Paper Promises

by Fervidor

Chapter 1: Money For Nothing


Diamond Dazzle Tiara stood in front of Filthy Rich's work desk, shifting awkwardly on her hooves under her father's stern, disapproving gaze. He had that you-are-in-so-much-trouble-now-young-lady look of disappointment on his face that signified that they were going to have one of those talks that they both would rather not, if for slightly different reasons.

”You broke your promise, Diamond,” Filthy Rich said.

”But daddy...” Diamond started, but Filthy held up a hoof to silence her.

”I thought we agreed you wouldn't be bothering those three fillies anymore,” he continued. ”And now I hear from Miss Cheerilee that you couldn't even go a week before starting trouble again. You know I don't like it when your teacher brings me bad news, Tiara, if you can even call it news at this point.”

”It's not my fault those three are a bunch of immature blank flanks,” Diamond muttered. ”They just get on my nerves, that's all.”

”I don't expect you to like them,” Filthy sighed. ”You don't even have to get along with them, even though I wish you would. I have accepted that you are not a filly who makes friends easily, but that's not the point right now. The point is that you made a promise.”

”Yeah, to them,” Diamond argued. ”I never promised you or Cheerilee anything.”

Filthy Rich raised an eyebrow. ”And that makes a difference to you?”

”Of course it does!” Diamond replied. ”I don't even like them, so who cares?”

Filthy Rich looked at her for a moment with a worried frown, as if he just had a terrible suspicion of some kind. ”Diamond,” he said slowly, ”do you even know what a promise is?”

Diamond Tiara looked mildly offended. What kind of question was that? ”Of course I do, I'm not a baby. It's, like, when you want somepony to do something and they agree to do it.”

”Yes, but why should you keep your promises?” Filthy asked. ”Why is that important?”

Diamond frowned. This wasn't how these talks would usually go. ”...Because you'll ground me or cut down my allowance if I don't?”

Filthy put his hooves under his chin. He looked very tired all of a sudden. ”And that's it? You keep your promises just because you don't want to be punished?”

”Well, yeah?” Diamond replied. She still didn't see the point of all this. ”I guess.”

There was a pause. Filthy kept giving her that strange tired look for a few moments, then he sighed deeply and leaned forward with his hooves over his eyes. ”Horseapples,” he mumbled. ”Miss Cheerilee was right. I'm a failure as a father.”

”Oh, come on!" Diamond groaned. ”Who cares what Cheerilee thinks? Look, are you going to ground me or whatever?”

Filthy didn't even look up. ”What's the point? You don't even understand why you're being punished.”

Diamond didn't get it – hadn't they just gone over that? She'd be grounded for breaking some dumb promise she made to some dumb blank flanks, even though that was totally unfair. She didn't say any of that out loud, though. She wasn't stupid. ”...So, wait. You're not going to punish me? Does that mean I can go now?”

”Fine.” Filthy waved a hoof at her, as if shooing her away. ”You can go, I... I need to think about this.”

Diamond turned to leave, smiling to herself. That had gone much better than expected. She had no idea what had come over her father but if it let her get out of trouble scot-free she sure wasn't going to argue about it.

She had nearly reached the door when Filthy Rich suddenly looked up. ”Diamond, hold on a minute.”

Drat! She knew it was too good to be true. Sighing slightly, she turned to look at him. ”Yes, daddy?”

”Come to think of it, I haven't given you your allowance yet, have I?” Filthy mused, scratching his chin. ”Since you're already here, why don't we get that out of the way so I don't forget about it later?”

Diamond blinked. ”...Really?” He was giving her money now? This just kept getting better and better! She quickly returned to his desk, putting on her most charming smile. Whatever was going on, she was intent on making the most of it. ”That's... That's great! Thanks, daddy!”

Filthy patted the pockets of his waistcoat. ”Hm, I don't appear to have my wallet on me right now... Ah, wait!” He seemed to have an idea and opened one of the drawers on his desk, sticking a hoof inside. ”I think I might have something for you after all, one moment.”

After some rummaging around he pulled out what looked like four rectangular paper slips with a slightly green tint. He held them out to Diamond. ”Here, you can take these.”

Diamond looked at them in confusion. ”What are those things?”

