A Day for Family

by Summer Script

First published

It's that time again! Friends and Family Day! A day to celebrate the bonds of family! Of brothers and sisters, and of mothers and fathers! The holiday is just around the corner, and everyone simply cannot wait! Well, almost everyone that is...

It's that time again! Friends and Family Day. A holiday meant to rejoice over the bonds shared between creatures and their loved ones. The preparations have been made, families have arrived, and everyone is ready for the festival that is soon to commence.
For everyone, the week leading up to it has been nothing but an unending roller coaster of anticipation and excitement!
Well, almost everyone.
For Gallus, it's been an entire week of unending misery and memories. And while he'll deny it at every given chance, it's getting to him.
Maybe a certain hypogriff can help him out with that.

Now with a sequel! : https://www.fimfiction.net/story/467104/the-bonds-of-love

This story was written for Miller Minus's Young Six Story Contest.
Link: https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/880423/writing-contest-the-discovery-or-the-young-six-take-the-writeoff

Cover Art found and obtained through the almighty power of Google Images! No theft intended.
LInk: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.deviantart.com%2Fejlightning007arts%2Fart%2FSilverstream-Hugging-Gallus-pt2-765833598&psig=AOvVaw0-lC6hrIVvGHNoVGlu_y84&ust=1581222285270000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAIQjRxqFwoTCJii-LSOwecCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAD

A Day for Family

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It’s almost over. It’s almost over! Just hold on a little longer!

“I’m so proud of my little hero of Equestria!”

“Aww, Mom!”

“Oh, shush and let me gush over you!”

“But—”

“Sandy, let your mother gush.”

“Not in front of my friend!”

“Nah, it’s okay, Sandbar. I have to go finish some homework anyway.”

“What do you mean, Gallus? We weren’t given any—”

“See ya later!” Gallus called, already fleeing back into the school grounds.

Friends and Family Day. Not quite the most truthful name. “Day” implied it lasted for that long, but it lasted for a full week as far as Gallus was concerned.

Seven days of sitting around, enduring everyone’s endless excitement. From stories of siblings, to memories of parents. From his fellow students, to the denizens of Ponyville. His own friends were no exception; Sandbar being only the latest to have trapped him.

Gallus was happy for them. Really! Seeing his friends be so enthusiastic about the families they cherished so dearly made him only appreciate them all further.

The hard part was getting away from it all.

Bodies always surrounded him, threatening to fall upon him like a crumbling mountain, and the sound of love and joy echoed through him, drowning out his own heartbeat.

Every creature was another undying monster wishing to trap him in their web of madness. Every memory was another unending nightmare, haunting him in ways Luna herself couldn’t fathom.

It never mattered what he did; sooner or later, they would find and drag his thrashing body out from whatever lasting haven he had finally found and back into their accursed abyss.

Gallus had contemplated the possibility of going insane from it all and likely would have done so had the event’s finale not been fast approaching. But even then…

“It’s almost over,” Gallus whispered to himself. “Just today and tomorrow! If you can survive Griffonstone, you can survive this! Just hold on for a little longer!”

After repeating that mantra yet again, he properly took in his surroundings; heart stopping upon seeing he had ducked into the heart of the crowd.

“Stay calm, Gallus! It’s— It’s just a few ponies!”

Responding to that thought, dozens of shadowy faces turned to gaze upon him. Hundreds of monstrous maws drooped in spiteful scowls. Thousands of bodies began spilling out around him, hiding the ground itself from view. Millions of ominous chants filled his ears, attempting to snuff out whatever flickering embers remained of his mind and soul.

“Stay— S-stay— Just. Stay. Calm! It’s all in your head! It’s all. In. Your—”

A demonic voice called his name from the ungodly choir, and a scaled claw raked his shoulder.

Everything faded away into a blur as he raced through the horde, desperate for some safe place.

He ended his search by collapsing on the carpeted floors of the entrance hall. It was off-putting to see the school finally empty again, but relief quickly overrode that sense. As did frustration.

“Stop it! Stop letting your stupid head get the better of you!” he said, flinching when the School of Friendship hollered it back. He quickly caught his breath and continued further into the halls, desperate to escape the muffled celebration outside.

Classrooms were contaminated by decorations and exhibits; the kitchen was a closed-off hurricane of flashing pink; and every hall and closet was vulnerable to the echoing elation.

Gallus thought to try the library, but he froze at the threshold to stare at the formless soup surrounding the upside-down draconequus who stared back over the bottom rims of two sunglasses.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m preparing my attraction for tomorrow’s Festival. What did you think I was doing?”

“Even you? Even you’re involved with Friends and Family Day?”

“Of course! Discord’s Frantic Funhouse Frenzy! It will be a blast! You had better make sure to come check it out; I know you’re going to love it!”

Not wanting to know what that meant, Gallus hurried to the dormitories. The joyous raucous followed but was finally far enough away to become an unintelligible mess.

He skipped over his friends’ rooms in light of the décor newly permeating their innards. Meanwhile, his room held nothing but its usual bareness. … He scoffed and turned away.

He grew steadily more annoyed as every room he passed bore the same painful hallmarks of a family’s love. Through one door lied an art project depicting a pony and their parents. Through another lied a dress for its resident’s sister. Through yet another lied… Nothing?

Gallus checked the room number and blinked. He then stepped further inside and looked at the back of the door to find knife gouges where a picture was likely once hung.

It was her room.

It had long since been cleared out and checked over by the Royal Guard, all four Princesses, Headmare Glimmer, and even Starswirl the Bearded. Nonetheless, the room itself was considered taboo by everyone and had remained vacant ever since.

“Perfect.”

Gallus carefully stepped across the floor, paranoid that some manner of undiscovered trap still awaited the unwary. Such was luckily not the case, and he slumped onto the Queen-sized bed, sighing.

“You must be a special kind of desperate to come here of all places.”

“It’s not like I can go anywhere else.”

“There’s plenty of places you can go.”

“Like?”

“How about the one with all the fire and brimstone!? Doesn’t that sound amazing!? Burning forever and ever! Always screaming! Always pleading! Sounds fun! Too bad, I’m too cute to go there.”

“You’re not already there?”

“Petrification didn’t send Discord there.”

“You aren’t Discord, but now that I think about it? You’d probably just be sent here.”

“Seems a little colder than what I expected.”

“It’s just as inescapably torturous.”

“Ooooh! I smell exploitable personal drama! Give me details! Pretty please!? Being trapped in stone is boring!”

“…It’s Friends and Family Day.”

“And?”

“And ponies are everywhere! They won’t leave me alone; they won’t even let me have a chance to breathe! I feel like I’m going crazy!”

“Well, you came into my room and then imagined me up, so—”

“Shut up.”

“I can only shut up if your mind stops. And that’s not happening any time soon.”

“I can just stop imagining you.”

“Please! You know you’re not going to do that! After all, I’m the only one who knows what’s really eating away at this pathetic dumpster you call a mind.”

“Oh, really? Then what is it?”

“Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong with Friends and Family Day?”

“I— I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Friends and Family Day!”

“Yes, you do. Why don’t you tell me why you feel that looming dread when you turn around every corner? What is it that you see within every room that fills you with heart-wrenching jealousy?”

“Ponies?”

“Not just ponies. Ponies and?”

“Their families.”

“Exactly. And you don’t have any family. Golly, no wonder you’re so annoyed. You have to deal with everyone around you celebrating how loved they are, knowing you aren’t loved yourself.”

