Chapter 1: Fair's Fair
A Story About Quizzical
Chapter One – Fair’s Fair
The fillies flew through the night sky, screaming and hanging on for dear life.
But eventually the ride came to an end. The roller-coaster came to a stop, and the girls all jumped out. Four of them were excited, though one was pretending to be disappointed.
As for the last filly, she staggered over to a tree and slumped to the ground.
“Awe, Quiz, you didn’t like it?” asked Sweetie Belle. “I was really hoping you’d think this was fun.”
“Thank you, Sweetie Belle,” moaned Quiz, from where she lay. “I do hope you know that I am very grateful that you wish to include me. However, at this moment I am even more grateful for the fact that I have not recently eaten anything.”
Quizzical Greystone was a new arrival in Ponyville; she’d come to join Twilight Sparkle in friendship research, as an assistant. A job in friendship research normally goes to a pony who very badly needs to learn how to make friends, and this was certainly the case with Quiz. She was a quiet, painfully shy, bookish little nerd, and she had never had any friends before. Luckily, the Cutie Mark Crusaders had befriended Quiz within a day of her coming to town. Quiz had grown a great deal with her friends’ help. It could not, however, be said that Quiz was a normal pony.
“I am coming to dread the phrase ‘Come on, Quiz, it will be fun!’ almost as much as I fear the cry ‘Quiz, hang on!’” moaned Quiz. “I knew I was in trouble when I discovered that the ride operator was a friend of Scootaloo’s.”
Off to the side, Scootaloo was chatting with her friend. “Thanks, Sporky. That was pretty good.”
“Yeah, it’s not bad,” replied Sporky. “I tweaked the throttle a little for you, Scoot, but there’s really only so much you can get out of her. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
The ride they were speaking of in such blasé terms was the Tail Twister, the most exciting thrill ride at the Manehattan Fair, and thus probably the most exciting thrill ride in all of Equestria.
“Oh, and here’s your friend’s glasses,” said Sporky. “She lost them on the first loop.”
“Thanks, Sporky,” said Scootaloo. “I doubt Quiz knows she lost them. She hasn’t opened her eyes yet. Well, see you at the next scooter race.” “You’ll see my tail,” answered Sporky. “And that’s all you’ll see until you see me cross the finish line first!”
“You wish!” Scootaloo trotted over to join her friends. “So, are you going to be OK, Quiz?”
“I am already recovering,” answered Quiz, though she did not stir from her prone position.
“I’ve been wondering, Quiz,” said Scootaloo, “Is it the motion that gets to you? Or is it the excitement?”
“Yes,” said Quiz.
“If you didn’t want to go on the Twister with us, that would have been alright, Quiz,” said Sweetie Belle. Actually, Sweetie Belle was more disappointed than she wanted to admit. She had wanted to find something besides school and magic studies to share with her friend. But it was difficult to find something in common with Quiz.
“It’s just nice to all be together here at the Fair,” said Dinky Doo, the newest member of the gang. “We don’t have to do everything together.”
“And you could have spent more time at the Natural History exhibit, Quiz,” said Sweetie Belle. “You didn’t have to leave when we wanted to.”
“An’ you were real nice an’ understandin’ about not expecting us to stay with you at the World of Commerce Pavilion,” said Applebloom.
“Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “You were at the Pie sisters’ rock farm booth for hours! When we came back for you after lunch we had to drag you away.”
In truth it was only an hour, but that’s rather a long time for a pony to enthuse over rock production. The Pie sisters were happy for the attention; and there booth enjoyed record traffic, as many ponies stopped just to find out what the odd little filly was so interested in. The Pie’s gave out all of their samples.
“I know better than to expect any of you to share my enthusiasm for perfectly weathered rocks,” said Quiz. “But I just could not resist. It is wonderful how they rotate the rocks to get the wreathing even. Did you know the Pies contract with the weather pegasi to keep the farm gloomy to prevent sunlight fading? And they have ponyvillite; it is a type of metamorphic magnesium iron silicate hydroxide that can be found nowhere else in Equestria…oh, dear…I am boring you.”
The other fillies laughed, but it was more reassuring than mocking.
“No, Quiz,” said Applebloom. “You’re just being Quiz.”
Quiz seemed to accept this.
“If you are feeling better, Quiz, we should move on to the Culinary Center,” suggested Dinky. Normally, Dinky was so grateful just to be included that she would gladly do anything with the other fillies (including look at weathered rocks). But tonight was something special.
They were at the Manehattan Fair for a candy tasting.
The Manehattan Fair was the host of the All-Equestria Candy Making Contest. Ponies who had won first prize at fairs all over Equestria were here to compete for the national grand prize. And representing Ponyville was the fillies’ dear friend, Twist.
“You are quite right, Dinky,” said Quiz, rising to her feet. When, after a tentative step, she did not immediately fall over she decided to proceed. “We have promised to try to judge Twist’s candy.”
Quiz did not have to mention candy twice before the fillies were in motion.
On their way to the Culinary Center they came across what appeared to be a pink cloud, ambling about on 4 legs.
“Hi, girls!” said the cloud, cheerfully. There was a slurping sound, and Pinkie Pie’s face was revealed. “Don’t you just love the Fair? You can’t get candy floss like this at home.”
“What’d you do, Pinkie? Have two big stallions hold you by your feet and spin you around inside the cotton candy machine?” asked Scootaloo. She thought this was a rhetorical question.
“Why, yes,” said Pinkie. “I do this at the Fair every year.”
“Miss Pinkie, do you think it wise to eat so much sugar at this time?” asked Quiz.
“What do you mean, Quizzical?” Pinkie was one of the few ponies who always called Quiz ‘Quizzical.’ Pinkie thought the name was fun to say.
“The candy tasting is about to begin, Miss Pinkie,” said Quiz. “Perhaps you should not fill up on sweets before you arrive.”
“Fill..up?” said Pinkie, totally perplexed. She wandered off absent mindedly, muttering to herself, as she pondered this alien concept. “Fill up? Hmmmm, fill up…?”
Quiz thoughtfully observed Pinkie Pie leave. “My friends, do I look like that when you confuse me?”
The girls laughed.
“You mean like when we talk about sports?” asked Scootaloo.
“Or games or having any kind of fun?” added Dinky.
“Or fashion?” said Sweetie Belle, “Or anything all the other ponies think is popular?”
“Yes…well…those are all good examples,” said Quiz. “But in all fairness, I am becoming more well versed in all these subjects as I continue to associate with you.”
“Or when somepony pays you a compliment?” Sweetie Belle added, pointedly.
“Yes,” admitted Quiz. “Compliments continue to confuse me.”
“Hush,” Applebloom whispered in Sweetie Belle’s ear. “Just don’t start that now.”
Quiz’s self-esteem issues were what they all liked the least about her; and Sweetie Belle in particular was constantly campaigning to improve her friend’s image of herself. But they were all enjoying the day, so Sweetie Belle agreed to let it go this time.
“Well, we’re here,” said Dinky. And they entered.
Or at least they tried to enter. Dinky, the first in line, suddenly stopped dead at the entrance.
“Dinky, what is it?” asked Sweetie Belle. “What do you see?”
Dinky answered quietly, in an awed gasp, “Wonderful things.”
The colossal hall that was the Culinary Center had been transformed into the world’s largest candy store. And everything was free.
“Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh…!” cried Scootaloo, running in circles. “Where do I begin? Where do I BEGIN?!”
“Settle down, Girl,” said Applebloom, though she was having trouble containing herself. “We need to focus. Now, how do we find Twist’s candy?”
Every pony at the fair was invited to sample and rate the contestant’s wares. Their voting selected the “Fair Favorite” prize, and counted for one fifth of the Grand Champion’s score. But the sweets were only labeled by their contents and flavors. The identity of just which pony made which candy was a carefully guarded secret.
The fillies had no way of knowing which candy was Twist’s.
“I don’t know, maybe we should try to find the dullest looking candy here,” suggested Sweetie Belle. “Twist’s a genius with flavors, but her candy never looks very pretty.”
“That is not entirely fair,” said Quiz. “Twist has been working very hard on her presentation skills. Also, her candy canes have always been stunning.”
“Yeah, but these fancy gourmet types expect fancy gourmet candy,” said Applebloom. “They’d just turn their noses up at candy canes.”
“I’m with Sweetie Belle,” said Scootaloo. “We should be looking for a plate of little grey stones.”
“We agreed never to speak of that,” said Quiz, in as close to a stern voice as she was capable.
“We agreed never to talk about it around Twist,” corrected Scootaloo. “Twist isn’t here. Seriously, Quiz, you should be madder than any of us. Twist made the world’s blandest candy, and wanted to name it after you.”
“No one had ever made anything in my honor before, I was touched that Twist even tried,” insisted Quiz. “I was quite willing to overlook the fact that they were terrible. And I simply do not find it insulting to be compared to something bland.”
The other fillies rolled their eyes at this, and Sweetie Belle actually had to bite her tongue.
“Well,” said Dinky, “We could just start sampling everything.”
“Hay, I like that plan!” exclaimed Scootaloo, smacking her lips.
Applebloom looked up and down the hall at what seemed to be miles and mile of candy samples. She shook her head. “Ok. But we aren’t going to find Twist’s entry that way. That’s just impossible. It would take a miracle.”
Across the hall Pinkie Pie (now sans candy floss) began gesture wildly at them.
“Girls!” called Pinkie. “I found it!”
Chapter 2: "And The Winner Is..."
A Story About Quizzical
Chapter 2 – “And The Winner is…”
“These are beautiful!” exclaimed Scootaloo. “They can’t possibly be Twist’s.”
The placard in front of the candies read simply, “#32, Chocolate Mints. Allergy Warning – Secret Spice Ingredients.” This bland prose seemed out of place next to the stunningly colorful sweets. The dark chocolates were covered with rainbow spirals, perfectly piped on.
“I’m telling you, Girls, these are Twist’s candies,” insisted Pinkie Pie. “I’m a pony who knows her sweets; except for nonpareils, I don’t know what’s up with them. Anyway, these chocolate mints are based on an old recipe of Bon Bon’s grandmother’s. I remember it well; Mrs. Petit Fore would never ever give away what her secret spice was. I figured out that it was cardamom, but Petit Fore still wouldn’t admit it, even though I was clearly right. Bon Bon herself insists that it was allspice, but that’s just crazy. Now, Twist has changed things up a bit – she’s added just a drop of something hot, probably chili, to make the chocolate flavor pop, which is a very bold move that really impresses me, especially for such a young candy maker. And, might I add, it totally works. These are prize worthy candies for sure. And they are absotively, possilutely, not only merely but really most sincerely the candies we are looking for!”
Quiz levitated one of the chocolates and held it close to her face, regarding it carefully. “Piping. Piping was one of the techniques Twist said she was practicing. Also, the colors are reminiscent of Twist’s hard candies. I believe Miss Pinkie is correct.”
“Of course I am, Silly,” giggled Pinkie. “I just said so.”
“They’re so pretty,” said Dinky. “It seems like a shame to eat them.”
“Oh, you’ll get over that once you take a bite,” said Applebloom, “Delicious!”
“Dis ith du bes ting effer!” said Scootaloo, through a mouth full, showing complete disregard for the signs posted everywhere, asking ‘Please Take Only One Of Each Sample.’ After swallowing, she went on, “I don’t care who made them, these get a 10 out of 10.”
“Scootaloo is correct,” said Quiz. “We must judge the candies fairly, despite our bias in favor of Twist. We can only hope that Miss Pinkie is correct.”
“Well, fill out your voting cards and move on to the next tray of samples, Girls,” said Pinkie. “You can’t just stand here and eat the whole tray. I’ve discovered that they frown on that.”
The fillies sampled candy until they couldn’t sample candy any more. It was actually a relief when the whistle blew that announced the end of judging. It would have otherwise been difficult to quit. All of the candies were marvelous. But nothing was better than sample #32.
While the votes were being collated the crowed moved on to the Fair’s amphitheater, where the winners would be announced. The other fillies wanted to take this time to make one last pass through the booths on Arcade Alley, but Quiz wanted some quiet time to collect her thoughts and sort her observations about this day.
She found Twilight Sparkle holding seats for them near the front. Twilight, along with Bon Bon, was one of the older ponies chaperoning the girls to the Fair (Pinkie Pie was also there; but while Pinkie was capable of being a responsible adult if the need called for it, she could do that, or she could attend the Fair, she couldn’t actually do both, so she didn’t count as a chaperone). Quiz took the seat next to Twilight.
“Miss Twilight, have you enjoyed your day at the Fair?” asked Quiz,
“I have,” answered Twilight. “I thought I would catch up with you at the Natural History exhibit, but you weren’t there.”
“We did not tarry there long. While it was very nice, my friends wished to hurry on to other things,” said Quiz. She magically summoned her notebook and quill, and with a pop they were there, hovering in front of Quiz’s nose. The quill began racing across the pages. “My friends declared this a ‘Notebooks Free Day.’ I have many observations to get down.”
Twilight was barely able to suppress a laugh. If the fillies hadn’t taken it upon themselves to keep Quizzical from constantly scribbling in her notebook, Twilight would have issued a ban on notebooks herself. “Sometimes, Quiz, it is best just to enjoy the day, and not to analyze it.”
“Really?” said Quiz. “I shall make a note of that. Oh dear…is that one of those thing I should just know, rather than having to be told?”
“I have been compiling a list of such things,” said Quiz, sadly. “It is becoming quite lengthy.”
“Don’t worry about that, Quiz,” said Twilight. “You are learning, and you are growing. That is all that is expected of you.”
“Hmm,” mused Quiz, “I shall make a note of that.”
Again, Twilight found it difficult not to laugh at her young assistant. “So, did you enjoy your day, Quiz.”
“Oh, yes, very much, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. “It has been quite extraordinary. I enjoyed very nearly everything I did today.”
“’Very nearly’…? Oh, Quiz, did the girls get you on the Tail Twister?”
“Yes, Miss Twilight,” admitted Quiz. “If we do not speak of it, that would be appreciated.”
Pinkie Pie trotted in, and plopped down on the seat next to Quiz. “Woo, I’m exhausted. But I sampled everything! That’s eight years in a row I haven’t missed a thing at the Fair. And it was all just scrumdillyiscious! All except sample #78. If you can tell anything about a chef’s personality from their work, then I’m pretty sure #78 is a complete meany pants. But other than that, this was the best contest ever!”
The amphitheater was swiftly filling, and eventually Quiz’s friends came and found their seats. They were just in time. Chef Smarty Brickoven, the master of ceremonies, took the stage and introduced Princess Luna.
Princess Luna stood on the stage, and wondered what she was doing there.
‘You need to participate more in Equestria’s public events, Luna.’ Celestia had said.
‘It will be good for our citizens to see more of you, Luna. And it will be good for you to meet more of them.’ Celestia had said.
‘It will be fun, Lulu.’ Celestia had said.
What have you gotten me into, Tia?, thought Luna.
Well, Celestia had been right about most of it. The Fair had been fun. And crowds of ponies followed her everywhere she wandered. Luna was surprised how easy it was to talk to them, and even more surprised to discover that she enjoyed chatting with her citizens. Luna wanted very badly for the ponies that she ruled to like her – it was wonderful to discover that they did.
Luna particularly enjoyed the gaming booths on Arcade Alley. She’d won a plush ursa tossing rings. She then gave the toy away to a little filly who had been watching her with wide eyed fascination, and the child’s joyous reaction had been delightful to behold. The ring toss booth attendant was moved to award Luna a second toy. The bears were doubled? Luna couldn’t contain herself, and cried, “Huzzah!” and the cry was echoed by the crowd.
Now Luna had to present the awards at the All-Equestria Candy Making Contest, and that was not so much fun.
Meeting the candy makers had been nice – Luna had made a point of speaking to each of them, though she hadn’t been able to sample all their wares, there were simply too many. Luna would be returning to Canterlot with two hampers filled with sweets (one of which she intended to hide from Celestia). The chefs were mostly very pleasant ponies, with the exception of #78, the representative from Seaddle. Luna thought he was a mean spirited, self-important, know it all, and he didn’t make very good candy. But everypony else was very pleasant.
Luna took a deep breath and began. “Fillies and gentlecolts, good evening and welcome fair-goers of Manehattan.”
There, you have your first line out of the way, thought Luna. That wasn’t so hard. Now you just have to continue to speak clearly and read from the cue cards.
Luna proceeded. “We begin with the ‘Honorable Mention.’ The award goes to Miss Toffee Sweetheart-Baker, representing Trottingham.”
The audience applauded, and the Princess offered the winner her personal congratulations as attendants brought Miss Toffee her prize ribbon.
That went well, thought Luna. Now I just have to carry on through…oh dear…TEN more prizes!
Twist, sitting to the right of the stage with the other contestants, was miserable. It had been a very long day. She hadn’t seen any of the Fair, Twist had spent the whole day stuck in the kitchens in the Culinary Center basement. Ponies at the Fair were notorious for disregarding the “please take only one of each sample” instructions; so you had to be working constantly churning out candy or your sample tray would go empty. An empty tray meant missed votes; visitors would not rate or comment on your work, and it’s always sad when you don’t get rated or commented upon.
Then Princess Luna announced the Honorable Mention winner and Twist’s name wasn’t called. Twist’s heart sank. No pony from Ponyville had ever done better than Honorable Mention at the Manehattan Fair. Bon Bon had done it, and so had her grandmother, Mrs. Petit Fore. Twist had believed she could do it as well, but she had failed.
Twist sat and applauded politely as each prize was announced, hardly listening. She just wanted it to all be over so she could be with her friends.
The only ponies who hadn’t welcomed Princess Luna at the Fair were on the production staff for the contest. They were formally polite, but they could not be said to be welcoming. And it wasn’t even personal. It seemed that somepony behind the scenes really didn’t want Luna there, and this was making life miserable for everypony.
Luna could overhear them speaking behind her back (they all grossly underestimated her senses, really a silly mistake when dealing with one of the royal alicorns of Equestria). The term “upstaging” was used frequently. Somepony had quipped, “She’s stole his thunder,” and apparently this was very amusing. Luna did not get the joke.
Now, they wish me to do what now? Thought Luna, peering at the cue cards, which had become quite cryptic. She called to the audience, “And now, fillies and gentlecolts, where does lightning strike?”
Luna stopped herself just before reading the next bit aloud, which was a stage direction, “Wait for audience response.”
Luna did not know what was going on, but the audience did. Everypony in the house roared, “Anywhere it wants to!
Ah, that would be the audience response, thought Luna. She went on, “When does lightning strike?”
Again the audience roared back at her, “When you least expect it!”
Oh, I know what this is, thought Luna. It is called “call and respond.” It is part of “showmanship.” They might have explained that to me. Fine. I must “bring it home” now. “And what happens when lightning strikes?”
“You are thunder struck!” roared the crowd.
And I assume that is the thunder I’m supposed to have stolen, thought Luna. I still do not think that’s very funny.
“Fillies and gentlecolts, here to present the grand prizes, put your hooves together for Grand Chef Blitzen ‘Lightning’ Éclair!”
And the crowd went wild.
He was a burly, bright red pegasus, with golden blond mane and tail. His chef’s coat was perfectly pressed and stunningly white, and his hat was impossibly tall. His cutie mark was a crossed whisk and spatula, each with lightning bolts for handles. The Grand Chef strode to center stage with great purpose. He had the aura of a pony who owned the entire amphitheater. As far as the crowd was concerned, the Grand Chef did.
The crowd chanted, “Lightning, Lightning, Lightning…!”
Luna gracefully retired to the back of the stage, surrendering the microphone and the spot light to the Grand Chef.
Grand Chef Éclair took the mike and signaled for the crowd to quiet down (but not very forcefully, he was happy to let them carry one a while longer). Eventually, he had enough of the crowd’s adoration, and he spoke. “Thank you, thank you all.” Everypony quieted down to listen.
“As you know, tonight we crown to this year’s most accomplished candy maker, from among all the finest candy makers in all Equestria,” said Grand Chef Éclair. “That is not the same as being the greatest candy maker in all Equestria ever. That would be me.”
The crowd laughed. Princess Luna did not. She didn’t find the Grand Chef’s bragging amusing.
“Most years I would be here to present two prizes; the Fair Favorite and the Grand Champion. But tonight these prizes go to the same pony, and the voting is nearly unanimous. They are the choice of all of the judges, and 85% of the popular vote. Representing Ponyville, our winner is Twist!”
Moonrise Ray was having the best day ever. First, she got to meet Princess Luna, who was her favorite princess. The Princess even gave her a toy ursa, which Ray would cherish forever.
Now, the candy competition had been won by Twist. She was an earth pony filly just like Ray, only a little bit older. It inspired Ray, it made her feel as if any pony could do anything.
“Mom?” asked Ray. “Could you buy me a book on candy making?”
It took forever for it to register with Twist that her name had been called. Even then Twist couldn’t move, it was only with the encouragement of the contestants sitting near her that Twist was able to come forward to receive her prize.
She had won it all? She had won it all!!
But when Twist reached center stage Grand Chef Éclair seemed to be ignoring her. The Grand Chef looked forward, and was puzzled to not be seeing anypony. Then he looked down, and found Twist.
“Er…excuse me young filly, is Twist…your mother?” he asked.
“No, Grand Chef,” answered Twist. “It’th me. I’m Twist.”
“I see,” said Grand Chef Éclair. “Excuse me a moment.”
And he stalked off the stage, leaving the puzzled Twist standing awkwardly alone at center stage.
Chapter 3: Conspiracy!
Seeing the Grand Chef exit the stage Quiz decided to try a new spell she had been practicing.
Twitcher’s Useful Amplifier creates a parabolic mirror made of invisible arcane energy behind the head of the caster, with one of the caster’s ears at its’ focus. The spell isn’t commonly used, as most ponies have difficulty imagining a parabola. Quiz, on the other hoof, was known to dream in complex geometry. Twilight had suggested the spell, thinking it would be perfect for Quiz, and Twilight had been correct. Quiz said she found just trying to cast the spell ‘delightfully entertaining.’
Twitcher had been a hard of hearing colt whose hobby was bird watching; he had originally invented the spell to enjoy bird song.
However, the spell is much more often used for eavesdropping.
Quiz summoned the spell, and concentrated on the door at the back of the stage through which the Grand Chef had exited.
And Quiz got quite an earful.
Princess Luna hurried to the front of the stage. She knew the contest producers would most likely be furious with her for going off script, but Luna didn’t care. There was no way she was going to leave Twist abandoned, alone, blinking and trembling in the spot light.
The trouble was, once Luna got to the microphone she hadn’t the faintest idea what she was going to do.
Luna caught the eye of the production assistant holding the cue cards. The colt just shrugged at her. This was not helpful.
Don’t try anything fancy, the Princess told herself, just say something obvious.
Luna extended her right leg to Twist. “We are proud to be the first to congratulate you, young filly.”
“Thank you, Printheth Luna,” said Twist, as they shook hooves.
“Fillies and gentlecolts, Twist is the first contestant from Ponyville to win this prize at the Manehattan Fair,” announced Princess Luna, “And the youngest winner in the history of this contest.”
After a ragged beginning, as the audience was still puzzled by the Grand Chef’s departure, this announcement eventually produced hearty applause. Oh, good, thought Luna, this is going well. She forged on, “Twist has also won by the greatest margin ever. This should come as no surprise to anypony who tried sweet number 32, Twist’s chocolate mints.”
There was a murmur of ascent, as most of the audience remembered how good sample #32 was. Then the applause returned, much louder now.
Twist blushed, and shyly muttered, “Thank you, everypony.”
“We know Twist personally, from Our many visits to Ponyville, and We are pleased and proud to call her Our friend,” said Luna. Then she quickly placed a hoof over her heart and added, “Not that that influence the contest in any way, We promise.”
This got a smattering of polite laughter from the audience.
Oh, how nice, thought Luna. I said something amusing, and they actually laughed. I cannot wait to tell Tia about this.
After a moment, the buzzing cleared up as Quiz tweaked her spell’s focus. She heard Grand Chef Blitzen Éclair’s voice.
“Fairweather!!!” Quiz flinched, as it sounded like the Grand Chef was roaring in her ear. “Fairweather, this is unacceptable!”
“Grand Chef, you are needed on stage…” It was a female voice.
“Fairweather, this…this Twist is not what I wanted at all! How could you let this happen?!”
“Grand Chef, this is a judged competition and we are rather limited in how we can affect the outcome,” The mare speaking was clearly putting great effort into remaining calm and reasonable. “You are head judge, after all.”
“I wanted a photogenic mare. I cannot work with this funny looking child you have stuck me with, Fairweather!”
“Grand Chef, Twist won fairly and we cannot change that,” said the mare. “You even voted for her yourself.”
“And I feel I was deceived, Fairweather! When I was told she just had one name I naturally expected a model or a rock star. Twist would be an excellent name for a model or a rock star. I had no reason to expect that ridiculous little thing I now find on my stage!”
“You were introduced to all the contestants…”
“Yes, yes, I shook all the hooves,” said the Grand Chef, dismissively. “It isn’t as if I paid attention to any of them.”
“And speaking of the stage, Grand Chef, you really need to get back…”
“This is a disaster, and I need this fixed, Fairweather!” bellowed the Grand Chef. “I am forced to face the winner, on MY show, in Confectionery Coliseum! How am I going to crush this little girl in my kitchen without looking like a bully? Tell me that, Fairweather!”
“Perhaps, just this once, you might try being a gracious winner…”
“Gracious winner?!!! I don’t Do ‘gracious winner,’ Fairweather! I humiliate my opponents and break their spirits! It is my process. It is what I do. No, Fairweather, you must fix this. In order for me to look good, you must make this Twist look…”
Quiz could no longer control the spell, and her normal hearing returned. As the sound faded, she thought she heard the phrase “character assassination,” but that might have just been her imagination.
“Oh, dear,” muttered Quiz.
Princess Luna was trying to decide what to say next when she spied the Grand Chef out of the corner of her eye. She spoke swiftly, “Fillies and gentlecolts, again, Grand Chef Blitzen Éclair!” and then got out of his way.
Again, the Grand Chef took a moment to enjoy the applause. Then he shook hooves with Twist. “My heartiest congratulations, young filly.”
“Thank you, Grand Chef,” said Twist.
“You understand, that as you are the winner, I must issue you a challenge, as per tradition,” said the Grand Chef. “Chef Twist, will you meet me, in one month’s time, in Confectionery Coliseum?”
“Wow, nopony ever called me ‘Chef’ before,” gasped Twist.
“Well, young Chef? Will you accept my challenge?”
Twist did not hesitate, “It will be my honor, Grand Chef. I acthept!”
“Then it is done!” The Grand Chef lifted Twist’s hoof high, or at least he tried to. Twist could only reach as high as his shoulder. It didn’t matter. “There shall be candy combat!”
The crowd went wild.
“I warn you young one, I won’t let your age be an advantage to you. That cannot be so, not if you wish to be called “Chef.’ Many older and perhaps wiser ponies have met me in Confectionery Coliseum before you, and the same thing has happened to all of them.”
Most of the audience, including Twist, knew how to answer this, and they shouted back in unison.
“They were thunder struck!”
At the back of the stage, Princess Luna had to force herself not to roll her eyes at this. I still don’t think that’s funny, thought Luna.
Everything after the presentation of the awards was a blur to Twist. While she was normally shy, she soon relaxed and began to enjoy everything, and began basking in the glow of all the attention.
There were photo-ops and interviews, and when that was over there were more photos and interviews.
When it grew late, the press followed Twist to the train station; and many of them joined her on the train ride back to Ponyville. There were more photos and interviews, and all of Twist’s friends and well-wishers were interviewed and photographed as well.
All but one.
Twist might have been able to adjust and enjoy the attention, but that was something Quiz could never do. Quiz hid.
It wasn’t magic, it was a skill, and it was something Quiz had been perfecting all her life. Just by being very still, Quiz could go unnoticed right under your nose. Given a deep enough shadow, Quiz could become invisible.
Since all the lights were trained on Twist, the deepest shadows were right behind the reporters. So that is where Quiz stood, overlooked by everypony, observing everything.
Twist knew her friend’s habits; so when she couldn’t see Quiz anywhere she looked into the deepest shadow in the room and gave a little wave. Quiz did not wave back.
Of course there was one pony who could and would always find Quiz.
“Penny for your thoughts,” said Pinkie Pie, whispering in Quiz’s ear.
As usual, Quiz was startled, but she didn’t jump out of her skin. Quiz had grown used to this. Pinkie was constantly playing ‘hide and seek’ with her, even though Quiz only played ‘hide.’ Quiz spoke so softly only Pinkie could hear. “This is an extraordinary moment, Miss Pinkie, and it is all Twist’s. She has done something wondrous, and I wish for her moment to be nothing less than wonderful. Also, as Twist is trying to share her moment with everypony, I will interrupt no pony’s evening with my concerns. I only answer you since you asked. I can ponder and plan privately tonight, and wait until tomorrow to share what I have learned. But know this; I will do whatever I must to protect my friend.”
“Wow!” said Pinkie. “I just expected you to tell me how you enjoyed the Fair! So, anyway, I hear you went on the Tail Twister. Isn’t that just about the greatest ride in the whole world?!”
Chapter 4: Magic Studies
“Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah!”
The candle on the table in front of Sweetie Belle lit.
It was just a tiny candle and a very small flame, barely strong enough to keep the candle alight, but Sweetie Belle threw her forelegs in the air and cried “I Did It!”
Her shout blew the candle out.
