Part Three: Sunflower
Quiz and Clover were in a corridor, watching a small green colt and a skinny, gray filly.
“You are forcing your spells,” said the filly. “Concentrate not on gathering magic to power the spell. Instead, focus on the result you desire. Your spell work will actually be better, with less effort.”
“Thank you, Miss,” said the grateful little colt being coached.
“Not ‘Miss.’ I am only a student, just like you. My name is Quiz.”
“My word,” said Quiz, as she watched herself. “I have not grown at all, have I?”
“Don’t worry about it, Quizzical,” said Clover. “Your slight frame is much sturdier than most ponies suspect. Now, do you recognize this place?”
Quiz nodded. “This is Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. It is near the end of my freshman year, on entrance exam day. The colt is Leafy Glade. He is about to try out for next year’s class of incoming freshman.”
“And how does he do?” asked Clover.
“Quite well,” said Quiz. “And he was still doing well when last I saw him. Leafy and I did not speak very often, though. He makes friends easily and has many of them. He did not need me. I find this vision odd. Why would my subconscious bring me to this memory?”
“I brought you here, Quizzical, I believe we have been over this,” said Clover. “As for Leafy not needing you because of his many other friends, I believe he would dispute this with you. If you chanced to meet on the street right now I think you’ll find him delighted to see you again. But Leafy Glade is not the pony I have brought you here to see. Ah, here she comes.”
“Why are you helping these losers, Quiz-ik-al?!” A bright yellow unicorn, older and much larger than Quiz, stomped up to her. “What did you expect to gain, anyway?”
“Actually, I only saw that I could be of help, so I offered my assistance. That is all, Sunflower.”
“Do you remember her?” asked Clover.
“Of course,” said Quiz. “It would be impossible to forget Sunflower.”
“Oh, just let them fail, Drone!”said Sunflower. “We already have enough dweebs around here as it is. What did you think, they would be grateful, and make you Queen of the dweebs?! Try again, Quiz-ik-al!”
Seeing that the bully’s attention was focused on Quiz instead of himself, the colt took advantage of the moment and scurried away. This left his benefactor alone to face Sunflower.
“I thought no such thing,” said Quiz. “I only meant to be helpful, actually. It seemed the right thing to do.”
“Sure you did, Drone,” sneered Sunflower. “Well, if you think this is going to make you any friends, you can forget it! As soon as these foals find out what a lonesome loser you are they are going to forget all about you. Oh, they might try to take advantage of you around midterms and finals, but they won’t ever really be your friends. Stone the Drone doesn’t get to have any friends!”
“That was never my motive,” said Quiz. “Actually, I have noticed, Sunflower, that you also have a tendency to force your spells as well. I could…”
“Actually you better learn not to correct your betters, Drone!”
“Well, I’ve heard quite enough of her,” said Clover. “Let’s go someplace where she has less to say.”
The world changed.
“That really is quite extraordinary,” said Quiz. “Normally, if there is a transition this drastic in a dream the nausea it induces is enough to wake me.”
“This is not a dream,” said Clover. “Pay attention, Quizzical.”
They were in one of the magic laboratories the school allowed students to sign out for private practice sessions. The only occupant was Sunflower. She stood with her back to a bookshelf. Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut, her face was scrunched up with effort. She held her breath. Sunflower’s horn glowed, and the intensity of the light grew and grew.
Sunflower turned to the bookcase and screamed, “Stupid book!
She telekinetically grabbed a book off the shelf and hurled it at a wall.
“I hate this spell! I hate it, I hate it!” Sunflower sobbed tears of frustration. A moment later she was just sobbing.
A soft voice came from the room’s door. “Sunflower?”
“Go away, Quiz-ik-al!” snapped Sunflower. She turned to hide her face. “I’ve reserved this room for the next hour!”
“It is about the Teleport Object spell, is it not?” asked Quiz. “I could help you with it, if you let me.”
“You are forcing the spell, and that is counter productive,” said Quiz. “It actually requires relatively little power. Less power and more control actually makes the spell easier.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re better than anypony at teleporting objects. You’re three years younger than me and you’re better than…” Sunflower trailed off, finishing the sentence in a whisper. “...I’ll ever be.”
