• Published 30th Mar 2021
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The Foundling - kudzuhaiku



After her success as the Princess of Detention, Luna has a half-baked plan to become the Princess of Home-Ec.

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Before the fetch quest, two best sisters have a filly and a hamster over for tea

Sisterhood meant a certain inescapable togetherness, for better or worse. For Luna, this often slid towards the worse end of the spectrum, though not always. There were moments when things were utterly fantastic, when everything was moonbows and roses. This particular moment was not a high point, but neither was it a low point. It was just a moment, and a rather sleepy one because she was up far too early, at the unalicornly hour of three of the clock in the afternoon.

Of course, being awake at this dreadful hour posed certain risks, such as being abducted by one's sister, getting dragged away against one's will, and held captive in an overbearingly pleasant room with far too many windows. The sunlight? Absolutely wretched. The room? An abomination and an assault upon good taste. It was the small parlour adjoined to Celestia's office as Headmistress. Everything about the room was designed with foals in mind, and not adults, with foal-friendly colours that assaulted the eyes. The furniture? All of it foal-sized, which of course meant enduring severe discomfort if one happened to be an alicorn.

Celestia of course, was fine with it, and somehow made it work.

Luna, on the other hoof, was not blessed with good fortune.

The tea service was criminal assault upon Luna's refined sensibilities. She hated the teapot in particular, which was a swan with a swoopy long neck and an open beak. Pouring the tea made the swan vomit hot brown liquid into the teacup—which was somehow made worse by the fact that the teacups were all little cygnets. Horrible, wretched things, with big bulging eyes and vapid, doltish expressions, whose heads doubled as handles. Celestia loved them because she was the fun sister, adored and venerated by all, and worshipped by her students.

Of course, the unspoken truth of the matter was that Celestia was a silly pony.

There were other tea services, some of which were no doubt student favourites. Like the toilet tea service, where the teacups were all little toilets. Luna's dignity suffered grievous injury when she drank from the toilet, and insult had been added when Celestia served brownies with tea. Even worse, the brownies were festooned with bits of candy corn, and Celestia thought herself the cleverest mare in all the land. Of course the foals loved it; how could they not? Celestia wasn't being clever, not at all, not even in the slightest. She was merely appealing to the base natures of her students.

What irked Luna more than anything else—what really tweaked her nose and honked her goose—was that she, not Celestia, was the former bearer of the Element of Laughter. Luna knew that she should be the fun sister, but no. She was the grumpy sister with the imbalanced humours. For that matter, modern medicine—which was questionable at best—now claimed that humours didn't exist. If that were true, then why did Luna's own humours suffer such an imbalance? Why did her moods fluctuate? Because of her humours, duh. It was painfully obvious to anypony that had even a basic understanding of how the equine body functioned.

"Twilight Sparkle grows ever more powerful," Celestia said with good cheer. But while her words were good-natured, there was something about her eyes that betrayed her. "She has thwarted both the changeling invasion of Canterlot and defeated King Sombra upon his return. My student has exceeded all of my expectations. Truly, it can be said that she is the embodiment of magic, and with her mastery of magic, she has become a powerful agent of harmony."

Luna, not fully awake, pondered these words. There was much to say, but that required her being a bit more alert. Her thoughts came in fragments, little pieces, like an urn now shattered. While some might hear Celestia's words and think that she was boastful about her student, Luna heard something else entirely. What Luna heard was a warning, a cry suggesting that there was danger ahead.

"You've learned nothing, Sister. Nothing at all. All these years, and nothing—"

"What do you mean, Luna?" Still sunny, still cheerful, but that gleam in Celestia's eye intensified.

"Harmony is not on your side," Luna whispered, and she demanded that her mind wake up enough to deal with this conversation. "It is a set of scales and your own over-generous behind upsets them. Our existence upsets them. You and I both."

"Luna, not this again. Please, must you—"

"I must," Luna replied and she leaned in close over the tiny, low table. "Harmony this, and harmony that, and harmonious existence… phagh! Harmony must be balanced with chaos. Good is countered with evil. Creation is kept in check with destruction. You speak of harmony as this inspiring force for good… but when a plague sweeps through the land and hundreds of thousands… or even millions die… is this not harmony? Will you sing its praises then? This… this, dear sister of mine, is the balance which you champion. And for you to say that your precious student is to become an agent of harmony, it chills me to my very marrow."

"Luna, must you be so bleak?"

Yes, Luna replied within her own headspace. Because somepony had to focus upon the reality of the situation. But she wasn't awake enough to settle this properly, so she chose silence. Surely, at some point, Celestia had come to realise that for harmony to be truly restored to this world, she would have to depart from it. Luna herself had realised this long ago; in fact, it was one of the things that caused her to tumble into darkness. But now, she just tried not to think about it, and she resented all of her sister's discussion of harmony, which was just salt in the wound.

Luna knew the truth; she and her sister upset the scales far too much.

"I just want to be happy," Celestia said with just a hint of crossness intruding into her dulcet voice. "I want to celebrate and feel good about life. Must you be so dour, dearest Luna?"

"I am not yet awake," Luna replied, and then she felt a pang of self-loathing because she chose to mollify her sibling rather than prove her point. "Pay no attention to me."

"Have you thought about taking on more duties?" asked Celestia. "In the school, I mean. I don't mean to pressure you, truly I don't, but things are… still in a state of crisis. Not enough teachers. We have older students teaching the basics to the younger. Which is"—she interrupted herself with a smile—"a good thing, really. A great thing. So many students getting cutie marks for teaching. Harmony in action. Filling a pressing need. But… have you thought about what we discussed?"

Filling a need? Harmony in action. Indeed. And all it took for harmony to take action was most of the teachers in the school to go missing, never to be seen again. While many held out hope for them to be found alive, perhaps secreted away elsewhere, Luna knew the truth. They were, without a doubt, dead. The changelings had much to answer for, and if Luna were but allowed to do so, she would visit her wrath upon them.

But Celestia worried that such a thing might upset the delicate balance.

Celestia—once the bearer of the Element of Magic, and a champion of harmony—was creating alicorns as a hobby. She'd already made one, and had her eyes on the second. Somehow, this was fine. This was good. But for Luna to tug down an asteroid and drop it upon the changelings, that was bad. That… that would upset the balance. It infuriated Luna, but she dared not voice her concerns because doing so would cause another fight to break out.

And fighting was the worst.

As much as it pained her to admit it, she loved her sister, and hurting her was unthinkable.

Celestia was Life. She was also Death Incarnate. Luna, however, was everything that happened in between. To Luna, the tides had been given. All the power of the seas, the ebb and flow of the cycles of life itself. Storms. Wind. Where Celestia was creation, Luna was unbridled destruction. Light and darkness. They were made to balance one another—but Luna could not help but wonder, what existed as a counterweight to their existence? For that matter, if Celestia turned Twilight into an alicorn—which seemed to be Celestia's intentions—what terrible thing might come about to counter Twilight's elevated state of being? What horrible monstrosity might come slouching into the world to restore balance?

