• Published 4th Apr 2015
  • 17,811 Views, 323 Comments

Sweetie Belle and the Quest for Knowledge - CheshireTwilight

Sweetie Belle trys to return to normal life, but after everything she's been through, will she want to? Meanwhile, Lyra aims to get to the bottom of these "precursors" one way or another. Book II of III

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Chapter 1 - Recovery

Sweetie Belle woke up with a groan, shifting uncomfortably in her bed. Soft light filtered in from the window signifying that the morning that just arrived. She looked briefly around the room, reminding herself of the now familiar surroundings. All around her was white. White sheets, white curtains, white walls and a white marble floor. Weird for a bedroom to be sure but nothing too out of the ordinary. No, that came from the numerous bottles of pills and the portable thaumic-circulation-test machine on the bedside table. Shaking herself from her groggy state, Sweetie Belle finally remembered where she was, a small patient bed in Canterlot General Hospital. It turned out that Ponyville’s services were not capable in completing her care and so for the past two months she had been recovering here.

Using all her concentration, Sweetie Belle just barely managed to use her magic to depress the button on top of her bed. Normally, such an action would have been trivial for a unicorn—even one as young and inexperienced as her—but a ring on her horn prevented all but the slightest magic to form, making the task nigh insurmountable. Not a minute later, her unicorn mare nurse, Nurse Good Will, entered the room. She had a pale blue coat and a darker blue mane with two simple, white stripes through it and—to the best of Sweetie Belle’s knowledge—always spoke in a calm or cheery tone.

“Good morning, Sweetie, are you ready to get started on the day?” Good Will asked rhetorically. The nurse already knew that Sweetie was ready; the filly wouldn’t have called her up if she wasn’t. Good Will even went as far as lifting the filly off her bed and making the sheets before the filly replied.

“Yeah…” Sweetie murmured half-heartedly giving herself up to the levitation magic of the nurse. The nurse let her down gently and allowed the far smaller filly to lean on her as they moved very slowly to the washroom.

Sweetie Belle had spent the last three months recovering slowly but surely. The first month she was asleep in a coma and it was another month of physical therapy before she could successfully walk on her own for more than a minute. Despite that—especially early in the morning before breakfast—it was difficult to move around without help. Sweetie Belle let out a sigh in disappointment at how slow her recovery was being. Sure she had been told it would take six months, but she was nevertheless feeling very frustrated with everything. It didn’t help things that she needed help doing even basic things like having a bath or going to the washroom. It was a very embarrassing and humbling experience … even if she was starting to get used to it over the past months.

“So Sweetie,” Good Will started in her usual cheery tone. “How did your physiotherapy go yesterday? I heard that Doctor Wellbeing is letting you return to Ponyville. Do you want to talk about that?”

Sweetie Belle stopped in her tracks, her eyes growing wide and her face smiled when she processed the nurse’s words. “Oh!” she suddenly exclaimed, “That’s right! I can’t believe I forgot! Yeah, Doctor McGrouchypants said that in a day or two I should be good enough to move back into Ponyville!”

The nurse’s face was smiling fondly at the filly’s sudden exuberance. ‘I really wish I could make her act like that all the time,’ Good Will sighed internally, ‘She must be the most depressed pony I’ve ever seen. All she does is stay in her room and frown.’ Then the nurse herself frowned, “It isn’t nice to call Doctor Wellbeing a ‘McGrouchypants’; he might not smile a lot but he does his job well and he cares about you.”

Sweetie Belle made a small sheepish smile at that but said nothing. ‘In this situation,’ Sweetie Belle thought clinically, ‘it is probably not ideal to speak anymore. I was hoping that making fun of McGrouchypants might move the discussion towards Ms.Good Will’s work-life and maybe get her talking about her interest in the Doctor. She goes on about him forever. If she gets any hint that we’re talking about me, she’ll probably end up talking about my ‘problems’ again.’ It didn’t take long for these thoughts to make her feel guilty. ‘My f-friends told me that manipulation was okay. Getting ponies to do what you want is n-natural. Then why does it make me feel so bad.’

“Still, I really want to know what you think about the move,” the nurse continued. “I may not ever see you again and I don’t want to leave you feeling down-in-the-dumps like you were this morning.”

‘Darn,’ Sweetie Belle cursed. ‘Sometimes I wonder if Tablet really told me everything I needed to know about manipulation…it only works, like, half the time. Then again, it might be that after a month the nurse has just finally figured it out.’ She sighed, ‘I guess that means I have to satisfy her curiosity and let her ‘help’ me until she forgets about it again.’

