by Airstream

In Which There Is A Trial

“State your name for the Court, please.”

The mare in front of the throne shuffled her hooves nervously. “Cobblestone, Milady.”

Lady Everstar looked down on her from her throne, carved of old wood and inlaid with swirling flames of bronze. “And your place of residence?”

Cobblestone cleared her throat, her mouth suddenly dry. “Until recently, I lived in Crescent City, Milady. Near the docks.”

The assembled crowd murmured at that. Cobblestone was not the first pony they had listened to today, the first Royal trial in more than a decade. Magus Libra had given testimony earlier, and it was rumored that the Lady’s daughter herself would be forced to make an appearance, seeing as the matter included her. An attempt on her life had been made, after all.

“Miss Cobblestone, of late from Crescent City, the charges arrayed you are as follows. You are charged with the crimes of breaking and entering, attempted theft of Royal property, two charges of assault, and one charge of substance abuse, the latter of which has been mitigated to a fine in lieu of incarceration. Do you understand the charges as I have presented them to you?” Lady Everstar asked, her voice stern.

Cobblestone nodded her head. “I do, Milady. Yes.”

“And how do you plead?”

Cobblestone swallowed again, her chest pounding. “I plead guilty to these crimes, Milady.”

The Court murmured again. By pleading guilty, Cobblestone had effectively thrown herself on the mercy of the Crown, hoping for clemency in her sentencing in return for the actions she had undertaken on behalf of Serale Everstar. Not only this, but now her future hung on the words of the young Lady herself.

“Please describe for the Court your role in the events on the night you were arrested.” Lady Everstar said, her voice perhaps a shade warmer.

Cobblestone nodded, her head spinning as she attempted to sort out the series of events. She had practiced it in her mind, but she hadn’t slept much last night.

“I and two others had decided that we had nothing more to gain from working with one of the gangs in our part of town, and since we didn’t have the money for a new life somewhere else, we would need to get it somewhere. Lucky, a Pegasus I had worked with before, spotted a pony in the market district earlier that day who appeared to be extremely wealthy. He followed her back to an inn near the river, and talked his way into assisting her with her luggage, upon which he snuck a look at the contents.”

Lady Everstar held up a hoof. “Am I correct in assuming this was Serale Everstar?”

“Yes, Milady,” Cobblestone said. “Though we didn’t know it at the time.”

“I see,” the monarch said. “Continue.”

“I was woken up later that evening by Lucky. He, the other pony in our group, Ivy, and I then attempted to leave the hideout without alerting anypony. We were almost successful, but ran into a group of thieves in the gang that we had run into trouble with before, who tried to stop us from leaving.” Cobblestone said, thinking back to the scuffle in the tunnel.

She shuddered at the memory of her killing the stallion in the tunnel. She wasn’t even sure of his name. “We managed to lose them eventually,” she said, “And once we’d had time to recover, we headed off for the inn. Lucky had gotten us rooms.”

“Why?” Lady Everstar asked. “Were you planning on hiding what you stole there?”

Cobblestone shook her head. “No, Milady. There was no way to enter the inn from the outside without being spotted by guards from the road. Our plan was to wait until the inhabitants were asleep, at which point Ivy and I would pick the locks on the doors and move the things out of the rooms through the windows. Lucky would stow them on a nearby rooftop until we left, at which point he would have the locks on any of the boxes open and we could take what we needed.”

“When you say ‘what we needed’,” Lady Everstar said, “What do you mean by that? Were you not intending to take as much as you could?”

“It wasn’t discussed,” Cobblestone replied, “But I don’t think we would have carried as much as we could with us. For one, it would have weighed us down, and for another, it would have been hard to hide all of it in case we needed to. All we really needed was a few things we could sell in order to get the coin for a new start somewhere else.”

“And where did you intend to run with this?” Lady Everstar inquired.

Cobblestone bowed her head. “Starfall, Milady.”

The Court broke into soft, suppressed laughter. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on them. Cobblestone had robbed the ruler of the city she was planning to move to, and she had certainly gotten her new start in Starfall!

The laughter continued for a moment, Lady Everstar waiting patiently for the tension to release itself.

“Order,” she said, almost lazily, and the assembled nobles and bystanders shut their mouths immediately. “So you were planning on picking the locks from the inside and moving the items outside?” she asked Cobblestone.