Surely, a collision would happen.

There had been collisions in the past. Luna had collided with her sister—which made Luna wonder if she had any say in the matter. What if harmony had pitted them against one another? Even worse, what if it did it again? What if, for the sake of harmony and balance, Luna was forced to fall yet again? Or if Celestia was to take a turn. What if destiny conspired to turn them against one another?

Deep down, in a hidden place that Luna dared not acknowledge, a part of her believed that the world would be better off without magic. Without harmony. No shackles of destiny to bind them. No incomprehensible forces conspiring against them. No more uncertainty of how harmony might keep balance, only the blessed uncertainty of the absolute unknown. It would be, at least, an uncertainty of her own choosing. Yet, Luna was a being of near-infinite magic. An agent of destiny. A creature born of harmony. This duality tugged upon her like tidal forces, and was no doubt one of the reasons why her humours were never balanced.

To have humours like the tides was surely a curse.

The tide of black bile washed over the bleached beach of Luna's soul and she felt a full moon of melancholy coming on. Eventually, the tide would go out and Luna's beach would be left bare yet again. What horrors lurked in her tidal pools, her secret places left moistened by the black tides. A terrible ecology that ebbed and flowed, waxed and waned, the unpleasant clockwork that ruled her biology.

Yet, for all of her hatred of it, she could not escape it; she was Luna, the Moon.

"You've barely touched your tea," Celestia remarked, and she encouraged Luna to do so with a gentle gesturing of her wing. "It's citrusy. It is what you like."

Thoughtful gestures like this always made Luna feel a little guilty. It was true; she loved citrusy tea. She was a mare who appreciated fruity flavours of the tropical variety. Celestia was always, always doing little things exactly like this to make Luna feel better. While it was appreciated—truly, it was—Luna always felt a little bad about it, because she had real trouble finding a way to return the favour.

"Did you know that Twilight collects teatime romance novels?" asked Luna.

"She does?" Genuinely perplexed by this, Celestia's ears fell backwards.

"Something to keep in mind the next time you invite her for tea."

"Luna… such incorrigible behaviour does not become you."

"Romance expressed entirely through tea," Luna said as her spirits rose considerably. "Love and affection scheduled for teatime. I find the whole thing quite endearing, actually."

"Do you, Luna?"

"I do. Sincerely. It is a wholesome affection. I see far too much lust and flesh-hungering in dreams. When I see it in the waking world, I must confess, sometimes I am quite disgusted by it. Observing the wholesome forms of romantic expression are… refreshing."

"So you like to watch the students canoodling?" asked Celestia.

"The younger ones, yes. Innocent affection is appealing."

"Well, I just learned something about you that I was completely unaware of. If our teatime achieves nothing else, this is a major accomplishment."

"You're not being sarcastic."

"Goodness no, Luna."

"So… do you also observe the affectionate exchanges of your students?" asked Luna.

"I do," replied Celestia. "I consider it a perk of the job. Hearts and Hooves Day might be the best day of the year, at least as far as school days go. Hearth's Warming Eve is pleasant enough, and there are all manner of celebratory days, but nothing quite fills me with hope like watching my students engage in the rituals of Hearts and Hooves Day. I get a lot of love letters and some of them are quite sweet."

Lifting up her teacup, Luna partook. She had thought about taking on a role as a teacher, but she was nervous about mentioning it to her sister. Luna was qualified to teach any number of things, and what the school really needed was instructors for magic. But Luna found the subject matter less than appealing. What she really wanted to teach were classes focused upon the home and hearth; what they called home-ec in the modern parlance. But she worried that there might be a discussion about not living up to her potential if she mentioned this to her sister.

Luna was pleased to be the Princess of Detention, but she longed to become the Princess of Home-Economics.

With the current shortage of teachers, expressing an interest in what was an optional elective might be frowned upon. Home-ec classes had been cancelled completely, which troubled Luna a great deal. That something of such importance was given such a low priority bothered her in ways she could not express or give voice to. It felt dangerous to neglect such things, yet it was one of the first things to go when the school tried to recover itself after the changeling invasion.

Just as Luna was about to say something, a guard burst in.

He cast an apologetic glance in Celestia's general direction and then said to Luna, "Your Highness, one of your students has an emergency and has requested access to you—"

"Bring them to me at once," Luna said before the guard could finish.

"As you command, Your Highness," the guard replied, and he backed out of the door.

Much to Luna's surprise, it was not Overcast, but Almanac Avocado. She seemed fretful, frightened, and out of sorts. Curiously, she carried not one, but two bookbags, and the second one seemed somewhat familiar, but Luna failed to recognise it. The chubby filly dropped both bags, pulled a small cardboard box out of her bag, opened the box, and pulled out a small fuzzy creature, which she held with great care.

Upon seeing the tiny critter, Celestia said, "Oh, how delightful, a pet!"

"You told the guard you had an emergency to show me your new pet?" asked Luna.

Almanac shuddered, shivered, and then put the creature down upon the table. The critter, as it turned out, was a hamster, a rather peculiar specimen, and something about it alarmed Luna—though she could not determine why. It was almost pink, or perhaps it might be better described as almost mauve. The hamster stood up, in the way that hamsters do, and it cast what could only be described as a death glare upon the fidgety filly.

"I've never seen a grumpy hamster before," Celestia remarked. "Nor have I ever seen one with this strange colouration. Did you dye it, Miss Avocado?"

"Uh…" Backing away from the table, Almanac shook her head from side to side.

Then, the hamster turned its icy soul-stabbing stare upon Luna.

"I don't like your hamster's impertinence," said Luna. "I fail to see how this is an emergency. If you waste my time, you will lose this precious privilege."

"Um…" Still shaking her head, Almanac sat down upon the floor, and while her mouth opened and closed, it seemed she had some trouble trying to speak.

"Miss Avocado, why are you so upset?" asked Celestia.

The filly gulped.

A sudden change came over Celestia and she went from being curious to commanding in the blink of an eye. Casting a fierce Headmistressly gaze upon the young filly, she said, "Almanac Avocado, what did you do?"

When the hamster blew a raspberry, Luna slowly began to realise that something was amiss.

"You answer me, Almanac Avocado! What did you do?"

"I think it's pretty obvious what I did," the bespectacled filly replied whilst she averted her eyes from Celestia's commanding stare. "I turned one of my besties into a hamster."

"Why would you do such a thing?" Celestia demanded.

"We were dueling—"

"Oh, not again!" cried Celestia. "I told you, that is forbidden! It's not safe! You could be hurt! Or be turned into a rodent!" She pointed at the hamster on the tea table to emphasise her point.

Waving both front paws around, the hamster squeaked in outrage.

