The Power of Muffins

by Sharp Quill

Chapter 1: The Power of Muffins

“You spelled Barnyard Bargains wrong!” Filthy Rich held up the erroneous poster as Derpy cowered behind the counter. At the top, above the images of the brand-new in-store bakery, were the words, “Barnyard Baggins.

The gray pegasus blinked in a futile attempt to get her eyes aligned. “I-I just don’t know what went wrong…”

The richest stallion in Ponyville took a calming breath. “Look, Ms. Hooves,” he began to lecture. “I do make an effort to give my business to local shops, giving back to the community and all that, never mind the minor inconvenience of having the work done in Canterlot, or the somewhat higher cost of doing so, but at least they would do it correctly.”

While he was saying that, another brown earth pony stallion, wearing a green bowtie, had entered the shop. The sight of a friendly face gave Derpy fresh strength.

“I promise, Mr. Rich, I-I’ll get a new batch printed ASAP.” With an awkward smile, she added, “No charge.”

“There, you are mistaken,” he coldly informed her. “If you’ll review the contract, you’ll see that there’s a penalty clause for failing to deliver the promised goods on time.” He leaned forward, thrusting his face into hers. “A charge shall be assessed—by me.”

Not knowing what else to do, the pegasus pulled a small basket full of muffins out from under the counter. “Muffin?” she nervously asked.

Filthy Rich sighed; he had made his point, and was more than happy for an excuse to end the confrontation. Besides, Derpy’s muffins had a reputation. “Sure,” he said, as he picked out a strawberry muffin and carefully put it in a saddlebag. He then departed, barely acknowledging the presence of the other stallion, who had been watching with great interest.

“Hey, Doc, you’re a bit early.” Derpy began closing up for lunch, putting stuff back on the shelves, locking up the cash register, and putting the basket of muffins away.

“Curious,” the Doctor said to himself as he watched the basket disappear back under the counter.

A blonde mane popped up from under the counter. “Excuse me?”

“Your muffins. Do they always have this effect on upset customers?”

Her eyes drifted apart, until a blink brought them back together. “I guess?” With a few flap of her wings, she hopped the counter and landed next to her best friend—possibly her only real friend. “It’s just something I do.”

“Yes… as I said, curious.” He tapped his chin in thought. “Granted, nopony makes better muffins, but even so…”

Derpy pensively walked towards the front entrance. “You really think so?”

“Why, certainly,” he said, suspending his chin tapping. “I wouldn’t have said so otherwise.”

It did little to assuage her insecurities. “But what makes mine the best?” She flipped the sign from “open” to “closed.”

The chin tapping resumed. Derpy turned towards him, anxiously awaiting his answer. Eventually, the stallion put his hoof back on the floor. “This is a job for Science,” he declared, thrusting that same hoof into the air.

He returned his hoof to the floor once more. “But first let’s have some hayburgers."

The sun hung low in the sky, casting long shadows. Derpy approached an unassuming store that sold clocks and timepieces. A bell jingled as she opened the door. Not waiting for the proprietor, she went straight to the back and through an open door into a familiar workshop full of mysterious equipment, gadgets, and odd experiments in various states of completion.

With heavy steps, not entirely due to the full saddlebags she was carrying, she headed towards a table in the middle of the room, upon which rested a stand mixer and other baking paraphernalia. An oven was next to the table, not against a wall where it belonged. Power cords stretched across the floor, cords that she had to carefully step over.

“Sorry I’m late, Doc.” She removed her saddlebags and placed them on the table. “When I went to pick up Dinky at school, Cheerilee wanted to have a talk with me.” She began removing ingredients from her saddlebags.

Dr. Whooves was in a corner, reading a book. He looked up. “She’s not in any sort of trouble, is she?”

The pegasus paused for a moment, flashing him a smile. “Oh, no, nothing like that!” A muffin pan joined the ingredients on the table before she continued. “It’s just…” She looked away, trying to hide a tear, and sighed. “Cheerilee thinks Dinky should apply to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns.”

The stallion put the book down, stood up, and approached her. “I don’t understand,” he said in cognitive dissonance. “Isn’t that a good thing?”

She turned back to him, attempting a forced smile. “Well, sort of, but…” She suddenly turned her attention to the eggs. “But the school is in Canterlot… a-and it’s quite expensive…” With excessive thoroughness she inspected them, making sure they hadn’t cracked on the way over.

