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Blueblood awoke not to the cawing of mysterious birds of indeterminable origin, nor the gentle warmth of Aunt Celestia’s sun. Rather, his return to reality came thanks to the shrill pounding of bells in his ears. With a start, the pony rose halfway, rubbing his eyes with both hooves before slamming one leg down and silencing that infernal alarm clock for yet another day. Stifling yet another undignified yawn, Blueblood stepped off the bed.
And immediately tumbled into a pile of sheets on the wooden floor.
Cursing, the pony pulled himself loose from his wrappings. In his exhaustion, he had forgotten how things had changed in the last day or two. It took only a look into his nearby dressing mirror to remember just how the mighty had fallen.
Sure enough, he was still a little colt.
Blueblood stared and blinked at the mirror, as if it would go away if he just wished hard enough. Alas, he was still intelligent enough to realize just how utterly ruined he was. First, his Aunt Celestia refused to defend his honor and stopped him from razing Ponyville to the ground. Then, his Aunt Luna arrested him for making “threats” against her. And finally, after he had unraveled the schemes and lies surrounding Celestia’s disappearance, he was transformed into a foal, and left utterly humiliated at the hooves of the same ponies that had ruined the Grand Galloping Gala a year prior.
He spun his backside around, his eyes tearing up at the sight of his bare flank. His cutie mark, once the pride and joy of his entire family, had been hidden beneath layers of enchantments. It was the one piece of himself that had survived his transformation, and Celestia had seen fit to take even that solace away.
Blueblood sighed. Remember, you are still Prince Blueblood. It doesn’t matter how many titles or rights your aunts can strip away. You are still the dignified pony you always were, and you will rise to the top of this latest bowl of oatmeal.
The colt snapped to attention at the gruff voice coming from the other side of the door. With trepidation in his every movement, he turned towards the door. “Y-Yes?”
“Princess Celestia requests your presence in her chambers immediately!”
Blueblood sighed. He had little doubt what she wanted to discuss.
After all, this was his first day of school. Again.
The unicorn guard let out a defiant snort as the door creaked open. Blueblood’s head was the first thing to poke out, his eyes scanning the hallway for any sign of a trap. When he found no spike traps or crushing ceilings waiting for him, he finally took a few steps out of the room. The guard’s telekinesis slammed the door shut the moment the colt was out of range, causing Blueblood to jump and yelp in surprise. “By Celestia, why would you do such a thing?”
The guard displayed no emotion whatsoever. “Do what thing?”
“Slamming the door closed, you oaf!”
The unicorn’s eyes jutted inwards as he regarded the foal before him. “I apologize, but Princess Celestia gave me strict orders to bring you to her immediately. And unlike some ponies, I always obey my princess’ orders.”
Blueblood huffed and fumed, eliciting a sly smile from the guard. “I don’t care what your orders are. I know exactly what she is going to say, and I don’t want to hear it again. Just let me pack up my supplies, and walk out the door to the school.”
The guard titled his head, relishing every last ounce of discomfort he could wring out of the little twerp. “Or…I suppose I could take you to Princess Luna instead. I am certain she would loooove to…hang out with you.”
All the righteous defiance Blueblood had been building up melted like butter under the sun. His lower lip trembled as he silently intoned her name. Luna…the most terrible of all ponies. The monster that had tried to destroy Equestria in a fit of jealousy. The beast that had thrown him into obscurity because of his demands for retribution. The fiend that pulled the ears off colts and left them to die in forgotten cellars. The same one that swore that, if he should ever approach her again, she would chain to the center of the world for all eternity.
The guard gave a cruel smile as he saw Blueblood’s entire body start going slack with fear. The former prince’s voice trembled as he spoke. “V-Very well, then. L-L-Lead on…”
The guard loudly cleared his throat, returning his face to “serious business” mode. “Very well, then. Follow me, and do NOT wander off this time.”
Blueblood stared up at Celestia in stunned silence. It had been days since he had last seen her; most of his time had been spent serving the rest of his house arrest in that small guest room, with only the occasional potty break. But now that he was surrounded by his aunt’s godlike splendor once again, he could not help but feel overwhelmed and terrified. She could easily crush him like an ant, and he knew that. It was part of the reason why he went along with her rather unique punishment.
But still, she was his Aunt Celestia. And even better, Princess Luna was nowhere to be seen.
Celestia loudly cleared her throat, her horn glowing slightly as her magic amplified the noise just enough to ensure the colt was paying attention. Her gaze was cold and detached, like a tyrant out of a foal’s story book. “I trust you understand what will be happening today.”
