Before the Friendship Games: Dean Cadance

by CapNTilfy

First published

Dean Cadance is hiding something. Something that very few people know. Book Seven of The Crystal Prep Chronicles: Before the Friendship Games.

Dean Cadance is one of the most patient, tolerant, and loving staff members at Crystal Prep Academy. However, that's only what she wants the student body to see.

Book Seven of The Crystal Prep Chronicles: Before the Friendship Games.

Part of "Not Just Any Old Continuity", which includes
Not Just Any Old Trilogy
The Anon-A-Miss Saga

Check out all of my stories here!

Just Another Day

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Dean Cadance walked the halls of Crystal Prep Academy with a smile, kindly greeting each student and staff member she passed by. She kept her expression as happy as possible without going overboard. Her smile became genuine once one of her oldest friends and fellow staff members Radiant Hope walked up to her.

Radiant Hope smiled at Dean Cadance. "Hello, there," she said, then hugged her. She leaned into her and whispered. "Have you had that dream lately?"

Cadance returned the hug and whispered back. "It's been a couple of days, Hope, and I'm hoping it'll be a couple more." She giggled at her unintentional pun, then sighed as she broke it. "I don't know what I'd do without you. You've been keeping me sane all of these years."

Hope smiled warmly. "Hey. Anything for a good friend." She pat Cadance on the shoulder, then moved on. Cadance sighed in contentment, then went to her office.

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Once inside her office, Dean Cadance sat down. Normally she'd take a brief glimpse at her book first thing, but there was work to be done. Calls to be made, paperwork to sign, all that administrative stuff. She took a deep breath, then sighed. How many years had it been? How much longer would she have to keep this facade up? She shook her head. Now wasn't the time to worry about such things. Her phone rang, and she picked it up. "Yes, this is Dean Cadance." The person on the other end of the line spoke and her eyes widened. "No," she whispered, fear gripping her.

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Cadance reached the hospital room and gasped in horror. On the bed before her laid a person she knew all too well.

Her once brilliant amber eyes that shone with love and happiness were now dulled and glazed over. Her once long, beautiful light crimson and azure hair had become thin and faded. Her light pink skin was paler than normal. The woman looked at her and smiled. "C...Cadance. It's so wonderful to see you, despite the circumstances." Her normally calming voice sounded raspy.

Cadance felt a lump in her throat. "Oh, god," she whispered. "What happened to you?"

The woman smiled warmly. "Why are you asking me, dear? I think you know, more than anyone."

Cadance sniffled. "You're going to get through this. We're going to get through this," she said as she took the woman's hand. A doctor walked into the room, and yelped as he was seized by her. "There's got to be something you can do," she said desperately, almost shaking him.

Another doctor walked in and put an arm on Cadance's shoulder. "I..." he said, looking away. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "Th-There's nothing we can do."

Cadance let go of the doctor as a tear fell from her eye. "Have you tried everything," she asked. "Please tell me you haven't tried everything! Isn't there some sort of experimental procedure? Some new treatment? Anything?!" She sniffled.

The doctor continued averting his gaze and gave a heavy sigh. "I'm sorry," he said. "We've explored all options."

Cadance sniffled again as she walked to the woman. "Please don't go. I don't want you to!"

The woman smiled and ran a hand through her hair. "It's going to be okay, my dear," She said in a reassuring tone.

"No," Cadance whispered. "I need you..." she broke, then held onto the woman tightly. "Please don't go," she said between sobs. She repeated herself until the tears stopped. "Please," she whispered as she looked up. The woman was smiling.

"Cadance, my dear," the woman said. "Don't be sad." her voice began to fade. "You're at your most beautiful...when you...smile..." the woman shuddered, then passed.

Cadance let loose another wave of tears as the doctors announced her time of death.

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Cadance sighed heavily as she was joined by her old friends Radiant Hope and Vice-Principal Luna. The funeral was today, and she'd need all of the support she could get.

"I'm terribly sorry my sister couldn't make it," Luna said apologetically. "It's not that she doesn't care, she's just been so busy now that she's the Principal of Canterlot High."

"I swear," Hope said. "Celestia would raise the sun and the moon for you, Cadance."

Cadance smiled. "Yeah. I know."

Luna and Hope looked at each other and nodded, then embraced Cadance in a tight hug. Cadance almost immediately burst into tears and held her two closest friends tightly, sobbing uncontrollably.

"We're here for you," Hope said softly as a tear fell.

"We wish there was something we could do..." Luna whispered.

Cadance sighed heavily and shuddered as she cried the last of her tears. "Why," she asked as the final tear fell from her face. "Why did this happen?"

Luna and Hope looked at each other again, then sighed. "You know why," Luna said, folding her arms.

"Why would you ask us such a question," Asked Hope. "The what, who, why, when and how... you know all of these."

"So why are you asking us," Hope and Luna said simultaneously as clouds began to darken the sky. Cadance blinked in surprise as rain began to fall. "Go." Hope and Luna said, and Cadance ran. She ran through Crystal Prep's campus. She ran through the streets. She ran and ran and ran, until she ran out of breath and took a rest.

"Why are you resting," Hope and Luna asked. "There's still a lot of ground to cover." It began to rain harder, and Cadance grit her teeth and her running slowed to the pace of a snail. She growled in frustration, then screamed, breaking herself out of the slowness. She ran faster than she ever had before, not stopping for anyone or anything. After what seemed like forever, she finally reached her destination: the Canterlot Graveyard.

Cadance nearly collapsed upon entering, trying desperately to catch her breath. Once she did, she searched the graveyard until she found the one tombstone that both did and did not wish to see.

Here lies Amore

Cadance's knees buckled, and she let out a long wail.

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Cadance shot out of bed with a loud gasp. She sniffled and sighed.

"...Mom..."

Memories

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Cadance put her head in her hands and sighed heavily. Of course it was that dream, she thought miserably. I should have realized it when Luna mentioned her sister was busy with her Canterlot High duties. Mom died when I was still a student at Crystal Prep with Hope and Crystal. She got out of bed, turned on a light, then took a good look around at her room.

Cadance's room was rather spacious for a single person's, with light lavender walls. Her bed faced her bedroom door, which she kept closed while she was inside. She lived alone, so this was mostly done out of habit. Inspirational posters lined her door as encouragement to face the day before she went out. Those had been a great help since her mother passed. Just above her door was a picture of her mother, Amore. She was smiling warmly.

To Cadance's left was a bookshelf lined with books on love, romance novels and sexuality. She had always found romance to be a fascinating subject, and tales of love had always warmed her heart. She sighed dreamily. Maybe one day she'd find love...but only after Cinch was ousted from office. She didn't want any distractions until her goal was met.

Next to the bookshelf of love was her dresser, where she kept all of her casual clothing. Her more professional and fancy attire was in the walk-in closet next to it. A mirror stood in the corner so she could get a good look at herself before she went out.

Behind Cadance was her bed, her sheets and comforter a subtle blend of her three favorite colors: rose, gold and violet. It was comfortable and it served its purpose.

To Cadance's right was a desk with a computer. Above the desk were several pictures of herself and her oldest friends, Radiant Hope and Luna. They had been there for her ever since her mother passed, and they forged a strong bond together over the years. On her desk laid a large book with three stripes. One gold, one rose and one violet. She very rarely went to Crystal Prep without it. With a sigh, she opened it. There, on the first pages, was her mother's obituary.

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Amore passed away this week due to complications of the heart. She was the Headmistress and Principal of Crystal Prep, and is to be succeeded by Abacus Cinch, currently the only Dean. She is survived by her daughter, who wishes to remain anonymous.

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Cadance clenched her jaw and balled her hands into fists as she pictured Cinch's smug grin. The first time she saw that damned expression was when she took the podium after becoming Principal. All of her talk about legacies... if that damnable woman only knew! She pounded her desk with a fist, then turned the page.

On the next set of pages were several pictures of her as a child. Reminders of a happier time when her mother was still alive. Pictures of her growing up, along with her name: Mi Amore Cadenza. The sight of her younger self brought a tear to her eye as she smiled fondly. It reminded her of one of the reasons she became a Dean. She wanted others to be happy. To feel loved. Just like her mother did for all those around her.

Without thinking, Cadance reached for the next page, then stopped. No. She very rarely went that far into the book. She knew what was beyond her current page, and the very thought of it nearly infuriated her. She sighed, then went into her walk-in closet and began to change. She let a genuine smile come out in anticipation for the Friendship Games. She'll never forget when she got the call from Luna...

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Cadance sat at her desk doing paperwork one morning when her phone rang. She picked it up. "Hello, Dean Cadance speaking."

"Cadance," Luna said in a tone of barely contained excitement. "Do you trust me?"

Cadance blinked in surprise. "Luna, we've been close friends ever since we met at the Friendship Games our Freshman year. Of course I trust you."

Luna took a deep breath, then exhaled. "I'm sorry, I got a little carried away."

"That's okay. So why are you calling during work hours?"

"Something incredible happened last night, Cadance! There was honest-to-god magic!"

Cadance stayed silent for a moment, then began laughing. Once she finished, she wiped a tear from her eye. "Oh, Luna. That was a good one."

"I'm not kidding, Cadance. Sunset Shimmer turned into a winged demon and fought five other students and an apparent dweller from another reality! When the battle was over, she actually became remorseful! It's like she's a whole new person!"

Cadance had heard of Sunset from both Luna and her sister, mostly in a negative light. "Luna," she said softly. "I love your jokes and stories, but now isn't the time for either."

"Dammit, Cadenza," Luna exclaimed, slamming on her desk.

Cadance's eyes widened. Only her closest friends knew her real name, and when they called her by it, it meant that a situation was serious. It was not something to be used lightly. After a few moments, she spoke. "Luna... are you absolutely one-hundred percent sure?"

"Yes," Luna answered with utmost conviction. "I am."

Cadance began to smile. "This may be it," she said excitedly. "Ever since Cinch took over, it's been a winner-take-all hellhole! If we could expose a majority of the student body to that magic, things could finally, finally turn around for the better!"

"My thoughts exactly," Luna said, sounding pleased with herself.

"Thank you so much, Luna."

"Anytime," Luna said, then hung up.

Cadance grinned widely and began to sent an email to all of her agents.

Attention all S.M.I.L.E. Agents! Emergency meeting after school, details to come.

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Cadance finished getting dressed, then walked to her door. She looked up at the picture of her mother and smiled. "Soon, mom," she said. "Soon." Then she left her room.

Gathering

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Cadance drove up to Crystal Prep and got out of her car with a smile as she looked upon Crystal Prep. She loved the school with all of her heart, and that love was one of the many reasons she started S.M.I.L.E.. She wanted to keep it safe. Make it welcoming and warm, not have it be some kind of "survival of the fittest free-for-all" arena like it's been since Cinch took over from her mother.

Cadance entered Crystal Prep and sighed happily as memories from her days as a student played out in her mind. Chats with Radiant Hope. Friendly students everywhere. Her mother was still the principal and headmistress and Abacus Cinch was just a Dean. It was a bittersweet feeling for her now, looking back on her halcyon days. So much had changed since then, and that was just another reason why S.M.I.L.E. came into being. Now, even without multitudes of students in the halls, hostility and over-competitiveness was still palpable in the halls... even if just barely.

Continuing to her office, Cadance caught sight of the district's Superintendent. Keeping her smile genuine, she walked over to greet him. "Hello, Superintendent Neighsay." All agents of S.M.I.L.E. knew that the Superintendent had been assisting Cinch ever since her first day in office, so they kept their distance from him unless spoken to. Cadance, on the other hand...

"Ah, Dean Cadance," Neighsay said. "Good to see you, as always."

"Likewise," Cadance said with a nod. "As usual, you're the first here for the meeting."

"I pride myself on my punctuality, and I see you do as well."

"I'm not the Dean for nothing, Superintendent," Cadance said with a laugh.

"Indeed," Neighsay said, raising an eyebrow in mild amusement. "I will await you in the meeting room, then."

Cadance nodded. "See you there." Her attention became diverted when she heard grumbling in the background. She turned around to see a balding man wearing a fez. His black eyes were narrowed as his yellow-gloved fingers scratched at his jowls. As he began to unbutton his grey coat, he noticed her.

"Cadance," the man shouted as he began to hobble towards her. Cadance turned around and heaved a sigh. If Cinch was at the top of her list of people she found difficult to deal with, then Principal Gruff would come in second. He was notoriously difficult to please, ornery, and just about as prideful as Cinch herself when it came to his school.

Cadance turned around and smiled. "Hello, Principal Gruff," she said with as much kindness as she could muster.

Gruff walked up to her. "There'd better be coffee in there," he said grumpily as he wagged a bony finger. "If there ain't no coffee, there's gonna be hell to pay!" He harrumphed, then continued hobbling all the way to the meeting room.

Well, Cadance thought. That was one of the more pleasant encounters I've had with him, all thing considered. A hand on her shoulder snapped her out of her thoughts. She turned to see a bright blue woman with dark blue hair. Her bright red eyes shone, daring Cadance to look away as though they were engaged in a staring contest. Deciding not to waste any more time, the Dean glanced at the woman's white horn-shaped earrings. "Principal Ember," she greeted, then gestured to the meeting room. "Give my regards to Torch," she said as Ember ran off. She sighed. Ember was one of the newer principals in the district, but she treated nearly everything like a competition. She prayed that this Ember wouldn't turn into another Abacus Cinch. One was enough as it is!

"Dean Cadance," a friendly voice called out. The Dean smiled as a man in a bright orange shirt walked towards her with a smile, his dark blue and green coat following his every movement. His rose eyes twinkled as he reached her and offered a light green hand to her.

Cadance accepted the handshake. "Good to see you, Principal Thorax," she said with a smile. Thorax was almost as new to his leadership role as Ember, but he was thankfully levelheaded and kind. The district needed more caring principals like him, even if he could be a bit naive every now and then. "How's Dean Pharynx?"

Thorax broke the handshake. "He's still getting used to the idea of me being Principal. He'd been working under Principal Chrysalis for so long that he's still a little aggressive to students."

"I'm sure he'll change soon enough," Cadance said. "Oh," she leaned into Thorax and whispered. "Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself." She winked. "I'll be rooting for you."

"Thanks," Thorax said with a laugh, then walked into the meeting room.

A sudden series of clacking noises on the floor diverted Cadance's attention. She turned around to see a thin light pink skinned woman with neon purple hair, her dark purple heels being responsible for the noise. Her strong magenta eyes were half-lidded as she smiled. "Dean Cadance, it is good to see you!"

"Principal Novo," Cadance said happily. "So glad you could make it!" Next to Celestia and Luna, Novo was one her favorite principals. Unflappable, witty, and confident, Novo always kept her cool. It was a quality the Dean admired.

Novo grinned. "Guess it's time to show the new generation and old farts in there how a school should be run, eh Cadance?"

"Show 'em what you've got," Cadance said with an equally wide grin. Novo pat her the shoulder and walked into the meeting room.

"Cadance," Celestia called from the hallway. "How are you?"

Cadance smiled. "I'm doing fine, all things considered." While Cadance wasn't as close with Celestia as she was with Luna, the two were at least on good terms with one another. "Tell Vice-Principal Luna I said hi!"

"Will do," Celestia said, then entered the meeting room.

"Dean Cadance," said a voice that the Dean was all too familiar with.

Dean Cadance smiled as best she could as Abacus Cinch crossed her path. "Good morning, Principal Cinch." As she passed, the Dean clenched her hands into fists. Her blood began to simmer. She had every right to despise that woman. After all that she did. She usurped the position of Principal from her mother. She changed Crystal Prep from a haven to a hellhole. But worst of all... Dean Cadance thought as she shed a tear.

Principal Cinch shut the door behind her.

"...You killed my mother..." she whispered.

Madhouse

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Cadance sighed heavily as she left the meeting with a headache. Nothing but squabbling, massive egos and little accomplished. Again. She rubbed her temples in frustration. "Why did I think it would be anything different," she muttered to herself. At least Celestia managed to keep some sort of peace between the principals. She heard a sigh, and directed her attention to the source of the noise.

There stood the top student at Crystal Prep Academy, Twilight Sparkle. She was scratching her head and looking crestfallen. Cadance smiled warmly. Twilight held a special place in her heart, like a little sister she never had. The Dean walked up to her. "Is something on your mind, Twilight," she asked.

Twilight turned around with a smile. "Hi, Dean Cadance," she said cheerily.

Cadance returned the smile. "Good morning, Twilight," she said. "Are you okay," she asked.

"I guess," Twilight said as she gripped her left arm with her right hand.

"Is there something you're not telling me," Cadance asked.

Twilight sighed again. "I ran into the Superintendent just before class. He's very intimidating up close."

"I see," Cadance said. "Superintendent Neighsay can be a little...disconcerting, but he has everyone's best interests at heart."

"If you say so," Twilight said with a tone of uncertainty. The warning bell for second period rang. "See you later, Dean Cadance!"

Cadance smiled as she watched Twilight run off, then began to head back to her office. She stopped momentarily as she noticed a light pink-skinned girl moping around the halls. That's Lemon Zest, she thought. Normally Lemon would be dancing energetically to whatever was playing in her pink headphones, her green hair swaying along with her. But lately, she'd been just trudging along in the halls, like school was a chore. Maybe I'll pay her a visit later today. But first, I should get to the paperwork.

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Cadance left her office as Lunch began. I forgot how much of a pain administrative work could be, she thought as she felt another headache coming on. She shook her head, then carried on. Upon reaching the cafeteria, she scanned the crowds of people until she found Lemon. "Lemon Zest," she asked, getting the girl's attention.

"Dean Cadence," Lemon asked. "What are you doing in the cafeteria?"

Cadence smiled. "I've noticed you've been down in the dumps lately. You seem to be deep in thought. Is something troubling you?"

Lemon Zest blushed. "Is it that obvious?"

"Not really," said Dean Cadence as she sat down next to Lemon. "But I've seen it enough times to recognize it," she said with a smile.

Lemon sighed. "This whole back and forth thing with being friends and enemies is really getting to me. I mean, I get it. We're Crystal Prep Shadowbolts. We always win. 'We have a reputation to uphold!'". Lemon Zest said the last sentence trying to impersonate Principal Cinch, then smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. I'm just venting."

Dean Cadence laughed. "I completely understand. Principal Cinch can be a bit...abrasive sometimes, but she only wants what's best for this school." She put a hand on Lemon's shoulder. "You know that you can always talk to me or one of the guidance counselors if you ever need someone to lend you an ear," she said. She hated playing devil's advocate for Cinch, but it was necessary for her to keep her cover and cool.