“My friends—”

“I wasn’t finished, thank you very much! Gee. If you’re this obnoxiously rude, it’s no wonder whatever dogs you were bred from threw you in the gutter.”

“My parents weren’t dogs! And they did not throw me in the gutter!”

“Then what do you call Griffonstone?”

“…”

“See! You can always count on little ole’ me to know absolutely everything! I bet I even have your parents’ names swimming somewhere in this cutesy noggin of mine!”

“You would know who they were, wouldn't you?”

“You betcha! And knowing me? I would have probably staged a teeny, little accident for them too. Just to see what would happen. Hee-hee!”

“You little—”

“Hold your britches there, you stupid fecal dispenser. I didn’t say I actually did that. After all, what would be the point? They already threw you away like gutter trash and hightailed it out of that dump as soon as possible. What more could I have done to hurt you?”

Gallus rolled over, grabbed a pillow, and clamped it over his head.

“You know that doesn’t work. All it does is reinforce how much of a coward you are!”

“How do you figure that? I helped defeat you. Twice!”

It was Ocellus who figured out what my spell was doing, and it was Smolder who first thought to remove the artifacts powering it. You got trapped in the magic. As for that second time? I remember a certain lavender alicorn was the hero. Not you. And don’t bother saying you rallied Griffonstone. You would have failed miserably if Gruff hadn’t been there. As usual.”

“Th-they would have listened to me! I was… I… Did I really do nothing?”

“Bingo! Now you’ve got it. Your friends are powerful with or without you. They’re all strong, smart, and capable. Things you barely are. But they’re also kind. Innocent. Loved. Unlike you.”

“But— But we’re a team! Take one of us away and—”

“You’re superfluous. If you wanna be in denial, go for it. Idiots spiraling into madness while clinging to delusions of importance is the best entertainment ever! Aside from betrayal.”

“You’re superfluous too! Without Tirek, you’d never have known a thing about absorbing Equestria’s magic! Let alone using that Grogar guy’s bell!”

“Ah, so you’ve already moved on to shifting the goal post away from your own shortcomings? Perfect! This is always the funniest part of someone’s tantrum!”

“You want to see me shift a goal post? Okay. Here I go,” he exclaimed, rising and trotting for the door. He opened it and was immediately assaulted by a renewed audience of familial exaltation.

“You were saying?”

“Just leave me alone.”

“Hee-hee! Seems like I won. Golly, that was easy. You barely put up a fight! Guess even you know you’re pathetic. But how could I possibly let it end there!? Not when there’s even more crushing down on your soul! What other poison is coursing through your veins? Tell me. You know you wanna!

“I’m not— I’m— I hate this! I hate feeling like this! I hate feeling so… Jealous.”

“Oh my. That’s certainly something. Tell me more, so I can use it against you!”

“I already know I’m useless. And I already know I was thrown away because of something wrong with me. I don’t need you to remind of that! It’s just… They’re all so happy out there! And I can’t help but be… I don’t want to be jealous of them. It’s good that they have families of their own. It’s good that they have creatures that love them that aren’t just friends. But I want that too.”

And you’ll never have that. Well, unless you decide to steal a unicorn’s horn, sew it into your skull, learn a few mind-control spells, and force a bunch of creatures to be your family.”

“Why are you so cruel?”

It’d probably be best to go for Starlight’s horn. You’d get her powerful magic and take her out as a potential future threat! Two birds. One stone. Not sure how’d you stop the Princesses though.”

“What!? How can you even say something like that!?”

“You already have her trust, so Ocellus could do the sewing part. Fudicia Compellus would take some time getting used to, but if you combine that with Persuadere you’d be unstoppable!

“You’re sick!”

“No, you’re sick! Remember. My words are your thoughts. Yours.

“Sure. I’m sure you didn’t curse this room or something to mess with someone’s head if they ever came in here! That’s probably what you did!”

“How? No horn, remember?”

“What about your magic magnet!?”

“I had Dad’s help.”

“Tirek isn’t your dad!”

He might as well be. Hey! Fancy that! I had more family than you’ll ever have, and I probably killed my real family! … You don’t think maybe you were thrown away because you killed yours too?”

“What!? N-no! I didn’t—”

“That would definitely explain a few things! I bet that’s even the reason why Gruff hates you so much! Or why no one has ever loved you. You’re not just a coward. You’re a—”

“I did not kill my parents! I didn’t even know them! And for the record! My friends love me! And I love them! So stop trying to say they don’t!”

“No, no. They don’t love you. They care about you.”

“And I care about them! They’re the only family I’ve got!”

“I didn’t realize you still believed the farmer’s lies about how your family can be your friends.”

“What do you mean by that!? My— My friends are my family!”

“Silly Gallus. Don’t you know? A family will love you from the very beginning. You have to make your friends care about you. And even then, you’ll never truly know if they do.”

“Oh yeah!? Then what about Princess Twilight, huh!? She and her friends love each other like a family! And my friends and I even had the Tree of Harmony say our friendship was—”

“BAHAHAHAH! It took years for that loser and her friends to think of each other that way! And she was a Princess! You’re nothing. What hope is there for you?”

“But… But the Tree of Harmony—”

“Is dead.”

“Not in our hearts!”

“Still too dead to give you a reason for why they abandoned you. Shame. It probably had one.”

Gallus looked down through glistening eyes.

“Um? Gallus?”

“GAH!” shrieked the beckoned griffon.

“Whoa! Sorry! Are you okay? I didn’t scare you too badly, did I?”

“What made you think you scared me?”

“You jumped into the rafters,” Silverstream answers worriedly.

“Oh. Right.” He gently lands back on the ground before her. “So what are you up to?”

“I was looking for you actually. I saw you leave, and I was wondering if you were okay?”

“Yeah, of course I’m fine! Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You were talking to yourself in Cozy Glow’s old room. And the other day in the catacombs—”

“Wasn’t my first choice. But it’s pretty far removed from all the noise, so… Good place to think and—er—practice…lines.” He spared a glance at her, hoping she bought it. It didn’t look like she did.

“Oh! Practicing lines for what?”

“Nothing important.”

“Gallus? Did you—er—join Drama Club?”

“Thinking about it?”

“Eee! This is amazing! Why didn’t you tell any of us! I could have totally helped you out!”

“I said I was only thinking about it. Not that I would actually do it.”

“Ah. That makes sense. … Gallus? Are you sure you’re okay? You don’t look so good.”

“No, no! I’m great! I’m just bored. And have a headache. Not a fun combo.”

“Yeah, that’s the worst. Do you need anything? Glass of water? Pain medicine? A fr—”

“Nope. I’m good. I think I’ll just take a nap and sleep it off.” Gallus began moving past her and back to his room to pretend to do just that, but he paused after entering the hallway. “Hey? Silver?”

“Y-yeah?” she asked; her voice cracking.

“If— If you— Say you ever— If I wanted to—”

“Take your time. I’m listening; you can tell me anything!”

“…Say you needed to ask someone a question, but no one knew the answer. Not the library. Not our teachers. Not the Princesses. Not even Discord. Who would you ask to find the answer?”

“I’m…not sure. Must be a hard question if not even Princess Twilight would have an answer?”

“Do you think that maybe… That maybe the Tree of Harmony would know?”

“Maybe. But the Tree is gone.”

Gallus flinched.

“But speaking of the Tree, I’d suggest hanging out at the Treehouse if you’ve got something like that on your mind.”

“The Treehouse?”

“Yeah. It’s a great place to relax and think. It’s even where I met Edith! Of course, if you need to hang out there it’s probably best that you tell somepony you’re going. Otherwise—”

She was interrupted by Gallus suddenly hugging her.