Blueblood nodded. “Today…I go back to Kindergarten.”
“Magic Kindergarten. And why are you going there?”
The fallen noble let out another groan. “Because I have to learn my place.”
“No, that’s not right at all.” Celestia shook her head sadly. “This is about more than punishments or who did what. This is your chance to atone; not just for your misdeeds these last few days, but for the many other times you have circumvented the law, hurt others, and misused your position for your own ends.”
Blueblood finally worked up the nerve to look up. Celestia’s slanted eyes softened slightly at the growing horror etched across his face. “B-But how am I supposed to do that?”
Celestia closed her eyes, trying to look as authoritative as possible. This was always so much easier with Twilight. “When the time comes, you will understand. It’s not something one can easily explain to another. In the meantime, I want you to spend your time in class wisely. This is a learning experience, and I want you to make the most of it.”
Blueblood’s eyes shifted leftward. “B-But…”
“It’s this, or another trip to the dungeon.”
All doubt immediately vanished from the colt’s body. He hopped to attention, trying his best to hide his terror at what could very well be his destruction. “W-Well, I will try my best.”
“That is all anypony can ask of you.” The princess’ horn glowed with a brilliant golden light. The spectacle was soon followed by another glow, this time from a pair of small saddlebags. On each side was a half-heartedly stitched replica of Pluto, the yellow Alicorn that wasted her natural abilities to fight superpowered evil across Equestria. It was quite popular with younger foals, sitting just behind the Daring-Do series as the most popular books amongst early readers.
That is…that’s what I’ve heard, at least, Blueblood thought. His cheeks turned a deep crimson at the thought of “freaking out” over something so juvenile. Celestia did not fail to notice her nephew’s embarrassment, and it took all her royal decorum to hold back the laughing fit she was feeling inside.
The saddle bags floated over and landed snugly on Blueblood’s back. The colt winced at the sudden weight, causing the contents of the bag to shift. He could hear the rolling of pencils, the scrunching of paper, and the rustling of what sounded like a paper bag. All of these clicked against the bronze-coated clips that kept the flaps shut, giving off a metal ring whenever something hard struck them. That wasn’t what had really grabbed his attention, however. Rather, the very design of the saddle bags seemed to set off alarm bells in his head.
The shoddy construction, the way it barely fit his frame, and the terrible appearance was proof enough. This bag was bought off the shelf.
“I tried to find out what was popular with young ponies,” Celestia said. “And according to a young friend of mine, this character will get you a lot of attention.”
The colt kicked nervously at the ground. He could already feel the long, black tendrils of normality slither their way across his body. The only thing that could make it worse was…
“And there is also the matter of your name.”
Blueblood gasped, his heart stopping dead in its tracks. “B-But Aunt Celestia, why do we have to go that far? Surely nopony will mistake this…form for who I really am, right?”
Celestia did not even acknowledge her nephew’s fear. She instead simply walked over to a nearby credenza and floated out some paperwork. “When I registered you at the school, I took the liberty of creating a new name for you.”
Blueblood’s jaw hit the floor. “Wh-What?! What’s wrong with ‘Blueblood?!’”
“For one thing, it’s your real name. Thanks to your…exploits, just about every tabloid in Canterlot has ran at least one story a month on you. The foals might not recognize you, but their parents are another story.” Celestia shuffled through the papers, stopping when she finally stumbled across the right form. “Tell me, how does ‘Leon’ sound to you?”
Blueblood took a few steps away from the princess. “Leon? That sounds like…a common name. What kind of pony would call themselves Leon?”
Celestia’s eyes narrowed as her voice began to fill with growing spite for the colt. “I chose the name in remembrance of Andronicus León, a very special pony from twelve hundred years ago. Were it not for his actions, none of us would be here today.” Her voice seemed to drop an octave or two. “And a certain colt wouldn’t be standing here complaining about his name.”
Sensing that there was nothing but pain to gain from continuing this conversation, Blueblood wisely decided to shut his trap and return to attention. Once she was certain the colt wasn’t going to press the issue, she returned to her usual smile. “Now, would you like to know more about the school?”
Blueblood nodded an affirmative response, if only to get this over with. Celestia lifted up the documents again, turning the pages until she came across the school’s main flyer. “After looking over the test results and observation reports of every Magic Kindergarten in Canterlot, I finally located the perfect one for you. It’s called the Canterlot Castle Royal Preschool.”
Blueblood raised an eye at this. “That sounds...awfully presumptuous of them. Did they really think that would get them more students?”
