• Published 26th May 2020
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Tales from Everfree City - LoyalLiar

Princess Platinum and Celestia's first student face changelings, a magical curse, the specter of war with the griffons, and the threat of arranged marriage in early Equestria.

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4-1 Show and Hell


Show and Hell


The Death Sentence of Coil the Immortal

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

IV - I

The Crap Commencement

If you, dear reader, have had the fortune in life to study as Celestia’s personal apprentice, there is a threat you have likely heard from the lips of her immortal majesty. Certainly, she might sound like she is joking when, in your moment of childish misbehavior or petulance, she warned you that your attitude might need to be corrected with a return to ‘magic kindergarten’. Perhaps, if you were older, she might have issued those same words in what sounded like a joking tone. She had to be joking, of course, didn’t she?

Let me be completely clear on two points. Firstly, Celestia was deadly serious; I have heard her more jovial on a literal battlefield than when uttering those words.

And secondly: no matter what you were actually imagining, it is worse than you think.

Before we move on to the next few weeks of the events of our story, I fear I must once more rewind time for you and return our attention to that politically charged morning around Hurricane’s breakfast table.

Celestia must have thought she was being as clever as I usually am when she observed, after explaining that her obligations that morning were to Gale, “Just because I’m busy doesn’t mean I can’t still teach you something.” When Celestia passed me a scroll bound tightly in red ribbon, I was forced to take hold of it with my hooves instead of my magic (heeding Mage Meadowbrook’s warning) before tucking it into the bigger-on-the-inside extradimensional pocket plane breast pocket of my enchanted jacket.

“It’s a letter to Mrs. Aspirations,” Celestia explained. “She teaches a class of foals about Graargh’s age in the palace district. I’d like you to take Graargh and go deliver this.”

“And then?”

“She’ll tell you what to do next. Graargh is likely going to be a new experience for her, so I trust you’ll help her if she needs it.”

From there, I bid farewell to my friend Blizzard (to remind the reader: the elder half-sister of Maelstrom and Sirocco, whose opinions on their elder sibling would be voiced rather harshly later this same day, days and days of travel to the east). Goodbyes for Tempest were shorter; though I liked to imagine we had become friends, I had to admit that I had mostly been an inconvenience for the young soldier who was the theoretical heir to the pegasus throne. My flying golem Angel got the most parting discussion with me, though it mostly consisted of my amusement at just how effectively he had traded barbs with Gale over breakfast, and a stern admonition to choose his targets more judiciously in the future. He assured me he would be gentle with Blizzard as he accompanied her during the day’s adventures.

Graargh managed to hug all three, despite Tempest’s best efforts.

Though I still couldn’t call myself accustomed to the heat of Everfree, there was something calming about being back on my hooves, carrying Graargh on my back (at his insistence) the way we had on our original journey a few months prior. And while an undeniably handsome young stallion carrying a bear cub on his back drew more than a few curious eyes, most of them at least turned soft as Graargh offered them enthusiastic waves and called greetings in the disarming way only the very young can.

When he wasn’t calling out to everypony we passed, Graargh chatted my ear off about the goings on of Hurricane’s household while I had been asleep. In his broken Equiish, he ranted at length about how ‘Papa Cane’ had taught him to play some Cirran board game, ludus latrunculorum (though I learned that name from Hurricane’s mouth later; Graargh called it ‘lood latrinumum’ which raised some very troubling questions), and that Graargh was very proud to have beaten the old pegasus twice (very troubling questions). Whatever fear I still felt about Hurricane from my crystal upbringing, and despite how utterly fair he had been to me in the trials I first faced upon arriving in Everfree City, I think it was in Graargh’s tales of bedtime stories and snuck desserts that my ingrained terror of the stallion first began to chip away. And I found myself smiling along to his stories.

In fact, the experience of catching up with my fuzzy, beclawed little friend after being cooped up in Celestia’s bedroom for weeks was so pleasant, that by the time I remembered where we were going enough to actually ask somepony, the sun was so high in the sky that it had to be closer to noon than to dawn.

It may bring some amusement to a reader to consider that, at least under Wintershimmer’s tutelage, I had been the image of punctuality. But then, Wintershimmer did have that way with ponies, and perhaps we can be grateful that Celestia didn’t.

