• Published 16th Aug 2016
  • 4,945 Views, 104 Comments

Grading on a Bell Curve - Amber Spark



After a minor magical mishap with Moon Dancer, Sunset Shimmer heads to the lounge for some tea to unwind. However, there she finds a young teacher walking down a path she once walked, giving Sunset a unique opportunity…

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The Legacy of Compassion

It had taken almost twenty minutes to get Cheerilee anything remotely resembling functional again. After a half dozen assurances that no, this was not a dream, Cheerilee respectfully requested Professor Clear send a message back to the Princess thanking her for the opportunity and confirming Cheerilee would be delighted to see her on Monday.

Philomena had fluttered around Cheerilee for a bit before vanishing with the unique brand of phoenix magic Sunset still didn’t fully understand. She’d never seen another phoenix teleport, but they were rare enough that she’d only seen one other. Celestia also liked keeping details on phoenixes a bit mysterious. Probably to add to Philomena’s mystique, something of which Sunset was sure Celestia’s pet wholeheartedly approved.

Meanwhile, Cheerilee had simply been mesmerized by the mythical bird.

Finally, as the sun began to slip toward the horizon, Sunset realized if she didn’t get going soon, she’d be late for her evening study with the Princess. Professor Clear had also mentioned there were a few things for her to do before heading home for the weekend. Still, Sunset had offered to have tea—in a proper teahouse—with Cheerilee tomorrow morning.

Cheerilee had readily agreed, while insisting on paying tomorrow in addition to walking Sunset to Canterlot Castle tonight.

As they headed for the door, Professor Clear spoke up. “Miss Shimmer, a moment of your time, please? Cheerilee, I promise I won’t keep your friend for long.”

Cheerilee still had a silly grin on her face and just nodded happily. It looked like she was still trying to process the revelations Professor Clear had delivered.

The moment Cheerilee had closed the door, Crystal Clear was on her hooves and coming around the desk. The professor stopped in front of Sunset with a strange expression she couldn’t quite identify. Sunset took a step back, her ears going flat against her head.

After studying Sunset for what felt like hours, Professor Clear reached out a hoof. Sunset gingerly took the outstretched hoof, and the professor shook it passionately.

“Thank you, Sunset,” Crystal Clear said, her voice earnest, almost as if she were fighting back tears. “I had no idea Cheerilee was having such doubts. Maybe I’m getting rusty in my old age to have missed it. You really are a different pony than the one I accepted all those years ago.”

“It was nothing.” Sunset swallowed. “I just… I know what’s it’s like to doubt yourself. I recently realized almost everything I had been doing was for the wrong reasons. When I saw Cheerilee had the same doubts… but there was no basis for them, well, I knew me just telling her that wouldn’t do much good.”

“You were right.” Crystal Clear nodded. “Everypony has times when we need a third party to say something important into our lives. A messenger of truth, if you will. Cheerilee has driven herself very hard to get to this point, but I’m worried about her. I’m worried without support, she’ll burn out. There’s only so much we can do for her.”

Sunset frowned. “If you’re asking what I think you’re asking… you have to know I’m probably the worst choice you can make…”

“You contacted the most powerful being in Equestria to help a pony in need without any thought to what you would gain from it, Sunset.” Crystal Clear beamed at her. “That’s called generosity. And that’s called kindness. Those are traits you once lacked. I think you’re starting to find them. I think you’re finally on the right road.”

“Maybe.” Sunset dug at the carpet a little, unable to meet the professor’s eyes. “But if that’s the case, I’m only at the start of that road.”

“It is a long road,” Crystal Clear said, her warm smile never fading. “But it is a great deal easier if you do not walk it alone.”

Sunset nodded and chewed her bottom lip a bit. “Thank you, Professor.”

“You are quite welcome, Sunset.”

With that, Sunset left and met Cheerilee in the hall outside the professor’s office. To her surprise, Cheerilee had her book out again. She closed it and slipped it into a saddlebag, trying surreptitiously to wipe the tears from her eyes while doing so.

