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He got off the train in Ponyville, carrying only his saddlebag. Many ponies continued giving him a few strange looks. Some were rude, but most were just curious. He had gotten used to it by now. Before he left, they had told him he might not be accepted at first, but given the chance, most ponies in Equestria are inviting and friendly. It was a good thing he was considered an expert at making friends by everyone he knew well. Were zebras really that rare? Zareb thought.

 

He made his way towards Ponyville proper and out of the humble landscape, could see the star of the castle spearing into the sky. It towered over everything, including the town hall. Zareb looked at his paper instructions and made steps to what he presumed was Twilight's Castle. Would he see the Princess today? He hoped so, but he also knew that Equestria had changed in a good way, and many of the Princess' tasks forced her to Canterlot where Equestria was ruled from. Maybe one day he would visit there, too.

 

He approached the castle from it's grassy front yard and looked up at it. "Ngome kubwa," he muttered to himself, basking in the glory that was the crystalline fortress. He saw what looked like the school in the corner of his eye, adorning it's famous waterfall collection. He wondered why he was asked to come here first. Outside the castle, there were no guards. So he walked up the steps at opened the big front door himself. He peeked inside. "Hello?"

 

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The School of Friendship always had an international character of an informal type, even going back to the core of six students that Princess Twilight had gathered together.  As far as Prince Blueblood was concerned, however, informal was simply insufficient!  In fact, he'd deliberately connected his new position as Archancellor to his already-existing IMAGINE project.  After all, world peace and harmony was the eventual goal of both institutions, though the latter had been bogged down in the still-ongoing war in Whitescar.  Attempting to forge a post-war society before the war ended was obviously a difficult task...

 

Having an alternate angle of approach, therefore, seemed very much in order.  And the school was just perfect for that.  A place where the young and talented from all over the world could be gathered together, taught the values of Equestrian friendship and harmony, and become friends before going back to achieve high position in their home countries?  Absolutely brilliant!  Twilight Sparkle might have taken a little heat from so-called educational experts who nitpicked and nagged about "practical curricula," but as far as the Prince was concerned, the School of Friendship was teaching things far more important than algebra and cell biology.  *What does it profit a pony to solve for X, but lose the ability to care for others, and have others care for them?*

 

To this end, he took some interest in ensuring full representation of all sapient creatures and countries of origin among the student body.  Surprisingly, there wasn't a zebra among the student body yet.  Unyasi was pretty distant, sure, but not really all that much further than Yakyakistan or Neighpon, surely?  Well, no matter.  Blueblood had sent word though his ambassadorial contacts that a spot for a zebra student was reserved, and they had returned with a promising candidate.  A zebra with a talent for making friends?  Zareb sounded just like the sort that would benefit from refinement in the school, and all the contacts he would make.  Yes, great things would surely come from this!

 

To this end, unusually for the Royal Unicorn, he was actually there in person to answer the door for Zareb, though he held off on greeting him until the newcomer could properly take in the magnificence of the Entrance Hall.  Clashes with the local architecture aside, it really was spectacular in its own right.  Once sufficient time was allowed, he stepped out into full view, dressed resplendently in velvet.  "Karibu, rafiki!"  He spoke, with flawless accent.  Long nights spent practicing did not go amiss.  "I hope your long journey here was pleasant."

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When he had peaked through the double doors at the castle's entrance, no one was there to greet him. It seemed odd at first that the door was unlocked in the first place. His imagination of a place like Canterlot was full of descriptions of heavy guarded towers, security details around the clock, and constant surveillance during nighttime activity. It was midday, and Ponyville, but he at least expected a guard pony to check his paperwork. Where Zareb was from, the threat of constant invasion of aggressive animals species and misunderstood tribes was never an afterthought. As primitive as some of the smaller villages were, even those that didn't have the means of massive structural resources, a wooden gate with a zebra holding a spear was the least you would come across. But this was Ponyville, and his expectations continued to evolve.

