• Published 9th Nov 2015
  • 4,576 Views, 283 Comments

She's Awful - Superbowl

Principal Abacus Cinch is preparing to deal with the aftermath of the Friendship Games as she receives an invitation to Equestria from someone very familiar.

  • ...

The real world

Principal Abacus Cinch sat in her kitchen, her hands gripping a hot cup of tea, nursing a bit of a headache. The window curtain flapped against the cold air seeping into her apartment. The air helped a bit.

Countless thoughts swirled inside Principal Cinch’s head, and she sorely missed her normal well-practiced collectedness. She stared dumbly at the table, the dulled reflection of the grey sky weakly stared back.

The phone rang. Cinch looked at the display. Cadenza.

Cadenza was supposed to still be at CHS, overseeing the final ceremonies in Cinch’s place. If she called so soon, it must’ve been something important. Cinch composed herself, picked up the phone and uttered a greeting in a tone as calm as she could muster.

“Principal Cinch, I just had a talk with Twilight,” Cadenza said right away.

Ah, yes, Cinch’s best student. The same one who was transformed into a frightening power-crazy monster and began tearing the fabric of reality apart. Cinch wondered what the normally meek Twilight had to say after all that.

“She wants to transfer to Canterlot High instead of applying to Everton. I already went over this with Principal Celestia.”

“That is fine,” Cinch replied, “far be it from me to dictate where Twilight should go. Even if CHS would be a waste of her intelligence. We’ll finalize the paperwork come Monday. Was there anything else?”

“No, that was all… Alright, I’ll have the paperwork ready tomorrow.”

A bit of an awkward silence hung between them.

“Good bye, Miss Cadance.”

Cinch put the phone back into the charger and took a sip of her tea, staring out her apartment window into the overcast Sunday morning outside. At least it wasn’t a sunny day, as though the weather sympathized with her grim situation. Or her headache.

In hindsight it was obvious how gravely she had misjudged the odds the day before. Her options were either to lose the Friendship Games—and the final event was too based on luck and gave too much of a home ground advantage to CHS—or hope that magic would help them as it had their rivals. She chose the option with the higher risk and higher reward.

Cinch saw the looks that everyone gave her after it had all been resolved. Her students surrounded her—shoulder to shoulder with Canterlot High's—to relish in her "defeat", having found the one person they could blame for everything that had gone wrong that day. Happy with how her reputation was going to go down the drain. Smug with their moral superiority.

Nevermind that Crystal Prep would sink with her.

Nevermind that they would too.

Not that Cinch was vindictive enough to punish others for her own mistakes. But Crystal Prep’s reputation and hers were tied together closer than anybody ever seemed to realize. And if Cinch’s got dragged through the metaphorical mud, the metaphorical stains would appear on Crystal Prep’s metaphorical coat.

Cinch got up and walked to the window. Outside, in the distance, stood Crystal Prep. The place that most of her life revolved around. The place that she had singlehandedly rescued.

A long time ago, when Cinch was a professor, Crystal Prep had an entirely different reputation. Everyone but her happily accepted “monetary donations” from the wealthy students whose generosity greatly helped their grades. The headmaster had his hand firmly in everyone’s pocket. It was a school for rich kids to relax and buy their diplomas.

Cinch made it into a school for rich kids to receive proper education, discipline and training for the lives ahead of them. All she had to do was stay out of the headmaster’s sight and quietly gather evidence of the corruption running rampant. After the evidence had been gathered and put to good use, Cinch became the principal. The rest was history.

However, as everyone knows, people judge you not by your life’s worth of deeds, but by the very last thing you have done. Doubly so if the last thing just happened to be a terrible, costly mistake.

Cinch looked at the proud and prestigious Crystal Prep and could not shake the image of her school standing there empty, windows shattered, graffiti over the walls, pieces of its architecture fallen off.

That was probably a tad over-dramatic of her, Cinch thought. Perhaps she was genuinely worried. Perhaps.