"Thanks," Lemon smiled. "I'll keep that in mind."

Cadance's phone rang, and she looked at the screen.

Now Calling: Benefactor

Cadance's eyes widened momentarily, then she looked at Lemon. "I'm sorry, but I have to take this call," she said apologetically, then hurried off.

"No worries," Lemon said with a wave. "Later!"

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Cadance ran to the nearest secluded area, then looked in both directions to be sure she was alone. She answered the call. "Hello."

"Good morning, Cadance," a robotic voice said.

Out of all the people in S.M.I.L.E., only Cadance knew who Benefactor really was. Upon their joining the ranks, they made a deal with her to keep their identity secret. They had been good friends with her ever since her mother was still principal at Crystal Prep, and she was more than happy to have them on board.

"I don't understand why you insist on keeping that robotic voice when it's just you and I talking," Cadance said.

"I insist for the same reason you prefer the name 'Cadance'. You never know."

Cadance sighed. "I guess you have a point. But enough about all that. Why are you calling me?"

"I have been thinking lately... At Canterlot High, there are six girls who possess extraordinary qualities. One of them from another world."

"Yes," Cadance nodded. "I know all of that already from Vice-Principal Luna."

"What if there were six students like that here, in Crystal Prep?"

Cadance raised an eyebrow. "What makes you so sure that's possible?"

"You recently found out that genuine magic exists, not to mention a parallel world. I would like to think anything's possible at this rate," Benefactor said.

"Fair enough," Cadance said. "You wouldn't happen to have any idea on how to find these six students, would you?"

"Sadly, I do not. I'm not a miracle worker, Cadance."

Cadance sighed. "Well, at least it's a thought. I'll keep all that in mind. Thank you."

"You're quite welcome," Benefactor said, then hung up.

Cadance pocketed her phone and began to walk back to her office.

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By the time Cadance was near her office, a student called her from down the hall. She turned her attention. "What's wrong, she asked as the student met her halfway.

"Someone's freaking out in the hallway," the student exclaimed, then led Cadance to the scene.

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Once there, Cadance noticed an emotional Lemon Zest sitting on the floor. She glanced at the student. "Thank you, I can take it from here." The student smiled and nodded, then went to his next class. She slowly walked up to Lemon and put a comforting arm on her shoulder.

Lemon looked up. "Dean Cadence," she asked as she wiped her tears away.

"Count yourself lucky I'm not Principal Cinch," Cadence said.

Lemon smiled. "Trust me. That's the last person I want to see right now."

Cadence sighed. "I know you're having a rough day, so why didn't you come see me," she asked.

Lemon blushed. "I'm sorry. That outburst and rant was from all the crap I've gone through here at CPA."

Cadence smiled. "I understand. If you want, you could always transfer to Canterlot High."

Lemon Zest frowned. "It may be a hellhole here, but I think I'd have an even harder time adjusting there."

"Why's that," asked Cadence.

"Have you seen how upbeat they all are over there? It'd be like going from one extreme to the other," said Lemon, gesturing left and right with both arms.

"I can see why you'd think that, but I happen to be good friends with the Vice-Principal there. They're all so welcoming."

"Nah." said Lemon as she shook her head. "Besides, I've heard weird rumors about that place."

Cadence quirked an eyebrow. "Rumors? What rumors?"

"Some people were talking about some kinda magic or something. Like when that strange rainbow appeared the night of Canterlot High's Fall Formal, or when their Battle of the Bands went all crazy with special effects that looked too dangerous."

Cadence stroked her chin. I'll have to talk to Luna about this later. "Well if you're not going to transfer, at least promise me you'll see a guidance counselor or at least talk to me. Judging by that scene in the hallway, you have a lot on your mind."

Lemon Zest smiled. "Okay. I promise."

"I'll hold you to it, then," Cadance said, then went back to her office.

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Cadance shut the door to her office to ensure privacy, then called Luna. It rang twice, then she picked up.

"Hello, Cadance," Luna said. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?"

"I'm afraid it's... 'business' related."

"Okay," Luna said. "You have my full and undivided attention."

Cadance told Luna word for word what Lemon said in the hallway.

Luna sighed. "I'm not surprised. There was no way we'd be able to keep the entire student body quiet about the matter. At least, no way that wouldn't conflict with our morals."

"That's understandable," Cadance said. "Anyway, I thought you should know."

"Thanks for the heads-up, Cadance," Luna said. "Talk to you later."

"Of course." Cadance hung up, then went back to work.

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Some time later, someone knocked on Cadance's office door. "Yes?"

A student all but ran inside, panicking. "D-Dean C-Cadance, a huge fight just broke out in the hallway!"

Cadance got up off her desk quickly, then followed the student until she reached the fight. "All right, break it up you two," she said as another staff member arrived and restrained one of the fighters. "What happened here?"

The restrained student flailed as he unsuccessfully tried to break free. "That asshole fucked my mom and recorded it on his phone!"

Cadance's eyes widened in shock and horror. She looked at the offending student, then narrowed her eyes. "Is that true," she asked, feeling rage boil within.

The student shrugged. "Maybe," he said casually as though he were talking about the weather. Cadance growled and grabbed the student, causing him to yelp.

"I'm going to ask you again," Cadance said, her voice practically dripping with fury. "Is. That. True?!" She came within inches of the student's face, breathing heavily as she glared at him.

The student blanched. "Y-Yes, D-D-Dean C-Cadance..."

Cadance closed her eyes and took a long, deep breath then exhaled. She opened them, feeling minutely calmer. "Both of you," she said as calmly as she could. "Go to the Principal's office."

The other student blinked in surprise as he was let go. "What? But I-"

"NOW!" Cadance bellowed. The two students ran away at full speed. She sighed heavily, then took notice of all the other students in the hall. "I'm so sorry you all had to see that," she said in a normal tone. "I've...been having a rough day. Please excuse me." She calmly walked into her office, and closed the door. She sat down at her desk and put her head in her hands, then began to cry.

In Need of Hope

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Several minutes had passed, and Cadance regained control of her emotions. She hadn't been that angry since... She sighed, then heard a knock on the door. "Come in," she said. The door opened to admit a furious Twilight Sparkle. She stomped to the Dean's desk. "Twilight," she said in surprise and concern. "You look absolutely livid! What's wrong?"

Twilight took a deep breath, then sighed. She took a moment to gather her thoughts, then began. "Out in the hall... I heard two students arguing. One of them said 'Your mom is town bicycle, and I got her off last night.'" Her voice began to rise in volume. "He began to play a video... It was sexual in nature." Her face began to darken. "I-It was... it was a student having sex with another student's mother."

Cadance kept her expression neutral, but on the inside she felt her anger begin to rise at the mere thought.

"A-and then," Twilight said, trembling with anger. "H-He had the absolute gall to say 'T-That must mean I-I'm your daddy now!'" Her trembles of fury became trembles of sadness. "Why," she asked, then sniffled. "Why would somebody do something so...so reprehensible?!" Dean Cadance walked over to her and hugged her.

"It's okay, Twilight," Cadance said reassuringly. "I dealt with that matter personally."

Twilight sniffled again, then returned Cadance's hug. "How could he," she asked.

Cadance frowned a little. "It isn't my place to say," she said. "But don't worry, Twilight. I have a feeling that someday, things are going to change around here."

Feeling reassured just by being in Cadance's presence, Twilight smiled. "I hope so," she said.

"Do you feel better now?"

Twilight nodded.

"Good," Cadance said. "You should hurry if you want to catch your bus." Twilight yelped, then ran out of Cadance's office.

"Thank you," Twilight said, then closed the door.

"God, what has Crystal Prep Academy become," Cadance whispered to herself. I'd better walk the anger off, unless I want to explain to Cinch why there's a hole in the wall of my office.

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Cadance sighed as she walked the halls. She glanced to her side and noticed Lemon Zest. She called her out, gaining the student's attention.

"Yes, Dean Cadence," Lemon asked.

"Before you go, I just wanted to check in with you. Did you speak to someone like I asked?"

Lemon smiled. "Yeah! I spoke with Radiant Hope. It was great talking to her! I made another appointment to see her."

Cadence smiled back. "That's good to hear, Lemon."

Lemon sighed. "If only more people around here were like her... or you."

"Who knows," asked Cadence. "Maybe that'll change one day."

"I wouldn't hold my breath, Dean Cadence. I wouldn't hold my breath." Lemon said as she headed for the exit.

"Have a good rest of your day," Cadence said.

"You too," said Lemon Zest as she waved goodbye before turning her back.

Cadance sighed with a frown as she watched Lemon hurry to her bus. The poor girl shouldn't have to be subjected to such hostility. None of the students here should. And yet... her earlier display of anger... Damn that woman, she thought. She walked back to her office and sent a text.

Hope, I need to talk with you. - Cadance

Can you meet me in my office for a few minutes?

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Cadance reached her office and sat down as the altercation with the student replayed in her mind over and over again. She put her head in her hands, feeling ashamed of herself. She should know better than that, but once the subject of mothers came up... There was a knock at her door, interrupting her thoughts. "Come in," she said. The door opened to reveal Radiant Hope. "Oh, thank god," Cadance whispered, then shot over to her.

Hope closed the door behind her, then yelped in surprise as Cadance hugged her tightly. In her experience, whenever her old friend did this was when she was either elated or sorrowful. "...Are you okay?"

Cadance looked up at Hope and sniffled. "I-I don't know."

Hope smiled warmly. "Come on, sit down with me," she said soothingly. The two sat next to each other and looked face to face. She gently took Cadance by the hands. "Now, what happened?" The Dean proceeded to tell Hope exactly what transpired, and slowly lost her composure as she ended her explanation. Hope's eyes went wide. "My god," she whispered.

Cadance shuddered with emotion. "I think this is it. It's finally happening," she said, her voice cracking. "After all these years of working with Cinch, I'm getting caught up in all the aggression..."

Hope narrowed her eyes. "Now see here, Cadenza," she said sternly, rapidly gaining the Dean's attention. "You only flipped out back there because someone's mother was disrespected. That's been a sore spot for you ever since we lost Amore."

Cadance wiped away a tear. "But it doesn't excuse my behavior, Hope!"

"You're right," Hope said. "It doesn't." She paused in thought for a moment. "Okay. I think you should find that student and apologize for treating him that way."

"But what if he acts all smug about it, Hope? I can't afford to lose my temper like that again!"

"Then walk away," Hope said. "Be the bigger person... It's what your mother would have done."

Cadance sniffled. "My mom wouldn't have attacked that student in the first place!"

"That's true," Hope admitted. "But whenever she made a mistake, no matter how big or how small, she would always make up for it. It's one of the reasons she was so loved."

Cadance sniffled again, then sighed heavily. "You're right, Hope." A smile formed on her face. Hope always knew what to do or say to cheer her up, or even set her on the right path. She hugged Hope again. "Thank you."

Hope returned the hug. "Any time, Cadance. Any time." She she broke the hug, then took out her phone. "Speaking of which, I think it's about time I headed out. What about you?"

"I've still got some paperwork to fill out, but I'll be leaving soon."

"Well, then," Hope said. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah," Cadance said with a smile. "See you tomorrow."

Hope left, and Cadance went to work, feeling much better than before.

The House that Love Built

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Her work for the day finally done, Cadance left her office with a sigh. She loved her job, but the paperwork could be such a hassle sometimes! She stretched, then cracked her neck and headed to her car. On her way, her phone began to ring. That had better not be Cinch! She couldn't count on her fingers how many times she got called back to the office at the last minute! Taking a deep breath and steeling herself, she took the phone out of her pocket and heaved a sigh of relief.

Now Calling: Benefactor

She picked up. "Can you hang on, I'm almost in my car."

"As you wish," the robotic voice said.

Cadance got into the car, then put the phone on speaker as she buckled her seatbelt. "Okay, I'm in."

There was a click on the phone, then a momentary silence. "Do you have time in your busy schedule for a friendly visit?"

Cadance smiled warmly upon hearing Benefactor's natural voice. It was a rare occurrence over the phone, and she appreciated whenever it happened. "You're one to talk," she said with a laugh. "Yes, I have time. Just give me a few minutes to neaten the place up."

Benefactor chuckled. "Fair enough. I'll be there soon."

"See you then," Cadance said, then hung up.

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Cadance neared her house and smiled. Home sweet home. The off-white house was decent, by upper middle-class standards. Far too big for one person to live alone in, but this was the house she was born and raised in. Nothing short of death would get her to move out. She parked in the garage and got out of her car with a contented sigh. It always felt good, returning home from work. It gave her something to look forward to at the end of the day. She closed the garage door, then walked inside.

Cadance closed the garage door, and passed by the mud room and bathroom into a small living room with three steps that led to the kitchen. The living room area contained a light blue sofa that she would lay on to watch her flat-screen television. One of her favorite pastimes was watching romance movies with a tub of popcorn. Maybe she'd do that tomorrow night, she had an incoming visitor! Her heels clacked on the hard wooden floor as she ascended to the kitchen.

The kitchen had a large fridge and a large freezer. Sandwiched between the two was a pantry containing cereal, bread and protein bars among other things. An island with a marble counter sat in the middle with several ladles and other cooking implements hanging just above it. To the side was a stove and oven, which connected to the other side of the kitchen where two sinks were. Off to the side was a rectangular table, within sight of the television in the living room area. Two wooden chairs sat on each long side, kept there just in case of a surprise visit from her friends.

Cadance passed the door to her basement as she looked out the windows to the front porch. Memories of herself running around in the backyard while her mother watched came back to her. She would blow bubbles, catch fireflies, and play other games. It was a bittersweet feeling, knowing days like those were long gone.

Cadance sighed, then reached a wide open room with two couches and a fireplace. The room where her mother would entertain guests and host parties. She winced as she felt a sudden pang of loneliness. I should get out more often. As much as I love this house, I can't spend all my time here. She took off her heels, then picked them up and ascended the stairs.

Once at the top, Cadance glanced at the front door of the house, then continued to her room. She closed the door, then looked up at the picture of her mother. "I'm back," she said with a faint smile. She stretched, then checked her phone for any texts before jumping into the shower.

Inside the bathroom, Cadance began to run the water as more memories ran through her mind. She remembered when her room was her mother's room. The door was almost always open, only closed when she was getting dressed. Cadance would walk in, and Amore would always welcome her in with opened arms and a nice warm hug... Warmth. She missed that so very much. The embrace of a loved one, letting you know that no matter how bad or trying things may be, everything was going to be... just...

Cadance held back tears as another pang of loneliness struck. She hadn't felt true warmth in so long... Not even her closest friends or Benefactor hugged her in the same way her mother did. She sniffled as she switched the water from bath to shower, then walked in. She shuddered as the shower water hit her back, filling her with... warmth. She could no longer hold back her emotions, and broke. She sat down in the tub and hugged herself tightly as the warmth of the water cascaded down her back.

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Cadance sighed heavily as she got out of the shower and dried herself off. How many times has she cried since her mother died? It seemed like a day hadn't gone by that she kept her eyes dry. That tore it. She needed to talk to Hope again.

I'm sorry, Cadenza, but I don't condone revenge. You know that!

Cadance shook her head rapidly and sighed again. Hopefully Benefactor's visit would put her in a better mood. Just thinking about it helped greatly. After all, Benefactor was not just a close friend, but like a second parent to her. She swiftly changed into casual clothing and began her descent to the main floor.

There was a knock at the front door, causing Cadance to smile genuinely. She took great care in not running down the stairs, no matter how badly she wanted to. She opened the door to see her new visitor and smiled. "Thank you so much for coming here," she said. "It's been a while since we've had an informal visit."

"Indeed," said Superintendent Neighsay.

A Friendly Visit

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Cadance hugged Neighsay tightly, glad to see him outside of any official capacity. The hug was returned gratefully, and an unbidden memory ran through her mind: her earliest memory of him.

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Cadenza was three years old and in the backyard, chasing after a butterfly on a warm summer day. Amore watched her as she tripped over her untied shoelaces, blinked, then got back up and went to look for something else to do. Smiling warmly, Amore walked over to her and sat her down, then tied her shoes. She gave Cadenza a mischievous smile. "I'm gonna get you," she said in a playful tone.

Cadenza laughed, then started running as best she could as her mother chased after her for several moments until a voice stopped them both in their tracks.

"Hello, Amore," Neighsay said as he entered the backyard.

"Neighsay," Amore exclaimed in delight with outstretched arms. "So glad you could come!" She turned her attention to Cadenza, who just stood there, staring at the big scary man. Her eyes were wide with uncertainty as she slowly walked towards her mommy while keeping her eyes on him. Amore laughed warmly, then picked her up. "Cadenza," she said in a motherly voice. "This is mommy's good friend, Neighsay!" Cadenza blinked, then buried her head in her mother's shoulder.

Neighsay chuckled. "I'm sure she'll warm up to me eventually."

Amore smiled as she gently rubbed Cadenza's back. "I'm sure she will, too."

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The hug was broken, and Neighsay walked in. "So how was your day?"

Cadance took a deep breath, then heaved a sigh. She may have spoken to Hope, but she was still really ashamed of her actions against that one particular student. "You're probably going to want to sit down for this one," she said, then reluctantly told him what happened. She finished her story, then sighed heavily as she put a hand to her head. She was mortified by her behavior even more now that she told Neighsay.

"Cadenza," Neighsay said, causing her to flinch. He put his hand on hers. "I understand why you did what you did..." He trailed off, as though he was hesitant in speaking his next sentence. He sighed. "But I cannot condone that sort of behavior from anyone. Not my students, and not you. You should know better by now," he exclaimed in a scolding tone.

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Cadenza was in Kindergarten and was receiving a stern look from Neighsay. "Why did you push your classmate," the Superintendent asked.

Cadenza stood still for a moment, unable to meet Neighsay's gaze. "She said something mean about mommy."

Neighsay raised an eyebrow. "We're supposed to talk through our anger. Isn't that what your mommy told you?"

Again, Cadenza remained silent and still for a moment before answering. "...Yes."

"I'll forgive you, but don't do it again," Neighsay said, then smiled. "Now come on, let's go see mommy."

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Cadance blanched at Neighsay's rebuke. "I know," she said quietly while looking away. "I-I just snapped." She wanted to curl into a ball, she was so embarrassed at herself!

"You should consider yourself lucky if the student doesn't press charges..."

Cadance grunted in frustration. "Don't remind me."

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Now in third grade, Cadenza sat on a tablecloth outside with Neighsay and her mom as they ate lunch together. She stared at her sandwich for a moment, then spoke. "Why don't I have a dad?"

