The little dragon's eyes narrowed. "So...how did you get your own personal pony slave?"
"It's not like that!" Twilight said as she sorted library books.
"That's what it looks like to me. I'm not even a pony, and I barely even have regular parents, but I still get to play and go to school. Ponies here in Ponyville treat me as well as if I was a pony foal. But all I ever see Scootaloo do is work."
"What do you mean, you barely even have--"
"Don't try to change the subject."
In the Hall of Examinations, three stern ponies looked down at a little purple unicorn filly. "And now, the last test. Do you see this egg?"
Twilight stared at the egg. "You want me to make an omelet?"
One of the examiners huffed. "Hardly. We want you to hatch this egg."
Twilight worried. She wasn't a bird, to know how to hatch an egg. And what if this was a trick question? She knew from her reading that a chicken egg and a cockatrice egg look almost exactly the same.
She knew Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns had VERY high standards. If it was a cockatrice egg, and Twilight hatched it out, the cockatrice would turn her into stone!
Even if they turned her back into a filly afterwards, she was sure that would be a fail. After a terrible mistake like that, she might have to go back to magic kindergarten!
In a flash of brilliance, Twilight had an idea. So WHAT if it WAS a trick question? To protect herself from being turned into a statue and failing her exam, all Twilight had to do was transform the hatchling into a different species at EXACTLY the same time as it hatched. Then she wouldn't be turned to stone! And she would be allowed to go to school, where she could learn all day!
Twilight strained to put her magic into the very unique and complicated flow pattern that would perform both spells at the same time. She'd never actually DONE a species change spell before, but she was sure she could remember some of the theory of simpler transformations, like simple inanimate objects to other simple inanimate objects.
The rest, she would just have to guess at.
An expanding halo of rainbow light filled the sky. Twilight's magic...did some unusual things.
As a magical discharge crackled and boomed throughout the room, Twilight flinched and ducked to lay flat on the floor. When the frightened filly finally opened her eyes, Princess Celestia was turning the little filly's mother back from an omelet into a mare. Beside some broken pieces of eggshell, Twilight's father cradled a newborn pegasus foal in his forelimbs.
When Twilight's mother, Velvet, was a mare again, Princess Celestia smiled at the tiny filly. "How amazing! Isn't she adorable?" Celestia said.
Celestia turned away from the pegasus foal to speak to Twilight. "Oh...and you're admitted to the school, Twiling or whatever your name is."
"Twilight!" the filly insisted. "I'm Twilight Sparkle!"
Celestia added, "After a display like that, I think I'd better make you my personal student. And also...you have your cutie mark!"
Twilight bent her neck to look at her own flank. She bore a new marking: two eggs sunny side up, surrounded by six stars, surmounted by a pegasus foal wearing a diaper.
Twilight sighed. "Really? This thing makes me look like a combination diner and daycare center."
Celestia said cheerfully, "Look at all those markings! So much talent! I very seldom see a pony whose magical abilities are rated higher than five stars."
"Great," the precocious unicorn filly said. "Just don't make me become a short order cook."
Twilight explained, "My mother and father decided to adopt the pegasus foal. And she was so lively! The way she scooted across the floor so fast...we named her Scootaloo!"
The dragon nodded. "I've heard worse names. Did you know I go to school with a colt named Button Mash? It makes him sound like somepony who's always destroying his clothes. Or maybe somepony who plays videogames all the time, but with no skill or finesse at all."
The little dragon watched the pegasus filly climbing up and down ladders to put away books. "So...why doesn't Scootaloo even go to school?"
While Scootaloo napped in her room, Twilight Velvet and Night Light whispered to each other.
"What about the school Twilight goes to?" Night Light asked.
"They don't admit pegasi. They're unicorn only. And how would our little Scootaloo ever pass the magic exam anyway?"
Night Light pursed his lips. "I already checked with all the pegasus kindergartens in Canterlot. If a pegasus can't fly, they don't even want to see her. They say it's a safety precaution, because if your foal fell off the edge of the cloud...well."
"Can't they put up railings or something?"
"Dear, Canterlot is a snootier and more snobbish town than I'd realized when we moved here. If they can't at least pretend a foal is above average, they don't want her anywhere near the school."
"Hmmph. So where are normal ponies supposed to go?"
"To a NORMAL town, I suppose."
"But there must be someplace that will take her."
Night Light huffed. "Well, there is the one place...the Nightmareian Academy."
"Nightmareian...isn't that some kind of cult? I don't know why Celestia even allows that kind of thing."
"Me neither. Why would Celestia have a soft spot for ponies who worship Nightmare Moon?"
"It's a mystery. But I won't have our little Scootaloo taught to read everything backwards, and sacrifice eggplants to the moon."
Twilight Sparkle wandered into the room. "Mom? Dad?"
