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Blueblood’s morning routine pretty much trudged on as usual. He performed his morning exercises with the guards, received his usual scolding from Shining Armor, washed away the copious amount of sweat he had accumulated doing said exercises, and finally groomed himself as best he could. He brushed his mane, flattened his coat, and finally scrubbed his teeth. All in all, it was a very typical start to the day, at least since he had been cursed.
And then he reached the breakfast table.
To his amazement, there was no sign of Princess Luna at all. Only his Aunt Celestia was in attendance, munching an egg-filled burrito and humming a merry tune as she went over some paperwork. Blueblood slowly slid into his seat, his eyes darting back and forth in case his evil aunt was waiting to jump him from the shadows. He barely even acknowledged his own tortilla-wrapped meal, sitting on a small plate before him. “G-Good morning, Princess Celestia.”
Celestia gave a very short nod at the sound of Blueblood’s voice, her eyes never leaving the work that lay before her. “Good morning, Leon. Happy Monday!”
Blueblood chuckled nervously and rolled his eyes. After all these years, she’s still making the same joke. “So, where is Princess Luna? She hasn’t missed a breakfast since this started.”
Celestia’s response began with a weighted sigh. Her brow furrowed with what Blueblood could assume was no small bit of anxiety. “She is…indisposed. Last night was especially difficult for her, so I am allowing her to rest a while longer.” She swallowed another bite of her burrito. “You don’t have plans after school, right?”
Blueblood rolled his eyes. “Aunt Celestia, do you really think I’d be stupid enough to run around Canterlot looking like this? I was never that foolish.”
The colt barely had just enough time to comprehend the stupidity of what he had just uttered by the time Celestia’s eyes had met with his. “I don’t know. Which pony decided to try to kidnap me so he could burn down an entire village, hmm? And then, just to prove their point, tried to stop a dangerous spell and almost harmed my protégé?”
Blueblood slunk down in his seat. “I…see your point. No, I don’t plan to go anywhere. I don’t think Sky Bloom would allow it, anyway.”
“And there’s…something else.” Celestia’s horn lit up, her magic taking hold of a small scroll before depositing it on the table. “I just received this in yesterday’s mail. It’s from Cadance.”
The burrito slipped from Blueblood’s hooves and splattered across his plate. Absolute terror gripped every inch of his very being at the name. “C-Cadance? She’s coming here?”
“She was helping Luna and I deal with the situation in Stalliongrad these last few weeks. Now that the relief efforts are under control, she’s returning to Canterlot.” Celestia smiled. “After all, she still has a wedding in a few months. I’m certain she’d love to spend some time with Shining Armor again.”
Blueblood chuckled nervously, his eyes unconsciously rolling to his left. “Yes, yes, lovely. That is…lovely. And what are we going to do about me?”
“I haven’t exactly figured that part out yet.” Celestia let out a sigh, her mane drooping just slightly. “With her being here, though, I would recommend that you be on your very best behavior. Remember what happened the last time you two spoke?” Blueblood nodded, with only a tiny squeak to represent his verbal response. “Still, I don’t expect your cousin to hold too much of a grudge. She is still Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, after all.”
“Y-Yes, of course she is,” Blueblood stammered. He quickly shoved the last few bites of his meal in his mouth and hopped to his hooves so fast the contents of his stomach jumped about. “Well, I really need to get going. I still have school and…um…stuff that…doesn’t involve Cadance in any way…bye!”
Despite his latest fit, Celestia still managed to smile as he darted off to brush his teeth. She levitated her tea to her lips and took a small sip. Don’t worry, Blueblood. Once I explain the situation to her, I’m certain she’ll understand…
The butterfly keeps darting in and out of view, taunting me. This will not stand. Our parents created this planet for us, and we shall not allow your pretty colors to taunt our godly visage!
I strike out with my hooves. The fiend dodges my blows, flying higher and higher to continue the mockery. I pounce as best I can, but I cannot reach. My wings flap at my sides, but I am still not strong enough to fly for more than a few seconds, and I fall right back to the ground. It flies away, faster and faster and faster.
I turn around. My sister is standing there, smiling. She is so beautiful, so powerful. She knows everything there is to know, can defeat any enemy, and loves everypony equally. I want to become just like her. Then when our parents come back, they will be so impressed that they will not abandon us again. I am such a smart pony.
I walk up to my sister. She raises her wing. I walk underneath. Her body is warm and pleasant to the touch. I sink closer to her.
“I love you so much, big sister!”
“I love you too, Luna!”
Everything is happy, content, wonderful. She is so warm. The heat melts down my face, burns my eyes. I feel something sting my eyes. I look up in surprise.
My sister is bleeding.
I panic and withdraw from her. Blood is streaming down her every inch of her body. She looks at me with pure hatred. She stands as her flesh seems to peel away, the blood replaced with a burning inferno. “Luna, why did you do it? Why do you hate me?”
“I don’t hate you!”
“Why did you do it?”
I run. I gallop away until I reach a small stream. I can run no more, I need water. So I try to drink.
I see my reflection.
The face that stares back is not me.
It is Nightmare Moon.
“Why did you do it?”
I spin around to face my sister. She is no longer a pony, but a mass of pure hatred and contempt. Her burning eyes stare at me with contempt, tiny yellow beads buried within a swirling mass of blood and orange energy. “Monster. Fiend. Nightmare. Why did you do it?”
“I-I didn’t mean to!”
It grows closer. “WHY DID YOU DO IT?”
“I-I just wanted them to love me!”
It was almost upon me. I tried to run, but my hooves were frozen. “WHY DID YOU DO IT?”
Luna’s body catapulted forward so quickly that the bedcovers managed to fly a good ten feet off the bed. The bedspread itself was drenched in a cold sweat, as was her body. She had not had a nightmare like that in months. Feeling guilt over everything that had happened a thousand years ago was nothing new, true, but this was different. There was something in Celestia’s voice, a cold condemnation that she had never heard her elder sister utter before.
Slowly, Luna rolled out of the bed, her brain pounding with the most epic hangover in Equestrian history. The pain in her skull dulled her sense at first, and it was about ten minutes before she could fully comprehend exactly where she was. Even in this state, she could recognize this as Celestia’s bedroom. H-How did I get…?
She took a few steps forward, pausing only when she felt something odd on one of her legs. Sure enough, she could make out a small bandage wrapped in small sections around her leg, tiny splotches on red showing through the fabric. When did these get…?
Her eyes widened as the hazy fog in her mind lifted. She could remember everything that had happened the previous day, from the time she had visited with Rarity to destroying her own room. I-I was in my room…Celestia came in…I spoke to her, and…
Then she saw what was waiting on the dresser. There, sitting in plain view for all but the utterly inebriated, was a silver dome resting atop a platter. Luna cocked her head, trying in vain to at least make out her reflection, but alas, the kitchen staff had not gotten to polishing this piece of dishware yet, and all she could make out was that her face was now a smudged mass of hoofprints. It also didn’t help that there was a folded piece of paper attached to its surface.
Luna slowly made her way forward, her limbs still groggy from her slumber. It took a considerable amount of willpower just to levitate the note free of the tape, float it to her eye level, and finally open it enough to read:
I do not know if you will remember exactly what occurred between us yesterday. After I found you yesterday, I had no choice but to use a sleeping spell to smuggle you back to my bedroom for the time being. You were in no shape to perform your royal duties, and I could not risk allowing you to hurt yourself further.
I have already spoken to Twilight Sparkle on the matter. According to her, Rarity is still livid, but so far has told nopony else of what has transpired. I have already asked my student to keep things under control in Ponyville until we have come to a final decision regarding Blueblood. Still, I want you to understand that just because you made a poor choice in judgment does not mean any possibility of a friendship between you and Miss Rarity is impossible. If you wish, I can help you with an apology later tonight.
As for today, I want you to eat your breakfast and then join me near the front castle gates. Princess Mi Amore Cadenza is returning to Canterlot today, and it is important that we greet her as a family. I know the two of you did not get off on the right hoof, but that does not mean you should exclude any possibility of a friendship between the two of you.
Lastly, I must ask you not to mention Blueblood to her. He and Cadance have had a very…tense relationship for a while, and while I trust her not to perform anything morally bankrupt, I still want to handle this on my own terms. But for now, I had the castle staff prepare you a breakfast burrito. It should still be sitting on your tray. And don’t pick at your bandage.
Luna stopped picking at her bandage and tossed the note aside with a humph. A sleeping spell? Hurting myself? Does she really think so little of me?
Her lips drooped, while her eyes began to quiver slightly. And besides, how can anypony forgive me for that?
Before she could sink completely into self-pity, however, a single thought managed to kick her mind back into happier territory. She managed to force a smile as she levitated the top off her platter. Still, no doubt I shall have a full day at court today. Once I am back on the throne and working for my the good of my subjects again, yesterday’s troubles shall be but a bad memory.
Blueblood was five steps away from the classroom door when he heard Lofty’s voice call out. “Hey, Leon! You got a minute?”
The colt spun about, his eyes meeting up with the Pegasus filly. The sight sent him doubling back in surprise, not only because he hadn’t expected to see her again so soon after the party, but because she was actually smiling at him. “Uh…May I…help you?”