Amore nearly choked on her drink, then took a deep breath. She glanced at Neighsay, who simply shrugged. She knew this day would come eventually, but she didn't think it would come so soon! She exhaled, bracing herself for whatever her daughter's reaction would be. "He's out of the picture."

Cadenza tilted her head in confusion.

"What your mother means," Neighsay said as he scooted up to Cadenza. "Is that your dad...left before you were born."

"Why would he do that?"

Neighsay hesitated momentarily. No matter what, he felt Cadenza needed to know the absolute truth. "He...wasn't a very nice person." Amore shifted uncomfortably behind him. "He only cared about himself, and when he found out he had... 'responsibilities', he ran away."

"'Responsibilities'," Cadenza repeated questioningly.

Neighsay closed his eyes, and took a deep breath, steeling himself. This was going to be painful for all parties involved. He exhaled, then opened his eyes. He stared into Cadenza's eyes for what seemed like an eternity, then forced the words out of his mouth. "He didn't want to take care of you."

Cadenza teared up. "My dad left...because of me?"

As if on instinct, Neighsay immediately grabbed Cadenza and hugged her as tightly as he could without hurting her. "I'm so sorry," he whispered as a tear fell. "He did." Cadenza sniffled, then began to cry, burying her head into his chest. He felt his heart shatter as she shook with each sob. No child should have to suffer so, but neither should a child be lied to about their parents.

Amore ran over and hugged Neighsay as tightly as she could, tears of her own streaming down her cheeks. "T-Thank you," she said before sniffling. "I-I just didn't have the heart to tell her!"

Neighsay smiled. "It's all right, Amore. I know how uncomfortable the subject is for you." He looked down at the emotional Cadenza. "She would have found out sooner or later."

When she finally had no more tears left in her, Cadenza looked up at Neighsay. "W-Will you be my dad?"

Neighsay's eyes widened momentarily, then looked at Amore who seemed to be on the verge of bursting into tears. He looked back at Cadenza, then smiled warmly. "I'd be honored."

Amore broke and held onto both Neighsay and her daughter as though all their lives depended on it, crying tears of happiness.

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"Well, what am I supposed to say," Neighsay asked as he raised an eyebrow. "That you did the right thing?"

"Look, I already said I'd apologize," Cadance said, frustrated. "Can we not talk about this anymore?"

"Very well," Neighsay said. "But don't say you weren't warned."

"I'll keep that in mind." Cadance said as she got up from her seat. "Would you like some tea?"

"That does sound good right about now."

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Eighth grader Cadenza sniffled with her head in her hands as Neighsay consoled her. "There, there," he said as he gently ran a hand through her hair. "Not everybody finds love with their first crush anyway," he said.

"He didn't have to be a jerk about it, though," Cadenza exclaimed, then sniffled again.

Neighsay nodded. "That is true, he didn't."

Cadenza sighed, then looked up from her hands. "Have you had any luck in love before?"

Neighsay smiled warmly. "I understand love's importance in life, but I'm happily single."

Cadenza's eyes widened. "How can you be happy when you're single?"

Neighsay shrugged. "It's just my preference, nothing more to it than that."

Cadenza was slightly confused. She had never heard of someone happy to be alone. She would have asked about her mother, but she already knew Neighsay loved her like a sibling. "I-If you say so," she said with uncertainty.

"Cadenza," Neighsay said as he gently put his hands on her shoulders. "I have no doubt that one day you'll find the right person."

Cadenza smiled, taking his words to heart.

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Cadance brought tea back with her. "I know this is supposed to be an informal visit," she said as she sat down and gave a cup to Neighsay. "But what do you know about the supposed magic at Canterlot High?"

Neighsay gratefully took the cup of tea, then paused in thought. "I only know of it from stories told by the staff there," he said. A couple of teachers actually retired, believing the stress of the job was getting to them."

Cadance couldn't help but snicker. "Well, they may have gotten out just in time if the magic is real."

"Indeed," Neighsay said with a smile. "But if I'm being honest, that's all I know."

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"Amore," Neighsay said, concerned. "I'm not so sure you should trust Dean Cinch. I fear she may have an ulterior motive in wanting to meet with you alone."

Amore rolled her eyes and smiled. "Oh come now," she said. "You shouldn't worry."

"But she's-"

"I know who she is, Neighsay," Amore said in slight frustration, crossing her arms. "Honestly, you should at least give her a chance."

Neighsay sighed. He didn't like this one bit, but whenever Amore crossed her arms that meant her mind was made up. "Just...be careful, okay?"

"I will," Amore said, then left.

Silence reigned for several moments as Neighsay heaved a sigh. "I know you were listening in, Cadenza. Come on out."

Cadenza, now going by Cadance (which was a nickname she enjoyed so much in eighth grade, she registered herself as such upon enrolling in Crystal Prep) was now a Freshman. She walked out slowly, filled with grave concern. "Is... Is mom going to be okay," she asked.

Neighsay sighed again. "I certainly hope so..."

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Cadance made a sputtering noise. "Think you could find some way to get to the Friendship Games? So you can see the magic for yourself, provided it's real?"

Neighsay took a sip of tea. "You know I can't guarantee that I'll be able to make it. 'Busy schedule', remember?"

"Right," Cadance looked down in disappointment.

"But I will see what I can do."

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Young Cadance was abruptly woken up by a cry of agony. Slightly dazed, she ran to her mother's room to a sight that would haunt her until her dying day.

Amore was sitting on the toilet and clutching the bathroom's trash can. Her eyes were shut tightly as she screamed in pain before vomiting into the receptacle. She looked up and saw her daughter with terror in her eyes. "N-Nine...One..." She vomited again, then waved a free hand frantically.

Cadance needed no more instruction. Now fully awake and nearly in hysterics as tears rolled down her eyes, she ran to the nearest phone, then dialed for an ambulance as she heard her mother continue to be violently ill in the background. Once she knew the ambulance was incoming, she called Neighsay in a complete and utter panic, urging him to come over immediately.

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"That's all I ask," Cadance said. Neighsay's phone buzzed, and he checked it. He sighed heavily, then pocketed it. "Duty calls," she asked.

"I'm afraid so," Neighsay said.

"Well, it was short but sweet."

"Indeed it was."

Cadance walked up to Neighsay and hugged him. "If there really is magic, it just might be our one chance."

"Here's hoping," Neighsay said as her returned the hug.

"Want me to see you to the door?"

Neighsay smiled as he broke the hug. "I'd like that."

Cadance walked the Superintendent over to the door and smiled. "I'll see you later."

Neighsay nodded. "See you later."

Cadance closed the door, then cleaned up and went upstairs to bed.

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Young Cadance and Neighsay arrived at the hospital, where they anxiously awaited the doctor's diagnosis. "I-I'm scared," Cadance said as a tear rolled down her cheek.

"So am I, Cadenza," Neighsay said as he hugged her. "So am I..."

The doctor arrived with a troubled look on his face. "I have a question for you both," he said.

"I'll answer it," Neighsay said, then gestured to Cadance. "She's far too anxious for anything right now."

The doctor nodded. "Fair enough," he said. "And you are..."

"Neighsay."

"Right. Neighsay, do you know what..." he looked at his clipboard. "...Amore ate most recently?"

"No," Neighsay said. "She was out when she ate last..." he trailed off as realization struck, and his eyes widened in horror. "Oh dear lord, no," he whispered.

"Mister Neighsay, she's been vomiting, experiencing severe stomach pains, bloody stools...extreme thirst..."

"What is it," Cadance asked, unable to keep the fear out of her voice.

Neighsay turned around, tears in his eyes. "Cadenza...those symptoms..."

"What? What??"

Neighsay sniffled. "...Those symptoms are from amanita mushroom ingestion. Your mother's been poisoned."

All in a Day's Work

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The next day, Cadance woke up with a sense of dread. She was worried about trying to make amends with the student she grabbed in a fit of rage. Would he accept? Would he press charges? Would be smug? She took a deep breath, then exhaled. Now was not the time to worry about such things. For now, she had to get dressed and get to Crystal Prep.

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Now at Crystal Prep, Cadance headed straight for her office. She'd have time to search for the student later. Upon reaching her office, she noticed a piece of paper in her inbox. She took it, and gave it a quick... "Son of a bitch," she muttered under her breath. It was a suspension letter for the student she accosted yesterday! She put a hand to her head and sighed heavily. She got herself all worked up for nothing. She got out a pad of paper and made a note to herself to apologize to him the next time she'd see him. Might as well get to it, then, she thought as she began filling out the letter.

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Some time later, the door to Cadance's office was flung open, nearly startling the Dean. "What the-"

"Dean Cadance," the student said as he tried to catch his breath. "There's a fight going on in the halls!"

Cadance's jaw dropped. Again?! What sort of hellhole was this place becoming for it to have two fights in two days?! "Take me there, now!"

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Dean Cadance arrived on the scene to see Lemon Zest and Sour Sweet charging towards each other. Summoning as much strength as she could muster, she grabbed and held back the latter while Radiant Hope restrained the former.

"What on earth has gotten into you two," said Dean Cadence as she continued holding a flailing Sour Sweet.

"Oh my god, you're both bleeding," Radiant Hope exclaimed before gritting her teeth.

"I'm fine," shouted Sour Sweet.

"Let me at that goddamn bitch! I've had enough of her bullshit," yelled Lemon Zest.

"Enough," bellowed Principal Cinch. Sour, Lemon, Hope and Cadence all stopped at the sound of Cinch's voice. "What is the meaning of this," she asked, folding her arms and tapping a foot in impatience. Lemon and Sour both started talking at the same time, got angry again, and had to be held back once more by Hope and Cadence. Principal Cinch pinched the bridge of her nose. "I've heard enough," she said. "Lemon Zest. Sour Sweet. Go to the nurses office to get patched up. If I hear of one more incident involving you two I'm sending you both home for the day." The two girls glared at each other.
"Do I make myself clear?" said Cinch, her patience long since lost.

"Yes, Principal Cinch." said Lemon and Sour, blushing in embarrassment.

The bell for the first class of the day rang as Lemon and Sour went to the nurse's office, avoiding eye contact with each other to avoid fighting again. Cinch walked off in a huff, and Hope and Cadance simply stared at each other.

"Talk later," Cadance asked.

"Talk later. Work first," agreed Hope, and the two went back to their respective offices.

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A few hours of work and a quick lunch later, Cadance decided to get out of her office. It was getting rather stuffy in there, and she needed to move around. She stretched as she got off of her seat, then cracked her neck. She winced in pain, then walked out of her office.

As Cadance walked the halls, she noticed Crystal Prep Academy's top student: Twilight Sparkle. She had her pet dog Spike out of her bag and out in the open. "Twilight,"she said, causing the student to yelp. She turned around. "I know your parents and I agreed to let you bring your dog to Crystal Prep," Cadance continued. "But we only agreed under the condition that you only let him out when you're either outside or in your personal lab."

Twilight smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry, Dean Cadance. I just didn't want Spike to suffocate, and he's so energetic sometimes."

Cadance folded her arms. "Be that as it may, what do you think would have happened if I was Principal Cinch? What would she have done?"

Twilight sighed. "She'd make sure that I'd never bring him here again," she said, slouching in a defeated posture.

"Now, now, Twilight," Cadance said reassuringly as she put her arms on Twilight's shoulders. "I'm not trying to make you feel bad. I just don't want you to get caught. Spike helps you get through the day sometimes, I understand that." Twilight nodded. "Be more careful where you let him out," she said as Spike approached her. "Isn't that right," she cooed, scratching the dog behind the ear. He thumped his left hind quarter on the floor in appreciation until she stopped, then shook his head rapidly. The warning bell for seventh period rang. "Well, we should both get going," Dean Cadance said.

"Yes," Twilight said. "Yes we should." She ran up to Cadance and gave her a hug, which was warmly returned. The hug was broken quickly, and Twilight put Spike back in her backpack, then the two went their separate ways.

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A few hours later, Cadance checked her phone for the time. She smiled, then got out of her chair with a yawn. Being a Dean may be a little hard to deal with sometimes, but that'll be behind her soon enough. She made a mental note to speak to Hope once she got home. The tension around Crystal Prep Academy seemed to have escalated quite a bit, and she didn't know how much more she, the staff, or the rest of the student body could take! She took a deep breath, then exhaled. At least she had the weekend to look forward to. A weekend of planning and relaxing, but not necessarily in that order. She closed and locked her office door, then went on her way to her car, glad to leave the oppressive atmosphere behind her... for now.

A Conversation Before Retiring

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Cadance returned home with a sigh. That was one of the most eventful days she's had at work in recent memory! She took out her phone and sent a text.

Can you hold on for a few moments? I want to get settled in. - Cadance

Sure. I've got time. - Radiant Hope

Cadance went up to her room, then changed into more casual clothing. She walked out with a smile, her book in hand, feeling relaxed. Dressing nice for the public was all well and good, but sometimes comfort overrode style. She ate a quick dinner, then entered the living room with her phone in hand as she dialed up Radiant Hope. She put it on speaker, then set it down on a coffee table as she waited for an answer. A moment later, the dial tone stopped. "Hello!"

"Hello," Cadance said. "I just want to start off by thanking you for being there to help break up that fight."

"You're welcome. I shudder to think how far things would have escalated had neither of us arrived."

"Lemon did see you today, didn't she?"

"Of course she did," Hope said. "One session alone isn't going to solve everything, so it's not entirely surprising that she still has issues with Sour."

Cadance sighed. "Oh, if only it were that easy."

"If it really was that easy, I'd probably be out of a job," Hope said, then laughed.

Cadance snickered. Hope was all business within the walls of Crystal Prep, but once out side those confines she had quite a sense of humor! It was one of the many things that Cadance loved about her. Despite the moment of levity, however, she sighed and put a hand to her face.

"Something on your mind," Hope asked.

"How many more fights in the halls will we have to endure before the Friendship Games, Hope? I... I don't know how much more of these hostilities I can take!"

"Cadenza," Hope said. "You've done well to endure after all these years. It's just a few more days. Don't forget that you have everyone's support as well."

Cadance smiled warmly. She felt so fortunate to have a friend in Hope. "Sometimes I do forget, Hope. Sometimes I get so hyper-focused on taking down that damned-"

"Cadenza..."

Cadance blinked, then sighed heavily. "See what I mean? I can get all worked up just...just thinking about her!"

"Maybe you need-"

"Don't say it, Hope. I refuse to take a vacation until I'm well settled in as Crystal Prep Academy's fourth principal!"

Hope sighed. "I just don't want you to have a meltdown."

Cadance took a deep breath, then exhaled, calming down slightly. "I understand, and I appreciate your concern." She laughed mirthlessly. "I'm sorry for continuously cutting you off."

"No worries, Cadance," Hope said. "I totally get where you're coming from. I want all of this hyper-competitive madness to end just as much as you! But I have a feeling the wait will be worth it."

Cadance ran a hand through her hair. "I sure hope you're right. I'd hate for us to have put so much stock into this only for it to blow up in all our faces. We'd end up back at square one, or even worse!"

"I shudder to think, but let's not go there until we absolutely have to."

"Agreed," Cadance said with a nod.

"Speaking of 'going there'..."

Cadance nearly bolted upright. "How many times do I have to tell you and Luna, Hope?! I'll tell everyone when I'm good and ready!" Hope, Luna and even Neighsay had time and time again wanted her to tell the rest of S.M.I.L.E. that she was Amore's daughter. They had argued that if she told everyone she was the daughter of the woman whose legacy the agency was working hard to restore, they'd be behind her one hundred percent! Cadance, however, argued that revealing her lineage would lead to the revelation that her true motivation behind creating S.M.I.L.E. wasn't just bringing Crystal Prep Academy back to calmer times...

...It was also about revenge. Revenge for her mother. For Crystal Prep. For the injustice carried out that day. Cadance steeled herself, then opened her book to the pages she swore to look at as infrequently as possible.

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Verdict of the Jury

We, the Jury, find Abacus Cinch not guilty on the count of the First Degree murder of Amore, the former Headmistress of Crystal Prep Academy.

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Cadance had written around the verdict the names of those who served on that jury, and the things she would do to them if she ever, ever found them again. Damn that woman...damn her father! Damn influence! She screamed in rage and slammed her fists on coffee table, then broke. Tears she hadn't realized she'd held back all day began flowing.

"Cadenza?!"

Why? Why did this have to happen to such an undeserving woman? Why was that... that monster in her mother's old office, when she should either be dead or rotting in a jail cell?!

"Cadenza!"

What if the worst-case scenario happened? What if everything did blow up in their faces?! Cadance would have to endure that fucking smug sneer of Cinch's for the rest of her life!

"MI AMORE CADENZA!"

Cadance snapped to attention, then sniffled.

"Hit any number on your keypad so I know you can hear me."

Cadance hit the number seven.

"Okay, good," Hope said, then sighed in relief. "You know the drill. One number for yes, two numbers for no. Understand?"

Cadance hit the number one.

"...You looked at it, didn't you?"

Cadance remained still for several moments, then hit the number zero.

"Dammit, Cadenza," Hope whispered. "You always get so worked up when you look at that report. For the life of me, I'll never understand why you kept it."

Cadance sniffled again.

"Cadance...I love you like a sister, you know that?"

Cadance took a deep breath, then exhaled. "Yes," she said shakily. "I do."

"Get some sleep, and we'll talk tomorrow, okay? I'll even come over to keep you company. How does that sound?"

Cadance smiled. "It sounds good to me. See you tomorrow."

"Yep. See you then."

Cadance hung up and went straight to bed, emotionally drained.

Another Friendly Visit

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The next morning, Cadance waited eagerly for Radiant Hope's arrival. Much like Neighsay, both of their busy schedules gave them little opportunity to visit outside of work. She stretched and cracked her neck as sunlight streamed out of her windows, hoping today would at least be a little eventful and not chaotic. She had enough of that sort of nonsense at Crystal Prep!

There was a knock at Cadance's door. Unable to contain her excitement, she actually ran to the door, surprising herself. She opened the door to see Radiant Hope, smiling widely.

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Today was Cadance's first day at Crystal Prep. It was like a strange new world to her, being around so many people. Her last school didn't nearly have as many people! She took a deep breath, then exhaled. It was going to be okay. If anything happened to her, she knew her mother would have her back. With that thought, she began to feel more confident until she bumped into another student and fell to the floor.

"Oh, crap! Are you okay?"

Cadance shook her head rapidly, snapping herself out of her short daze. Above her, a light purple student outstretched her hand as her icy blue eyes shone with sincere intent. "Uh... yeah." She accepted the hand, then stood up. "You are?"