"Look, if you can't trust one of your besties to duel with then what's the point of being besties?"

"What is this fixation with dueling? Why? Why would you do this to your friend? Didn't you learn anything the last time?"

"I learned how to cork a bloody nose—"

"That's not the lesson to be learned!" Shuddering, Celestia sucked in a deep breath, held it for several seconds, and then let it all out in a huff of exasperation. "Miss Avocado… I must ask… how did you learn about transmutation? That's not even available to a foal of your grade. Nevermind how you were even able to cast this spell, because I know better… but how did you learn it?"

"Uh—"

"Answer me!" Celestia commanded.

"Overcast broke into the restricted section and we borrowed a couple of advanced spellbooks and—"

"Those were ensorcelled," Celestia said, almost gasping. "You shouldn't even be able to read them."

"Well, you didn't do a very good job—"

"I was not the one who ensorcelled them!"

"Well, maybe you should have," Almanac said in her own defense. "You have nopony to blame but yourself. If you want a job done right, you gotta do it yourself."

Unable to stop herself, Luna chortled.

"Our school got taken over by bugs," Almanac said, explaining herself. "Really big bugs. Scary bugs. Bad bugs. And we don't feel safe. Until we're made to feel safe, then we're going to look after our own safety. One of my besties got cocooned in slime. That's never happening ever again."

"Oh, sweet merciful me!" gasped Celestia, who rolled her eyes and tossed her head from side to side. Reaching up with her right front hoof, she began to rub her temple.

"We are Luna's Legion, and we do not surrender. Not to bugs, and not to the likes of you, either."

"This is not a game, young lady." Then, turning her head, Celestia said to Luna, "You. You need to do something about this."

Saying nothing, Luna shrugged.

With her patience no doubt sorely tested, Celestia continued to rub her temple with her golden-shod hoof. Luna, who sensed opportunity, paid attention to everything going on. Several hundred years of experience was on display and Luna knew she would be a fool if she failed to learn something from this. Already, her sister was recovering herself, and Luna very much wanted to know how something such as this should be handled.

It would be informative and instructive to watch Celestia work.

All of this was rather funny, when one stopped to consider it. Celestia wanted ponies who weren't afraid of her. Little did Celestia know that Luna gave her four devotees dreams about Celestia looming large over them, and generally being, well, Celestia. Over time, with a bit of conditioning in the dreamspace, the four had come to see the big, bossy white alicorn as just another pony. The end result? Hilarious. Celestia had exactly what she wanted, only to find that she didn't much care for it.

While Celestia was selectively grooming ponies to become alicorns, Luna was busy creating Celestia-resistant ponies. There was a lot that could be said about how Celestia wanted other ponies to see her as an equal—and much could be said about her continued egalitarian efforts—the truth of the matter was that she still very much wanted little ponies to do what she said when she told them to do something. And yet, for all of her seeming frustration, Celestia seemed to be doing just fine. Impressive, really.

Fear, fear held little ponies back from their full potential—and sometimes it was a fear of Celestia.

While little Almanac Avocado was still afraid of almost anything and everything, she was getting better. Luna lovingly scared the little filly with carefully curated nightmares. The end result was a long way off, but Luna's telescopic farsightedness allowed her to catch a glimpse of what would be; a pony inoculated against the terror that would otherwise rule her life. Luna considered her actions a stroke of genius, but she dared not share what she had done with her sister—not until she had positive results.

Meanwhile, on the table, the hamster helped himself to a fried teacake slathered in icing.

"Miss Avocado… you need to stop concentrating so you may release your spell."

"I need to what what what?" she replied.

"Miss Avocado, please, pay attention. This is why ponies of your year and grade are not supposed to learn advanced spells, such as those found within the transmutation school. Right now, Overcast is still a hamster because you are continuing to concentrate upon holding your spell. So, relax your mind, let go, and he will change back."

"I'm not concentrating on anything," Almanac said in return.

"Well, dear, you have to be, because that is how the spell works."

"But… I'm telling you… I'm not holding anything. I'm not concentrating. The only thing I'm thinking about is a cup of tea with lots of sugar and one of those lemon slices."

"So that is your requested ransom to release Overcast. Very well, Legionnaire."

Biting her lip, Luna snickered, then dodged the daggers glanced her way by her sister.

"Miss Avocado… dear, I cannot help but notice"—clearing her throat, Celestia began to prepare a cup of tea for the filly who now scooted closer to the table—"that you seem to show some talent for both illusion and transmutation. Your map spell, the one you demonstrated to me, the spell that earned you a place in this very school, is a curious hybrid of both illusion and transmutation, the likes of which I have never seen before. As somepony who appreciates your gifts, I would very much like it if you would refrain from turning your talents upon your fellow students."

"I only turn my talents on my besties," Almanac said in her own defense. "Overcast had it coming. He was being smug."

"While I don't doubt that," Celestia replied in deadpan, "I still ask that you refrain. Being smug is not a good reason to do what you did."

"And what I did, I call Hamsterfication. I have a very clear image of it in my mind now, all of it, everything that needs to be done. It's neat."

"Oh… dear," gasped Celestia, who shook her head in a worrisome way. "That's what I was afraid of. Well, young lady, some congratulations are in order. You've invented a new spell and under normal circumstances, this would be a cause to celebrate. But given the outcome and the consequences—"

"I made a new spell? Because it's so specific? Because the details and instructions are burned into my brain?"

"Indeed, you have, little Miss."

Celestia was the perfect Headmistress at the moment. Patient. Kind. Benevolent. Encouraging. Exasperated. Yet, she performed her duties flawlessly. While amused, Luna was learning something, though the outcome of the lesson was still unknown. She saw that she could try a different approach to things when dealing with certain students, and she had no doubt that she could do better. Be better. Observing her sister at work could only bring benefits.

A steaming cup of tea with a slice of lemon was set down in front of Almanac.

"Now, pay attention. If you can visualise the sequence in your mind, start at the end of it and work your way backwards. That should release Overcast."

"There is no sequence," Almanac said to Celestia, "there are only hamsters. Thank you for the tea, by the way."

"You're most welcome. Hamsters?"

"Little hamsters. In construction hats. With hammers and saws and stuff. They're cute."

"Your mind is full of hamsters…"

"Yep. Hamsters through and through. They're making something."

Hesitating a bit, Celestia's words came out with considerable kindness and tact. "There's no wrong way to visualise a spell."

"Send them on a lunch break—"

"Luna!" Then, after a moment of thoughtful reconsideration, Celestia nodded. "Yes, perhaps try sending them on a lunch break."

"I dunno how."

"Blow a lunch whistle and—"

"Luna!" Then, just as before, Celestia endured a moment of thoughtful reconsideration. Also just as before, she nodded her approval and said, "Actually, that's not a bad idea. Try doing that, Miss Avocado. If there is anything that Luna understands, it is the power of visualisation and its influence upon the mind."

