What misadventures await Intern Cheerilee and her collegues behind the door of a school staffroom?
Teachers. Mystical creatures that seem to have only one purpose in life; torturing students by trying to cram some information into their little heads. Many many myths and legends surround their lair. Is it true that they really change into normal ponies in there? Intern Cheerilee can now find out.
So... welcome to Tartarus, little pony. Or as they say, welcome in the staffroom.
EDIT: 12/3/2016 Changed from E to T as I felt that it has started to incline more to that side.
"I give up!" The head of a young mare groggily hit the table, her horn nearly snapping off on the impact. Her glasses flew away, rattling over the linoleum floor.
"Coffee, Miss Cotton?" A secretary rushed to her side, a giant steaming mug, as well as the mare's runaway spectacles, floating in her telekinetic grip.
"T-Thank you," the mare sobbed, taking the thick glasses in her own magic, rubbing the lenses with her foulard. Then she blew her nose into the very same piece of fabric. She looked at bogey staining the accessory, but dismissed it with a sigh.
Miss Cotton merely winced when the door to the room burst open with a plaintive creak. Its stained glass panels vibrated wildly, nearly falling out as the door hit the wall.
"Good mornin' everyp-- Oh." A large tan unicorn stallion entered the room, his boisterous tone dying immediately at the sight of his collapsed colleague. "Fluffy, is everythin’ alright?"
The mare ignored him, her bloodshot eyes staring blankly into the Canterlot morning fog swirling just outside the window. Tears were slowly rolling down her cheeks and into the mug clutched tightly between her hooves.
"Apparently not. Coffee?" the secretary offered, sidling up to him.
He simply extended his hoof, waiting for the mug to be placed there, then emptied it in one full swig. "Thanks, now be a dear and brin' me one more." The stallion winked at her, corners of his mouth curling up for a moment.
"Of course, Mr Gauge." The secretary quickly skedaddled out of the room, leaving the two ponies alone.
"Fluffy, come on..." Gauge crossed the room and plopped down on a chair next to the sullen mare. "What’s the matter with you?” he said, leaning in slightly. Fluffy just huffed angrily. A sob then escaped her lips, rendering her previous noise rather pathetic.
Gauge looked around the empty room and at the large table in its centre, not yet covered in mountains of papers, books and broken quills. The few sandwiches there called up to his not exactly small stomach. He considered leaving Fluffy to whatever was plaguing her mind, opting for the company of daffodils and dandelions instead.
He stood up, then turned around and tried one last time, “So, how is your new class?"
Cotton's ears perked up. She slowly turned around, her eyes piercing him with a deadly glare.
He took a tentative step back. “Come on, don’t tell me it was that bad.”
Her short mane, normally painstakingly styled by the newest Photo Finish trends, started unfurling and swaying like in an invisible wind. The stallion gulped audibly, drawing back a little more.
"Ah... I thought you always wanted a class of your own." Gauge's eyes nervously twitched as his magic swept every cup and glass from the long table in the centre of the room.
The mare's coat turned a lighter shade of pink as sparks of electricity danced around in her mane. Her eyes narrowed, her stare losing some of its intensity only when a glass flew straight before her muzzle. She soon returned to boring holes through him.
"If you are not feeling well, you can skip today's meeting and go home to have some rest." Gauge forced a laugh through his gritted teeth. Strings of steam started rising from Fluffy's ears, her coat turning a vibrant white. Droplets of sweat broke on Gauge's forehead as he worked his magic. He directed all the cups, mugs and glasses in his grip to the sink in the corner of the room.
"Deputy Headmaster Spark Gauge..." Cotton's voice was surprisingly calm. Too calm. And too formal. The addressed unicorn innocently grinned back, his magic now struggling with the sink faucets. "What made you think that I'd like my very own class? And you didn’t stop at thinking that, you assigned me one!" she shrieked, her mane catching fire with the last word, her coat radiating with searing heat.
Gauge shut his eyes tightly, turning over all the vessels trapped in his magic just above her head. A waterfall surged down, Fluffy letting out but a surprised gasp. Clouds of fog rolled from the poor mare, the flames extinguished with a sharp hiss.
"Better?" The stallion gently set the cups on the table with a sigh, walking up to the wet ball of fur on the floor.
"I--don't know." The mare sat there a little perplexed, her coat singed and soaking wet. Wisps of smoke and steam danced around her. She stood up shakily, her head hung low. “A l-little,” she sobbed.
A huge tear rolled down her cheek, followed by its brethen shortly after. All dropped into the mug she was still holding convulsively, the level of liquid inside slowly rising, miracurously not affected by Gauge’s flood.
"So...?" The stallion leaned forward, raising her chin with a hoof. Her yellow eyes were drawn to his shifty greyish blue gaze, not noticing a sugarcube being hissed into her tear-filled drink.
"I... t-they... the foals chose Pin the tail on the pony as the 'get to know your classmates' game." Another huge tear sloshed into the mug.
"And what’s wrong with that?" He furrowed his brows. Another sugarcube found its way into the salty coffee.
Without a word, Fluffy Cotton straightened up, turning around to reveal her backside.
Her flanks were adorned by at least a dozen colorful tails, all seemingly growing from the right spot.
"Ouch. Did they use--" Gauge craned his neck and brought his muzzle forth for closer inspection.
"Pins? No, if you wanted to ask that." She extended a hoof, pushing the intruder out of her personal space. "They used... Superglue," the word left her lips as if she couldn't get her teeth apart. A hoofful of sugarcubes splashed into the mug. Fluffy didn’t seem to notice, her ear just twitching at the sound.
"At least they paid you attention. Everypony can't achieve that, as you sure know." He gave her a weak fatherly smile, his hoof fidgeting with the collar of his plaid shirt.
The door opened again, seemingly revealing nopony. The staccato of hooves brought the two teachers to look down. A grey filly with purple mane as straight as a board stepped inside. "Good morning. Is Ms. Heron here? She promised me some books for my geology research project," the small filly said, her voice rather dry and monotonous.
"Good mornin'. No, she isn't. Miss... uh?"
"Pie. Maud Pie."
"I think she is still with her class. You can wait for her outside, Miss Pie. Or wait, I think she said to me something about them..." Gauge tapped his chin. Then he lit up his horn, his magic rummaging through the cabinets and a few already forming piles of papers on the table. "Ah, here are they." A few tomes, each easily larger than the filly herself, flew up, trapped in his telekinetic grip.
