• Published 15th Jun 2021
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Back to School - Coyote de La Mancha



Along with being Princess Twilight's apprentice, Sunrise Shimmer hopes to become Ms. Cheerilee's teaching assistant. The first day is often the most challenging.

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Chapter Six: Dealing With Dreams.

The leaves rustled gently through the grass and the trees as the two of them continued to sit quietly in the swings. Sunrise looked at the sky, with its gracefully deepening colours, the skyline, the clouds. She swung sometimes, gently, the old swing set creaking quietly as she did.

Beside her, Diamond Tiara simply sat.

“Feel like talking?” she’d asked the younger filly when they’d first reached the swings. Diamond had shaken her head, and so Sunrise had been giving her the quiet she’d seemed to want.

But now, Sunrise wondered. Should she force the issue? Was Diamond Tiara processing, recovering, or just stewing? They’d been sitting outside, in silence, for a while now. Was the quiet a comfort for the young mare, or was it just dragging her down?

Not for the first time, Sunrise found herself wishing for the wisdom that Celestia seemed to have, or Luna

(…but for loving me; she thought with a smile, by my troth, it is no addition to her wit, nor no great argument of her folly, for I will be horribly in love with her!)

or even just Luna’s insights. Luna would know what to say, and probably even how to say it. She’d be able to see Diamond’s dreams, probably her fears, and be able to guide her with the wisdom of freaking Starswirl.

Then again, from what she’d heard even Starswirl had his limits. Big ones. And, if she was honest with herself, so did Luna.

Sunrise sighed. Diamond wasn’t Luna’s student, and Luna had enough responsibilities without her younger marefriend asking for help every time a schoolfoal was having trouble.

I need to figure this out on my own, she thought. I don’t want to solve the kid’s problems for her, not really. I just… I just want to keep her from being crushed.

But how do I protect her from her own mother? She frowned. Is that even possible? Is it ethical, or even legal here? After all, I’m pretty sure nothing Spoiled’s done would count as foal abuse, or Cheerilee would have called her on it.

She sighed. And come to that, how much do I really know about them, based on a whole thirty seconds of observation? On the other hoof, how much do I really need to know?

Before coming to Equus, Sunrise had dreamed of being a graceful, mythical creature, a great sorceress, a powerful warrior. An Arwen, a Gandalf, a Jirel of Jorey, a Last Unicorn. Going on quests. Smiting evil with her vast array of skills and special effects. Facing down armies of sinister foes that dared to threaten her innocent charges, and all that jazz.

Now, she was a unicorn. Which, all in all, was awesome. But, she still couldn’t even handle a basic levitation spell without setting fire to something. She’d hurt herself running too fast in what was basically a public park. And she was completely stymied by a foe who, rather than being an evil monstrosity from some dark age long past, was simply a petty, raging bitch.

She chuckled to herself a little, then sighed again.

Maybe I just need to have faith in Diamond’s ability to survive my mistakes.

“You okay?”

Sunrise turned her head to consider her young charge. Diamond Tiara was still looking down, still motionless. But she’d broken the silence herself.

I think I just massively lucked out, Sunrise thought. Smiling, she said, “I think that’s my line.”

The foal shrugged.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” she said. “This is normal, actually.”

Sunrise’s mouth pressed into a thin line. “I’m really sorry to hear that.”

But Diamond Tiara shook her head.

“It’s fine,” she said. “I think it’s how grandma raised her, too. She wants me to shine more, so she pushes harder. That’s all.”

Sunrise’s eyebrows raised as she tried to process this. “Really.”

The filly gave a sad nod, still looking down.

“‘Diamonds don’t crack, they shine brightest under pressure,’” she recited sadly. “Everypony knows that. I used to think she hated me, when I was little. But the truth is she always knew that I was like her, even before I was born.

“Social advancement is just part of it,” Diamond went on. “She says that’s just what happens when ponies realize superior ability. She says she’s advanced as much as she has because of her own strength and ambition. And she says that I could go even farther than her, but that I have to realize my potential. She knows I can take it. I’m a diamond, like her. So, she…”

Diamond gave a dejected sigh, then, “She… just keeps pushing.”

Sunrise shook her head in disbelief. “Wow. And I thought astrology was bad.”

Diamond Tiara glanced at her, puzzled. “What does magic have to do with it?”

“Oh, no, it’s not… well… you know what, let’s put a pin in that,” Sunrise said. “My point is, yeah, I’ve read the expressions about different cutie marks and how they’re supposed to dictate your personality and crap. But, I wouldn’t put too much stock in ‘em. They’re not really based on anything but folklore.”

Diamond Tiara gave her a dubious look.