Celestia shrugged indifferently. “I suppose it has to do with its location. The school is just a short walk from the palace entrance, so a lot of the staff send their children there out of convenience. There’s one other thing you should know, however.” She lowered the bundle of pages deliberately, her eyes locking onto Blueblood in a soul-burning gaze. “It’s not just a Magic Kindergarten.”
Blueblood titled his head. “Y-You mean, I have to go to school with non-unicorns?” The indignity!
“Our education system, like the rest of Equestrian society, does not discriminate because of race, Blueblood.” The Princess shook her head in frustration. “And yes, I have heard of your remarks about our Pegasus Guard. Quite frankly, it disturbs me that anypony in my family can spout such garbage.”
“I-I’m sorry,” Blueblood muttered half heartedly.
“In any case, I don’t want you to cause any trouble. Kindergarten is greatly about socialization, and that includes understanding that you can be friends with anypony, regardless of whether or not they have wings and horns.”
Blueblood fumed like a broken furnace, but said nothing else in response. Taking this as a sign he at least understood what she did not want from him, Celestia continued. “Sky Bloom, one of the castle’s staff, will see you to class and back. Remember, do not reveal yourself to anypony. We can’t have everyone finding out just what happened to you, at least not yet. Any questions?”
“Just one,” Blueblood said. “When exactly is this going to be over?”
Celestia gave a small laugh, halfway between a giggle and a chuckle, and placed a hoof upon her nephew’s shoulder. The colt squirmed slightly on reflex, but once he realized his aunt meant him no harm (yet), he calmed right back down. “Until I am satisfied either way.”
Groaning, Blueblood pushed Celestia’s hoof away. “What does that even mean?”
Yes, this is much easier with Twilight. “It means that I will be keeping an eye on you. Once I’m satisfied, I will pass my final judgment on you.” She smiled and tilted her head. “Now, have a fun day at school, Leon!”
The colt gulped and took a few steps towards the door. His saddle bags felt weighed down with certain doom and failure, all in the form of school supplies. He had no idea what he was supposed to do, and yet Celestia was hedging his entire life on this vague goal. How was a pony supposed to accomplish anything in these circumstances?
I was better off in the dungeon.
As advertised, the Canterlot Castle Royal Preschool sat only a short distance from the palace. The building’s exterior was polished to the point where it actually seemed to glow in the sunlight; the windows especially could probably fry an insect from about a hundred paces. The custodians were still at work on the gardens outside by the time the foals arrived, destroying all their hard-fought accomplishments underneath a stampede of rambunctious hooves.
Nopony noticed the small colt and accompanying parent/aunt’s servant slowly approaching the school grounds. That is, save for the one teacher still standing outside. She was a yellow unicorn, with an orange-and-pink mane and a sun with hearts over it for a Cutie Mark. Her lips were curled into the kind of smile many teachers wore, the kind that simultaneously expressed genuine love for their students and repressed their urge to throttle them for driving them to madness.
Blueblood and Sky Bloom, the white-with-pinkish maned unicorn he had been trapped with, stopped in front of the waiting teacher. The educator unicorn’s smile widened as she glanced back and forth between the two. “Well, good morning! And welcome to your first day at Canterlot Castle Magic Preschool, where the best and brightest learn how to use their natural talents!”
Sky Bloom shrugged in confusion. “Why are you giving the sales pitch to my son?”
“…Oh, I’m sorry.” The teacher lifted her head away from Blueblood and back to the nearby “parent.” “I get carried away with these things sometimes. It’s part of the job description. Well, my name is Miss Brightly, and I will be Leon’s teacher during his time with us.” She raised her right foreleg. “It is a pleasure meeting the both of you.”
Sky Bloom smiled and took the mare’s hoof in a hearty shake. “Thank you for meeting us. I always love to see who will be teaching my special little foal!” She turned to Blueblood, her teeth barred into a smile, and nodded at the little foal. “Isn’t that right, Leon?”
Finally seeing what he was supposed to do, Blueblood smiled and nodded along. “Oh, yes. Mommy just loves talking to big ponies like you!”
Miss Brightly’s grin remained locked in place, as if her jaw had been welded into place. “Well, class will be beginning soon. I’m sure you’ll have all sorts of fun here!” She turned back to Sky Bloom. “I mean the educational kind of fun. The kind that gets foals into universities and earns them PhD’s, not the kind that makes their teachers dump them into rural villages.”
Sky Bloom’s eyes narrowed. “Excuse me?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing!” Miss Brightly let out a small chortle. Blueblood and Sky Bloom exchanged confused, almost terrified glances at the pony’s outburst. It was several moments before she regained her composure. “Now, shall we begin?”