This time, Sunset was pretty sure they were tears of joy, if Cheerilee’s smile was any indication.

Sunset grinned. “I’m sorry, but I still can’t see how you can find Grading on a Bell Curve to be that emotional.”

Cheerilee laughed, and they headed down the stairs. It wasn’t until they had finally left the school grounds and entered into the twilight of Canterlot itself that she spoke again.

“Why?”

“You looked like you needed a friend,” Sunset admitted. “And because… I’m starting to wonder if all the stuff I’ve gone through, the mistakes I made… well, maybe the reason I went through all that was so I could help other ponies.”

Cheerilee blinked at her a few times as they passed under a lamppost. “That’s a much more mature attitude than I expected from you.”

“I don’t know.” Sunset shrugged. “I’m not any good at this friendship thing. Tartarus, I’m barely qualified to even talk to other ponies. But I need to try. I have a feeling I’ll screw up a lot while doing it.”

“Well, you didn’t screw up today,” Cheerilee said. “I don’t know if I’ll take Professor Clear up on her offer or not. I have this little dream about a classic red schoolhouse on a grassy hill somewhere. Maybe back home in Ponyville.”

“Whatever you decide, I’m sure you’ll be great at it.”

Cheerilee smiled. “You know, for the first time, I think I can actually believe it when somepony says that.”

“I’m glad. It sucks to have that little voice in your head.” Sunset rubbed the back of her head.

Now if I could only get rid of my little voice...

“So there’s a great new coffee and teahouse on Galloping Gateway called The First Cup,” Sunset said. “I think you’ll—”

“Um… Sunset?”

“What?”

Sunset turned to look at Cheerilee, which was precisely the wrong thing to do. Because when she had rubbed the back of her head, it had once again loosened the architecture holding the massive construction supporting her mane. So, of course, that single turn was enough to get it to wrap under her hooves.

She went down in a heap and with a groan.

Cheerilee’s laughter exploded up and down the street.

“I swear, I’m going to throttle Moon Dancer,” Sunset muttered as Cheerilee knelt to help her get untangled. “I’ll bet she did this on purpose.”

“Who’s Moon Dancer?” Cheerilee asked as she did some quick work with her hooves and reinforced the construct on the back of Sunset’s head.

“Oh, just one of the few friends I’ve managed to make,” Sunset said as she slowly began to move forward. At this point, she was convinced her mane was out to get her.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, you’ve just made one more.”

Sunset smiled—making sure not to do anything to loosen the pins in her mane—and turned to Cheerilee.

“Thank you. That actually means a lot.”

“After all,” Cheerilee said with a twinkle in her eye. “Anypony who could do that to your mane and get away with it either has to be a very close friend or a very close enemy.”

“Oh, yeah,” Sunset said, rolling her eyes. “Moon Dancer’s going to love you.”

Author's Note:

Thank you for taking the time to read "Grading on a Bell Curve." I do hope you've enjoyed the beginning of Sunset's friendship with everypony's favorite school teacher, Cheerilee.

I've written up a little follow-up/retrospective piece you can find on my FiMFiction Blog here, if you're curious about the development of this story. In addition, you'll find more Star Trek: The Next Generation references than you can shake a stick at!*

At this point, I'm well past a dozen different short story synopses for this particular timeline, which I may actually have a name for soon! I suspect in the end, you'll have a full novel's worth of stories about Sunset and her friends before the penultimate novel of the series is released.

And yes, I do enjoy planting story hooks pretty much everywhere. Why do you ask? :pinkiehappy:

See you in the blog or for the next story "How Not to Use Your Royal Prerogative!"

*Claim may not be valid depending on size and quality of stick at hoof in your local area.

If you come across any errors, please let me know by PM!

Comments ( 61 )

Is this part of a universe of stories? (i.e., Lunaverse, Stallionsverse, ect.) No, I haven't read your other stories yet. This story sounds good though.