“Trust me,” Sunrise assured her. “I’m an eighteen-year-old mare with no cutie mark who lives in the Castle of Friendship as Princess Twilight’s apprentice. I’ve done the research.

“I mean, sure,” Sunrise went on, “your cutie mark acts as a visual reflection of important aspects of your personality – special talent, greatest gift, heart’s desire, whatever – but it’s also a deeply personal symbol. It’s like trying to understand heraldry that your soul wrote without you knowing the rules on how to read it. Some ponies spend entire lifetimes trying to understand their marks.”

Diamond Tiara winced. “Oh, please don’t say that.”

Sunrise smiled. “Sorry. But, seriously, you’re really gonna try to predict ponies’ entire lives with generalizations about their cutie marks? Sure, a pony’s mark reflects them in some ways, but, ‘diamonds work best under pressure and never break?’ ‘Clouds keep it in until they burst?’ ‘Plant marks are insightful?’ ‘Sky marks are… angsty…’ um… hm.”

Sunrise’s voice trailed away as she took on a contemplative look.

“Sunrise?”

“Sorry. Just… yeah. Anyway.”

Refocusing on the filly next to her, Sunrise continued, “Look, my point is, don’t let somepony else define your mark. Or define you, for that matter.”

She gave Diamond Tiara a fond look. “That’s your cutie mark, kid. Yours. The mark of your special magic, written from within your own heart, to show to the eyes that thing which feeds your soul. Only you get to decide what it means.”

Looking out towards the schoolhouse, she went on, “And I’m not an expert, but why would the meaning of something like that be simple, when ponies are so complex? I mean, Miss Cheerilee’s got plants on her flank. But I don’t see her gardening, do you? Sure, she might have a little garden at home, I don’t know. But mostly, I see her teaching. Because, though it looks like just a few flowers with smiley-faces, that’s not what her cutie mark means.”

She glanced at the young mare beside her thoughtfully before adding, “And besides, you’re gonna be changing throughout your life. That’s part of that whole ‘living’ thing. So, why shouldn’t your mark’s meaning change, too?”

Diamond Tiara sighed miserably. “Ponies never really change, though. Everyone knows that.”

“I am.”

Diamond Tiara peered at her. For her part, Sunrise looked outward, towards the east.

“I’m… well, I’m trying,” she sighed. “Like I said before, some of the stuff I’ve done… it was bad. You don’t wanna know how bad. And I’m not gonna tell you.”

Then, with a rueful chuckle, she added, “But I’m tryin’ Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd.”

One of Diamond Tiara’s ears went flat. “Huh?”

Sunrise shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. The point is, I used to think that ponies couldn’t change. Then, I just needed to believe they could. But lately I’ve met some folk – some ponies, some not – and they, well, they’ve changed my mind. Ponies can change. We all can. So, I’m trying. Every day, I’m trying.”

“Then why is it so hard?!?”

Diamond Tiara hadn’t meant to raise her voice, that was just how the words had forced themselves out. And once they’d been said, all she could do was wait to be chastised. This was a grown mare she was yelling at, after all.

She was too angry to be sorry, though. She didn’t know why she was, she just was.

But Sunrise didn’t seem to mind. She just shook her head slightly, still looking where the moon would be rising in a few hours.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe real change is an unnatural act. Maybe habits are just that strong. Or, maybe it’s just… easier to be a dick? I don’t know.”

Then, looking at her student again, Sunrise continued, “But remember Stygian’s Lament, and the lesson your father taught you about it. At the end of the day, the only way that everyone is potentially worthy of forgiveness is if everyone can potentially change. Otherwise, it’s just a sucker’s game. With the princesses the biggest rubes of them all.”

Diamond gave a sour look. “Mother says the whole story is just a stupid tradition. That’s it’s just a faery tale that lower-class ponies tell each other as an excuse to be weak.”

Sunrise shrugged. “Yeah, well, I didn’t figure you’d heard the story from her. And I’m sure she expects you to believe what she tells you.

“But I expect you to think logically. And logically, if she were right, then all of Equestria would be nothing but a series of victims. A kingdom perpetually conquered and enslaved by its more cunning enemies, one after another. Nightmare Moon, Discord, and who knows how many others. And yet, it’s not. It never has been.

“But I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t already know,” Sunrise finished with a slight smile. “After all: you’re here, not inside cheering her on.”

The younger mare sighed despondently. “Yeah.”

After a few moments of silence, Sunrise spoke again.

“Look, it’s pretty obvious what your mom wants for you…”

“Mother says that a tiara is a sign of rulership,” Diamond Tiara broke in, still miserable. “Getting other ponies to do what I want. That I’m wasting my talents by not taking charge of other ponies.”