”Eyrian thalons,” Filthy said. ”It's griffon money.”

”That's money? But they're made out of paper,” Diamond pointed out.

”They're called bills,” Filthy said. ”They were originally banknotes that could be redeemed for a certain amount of coin, but these days griffons use bills the same way we use bits. I had some over from one of my visits to Eyria so I thought I'd let you have them.”

Diamond Tiara took the slips of paper and gave them a closer look. They were adorned with a picture of a griffon in a funny hat surrounded by a lot of squiggly ornamentation. She still had her doubts, but they evaporated when she saw the sum printed in the corners. That was a lot of zeroes. ”So, basically, these are worth the amount of money written on them?”

Filthy smiled. ”That's the idea.”

Diamond's mind boggled. She knew the griffons did trade in Equestria and she wondered what the exchange rate could be. When she felt bored she would sometimes try to read some of her father's complicated magazines and while the details escaped her, she seemed to recall that Eyria's economy was doing pretty well for itself these days. Even if their currency was worth less than the bit, this had to be quite a lot of money.

”Oh,” she said, then looked up at her father with a huge smile on her face. ”Thanks, daddy, you're the best! And I know just what to spend them on. Sugarcube Corner has this new sweet roll I've been dying to try out. In fact, I think I'll head down there right now!” She spoke quickly as she hurried towards the door, eager to leave the room before her father came to his senses. ”I'm sure you have a lot to do so I'll see you later, okay! Bye!”

”Have a nice day, sweetheart,” Filthy Rich said as she closed the door behind her. Left alone, he leaned back and chuckled quietly. ”Well, she's in for a disappointment.”

Diamond couldn't stop grinning as she trotted down the road to Sugarcube Corner, the griffon bills safely tucked inside her wallet. For every step she took she just grew more and more convinced that she was carrying a fortune around and she saw a future full of delicious confections before her eyes.

If this is what happens when I break my promises, I should totally do it more often, she thought to herself. A small part of Diamond's mind did still find her father's sudden generosity perplexing. Then again, maybe he just hadn't realized how much money he'd just hoofed her? Whatever the case, she wasn't about to look him in the mouth over it. It was her money now, fair and square.

She soon reached the bakery and swung the door wide open. Striding inside, she noted that she was the only customer at the time. This was a bit of a disappointment – she had hoped for a chance show off in front of her classmates. The blank flanks in particular would probably have turned green with envy seeing the banquet of baked goods she was about to order up. Oh well, she thought. At least I get to enjoy it in peace,

There was no sign of the Cakes, but Diamond had barely closed the door behind her when Pinkie Pie suddenly popped her head up from behind the counter with her trademark smile on her face. ”Oh! Hi there, Diamond Tiara! The Cakes are out running an errand, but I'll be happy to take your order.”

”Hello, Pinkie,” Diamond said, taking a seat. ”I heard about those new sweet rolls you have and thought I'd try one. In fact, let's make that three deluxe sweet rolls. And lets throw in one of your special cupcakes while I'm at it. Oh, and a large strawberry milkshake to go with that. For starters.”

Pinkie Pie giggled. ”Well, aren't you the big spender today?”

”You bet I am.” Diamond whipped out the thalon bills and spread them on the counter with a confident grin. ”These should cover it, don't you think?”

Pinkie gave the bills a puzzled look. Then she looked at Diamond, then back at the bills.

”Oh! Ooooh!” she exclaimed and suddenly started laughing heartily. ”That's, ahaha, that's a good one! Geez, Apple Bloom was wrong, you do have a good sense of humor!”

”Hey!” Diamond Tiara frowned. ”What's that supposed to mean? Look, are you going to sell me some sweet rolls or not?”

”Heh. Sorry, kiddo, no can do.” Pinkie wiped a tear from her eye, laughter still bubbling up from within her. ”I like a good joke as much as anypony, probably even more come to think of it, but you gotta get up pretty early in the morning to pull a fast one on Pinkie Pie!”

”I'm not joking!” Diamond insisted. ”I've given you money, and I want some delicious baked goods!”

Pinkie finally stopped laughing and now looked at Diamond Tiara with an eyebrow arched in confusion. ”Sooo, wait. You're serious?”