“I just wanted to thank you so, so much for that picture!” Lofty’s tiny wings extended from her uncontrollable glee, which served to only make Blueblood even more nervous. “That was the most awesome gift anypony’s ever given me! I mean, I know I said thank you back then but I really couldn’t tell you just how amazing it was because I was so surprised that a pony like you would give me that but-”
Blueblood raised a hoof, his eyes widening with worry as Lofty appeared to have begun hyperventilating. “Look, it’s all right. I’m just…glad you enjoyed your present.”
If Lofty had detected the small hint of shame in Blueblood’s voice in that comment, she made no effort to show it. In fact, her sense of overflowing glee only seemed to grow. “Look…I know we got off on a bad hoof. I mean, I only knew you when you were a mean adult, but now? You’re actually…not too bad. For a colt, I mean.”
“Um…thanks,” Blueblood muttered.
Any further possibility of a prolonged conversation came to an end as the first bell rang, signaling a last-minute call to class. “Oh crud, I can’t be late today! I-I’ll see you at recess!” Before Blueblood could get another word in, Lofty was already galloping towards her classroom, her tiny wings spread out to try and boost her speed with a good draft.
Blueblood watched her disappear into the distance before opening his own classroom door and wandering to his desk. As he heaved his saddlebags onto the designated spot on the floor, his mind invariably drifted back towards that party. In particular, to the very special gift he never got the birthday pony, and yet was now being praised for. It was obvious who was responsible, and it was especially evident why it was done, but there was just one thing bothering him.
Why do I feel so bad about it?
The moment the lookouts spotted the carriage approaching the castle gates, Celestia and her royal procession trotted down the front steps to greet them. It was as small an affair as she could get away with, consisting of only herself, her sister, Shining Armor, and about half a dozen other guards and servants. Her Captain was already quivering in excitement for the occasion, forcing Celestia to chortle a chuckle. As for Luna, she just seemed as withdrawn as ever.
The carriage slowly pulled around the bend, its wheels squeaking and clapping along before coming to a halt just in front of the first steps. The ponies pulling the vehicle quickly unharnessed themselves and cantered to let their passenger out, only to find the door already opened and a pink forehoof slowly, methodically descending down from the carriage platform to the hard stone floor below.
Seeing that their help was no longer needed, one of the ponies, a burly maroon stallion, turned about and bowed towards his Princesses. “Your Highnesses, may I present Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, Princess of Roam and Heir to the Crystal Em-”
All while the stallion was echoing the dozen or so titles his charge had accumulated over her life, Mi Amore Cadenza continued to make her way out of the carriage. She set her second forehoof down, just a tad ahead of the first, paused to flip her mane out of her eyes, and continued to make her way out. Just as she was about to step out entirely, however, her right hind hoof caught on the bottom lip of the carriage door. She barely had time to let out a yelp of surprise before tumbling face-first onto the floor.
Everypony in attendance immediately stopped talking and ran up to the fallen princess. Shining Armor in particular pushed himself to the front, lowered his body down enough to slide underneath his fiance’s barrel, and finally helped her back to her hooves before the embarrassment could continue. “Cadance, are you all right?”
Cadance blew a gust of frustrated hot breath, but otherwise just smiled. “I’m fine, Shining Armor. Just decided to let gravity speed me along a little, that’s all.” She deftly let out a small chuckle, her laughter barely managing to cover the intense, searing agony the front of her face was currently experiencing. After a few moments, Shining seemed to finally buy her excuse and released her, allowing the princess the chance to continue her journey up the stairs.
The princess paused as she stepped in front of Princess Celestia. The elder Alicorn gave the younger a quick nod, her lips stern with seeming disapproval. Cadance shuddered in terror from her aunt’s shifting eyes, and in the process, allowed her guard to drop just enough for Celestia to step forward and give her a warm, loving hug. “Welcome back, Cadence.”
Cadance smiled, her body feeling more than a little numb from her exhausting trip and her aunt’s unnaturally warm body. She could hear Shining Armor snorting behind her, obviously to suppress the laughter welling up from seeing his fiancé blush through her pink coat, but chose to ignore him for the moment. “Thank you, Aunt Celestia. Sorry it took so long. You wouldn’t believe how much of a mess Stalliongrad was.”
Celestia giggled. “Trust me, I know. Why do you think I sent you there in the first place?” She gave the still-somewhat nervous mare a small wink. “I do hope the experience was an enlightening one. You won’t be a little princess forever, after all, and assignments like this are just some of the crises you’ll have to deal with on a daily basis. I’m just glad I have had the chance to teach you at least a little about ruling. Just because those deadbeat, good-for-nothing parents of yours abandoned you in Canterlot for almost your life doesn’t mean that…”
The Sun Princess’ ranting came to an end after a rather forceful nudge from Luna woke her back into reality. Cadance was still standing in front of her, but in the time Celestia had broken off on her miniature tirade, her expressions had changed from happy to be home to wishing she could just hop back in the carriage and ride to Roam. “I…I’m sorry, Cadance. I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s alright.” Somehow, Cadance managed to fight through the horrible memories her aunt had just dug up and smiled. “Still, I…think I should get some rest. I’ve barely had a full night’s sleep for weeks, and the ride back had a lot more bumps than I thought it would. I’ll see you at dinner, then?”
Celestia’s eyes rolled upwards slightly, just enough to look over Cadance’s head and catch up with Shining Armor. The Captain’s eyes had never left his beloved since her return. With a smile, she returned her attention to her niece. “I agree. A tired princess is hardly any good for anypony, after all.” She snapped back towards the Captain, snapping the stallion out of his gaze with her sudden movement. “Shining Armor, would you be so kind as to escort Princess Cadance?”
“Of course,” he said.
“And it is getting to be about noon. Perhaps you should take your lunch break right after? I’m certain Equestria will wait for your return before collapsing into anarchy again.”
Shining Armor’s eyes widened with excitement. His joy at spending any amount of time with Cadance was so great, his professionalism and training as a soldier was the only thing keeping him from hopping onto Princess Celestia and pronouncing his endless thanks. Instead, he opted for a far more reserved, “Understood, Your Highness,” and then walked off towards his quarters, Cadance never leaving his side even once.
Celestia and Luna watched the two lovebirds walk into the distance, a smile on both their faces. “Young love is a wonderful thing, is it not?” Celestia muttered.
Luna nodded her head. “It certainly is. I do hope they enjoy the dinner plans I have prepared for them.”
Celestia raised an eyebrow and turned towards her sister. “Wait…dinner plans?”
The Night Mare simply grinned, an expression that only grew as she explained her intricately evil scheme to give ponies alone time. “This shall be their first night together in some time, so when I spoke to Shining Armor about joining us in this plan of yours, I offered to help him make this moment special. So, while you were running around trying to reform that nephew of ours, I managed to get the two of them dinner reservations at the Black Pearl. I even arranged for them to use our private table.”
Celestia felt a slight twinge in her cerebral cortex. The Black Pearl was one of the most exclusive restaurants in all of Canterlot, let alone Equestria. The food itself was excellent, but the real claim was that Celestia herself had hoofpicked that eatery as a secondary entertainment establishment. That way, if something was wrong with the castle, she would still be able to attend to her guests in a clear, secure zone. So far, she had only used it in that function once, but it was enough for the managers to publicly use her – and eventually, her sister – as a part of its advertisement. Everypony wanted to dine at Celestia’s “favorite restaurant.”
Despite her frustration, however, Celestia somehow managed to keep herself together. “Luna, I know your intentions were good, but I would much rather you did not throw our royal names around to earn extra favors.”
Luna’s face fell. “I see. I apologize for my brashness, then. Still, what is done is done, and they shall have a wonderful time tonight. And now, if you will excuse me, I must resume my duties.”
“Actually, about that…” Celestia rubbed her fetlocks together so quickly she could have potentially started a fire. “After what happened yesterday, don’t you think you should take a few days off?”
Somewhere deep within Luna’s chest, her heart suddenly skipped a beat. She could feel a cold sweat brewing underneath her coat as her sister’s words took hold. “B-But I am far better now than I was yesterday! That was just a single incident, nothing more. I promise…”
Celestia shook her head, cutting off her sister in the process. “Luna, I have been down this road before, and so have you. The fact is, there isn’t just one Princess of Equestria anymore, nor shall there ever be again. But these last two weeks have been far too busy for you. You had to hold up Equestria while I was indisposed, and this mess with Blueblood…” She sighed. “Luna, I must ask that you put your duties on hold for at least one more day.”
“B-But…Ruby Dream is already…”
“I spoke with her before we met out here. She will still be performing the same duties, only for me today. Once you are well enough to return to the throne, she can resume her normal tasks.”
A tiny whimper managed to escape from Luna’s throat. She wanted so much to lash out at Celestia right now, to wrap her hooves around her neck and force her to not do this, but her entire body seemed to resist her mind’s commands. “N-No…Y-You cannot do this. I am your sister…”
“And that’s why I’m doing this. I have to make sure my little sister stays healthy.” Celestia trotted up to her sister and nuzzled her along the nape of the neck, the Night Mare’s body remaining completely rigid. “I have something very special planned for tonight. We’ll speak then.”
