• Published 10th Jun 2014
  • 5,863 Views, 500 Comments

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Sweetie Belle - Distaff Pope



It's Sweetie Belle's first day at Equestria's newest academy, and she plans on making it the best year ever. However enemies old and new emerge, while Sweetie struggles with the fear that her old friends are pulling away from her.

  • ...
22
 500
 5,863

2. The Swing of Things

I woke up the next morning, and the journals were right where I had left them. I guess that means it wasn’t a dream, I thought, yawning – Although, this could be a dream too. What if everything has been a dream so far? What if I’m about to wake up and become somepony completely different? It didn’t seem completely impossible; I’d had dreams I thought were completely real before, only to wake up later and find out they weren’t. “Princess Luna!” I called out, testing my theory. I waited several minutes, and the only response was my father knocking on the door to see if everything was alright.

“So,” I said as I examined the mysterious journals a second time, “this isn’t a dream… Unless the real world doesn’t have Princess Luna in it. What if I’m not even a pony in the real world?!” I laid back down on my bed to try and think things over. Maybe I can talk with my friends about whether or not I'm a dream at school. Oh right, school. In an hour. I shot out of my bed, showered as fast as possible, and quickly ran a brush through my mane. Rarity would have been… What was that word she liked to use? Mor-ti-fied? That sounds like it.

I sprinted downstairs and stopped as I saw the empty kitchen.

No.

Oh, no no no! Last night was supposed to be spend-time-with-my-parents-before-they-left-on-their-big-trip night. We were going to have pizza and board games and shakes, and I'd just... The stupid potion made me miss it... Or at least, not remember it. I stared at their empty spots at the kitchen table. They just left and didn't even bother to wake me up... or maybe they did, and I just slept through it. It didn't matter, I was alone again, or at least... I couldn't think about this now, I needed to get to class. Giving one last look at the empty kitchen, I sprinted towards the Academy, each step burying my worries deeper as I instead thought of all the fun things that could happen at school today. That was definitely better than thinking about my parents.

***

“Ah, Miss Belle,” Mister Marelon said as I got to class barely a second ahead of the bell, “it’s so… nice of you to join us today. For a brief moment, I had entertained the hope that you saw how absolutely futile your endeavor was and transferred to a class more suitable to your lack of talents. Instead, I get the distinct pleasure of your company today.” He pointed a hoof back towards my desk in the back of the class, next to Diamond Tiara’s.

“Psst,” she whispered as I sat down. “Looks like I’m not the only one who–”

Mr. Marelon whipped his head around to look at her. “Miss Tiara, you surprise me. I didn’t know you were qualified to teach the class. Please, come to the front of the class and wow us with your acting acumen.” Mr. Marelon stepped away from the podium, giving her space. Diamond Tiara stayed at her desk, looking absolutely terrified. “I’m sorry Miss Tiara, did that last sentence sound like a request? Because if so, I must apologize again. That was an order Miss Tiara, and in my class, I expect you to follow orders. Now come on up here and impress us.” My new tormentor sneered as my old tormenter slowly trudged up to the front of class and stared at us, stammering for words.

There was a long pause where she tried to speak, her face paled, her legs shook, and soon some of the students who hadn’t upset Mr. Marelon started to laugh. By the time he sent Diamond Tiara back to her desk, the only ponies not laughing were Bright Lights and myself. As much as I really didn’t like Diamond Tiara, I didn’t want to see her humiliated… Okay, I did want to see her humiliated, but this wasn’t anywhere as satisfying as I’d imagined. She started to cry as she walked back to class and I suddenly felt really awful for fantasizing about this exact moment. If I knew it would be this bad, I wouldn't have.... Nopony deserved to be made fun of, even if they were kind of jerks.

***

“Excuse me,” Melody said as I sat next to her in Vinyl’s class, “I don’t want to pry, and if you don’t want to say anything, that’s completely fine, but… uhmm, what happened after you drank your potion?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I was kind of hoping one of you could tell me that. I really don't remember much from last night.”

“Oh,” she said, looking down at her desk. “Well, you did all your homework in less than a minute and ran off saying something about ‘optimal resolutions that strengthen and foster the feeling of harmony in Equestria.’ It was really scary, and I was worried something bad happened to you, but then when we told your parents what happened, they said you were busy in your room doing homework and that you didn't want to be disturbed. But that can't be right, because you already did it, so... do you know what you were actually doing last night?”

“I think I do,” I said as the bell rang, “but can we talk about it during lunch? I don’t really feel like talking in class today.”

***

“So that’s about it,” Apple Bloom said as we sat down for lunch, “you ran off with your eyes all white and glowy and then we didn’t see you again until now. We were hoping you could tell us just what happened.”

I shook my head. “Sorry, I really don’t know. I woke up in my room and found a bunch of locked journals in my room, and I'm pretty sure I wrote them, but... I don't think the potion was supposed to cause memory loss."

“Well,” Apple Bloom said taking a bite out of her apple, “supposin' I made the potion too strong or one of the ingredients was impure, it might have had an additional effect.”

“Which was?” four of us asked, while Life Bloom just looked at us over her glasses.

“It could have maybe… given you the ability to look into the future. It shouldn’t have though, that’s really high-level potion making, and most ponies who drink those kinds of potions can’t make any sense of it anyways, ‘cause the future’s always supposed to be in…” She waved her hoof in a circle, struggling to find the word.

“Flux.” Life Bloom supplied. “Foresight potions fell out of favor because they showed ponies an infinite number of futures that a normal equine mind couldn’t comprehend. Most ponies who drank such potions were driven irreparably insane. If your story is true, the fact that you are standing before us, mind still intact, is highly unusual and makes Apple Bloom’s potion worth studying in-depth.” She started writing in her notepad and talking aloud. “Possible variations in potion and test subject: Variable one, subject is substantially younger than…”

“So anyways,” Apple Bloom said while Life Bloom spoke aloud, “what was up with those journals? Did you get a good look through ‘em? Do they tell us what our cutie marks are?”

“Well…” They kind of did, the marks on each journal probably represented their cutie marks, but my friends were so close to getting their cutie marks already. Apple Bloom could make all sorts of potions, and I’d never seen anypony as talented on a scooter as Scootaloo. If I told them, and they got their cutie marks, then why would they want to hang out with a blank flank like me when they already had friends who shared their interests? “No. They’re time-locked, so even if they do talk about your cutie marks, we won’t be able to read them until they unlock. Maybe we can check them out when my parents get back.” I winced at the thought of my parents, I... There were other things to think about.

“Alright,” Apple Bloom said. “I’d still like to see ‘em, though. Maybe Scootaloo or Socket could find a way to break the lock.” She pointed a hoof at our friends who were poring over the plans for the new clubhouse.

“What was that?” Scootaloo and Socket asked, looking up from their plans together. It was so cute; they were already talking in unison. They would be dating by the end of the semester, or my name wasn’t Sweetie Belle. And my name was definitely Sweetie Belle.

“We were wondering if either of you could break a time lock,” Apple Bloom said before looking at the blueprints. “How are your plans coming along?”

“Good,” Socket said. “We’re just debating how many weapon systems we need. I say it needs to be at least four, but Scootaloo thinks we should just go for one non-lethal defense system.”

“I’m thinkin’ I agree with Scoots on this one,” Apple Bloom said.

“Yeah, non-lethal would be better,” I added. “I didn’t even know there were weapon systems.”

“They’re only on Equestria’s more advanced airships, but I have an uncle who could totally get us a mana cannon.”

“What would we even need that for?” Scootaloo asked. “Those things were designed to obliterate a minotaur.”

“Minotaur invasion,” Socket said, shrugging, “or zombies. Either way, better to be prepared.”

I squeaked at his mention of zombies. “He has a point, what if they attack and we’re not ready for them?”