“Yes, Milady,” Cobblestone said.

“And then what happened?”

The unicorn shuffled her hooves nervously, her heart speeding up once more. “Well, we planned on having Ivy lift out hers first, as she had taken the room with fewer pieces of luggage in it. That was the room Magus Libra was in, Milady. I was the more experienced one, so I took the room with more boxes and the younger pony. Your daughter, Milady.”

“Did you intend to cause harm to the occupants of the rooms if they woke up?” Lady Everstar said. There was warning in her tone.

“No, Milady,” Cobblestone said quickly. “Our plan was to jump out of the windows into the river if something went wrong. It flowed right underneath the rooms, and both Ivy and I could swim.”

“What happened when you entered the room?”

Cobblestone closed her eyes, remembering the shadows, the still of the night.

“I didn’t see anything at first, until it was almost too late. Ivy must have seen them first, Milady, because it was her scream that sent me moving back almost into the hooves of a Pegasus that had somehow gotten behind me.”

She broke off her story. “I’ve spent years being quiet, Milady, and I know how to listen to your surroundings to tell if somepony’s there. This Pegasus…he moved like a ghost, ma’am. I didn’t hear a thing.”

Cobblestone continued. “I threw up a light to see what went wrong and got my back against the side wall, and that’s when I saw the two Pegasi. They were both black all over, and it may have been the light, but I could’ve swore they didn’t have pupils in their eyes, Milady. They were just pitch black all the way through.”

“What happened then?” Twilight asked.

“They both came at me with daggers,” Cobblestone recounted. “I managed to get out of the way, and I saw a pony sitting up in the bed. I tried to hit one of the Pegasi with magic, ma’am, but he did…something.”


Cobblestone’s brow furrowed as she remembered. “This…this black flame appeared in his hoof,” she said, “And he kind of shoved it at me. And I could feel the magic go out of me, like it just disappeared. And I felt cold, colder than I’ve ever felt before. I managed to get up enough power to hit him, but I only knocked him back a bit.”

Cobblestone started shaking, her words coming faster and faster. “I saw the pony on the bed throw herself at the other one, and I heard an explosion from the other room, and then I kind of felt the spell in the other room being cast, and I got low. Then there was another explosion, and the wall was gone, and there was somepony standing in the hole.”

“I tried to get away,” she said, her voice cracking, “And stick to the plan, but then the Magus did something, and everypony fell over. I couldn’t get up, but I saw one of the Pegasi in the other room do the thing with the black flames and get up, but I couldn’t talk. So I had to push, but it wasn’t working, and then I pushed again, and again, and then finally I could get up. I couldn’t shout, so I just pointed my horn at the Pegasi and cast a spell at him.”

“What spell?” Lady Everstar asked.

Cobblestone shook her head wildly. “I don’t know,” she said, “Lightning. There was thunder and a bright light, and then I couldn’t hear and I smelled ozone.”

Tears welled up in the young unicorn’s eyes. “And then I fell over,” she said, “I fell over ‘cuz I couldn’t stand up no more…”

Her voice slipped back into thieves’ talk, like she had spoken when she was young. “An’ one of the bastards picked up Ivy. He had a knife up against her throat an’ he was trying to…to move to the window. An’ I couldn’t hear, and I felt Libra shouting, an’ I was trying t’ get up. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t get up. An’ I see Ivy, and she’s shouting. She shouted my name, an’ she wanted me t’ help her, beggin’ me to help.”

Cobblestone swallowed a lump in her throat. “But I couldn’t. An’ Ivy put her head back, an’ she bashed him in the nose. An’ then, an’ then, the knife came ‘cross her neck, and th’ Magus fired, an’ I saw Ivy bleeding from th’ line on her neck. An’ then she was gone.”

Cobblestone sobbed quietly. “She was gone an’ I didn’t help her.”

It had been a long time coming and now it had arrived at the worst possible time. Hot tears fell from her eyes, hitting the floor around her as Cobblestone’s shoulders shook and she forced back heaving, desperate sobs. She’d failed her only friend, a friend that had depended on her. It took all of her strength not to fall to her knees, but she managed to stay on her hooves. She needed to finish.
Gradually, she pulled herself together. She wiped the tears from her eyes with a single swipe of her hoof, and cleared her throat, straightening in front of the entire Court unbowed by her experiences. Cobblestone was dying on the inside, but she wasn’t about to show more than she had to here.

