• 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 30 - Party Crasher

The Traveling Tutor and the Royal Exam
Party Crasher


Time: 3:00 P.M. 29 Hours until Zero Hour
Scheduled Event: Departure Ceremony, Griffon Emperor
State of Alicorn Anxiety: Orange shading to Red with Violet tints


"Just think of this as a dress rehearsal, Twilight. There must be several hundred ponies out there watching every single move you make and ready to criticize you on every action, but try not to let it get to you. I know you want your friends here with you, but they all went back to Ponyville—"

"Hey!" interrupted Spike.

"—except for Spike," continued Twilight Sparkle.

"And Greenie," suggested Spike. "You count him too, right?"

Twilight Sparkle took a moment from her recitation of tension points (Page 1) to look around the municipal stadium which was nearly filled with eager Canterlot ponies. They (and her) were all waiting for the griffon emperor to emerge and be met by the newest royal almost-couple (still missing the male half, delayed somewhere in his morning tasks). After a short series of greetings, thankfully not broadcast to the watching ponies, they would then escort His Majesty across the open space (short steps, look regal, don't trip) to the griffon chariot on a small platform in the middle of the stadium, listen to a short speech (voice amplification spell, cast and maintain during) and watch along with all the other ponies as he was flown up to the massive zeppelin moored over the stadium and departed on his trip back across the ocean to Great Griffon. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the ponies, as the Emperor of All Griffons had never visited Canterlot before, and might never again. In a way, it was a dress rehearsal (scheduled for tomorrow in the early afternoon) for the wedding (still scheduled for tomorrow evening), as the sole responsibility of her and Green Grass during the marriage ceremony was to show up and follow their previously-written script (seven copies stored in strategic study spots throughout the castle to rehearse over the next twenty-nine hours just in case).

All of the griffons had been cleared from the hospital several hours earlier, including Prince Sky, who had seemingly ingested slightly more henbane than expected and required some extra medical treatments. The rope-covered outer envelope of the rigid zeppelin was well-populated by watching griffons, with only one still in the nearby crowd of newspaper photographers, holding his camera and clicking away as if the static form of a new Equestrian princess was somehow interesting. The agenda item for the moment was the delayed departure of the griffon emperor. Tomorrow would be her time with Green Grass, but right now was His Majesty's moment.

Actually, a few minutes ago was the scheduled moment, but things were running late, which was probably triggering the tiny flutters she had begun to feel in her belly. Certainly the developing foal was not far enough along to actually be felt, but her mind had already begun following the sympathetic symptoms of some serious scholarly studies suggesting that similar—

She took a deep breath while touching her chest with one foreleg, and then sweeping it out away from herself while letting out the breath and trying not to notice the number of ponies up in the stands who were duplicating her motions. EAS⁽*⁾ was starting to look like a serious problem in pregnant princess ponies, probably just one of the odd symptoms that she was going to be facing over the next seven months or however long alicorn pregnancies were supposed to last.

Green Grass always refused to worry about anything more than today, because "Tomorrow is another day." He even had taken to humming that darned song⁽¹⁾ from Flankie Laine whenever Twilight Sparkle tried to get him to straighten up and take long-term planning seriously. Then again, it always made her calm down and think straight when she had tied her nerves up into knots with worry.
(*) Excessive Alliteration Syndrome normally manifests with a serious case of TLA⁽²⁾ disorder.
(1) Song of the Open Road, by Flankie Laine
size=.8em](2) A severe case of Three Letter Acronym syndrome.

"Made it!" With his servant following right behind, Green Grass came galloping down the entranceway. He slowed his rapid motion when he emerged into the sunlight and slotted right into his position at Her Highness' side with a quick kiss. "You didn't get married while I was gone, did you?" He paused as his eyes got used to the bright sunlight, finally noticing the hundreds of ponies up in the municipal stadium seats who were nearly all pointing in their direction and whispering behind hooves and extended wings. "Urk?"

"We're just waiting on Emperor Ripping Claw. How did your trip go?"

"Uh…" Green Grass managed to take his eyes off all of the eyes looking back at him. "The test? Fine, I think, although your mother thinks I should have filled out the extra credit genetic inheritance diagram for her new grandfoal."

Papercut cleared his throat. "I believe Her Highness was asking about your trip to the train station, sir."

"Oh, that." Green Grass straightened his new hat, which had slumped slightly to one side in what was probably supposed to be a rakish tilt. "More aunts than a picnic. I got my aunts and your aunts greeted at the station just like your schedule said and sent them on to their assigned rooms before escorting all five of your bridlemaids onto the train to Ponyville without any trouble. Pinkie says the Post-Prince Prandial Party Preparations are going to be perfect. They'll get the post-wedding party in Ponyville all organized and be back here on the train tomorrow afternoon with their dresses in plenty of time for the wedding rehearsal and the big event."

"Cutie Mark Crusaders?" asked Twilight, checking down her list.

"Headed back to Ponyville for now in the trusted embrace of your Aunt Addendum and Scootaloo's mother, Axial Flow. They’ll make sure to get them back on the train with the rest of your friends tomorrow in time for the wedding rehearsal."

There was a certain something extra to Green Grass' voice that made Twilight look up from the page and lift one eyebrow. "And?"

"One of your nieces, Wavefront I believe, got her cutie mark in something to do with trains," said Papercut, making a quick note. "I'll have her 'Congratulations on your Cutie Mark' card picked up this afternoon for you and Master Green Grass' signature."

"You take all the fun out of it, Papercut," groused Green Grass.

"Thank you, sir," said Papercut. "I do believe you are up to six so far since I entered your service. It's too bad you can't do something about those three hoodlums you insist on using as flower fillies."

"Don't even think of it, Papercut." Green Grass shuddered. "If the Cutie Mark Crusaders thought I could give them cutie marks, they'd kidnap me and hold me hostage."

"I'll write them a good ransom note, sir." Papercut raised one eyebrow in response to Twilight Sparkle's scorching glare. "A jest, Your Highness. I have given up attempting to separate you two. Only a complete idiot of the lowest order would still hold out hope that you two can be separated."