“Canterlot isn’t that far away,” he said, not sure what the problem was, “especially for one such as yourself capable of flight, and there must be scholarships you could apply for.”

Derpy did not reply immediately. Momentarily taking flight, she moved the stand to a more convenient spot. After returning to the floor, she put the butter into the mixer and started it up. She stared at the bowl, one eye on the butter. “Dinky would still be living on her own—and what if she couldn’t qualify for a scholarship? I wouldn’t want to get her hopes up—” she angrily dumped sugar into the bowl “—only to have them destroyed.”

It didn’t take a scientific genius to see that this wasn’t just about her daughter. He remained silent, waiting to see if she’d volunteer the information on her own.

The mechanical whir of the mixer, lacking any competition, effortlessly filled the workshop. Eventually, the butter turned pale and fluffy. Derpy cracked open an egg over the bowl. “I never told you my cutie mark story.”

The stallion nodded. “You always avoided that subject.”

The pegasus watched the egg get incorporated into the forming batter. “I always loved muffins, even as a small filly. Whenever my mom made a batch, I begged to help make them, but she always refused, saying I was too young. Then one day she finally said ‘yes.’”

A second egg joined the first.

“I wasn’t allowed to do much—just add an ingredient, push a button, or turn a knob—but it was still the happiest day of my life. Once they were in the oven, I watched them like a hawk, looking for the slightest sign of something going wrong.”

One by one, she added vanilla, baking powder and salt.

“At long last, the muffins were done. It seemed to take forever for them to cool down. I was driving my mom crazy. But when I finally got to eat one…” She looked at her cutie mark. “that’s when it appeared.”

Doc fixed his gaze upon it, as if looking at it for the first time. “But bubbles?” he queried.

She lifted a small, now empty container and presented it to him. He read the tidy hoof-writing on the label. “Baking powder,” he mused. “A chemical leavening agent. Something that produces… bubbles?” He questioningly looked at her, awaiting confirmation.

She returned the container to the table and turned down the speed of the mixer. “That’s what my parents thought,” she said while adding half the flour to the batter. “And the muffins did turn out better than any she had made before.”

“But you hardly did anything, from how you described it!”

Derpy shrugged her wings. “A special talent is as a special talent does.”

“And yet, you do not own or work in a bakery.”

She finished pouring in half the milk from a thermos before replying. “It’s complicated,” she finally said, clearly not wishing to say more.

He let it drop, watching in silence as the pegasus added the remaining flour, then milk, and the last ingredient, blueberries. After those were mixed in, the batter was spooned into the cups lining the muffin pan, then into the oven it went. “It’ll be done in fifteen to twenty minutes,” she said, planting herself in front of the glass window in the oven’s door.

Doc offered up his analysis of what he’d seen so far. “Nothing out of the ordinary in how you made the batter. I assume there’s nothing special about the ingredients?”

Derpy shook her head. “It’s the same stuff anypony could buy at any store.”

“Curious…” he muttered.

The next fifteen minutes passed in silence. Every now and then, as the muffins slowly rose and browned, Doc would point one of his mysterious gadgets at the window of the oven, take some measurement, and write it down in a notebook. Derpy kept her gaze locked on the muffins the whole time.

Finally, Derpy declared, “They’re done.” Soon, the muffin pan was on the table, cooling down. To help speed up the process, she hovered nearby and produced a cooling breeze. Once she decided they were cool enough, she returned to the floor and gave Doc a big smile. “Help yourself!”

With scientific detachment, he lifted a muffin out of the pan and held it up in front of his eyes, giving it a careful inspection. Derpy nervously awaited his opinion. He took a bite, methodically masticated, and swallowed.


Doc placed the muffin on the table. “Excellent, as usual.”

The pegasus exhaled in relief as the stallion began wandering about his workshop, lost in thought. “But why remains a mystery. The ingredients are ordinary, there’s nothing special about the oven, and the recipe itself was quite generic.” He stopped and turned to face Derpy. “And yet, somehow, your execution of the baking process yielded excellent muffins.”

She shrugged. “I just don’t know what went… right?”

He trotted back to his notebook and reviewed his notes. “Yes…” he muttered as he flipped a page. “Magic does not seem to be responsible; not that I’m an expert in that subject—being an earth pony, you know—but my probes did not detect anything out of the ordinary.”

