All the foals were so happy and excited! They all graduated Ms. Cheerilee's class, and all their parents and family were there! There was cake being served, and talk of the next grade up...
That's right, there was another grade up after Cheerilee's class. Would Cheerilee teach? it they all asked, but no, Cheerilee would not teach it.
If not Ceerilee, who?
Why, Hard Knox, you sillies! the adults all told them.
Later, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon began to torment and taunt the Cutie Mark Crusaders:
"You went a whole semester and didn't get your Cutie Marks?"
"You didn't even know about the next grade?"
"You must feel, like, so totally stupid!"
"Oh wait...you are!!"
They then giggled evilly and walked away. Then Twist came by and Apple Bloom asked: "Are ya really gonna let them do that?"
"Well, yeth, becauthe they're really cool, and we're like, betht friendth!"
With that, Twist left, and Apple Bloom muttered under her breath.
"Ah wish the worst things possible can happen to them all. I really, really do."
Be careful what you wish for, Apple Bloom.
Be very, very careful.
They started the day with a new Pony go into the School House. Except she wasn't really a Pony, she was a brown Minotaur Heifer. There were murmurs throughout the entire classroom about this new teacher, whom they all knew to be Hard Knox.
Hard Knox shouted "NO BREATHING!"
The was a silence among the foals. Then laughing. She must have been joking, surely!
But she wasn't joking. "YOU ALL QUIT LAUGHING AND HOLD YOUR BREATH!!" She yelled so hard they all began to cry. "YOU'LL QUIT YOUR BLUBBERING! I'LL MAKE IT EASY FOR YOU; I'LL TURN ON THE GAS!" With that, what appeared to be coasters in her classroom actually turned out to be canisters of a misty white poison gas. All the foals tried to go for the exit, but alas! It was locked! So they all ducked and covered their mouths and noses.
To their relief, the gas was stopped being produced. Then she said "you can breathe again...for now. Isn't it easy to resist the temptation of breathing when the air around you is toxic?"
There three foals, however, who didn't; one colt in particular spent the class period yelling for help.
Poor Snips. Rest in peace.
Sweetie Belle gasped at the sight of one carcass in particular: "Oh no...that's Button Mash."
Button Mash had been screaming his head off the entire time, not unlike how he screamed his head off at pretty much everything.
"That's a shame," Apple Bloom replied "he was very nice."
Sweetie Belle saw all the dead foals and was crying, with Applebloom patting her on the back. Scootaloo sought to cheer them up: "Look, there's Twist!"
Twist's death was slightly unusual for the casualties that day: She actually did what the teacher said; she just held her breath. She was probably just too weak to survive the ordeal.
That cheered up Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom in a flash, as they looked upon Twist's body, which was quite obviously dead: "heheheheh, hard luck Twist!" Sweetie Belle chuckled.
"Always knew you were a bit weak!" Apple Bloom added.
Okay, so much for "be careful what you wish for."
Still, that was hardly enough consolation for Scootaloo; she decided to go to the favorite hang-out of Rainbow Dash: "Rainbow Dash? Were you allowed to breathe during your lessons during fifth grade?"
Rainbow Dash seemed to think for a short time, and then said "Of course not! I was tough back then!"
Scootaloo asked "Wouldn't that have been very bad for your brain?"
"I dunno" Rainbow Dash replied "and I don't care!" Then she proceeded to dash off, and hit her face on a tree (otherwise known as Fluttershy). "I'm okay!" she shouted, and flew off.
Scootaloo looked up to Rainbow Dash, but she had to admit, Rainbow wasn't a super-genius, and she wondered if not breathing had something to do with it.
Long ago, in early Pony culture, back before there was love and harmony, and all the crops were frozen, Ponies had many deparate attempts to reduce the populations to save resources and thus extend their races longer. Love and Harmony were discovered, and the need disappeared, but the Chieftains had other plans: When, upon observing that colts were more likely to suffocate than fillies, that the chieftains of Ponies decided to make surviving class even harder to reduce the chances of potential rivals of mates for their sons, who were always allowed to breathe during lessons. Then generations later, some of the chieftains got greedy and wanted more wives, and younger ones too, (and no longer for sons, but now for themselves!) making the rules even harder still! That meant if you were caught breathing in lessons, you would have to be put in a dungeon for weeks, and then start the semester all over again the next year! Over time, the Ponies quite forgotten all of this, and began to just keep doing it assuming the Gods would punish them if they didn't. Of course, more and more cities were daring to allow the foals to breathe during their lessons. But that was a liberal concept that rural Ponyville would NEVER allow to happen to upset their traditions!