Diamond nodded. ”Like business as usual.”

”Oh,” Pinkie scratched her mane. ”Well this is awkward. I thought you were just pulling my tail. I'd love to sell you something, but this money is no good. You need to pay with bits if you want to buy something tasty. Really, Diamond Tiara, I thought you of all ponies should know that.”

”Oh, I see! So my money's no good here, huh?” Diamond huffed and put her muzzle into the air. Figures Pinkie Pie would decide to be difficult. ”Then maybe I'll just take my money elsewhere!”

Pinkie waved her hoof. ”Nonono! You don't get it. These bills aren't any good, like, anywhere. They're not valid currency in Equestria.”

It took a few moments for the words to properly register in Diamond's mind. Once they did, her mouth fell open. ”...They're what!? Are you serious?”

Pinkie nodded. ”Like Uncle Stoneface at the poker table.”

”N-No, that's can't be right,” Diamond stuttered, shaking her head in disbelief. ”Are you sure?”

”Abso-defi-posi-lutely!” Pinkie said. ”See, Twilight showed me this suuuper interesting book about all kinds of money and I definitely remember it saying this one can't be used to buy stuff. You won't find anypony in all of Ponyville who'll accept them.” She picked up one of the bills and gave it a curious look. ”I've never even seen one before. Where'd you get these?”

”My... My dad gave them to me,” Diamond said weakly. ”He said it was my allowance.”

”Wow, really?” Pinkie put the bill back on the counter, looking genuinely impressed. ”I didn't know Mr Rich was such a prankster. I guess that makes him the funny one in your family, huh?”

Diamond stared at the griffon bills with a sinking feeling in her stomach. ”So... You're saying my dad lied to me?”

”Hmmm, I dunno?” Pinkie Pie leaned uncomfortably close, looking intently at the filly. ”Did he reeeeeaaaally say that you could buy anything with those?”

”Uh.... I guess he didn't,” Diamond admitted, deflating somewhat. ”I just can't believe my dad just pranked me!”

”That Filthy Rich, such a card,” Pinkie chuckled. ”I gotta remember this one. Sending somepony out to buy stuff with money they can't use. Priceless!” She suddenly paused. ”Oh, hey! Priceless! There's gotta be a good pun in that somewhere.”

Diamond put her head in her hooves and groaned. This can't be happening. She'd been double-crossed. Betrayed by her own flesh and blood! And on top of it all, she apparently wouldn't get to eat any delicious baked goods today.

Then again, it could have been worse – at least there weren't any other customers at Sugarcube Corner to witness her humiliation. She shuddered at the thought of the Blank Flank Crusaders being around to see it. She'd never live it down.

”I guess I might as well get going,” she muttered darkly, snagging the bills off the counter. She would have words with her father about them once she got home. Just about to turn and leave, she paused. ”Um, Pinkie, would you mind not telling anypony about this?”

”Don't worry about it,” Pinkie smiled brightly. ”It'll be our little secret, promise.”

Pinkie's lackadaisical tone didn't really put Diamond at ease. ”I'm serious,” she stressed. ”Not a word to anypony!”

”Oh, relax,” Pinkie said. ”I promise not to tell anypony you tried to buy sweet rolls with bogus money. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!”

Diamond watched her perform the ridiculous hoof motions, feeling embarrassed for the both of them. ”Why do you do that?”

Pinkie looked a bit confused. ”What do you mean? It's my Pinkie Promise.”

”Yes, I know what it is,” Diamond said, frustration creeping into her voice. ”I mean, like, why is keeping those childish promises so important to you?”

For a moment, Pinkie just blinked and looked at Diamond as if she'd asked why the grass is green. Then she broke into another chiming laugh. ”You silly filly! If you don't keep your promises, what's the point of promising anything at all?”

What does that even mean? Diamond just shook her head and headed for the door. ”Whatever. Sorry for wasting your time.”

”Have a nice day!” Pinkie hollered after her. ”´Please come back when you have real money!”

Diamond winced. The complete lack of sarcasm in Pinkie's voice somehow just made it worse. The filly swung the doors open with a bit more force than necessary and nearly ran into Fluttershy on her way out.

”Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to...” Fluttershy mumbled, but Diamond didn't give the pegasus a second glance as she stormed off with an angry scowl on her face.

Stepping inside the bakery, Fluttershy turned to Pinkie Pie. ”She seemed to be in a bad mood. Did something happen?”

”Can't talk about it,” Pinkie replied. ”Pinkie Promise. So, Fluttershy, what can I getcha?”

”Oh, just my usual, please,” Fluttershy said.

Pinkie nodded. ”One carrot cake special coming right up! Hey, did you know the griffons use bills for money?”

”They do?” Fluttershy gasped.

”Yep,” Pinkie giggled. ”Crazy, huh?”

Fluttershy put a hoof over her mouth, looking rather distressed. ”Those poor little ducks...”

”Heh, yeah.” Reaching for the carrot cake, Pinkie paused and cocked her head. ”Wait, what?”

Filthy Rich hadn't moved from his desk, though he had asked Randolph to bring him some magazines to pass the time. If he knew his daughter as well as he knew he did, she would come straight back home to give him a piece of her mind once she'd caught on to his little ruse. She was a very confrontational little filly, after all. He looked up from his issue of The Stable Economy to glance at the clock on the wall. Any time now.

The doors slammed open and Diamond Tiara stormed into the room looking like a tiny pink thunderstorm. ”Haha! Very funny! I think I'd rather just be grounded next time.”

Filthy put the magazine down and gave her a gentle smile. ”I take it you didn't get those sweet rolls, then?”

”You know perfectly well I didn't!” Diamond snapped. ”Do you realize I was nearly made a laughingstock to the whole town? It was pure luck Pinkie Pie was the only pony there!” She slammed the bills down hard on the desk for emphasis. ”Here's your useless money back!”

”Oh, good, I was hoping you would bring them back,” Filthy said. ”That will make this demonstration more effective.” Still smiling calmly, he picked up one of the bills and slowly tore it in half.

Diamond gasped, her eyes widening in shock. ”W-Wait, what are you doing!?”

”Tearing these bills up, of course,” Filthy replied in a causal tone. Another slow tear rendered the bill into four smaller pieces. ”You said it yourself, they're worthless.”

”But it's still money, isn't it?” Diamond argued, still horrified. If she had learned anything growing up in the Rich household, it was that destroying money was a mortal sin. Seeing her own father commit such sacrilege was like seeing Twilight Sparkle deface one of Celestia's statues with anarchist graffiti, except nowhere near as funny. ”I mean, even if they can't buy anything in Equestria, they've got to be worth something to the griffons, right?”

”Actually, no,” Filthy said. He held up one of the bills that he had yet to desecrate. ”These are old Eyrian thalons from the period directly after the latest griffon-minotaur war, which the griffons lost. Because of that, Eyria had to pay some pretty hefty reparations to Labyrinthia, which on top of the debts they incurred to finance the war itself caused a rapid inflation. You remember what inflation is, don't you?”

Diamond nodded. ”It's when money drops in value as the costs of goods and services go up, right?” She knew that much, but she still didn't see what her father was getting at. Setting her up for an elaborate prank and destroying money seemed like serious overkill just to give her a basic economy lesson.

”Exactly,” Filthy said. ”Now, I won't bore you with the details about the Eyrian post-war economy. The point is that the griffons ended up having to print more and more thalon banknotes just to keep up with the expenses. The Eyrian thalon devalued so dramatically that towards the end, they needed thousands of these bills, millions of thalons, just to buy food for the day. Using them as wallpaper was cheaper than buying the real thing. As you may understand, the Eyrian economy practically collapsed. Fortunately for them, they were able to recover by issuing a new currency that proved stable, the pound peregrine, which they still use today. Of course, that rendered the thalon completely obsolete.”

”So you see, they really are worthless,” Filthy concluded. He started tearing at the bills again, still in the same slow motions, almost if he was savoring it. ”Not just in Equestria. You couldn't buy anything for these things anywhere. They don't even have any value as collector's items, because there are still piles of them left over since before they went out of circulation. They are, quite literally, just useless pieces of paper. Money that has no value isn't really money, is it?”