"All unicorn spells utilise just a pinch of dream magic," Luna said to nopony in particular. "How much is used varies depending on the spell, the levels of imagination required to cast, how far reality must be bent for the cast to be successful, and a plethora of other factors."

"I never knew this," said Celestia.

"A lot could be said about what you don't know and—"

"Luna, be nice." Tilting her head upwards, Almanac squinted at Luna through the thick lenses of her spectacles.

"Or else, I get to join Overcast?"

"Yeah," Almanac replied. "You'll be a pretty blue hamster."

"Very well. I suppose I can be nice to avoid this woeful outcome."

"The two of you have a rapport," Celestia remarked. "This makes me happy. Overjoyed, honestly."

Luna thought about saying why, but worried that it would start yet another sibling squabble. She and Almanac had battled alongside one another, along with Overcast, Top Notch, and several other students. It was something that Celestia was not happy about. Luna had used the battlefield as a classroom, rather than vanish students off to safety. To say that Celestia was peeved about this was an understatement, and this bit of contention caused a number of cantankerous sisterly squabbles between the two of them.

Luna refused to admit that she was wrong, and Celestia would not budge on the issue. The safety of the students was to come first and foremost. Especially young students, like Almanac Avocado. The filly, while quite terrified and scared, gave a good accounting of herself. As a unicorn, she casted in much the same way an earth pony approached physical labour; all brute force, raw strength, and powerful application. Luna saw raw potential in the young filly—Celestia saw something else, but applied in a different way, one that did not involve violence.

Of course, the current state of Hamsterfication proved that Luna was right…

Who needed nuance when might made right?

"Are you calm, Miss Avocado?"

"I think I am, Princess Celestia."

"Well, focus on being calm. Try to relax. And imagine letting go. Are you worried about keeping Overcast safe?"

"No," she replied with a shake of her small head that made her chubby cheeks quiver. "Why?"

In response to the question, Celestia explained herself thusly: "I had concerns that if you were worried about keeping your friend safe, you might subconsciously be holding him in hamster form. I say that because it is easy to maintain control over a hamster."

"I might be kinda mad at Overcast," Almanac confessed. "He called me a silly filly."

"Well, that's rude," Celestia replied whilst the hamster on the table munched without response.

"Well, I did call him a dolt colt."

"Also rude."

"It's really hard to be his friend. I mean, you gotta work at it and I swear, it never gets any easier. It's like being friends with Princess Luna."

"By all means," said Luna, "speak as if I were not here."

Grinning, Almanac nodded. "Don't worry, I just did."

"Have you made any other friends, Miss Avocado?"

"No," the filly replied. "No, I haven't."

"Have you tried?" asked Celestia.

"I guess? Maybe not very hard. See… the problem is… I'm friends with Overcast. And Princess Luna. And that gets me teased. And I'm not gonna be friends with those jerks. I'm not even gonna try. I know who my real friends are."

A sound came from deep within Celestia's throat, and while indescribable, it seemed to express intense dissatisfaction with what was just said. The big white alicorn sipped her tea, made another sound, this one rather different but it still conveyed the same feeling, and then she shook her head slightly. Ears pricked, brows furrowed, nostrils flared, Celestia slipped into a sour mood.

Sipping her own tea, Luna felt better after observing her sister's reaction.

Ears splaying outwards, her neck somehow shrinking, Almanac seemed to grow smaller and she visibly lost some height. "It's the school battle… it's not just Princess Luna, but all of us who took part in it. But especially Princess Luna because of what she did. A lot of the students are scared of us. We're not seen as heroes. I don't know why. Princess Luna took the fight to the bugs and it wasn't like our teachers, who took defensive measures so the students would have a safe place to retreat to. We took ground. We took back the school."

"Here comes the 'I told you so' that I've been expecting all this—"

"Luna, I wasn't going to say it."

"What a pleasant change, Sister. I suppose you're just going to sit there and think it."

"I am grateful that you kept my students safe," Celestia said in an almost deadpan whisper.

"But you were right. There's no point in mincing words, Sister. I cleared out the infestation of parasites in the school. I might have gone a little overboard. I might have used overwhelming force. There may have been spectacular, terrifying displays of tactical superiourity. And everything you said would happen has happened. It's all true."

"I'm sorry, Luna."

"Well, I'm not. I did what was necessary. If little ponies can't appreciate that, so be it."

"Ungrateful sots, the lot of them and—"

"Miss Avocado! That's quite enough. Mind your manners!"

Fearlessly, Almanac Avocado recovered herself, sat up straight, and stared right up at the much larger white alicorn. "She's not wrong. And I'm not either. I did the right thing and I don't care what you have to say about it. You cannot convince me otherwise."

"For such a timid filly, you really do show extraordinary bravery," Celestia said to Almanac. "While I do not, and cannot approve of your actions, I do find your courage commendable. I wish that you could understand my position… if something were to happen to you, if the worst happened, I am the one stuck dealing with the consequences. I'm the one who has to explain to your parents how you got hurt… or worse. Just the thought of it gives me nightmares. It is the single most terrifying thing that I have to deal with as Headmistress. Luna doesn't have this dreadful responsibility, but if she did, I would imagine that she might feel differently. She practically gets to act without consequence."

This was mostly true and Luna knew it; all she had to face was public opinion.

A pang of guilt pierced her heart and hot sympathy welled up just behind Luna's eyes, causing an unwanted, unpleasant watery sensation. Hearing her sister speak so openly, without reservation or hesitation, it made Luna realise quite a number of things. Though her intentions were good, she had put her beloved sister at risk. Celestia's fears were more than reasonable. Luna knew she had been careless, and while she rather enjoyed the battle, poor Celestia was now stuck worrying about all of the 'what ifs' and every conceivable bad outcome.

Once again, Luna had been the irresponsible one and her big sister was stuck cleaning up the mess.

"I'm sorry, Celestia—"

"Don't you dare be sorry, Luna!" Celestia snapped. "You had orders to keep my school safe, and you did so to the best of your ability. While I do not agree with your methods, I approve of the outcome. But don't you dare be sorry. I trusted you… I trusted you and I trusted your judgement. In the future, I'll trust you again. Just… have a little more care, Sister. Little lives are so very precious."

"All this talk and Almanac is still not distracted enough to let go," said Luna.

"So I've noticed," was Celestia's drawn out reply. "I meant what I said, Luna."

"Princess Luna knows our lives our precious." Concentrating to keep her teacup held aloft, little Almanac flashed a bright smile up at Celestia. "She kept Overcast focused on keeping us safe. He heard our enemies long before we saw them, and this allowed us to ambush them."

"Is that so?" asked Celestia, who appeared somewhat dubious of this claim.

"We were already there," Almanac said to Celestia in return.

"Yes… so I heard. Overcast led the charge, goaded his fellow students into danger, and—"

"That's not true at all." Then, realising that she interrupted, Almanac apologised. "I'm sorry. But that's a lie. I don't know where you heard that, but it’s not true. At all."