‘”Dumb candle,” grumbled Sweetie Belle.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Twilight Sparkle. “And congratulations. Was that really your first deliberate spell?
"Yeah, everything else I've done has been kinda by accident."
“We’ll want to avoid any future accidents,” said Twilight, pointedly. “Anyway, try again. Put a little more into it this time.”
Sweetie Belle concentrated on her candle and sang again, this time much more loudly.
The flame rose high over the table, and half the candle melted away.
“Oooooh-kay,” said Twilight, making notes. “Song volume equates directly to spell power, but you don’t know the exact relationship…”
“Sometimes I’m louder that I want to be,” said Sweetie Belle, shyly.
“Until you have more precise control of that I don’t want you casting any spells without my supervision,” said Twilight. “Seriously, I can’t imagine what you girls were thinking. Experimenting with magic is so dangerous! When you don’t know what you’re doing anything can happen. Before you know it you’ve done something horrible, like turning your parents into potted plants!”
Sweetie Belle shuddered. Or you vaporized your friend, or you get stuck in a wall you’re walking through.
“Let’s try some levitation now,” said Twilight. “Come over here, and move your candle to my desk.”
Sweetie Belle went and stood next to Twilight. “Ah-ah, ah-ah, Ah!” she sang, reaching out to the candle. A bright blue aura surrounded the candle, but it did not move. Sweetie Belle sang again, “Come to me, little candle, pretty little candle, come here to me…”
The candle floated across the room and settled on the desk next to Sweetie Belle.
“That’s amazing!” exclaimed Twilight. “And you can’t do any magic at all without singing?”
Sweetie Belle shook her head. “I can’t even make my horn glow.”
“I have no idea how this works,” said Twilight. “I can teach you some basic spells, but eventually we are going to have to talk to an expert. There’s a colt named Foster; he’s the Dean of Experimental and Nontraditional magic at Canterlot U; who has written about using music as a focusing tool for magic. I would really like to consult with him before I proceed.”
“Do you have to, Twilight?” whined Sweetie Belle. “I just want to learn a little magic, I don’t want to be studied!”
“Nopony is going to treat you like a lab rat, Sweetie Belle, I promise,” said Twilight. “But with magic, what you don’t know can hurt you. I need to be careful until I learn more. And, I feel I need to remind you, you haven’t been very careful!”
Oh, here comes the lecture, thought Sweetie Belle.
“You should have come directly to me when Quiz discovered your talent,” said Twilight. “Instead you played around with it, as if magic were a game. You tried using song lyrics as an incantation; that was Quiz’s idea, wasn’t it?”
“It...might have been,” said Sweetie Belle. She didn’t want to let Quiz have any more blame. Sweetie Belle suspected that the stern words Twilight had for her were nothing compared to what Quiz got.
“And this nonsense about using gems as magic amplifiers! How that could have gone wrong…well that’s just too dreadful to think about! Don’t even try to tell me you thought that up on your own, Sweetie Belle.”
“It wasn’t all Quiz’s fault,” said Sweetie Belle, softly. “And if I hadn’t tried using gems we would have never saved Quiz. Quiz would have…she would have…” Sweetie Belle couldn’t finish the sentence.
“There, there,” said Twilight, giving Sweetie Belle a hug. “We’ll stop thinking about that, or you’ll have us both crying.”
The plaintive cry from Spike in the next room came as a welcome interruption. “Twilight? Little help?”
Spike entered, sporting a luxurious, golden blonde mane.
Quiz followed soon after. “Um…Miss Twilight? I believe we shall require you to undo one of my spells.”
“Just look what she did to me!” shouted Spike, handfuls of hair in each fist.
Sweetie Belle turned away, and was beginning to emit little strangled squeaks as fought off the laughter.
“I did try to discourage you from volunteering,” said Quiz. “I am just beginning to practice this spell.”
“Yeah, well, you also said I’d get a goatee and a mustache!” Then Spike caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror. “Though, this actually looks pretty good…” He began tossing his mane back and forth.
“That’s enough of that,” grumbled Twilight. With a ‘pop’ Spike was restored to normal.
“Awwwww,” groused Spike. “You know, Quiz, maybe you should go back to practicing teleportation.”
Quiz looked horrified (at least, within Quiz’s ability to express horror). “Oh, no thank you, please.”
Quiz could not teleport. Her last attempt had resulted in her disappearing, then almost instantly reappearing, apparently standing in exactly the same spot. Spike had found, from a chalk mark he’d made in front of her right front hoof, that Quiz had in fact moved. But her forward progress was less than the thickness of the chalk mark. This effort had left Quiz feeling ill for hours afterward.
“There will be no more teleportation practice,” stated Twilight. “In fact there will be no magic practice at all, until you regain your focus, Quiz. Your spell failure wasn’t from lack of practice, Quiz. You are distracted. And I know just what is distracting you.”
“I do not know what you mean, Miss Twilight…” protested Quiz.
“You gave Spike Grand Chef Éclair’s hairdo, Quiz,” said Twilight.
“Oh,” muttered Quiz.
“I thought we’d settled this,” said Twilight. “Quiz, you cannot slander a prominent colt like the Grand Chef based on what you heard! Twitcher’s Useful Amplifier is a new spell you, it’s likely you just miss heard the conversation. You couldn’t see either speaker, so you could be taking the whole thing out of context. And even if you did hear and interpret every word correctly all you really heard was the Grand Chef saying he was unhappy. Why you insist that any of this is proof of a conspiracy to smear Twist is beyond me!”
“The Grand Chef is kind of mean…” began Sweetie Belle.
“Oh, he comes off as mean and arrogant, and he’s quick with a put down,” said Twilight. “But that’s only his on stage persona, that’s all part of the show. The Grand Chef isn’t a villain, he just pretends to be one. Now I don’t want to hear another word about this.”
“Yes, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz, sadly.
“Twilight sighed. “I think we’re done for today. You girls can have the rest of the afternoon off.”
“I think I had a pretty good day,” observed Sweetie Belle, as the two fillies walked away from the library. “I cast my first real spells! I’ll never be as good as you, Quiz, but I feel as if I can cast any spell that Twilight teaches me.”
“Do not underestimate your potential, Sweetie Belle,” said Quiz. “And do not assume you cannot be as good or better than I.”
“Don’t be silly, Quiz,” said Sweetie Belle. “You’re the real magician. I just want to sing; and maybe design stuff someday, like Rarity.”
Quiz chose not to pursue this. Instead she offered an observation she thought Sweetie Belle would appreciate. “Your magic aura is very pretty. Much prettier than mine.”
“It is pretty, isn’t it?” mused Sweetie Belle. “It’s an even brighter blue than Rarity’s. But your magic is pretty, too, Quiz.”
“My magic is beige, Sweetie Bell,” said Quiz.
“It is not!” said Sweetie Belle, indignantly. “Rarity says it’s a pale shade of peachy salmon.”
“That would be beige,” said Quiz.
Sweetie Belle gave up, and changed the subject. “Quiz, I think all of Twilight’s scary talk about what happens when magic goes wrong is getting to me. I’ve been thinking about our ‘experiment’ out on the barrens.” Suddenly worried, Sweetie Belle frowned and chewed her lip. “You said that we both destroyed and didn’t destroy that emerald. I’ve been thinking about the same thing happening to you, Quiz. What if we both vaporized and didn’t vaporize you? That’s going to give me nightmares.”
“Perhaps this thought will be comforting then,” said Quiz. “We merged two parallel realities. In one, I might have been both vaporized and not vaporized. In the other I was not vaporized and also vaporized. In both I still persist.”
“I think the headache I’ll get trying to figure out what you just said is not going to help me sleep,” said Sweetie Belle.
“Headaches are a common complaint among theoretical magicians,” said Quiz. “But if you cannot sleep, our library has many fine volumes on quantum magic theory. I could come and read one to you. You will soon be fast asleep.”
Sweetie Belle giggled. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell when you are making a joke, Quiz.”
“I would hope that you could tell from the fact that I had just said something funny,” said Quiz.
“Yes, Quiz, you would think it would be that simple,” said Sweetie Belle, rolling her eyes.
This called for another change of topic. “So, are you going to take Twilight’s advice, and stop worrying about this conspiracy against Twist?”
“Miss Twilight raised many correct points,” said Quiz. “There is no proof of any conspiracy.”
“Then you’re going to forget all about it?”
“Absolutely not,” said Quiz. “I know what I heard.”
They came to Bon Bon’s Sweet Shop, where the mail was being delivered.
“Hello, Miss Derpy,” said Quiz. “Is there any word from Manehattan?”
“Hi, Quiz,” said Derpy. “Gee, you are almost as worried about Twist’s mail as Twist is. But, no, nothing yet. It’s confusing. I’ve talked to the mail mares in Manehattan, and a contestant always gets a big package from the Grand Chef’s show. The rule book, lots of forms, a map of the kitchen, stuff like that. The contestant also gets invited to come to Confectionery Coliseum for a walk through. Contestants scheduled to be on the show months after Twist have their packages, but not Twist.”
Quiz and Sweetie Belle exchanged a look. “Er…could it have been lost?” asked Sweetie Belle.
Derpy shook her head. “I checked. It hasn’t been lost, misdirected, misfiled, returned, or sent to the dead letter office. It just hasn’t been sent. Something has gone wrong, and I just don’t understand it.”
Twist Scootaloo and Dinky came out of the Sweet Shop. “Hi, Mom!” called Dinky, “We’re all headed over to Sweet Apple Acres. Applebloom says she has something to show us.”
“That’s fine, Muffin,” said Derpy, “Stay out of trouble and be home for dinner.”
“Applebloom was real exthited about it,” said Twist. “I can’t wait to see what it ith!”
“Right,” said Dinky. “So we should hurry.”
Applebloom had converted an empty barn into a workshop. She stood in the middle of the huge room, surrounded by low, narrow ramps.
“Oh, thethe are wonderfully!” cried Twist, galloping up and down one of the ramps.
“I thought you’d like these better than lugging a step ladder around like you do now,” said Applebloom. “This was a good week’s work. But the design is, whatdoyoucallit, modular, ah think. I figure I can fit them into most any kitchen, in about 10 minutes. Course, it would help if I knew the layout of your kitchen in the Coliseum.”
That stopped Twist dead in her tracks. “Yeah, I think I’m thupothed to have that,” she said, unhappily. “But it never came.”
None of the fillies meet Twist’s eyes. Quiz had not shared her concerns with Twist, who had enough to worry about just preparing for the contest. But Quiz had told all her other friends. They were all slowly coming to believe her.
“Well, if I don’t have the proper measurements Ah’ll just eyeball it,” said Applebloom. “It shouldn’t slow set up time too much.”
“Thank you, Applebloom, thank you, thank you, thank you!” said Twist, giving her friend a big hug. The ramps were the first good news Twist had gotten since winning the contest.
They hung out for about another half hour, playing with the ramps and marveling how light they were and how easy to assemble. Then Twist announced that she had to hurry home.
“Bon Bon will be done with todayth orderth, and I’ll have the kitchen to mythelf to practith. And I need the practith!”
Sweetie Belle started to get up, meaning to offer to walk home with Twist; but Scootaloo began waving wildly at her, signaling that they should wait.
When Twist had left alone, Sweetie Belle turned to Scootaloo and demanded, “What?”
“Just how bad do you guys want to help Twist?” asked Scootaloo.
“I want this very badly indeed,” said Quiz, and the others murmured assent.
“That’s what I was hoping you would say,” said Scootaloo, grinning from ear to ear. “I think that if the contest people won’t send Twist those measurements we need then maybe we should go and get them ourselves.”
“What are you talking about, Girl?” asked Applebloom.
“I think we should stage a ninja raid on Confectionery Coliseum!”
Chapter 5: "Come On, Quiz, It Will Be Fun!"
“Come On, Quiz, It Will Be Fun!”
“Five tick…” The pony at the train station’s ticket window had begun speaking in falsetto, then cleared their throat, and continued in a hoarse, effected baritone. “Five tickets to Manehattan, please. Round trip, tonight.”
The old stallion in the ticket booth just muttered something about how he had “been on the night shift way too long,” and with no further comment or reaction he handed Scootaloo her tickets and the change. If he heard the muffled cry, “Oww! You have your hoof in mah eye!” he ignored it.
When the ticket clerk turned back to his newspaper the 5 fillies ran for the passenger car and boarded the train. The last aboard was Applebloom, who waited for Scootaloo to jump off her back.
“I told you that would work,” said Scootaloo, struggling out of Big Macintosh’s raincoat. “Man, this thing is warm. And heavy.”
“At least you were in the part where you could breath,” grumbled Applebloom. “And speaking of heavy, Girl, you need to lose weight!”
“Oh, shut up, Applebloom! You’re just mad because my plan worked and your plan was stupid.”
“Was not!” shouted Applebloom. “Mah plan would have worked just fine.”
“We’d have been stuck in a crate all the way to Manehattan,” said Sweetie Belle.
“And there’s a law against sending yourself through the mail,” said Dinky.
“Well, there’s also rules against unaccompanied minors,” said Applebloom, pouting.
Quiz did not join in the bickering. “Scootaloo, please come here so I may dispel your disguise,” she said.
“Oh, let her keep it, Quiz!” laughed Sweetie Belle. “I think it looks cute on her!”
“That’s all I need to hear,” said Scootaloo. “Quiz, please get this thing off of me.”
With a pop the mustache and goatee disappeared from Scootaloo’s face. “Thanks’ Quiz. And here’s your change. We really need to work out a way for us to pay you back the rest.”
“Think nothing of it,” said Quiz, slipping the coins into her bag. “My parents will be delighted that I spent some of my allowance for once, I so rarely withdraw more than the cost of a notebook from the bank. I hope mother will imagine I bought myself a gown, or some other pretty thing. With luck they will never discover how I actually spent the bits.”
“Quiz, what’s the matter?” asked Sweetie Belle. “We’re all excited, and you just sound sad.”
“I fear I am leading you all into trouble,” said Quiz. “I never wanted to do that.”
“Come, on, Quiz, this was my idea, remember?” said Scootaloo. “Cheer up. This could be the adventure of a lifetime!”
“Perhaps,” said Quiz.
The late night trains between Ponyville and Manehattan primarily carry mail and cargo; passengers are rare. The fillies had the one small passenger car to themselves. They chattered excitedly, plotting how they would break into Confectionery Coliseum, until they were interrupted by an outburst from Quiz.
“Darn,” muttered Quiz, peering into her saddle bag. “I have forgotten the map of Manehattan.”
This stopped everypony cold.
“Quiz…” gasped Applebloom. “You forgot something?!”
“Wasn’t it on your check list?” asked Dinky.
“I…may have been lax in my preparations,” said Quiz. “I only went over my check list once.”
“Oh, Quiz, you really are troubled!” said Sweetie Belle. She moved to Quiz’s side, and put a leg across her friend’s shoulders. “Tell me what’s really bothering you.”
Quiz stiffened, but did not flinch at being touched as she once would have. She spoke softly, “I just do not understand why you are all here with me. Admit it, none of you truly believe my allegations against the Grand Chef and his producers.”
This was met with silence. Finally, Applebloom answered for them. “It ain’t like that, Quiz. Sure, what you say sounds crazy. Anypony would have their doubts. But if there’s one thing I don’t doubt, it’s you, Quiz. If you say there’s something fishy going on then I know there’s something fishy going on. So I’m in. We all are.”
The other fillies just nodded.
“Thank you, my friends,” said Quiz.
Sensing that the mood was getting hopelessly sappy, Scootaloo interrupted. “Quiz, it’s ok if you forgot the map, you can just summon it.”
“Of course,” said Quiz. A moment later there was a ‘pop’, and the map appear floating in front of her.
Quiz could not teleport herself, but she could teleport objects better than anypony Twilight had ever seen. Whatever it was, if Quiz had a reasonably good idea of what it looked like and where it was, and if it was light enough for her to lift, Quiz could summon it to her side.
Spike and Owloicious had taken to playing tricks on her; deliberately miss-shelving the books Twilight asked for most often just to see what it would take to trip Quiz up. So far they had failed to fool her. If Quiz noticed what they were doing she kept it to herself.
However, one trick got Quiz every time.
“Quiz,” said Scootaloo, speaking very quickly, “Summon for me volume one of the Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were.”
“Certainly,” said Quiz, reacting without thinking. The requested book popped into the train car. Every pony laughed but Quiz.
Quiz, stood blinking, puzzled, but only for a moment. “Oh,” she said. “You did not actually want this book, did you, Scootaloo?”
“No, Quiz.” The laughter grew louder.
“You have ‘Got Me’ once again, then, Scootaloo?”
“Yes, Quiz.” Scootaloo could barely answer.
“I believe I will credit you with ‘A good one’ this time, Scootaloo,” said Quiz. You had to really know Quiz well to tell that she was smiling.
“Oh, dear,” said Quiz, as she sent the book back to its shelf, “I fear that, someday, Diamond Tiara will learn this trick, and I will find myself teleporting something embarrassing into the middle of Miss Cheerilee’s classroom.”
They laughed for miles.
Once they had all settled down Sweetie Belle began pulling black bundles out of her bag and passing them around. “I made these for us. I think I’m getting pretty good at sewing, now that somepony finally explained to me how to do it.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Scootaloo, holding her’s up. It was a black ninja suit, complete with hood. “This is so cool!”
“We’re going to be ninjas?” asked Dinky, slightly disappointed. “When you all kept calling this a ‘raid’ it sounded more like we’d be pirates. Pirates are more fun than ninjas.”
“Yeah, but ninjas are cooler!” answered Scootaloo.
The fillies wasted no time trying their suits on. All, but Quiz, who regarded her’s dubiously. “What is the purpose of this garment?” she asked.
“It will make you stealthy,” said Sweetie Belle. “So you can sneak around and hide in shadows…” She trailed off, suddenly realizing that this was Quiz she was talking to.
Quiz just stared at her.
“Oh,” said Sweetie Belle, obviously disappointed. “Never mind Quiz. Maybe you can wear it next Nightmare Night…”
“No, if you all are going to wear them, then I shall wear mine as well,” said Quiz. “We shall all have the same uniform tonight.”
Apparently, this called for a cheer.
“Cutiemark Crusaders Ninja Raid On Confectionery Coliseum Is A Go!”
Quiz did not let Sweetie Belle hear her mutter to herself, “If this fabric rustles and gives me away I shall be very cross.”
Anypony who peered into the darkest alleys between Dolly Square Station and Confectionery Coliseum might just make out 4 little ponies moving carefully through the night. They would certainly have heard them, as the girls stumbled into trash cans and bickered about which pony was making the most noise.
Now and then, a soft voice would call to them when they made a wrong turn. This, and the occasional rustle of fabric, was all that gave Quiz away.
Eventually, the mouth of an alley ended on a wide street. Though this was the City that Never Sleeps, at this hour the street was empty, as were the sidewalks in every direction. Across this quiet street towered Confectionery Coliseum.
“Now what do we do?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“We case the joint!” declared Scootaloo.
“We must circle the building, to see what doors may be unlocked, and to determine where the guards will be,” said Quiz.
“Like I said, we case the joint!” repeated Scootaloo.
The actual amphitheater of the Coliseum fronted on the office complex of “Food Equestria,” producers of cooking shows and contests across the nation. All of the doors they tried were locked. They noticed several guards patrolling around the building, and they thought they saw flashlights inside, passing by the windows. But only at one entrance were guards stationed.
While the fillies were watching several ponies arrived and were allowed inside by the guards. They all recognized Smarty Brickoven, host and judge of many Food Equestria productions, including the Grand Chef’s candy challenge. Sweetie Belle thought she recognized some other Food Equestria judges and presenters, but she wasn’t sure.
“See that, the guards just opened the door and let ‘em in,” said Applebloom. “That door ain’t locked.”
“So?” said Scootaloo. “It’s guarded, it doesn’t need to be locked.”
“A distraction might lead them away, but it would have to be something considerable to get the guards to leave their posts,” said Quiz.
“Naw, just a little thing would do it. Scoot’s fast, she could zip in while their backs are turned, then head down a corridor and unlock one of the other doors for the rest of us,” said Applebloom.
“This plan has merit,” said Quiz, nodding her head thoughtfully.
“Assuming Scootaloo doesn’t get lost inside the building,” said Sweetie Belle.
“Shut up!” was Scootaloo’s clever rebuttal.
“I will cast an illusion to distract the guards…” began Quiz.
“Um…Quiz?” interrupted Sweetie Belle. “You can’t draw. All your illusions look like stick figures.”
“What of that?” asked Quiz, almost sounding indignant. “They will be distracting stick figures.”
“I don’t think we want the guards to know they are being distracted by a beginning magician,” said Scootaloo. “Now, I bet one of these buildings has a fire alarm…”
“That might be a bit more attention than we want,” warned Applebloom. “We should keep it simple. Maybe toss a trash can in the street.”
“If we merely wish them to turn their heads I fail to see why you will not allow me to cast a simple light effect…” said Quiz.
“Hay! What’s Dinky doing?!” exclaimed Sweetie Belle.
While they were arguing nopony had noticed Dinky wriggle out of her ninja suit. She had tied her mane into two big, fluffy tails with long pink ribbons. The effect was disarming. A pony would have to be completely hard hearted to perceive Dinky as anything but innocent.
“Hay, Misters!” called Dinky, as she skipped across the street, right up to the guards. “Can you please do me a big favor?”
“Little Filly, you should not be out alone,” said a guard.
“It’s OK, my Mom’s just up the block. But I had to make this side trip real quick,” said Dinky. “Could you please take my picture in front of the Coliseum?”
“Picture?” asked the puzzled guard. “Look, it’s way past your bedtime…”
“Oh, we’ve been living in Canterberra for Dad’s work, and we only just came home,” lied Dinky. “It’s the middle of the day down there. We have all been sleeping keeping funny hours.”
“Where’s ‘Canterberra’?” asked Scootaloo.
“It is far to the south and west,” answered Quiz. “I have been tutoring Dinky in geography. I am so very proud…of her.”
“Anyway,” Dinky continued, “My best friend down there was runner up at the Canterberra Fair candy contest. I promised that I would visit Confectionery Coliseum. But we leave for Fillydelphia tonight.”
Dinky nattered on, completely disarming the guards. They only needed to go to the corner, just 10 or 15 steps from their post, to get the picture. What harm could there be?
They took several pictures; first one of Dinky, then Dinky with one guard, then Dinky with the other guard, then a close up of the three of them, then more shots just in case some didn’t come out right, then a guard on patrol happened by and got into the act…
There was time to get all the fillies inside. They found another side door, and unlocked it to let Dinky in, but it seemed as if they had to wait forever for Dinky to finish playing with the guards.
“Seriously, you brought your camera?” asked Sweetie Belle.
Dinky shrugged. “I thought we would want something to remember tonight.”
“I don’t care, that was just awesome!” said Scootaloo, giving Dinky a high-hoof. “It is now official. Anypony who calls you “Just a Little Tag-along” can shut up!”
“It was you who said that, Scoot,” pointed out Applebloom.
“Whatever!” grumbled Scootaloo. “Let’s just find the kitchen and measure it, already.”
Chapter 6: Caught In The Act
Caught In The Act
What happened next was the last thing any of them expected. They were able to walk almost directly to the stage doors that opened on the Confectionery Coliseum kitchens.
“The layout of this building is very efficient,” noted Quiz.
They found their only obstacle just before they reached the central stage doors. The last side corridor before the doors was blocked by heavy iron gates, held by thick chains and huge padlocks. Though the fillies didn’t have to get through the gate, there was something about them that would have made the gates intimidating just to walk by.
The gates were not as intimidating as the guards. These two towering stallions looked as if catching a few trespassing fillies would just make their whole day.
A sign identified the corridor as “Executive Production Offices – Grand Chef’s Private Suite.” Also, in golden lettering over the gates, was “Recipe Vault.” Further signage warned “Authorized Personnel Only!!! No Recording Devices Beyond This Point!!!” Somehow, the extra exclamation marks did not seem excessive.
Luckily, a side corridor going the other direct allowed the fillies to avoid the guards. Two turns down two short hallways and they were in front of a side door to the Coliseum.
“Is it just me, or did anyone else get a nasty vibe from those gates?” asked Scootaloo. “The only time I’ve seen gates like they were guarding a cemetery!”
“Those guards looked like they hadn’t eaten,” said Dinky, shuddering. “They could finish me off in 2 bites!”
“Beyond those gates are all of the Grand Chef’s secrets,” said Quiz, gravely.
“Forget the gates, we got a job to do,” declared Applebloom. “If we are going to catch our train home then we best get on with it.” And she pushed the door open.
Confectionery Coliseum was truly an awesome sight. It was as bigger than any theater, as big as all but the largest of sporting stadiums. Even Applebloom took a moment to admire it before she set to work. Once in the ‘Challenger’s Kitchen’ she unpacked her saddle bag, and began to get the other fillies organized.
“Sweetie Belle, put a hoof on the end of this tape measure,” said Applebloom. “Dinky, get some pictures. Stand in the middle of the room and shoot all the way ‘round.”
“OK,” said Dinky. “But there should be something for scale. I know, Quiz stand over there. No, more to the right, Quiz. Now a step to the left. Now just a smidgen to…”
“Just take the pictures, Dinky,” interrupted Applebloom. “Sweetie Belle, move your end of the tape into that corner there. That’s right.” She produced a pencil she had tucked into her hair bow and began making notes.
“We should post a guard by the box office,” said Sweetie Belle. “I heard that’s how most of the crazed Grand Chef fans try to break in, so the guards check it pretty often.”
“The Grand Chef has crazed fans?” asked Dinky.
“He sure does,” said Sweetie Belle, nodding emphatically. “They try to sneak in, just to touch something that the Grand Chef touched.”
“I’m on it,” said Scootaloo, moving towards the main entrance. “If I see a flashlight I’ll go like this, ‘Ca-Caw, Ca-Caw!’”
“What the hay was that?” demanded Applebloom.
“That was a bird call,” said Scootaloo, sounding miffed. “It’ll be our secret signal.”
“Um…” began Dinky, trying to think of something tactful to say. “Maybe you should try this one.” Dinky trilled like a song bird.
“Oh, that’s really good!” exclaimed Sweetie Belle. “Can you do this one, Dinky?” Sweetie Belle cooed, giving a respectable imitation of a dove.
Dinky cooed back. Her imitation was even better than Sweetie Belle’s.
“Enough!” exclaimed Applebloom. She continued in a hoarse whisper, “The guards are going to hear you and come in with brooms to chase all you ‘birds’ out of here. That is, unless they hear Scootaloo. In that case they’ll know we ain’t birds.”
“Hay!” Scootaloo began to protest, but she was interrupted by the loud gangling of chains, followed by a harsh, metallic groan.
“What was that?” asked Dinky.
“It was the ‘scary gates,’” said Quiz. “They have been opened.”
Quiz crept to the main stage doors, and put an ear to the crack between them. She heard a female voice.
“Thanks, boys. Now take a break. Come back in about half an hour.” It was the same mare Quiz had heard arguing with the Grand Chef at the Fair.
There was the sound of heavy hoofs, receding in the distance. A set of much more delicate hooves also moved off; possibly heading down the forbidden corridor.
Sweetie Belle whispered in Quiz’s ear, “Go, Quiz. We can take care of things here. You go and get your evidence.”
Quiz nodded. She pushed one door open a crack. The gates were indeed open and unguarded. There was a faint light, probably from a room far down the corridor.
Quiz moved silently through the stage doors and up to the top of the gated corridor. There she cast Twitcher’s Useful Amplifier.
Bzzzt! “Merry, what are we doing here at this hour?” Quiz recognized the plaintive voice of Smarty Brickoven.
“Clandestine meetings take place in the middle of the night.” It was the familiar mare’s voice.
“We all work here! It would look less suspicious if we met during business hours instead of having us sneak back here now.”
“The Grand Chef is paranoid,” said another stallion.
“No, the Grand Chef is just addicted to ridiculous displays of melodrama.” This was yet another stallion. “That’s probably why he won’t let anyone oil the hinges on those stupid gates.”
“The Grand Chef enjoys ordering us out of our beds,” This was another mare. A very irritated mare. “And it amuses him that we are actually willing to do it.”
“Be that as it may be, Almond, we are here, so let’s go over the Grand Chef’s orders,” said Merry, wearily. “The Grand Chef knows that he looks better the worse his challenger looks. So, it’s our job to make this kid look very bad, indeed. Commentators, I have some bullet points I want you to stress during the show…”
“Are you serious?!” interrupted Smarty. This was followed by a flurry of protests from the other ponies in the room.
“Oh, shut up, all of you!” yelled Merry. This silenced them. “Yes, I am serious. We are going to do this, so get used to it. And take notes. Commentators – firstly, I want you to go on and on about what a shame it is that she’s so unprepared. This will lose her lots of sympathy; the crowed will think ‘To show up unready for the contest of a lifetime, that’s just a disgrace.’”
“How are we going to do that?” objected Smarty. “I saw her work at the Fair. The kid is more organized than most chefs 5 times her age.”
“It’s been arranged,” said Merry. There was silence as the ponies let the implications of that sink in. Merry continued, “Secondly, we want to portray her as a lonesome loser. Stress how it’s a shame that no pony cared enough to take the short train ride from Ponyville to root for her. Production staff - we’ll want lots of shots of the filly’s empty gallery.”
“Is that being arranged as well?” asked Almond.
“Yup.” Again, this was met with silence. “To sum up, you are not to have anything nice to say about the challenger.”