"Thank you." Still completely unamused, the filly took them from his magic and, balancing them on her back, turned to leave.
“Miss Pie?” She turned around, facing the deputy head again. “Please knock on the door the next time.”
She blinked, her expression a mere stoic mask. “I believe I am forbidden to knock ever since I accidentally put a hole through Ms. Parallel's door.” She turned again without another word, trotting away as if the books on her back weighed no more than a cloud would.
Upon the filly's departure, the deputy head turned back to his colleague, both slightly taken aback.
Fluffy Cotton blushed a little. "The offer to go home still stands? I don't want others to see me like this." She polished her glasses again and took a big sip of her beverage.
"Yes... though I'm afraid that somepony else will have to sort the new books in the library then." He shrugged as if he couldn't care less. “Ruby will surely be up for the job.” He trotted to his seat at the head of the table, slowly counting the seconds in his head.
"Wait." Cotton's eyes widened as the sugar and caffeine finally kicked in as Gauge came to the number three. “Wait, wait, wait!” She stared at him over the green smear of bogey on her spectacles. "We received a new book delivery and nopony told me? I won't let Rubicon sort them this time, he always makes corrections in the historical ones!" She dashed out the door, leaving a trail of wet hoofprints and at least dozen colors flying behind her.
"Whoa." A grey unicorn stallion barely dodged the excited linguist in the doorway. Given his larger stature and the narrow doorframe, it was quite a feat. "Your work, Spark?" He smirked at Gauge, who sat lazily reclined in his chair.
He just hummed back and raised a hoof to greet his collegue, cracking a satisfied grin.
The newcomer circled the lake on the floor, striding to his chair. "Another first grade issue?"
"Yep." Gauge laughed a little.
The other stallion cocked and eyebrow at the singed spots on the table. "And a fiery rage shift?" He made a futile attempt to scrub off the burnt wood.
"Is there any doubt?"
Spark Gauge levitated Fluffy’s mug to his mouth, dipping his tongue into the remaining drink. "Nearly." He laughed, his collegue following suit.
They quieted down a little when the secretary returned, a tray laden with a good dozen cups by her side. She set a few before Spark Gauge, then turned to the newcomer. "Ah, Mr Globe-Trotter! I haven't noticed you. Coffee?"
"Excuse me. Oh, sorry. Pardon." A young mare was weaving her way through the overcrowded corridor.
She winced when someone stepped on her hoof, backpedalling slightly, only to get smashed by a saddlebag in the face. She tried to plant her hooves firmly on the ground, the students streaming around her, tossing her from side to side.
"Can I help you, miss?" a slightly balding stallion slowly approached her. A small circle of free space formed between the two of them.
The mare straightened up, a warm smile spreading over her lips. "Thank Celestia! Yes, I was looking for--"
"Changing rooms, right? Even new students of the final grade have to clean their hooves. And if possible, remove their wet hoof wraps." The stallion motioned to the purple stretches of fabric coating the mare’s legs, water dripping from them.
"But--" She looked at him, wide-eyed, ears pressed against the back of her head.
"That way." He pointed his hoof. "Have a nice day." He made a leave through the crowd, the students parting respectfully before him with muttered 'Good mornings'.
The mare's ears raised a little. "These are the newest model of woollen overshoes," she spat after him, her many metallic accessories clinking madly and her braces nearly falling from her teeth. With a sigh, she took a look at the letter in her hooves and set on a new quest to find her destination.
"Excuse me, can I--" The earth pony mare trotted to another teacher, a stallion cantering down the hall.
"If you aren't dyin', don't ask me!" The large pony rushed past her, a hailstorm of papers flying behind him.
"Okaaay?" She stared blankly after his disappearing tail. She had to say, his flanks looked quite nice.
A tap to her shoulder brought her out of her reverie. "Ah-hem, do you want something?" The earth pony turned, her cheeks burning slightly. Behind her stood a unicorn mare with fiery orange mane and a stern, yet curious expression.
"Yes, I'm looking for the headmaster. I'm Cheerilee, the new intern." The younger mare extended a hoof.
"Brassy Heron, Chemistry and Biology teacher." The mare shook the offered hoof. "I'm afraid that the headmaster is not here today. And when our deputy head gets like this," she motioned in the direction where the stallion in hurry disappeared, "it's better to get out of his way.”
Cheerilee pouted a little and rubbed her head, clearly unsure what to do.
"But come in the staffroom. Do you want coffee?" Brassy continued, motioning down the corridor.
Cheerilee followed her reluctantly. "No, thank you. I don't drink coffee."
"Say that at the end of your intership here..." Heron chuckled as they entered the room.
The few teachers sat at the table raised her heads, watching the duo with various states of interest.
"Wait, wait, wait. What's she doing here?!" The balding stallion from before slapped the table, pointing an accusing hoof at the intern once he spotted her.
"Rubicon, that's the new apprentice," Heron said flatly, stepping between the two.
"Ah, pardon me, miss." The stallion didn't even stand up, he just propelled himself on a swivel chair near Cheerilee and gently took her hoof. Then he brought his head nearer. "Rubicon, History and Equestrian language."
Cheerilee wasn't the type of a mare that got easily swayed by stallions' courtesy, at least not by those far older than her. Still a kiss to her hoof was a nice way of apologizing for the mishap earlier.
But Rubicon had no such act in mind. Instead he took a hoofkerchief out of his pocket and forcefully polished the hoof.
Cheerilee jumped up with a shriek, a few metallic bracelets nearly leaving her foreleg. "I already told you I hate when young, beautiful and clever mares trot around with filthy hooves. Students and interns alike." His eyes narrowed and he rolled away with his chair again.
"Don't be that harsh on her!" A mare with multi-colored and multi-styled tail--Last years fashion, but at least somepony with a little taste of style, Cheerilee thought--rose from her seat, eyes behind thick glasses glaring daggers at her colleague. She stood up, trotting up to the intern. "Just look at her. First day here and judging by her mane, it seems that she already had an encounter with one of the physicists."
"You are saying it like it's my fault Spark and Constant are leaving charged crystals lying everywhere!" Rubicon snapped back. He kicked at the ground, turning himself around on the swivel chair.