Eyes narrowed, Celestia flashed a glance at Luna, then returned all of her attention to Almanac. "Some very trusted teachers gave me a report of the events of that dark and dreadful day, Miss Avocado."

"Well, they're liars," she said, and then the bespectacled filly blew on her tea so that it might cool a bit.

"Are you suggesting that my trusted staff might prevaricate, young lady?"

"I am telling you flat out that they tergiversate regularly. You know, maybe things would be better if you just spoke to Overcast directly."

"You've been reading the vocabulary boosters that I post, haven't you?"

"Every day. They're great."

"So… why don't you tell me what happened, Miss Avocado. I would very much like to hear how your version might differ from the official report. Would you care to tell me while we're waiting for the spell to wear off?"

"Um…" Almanac slurped her tea, sat up a little straighter, cast a guilty glance at the hamster on the table, then seemed to consider Celestia's request.

"My sister only offered the barest details of what happened after she and your group met up," Celestia said. "I trust her completely. I suppose I am to be suspicious of my own trusted teachers?"

"Yeah, sorry." While Almanac sat up straight, her ears fell back in a submissive way.

"Speak then, and be aware… if there's even a hint of dishonesty, I'll know. This is very serious, little Miss Almanac Avocado."

"You know, big Miss Headmistress Celestia, if you showed your 'trusted' teachers the same sort of scrutiny things would be a whole lot better."

"Is that so?"

When Luna snickered, she got a well-deserved scathing bit of side-eye for it.

Emboldened, Almanac looked directly up at Celestia and asked, "Did you ever stop to think that your teachers deliver paper reports to you so they don't get caught lying?"

"That is a very serious statement," Celestia deadpanned.

"Overcast didn't lead the charge," Almanac began, and her ears pricked upright. "Overcast wanted to get us down below the school, into the Dead Archives. But Whinny wasn't there. She was in her music class when everything happened. Overcast overhead from some teachers that the entire Music, Arts, and Equinities wing was overrun. See, Overcast made a mistake in telling us this, because, well, you have to understand something, Headmistress Celestia. Some ponies say that Topper has a bit of an anger problem, and that's totally untrue."

"I've heard something about that," Celestia mentioned.

"Well, that's just wrong. Anger has a Topper problem."

"Do go on, young lady."

"Topper went nutzo. Bananas. You don't have a vocabulary booster to describe the sort of inarticulate rage that took over Topper. He starts howling, then he starts cursing, and then he takes off running and Overcast goes after him. Two of my besties are running off, and I can't just let them go, because what sort of friend would I be if I let them go?"

Wanting to know more herself, Luna leaned in.

"Overcast is trying to stop Topper, but Topper, he's just too mad to listen. Topper leads us to the cafeteria, because that's kind of the central hub of the school… only we didn't know that the Cafeteria Battle was happening, and we kind of stumbled right into teachers trying to put up defenses and the changelings were trying to stop them. Topper sees this, he sees all of this, and he doesn't even slow down. He just… howls and charges.

"So Topper runs into the cafeteria where spells are flying and there's a pitched battle, and he just runs right into the middle of all of it. And he picks up this table… not one of the small round tables that the losers sit at all by themselves, but one of the big long ones, and Topper uses it like a flyswatter. He just heaves it way up into the air and brings it back down on some bugs and WHAM! Then he picks up the table again, and he swings it into a crowd of bugs, and they go scattering like bowling pins, and he picks up a second table, and then claps the two tables together with changelings in the middle and WHUMP!

"Topper is still howling this whole time, and he's kinda crazy. Like, you can look into his eyes and see nothing but crazy all the way in. He takes his two tables and he throws them at the changelings blocking the east wing, and then he picks up two more tables and throws those too, and then Topper starts cursing again, and he runs right for the east wing exit because that's where Whinny is, and he has to save Whinny. Overcast goes after him, right into the heart of the swarm, and I, uh, well, it should be obvious what I did."

Then, after a second of brief contemplation, Almanac asked, "Do you think the bugs took over the Music, Arts, and Equinities wing because of all the emotion associated with those things?"

"That… that is an astute question, Miss Avocado." Her face troubled, Celestia slurped some tea.

"The wing is completely overrun by bugs. It's all gross and kind of hivey. The walls and the floor and the ceiling are all slimy and gooey and covered in crud. And there's bugs everywhere. At first we think that the bugs are running from us… which seems pretty reasonable because Topper has the crazy eyes and he's making these woo-woo noises, like a train chugging its way out of Tartarus. But no, the bugs aren't running from us, they're running to fight Princess Luna and the students from the officers' cadet class and Topper doesn't even slow down when we see this battle happening. He's like, 'Woo-woo!' and Princess Luna was like, 'Yoo-hoo!' and Overcast was like, 'Oh no, what do we do!' and that's when everything went sideways."

"Sideways? Dare I even ask?" Celestia bit her lip for a moment, shook her head, and then said, "This is where Luna's report begins, but the details are… lacking."

"Princess Luna didn't have a lot of choices," Almanac continued in her well-animated way. "See, Topper doesn't slow down. He's still raging. He smashes some bugs with pottery, but he doesn't stay for very long, because, Whinny. You should understand by now. Princess Luna is hollering at him to stop, but Topper is no stopper. When Princess Luna tries to stop him, he throws pottery at her, too, and he snarls. So she has no choice but to follow us as Topper runs right for the music auditorium where he knows Whinny is and that's when everything went super-wrong."

"Luna neglected to mention this."

"Princess Luna took a vase right to the kisser," Almanac said with a solemn nod. "She wasn't expecting it. Didn't even raise a shield."

"Well, that explains that particular injury," Celestia deadpanned.

"While it might not be an Element of Harmony, never underestimate the element of surprise," Luna said in her own defense.

"Princess Luna uses some magic to calm Topper's berserker wrath, he's almost sane again, but still pretty disturbed. We're deep behind enemy lines now, with bugs on every side. We're in the heart of the swarm, in the guts of the hive. There's students in cocoons and everything is all slickery with slime. But Princess Luna finally gets Topper to slow down, and we're surrounded, and it takes her a while to fully take charge of the situation. There's field promotions and she appoints Overcast to be her intelligence officer and I'm promoted to medic, and Luna tells me to stay glued to her. The cadets do what soldiers do and they were great. They were really great and when they finally join the guard they're going to be heroes."

Almanac inhaled, then continued, "With Princess Luna fully in charge, and Topper not so crazy, we take the fight to the bugs. Overcast listens to find out where the bugs are, and what they're doing, and when we have a pretty good idea of what we're facing, we swoop in and smashy-smashy the buggos. It's like an Ogres & Oubliettes game, but scarier, and with real consequences for failing your saving throws. Then we start going room to room, ambushing, and collecting what few students that haven't been cocooned yet because they were hiding. Overcast can hear their hearts beating so he knows where they are hiding, and Princess Luna gathers them all up so she could keep them safe."