"Hope." The student said, again extending her hand, but this time for a handshake. "Radiant Hope."

Cadance smiled, accepting the handshake. "Cad-" She stopped herself mid-sentence. Should she tell Hope her real name? She thought for a moment, then shrugged. "My name is Mi Amore Cadenza, but I'd rather you call me Cadance."

"Mi Amore...?" Hope's eyes widened. "Wait, are you related to-"

Cadance put a finger to Hope's lips and nodded. "Yes, she's my mother," she whispered. "But I don't want this to become common knowledge. I'm worried I might get treated differently."

Hope took Cadance's finger off of her mouth, then pressed her pointer finger and thumb together. She ran them across her lips with a smile. "My lips are sealed," she whispered back.

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"Cadance!" Hope hugged her good friend tightly. "Oh, it's so good to see you outside of Crystal Prep for a change!"

Cadance returned the hug. She and Hope would gave each other funny looks in the halls when nobody was watching, just to keep themselves sane in Crystal Prep's atmosphere. "I know, right? Feels great to meet in a non-oppressive atmosphere." She broke the hug. "Do you want something to drink?"

Hope shook her head as she closed the door behind her. "Nah, I'm okay. Thanks though!"

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Cadance glanced at Hope, her partner for the final event of the Friendship Games: Doubles tennis matches. Beads of sweat were trickling down both of their faces in the heat of the sun and the moment as they stared down their opponents.

On the other side of the court there stood a light blue woman with light and dark blue streaks in her hair. Her opal eyes narrowed in determination and concentration before briefly glancing at her partner for the go-ahead.

The other double was slightly taller than her partner. Her multicolored pastel hair was tied up to keep it from obscuring her pink face and purple eyes. She looked to her partner, then nodded.

The shorter of the two tossed the tennis ball into the air and raised her racket, then swung it down with a yell. The ball careened over the net as Hope scrambled towards its trajectory, then hit it to the other double. The taller hit it back with a backhand swing, smiling confidently. Cadance ran to the net, then smashed the ball onto the court. The shorter closed in, swung... and missed.

"Game, set, and match: Crystal Prep Academy!"

The crowd roared as both pairs went the net to shake hands.

"Luna," said the light blue woman as she extended her hand.

Cadance smiled and accepted the handshake. "Cadance."

Hope walked forward as the handshake was broken. "Hope. Radiant Hope." She extended her hand with a smile, and Luna accepted it.

Luna's doubles partner walked up. "You two played a great game. That was the most intense match my sister and I have ever played!"

Cadance grinned. "Likewise. And you are?"

"Oh, forgive me," the woman said sheepishly with a blush. "My name's Celestia." She extended her hand, and Cadance accepted. A moment later, she broke the handshake, then waited patiently as Hope introduced herself. "So," she said once introductions were finished. "Would you both like to hang out after the ending ceremonies?"

Celestia and Luna glanced at each other, then nodded. "Sounds good to us."

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Hope entered the living room area, then sat down and sighed. "I can't remember the last time I've been here..." Her eyes widened as a thought occurred to her. "Maybe we should see if Luna wants to come hang out. It'd be just like old times!"

Cadance sat down next to Hope with a smile. "Sure, let me call her up!" She dialed Luna's number, then put her on speaker so both she and Hope could hear her.

After a couple of rings, Luna picked up. "Hello!"

"Hey, Luna! Hope's here with me!"

"Hi," Hope said.

"Hey, Hope! To what do I owe the honor of this call?"

"We were wondering if you'd be able to hang out with us," Cadance said. "Just like old times!"

"I'd love to," Luna said. "But there's a video game tournament starting up soon. Is tomorrow okay for the both of you?"

Cadance never really understood the appeal of video games. She tried it once or twice with Luna, then decided they simply just weren't for her. "I've got nothing going on then." She looked at Hope. "What about you?"

Hope sighed. "I do have something lined up that day...but not the evening. We could make a ladies' night out of it!"

Cadance blinked. "When was the last time we had one of those?"

"Last year," Hope said with a cheeky grin. "You just don't remember it."

Cadance barked a laugh. "Wow, I was that out of it?"

"You were so drunk that Hope and I had to call a cab for you!" Luna burst into laughter.

Cadance scratched her chin, unable to recall. Whatever happened that night, she knew it wasn't the first time she'd became full-on drunk, and she knew it wouldn't be the last, either. She made sure such nights were a rarity, however. As a Dean, it would not do to get wasted constantly. "Yeah, I've got nothing."

"Oh, it's starting! See you ladies tomorrow evening!"

"Bye!" Cadance hung up, then looked at Hope. "So, do you have any ideas for passing the time?"

Hope grinned. "The mall."

Cadance's eyes widened. The mall was her and Hope's favorite hangout when they were still in school together. "The mall...'just like old times'..." She raised an eyebrow and smirked. "Radiant Hope, are you having a midlife crisis?"

Hope snorted. "No, but give me a few more years." The two shared a laugh.

"Okay, then. Let's get going, shall we?" Cadance and Hope left and got into their cars, eager to visit the mall they hadn't been to in years.

Mall Madness

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Cadance and Hope entered the mall, smiling widely. "God, it's been forever since I set foot in here." Hope gaped as she looked around. "It feels like everything's changed..."

The first thing the duo noticed was the large golden fountain in the middle of the main floor. In the fountain's center was a large chalice with a thick glass tube keeping a giant sphere in place as water cascaded down. Two escalators (one going up and another going down) were situated on opposite sides.

"I know what you mean, Hope." Cadance stared at the fountain and pointed at it. "I don't remember that being there before..."

Radiant Hope grinned. "Well, let's not waste any time gawking. Where to?"

Cadance looked around, noting that at least a couple of the stores she remembered from way back when were still around. She should really stop by more often. Who knows what all she missed? "Hmm...what time is it?"

Hope glanced at her phone. "It's getting close to noon. Why do you ask?"

"I didn't have much of a breakfast. How about you?"

"Same," Hope said. "What did you have in mind?"

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Hope and Cadance sat down at a table. "Well," the former said. "I certainly don't remember this place."

Near the entrance of the restaurant was a bar where patrons could watch chefs create dishes. Marble counters and tables with stylized chairs lined the hard carpet floor as relaxing music played. The scents of various fish wafted through the air, with fairly dim lights enhancing the atmosphere.

"Welcome to Sushi-Mi," said a relaxed voice. The woman in front of them smiled as her teal eyes twinkled. Her red and gold hair bounced slightly as she reached the table.

"Ooh, love the uniform," Hope said as she stared at the blue kimono and apron with a small green squid.

"Thanks," the woman said with a smile. "I'm Sunset Shimmer, and I'll be your waitress today. What'll you have?"

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Hope and Cadance left Sushi-Mi with smiles. They wouldn't forget that experience any time soon.

"We should take Luna there someday," Cadance said. "I bet she'd love watching the chefs at work." When she heard no reply, she looked around until she saw Hope staring into a window and squealing with glee.

"Oh my god, Cadance, look!"

Cadance walked over to the window to see several adorable puppies running circles around a pale yellow girl with pink hair, wearing a white t-shirt with a paw print on it. Her pink skirt flowed as she tried to keep track of all them.

Hope giggled at the scene. "Aww! That's adorable!!" The employee looked up to see the two, then yelped and ran out of sight.

Cadance and Hope exchanged confused glances and shrugged at each other.

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"Want to take a break, Hope? We've been walking around for a couple of hours now."

"Actually," Hope said. "I want to take a look inside here." She gestured to a high-end boutique. "I'm just going to look around, I doubt I'll actually buy anything. You want to come along?"

"Eh, why not?"

Cadance and Hope walked in to see the wall lined with boots, dresses and other sorts of fashionable clothing as techno music played through the store's speakers.

"Hello, there," said a voice, gaining the duo's attentions. The employee smiled as she ran a hand through her purple hair, then adjusted her bow, keeping her blue eyes locked on them. Her black shirt was partially covered by three blue gems, which seemed to be held in place by several beads. "Can I help you?"

"Oh, we're just looking around for the time being," Cadance said.

"Understood," the employee said. "But if you need anything, just let me know."

"Will do," Hope said to the employee, then turned to Cadance. "See anything you might want?"

Cadance shook her head. "No, nothing's really grabbing my attention... not that anything here isn't eye-popping." Truth be told, she liked everything in the store. She just wanted to get out before she overspent.

"Agreed. You ready to go, then?"

"Might as well, if we're not going to buy anything."

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Cadance began dragging her feet as she let out a groan. "Can we please sit down already? My feet are freaking killing me!" Cadance was never really much of a walker. She only did so to get from point A to point B. Nothing more, nothing less.

"Oh, fine," Hope said playfully as she rolled her eyes with a smile. "We'll stop and take a rest at the food court."

"Thank you..."

As the duo ascended the escalator, the food court came into view. Purple and yellow tables were placed around the center of the floor, along with matching chairs. The restaurants in the food court consisted of Eastern cuisine, a bakery, regular fast food and more.

"Finally!" Cadance sat down at a table with a sigh. "I thought my feet were going to fall off!"

Hope laughed. "Oh, don't be so dramatic, Cadance. We only walked, what... a couple of miles, maybe?"

"Easy for you to say. You're more active than I am."

Hope cupped her chin in thought. "Hmmm. Maybe that needs to change."

"Hope, what are you thinking?" Cadance sounded worried.

"You should get more exercise."

Cadance put her hands on her hips. "Excuse me, I happen to have a decent figure, thank you very much!" She scowled indignantly.

Hope sighed and put her hand to her head. "Okay, poor choice of words." She paused momentarily. "I'm not saying you should lose weight, you look just fine! However, there's nothing wrong with keeping a steady workout schedule either."

"I guess..."

"Tell you what," Hope said. "We can get a smoothie, then we'll stop by an athletics store. If there's nothing there that catches your eye, that's fine. Just promise me you'll be a bit more active, okay?"

"I guess I can live with that," Cadance said as she rose from her chair and walked to the Aunt Orange Smoothie with Hope. Behind the counter was a blonde girl with freckles wearing a lime green shirt under an orange floral print apron. Her green eyes beamed at their arrival.

"Howdy, ya'll! What can I do ya for?"

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"Okay," Cadance said as she sat down with her smoothie in hand. "Luna would definitely want to see that. I haven't had that much fun watching someone make a smoothie!"

Hope laughed. "I agree. I just had give her a good tip, too."

As Cadance drank her smoothie and people-watched, her smile gradually changed to a frown. She sighed wistfully as she watched people holding hands together pass her by.

"Still waiting for it," Hope asked.

Cadance took another sip of her smoothie. "Yes and no." She sighed again. "I think you know the why for both."

Hope reached over to Cadance and put a hand on her shoulder. "Cadance. The arrow of love will strike you someday, whether you want it to or not. It happens to just about everybody."

"But I don't want it to strike before..." Cadance paused and looked around, then leaned in to whisper. "You know, before everything's said and done."

"I understand," Hope said with a smile. "But it'll happen when it happens. Nobody has a say in it." She finished her smoothie. "Well, are you ready to move on?"

"Yeah."

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Cadance and Hope entered the athletics store to see shelves full of soccer balls, footballs, and rollerskates. A neon rainbow lined the upper part of the walls, maneuvering above pictures of sports equipment with a lightning bolt behind them.

"Not exactly what I was expecting," Cadance said. "But there might be something in here that I'd want... 'might' being the key word here."

"Fair enough," Hope said as she looked around.

"Heya!" Cadance and Hope looked to see a cyan teenager with rainbow hair, wearing a uniform and a cap with a cloud and a lightning bolt with the colors red, blue and yellow. "Can I help you find anything?"

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"I still can't believe that happened," Cadance said, smirking.

"Hey, you try to resist the urge to play around in a store with a basketball and a nearby hoop." Hope was blushing furiously. "I don't think I'll ever live that down, though."

"What matters is that the kid's mother knew it was an accident." Cadance put a supportive hand on Hope's shoulder.

"Can we please stop talking about it? It's bad enough you couldn't find anything, but I want to drown my sorrows in comfort food now..." Hope then mumbled under breath, ashamed of herself for almost getting banned from a store.

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Cadance and Radiant Hope walked into a diner. "Wow," Hope stared in awe.

A Jukebox sat near a booth, playing music from several decades ago as multicolored spotlights moved around. The walls were filled with records and pictures of celebrities from the era the diner was themed. The booths were situated next to the windows, so diners could eat and look outside.

"Let's find a booth, then." The two sat down, enjoying the atmosphere.

"I never thought I'd set foot in one of these restaurants again," Hope said, beaming with excitement.

"Why? Did you try to shoot hoops in one?" Cadance said with a grin. Hope glared at her. "Okay, sorry," she said apologetically as she held her hands up in defense. "Way, way too soon." She should have known better. Hope always got angry whenever someone brought up an instance when she embarrassed herself.

A pink-skinned waitress skated up to Cadance and Hope's booth as her pink hair bounced around once she stopped. "Hiya," she said cheerfully. "I'm Pinkie Pie. What can I get ya?"

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"Wow," Cadance said as she and Hope left the diner. "That really hit the spot."

"You said it." Hope smiled. "That was all I needed to feel better."

Cadance grinned widely. "You know what the best way to end a day at the mall is?"

Hope grinned back. She didn't have to answer that question, as it was asked at the end of every mall trip she and Cadance had had as teenagers. Nonetheless, she spoke.

"Movie!" The two shouted in singsong tones, then laughed together.

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"Okay, so that wasn't the best movie I've ever seen, but it wasn't the worst, either." Hope ran a hand through her hair, then cracked her neck.

"Yeah," Cadance said. "Maybe we should've watched a rom-com or something."

"Oh well, what's done is done," Hope said as she and Cadance left the closing mall. She stretched and yawned. "Well, I suppose this is where we part ways."

Cadance smiled. "At least until tomorrow."

Hope blushed. "Right, forgot about the ladies' night plans we made."

Cadance hugged Hope. "Thank you," she said.

Hope returned the hug. "Hey, what are friends for?"

The two stood still for a moment, then broke the hug. "See you tomorrow night," Cadance said.

"Yup," Hope said as she waved. "See you tomorrow night."

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Cadance walked through the garage as she returned home. "God it feels good to be back," she said breathily, then went upstairs and changed into her pajamas. She fell asleep almost instantly.

A Beautiful Morning

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Cadance woke up to a rainy Sunday morning and sighed. She liked the rain and all, but after hanging out with Radiant Hope at the mall, she realized she really did need to exercise more. Might as well exercise my brain, at least. She turned on the television with a smile and began to watch a recording of one of her favorite shows.

The program began, and a light blue woman in a magenta overcoat and skirt entered the frame. Her green eyes looked at the camera and she smiled warmly. "Welcome to Space. I'm your host, Rosette Nebula..."

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By the time Cadance finished watching a third episode, the rain had cleared up. It looked simply beautiful outside, and it'd be a shame to waste the day inside. She got out of her chair, and left her house. Once outside, Cadance closed her eyes and took a deep whiff of the air. With a contented sigh, she began to jog at a leisurely pace.

Cadance became engrossed in the sounds of the suburbs. Dogs barking, cars passing by, people talking... until she felt someone bump into her. She blinked to see Lemon Zest staring at her in surprise.

"Dean Cadance? Let me guess...this is your neighborhood?"

Cadence smiled and nodded. "You look like you have something on your mind."

Lemon took a deep breath. "Do you have time? It's a pretty long story, and I don't want it affecting my permanent record..."

Cadance raised an eyebrow.

"Sorry." Lemon smiled nervously as she folded her arms. "I'm just really nervous about how you'll react."

Cadance smiled warmly. "Now Lemon Zest, you know I don't judge students. It's not my place."

Lemon took a deep breath through her nose and exhaled, feeling slightly reassured. "Okay. Here goes..." she proceeded to tell Cadance how she met up with Twilight Sparkle, her other fight against Sour Sweet, her parents' intervention and until Twilight left.

"I...see..." said Cadance. "It was outside of school grounds, so I'm afraid it's beyond my jurisdiction. "And you haven't seen nor heard from Sour Sweet since?"

Lemon shook her head. "No, I haven't. But I'm legit worried about her. She admitted to being jealous and my mom did say she was crying. As a matter of fact, she was crying during our fight at Crystal Prep. Telling me that I 'knew nothing of pain and heartache'." Lemon sighed. "I'm not sure what to think. I mean, having Twilight as a friend has been a real eye-opener for me, you know?"

Cadance nodded.

"It just makes me think CPA would be a much better place if we were all friends and not constantly at each other's throats. It makes me wonder what things are like at Canterlot High. Not just the rumors about magic I've heard, but the rumor going around now is how they've all been excelling since their Fall Formal and the musical showcase they had. They all seem...happier there. Now I wouldn't leave Crystal Prep for the world, but would it be so bad if we started...I don't know...caring about each other?"

Cadance put a hand on Lemon's shoulder. "If only there were more students who thought like you." she smiled. "Maybe someday things will improve. You just have to have faith that it will."

Lemon smiled. "Yeah...but faith can only get you so far. Sometimes you need to take action."

Cadance's smile widened. "Well said, Lemon Zest. Well said. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to be somewhere. Have a nice rest of your day!" she said as she waved goodbye.

Lemon smiled and waved goodbye.

Truth be told, Cadance didn't really have anywhere to go until later tonight. She felt bad about lying to Lemon, but it wasn't the end of the world. She simply had other business to attend to, that's all. Like enjoying the day. And yet...she also felt bad for Sour Sweet. While Lemon's anger was justified (but her violence wasn't), it seemed that Sour was struggling with something. The Dean made a mental note to contact all guidance counselors in case they learned something. She always had wondered why Sour's parents were impossible to reach. Sadly, she wasn't in her office so there was little to nothing she could do at the moment. Sighing, she pushed the issue to the back of her mind for later and moved on.

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Roughly three hours had passed since Cadance had stepped outside, and she was becoming exhausted. She'd have to take it easy the rest of the day if she wanted to have a killer ladies' night out tonight! Oof, speaking of kills...her feet hurt like nobody's business! Probably shouldn't have worn her yellow heels... She sighed heavily. At least her house wasn't too far away. Gritting her teeth in determination, she made her way back home.

Once inside, Cadance kicked off her heels and soaked her feet in warm water. "Much better..." she sighed in relief and closed her eyes as relaxation kicked in. All was silent and all was calm. The perfect way to spend time before lunch and a crazy night out. Not too crazy, though. She and the others still had to work the next day.

As soon as her feet stopped throbbing, Cadance took them out of the water and dried them off, then grabbed her lunch and turned the TV on. She had plenty of time to kill before the festivities.

