• Published 4th Mar 2015
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The Traveling Tutor and the Royal Exam - Georg

A simple test with an unexpected result sends Princess Twilight Sparkle’s life in an unexpected direction, accelerating a high-speed collision course with the young magic tutor she met and fell in love with just over a year ago.

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Chapter 19 - Victory Through Defeat

The Traveling Tutor and the Royal Exam
Victory Through Defeat

Prince Sky balanced at the very edge of the Royal Perch, looking down into the Council Chamber and the watching griffons with just the slightest amount of displayed nervousness. He picked up his claws one at a time, stretching the talons and shifting his weight to limber himself up before the combat, but Twilight Sparkle could see the way his eyes tracked back and forth between his opponent and the Equestrian delegation. As much as he wanted to hide a degree of nerves, there was a familiar twitch to his leonine tail that reminded her of Green Grass and the faintest quaver in his voice that she would not have caught if she had not been listening for it.

“Wingmaster Pumpernickel,” he called out, “yield to my challenge and I shall permit you to leave unscathed.”

“That means unhurt,” whispered Laminia in a snarky aside to Gilda, who merely twitched one wing in response. The mismatched pair had remained in front of the Equestrian delegation as some strange combination of bodyguards and commentators, although Twilight could not tell just who was supposed to be guarding who between them. Still, their presence was a welcome one to Twilight’s nerves, and she was far more comfortable than if there was nopony between the two princesses and the upcoming battle in the outdoor amphitheatre.

She still wanted to throw up.

“Your beliefs show you unworthy of the position,” called out Wingmaster Pumpernickel in response, and to Twilight Sparkle’s surprise, the title seemed to fit him perfectly this time, standing ready to fight for his aerie in the center of the circle of griffon onlookers. “Your lack of respect for ponykind will only drive my aerie farther from our allies and cause it to weaken. If permitted to continue on the path you chose, griffon and pony will once again fight each other in the skies, and the blood of the innocent will flow. I cannot permit this to happen. This ends now.”

“So be it!” Prince Sky flung himself into the air and began to circle the Nocturne sitting in the middle of the Council Chamber.

And to circle.

And to circle.

“Fly, you worthless pony!” snapped Sky, making yet another circle above him. “Fly, before I kill you!”

“If I am to die, I shall die a Wingmaster of my aerie, with my face to my successor,” said Pumpernickel, still continuing to track the circling griffon above him. “Foolish taunts from fools shall not make me act like a fool in return.”

“Coward!” screeched Sky.

“Is it cowardice not to attack onto ground where your opponent is strong, or is it more the act of a coward to circle above his prey like a vulture, waiting for it to—”

With a deafening scream, Prince Sky plummeted out of the sky with talons extended, only to spray sand in every direction as the bulky nocturne rolled to one side to evade his attack in almost a casual manner.

“Nice one, Lumpy,” whispered Gilda. “You never tried that on me.”

Laminia gave her counterpart a brief caustic glance and replied, “That’s because your father had put a hole the size of a cantaloupe in his wing by that point.”

Twilight shuddered at the thought and tried to ignore her two odd bodyguards as the griffon prince flapped back to altitude, spitting and coughing sand with every flap. “Pony!” he spluttered, “You’ll pay for that!” Not getting a response from his taunt, Sky winged over into another blindingly fast dive, only to spray sand again as Pumpernickel feinted one direction and rolled the other, winding up even farther away from the impact point of the sand-spewing griffon this time.

Of all the things Twilight Sparkle was prepared for, humor was not one of them. Wingmaster Pumpernickel actually laughed as the prince flapped for altitude, a low chuckle of amusement that was echoed by several of the griffons in the stands, and only grew when Sky’s next dive sprayed sand again.

“You have struck your blow for honor, young tircel,” called up Pumpernickel at his furious opponent. “Yield now, and I shall return you to your father’s nest unharmed.”

“Never!” This time when the griffon plummeted out of the sky, the flash of clawed strikes and the spray of sand was terrifyingly close to the Nocturne, and when the griffon climbed up into the sky, a long red stripe dripped from the hide of his opponent.