“Are we allowed to judge her candy fairly?”
“Oh, you won’t have to compromise your integrity as judges,” said Merry. “The Grand Chef will trounce this poor child fair and square. We just want it to look as if she deserves it.”
“Is Happy in on this?”
“Oh, good grief, no!” Merry laughed. “Happy would never understand. Not that there’s much Happy does understand. We may have to turn her mic off if she starts gushing about how cute the challenger is. Other than that, I’m not worried about her. No pony takes Happy seriously.”
None of the other ponies laughed.
“Oats, I have a special job for you,” said Merry. “This filly has a terrible speech impediment, so we want to get her saying as many ‘S’ words as possible. Start thinking up leading questions with that in mind.”
“Please, Merry, do I have to…”
“Just do it, Oats!” snapped Merry. “Now, camera crew, I want this filly to look ridiculous. That shouldn’t be too hard. Give me bad camera angles and worse lighting. I’ll give you a 50 bit bonus if you can catch her scratching. And 100 bits if she picks her nose on camera…”
“Come on, Merry, this is absurd,” said Smarty. “Why are you going along with this? You sound even more miserable than us.”
There was a long silence. Finally, Merry spoke. “Fine, I’ll admit it. I’m miserable. Trashing some perfectly nice filly is not my idea of fun. I’d call this a waste of my talent, but unfortunately, I happen to have a talent for this. The bottom line is this – giving the Grand Chef what he wants is a condition of our continued employment. And I, for one, want to keep my job. Celestia as my witness, I will never go back to producing classified ads for the town criers in Baltimare again!”
Merry paused. When no pony spoke up she continued, “So; unless any of you has a former career you are eager to get back to; I suggest you get over your qualms about this unpleasant task, and you do your jobs.”
There was a murmur of unhappy agreement from all the ponies.
“Good,” said Merry. “Moving on, the Grand Chef doesn’t like the challenger’s name. Instead, she is to always be referred to as…”
Quiz could control her spell no longer. This turned out to be timely, as Sweetie Belle was trying to get her attention.
“…we have to go, Quiz!”
“Where are the others?” asked Quiz.
“Being chased by guards,” Sweetie Belle answered. “Apparently, they weren’t impressed by Scootaloo’s bird calls. If they get away they’ll meet us at the train station. We have to run before we’re noticed too.”
“Then let us run,” said Quiz.
No pony was chased further than the building’s perimeter, and they all made their train with time to spare. The fillies were all excited about the success of their adventure, and they made a party of the ride home. Dinky’s camera was passed around, and they used the last of the film taking group pictures. Quiz was even in a few of the shots, and she might possibly have been smiling faintly.
As they neared Ponyville, however, Applebloom noticed that Dinky had grown quiet. “Penny for your thoughts, Dinky,” she said.
Dinky bit her lip, worriedly. “Well, it’s just that the overnight trains are mostly mail service,” she said. “I think most of the ponies working on the trains and at the stations probably know my mom.”
The implications of this slowly sunk in. Just before arriving home was probably not the best time to make this observation.
The train rolled into the station at Ponyville, and waiting impatiently on the platform were Derpy, Rarity, Applejack, and Twilight.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7 Busted
It could have been worse.
Some of the fillies might have considered claiming they had just gone for a late night joy ride, but that possibility flew out the window as soon as the adults confiscated Dinky’s camera. They all agreed that some of the shots were beautiful, and that Dinky had a surprising sense of composition for one so young.
They also all agreed that trespassing at a Manehattan landmark called for something special.
They would deal with the girls quietly themselves. Nothing was stolen or vandalized, so contacting the law in Manehattan would just get the girls a slap on the pastern. The fillies guardians could do that much themselves. So, it was decided to just keep their punishment “within the family.” None of the girls considered this a stroke of good luck.
Ponies tend not to believe in corporal punishment (though the fillies, who were all led home by their painfully twisted ears might have disputed this). Ponies are very firm believers in grounding, and the girls were grounded indefinitely.
The older ponies defined “indefinitely” as “until we think you’ve learned your lesson.” The fillies interpretation was “for as long as they feel like punishing us.” Either way, the girls would be on lockdown for a very long time. They could go nowhere unescorted. This wasn’t actually that much of a burden on the older ponies, as the number of places the girls could go was reduced to nearly zero. What to do with the girls besides locking them in their rooms became a problem, but this was easily solved. Cheerilee was happy to have the girls all attend summer school.
Scootaloo bragged about how the raid was all her own idea; but, despite Scootaloo’s strident protests, it was clear in everypony’s mind which filly really inspired the adventure, and who was really at fault. They thought Quiz was just too smart for her own good, and they didn’t like her giving the other fillies ideas. They did not like that at all.
“Class, I have to step out for a moment,” said Cheerilee. “Please continue working quietly, and no talking while I’m gone.”
“Psst, Quiz,” hissed Sweetie Belle, once Cheerilee was out of the room, “Quiz, are you OK?”
“Sweetie Belle, you will be punished for speaking during quiet time,” Quiz answered. “You will be doubly in trouble for speaking to me.”
“Forget that, Quiz,” stated Applebloom. “You’re our friend, and they can’t make us cut you out.”
“Please, Quiz,” said Dinky, putting a hoof on Quiz’s shoulder. Since it was Dinky, Quiz did not flinch. “We haven’t spoken since we were caught, and we want to know how you are. How do you feel?”
“I will be fine,” said Quiz.
“That’s not an answer,” said Sweetie Belle, sharply. Sweetie Belle was certain that she could catch Quiz on the worst day of her life, and Quiz would still just say ‘I will be fine.’ “Just tell me, Quiz. Tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me! How do you really feel?”
Quiz sighed. “Your elders have all concluded that I am a bad influence on you, and that it would be best if you did not associate with me. I will admit that this hurts my feelings.”
This was a startling confession for a pony as closed about her feelings as Quiz. She had to be absolutely heartbroken.
“Oh, Quiz, this is so unfair!” cried Sweetie Belle. “How can they blame you, you thought the raid was a bad idea. We had to talk you into it.”
Scootaloo would no doubt have something to add here, but she had begun snoring softly the moment Cheerilee left the room. Scootaloo still hadn’t caught up on her sleep since their all-nighter in Manehattan.
“And talk about unfair punishment,” said Dinky. “I know you’re too smart for the same assignments we get, but did Miss Cheerilee really have to make you tutor Snips and Snails?”
Quiz looked over at her two students. Their snores were drowning out Scootaloo’s. “They are not apt pupils, that is true. But I am learning to deal with them. Snails will actually remember my lessons, if I work pudding into the examples I give him. I have yet to discover the secret to reaching Snips.”
“Have you tried kicking him in the head?” suggested Applebloom.
“I do not believe that would work,” said Quiz. “At any rate, I do not find my punishment unfair. And I cannot blame the older ponies. If I were one of them, I do not believe I would trust the welfare of a loved one to me.”
“I hate it when you say things like that, Quiz,” said Sweetie Belle. “We’re better for having you around, not worse!”
“You’re just being silly, Quiz,” said Dinky. “There’s plenty of blame to go around, you could share some with us. You should stop thinking this is all your fault.”
“That’s true,” said the just roused Scootaloo. At least, that’s what it sounded like she said, through a huge yawn.
“They can’t separate us and they can’t make us abandon you, Quiz,” stated Applebloom. “That’s not going to happen. You’re our friend and we’re sticking with you.”
“That is…quite extraordinary,” stammered Quiz, clearly touched. “I must make…” Quiz trailed off, perhaps sensing that this was not the moment for notebooks. “Thank you, all of you.”
They heard Cheerilee approaching, so Sweetie Belle spoke swiftly, “We’ll talk again tonight.”
The only activity the fillies still were allowed was helping Twist prepare for the contest. This seemed fair, as Twist hadn’t done anything wrong. The fillies had done everything possible to keep Twist out of trouble.
A mock up of the challenger’s kitchen from Confectionery Coliseum had been set up in the barn Applebloom used as a workshop. Tonight was Twist’s first run through.
Twilight walked Quiz out to Sweet Apple Acres. They walked in silence; Quiz unwilling to speak, and Twilight unable to think of anything to say. At the barn door their way was blocked by a furious Bon Bon.
“I’m not happy with you, Quizzical Greystone!” spat Bon Bon. “All your scary talk about plots and such has Twist terribly upset!”
“Bon Bon, please,” began Twilight, stepping between the prickly mare and her assistant, “Quiz already feels very badly …”
“Well she should! She’s scared Twist half to death with her nonsense. This is the worst of all times for that, now, when Twist needs to concentrate on the contest.” Bon Bon looked past Twilight to glare at Quiz. “You shouldn’t be here. The only reason I’m allowing you anywhere near Twist is she asked for you specifically. That doesn’t mean I like it, and it doesn’t mean I won’t change my mind and have you banned. So you best behave yourself, Quizzical!”
With that, Bon Bon turned and entered the barn. She did not hold the door for Quiz and Twilight.
“I’m sorry, Quiz,” said Twilight. “You need to think about what you’ve done, but…you shouldn’t have to…no pony needs to…I mean, there’s no point in…Oh, Quiz, that was just mean! Are you alright?”
“I will be fine,” said Quiz.
They entered the barn, and Twist spotted them immediately.
“Quiz!” cried Twist, bounding over to them. She stopped herself just short of giving her shy friend a huge hug. “Quiz, I’ve mithed you. They’re practically keeping you guyths locked up.”
“Our punishment has been strict, but I cannot call it unfair,” said Quiz. “I have missed you as well, Twist. But I know that things I have said have gotten back to you, and I regret this. I wanted very badly not to worry you with my concerns.”
“Ith it true, Quiz?” asked Twist. “Did you overhear all those things?”
“No, Twist, it isn’t true,” stated Twilight. “Quiz heard something and filled in the details in her own head. She’s let her imagination run wild. This whole controversy is just made up. You have nothing to worry about.”
Quiz and Twist exchanged a look, but they kept quiet. “Anyway, Quiz, come and thee what Applebloom haths thet up for me!”
They had blown up Dinky’s photos of the kitchen to life sized posters and mounted them on apple crates. It was as close to the real thing as technically possible.
Bon Bon stood in the middle of the faux kitchen and spun around, her mood improved exponentially. “This is absolutely marvelous! I can’t approve of the lengths you girls went to for this, but the result is just amazing. Mind you, none of this would be necessary if those idiots at Food Equestria had just done their jobs and sent Twist her contestant’s package.”
“And the rampths let me get around without a thtep thtool, but they you won’t trip over them,” said Twist.
“Yes, that’s important, if I’m going to assist you in the kitchen,” said Bon Bon.
“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to bring that up,” said Twist. “Applebloom, I’m allowed two athisthanths in the contest. Bon Bon will be one. Would you pleath be the other?”
“What? Me?!” exclaimed Applebloom. “Ah can’t make candy.”
“Iths not that different from making zap apple jam, or brewing potions with Zecora,” said Twist. “You jutht follow the directionths and stay exthtra picky about it.”
“Oh, well, ah guess I can do that,” said Applebloom. “Sure, sign me up.”
“Hrmmm!” Big Macintosh pointedly cleared his throat.
“That is, if I can get permission,” said Applebloom. “Please, Big Brother.”
“Might as well,” said Apple Jack. “We’re lettin’ ‘em go to the contest anyway.”
After a moment Big Mac nodded and said, “Eeyup.”
“Goody!” cried Twist, clapping her hooves. “I’ll put you down ath my thecond athisthant. That iths, if I ever get the paperwork…” She trailed off, sadly.
“I had hoped I could help with that, Twist,” said Quiz. “But I could find none of the forms you need in our library. I have asked the other assistants to look, perhaps they will succeed where I have failed.”
Twist was not encouraged. If Quiz couldn’t find something in a library, it wasn’t there.
Most of the older ponies left, with Bon Bon and Big Mac remaining to watch over the girls. Twist spent the next 10 minutes running about the mock up; juggling pots and pans over imaginary burners. In the end, she declared. “Well, it ithn’t much bigger than our kitchen. There’ths a counter in the middle that I’m going to keep bumping into, and the pantry is to the right not the left, that’ths going to get me all turned around. But I can get uthed to thith.”
“Good, because you have to practice here,” said Bon Bon. “You are not going to remodel our kitchen.”
Twist began to suggest ways the kitchen could modified, most of which Bon Bon was against. Sweetie Belle took advantage of this to whisper, “We need to talk. I think we need a distraction.”
“OK,” said Scootaloo, immediately thinking of the Crusader’s standard distraction method, “What would you like to get into a fight over?”
“You guys are hopeless,” said Dinky. “A fight won’t work and it’ll get us in more trouble.”
“Oh, yeah?” hissed Scootaloo. “So what’s your clever plan?”
Dinky sighed, “I’ll do this for you, but remember, I’ll only be naughty for a good cause.” She had skinned her knee earlier that day, and Dinky carefully peeled the bandage off. Then she ‘stumbled’ into one of the crates with a great crash.
“Owwww!” wailed Dinky, holding her leg.
Bon Bon and Big Mac immediately ran to Dinky’s side. “Honey, you have to be more careful.” said Bon Bon.
“It hurts, it really really hurts!” Dinky was actually crying.
“Let’s get you up to the house,” said Big Mac. He gently lifted Dinky onto his back. “Don’t cry. We’ll have you fixed up in no time.”
He and Bon Bon left, fussing over Dinky, and suddenly the fillies were alone.
“That girl is quickly becoming our secret weapon,” said Applebloom, quite in awe of Dinky. “Where does she get that, anyway?”
“Apparently, a friend of her Mom’s is very glib,” said Sweetie Belle.
“Quickly, everypony,” said Quiz. She summoned her magic black board and began writing. “These are the bullet points of our enemies plan. These areas are where we must protect Twist, and where we should fight back.”
“Then it’ths true, Quiz?” asked Twist. “You didn’t jutht make all thith up?”
“Sadly, it is true, Twist,” said Quiz. “I had hoped to keep this from you. But know this, we will do everything in our power to defend you.”
Applebloom peered at the magic blackboard. “Point one is ‘Make Twist Appear Unprepared.’ It seems like we’ve made a good start on that.”
“What we need is the missing contestant’s documents,” said Quiz. “I shall continue to work on that.”
“Point two is ‘Make Twist Appear Alone and Friendless.’ How are they going to do that?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“I wish I knew,” said Quiz.
“Maybe they are going to derail the train to Manehattan!” gasped Scootaloo.
“I believe their methods are not so drastic,” said Quiz. “Twist, as you are the only one of us not grounded, this is up to you. You must canvass your friends and get them to promise to attend the contest.”
“Thsure,” said Twist. “I’ll do that tomorrow.”
“Point three is ‘Make Twist Look Ridiculous On Camera.’” continued Quiz. “ Sweetie Belle, this should be your assignment. I believe you should coach Twist on her stage presence.”
“Me? Do you really think I can do that?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“Sweetie Belle, you have made progress with me,” said Quiz. “Twist should be comparatively easy.”
The adults returned with a smiling Dinky. Her ‘owie’ was cleaned and freshly bandaged, and she had been given an apple fritter to cheer her up. This ended the fillie’s planning session.
The continued to run practice drills in the mock up until it was time to go home. Twist thought she could get around the kitchen with her eyes closed.
The next day was gloomy, so the tall mare in the overcoat and the broad brimmed hat did not stand out. Somepony really should have noticed her sunglasses, however.
No pony notice the strange mare following Twist. No pony notice the mare making notes every time Twist stopped to speak to a pony. And no pony noticed the strange mare listening outside the school.
The fillies were chatting over lunch. It was the only time Cheerilee would let them speak freely among themselves. “Now, the first part of the contest Twist gets to make what she wants, and for the last part Twist has to build a sugar show piece. What was part two, again?” asked Scootaloo.
“Part two is the secret ingredient,” answered Sweetie Belle. “That should be no trouble. Flavors do what Twist wants them to do. Twist never met a flavor she couldn’t bend to her will.”
“There was one,” Scootaloo pointed out.
“Oh, don’t worry,” said Sweetie Belle. “The secret ingredient is always something weird or exotic. Vanilla is just too ordinary.”
“I hope you’re right. Vanilla is Twist’ secret weakness.”
“Vanilla,” muttered the strange mare. And she made a note.
Chapter 8: Disaster!
“Twist, aren’t you gonna eat?” asked Scootaloo.
The girls had been under punishment for some time now, with no sign of “indefinitely” ever having a definite end. Cheerilee had taken some mercy on them, and allowed them to sit together at lunch and talk. She’d even allowed Twist to bring a bag lunch from home and join them.
Twist pushed her sandwich towards Scootaloo. “No, you take it, Scoot. I don’t have any appetite.”
“Hmmm, Bon Bon’s special flower petal relish!” cried Scootaloo, leaping on the sandwich. “Your loss, Twist.”
“You have been a nervous wreck ever since you learned of my suspicions,” said Quiz. “More than anything else, I regret that I have upset you so, Twist. Would it help if I pointed out that I never heard the show producers mention you by name?”
“Yeah, right,” said Scootaloo, wiping her mouth. “They might have been talking about some other filly with a speech impediment who’s competing against the Grand Chef.”
Everypony glared at Scootaloo, who cried “What?” through a mouthful of Twist’s lunch.
“Everypony who might have conthidered going to Manehattan to thee me cook is now buthy that night,” said Twist, sadly. “Pinky Pie has been athked to judge a pathstry contetst. Mith Cheerilee hath an education theminar. The Cake family has a big catering contract. Bon Bon wath invited to a food thshow. Lyra is going to cover that for her, even though it may cotht Bon Bon buthiness to mith it. Doethn’t anypony elth think thith ith thuthpithious?”
“My mom does,” said Dinky, “She delivered all those notices. I think she’s starting to feel a little used.”
“I can’t believe Twilight hathn’t come around, Quiz,” said Twist. “How can thshe think you made it all thith up? That would require you…um…”
“’To have an imagination’?” Scootaloo finished for her. “What?”
“I have a perfectly good imagination,” protested Quiz. “However, it is much like my sense of humor. It is…what is the word I want?”
“Different?” suggested Applebloom.
“Unique?” offered Sweetie Belle.
“Imperceptible,” said Scootaloo. “What?”
“Despite the slight against my imagination, I must say I am pleased to hear you use a word from our vocabulary list correctly, Scootaloo,” said Quiz.
“What can I say? As a tutor, you’re the best, Quiz,” said Scootaloo. “Just don’t ask me to spell it.”
“At any rate, I feel you are being unfair to Miss Twilight, her doubts are reasonable,” said Quiz. “No pony besides myself, including all of you, has heard anything. Aside from practice, I have only cast the Useful Amplifier spell twice; I can understand why Miss Twilight believes I have misunderstood what I have heard. Also, Miss Twilight is bothered to distraction by our spell experiments. She fears that if she is not firm enough with me then in a moment of poor judgment I will cause Sweetie Belle to disappear in a puff of smoke. Or grow tentacles. Or even…”
“Enough, we get it!” cried Sweetie Belle. “Let’s just hope Twilight never finds out what we really did out on the barrens. That would lead to a freak out of epic purport ions.”
“I gotta get home,” said Twist, leaving her untouched meal on the table. Scootaloo snatched up a banana and began to eat it. “Will I see you tonight?”
“Wouldn’t miss it, Chef,” said Applebloom. The other fillies heartily agreed.
“Great,” said Twist, cheering up slightly. “You guyths are almost all the thuport I have left.”
While they weren’t allowed to remodel Bon Bon’s kitchen, the fillies did make a few modifications. Commonly used supplies were stacked on a shelf in the back right corner, to simulate the location of pantry in the Coliseum’s kitchen. A card table stood in for the missing center counter. Bon Bon had objected strongly to this, as the rickety table was dangerous in a busy kitchen. It was so light weight it could be bumped into anything or anypony. Twist had insisted; the center counter was where she had to assemble her sugar showpiece. In the end they compromised, the card table was weighted down with two sacks of sugar in the hope that this would keep it still.
“Ok, tonight we will be working on my thugar thowpieth,” began Twist. “I’ve practithed on all of the partths, but thith will be the firtht time I’m putting them all together.”
“What do you need from us, Chef?” asked Applebloom.
“Chef! I’ll never get over hearing that,” laughed Twist. “Anyway, Applebloom, you and Bon Bon thstart melting thugar. I’m going to need a lot of it! I’ll thupervith the temperature, and the coloring.”
“Quiz, Scootaloo, you are my thstokers. Keep the ovens loaded with wood, and good and hot.”
“Right, Chef!” said Scootaloo, without hesitation. Quiz was more cautious; first she hefted a stick of fire wood, and when it proved lighter than a miner’s pick axe she agreed that she could do the task. Then she opened the oven door, and recoiled.
“Quiz, are you Ok?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“Oh, yes, I was merely startled by the heat,” said Quiz. “Yes, I am ready, Chef.”
“Good, now Thweetie Belle…”
“I know, stay out of the kitchen,” grumbled Sweetie Belle. “Set fire to one refrigerator and it gets held against you forever,”
“It wathn’t the fridge, it wath the freezer,” said Twist. “And we thtill don’t know how you got the ice cream to ignite.”
“Fine,” said Sweetie Belle, pouting. “But I also have to keep shouting questions at you from the door way. Try to imagine I’m sticking a microphone in your face.”
“Ith that really nethethary, Sweetie Belle?”
“Mr. Oats is going to do that to you during the contest,” said Sweetie Belle. “You have to show pose under pressure.”
“Oh, alright,” said Twist, indignantly. “But it itn’t ath if anyone will catch me picking my nose! I don’t do that. Not in my kitchen.”
Everything went well. Twist even discovered that she enjoyed explaining her work to faux floor reporter Sweetie Belle. In fact the whole exercise was therapeutic for Twist. While worrying about the contest she was a miserable, nervous mess. Once she began cooking all that disappeared. Once in her kitchen, Twist was in the zone.
In fact, the only one not having fun was Quiz.
“Quiz, you look awful!” cried an alarmed Sweetie Belle. Quiz was drenched in sweat, and even through her grey coat you could see that she was flushed scarlet.
“I seem to be feeling the heat to a surprising degree,” said Quiz. “But I will be fine.”
“Girls, get those windows open!” ordered Bon Bon.
“We’re on,” called Scootaloo. But though they tried with all their might, neither she nor Applebloom could get the windows to budge.
“Those stupid painters!” grumbled Bon Bon. “I told them not to paint inside the sills! They went and glued the windows shut!”
“I’m tho thorry I didn’t notice, Quiz,” said Twist. “The heat never botherth me, anymore. You go and take a break, Quiz, and cool down.”
“Yes, Chef,” said Quiz, levitating another piece of fire wood. “I will take a break…in a moment.”
They were interrupted by a delivery of supplies, which led to a confrontation between Bon Bon and the delivery stallion.
“You can’t just leave this here!” demanded Bon Bon, indicating the overladen pallet. “You’re blocking my back door!”
“Look, Lady, we just drop the stuff off. Putting it away is your problem.”
“You Are Blocking My Back Door!” yelled Bon Bon. “This is not a safe situation!”
“Boss, we aren’t that far behind schedule,” said Derpy. “We could take a little time and help them…”
“Oh, yeah?” said the delivery stallion. “And who is the crew foreman, whose word goes?”
“Um, that would be you, Boss,” said Derpy.
“And who is the temp worker, who ought to keep the helpful suggestions to herself?”
“Um, that would be me, Boss?”
“Right! So, Lady, we are runnin’ late, so if you’ll excuse us…”
They were interrupted by a rhythmic clanging.
Quiz was trying to load another piece of fire wood, but she kept missing and hitting the side of the stove. “I..seem…to be having…difficulty,” gasped Quiz. “The stove…keeps…moving…”
“Quizzical Greystone, you are dizzy from the heat! Out of this kitchen this instant! Out! OUT!” Bon Bon shrieked, “Lyra, we have a casualty!”
“I hear you, Bon Bon,” said Lyra, coming to guide Quiz gently away. She sat Quiz near an open window in the front room, and went to get a damp cloth to put over Quiz’s brow.
“I do not understand,” muttered Quiz. “I was worked as a slave by the Diamond Dogs, and did not suffer so.”
“Down, in the warrens, where it’s cool,” said Lyra. “And you grew up in the mountains above Canterlot, where even the summers are cool. Quiz, you are heat sensitive, you just never knew it.”
The back door slammed shut. The delivery crew had taken advantage of the distraction to escape Bon Bon’s wrath.
“Oh, no you don’t!” yelled Bon Bon. “You come back here!”
“I’ll get them,” said Scootaloo. Unfortunately, the quickest way was right over the pallet of supplies, which Scootaloo tried the clear in one bound. She failed, and discovered just how poorly balanced the stack was. Fifty pound sacks of sugar, huge cases of chocolate and other supplies tumbled and wedged up hard against the doorway.
“I’ll help,” said Twist. She then promptly turned and slammed hard into the card table, which slid into a wall then collapsed. The heavily laden table caught on a light switch box, and sheared it off, tearing it loose from its wires. There was a spark, then a pop, and the circuit breakers tripped. The whole building was plunged into darkness.
“Darn it,” said Bon Bon. “We were going to have the electricians in next week.”
“I got this!” cried Sweetie Belle, who was delighted to be able to contribute. The sweet shop’s front room had three small tables with decorative candles. Sweetie Belle went to one of them and sang to the candle.
“Ah ah ah ah,” An ember formed on the end of the wick, sputtered, and went out.
“Dumb candle,” said Sweetie Belle. She tried the spell again, this time singing with more volume. A lot more volume.
Every candle in the room erupted. This included the spares, stored in a cardboard box on a shelf by a window. The curtains were swiftly blazing. Pools of tallow on the tables caught fire, and soon so did the table cloths. The fire divided the room in half. On one side, Lyra and Sweetie Belle escaped out the front door.
Caught on the other side, Quiz retreated back into the kitchen.
At the kitchen door Quiz erected a protective barrier. This is perhaps Quiz’s best spell, and it was more than a match for any fire. So long as she held it the flames and the heat could not reach the kitchen.
That did not mean it wasn’t getting hot.
Fumbling around in the dark, the ponies could not bank the roaring fires in the ovens. With the power out the exhaust fans were all off. The temperature in the kitchen rose dramatically.
“Quiz, are you OK?” called Twist.
“I will be fine,” said Quiz.
Scootaloo and Bon Bon tried to clear a way to the door, but in the cramped space there really wasn’t enough room to just shove things to the side, and there wasn’t enough time to haul it all further into the kitchen and out of the way. Bon Bon tried anyway, dragging fifty pound sacks with her teeth. Scootaloo began just tossing cartons aside, which didn’t really help.
The pale light of Quiz’s magic cast strange shadows around the room. This added to the confusion more than provided any light.
Twist had found an oven mitt, and was moving pans of molten sugar off the burners, but she couldn’t find them all in the dark, and the room filled with caramel scented smoke as the sugar burned.
If I can just get up on that shelf, I know I can buck out that window, thought Applebloom. The kitchen windows looked out on an unlit alley and no light came from outside. Applebloom could barely make them out in the dark. She made a leap for it anyway. She landed on the shelf, which promptly broke off the wall.
There was a pounding at the back door. “Hello? I think the lock’s broken,” It was Derpy. “The fire brigade is coming; will you be Ok a little longer?”
“Mom!” yelled Dinky. “We’re Ok as long as Quiz holds on! But we gotta get Quiz out of here!”
“I will hold on as long as necessary,” said Quiz. “I will be fine.”
The pounding became frantic. Derpy was trying to smash the door at the hinges. The wood wasn’t giving.
Outside, Sweetie Belle was standing against the side wall of the kitchen, trembling. This was so scary the first time I did it, she thought, I didn’t want to ever do this again. Well, here goes. Sweetie Belle began to sing with everything she was worth.
“I Want To Walk Through This Wall! I WANT TO WALK THROUGH THIS WALL…!!!”
The wall glowed bright blue.
“Follow the sound of my voice!” sang Sweetie Belle. “Come with me if you want to escape!”
Bon Bon didn’t have to be told twice. “Come on, Girls, we are leaving!” She began herding the fillies through the glowing wall. Bon Bon didn’t question how it was possible that they were being saved, she just realized that they had a way out and she wasn’t going to waste this chance. But once outside Bon Bon realized she had missed one, a filly whose dark coat faded into the shadows cast by her own spell.
Bon Bon turned back and screamed, “Quizzical Greystone, you come here this instant!”
There was a tremendous splash. Twilight Sparkle had arrived with other ponies who were organizing a bucket brigade. Twilight had been levitating 2 dozen pails of water, and she was so shocked to see the fillies pass through the kitchen wall that she dropped everything.
Sweetie Belle couldn’t hold the spell any longer and the wall became solid again. Bon Bon leapt aside almost in time. She squealed in pain as she lost the tip of her tail.
“Sweetie Belle, how did you…what did you…who taught you…?” stammered Twilight. Then a much more important question occurred to her. “Where’s Quiz?!”
“Still holding back the fire at the kitchen door,” said Sweetie Belle. She was sitting on the ground, trying to catch her breath, but Sweetie Belle stood and declared, “I’ll go get her.”
“No!” ordered Twilight. “You stay here. I’ll get Quiz.”
Twilight disappeared in a flash.
With a pop Twilight reappeared, standing next to her young assistant. “Quiz, we have to go. Now.”
“I can hold on,” said Quiz. “I will hold on as long as necessary.”
“Quiz, drop your protection spell, it’s interfering with my teleport.”