Blueblood gave Sky Bloom one last look. His eyes sang of the growing fear and despair in his soul. The servant said nothing; she only gave him a false smile just to sell the “loving mother” role the princess had no doubt given her. Finally, Blueblood lowered his head and slowly marched behind Miss Brightly into the school.
Sky Bloom waited until the doors were closed before heading back to the palace. She had a lot of work to do today, after all…
The classroom’s interior served as a stark contrast to the exterior’s beautiful design. The small room was only slightly larger than the prince’s old bedroom, and even that was on the tiny end of the scale compared to many of the other noble houses. (He had to make room for the hot tub, after all.) Simple wooden desks lined the walls, each of them just big enough to fit a regular-sized foal. The center of the classroom was cluttered with toys, puzzles, torn sheets of paper, and more than a few other piles of debris, all of which had just over a dozen actual foals running through them at any given moment.
Blueblood gulped back the biggest lump his throat had ever seen. His joints shook as Miss Brightly ushered him inside. It took his fear of his aunts to finally get him inside.
All activity in the room ceased the moment the students saw the newcomer. The fillies and colts simply stared up in surprise at Blueblood’s direction, a few shyly turning away at the last moment to avoid making eye contact. Miss Brightly took her place directly on Blueblood’s left and clapped her hooves. The foals reacted like trained mice, scampering to their designated desks before turning back to their teacher.
“Good morning, class!”
“Good morning, Miss Brightly,” answered a chorus of shaky, unsure, high-pitched voices.
The teacher took her own seat behind a metal and wood desk in the corner of the classroom. Blueblood winced at the dozens of hoofpaint and crayon creations littering the front. If this is the extent of their artistic abilities, I won’t have much trouble rising above this clatter.
“Now, I’m sure you all can see we have a new classmate joining us today.” She pointed her right foreleg at Blueblood, sending the foal recoiling slightly and blushing in embarrassment. “Fillies and colts, please say hello to Leon!”
The entire room erupted in a cacophony of cheers and greetings, both genuine and mechanically indoctrinated alike. Blueblood blushed and kicked against the floor absentmindedly. It had been quite a while since his appearance had actually been met with cheers, after all.
The small ego-stroking session ended as Miss Brightly pointed towards an empty desk next to a blue unicorn filly. “Now Leon, would please take your seat?”
Blueblood quickly jumped into the little wooden seat, resting his forelegs on the wooden top. He glanced over at the other fillies and colts, all of whom were staring at either him or Miss Brightly. He returned the welcoming smiles. Yes, this will not be too difficult. With a little work, Prince Blueblood will be right back on top where he belongs! I can only hope the rest of the day goes as well as this.
“And now class,” Miss Brightly said, “we’re going to talk about dogs and cats!”
Blueblood barely resisted the urge to slam his face into the desk. He could tell exactly what most of his day would be filled with.
Celestia’s magic lifted up the massive blueprint of the ballroom’s newest renovations. The old chamber was still in a sorry state, and would still have to be at least presentable before the upcoming Canterlot Garden Party in a few weeks time. Nonetheless, her advisors were adamant that she use the opportunity to make some renovations to the ballroom’s infrastructure. Most of them were fairly sound, such as reinforcing the pillars and ceiling in case another stampede happened to occur on the palace grounds. But then there were the more esoteric ones…
“Why does the ballroom need another statue of me?” Celestia asked.
One of the foreponies, a teal unicorn trying to bury himself inside his hardhat and vest, slowly rose from the floor. “We were told to make sure the ballroom looked as beautiful as you. And since you are the most beautiful thing in Equestria, it only made sense that you would be the cornerstone of the whole construction. I-It was meant as a compliment.”
Celestia’s right foreleg started to move up for a facehoof, but was just as quickly knocked back down with but a mental command. Her lips, on the other hoof, still gave a small scowl. “I appreciate the offer, but don’t you think there’s enough statues around the grounds already?”
“Bu…But they have already been ordered! A-And we were making one of Princess Luna as well,” the forepony said. He hunkered himself right back down, as if Princess Celestia was about to will down a ceiling beam on his head.
The Princess only smiled, her magic furling up the blueprints as she did so. “Perhaps a suggestion is in order? Rather than clutter up the interior with more statues, we can place some more decorations outside. I believe some icons of the Royal Pony Sisters will be more than welcoming?”
The poor forepony’s nerves relaxed a little. “Y-Yes, Your Highness.”
