• Published 20th Apr 2017
  • 714 Views, 21 Comments

Princess Celestia's Body Double: Setting Stage For Harmony - JLB



After centuries of tumult, it has been a decade of harmony for Equestria. Princess Celestia has not been showing signs of the ruling stress that's plagued her for years. But Nightmare Moon looms, and the secret of her vitality gains new purpose.

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Search: Sparklegust

The late afternoon sun was mostly absent from the quaint, distant corner of Canterlot’s Upper District that Osmosis found herself in, examining the object of her destination. While she did spend some time socializing, or, more precisely, partaking in various parties and festivities she would reliably sneak her way into, this part of the city’s elite quarter wasn’t one she frequented. Neither as Princess Celestia during the times she was required to reach out to the community, nor in her travelling and off-duty guise, which was, in fact, her current form. As a tall, slender, selectively curvacious faint pink Unicorn with a wavy taffy tinted mane, she reached the address of the first promising place she’d dug up during library research. Simultaneously the last one, since two hours of cross-referencing information from the address book, the Canterlot heraldry ledger, the booklet of Unicornia’s influential families from A to Z excluding Ȝ and ſ, and a beauty pageant (to keep herself afloat).

While eschewing the guise of the Princess was prudent, if not disheartening for the lover of nutrition that she was, Osmosis was currently stood before the fact that the house she was to infiltrate and ideally seduce was floating in the air.

Maybe they’re alicorns, somehow. That’d be instant compatibility. Wing-horned ponies have to stick together. If they refuse to, I’ll make them. They’re not actually going to be alicorns, though.

Granted, the actual task given to her by Celestia was significantly easier than that - in that it involved her not doing the worst job in the world of showing up as the Princess herself, and then having a civil examination of the house, as well as its inhabitants. Then she would just use her better judgement to see if they were fit to be marked for bearing a student in the coming decades. Not precisely easy, but also not that difficult considering Osmosis’ comprehension of ponies, even if Celestia herself would assume she were above her penetrative gaze. Her task was more complex than that, though, and the house floated in the air, perched atop refined bluish cumulus, decorative chains pretending to bind it to the soil of the garden that grew where the building would otherwise have stood. Also, the heavy, ornate fence and gate that surrounded the premises made things all the more difficult.

Osma tried approaching it already, but found further issue with proceeding because the large garnet to the right of the gates didn’t seem to be a communication mechanism of any kind, which was what massive gems implanted in manor walls usually were. Instead, it simply took on a deep red sheen when she got too close. Not a great sign of progress.

At least I’m not being blasted with magic missiles.

Obviously, going in as Celestia, appearing essentially out of nowhere, ideally not being seen doing so by any passers-by, was the much easier approach. What she originally wanted, however, was to see how these ponies treated someone who wasn’t semi-divine immortal royalty. She could probably make out most important details of who they are and what they’re worth from that much, but the more intricate details needed more diverse interactions. Intricate details were what she was after, because generally good features and family values were one thing - but one’s worth for romance… was another.

I’m probably being yelled at, a lot. And this is harder than finding a good family… I don’t suppose things being easy is ever part of a good plan.

She was finding her moody counterpart a date, as well as a good home from which to gather a protégé. That was going to happen, under no shade or hint of doubt. Her mind was set.

This gate. These ponies sure value their security. Little do they know that now that I don’t get to live out my spy novel fantasies, they’ve gifted me the perfect weapon with which to deal Sunny a blow she won’t forget!’ Osma nodded to herself, getting over the irk of how bumpy the first time was looking to be. ‘Good luck crossing out an appointment with a hot, handsome stud that you called over yourself, miss Grumpy Princess.

Her other alternatives were: stalk them for a few days to be able to perform outright identity theft and sneak into the house as someone they know, sneak onto the premises under camouflage and observe them most unhealthily, and order some community service worker over to this place as Celestia, then impersonate said worker and try to do her job from then on somehow. Simply barging in as Princess Celestia going over for a friendly visit was the best idea she had.

After a quick withdrawal to a nearby narrow alleyway between slightly less luxurious houses, the tall pinkish Unicorn with a trio of Griffon ornate things, whatever their name was, on her flank had changed into Equestria’s ruling sovereign. And what a surprise, the garnet was aglow with golden light, the gates opening themselves helpfully. She already had her presuppositions about these ponies, so it was time to see what could be added on top.

To some slight surprise, while she was definitely visible through the tall floating manor’s many windows, there was no furor and rush to meet her with all the numerous pleasantries that Canterlot’s inhabitants seemed to love indulging in whenever she deigned to visit them. As a matter of fact, she walked up a few steps of the autonomously apparating aetherial stairway on her own.

There was a series of faint whirs and chirps, followed by rapid knocking and clicking coming from several spots within the foundation, which all stopped abruptly. After a pause, the many jewels encrusted into the three-story floating manor emitted an intricate series of multicolored sparks, shining like festive lights, and producing chirpy noises. Osma’s hearing rather quickly picked up that the jewels were reproducing a close approximation of the Equestrian National Anthem, each arcane stone responsible for one specific instrument. Not the cleanest rendition, though likely one of the more original ones she’d heard. By when they went silent, just as abruptly as they started, she had more than a hint of an amused smile on her face. Being Celestia at the given moment, she decisively lacked the option of a giggling grin and a poking of the many shiny thingies.

She was a few steps away from the heavy, gilded door, when it opened on its own, narrowly avoiding hitting her on the snout.

“P-princess Celestia!” a pair of thoroughly shaky, befuddled voices being intensely masked with a heavily imperfect cover of solemn nonchalantness and rejoicement exclaimed at her.

“Correct!” she answered with a slight smile, albeit one big enough for her teeth to cast off blinks of the luminant jewels’ light. A toothpaste advertisement pageant in all but function.

“This… is really unexpected, we are so, so, um, unprepared!..”

“Maybe you could visit in about two days? We’ll be ready then!” The doors shuffled to close from one side.

GARNET!!!

The two ponies that gave her the unconventional welcome began to wrestle for the door while Osma stood still, taking the scene in, head tilting inch by inch. The one fighting to close the door was a stallion, a coral Unicorn with a messy indigo mullet bobbing up and down, inadvertently polishing a mildly stained horn. His square-rimmed, jewelled glasses slid up and down his snout, which was being pushed directly into an intensely blushing dandelion yellow mare. Eventually, they ended up perched on her nose more than his, which was an achievement, considering they struggled for a total of four seconds before Osmosis sighed serenely and walked in, separating the two with a wing.

“Princess! Your Highness! We swear we have the money! It’s just…” the stallion sputtered, frozen still alongside his partner in a corner, as Osma looked back at them with a raised eyebrow. “W-we thought the payment was due tomorrow, and we didn’t think you would oversee the deal personally!”

“And please nevermind Garnet, he hit his head fix—” The mare hiccuped, bright pink eyes losing most of their pupils for a moment. Even her wavy rouge mane seemed to have frozen in abject shock as her hooves dug into the stallion’s shoulders. “—counting the money!”

“Dear subjects. I was, as a matter of fact, quite pleased. Disregarding the fact that the timing is evidently affecting your mental stability, of course.” One massive advantage of being Celestia was that the sound of her voice often silenced even regular ambient noise. Not the case this time around, as she could hear a cooker puffing in the kitchen and a clock ticking in the hallway, but the Unicorns switched to remarkably silent breath. Or were asphyxiating themselves as she went on, alternatively. “And you do such intricate work. The payment can be pushed back a week, I doubt Equestria’s foundation lies upon it. Arranging finances is crude, boring work. Have the time you need.”

Being Celestia also meant that sometimes you simply went with the flow. The ledgers she informed herself on were… imperfect. They were not exactly up to date. All she knew about house Sparklegust going in was that their history traced far (her eyes lost color when she saw how far, and as such elected not to examine the depths), that they were a rare mixed household of Pegasi and Unicorn descent, and that House Sparklegust members count themselves among the ponies that helped Equestria win the Cross-Continental War Games of 922. Evidently not major enough to have books written about them. As such, her assumption (house of magi-engineers that likely own multiple businesses, do contract work, likely manufacturers of the very security jewels their dwelling was encrusted all over with,most definitely both cooky and scrambled as many technologically apt ponies tend to be, easily dominated in a conversation with use of authority, even more easily won over with favors of the stress-reducing kind) was entirely of her own empathetic prowess and general life experience. Mostly the former.

“Oh. Whew. Alright! Can we re-do this, please? This really didn’t go very optimally at all,” the stallion told her with a tone of now almost careless, uplifted joy.

“Garnet. Lantern.”

“Yes, we can,” Osmosis told him with a fake shrug, and backpedaled back the way she came, but not quite. “Let’s re-do this from the part where you get yourself from the floor, get yourselves relax, and arrange for us a tea. Hm?”

“Yes, Princess!” the yellow mare replied, nodding furiously, and charging to the kitchen with a stalwart look on her visibly still shock-numb face.

“Good enough,” the stallion said with a shrug, picking himself up from the corner and lifting his glasses back to cover his azure eyes. He dusted his brown-and-white knitted vest with his hooves, dangling the gilded pocket watch chain in his haste, or imprecision. “I’d like to apologize.”

“Oh, no need, it’s been worse.”

“Not for us! I mean, ahem, me and Canary have a case of the inexcusables. I mean the glimmer gems. When they started telling me we had a Princess on our doorstep, I thought something had gone wrong and rushed to turn them off! Their algorithm is to give a light show, we originally developed them for—”

It was at that point that Osmosis began to hope that Canary was not Garnet’s wife. He was something special. Not even in a sarcastic sense. Owing to her nature and occupation, she was good with ponies, as her streak of accurate assumptions was attesting to. Despite Princess Celestia’s frumping over the subject, the years they’d spent together left little of her ins and outs unexplored by her body double. She was a mare of diverse likes and dislikes, for sure, but like a lot of things Celestia, the complexity eventually boiled down into a number of rather simple things.

When it came to stallions, Garnet ticked boxes upon boxes.

