. I shall gladly endure these indignities if it means the Diarchs and Saint Pinkamena will reward me for my faith, in this life or the next.”

“Really?” Guzuko said, her annoyed expression somehow twisting further. “And I thought this mare was insane after she tore into Lute over a bit of PDA. Seriously, who constantly calls a couple of friends with benefits ‘heathens’ and spits in their face?”

Turquoise still did not dignify the griffon with a response. They’d been a homosexual and interracial couple, deserving only of her contempt.

And yet, the picture they’d painted had made Turquoise… curious. The Book said one thing, but the daily lives of these creatures said another. It was heresy of the highest order, plain to see, yet Lute and Guzuko had seemingly gotten along without issue.

It was the same with unicorn magic around the palace grounds. That art was also abundant, and seemed to better many lives.

At first, it seemed to be madness, but after two years of being subjected to such sights and gossip, it had almost begun to sound reasonable.

And that terrified her.

Indeed, none of this blatant sinning led to the destruction of ponykind. The Empire was currently not at war with any other nation, and despite all the heretical freedoms, freedoms which should have led to lawless anarchy, ponies actually seemed… happier.

Even this prison was far smaller than any she’d ever heard of back home, the creatures interred within the exceptions rather than the rule. In fact, Turquoise had been incarcerated here longer than almost anyone else. Most of the other prisoners served very short sentences, for acts such as repeated thievery or getting into brawls after one too many cups.

Well, excluding those within the maximum security section. Turquoise had passed its thick, enchanted crystal door almost daily during her time here. However, she’d never seen the inside, and could only imagine what sort of inequine monsters these heathens considered to be dire threats.

The alternative, that it held ponies of the Diarchy not so different from herself, was far worse to contemplate.

Lost in her musings, she nearly missed Cubic Lattice chiming in. “Eh, she used to be more insufferable as a cellmate, even with her ass-backwards values,” she begrudgingly noted. “At least Turquoise agreed to my idea of passing the time with science texts.”

Guzuko snorted, her glare still promising vengeance upon Turquoise. Cubic, meanwhile, didn’t seem to care.

It had been a good idea, regardless of the morally dubious source, Turquoise admitted internally. She would have risked losing her worldliness and the Book its context otherwise. Science specifically was fine, but anything more would be tainted with heresies, views of morality and implied instruction on life contradictory to the Book’s.

Yes, the only instructions Turquoise, or anyone, needed to follow were those laid down by the Diarchs and their Saints. She couldn't afford to let their small kindnesses lull her into a false sense of appreciation, allow her to be corrupted like Emberglow was.

Turquoise was still perfectly fine.

“Forget the textbooks,” began Mirror, her tone mischievous. “In my professional assessment, what this girl really needs is to get some action for once. Like, what are the odds a mare who’s so stiff she doesn’t bat an eye at killing on orders has ever gotten laid? Bet she’d loosen up and relax if somebody showed her all the best parts of life she’s been missing. Any volunteers?”

As Guzuko and Cubic laughed at her expense, Turquoise bristled.

“I will not be led astray, no matter how long I’m held captive, or what you people tell me about the city beyond these cells,” she replied, this close to seething. “So there’s no need to continue blaspheming or pressing me any further.”

Cubic and Mirror were misleading her somehow. They had to be.

As if they actually cared, as her comrades did.

Abandoning her efforts at converting them for the day, she laid back down and rolled onto her side, facing away. She shut her muzzle and tried to calm down. Whatever they did next, Turquoise tuned out. Her sermon was long over.

The sun eventually dipped below her high window, shrouding the mare’s wing of the dungeon in deep gray. Her dinner’s flavors, brought to her, were equally drab.

Hers was a state of limbo, biding time until something changed. Maybe the rest of the alicorns would go mad and kill each other, or the Diarchs would cleanse the land in holy fire.