“Fine…I just don’t know what to say though…” Sweetie Belle lied, sighing, “I thought I would be moving around more by now and that maybe my friends would come around more often.”

The nurse nodded her head approvingly. “Well then it is a good thing you are leaving then,” she said before hastily adding, “not that I wouldn’t want you to stay longer! You are such a well-behaved filly but having a young thing like you cooped up in a hospital for months must be so boring.”

The two then turned in and nurse began drawing the bath. Luckily ponies didn’t wear clothes so it was a simple matter of the nurse plopping the white bundle of fur into the water and scrubbing her lightly with the brush and soap. Luckily for Sweetie Belle, the nurse seemed satisfied with leaving the conversation at that. This meant she could think.

‘To be honest, I don’t think anypony could really understand what I feel,’ she thought, moaning approvingly as the nurse scratched an itchy tangle on her back fur with the brush. ‘Even everypony that knows what happened would think I’m crazy—let alone Nurse Good Will—but having the Tablet interface with my brain was the best thing that ever happened to me … well maybe except for having Rarity as a sister. Now that it’s gone though, I feel like I’m only half a pony.’

The nurse—now finished with her coat—now began to wash her mane. ‘I can ignore everything else,’ Sweetie Belle continued, ‘I can ignore that I can’t even do any real magic anymore or that it hurts to move sometimes or that my friends don’t visit me as much as I like, but I can’t ignore how important the Tablet was to me. Near the-the end, I just thought of it like another piece of my mind. That even if that otherworldly pony were to take it away that it would just show up some time and answer all my questions like it used to.’

Thinking about how it got taken away left her really bitter. ‘How could I be so stupid?! I don’t even want to think about what that stupid electric-y alicorn-y thing did to manipulate me into giving up the Tablet!’ Sweetie Belle pouted. ‘I guess I never really stood a chance though … If it really could perfectly simulate my mind in real-time, it would have little difficulty manipulating me to do whatever it wanted. Although that makes me wonder what it could really be planning…’

It was at this time that the nurse finished putting the shampoo in her mane and washing it, Good Will then moved to her tail. ‘No,’ she thought, shaking her head slightly, ‘there isn’t any point even thinking about it now. That’s all behind me. Now … now I guess I get back to my regular life again. No tablets, no world-ending magic devices or ancient machines.’

She just laid there melancholy in her thoughts. Just like every day for the past two months, she ended up thinking about her adventure. Three little fillies evading capture, traveling across Equestria and saving the world. It was like a whole other life from the one she had. She learned so much. She couldn’t even imagine what it would be like without knowledge of metaphysics and science. There was this wide world full of unknowns just waiting for her to discover them.

Still, she couldn’t help but remember her ‘old’ life. Helping her sister around the boutique or—less often—their family home, caring for and being cared by her sister. Loving parents and a life filled with her friends. The smiling faces of Apple Bloom and Scootaloo as they crusaded for their cutie marks. It was at that thought that she looked back at her flank, just as blank as those times.

She had lived both those lives now, but neither had given her a cutie mark. Were either of those answers wrong? Should she keep trying one or the other or should she find some ‘happy medium’.

‘This is something Tablet could have helped me with. He would just say something like *Neither option seems optimal. This device recommends performing a simulated annealing non-deterministic analysis of the search-space using personalized heuristics of the time-cost-benefit associated with family, friends and the pursuit of knowledge.* and would solve the problem in a matter of moments.’ She sighed. This was the same roadblock she always faced every day. ‘How do I choose what to do, when my future hangs in the balance? I can’t just think through every possible scenario and find the right answer like Tablet could. How does anypony make these important decisions without thinking of all the possibilities? How do I make everypony happy? How do I make myself happy?’

It was at this moment that she noticed Nurse Good Will’s mirthful expression. It turns out that she was finished with Sweetie Belle’s bath for a while now and was enjoying the thoughtful expression that was plastered on the filly’s face. Said filly blushed self-consciously and looked away, letting the older mare lift her out of the tub and dry her off with a towel.

“I didn’t want to disturb you,” the nurse said, still keeping her mirthful expression. “You seemed to be thinking of something really important.” She let the filly lay on her back this time, knowing full well that the filly wouldn’t be up to any more exercise until she had breakfast. “Do you want to talk about it?”

To both of their surprise, Sweetie Belle did. “Um, how do you know if you are making the right decision? Like, if the choice is really hard, like choosing between which of your best friends you want to hang out with.”

The nurse thought about that, far longer than either of them expected. Good Will didn’t want to just give her some silly answer like ‘Go with your gut’ or ‘Flip a coin’. To the nurse, Sweetie Belle was more than a patient, she was a sad filly going through a hard time in her life. She was reminded of a similar time in her life, a time when her father never came home one day and her mother wouldn’t talk to her. It was in times like that that a pony needed another pony the most and she wanted to be there everyday for her.

