“…and so I said to him, ‘Really, dear, while I’m sure she will appreciate the thought behind your gift, there are much better ways to let a young mare know you’re interested in her,’ and do you know what he said?”
“Hm? No, what?”
“Well, he just started prattling off some nonsense that his friends told him about courtship, though of course he didn’t use that term. What rubbish, Twilight. It was all I could do not to laugh in his face. I would gladly craft a risqué garment for a couple looking to add some spice to their relationship, but can you imagine receiving such a thing on a first date? Stallions, I swear!”
“Then of course Sweetie Belle asks what a bridle is, and how are you supposed to explain something like that to a filly? ‘Well dear, when a boy pony and a girl pony love each other very much, but decide things are getting a bit boring...’ Sometimes I don’t know why I let her in the shop when I’m dealing with a customer. It’s never led to a good outcome, now that I think about it.”
“Well, just then -- and you won’t believe this Twilight -- his marefriend walks in the door, I suppose to ask me to make something for her date, and she sees us haggling over this, ah, accoutrement, and do you know what she does? She turns around and stomps right back out! And he goes chasing after her, yelling that I was trying to sell it to him! The nerve!”
“That’s amazing, Rarity.”
“No! It was tragic, Twilight! I lost two sales, though I suppose one of them probably wasn’t meant to happen, and the whole mess made me late for our spa appointment. I tell you, if I wasn’t ready for a massage this morning, I certainly am now! Anyway, to answer your question, that’s what kept me.”
By this point, Twilight Sparkle had completely forgotten her original question. It took her several seconds to realize that Rarity had finished her monologue and was expecting some sort of coherent response. The white unicorn looked at her from across the steaming tub with an eager expression on her face.
“Uh,” she mumbled. Think, Twilight! Something about her store and… late! She was late! “Well, I’m just glad you were able to join us,” she finished with a smile.
Rarity smiled and relaxed back into the tub, sinking until the swirling waters enveloped all but her head. Her rich purple mane floated around her face, forming a fan atop the water. The two spent long minutes in silence, simply soaking up the penetrating heat of the bath. Twilight was careful not to ask any more questions.
Finally, Rarity broke the silence. She glanced over to their third companion, who had yet to say a single word.
“Is everything alright, Fluttershy?” she asked.
The butter yellow pegasus, hidden beneath the waters except for her face and a shock of pink mane, bobbed her head.
Twilight and Rarity exchanged a glance. Twilight shrugged.
“You’re… enjoying this, right?” Rarity asked. She scooted closer to Fluttershy's place along the edge of the bath. Twilight mirrored her movement until the two flanked the pegasus.
Fluttershy nodded again. The movement sent tiny waves rolling across the steaming water.
“It’s just that you’ve been very quiet today,” Rarity said. “Even for you, I mean.”
That finally provoked a response. Fluttershy poked her head above the water, her pink mane hanging straight down like a curtain across her face. She smiled at her friend and spoke in a voice so quiet Twilight had to strain to hear.
“Oh, thank you, Rarity,” she said. “I’ve been practicing.”
“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” Twilight Sparkle said. “You’re practicing being quiet... for a game?”
The three had long since vacated the baths and were now receiving individualized treatments in a dimly lit parlor. Rarity was submerged again, this time in a thick, dark mud that squelched as she moved. A goopy green paste was carefully smeared over her face, and a pair of thick cucumber slices covered her eyes. Her rich mane was hidden, wrapped in a bath towel large enough to mummify an entire pony. Rarity’s tail appeared to be fending for itself beneath the mud.
Fluttershy was receiving a much less invasive pampering; she lay prone atop a soft floor mat, her wings stretched out to either side. Aloe, one of the spa pony sisters, held a tiny applicator brush in her teeth, gently dabbing drops of oil on the shaft of each of the pegasus’s feathers. Once she had a dozen or so painted in this fashion, she used a thin wool cloth to brush the oil along Fluttershy’s plumes. The resulting golden luster shimmered in the dim room like sunlight on water.