“Yes, I am very good at this spell,” said Quiz. “That is actually a good reason to accept my help.”
“You… why would you help me?”
Quiz ignored the question. “It is a required spell, Sunflower. You must learn it to remain at the school. Let me help you.”
Sunflower stared at her. Eventually she nodded. “Yes, please.”
Quiz walked over to Sunflower. “Begin by calming yourself. I know this will be difficult, as you find me so very, very annoying. But you must be centered. When you are ready to begin, close your eyes and form a mental picture of the book…”
Quiz watched herself and cringed. “Must we watch the entire lesson, Miss Clover? My voice is unbearable. I must thank Sweetie Belle once again for her vocal lessons. And I say ‘actually’ every other sentence. I am very glad to be cured of that habit.”
“Firstly, you should be heartened to see how much you have grown and improved,” said Clover. “Secondly, notice how you convey information simply and clearly. For all your faults, you are quite good at this. Now watch and learn.”
It went on for almost two hours, through Sunflower’s reserved time in the room,. and then through Quiz’s. Quiz gently coached Sunflower through every step, and Sunflower fought her most of the way. As Quiz explained, “This spellwork teaches you patience, as improvement is in very small increments. Without patience it can be very discouraging.” Sunflower had very little patience to begin. Luckily, Quiz had more than enough for both of them.
Eventually, Sunflower said, “I think I feel it. Yes, I don’t just see the book, I feel it!”
“Good,” said Quiz. “You are ready to teleport it.”
“You can. I have seen you teleport objects you can see. Do the same with the book.”
“It’s not the same!”
“It is the same. You see the book in your mind’s eye. Teleport it.”
Sunflower took a deep breath. Her horn brightened. There was a soft ‘pop,’ then the book was floating in front of Sunflower.
“I did it!” cried Sunflower. She began to bounce up and down. The book, forgotten, fell to the floor. “Quiz, I did it! I did it, I did it!”
“Of course,” said Quiz. “I think I said you would, actually.”
“And there you go, Quizzical,” said Clover. “You have just taught your first student. It’s a shame you don’t wish to pursue a career in education. It looks promising to me.”
The world changed.
It was another study room, another bookshelf, on another day. Quiz and Sunflower were alone.
“I can’t feel the book,” said Sunflower. “You moved it!”
“Yes I did,” said Quiz.
“That’s a dirty trick!”
“I do not do this to tease you,” said Quiz. “You will be tested on this. Reach out and find the book.”
Sunflower closed her eyes, but gave up and opened them almost immediately. “Why is this stupid spell required, anyway?”
Quiz in the vision and Quiz watching her answered together, “It is meant to humble a young unicorn.”
Clover chuckled. “Just watch the vision, Quizzical. Don’t try to join in.”
“Humble?” asked Sunflower.
Quiz nodded. “Many unicorns are attracted to magic study because of power. They learn they can gather elemental forces and use them to alter reality. The more powerful and flashy the magic the more intoxicating they find it. Then, they are faced with this simple little spell that requires little power, but tremendous patience and control. Some learn from this, and train themselves to cast spells with more discipline and finesse. Some do not. These unicorns do not go far in their studies.”
Sunflower looked hurt. “Do you think I need to be humbled, Quiz?”
“I think it is not my place to say,” said Quiz. “Find the book, Sunflower.”
She tried again and swiftly gave up again. “This is the least fun I’ve had since I go to this school. How did you get so good at this, anyway?”
“I am no fun,” said Quiz. “Also, it plays to my strengths. Patience, attention to detail, control, focus, discipline. You know, all the boring things most ponies dislike.”
Clover snorted. “Just like you, to list all your strengths, then dismiss them as boring. It’s a shame you still do that, Quizzical.”
“There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?” asked Sunflower.
Quiz sighed. “Yes. You and your friends pick on me by stealing my things. I was forced to master this spell to get my possessions back.”
“Oh.” There was a long, uncomfortable silence.
“Find the book, Sunflower,” Quiz finally said.
Sunflower closed her eyes and concentrated. After a moment her eyes went wide with amazement. “Found it! You only moved it one shelf down?”
“I did not want it to be too much of a challenge your first time,” said Quiz. “To hide the book more thoroughly would be just mean.”
The world changed.