“That’s a pretty difficult question, Sweetie,” the nurse began, “nopony can know everything.” Sweetie Belle nodded sadly. “That doesn’t mean you give up though. Let me tell you a secret.”

For some reason, the prospect of knowing a secret unlocked some deeply entrenched aspect of her filly mind. She listened in rapt attention.

“When I got my cutie mark, I didn’t know what I wanted to do either.” That ‘secret’ left Sweetie Belle more than a little disappointed but she still took notice when the mare pointed down to her cutie mark which, for the most part, had been ignored by the filly. It was a simple thing, a smiling heart. It sort of reminded her of her teacher Cheerilee, although hers was three smiling flowers. “I got it helping my friend feel better after her brother left to join the Royal Guard. Still, it didn’t take me long before I realized that ‘making ponies feel better’ was a bit of a broad special talent to have.”

Sweetie Belle thought briefly on that. “How did you know that this is what you wanted to do, then? Did you have somepony you knew that was a nurse? Or did you figure out that helping sick ponies was just something you were really good at.”

The nurse smiled, “Neither,” she stated simply. At the filly’s confused face she elaborated. “Using your example, maybe you can get your friends to have fun together, or maybe you can decide that just staying in would be better. Maybe, you might even ignore your best friends that one night and go out with cute colt instead.” The nurse said that last sentence with a wink, causing the filly to flush bright red and look away. This, in turn, caused Good Will to laugh. “See, the choice is never as simple as that. Sometimes the best decision is to do something you would never think of.”

“But aren’t those bad decisions? I normally only think about good choices. I don’t think I could purposely make a bad choice,” Sweetie Belle said incredulously.

The mare tisked and shook her head. “No, no, you can’t let yourself be so closed-minded. Sometimes you’ve got to ‘think-outside-the-box’. Just because it isn’t something you personally want to do, that doesn’t mean it is a bad choice. If you’re wrong, then you learned something new. I would have never in a million years thought that I would be a nurse for sick ponies. To the old me, doing that just seemed so tedious; so boring. I never had a fun experience in a hospital. Then one day—after quitting a job at a nursery school for foals—I saw a simple ad in the paper talking about nursing school and that was that.”

Really?! You went through years of nursing school just because of a newspaper ad?!”

“Yep, I walked in, signed up, met my husband, got married and became a nurse, all because of a newspaper ad.” The nurses’ nostalgic smile suddenly turned serious. “Listen, Sweetie. I’ve been taking care of you for two months now and I like to think I know you pretty well. One thing I’ve realized though is you have a pretty big problem, especially for a filly.”

This sudden change of mood through Sweetie for a loop. “Huh? What problem?”

“You don’t do anything new! For the past two months all you have been doing is staying in your room, reading or just staring at the ceiling all day. You never take a walk in the park, never explore the hallways or talk to anypony that nopony introduced to you. You're only hurting yourself doing that.”

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes. “Of course I do new things. I read new books and I think about new things all the time.”

The two now finally found themselves in Sweetie’s hospital room again and so the nurse held off any further conversation until the filly was, once again, laying down on her bed.

“I’m telling you, Sweetie Belle, that isn’t enough,” the nurse replied. “Sometimes you will find that a choice is out of reach. When that happens, instead of trying to stretch yourself harder and harder trying to reach a decision, maybe just change your perspective. I guarantee that no matter how silly or bad that change may be, you will be one step closer to deciding.”

With that, the nurse left.

It was a few hours since then. Sweetie Belle had eaten breakfast and was soon almost ready to start lunch. All throughout that time she tried to distract herself with one of the books Twilight had given her during their last visit ‘Biological Thaumaturgy: The Influence of Equinocentric Aetherial Disturbances on Benthic Macroinvertebrates' but, for some reason, the vaguely defined effect of pony magic on the development of ecosystems could not stray her thoughts. No matter how she tried to avoid it, she always returned to what the nurse had said. ‘I really don’t do anything new, do I?’ Sweetie Belle admitted. ‘New books and new ideas, sure, but not new experiences. All the best decisions I made were from doing something I never would have done without somepony encouraging me. Founding the Cutie Mark Crusaders, going on Crusades for talents I knew I wouldn't enjoy by were surprisingly fun, trusting the Tablet to teach me all these new things; heck, even just deciding to ask the nurse that question wasn’t a bad idea either. I mean, not all decisions like that are good ones—giving up Tablet sure wasn’t—but even that was a learning experience … I guess. The nurse is right. If I want to make the best possible decision, sometimes I need to expand the search-space to encompass even heuristically inadvisable options.’