Twilight opted for the simplest treatment available at the spa: a massage and horn filing. Lotus, the other spa sister, expertly pressed her oiled hooves into the unicorn’s back. Per her usual habit, she mentally named each of the major muscle groups as Lotus worked. Thoracolumbar fascia, that’s good… Do that a few more times. Ooh, Longissimus dorsi…
“Um, well, it’s more of a contest than a game,” Fluttershy answered. She turned her head slightly away to avoid Twilight’s gaze. “It’s the world championship, actually.”
“The world championship of… being quiet? Really? You can’t be serious.”
Fluttershy blushed and tried to cover her snout with her hooves. Fortunately, Rarity came to her rescue.
“Oh, leave the poor dear alone, Twilight,” she said. “We’ve certainly tolerated some odd things from you this year. Remember the centipedes?”
“That was research,” Twilight shot back. Rarity arched an eyebrow over her cucumber slice. “It was for science! Besides, everypony recovered.”
“Well, this contest sounds like a splendid way for our Fluttershy to have some safe fun,” Rarity said. Twilight bristled at her emphasis on the word safe. “No dragons, parasprites, manticores, little sisters… Yes, the more I think about it, the better it seems,” Rarity finished.
“Oh, I’m so glad you think so,” Fluttershy said. She had slowly relaxed as Rarity spoke, no longer hiding behind her hooves. “Especially this year, with all the expectations.”
There was a pause. Twilight glanced at Rarity, who seemed to be just as confused beneath her face mask and cucumbers.
“Er, expectations?” Twilight asked.
Fluttershy nodded, not noticing the perplexed expression on the unicorn’s face. “Yes, after last year, everyone will be trying to beat me. I almost didn’t want to go back, but Rainbow Dash said I had to be a brave pony.” She emphasized this by stomping her hoof so lightly it barely made a sound. She winced at the noise. “Sorry,” she whispered.
“So you’ve done this before?” Twilight asked.
Fluttershy bobbed her head, too embarrassed by her outburst to speak just yet.
“And you did well?”
The pegasus nodded again. “Um, yes,” she said. “I won.”
Rarity’s horn glowed a light silver. The pair of cucumber slices covering her eyes lifted away, revealing a surprised expression.
“Fluttershy, do you mean to say that you’re the world champion?” she asked. The pegasus blushed furiously, trying to hide behind her hooves again.
“Oh dear, don’t be embarrassed!” Rarity cried. “That’s wonderful! I can’t imagine what it must be like, being the best in the world at something! Why didn’t you ever tell us this?”
“Um, well, I didn’t want to boast.”
“It’s not boasting to brag about something like this!” Rarity exclaimed. She paused for a moment, and tilted her head in thought. “I suppose it is boasting, come to think of it -- but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.”
“Wait, wait, time out,” Twilight said. “We’re talking about the world championships of being quiet. That’s not even a real contest.”
“Well it’s certainly not the Ponyville Running of the Leaves,” Rarity replied. “How did you place in that again, Twilight? Do I detect a mite of jealously?”
Twilight spluttered. “What? I’m not jealous. Anypony can be quiet. That’s not even a contest!”
“Oh, it’s harder than that, Twilight,” Fluttershy said. “You have to be quiet for a long time.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Fluttershy, I’m a librarian. I think I know a thing or two about being quiet.” Fluttershy seemed doubtful, but kept her silence.
“Well, as a librarian maybe you should be more supportive,” Rarity said. “Fluttershy, where is this championship?”
“Oh, um, it’s in Canterlot,” Fluttershy said. “Princess Celestia awards the first place prize.”
Rarity oooh’d in admiration. Twilight gawked, stunned that Celestia would have anything to do with such an event.
“Canterlot! That’s just perfect!” Rarity said. “Fluttershy, you simply must let us come with you!”
There was a long pause. Fluttershy’s eyes grew wide, darting about the room as if she were looking for something.
“Oh, um, well, that would be…” Fluttershy trailed off. Rarity gave Fluttershy her widest, most eager smile. “That would be… great,” she finished.
“And Twilight, you must come too,” Rarity purred, suddenly narrowing her eyes. Twilight shook her head slightly, but stopped and smiled as soon as Fluttershy turned to face her.
“Oh, would you, Twilight?” she asked. “I hadn’t planned on asking anypony, but it would mean so much to me.”
“I’d be happy to Fluttershy,” Twilight responded through gritted teeth, though her smile remained as wide as ever. “Thank you so much for inviting me, Rarity.”