“Yeah, let’s just go with the net cannon and…” Scootaloo glanced at another section of the blueprints. “Socket, why did you give the clubhouse legs?”

“So we could have a mobile clubhouse, obviously. Of course, most of the systems wouldn’t work while it was moving, but–”

“Now why do we need a clubhouse that can walk?” Apple Bloom asked, interrupting him.

“Why don’t we need a mobile clubhouse? It would be so cool!” Socket said, his eyes lighting up.

Scootaloo nodded her head. “Gotta agree with him, a mobile clubhouse would be pretty cool. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon wouldn’t be able to make fun of us anymore, unless they wanted to get stomped on.”

“Ooh! Speaking of that, guess what happened in our acting class today?” I said, trying to keep the conversation from going back to the journals.

My friends mumbled different versions of “no idea” and “you tell us”. Why didn’t they want to play a guessing game? Guessing games are so much fun.

“Mister Marelon made Diamond Tiara cry.”

“Really?” Apple Bloom and Scootaloo asked, while new friends just looked at each other in confusion.

“Wow, that is so cool,” Scootaloo said, her wings flapping excitedly. “Was it as awesome as I always imagined it? Were there full sobs? Or was she more of a quiet crier?”

“Uhh… quiet crying,” I said, looking down at the table glumly, “but it really wasn’t that cool. I kind of felt bad for her.”

“What?” Apple Bloom asked, her ears perking up in shock. “Aren't you the same pony who told us all that you ‘really didn't like her’? And now you’re sayin’ you feel bad for her?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I mean, I always thought it would be nice to see her have a taste of her own medicine, but then I just thought of how terrible I felt when I was bullied, and I don’t want anypony to feel that way. Even if they're just bullies themselves.” I shook my head, recalling Mister Marelon’s earlier scolding. “All I want is to make other ponies happy with my acting. Why do other ponies have to be big dumb bullies?”

Melody frowned and shook her head. “I don’t know, I like to think that if you’re nice enough, even the worst ponies are nice deep down. You all are the first friends I ever had though, so maybe... I maybe shouldn't be giving advice, but it feels right.”

“An admirable ideal,” Life Bloom said, “but it does not seem like you have enough data to form a valid hypothesis.”

“That’s not a nice thing to say to her,” Apple Bloom said, giving Life Bloom a look while the rest of us just looked confused. “So what if she don’t spend much time ‘round ponies? She’s been nothin’ but kind to us, and she seems like a dang nice pony.”

“I was not trying to offend her, merely trying to point out that her hypothesis might not have ample support.”

“Do you understand what they’re talking about?” I asked, whispering to Melody.

She shook her head. “Do you?”

I shook my head, as the two Blooms continued to argue about what did and did not constitute a ‘hy-poth-es-is’. “I think what you said was nice though. Miss Fluttershy is always saying ponies just need a little kindness. I bet you two would get along great.”

“Th-thank you,” she said. “Do you think it would be possible for me to meet her some time?”

“Sure,” I said, looking at the way Scootaloo and Apple Bloom talked with their new friends and trying not to frown. "We can do it next weekend."

***

“Dioramas,” Professor Moldeaux said, pacing around the classroom. His hooves didn’t make the usual clacking, and instead, made a weird squish noise, probably because of whatever accident destroyed his cutie mark. “In the time I spent reading texts on teaching, I decided that dioramas were an ideal way of testing pony knowledge. That, and tests. Tests are also an ideal way of testing knowledge. As such, you will have a diorama due every two weeks, with a test given every week. Your knowledge of life sciences will be tested, and you will emerge from this crucible stronger than when you entered.”

Several students groaned at that. It was kind of harsh, I guess, but he didn’t seem deliberately mean about it, unlike one of my teachers. “To that end, you will all be forming groups for your dioramas. Groups of three would be preferable, but I will accept up to five students in a group.” Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and I looked at each other excitedly. “Please spend five minutes forming your groups. When you have formed it, please see me.” He sat behind his desk while the rest of the class. The three of us were at his desk a second later.

“We’d like to be a group,” Apple Bloom said to Mister Moldeaux.

“Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle,” he said to himself as he wrote our names down on to a sheet of paper. “I was warned about you three… the Cutie Mark Crusaders, roving scions of chaos that leave buildings burnt in your wake and start fully sane mares down the path of madness.” He paused and stared at us. “However, I wish to see if such claims are true firsthoof, therefore I will allow you three to work together. It should be an enlightening experience, and if you prove too problematic, I can always reassign you to work with other ponies.”

The three of us cheered, “CUTIE MARK CRUSADER DIORAMA MAKERS! YAY!”

The other ponies in the room covered their ears as we yelled. “Yes, quite,” Mister Moldeaux said. “Now then, other students will be coming up with their groups soon, please go back to your seats.”

“So, what do we do now?” I asked Apple Bloom asked as we took our seats.

“Wait until we get back to the clubhouse and start planning out our dioramas?” I asked. “Then we can see how the other girls are doing too. Also, we might want to wait until we know what we’re actually supposed to make a diorama of.”

“Now then,” Professor Moldeaux said a few minutes later, getting up from his desk, “it’s time for us to start today’s lecture. Who here is familiar with the food web?”

***

“So,” Apple Bloom said as we took our seats in the clubhouse, “let’s start planning our first diorama. I think we should do a food web about the Everfree Forest, go from the trees to the timberwolves.”

“Come on,” Scootaloo said, going through her saddlebag, “It’s not due for like… two weeks, so I figure that gives us a week and a half to do whatever until we need to start work on anything.”

“I for one don’t want to get on Mister Moldeaux’s bad side, ‘specially since I have two classes with–” Apple Bloom was cut off by a whirring sound coming from under the clubhouse. “Scootaloo, please tell me Socket isn’t gonna start renovatin’ the clubhouse with us in it. That seems–”

There was a big crash that interrupted her again as all three of us covered her ears. “Can we ask him to turn it down some?” I yelled at the top of my lungs.

“I don’t think you can turn down power tools,” Scootaloo said as the entire clubhouse shook from the noise. “But I guess we could at least go talk to him.”

The three of us went out to the base of the clubhouse where Socket had a giant assortment of sharp scary-looking tools. He also had a giant pair of protective earmuffs on, making him unable to hear our calls until Scootaloo finally tapped him on the shoulder, and I think touch lingered just a moment longer than necessary. They were going to make such a cute couple once they finally started dating, I just had to help them see it. Ooh! Maybe I could write letters and say they were from both of them.

“Oh hey,” he said, taking his earmuffs off. “You girls really shouldn’t be walking around without some protective ear wear. These tools can be kind of loud.”

We all stared at him.

“Right, so did you all want to talk to me about something? Kind of busy getting to work,” he said as he finished turning off the last of his tools. “This clubhouse is gonna be totally awesome when I’m done with it.”

“Okay,” Apple Bloom said, “but what are we supposed to do while you go around tearing up our clubhouse?”

“Hmm…” He tapped his chin. “You could come with me and ask Twilight for help with the mana engine. The sooner we get it up, the sooner we can start doing the really cool stuff with the clubhouse. I’m thinking we can set up a transportation system that can carry us between our rooms and the clubhouse, but I’ll need an enchanter for that stuff.” He paused and looked at the three of us. “Where’s Life Bloom?”

“In her dorm,” Apple Bloom said. “She’s also working to run some of her lab ideas by Mr. Moldeaux so he can let her use the lab for her later research. That way we won’t have to worry about using impure reagents like we did yesterday.”

“And blue quiet girl?”

Melody is in the band room, practicing,” I said.

“Okay,” he said, shaking his head. “Well I hate to kick you all out, but maybe you could go to one of your rooms and talk? Unless you want to help me set up.” He looked at Scootaloo as he said the last part.