"Yeah." Green Grass rubbed his forehooves together nervously. "Remind me about that tonight at midnight. At least for now, all we have to worry about is—"

"Greenie," said Twilight with a determined squint in the bright sunlight and a secondary determination to reverse their normal nervous roles. "You do realize that at the last wedding rehearsal, I got kidnapped by the Changeling Queen, imprisoned with Cadence in the Crystal Mines below the castle, and had to fight our way back out through her bridlemaids, right?" An abrupt look of pure terror overcame Twilight, and she dug frantically into her saddlebag for a quill and some paper. "Ohmygosh. I forgot to write an apology note for making them go jump into that huge pit. I don't even know their names!"

"Twinkleshine, Lyra, and Minuette." Spike rolled his eyes. "You kept forgetting their names in school too, and now you're calling Crosswind by my name. If Greenie wasn't color-coded, I swear you'd forget his name too."

"I do not!" protested Twilight, taking the pad of paper that Papercut floated over to her and writing a quick note. "Just as soon as we're done escorting Emperor Ripping Claw to his departure ceremony, we'll need to hustle in order to reach Jet Set's mansion for Reception #527 and still only be fashionably late. I need you to fly a note over to the reception and go see if you can find some sort of I'm Sorry For Making You Jump Into A Ravine apology cards for…" Twilight paused and looked contemplative.

"Twinkleshine, Lyra, and Minuette," filled in Green Grass. "Papercut already picked up the cards at Stallmark⁽¹⁾ and I sent them out this morning."
(1) The Stallmark Cards company was very serious about their motto “We have cards for every occasion.”

“Good."

Twilight Sparkle took another deep breath and looked out across the open grassy area that made up the bottom of the municipal stadium, trying to ignore the hundreds of eyes watching her from the stands. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna were bright and dark blotches of color respectively at the Royal Box, with the pink and white colors of Princess Cadence and Shining Armor situated slightly to one side. The tension that had filled her to the brim tapered off slightly with the subtle hoof-wave from her brother and sister-in-law, and drained a little more with the warm presence of Spike to one side and Green Grass to the other. Over the past few weeks, they had developed a little code on a scale from one to ten to tell how much stress they were under, rather than the constant drumbeat of “Are you nervous?” that only cranked up the tension in all of them.

“Seven,” said Twilight, shifting positions on her aching hooves. “Five from the wedding, two from having to escort Emperor Ripping Claw to his chariot.”

“Nine,” said Spike. “All these ponies looking at me is like singing at the Equestrian Games all over again.”

“Six,” said Green Grass out of the corner of his mouth without moving his lips from his artificial smile. “Four for the wedding, four for having all of those griffons overhead, and minus two for having you two here.”

“Seven,” said Spike after a moment. “Having you two around helps a lot. Plus, I don’t have to sing anything.”

“Six,” said Twilight Sparkle, taking a nervous glance upwards to where a dozen or two griffon guards circled over the stadium much like vultures. “I had forgotten about the emperor’s Blood Guard until Greenie mentioned it, but at least I don’t have to sing either.

The three of them remained silent in the afternoon sunlight until Twilight Sparkle ventured, “Less than twenty-nine hours until our world changes. The guards have started calling our wedding kiss ‘Zero Hour’ because they expect the world to end at that point.”

Spike scoffed. “Our lives have been changing every day, Twilight. One little kiss won’t destroy the world.” He paused. “Will it?”

“Maybe we should just rub noses,” suggested Green Grass, demonstrating the technique.

“With everything we’ve gone through so far?” Twilight Sparkle lifted one eyebrow and regarded her husband-to-be at nose's length. “I’m going to kiss you so hard your tail will straighten.”

“Why wait?” Green Grass waggled an eyebrow in return. “We could practice. Other than a few hundred ponies watching, we’re all alone.”

Spike cleared his throat. It was obvious that he was planning on a verbal quip of rapier-like wit, but before he could speak, the sounds of movement could be heard down the passageway behind them.

In a matter of moments, Emperor Ripping Claw and Princess Sun Shines made their appearance, followed closely by Pumpernickel and Laminia. The dark nocturnal guard was still not wearing his armor, signifying by its absence that he was still in 'Wingmaster Mode' instead of his normal role as a Night Guard, although he was wearing his helmet with the tinted glass lenses for eye protection in the bright sunlight. Luna's Hoofmaiden Laminia, however, was wearing the full set of armor she had put on three months ago during their first trip to the griffon aerie, and showed no indication she ever planned on taking it off, particularly if there were any griffons in the vicinity. As the sky was filled with the circling members of the emperor's Blood Guard, and even the exterior perches of the anchored zeppelin were fairly covered with the winged and beaked passengers being removed from Canterlot for Twilight's wedding, the armor was likely to stay on until Laminia was giving birth to her own foal in several months time.

I never did compare due dates with her.

"Twilight Sparkle!" bellowed the emperor in a voice that could have been clearly heard on the other side of the stadium. The rib-creaking hug that followed for each of the Royal Couple held the same level of enthusiasm, but covered up the quiet whisper from him that followed. "I'm sorry that the two of you got caught up in this political mess during your wedding."

"Don't sweat it, sir," replied Green Grass in a matching whisper.

"If it will contribute to peace between griffon and pony, it will be well worth it," added Twilight. As the hug broke up, she could not help but add with a smile, "We're still not eloping with you, Your Majesty."

"Hmm…" considered the emperor with a thoughtful look that boded ill for some unsuspecting being. "Since both you and Princess Cadence are taken, perhaps I should see if one of my many sons would be interested in an Equestrian Princess. I have one who is quite taken with stargazing."

"Good luck, sir," prompted Green Grass. "You'll need it." His eyes drifted down to the small griffon fledgling at Emperor Ripping Claw's side. "I'm sorry you can't be at our wedding, Sunny. If we just happen to be in the Crystal Empire over the next few weeks, we'll be glad to meet with you and tell you all about it."

"I'm sorry too," said Sunny, who was obviously forcing her proud stance and lifted head. "Scootaloo and Apple Bloom said they'd show me how to hunt frogs after the wedding. I've never actually seen them before, but Father says they're yummy."

"Yes, they are," agreed the emperor, shuffling the little fledgeling forward with one supportive wing and pointing to the royal chariot in the center of the stadium. "Now, go on over and get seated next to your Aunt Gilda. We'll be along shortly to say a few words to the crowd before departure. Go with her," he added, looking at the two Nocturne who had followed them.

"Yes, Your Majesty," said Laminia, bowing deeply and stepping forward to Sunny's side.

Pumpernickel did not move.

While Green Grass and Twilight exchanged a nervous look, Emperor Ripping Claw stepped towards the reluctant pony, with wings partially extended to block the view of the onlooking ponies. "Wingmaster Pumpernickel, go with your Heir."

