• Published 19th May 2020
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Rekindled Embers - applezombi



Hundreds of years after the death of Twilight Sparkle, a brutal theocracy rules over ponies with an iron hoof. A young pegasus mare slowly learns the truth about her world, and the lies her faith is built on.

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Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Radio Broadcast, dated 1109 AF.

Aurora Morning: Good morning, you’re listening to EVOD, the Voice of the Diarchy frequency one oh three point nine on your radio, and this is your morning update. I’m one of your hosts, Aurora Morning, and here’s your other, Fiery Mantle.

Fiery Mantle: Thanks, A M. We’re here at the morning update to bring you the latest news about our boys and girls fighting at our borders, and overseas, against the heathens and non-pony creatures that would ravage our cities and demolish our countryside.

A M: That’s right, F M. So what good news do we have today?

F M: Well first off, we have the Dragon Lands. Our heroic soldiers just got back from a fight with not one, not two, but three D-class dragons.

A M: Those aren’t small beasts, F M.

F M: No they’re not. A D-class dragon’s bigger than a two story house. And there were three of them!

A M: I’m sure there were a few singed coats and manes after that little dust up.

(Both hosts chuckle)

F M: Probably a few. What’s next?

A M: Well, there was a good bit of action on the Zebrican front.

F M: Any luck bringing those heathens to the light of the Diarchs?

A M: There’s always forward motion, F M. This week, a squad of heroic soldiers, accompanied by some Knights Adamant, managed to capture nearly an entire village of zebras, alongside the traitor ponies who were hiding with them. Fortunately for the heathens, they’ll have the chance to learn the glory of the Saints at Camp Bright Valley, the brand-new reeducation camp.

F M: It’s also the first to be built on the Zebrican continent.

A M: Yes it is F M, but I’ve been told that’s not all. It seems the heroic Knight Adamant leading the squad also reports the capture of two violent Knights Discordant. According to my sources, the vicious creatures are on their way back to New Canterlot in chains as we speak, to face trial for their crimes.

F M: A bright day for the Diarchy, indeed.

A M: But that’s not the only good news today. It seems the Knights Mystic and Vigilant, working together, uncovered a bit of a poisonous mole here in New Canterlot City.

F M: No! In the capitol?

A M: That’s right. A lowly secretary in the Central Cathedral by the name of Shady Pine was caught passing confessor secrets on to heretic elements outside the city. Fortunately, the worm was caught in the act and apprehended by the two groups of Knights on his way to his heretic contact.

F M: That’s one snake chopped off at the head.

A M: That’s right F M, but heretics are like the hydra. Cut off one head, and two more take it’s place. You can never be too careful, or too vigilant, when it comes to heretics.

F M: Too right, A M. But now on to sports. In the New Canterlot Regional Hoofball League, the Canterlot Holy Blades bested the Rainbow Falls Barriers eighteen to eleven. The top plays of the game…

The rest of the recording is missing.

1109 AF, Ivy Seminary, New Canterlot City

“Wait, you said there were how many rune combinations?” Lofty asked, sounding panicked.

“Thousands. But you don’t need to worry about that right now,” Emberglow explained. They sat in the study hall, a large room full of semi-private cubicles that shared a building with a library. Each cubicle was partitioned off from the others around it by way of thin wooden half walls.

“Thousands!? How can I not worry about that!? I have to memorize thousands of rune combinations! I can’t memorize that much!”

“You’re thinking about this completely backwards,” Emberglow sighed in frustration. “How about this. What would you say if I was struggling at martial arts training…”

“Not much of an 'if',” Lofty interrupted snarkily.

“Hush. If I was struggling at martial arts training because I was freaking out about all the different names for weapons?”

“That’s… ridiculous. It’s a ridiculous analogy. That doesn’t help at all,” Lofty groused.

“Okay, maybe a little ridiculous. You’re still worrying about the wrong thing, though. You don’t have to memorize the combinations.”

“I don’t?” Lofty asked. “I thought you had to know the combinations in order to cast spells?”

“You do, but that’s not where you need to start. You need to work on the runes first, then worry about the combinations.”

“Okay…” Lofty didn’t sound convinced.

“So I’m going to start from the beginning. I’ll assume that you know nothing about runes at all…”

“Probably a safe assumption,” Lofty cut in.

“Hush! I’ll start at the beginning. There are three kinds of runes. Object runes, action runes, and modifying runes. How did you do in your Ponish classes in secondary school?” Emberglow asked. The question caught Lofty off guard.

“Um, I did pretty well? I actually enjoy writing,” Lofty said.

“Good. So you understand the difference between nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs,” Emberglow stated.

“Of course. That’s basic Ponish stuff. The building blocks to constructing a sentence.”

“Right. Only we’re not constructing sentences, we’re constructing spells. Object runes are like nouns; they refer to the object you’re trying to cast a spell on. Action runes are the verbs, and modifying runes are the adjectives and adverbs.”

“Oh! Why doesn’t Sir Sablebeard teach it this way?” Lofty asked.

“I don’t know,” Emberglow answered. “It’s something I read in a book. So just like you need a noun and a verb to make a sentence, you need an object rune and an action rune to cast a spell. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it works. Just like you don’t have to memorize every sentence that could be written in order to write, you don’t have to memorize every single rune combination in order to cast spells, as long as you understand the underlying principle.”

“So… why does Sir Sablebeard say we need to memorize the rune combinations?” Lofty asked.

“Probably because he learned it that way, and he’s an ancient grandpa pony who never thought of another way to teach. I don’t know,” Emberglow said. Lofty gasped dramatically.

“Emberglow! Did I just hear you insult a teacher?” He held a hoof to his mouth with a scandalized expression. Emberglow swatted his hoof away.

“Nope, just his methods,” Emberglow muttered. “But setting that aside, the first thing we’re going to work on is object runes. They’ve been organized into three categories, in order to make them easier to learn. The categories are animal, mineral, and vegetable. Animal covers everything from ponies to jellyfish; basically anything alive that isn’t a plant or a mushroom. Mineral is stuff that isn’t alive. Vegetable is trees and mushrooms and plants. That sort of stuff.”

“So there’s a rune for each of those things?” Lofty Tale asked. Emberglow shook her head.

“No, the runes are more conceptual than that. More… abstract. The categories are just a way of organizing them, so that they make sense to ponies who are learning them, like us. So the first thing we’re going to do is start memorizing animal object runes. We’ll cover a few basics, then move on to a few of the simpler action runes. Once you have a basic list figured out, we’ll start talking about combinations. Does that sound manageable?”

“Yes, actually.”