"Do I sense somepony talking about me, Ruby?" Spark Gauge called from the doorframe. He dragged himself into the room, his plaid shirt dripping with sweat.
Everypony watched in silence as he pushed past Heron and Cheerilee without a glance. Falling into his chair at the head of the table, he continued, "First some troubles in the transfiguration class, then I found that the new silly wannabe teacher still hasn't arrived, in the meantime I got approximately one hundred complaints about the lack of mirrors on the filly toilets--Seriously, are they really that necessary?" After receiving a few stares from the mares in the room, he quickly continued, "And now you want to tell me there was another fool playin' around with my zap crystals?!"
"Deputy headmaster..." Cheerilee raised her eyes.
"Gauge," Heron whispered to her.
"Ah, good mornin', miss... Yeah, I can see that on you. It had to be quite a charge to frazzle your mane like this. Still, I have seen worse--"
"Frazzle? That's the newest hairstyle of Young Mares' magazine! And I'm the new silly wannabe teacher." The wires of her braces trembled with anger. She looked at the stallion, expecting him to throw her out immediately after this outburst.
"That... explains a lot." Gauge's jaw dropped, the stallion pressing a hoof to his forehead.
"You're telling me..." Rubicon rode back and forth on the swivel chair, circling the table in the centre of the room.
An awkward, pregnant silence hung in the room, disturbed only by the occasional creak of the swivel chair’s wheels.
"So... which subject are you going to teach?" Heron rubbed the bridge of her nose.
"I wanted to try... all of them?"
"Tender creature seems to be brave." Rubicon chuckled, finishing another lap around the room.
"Ruby... it's great that you seized Globe-Trotter's chair, but I reckon it's time for third grade's History now." Gauge grabbed the wheels of the swivel chair with his magic, the momentum sending his colleague flying out the door. A few colourful curses could be heard, followed by the ceasing sound of hoofsteps.
"Please pardon him. Rubicon's a great company when he's in the right mood..." The deputy head gave Cheerilee an apologetic nod. She returned the gesture, sheepishly looking around. Her hoof pawed at the ground.
Spotting the intern’s unease, the mare with the fashionable tail turned to her. "If you want, you can go with me now and have a sitting-in on my class of Equestrian language. And you can meet the others later if the ruffian discouraged you now. Oh, I almost forgot, I'm Fluffy Cotton." The mare dragged Cheerilee out of the room, the intern still a little shaken, but with a smile now on her features. The door clicked shut behind them.
"Spark, do we really need the internship programme? Rubicon seems to get more and more determined to make a living Tartarus of it for the newbies..." Heron collapsed on a chair next to Gauge.
"I kinda understand him. How could a mare that looks like an ironmonger's store catalogue ever be a good teacher? I don't think a school in the smallest of villages would want somepony with that visage... And 'bout the internship, you know it was boss' idea."
Heron sighed, pouring herself a cup of coffee from the nearby kettle. "Another ‘brilliant’ idea. What was that in the transfiguration class?"
"Somepony turned all the canteen cutlery to coal. Which led to cooks quarrellin' again about us stealin' the tableware..." He laughed bitterly, playing with a small teaspoon on the table.
"Hurry up, the play in the city theatre is starting in half an hour!" a cry rang over the many heads in the school foyer.
Fillies and colts squeezed past each other, looking for the rest of their classmates. Teachers ran around, trying to herd their entrusted classes together. It was the purest example of Brownian movement.
"Okay, is everypony here?" Fluffy Cotton called, failing to count her unruly students for the fifth time.
"Fleur, please don't use the perfume anymore. We don't want the actors nor your classmates to get nauseous." A thick pink mist lingered around the mentioned filly, most of the ponies quickly scampering out of her way.
An annoyed stallion grumbled, yelling over the ruckus, "Who went to the toilet again?"
"Leave the geologist's hammer here, you won't need it in the theatre!"
"You need to open the zipper of your jacket before you stick the wings through! Don't pull back now, you'll pluck your feathers out!" another mare scolded one of the colts.
More shouts filled the room till somepony finally opened the door. The mob of colorful bodies in fancy dresses flowed out like a tide during a solar eclipse. Smaller groups of students separated from the main stream eventually, their teachers dragging them to the city.
"This seems to be the last class," Gauge mused from the window, looking out at the long snake of students meandering through the streets. "I just hope they won't stop Canterlot traffic altogether again... Not looking forward to dealing with the complaints."
"Finally some peace," Globe-Trotter chimed from behind him, hindhooves on the table.
"Rubicon probably wouldn't approve of that... watchin' over your class in there instead of you, Chart."
"He wanted to go, I didn't. And I reckon it was you who assigned them to him." Chart chuckled, reclining in his swivel chair with the Canterlot Courier in his magic.
"At least Fluffy had a reason to hide the sorry bare flank of hers under a dress..." Gauge sighed, sitting down to the loads of paperwork on the table.
"Good morning, gentlestallions." An elder pegasus mare entered the room, nodding to her colleagues. Miss Cheerilee followed in her wake.
"Morning, Spring, Cheerilee," Chart Globe-Trotter called, glancing from the newspaper. Spark Gauge apparently didn't notice anypony, his eyes twitching between two documents on the table.
A colorful smear zigzagged through the room, leaving two steaming mugs on the table for the newcomers to enjoy. It left just as quickly as it appeared.
"What was that?" Cheerilee sat down dumbfounded, her frazzled--or styled--mane looking even worse for wear than a few moments ago.
"Our secretary's little niece. She sometimes stays in Canterlot with her aunt and often helps her out here. Truth be told, she's a really fast flyer," Chart said, ruffling his newspaper. Gauge groaned from behind the mountain of paperwork at the disturbance.
"Oh..." Cheerilee took a sip from her mug, grimacing at the taste.
Spring on the other hoof ignored the coffee altogether, her wings fidgeting with the clasps of a violin case on her back. When she finally pulled the instrument out, she propped it up against the ground instead of properly placing it against her neck.
"Seems like they invented a spell that allows anypony to come up with a square root of any number. Isn't it weird?" Chart folded the newspaper, throwing it away. "What should I do if somepony uses it during a test? Uh, Spring?"
"You know, Mathematics isn't my subject and nor is Geography. Do you use square roots in Geography?" the mare said, fighting to keep the instrument upright.