Words were obviously fighting to escape the slouching night pegasus from the way Pumpernickel's face twisted with his mouth opening and closing. Finally, he sat down on the ground and hunched his shoulders, unable to look his emperor in the eye. "My place is with you. It is my fault you were attacked by your own kind. I should have been able to determine the poison on the meal. It is my fault, and therefore my penance. Please, allow me to remain at your side. Allow me to recover my honor."

"Oh, no." The griffon emperor rolled his eyes. "I live in the midst of an entire empire filled with drama princesses, and now their foolish concept of betrayed honor has begun to infect ponies."

"Beg pardon, Your Majesty," interjected Laminia. "Lumpy's always been that way. You have to talk directly to him in order to get through the thick skull. Kicking him in the head seems to help."

"We don't have time for this," muttered the emperor with a quick glance over his shoulder at the circling griffons high above the stadium. "Very well, we shall do it your way. Wingmaster Pumpernickel?" Emperor Ripping Claw pointed with one talon. "Since you seem to be determined to disobey your emperor's commands, you are to remain behind while your wife escorts your heir to my departure speech."

The emperor lifted one tufted eyebrow at Laminia, who translated. "Lumpy. Sit! Stay!" At the obvious signs of unease in her husband, Laminia looked over at Papercut and Crosswind, who had faded back out of the way in an attempt to remain out of the line of fire. "You two, watch him."

Despite a mournful look at Princess Twilight Sparkle in a forlorn attempt at getting a Royal Pardon, the nocturnal stallion remained sitting while Laminia and Princess Sunny strode out into the sunshine, across the grassy stadium floor, and over to the awaiting chariot to the polite applause of the spectators.

"I'm so glad I never took any permanent mates," sighed Emperor Ripping Claw. "I far too easily could have wound up with a few of those. Are you two ready?"

Green Grass and Twilight Sparkle straightened up and nodded.

"Good. Let us proceed."

* *

As they walked across the close-cropped grass of the municipal stadium floor, the feeling of hundreds of eyes peering down at her was getting to be familiar to Princess Twilight Sparkle, but plain old Twilight inside still felt the irrational urge to flee back into the darkened doorway they had just left, scoop up Spike, and teleport to a library somewhere for several days worth of intensive book therapy. She even had the teleportation destination fixed in her mind, but the responsibilities of her position precluded the possibility of escape. Besides, walking across the stadium floor with her soon-to-be-husband and soon-to-be-gone griffon emperor was really not that bad. Even the griffon Imperial Guards drifting by overhead were so much like the pegasus Royal Guards from the castle that she could almost put them out of her mind.

Almost.

The little twitch she hid whenever the shadow of one of the griffon Imperial Guards swept by overhead was not really that bothersome. Not really. Some of Fluttershy's mice reacted much the same way whenever a hawk or eagle would block out the sun for a second. The warm, feathered bulk of the emperor was a comfort to one shoulder just as much as the warm shoulder of Green Grass to the other side filled her heart with joy. And of course Spike, who preferred to walk just barely in front of them in such close proximity that at times he turned into a little bit of a dragon sandwich. Twilight still could not peg her exact relationship with the little dragon, whether just an assistant, closest friend, little brother or even somewhat of a son. To be honest, she never would have fallen for the big green goofball at her side if he had not struck it off so well with Spike. Other stallions who had attempted to gain her favor had either ignored the little dragon or treated him as some sort of guardian pet who needed to be bribed into passivity, but Green Grass had practically adopted him as the little brother he never had. Well, after the little misunderstanding of their first meeting had been dealt with.

Ever since the races of Dragons and Ponies had met, there had been conflicts due to their natures, and even today the few dragons who lived in pony towns and cities were treated differently. In a way, it had been the hardest lesson she had ever learned under the tutelage of Princess Celestia. You could not simply treat a pony like a dragon, or a dragon like a pony. Respect for their differences and awareness of their similarities had allowed the two races to live in grudging proximity ever since Twinkle Twinkle and Ruby had laid down the first building blocks towards their tentative interspecies understanding so many years ago.

Twilight Sparkle had hoped having the griffon emperor at her wedding would put another brick in that road of friendship, but it looked like that construction project would have to be put on hold. He would begin his trip to the High Nest in a few minutes, after a short speech, of course, and be far away by tomorrow. As much as she did not want to think about it, a griffon had been responsible for the murderous attack yesterday. Although Twilight would have been willing to put up with the stress of having the emperor in the audience, he had been adamant about her safety in case there was another attack. Emperor Ripping Claw had even ordered little Princess Sunny to accompany him away from Canterlot, despite her strident protests to the contrary. Having her as a flowerfilly would have been such a symbol of griffon-pony friendship, particularly with as close as she had become with the Cutie Mark Crusaders after just one day, even if it did mean rebuilding some of the Royal Baths.

The faintest of twinges from her belly reminded her of another construction project that would continue to grow regardless of her plans and she gave a brief shoulder-bump to Green Grass as they strolled along. Despite the bright attention of hundreds of onlooking ponies, she smiled as she walked, in a pleasant royal decorum which vanished as she heard a strident cry from above that echoed around the stadium.

"Death to the pony-lover!"

The world seemed to slide into slow-motion as if she were walking through thick syrup. She lunged to one side, feeling her shoulder make contact with the warm coat of the griffon emperor's shoulder even as Green Grass crossed behind her to slam into his massive flank. One single pony would not have been able to shift the immense griffon away from the plummeting streak she could see up in the air, but Twilight Sparkle was an alicorn now, with the strength of an earth pony as she dug in her hooves and heaved, matched in almost identical fashion by Green Grass to her side as if he were reading her mind. Some small section of her brain marked the rapid descent of the golden-armored griffon with sword outstretched, compared it with the new velocity the griffon emperor had attained, added in the significant fact that Green Grass had managed to grab onto Spike with one foreleg before slamming his shoulder into the emperor, and came to the conclusion that a protective shield spell was next on her mental checklist.