“Yield, Wingmaster Pumpernickel,” snarled Sky, curving his path in obvious preparation for another strike. “Give your aerie to a worthy griffon!”

The laughter abruptly stopped, both from the griffons in the stands and from the bloody Nocturne in the circle, who had tucked back his ears and gone into a prehensile crouch that reminded Twilight of an attacking panther.

“Ohshit,” muttered Gilda. “Now he’s mad. Princesses, you may want to close your eyes.”

This time when Sky plummeted down, Pumpernickel dodged backwards, with a roll onto his back that allowed both hind hooves to strike straight up under the griffon’s chin with a noise like a struck bell and a blinding spray of sparks from the enchantments on both Sky’s helmet and Pumpernickel’s steel shoes. Sky seemed to just stop in mid-air before tumbling along the sand in a whirling spasm of flailing claws and talons.

The Nocturne followed almost as a shadow to the griffon prince, diving straight into the flurry of claws to plant a forehoof straight into Sky’s side. Shining Armor had shown Twilight how to ‘put your body into it’ when punching or bucking the hanging boxing bag at home, and she recognized the way Pumpernickel had shifted his considerable weight during the strike as nearly a textbook example of the technique, although the heavy bag had never made the popping and cracking noise of fractured ribs and broken uncinate processes that echoed through the Council Circle now. The bloodcurdling cry of fury from the griffon was paired by a return stroke across Pumpernickel’s own helmet that sprayed sparks and bits of shattered claw across the sand, but the Nocturne ignored his minor injuries as the two of them rolled across the ground, pausing only to put a second bone-crunching blow into the prince’s other side before flowing around the return blows and onto the griffon’s back. With one armored foreleg around Sky’s neck and both hindlegs braced around the griffon’s now nonfunctional wings, the bulky Nocturne heaved upwards. Sky gave off one brief squawk of rage before his wind was cut off, and all the thrashing he did to attempt to dislodge his opponent only served to exhaust his air until he laid prone on the sand with Pumpernickel locked onto his back.

“He’s been practicing,” whispered Gilda.

“Since the first minute he could hobble back onto the sparring ring,” whispered Laminia in return, with a feral lifting of the corner of her lips that could only be considered a smile in technical terms.

The struggling griffon continued to weaken, until the emperor stepped forward on the perch and called down into the circle. “Wingmaster Pumpernickel. I have many sons, but that does not reduce their value to nothing.”

It was impossible to see the Nocturne’s eyes because of the tinted lenses, but he seemed to return from whatever murderous place he had gone, twisting the defeated griffon’s head to point at the Royal Perch and growling, “Prince Sky. Do you yield?”

“Never!” gurgled Sky, attempting to rise only to have Pumpernickel put more pressure on his neck.

“I’m sorry, My Liege,” rumbled Pumpernickel, setting his shoulders. “It appears I have no choice.”

“Idiot,” whispered Gilda.

“Idiots,” corrected Laminia. “It comes with the gender.”

“I am sorrowed too,” said Emperor Ripping Claw without a hint of sorrow in his voice. “If my son dies, I shall need another at my side to finish my tour of the Equestrian aeries. Will your First Heir be able to look after the aerie in your absence, Wingmaster Pumpernickel?”

“Father?” Apparently the question had startled Pumpernickel as much as anypony because Sky managed to get an abbreviated breath before having his wind cut off again.

“Yeah, I suppose. If I have to,” rumbled Pumpernickel, getting a better grip on Sky’s neck and bracing himself to twist.

“Very well,” echoed the emperor in much the same bass rumble.

“Wait!” gurgled Sky. “I yield! I yield!”

“Will you abide by my rules for this aerie, Sky of the Misty Mountains?” growled Pumpernickel. “Or will we need another educational session later?”

“I’ll obey!” he gurgled.

“Will you swear to defend the members of your aerie as if they were your own eggs, down to and including every pony in the valleys beneath our domain?” When Sky did not immediately reply, Pumpernickel put a little more pressure around his neck until the griffon waved weakly.