 

He walked into the castle slowly, checking around him to make sure he wasn't violating any rules of engagement. Instead of looking diligently for a poster that would share such rules, he found himself amazed at the structural design of the walls. Everything was crystalline in natural, almost as if the several millennia of time had sculpted the castle into existence itself. Nothing was straight, but it didn't need to be, it found a way to symmetrical even when the jagged gem-like pillars randomly jutted out of the shiny floors. This was Ponyville right? Not the Crystal Empire? Zareb began considering the possibility he had gotten off the wrong stop, but suddenly, a white unicorn stallion wearing a crimson red suit softly stepped in front of him and greeted him, first in Zareb's native language, and then again in the common tongue.

 

Impressed by the unicorn's ability to speak as if he was familiar with Unyasian culture, he responded quickly with a typical parable. "Kichaka kina miiba, lakini mimi ni mchanga." He smiled. "I've never traveled so far in my life, but I'm still willing to go further." Zareb looked around, gesturing with his curiosity of the place he was in. "Is this the right place? I have arrived to be apart of Princess Twilight Sparkle's school of friendship."

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Polite affectations of his diplomatic trade aside, Prince Blueblood wasn't all that deeply studied in Unyasi culture.  He'd never been posted there, and to be honest. before he made significant effort on his part to actually be useful in his position, it would have been a drastic mistake to do so.  And once he had... other lands occupied his attention.  Thus, while he could translate the words of Zareb's proverb, the meaning of it seemed to elude him.  "I... see?  Well, you are a long way from home."  He stood back, giving a gesture to invite the young zebra deeper inside, where through a side doorway he would be able to see a small sitting room, set out for a guest's immediate use.

 

"This isn't the school itself, but I prefer to welcome new students here, personally."  The Prince answered, directing a servant to take care of Zareb's luggage.  "When Princess Twilight assumed her duties in Canterlot, she left her school to me as the Archancellor.  I try to maintain a personal touch with the students, as she did, but its hard to pick up on connections that somepony else already made.  For newcomers, though, the slate is fresh, and I wish to lose no time."

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Zareb saw an assistant who was motioned in by the Prince to grab the zebra's sacks. He had on him a saddle bag, and then also a large bag full of his stuff. The large bag was taken off his back to his physical relief, but he worried what would happen with his personal belongings. He decided to trust the help since he was probably among friends. Listening to the unicorn's explanation, Zareb knew that Twilight had become the ruler over Equestria and leader of the free and harmonious lands expanding beyond it, but he hadn't considered that the princess would have to forfeit her influence over the school itself. He was a little let down. This unicorn prince was probably in charge for good reason, having earned the respect of his peers and appointed by more valuable councilmares who entrust him to do the work that Twilight Sparkle began. But, he really was hoping to meet Twilight Sparkle today, or maybe even one of the other five mares of harmony. He was sure he would meet them eventually.

 

"I didn't realize so much had changed. I knew about the great battle for Equestria, but I hadn't expected it to affect the school." He looked around the castle again, admiring the insides of the ceilings and decorative gemstone-plated walls. "You treat all new students like this? Well, I guess now you get to share it with one that is not a pony." He smiled, assuming all of the students thus far had been ponies. He was well aware of the atypical nature of having a zebra attend a school in Ponyville would be, but hadn't been given the enlightenment that the small Equestrian village had come a long way from only trafficking ponies in its inns and markets.

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"Large, potentially world-breaking events tend to have more ramifications than one first expects, especially considering how small they start.  Very often, whether or not a friend is made can effect the entire course of history, or at least a Pony's lifetime."  The Prince smiled in reminiscence, thinking of a few old friends that had definitely affected his life for the better.  "That's one of the reasons I do try the personal touch, especially now that we've got our first zebra.  Don't worry though, you won't be our first outsider!  We've got... practically everything except a caribou, and I'm hoping one of those will arrive soon!"