The four of them hit the grass in a scrambled pile at the same moment the armored griffon guard slammed down against the ground almost within reach. A few feather fragments, both the emperor's faded grey and Twilight's lilac plumage, drifted down in his wake as the griffon slammed his sword into the ground, paused for a heart-stopping moment, and wrenched the short blade back up in a spray of dirt and grass. As the guard started to take a step towards his fallen targets and he lifted the sword for a second blow, Twilight could see sunlight glitter in the silver griffon runes cut into the blade. The shield that she was raising formed far too slowly to be a significant deterrent against those enchantments, but she did not have enough time to craft a more effective defense. The only thing she could do was to charge magic into her horn in a desperate blast that could be possibly fatal to the guard. She could see the headlines even as magic began to pour into her horn and the blade began to descend.

Princess of Friendship Kills Griffon Imperial Guard

And then suddenly… there was nothing.

Where the griffon guard had been was only an empty space with a blur of grey and the sound of something very heavy being struck by something somewhat less heavy but moving at an extremely high rate of speed. The combined blur of the griffon's gold armor and the grey of a fast-moving pegasus tumbled across the grass and collided with the side of the platform where the griffon chariot was waiting. The large griffon guard did not look quite so intimidating with a little distance between him and Twilight, particularly when the slightly smaller form of Pumpernickel had latched his jaws into the griffon's feathery neck and was pinning him against the platform. The thin trickle of blood that was running down the griffon's neck where sharp nocturne teeth were fastened was a shocking parallel to the bloody glitter of steel sticking out of Pumpernickel's back where he had taken the suicidally aggressive route to disarming his opponent by slamming his membranous wing over the sword's blade during their impact and keeping it pinned against his own body afterwards.

Time continued to slow as everything around her seemed to be suspended in glass. The griffon guard, pinned against the platform by Pumpernickel. The bulk of the griffon emperor as he fought his way upright. The other griffon guards plummeting out of the sky, unsure exactly who they should attack. The sight of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna all the way across the stadium, too far away to help. The way Pumpernickel’s sunglasses had been knocked to one side, and his eyelids were closed to near slits in the bright sunlight.

The way his jaws began to slowly and inexorably close.

STOP!” bellowed Emperor Ripping Claw in a thundering voice that brought all action in his vicinity to a screeching halt. Griffons plunging out of the sky swerved away, the cascade of Laminia and Princess Sunny off the platform slowed, and most importantly, Pumpernickel stopped closing his jaws, although he remained almost frozen in place, ready to tear out the throat of the griffon guard with a mere twitch of his head and a snap of sharp teeth.

“Wingmaster Pumpernickel,” bellowed Emperor Ripping Claw as he finished heaving himself upright. “Release my guard!”

The terrifying nocturne did not move, but remained in place with his jaws still clamped around the griffon’s neck. Twilight could not help but notice that Pumpernickel had grasped his opponent much higher on the neck than the guard’s crop, right below the beak where all of the major blood vessels ran closest to the surface. The frozen moment only reminded Twilight of the other griffons overhead, unable to tell what was going on in her vicinity.

Princess Celestia had always pressed the importance of communication in any conflict and the sheer disaster that a misheard phrase or word could cause in the confusion. Something subtly wrong about the situation twigged at her nerves, as if she had walked into the stage in the middle of a play. Griffon tendencies to drama aside, the tense standoff between the emperor, his guard, and Pumpernickel was right here, and it only took a minuscule portion of her magic to cast the amplification spell she was supposed to use for the emperor's farewell address.

The rest of her magic, she held close, just in case.

“I said release him!” bellowed the emperor in a voice that echoed around the stadium from Twilight's spell and drew an immediate dead silence from the watching crowd of ponies and griffons. “He is mine!”

As the massive griffon stalked forward, the nocturne ever so slowly began to withdraw, one tense muscle at a time. Pumpernickel backed up in exquisite slow motion until he was crouched just within touching distance, as if he was daring the griffon guard to make one single motion. The sword blade still stuck out of Pumpernickel’s membranous wing, giving Twilight the gruesome impression that it had been shoved all the way through the dark pegasus. It was stomach-churning to her, but when the griffon guard glanced towards the short sword as if he was about to reach out and remove it, the low, fierce growl he got in return made the griffon remain stationary and unarmed.

Emperor Ripping Claw stopped just to the side of the bleeding nocturne, never taking his eyes off of the griffon guard for even a moment. “Stellar Screeching From Heavenly Skies In The Darkness of Night,” snarled the emperor. “By attacking me, you have violated the Oath of the Bloodguard! You used the honor blade of your clan in an act of treason! I have every right to strike you dead for this act, but since you are the last of your clan, I will give you one opportunity to justify your actions. Speak! Why would you betray your honor?”

"Because you would bend your neck to ponykind instead of ruling over them as is our right!" shouted the griffon guard, seemingly caught between bowing in front of his emperor and striking a defiant pose.

"We are equals to the ponies, not rulers over them!" bellowed the griffon emperor.

"The ponies of our homeland used to accept our rulership!" spat the guard, the feathers of his neck rising into a ruff. "You give them favors which they do not deserve! You have lifted them up to positions of power over griffons! You have even permitted them within the High Nest!"

"Ponies built the High Nest!" bellowed the emperor in return. “Over the centuries, griffons like you have hidden their contribution to our society and made them into second-class citizens. A pony now sits on my council, and the empire’s economy has never been stronger. Ponies helped build and crew my airship, making it faster and better than anything in the sky! Ponies and griffons working together are strong!”

“Ponies are weak!” shouted the guard. “You are a weak leader if you cannot—”

Silence spread across the watching griffons in ripples as if a pebble had been dropped into a pond in reverse. The whispering ponies watching the griffon drama unfold slowed to a respectful silence also, until all that could be heard across the municipal stadium and all of the watchers was the faint hiss of the breeze. Even the rebellious guard who had just tried to kill them paused, his feathers folding back up against his body and his knees folding up until his chest touched the ground in a deep bow with the realization he had crossed some invisible line of griffon behavior.

"By the laws of our kind," started Emperor Ripping Claw into the deadly silence, "the treason that you have committed has only one punishment. The honor blade of your clan is to be broken and cast away. You are to be taken from the sight of all griffonkind, stripped of your wings, and left to die. Your clan is to wipe your name from their histories, and you are to be forgotten as if you never existed. As Emperor of all Griffons…" The emperor paused, his head thrown back and his wings spread wide, looking down at the dejected guard. All of the fire had seemingly left the golden-armored griffon guard, and although he was within striking distance of his emperor, he simply sat in place with his eyes closed and his head lowered, as if he were waiting for the final blow.

