Chapter 1: A Drab Little Pony
Princess Celestia regarded the little pony standing before her. It was a bit disconcerting. Celestia had not thought a little pony could be drab, had not thought that drabness was a quality little ponies could possess. But here she was, standing before Celestia, contradicting her, being drab.
The unicorn filly’s name was Quizzical Greystone, and she was here interviewing for a research assistant’s position.
“I wish to thank the Princesses for receiving me,” said Quizzical. “It is an honor just to be nominated for the post.”
She assumes she’s going to be dismissed, thought Celestia, reading the subtext of Quizzical’s statement. The interview hasn’t even begun and already she assumes she has lost the job. Oh, you poor thing…
Something about Quizzical’s pessimistic attitude enhanced the impression of drabness. But that wasn’t what made her drab.
"Please, do relax, Quizzical, this final interview will be very informal," Celestia had believed that with kindly and courteous treatment she could set anypony at ease. But getting this filly to relax just was not going to happen. Perhaps Quizzical’s normal state was ‘paralyzed.’ “Now, tell me about yourself."
“About me?” This simple question seemed to take the little filly aback. “What do you wish to know, Princess?”
“Well, firstly, do you prefer Quizzical, or Quiz? How should I address you?”
“Either is acceptable to me, Princess,” said Quizzical. Blandly noncommittal, thought Celestia. This contributes to why I think you drab. But that’s not it.
Quizzical had a dull grey coat and a pale grey mane and tail, which she wore unfashionably short and severe. She was small for her age, and slightly built. A pair of glasses in huge black frames barely balanced on her tiny nose. But that wasn’t it, either. Princess Celestia had known ponies who looked much like Quizzical, and she would not have called them drab.
“Please, tell me about your family,” asked Celestia.
“I come from a long line of stone cutters,” said Quizzical. In fact, she came from one of the finest families of Canterlot. The Greystone quarries had provided most of the stone from which Canterlot was built, going back 7 generations. Quizzical’s older brother Chisel would be the eighth. “Sadly, I am not physically suited for quarry work, and levitation is my weakest spell; I cannot move the blocks. Though I love the quarry, it has been necessary for me to find my way elsewhere.”
“So you turned to magical studies?” asked Celestia.
“Yes, Princess,” said Quizzical.
Then there’s your voice, thought Celestia. It wasn’t an unpleasant voice, per se. Perhaps a bit deeper than you would expect from a filly of Quizzical’s age, but soft and clear. The problem was not her voice, but how she used it. To call her voice monotone would be an understatement. The most sensitive device made to examine sounds would register Quizzical’s voice as a single tone. You could not listen to her long and still pay attention. It was almost hypnotic. She must have known this. Quizzical seemed to compensate by never speaking at length, instead only giving short answers whenever possible. Celestia found this sad.
But even this was not what made Quizzical drab.
Celestia still did not know what to make of Quiz. She leafed idly through the filly's file. When in doubt, thought Celestia, try small talk.“Let us see…after magic, your favorite subjects are mathematics and…geology?”
“Yes, Princess,” said Quizzical.
There was a long pause. "Could you elaborate, Dear?" Celestia finally prompted.
"Oh...yes, of course," said Quiz. "I am attracted to Math by its clarity and precision. When everything is done correctly the answers are the answers. It is actually quite delightful.”
Somepony should have advised you, thought Celestia, that when you use words such as ‘delightful’ you should try to sound as if you are delighted. “And geology?”
“Oh, that is just exhilarating,” said Quizzical, in no way expressing exhilaration. “You can see the ages in the strata, the time it took to create the layers, the forces at work that created the stone…it is all very exciting.” Quizzical stopped and hung her head. “Few, if any, ponies seem to share my enthusiasm. My classmates have summed it up quite succinctly, actually. As they put it, I like numbers and rocks.”
“Well…yes,” said Celestia. “It says here that you were president of the geology club,” The School of Magic has a geology club? thought Celestia.
“Oh, dear, does it say that?” asked Quizzical. “I am sorry, Princess, but I thought that references to clubs with only one member would be deleted.”
And Celestia finally knew what it was that made Quizzical seem drab.
With love and care we can fix anything, thought Celestia, but how do we fix everything?
But, that really wasn’t it either. Celestia was certain everything couldn’t possibly be wrong with the poor filly.
But she was sure that Quizzical believed it. And that was what made her drab.
“Please excuse me a moment, Quizzical,” said Celestia. “Do relax, or have some refreshment. I need to confer with my sister for a moment. “
Celestia led her sister Luna off to the side of the Grand Throne Room, out of Quizzical’s hearing. Luna had spent the entire interview off to the side, barely suppressing laughter. This irritated Celestia no end, made worse by the fact that this interview was Luna’s idea.
“You told me that you had the perfect candidate, Luna,” grumbled Celestia.
"And I am good for my word," said Luna. Only in private conversation with her sister did Luna use modern pronouns. At any other time she insisted on the archaic 'Royal We.' "I read Twilight Sparkle's letter just as you did. She complained that she might have grown too close to the project, that she had become jaded. Twilight requested a research assistant to apply fresh eyes to the project. Well, as far as friendship goes, you will not find a pair of fresher eyes in all Equestria than our little Quizzical.”
“Explain yourself, Lulu,” demanded Celestia, though she knew already where this was going.
“Tia, the filly has no friends. She has never had any,” said Luna, frankly. “She is blessed with none of the skills necessary to win friends. She makes Twilight, as she was when you first sent her to Ponyville, seem like a social butterfly. Quizzical even makes ME look like the life of the party!”
“And you think we are doing Quizzical a favor, throwing her in at the deep end?”
“It worked once before,” said Luna, wryly.
“She is half Twilight’s age.”
“Quiz is very precocious.”
Celestia frowned. “None of this convinces me that she is the right pony for us.”
“We have nothing to lose,” insisted Luna. “If Quiz succeeds we all win. If Twilight is dissatisfied with her…well, we will no doubt learn a valuable lesson from poor Quiz’s failure.”
“We lose time,” said Celestia. “The time we give her and the time it takes to find her replacement.”
“Sister, please, pleaded Luna, “I am her mentor and I will be responsible for her. Quiz will be no trouble at all. She will report to me; and if it ends badly I will be the one who will go to Ponyville to bring poor Quizzical home. Please trust my judgment.”
“I just need to know one thing,” said Celestia. She went back to where Quizzical was waiting. The filly had not moved an inch.
“One final question, Quizzical, dear,” she said. “Please tell me, why do you want this job?”
Quizzical paused to consider her words carefully. Clearly her answer was important to her. “I desire work experience, Princess Celestia. While I have excelled at my course study I have never done anything practical. I believe this is something important that I am missing. Because of my youth I am not allowed to student teach…and…there are many reasons why I am not qualified for teaching…” Quizzical trailed off, then recovered. “At any rate, there are only two postings available. It is either this, or the Department of Theoretical Magic.”
Celestia cringed inside; she hoped it didn’t show. New employees at the Department of Theoretical Magic begin as “calculators.” They are given small desks in small cubicles where they spend their days completing equations for the department’s senior magicians. After very little time at this lonely, claustrophobic number crunching most ponies will do anything to get noticed and promoted out of the cubicles. Failing that, they usually soon burn out and quit.
But a pony like Quizzical could enter one of those cubicles and effectively disappear. If she took that job she would end up trapped in it for the rest of her working life.
“I sense that I need this job, Princess,” said Quizzical.
Princess Celestia gave Quizzical her warmest smile and offered the filly her right hoof. “Congratulations, Quizzical. And welcome to friendship research.”
Twilight Sparkle regarded the little pony standing before her. It was a bit disconcerting. It almost felt like looking at her younger self in a mirror, but it was the distorted and exaggerated image of a carnival fun house mirror. I was never that bad, thought Twilight, and she immediately felt guilty about the unkind thought.
Step One, settle the little filly in. Check. Step one went very quickly. Twilight had shown Quiz the tiny back room where Quiz would have a bed and a dressing table. Quiz had “unpacked” by dropping her small saddlebag of belongings on the bed. After going over the meal time schedule, Twilight had planned to go on to a discussion of the house rules, but she discovered that they didn’t have any. Living alone with Spike and Owloicious they had never really needed any rules. “We really should sit down and come up with some house rules,” said Twilight. “I’ll make a note of that.”
“Whatever you decide I will agree too, Miss Twilight,” Quiz had assured her.
Twilight had already given up asking Quiz to just call her Twilight. The filly would just eventually stop calling her ‘Miss Twilight’ on her own. Or…not.
Step Two, introduce her to Spike. Check. This vitally important step could have gone better. Spike had been prickly about adding a research assistant from the moment Twilight had suggested it. Meeting Quiz hadn’t helped. Spike was formally polite, and Quiz had been unreadable but polite. Twilight was sure that Spike would come around in time. At least she really, really hoped he would. She caught Spike muttering under his breath, “Great, now we have two of them!” Twilight chose to ignore this. If Quiz had also heard she didn’t say anything.
Step Three, get to know your new research assistant. Um…yeah.
Twilight thought she and Quiz would get on marvelously, if they could just begin to talk. But where to begin..?
“Quiz, I couldn’t help noticing, you have the most complicated cutie mark I have ever seen,” Twilight finally said. It was two intersecting colored circles. In one circle was an open book, in the other was a blackboard filled with scribbles. Where the circles overlapped was a question mark. “Is that a Venn Diagram?”
“Why yes, yes it is,” said Quiz. Twilight couldn’t tell for certain, but Quiz seemed please that she had recognized the mark.
“How did you get it?” asked Twilight.
“Oh, my cutie mark appeared when I created my spell, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. “But that is not actually a very interesting…”
“Wait, what?” exclaimed Twilight. “You invented an original spell? Quiz, that’s amazing for a filly your age!”
“No, actually, it is not…”
“Oh, please, show me!” cried Twilight, clapping her hooves.
“You will be disappointed when you see what a silly trifle it is, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz.
“Then a demonstration shouldn’t take any time at all,” said Twilight. “C’mon, show me!”
“Give it up, Kid, Twilight won’t leave you alone until you show her, so show her,” grumbled Spike.
“Very well,” said Quiz. Her horn began to glow, and her brow furrowed with concentration. “I just apply a little power…and point.”
A beam of magic extended from Quiz’s horn, and formed into something, hovering next to Quiz and glowing faintly.
It was a blackboard.
“As you can see,” said Quiz, and her words wrote themselves on the blackboard as she spoke. “This is actually just a variation on an illusion spell, hardly original at all.”
“Oh, this is marvelous, Quiz,” exclaimed Twilight.
Yeah, I guess it’s kinda neat, thought Spike. If you don’t have a real blackboard.
Quiz waved a hoof and the words were erased. New words formed as she continued. “I came up with the idea when I was having difficulty with presentations. Nopony will listen to me for any length of time. But I found that ponies will continue to read along, well after they have begun to ignore me.”
“Well..um..yes..” said Twilight, uncomfortably. Best to move past that subject. “What else can you do with it, Quiz?”
“Anything you can draw can be represented here,” said Quiz. She erased her words and waved at the blackboard some more. She drew X and Y axes, colored bars grew up next to them. “It is quite good for graphics. I have committed several of my favorite graphs to memory and…”
“You have favorite graphs?” exclaimed Spike. “Really?”
“Why…yes…”said Quiz. “This one of building supply purchases, for example, wonderfully illustrates the fluctuations of the Equestrian economy…” Quiz trailed off. “Oh. I see your point. Graphs are not of compelling interest to most ponies. That had never occurred to me.”
“Spike!” snapped Twilight, glaring at him.
“What?” Spike answered, shrugging. “She agrees with me.”
Twilight frowned, then turned back to Quiz. “Can you do pictures?”
“I could, if I could draw,” said Quiz. A bit of waving at the blackboard produced a stick figure pony. “I cannot.”
“Oh, well,” said Twilight. “What do you call it, Quiz.”
“Call it?” asked Quiz, puzzled. “Surely you know, Miss Twilight, that a spell is not named until it has passed review and been included in the Grand Grimiore…”
“I am well versed in the review process,” said Twilight, perhaps a bit more sharply than she intended.
“Careful, Quiz,” chortled Spike. “You don’t lecture the boss. She lectures you.”
“That’s enough, Spike,” said Twilight. “Quiz, most unicorns have private names for their spells, before they become official.”
“Do they?” asked Quiz.
“Quiz, have you even published?”
“I have submitted my work for review, Miss Twilight.”
Twilight was aghast. Spell review at the college of magic moved at the speed of glaciers. A unicorn who did not aggressively promote their own work would not see it accepted in their lifetime.
“Have you shown this to Princess Luna, Quiz?”
“Certainly not, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. “That is not a Royal concern. It would be rude.”
“But the Princess is your mentor…”
“It is not a promising spell, Miss Twilight, and not worth Princess Luna’s attention,” said Quiz. “It does nothing you could not accomplish with a slate and a box of colored chalk. Actually, you could reproduce most of the spell’s effects with a stick and a bare patch of dirt.”
Hey, you said it, I didn’t, thought Spike.
And that’s that, thought Twilight. This spell is so tied to her identity that it produced her cutie mark, and she dismisses it as worth no more than a stick. Oh, you poor, little filly…
Still, Twilight was beginning to find common ground with Quiz. Maybe…
“Tell me, Quiz,” asked Twilight. “How do you feel about check lists?”
“Oh, I adore check lists,” answered Quiz. “How could anyone with an organized mind not love them?”
Behind her Twilight heard a soft slapping sound that she was sure was Spike palming his face. Twilight ignored him.
“Quiz, you and I are going to get along just splendidly.” Check!
Cheerilee regarded the little pony standing before her. It was a bit disconcerting. She had Quizzical’s file open on her desk, and Cheeriee had never read such an extraordinary document.
“Well, Quiz, I must say I have never had such a gifted student as you,” said Cheerilee. “You have already taken and excelled at every course in my curriculum. I can’t help but wonder if you would be better off in some independent study…”
“Oh, please, no, Miss Cheerilee,” protested Quiz. “School is at the center of a young pony’s social life. If I do not attend I will surely miss something vital to my research.”
“All righty then, Quiz, we’ll give it a try, and I’ll do my best to keep you engaged,” said Cheerilee. There were subjects on Quizzical’s transcript that Cheerilee had never heard of, and a couple she couldn’t pronounce. Well, won’t this be a challenge! thought Cheerilee. No student ever held terror for Cheerilee.
On the other hand, Cheerilee realized that she was going to bear witness to Quizzical’s social development. Now that was a little bit intimidating.
Cheerilee paged idly through Quizzical’s file. “It says here that you have a brother and a sister, Quiz.” In fact, one of Quiz’s former teachers had helpfully included photographs of the siblings. Cheerilee looked at the pictures and then up at Quiz, than back at the pictures, then realized she had better turn the page before Quiz realized what she was doing. Oh, dear…thought Cheerilee.
“My older brother, Chisel, will be taking over our family business. He has a very good head, and the quarries will be in good hands with my brother,” said Quiz.
The stallion could also pose for the cover of a romance novel, thought Cheerilee. She had to admit that she would buy that book.
“My baby sister, Delight, is still very young, but she has the potential to accomplish anything. We expect she will marry well, but I strongly doubt that will be all she does,” said Quiz.
And she is the prettiest foal I have ever seen, and this isn’t even a very good photo, thought Cheerilee.
“You sound very proud of them, Quiz,” she said.
“Oh, yes, I am very proud,” said Quiz. “My siblings are extraordinary ponies, Miss Cheerilee.”
And you are the middle child between these two extraordinary ponies, thought Cheerilee. She leafed further through Quiz’s file. There was a note from Princess Luna, and Cheerilee absently read the heading aloud. “Nicknames?”
She regretted this immediately. ‘Several of Quizzical’s less friendly classmates have christened her with unkind and hurtful nicknames,’ Princess Luna had written. ‘If any of thy students begin to use any of the following for Quizzical we must insist that you discourage them most strongly.’
Quiz had, of course, heard. “There is a list of my nicknames? I have acquired quite a few. Perhaps, in the interest of completeness, you should read them out.”
I think that idea is masochistic, thought Cheerilee, but she couldn’t very well just tell Quiz no. She started at the top of Princess Luna’s list. “Bookworm.”
“Oh, yes, I liked that one,” said Quiz. “That was almost affectionate.”
Almost? Cheerilee continued, “The Robot.”
“That amused me,” said Quiz. “To equate me with an unfeeling thing as an attempt to hurt my feelings is a humorous irony.”
Well…we can’t all find the same things funny. She stared at the list for a moment. “They called you ‘Actually’?”
“Oh, yes, Miss Cheerilee,” said Quiz. “I once had the odious personal habit of beginning every sentence with ‘actually.’ I modified every word or phrase that could be with ‘actually.’ Some of my classmates began to keep score. My record is 8 ‘actually’s’ in one sentence. Actually, I appreciated that, the teasing actually helped me to actually stop abusing the word…” Quiz trailed off when she realized what she had just said. “Oh, dear.”
“You’re fine, Quiz, don’t worry about it,” said Cheerilee. And that is enough of that. “We should get you a schedule and your text books…”
“There should be one more, Miss Cheerilee,” said Quiz.
“Um…well…yes,” muttered Cheerilee. She didn’t want to read it. “Greystone the Drone.”
“Yes,” said Quiz, sadly. “Sometimes Stone the Drone, for short. Sometimes just Drone. I will admit that did hurt my feelings. I know that I am not pleasant to listen to. It is just being mean to remind me of that.”
“Well, you needn’t worry about that,” said Cheerilee, vehemently. “No one will be calling you names in my school. I won’t stand for it.”
“Thank you, Miss Cheerilee,” said Quiz.