Agreeable colors. Nice strong looking lips. Facial features… oooh, energetic. Simple clothes, peh, she likes it. No... visible penchant for cleanliness, it’s good for her. Shorn fetlocks, at least we agree that’s good. Quick eyes, really perceptive, I can see… Hop here and there, and you still feel this intelligence within, never going blank, always thinking. She likes them smart.’ The shapeshifter examined him to confirm her findings, subtly so, lest he notice. As much as she’d love to give Celestia something to be supremely awkward about, it wasn’t the most productive thing to do. ‘Monocolor mane. Faint suggestion of fuzz on the chin and cheeks. Puffy tail curvature. And a mullet, because for some utterly inexplicable reason she finds those crimes against fashion - no, nature itself! - attractive…’ Osma never got around to asking her why, partly because she didn’t find out through being told - this, like many other things on the Royal List of Romantic Attractions, was all borne of observation.

But these were far from all of the boxes that were ticked.

Quick talker… A chatterbox, even. Enthusiastically blunt. Disarmingly dorky.

Those were some big boxes. If she were ever to pitch a partner to the Princess, then he would need to be one to act as an injection of what could roughly be described as "life" into her daily existence. No small feat, because Celestia’ daily existence had been thoroughly hardened by the fires of maintaining admirable (if infrequent) grumpiness despite Osmosis’ personal efforts. Which meant that this injection would need to be enthusiastic, jumpy and ideally incessant.

Enter Garnet Lantern.

Unless he were married, in which case she’d push considerations pertaining to her actual task to the forefront from the background they currently inhabited within her mind. It was pretty comfortable in there, because the somewhat aloof Unicorn had gone off on an unrelated tangent, no parts of which were recognized by Osma’s subconscious as worth listening to. Her may have been a near perfect fit for Celestia, but that didn’t mean she was up for having her ears talked off with such frivolity…

“...and I just can’t believe the one time we actually needed it, I up and ruined the whole thing!” Garnet’s tangent happened to have successfully chased its own tail down and brought them to the same moment in time as about half a minute ago, when he just began rambling as Osma inspected the manor itself from the spacious hazelwood entry hallway, rendering her mind onto contemplating just how great he was. “At risk of worsening my situation, I suppose we deserve some small praise? What I mean is, everything was working quite well until I shut it down, and it was probably a surprise to you as well, possibly a good one until I ruined it? Something along those lines?”

She merely sighed in a carefully arranged chirpy tone, fluttered her eyelids and curved an ever so slightly more visible smile than usual.

Aaalmost a flirt. Almost. Not quite! Many birds and no stone, I am good.

As if on cue to keep that topic hanging for potential use later on should things go awry, Canary’s voice called out from the kitchen, as did faintly fuzzy sounds of saxophone, drum, trombone and violin.

“Oh, now that is a sound I hardly expected to hear. Swing, isn’t it? Most of Canterlot does still believe this music is what marriages are broken apart with, however silly that is,” Osma pointed out with a careful tone of unmistakable approval, something quite vital whenever she spoke a sentence that had a sliver of possible negativity to it. That tended to mortify ponies and give out heart attacks, sounds of dreams crashing and burning clearly audible to a sharp ear. Not good for conversation. “Progressive.”

“It’s as if we knew you’d like it, Your Highness! With all due respect to the other Houses—”

“They have no respect for swing,” the shapeshifter continued Canary’s words, sitting herself by the table, upon which rested a highly generous helping of fresh red tea, ripe, shiny sugarcubes, and oven-puffy cake. “Oh, grovecherry cake, my favorite. Maybe you could pay in cakes? About forty would do.” She smiled openly to make sure it was understood as a joke, because something told her Celestia wouldn’t actually know what to do with forty cakes delivered to Canterlot Towers. That’d be terrible. For Osma.

The fleeting trace of ozone in the air told a lot as to the quality of Sparklegust apparating gems. These were brought in within less than a minute, presumably straight from the shops. Though they were at best one tenth as delicious as the exaltation leaking out the half-open mouths of the two high class workponies who were currently being complimented by the Princess herself. Unlike actual food, these emotions were not a source of nourishment you could tire of.

Words of pleasantries were thrown back and forth with Osmosis on low self-control for some time. Nothing important was being passed around anyway - her skill of reacting to comments as Celestia was rather refined, and if these two gave her a hook with which to dive deeper into her quest, she would react. For the time being, however, she enjoyed the quirky, jewel, swing and hazelwood atmosphere of the house, and even more so the adoration the two ponies whom she no doubt distracted from work were showering her with. Good for them. The kind of high society Unicorn that actually does work on their own is either supremely bored, and having the Princess visit is hardly ever boring, or an honest hard worker, in which case they do deserve a rest at her behest.

“...oh, but now the day is certainly looking up! We apologize again,” said Canary, having thus far not eaten particularly much of her own portion, and occasionally shooting daggers through the stallion who was in fact eating whenever he wasn’t talking. Osma hardly minded, Garnet wasn’t a noisy eater, and he even washed his hooves and face beforehand. What did ping at her mind was the constant we-we-we’ing they did. “I think we’re irreparable. Your tolerance is so, so highly appreciated.”

“Yeah! Our gems are much easier to get along with than us,” Garnet noted, nodding.

“No, I find your company quite refreshing. And the cake. I do wish you luck with seeing your devices approved,” Osmosis made an educated guess as to the source of the deep-seated anxiety she could feel within both of them as they spoke, repeatedly, about the magical things all over the house and some of Canterlot. These were some impressive functions, yet there had been no furor over them to be heard complaints about from Celestia, meaning they were not widespread yet, and it couldn’t have just been the cost. “Time will tell. I certainly am gaining an opinion, yes… Most of these seem to work as well as the two of you together,” she pointed a slippered hoof at them, causing the stallion to chuckle inadvertently, and the mare to blush with her pupils shrinking for a moment.

“Haha! And you told me this marriage couldn’t be saved! Princess Celestia herself disagrees! Goodbye divorce papers!” he exclaimed in succession, laughing in between statements. An infectious laugh. Sadly, Osma’s interior was not as gleeful as her tempered, serene, half-mirthful exterior would suggest.

“GARNET! Hush! Stop being raunchy! It’s a joke, I say it as a joke, the Princess didn’t need to—”

“Just for the record, you are not currently ruining anything. Why, all of this is in complete freefall,” Osmosis spoke vaguely with a forced shade of deviousness and took a sip of the tea. Obviously, what she really felt was heavy degrees of crestfall, frustration, irritation and disappointment. Her pet theory that they were brother and sister was safely out the window and gliding into the pile of broken hopes and dreams, presumably landing on the cushy sofa she’d been begging Celestia for for weeks because it matched her carapace so well. Indeed, these two were only a pair of incredibly close, hip-jointed, chemically reactive spouses, who until now simply happened not to look at each other in the exact way they did just then. It was a mere half a second, but it was one Osma caught, and it instantly threw away potential questions as to whether they were having any marital issues. They weren’t.

At least red tea was some remedy for disappointment.

I survived the sofa. I can survive not seeing him ride that silly overgrown goose and pull her maw into a smile. Maybe. Or I’ll just die now. Choke on this tea in defiance,’ she mumbled within her thoughts. ‘I won’t actually do that.

Canary looked uncomfortable enough with her playful implication, one that likely flew over the ironically avian-named mare, possibly because she was, after all, a Princess, and she did just imply that things were going not-perfectly. Playfulness was barely a factor, one would imagine, if you were face to face with a situation where that could have been a reality. Not to have her self-indulgent remark ruin too much, Osma nodded and hummed.

“Let us blame the swing.”

Rather humorously, the married couple nodded in rapid agreement and understanding smiles, and so that awkward situation was over with. Now, it was time to see how things worked around here on the developmental side of things. Not so much magical machinery as children. Whom, come to think of it, she had not seen, if there were any.

Let them talk shop for a bit. They’ll bring them up on their own,’ her experience told her. ‘Or, perhaps, the lack thereof. I do expect children to swarm and fawn over me when I’m around, hmgh.

“Well, now that all of this is behind us,” Canary spoke up, having cleared her throat for propriety. “We want to point out that everything is going according to plan. It’s just that today was supposed to be finance day, and we didn’t think you would deign us with a visit on such short notice. In fact I should agree with my husband, we did not expect you to get involved so personally. It’s been us and… well, the world, essentially, for the past few years.”

“Indeed. Actually, we thought you would be one to push the movement against us. All our correspondence up to this point has been quite strict. This is a pleasant improvement!” Garnet pointed out, cementing the fact that Osma had once again done something political without knowing. “Um. Well, at least we assume you’re partially pleased? Surely you wouldn’t sit here and share our dinner just for politeness’ sake. Some scarcely relevant House that is barely even Unicornian doesn’t call for royal etiquette, I don’t think it does.”

“Why, I’ll let you know that royal etiquette can be quite flexible if necessary,” Osma replied. “Sometimes it can’t, though. It’s a complicated mechanism.”

“We’d know all about that,” the almost-dream stallion’s wife attempted to joke politely. Not the worst attempt, some ponies carried themselves even worse when Osmosis barged into their lives and started spewing rumor and hearsay fuel while possibly affecting their lives greatly with small comments and nicety favors. “Not royal politics, I mean! I mean mechanisms.”

“I’m quite sure I understood that, thank you very much,” Osma said snidely, raising an eyebrow. Now that Canary was beginning to get used to her presence (Garnet dropped his panic defences noticeably quicker) and no longer resonated with alarm waves for miles at almost everything said to her, the picture of these two became considerably more clear. “Now, about the ones in this kitchen—”

She led them on another short bit of shop-talking, even though at first glance it had so far failed to yield any family-related results. However, that was only at first glance, whereas someone with a deeper understanding of empathetic connection would have begun noticing curious things already. Osma was one, and the void of not being able to slap Garnet onto Celestia was being filled with a different kind of enjoyment. Both Unicorns were now in a state resembling normality, and after observing them for a few minutes - miniscule body movements, bodily proximity, echoes of thoughtwaves, aural resonance… Their tendency to talk in ‘we’s more than ‘I’s.

How many children must they have? It does seem like they engage in relevant activities a lot... Unless they have the foresight to prevent that from happening, of course, which, hm, may be likely, considering the children are yet to join us. Likely busy elsewhere or nonexistent. Or this sort of ruckus downstairs is normal,’ Osmosis wondered to herself. ‘And how do they find any time to work? I swear, they’ve gone at it at least twice today. And I thought she was tired from working… No, that’s not how your hind legs are after working, dear mare. That is how they are when your marriage doesn’t need saving.