7492830 Thank you much! At this juncture, all I'm saying is this is in a timeline in which the Sonic Rainboom never occurred. :duck:

However, if you're asking if this is a timeline/universe that's already been established by other authors, the answer is nope! This particular timeline is wholly original (well, as original as a work derived off a television series based on cartoon pastel ponies can be...). :twilightblush:

I'm kind of sad that 'Grading on a Bell Curve' is over. However, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story as well. Keep up the good work.

7495904 Thank you kindly! But don't worry, we're just getting started. There's plenty more in this timeline for us to explore! (Probably too much for my own good. :twilightoops:)

From what I've read so far, this is shaping up to be really good. Your grammar is spot-on, your word choice sublime, and it really helps the story's overall tone stay consistent. Excellent work. :twilightsmile:

7506256 I think you may be one of the first people in my life to actually compliment me on mechanics, something I've often found to be one of my weakest areas. It tends to be what gets tweaked the most in my editing phase.

And I know for a fact that I have never been told my word choice was sublime.

So, thank you three times over (one for the comment as a whole, one for the mechanics and one for the sublime bit)! I do hope I continue to live up to these standards of quality! :twilightblush:

I think I like you, Novel. You have a way with writing. I'll be checking your future stuff. I think I enjoy how you handle comedy; not a heavy-handed reference that is supposed to cue in the 'Laught!' sign to the audience, but as something that has its own timing.

And yes, I know that this isn't a comedy. Doesn't stop it from having some comedic/humorous moments.

[I'll re-read this today and edit this comment to include more substance/criticism. Keep your finger on that F5!]

7516820 Originally, I had intended this to be a comedy, but I can't seem to pull off a true comedy. I guess I just end up writing a balance. That being said, Moon Dancer and Sunset's banter is just wonderful to write. I could probably write an entire story of nothing but dialogue between the two.

I'm thrilled you've enjoyed it and hope you enjoy what's coming in the future!

Cheerilee was getting emotional because she was reading this fic, wasn't she? Some sort of circularly paradoxical book about what she was doing right that minute.

7579828 Sunset-ception. :moustache:

Either that or "Stranger than Fiction." I loved that movie. :pinkiehappy:

I really like these stories that just are about slice-of-life - not too long and still they build the characters and the world.
My only complaint would be - and that is just biased opinion - that the intro in the first chapter was a bit too long.

Just keep up the good work ...

7611704 A legitimate concern. I may have overcompensated for the fact that I was turning back the clock by several years. I wanted to show Sunset's state of mind, which is fairly removed from the one we meet in Application, yet hasn't gone back to her old habits.

As always, thank you kindly for your words. :twilightsmile:

Hmm. I typcally intensely dislike Cheerilee as a character in writing. You somehow made it bearable for me, that doesn't happen too often, if ever. That alone means you've done an awesome job. Well done :3

7507409 Well, he's right. I didn't realize it until I read his comment, but I've read two of your stories now and have not once had my train of thought come to a screeching, crashing halt as I try to decipher what the writer meant from context due to a grammar mistake or mischosen homophone.

That is really a miracle—for the Internet in general as much as for this particular piece of it! Not in the least because of the artificial errors so often introduced by misbegotten excuses for "helpful" software like Spellcheck and Applecorrect.

*grumbles something about predictive text algorithms being worth less than tea leaves in a cup*

You can has cookie nao.

:pinkiehappy:

7653203 I have a somewhat intense editing process that I use for all my stories. First, I put the story away for at least a week to "bake" allowing me to get some distance from it so I can see it more objectively. Then, I have my "story" beta-reader do a high-level pass (story structure, character, etc.), who catches a few things, then my "detail" beta reader does another high-level pass and then a deep dive where he literally goes Grammar Nazi on me. After reviewing their edits, I do a read-through myself and finally print two copies, one for my wife to read and the second I read aloud to myself. Finally, I'll get all those edits in and do spot-checks in various places. :twistnerd:

Even then, I still miss stuff. But I know just how immersion-breaking basic errors can be and I do my best to provide a seamless reading experience. The last thing I want is for someone to get knocked out of the world because I couldn't spell something right. :twilightsmile:

7652390 Thank you kindly! In fact, I haven't read a lot of Cheerilee stories that I've particularly liked myself. Those that I have read tend to focus on the "perky, always-cheerful" teacher side of her. Well, she's got a sarcastic and snarky side that's just underneath the surface. It's definitely there (just watch her expressions in "Hearts and Hooves Day!"). I'm glad you enjoyed this one, because she's actually one of the characters I had a bit of trouble handling. :twilightsheepish:

So... are any of your other stories necessary for reading this? Wanna know before I get into it. If I do... my reading list is long.