"Scootaloo is a smart little pony. She's so creative! Did you see what she thought up earlier today?" Twilight levitated a crayon drawing towards her parents.
"Hmm," Velvet said. "A platform...with wheels on it. Like a tiny wagon, but sized to just carry a pony instead of a big cargo load, and with a handle the pony can hold on to while riding."
"But how would it move?" Night Light asked.
Twilight said, "Even though she can't fly, her wings are pretty strong. When Scootaloo sits on the merry-go-round at the playground, she turns it all by herself by buzzing her wings. That's better than the magic of most unicorn fillies her age can do."
"This drawing...it might work," Night Light agreed.
"So what do we do about her education?" Velvet worried.
Twilight said, "You know how sometimes foals try to imitate ponies who are older than them? I found Scootaloo reading my old textbooks, and trying to do the homework. I think she's so curious about everything, maybe we could homeschool her."
"Homeschooling," Night Light said. "Isn't that for parents who want to just pretend stupid foals are smart? Or who want to teach their foals to believe in a religion even weirder than Nightmareianism, and don't want their little ones to ever encounter evidence that will go against their ridiculous beliefs?"
"My textbooks aren't full of weird beliefs!" Twilight Sparkle said. "I think we should at least try it. It's better than sending Scootaloo to some pegasus school that would tell her she's inferior for not being able to fly. If they even let her in, the other foals would laugh at her for having to wear a safety harness all day. But WE know she's just as good as any regular unicorn."
"That's true," Night Light said. "Most unicorns can't fly, and we don't laugh at them for it."
Velvet agreed. "Especially not where they might overhear us."
Twilight Sparkle groused, "What were you two saying about Canterlot being too snobbish? Maybe we've lived here too long already."
Velvet said, "But you attend Celestia's School. That's a very special opportunity, and I don't think we can just throw it away."
Night Light scratched his nose. "I think we should TRY homeschooling for Scootaloo. If it doesn't seem to be working out, we can try something else. Even if we have to move and our little Sparkle has to either pull out of Celestia's school, or live in the dorms without us."
Twilight didn't want to leave Celestia's school OR her family. "I'll do my best to make sure Scootaloo learns what she needs to. She'll know her way around a library as well as I do."
"So you're her only teacher, AND she's your pony slave," Spike said. "It sounds like she DOES live in a cult."
Scootaloo climbed down to the floor, and stepped off the ladder. "You know I can hear you?" she said.
"That's what I've been hoping for. To inspire you to stand up for yourself and overthrow the Tirek-neigh!"
Scootaloo laughed. "What's that?"
"It's government by an oppressive, monstrous dictator. It was named after a scary legendary creature. Because I'm a scary legendary creature myself, I'm kind of an expert on them."
Scootaloo snorted. "I think you mean tyranny. And Tirek is a legend, all right. Probably more like a myth."
Twilight Sparkle said, "Scootaloo got all A's and B's in Classic Legends and Ancient Zoology."
"And since Twilight's my teacher, that's more like getting all A's and...what's better than an A?"
"Recess," Spike joked. "Getting recess is better than getting all A's. A pony should be well-rounded."
"You're not even a pony."
"Scootaloo!" Twilight scolded. "What do we say about looking down on creatures just because they're different?"
Scootaloo sighed. "I'm sorry, Spike. I shouldn't look down on you at all. We're kind of the same. A pegasus who can't fly, and a dragon who doesn't have wings."
"I tried to fly once!" Spike said. "Trixie said she could help me fly by strapping fireworks to my body."
Twilight snorted. "It's a good thing dragons are fireproof, Spike. Or she could have killed you."
"I already knew I was fireproof! That was part of the plan all along."
"Did anypony tell Trixie? Or did she just assume?"
"Fire and explosions are healthy for a growing dragon." Spike said. "Nocreature should have to tell Trixie that."
"I don't think she knew--"
"Hey!" Scootaloo interrupted. "Isn't it more important that Spike thinks I'm some kind of slave?"
"It IS important," Spike said. "Free the Scootaloo!" He waved one scaly fist. "Freedom for Scootaloo!"
Twilight sighed. "Scootaloo, Spike has a point. If you don't want to spend so much time helping me out in the library, you shouldn't have to. You have a right to pursue your own interests."
"But I LIKE the library. In the library, ponies don't make fun of me for being a pegasus who can't fly. Or if they do, I can SHUSH them."
Spike laughed. "That sounds fun, telling anypony who makes fun of you to shut up AND being able to make them do it."
Scootaloo nodded. "It's kind of the best."
Spike said, "But what Twilight told you about pursuing your own interests? It kind of gives me an idea."
"What's that?" Scootaloo asked.
"I should start at the beginning."
Twilight looked curiously at the little dragon. "What's the beginning? When you were hatched?"
"No, before that."