“I must hold the spell,” said Quiz. “I cannot let my friends down.”
She’d delirious, thought Twilight. “Quiz everypony is safe. Drop you spell so we can go.”
“I must hold the spell, for my friends,” said Quiz. “I will be fine.”
Twilight thought she was going to have slap sense into Quiz. Then she thought of a better idea.
“Quickly, Quiz, I need a copy of volume 6 of the Encyclopedia of Beasts.”
Quiz reacted reflexively. “Certainly, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz, who dropped the protection spell in order to summon the requested book.
Twilight grabbed Quiz, and they disappeared.
The cool night air struck Quiz like a blow, and she stood in the street blinking, trying to discern where she was and what had just been happening. Finally, she noticed Twilight standing beside her.
“Miss Twilight, you came for me,” said Quiz.
“Yes, Quiz,” said Twilight.
“Of course,” said Quiz. “I should have expected nothing else.”
Quiz’s legs slowly folded under her, and she slipped quietly to the ground, unconscious.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9 The Trial Of Quizzical Greystone
The Trial Of Quizzical Greystone
Quiz was bed ridden for 5 days. It went against the bedside manners of the staff of the Ponyville Hospital to discuss just how close a call a patient had experience. So nopony talked about it.
Quiz awoke late on the second day and declared that, while she was very tired, she wanted to go home. To prove that all her faculties were still intact, Quiz summoned 3 of her magic blackboards and did a different quadratic equation on each of them, simultaneously.
When she got one of the three problems incorrect Quiz agreed that perhaps she had better stay and rest a bit longer.
She then fell fast asleep for another day.
Bon Bon’s kitchen was almost undamaged, but the customer service area in the front of the shop was completely destroyed. The Cake’s offered her a little counter space at Sugar Cube Corner so Bon Bon was able to stay in business. The repairs would be financed by a modest settlement with the painters and shipping company who had trapped everypony in the kitchen. Also, the painter’s and shipper’s liability coverage, as well as Bon Bon’s insurance, were all held by companies wholly owned by the Greystone family. A quiet word from Quiz to her parents expedited the whole process.
While Quiz did not have many friends, she did have many well-wishers. Ponyville was filled with parents of foals who Quiz had tutored to their first straight A report cards. Quiz’s hospital room was soon filled with bouquets, all in the muted pastel shades Quiz preferred. In fact, the Ponyville florists were soon cleaned out of such flowers. Roseluck was heard to complain, “I don’t have any beige flowers, and I’m going to hurt the next pony who asks for that! I’ll eviscerate anypony who asks for grey!”
The exception was Snips and Snails, who went in halves for a garish red and purple display (which just happened to be marked down that day).
The Ponyville Fire Brigade awarded Quiz a horary fire fighter’s badge. After some debate, they gave one to Sweetie Belle as well (even though she’d actually started the fire). Twilight and Rarity made it very, very, very clear that the badges were honorary, and no filly was going to be responding to any fire bells.
Unfortunately, at the same time she had inspire many well-wishers, Quiz was also responsible for sending the local rumor mill into overdrive. Everypony had soon heard the “Sweetie Belle walks through walls” story. Twilight had made the mistake of mentioning in public that she worried that this was “just the tip of the iceberg.” The fillies were all keeping the rest secret; this freed the rumor mongers to make things up. A spell failure while walking through walls could get a pony cut in half, what could be worse than that? What wouldn’t the girls admit? The stories became darker with each retelling.
A clever pony, who did not wish Quiz and her friends well, could certainly use this rumor mill to her advantage.
“Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice how smartly dressed you are,” said Rarity to the mare browsing in her shop. “Is that the newest thing from Manehattan?”
“Why, yes, it is. Thank you for noticing,” said the mare. She was unusually tall, and very pretty. “You must be Rarity.”
“Is it true you have a little sister who has been influenced by that Quizzical Greystone filly?” asked the mare, gravely. “It must be very distressing for you.”
“Yes, well, it is troubling,” said Rarity. “’Influenced’ may be a bit strong a word, mind you. On the other hoof, perhaps it isn’t.”
“It’s hard to imagine how a unicorn, supposedly a properly trained and educated unicorn at that, could behave so irresponsibly,”
said the mare. “To have family involved with her must weigh heavily on your mind.”
“Oh, you do understand! It is a heavy burden!” cried Rarity, striking a dramatic pose to show how she suffered. “I can hardly think of anything else! So, are you interested in purchasing that jacket?”
“Here you go,” said Applejack, handing the pretty stranger the apple she’d just bought. “And here’s your change.”
“Thank you. Say, are you Applejack? Isn’t your little sister one of the girls that Quizzical Greystone filly got into trouble?”
“Well, that’s mostly true,” said Applejack. “Though, I can’t say as Quiz is all to blame, all by herself…”
“Oh, some young unicorns think they know everything,” the mare continued. “But you would think a good earth pony would have the sense not to get involved. Do you think your sister really knows how dangerous playing with magic is?”
“That is something I have been pondering on,” admitted Applejack.
“There, everything’s in order,” said Derpy, stamping the envelope she had just been handed. “I’ll get this straight off to Manehattan.”
“Thank you so much,” said the tall mare. “Say, don’t you have a daughter who’s been listening to that Quizzical Greystone filly?”
Chisel Greystone IIV sat as his daughter’s bedside; stroking her mane with one hoof, and in the other hoof he held his latest dispatch from the home office. He read to Quiz about a promising new marble deposit they had discovered, much as the father of another foal would read a bedtime story. Beryl Greystone took this occasion to suggest to Twilight Sparkle the idea of stepping outside for a bit of air.
“My little heroine,” said Beryl, taking a seat on a bench in the hospital’s front lawn. “Of course she doesn’t see it that way. ‘My actions can hardly be called heroic, as I was delirious.’” Her imitation of Quiz was spot on.
“How do you handle her, Mrs. Greystone?” asked Twilight, taking a seat beside her.
“First, please do call me Beryl, Twilight. But to answer your question, I suppose I do as little as possible. Quizzical has always wanted very badly to be no trouble at all. This isn’t as comforting as it sounds, for it is a symptom of how my daughter is not like other little ponies. But it has meant that I have rarely had to be firm with her.”
Twilight sighed. “I’ve been very firm with her lately. Quiz must hate that.”
“Funny you should say that,” said Beryl, smiling gently. “In her last letter Quizzical mentioned how ‘Miss Twilight has been very stern, and I know she dislikes this. I hate that I have troubled her so, and I must try harder to behave for her.’ I think you and my daughter might need to have a long talk.”
While Twilight pondered this Beryl continued. “Now, as you have no doubt noticed, my Quizzical has an aptitude for accident. So, those rare times when Quiz was a bother tended to be catastrophic. Tell me, how many near drownings do you think it would take to teach an intelligent filly a healthy respect for water? Four, apparently.”
“Four!?” gasped Twilight.
“And to this day I cannot promise you that Quiz will not spy a rock sample she finds interesting in the bed of a swiftly moving stream and be swept away yet again. Oh, and swimming lessons did not prove to be an answer. Perhaps I should call it five near drownings.”
Twilight made a mental note to watch Quiz in the Spring when the streams were running fast. “What do you do with her?”
“Even in such cases I was not overly firm,” confessed Beryl. “I feared to. I know I could keep my daughter safe if I ranted and lectured until I’d drilled the curiosity out of her; but wouldn’t that be a terrible thing to do? But these new misadventures are different. For the first time she’s involved other fillies. That is not acceptable. I have heard that young Sweetie Belle protests that walking through walls was her idea and not Quizzical’s, and that she was just goofing off. Well, if a magic experiment involves one filly who has studied theory at the Academy in Canterlot and another filly who has never cast a spell in her life which girl do you hold most responsible?”
“But she’s still so young!” protested Twilight. “It isn’t fair to hold Quiz responsible.”
“Again, I quote my daughter, ‘Some mares have been holding Miss Twilight responsible for my behavior. This is terribly unfair. If I cannot be held responsible for myself I should not have been allowed to leave Canterlot.’ Really, you and Quizzical need to have a long talk, Twilight. At any rate, Quiz’s error comes of a fundamental misunderstanding of her fellow fillies. They aren’t given to careful experimentation, as she is. A filly exposed to magic for the first time will see it as a toy, and will want to play. Quiz should have predicted Sweetie Belle’s ‘goofing off.’ Quiz must learn – because a filly cannot walk halfway through a wall, such a mistake does not leave you a second chance. And there must be some punishment to drive this lesson home.”
“What do you want to do?”
“Well, I find myself agreeing with my daughter. This is not your responsibility, Twilight. I will be punishing her. Since we only have one thing left to take from her, Quiz will not be allowed to go to Manehattan for the candy making contest. I will explain this to her, I believe Quiz will understand.”
“Is that really necessary?” asked Twilight; even though this was exactly the action she was planning to take herself.
“I think so. You may reverse my ruling if you think it’s best, just don’t do so lightly,” said Beryl. “But I do ask one thing of you, Twilight.”
“Certainly. Just name it.”
“We must return to Canterlot soon after Quiz is released this afternoon. Business demands it. I will leave Quiz with you at a time when many of your friends and neighbors are angry with her for influencing their young ones. Will you speak to them on my daughter’s behalf?”
“Of course, Beryl,” said Twilight. “I want to be fair about this. No pony is going to be cruel to Quiz.”
No sooner had Quiz been declared fit enough to leave the hospital than Rarity called for a meeting. That evening Twilight found the front room at her library filled with upset mares and embarrassed fillies.
“Is this really necessary?” wailed Twilight. “Quiz has already been disciplined…”
“Yes, but perhaps not enough for our satisfaction,” said Rarity. “And we have the other fillies’ involvement to discuss.”
“Can’t this wait? Quiz still needs to rest…”
“Oh, we won’t be interfering with her recuperation, I’m quite sure,” said Rarity. “And no, this cannot wait. I, for one, will not be able to rest easily until this matter is settled.”
“We’ll try to make this quick, Twi,” said Applejack. “But we got some questions need answerin’.”
“We insist, Twilight, Dear,” said Rarity, with a smile that looked like the prelude to somepony getting bitten.
Well, at least you left your torches and pitchforks at home, thought Twilight. “You don’t actually have a say in Quiz’s punishment, Rarity.”
“I. Do Not. AGREE!” shrieked Rarity. “She took things such as musical magic focusing and using gems as power amplifiers; things you and I do not understand; things the finest minds in Equestria do not fully understand; and she played with them in my parlor as if they were just a board game! With. My. SISTER!”
“Now, calm down, Dearie,” said Applejack. “Twi, what’s got us most riled up is what came after the walkin’ through walls. That’s a big mystery, and none of us like that. We’d feel a whole passel better if we had a little truth about that.”
“I strongly doubt that,” muttered Rarity.
“And just how are we going to get at the truth?” exclaimed Twilight. “That secret is protected by a Pinkie Promise.” As upset as they were, the adults would never force the fillies to break their word. Twilight continued to be amazed by how seriously Ponyvillians took a Pinkie Promise.
“That’s why I’m here,” said Pinkie Pie. “You can’t break a Promise, but you can tweak it a bit. I’m going to adjudicate just how much the girls can say.”
“Tweak the Promise?” asked Twilight, sensing a headache coming on.
“Oh, yeah,” said Pinkie, nodding enthusiastically. “For instance, the girls can’t admit if there was an experiment out on the barrens, but they can mention an ‘alleged’ experiment and maybe something that ‘hypothetically’ could have happened. But not too many details.” Pinkie waved a warning hoof in the air. “We take a Pinkie Promise seriously here in Ponyville.”
“I’ve noticed,” grumbled Twilight, holding her head in her hooves. “Celestia help me, please let this be the craziest thing I hear tonight.”
“We should start with you, Twi,” said Applejack. “We know you’ve been studyin’ on this.”
“I’ve investigated a bit, yes,” said Twilight. In fact she had been obsessively looking into the ‘alleged experiment’ but she’d made no real headway. “I don’t have enough findings to present my research…”
“Nonsense, Darling,” said Rarity. “Please, do share.”
“Fine,” said Twilight. She didn’t have any results, but she’d gathered a lot of data. Maybe, if I throw enough numbers at them they’ll get bored and leave. Twilight summoned a magic blackboard. She wasn’t as good with the spell as Quiz yet, but she achieved the affect she was looking for – a bewildering mass of equations. “As you can all obviously see, there are still too many unknowns to draw any conclusions.”
This was actually obvious to nopony, save one.
“Oh, my,” gasped Quiz, “I do wish you had shared this with me before, Miss Twilight. This is truly fascinating.”
Twilight had been admiring her young assistant’s restraint; Quiz had stood her ground when her every instinct must have been to slip away and hide. Unfortunately, now that she was given mathematics to distract her, Quiz completely forgot her predicament. “I can help with the unknowns in this thrust equation. Let the ‘hypothetical projectile’ be 28 pounds…distance is less certain…between 50 and 75 pony-lengths I would guess…”
“Quiz you are not helping…” Twilight stopped dead. “Fifty to 75 pony-lengths?!!”
“I can only estimate,” said Quiz, sheepishly. “Assume the hypothetical projectile’s flight was interrupted by a bush.”
“That’s too much information, Quizzical,” said Pinkie.
On several levels, thought Twilight.
“So, Quiz, how much do you weigh?” asked Applejack.
“Um…well…28 pounds, actually…”
“Hypothetical projectile, huh?” said Applejack. “Ah think I’ve heard enough.”
“Wait, wait, there’s more,” said Twilight, hoping to change the subject. The display shifted, and became a map. “I paced the area with a thaumometer. This shows that even a month later there was still residual arcane radiation…” Oh, darn! That was definitely not the best thing to show them.
“Is that a lot?” asked Derpy.
“Yes, it is.” “No, that is actually surprisingly low.” Twilight and Quiz answered simultaneously.
“Quizzical, you aren’t very good at this,” said Pinkie. “I don’t often say this to ponies, but I have to tell you – you should stop talking.”
Yes, please! thought Twilight. How can I defend you if you get me as upset as everpyoney else?
“Now see, this proves what I was trying to tell you all the way over here, Big Sis,” said Applebloom, stepping up to the map. “All this stuff about how Quiz is reckless and irresponsible is just silly! Quiz is the carefullest, most fussiest pony in the whole world; she thinks about the little details that the little details have! And there’s the proof.”
“What are you talkin’ about, Girl?” demanded Applejack.
“Right there!” cried Applebloom, stabbing at the map with a hoof. “Where Twilight’s drawn all those zeros. She didn’t find anything there with her thawmy-thingy. There’s just tons and tons of rock between that spot and…any alleged bad stuff. That’s where Quiz would have put us…if we actually ever did anything.”
“And where was Quiz?” asked Applejack.
“While y’all where down in your safe place, where was Quiz?” Applejack asked again. The fillies fell silent. Applejack noticed that the question made one of the girls much more uncomfortable than the others. “Sweetie Belle, where was Quiz?”
“Too close,” whispered Sweetie Belle. She began to tear up. “Way too close.”
“We should stop now,” said Derpy. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. We all know what we want to do, don’t we?”
“Yeah, there’s no call to be makin’ anymore fillies cry,” said Applejack. “Ah think this is settled.”
“Just one moment,” said Bon Bon. She had been standing off to the side, fuming, through the entire proceeding. “Before we pass judgment there is still one thing that’s been left unsaid, and I think it’s important that I say it now.” She then went to Quiz, and enveloped the little filly in a huge hug. “Thank you, Quiz. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for us.”
Quiz went stiff as a board. “Well…um…oh, dear me…you are…welcome…Miss Bon Bon.”
“Yes, I know, you hate to be touched. I’ll let you go, now,” said Bon Bon. She turned and gave Sweetie Belle a big hug as well. When she was finished Bon Bon addressed the room. “There. Now go on and punish them, since I can’t say anything to stop you.”
“Alright,” said Applejack. “You girls know this ain’t a court of law. We don’t need a confession, we don’t actually need any evidence. And sometimes, in foal rearing, it’s more important to keep you safe than to be fair. You girls are separated from Quiz for the time being. You are not to speak to her. We are also extending your grounding to include Twist’s contest. None of you are takin’ that trip to Manehattan.”
“I do not feel this is sufficient,” snapped Rarity.
“We, it isn’t as you can do any more,” Bon Bon snapped back.
“We can’t, but Princess Luna could.”
“What?!” Twilight stamped her hooves. “I will protest that as strongly as I am able.”
“I didn’t agree to that,” said Derpy. “That’s just mean.”
“Ah, won’t sign off on that either,” said Applejack.
“She did just about the most dangerous thing I have ever heard of any pony doing!” screamed Rarity. “For fun! How can you all tolerate that?”
“Maybe it’s because we look Quiz in the eyes when we talk about her, Rarity,” said Derpy. “Quiz isn’t evil. She isn’t even bad.”
“Well, yes,” muttered Rarity. Then she rallied, and was off again. “I can’t have it. I just. Can’t. Have it!”
“What are they talking about, Quiz?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“Rarity must be planning to contact Princess Luna, objecting to my behavior. This would likely get me recalled to Canterlot.”
Quiz couldn’t stand it any longer. As the mares continued to argue, Quiz quietly slipped away and snuck back to her bedroom. There she did something she could never do in front of witnesses. Quiz had a good cry.
Chapter 10: Take The Last Train To Manehattan
Take The Last Train To Manehattan
“Now, Quiz, I don’t want you to stay up in your room moping all the time I’m gone.”
“Yes, Miss Twilight.”
“I’ve ordered Spike to not take you any meals in your room, so you’ll have to come out and be sociable. I think Spike and Owloicious would appreciate the company, really.”
“Yes, Miss Twilight.”
“The larder is fully stocked, I’ve even gotten some of those cookies you like, you know, the really dry ones. And if I’ve forgotten anything I’ve left Spike several bits in petty cash.”
“Thank you, Miss Twilight.”
Twilight reached out and straightened Quiz’s hair bow, which wasn’t crooked. “I wish I could think of a way to cheer you up, Quiz…”
“Please, do stop fussing over me, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. “This is your moment, and you should be enjoying every second of anticipation. Would you like to rehearse your speech once more, until your carriage comes? I have enjoyed hearing it each of the 8 times you have read it thus far…”
“No, Quiz, I am as ready for my trip, and my presentation, as I am going to get with no time left. I don’t have the extra week or two I’d like to work on it, I just have the 5 minutes it will take for the taxi to get here. So I’d like to concentrate on one last item…well…look.” Twilight turned her clipboard so Quiz could read her check list. Almost all the items, from “Remember your keys” to “Check the weather reports for Ponyville and Canterlot” had at least 3 checks next to them. Quiz could no longer count the checks next to “Edit your speech” and “Re-edit your speech.” Only one item was left undone. Item number one – “Make sure Quiz will be OK.”
Quiz sighed. “I take it you will not simply take my word for it, if I say that I will be fine?”
“No, Quiz,” said Twilight. “You have been so depressed lately, I couldn’t just leave you.”
“It is true, I have been quite sad,” admitted Quiz. “I would say that, given my current circumstances, sadness is the only sane reaction.”
“I’m so sorry, Quiz…”
“I have found that this has been a tremendous advantage to my research,” noted Quiz. “In terms of friendship, having your friends denied to you provides a perspective that is just extraordinary. I believe I shall be sending the Princess some of my most important dispatches soon.”
“Well, I’m pleased you found a silver lining, I guess…”
“Given what it took to achieve my results, I hope that neither you nor any other future researcher ever has to replicate my findings.”
“Oh, Quiz,” Twilight put a leg over Quiz’s shoulders and drew her in for a hug. Quiz did nothing to fight this.
“This won’t last forever, Quiz,” said Twilight. “You are already allowed to see Twist, and Derpy and Applejack should let you see Dinky and Applebloom soon. And you’ll get to go to Twist’s welcome home party tomorrow night. Not even Rarity would dare tell Bon Bon that you shouldn’t be there.”
“Do you think Miss Rarity sent the Princess the letter of protest against me?”
“No, I think she gave up on that when nopony would sign it with her,” said Twilight. “And even if she did send it, they are not taking you from Ponyville until they pry you from my grasp.”
“Thank you, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz. She leaned on Twilight, letting the older pony comfort her a bit. “But, Miss Twilight, you were so happy and excited when you received your letter. And I was happy and excited for you – to speak before your piers is a well-deserved and long overdue honor for you. I should not intrude on your thoughts now. You should enjoy every moment of this.”
Twilight thought she detected something in Quiz’s tone, which was amazing since this was Quiz. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“It will not make you happy if I say, Miss Twilight.”
“Tell me anyway, Quiz.”
The filly sighed. “It is just that this conference seems so hastily put together. And they have answered none of your personal inquiries, they have only sent you form letters. They have not even sent you a conference schedule.”
“Yes, and I really wanted to pick out the presentations I wanted to hear,” said Twilight. “Oh, well, all the speakers I’m interested in will be scheduled opposite each other, they always are… Oh. You think this is a hoax, don’t you?”
“Yes, Miss Twilight,” said Quiz, sadly. “It is all very suspicious…I do not wish you to be disappointed.”
“I have already said everything I can possibly say about your conspiracy theory, Quiz,” said Twilight. “Tomorrow, when the candy contest is over and nothing nefarious happened you are going to feel very silly. This is not a plot to keep me from going to Manehattan; I really am going to make a presentation at the Magic Academy, and I am going to have a wonderful time. So, stop worrying about me!”
There was a pounding at the front door, and Spike called, “Twilight, your ride is here.”
“I have to go now, Quiz. Is there anything I can say that will make you feel better?”
“If you could, I would appreciate one favor, Miss Twilight,” answered Quiz. “Promise me you will not use the magic blackboard spell during your presentation.”
“But, Quiz, I want to show off your spell…!”
“Your bright purple lettering is difficult to read, and you always set the brightness much too high,” said Quiz. “Do not use the spell, Miss Twilight.”
Quiz had climbed halfway down from her bedroom window when she lost her grip on the knotted bed sheet rope she had made. Now she was stuck in a shrubbery.
“Bother!” grumbled Quiz, as she struggled to free herself.
“Here, let me help you,” a pair of scaly purple hands reached in and gave Quiz a good tug. She was soon able to tumble out onto the lawn.
“Thank you, Spike. I was quite trapped without you,”
“It’s just Quiz, Owly,” said Spike.
“Right, who else would be falling into our bushes? She’s lucky she landed in the privet. She almost hit the holly; now that would have hurt,” said Spike. “You know, Quiz, the front door’s unlocked, and we weren’t actually watching it very carefully.”
“I thought you would appreciate it if I took great effort to escape from you, Spike,” said Quiz.
“Yeah, that was kinda thoughtful of you, Quiz. Thanks,” said Spike. “But we caught you fair and square, so back inside now.”
“Quiz. We caught her…oh, I get it. We didn’t catch her, the privet did. Good one, Owly.”
“Yes, well,” began Quiz. “Which would you prefer, Spike. Do you want to report me to Miss Twilight, or should I confess to her myself?”
“I would prefer to forget the whole thing and just go back inside,” said Spike.
“I am afraid I cannot do that, Spike,” said Quiz. “Though I do wish to minimize my disobedience. When I defy her orders I fear Miss Twilight will think I do not respect her authority, and her feelings will be hurt. I hate to do that the her.”
“Twilight,” answered Spike, “Yeah, she’s talking about Twilight, Owly. It doesn’t sound like her to me, either.”
“I do not understand.”
“The other night, Twilight was marveling about how you still respect her, Quiz,” said Spike. “What with how she let you down when the other ponies wanted to lynch you.”
“What?” said Quiz. “That is ridiculous. Miss Twilight defended me despite the ire I had drawn from her friends. Her conduct towards me is beyond reproach.”
“She’s still talking about Twilight, Owly,” said Spike. “He’s confused, because he slept through that meeting, and he’s only heard Twilight’s story. The way Twi tells it, she threw you to the wolves, then stood back and watched them tear into you.”
“That is not what happened,” whispered Quiz, sounding very sad.
“Yeah, well, maybe you and Twilight should have a long talk, Kiddo,” said Spike. “So, you ready to go inside?”
“I have a promise to keep,” said Quiz, shaking her head. “When I have done my duty I shall return. You may then lock me in my room if you wish.” Quiz turned to leave.
“I can’t just let you go,” said Spike. “What would I say to Twilight?”
“You may tell Miss Twilight that you were trapped in a shrubbery.”
“What? Hey…stop…come on…that tickles!” Spike was at the upper limit of Quiz’s levitation spell, but with effort she managed to stuff him through the hole she had made in the privet bush. It helped that Spike did not struggle very much.
After Quiz had left, Spike crawled out of the shrub, and said, “Good luck, Quiz.”
“Quiz! Seriously, Owly, sometimes I think you just keep saying that to irritate me.”
“Yeah, like that!”
All the way to Sweet Apple Acres Quiz tried to work out exactly what she was going to say to Applejack. She knew she had to come quickly to the point, and her argument had better be immediately compelling. Applejack was not the sort of pony who would listen to her rhetoric for long.
Unfortunately, Quiz arrived at the farm with still no idea of what to say.
“Well, looky here,” called Applejack, noticing Quiz approach. “If it isn’t Miss Hypothetical Projectile herself! Quiz, Darlin’, you ain’t allowed to be here.”
“I shall trespass as briefly as possible,” said Quiz. “But I must make one last appeal for Applebloom. Will you please reconsider allowing her to go to the candy making contest?”
“Nope,” said Big Macintosh, just joining them.
“This is doubly unfair to Twist,” Quiz pointed out. “Not only does she have no pony to root for her, but she will also be short one assistant.”
“Twist was part of your little gang out on the barrens,” countered Applejack. “She had to know that was gonna lead to trouble.”
“Perhaps, but Twist is the only pony being punished on the most important night of her life. That is not fair.”
“There’s a lot that ain’t fair about this whole mess,” said Applejack. “Fer instance, it probably ain’t fair to punish your friends to get your attention, Quiz. But you have a whole lot of concern for them, and not a whole lot of concern for yourself. If it’s the only way to teach you a lesson then, fair or not, I may be doing you a favor by saying no to Applebloom.”
“Fiddlesticks!” cried Granny Smith, trundling up to them, showing a surprisingly good turn of speed. She began to shake her walker at her grandchildren. “You youngins haven’t thought this through, and you haven’t applied any of the good horse sense I thought you got from me!”
“Now, Granny…” began Applejack. She didn’t expect to get to finish the sentence, and she was right.
“First off, you all done flown off the handle, treatin’ this like it was almost the end of the world,” Granny was off and ranting now. “This was just fillies getting into trouble. All fillies get into trouble, it’s what they do. I could tell you stories about the nonsense you two got up to…”
“Granny!” said Big Mac. If he thought his warning tone was going to get him anywhere he was sadly mistaken.
“Do you remember that hot summer, when you thought you’d make a swimming hole closer to the house?” mused Granny. “That creak you dammed up flooded our root cellar!”
“Granny!” This time Applejack and Big Mac spoke in unison. Again, it did no good.
“Good thing, too,” Granny continued. “If you had succeeded in making a pond you two would have been diving off the roof into shallow water…”
“Granny, you have strayed a might off topic, don’t you think?!” cried Applejack.
“Topic?” asked Granny, startled out of her reverie. “Oh, right, fillies getting into trouble…see, this is just the same thing. You all should just calm down about it.”
“I don’t know, Granny,” said Applejack. “If you ask Twilight what the worst thing that could have happened was, she just shudders and changes the topic.”
“I think I heard her whisper something about ‘rending the fabric of reality.’” Said Big Mac.
“And I reiterate, fiddlesticks!” stated Granny. “Twilight’s a tad skittish; and you’d think that mare would know what the end of the world looks like, what with her helping to save it twice and all. No, this was just typical fillies being naughty. Little Quiz there just thought up a brainier way to go about it.”
“Don’t you worry that Quiz’s big brain might make things a little more dangerous than usual?” asked Applejack.
“See, now there’s another thing that’s got me all cross!” Granny went back to waving her walker with added vehemence. “I don’t hold with all this ‘Quiz is the root of all evil’ talk! I got a whole different view of that!”
“What do you mean, Granny?” asked Big Mac.
“Applebloom, you and your friends heard about Sweetie Belle doin’ magic, and you got jealous, right?” asked Granny. “And y’all wanted in on the fun?”
Applebloom had been standing off to the side, maintaining a respectful silence and hoping the adults would sort things out without her. She wasn’t at all surprised to be drawn into this. “That’s about right, Granny.”
“So you asked Quiz if you could do something, too? Something ‘cool?’”
“Yes, Granny,” said Applebloom, warily. She didn’t know where this was going. You rarely did with Granny Smith.
“While ‘cool’ was used, I believe ‘awesome’ was my friends’ descriptive word of choice,” said Quiz.
“Cool, Awesome, you girls and your words of the day! Anyhow, Quiz, had anypony ever asked you to do something ‘awesome’ for them?”
“What? Oh, dear, me, no. Not at all,” answered Quiz. “My classmates back in Canterlot would have laughed at the very idea.”
“So, Quiz’s friends found out she could make fireworks, and they turned her head with praise and pretty words and talked her into giving them fireworks, too. And Quiz got into a whole passel of trouble for those fireworks,” said Granny Smith. “That sounds to me like a pretty mean trick to play on a poor little pony who no pony ever called awesome before.”
“What?!” cried Applebloom. “We never did that! At least…we didn’t mean to. Oh, Quiz, it wasn’t like that, was it?”