“I will. I swear!”

“Good.” Pumpernickel slid off the larger griffon’s back and dragged Sky across the sand towards Twilight with his teeth clamped onto one feathered wing and the gasping prince hopping along behind, obviously unwilling to risk the loss of his wing by resisting. He stopped in front of the Equestrian princesses with a twist of his head that caused Sky to stumble to his knees. “Apologize.”

There was a flare of resistance in the griffon’s eyes as he turned in Twilight’s direction, but only for the shortest instant until a hard-driven hoof slammed into the griffon’s side again and the griffon sagged to his knees. Pumpernickel grabbed Sky around the neck, his sharp teeth so close to his feathery ear that little tufts of down flickered with every word he spoke. Although she was sure their words were supposed to be private, her new alicorn body had far more acute hearing than before, and she could hear every edged word from the deadly serious Nocturne.

“I just saw that look in your eyes, and I don’t like it. You may not like ponies, but that is Twilight Sparkle, Equestria’s newest princess, and if anything happens to her, Princess Celestia, you remember Princess Celestia, right? Immortal, raises the bucking sun every morning? Could burn the entire Griffon Empire into smoking lava? Well, she would be just a little bit upset, and so would her sister. Same thing, only the bucking moon. Created my whole race just because she was lonely, and Twilight Sparkle is her friend. Now I’m feeling pretty generous right now, and if you have even the slightest urge to hurt Princess Twilight Sparkle or Princess Cadence, just nod your head, and I’ll make your death as quick and painless as possible. Go ahead. Just one little nod.”

“What’s going on?” whispered Rainbow Dash to Twilight’s side.

Twilight Sparkle could not answer until Sky very slowly began to shake his head from side to side. “Princess Sparkle,” he rasped, once Pumpernickel had slackened his chokehold, “allow me to apologize for my actions this afternoon. Please.”

“That’s… understandable,” she said, trying not to think about how badly she felt the need to go throw up. “Change can be very difficult to accept.” Without realizing it, her new wings fluttered, and she could swear she could feel something very small and delicate kick her on the ribs from the inside.

“If Your Highness will step back into the Council Circle,” said Pumpernickel, dropping Sky to gasp in front of them and stepping back to make a sweeping motion with one hoof, “our aerie will be happy to continue where we were so rudely interrupted.”

“I don’t think so.” Emperor Ripping Claw stepped forward to the edge of the Royal Perch, looking down into the crowd. “Wingmaster Pumpernickel. Your guests do not seem to understand the importance of your actions when you became Wingmaster, nor the foolishness of my son just now. Do they know of the history of the noble race of Griffons, and that of our greatest shame?”

From the startled and somewhat blank look that both Pumpernickel and his wife gave the emperor, the answer was obviously negative, although Sky gave a guilty twitch and a terrified look at Twilight as if he had just remembered something horrifying from his fledgelinghood. The emperor just clucked his tongue at the resulting silence, standing at the very edge of the Royal Perch and arranging himself with great care, placing every talon and claw in a very wide stance as the rest of the griffons in the Council Chamber quieted to a respectful silence.

“What’s going on?” whispered Rainbow Dash, who had slipped between Laminia and Gilda, obviously conflicted between gaining a little altitude to get a better look and drawing unwelcome attention in the sepulchral calm of the outdoor amphitheatre.

“Emperor Ripping Claw is going to Tell,” whispered Gilda back with a glance backwards at the two Equestrian princesses. “It’s a very high honor. I’ve never heard of him doing it in front of non-griffons.”

“He hasn’t,” rasped Sky. “I hope he doesn’t Tell the story of the Windigo.”

The griffon emperor spread his wings and cocked his head back in exactly the same pose that Sunny had done in the graveyard this morning, only with a majestic gravity that made Twilight Sparkle suck in a breath of air as his booming voice filled the outdoor amphitheatre.

Hear, oh my children, of the shame of the griffons.