Until then, she would find security and peace of mind through her continued worship. In worship, all her worrisome thoughts were banished, or at least shoved into the recesses of her mind. In worship, she could not hear the doubt that threatened to poison her belief. The notion that, maybe, the faith itself was but a construct, her life a lie.

No. Turquoise shook her head, hard. All these contradictions made her thoughts twist in ways she could not bear. She had to get back to reading in the dim light. Soon, she’d have the entire text memorized, their meaning painstakingly etched into her very bones.

Despite the scratchy sheets, another indignity Turquoise had become accustomed to, the call of sleep soon claimed her, an identical tomorrow beckoning.

Rippling pain from her side quite literally knocked Turquoise awake. She let out an undignified yelp of surprise, her eyes shooting open at the possibility she was being attacked. And here it is, she thought, despite her grogginess. The empire is showing its true colors at last.

Turquoise was surprised to discover that it was still the middle of the night. Faint moonlight streamed in through the windows, casting the metal and stone in a dark blue pallor. But the truly unusual sight was the bipedal figure looming next to her. Her self-satisfaction gave way to apprehension. A cold chill rushed along what was left of her spine.

“W-Who are you?” Turquoise asked, pushing herself back as she squinted to try and make out more details. “D-Don’t hurt me!”

“I will not hurt you. I am a Paladin; I serve the Saints,” the figure - a she - replied. Her voice was tinny, as if she was speaking through a thick metal helm. “I was sent to take you back to the Holy Equestrian Diarchy.”

Turquoise stared in bewilderment. Her attention flicked momentarily to the cell door.

It had been flung totally open.

Eyes wide, she looked back to the so-called Paladin. “I’m not dreaming, am I?”

“No,” said the Paladin, reaching forwards to pinch her ear between fingers that were hard and coarse, almost like scales. To Turquoise’s amazement, it stung!

Between her eyes adjusting to the light and the reduced distance between them, Turquoise could make out the Paladin’s form in detail. Her body was all hard lines and overlapping plates, too large to be scales but too small to be a suit of armor. She almost looked too thin to be stable while upright. A body that was rigid yet devoid of imperfections, a marionette given fluid life, carved in seamless black and purest silver.

If she hadn’t spoken to her, Turquoise would have thought the Paladin a frightful metal monster of unsettling artifice. But her higher faculties overrode her instincts as mind raced frantically.

Was this some new initiative in the Diarchy, one that created better knights who could walk upright? Or had she actually come down from heaven? Had the Lunar Diarch crafted this being from dreamstuff? The creature was too alien for a rational explanation.

Buoyed with elation and burgeoning curiosity, Turquoise rapidly climbed into her wheels and quickly straightened her mane with a few passes of her brush. “H-How did you even get in here? Infiltrating a place like this must be supremely difficult with all the security.”

The Paladin did not answer her question. “Looks like you’re ready. Good. Wait a moment,” she said before unceremoniously leaving her cell for the next.

Taking this in stride, she turned to look at the Paladin through the bars and bowed her head for a moment to show her gratitude before stepping out into the hall. Turquoise watched as she traced a rune spell to unlock the rest of the occupied cells and then jostled everyone else awake, prompting a series of surprised shouts.

Once she had everyone’s attention, the Paladin spoke again, gesturing to Turquoise. “I’m breaking her out and taking her back to the Holy Equestrian Diarchy. Those of you who wish for salvation, or if you just want to be free again, come with me.”

None of the three other prisoners present shared Turquoise’s enthusiasm. “I think I’m good, thanks,” said Cubic Lattice, her voice conveying sarcasm even as her eyes were wide with surprise. To Turquoise, it came across as a thinly veiled defense mechanism. “I’ll be back with my family in a few months.”

“And wind up a third-class citizen? Hard pass,” said Guzuko, her eyes narrowed even in the dark. “I’m not afraid of you, crazy evil freak thing. Good luck escaping the city and then trekking all the way there when her legs don’t work, dumbass,” she added, pointing to Turquoise.