Principal Cinch finished her tea. She needed to think. A drive around town sometimes helped to clear her head and organize her thoughts. She hoped it would work this time.

Strong, chilly winds threw dry leaves, crumpled paper and plastic wrappings all around, and the clouds across the sky were marred with darkened spots. They seemed ready to burst. Principal Cinch rolled the car windows down and sighed as the cold air rushed into her car and enveloped her head. It almost eased her headache. One of the few things Cinch could admit she enjoyed in life was the sensation of wind. She would trade her current car for a convertible, if it wouldn’t sully her image. That was more important than personal gratification.

She wanted to think about the fact that magic apparently existed, but this wasn’t the time for that. Cinch needed to assess the situation and figure out what had to be done. What could be done, even.

Canterlot High had kept the existence of magic a secret. They knew how to handle it, meaning they had encountered it before and managed to control it. Yet there was not a shred of evidence out there. Nothing online, nothing in the news. It made sense, if word got out CHS would’ve been drowned in governmental investigations.

Actually, now that she thought about it, several recent news items concerning CHS had been obvious cover-ups. An extremely localized thunderstorm? A hyper-realistic light show made using some of the students’ experimental new equipment? Yes, definitely plausible.

Either way, CHS was not a danger to her in this particular case. Celestia and Luna were not vindictive. Heck, they would probably seek to speak with Cinch about all of this soon enough. The students were not in the position to be a threat.

Cinch’s car trip was taking her into the richer part of town. Nice, expensive, tastefully built and decorated houses stood on both sides of the road, shielded from it by long rows of well-maintained healthy trees. Anybody who took a look at this place could tell right away that this was where people whose opinions mattered in the world could be found.

Including a good percentage of Cinch’s students and their families. Families who could have learned of the principal’s actions towards the school’s best student. Students who could end up leaving CPA en masse.

Driving through this nice neighbourhood was rather depressing.

Cinch had to admit to herself that she could do pretty much nothing at the moment. Her whole Sunday would have to be spent guessing and brooding. Only on Monday could she start performing some sort of damage control. And she had no idea what she was going to do. This situation was quite exceptional, after all.

Perhaps Cadenza could assist her. The dean had always been liked by the students and remained useful throughout her employment at Crystal Prep.

Cinch turned her car around and headed home.

Monday morning came, and Principal Cinch’s headache had not subsided.

She arrived to Crystal Prep before it was open to the students, navigated the halls and staircases and went straight for the teapot upon arriving to her office. She thought of flicking the light switch but decided against it, as usual. The light coming in through the windows behind her was enough.

Cadenza would soon arrive with the documents pertaining to Twilight’s transfer to CHS. Twilight had always been a valuable asset to their school. The displays full of trophies branded with her name could attest to that.

But there would be others. Principal Cinch foresaw not getting to keep her after the games either way. Twilight would either be on her way into Everton or resent Cinch too much to even consider rendering her any assistance ever again.

Right now, Principal Cinch could do nothing but wait for Dean Cadenza (and roll her pencil across the desk). She could use the young woman to help her gauge the mood of her students as she had done before. Cadenza was quite adept at judging issues like that. Probably had to do with how empathetic the dean was.

Cinch almost envied her, but in this line of work empathy could prove detrimental. She was the unfeeling, calculating head of the school, responsible for maintaining its image and status. She could leave being good people to others.

Right on time, after several quick knocks, Cadenza appeared in the doorway.

“Principal Cinch, do you have time? I have some things I need to talk to you about,” asked Cadenza after approaching the desk.

“I do. Take a seat,” answered Cinch in her most polite tone. Sometimes acting as if nothing bad had happened could serve to make others forget it, even if only briefly. Provided they were not dead set on antagonizing you, of course, but Cadenza was not that type of person.

“Thank you. First things first, here’s the paperwork for Twilight’s transfer. All that’s missing is your signature.”

Cinch slid the paper across the table to sign it, without saying a word.