Moon Dancer I have trouble with. I identify with her too much... but no one ever went through any kind of effort to make amends to me. I never retreated into myself quite that much, either, partly due to my parents and what they taught me: I pushed on. Anyway, that's neither here nor there: I tend to mention that whenever Moon Dancer comes up. Onna my ways of moving along, as it were.

7654613 Chronologically, Bell Curve is actually before the events in Applications, History and Cloudsdale. While I'd recommend reading the last three in that particular order, Bell Curve is stand-alone, though set in the same timeline.

Moon Dancer always resonated with me on multiple levels. Namely, that the canon version she developed an abandonment complex so severe she pushed everypony away (a great deal like Starlight, only you know without the whole despot thing going on). I can understand the desire for someone to reach out... and not to get it.

Hence why I write fiction. I like to write the world as it should work. :twilightsmile:

7654655 I would say more how people should act. Or at least some of them. If everyone is excellent to each other (to quote Bill and Ted) all the time, then there's little in the way of conflict in a situation drama or comedy.

I tend to think if you think the world needs to be some other way, it's gotta start with you. I make a point of that at conventions sometimes when I do panels.

I have reconnected with some people, incidentally, but it was almost all me. They went to the bare minimum amount of effort, and would never do more. I'm doin' alright now, but I like to say these things to let others know they aren't alone.

Also, Twilight in that episode never realized what to me was blindingly obvious. There's only one way to make up for years of neglect... and that's years of non-neglect. Compared to that, big one-time gestures are insignificant. But in the tag? Her other friends, but while Twilight see her in the finale, she's never been name-checked again.

7654737 Ironically, I have thought about that. After all, conflict in indeed the heart of storytelling. Makes me wonder about stories in Heaven. Hm. Oh well. I'll figure that out later.

I do fully agree with you. One cannot control another's actions, only one's own. Sadly, friendship issues cannot always be solved in a half-hour or so. (Seriously, that was the greatest line in that entire episode, topping even Gummy's bit). In real life, sometimes folks just move on. They may not be folks you want to see move on... but it happens anyway. And sometimes... there is nothing you can do about it (Yeah, I've been on the receiving end and it hurt like mad).

But nevertheless, you push on forward and keep trying. Because in the end, that's all we can do. As for Twilight, we haven't seen her get together again with Moon Dancer, but Moon Dancer seemed pretty happy in the finale, to the point of fondly nudging Spike awake, so I'd like to think they got together plenty of times, just not on screen. And she did help Moon Dancer reconnect with her old friends, so there's something to be said for that.

Anyway, it's easier to write for a character who's only ever had one episode. :pinkiehappy:

7656476 True dat. I just worry the writers forget about her and that the resulting impression given to some viewers is that making amends is one-and-done, once you find the right one.

...Well enough on that. XP Probably comment like 6 months from now when I finally get to this point in my reading list.

7668580 Thank you. I tend to get emotionally wrapped up in stories (hell, I have a few of my own that make me cry). I always aim to get into the reader's head like this and it delights me beyond measure to know I succeeded. :twilightsmile:

Ah, impostor syndrome. I think we've all been there to one degree or another. This is definitely a good way to deal with it, to say nothing of showing how far Sunset has grown since that disastrous final.

Still, I can't help but wonder what happened in the main timeline. Cheerilee likely had the same doubts there as here, yet she still made it to that schoolhouse on the hill. How did she handle them with Sunset in another dimension?

7827746 I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait until the series finale to get true universe-to-universe comparisons! :trollestia:

This story was important for me to write. It helped me put a very important moment in my own life down onto paper in a way I hope others can use and learn from. I still suffer from this quite a bit in a lot of places. But most importantly, I think it's good to remember we're not alone.