“Thanks, Silver! See you later!” he said, racing away before the tears broke free.

***

The moon and its starry brethren loomed above the sleeping world, bathing the Everfree Forest in its opal light. The sound of friends and families having fun had died down, but in their place sang out the choir of crickets and orchestra of owls.

In the depths of the forest and surrounded by ruins, a shining structure towered. And within its shimmering hallowed halls a sky blue griffon slowly stalked forward.

Gallus fluttered his wings uncomfortably, seeing countless reflections stare back from faceted walls that barely refrained from crushing him. Now I remember why I don’t come here all that often.

As if responding to that thought, the walls almost seemed to pull away. … Almost.

Soon, he found himself standing on the second floor balcony; the night breeze ruffling his feathers. He took several deep breaths, steeling his nerves and calming his heart.

“I… I know you’re there.”

“C’mon! You were powerful enough to save us from Cozy, survive Sombra, and make this place from your own remains. Don’t tell me you’re not still here.”

“Please. I really need to talk to you. Please appear,” he practically begged.

“Figures,” Gallus sighed. He turned to leave but quickly stopped.

The floor illuminated with a heavenly radiance that coalesced into a shining six-sided star from which arose a glittering, transparent ghost, bearing the likeness of Princess Twilight Sparkle.

The figure alighted soundlessly on the gemstone floor as the light around it faded away, drawing into what one could mistake for a shadow.

“Greetings, Gallus.”

“H-hi.”

“I know why you are here.”

“Yeah?”

“It is not hard for one such as I to feel the turmoil tainting your heart.”

“You feel that, huh? Wish I could get some help with that.”

“You came here in search of my voice, hoping that I could bring you solace.”

“Pretty much. I’m guessing you know what’s bugging me?”

A nod.

“Yeah, so… Uh… Could you maybe help with… Agh, forget it! Nevermind! Sorry for disturbing your slumber or whatever! This was just a big mistake!”

“Gallus. There is no shame in seeking refuge from heartache. You may speak your words openly here for I will not hold judgment.”

“Yeah? And when I start talking about my problems, and you stop wanting to deal with it?”

“I seek only Harmony. Only the truest of disharmonious would wish you further ill for speaking of the fears burdening your soul.”

“Oh, please! Don’t pretend that being too pathetic to solve your own problems is a strength!”

“You are not pathetic for wishing to be comforted in your pain. And speaking of these woes is an act of Honesty. And Honesty is absolutely a Strength.”

“Doesn’t stop me from being pathetic though.”

“You are not pathetic, Gallus. Has something forced you to believe otherwise?”

“I don’t believe that! I… I can’t believe that! My own parents thought I was pathetic! If they didn’t then why did they throw me away!?”

“Your parents—”

“What!? My parents what!?”

A pause. And then a sigh.

“Such a clever griffon.”

NO! NO-NO-NO-NO-NO! “NO! Don’t tell me that when my parents abandoned me! Why would they do something like that, huh!? What’s so pathetic about me that a mother and father would just throw their son away!?”

“I really should have seen your ploy coming, but—”

“No! NO! You almost said something! You really do know what happened to them! You know why they left me, don’t you!? DON’T YOU!? TELL! ME!”

“I am sorry, Gallus. However—”

“Don’t do this to me! Please! You’re the Tree of Harmony! You know everything! You know who they were and why they gave me up! You have to tell me!”

“Knowing many things is not the same as knowing everything.”

“Don’t lie to me!”

“I am not.”

“Then tell me what happened! I know you know! PLEASE!” he screamed; voice cracking.

“I… I am sorry.”

Gallus completely broke, slumping to the floor as the tears finally broke free.

“The loss of your parents has weighed upon you for so long… It is no wonder your heart longs for the bond of a family.”

“‘Loss’? So they really are dead? That… That must be why…?” Gallus began, looking up.

“Please do not interpret my words to draw forth an erroneous conclusion.”

“So they’re not dead? S-so they really did abandon me,” he states; color draining from his face.

“Gallus.”

“They… They r-really did th-think I was pathetic. But what did I do? What’s wrong with me!?”

“Gallus!”

“I didn’t d-do anything! What did I do!? Tell me what did I do!?”

“GALLUS!”

The roar was joined by a whirlwind of magic, threatening to cast him away into parts unknown. It swiftly ceased, leaving both figures panting and staring at each other.

“I apologize. I should not have spoken so fiercely. Not when you are in need of a gentler voice.”

“No! What I need is for you to tell me why they… Why they…”

“Knowing the choices they made and the fates they met will not help you.”

“What makes you think that!? How painful could it be to know who they were and why they left me alone? It can’t hurt worse than not knowing!”

“Knowing will not help you heal.”

“It’s called closure! Don’t you think it would help to know why they’re gone and I’m alone!?”

“You are not alone, Gallus.”

“To know why I have no family then!”

“You already have a family.”

“My friends are not my family! They’re my friends! There’s a difference!”

“Not in the bond you’ve forged.”

“That’s the problem! I had to make friends. A family is there with you from the beginning… Everyone else has that. I don’t. I never will. And I don’t know why! Why won’t you tell me!?”

“Knowing why only make you question further, not help you. Why your parents are not a part of your life makes you question what happened to them and why. But that morbid curiosity will never stop until you find something to blame. And what will you do then?”

“I…don’t know.”

“Already, your desire to have even the vaguest answer to your parents’ fates spurred you to seek me out. I, the Tree of Harmony. Like all others, you believed I had been ‘removed’ from this world. You could not have known I remained in the walls of this creation, yet you sought me out nonetheless. Mortality itself—However, it works for me—could not dissuade you.”

“Because I need answers! I can barely stand seeing everyone else so happy when I’m… I can’t stand not knowing why!”

“Your search for answers will bring only an unending, unfulfilling goal. I will not urge you onto that path. It does not lead to closure, only madness and longing.”

“…”

“Your heart is burdened by a desire… No. By a desperation for the love of a family. But that same desperation is blinding you to the knowledge that you already have that love.”

“But—”

“I speak not only of your friends.”

“You mean they— They’re still—”

“I speak not of them either.”

Gallus steps back and asks through a clenched beak, “Then what are you talking about?”

“Do not hide away your heart, Gallus. You are surrounded by others who care for you more deeply than you allow yourself to see. Even now, they wish to help you banish these feelings.”

His head drooped; his body quivered.

“They shouldn’t bother. They have their families, and I… It’s just— I just— I want more than just my friends. I want my family.”

A hoof raises his head.

“I am sorry I could not provide a greater alleviation to your pain. Unfortunately, I am not the best equipped to bring you the serenity you seek.”

“But you’re the Tree of Harmony!”

“Being capable of many things does not mean I am capable of all things.”

“Just another question dodge,” Gallus sighs, pulling away.

“Would it help you to know that I can still call forth Emissaries of Friendship?”

“What?” he asks.

His answer came in his feathers tingling with a flashing light. At first startling, he quickly found it felt warm. Safe. As comforting as a parent’s embrace.

He looked up and saw his silhouette orbited the phantom before it vanished with the light.

“The Map Table?”

A nod.

“You mean you can still—Wait! That means you could call—”

“I tell you this because I have no intention of summoning anyone. There is no need when there are those already seeking to bring you peace.”

“W-what? What do you mean?”

“I mean what I said. And I said what I meant.”

“But— But I don’t understand what you meant!”

An impish giggle.

“Worry not. You shall discover my meaning before tomorrow’s dusk.”