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Several more hours had passed, and Cadance nearly lost track of time! She grabbed her phone in a near panic, then relaxed as she saw no text messages from Hope or Luna. Not willing to take any chances, she took the initiative and sent a text.

Same place as always? - Cadance

But of course! - Radiant Hope

Where else would we go? - Luna

Just thought I'd check!

See you two there! - Cadance

Grinning widely, Cadance ran upstairs and took a quick shower, then changed. As she went into the garage and entered her car, she looked forward to the night she'd have. As much as she wanted to continue plotting Cinch's downfall, she needed to have herself a little fun every now and then. The garage door opened, and Cadance sped away as it closed.

Ladies' Night

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Cadance parked her car and exited. Turning around, she smiled at the sight of her favorite restaurant, Roma's. So many memories were had there, both good and bad. It was her go-to place when she hung out with her friends. As she walked towards the entrance, she scanned the parking lot. No sign of either Luna's or Hope's car. With an inward shrug, she walked on in.

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Luna, Celestia, Hope and Cadance met up at the entrance of Roma's. It was a fairly new restaurant, offering a variety of foods.

"Here?" Celestia folded her arms and raised an eyebrow in skepticism.

"Come on, 'Tia. Give it a chance!" Luna looked inside excitedly.

Celestia glanced, then shrugged and looked at Hope and Cadance.

"Yeah, what Luna said," Cadance said. "You know the saying: 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained.'"

"Well all right then," Celestia conceded, then the four friends went inside.

The lobby contained a cigarette machine and several blue and yellow booths. The floor was lined with black and white tiles, and the blue walls were filled with posters of classic movies and rock concerts. Scents of various foods and cigarette smoke wafted in the air as a variety of music played throughout the restaurant, mingling with the clattering of plates and many conversations between patrons.

"This place seems cozy," Hope said as she took a deep whiff of the air, then turned her head slightly. "Could do without the smoke, though."

"You know there's a non-smoking section, right," Cadance asked as she rolled her eyes.

"I'm just saying, is all."

"Let's find some seats!" Luna ran over to the lobby.

Cadance and Hope exchanged glances, then smirked. "Is she always like that," Cadance asked as she watched Luna sit down at a booth.

"Not always," replied Celestia. "She has her calmer moments, but I do understand her excitement." She smiled. "Luna likes meeting new people and making friends."

The four sat down at a table. "Before we start off, There's something I want to you know."

Celestia quirked an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"I don't want you treating me any differently, promise?"

Celestia and Luna looked at each other, then back at Cadance. "Promise."

"Cadance is just a nickname. My real name is Mi Amore Cadenza, and I'm the daughter of Crystal Prep Academy's principal."

Celestia and Luna remained silent for a moment until Luna spoke up. "Nice."

Cadance smiled. "I think this just might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

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Cadance sat down at their usual booth. Few things had changed since her first time there with her friends. The cigarette machine was gone, and the booths were now black and white to match the tiled floor. There was no longer a smoking section, and a larger variety of music played throughout. She checked her phone and noticed no new messages. Sighing, she sent texts to her friends.

Are you guys close? - Cadance

Getting there. - Hope

You at our usual spot? - Luna

I am. - Cadance

She pocketed her phone, deciding not to wait for a response, then put her hands on her chin and people-watched to pass the time.

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"Well," Celestia said as they left the restaurant. "That was a lot more fun than I thought it would be!"

"What'd I tell you, Tia?" Luna grinned.

Celestia rolled her eyes. "All right, all right. You told me so."

"Think we should make this a regular hangout," Cadance asked as she stretched. She'd never had a hangout place before, and she'd always wanted one.

"I like the sound of that," Hope said.

"Works for me." Luna smiled.

"Guess it's settled, then."

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Cadance sighed as she continued her people-watching. Hope and Luna better get here soon, she'd start to feel weird just sitting at a table all by herself... especially since she's always been with her friends every time she visited! Suddenly, she heard footsteps rapidly approaching her. Looking up, she saw Luna and hugged her. "Ooh, it's so good to see you outside any formal capacity!" Cadance and Luna much preferred speaking casually as opposed to how their respective schools are running, anecdotes about administrative work, and so on.

Luna returned the hug gratefully with a smile. "Same. No planning of any sorts, just casual conversation... unless you want to get shitfaced tonight," she said with a wink.

Cadance barked a laugh as she broke the hug and sat back down with Luna. "Yeah, no. Much as I may want to whenever I get home from work."

Luna smirked. "I can only imagine. But enough talk about work."

"Yeah. Moving on!"

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Luna, Celestia and Hope ran down the halls in the hospital until they heard Cadance sobbing uncontrollably in a room. All they knew was that she was at the hospital, but not why she was there. The three women walked inside and let out a collective gasp. What they saw that day would remain etched in their minds for as long as they lived.

Cadance had her head in her hands, shaking with emotion as her elbows rested on the lap of a motionless Amore.

"Oh, god..." With a whisper, a tear rolled down Hope's cheek as the situation became clear immediately. "No."

Luna stood still in shock, mouth agape.

"I-Is... I-Is she..." Celestia hesitated to finish her sentence. Neither Celestia nor her sister knew Amore all too well, but they knew the impact this would have on Cadance.

Hope nodded and sniffled, then broke. She held onto Cadance tightly, joining her close friend in grief and anguish. None of the four women noticed the lanky man just standing outside the hospital room. He, too, was suffering greatly, but decided to leave Cadenza to grieve with her friends.

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"Any luck on the dating game?" Cadance grinned at Luna.

Luna shook her head. "Not for lack of trying, though." She sighed as she put a hand to her face. "You'd think that there'd statistically be at least one person who'd want to date me."

Cadance put a reassuring hand on Luna's shoulder. "Hey now..."

"The arrow of love will strike you someday, whether you want it to or not. It happens to just about everybody," Radiant Hope said as she approached the table.

Luna scoffed and rolled her eyes playfully. "Easy for you to say, Mrs. Happily-Married-with-Two-Children."

"Yeah... about that..." Hope took out her phone as she sat down, then put it on the table for Luna and Cadance to see. The two looked at the phone as their eyes widened in shock, then looked up at the guidance counselor. "It's three now." She blushed slightly.

Cadance and Luna continued to stare at the ultrasound picture, until the Vice-Principal gasped. "That's what you were doing this morning?!"

Hope nodded, still blushing.

Cadance snapped out of her shock and hugged Hope. "Oh my god, Hope! Congrats!" Realization suddenly hit her as her eyes widened. "That's the real reason you wanted us to hang out again, isn't it?"

Hope grinned as her blush faded, nodding.

"You sneaky little..." Luna laughed in delight as Cadance broke the hug.

"No better place to celebrate!" Cadance grinned widely.

"Agreed!"

"Hear, hear!"

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Radiant Hope stared in shock at Cadance as she held the autopsy report in her hands. "P..." She struggled to get the word out of her mouth as disbelief constricted her throat.

Cadance put a hand to her face as she sniffled, not willing to make eye contact. Her other hand was being held by Luna for emotional support, for all the good it'd do in this situation. She feared she'd lose what little, if any, composure she had at the moment. Her whole world had been turned upside down since her mother passed away a couple of days ago, and being in a hospital was not helping her state of mind, even if she absolutely needed to be there.

"Poisoned..." Hope finally said. "A-Amore was... poisoned?!" Her disbelief gradually became anger as her hands began shaking.

Cadance broke and held onto Luna tightly, wailing into her chest. Luna returned the hug with equal tightness and stroked her friend's hair as a tear of her own fell.

Celestia walked over to Hope and took the autopsy out of her hands, then hugged her. Hope remained still, sniffling for a moment until her tears began to flow, falling on her friend's shirt.

Luna looked at her sister as Hope and Cadance continued their mourning. "There's got to be something we can do for them..."

Celestia scowled. She had heard stories and rumors about Abacus Cinch, but dismissed them as just that until tonight. Justice had to be served to the monster who took an innocent woman's life just for a power grab! "We're gonna take this to the court!"

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"So how far along are you?" Luna's eyes sparkled with excitement.

"Oh, about two months in."

"How are you holding up so far," Cadance asked with a smile.

"I'm doing okay, I just wish I could go twelve hours without nearly emptying my stomach."

"How're the husband and kids taking it?"

Hope put her hand behind her head with a blush. "Well... Verdant Grove and Coral Crush are kinda mixed on it. Verdant's glad he's no longer going to be the youngest and Coral's like 'great, another one'?"

Luna and Cadance laughed. "Yeah, that's something a kid her age might say."

"As for my husband, of course he's happy!" Hope's eyes beamed. "We're probably gonna stop at three, though."

Luna raised an eyebrow. "Probably?"

Cadance grinned. "Three kids not good enough for you?"

Hope opened her mouth, then paused. "Oh, no..." She ran for the bathroom, with Luna following her.

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Cadance held the Jury's verdict in her hands as tears fell down her cheeks.

"I'm so very sorry, Cadance," Celestia said softly as she put a hand on her shoulder. "I wish there was something more I could do..."

Cadance turned around, facing Celestia. Her face was red with fury as she clenched her teeth. "Damn her..." she grabbed a nearby pen and started writing on verdict. Once finished, she grabbed a sheet of paper and began stabbing holes in it with the pen. "Damn her!" She screamed until Luna grabbed her from behind, forcing her to let go of the pen.

"Cadenza!" Luna shouted, gaining her attention. Cadance looked at her, then burst into tears as she held her tightly.

Hope held her head in her hands as she sat. "...It's not fair..." She began sobbing uncontrollably. How many more tears would she and Cadance shed?

Celestia and Luna each consoled Hope and Cadance respectively until they had no more tears to cry.

"Celestia," Cadance said after she blew her nose. "I think you're giving up too easily."

"What do you mean," Celestia asked.

"There's got to be something else."

"What more could I possibly do? I've already put Cinch through court, and anything more would gain the attention of her-"

"You think I don't know that?!" Cadance stood up angrily. "She killed my mom, and I'm not about to let her get away with it!"

Celestia's eyes widened as she understood what Cadance was saying. "I'm sorry, Cadenza, but I don't condone revenge. You know that!"

"You know what?" Cadance shook with fury. "I think you're afraid."

"Afraid?" This was a side of Cadance Celestia had never seen before. Pure, unadulterated rage. She had to calm herself down before someone said the wrong thing. "No. I'm not afraid," she said softly. "I just don't want any unwanted attention."

Cadance walked up to Celestia and looked her straight in the eyes. "You're a goddamn coward!" She spat the last word out, then stormed off, slamming the door behind her.

Hope sighed heavily. "I agree with Cadance," she said to Celestia "But only in that you're not doing enough." She walked up to her, then hugged her. "I don't think you're a coward. I know where you're coming from. Cinch's father is a powerful and intimidating man." She broke the hug and narrowed her eyes in determination. "But I'm not going to let her crime go unpunished, one way or another." Hope began walking towards the door. "I'll try to calm her down."

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Hope and Luna returned from the bathroom. "Feeling better," Cadance asked sympathetically.

Hope snickered. "I guess."

A waitress walked up to the table. "You three ready to order?"

"Not quite, just give us a few minutes," Cadance said as the three looked into their menus.

A few minutes later, the waitress returned. "Are you ready now?"

"Yes." Hope said. "Yes we are."

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Hope returned with Cadance, who walked up to Celestia.

"I'm sorry," Cadance said.

Celestia smiled warmly. "It's okay, I understand. You've been going through a lot lately."

Cadance scoffed. "To say the least."

"Listen. From here on out, I want no part in whatever you and Hope have planned for Cinch. I won't try to stop you two."

"Three."

Celestia blinked in surprise and turned to face Luna. "You too?"

"Yes," Luna said. "I can't stand seeing either of them suffer." She gestured to Hope and Cadance. "I want to do something about it."

Celestia nodded. "I understand." She walked towards Hope and Cadance. "I hope you two don't think that I don't want to remain friends after tonight." She hugged the both of them. "If there's anything I can do for either of you besides this, let me know."

Hope and Cadance returned the hug gratefully. "We understand."

"Good. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll leave you three to your devices." With that, Celestia left Luna, Cadance and Hope to plan.

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Cadance, Luna and Hope left Roma's with smiles on their faces.

"Oh! Before I forget," Hope said as they began to part ways. "Don't tell anyone. I'll make an announcement after the Friendship Games."

Luna and Cadance nodded, then went to their cars.

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Cadance arrived home and sighed. She was happy for Radiant Hope, but at the same time she felt a little lonely. Many of the friends she knew from Crystal Prep were married and had kids of their own. When would it be her turn? She sighed again and shook her head. Now wasn't the time for such thoughts.

Cadance reached her room and changed into her pajamas, then fell asleep instantly.

Tryout Day

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Cadance exited her car and entered Crystal Prep earlier than normal. She was so excited about Hope's news from the previous night that she forgot to speak to her about it! Making it her first priority of the day, she headed for her friend's office. Oh, I hope she's in there! She rounded a corner and stopped mere inches away from Hope. "Oh, am I glad to see you!"

Hope blinked in confusion. "I'm... glad to see you too, Cadance. But we just saw each other last night."

"Sorry about the over-enthusiasm." Cadance blushed. "I meant to tell you something while we were still at Roma's..."

"All right, then. Walk and talk."

On the way to Hope's office, Cadance told Hope about Lemon's second fight with Sour and all the details she knew. "...I'm worried about Sour, Hope. She always seems so miserable, and with this new insight, I think she might be lonely."

Hope put a hand on Cadance's shoulder as they reached Hope's office. "I understand where you're coming from, Cadance. I really do. But unless the situation becomes dire, all we can do is have faith that Sour will open up to us."

Cadance smiled warmly. "I suppose you're right. I just don't want Sour to suffer, and I want to do something about it."

Hope removed her shoulder from Cadance. "Have faith, Cadance... have faith."

"All right. I will." With that, she headed over to her office.

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Cadance entered her office and began her work until her phone rang. She picked it up. "Yes, this is Dean Cadance."

There was silence for a moment until a feminine voice spoke up. "C... Cadance?" The voice sounded weary and on the verge of tears. She recognized it almost immediately.

"Shimmering Glaze? What's wrong?"

Glaze sniffled. "Sunny..."

Cadance felt a chill down her spine. "Is she okay?"

Glaze took a deep breath, exhaled, and told Cadance everything that happened to her daughter over the weekend. By the time she had finished, the Dean was tearing up. She knew all too well the pain of losing a loved one before their time. "Oh... oh god..." She fought her emotions until she heard more sniffling on the phone. "Stellar? Is that you?"

"Please talk to our daughter." Stellar's voice broke. "Nobody should have to go through what she has." He began sobbing, then hung up.

"I-I have to go." Glaze sniffled and hung up.

"Cadance, my dear. Don't be sad. You're at your most beautiful...when you...smile..."

Cadance broke. Premature deaths always triggered her to some degree, but the fact that it was a loved one to the person in question made it all the worse. For several minutes she had her head in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably until she had none left in her. With a shudder, she blew her nose and wiped away her tears. Her phone rang again.

"Hello?"

"Cadence, did you know about Sunny Flare's...'condition'?" It was Crystal Clarity.

"Yes." she answered.

"And you heard about what happened with her boyfriend?"

"Yes. Her parents called me." said Cadence.

"They called you, and not Cinch?" Crystal sounded relieved.

"Yes. I can't imagine why they'd call her."

"Then why did Sunny Flare tell me that Cinch not only knew about her boyfriend, but how he died?"

Cadance gasped as her phone dropped the floor. She picked it up in a hurry. "I'm sorry, I just lost my grip on my phone." She paused for a moment. "How could she possibly know about Rutherford? Almost all of the staff here are on our side."

"You said almost all of the staff." said Crystal.

"Those of the staff who aren't with us are too afraid to take action against her. They're worried about their careers, but also...their families." Cadence sighed. "They mostly keep to themselves, and only interact with her if they have no other option."

"Someone had to have told her, Cadence. Abacus Cinch isn't psychic!" Crystal snapped.

"Calm down, Crystal. I know you want this madness to end as much as I do..." said Cadence.

Crystal sighed deeply. "I know...but I feel bad for Sunny. Hasn't she been through enough?"

"Normally I'd be inclined to agree, but there's something special about her, Indigo Zap, Lemon Zest, Sugarcoat and Sour Sweet...and perhaps even Twilight Sparkle. Vice-Principal Luna tipped me off about how things have been improving at Canterlot High because of six girls and their courage against these strange magical forces I've been hearing about. I believe if we get those girls exposed to the girls from Canterlot High, they might see that a change is in order around here." said Cadence.

"I still find it hard to believe that magic is a thing that exists." said Crystal.

"Me too, Crystal, but here we are."

"Cadance...what are we going to do if this plan of ours falls through?" said Crystal.

"I have the utmost confidence that it won't."

"Very well. But back to the main topic at hand: How did Cinch know about Rutherford?" said Crystal.

"Don't worry, Crystal. Myself, Luna, Hope and Benefactor will look into this. Rest assured." She didn't have to look into it, as she knew who told Cinch right off the bat. As to how he found out about it was a different matter.

"I'll try, but you know how I can worry sometimes." said Crystal.

"I do."

"Goodbye, Cadance."

"Goodbye, Crystal."

Cadance hung up and sighed heavily. Nothing could ever be simple, could it? No matter. She still had work to do.

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Some time later, Cadance joined Principal Cinch in a large room filled with students as she carried many test papers. Abacus nodded, then spoke. "This first round of tryouts will involve academics," she announced. Nearly half of those waiting groaned.

"The hell did you guys expect, moto-cross racing?!" Sour Sweet shouted.

Cadance managed to keep her composure.

Principal Cinch pinched the bridge of her nose. "As I was saying...the first round of tryouts will involve academics. The top fifty scores will move on to the next round. To your seats!" All students went to their seats. "And...begin!" said Cinch.

Cadance walked up and down the aisles, keeping an eye on the students so they wouldn't cheat. It wouldn't surprise her if at least one of them did. Cinch's damned "Do-anything-to-win" mentality had infected the students over time ever since she took over.

After some time, Principal Cinch shouted "Pencils down!" and there was a noise of pencils being put on the desks. "The results of these tests will be posted later today in the hallways." She said as Dean Cadence went to pick up the tests. "Dismissed!"

As the students left, Cadance gave the papers to Cinch and headed back to her office.

"Cadance!"

Cadance turned around to see Radiant Hope rushing towards her. The counselor took a moment to catch her breath, then sighed heavily. "You're not going to like what you're about to hear..."

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By the time Radiant Hope had told Cadance everything she learned about Sour Sweet, the Dean had a hand to her mouth in shock. "Oh god," she whispered. "It's worse than I thought. Far, far worse..." She hugged Hope tightly. "Thank you."