Before Luna could take any other action, or even voice another protest, Celestia trotted her way back into the castle, no doubt to do the work that rightly belonged to her sister. The young Alicorn watched the door close behind her, waited until she far enough away to hear her, and finally let out a small scream before walking off towards her own room.
The last grains of sand slid down the hourglass’ center before settling in a big pile at the bottom. Miss Brightly smiled and banged her hoof on the desk, calling the class away from their painting supplies. “Alright, my little ponies! It’s time to share your art with the rest of the class!”
Blueblood opened his mouth, letting the small paintbrush tumble out onto the yellow plastic tray. The handle landed in the tiny cup of water, sending some of the clear liquid flying onto the nearby paints. His smock and hat were covered with a rainbow cascade of paint colors, all from the many, many foals that had worn them before. Unlike the rest of his classmates, he had somehow managed to get through the entire activity without getting so much as a bit of brown or red or green on his protective gear, and especially not on his coat.
Miss Brightly pointed a hoof at the class’ pink filly. “Cherry, would you like to share what you drew?”
The filly yelped excitedly and hoisted up a small bit of construction paper. On it was a red blob nestled upon six chubby black sticks. “It’s a ladybug!”
The entire class politely clapped and celebrated the newest piece of art to enter Equestria, even if the foals could tell drawing wasn’t going to be Cherry’s special talent. Miss Brightly gave her usual condescending smile and expression of gratitude before turning to Orange Peel. “And what wonderful thing do you have for us?”
She immediately regretted asking the question once she saw the colt’s “masterpiece.”
Over a dozen small circles with ovals attached, probably ponies, were all turned upside down. Small, red lines overlapped with the circles, stretching down until they came to an end at big blots of paint. And standing over the ponies was another such figure, a big grey block sticking out of his mouth. “I had to draw something I liked, so I drew me taking out everypony I disliked.” His eyes drifted towards the rather disturbed Blueblood and Ribbon. “And I mean everypony.”
Miss Brightly sighed. She could already see the announcement for the upcoming parent-teacher conference. “Orange Peel, there are things that are classroom appropriate, and things that aren’t. Do we need to talk about it again?”
Orange Peel’s smile faded in the face of his teacher’s disapproval. His ears folded downwards as he sank down in his chair. “No, Miss Brightly.”
Miss Brightly shook her head sadly. This was far from the first time she had this problem with Orange Peel, and yet there was precious little she could do about it. Given who his father was, it was a miracle she could even keep him inside during recess without getting fined, or fired, or left in a dirty alley to die. “Just remember your lesson this time. If you do anything like this again, I’m afraid I will have to call your parents.”
Her stern lecture done, the teacher turned about until she was facing Ribbon. She gave the usual call for the filly to share her work with the rest of the class, and she complied. The newest picture showed what looked like three while ovals, outlined in yellow, with what looked like little red flowers adorning the sides and two ponies standing on top. “It’s a wedding cake mom and dad made! They’re delivering it to a wedding today.”
The entire class clapped again, but this time the applause seemed much more genuine this time. Even Blueblood was amazed at how impressive the painting looked, especially when it was created with non-toxic watercolor paints etched out by a young foal. Granted, the cake looked like it was about to tip over, and the ponies on top looked like they had been melted and dipped in butter before being set in place, but still it wasn’t bad.
“Very good, Ribbon!” said Miss Brightly. “What a lovely…”
Before her praise could continue, however, the teacher finally noticed something rather off with the final product. There, tucked away in the far corner with the smallest of strokes, was a few tiny splotches of two figures, probably ponies. One of them had wings and the horn, while the other looked like it was in pain. “Um…Ribbon? What’s this?”
Confused, Ribbon spun the picture back towards her. When her eyes managed to catch the spot she had pointed at, she shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t know. I just…painted that, I guess.”
A small part of Miss Brightly wanted to continue this line of questioning, but her blood was still running hot from having to deal with Orange Peel’s orgy of death. “Well, it’s still a very lovely picture. Thank you for sharing it with us.” Ribbon’s face sprouted a massive grin, her newborn ego eagerly swallowing up every last bit of praise thrown in her direction.
“And how about your picture, Leon?” Miss Brightly turned towards Blueblood, who slid back in his seat in surprise. “Do you have anything to share?”
Slowly, Blueblood flipped over his own contribution to Equestria’s art galleries: a picture of two big ponies, both Unicorns, standing over a small colt. The images were easy enough to pick out, despite Blueblood losing many of his higher motor skills in the transformation. “It’s a family picture,” he muttered.
The class erupted in a small clap, slow and uneasy. Blueblood grimaced as he slowly set the paper back down. Wonderful. I take Art History for three semesters, and I get outshined by a pony that just barely knows what the color blue is.
Celestia was halfway through the latest recruitment sheets when she heard the knock on her office door. She looked up from her paperwork, her quill still busily signing away beneath her. “Yes?”
A familiar voice answered from the other side. “I-It’s Ruby Dream, Your Highness. You summoned for me?”
A smile spread across Celestia face, while at the same time her horn began to glow with a golden light. A similar aura spread over the door handle and slowly pulled it open, allowing Ruby Dream access to the office. Once the mare was inside, the door was pushed shut, the magical light vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. “Once again, I appreciate your understanding in this whole situation, Miss Dream. I know we all have a lot to accomplish today, so I shall try to be as brief as possible.”
“Understood,” said Ruby. “H-How can I help you?”
Celestia clapped her forehooves together and placed the pair under her chin. “You are a family mare, correct?”
Ruby cocked her head in confusion. “Your Highness?”
Celestia let out a mournful sigh. “Things have not been going so well between Luna, Blueblood and I. I take it you heard about yesterday’s incident.” Ruby nodded. “The problem I see is that the three of us need to grow closer as a family again. That’s why I was hoping to get your input. I want to plan a family activity for this afternoon.”
“Oh,” Ruby muttered. “W-Well, I’ll see if I can help, but something like that is different from one pony to another. I mean, what Lofty, Vantage and I like to do would probably be different from what Your Majesties would find appropriate.”
Celestia lowered her hooves back to the floor and stood up. After stretching a little to get the blood pumping again, she levitated up a small notepad and her quill. “I figured as such. Still, some input on what would be most helpful. Now, what does your family like to do together?”
Ruby tapped her chin, her eyes rolling upwards in thought. “Hmm…well, Lofty loves playing outside. Vantage and I have taken her camping every year since she got over her Premature Flying Syndrome.” She chuckled nervously. “I swear that filly is just crazy about mountains. She just can’t wait until she’s old enough to fly to the top of the Magichorn…alone…probably without her coat…where she’ll freeze to death…”
The mare’s breathing gradually became sharper and more labored the longer she went on; where it not for Celestia immediately recognizing the signs of hyperventilation and levitating her emergency paper bag so she could start blowing it up like a balloon, Ruby would have entered an almost total shutdown. The Princess slowly walked over, her face twisted in worry. “A-Are you all right, Miss Dream?”
“I-I’m fine, now,” the mare gasped. Her features were still puffed and pale from her sudden outburst, her wings appeared to be pointing downward, and the fur along her back was still standing on end like a thousand little pieces of razor wire, but at least she no longer looked like she was about to explode twice. “Anyway, something outdoors might work.”
Now satisfied that her sister’s personal assistant wasn’t going to die in the middle of her office, Celestia let out a sigh of relief and resumed tapping her chin. “A camping trip would be a little excessive. Neither Luna or I could stay away from the office for that long.”
“Well, there’s also sports.” Ruby tapped the ground with her right forehoof. “Vantages loves to watch the Cloudsdale Thunderbolts whenever they come to town.” She grimaced as yet another terrible memory came back. “Of course, he then had to go wandering into the wrong side of the stadium wearing that jersey, and…”
“Yes, yes, I remember that.” Celestia shuddered, her mind retracing the day she almost banned all sports leagues from Equestria. “Still, that would be a rather long-winded event. And besides, Luna was never much of a baseball fan.”
“And then there’s always board games,” Ruby said. “Lofty is a champion at Chutes-And-Ladders.”
“I…think I’ll make that a last resort,” Celestia said. The last thing I need is to get my flank kicked again because dice hate me.
Then the idea hit her. She removed her hoof from her lower lip and smiled towards Ruby. “What about a picnic? It’s a lovely day, after all.”
Ruby rubbed the back of her neck. “Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad. Shall I tell the kitchens to begin preparations?”
“Actually…” Celestia levitated over a large book, its edges yellowed with age. “I have a different idea.”
As the princess slowly turned the aged pages, Ruby slowly walked around her until she could make out the title of the ancient book. The moment she recognized exactly what this forbidden tome was, she recoiled back several steps in complete horror, her wings extended. “Th-That’s a cookbook!”
“Hmm?” Celestia looked up from her reading material, a look of puzzlement on her face. “Why yes, it is. It was given to me by one of my former chefs only a century ago, after she had retired. I used to cook meals for the two of us, but I’ve been so busy for the last thousand years that I haven’t even been able to get into a kitchen. Well, except for that one time, when we hosted the Zebra Delegation.” She grimaced as she remembered that terrible night. “And that’s why I am not making soup again.”