“Okay. I’ve already taken the time to write out a list of object runes to memorize. How are you on memorization? Like, what strategies do you use?”

“Um, I stare at what I want memorized until it’s imprinted in my brain?” Lofty said uncertainly.

Emberglow sighed, resisting the urge to bury her face in her hooves. This was going to take a while.

Forty mentally exhausting minutes later, their study period was over for the day. Emberglow stood, stretching her spine and each leg in turn, trying not to notice the way Lofty’s gaze lingered on her form before jerking away.

“Lunch is in ten minutes. I’m going to head back to my dorm to drop off my books, you want to meet me in the cafeteria?” Emberglow asked. Lofty shook his head.

“I was hoping I could walk you to your room,” he said. Emberglow’s eyes narrowed, and Lofty verbally backpedaled. “Erm, it’s just that Lady Amaranth doesn’t want you to have to spend any extra time doing laundry. I have to make sure the pony I’m tutoring will have the time she needs to pay attention to her lessons.”

“You’re checking on my room? Lofty, they haven’t dumped anything nasty in my sheets for a week and a half,” Emberglow said. “It’s over.”

“I doubt it. Green Fields is furious, and she’s just looking for a chance to do something horrible. I tried to warn her to stay away…” He held up his hooves to forestall a furious look from Emberglow. “I was careful! I just vaguely let her know about your extra lessons, and who would be doing the laundry if anypony messed up your room or your sheets again. She seemed to take it well.”

“That’s because she’s infatuated with you, idiot. She’s going to act like nothing’s wrong around you.”

“I’ve never shown her an inch of interest,” Lofty protested. “Why would she…”

“A fool’s hope can last forever,” Emberglow murmured.

“…but the righteous cling to wisdom,” Lofty finished the scripture with a sigh. “Yeah, I get it. Still, though, you’re my friend, and I’m going to do my best to help you with your bully situation. So we’re walking back together.”

“Just don’t do anything weird,” Emberglow mumbled as she walked away. Lofty ignored her, following after the mare to the dormitories.

The dorms were built to hold as many as two hundred ponies working towards Knighthood; their current class had dropped to sixty eight, with a few washouts, even only three and a half months into training. Because there was so much space, the pages had the luxury of individual rooms. The dorms were held in a two-story building, long and narrow, with a north and south wing. The wings were segregated by gender, though it wasn’t against the rules to be in the hallways of another gender’s wing. Emberglow walked in the large double doors and up the staircase to the second floor, turning right to the South wing and the girl’s dormitory area.

Emberglow smelled something wrong before she even opened her door, and her heart sank. She had known better, but somehow she had really hoped that all this would be over. She didn’t want Green Fields or her friends to be punished; she just wanted to be left alone. But the stench coming from even her closed dorm room was a dead giveaway.

“Emberglow, I’m sorry, but I have to go tell Lady Amaranth. It’s her orders,” Lofty said, his voice soft and compassionate. Emberglow nodded.

“Sure. Yeah. Let’s just go in and see what the damage was,” Emberglow said. Scrunching up her nose, she opened the door. The rush of air from inside the room assaulted her with the stench of bodily waste.

“Oh, Emberglow, I’m so sorry,” Lofty Tale said, holding a hoof to his muzzle. Emberglow nodded, stepping cautiously into the room. Puddles of filth spotted the floor, but as usual, the main concentration of waste was smeared over her bed. She checked her dresser drawers; they had been left untouched. There, folded gently beneath her spare page robes, was her beloved dress, the gift from her parents. Emberglow whispered a quick prayer of gratitude to the Saints as the pounding of her heart calmed, just a bit. At least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

“It's fine,” Emberglow gulped past the lump in her throat. “But now you'll have to tell Lady Amaranth. And she’ll act. And they’ll hate me even more.”

“It has to stop sometime, Emberglow. And you really do need that extra time to tutor me, and spar.”

“Thanks for reminding me. I think I’ll keep my books with me, just to be safe. You’ll…” Emberglow hesitated, “…meet me in the cafeteria, after you speak with Lady Amaranth?” She would have preferred to ignore it, just like the last six times this had happened. But she had been given an order. Obedience was more important than her own petty feelings.

“Yeah. I’ll see you there,” he said, backing away from the room. “Sorry again.”

“Not your fault, Lofty. Thanks for… um… well, thanks,” Emberglow said awkwardly, and the two split off to their separate errands.

The cafeteria was also too large for the needs of the current year of students. It could have easily held half again as many ponies as were eating there. Trying not to appear too dejected, Emberglow went and lined up at the window where a stallion in an apron and mane-net was dishing out hay burgers and a spinach and strawberry salad.

“What’s that smell?” came the voice of Green Fields, a few ponies back in line.

“Eww! Smells like horseapples!” Astrolabe responded. Honestly, at this point it sounded rehearsed, like the two of them were giving lines in a play. Emberglow ignored them.

“Really? Because I think it smells like a dirty peasant who doesn’t know her place,” Green Fields hissed, coming closer so that her words were clearly directed at Emberglow.

Emberglow’s eyes widened in surprise, and her ears turned back towards the mares behind her. This was the first time their taunting had been deliberately directed right at her, rather than the passive-aggressive plausible deniability they’d gone for before. Emberglow couldn’t help herself; she turned to face her tormentors.

“Keep your dirty peasant hooves off him, bitch,” the mare spat at Emberglow. Green Field’s eyes glowed with fury, and her henchpony Astrolabe glared down her nose with contempt. Green Fields stepped forward until she was nearly nose to nose with Emberglow. “He’s too good for you.”

Oh. So that was where this was going now. And with Lofty currently fetching a teacher to come punish Green Fields for what she’d done… Things were going to get really nasty, really fast. Emberglow sighed.

“I want you to know, I never wanted things to go this far. I just wanted to be left alone. What comes next is your own fault,” Emberglow said softly. “I wish this could have gone differently.”

“What? Is that some kind of threat?” Green Fields spat. Emberglow turned around, her back to her tormentor, and took the tray of food from the cafeteria worker. She began walking carefully to her table. “Answer me, bitch! Don’t you dare ignore me, I’m speaking to you!” Green Field’s voice was becoming shrill.

“Miss Green Fields?” Lady Amaranth's voice resounded through the cafeteria. All the young ponies perked up, turning their ears, and for some their heads, towards the unexpected arrival. “Come with me, please.”