Once he had finished tearing the bills to shreds, he gave his daughter a serious look. ”Now, let's talk about promises.”

Diamond frowned. ”What does that have to do with any of this?”

”Quite a lot,” Filthy chuckled. ”You see, you might say promises and money are the same thing.”

Diamond cocked her head in confusion. ”They... are?”

Filthy nodded. ”Or rather, money are promises. The bits we use to buy and trade things are promises of a fair transaction of value. They aren't like jewels or precious metals, you see. They're not valuable in and of themselves, but rather because everypony has agreed that they have value. That's why they can be trusted. When you take your bits to Sugarcube Corner, the Cakes and Miss Pie are depending on those bits being worth the sweets you want to buy so that they will be able to use them to buy something of the same value. If that agreement was to be broken, our bits would stop being valuable. All our wealth would become nothing but scrap metal, just like these bills became useless pieces of paper. Do you see where I'm going with this, Diamond?”

Diamond nodded slowly as the realization dawned on her. ”I... think so. You're saying that promises are, like, basically a kind of money?”

”That's right,” Filthy Rich said. ”Not money you can carry in your wallet and spend in a store, but the principle is the same. You can still buy things with your promises, like loyalty, or favors, or a good reputation. But it only works if all your promises can be trusted, or nopony will accept them. By keeping your promises and honoring your deals, other ponies can trust that your word has value. That value is what makes a promise a promise.”

”What makes a promise... a promise?” Diamond mumbled.

”Money that has no value isn't really money, is it?”

”Silly filly! If you don't keep your promises, what's the point of promising anything at all?”

Diamond's eyebrows rose as she recalled Pinkie Pie's words. Somehow it all made a lot more sense now.

Noticing her change in demeanor, Filthy stood up from his desk. He approached Diamond Tiara and took her hoof in hers. ”Broken promises have no value, Diamond, and they will buy you nothing. Not in Equestria, nor anywhere else.” He placed the torn pieces of the thalons in her hoof. ”They're just worthless scraps of paper.”

Diamond Tiara looked down at the pitiful shreds. Money so utterly worthless even Filthy Rich felt no reverence for it. Money that wasn't even real money anymore. Broken promises.

She looked up at her father. ”I... I understand.”

”I hope so,” Filthy said with a faint smile. ”I really do. Now, let's try again. Can you promise me to be nicer to those three girls from now on?”

Diamond hesitated and seemed to mull it over for a few moments. ”I promise to try,” she said.

Filthy half chuckled, half sighed. ”Well, I suppose that's close enough. And why will you keep that promise?”

Diamond Tiara stood a bit straighter, with a look of newfound determination. ”Because if I break my promises, I might as well not promise anything.”

”That's my girl!” Filthy Rich said and patted her on the shoulder. ”Well then, I believe I owe you a sweet roll at Sugarcube Corner. In fact, I think I could go for one of those myself. So what do you say we head down there right now?

”Really?” Diamond's face instantly lit up like a little sun. Skipping with joy, she gave him a heartfelt hug. ”Yay! Thank you, daddy! You're the best!”

A few minutes later they were both on their way, and Filthy Rich smiled as Diamond Tiara trotted happily by his side. It would seem he had finally gotten through to her, and he allowed himself a bit of fatherly pride for the accomplishment. He wasn't sure if the lesson would stick, but he hoped it would: Maybe his daughter had really learned something about the meaning of trust and value today?

Maybe, just maybe, Diamond Tiara would be a little bit richer from now on.

Author's Notes:

The inspiration for this story was, primarily, an anecdote a man told me years ago. This man had a son who was the victim of some fairly viscous bullying in school. It came to the point where the father and the school principal confronted the bullies, at which point the principal basically coerced them into promising to leave the man's son alone. As he sat there listening, the man had a rather depressing epiphany: The bullies, he realized, didn't even know what the word "promise" meant, much less why they should bother keeping theirs.

That story kinda lingered in my subconscious for years, surfacing on occasion and getting me thinking: How does one teach a child what a promise is? When applied to Diamond Tiara, the answer suddenly seemed obvious - you use money. After that, this story more or less wrote itself. I love it when that happens.

Thanks goes to Luminary for finding that last missing piece.

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