“Nah, I don’t–”

“She’d love to,” I said, interrupting her. “She was just talking about how much she’d like to work with you?”

“She was?” Apple Bloom asked, while Scootaloo just glared at me.

“Yep,” I said nodding happily at Socket. “We don’t really have much business to work on today and Scootaloo’s right, we can wait a couple of days before we start work on the diorama.”

“Actually, we can totally start work on it today if– I mean, it would be cool to see how all this engineering stuff works, but…” Scootaloo looked nervously between me and Socket, while I continued to smile at her. “Alright, I’ll help you out, but it’s only because I want to make sure this will be appropriately awesome.”

“Cool,” he said as he fished another pair of earmuffs from his workbox. “Put this on and I’ll power up the main drill.”

“Drill?” Scootaloo yelled as we walked away. “What do we need a drill for?”

The rest of the conversation was drowned out as the whirring and clanking of his drills returned. Thankfully, we left the area behind soon enough and could hear again. “So,” Apple Bloom said, “what was that all about?”

“Oh,” I said, “Scootaloo has a crush on Socket, but she won’t admit it, so I’m trying to get them to spend more time with each other. I’m pretty sure they’ll be dating by the end of the school year.”

“Don’t you think that could end pretty bad? I mean, didn’t we learn not to play matchmaker durin’ Hearts and Hooves day? And when you tried to set your sister up with somepony. And my sister. And Miss Twilight. And the rest of the town.”

“No, we learned not to force anything during Hearts and Hooves day, and the rest of those times... I didn't use any love potions for those” I said as we headed over to my sister’s shop. “I’m just putting Scootaloo and Socket in situations where they are alone together and letting nature take its course. Besides, won’t they make just the cutest couple?”

“I suppose,” Apple Bloom said as we walked into Ponyville proper. “I mean, they are kind of nice together. Still, you won’t be trying to force them together, will you?”

“... No,” I said after a pause. “Of course not, I just think they would be cute together, and it would be nice if they spent some time together. That’s all.”

“Promise me you won’t do anything drastic like lock them in a room or anything. I don’t want to sit through another one of Twilight’s lectures on why we shouldn’t ship real ponies. I didn’t even understand what she was talking about, ponies ain’t ships.” I remembered that lecture, she said I had shipping sickness and something about how just because two ponies were of different genders didn’t mean they couldn’t be friends without dating.

“Fine,” I said, nodding. “No locking ponies into rooms or doing anything else that’s crazy. I’ll just try to get them to spend time together naturally. Even if they would make a totally awesome couple.”

“Alright,” Apple Bloom said as I opened the door to the boutique. “Hey, Sweetie Belle, can I ask you a question?”

“Okay,” I nodded. “What is it?”

“Well…” Apple Bloom said, “you always go on about who would make a cute couple, but you’ve never shown any interest in a colt or anything.”

“That’s because… I don’t know, I haven’t met the right colt yet. Besides, I’ve got such great friends, why would I even want to date?”

“Uh-huh,” Apple Bloom said. “So you want everypony else to date, but not you?”

“Pretty much,” I said, “It’s not my fault that I see special someponies for everypony but me.”

“Yeah,” Apple Bloom said, looking around the boutique. “Is your sister here?”

I nodded my head. “I think so. Why do you ask?”

She shrugged as we walked to my room in the boutique. “Just, she usually greets us when we walk in. Anyways, the thing I was wonderin’ about is why you always play matchmaker between mares and stallions. What if you’re tryin’ to set a mare up with a stallion when she likes mares?”

There was a pause as I took in the information. “That’s an option?” I asked as I thought of all the mares I knew who lived together. “Mares and mares can be a couple?”

Apple Bloom nodded. “Seriously, how did you not know that was a thing? Your sister is invited to Octavia and Vinyl’s wedding. You were telling me the other day about how they asked you to be a flowerfilly at their wedding.”

“I just thought they were going to get married at the same time. I didn’t know that…” I squealed in delight. “Apple Bloom, they make such a cute couple. Imagine how many other cute couples I can set up. Like you and L–”

“Nope,” she said, cutting me off. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence.”

“But you’d be so cute together, the country mare with plenty of skill but lacking in knowledge and the sophisticated scientist who never learned to love.”

Apple Bloom groaned and turned towards the door. “First of all, you really need to stop reading Rarity’s romance novels. Second of all, how could you not know about fillyfooling if you read your sister’s romance novels? I know for a fact that she has an interest in that stuff.”

“How do you know that?” I asked, tilting my head at her.

“Because she and AJ…” She trailed off as my ears perked up. “Ya know what, I just remembered I need to be at home to do my chores soon, so I should probably head out now. We’ll talk later.” Apple Bloom ran out of my room faster than I’d ever seen her run in my life.

“Apple Bloom, wait,” I said, calling after her. “You forgot to tell me what Applejack and Rarity do.”

I guess she didn’t hear me, because she didn’t even look over her shoulder as she ran out of the boutique, leaving me to go to my room and open the toy box I kept all my pony figures in. I picked out two of the pegasi, the Daring Do I used for Scootaloo and a Rainbow Dash figure that was serving as a stand-in for Socket. Next time I went to the toy store, I would have to get a Socket, a Life Bloom, and a Melody stand-in, although... Melody was so quiet, I really couldn't see her dating anypony. At least not for a while.

“Oh, Socket,” I said in my best Scootaloo voice, while holding up my Scootaloo figure. “It’s been so nice spending time with you helping you improve the clubhouse these past few days. I feel like I’ve really gotten to know you.”

“I know,” the improvised Socket said as I levitated him with my magic. “Spending time with you these past few days has been… fun, and Scootaloo, can I say something?”The Scootadoll nodded, staring at the Socket doll expectantly, a look of longing in her cold plastic eyes. “Scootaloo, I love you.”

“I love you too, Socket. Come, kiss me.”

I brought them together so they could kiss properly. “Muah, muah, muah! Muah! I love you Socket. I love you too, Scootaloo.” While I was playing with my dolls, I must not have heard the door open, because when I looked up, Rarity was staring at me, her blue eyes wide.

“Sweetie Belle,” she said after a pause, “do you remember that talk we had about playing matchmaker?”

“That… I shouldn’t do it?”

She nodded. “And what were you doing just now?”

“It’s just… Scootaloo has this new friend and they would make such a cute couple, but nopony else thinks so but me, and I really want them to start dating. Also, what was Apple Bloom about to tell me you and Applejack did?”

Rarity blinked, her eyes somehow going even wider. “And… uh-hum, just where did you hear about that Sweetie?”

“Well, Apple Bloom was telling me about how two mares can date, and she said she knew about it because you and Apple–”

She laughed nervously, her eyes darting away from me. “Yes, that’s quite enough Sweetie Belle, thank you. Just please promise me you won’t try to play matchmaker with anypony else. You wouldn’t like it if ponies started interfering with your love life, would you?”

“No,” I said, looking down at the ground and levitating my dolls behind me. “But they’d make such a good couple.”

“Sweetie, have you considered that you might not know who would make a good couple? You tried to set me up with Time Turner.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

Rarity rolled her eyes and gave a big sigh. “He’s a very nice stallion, but he’s always so busy. Running from place to place, jotting off to go Celestia knows where, he spends more time with that mailmare than is proper, and to top it all off, he’s rather messy.”

“Too splashy,” I muttered to myself. “Got it.”

“Sweetie, you aren’t going to set me up with anypony else, are you?”

“No, but what was Apple Bloom going to tell me about you and Applejack?” I asked, looking up at her.

“That we are good friends who were– Wait, how did you not know that two mares or stallions could be in a romantic relationship? You were asked to be the flowerfilly for Octavia and Vinyl’s wedding.”