Emberglow didn’t even turn to look, but with how many ponies had at least overheard a bit of what had happened in line, quite a few eyes were turned to her as she made her way to a lonely spot at one of the tables, setting her tray down and beginning to eat. She heard the clopping of hooves as Green Fields made her way over to where Lady Amaranth was standing at the door, and a loud, dismayed shout of “WHAT?!” as the bully realized what she would be required to do. Emberglow didn’t look. She had no appetite; eating was mechanical. She didn’t look up until she heard the sound of a metal tray hitting the table next to her.

“Hey,” Lofty Tale said, his voice cautious. “Everything okay?”

“I don’t know,” Emberglow sighed. “I’m just… sad about the whole thing. And angry. Maybe she backs off now, maybe she doesn’t, but why can’t ponies just treat each other nicely? What did I ever do to her? Why’d she have to let it get this far? This whole situation is like a bad cliché out of some foal’s tale.” She could feel herself getting more emotional, more frustrated with each word. Lofty reached out a hoof to her shoulder, patting it gently.

“Sometimes ponies are just cruel to each other. It doesn’t always make sense. You could just as easily be asking why nopony did something sooner.” He gestured out over the crowd eating their meals and pretending not to be trying to overhear what the two were speaking about.

“Why do ponies hurt each other, though? It makes no sense!” Emberglow could tell she was being irrational, and perhaps a little incoherent. “Cruelty, spite, bitterness, these things shouldn’t exist! Who the buck cares about nobility and commoners, class differences, that sort of horseapples?”

“Emberglow…” Lofty Tale said with a sigh. “You and I were raised in very different worlds. I was literally told, every day, that I was better than everypony else because of the noble family I was born into. We’re raised that way. It takes time and effort to break out of that kind of conditioning; and some ponies never bother, or even see the need.”

“You did,” Emberglow pointed out. “Why’d you decide to be nice and decent, rather than stuck up and snooty?”

“I… it’s complicated,” Lofty Tale protested. “And I’m not as decent as you think.”

“That’s horseapples and you know it,” Emberglow snorted. “You were the only pony to even bother to talk to me. That makes you better than anypony else here, even me. Do you see me making an effort to make friends? To talk to anypony else? No. And I’ve heard the way you talk to even Green Fields. You don’t like her, but you still try to treat her with respect.”

“That’s what I was taught,” Lofty Tale explained. “Look, I can guarantee that every single noble here was taught practically from birth that they were better than everypony else. I was taught the exact same thing. But my parents also taught me that superiority comes with a cost. Because of the benefits I was born with, I’m obligated to be respectful to my lessers.”

“Noblesse oblige,” Emberglow said softly.

“Yeah, that’s the term my mother used,” Lofty shook his head. “But it’s garbage. The whole idea is rotten. The Saints don’t ask us to be kind and generous because of some obligation, the Saints ask us to be kind and generous because it’s the right thing to do. We’re supposed to behave well because we want to, not because of some stupid rule in a language I don’t even know.”

“Prench, I think. One of the dead languages,” Emberglow supplied. Lofty rolled his eyes.

“Not the point, but you get what I mean,” he said. Emberglow nodded. “But sometimes it’s not enough. Wanting to be kind is not enough, and I find myself thinking things, saying things, condescending to ponies, wondering ‘what can this mare or this stallion do for my social standing’ and other stuff like that.”

“I guess… nopony’s perfect,” Emberglow said, sighing. “But you are kind, and patient, and genuine. You’re not like them. No matter what you think of yourself, you’re trying. That’s what matters, right?”

The two ponies looked at each other, then down at their trays, silently, their heads momentarily bowed by the weight of their own imperfections. Emberglow pawed at her salad for a moment.

“What do you think is going to happen next?” she asked.

“Hopefully? Green Fields washes your sheets, and then realizes foalish pranks aren’t worth it. She goes back to mocking you in class, which you ignore, and we have plenty of time to get you into fighting shape.”

“But what if…”

“Nope. We’re not going down that path. Emberglow, you’re strong. You’ve been putting up with their crap for months now, and you’ll be able to put up with whatever else they throw at you. Trust me, it will all be fine.” Emberglow’s eyes misted over at the sincere compliment, and she wordlessly leaned over to hug her friend.

* * * * *

After lunch, the class reported to Rune Magic, where a dour, black furred pegasus named Sir Sablebeard droned on about runes and rune theory. Until they began learning the real practical elements of spellcasting, the class was frighteningly boring. It didn’t help that Sir Sablebeard never asked any questions, nor invited student participation. There were a few, such as Lofty Tale, who were trying desperately to pay attention, though most students simply zoned out for the duration.

As the students blearily woke up and filtered out of the classroom at the end of the hour-long instruction period, Emberglow was a little surprised to see Green Fields waiting for them all. She was seething, her face a twisted painting of rage. Her hooves were pruney and wrinkly from having had to hoof-wash Emberglow’s sheets. Emberglow tried to give her a sympathetic look, but Green Fields brushed right past her, ramming her painfully with a shoulder as she walked over to Astrolabe and her other friends. There was a muttered conversation, which Emberglow tried to ignore.

“Don’t worry about it. This will blow over, she’ll realize there’s no point in retaliation if the instructors know what’s going on,” Lofty said.

The rest of the week did go as peacefully as Lofty had predicted. There were no more incidents; no more foul or sticky substances smeared in Emberglow’s sheets or robes, and no more bullying; at least none that left any sort of physical evidence. With Green Fields spending much of her time sulking and staring at Emberglow with murderous eyes, Astrolabe had begun to hesitatingly take up the torch of the passive aggressive verbal bullying, which was fine for Emberglow. Other ponies still joined in, but a few words were much easier to deal with than the vandalism.

Sparring with Lofty was a blessing from the Diarchs. While she would never be a genius in combat, with the focused help of her friend she was managing to at least avoid tripping over her feet.

The lessons with Lady Amaranth still included the griffon mercenary, Adorjan. In a few days, Emberglow had managed to increase her time from three seconds to a not nearly as embarrassing thirty five, even as Lofty had finally broken the three minute mark.

Lofty was also coming along nicely in memorizing runes; he had long ago left the bottom of the class behind and was treading water somewhere in the middle. Emberglow thought perhaps that the earth pony stallion was not the only pony struggling to make sense of that class.

When the weekend arrived, Emberglow was more than ready for two days off to visit with her parents, and meet with Sir Steadfast. Her mentor always had insights into what was going on, and there was a lot to unpack from this week. She knew he would want to see her as soon as the students were released Saturday morning, then she could go home to her parents until Sunday evening.

When joining Knight training, each pony was allowed to bring a single personal item, a sentimental one. Emberglow had chosen to bring her beloved dress, the gift from her parents so many years ago. It had been altered twice, to fit her growing form, and it was still her most prized possession. She had lovingly donned the dress before her weekend excursion, knowing that her parents would appreciate the gesture of gratitude.