“Okay, you’re definitely not making any sense.”

“Not everything must make sense.”

“But it should. I really wish it would.”

Silence fell between them.

“Gallus, I truly am sorry.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I get it. No one in Griffonstone would ever tell me what happened. Not Gilda. Not Gabby. Not even Gruff. Why should I have expected something different from you?”

“You should not have expected anything from me. It is your friends who can and will help you.”

“But aren’t you my friend?”

A blink.

“Even so, I am not the friend you need.”

“Why not?”

“Because you have another friend whose love for you eclipses my own.”

“You’re just saying that. If my parents hated me enough that not even you want to tell me what they were like, then who could ever… Who could ever love me?”

“Please, Gallus. I beg you to stop finding ways to demean yourself. You do not need it. You do not deserve it. And demeaning yourself further will neither bring you peace, nor bring them back.”

“…”

“If you wish to remain here until dawn, I will watch over you. Always.”

“Nah. I didn’t listen to Silver’s advice, so I should get back before someone notices I’m gone and freaks out. … Thanks. For… For not just letting me sit here and talk to myself all night.”

A nod and a sad smile.

“Your return will not be disturbed.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” He stepped to the edge but didn’t take off. “You… Are you gonna be okay?”

“I saved you and your friends from Cozy Glow, and I survived King Sombra’s assault. And even still, I could bring this lasting haven into existence from my own body’s remains. I shall be okay.”

“Does it ever get lonely being out here? By yourself?”

“Not always. Equestria lies around me at all times. Plus, the birds only ever use my branches for perches. Not for…other…things.”

Gallus snorted.

“At least I know I gave you one moment of levity. I regret I could not grant more.”

“It’s okay. I know if you could help me, you would. Sorry for thinking otherwise.”

“Everyone would have done the same if given your burden. Not anyone, mind you. Everyone.”

“That’s a little comforting. Do you… Do you want me to come visit this place more?”

“My doors are always open for those who need a place to rest.”

“Thanks. I’ll uh… I’ll come visit later then. Promise.”

“Then I shall await your return with wider halls.”

Gallus nods. “See you later then.” And with that, he spread his wings and flew off to Ponyville.

The moon and its starry brethren still loomed above the sleeping world, bathing the Everfree Forest in its opal light. And once again a choir of crickets and an orchestra of owls put forth a performance of life and cheer.

In the prismatic halls of a great Tree, stood a glimmering phantom staring after a streak of blue and gold that had disappeared beyond the forest walls.

***

The following morning Gallus forced open his tired eyes and sat up, awakened by the sound of a maroon cockatrice pecking at his desk.

“Edith?” he asked groggily.

Silver’s “pet” clucked back at him, content to simply stand there and watch him.

“What are you doing in my room?”

She clucked again, ruffling her feathers.

How does Silver even understand that thing? he thought, rising from bed. He looked out his window seeing that the ocean of monsters had thinned out among the erected carnival land. A part of him knew it was less horrible than he believed, but he still couldn’t reap any joy from it at all.

Knowing the choices they made and the fates they met will not help you.

He snorted at the memory. The Tree of Harmony probably knew what it was talking about, but there was not a single part of him that wanted to accept that miserable idea.

“Moving on? Yeah. Sure.”

Edith tilted her head and cooed.

“Nothing. Just talking to myself,” he said, shaking the numbness from his wings. “Okay, no natural force on this planet is gonna drag me to the Festival, and the catacombs are out since Silver caught me. I guess I could just sit in my room all day,” he said, gesturing to the gloomy bareness around him. “Been avoiding it all this time; I might as well give up and stay here, right?”

Edith blinked.

“And I’m talking to the cockatrice,” he said, crawling back into bed.

His stomach gurgled.

“Fine!” he groaned, escaping his blanket cocoon. “Breakfast first.”

He reached for the door, but once it opened Edith went berserk and darted through the cracked door, screeching like a banshee. Lowering his wing from his eyes, he looked out the door and saw not a feather of the snake-bird.

“What was that about?”

His answer came a second later when Silverstream looked down the corner, saw him walking, and quickly approached with a smile.

“Good morning, Gallus,” she said gently.

“Morning, Silver. Your friend was in my room for some reason.”

“Sorry about that. Edith has an uncanny knack of sneaking into everyone’s rooms. She gave Sandbar a scare last week, but he calmed down once I told him she doesn’t petrify anyone.”

Gallus nodded then continued down the hall with Silver quickly following.

“So! What did you plan to do today?”

“No idea. What about you? Spending Friends and Family Day with your family?”

“Actually, no. We figured that since we spent all week exploring Ponyville, that today we’d just enjoy the festival that everypony set up.”

“You’re telling me that you spent an entire week showing your folks around for this holiday, and when it finally rolls around you don’t spend it with them?”

“Uh…yes?”

He lacked the energy to deadpan.

“Okay… So what are they doing in the meantime?”

“Sky is helping Professor Pie bake, and Terramar is hanging out with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Not sure what Dad’s up to, but it’s probably exciting!”

Meanwhile…

“Alright, Mr. Sky Beak! Now let us move on!”

“Are you absolutely positive that I cannot simply—”

“And before we continue, I’d like to thank you again for attending my booth. Nopony ever seems to respect the art of financial investment and banking, and I was beginning to think I wouldn’t be able to pass on such wisdom to anyone.”

“…I am honored to subvert that expectation, Mrs. Rich.”

“And I am honored that royalty such as yourself would seek my guidance.”

“Technically, Queen Novo—”

“Onto the next lesson! Now, the important thing to remember about equity is…”

Back at the school…

“So what are you doing then, if your family is elsewhere?”

“I don’t know! I just figured I’d hang out with you and the others, but Yona and Sandbar had plans and so did Smolder and her brother. And Ocellus is elsewhere herself.”

“That just leaves me. Convenient.”

“Yep! Do you want to spend the day together then?”

Translation: I’m freaked out and worried I need to have you committed for being in Cozy’s room, Gallus thought sourly. “I don’t know, Silver. I don’t really plan on doing anything, and…”

She tried so hard to hide just how sad those words made her, but Gallus still caught the quiver in her beak and the droop in her wings.

“And, well…”

You are surrounded by others who care for you more deeply than you allow yourself to see.

“Eh, why not? I have nothing better to do.”

“Yay! So what do you want to do first?”

“Breakfast.”

“Then onward to breakfast!” she sang, prancing on ahead.

Gallus sighed, quickly restoring his fake smile before Silver noticed. It was bad enough he had to spend the day alone, but now he had to deal with appeasing his panicking friend? Just one more nightmare, Gallus. And then it’ll be over, he thought. Until next year.

***

The sun burned above the flooded world, shining down upon the festival of love. The sound of friends and families having fun rang once more, joined by the sounds of games and laughter.

Maybe it because the looming dread was finally over now that the event in question had finally arrived, but he found it less painful than he thought it would be. Of course, every instinct he had still screamed for him to run, but the pink hypogriff wasn’t letting that happen anytime soon.

“We’ve got a lot of these tickets, so what do you want to do first? I was thinking about trying out the bumper car ride, but that wouldn’t be a good idea since we just ate. Or we could try the fortune teller, but maybe we should try that later. Ooh! I know! Let’s try out some of the games!”

“Got nothing better to do.”

“Then let’s go!” she shouted, dragging him down the road to the first attraction she saw.

“Oh! Good evening, you two. How are you doing?”

“I’m doing amazing, Professor Fluttershy!”

“Well enough.”

“That’s great. So are you two spending Friends and Family Day together?”