“I thought they were having a double wedding,” I said, putting my toys back in their box before moving to sit on the bed. “When they said they were getting married, I just thought they… Hey, do you think Lyra and Bon-Bon are dating?”

Rarity pressed her head and forehoof together. “Yes, Sweetie Belle, they absolutely are dating. Considering the fact that I– How did you not know that two mares could date?”

“Well… None of your books mentioned it,” I said, frowning.

Her teeth ground together. “Yes! They did! The books which I explicitly told you not to read very clearly had two mares dating. Which ones did you read?”

“I read a lot of them, but the last one I read through was The Apple Farmer’s Daughter,” I said, pulling the book I “borrowed” out from under my pillow and finding a letter addressed to myself on top of the book. I quickly shoved the letter back under the pillow, hoping Rarity didn’t notice it.

My sister’s eye twitched. “The… One of the key points in that story was the forbidden love between Esmerelda and Hilda.”

“Oh…” I said, letting out a sigh. “I just thought they were friends.”

“Gaah!” Rarity yelled, letting out a choked cry. “How could you? It was… the romance… I’m going to my inspiration room, and I do not want to hear about this topic again. How could she… That…” she muttered to herself as she walked out of my room.

After she left the room, I pulled the mystery letter out from under my pillow and opened it.

Sweetie Belle,

Apple Bloom’s theory of accidentally creating a foresight potion was accurate. However, she also accomplished her intended goal of creating an intelligence potion, a highly effective intelligence potion I might add, that gave me the intellect required to gaze into the infinite futures and see those deemed most likely. For instance, it was deemed probable that you would decide not to tell your friends about the journals for fear of pushing them towards getting their cutie mark and facilitating their abandonment of you.

I wish I could tell you everything I saw, but to achieve the most desirable outcome, I deemed it for the best that I keep some secrets from you. Even if all has gone accordingly, the optimal future is not yet guaranteed and there is still a chance that you and the rest of the crusaders will drift apart. To ensure optimal outcomes, you must remind Socket to calibrate the mana engine before he launches it. If you do that, everything else has a 95% probability of falling into place. If not... Things will go better for you if you remind him.

Sincerely, Smartie Belle

P.S. Scootaloo and Socket will totally make a wonderful couple, and did you see what I did to differentiate myself from you? Because the potion gave me a substantial boost to my intelligence and… I’m sure you got it.

P.P.S. Please destroy this letter as soon as you finish reading it.

I followed my own directions and ripped the note up as soon as I finished reading it, before trying to cast a fire spell on it and failing to get so much as a single spark. Why am I so bad at magic? I’m not good at acting yet and I can’t even do basic unicorn stuff. Scootaloo couldn’t do basic pegasus stuff, but at least she was good at something, and… Ugh! How come I’m not good at acting yet? We were supposed to get our cutie marks at the same time, and now they’re so talented that I don’t even know why they don’t have their cutie marks yet, while I’m still working to develop my talent.

After several minutes of staring at the remains of the letter, I decided it would just be easier if I hid its remains under my mattress. Nopony had looked under there in forever. I even found some of Rarity’s old books that had gotten lost under there.

“Ooh, 50 Shades of Hay,” I said to myself as I pulled one of the books out for investigation. “I don’t remember reading this one; I must have put it under my bed and forgotten about it.” I flipped through the book, to see if anything in it would jog my memory, and found a note from Rarity written on the cover page.

Sweetie Belle,

I know you read my books from time to time, even though they are far outside of your age range. Outside of an insane desire to pair every single pony in your life, I don’t think they have negatively impacted your development. However, I’m begging you not to read this one. It contains subject matter a young filly just should not know about.

Sincerely, your sister Rarity

“Well, that just makes me want to read it more,” I said, eagerly turning to the first page of the book before remembering I had to start work on the monologue for acting class. At least I’ll have time to read it over the weekend, I thought as I carefully removed the false bottom to my toy chest and hid it there with several more of Rarity’s books, before trying to write out a monologue for class. Maybe if this was good enough, Mr. Marelon would stop making fun of me.

***

“Why are we doing this again?” I asked as I headed to Twilight’s new castle with Socket and Scootaloo. “We just got out of school and Miss Pi gave us a ton of homework, and I don’t get anything about solving for x. It’s a letter, what is it even doing in a math problem?”

“Sweetie, you did pay attention to our lecture today, right?” Scootaloo said, a concerned look in her eye.

“Yes, I paid attention. It was a bunch of stuff about variables that I didn’t understand.”

“Alright,” Scootaloo said, “remind me to help you with your homework when we’re done here.”

“Great,” I said, smiling at her, “but I’m still not sure why we are doing this. Can’t Socket just go ask her?”

“No,” Socket said, shaking his head and giving an annoyed grunt. “For the hundredth time, I don’t think the Princess would help me if I just walked up to her and asked her if she could help me with my mana engine. She’d probably say something about how colts my age shouldn’t be messing with the cool stuff. But if you introduce us, she might say yes.”

“Alright,” I said after a pause, “but what do you need me for? You already have Scootaloo.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I thought that too, but then she said if you heard the two of us went to the castle alone, she’d never hear the end of it. I’m… not sure what she was talking about, but she was pretty insistent.” My mind drifted back to the dolls I’d played with the day before, and just how cute the two of them would be together.

“Stop it,” Scootaloo said, jabbing a hoof in my flank. “You have that look in your eyes, and I want you to stop it.”

“What look?” Socket asked.

“It’s…” She shook her head. “Nevermind. Let’s just get to Twilight’s.”

“Yeah, the sooner we get her help, the sooner we can start assembling the engine and…” He stopped as the tree castle came into view and shielded his eyes from its glare. “Wow, that thing is bright. It must be like a second sun at night.”

“It gets darker then,” I said as we resumed our walk to the castle. “Twilight says that its light matches with the light of whichever celestial body is out. It really looks pretty at dusk though”

“So,” Scootaloo said, “what’s your plan, ‘cause I don’t think she will want to help us create something so dangerous.”

“Mana engines aren’t dangerous,” Socket said. “As long as there aren’t any impurities in the focusing crystals and everything is calibrated right, they are perfectly safe.”

“Ooh! Be sure to calibrate the mana engine,” I said, remembering last night’s note. There, I’d just ensured the "optimal future," for whatever that means.

“Uhmm… thanks, Sweetie Belle,” Socket said as I knocked on the castle door. “I just mentioned calibrating the engine, so I don’t think you needed to remind me there. Maybe remind me sometime before I start charging it.”

“Alright, I–” I paused as the massive castle doors slowly swung open.

“Who is it?” Twilight asked, her voice coming out of a nearby pipe.

“It’s me, Twilight,” I said, yelling into the pipe. “We just had a question for you.”

“Alright,” she said after a moment’s pause. “Do you think you could come up here and ask it? I’m having a bit of… Wait.”

Before I could ask where she was, I felt the crackle of charged magical energy and Twilight suddenly burst into being in front of us. “Sorry about that, I swear this castle is bigger than it looks; it's been months, but I'm still getting lost in it.” She smiled at us. “Now, what did you want to ask me?” Twilight looked at the three of us. “And who is your friend?”

“Twilight, this is Socket Wrench. Socket, this is Twil– I mean, Princess Twilight Sparkle,” I said, barely managing to correct myself.

She smiled at us. “‘Twilight’ is fine, I'm still not used to the titles. Anyways, what brings you three to see me today?”

“I want to build a mana engine,” Socket said, his wings flapping excitedly, “but I can’t do it without magic, and I don’t think Sweetie Belle or Life Bloom have the raw magical energy to power it up, so I was hoping you could power it up and oversee the construction.”

“And why do you need a mana engine?”