Then, that Tuesday, class began again: "NO BREATHING!!"
This time, not breathing was hard, because now there was no poison gas, and now the students could hardly resist the temptation not the breathe.
Diamond Tiara proceeded to whine in class: "Miss...can I go out and do some breathing?"
"NO! YOU GOT ALL PLAY TIME TO DO IT!!"
"Aw, come on, miss, c'mon!"
But it was no use: No amount of begging would get any permission to breathe. In fact, Diamond Tiara's insistence would get a firm hand on her muzzle, and she could not breathe or utter a word throughout the entire class period. Eventually (to the relief of many other students) Diamond Tiara would eventually pass away; Apple Bloom found grim pleasure at the sight of Diamond Tiara's face getting increasingly purple, more so than her coat was. She looked around, and it appeared that Silver Spoon was looking pretty relieved too.
Apple Bloom went home fearfully, going to tell Applejack about everything that happened, including all the dead foals, but Applejack's reaction was nothing short of disappointing.
"Ah, Pony up, Sugarcube! Ah was not allowed to breathe durin' mah lessons too!"
"But it ain't fair!"
"C'mon, nopony is allowed to breathe during the fifth grade!"
"Well, if that's true, how come you're here to tell the tale?" Apple Bloom asked.
"Dontcha kids know these days? Geeze, guess each generation really is gettin' dumber."
Apple Bloom found that particular remark rather annoying. "Well, just tell me! You wouldn't want your little sister to dah, would ya?"
"Well, if she was weak an' stupid enough..." but seeing Apple Bloom in tears, Applejack said with a sigh, "Fahn, I'll tel ya: Ya breathe under the desk lids when she isn't lookin'"
That Wednesday, Apple Bloom had agreed with her friends to attempt to try to snatch a quick breath under the lids of their desks when Hard Knox was distracted.
However, Ruby Pinch made a terrible mistake. She slammed the desk lid.
Hard Knox heard that, and slowly approached Ruby with a harsh look on her face. There was a deadly silence, but it did not last long: "OUT! SCHOOL PRISON!"
Then, before you could say "Jack Nicholson", a trapdoor opened from under Ruby Pinch's seat; seat and filly both fell down with a yelp, and landed with a crash.
Then, Hard Knox jumped down the trapdoor, and all the (surviving) class breathed a sigh of relief. However, Hard Knox's head poked out from the trapdoor hole, and she shouted "NO BREATHING!"
"Miss!" Silver Spoon shouted many days later from a trap door hole, "I've been up here for three weeks, and there's rats! And they're nibbling my hooves!"
Apparently, the dungeon was a place in which after you fell into it, the teacher would proceed to string up on the wall-bars; it was fortunate perhaps, that fewer and fewer students were perishing, a number of whom intentionally went to the the School Prison to avoid not breathing; many would rather have rats nibble their hooves than to suffocate in class. Silver Spoon, however, was not one of them, because she knew once she was released from School Prison, that you would have to start this class all over again, a risk she would rather avoid. No, Silver Spoon was here because when she slammed the desk lid she was breathing behind, she was caught.
Silver had previously threatened lawsuit, but her words fell on deaf ears; her father always scolded her, saying that she should have been a big girl and not breathed during her lessons.
"Not one member in our family was caught breathing during lessons!" he would say grandly and firmly "I won't tolerate a daughter who does!"
Even though the Cutie Mark Crusaders avoided being caught so far, they only avoid it by slamming the desk lids when the teacher was yelling at some other foal. Fluttershy did take the time to teach Sweetie Belle CPR, but she couldn't save all the foals. Many of them passed away irrevocably. Snails seemed to be the only colt who could just smile and survive the whole time through class, probably because he hardly had any brain to supply with Oxygen. As over time, each foal was passing away, eventually there would be almost no foal to yell at. School prison meant going back to Cheerilee's class to start all over, and then taking this one under Hard Knox all over again! It was not a risk any of them wanted to take.