Celestia gently floated the blueprints downward, where another aura intercepted them. The forepony climbed to his hooves, gave a quick nod of the head, and scurried back to work, plans in tow. The Sun Princess congratulated herself on another task done, and turned to go back to her work.
She managed to trot about ten meters before crashing into a rather peeved, dark blue Alicorn. Celestia quickly took a step back, her eyes widened with surprise at the sight. “L-Luna! I thought you were in bed!”
“He’s gone,” she hissed.
Regaining her grip of her emotions for just a moment, Celestia smiled. “You mean Blueblood? Of course he’s gone. It’s the first day of school, after all!”
The older sister let out a small, lighthearted chuckle. Luna simply continued to scowl. “I thought you agreed not to go ahead with this ridiculous plan of yours. Really, Magic Kindergarten? That is the best you could come up with?”
Celestia’s smile vanished. She knew her sister was hesitant about the whole scheme, but she had not imagined she would react this badly. “Little sister, I am not promising that anything will change. I am simply giving Blueblood a chance to make up for his misdeeds.”
“By sending him off to play?!” Luna swung out one hoof so fast that it struck the wall, crushing the marble into tiny, bite-sized chunks. The Night Mare blushed slightly as she pulled her leg out of the hole and set it back beneath her. “Sister, I have doubted your judgment before, but never like this! All you will accomplish is teaching that foal to be an even larger flank than he was before!”
“That remains to be seen,” Celestia said softly. “I went through the same ordeal, and I feel better for it.” Her face became much sterner. “And have you forgotten a certain pony that tried to destroy Equestria, but has redeemed herself time and again this last year alone? Don’t you think your nephew deserves the same opportunity?”
Luna shook her head. “You do not understand at all. You emerged a better pony because you already are a better pony than he is. And as for I-” She closed her eyes, not wishing to quite go back to this rather dark area of her life. “I did not frolic and play during my thousands years of banishment. I did not pick flowers and dance to fifes and lyres while Discord destroyed Equestria. And I certainly did not seek out self-gratification and pleasure while you nearly died saving me. I suffered for my failures every step of the way.”
“Luna…” Celestia took a step forward, her wings extended and ready to embrace her sister in a gentle hug. Before she could get a single feather over, however, Luna had already pulled back out of range, her eyes filled with growing frustration at her sister’s antics. “I agree that this is odd, but there is a method to this. I did not simply send Blueblood away to play. I sent him to learn and better himself.”
Luna rolled her eyes at this. Realizing she wasn’t going to get anywhere with this conversation, the younger of the Royal Pony Sisters turned on her hooves and started walking away. Celestia moved to stop her, but paused herself when she heard her sister’s voice. “Very well then. You may have your fun, Celestia. But I do not care how much that fiend may claim to have changed. Anypony who would try to harm their own family like he did…does not deserve to have one.”
Celestia watched as her sister disappeared into the dark corridors of the palace. She tried to find the right words, the one sentence that would solve everything and make Luna see her side, but her mind fumbled and found nothing. Even she could feel doubt starting to creep into the back of her mind.
Well, at least he’s up to something interesting...
“And that is the difference between dogs and cats!” Miss Brightly, having finished her epic lesson of the day, turned away from the simple screen showing a small brown dog and an equally-sized brown cat. The students stared at her in stunned awe, their tiny little brains eating up all this information with gusto. The only foal not overly enthusiastic about this fascinatingly scientific study was Blueblood; the colt only sat at his chair in frustrated silence. I cannot believe this. How is something as stupid as telling two animals apart going to prove I’ve reformed? How am I supposed to learn anything in a place like this?
Miss Brightly walked back to her desk, shuffled some documents on top, and turned towards the class. “Alright, now it’s time for our math lesson! I hope everypony studied this time!”
The simultaneous groans and moans of over a dozen five-year-olds combined into a single mournful sigh that echoed throughout the classroom. Even Miss Brightly had to join in on the gloom session, clenching her teeth until they looked more like the bars of a jail cell. “I see. Don’t you worry though, fillies and colts, because we’re gonna cover it all anyway!”
The teacher leaned back and levitated over an entire pile of placards. The foals in the front row, Blueblood included, were fortunate enough to catch but a brief glimpse of the things. There were pictures of apple halves, oranges, mice, music notes, and even a donkey or two, all of them arranged in very simplistic mathematical expressions. The cards were halfway onto the stand when the bell over the door let out a shrill ring.
The foals immediately jumped for joy. That bell could mean only one thing.
It was time for recess.