“So how has spreading out been, generally speaking?” she spoke up after some time was spent discussing pastry apparition and trying not to accidentally set Equestria’s economy into overhaul by praising it too much. “You look like you work rather hard. Still doing some of your own manufacturing?” This was, obviously, a bait. Talking about work tiredness was an easy topic to hop off onto successors and family relationships from.

“Oh. Um. Ah.” It was Garnet’s turn to blush, causing Canary to blush by chain reaction. Osma flexed her neck self-appraisingly. “Do we really look like it?”

“Ehm… Finances take a lot out of you. Numbers, you don’t ever get used to them.” His wife nodded rapidly, convincing herself of her own lie. “At least we don’t. We’re very, ahm, practical-minded.”

“Ohhh, I see. What do you do when you don’t do finances, then?”

“Prrrototypes,” Garnet said in a remarkably shifty tone.

He wasn’t lying, however. In a way, Osma was talking out the side of her mouth. They didn’t look like they worked tirelessly making magical gems enchanted with various everyday household spells for non-magical ponies to use. Nobody as well-off as they are would be doing that at this rate. They looked like ponies who were doing it mostly as a very involved hobby at the stage their business had advanced to, even if they did play down how profitable it was. Making prototypes of new gems and possibly working on custom orders was probably what they did. When they weren’t doing the other, much more intriguing thing, which was currently incredibly confirmed.

“Mhm. How are your recreational activities?” She hid an impish grin. “You’re a rather inventive, flexible, productive couple. And I am planning a holiday, at some point in the future. Why, maybe I’ll go with something you could suggest.”

‘Celestia would obliterate me if she were here. If they weren’t still swooned by me, they would probably have figured out that I’m asking them to tell me to make love more often. I’m luring them into telling Princess Celestia she should get a sex life. This is wonderful.’ The shapeshifter straightened herself out and suppressed a desire to perch her snout upon her hooves and slouch salaciously. ‘They’re not that raunchy, though… Or silly. I guess I’ll settle with them struggling to preserve their own secrets.’

“We, ahm. We don’t do much that’s… terribly exciting,” Canary said with a straightened out voice, shaking her head. “Keeping our business afloat does take some work. When we’re free, we just…”

“Spend time with each other,” Garnet finished for her. “Sorry we aren’t much help. We’re just one of the few exceptions from that nasty rule. That sweethearts get fed up with one another eventually, you know?”

“Garnet…”

Well this is precious. Here I thought this’d let me take over the conversation. Ah, I should just bask in the romance, they’re not really hiding it much any longer,’ Osmosis thought to herself. Out loud, she said: “Oh, that is wonderful. You must fit each other perfectly. I do wish more ponies could share in that joy.”

“M-maybe,” he agreed awkwardly, shrugging and nodding, chuckling nervously. “I know we wouldn’t have been in as much luxury as we are now without it. I’m nothing without Canary’s schematics and calculus. Imagine if we ever got sick of one another, now that would be a blow!”

Canary visibly grit her teeth for a second, piercing through her husband. The gesture was fleeting, but Osma caught it rather clearly, identifying it as somewhat legitimate worry. Pragmatically thinking, he was essentially telling Princess Celestia that, as inventors of what could become a mainstay of Equestrian business, they had a rather significant vulnerability. Fortunately, this discussion had, as a matter of fact, removed itself from the realm of pragmatics, and would only return there when it was convenient. Osma could assume now, at least, who did most of the worrying when they weren’t in total shock.

“Oh, come now. We wouldn’t be here if not for your ideas,” Canary spoke with a sigh, levitating a napkin over to wipe some wetness off his stubble. “We’d still be just a footnote, maybe we’d get history students come by to see what one of Unicornia’s oldest families has turned into.”

“Well, we’re pretty historic in a few ways, I suppose,” the husband wondered, scratching his chin. “I mean, we probably set a record the other day when—”

His wife’s bewildered, bulging eyes gave away the fact Garnet was very much not supposed to speak of what he just began to blubber about. A poignant, sharp wave of abject alarm that emerged from the crevices of his very being was also a good hint. The stallion blushed profusely. The fact that his wife, her downturned lips trembling, shakily lifted a fly swatter with her horn and smacked him on the flank with it repeatedly, did not help. Osmosis pretended to be above grinning her face off at what was going on.

PLEEEASE. Garnet was just referring to how we were working on something extremely mundane and it’s nothing worth mentioning and now that I think of it we’re probably never finishing it,” Canary attempted, pitifully, to explain the situation in terms as neutral and subversive as possible. “So the record is very much annulled and we are probably not getting back to work on that for quite a while, GARNET.”

“...yes, what she just said… as I was saying, Canary’s, uhm. A trove of ideas. Our success is more or less all up to her,” the stallion spoke downtroddenly, his hooves clasping at his temples.

“Possibly! But, yes. Whenever Garnet Lantern here is not having a nonsense-speaking attack, we are doing quite well for ourselves as far as success is concerned.”

“Not untrue. If all our dealings were up to me, though, we’d probably still have been largely irrelevant,” the guilted husband attempted to improve his standing with his wife, humbling himself in front of the Princess herself. Judging by the more relaxed breaths of the mare’s, it seemed to work. To a degree. Osma pretended not to hear Canary whisper, sidemouthedly: “You would be in the Royal Dungeons if it were up to me, Garnet Lantern...”

“Anyway! I do say that we erected ourselves from the downward slump that plagued a lot of big names,” the stallion said, his irises shrinking at realizing his word choice. This time around, both mares elected not to assault him verbally, merely piercing him with their gazes, one bemused and one scorchingly accusatory.

‘Thank you very much, here we go. We are now on track. All this tea, music and teasing does not help memory at all. This poor stallion… He’s not going to have a good time once I’m gone. Either by not having an, ahem, a good time, or by having a very bad time. I can see it in her eyes. Basking in romance can be quite exciting! Especially watching from the sidelines. Anyway, where were we?’ Osmosis nodded serenely as she lead on: “Oh yes, it is a rarity. When old Houses lose relevance, it tends to stay this way. You certainly are… paradigm shifters. I’m sure that your legacy will see Sparklegust be quite the big name for decades to come.”

“Maybe it’s fate that our family has these waves of ups and downs,” Garnet mused, perching his chin upon his hoof and narrowly maintaining propriety as he shot a glance at his wife. “I should tell you something funny, in fact. Yesterday’s Unicornian Heritage Day, you were in attendance? The play?”

“Mmm, yes?” Osma raised an eyebrow. This wasn’t where she wanted to push the conversation, but she was actually curious now.

“Would you believe that, uhm, Cresthorn the Everquesting is actually our distant relation? He was Sparklegust. We descend from one of his daughters.” The shapeshifter avoided chuckling out, despite having been taken aback. The questionable joys of living with Celestia struck again - the long discussion about said Unicorn crept up immediately. Suddenly the introspection became slightly more thought-provoking than they made it out to be. So it went. “You would think we’d be a military House, and… we were… back when my grandfather was alive. And then… Well, that was the amusing part, anyway. That was our great-great-many-times-great-grandfather’s story!”

“Who knows, maybe some time in the future, it’ll be your grandchildren’s inventions that will keep Equestria safe in dark times,” Osma dispensed some heavy praise with a blatant hint buried within.

“Let’s hope those times never come! Our shield projectors are a long way away from really working.”

“Oh! Oh, oh. Garnet!” Canary started in place, bopping her husband on the foreleg, shooting a stare through him. “Honey! Honey, the kids! We have the Princess visiting and we haven’t fetched the kids!!!”

“We—” The stallion sat in place for a few seconds, blinking absently. The ‘Princess’ sighed out in relief rather openly, neither of them were capable of noticing anyway. A deep, seething red blush set into his face as he processed the fact the rest of their family had been entirely absent throughout such an important occasion. “The kids. The kids.

With that, he scampered off his chair, nearly knocking it off, and rushed towards the far end of the kitchen, miraculously failing to bump into the luxurious, somewhat obstructive furniture. His momentum by the end was so great that he activated the object of his destination via head-bonk. A bird’s head that had until then seemed like one of the many figure-jewels adorning many parts of the manor’s interior came aglow, shifting from placid blue to active green.

“Amélie, would you please…” He glanced back momentarily and bit his lip just barely within Osma’s field of vision. “...the kids?..”

No response followed, or was expected, seemingly, as he trotted back with a forced smile, a particularly easy thing to tell on such a stallion. It was then that Osmosis began to see some room for concern. Their ancient familial connection to the questionable individual that was Cresthorn made her feel just a little bit heavier, but it was nothing, really - they were significantly nicer ponies that served society in new and exciting ways and even had a floating mansion, the exact kind of thing their duplicitous grandsire would enjoy burning down brutally. That minor heaviness had now given way to concern. Up until now, she assumed that maybe their children were elsewhere, possibly adult, perhaps in class, outright newborn and asleep, by chance, or something of the kind - whyever else would they be excluded from meeting her? She (id est Princess Celestia) was a big deal. You would need to be newborn, in class, or an adult out of house to neglect coming down to meet her. Something was abnormal here.

“We are SO sorry. Both of us, inexcusable airheads!” Canary sputtered, leaving her seat and beckoning their visitor to follow, as both of her and her husband left the kitchen. The sounds of swing died down with a spark off the yellow mare’s horn. “You see, Princess, we just—”

“Finances. It’s the finances,” Garnet overtook her excuse, which she seemed to have found appropriate. They trotted with jolts of nervous energy up the winding stairs. Nervous energy was generally in the air, being taken in and processed. Some of the flower, fish, beast and abstract object-shaped gems flushed and pulsated, taking in the excess emotional waves. These weren’t cheap, but then, they were most likely made in-house.