Rarity smirked. “And we must invite the others!” she said, wiggling beneath the mud. “I just know Pinkie would love to come, and I’m sure Applejack and Rainbow Dash would have fun.”
There was a moment of silence. Fluttershy and Twilight exchanged glances – even Rarity seemed to reconsider the wisdom of her words. Finally, like a dam bursting, the three spoke at once.
“I’m not certain—"
“Oh, um, maybe that’s not—"
All three stopped. Rarity coughed politely, and picked up the pieces of the conversation. “Ahem, on second thought, maybe they would not enjoy a cultured event like this as much as us.”
“I’m inclined to agree,” Twilight said. She tried to imagine Pinkie Pie attending a being quiet competition. Her prodigious imagination failed her.
“It would be terrible,” Fluttershy said. They looked at her in surprise, causing her to duck her head self-consciously. “Well, it would be,” she added quietly.
Even Aloe and Lotus, occupied as they were with their pampering, agreed with that.
“They rented out the entire convention center?” Rarity asked. Her voice was soft with astonishment.
The three stood inside the spacious atrium of the Canterlot Convention Center. Hundreds of ponies milled about the entrance, grouped in small knots or winding their way through the lengthy registration lines. The crowd was surprisingly silent, considering its size. After some consideration, Twilight Sparkle decided that was appropriate for the gathering. A large banner strung across the hall announced “WELCOME COMPETITORS” in tiny block letters that were nearly lost in the huge expanse of the sign. Other posters listed various venues, and a large chart hung on the back wall showed the various brackets, waiting to be filled with the winners’ names.
“Oh yes,” Fluttershy said, her voice barely above a whisper. “They tried holding it in the castle last year, but there wasn’t enough space.”
“This… this is for real?” Twilight said, her eyes wide as she looked around the hall. “All these ponies are here—" She was suddenly cut off by several nearby ponies, who shushed her. She ducked her head, blushing.
“Er, they’re all here for the quiet game championship?” she finished with a whisper. “Sorry,” she added to the ponies around her.
Fluttershy nodded. “There are two competitions, actually. One for amateurs, and one for, um, professionals.” The ponies around them didn’t shush her, Twilight noticed. In fact, they seemed to regard her with something like awe.
“Can anyone compete as an amateur?” Rarity ask, giving the line leading to the nearest registration table a thoughtful look.
“Well, there’s a small fee, but yes. To compete in the professional rounds you need to win a local championship.”
Local championship? Twilight tried to remember if there had been anything of the sort in Ponyville. Again, her mind failed her.
“Oh, it looks like Celestia is judging my bracket,” Fluttershy said. She pointed a hoof at the chart behind the wall, where four sets of sixteen ponies were arranged for competition. “That’s supposed to be good luck.”
Twilight blinked at the chart. Sure enough, beside the lower left bracket, written in an elegant cursive, was Princess Celestia's name. Does she do this every year? Why didn’t she ever mention it? What other crazy contests does she judge?
“Um, are you alright, Twilight?” Fluttershy asked. The question snapped Twilight back to reality. “You were staring at something,” she added.
“Sorry, just lost in thought for a moment,” Twilight responded. “Come on, let’s get to your first match.”
“I’ll be right along, girls,” Rarity said. “Save a seat for me, would you Twilight?”
“And we’re about to begin the first round of competition here at the Quiet Game World Championships,” the announcer, a tan earth pony with a megaphone cutie mark, said into the microphone. The public address system was turned down so low that Twilight Sparkle could barely hear him, despite the unnerving silence of the packed auditorium. Hundreds of ponies sat on cushioned seats in rows around her, staring down at the empty stage. She saw quite a few homemade banners with Fluttershy’s name on them.
“That’s right, Chip,” said the co-announcer, a light purple pegasus. Apparently, Fluttershy’s match warranted a full broadcast team. “As expected, there’s a large crowd here in Auditorium A to see our returning champion attempt to defend her crown. For you ponies joining us at home, the excitement here is almost unbearable.”
Twilight wouldn’t have characterized the crowd in quite that fashion. She’d been in louder cemeteries. At night. For research, of course.
“You said it, Ace. The crowd here is almost buzzing with excitement.” Twilight was fairly certain she could have heard a pin drop from on stage.