 

From the window in view of the Zebra, Zareb would be able to see the school from where he sat.  A particularly keen-eyed observer might even catch a glimpse of the wagon carting his luggage to the dorm.  "I'm sure your room-mates would like to plan their own welcome, so I'd like to give then a little time.  So, tell me, would you like some tea?  I have rooibos, if you miss a taste of home, though there are many others, if there's ever anything new you want to try as well."

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  • 2 weeks later...

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Zareb saw his only belongings being taken to the school via carrier pony. He truly felt violated while at the same time honored to have such a service provided to him. He had only stories and no real time experience with the ponies of Ponyville to trust them this much, but this was why he was here. "Oh yes, I am very excited to see who I get to live with during my studies here. I'm sure they are as eager to friendmake as I am." Having been asked about beverages, Zareb smirked at the offering of rooibos, a common brew from his culture. "Haha, I did not come all this way to drink something I know all too well. What kind of unique drinks do you prepare here in Ponyville? I hear the apple cider here is a must try. Have any of that on hoof?" The zebra challenged, wondering if the fabled cider is as coveted and rare as he had heard from travelers' oral tales.

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"Oh, let me see, I should actually have your room assignment here..."  Using his magic, Blueblood lifted some papers from a nearby desk over, rifling through them until he found what he was looking for.  "Ah, yes, room number 27... that's with Remington Apple, it looks like.  He's from Manehattan, if I'm not mistaken; did you enter Equestria through that port, or another?"

 

The Prince looked a little nonplussed at his offer of hospitality being rebuffed, but he supposed he couldn't blame the traveler for being adventurous!  "Well, there's multiple kinds of cider, naturally, that comes from Sweet Apple Acres.  Sorry to say you just missed the Cider Festival; there's not much of the freshly-made left, and all of that is securely stored in Lady Applejack's cellar.  I do have a barrel in the basement of their reserve, but that's being kept for the Autumn Feast later this semester."   There was also the kind of cider, available year round, that Zareb wasn't quite old enough to be partaking of yet, at last as far as Blueblood could judge.  "There's plenty of apple juice, though, and it is quite tasty and refreshing."

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"Yes, let me try your apple juice. I wonder how it compares to the imported juice we get across the sea." Zareb perked up when he was told he would have a roommate. He could have guessed this would be the case, but never certain. "He has Apple in his name? He must be of the orchard family in town then, I presume." Zareb began wondering what his new roommate would be like. Would he accept him as a zebra? Is he fun to be around? Does he like the same kinds of things he likes? Is his roommate attending the school because of how advanced he is at making friends, or is he so miserable and unfriendly that he enrolled in the school in order to save his social life? In any event, any food and drink that came from the fruit farm as a result of a new friendship would not be considered extortion to Zareb, but it would be a welcome outcome to the zebra looking to take in as many Equestrian tastes as he could while he was here.

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"Having traveled far enough to be able to compare myself, I think you'll learn the superiority of local product."  He gave a wink at the Zebra student with a chuckle.  "The bananas of your homeland, for instance, are much better than what can be shipped up here.  Don't tell any of the Apples that I said this, but I think if you could ship the better bananas, they'd be the most popular fruit in this country!"  Not that you couldn't get bananas in Equestria, but there was only one variety that shipped well overseas, and Blueblood had always found it a little plain.

 

"I heard he's more of a distant cousin than anything, technically moreso than Pinkie Pie."  The Prince, realizing that name meant nothing to Zareb, explained.  "Another of the part-time teachers, and one of Princess Twilight's close friends and counselors.  You'll likely meet her soon.  Honestly, I'm surprised that she hasn't already thrown some kind of welcome party for you, but I believe she may be out of town right now."

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As it so happened, Zareb had packed a few bananas for his trip, and never ate them because of how hospitable the travel arrangements were. "Ya kuvutia. Really? I did bring some seeds from fruits from my tribe's region in case I wanted to start a garden with them or share them with plant growers in Ponyville, with the town's chief's approval of course. I know how invasive some plants are." Zareb hinted at the Everfree Forest, acknowledging the dangerous, yet oddly fascinating cultivation of a mysterious ecosystem of dense foliage and wild environments, something most zebras would otherwise call 'normal'.