Hope returned the hug with a warm smile. "You're welcome."

Cadance broke the hug and returned the smile. "I guess it's back to work, then."

"Yeah."

"See you later."

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The rest of the day seemed to drag on as little else of note happened, but throughout all that time, Cadance couldn't stop thinking about Neighsay's knowledge of the accident that took Sunny Flare's boyfriend's life. She decided to put the matter to rest as she got in her car and dialed him up.

Now Calling: Neighsay/Benefactor

The call was picked up.

"Yes?" Neighsay said in his natural voice.

Cadance narrowed her eyes. "We need to talk."

A Conversation Before Returning

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"Is something wrong," Neighsay asked.

"Is something wrong?" Something inside Cadance snapped, and her temper rose. "Is something wrong?!"

"Cadenza..."

"How could you tell Cinch about Sunny Flare's accident before me?"

"Cadenza..."

"Cadance, my dear. Don't be sad. You're at your most beautiful...when you...smile..."

"Especially..." Tears began to well up in Cadance's eyes at the mere thought of the anguish Sunny Flare must be going through. "Especially considering." She sniffled. "C... Considering..."

"Mi Amore Cadenza!"

Cadance sniffled again, then sighed heavily.

"Breathe."

Cadance put an arm over her chest and inhaled, then removed it and exhaled.

"Are you feeling better now?"

"Yes... I'm sorry."

"That is one of the reasons I did not tell you. I knew you would take it hard. Furthermore, Cinch is the Principal. My loyalty remains with you until the day I die, but I must still do my duty as this district's Superintendent."

Cadance put her head in her hands. "Yes. Of course." She blushed with embarrassment. She just wanted to go home and forget about this whole day. It's been one bad thing after another. Feeling slightly calmer, she started her car. "If I didn't know at least half of the principals in this district, I'd argue that you have it easier than me."

"Every day has its ups and downs, Cadenza."

Cadance sighed again. "Today has had far more downs than ups..." she proceeded to tell the Superintendent everything that weighed on her mind in the hopes that doing so would lighten her mental load. Once she finished, she did indeed feel better. "I guess I needed to vent more than I thought."

"Given the events you experienced today, I completely understand your feelings," Neighsay said with a tone of sympathy. "But I don't want your emotions to cloud your judgment any more than already have."

"I know, I know." Cadance reached a light and allowed herself a moment to facepalm, then collect her thoughts. "Are you going to be at the Friendship Games? I'd like to have some hard evidence of magic since I know not all S.M.I.L.E. agents will be able to attend."

"If I can manage to find time from my busy schedule. And I'd have to do so covertly. My being there would draw plenty of unwanted attention."

"Of course." Cadance knew that Neighsay would stand out like a sore thumb. The students wouldn't likely recognize him, but the staff most certainly would, and his being there would probably lead to questions. Questions that could lead to the whole operation she and others had worked so hard to keep secret to have its cover blown! She took a deep breath, then exhaled, calming herself. For crying out loud, she really needed to get a grip on herself! "Ugh!" She growled in frustration. "Maybe Hope is right. Maybe I do need a vacation..." The light turned green and Cadance accelerated her car.

"You need to stay strong, Cadenza."

Cadance's eyes widened as an old memory resurfaced, triggered by Neighsay's words.

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Cadance entered Crystal Prep with a heavy heart. It was the first day of Cinch's tenure as the Principal, and the change of atmosphere was noticeable to say the least. The normally bright and upbeat feelings she experienced while in the halls were taken over by sadness as memories of Amore flowed through her. As she walked around, she began to wonder how other students felt about her mother's death. She had no doubt in her mind that they'd be upset, she just wanted some validation of her feelings from her peers.

Cadance approached a student with shaggy lime green hair and light crimson skin. She tapped the boy on the shoulder, who turned around and gazed at her with amber eyes.

"Yes?"

Cadance took a deep breath in an effort to steady her emotions, then exhaled. The wounds were still all too fresh, and she didn't even know if they'd ever heal, but she needed to hear from her fellow students. "I was wondering if you'd heard about Amore."

The student sighed heavily with a frown. "I miss her so much already, and it hasn't even been that long."

Cadance smiled warmly and put a comforting hand on the student's shoulder. "Yeah. I know how you feel." More than you'll ever know.

"I mean, she just up and retired for no reason. Not even a-"

Cadance gasped and reeled back, as though struck by an invisible force. Her mouth went agape as she tried to process the boy's words. Surely she misheard what he just said. Maybe she'd been grief-stricken for so long, it began to affect her hearing! "I-I'm sorry," she said, walking up to the student. "Could you repeat that?"

"I said she retired for no reason."

This time Cadance couldn't deny what she heard. A maelstrom of emotions swirled within the core of her being as she struggled to remain upright. This couldn't be happening. Her mother died, she didn't retire!

"Are you okay," the student asked.

Cadance blinked. "She... retired." Her emotions battled for control over her. Sadness, anger, confusion... until anger finally won out. "Retired," she repeated as her blood began to boil. "Retired?"

A droplet of sweat began to form on the student's forehead. "Y-Yes," he said nervously as he slowly backed away.

Cadance walked up to the boy until she was inches away from his face. "Where did you hear that?" Her tone seethed with fury as she fought the urge to punch to next thing within her line of sight.

"Th-Th-The s-s-s-school p-p-paper."

Cadance stormed off to the printing room where the school paper was being made, taking great care to keep her focus forward and in the moment. If someone tried to stop her, she didn't know what she'd do. She reached the office where several computers were all lined up in a windowless room. The walls were grey and contained schedules of all kinds, but none of those details mattered to her right now. She looked to a desk where a young man with light blue hair sat as he glanced over submitted articles with his orchid eyes. She glanced at the name on the board.

Upfront Sizzle, Editor-in Chief

"Are you the editor?"

The young man glanced up from the papers. "I am. Can I help you with anything?"

Still trying to contain her anger, Cadance took another deep breath, then sighed. "Who submitted the article about Amore retiring?"

Sizzle took a copy of the paper and handed it to Cadance. "See for yourself."

Cadance took the paper and began reading the front page until she found what she was looking for.

Sudden Departure: A Letter from Amore
Proofread by Abacus Cinch

Cadance stood still, as though she was frozen in time. A cold chill ran down her spine, and she began to shake. Her breathing quickened as she clenched her teeth. She couldn't take her eyes off of the paper, and that only spurred her impending rage to the forefront. She screamed and tore the paper apart in a fury. "I'm going to fucking kill her!"

Sizzle's eyes widened and he left the room in a hurry upon Cadance's frenzied shout. She didn't take notice, because she immediately broke down after her declaration, sobbing uncontrollably. Hadn't she suffered enough? It was bad enough just being here so soon after her mother's death, but now this?!

Cadance's thoughts were interrupted as she felt a warm presence hug her tightly. She looked up to see Neighsay, tears in his eyes as he sniffled. "I'm so sorry, Cadenza," he whispered. "I... I did not know she would do such a thing."

Cadance let another wave of tears shed as she was held tightly.

"I know it hurts. God, I know it hurts... But you need to stay strong, Cadenza."

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Cadance rolled up to her driveway with a sigh. "Some days it's harder than others to do so."

"I completely understand, Cadenza, but don't give up hope."

Cadance's eyes narrowed. "Never," she said in a harsh whisper.

"There's the Cadenza I know and love."

"Thanks for the talk. I really needed it."

"Anytime." Neighsay hung up, and Cadance went inside.

Alone with a Memory

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Cadance flopped on her couch with a sigh as she kicked her shoes off. Today had been an emotional day for her, and she now had the memory of Cinch's first day as Principal looming over her head. If it isn't one thing... She grumbled as she buried her head underneath one of the pillows, welcoming the darkness that now surrounded her vision.

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Cadance sniffled after she had no more tears left, and looked up at Neighsay. "You... you're still going to work for that m-monster after this, aren't you?!"

Neighsay put a hand on Cadance's head as he smiled sadly. "I'm afraid I have no choice in the matter if I want to keep my job." He ran a hand through her hair. "I don't like this any more than you do... but perhaps I can at least try to keep her in check. That may be the least I can do."

Cadance sighed heavily. "It's not fair..."

"I know it isn't, Cadenza... I know it isn't..." Neighsay broke the hug with her. "...but there's nothing either of us can do."

Cadance stared at the floor as her rage began to boil. "There's got to be something!" She stomped her foot on the floor.

Neighsay took a deep breath, then sighed. If Cadenza was anything at all like her mother, it meant there would be no talking her out of it. Just like the Amore the night she... He shook his head as he felt tears well up. He looked his daughter figure in the eyes.

Cadance eased up at the sight of Neighsay's teary eyes.

"Mi Amore Cadenza."

Cadance blinked in surprise. While Neighsay had called her "Cadenza," he rarely used her full name, even less often in a public space!

"I want you to promise me that whatever you end up doing, I want you to think carefully about how you're going to go about it. Nothing half-baked, do you hear me?"

Cadance nodded. "I do."

"That means that you do not make any sort of move against her until you're absolutely positive that everything's in place. As many possibilities considered as possible."

"...In other words, no immediate action."

Neighsay nodded. "That is correct. You cannot simply go after Abacus Cinch, Cadenza. You know all too well what her father is capable of."

"Isn't his health declining, though?"

"It is, but that hasn't diminished his pull around here. Remember, he was the-" The school bell rang, cutting Neighsay off. He put his hands on Cadance's shoulders. "Stay strong, Cadenza. I have a feeling that this is the beginning of a long, long road."

"You and me both," Cadance said. "You and me both." She and Neighsay went their separate ways.

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Cadance lifted her head up with a sigh. She'd just have to roll with it. Not much choice but to let it play out in her head. Besides, it might serve as a motivator to take down Cinch...

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Cadance's first class ended. She had begun to feel empty during class as her outburst replayed through her mind. The fury she felt. The injustice of it all. The absolute gall of-

"Cadance!"

Cadance turned around to see a teary-eyed Radiant Hope rush towards her and embrace her tightly. She stood still in surprise until her friend sobbed loudly, causing her to return the hug as tears of her own began to well up. "H-How could she?!" Hope's voice was muffled, but the anger in her tone was more than evident as her hands gradually balled into fists that shook.

Cadance broke, unable to bear Hope's sadness. The two held each other tightly, together in grief and anger until they each had no more tears left. The bell for second period rang, and Hope and Cadance looked at each other. "Talk later," asked the former.

"Yeah... talk later." Hope began to walk away until Cadance grabbed her by the arm. She turned around to face her friend.

"Do you feel any better?"

Hope sighed and gave Cadance a small but sad smile. "Not by much... but crying it out helped."

Cadance nodded. "See you at lunch?"

"Yeah. See you then."

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The day dragged by for Cadance as she walked the halls of Crystal Prep. She felt dread as she neared the cafeteria, knowing that the main topic of discussion among her peers would be her mother's "sudden retirement". With a heavy sigh, she walked over to the lunch line, steeling herself as she neared the end. She almost wanted to tell her fellow students the truth... but would they believe her? As sad as the situation was, Cadance believed that she would gain nothing from doing so. Perhaps everyone here would be better off knowing a saddening lie rather than a tragic truth.

Cadance reached a table and idly poked at her food with a fork, tuning out the conversations around her. She nearly yelped when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Turning around, she saw Hope.

"Hey." Hope's tone sounded hollow, suggesting that she wasn't feeling any better than the last time she and Cadance saw each other. She sat down with a heavy sigh, then put her head in her hands. Cadance put a hand on Hope's back, rubbing it for emotional support. Several moments would pass until she lifted her head. "I wish there was something we could do..."

Cadance smiled faintly, reflecting back to her conversation with Neighsay. "Maybe there is," she said as she lifted her hand off Hope's back.

"Like what?"

Cadance stared at the table. "Truth be told, I don't know... but whatever we end up doing, we can't half-ass it. This is Abacus Cinch we're going to go up against."

Hope scoffed. "Tell me something I don't know."

"We probably shouldn't even be speaking about this in public," Cadance whispered. "Who knows what'll happen if we get caught?"

Hope rolled her eyes and folded her arms. "You're acting paranoid for no reason."

Cadance's eyes widened. "No reason? Do you have any idea who her father is?"

"As a matter of fact, I don't, and I don't see what that has to do with this."

Cadance leaned into Hope and whispered his name.

"What?!"

Cadance put a finger to her lips, making a shushing noise.

Hope calmed, but put a hand to her forehead. "Oh god... that makes so much sense." She shuddered, then took a drink of water. "We should brainstorm later."

Cadance nodded, then turned the topic of conversation to other matters, acting as though everything was normal until lunch ended.

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Cadance entered her room, emotionally drained from the day and the memory of Cinch's first day as Principal of Crystal Prep. As she changed into her pajamas, she sighed. That day in particular may have been terrible, but it was nothing compared to what lie ahead for her... Praying for a decent dream, she slowly fell asleep.

A Trying Tuesday

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Cadance arrived at Crystal Prep Academy the next day, feeling refreshed. It was a new day, but she didn't want to delude herself into thinking that everything was going to be just fine. It took Principal Cinch mere months to change the atmosphere from friendly and welcoming to hostile and overly competitive, and it would take longer to bring it back to its glory days...

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Several months had passed since Abacus Cinch took over after Amore's death, and Cadance would have gone absolutely mad were it not for the constant support of Luna, Hope, and on occasion, Celestia. Entering the Academy, she closed her eyes and sighed. Where there was once chatter and occasional laughter, there was now unrest and aggression. The enmity in the air had became palpable over time, and one who was unaccustomed to the environment would surely keep to themselves in an effort to avoid trouble.

Cadance looked around the halls as she walked. The normally light-green walls seemed to have darkened over time, giving one a sense of foreboding when nearing a turn in the corridors. She frowned, feeling sympathy for any poor, frightened students.

"Man, has this place lost its luster or what?"

Cadance turned around to see a pale white student with dark and light blue hair. His blue eyes regarded the hallways with sadness as he heaved a sigh. "Shining Armor," he said as he offered Cadance a handshake, which she accepted.

"Cadance."

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Cadance smiled warmly. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. However, she hadn't seen Shining Armor in a couple of weeks. He'd visit his Alma Mater every now and again, just for nostalgia's sake and to catch up with her from time to time when she wasn't busy doing administrative work or S.M.I.L.E. duties. Speaking of which... She entered her office and sat down, then cracked her knuckles and got to work.

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Several hours had passed, and Cadance got up and stretched. It was time for some lunch, and she hadn't been to the cafeteria since last Thursday. Time to change that. She left her office and made her way to the lunchroom, feeling a twinge of bittersweet memories from when her mother ran Crystal Prep.

Upon reaching the cafeteria, Cadance noticed a purple and light pink haired student looking around almost worriedly. "Sunny Flare?"

Sunny yelped, then clenched her hands into fists. "Son of a bitch! Can't I go at least one fucking period without being startled?!" She panted, her body shaking from fury. She turned around, then blanched. "Hi...Dean...Cadance." she said sheepishly.

"Are you okay, Sunny?" Cadance asked.

Sunny sighed deeply. "I've just been having a rough couple of passing periods, that's all." She began to calm visibly. "First boredom, then stupidity, then boredom again, then stupidity again..." Putting a hand to her head, she sighed again. "Sugarcoat and Indigo Zap were trying to cure me of my boredom, but at the same time doing so at my expense. Well, not every time I spoke to them." She pulled at her eye sockets. "I swear, this day has been ridiculously boring and it's been driving me mad!"

Cadance smiled. "I understand. Have you tried making friends?"

Sunny rolled her eyes and folded her arms. "Like I haven't heard that a million times already."

"I know this isn't the ideal place for friendship, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't at least give it a chance." said Cadance.

Sunny sighed. "Yeah...I guess." Suddenly, she winced and cried out in pain.

Cadance ran over to Sunny. "Sunny! Are you okay?"

"I...I think so..." Sunny gasped, then fainted.

Cadance's eyes widened, then immediately extended her arms outward. "Everybody stay calm," she said in a tone as reassuring as she could muster, then ran over to the nearest phone. Keeping her cool as best she could, she punched in a number and tapped her foot while waiting for a response.

"Hello, this is the nurse's office."

"Dean Cadance here. Someone in the cafeteria needs medical attention!"

"Understood. I'll have someone come right over." The nurse hung up, and so did Cadance. The Dean took stock of the students' reactions. Some simply went back to whatever they doing, some just stared, and a couple of students flat out fled the cafeteria. She didn't expect any student to just come up and perform CPR, but she didn't expect apathy either! Cadance took a deep breath, then exhaled as a nurse arrived with a gurney.

"I'm gonna need your help here," the nurse said as she buried her arms under Sunny's. "Ready?" Cadance gently held onto the student's legs, then nodded. "On three. One... two... three!" The two successfully raised Sunny Flare onto the gurney and raced out of the cafeteria. "What happened to her?"

"She just fell limply onto the floor." Dean Cadance said as the gurney turned a corner. She suddenly felt a pull on one of her arms. "I'm in a hurry, can it-" she turned, then stopped speaking when she saw the fear in Indigo Zap's eyes. Her jaw had dropped, and she stammered for a moment until Cadance held her by the hand. The Dean gave Indigo a sympathetic look. "She's going to be fine." She said calmly. "She just... hasn't been sleeping well lately."

Indigo stood still in shock until the student with her held her other hand. "But... but I just saw her a few minutes ago. She seemed just f-fine then." She said, trembling.

"I assure you, Indigo Zap. Sunny Flare is going to be okay. But promise me that you won't bring this up to her. She's a proud individual," Cadence said.

Indigo stayed sill, staring off for a moment. "Yeah... I promise." She all but mumbled.

"Indigo... are you going to be okay?" Cadence asked softly.

"I... I... I don't know. I'm... in shock... she... was just... fine when I saw her. D-Dean Cadence... I-I'm scared," she said, her voice a near whisper.

"I understand. Seeing someone you know in a condition like that can be frightening." Cadence said as she slowly embraced Indigo.

"If it's that scary seeing someone you know in a gurney, I can only imagine what it must feel like to see someone you love in the same way." Indigo said as she looked up.

For a brief moment, an image of her mother on her deathbed flashed through Cadance's mind, causing her to shed a tear. Dammit, not now!

"Are... are you okay, Dean Cadence?"

Cadence slowly broke the hug. "Yes. I'm fine." She wiped a tear from her face. "Everyone goes through this experience, Indigo Zap. I am no exception. It was just an old memory from a while back."

Indigo gave Dean Cadence a look of uncertainty.