Before she could mentally critique the announcers any further, Rarity appeared. She squeezed past the ponies between Twilight and the aisle, and took a seat beside her friend.
“Did I miss anything?” she whispered. Twilight shook her head.
“They’re about to get started, I think. Celestia’s already waiting for them down front.” Sure enough a pastel glow bathed the front row of the auditorium. “Where’d you go, anyway?”
“Oh, well, I figured as long as we’re here, why not have some fun?” Rarity tittered. “So I signed up for the amateur competition! My first round starts right after this.”
Twilight was quiet while she considered different responses. Eventually she settled on straightforward. “Are you sure that’s a good idea, Rarity? I think they take this very seriously.”
Rarity waved a hoof dismissively. “Pshaw, Twilight. They’re all amateurs. No competition for a demure, cultured lady like myself.”
Twilight bit the inside of her cheek. Fortunately, she was rescued by the announcers.
“Here she comes, Ace,” Chip said. “Fillies and gentlecolts, your returning champion, Fluttershy!”
The crowd murmured as the yellow pegasus trotted onto the stage from the left. A bright spotlight popped on, highlighting her in a circle of light. Her oiled feathers and brushed mane glimmered dazzlingly in the dim auditorium; Twilight had never seen her friend look so beautiful or—
“WOOO!!” Rarity screamed from beside her, shattering the quiet of the room. “GO FLUTTERSHY! BEAT THAT PONY! Show them how to… uh… how to…” she trailed off as every pony in the auditorium turned to glare at her. Fluttershy shook her head sadly from onstage.
Twilight attempted to sink into her seat, mortified. Rarity cleared her throat.
“Er, sorry,” she whispered, a hot blush on her face. “Carry on.”
“…and just a reminder for our audience, please observe the rules regarding excessive celebration or cheering,” Ace said. “We don’t want to distract the competitors.”
“That’s right, Ace. This isn’t a zoo, after all.”
“I don’t really know her,” Twilight whispered to the pony seated next to her. The pegasus mare turned her nose up with a disdainful harrumph.
“It looks like our challenger is ready for battle, Chip. She’s a fierce competitor who hates not getting her way: presenting Her Royal Highness, Nightmare Moon!”
The crowd stirred uneasily as the second pony strode forward. The auditorium fell darker still as her towering indigo form filled the stage. She loomed over Fluttershy, the tip of her spiraling horn reaching high above the cowering pegasus’s head. Her wings spread wide in triumph; her mane flowed like water from her regal form, filled with a thousand pinpoints of light. She was as cold and beautiful as the moon, and sneered at her opponent with disdain so palpable that even the ponies in the crowd shrank away in fear. A rime of frost grew on the wood stage beneath her hooves.
“Didn’t we beat her?” Rarity whispered. Twilight stared at their nemesis, her mouth slack with shock.
“Wow, she sure knows how to make an entrance, doesn’t she, Ace?”
“She sure does, Chip. However, it takes more than a flashy costume to win at the quiet game. Let’s go over the rules for everyone at home while our competitors get ready.”
“Good call, Ace. This round uses the traditional rule set, meaning the competitors may not physically touch each other or use any form of magic. If neither pony has been disqualified by the line judges at the end of twenty minutes, the head judge will render a verdict based on style and creativity.”
Buh wha? Style and creativity? Twilight looked around to see if anypony else was as confused as she. Only Rarity seemed equally lost.
“The judges are signaling they’re ready. This is it, everypony. Time… starts… now!”
Nightmare Moon and Fluttershy stared at each other from across the stage. Agonizingly slowly, the towering alicorn began creeping toward her prey. Fluttershy stood rooted, her legs trembling slightly as the goddess of the night drew nearer. She finally stopped when her horn intruded upon Fluttershy’s spotlight, casting a sharp shadow on the mare.
Nightmare Moon stared down at the pegasus, daring her to flinch and look away. Fluttershy gulped inaudibly, but held the greater pony’s gaze with her own.
Nightmare Moon narrowed her eyes at her foe, and bared her long fangs at the shivering pegasus. More than one pony in the audience fainted at the sight. Fluttershy squeezed her eyes shut, and looked like she might collapse as well. Does that disqualify you? Twilight thought. It’s easy to be quiet if you’re unconscious.