Long ago, when the race of griffons were few and young, we soared above the fertile valleys and farms of the pony nation. Our wings were strong as mountains, and the pegasi rose into the skies with us, soaring almost as high as our own kind. We lived in harmony with the pony races, watching over them from our high nests, and all was good. Or so it seemed.

As our ancestors soared in the frigid skies, they heard the voices of the world calling to them, and the higher they flew, the louder one voice sounded. It told them of their destiny, how they were greater than the ponies who flew with them, and as we listened, the race of griffons grew even more powerful. We built fortresses in the sky to raise ourselves even farther from the ground, we lifted our bodies closer to the sun to feel its warmth against our feathers even as our hearts grew colder and more distant. Some of our kind who soared higher and faster than all the rest grew proud, and claimed the voice had told them of a way they could soar even higher.

The voice spoke to them of the glory of blood and the energy of the kill, but not of the animals of the ground and birds of the sky. It spoke of the power they would gain from the blood of the ponies, and one fateful day, a griffon listened. He struck down a pony and ate from it, giving him the power to soar higher and faster than any other griffon, but at a terrible price. While he soared far above the rest of the griffons, his heart grew cold and cruel. More of our kind yielded to the wicked voice, and the pale griffons soared even higher above the ground, looking down upon both griffon and pony with contempt. As their ranks grew, the weather became colder, and the endless snow began to fall. The once fertile land grew dark and empty, and the claws of the pale griffons sought out our own kind among their prey.

While the rest of the ponies fled the formerly fertile valley, the pride of the griffons would not be broken that easily. We fought the beasts, now called Windigo, and as the snow piled high outside our mountain caves, the numbers of our kind dwindled.

We were lost, being consumed by our own folly. The few of us who remained gathered together in the last mountain stronghold, determined to meet our fate with claws and beak towards the enemy as we waited for the end.

The Windigo circled our fortress, patient as the blowing snow, for they knew our kind would soon be without food, and in our desperation, we would be forced to eat our own and add to their ranks. They screamed in endless rage as they flew by, taking the forms of their victims in cruel mockery of our decision.

All was lost, until we heard the distant notes of a trumpet.

The clouds parted, and the Pegasi of Equestria filled the frozen skies in numbers we had never seen before. They flew to our aid, rescuing the fathers and parents of the ones who had slain their young. Many pegasi fell while protecting our fledglings as we evacuated what we thought would become our tomb, and at their head flew Commander Hurricane. He was a lion in battle, faster than anything with wings, and where he flew, the sky shattered. Windigo fell beneath his flashing hooves as we fled, broken into pieces and dropping through the clouds. He was struck many times in the battle, but the golden armor of their kind protected him, forged by earth ponies and enchanted by unicorns, it turned uncounted blows as we fled to the warm lands of Equestria where they dared not follow.

We gathered, the poor bedraggled remnants of a once proud race, prepared to accept our punishment for unleashing this disaster upon the world. Our leaders humbled themselves before the powerful pegasi, and our sole surviving golden-eyed king abased himself at the hooves of their Commander Hurricane.

But the noble pegasus would have none of that. He lifted our king to stand by his side and asked that we might once again fly through the sky with his kind as equals. The king was baffled. Why would the pegasi forgive our crimes against them? Why would they risk their lives to save us? He asked, but received only these words in response:

What else could we do?

In his wisdom, the king withdrew from the pony lands, taking the mountain tops and crags for our homes while the pegasi continued to dwell within the clouds. He decreed that Griffons and Ponies should remain separated so that the peace would be sustained, and the temptation to soar above them would never again threaten the lives of pony or griffon.

We were not ready to live alongside the ponies. If we tried, the same conflict would happen again, only this time our weakness would destroy us all. For centuries since, our kind has ridden the skies, soaring high in the clouds, far from ponykind. Someday we may become strong enough to be worthy of the gift that Commander Hurricane gave to our ancient king, and that every griffon since has acknowledged.

Let the wings of our ancestors be our guides, may the winds whisper only words of harmony to our ears, and may we someday be worthy of the gift of life that was once bestowed upon our race.