Cheerilee closed Quiz's file. She wasn't going to find anything useful there. All of Quiz's teachers had offered assessments of her. Half of them, the more kindly ones, summed her up as ‘brilliant but having trouble adjusting socially’. The other half was less kind, and dismissed Quiz as ‘too smart for her own good, and weird’. Some marveled at Quiz’s ability to observe everything, and others thought this trait was ‘creepy.’ None of them had figured out how to deal with Quizzical.
Now it was Cheerilee’s turn.
“Quiz, I’m determined to make your experience here the best it can be. You’re entitled to my best efforts, and that’s what I promise to give you. I’m not saying it will never be difficult; you are an unusual student, I don’t have to tell you that. But I’m an optimist, and I’ve chosen to regard teaching you as an exciting challenge.”
“I appreciate your concern, Miss Cheerilee,” said Quiz. “And I shall do my best to be as little trouble as possible.”
And with that they completed the school registration process, and Twilight came to walk Quiz home.
“So, what do you think, Quiz?” asked Twilight.
“I do not know how to answer that question, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. “Could you be more specific?”
“I’m being deliberately vague, Quiz,” said Twilight. “It’s an invitation to answer any way you want.”
“Oh,” said Quiz. “In that case, my answer is that I think I have been blessed with uncommonly good luck.”
“Really?” asked Twilight. Frankly, there was nothing about Quiz that said ‘luck.’ “Tell me about that.”
“I find myself surrounded by wise and kindly adults who are taking an interest in my fate,” said Quiz. “I do not know what I have done to deserve my good fortune, but I appreciate it. It is not the same as friendship, not yet, but it is a good beginning. And it feels good.”
“I’m very happy for you, Quiz,” said Twilight. And maybe someday you’ll stop questioning why you deserve good fortune.
“Unfortunately, it was never the older ponies in my life that worried me,” Quiz went on, sadly. “It is the ponies my own age that frighten me.”
Diamond Tiara skipped happily as she went home from school. She had been standing outside an open window at the school house, what she’d learned about the creepy new filly made her smile.
“’Stone the Drone,’ that’s a good one!” Diamond giggled all the way home.
Chapter 2: Meet the Fillies
The rollers on Quiz’s dressing table drawer were stiff, and produced a loud squeak every time the drawer was opened and closed. For some reason Quiz had been opening and closing the drawer every few minutes, for the last half hour.
Twilight was reading herself to sleep, and once she was absorbed by a book Twilight could read through anything. But the noise was getting on Spike’s last nerve.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” Spike jumped out of bed and stomped to Quiz’s room. She had left her door open. “Hey, Quiz, could you keep it down? It’s bed time, and I’m hoping to get back to last night’s dream. It had cupcakes in it. Mmmmm, cupcakes.”
“What? Oh…oh, dear,” said Quiz. “It is quite loud. My apologies, Spike.”
“Well…what are you doing, anyway?” Spike asked. “Seriously, how many times do you need to test a drawer before you know it works?”
“I was trying to decide what to do with this,” said Quiz, pointing to a framed photograph of her family. “If I put it out where I can see them it makes me homesick. If I hide the photo in my drawer I feel better for a while, but the homesickness soon returns. If I take the photo back out again it helps, but that is also temporary. I cannot decide which is better.”
“Um…well, just try to get some sleep, OK?” said Spike. He couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Thank you, Spike. Good night.”
“Yeah, good night,” Spike turn to go. Then he called over his shoulder, “And, um, I think you’ll probably be happier if you leave your picture out.” Spike wandered back to bed, muttering to himself about cupcakes.
Quiz was walking to school the next morning when she heard an excited cry. “Look, it’s the new filly! Scootaloo, stop!”
A small scooter and cart screeched to a halt next to Quiz. “Hi!” called one of the fillies in the cart. “Are you Twilight’s new helper?”
“Research assistant,” corrected Quiz. “Yes. You have heard of me?”
“Why sure,” answered a second filly. “Everypony in town knows when there’s somepony new in Ponyville. Mah name’s Apple Bloom.”
“I’m Sweetie Belle.”
They finished, in unison, “We’re the Cutie Mark Crusaders!”
“Well…hello,” said Quiz, tentatively. “My name is Quizzical.”
“That’s…” began Scootaloo, who then changed her mind about what she was going to say, “…an interesting name. Can we just call you Quiz?”
“Quiz is acceptable to me,” said Quiz.
“Would you like a ride to school, Quiz?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“I am not sure…” began Quiz. After a moment’s pause she tried again. “Well, yes, actually. I believe I would enjoy riding with you.”
The girls helped Quiz into the cart, and Apple Bloom offered Quiz her helmet. “You take this, Quiz. Mah head’s probably harder than yours.”
“Will I need that?” asked Quiz, eyeing the helmet suspiciously.
“Not if we’re lucky,” answered Apple Bloom. Quiz swiftly put the helmet on.
“Scootaloo, go easy,” called Sweetie Belle. “This is Quiz’s first time.”
“Oh, yeah?” shot back Scootaloo. “Then you better tell her to hang on!”
“Now you done it, Sweetie Belle,” said Apple Bloom, “Why’d ya have to say that to her? Now Scootaloo’s gonna give us the works!”
“Should I be concerned?” asked Quiz.
“No, Quiz,” said Apple Bloom. “You should be scared.”
And with a lurch they were off.
It seemed as if Scootaloo took them through every alley between the library and the school. Scootaloo was not a fan of gentle curves; the only turns she made were sharp right angles. Quiz was surprised to discover that some of the maneuvers were actually possible. Apparently, physics and Scootaloo were not on speaking terms.
It came as no small relief when Quiz was able to make out the school house. But there was one last obstacle between them and their destination.
“Is that Scootaloo’s target?” asked Quiz, pointing to a pair of boards, resting against a large crate.
“Most likely,” said Apple Bloom.
“Oh, dear,” said Quiz. “Scootaloo! I do not believe the angle of that incline will place us on an advantageous trajectory…”
“Hey!” snapped Scootaloo, “Never tell me the angles!”
They hit the ramp, soared into the air, landed with a thud, ground to a halt, pivoted 180 degrees on the front wheels of Scootaloo’s scooter, and gently came to rest under a tree on the edge of the school’s playground.
“See?” declared Scootaloo. “Nothing to it.”
"Well," said Quiz, standing unsteadily in the bed of the wagon. “That was quite extraordinary.” She then fell out of the wagon and lay on the ground panting.
Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle peered down at Quiz over the side of the wagon. “Are you OK, Quiz?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“Oh, yes,” gasped Quiz, lying on her back, her hooves in the air. “I shall just rest here and recover.”
“Hey, what’s the problem?” cried Scootaloo. “Don’t you like carts, Quiz?”
“Oh, no,” said Quiz, “I find great merit in both carts and scooters. It is your driving that I find alarming, Scootaloo.”
“Good one, Scoot,” chided Apple Bloom. “Twilight has the new girl here for less than a day and you already almost break her.”
“Hey, it’s just too bad the ramp wasn’t canted a bit,” stated Scootaloo. “We could have done a barrel role.”
“I assure you, I am not ‘broken’,” said Quiz. “But I do ask that I not be moved for the moment, or I shall become violently ill.”
Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle had cracked up and were on their sides in the bed of the wagon. Soon, even Scootaloo joined them in laughter. Eventually, Sweetie Belle recovered enough to look down at Quiz. “Before we laugh at you any more, we should ask,” she said. “Quiz, you do know how funny you are, right?”
“No, I…”began Quiz. “Actually, yes, I was aware. I must make a note of this.” She magically drew her notebook and quill from her saddlebag, and set them hovering over her nose, the quill scribbling furiously. “I have been amusing just myself with my observations for so long I had forgotten that anyone else might get the joke.”
“That’s just wrong, Quiz,” said Sweetie Belle. “You should share jokes.”
“Of course,” said Quiz. “I shall make a note of that, as well.”
“You’re alright, Quiz,” said Apple Bloom.
“Am I?” said Quiz. “That is good to know.”
School went uneventfully until recess. Quiz sat at the back of the room, never contributing, but she never really needed to. Whenever Cheerilee asked a question there was always at least one filly with a hoof in the air. Usually it was Twist, the red maned filly who sat in the front row right in front of Cheerilee’s desk. Twist took such joy in answering the teacher’s questions it seemed wrong to interfere.
Quiz observed everything and she took copious notes.
On the way out to the playground Silver Spoon spoke to Diamond Tiara, just loudly enough for Quiz to hear, “Did you see the way she watches everyone? Like, totally creepy.”
If this bothered Quiz she did not show it.
Twist approached Quiz on the playground. “Hi, Quithicle, can I athck you a quethtion?”
“You may,” said Quiz. “Though I think perhaps you had best just call me ‘Quiz.’”
“Oh, good idea,” said Twist. “Anyway, I heard someone say that your cutie mark is a credit card because your family has money.”
As the mention of cutie marks the Crusaders appeared out of now where. “What’s a credit card?” asked Scootaloo.
“Rarity says it’s something new they are trying in Canterlot,” said Sweetie Belle. “It isn’t catching on because most ponies prefer to carry bits.”
“My mark is not a credit card,” said Quiz. “It is a Venn diagram.”
“A whosiwhatnow?” asked Apple Bloom.
“It..it is not a simple thing to explain,” said Quiz. “It is a kind of graph. The two circles represent sets of things, where they overlap shows how those things relate to each other.”
This was met with stony silence. It was interrupted by Scootaloo muttering under her breath, “Nerds of Equestria, you have a new queen.”
“Hush!” hissed Sweetie Belle. “How do you get a mark like that, Quiz?”
“It is much as Scootaloo suggests,” said Quiz. “I got my cutie mark from being overly concerned with graphs.”
“What?” squealed Scootaloo. Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom, and Twist were all glaring at her.
“I’m just glad it doesn’t make you shtuck up, like Diamond Tiara,” said Twist.
“Oh, no,” said Quiz. “I am sure that arrogance is not one of my character flaws.”
“But what does it mean?” asked Apple Bloom. “What is your special ability?”
“That is uncertain,” said Quiz. “Some cutie marks are specific, but most leave room for interpretation. I might become a researcher. Or a statistician. Or a demographer. Or I might become a professional student.”
“Eeeew, no thanks!” said Scootaloo, making a face. “Being a student forever! Yuck! But your mark does look pretty cool, Quiz.”
“You’re already a researcher, aren’t you, Quiz?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“Yes, but I do not know yet if I am any good at it,” answered Quiz.
“Quiz, what’s your favorite flavor?” asked Twist, suddenly.
“I am partial to vanilla,” said Quiz.
“Figures,” said Scootaloo. This got her more glares.
“Why do you ask, Twist?”
“Oh, no reason,” said Twist, innocently.
“Don’t mind her. She asks everypony,” Apple Bloom added quickly. “Twist has candy flavors on the brain.”
“Yeah,” admitted Twist, “I really do.”
Quiz might have wanted to question them further, but she spied a young colt entering the playground. “I must excuse myself, I have something to do,” she said.
“Excuse me,” said Quiz. “Is your name Pip?”
“Why, yes it is, Miss,” he answered. “How can I be of service?”
“My name is Quizzical, and I am a…friend of Princess Luna’s,” said Quiz. “She told me that when I saw you I was to say hello and wish you well for her.”
“Princess Luna!” Pip practically squealed with excitement. “She’s my favorite princess!”
“She is mine as well,” said Quiz. “Princess Luna is my mentor.”
“What’s that, Miss Quizzical?” asked Pip.
“Princess Luna teaches me,” said Quiz.
“Can you do magic, like Princess Luna?” asked Pip, his eyes as wide.
“No, not like the Princess,” said Quiz. “But I know a few tricks…” Quiz concentrated and summoned her magic blackboard. “I have a sister about your age. She tells me that she enjoys this one.” Quiz drew a crude ship, and placed a stick figure pony on its bow. She made what she hoped looked like a tri-corn hat for the pony’s head. “Princess Luna tells me that you like pirates.”
“Oh, I do, I do, I really, really do!” cried Pip, clapping his fore hooves.
“That is good, Pip,” said Quiz. “I prefer ninjas, myself. They study very hard.”
“But pirates have more fun!” insisted Pip.
“That is probably true,” admitted Quiz.
Pip giggled. “You talk funny, Miss Quizzical.”
“Yes, I know,” said Quiz. “I am working on that.”
“Can you make the pirates fight ninjas?” asked Pip.
“ I cannot make them move…but…if we put the ship close enough to the shore for the ninjas to swim out to it…” Quiz drew a shore line, then added stick figure ponies with snorkels in the water. She moved the pirate captain’s leg and gave him a cutlass. Then, in a moment of inspiration, she added an eye patch. The artwork would have hardly made a kindergartener proud; but if that bothered Quiz she said nothing, and Pip was delighted.
“Oh, dear, I shall need more ninjas!” cried Quiz. “For I face the brave Captain Pipsqueak!”
Pip began to jump about, swinging an imaginary sword. “Aaarrrr!” he cried.
Then the bell rang, and recess was over.
“That was fun,” exclaimed Pip. “Thank you so much, Miss Quizzical!” And he embraced her firmly around the neck.
“Yes…well…um…you are welcome, Pip…um…” Quiz had no idea how to react. She tentatively reached out and patted Pip on the back.
Then the colt broke the hug and scooted off to class. “Good bye, Miss Quizzical!” he called.
“Oh, my,” muttered Quiz. “Oh, my, my, my…” she needed to get to her notebook. She had much to make a note of.
The final bell rang and the school day ended. “Good bye, Class,” called Cheerilee, “No homework tonight, but please remember you have reports due at the end of the week. And Quiz? Could you please stay after class for a bit?”
Quiz made her way to Cheerilee’s desk. “What is it you need of me, Miss Cheerilee?”
“I guess I have to raise the same concerns I’ve already expressed, Quiz,” said Cheerilee. “While I’m delighted to have you in my class room, I’m honestly worried that I don’t have anything that I can teach you.”
“Oh, no, I must disagree, Miss Cheerilee,” you could not tell it easily from her voice, but there was something in Quiz’s eyes that told Cheerilee that her student was being very earnest. “I am studying you, Miss Cheerilee.”
What?! “I beg your pardon, Quiz?”
“If I am to do research, at some point I must present my findings. I am ill-suited to this task,” said Quiz. “But your methods, Miss Cheerilee, the way you conduct your class, the way you keep your students engaged, the way you maintain discipline…this is all a master class on the subject.”
It is almost impossible for a magenta pony to blush, but Cheerilee managed. “That’s quite a compliment, Quiz.”
“Then you see why I must stay in your class?” asked Quiz.
“Yes, but I still think we need to find more for you to do,” said Cheerilee. “I could arrange some student teaching…”
“I do not think I am ready for that,” said Quiz.
“Yes, of course; we’ll consider that again in the future,” said Cheerilee. “How about some one on one tutoring?”
“That might be within my skill set,” said Quiz.
“Good. Sweetie Belle has been having trouble in history. I’ll see if we can set up a study date for the two of you after school tomorrow,” said Cheerilee. “But that’s tomorrow. Tonight, please just go home and relax. I will see you in the morning.”
“Thank you, Miss Cheerilee. And Good night.”
Twilight Sparkle had come to walk Quiz home, and she overheard most of this. Twilight took Cheerilee aside while Quiz waited outside.
“Firstly, will we see you later tonight, Cheerilee?” asked Twilight.
“Oh, I wouldn’t miss it,” said Cheerilee. “I just hope it doesn’t get to be a bit too much.”
“So do I,” said Twilight. “But I have to ask, isn’t Sweetie Belle one of your best students? Wouldn’t Scootaloo be a better candidate for tutoring?”
“Oh, I plan to steer Quiz towards Scootaloo sometime,” said Cheerilee. “But neither of them is ready for that yet. No, Sweetie Belle’s grades have slipped just a little bit in history. Most importantly, Sweetie Belle has the best voice in Ponyville.”
Twilight grinned broadly when Cheerilee’s plan dawned on her.
“There’s one last thing,” said Cheerilee. “I saw Quiz doing this amazing thing for little Pip this afternoon. Could you tell me how she does that?”
“I have learned many things today,” said Quiz, as she and Twilight walked home. “I actually understand less than half of it, but I am learning many things.”
“I’m very pleased with your progress,” said Twilight. “I’m sure the Princesses will be pleased as well.”
“I may spend all evening just organizing and collating my notes,” said Quiz. “I am excited about that.”
“Yeah, well…” Twilight trailed off, “Tonight might not be the best night for that.”
“I do not understand, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. They had arrived at the library, and Quiz reached for the door handle. As soon as she touched it the door flew open, and Quiz was almost knocked over by an escaping cloud of balloons and confetti.
Chapter 3: It's My Party And I'll Hide If I Want To
“There…there…there….is a party,” stammered Quiz. “A party. Here. Now.”
“Not just a party, Quiz, your party,” said Twilight, pushing her into the room. “Uh, could you please take a couple steps forward?”
“No, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz, completely paralyzed.
A pink burr whirled up to Quiz, nearly bowling her over. “Hi, I’m Pinkie. You must be Quizzical. I’m so happy to meet you! Welcome to Ponyville!”
With Pinky pulling and Twilight pushing they eventually got Quiz inside. Before she knew what was happening, Quiz was wearing a party hat and holding a slice of cake.
“This is a rite of passage, Quiz,” said Twilight. “I got through it and you will get through it. Every new arrival in Ponyville gets a party.”
“Yep,” said Pinkie. “It’s a rule.”
“I see,” muttered Quiz. “And who made this rule…?”
“I did!” cried Pinkie.
“I probably should have warned you…” began Twilight.
“No way!” cried Pinkie. “That would have spoiled the surprise.”