“Apologies,” she said, sticking her accent back where it belonged, “I didn’t mean to waste your time.”

Lady Everstar looked at her strangely. “You’ve been through a lot,” she said, not dispassionately. “I would have been worried or suspicious if you hadn’t shown emotion at that.”

“They found Lucky on the roof with a broken neck,” Cobblestone said. “Apparently the Pegasi had the same idea as us, only in reverse. Land on the roof and come through the windows.”

“Is that the last of it?” Lady Everstar asked. “Everything that happened?”

Cobblestone shook her head. “Magus Libra assumed I was there as a partner to the Pegasi. I told her I was a thief. There was one Pegasus left after all of this happened, so she turned to interrogate him.”

“Do you recall what, exactly, he said?” Lady Everstar said.

“Not exactly,” Cobblestone replied. “He said something about the Cult of Crows. And that he wanted Serale’s reign to be short. And then he set himself on fire.”

“How did he do that?” Lady Everstar asked. “He was pinned to the ground, wasn’t he?”

Cobblestone shrugged. “I wouldn’t know, Milady. I assumed it was some sort of spell. The flames were black. After that, there wasn’t much said except for Magus Libra checking to see if Lady Serale was alright, and then the constables arrived to take me into custody. That’s all there was.”

Lady Everstar nodded, clearly going over the details while the Court began to buzz, speculating on what they had just heard. From all accounts, it sounded like Cobblestone was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, reflecting the testimony of the Magus from earlier. But were her actions enough to warrant leniency in her sentencing? By all accounts this Cobblestone had acted entirely in her own self-interests and the interests of her co-conspirators.

Lady Everstar held up a hoof, curtailing the hum of conversation. She looked at Cobblestone.

“I have not yet decided on whether or not your actions deserve leniency,” she said. “So I would like to ask you some questions about your story, and your motivations for what appears to be a life of unrepentant crime. Understand that you do not need to answer these questions, but refusal to do so, or answering them untruthfully, may reflect badly on you.”

Cobblestone bowed her head. “I understand, Milady.”

Lady Everstar was silent for a moment. “I suppose my first question is where your parents were during all of this.”

“My mum died,” Cobblestone said, “When I was about five. I don’t know who my father was, or where he is now. Probably dead as well.”

The Lady tilted her head. “Why do you think that?”

“Because mum told me he was a knife for hire, and they tend not to last too long in Crescent City unless they’re particularly careful,” Cobblestone said. “And careful knives don’t visit whores.”

There was not a sound from the Court.

“And how did your mother die?” Lady Everstar asked.

“She was out of her mind on moonsugar and fell off of a building,” Cobblestone said, “Or jumped. Carrying another child, too. She never used to touch that sort of thing, but times were hard and she hadn’t been getting many customers. I guess she needed an out.”

Lady Everstar nodded thoughtfully. “And what did you do after her death?”

Cobblestone crossed one hoof in front of the other, a gesture she hadn’t used since she was a filly.

“I found work with the gang I eventually left, Milady. I worked as a lookout first, then as a distraction for other thieves, and then I became a thief myself.”

Lady Everstar leaned forward. “And why did you join the gang? Why weren’t you sent to an orphanage?”

Cobblestone choked back a laugh. “The orphanages in Crescent City don’t have a good reputation, Milady. Even I knew that when I was five. And I knew ponies in the gang, ponies who could keep me safe and fed and put a roof over my head when I worked for them.”

“Did you enjoy what you did?” Lady Everstar asked.

She thought about that for a moment. “I’m…not really sure, Milady. I was good at it, and I enjoyed being good at what I did. It was dangerous, and I was almost caught a few times, but…I don’t know if I enjoyed it or not. It was what I did. There were good and bad moments.”

The unicorn on the throne leaned back, eyes piercing Cobblestone like needles. “So, if you were well provided for, and you were at least reasonably sure of what you were doing, and you didn’t hate the work, why did you decide to leave the city?”

“It’s…complicated, Milady,” Cobblestone said carefully. “How much do you know about gangs in Crescent City?”