“No, Applebloom, it was not like that,” said Quiz, firmly. “I mean no disrespect, Mrs. Smith, but I must correct you. I am an unusual pony, that is true, but that is not how my friends see me. When I behave oddly my friends merely accept it, and say ‘Quiz is just being Quiz.’ It is an extraordinary thing, but that is my friends’ view of me. They could not manipulate me in the way describe. It would simply not occur to them.”
“I had a feeling you would say that,” said Granny, grinning. “Special relationship y’all got there. Does anypony else get the idea that we may be making a mistake separating these girls?”
“Eeyup,” said Big Mac. “We’ve kept them apart long enough.”
Applejack was thoughtful for a long time. Finally, she said, “Little Sis, you had better get a move on, if you’re going to catch that train to Manehattan.”
“Thank you, Applejack, thank you, thankyouthankyouthankyou…” Applebloom hit her sister with a full on flying hug that sent Applejack’s hat flying.
“Just don’t let me find out you haven’t learned your lesson after all,” said Applejack. “No launching Quiz into any bushes without adult supervision.”
“Well, that was quite extraordinary,” said Quiz, as she and Applejack walked back to town.
“Yes, it was,” said Applebloom. “Quiz, if you want to make a note or two it’s OK, I don’t mind.”
“Thank you so much, Applebloom,” said Quiz. She immediately summoned her notebook and quill and began scribbling madly.
As they walked Scootaloo fell in alongside them. “Hi, guys,” she said.
“Scoot, aren’t you grounded, too?” asked Applebloom.
“Yeah, but I’m not very well supervised,” said Scootaloo. This was true, and, as usual, the girls decided just not to talk about it.
On the edge of town they found Derpy and Dinky waiting for them by the roadside.
“Hi, girls,” said Derpy. “I have to get to work, so I was hoping I could trust you to see Dinky safely to the train, and to Manehattan and back.”
“Certainly, Miss Derpy,” said Quiz, and there was a chorus of accent from the other two. “But, I must ask, why have you changed your mind.”
“Well, suspicious things have been happening,” said Derpy. “If even a little of what you have been saying, Quiz, is true, then it’s really important to get Dinky and you girls to that candy making contest. Cheer real loud for Twist, for me, will you please?”
“Of course, Miss Derpy.”
“But, one more thing, Quiz,” said Derpy. “ A lot of things have been said to you, and a lot of them were hurtful and unfair, but some of them weren’t. Dinky is a unicorn, too; and soon, when she gets older and grows into her horn, she’s going to be all magical like you. I need you to promise me that you will never teach her to walk through walls or break the rules of causality or any stuff like that, ‘kay?”
“I promise, Miss Derpy,” said Quiz, solemnly. “Dinky will grow to be an extraordinary unicorn without any interference from me.”
“I think I trust you, Quiz,” said Derpy. “OK, Muffin you have fun, but you be good.”
“I will, Mom,” said Dinky. Then she turned to the others. “Isn’t this just soooo cool! We’re going to Manehattan!”
“Yes,” said Quiz. “And thus far it has all gone much more easily than I had expected. But I have reached the hard part.”
“What’s the hard part?” asked Scootaloo.
“I must now have a word with Rarity,” said Quiz.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11 The Hard Part
Chapter 11 - The Hard Part
“Quiz, are you going to knock on the door?” asked Applebloom.
“That is my plan, yes,” said Quiz. “In time.”
Quiz did not move.
“It’s just that you can’t talk to Rarity until you knock on the door.”
“Yes,” agreed Quiz. “And knowledge of this is precisely what is preventing me from knocking on the door.”
Quiz did not move.
“Come on, Quiz, it’s just Rarity,” said Dinky. “There’s no reason to be so scared.”
“I agree, it is unreasonable,” said Quiz. “I am willing to accept that I am unreasonable, as I continue to be terrified.”
Quiz still didn’t move.
“Forget this,” grumbled Scootaloo. “We’re going to miss the train!” She darted forward and pounded furiously on the door.
“Scootaloo, she wasn’t ready!” cried Dinky.
Scootaloo pounded again. Then, at the sound of approaching hoof steps she ran and hid behind Quiz. “Don’t worry, Quiz, we’ll be right here.”
“Oh, good, I may need you back there,” said Quiz. “Though I do not believe you will need to prevent me from fleeing. I seem to be unable to move.”
“Really, the door is open, there is no call to…oh,” Rarity had stuck her head out the door. She continued, the sharp tone gone from her voice. “Girls, Quizzical, you may not see Sweetie Belle.”
“Y-y-yes, Miss Rarity,” stammered Quiz. “It is actually y-y-you we wish to speak to.”
It had been a trying week for Rarity. She was taking care of Sweetie Belle as their parents were once again on vacation, and Sweetie Belle had been miserable the entire time. Seeing her little sister so very sad had dampened Rarity’s righteous indignation. She had very little anger left to summon upon seeing Quiz.
“What is it you wish to say, Quizzical?”
“I…had hoped…perhaps…you might…r-r-reconsider allowing Sweetie Belle to go to Manehattan.”
“And just why would I want to do that?”
“I…I…I…” Quiz gave up and hung her head. “I have no idea, Miss Rarity.”
It was easy to demonize Quiz when she wasn’t there, much harder when Quiz was standing right in front of you, trembling. Derpy had told Rarity to look Quiz in the eyes.
Rarity tried it, and when she looked at Quiz she just could not see a demon. All she could see was Quiz.
The poor dear’s absolutely petrified! thought Rarity, Have I really been that beastly to her? Yet here she stands, despite how very frightened she is, trying to help a friend.
Rarity looked at Quiz and couldn’t even remember how angry she had been. Rarity remembered something else, instead.
Rarity remembered that she had actually quite liked Quiz.
Quizzical really is a good girl, Rarity thought, and she has been a good friend to Sweetie Bell, at least when she wasn’t tempting the elemental forces of the universe…still, that would have to be addressed.
“I am sorry, Girls,” said Rarity, “But I fear you won’t have learned your lesson if I simply change my mind.”
Quiz needs back up, thought Dinky, time to bring the cute! Dinky stepped forward, cocked her head and fluttered her eye lashes. “Please, Rarity!”
Applebloom and Scootaloo knew this trick, and they were quite good at it. They fell in line next to Dinky and repeated her performance. “Please, Rarity!”
Then Quiz glimpsed out of the corner of her eye what the other fillies were doing. She decided to give it a try herself.
“Yes…well…um…please, Miss Rarity.”
What happened next might partially be explained by the sudden release of the tremendous tension of the moment.
But really, it was because of Quiz’s attempt at an eyelash flutter.
Rarity fought bravely. But eventually a little snort of laughter escaped; and once that was out she was lost. Soon Rarity was on the ground at her door step, laughing uncontrollably.
It was some time before Rarity could gasp enough air between guffaws to speak. “Sweetie Belle…he, he, he, he…your friends are here…he, he, he, he…do hurry…he, he, he…or you will miss your train…he, he, he, he, he…oh, and Quizzical? He, he, he…please…he, he…never…he, he, he…ever…he, he, he…do that again…he, He, He, HE!!!”
All the girls might have soon been lost to the infectious laughter (except Quiz, who was just puzzled) had not Sweetie Belle come galloping up to them. She stopped, and regarded Quiz gravely.
“Quiz, you do know that you are about to get glomped but good, right?”
Quiz nodded. “I accept that you cannot resist, Sweetie Belle. Thank you for allowing me a moment to brace myself.”
The others had been waiting until Sweetie Belle join them for this.
“Cutie Mark Crusaders Group Hug!!!”
Under the fillies delighted squeals you could just hear Quiz’s muted muttering, “Oh, dear…oh, dear me….”
“…dear, oh, dear, me,” muttered Quiz. “Everything had gone so very well. It never occurred to me that the hard part of getting you all to your train would be the actual getting to the train.”
“The train left early! The trains never leave early!” This was the tenth time in the last hour that Dinky had made this observation.
“Apparently, someone in a big hurry to get back to Manehattan gave the conductor a bunch of bits to jump ahead of schedule,” said Scootaloo. “But look on the bright side. We only missed it by 15 minutes.”
“How is that a bright side?” demanded Applebloom.
“I don’t know,” cried Scootaloo. “I can’t do all the thinking!”
“You could do some!”
“Stop it, you two! We’ve been apart forever, and you are already bickering again,” Sweetie Belle turned to Quiz. “You tried, Quiz, you really, really tried.”
“But I have failed,” said Quiz, miserably.
The fillies sat in silence, staring at the empty train platform.
“I still can’t believe the train left early,” whined Dinky.
“Wait a minute!” cried Scootaloo, suddenly. “One of us knows somepony who could get us to Manehattan in time.”
The others were all looking at her before Quiz understood. “Oh, I do not think that would be appropriate.”
“She owes you a favor, Quiz,” Scootaloo pointed out.
“She thinks she owes me a favor,” corrected Quiz. “She does not. She feels guilty that it took 3 days to free me from the Diamond Dogs. She can hardly be blamed for that, and I will not take advantage of her feelings.”
“But it wouldn’t hurt to ask her nicely,” said Sweetie Belle.
Quiz considered this. “We shall need Spike to take a letter.”
“Spike, you have to send a letter to Princess Luna for us!” cried Dinky.
Spike shrieked, and ducked low in the tub, trying to hide under a layer of bath bubbles. “Come on, Girls, give a guy some privacy!”
“You have to help us, Spike!” demanded Scootaloo, handing him a towel. “It’s an emergency!”
“Fine!” grumbled Spike. He hopped out of the tub and went to fetch a quill and parchment. He began to write, “Dear Princess Luna, It’s an emergency…”
“Please, do not tell the Princess that it is an emergency,” said Quiz.
“But it is an emergency,” said Scootaloo.
“Yes, but we cannot tell the Princess that,” said Quiz.
“If it’s an emergency we can say it’s an emergency,” insisted Applebloom.
“Will one of you please tell me what to write?” yelled Spike. “So I can get back to my bath.”
“We need a ride to Manehattan, because we missed our train,” said Sweetie Belle.
“The train left early, even though they never leave early,” said Dinky.
“And it’s an emergency,” said Scootaloo.
“We must not tell the Princess it is an emergency,”
“But you just agreed that it’s an emergency, Quiz,” said Applebloom
“Yes, and it is,” said Quiz, “But it is not the sort of emergency that you bring to the Princesses’ attention…”
“Quiz, is this, or is this not, an emergency?” demanded Spike.
“Well, it is…though really, it is not…but in a way it is…”
“Just send the letter, Spike,” said Scootaloo.
“Arrgh!” cried Spike. The parchment disappeared in a gout of green flame
“Do you think it will take her long to get back to us?” asked Sweetie Belle.
She was answered almost immediately by a tremendous ‘BOOM’ from the airspace just outside the library.
“Spike?” asked Quiz. “Did you tell the Princess we had an emergency?”
“Maybe, I don’t know,” said Spike, his head in his hands. “You had me so confused!”
Chapter 12: Emergency?
“Do your parents and guardians know how you behave?!” shouted Princess Luna. “Because we shall be telling on you! We are telling!”
“Yes, Princess Luna. We’re very sorry, Princess Luna.” The girls were line up, heads low, with the Princess pacing in front of them.
“We mean to have a word with your teacher!” The fillies all cringed. Even when she was using her normal ‘trying not to deafen the citizenry’ voice, when she was angry Princess Luna was loud. “We will suggest to Miss Cheerilee that you all be assigned a composition on the proper use of the word ‘emergency.’! You seem to suffer from some confusion in this!”
“Yes, Princess Luna. We’re very sorry, Princess Luna.”
“It is lucky the moon had already set when we received your notice! Had we been interrupted while we were still working we would be very cross!”
“She’s not very cross?” whispered Scootaloo. “What’s she like when she’s very cross?”
“We heard that, Scootaloo!” shouted the Princess. “Hope that you never learn the answer!”
“Yes, Princess. I’m sorry, Princess.”
Off to the side, the royal guards who towed the Princess’ chariot remained stoic and grim faced. It was only years of training that kept them from laughing.
“Um…Princess Luna?” began Dinky, her lower lip quivering. “Does this mean you won’t give us a ride to the candy challenge?”
Luna stopped her pacing and turned to stare at Dinky. “Ah, yes, the ride you desire. The ‘emergency’ you spoke of. Do you feel you deserve a ride in the royal chariot?”
Merry Fairweather sat in in her train car, trying to concentrate on tonight’s show notes. Her time in Ponyville had been successful beyond her wildest dreams; what she had managed to achieve was truly amazing.
Merry was completely miserable.
She could now add “character assassin” to her resume. She couldn’t remember when that had happened.
Merry had set out to limit the size of the fans in Twist’s gallery at the Grand Chef’s Candy Challenge. She had cut it all the way to zero. Not a single pony would be there to cheer young Twist on. It was a job well done. Mission accomplished.
“Twist is just a kid, and kids are resilient,” Merry muttered aloud. “She’ll get over it.” Merry hoped so. Otherwise, she had just destroyed a promising career before it had really begun.
She’d found herself in the station, waiting for the same train as Bon Bon and Twist, and it had been unbearable. They didn’t know who Merry was or what she had done. But Merry knew. Nopony had come to see them off, because of Merry. Twist looked so sad. Merry couldn’t stand it, and had to bribe the conductor 100 bits to leave the station early.
Getting underway, and putting several train cars between herself and poor little Twist, had helped. Merry was still grateful that they were almost to Manehattan.
Not everything Merry had done would hurt anypony. The Cakes really did have a big contract, arranged by Food Equestria. And Pinkie Pie was really judging a Food Equestria event. In fact, Merry made a note to try and get Pinkie under contract – she was entertaining and would be good for ratings.
Other ponies Merry had to ‘inconvenience.” She hoped Cheerilee enjoyed her day in Baltimare. The education conference the teacher was expecting was just vapor and lies on a forged letterhead. The magic conference in Canterlot was a similar fabrication. Merry told herself that she was probably doing Twilight Sparkle a favor. When the unicorn got to the magic academy and began asking about speaking at a conference somepony was bound to wonder why they hadn’t thought of that. Twilight would get invited to the next real conference. Probably.
One thing Merry couldn’t rationalize away was the whispering campaign she’d launched to ruin Twist’s friend Quiz. That was just ugly, and Merry couldn’t spin it any way that made it pretty. But it had to be done. From eves dropping Merry found that Quiz was on to her; she had no idea how Quiz had done it, but the kid had figured it out. Quiz was clearly too smart for her own good; or, at least too smart for Merry’s good. She had to be neutralized.
“She’s a kid, and kids are resilient,” Merry said aloud, again. “She’ll get over it.”
Merry turned back to her show notes and tried concentrate. But she couldn’t take her mind off her guilty feelings by burying herself in her work. Her work was where her demons lived.
“Oh, yes, the candy challenge. Hmmm.” Princess Luna mused aloud. She was still pacing, but no longer in anger. She ignored the girls as she pondered.
Finally, having reached a conclusion, Princess Luna turned and began walking away from the girls, back to her chariot. “It sounds entertaining. Very entertaining. We believe We might enjoy attending this event.”
Wide eyed, the fillies watched Princess Luna walk away. When the Princess reached her chariot, she turned back, and said. “As We are going that way, We see no reason why you all cannot ride along.”
That did not need to be repeated. The fillies squealed and shouted excitedly as they ran to board the royal chariot. One filly did not join them.
“Quizzical? Are you not coming?” asked Princess Luna.
“Quiz?” called Sweetie Belle. “Please?”
“Let her be, Sweetie Belle. It’s her way,” said Apple Bloom, softly. She turned to the Princess to explain. “Quiz doesn’t have permission, Princess. She won’t come with us without it.”
“I am still grounded. I have neither my mother nor Miss Twilight here to release me,” said Quiz. “But I have been able to send Twist’s best friends to be with her. I am satisfied.”
“We see,” said the Princess. She dismounted and strode towards Quiz. “Girls, there is some time before we must leave, please wait a bit. We desire a private word with Our student. Quizzical, please walk with us.”
“Scooter, go stop them!” Merry shouted through his headphones.
“On it, Boss,” replied Scooter, as he flew into action. He was Merry Fairweather’s First Production Assistant, and her right hoof and wing. Normally, his job would have been to greet today’s contestant and aid in settling them into the Challenger’s Kitchen, but today his instructions were to be as unhelpful as possible. Scooter didn’t like that, but his was not to reason why.
“Hold it right there,” he said as he landed next to Bon Bon. She and Twist were unpacking the supplies and pots and pans they had brought from Ponyville. “You didn’t file the proper forms for bringing anything from outside. You may only use the equipment we provide in the kitchen, and the supplies we have in our pantry."
Nothing discombobulates a chef more than forbidding them the use their own tools. And the Challenger’s pantry supplied only the most basic of ingredients. Scooter had personally removed all the more interesting flavorings that very morning, on Merry’s orders.
Twist had, of course, never been sent any of the necessary paperwork.
“By the way, we don’t have an application for anypony to assist Twist. I’m going to have to ask you to find a seat in the stands…er…what’s this?” Bon Bon was practically poking Scooter in the muzzle with a sheaf of papers.
“Our copies of the appropriate forms,” said Bon Bon. “You’ll find they’re all in order.”
Where the Hay did you get those? Scooter almost exclaimed this out loud, but stopped himself just in time. “Well, those may be your copies, but we have nothing on file…er…what’s this?” Bon Bon was waving another hoofful of papers under his nose.
“Receipts from the Royal Equestrian Mail Service, for when all the forms were sent from Ponyville,” said Bon Bon. “Signed and dated, well ahead of the filing deadline, by our Mail Mare. These are also all in order.”
“Fine, you may have sent the forms. But we have no record of receiving…oww! What’s this?” This time Bon Bon had actually poked Scooter on the nose.
“An itemized receipt for each item of paperwork, signed on delivery here at the Food Equestria offices,” said Bon Bon. “Certainly the signature of the employee who took delivery is in order, isn’t it?”
Scooter recognized his own signature. He vaguely remembered signing for something, then ‘filing” it in the nearest waste can and forgetting about it. “Um…yeah…everything’s in order. Carry on.”
Scooter cautiously backed away from Bon Bon, then turned and spoke into his headset. “Merry, we have an emergency.”
Bon Bon had enjoyed that immensely. The best part was when Twist broke down and laughed. It was the first thing that had made Twist even smile in days.
Quiz hadn’t been able to find anything in the library, but Spike had located everything they needed in under 10 minutes.
“I figured, the Grand Chef’s Challenge is like a big cultural icon in Equestria,” Spike had said, “So I looked in the Popular Culture section. It’s one of three, maybe four shelves in the library Quiz has never looked at. And there it was; between the biographies of romance novelists and a history of tabloid journalism. The Grand Chef’s Challenge Rule Book, complete with copies of all the paperwork. Like I keep telling Quiz, it pays to show an interest in stuff most ponies care about.”
The rest was no mystery. Bon Bon knew just what had gone right. To be on the safe side, Derpy had flown all the way to Manehattan and hand delivered everything to Food Equestria.
It felt good to have something go their way for a change. Bon Bon hoped she could get a little momentum going, and keep things going their way.
“Well, you have certainly had an eventful summer, haven’t you, Quizzical?”
“Yes, Princess Luna. But that was not intentional. Excitement is not something I tend to seek.”
Luna chuckled. “I haven’t found the time to give you the personal attention I would like, Quizzical. Please don’t take that to mean I am not interested in you. Twilight Sparkle sends me regular reports on your progress, and I read them, hanging on every word. Is it true you have acquired a new nickname? You are now the ‘Hypothetical Projectile’?”
“Sadly, yes, Princess,” said Quiz, miserably.
“Should I call you that now? Or, perhaps ‘H.P.’ for short?”
“You may, if you truly wish to, my Princess.”
“But you would prefer that I didn’t?”
“Yes, oh, yes, Princess. For that I would be very grateful.”
Princess Luna laughed. She extended a wing, and awkwardly rested it across Quiz’s shoulders. Luna was almost as uncomfortable reaching out to other ponies as Quiz was being touched, but they made the gesture work. “Quizzical, you are my first and so far only student, and you are very important to me.”
Quiz didn’t know how to respond, and settled for, “Thank you, Princess.”
“That said, know that I would never over rule Twilight Sparkle’s authority so long as you are her assistant. Should she complain about you I will not hesitate to find you other work, elsewhere.”
“That is as it should be, Princess.”
“Then you should know that she doesn’t ever complain about you, Quizzical. The closest she comes to complaining is worrying. She does quite a bit of that, actually.”
“That is my fault, Princess,” said Quiz, sadly. “I have convinced Miss Twilight that, unless I am closely supervised, I am likely to vaporize myself and all of my friends.”
“Well, yes, quite a lot was said about that silly little experiment of yours,” admitted Luna. She shook her head. “That was blown quite out of proportion. All little ponies your age get into such mischief. There are stories I could tell you about Celestia and myself…no, I really had better not tell you that. Suffice it to say, we grew out of our foalhood without destroying Equestria. You also should turn out alright. Not that I wouldn’t ask you to please be more careful. Many ponies would be sad if you vaporized yourself, Quizzical.”
“Um…thank you, Princess.”
“You’re welcome. Anyway, that isn’t what Twilight worries about most. Quizzical, Twilight’s greatest concern is that she will make a mistake guiding you.”
“I do not understand, Princess.”
“Of course you don’t. But Twilight believes, as I do, that you are a filly of tremendous potential. She’s terrified that she will do something wrong; by being too strict, or being too lenient, or not being encouraging enough, or encouraging you in the wrong things, or something else unforeseeable. Whatever she does, Twilight fears it will be something that ruins your brightest future.”
“That is very confusing,” said Quiz. “And that cannot possibly be correct. If I achieve anything at all in my future, surely it will be because of Miss Twilight and my other friends.”
Princess Luna stopped and rolled her eyes. “Well, maybe you and Twilight should have a long talk.”
They had been walking slowly around the block and had just turned the last corner to return to the library. There was a bright green flash from an upstairs window, and a moment later Spike burst through the front door. With one hand he was holding a towel around his waist, with the other he was waving a roll of parchment.
“Quiz? Oh, good, you guys haven’t left yet! It’s from Twilight!”
“Please read it, Spike,” said Luna.
Spike cleared his throat. “’Quiz, you were right! The conference was a hoax. You were probably right about everything. I am so sorry I doubted you. Get yourself to Manehattan if you still can. Twilight.’ Took her long enough, if you ask me, but better late than never…”
“Thank you, Spike,” Luna interrupted. “Well, Quizzical, will you now be joining Us?”
“Under the circumstances, I cannot imagine missing this.”
The fillies cheered as they all mounted the Royal Chariot. Luna’s guards stretched their wings, pulled the harness taught, and with a lurch the chariot was airborne.
“Oh, and Quizzical?” asked Princess Luna.
Chapter 13: Chapter 13 Quiz, Hang On!
Chapter 13 Quiz, Hang On!
The fillies flew through the night sky, screaming and hanging on for dear life.
“Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” cried the girls.
“Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” cried Princess Luna.
The stallions pulling the chariot would have liked to have cried “Weee!” but they were on duty, and it would not have looked right.
“wwww,” groaned Quiz.
She was curled in a tight fetal ball on the chariot floor, clinging to the hoof rail so fiercely her dark hooves turned white.
“Quiz, are you going to be alright?” called Sweetie Belle.
Quiz’s response was largely unintelligible.
“What’d she say, now?” asked Apple Bloom.
“I didn’t quite catch it,” answered Scootaloo. “Something about being a leaf on the wind.”
Princess Luna had never learned to teleport without any accompanying sound effects (mainly due to lack of trying). Noise abatement regulations in Manehattan forced them to arrive outside city limits and fly the rest of the way to mid-town. Cheered on by their appreciative passengers, Luna’s charioteers put on quite a show; charging though the sky at top speed.
“Wow, this is great!” cried Scootaloo, fluttering her wings with excitement. “Can they do a barrel role?” She was almost drooling with anticipation.
“They can, but they won’t,” stated Princess Luna. “We are sorry, but this chariot has no safety restraints.”
“Aww,” groused Scootaloo, her wings drooping in disappointment.
“Perhaps some other time, when Quizzical is not riding with us,” said the Princess. “Remind us next Nightmare Night.”
Quiz moaned something inarticulate.
“You are welcome, Quizzical,” the Princess answered.
Eventually, the chariot spiraled in and landed gently in the Confectionary Coliseum cart park.
“Thank you, gentlecolts,” Princes Luna spoke to her guards. “We shall be returning to Canterlot by other means. The rest of the day is your own. Please enjoy your time in Manehattan.”
“Thank you, Princess,” said one of the stallions, as they both bowed. “We’re going to walk ourselves around the block a time or two. You know, to walk down some? But then we were thinking; we overheard you talking about this contest and all and, well, we think we’d like to see it, too, if that’s alright, your Highness.”
“Certainly. We shall leave word at the front gate that you are to be admitted.” Princess Luna turned to speak to the fillies. “Go ahead and find us seats. We shall wait with Quizzical until she is ready to venture forth.”
The girls all jumped out and trotted off to find the ticket booth. Quiz groaned a question only Luna could hear.
“Yes, Quizzical, Dear. I am sure that this will make your stronger.”
“That ith not my not my name,” said Twist, morosely.
She had finished prepping her kitchen and had a few idle moments before the contest began, and Twist found herself staring at the banner mounted over her side of the stadium. It proclaimed, in huge red letters, that tonight’s challenger would be “Peppermint Twist.” Twist didn’t know if there was anything that could be done about it, and even if there was it didn’t matter. It was just impossible to get any help from the Food Equestria staff. She would have to live with it.
“Twist! Hay, Twist!” a familiar voice called. Twist turned and saw Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon standing at the rail in front of the first row of seats.
Twist trotted over the see them. “Hay, girls, what brings you here?”
“Our parents have season tickets for the Grand Chef’s Challenge,” answered Silver Spoon. “And we just couldn’t miss this.”
“That’ths cool,” said Twist. She looked over at the Challenger’s gallery, which was still completely empty. “Where are your folks, then?”
“Um, yeah, they’re over here,” explained Silver, indicating the opposite side of the stadium.
“We’re sitting in the Grand Chef’s Gallery,” said Diamond Tiara. There was nothing friendly about her grin. “Dad says it’s were everypony who’s anypony sits.”
“Oh,” muttered Twist, who then stood there trying to think of something else to say.
Silver finally broke the uncomfortable silence. “Well, we better go. We need to be in our seats when the contest starts or we won’t be on the Tron when they show the audience. Good luck, Twist, OK?”
“Thsure. Thanks, Silver.”
“Yeah, good luck, Peppermint!” Diamond called over her shoulder. She giggled wickedly.
“Thaths not my name,” Twist whined.
“Princess, they’ve locked us out!”
Luna was leading the still unsteady Quiz to the box office when Sweetie Belle ran up to them. The other girls were still arguing with the ticket clerk.
“Come on, Mister, let us in!” begged Scootaloo.
“No ponies seated after final set up, just like it says” sneered the clerk, tapping a sign. “Too many folks milling around in the stands disturbs the Grand Chef’s mental preparations. You’ll have to wait until the first intermission.”
“We apologize most sincerely for being tardy, Good Sir. Is there no way an exception could be made for us?”
“No ponies seated…” The ticket clerk looked up to see who he was speaking with, and stopped breathing for a moment.
“Are you well, Sir?”
“Cough, cough! Um, yes, Princess Luna. Please give us a few moments and we’ll prepare the Royal Box for you.”
“That will not be necessary. We will be sitting in the Challenger’s Gallery.”
“The…Chalenger’s Gallery?” The clerk blanched.
“Is that a problem?” Princess Luna cocked an eyebrow.
“No, no, not at all! I’ll see to it now.” The clerk waved frantically for an usher to come and attend to the Princess, then ran to an intercom and spoke in a stage whisper, “Merry? We have an emergency! Do you have something to hang on to?”
“Princess, if you would follow me, I’ll show you to your seats,” said the usher. “Um…should I call the orchestra? Will you be wanting a fanfare?”
“Oh, yes, please, would you do that for us?” Princess Luna gave the usher a broad smile. “We desire the works!”
“Fillies and Gentlecoats!” declared the Colosseum loudspeakers. “Please rise for Princess Luna of Equestria!”
Merry Fairweather listened to the trumpets roar as the Princess regally made her way to the front of the Challenger’s Gallery. Merry held her clipboard so tightly her dark hooves turned white. The clipboard creaked and groaned, but did not break. Yet.
It wasn’t the Princess that held Merry’s attention. She focused on a small, nondescript gray filly quietly following the Princess. It was like seeing a ghost.
Quizzical Greystone! thought Merry, grinding her teeth. I gave this kid my best shot, and she still made it here! With a Princess!!
The filly was destined to haunt Merry.
“You know, Merry, maybe this is a sign.” It was Curtains, the Director, speaking through her headset. “Don’t you think we should re-think the whole idea of trying to make Twist look bad. We could just play it straight instead. There are more important things than the Grand Chef’s ego.”
“Forget that!” Merry cried back. “Everypony, listen up. If there is something more important than the Grand Chef’s ego around here I want it caught and killed! So long as he is the principle stockholder and the CEO all of Food Equestria and all its assets, including all of you, are just an extension of the Grand Chef’s ego. We proceed with the show as planned.”
She was going to have to find the Grand Chef and try to calm him down. He was undoubtedly throwing a fit.
“Just clarify one thing, Merry,” called Show Host, Smarty Brickoven. “All that material you had us working on, about how nopony is here to see Twist? That’s off now, right?”
