• Published 8th Oct 2017
  • 1,020 Views, 37 Comments

"You Do NOT Pass!" - Pennington Inkwell



Tempest Shadow is no stranger to struggling in life. But the one thing hardest for her to win is trust. Can she convince even one pony of her changed heart?

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The Weight of History

"So, Miss Fizzlepop..." Scorching muttered her name in his usual, derisive manner. "I was thinking that today, we should talk about the trauma of your childhood."

"Hoping to get to the root of my 'violent tendencies,' Scorching?" Tempest asked, making little effort to hide her smug grin.

"Well, that, and I'd like to try getting to know you a bit better. Twilight was quite thorough in the information she gave me, but I'd like to hear it straight from you."

Tempest folded her forelegs over her chest and sat back in her chair. She felt little need to hide her confidence, the information she had found had rendered her perfectly capable of shutting down any argument from him.

"And when do I get to learn more about you, Mister Quill?"

"If I get my way, possibly never..." He muttered as he reached down for Tempest's file. "I'm here for your evaluation. Once I deem you well enough to move on, we'll never have to see each other again."

"Well, I certainly can't wait for that."

"So... why don't you start with some of the earliest events that you feel shaped your life?"

Tempest considered her options. Quill already had more or less her life story, but was asking her to open up to him with no emotional connection.

There were better emotional manipulators in Kludgetown. He definitely doesn't do this for a profession. If he really wanted me to open up to him, he'd work to establish a connection between us, first.

"Well, as a filly, some of my so-called 'friends' and I were playing one day, our ball rolled into a cave we'd all been warned to keep away from." Tempest knew that he already knew all of this, so she kept the summary simple. "I was the one who had thrown it too far, so I had to go and get it. None of us took the danger seriously, so we didn't think to go find a grown-up." She sighed, trying not to get too caught up in the memory. "When I went in there, I found our ball... and an Ursa Minor."

She glanced over at Quill, who was watching her intently.

"And... I suppose you can guess the rest."

"You couldn't escape?"

"I was... stupid. I tried to stand my ground." Tempest's eyes drifted downwards as, despite her best efforts, the emotions associated the memory began to rise. Regret, shame, and even anger all simmered in her chest, eating away at her. "I lost my horn and nearly my eye... and, soon after that, my friends." She took a deep breath, forcing her feelings down again. "They were all afraid of me, afraid of the reminder my scars gave them that life isn't a fairy tale."

Quill was quiet for a moment, then leaned back in his chair.

"I have one question."

"Yes?"

"Ursas tend to make their homes far away from ponies, and vice versa. Just how far from home were you and your friends?"

Tempest blinked, surprised at the question. She hadn't told that story to very many people, and they had all been too busy trying to console her for her loss to actually stop and question her about it.

"I... don't remember. A mile? Maybe two?"

"That's a long way to go, just playing ball. Most foals I knew could play ball in their backyard."

"It didn't feel like it was that far!" Tempest snapped back at him. "We just tended to lose track of time while we were playing! All kids do when they're having fun!"

Surprisingly, Quill smiled at her outburst.

"You'd forgotten about that, hadn't you?"

"About what?"

"That you had fun with them. Your 'so-called' friends."

Tempest drew up short for words. She'd tried so hard not to think about those ponies outside of remembering them as an example of why you couldn't rely on anyone. For years, she had wanted nothing more than to just forget them, to forget their faces and their names.

"They ran, Quill."

"Excuse me?"

"When I was hurt, when I was scarred and maimed and afraid, they ran away." She growled quietly. "I'm not certain how far from home I was because the trip back was a blur of pain, blood, and the knowledge that I was completely and utterly alone. My life was in my own hooves, and the ponies I had called my friends had abandoned me." Her gaze rose back up to Quill, giving him a hateful sneer.

"So if you're trying to bring back any fond memories, you're not doing a very good job."

Quill nodded, quietly shuffling the papers on his desk and clearing his throat.

"Of course, that is, if you're even Quill, at all?"

Quill froze for a moment, his entire body stiffening.

"And not a changeling?" Tempest leaned forward, turning a discerning eye onto her examiner.

Quill met her gaze for a moment, clearing his throat nervously.