Stress absorbers, huh… Why thank you, memory… Celie wanted these for her chambers, yes, she did. And then for an entire month there wasn’t one on the market because the Canterlot nobility bought them all up. They may be glorified remote scalp massagers that make buzzing noises in one’s ears, but it’s perhaps the notion that something is supposed to suck your stress away that counts. I mean, I can only do so much of the sucking for her. And for some reason Sparklegust weren’t to be bothered by royal commissions,’ Osmosis mused to herself as she ascended, at a considerably slow pace, the winding stairs. Mainly because that was the Celestia thing to do, albeit she did feel interested looking at all the odd shapes the gemwork took on the tall walls, seemingly all but replacing traditional records most high society ponies filled their houses with. At several intersections where it felt like there should be a floor break, there were sealed reinforced doors. Osma’s piqued curiosity mellowed down after she took a peek into one that was left open by a creak, presumably where the couple rushed downstairs from after calming down their alicorn detectors. Those were workshops, that particular one was chock-full of glowing panels with arcane symbols etched upon them. ‘Well, that could have held worse secrets. They do have to work somewhere. Not for the Princess though, apparently. Either because Sunny is cranky and all independent and doesn’t need anybody’s help… but mine… Or I may be once again messing things up showing up here. Ah well, business is silly. I’ll figure it out. These are some long stairs and I don’t think either of these two ever stay silent for this long.

“Oh, good, there we go! Um, Princess, Princess Celestia?” she heard Canary’s voice call out to her from half a flight of stairs above. Finally, there was an excuse to speed up her regal stroll, it really was tediously slow. “Yes, yes, we, uh, we’ve got the Princess visiting! Princess, Amélie Larue, our governess. Amélie, um… Princess Celestia.”

With the husband and wife of primary visiting honor at her sides, standing in the hallway the staircase led into, was a bewildered-looking Griffon whose bright green eyes were wide, to say the least. The avian’s sparrow head was tilting slowly to the side as she visibly, if not palpably, struggled with the reality of Equestria’s supreme ruler standing in front of her. The bluish griffon was essentially frozen in place, head movements aside, even her tight black one-piece and humble bonnet didn’t seem to be budging, petrified in their owner’s blatant shock.

Amélie Larue must have been considerably good at dealing with children, then, because it took her all of four seconds to actually come to terms with all of this and revert to a markedly more proper posture, nodding her head and gesturing for Osma to come in. No regular wave of the hand either, a trained eye would recognize one of the many maneuvers as prescribed by Griffon etiquette booklets. Osma’s eye did so because she was once forced to read it start to finish and then take a test after making an immense fool of Celestia during a visit with the Griffon Kaiser. ‘Good times. Not really. Oh dear, the memories. These stress absorbers aren’t helping too much, no… Or I’m out of range. Yeah, in retrospect, these weren’t good times at all.

“No need for excessive propriety, please…” Osmosis spoke softly out loud, eyes trailing the couple that brought her up there scamper about, mumble something to each other, and then rush downstairs. Hopefully she avoided, with this, the many, many ritualistic pleasantries she had a real threat of having to go through if this bird was as serious about etiquette as she seemed. “This ceased to be an official visit about fifteen minutes ago, myself and your employers have settled our business. Do consider me a guest.”

“Well understood, Mistress Celestia,” the Griffon nodded, her thin veil of foreign accent hiding the residual cracks in her voice. “How could I be of service?”

“Ah, for one, no need to refer to me as ‘mistress’. Unless you rescinded your Griffon citizenship, that is,” Osma said, raising a hoof, preparing to hop onto more pertinent topics. “Which I doubt is likely, because I do not see the Sparklegust family as ones to bypass employment laws. Then again, I am not in fact seeing them at all...” She sighed.

“Point taken, Princess.” Osmosis only saw that Amélie found her slightly kooky from the subtle twitches of plumage and general aural air. She was pretty good at subtlety, considering the devices on the walls only worked on ponies.

“That’s better. I do wonder, though. Are they always in such a hurry? I wished to meet their children… Do we wait for them?” Considering the Griffon was as good a third party as any, the row of straightforward questions would yield information even if they were all to somehow be deflected. “Do not worry, they’re not in trouble. Just a simple curiosity on my part.”

“Of course. Ah, yes, they are like that most times. And no, the children don't often go downstairs - we're used to... commotion.”

The shapeshifter walked around the hallway leisurely, observing the potted plants, the view out the windows, the rugs, and the comparative lack of gemwork. Floor number two looked considerably more like one’s regular luxury manor, wide, stretchy, ornamented with subtle heraldry, well-toned and furnitured. In contrast, it was clear that the main floor reflected the house’s owners considerably better, seeing how the floor design down there was significantly more curved and angled, with many other secondary chambers beyond the kitchen branching off the entry hall. All the jewel art and appliances placed throughout were also to note. Quite clearly that part of the manor was one that Garnet and Canary inhabited most of the time, and where dealings were made, seeing that it was built to impress. Despite similarities, the place a few flights of stairs above seemed an entirely different realm.

“So busy with their work, aren’t they?” Osma pondered, looking at a painting of the Westquarry Mountains on the wall - the first piece of traditional art she’d seen so far. Just modest enough.

“They are, Princess,” the Griffon confirmed, standing right to her side. “They manage their work rather well between each other. I hardly ever need to help.”

“You do seem to be lady and mistress of this part of the house, though,” Osmosis commented, noting the avian’s reaction. Despite her reservedness, her expanded pupils gave confirmation enough - Amélie didn’t expect to be complimented like that, or to have it noticed at all. Well, that was noted down. The husband and wife weren’t a big presence up here. “Do the children live up here?”

“They do, Princess.”

“Well… where are they, exactly?”

“Miss Pellet is in her room, she asked not to bother her until four o’clock. Mister Comet is in the exercise hall, he will be free in… right around the turn of the hour.” The Griffon’s eyes dashed quickly to a drawer by the wall, multiple grainy framed pictures settled upon it. Osma decided she could as well walk over there, even though it was rather clear that the governess’ attention was brought on by the fact that one of them was standing slightly uneven. The mare, however, found the actual images more interesting. “Oh, yes, you will notice these pictures look a bit different. Those are—”

“No, I know, I know. I may have a reputation for taking time to get used to things my ponies come up with, but photography has been around long enough to become relevant for one of my stature,” Osmosis said gently, rejoicing at being able to jab at Celestia (while being Celestia) without excessive socio-political fallout. ‘Innnteresting… and I spy the parents in nearly every shot. Encouraging,’ she thought to herself, rubbing her chin in ponderance. To voice out part of the thoughts that arose from the findings, she uttered: “Oh, that is curious.”

“Well, yes, as you see, Master and Mistress Sparklegust have developed a slightly more advanced method of picture-taking… We use it for family photographs. You will have noticed that the colors are more pronounced and the shadows are not as dark and heavy, especially around the eyes. And—”

“Why yes, I see that,” Osma spoke up, immediately silencing the Griffon. As undoubtedly curious as this was… “I meant this colt. Is that Comet?”

“That is, Princess.”

“He is a Pegasus.”

“Oh. Of course, you see, Master Garnet is originally of House Sparklegust, which has had a great deal of Pegasi come into union with its Unicorns over the centuries, while Mistress Canary is in fact half Pegasus,” Amélie narrated with paced tone and tact, likely having explained this to others prior. “As a Griffon myself, I do have to say pony species genetics is quite… interesting. The Pegasus inheritance within my Masters is why our manor can float so reliably when they are inside. Fortunately, Pegasus cumulus recognizes me as an aerial creature as well. Fascinating trivia, is it not?” Judging by the small sigh at the end, the avian herself was not exactly sure of that fact any longer and sought reassurement. Clearly this was asked often.

“Indeed it is! Why, with how some noble families of Canterlot behave in their marital affairs, it is hard to blame them for forgetting that we are all largely the same species and can, in fact, mate with each other.” Osma smiled, having relieved tension successfully. Also partly in mild bewilderment, most of which she kept to herself. ‘So, these are the descendents of Cresthorn the Everquesting, Pegasus-hater-in-charge’s. A house with enough pegasus blood in it to let a manor filled with unicorns float. Here I thought it was some fancy enchantment, or gem machinery. No siree.

“Master and Mistress had their genealogical tree put up in the recreational hall if you wish to see it while we wait for Mister and Miss?” The Griffon suggested, pointing down one of the hallways in a moderately exaggerated motion. “I shall make refreshments if needed.”

“That is a good idea, please do lead the way,” the shapeshifter nodded and motioned for her to lead the way, which the bird quickly did. “And no need, your employers treated me quite well enough down in the kitchen.”

“Ah. Teleported food, was it, Princess?”

“Yes it was, quite curious indeed. It wasn’t bad at all.”

“Hm. I find it lacks some of the deeper taste. Perhaps it’s just my physiology, however.” Amélie shook her head in ambiguous assumption, taking a turn at an intersection.

Sooo many rooms. And so many plants. And paintings. And cupboards, and seats. And the color, and all the luxury… Well, this is homely. I wish my actual home was this homely! Celie’s level of the Towers looks less posh than the house of second-and-a-half-rate Canterlot nobility!’ Osma thought to herself with frustration brewing inside. ‘Sunny insists on ‘efficient space’ and here they are, two children and a Griffon governess here at this level, and I’m already counting eight rooms. How do I deal with her?

“I’ve no doubt that the children enjoy your cooking. Let it be heard that the best chefs are almost unanimously Griffon,” she dropped a bag of praise to fluster the avian, having figured out that she wouldn’t continue with that topic after such a turn of events. “I can see by how orderly everything is up here that thus far you’re preserving the good name of Griffon housekeepers, too. I personally wouldn’t underestimate the capacity of two young ponies to create chaos beyond comprehension.”

“M-many thanks, Princess, I work dutifully,” Amélie replied with a light croak in her voice as they approached what must have been the recreational area. The couches, pillows, windows, and calmer colors than wood and gold, suggested as much, as did the fact that this was a corner room with no real ways out other than the one in. “But do not worry for the young Mister and Miss. They are barely ever trouble. Wonderful little ponies.”

“I suppose two grown Unicorns and a Griffon are enough to restrain the youth,” Osmosis dropped an explosive payload of implications, innocently breathing in the freshened, pine-odored air of the considerably comfortable room. Getting the details of family life was good, and finding a room of such design that she was already mapping it in her head for a future renovation pitch to Celestia wasn’t bad either.

The bird’s eyes darted over the room, checking for whether anything was out of place for the Princess’ surprise visit. A moment passed before she spoke up, choosing words with evident care.

“It’s no worry. I rarely ever need to do much when it comes to discipline.”