“Uh-huh! We figured we’d try some of the games before getting to the rides.”

“That’s a lovely idea. I always start out with the games too. Did you want to try out mine?”

“Sure!”

“Okay, it’s pretty simple. Let me demonstrate,” she said. She took a hold of a device that had been bolted into the counter and aimed at the fake flower targets, letting a stream of water loose. “You just water the flowers as much as you can in the time limit. Water them enough, and you get a prize!”

“Cool! What do you want to win, Gallus?”

He looked at the array of possible prizes hanging around his professor, noticing it was just an assortment of various animal plush toys. At least he now knew why Fluttershy was heading the game.

“What do you want to win?”

“Hmm. Ooh! Let’s aim for the cute elephant.”

“Oh, Horton is a lovely prize! But you’ll have to get a high score for him.”

“I’m game!” Silver shouted happily after giving Fluttershy one of her tickets.

“Oh! And the moving flowers give more points too. Almost forgot that. Anyway, are you ready?” Silver nodded. “Alright. Three. Two. One. Go!”

A short little jingle began playing as Silverstream tried watering as many of the targets as she could, missing some of the moving ones. Less than half a minute later, the jingle ended with a buzzer.

“Aw! Is that the end?”

“Mhmm! Unfortunately, you didn’t earn enough points to win Horton. Sorry,” she says, hiding behind her mane a bit. “You did earn enough to win Stripes though.”

“That’s that then. Let’s get your tiger and go.”

“Gallus, wait. Professor? May I try again?”

Fluttershy nods, taking another ticket and restarting the game. Silver gritted her beak in concentration as she took more careful aim. She still missed a few of the targets, but landed more shots than last time. Soon enough, the buzzer went off.

“Did I do it that time?”

“S-sorry, Silverstream. You missed by just a pinch!”

“Oh. Oh well! Did you want to take a turn?” she asked turning to him.

He didn’t, was about to say he didn’t, and then saw the disappointment in her eyes. A flicker of his old energy reignited, and for a brief moment his cocky grin was less fake.

“Why not?”

He passed Fluttershy a ticket and then lined up at the water cannon. The jingle started, and Gallus went to work, keeping his eyes trained on all the moving flowers, and completely ignoring the stationary. The buzzer went off one last time, and he looked at Fluttershy expectantly.

“Wow, Gallus! You got the second highest score! Definitely enough to win Horton,” she said happily passing the elephant over to Gallus who passed it to Silver.

“He’s so fluffy!” she declared, suffocating the toy against her chest.

“Only second highest, huh? Who’s first?”

“Mr. Rich. He and Diamond stopped by earlier and he won three Hortons for her.”

“Huh.” That tiny competitive part of his brain roared to life at the newly presented opportunities. “Well, that’s one game down. Wanna try the others?”

Silver stared at him before nodding with an energetic smile.

“I’m glad you two are having fun! Sugar Belle, Lyra Heartstrings, Matilda, and Bulk Biceps all have their own booths down the road. Applejack does too, but no one told me what game it was. Oh! And don’t forget Rainbow’s Raceway! Even I thought that was really fun!”

“Thanks for the suggestions, Professor.” He then reached up and grabbed two other stuffed animals and said, “Okay, Silver. Got your prizes. To the next game we go?”

“To the next game we go!” she sang as the two made their way further into the Festival.

Sugar Belle’s Pie Toss was certainly something that they did. It was messy, but at least he got some tasty blueberry pie out of it. He knew better than to try to defeat Pinkie Pie’s score.

Bulk Biceps oversaw the high striker, and Gallus ended up gawking at just how high Silver got the puck. She got fourth place behind Rockhoof, Applejack, and someone named Garble. He didn’t even place tenth and that greatly annoyed him.

Matilda’s challenge was something neither of them were particularly good at. He could get the ball close to the center, and Silver managed to land it once, but they still failed to get anywhere close to Steven Magnet’s score. They at least got some extra tickets out of it, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Applejack watched over Whack-A-Mole and made both of them agree to not tell Fluttershy. The idea of the game made Silver a tad uncomfortable, but Gallus found it extremely cathartic, and he wasn’t the only one, considering that Starlight Glimmer had somehow maxed out the score.

The last game they tried out was Lyra’s Laser Tag. After more than an hour of conquering their way up the champion list and finally felling Lyra, Bon-Bon, and Caramel’s team, they heaved themselves out of the foggy maze of neon lights and straight to the nearby cafes.

“That! Was! AWESOME!”

“And so much fun!”

“You were fantastic in there, Silver!”

“Well, you were doing most of the work!”

“I wouldn’t have if you weren’t watching my back.”

“Aw, stop it, Gallus! You’re making me blush!”

“Hey, I call them like I see them. And you were great!”

“You were too. And Mrs. D!”

“Oh, yeah. That mailmare was a lifesaver; Bon-Bon would’ve had me if it weren’t for her.”

“We should get her a basket of muffins as a thank you gift.”

“I’d say yes to that, but I don’t know how to bake.”

“Really?”

“Unfortunately.”

“I can totally teach you if you want!”

“Uh… You know what? Sure! Sounds fun!”

“This entire day has been fun!”

“Definitely better than I thought it would be…”

A silence fell between them as they each caught their breath. Silver gently combed her talon through her tangled mane while Gallus examined his half of the spoils of laser war.

“How do you think they got away with making a Princess Luna figurine dressed like this?”

“What? With the pink dress and umbrella?”

“I was talking more about the blonde wig, but sure.”

“Probably a costume she wore for Nightmare Night once or something. … Actually, I’m pretty sure I recognize that costume. Didn’t Smolder dress up in that last year?”

“No. Pretty sure she had a pink scarf and was in a green cloak and hat. Or was that Ocellus?”

“Darn! I really should have taken pictures when I had the chance! Dumb costume not having pockets… But now that you mention it, what did they do to Princess Celestia in this one?”

“Hmm? Whoa! Okay, now I’m positive that Discord had a claw in making these things.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Because nopony would ever willingly depict Celestia wearing that.”

“Oh. Cool! I bet that makes it one of a kind! Just like yours!”

“That would make these two of a kind, wouldn’t it?”

“Just like us!”

“Sure, we’ll go with that.”

“Hee-hee! … I’m glad you’re feeling better, Gallus.”

“Huh?”

“Well, I knew you were having a bad week, and yesterday… I’m just glad you look like you’re having fun again.”

Gallus remained silent before he shrugged and replied, “Eh.”

Silver blinked; a trace of her earlier worry returning. “Are you not having—”

“No-no-no! I’m perfectly fine! No need to have me committed just yet.”

“Why would you need to be committed?”

“Sarcasm, Silver.”

“Oh! I don’t get it, but I’m sure I would be laughing if I did…?”

“Yeah…?”

Awkward silence filled the air.

“Hey! We’re at a cafe, and it’s almost lunchtime. You want anything?”

“I’d take a winning lottery ticket if you’ve got one.”

“Oh, stop it! Seriously, did you want a sandwich or something? My treat?”

“Nah. Maybe some water, but other than that? I’m good.”

“Got it! Be back in a minute. Are you gonna be okay?”

“To sit here in this chair all by myself!? Why, Silver! I had no idea you thought I was responsible enough to do so! I! I think I might just cry from my newfound maturity!”

Silver giggled. “Be back in a jiffy!”

Gallus chuckled as she entered the cafe, but he stopped when he turned to behold the Festival.

The armies began to march forth once more, chanting their haunting celebration.

“It’s all in your head, Gallus. It’s all in your head!”