"Fizzlepop, I can assure you that there are no changelings in the New Lunar-"

"Oh, that could absolutely be true, of course! But that doesn't mean that there isn't anypony here who might be working for them!" A wicked grin grew over her face as the color drain from Quill's face.

"Tell me if you've heard this one before, would you?" Tempest rose out of her chair, walking around Quill and his desk in a confident strut.

"A young foal, seeking something, perhaps a ball... or perhaps a subject for a school project... finds themselves entering the lair of an Ursa Minor. Once inside, they experience something that changes their entire life. For the sake of not repeating ourselves, let's give the example of, I don't know, finding an enchanted sword? Upon leaving, they set out and travel the world, learning everything they can from every master they can find, until they've become highly skilled in combat and able to slip out of nearly any situation they can get themselves into..."

Passing behind Quill, she leaned down and whispered into his ear.

"Until, of course, they get themselves into a situation they can't wiggle their way out of. Until they find themselves pursued by a military force they can't beat and can't escape."

"So, if they can't beat them... they join them. Leading that military force aaaaaaalllllll of the way back to Canterlot, showing them precisely how to evade the royal guard and all of Equestria's defenses."

Tempest finally made her way back to the front of the desk, this time sitting casually back in her chair and feeling completely in control of the situation.

"Of course, they were thwarted by some unforeseen circumstance, Canterlot has never truly fallen, before. Discord, The Storm King, Queen Chrysalis, they've all tried and failed." She sighed and smiled. "Usually because somepony involved made the mistake of letting Twilight Sparkle get inside their heads."

"Oh! And then they were given amnesty by a princess whom, in a moment of good conscience, they saved from certain demise."

Tempest kept smiling as Quill's expression turned into a scowl.

"Pardoned by Princess Twilight, pardoned by Princess Luna, there's really not that much difference which one it was, is there? So, I think I figured out why you've been so harsh with me, Quill."

"It's because you don't want to admit that the only difference between you and I, Penny, is that the Ursa was asleep when you came calling." With that, Tempest leaned back in her chair, content with having spoken her mind.

"Did I miss anything?"

Quill looked angry, but Tempest was relatively certain that he was pouting at this point. She'd discovered the reason he hated her so much: aside from only a few key moments, their lives had been nearly identical. When they looked at one another, they were staring into the possibility of what they could have been.

Finally, Quill sighed, sitting back in his chair with a defeated look on his face.

"I suppose it finally makes sense why Princess Twilight sent me to you, of all ponies. You needed someone to remind you that you're not so above the rest of us just because you used to work for Princess Luna."

"Get out, Tempest."

"Gladly." Tempest hopped out of her chair, walking briskly to the door. Just as she was about to walk out, she paused.

"So, Pennington... Do the two of us pass, yet?"

Quill didn't dignify her with a reply, a blue aura of magic wrapping around the door and slamming it shut behind her.

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Surprisingly, Moonstone wasn't waiting for her after the appointment with Quill. More surprisingly, she didn't join her for dinner, either. It wasn't until Tempest was only a few steps outside their room that she finally heard Moonstone's familiar voice.

"Well, what else was I supposed to do?"

"Well, certainly just about anything else!" Quick Strike's voice replied, obviously frustrated. "I mean, I like to push his buttons, but there's a difference between making him mad and making him MAD!"

"It's not my fault if she overplayed her hand!"

"Oh, 'overplayed' is underselling it! I haven't seen him like this since-" Quick Strike quickly cut herself off as Tempest entered the room.

"Well, speak of the devil..." Quick Strike sighed, rubbing at her forehead.

Moonstone didn't seem much happier to see her, but motioned for her to come and join them in standing at the center of the room. "Well, good to see you're back in one piece."

"In one piece?"

"You've really gone and done it, Tempest..." Quick Strike muttered. "What were you thinking, talking to a superior officer like that?"

"Quill's saying that you stole classified information, and that you're incapable of acting without lashing out at your superiors." Moonstone shook her head. "He's saying that you're never going to be NLR material."

Tempest had thought about her actions a lot over dinner. She would be lying to herself if she said that she thought this reaction was unexpected.

"Pennington Inkwell has a conflict of interests! If he wants to try to get me kicked out, I can prove that he was unfit to evaluate me, to begin with!"

Quick Strike shook her head.

"Tempest, he was ordered to evaluate you by a princess, and the order was co-signed by Princess Luna! Authority in the NLR doesn't go much higher than that."