Mirror Facet definitely was afraid, the mare shaking on the floor against the far wall of her cell. Turquoise pitied her.

“They don’t deserve your generosity anyway,” Turquoise decided, impressed that she was actually willing to offer such charity. “Especially if they can’t tell the holy from the monstrous.”

The Paladin hummed at that, then turned for the exit, beckinging Turquoise to follow. The moment was so surreal, Turquoise nearly tripped over her own hooves. Her former cellmates were quiet now, save for the faint sound of Mirror’s rapid, terrified breathing. In the sudden near-silence, Turquoise’s hoofsteps rang loudly on the stone floor with her squeaking wheelchair in contrast to the Paladin’s deathly silent gait.

They carefully passed through the heavy door to the cell block, into a hall illuminated by wall sconces. The night guard was slumped in an ungainly manner over the watchmare’s desk, unconscious.

More important, Turquoise concluded, was the Paladin herself. It was definitely clear now that she wasn’t a normal creature at all, but rather a divine avatar sculpted of gleaming metal using techniques beyond mortal ken. Turquoise gaped in amazement. “May I ask you name, Paladin?”

“Not important,” she said, moving towards the entrance to the stallion’s wing. She tapped the side of her faceless head, where the number four was sharply displayed. “You can call me by my rank if you want. Paladin Four.”

Her rank? The number? Did she not have a name, an identity? Was that what one needed to do, to be a true servant of the Diarchs? Revoke everything except belief in the words of the Saints?

Turquoise figured that neither she nor anypony else alive was capable of that.

The thought opened the floodgates. There were so many questions about the Paladin. Where had she been before this night? Why now, and why not in equine form? Had Turquoise somehow earned this? Because she didn’t feel like she had.

Turquoise had so much to ask, yet she held her tongue. There would be time for such later. “Understood.”

Turquoise waited as best she could, trembling with nervous energy, while Paladin Four slipped into the other half of the dungeon, likely to ask the rest of the prisoners if they would join them.

Paladin Four emerged again a short time later, without anyone else. The Paladin showed no expression at the apparent rejection. “Alright, let’s move.”

Following without question, Turquoise stuck close to the Paladin as she led the way along through the depths of the castle. Bare stone gave way to crystal that shimmered faintly in the late hour as they ascended a staircase. They passed a pair of guards, also unconscious, slumped beneath a watercolor landscape painting. Her Paladin companion was certainly in her element, and far be it from Turquoise to break the cautious silence as Paladin Four peeked around the corner ahead.

Once more beckoned along, Turquoise followed down more corridors until they came to an unguarded window leading outside, already cracked open. Reaching for her side, Paladin Four pulled out a small wand from somewhere, carved ornately from wood and stained golden.

“What’s that for?” Turquoise asked as Paladin Four helped carry her over the threshold.

Paladin Four elegantly climbed through after her before explaining. “Long-distance teleportation. Saint Twilight set up an anchor for all of us, but the castle’s wards would have detected and tracked it if I did so while we were inside.”

Teleportation? That was impossible with runes—

Then it clicked, and confusion gave way to astonishment. “Wait, Saint Twilight did?” As in, personally?

Before Turquoise could ponder the implications of this any further, Paladin Four waved the wand, and Turquoise was blinded by a flash of light.

When the stars faded from her vision, they were abruptly standing in the interior of a large building. Bright white lines of light were spaced uniformly apart on the ceiling, obviously magical in nature. The floor and ceiling were clear of dirt or debris, but stained, as if the wood and tile had been in a state of disrepair and only recently repaired. The interior walls had been knocked out at some point, leaving only support pillars. At the far ends of the space, glass walls which looked brand new kept out the cold night air. Beside them were unusual works of artifice she could not immediately discern the purpose of.

“Ah, hey, there you are!” somepony exclaimed.