"Luna, you failed to mention quite a bit of this."

"I was not aware that I had needed to explain my actions."

"It would have made things easier for me to understand, Luna."

"I was too busy keeping the students shielded and safe, when I could. I was spread thin, Sister. I used every resource I had available. Without Overcast's magical hearing, things would have been very different."

"I see," said Celestia.

"The Cadet Corps students performed admirably. They gained valuable field experience… the sort that cannot be taught in a classroom. Miss Avocado learned valuable first aid skills, and discovered that she wasn't squeamish in a conflict. While she had a very real fear of blood, she found that she could be brave during conflict and control that fear. She did not let it rule over her. Had I vanished my students to a secure location, not only would I had drained myself, but without Overcast, I would have gone into every engagement blind."

"I still don't feel better about what happened," said Celestia. "But this does shed some much-needed light on the situation. A clearer picture emerges."

"Overcast didn't goad us into misbehaving and he didn't lead the way," Almanac said to Celestia.

After clearing her throat—twice—Celestia turned her attention to the young bespectacled filly. "Miss Avocado… if I may ask… what lesson did you learn from all of this? What did you take away from this… awful experience?"

"Um… don't make Topper mad?"

"Really… after everything that's happened, that's what you've learned?"

"Uh… I guess I learned to stick with my besties when trouble happens?"

A long sigh slipped out of Celestia, followed by an even longer inhale. Her sides rose and fell like blacksmith's bellows, and in the midst of restorative breathing, she wickered. As irked as she was, she recovered, and like a radiant dawn, calm rose over her face. With every breath she took, she recovered the serenity that defined her as a pony. It wasn't long before she had a cheerful expression again—though Luna could see the trouble hidden within her sister's eyes.

"Wait… wait… I know… just give me a chance to think for a moment." Putting down her teacup, Almanac concentrated, and her tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth in a thoughtful way. "We're still missing teachers and students. They're gone. Maybe forever. We might never see them again. But working together, all of us, with everypony doing their part, we saved a lot of students and teachers. The changelings didn't get to fly off with those cocoons. We saved Wednesday and a whole lot of other students, and if we hadn't done what we did, a whole lot more pictures might have been added to the wall of missing ponies. Every day I stand in front of that wall along with everypony else that gathers there, and I think about how much worse things might have been, and it makes me feel better that I did something to make it better."

"That's something," whispered Celestia.

"A lot of my fellow students don't get to feel good the way I get to feel good. Or, uh, feel better? They hid. They did as they were told and went into hiding. They stayed safe, sure, but they did nothing to help. They did nothing to save their friends. And that's gotta feel bad. I wonder how many of them wonder how things might be different if they'd just done something? Me? I'm grateful that I don't have to worry about what might have been, because I did something."

"Miss Avocado… might I please be open with you for a moment? May I please speak to you in an adult manner?"

"You may?" The filly blinked owlishly behind her oversized and chunky spectacles. "I thought we were already speaking like adults, but whatever."

"Almanac… might I call you that?" The gentle giantess of an alicorn inhaled deeply before she continued in a soft tone of voice. "Every student that comes to this school has the potential to change the world. I truly believe that. My students are exceptional in every conceivable way, and this is not boasting. This is not me bragging so that I might puff myself up. This school is not for my benefit, but for Equestria's.

"But for you to change the world, you must first grow up. That means that I have a responsibility to keep you safe, and so too does my sister, Luna. We have to keep you out of harm's way so that your bright light is not snuffed out too soon. If we are careless, and something happens to you, we take from the world the very hope that we hope to give it. You… you, Almanac Avocado, are that hope, you and all of your fellow students. Every single one of you is beloved and precious. You are my crown jewels. You are the wealth of my empire. You, yes, you are Equestria's most prized asset. I need for you to understand why you cannot go galavanting around into danger… and this is also why dueling is frowned upon."

"Maybe I've already changed the world by doing what I did," Almanac said when Celestia paused to draw breath.

"Oh… bother." Rolling her eyes, Celestia chewed her lip in a thoughtful way—and said nothing else.

Across the table, Luna could sense the tension headache creeping up on her sister.

"This happens to my parents, you know. This very thing."

"Please, explain," Celestia said.

"Well, there are times when my mom can't convince my dad that she's right and he can't convince her that she's wrong."

"Are you suggesting that you're right?" asked Celestia. "And that I am wrong?"

Shrugging, Almanac chose not to respond.

"I think"—Luna chose her next words carefully—"that Almanac is trying to suggest that the two of you are at an impasse. Her experiences and perceptions cause her to believe that she is correct. However, and this is important, Celestia, you have wisdom and insight that comes with age on your side. The two of you should—"

"Yeah, she's old and out of touch."

At this moment, Luna very nearly choked upon her own tongue when she almost inhaled it. Stars danced jubilantly in her vision, and blood pounded in her ears. "Glack!" she glacked, glacking out her own tongue in a glacktacular response to shock and surprise. When her vision cleared, and her sister's profile came back into focus, she did not see anger, as one might expect, but amusement.

"I am not so self-important that I cannot enjoy a good laugh at my own expense," Celestia said with a wide smile. "You know, I am starting to worry that this spell will not wear off. Perhaps we should do something about it."

"Like what?" asked Almanac.

"I'll have to think of something," Celestia replied. "You know, it's been a long time since I've had a student gifted in the metamorphathurgical arts."

"I don't know what that means," Almanac confessed after several seconds of trying to puzzle out the meaning of Celestia's words.

"My sister is trying to be clever and teach you something important about yourself," Luna said to Almanac. She swallowed, still recovering, and sucked in some much-needed air. "She is calling you a transmuter, one gifted in the transmutational arts. I suspect that she believes you to be exceptional because Overcast is stuck in a stable form without you concentrating to keep him held as a hamster."

"Ah… oh… because thaumaturgy is the study of magic. Right. Right! So if you stick 'thurgical' to the end of 'metamorph', you get a big fancy word for transmuter. I need to remember that so everypony will know how smart I am."

Overcast—still very much a hamster at the moment—nibbled at a fat blueberry plucked from an otherwise neglected scone.

"So, let us begin, Miss Avocado. That is the purpose of this school… to make mistakes and then find creative ways to correct them. One day, you will have the fond memory of turning your friend into a hamster, and this will be just one of the many memories you have of school. Of course, Overcast will remember being a hamster, so his experiences will be very different. Being good friends, the two of you should compare notes."

Amused beyond measure, Luna listened; her sister was in fine form. This was when Celestia was truly at her best and most enjoyable to be around, when she was teaching. Even better, this was an opportunity to learn, and Luna was clever enough to know that she too was a student at this moment. It was time to pay attention, to listen, and to learn. Of course, little Overcast probably wouldn't learn much of anything if at all, because he no doubt had the attention span of a hamster.

