Candy Mane looked down at the paper, then back up to Derpy Hooves. Then she looked down at the paper again. With one hoof, she tapped the table the paper was resting on.
"One, two, three, four... five," she said. "Oh!"
"Right. Do you see now?" asked Derpy, her voice filled with nervous tension.
"I do!" said Candy Mane, clopping her rear hooves against the floor in glee. "Thanks for another great math tutoring session, Derpy. You have finally convinced me that four objects are less than five objects."
"Fewer," corrected Derpy Hooves. "Less is for stuff, but fewer is for things."
"Oh," said Candy. "Now I don't understand again."
"That's okay! Maybe next time? I'm confused and I want you to go home now," said Derpy, twisting her head as she struggled in place.
Candy Mane nodded and released the scruff of Derpy's neck from her grip. "Okay. I'll see you next Tuesday!"
"Maybe. How do you keep getting into my house every week?" asked Derpy.
It was at this point Candy Mane was tempted to say, 'I am a clever pony', but both mares knew this wasn't true. In fact, it might not be exaggeration to say she was the uncleverest pony in the recorded history of Equestria.
"I'm not sure," said Candy. She pulled a piece of candy out of her mane and hoofed it to Derpy. "Here! It's the least I can do."
"Yes," said Derpy. "That is very true."
Candy Mane smiled and trotted out the front door of Derpy's house, then proceeded to walk in a random direction. This time, the direction led her over the edge of a sidewalk, through a flower bed, and right up to Carrot Top's backside, which she bumped into before stopping.
"Hay! Watch out where you're... oh, it's you," said Carrot Top. "For friendship's sake, Candy Mane. Could you be any less clever?"
"Any fewer clever," corrected Candy Mane. "And I'm not that unclever."
"Yes, you are. You just trampled my flowers and bumped into my rump for no apparent reason."
"Okay, maybe. But in my opinion, cleverness is an arbitrary social construct," countered Candy.
"What does that mean?"
"I'm not sure. I read it in a fortune cookie, I think. Anyway, if I was so unclever, could I do this?" she said, and retrieved a piece of candy from her mane.
"That's just weird, not clever. Why do you keep candy in your mane, anyway?"
"I have to, naturally! My name is Candy Mane."
"That... you do know you don't have to do something just because it matches the words in your name, right?"
"Of course you do. You top carrots, don't you?"
"Carrot Top is just my nickname, but I don't even know what topping a carrot means. My given name is Golden Harvest, and I don't harvest gold."
"Oh. Well, you should. You're not very clever if you don't at least live up to your name."
"Nopony else does this, Candy. It's only you."
"What? Of course they do! Rainbow Dash dashes rainbows, doesn't she?"
"Not exactly, no."
"And Twilight Sparkle sparkles at twilight. I read a book about it. It had contagious nightwing ponies in it."
"Dear Princess Celestia, please save me from this conversation."
"And Fluttershy flutters shyly, and Applejack..." said Candy Mane, and then she paused with a puzzled expression on her muzzle, while Carrot Top held her hoof over her face.
"...wow. Well, that's entirely her business," she concluded.
"Candy! Listen to me. Nopony keeps candy in their mane. It's weird and it isn't useful."
"That's not true! I've seen Pinkie Pie do the same thing."
Eyes narrow, Carrot Top snorted. "Okay, you have a point. But Pinkie Pie is clinically insane. Plus she has a big poofy mane where she can store all sorts of things. You have a razor-thin mane. I don't even see how you do it."
"I curl it, see?" said Candy, squeezing the tight curl in her mane. "That way I can slip candy inside. Sometimes I also carry it in the back," she added, turning her head to reveal a couple of candy dots balancing on tiny locks of hair.
Carrot Top sighed. "Well, I hate to gallop, but I have to be literally anywhere else right now," she said, and then turned and cantered away from her own house.
"Rude," said Candy Mane. She turned in a different direction and continued walking. A minute later, she arrived in Ponyville Square.
Something shiny caught Candy Mane's eye: a bit lying on the ground.
"Ooh! Free bit!" she said, then leaned over to pick it up. As she did so, a piece of candy fell out of her mane.
"Ooh! Piece of candy," she said, although it came out a little muffled with the bit in her teeth. She bent over to pick up the piece of candy and place it back in her mane, causing a second piece of candy to fall out of her mane.
"Ooh! Piece of candy," she said, bending over a third time to pick up the candy. The piece of candy she'd just returned to her mane fell out.
"Ooh! Piece of candy," she said.
A dozen iterations later, Candy Mane stopped bending over. She hadn't tired of picking up the same pieces of candy repeatedly, but the remaining piece of candy was now floating in the air in front of her.