Lady Everstar’s mouth quirked up in an amused smile. “Assume for the moment I know nothing of them.”

Cobblestone nodded. “Each gang is run by a boss. Mine was named Chipped Bit. The bosses organize the gang and plan jobs, and when we work together we’re well cared for. In return, the bosses take a cut of each job we do. Some of that cut goes into their own pockets, and the rest goes towards whatever the gang as a whole needs. Bribes, weapons, supplies, that sort of thing.”

“So they act as administrators?” Lady Everstar asked.

“Yes,” Cobblestone said. “And depending on your job, they take a different cut. Mine before I left was at seventy percent or so. That’s because Chipped Bit didn’t want me to be thieving anymore.”

“What, then, did he want you to do?” Lady Everstar inquired.

Cobblestone took a deep breath, slightly embarrassed. “He wanted me to work in a Parlor. A whorehouse.”

The monarch nodded slowly, letting Cobblestone’s words sink in. And then, “Cobblestone? How old are you?”

Cobblestone averted her eyes. “I’m not completely sure, Milady. I don’t remember my birthday. I know I’m fourteen, though.”

There were gasps, murmurs, and cries of outrage from the galleries. Surely fourteen was far too young! The ponies in the stands understood prostitution. They might have agreed or disagreed with the practice as the case may have been, but fourteen was hardly more than a child! One as young as her should have been in school or an apprentice, and the only thoughts along that line should have been which colts she might have fancied or not! The voices grew louder as unrest spread through the Court.

“Order!” Lady Everstar’s voice snapped, ringing across the hall. Power crackled along the edges of her words, and the Court fell silent as the grave. She gestured to Cobblestone, her expression softening.

“Please continue, Cobblestone. Is this why you left?”

Cobblestone nodded. “I’d refused to go before, which is why Chip was raising my cut. But the night I left with my partners, Ivy said that she heard him planning to sell me to another boss. We didn’t stick around much after that.”

Lady Everstar inclined her head graciously. “Thank you for being upfront and honest, Cobblestone. Your testimony in this case has been valuable. Please return to the antechamber. Your sentence will be passed once we have finished with testimony.”

Cobblestone bowed her head shakily, and retreated back through the hall, the whispers from the gallery following her as she trudged the seemingly interminable length of the marble floor back through the doors, out into the antechamber cleared of visitors save for a few guards. The doors behind her slammed shut, mercifully cutting off the source of the noise.

Immediately, Cobblestone began to shake. Her stomach was burning, and it felt like she was going to throw up if she could clear the massive lump that had formed in her throat. Her vision blurred, and she staggered to a set of couches nearby, hoping to collapse on them.

A hoof on her shoulder stopped her short, and she swung her head around to see who had grabbed her. It was Libra.

“I was hoping you were alright,” she said with a sad smile. “You nearly lost control during your story, didn’t you?”

Cobblestone nodded, unable to reply. Of all the times to have a breakdown, she had chosen the absolute worst.

Libra drew her in close, and Cobblestone tensed up before she realized that the older mare was embracing her. She relaxed into the hug, noting dimly that the mage smelled faintly of parchment and pine needles. She was warm, too.

“Come,” the spellcaster said. “Let’s sit by the double doors over there. I’ve got some tea and a few restoratives to help you regain some strength.”

Together, the two of them drifted over to a nearby table, which was indeed set up near a set of double doors that were shut tight. Cobblestone sat down on a chair without really thinking about it, her mind preoccupied. A cup was offered to her, and she accepted, sipping at the brew mechanically.

“That’s peppermint,” Libra said. “It’s my favorite, always used to help me after a bad day. Is it too hot? Too strong?”

Cobblestone shook her head. The tea was surprisingly good, comforting and refreshing all at once. She took another sip and was much surprised to find that the lump in her throat appeared to be dissolving away, and her stomach had settled again.

Libra watched her sip at her tea carefully, settling back in her own seat as she did so. She indicated a tray of biscuits sitting near the teapot. “You’re welcome to those,” she said, “If you want them.”

“Thank you,” Cobblestone croaked, before clearing her throat. “Sorry. Thank you.”

Libra nodded understandingly. “Do you want to talk?” she asked. “I’m an excellent listener.”