“Heh…yeah,” Ruby muttered. “B-But if you’re cooking, then what about the rest of today’s schedule? We have court in two hours.”
Celestia shook her head. “Believe me when I say I won’t be neglecting my duties. I want you to bring our reports on the upcoming Dragon Migration, the proposal for the irrigation system for the Trottingham province, and the renovation plans for Canterlot’s Old Quarter to the kitchens, and then go prepare the court. I shall be there exactly as needed, and will perform my duties as needed, even if it means I have to rush the dinner a little.”
Ruby wanted to say something else, most likely something about how rushing cooking tended to end in tears and how this entire plan was insane, but her desire to remain employed overshadowed her common sense. “Very well, Your Highness. I shall see you in a few minutes.”
The Pegasus gave one last bow and headed through the door. As the entrance closed behind her, she could just barely hear Celestia mutter something about potato salad…
Lofty leaned against the ribbon-wearing tree, while her friends looked over the birthday acquisitions she had managed to bring to school. “So, what do you think? Pretty cool, huh?”
Buttons lifted up the figure of Darklord Koruby, archnemesis of the Amazing Amethyst and bearer of enough spikes to gouge a hundred eyeballs. “I…guess they’re okay. I mean, we did see you open them up, remember?”
Ribbon fumbled her hooves around Super Cheerleader Daring-Do. “Did this actually happen in the books? I don’t think dad ever got to that chapter.”
“It didn’t,” said Blueblood. “They had a leftover mold from some other line of dolls that weren’t selling, so they just reused it on the Daring-Do toys so they could justify how much it cost.” The colt grinned at his knowledge of the toy market…until he saw the fillies all eyeing him in puzzlement. “I mean, that’s what my mom said when I asked her.”
“Who cares if it did?” Gusty snapped. All the ponies in attendance spun around to the growling, sulking filly. “I just tried counting all these things, and I can’t ! You have too many Daring-Do toys!”
Lofty recoiled in shock. “W-What?”
“You have so many that I can’t even keep track of them all!” Gusty’s lower lips twisted into a ridiculous pout. “Daring-Do was my thing. I was the one that was supposed to have all the toys and sets, not you! Now…now I have nothing…”
Blueblood groaned. He had seen ponies throw fits over everything, from losing a bunch of land grants to families they hated to arguments over pizza toppings, but he had never seen anypony whine about something this…trivial. It certainly didn’t help that the fillies seemed to be buying into her argument; Lofty looked like she had just been accused of murdering Princess Celestia herself, while Ribbon and Buttons looked upon her like she was some kind of glory-hogging monster. “Gusty…she has exactly five Daring-Do toys here.”
Gusty’s lips drooped into a small droll, her eyes slowly shifting back towards the toys. She mouthed her count to herself, tapping her forehooves together to the kind of tune schoolfoals learn to keep track of their letters and numbers. By the time she was finally done, her very eyes quivered with shame. “Oh…um, sorry. I…guess I forgot how to count.”
The confession was all it took to knock Lofty out of her down mood. She shrugged at the offending Unicorn. “No problem. So, you guys still want to play? If so, come on! We gotta get this adventure going!”
The foals looked amongst each other before voicing their agreement to the proposition. One by one, they knelt over and assumed their usual positions. It was right as Blueblood was reaching for Ahuizotl that he heard the sound of six pairs of hooves approaching.
“Well, well, what do we have here?”
The five hopped to their hooves and turned towards the source of the noise. Sure enough, standing before them was their old nemesis, Orange Peel. “What do you want, Orange?” asked Gusty.
“Oh, nothing at all.” The colt and his cohorts quickly resumed their usual circling strategy; if Blueblood didn’t know better, he would have assumed that it was the one trick they knew. “We were just wondering how the biggest losers in this school wasted their recess. Seriously, Daring-Do? You actually like those books?”
“Sh-Shut up!” Lofty snapped.
“Um…girls?” Ribbon said shyly. “Perhaps we shouldn’t…”
Smokey feigned shock. “Hey, the orphan’s trying to say something!”
The four fillies and token colt’s eyes popped open, mostly from the sheer stupidity of the insult. “Orphan? Really?” asked Lofty. “Is that the best you can come up with today?”
Orange Peel shook his head at their befuddlement, his grin slowly changing to that of a sadistic executioner about to behead his latest victim. “Haven’t you ponies ever seen her parents? They’re Earth ponies, not Unicorns!”
“So?” Gusty snapped. “Not all ponies have two Unicorns for parents, and they still have horns! Why is Ribbon different?”
“She has two Earth ponies for folks!” said Smokey. “What sense does that make?”
Ribbon’s initial shock gradually gave way to a sinking depression. “Th-That’s not true!”
Orange Peel raised a hoof to his chin briefly, stroking it like somepony would stroke a handlebar moustache. “You know, you’re right. Maybe you aren’t an orphan. Maybe your real parents are still around, and just didn’t want you. So, they threw you in a dumpster outside that stupid bakery.”
Buttons gasped. “Th-That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard!”
Gusty instinctively charged towards the vile fiend, only to be blocked off by Snowball. Every step she made, the colt matched perfectly. Enraged, she spun about to give her opponent a buck.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Smokey shouted. “You wouldn’t want to get in more trouble, Miss Smash-Smashey-Breaks Stuff, do you?”
By the time her foal brain had fully internalized what he had said, her hind legs were already rearing up for a strike. The sudden shock of reality caused her to tumble to the ground, her weight being far too much for her forelegs to hold up for so long. “Aw, what’s the matter?” Snowball taunted. “Is the little filly too much of a pansy to stand up?”
Lofty was the next to charge, taking up a position between the downed Gusty and distraught Ribbon. “Alright, I’ve put up with your stupidity for all of two months now, and I’ve had enough! You are the meanest, smelliest stupid-head in the history of ponydom, and it’s about time somepony put their hoof in your mouth!”
The three bullies feigned a horrified gasp at the prospect. “Oh no, some stupid filly’s gonna beat us up?” said Snowball. “Celestia forbid she ruin her hooficure. Oh wait, that’s right, this is Lofty we’re talking about!” And he would have continued his line of mockery, had Buttons not raced over and, in a maneuver she had no doubt experienced many a time herself, put a hoof over his own mouth to keep him quiet.
Still, Lofty seemed completely unfazed. “Hah! Your words mean nothing to me! I am a student of the great Fluttershy, tamer of beasts and defeater of dragons! Do you think your puny little-”
Orange Peel cocked his head. “Fluttershy? Who in Equestria is that?”
Lofty’s brave sneer slowly slithered downward before resting as a shocked frown. “You know, Fluttershy. The pony who saved Equestria from Nightmare Moon and Discord. She defeated a dragon and a cockatrice. You know, her.”
“Hmph, you’d think I’d have heard about her if she was so important.” Orange Peel’s evil grin continued to grow as Lofty’s own confidence gradually eroded. “Then again, I guess a stupid little pony like you would be the perfect hanger-on for another no-name pony like…what’s her name?”
Lofty’s tiny legs shook, her eyes clammed shut to fight back the frustration welling up inside. Gusty had managed to climb back to her hooves, but she only served to glance about the untouchable beings. And lastly, Ribbon and Buttons were huddled together, the former crying on the latter’s withers. In short, Orange Peel had managed to destroy them all without so much as a buck. Blueblood, meanwhile, could only watch the eerily familiar scene…
Blueblood couldn’t decide what was colder: the snow outside, or the certain doom he faced at his parents’ hooves. The duo had managed to catch him skipping out on another boring history lesson, and by this point in the chase, his tutor had no doubt already left in a huff. He would be back the next day, of course. They always were. But for the time being, he was still safe from the horrors of the Paleopony Period.
Unfortunately, no force on Equestria could protect him from what was to come if either parent caught him. His hinder had already known the switch, the horseshoe, and of course the bare hoof, and he dreaded to ponder what instrument his parents would dig up next. He had to escape before they jumped all the way to axes or swords.
Fortunately, he knew the way into Canterlot Castle like the back of his fetlock. The guards, having no real love for his parents to begin with, gladly allowed him access to the castle’s inner sanctum. From there, he just had to loop around through the kitchens and to the courtyard, where the happier foals would actually be enjoying this wintery day. It had been so long since he had last played in snow that he had forgotten what the white stuff even felt like.
With a final rush of victory, the colt charged through the kitchen doors…
And in an instant, he was glad he arrived when he did.
Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, his only friend amongst the young nobility and Princess of Roam, was huddled so low to the ground she almost appeared to be melding into the stone itself. Above her stood none other than Lemon Lime, heir of the House of Frazzleberry. Blueblood’s blood ran colder than the snow itself as he thought of all the times that idiot had assaulted either he or his cousin.
The bully and his cohorts, all hoofpicked disciples from the rest of the noble houses, closed in on the frightened and confused filly. She tried to pull her jacket over her head, but the garment was simply too tight to make it all the way up. “I-I’m not a…”
“Why do you think your parents left you?!” Lime shouted. “They knew they couldn’t take care of a pony with wings AND a horn AND run a kingdom!”