Derpy started putting the empty containers back into her saddlebags. “Like I said, I just don’t know. You can keep the other muffins, if you like, but I need the pan back.”

“I’d appreciate that,” he said. “I could run more tests on them.”

He fetched a large bowl from a cabinet, brought it to the table, dumped the remaining muffins into it, then hoofed the pan over to Derpy, who took it and added it to a saddlebag.

“I really should be going now,” she said as she put her saddlebags on. “I have to get dinner started for Dinky and myself.”

“Of course. I’ll let you know what I discover.”

The corrected posters came in from the print shop early the next day. A stallion, who had a printing press for a cutie mark, nervously waited. Derpy could not afford another mistake. She lifted the cover off the box and inspected the revealed poster the best she could with an eye.

Everything seemed okay—at least “Barnyard Bargains” was spelled correctly. But had some other error creep in? An eye for detail was not a strength of the wall-eyed pegasus.

She took her time, scanning the poster from top to bottom and left to right, then switched to her other eye and scanned it once more. Nothing jumped out at her, but that was of little comfort.

The stallion by now was sweating bullets. Derpy fatalistically sighed as she looked up at him. “I guess it’s all right.”

Exhaling a sigh of relief, he turned around and departed. Her mood barely improved, Derpy put the cover back on the box and put the box on a shelf behind her.

Turning back to the counter, she gazed at the now empty store, not for the first time wondering why she couldn’t make a living doing something related to her cutie mark. She had tried so many occupations; the previous one, doing deliveries, ended after she had dropped a piano on a pony who would one day become her local princess.

For the next few hours, it was business as usual—not much, in other words. Occasionally a pony would come in to buy ink or stamps or folders or order letterheads or purchase other miscellaneous office supplies. Another would drop off or pick up a package; it was cheaper to do so from this centralized location than to have the package delivery services visit their homes or businesses.

Her stomach started grumbling. She surveyed the empty store.

Was there any reason to put off lunch?

Deciding there wasn’t, she got airborne.

The door suddenly opened and Filthy Rich entered.

All too accustomed to such sudden turns of bad luck, she returned to the ground, just wanting to get it over with.

The business pony strode up to the counter as Derpy retrieved the box, placed it back on the counter, and removed the lid.

The stallion came forward to inspect the posters, but did little more than glance at them. “These look acceptable,” he said, quickly passing judgement.

The pegasus suddenly felt as light as the bubbles on her flank, floating away into the sky.

As she put the lid back on, he added, out of the blue, “I ate that muffin you gave me yesterday.”

Her spirits plunged like a lead anvil. Did it give him food poisoning or something?

In a tone of voice she wasn’t used to hearing from him, he said, “It might have been the best muffin I ever had.”

He’s praising me? “Uhhh…” Not knowing how to handle this, Derpy retrieved the basket from under the counter. “You want another?”

“More than just another one,” he proclaimed as he removed the lid, extracted a poster and held it up. “I want to feature your muffins in my new bakery. We can start with the local store, and if that works out, expand to my other stores all across Equestria.”

Derpy had trouble getting her mouth to work. “I… uh…”

“How silly of me,” Rich said, misinterpreting her loss for words. “We need to work out the details, of course, but you can expect to be paid a percentage of net profits. I trust you’d be available for publicity events, to establish and promote your brand?”

“My b-brand?”

“Well, naturally. That’s how we’ll justify premium pricing for premium muffins.”

Me? A premium brand?

How was she supposed to make so many muffins? There were a lot of Barnyard Bargains in Equestria. And yet, the more muffins, the more bits, maybe enough to pay Dinky’s tuition. But… that was a lot of muffins!

Filthy Rich was waiting for her answer. How could he expect her to make a decision like that right now? It wasn’t fair.

“I’ll have to think it over,” she finally replied, half-afraid that was as good as a “no.”

He returned the lid to the box of posters, but left on the counter the one he took out. “Let me know what you decide,” he said, then departed.

Derpy descended towards the schoolhouse, departing from which were a stream of fillies and colts. Spotting Dinky, she landed at her usual spot in the schoolyard. Her little muffin wasn’t so little anymore, but that wouldn’t stop her from flying her home.

Oddly enough, Dinky wasn’t alone. Not that she didn’t have friends, but Diamond Tiara? Like most Ponyville residents, Derpy had heard about the obnoxious filly’s change of heart at the hooves of the Crusaders, but she had never shown any interest in her daughter before.