“I wouldn’t have expected the kids to be well-behaved at such a young age. With all respect, their parents are probably quite the inspiration. With their inheritance and upbringing, I was expecting to be swarmed soon as I stepped through the door,” Osma continued prodding, finding herself a comfortable blue cushion to seat on. The room was, in general, a departure from the rest of the house, with blues, whites, and a more circular shape. ‘Probably one of the queer glassy corners I saw outside. Adds to the spice of the exterior, good design. I sure got her cornered, huh?.. Well I’m sorry, birdie, but your lack of words tells me more than your employers’d like to know. Not sure if I like how this is looking. Or if I don’t.

“Hmmm. Mister Comet and Miss Pellet take after their parents in subtler ways. It’s all quite… subtle, in this family, Princess.” While Amelie got out of the conversational bind she was in, she brought ‘Celestia’ an orange juice tray, complete with wiping napkins, cosmetic napkins, glass napkins, and straws. “Juice from the southern border. Remarkably refreshing. I would think it suits the occasion, too?”

“Ah, yes. The ‘Sunshine’. Well, I suppose this is now an obligation.” Osmosis smiled briefly and gave it a sip. “Reputation verified.”

“And if I may be so bold as to ask you some things… Just as a matter of curiosity, don’t take it as rudeness.” The Griffon ground her beak in controlled anxiety. “Firstly, what exactly makes you interested in Mis—”

Just as she nearly finished asking the hard hitting questions, there was a loud noise from below. A winding down, sucking, windy tone, similar to when a spell would refuse to come out of a sick unicorn’s horn. It was combined with the hum of an arcane barrier on standby, and about ten times louder than either of those sounds normally were. The entire building shook, adding the sounds of shifting magicumulus that kept it afloat, indicating that the impact was great enough for the manor to actually move a few meters. Osma regrettably failed to avoid plunging Celestia’s big, dumb snout into the tray, nearly breaking a few glasses and spilling orange juice all over herself.

“Amélie? Amélie! I’m sorry, but we, uhm. We have a situation, please come down!” Garnet’s voice, reverberating through a layer of feedback, sounded out through a formerly innocuous sapphire wall decoration.

Osmosis and the Griffon looked at each other for a few seconds, the avian’s reserved posture failing to hide the tale of many foreign expletives told by her strong emotional waves. The shapeshifter didn’t even need to focus on reading her, they were broadcast pretty clearly in the air, and emotions were normally the same, no matter the language.

“Well, go! I’m alright over here, they need you downstairs,” Osma urged her, wiping herself with a napkin that survived the spills. “Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. And if this house explodes because you cleaned up the spilled juice, the treasury will cover the damages.” She held back a smirk at the mental image of Celestia waking up to a huge bill from various Canterlot contractors, all of which adored overcharging for even the simplest tasks. ‘Actually, no, that is just a teensy bit suicidal. If the house does blow up, I’ll need to make sure she’s silenced. Why is everything always so hard? Egh.

Amélie elected to remain silent, simply nodding and blinking slowly before rushing off as quickly as she could, though she still tried to seem uptight and reserved. That left the mare alone, awaiting the last pieces of evidence she needed to see if there was still an excuse under which Celestia could be directed to Sparklegust as candidates.

Let’s see what we have here,’ the shapeshifter pondered, admiring a jewel-dressed ficus in the corner near an unlit fireplace. ‘Here we have a family with some clear oddities, that’s for sure. Obviously, Garnet is married and their one male child has to be a teenager, at his latest. We didn’t have photographs five years ago, I would doubt they’d invent them without patenting. So it seems that the hot stud date is at least heavily dialed back. I’ll think of something there… But if we are to actually consider my task… Risky, risky, risky. First off, when the time comes, fate may just turn its sour side and we’ll end up with nothing but Pegasi for Celestia to take under her wing. Genetics, ugh. What, do I ask this Pellet to only marry Unicorn boys? And Comet to only look at Pegasus and Earth girls? I mean, maybe.

She got up to admire some more of the regular art and flora, giving a tiny smirk as she passed by a box of toys. She sighed a little when she noticed that said toys, mostly girly ones, all appeared to be Griffon-made. They lacked the sparkle, glitter, smoothness and shine of Equestrian toys, instead being bigger, more detailed, multi-material, lifelike as well - quite a toymaker’s feat when it came to faux cosmetic sets and dollhouses. Even though they looked all quite untouched, and some of the dollhouse’s inhabitants were lacking body parts, one pony in particular having her head on backwards.

In any case, even though they’ll get their parents’ smarts and attitude alongside that small chance of coming out with wings and no horn… Something is really starting to tell me that Garnet and Canary are mostly interested in each other. Their work comes second. The family seems a distant third. They're working hard towards something... and to pleasure each other. The photographs are, thus far, the ooonly thing that shows that they ever go near their children at all. Actually, now that I think of it, these are essentially the reminders of the few times they did spend time together fulfillingly enough to encapsulate those moments into picture memory. Everything else about this air between the children and the parents? Amélie almost didn’t hide it, the kids are her responsibility. Yeah - most Griffon housekeepers are usually ‘maids’, not ‘governesses’. Governesses are out of style these days. Not unless you’re too occupied with one another to pay mind to your children, though, perhaps? Or if you consider the work you do more important than time spent with your own flesh and blood. Or both. Ah, I should keep an open mind.

Osma levitated a toy magic mirror, quickly finding the switch and watching herself transform into what the device’s inbuilt magical directives thought made her look more "Princessly". Unsurprisingly, she saw Princess Celestia become bright pink with a mane of all kinds of blonde. Considering no one was around, there was no need to stifle a hearty, slightly malicious chuckle. ‘Yeah, Sunny. We’ll paint you pink, dye your mane blonde, and then you’ll adopt the hopefully Unicorn kid straight out of the cradle. And teach it your Princessly ways. Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Negligent or not, domino effect or no domino effect, but family issues we can avoid by just taking the child straight away... Or when they’re really, really young… Which is questionable, buuut. Worth talking about? Me and Celie could manage it together. Hm.

A harsh heavy feeling in the back of her head alerted her to an intrusion before her hearing picked up light hoofsteps on the wooden floor. Turning around and burying her surprise underneath a thick layer of Celestia-brand serenity, she saw a very young Unicorn filly the color of hyacinth purple, staring at her with wide maroon eyes. Her bowed up blonde mane was a little messy, and there were dark, sooty patches on her blue jumpsuit. Osma and Pellet looked at each other for some time, a silence contest the kid ended up winning.

“Well, hello there, little one,” Osmosis spoke with kindness pumped into every word. It usually helped when the children she met were filling her with raw unrefined emotion, which this one currently wasn’t. ‘The parents are too into one another to give me some love, I'm left out of the loop. Amélie is a Griffon. Now I can’t even impress a six year old for a snack. Straightforwardness, where be you? Why always so complex?

Pellet didn’t speak back, instead shifting her wide-eyed gaze to the mirror still being levitated by the shapeshifter. ‘What? She can’t know that Celestia doesn’t have a green telekinetic aura. She probably can’t even use magic yet herself. So what’s her— Oh.

“Is this one yours? I like it.” Osma waved the mirror in the air to make sure the kid understood her. “Do you mind if I use it for a little bit?”

A shrug was her reply. The young filly walked into the room, not taking her eyes away from the image of Princess Celestia holding her toy magic mirror while orange juice slowly dripped onto the fine white rug from the tray. It was there that she eventually moved her gaze. Osmosis was also quite moved at that moment, because in addition to that, the filly who really could not have been more than six years old - a mere newborn foal on the photographs in the hallway - lit up her horn and moved the messy tray off to a glassy table between two cupboards. The broken glasses sublimated, replaced with new ones, and the spilled juice steamed itself out of existence. To top that off, she lifted the new tray as well, and moved it back to the smaller table it rested on when Osma crashed her face into it.

Allll… right. This is new.

Owing mainly to her dumbfoundedness, the mare loosened the grip on the mirror, at which point it was wrested away and made its way to the filly. The two of them stared at each other for a few moments longer, the young Unicorn not seeming to intend to talk and the shapeshifter having issues processing what she was seeing, let alone come up with a proper way to react. As such, she didn’t, tracking the young child with her gaze. The most of her output for the time being was a single chuckle, the exact meaning of which even she wasn’t sure of.

“Well, aren’t you a sorceress,” Osma said quietly, under her breath, primarily to herself. There was really no other thing to do other than acknowledge the fact that this filly had a better grip of magic than most unicorns past their adolescence. Promising ones. “I shouldn’t play with your toys, should I?”

Pellet waited for some time to give some sort of reaction, certainly giving off the feeling she was letting Equestria’s sovereign stew for a bit, making sure it was well understood who had the reigns in this conversation. All that, considering she didn’t speak a word and simply nodded without much of a change from her distantly perturbed expression.

I’m being shown up by a six year old. Seven at best. Is this a new low?’ Osmosis mulled in her head half-jokingly. ‘I suppose her telekinesis isn’t that stable yet, it’s all shaky and a bit slow. But then… Most Unicorns are happy if they can do more than shoot sparks out their horn at age ten. Did she never leave that power period ponies fall into right after they’re born? Is that why she won’t even say a thing?

“Understood, then…” She put on her best inquisitive face and approached the filly, who just stared back at her with a look of faintly annoyed confusion. Like if the Princess standing in the lounge room was just a piece of furniture that the filly was sure was supposed to stand somewhere else. It was starting to feel like she was going to try to put her in order as well. “You aren’t very talkative, are you? Not even with a Princess?”

“S-she’s not, Your Majesty,” a moderately composed voice of a teenage stallion answered from the hallway. “Welcome to our humble house, I apologize for a-any inconveniences you’ve had. Mother and Father are having hectic days.”

“Are they now?” Osma asked slyly, shooting one last glance at the continuously unimpressed filly before turning toward her brother. “I was starting to think workshop explosions were par for the course.”

“Oh, that wasn’t the workshop. That was our furnace, Your Majesty. It has hiccups like these occasionally, the impact spreads from the basement.”