“It is a long road,” Crystal Clear said, her warm smile never fading. “But it is a great deal easier if you do not walk it alone.”

You could say Sunset Shimmer has... a Long Road To Friendship.

...I'll see myself out. :trollestia:

7844722 Dammit, I could hear the YEAAAHHHH and Sunglasses from here. :facehoof:

with Phliomena as herself

Snerk. :rainbowlaugh:

It is a long road,” Crystal Clear said, her warm smile never fading. “But it is a great deal easier if you do not walk it alone.”

So you could say it's a long road...to friendship? :duck:

7934583; 7844722 Hey now! One joke per customer! :flutterrage:

7944078 7934583
I saw it first! It's mine! Get your dirty hooves off that joke! :raritydespair:

7944094 Dangit! I'd actually looked through the comments to see if there was another one about that. I guess I missed yours :facehoof:

7944126
Obviously I need to learn to be more obnoxious. It's a long road to making bad jokes.
No, it really isn't.

So... In the original timeline, with Sunset gone in EQG-land, Cheerilee never got over her self-doubts, gave up on ever amounting to anything, and slunk off to a podunk little earth-pony town, where she proceeded to become the no-effort, utterly useless tool that we know from the series?

That's a pretty radical character swerve, for her to go from the kind of assistant who'll put her schedule on hold to comfort a bullied foal, to the kind of apathetic teacher who'll ignore even the most flagrant bullying in the middle of her lessons (but Celestia help you, if someone else hoofs you a note!), and who determinedly shirks her oversight duties, even as the student paper's mud-slinging campaign becomes the talk of the entire town.

Comment posted by Code-Name99 deleted Feb 28th, 2017

Aw, you got me with yet another story hook. I suppose you won't be satisfied until I read everything you've ever written AND play through your Fallout mod, huh?! :flutterrage:

...well, good, because I'm gonna comment on every chapter, dangit. :raritywink:

Anyway, this was a great story. Length was a bit odd, though. It was more than a one-shot, for sure, but still shorter than the other two preceding it, which threw me off a bit. I was hoping I'd get to see some of Sunset's lesson with the Princess, or at least the inside of that teahouse. But if my only complaint is that there wasn't enough of the story- a recurring theme which also appears in my critiques of 100k-plus-word epics- I think that's probably an endorsement of the highest degree. :twilightsheepish:

~ ~ ~

“You contacted the most powerful being in Equestria to help a pony in need without any thought to what you would gain from it, Sunset.” Crystal Clear beamed at her. “That’s called generosity. And that’s called kindness. "

This reminds me of something I noticed something a while back. In the Army, we have this set of principles called the Army Values. They've existed for a long time, 30-odd years if I'm not mistaken; and every Soldier is expected to live by them. Well, it just so happens that the Army Values line up almost exactly with the Elements of Harmony. There's seven Army Values, so there's an odd one out- but considering that Loyalty is both an Element of Harmony and an Army Value, it seems like a pretty solid match to me. I've figured out corresponding Elements/Values for several of them without a doubt, but the others I'm less sure of.

Loyalty, of course, corresponds with Loyalty, which the Army defines as "Bear[ing] true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit and other Soldiers." Honor, "Liv[ing] up to all the Army Values", is clearly Magic, which "makes it all complete". Honor is the "summary" of all the Army Values, just as Magic only appears when the other five are in play. I'm pretty sure that Generosity lines up with Selfless Service- "Put the welfare of the nation, the Army and your subordinates before your own"- since that's pretty much what applied Generosity seems to consist of. Honesty corresponds with the most oft-cited Army Value, Integrity, which is defined as "doing what's right, legally and morally". Simply saying the word "integrity" in a chiding manner is typically enough to prevent lies. Laughter was the most difficult one, but S1E2's song by Pinkie Pie illustrates that it's just a more friendship-oriented version of the Army Value of Personal Courage, which means "Fac[ing] fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral)." So that's five. And of the remaining two Army Values, Duty (Fulfill your obligations) and Respect (Treat people how they should be treated), the latter sounds pretty similar to Kindness, IMO; this leaves Duty as the odd one out.