“For all the cool stuff I planned for the clubhouse, check out this stuff,” he said, pulling the blueprints out of his saddlebags and pointing to bits of it. “This is where we’ll use the mana engine to power the portal matrix, and I want to attach legs to the clubhouse here so we can make it mobile, but then what’s really cool is the–”

“Excuse me,” Twilight said, “but isn’t this all just a bit excessive for a clubhouse?”

Socket just stared at her. “Excessive? It’s going to be so cool.”

“It’s also incredibly dangerous. If just one thing isn’t calibrated properly or if it's overcharged, the whole engine could explode or worse. Do you understand how dangerous something is when explosions aren’t the worst thing that could happen?”

“Ooh!” Scootaloo said, a gleam in her eyes. “What is the worst thing that could happen? Is it cool?”

“Not important,” Socket said. “What is important is that I thought it would be nice to have a pony with your–”

“Attention to detail,” I filled in.

“Right, that, to help oversee construction. Building this would really improve my engineering skill, and it would mean a lot to me, but…” He sighed dramatically, and I wished I had his acting ability. “If you won’t help, I won’t go against your orders.”

“Well,” Twilight said, biting her lower lip. “I've been wanting to study a mana engine for a while, and something tells me you'll try to build this even if I don't agree to help you, so... Yes, I'll oversee it's construction and provide the magic needed to get it working.”

He nodded and tried to cover his smile. “Thank you, your highness.”

“Please,” Twilight said, blushing, “just call me Twilight. Like I said, I really don’t like using my title unless I’m at a formal function, and even then, I’d prefer not to.”

“Alright,” Socket said after a pause, pulling his blueprints out of his saddlebag. “Twilight, do you think you could look over my blueprints now, just to make sure everything is in order?”

“Sure,” she said, taking the blueprints from him, “I’d be happy to… Socket, why does this call for a weapon system?”

***

“Alright kids,” Vinyl said after we all took our seats. “So, Wednesdays are going to be free days. You can all practice your instruments and stuff. Tavi… Headmistress Octavia, I mean, doesn’t think giving foals unstructured free time is a good idea, but I figure most of you have an interest in music, so letting you play and practice for one day a week wouldn’t be that terrible.” She looked at Melody and gestured to a piano that hadn’t been there the day before. “Don’t ask me how I got this up here, but I had to do a lot of favors for the Headmistress.”

“Oh… I’m sorry,” Melody said, mumbling at the ground. “You– you shouldn’t have gone through all that trouble on my account. I’m… I can just practice after class.”

Vinyl laughed. “I’m sure you’ll do that anyways, but yes, I absolutely did need to, because you are my student and ‘fostering students’ musical development’,” she said the last words in a perfect imitation of Octavia, “is kind of what I am here for.”

“I just don’t want to be a bother,” Melody said, struggling to meet Vinyl’s eyes as she slowly headed off towards the piano. She turned back to look at me. “Would you… would you like to join me Sweetie Belle? If you want, I can play a song while you sing it. I understand if you want to practice by yourself.”

“Singing with you sounds like a great idea,” I said, smiling brightly at her in the hopes of calming her worries some. “Do you know ‘Find the Music in You’?” I asked.

She nodded. “I do, but I thought it was usually sung a capella.”

“It is,” I said, nodding my head with her, “but you can play the notes on the piano, can’t you?”

“I can,” she said after staring at the piano for a while. “I'm just afraid I'll mess something up.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “It’s not like we’re doing a performance or anything, we’re just practicing and having a bit of fun. Nothing to worry about.”

“Alright,” she said, hitting the first few notes of the song on her piano as I moved my head in time with the music, waiting for my cue.

Everypony’s sayin’ you should learn to express your voice,
But if talk doesn’t seem like it’s the answer,
Luckily you have a choice
When you find you’ve got the music,
Got the music in you.
Find you’ve got the music,
Got the music in you.

Trot outside and see the sunshine,
Something’s in the air today.
Sky is clear and you’re feelin’ so fine,
Everything’s gonna be a-okay.

If you listen carefully,
On every corner there’s a rhythm playing.
Then it happens suddenly,
The music takes you over and you’ll
Find you’ve got the music,
Got the music in you.
Find you’ve got the…

I trailed off as I realized the music had stopped and several ponies in the class, including Melody, were staring at me, and I suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious. “Why did you stop playing?” I asked.

“I’m sorry,” she said, avoiding my eyes. “Your singing was just so nice, I wanted to listen to it for a while, and I guess I stopped playing. I’m sorry if I upset you.”

“No, it’s just…” I looked around at the ponies who were staring at me only a moment earlier. They were all going back to their instruments, and pretending nothing had happened. “I’m not that good of a singer, though, so I don’t understand what the big deal is,” I said. “You’re probably a better singer than me.”

Melody laughed. I’d never heard her laugh before, and it sounded kind of like chimes blowing in the wind. “That’s funny, Sweetie Belle. I’m too…” She trailed off and looked at me. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

I nodded at her.

“Sweetie Belle,” she said, looking at me. “Your singing was wonderful! Why do you think ponies were stopping to look at you?”

“To laugh at me,” I said, recalling the way the entire class had laughed at Diamond Tiara on Tuesday, and feeling a tiny tinge of fear in my stomach when I thought of the monologue I would have to perform tomorrow. I had something written, but it probably wouldn’t be good enough. Nothing I did ever seemed to be good enough.

My friend frowned. “That’s… why would you think that? You have such a lovely voice, hasn’t anypony ever told you that?”

“All the time,” I said groaning, “It’s always ‘Sweetie, you have such a lovely voice,’ or ‘Why don’t you want to become a singer?’ but it doesn’t give me a skill, it just means I sound nice. It doesn’t make me good at anything like Apple Bloom or Scootaloo are, it just means ponies think I sound nice. What kind of talent is that? At least as an actress I’d get to be actually good at something!”

As soon as I raised my voice, whatever confidence she had melted away and she looked back down at her piano. “You’re right,” she said, her voice nothing more than a whisper. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have pushed you. I just thought you had a nice singing voice and wanted you to be proud of it. I hope you aren’t mad.”

“Of course I’m not mad,” I said, sitting next to her. “I just… Ponies have been telling me I should sing more for my entire life, and I like singing and it’s fun, but it doesn’t feel like… Anypony can sing.”

“It’s alright,” she said, still intently at the ivory keys. “I just… I like your singing voice, I shouldn’t have said anything else.”

“You’re fine,” I said, giving her the biggest smile I could, “and your piano playing is amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a pony play the piano better than you.”

“Really?” she asked, looking up at me and smiling, her cheeks taking on a reddish hue. “I know I’m okay with the piano, but I didn’t think I was that good.”

“No, you’re better than good,” I said, my voice squeaking (no matter how much I try, it still does that. Another reason why I would make a terrible singer), “you’re great. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“Thank you,” she said before looking up at me. “You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself either. You have a wonderful voice, Sweetie Belle.”

I sat for a while, thinking on her words before nodding at her. “Alright, Melody. Do you want to get a bit more practice in today?”

She nodded at me. “Where we left off?” she asked as she started playing the piano.

I nodded my head in time with the music, waiting for my cue to come again.

And you’ll find you’ve got the music,
Got the music in you…

***

I let out a growl as I looked over the monologue I had spent the last three days working on. I had to perform tomorrow, and I still didn’t feel it was good enough. “Okay, think,” I said to myself as I slashed through lines, “Mister Marelon was a big-time critic back before he started teaching, so I need to go highbrow for this… something sophisticated…” I stared at the paper, trying to think of an answer before recalling the main character from my last play, Lady Sophisticate. “That’ll be perfect,” I said, as I went about the work of revising my speech.