“It can mean that, I guess,” Sunrise observed. “But is that what you want?”

Looking down, the pink mare vigorously shook her head, no.

“Well, then, maybe it’s time for your mark to mean something different. Something just for you. Hey…”

She smiled, gently pulling Diamond’s chin up to make eye contact.

“What do you want to do, more than anything else? Sunrise asked. “I mean, really do? In general, in the future, after school is done and you can go anywhere, do anything you want… what do you want to do?”

But Diamond just slumped further.

“Mother insisted we move to Canterlot after I lost the Class President election last spring,” she said gloomily. “So I’d be free from the bad influences of lower class ponies. I was gone the rest of the year. It took Father putting his hoof down for me to attend school here again.”

She shook her head miserably. “He almost never does that. He almost didn’t then. And they keep fighting now, all the time…”

Sunrise put her arm around her, the chains of the swing set clinking slightly as she moved. The two of them sat in silence for a time. Eventually, Diamond Tiara spoke again.

“I don’t want to boss or bully other ponies around,” she said softly. “That’s what she does. What I used to do.

“I know a tiara is supposed to be a sign of leadership. Everypony knows that. But I don’t want to make other ponies do things anymore. I want to inspire them. The Cutie Mark Crusaders were my first real friends, and they really helped me out when I needed it the most. I want to pass that along. To encourage other ponies, to help them become what they can be, what they want to be…”

She sighed, looking down again. “That sounds so stupid, though.”

Sunrise smiled, remembering another conversation, not long ago. The human Twilight, sharing her own dream, her lifelong ambition.

“No,” Sunrise said, “That sounds noble.”

Diamond Tiara blinked away her tears, looked at Sunrise in confusion.

Still smiling, Sunrise closed her eyes.

“It is said that the true leader does not govern through words from above their people, but through their deeds from within,” she recited. “Through their mastery of the Way they inspire rather than rule. And when the work is done, their people look around and say in wonder, ‘We have done this ourselves.’”

The younger mare gaped. “Who said that?”

“An old philosopher by the name of Lao Tzu. I forget whose translation I read, and I probably butchered it anyway, but…”

Opening her eyes, she saw Diamond Tiara staring at her in wonder.

“That’s… exactly what I want to do!” Diamond exclaimed. “Only I…”

Her shoulders slumped again as she finished, “I don’t know how.”

Sunrise gave a little shrug. “Yeah, me neither. But hey, Twilight’s got a heck of a library, and I’ll bet there’s something there that can help. I’ll see if I can find something on philosophy you can borrow, maybe even a local Lao Tzu translation.”

At Diamond’s expression she added, “It’s a start, right?”

“I guess.”

Diamond Tiara was staring forlornly at the school house again. Her mother had emerged, looking very self-satisfied, and was trotting towards them both. Behind her and to the right was Cheerilee, wearing a mask of badly concealed irritation.

“Oh, Celestia,” Diamond Tiara sighed. “What did she do this time?”

“I think we can guess,” Sunrise whispered back. “But it’s okay. I’ve got an idea.”

“What?”

“Trust me.”

“But…”

“Good news, children,” Spoiled cheered happily as she approached. “Miss Cheerilee and I have come to an agreement. Specifically, she agreed with me that the school deserves a decent budget for its upcoming stage production, and that Diamond Tiara’s talents deserve not to be wasted on whatever bit parts—”

“Oh, absolutely,” Sunrise interrupted, nodding as she rose. “I was thinking the same thing myself.”

While Diamond Tiara stared at her in horror, Spoiled Rich’s eyebrows rose slightly.

“Oh, good,” she said. “And here for a moment, I thought—”

“Specifically, I was thinking I could really use an assistant director,” Sunrise broke in again as if Spoiled hadn’t spoken. “Someone to help me coordinate things from behind the scenes, make sure everything runs smoothly. Help me guide the other students, and bring out the best in them. Be the leader of the production, basically. Or, at least, the student leader.

“It’ll be hard work,” she added with a fond glance at her student, ignoring Spoiled Rich’s glare. “But I know she can pull it off. All that’s left is whether it’s what she wants.”

There was the merest of pauses while Spoiled’s brain processed this recent information.

“Of course she does,” the older mare snapped. “She’s perfect for the job.”

Then, narrowing her eyes at her daughter, she added, “Especially after losing the Presidency and the Editorship.”

Meanwhile, the other mares were looking at Diamond Tiara with a very different expression. Waiting for her to answer, as if her mother wasn’t even there.

Diamond Tiara looked from Cheerilee to Spoiled Rich and back again. Then, she looked back at Sunrise, felt her withers starting to relax at last.

“Yes,” she said with a smile. “I’d like that very much.”