“And this surprise is meant to be…fun?” asked Quiz.
“You betcha!” declared Pinkie.
It was such a good party that nopony noticed that the guest of honor wasn’t there.
Twilight had tried to guide Quiz around the party; saying hello to ponies Quiz had met and introducing Quiz to others. But as soon as Twilight stopped to chat Quiz slipped away.
In the brightly lit library Quiz had managed to find the only deep shadows. There was a small alcove between two bookcases. Quiz backed into the alcove and disappeared. She stood there carefully watching her party, and occasionally nibbling at her slice of cake.
Of course eventually one pony found her.
“Hi!” came a bright voice from just behind Quiz’s right ear. “You’re good. I wanna play hide and seek with you sometime!”
Quiz was so startled she jumped, stomping the remnants of her cake and smashing the plate.
“I know, how about right now? You close your eyes and count to 100 by fives,” said Pinkie. “No peeking.”
Pinkie hopped away and Quiz dutifully closed her eyes and counted. “Five…ten…fifteen…”
When she reached 100 Quiz went back to studying the party.
Five minutes later Pinkie came back for Quiz. “You were supposed to come and find me,” scolded Pinkie.
“You were behind the umbrella stand by the front door,” said Quiz.
“Wow, you really are good,” said Pinkie. “But I don’t think you play by the same rules I do.”
Quiz had no comment.
“Ok, I’m it, you go hide now, Quiz,” said Pinkie.
“But I am already hidden, Miss Pinkie,” said Quiz.
“Really, that was fast,” said Pinkie. “Oh, wait, I know. You’re in the alcove, between the bookcases.”
“That is correct, Miss Pinkie,” said Quiz. “You have found me, you win the game.”
“Oh, goodie,” cried Pinkie. “Hey, wait, are joking with me, Quizzical?”
“I…might be,” admitted Quiz.
“Cool!” cried Pinkie. “OK, what do you want to do now?”
“I am content to remain here, thank you, Miss Pinkie,” said Quiz.
Pinkie sighed. “I can see I have my work cut out with you. I know, how about dancing?”
“Dancing?” said Quiz, almost expressing alarm. “Oh, no, no. Dear me, no…”
“Oh, it’s easy, Silly,” said Pinkie. “See Twilight over there? Just do what she does.”
“That is dancing?” asked Quiz.
“Nope,” said Pinkie. “No, not at all. Almost the exact opposite, really. But who cares? Twilight is having a lot of fun.”
“Oh,” said Quiz. “That is very interesting. I shall have to make a note of that.” With a pop, Quiz’s notebook appeared in front of her, quill poised and ready.
“No notebooks!” cried Pinkie, snatching the notebook out of the air. “I am declaring this a notebook free zone until further notice.”
“Pinkie, who are you talking to?” called Rainbow Dash. As far as anyone could tell, Pinkie seemed to be talking to a bookcase.
“I’m with Quizzical,” answered Pinkie. “We’re playing hide and seek.”
“Well, bring her over,” said Rainbow. “We’re setting up pin-the-tail-on-the-pony. Quiz can have the first turn.”
“Wonderful!” cried Pinkie, and she began to hustle Quiz across the room. Quiz protested, but Pinkie easily outmaneuvered her. “You’ll like this, Quizzical. We blindfold you so you’ll hardly notice that we’re here.”
“Yes,” said Quiz. “If I am to be the center of attention a blindfold would be appreciated.”
They took Quiz’s glasses and tied on the blind, then spun her around. Quiz stood perfectly still for a moment; sniffing the air and carefully scanning the room with her ears. Then Quiz turned and stepped up to the board. She pinned the tail on the pony perfectly.
“Way to go, Quiz!” shouted Scootaloo, who was immediately joined by the rest of the Crusaders. Then the whole room cheered.
Quiz tried to make herself as small as possible.
“How did you do that, Quiz?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“It is a spelunker’s trick,” said Quiz, readjusting her glasses.
“Spee-lunkers?” said Apple Bloom. “That’s a swamp monster from the Everfree Forest, isn’t it?”
“It means ‘cavern explorers’ Apple Bloom,” explained Twilight.
“The trick allows you to find your way in the dark,” said Quiz. “But it requires great concentration.”
“You explore caverns?” asked Scootaloo. “That’s awesome!”
“It has been a long time,” said Quiz. “I have not been back to the caves since the third time my parents grounded me.”
It was someone else’s turn, and the game resumed. While everypony was distracted Quiz turned back to her little dark alcove. Pinkie was there, shoving a bookcase to block the entrance. “Ah, ah, ah!” said Pinkie, waving a hoof at Quiz. “Not again.”
“Really, Miss Pinkie, I do not see…”
“Quizzical, you have every right to be a wall flower,” said Pinkie. “Now this is not a right I believe in, I’d think there should be a law against it. But it’s still your right.”
“Miss Pinkie, I really wish…”
“Just don’t expect me to make it easy for you,” said Pinkie. “Oh, and you are locked out of your room. Now, go mingle.”
Quiz sighed. “Yes, Miss Pinkie.”
“Oh, and I really want you to know, I just love your name. Quizzical. Quizzical. Quizzical! It’s so fun to say…Quizzical, Quizzical, Quizzical…”
Quiz left Pinkie happily saying her name and wandered off. She found herself standing next to Twilight.
“What’s the matter, Quiz?” Twilight asked.
“I have been ordered to mingle,” said Quiz. “How does one do that?”
Twilight suppressed a laugh. “Go hang out with the girls,” she said, indicating the Crusaders. “You’ll be fine.”
“Hey, Quiz,” said Sweetie Belle when Quiz approached. “Whatcha doin’?”
“I am mingling,” said Quiz. “I am not very good at it.”
The Crusaders all giggled.
“Don’t worry about it, Quiz,” said Sweetie Belle. “Rarity says you mingle to get important people to pay attention to you. Who needs that?”
Just then there was a flash of bright red at the front door. “Oh, good Twist is finally here,” said Apple Bloom. “You should like this, Quiz.”
“’Bout time, Twist,” said Scootaloo. “Did you get it?”
“I think tho,” said Twist, setting a covered tray on the edge of the desert table. “I don’t like to be hurried.”
“What is this?” asked Quiz.
“Twist invents candies,” said Sweetie Belle. “She made one for each of us. Mine’s grape flavored.”
“Mine’s cinnamon,” said Scootaloo.
“You can probably guess mine,” said Apple Bloom.
“Is it apple?” asked Quiz.
“Yes, Quiz,” said Apple Bloom, rolling her eyes. “Anyway, this one’s your’s, Quiz.”
“It’ths vanilla,” said Twist. “You said you liked vanilla, right Quiz?”
“I do,” said Quiz. “I am…amazed that you thought to do this for me.”
“Sure, why wouldn’t we?” asked Apple Bloom.
“Iths my thing, Quiz,” said Twist. “It’ths what I do.”
“Well, what are we waiting for?” said Scootaloo. “Let’s see ‘em!”
“Ok,” said Twist, and she lifted the lid off the plate of candies.
A moment later Apple Bloom broke the uncomfortable silence. “These are fine river stones, in case we want to go skipping rocks later. So, where’s the candy?”
“They faded!” moaned Twist. “They were yellow when they came out of the molds.”
“It is alright,” said Quiz. “I prefer grey to yellow.”
Both Scootaloo and Spike stifled a comment.
“Thankths, Quiz,” said Twist.
“However,” Quiz added, “I do not believe grey is a good color for food.”
“Maybe they taste OK,” said Sweetie Belle. It was more of a question than a statement.
“Oh, I hope tho,” said Twist. “I’m better at flavoring than prethentation. If Quiz likes them maybe we could call them ‘Greystone’s Grey Stones’?” Twist looked at Quiz and immediately regretted the suggestion. “Maybe not.”
There, was a long pause.
“Oh, I see,” said Quiz. “You are waiting for me to try one.”
“Yes!” cried everyone in unison.
Quiz took a bite and chewed it carefully. “I am uncertain,” she finally said, after lengthy consideration. “You say the flavor is meant to be vanilla?”
Twist looked horrified. “I…I never made vanilla candy before…”
“Sorry to tell you, Twist,” said Apple Bloom, spitting a bit into a potted plant. “But you haven’t made vanilla candy yet.”
“These aren’t even particularly good rocks!” said Spike, through a mouthful.
“Oh, this was thposed to be special and it’s ruined!” moaned Twist. She was near tears.
“This is not fair, and I do not like this,” said Quiz, firmly. “We have all said quite enough to hurt Twist’s feelings, and we must stop right now.”
“Thank you, Quiz,” said Twist, and everyone else looked uncomfortably at their hooves.
“Yeah, sorry, Twist,” said Apple Bloom. “It isn’t like any of us helped you or anything.”
“We couldn’t help,” said Sweetie Belle. “Twist, you won’t let us anywhere near your kitchen.”
“Thaths right,” said Twist. Despite herself she giggled at the memory. “Never again, Thweetie Belle!”
“OK, it’s not Twist’s fault,” said Scootaloo. “She obviously didn’t mean to make a bunch of bland little rocks and suggest naming them after Quiz. What? Stop glaring at me!”
“Twist!” shrieked Pinkie, bounding across the room, “You’ve been here forever and no one’s offered you any cake yet!” Practically smothering Twist, Pinkie hustled her to the far end of the refreshment table. “And punch, you have to have some punch because it’s really good punch and we are almost out of punch…”
“That was a very nice thing you did for Twist,” said Twilight, softly in Quiz’s ear.
“She…made something for me,” said Quiz, her voice actually expressing awe. “They were all disappointed that it was not special. For me. That is extraordinary…I need to make a note of…oh, darn.”
After checking that Pinkie wasn’t looking, Twilight slid a notebook over to Quiz. “Here, use mine.”
Quiz found the rest of the party was bearable as she spent it just chatting with the Crusaders, and most of that time was just spent listening.
Towards the end Quiz did slip away again, and she hid behind the umbrella stand by the front door. Pinkie found her just in time for Quiz to come out and wish her guests good night as they all drifted off towards home.
“Miss Twilight?” asked Quiz, after the last pony had left, “This ‘rite of passage’? It is a one time thing?”
“Yes, Quiz, I promise,” said Twilight. “The next party you attend will be voluntary.”
The remains of Twist’s candies were quietly disposed of along with all the detritus cleaned up and swept away after the party. All save one.
Carefully wrapped in paper, it was safely put away at the back of Quiz’s drawer. “’Greystone’s Grey Stones’?” mused Quiz. “What is wrong with that?”
Chapter 4: Harmonics
“Thank you for helping me, Quiz,” said Sweetie Belle, as the two fillies walked from school. “This shouldn’t take long; I have most of my notes, I just want you to go over them and help me organize my outline.
“Organization is important,” agreed Quiz. “Especially with a short report. It allows you be concise. Otherwise there is a tendency to over write.”
“Um...actually, Quiz, most of us don’t have a problem with writing too much,” said Sweetie Belle. “We can use can use the Carrousel Boutique. It’ll be more quiet than home. Rarity gave me a key for when she’s out of town.”
At the Boutique’s door Sweetie Belle began to let them in. “That’s funny, the door’s unlocked. Oh, well. Come on in, Quiz.” The bells over the door rang as the fillies entered.
“Hello?” someone called from a back room. “Sweetie Belle, is that you?”
“Rarity?” gasped Sweetie Belle. “Oh, no! Quiz, I really should have warned you about my sister.”
“There is more to Ponyville that I have not been warned about?” said Quiz, growing alarmed. “Will this involve balloons?”
“Rarity, you weren’t supposed to be back from Canterlot until next week!” squealed Sweetie Belle.
“Well, I had some business here, then I’m off to the big city again,” called Rarity. She emerged from the back room. “Oh, good, Sweetie Belle, you’ve brought a friend. Please intro…” Rarity’s eyes fell upon Quiz, and Rarity froze.
“Is…s-s-something wrong, Ma ’me?” stammered Quiz, backing away.
“Oh. My. WORD!” gasped Rarity. The scene looked much like a cat with a cornered mouse.
It was much too late to run.
“If there is a problem, I could just…,”began Quiz, looking over her shoulder at the door.
“Problem? Oh, no,” said Rarity, a mad glint in her eyes. “No problem. In fact, my Dear, I believe we have always been destined to meet. I only wish you had come to me sooner.”
“Sis, calm down now…” said Sweetie Belle.
“I really must go,” said Quiz. “I promised Scootaloo she could teach me something called a barrel roll…”
“Nonsense, my Dear,” said Rarity, “This takes precedence over EVERYTHING!” She indicated the salon chair by the sink. “Into the chair. Immediately!”
“You really haven’t given me enough to work with,” said Rarity, working conditioner into Quiz’s mane. “You must come back to me once you’ve let it grow out some more.”
“It is easier to maintain when short,” protested Quiz. She looked at Sweetie Belle and mouthed the words, What do I do?
“Just do what she says, Quiz,” said Sweetie Belle. “It’s the ‘path of least resistance.’”
“Very good, Sweetie Belle,” said Quiz. “Have you learned the other principles in Pon Tzy ‘s The Art of..?”
“Hush, Quizzical, and pay attention,” said Rarity.
“I am meant to be aiding Sweetie Belle with her history report,” protested Quiz.
“Plenty of time for that later,” said Rarity. “We are concentrating on your make over now.”
“Baby steps with this one, Rarity,” begged Sweetie Belle. “Please!”
“Yes, yes, I promise I won’t be sending your friend into shock,” said Rarity. “We won’t need to do anything drastic such as dying her fuchsia, after all.”
“Really, Quizzical, there isn’t anything wrong with your coat color,” said Rarity. “It just lacks shine. Whatever did you do to ruin it? No, don’t tell me, I do not wish to know.”
With a free hoof Quiz magically turned the pages of Sweetie Belle’s history book. “I can barely see this, without my glasses.”
“You are not supposed to, you are to concentrate on me,” said Rarity. “You are in luck, Quizzical. Zecora brews a conditioner for me superior to the best you can get in Canterlot. And may I add, I think you have a lovely name. Quizzical. So very lyrical.”
“Thank you, Miss Rarity,” said Quiz. She squinted at the history book. “Have you highlighted the section on the pegasi Rangers of Cloudsdale? They are dashing. But you should also consider the contributions of the earth pony infantry, particularly from Trottingham and Stalliongrad…”
“I do not want to have to hush you again,” scolded Rarity. “Now we must do something to add some color…you do like color, don’t you, Quizzical?”
“Yes, Miss Rarity,” said Quiz. “I particularly like the color beige.”
“I am going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” said Rarity.
“Highlights?” suggested Sweetie Belle.
“Highlights!” agree Rarity. “Splendid idea.
“Will this require much time?” asked Quiz.
“Oh, yes,” said Rarity. “Yes, it will.”
What Quiz estimated to be an eternity later (about 90 minutes as measured by an actual clock) it was over. “There, that wasn’t so bad, now was it?” said Rarity, carefully putting Quiz’s glasses back on her face. “Oh, and I’m ordering you new frames. Do not argue with me.”
“Thank you, Miss Rarity,” muttered Quiz.
“Now let’s have a look at what you were so afraid of,” said Rarity, wheeling Quiz around to face the mirror. “What do you think?”
Quiz regarded her image gravely. She cocked her head left and then right. Finally, she spoke.
“I…am very pleased.”
“Yay!” cried Sweetie Belle, clapping her hooves.
“Of course you are, my Dear,” said Rarity. “It saddens me that you are so surprised. It is a subtle change, your friends will ask what it is you did. But this look is more suited to a pretty little filly such as yourself, rather than a wizened old spinster mare.”
“But…” began Quiz, “Will I have to do this every day?”
“Certainly not,” said Rarity. She frowned. “I will be frank with you, Quizzical. A dedication to one’s appearance is a personal choice. My views on this are a matter of record, but you are young and still making your choices. However, it is a truism that ‘if you look good, you feel good.’ What it takes to make yourself feel good should be the minimum effort you put into your appearance. And if you have a healthy view of yourself that shouldn’t take very much at all.”
“That is very interesting,” said Quiz. “Thank you.” A scratching sound from where Quiz had left her notebook indicated that Quiz was making a note of this.
“One last thing,” said Rarity, “An accessory, for just another splash of color…” She levitated several colorful bows, and regarded them carefully.
“This one, Sis!” cried Sweetie Belle, holding a small white bow next to Quiz’s right ear.
“That one,” agreed Rarity. “Good eye, Little Sister.”
Rarity soon had to leave, but she first packed Quiz a bag of beauty supplies. Then she added one last thing.
“A hand mirror?” asked Quiz. “How did you know I did not have a mirror, Miss Rarity?”
“It was an inspired guess, my Dear,” said Rarity. She regarded Quiz, “Please continue to comb your mane the way I have shown you, and see me in a month when it’s grown out, or I shall hunt you down. Oh, and I think you should also mention the Unicorn Grenadiers of Canterlot in your report.”
“Thank you, Miss Rarity.”
“There is one other thing I wish I could help you with…but I don’t know what to do about that.”
"I know!" cried Sweetie Belle. “Quiz, have you ever considered voice lessons?”
“Ah, ah, ah, AH!” sang Sweetie Belle. “Now you try, Quiz.”
“I shall try,” said Quiz. “Da, da, da, da.”
“Well, um, yeah,” muttered Sweetie Belle. “The whole point, Quiz, is to vary your tones.”
This went on for another half an hour. Quiz might have improved, slightly, thought Sweetie Belle. Then again, maybe not.
Quiz sighed. “You were not expecting this to be easy, were you Sweetie Belle?” Quiz changed the subject. “Sweetie Belle, did you know that when you sing you horn glows faintly?”
“What? It does?” asked Sweetie Belle. “I never knew that.”