“Shut up, Smarty.”
“You’re here! You made it!” squealed Twist, galloping into the stands. An observer who did not know them would have described the contact between Twist and her friends a ‘collision’ rather than a ‘hug.’ It was some time before she disentangled herself enough from the happy, giggling cluster of fillies to catch the eye of the one pony standing off to the side.
“Quiz? Could you too, you know…um…?”
Quiz sighed, but Twist could just make out her faint smile. “Go ahead, Twist. Everypony else has.”
The invitation was meant for Twist, but the others took it as a cue.
“Cutie Mark Crusaders – Group Hug!!!”
“What, again? But we already just…oh…dear….”
“So, Chef, you have a hat and coat for your assistant?” asked Apple Bloom.
“Thstill waiting for you in the dressing room. We didn’t think you would be here. That remindths me, I need to find Bon Bon…” It wasn’t actually difficult for Twist to find her other assistant. Bon Bon had gone back to the judge’s table to argue some more.
“It’ths probably about the wonderful rampths you built us.”
“They won’t let us use the ramps? Awe, I put a lot of work into those.”
“Well, you can try talking to them. Bon Bon ithn’t getting anywhere.”
Head Judge Smarty Brickoven was doing his best to sound patient and reasonable, not an easy thing to do in the face of an angry Bon Bon. “Ma’am, you need to return to your kitchen. The rules do not allow you to remodel the cooking area.”
“Actually, that happens not to be the case.”
Smarty had could not see where the soft voice had come from, and had to stand lean all the way over the judge’s table before he found Quiz. “You have something to say, young filly?”
Quiz looked up to find all four judges staring down at her. With a squeak she retreated behind Bon Bon’s flank to escape all the attention. “Um…I…I…I can demonstrate.” She threw up a magic blackboard in front of herself as a shield. On it was a page from the Grand Chef’s Challenge Rule Book. “There are no rules expressly forbidding reasonable modifications; and there are several precedents from the contest’s history allowing this.” Quiz was much more comfortable hiding behind a visual aid, and went on confidently. “Shelving was once readjusted to accommodate an arthritic chef.” The page changed. “Additional lighting was brought in for a chef with failing vision. I can site other examples if you would like.”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Smarty. He had the complete attention of everypony within earshot – including all his fellow judges, producer Merry Fairweather, and Princess Luna. He did not like where this was going.
“Mind you, the Ponyville library had a copy of last year’s rule book. If there has been an addendum forbidding such modifications you need only cite it, and we will withdraw our protest.”
How Smarty answered depended on which he was more worried about – his reputation or his career. He decided on the answer that didn’t involve lying through his teeth in front of one of the Royal Alicorns of Equestria. “No, there hasn’t been a rules change.”
If looks could kill Merry’s glare would have incinerated Smarty where he stood. Gamely, Smarty made one last try. “There are, however, strict rules about delaying the contest…”
“Not a problem,” exclaimed Apple Bloom. “I can have ‘em in place in ten minutes. Five if you loan me a couple of those big fellows of yours,” she added, indicating the stage hand who had been lounging around the studio since final preparations were complete.
What the Hay, thought Smarty. The Grand Chef has already asked for a ten minute delay, since the Princess’s arrival ‘disrupted his concentration.’ “That will be fine. We will allow it.”
There was the sharp crack of splintering wood. Merry threw down the two halves of her clipboard, and stalked off.
“That was an excellent application of your magic blackboard spell, Quizzical,” said Princess Luna when they had all taken their seats.
“Thank you, Princess. I have discovered that I can display a printed page if I have it memorized…” Quiz stopped dead. She went on, sheepishly, “I mean…um…what magic blackboard spell?”
“It’s a bit late for that, Quizzical.”
“What’s the matter?” whispered Dinky.
“Quiz never told the Princess she’d invented a spell,” said Sweetie Belle. “I think she was kinda supposed to.”
“We will speak of this later, Quizzical. For now, Girls, all of you settle down. The contest is about to begin.
Chapter 14: Thow Time
Chapter 14 Thow Time!
While they had called “first places” and had given her a 3 minute warning, Twist still stood by the rail near her friends. She made no move to return to her kitchen.
“Twist, Dear, is there anything we can say to calm your nerves?” asked Princess Luna.
“I’ll be Ok, I think,” Twist answered, sadly. “I’m uthually fine once I get cooking. But when the Grand Chef comes out and workths the crowd…they love him and they don’t care about anything elth. I know, I uthed to be a big fan, too. When they thstart chanting his name they get tho loud…” Twist’s voice became very quiet. “It’th thscary. It’th really thscary.”
“Perhaps it would help if you thought of how ridiculous it really is,” said Quiz. “Consider – ‘Blitzen’ is Paarderdamen for ‘lightning.’ ‘Éclair’ is Fancy for ‘lightning.’”
“And his nickname’s ‘Lightning’?” exclaimed Scootaloo. “So the Grand Chef wants to be called ‘Lightning, air-quotes Lightning, Lightning’? What a doofus!”
They were still laughing when a production assistant told Twist she had thirty second to get to her kitchen, and she scurried away.
Merry Fairweather was having more trouble than usual composing herself. Scooter had gotten her a fresh clipboard, and she clung to it as if it were a toy bear.
The Grand Chef had retired to his dressing room to indulge himself with a great screaming fit; and since that was no fun unless there was somepony there to scream at, it had been Merry’s duty to stand there and take it. It was always horrible, but this one had been a particularly bad screaming fit. At least Merry had been the focus of the Grand Chef’s ire rather than any of her staff. Merry was used to it. She could handle it.
A Princess! Why didn’t I see that coming?! thought Merry. But she hadn’t thought of it, and she couldn’t fix it now. She could only hang on, and wait for the Grand Chef to do his thing. He would soon soundly trounce Twist, and that would restore order to the universe. If everypony just did their jobs then nothing else would go wrong, and in a few hour this would all be over and Merry could forget all about it and get on with her life. Until the next show.
“Cue orchestra,” said Curtains, the director, though Merry’s ear piece. “Stand by Smarty.”
“Show time,” whispered Merry.
“Thow time,” whispered Twist. She regarded her reflection in the shiny bottom of a sauce pan. She tucked an unruly red curl under her hat, squared her shoulders, and put on what she hoped passed as her ‘game face.’
Then she was startled when the orchestra struck up the Grand Chef’s Challenge theme, and she jumped. The curl escaped from her hat again.
Smarty took the microphone and stood. The music lowered so he could speak over it; except for the tympani’s, which when into overdrive; and he began.
“Fillies, gentlecolts, and our special visitor – Princess Luna of Equestria, welcome to Confectionery Coliseum. Once again, it is time for candy combat. It is time for the Grand Chef’s Challenge!”
Smarty paused, to give the crowd a moment to cheer.
“I’m Smarty Brickoven, and I’ll be your Master of Ceremonies. I will also lead this illustrious panel of judges. To my right, we have restaurateur and food critic, from East Marelin, Mrs. Bitter Almond.”
The prim, stout little mare offered the crowd a curt nod and a tight smile. They loved it. Fans of the Challenge were very fond of Mrs. Almond. She was their Queen of Mean.
“Next we have Pastry and Dessert instructor emeritus of the Culinary Institute of Equestria, though we just know him as ‘Doc,’ Doctor Soufflé Pan.”
Doc half rose and gave a little bow.
“Finally, we have actress and food enthusiast, Miss Happy Cherry Blossom.”
Happy bounced up and down in her seat and clapped her hooves together as if this was the most exciting thing she had ever done. It didn’t seem to matter that this was something she had been doing every month for years.
“Tonight, folks, we have the youngest challenger ever invited to Confectionery Coliseum. She is the filly who won the All-Equestria Candy Making Contest at the Manehattan Fair this summer. All of you please put your hooves together for Peppermint Twist!”
Twist appeared on all of the stadium’s huge monitors; waving and smiling broadly. No microphone anywhere in the stadium picked up her protest, “Thaths not my name.”
“And now, everypony,” called Smarty, “Where does lightning strike?”
“Anywhere it wants to!” roared the crowd.
“When does lightning strike?”
“When you least expect it!” If anything, the crowd was louder this time.
If you were unfamiliar with the show you might have thought that the crowd had already gone wild. Not quite.
“Put your hooves together for Grand Chef Blitzen ‘Lightning’ Éclair!”
That was when the crowd went wild.
“Light-Ning!!! Light-Ning!!! Light-Ning!!! Light-Ning!!!”
To Twist, the chanting of the crowd felt like series of shock waves. She began to tremble. She tried leaning against a counter to steady herself. That actually made things worse, as the counter itself was shaking.
Then she looked up at her friends. Every pony in her gallery had their hooves up, making air quotes in time with the chanting.
Twist had to turn her back to the audience. She didn’t want any of the cameras to catch her laughing.
Eventually, the Grand Chef began to speak, and the crowd settled down. The production staff all thought he let them carry on longer than ever before first, but that was understandable. There was a Princess in the audience, and the Grand Chef had to let her know who owned this stadium.
“Thank you all, and welcome to Confectionery Coliseum. Your eyes do not deceive you, the filly in the kitchen next to mine really is tonight’s challenger, and she means to defeat me in candy combat!” The Grand Chef paused for the audience’s laughter. “There is some speculation that young Peppermint is only here because of a fluke, that her triumph at the Manehattan Fair was because she had stumbled upon an old family recipe that simply wowed everypony.” In fact, there had been no such speculation; but now that the Grand Chef said it everypony in the audience was thinking it. “For whatever reason, young Peppermint is this this year’s All Equestria Candy Making Champion, and as such has won a place here this evening. But she had best beware. This is not middle school, and I know of only one why to give a chef a lesson. And a lesson from me can have only one result.”
“She’ll be thunderstruck!” screamed the crowd.
Princess Luna shook her head and spoke softly, “That sounds sillier every time We hear it.”
“Wow, snark much?” exclaimed Scootaloo. “Is he always that sarcastic?”
“Oh, that was nothing,” said Sweetie Belle. “The Grand Chef is just getting warmed up.”
“Hmmmm,” mused Luna. “We know a very effective mute spell that might deal with him quite delightfully. Would any of you like to see it?”
“Ooooo, yes, please, Princess!” cried Dinky.
“That would be so cool!” declared Scootaloo.
“Unfortunately, enchanting competitors is against the contest rules,” Quiz pointed out. “Though we could consider it for after the contest.”
“We were merely jesting, Quizzical.”
“Challenger,” called Smarty. “Are you ready?”
“Yeth, Mithter Brickoven.”
“Grand Chef Éclair, are you ready?”
“Indeed I am.”
“You may begin! You have thirty minutes for this segment of the competition, the clock starts now!”
The Grand Chef immediately began barking orders at his assistant. He flew around his kitchen flamboyantly, buzzing about like a great, manic scarlet and white bird. He seemed to be everywhere at once. His assistants hustled to obey, and to keep their heads out of his way.
Twist grabbed a basket, and calmly trotted back to the pantry load it with flavorings.
“Ladies, pleath melt some thugar for me. Let me know when it’ths molten.”
Twist giggled and she added ingredients to mixing bowls. “I love it when you guyths say that.”
“Fans of the show know that the chefs have thirty minutes to prepare the candy of their choice,” said Smarty. His image was repeated on every monitor in the Coliseum. “They will simultaneously be working on elements of their sugar showcase, or they won’t be able to complete it in the final segment. Judges, what are your impressions? Almond?”
“Realistically? Young Peppermint is not here to compete with the Grand Chef,” answered Bitter Almond. “It is absurd to suggest that this child is his competition. No, she will be competing with herself. Peppermint has an uphill battle just to be taken seriously. She’s fighting to not embarrass herself”
“I agree completely with Almond,” said Doc. “In fact I’m glad she said it so I didn’t have to.”
“You may always count on me for unpleasant truths, Doc.”
“Thank you, Almond. At any rate, Peppermint seems to be off to a poor start. She’s moving so slowly! She was informed that she only has half an hour, was she not?”
“Oh, you two are such cynics!” cried Happy. “You should be ashamed of yourselves. Miss Twist is going to surprise you all, I’m sure. And she is so cute!”
“I’m going to have to interrupt here,” said Smarty. “Oates is with the Grand Chef. Go ahead, Oats.”
“Thank you, Smarty,” said the floor reporter. “Grand Chef, do you have a moment to tell us what you have there?”
“Certainly. I shall have for the judges a selection of truffles, in dark, milk, and white chocolate. I’m confident the judges will find the flavors new and surprising.”
“And what do you think of your challenger, Grand Chef?”
“Oh, I would guess that Peppermint is a perfectly nice little girl,” answered Grand Chef Éclair, waving dismissively. “However, looking across at her kitchen, she appears to be preparing hard candies. Firstly, I have to question the wisdom of presenting our judges with candies that sell for 100 to the bit. Secondly, these simplistic candies cannot possibly set in time to be plated. She has been informed that she only has half an hour, hasn’t she?”
“Thank you, Grand Chef.”
“You are certain, Quizzical, that a mute spell would be against the rules?” asked Luna.
“Peppermint, tell us about your candy.”
Oates’ microphone muted her reply, “That’th not my name.” But he caught the rest of what Twist had to say. “Thsure, Misther Oates. I’m preparing a selection of faux hard candies. Thome look down on hard candies as simplistic, but that’th a matter of preparation and prethentation. It’th my thspeciality.”
Sweetie Belle had taught her, ‘Don’t worry about your lisp, it gets worse the more self-conscious you are. Just talk about your candy. I know how you love to talk about your candy, Twist. Your enthusiasm will be infectious.” Twist could see Sweetie Belle in the stands, giving her two hooves up. “Anyway, I don’t have time for hard candies to set; I’m only making hard shells. These will have soft centers. They’ll be mojito, chai tea, and mint julep flavored.”
“Thank you, Peppermint.”
Again, Oates’ mic did not catch Twist’s parting comment, “That’th not my name.”
“Oates, what they Hay was that?” demanded Merry. “The Kid looked great! What happened to ‘Make the Kid look ridiculous’?”
“Every other shot we tried made it look as if I was interviewing a sauce pan,” Oates whined in Merry’s ear piece. “Do I have to look ridiculous, too?”
“You could take one for the team, Oates.”
“Hay, Merry, did you notice how her lisp makes her sound cute and endearing?”
“Shut up, Smarty.”
“So, Judges,” began Smarty, “What do you think of Peppermint’s choice of assistants?”
“I don’t like it,” stated Almond. “She’s invited one of her little friends to come play with her. It shows a distressing lack of seriousness, and it is disrespectful of this arena.”
“Oh, you dismiss young Apple Bloom unfairly, Almond,” chided Happy.
“She’s very clever; she invented those ramps Twist is using. And the two girls work very well together. Oh, I just love watching them work together, they are just so cute!”
“It’s the adult mare, Bon Bon, that bears watching,” said Doc. “She mustn’t get away with doing any of Peppermint’s more technical work for her.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” said Smarty. “Apparently, she’s been responsible for much of Peppermint’s training. She employs Peppermint at a penny candy stand in Ponyville.”
Despite Curtain’s best efforts to cut her out, several of the stadium monitors picked up Bon Bon’s shriek, “What did he just call my business?!”
“Anyway, that was a short half hour,” said Smarty, trying to ignore Bon Bon’s withering glare. “The Chefs are both plating their sweets. Does Peppermint have five plates out?”
Indeed, Twist had prepared five plates for sampling. She motioned to an usher to come over, and after a brief word the usher took the fifth plate and carried it towards the stands.
“Oates, did you hear what she’s doing?”
“Yes, Smarty. Peppermint is sending the fifth plate to Princess Luna, with her compliments.”
“Well, what do you think of that?” laughed Smarty. “Judges, is that a courtesy extended to our sovereign, or is that an attempt at showmanship?”
“Oh, I doubt any competitor, including this filly, would dare challenge to Grand Chef at showmanship,” said Almond. “At any rate, we have more immediate matters to worry about. Here are our plates.”
The judges began with the Grand Chef.
“Well, Grand Chef,” said Smarty. “You promised not to go easy on your challenger, and you are a stallion of your word. These sweets are outstanding.”
“These are examples of your best work, Grand Chef,” said Almond. “Well done.”
"Ooooh! This is the hardest part of judging,” whined Happy. Then she began to giggle. “I have to taste these slowly and critically, when I really just want to pop them in my mouth and gobble them down! I love these, Grand Chef! Love, love, love them!”
Then it was Twist’s turn. The expressions on the judges’ faces as they began tasting were priceless.
“Well, we can stop worrying about whether Peppermint being here is a fluke or not,” exclaimed Doc.
“Indeed,” agreed Almond. “There’s something that induces nostalgia about these pretty little candies; they call to mind the treats I would save my pennies to buy as a child. But that is in contrast with their taste. The flavors are very mature, very sophisticated, and simply wonderful.”
Happy was bouncing about in her chair again, waving her hooves about like little fluttering birds. “These make my mouth so Happy! I told you all Twist would surprise you. I told you so!”
“What was that all about?” demanded Merry. “Were all those compliments for the challenger necessary?”
“Merry, don’t disturb the judges while they are deliberating,” said Curtains. “You can scold them all you want after they announce this round’s winner.”
“And why is that taking so long? Seriously, they just have to give the Grand Chef the round, so we can move on. What do they have to deliberate about?”
“Oh, let them build up the drama, and try to enjoy it, Merry. The crowd certainly does.”
While waiting for the judges’ ruling the Grand Chef began to work the crowd, and they were chanting again.
Above the Challenger’s Gallery a small display, glowing beige, appeared and began to flash on and off.
“Twist. Twist. Twist.”
Finally, Smarty stood and raised a foreleg to indicate that they had a decision. The Coliseum grew quiet, as he began to speak. “Well, this has already become a very surprising competition. We, the judges, were surprised by the high quality of the candy presented. We were surprised by how close the competition is, and by how difficult it was to select a winner. But most of all, we astonished ourselves with our own decision.”
Smarty drew a deep breath, and took a long pause before continuing.
“We unanimously award this round to the challenger, Peppermint Twist.”
Chapter 15: What The Hay Was That?!
Chapter 15 What The Hay Was That?!
“Well, it appears that I am doing battle with a candy prodigy,” said Grand Chef Éclair. “Young Peppermint has joined the exclusive club of Chefs who have beaten me at a segment of the Challenge. I believe she is the eighth. None of them have defeated me at the Challenge, of course, and I have no worries that will change.”
To the audience, it appeared that the Grand Chef was taking defeat well, and was even being almost gracious. Oates knew better. It took all his self-control not to flinch as he interviewed the Grand Chef. Oates half expected to have his microphone bitten in half, perhaps losing a hoof in the process. “Grand Chef, does this change your plans for the rest of the Challenge?”
“Not at all. My plans remain unaltered. Of course, my plans are very simple. I plan to soundly trounce the child.”
“Chef Peppermint, you’ve won the first round, how do you feel?” asked Oates.
Twist was so happy she didn’t bother correcting him. “I feel really good, Mithter Oates. I’m proud and excited and…and…and wordths fail! But I have thsugar thsticks to temper, if you’ll excuse me…”
“Thank you, Peppermint. Good luck, Chef.”
Quiz’s magic blackboard continued to flash, “Twist. Twist. Twist.”
“Gee, Quiz, you’re even soft spoken in print,” groused Scootaloo. “For Twist you’d think you could make it a little cooler! All caps, bold face, you know, stuff like that. Where are the exclamation marks?”
“Oh,” said Quiz. She began to edit her display. “I fear I am not very good at expressing excitement.”
This got an eye roll from Sweetie Belle.
“Oh, I know!” cried Dinky. “Quiz, can you do glitter?”
“What? Oh, dear…I might be able to modify the spell design…it would require a shiny display rather than matt finish…”
“Girls, We think adding exclamation marks are already asking quite enough of Quizzical,” said Princess Luna.
“What the Hay was that?!” yelled Merry. “Seriously, guys, what the Hay just happened!”
“Twist made tastier candies than the Grand Chef.”
“Shut up, Smarty! You know that wasn’t what I meant.”
“You told us we could judge her candy fairly,” said Almond.
“I did, but when I said that it was with the reasonable assumption that the Grand Chef would win!”
“We can still change focus, Merry,” said Curtains. “We have the makings of quite an underdog story here. Everypony loves a good underdog story.”
“Yeah,” muttered Merry. Curtains was right; and it went against her every instinct as a producer not to run with this. But she had her orders. “But no. We are going to stick with the plan, guys, and I really need to cooperate me.”
“Just relax, Merry, no pony has ever beat the Grand Chef at two segments of the Challenge.”
“That’s right; we’ll get her in the next round.”
“We won’t cheat for you, Merry.”
“You won’t have to, Almond. But Twist won’t win the next round.”
“Is that something else you’ve arraigned, Merry?” asked Doc.
Merry didn’t want to answer that.
“Um…Merry?” interrupted Scooter. He sounded like a pony with bad news he did not want to deliver. “The Grand Chef wants to see you in his dressing room.”
“Oh.” Head and tail low, Merry began the long walk back to the Grand Chef’s inner sanctum.
The fillies were so excited they could not sit still, so Princess Luna suggested that they go to the concession stand. She told her guards, “Escort the children and see they get whatever they desire, it shall be Our treat. We will need you to take at least ten minutes.”
Quiz got up to join them, but then Luna said, “Stay, Quizzical.” This soft phrase drew Quiz back and all but pinned her to her seat.
“Quizzical, Dear,” began Luna, “You are aware, are you not, that my sister and I have the final review of all new spell work?”
“Then please imagine, at some distant date, my own dear student’s work arrives on my desk out of the blue, and I had never heard a word about it before? How do you think that would make me feel?”
“Um…you would commend your student’s good manners for courteously not bothering you?”
“Nice try, Quizzical. No, I would be mortified that I had failed to be diligent on behalf of my dear student.”
“You are very busy, Princess,” said Quiz. “You have many responsibilities. You tend to the Moon, the night sky, the dreams of all Equestria, the day to day governing of the nation…”
“You,” added Luna.
“You. You are also one of my responsibilities. You are the first and only student I have chosen to mentor. I am new to this, but I believe I made a good choice. At any rate, my minimum responsibilities include observing your work.”
“My spell was not created as part of my work, Princess, but as a personal project…”
“That is picking nits, Quizzical. Do not do that with me.”
“Not only did you not bring your spell to my attention, you swore Twilight Sparkle to silence. That is not helpful, Quizzical. I want you to help me to help you.”
“Luckily, I received a letter from the mother of our dear friend, young Pip Squeak. She was very touched by the kindness you showed her little colt. She also mentioned a wonderful spell you used to entertain him; she spoke of it as if she took it for granted that I knew what she was talking about.”
“I see. I apologize if you feel I have been hiding my work from you. I did not wish to bother you.”
Luna sighed. “Of course you didn’t. Well, now that I know about it, I have expedited the review process for the magic blackboard spell.”
“That hardly seems necessary, and does not seem fair to other unicorns with spells in the cue…”
“Are you arguing with me, Quizzical?”
“Good. You do not want to do that. Now, can you, as you told Dinky, make the image all sparkly?”
“I suppose, if anypony really wanted that,” said Quiz. “It would involve changing the background…here, let me show you.”
Quiz called up a small version of the spell. The two of them discussed it until intermission was over.
Moonrise Ray had been sitting with her parents in the Grand Chef’s gallery. She’d wanted to sit on Twist’s side, but her parents wouldn’t hear of it. “All the important ponies sit in front of the Grand Chef’s kitchen, to see and be seen by other important ponies,” Ray’s mother had told her.
But Twist had won the first round, and Ray couldn’t contain herself any longer. She begged and pleaded until her parents gave in and let her move to the Challenger’s Gallery. Ray would get to sit near Princess Luna, so it seemed like a pretty good place to be noticed. Also, sitting next to the Princess was probably as safe a place as you could find anywhere in Manehattan.
“Hi, I’m Ray,” she said to the fillies. “I like your friend Twist. Can I sit with you?”
“Sure,” said Dinky, and the others agreed. “Twist can always use another fan.”
Princess Luna wasn’t sure if she recognized Ray, but she recognized the toy ursa the filly carried immediately. “We remember you. We met at the fair. Welcome, please join us, little one.”
“You remember me?” Ray looked like she’d been sent to heaven.
“We do our best to remember all our citizens.”
Cooking shows weren’t normally Sporky’s thing; but he’d won a free ticket to the Grand Chef’s Challenge by being ‘employee of the week’ more times than any other pony on staff at the Manehattan Fair, so here he was. Five minutes into the show Sporky was so blown away by how awesome it was that he wondered why he’d never done this before.
During the first intermission he noticed a little filly move from the Grand Chef’s side to the Challenger’s Gallery and he thought, Yeah, that’s a pretty good idea. That’s just what would make this whole night perfect! And he got up and moved. If anypony wanted him to stay in the assigned seat on his ticket stub they could come and get him.
Sporky took the seat directly behind Scotaloo’s. “Hey, Scoot, are you a friend of this Peppermint filly’s? Because she really kicks some serious tail?”
“That’s not her name. Spork, and you better not get us started on that!” exclaimed Scootaloo. She gave her friend a ‘bro-wing.’ “But, yeah, Twist and I hang out sometimes, she’s a good egg. Hay, if I had known you were over there with the Grand Chef snobs I would have gone and gotten you. Glad to see you found your way to the cool side of the stadium.”
“Well, I’m here now. So this side just got,” Sporky paused to consider his words, “a little bit cooler.”
It was just a small shift; only two ponies. But it was a beginning.
“The Second Segment of the Challenge is about to begin,” came the announcement of the Coliseum loud speakers. “All ponies please return to their seats.”
Veterans of the Challenge knew that this was not just a guideline. The Grand Chef hated to have ponies milling about when he was ready to cook. If they spied anypony not immediately moving to their seat they would tap the offender on the shoulder and say, “Hay, Newbie, you need to get seated!”
The Coliseum was soon filled with relatively quiet ponies.
Merry took her place in the corner of the Coliseum, where she could observe everything. She was still a little unsteady, but she felt she had composed herself enough to appear in public. This was not the first time she had been called on the carpet by the Grand Chef twice in one show. In fact, the record was four times. The Grand Chef insisted on booking the finest competition, and when these high caliber chefs did well against him he was always upset and needed to vent.
But this had been the worst.
For one thing, no chef who had ever beaten him had been a little filly. But that wasn’t the worst of it. What made this particularly bad was that Merry had made promises and she hadn’t kept them. Twist was supposed to look like a lonely loser who didn’t deserve to even be in Confectionery Coliseum. Instead, Twist had won round one, Twist had deserved to win round one, and worst of all, and Twist had appeared to deserve to win round one. Merry’s best efforts had been for naught. She would have liked to blame her undoing all on Quizzical Greystone, but Merry was enough of a realist not to do that. The truth was Twist was good. If the Grand Chef wanted to beat her he would have to actually beat her.
Now, the Grand Chef was losing the crowd’s support, and this was the life’s blood of the Grand Chef’s ego. It was Merry’s job to stop this before it became a hemorrhage.
Round two should do it. Merry wasn’t proud of this, because it was cheating, but she had arraigned it.
Scooter hovered near by, pacing uncomfortably. He was too worried about Merry to stray far, but too mindful of her pride to actually ask her how she felt. Scooter was a good kid, and Merry wished she had a way to really reward him for his loyalty. She summoned up a smile, to let him know that she was fine.
“Ok, we are ready to begin round two,” said Smarty. “Chefs, are you ready?” When he had a nod from both Twist and Grand Chef Éclair, Smarty continued. “As you know, in this round, you each have half an hour to prepare candies highlighting the secret ingredient.” Smarty waved an envelope. “When I open and read the secret ingredient that will be your signal to begin. So, without further ado…” Smarty broke the seal, and opened the envelope. “The secret ingredient is…vanilla!”
Chapter 16: Kryptonite
Chapter 16 Kryptonite
When the secret ingredient was announced all the fillies in the Challenger’s gallery groaned as one. This was echoed by a groan at the back of Twist’s kitchen, from Apple Bloom and Bon Bon. There was even a muted groan from the Grand Chef’s side of the Stadium, in the area where the two families from Ponyville were sitting.
“Is something the matter?” asked Princess Luna.
“It’s vanilla!” cried Sweetie Belle. “Why did it have to be vanilla?”
“Vanilla is Twist’s weakness, Princess,” explained Quiz. “She has an instinctive talent with flavors that is almost indistinguishable from magic. But not with vanilla.”
“Oh, Twist can make magic with vanilla,” exclaimed Scootaloo. “She can turn it into cement.”
“I do not know how,” said Quiz, “But I cannot rid myself of the feeling that somehow this is my fault.”
Gotcha!, thought Merry. You gave yourself away, and I got you. This victory didn’t make her proud or happy, but at least it was a relief. Merry hadn’t had any victories all day.
“I must admit, Oates, I’m disappointed with tonight’s secret ingredient,” said Grand Chef Éclair. “I mastered vanilla when I was little Peppermint’s age. I do not find this interesting.”
“Do you think this might be a break for your young challenger, Grand Chef?”
“Oh, I hope she thinks so,” sneered the Grand Chef. “With such a simple common ingredient such as vanilla you cannot hope to win by merely being great. You must be transcendent! Can the child transform vanilla as if she had been working with it for decades? I do not think so!”
“Thank you, Grand Chef.”
Merry’s relief evaporated when she looked at Twist’s kitchen. All of your friends are wringing their hooves in despair, she thought, why are you grinning from ear to ear, Girl?