***

“... So forsooth, I sayeth to thee all, that mine name shall encompass and be known by the entirety of Equus, as the name Lady Sophisticate ringeth from every lip in the land, and alleth will loveth me and despaireth.”

Mister Marelon just stared at me while a few other students tried not to snicker. “Thank you, Miss Belle, for confirming just why I am so vehemently against students from Ponyville being automatically accepted into this school.” He looked at the rest of the class. “That, students, was terrible. Entertainingly terrible, yes, but still terrible. I hope that none of you who actually earned your place here do something that utterly awful. We are all worse for having witnessed that, and I hope you spend the rest of your time in this class feeling the shame and regret of your actions. Go back to your corner and think about just how awful that was. And while we are subjecting ourselves to the worst this class has to offer,” he added with a harsh laugh, “Diamond Tiara, show us what dreck you wrote.”

I tried to not cry, I really did. Crying in front of the entire class would have been embarrassing. But I worked hard on my monologue, and stayed up super late last night trying to get everything just right. I thought I had something kind of good, and instead he just… I… and everypony was laughing… and… and… “Waaahaaagh!” I sobbed loudly, tears gushing, and making a complete foal of myself in front of the class.

“Aww… Did I hurt your feelings?” Marelon asked, his voice dripping with condescension. “An actress must develop a properly thick skin. Your predilection towards letting such critiques affect you is just further confirmation that you don’t have the skill to be an actress. Now, Diamond Tiara, please come up here and show us your… skills.” He shooed me back to my seat while Diamond Tiara took my place, her usual haughtiness completely absent as she slunk towards the front of the class, her eyes locked firmly on the floor.

I didn’t really listen to her monologues as I rested my head on my desk and worked to stop crying. My ears only perked back up when Mr. Marelon started talking. “Tell me Diamond Tiara, are you and Sweetie Belle friends?”

She shook her head.

“How odd,” he continued, “because I was certain the only way you could produce such a dreadful performance was out of some sense of familiarity or friendship with Sweetie Belle. 'Obviously,' I thought, 'nopony could be so unskilled intentionally. Perhaps she is giving us such a dreadful and forgettable performance to try and lessen her friend’s humiliation.' It was the only theory I could think of that made an iota of sense. Instead, it turns out you are as unskilled as her, but without the slight benefit of being entertainingly bad. You, it seems, are both bad and boring, and that, dear, is unforgivable. The both of you fail the assignment and get no credit. I ask that if either of you feel like wasting class time again, just stay home. Please go back to your seat.”

To her credit, Diamond Tiara didn’t break into full-on sobbing like I did, although her eyes still watered up as she walked back to her seat. The both of us sat there in silence for the rest of the class, and I found myself unable to do anything but stare at my desk and try not to cry.

“Wait up,” Diamond Tiara said as we walked out of the classroom after the bell rang. I turned around to look at her, curious about what she had to say. “Is… is that...” She stopped and swallowed, looking away. “Is that what it felt like when I made fun of you all?” she finally said, almost whispering. “These last few days have been terrible, and I feel like I’d do anything to make it stop. And… if it was like that for you then… I’m sorry.”

“It was,” I said. “You pretty much made school unbearable for us.” She winced and looked away again. “But… I mean, if you want to be nice, I can put in a good word for you with my friends.”

“Really?” she asked, the faintest gleam of hope in her eyes.

I nodded at her and smiled. “I don’t think it would be a great idea if I asked you to join us for lunch until I explained things to my friends, but… I wouldn’t mind having you sit with us. The more the merrier right?”

“Are you sure?” she asked as we moved out into the hallway. “I don’t think…” She sniffled. “How could you forgive me so easily? I was terrible to you.”

“You were,” I said, nodding my head as we walked through the crowded hallway, “and for a while, I thought seeing you humiliated would make me happy, but then when it actually did happen, I just felt bad. Seeing ponies sad doesn’t make me happy, seeing ponies happy makes me happy. Even if they were big bullies.”

“Th-thank you,” she said. “I promise, I won’t make fun of you or your friends for being blank flanks anymore.”

“And you won’t make fun of Scootaloo for not being able to fly, right? She… it took her a while to get over that.”

Tiara frowned at that. “I did do that, didn’t I? I’m sorry about that too.”

“It’s… you probably shouldn’t apologize to me for that, and… look, the others might not be as forgiving as I am, but as long as you are trying to be nice, I’ll back you up until they come around, okay?. I’ll... see you Monday, I guess,” I said as our trails split and I headed to music class, trying to figure out just how I was going to tell my friends that our former arch-enemy now wanted to be friends with us. Hopefully, they'd understand.

***

“Absolutely not,” Scootaloo said, slamming her hoof on the table. “She’s been nothing but horrible to us, and now you want us to be all buddy-buddy with her? Not gonna happen.”

“I gotta agree with Scootaloo on this one,” Apple Bloom said, nodding her head in agreement. “Maybe she is trying to be better, and if she wants a truce, that’s fine by me, but I am not gonna have her sit across the table from me and try an’ make nice with her. That’s askin’ fer too much.”

The three newest additions to our group just looked at their food while we had our argument, not willing to weigh in. “I know,” I said, “she has been completely awful to us, but can’t we all just… If she wants to be friendly and be nice to us, can’t we just let her? She’s not that terrible once you get to know her.”

“She made fun of me for not being able to fly yet,” Scootaloo said. “That’s… How can you forgive her for that?” Why did they have to make this so difficult? I was just trying to stop the fighting between us and maybe make a new friend. Who could possibly be against that? Nopony, I thought, looking at my friends, or maybe ponies who had gotten just a bit bitter after years of constant bullying. Not that I could blame them too much, up until a few days ago, I thought the same thing.

“One lunch,” I pleaded, “that’s all I’m asking for. One lunch with her and if she’s not completely terrible then maybe think about another lunch with her. Either way, I’m going to do my best to be her friend.”

“What’s the big deal with you and making friends?” Scootaloo asked. “It’s not like everypony in town has to be your friend.”

“I’d like it if they were,” I said, smiling. “Being with you girls–”

“Hey,” Socket said, briefly looking up from the paper he had been scribbling on.

“And Socket,” I added, “it’s just about the best thing ever, so having more friends and making more ponies happy must be even better.” I smiled at them, unable to contain my enthusiasm at the idea of making an entire town of ponies happy and having them as my friends.

“Ugh, fine,” Apple Bloom groaned, “if it’s that important to you, we’ll give her one lunch. That’s all I’m promisin’.”

“That’s all I’m asking for,” I said, imagining how wonderful it would be to have another friend and not be bullied anymore. Could life get any better? Well, there was one way it could get better as I thought of my acting class. Maybe Marelon was right. Maybe I wasn’t good at anything. Maybe the only thing I was half-way good at was something everypony else could do just as well. I sighed at the thought. “Girls… do you think I’m a good actress?”

“Sure, Sweetie Belle,” Apple Bloom said, nodding her head and looking at her sandwich.

“Yep, absolutely,” Scootaloo agreed, looking at something behind her shoulder.

“Almost certainly not.” Life Bloom said, staring at me while my two other friends let out cries of shock.

“What? How could you say that?” Apple Bloom asked, glaring at her friend.

“Yeah, that’s… crazy. Sweetie Belle is a great actress,” Scootaloo said, giving a nervous chuckle as her eyes darted between me and Life Bloom.

“Your refusal to look Sweetie Belle’s eyes and the uncertainty in your voice is an indicator that a pony is lying,” she said, looking coolly at the three of us. “If saying Sweetie Belle is a good actor is a lie, then the inverse must be true. Did I interpret the data incorrectly?”

My two friends wilted under her gaze. “No,” they both said, unable to look me in the eyes as I felt tears welling up in them for the second time that day. I couldn’t figure out which worse: that they thought I was a bad actress, or that they had lied to me. Before they could say anything else, I ran from the cafeteria, and didn’t stop until I reached my sister’s boutique.