“No, that’s not true!” Cadance shouted. Blueblood winced as he saw the amount of fog coming from her mouth; evidently, she was breathing very, very hard. “They said it was because I’m special!”
“And that’s why Princess Celestia wants to get rid of you!” shouted one of the accompanying bullies. Blueblood couldn’t make out who he was, but it didn’t really matter. Lime had most of the foals under his hoof, anyway.
“Sh-She said she was trying to get them to…to…take me back…” Cadance’s voice dropped down to the quietest levels Blueblood had ever heard. It was amazing he could even make out what she was saying from his position.
Lemon Lime turned back to his cohorts. “You know, I think she’s a little too hot with that jacket on. How’s about we cool her off?”
The other foals all cackled with cartoonishly evil glee before turning to the patches of snow around them. Slowly, they began to roll and pat the mounds into tight little balls, a few even slipping in a pebble or two just in case. Cadance tried to break into a gallop, but she still wasn’t used to operating in the kind of cold Canterlot got in the winter and slipped on the frozen ground.
From his vantage point, Blueblood watched and fumed. Something inside him curled with rage at the sight before him, a feeling he had never experienced in his entire life. There was only one way to end Lemon Lime’s reign of terror…
The colt quickly galloped out of the kitchen, his winter horseshoes moving perfectly across the frozen grass. He stopped only when he was standing directly in front of his downed cousin. Lime and his groupies immediately stopped in alarm; none of them had expected Blueblood to show up, nor did they like much what usually followed him.
“And just do you think you’re doing, Lemon?!” Blueblood snapped.
In the moment it took Blueblood to utter those words, the baronet had managed to recover his faculties just enough to form a sneer. The others, however, retained their shocked looks, at least for a while longer. “What, no Celestia to save you, Bluey?”
“I don’t need my aunt here to deal with you.” Blueblood looked back at his frightened cousin. Cadance’s shivering was already beginning to lessen at the sight of her big cousin; even so, her eyes were still feared with abject fear of the monster before them. Still, Blueblood managed to force a murderous grin as he turned back to his opponent…
Blueblood knew what he had to do. There was only one way to shut down Orange Peel without bloodshed. All he had to do was pray to Celestia that he would be dumb enough to take the bait.
The colt slowly strode towards his adversary, taking extra time to add just the right hint of swagger to every trot. Buttons moved to stop him from perishing as well, but Ribbon’s grip on her was ironclad. Orange Peel and his cohorts were so busy laughing that they didn’t even notice Blueblood getting close to them until their orange leader could feel his hot breath on his nose. “Congratulations. You teased a bunch of little foals. How wonderful for you.”
Orange Peel hopped back a few steps, both from the shock of Blueblood sneaking up on him and from the simple act of being talked back to. Snowball and Smokey quickly folded back alongside him, just in case this stupid pony tried anything funny. Sensing his opening, the prince went on the offensive. “So, do you enjoy being a bully?”
“Well…yeah, I…” The orange colt quickly shook his head and hopped back forward, landing directly in front of Blueblood. “Wait a second! Yeah, of course I love beating stupid fillies like you down! It’ll probably be my special talent!”
“So, your special talent is making foals cry?”
Smokey snickered a little at the jab, stopping only when his boss gave him a little “jab” of his own. The grey colt grimaced and rubbed his right foreleg in shock. “What was that for?”
“You guys are supposed to be helping me here!” said their fearless leader. He pointed a hoof in Blueblood’s direction. “What, do you want the fillies to win?”
“Those ponies weren’t doing anything to you,” said Blueblood. “All we have done is tried to stay out of your way, but you just can’t leave us alone. You know, I actually think you like us. You really do want to be friends, after all.”
Orange Peel let out a low growl, followed by an angry snort. Both Snowball and Smokey quickly began to backpedal just in case he exploded twice. “You’re so wrong. Why would I even want to be friends with a bunch of dorky ponies like you? All you ever do is play with dolls and try to get that ribbon out of the tree.” He paused. “I mean, pudding is nice and all, but why share it with fillies?”
Blueblood rolled his eyes. “I see. Well, if you don’t want to be friends, then why are you bothering us? We all have better things to do with our time than make fun of ponies we don’t like.”
Orange Peel opened his mouth to answer, but found none willing to come out. All he could do was shake even more. The fillies, meanwhile, just stared on in shock. Normally, anypony talking with somepony like Peel would either be running away in tears or beating him upside the head with his own saddlebags by this point, and yet Blueblood actually seemed to be in control of the conversation.
Blueblood lowered his head until their noses were almost touching. Smokey and Snowball pulled themselves back even farther away; even at their age, they could see that bad things were about to go down. “The way I see it, you have only two choices. You can either start treating us nicely, maybe even become friends with us, or you can choose just to leave us alone. You can have all the fun you want, but just stop picking on us. Now, what will you do?”
The stunned colt made no response at first. His body ceased to shake, even as his brow curled up even more in frustration. He looked at the fillies, all of whom now looked far more composed than before, and then turned back to Blueblood. “Now look here, you…you dummies!”
Blueblood grinned. Good, he’s shutting down. Now I can…
“Dummies?” shouted Lofty. “That’s the best you can come up with? Wow, you really are stupid.”
The grin vanished. Oh no…
“I-I’m not…” Orange Peel stammered.
Gusty smiled and walked up next to Blueblood. “You know, I think she’s right. You are just a big, dumb, wimpy, worthless waste of a horse!”
In an instant, the rage within Orange Peel came burning back to the forefront. Smokey galloped forward to pull his boss back, but before he could stop him from lashing out, an orange hind leg bucked him right in the chest, sending the colt rolling to the ground. Lofty charged up to Blueblood’s side, while the white colt couldn’t help but feel but feel a cold shiver run down his spine.
With a primal scream, Orange Peel charged forward and pushed both forehooves towards Gusty. The filly, sensing her opponent’s oncoming assault, leaned down to counter with a forehead to the lower chin, while Lofty prepared to hop over and slam into him once Gusty had made contact. Orange Peel’s hooves closed in…
And slammed right into Blueblood’s side, just as he had succeeded in pushing Gusty out of the way. The white filly stumbled for a few steps, but managed to remain standing. Blueblood, on the other hoof, fell flat on his side and stopped after a few rolls. Lofty was so surprised by the sudden turn that she dared not make her running leap just yet.
Peel huffed and puffed, but still managed a small laugh. He didn’t even notice the sky around him suddenly growing much darker, nor the other ponies huddling in terror. Not even his cohorts fleeing for their very lives could break his gaze away from this glorious moment. “Hah! I knew you were a wuss the whole time, you…”
The thrill of victory, that glorious feeling that had just moments ago been running through the back of that villainous colt’s brain, quickly shriveled up into the agony of defeat. Slowly, he turned around until he was face-to-face with the being that had spoken his name. Standing above him was Miss Brightly, and she was not happy.
“Um…hello, Miss Brightly,” Orange half-heartedly mumbled. “H-How are you?”
When she spoke next, her voice was heavy with a mixture of judgment and concern. Blueblood shivered as he listened to the words; they were delivered in the same way his own punishment was only a few days prior. “I see our talk last time wasn’t enough. I’m sorry, but if you will not stop bullying these ponies, I have no choice.”
Mortal terror crept across Orange Peel’s face. “N-No…you don’t mean…”
Miss Brightly nodded, sealing the little foal’s fate. “I’m afraid a mere note home will not be enough. This time, we will be having a parent-teacher conference.”
“NOOOOOO!” the colt bellowed. He wrapped his legs around Miss Brightly and clung as tightly as a barnacle to a ship. “Please please please! I’ll be good from now on! I won’t pick on anypony or act mean or anything! Just don’t do thaaaaaaaat!”
Even as her student cried and screamed like a frightened animal, Miss Brightly turned her attention back to her downed pupil. Blueblood had pulled himself back up, seemingly unhurt. “Are you all right, Leon?”
“Y-Yeah,” Blueblood muttered. “I think I’ll be fine.”
Miss Brightly smiled, nodded, and finally levitated Orange Peel off her leg and into the sky. “Now, shall we be going to the Principal’s office?”
And with that, the teacher and her hostage walked away, the foal crying over his doomed future. Once they were well out of earshot, Gusty spun her head towards Blueblood, her lips curled into a pout. “I could have taken him.”
“And gotten in trouble with him?” Blueblood said. “I was trying to avoid a fight, not start one.”
“And you’d just let him walk all over us?!”
“He was almost ready to leave!”
The quarrel would have continued “Hey, Ribbon? Are you all right?”
The filly and the colt turned back to Ribbon and Buttons. The former’s crying had dwindled to a few dry sobs and a runny nose, but she still looked more than a little distraught. “I…I’m not adopted. I’m not.”
“Of course you’re not,” said Buttons. “That’s just Orange Peel being Orange Peel. Two weeks ago he said my mom was a drunk, but that’s impossible. You can’t drink a pony.”
The others chuckled, with Blueblood and Lofty’s laughter being especially nervous. The three standing farthest away trotted forward, stopping only when the whole group formed a complete circle. “Look, it doesn’t matter what he says,” said Gusty. “He’s just a big jerk, that’s all.”