Chart cocked his head, running a hoof through his perfectly groomed mane. "No, not really... but what are you doing?"
"Oh, this?" she motioned to the poor violin. "One filly in my class, Miss Philharmonica--no wait, Miss Melody, I think her mother got married again--has troubles standing on her hind legs when she's playing. Oftentimes I catch her leaning on the instrument like this. So, I wanted to try how the tune will change when a pony plays a violin like a cello."
Cheerilee mumbled something to herself, browsing through a notebook in her hooves.
Spring took the bow, gently drawing it across the strings. The only result was an earsplitting screech. All that followed was awkward silence and another screeching as Gauge ground his teeth.
"Maybe it's just out of tune," the elder mare offered, Chart giving her a sympathetic smile while Spark just grumbled something.
"Ms. Symphony, what was the sentence you used at the beginning of your lesson?" Cheerilee chimed in in the following silence, eliciting a resignated sigh from Gauge.
"'Let's quiet down please, we have a very important lesson to get to, thank you...' Though why do you ask? And Cheerilee, you can call me Spring too." Spring turned to the intern with a motherly smile.
"Uh, okay. Well, I thought it'd be a good idea to jot down the quotes teachers normally say and the following reaction of students... So I’ll know what phrases to use when I start teaching myself." The intern rubbed the back of her head.
"Hm... interesting. Though coming up with your own style is better, but I can see where you are going with this." Globe-Trotter rose from his seat, glancing over her shoulder. "What do you have in there already?" He gave her a warm smile and motioned to her notebook.
"Oh, just a few sentences from Fluffy Cotton's lesson. For example..." She skimmed through the many pages filled with her mouthwriting. "This! 'That's a sweet shmoopy-doopy sweetie-weetie adjective." The young earth pony raised her head, grinning expectantly.
"I have to take you to one of my Physics lessons." Gauge sighed, rubbing his temples. "Force and energy conversions can't cause that much harm." He glanced at the documents before him, giving up any hope of finishing going through them today.
“Um, Mr. Gauge?” The secretary appeared in the portal to the room, leaning on the doorframe. Her chest heaved up and down rapidly.
“What is it?” Spark grumbled, picking up his empty mug. “By the way, Scribble, can you be a dear and brin’ me one more coffee?"
"Sure, Mr. Gauge, though..." The mare turned pale, her eyes ticking from side to side. “Though...”
"I just got the news that the school inspection is coming!" The mare collapsed to the floor, a letter fluttering in her wake.
Spring Symphony let out a gasp, Chart just raised his head and Cheerilee was too preoccupied with her notebook. “Great,” Spark commented, picking up his empty mug. “So I have to brew it myself. Anyone else wants one as well?”
"What are we gonna do?! Stay calm, Parable, stay calm..." a blue earth pony mare muttered to herself. She tapped her hoof on the table nervously, occasionally shooting a death glare to her colleagues. She, Chart and Brassy Heron sat around the long table in the staffroom, the rest already returned to their duties after the meeting. Miss Cheerilee took a seat in a corner, preoccupied with her notebook.
Everypony already managed to calm down since the news about the incoming inspection arrived, but Parable Parallel didn't seem to share their resignation.
"Parable--" Chart raised his voice, leaning closer to the distressed mare.
"Don't say anything, especially you!" She pierced him with her stare. "If the inspector finds out how your students use the rule of three, we are doomed! Not speaking about the mess you and Rubicon usually leave in class registers!" She stomped her hoof on the table, a pair of compasses in her hoof glinting with murderous intent.
"Parable!" Brassy turned to her, pushing the compasses from the mare’s hoof. "Don't you think that Scribble Colon's nervous breakdown is enough? All you can change with this whining is Spark's mood." She gestured in the direction of the deputy head’s office.
"Yeah, our beloved deputy is tired of work when he finally gets some... This will be a disaster if the headmaster doesn’t return in time!" Parable cried, gesturing to the mess of half-eaten sandwiches and piles of tests still waiting to be corrected scattered all over the table. "Also, can somepony find the janitor? I've been having troubles with the windows for over two months now." She huffed. Seeing no reaction, she indignantly stomped out the door.
"I'd rather look for a needle in a hay stack than a janitor in this school... Pardon me, I have Zebrica to focus on," Chart mused, exiting the room. "Oh," he stuck his head back into the room, "and if I'm found dead with compasses or a ruler sticking out of my body, you know who did it."
Cheerilee raised her head, eyes glinting with fear. "Is... is inspection always like this?" The words filtered through the lump in her throat.
"Yes." Heron turned to her, muzzle stuck in her mug. "Parable is just trying to have everything alright when the inspection arrives. But sometimes she goes a little overboard... Though she hasn't killed anypony... yet." Tapping her chin, she continued, "That reminds me... I should get rid of the sign plastered on the skeleton in my classroom..."
"Sign?" Cheerilee cocked her head. “I don’t think I have ever been in the Biology classroom.”
"I see. Well, somepony put a sign saying 'This guy didn't wipe the blackboard' on the skeleton," Heron mused from the door, then turned and trotted away.
Cheerilee just shook her head, looking back into her already overfilled notebook. "Hm... a cutie-patootie lovie-dovie sentence? That just sounds off. 'Lovie-dovie verb' sounds much better." Receiving no objections from the deserted room, she neatly jotted it in.
There was a timid knock on the door. Cheerilee raised her head, scanning the empty staffroom. "Come in?" She stood up, heading hesitantly to the door.
She barely jumped back when the door swung with incredible force, revealing two grey earth pony fillies.
"Good morning," the taller one said, her voice utterly monotonous. "Little Octavia here wanted to tell you something." She pushed forward the smaller filly. Cheerilee looked down, giving Octavia a brace-clad smile. The diminutive filly stumbled back a little, letting out a quiet squeak.
Gulping audibly, she started speaking, "I... eh... um... ProfessorGlobe-Trotterforgothiscoffeeheresohesentmetobringittohim, butIgotlostandthisfillyfoundmeandsaidthatshewillknockbutIhavetotalk.CanIhaveMrProfessor'smugnow?"
"Ehh... Come again?" Cheerilee said, rubbing the back of her neck. She couldn't shake the feeling that the last letters of Octavia’s flood of words still sloshed around in her ears.