Cadence sighed. "You don't have to worry about me, I'm more than capable of taking care of myself. But I do appreciate the sentiment." She said, putting an arm on Indigo's shoulder.

Indigo smiled warmly. "All right then, if you say so."

"Well, if that's everything you need, you'll have to excuse me," Cadence said as she ran off in the direction the gurney took.

A Trying Tuesday, Part II

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Cadance ran as fast as she could in an effort to catch up to the gurney. Images of her mother on her deathbed flashed before her eyes, and she clenched a hand into a fist. Now was not the time. She had to stay strong!

Upon reaching the infirmary, Cadance took a chair and sat down next to Sunny Flare, simply staring at her nearly immobile form. The poor girl had suffered so much as of late, and the Dean wished there was something, anything she could do for her. At the very least, she could keep watch. She'd gladly stay a little later than normal to catch up on her work if that was a result of her actions.

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A couple of hours had passed, and Dean Cadance had left Sunny for a moment to use the bathroom. By the time she returned, she saw a familiar blue-haired student turning away from the unconscious girl.

"Indigo? What are you doing here?" Dean Cadence asked.

Indigo Zap started, then saw the Dean. "Making a mistake." she said, paling slightly. "I...I just wanted to see how she was doing," she said, gesturing in Sunny's direction. "B-But I didn't take into account how freaked out I'd be," she said, then shuddered.

Cadance smiled. "I told you that she's going to be okay," she said, gently putting her hands on Indigo's shoulders.

Indigo took a deep breath, then exhaled, sighing heavily. "I know you did. But that doesn't stop me from freaking out." Before Cadence could say another word, Indigo said "Please don't ask me if I'm going to be okay, I've heard that question so many times today already. And to answer that very question... I don't know. I'm just shaken. God I hope this doesn't give me nightmares."

"Indigo." Cadence said, gaining her attention. "It's commendable that you would want to check up on her, even if you two hardly know each other." She took her hands off of Indigo's shoulders. "Do you need to sit down?"

"I think I'll be okay... maybe I just need some fresh air," Indigo said. "Good talk, Dean. Good talk," she said, almost devoid of tone.

Cadance frowned slightly, worried for Indigo as she watched the student walk off. Once she was out of eyesight, the Dean sat back down next to Sunny Flare.

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Some time later, Sunny Flare stirred and opened her eyes. She looked at Cadance.

"Well," Cadance said with a smile. "You did want something to do to pass the time."

Sunny rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah... I know."

"Have you ever thought of taking medication to curb the stomach pain," Cadance asked.

Sunny blinked. "I don't know if I want to."

"I understand why you wouldn't, but aren't you at least a little worried about the potential damage to your body?"

"You mean besides the damage already done by my..." Sunny trailed off, then sighed.

"Well, yes."

"I'll tell you what," said Sunny. "I'll talk to my parents about it, then get back to you."

"I suppose that's fair enough." said Cadance.

"What time is it, anyway?"

Cadance looked at the clock on the wall. "It's about time to go," she said. "You'd better hurry if you want to catch your bus home." Sunny bolted out of the nurse's office, leaving the Dean to blink in surprise. At least she seems to be feeling a little better. She got up, waved to the receptionist, and headed for her car. She'd come back early tomorrow to make up for lost time.

As she reached the school's exit, she noticed Lemon Zest slowly walking towards the doors. She called out her name to get her attention.

"Lemon."

No response. Cadance sped up until was at an arm's length, then put one on her shoulder. "Lemon." The student turned around, then suddenly hugged her tightly and began crying.

---------------------------------------------

When Lemon had finally calmed down, Cadance brought her to her office.

"Before I tell you what's going on, I need to send a text. I don't want my mom and dad to worry about me," said Lemon.

This must be serious if she's not calling her parents her "parentals". She always calls them that, thought Cadance.

Lemon sent a few texts back and forth with her parents, then pocketed her phone. "Sorry about that," she said. "You know how it can be with families."

"That's fine," said Cadance. Her smile turned into a look of concern. "I've noticed you haven't been yourself since lunch period ended. What happened?"

Lemon took a deep breath, and shuddered when she exhaled.

"Take your time if you need to, Lemon Zest," said Cadance.

"Thank you," said Lemon. After a few minutes, she finally began telling Dean Cadance what happened.

Once she finished, Cadance simply said "I see. That's...rather unfortunate."

"To say the least," said Lemon. "I betrayed her trust. You have no idea how bad I feel, and that's just compounded by the fact that I was her first friend." She sighed with her head in both of her hands. "At least I still have Twilight... and no offense to her, but that's little consolation to me at this point."

Cadance smiled. "That's okay, I understand."

"I do feel a little better, though." said Lemon. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to text my parentals so they can get me home and I can bawl all over them."

That's a good sign, thought Cadence.

"Thank you, Dean Cadence." said Lemon.

"Of course."

Lemon Zest left Cadance's office, and the Dean sighed heavily. The woes of the students at Crystal Prep, whether or not inflicted by Cinch, could be a burden at times. Feeling drained yet again, she walked over to her car and made her way home.

---------------------------------------------

Cadance returned home with a heavy sigh and immediately searched through her pantry. She took out a bottle of whiskey and poured a shot. Staring at the glass, she sighed again. The Dean almost never drank alcohol and usually saved it for special occasions. This wasn't a special occasion by any means, however. After the day she had, she could use some warmth...

Warmth...

Cadance sighed heavily again, and downed the shot. With a sputtering noise, she put the whiskey back into the pantry and closed it as the burning in her throat persisted. At least she felt something now... Walking out of the kitchen, she headed straight upstairs, damning the rest of the world until she had to face it the next day.

Cadance closed her bedroom door behind herself and stayed in there until morning.

Wednesday

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Cadance arrived at Crystal Prep Academy early the next day. She was grateful for a decent night's sleep despite all that had happened to her. With cautious optimism and a smile, she reached her office and began her work in earnest.

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Some time had passed, and Cadance's phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Dean Cadance...I have something to tell you, and you're not going to like it." It was Hope. She told the Dean what happened between her, Twilight and Lemon.

"That's...I don't know how to react to that." said Cadance. "We need to move faster, Radiant Hope. I fear the stress of the oppressive atmosphere here will cause a riot."

Hope sighed. "You and me both. As long as Principal Cinch is in power, though, there's little to nothing we can do about it."

"Just remember the plan between the three of us."

"I know, I know." said Hope. "Twilight was so upset throughout this whole ordeal. I couldn't help but feel bad for her. The poor girl was shaken to her core."

"Don't worry, Radiant Hope. I'll have a talk with her later," said Cadence. "Are you going to contact their parents?"

Hope was silent for a moment. "No." she said. "Those two have already been through enough and they're genuinely remorseful for their actions."

"I understand. It's always hard to see the few good students fall from grace. That's why we need to speed things up. Who knows how much worse things could get here?"

"I agree," said Hope. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to call our Third."

"Okay. Tell me if anything comes up. Goodbye." Cadance hung up, then sighed heavily. Even Twilight Sparkle and Lemon Zest have been pushed too far... She put a hand to her forehead, then muttered under her breath. "Dammit."

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Time passed, and Cadance channeled her frustrations into her work. Doing so caused her to finish early, and she smiled. A thought suddenly occurred to her. She grabbed a slip of paper and wrote her phone number on it, complete with her signature, then pocketed it. She had been so caught up with so many other things that she forgot to do something for Sour Sweet! Now that she had some free time, she could keep an eye out for her.

Cadance stepped out of her office as a bell signaled the end of eighth period. The hallway gradually filled with students, some glaring at each other, some just plain ignoring each other. The Dean supposed it was better than fighting, which was likely happening elsewhere in the school.

"Okay," a familiar voice said nearby. "School day's almost over."

"Eager to go home?"

Sour Sweet turned around. "A little, I guess," she said as she shrugged. "Not that today's been a bad day, I'm just feeling a little drained."

Cadance smiled. "I understand, Sour Sweet. School can be a really exhausting experience." She put a hand on Sour's shoulder. "But as you said, the day is almost over."

Sour Sweet smiled back. "Yeah. I can tough out one more period easily."

Cadance leaned closely into Sour Sweet. Sour stepped back a little, feeling uncertain. "I wouldn't do this under normal circumstances, Sour Sweet, but I want you to have this." Cadance put her hand into one of her pockets and produced a small slip of paper. She discreetly handed it to the student.

"What is-" Sour Sweet unfolded the piece of paper and gasped, nearly dropping it. "Is...is that what I think it is?" She struggled to keep her emotions under control. On the slip of paper was Cadance's signature and a phone number.

Cadance nodded, smiling. "It is. Any time you need me, if you just want to talk or there's some sort of emergency, you can now contact me personally."

Sour Sweet sniffled. "I-I don't know what to say," she said, her voice quavering.

"You don't have to say anything, Sour Sweet. Whatever I can do to help you, I will," Cadance said as she embraced her in a gentle hug. Sour Sweet broke immediately and stayed in her arms until the warning bell for her final class rang.

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Her day at work complete, Cadance arrived at home. She considered it a blessing that today wasn't as chaotic and maddening as yesterday. I don't think I would've survived if it was... With a sigh, she flopped onto her couch and stared up at the ceiling. Her thoughts wandered...

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Cadance walked into Crystal Prep Academy with a sense of foreboding. There was no doubt in her mind that everyone there had heard the news. Principal Cinch's father passed away the previous night.

The atmosphere was thick with tension as the students walked the halls, filled with fear. Would Cinch be angry? Sad? Nobody but the Principal herself knew what sort of relationship she had with her father. Cadance could feel the uncertainty in the air, and it began to make her anxious as well. She took a deep breath and exhaled, then nearly jumped when the PA system activated.

"All students are to assemble in the gymnasium to honor the passing of our founder. Attendance is mandatory."

Cadance sighed and ran a hand through her hair. She wasn't all that surprised to not have a choice in the matter. Might as well bite the bullet and tough it out.

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Cadance made a sputtering noise as she got off of her couch. Even after all those years, she still wanted that hour and a half of her life back. All that happened was Cinch singing the praises of a madman. A madman who founded the school that a better part of her life had revolved around, but a madman nonetheless.

Cadance's phone buzzed, which was odd. Who'd be texting her at this hour?

Cadance, my daughter knows about S.M.I.L.E. Will send you details. - Night Light

The Dean's eyes widened in shock. "Son of a bitch..." She sent a text back.

Understood. - Cadance

Cadance and Night Light traded texts until a plan was formed. She knew what she had to do... and with that in mind, she strolled upstairs and went to bed for the night.

Past Pain

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Cadance woke up from her slumber. She still couldn't believe Twilight Sparkle knew about S.M.I.L.E.! On the other hand, it heartened her to know that someone would go to such great lengths to protect a friend... even if the methods of doing so were morally questionable.

Cadance stopped for a moment. Obviously Twilight would have questions. Cupping her chin in thought, the Dean walked over to her desk. She looked at her book, wondering if she should give Crystal Prep's prize student the benefit of the doubt. She might even want to help her with the cause! ...On the other hand, there was a slight chance she'd tell Cinch. ...No. She wouldn't.

With a sigh, Cadance took the book. She'd just have to take that chance and hope for the best. The Dean finished her morning routine and headed to work.

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Upon arriving at Crystal Prep, Cadance hurried to her office. If she kept this large book of hers out in the open, people would start to ask questions. Perhaps she was being paranoid, but the Dean decided it was better to err on the side of caution. Upon arriving at her office, she took a deep breath, then exhaled, opening a secret compartment in her desk. She slid the book in. Having done that, she walked through the halls to find Twilight.

Several minutes had passed, and Cadance began to feel frustrated. No sign of Twilight anywhe- Her thought process stopped as she found herself just behind the very person she had been looking for. The Dean lightly tapped on the student's shoulder, eliciting a yelp from the latter.

Twilight turned around as a nervous expression formed on her face.

"Hello, Twilight," Dean Cadance said with her arms folded. "I'd like to speak to you for a few moments."

Twilight remained silent all the way to the office, even when Cadance opened the door. The Dean stopped just short of her desk and turned to see Twilight pulling on her hair. She gave her a reassuring smile, then walked over to her. "Twilight," she said softly. "Come on in. I promise I won't hurt you."

Twilight slowly inched away from the door, then shut it. "H-How do I know whether or not you're t-telling the t-truth," she stuttered. Cadance drew closer, then slowly embraced her. Twilight tensed up momentarily, then exhaled. "I-I'm so sorry," she said as she reluctantly returned the hug. "I suppose my parents told you everything."

Dean Cadance broke the hug. "Yes. They did." She walked over to her desk, then gestured to a seat. Twilight sat down and looked her straight in the eyes. "I understand why you did what you did, Twilight, but you should have known better than that."

Twilight looked away in shame. "I know," she said quietly, then turned her head back to meet Cadance's gaze. "But you still haven't answered my question," she said, trying to keep her voice level.

"Twilight," Cadance said in surprise. "Why would you ask me that, even after all this time?"

"Oh, I don't know," Twilight said in a sarcastic tone. "Maybe it's the secret organization you never told me about", she said. "Or maybe it's because you had my parents and my brother lie to me!" She took a deep breath, then exhaled. "What did Principal Cinch ever do to you, anyway," she asked, folding her arms.

Cadance remained silent for a moment as her anger began to build. "'What did she do to me?'..." Her normally calm demeanor slowly gave way to a scowl. "What did she do to me," she repeated angrily, then slammed her hands on her desk, causing Twilight to yelp and shrink in her chair. The Dean's eyes widened, then she put her hand to her head and gave a heavy sigh as she closed her eyes. "I...I'm sorry you had to see that, Twilight," she said calmly. Dammit...

Twilight remained frozen in her chair, eyes wide with shock and mouth open. Dean Cadance sighed again, then took her book out. "Twilight," Cadance said, snapping the student back to reality. "To prove that you can trust me, I'm willing to show you the contents of this book."

Twilight quirked an eyebrow.

"Nobody but myself and my closest friends know what's contained in here. Very few S.M.I.L.E. agents even know about this book, let alone what's inside." Cadance got up from her seat, then walked over to Twilight with the book in hand. "I only have one condition."

"And that is?" Twilight shifted uneasily in her chair.

Cadance leaned into Twilight and whispered in her ear. "That what you read in here stays between you and me."

Twilight shivered, then took the book. She looked at Cadance with uncertainty.

"You'll understand when you look."

Hesitantly, Twilight opened the large book and read it.

Mom's obituary... Cadance kept a close eye on Twilight, looking for any sort of reaction.

"I don't get it," Twilight said. "What does this have to do with-"

"Turn the page," Cadance said as she slowly walked back to her desk. Old pictures of me and my real name... She felt a lump in her throat, barely suppressing a sniffle.

Twilight gasped. "Y-You're..."

"Yes, Twilight. I am," Cadance turned around as a tear rolled down her eye.

"Oh my god," Twilight whispered. "It makes a lot of sense, but I still don't understand."

"Keep on looking."

Twilight turned the page again, and read everything. She finished, then stared up in horror at Cadance. "I... how..."

"I don't want to talk about that," Cadance said, looking away. "It enrages me every time I read it." Even just thinking about it...

"A-And she just..."

"Do you understand now, Twilight," Cadance asked.

"I do... but I don't condone how you're going about it."

Cadance barked a mirthless laugh. "You wouldn't be the first to say so."

I'm sorry, Cadenza, but I don't condone revenge. You know that! The words echoed in her head.

"How could you keep something like this from your agents," Twilight said, gesturing to the book. "If they find out about why you're really doing this, they might quit altogether!"

"I plan on telling them after the Friendship Games," Cadance said. "For better or for worse."

"Good," Twilight said, surprising herself.

"So I assume you're not interested in joining S.M.I.L.E.?"

Twilight shook her head. "That's correct."

"That's a shame, really," Cadance said. "We could have used someone with your intellect."

Twilight got up off of her chair and gave the book back to Cadance. "I'm flattered, but I'm just not cut out for the cloak and dagger lifestyle."

Cadance nodded. "Understood."

"But don't worry," Twilight said as she put a hand on the Dean's shoulder. "Your secrets will be safe with me." Cadance got up and hugged her.

"Twilight," Cadance said. "You don't have to hide your pain. I can tell you've been under a lot of stress lately," she whispered. "I can tell when someone's holding back tears... Because I've been there more times than I'd care to admit." She heard Twilight sniffle. "So just let it all out here. It'll just be between the two of us."

Twilight slowly tightened the hug, then broke. Cadance gently stroked the student's hair with a sigh. It broke the Dean's heart to see someone cry like that, but it was likely a needed release. The warning bell for first period rang, but the two stay put, even after the poor student stopped crying.

Cadance smiled as she broke the hug. "You should probably go, Twilight. Wouldn't want you to be late to the first class of the day."

"Yeah. I should," Twilight said, then left.

Cadance sighed heavily as she slumped into her chair. She had to get to work, there was no time for self-pity.

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Roughly an hour passed, and Cadance had hardly gotten any work done. Everything she shared with Twilight had brought back some of her worst memories. The night her mother became fatally sick... Neighsay's revelation of poisoning... The Dean decided she should get some fresh air before she suffered a breakdown.

Cadance was so preoccupied that she nearly bumped into a student! It was Sunny Flare. "Good morning, Sunny," she said, forcing a smile onto her face.

"Hi." Sunny said, practically monotone.

Cadance looked at Sunny with concern. "Is everything okay?"

Sunny sighed deeply. "No."

"What's wrong?"

Sunny looked into Cadance's eyes for several moments before taking a deep breath and exhaling. "The funeral is tonight," she said as she averted her gaze.

"I can only imagine what you must be feeling right now," Cadence said as she felt the lump in her throat return.

"Better to imagine than to feel what I'm feeling right now," Sunny said. "I almost want to trade places with you, just so I don't feel pain over this loss any more."

Dammit... Cadence put her arms on Sunny's shoulders. "Sunny Flare," she said. "Loss and death are a part of life. It happens to everyone. Besides... I don't think you'd want to trade places with me." Try as she might, the Dean was unable to keep another tear from falling.

"Dean Cadance..." Sunny said. "Are you okay?"

Cadance wiped the tear from her eye. "I'm sorry you had to see that. Just an old memory passing through my mind. But enough about that," she said, rather eager to change the subject. "Have you made a decision on the medication?"

"I have. I decided that I'm going to take the medication." Sunny smiled sadly. "Besides, I've had more than enough pain to go around lately."

You and me both, Sunny Flare... You and me both. "Wonderful." Cadence said, smiling. "I'll get in touch with the nurse's office during your second period class and you can pick it up afterwards."