"As Emperor of all Griffons, it is my decision that you be permitted to challenge for my position instead. If indeed you believe that which you say, and your position is supported by Cat Mother and Eagle Father, you will be triumphant in your challenge, and take my place." Raising his voice to be heard over the rising murmur among the watching griffons and ponies, he continued, "Should our ancestors uphold my position and you fall, I hereby decree that your action in challenging for the throne will scratch away your treason, and that your death will not end your line. The honor blade of your clan will be passed on to a worthy successor who shall uphold its legacy."

Although the guard's head jerked up at the announcement, his eyes remained downcast. "I am not worthy of this honor, Your Majesty. I was the one who placed the poisoned garnish within the kitchens, so that Chef Flay, your closest advisor and trusted friend would take the blame for the crime. I am a traitor twice over, and deserve only death."

The emperor reared up with wings spread wide and screeched, "You would dare reject my offer? Lift up your eyes to the stands and look upon Princess Celestia and her sister. LOOK!" As the downcast guard lifted his eyes, the emperor bellowed so loud that Twilight's amplification spell was not needed for even the ponies in the farthest back rows of the stadium to hear every word. "When Princess Luna became Nightmare Moon and threatened to destroy Equestria, Celestia banished her rather than slay her as a griffon would have. When she returned, she sent her own student—" Emperor Ripping Claw touched his wingtip to Twilight, who jumped at the unexpected sensation "—to purge her of the dark magic which had taken her over. If that is not close enough to you, observe Wingmaster Pumpernickel—"

All of the feathers on top of the guard's head fluffed up and he screeched in response, "Ponies should not rule over griffons!"

The emperor screeched right back. "Prove it! Take my offer! Challenge for my position! Do not let your line end in an act of cowardice!"

The guard rose into a tense crouch, and for one terrifying moment Twilight thought he would fling himself forward in a flurry of clawed swipes to kill or maim whoever he could reach before the emperor killed him. Even after the guard had shifted positions into a more submissive pose, she could see the tense trembling in his legs and wings, and the way his golden eyes flickered between his emperor and the ponies he was protecting.

The griffon guard planted leonine hind paws firmly and rose to his full height, staring directly at the emperor with wings opened wide. One single piece at a time, he slowly stripped off the armor of the Blutwache and cast it to one side in a neat pile as if it were going to be dusted off and put on by another guard in a few minutes. Once naked, he took a deep breath, and even without Twilight's amplification spell, his voice could be heard across the municipal stadium.

"Emperor Ripping Claws Strip The Flesh From Enemies That Fall Beneath His Swift Vengeance, you are an unworthy ruler of the High Nest. You are a coward, bowing in supplication to the ponies who are our rightful servants, and failing to uphold the traditions of Griffonkind. You no longer deserve my oath of obedience as a Blutwache. Face me in combat or d-die."

There was a microscopic hesitation in the griffon's voice right at the end, but his golden eyes did not falter in their fierce glare at the emperor, who returned his glare with a compassionate but firm look of his own. The emperor took a deep breath and spoke in a voice as deep as the mountains.

"I accept your challenge, Stellar Screeching From Heavenly Skies In The Darkness of Night. Let Cat Mother and Eagle Father look down upon our struggle and judge according to the merits of our cause. Choose your heir to guard the honor of our challenge."

"I have no heir," called out the griffon, no longer a guard. "I call upon Turbulent Skies Churned To A Violent Storm Upon Our Enemies to be my representative, and to protect our challenge from interference. He is a true griffon who believes as I do, and will protect the honor of our challenge."

“I pass on your call, Stellar Screeching,” called out Prince Sky from the chariot platform where he was holding one claw against Sunny's chest in case she bolted forward into the conflict. “You have admitted to poisoning our meal and attempting to slay all of the griffons in attendance. There is no griffon that I would trust to guard your back against my father, save one.” Raising his voice, Prince Sky continued, “I call upon Luna Moonbringer, Princess of Equestria, bearer of more titles than stars in the sky, to be my representative in my stead and to protect the challenge from interference. She is a pony of great honor who holds the concept of justice above that of petty revenge, and she will protect the honor of your challenge, even though you do not deserve it.”

The startled gasps and whispers of both ponies and griffons echoed around the stadium as Luna extended her wings and drifted forward in slow, easy flaps that ate up the distance amazingly fast. She stopped a short distance away and hovered in place, almost without moving a single feather as her voice boomed out across the audience.

We accept this responsibility, Stellar Screeching From Heavenly Skies In The Darkness of Night. Let justice be done.

The emperor lifted his head with his wings spread wide and bellowed out, “I call upon—” Ripping Claw hesitated almost imperceptibly, his eyes flickering to the grounded Imperial chariot and the nervous cluster of griffons around it “—Sun Shines on the Misty Mountains at Dawn Through Early Morning Hazy Skies to be my representative, and to protect our challenge from interference. She is a griffon of great honor and courage who knows the importance of justice and the folly of pride, and she will protect the honor of our challenge as a true griffon.”

“Me?” The little griffon fledgeling blinked, but to her credit, almost immediately straightened her back and struck the same wings extended and chest out pose that the emperor was holding. “I must pass on your call, Ripping Claw, for I am too young and weak at this time to restrain any that might interfere with the challenge. Instead, I call upon both Gilded Clouds Rising Gloriously Into The Dawn Sky Signifying Upcoming Storms and Turbulent Skies Churned To A Violent Storm Upon Our Enemies to act as my representative and protect the challenge from interference.”

The emperor's son opened his beak, whether to protest or accept, but Gilda's hard-driven elbow into his side turned his words into more of a “Whoof” of escaping air.

“We accept this responsibility, Emperor Ripping Claws Strip The Flesh From Enemies That Fall Beneath His Swift Vengeance. Let justice be done,” called out Gilda before spreading her wings and flying along with the emperor’s son to hover on the opposite side of the open area from Princess Luna.

It was starting to feel awfully crowded in the center of the stadium, with Princess Luna hovering to one side and the two griffons on the other. That feeling did not last, as a blast of displaced air from both the emperor and his former guard nearly blew Green Grass' hat off when the two griffons ascended into the sky in a flurry of wings, followed by their mismatched referees. In moments, the two combatants were merely specks in the sky, and Twilight Sparkle leaned over to whisper in her fiancé's ear.

“I dropped the voice amplification spell. You're the griffon expert. What do we do now?”

“Stay put,” he whispered back. “Anything we do can be misconstrued, so it's best to do nothing.”