***

“Sweetie Belle,” my sister said, knocking on my door, “you’ve been locked in there for several hours and you won’t tell me what’s wrong. Your friends are here and they want to apologize.”

I continued to do what I had done for the past several hours and stare at the ceiling while crying. “Go away!” I shouted at the door. “I just want to be alone right now.”

“You’ve been alone for hours,” Rarity said. “Can’t you at least tell me what the problem is?”

There was whispering as my friends explained the problem to her. “Oh dear,” my sister muttered after they had finished talking.

“Look, Sweetie, I’m sorry we upset ya, we didn’t want to, but then Life Bloom had to go and…” Apple Bloom struggled to find the right words.

“Be honest,” I said, filling in for her. “Crusaders don’t lie to each other, you said, that was one of the rules, but then it turns out Life Bloom is the only one of who was willing to tell me the truth, so I guess she’s the only friend I have.”

“Don’t say that,” Apple Bloom said after a lengthy pause. I could hear the hurt in her voice, and I felt like yelling at myself for hurting her feelings. “We… Yeah, we lied and we shouldn’t ‘ave done that, but we only did it because we didn’t want to hurt your feelings. You’re just so sensitive, we couldn’t bear it if we upset you.”

“So, what,” I said, finally getting out of bed and moving towards the door so I wouldn’t have to yell as much, “you’d prefer to lie to me so Mr. Marelon could make fun of me some more?”

“What?!” the three voices behind the door said in unison.

“Sweetie,” Rarity said as tenderly as she could, “has somepony been making fun of you?”

I nodded before remembering they couldn’t see me with the door closed. “I don’t know if I would say he was making fun of me, but he has been mean, he made both Diamond Tiara and me cry today.”

“Who’s been mean to you?” Rarity asked. “Is that why you’ve been so distant whenever I ask about your acting classes?”

“Y– Yes,” I said, feeling a fresh wave of crying coming on. “I just really want to be a good actress, but no matter what I do he still makes fun of me, and I thought I was good, but now it turns out I’m bad at everything.”

“Sweetie, could you please open the door?” Rarity asked after a pause. “I would very much like to continue this conversation face to face.”

I finally moved to unlock the door, allowing my friends and big sister access. “Alright,” I said, slumping against the wall as they walked into the room, “I’m ready to hear whatever you have to say.”

“And just what do you think we’re going to say?” Rarity asked. “That we’re worried about you? That we want to understand why you’ve been so distant the last few days, or why whenever somepony mentions your acting class you suddenly try to avoid the subject?”

“I just told you why I don’t want to talk about my acting class, I’m apparently terrible at it, and our teacher won’t stop reminding me of it.”

Rarity’s left ear twitched. “I see… I must have words about his behavior with Octavia, but that can wait until later. Right now, we need to talk about you.” She paused to smile reassuringly at me. “So, you’re upset that your acting is a touch underwhelming. I understand that that could be–”

“The words he used were ‘entertainingly terrible’,” I corrected.

“I see,” Rarity said, fur bristling. “That still doesn’t explain why the fact that you aren’t particularly talented at acting is so upsetting to you. At least this didn’t end with you burning the boutique down.”

“But I thought this was going to be it,” I said, looking between her and my friends. “Apple Bloom and Scootaloo are so good at their stuff that I’m kind of surprised that they don’t have a cutie mark already, and meanwhile, I’m terrible at everything.”

“You ain’t terrible at everything,” Apple Bloom said. “You’re just not great at actin’ that’s all.”

“Or… you know, bowling, scuba diving, mountain climbing, karate, costume design–” Scootaloo was cut off as Apple Bloom shoved her hoof in Scootaloo’s mouth.

“But this one was supposed to be different! I like being on stage, and it was something that made other ponies happy. Now what am I good at?” I said, slumping down to the ground.

“Sweetie Belle, I’m going to do something that is… rather frowned upon, but have you even considered the idea that your special talent might lay in the realm of music?” my sister said.

“What? Like playing an instrument? Because we already tried that.”

Rarity shuddered. “No… no, never that. But you have a wonderful voice, maybe you could–”

“Please don’t say something about singing, I had this conversation yesterday, and I’ll tell you the same thing I told Melody: Everypony can sing. There’s nothing special about being able to sing.”

“Sweetie,” Rarity said after a moment of thought, “Rainbow Dash is a skilled and exceptional flyer, isn’t she?”

Scootaloo and I nodded simultaneously.

“But,” she continued, “by your logic that shouldn’t count as every– most pegasi can fly.”

“And the ones that are still waiting for their wings to hit their growth spurt find other ways to be awesome,” Scootaloo added, trying not to be bothered by Rarity’s comment.

“Yeah, but she’s really good at fly…” I paused as realization set in. “But I’m not that good at singing. I’m okay, I guess, but not amazing.”

Rarity laughed. “Sweetie, you are a wonderful singer, and I know for a fact that you love it. Or do you not sing to yourself whenever you think nopony is listening?”

“Oh… you… uhmm heard that?” I asked looking at her while all three of them nodded.

“Yeah,” Scootaloo said, “pretty much the second you think nopony is around, you start singing. There’ve been times when we walked out of the clubhouse and before we hit the bottom of the ramp, you were singing some song or another.”

“I guess you have a point,” I said, getting back up on my hooves. “But it still doesn’t feel like singing is my special talent. It’s just something I like to do.”

“And designing dresses is something that I like to do,” Rarity said. “Throwing parties is something Pinkie likes to do, helping animals is something Fluttershy likes to do, and farming apples is something Applejack likes to do. Rainbow Dash I suppose is a bit odd as her desire for speed and victory doesn’t go with her profession, but winning is something she enjoys immensely, and it is how she earned her cutie mark. Need I go on?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head, “but it still doesn’t feel right, you know?”

Rarity moved to stroke my mane while the rest of my friends sat close. “It’s alright, Sweetie, I spent months designing dresses before I finally earned my cutie mark. According to Twilight, earning a cutie mark requires a moment of both actualization and realization, when a pony displays their proficiency in their talent and also realizes that this is what they want to do for the rest of their lives.”

The three of us nodded as we listened to her talk. “But what about Applejack?” Apple Bloom asked. “She earned her mark just by returning to the farm.”

“True,” Rarity said, “and while I’m no expert on the science behind cutie marks, I think it was more about the realization for her. The display of proficiency was less important for her because she did so every day.”

“So why didn’t I get my cutie mark when I scootered from Ponyville to the Crystal Empire at at least 70 miles an hour?” Scootaloo asked.

Rarity’s ear twitched. “That is… remarkably fast, and I wish I knew the answer. It was certainly an impressive display of skill, but perhaps you didn’t have the realization to coincide with it. Although Twilight hates to admit it, cutie marks aren’t an exact science, and I would argue that they aren’t even a science, but that is neither here nor there. What is known is that you will never earn your cutie mark if you keep thinking your special talent isn’t a talent.” She smiled at me. “You simply must have a little more faith in yourself, you’re a wonderful little filly with an amazing voice and you should take pride in that fact.”

“Thanks,” I said before looking at my friends, “and I’m sorry for getting upset with you… I just had a really bad morning.”

“It’s fine,” Apple Bloom said, shrugging. “Ain’t the first time one of us has gotten upset with the other, and I’m sure we’ll probably butt heads a few more times before we get our cutie marks. ‘Sides, it was kind of our fault for lyin’ to you, so I figure this is kind of a wash.”

“Indeed,” Rarity said, getting up on her hooves with a look on her eyes that meant it would be a good idea for somepony to hide. “Now, if you will excuse me, I must have words with Octavia about the acting teacher she hired.” She turned and smiled at me. “Mr. Marelon, was it?”