It was right then that her sister and Doctor Wellbeing showed up. Rarity was looking as good as always, with a simple purple dress. Conversely, the elderly dark-grey unicorn stallion wore a simple lab coat and looked as grumpy as ever. It didn’t take Rarity long before she galloped over and glomped her sister.

“Oh, Sweetie Belle, darling,” Rarity exclaimed between sobs, “I’m so sorry I missed my visit yesterday!”

Sweetie Belle—struggling to breathe under her sister’s all-encompassing hug—pushed her away with all four hooves. “It’s fine, sis! You were busy, I get it. You know you don’t have to visit me everyday, alright?”

Rarity looked like Sweetie Belle grew a second head, but she quickly recovered. “Oh it isn’t alright at all, little sister! In fact—if it wasn’t for all my friends convincing me not to—I would have moved to Canterlot in a heartbeat. After failing you the first time, there is nothing that will stop me from being there for you as much as possible!”

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes and sat on the side of her bed for the doctor. The filly had long since given up on convincing her sister to come in less often. She was lucky that her sister could at least do plenty of business in Canterlot in the meantime or Sweetie Belle would have worried that her sister would be bankrupt in a matter of weeks. She appreciated the gesture, of course, Sweetie Belle did love her sister, but she just wished that she would spend more time with her friends and stop feeling guilty for something she couldn’t be blamed for. She was the one who fell in the hole, she ran away and she risked her life. Nothing her sister could have done would have changed any of that.

The doctor—now seeing that Sweetie Belle was hanging off the bed—began to perform her physical. “Alright,” he began, “you know the drill, forelegs forward.” When she did so, he tapped each one twice, testing the reflexes. He then slowly felt the muscles and did a quick scan with his horn to gauge the bone and muscle mass. “Forelegs look fine. Definitely not perfect but the muscles are no longer atrophied and I would gauge that your bones will be fully recovered in a few weeks.” He made an identical analysis on the hindlegs and came to the same conclusion.

This wasn’t his specialty, which was horns, so he took a little longer than normal to do the full-body physical but he finally came to his conclusion. “Well, it looks like all the physiotherapy worked. You are in excellent shape. A few more weeks of proper exercise and bedrest and you will be back to normal.”

At this, Rarity started being teary-eyed. “Oh that is excellent news! So is she ready to come back to Ponyville? Oh please tell me she is.”

The doctor nodded his head slowly, “Maybe …”

After that non-committal remark, he lit up his horn and lifted the portable thaumic-circulation-test machine from the bedside table. It was a simple mechanism. One end was a simple ring that sat at the base of the horn which had wires leading to a simple box with several dials and buttons.

“Okay Sweetie Belle,” the doctor said as he placed the box on the bed, “now make sure to concentrate on not doing any magic while I take off your limiter and place the sensor on your horn.”

The filly nodded, her face changing to yield a determined stare. The doctor quickly removed the horn-ring and placed the sensor on her head.

“Alright you can relax now,” the doctor said. Just as she did so, the box began to beep and whirl. “It looks like you still don’t have control of your magic output. That is to be expected.” The doctor reached into a coat pocket and pulled out a pen which he laid on a forehoof. “Okay now, Sweetie, could you please try and lift the pen. Try and use as little magic as possible and slowly build it up, if you can.”

Sweetie Belle nodded and focused intensely on the pen. This was the most significant problem with herself now, she had very little control of her magic. Her Prefrontal Thaumaturgic Ganglia was scarred, which meant nothing regulated her magic. Without an inhibitor ring, her magic would slowly leak out and make her tired all day. Worse, without conscious effort, she could accidentally cause a ‘Thaumic Cascade’ or ‘magic kickback’. For a regular pony, this was natural and occurred if somepony tapped a unicorn’s horn during a spell or they messed up the thaumic calculations. This merely caused the spell to fail or at worst, maybe their horn would heat up and they would have a little headache. For Sweetie Belle though, one bad spell, and she would never be able to perform magic again … if she was lucky. That was the second use of the ring, it ensured that—no matter how much she tried—she could not produce enough magic to do any permanent damage.

“That’s good, thanks,” the doctor replied, letting Sweetie Belle pant in relief as the ring was put back on her head. Sweetie Belle probably didn’t need to concentrate as hard as she did, but she was smart enough to not take any risks.

The doctor stood up and walked to the foot of her bed where a small clipboard hung. He lifted it up and, using the pen, wrote in the updated results of the tests.

“Well?” Rarity pleaded, “Can my sister leave? Is she good to go?”