The palace district, despite the implications of its name, wasn’t as pompous or wealthy as the Ridge or ‘Horntown’. Just outside the walls of the palace’s immense grounds and gardens, one could find shops and inns and houses that, while by no means cheap or slummy, looked at a glance that a normal pony could, with some diligent savings, actually afford in their lifetime.

Quite unlike the home Platinum had given me, and whose key I held in my breast pocket.

Eventually, we did find the building in question: a small but well-painted structure that had surely been intended as a artisan’s workshop of some kind—perhaps some kind of smithy, judging by its wide double doors and attached, fenced-in yard. Mrs. Aspiration’s Class, the plaque on the door read, though at the time I couldn’t. Underneath, a smaller label added for Fantastic Fillies and Commendable Colts. If I could have read it at the time, I might have crushed the door into a hoof-sized ball of wood pulp and splinters, purely on principle.

“Morty, go in! We need to—”

“Hold on, Graargh.” I put a hoof on the back of my companion and friend. “One last reminder: what are we going to do if somepony asks you to pretend?”

Graargh frowned. “Pretend in mind; don’t actually pretend. No bad green fire.”

“Good.” I took a bracing breath, and swore that I could smell gravedust in the air. Then, as ready as I would ever be, I pushed open the door.

I almost immediately realized that my mental preparations were about as sufficient as the breath a turtle takes before entering the competitive world of ice hockey. I had been expecting a classroom of ponies largely older than Graargh, and only a few years younger than myself.

What I saw was a startlingly attractive unicorn mare a few years older than myself standing next to a chalkboard in front of a class of some seventeen foals ranging in age from, by my guess, maybe seven up to thirteen or fourteen. (But take that with a lick of salt, my margin for error in guessing ages is only slightly better than the average of ponies who try to guess mine by my appearance.) She seemed to be enjoying her work, if one judged enthusiasm by the energy with which she moved as she addressed her class—though she displayed considerable control of her expression as she did, refraining from showing anything more than a hint of an upturned cheek.

Aspiration’s slender eyebrows were an edifice unto themselves, sharply white in spite of her relatively young age framing her piercing eyes with more power than the frameless glasses she wore very near the top of her muzzle. Her coat matched the color of her chalkboards, though without their white blurs and stains. That particular comparison was what I most took in about her appearance as she concluded her active point to the class. “We call those sounds ‘vowels’. Now, class, try and see if you can sound out all five while I talk to our new students.”

“Plural?” I teased with a raised brow.

“I was told to expect two new students,” the chalk-white-maned mare observed. “Did you lose one, sir?”

I shrugged. “I’ve only got Graargh.” And then I handed her Celestia’s letter. After she raised a brow for a moment at the fact that I did so with my hoof and not my magic, she shrugged, opened the letter, adjusted her glasses, and quickly scanned it.

“Well, I’m Misses Aspiration, as you no doubt gathered from the door.” She made the comment ‘through’ the letter as she read, and I didn’t bother to correct her assumption about my literacy. “Judging by the name, I’m going to guess this young… cub is Graw?”

Graargh opened his mouth and let out an ursine roar, which produced quite a set of reactions from the class. Misses Aspiration alone seemed unrattled, though I suspect it may have been more a show of willpower to keep up an act than actual apathy.

“He answers to ‘Graargh’, though,” I explained.

“I see.” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Then the missing student is one…” she paused for just a second on my name, parsing its unfortunate implications with a startling display of grace and ambivalence. “Mortal Coil?”

I’m Mortal Coil,” I told her, so confused by the implication of what Celestia’s letter had said that I didn’t even think to offer my preferred nickname. “So I suspect there must be some kind of mistake. Celestia sent me to watch out for him.”

Her eyebrows led a fierce guerilla offensive, devoid of casus belli, against the rich and fertile steppes of her brow. She looked me up and down, and then up and down again, and I briefly worried her neck had given out. But then she gestured into the room. “Mortal, I will ask you to take a seat near the back of the class, so that your height isn’t an impediment to the other students. Graargh, take any place you like.”

“But he’s a grownup!” somepony shouted as I walked across the room.