Her reverie was broken by Scooter. “Curtains wants you in the control booth, Merry.”
“I’ll be right up.” Merry had no idea why Curtains would send Scooter with the message instead of just calling her through her headset.
“Chef Peppermint, you don’t seem bothered by the secret ingredient.”
“That’th not my name, Mithter Oates,” answered Twist, knowing full well that it would be blipped out. She didn’t care. “Oh, yeth, I’m looking forward to thith! Vanilla uthed to give me fitths, I jutht didn’t get it. It wath my…what do you call it, that thstuff that makes Thuper Thtallion weak in the comic books?”
“That’th it. But I have a very dear friend who’th favorite flavor is vanilla, and it broke my heart that I couldn’t make anything for her.” Twist stopped and gave a little wave to the camera. “Hi, Quiz! Hi, guyths!”
That went out over all the stadium monitors, and Oates cringed. Competitors were not supposed to do ‘shout outs’ and Merry would not be happy. “So, Chef, you are saying vanilla doesn’t worry you?”
“I think I’ve figured it out,” said Twist, nodding enthusiastically. “There’ths a thecret to vanilla, and I think I finally know it.”
“Good grief, Oates, we’re letting the kid do shout outs now!” Merry yelled into her headset. “As if the crowd didn’t already think she was adorable?!” Before Oates could respond she arrived at the Coliseum’s controls booth, and she took her headset off. “What’s going on, Curtains?”
The director pointed to the monitors that displayed the outside of the Coliseum. “I wanted you to know about this before anyone else.”
Confectionery Coliseum’s “Mighty Percher-tron” is the largest video display in all of Equestria. Ponies often gather on the street to watch the cooking contests on the “Tron.” The crowd gathering outside at that moment was the biggest Merry had ever seen.
“Word is getting around,” said Curtains. “Ponies have heard that a kid actually took round one from the Grand Chef, and they want to see ‘the little filly who could.’”
“Celestia, take me,” gasped Merry.
“They’re lining up at the box office, too. And they aren’t happy about having to wait until the next intermission. It doesn’t matter that we’re sold out except for the Challenger’s Gallery. That’s where they all want to sit, anyway.”
“Curtains, we have to hush this up! Don’t you dare send any of this to the monitors inside!”
“Come on, Merry, this could be the best show we ever do. Where’s your sense of drama? Can’t you just feel the story calling to you?”
Curtains was right. Merry was a producer at heart, and she lived to tell a good story. Twist’s story was wonderful, and it broke Merry’s heart not to tell it. But that didn’t make any difference. Merry had a feeling that no matter what she did tonight she was going to end up with her heart broken.
“We hide it, Curtains. No pony sees any outside shots. And close the box office, we can’t have all of Manehattan in here cheering Twist on.”
Curtains glared at her, thoroughly disgusted. “We might end up with that, anyway, Merry.” He pointed to the monitor that showed the crowd inside. After Twist’s interview at least two dozen ponies had moved to the Challenger’s Gallery, and more were on their hooves and crossing the stadium.
“Curtains?” Merry hesitated and drew a deep breath before giving her next order. “Turn on the ‘Heat Hammer.’”
“Isn’t that a little drastic, Merry?”
“That’s drastic!” cried Merry, pointing to a monitor. The crowd outside had grown during their short conversation. “The Heat Hammer is just an appropriate response. Do it, Curtains.
“So, Judges, what are your thoughts?” asked Smarty.
“I agree with the Grand Chef,” said Almond. “It does not seem likely that young Peppermint can do anything with vanilla that will impress us.”
“How can you say that, when her first candy was so fabulous?” cried Happy. “I believe out delightful little Chef Twist is capable of just anything! The only way she could surprise me now is if she stopped surprising me!”
“That doesn’t actually make sense, Happy.”
“Are your sure, Smarty? It made perfect sense in my head.”
“Anyway,” said Doc. “I find myself in disagreement with Almond. There is a secret to vanilla, and from watching her work I get the impression that Peppermint knows what it is.”
“Oh, goody, I love secrets!” cried Happy. “What’s the secret, Doc? Tell me, tell me!”
“Very well, Happy. The secret to vanilla is that it goes with almost everything, and makes almost everything better.”
“I don’t know, Doc. Peppermint’s only experience is working after school in a penny candy stand. How many secrets could she have…”
Smarty was interrupted by a huge ‘thud’ and a loud ‘clang.’ A frying pan had struck the judge’s table right in front of him.
In Twist’s kitchen, Bon Bon held up her fore legs and mouthed the words, “Oops, butter hooves.”
“Gee, now I want to visit Ponyville,” said Happy. “I want to go to Bon Bon’s sweet shop.”
“Oates, can you tell what Peppermint is doing over there?” asked the Grand Chef. “She has a pot on every one of her burners! With that many ingredients I can’t imagine her producing anything but a grey mess.”
“I think she means to add a different ingredient to each sweet, Grand Chef.”
“Really? She’ll struggle to plate on time. I, on the other hoof, am very nearly done.” He turned and screamed at his assistants, “We would already be plated if you two would hurry!”
The assistants, already moving fast, hustled to obey their master. The Grand Chef fluttered his wings in irritation. Oates retreated a step to avoid getting a nose full of scarlet feathers.
“I wonder if she knows the judges award points for proper time management?” the Grand Chef continued without any prompting from Oates. “All little Peppermint has ready are her empty plates. I note that she has five of them again. I feel that is just showing off. I do not need to resort to any such thing. After all, I hold a Royal commission as pastry chef to the Court of Equestria. The Royal Siblings may taste my wares any time they so desire.”
“Excuse me, Miss Quizzical?” asked Moonrise Ray. “Are you the friend of Twist’s who likes vanilla?”
“You must be very proud.”
Quiz stared at the foal, quite puzzled. “Proud? For liking vanilla?”
Ray giggled. “No, Ma’am. For inspiring Chef Twist.”
“Oh, I see. Oh, dear me, I would hardly call myself an inspiration.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t, Quiz,” laughed Scootaloo.
Sweetie Belle gave herself a double face hoof.
Quiz continued, as if unaware of her friends. “I am, however, very proud to be Twist’s friend. I am very proud of all my friends, and I try very hard to be worthy of their friendship.”
“That doesn’t sound right,” said Ray. “You shouldn’t have to work that hard for your friends. They should just like you.”
Quiz pondered this. “That is an interesting observation. I must make a…no, wait, there is something about your point that sounds familiar…”
“Gee, Quiz, you think?” snapped Sweetie Belle. She sat back in her seat with a huff.
“Have I said something wrong? I did not…oh, dear. Is Mr. Oates approaching us with his microphone? And his camerapony?” Quiz blanched.
“Yes, Quizzical,” said Princess Luna. “He sent an usher over earlier to ask permission for an interview, and We agreed. You don’t mind…Quizzical? Quizzical?”
“Oates, don’t interview the Princess,” whined Merry. “She’ll just say something nice about Twist.”
“Merry, she’s a Princess, we can’t just ignore her,” said Oates. “Especially since this is only Princess Luna’s third public appearance since her return.”
“We would look like idiots if we didn’t talk to her, Merry,” said Curtains.
Merry sighed. “Just keep it short, Oates.”
“Thank you, Princess Luna, for giving me a moment of your time.”
“Not at all, Mr. Oates. It is the least we could do. We are enjoying this delightful contest very much. Oh, gracious, is that Us?”
Luna had discovered the monitors, and was staring into the nearest one with fascination. “Oh, this is much fun! But it is the side of Our face…”
“We can move the camera, Princess Luna.”
“Oh, good. There We are now. That was not Our best side,” Luna continued to mug for the camera. She cocked her head and gave a world class eyelash flutter. “Oh, yes, this is good fun!”
Oates though that he had better get on with it before Luna began doing duck lips. “Princess, do you think Peppermint including you in the tasting was a matter of courtesy, or was that mere showmanship on her part?”
“What? Oh, yes, you have questions,” Luna was uncertain whether to look at the camera or the microphone, and decided on staring at the mic. The camera operator moved again to accommodate her. “No, Twist is too sincere for showmanship. That was just Twist being nice. She is very generous. If she had enough time Twist would make samples for everyone in the Coliseum.”
“Which one of these girls is Chef Peppermint’s friend who likes vanilla?”
Each filly answered at the same time.
“In the restroom.”
“Getting a drink.”
“Hiding under my seat.” This last was Ray, who luckily spoke too softly to be heard over the others.
“…not here,” finished Luna. She gave Oates the most obviously forced smile anypony in the stadium had ever seen.
“Thank you, Princess Luna. That’s all the time we have now. May I come back with more questions during the final segment?”
“Yes, certainly. But first, please allow Us to take care of one thing. That,” Luna pointed to the banner over the Challenger’s Kitchen, “That is not her name.”
The banner glowed with a bright midnight blue aura, then the word “Peppermint” flared, and the letters disappeared.
“Oh, that is so very much better!” exclaimed Luna. “That had been really bothering Us all evening. Her name is ‘Twist.’ Just ‘Twist.’”
“She can’t do that!” shrieked Merry. “I mean, she can’t, can she?”
“Well, yeah, unless you know somepony willing to tell the Princess not to,” said Curtains. “I’d have to say that, yes, she can do that.”
“That banner is Food Equestria property!”
“You could send her a bill, Merry. I’m pretty sure we know her address.”
“Shut up, Smarty.”
“Mr. Oates and the camera have gone, Quizzical, it is safe to come out now.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, We are certain,” said Luna. “We are also certain that We are not comfortable speaking to disembodied voices emanating from beneath the seating. We are further certain that it makes young Miss Ray uneasy having you hiding under her seat. Come out now, Quizzical.”
Twist was just dropping the last candy onto a plate when Smarty called, “Time’s up, Chefs!”
“Wow, that wath clothe!” Twist could not remember ever working so hard. “I think that might have been a little ambitiouth. I don’t uthually have trouble with time management.”
Bon Bon wiped Twist’s brow with a damp cloth. “All these burners made it too hot in here, everything set more slowly than you expected, and it threw your timing off. You did good, Twist. I can’t tell you how proud of you I am.”
“Wath I thweating?” This took Twist by surprise, she hadn’t notice. “But I never feel the heat.”
Bon Bon smiled at her. “I think it’s understandable, Dearie.”
Twist watched the stewards take her plates away for tasting. She’d used covered plates this time. She thought she had all her colors fixed, but there had been fading issues in the past. Twist had seen her prettiest candies transformed into something unappetizing in the time it took to walk to the judge’s table.
She used the covered plates because she was afraid to watch.
A steward set a tray of Twist’s candies on a stand next to Princess Luna. It sat there, untouched, as the Princess and the fillies stared at it.
“Princess, are you going to remove the lid?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“That is Our plan, yes,” said Luna. “In time.”
“It’s just that we can’t see Twist’s candy until you lift the lid.”
“She knows, Sweetie Belle,” said Quiz. “That knowledge is precisely what is keeping the Princess from lifting the lid.”
“Come on, just do it,” complained Scootaloo. “Let’s have a look the latest atrocity Twist has committed against vanilla. What? Stop glaring at me!”
Luna sighed. “Scootaloo is correct. We should not wait any longer.” The plate cover glowed and rose into the air.
There was a collective gasp from the ponies in the Challenger’s gallery.
“Oh, my!” exclaimed Happy. She had just removed the cover from her sample of Twist’s candies. “These are the prettiest candies I have ever seen!”
Chapter 17: "...Then Stay Out Of The Kitchen."
Chapter 17 “…Then Get Out Of The Kitchen.”
Merry was pushing the breaking strain of yet another clipboard.
“Would you call this ‘golden’?” asked Doc, holding up one of Twist’s candies. “Or is this more of an ‘amber’?”
I give the kid the secret ingredient everypony says she can’t handle, thought Merry, and she responds by inventing a new shade of yellow.
“These are so much fun!” exclaimed Happy. She was holding a candy up to the studio lights. “When the light strikes them just right they glow green!”
“Stop playing with your food, Happy.”
“But Chef Twist has made a game of her candy, Almond! She’s color coded them all with a dot of dyed white chocolate on the bottom. You can look up what the colors mean, or just try to guess. Or if you prefer surprises you can just not turn it over and look. I love surprises!” Happy popped a whole candy in her mouth whole. “Ooooh, blueberry! I really like blueberry!”
“You have to commend Chef Twist for her industry,” said Doc. “We only expect two or three flavors, and she gave us eight. And, I must add, all eight are flavors that are made better when paired with vanilla. Mmmmm, I just got a cinnamon one.”
“But is this truly honoring the secret ingredient?” asked Almond. “Or is the vanilla secondary to the flavor centers? If you nibble about the edges all you get is vanilla. I find it bland.”
“That might just be your personal taste as far as vanilla, Almond,” said Smarty. “Do you think, maybe Chef Twist’s friend who likes vanilla just has bland taste in candy?”
“You would have to ask her, Smarty.”
“Oh, dear,” muttered Quiz. “Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon are both in the audience and no doubt heard that. At school I may soon be known as ‘She who likes her candy bland.’”
“It’s ok, Quiz,” said Dinky. “Maybe they’ll just call you ‘She who likes vanilla.’ That’s better than ‘the Hypothetical Projectile.’”
“No it isn’t!” exclaimed Scootaloo. “’Hypothetical Projectile’ is way cool.”
“Bother,” grumbled Quiz. “Most of my classmates no longer tease me, yet I am still acquiring new nicknames. This did not used to matter to me.”
“Then do not let it bother you now, Quizzical,” said Princess Luna. “All the ponies worth listening to will simply call you Quiz.”
“Amen!” declared Sweetie Belle.
“I shall have to make a note of that.”
Get on with it! thought Merry. Her clipboard groaned.
“The Grand Chef has wonderfully deconstructed a vanilla, almond latte and reconstructed it as a bon bon. The root beer float is equally wonderful. But the star of the plate is the banana cream pie, without the pie.”
Get on with it! Normally, Merry loved to listen to the judges talk about the sweets; but tonight she just couldn’t stand to wait. She needed them to just award the round to the Grand Chef, and she needed them to do it right now!
“Light-ning! Light-ning! Light-ning!”
While the judges deliberated the Grand Chef worked the crowd.
Over the Challenger’s Gallery, a huge midnight blue display flashed off and on.
“TWIST!!! TWIST!!! TWIST!!!”
It was very sparkly.
“We like this spell of yours, Quizzical. We can imagine having much fun with this!”
“Thank you, Princess. I had never imagined it could be made so very … er … very … vivid.”
“Can we make it move, Quizzical? Will the words crawl about, for instance? Oh, We know! Can we get the letters to spin?!”
“I shall have to think about that, Princess.”
“It was once again a very difficult decision,” announced Smarty, once the judges had finally finished their deliberation. “Very difficult.”
I don’t like the sound of that, thought Merry. Oh, no! Oh, guys, don’t do what I think you’re going to do!
“It was one of the closest rounds we have ever had,” continued Smarty. “And we ended with a split decision.”
Don’t do it! Don’t do it!
“Under the rules, in the event of a tie we make our final decision based on the points for presentation.”
“We award this round to the Challenger, Chef Twist.”
The ponies in the crowd didn’t know whether to sit in stunned silence or to cheer like maniacs, so they did a little of both. Many ponies took this occasion to move to seats in the Challenger’s Gallery. They wanted to get a better look at this incredible little filly that had beaten the Grand Chef twice. The trickle of ponies moving to Twist’s side of the Coliseum became a stream. Before the second intermission was over the stream would become a flood.
“Oh, my gothsh, Mithter Oates! I don’t know how to dethcribe thith!” enthused Twist. “I mean, I juth came here to make my betht candy, I never dreamed I’d win anything! No pony ever beat the Grand Chef twice! No pony! Exthept, well, me. I gueth I juth did. Wow! Ith it warm, or am I juth exthited?”
“Perhaps a little of both, Chef Twist.”
“Thath’s not my…wait! Thath’s my name!”
“Yes, Chef Twist.”
“Oh, thank you, Mithter Oates! Thank you, thank you!” Twist leapt at the floor reporter and gave him a huge hug.
Oates was not able to get a comment from the other side of the Coliseum. Grand Chef Éclair had already locked himself in his dressing room.
“Shut up, Smarty! Just don’t talk to me.”
“Merry, you have to understand…”
“No. So just shut up.” In her imagination, Merry could hear something go ‘Whoosh!’ It was her career. “I don’t know what to do next. Guys, you’re the food experts, you tell me. Does cyanide go better with apple sauce or vanilla pudding?”
“Don’t take it so hard, Merry,” said Almond. “It’s just 40 per cent of the total score. There’s still the Sugar Show Piece, and that’s all technique.”
“Twist has had months to learn what the Grand Chef has spent decades perfecting,” said Doc. “Relax, Merry, Twist can’t go any further.”
“Just winning isn’t enough, and the Grand Chef is not forgiving,” whined Merry. “And you guys aren’t even trying to help me anymore. I feel so alone.”
“Scooter? Oh, good, I need you to get me a new clip board.”
“Merry, I have a message from the Grand Chef.”
“Oh.” There was a long silence. “Tell him I’ll be right there.”
“Um, no, Merry. The Grand Chef doesn’t want to see you.”
Merry gulped hard. “What did he say, Scooter?”
“No, Scooter. What did he say?”
“He said he doesn’t care if you just leave the Coliseum, or if you leave Equestria, or if you get on a rocket and leave the planet, just so long as you get out of his sight.” Scooter paused before adding, miserably, “You have five minutes before I’m supposed to call Security. I’m sorry, Merry.”
It was Almond who finally broke the uncomfortable silence. She spoke gently to Merry. “This has happened before. And each time the Grand Chef has forgotten all about it by the mid-segment break. Everything will be fine, Merry.”
It occurred to Merry that when you have Bitter Almond’s sympathy you must truly be pathetic.
“In an hour he’ll be bellowing your name, and wondering where you are because he needs you. Again,” said Smarty. “Seriously, what is this, the seventh time he’s thrown you out of the Coliseum?”
“The eighth,” said Merry. “But I think it’s different this time. I think I’m really fired.”
“Come to the Control Room, Merry,” said Curtains. “You can hide up here with me until the Grand Chef wants you back.”
While everypony else celebrated, Quiz stared at Twist’s kitchen. Finally, she declared, “It is growing warmer.”
“Oh, no! Quiz, are you alright?” cried Sweetie Belle.
“Oh, yes, I am not bothered, but I can sense it. I am very sensitive, but if even I can feel it from this distance then Twist’s kitchen must be terribly hot.”
“What’s the matter, Quiz?” laughed Scootaloo. “Are you afraid they are going to make you stoke the fires?”
“Shut up, Scoot, that’s not funny!” cried Sweetie Belle. As far as Quiz’s many close calls, it would always be too soon for Sweetie Belle.
“They have stallions under the stage for that task,” said Quiz, matter of factly.
Sporky squinted at the vents over the kitchen. “The fans are off. You can tell from the dust motes in the air. There’s no air flow.”
Quiz’s ears twitched. “But I can hear the fans.”
Sporky shook his head. “That’s canned sound, a recording of the fan motors. Some of the fun houses at the Fair use special effects like that. Your ears tell you there should be air movement; your other senses say there isn’t. You’d be surprised how disorienting that is.”
“That’s cheating!” exclaimed Dinky.
“Try and prove it,” grumbled Sweetie Belle.
“I’ve got an idea,” said Scootaloo. “Spork, do you have your multi-tool?”
Sporky slapped the holster on his hip with a wing. “You know me, Scoot. I’m always prepared.”
“How are you with wiring?”
Sporky shrugged. “I can figure it out. I’m versatile.”
“Then follow me.” The two friends soon disappear into the crowd.
Outside the Coliseum the crowd was spilling into the street. The Manehattan police sent extra officers to help with crowd control, and traffic cops just to keep things moving without any pony being squashed by a cart. The vice squad also sent detectives, but they arrived well behind the city’s bookmakers. The betting was running wild.
Dolly Square Garden called and asked if they could rebroadcast the contest on their own Tron.
Inside the Coliseum the migration to the Challenger’s Gallery continued. Ponies wanted to be seated in front of Twist’s side before the intermission was over.
“Silvey, where are you going?” Diamond Tiara called to her friend.
“I’m sorry, Diamond,” answered Silver Spoon. “But I’m going to go sit on Twist’s side.”
“Well, judges, what are your observations?” asked Smarty.
“Chef Twist has been little less than miraculous thus far,” said Doc. “But I don’t believe in miracles. The reality is she now faces the Sugar Showplace. This technical portion of the contest separates talented naturals such as Twist from seasoned professionals such as the Grand Chef.”
“I agree,” said Almond. “The experience gap between them is insurmountable. With 60 percent of the score still to win or lose I can see only one possible outcome. It pleases me no end that Chef Twist is so happy with what she has already achieved. I fear it will have to be enough.”
“You guys are just awful!” exclaimed Happy. “It’s just wrong to declare Twist the loser before she’s even begun to assemble her first candy tower. And Chef Twist is so cute! I want to take her home with me. Since I can’t take her home I want a fuzzy Twist toy. Say, that’s a good idea. If we made fuzzy Twist toys we could sell millions!”
“Well, I worry that the stress of the first two rounds may have caught up with Chef Twist,” said Doc. “She seems to be feeling the heat.”
“Yet according to my notes, Twist says the heat never bothers her,” said Smarty. “Mind you, that’s in her own kitchen. She’s a long way from the penny…from Bon Bon’s Gourmet Candies.”
Listening down in the Challenger’s Kitchen, Bon Bon offered Smarty a polite nod.
“My notes also say that Twist recently set her kitchen on fire?”
“No, Almond, that was one of Twist’s young friend’s fault, not Chef Twist’s.”
“Oh, dear. I hope it wasn’t the filly who is assisting her.”
“Guys, please stop talking about the fire. Please.” It was Merry.
Smarty switched to a private channel, “Merry, are you alright?”
“No, no I’m not. So please just stop talking about that stupid fire.”
In the control booth, Curtains offered Merry his handkerchief so she could dry her eyes.
Everything was interrupted by a loud pop, followed by all the lights going out. The blackout only lasted a few seconds.
No pony heard the harsh whisper from far beneath the seats, under the control booth where the fuse boxes were. “Scoot! I said cut the green wire!”
“You know, Merry,” said Curtains. He had been stewing for the entire contest and he couldn’t take it any longer. “I could always go back to my job at the Royal Equestrian Opera House. It was about a fifth the money, but I really loved that job.”
“I was having similar thoughts,” said Oates. “I have friends who have been after me to go back to sports casting. I don’t have to do this.”
“Stop it, Guys,” said Merry. “Don’t even think it.”
“Why not?” demanded Curtains. “I have a chance to do the best show of my life, and I don’t want to miss it. Even if it’s the last show I ever do.”
“Seriously, Guys, please stop. It’s not just about my job; you all have careers to lose.”
“The Grand Chef may be able to replace any of us,” called Smarty, “But he can’t replace all of us at once. Not in the middle of a show.”
“We could do the right thing,” said Doc. “That would feel good.”
“Don’t fight us, Merry,” pleaded Almond. “Please join us.”
“They’re right, Merry,” said Scooter. “You gave me the skills. After assisting you to assist the Grand Chef I could go anywhere and be anypony’s assistant, and it would be easier. I don’t have to do this. None of us do.”
Once Scooter joined the revolt it was all over. He would be the last pony to quit on Merry.
The next voice they heard came as a surprise to everypony.
“I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited to hear you all say that.”
“Happy? Curtains, Happy’s headset is live!”
“Of course it is, Silly! That switch you use to cut me out? I came into the studio after hours and disabled it with a pair of wire cutters several seasons ago.”
Chapter 18: A Revolting Development
Chapter 18 A Revolting Development
“I’ve been listening to Grand Chef Éclair bully you for what feels like forever,” said Happy. “I managed to escape the worst of it, because for some strange reason he thinks I’m a simpleton. But I’ve hated the way he’s treated the rest of you. Maybe I should have said something, but I thought you all had to make up your own minds. Besides, I don’t think you guys take my advice very seriously.”
“I guess that makes us unanimous, Merry,” said Smarty. “Except for you, I guess.”
Merry struggled to regain some control. “Ok, we need some chances. We can sit down with the Grand Chef and talk, right after the show…”
“No, Merry,” said Smarty. “Things change now. Not for the next show. For this show.”
“We can still turn this around,” cried Merry. “All it would take is a few snarky comments about Twist’s showpiece…”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Why not? She’s going to lose anyway!”
“It’s over, Merry,” said Doc. “All anyone will remember is what Twist has already done. The Grand Chef will win, but Twist will look like the winner.”
Happy giggled. “Twist will get the most celebrated second place in the whole history of coming in second!”
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” cried Merry. “With a few snide remarks you could spin it that Twist was just lucky. You could compare her show piece to a child’s drawing on a refrigerator. We can still salvage this for the Grand Chef!”
“Are you listening to yourself, Merry?”
“How can you carry on when you know you want to join us?”
“What are you still fighting for?”
“He doesn’t love you, Merry.”
“What?” sputtered Merry. “Happy, what are you talking about?”
“Éclair doesn’t love you, Merry,” said Happy. “No matter what you do for him he will never feel for you what you feel for him.”
“I don’t…I never…he’s just a…” Merry trailed off. “How did you know, Happy?”
“A better question would be ‘How did everypony else miss it?’ Really, where did you all get this silly idea that I don’t notice stuff? But Merry, you have to know that there is room in the Grand Chef’s heart for only one pony, and that is himself.”
“That might not be true. We’ve had moments…I think. When we’re alone he’s sometimes nice to me…” Merry gave up. “I’ve just led myself straight down the path to Tartarus, haven’t I?”
“I’m sorry, Merry,” said Scooter. “How do we help you?”
Merry did not answer right away.
“Give me a moment,” said Merry. “I’ve got a few years of denial to work through here.”
“You aren’t thinking of doing something stupid, are you?”
“No, I’ve already done that. I’m thinking of doing something smart.”
“Oh, good,” said Happy. “Because I think that’s my job. I think it’s even in my contract, for some reason I don’t understand.”
Merry took off her headset and got up to leave the control booth.
“So, what are you going to do, Merry?” asked Curtains.
“I’ll try to run interference for you with the Grand Chef. But first I need to take a meeting.”
Princess Luna thoughtfully read the note an usher had just handed her , then rose to leave. “Excuse Us, children, We have some pressing business to conduct.”
Shortly after Luna left Scootaloo and Sporky returned. To reach their seats they had to slip passed Silver Spoon.
“Ewwww! You guys are gross!” cried Silver. “What have you been rolling in?”
They were covered with dust, cobwebs and grease.
“We had to hide from a maintenance pony,” said Scootaloo. This was all the explanation she offered.
“Which was only necessary because he came to reset the circuit breakers,” grumbled Sporky. “We’d have been Ok if somepony hadn’t tripped the breakers in the first place.”
“Fine!” snapped Scootaloo. “Next time I’ll hold the flashlight and you use the wire clippers.”
“That wouldn’t work, I had to read the schematic while you made the cut, and you can’t read schematics.”
“I’m not so sure you can, either!”
“What did you two do?” Sweetie Belle demanded to know.
“Oh, we’ve been inspecting the Coliseum’s wiring.” The innocent tone Scootaloo affected was not convincing.
“Their security down there is pretty lax, especially given how worried they are about the rest of the building,” noted Sporky. “The door was ajar.”
“I think some pony was working down there this morning and just left it.”
“Well, whatever they were doing is definitely wasn’t cleaning.” Sporky brushed a bit of spider web off his ear.
“What did you do?” Sweetie Belle demanded again, more forcefully this time.
“Oh, we found an extra feature wired into the Challenger’s Kitchen fans,” said Sporky.
“And we thought that was really not fair to the Grand Chef,” continued Scootaloo, smugly.
“So we spliced it onto his kitchen’s exhaust system,” concluded Sporky.
“Smarty, stand by to intro the final round,” called Curtains. “Ok, everypony, we get to do the rest of the show right.” A good start, he thought, would be to turn this awful thing off. He flipped the switch that disengaged the Heat Hammer.
Curtains had no way of knowing that the off switch had been burnt out. He looked at the temperature gauge for the Challenger’s Kitchen, and was pleased to see that the temperature was already returning to normal. He did not look at the gauge for the Grand Chef’s kitchen. Curtains had no reason to think he should.
“All right, everypony, we have seen the opening acts, now it’s time for the main event,” declared Smarty. “The Sugar Showpiece. I know everypony else in the Coliseum is ready for this, how about you, Chefs? Challenger, are you ready?”
“Yeth, Mithter Brickoven.”
“Grand Chef Éclair, are you ready?”
“Ready and eager.”
“You may begin.”
The Grand Chef became a scarlet blur, seemingly trying to fly to everywhere in his kitchen at once. His assistants rushed to obey his every bellow; given his current mood, it would take very little to trigger the Grand Chef’s rage and no pony wanted to get their head bitten off. No pony was completely sure that it would only be figurative.
“Guyths, I know you want to thelebrate, but we have work to do.” They had been celebrating since the winner of round two was announced, and Twist really didn’t want to make them stop, but she had a tower of sugar to assemble.
Apple Bloom stopped dancing with Bon Bon. “Yes, Chef. Sorry, Chef.”
“I’m going to need a pot of isomalt ready to add color…I mean it, Apple Bloom, thtop dancing.”
“Ah’m sorry, Chef.”
Twist just grinned. She was feeling better than she had in days.
“What do you have for us tonight, Grand Chef?”
“The Cloudiseum of Cloudsdale.”