The older sibling was arguably putting on a better show than either of his parents when it came to handling Princess Celestia in the house. The Pegasus was indeed a teenager, no older than fourteen judging by his looks, and looked fairly presentable, in addition to only exerting an average amount of nervousness at her sight. His ocean blue eyes weren’t conquering the better part of his face, for one. His light blue coat was only slightly frazzled, his purple mane was puffed and unruly, his wings also had a few feathers jutting out of place, making them seem bigger than they were. In addition to the smell of what was most likely shampoo (Osma was not the best at recognizing stallion brands by smell), it was safe to assume that Comet finished exercising, had a shower and went to meet the Princess - all while the gemstones at the front of the house sang triumphant tunes, his parents were having a minor meltdown, and then there was an explosion. He either had self-control on par with his governess, or this was actually more or less your usual day in this place.

Well aren’t you promising, little mister. Alright, go ahead, pull your parents back into viability for that solar grump.

“The basement?” she led him on to gage the normal order of things in House Sparklegust. “Isn’t your house a floating one?” In fairness, she also didn’t really know where one would fit.

“It’s underground. Father designed the furnace himself, it’s really, really good, but the shockwave is strong if it malfunctions.” Comet nodded, fixing up the tie of his everyday inhouse shirt with a negligible degree of stressful jittering. He trotted to one of the windows, pulling it open, letting some fresh air into the room even though it was already quite fresh with admittedly artificial breezes of piney air. “Once again, very, very sorry!”

“Please, young Comet, your parents have apologized enough,” Osmosis said kindly, eyeing him down and not registering more than the average flinch. She spread her wings with a level of majesty, now taking up enough space in the room to be a presence dominant enough to freely direct the flow of their interaction. She was currently the Princess, sure, but it was best to save the authority play for when it was actually necessary.

“Alright then.” The Pegasus shrugged with a small sigh, consigning to the fact that today he was having the Princess visiting over, and that was basically the state of affairs. “I shouldn’t ask, but did Mother and Father make a good impression on you? I know they were very worried about how talks would go down.”

I definitely flubbed something up coming here, I can tell you that much... only I can't.

“Well I can’t just unveil my decision before it’s finalized, can I? These things take time, there is a lot to consider.” Osma nodded, content with having said nothing. In the meantime, she remained aware of the fact that Pellet was still drilling through her.

“No, I mean… Did anything, you know—” The Pegasus shook his head and waved his hoof to drop the can of worms he was getting into. “No, never mind.”

“Nothing exploded up until now, if that is what you’re asking.”

“That’s good. Shall I show you around? Or should we wait for Mother and Father in here?” Comet suggested.

“Oh, by all means, show me around. You have a peculiar mansion. I like seeing new things from time to time,” Osmosis nodded heartily, raising the young stallion’s confidence. “Speaking of new things. Your sister?..”

His eyes rolled momentarily and he trotted over to the filly, who to this very point squinted at the alicorn in the room with oblique suspicion. Breaking the contact of her eyes and the sun on the mare’s flank, her brother pushed his forehoof into her snout momentarily.

“Pellet, what have we been telling you!” he chided in a low tone, as if that was going to stop Osma from hearing him. “It’s rude to stare! Be polite, it’s the Princess!”

“I don’t wanna,” the filly finally spoke up, slightly coarse, sounding rougher than one would expect a six year old filly to.

“Pellet, I swear! It’s the Princess! THE Princess! We only have one, and she’s in this room, and you’re being—”

“Nope.”

“Pel—”

“Oh please, I don’t mind her. I’m sure I’ll get on your sister’s good side. She’s already quite special for a six year old girl, manners are tradeoff you can live with,” Osma dismissed the whole issue, smiling and closing her eyes serenely, beckoning for Comet with her wing. “Let her play around in here, I would like to see the rest of the manor.”

“I’m seven.”

“...Yes, Princess, right away. Pellet, please don’t—”

The Unicorn shot a look at her brother that was not too unlike the one she had been piercing through Osmosis with, which was answer enough. They retreated from the room, Osma shrugging and sighing to signal that this issue was behind them, while the filly closed the door behind them.

“She’s an interesting girl,” the shapeshifter said, pacing slowly after the Pegasus, being able to walk about quite leisurely as the colt trotted at a joltier speed. “Quite talented. Few are this good at magic at her age.”

“Yes, she is, she really is. She already has her cutie mark, if you could believe that, Princess,” Comet said in a more conversational tone, slowly getting even more used to her presence, letting them have a better flow of the talk. “It’s a beam piercing a gemstone, and there are pellets flying off.”

“Well, then! That’s certainly unusual… Most get their cutie marks when they’re eight or nine, some at ten.” Osma mused, nodding her head in appreciation. “Pellet is a prodigy, isn’t she? I bet the parents are proud.”

“It took me until I was ten,” Comet replied, dodging the implicit question.

“It must have been worth the wait.”

“It’s a comet dashing through a cloud,” the Pegasus said with an air of years-old disappointment. His wings twitched a little, extending to rub the flanks by instinct, gliding against the house-insignia pants the colt had on.

Apparently it wasn’t. Rich children these days only like their cutie marks if it’s something few others have. Their talent can be the most mundane in the world, but as long as their innate magic decides to get artistic with their flanks, it’s all good to them… And objects going through clouds has definitely been done, I suppose.

“You’ll learn to appreciate it, young Comet.”

“Oh it’s, it’s quite alright. Now, um, this hallway was actually part of the ground floor when this house was being built. Father tells me that—”

The Pegasus was intent on upholding his promise, showing her around with some considerable dedication, and even answering a multitude of questions that were essentially designed to be so boringly specific that he would veer off into a tangent informative of his family or himself. The many issues built, if not manufactured, to distract an upstanding colt and turn him to blabbering, weren’t working to specification. It didn’t seem to throw his thoughts into disarray that it was the one and only Princess he was showing around (as far as he could know, anyway). The fact that now and again muffled thuds and quiet buzzing would be heard from far below could as well have been an everyday normality (not that unlikely, considering that one bit of peculiar information was that all the gilded surfaces were originally gold - until an unspecified project of Garnet’s turned them to highly unstable fool’s diamonds). Even questions engineered with precision to drain him of patience, such as how they got the rare hazelwood most of the house was decorated with (a Griffon commissioner that couldn’t pay in money due to the currency exchange debacle of 941 - which Osma was only partially responsible for), had little effect.

Comet was not stone-cold and unflappable unlike his younger sister, and could clearly be flustered, especially when it came to said sister, that much was for sure. He was, by most means, a decently normal colt. But he was nothing if not committed to seeming a whole lot more stable and regular than his parents or his sister. A peculiarity for sure.

One would think that Griffon is his mother, not Canary. That these two produced a girl that refuses to talk and a boy that acts as good and normal as a boy feasibly can before you can't call him a boy anymore… Now come and riddle me that, why don’t you?’ Osma pondered to herself, looking into the rooms, nodding along with Comet’s words, occasionally commenting on particularly well-looking furniture or ornaments, not putting a too terrible amount of thought into it. The second floor was an astoundingly average rich house. An advertiser’s booklet, clean and calculated, everything stood just in the right place to seem proper and luxurious. Almost as if this were to look at and not to live in. Only it was lived in - she could tell by the beds, the clothes hanging on racks, the items left on tables and in drawers, the photographs and other personal belongings here and there. ‘That Griffon is the one who really looks after them, isn’t she? Governess, they call her. I’m counting a whole lot similarities between her and the children, at least in how they act… All those tiny things them and their parents don’t share. I may be overestimating things, of course. It is just empathetics and subtle little gestures, after all, but the evidence has really cropped up. I mean, the last photo they’ve made with their parents was years ago, and everything Comet’s telling me about them is all things he overheard them talking about. Let’s face it. I’m looking at the children and Amélie to gauge their viability as a family for our future savior. Or, I try to fix their family life. Which will be a problem...

“So this jukebox is your grandfather’s?” the mare clung to a comment the colt had made about an ornate, old, massive record player carved all over with heraldic imagery. “It’s an impressive piece of work. Why isn’t it downstairs?”

“Oh, Father wanted to put it there, but Mother believes it doesn’t suit the decor. It was in the workshops for a time, Miss Amélie carried it upstairs some years ago,” Comet explained, eyeing up the redwood jukebox. It stood at a size nearly rivalling that of Celestia’s, certainly dwarfing the Pegasus. “There haven’t been any complaints, so it’s filling our eastern alcove.”

“Do you use it often?”

“Pellet likes the way music sounds when played from it a lot. I don’t think I understand why, but she is… dedicated if she likes something.”

“I’ll start a tune to ingratiate myself to the little one, I think,” Osma declared, poking the carved buttons with her hoof, setting the creaky magic to work. “Ha. She was listening to something by the Dark Barrow Bellowers. That is an old band.”

“Ah, that’s what they’re called. Most of the records in this jukebox are by them, I think. Pellet doesn’t really like them, she won’t say why, though.” The young stallion stood by the old box, gliding his hoof along its side. A quiet violin tune began to play, scratchy and poppy. The sound spread through the halls, albeit it was likely barely an echo there where the younger Sparklegust child had probably remained. Good enough, considering she apparently wasn't a fan.

He never really paid attention to it until now. It was just a plaything of his sister’s,’ she judged him in her head, seeing how he moved his lips in silence and looked at the magimachine with full, invested eyes, not ones an item you see every day would deserve. ‘He knows where it’s from and why it’s here, but his eyes… it’s like they only just bought it. Did he never even give it any thought? This boy has a routine, methinks. I don’t think his parents do.

“Your grandparents had decent taste in music. For their time, I mean.”

“Actually, Father and Mother were the ones who really liked listening to these. They sometimes reminisce how they danced to one of these songs for the first time. I heard Mother say that they spent their first night together with a Bellowers song last week,” Comet said with nonchalance. Osmosis suppressed an aback-taken smirk. “Which is nice, I suppose.”

“I would have thought that parents rarely talk about such things when their children are around…” she mumbled, sighing out. The sax joined the tune, further coloring the affair. Quite an implicatory instrument.

“Oh, well… ummm…” The Pegasus blushed, which Osma could frankly understand. “I wasn’t really around. I was exercising. My exercise hall is right above the living room, I can usually hear most anything they are doing when I do crunches. The floor is mostly cumulus, you see, because I’m the only—”

Fighting a desire to chuckle, and an ever greater one to actually explain to the still-innocent young teenager what his parents meant by what they said, the mare lead him on to continue the excursion. The music was kept on, as Comet was too flustered (for not nearly half the right reason) and Osma didn’t mind having some musical accompaniment as she delved deeper and deeper into the fact that Sparklegust were an unusual family. Not in a very convenient sense at that, quite unfortunately.