“I’m sure if Lady Celestia sent him here, he should fit right in. After all, school is for anypony who wants to learn, right?”

The foal who spoke up second was, in fact, familiar to me. And really, if I’m being completely honest, ‘foal’ wasn’t a completely fair way to refer to the cinnamon candy red young stallion whose mentor I had quite publicly killed in the middle of the Queen’s birthday party.

Seeing that I was staring in his direction, the young teenager offered a wave. “Hi, Lord Coil.” No longer wearing his religious tabard, it had taken me a good moment to recognize Cherry Tomato, but his perfect infuriating innocence was unmistakable once I caught his eye.

Cherry,” Mrs. Aspiration frankly snapped at the young stallion. “What is our rule about titles?”

“I’m sorry Mrs. Aspiration,” Cherry answered. “The rule is ‘everypony is equal when they’re learning’.”

“Correct.” Aspiration sighed. “So tell me, Mortal—” She clearly saw me wince at the use of my much-hated given name, and carried on regardless. “—are you here to learn to read? Or was Lady Celestia mistaken?”

“You can’t read?!” a younger filly called out, though she very quickly shot her eyes down to the thin book on her desk when Aspiration shot her a hard glare. Still, it was hard not to hear the snickers of the class at my expense.

Hey!” Graargh called out. “Mean ponies stop!” And, while he may have been just a bear cub, the prospect of having a bear angry at the class got those students quiet quickly.

“Well, Graargh…” Aspiration stopped, stared at Graargh for a moment, and flared her nostrils in a motion that gave me the sense she took offense at his ursine fragrance. “While it was rude for the class to laugh, we use respectful volume in the class. Do you understand?”

When Graargh made his answer quite clear by cocking his head like a lost puppy, I patted him on the shoulders. “Thanks, Graargh. But I can look out for myself.”

“I not am believe,” Graargh answered, quite to my surprise. “Always Morty say—” and then, much to my horror, while he didn’t shapeshift into an (uncomfortably handsome) copy of yours truly, he did slip into a perfect imitation of my voice—albeit with perhaps a less perfect imitation of my grammar. “‘I be okay, trust Morty, Graargh.’ Or ‘I sooo good at fight, bad wizard not hurt me.’ And every time, Morty get hurt, can’t walk good, make hurt sound when I give good hug. Not just sleep, but have big hibernate. Well, now I ‘look after’ Morty, so Morty not get hurt no more.”

“That’s…” Aspiration raised her brow. “Quite the talent for imitation, uh, Graargh. Did I say that right?”

Graargh nodded. “If not can roar like S’lestia, it is be best name.”

With Graargh’s admission, rigid posture and formal stance retook Aspiration’s body, and she regained vocal control of the room with a simple word. “Ahem,” was the word, and in her inflection I concluded I had to be dealing with a full military mare (rather than just military eyebrows). “Now, Mortal, I’m afraid I do have a class to teach, so either be seated and learn with the rest of my students, or the door is behind you.” And without even waiting for me to answer, she stepped back up to her place in front of the chalkboards.

With a sigh, and a resolution in the back of my mind to have a stern word with Celestia about outright lying to my face, I found my way to a seat at the back of the class, my seat right beside Cherry’s in fact. The wooden chair was, suffice it to say, just a bit small. I somehow wedged half my backside onto the miniscule surface, but when I lifted a hoof to join it, the whole chair groaned and something snapped, depositing me on the floor. Adding insult to injury over beneath me.

Somepony laughed. Mrs. Aspiration slapped a hoof down on her desk. Absolute silence and order. I have known dictators who were less oppressive. “I’ll arrange some other seating, Mortal, but for now, feel free to sit on the floor; I trust you won’t have any trouble seeing the chalkboard regardless.”

A young colt, perhaps eight or nine, raised his voice as I set myself down beside what remained of my chair. “Can I sit on the floor too?”

Even from the back of the class, I could see a vein in the teacher’s brow twitch. “What do we do when we have a question, Sprout?”

“We raise our hoofs,” Sprout muttered glumly. “I’m sorry,”

Hooves,” Aspiration corrected sharply. “But you are correct. And because you showed good manners with a timely apology...” The instructor paced over to a sidewall of the classroom and drew a tally mark in a small box, underneath letters that I would later learn spelled Sprout’s name. “It will be good for us all to remember that raising our hooves is important to keeping order and making sure everyone’s voice is heard, no matter how loud or quiet they might be. And no, Sprout; I’m making an exception for Mortal because— ”

Morty,” I interrupted.