The Griffon Emperor lowered his wings and turned his head, bringing Twilight out of her trance in a burst of blinking, which to her great relief was mirrored by the rest of the pony contingent and most of the griffons. The powerful eyes of the huge griffon swept in her direction, but did not stop there, instead pausing while looking at her friend.

“Rainbow Dash, Daughter of Prism Bolt, Bearer of the Element of Loyalty and Creator of the Sonic Rainboom. I see the blood of Commander Hurricane flows strongly in your veins. As Emperor of all Griffons, I would request a favor of you. Princess Gilded Clouds Rising Gloriously Into The Dawn Sky Signifying Upcoming Storms was a friend of yours, but events have driven the two of you apart. I would ask that you return to her side, guide her during this stressful time, and help return the gift of friendship to her heart so that she may spread that same friendship to all griffons in her nest. We may not be ready to soar with your kind yet, but I believe we are ready to take our first fledgeling flaps.”

“Me?” Rainbow Dash looked around at the intently staring griffons. “Sure. Who is this Princess Gilded Clouds whatever something?”

Gilda scowled at the wave of giggles that swept over the crowd, balling one claw up into a fist and punching Rainbow Dash in her shoulder. Hard. “That’s me, you dope.”

“Oh!” Rainbow gawked at her friend. “Since when did you get such a goofy name?”

“We would be honored, Emperor,” said Gilda in a decidedly loud voice, obviously trying to drown out Rainbow Dash and the laughter that followed.

* *

Twilight Sparkle was immensely relieved that the rest of the formal request for Princess Sunny to participate in the wedding went as smoothly as she had originally hoped, with no more bloody duels or screamed insults. She had to pledge Griffon oaths and make personal promises without end that Sunny would remain healthy, protected, guarded, shielded, well-fed, and cared for in all regards, although by the end Twilight probably would have agreed to let Sunny take the throne of Equestria and raise the sun on alternate Wednesdays, just to get the whole thing done and over.

They were far behind schedule as the pony delegation returned to the ambassadorial suite for a few minutes of freshening up that turned into nearly an hour of fine needlework on Wingmaster Pumpernickel from Lamina, assisted surprisingly enough by Rarity with both a practiced anesthesia spell and a few stitches of her own. She declared afterwards that the Nocturne took the medical attention with far less uncomfortable wriggling than any of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and gave him a pat on the head and an admonition to ‘play nicer with the other little fillies next time.’

Even Prince Sky received some rather reluctant medical treatment for his cracked ribs. Reluctant on both sides, that is, because Sky had to be practically threatened to permit Twilight and Cadence to examine his black-and-blue chest, and Twilight Sparkle was horribly twitchy at the close proximity to the battered griffon, even with the rest of her friends in the room. To her surprise, Fluttershy proved the most useful assisting with Sky’s treatment. Her quiet requests would be followed by a none-too-subtle glare from across the room by Pumpernickel or Gilda, and then reluctant compliance by the belligerent patient. Even with as much healing magic as practical used on them, the prince’s badly bruised flight muscles made it almost impossible for him to sweep his wings downwards, at least for the next week or two.

“A griffon who can’t fly,” grumbled the grounded prince. “I might as well be a pony.”

Gilda’s reactions were faster than Twilight could see, and she clamped a claw down on Rainbow Dash’s muzzle before the pegasus could even take a breath to respond. “Prince Sky,” started Gilda while still holding onto Dash’s mouth, “as the newest member of our aerie, I’m taking you to the village of Toenail tomorrow. I noticed the weeds are a little thick around some of the tombstones, and while we weed, I’ll see if the mayor is willing to come out and tell you about some of her ancestors who once served us. Earth ponies, for the most part, although I understand some of them are Princess Twilight Sparkle’s relatives.”

“That sounds—” Sky considered the looks he was getting from around the room “—nice?”

“He can be taught,” muttered Rainbow Dash once Gilda let go of her muzzle.