Quiz watched herself open the door to her dorm room. She was immediately swept off her hooves by Sunflower. “Quiz, I passed! I passed! Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!!!”
“Um… that is… good…” Quiz sounded unbearably uncomfortable. “Congratulations… Sunflower...”
“When a pony hugs you, you should hug them back,” said Sunflower.
“Really?” said Quiz, remaining stiff as a statue. “I shall take your word for it.”
Watching this, Quiz shook her head. “It has taken me much too long to learn to appreciate hugs. Even now, there are fewer than a dozen ponies I will accept one from.”
“You keep getting better, Dear,” said Clover. She put a leg over Quizzes shoulders, and drew her in for a hug. Quiz flinched and went stiff, which Clover seemed to think was funny.
Sunflower let Quiz go. “You saved my life, Quiz. You really did.”
“You should not exaggerate, Sunflower,” said Quiz.
“Well, whatever,” said Sunflower. “Look, I want you to know, we won’t pick on you anymore. I’ll talk to the other girls, they’ll listen to me. I’m kinda the queen bee. And we won’t ever steal your stuff ever again.”
“Thank you,” said Quiz. “I can display the drawings my little sister sends me by my bed, and they will not be taken down?”
“I would appreciate that very much.”
The world changed.
Clover and Quiz were back on the train.
“Do I have to star in all of these visions?” asked Quiz. “I do not enjoy it. I am not entertaining.”
The three mares looked at each other, then looked away and tried not to laugh. “We are going to have to agree to disagree on that,” said Cookie.
“I have a question,” said Pansy. “Sunflower asked this, and you never answered, Quiz. Why did you help her? She was your bully, your tormentor. Why help her?”
“She was crying.” This explanation seemed to suffice for Quiz.
“We need to make one more stop,” said Clover. “We haven’t actually come to the part where you change her life.”
The world changed.
Quiz and Sunflower were alone in Sunflower’s room. Quiz was grading a practice exam. “You have aced this. You are ready for the mid-term.”
“Yeah!” cried Sunflower, tossing a pillow into the air in celebration. “What I’m really ready for is a break.”
Quiz nodded. “Rest is part of preparation.” Sunflower reclined on her bed, going limp as the stress of cramming left her.
Watching the vision, Quiz noted, “I remember this moment. I had studied with Sunflower many times…”
“As well as many other ponies,” interrupted Clover. “You would study with any pony who asked you nicely.”
“Yes, yes,” said Quiz. “I do actually get this. I helped many of my schoolmates study for exams. But this is the first time I spoke with Sunflower about anything besides school work.”
Clover beamed at Quiz. “I am encouraged that you noticed this.”
In the vision, Quiz pointed to a flower in a bell jar by the window. “I have actually been admiring this, Sunflower. It is quite beautiful.”
The flower was glossy black, and roughly triangular. At the bloom’s center there were deep red markings that formed a diamond.
“Yes, she is beautiful,” said Sunflower. “She’s my alicorn orchid.”
“Was it a gift?” asked Quiz.
Sunflower sat up abruptly. “Oh, no! I grew her! They’re very rare, and they’re tough to cultivate. You have to pass a certification test with the Royal Botanical Society just to get a cutting, and even then only one in ten survives. I’ve been growing her since I was eight. I don’t know if any other filly has ever been given an alicorn orchid cutting to care for.”
In the vision, Quiz looked confused. Watching this, Quiz understood why. “As I knew her, I had seen Sunflower haughty, boastful, arrogant, and absolutely pompous. I had never seen her proud. Here she is brimming with pride.”
“I do not understand,” said Quiz, in the vision. “You have taken no courses in horticulture, botany, or even biology. Do you not wish to pursue this?”
“It’s just a hobby. Mom and Dad don’t approve, they call it ‘playing in the dirt.’” If you were at all sensitive, you would have sensed her disappointment. It would crush you. “Growing plants is something earth ponies do. Mom and Dad are kinda snobs. So am I, I guess.”
“That is wrong,” said Quiz. “If you love this, and you excel at it, then if you follow this as a career path your parents will come to accept it. In time I would think they should become proud or you.”
“Maybe.” Despite this noncommittal answer, Sunflower was clearly thinking about this.