Twilight never got her answer. Fluttershy took several deep breaths and opened her eyes. She slowly came to her hooves, and returned the dark princess’s stare with the intensity of a cockatrice. Nightmare Moon flinched, her wings flaring in shock.
You go, girl! Twilight silently cheered. Rarity trembled with excitement next to her. The auditorium held its collective breath.
But Nightmare Moon was not so easily overcome. She rose up on her back legs, her wings wide as the night. The spotlights dimmed in sympathy; the chill surrounding her midnight form swelled and filled the room with shivering cold. Twilight’s breath puffed in front of her. This is it. No pony can withstand that.
One could; one did. Fluttershy tilted her snout up, spun in place, and sat with her back to the princess. Ignored, Nightmare Moon stood, her godlike presence shattered by the simple act of defiance.
Rage replaced her confusion. She slammed the stage with her hooves, shattering the thick wood planks. “HOW DARE YOU TURN YOUR BACK ON ME, YOU FOAL!” she shouted. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I WILL—"
*BZZZZZZT* An alarm sounded, cutting her off in mid-rant. She stood in open-mouthed shock as the crowd began quietly cheering for Fluttershy. For her part she turned, gave the princess a slight bow, and trotted offstage.
“Wait, wait!” Nightmare Moon said. Her eyes darted around frantically. “That doesn’t count! That was practice!” She looked at her sister pleadingly. “Tia, tell them that was just practice!” As she spoke her form glowed and shrank, eventually revealing the smaller but still regal shape of Princess Luna. Celestia shook her head and rose from her seat. A pair of pegasus guards kept the adoring crowd at bay as she walked to the exit.
“Well, that was fast,” said Chip. “Two minutes and nineteen seconds, according to the official clock. One of Fluttershy’s better showings.”
“It sure was, Chip. For a moment there I thought Nightmare Moon might pull it off, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully we’ll see her back here next year, though. Stay tuned, ponies, there’s more Quiet Game action after this word from our sponsors.”
The crowd filed out quietly, the silence broken by the occasional mumble of conversation. Fluttershy’s name came up frequently. Twilight and Rarity stayed in their seats for a while longer.
“Well, that was… interesting?” Twilight said.
“It was more… intense than I expected,” Rarity said. “Do you think it’s like that in the amateur league?”
“I don’t see how it could be.” Twilight paused for a moment. “Good luck, though.” Her friend gulped.
“Er, yes. Well, I’d better get going. Don’t want to miss my first victory!” Rarity gave a quiet, hollow laugh. “You… you’re coming too, right?”
“I’ll catch up in a moment. I think Luna needs a friend right now.”
Indeed, Luna still sat on the stage, her head low in mourning. Twilight gave Rarity a gentle nudge, and trotted onto the stage to join Equestria’s second princess.
“Are you ready?” Fluttershy whispered.
“I think so,” Rarity replied. She took a deep, shaky breath. “I am a bit nervous, though. Is it alright to be nervous?”
“Oh, I’m always nervous.”
“It’s just that, sometimes, when I’m nervous, I start talking. To break the tension, you know? Do you think that’s a problem?”
Fluttershy was quiet for a while. “No, that’s… fine,” she finally offered.
Rarity exhaled in relief. “Oh, good. I was worried there for a moment. It would be so humiliating to lose my very first match. And to a foal, no less!” Across the room her competitor, a somber young earth pony colt, listened to some final guidance from his coach.
Fluttershy was silent again.
“Oooh, they’re calling for me!” Rarity said. “Wish me luck!”
“How is she?” Twilight Sparkle whispered as Fluttershy took her seat. The crowd was much lighter for Rarity’s match, though Fluttershy’s presence had drawn in several more ponies than would normally attend an early amateur round.
“Um, she’s… fine,” Fluttershy temporized.
“Do you think she’ll win?”
Fluttershy pawed at the seat in front of her with her hoof. Twilight decided not to press the issue.
There were no announcers for the amateur rounds. Instead the judge, a pink pegasus mare, called the two competitors to the center of the room. She spoke with them briefly, then sent them to their respective corners. The colt bounced with nervous energy; Rarity pawed at her mane self-consciously.
The room was silent for a moment. Rarity looked around in confusion.