“It is very faint,” said Quiz. “Try summoning your magic while you sing.”
“Like this?” Sweetie Belle’s horn barely glowed. “Ah, ah, ah, AH!” By the last note the magic was brighter than the room’s lights.
“Wow! That was cool!” exclaimed Sweetie Belle. “But what does it mean?”
“I do not know,” said Quiz.
“It’s really hard to concentrate on the magic and sing at the same time,” said Sweetie Belle. “This is awesome, but I don’t think it’s very useful.”
“Try singing a word,” said Quiz. She picked the first thing that came to her. “Sing the word ‘friends.’”
“Friends!” The light was blinding.
“Holy Celestia!” Sweetie Belle was so startled she tried to jump away from her own horn. “That is freaky! But I’ll never be able to cast spells like that. I can’t think and sing at the same time.”
Quiz considered this. “You remember song lyrics when you sing. Try making the incantation for a spell your lyrics.”
“You mean like this?” she sang the scales, “I Want To Walk Though This WALL!”
“ I had in mind something more cautious,” said Quiz. “Perhaps a small levitation…”
“Oh, come on, Quiz, nothing is going to happen,” laughed Sweetie Belle. She pressed her head against the wall. “I Want To Walk Through This WALL! I Want To Walk Through THIS WALL! I WANT TO….”
“Sweetie Belle?!” She had disappeared. “Sweetie Belle? Where are you?”
There was a knock at the front door.
When Quiz went to the door she saw Sweetie Belle peering at her through the window, from the outside.
“Quiz, let me in! Rarity locked the door behind her!”
Quiz ran to the door and opened it. Sweetie Belle was trembling as she stumbled inside. “Ok, that was really scary!” gasped Sweetie Belle. “I don’t want to do that anymore!”
The fillies spent the rest of the evening concentrating on their history report. Quiz even suggested some graphs Sweetie Belle could use.
Twilight got out of bed late that night to get a drink of water, and found Quiz still up, putting away books.
“Quiz, what are you doing? Go to bed!”
“I am sorry, Miss Twilight. Did I wake you?” asked Quiz, sheepishly.
“No, but that’s not the point,” said Twilight. “You need your sleep. Go to bed!”
“I am sorry, Miss Twilight, but I could not rest easy with the library in disarray. I had not realized how many volumes I had taken down,” said Quiz. “It is my own fault. It would not be such a problem if I had only reshelved as I worked. A wise pony would.”
“Yes…well…no one’s perfect,” mumbled Twilight. “But no one will blame you if you leave this until the morning. Go to bed.”
“Oh, I could not do that, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz, clearly shocked by the idea. “If I left the work it would not be done before I left for school, then it would fall to Spike to finish for me. That is hardly fair.”
“Spike does do most of the shelving, Quiz. It’s his job,” said Twilight. “Go to bed.”
“Spike reshelves for you, Miss Twilight,” corrected Quiz. “He is not my assistant. Delivering my letters to Princess Luna has already been added to Spike’s work load. I wish to trouble him no more.”
“That’s very responsible, Quiz. I hope Spike appreciates that,” said Twilight. “But I can’t have you staying up all night. Go to bed.”
“Yes, Miss Twilight, but as the subject now comes up, should I rise early and prepare my own breakfast? Spike is now cooking for three.”
“I think Spike would be upset,” said Twilight. “He’s very proud of his pancakes. Now got to bed.”
“Breakfast has been delicious,” admitted Quiz. “As for my mail, I have been thinking that Princess Luna does not require my dispatches immediately. I could use the regular post. Miss Derpy is very prompt with the daily pick up…”
“I think if you wish to adjust any of Spike’s duties you should talk to him about it. I’m sure he would appreciate being included in the discussion. Now…” Twilight noticed the titles in Quiz’s stack of books. “’Advanced Focusing Techniques For Magicians’? ‘Harmonic Theory and Magical Resonance’? ‘The Physics of Vibration In Gemology’? Quiz, this is not for a history paper on Equestria’s military.”
“No, Miss Twilight,” admitted Quiz. “I have been doing…a favor for Sweetie Belle.” She did not elaborate.
Twilight took another look at the books stacked on the floor. “Quiz, at least half of these are mine.”
“Well, yes, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. “I thought that, as I was doing the task anyway, it wouldn’t be that much more trouble…”
“Quiz, as the senior researcher, I am responsible for your welfare. I have to answer to the Princesses if anything threatens your wellbeing.”
“I appreciate that, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. “And I feel very safe in your hands.”
“Yes, well, thank you Quiz,” said Twilight. “But ‘threats to your welfare’ include your being over worked, and your not getting enough rest. So, Go To BED!”
“Yes, Miss Twilight. Good night.”
“Good night, Quiz.” And as Twilight went back to bed, she wondered, is Quiz getting a little more expressive?
In the next room, Spike lay in his bed, listening. He wasn’t eavesdropping, he just couldn’t help over hearing. That was Spike’s story, anyway, and he would stick with it.
The kid might not be so bad, after all.” Then Spike drifted off to sleep.
Chapter 5: Something Awesome
“I know you did thsomething,” said Twist, as Quiz led the small band of fillies to the rocky barrens outside Ponyville. “It lookths really nice.”
“Thank you, Twist,” said Quiz. Twist had been trying to guess just what had changed about Quiz through the entire long walk.
“It’ths more than just the bow, though that looks real pretty,” said Twist. “Did you change the part?”
“Yes, yes I did,” said Quiz. Despite herself, she was enjoying her new hairstyle.
“And you added some curl thsomewhere,” said Twist. “Did you curl your bangs?”
“Yes, Twist,” said Quiz. Rarity had told her that the style change was subtle, but all of Twist’s questions reminded Quiz of just how forgettable her appearance had been. “We are here,” said Quiz. “Let us set up.”
Quiz and Sweetie Belle had made the mistake of telling their friends about the experiment with magic and singing, and the other fillies had become incredibly excited. They were jealous of Sweetie Belle and wanted to do something, too. They didn’t know what they wanted to do, they just knew they wanted to do “something awesome!”
So Quiz had designed an experiment for them.
During the long walk everyone’s enthusiasm had waned a bit. Everyone’s, that is, except Quiz’s.
“Sweetie Belle, stand the emerald on this large, flat rock,” directed Quiz. She began drawing something on the outcrop with a piece of chalk.
Sweetie Belle produced a small green gem from her bag and stood it on the boulder, propping it up pebbles to make it stand on end.
“Does Rarity know you took that?” asked Scootaloo.
“Nope,” said Sweetie Belle. “Rarity’s out of town again. So we have to get it back safe, so Rarity never finds out. The emerald will be safe, won’t it, Quiz.”
“I hypothesize that it will not be damaged,” said Quiz. “However, there are many unknowns involved…”
“Ah’m starting the think this isn’t such a good idea,” said Apple Bloom.
“Caution is advisable,” agreed Quiz. “That is why you three will observe from that ditch at the edge of this outcrop. It will serve as a bunker; there will be several tons of rock between you and the spell.”
“Ah like the sound of that,” said Apple Bloom. “What about Sweetie Belle?”
“Normally, the caster will not be harmed by their own spell. Just as a precaution, she will stand in the protective circle I have made,” said Quiz. “It should protect her from any side effects of the spell.”
Sweetie Belle peered at the strange chalk circle, dubiously. “This thing really works?”
“I received highest marks in Protective Magic,” said Quiz. “However, I have never tested this under field conditions.”
“What have you tested it against?” demanded Scootaloo.
“In class, I was able to deflect a thrown ball of paper,” admitted Quiz. “And resist the heat from a small Bunsen burner.”
“And what are these ‘side effects’ you mentioned, now?” asked Apple Bloom.
“There should be none,” said Quiz. “Sweetie Belle should be able to stop the spell before anything unexpected happens. Out of control chain reactions are very rare events…”
“So, what’s the worst case scenario?” said Scootaloo
“Fire, lightning, concussion waves…” muttered Quiz. “I did mention that there are many unknowns involved.
“Wow,” gasped Scootaloo. “This could be really cool.”
“Ith that why we are all the way out here?” asked Twist.
“No, we are way out here hiding,” said Quiz. “We are calling upon strange elemental energies to perform experimental magic for which there is very little theory. If Miss Twilight finds out about this we are all grounded for life.”
They all took a moment to let that sink in.
“One last time,” said Apple Bloom. “Explain just what exactly are we doing?”
“Sweetie Belle seems to use song as a focusing tool,” said Quiz, patiently. “Gems resonate at certain frequencies of sound. If Sweetie Belle calls her magic, and sings at the resonant frequency of the emerald it should act as an amplifier. Sweetie Belle should summon enough power to cast any spell she wants.”
“Wow,” said Scootaloo again. “I understood that about as much as the first time Quiz explained it.”
“Ah’m getting a real bad feeling about this,” said Sweetie Belle. Twist nodded.
“I…I understand if you are unwilling to proceed,” said Quiz, her disappointment evident. “We could just go home…”
“Are you kidding?” cried Sweetie Belle, stepping into the protective circle. We have to do this before I chicken out, she thought. “What are we waiting for?”
“I could move the protective circle further back,” offered Quiz.
“I’m plenty far back, I can barely see the emerald,” said Sweetie Belle. “Let’s do this!”
“Cutie Mark Crusaders…Experimental Magicians!”
Quiz replaced her glasses with a pair of tinted safety goggles, “Then let us take our places.”
The three fillies sprinted for the ditch. Apple Bloom noticed that Quiz was still standing right beside the boulder. “Quiz!” she called. “Aren’t you going to get in the bunker?”
“Oh, no,” replied Quiz. “I desire an unimpeded view of the experiment. I would not miss this for the world. Sweetie Belle, you may begin.”
Sweetie Belle cleared her throat and began working slowly through the scales.
“There!” called Quiz, “That is the note, the emerald is vibrating. More volume, please.”
Sweetie Belle sang more loudly and the emerald began to glow. The glow began to expand.
“More volume, if you can, Sweetie Belle,” called Quiz.
Sweetie Belle had never held a note this long before, but this was effortless. She sang louder.
The ball of glowing magic continued to grow. It soon enveloped Quiz.
“Quiz, are you OK?!” yelled Apple Bloom.
“Why, yes,” answered Quiz. They could barely hear her. “I see no cause for alarm.”
The wind began to blow outward from ground zero. The protective spell activated, and Sweetie Belle was surrounded by translucent bubble. The ball of energy continued to grow.
“Is this what you were expecting, Quiz?” shouted Scootaloo.
“Not at all,” answered Quiz. “This is all an astonishing surprise. Louder, if you are capable, Sweetie Belle.
I’ve still got a little more, thought Sweetie Belle. She threw everything she had left into the note.
“This is very interesting,” said Quiz. “Can anyone else see stars?”
Then Sweetie Belle lost control.
The ball of magic energy collapsed and became a ring, then a wave of power expanding outward at the speed of sound.
“That. Was. Awesome!” exclaimed Scootaloo.
“Sweetie Belle, are you alright?” called Apple Bloom.
“Yeah,” said Sweetie Belle. She did not have so much as a hair out of place. “But…where’s Quiz!”
Where Quiz had stood were only her goggles and her quill. Charred leafs of notebook paper floated down.
“Quiz! Oh, no, Quiz!” they all began screaming her name.
“Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!” cried Sweetie Belle, bursting into tears. “I vaporized Quiz!”
Then a reedy voice from a bush 50 yards away said, “Well…that was extraordinary.”
“Quiz!” They all ran to her. “Are you OK?”
“I believe I am whole,” said Quiz. They still couldn’t see her through the leaves. “But I shall require aide in extricating myself.”
It took all four of them to free Quiz from the foliage. She was disheveled, but unharmed. “Am I missing an eye brow?” Quiz asked.
“Yeah, you are, Quiz,” said Apple Bloom. “Well, that was sure a short lived make over. It’s a good thing Rarity’s out of town.”
“Oh, no, my bow!” cried Quiz, her hoof going to the side of her head. “Is it safe?”
“Yes, Quiz, it’s only a little smudged,” said Sweetie Belle. She looked at Quiz’s hair critically. “I think we can just comb this out.” Sweetie Belle did not actually sound convinced.
“Quiz, what the heck just happened?” asked Twist.
“That is a very good question,” said Quiz. She did not offer anything more.
“Where’s the emerald?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“Oh, dear,” said Quiz, looking at the green dust on her hooves. “I believe I am brushing it out of my coat.”
“No, here it is,” called Scootaloo. “It just fell off the boulder. It isn’t even chipped.”
“Hmmm,” considered Quiz. “It seems that we have both ‘destroyed’ and ‘not destroyed’ the emerald. We have achieved both of the outcomes predicted by Uncertainty. That is, of course, impossible. We should probably not do that again.”
“I think we should just never, never, never, never do anything like this again!” cried Sweetie Belle.
"Why?" demanded Scootaloo. “This was absolutely radical! Though…” she looked at her blank flank, “it doesn’t look as if we’re cut out to be experimental magicians.”
“I think we were closer than we know,” muttered Sweetie Belle. She spontaneously threw herself at Quiz, squeezing her and burying her face in Quiz’s mane. “Quiz, don’t you dare do anything like that again! And if you do, don’t you dare make me watch you do it! I thought…I thought you were…”
“I promise, Sweetie Belle,” said Quiz. “I am not eager to repeat this experiment. Though it does suggest some very interesting possibilities…”
“I promise, Sweetie Belle.” repeated Quiz.
“We should never do this again, and we should never tell anyone about this, ever,” said Apple Bloom.
“We need a Pinkie Promise,” said Twist.
It took a lengthy argument to convince Scootaloo they could not brag about this to everyone they knew; not if they didn’t want to be confined to their bedrooms until they grew up. Then they had to explain to Quiz what a Pinkie Promise was, and how to do it. But eventually they were ready.
“Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!”
“Ow,” said Quiz. “Is it traditional to hurt one’s eye while doing this?”
“Yes, Quiz,” said Sweetie Belle, giggling.
Twilight watched her young assistant sleeping. Quiz still felt more comfortable leaving the door open.
Quiz had been exhausted, as if she’d walked several miles that day, and she went to bed early and fell into a deep sleep. What had Quiz been doing, Twilight wondered.
She did not, for a second, believe Quiz’s story about losing her eye brow in an accident with a small Bunsen burner. The story did not explain the long bath. It certainly didn’t explain the bright green mud Quiz didn’t want Twilight seeing her rinse out of the tub. But Twilight couldn’t confront the filly without coming right out and calling her a liar. Worse, if a Pinkie Promise was involved (and Twilight was sure this was the case) she would never get the truth out of Quiz.
Twilight told herself that whatever Quiz had gotten into it had probably been a bonding experience for her and her friends. This would make it invaluable, both for Quiz’s research and for her growth. This was more important than staying out of trouble. Eye brows grow back, after all.
Twilight repeated this to herself. She told herself this several times. She never quite completely believed it.
Twilight went to her desk to write.
Dear Princess Celestia,
When I asked for a research assistant I thought all I would have to worry about was the research. I didn’t realize that I would be her guardian, or that I would watch her grow. Frankly, this is a terrifying responsibility.
However, I know that; unless I do something extremely wrong; the end result is going to be something awesome…
Chapter 6: Self Esteem
“Dah, dah, Dah, DAH,” sang Quiz.
“Well, that was a little better,” said Sweetie Belle, as she brushed Quiz’s mane. “I can tell the different notes apart, now.”
“You are being kind,” said Quiz. “I am still flat.”
“Yeah, and you also need to learn how to take a compliment,” grumbled Sweetie Belle. “Eeeew, is this another twig?” Three days and four baths after the experiment, and they were still finding debris in Quiz’s mane.
“Compliments still puzzle me,” admitted Quiz. “And I am still flat.”
“Well, it isn’t like we are training you to go on the stage,” said Sweetie Belle. Quiz shuddered at that idea. “We just want to teach you to add a little color to your voice. And that’s already happening.”
“I find that dubious, Sweetie Belle,” said Quiz.
“No, it’s true,” said Sweetie Belle, pausing to shake a pebble out of the hair brush. “Trust me, I have a better ear than you. You can hear the difference between when you’re excited and when you aren’t. You are learning to express your feelings.”
“Thank you, Sweetie Belle,” said Quiz. “But I doubt this is a thing anypony but you can hear.”
“So we keep working on it,” said Sweetie Belle, switching to a comb. “I think I can get this close to the way Rarity left your hair…”
“Do you really believe that?” asked Quiz.
“No,” admitted Sweetie Belle. “But it’s still a prettier hair cut than you had when you got here. Now sing, one more time, please.”
“Dah, Dah, DAH, DAH!” sang Quiz.
“Better,” said Sweetie Belle. “I think I’ll get an A+ on my history report. I’m the only one, besides you, who included graphs.” She considered something for a moment. “I think we need to keep experimenting. It’s not the magic that’s so scary, it’s the power! If I keep the volume down I feel safe.” She sang softly, and a jewel on a nearby table began to glow. “See? I think this is something I need to learn about.”
“We will take this to Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. “We will just not mention our experiment out on the rocks. Miss Twilight will want to supervise any further experiments. Frankly, she will be alarmed that we experimented at all, on our own. We may expect a lecture.”
“Of course, it’s Twilight!” giggled Sweetie Belle. She set the comb down and replaced Quiz’s hair bow. “There, all better. Can you stay a little longer?”
“No, I have to go. I fear I have much work to do,” said Quiz. “I have promised to prepare something for Miss Cheerilee. I look forward to that, actually. But my first report to Princess Luna is due tomorrow evening. I…” Quiz trailed off.
“You’re worried about that?” Sweetie Belle couldn’t imagine Quiz having anything to worry about an assignment.