* *

Long shadows covered the ground as the sun sat stubbornly on the horizon, perhaps just a few minutes late in its trip to the other side of the world, but Twilight did not mind a bit as the pony delegation started climbing into the waiting Royal Guard carriage. The top of the griffon fortress was alive with activity as Emperor Ripping Claw and Wingmaster Pumpernickel stood to one side and observed their preparations for departure, with Prince Sky and Gilda behind and quiet. The griffon prince seemed both relieved that the pony princesses were leaving, and strangely aware of the number of earth ponies who had turned out onto the fortress roof to see them off. The number of hovering griffons overhead was starting to feel normal to her, with at least a dozen armed and armored guards from the Griffon Emperor’s own Imperial Guard arranged along their departure path as escort.

She and Cadence took their places side by side before the carriage door with brief and significant nods to the griffons, followed by respectful nods in return, both gestures maintaining the relative social equilibrium of the situation to the satisfaction of the watching ponies and griffons. Cadence — as she was the eldest and highest ranked princess present — turned and addressed the emperor with a short speech, extolling the cooperation between the griffons and the Crystal Empire and her hopes that the relationship was to endure far into the future. Then it was Twilight’s turn.

“On behalf of myself and my mate, I would like to thank both Emperor Ripping Claw and Wingmaster Pumpernickel for giving permission for Princess Sun Shines to be a part of our wedding celebration, and I’m looking forward—

Oh, stars! It’s less than two weeks away!

“—to seeing all of you at our wedding.”

Oh, stars. I just invited the Griffon emperor to my wedding. To Canterlot! What will Princess Celestia say? Where am I going to put him on the seating chart?

In the dead silence that followed, Rainbow Dash’s voice was crystal clear.

“Wow, the emperor’s going to be at your wedding, Twilight? Awesome!”

There was a slow shaking of the emperor’s head as well as the hints of a smile as he rumbled in return, “I’m sorry, Princess Twilight Sparkle, but my schedule can only stretch as far as escorting Princess Sun Shines to the preliminary festivities. By the time your wedding is being conducted, I shall be far away in the mountains to your north. So, until we meet again in Canterlot—”

Emperor Ripping Claw braced himself, head high and proud as every griffon within sight duplicated his posture. “Goodbye, Princesses. May your flight be swift and true.”

A wave of stress and nervousness just seemed to slough off Twilight’s shoulders at the words. Greenie had used the traditional griffon ritual of departure before kissing her goodbye for weeks now, having explained that it was both a promise to return and a pledge to never truly leave, because a part of both would forever be mingled in their hearts. Her disobedient wings rose almost instinctually at the same time as Cadence’s graceful rose-colored plumage and she lifted her head as a princess should properly do to give the response that flowed from her heart without thinking.

“May your wings never falter. Guard well the aerie until my return.”

She almost spoiled the moment when her wings failed to retract at her first command while attempting to get into the carriage, and then nearly hitting her horn on the door and nearly tripping, but both princesses managed to settle into their seats without casualties before Wingmaster Pumpernickel stepped forward just as the sun began to drop below the horizon.

“Griffons of the Misty Mountains,” he called. “Rise into the skies to guard the departure of our guests alongside the forces of the Equestrian Night Guard. Let any who threaten the path of the princesses quake in fear at your combined might.”

It was a testament to her familiarity with the two forces of the Royal Guard that it took just a second for Twilight to recognize the fact that their carriage drivers were bat-winged and golden-eyed Nocturne instead of the white pegasi who had driven them to the Misty Mountain aerie in the first place. But in that second of realization, the sun sank behind the horizon and the moon rose, revealing another startling sight.

It seemed that dark spectres flowed from every shadow and hidden niche that could possibly hold a pony, gathering together in the moonlight next to each of the hovering griffons before materializing into the shape of an armed Night Guard. With a sharp snap of unfolding wings, the carriage drivers leapt into the air and their escort followed, some of the griffons more startled than others, even to the point where one of the griffons dropped his spear and had it retrieved by a grinning Nocturne. They rose into the stars with the whir of mixed wings, a gasp of practical admiration by Rarity, a squeak of fear from the back of the carriage where Fluttershy was hiding, and Rainbow Dash shouting, “Cool! Do you think they can do this at the wedding, Twilight?”