 

Zareb took in all of rambling the Prince gave about the different ponies that could have met him by now but hadn't. He wasn't entirely disappointed. The architecture certain was a marvel, but he was expecting more of an invocation. Zareb took a healthy swig of apple juice. It was very tasty and refreshing. "Wapi. Where is everyone? Are they at the school? Should we go over there and see the place? I'd like to see what it's like at the place I will be spending most of my time. The castle is great and all, but I'd like to explore the campus. Can you take me on a tour?"

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A gourmand of sorts, when it came to fresh produce, Blueblood did not hide the delight on his face at hearing that Zareb had brought fruit seeds from his homeland.  "Oh, wonderful!  I shall have to ask if Berry Punch has some room in her greenhouse; I'm not sure they'll grow in our regular environment.  I quite look forward to the results, I'll tell you.  Keeping them so contained will also prevent virulent spread, but honestly, I don't think we'll have to worry too much.  Things like fruit trees aren't the same as, say, kudzu vines."  He shuddered at the remembrance of seeing the leafy menace swallow up a byway near Baltimare.  It had taken *months* to eradicate the infestation, and served as a rather testy conversation subject with the Neighponese customs officials.

 

"Well, once you finish your drink, we may head over.  I'll be more than happy to give you a tour, though I'm not sure who will be where at this time.  It's a free day for everyone, so they may be out in the town, resting, studying, or home for a quick visit."

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"That's okay." Zareb responded to Blueblood's offer. "I wouldn't feel good about intruding on students and teachers wisdom-seeking just because of my curiosity." Zareb finished the apple juice with no grace, and set the cup on the table. "Twendi!" Zareb stood up but waited for Blueblood's direction on where to go next. Seeing as there were servant ponies who seemed to have tasks to help visitors, he was anticipating an overly unnecessary mode of travel that would take them to the school, like a fancy carriage or a magical spell of teleportation.

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Blueblood couldn't help but snicker.  "I've seen students seek many things on their days off, but nothing that I would call wisdom.  Experiences, perhaps, from which wisdom might some day arise.  As the old proverb says, 'Pain makes you think, thinking makes you wise, and wisdom makes pain endurable.'"  Perhaps a bit of a sobering proverb for one so young, but as charming and well behaved as Zareb looked, the Prince held no doubt in his mind that the zebra was as capable of making or finding trouble as any pony colt his age.

 

Quite contrary to Zareb's expectations, Blueblood chose to simply walk, as Ponyville was still but a fraction of the size of Canterlot, and with the Castle's central location, everything was within an easy distance.  "Feel free to have us pause if anything catches your interest on the way, we're in no hurry, and this place will be your home too for the coming months."

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As they walked out of the castle and towards the school, Zareb began taking in the interesting architecture of the building, and guessed it had not been an old building, as cracks had not formed in any walls, and vines were not crawling over it as much as many of the other buildings he had seen in Ponyville. "Did students build the school? Back home in my village, when a storm would knock down buildings and poorly-made huts, students attending the school would be expected to build up the walls to a new school, and maybe even offer their labor to elderly who were too old to rebuild their homes. It used to be, a young zebra would have to perform a task of heavy labor to their village in order to receive education from the wisest of our elders, and to refuse work would label you as a villager with no work ethic and thus not deserving of teaching. Wavivu!" He expected not, but he was interested in the story involving the building of the school and how long it may have taken.