I nodded.

“Wonderful,” she said. “You girls look after each other, I will be back soon.” She smiled at us one last time before walking off.

“So,” I said, looking at my friends, “what do you want to do now?”

“Well, Socket and Twilight are working to get the mana engine completed so they can begin charging tomorrow. Want to come with us and watch?” Scootaloo asked.

I nodded my head and smiled, happy to have something to distract me from the doubt in the back of my head. “Sure, it sounds like fun.”

***

It was way past midnight when I got back to the boutique, and the second I stumbled into my bedroom, I yawned and collapsed on my bed. The next thing I knew, it was really bright out and somepony was knocking on my door.

“Sweetie Belle,” Rarity said, “are you alright? It’s almost noon, I don’t think I’ve ever known you to sleep this late.”

“Sorry,” I said, rolling out of my bed and bouncing towards the door. “Last night was just so fun, we all played games and Socket and Twilight worked on the mana engine, and… Ooh! I bet they are charging it up right now.”

Rarity laughed and shook her head as I threw the door to my room open. “I really don’t know how you convinced Twilight to help you build a mana engine, but I do feel better knowing she is there to oversee everything. Knowing her, everything will be checked, double-checked, and triple-checked to the point of tedium.”

“That reminds me, I need to remind Socket to double check his calibrations.” I said as I headed downstairs.

She smiled at me, “I’m sure Twilight already did that, but I am glad you at least are being cautious. Sometimes with you girls, I feel like safety is at the very bottom of your priority list.”

“I’ll see you later,” I said as I put on my saddlebags and grabbed an apple for breakfast. “Thanks for cheering me up yesterday, I… You gave me a lot to think about.”

“You’re very welcome,” she said as I ran out the door and headed to the clubhouse.

***

“This is going to be so awesome!” Scootaloo said as I finally got to the clubhouse. The mana engine sat under it, glowing with the magical energy Twilight fed it. To her side, Life Bloom channeled her own magical energies towards the engine. “Socket says once we get this thing turned on, we can power a small city for a thousand years!”

“Well,” Twilight said, grunting as she fed the machine more and more magic, “some of those numbers might have been a bit optimistic, but it certainly should provide you girls with enough power to upgrade your clubhouse.”

“Hey, Twilight,” I said, walking up next to her, “can I help you power up the engine? I know I’m not the best at magic stuff, but I can help out a little right?”

She smiled at me as magical energy continued to pour from her horn. “That would be fine, Sweetie Belle, just focus on the engine and move your magic towards it. You don’t even need to cast a spell.”

I nodded and closed my eyes, trying to focus on the magical energy that surrounded me. The natural magic of the world is normally soft and understated; Rarity would say it’s a more subdued tone. The area around the mana engine was pretty much the exact opposite of that. It was all bright and sharp, and not even a little bit comforting to look at. Still, it wasn’t scary or anything, and I fed it a few tiny threads of my magic

The machine demanded more, though. As soon as the connection was set-up, it took more and more of my magic, and soon it was ripping all of the magic out of me. A hoof poked my shoulder and my connection to the engine broke as I suddenly found myself back in the real world to see Twilight smiling down at me. “Go easy, Sweetie Belle. Even I need to take breaks now and then, and you just recently learned how to use your magic.”

“Thanks,” I said, cutting off my flow of magic to the machine and noticing that I was covered in sweat. “It really wants its magic, doesn’t it?”

Twilight nodded. “That means the storage crystals were set up properly. They naturally absorb mana, but in order for them to power the engine, a large surplus charge has to be built up first. You should get some rest, I think there are juice boxes in the clubhouse.”

“Alright,” I said, beaming as I walked towards the clubhouse. “I’ll be back once I’ve rested up a bit. You shouldn’t overwork yourself either.”

“Thank you for reminding me,” she said before turning her attention back to the mana engine.

***

I yawned as Twilight channeled the last bit of necessary magic into the engine, the three of us completely exhausted after an entire day spent powering it up. Now, crickets were chirping as several floodlights illuminated the engine and my friends slept in a corner of the clubhouse. It must have been past midnight, I thought as Twilight nodded at Socket.

“It’s ready?” he asked, wings flapping excitedly as he hovered in the air.

Twilight nodded again, and Socket flew up to the clubhouse to wake up my friends, leaving Twilight, Life Bloom, and myself to sit and stare at the engine. “It’s quite impressive isn’t it?” Life Bloom said, surveying the engine. “We spent an entire day fueling it up, and now if properly taken care of, it will outlive us by several dozen generations.” She glanced at Twilight. “At least, most of us.”

“It’s funny you should say that,” Twilight said, “because I’m actually not sure how long I will live. There are only two known instances of ponies ascending, and those all occurred within the past twenty years. Celestia and Luna are immortal, but so far Cadance has aged like a normal pony would.” She frowned and looked at the ground. “I don't want to outlive my friends.”

She shook her head and smiled at us. “Sorry girls, I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and I really shouldn’t have bothered you with my thoughts–”

“Alright,” Socket said as he flew down to ground level, while the rest of my friends used the ramp. “Are you ready to start this baby up? I can’t wait to hear her come to life.”

The rest of us nodded with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and Socket went about pulling a bunch of levers on the engine with a manic energy. Soon, lights on the engine flashed, and a soft humming filled the air.

“It works,” he said, flashing the six of us a giant smile. “This is gonna be so cool, you girls are going to love it.”

I looked at the engine again. It was certainly big, in fact, it was almost the size of our clubhouse, and the humming sound it was making made my head kind of hurt, but I'd probably get used to it. The only really weird thing about it was the white crack that began to form at the center of the engine.

“Hey, Socket, did you remember to calibrate the engine?” I asked, the crack reminding my note to myself.

“N-no,” he said as the crack started expanding rapidly, branching out in multiple directions. Socket ran to the control console and began flipping switches, muttering words we weren’t supposed to know under his breath, while Twilight sent her magic to the engine to do something.

Whatever they were doing didn’t work, because in a few seconds, a network of white cracks coated the engine. For a second, I thought that was the worst that could happen, but then the tendrils of white nothing began to branch away from the engine and form cracks in the very air itself. They branched into three clusters, one of them heading towards me as the other two moved towards Twilight and Life Bloom.

I did the only thing I could think of, and ran as fast as my hooves could carry me through the apple orchard. I ran faster than I ever had in my life, trying to outrun whatever was chasing me; but whenever I looked back at it, the tendrils were closer than before. A second later, I felt something that didn’t feel like anything wrap around my legs. The feeling of nothingness expanded from there, and soon the entire world around me dissolved into an empty nothing.

***

I was somewhere warm and comfy, and cocooned in blankets that felt exactly like my blankets at Rarity’s house, which would mean… I opened my eyes and found I was back in my room at Carousel Boutique, everything just as I left it. I let out a sigh of relief. Yesterday was just a dream.

“Sweetie Belle,” Rarity said, “are you alright? It’s almost noon, I don’t think I’ve ever known you to sleep this late.”

I didn’t respond, as panic grabbed my stomach and pulled me down into the bed. Maybe it was Sunday... maybe she'd just forgotten that I'd slept in until noon yesterday as well. Maybe everything was still totally fine.

“Don’t forget your friends will be powering up the mana engine today, I’m sure you will want to be there when they turn it on.” My horn tingled and I felt something pulling strands of my magic away from me.

Or maybe not.

Author's Note:

09/26/14: Re-drafted to improve quality and shore up weaker bits. Trying to get this story polished up so EQD might like it. Hopefully now character dialogue sounds a bit more organic and natural. Interested in your thoughts and stuff on the issue. Also tried to foreshadow future developments a bit more, hope you enjoy the new improved version of the story.

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!