Turquoise spun to face the source of the voice, her wheels squeaking on the polished floor, only to freeze in her tracks.

It was Saint Rainbow Dash.

That legendary mane was unmistakable. Another Paladin stood beside her, this one bearing the number two, though otherwise indistinguishable.

Turquoise choked on her own tongue. Could she be absolutely sure she was awake? Or maybe she’d been fed illicit hallucinogens?

“You remember where the altar is?” asked the literal, actual Saint standing right there. Her robes, imbued with shifting, holy light, added to the gravitas of her presence.

“Of course,” Paladin Four replied, her stance professional and unshifting.

“Great! You know what to do, so I’ll leave you to it,” said Saint Rainbow Dash. “We’re about to head out, but Pinkamena should be back soon.”

“I’m still not sure it’s the right call, going with this mare,” Paladin Two interjected, gesturing to Turquoise. Her voice was downright saccharine, compared to Four’s. But the way she held herself was more playful, and yet… it struck Turquoise as somehow forced.

Too many screws were spinning loose in Turquoise’s head; she could barely breathe, let alone analyze!

“She doesn’t seem like leadership material to me. Without the drive, the hunger…” Paladin Two trailed off with a shrug and a bow. “But it’s not my place to object. You and yours know what’s best for everyone, after all, my Saint.”

“Exactly,” Saint Rainbow Dash confirmed. “I hear you, but trust Pinkamena and Twilight, she’ll do great.”

She shot a winning smile at Turquoise, who was now very close to fainting on the spot. “Get excited! Big changes are coming! Oh, and nice to meet you by the way, Lady Turquoise.”

Saint Rainbow Dash knew her name. Saint Rainbow Dash knew her name.

Heart fluttering, the strength in her legs gave out and she bonelessly collapsed face first onto the floor.

Sensation returned slowly.

First came weight and touch, even as she remained groggy. Turquoise was lying on her stomach, feeling better than she had in a while.

Then came her consciousness and the memories of last night.

No, not memories. A dream, surely. She knew all that had been too good to be true. Paladins and Saints, a prison break? Of course she’d been dreaming. It had been a very vivid dream, certainly, but a dream nonetheless.

Forcing her eyes open, the blurs in front of her gradually sharpened into focus. Turquoise did not see the familiar bare wall of her cell. Instead, she was resting on a hard, silvery surface, and a translucent dome that had been covering her body was peeling itself away. Her hearing returned only to catch the tail end of the faint whirring noise accompanying the motion.

She recoiled in confusion, or tried to. Her body was still leaden with lethargy, as if she’d been sedated, but that was rapidly wearing off, cast off by the beginnings of panic.

After blinking repeatedly, Turquoise frantically looked about and discovered she was not alone; another pony was present. Despite having never met them before, the earth mare was unmistakable: pink coat, perfectly straight, hot pink mane and tail, with robes that shimmered like the northern lights.

“Hello there,” she calmly greeted.

There was only one conclusion Turquoise could reach from this. She hadn’t imagined last night’s events at all. It had all actually happened. Oh holy Diarchs above.

Scrambling onto four hooves, Turquoise leapt onto the floor, dipping her head in reverence. “S-Saint Pinkamena!” she exclaimed.

Saint Pinkamena, for her part, merely chuckled politely. “While your attention is appreciated, I believe you just skipped over something even more notable.”

When she did not elaborate, Turquoise looked up at the saint, only to see Pinkamena gesturing behind Turquoise with a hoof.

That was when it hit her. Whipping her head around to confirm, Turquoise’s jaw dropped. She wasn’t wearing her wheels. She was standing. Transfixed, she trotted in place a little before sending an awestruck gaze at Saint Pinkamena, who was now smiling.

“Acting through the Altar of Enlightenment, the Diarchs fully restored your spine and back legs,” she explained, motioning to the platform Turquoise had awoken within.