"Simply, Mr. Globe-Trotter sent this one here," the older filly motioned to Octavia, "to retrieve his coffee. But she got lost and run into me when I was looking for my pet. Can you please bring us his mug? It should be the big round one made of clay and crushed marble."
"Uh, sure," Cheerilee strode to the table, grabbing the vessel. The scent from the liquid inside nearly knocked her over. "Did he really say it was coffee?" She raised an eyebrow at the fillies. The older just stared and blinked while Octavia shrugged helplessly. "Just make sure to not put your muzzle close to it. And don't break the mug."
"Will do, thanks, miss!" The little one took the beverage in her mouth, gingerly trotting away.
"I have to go look for my pet, he's surely wondering where I am by now." The other turned to leave as well.
"I'm pretty sure animals are forbidden on the school grounds," Cheerilee tried to sound as stern and convincing as possible.
"But my pet is not an animal. He's a rock." The filly blinked again and continued down the corridor.
Cheerilee swung the door shut, frozen. " A rock? A rock as a pet?! What in Tartarus? I knew I should have taken up gardening instead.” She paced around the room, trying to bring her breathing under control again. At least something where the psychology classes she had taken proved useful. She was about to sit back down, completely calm again.
However, her peace of mind did not last for long. There was another knock on the door.
"Yes?" Cheerilee turned to the door, not bothering to get up this time.
The doors nearly flew off their hinges, sending the nearby key rack on the wall tumbling to the ground.
"This is the last drop! I hope you have a good explanation for this, young mare. I warned the teacher lot of yours before!" An elder stout mare in dirty apron dashed into the room as an angry bull, albeit an angry bull with arthrosis. "If you can't do anything with this, we will go on strike. Just say goodbye to the finest carrots and sandwiches of our stock! I wonder how long will it take for you to start starving and eating the books of yours. You'll crawl to us, begging for our return, but we will stay defiant and refuse!" She finished, glaring down at Cheerilee and took what she assumed to be a heroic pose.
"Uh?" was all Cheerilee managed to say. Seeing the mare was preparing to fuel another fiery monologue, the intern quickly continued, "Pardon me, but who the hay are you? And what happened?"
"I'm Muck Hogwash, the head of the school kitchen! Don't tell me that you don't know. You have been stealing the tableware for quite some time, but this one crossed the line. What did you need all the glasses and pots for? And why did you rummage through our cider stock? Where is the imitation of a stallion called Gauge so I can kick the sorry flank of his?" The old mare turned around, glancing under the table as if the deputy could be hiding there.
"The deputy headmaster is in his office and he is not to be distracted. None of us has stolen glasses or pots, nor cider. And I'm just an ordinary intern not authorized to be in charge of making such decisions. Have a nice day!" Cheerilee pushed Muck out and bucked the door shut, the impact throwing off the remaining keys from the fallen rack. That was probably the bravest and most self-critical thing Cheerilee said in her life so far.
She wiped away the venomous saliva that got stuck on her scarf during the chef's monologue, and knelt down to sort out the keys.
There was a knock on the door, followed by the double doors flying to both sides. One of them hit Cheerilee’s backside, sending the mare rolling over the floor.
"We don't have any coffee or cider here! Go away," she cried, barely lifting her head of the ground, her vision swimming madly.
"I applaud you on the absence of such a country drink. Cider is something not worthy one of the best Canterlot academies... However, I'm thirsty after my trip here and the lack of coffee isn't something to soothe my nerves. Especially not when I have an inspection to do." An orange earth pony mare, just a little older than Cheerilee, towered above her. Her cold, calm voice and her too big creased purple suit radiated the feeling of insecurity and danger into the room.
Cheerilee felt beads of sweat form on her forehead.
"No no no... I mean, we surely have some coffee--for you--eh--Your Excellency." Cheerilee grinned nervously at the mare, her hoof groping in the void of the cupboard behind her.
"The name is Ms. Harshwhinny," the inspector said, her voice a mix of Manehattan accent and the speech of upper-crust Canterlot society.
"Cheerilee, a teacher intern." Cheerilee extended a hoof filthy with dust from the cupboard.
Ms. Harshwhinny gave the limb a contemptuous look. "I expected the headmaster to greet me, not... you. Where is he?"
"He is leading an excursion to the Crystal Mountains. You know what? I'll try to fetch you some coffee. Make yourself at home!" Cheerilee darted out the door, slamming them shut behind her.
"Oh, my! Is anything wrong?" Constitutie, the Social sciences teacher, rushed down the hall to the hyperventilating mare, putting a wing around her shoulder.
"Thank Celestia!" Cheerilee raised her eyes to her. "Inside the staffroom is the inspector. She's a bit grumpy, but you know your way around ponies and their behaviour, right?" She shoved the pegasus mare mercilessly through the door before she could protest and then galloped down the hall.
Cheerilee skidded to a stop before the secretary’s office, avoiding a collision with its opening door. A small filly with a tray of mugs full of steaming hot coffee in her mouth stumbled out.
"Wow, Dashie! You are a really responsible filly. Doing your aunt's job when she doesn't feel well," Cheerilee commented, patting the filly on the head and continued to the next door.
Dashie just mumbled something and walked on shaky legs to the staffroom. That tray had to be really heavy.
Cheerilee arrived at the end of the hall, knocking on the door. No answer. She waited for a while, then decided this was an emergency. She turned and bucked with all the strength she could muster.
The door flew open, revealing a small office and an unconscious tan stallion on the floor.
"Mr. Gauge? Spark?!" Cheerilee shrieked, crouching to the unmoving stallion. "What happened?! "
Remembering glimpses of her first aid courses, she started pumping her hooves on the stallion's chest with all her strength. Given her earth pony nature, it was quite a force. “Live, live, live...” she chanted.
Gauge opened his eyes with a cry, kicking the mare off. "Miss Cheerilee? What in the name of Newton's apple are you doin'?" he croaked, rubbing his sore ribs.
"You're alive! Thank Celestia! Quick, the inspector has arrived!"
"Alive? Of course I'm alive. I just fell asleep... for a little bit... on the floor." He awkwardly tried to straighten his shirt. Cheerilee looked at him with one raised eyebrow. "Never mind that for now, another question is if I'll be alive after the inspection is done.”
Gauge headed out the door, Cheerilee in his wake.