The doctor thought intensely. “Maybe …” he replied.

Both Rarity and Sweetie Belle groaned at that. “Oh come now, darling,” Rarity exasperated, “this is a ‘yes-or-no’ question. You said she’s fine physically, but how is her magic? Will she be alright with just irregular checkups every month? I assure you that Ponyville has an excellent hospital and-”

The doctor put a hoof up, quieting the mare immediately. “I’m just not sure,” the doctor responded. “While her body has made great strides in recovering, her horn has done little.” He gave a sigh of frustration and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Really, in all my years I have never seen such a bad case. I hate to admit it, but there is very little else I can see helping but time.”

“Then?” Sweetie Belle looked up, hope painfully clear in her eyes.

“Yes,” the doctor let out reluctantly. “I suppose I could-”

“Oh thank you!” Rarity said, hugging the stallion painfully. “You don’t know what this means to-”

“I can imagine,” the elderly pony gasped, forcing the mare off with a little more force than necessary. “Now, that being said, it won’t be sunshine and rainbows from now on. There are several conditions to your sister’s release.”

He moved away from the bed such that he was facing both of the white unicorns. “First: never, under any circumstances, is Sweetie Belle to remove her limiter except at the express consent and presence of either me or Princess Twilight Sparkle. I have spoken with her on one of her visits and she generously took it on herself to learn the magic-sealing spell which would prevent catastrophe should it ever occur. Only us ponies.” He turned to Rarity. “Rarity, you must take great care in ensuring that your sister does not remove her limiter and I must have your promise not remove it yourself. You may understand the risks, but you are not trained to handle them.”

Rarity gulped, but nodded.

“Alright. Second: She must continue her thaumiotherapy with the Princess. For the past month, I have been spending a few minutes each day ensuring that Sweetie Belle properly takes care of her horn and exercises it without the limiter. The ring otherwise prevents her horn from getting proper exercise. I am unsure whether this will improve her situation in the long run, but regardless, she mustn’t let her horn atrophy from disuse or it will not grow as she gets older. Once again Rarity, I must ask that you not take this task on yourself.” Rarity nodded with more confidence this time.

“Finally, she is to visit back here once a month. The princess has promised to send me regular updates and I trust that she knows what she is doing, but there are a few complications that she may not pick up without the proper equipment we have here. Since you have been making regular trips to Canterlot thanks to your new store, I imagine that this shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Not a problem at all, darling!” Rarity responded, her smile as wide as a mile. “This is the best news I’ve heard since I learned my little, itty-bitty sister was going to survive that harrowing ordeal.” Her eyes got a little misty again as she thanked the doctor.

“It really is no problem. Please, take as long as you like to get ready and you may leave at any time. I will update the receptionist and she will finalize your departure.”

As the doctor left, Rarity quickly turned to her sister and hugged. “Oh this is truly The. Best. Possible. Thing. I bet you can’t wait to get back to your friends. It will be just like old times.” This happy attitude only lasted a little while, however, before her face melted back to the concern she had entered with. She quickly entered ‘overly-attached-sister’ mode as Sweetie Belle dubbed it.

“So have you got all your homework done?”


“Did you eat alright? Are you sleeping well?”

“Yeah …”

“You don’t sound alright. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Sweetie Belle replied, turning to her sister with a small grin. “Really, I’m glad to be finally out of the hospital.”

“Alright,” her sister responded. She wasn’t exactly convinced, but she would have time to figure that out. All the time in the world now.

As they walked out, Sweetie Belle changed the topic, anything to avoid talking about the things she had been brooding about all morning. “So why are you dressed up so much? Did you have a client to meet?”

“Oh, why yes! There was this delightful mare that Fancy Pants introduced me to. You know Fancy Pants right? Anyway, so this mare wanted a dress for a ball and she…”

For the rest of the trip home, Sweetie Belle managed to keep her sister talking about the various dresses she made, the clients she met and the gossip in both Ponyville and Canterlot. It wasn’t as enjoyable as Sweetie would have liked, but she was content. If she could just listen to her sister, if she could just avoid her problems like this forever, she might be happy enough to get by. However, she couldn’t and she wasn’t. No matter how much she tried to pay attention to her sister, no matter how interesting she tried to convince herself the mindless gossip was, she couldn’t avoid her dilemma. The all-encompassing, mind-consuming problem she had spent two months without an answer to.

‘What do I do now?’

Author's Note:

That's it for the introduction. In the next few chapters there will be a a lot less thinking and more doing, but I hope that I've kept people interested thus far and given you a taste of what is to come.

I will try to keep up a regular schedule for submissions. Look forward to more soon.