“There is another—” Cadenza took the finished document back “—issue I wanted to talk to you about. Well, not myself per se, but… er…”

“What is it, Cadance?” Cinch wasn’t used to seeing the dean without her usual warm and dignified confidence.

“Well, you see… It’s kind of about Saturday evening…”

Ah. So she finally gathered up the nerve to bring that up. Cinch decided to let Cadenza speak her mind before saying anything on the matter. She indicated this by raising an eyebrow.

“I’m… Sure that you remember what was happening. Those holes opening up, you could see glimpses of a strange place through them. Different places, actually.”

“Cadance, you’ll have to excuse me, but I did not find the moment appropriate for studying the phenomena,” Cinch said.

“I spoke to some of the students back at CHS later that evening, to inquire about this whole magic ordeal, you see. I was concerned for Twilight’s safety… Well, it turns out that one of their students is quite knowledgeable on the matter. It’s the girl who saved Twilight.”

“Yes, it was quite obvious that the girl knew what she was doing,” Cinch agreed. “What did you find out?”

“Apparently those places in those holes… They are from a whole other world. The world that Sunset Shimmer—that’s the girl’s name—is actually from.”

“And you believed that?” Principal Cinch took off her glasses. “Do you expect me to believe it as well?”

Cadenza closed her eyes and shook her head. “I know how strange it all sounds, Principal Cinch. But you would have said the same about magic before. Besides, on Sunday they had proof.”

“Do you, by any chance, have that proof with you, Cadance? I would like to come to my own conclusions,” Cinch said, putting her glasses back on and locking her hands together.

Cadenza walked to the door, opened it slightly and motioned for someone waiting outside to come in.

Principal Cinch expected Sunset Shimmer to be there. Or maybe someone else. Who she did not expect was Twilight.

Twilight had been quick to ditch the uniform, Cinch noted. She also let her hair down, and replaced her glasses with contacts. She really did want to distance herself from Crystal Prep immediately, it seemed. Perhaps to appear more sociable to her new peers at Canterlot High.

“Hello. You must be Principal Cinch,” Twilight said as she approached.

Cinch was a bit lost. Maybe this was not Twilight after all. She opted for the safest answer. A raised eyebrow and a quick “Correct.”

“My name is Twilight Sparkle. You might’ve guessed already that I’m not the same Twilight Sparkle that you knew. I’m her counterpart from the other world.”

“Marvelous. What do you want?” Counterpart? Cinch was not sure she understood, but she was also not sure she really cared.

‘Twilight Sparkle’ furrowed her brow slightly. “Mrs Cinch. I want to talk to you.”

Cinch turned to Cadenza, who still stood a little further away. “Was there anything else you wanted to discuss, Cadance?”

“Well, yes, but only after Twilight talks to you. I’ll wait outside.” Cadenza turned around and left the office.

“Take a seat, Miss Sparkle. I do not have much time, but I’m listening.”

“Principal Cinch. I was told about what you had done, particularly on Saturday evening. But Dean Cadance also told me why you did it.”

“Miss Sparkle, if you came here with the intent of moralizing, you can save your time and leave right now. I am well aware of what I did, and the mistake I made.”

“Mistake?” asked Sparkle, emphasizing the singular form of the word, “Do you not count blackmailing your student a mistake as well?”

“Dear Sparkle. The world does not conform to your idealistic views on right and wrong. The world is not black and white. We were about to lose the Friendship Games. I had to take extra measures to ensure our victory. Twilight was going to help our school and leave with a guaranteed entry into the Everton independent research program. If you think it was ever going to come to me actually denying her the application, you are naive.”

Sparkle cocked her head to the side. “Why threaten her at all, then?”

“Why, for absolute certainty. It was better to have one person question my morality than to give Canterlot High a chance to win the games. In the end, everyone was going to emerge having gained something they wanted.” Cinch put down the pencil that she had not even noticed picking up.

“But it did not go that way, Principal.” Sparkle’s expression verged on accusatory. “And besides, why is winning the games so important?”