“And I know two Earth ponies can have Unicorn babies,” said Blueblood.
“We’re your friends,” said Lofty. “We’ll be here for you no matter what.”
Ribbon hicked and sobbed, but still forced a smile. “Th-Thanks. You ponies are the best friends I ever had…”
And thus came the inevitable hug, all five coming together in perfect harmony. Well, until Blueblood realized just who he was becoming friends with, which sent him recoiling in shock. The others would have asked about his response, but Gusty and Lofty were now trying to pat down the diseases they had just contracted while Ribbon and Buttons were preparing emergency cutie shots. And then the bell rang, bringing the awkward scene to a close.
Shining Armor and Cadance slowly walked through the gardens and pathways that made up this side of the castle, taking as long as possible before they finally reached the Captain’s private quarters. The two idly chatted about a few minor topics, ranging from the weather to the quality range of different styles of horseshoes. It wasn’t until they were near the main Castle Garden that Cadance finally asked one of the big questions. “So, did anything interesting happen while I was gone?”
Shining Armor shrugged. “Not too much. You probably heard about Princess Celestia’s vacation, correct?”
Cadance giggled and rolled her eyes. “It’s about time she took one. In all the years I’ve known her, she refused to even take an hour off. It’s like she thought the whole planet would collapse if she so much as breathed the wrong way.”
“It looks like we both missed Twiley,” Shining sighed. “Apparently she was here to help Luna keep the country running. I think our little filly has a future in politics.”
Cadance snorted. “Don’t even joke about that.”
Shining Armor gave a louder, more raucous laugh, his mind reeling at the very idea of Twilight holding any sort of political office. He gave her two or three minutes, tops, before her head exploded from the sheer amount of stress involved. Still, despite their little jabs at his baby sister, this was one of the most pleasant moments he had experienced in a very long time. It had been so long since he had gotten the chance to spend any time with his fiancé, especially with the seemingly endless chain of disasters that precluded Celestia’s regression.
Now he finally had a chance to…
“I also heard about Blueblood.”
And in an instant, Shining Armor’s romantic thoughts were trampled by his lover’s words. She knows. “I know it’s hard to understand, but…”
Cadance shook her head sadly. “No, I could see it was coming. He had done so much wrong these last few years that something finally had to break. I just want to know where he was banished to.”
“As far as I…” Shining Armor’s face drooped slightly. “Banished?”
“Well, that is the usual punishment for assaulting royalty, isn’t it?”
The two stopped by one of the castle’s ponds. There, a few stone benches had been laid out for visiting guests and the princesses themselves when they needed a break from the usual insanity of running a country. Sighing with a slight case of exhaustion and a great deal of concern for her wayward cousin, Cadance laid herself across the cool rocky surface. Shining Armor just sat on his haunches on the grass next to her; any appreciation he may have had for stone fixtures had dried up since his times sleeping on hard concrete floors at the Academy.
The two stared at the small pond, watching a few ducks fly down and begin pecking at the water. When Cadance spoke next, her voice was hushed with a thousand grievances. “I’m sorry. I know you never got along with him. I’m not even sure if I’m ready to forgive him for what he did to us. I just wish I could have at least seen him again before he left.”
Shining Armor quickly slipped his face back into “stoic guard” mode. It was the only way to keep himself from bursting out laughing. “Well, perhaps you will soon. Princess Celestia’s pretty quick to forgive, after all.”
“It’s not her I’m worried about,” Cadance said. “It’s Princess Luna. I mean, I’ve only known her for a year now, but she’s always come off as rather…scary. If Blueblood did something to make her angry, there’s no telling what horrible thing she might do to him.”
Shining Armor tugged at the collar of his armor, doing his best not to appear openly nervous in the presence of his betrothed. “Well, I’ve worked with Princess Luna these last few nights, and she’s actually been very…nice.” He cleared his throat and shuffled a bit, the joints of his armor clanging together as he did so. “And besides, he’s a traitor to the crown now. Why would you feel so upset if something happened to him?”
Cadance’s eyes widened with shock. Her head snapped around towards her fiancé, even as fatigue slowly wormed its way through her body. “Because he’s my big cousin! As terrible as he can be, I still care for him just like Twilight cares for you. And if anypony were to actually try and, say, torture him over this, I don’t know how I could look at that pony the same way again.”
Armor’s face went flush, in spite of his best efforts to remain stoic. “I…Suppose he really did do something nasty to somepony, and they decided to…you know, teach him a lesson? What would you do then?”
The princess shrugged. “I guess I would have to tell them how poor their behavior is. After a small talking-to, they’ll realize that what they did was wrong and will never do it again.”
Shining Armor whinnied in relief. Sweet, sweet Cadance, so trusting and naïve. I should have known you wouldn’t…
“Of course, if somepony I actually knew and loved tried to do something like that, I don’t think I could ever look at them the same way again. In fact, I would probably have to spend some time away from them for a while, at least until I could look at them again without remembering that incident.”
Shining’s swelling of confidence went pop against the pins of Cadance’s words. “I…see.” Gotta change the subject gotta change the subject “By the way, I hope you don’t have plans for dinner, because Princess Luna managed to secure us dinner reservations at the Black Pearl.”
Cadance’s ears perked right back up at the name. “The Black Pearl? You mean the Black Pearl? The same one you have to reserve a decade in advance?”
“The exact same,” said Shining Armor.
“Th-That’s wonderful.” Cadance leaned over and nuzzled her future hubby on the cheek, causing the mighty Captain of the Guard to blush like a schoolfoal on Hearts and Hooves Day. “I guess Twilight was right about you. You really are the nicest, bestest pony around.”
Shining gave a dry, playful snort. “Oh, it’s nothing like that. I’m just trying to make sure you feel welcome all over again.”
The two ponies rose back to their hooves, their eyes locked in an almost unbreakable passion. The two nuzzled each other on the nose, followed by a few kisses on the mouth and a heavy, powerful hug. After so long apart, they were together again, and nothing was going to ruin this moment for them. Not even Blueblood.
Yet another school day came to an end, and yet another tidal wave of little foals came charging onto the streets of Canterlot, shoving aside any adult not fast enough to escape their tiny hooves. Blueblood himself walked amongst the crowd, his mind still reeling from the day’s events. He was so confused by everything that had happened to him that he didn’t even notice the massive stallion in front of him until he had crashed into his well-chiseled foreleg.
The impact sent Blueblood falling back on his rear. He looked up in surprise, catching the attention of the pony he had just bumped into. It was a miracle he didn’t wet himself once he realized exactly who this was.
“You need to watch where you’re going, little colt.”
He was now sizably larger than him, but he could still recognize him.
“Here, let me help you.”
From within the stallion’s force field, Blueblood managed to connect the color. He had seen this so many times before. This was the worst thing that could have happened to him, at least in this form.
He was now standing in front of Baron “Lemon Lime” Frazzleberry, his old nemesis.
Blueblood and Frazzleberry looked out towards the street just in time to see Sky Bloom gallop up to the two. “My goodness, are you all right?”
The colt slowly brushed the front of his coat, trying his best to look nonchalant about the whole ordeal. “Y-Yes, mother, I’m fine.”
The mare let out a sigh of relief before turning back to the noblepony. “I am so sorry, sir. I promise, it won’t happen again.”
“No, it’s all right,” said the Baron. “I’m used to being crashed into by now.” He turned his attention back to the still-stunned colt. “And you need to be more careful next time. Somepony could have gotten hurt.”
Blueblood silently nodded and stepped aside, allowing Frazzleberry access to the school grounds themselves. The stallion slowly trotted down the concrete pathway before turning into the Main Office and vanishing inside. “So…do you know who that was?” asked Sky Bloom.
Blueblood nodded his head. “Baron Frazzleberry.”
“And what is he doing at this school?”
Blueblood shrugged. “I have no clue, and I really don’t want to find out. So what say we just head home and forget we even ran into him?”
Blueblood was halfway through one of the few books he had managed to smuggle out of the forbidden archive (why they didn’t just prevent him from climbing down again was a mystery) when he heard somepony knocking at his door. Sighing, he shoved the tome underneath his bed and trotted over to open the door.
Slowly, the colt managed to pull the wooden barrier open. Standing on the other end was one of the guards, a Pegasus, standing at full attention. “Can I help you?”
“Princess Celestia has requested your presence,” the guard said in a monotone. “I am here to escort you to the garden.”
Blueblood cocked an eye. “The garden? Why does she want me out there?”
The guard shifted uneasily, his mind barely able to withstand what Celestia was planning for the fallen prince. “She didn’t say. She just wanted me to make sure that you are out there as soon as possible.”
Blueblood sighed. The whole request still didn’t make much sense to him, but then again, he really wasn’t in a position to argue with Celestia. “Alright, just show me the way.”
Blueblood’s eyes widened as he caught sight of his aunts. Princess Celestia lay on a red-checkered blanket, which was now spread across the grassy garden floor like a downed flag about to be stomped into submission. Princess Luna sat next to her, a large umbrella wrapping her entire body in shadows. Between them sat a wicker basket, its contents covered by a flipping wooden lip. The elder Princess just smiled at her young charge, while the younger appeared to not even notice he was there.