"Discreetly?"

"If you so wish. I understand how personal this issue is for you, Sunny Flare, and you have my condolences. Give my regards to your parents, won't you?"

Sunny nodded. "Of course I will. Thank you, Dean Cadance."

"You're quite welcome." Cadance said, giving Sunny a hug. The warning bell for second period rang and the hug broke. "Now off to class with you."

Sunny waved goodbye to the Dean, and headed off to her next class.

Cadance sighed again, then sniffled. It suddenly occurred to her that she was engaged in a battle of attrition against her emotions... and she was slowly and steadily losing. Keeping herself in check, she hurried over to the counselor's offices. Her breathing became unsteady as she reached her destination. The Dean took a deep breath, then exhaled with a shudder. "I-I need to speak with Radiant Hope. It's u-urgent." The receptionist nodded, and Cadance walked over to the counselor's office with as much composure as she could muster. She knocked on the door.

"Come in!"

Cadance entered, then sat down. "Do you h-have your noise canceler?"

Hope gasped as she noticed the look on her dear friend's face. She had seen that expression more than enough times, and knew what was about to follow. With the noise canceler in hand, she dropped it into the hallway and closed the door. Smiling warmly, she sat down next to Cadance. "Okay, hon... let it all out. I'm here for you."

Cadance broke, bursting into tears.

Relief, Recovery and a Reunion

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Several minutes later, Cadance sighed and shook her head. "I'm so goddamn sick of crying, Hope..."

Hope put a hand on Cadance's thigh. "I understand, but you can't keep these emotions in all the time. It's bad for your health."

The Dean snickered. "You've been barking up that tree for how long, now?"

"...Cadenza. I mean it."

Cadance blinked in surprise.

"I'm worried about you. You can't go a day without crying or nearly breaking something in a fit of rage."

Cadance looked away.

"Look at me, Cadenza," Hope said firmly. Cadance looked her friend in the eyes. "Please," she continued. "Talk to me. I can help you. If not for yourself... do it for me. For S.M.I.L.E..."

Cadance sighed heavily. "I-I want to hold on to this anger." The Dean hugged herself. "Because I'm scared that if I do end up letting go of it, I'll lose all motivation to oust Cinch."

"Cadenza..."

Cadance got up off the couch. "I'll tell you what. I will make a solemn promise here and now to get real help from you. After the Friendship Games." She extended her hand to Radiant Hope.

Hope smiled warmly. Whenever Cadance made a promise, she always kept it. Always. She shook her friend's hand. "I'll take you up on that."

Cadance smiled as she broke handshake. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do... but not before this." She shot forward and hugged Hope. "Thank you," she whispered.

"Anytime."

Cadance broke the hug, then headed back to her office.

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Time had passed, and Cadance had made some decent headway into her work when she heard a knock on her office door. "Come in," she said. Indigo Zap entered her office. "Hello, Indigo. How can I help you," The Dean asked as she closed the door behind her.

Indigo sat down on the couch in Cadence's office and remained silent, her face expressionless. Her body still. Just blankly staring at nothing in particular. Moments passed before Cadence got up from her chair and approached her slowly. "Is everything okay?" Indigo stayed silent, further concerning the Dean. "Do... do you need me to call one of your parents?" Indigo nodded very slowly, to Cadence's relief.

Cadence went to her desk and fished out a directory of all the parents for each student. She skimmed through it until she found Indigo's parents. She took the phone on her desk out of its hook and dialed a number as the warning bell for third period sounded off. The phone rang a couple of times, then the call was picked up.

"Hello?"

"Azure Feather? It's Dean Cadence from Crystal Prep."

"Well, hello, Dean Cadence. What's the occasion for the call?" Azure asked.

"Indigo just walked into my office and sat on my couch, but she hasn't said a word and remained still for the most part. She nodded when I asked if you needed to be contacted."

"Ah. I see." Azure said, "And what period is it now?"

"The warning bell for third period rang just as I dialed your number." Said Dean Cadence.

"Mm-hmm." Said Azure, "Okay, ask her if the first two classes of the day were intense."

Cadence covered the phone. "Indigo, were the first two classes of the day a bit too intense for you?" Indigo blinked, then slowly nodded. Cadence took her hand off of the phone. "She nodded in response."

"I thought so." Said Azure. "She's just a little overwhelmed, that's all. She needs to be in a quiet space so she can regroup. She should be back to her old self by the time third period ends."

"Thank you, Azure." Cadence said.

"No problem." Azure said, "Is there anything else you want to discuss?" He asked in a meaningful tone.

Cadence paused for a moment. "No." She said, "Perhaps another time, though."

"Understood. Glad I could help!" Azure said, then hung up.

"T...t..."

Dean Cadence looked up at Indigo.

"Th...than...thank...you." Was all Indigo managed to say before she returned to silence.

Dean Cadence smiled. "You're welcome, Indigo."

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By the time the bell signaling the end of third period rang, Indigo was indeed back to normal. She ran up to Dean Cadence and hugged her. "Thanks a ton again, Dean Cadence. I really needed that recharge," she said with a grin.

Dean Cadence returned the hug. "No problem. I'm happy to help when I can."

Indigo broke the hug. "See ya later," she said, and walked into the halls.

Cadance smiled genuinely for the first time all day. Helping others made her feel better.

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Some time later, Cadance's office phone rang. "Hello?"

"Cadance," Principal Cinch said as the mere sound of her voice caused the Dean to grit her teeth. "Could you bring Twilight Sparkle up to my office?"

The Dean took a deep breath, then exhaled. "Of course, Principal Cinch." She paused for a moment. "Is there anything else?"

"That will be all." Cinch hung up.

Cadance made a sputtering noise, then made her way to Twilight's private lab.

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Once the Dean arrived at Twilight's door, she knocked. "Come in," Twilight said from behind the door.

"Hello, Twilight," Cadance said softly. "Principal Cinch would like to see you."

Twilight blanched. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn't hesitate to see the Principal, but after everything she learned recently... "S-She does?"

Cadance put a calm and reassuring hand on Twilight's shoulder. "Don't worry," she said with a smile, then leaned in and whispered. "If she really knew what was going on, she'd come over herself."

Twilight calmed considerably. "That's a relief."

"By the way, you should probably change your shirt."

Twilight blinked. "Why?"

"Principal Cinch is highly allergic to dogs."

"Ah. I understand."

"Oh, and Twilight?"

"Yes," Twilight asked.

Cadance smiled warmly. "Good luck up there."

Twilight paused momentarily, then nodded with a smile.

"Cadance!"

The Dean turned around and smiled genuinely at the person who called out her name. A light grey adult with dark and light blue hair returned her smile as his cerulean eyes shone with happiness.

"Shining Armor! It's so good to-" Cadance was cut off mid-sentence as Shining hugged her. Her eyes widened in surprise, then closed with a sigh as she returned the hug. The Crystal Prep Alumni rarely hugged the Dean, but it felt welcome. It felt ...warm. Like the hugs her mother gave her, which were always given with-

Cadance opened her eyes, and broke the hug with as much composure she could muster. It... it couldn't be... She shook her head rapidly, bringing herself back to reality. "W-What brings you here?"

Shining Armor sighed. "Cinch called me here to convince Twily to compete in the Friendship Games."

"She what?!"

"I know," Shining said flatly as he folded his arms. "I don't like the idea any more than you do, but for the sake of appearances I think we should just play along."

"Agreed." Cadance nodded. "We'll catch up later."

Cadance and Shining Armor walked to Principal Cinch's office together.

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A while later, the two left Cinch's office as Shining Armor closed the door behind them.

"Dammit," Cadance muttered under her breath.

"What's wrong," Shining asked.

"I recognized that look in Cinch's eyes as we left..." The Dean's hands curled into fists. "I know what she's planning."

"What?"

Cadance took a deep breath, then sighed heavily. "How badly does Twilight want to be in the Everton Independent Study Program?"

"More than anything, but what does that have to do with-" Shining's eyes widened in horror. "No... Cinch wouldn't."

Cadance sighed again, then faced Shining Armor. "She would..." her tone was a mixture of resignation and fury. She played right into Cinch's hands. "And she's probably blackmailing her as we speak."

Shining Armor grit his teeth and started for the office door, only to be blocked by Cadance's arm.

The Dean shook her head. "There's nothing we can do right now that wouldn't potentially compromise everything we've worked for..."

"...Dammit."

Cadance put a hand on Shining Armor's shoulder. "The Friendship Games are tomorrow. If that isn't the turning point we need, I don't know what is." She smiled. "I promise you that Cinch will receive retribution for all that she's done if it's the last thing I do."

Shining Armor smiled back. "Thank you. I really needed to hear that," he whispered, then hugged her again.

Cadance returned the hug, grateful to feel the warmth again until Shining broke it.

"I-I have to go," he said.

"Y-Yeah. Me too. I have some paperwork and other things to take care of." Cadance smiled and waved as she watched Shining walk off, then headed back to her office, trying to ignore the warmth that flowed through her body.

Revelation

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Cadance neared her office and began to unlock her door, when her phone buzzed. She entered her office and sat down at her desk, then took out her phone.

Just a heads up. Sugarcoat has a potential new recruit on her hands. - CC

The Dean raised an eyebrow. Perhaps today would end on a high note after all.

Thank you. I'll contact her immediately.

Cadance smiled, then sent a text to Sugarcoat.

Your mother told me you know someone who wants to join the cause.

I do.

Do you want me to send him over after school? - Sugarcoat

Yes.

I'd like to meet him.

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Sugarcoat, Neon Lights and Crystal Clarity left Cadance's office, closing the door behind them.

Cadance smiled. It warmed her heart to see that love could be found within the halls of Crystal Prep Academy, even after everything that Cinch had done. She sighed dreamily. Love. The word alone spread warmth throughout her body. The Dean shook her head, then got up from her desk. The day was over, and she needed to be well rested for the Friendship Games. Cracking her neck, she left her office and closed the door behind herself.

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Cadance yawned as she went inside her house. The day had been an eventful one, to say the least. If she didn't get a good night's sleep after all that happened, she didn't know what she'd do... The Dean changed into her nightwear and crawled into her bed, hoping for a decent night's sleep. Gradually, she drifted off...

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Dean Cadance opened her eyes and found herself at peace. She was on a beach, by herself. Seagulls flew by, crying out every so often as the crashing of waves added to her comfort. The sun was out in full force, and the weather was nice and warm. The Dean got off of her lawn chair and sprinted forward, trying to keep her bare feet from touching the sand for too long. A tropical breeze blew, causing her hair to billow in the wind.

Cadance sighed happily, enjoying the summer air as she continued traversing the seemingly endless beach. Only then did she noticed that she seemed to be alone. That didn't feel right. This warmth she felt was meant to be shared with someone and did her little good, if any, to have it all to herself.

Cadance blinked and realized she was in a sauna, barely clothed and surrounded by walls made of wood. The warmth stayed with her as she took a deep breath, then laid down and stared up at the ceiling. This would be a lot better if she wasn't by herself...

Steam rose from the coals in the center of the room as a sizzling noise filled her ears. The Dean heard the door open. Ah, good. She was expecting company. Radiant Hope was due any day now...

"Hey, Cadance."

Cadance shot up as she realized that her sauna companion was not Radiant Hope, but...

"Shining Armor?!" The Dean blushed furiously as she tried her best to cover herself up.

Shining Armor chuckled. "You're cute when you're all flustered." The warmth around Cadance strengthened at his words, as did the heat that rose to her face. The CPA alumni smiled warmly and strolled over to her, keeping his towel in place.

Cadance backed away slowly. "I... I don't know if I'm comfortable sharing this room with you."

"Come on now, Cadance," Shining said softly. "We've known each other for years. I promise you can trust me."

The Dean eyed Shining in uncertainty, causing him to lift up his free hand. "I promise I won't do anything unless you give me consent." Cadance relaxed slightly, but still kept her eyes on Shining as he walked closer, then sat next to her. "Nice and toasty in here, isn't it?" He smiled, and her heart skipped a beat as she felt the temperature of the room rise.

"Yeah..." Cadance trailed off, getting lost in Shining's cerulean eyes. What was she so worried about? He was right, the two of them had known each other for a long time. She'd seen him in his swim trunks, with his toned chest... the Dean blinked, shaking her head.

"Is everything okay," Shining asked.

"Yeah," Cadance said as she began to inch towards him. "I'm just... thinking."

The room heated up further the closer Cadance got to Shining.

"Oh, yeah? About what?"

"About you... and me..." Cadance's eyes widened in surprise. Where did that come from?

Shining Armor crawled towards the Dean in an attempt to meet her halfway. "It's funny you should say that," he said as he blushed. "I-I've been th-thinking about you and m-me, too."

Cadance took a deep breath, then exhaled, gazing into Shining's eyes as the two reached touching distance. "You have a crush on me, don't you?"

Shining's face became red with embarrassment. "I do..." He reached out and caressed the Dean's cheek, causing her to shudder in excitement.

Cadance could hold back no longer, and she slowly closed in on Shining Armor... and planted her lips on his as she let go of her towel.

Shining sighed into kiss and let go of his own towel, burying his hands in Cadance's hair. Hands explored bodies as kisses became stronger and longer. Intense sensations gave way to cries of passion as the heat of the sauna rose, causing steam to obscure their vision. The couple's lovemaking was not deterred in the slightest and continued with no signs of stopping... until Cadance woke up.

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Cadance opened her eyes, bewildered by her dream. She had never experienced anything like it! The warmth she felt from Shining Armor still hadn't left her... The Dean's eyes widened and she gasped as everything became abundantly clear. Oh, no. No, this couldn't be happening. Not now! Not on what could be one of the most crucial days of her life!

She had wanted for it to happen to her so badly, and now it had...

The Arrow of Love finally struck.

Zero Hour

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Cadance took a deep breath, then exhaled in an attempt to calm herself down. Why? Why now?! She couldn't let her emotions cloud her judgment any more than they already have! The Dean sighed heavily. Shining Armor was sure to be there... Dammit, why did this happen?? She didn't want to fall in love until after the dust settled!

As Cadance took another deep breath, she got dressed and closed her eyes as she flashed back to the day before. She really felt bad for Twilight. Someone as gifted as... the Dean's eyes widened. Gifted... Could Twilight be one of the six students?

Cadance cupped her chin in thought. It would certainly make a lot of sense, since she was the top student in every class. The Dean made a mental note and stored it away for later. Today was the fated day, and Cadance needed to be ready for anything. She hurried to her car and started it.

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Cadance arrived in her office and sat down as she took out her phone.

Just a heads up for you.

S.M.I.L.E. gained a new recruit yesterday.

Neon Lights, a student that Sugarcoat is dating.

An image of Shining Armor holding her hand and smiling at her appeared in Cadance's mind. She sighed dreamily, happy to finally- no. She needed to focus! The Dean's phone buzzed, and she grabbed it, grateful for the distraction.

Sugarcoat actually has a boyfriend?! - Luna

I'll be damned.

Never thought I'd see the day.

Cadance smiled.

I was surprised as well, but we'll talk later.

I just wanted you to know now instead of during the games.

Luna texted back.

I appreciate it.

I can't wait to meet the guy who can keep up with her libido.

Cadance sighed. All this talk of dating and love... no. Stop!

Her phone buzzed again.

Are you in your office? - Sugarcoat

Speak of the devils... the Dean sent a text back.

Yes. Why?

Neon and I figured it'd be a good idea to pay you a little visit before we head over to Canterlot High.

You know. Just in case.

All right. I'll be waiting. - Cadance

The Dean pocketed her phone, then tented her fingers. She needed to keep her mind occupied at least until the Friendship Games ended. She'd deal with her feelings then.

A few moments later, there was a knock on her door.

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Neon Lights and Sugarcoat left Cadance's office as she sighed heavily. Try as she might, she was struggling to keep Shining Armor out of her thoughts during the briefing. The Dean thanked her lucky stars for being able to at least keep her composure on the surface. Then again, she had been doing so for years on end.

Cadance checked her phone to see the time. She took a deep breath, then stood up. Zero hour had come, and the Dean prayed to whatever higher power there may be that everything would go smoothly. She had been through far too much for the operation to fall apart, and she didn't know what she'd do if it did.

Clenching her hands into fists, Dean Cadance headed out to the buses to take attendance.

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Cadance went outside to where the buses were with a clipboard. Her mind was swarming with thoughts. Shining Armor, the mission, the attendance... if this all wasn't so important to the Dean, she'd ask for a break!

"Dean Cadance?" said Twilight as she walked up to the Dean, "I'm not really sure where to go."

Cadence turned around, holding up a finger. "One second, Twilight." she said, then walked away. Focus, Cadenza, focus! The Dean took a deep breath, then exhaled as she pretended to look at the seating arrangements. "This is the right bus, Twilight. Go ahead," she gestured towards the bus as she returned.

"But... I didn't mean to cut in front." Twilight said in an apologetic tone.

If Twilight said anything else, Cadance did not hear it. Her mind was still going a mile a minute, and she needed to sit down to clear it!

Several minutes later, everyone save Cadance were boarded on their respective bus. The Dean stared at the bus as several emotions flowed through her. Excitement.

This could be it. The turning point that I and the other agents have been working towards for years!

Fear.

But what if it all goes south? What if something unthinkable happens?

Determination.

No. It can't. I won't let it. Come hell or high water, I will do everything in my power to make sure things go smoothly!

Anger.

That goddamn bitch is going to pay for killing my mother...

Those emotions and more swirled through Dean Cadance's head as she boarded the bus. She knew that whatever was to happen at Canterlot High would change the lives of all present.

...she just had no idea how right she would turn out to be.

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Several weeks after the forced memorial of Cinch's father, Cadance met up with Neighsay in private.

"Well now, Cadenza... to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

Cadance looked the Superintendent in the eyes. "I know what I'm going to do to avenge Mom."

Neighsay raised an eyebrow. "Do you, now?"

Cadance nodded. "It turns out that a majority of the student body dislikes Cinch, what with all the animosity in the halls. They miss the days where everything felt safe, that CPA was a haven..."

"So you'd be forming a coalition."

"Yes, and we'd keep in touch on a regular basis to form strong bonds. Cinch couldn't possibly be taken down by people who barely know each other."

"And does this coalition have a name," Neighsay asked.

Cadance nodded again. She knew from the start the name she'd give it, the acronym would come later.

"Cadance, my dear, don't be sad. You're at your most beautiful...when you...smile..."

A tear fell down Cadance's cheek. "I'm going to call it... S.M.I.L.E."

End of Book Seven of the Crystal Prep Chronicles: Before the Friendship Games