Cinch leaned in just a bit.

“Did Cadance not explain this to you, Miss Sparkle? Our school has a spotless reputation of being the best of the best, infallible, undefeatable. We can not count on support from the important people if we can not guarantee our merit. A loss at the Friendship Games might not seem like a big deal to you, or even to many of my students.” Cinch pointed the pencil that had once again found its way into her hand at Sparkle. “But a crack in our image is enough to bring it all crumbling down. If I let this type of thing happen, we would be just another school.”

“I see. Let me ask you this, Principal Cinch,” Sparkle said. “Are you open to new things? Can I make a case for something you probably disagree with and count on your attention?”

“You can certainly try, miss Sparkle.” Pencil down, hands locked. An open challenge.

“Thank you. I will try to not take too much of your time. You see, like the Twilight from your world, I value knowledge. Not above all things, but more than your average pony.”


“Oh, right. Where I’m from, we’re ponies, not humans. The transition to this world changes our shape.”

Raised eyebrow.

This was starting to sound like one of those fairy tales Cinch remembered reading as a child but did not remember ever enjoying.

“Well, this doesn’t matter. Anyway, I very much understand you. If Dean Cadance was correct, you were responsible for this school raising from the ashes, so to speak?”

“Yes, I was.” A tad over-dramatic, but an acknowledgment of her work all the same.

“I understand that you had good intentions. You wanted to restore a place where people would share and receive knowledge, a place that would prepare people to be the best they could be, to reach success in life. You wanted to make this school the best,” Sparkle said, “but I think that you may have lost sight of what was really important.”

A different eyebrow this time.

“Success should not come at the expense of others. Competition is good only when it drives all competitors to better themselves, not when it makes one step on another.”

“Miss Sparkle, are you intending to preach to me the values of friendship?” Cinch asked. “I did hear what that Shimmer girl said. She is from your world, is she not? These views might work in your world, and they might work with your magic, but I assure you, miss Sparkle, you’re making it evident that you do NOT understand how THIS world works.”

“And what could be different about this world that meant friendship was not something to strive for?” Sparkle challenged Cinch. Oh, to be so naive. Cinch almost wanted to know what life looked like from such a simplified perspective. Just for amusement’s sake.

“Miss Sparkle. Things are not that simple. Frankly, I’m surprised at myself for spending time teaching you this, but since I am, let me explain.” Cinch lightly sighed and continued, “People are vicious. People do not hesitate to ignore others’ needs and problems while making choices that affect their own lives. People will look at the single mistake you make and decide you’re not worth their time. If you hope to get anywhere, you can either be the best or forever be the backup option. If you become too friendly with those who benefit from your failures, you are setting yourself up for a fall.” To illustrate her point, Cinch toppled the pencil that she, conveniently enough, had kept upright with her own finger for one reason or another.

“But they do not have to benefit from your failures! The whole point of friendship is to help each other and become better for it!” Sparkle’s arms looked like they wanted to shoot up.

“Miss Sparkle! Do you have anything to say to me that I haven’t heard many times from others before? From Cadance, for example?” Cinch glanced at the door. “If not, I kindly ask you to stop wasting my time and yours. In case you forgot, I have other problems to solve here besides becoming a better person.”

“Yes, yes I do. You see, what you described fits my world as much as yours. However, some of us have proven time and time again that friendship benefits everyone involved. We’ve achieved things that would have been completely unthinkable without friendship. Look again at Canterlot High.” Sparkle made a vague motion with her hand to point at where she probably thought CHS was. “You wanted to find out the secret behind their success? I can easily tell you, because I was there to make it happen. It was not the fact that six of its students could grow pony ears, and two of them wings. It was friendship!” The girl looked much too excited about the word. “By embracing it, they got on the path to becoming a better school. They do not have to trample anyone else. They do not have to be the best. Do you think that people would stop coming to your school if you were second best? Do you think that nobody else is capable of giving people a good education? Crystal Prep may be the best school, but it’s not the only good one.” Sparkle paused to shake her head. “Besides, do you think that if you keep doing what you’ve been doing nobody will ever notice or object? Your own students were about to ruin your reputation had Dean Cadance and Sunset Shimmer not talked to them on Sunday before they left.”