Celestia only looked up from her cluttered desk when a heavy, metal-plated hoof pounded on the door. “Your Majesty, Captain Shining Armor has returned. He wishes to speak with you.”
The princess raised an eyebrow. “He’s back already? But we weren’t expecting him for another two days.”
“He’s already reported that the new troop deployments and garrisons were finished in record time. He only wishes to discuss some of the changes that have occurred while he was away.”
“Ah, I see.” Celestia levitated her quill back into the ink well, the feathered tip smacking against the edge as soon as her magic released the instrument. “I suppose we shouldn’t keep him in the dark, then. Please send him in.”
The guard fired off a quick salute before retreating out. Celestia could hear his armored hooves clop down about fifteen steps before stopping. All noise in the hall vanished, save for some small whispers, until a different set of hooves went clopping along into the room. Sure enough, it was Shining Armor, Captain of the Royal Guard and brother to Celestia’s prized pupil, Twilight Sparkle. His unique armor had been polished to the point that it almost looked like he had just grabbed it out of a showroom.
Shining closed the door behind him and bowed to his knees. “Your Majesty, I have returned.”
Yes, I can see that. “Welcome back, Shining Armor. I trust everything went well with the border patrols?”
Captain Armor slowly rose back up, his mind fighting valiantly against his urge to scratch a particularly annoying itch on the back of his neck. “Everything’s gone exactly as you ordered. Our borders are safe, those highway bandits next to Coltenville have been rounded up, and Baltimare’s mayor wanted me to tell you that the crepes were delicious.”
Celestia nodded along. She already knew exactly how things had turned out; had anything gone wrong, Shining Armor would either not be back here at all, or have returned with a few arrows embedded in his flank. “Good work, then. I am pleased to see that you are getting a hang on more…diplomatic duties. The life of a prince is much more than slaying giant, rampaging dragons to save faire maidens, after all.” Her eyes narrowed. “Not that you would get my niece anywhere near a giant, rampaging dragon, would you?”
Shining Armor, once deemed the bravest guard in all of Canterlot, quickly bowed his hind legs back and sweated like a foal being scolded. “N-N-No, of course not! I love Cadance! There’s no way I’d ever expose her to danger like that.”
“Then we have an understanding.” Celestia slowly turned back to her work. “I also understand that a few of the…events of the last few days have left you baffled?”
Shining shuffled his armor about nervously. He tried his best not to maintain eye contact with his monarch/employer. “Well…I heard Twiley- I mean, my sister was helping cover your vacation.”
Celestia grinned, her eyes still locked on the paperwork before her. “Yes, and she did a marvelous job. I fear a lot of situations propped up over those few days. Without her help, I don’t believe even Princess Luna could have handled all those crises. I’m afraid you just missed her, though. She’s already back in Ponyville, still continuing her studies on friendship. Anything else I can assist you with, Captain?”
“A-And I heard something about Prince Blueblood being arrested?” Shining’s nervousness was growing ever more evident. If his armor could clang any louder, it would have been capable of drowning out an entire army division’s marching.
The act of sighing still wasn’t enough to break Celestia’s concentration, nor stop her horn from moving her quill. “Unfortunately, yes. I fear my nephew has overstepped one bound too many. His case is still under…” She paused, added, “Review,” and then went right back to work.
“And lastly, I heard something about a…filly running around the palace?” Shining Armor’s eyes widened as he dared to speak the next few words. “Was that…really you?”
Celestia’s business proceedings stopped immediately. She floated the quill back into the ink well and looked up from her work, an awkward smile etched across her lips. “I am afraid so, my dear Shining Armor. It was certainly… an unusual situation, and not one I am in a hurry to repeat.” Her hoof casually drifted downwards towards an open drawer, its tip tracing across the figure hidden within. “Yes, in no hurry at all.”
She raised her leg back up, refocusing all her attention on her Captain of the Guard. “In any case, I am perfectly healthy. The spell has been broken, Equestria is still standing, and Luna has never been more popular. All together, I suppose no real harm has been done so far. Have I put your fears at ease, Shining Armor?”
“I…I think so,” Armor said. The tension in the air seemed to gradually melt away, giving the stallion some more room to breathe. He even felt bold enough to smile. “I guess I do miss the most amazing things sometimes. Shame I wasn’t there when you finally threw that jerk Blueblood out on his ear.”
Celestia raised an eye at this. “Excuse me?”
Shining let out a small chortle; in his euphoria, he had failed to notice Princess Celestia’s rather rapid change in mood. “After all the garbage that raging flank put us all through, he more than deserved to be locked away for the rest of eternity! Do you know what he did during my first shift ever? He told me to go get him some fruit punch, grabbed my helmet, dumped the punch in it, and then slammed it back on my head! And then he blamed ME for making him do it!”