Tempest felt her confidence beginning to waver.

"If he says you need to go, then you're going."

"B-but-" It was starting to become apparent to Tempest that she had underestimated the authority she was dealing with. Princess Twilight could be talked to, reasoned with and told why her decision was so misinformed. Trying to argue with TWO princesses at once, however, was a surefire route to failure.

"BUT! We managed to talk him down!" Quick Strike gave her a smile.

"Talk him down to a wager, that is..." Moonstone muttered, obviously less happy with the situation than Quick Strike.

"A wager?"

Quick Strike reared back onto her hind legs and pounded her front hooves together. "A title match! The winner gets the title of being my best student!"

"And if you lose, you leave the NLR and go back to Princess Twilight with your tail between your legs..." Moonstone mumbled.

"And... what, exactly, does Quill have to lose, here?" Tempest asked. It seemed an awful lot like, once again, the odds were being tilted out of her favor.

"His old title, for one thing!"

"Not to mention a fair bit of pride..." Moonstone muttered. "He's so caught up in his old grudge against Princess Twilight and his hard feelings about what happened with the changelings, he refuses to see how his actions are affecting others!"

Tempest carefully considered her options. Since she'd arrived, she'd been berated, treated with hatred and suspicion, and told at nearly every turn that she didn't belong. She had come to the New Lunar Republic for a fresh start, but it appeared that, just like the stump of her horn, there was no escaping the marks of her past.

"Girls, as much as I appreciate everything you've done for me, I think I'm just going to take what I have coming and leave."

The two girls' reactions were drastically different. Moonstone simply rolled her eyes and folded her arms, giving Tempest a disappointed stare while Quick Strike's jaw nearly hit the floor.

"WHAT? You- you're just giving up?"

"Why not? It's obvious that there isn't anyone here who wants me to be here other than you two, and you're hardly a majority!" Tempest sighed, sitting back on her haunches. "Look, you don't survive outside of Equestria as long as I have without knowing how to cut your losses and move on. If I thought that I had any chance here, trust me, I'd jump at the opportunity for a fresh start! But that's not going to happen as long as ponies like Pennington Inkwell keep bringing up my past so they can hate me for it! No matter where I go, ponies aren't just going to forget what I did, and as long as they remember, they're not going to let me move on." She sighed, pushing her way past the two of them and to the other side of the room. She didn't have much to pack, but sooner would be better than later to get started.

"I guess my destiny lies outside of Equestria."

She paused for a moment, expecting them to try to give a rebuttal.

What she didn't expect, however, was the weight of Moonstone jumping up onto her back, nor the feeling of her clawed hand striking at the base of her skull, smashing her forehead painfully into the front of the dresser. Moonstone's shrill voice was the only sensation to make it through the cloud of stars and pain, the little dragon shouting almost directly into her ear.

"IT'S BEEN TWO WEEKS, YOU IDIOT!"

Turning around to face her unexpected attacker, Tempest saw the little dragon rubbing at her own temples as if she were suffering an equally painful headache.

"I mean, by FAUST you are overdramatic! You think a royal pardon is going to just suddenly make everypony forgive and forget overnight? You really HAVE been gone for a long time if you that THAT'S realistic, but I don't think you were even living on the same PLANET! Two weeks, and you're all ready to give up on everything Princess Twilight's done for you?" She hopped back down to the ground, beginning to pace around the room.

"Look, Fizzlepop... It's been two weeks since Princess Twilight and her friends saved Equestria! Two weeks since the greatest act of war since Tirek's rampage! TWO WEEKS since the biggest, most successful invasion since the changelings! I mean, when Penn was forced to lead THEM to Canterlot, he went into self-exile, where brooded an moped for THREE MONTHS before he even felt good enough about himself to answer a letter from anyone other than his stupid girlfriend!"

She spun back around, pointing an accusatory claw at her.

"AND SOMEHOW YOU'RE EVEN MORE EDGY and DRAMATIC THAN HIM!"

The stars were finally beginning to fade from Tempest's vision, and as they did, the fog that had settled around her mind seemed to fade, as well.

Of course she was under suspicion, of course ponies didn't like her. She was strong, confident, and threatening, she didn't take disrespect from anybody, and she turned a suspicious eye to anyone offering an easy path. She'd spent her entire life fighting and scrounging and clawing for everything she had, and she had earned it all.