The world changed.
They were all back on the train. Sitting across from her, Clover grinned smugly at Quiz.
“So, how is Sunflower doing these days?” Clover asked.
“We have lost touch,” admitted Quiz. “And our parents detest each other. But my parents are good friends of Professor Tender Seedling’s. Sunflower has an internship at Professor Seedling’s greenhouse. When she enters the university she will probably get a research assistantship. As she continues to advance in her field Sunflower’s parents will be forced to be more and more supportive and accepting. Her future is bright, and for this reason I understand she has bought shades.”
“Good, because I must now show you the alternate reality you wondered about,” said Clover. “You must now see what happens to Sunflower without you.”
Quiz shrank into her seat. “Must you?”
“Yes, Dear,” said Clover. “It’s actually the whole point.”
The world changed.
“This will be the third time you have tested for this spell, Miss Sunflower,” said the board unicorn monitoring the test. “You only get three tries. Make this a good one.”
Sunflower’s face was scrunched up with effort and her eyes were squeezed tightly shut. Her horn glowed, and the glow continued to increase in intensity.
Watching the vision, Quiz crossed her forelegs in front of her for luck.
There was a loud ‘pop’ and then a book floated in front of Sunflower.
“Well,” said the monitor. “That was pretty sloppy. Your spellcraft is abysmal, Sunflower. But I’m going to pass you.”
Clover turned to Quiz. “And so it goes. She never learns finesse, or any of the other things you managed to teach her. But through brute force, tenacity, and some talent she gets by. This will characterize the rest of Sunflower’s career.”
“Is this done then?” asked Quiz. She did not sound optimistic.
“I’m afraid not,” said Clover.
The world changed.
They were in the banquet hall of a fine Canterlot manor, and dinner had been served. Only three ponies sat at the long table.
“We have spoken to the university administration,” said Hyacinth, Sunflower’s mother. “They will be happy to receive you, Darling.”
“Thank you, Mother,” said Sunflower.
“Your registration is all sorted out,” said Withering Gaze, Sunflower’s father. “You will be majoring in Experimental Magic. You may be free to concentrate in theory or mechanics, whichever suits you best. But this is the study that is most likely to get you noticed. Also, we should be able to sell laboratory equipment to your supervisors.”
“Yes, Father,” said Sunflower. “But I thought… I have a knack for… a passion…”
“Yes, Sunflower?” Each parent raised an eyebrow.
“For Experimental Magic. I will do as you say.”
“What is this place?” Quiz and Clover were in a room filled with brand new equipment, much of which Quiz could not identify. They watched a somewhat older Sunflower, clothed in a white lab coat, slump about the room. Indicators flashed green or red, and Sunflower made check marks on her clipboard.
“This is the Royal Aerospace Research Center, atop Big Butte, in Eutaw County,” said Clover. “Some of the finest minds in all of Equestria are here. Unfortunately, so is Sunflower. In her field she’s something of a hack. She’s just good enough that her family is able to use their influence and wealth to secure her position. She’s impatient, sloppy, and she doesn’t want to be here. Her job calls for attention to detail, she responds with indifference. Her parents bought her this job. That’s bad, because this is the most dangerous research work there is, as this center specializes in things that blow up, then fall from great heights. She has no business being here.”
“Miss Clover, she just checked something off without actually checking on anything,” said Quiz.
Quiz strained to read the clipboard, “Pressure vessel levels?” Quiz ran to what looked like pressure tanks, and read the gauges. “Miss Clover, these gauges indicate high levels, and they are rising!”
“We must do something!”
“We can’t. We’re just witnesses.”
Quiz ran to a fire alarm and tried to trigger it. She couldn’t touch it. Clover called to her. “Please stop, Quizzical. We can not effect what is happening here.”
“Please, Miss Clover! We have to do something!”
The world changed.
They were back on the train. Clover spoke to Quiz. “No need to continue. It’s bad enough in your imagination, there’s no reason to show you the actual accident.”
“Why? Why did you show me this? Why?” cried Quiz. Pansy reached out to comfort Quiz. Quiz was so upset she did nothing to resist.
“I showed you this because it’s important that you know this,” said Clover. “Sunflower wasn’t exaggerating after all. You actually did save her life.”