“If I fail to impress the Princess that my contribution is an asset to the research then I may be recalled to Canterlot,” said Quiz.
“Oh?” said Sweetie Belle. Then it registered. “Oh! No, Quiz, that just can’t happen.”
Quiz sighed. “I have learned very much, but the Princess will sense how little of that I have come to understand.”
“Well, then she’ll see that she has to give you more time to figure things out,” said Sweetie Belle, flatly.
“I do hope Princess Luna shares your thinking,” said Quiz.
“Quiz?” called Twilight. She’d gotten up to get a drink of water and found the lights still on. She was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be Spike whom she found up at this hour.
“Who?” called Owloicious, from his perch by a window.
“Quiz,” answered Twilight. “I mean…never mind. Quiz, is that you?”
Twilight found Quiz at her desk, contemplating her magic blackboard. She’d drawn a dodecagon, and held a protractor up to it. Quiz erased one side of the figure, then redrew what Twilight would have sworn was exactly the same line.
With a start, Quiz finally noticed Twilight. “Oh, dear, did I wake you, Miss Twilight.
“No, but, Quiz, do you have any idea what time it is?”
“Why, no, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. “I have no idea at all. Is it late?”
“Yes, Quiz,” said Twilight. “Very, very late. What are you doing, anyway?”
“I am preparing some visual aids for Miss Cheerilee,” said Quiz.
“And just why are you doing that?” demanded Twilight.
“Because Miss Cheerilee asked me nicely,” said Quiz, sheepishly.
“And just how many of these visual aids are you going to make tonight?” asked Twilight.
“Oh, I have completed them, and a few extra I was going to suggest to Miss Cheerilee. That was some time ago…I think. I have merely been tweaking them a bit…”
“’Tweaking them a bit’?!” cried Twilight. “All night and into the morning?”
“Um…apparently, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz.
“Bed! Now!” Twilight stamped her hoof. “Not another word, young filly. Off to bed.”
“Yes, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz, walking to her room. She shut the door behind her. That’s what gave her away.
Twilight waited, and sure enough there was soon a faint glow from under the door. “No magic blackboards in bed, Quiz!”
“Yes, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. And the light went out.
“Cheerilee, are you using my research assistant as a teacher’s aide?” demanded Twilight.
“What, oh, hello, Twilight,” said a very startled Cheerilee. All her students had left several minutes before, and Cheerilee expected to be alone until she finished her paperwork and went home. “Why yes, Quiz has been helping me with some displays…”
“Which she was up all night creating,” snapped Twilight.
“Oh, dear,” said Cheerilee. “I was afraid that might happen. Quiz does tend to go overboard. She really only needed to do some basic shapes for beginning geometry…”
“Spike tells me Quiz spent over an hour practicing making circles freehand,” said Twilight.
Cheerilee shook her head. “She’s so very enthusiastic. I know you’re concerned, Twilight. But Quiz’s enthusiasm is a joy to behold.
"I have to look out for...wait...what?“ began Twilight. "Quiz, enthusiastic?”
“She didn’t want to stop,” said Cheerilee, nodding emphatically. “Quiz was disappointed when I wouldn’t go on to conic sections. But I just don’t think my little ponies are ready for analytical geometry.”
“She shows it,” insisted Cheerilee. “All right, you have to have come to know Quiz really well to see it, but it’s there. I won’t discourage that for anything. And it works. I have never had a math lesson so well received.”
“But…” Twilight didn’t know what to say next.
"The only thing missing is pride,” said Cheerilee. “I can give her a forum to show off, but at the end of the day Quiz simply doesn’t think what she does matters to anypony besides herself. She doesn’t believe there is a place, anywhere in all Equestria, where a pony that cares about perfectly drawn diagrams matters. Frankly, Quiz could teach all of my classes, if the very thought of that didn’t terrify her. That would make any other pony proud." Cheerilee sighed deeply. "I have to work on that."
Twilight wasn't sure how to respond. “What do I do?” she finally whispered.
Cheerilee had to think about that for a moment. “I guess you are the pony who makes sure she doesn’t stay up all night drawing conic sections. Somepony has to tell Quiz to get her asymptote to bed.”
“I…I‘ve kept her waiting outside. I think it’s time I walked Quiz home,” said Twilight.
"Yes," said Cheerilee. "But consider this, Twilight. You just came charging in here prepared to defend Quiz. From me. And you've known me how long? Certainly long enough to know I'd never take advantage of a student. Clearly you care, and your heart is in the right place. Follow that, and Quiz will be in good hooves."
The next day at recess Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara were walking, so deep in conversation that they bumped into Pipsqueak, nearly trampling him. Had any other filly been involved apologies would have been exchanged, both sides would have excused themselves, and everyone would have moved on.
But this was Diamond Tiara.
“Hey, watch where you’re going, PIP-Squeeek!” Diamond snapped at the foal.
“Sorry, Miss,” said Pip, head down, backing away.
“Well you had better be! The nerve! Someone really should keep these little foals from bothering us,” Diamond gave her mane a haughty flip, then moved on, walking with her nose in the air.
“That makes me very angry,” said Quiz, watching this. “My young sister Delight is the same age as Pip. I would not permit this treatment of her, and I will not permit this.” With that she trotted over to confront Diamond Tiara. “You have been mean and rude and you must apologize to Pip.” Quiz declared.
“What?” said Diamond Tiara. “I didn’t do anything. All I said was his name. That’s not against Miss Cheerilee’s rule about name calling.”
“Calling Somepony by name isn’t name calling,” giggled Silver Spoon. “That’s ironic!”
“You used much the same intonations you use when you say ‘Quiz-ik-al.’” said Quiz. “It is wrong to turn a pony’s name into an insult and use it against them. You must apologize.”
Quiz’s voice was as level as always. But if Diamond Tiara weren’t so clueless she would have noticed Quiz’s body language. Quiz was trembling, and her ears were flat to the side of her head.
Quiz’s friends did notice, and with great alarm.
“If there’s a fight it’ll look like Quiz started it,” said Apple Bloom. “What do we do?”
“I have an idea,” said Sweetie Belle.
Again, if she were not completely clueless, Diamond Tiara would have known something was wrong when Apple Bloom and Scootaloo positioned themselves so that Diamond couldn’t see what Sweetie Belle was doing. As it was, her first hint that something was wrong was when Silver Spoon began to back away. By then she could see the bright light atop her head with her peripheral vision.
Quiz was much faster on the uptake. “Oh, dear,” she said. “Diamond Tiara, is there something wrong with your diamond tiara?”
“W-w-what’s happening?!” squealed Diamond Tiara.
Quiz peered at her carefully. “Is it vibrating? It appears to be vibrating.” Of course it wasn’t.
“Help!” cried Diamond Tiara. “Somepony help me!”
“It is so very bright, it must be growing hot,” said Quiz, who knew full well that the stones in the tiara remained cool. “Is it very hot, Diamond Tiara?”
“It’s burning my head!” screamed Diamond Tiara. “It’s going to melt my brain! Get it off me! Getitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoffme!!!”
Diamond Tiara began to leap and buck around the playground, to everypony's delight. Eventually she shook her tiara off. All their laughter rang in her ears as Diamond Tiara fled and hid behind the school’s garbage dumpsters.
“What’s all the commotion?” asked Cheerilee, trotting into the playground. She found the diamond tiara and picked it up. “Where is Diamond Tiara? She dropped this.”
All through the second half of the school day, Diamond Tiara kept looking over her shoulder at Quiz. I know this is all your fault, Quiz-ik-al! she thought. But I’ll get you for this. I’ve been saving something special for you, and Miss Cheerilee won’t be watching forever!
That night, at bed time, Spike waved to Twilight from outside Quiz’s room. “Twilight,” he hissed. “I think the kid needs a pep talk.”
Twilight peeked into the room. Quiz was sitting on her bed, surrounded by all her letters. She had many. Her parents and brother Chisel had written long ones, but most of the letters were from little sister Delight. Her letters were mostly line drawings in bright marker, with lots of glitter. But Delight had sent one every day.
“Quiz, are you alright?” Twilight asked softly.
“Oh, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz, startled. “I…I have reached a personal milestone.”
Twilight sat on the bed next to Quiz. “Tell me what is the matter.”
“The Greystone Quarries are just outside of Canterlot,” whispered Quiz. “Even when I was at school, home was only a short ride away. I was with my family almost every weekend, and on those rare occasions when I could not get away I could make that up with a visit during the week. Ponyville is the farthest I have ever been from home. And tonight marks the longest I have been away.”
She’s homesick, thought Twilight, and if Quiz feels badly enough to share with me then she must feel wretched indeed! Twilight put a hoof over Quiz’s shoulders. Quiz stiffened, but didn’t flinch. After a moment she relaxed, and even leaned a bit on Twilight.
“You know,” Twilight finally said. “We don’t have anything important planned for this weekend. We could get away to Canterlot for a few days.” She added, a little embarrassed, “Frankly, I owe my parents a visit.”
“Really?” said Quiz. “But is it wise to take a vacation now? I have been trying to impress Princess Luna with my diligence…”
“And you’re worried about that?” exclaimed Twilight.
“Why, yes, Miss Twilight, very much,” said Quiz.
This got a face palm from Spike. “Seriously, the kid doesn’t think she’s working hard enough?”
Twilight ignored him. “Quiz you were sent to Ponyville with the same simple instruction I was. ‘Make some friends!’ You have already done that, haven’t you?”
“Why…yes, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. “It appears so. This is…quite extraordinary.”
“See? You have already satisfied your job’s number one goal,” said Twilight. “You aren’t going anywhere, Quiz. Not so long as you still want to be here.”
“I have things to look forward to,” said Quiz. To Twilight, she sounded amazed. “This will make the rest of the week easier. I hope…”
“Do you think you can get some sleep now, Quiz?” asked Twilight.
“I am not sure…”
Spike had climbed up on the foot of the bed. “Twilight knows a lullaby,” he suggested.
“Spike!” exclaimed Twilight. “It isn’t very good, Quiz.”
“I would like to hear it, please, Miss Twilight.
And Twilight sang. “Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur…”
Chapter 7: Diamond Tiara Strikes Back
When the students took their seats after the morning bell they found not Cheerilee, but Quiz standing at the front of the room.
“Miss Cheerilee is unable to be here this morning,” said Quiz. “You are all to read chapter 8 in your history texts, and Miss Cheerilee will be here after recess to discuss the chapter with us.”
There was a soft groan from several ponies. In class reading was the worst; no matter what the lesson, Cheerilee was much more engaging than a textbook. But there seemed to be no escape.
Twist had her hoof in the air, waving frantically. "Quiz? Quiz?! I already read ahead through chapter 8,and I have thome quethstions. Like, what waths the Free Sthalliongrad Movement? Were they theriouth?”
“No, Twist,” said Quiz, “The Secession Movement in Stalliongrad was never popular, they were little more than a footnote. They are only mentioned as a symptom of how unhappy the ponies of Stalliongrad were.”
Several more hooves shot into the air.
“Perhaps, you should all make a note of your questions and share them with Miss Cheerilee later…” began Quiz.
“Awe, come on, Quiz,” complained Scootaloo. “You know all this stuff. Can’t you go over it for us?”
Quiz began to tremble. “Scootaloo, all the information is there in your reading…”
“I can’t learn anything from a book, Quiz,” groaned Scootaloo. “I need somepony to explain it to me. C’mon, Quiz!”
“Just a few questions, Quiz?”
Faced with a room full of eager students, Quiz went with her strength. “I can demonstrate much of this graphically…” A series of glowing colored bars appeared floating at the front of the room. “This shows the many differences in the life of the average Stalliongrader compared to the average Equestrian citizen…” Quiz trailed off, blinking at her audience like a foal caught in a spotlight.
“Wow,” said Apple Bloom. “It cost more just to live in Stalliongrad, but they paid the same taxes. That don’t seem fair.” There was a murmur of agreement.
“Quiz, you gotta explain this a little more,” said Scootaloo.
Quiz looked ready to flee. “It might be better if I do not speak at length,” she muttered.
Then Sweetie Belle managed to catch Quiz’s eye. She mouthed the word ‘color’ and gave Quiz an encouraging smile.
Drawing a deep breath, Quiz began to lecture.
“You are sympathetic, with the situation simplified for you. But that was not the case then. Representatives of many cities were opposed to giving Stalliongrad special treatment. That is why we study this. Princess Celestia’s compromise is a masterwork of diplomacy, and shows how we can achieve harmony through understanding…”
Quiz and Sweetie Belle were the last to leave the classroom when the bell for recess rang.
“Quiz, you did it!” cried Sweetie Belle, clapping her hooves.
Quiz went limp against Cheerilee’s desk; had the desk not been there Quiz would have slid all the way to the floor. “That was terrifying. I do not wish to do that again.”
“Quiz, you did everything right!” declared Sweetie Belle. “I hope Miss Cheerilee has something extra ready for the rest of the day, because you just taught her lesson. And you did just fine.”
“No one fell asleep,” admitted Quiz. “It seems I am more interesting than the history text.”
“You’re a lot better than that, Silly,” said Sweetie Belle. “Come on, I want to go play.”
They walked out to the playground. Sweetie Belle thought that, despite Quiz’s protests, she was standing just a little bit taller.
Almost immediately, Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara fell in behind them.
“Worst lesson, ev-ar!” stated Diamond Tiara, loudly enough for the whole playground to here. “And you know why, Silver?”
“Um…er…no, Diamond Tiara,” said Silver Spoon, who hadn’t been filled in, and was trying to catch up with Diamond’s plan.
“It’s because we had to listen to Stone the Drone try to teach, that’s why.”
“I thought someone had kicked over a bee hive,” continued Diamond. “But no, it was just Quiz-ik-al, droning away like some little machine.”
“Quiz, don’t listen to her!” Sweetie Belle hissed in Quiz’s ear.
“Please, no…” whispered Quiz, so softly only Sweetie Belle could hear her. “Not now, not here…”
“I just wonder what made the Drone think she could teach,” continued Diamond Tiara. “Maybe she thought she could put us all to sleep. Or hypnotize us into thinking we could stand to listen to her!”
Quiz’s friends had rushed over to her. “You just hush up, right now, Diamond Tiara!” ordered Apple Bloom.
“I have a right to complain about the sorry state of my education!” squealed Diamond Tiara.
“If you have a complaint then you talk to Miss Cheerilee,” said Twist. “And you leave Quiz alone!”
“I should have known better…I should have never believed…” whispered Quiz. Tears welled in her eyes.
“Quiz, stop it!” hissed Sweetie Belle. “What Diamond says is not important!”
“Miss Cheerilee isn’t here,” said Diamond Tiara. “So, I’m taking my complaint right to the source.”
“That’s right, Diamond, Miss Cheerilee isn’t here,” said Scootaloo. “So there’s no one to make us stop if we decide to shut you up ourselves.”
Diamond Tiara backed away, “You wouldn’t dare!” she squealed. “That’s not fair! It’s all her fault, her and her droning little voice…”
Quiz bolted, escaping the playground at full gallop. Then she kept right on running.
This probably saved Diamond Tiara from a beating, as the other fillies ran after Quiz, calling for her to stop.
Silver Spoon shook her head. “Not cool, Diamond,” she said. “Quiz was really crying.”
Scootaloo was fast, probably the fastest filly in Ponyville, but Quiz still managed to lose her. “This is ridiculous,” said Scootaloo. “Quiz is like the All-Equestria hide and seek champ. She could be anywhere.”
“She just needs a big enough shadow and she can disappear,” agreed Sweetie Belle. “I think Quiz has been practicing that trick all her life.”
“We could split up, but we still won’t find her, until she wants to be found,” said Apple Bloom. “I think we need to tell some of the adults about this.”
Twist nodded. “I’ll go back to the thkool. Miss Cheerilee will want to know why we all ran off, anyway.”
“I’ll go tell Twilight,” said Apple Bloom.
“And we’ll keep looking,” said Scootaloo. “I’ll get my scooter so I can cover more ground.”
That left Sweetie Belle alone to think things through. Quiz is hiding. And she’ll want to hide someplace where not even the adult ponies will find her.
“I know where she is!” said Sweetie Belle, suddenly. And she ran for the edge of town.
Sweetie Belle found Quiz standing by the burnt boulder where they had conducted their “experiment.” It looked as if she had been just standing there, looking at nothing, for hours.
“You know it hurts my feelings when you listen to Diamond Tiara instead of me,” said Sweetie Belle.
Quiz jumped. “Oh, Sweetie Belle, you startled me,” said Quiz. “Very clever of you to find me. But please go. I want to be alone.”
“That may be what you want, but what you need is to come home with me and be with your friends,” said Sweetie Belle. She offered Quiz a handkerchief, which she took with her magic and began drying her eyes.
“I believe I may have over reacted,” admitted Quiz. “Do you think I have worried anypony?”
“Yeah, kinda,” said Sweetie Belle, rolling her eyes. “So, come on. The sooner everypony knows you’re OK, the better.”
Quiz shook her head. “I am not ready to face anypony. I feel very foalish. But I could not help myself.”
“Don’t worry, if anyone is angry they’re angry with Diamond Tiara,” said Sweetie Belle. “Seriously, why were you listening to her? I can’t even hear her anymore.”
“Yet she had a point,” said Quiz. “Diamond Tiara only pointed out faults I had allowed myself to forget. I should not have. There are things about myself I must accept.”
“What, you mean like your voice?” demanded Sweetie Belle. “Gee, thank’s Quiz. And here I thought my voice lesson were helping, silly me.”
“I did not mean to offend…”
“Well, you did, you big dummy,” said Sweetie Belle.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Seriously, Quiz, you are the smartest pony I know, but you are such a dummy,” Sweetie Belle stamper her hoof, indignantly. “How do you keep believing the worst about yourself when so many ponies tell you it isn’t true?”