"So you are telling me that you are not enslaving screw loose fillies?" the inspector inquired, pushing the teacher against the table.
"No, no and no!" Constitutie looked far worse for wear than ten minutes ago.
"But that sorry little one is a proof of evidence you can't deny." Ms. Harshwhinny barely avoided Dashie flying around in tortuous laps around the staffroom.
"Please, pardon the wait, miss." Gauge trotted into the room and to the inspector, taking her hoof in his and kissed it casually.
Ms. Harshwhinny pulled back. "That's Ms. Harshwhinny to you. Are you the headmaster?" she groaned.
"Deputy Headmaster Spark Gauge, Headmaster Bumblebee is not here," Spark replied calmly.
"So if you are the one in charge at the moment, then I will tell you the imperfections I have already discovered. Given how many I have found in the short amount time, it's not going to be a good final score for you in all probability."
Gauge only gulped in response. Constitutie was visibly trembling, feathers falling off her wings. Cheerilee tried to catch the deranged pegasus filly zooming past her head.
Ms. Harshwhinny cleared her throat, looking at her notes. "You cross out the empty grids in class registers from left to right, I found out by the lines being a little thicker at one end. The newest inspection ordinance, section 734F clearly states that you should do so from right to left." She raised her eyes from the paper, glaring at the bemused deputy.
"As the school counselor told me," she took a glance at the shivering Constitutie, "you currently don't host any foreign students from Griffonstone or Zebrica. Canterlot academies are the jewels of Equestrian education and thus the best for integrating foreign students!"
"And lastly--for now--you are apparently content on using young foals to work for you and--" Ms. Harshwhinny's monologue ended with a slight fit of cough. She reached for one of the mugs on the neglected tray--one of the mugs she refused to even look at in defiance of the alleged filly slavery. She emptied it in one full swig.
With a light hiccup, Ms. Harshwhinny continued, "And you--you are even trying to deny it," she glared at them, ears twitching. "But I, Softy Harshwhinny, promise that when I—" she hiccupped again, "when I am in charge, I'll make this a living Tartar- Tart- T- Tus- out of this for, heh, for you!"
Dead silence fell on the room as she raised her accusing hoof. The teachers stared in disbelief at her as she swayed and stumbled over her own legs. Even the filly stopped creating a tornado around the chandelier and looked in her direction.
Before Ms. Harshwhinny could hit the ground, a blanket of blue magic wrapped itself around her.
"Don't you tell me this slender mare had a cup of the strange hard coffee?" Chart stepped into the room, gently levitating the mare to his side and letting her lean on his shoulder.
"Ooh, you have a zebra here after all!" Ms. Harshwhinny hiccupped again, rubbing his striped tie.
"Hard coffee?" The two remaining mares cocked their heads. Gauge trotted to the table without a word, taking a small sip. "That's.. strong!" He shoved it away. "Not necessarily bad though."
"I got one delivered earlier. Didn't mind the new and somehow tempting flavor, but the filly that brought it looked a little disheveled. So I just came to ask what was in it and if I should be afraid..." Chart stated, trying to detach the inspector hugging his neck.
Death silence fell on the room again. Eight eyes lay on the little filly. Another two still stared at Chart's tie.
"Li'l one? What was in the coffee?" Gauge gazed at the pegasus. The filly just smiled back and half flew, half fell to the ground.
"Can you show us how did you make these pretty drinks?" Cheerilee patted the filly's head.
"T-there were the ponies in the funny white clothes," Dashie started, her words slurring slightly. "And... uh... I couldn't find the br-brown dust or the milky bottle. But I remembered that those ponies had lots and lots of bottles and dusts near the dining room. So I went there secretly like the Batmare!" she made a heroic pose, nearly falling over. "I took some sacks and bottles and started mixing. But I still couldn't find the milk, so I just mixed and mixed. There was the brown drink everywhere, so I went and got more glasses. I wanted to ask them for a permission later, I swear!" Her eyes started watering.
"It's okay, my dear!" Constitutie threw herself forward, hiding the filly in her feathery embrace. Dashie seemed slightly taken aback by the gesture, but she soon buried her head in the counselor’s wings.
"That's exactly why I don't want to teach young foals. Can somepony tell me what's going on?" Spark groaned, pawing at the ground.
"I might have an idea." Cheerilee beamed, revealing her breakfast caught in the confines of her braces.
Ms. Harshwhinny fell to the ground with a snore, dragging Chart's tie and neck with her.
"Miss Cheerilee, is there anythin' wrong with your face?" Gauge turned to the still grinning intern and rubbed his temples.
"Uh, oh, no. Of course not. Follow me." Cheerilee exited the room, blushing slightly.
"Take good care of her, Chart!" Gauge chuckled before heading out the door, looking down at his colleague.
The Geography teacher lay sprawled on the floor, pinned down by the sleeping inspector. She was still nuzzling his tie, occasionally mumbling something. He broke the mask of his unamused expression only to stick his tongue out at his superior and friend.
"So show off what you have." Gauge caught up with Cheerilee before the secretary's office.
"Well, I have a theory..."
"Ah, a theory! Really?" He nonchalantly pushed her away and opened the door, revealing the tiny space behind.
Dozens of papers littered the floor, the desk, the chairs and the chandelier. Some were curled into scrolls, accompanying the many quills in the penholders. A few found their way between the unorganized army of inkpots and some trinkets in the cupboard. Another bunch of scrolls sat impaled onto the fireguard of the long unused fireplace. A postal pigeon perched in the corner gave a happy hoot at the sight of the newcomers and expectantly held its empty feeder in its beak.
That was the ordinary look, except the feeder was usually a little bit fuller.
However, the dozens of glasses and a few pots, all filled to the brim with liquids of various brown hues were a new addition to this tight room.
"Now I can see why Lady Mush Dishwasher was so furious." Cheerilee stared agape at the room.
"That pesky mare from the school canteen. She looked like she'll fry and serve you to the students if we don't return the stolen dishes."
"Ah, typical Muck. At least I don't have to worry about that anymore. Let's assume that all this is little Dashie's work. But that still doesn't explain the strange effects of the coffee."
"She also mentioned that some bottles of cider went missing."
"Cider? Do you know what cider is? It's nothin' more than a fancy name for apple juice! Are you tellin' me that mixin' it with coffee would create some sort of weird poison? Nonsense, Miss Cheerilee!"