So, in summary, the United States Army is the best at the magic of friendship, even if we probably would have tried a few less friendly methods of dealing with Nightmare Moon.

...I think I'll turn this into a blog post. Sorry for wasting your time with all that text. :twilightblush:

It shows just how much you care in that I couldn't find any grammar mistakes. Yes, that does break immersion for me and I usually don't give a thumbs up Tina story that has slot of them . Enjoyed the story, thanks for writing it.

Man, I love this universe, and this was another great entry into the whole. I really long for more interactions with Cherilee. Sunset needs help from members of the Sensible Brigade.

7987097

Aw, you got me with yet another story hook. I suppose you won't be satisfied until I read everything you've ever written AND play through your Fallout mod, huh?! :flutterrage:

Nope. Won't be happy. In fact, I'm still waiting for comments on The Cloudsdale Report!

But if my only complaint is that there wasn't enough of the story- a recurring theme which also appears in my critiques of 100k-plus-word epics- I think that's probably an endorsement of the highest degree. :twilightsheepish:

I like to think so. :raritywink:

So, in summary, the United States Army is the best at the magic of friendship, even if we probably would have tried a few less friendly methods of dealing with Nightmare Moon.

Dude, can you imagine costs we could cut if we could freaking weaponize friendship!? :rainbowdetermined2:

8093863
Well, I have my editors to thank for that. Because I screw up grammar all the time. :twilightsheepish:

8236348

Man, I love this universe, and this was another great entry into the whole. I really long for more interactions with Cherilee. Sunset needs help from members of the Sensible Brigade.

Sensible? What fun is there in being Sensible?

Don't worry, she plays a pretty big role in the upcoming Prerogative!

8279200

Sensible? What fun is there in being Sensible?

Well, sometimes you need a straight mare, and I think the intrinsical heroism in being a teacher in Ponyville and stay apparently sane make her more than qualified to slap Sunset over the head when necessary.

Also, I love the struggle of Chererilee against the systematic insanity of the world.

Don't worry, she plays a pretty big role in the upcoming Prerogative!

:yay:

8279262

Well, sometimes you need a straight mare, and I think the intrinsical heroism in being a teacher in Ponyville and stay apparently sane make her more than qualified to slap Sunset over the head when necessary.

...get out of my head. :rainbowderp:

8279269

...get out of my head. :rainbowderp:

Never! I like it here.

8280100
Your funeral. I ain't paying no therapy bills. :pinkiecrazy:

8392543
Yeah my mistake
i am doing a marathon of all your stories (i don't know why i don't get them in my feed)
and i just finished the Cloudsdale Report.
I didn't know this little moment would have made into a story, but you do a darn good work man.
Thanks for all your hard work brother.
Keep on making great stories :twilightsmile:

8392569
Thank you kindly! As for why you're not getting them... the only reason that would occur to me is you're not following me? However, the new setup is harder to spot new stories vs. bookshelf adds and the like. I started doing blog posts just for that.

I didn't know this little moment would have made into a story, but you do a darn good work man.

It's funny, this was my second story in Wavelengths. So much has changed since I wrote it... and I've developed so much as an author since then. I tell ya, one of these days, I'm going to remaster these stories. But the fact that they're still so liked is wonderful to know! :twilightsmile:

I still want to know what was in that book of curved bells.

Also why doesn't Sunset just cut her mane?

8706396
Secrets and lies. Along with the script for Half-Life 3.

8706399
You don't want sharp objects around chaos magic. :twilightoops:

8706418
Even hours after the fact?

8706427
By the time the story ends, maybe only an hour has passed since the Chaos Surge. I also have a headcanon (which I haven't decided if I'm making Wavelengths Canon yet) that using anything "normal" to undo chaos magic won't work. However, there was a reason Sunset could undo the damage to Moon Dancer but couldn't quite do it herself.

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