Life was unfair at times.

"Now, tell me, Miss Avocado… do you bear your friend any known or hidden resentments?"

Almanac blinked a few times before replying, "No. He's my bestie. Why would I hate him?"

"Not hate, dear. Resentment. There's a difference. Sometimes, either on purpose or without meaning to do so, we harbour resentment towards those we hold dear."

Luna could not help but notice how her sister's eyes met hers during this statement.

Meanwhile, the hamster on the table did not seem impressed by this current approach.

"Sometimes, we have trouble expressing our feelings. Something happens. We go to let it slide, as the young so often say, but it remains in our minds and we reflect upon it often. It just doesn't go away. Sometimes, in our imagination, we roleplay the scenario with different outcomes."

"Why does this matter?" asked Almanac.

"Because," Celestia replied right away, without hesitation, "when it comes to magic, intent matters. For a spell to change a pony's nature in such a profound way, we have to mean it. There has to be feeling. My student, Twilight Sparkle, learned this when she freed her friends from Discord's influence."

"Huh."

"So, has Overcast done something to annoy you?" asked Celestia.

"What hasn't Overcast done to annoy me?" was the endearing response from Almanac. "I mean, that's kind of what he does. Whinny says we have to be patient so Overcast can become the good pony he's meant to be."

Luna partook once more in her tea, and then decided that her cup needed topping off. She poured, perhaps a bit too fast but no mess was made, added some sugar, and then a fresh slice of crystalised lemon. Then, relaxing just a little, she held the cup up to her nose so that she might savour the steam. The citrusy scent of lemons calmed her mind and helped her twitchy muscles to hold still. Alas, she observed that Almanac seemed no closer to a breakthrough.

"Do you ever get jealous when Overcast spends time with Miss Waterkey and not you?"

This caused Almanac's eyes to narrow behind her thick lenses. "Why would I get jealous? Ponies keep asking that. I don't get it. What am I missing? I feel stupid now."

Celestia, never one to quit, kept going. "Does Overcast eat the last chocolate in the box?"

"No"—the filly shook her head from side to side emphatically—"he's not that sort. I'm the one guilty of that in our group. I have a tough time with self control and that's why I'm a total chubbo." Then, with wide-eyed innocence, she asked, "Why do fat ponies get called blimps? Blimps are light. Blimps float. Is it because blimps are full of gas and so are fat ponies? I got called a blimp."

Balanced atop a sunny yellow cushion, Celestia was a serene enormity, a colossus of ponykind. There was something about her—her good cheer, perhaps—where she seemed to self-illuminate during these moments. It was at times like these when Luna envied her sister just a teensy, tiny bit, because Celestia genuinely wanted to help little ponies so that their lives might be better. Luna knew that she would start to lose patience far too soon, and she would become grumpy. She snapped at Overcast at times, was short-tempered, and she let far too much of her own self get in the way.

Watching her sister work, Luna resolved to do better, because the little ponies deserved the best that Luna had to offer. There were things she could do that might help. Perhaps less shouting. More patience. A bit of benevolence. And maybe, just maybe, she should stop scaring them for sport when she was in one of her moods. Celestia at her very best was inspiring. It was easy to see why Twilight Sparkle had turned out the way she did with Celestia as her instructor. Just thinking of the brave stargazing unicorn left Luna in a curious state, and she found herself wishing for time spent in Twilight's quiet company.

She was the very best sort of friend.

"Has Overcast said anything that has left you with a lingering sense of anger?" asked Celestia.

To which Almanac replied, "Uh… almost every day. But I don't hold it against him. Because I'm an annoying twerp and an insufferable know-it-all and for reasons unknown, he's still very kind to me. Well, at times. Sometimes, he's in a mood. But that's how it is, ya know? When he's in a mood, I try really hard to be his friend, and when I'm scared, or crying, or widdling myself in terror, he's always there to make things better, so that's why I do what I do."

"Has he ever teased you for these things?"

"Well, kinda. No. Sorta? Not exactly. Look, this is hard to answer, alright? He's never teased me about certain things. There's like, there's lines that he won't cross. But when I'm being a big scared crybaby, he'll gently call me out on it and tell me to be braver. It's how he does it. A little light razzing doesn't hurt me. Not from him, anyway. He knows how thin-skinned I am."

"Well, there must be something," said Celestia, "or perhaps I could be wrong. That is certainly a possibility. Contrary to popular belief, I do make mistakes."

Closing her eyes, her ears pinning back and almost vanishing into her pink mane, Almanac gave herself over to intense thought. Luna watched with interest, because for many foals, this line of questioning would have produced only frustration or disinterest. The fact that Almanac made a genuine effort to find something, anything, spoke highly of her character. She was, at least, humouring Celestia, and even if this didn't bring about results, at least a bit of worthwhile soul-searching was accomplished. Which was never a bad thing.

Still determined to see this through, Celestia asked, "Do you ever feel upset because your friends are older? They get to do a lot of things that you are still restricted from. Does that bother you?"

"Maybe a little?" was Almanac's honest response. "Whinny will be thirteen soon. That's exciting. She'll be all grownup and I'll still just be me. Feels like I'm going to be nine forever. I hate being nine. I'm so close to being able to take better classes but I'm held back because of my age and I hate it."

"But… do you have issues with Overcast due to age?"

Brows furrowed, eyes still closed, Almanac shook her head. "Maybe? He's eleven, but he gets to take all those advanced classes and I'm stuck with the dumb babies. But do I hate him for it? I don't know. I don't think I do. I'm mad about it, but I don't think I'm mad at him. Might be mad at you though. You're responsible for all of this."

"You have my most sincere apologies," Celestia offered in return.

Feeling a bit peckish, Luna began to nibble on a cookie—hopefully one untouched by hamster-hands.

The brave filly peeped through a half-open eye at Celestia. "You'll be sorry if I turn you into a hamster." Then, smiling, calm and reassured, she closed her eye and returned to concentrating.

"I understand that Overcast has started to teach you unicorn culture and the unicorn way of life, Miss Avocado. Is this frustrating? Do you find it difficult? Has he perhaps said something that hurt you in some way?"

"There's nothing I can think of," Almanac replied and she pressed her front hooves together in front of her. "I've become aware of how rude I can be and why I might leave a bad impression on some of my fellow students. He's been very good about teaching me."

"That can be quite difficult, adjusting to a different culture. The fact that you so readily adapt says a great deal about you, Miss Avocado."

"Thank you, Princess Celestia." Then, almost timidly, she added, "There's one little thing that kinda sticks out."

"Oh?" Head held high, Celestia waited for the filly to speak.