Papercut had no comment, as he was lying unconscious in the back seat where he had fallen into a faint when the first Nocturne had appeared.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“It’s taking forever,” said Green Grass, looking out into the star-strewn sky from the balcony of the crystal castle where he and Shining Armor were waiting for their respective princesses to return.

“I know,” muttered Shining Armor, poking at his midsection with a paw. “Normally Twiley’s spells would have worn off by now. Rat.”

Green Grass turned from his inspection of the sky to grin at his fellow transform-ee, which was made easier by his protruding front teeth and wriggling whiskers. “Oh, come on. You volunteered to help with my class while waiting for Twilight to get back. Potted plants are no joy, but animal transformations are at least shorter. I’ll bet it’s only another hour or two, tops. Besides, it could have been worse, trust me. Sweetie Belle had me stuck as a geranium for a week. Missed the Grand Galloping Gala and my one-year anniversary of meeting Twilight because of it. If it will make you feel better, I still jumped into the Ponyville fountain afterwards. I’m considering making it a tradition.”

That didn’t seem to help, as Shining Armor merely hunched over farther into a ball of glittering white fur and pouted, his long ears drooping down over his face. “You’re still a rat. You said it was unlikely any of the students had enough control to—”

“Power, brother-in-law to be of mine. You have to admit, little Garnet sure packs a wallop. Control, not so much.” Green Grass pulled his hairless tail up underneath him and tried to suppress a shiver at the chilly breeze that flowed over the balcony. “Besides, at least you got a form that’s warm. I wasn’t even aware there was such a thing as a Crystal Snowshoe Hare until today.”

“You’re a rat,” muttered Shining Armor. “How appropriate.”

Both of them looked up at the clatter of hooves on the staircase, and Green Grass’ ratty grin grew even wider when a pale blue unicorn the shade of pure ice trotted into view, calling out, “Greenie? Are you up here somewhere? The guards said—”

Frost cut off abruptly when she saw the glittering pale-green rat and sparkling white snowshoe hare sitting together on the balcony, putting the clues together far faster than anypony’s little sister had the right to and ending in a cheerful giggle as she trotted over to nuzzle her little big brother. “Greenie, you rat. You’re supposed to duck when a student points their horn at you.”

“Yeah, sis?” quipped Green Grass. “Like I did when you had your sneezing surges? No, stop! Not the ribs!” It turned out that being transformed into a rat had no effect on one's susceptibility to tickling, and his sister did not stop her assault on her transformed brother until Shining Armor cleared his throat.

“And who’s your little friend?” asked Frost, scooping up the chubby crystal rabbit and tickling his tummy with one hoof. “Ooo, aren’t you a cutie pie? Think I’ll take you home and let Twilight’s little brothers play with you. Does your student have a name?”

“Well,” started Green Grass, trying not to laugh, “I believe Princess Cadence calls him ‘Prince Snuggybottoms.’”

“That’s so cuuuute,” cooed Frost, tickling the struggling rabbit under the chin. “What does Prince Shining Armor think of…”

It probably was a good thing that Shining Armor had been transformed into something that could jump because Frost dropped him as if he had caught on fire. “Ohmygosh! Ohmygosh! I’msosorry! I didn’t mean to… I mean you were so cute and cuddly…”

“Sis!” shouted Green Grass, standing up on his hind paws for volume. “Deep breaths. Come on. Shiny’s not going to throw you in prison for rubbing his cute widdle tum-tums.” That earned the transformed tutor a lapine glare, which Green Grass ignored as he scurried over to lay a reassuring paw against Frost’s pale blue leg.

“No, I’m fine,” snapped Shining Armor, getting back up to his furry feet. “I’m not mad at you, Miss Frost. I’m just a little cranky from getting zapped by Greenie’s little students. Gives me something to look forward to when my little brothers get older, I guess. I take it our request this morning to Princess Celestia for a few little unicorn teachers included you?”