Hundreds of terrors stalked the psychedelic yards; thousands slowly crept along the blankets of twisted madness; millions glared through melted sockets; billions slowly inched toward—

He smacked his talon against the bottom of the table and winced. He forced open his watering eyes and stared back into the abyss, finding the nightmare dispelled.

“What is wrong with me?” he asked, holding his head in his talons.

You’re superfluous.

“Shut up!” he whispered to himself.

Did I really do nothing?

“Please stop… Please just tell me how to stop this!”

Do not hide away your heart, Gallus.

“Translation: Talk to someone about your problems,” Gallus said, planting his forehead against the table in annoyance. “Yeah. Because that will totally help!”

That’s the spirit! cheered a voice in his head that sounded disturbingly like Gabby.

“That was meant to be sarcasm.”

Doesn’t mean it’s wrong!

“Who could I even talk to!? Princess Twilight’s stuck in Canterlot with Spike, and the other teachers would just yammer on about ‘Friendship-friendship-friendship!’ and expect that to work! And there’s no way Headmare Glimmer or Counselor Trixie know how to deal with abandonment issues.”

You already have a family.

“No! I won’t burden them with this! I’m not even sure what this is! Am I angry? Afraid? Or am I just lonely? Either way, it’s pathetic that I can’t deal with this on my own!”

You are surrounded by others who care—

“I said no!”

“What was that, Gallus?”

“GAH!” he screamed, catapulting out of his chair.

“Whoops! S-Sorry for scaring you! I… I brought you your water.”

“Silver!? Sorry, you startled me. I was—er—talking to myself. More… Lines?”

Her haunted expression sent unnatural shivers down his spine. He had never seen her look that terrified, even against Cozy and her family.

Guess even you know you’re pathetic.

“T-thanks for the water, Silver. You get your lunch?”

“I… Nah! I’m— I’m actually not that hungry.”

“No! Y-you can have lunch! Maybe I’ll just leave, so I don’t make you uncomfortable or—”

“No! You don’t have to go anywhere; I’m just not hungry.”

“Yeah, because I chased away you appetite with my stupid self-conversation nonsense!”

“You didn’t—”

“Don’t bother denying it!”

They both recoiled with how angry his voice had sounded.

“Sorry, Silver. I— I really should just go or—”

“You don’t need to go; just please tell me what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong!”

“Don’t bother denying it!” she threw back. “I know you’ve been having a hard time all week, but every time I try to talk to about it, you run away. Please don’t run away this time.”

“‘All week’? What do you mean by that?”

“When I caught you in the crystal catacombs Wednesday; when I saw you having a panic attack in the courtyard yesterday; and when I found you in Cozy’s room!”

“Oh! So you’re not just observing me today, you’ve been stalking me this entire week, huh!?”

“I have not been stalking you! And what do you mean I’ve been ‘observing’ you!?”

“Well, obviously! You’ve been keeping me strapped to your side all day just to make sure I don’t need to get locked in an insane asylum!”

“What!? I would never do something like that!”

“What other reason could you have to hang out with me today!?”

“Maybe I just really wanted to spend the day with my friend since he’s been upset all week!”

“Sure! Spend the day with a loser and not your family! That makes total sense!”

“Gallus! You are not a loser!”

“Yes, I am!”

“How are you a loser!?”

“How am I not!?”

“How about when you carried us through Lyra’s Laser Tag, for starters!?”

“Mrs. D did more than I did!”

“She didn’t win us Horton!”

“Sandbar could have gotten the highest score.”

“It’s not about having the highest score!”

“Isn’t it always? Who’s the strongest? The fastest? The best? Doesn’t matter at what, so long as you’re better at something than everyone else. If you’re not the best, then what worth are you?”

“You’re not worthless just because you’re not the best at something! It just means you aren’t the best at that single something!”

“And what if you’re not good at anything?”

“Everyone is good at something!”

“Not everyone sees it that way. And more often than not, they act on that.”

“Not your friends! Not your family!”

“Who do you think I’m talking about!?”

In the silence that followed, Silver could only stare at her panting friend.

“I’m… Gallus, I’m… I—”

“It’s fine! I’m gonna go!I’ve ruined your day enough; you should just find your family and spend the day with them.”

“You didn’t ruin my day!”

“Oh, please! This is Friends and Family Day! It’s supposed to be a day you spend with your family! Not some idiot like me. You’re only here because I freaked you out!”

“I’m not freaked out; I’m worried about you!”

“Well, you shouldn’t be! I’m fine! I! Am! Perfectly! FINE!”

“You’re clearly not fine!”

“Why do you even care!? You’re not my family!”

“But I am your friend! Remember Kindness lesson number one hundred and fourteen? Sometimes, creatures need help and compassion even if they don’t realize it! Maybe they’re even afraid to accept it, but that doesn’t invalidate their need for it!”

“You want to play that game!? How about Generosity lesson two hundred and fifteen!? True friends always go above and beyond to help and provide for one another, but they never force or trick each other to do something they don’t want to do!Nor should they brake the other’s trust or privacy!”

“Laughter lesson twenty-five: When your friends are in distress you should do everything you can to help them overcome their worries. Letting them suffer alone would be cruel!”

“Honesty lesson four: It’s important to remember that you are just as flawed as everyone else! Just because you think you’re right, doesn’t mean that you truly are! And if you don’t accept your own flaws and work to overcome them, you will hurt those around you!”

“Loyalty lesson two: The greatest thing someone can do is be there for their friends! Sometimes that’s all that’s needed, but if it’s not? A true friend will always do their best to help however they can regardless of consequences, risks, and fears!”

“Magic lesson one hundred and eighty-seven: Friendship is powerful but not omnipotent! There will be times when you hurt your friend’s feelings without realizing it! And while it’s important to make it up to that friend, it’s equally important to remember to give that friend time and space! After all, anger between friends may never truly last, but it’s strongest when the pain is fresh.”

“That was a Magic lesson? I thought that was a Laughter lesson? And didn’t everyone disagree with that one?”

“My point still stands!”

“But you’re ignoring Magic lesson one hundred and seventeen! Remember, the tiniest actions can have great consequences if given time, and even friendships, one of the most important things in the world, can be lost as a result! And what about lesson twenty-nine? How true friends shouldn’t ignore each other’s frustration or pain just because it seems unwarranted or irrelevant at the time!”

“What about one hundred and forty-four? Sometimes, the best thing a friend can do is allow another friend the freedom to make their own decisions and forge their own futures, even if the destiny they choose separates you from them!”

“One hundred and forty-five: You should never stop yourself from expressing your emotions! You may think you’re sparing your friend’s feelings, but all you’re truly doing is hurting yourself and lying to the ones you care for most!”

“When did we have that lesson!?”

“That was the day when Starlight substituted for Princess Twilight when she got sick with that weird horn infection.”

“I think I feel asleep in that class!”

“Well, I wish you didn’t! It was a great class!”

“It doesn’t matter, nor does it refute my point!”

“I don’t even know what you’re point is, Gallus! What are you trying to tell me to do!?”

“I want you to leave me alone!”

“What? But I thought… You really want to be alone?”

“I…”

The silence between them lasted until Gallus slammed his head into the table in frustration.

“I’m sorry, Silver,” he moaned into the table.

“It's— It’s okay. I understand. I’ll leave you alone if you want.”

“No! I mean… Sorry. Please don’t go; I’m sorry!”

“No apology needed.”

“Yes, it is. And an explanation too?”

“That would certainly help,” she said, finally taking the seat facing him.