“Have… have we started ye—"
Twilight jumped at the unexpected sound of the buzzer. Even Fluttershy seemed shocked by how quickly the round ended.
“Wait, that’s not fair!” Rarity said. She stomped a hoof daintily. “I didn’t know we started!” The judge walked over to speak with her, while the colt ran to his beaming parents. The crowd began filing out, with most of the ponies mumbling in disappointment.
“That was fast,” Twilight observed. Fluttershy nodded.
“Anyway, it looks like Rarity will be here a while,” she continued. Indeed, Rarity was just getting started, judging by the excited gestures she used to emphasize her argument. She was still building steam when Fluttershy and Twilight finally snuck out of the room.
The next several rounds flew by in quick succession. Twilight Sparkle and a sulking Rarity watched and cheered quietly for their friend as she defeated her next three opponents, emerging as the champion of her bracket, and one of the last four ponies remaining in the competition.
The semifinal round was held in the largest auditorium in the convention center, the same room used for indoor hoofball tournaments. Thousands of ponies crowded into the stands, an eerily silent pastel sea staring down at the brightly lit stage. As guests of the returning champion, the two had seats in the VIP section, just a few rows from the action.
“I have to admit, this is much more exciting than I thought,” Twilight whispered. Rarity sniffed.
“It all seems overblown to me,” she mumbled. “It’s a silly game. I mean, really, being quiet? That’s not a real contest.”
Twilight turned away before rolling her eyes.
“Anyway,” she said, “this round should be good. Apparently the other pony is undefeated, and only missed last year’s competition because he was very ill.”
The silence of the crowd gave way to quiet murmurs as Fluttershy walked onto the stage. She gave a nervous wave to the thousands of ponies around her, and sank down onto her knees.
“Well, it looks like he got better,” Rarity said. “Here he comes now! Ooh, and he has an entourage. How cosmopolitan.”
The ‘entourage’ was a quartet of earth ponies wearing white medical scrubs. They ascended the steps onto the stage, each holding one handle of a stretcher. They carefully lowered their charge onto the floor, and trotted back down the steps.
The crowd was utterly silent. Twilight and Rarity stared at the stage, their eyes wide in horror. A bleached unicorn skeleton rested on the stretcher. Its horn had fallen off at some point, leaving a gaping black hole in the center of its forehead.
“And welcome back, everypony!” Chip said. “We’re about to start the semifinal round here at the Quiet Game World Championship, and the tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife.”
“Indeed,” said Ace. “Anticipation is particularly high for this round. Those of you who watched last year’s championship may remember that Shy Sparrow, the favorite to win, had to pull out of the games because of a serious illness. Unfortunately, he did not recover, but in his will he stipulated that he be entered in this year’s contest instead!”
“Didn’t that cause some controversy, Ace?”
“It sure did, Chip. Celestia herself had to rule on his eligibility. Incidentally, this is why the new rulebook only authorizes living ponies for major tournaments.”
“So, it’s now or never for Sparrow?”
“That’s right! But if there’s one pony in Equestria who can take him down, it’s Fluttershy!”
“Twilight,” Rarity whispered. “I think I’m going to be sick.” Her white coat looked greener than normal.
Twilight didn’t respond. In fact, she didn’t even hear her friend. Her gaze remained locked on the skeleton in shock.
“And it looks like the judges are almost ready. As a reminder, this is a combination round, meaning contestants will be judged not just on how quiet they are, but how long they can go without moving.”
“Sparrow would seem to have an advantage on both of those counts, Ace.”
“He sure does, Chip. It goes to show that strategy is just as important as talent in this game.”
“They’re about to start the clock! Good luck to both competitors!”
The scoreboard above the stage flickered to life. A bright red digital readout filled the screen, and began counting down from one hour.
59:59… 59:58… 59:57…
Fluttershy sat immobile on the stage, her gaze locked on the skeleton only a few feet away. Aside from the nearly imperceptible rise and fall of her chest, she might as well have been a statue.
“Just a reminder folks,” Chip said, the volume on the PA system turned so low he might as well have not used it. “Competitors will not be marked down for blinking or breathing, unless they do so excessively.”
A trio of judge ponies sat at a desk beside the stage. They occasionally scribbled something in their notebooks, and pointed with their hooves at the contestants. Most of their attention seemed to be on Fluttershy.