“What about Pumpernickel?” Twilight flickered her eyes in the direction of the bloody Nocturne, who still had the short griffon blade protruding through his wing and looking very much as if he had been impaled through the chest in his small fraction of the ongoing fight.

“They clot fast, or at least he does.” The blade described a slow series of arcs as the big pegasus breathed, the only motion that Pumpernickel had made since the emperor had given the command. “His wife hasn't gone running over to him, so we need to stay back too.”

"Do you think he could be dangerous? I mean… Yes, I understand." Twilight looked up in the sky where the two griffons had begun to dart and wheel around each other, with lightning strikes and daring maneuvers that could only be guessed at from the grunts and screeching cries as they met and parted. "I can't believe Sky called on Luna as his representative."

"He's his father's son, all right."

Twilight eyed her future husband and considered the ramifications of thwapping him over the head with one wing during such a serious moment, particularly with hundreds of onlookers. She settled for a tense sigh while looking up at the ongoing fight. “What do you mean by that, Greenie?”

“If his father wins, he’s taken a step towards reunification by extending representative status to Princess Luna during the challenge. If Rip loses, Screechy there is already going to have it in for him, and having Luna as an ally for any political battles would be invaluable. Besides, Stellar Screeching admitted to having poisoned the meal, and Princess Luna promised Sky that…” Green Grass trailed off with a look of growing consternation. “Oh, buck. Can anypony eavesdrop on us out here, Twilight?”

“There are a few spells that could do it, or somepony who can read lips with a good pair of binoculars, I suppose.”

“This can’t wait.” Green Grass whispered into Twilight’s ear briefly, then continued to look upwards at where the two griffons were through with the initial tentative testing of each other's defenses and had turned the fight into a whirling blur of feathers and claws that was losing altitude at a rapid rate. Even though Green Grass had said they should remain standing where they were, Twilight really wanted to move away from the descending fight. All the way to Ponyville, preferably. They seemed to be grappling, a blur of rapidly-beating wings that darted one way and then the next, until one griffon managed to lock himself behind the other and give a convulsive yank that sent the sharp crack of broken vertebrae echoing across the stadium. The losing griffon flailed for long moments as his body lost connection to his brain, his spasmodic twitching dying out long after the mind inside the body had passed into the Eternal Peaks. The rest of the descent went much slower, one slow wingflap at a time until Emperor Ripping Claw laid his opponent out onto the short grass and bent over him.

An almost eerie silence fell over the stadium, broken only by the sounds of a few ponies retching in the stands and the faint whisper of the emperor asking for Twilight to begin her voice amplification spell again.

“The challenge is complete!” called out Emperor Ripping Claw. “Stellar Screeching From Heavenly Skies In The Darkness of Night is dead. Let all who hear bend your neck in grief, for he was a griffon of great conviction, willing to die for what he saw as right. Cat Mother and Eagle Father shall look upon his death as a loss to all griffonkind. His body is to be taken to the Crypt in the Sky and entombed with his ancestors, and we shall mourn his loss as is our tradition. Princess Luna, as his representative in our challenge, will you accompany us?”

The dark princess landed a few paces away from the emperor and nodded her head stiffly, as if she were uncomfortable making any sign of obedience to the reigning monarch of a foreign country. "We shall, Emperor Ripping Claw. As is your custom, I request that I may bring along my heir, Twilight Sparkle, as we travel to the lair of the Canterwyrm, so that she may understand your customs and be at peace with the events of today."

Green Grass could feel Twilight’s flank pressed up against his as the low tremor of her ongoing nervous tension intensified to a sharp vibration, then the trembling smoothed out to a calm, relaxed state when the Princess of the Night turned to look at the two of them. It took a split-second for him to catch on that not only would Luna's presence be a comfort to Twilight during the stressful ceremony, but that Luna was also desperately in need of a friend as well. Emperor Ripping Claw seemed to understand, giving Twilight a brief nod with only the hint of a smile.

“Granted. This leaves me with only one task remaining.” The emperor turned away from Twilight, giving her just a moment to nuzzle against her fiancé and exchange a few quick words before he spoke again. “Wingmaster Pumpernickel. Approach.”

The dark pegasus turned from his rigid pose of attention, taking the few steps necessary to draw near to the emperor before slowly descending to one knee with the bloody blade still sticking out of his membranous wing. He lowered his head and resumed his rigid stance, barely breathing as the emperor continued.

“Centuries ago, when the Empire of the Sky was first formed, blood flowed freely around the First Talon of the Empire. Tiercels fought to the death in the High Nest, each claiming to be defending the Emperor from the other. In order to stop the bloodshed, Emperor Whirlwind declared that only the Blutwache would be permitted to spill blood in his defense. All other combatants who shed blood in his presence would be slain, regardless of their intent, unless the Emperor raised them into the ranks of his guard.”

"No!" shouted Gilda, landing a few paces away from the bleeding Nocturne. "He is mine, Emperor! He killed my father, and I have sworn vengeance upon him for that deed. Only those free of any blood debt may rise to the Blood Guard."

"True," declared the emperor. "Your blood debt has precedence over his actions today. Since you will not withdraw your pledge, I shall be forced to slay my rogue Wingmaster as our law requires, and your debt to your father shall be forever unpaid."

"That's…" Gilda slowed to a halt as the air seemed to go out of her, glancing back and forth between her Wingmaster and her Emperor with one plaintive look at Twilight Sparkle, possibly looking for support or a timely objection. "That's unacceptable, Your Majesty."

"It is my will and the law," declared the emperor. "Will you rise in revolt against your emperor for blood and honor?"

Gilda remained quiet for a long time, glaring daggers at the wounded Nocturne until her feathers began to settle back down. Only then did she lift her head up with wings outstretched, and cleared her throat. "Emperor Ripping Claw, I beg your permission to right a wrong that I have been slow to recognize. I have sworn a blood oath to avenge the death of my father upon my Wingmaster, Pumpernickel of the Misty Mountains, and that blood oath disgraces the honor of our nest and our empire. I would ask a favor of you today in recognition of this pony's bravery, to strike this oath from my family honor and cast it away into the darkness where it belongs. For I now can recognize that the big lug was only doing what needed to be done, and to swear an oath against him was the act of a shortsighted fool.”

"Would you cast away your vengeance against the one who killed your sire so easily?" rumbled Emperor Ripping Claw. "Blood calls out for blood. It has always been our way."