For a moment, only the ambient sounds of laughter and fun filled the void between the two friends. Then Gallus sighed and began.

“I’m sorry I said I wanted to be left alone. I shouldn’t have said that. You’re right. I’ve been a hot mess all week, and I know I should have talked to someone about it, but… I don’t know what’s wrong with me, or what I should say, or whom I should talk to! And instead of figuring it out, I’ve been hiding away from it all, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.”

“I’m… I’m sorry. I knew you weren’t fine, but if I had known how hard this was for you, I wouldn’t have been so pushy. Do you want me to give you some time to figure out what to say?”

“No. I… I can’t be pathetic forever. I just don’t know how I’m supposed to talk about this!”

“I don’t care how you’re talking about it; I’m just glad you are talking about it.”

“I think I’m lonely, Silver.”

“Does this have to do with that ‘family’ comment?”

He nods. “Everyone has been so excited for Friends and Family Day, but I’ve just been stuck in the middle of it all, hearing everyone having fun with their families! And no matter how hard I try to hide, I just get dragged back into it.”

“But what’s stopping you from having fun with everyone else? You were having fun today, weren’t you?”

“I was, but that’s because I had you distracting me from it all!”

“Then why didn’t you want to spend time with me or our other friends?”

“And what!? Steal even more time from you? Time that you could be spending with your real families!? I already feel terrible enough as it is…”

“It’s not ‘Family’ Day, Gallus. It’s ‘Friends and Family’ Day.”

“It doesn’t matter, Silver. It’s a day you’re supposed to be spending with your family. The ones you love, not the ones you just care about!”

“Can’t I love and care about my friends?”

“…Even still, Why would anyone care about me?”

“Please tell me that was rhetorical.”

“It wasn’t.”

“…Gallus, there are plenty of reasons to care about you.”

“Give me one.”

“You’re smart, talented, funny, and awesome! You always help me and everyone else in class, and you never lose your cool—”

“Ocellus is smarter; Yona is more talented and funny; our teachers try to help everyone in class; and Sandbar’s only lost his temper once, but we were all shaken up after Sombra destroyed the Tree.”

“That doesn’t make you any less of those things!”

He shrugged apathetically.

“You’re also a hero! You were the one who suspected Cozy Glow was up to something, and when she and those other two attacked Equestria, you were the one who got Griffonstone to help!”

“Smolder was the first to suspect something was wrong when Starlight vanished, and Griffonstone wouldn’t have listened to me at all if Grandpa Gruff hadn’t made them.”

“Did he really make the other griffons listen to you?”

“…I don’t know! Probably! That place never cared about Equestria before, so why would they suddenly listen to me when I asked them to help!? Why would they listen to me in the first place?”

“Because you’re really good at talking to others and helping them? Remember the day in the catacombs? I’d still be trapped down there with that fake Storm King if you hadn’t been there.”

“The others would have rescued you.”

“But you were the one who did.”

“…”

“But you want to know the truth? There doesn’t have to be some big, grandiose reason for me to care about you. You’re my friend, Gallus, and that’s all the reason I need.”

“Yeah, but everyone else is your friend too!”

“And I also care about them.”

“But why me!?”

“You’re my friend.”

“No! Why do you want to be my friend in the first place!? I’m nothing special! I’m useless! There’s no reason why anyone, even you, would want to be my friend!”

“Why would you ever think that about yourself!?”

“There has to be something wrong with me!”

“But there’s nothing wrong with you!”

“Then why else would my parents throw me away!? They left me to die in that w-wasteland! Why!? Why did they leave me!? I’ve been alone my entire life because they threw me away, and I… I d-don’t know why!”

“Gallus—”

“I don’t know who they were or what happened to them! I don’t even know if ‘Gallus’ is even my real name! I tried so hard to find out who they were, but no one ever knew anything! And the creatures that probably do know something won’t tell me! Not Gruff! Not Gilda or Gabby! Not even the Tree of Harmony! What’s so wrong about me that I don’t deserve to know who they were!? What’s so terrible about me that they abandoned me!? Why did they leave me alone!?”

He quietly sobbed, shivering despite the afternoon warmth.

“Gallus?” Silver began gently. “I won’t pretend to know why they left you, but… It’s okay. You may not have them, but you’re not alone. You have Grandpa Gruff and everyone else in Griffonstone. You have our teachers and the students. And you still have me, Smolder, Ocellus, Sandbar, and Yona.”

“But they’re not— You’re not—”

“Lesson one hundred and eighty-four: The ties that bond family aren’t forged by blood but by love. By compassion and warmth. By empathy and understanding. Friends may not be born of the same blood, but the connection between them is as unbreakable as that of family.”

“But you have to make friends. Your family is there with you from the beginning.”

“Yes, but making friends can be a beginning too if you let it.”

“But— But I— I don’t want just my friends! Everyone else has a family they can have fun with! Share memories with! I want that too! I want my mom and dad too! But I can’t! I don’t have them! And I… I just want my family!”

Silver wrapped her wing around her friend, drawing him closer and saying, “I know.”

“But I don’t! I don’t understand why they could— What’s wrong with me, Silver?”

“There is nothing wrong with you, Gallus.”

“But—”

“Nothing is wrong with you,” she repeated calmly.

“It sure feels like there is. Why else would they have left?”

“I don’t know, Gallus. But do you really need to know?”

“Yes! … No. Maybe? I don’t know!”

“Well, if you do want to find answers, then I’ll help any way I can.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“I mean it, Gallus. Even if it means going to the end of the world, I’ll help you.”

“Why?”

“You can ask that again and again, but the answer will always be the same.”

“We’re friends?”

“We’re friends.”

A more tranquil silence fell between them as Gallus regained his breath, and Silver rubbed his back comfortingly.

“What did I ever do to deserve you?”

“You never had to do anything.”

Gallus froze and wiped at his eyes, saying, “Thanks, Silver.”

“You’re welcome, Gallus.”

“I’m sorry for yelling at you.”

“It’s okay. We all get a little heated sometimes, right?”

“That doesn’t make it right.”

“I still forgive you. And I’m sorry for stalking you.”

“Don’t worry about it. I shouldn’t have run away all the time.”

“I should have been more thoughtful when I approached you.”

“I should have… You know what? Let’s try not to get in an apology contest.”

“Hee-hee. Probably best.”

“Gallus?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you for talking to me.”

“Thank you for listening even though I had no idea what I was talking about.”

“You did just fine. Are you feeling a little better now?”

“I’m… I don’t know. I think I am, but I honestly wouldn’t know if I were. But talking certainly helped. I know that.”

“Well, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. So if you want to keep talking, go ahead.”

“I can’t just talk to you all day! You’d go deaf by how much noise you’d endure!”

“Oh, please! If anything is going to make me deaf, it’s going to be Yona’s snoring.”

“Ouch! I hear that.”

“So can Aunt Novo. I’m not kidding; she has sent me a letter about it!”

“You too!? And I thought Gruff was just being sarcastic.”

“Yeah, we’re probably going to have to talk to Yona about that.”

“Unless Sandbar already did.”

“I doubt it; everything about her is perfect in his eyes.”

“How many dates did it take to achieve that?”

“Pretty sure it was that way before they started dating.”

“One marvelous whirlwind romance, or true love at its finest?”

“It can’t be both?”

“It probably can. Regardless, I bet Sandbar would profess it’s the latter.”

“So would Yona.”

“They are kinda cute together, aren’t they?”

“Definitely! Although, I will admit that I totally thought he would hook up with Ocellus.”