"I got schooled in table manners," the filly said, almost whispering, and she opened up her eyes just enough to reveal a wounded soul within. "He said I have the table manners of a cow. He… he said I have the table manners of a cow.. He had a whole list of things that I do wrong. I talk with my mouth full, I make noise when I eat, I enjoy my food, and these are all… these are all normal things for me. It's how I was raised. My mom, my dad, my entire family… we all do this and this is… this is normal for us. Every dinner together is a celebration. It's what we do as earth ponies. Well, I'm not an earth pony, but that's how I was raised. And Overcast said I have the manners of a cow. A moo-moo. That really hurt. I'm still pretty angry about it even if I don't want to be, and I can't stop thinking about it at odd moments… like when I'm sitting at a table… like… like… like right now."

"Canterlot unicorns… have no appreciation for a good belch and that's a real shame—"

"Luna!"

"Don't you 'Luna' me, Sister. It's true. What else does one do to show gratitude for fizzy cider?"

"What's wrong with burping, anyway? How else do you show your appreciation? You gotta do it with enthusiasm. Making a meal is a lot of hard work. More so for earth ponies because they can't just magic up a nice spread. Overcast said it was disgusting and wrong. And that hurt. It hurt a lot, actually. And I'm pretty peeved, now that I think about it. I hope he stays a hamster forever!"

"Good manners are the generous gift that we give to others," said Celestia.

"Topper said the same thing. Word for word. I guess he's been studying his Celestiaisms." She huffed, she puffed, she squeezed her eyes shut, and then, Almanac went still and quiet.

"Wait… Celestia-whats?"

"Celestiaisms. The teachers have us study them to make us better ponies."

"I never approved of such a thing in the curriculum. A stern talk is needed, I see." After a deep breath, Celestia continued, "You need to let go of your anger and you must forgive Overcast."

"No way, he insulted me," Almanac said without opening her eyes. "Nope. Not a chance."

"Miss Avocado—"

"No! He insulted my upbringing! My family! He called me a cow!"

"Almanac, dear one, your friend cannot apologise or beg for forgiveness as a hamster and—"

"I don't care! I don't want his stupid apology!" Folding her forelegs around herself in a tight self-hug, Almanac scrunched down and squeezed her shut eyes even tighter.

"Turning him into a cow would make the punishment fit the crime—"

"Luna, that's enough out of you! Stop that! This is serious. This is a friendship wound."

Meanwhile, the hamster on the table now suffered from a dejected slump.

Perhaps realising that laughter would not be a soothing balm, Luna tried another approach. "Almanac… you want Overcast to feel the humiliation that you felt, am I right?"

"He deserves it!" she spat out in response as her eyes opened.

"He might. It could be said that Overcast deserves a great many things. None of which are nice." Luna paused to allow these words a chance to sink in before she continued, "I am certain that he was careless in the way that the young often are. I also know that if he knew that he'd hurt you, he'd take measures to make things better. He would make amends. You are very dear to him. What he did was an accident. What you are doing is intentional."

Since laughter had failed… Luna chose loyalty, with just a touch of honesty.

"When we were dueling I saw a chance to teach him a lesson, I guess." This confession came out one pained word at a time, and Almanac's barrel hitched uncontrollably now. "I see why you don't want us dueling, Princess Celestia. It's easy for all of our little slights to get in the way. But I'm not turning him back."

"Really, Almanac, I must insist."

"He needs to suffer for a while, just like I did," the filly retorted in the brazen manner of slighted fillies all around the world.

"You don't mean that." Patient, calm, gentle, Celestia was truly at her best. "This is your friend. He fixed your glasses for you. I know for a fact that he does some of your homework for you and—"

Startled, Almanac could not help but interrupt when she asked, "You know about that?"

"I appreciate your efforts to be clever, and all attempts made to hide your wrongdoing, but I've been Headmistress of this school for a very long time." A heartwarming smile appeared and Celestia's radiant grace shone down upon young Almanac. "It takes a very special sort of friend to do the homework of another. A very special friend indeed. When students do assignments for another, or homework, I choose to see this as a promising sign of good things to come in the future."

"Oh." Frowning, Almanac hunched over even more, sighed, and peered down at the hamster on the table. "He's saved my begonias a couple of times… mostly because I was too busy playing games or acting like a foal and being a total dork rather than getting my assignments done. Worst part is, he just sighs when it happens, he rolls his eyes in that way he does, and then just adds it to his list of things to do. Sometimes, I worry that I'm not a very good friend."

"What would give you that impression?" asked Celestia.

"Well, duh!" Extending her right front hoof, Almanac pointed at the hamster. "He hurt my feelings though. So he had it coming. Maybe. I think. I'm not actually hurting him. I mean, it's not like he's in pain or anything. And I didn't let anypony step on him. But then I couldn't undo what I did and I might've panicked a bit but you have to pretend that I didn't just say that and we'll both agree that I'm remorseless about this and not having any doubts. Can we do that? I'll feel better about this if we do."

"The real test of friendship," Celestia began, "is when we fail to be good friends for whatever reason. We might be sick, or feeling poorly. A bad mood might hold us back from our fullest possible potential. We might feel slighted"—she paused and her smile intensified—"or even a little vengeful. Sometimes, even the very best of us feel petty. We can act foalish for no good reason, just like my sister does all the time when she—"

"Ooh! How could you, Sister!"

"—is having a bad day. Luna has bad days often, because daytime is rough for her and I understand that. But, she tends to have good nights. So long as we worry about being good friends, and we are thoughtful about our interactions, we're still good friends even if we stumble."

"Really?" asked Almanac.

"Really. Nopony is perfect. I think that, if you spoke with Overcast, he also has moments where he doubts if he is a good friend. The two of you could share your feelings. But to do that…"

"Couldn't I just make him a talking hamster instead?"

"No, Miss Avocado."

"My family means everything to me. How we are. What we do." Averting her gaze, Almanac spent a moment in silence to collect her thoughts. "My family gave up everything for me. Not just my parents… my whole family. All of them. It took all they had to get me here and I love them for it even if the pressure is killing me. My Granvocado sends me letters to keep me going. And Overcast… he just… ugh! He's rude! Rude!"

"This whole time that you've been thinking about your family… have you stopped to consider his family situation, Miss Avocado?"

"No!" she squeaked. A startling transformation overcame little Almanac, one that peeled away the appearance of age. Her eyes glimmered with tears and her protruding lower lip trembled when her emotions overwhelmed her. "How do I fix this?"

"Forgiving him is a good start, and we'll see what happens from there…"

Author's Note:

So, you might be asking, what's a foundling in the context of this story?

Well, I'll tell you. But not here in the Bad Author Box, the box where bad authors include badly written afterthoughts. This section started as a prologue of sorts, but uh, bad things happened? I was going to keep going, actually, until we reached the conclusion point for this section, but then this happened. And by this, I mean I split this off because it somehow became 11k words. I used to write neat, tidy chapters. I don't know what happened. I'm sorry, perhaps?

In theory, this is a short story...