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Zareb's somewhat surprising account of local building customs earned him a sideways look from Blueblood.  "No....?  I hope you won't take offense by me saying so, but in this country, we believe that if buildings are built by those for whom it is their talent and profession, they won't blow down quite so often.  About the only time you'd see young ones on a building site are those apprenticing to that trade specifically, or those trying out the work to see if it is their talent."  After a few seconds more of thinking and walking, he continued.  "And more generally, we saw education as an obligation the older have towards the younger, rather than a privilege which the younger must earn."  Thinking to take on the role of a teacher, for after all he was employed by the school now, he decided to stimulate his young student's brain with a question.  "Now, from what you know of our respective societies, how do you think they came to have such different views?"

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As Zareb listened to the Prince, he began wondering if he misunderstood the pony's role. Was he also a teacher? He seemed to be, at least he contained some sort of teaching skill as it related to society and ethics. And though the pony may have seemed to fill more than one role, he was simultaneously suggesting that ponies in Equestria were raised to only have one role, or rather that professions covered everything a civilization needed, and one did not need to specialize in more than one skill. Zareb's first thought was to how boring that might be, for a pony to only have one interest worth furthering. But maybe he misunderstood. Certainly ponies are allowed to expand their skills sets beyond what is recommend to them by society.

 

"First, I am not offended, don't worry." He laughed. "Inachekesha. It's perfectly understandable that it would be different here. I couldn't imagine young ponies could have built this masterpiece. But I thought I would include my question about it's founding with a story from my own. I think that when villages are too small to have professions of many kinds, it requires everyzebra to combine efforts to build and serve. Any failure to do so would put the village at risk of the harsh elements. Which might be another reason our societies are different. Ponies here might have more time to explore their talents, when they are not constantly being chased by wildlife." Zareb said slyly. "Would you like to see my lion scar?"

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Blueblood nodded after hearing Zareb's explanation; the young one's sociological intuition seeming sound.  "You're right there.  There's a strong relation between the size of a society, and how much those within it are able to specialize.  Of course, that also begs the question of whether our cutie marks became tied to our special talents as a result of our social structure, or if we as ponies were already specialists, and so had to build a large society to suit ourselves.  I've always suspected the second one was the case, as zebras, for example, have had just as long a history as we have, perhaps even longer, since ponies had to settle in Equestria after fleeing their original lands, while as far as I know the Zebra have always lived in Unyasi, and yet Unyasi never seemed to unify into a state like ours in any permanent way.

 

"I'm not so sure it's really about wildlife either."  He paused where the pair could see the canopy of the Everfree through a gap in the houses.  "Therein lies a forest with perhaps some of the most dangerous beasts in the world, which still come out from time to time.  And yet, here we are, on land carved from it.  That said, the one local zebra is also the one who lives in the forest itself.  It seems to suit her better, which may explain many things about us both."  He looked back at Zareb, smiling.  "As you apparently well know.  Do tell me about that lion!"

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"Oh, hehe. I joke, I joke. There is no lion story. We tame them out of village life pretty well. Although a friend of mine had a cub that slashed at my hind leg a while back, but that mark has long since healed. Paka bubu." Zareb walked closer to the front door of the school. Much like the Castle of Friendship, it seemed more majestic than most capital buildings he had seen in other pony cities. The mountains behind the school drained fresh water through the school, giving it a sense of nature held harmony. There were many doors around the outside of the building, one he hoped he would explore some day. Considering many of the well-built huts from his home village typically only had one or two rooms, the idea of a building big enough to have an entire village within its walls gave him an exciting yet intimidating feeling. "How many of the students and teachers live here?"

 

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"Oh."  Blueblood felt a little embarrassed about his assumption, though to be fair when one hears true stories of manticore encounters, lions seem much more plausible.

 

Growing up in Canterlot, where such architecture was more or less the norm, the school felt to Blueblood more like what the huts would to Zareb, unremarkably comforting and familiar, very homelike.  He wondered if the same was true for Twilight; after all, she'd grown up in that city too.  It was only through the eyes of the students that the Prince could see how awe-inspiring it was, and he took a moment to take in the view with those new eyes.