So it was with a bit of a prance in her step that she left the campus Saturday morning, making her way to the Star Shine Memorial Building. The same two older mares worked as secretaries at the front desk that had been working there when she had come for her very first interview with Sir Steadfast. She didn’t know them by name, but they knew each other by face, and the both of them smiled and waved as Emberglow walked past them and up the stairs to the third floor.

Sir Steadfast’s most recent squire was a mare named Nautilus Spiral. She was a serious-faced pegasus pony, with a severely styled black mane and yellow coat, working on joining the Knights Vigilant. Squires were always assigned to mentors outside of the order they intended to join, to get a different perspective on the other orders. Nautilus looked up when Emberglow entered.

“Hello,” the pony said without a smile. “He’s expecting you.” Emberglow waved her thank you, and entered the now-familiar office.

“Emberglow!” Sir Steadfast called out when she entered. “I’m very upset with you.” He was grinning as he said it, and stood to shake her hoof in greeting.

“Sir?” she asked, confused. He laughed as he gestured for her to sit on one of the pillows on the floor in front of his desk. She sat.

“You’ve turned my office into a hornet’s nest the last few days! Do you know how many visits I’ve had from curious Knights Radiant in the last week, asking about this mystery young mare looking to join them, who has already graduated from medical school?” Sir Steadfast shook his head in mock annoyance. “At least a dozen, maybe more!”

“Um, sorry?” Emberglow’s brow furrowed.

“Don’t be, I’m being silly. But still, you do realize that this puts the last nail in the coffin of my grand ambition, don’t you?”

“Your grand ambition, sir?”

“To convince you to switch sides, of course. To come over and join with me in the Knights Mystic. Now that the Radiant know how wonderful you are, they’re going to sink their claws in so deep we’ll never even have a chance,” Steadfast said, with a theatrical sigh of dismay. “Seriously though. I am curious what you might have done to catch Mercy Song’s attention.”

“I, uh, massively flubbed a combat training match and embarrassed myself in front of Lady Mercy, Lady Amaranth, and my entire class? And when Lady Amaranth took me aside to assign extra tutoring, she mentioned my other accomplishments. So, nothing really impressive.”

“’Massively flubbed’?” Sir Steadfast asked.

“As in, we were supposed to spar with this griffon mercenary in order to learn about fighting with unicorns and telekinesis, and I panicked, flopped on the ground, and… uh… yeah. I lasted three seconds.” Sir Steadfast raised his eyebrows at her silently, and she rubbed one hoof nervously against the other. “You’re probably not so convinced I’d make a good Knight Mystic now.”

The statement made him laugh out loud, a genuinely amused belly laugh that lasted nearly a minute.

“Oh, Emberglow, you would make an amazing Mystic, deficiencies with combat aside. We ponies aren’t made for combat, or war; the Diarchs didn’t design us for fighting. If they had, maybe we would have had claws and fire breath, like the dragons, or claws capable of effectively gripping weaponry, like minotaurs or griffons. We simply aren’t intended to be good at killing. The most important thing for a Knight Mystic is an inquisitive and sharp mind, and I’ve known you had one of those since you were twelve.”

“Well, thank you, sir,” Emberglow mumbled, not knowing what else to say.

“At least it’s good to know why so many Knights Radiant have been beating down my door recently. All joking aside, I’m proud of you, Emberglow. You say you’re receiving extra tutoring for your martial arts classes?”

“A friend of mine is helping me, yeah,” she replied.

“May I ask who?”

“Lofty Tale is his name. He’s actually quite good, I’ve improved quite a bit,” Emberglow said.

Their conversation continued, with Emberglow updating her mentor on every aspect of her Knight training. She wasn’t sure if all sponsorship ponies had interviews this involved with the Knight paying their tuition, but she didn’t mind it at all. Sir Steadfast was her inspiration for joining the Knighthood, after all, and having his insight and advice into her daily activities was a valuable resource.

“There was one more thing I wanted to ask you,” she ventured carefully. She felt like it was a bit of a risk to bring up this last point, but she really wanted to know what he thought. “Before I moved into the dorms, you warned me about some of the other students treating sponsorship students differently. You know, bullying and stuff like that.”

“Yes,” Sir Steadfast said, motioning for her to go on.

“If everypony… I mean, instructors and other Knights and such, know that this sort of thing goes on, why don’t they do anything to stop it?” Emberglow asked, intentionally keeping her queries vague.

“Hmm,” Sir Steadfast mused, scratching his chin idly with one hoof. “That’s a little bit of a complicated question. You do know that not everypony graduates from the Ivy Seminary. There are washouts, expulsions, and ponies that just aren’t strong enough.”

“Yes, of course. We’ve had the odd few leave already,” Emberglow said.

“Some ponies believe that everything you do, every waking and sleeping moment, should be a test. A chance to see how you react to different pressures and situations. Those Knights would believe that to complain about harsh treatment from other students would be a sign of weakness, or unworthiness.” Sir Steadfast’s eyes narrowed, and he leaned over his desk to look intently at Emberglow. She nearly shrank away from his suddenly intimidating presence. “I am not one of those ponies. And neither is Lady Amaranth.”

“Sir?” Emberglow asked, confused. Did that mean he knew about what was going on at the school?

“She spoke with me, a few days ago,” Sir Steadfast said. He held up a hoof to forestall the question Emberglow was about to ask. “She didn’t tell me anything, really, only that you were doing very well in most of your classes, you needed extra help in one, and some… unplanned extra chores were getting in the way of your necessary tutoring. Neither I nor Lady Amaranth believe you should be subjected to different treatment because you are a sponsored student. I won’t give you an order, Emberglow, but I am asking you to keep Lady Amaranth informed of what is happening. She’ll do what needs to be done.”

“Yes, sir. But what if…” she hesitated. She didn’t want to name Green Fields out loud; the mare already hated her enough. “What if it escalates? In retaliation for… consequences that already got leveled?”

“It very well might escalate. But Lady Amaranth is watching out for you, and I’ll ask you to tell her if things get worse. Will you do that for me? Then she or I will deal with the situation.”

“Yes sir,” Emberglow breathed, suddenly feeling a little better.

“Now, I’ve taken up enough of your time. Go and see those proud parents of yours. I’m sure they’re as excited to see you as you are to see them.”

“Yes sir!” Emberglow cheered, and stood. With a happy wave goodbye, she left Sir Steadfast’s office in high spirits. Her chats with him always made her feel good.