The mare lowered her ears, pawing at the ground. Disappointment was clearly written on her face. "Hey!" He gave her a nudge in the shoulder. "We still need to find the cause.”
She gave him a hesitant nod, sniffing at the various liquids and scanning the sacks and bottles. Opening up one half-empty bottle of cider, the stench nearly knocked her over. She gagged and threw it away. Gauge caught it in his magic before it could break, deeply inhaling the vapor.
"Gah, it went stale. Rotten apples sometime have weird effects..." He tapped his chin, eyeing the bottle floating in his magic. "I'll take it to Brassy for analysis... I think we are done here. Seems like you were correct, after all."
Cheerilee stopped filling the pigeon's feeder, following him to his office with a grin on her face, bracelets and ear rings clinging madly.
He sat down to his table, setting the bottle next to him and pulled out a crystalline orb from one of his drawers. Lighting his horn, he tapped its tip to the orb. Taking a deep breath, he started speaking. His voice thundered from crystalline speakers in every room.
"Good mornin', everypony. I have a short organizational information for all teachers. Please be present for a briefin' in the staffroom the next break. Thank you and have a nice day!"
"So... are you trying to tell us Colon's little niece poisoned the inspector?" Parable raised an unbelieving eyebrow.
"More or less, yes," Spark replied without the slightest hint of emotion.
"What are we going to do with her?! The Inspection Office will sue our flanks for this!"
All teachers turned to the mare in the creased suit lying limply on the table between them. It looked like a depiction of medieval griffons ready to start a feast. Ms. Harshwhinny missed only the apple crammed into her mouth.
"Not if they don't find out." Gauge looked each of them in the eyes. "I have a plan.
"Brassy, I want you to take this..." He rolled the peculiar bottle to the chemist. "Examine it in the lab. What is it and what happened to it. Take young Miss Philharmonica--"
"Miss Melody," Spring Symphony interjected.
"Simply that filly with a bowtie from the first grade and examine her too. She was exposed to that liquid for a while... Before you do so, please brin' me some of those fish and other dead pests you are hiding in the refrigerator. Oh, and a bottle of laughin' gas," Spark continued with his demeanor unchanged.
Brassy gave him a slow nod, exiting the room.
"Now... Ruby, look up the last inspection report in the archives and brin' it to the art class--"
"Spark, that'll be a problem. My class is still unusable after the model-making project from last week." An earth pony mare rubbed her neck, her eyes seeking solace behind the veil of paint-covered mane.
A sigh and a cocked eyebrow bid her to continue.
"You see, the second grade decided to make a life-size model of the classroom from hay straws woven together. But they forgot to include a doorway in the model..."
"Did they at least stay outside while buildin' it?" Gauge massaged his temples. "Then go to some other room... Rubicon will deliver the report. I want you and Fluffy to imitate the style and phrases. Include some minor issues, but otherwise stay positive."
A cacophony of gasps echoed through the room.
"B-but the laws--" Constitutie fainted, taking the sleeping Dashie in her embrace to the ground with her.
"I know we are breakin' a few rules with this--“
“More than a few,” Parable huffed.
Gauge glanced and her and continued, “But there is no other choice. This mare of great initiative,” he pointed to the slumbering inspector, “would be able to close our school just because we don't wipe the blackboards crystal clear."
"I do!" Parable opened her mouth, only to be silenced by Chart stuffing a sponge into her throat.
Spark pressed on, "However, that was true before this little... mishap happened. Now we will be all dead once she wakes up. That's why we will put on a little act. Are you three able to have the report done by this afternoon?" He turned to the newbie-falsifiers at the door.
They eyed each other for a moment. "Spark, what about our classes?" Fluffy spoke up.
"Don't care about them, I'll inform the students. You'll still get your pay for this." They all nodded in response, immediately galloping after their tasks.
Spark Gauge turned to face his colleagues at the table. "While they are busy, I want all of you to brin' your best formal attire for this afternoon. And please somepony wake up Constitutie and give her something calming to read. Code of law, for example. All clear? Dismissed!" His words were emphasized by the ringing bell marking the end of the break.
The teachers swiftly gathered their things, swarming around the door and rushing to their classes. A few pegasi among them decided to take a shortcut through the windows. Gauge caught one of them by tail with his magic, dragging him back to the room. "Vaultin' Pommel?"
The tall lean stallion descended back to the ground, listening. "I want you to help Miss Cheerilee and escort the inspector somewhere more private," Spark stated.
"Wait, why me?" Cheerilee inquired.
"You are about the same age, so I figured you'll know how to take care of her. Also..." Spark raised his head to Brassy who battled her way through against the lessening crowd. She hoofed him a box of fish and the bottle he wanted, curtly trotting away. "If she wakes up, send her back to sleep." He rolled the laughing gas over to Cheerilee. "And please use the fish to mask her as if she broke her head on the stairs or somethin'..." Gauge finished, levitating the box to her.
Cheerilee took it in her teeth, nostrils scrunching at the smell. Vaulting Pommel dragged Ms. Harshwhinny on his back. They both trotted out the room.
"So, how are you liking the teaching trade so far?" Vaulting grinned at her, his lack of teeth clearly illustrating why one should wear a muzzle-guard while supervising any ball games.
Cheerilee twitched a little, shrinking back. "I expected it to be... uh, different?" she proposed, praying to Celestia to have this over already. Silence nestled between them, disturbed only by the occasional shouts from classrooms they passed by. Ms. Harshwhinny happily snored.
"Does this suit your tastes?" Vaulting Pommel asked as they stopped before a broom closet. Someone pinned a chunk of paper to the door, reading “Harry Trotter was here” in a messy hoofwriting.
"Yeah, I think it will do." Cheerilee stuffed the limp inspector inside, waving her hoof. She crammed herself between the buckets and brooms, closing the door.
"B-by the eleventh addendum to the section 968G of the second inspection ordinance, I make a claim to inspect if your cleaners use the prescribed detergents!" Ms. Harshwhinny slurred.
"Of course, we got this new pest remover. If you'd be so kind and inspected if it's not stale..." Cheerilee pressed the laughing gas bottle to the inspector's muzzle. She went back to her dreams almost immediately.