Joy filled Turquoise as her heart leapt, prancing in place a little as she stretched out all manner of kinks in her hind half. Atrophied muscles unused in ages burned in the best way, and Turquoise was lightheaded. She was so preoccupied savoring the ability to move freely again that she totally forgot to whom she was speaking.

With a squeak, she froze, but she could not prevent the questions suddenly roiling in her mind from bursting free. “Altar of Enlightenment? What exactly is that? And how did it heal me?”

“I will answer that. Can you hear me?” a different mare’s voice suddenly asked her.

Turquoise couldn’t pinpoint where the voice was coming from, but it sounded very close by. She’d heard about the incident when many ponies started hearing voices a few years back, and they’d been crazy, driven insane by demons. Was she going mad? “Y-Yes?” she tentatively answered.

“Good, everything is coming through to me in full,” the voice continued. “And before you ask, no, you’re not mad. Lady Turquoise, you have been granted a most wonderful gift. I am Twilight Sparkle. The altar’s main purpose is to allow those chosen to receive the wisdom of the Saints directly, communicated through me.”

As she struggled to process the magnitude of this fresh revelation, Saint Pinkamena smiled patiently. “It can be startling at first, but her presence by your side should be a comfort in due time,” she said.

Oh. Oh wow. “I-I don’t deserve such a miraculous blessing, my Saints,” Turquoise stuttered out.

“That’s not true; we chose you,” Saint Pinkamena insisted. She closed this distance between them and cupped Turquoise’s cheek in a hoof with all the tenderness of a mother with her child. She couldn’t look away from the Saint’s kind blue eyes. “Eventually, we hope to enlighten all ponykind. But few in number are the ponies worthy enough to help bring that hope to fruition.”

“Lady Turquoise, Knight who bears my Mark, will you join me in taking charge of this sacred task?” Pinkamena asked.

Tears began to flow down her cheeks as all of her plugged up emotions, all of her shame and disbelief, boiled over, replaced by clarity and elation. After all her trials and tribulations, Turquoise’s commitment to scripture was being repaid beyond expectations. Truly, this made the restoration of her spine seem almost paltry!

“Y-Yes, of course!” Turquoise dipped down to her knees in supplication, shaking as she pressed her muzzle to the tiles. “It would be my greatest honor to serve at your side!”

“Thank you, but you need not dirty your face against the floor on my behalf. Show your allegiance with these instead,” Saint Pinkamena said.

Picking herself up obediently, Turquoise saw that her Saint was holding a set of folded pink robes out to her. Terrible understanding dawned.

She was naked. In front of Pinkamena herself!

Seeing the fresh panic on her face, Saint Pinkamena hummed softly. “Do not be ashamed. The Altar requires ponies to bare themselves fully to the Diarchs, so we removed and discarded your prisoner’s clothes.”

Sighing in relief, though still extremely embarrassed, Turquoise took the set of Jubilant robes and donned them on the spot as quickly as she was able. Her rear legs were stiff with disuse, but she managed.

Yet that was far from the main focus of her thoughts as she dressed. She’d accepted the honor without question, but did she truly deserve it, now, after everything she’d been through? Maybe Paladin Two had been right, before? Best to confess openly, admit her faults without the Saints needing to ask.

Taking a deep breath, more than ready to face whatever may come, Turquoise met Saint Pinkamena’s eyes. “I must confess… surrounded by heresy as I was, and after everything that’s happened, I was beginning to doubt.”

This was a gross understatement, utterly inadequate to describe her months of turmoil, yet it had to be enough.

“But never again. I now see the whole breadth of the church’s merciful glory laid out before me, embodied in you and your Paladins. Like them, I shall cast all else aside, and devote myself wholly and completely to carrying out your divine will,” she declared.

“You have my gratitude for your commitment, and forgive you for your doubts,” Saint Pinkimena said, in a tone carrying boundless compassion. “Now rise anew, my Knight. There is much work to be done.”