Emberglow’s parents were, of course, ecstatic to see her. She only got to visit one weekend a month, after all. They wanted to close up shop for her, but she insisted on at least a little normalcy, so they allowed her to help them run the shop while the three of them chatted about her life, and recent developments at the school. She kept away from any mention of bullying.

The weekend passed far too quickly for Emberglow’s tastes, and soon enough she was heading back to the dorms after kissing her parents both goodbye for another month. She chose to fly this time; the air was cooling as the sun set and she wanted to feel it in her wings. Emberglow never flew too high; for some reason, using her Diarchs-given feathery gifts always felt like an act of arrogance to her. But tonight she wanted to indulge, just a little.

Many of the other students were trotting or flying into campus at the same time; Emberglow called out to Lofty Tale and waved cheerily as she flew over his head, and ignored the angry glare of a certain earth pony mare (who seemed to have recovered from her bad case of pruney hooves). There was nothing other than curfew and lights out call for that night, so she quickly changed out of her dress before crawling into her bed.

Her dream that night was a pleasant one; Emberglow frequently didn’t remember her dreams, but this night was an exception. She was flying through a cloudy sky at night, with the moon glowing behind her. The moon felt… happy, somehow, in a way that reminded her of her mother’s warm embrace. Emberglow flitted from cloud to cloud, trying to hide from the moon, like a foal playing hide and seek. Each time the light shone on her giggling, foalish face, she felt a surge of love and affection. She woke up feeling more than well rested.

The next few days felt different to Emberglow. While the verbal bullying continued, she noticed that several of her usual tormentors were being cautious about their vitriol, especially Green Fields. Nopony said anything when there was even a chance of an instructor overhearing, though the number of furious glares she got from Green Fields magnified dramatically. Any time she was speaking or walking with Lofty, the high-class mare would be trying to execute her with her expression.

Lady Amaranth’s class was becoming more and more complicated, and Emberglow was just barely keeping up, even with Lofty’s tutoring. Lady Amaranth had taken away the buckler in their bouts with Adorjan, and now they were required to fight against the griffon with a weapon of their choice. The goal of the match was now to get the shortest time; time would stop when the pony struck the mercenary creature, rather than the other way around, or when it hit five minutes. That left the rest of the time open for Adorjan to hit the ponies as many times as he wanted; Lady Amaranth had said his bonus was a half bit for every strike. Adorjan had walked away from that lesson a very rich griffin; only a hoof full of ponies had managed to strike him before the time was up.

The coming Saturday was a service weekend. Knights from all five orders who needed extra hooves, or help with some minor task or chore, could come glean from pages looking to impress their instructors. Many Knights didn’t even bother; it was usually too much of a hassle when they could simply rely on hired hooves for whatever they needed doing. But others saw it as a learning opportunity, and willingly came to the school to give pages a chance to serve. The students would meet in the cafeteria, waiting as Knights who needed tasks done would come in and ask for volunteers, after describing the task at hand.

Emberglow and Lofty sat next to each other in the cafeteria, waiting for the Knights to come offer service jobs. She was gratified to see Lady Mercy Song among the group that came in looking for pages to work.

“I am Knight Bolide Bright, of the Adamant. I need five pages to come help with some manual labor. We are reconstructing the training and jousting field at the Exalted Sky, our headquarters here in New Canterlot City,” the first knight, a golden colored pegasus stallion wearing the sky-blue robes of the Adamant. A dozen hooves shot into the air, and Sir Bolide selected five of them, instructing them to follow him. Even though manual labor didn’t sound fun, the Adamant was by far the most popular order, and many students would be interested at the chance to not only impress the martial ponies, but also get an inside look at their headquarters. Besides, whoever didn’t volunteer here would be stuck at the school doing the same boring chores they’d done the last few weeks.

The next Knight stepped up. “I am Knight Red Vine, of the Vigilant. My scribe is ill, and I need a page with very excellent hoofwriting to come take notes on the cases I will be hearing today. You must have a fine eye for detail and be able to take diction quickly.” Some few less ponies volunteered for this one. Emberglow would have, had she not made prior arrangements with Lady Mercy. Sir Red Vine had a word with Sir Heavenseeker, the Knight who was overseeing the volunteers, who helped him select the candidate who was closest to his requirements.

“You could have done that,” Emberglow whispered at Lofty, who chuckled silently. “You have excellent hoofwriting.”

“Hmm, being stuck in a room taking dictation from a grandpa pony all day? I’d rather scrub toilets,” he muttered back. Emberglow laughed softly as Lady Mercy Song stepped forward.

“I have already made arrangements with my volunteer,” she told Sir Heavenseeker. “Emberglow?”

“Have fun,” Lofty said, patting her on the shoulder with a hoof as she stood. “Tell me all about it when you get back.”

“Of course,” she said, trotting to where the Knight Radiant was waiting. The regal-looking pony was not wearing her armor this time, instead having chosen to dress simply in the white robes of her order.

“Somepony thinks she’s special,” a muttered voice came from the assembled ponies, and Emberglow’s ears twitched unconsciously. She didn’t turn to look and see who had spoken, though, forcing herself to hold her head high as she left the cafeteria behind Lady Mercy Song.

“Good morning, my little pony,” Lady Mercy said, as soon as they had exited the cafeteria. “Are you well rested?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Emberglow replied cheerfully. “What are we doing today?”

“Walking in the Saint’s footsteps, Emberglow,” Lady Mercy said cryptically, with a smile. The two of them left the grounds of the Seminary and trotted towards the center of the Temple District. Emberglow waited patiently for Lady Mercy to fill in more details. “Tell me, young Emberglow. What was Lady Rarity known for?”

This was a trick question. The common lay pony would say something like, ‘healing magic’. Indeed, the thing the Knights Radiant were most known for was their prowess with rune spells that healed wounds, cleansed disease, and promoted physical health and welfare. But that wasn’t the answer Lady Mercy was looking for.

“Her generosity, Lady Mercy,” Emberglow said. Lady Mercy nodded.

“Lady Rarity would give of her time and talents to anypony. Though this often involved magical healing of some kind, that wasn’t always the case. She was, after all, the pony who tried to clothe the world and teach the ignorant about the shame of nudity. So while we Radiant are responsible for healing magic, that is only a small part of what we do.” The larger pony stopped, and turned to look at Emberglow. “The task we are working on today is a difficult one. It may require you to have a thick hide, and be able to ignore cruel or hateful things that are said to you. Do you think you can manage that?”

Emberglow nearly laughed. Manage something that had literally been the status quo of her life for the last three months?