In the Manehattan Zoo's newest exhibit, several zookeepers watched a large, purple-spotted egg. The egg trembled slightly.
Next to the zookeepers, two ponies wearing khaki grinned. "She's hatching!" Mane Allgood said.
"He certainly is!" Snap Shutter mostly agreed.
"We'll see her soon enough."
The egg cracked. The crack spread. Finally the egg split into two halves. Between the halves, a baby reptile lay on its back, moving its arms and legs energetically. The reptile's foot and forelimb impacts broke the eggshell into smaller fragments.
The zookeepers stared at the reptile. Finally the head zookeeper said, "This is NOT a Shire Lankan cragodile. I expect an immediate refund."
The baby dragon grabbed its tail with both forelimbs, pulling the tailtip into the baby's mouth, where the little dragonling sucked on it.
"The adventurers had a few different choices," Spike said. "They could take me back to Shire Lanka or to the Dragonlands, and tell the dragons there that they'd stolen a dragon egg by mistake, and beg for forgiveness. Or they could just raise the baby dragon themselves...but they didn't quite do that either. They ended up mostly adopting me out to a distant aunt, and her roommate."
"Roommate?" Twilight asked.
"Roommate. You know, like Lyra and Bon Bon."
Twilight blinked. "Oh, ROOMMATE."
"That's what I said!"
"Huh?" Scootaloo asked.
Twilight said, "Spike...you know how Lyra and Bon Bon are...not the same as most mares? They live a...special lifestyle?"
"I know they're each other's special sompeponies."
Twilight nodded. "That's the important part."
"But there's a lot of stuff I DON'T quite understand. Everypony tells me 'You'll find out when you're older.' For now, they say I'm too young to know how some of that stuff works. You can see how young I am, because my uh...PARTS haven't sprouted yet. Nopony in Ponyville can even tell whether I'm a boy or a girl."
Twilight said, "That must be awkward, sometimes."
Spike snorted. "At my age, what difference does it make? If somecreature doesn't want to be my friend because they don't know if I'm a boy or a girl, I don't want to be their friend either. Because they're stupid and wrong."
Scootaloo blinked. "Does that happen much?"
"Nope. Everypony here is used to me. So it's never a problem with anypony who's cool."
"That...sounds good," Scootaloo said.
The library's front door opened, admitting a pale unicorn with a violet mane and tail. The unicorn started chatting with Twilight.
Scootaloo whispered in Spike's ear. "(Wow! Isn't she pretty?)"
"(I guess so? I don't know.)"
"(Take my word for it. She is. Her name is Rarity, and she's the prettiest pony in Ponyville. Wouldn't it be the most amazing thing ever to be HER special somepony?)"
Spike whispered back, "(She's Sweetie Belle's big sister. Sweetie Belle and I have been close friends ever since we were tiny foals. Rarity and Sweetie's parents are out of town so much, I think Rarity raised Sweetie as much as anypony else did. Which means Rarity helped raise me too. For me, it would be like going on a date with my big sister. Yuck.)"
"(But she isn't MY sister.)"
"(As far as I'm concerned, you can have her. If you're nice to her.)"
Rarity called out to the two little creatures, "And what are YOU TWO little darlings whispering about?"
"Nothing!" Scootaloo said. Her face turned pink.
Spike said, "I guess it's a secret."
"I suppose a lady must have her little secrets." Rarity went back to chatting with Twilight.
"Hmm," Spike said. "They seem to get along well. Do you suppose they...?"
"I doubt it. I think Twilight only has eyes for books. Anyway, weren't you telling me the story of your life? Or...no! You said Twilight gave you an idea, and you wanted to start at the beginning."
"Oh, yeah!" Spike remembered. "It was about pursuing your own interests. Ponies learn about how they're special and what they want to do with their lives by getting their cutie marks. But because I'm a dragon. I can't get a cutie mark."
"Oh," Scootaloo said. "I never thought about that. Everypony can get a cutie mark...except you." Her ears drooped.
"But maybe it isn't just a problem!" Spike enthused. "When I was feeling bad about it, my two best friends Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom said, let's start a club where we can try new things and find out what we really like. They said, maybe I don't NEED a cutie mark, if I work hard enough to find out what my cutie mark WOULD be for. And if we all try to find out together, maybe they can get their cutie marks too."
"That's a really good idea!" Scootaloo said. Her face scrunched up with worry. "I wonder if I should join your club too, just in case."
"What do you mean, just in case?"
"I mean...dragons can't get cutie marks, right? And I'm kind of like a dragon."
Spike laughed. "How are YOU like a dragon? Do you breathe fire? Are you covered with strong, tough scales?"
Scootaloo said, "Don't you remember what Twilight said earlier? I was hatched from an egg. And Twilight was doing so many spells...maybe I was SUPPOSED to be a dragon, but she turned me into a pony instead?"