The princess’ eyes shifted slightly leftward. “I-I understand he was quite the hoofful at times. I’ve gotten more than enough complaints on that front. But…have they told you what happened to Blueblood exactly?”
Shining Armor shook his head. “Nah…I mean, no! Every one of the guards have said you swore them to secrecy. But whatever it was, I’m sure it’s better than the gelding deserves.” He let out another small chuckle, closing his eyes and scratching the back of his neck at the same time. “You know, I kinda wish he had turned into a colt!”
Tiny drops of perspiration slowly sank down Celestia’s weary brow. “That is a horrible thing to wish on anypony. Why would you say such a thing?”
“By Jove, if I ever found that stallion as a little runt…” He clicked his teeth. “I can’t even begin to think about all the stuff I’d do to him! After putting Cadance and I through Tartarus, it would be nice to finally get some payback on that…”
The imaginary torture session would have continued, had Shining Armor not opened his eyes at just that moment. Celestia was no longer sitting at her desk like a good little monarch; instead, she was standing directly in front of the stallion, a look of pure disappointment on her face. The stallion’s blood froze immediately as the full scale of his threats and declarations came to the forefront of his mind. “I-I mean, it’s not like I would really…”
“Shining Armor, I am very disappointed in you.” Celestia’s lips twisted into a silent snarl, making the stallion feel less like the Captain of the Guard and more like a schmuck about to be struck by a meteor. “No matter what transgressions Blueblood has committed, his punishment shall be my responsibility alone. I assure you, the matter is being handled with the upmost seriousness. But I shall not tolerate any of my guards, let alone who is supposed to be the most responsible member, going on a vengeance-fueled rampage because of things said and done in the past. I am willing to overlook it this time, but should I learn that you have brought any harm to Blueblood, you can forget your position at the palace, let alone your relationship with my niece. Do you understand?”
Shining Armor shook his head with the vigor of a caffeine addict. “I…I swear, I won’t harm that little colt in any way, shape or form.”
The room stayed quiet for several moments more. Finally, Celestia smiled. “Very good. You may resume your duties, Captain. The shift changes have already been sent to your quarters, and we have some new recruits on duty tonight. Oh, and welcome back!”
Relieved to finally be out of there, Shining Armor fired off a salute and galloped out of the office like his life depended on it. Once he was out of range, Celestia willed the doors closed, made sure the window curtains were drawn, and finally allowed herself to sigh in relief. She had never seen Shining Armor so upset at anypony in all the time she had known him. Then again, her nephew had a tendency to bring out the worst in ponies at times. Nevertheless, she still couldn’t allow any of her subjects to come to any real harm when she had the power to prevent it.
Still, this could be a problem. She tapped a hoof to her chin, her mind racing through all the available options at the moment. Shining Armor hated her nephew, that much was certain. Cadance had a more…complicated relationship with Blueblood, but she would not be back for a few more days. The palace was large enough to shuttle him in and out without notice, and the other guards would obey their orders, however much Blueblood had done to them in the past.
That left only Luna to worry about.
Celestia knew her sister was stubborn. She had refused to part with the ancient traditions upon her return, even after Celestia had done everything short of burning “STOP USING THE ROYAL WE” in the grass with very precise Solar Magic. Even before then, she refused to attend formal events because somepony’s great-great-grandmother had said something she didn’t like, refused to lighten up her standards for the Military until the recruitment numbers sank into the negatives, and worst of all, would not listen when her sister kept telling her she really was loved. Whatever Blueblood had done to offend her, it had obviously affected her a great deal more than Celestia felt she could ever understand.
Still, she won’t do anything, Celestia thought to herself. She’s a good pony at heart. I’m certain she’ll give Blueblood all the space he needs. And with Shining Armor on board as well, Blueblood’s chances of success have already grown.
The preschool’s playground was rather small, but still larger than Blueblood had expected. A large, three-seated swing set sat next to a small sandbox, which itself sat next to a surprisingly pristine jungle gym. A field of grass surrounded all three, creating a welcome respite from the paved streets that dominated much of this area of Canterlot. There was already another class out there, this one from one of the Pegasus classes. And sure enough, a few of the foals were already trying to eat away, ignoring their mother’s scolding about not eating what other ponies have walked on.