There was a tug on the door. "It's occupied," Cheerilee called mindlessly, wrestling with the fishbox.
"Oh." The door opened, revealing an unamused older filly. Persistent click-clacking filled the room. "Pardon, I'll just pick up the uraninite I have stored here and leave you to your business," she said, fishing a stone from one of the buckets and sealing it away into her bag, along with a strange little device. The clicking ceased almost immediately. The intern just stared, dumbfounded.
Turning to leave, the filly noticed Cheerilee losing a fight with the box. "Anything I can help you with, miss?"
It was a mixture of simple dresses and ordinary black suits. All the teachers stood aligned along the walls of the staffroom. Even Cheerilee somehow unfrazzled her mane and got rid of her "jewellery". She approached the deputy head, still slightly confused by the absence of clinging around her.
"Yes?" he wheezed, strangled by Brassy and Fluffy attempting to fix his tie, quarelling about the right style.
"Would it be possible to get some official praise of the headmaster for Miss Maud Pie? She helped me a lot."
"H-how? Ouch, Brassy..." he grumbled, glaring at the mare nearly piercing his chest with a tie bar.
"She found much better make-up than pieces of frozen fish. A blood-red stone she calls hematite. Though we still used a small chunk of fish for the main wou-"
"Watch out, they are coming!" Vaulting galloped through the door. Everypony immediately straightened up, hooves shifting on the floor to form one perfect line. A few dry gulps resounded thorough the room.
Three unicorns entered the room, all dressed in snow-white shirts and suits as dark as the blackest night. Their stern eyes were concealed by dark shades. With a gulp--that in the ears of the present teachers seemed so loud that even Celestia had to raise her head from her afternoon cake, startled by the sound--Gauge approached the tallest stallion. His messy mane and ill-shaven face contrasted with the perfectly groomed sleek mane of the head inspector.
"Welcome to Clover the Clever's Academy in Canterlot. I'm Deputy Headmaster Gauge."
"That's nice, Mr. Gauge, but why did you call us? It's not very common to summon the chief inspection council, especially not before the inspection report has been hoofed in," the stallion announced, bending muzzle to muzzle with Gauge.
"I summoned you because the inspector was unable to perform her duties and to finish the report. This is what she has already written before the... accident happened." He levitated the fake report over.
"An accident, you say?" The inspector lowered his glasses, gazing at the scroll. Unfurling it, he motioned to his two colleagues. They started marching along the teachers standing at attention. Occasionally, they dropped a few words with the teachers, otherwise everything was silent.
"Yes?" The head inspector glanced from the report at his subordinate.
"Seems like the earth ponies here don't use the required hygienic mouth contraptions. This one has bits of sponge between her teeth!" He pointed a hoof at Parable. Chart fought the urge to rub his sweating neck.
"I dare to disagree. I, and all my earth pony colleagues too, use all the tools prescribed. From high-friction horseshoes to mechanical sponge holders. The sponge in my teeth is just a leftover after my regular teeth cleaning. I apologize for the imperfection of letting tiny bits of it stay in my mouth," Parable said in the sweetest voice possible, carefully pronouncing every syllable.
The air stood still as nopony dared to breathe. All eyes turned to the head inspector. "Sufficient, barely, but sufficient. Pay more attention to your hygiene the next time.” He glanced at Parable. Turning to Spark, he continued, "It is clear from Ms. Harshwhinny’s report that your school does well in many aspects. I'd reproach the creaking chairs and too scarce palette of choices in the school canteen--five different meals to choose from are not really sufficient. However, I'll be so generous to close my eyes and ignore that part, but only if you tell me about that 'accident'."
"Yes, the accident..." Spark rubbed his neck. "Please escort Ms. Harshwhinny here." He motioned to Chart and Vaulting. Both trotted away with a nod, soon returning with a stretcher between them.
All three inspectors bent down to their colleague.
"She slid on a puddle of drink some unruly student left after a break and sadly fell down a flight of stairs. I deeply apologize for this inconvenience."
The head inspector gently run his hoof along the sleeping mare's cheek. Her fur was sticky, glued together with dried reddish-brown substance. Large smear of it snaked from her forehead to her muzzle, coating her blond mane and well-kept eyebrows. A spongy scab could be seen under her fringe.
"Oh, Softy... Haven't I told you that school inspections are the most dangerous and arduous? You're one of our best, I won't risk your health anymore. From this day on, you'll be tasked only with safe sport inspections, I am going to ensure that." The tall stallion bent over, hugging the mare. One would even say there was a tear shimmering behind his glasses.
Brassy stepped forward. "It may look awful, but she'll be okay. It's just a scratch, nothing broken and no signs of concussion if my magic could be trusted. Albeit there might be a small memory loss."
The inspector straightened back up, extending a stiff hoof to Gauge.
"That is really an inconvenience and it will surely reflect in the final rating. However, I have to thank you for the care shown to my colleague. In the end, I think you passed. Deputy headmaster." They shook hooves, the tall pony exiting with a nod. His colleagues followed, Ms. Harshwhinny floating in their magic.
"Do you think we should forbid liquid drinks in the next ordinance?" one of them started, only to be cut off by the closing door.
The teachers stared at each other for a moment, then broke into a wild cheer.
There was a knock on the door. The cheer died almost immediately. Rubicon stopped dancing with Spring Symphony on the table, poor mare nearly falling over.
"Good afternoon, did I miss anything?"
Everypony stared at the creature in the door, mouths agape. It was something presumably the shape of a pony. A pony wrapped up in a dozen thick coats and scarves that fell into the river of Cant and then tried to clean himself with an old rug borrowed from a chariot mechanic. The overall look was topped with half-broken goggles.
"The train from the Crystal Mountains conked out... in a snowstorm!" the pony exclaimed, removing his goggles with hooves still blue from the cold.
"Weiss Bumblebee? Did the school excursion go well?" Spark approached the now revealed elder stallion.
"Not as planned, but everypony is safely home now. Did the awaited inspector already arrive?"
Spark eyed his colleagues for a moment, then turned back to the headmaster. "It's a longer story... Let's take a seat and we will explain. Brassy, please bring back the hard cider bottle; it could be of use later."
Cheerilee cleared her throat. Spark gave her a questioning look, his eyes lighting up after a moment. "And I think we need to debate granting one student the official praise of the headmaster.” He chuckled.