“I think I’ll be okay, my lady. Whatever you require of me,” Emberglow answered. She followed Lady Mercy out of the campus and into the street, where the two of them made their way towards the Hall of the Upright, the headquarters of the Knights Vigilant.

“Who is deserving of Lady Rarity’s generosity, Emberglow?” Lady Mercy Song asked suddenly. It sounded like a rhetorical question, the beginning of a discussion. It was very similar to how Sir Heavenseeker began several of his class discussions. Emberglow wondered if Lady Mercy had studied under the historian, as well.

“Everypony, I think,” Emberglow said, with some hesitation. She wasn’t sure where the older mare was going with this. The two of them walked past the pillories, where a great number of ponies were suffering for various crimes and offenses. Emberglow tried not to look; there were two kinds of ponies in New Canterlot City when it came to public humiliation, those who relished in the pain and shame of their fellow ponies, and those who tried to ignore them. Emberglow didn’t see the need to glory in another pony’s mistakes, or their punishment.

“Even these ponies?” Lady Mercy Song asked, gesturing with one hoof towards the suffering criminals, bent awkwardly in the pillories.

“I guess it would depend on what you mean by Saint Rarity’s generosity,” Emberglow answered. “But all ponies are deserving of kindness and dignity, though they should not be sheltered from the consequences of their actions.”

“True. Have you ever been to a criminal trial, Emberglow?”

“Never, my lady.”

“When a pony is accused of a crime, the Knights Vigilant gather evidence to prove that pony’s guilt. But the Radiant have a role to play in trials, as well. We are there to assure that the voice of mercy is heard. We do not seek to absolve the guilty of responsibility, but we are present at trial to be the voice of gentleness and kindness. As healers, we are also there to ensure the punishment received by the guilty only goes as far as is allowed by law, and no farther. It is a holy task.” The two of them reached the Justice building, and walked inside.

The Hall of the Upright was both like and unlike the headquarters of the Mystics, a building Emberglow was much more familiar with. Like the Star Shine Memorial building, the Hall had clearly been built to impress; large stone blocks, much bigger than even the strongest earth pony could manage by him or herself, made up the walls. The ceilings were domed, but where the inquisition building was built to look like a fortress, the Hall of the Upright was much more decorative. The domes in the ceiling were made of stained glass, each one a picture of beauty. Emberglow looked up to see the sun illuminating each scene from above; one was an illustration of the time Saint Applejack and Saint Fluttershy had saved the entire city of Las Pegasus by exposing the vile dictator who had enslaved them. Another contained an image of the orange Saint harvesting apples on her farm. A third was an image of all six Saints, joined hoof and hoof in a circle around the dome, wearing their fabled relic necklaces (or crown, in the case of Saint Twilight Sparkle). Each one cast its own rainbow of patterns on the polished stone floors.

While Emberglow was used to the bustle of the inquisition building, the Hall of the Upright seemed much quieter. Ponies were moving quickly back and forth, many carrying papers or briefcases, but there was a solemnity to their business that was absent in the other order’s headquarters. There were several ponies dressed in the orange robes of the Knights Vigilant, and even a few wearing their armor.

“Did you know the Hall of the Upright has a kitchen?” Lady Mercy asked as Emberglow followed her to a staircase descending into the basement. “They provide all the meals for the various judges who sit on cases in the building, as well as the investigators, the secretaries, scribes, janitors, and staff. Diamond Home doesn’t even have a kitchen,” she muttered, her voice falling a bit as she mentioned the significantly smaller headquarters of the Knights Radiant. “We have to bring our own lunches if we’re working at headquarters.” The stairs turned into a hallway heading off to the left and right, and Lady Mercy Song turned left, where Emberglow could hear the sounds of kitchen activity; metal utensils clicking off each other, pans being stirred, and ceramic bowls being filled. Emberglow could smell the various things being cooked. It hadn’t been long since she had eaten breakfast, but she inhaled deeply what smelled like stew being cooked by the Vigilants’ servants.

The kitchen was twice again as large as the kitchen at the campus. There were at least a dozen ponies working over stoves, chopping vegetables, stirring pots, or tossing salads. All were dressed in similar white pants and shirts, with aprons stained cheerfully with the literal fruits of the chefs’ labors. The head chef, identified by the crown-like towering white cloth hat on his head, acknowledged Lady Mercy with a wave when she came in.

“You brought a helper?” the tall earth pony asked Lady Mercy as she walked over. The Knight nodded. “Good. There’s over a dozen out there today. Will be all weekend, I hear; most of the wretches are there for at least three days. Your pots are ready, Lady.” He guided them over to two modified pack saddles sitting alongside one of the walls. On each side of the packsaddle was a large metal pot, with a lid. The insides of the pack saddles appeared heavily padded.

“Let me help you two with those,” the chef said, as he lifted one of the saddles onto Lady Mercy’s back, helping her tighten the straps. “Now the little one,” he said as he moved on to Emberglow, who, with a nod from Lady Mercy, stood still while the earth pony put the packsaddle on. “I didn’t mush your wings, did I? They feel comfortable? Sorry, I don’t put many packsaddles on pegasi.”

“They’re fine, thanks,” Emberglow said. In truth, they felt a little constricted, but she had never much struggled with the claustrophobia that sometimes struck pegasi who had their wings bound in any way. She wasn’t uncomfortable.

“Good. Come over here, the broth and ladles are ready for you,” the chef said. Over on the largest of the stoves were two huge stock pots, filled with a wonderful smelling broth. Very carefully, the chef took the lids off the smaller pots of the modified packsaddles, and with a large soup ladle, filled all four pots on both pony’s backs with warm broth. Now Emberglow understood the additional padding; it was insulation to keep the pots from being too hot on the wearer’s sides. Soon enough the pots were full of broth, and the chef attached a ladle and a large bowl to two small hooks on the sides of the packsaddles.

“You’re good to go. Go bring holy sustenance to the criminal scum, my Ladies,” the chef said with a wave, and Lady Mercy inclined her head politely.

“That’s what we’re doing? Feeding the criminals?” Emberglow asked. She wasn’t shocked, but it was something she hadn’t thought about before; ponies who committed crimes were sometimes sentenced to days in the pillory, of course they would need to be fed something, if only to stave off dehydration.

“Yes. Now Emberglow, you’ve been medically trained. You know the symptoms of common ailments like dehydration, heat stroke, hyperthermia, shock, and other maladies?”

“Yes, my lady,” Emberglow said. Lady Mercy nodded.

“Good. Be aware of their condition as you feed them. But feeding isn’t the only thing we’re there to do. We’re also there to listen.”

“Listen?” Emberglow asked.