After a nervous swallow and a pat on the top of the still hornless head of her brother-the-rat, Frost said, “Me, two of the older teachers from the Department of Making and Breaking, and some of my student teaching classmates. Oh, and—”

“Shiny!” Twilight Velvet had managed to slip within range undetected and scooped Shining Armor off the floor to administer her own dose of fuzzy tummy rubbing. “How’s mommy’s favorite little colt? Ooo, and you’re so warm.”


“Mom?” Twilight Sparkle paused at the entrance to the room where she had just appeared in a flash of purple light, looking at the members of her family and extended family for just a heartbeat before sweeping up into her mother’s embrace in a flurry of violet feathers. “Oh, mom! You can’t believe how good it is to see you here! It’s been such a stressful day and I invited the Emperor of all Griffons to our wedding and I didn’t even think of where to put him on the seating chart and they fought about having Sunny at our wedding!”

“There was a fight?” Green Grass scurried to one side to avoid being trampled. “Was their Wingmaster against the idea?”

“No, not at all.” Twilight Sparkle sniffled, looking around the room for her fiancé. “He was all for it, and so was Emperor Ripping Claw, but Prince Sky… Where are you, Greenie?”

“Down here.”

There was a certain appeal to Twilight Sparkle’s expressive face that Green Grass had grown to appreciate far too much over the past year. Most female expressions were guarded and concealed, hiding whatever arcane thoughts that percolated around in that strange and complex maze called the female brain. His training in theatre and elocution had given him a leg up on the fine art of facial studies, and Twilight was no exception. Her delicate curves and soft features could change in a heartbeat, in particular when the powerhouse of a mind behind that face were to lock onto a misconception that boded ill for nearby ponies, or even dragons for that matter.

Curiosity had always been and he suspected always would be foremost on her face, because even if facing certain death and destruction, that magnificent mind would be examining said doom to see if perhaps there would be some sort of learning experience to be had from it, or if it could be postponed long enough for her to look up any uncertain details in a convenient nearby book. Also everpresent was that aggressively open friendly expression indicating a sincere desire to be introduced, discover your favorite books and subjects, have a long cup of tea with more conversation, and become best pen pals by exchanging letters every day forever, although he suspected that this expression had only become common after her move to Ponyville. He had grown accustomed to a certain amount of puzzlement in her face when encountering an unexpected situation, which he could see now, or even a certain amount of frustration, which he could definitely see now, but never before had he seen this level of absolute pure need that extended all the way down to the very core of her being.

Which he only got to see for a moment before she scooped him up off the floor and engulfed him into a warm feathery hug, ending with the sharp -pop- of teleportation as the room became somewhat less populated by the contents of one panicked princess and one somewhat squashed crystal rat.

* *

Twilight Velvet shook her head and looked at her son, the bunny. “That must have been one humdinger of a meeting they had, Shiny. Care to enlighten me on what’s going on with my baby filly, or am I going to have to make slippers out of you?”

“Mom…” Glancing at Frost, he continued, “Executive summary, not to leave this room. Greenie invited the Third Heir from the Misty Mountain aerie to be a flower filly for their wedding. I thought it was a done deal, but apparently Emperor Ripping Claw’s son objected. I didn’t think he was dumb enough to squawk with his father in attendance, but I’ll get the details out of the rest of the guard contingent when I debrief them.”

“Oh no you won’t.” Twilight Velvet levitated her son by the scruff of his bunny neck, placing him onto her back and turning for the door. “I’m taking you right up to your room, young colt, and when your wife gets back, you are going to comfort her. You saw how upset Twilight was to go teleporting around in her fragile condition. Cadence will need her Shining Armor tonight, snuggle bunny or not, and besides that, I’m still waiting on grandfoals from you two…”

Frost watched mother and transformed son as they trotted out of the room, waiting until the voices had faded away in the distance before applying a hoof to her own forehead. “Greenie, you’re marrying into an asylum.”

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