Until now. Princess Twilight teaching her about friendship had shattered much of her worldview and her confidence. Twilight had been the one to assure that she had been accepted into the Night Guard training, and even specifically placed her into her own special treatment with choosing Pennington to give her the psychological evaluation. Quick Strike and Moonstone had given her their friendship without her even having to ask.

In just two short weeks, Tempest had forgotten who she was, what life had made her. She'd expected forgiveness to just be handed to her the same way amnesty had. She had come to expect that she was entitled to a fresh start just because she was 'trying.'

"Look, Fizzlepop... I get it. You're not being treated fairly. But you are Commander BUCKING TEMPEST! Start acting like it!"

"Moonstone!" Quick Strike was caught somewhere between jaw-dropping shock and a massive grin. "Watch your language!"

"Shut up, Quick Strike! I'll swear if I want to! I was told to do what I needed to, and this is what she needs: a reality check!" Moonstone took a deep breath, steadying herself and sighing to release the tension.

"If you decide you don't want to be here because you don't want to be in a military environment any more, fine. If you change your mind and think a night shift is as miserable as I do, fine! If you hate the cafeteria food with a vengeance and want to go become a soda float maker in Ponyville, I'm not going to judge you for that! But it's far beyond time that you stopped letting somebody else's actions dictate how you feel and what you do, and I'm not letting you quit because somebody hurt your widdle feewings, or because things got hard! So get up, beat the TAR out of that hardheaded idiot, and get back on your own four hooves!"

Silence fell over the room, aside from Moonstone's heavy panting from all of her shouting. Tempest thought carefully about everything that had happened, and how she'd been so ready to give up only moments ago. Now, moments later, she was absolutely disgusted with the thought of giving in.

She took a deep breath, feeling new fighting spirit and vitality washing into her. She exhaled, forcing all of the weakness and sadness and entitlement from her body.

Maybe... I can embrace Twilight's lessons without changing myself completely into someone else...

"All right..." Tempest opened her eyes, staring straight into Moonstone's. "When and where do I get to finally punch him in his smug face?"

"Tomorrow night, at the time you'd normally be meeting with him for evaluation." Quick Strike gave a wry grin. "The NLR has a little area for exhibition matches. I designed it, myself, just for when morale is low or somepony needs to resolve a little... interpersonal conflict. I've been trying to get an MMA league set up for years, now, but it keeps getting shot down by the higher-ups!"

Moonstone grinned, folding her arms over her chest. "He's not going to be an easy opponent, though. You're going to need insider info. What kind of magic he uses, what kind of fighting styles he prefers, what weapons he's most proficient with... Luckily, you've been assigned the world's best expert on the subject of Pennington Inkwell!"

Tempest looked back and forth between her friends, feeling a genuine smile tugging at the corners of her lips. She was about to break one of her personal rules, but it was most likely for the best.

"Will you...help... me?" It was harder to say than she had anticipated, forcing the word through her lips felt like admitting her own failings, like she wasn't enough for the task before her in and of herself.

But Quick Strike and Moonstone had been helping her from the moment she had arrived, and more than ever just now, when she had been ready to admit defeat. She DID have failings. She hadn't been up to the tasks before her. If anyone deserved to hear her near-begging, it was the two of them.

Moonstone and Quick Strike glanced at one another, then back at Tempest, each nodding in affirmation. To her surprise, the knowledge that she wasn't alone in her fight caused relief to wash over her in a wave. Gratitude began to well up inside, but she quickly swallowed it back down. Admitting she wanted help was bad enough, getting all wishy-washy wouldn't help anything.

"Well... I guess we're going to need an early start, tomorrow!" Quick Strike grinned. "I'll go get everything set up for an exhibition match now so we can train in the morning!"

"And we're going to have to get to sleep! But before that..." Moonstone grinned, stepping forward and offering Tempest a clawed handshake.

"Welcome back, Commander Tempest."

Tempest smiled, accepting the hoofshake.

"I'm with the Night Guard, now. It's just Rookie Tempest."

"Well, then, rookie... Get some rest, then kick some flank. And that's an order!" Moonstone grinned.

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am!" Tempest chuckled.

Tomorrow was going to be a good night.

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