“Yes, to listen, and nothing more. The convicted prisoners being punished are not allowed a confessor during their time of punishment, but we in the Radiant believe that speaking to another pony can help them unburden their soul of their sins. They don’t even need to speak of their crimes; simply because they have been convicted does not mean they should be deprived of companionship. We are truly walking in Lady Rarity’s footsteps, today.”

“But, Lady Mercy, what do I say to these ponies?” Emberglow asked nervously.

“Not much. You ask if they wish to speak, and then you listen. Ask questions about what they want to talk about, and don’t ask about their crimes unless they wish to speak on the subject. If they wish silence, do not speak. Do not, under any circumstances, say your own name or any details about who you are or your life. This is for them to speak about themselves, let them do most of the talking, and you’ll do just fine,” Lady Mercy said. “You must steel yourself, however. Some ponies blame everypony except themselves for the consequences their own choices have brought them. They may lash out with anger or bitterness. You must rise above it; they are not truly angry at you, but at themselves for their own failings. You mustn’t let anything anypony says here bother you.”

“Yes, Lady Mercy. And how am I supposed to serve each pony?”

“You have a ladle and a bowl. Each prisoner may have one bowlful, then when you are done, you move on to the next pony. If any pony wishes to speak, we will spend time after each one has eaten to speak with them. Some ponies in the crowd may heckle you as well, for what you’re doing. Ignore them.”

“Yes, my lady. Like Saint Rarity ignoring the jeers and criticism when she said each pony should be clothed.”

“Just so,” Lady Mercy said with a smile. “Now let’s go, my little pony.”

Once they left the Hall of the Upright, Emberglow paid a little closer attention to the ponies in the pillories. There were thirteen of them, a fairly even mix of mares and stallions, with two Knights in Vigilant orange armor watching over them. The ponies varied in age, with one mare being wrinkled and greying, to a colt young enough that he had to be placed on a wooden crate in order to be tall enough to be locked in the pillory. The only other oddity was that one stallion had been fitted with a muzzle, a tight cage of wire that went around his entire snout to prevent him from speaking.

“You begin on the north side, I’ll begin on the south. If you need help, call on me or one of the Knights Vigilant on guard,” Lady Mercy Song said. “While you are feeding them, look for symptoms of dehydration or other issues.” The guards in question eyed them with a look that wasn’t quite hostile, but wasn’t quite friendly either. Emberglow squared her shoulders and moved towards the first prisoner, a pegasus mare with a tan coat and orange mane.

“Hello,” Emberglow said as she approached the obviously uncomfortable prisoner. The mare looked up at Emberglow with bright blue eyes, her expression pained, but said nothing. Emberglow detached the bowl from its hook, set it on the ground in front of the pilloried mare, and ladled it full of broth. When it was full, she lifted the bowl to the mare, holding it steady while began to lap up the meal with her tongue.

“Thank you,” the mare whispered, after she had taken a few mouthfuls. Emberglow nodded, but the mare said nothing more. She finished the bowl after a few minutes, and nodded at the young page, who took that as a dismissal. She moved on to the next prisoner, the young colt. He was small, but he looked only a few years younger than Emberglow, perhaps as young as twelve. She stopped in front of the colt, who refused to meet her eyes. She filled the bowl again, and lifted it to the colt. For a few agonizing seconds, the colt refused to eat; pain and humiliation were obvious in his gaze.

“Please, you need to eat,” Emberglow said, feeling a rush of compassion for the young stallion. She didn’t know why he was here, but there was no reason for him to compound his own suffering.

“I want to die,” he whispered to her, and Emberglow gave out a little gasp.

“No pain is forever,” she said with a smile. “You don’t need to hurt any more than you already are. Please?” she pleaded. Finally he lowered his head and began to lap at the broth. “Thank you.” She didn’t know why she was thanking him. He looked at her then, their eyes meeting for an instant, and he nodded his silent gratitude before finishing his meal. He also did not seem interested in speaking any more.

The third prisoner was a stallion, who looked up and smiled at Emberglow as she approached.

“Good afternoon, young lady,” he said. After the first two prisoners, Emberglow was a little surprised that he initiated the conversation.

“Hello,” she said. “Would you like some lunch?”

“Mmm, clear vegetable broth, my very favorite,” the stallion said. “Does it come with my choice of bread?” Emberglow laughed despite the situation, filling the bowl and raising it for the prisoner to eat. He was an adult, perhaps in his mid-thirties. He was the first that seemed interested in conversation, but Emberglow wasn’t sure how to begin.

“So...”

“Interesting that they’re letting pages feed us,” he said, clearly picking up on her awkwardness. “It’s usually full Knights.”

“You’re in the pillory often enough to know what is usual?” she asked. He nodded in between swallows.

“First and only time, actually, but this is my fourth day in this fine luxury resort. The service has been excellent, but the beds are a bit stiff and uncomfortable.”

“How can you joke? Do you not even take any of this seriously? Whatever you did to wind up here?” Emberglow asked honestly surprised at the prisoner’s flippant attitude.

“Young lady, everything is a joke. This pillory, these Knights, this entire country. It’s all one… big… joke. And us little ponies are the butt of it. It’s called gallows humor.”

“Gallows humor? But you’re not…” Emberglow gasped, suddenly realizing what the prisoner meant.

“Caught on, did you? Yup, I’m here until Monday, when they’re gonna take me into a dark room in the Justice building with a rope hanging from the ceiling and a trapdoor in the floor and break my neck. You’re talking to a dead pony, young lady.”

“Why?” Emberglow whispered, before she could stop herself.

“It all started so small, and innocently. I caught my little brother in bed with another colt. Intimately. The right thing to do would have been to turn him into the confessor, right? But I didn’t. He was my little brother. I loved him so much, we did everything together. He was my little brother best friend forever; how could I be the one responsible for ruining his life? So, instead of turning him in, we… talked.

“We talked about how he was born the way he was, it wasn’t a choice he had. We talked about how little sense it made that the Diarchs would make him that way, but order him to be abstinent. Why would they give us a law they had designed us to break? We talked about his love, his devotion, how much he cared for his coltfriend. How they wanted to spend a life together, be happy, have a family, raise foals… but were denied all of that. So I found a way to help them escape. We can’t trade letters, but as far as I know, he and his husband are living happily in the Free Zebrica Republic, now.

“But it wasn’t enough. I knew I could help others escape this nightmare. Did you know, if you wanted to just get up and leave the country, you can’t? It’s against the law? Sure, some escape, but there’s a law that stops any Equestrian from willingly emigrating to a foreign country. So I used the contacts I had made helping my brother and his husband to help others. Not just gay couples, but anypony who had doubts, anypony who had questions or issues with the Diarchy. Anypony that didn’t fit the cookie cutter mold they try to force us into. I’ve been doing this for ten years, young lady. They only caught me a few weeks ago.”