Celestia smiled at the nephew’s approach. “Good afternoon, Blueblood! Welcome home!”
Blueblood dared not move. His mind was completely unable to comprehend the series of events that could drive his aunts to behave in such a way. Surely Equestria was collapsing without either one on the throne? “I…Good afternoon. M-May I ask what is going on, exactly?”
“Oh, nothing.” Celestia’s smile only grew, further intensifying Blueblood’s distrust of her giddiness. “I just thought that the day I brought forth was so wonderful that we should enjoy a nice picnic.”
“A…picnic?” Blueblood cocked his head at the very notion of such a thing. He had been on a few, certainly, but this looked different from any he had seen before. For one thing, there was no bottle of wine resting nearby, ready to woo whatever lady companion Blueblood had deign to honor with his presence that day. And he would never have allowed anything that came in a wicker basket to defile his stomach.
Then again, he had never had one with Aunt Celestia. He could only spend time with her at night, just before she went to bed.
“So…what brought this on?” he asked, his voice barely carrying over his hoofsteps.
Celestia tilted her head and smiled. “Nothing, really. I just thought we could enjoy a nice, leisurely day outside once in a while. Luna and I have been trapped in there for so long that I barely even remembered how wonderful sunlight felt.” She turned to Luna. “Isn’t that right, sister?”
Luna’s lips curled into a pout. “No.”
Even from this distance, Blueblood could feel something radiating from his younger aunt, a sort of primordial power that told him not to approach her, lest he wish to end his miserable life so soon. Still, he couldn’t ignore the commands of Princess Celestia, so he had no choice but to take up a position next to her and pray to her that things would work out. “So, what happened with Cadance?”
“She and Shining Armor decided to have dinner at the Black Pearl.” Celestia laid herself on the ground and stretched out her limbs. All the tension in her lower body quickly evaporated as her muscles pulled and loosened. “It was their first night together again, after all, and they deserve some rest.”
Shining Armor stared at the array of shiny, silvery utensils before him. There was anywhere from six to ten, their numbers seemingly multiplying the longer he stared at them. “So…which one was which again?”
Cadance pointed at the smallest of his forks. “That one is for your salad. The other one is for the main course. Now for your knives, one is your butter knife, one is for your meal, and the other is for…um…” She blushed. “I…can’t really remember.”
All around them, ponies from all walks of life munched away on their meals, chewing through salads, soups, sandwiches, and all other manner of delicacies. Everypony in the dining area was dressed in the finest clothes available, while the waiters and waitresses all wore brilliantly red uniforms. As it turned out, Celestia and Luna’s reserved table happened to be on a raised balcony overlooking the main dinner area, no doubt so they could address their subjects while chewing on tomatoes. Nevertheless, it still provided the two with a lovely view of the rest of the restaurant.
The two lovers looked over the railing, taking in the beautiful golden floor and black banisters decorating the lower level. Only Canterlot Castle could match this level of beautiful radiance, and even then only just. The spectacle was so lovely that the two could feel their hearts fluttering away as they caught their own lovely reflections on the polished surface
The two broke away from staring at their own reflections. The waiter that had just intruded on their alone time cleared his throat one more time, and then levitated a pair of large bowls, both filled with a yellow-and-white soup, onto the table. “Your appetizers are ready. I shall be back with your main course shortly.”
“Thank you,” said Cadance. Shining Armor parroted her response a second later, thereby giving the waiter the signal to skedaddle. With the intruder gone from their relationship, the two were free to return to sipping wine, eating soup, and reminiscing about the old days.
Blueblood winced as he bit into the bit of potato salad. His entire mouth burned with the taste of pepper and onions, tempered with the soul-crushing flavor of watery sour cream. “Well, what do you think?” Celestia asked. “This was the first time I’ve cooked in hundreds of years.”
I noticed that. “It’s…decent, I suppose.” Blueblood barely fought back a small gag; he had no desire to vomit in front of his aunt. “So, what else do you have planned for this?”
Celestia shrugged. “Not too much. Is it not enough to simply sit out here and enjoy a nice meal like a family?” She turned towards her sister. “And what about you, Luna? How was your day?”
The Moon Princess didn’t even look up from her untouched meal when she responded. “It was fine. I stared at the wall five hours straight, then contemplated throwing myself at the moon again.”
Celestia sighed and swallowed another bite of her sandwich. “Now come on, Luna. Why don’t you come out from under that umbrella and join the rest of us?”
“I am perfectly content where I am,” Luna grumbled. “But in truth, I would be much happier inside. May I please be excused?”
Celestia gave her head a firm, negative shake. “We’re enjoying a meal as a family, Luna. This is your little nephew, after all.”
“Don’t remind me.”
The Sun Princess sighed and scooped up another spoonful of salad. “Seriously, I don’t understand what’s wrong. I know you’re still angry about yesterday, but what happened has happened. All we can do is try to learn from the experience.”
Luna made no obvious response, her eyes still intently focused on her plate. Blueblood swallowed a bite of his tulip sandwich, his eyes warily locked on Celestia. “Wait, what happened yesterday?”
Celestia shook her head. “Did you know Miss Rarity of Ponyville came here yesterday?”
Blueblood nodded. “Yes, I know. We talked about what happened at the Gala, and…we apologized to each other.”
“Really?” A large smile formed across Celestia’s lips, while her wings arched out slightly in some small semblance of joy. “To be honest, I’m surprised things turned out as well as they did, then. Just a few weeks ago, you were practically begging me to take a torch to their entire town.” Her smile disappeared. “I don’t think I need to remind you just how horrible even suggesting a thing was.”
“Yes…I know,” Blueblood said sadly. “Still, I got a suit out of it. But…what happened to Aunt Luna?”
“She came back.”
Both the colt and the mare snapped their heads towards Princess Luna. Now free of the hypnotic traps of cold sandwiches and potato salad, she had finally managed to raise her eyes enough for everypony to actually see her face. Small tears ran down the corners of her cheeks, while a fiery red blush burned through her fur. “She went into my room, and told me I was a monster. After she left, I destroyed my room.”
Blueblood fell silent, if only because he couldn’t possibly comprehend a response to such a thing. Celestia slowly climbed to her hooves and began to approach her sister, only to recoil as the Night Mare jumped to her own hooves, knocking the umbrella away in the process. In the process, her hoof pulled at the blanket, sending all the foodstuffs tumbling over onto the ground. Gone was the dispassionate, almost completely withdrawn expression on Luna’s face; now, she appeared to be little more than a bundle of rage and adrenaline. “And then my sister, the same pony who said she loved me more than anything else in Equestria, betrayed me!
Celestia’s mouth slowly lowered in shock. “Wh-What are you saying?”
“You know exactly what I mean, sister!” Luna’s own voice dripped with raw hatred towards her bigger, meaner sibling. “This was supposed to be my day!”
“Yes, it was! I didn’t want to take it from you, but you weren’t well! I didn’t want you to go out there unless you could focus completely on your duties! You had a bad day yesterday! I just wanted you to get better!”
“BETTER?!” Blueblood could feel his breath curl as the ground vibrated from Luna’s voice. The colt quickly galloped and ducked for cover in a nearby bush, just in case the entire castle was sent crashing down around them. “Do you truly believe locking me out of my own position and treating me like…like an invalid would make anything better? My duties are all I have left!”
Celestia took a few steps back, her eyes widened with shock. “Luna…this was for your own good.”
“And dragging me out here was for my own good, as well? How about forcing me to spend time with the same nephew that assaulted you and insulted me? I suppose all that was for my ‘own good?!’ I thought you had changed, sister, but you are still the scheming, conniving, abusive troll you always were!”
Deep within Celestia’s heart, something snapped. Perhaps a valve closed the wrong way, or a tiny piece of cholesterol dislodged itself and floated onto her brain. Regardless of the reason, however, the poor Princess could take no more of her sister’s badgering. She backpedaled a few steps, took in a few sharp breaths, leveled her eyes at Luna…
And it was right then, at her absolute lowest moment, that her control broke completely. The first few tears fell, followed by the usual whimpering of the throat. From within his thorny confines, Blueblood’s jaw threatened to dislocate itself; only the threat of a prickly agony convinced him to keep his trap shut. Is she…crying?
“L-Luna,” Celestia whined. “This wasn’t a trick, I swear. I just wanted you to…”
Luna tried to raise her voice again, but any such thoughts died in her throat. No matter what she said, she couldn’t muster the urge to scream anymore, especially not with her sister crying like this. Still, she couldn’t help but remain more than a little enraged. “What did you really expect this to accomplish?”
“Luna…we are all family,” Celestia slowly said. “I only wanted to make sure that…that we could be a family…”
Luna’s pupils gradually vanished into the surrounding whiteness, while her wings slowly stood on end. Blueblood could feel himself growing ever more fearful for his life. “Family? Sister, how many times do I have to make this clear? I want nothing to do with that foal! He is a violent, mindless sociopath! How can you forgive him after he tried…to…?”
“We forgave you, didn’t we?”