And there it was. The key part. The one truth in all the idealistic nonsense this girl was spouting. Cinch didn’t have time to think of what to say as Sparkle’s tirade quickly resumed.

“Principal Cinch, I completely respect your devotion to this school, I completely understand why you go to such lengths to ensure its reputation remains perfect.” Sparkle made another pause, looking thoughtful. “But your methods have become wrong. I’m only here because I wanted to help you, because I think I know how to help you and your school.”

“If your help amounts to giving me lectures as you would little children—”

“No. I want to offer something to you. I only do this because you are aware of magic and our world.” Sparkle’s tone rapidly shifted back to calm and diplomatic.

“I would not have been aware of your world had Cadance not told me of its existence some ten minutes ago, Miss Sparkle,” noted Cinch.

“Well, what matters is that now you are. As I said, your students are questioning things now. Your actions have shaken their respect for you. They want true friendship back in their lives after getting a glimpse of it first hand at Canterlot High. How do you expect to fix this?” It was Sparkle’s turn to raise her eyebrow. Suffice to say it did not have the intended impact on Cinch.

“It matters little to me what they want in their lives. Here, in this school, they are my students and they are here to receive education. I shall simply have to let them know that undermining my reputation will have an adverse effect on the school’s image and, by extension, on the education they receive.”

“Do you think it would work? Do you think they will listen to you?”

For the first time in their exchange, Cinch felt unsure. She took her hands from under her chin, where they had found themselves sometime during Sparkle’s rambling, and reached for the pencil again.

“Some might, but some won’t. It will only take one student going against you to start a chain reaction.” Sparkle tried to gesticulate a ‘chain reaction’ but failed miserably. ”Right now, Principal Cinch, whether you like it or not, your students have a say over you. You need to listen to them instead of making them listen to you.”

Cinch sighed and closed her eyes for a few seconds. “And would you happen to have a suggestion then, Miss Sparkle?”

“Yes, in fact, this is what I am here for, Principal Cinch.” Sparkle nodded. ”As I was saying, because you already know of magic and of our world, we are willing to extend an offer to you. I’ve talked to Dean Cadance and others about it, and they all support this proposition.”

Cinch couldn’t remember which eyebrow she raised last, so she settled for the left one this time.

“As you might’ve gathered from my existance, our worlds’ inhabitants have counterparts in one another. In my world, there’s a Cadance, a Celestia, a Luna, and I’ve recognized many of the students in your school as well… But it isn’t just limited to ponies.”

“People,” Cinch corrected.

“People and ponies. But no, it’s not just them. Various locations seem to have counterparts as well. We have a Canterlot… And we have a Crystal Empire.”

“Crystal… Empire, you say?” Cinch began to absent-mindedly tap the pencil on the desk. Eraser side down, of course.

“Yes. My offer is as follows. We would like for you to make a visit—for however long you think would be best—to our world. Crystal Empire is a great example of friendship and unity working wonders for everyone involved. Meanwhile, Dean Cadance will run damage control here at Crystal Prep. Your students are starting to lose their belief in your methods and ideology, Principal Cinch. I know you do not like it, but from what we gathered… Well, mainly Dean Cadance. From what she gathered, they want change. Some change.” Sparkle hesitated. “And please forgive me for saying this, but this change needs to be handled carefully by someone who is better at… Well, who is more… Um, that is to say…” Sparkle looked delightfully uncomfortable, but much as Cinch would’ve liked to watch her writhe, she had to hurry things along.

“Do not bother, Miss Sparkle. I believe I can make a reasonable guess as to what you are trying to say.”