“I seem to have missed that…”
“No kidding,” said Sweetie Belle, stomping her hoof again. “Well, listen right now, Quiz. You’re OK. No, you’re more than just OK, you’re great. You really are. And I hate it that you don’t believe that.”
“I…I do not know what to say to that,” said Quiz, softly.
“Say we can go home now,” said Sweetie Belle.
“Alright,” said Quiz. “I am ready to go.”
Side by side they started back to Ponyville.
But when they stepped off the rock outcrop onto the ground the dirt erupted all around them. The two fillies were caught in a geyser of earth. And then they were in free fall.
They came to rest on a rock floor, in the dark. As their eyes adjusted, all they could make out were pairs of amber eyes surrounding them. Cruel laughter echoed all around them.
A gravelly voice addressed them. “Welcome, little ponies, to the warrens of the Diamond Dogs.”
Chapter 8: Quiet Pony
Quiz’s horn glowed as she summoned a light spell. The light revealed hulking Diamond Dogs surrounding the two fillies.
The largest Diamond Dog approached them. “It is so nice of the little ponies to visit us,” he said, and the other Dogs all laughed. It was an ugly noise. “And it is so kind of you to volunteer your services.” The noise grew uglier.
“W-what do you want from us?” stammered Sweetie Belle.
“What do Diamond Dogs always want? We want the magic little ponies to find gems for us, of course,” he said. “I am Chief Bowser. I am your new employer.”
This brought on more laughter.
“You stay away from us!” cried Sweetie Belle, with far more bravado than she felt. “When my sister Rarity finds out…”
“Rarity!” The Diamond Dogs recoiled at the name.
Even Bowser took a step back. “Is this true? It is the sister of the Rarity?”
Quiz swiftly step forward and answered. “Yes, she is Rarity’s sister! And she is even louder and more shrill than Rarity herself!”
“Wait…what?” said Sweetie Belle. “Quiz, no!”
“Aaaaargh!” shrieked Bowser. “Remove it, remove it! Get it out of Bowser’s caverns! Back to the surface with it! NOW!!!”
Sweetie Belle was seized and lifted into the air. “No!” she screamed. “No, Quiz, I don’t want to leave you here!”
“Belle, just shut up and run home!” shouted Quiz. It was the loudest she had ever spoken.
There was cloud of dirt, then Sweetie Belle disappeared.
“And what of you, little pony?” said Bowser, standing over Quiz. “Are you loud and shrill?”
Quiz did not think she could get away with answering yes. “Why, no,” she said. “I am actually a very quiet pony.”
“Good,” said Bowser. “Bowser will keep the quiet pony.”
Sweetie Belle found herself alone on the surface; the hole she’d emerged from was filled before her head even stopped spinning. She did the only thing she could think of.
Sweetie Belle ran home.
“What does the quiet pony mean, ‘she cannot find the gems’?!” demanded Bowser. “All magic ponies can find gems!”
“Not at all,” said Quiz. “It is a very rare talent. Few unicorns know the spell, and of them only the strongest magicians can cast it.”
“Hmmmph!” snorted Bowser. “If the quiet pony thinks she will be set free just because she is useless she is wrong.” He turned and began to walk away from Quiz. “Chain the useless pony to a cart,” he ordered.
“Of course, we could try to find the gems the old fashioned way,” offered Quiz.
“What is the useless pony whinnying about?” growled Bowser.
“It is a skill,” said Quiz. “The stone will show you if you know how to look and listen. It is in the grain of the stone, and the size of the crystals. You can hear it in the cracks, and where they are filled. It is not as reliable as magic, but I believe I can provide you with satisfactory results.”
“That would be good,” said Bowser. “Bowser believes that if he is satisfied he will feed the useless pony tonight.”
“I will need my magnifying glass and my hammer,” said Quiz.
Sweetie Belle staggered into Ponyville hysterical and exhausted near to collapse. She never saw the pony she stumbled into; and when this caused her to fall Sweetie Belle stayed down. She couldn’t take another step.
“Can you help me?” she moaned.
That, and “Get Twilight,” was all they could get out of Sweetie Belle, as they rushed her to Urgent Care.
“I don’t know how far she’s run, but she appears to have sprinted the whole way,” the doctor explained to Twilight Sparkle. “She’ll be fine once we get her calmed down enough to breath easily, and we get a little water into her. She’s been calling for you. Not her parents, not her friends. You.”
Twilight and Spike were led to Sweetie Belle’s bedside. As soon as Sweetie Belle saw her she jumped up. “Twilight, I am so sorry! It happened so fast…I didn’t want to leave her…!”
“Shhhh, take some deep breaths and explain slowly,” said Twilight, trying to sound calm. She didn’t feel calm at all, and her voice cracked with her next question. “Has something happened to Quiz?”
“Diamond Dogs!” cried Sweetie Belle. “Diamond Dogs have kidnapped Quiz!”
“Spike,” said Twilight. “Take a letter.”
A tremendous crack of thunder heralded the arrival of Princess Luna. The Princess then simply walked into the hospital, with no fanfare or ceremony, and asked to be taken to Sweetie Belle.
Everyone bowed when she entered the room, and Luna simply said, “Rise. Twilight Sparkle, we came as soon as we could.” In fact Luna had hardly let Celestia finish reading Spike’s letter aloud before departing. Luna had left all the details to Celestia; including the unpleasant task of notifying the Greystone family. She turned to Sweetie Belle. “You are the good friend Quizzical tells us of? You are Sweetie Belle?”
“Please tell us what has happened to Quizzical,” asked Luna.
It took a little time. They had to keep stopping Sweetie Belle, and reminding her to calm down and breath. Eventually they had all the important details, including Quiz’s last known location.
“What are you going to do?” Twilight asked.
“We suppose we should begin by opening negotiations with the Diamond Dogs,” said Luna. She then teleported away.
“DIAMOND DOGS!!! HEAR US!!!” yelled Princess Luna. The Diamond Dogs did not have an embassy, or a forwarding address, so contact had to be established by more direct means. “WE WOULD NEGOTIATE WITH YOU FOR THE RELEASE OF OUR LITTLE PONY!!! SEND US YOUR CHIEF, OR HIS APPOINTED REPRESENTATIVE!!! WE WILL NOT LEAVE YOU IN PEACE UNTIL YOU SPEAK WITH US!!!”
Luna was having difficulty containing her mood. Storm clouds gathered over her head, and until the crisis was over no one in Ponyville would enjoy sunshine within a mile of her.
Luna stood in the middle of a plain of bare rock and filled holes. She did not know if she was reaching her intended audience, but she could see that she was rattling the ponies gathered on the edge of the outcrop. Luna decided to take a break, and have a reassuring word with some of her worried subjects.
The Mayor of Ponyville had organized what she called a “local militia,” (a mob of ponies armed with gardening tools, really). There was no shortage of volunteers. Volunteers who had raised a hoof in anger at any time in their lives were in very short supply.
“Greetings,” said Luna. “We thank you all for turning out for our poor lost student.” Quiz had been in Ponyville less than 2 weeks, all these ponies could not possibly know her.
“Most of us have colts and fillies of our own, Princess. Or little brothers and sisters,” said an older stallion. “Those Diamond Dogs messed with the wrong ponies!” This inspired a cheer from the Ponyville ‘militia.” It was a ragged and unconvincing cheer, but a cheer none the less.
Princess Luna noticed one mare nervously holding a hoe. “We know you. You are Miss Cheerilee.”
“Yes, Princess,” answered the teacher.
“Quizzical speaks well of you, in her letter,” said Luna. “We thank you for the kindness you have shown her.”
“I…it has been a joy and an honor to work with Quiz, Princess,” said Cheerilee. She hung her head and murmured, sadly. “I look forward to having her back in my classroom soon.”
Luna wanted to say more, but she couldn’t think of anything. Finally, she indicated Cheerilee’s hoe. “Could you use that, Miss Cheerilee, if you had to?”
“Oh, oh, dear. I hope so. I mean, I showed up here, I really should be certain, shouldn’t I?” said Cheerilee. “Could I go upside the head of a Diamond Dog with this?” Then, after a moment’s reflection, she added, more firmly, “To defend Quiz, or one of my other students? You betcha!”
Luna had to smile at that. “We must continue our appeals to the Diamond Dogs. They have yet to answer us.”
Then there was the commotion of several creatures moving through the woods behind them. As one, the Ponyville militia jumped at the noise.
Four columns of ponies in golden armor marched out of the woods.
Oh, right, thought Luna, calling out the Guard. That’s one more job I stuck Celestia with when I hurried off. “These are the Royal Guard, they are here to take your places,” Luna announced.
The citizens of Ponyville were tremendously relieved to have the soldiers take over. But none of them actually went home.
The Captain of the Guard needed no interference from the Princess in deploying his troops, so Luna went back to her task. Finding a sufficiently remote spot, standing over a filled Diamond Dog hole, she went back to her appeals.
“DIAMOND DOGS!!!” bellowed the Luna. “WE RESPECTFULLY SUGEST THAT YOU CONSIDER OUR REQUESTS FOR PEACEFUL NEGOTIATIONS!!! WE KNOW YOU CAN HEAR US…!!!”
Quiz, of course, knew nothing of what was transpiring on the surface. She busied herself industriously, almost happily, with her task.
She carefully examined the rock wall through her hand glass, periodically cocking an ear and tapping the wall with her little hammer. The Diamonds Dogs watching her sniggered and guffawed at her every move. If Quiz noticed, she gave no indication.
Finally, Quiz announced, “There is an inclusion in the cracks here. Gems will have formed around it. Dig here and you will find the stones you seek.”
Chief Bowser said nothing. His response was to throw a pick at Quiz’s feet.
“Of course,” said Quiz, in resignation. Magically, she lifted the pick and began to chip away at the wall.
A team of Diamond Dogs could have done the excavation in 5 minutes. Slight, little Quiz took 2 hours. But finally she dropped the pick and announced, “There. There are your gems.” And she slumped to the cavern floor. It didn’t matter that the task was done by magic, levitation takes a lot out of you, and if the spell is weak then it leaves the magician exhausted.
“Well, well, well,” said Chief Bowser. “A good find. A good find indeed. Many, many stones.”
Quiz, resting on the cave floor, had no comment.
“It seems that the quiet pony is a clever pony, after all,” said Chief Bowser. “Now, get up. Find us some more.”
“Of course,” said Quiz, slowly rising. And she went back to work.
Quiz found 3 more caches of gems before she declared that the vein was played out. The now impatient Diamond Dogs dug these all themselves.
While they excavated the last find, Quiz had leaned against a wall and had fallen asleep. Even Chief Bowser agreed that it might be time to put their clever little pony away for the night.
“Rarity!” cried Sweetie Belle, throwing herself at her sister. Rarity had dropped everything and taken the first train to Ponyville.
“How did you get here so fast?” asked Princess Celestia. “The station master says you have just shattered the speed record for this route.”
“Yes, well, I simply asked the engineer if he would please hurry a bit,” said Rarity. She waved at the train’s engine; a stallion in the cab waved enthusiastically back.
A dignified older stallion approached the Princesses and bowed. “Princess, I thank you for your efforts on my daughter’s behalf,” he said, gravely. Though both of Equestria’s rulers were standing there, Chisel Greystone VII pointedly addressed only Celestia. Luna turned, unable the meet the stallion’s eyes.
“What’s the matter with them?” Twilight whispered to Rarity.
“The senior Greystone wanted Quizzical to take a post in Canterlot and stay close to the family,” Rarity whispered back. “He was fuming about this through the entire train ride. Sending her to Ponyville was Princess Luna’s idea, and he blames her for what has happened to poor Quizzical.”
Twilight shook her head, sadly. “I think Princess Luna agrees with him.”
“It will be good for Quizzical to have family waiting here when she is freed,” said Celestia. “Have you all come?”
“All but my youngest,” said Greystone. “It has all been too much for little Delight, and she is with her grandparents. I have also brought with me all of my employees. If any excavating needs to be done to rescue Quizzical we’re ready. Frankly, I’m prepared to remove all the rock over the Diamond Dog warrens, one block at a time, if necessary.”
“Would that work?” asked Luna, suddenly enthusiastic. “We like this plan. Spike, please draft a royal charter granting the Greystones unrestricted rights to excavate on the barrens…”
“No, Princess, it would not work,” said Greystone, coldly. “It is several hundred square miles of stone. If we are to dig Quizzical out, we must have her precise location first.”
"Oh," said Luna, hanging her head.
“I must see to my family,” said Greystone, bowing and turning away. “It has been a very difficult day, particularly for my wife.”
Princess Luna did nothing about the incredible rudeness, and Celestia knew better than to speak for her.
“I have been made the clever pony’s keeper,” said the Diamond Dog who led Quiz to her cell. “If the clever pony desires anything, besides her freedom, she may ask and perhaps I can get it for her.”
Quiz said nothing.
“There is fresh fodder, and some carrots,” the Diamond Dog went on. “We know that the clever pony is tired, but she must eat before she sleeps. It is important.”
The cell was actually twice the size of Quiz’s room at the Ponyville library. The bed was a pallet covered with straw, but the straw was fresh and clean. There was a blanket, and Quiz was surprised to find it was warm and soft, as was the tiny pillow.
“We will let the clever pony keep her things,” said the Diamond Dog. “She should just sleep, but if the clever pony becomes awake and bored in the night she will have her quill and notebook to entertain herself.”
“Thank you,” said Quiz.
“What is the clever pony’s name?” asked the Diamond Dog.
“My name is Quizzical,” answered Quiz.
“Quizzical,” the Diamond Dog repeated to himself. “We are called Indy, not that Quizzical asked.”
“Pardon me, Indy, I meant no offense” said Quiz. “I am feeling rather self-involved just now.”
“Is Quizzical being sarcastic with Indy?” demanded the Diamond Dog.
“I…might be,” said Quiz.
Indy sighed. “Quizzical is clever and magical, and she can probably find a way to let herself out of her cell. Indy asks that she not do this. Quizzical will not get passed the guards at both ends of this corridor, and they will punish her.”
“I thank you for the advice, Indy,” said Quiz.
“Can Indy do anything else for Quizzical?” he asked. “Turn your cell pink? Ponies like pink, don’t they? I know where there is some fine pink ore Indy can add to some whitewash.”
“Thank you, no, Indy,” said Quiz. “I actually prefer grey to pink.”
“Quizzical is a very unusual pony,” said Indy.
“Yes,” said Quiz. “I know.”
“Quizzical is not going to let Indy do anything for her, is she?” asked Indy, plaintively.
“I only wish to be alone,” said Quiz.
At that Indy stalked off.
Chapter 9: Behave
Indy went to get Quiz to start the work day, expecting to have to rouse her from bed. Instead he found Quiz lying on the cell floor, working by the light of her magic blackboards. She’d summoned 2 of them, floating on either side of her head. She also had her notebook open in front of her, quill scratching away furiously. She was also drawing on the cell wall with a piece of stone. Everything was dense with equations, and Indy had never seen most of the characters Quiz was using.
“What is Quizzical doing?” Indy asked.
“Oh, good morning, Indy,” said Quiz. “I am attempting to reverse engineer the gem seeking spell.”
“Is it working?”
“Not at all,” said Quiz. “Theoretical magic is very difficult, and I have only taken the introductory course. It was foalish of me to even attempt this.” With a casual wave Quiz dismissed the blackboards.
“Never mind,” said Indy. “Quizzical is clever, she does not need magic to find gems.”
“But what if I have a bad day? Everypony has a bad day now and then,” said Quiz.
“Oh, Indy advises Quizzical not to do that,” said Indy. “Has Quizzical slept?”
“Yes,” said Quiz. “Quite soundly, at first. But I could not sleep through the night.”
“Quizzical should not say that where Chief Bowser can hear, he would decide that Quizzical is not working hard enough,” warned Indy. He began to unlock the cell door. “Indy has bad news for Quizzical.”
For the first time Quiz noticed what Indy had brought with him. “A ball and chain? I am to be shackled?”
“Indy fears so,” said Indy. “Chief Bowser is worried that otherwise he will lose his clever pony in a shadowy alcove.” Indy bent over and picked up the iron ball. “Time for work, come along, Quizzical.”
“You are going to carry my ball for me?” asked Quiz.
“Of course,” said Indy. “Chief Bowser may think it is worth wasting Quizzical’s valuable energy having her drag this around, but Indy is much smarter than that.”
“Rrrrrr!!! This is SOOOO frustrating!” cried Twilight Sparkle, stomping all four hooves.
She and the Princesses stood over the flat boulder where Quiz and the fillies had conducted their experiment. Scattered across the top of the boulder was a collection of letters and personal items. They all belonged to Quiz.
“These things are valued by Quizzical, I can sense it,” said Luna. “But the bond is not strong enough; not for us to find her through all of this rock.”
They were trying to pick up Quiz’s resonance from her things, and use it to pinpoint her location. It wasn’t going well.
Twilight and Luna and Celestia had each tried in turn. They tried working in tandem. They had even fanned out over the rocks, separating in an attempt to triangulate. Nothing worked. All the rock just caused too much interference.
“Curiously, this place also seems to have value for Quizzical,” said Luna. “Something happened here that is very important to Quizzical.”
“Really?” said Sweetie Belle, looking off into the distance, and trying to appear innocent.
Twilight frowned. She’d vowed to someday get to the bottom of this. But not today.
“We need something closer to Quiz,” said Celestia. “Something she cherishes and keeps with her.”
Mrs. Greystone shook her head. “This is the best we have. My daughter is not sentimental. She has gathered very few keepsakes, and she treats her tools as mere things. I have never seen Quizzical write her name on any of her belongings.”