Cobblestone paused, and then she nodded quietly.

Libra waited patiently for a moment, and then spoke. “I promise whatever you say will stay between the two of us,” she said, “Nopony else will hear it. Not other mages, not Serale, not Lady Everstar, unless it sounds like you’re planning on hurting yourself or somepony else.”

Cobblestone set her tea down. “Everything’s happening so fast,” she said. “Leaving Crescent City, coming here, getting told I’m good enough to be a mage and that I might be a target for some cult…and I realized in the Court that with everything that’s happened, I’ve hardly thought at all about Ivy or Lucky. And it’s strange, you know? I can see everything about that night crystal clear, but for some reason, I can’t remember Ivy’s face. Or I don’t want to.”

She took a deep shuddering breath. “I mean, I know what she looked like. She had green eyes, and a brown mane, and her coat was a kind of red-brown color. And I know she had good teeth, and that she was going to be pretty someday. But I put it all together, and…I just don’t remember her face. And I feel horrible.”

Libra nodded. “It’s natural to have a poor memory of traumatic events. I’d give it time. Eventually, you’ll recall it. I should know, I’ve had my own fair share of bad memories.”

At that moment, the doors beside them opened wide. The guards snapped to attention, and Libra stood, indicating that Cobblestone should as well. The unicorn scrambled to her hooves just as a young mare in formal clothes, with her mane done up in an intricate bun, strode proudly through the doors. With a star, Cobblestone recognized who it was. Serale, clad in scarlet velvet with a deep purple trim, her mother’s colors, was going to speak next.

The doors to the throne room opened wide, and without a word to either of them, Serale proceeded through the massive portal, her pace never changing and her posture never faltering as they rumbled shut behind her.

“She seems so confident,” Cobblestone said. “How is she not nervous?”

Libra smiled gently. “She’s had more practice. Both at speaking in public and hiding her emotions. She’s plenty nervous, believe you me. I imagine she’ll be just fine. Serale is her mother’s daughter in every way, a public forum is her ideal battlefield.”

“I hope so,” Cobblestone said. “I have the feeling that much of what happens to me is resting on her shoulders right now.”

Libra took a sip of tea. “Are you worried?” she asked.

Cobblestone nodded. “Another reason to feel guilty. If we hadn’t chosen to rob you, Ivy and Lucky would still be alive.”

“But Serale and I would be dead or worse,” Libra replied. “And thanks to your intervention, intended or no, we are sane, happy, and healthy. Never forget that, Cobblestone. Your actions led to good. I know Serale won’t forget it.”

“State your name for the Court, please.”

“Serale Everstar.”

Serale waited for the next question from her mother, who was bound by law to introduce her as another witness, though she obviously knew all of the information already.

“Please state your place of residence,” Twilight recited in an almost-bored tone.

“I am a resident of the Regia here in Starfall,” Serale replied. As if you didn’t know.

“Miss Everstar, please state in your own words the events that transpired on the night you were attacked.”

Serale took a deep breath, attempting to project as loudly as her mother did.

“Magus Libra and I had just arrived in Crescent City that morning, and our journey having been a long one, I was eager to leave the ship that had until then been our home, and see some of the city for myself. We disguised ourselves in order to discourage any unwanted attention, collected a few of our things, and went to shore to celebrate our homecoming and the day of my birth.”

She stood up a bit straighter before continuing. “The day itself was relatively uneventful, marked only by visiting a few shops and procuring rooms at an inn near the river that separates the northern and southern parts of the city. I’m afraid I can’t quite recall the name; I believe it was something along the lines of the Hospitality Inn. After settling in and taking our meals, Magus Libra and I both went to bed.”

“Am I correct in assuming this is the same inn in which the defendant Cobblestone would later be entering?” Twilight asked.

Serale inclined her head in agreement. “Yes. I believe an accomplice of hers assisted us with our belongings, the majority of which had caught up with us by the time we were ready to retire for the evening.”

“Continue,” Twilight said.

“The Magus and I were asleep around eight o’clock in the evening or so, and the next chime I remember hearing from a clock was at one in the morning, approximately forty minutes after the attack. It was likely that Cobblestone and her compatriots attempted to enter our rooms around midnight or so, perhaps a bit after. It was then that she encountered the two Pegasi who had infiltrated my room.”