“Same.Then again? This is Ocellus we’re talking about. I don’t think she even knows what romance is.”

“Oh, I’m sure she knows. She’s definitely read more romance novels than both of us combined.”

“I’m sure she’s read more than all of Equestria combined! By virtue of having read all of them.”

“All of the romance novels?”

“All of the books.”

“No, that’s Princess Twilight.”

“Well, Princess Twilight had better step up her game, or Ocellus is gonna catch up.”

“Assuming she isn’t caught up already.”

“Assuming she hasn’t taken the lead already.”

They both laughed.

“Silver?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

“I already said you’re welcome, silly.”

“I know. But I’m saying it again. Thank you.”

“Anytime.”

***

Once I felt a bit better later, we went back to the Festival. The rides were as exciting as you’d think they’d be, and Discord’s Funhouse was a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I did sit out Rainbow’s Raceway, but I still got to cheer Silver on and see her lap the others twice.

Eventually, we met up with the others to watch the ending fireworks that Trixie and Ocellus prepared. Yes, Ocellus. Apparently, she thought Trixie’s booth was about actual magic and not stage. She smells like gunpowder and cheap glitter now, but she definitely looks like she had fun.

Sandbar and Yona were practically drooling over each other the entire time, but Smolder and I decided not to tease them about it. We wanted to, but they were just too adorable.

And that’s the end of that. Sorry for taking time away from your duties, Princess Twilight, but Headmare Glimmer did say I could write to you, so here I am. Then again, she did give me three weeks of mandatory counselor visits, so what does she know?

A part of me wants to crumple this thing up and throw it out since I’m probably just holding you up from doing important stuff, but I just really need to talk, I guess.

If I do end up throwing this out, at least I wrote these thoughts down. That’s a start, right?

Anyway, I think I discovered something about friendship.

For a long time, I… I always thought something was wrong with me. That my parents left because of me. I don’t know why I did, but maybe it was because I had nothing else to blame? And at some point, I think I buried all of this in the back of mind, so I wouldn’t go crazy. Probably not the healthiest thing, but I grew up in Griffonstone, the capital of unspoken emotional baggage.

Then this holiday came creeping up again, and it all flooded back. All those days spent daydreaming about what it would have been like if they had stayed or wondering why they left at all. It hurt. And seeing no one else have that same problem just made it worse. All these ponies and creatures could keep their families, so why not me? Why did I have to be alone?

Maybe that’s why Grandpa Gruff chose me to be the first griffon to go to your school. I didn’t exactly live with him, but he always had a spare room if I needed it. In hindsight, I should’ve been more open about how much I appreciated everything he did. He’d probably visit me more often if I had. Or maybe he wants me to visit him? I don’t know. Should talk to Headmare Glimmer about this?

I’m getting off-topic again, aren’t I? Sorry.

So you’re probably wondering why I didn’t talk to my friends if I felt this way. The truth is that I was scared to speak my feelings. To tell someone that I was lonely. Why? Because I would just be burdening them with my problems!

They were supposed to have fun with their families this week, not worry about me! These were my problems, not theirs! And… That scared me too because I wanted to be okay! I wanted to be happy. So if I admitted that I wasn’t happy to someone else… I had to admit that to myself too.

But how do you tell someone you’re not happy if you can’t even admit that to yourself? Will they even care if you do tell them? If they do care, how long before they stop? What do you need to be happy!? What’s wrong with you!? Why aren’t you happy like everyone else!?

All these questions and more swirled around inside my head all week, and it probably wasn’t a good idea to try to answer them by myself.

Why wasn’t I happy? Because I don’t have a family.

Why didn’t I have a family? Because something was wrong with me.

What was wrong with me? I’m useless.

How do I fix this? Be happy.

How do I be happy? You can’t.

Why? Because you’re alone.

Why am I alone?

Yeah. Even the Tree of Harmony didn’t want to answer that last one.

Needless to reiterate, I was spiraling. So when Silver caught me, all I could do was think the worst. Either I was preventing her from being with her family, or she was only caring about me out of fear for my sanity. In the end, she was just worried.

She was just worried. No ulterior motive whatsoever. All she wanted was to help me feel better because she cared about me just as much as the others. Just as much as she cared for her family. That will always mean more to me than anything else this world can possibly offer.

So that leads back to that thing I discovered about friendship.

I hope you’re not too angry when I say this, but… I never really bought into the whole “Your friends can be your family” moral. I tried. I really tried to internalize that, but I couldn’t. I could never get past the fact that a family is with you from the day you’re born; whereas, friends are only there once you make them. I still don’t believe in that, even now.

What I do believe in is love. Yeah, friends and family may be different things, but are the bonds they represent different too? Are the relationships between a mother, father, and child really so different than that of six best friends? I used to think so because I lack one of them, but now? Not anymore.

Friendship is hard. So is family. Sure, they’re two different things, but really? They’re both bonds of love. Of kindness and loyalty. Of honesty and laughter. Of generosity and empathy.

They say Friendship is Magic, but that’s not entirely true is it? Friendship is Love. And so is Family. Because the bonds of Friendship and the bonds of Family are both forged from it. And Love is the most powerful form of Magic there is.

Do you like that? It took me half an hour to figure out how best to put that. Sarcasm aside, it’s the lesson I learned, and I’m still curious as to how I completely missed it.

I was probably too busy believing that I needed my parents to have that kind of bond to accept that I already had it with my friends.

I still want to know who they were and why they left me. Was it really something wrong with me that drove them away? Or did they just not want a son? I want to know so badly! I’ll probably always want to know, but for now I’d rather focus on the friends I have in my life instead of the parents I don’t. Time is precious is after all. And so is love.

That’s the healthier view, right?

P.S. Discord wanted to know when Spike was hosting the next O&O campaign. Also, can I get in on that too? Gabby always made it sound fun when she talked about it.

P.P.S. Silver also wants to know if she can join the— Correction! Silver and Edith want to know if they both can join the party; Edith promises not to petrify anyone if so.

P.P.P.S. If you respond to this, can you ask Princess Cadence a question for me? Silver wanted to know if today was supposed to count as a first date, and I have no idea how to respond to that.

Sincerely, Gallus.

“Are you still reading that?”

“Yes.”

“You know it’s not going to change no matter how many times you read it, right?”

“Oh, hush! Did Cadence respond yet?”

“Yep! A full two hundred and fourteen pages of a response.”

“Two hundred and fourteen!?”

“And this is apparently only the first of many, many more.”

“Yikes! I think I need to talk to Shining about getting Cadence a hobby.”

“Pretty sure this is her hobby.”

“Har-har. Are you okay after receiving that?”

“Of course, I am! So? What do you think about getting your first Friendship Report?”

“Technically—”

“Not counting Starlight. Or Sunset, or Starswirl, or the other students, or—”

“I get it, Spike. Honestly? I feel kind of surreal. And happy. And worried! And relieved! And so, so proud! All at once. It’s very strange.”

“Well, you know? Princess Celestia probably felt that way every time you sent one to her.”

“I do know. That’s why I intend to write her a letter and gush about this experience! And also ask if it’s normal to want to teleport to your student and hug them for an hour! But before we do that, I need to write Gallus back.”

“My claws are ready, and my quills are bountiful!”

“What would I do without you, Spike?”

“Oversleep the sunrise and forget the sunset?”

“Hey!”

“You did ask.”

“Yeah, I did, didn’t it?”

“Yep!”

“Alright, smart guy. You ready to take a letter?”

“Always.”

“Okay then. Ahem! Dear, Gallus…”