Twilight, who put her name on almost all her things, blushed slightly. “What about her notebook?”
“Which one?” asked Spike. “She goes through about three a week.” He thought for a moment. “There’s a hairbrush and a magnifying glass, those were gifts when she went off to school. And there’s an old rock hammer, it belonged to her great grandfather.”
“Spike, how did you know about that?” asked Twilight.
Spike shrugged. “I asked her.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Sweetie Belle. “Quiz has all those things with her in her bag.”
Quiz was having a bad day. Everypony has one now and then.
“Stop, stop, stop!” yelled Chief Bowser. “The worthless pony wastes out time!”
Quiz dropped her pick. Except for a small cache of tiny gems she had produced nothing but empty holes, and after her second miss the Diamond Dogs had made her do all the digging again. “I did say this was not a promising tunnel.”
“This was the most productive tunnel in the warrens,” growled Bowser.
“And the Diamond Dogs have picked it clean,” stated Quiz.
“No more excuses, find us gems!” bellowed Bowser.
Quiz tried again, and this time she walked all the way to the corridor’s end. She cocked an ear and tapped with her hammer all about the rock face. She pressed her ear to the wall and tapped some more. Finally, Quiz announced, “There is a huge deposit of gems 5 feet inside this wall.”
“Now Bowser knows the worthless pony is crazy,” laughed Bowser. “The Diamond Dogs gave up digging here long ago.”
“You gave up too early,” said Quiz.
“If the worthless pony wants Bowser to believe there are gems here she will have to prove it,” said Bowser. “Dig.”
“Dig? Now? But the tunnel is not safe,” said Quiz. “The wall and ceiling are filled with fractures. You cannot dig here until the tunnel has been properly braced.”
“That would waste time and timbers,” said Bowser. “The worthless pony cannot expect the Diamond Dogs to waste their time and timbers shoring up a played out tunnel, just because she says there are gems here.”
“There are gems here,” said Quiz. “And I will prove this to you once the tunnel is safe to work.”
“No,” said Bowser. “And the worthless pony will not have food or water and she will not leave her cell until she agrees to dig.”
Quiz looked Bowser right in the eyes and said, “I will not dig.”
“Arrgh! Indy, take her away!” yelled Bowser. “Get the worthless pony out of Bowser’s sight!”
Indy led Quiz away as swiftly as they could haul Quiz’s ball and chain.
“DIAMOND DOGS!!! WE RESPECTFULLY ASK YOU TO MEET US TO BEGIN NEGOTIATIONS!!! WE ARE PREPARED TO LISTEN TO REASONABLE DEMANDS…” Princess Luna stopped when she saw a young stallion approaching. She did not want to deafen him.
“Princess Luna, may I have a word?” he asked. Chisel Greystone VIII was a younger version of his father; only a little more handsome, perhaps, and a bit bigger and sturdier.
“How may we help you?” Luna asked.
“My father is very proud, so it may take a bit of time for him to come to you,” said Chisel. “But eventually he will come to you with an apology. Despite his beastly behavior, I ask that you please be gracious to him.”
“We do not understand,” said Luna.
“My father has had a change of heart,” said Chisel. “He’s seen the concern the ponies here have had for Quiz. Twilight Sparkle let him read some of her notes, and Quiz’s thoughts are…well, they were a comfort to him. And he’s met Quiz’s friends.” Chisel pointed across the rock face to where some of the fillies were trying to cheer up Sweetie Belle. “We were afraid that would never happen. Father no longer blames you for what happened to Quiz. He’s come to think you’re a genius Princess. Coming to Ponyville is probably the most important thing to ever happen to Quiz. We all want to thank you. I certainly want to thank you for what you have done for my little sister.”
Luna hung her head. “Please. You are welcome. But we hope your father is patient in coming to us. We are not prepared to accept apologies; not until we can forgive ourself. This will not happen until Quizzical is returned to you.”
“Quizzical worries Indy,” said the Diamond Dog, as he led Quiz back to her cell. “Quizzical is too smart for her own good.”
“What do you mean, Indy?” asked Quiz.
“Indy knows that Quizzical is clever, and that she is thinking all the time,” said Indy. “And when she is alone in her cell and cannot sleep perhaps she does not just think about theoretical magic.”
“What could I think about that would concern you, Indy?” asked Quiz, affecting what she hoped sounded like innocence.
“Perhaps Quizzical thinks about how, with her magic and the handle of her magnifying glass, she might be able to jimmy the lock on her cell,” said Indy.
This caused Quiz to miss a step. She swiftly recovered, and she said nothing.
“Now, if that worked Quizzical would be out of her cell,” said Indy. “Indy wonders about that magic he saw Quizzical do this morning. Was that an illusion? Or some sort of light spell? Or both, perhaps? Quizzical might be thinking how she could use an illusion to confuse the guards, or maybe blind them with a light spell.”
Quiz still said nothing, but it was obvious she was growing nervous.
“This would get Quizzical out of the first corridor and into the main warrens,” said Indy. “Quizzical might then think that she could sneak through the warrens, keeping hidden in the shadows as Indy has seen her doing.”
“I…might have had thoughts of that nature,” admitted Quiz.
“Good,” said Indy. “Otherwise Indy has just given Quizzical her entire escape plan. Now, Indy hopes Quizzical has thought about the next step. Quizzical can get by the guards, but she cannot silence them. Not poor Quizzical, alone with only her little hammer. The warrens will be alerted, torches will be lit everywhere to dispel all the shadows, and the Diamond Dogs will hunt Quizzical down. And even if Quizzical can reach an exit, it will be filled. Diamond Dogs fill in all their exits. Quizzical cannot dig to the surface before she is caught.”
“But surely there are air shafts. For the ventilation. Not that I have been looking for them…”
“Ah, yes, the vertical shafts,” said Indy. “Assuming Quizzical could find one, and break through the iron grates at their top and bottom, Quizzical would still have to climb them, clinging to the wall like a spider, to reach the surface. Can Quizzical do this?”
Quiz stopped and hung her head. “Sadly, no. No, I cannot. I had reached much the same conclusion,” she said sadly. “What would happen to me once I am captured?”
“Punishment,” said Indy.
“Punishment? What sort of…”
“Do not ask for details!” cried Indy, with a shudder. “Indy does not wish to talk about it!”
“Oh,” said Quiz. “Then what am I to do?”
“Well, Indy would appreciate it greatly if Quizzical would save the idea of escape for Plan B,” said Indy.
“What is Plan A?” asked Quiz.
“Quizzical should behave herself,” said Indy. “She should do what she is told, and trust her friends. Trust that the ponies will rescue Quizzical. And wait.”
“That could take a very long time,” said Quiz. “In the meanwhile, I have been given a choice between being buried by a cave in or going hungry and thirsty. I do not believe I have a very long time.”
“Indy did not say it was a great plan,” said Indy. “Only that it is better than escape. It has the advantage of giving Quizzical a little more time to think of something better.”
“Well, I will be able to think about this,” said Quiz. “For as long as I… am still able.”
That night Indy came to Quiz’s cell, carrying a bucket and with a mop over his shoulder.
“Oh, silly me,” said Indy, looking into his bucket. “Indy had meant to clean up a bit, but he has forgotten the soap. There is only fresh water in Indy’s bucket. Indy will have to come back with soapy water later.”
Indy set the bucket down against the cell bars, and left.
Quiz put her nose through the bars and drank her fill. She found an apple and two bunches of celery hidden in the water.
She took her apple into the darkest corner of her cell and began to munch on it happily.
“I have found a friend,” she said to herself, utterly amazed. “Here, in this place, I have found a friend. Well…that is extraordinary. I must make a note of that.”
Chapter 10: What's a Pony Worth?
Indy could not see Quiz in the shadows at the back of her cell. But he could hear her.
“Good morning, Quizzical,” he called. “Was Quizzical singing?”
“Oh, good morning, Indy,” said Quiz, walking out to the cell’s bars. “It was not so much singing as vocal exercises. A…very good friend of mine taught them to me.”
“Quizzical is a little bit flat,” said Indy.
“Yes, I know,” said Quiz. “I am working on that.”
The Diamond Dog shrugged. “Indy listens to Diamond Dogs all day, every day. To Indy Quizzical’s voice is very sweet, Indy would rather listen to her.”
“Thank you, Indy,” said Quiz. “I suppose you have come to…” She was interrupted by a horrible bellow from down the corridor.
“Indy! Is the worthless pony awake yet?!”
Indy looked pained. “Oh, right. Chief Bowser is coming to see Quizzical. Indy had meant to warn her.”
“So, worthless pony,” demanded Bowser. “Do you feel like digging today?”
“Certainly,” said Quiz. “I am eager to show you all the gems I have discovered, Chief Bowser.”
“Good,” said Bowser.
“I will be ready to begin as soon as the tunnel has been made safe,” said Quiz.
“Aaaarrrgh!” Bowser grabbed the bars of Quiz’s cell and rattled them. Quiz cowered and backed halfway into her cell. “Does the worthless pony not understand? She belongs to Chief Bowser! It is now three days and she is still here! Her ponies are not coming for her! Her ponies are not even looking for her! The worthless pony is too much trouble for her ponies to bother! She belongs in the warrens now, so she had better not make herself too much trouble for the Diamond Dogs!”
Quiz stood trembling. But after a moment she met Bowser’s eyes. “I will not dig until the tunnel is properly beamed and braced.”
“Indy, take away the worthless pony’s things,” said Bowser. “And remove her bedding. Until she works the worthless pony can sleep on the stone.”
As Bowser turned to stomp off he grabbed Indy by the arm and dragged him several feet down the corridor. Then, inches from Indy’s face, he growled, “Indy disapproves. Bowser can see it in Indy’s eyes.”
Indy wasn’t sure if Bowser was challenging him to tell the truth, or daring him to lie. Indy decided on the truth. “We are wasting the clever pony’s talents. And if the Diamond Dogs continue the pony will simply waste away.”
“Hmmmph,” grunted Bowser, letting Indy go. “Then perhaps we should try to sell her back to the ponies before that happens.”
Indy came back and began sadly removing the Quiz’s pallet of straw. Quiz handed over her saddle bag without a word. Indy did not check to see if everything was there, he knew Quiz had surrendered everything.
“Should you sweep my cell to make sure I have no small rocks to scratch on the walls?” asked Quiz.
“Not unless Chief Bowser orders Indy,” said Indy. Then, more solemnly, he asked, “Quizzical does know that Chief Bowser lies to her, doesn’t she?”
“I had suspected as much,” said Quiz. “Is there a particular lie that you are referring to, Indy?”
“That no pony wants Quizzical back,” said Indy. “This is an evil lie, and Quizzical must not believe it.”
“It does seem unlikely that anypony would trouble themselves…”
“Angry ponies swarm across the surface. Not just soldiers, though they are everywhere, but also ordinary ponies, armed only with sticks. Indy has been to the surface, but only watching while hiding in the bushes. It is a very bad time for a Diamond Dog to go to the surface,” said Indy.
“I really do not understand…”
“And your Princess, the dark one?” asked Indy.
“Princess Luna,” said Quiz. “She is my mentor. No doubt she feels some sense of responsibility for me. She really should not.”
“She stomps about, bellowing to the Diamond Dogs to come speak with her about returning Quizzical. Frankly, Indy is surprised Quizzical has not heard the Princess herself.”
“Yes,” said Quizzical. “I know the volume my Princess is capable of.”
“It is hard to keep track, there are so many angry ponies to avoid, but Indy is sure that your Princess has not rested since Quizzical was captured.”
“She…” began Quiz. “Princess Luna really should not be so concerned with me.”
“Indy has also seen a pony couple,” said Indy. “Very dignified, but very worried, and very sad. There is also a stallion, much like the older pony. Your family?”
“Yes,” said Quizzical, sadly. “That sounds like them.”
“They want their Quizzical back very badly,” said Indy.
Quiz just hung her head.
“So a question occurs to Indy,” said the Diamond Dog. “If the ponies want Quizzical back so badly that they would attack Diamond Dogs with sticks, and Chief Bowser wants to keep Quizzical so badly that he is willing to make the ponies so angry that Diamond Dogs are unsafe on the surface, what does that tell Quizzical about her value?”
“I…” Quiz stammered. “I do not understand the question.”
“Never mind,” grumbled Indy. He left with Quiz’s bed.
The Ponyville Militia had spotted a lone Diamond Dog, and they had him cornered.
“Teach Him A Lesson!” “Let’s play piñata, who’s got some rope?” “We don’t like you!”
“Wait, he’s unarmed!” cried Cheerilee.
“He’s got a stick!” answered somepony in the mob.
“That’s not a stick, that’s a white flag!” shouted the Mayor.“
“STOP, YOU FOALS!” yelled Princess Luna. HE IS THE NEGOTIATOR WE HAVE BEEN CALLING FOR!”
Luna magically lifted the Diamond Dog into the air, plucking him away from the angry mob. She set him down in front of her.
The Diamond Dog stood, brushing himself off. “Indy thanks the Princess for rescuing him,” he said.
“We trust you are worth our trouble,” said Luna, coldly. “You have come with the Diamond Dogs’ demands?”
Indy nodded. “I have. Chief Bowser asks for 10 carts of gems, filled to overflowing, in exchange for your little pony’s freedom.”
“The price is very high,” said Luna.
“Little Quizzical is very clever, and the Diamond Dogs would like to keep her,” said Indy. “And so the price is high.”
“You can prove that you have even seen Quizzical?” demanded Luna.
Indy took the small white cloth he had been using as a flag of truce and tossed it at the Princess’s hooves. It was a lace handkerchief, with ‘S.B.’ monogramed in one corner. “The Rarity’s little sister left this with Quizzical.”
“And how is Quizzical?” Thunder rolled as Luna asked this, making it clear that she had better like the answer.
Indy looked down and shuffled his feet. “She has not been beaten, but she has been worked hard. She…could be eating better. And Quizzical has not seen the sun in three days. Quizzical needs to go home.”
He’s not frightened of me, noted Luna, he is embarrassed. “We will see Quizzical before we give the Diamond Dogs anything. And we will speak directly to Chief Bowser.”
“That might be arraigned,” said Indy. “It would be good if we could end this. Diamond Dogs need to come to the surface now and then, and it is not good to have angry ponies everywhere. Diamond Dogs are not piñatas. And our warrens are not a good place for Quizzical.”
“You are speaking for yourself, not your Chief,” said Luna.
“Indy…might be,” said the Diamond Dog.
“Go and make the arraignments,” said Luna, dismissing Indy and walking away.
“Quizzical,” called Indy as he opened her cell. “Indy must get Quizzical ready, she has an interview.”
“What?” asked Quiz. “I do not understand.”
“It will all be clear in a moment,” Said Indy. “But Indy must warn Quizzical; if she did not like her ball and chain she is really going to hate this.”
Princess Luna watched Chief Bowser swagger as he approached, and she fought to maintain her composure. She wanted to swipe away Bowser’s smug grin and knock the swagger out of him; but the Diamond Dog had her promise as a Princess of Equestria that she would not do this.
The Diamond Dogs had been no trouble since the ‘incident’ with Rarity; but this new Chief, Bowser, was different. The ponies had little intelligence on him, but it appeared he was brutish, perhaps a bit stupid, and nothing but trouble. Luna did not expect this to go well.
“So, pretty little pony princess,” called Bowser. “Have you brought Chief Bowser his wagons loaded with gems?”
“We will see Quizzical before we will speak of gems,” said Luna.
“To see the little pony, the pretty little pony princess must give her promise,” said Bowser. “Only she will approach the little pony, she will not touch the little pony, and no attempt to rescue the little pony will be made. Give Bowser your promise.”
Blast! thought Luna, and thunder rolled above them. The disadvantage of being an enchanted being, such as one of the Royal alicorns of Equestria, is that you are bound by magical laws. If Luna gave her promise no power anywhere would let her break it.
“We will do as Chief Bowser asks,” said Luna. “He has our promise as a Princess of Equestria.”
This negotiation had to work. It was all they had right now. The Princesses had their own council, as well as the advice of every sage and wisepony in the court of Canterlot. Luna had also heard the unsolicited advice of every opinionated pony who could approach her. They were unanimous.
If the ransom was paid it would set the price for a pony. The Diamond Dogs would go into the business of kidnapping ponies and there would never be and end of it.
Princess Luna could not buy Quizzical’s freedom.
Chief Bowser stomped three times, and at that signal there was a tremendous cloud of dust. When the dust settled Quiz was standing in front of Princess Luna.
At the sight of her student Luna’s mood lifted enough that the first rays of sunlight in 3 days fell on them.
Quiz trembled slightly, as she tried to steady herself. She blinked, her eyes trying to adjust to the light. When Quiz’s vision had finally cleared enough that she could make out who was there, she bowed. “Princess Luna,” she said softly.
Luna almost ordered Quiz to rise, and then thought better of it. “Lie still and rest easy, Quizzical,” said Luna. “We have come to set you free.”
Quiz was tired and dirty and wrapped in heavy chains that extended back into the hole behind her. I could shatter these chains with a thought and sweep you away to safety, thought Luna. But I have promised not to.
Luna’s resolve melted. In that moment she did not care about theoretical future ponies that might someday be kidnapped. Luna cared very much about the real pony that was right there in front of her. Whatever she had to promise to pay Chief Bowser would be fine, so long as Luna could take Quiz home right now.
“Princess Luna, you are not going to pay my ransom, are?” gasped Quiz. She was nearly in tears. “Oh, Princess, you must not! I am not like other ponies, I can make myself comfortable surrounded by stone, few other ponies can! The next pony will not be able to stand it and they will suffer, and if you pay for me there will be another pony! You must not pay my ransom! Please, promise me you will not!”