Aspiration winced and turned away from Sprout. “Mortal, I understand you are new, but what lesson did Sprout just teach the class?”

“You’re serious?”

“I am absolutely serious, Mortal. I am always serious.” She once again raised her eyebrows at me, and I couldn’t resist rolling my own eyes before raising my hoof. “Thank you. Mortal, what would you like to say?”

“I go by ‘Morty’.”

“In this class, we call ponies by their names,” Mrs. Aspiration told me firmly. “We do not use nicknames, and we do not call ponies other names, because that could be rude. It is only fair.”

“I’m assuming nopony else’s parent’s named them hoping they would die,” I told her.

This time, cooler heads prevailed in the war council of Mrs. Aspiration’s eyebrows, as they maintained their present borders to give me a flat stare.

I waited a solid few seconds for further comment, then sighed and held my hoof in the air to repeat myself. “Am I incorrect, and somepony else in this class has a name like ‘Bucket Punt’ or ‘Six Hooves Under’? Maybe ‘Daisy Pusher’? ‘Worm Buffet’?”

“In addition to raising your hoof, Mortal, you need to wait to be called on before speaking. I see I should have made that portion of the rule clear. But I will answer your question. It is irrelevant what a name means, if it is your name. If you dislike your name, I suggest you take it up with your parents. I also expect you, as an older member of this class, to refrain from speaking on topics that impressionable young minds might not be ready to handle in a mature fashion. Do. I. Make. Myself. Clear?”

Each punctuated word of that sentence was accompanied by a stride between the rows of desks until the mare, barely my elder and certainly my shorter were I actually standing up, leaned to glare over my seated form.

Not wanting to offend her, I raised my hoof.

“You may answer when you are questioned directly, Mortal.”

“You’ve made yourself very clear, Aspiration,” I answered, gritting my teeth.

Mrs. Aspiration.” She placed a hoof onto my fallen chair, and pushed it aside. It grated on the floor, and my stomach writhed at the unpleasant noise. “You are here to learn,” she explained, continuing the grating sound. “This means you are a student. All students are equal. Is that clear?”

“Yes, it’s clear!” I hissed through gritted teeth.

“Excellent!” The mare smiled rather suddenly; not very widely, but with the sort of genuine enthusiasm I had briefly observed when I first opened the door. “Now, you and Graargh have both joined in the middle of a lesson, so if you have questions, please hold them for after class, and I can help you two catch up on whatever you haven’t followed.”

Mrs. Aspiration returned to the front of the room, picked up a piece of chalk in her green magical grip, and lifted it to the chalkboard. “Who can sound out this sentence?” she asked as she scrawled out what were, at least to me, an archaic and arcane series of indecipherable sigils and glyphs.

A filly near the center of the class with a bobbed pink mane raised a hoof. Mrs. Aspiration nodded in her direction, and the filly spoke. “Thuuuh… the. The!” A smile broke out on her face as Mrs. Aspiration nodded. “Cuhhh… aaaah… tuh… Um… cat?” Another nod, a slight jumping in her tiny seat from joy. “The cat… ruh… aaah... n. Ran. The cat ran.”

“Excellent, Festive!” Mrs. Aspiration nodded in the filly’s direction. “And what are the vowels in those three words?”

“Umm… ‘e’? Or, ‘the’ sort of makes a ‘u’ sound… but there’s no ‘u’?”

“‘The’ is a trick word; you wouldn’t guess how you say it looking at the letters, would you? But you were right, Festive. Keep going.”

“Cat, um, has the ‘a’? And ‘ran’... oh, that’s the same.”

“A commendation for you as well,” Aspiration announced with a smile. Then, walking toward the chalkboard of commendation and its sacred records, the teacher produced a stick of chalk from somewhere I can even now only assume must have been some kind of magic, and drew a single white line beside runes that I would only later learn to read as Festive's name.