"Ooh! Floating piece of candy," she said.
Twilight Sparkle stepped into view with a look of concern on her face. "Don't bend over again, Candy Mane. I picked this one up for you."
"Oh, that's okay," said Candy Mane, spitting out the bit in the process so she could smile politely. "I don't think I could fit any more candy in my mane at this point."
"You should really find a better way to carry candy around," said Twilight Sparkle. "I'm worried about you getting caught in a recursive loop like this again. You almost starved to death last week."
"But I picked up so much candy that day! I probably should have started eating all of it," she admitted.
Twilight levitated the confection into Candy Mane's curly lock and smiled. "Anyway, I'm glad I found you. Cheerilee wanted to see you in the classroom. She's teaching right now."
"Oh, okay. Ooh, free bit!"
Before Candy could bend over, Twilight picked up the bit. "I'll just put this in your mailbox," she said, and quickly trotted off.
"Dang. My mailbox gets all the luck," said Candy Mane.
Fortunately, the schoolhouse was in Candy's field of vision. This made it much easier for her to find. She walked up to the door, which was currently open.
"Oh! There you are, Candy Mane," called Cheerilee from inside the schoolhouse. "Would you mind coming in here?"
"I wouldn't mind," said Candy Mane, as she stood in place just outside the doorway.
An awkward silence filled the air, broken only by the tweets of songbirds.
"So, are you going to...?" asked Cheerilee.
"Am I going to what?"
The foals giggled.
"Candy Mane, please come inside the building."
"Okay," she said, and walked inside. "Do I have to go back to grade school again?"
Cheerilee paused for a moment, as though seriously considering the offer. "No... we'd better not. I actually wanted you here to demonstrate posture to the children."
"Posture? Isn't it pronounced pasture?" said Candy Mane.
"Posture is how you stand up straight and tall, and hold your neck and legs upright. It helps you look smart, and it improves your health," explained Cheerilee. "I'm surprised you don't know this, Candy. You have literally perfect posture, better than anypony else I've ever met. I think you're even better at it than Princess Celestia! I used to think it was your special talent, until I saw..."
Cheerilee looked down at Candy Mane's cutie mark and blinked several times. It appeared to be two silhouettes of an adult and a foal with stars cut out in their heads. "Candy, I thought your cutie mark was fruit...?"
"Oh, I change it every once in a while in order to try out new talents."
Apple Bloom's jaw dropped. "Now how in tarnation do you do that?" she asked.
"I just paint over it and use a stencil to spray-paint a different mark on."
"Um, I don't think it works that way," said Scootaloo.
Sweetie Belle nodded. "Yeah, you're not going to gain a new talent like that. But it does sound like a fun game to try!"
"But look at it!" said Candy Mane. "See? It's on my butt! I'm clearly the best at big-star-pony little-star-pony."
"I think that mark would mean you're a talent scout," said Cheerilee. "Do you know anything about recruiting star talent?"
"Do you know anything about setting up long-term contracts for performance work?"
"Do you know anypony you can network with who represents a major studio or label?"
"Then I don't think that's your talent," said Cheerilee.
"Sure it is! See?" said Candy, again pointing to her haunch. "Maybe big-star-pony little-star-pony just means I have good pasture."
"Posture," corrected Cheerilee. "Although, technically you are teaching foals right now, and I guess that's kind of similar to your temporary cutie mark."
"I'm pretty sure it's pasture," said Candy Mane.
"I'm pretty sure I'm not learning anything," said Silver Spoon.
Cheerilee sighed and turned Candy Mane to the side. "See how she stands up straight and tall, class? That's all I want you to take away from this. Do you have any posture-specific questions for her?"
"Why do you have such good posture when it's obvious you can barely function as an adult mare?" asked Diamond Tiara.
"Diamond!" scolded Cheerilee.
"I have no idea. I didn't even know I had good pastures until just now."
"I'm going to guess it has something to do with balancing all that candy in her mane," said Scootaloo.
"That's a good guess, Scootaloo," said Cheerilee. "I'll bet you're right. Trying to balance things while walking is a good way to practice improving your posture. What do you think, Candy?"
"I need to go home soon, because it usually takes me a few hours to get there. Can you point me to my house?"
"Mith Cheerilee?" asked Peppermint Twist. "Will having good poth'ture make uth retarded, too?"
"Twist, that is not appropriate," said Cheerilee, glaring at the filly.
"Don't worry, Twist. I'm pretty sure it's too late for you already," said Silver Spoon.
"That's it! Detention, all three of you!" ordered Cheerilee, frowning sternly as the three foals in question groaned aloud.