"Fewer live here than we can fit.  Partly that's because some of the teachers had houses in town before the school was built, partly because we're still ramping up and establishing ourselves.  Princess Twilight is building to the future, hence the grandiose aesthetic.  Right now, we have... three, maybe four dozen students, counting the new enrollments?  You'll probably be able to get to know them all by name soon enough."

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  • 2 weeks later...

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Zareb was concerned that the housing situation might not be fair to some other student that didn't operate from the same outside perspective that he felt he was being catered for. "I'm not pushing anyone out am I? I could easily live in the woods if it meant more students could live inside the building." He assumed ponies would not have as much desire to live in and around trees as him, and he was probably right about that, if the things he had heard could be believed.

 

If Zareb had known this unicorn long enough, the past few minutes with him had given him the vibe that the answer would simple be that his selfless desire to live in the woods would not be necessary, but it only made him ponder what his potential roommate was like. Would this pony be okay with a zebra as a roommate, or would he struggle with sharing space with somepony that either resented or feared him. "I also know a lot of ponies don't particularly like my kind. Is that still the case?" Zareb walked up to the front door as he stated his question.

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Blueblood blinked.  "Er, I don't think I made myself clear; we have quite a few more rooms available in the school!  And as a matter of general policy, we like to house all students in the same building.  Simple proximity, you see, is one of the biggest facilitators of friendship formation."  If the Prince had to venture a guess, Zareb's hesitation stemmed from a heard rumor of ill-opinions towards his kind that this town displayed in the past.  "I wouldn't say so, I haven't seen any evidence of it myself.  I heard there was some trouble when Zecora moved in, but the townsponies have gotten used to her.  But it took repeated visits and exposure; that's why it's important you live among us, you see?"

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"Ahh, Zecora! We hear so many stories about her adventures here. Does she do any teaching here?" Zareb was at the door, not sure if he should open it himself or wait for his guide to hit the bells and whistles that did everything for him. Zareb was gettting a taste of what it might be like during a long stay here in Ponyville, and he wondered how difficult it would be to be himself. He could see himself being comfortable as a zebra living among other creatures, but he also wondered if he could make more friends by toning down his tribal nature a little. For the time being, he was still getting a feel for the process of service. It seemed a lot of ponies were employeed to do whatever the headmare wanted. Was this going to be like living in a castle?

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"She does, sometimes.  Not any regular classes, but she comes in at least once a month to speak on her areas of expertise.  Usually on the culture of her homeland, jungle survival techniques, things like that."  Blueblood answered, truthfully as he could.  The teaching roles at this school were still in the middle of being formalized; unlike most educational institutions, there wasn't a whole lot of bureaucracy regulating who got to teach what, nor much of a permanent staff that taught here and did nothing else.  "Speaking of which... are you from the same general area of Unyasi?  I know we in Equestria tend to think of it as all one country, but I know enough to know that there's a pretty significant difference between the jungle and savannah tribes."

 

The door itself was not automatic, though Blueblood used his magic to swing the double doors open, revealing the grand hall, which branched out into many corridors, some leading to classrooms, others to dorms, and yet others to amenities like the library or playing field.  "Is there anywhere you wanted to see first?  As far as I'm aware, we have most of this place to ourselves, though you might run into one or two students here."

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"Well Zecora is known through many tribes, but I have never met her. Many of her stories are associated with the story of the six, which is also a widely believed legend. Most zebras know of the major Equestrian stories, though there are some who doubt their truth, ni ngumu kuamini. There was once a fable of Equestrian heroines defeating the changelings to extinction, but eventually it was realized it was a myth, after the great transformation gave way for changelings to explore their world outside of their nests."

 

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Much like the castle, Zareb was amazed at the décor and routine structure of the halls of the school. There were buildings like this his land, but they were not nearly as common. "I think I'd like to see the classrooms first. I have been trying to imagine how they might differ from the classrooms I'm familiar with." Zareb's experience in learning environments ranged from small village huts with students sitting in a circle around their teacher, to more elaborate rooms with furniture specifically designed to aid the teacher in helping students discover new things.

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