Once the deed was done, with far more solemn reverence than a chalk tally mark deserved, Aspiration returned to the front of the class and tapped gently on a pile of stacked slates. “Now, students, you have an hour for lunch and play in the yard, as usual.”

Immediately, perfect discipline erupted into screaming, frenzied chaos. Chairs rattled as their former occupants lunged out of them, desperate for the salvation of an open sky and fresh air, or more likely to escape the oppression of the scholastic dictator who stood before the commendations board, drawing a single chalk tally mark.

Cherry Tomato, ever the sickening image of a perfect young pony, progressed not to the door but over to my side. “Mortal, would you and Graargh like to play four squares with me?”

I couldn’t help but raise a brow at the young stallion. “Wizards don’t play foals games, Cherry.”

Aspiration interjected into my conversation without the slightest shred of hesitation. “Mortal, I understand if you do not feel inclined to play with the other students at your age, but it may be good to step outside for a moment and consider what it is you hope to accomplish here.” The mare glanced over her shoulder, staring at me with just one visible eye. “I strongly encourage it.”

I sighed, rolled my eyes (to myself, not at the teacher I was quickly growing to hate), and gave a swift nod to Graargh, who seemed to have been left behind confused in the rapid departure of the other students. Graargh, however, stubbornly refused to be anything but the most supportive version of a walking teddie bear imaginable, and after waddling over to my side, headbutted me in the back of my right front leg. “You come play, Morty.”

“Graargh…” I sighed, though I did start walking. “I’m eighteen. Or something. Apart from the fact that I can’t fly like the pegasi, there’s not a conceivable competition I couldn’t destroy anypony in this class at… well, except you.”

“Playing doesn’t have to be a competition,” Cherry Tomato noted as we stepped out into the yard, before somewhat more quietly adding. “But if it is, I want you two on my team.”

The schoolyard was a dirt field pockmarked with notches dug up by hundreds of sprinting hooves; from the edges nearest the fences, I suspected there had once been a sort of rough field grass, though it was hard to say if it was deliberately planted there by the ponies of the palace district or simply been left behind when the city was first built. A group of the youngest ponies ran in a riveting game of tag, while the more middle-aged… that is, in the middle of the available age ranges foals enjoyed themselves trying to keep a sort of lumpy bag in the air using only their hind hooves. I found myself wondering whether it was easier or harder for the hovering pegasus in their number.

“So, you wanna play squares?” Cherry asked, indicating a series of four shapes—calling them squares would be both generous and actively dangerous to a real wizard—and a vaguely orb-ish ball of what looked somewhat like fabric. “We’ll have to get somepony else, but we’re three—”

“Do you really not care that I killed your master?” I asked Cherry, perhaps abruptly.

Graargh looked up at me with very wide eyes. “Bad pony Winshimmer teach him too?”

Cherry seemed to ignore that question completely, perhaps out of a lack of comprehension, and instead answered mine. To my astonishment, the little red earth pony answered with a potently apathetic shrug. “If it was supposed to happen, it was supposed to happen.”

“It good!” Graargh cut in. “I help!”

“We’re not talking about Wintershimmer, Graargh.”

Graargh cocked his head. “Morty be kill somepony else?

Killed, past tense,” I gently corrected. “That means it already happened—hence the ‘ed’ sound on the end. And it was only for a few seconds, but yes. At Gale’s birthday party. Uh, the one at the palace, not the one you were at.”

“Ah.” Graargh nodded. “Good. Ponies at birthday are friends. Make Gale smile!”

“Made,” I gently corrected. “Past tense again.” Then I turned my attention back to Cherry. “You have an awfully… laissez faire attitude for somepony so young.”

Cherry nodded, before cocking his head just as Graargh had. “At least… I think so. Does saying ‘lazy fair’ funny mean that I trust things to work out? Because that’s what I do.” Cherry wandered over to the red ball thing, picked it up, and demonstrated to my absolute bewilderment that it was both airtight enough and shapely enough to bounce on the dirt. “Sometimes, I just get a sort of funny feeling and I know what I’m supposed to do. And it always works out, so why bother worrying about it.” Cherry pointed to Graargh and I in turn with the hoof that wasn’t holding the ball, and then to two of the squares. “Here, I’ll show you how to play.”

“I really don’t think—”

“Play, Morty!” Graargh demanded. “We have fun!”