Sweetie Belle went to consult her sister Rarity, and told her all about her class, about how she wasn't allowed to breathe, and how kids would keel over and die, and how protests fell on deaf ears, and even about the desk lids!
"Well of course she got caught!" Rarity scoffed "She didn't gingerly put her hoof on the edge of the desk, like a proper lady should! If you do that, the desk lid closes quietly, no noise at all! Survival can in fact, be conducted in a lady-like manner, though it seems as though many have forgotten this!"
"But we already did that Sweetie Belle!" Apple Bloom objected.
Scootaloo added "Yeah, and you get sent to school prison when you do!"
"But we didn't put our hooves under the desk lids before! That way, there'll be no noise at all!"
So Friday near the end of the semester began like any other day: "NO BREATHING!"
They all had to hold their breaths for a while; there were only six left: Dinky, Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, Snail, Scootaloo, and Featherweight. The Cutie Mark Crusaders knew it was a one shot. Featherweight then breathed beneath the desk lid, but alas! His hoof slipped! the desk lid slammed, and then "SCHOOL PRISON!" And he disappeared beneath the trap door. The others also snuck in some breaths (except for snails because apparently he didn't need to breathe).
They were the only five survivors: Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, Dinky, and Snails.
But strange sensations occurred on the flanks of the Cute Mark Crusaders, and powerful beams of light emitted from them:
They all knew what this meant: "WE GOT OUR CUTIE MARKS!!"
Twilight Sparkle ran up to the scene and examined them: "Very good, girls!"
Apple Bloom exclaimed "Look, my Cutie Mark is a Dahmond-shaped thingie!"
Twilight giggled and said "Yes, I can see that; it's the Buffalo Medicine Bull's Eye; it's a symbol of wisdom. Okay Sweetie Belle, let's see yours!"
Twilight inspected for a while, and then said "A-ha! A feather!"
"What does that mean?" Sweetie Belle asked.
"That is a symobl for healing power; you can save those who suffer!" Twilight explained.
So Scootaloo asked "What about mine?"
"A rattlesnake jaw! Strength!"
"Wow. that was a great semester!" Snails said. "Let's do that again!"
"Just our luck" Apple Bloom said sadly. "The only colt who lived was Snails!"
"I guess our only choices for husbands later in life will be the older stallions, city folks, or Spike." sighed Sweetie Belle, who was really hoping for Button Mash.
"Forget Spike, Twilight is now using the Hard Knox method of education on him." Apple Bloom explained (out of Twilight's earshot). "I doubt he'll last long."
"I call dibs on Big Mac!" cheerfully yelped Scootaloo! "I'll so marry him when I'm older!"
"No way, he's mah brother! Marry a city colt or something; word of Celestia is, that you can breathe in Las Pegasus lessons!"
"Plus," Sweetie Belle added, "you're forgetting the colts that got sent to school prison, like Rumble; they'll be released soon, and we can tell them how to breathe without being caught. Maybe they'll survive."
Scootaloo sighed "One can only hope."
There was Monday, and it there were the only five survivors in class. As usual, the teacher came in. As usual, she sat down.
As usual, she shouted, but it was a different shout: "TAKE YOUR TESTS!!"
However, not once did she shout "NO BREATHING!!"
In fact, as she passed out the test, Scootaloo had the nerve to ask a question: "Is it...is it okay if we breathe during the final?"
Almost frighteningly, Hard Knox beamed warmly.
"Absolutely! I was always told as a calf to not breathe during finals; I really hated that. Of course you can breathe during finals!"
Apple Bloom was relieved to hear this! An easy day for once!
Or was it...?
Apple Bloom then examined the test...she realized she didn't know the answers to any of the questions! She spent so much time and energy trying to survive that she didn't pay any attention in class!
In fact, the only foal who passed the finals was Snails.
"SPIKE! WHAT DID I SAY ABOUT NO BREATHING?" Twilight shouted, (she, having been raised in a rather liberal school in Canterlot where breathing was enouraged, did not really know the cultural signifcance of not breathing to Ponyville).
Spike however, was far too weak to answer; in fact, he began to see a tunnel with a light at the end of it....