Spike snorted. "Maybe you were supposed to be a cockatrice."
"Exactly! Aren't cockatrices part magical reptile? That's JUST like a dragon. Or like a half dragon, at least. And I don't think they get cutie marks."
"Huh," Spike said. "I guess we'll never know what you were supposed to be. Why do they even HAVE eggs at the entrance exam? It's too confusing."
Scootaloo shrugged. "I don't know anything about my egg before Twilight hatched it, or why it was at the School for Gifted Unicorns entrance exam. Maybe somepony just brought a dozen eggs from the kitchen."
A pegasus and an earth pony wearing khaki jungle exploration gear talked excitedly in a sundrenched, humid alleyway in Colombolt, the capital city of Shire Lanka.
"We need one more egg, to fill our miscellaneous bird quota for the Canterlot Zoo."
"But our airship leaves in ten minutes!"
"I have an idea." Shutter ran into a restaurant. "Excuse me. I need an egg."
"We cook the best eggs in--"
"I need a raw, uncooked egg. A chicken egg will do fine, as long as it's from Shire Lanka."
Shutter pushed past the waiter.
In the kitchen, a cook told Shutter, "Excuse me, sir! You can't come in here."
Mane Allgood ran past the waiter, and stood in the doorway to the kitchen. "I know karate!" she shouted.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Please please please! If we don't bring back a live bird egg from Shire Lanka, we're going to be in SO MUCH TROUBLE!"
The cook sighed. He waved at a crate of eggs packed in straw. "You can have--"
"These are already packed for shipping! I'll give you thirty bits for the whole thing!"
"Well...some other ponies might want eggs too...for breakfast."
"I have a reputation for serving good, complete breakfasts every morning."
"Fifty bits, and I'll get out of your kitchen so you can cook in peace."
"Take your wife, too. Please."
Mane nodded. "We'll both go. Thank you very much, sir." She helped Snap Shutter carry the crate out the door.
The cook shouted, "Hay! What about my fifty bits?" He ran out of the restaurant. The cook watched as Allgood flew away, her wings stuggling to carry Shutter and the crate up to the airship that the two explorers had just barely missed.
In the Canterlot Zoo, a zookeeper glared into a crate. "Not again!" she said.
"What do you mean?" her colleague asked.
"Somepony thought it would be funny to round out a delivery of Shire Lankan bird eggs with THIS." She held up an egg.
"No!" he shouted. "Not ANOTHER cockatrice egg! The zoo has too many statues already."
"I have an idea. Let's send it to the Palace. They have wizards on staff for dealing with this kind of thing. And they like to serve exotic foods at their fancy banquets."
"That's a great idea. Even if it hatches early...I hear Princess Celestia really loves her statue garden."
"Better her than us."
Scootaloo said, "However my egg got there, I think I really lucked out. I've got the best family a pony could ask for."
"The best owners, do you mean?" Spike asked.
Twilight shouted, "Enough! I am TIRED of being called a cult leader, or a ponyslaver! Scootaloo and Spike, get out of here! Go play outside or something!" She stood up on her hind legs to wave her forelegs at the little creatures. "Go! Git! Shoo! OUT!"
Spike and Scootaloo ran outside. Scootaloo's eyes blinked in the bright sunlight. "Well...I guess playing outside doesn't seem so bad."
Spike said, "But do you GET to play outside? Or were you ORDERED to do it? You see how it is? Free the Scootaloo!" He shook a clawed fist. "Free the Scootaloo!"
"Spike, you're embarrassing me."
"Embarrassed because you finally see how you've been oppressed? Let the scales fall from your eyes, and see the light!"
"Ponies don't even HAVE scales on our eyes, you silly dragon."
"It's just an expression." Spike looked around. "So...this wheely thingy that you designed when you were younger..."
"I'll get it." Scootaloo went back inside the library. She came out a minute later, pulling a scooter Night Light had made for her. "Twilight gave me money to buy us ice cream too."
Spike snorted, blowing smoke out his nostrils. "Does she think she can buy us off that easily?"
Scootaloo shrugged. "I guess we can let her TRY."
"Yeah. Ice cream does sound good. But don't sign away any of your rights for it."
"I'll be careful. Twilight made me take a home study course on consumer law last year, and read a bunch of books." Scootaloo sighed. "Consumer law is kind of boring. I wish I could do something cool like fly instead." She looked up at the clear blue sky.
Spike patted her on the shoulder. "Yeah, me too. Maybe someday."
"Yeah. Maybe someday, our wings will come in."
Spike looked at the scooter again. "Can you show me how this thing works?"
A minute later, Scootaloo and Spike careened through Ponyville. Scootaloo's buzzing wings pushed them almost as fast as a pegasus can fly.
"Wait until the Cutie Mark Crusaders see THIS!" Spike shouted. "Woo-hoo!"