I made no secret of rolling my eyes, but if you have ever had the experience of being subjected to a literal puppy’s ‘puppy dog eyes’, then you have just the vaguest inkling of the power of Graargh’s ‘teddy bear eyes’ to invoke a mighty guilt trip. So, grudgingly, I took my space, noting only “I don’t know if this is going to be fair.”

“Maybe not,” Cherry noted. “But I have a funny tingle in my ear, so I’m sure we’re gonna have fun. Wanna play, Sprout?”

What followed were about ten minutes of an extremely unfair game.

Graargh and I were utterly destroyed by Cherry Tomato, and to a lesser extent, Sprout. I won’t bother transcribing the dialogue, given its utter inanity, but at some point in the process of those short few rounds and those foalish taunts, I somehow missed an odd transformation that I have rarely seen an adult pony form so quickly: when we paused to take a breather (at my behest, for which I was teased by Sprout for ‘getting old’—the audacity of foals!), Graargh rushed up to Cherry and bestowed on him a crushing bear hug. “We play again later, Cherry! I win next time!” Graargh announced.

Cherry just nodded. “Sure, Graargh. Did I say that right?”

Graargh grinned and nodded. “Yes, is right. Like Morty.”

“I think you’re supposed to call him ‘Mortal’,” Sprout observed. “Mrs. Aspiration said.”

“But it hurt Morty’s feelings. He get very mad at Gale when she call him that name; that why she be call him ‘Morty’ in first.”

At about that time, the pegasus filly playing with the lumpy bag had dropped it near us, and when she landed to pick it up, she quirked a brow. “Who’s ‘Gale’? Sounds like a pegasus name.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle when I answered the question. “Princess—er, I guess now Queen Platinum.”

“You know Her Majesty?” the filly asked, completely forgetting about her game.

She had directed the question at me, but it was Graargh who answered before I had a chance. “She good friend; like big sister. And Morty like big brother.” Graargh grinned when he got wide eyes not only from the pegasus, but also Sprout. And a moment later, the other foals who had been playing with the lumpy sack, and were wondering why it hadn’t returned, sooned joined the growing crowd as well.

“Are you and Her Majethty thpecial friendth?” asked a unicorn filly with a pronounced lisp (in case you somehow missed that in the dialogue).

I chuckled at the implication, raised a triumphant hoof for the beginning of a sort of subtly smug ‘why, yes’ gesture, and then caught myself. The absolute fastest possible way to ruin Gale and I’s secret was to spread it to a bunch of random foals whose parents I didn’t even know.

Graargh had no such compunctions. “Very yes!” he exclaimed (hence the punctuation) before I had a chance to do anything about it. “They gross; kiss in front of me and—” the abrupt pause came from me lunging forward to press Graargh’s muzzle closed with both of my forehooves.

“Graargh has a very active imagination, foals; Gale—er, Her Majesty is just our friend.”

Have you ever tried to lie to a large group of foals who already have a motivation—in this case, sheer amusement—to disbelieve you? It’s almost as difficult as holding a grizzly bear’s mouth closed with your hooves.

Graargh wriggled free of my grip without the slightest display of difficulty, took a moment to wrinkle and unwrinkle his muzzle to get his fur lying right or something like that, and then turned to the rest of the students. But by then, he didn’t even need to speak up for himself.

“Mortal’s coltfriend for the Queen!” somepony called out, before another child picked it up in a sort of idiotic ritual chant.

Mortal and Queen Platinum, sitting in a tree…” another sing-songed in my direction.

I stomped my hoof and turned around, and took two solid steps away from the group of taunting foals, and though they at first moved to follow me, my peripheral hearing found that they were stopped by something—or somepony.

“Mortal is telling the truth,” said Cherry. “Her Majesty has lots of suitors, but he isn’t one of them.”

“Aww…” the filly with the lisp muttered, and from the vague but audible deflation of the class, I gathered the mood was generally matched in their postures.

But then one punkish little shit—technical term, in this case, cut out from the disappointment. “Cherry’s right, obviously. It’s not like the Queen would be special someponies with a grownup who has to go to school with us.”

A couple chuckles escaped the group, but it was Cherry himself who actually brought the next words to the conversation. “Mortal, how come you’re here?”