“That’s not fair!” Rarity hissed in Twilight’s ear. “He’s a skeleton! How is anypony supposed to beat him?”
The clock continued its remorseless countdown. As the hour passed the judges remained focused on Fluttershy, pointing grimly at the occasional twitch of her ears, or the drifting of her long mane in the gently circulating air of the auditorium. Sparrow remained as still and quiet as a tomb.
This isn’t good! Twilight thought. Only a few minutes remained, and Fluttershy was clearly behind. The crowd leaned forward in anticipation of the buzzer.
A quiet rattle, nevertheless shockingly loud in the silence, filled the stage. One of Sparrow’s ribs, leaning at a precarious angle, finally separated from his spine. The dry sinews split, and the slender bone toppled off the stretcher onto the floor with a clatter. The judges mumbled to each other.
Less than a minute later the clock hit zero, and the crowd erupted with quiet whispers. Twilight and Rarity let out breaths they didn’t realize they were holding.
“This is going to be close, Chip. Sparrow was ahead the entire round, but it seems the dry air just wasn’t on his side.”
“Too true, Ace. The judges will have to decide whether or not to hold that against him. It looks like they’re ready.” The head judge passed the announcers three cards, which they spent a moment reviewing.
“We have a decision. Chip, would you do the honors?”
“I’d be glad to. Fillies and gentlecolts, your winner by split decision is… Fluttershy!”
The crowd cheered politely. The thousands of ponies were nearly as loud as the ocean surf on a gentle day.
“And good for her. That was probably the toughest round I’ve seen in ten years of announcing for this contest.”
“It sure was, Ace. It’s sad to see Shy Sparrow exit the tournament, so close to the finals, but at least his family gets to bury him now.”
“Silver lining, Chip. There’s always a silver lining.”
“So, are you ready?” Twilight Sparkle asked.
Fluttershy let out a quiet breath. She and Twilight were alone in the anteroom – Rarity was holding their seats in the VIP section.
“Um, I think so,” she said. “This will be the hardest round, though.”
“Come on, Fluttershy. You just beat a skeleton at being quiet. How hard could this opponent be?”
“It’s… complicated,” Fluttershy said. She let out another breath, and turned to watch the door, waiting for her opponent to arrive.
He didn’t keep them for long. Under a minute later the door swung open, and a diminutive form strode into the room, followed by the judges. Twilight stared at the other finalist in shock.
“No…” she whispered.
“Yes,” Fluttershy said. She smiled at her opponent. “Congratulations, Angel Bunny.”
The white rabbit looked at the two with disdain, and turned away. As always he said nothing.
“Ah, there you are,” Rarity said. “I was beginning to wonder if you… er, are you alright, dear? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Twilight Sparkle settled into the seat beside her friend. Her eyes were still wide with shock.
“It’s… it’s complicated,” she finally mumbled. Rarity was about to press for more details, but the announcers interrupted.
“Well, this is it, Chip. The final round of the Quiet Game World Championships.”
“Ace, if this crowd was any louder, I wouldn’t be able to hear myself think!”
Twilight looked around the stadium. No less than ten thousand ponies crowded into the stands. Together they were almost as loud as the street outside her library in Ponyville.
“There’s a fascinating story between our two finalists. Everyone knows Fluttershy of course, our returning champion. But not many know her opponent, a dark horse who cut a literal swath through his competition this year!”
“I tell you Ace, watching him work was frightening and delightful. I hope I never see him in the ring with me.”
“Well, we’re a little old for that, Chip. This is a young pony’s sport. But back to our challenger! I can barely believe it, but he’s not just a friend of Fluttershy’s, he’s one of her roommates!”
Friend? Twilight thought. They were using some expansive definitions of the word.
“Presenting our challenger, Angel Bunny!”
The white rabbit hopped onto the stage. He stared angrily at the crowd, and settled onto his haunches, waiting.
“And of course, our returning champion, Fluttershy!”
The pegasus didn’t walk onto the stage. Instead she flew, landing delicately on the wood platform to the cheers of the crowd. She removed a small crown from her mane, and gave it to the head judge.