“You plan to take us to the races, Grand Chef?”
“Certainly, Oates,” answered the Grand Chef. “The pegasi will actually race on my Sugar Showpiece. The whole thing will move. And aside from the spring and winding mechanism, and a music box drum for the orchestra, all of the moving parts will be edible. I can even adjust the weighting on each competitor so each race may end differently. Do you wish to place a bet, Oates?”
“I always bet on Fleetfoot, Grand Chef,” said Oates. “It sounds magnificent. What do you think of your competitor’s efforts?”
The Grand Chef shook his head. “I am deeply disappointed in the Challenger, Oates. It appears she has decided to rest on her laurels and is no longer even trying.”
“She seems to be working quite industriously, Grand Chef…”
“Oates, please, she is doing one of the Great Stained Glass Windows from the palace at Canterlot.” The Grand Chef waved dismissively. “They are so magnificent sugar artists find them irresistible. And that is the trap young Peppermint has fallen into. Every sugar artist in Equestria has done the Windows. I find the notion that my little challenger can do anything original laughable. But it is not actually funny, so I shall not laugh.”
“I believe the Challenger’s real name is…”
The Grand Chef was quick to interrupt. “Looking into her kitchen I see that Peppermint is already reproducing her Window all wrong. And she is using candy canes for support structures? Really? I suppose her candy canes are very nice. Peppermint has applied herself to mastering them. Most of us go on to better things earlier in our careers.”
“Peppermint is not her…”
“One final thing, Oates. I think her choice of “Nightmare Night’s Defeat By The Elements of Harmony” for a Window is an insult to our Princess. No, little Peppermint has gotten lucky and deceived us into believing she is a winner. Her Showpiece will remind us that she is just a little girl playing at adult games. Now excuse me, Oates, I have a real Showpiece to assemble.”
Oates knew better than to say another word when the Grand Chef dismissed him. But he did not that the Grand Chef seemed to be perspiring. Oates had never seen him sweat.
“Well, Grand Chef Éclair is certainly in fine form,” grumped Happy. “He can be such a meanie!”
“Be that as it may be,” said Smarty. “The Grand Chef makes several points. Judges, your opinions?”
“I differ with him as far as Twist’s candy canes,” said Almond. “They are magnificient! Rather than making stripes, Twist blends the colors; they fade into one another seamlessly.”
“They’re so pretty!” exclaimed Happy. “Also, I want to say, the Grand Chef totally missed the point when he said Twist is getting the Window all wrong. I can see what she’s doing; can any of you?”
“I can,” said Doc. “The real Window is highly stylized. Twist has re-envisioned it. The sugar figures she is making are realistic instead. Very realistic. Twist’s work is almost photographic. It’s quite stunning.”
“That makes sense,” said Almond. “Coming from Ponyville, Twist very likely knows the bearers of the Elements of Harmony personally.”
“The Grand Chef did say he wanted something original,” laughed Happy.
“Can I also say, I want to apologize for my earlier statement about Chef Twist being slow?” asked Doc. “She’s not slow, she’s methodical. Deliberate. Twist doesn’t waste a single move. Look how much work she’s done in such a short time.”
“That’s as opposed to the Grand Chef, who flies around his kitchen flamboyantly, playing for the crowd.” Happy began to giggle. “He always reminds me of some big tropical bird, showing off for a potential mate!”
“So, you we all seem to like the Challenger’s Showpiece so far,” said Smarty. “In light of that, do any of you like Twist’s chances in the final round?”
They all answered together. “No.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“Princess Luna, what do you think of the contest so far?” The break in the middle of the third round had begun and the Chef’s weren’t doing anything interesting. Oates was grateful when Princess Luna signaled that she wanted another interview. It gave him something to entertain the crowd with, and most of the crowd had remained in their seats during the break.
“We are enjoying it very much, Mr. Oates,” Luna answered. “But We do wish to address one of the Grand Chef’s comments, if We may.”
“He suggested that We should be insulted by Twist’s selection of our Window. This is far from the truth. We do not consider the event portrayed as ‘Our Defeat.’ We, with Our sister, celebrate this as Our liberation from the Nightmare. Twist understands Us much better than the Grand Chef.”
“Then you are looking forward to seeing the finished piece?”
“Oh, yes, very much. We also recall the Grand Chef made mention of how he holds a Royal Commission. This is true. However, I am planning to speak with the Master of the Household about adding Twist to the catering staff, perhaps for the next Grand Galloping Gala.”
“Princess, did you just say “I am planning,’?”
“Yes. I’m considering dropping the Royal We from my speech. Do you think it will go over well?”
“I’m very proud of you for staying rather than fleeing from Mr. Oates, Quizzical. Quizzical? Quizzical?”
Quiz was staring towards the back of the Grand Chef’s kitchen, her eyes half shut and unfocused. She did not respond to the Princess.
“Ssssh! Don’t interrupt her, Princess Luna,” said Sweetie Belle. “I think Quiz is listening to something.”
Quiz had been watching the mare who Sweetie Belle told her was producer Merry Fairweather. Quiz marveled that she recognized Merry. She now recalled seeing her in Ponyville on several occasions. Quiz simply hadn’t noticed Merry at the time. It was obvious that it was Merry who had been carrying out all the Grand Chef’s nefarious orders, and this puzzled Quiz. Why would any pony do such things? Quiz had kept track of Merry, hoping for some clue that would help her understand.
Merry had disappeared after the second round, but Quiz finally spied her heading for the back of the Grand Chef’s kitchen. Quiz really did not like to eaves drop. It was very rude.
But Quiz could not resist.
Bbbzzzt! “Grand Chef, we need to talk.”
“Oh, good, Fairweather. I need you to do something for me.”
“The entire staff is in open revolt! You have to do something to settle…”
“Yes, yes, well need to begin a great purge right after tonight’s contest. Begin with Happy. She’s saying unkind things about me and I just can’t have that.”
“Grand Chef…Blitzen, please! It’s time to do the right thing…”
“I need you to start a fire in the Challenger’s Kitchen.”
“Nothing large. But it must destroy the girl’s showpiece, and it must look as if the little clod did it herself. Get right on that, Fairweather.”
“What makes you think I even know how to do that?”
“You’ve done it before. In Ponyville. I’ve seen your expense accounts.”
“Yes, I changed the Sweetshop’s order. I arranged for several months of supplies to show up, but that’s all. The fire was an accident.”
“Really?Those extra supplies were just supposed to disrupt their kitchen. Twist would have just lost a night or two of practice while they sorted it out and put it all away, but that was supposed to be all. No pony was meant to spend a week in the hospital.”
“So you don’t actually know anything about arson? That is disappointing. I was looking forward to seeing Peppermint present the judges with a pile of molten slag and smoking ruin.”
“I can’t believe you asked me to do that! Quiz Greystone almost died in that fire! And it would have been my fault!”
“Eggs and omelets, Fairweather. Think of some other calamity we can arrange for the brat if you can’t do a fire.”
“How about you grow a conscience and act like a responsible adult?”
“How dare you speak to me that way? Are you also revolting against me?”
“I’m the last friend you have, and I’m trying to save you from yourself. You have to stop bullying the staff and you have to show the challenger a little common courtesy. You have to get over this unhealthy disregard for the feelings of your fellow ponies. And you are running out of time. If you don’t stop acting like a cartoon super villain you are going to lose everything!”
“You dare! No pony speaks to me that way! No pony!”
“Blitzen, no! Please don’t! STOP!”
The noise hurt Quiz’s ear and she had to break the spell. She sat stunned, shaking her head in an attempt to clear it. Finally, she gasped, “He has hurt her.”
“Who has been hurt, Quizzical?” asked a very concerned Princess Luna.
“My…arch-enemy…I think. It is very hard to explain.”
Merry lay across the wreckage of a toppled rack of pots and pans. The Grand Chef stood over her. “Security! Drag this traitorous mare out of here by her mane!”
“No, I’ll walk myself out,” said Merry. She tried painfully to rise, but only managed to send a few pots rolling across the kitchen. “Um, could you help me up, please?”
Two huge guard stallions got Merry standing, then escorted her, limping, to the nearest exit. At the door she stopped and asked, “Could one of you please get me my hat?” That was all she said when she left.
Chapter 19: "And The Winner Is..."
Thweet Geniuth Chapter 18 “And The Winner Is…” Reprise “Ok, everypony, we are about to begin the final hour of tonight’s Challenge,” said Smarty. “Do any of you wish to make any observations?” “Doesn’t anypony want to talk about what happened to Merry?” whined Happy. Their answer was resounding. “No!” “I have to say, considering tabling, I find the Challenger’s proposed Showpiece frightening,” said Doc. “The Grand Chef hurt her! It was assault!” Happy cried into their headsets. “Doc, please explain ‘tabling’ for any audience members who don’t know,” said Smarty. “Scooter, you are the closest to Merry, could you explain it to her?” “Tabling is the final test, Smarty,” said Doc. “A sugar sculpture must be structurally sound, and to test this we set up a table before each kitchen. A Chef must move their piece the ten feet from their kitchen to the table, and it must be able to survive the move.” “Happy, the Grand Chef will say Merry fell,” said Scooter. “When moving their Showpiece, a Chef must bear its’ weight and must be in control of guiding the piece to the table,” continued Doc. “As many as four ponies can move a piece, and we allow a Chef the aid of our stage stallions, but that’s problematic given Chef Twist’s height. Three burly stallions crouching way over to aide her won’t be much help.” “Merry didn’t fall, she didn’t trip, she wasn’t even pushed!” insisted Happy. “The Grand Chef threw her at that rack!” “Chef Twist has added a new top feature to her plan; this will make her Showpiece the Grand Chef’s Challenge new record holder for tallest sugar sculpture. That is, if she can get it to the table.” “Happy, we didn’t get it on camera, and it was in the back of the kitchen where none of the audience could see it clearly. Merry must have seen this day coming because she once told me ‘If it ever goes into the fan for me, I don’t want to fight it. I just want to slip quietly out a back door without a word.’ That’s what she did. Leave it.” “So you are worried about Twist’s Sugar Showpiece collapsing?” asked Smarty. “Merry was hurt; shouldn’t somepony go after her to make sure she’s alright?” “Merry will take care of herself, she’s like that. Come on, Happy, I don’t want to start crying, so could you please just shut up?” “I fear she will leave a lot of herself behind here,” said Almond. “We may be cleaning debris from her Showpiece out of the carpet years from now.” # At the beginning of the last hour of this Challenge, the Grand Chef did not return directly to his kitchen. He first went to visit Twist in her’s. This was a tradition in the Grand Chef’s Challenge. He always took time to inspect the Challenger’s work. This was played up as a courtesy call, though really it was a last effort to rattle the Challenger. “You are assembling a mighty Showpiece,” said the Grand Chef. “Thank you, Grand Chef,” said Twist. “Your colors are very vibrant. They remind me of a child’s coloring book.” “My colorths reflect reality. At least, as nearly as I can.” “Don’t you fear the great heights to which you are building, Chef?” “Of courthse I do,” answered Twist. “But I have no choice. Not if I want any points for an extreme element. I can’t make it move, not like your Thowpiece. And I won’t add pyrotechnicths. I don’t light fires in my kitchen on purpose.” This got a dry chuckle from the Grand Chef. “No, my extreme element will be my piethe’th height. And I have to include the new top pieth I’m making. It’th very important. But theth will help.” Twist indicated the candy sticks she had already prepared. “Candy canes?” “I know, candy canes are for children and beginners. But it was candy canes that got me into candy making and they have always served me well. They bring me luck. They will frame and thupport my thowpiece tonight.” “Doesn’t the weight concern you?” “Thsure. That’th the trick, ithn’t it? Make it too thsturdy and it ith too heavy. Make it too light and it ith too fragile. You have to have balance.” “You know that you cannot just pour sugar into molds and glue it together and hope to beat me.” “No Grand Chef. But I’m jutht not thinking about that. I really jutht want to put it together and move it to the table. I can already thsee it in my head. I want to thsee it in real life, if only for a moment.” “Oh, I hope the image lasts longer than that. In fact, I hope you remember this night for a very long time.” “Thank you, Grand Chef, I think. Good luck to you altho.” At that the Grand Chef left. Apple Bloom stepped up to Twist and said, “Well, was that creepy or what?” “It didn’t scare me,” said Twist. “I’m not afraid. Don’t you dare thsay, ‘You will be.’” “Ah wouldn’t dream of it, Chef.” No pony noticed that on his way out the Grand Chef scuffed his hoof. And no pony noticed the bulge this raised in the carpet, right where Twist was likely to step. # In the Grand Chef’s kitchen his showpiece grew and grew. As each portion was assembled he tested the movement. Everything moved. The racers raced. The crowd waved, and rose to cheer. The orchestra played. Grounds keepers in the infield tended to stray clouds. Birds circled. Cotton candy clouds slowly drifted by. Though it all the Grand Chef complained at the top of his lungs about the trouble he was having getting his sugar to set. He blamed his assistants. He blamed Oates (who never went near a kitchen during the final hour rush). He blamed the audience, whose movements were obviously disturbing the Coliseum’s air flow. He blamed his assistant’s mothers. It never occurred to the Grand Chef to blame his kitchen’s exhaust fans. # Twist populated the base of her showpiece with models of the residents of Ponyville, looing adoringly up at the window. She included everyone from the Mayor to Fluttershy’s bunny friend Angel. Miss Cheerilee was there with all of Twist’s classmates, except for Diamond Tiara. Twist crafted her figures out of every edible material she could think of. She molded them in marzipan and sculpted them with molding chocolate. She carved Rice-crispie treats and covered them with pastiage. She carved layer cake and covered it with fondant. All of Twist’s figures seemed ready to come to life. Anchoring the piece were four Royal Guards. The two in the livery of the Sun Princess were generic grim faced warriors, the two wearing Princess Luna’s uniforms were more familiar. One of Princess Luna’s charioteers nudged the other and pointed. “Look, Cruiser, it’s us!” “I’m so proud!” gushed the other guard, sounding not at all like a grim faced warrior. Unfortunately, while she executed all the things she was good at perfectly, every time Twist tried a new skill she failed completely. Twist wanted to add the party balloons from Pinkie Pie’s cutie mark to the window’s border. But every time she tried to inflate her pulled sugar the sugar globe would crack. After shattering her third balloon in a row Twist realized she couldn’t waste any more time on it and gave up. She just cut the balloons out of a flat piece of sugar instead, even though she knew this would cost her points. Twist’s every attempt to show more advanced skills ended much this way. It was the shortest hour of Twist’s life. As they assembled the panels of the Window Twist was soon spending more time on a step ladder than on the floor. Soon they needed a second ladder; Apple Bloom held sections steady while Twist fixed them into place, and Bon Bon handed materials up to the girls. By the final minute both girls were standing on the top of their ladders, their rear hooves covering the warning “Do Not Use As A Step.” “Last piece!” cried Apple Bloom. “Hand it up!” Bon Bon had to climb halfway up to reach her, and she was terrified that she would knock Apple Bloom off. “There’s no time! Forget it, Twist, the showpiece is tall enough.” “It goeths out with the topper on or it doethn’t go out,” said Twist, laying down a line of hot sugar to glue the top on. “It’th for Printheth Luna, it’th important.” She settled the last piece in place. “Hold it right there, Apple Bloom. It’th thtraight and level, don’t let it move.” “Ah got it, Chef!” “Hand me the chiller, Bon Bon.” Bon Bon had to reach from one ladder to the other, for a second she thought she was going to them all over, and take the showpiece down as well. “It won’t set, there isn’t time!” “It will thet!” declared Twist. She sprayed the molten sugar with chilled compressed air to freeze it. “It won’t set!” “It will thet!” “Time, Chefs!” called Smarty. “Step back from your work.” Apple Bloom took her hooves off the top piece. It didn’t move. It had set. # Now that it was mounted, Princess Luna could see the top piece clearly for the first time. It was herself, newly released from the Nightmare, held tightly by Princess Celestia. This was the moment the sisters had been reunited for the first time in a thousand years.” “Princess, why are you sad?” asked Ray. “Please don’t cry.” “These are tears of Joy, little Ray,” answered the Princess. “I am reminded of how very happy I am to be here.” # The Grand Chef tabled first. His showpiece was so stable there was hardly any drama involved. He was worked up into a lather, but that had more to do with the heat of his kitchen than the effort of carrying the showpiece. “Um, Grand Chef?” called Happy, trying not to laugh out loud. “Your cutie mark is running!” The crossed whisk and spatula at the Grand Chef’s flank were revealed to have normal wooden handles. The lightning bolt handles the Grand Chef was famous for now dribbled down his legs. “He painted his cutie mark?” exclaimed Scootaloo. “That’s disgusting!” The Grand Chef ran back to his kitchen, to find a larger apron to hide his shame. # “For her tabling, the Challenger has made a special request,” announced Smarty. “Instead of recruiting assistance from our staff she has asked that some of her friends aide her in moving her showpiece. Out of deference to her short stature we have agreed.” “Since they are all about the same height this might make it easier to balance the showpiece,” noted Doc. “But can four little fillies actually carry it?” “Nothing is going to make balancing it possible,” declared Almond, shaking her head. “The showpiece is four times as tall as them.” “I can’t look,” squealed Happy, covering her eyes with her hooves. “Tell me when it’s over!” # Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle took the showpiece onto their backs, and Twist took stood at the front with it resting on her collar bone. Twist would guide them, walking backwards on her rear legs. “Ok, girls, all together, on my call. Thstep. Thmaller thstepth, Scootaloo. Thstep…” Watching from the stands, it was Quiz who saw the problem first. “There is a wrinkle in the carpet. Twist will trip on it!” “I think not,” declared Luna. The spot on the carpet glowed, and became smooth just as Twist set her hoof down. As slowly as they were moving it still only took a few seconds to reach the table. Twist slid the showpiece into place, and they all stepped back. The showpiece sat unmoving, as steady as if it had never been moved. The crowd stood and cheered. “Cutie Mark Crusaders, Sugar Showpiece Movers! Yay!” They jumped and did a three way high hoof. “Girls! Thtand back from my thowpiece when you do that!” “Sorry, Twist.” # “I must protest!” cried the Grand Chef, charging to the judge’s table. “The Challenger had magical assistance!” Princess Luna calmly flew to stand next to the Grand Chef. “Are you referring to my adjusting the carpet?” “I am.” “I see,” said Luna. She smiled sweetly at the Grand Chef. “We apologize for misunderstanding. It sounded as if the Grand Chef had just accused Us of cheating. Certainly that could not be the case, now could it?” “What? Um, no, not at all. I meant no such thing.” The Grand Chef bowed, and backed away. “At any rate, there are no grounds for protest,” said Smarty. “Magic was not used to guide or lift the showpiece, only to remove an obstacle. That is allowed.” With a huff the Grand Chef stomped back to his kitchen. Luna flew back to her seat. “Princess, the way you told him off…that was so cool!” exclaimed Ray. “You’re my hero!” # It was a very short deliberation. When the judges announced they were ready none of them looked pleased. Happy was actually crying. “It has been an amazing Challenge,” said Smarty. “I have never seen a Sugar Showpiece contest to like of what we witnessed tonight. The Grand Chef built and assembled a sugar glockenspiel. Chef Twist set a new record for our tallest showpiece. Both chefs’ work was nearly perfect; with no spills, drips, or crooked lines, and not a thing out of place. I can say without fear of contradiction that both chefs put a lifetime of experience into their work tonight. However, for Chef Twist, that lifetime of experience is a small fraction of the Grand Chef’s. We award this round to…” Smarty was interrupted by a loud ‘Sproing!’ from deep within the Grand Chef’s showpiece. The sugar gears that made it work required perfect tempering, and perfect tempering requires exact temperature control. The temperature in the Grand Chef’s kitchen had been wildly out of control for over two hours. It was a testament to the Grand Chef’s skill that the thing started at all, let along that it had run for so long. But the sugar showpiece couldn’t last a moment longer. Some gears seized, others tried to keep spinning and shattered under the pressure. Then everything went at once, and half of the Grand Chef’s showpiece disintegrated, showering the judges with sugar shrapnel. The entire Coliseum looked on in stunned silence. Then Smarty signaled to the camerapony that he wanted a close-up. He calmly brushed shards of candy off his shoulders and began. “Under the rules, a sugar showpiece must last, at the very least, until the judges have pronounced a winner. We had not yet finished pronouncing a winner. With only one surviving sugar showpiece, we must by default award this round, and therefor this episode of the Challenge, to Chef Twist.” The crowd went wild. # “No!” roared the Grand Chef. He could be heard about the crowd. “No pony does this to me! I am the Grand Chef! You cannot get away with this!” He grabbed what was left of his showpiece off the table and hurled it at the judges. This left him holding the heavy metal base the whole thing had been mounted on. He held it high over his head and screamed. “I will fix you all for this! I will fix you! And I will start with you!” The Grand Chef turned to Twist. “Say your prayers, you spitting little four eyed freak!” The base piece glowed beige and disappeared with a soft ‘pop.’ It reappeared in the stands, where it fell with a huge ‘Clang!’ The Grand Chef screamed again, and advanced on Twist. He clearly meant to deal with her with his bare hooves. Security ponies, stage workers, and good Samaritans from the crowd all ran to stop him; but it was clear that none of them would get to the Grand Chef before he got to Twist. But one pony was close enough, and the Grand Chef never noticed her step behind him. He didn’t feel it when she layed him flat with one blow. He would feel it later. Bon Bon turned to the nearest camerapony, held up her frying pan, and smiled. “The secret is to turn it on edge. You don’t want to hit them with the flat; you want to chop like it’s a cleaver. Puts ‘em down every time.” Poor Bon Bon didn’t get a close-up. The shot got wider and wider as the frightened camerpony backed away from her. # A midnight blue cloud hovered over the Grand Chef. It formed into a rod, and poked him repeatedly. He twitched, but did not rise. “Get up, you big meanie!” demanded Princess Luna. “I have a spell with your name on it, get up! Darn it, Bon Bon was too quick for me!” The Princess began to pout. “Princess Luna!” cried Dinky. “Quiz has been hurt!” The two guard stallions lifted the base piece to reveal a stunned Quiz. Blood ran down her face. “I…underestimated the weight…”gasped Quiz. “I believe that is a personal best. Does the record still count if I do not stick the landing? Owwww!” “Hush, Quizzical,” said Luna, gently resting her horn against Quiz’s brow. “Be still and let your Princess heal your owie.” # Once it was clear that the Grand Chef was dealt with, the crowd resumed the celebration. It would last all night.
Chapter 20: Epilogue We Should Have A Long Talk
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Epilogue - We Should Have A Long Talk
Twist’s victory spawned a raucous celebration that shook the walls of Confectionery Coliseum. The joyous party atmosphere was infectious enough to draw almost anypony into the fun.
Quiz, of course, got out of there as quickly as she could.
Quiz slipped out a side door. The party outside was even more boisterous than inside the Coliseum, but only at the front of the building where ponies could watch the Mighty Percher-Tron. Off to the side, where the view was not so good, it was quite peaceful.
Across the street a mare in a broad brimmed hat beckoned for Quiz to come over.
Merry Fairweather was sitting on the curb, next to an elderly mule in a tattered overcoat. She and the mule were passing something in a brown paper bag back and forth. When Quiz approached Merry stood and offered Quiz a hoof.
“Quizzcal Greystone, it’s nice to finally meet you face to face.”
“Miss Merry Fairweather.” Quiz tentatively took the offered hoof and shook it. “Please help me to understand something, Ma’am. Are you my arch-enemy?”
Merry laughed. “Yeah, I’m afraid so. At least I was. I hope you won’t think of me that way anymore.”
“That should not be difficult. I found it nearly impossible to imagine having an arch-enemy in the first place.”
“I can’t tell you how happy I am you beat me, Quiz. Being a failure as your enemy is the best thing that ever happened to me. Of course I should have expected it. All I had going for me was my wits and all the resources of one of the largest corporations in Equestria. You had magic on your side.”
“Or friendship. They’re the same thing, right? Fred, pass me the bottle. This is Fred, by the way. He’s my new friend.”
“Pleased to meetcha,” said the mule.
“Miss Fairweather, you have been injured. You should have that seen to.”
“Yeah, I tripped. But I’ll be fine. It looks like you hurt yourself, too. Fred, hand me your handkerchief.” Merry cleaned a little dried blood from Quiz’s bangs.
“Yes, I dropped something,” said Quiz. “I will be fine.”
While they couldn’t see the Percher-Tron, they could hear it. They were running a replay of the Grand Chef’s freak out again. Merry had already lost track of how many times she’d heard it. “The Grand Chef will go in for 48 hour’s psychiatric observation, just as soon as he comes to. If they decide to let him out he goes straight to jail. If they decided not to let him out they’ll probably keep him for a long, long time. Either way, he’s ruined.” Merry took another swig from the bag and handed it back to Fred.
The clang of a frying pan rang from the Tron’s speakers. “I love that part,” laughed Merry. “Anyway, I had a word with Princess Luna. There are more than enough shares of Food Equestria available out there to take control of the company, and when the market opens tomorrow morning the Royal Treasury begins a big buy up. Even if he can weasel out of his legal problems, unlikely as that is, Blitzen Éclair is finished. But my friends will get to keep their jobs if they still want them.”
“What will happen to you?”
Merry shook her head. “Oh, I move on. I can’t stay here, not after what I’ve done. But I’ll find something. I hear Queen Chrysalis is looking for a PR hack, some pony who can spin it that the changelings aren’t evil, just misunderstood. I think that fits my skill set.”
“I suspect that would be a sad waste of talent.”
“Oh? Then forget it. I’ve already done quite enough of that.” Merry took the bag back and had a swig. “I hope when they rebuild the show Happy tries out to be the new chef.”
“Oh, yeah. She’s an amateur, but Happy is a real gourmet. And it’s fun to watch her galloping around a kitchen.” Merry look thoughtful for a moment. “There’s a catch phrase in there somewhere. Anyway, did you know that Happy has family in Ponyville? Very distant, but her fourth cousin 16 times removed sends her killer cupcake recipes sometimes.”
Fred took a drink and passed Merry the bag. “You know, Fred, this is the weakest hard cider I have ever had.”
“Hard cider?” exclaimed Fred. “That cider ain’t hard. Hard cider isn’t good for you, Missy.”
“Oh. Well, in that case it’s pretty good.” Merry took a sip, then wiped off the top of the bottle, and offered it to Quiz. “Care to join me, Miss Greystone?”
“I…yes, I do believe I would like to share a drink with you, Miss Fairweather.” Quiz took a sip, and passed the bag to Fred. “That is quite good.”
“Do you have any idea what you have done, Quiz?”
“I merely helped a friend.”
Merry laughed. “You are the most extraordinary pony I have even met, Quiz. And you are completely unaware of how extraordinary you are.”
Quiz had no comment.
“I would love to chat with you a while longer,” said Merry, looking across the street. “But I see a purple unicorn over there, and I think she’s looking for you.”
“Miss Twilight? Good bye, Miss Fairweather, Mr. Fred.” Quiz dashed off without waiting for a response.
When Quiz was gone Merry turned to her new companion. “Fred, tell me again about this brother-in-law of yours.”
“That worthless jerk? He cheated me, stole my company, and then poisoned my wife’s thoughts about me until she took the kids and left me!”
“Hmmmm,” mused Merry. “You know, if you had the right pony on your side, somepony ruthless, somepony willing to do anything to get things done, you could ruin him and get your life back. We should talk.”
Quiz ran to Twilight, and when she reached her she leapt up and hugged her around the neck, and Twilight hugged Quiz back.
“I am so sorry!” they both said at once.
“What do you have to be sorry about?” they both asked at once.
“Me first,” insisted Twilight. “I’m sorry that I did not take the word of the most careful observer in all of Equestria. From now on, no matter what it is, even if you say you’ve seen little green ponies from outer space, I swear I will believe you. No what are you sorry about?”
“I…am sure there must be something.”
“Never mind, Quiz.” Quiz no longer hugged her, but Twilight still held Quiz tightly by the shoulders. Twilight didn’t want to let Quiz go, and Quiz did no try to get away. “I wish I had gotten here sooner. But there was arcane interference in the ionosphere. It took me eight jumps to teleport here from Canterlot.”
“It is a shame your conference was a sham, Miss Twilight.”
“Oh, that turned out alright. When I went to the public communications office to ask about a conference they were very interested in talking to me. There’s a real conference soon, and they were still trying to recruit a keynote speaker. I think they were a little embarrassed that none of them thought of me. I get to give my speech in a couple of months! Oh, that means I only have two months to prepare!”
“Your speech is already outstanding, Miss Twilight. In two months it will be magnificent.”
“It will give me time to practice with your magic blackboard spell. I think I’ve almost worked out my contrast problems so the words are more legible.”
“If you insist, Miss Twilight.” Quiz sighed. “May I suggest that you not use a sparkly background?”
“What? No, tell me some other time. Right now I could really use a mug of hot coco. Want to join me?”
“Will our friends worry about where we have gotten to, Miss Twilight?”
“Actually, it was sort of Princess Luna’s idea. When I asked her where I could find you, she sent me out here. She also said, ‘I do not think I have ever known two ponies who cared so much about each other and yet misunderstood each other so badly. You should have a long talk.’”
“I seem to recall getting similar advice, Miss Twilight.”
“Ok, then. I have heard of a place near here that serves an amazing coco. And while we enjoy our coco we could have that long talk.”
“I would like that very much.”
Thank you for reading.