Serale took a moment to sort through the sequence of events, which were somewhat jumbled in her mind. “I seem to recall that a scream from the other room had partially woken me from sleep, and it was upon seeing three ponies struggling on the floor of my room that I became truly aware of what was happening. As I began to move, the unicorn that I would later come to learn was named Cobblestone managed to get off a shot with her magic, though it seemed to be curiously dim and muffled, as if I was seeing the light through a veil. It was at that point that I saw an opportunity.”

Serale allowed herself to blush. “I must not have been thinking correctly,” she lied smoothly, “Because instead of reaching for my magic, I recalled a self-defense lesson I had been taught by one of the Quilinese when Libra and I wintered in the Islands, and I chose to engage the other Pegasus in direct combat, and threw myself off of the bed at him. I managed to subdue him just in time for Magus Libra to remove the wall separating the two rooms, at which point she pinned all of us down in order to determine which ponies were threats that required neutralization.”

“At any point during the fighting, did Miss Cobblestone show signs of attempting bodily harm on you, or other signs of aggression?” Twilight asked her daughter, giving her an opening.

“Miss Cobblestone not only showed no signs of violence aside from self-defense during the fight,” Serale said, “I also had the opportunity to interact with her during her transport to Starfall, and I found her to be compliant with her captors as well as averse to violence as a solution except in dire need.”

Her mother nodded to herself. “Continue,” she said.

“As I had no desire to distract Magus Libra, I remained still,” Serale said, “And my vision was partially obscured by the remnants of the wall, so I couldn’t see what was happening in the other room. I do know that Cobblestone managed to free herself from the bonds used by the Magus, and utilize her magic to fashion an electromagnetic discharge, the strain of which drained her of most of her energy. This bolt of electricity was directed at a third, unseen attacker.”

“Unfortunately,” Serale continued, her voice growing regretful, “This proved enough for the fourth assailant, in the other room, to take one of Cobblestone’s accomplices as a hostage in an attempt to ensure his own escape. Cobblestone, while visibly distressed, was unable to utilize her own magic, and I was continuing to restrain the second Pegasus in my room, the first one having perished at the hooves of Miss Cobblestone. I did not wish to endanger the hostage with a poor shot, nor did I wish to risk the other Pegasus to escape my grapple, so I refrained from using my own magic. After a brief struggle, the hostage attempted to evade her captor, at which point he slit her throat. Magus Libra managed to kill him shortly thereafter.”

“And after this turn of events, what happened?” Twilight asked her.

“The Magus took over restraining him and began to interrogate both Cobblestone and the Pegasus, under the assumption they had been working together. I pointed out that since they had been attempting to murder one another, it seemed unlikely, at which point Cobblestone informed us that she had no designs on hurting either of us, and was merely after our valuables. Libra attempted to interrogate the Pegasus for information, but aside from delivering a short message he did not say anything more before self-immolating.”

“What was this message?”

“A loaded crossbow had been placed by my bed,” Serale said. “He said it was a gift from an organization called the Cult of Crows to me, the child of the False Goddess. He also wished my reign to be both short and tragic before he burst into flame, at which point continued conversation seemed to be a bit pointless for all involved parties.”

There was a chuckle from the stands at Serale’s dry and dark wit. Despite the very real fact that she had been in danger, and potentially still was, the young mare seemed to be completely unflappable.

Even Twilight allowed herself a small smile before waving her hoof. “Order,” she said, and the Court settled down. “You said that you had travelled with Cobblestone on your return to Starfall, and that you had spent time with her,” she said, “What was your impression of her in that time?”

Serale blinked. Her mother had given her what essentially amounted to a blank check, allowing her to sing whatever praises and heap whatever damnations she wished for the moment.

“Driven,” she said. “Cobblestone possesses a singular drive to do whatever it takes to not only survive, but thrive. She was, by her own admission, an excellent thief, but I feel that if it came to pass that her best chance to succeed in life was to become a painter, or a stonemason, she would paint masterpieces and build walls to last lifetimes.”

“Not only this,” Serale continued, “I believe, given the chance, Cobblestone could become a great pony. She is talented magically, loyal to those she deems friends, and I think if she were given the chance, she could be every bit as kind, proud, and upright a pony as can be found in Equestria. The only question is whether or not she can be given that chance.”