And Princess Luna took a deep breath, and spoke the words that broke her heart. “We…have reached the same conclusion you have, Quizzical. We want to simply pay and take you away from here….but we cannot.”
“I understand,” said Quiz.
“We have an honorable offer for the Diamond Dogs,” said Luna. “If they do not accept it, then we will continue to do anything and everything we can to set you free, Quizzical. This may take time. Quizzical, you must do whatever it takes to keep yourself fit and strong until we can come for you.”
“Again, I understand, Princess Luna,” said Quiz.
“Your time is up!” bellowed Bowser. “Pretty little pony princess, say good-bye to your little pony.”
“One last thing,” Quiz spoke quickly. She took the little white bow from her mane and set it on the ground. “Please return this to Sweetie Belle for me, Princess Luna. She picked it out for me, and it is the perfect gift, but it will only become soiled with me down in the warrens.”
“We will take care of this,” said Luna.
With that, there was another cloud of dust and dirt, and Quiz disappeared, leaving only a filled hole behind.
“So, pretty little pony princess,” said Bowser. “Where are Chief Bowser’s wagons filled with gems?”
“We have a counter offer for you,” said Luna.
“Of course you do,” said Bowser, sneering. “Chief Bowser will not even pretend to be surprised.”
Luna ignored this, and continued, “After our little pony is released, we will send other ponies to the Diamond Dogs. They will be employees, contractors, with the skills the Diamond Dogs desire. They will return home each night, and they will have wages, which we shall negotiate in good faith. As we deal with each other, we will discover other things – things the Diamond Dogs have that ponies want, and things ponies have that Diamond Dogs want. We will negotiate, again, in good faith, for the exchange of these goods. What I offer Chief Bowser is called ‘Trade.’ It is something that great nations do.”
Bowser snorted. “This is not something that Chief Bowser does.”
Luna withheld comment.
“Tell Chief Bowser, do the ponies also offer friendship?” asked Bowser.
Luna was taken aback by this question. “Why, certainly. Such would naturally happen, given time…”
“Bah!” spat Bowser. He turned and began to walk away. “Ponies put much stock in friendship. Chief Bowser does not. The pretty little princess pony can call for Chief Bowser when she has his gems,” he said over his shoulder.
“Chief Bowser, do not simply walk away from us!” yelled Luna. “Chief Bowser?! CHIEF BOWSER, DO YOU HEAR US?!!”
“Hey!” cried Bowser, as a small rock bounced off the back of his head. When he turned he saw rocks, many, many of them, all around the outcrop, rising into the air and hovering. Ready.
“WHEN NEXT WE MEET, CHIEF BOWSER, WE EXPECT TO BE TREATED WITH GREATER COURTESY AND RESPECT!!!” Thunder roared above them.
With a squeal, Bowser dove for the safety of the nearest hole.
There was a great clatter, as all the rocks fell at once. Unable to contain herself even a second longer, Luna fell to the rock face, and began to bawl like a foal.
Indy began removing the chains from Quiz. “Indy,” said Quiz. “When you are done, please bring me some lunch and water. After my meal, I will be ready to dig some more.”
Shortly afterwards, Indy was leading Quiz through the corridors to the job site. “Is Quizzical certain she wants to do this?”
Quiz nodded. “I have calculated the odds very carefully. While the wall is not safe, there is no guarantee that it will fall. Even if it does, I may well still leap to safety. My odds are much better than if I am allowed to go thirsty.” She continued, in a whisper, “And I will not allow my friend Indy to risk himself aiding me any longer.”
“Well, Quizzical’s treatment should certainly improve if she finds the gems she has predicted,” said Indy. “But what if this does not work?
“Then we may be back to plan B,” said Quiz. She summoned a magic blackboard, and began drawing equations on it as they walked. “I shall just have to reverse engineer the ‘climb walls like a spider’ spell.”
“Quizzical is making a joke, right?” asked Indy.
The blackboard disappeared. “Of course, Indy.”
When once again at the end of the tunnel where she last worked, Quiz found her pick still lying on the floor. She raised it, and began chipping away at the wall. To her surprise, Indy also grabbed a pick and stepped beside Quiz to work.
“Indy, what are you doing? It is not safe…”
“If it is safe enough for Quizzical,” said Indy, striking chunks of rock off the wall, “Then it is safe enough for Indy.”
“Indy, no! This asks too much of you…”
“Asks? Who asked?” demanded Indy. “Certainly not Quizzical. She never asks for anything. Quizzical does not seem to think she deserves anything from her friends. Well, tough! Indy does think Quizzical deserves his help, and Indy is going to do this for her. So Quizzical can just shut up!”
“Oh,” said Quiz. It was all she could think of. “Thank you, Indy. Please remind me to make a note of this later.”
They dug for over an hour, when the digging suddenly became easier. The wall was so fractured that large slabs of rock came away as they chopped at it. This was not a good sign.
“Perhaps, if we could make a controlled collapse this would go faster,” said Quiz. “It is easier to shift rubble than to dig…” She didn’t get to finish.
With a mighty crack the ceiling began to collapse.
“Indy, run!” cried Quiz. Instinctively, she tried to erect a magical barrier over their heads. But; while Quiz’s marvelous protective spell is proof against fire, lightning, concussion waves, out of control magic fields, and thrown balls of paper; it is worthless against falling rocks. For that you need a levitation spell with muscle behind it, something Quiz did not have.
Her spell offered all the protection of a paper parasol.
The last thing Quiz would remember was Indy throwing himself over her. Then her head struck the floor hard and everything went dark.
Chapter 11: The Big Finish
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Quiz awoke blind and in pain.
She set her horn aglow, and that fixed the first but made the second worse.
“Oh, good,” groaned Indy, seeing the light. “Quizzical is awake.”
“Indy, you are hurt!” cried Quiz, going to his side.
“Only a little bit,” said Indy. “Indy cannot stand, or move without pain, or breathe deeply; but other than that Indy feels fine.”
“You saved my life,” said Quiz. “Why would you do such a thing?”
“Indy has already explained this,” said Indy. “Quizzical should stop being stupid and pay attention.”
Quiz was without a reply, so she regarded the pile of rock in front of them. “Most of the tunnel collapsed behind us; we seem to have fallen into the opening I predicted would be here.”
“There is much rubble to move,” said Indy. “And Indy cannot help Quizzical dig us out. Indy can only help Quizzical use up our air.”
“That does not concern me,” said Quiz.
“Indy tested with a torch, while Quizzical slept,” said the Diamond Dog. “There was no air flow, so Indy put the torch out.”
“Then I shall have dig an airway,” said Quiz. She picked up one rock with her magic and one rock with her hooves, and threw them aside. She tried to ignore the pounding in her head.
“Before Quizzical gets to work,” said Indy. “She should raise the light level just a bit, and turn around.”
“I do not know what…oh, my,” Quiz turned and saw gems. Everywhere. “Well…that is just extraordinary.”
“Isn’t it just?” agreed Indy.
“It is like standing inside a geode,” said Quiz.
“Yes, except it is a geode 30 feet high, 20 feet wide, and 50 feet deep,” said Indy. “Indy does not know how to convert that into units ponies use. But, congratulations. Quizzical has made the greatest find in the history of the Diamond Dogs.”
“Then I really should get us out of here, so we may celebrate,” said Quiz, getting to work.
“This is better, but it’s still not enough,” said Twilight, regarding the little white hair bow floating just off the tip of her nose. “If this doesn’t work I don’t know what we can do to find Quiz.” She felt like crying.
“Can I try?” asked Sweetie Belle. “Please?”
“Sweetie Belle, please, let the older ponies work,” said Rarity.
“The fillies share a bond, and the bow was a gift from one to the other,” said Princess Celestia. “Sometimes that makes a difference. It will not hurt to let her try. Go ahead, Sweetie Belle.”
Sweetie Belle concentrated and her horn glowed. She sang, “Ah, ah, Ah, AH!” and the glow increased. The bow floated an inch into the air.
“Sweetie Belle, how did you do that?” gasped Rarity. She had never seen her sister perform any magic.
“I feel something,” said Sweetie Belle, uncertainly. She tried with all her might, but she couldn’t make the spell any stronger.
Sweetie Belle’s friends watched from the edge of the rocks. Sweetie Belle had been allowed close to the action because she had information that had been helpful, but the rest of the fillies had been kept back with the other onlookers.
“She needs a focus,” said Twist. “But none of us have any gemths.”
Apple Bloom thought about this. “I have an idea,” she said, and she whispered her plan to the others.
“Ithn’t thith going break our Pinkie Promith?” asked Twist.
“Not so much break it, as bend it a bit,” said Apple Bloom.
“C’mon, Twist, this is going to be cool!” said Scootaloo. “And you want Quiz back, don’t you?”
Twist nodded emphatically. “I’m in.”
“Hi, Diamond Tiara,” said Twist.
“What?” said Diamond. “Oh, Twist. What do you want?”
“Oh, nothing,” said Twist. “Justht look thith way for a moment.”
Diamond glared at her. “What are you talking about, Twist?”
“Oh, nothing much,” said Twist. “I’m justht trying to dithract you.”
“Are you losing your…Hey!” Apple Bloom had snuck up from Diamond’s other side, and stolen her tiara.
“Stop!” shrieked Diamond Tiara. “Stop, Thief!”
Diamond was causing so much commotion that all eyes were on her. They were looking the wrong way when Apple Bloom passed the tiara to Scootaloo.
Scootaloo slid through the legs of the nearest guard, and was sprinting for boulder before anyone knew what had happened.
“Sweetie Belle, use this!” called Scootaloo, tossing the tiara onto the boulder.
Oh, good idea!, thought Sweetie Belle. She already knew the exact harmonic note of these particular diamonds. “Ah!” she sang, and the tiara’s stones glowed. The hair bow flew above their heads.
“Sweetie Belle, what are you doing?!” cried Twilight. “And how did you know how to do that?!!!”
“Hush, Twilight,” whispered Princess Celestia. “Watch.”
It’s still not enough!, thought Sweetie Belle. I can feel you, I…oh, Quiz, you’ve hurt your head! And…what are you so determined about? Then, in a moment of inspiration, Sweetie Belle sang again. Only this time she tried to imitate her friend’s flat delivery.
“Da, da, Da, DA! That’s it! I’ve found her! I’ve found her!” And Sweetie Belle was bounding away, across the rock face.
“Sweetie Bell, come back!” called Rarity.
“No!” yelled Princess Luna. “WE FOLLOW!!!”
“Rest, Quizzical,” said Indy.
“There is much left to do…” began Quiz.
“The rocks will wait for you, Quizzical, they aren’t going anywhere,” said Indy. “Rest.”
Quiz had to admit, she needed to rest. Quiz found a flat spot, and folded her legs under herself. It felt good to lie down. “I had an idea that if I could get closer to the gems it might be easier for my friends to find me. Gems interfere with magic less than ordinary rock does. Not all of my ideas are very good.”
“Oh, well, nice try,” said Indy. A moment later, he asked, “Will Quizzical sing for Indy?”
“What?” asked Quiz. “Indy, you have heard my voice.”
“Quizzical has the best voice in this chamber,” said Indy. “Please, Quizzical.”
Quiz had to agree, it couldn’t hurt. She began to sing the only song she knew by heart.
“The fire of friendship lives in our hearts…As long as it burns we cannot drift apart…”
“Here!” declared Sweetie Belle, pawing the rock. “Straight down. Right below us.”
Almost everypony had followed Sweetie Belle, including the Greystones and their staff. The mining engineers immediately began to examine the outcrop. They soon had bad news.
“There’s definitely an opening below us,” said Greystone senior. “But it’s deep, and it will take hours to dig out. The digging will be noisy as well. The Diamond Dogs will hear us coming.”
The younger Chisel approached, shaking his head. “It’s bad, Dad. It’s all full of cracks and fissures. If we dig here we’ll collapse the ceiling.”
“Maybe we can find a Diamond Dog hole near,” said Chisel senior. “That’s just dirt and loose rubble; we can dig through that fast enough.” The quarry ponies fanned out, searching.
“Everypony, search for a hole,” ordered Princess Celestia, and the ponies scattered.
“It’s not fair!” cried Sweetie Belle. “I found her! Quiz is right here! Why can’t we get her back right now?!”
Luna went to Sweetie Belle, and said, softly, “Try reaching out to her, Sweetie Belle.”
The filly nodded, and her face scrunched up with concentration. “I hear her…is that…is Quiz…singing?”
“Sing with her,” said Luna.
Sweetie Belle squeezed her eyes tightly shut, and tried to focus on the song in her head. “Though quarrels arise, there numbers are few…”
All Equestrians upon hearing this song instinctively join in. Usually, they just mumble along; Sweetie Belle’s voice was too beautiful and strong for just mouthing the words. Soon, all the ponies; Princesses, soldiers, quarry workers, and citizens; had all joined in full voiced song. The sound rose, and rose; reaching a peak with the final verse.
“A circle of friends we’ll be to the very end!”
When the last note faded, Sweetie Belle glowed like a star. Then with a “pop” she disappeared.
“Quizzical, were the gems just glowing?”
Before Quiz could answer, there was a ‘pop’ and something fell on her.
“What…how…Sweetie Belle?” mumbled Quiz, trying to see around her friend’s hooves in her face.
“Wow!” said Sweetie Belle. “That was just extraordinary!”
“Quizzical, will any more of your friends be dropping out of the air?” asked Indy.
“I would think, no…’” began Quiz.
With a ‘Boom!’ Princess Luna appeared in the chamber. “SWEETIE BELLE!!! IF YOU EVER TELEPORT THROUGH SOLID ROCK AGAIN YOU SHALL BE GROUNDED FOR LIFE!!!”
“Yes, Princess Luna,” said Sweetie Belle, meekly. Then she brightened, “Look, I found Quiz!”
“Quizzical!” cried Luna, and she went to Quiz and wrapped her wings around her. “Are you well?”
“Mostly,” said Quiz. “How did you get here?”
“Sweetie Belle seems to have had a lucky accident,” said Luna. “And a teleportation leaves a magic trail that can be tracked. Once we could sense that Sweetie Belle was not encased in stone,” she paused to give Sweetie Belle a stern look, “we were able to follow. Now, what of this one?” she pointed to Indy, “Is he one of your captors? Does he need to be punished?”
“No!” cried Quiz. “He is my friend! He must be treated as an ally.”
“Well…in that case…” Luna touched Indy with her horn. The horn glowed, and then all Indy glowed as well.
"Whoa!" gasped Indy. “That feels GOOD! Indy feels good in places Indy did not know were sore! Thank you, Princess.”
“You are welcome…Indy.”
“If Indy were to throw himself against a wall would the Princess heal him again?”
“No,” said the Princess coldly.
“Oh, well,” muttered Indy, disappointed. “We are still trapped by a cave in.”
All of the rocks in the rubble pile glowed, and Luna gestured. The entire wall of fallen rock groaned and shifted. Fresher air filled the chamber. They could see torch light from the corridors outside. Just down the tunnel dirt and dust was falling from a hole in the ceiling.
“That would be your father and his employees, Quizzical. They will soon reach us,” said Luna. “Until then, I need to speak with Chief Bowser. Oh, and we claim this cavern in the name of Equestria.”
“Chief Bowser,” said Luna. “We thank you for your efforts to return our little pony to us. However, we have found her ourselves.”
Bowser crossed his arms and glared at Luna. “Fine, you have rescued the worthless pony. What do you want now, pretty little pony princess?”
“We have a section of your tunnels currently under our control,” said Luna. “We wish to negotiate its return to you.”
“You hold the ragged end of a played out tunnel,” said Bowser. “Keep it.”
“Really,” said Luna. “Perhaps before you make a hasty decision, Chief Bowser, you should come and see just what it was that our little pony found for you.”
The next day Twilight Sparkle and the Princesses watched Quiz through the library window. The Ponyville Hospital had kept her overnight; despite a healing spell from Princess Luna, Quiz still needed a hot meal, some hydration, and a good night’s sleep. And now she needed to be with family, and her family needed her with them.
“We could have swept them all back to Canterlot in seconds,” said Princess Celestia.
“The old fashioned way will do,” said Luna.
“I’ll be riding home with them,” said Twilight. “Suddenly, I find I’m missing my parents more than I ever have.”
“And while we kill time waiting for the train, Quiz gets to do something else she needs,” said Celestia.
In the street, outside the library, Quiz and her friends were playing. It was a raucous game of tag, and Quiz was just watching. She was probably feeling up to it; but no matter how far Quiz had come, she wasn’t quite ready for tag. But while she was just watching, one thing would have been obvious to the most casual observer.
Quiz was happy.
“Sages, wizards, Equestria’s greatest thinkers, will all be arguing for years about just what Sweetie Belle did yesterday,” said Celestia. “They will make up all sorts of jargon to describe it, even though they do not understand any of it.”
“I prefer the simple explanation,” said Luna.
“And what is that, Sister?” asked Celestia.
Luna shrugged, “Friendship is magic.”
Outside, in an effort to draw Quiz into the game, Twist had tagged her. Quiz had tagged Twist right back. This precipitated a long argument over whether ‘touch backs’ were allowed.
“I do wonder if the magic has anything to do with something the girls did out on the barrens,” said Twilight. “And an emerald Rarity found put back on the wrong shelf.”
“Enough, Twilight Sparkle,” said Celestia. “Quiz will be with her real mother, my student; you are excused for an entire week from your guardianship duties. Investigate the trouble the girls got into next Monday.”
Outside, the argument had evolved into an impromptu sing-along. The girls were coming to final note.
Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this tale please let me know. Perhaps, if anyone is interested, Quiz might have other adventures some day.
Again, thank you.