As if a switch had been flipped, all the anger and hate Luna had been building up since the day began gradually vanished. Her pupils and wings returned to their proper positions, while her furious glare lessened into a mournful pout. Sensing her sister’s fall, Celestia resumed her slow approach. “Luna...I’m sorry I made you come here against your will. And I didn’t mean to make you feel inferior or isolated. I just wanted to do what was best for you.”
“And I…just wanted to do what was best for us,” Luna said sadly. “I’m sorry I ruined your picnic. You must have spent a lot of time preparing all this, and…you really did have good intentions.”
“And I’m sorry, too.”
The two Alicorns spun about towards the new voice. Beneath them stood Blueblood, his coat and hair covered in sticks, leaves, and splotches of red berries. “I…I mean, it’s probably my fault this all happened, and…sorry. I guess I never realized how much of a screw-up I was until now.”
The entire garden fell completely silent, so much so that a pony could actually hear the ants choking on Celestia’s potato salad. Everypony knew they had to say something – do something – just to raise the mood a little, and yet nopony could figure on just the right move to make. There were so many variables at play here, and with so many mixed emotions and broken hearts, not even the wisest of ponies could settle on the best solution to this mess.
That is, until Celestia finally gave in to total defeat. “Well, since the picnic went nowhere, there is one other family activity we could try…”
Luna let out a great “HUZZAH!” as her little wagon landed on the space, her laughter echoing throughout the entire dining room. She quickly turned in her pile of paper bits to the bank and took her property card in return. At long last, she had every purple property in the game, which perfectly went with her collection of reds and greens. Her hotels and suburban neighborhoods were all thriving with new tenants, and with two ways to bypass the law, no prison could ever hold her. With a hoof in every corner of the board, she would soon rise to complete dominance in this contest of champions.
Sighing at his aunt’s seemingly guaranteed victory, Blueblood rolled the dice, landing on a “7.” He pushed his little thimble along the board, landing on the only railroad he lacked in his collection. Smiling in victory, he paid the fee, took his property card, and leaned back in smug victory. The world’s transportation system was now completely under his hoof, as were both the least and most expensive real estate on the market. His chain of luxury hotels were among the most expensive ever conceived, as just one stay could leave a pony scrambling in the gutters for spare bits. Soon, everything would fall right into place, and he would become the richest, most powerful pony in existence again.
As for Princess Celestia…she had exactly two bits left to her name, her lands all mortgaged or traded to her heartless competitors to pay the bills. She rolled her dice, moved her horseshoe down the appropriate spaces, and then set her pewter piece upon a red lot. Luna grinned and rubbed her forehooves together in glee. “So, it appears you are at an end, Celestia.”
Grumbling, Celestia scooped up the last of her money and handed them over to her younger sister. Once again, her younger sister had knocked her out of the game entirely, leaving her with worthless properties she didn’t even legally own anymore. “Very well, I know when I’m beaten. Good game, you two.”
“I’ve got to say, this was a much better idea than the picnic,” Blueblood said just before letting out a sigh. “Either way, though, I…thank you both for such a wonderful night.”
Celestia smiled and nodded, her eyes slowly sliding in Luna’s direction. The Alicorn was initially too busy counting up her gains to even notice what was going on, but after a few seconds of feeling uneasy she finally realized she was being watched. Slowly, she lifted her head from her money pile and locked eyes with the colt. “Yes?”
“I was wondering,” he asked. “Why did you want Miss Rarity to make me a new suit, anyway? I thought you hated me.”
I DO YOU LITTLE- “I…heard that was the custom these days,” Luna slowly said. “When a prisoner is released, they are given a new suit. I was just trying to save the middle pony and start measuring you for one, since apparently you will be…”
“B-But that’s for colts!” Blueblood said. “How is that going to help me once I’m an adult again?”
Luna’s eyes blinked six times in rapid succession. “W-Well…”
In desperation, she turned towards her older sister. Celestia had begun to lean closer to the table, her eyes as wide as a puppy dog’s as she watched Luna. Even from this distance, however, she could read exactly what Celestia wanted without as much as a single word. Just tell him the truth, little sister. Stop trying to bring him down and try to form a relationship.
Luna sighed and turned back to Blueblood. “Very well. The truth is-”
All three turned towards the dining room doors. As if on cue, a voice called out from the other end. “Princess Celestia? It’s Shining Armor. Am I interrupting anything?”
Celestia slowly looked about the room, taking in the nonverbal responses of everypony around her. Blueblood and Luna looked confused and frightened; they knew who was with Shining Armor that night, and the former had a pretty clear idea of what awaited him once she found out. Alas, Celestia’s plan won out over her sympathy for her nephew. She cleared her throat and closed her eyes, changing her features back to her “ruling princess” mode. “Of course not. Please, come in.”
The two Alicorns and their Unicorn nephew simply watched helplessly as Cadance and Shining Armor entered the room. Shining’s stomach began to churn as well, his future looking more and more bleak as the night continued. After this, getting my silverware mixed up won’t seem like such a big deal.
Cadance’s jaw hung open slightly as she caught a glimpse of the strangely familiar-looking colt sitting before her. She raised a shaking hoof and pointed at the surprised foal. “A-Aunt Celestia? Who is this?”
Blueblood dared not answer, just in case the story he and his aunt gave didn’t match. Celestia raised a hoof to her chin and began to stroke, her eyes widening as she struggled to come up with just the right words to explain the situation. “W-Well, you see…”
“He’s Blueblood’s son!”
Everypony turned their gaze towards Shining Armor. The stallion scratched his blue mane nervously. “Th-That’s right, Blueblood had a colt before he got banished.”
Both Celestia and Luna glanced at each other for a moment, rolled their eyes at the frustration, and then turned back to the panicking Captain, shocked Princess, and horrified Blueblood. Cadance’s breathing slowed as she tried desperately to calm her jangled nerves. “Y-You mean, Blueblood had a foal? And he never told anypony else? This is just…”
“Actually, that isn’t completely accurate.” Celestia sighed and rose to her hooves, followed by Luna. The Night Mare simply remained silent as ever, watching the whole spectacle and waiting for her moment to strike. “I was trying to find a way to tell you all this, but I suppose it’s time you knew the whole truth. That colt is…”
Before Blueblood could retreat, Cadance lunged forward and scooped up the colt in her forehooves. The colt tried to break away, but his now-older cousin’s grip was stronger than any reinforced armor. Everypony else in the room wavered between adoration at the cuteness of the whole spectacle, and the horror of knowing just who Cadance was putting in a bear hug. “Um…Cadance, maybe you should set him down.”
The young mare nodded and set him back on the ground. Blueblood immediately rolled onto his back, gasping and wheezing for air, while his forehooves poked his undercarriage for any signs of broken ribs. Cadance smiled and ruffled the still-stunned foal’s hair. “Sorry, but you really do look so much like him.” She turned back to Celestia and Luna. “But, how did he keep him a secret so long?”
Celestia sighed. “Because, he’s not-”
“-Blueblood’s legitimate heir.”
Everypony’s eyes turned to Luna. The Moon Princess cleared her throat and continued. “You see, the colt is the result of an affair Blueblood had with one of the palace’s staff. Since conceiving a child outside of wedlock would hurt his personal reputation, he paid her to keep the affair quiet and raise the child as her own. After he was banished, however, she told us the entire tale and asked us to raise him as our own.”
“He’s really interested in the Royal Guard, so I’ve been training him every morning,” Shining Armor added. “It’s…part of a new program we’re trying out, where fillies and colts can see what it’s like to be a guardpony.”
Cadance raised an eyebrow at her fiancé. “That…sounds rather excessive.”
“B-But he’s amazing out there!” said Shining Armor. He quickly walked over and took a position next to Blueblood. The little colt’s eyes locked onto him with no small amount of contempt. “I don’t make him do any of the really hard stuff yet!”
“And I hope you never do,” said Cadance, “at least not until he’s old enough.” She gave the colt one last pinch on the cheeks before turning back to Princes Luna. “I also wanted to thank you for helping Shining Armor get those seats. Dinner was just wonderful.”
Luna smiled. “If there is anything else I can help you with, please feel free to ask.”
Cadance smiled and bowed to her ruling princess, an act that was quickly returned. She then gave the colt a wave goodnight and walked off into the distance, her knight in shining armor at her side. Once the doors were closed, and they were certain she wasn’t going to be poking her head back through, Celestia snapped her head towards her sister. “Why did you do that?”
“Why did you try to tell her the truth?” Luna responded. “Do you have any idea what she would have done if she found out?”
“Do you have any idea what she will do once she does learn the truth?”
Blueblood, meanwhile, just slowly sauntered off towards the door, pausing a bit before turning around. His eyes were still as wide as dinner plates, as if they had gotten trapped at that size in all the excitement. “If…If it’s all right, I think I’ll be taking a long, LONG bath and then going to bed. Thank you for a lovely dinner and a…nice game, but…I’m feeling a little unclean right now…”
And with that, Blueblood quickly galloped away, heading towards the royal washrooms to scrub this night from all memory. Once he was gone, Luna sighed. “I do not believe either of us won this evening.”
“It was never something to win to begin with,” said Celestia. “But for now, we have to start forming a consensus on Blueblood. We can’t keep him in limbo like this much longer. It wouldn’t be right to keep him like this.”