Young Comet here is an appropriate guide through this place. All these corridors, rooms, windows and alcoves… This is how a house should look like. I can see Amélie’s claw marks, proverbially speaking, on all of this. This was all copied from booklets, was it not? I’d see why if they knew I was coming far, far in advance, and I suppose they did, but the ground floor has none of this artifice to it. And up here we have the most alarmingly normal child I must have seen in my life,’ Osmosis thought to herself in increasingly gloomy tones. At least it helped that now that he was definitely used to her and broken in by his fumble, he was inadvertently feeding her with a fairly sustained stream of adoration. The fuzzy, sparkly feeling in her belly and wings helped her mood for sure. ‘The parents didn’t have any artifice to them. They also didn’t feed me a sliver of love. Locked into one another, and I suppose it’s a closed cycle. Most spouses decouple after a few years, I can suck up at least a bit there... but not with them. At the ground floor it’s all about them, and up here they pay Miss Amélie to keep their house in order, if only the house really was “theirs” up those spiraling stairs. And what is she to do, take over entirely and do things her way? That’s not what you get governesses for. I don’t think I envy anyone here. It's not like they're malicious either. They clearly see their work as important, and I really hope I didn't ruin anything coming here today.

So they walked the expanse of the governess’ realm, until Comet sped up suddenly, looking straight ahead, agitated enough to cut off his unintentional feeding of Osma. That obviously raised her inquisitiveness, and she quickly discovered they were passing by an unusually personalized-looking area. A few rows of shelves ran along the wall, the highest of them fit with small statuettes, glass-boxed medals and a couple of bronze and silver trophies. The lower ones held chunky, awkward-looking knitted figures of ponies, each covered by a glass dome. More specifically, it was figures of white alicorns. At that point, Osma was definitely not letting Comet get away.

“Halt for a moment there. What are these? They look interesting.” She pointed to the trophies and figures with her hoof, smiling innocently. The colt flushed in return, dragging his own hoof over his face.

“Nothing… interesting, really, not worth spe—”

“Are these yours?” Osma decided to go for the jugular and essentially stated the obvious fact.

To the Pegasus’ great credit, it only took him about ten seconds to swallow his embarrassment and continue, if in a shaky tone.

“Y-yes. I take part in athletic competitions now and again. I haven’t won any. Miss Amélie insists on putting them on here, I don’t—” He rolled his eyes, munching on his lip, beads of sweat forming on his forehead. “It’s really nothing to note.”

“Your governess disagrees. So do I, by the way. I find it admirable that you’re already such an industrious competitor at your young age. Most homeschooled children end up avoiding competitions.”

“Well, I— I’m not a Unicorn, all of my family are Unicorns. I can’t really get into the family business. I need to make a name for myself. So I… well, I…”

You silly thing. This young and already so concerned. So adult and so childish at the same time.

“Young Comet. If you’re afraid that all these splendiferous trophies are going to enchant me into putting too much of an undeserved good word for you all over the place...” she said slyly, just narrowly avoiding slipping into her own vocal reach and staying within Celestia’s. “...then don’t worry. I’ll only put a small one. You do only have silver and bronze to show for me so far, after all.” While the colt was frozen in place, quite clearly feeling shocked that the actual reason behind his bashfulness was deciphered, she added: “Though I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll speak to some tailors I know. These little me’s are done pretty well… by teenage athlete standards, of course. I’m almost flattered.”

“...I… I didn’t want them out here either, but Miss Amélie likes them as well…” Comet gulped, shaking his head and turning around, having broken out of his shameful stasis and intent on continuing anywhere else. “A-and I make them alicorns for practice, Princess. You have wings and a horn. And white is—”

“Ah, not a fan of me.”

“No, I am! I have a poster of you in my bedroom! It was my birthday gift!” the Pegasus protested.

Right, there you go, mister Picture Perfect Child. I guess I am giving the Griffon my regards, he is pretty precious. Even if maybe it’s kind of unhealthy to not have any of your usual teenage flaws. I wonder how kids like him end up later in life? I don’t think I’ve ever met one before. Too bad, it’s an uncertainty now.

“From who?” she asked him, mercifully so, since she could easily have delved deeper into how exactly much and in which way he loved her. As in, Celestia, but, realistically speaking, it’d be her he was loving. Celestia was not good with children.

“Pellet,” he replied with a sigh, mainly owing to the memory he recalled, not so much the big gates he pushed open. They revealed a sizeable reading room - a miniature library in its own right, with a pair of tall windows illuminating the chairs and couches that stood on the quaint rhombic rug in the middle. “She found out about my hobby, I guess. Got the wrong idea. She wouldn’t talk to me about it.”

“Oh, is she an artist at her age already?” Osma asked, in great part with genuinity.

“Uhm, yes.” Comet shielded his eyes with a hoof, blasted by unrefined sunlight.

And you’re not much of a reader. You don’t go here often, do you? This isn’t a scowl you make when you’re expecting so much light. Granted, Sunny certainly decided to live up to her name today, but it hasn’t been that stormy lately. He can’t set his eyes on one spot, anyway. It’s probably been a month or two since he’s last been here. His sister, however...

“What an interesting girl she is. Mind if we sit?” she suggested, placing her forehooves over the back of a couch.

“Yes, that is quite alright.” He nodded, making sure to sit opposite the Princess, a pinkish blush remaining round his cheeks still. At least it had toned down from the radish red of the trophy and knitting revelations. “I probably shouldn’t falsely represent my sister, though. She didn’t actually draw the picture I mentioned. She asked Miss Amélie to have it commissioned, and most of the cost was paid with the profits from selling something she had crafted. I don’t think that much effort was necessary, if I’m honest…”

Or maybe Miss Amelie paid for it herself. Color me a skeptic, but she would have been about five years old around then.’ Osmosis wondered to herself. Despite having some good degree of doubt, she was willing to leave a small chance that the official version of events was in fact true. Then again… ‘What could a five year old possibly make that’d pay for a painting?

“Little Pellet tinkers quite a lot, doesn’t she? How are your parents feeling about her pursuits at such a young age? Elated to have someone to follow in their hoofsteps, now that you’re going to branch out the Sparklegust name with your athletic and knitting pursuits, I assume?” Fortunately she was correct in the assumption that bringing up multiple touchy subjects - his hobbies, his parents and his role in the family - at the same time would not work too harsh of a job on the poor colt’s nerve. Instead he managed a significantly calmer, less disturbed response, than if he were only presented with one.

Score another for me… He doesn’t fold under pressure. I’m glad I was right about that. Some formative shyness and expectable anxiety, but his mind is better organized than some politicians Celie keeps around.

“I would guess so… Mother and Father were quite worried at first. You have noticed that Pellet is very adept at magic. As you pointed out, it’s rare that ponies get cutie marks this often. All that, and other things… No, no, it’s fine, don’t worry!” Comet interrupted himself to quell Osma’s presumed fears. She was moreso intrigued than disturbed. It would seem that most people who heard about this had this sort of reaction, though. “The magic spurts took a very long time to subside for Pellet.”

Knew it. This is a rare, rare condition… If you can call it that. I suppose you can’t say it’s truly abnormal. Hard for me to say. I didn’t get to be a baby with immense magical powers, and I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.

“Oh, really? What did your parents do about that?”

“They spent some time visiting specialists, calling in doctors. She’s fine now! Really, do not worry, Princess. After a few months they procured some sort of medicine for her, and ever since she has been a lot more stable. Over the past two years, her magic would spike now and again, but other than that, she is completely fine.”

“But it’s not just magic, is it? She is more intelligent than most fillies her age. Or about double her age, if I’m to be bluntly honest with you…” She smiled, defusing some of the heavy air with the joke. It worked surprisingly well, Comet’s adoration found its way back to her. This was definitely a topic visitors brought up often enough for him to have gotten used enough to the awkwardness surrounding it. “Describe her to a stranger, omit her age, and they would think she was your elder by a number of years.”

“That’s true. She is her own mare. Miss Amélie and her get along quite well by now. Pellet doesn’t cause any trouble if she has no reason to. Most of the time she just does something she feels interested in. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m perfectly fine with that.” His expression grew a bit more grim, though his emotions didn’t waver enough to stop feeding Osma. As a matter of fact, it was evident her presence made him feel more secure in regards to this topic. “She’s my sister, and if she’s going to be taking my parents’ best traits, then I’m happy for her. Pellet will do what she desires with her life and succeed. I mean… When her works are almost like Father’s or Mother’s, and when they break as rarely as they do, I don’t think you can argue she’ll fail a lot. If I have to, I’ll do all I need to make sure nothing gets in her way.”

“You’re a very loyal brother, young Comet. I’d not blame you if you felt envious,” the shapeshifter prodded him verbally with a palpable level of sincerity in her voice.

He looked her straight in the eyes, and for a good moment, his blue eyes were a lot more mature than even those of his father.

“I don’t. I’m a Pegasus. I’ll find my own ways to make our name proud. Pellet is the one who should go down in history, I’ll help her make it so if she wants it.” In that moment, the degree of love he expressed for his sister was so great that it not only overruled the continuous stream that was letting the shapeshifter have her fuzzy belly time, it collided with it. He spoke with such blatant, honest passion of his dedication, that despite the fact it wasn’t Celestia his emotions were directed towards, Osmosis still received a more than slightly generous helping.

Osma placed her forehooves thoughtfully on the glass table that separated them, tapping on a magically inert foggy pink sphere as she spoke. “That’s quite tou—” She didn’t finish.

“Princess?!?!?!”

It was as if she galloped straight into a pane of particularly tough glass. Or, more precisely, if she leapt onto it passionately. The ache from the sudden impact was bolstered by the fact that several books fell straight on top of her head, one soft-bound tome impaling itself on her horn. The general confusion was not helped by the fact that the spot her couch used to stand at was about half the room away. Its back was pressed hard against one of the bookshelves, which was bolted quite reliably to the floor, at least judging by the force with which the mare’s body was being gradually smushed into the couch’s back. The source of this pressure was an innocent-looking bubble that spread from the now rampant red orb. It appeared to project an expanding barrier in Osma’s general direction, folding over any physical obstacle it encountered, aside from her. Her it was content to try crushing into paste.

