• Published 22nd Sep 2014
  • 2,602 Views, 691 Comments

Dueling Keyboards - FanOfMostEverything

FoME's submissions to the Writeoff Contests, along with other bits and bobs.

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Author's Note:

Entered into the September 2014 competition, tied with Chris's The Sweetest Water for first out of 23. Prompt: There is Magic in Everything.

Apple Bloom trudged into Sugarcube Corner, head down, ears flat, tail drooping. Even her bow seemed limp.

Naturally, Pinkie Pie couldn't let this stand. "Wow, somepony looks like she could use a pick-me-up!" She looked around the store, saw no other Apples, and leaned over the counter to whisper, "Want to try the pear tart?"

Apple Bloom looked up at her with a hard stare. "I need your help, Pinkie."

"Sure!" Pinkie's smile assumed its familiar, cheek-splitting width. "I'm always happy to help a friend in need with some friendly deeds! Though not the one to Sugarcube Corner, that belongs to the Cakes." She brought a hoof to her chin. "Now, those cupcakes of yours did come out a bit on the crunchy side, but single-recipe cutie marks aren't unheard of, especially not in your family. Still, don't you want the other Cru—"

"Not with baking." Apple Bloom took a deep breath and redoubled her "big pony" expression. "I need you to teach me magic."

"Oh." Pinkie blinked. She opened her mouth, then closed it again. "Oh." She turned to the Corner's kitchen. "Mrs. Cake! I'm taking my lunch break; I have a life lesson to impart!"

"Alright, dear!" came the confirmation.

Pinkie nodded to herself and moved away from the counter. "Walk with me, young grasshopper."

A green-coated colt looked up from his parfait. "Huh?"

"Sorry, Grasshopper, not you. I meant Apple Bloom."

As the colt rolled his eyes, Apple Bloom trotted to Pinkie's side. As they left the shop, she asked, "So, where do we start?"

Bloom looked up at Pinkie and nearly tripped over her own hooves. Pinkie wasn't smiling. Her mouth was set in a straight line, her gaze locked on the horizon. "Tell me," she said, "why you want to learn from me."

"Well…" Apple Bloom trailed off, her head dipping down again. She was silent for several seconds before speaking again. "It's… I know I shouldn't feel this way, but Sweetie's figuring out magic, and Scootaloo's managing some good hangtime, and I'm…"


"…Yeah. My friends get to do all this cool stuff 'cause they're a unicorn and a pegasus. What do I get? Strength? Anypony can be strong. Look at Bulk Biceps."

Pinkie nodded. "You're far from the first earth pony to feel that way. Twilight tells me you're really good with potions, though."

Apple Bloom snorted. "Anypony can mix a potion. You take this, that, and the other in the right amounts, mix them the right way, and you're done. That ain't magic, it's science."

"Heh." Pinkie's chuckle brought a surprising amount of relief to Apple Bloom. The party pony just wasn't meant to look serious. "Don't let Twilight hear you say that. She'll explain the difference, and it will take her hours."

"Fine. But it still ain't what I want." Apple Bloom turned to Pinkie, grinning and eager. "But you, you can do darn near anything! You and Cheese Sandwich during the Goof-Off, you was pulling things out of thin air left and right, doing things a whole team of unicorns couldn't do!"

Pinkie waved her head from side to side noncommittally. "Well, it depends on the unicorns. But yeah, a pair of pugnacious party ponies is particularly phenomenal—"

"I don't think you pronounce the 'p' on that last one—"

"But there's a reason why we were so eye-catching. I'm not teaching you, Apple Bloom. Power comes at a cost."

Apple Bloom gaped and came to a halt. "Y-you mean you'd teach Diamond Tiara if she asked?"

Pinkie boggled at her for a moment before bursting into laughter. "No! No, no, no, definitely not." She shook her head. "Keep walking, Bloom, we're not there yet."

The filly complied. "Where's there?"

"You'll see. But I didn't mean a cost in bits. I meant a cost in sanity. Cheese and I are crazy. Not just crazy-fun or crazy-random or any other nice way of putting it, but full-blown crazy. In order to do what we can, we have to make ourselves so loco in the coco that our Yoko is a choco."

Apple Bloom digested this for a moment. "What?"

"Exactly." Pinkie offered her a sad smile. "You can't even comprehend what it takes to be a party pony, Apple Bloom, and it's better that you don't. If it turns out that that's your talent, then yes, I will teach you. But I have no right to tear you away from your destiny and twist your mind into a balloon animal."

Bloom scowled. "You seem plenty sane right now."

Pinkie snickered. "Oh, trust me, I am going to pay for this later." She put on a serious face and continued, "But right now, you need somepony with a good head on her shoulders, and I'm willing to screw mine back on until we get where we're going. Which we have."

"Here" was a fairly typical example of Ponyville architecture, excepting the expanded first floor. A dark interior of stools, tables, casks, and taps was faintly visible through wide windows. Above the door hung a sign with a bunch of grapes and a strawberry, while behind it hung one reading "Closed."

"The Punch Bowl?" Apple Bloom looked up at Pinkie and silently revised her assessment of the mare's mental health. "I ain't allowed in there. Besides, it ain't even open."

Pinkie nodded. "Exactly! Which means you can see Berry without entering the forbidden zone. Ooooh." She waved her forelegs in what was probably meant to be a menacing way.

Apple Bloom just rolled her eyes. "Fine."

"That's the spirit! Come on!" Pinkie led her around the back of the establishment and up an exterior staircase.

Knocking summoned Berry Punch. "Pinkie," she said with a faint smile. "I wasn't expecting you."