Miss Brightly led Blueblood’s class to these discount Elysian Fields in a straight line, not unlike a Sergeant leading a squad of cadets in a drill session. Blueblood couldn’t help but smile at the memory of his brief stint in the military academy, back when he was actually somepony important. His reduced stature actually served a purpose for once, as the longer walk gave him more time to admire the change in scenery and savor this small bit of nostalgia.
The procession stopped just in front of a merry-go-round, its metal surface shining with a sticky coat of paint. Miss Brightly spun about and looked down at her little charges. “Have fun, my little ponies! I’ll be here if you need anything, like always!”
The foals weren’t listening anymore; they were already spread out and running across everything on the small patch of ground. The swings were swinging, the sandbox was in the middle of an excavation for ancient gold, and a daring adventure was going on at the jungle gym. And of course, a pair of colts were busy chewing on the grass at the far corner. Miss Brightly quickly sat herself on a nearby bench, her eyes scanning the field before her in case of trouble.
Blueblood, on the other hoof, just stood there for a good while, his mind drawing a blank as to what to do. He looked back for something that he could draw upon to figure out what all this was before him, but he could see nothing. He had played as a foal, certainly, but it wasn’t quite like this. There, he had only a few relatives, the occasional foal of one of the servants, and the guards to mess with. Of those, the latter had a tendency to snap at him after he dumped rotten eggs onto their armor, while the former two just preferred to ignore the colt altogether. Only one of his cousins had ever seemed to like him, but she was nowhere near Canterlot, and in any case was now far older than he.
Once again, the crushing futility of his task seemed to weigh in. With no other recourse, he looked up towards the sun. Aunt Celestia, please give me some kind of sign, a hint, ANYTHING.
“Um…hey, new kid.”
Blueblood snapped out of his silent prayer session and looked downward. Standing about eye level to him was a unicorn filly, the same blue one that he had been seated next to during class. She rubbed her front fetlocks nervously, her eyes focusing on a single spot on the ground. The two were completely silent for several seconds, with only the happy roars and cheers of the other kids breaking the heavy atmosphere. Finally, Blueblood could take no more. “C-Can I help you?”
“Well…I saw you standing there, and you looked kinda lonely, and…” The filly squeaked something inaudible, her right eye twitching slightly. “I talked to my friends, and they said you could come play with us. I mean, if you want.”
Blueblood’s jaw dropped slightly. “Y-You want me to play with you? But I just got here. You don’t even know who I am!”
The filly took a step back. “I…It’s okay. I was just wondering if you needed some friends.”
The colt wanted to say something else, perhaps even chide the filly on her naïve nature, but all such thoughts died in his throat. He couldn’t help but feel more than a little touched at the seemingly sincere offer. And besides, it wasn’t like he had anything else better to do. “I suppose I could. Just show me to these friends of yours.”
The filly smiled and nodded her head quickly. The two then started on their way across the playground, heading towards a large oak tree at the far end. “M-My name’s Ribbon,” she said. “I-It’s nice to meet you.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Blueblood responded.
By the time the two had reached the tree, three other fillies were already standing there waiting. Two of them were unicorns, one white and the other a pink shade of lavender. The third was a yellow pegasus from the other class, her back turned to the others as she tried to flutter up to a ribbon tied to a tree branch. The two more attentive foals smiled and waved at Blueblood, who timidly responded in kind. “H-Hello.”
Ribbon took a step in between Blueblood and the small gathering of friends. She pointed to the white unicorn first. “Leon, this is Gusty.” She then motioned towards the other. “And this is Buttons.”
“Um…Hi,” he said. “My name’s Bl- I mean, Leon. It’s…a pleasure to meet all of you.”
“Welcome to the group, Leon!” said Gusty. Before Blueblood could even breathe, she had already hopped to his side and grabbed him in a neck lock. “It’s always nice to have some new friends, isn’t it?”
“Um…yeah, of course!” said Buttons. “Say, you don’t have a problem with playing with fillies, do you?”
Blueblood managed to break free of his attacker, if only because Gusty finally realized she was strangling the poor kid and let go. “I…I see no problem with it.” In fact, this might be my key to stardom in this school! Just like before, I’ll have a filly on each leg, and…
Ribbon, ignoring her new friend’s sudden twist of imagination, turned to the pegasus. “Um…I got the new guy.”
“Ugh, fine,” the pegasus filly grumbled. She spun about, her eyes locked with the waiting Blueblood’s. “It’s nice to…meet…YOU!”
Both princeling and commoner stared at each other in horror, their mouths slacked down wide enough to fit an entire salad. Ribbon and the others just scratched their heads in confusion. “Um…Lofty? Is something wrong?”