“And I believe she should,” Serale continued. “Cobblestone has had a hard life, I think. Her actions didn’t come from greed or the desire to take from others, her actions came from the desire to see her and her fellows survive. If she is given a chance to improve herself and allow her talents to grow, in order to give her the tools to succeed without violating the law, I could very easily see her not only becoming a law-abiding citizen, but also a great mage.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded her head thoughtfully as she considered her daughter’s words.

“Thank you, Miss Everstar,” she said, “Your testimony in this case has been valuable. Please return to the antechamber to await your summons, at which point yourself, Magus Libra, and the defendant will be required in this hall once more to receive the sentence. You may go.”

Serale bowed low, averting her eyes from her mother as she did so, before pirouetting delicately and promenading the length of the hall out of the throne room, aware of all eyes on her as she walked. A few quiet murmurs arose from the stands, but Serale could tell that the assembled ponies had been impressed with her testimony. She was glad. It had taken considerable rehearsal last night in order to come up with the right words to say, though it hadn’t all been by rote.

The doors shut behind her as she allowed the façade of poise and self-confidence to vanish, rolling her shoulders back and allowing her body to relax. The heavy fabric of the dress was suddenly smothering, and she could feel a headache starting right behind her eyes as she approached the table where Libra and Cobblestone sat.

“Well,” she said brightly, “I think it went rather well. Are you feeling alright, Cobblestone?”

The thief nodded, sipping at the dregs of her tea. “I’m doing better, thanks,” she said. “Libra helped me to calm down after my testimony.”

“I simply reminded her that we are both supporting her, and regardless of the sentence, we shall continue to do so,” Libra said. “And that she needed to trust that we had her best interests in mind.”

Serale nodded. “I’m sure you’ll be fine, Cobblestone,” she said. “You’re a good pony, underneath it all. And I think mother knows that.”

Cobblestone smiled shakily, the first one she had given in a long while. “Thanks,” she said. “I mean it. You’ve both treated me well, and I appreciate that.”

Serale sat down, pouring herself a cup of tea as she did so. “Libra and I both owe you our lives,” she reminded her. “Helping you in your hour of need is the least we could do in return.”

“Just remember,” Libra said. “No matter what happens, how bad it seems, that you’ve allies in Lady Serale and myself.”

“We’re by your side, Cobblestone,” Serale said. “And don’t you forget it.”

Three ponies stood before the throne of Lady Everstar, Avatar of the Evening and ruler of the Forest, awaiting judgment from the Throne of Oak and Bronze. The throne room was quiet, save for the shifting of the Court in their seats as they craned their necks for a better view of the trio, and the entire space seemed to be filled with a terrible tension ,the tension that spills from the blade of an executioner, or the tension that fills the loop of a noose.

Twilight Everstar sat upon her throne, looking down at the pony she was passing judgment on, as well as the two that stood to either side of her, her most trusted advisor and her only daughter. Her gaze lingered on Cobblestone like an almost physical weight, pressing her into the floor and pinning her there as if to hold her down, preventing her from escaping the justice of the Evening.
“Cobblestone of Crescent City,” she said, and at those words, even the creaking of the seats fell silent, as ponies froze, not willing to miss a single word of what was spoken here.

“You have been accused of the crimes of breaking and entering, attempted theft of Royal property, and the assault of both my daughter, Serale Everstar, and the Court Magus, Libra. You have pled guilty to these crimes in exchange for clemency in your sentencing. Normally these charges carry a weight of up to but not exceeding twenty years of incarceration or indentured servitude with the possibility of parole for good behavior.”

Lady Everstar’s voice gained strength. “However, because of your cooperation in the investigation of the attack on Serale Everstar, as well as the unfortunate circumstances of your upbringing and the rationale behind these crimes in addition to your youth, any time spent in prison will be served in a reformation center or juvenile rehabilitation center.”

Cobblestone tensed up, feeling her pulse pounding in her ears. This was it, the sentence.

“You are hereby sentenced to six years of incarceration in Bluewater Reformation Center, Juvenile Ward. As you have been deemed a possible escapee due to your actions during transport, there will be no possibility of parole. Sentence to be carried out immediately.”