"Oh, I'm just here to drop off Apple Bloom. She thinks earth pony magic isn't anything special."

Berry quirked an eyebrow and turned to the filly. "Is that so?"

Bloom squirmed. "Well, I…"

Berry held up a forehoof. "It's okay."

Pinkie ruffled Apple Bloom's mane. "Don't worry. You're in good hooves." She sprang up onto the bannister and began tipping back. "Now, if you two will excuse me, I'm on lunch break so I should probably eat somethiiii—"

Both watched her slide down. Berry chuckled and turned towards the door. "Well, come on in. We'll talk."


Apple Bloom wasn't sure what she was expecting in Berry Punch's house, but what she saw wasn't it. It was a fairly normal living room for the most part: couches, table, firefly lamps, a few landscape paintings hanging from the walls. What stood out was the complicated machinery in one corner that greatly resembled the potion equipment she used during Twilight Time. This model, however, seemed like it was designed with even greater durability, including a few components that looked custom-made. It was pretty clear why. "You sure you should have your still in your house?"

Berry chuckled again. "Don't worry, I haven't used that one for a while. It's just a conversation piece."

Bloom backed away from the contraption. "If you say so..."

"Such caution from a Cutie Mark Crusader? I'm surprised." Berry sat on a couch. "Come on. That's not why you're here."

"…Yeah, it ain't." Apple Bloom hopped up on another. "I feel so stupid thinking like this, but I can't get the thought out of my head."

Berry nodded. "You're far from the only one. So, is it horn envy, wing envy, or just a general sense of wanting what you don't have?"

Apple Bloom sighed. "The last one, I guess. I just want to be… well, flashy. I already know what Applejack would say: that ain't the earth pony way. Well maybe I don't want to do it the earth pony way. Maybe I want to do something as impressive as bucking rain out of clouds or moving stuff with my mind."

Berry got up. "Don't go anywhere," she said as she walked into another room. "I'm going to show you something." She returned with a peach in her mouth. She set it on the coffee table and gave a slight smile. "I thought about using an apple, but your sister would probably sense it from Sweet Apple Acres."

"Sense what?" Apple Bloom leaned towards the peach.

"Watch carefully." Berry reared up and and flicked her fetlocks. "Nothing up the sleeves I'm not wearing." She set her forehooves on the peach and scowled at it.

At first, nothing seemed to happen. Then, the mare's hooves pressed in a little more deeply, and discoloration spread from them across the fruit. Berry removed her frogs from the now brown, squashy peach and smiled. "Ta da."

Apple Bloom gaped for a good twenty seconds. A sharp smell began to waft from the fruit. Finally, she asked, "What in Celestia's name did you just do?"

The smile only widened. "My special talent is making and mixing drinks, including those of an alcoholic nature. Making alcohol is a process known as—"

"Fermentation. I know alchemy."

Berry nodded. "Good. Then you know that fermentation is actually a form of rot. Which means that, with a touch and an exertion of will, I can tell fruit to decay. And it listens. In unicorn parlance, I'm technically a necromancer."

Apple Bloom's mind whirled with possibilities. "So, could I—"

"Maybe. Even after I got my cutie mark, it took me years to figure out how to do this. That being said, I'm not that unusual among earth ponies."

Bloom dragged her attention away from the peach. "You ain't?"

Berry shook her head. "Far from it. You know Bonbon?"

A hesitant nod. "Sure. Candy maker, cutie mark of three wrapped candies."

"That's her. Well, several years ago, I think around when you were born, a pack of timberwolves came into town. She chased them out with literal red-hots." Berry smiled. "She didn't use any alchemy beyond sugar and cinnamon oil. She just told the spice to burn differently. That's the kind of thing we do, Apple Bloom. Unicorns use magic. Pegasi push it around. We negotiate with it, the magic of earth and everything that comes from it."

Apple Bloom considered this for a moment. "So how come Applejack never told me about this?"

"Well…" Berry's smile grew rather awkward. "You see, it's best to negotiate from a position of authority, and that…" She trailed off.

"That comes from a cutie mark," Apple Bloom finished flatly.

Berry sighed and nodded. "In so many words. That's probably why your sister never told you about this." She glanced to one side, thinking about this. "Well, that, or she doesn't really think about it. Applebucking isn't exactly the most creative expression of earth pony magic. No offense."

Bloom blinked. "Kicking trees is magical?"

"Virtually everything an earth pony does is magical, especially if it involves her special talent. Granted, there are exceptions. Cherry Berry flies better than half the pegasi in town because she has the respect of every component in her flying machines. Don't ask me what that has to do with a pair of cherries." Berry smiled again. "It's rarely flashy, but it's a magic your friends can't do. For now, all I can tell you is to be open to it."

"That's it?" It sounded far too easy.

"That's it. Go out and give it a try."

Apple Bloom narrowed her eyes. "You ain't just trying to get rid of me, are you?"

Berry chuckled. "Well, I do need to open up the bar soon, but no. This is the sort of thing you have to learn through experience."

"Okay…" Apple Bloom left, sparing one last glance at the alchemical still, considering adjustments she might make. She walked home, thoughts buzzing through her mind. Concussive impact, sympathetic vibrations, ballistic trajectories all along just the right vectors to put the apples in the baskets…

Well, shoot. Put that way, it sure seemed like magic. To say nothing of the rituals involved in making Zap Apple jam.

With that thought, she found herself in the east field. The trees' outermost branches swayed in a gentle breeze. Apple Bloom dug her hooves into the soil a little, closed her eyes, and hoped.

Hesitantly, cautiously, she asked, "Hello?"

And the world answered.