"Candy Mane?" said Pipsqueak. "I think your house is next door? I guess it's the one with your name on the mailbox. I can see it out the window."
"Oh, good!" said Candy Mane. "Just to be safe, I need to leave now. Thanks for teaching me about my pastures, Cheerilee." She trotted out the door and headed toward her house.
Four hours passed, and Candy Mane still hadn't located her house. However, along the way she had wandered into a deep and complex system of caves guarded by a friendly giant dog with three heads.
Cerberus had allowed her to pass into Tartarus because she looked like she knew exactly what she was doing. This was another remarkable talent of which Candy Mane was completely unaware she possessed.
It was getting warm, and pits below the stone walkways here were filled with fire and brimstone. "I don't think this is my house," said Candy Mane, but she continued down the path just to be extra-sure. "You can never be too sure," she added. She'd read that in a fortune cookie, too.
Candy might not have been clever, but at least she could read. Reading is a great skill because words are always true, she thought.
"What are you doing here?" echoed a raspy voice throughout the caverns. Candy Mane looked up and saw a creature with the head and arms of a minotaur, but the body of a horse.
"You have six legs," said Candy. "Are you an ant?"
"Ah. You are clearly here to torment me. Yet you must realize I am Tirek, conqueror of Equestria? I could steal your magic right now and leave you helpless before me," bragged the unusually large, smelly ant.
"I realize that now," said Candy. "No, wait... I still don't."
Tirek sighed. "You are here to bargain, then. Fine. I shall give you anything you desire if you release me. Once I have laid waste to Equestria I will have no need for the pitiful shreds of what remain. You alone may retain your magic, and thus assert dominance over the survivors..."
"I'd like to go home."
"...and the mournful wails—wait. Where is your home?"
Tirek looked very puzzled. "I don't understand. You, too, have been banished from Equestria?"
"I don't think so," said Candy Mane. "I was in Ponyville a little while ago but I got lost on the way to my house."
"You were already in your home city, leagues away from the stygian depths, and on your way to your 'house' you ended up wandering into Tartarus?"
Candy sighed. "I am not a clever mare," she admitted.
"Apparently. Do you even have the ability to release me?" said Tirek, straining against his orichalcum chains.
"Oh, sure. I can totally do that."
Tirek's eyes widened. "And what do you wish for in exchange? Aside from directions back to your home?"
"Nothing else. Directions will do fine."
Tirek frowned. "This is preposterous. Have you attempted to retrace your steps? Go back the way you came to get here?"
Candy smiled brightly. "That's a great idea! Thanks."
"It is done. I have fulfilled my end of the bargain. Now release me!"
"Sure thing. You can go now."
"I can... what?"
"I'll let you go. You're free to leave."
"I am in chains."
Tirek groaned. "You have no idea how to release me from these chains, do you?"
"Bah! Then I shall drain your life essence. If enough idiot ponies come to visit me as you have done, eventually I will be strong enough to break free," he said.
"I don't think anypony else is going to come here. I usually have a much harder time with directions than other ponies."
Tirek looked down at Candy Mane's haunch. Her fake cutie mark was smudged and running from the heat and sweat.
"You... you're not even a pony, are you?" he said. "This isn't real... I am finally losing my mind."
"Happens to me all the time."
"It matters not. You have wasted my time, and I demand revenge. I will drain your life force anyway, and you will collapse before me, unable to move!" bellowed the centaur.
"I guess we'll be spending a lot of time together, then!"
Tirek furrowed his brow in thought, and one of his eyes developed a nervous twitch. "Please leave now," he said, his voice low and meek.
"Well, bye," said Candy Mane.
Somehow Candy made it back to her house before sunset. First, she checked her mailbox. "Ooh, free bit!" she said, and took it with her to the front door.
After a few knocks, Carrot Top answered the door. "What do you want, Candy Mane?" she asked.
"This is my house now. I put my name on the mailbox this morning," she said, though with the bit in her mouth it came out all mumbly.
Carrot Top rolled her eyes. "Great. It's my turn to board you this week, isn't it?" she said, and sighed. "Well... come on in. Stew's almost ready."
"Thanks Carrot," said Candy, and she hugged her friend tightly. Carrot Top blushed.
"No problem," she said with a smile. "I didn't mean to give you grief this morning, Candy. I suppose I could always ask for worse company."
Candy walked in and spit the bit out onto a table. "Oh, don't do that. I met worse company earlier today in the depths of Tartarus, and he'll drain your life essence."
"I... I actually don't doubt that," said Carrot Top. "How are you still alive after all this time, anyway?"
Candy merely shrugged. "Maybe I'm not so unclever after all," she said.
And this time, she meant it.