I let out a very tired noise as I turned around. “Look, kids… When I was your age, I had a very mean teacher. He was very good at teaching, but he never taught me to read. That’s all I’m here for.”

“You don’t know how to read?” a teal pegasus colt held a wing over his mouth, and let out a sputtering sound as he failed to hold in a laugh. “A grownup doesn’t know how to read!”

I groaned when another pony started to laugh, and then another, and soon the entire class with the exceptions of Graargh and Cherry was rolling in fits of brutal hysteria, all at my expense. Graargh looked up at me with a curious expression and asked in perfect innocence “Morty, I laugh too?”

“You might as well,” I muttered back, rubbing my brow.

Of course, I hadn’t meant that. Graargh actually joining in, though, certainly did not help my mood. “Look, kids, there are a lot of things I do know that you probably don’t. I can do all kinds of magic.”

That claim got me a few curious eyes, though it died pretty quickly when the teal pegasus foal sputtered again. “But you can’t read!

“Which makes two of us.”

The teal pegasus—whom I had identified as the owner of the aforementioned miniature punkish voice—took the lead by cutting in again. “Nuh-uh! We can read great! The cat ran! That’s what the chalkboard said!”

In between the laughs, it took on the qualities of a tribal chant. “The cat ran! The cat ran! The cat ran!” I can still hear those words in my ears when I sleep. “The cat ran!”

For the record, I am not proud of this reaction, but that particular day in the yard outside the small school room, Wintershimmer’s voice in my head was a great deal stronger than my conscience (which had, oddly, already started to sound like Celestia).

“I may not know how to read, but there are more than a few things I could teach any of you. Things even high-and-mighty Misses Aspiration couldn’t explain. For example,” I led as I lit my horn, letting it flare up despite the drain on my body and Mage Meadowbrook’s warnings about my health. “Respect.”

Star Swirl the Bearded is considered the Father of Transfiguration thanks to his Omniomorphic Spell, allowing a pony to change their form without losing higher brain function. Unfortunately, I did not know how to cast the Omniomorphic Spell.

I did, however, know more than a bit of transfiguration magic.

The teal pegasus colt whose name I hadn’t even learned went from chanting to struggling as my magic lifted him a foot of the ground. And then, just on the verge of screaming, his body began to change. Legs retracted, growing slimmer and more sharply angled. His ears grew pointier, his muzzle shorter and its tip much darker. On and on the changes went until, before he could even scream, he was replaced by a small calico kitten, which promptly plopped back onto the grass.

I should have known it was coming. It was just my luck, really. But as the fillies and colts around me grew silent in awe and fear and curiosity, the inevitable happened almost immediately.

The cat ran.

As the calico kitten rushed away, I briefly considered trying to snatch it with my magic, but two facts rushed to mind to stop me. The first, since it has only come up once in this story, is that I had a natural tendency, due to the coiling of my horn, to use up too much of my magical energy (‘mana’ for you wizards out there) and pass out after three spells in a day—at least, without a large break and usually a meal in between. I would need at least one spell to undo what I had done, and ideally I would like not to be left completely unconscious for casting it. Secondly, when I used these huge sums of magic, my spells were preposterously powerful, even for a trained wizard—which, while handy for hurling corrupt crystal guardsponies through solid crystal walls back in my former home in the frozen north, was less than suitable for snatching a moving kitten without… well, not to put too gorey a point on it, but without ripping the poor creature in half. Thus, when my pitiful hoof lunge failed to catch, I was left to watch as it sprinted across the yard, scrambled up the side of a rainspout, and made off up the roof of the schoolhouse.

“Morty,” Graargh observed, pointing with one hoof. “You fuck up.”

I didn’t have it in me to scold his language, and so despite standing in the middle of at least a dozen impressionable minds, all I could think of for a reply was a terse correction. “Fucked,” I observed with a certain hollow finality. “I fucked up. We use the past tense, Graargh, because it has already happened.”

Sprout, who had apparently been standing close enough to hear our little conversation, asked “Mr. Mortal, what does ‘fuck’ mean?”

And, of course, taken by surprise, I channeled Gale and responded with the one word that could magically make the situation worse.


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