"If we are to rise and soar alongside the ponies, we should be able to forgive as they do, Your Majesty. Perhaps it is time for us to fly a new path as they do. Let the end of my father's life be a symbol that death does not need to follow death, and that forgiveness is preferable to vengeance."

The rumbling bass of the emperor's voice filled the stadium. “Then in the name of the Empire of the Sky, I hereby declare your debt of blood cancelled. Let your father pass to the ancestors unburdened by vengeance, and may he finally find peace.”

Turning back to the rigid Nocturne who had not moved a muscle during the exchange, Emperor Ripping Claw reached out and touched the sword still sticking out of his membranous wing. He paused, then cast a glance towards Princess Luna, who stepped next to the emperor and helped with the tricky business of removing the sword without amputating a wing or cutting a major blood vessel. Even Twilight Sparkle and Green Grass slipped a little closer in order to watch the awkward and bloody work. In the end, it took Laminia holding a threaded needle in her teeth before the three of them worked the shining blade free.

“Before you even start your objections with Emperor Ripping Talon,” whispered Luna in a low voice that Twilight managed to avoid amplifying with her spell, “your oath as a Royal Guard is hereby rescinded.”

"That means cancelled, Lumpy," said Laminia through the needle in her teeth as she stitched her husband's bloody wing together.

“He’s about to make an offer even you can't refuse,” whispered Luna. “Accept.”

After they backed up to give the emperor and his soon-to-be new guard some space, Green Grass whispered into Twilight's ear, “I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Lumpy.”

“Hush, Greenie,” whispered Twilight back. “I’m about at a nine point five.”

“Pumpernickel, Wingmaster of the Misty Mountains, and vassal to Princess Luna,” bellowed Emperor Ripping Claw, “will you accept the title of Blutwache to the High Nest, and renouncing all claims on your allegiance, serve the Emperor of all Griffons with your life?”

“I will,” said Pumpernickel, somewhat wary of the way his wife was holding the needle as she stitched up his bloody wing, as well as the faint indigo magic aura around the cut that was preventing it from bleeding any more. After all, an anesthesia spell could just as easily be reversed in case somepony were to wander from their script.

The emperor continued, “Will you give up your positions over other griffons and submit yourself to my command exclusively?”

“My heir is a griffon with honor,” said Pumpernickel, lifting his head and casting a quick glance at Gilda as he wandered slightly off script. “She will rule well over my aerie… excuse me. She will rule well over her aerie as Wingmaster, protecting the weak and defending the eggs as is her duty. With the responsibility of my position passed down to a worthy Wingmaster, I am free to give you my oath. I promise to serve you and the High Nest with all of my heart, my will, and my life.”

“Will you accept the honor blade of Clan Starlight, to have and to hold in my service, so long as you and your clan live to carry out my will?”

“Yes, Emperor.”

“Then welcome, Blutwache Pumpernickel. Take up your armor…” Now it was the emperor's turn to pause as he glanced at Stellar Screeching's golden armor, which would not fit over the pony without extensive alterations. “Ahem. Pick up your armor as we go to the Crypt in the Sky in order to lay Stellar Screeching with the ancestors.”

“Your command is my wish, Emperor,” said Pumpernickel, wincing only slightly as his wife put a tight knot into one of his stitches.

* *

Green Grass stood silently in the middle of the stadium as the cloud of griffons ascended into the clear blue sky, taking with them both a Princess of the Night and the princess of his heart. He remained silent until they had turned into distant small dots, climbing up the side of the Canterhorn in search of the ancient griffon burial cave that had been there several centuries ago and hopefully had not been covered in snow or blocked by a cave-in. Even if it had, with two alicorns in the burial party, there would certainly be a cave there after they were finished. Once the silence had gotten to him, Green Grass turned and looked towards the other end of the stadium where Celestia was just standing up to make an announcement to the crowd. He remained standing, holding as still and relaxed as he could manage in order to practically vanish into the grass as Princess Celestia talked to her little ponies about griffon honor and tradition. There were those in the stadium who seemed oblivious to her lecture, and whom Green Grass was fairly certain would fail even the easiest pop quiz, but many more nodded in understanding and began to file out of their seats in a calm and reasoned fashion after she dismissed them.

Both Crosswind and Papercut were waiting next to each other as he proceeded back to the stadium entrance, although they both had that look of nervous tension as if they were deciding whether to throw up or run away as fast as they could travel.

“Sir,” started Papercut with an unconscious glance upwards where the peak of Mount Canter could be seen. “Do you think that wise?”

“I think it's far wiser to get inside one of the offices where you can cast a privacy spell before I say anything about it,” whispered Green Grass, still trying not to move his lips. “Right now, Twilight's in the safest spot in Equestria.”

Both Papercut and Crosswind nodded in reluctant agreement as they turned and proceeded back down the long corridor that led to the various locker rooms and support areas under the stadium, but Crosswind seemed to be extremely bothered by something, and eventually blurted out, “I didn't know there was a griffon graveyard on the Canterhorn.”

"Technically, it's an ossuary, not a graveyard," said Green Grass, feeling a little more comfortable with directing the conversation into a historical lecture rather than think of his fiancée. "Originally, this entire mountain range was owned by the dragons. Or claimed would be more accurate, I suppose. When the griffons moved in a few centuries before ponies even showed up here, they claimed an old dragon's lair up near the peak. When Celestia and Luna moved in, the griffons moved out, leaving their ancestors to watch over the mountains."

"So the dragons claimed the mountain first, then the griffons, and now the ponies." Crosswind tripped a little while trying to look in both directions down the corridor in a griffon-triggered nervous twitch that Green Grass suspected would last for days. "What if either of them claim it again?"

"Won't happen." Green Grass tried a convenient doorknob, only to find the room locked. "The dragons claimed the mountain because of the old dragon's lair up near the peak. The griffons claimed the mountain because of the crypt they made there when the dragon left. Celestia owns the mountain because she built a big honking city on it, and will kick the flank of anyone who tries to take it away. She's been perfectly content with having a few hundred griffon ghosts looking down on us as protectors. Who knows, maybe they even do protect Canterlot, ready to swoop down on any who would threaten us."

"Sounds reasonable," said Papercut. "Let's go this direction. I believe there are some meeting rooms around the corner."

"Celestia's very reasonable," said Green Grass, trotting along behind his servant. "At least until somebody tries taking something away from her. It seems to be an alicorn trait."