“Sorry. But would you agree that Dean Cadance is a good choice to handle the current matter? You might issue an apology, and your students might not take it seriously. You might try to force them into behaving like you want them to, but they might rebel. Of course, this is your school, and you can enforce your rules, but the students are not obligated to continue attending a school if they feel it isn’t good for them.”

Cinch interlocked her fingers in a gesture signifying the final stretch of their little dialogue. One way or another, it had to end.

“I would be lying if I were to say I didn’t see your point, Miss Sparkle. In fact, I was planning on asking for Cadance’s assistance in this matter.” Cinch paused and shook her head. “But I shall remain here to supervise her actions.”

“Don’t you trust her? Has she ever let you down? She has the school’s best interests in mind too, you know.”

“Dean Cadance has a very different idea of what our school should be like, Miss Sparkle. Crystal Prep will not be made into a second Canterlot High, full of students with no respect for discipline or the school’s mission—education, that is.”

“Dean Cadance told me some words you had once said to her, Principal Cinch. The school’s purpose is to prepare young people for their entire lives as adults. This is not limited to education.”

“Indeed, proper discipline must also be taught.”

“Contrary to what you think, Principal Cinch, Canterlot High does teach discipline. Just enough of it. But it also teaches its students how to be good to each other. You might not think it important, for reasons I can’t claim to understand, but friendship makes people happy, friendship helps people achieve great things. Friendship makes people better.”

Cinch barely held back an exasperated sigh. Sparkle, despite her grating naivete, must have picked up on it.

“But I know what your opinion on this is. It’s precisely why I am offering to show you our world. We can demonstrate firsthoof… um, sorry, first… firsthand how friendship endures and empowers. Don’t think us childish or idealistic, Principal Cinch. The difference between our worlds’ histories is that we had a very important event happen to us in the distant past, when newfound friendship between former enemies literally saved our entire kind. If I may say so, you and your school could benefit from the lessons we learned just as we do to this day.”

“Miss Sparkle, surely you might realize how absurd a teenage girl looks trying to teach me a lesson,” Cinch replied when Sparkle stopped her speech and gave her an expectant look.

The nerve of this girl! Of course, Principal Cinch did not claim to be the best person there ever was, but she had no interest in such claims. She was efficient at her job. That’s what mattered in the end. And prior to the introduction of this unexpected element into her life—magic—she achieved everything she had ever set out to achieve.

Of course, it was not like this new element would simply fade back into obscurity. Things would not return to their pre-Friendship Games state. Changes would have to happen, Cinch had to admit to herself.

“Principal Cinch, with all due respect… I never enjoy flaunting my achievements, but if there is anything I pride myself on knowing a thing or two about, it’s friendship. Well, also magic, and history… and physics… ahem.” Sparkle shook her head frantically. “Sorry. What I mean is, they say it’s never too late to learn. Why wouldn’t you want to learn something that might help you run your school better? You can always dismiss it if you find it unsuitable. And obviously, nopony is going to keep you in our world. You can even communicate with Dean Cadance instantly—we have magic for that—and return at a moment’s notice.”

Clever girl. Sparkle was careful to not imply any obligations and leave her with all the options, Cinch noticed. Even to her, declining now seemed like a shortsighted and boneheaded thing to do. She could return at any point, and she had an open line to Cadenza if she needed it. Looking into this Crystal Empire could help Cinch’s chances to successfully handle the imminent changes in Crystal Prep, before she steered it back on track. Perhaps she could also stand to learn some more about this whole magic nonsense—if only to find a way to discover and utilize it back home in more educated ways than her admittedly careless actions at the Friendship Games.

“Very well, Miss Sparkle. It appears you have indeed made your case. I shall talk to Cadance and afterwards we can have this little... tour.”

Sparkle smiled widely and brightly. Principal Cinch was not used to people giving such genuine smiles. It only served to remind Cinch that she was dealing with a teenager lecturing her on being nice. A teenager from another world.

What a ridiculous situation she found herself in. She hoped the residents of the parallel world knew magic spells to cure searing headaches.