I don’t think this is meant to be happening,’ she concluded, furrowing her eyebrows at the dumbstruck Pegasus and using what of her body could move to convey the idea that he should do something. ‘Okay… this is starting to hurt. Something tells me that if I have to change form so this thing stops grinding into me, a lot of questions are going to be asked. Grinding is probably preferable. No, no, nevermind, this is getting legitimately painful.

“This isn’t supposed to be doing any of this!” Comet clarified the obvious. “I swear we aren’t— Agh…” He scampered all around the library before finally locating an inconspicuous Unicorn head-shaped jewel on the wall, banging against it with his head in exasperation at its slow activation. “Pelleeet! Pellet, get to the library! Dad’s left something there and the Prin—”

“Hit it,” the filly’s distorted raspy voice commanded him at an unexpectedly high volume. The device choked on a helping of erratic fizzling noises before going dim and silent.

Great… almost all the love he’s poured into me isn’t helping anymore. I can barely feel it, it’s gone. Wow, this would have been hurting a LOT if I wasn’t fed, huh? Poor ponies.’ Osma mused, ogling the room for lack of anything else to do. She wasn’t particularly worried, just heavily inconvenienced. The sensation was pretty novel for the likes of her. It being pain, it got old rather quickly, but still, this was a suitably chaotic event to wrap up her visit of the Sparklegust family. ‘They feel pain all the time. I can at least make myself Celie, wink at someone, and then I can sit her butt in a fireplace with zero consequences. Actually, when I did that, I barely noticed it draining away at the sparkly niceties bubbling in my tummy, so this must be excruciating. Worse than what Sunny did to me after I made her look like the Elder Spirit of the Sun to those buffalos. These are supposed to be some very painful consequences… I’ll have to erase the bruises off my back after this. My wings will be so cramped, urgh.

Comet rushed over to the sphere, which had by then changed from angry red to a more agreeable hot pink. After gulping loudly, he stomped his forehoof against it. With a loud sound akin to a combination of thunder and glass cracking, the sphere puffed a pinkish cloud, covering the Pegasus’ head entirely. While he coughed and waved the misty cloud away, Osma was finally liberated. The bubble was gone, just like that, and her heavy frame stumbled right onto the floor. After such a change in pressure, it took her a few moments to rebalance herself. It helped that she wasn’t actually a pony - even Celestia would most likely go blurry in the eyes after such an experience. Osmosis, however, could see fairly straight.

“Well!.. This was quite an experience. So you’re crafting assassination tools to take me down, I take it. I suppose this could have worked,” she joked, simulating the sounds of her neck cracking as she flexed. Fortunately her body was built to avoid such joint problems. “Maybe I’ll have it taken away to make sure it isn’t actually used against me anytime soon, though. On a serious note, could you explain what this actually was, Comet? Uh… Comet?”

The Pegasus wasn’t responding, wobbling in place, eyes looking in their own separate directions. His pupils had transformed to have a soft pink iris compartment, his wings hung limply, twitching, and there was a wide, aimless, blissful smile on his face. His tongue nearly hung out. Most of the colt’s face was covered by a ripe, bright blush. He wasn’t making too much more noise than slow, drowsy giggles and whines. Osma approached him carefully, head cocked, eyebrows raised.

She wasn’t alarmed, she was fairly sure she knew what this was. The fact his parents had this… substance, and that it was apparently part of that weapon-thing, that was a lot more curious. She stifled laughter.

‘I wonder what brand they used. Or if they make it themselves. They probably make it themselves. I wonder what ingredients they use. Celie totally needs to know. I’ll make her know. I’ll MAKE them send the recipe after this is done.

“Ohhh deeear. Oh my. What… how did you… how did you make THAT out of THAT, Garnet? Canary?..” she spoke to herself in abject disbelief. “How?!”

The mare waved her hoof in front of the incapacitated colt. In response, he clung to it tight, rubbing his cheek and seemingly attempting to make purring noises. Osmosis sighed deeply and shook her head.

‘I can’t complain too much. Oh yes, here it comes, here it comes… Aaah, my hooves are tingly now. And my snout. And my ears. This is pretty nice. Also very awkward.’ Her eyes traced the room, working to single out the gem he used for communication back when the situation was awkward in a whole other way. ‘Where was that thing? Will they even reply? How does it even work?

To a mare such as her, both in regards to her areas of interest and the species she belonged to, it was obvious what at least the general mode of function of that device was. Such capabilities were probably a species thing by assumption, of course, considering she was the only specimen. The knowledge of what could have caused the device to work the way it did, and, more specifically, the way it affected Comet, who was caught in the fumes, made her worry considerably less than if she had an overly affectionate addled colt clinging to her right forehoof for no reason. As a matter of fact, it made the whole affair amusing more so than anything else.

It made it clear, though, that her visit with Sparklegust was probably coming to an end. She knocked on the jewel upon having finally reached it. About three minutes of failed attempts to make it work later, she sighed and looked around shiftily.

“Great parenting, Garnet and Canary. Your son is overdosed on things you should probably keep away from children, things you put into what I think is a weapon, and some cellar emergency is more important to you. Good for you I’m more than meets the eye,” she said boastfully, mainly to help herself digest the by now more than slightly amusing situation. Telling Celestia about this was going to be… a challenge. Likely one worth the effort, though. Even imagining her face was already pretty good. “

Grunting and clicking her tongue, the mare dragged Comet to a corner, concealed behind a smaller bookshelf. She placed him, with no small effort, in an armchair, and managed to keep him in there with a harsh hoof lock.

“Comet! Comet, little one. Comet, do you hear me? Comet, nod if you can,” she spoke with as much enunciation as she could muster. Ponies affected by what he seemed to be affected by weren’t amazing at comprehending information.

“M-mmmhmmm… bwwuuuffff…” Comet nodded, at least. That meant he found her… “worthy” enough to listen to.

That was good, since, considering he was into his teenage years, his reaction was meant to be ever so slightly more rambunctious than clinging to her hoof and rubbing his cheek against it. Then again, maybe some process his father used while constructing that device altered the qualities. Regardless, now Osma knew she ran no risk of being utterly ignored. Afflicted ponies tended to be very single-track for the duration of the effect. ‘Celie may actually laugh when I tell her about this. This is up her alley. In parts. Oh why did I think this would end in some dignified, solemn manner? Not with this house it wouldn’t have. Comet will never live this down. At least I have a reason to force him to come to the Towers this evening now. This'll need discussing.

“Good. Now be a dear for me and sit over here for… a few hours, until your parents come.” She made sure to sound as tender as possible, not a thing she was bad at. “If you don’t feel well, visit the water closet. Is that okay, sweetie? Nod.”

“Mmmwuuahh.”

Exceptionally awkward. Also amusing.

The colt nodded again and slumped in the chair, letting out a pleased exhale the same moment Osma did so.

She rested her chin on the tall, plush back of the armchair, looking at the reading fire the armchair was placed in front of. A comfortable reading corner, even if taken from an interior design booklet. Her eyes passed over the thing that must have made this spot really stand out. Above the fire there was a big board of red wood, carved up with remarkable artistry. It was old, very old. A family tree. A literal family tree, or, rather, a family bark - she recognized the Everfree memoire oaks, which Celestia told her were exceptionally popular among the realm’s elite a few hundred years ago. It seemed to have overall been a good investment, making space for additional markings it added on its own as history was recited to it. Hopefully it wasn’t listening at the exact moment.

Osmosis examined the family ties, so numerous and full of specific symbols that one could study for days. She even found Cresthorn the Everquesting and Pearl White somewhere to the far, far lower left. From afar, it looked like a mosaic, what with the different shades and tones the wood took on as it developed.

That’s a lot of stories. I could as well stay here and study them while I wait for them to finish up down there,’ she wondered to herself. ‘Or I could save the Griffon the trouble and clean up the mess. There’s a big dent in that bookshelf. I think I broke the back of that couch, too. Family bark it is.

As she processed the peculiar events of the day’s protege scouting operation, one thing stood out. Celestia told her the day before that romance wasn’t the answer to everything. Looking at the diverse history of Sparklegust - a military clan, a trading branch, then a few centuries of utter obscurity, then a brief reemergence in rock farming, some more obscurity after the mining crash of 854, and then the magi-engineering success of current years - she saw many symbols, most of which she could identify in the context of heraldry and history. Biggest of all, of course, was the House marking, from which the name came to begin with. The combination of the founders’ cutie marks, an identifier for any member of the House for centuries to come no matter the name and race.

However, the most pervasive and prevalent throughout the entire picture was the symbol of love, genuine love. Romance, as it were. Amazingly rarely did it show up on these barks, which was probably part of the reason they were not as common nowadays as before - the difficulty in editing the pictures they displayed after analyzing what they were told made some stories less flattering than the Houses that purchased them intended for them to be. Here, it was everywhere. Dozens of Unicorns and Pegasi bound together by bright heart symbols, even a scant few Earth individuals here and there, practically all of them bound by certified, or exceptionally skilfully faked, love. An outrageously massive loveheart was placed next to Garnet Lantern and Canary, in fact. That was the sort of thing she wanted for Celestia, which she expectedly disregarded as something that couldn’t fix everything.

Which is a silly thought.

And yet, today, presumably specifically to frustrate poor Osma, love, romance, affection, passion, all of those wonderful feelings boiled down primarily into things - the source of family disunion, and a weapon with which to crush the bones of the Princess of the Sun. Also, Sparklegust’s son was suffering from a high dose of what some chemically inclined romantics would describe as the aforementioned four things put into one. Which his parents put into what was, presumably, a weapon of some kind. And left in the library.

So many questions, so many questions… Celestia will rake me over the coals for this. Bwah-bwah-bwah, look at this nasty thing you call ‘love’, it tears families apart, breaks couches and makes colts go loopy. Agh!

Osmosis sighed deeply.

“What do these two even NEED that stuff for? Oh dear, I just made myself think,” she spoke to herself in a bemused whisper, trailing the descendancy lines on the firelit family bark. “Thinking is bad… Loving is good.”

“Mmm… hmmm… wwuu—”

“Shush, Comet. Quiet. Don’t… just don’t.”

This could have gone a lot more along the lines of her convenience, really.

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