Emberglow’s jaw had dropped as she listened to the prisoner’s story. There had to be more to it than that, didn’t there? There was no way simple pony smuggling could wind up with an execution. It seemed… too much. She was sure he was lying.

“I see what you’re thinking. That’s fine. I don’t expect you to believe me, but I am glad you were willing to listen. Could you do me one favor, though?” Emberglow nodded cautiously, suspiciously.

“If I can,” she replied with hesitation.

“I want to tell you my name. The Diarchy wants us forgotten after we get executed. Our loved ones are encouraged to forget about us, to pretend we never existed. My parents disowned my brother a decade ago, and we haven’t spoken in five years. They’ll be more than happy to forget me. I’ll be a sack of rotting bones in an unmarked grave. But…”

“What is your name?” Emberglow whispered. The prisoner smiled.

“July Blaze, miss. There’s not going to be a headstone at my grave, and nopony will care that I’m gone. So if somepony could just remember my name, that would be nice. It would make going to my execution a little more palatable.”

“I’ll remember, July Blaze,” Emberglow said. July Blaze nodded, and smiled kindly at her.

“Sorry if I made you upset, miss. It was not my intention. Please, don’t let me keep you any longer,” he said.

“Um, it’s okay. Goodbye,” she said uncomfortably, not knowing what else to say. She picked up the bowl and moved on to the next prisoner.

The next unfortunate criminal was a pegasus stallion. She didn’t want to admit it, even to herself, but Emberglow was shaken by her conversation with July Blaze. She tried not to think as she ladled some broth into the bowl, holding it up for the pegasus in the pillory. Her eyes were distant, unfocused, as the pegasus leaned down wordlessly and began to lap up broth. She didn’t notice when he stored a large mouthful of the warm soup in his cheeks, then violently spat it at her.

Emberglow let out a little scream as she was drenched in the mixture of warm soup and saliva. She stumbled backwards, tripping and landing on her plot, the half full bowl. She could feel the soup sloshing in the pots on her back. The prisoner she was currently serving giggled, his mouth open lewdly, his tongue lolling out of his muzzle.

“Come back over here and I’ll lick it off,” he muttered at her. Emberglow felt sick; she stared horrified at the prisoner, not even noticing when one of the guards came near and violently cuffed the pegasus with her hoof on the side of his head. With a grunt, the prisoner slumped in the pillory, unconscious.

“Are you okay, miss? Did he hurt you?” the Knight Vigilant guard asked her solicitously. She reached out a hoof and helped Emberglow to her hooves.

“U-um, yeah, I’m okay. N-no, he didn’t hurt me. I’m f-fine,” Emberglow stammered, panting. The Knight produced a handkerchief from inside her armor and gently helped wipe the liquid from Emberglow’s face.”

“Is everything okay?” Lady Mercy said, coming over to check on the disturbance.

“This plothole was just trying to earn himself another few days in the pillory, is all,” the Knight Vigilant said. “Spat all over your young page here.”

“I’m fine,” Emberglow said, before Lady Mercy could ask. “I was just distracted when it happened, is all.”

“We can stop, Emberglow, if you need to,” Lady Mercy said.

“I really am okay, it was just a shock,” Emberglow said. “You told me I’d have to have a thick hide for this job, and I really do. I was honestly just distracted and got caught off guard. It won’t happen again.”

“Very well. I’ll leave you to it then, Emberglow,” Lady Mercy said, returning to the mare she had been feeding, but not before giving the Knight Vigilant guard a significant look, and a nod that passed between the two Knight mares. Emberglow took a few deep breaths to center herself, before moving on to the next prisoner.

The task took until well after lunch time, a fact that didn’t bother Emberglow in the slightest. After each pony was fed, many took the time to talk with Emberglow, though none were as disturbing as July Blaze. Emberglow wasn’t present when the guards had to remove the muzzle on the one stallion prisoner; Lady Mercy insisted on feeding him herself. Emberglow wondered how dangerous he really was while pilloried, but she didn’t spend much time thinking of it. When she ran out of soup and prisoners to feed, she took the packsaddle off and walked among the restrained prisoners, seeing if any others wanted to talk. She learned that the grandmother looking mare was indeed a grandmother, and was only here for a six hour stay with her grandfoal, the young colt she had served earlier. They were convicted of blasphemy; the young colt had accidentally spoken the name of one of the Diarchs aloud, and his grandmother, as the responsible adult, had insisted on sharing his punishment. It hurt, Emberglow realized. She felt pain for these poor ponies. Even though their own choices had led them here, she felt miserable that they had to go through it all.

Emberglow and Lady Mercy were still there when the guards, checking their pocket watches, trotted over and released the latches on the pillory holding the older grandmother and her young grandfoal. While there wasn’t always a Radiant on hand when a prisoner was released, Lady Mercy Song still insisted on being able to check over the two prisoners before they were escorted back into the Hall of the Upright to retrieve their own clothing and change out of the burlap prisoner uniforms they had been forced to wear in the pillory. Emberglow nearly wept with both relief and sadness when the colt had to be helped down from the wooden crate, stumbling on legs too stiff to hold his own weight.

It was with a hung head that she followed Lady Mercy Song back to the dormitories.

“Was it too much for you?” Lady Mercy asked, as they neared Emberglow’s new home. Emberglow shook her head.

“No. It was hard. Brutally hard. But somepony has to show them kindness, right? Otherwise, how could they have hope?” Emberglow said, having the epiphany as she spoke it out loud.

“’Generosity is the beginning of hope,’” Lady Mercy quoted. “’When we share love, we are never diminished’.”

“Yeah…” Emberglow said, recognizing the scripture reference. It was a quote from Saint Rarity.

“The most difficult kind of generosity requires sacrifice. Following truly in Lady Rarity’s hoofsteps often requires us to bleed for the ponies around us, sometimes metaphorically, like today, and sometimes literally. Remember that, young Emberglow.”

“I will, my lady,” she said. They paused at the doors to the dormitory. “Thank you so much for taking me today.” She truly meant what she said; though her eyes were still wet from unshed tears, she knew this was an experience she would treasure for years. “I’m willing to help next time, if you still want me.” Lady Mercy Song smiled at her, proudly.

“You will truly be one of the best of us, someday,” she whispered at the younger pony, reaching out with a hoof to gently touch Emberglow’s cheek and wipe away a tear. “Goodnight, Emberglow. All Saints keep you.”

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