“Do you think they’ll resize that crown for Angel Bunny if he wins, Chip?”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Ace. These two have to make it through a free-for-all round, and I’m not sure a little bunny like that stands a chance against a pegasus.”
“That’s a good point. For you ponies at home, this round our contestants may do whatever they like to each other! Nothing is off limits, as long as they’re quiet.”
“Oh dear,” Rarity whispered. Even from their seats, they could see the evil gleam in Angel Bunny’s eyes.
“Enough talk, Ace! The judges have signaled they’re ready to begin!”
On stage the judge spoke briefly to each contestant, then retreated to her desk with the other judges. Fluttershy and Angel Bunny stared at each other for a long moment, neither moving.
The rabbit struck first. He pulled a carrot from somewhere – Twilight later swore he used magic – and flung it with all his might as Fluttershy’s head. The vegetable struck her square between the eyes; she winced and gave him a hurt look.
He snorted silently. Avoiding her grasping hooves, he darted around behind her and jumped onto her back. He used her wings to climb up to her mane, and yanked on it with both paws with all his might.
Fluttershy grimaced as her head was pulled back. She tried to bat him away with her hooves, but couldn’t reach past her shoulders. Finally, she resorted to her wings, and managed to knock him away with a lucky flap.
He bounced on the stage and tumbled to a stop, not moving. Fluttershy gasped silently in concern, and dove to check on him, only to receive a rabbit foot to the snout. She stumbled away, her face scrunched up in pain, as he came to his feet.
They stared at each other, the pegasus and the bunny. Both gulped for breath, their coats and manes disheveled. Neither moved.
Fluttershy broke first. She reared up to her full height and stared at him with all her might. The force of her gaze froze the bunny in place. His tiny black eyes widened in fear.
The stare, while effective at corralling foals and animals, was less useful as a weapon in the Quiet Game. For several long minutes she held the rabbit in thrall, but to no advantage. He remained silent even as he trembled. Eventually her gaze faltered and she blinked.
Angel Bunny shook himself. He recovered quickly from the stare, and glared back at her with his usual disdain. He took a bounding leap and landed on her snout. Fluttershy flailed at him with her hooves, but couldn’t hit him too hard for fear of injuring one of them. Meanwhile he batted at her with his tiny paws, scratched at her nostrils, pried at her eyelids, and made a general nuisance of himself.
“This doesn’t look good for Fluttershy, folks,” Chip said. “Angel Bunny is having his way with her.”
Twilight had to agree. Angel Bunny was controlling the action – it was only a matter of time before he forced her to squeal.
Suddenly, Fluttershy stopped trying to smack him with her hooves. Instead she lay down, placed her face next to the floor, and gently began petting the rabbit with one hoof.
“What… what is she doing?” Rarity whispered. Twilight shook her head in confusion.
Angel Bunny twitched. His frantic attacks slowed as she continued her gentle strokes. He reluctantly dropped off her face, and curled on the ground before her. Her hoof continued it slow petting motions.
For a minute Twilight couldn’t figure out what her plan was. Angel Bunny was quieter than ever now. Time was running out, and if she didn’t make her move soon he was going to win. She was beginning to panic for her friend when a quiet thumping sound intruded on the silence of the auditorium.
Ten thousand ponies sat on the edge of their seats. On stage, Angel Bunny’s foot rhythmically beat on the floorboards, completely beyond his control. Fluttershy continued her petting with a smile.
“That’s it! That’s the buzzer!” Chip cried. “Fluttershy has won!”
The crowd went wild.
“That was an interesting trip, wasn’t it?” Rarity asked. She and Twilight Sparkle sat in the Ponyville spa bath again, soaking in the heat. Fluttershy was still doing a final round of interviews in Canterlot.
“It was. Much more than I expected. I mean, the quiet game? Really?
There was a long pause.
“Do you think we should tell the others about it?” Rarity asked.
Twilight considered it silently. It wasn’t a hard decision to reach.
“Let’s keep this one to ourselves, Rarity.”
“Mm, I’m glad you think so.”
The two enjoyed the blessed quiet.
[Author’s note: this story is based on a concept by Qetuo.]
[Author's second note: A huge thank you Cassius for his assistance in editing this work. I've written several 5 star stories -- this is the first one he helped with, and it's my first 6 star story. That's probably not a coincidence.]
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