He remained silent until they found a small room filled with a number of benches, most likely a hoofball conference room, if the smell of unwashed stallions was any indication. They promptly commandeered the table at the front of the room to drop the schedules on and took a long, deep breath.

"Pew!" exclaimed Spike with a wave of one clawed hand around his face. "Somepony needs deodorant." The little dragon looked at all three of the other startled ponies and scowled. "What? It's true."

"Sorry, Spike," said Green Grass, thumping his chest with one hoof until the hiccups went away. "I just didn't expect to see you there."

"Me either," said Crosswind, untangling her hooves from Papercut and trying to look like the wing she had thrown over him in the confusion was just an accident.

"Yeah, I get that a lot," said Spike with a frown. "Equestria's first stealth dragon. What did you drag us in here for, Greenie? Reception #527 is supposed to start at Jet Set's mansion any minute, and it's halfway across the city."

"Reception's cancelled, Spike," said Green Grass, hoofing through the schedules. "There's a one day period of mourning for Stellar Screeching, which Celestia decreed will cover official government functions too. According to griffon tradition, one day puts the end of mourning at around—" Green Grass checked his watch "—four P.M. or so with the wedding at eight P.M. sharp tomorrow. Four hours. We can do that."

"I'm starting to see the appeal of an Elkvis Przewalski impersonator, sir," remarked Papercut dryly as he began to draw lines through his schedule and mark the need for apology notes.

"I just can't see how you're still going to get married after… that!" declared Crosswind, even as she pulled out Twilight's schedule and began to make the same notes as Papercut, looking over his shoulder in order to keep from duplicating their efforts. "A griffon died out there today. I mean he was just killed by Emperor Ripping Claw. When I get married, I don't want to see a griffon within miles of the…" Crosswind slowed as the tip of her quill broke off and flew across the room. "Thank you, Spike," she added as the little dragon handed a replacement nibbed quill over to her and Papercut floated the inkwell they all three had been using a little closer.

"How about dragons?" asked Spike.

"No, dragons are…" She trailed off at the skeptical sideways look that Green Grass and Spike were giving her.

"So I take it that Princess Sun Shines won't be your flower griffon either," said Green Grass, leaning over Papercut's other shoulder and checking his work.

"I suppose… That's not the same…"

"Princess Twilight would be really disappointed if she wasn't able to attend, being as she's one of those violent alicorns," added Spike.

"And unicorns in general," said Green Grass in a tone of perfect sympathy. "Being as they have that freaky magic horn and everything."

"Don't forget earth ponies," said Spike. "With all those big bulgy muscles, they could hurt somepony real bad if they got angry." He poked Green Grass in the stomach and listened to the hollow growl of hunger in response. "Plus they'd eat up all the flowers."

Crosswind blew out a sigh that threatened to send her new writing quill across the room. "Fine! I get it. Everypony can be dangerous in the right circumstances. I'll invite every dragon, pony and griffon when we get married."

"We?" asked Papercut, nearly dropping his quill and spilling ink over the bottom of the schedule.

"I was meaning to ask about that," said Green Grass, hiding a smile while flipping back a few pages on the schedule. "After that fiasco at the Royal Baths last night, Twilight and I noticed the two of you were both missing. I asked Luna about it, but all she did was look smug. So." Green Grass waggled an eyebrow. "What happened?"

"Um…" said Papercut, seemingly engrossed in the schedule even as his ears began to turn red.

"Ah…" said Crosswind, crossing one foreleg behind the other and studying the floor intently to hide the blush in her cheeks.

"Be descriptive," said Spike, inking his quill and opening up a notebook. "Twilight will want to know all the details."

* *

Earlier this morning...

Princess Luna drifted up the stairs to her bedroom on the very tips of her hooves, making less noise than a blowing tuft of thistledown. Dawn was only a few moments away, which would be the perfect time for the thick curtains to her room to be parted ever so slightly and a beam of her sister's bright sunlight to swing over Luna's huge heart-shaped bed right as she made her entrance. The two young lovers would be caught in flagrante delicto in her bed, which would be the perfect time to 'suggest' that their impending legal union should be presided over by the Princess of the Night.

Celestia got to have all of the fun. This wedding would be held in the Garden of Night, as nature intended.

With a silent spell, Luna cracked the door open and listened first, just in case the young lovers were more active than expected, and her morning surprise would have to be delayed. Since a near silence broken only by faint snoring was the only thing she could hear, she peeked inside, anticipating that the young unicorn and pegasus would be curled up under her silken sheets, limbs entwined and covered with a certain amount of perspiration from their nocturnal activities.

Instead, the bed appeared completely untouched, with even the foil-wrapped chocolates on the pillow still in their little golden pyramid.

Luna frowned, slipping around the door and tiphooving through her bedroom. A certain annoying somepony had certainly used her offered key to gain access to the room this evening, as the trapspell had notified her of the intrusion, and it had been extremely difficult to hide her knowing smile in the middle of the very serious business she was attending to. The strong wafting odor of jasmine led her to the bathroom, where she stopped in bemused consternation.

The custom-built preening table which Luna had purchased with her own funds had been shortened to the extent of its adjustable panels, but Crosswind still looked a little like a foal on an adult-sized bed as she sprawled out across it, wings spread, legs extended, tail hanging almost bonelessly behind her and face-down into the pillow with a faint and repetitive snore. Her coat fairly glowed with bath oil, hoof-rubbed and brushed to perfection, while her wings glistened with the expensive Prench preening oil that Luna had received as a gift upon her return from the moon, and that she suspected had been gifted to Celestia many decades ago first. The room did not simply smell like jasmine, but was nearly a solid block of multiple flowery scents that flowed above the floor and lapped in little waves around Luna's nose. A scattering of feather-picks and preening combs lay scattered around the floor, forming a rough circle around a oil-splattered green unicorn who had apparently fallen asleep while leaning against the preening table. A vast majority of the small bottles of oil Luna had received as gifts were arranged in a neat square to one side, as if they were military figures to be called forth to battle from their formation, and only returned when depleted of their contents. The two of them had obviously bathed multiple times from the number of wet towels scattered across the room, and Papercut's fairly short mane had been the subject of an Attempted Braiding With Extenuating Circumstances assault, evidenced by the little knots and curls that remained.

Luna reversed her path, pausing only to open the window to air out the room and spread the curtains wide to act as a solar-powered alarm clock, before slipping out the door. She barely managed to make it down two flights of stairs before collapsing against the wall in peals of laughter.

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