Before she could land, Diamond Tiara separated from her filly and headed for the main gate. Now alone, Dinky excitedly waited for her mother to touch down. “Is it true?” she asked, once Derpy got close enough.

Derpy’s eyes went their separate ways. “Is what true?”

“What Diamond Tiara just told me, that her father is going to sell your muffins in all of his stores!”

Derpy didn’t know how to answer that. If nothing else, it was proof Filthy Rich was serious. But she hadn’t said “yes” yet! He must have told his daughter before he’d even asked her! She groaned to herself; she didn’t need the added pressure. “We’ll talk about it later.” She lowered herself. “Come on, climb aboard.”

Dinky did so, and soon they were on their way home. Usually Derpy would take this time to ask her what she had learned in school that day, but her heart wasn’t in it. Once home, she let Dinky into the house but did not go inside herself.

“I have to pay a visit to Doc. I’ll be back soon.”

“Can I come along?” she asked. Dinky enjoyed exploring his workshop, and was smart enough to keep out of trouble while doing so. Usually.

“N-no, not this time.” She gave her a nuzzle and closed the door.

Taking wing, she flew straight to Doc’s shop, hoping that Doc had found something out by now. A closed sign hung in the window, but that didn’t stop her from entering and heading towards the workshop. There she found the scientist stallion at one of his experiments, awkwardly poised to pour something with a front hoof while pumping a flywheel with a hind hoof.

Noticing Derpy’s arrival, he abandoned his efforts. “Perfect timing!” He placed the bottle he had been holding next to the contraption, and turned to face her. “I could use your assistance.”

“Uh… sure, Doc.” It could wait a little longer. He was doing her a big favor. “What do you want me to do?”

He resumed pumping the flywheel. A circle of large crystals, each a different color of the rainbow, spun with increasing speed. “Once it’s spinning fast enough, I need you to pour the contents of this bottle into the center.”

“Okay,” she said as she picked up the bottle off the floor and began hovering. The crystals had begun glowing, their colors beginning to blur together into white. The pegasus lifted herself until she was over the machine. “Tell me when.”

Looking down, Derpy could see the glow forming a vortex in the middle of the spinning ring of crystals. She had no idea what was going on; she rarely did. Nor was there any point in asking, as she wouldn’t understand the explanation anyway.


She began pouring. A reddish fluid oozed out. As it approached the vortex, the turbulent air shredded the thick liquid and splattered it against the rotating crystals. Their glow immediately ceased.

“Oh dear…” Doc immediately stopped pumping and pulled a lever, trying to bring the rotation to a quick stop.

It wasn’t fast enough. The crystals shattered, the residual centrifugal force spewing them in all directions. They shattered some more upon hitting whatever intersected their paths. Fortunately, the two ponies escaped injury, as one was too high and the other too low.

The stallion surveyed the mess. “Should really have anticipated that possibility…” he muttered.

“Do you need help cleaning it up?”

“No,” he sighed, shaking his head. “I’ll take care of it later. There might still be some useful data to acquire from the distribution of the fragments.”

Derpy returned to the floor, carefully picking out a spot free of fractured crystals. It was hardly the best moment to ask, but a better one didn’t seem forthcoming, so it was either now or tomorrow. “I, uh, was wondering if you made any progress with my muffins.”

He let out a long sigh, waving a hoof at the malfunctioned contraption. “That’s what this was all about. Needless to say, I’m experiencing some setbacks.”

No answers yet, then, she thought in despair.

“Don’t you worry,” Doc said, lifting her face. “I’m not giving up. I’ll have an answer soon enough.”

“It’s not that, not exactly…” she said, grimacing.

“Whatever do you mean?”

“It’s just…” She closed her eyes, wincing. “It’s just that Filthy Rich wants to sell my muffins in all of his stores.” Her eyes reopened, full of panic. “How am I ever going to make so many?!”

Derpy didn’t get much sleep that night. She went through the motions of making breakfast, getting Dinky ready, and dropping her off at school. As she watched her filly trot off to class, her options churned over in her mind—what few she had. There didn’t seem to be any, other than accepting Filthy Rich’s offer and somehow making it work.

Dinky entered the schoolhouse. That was as good a reason as any to get to work. The first task of the day was to pick up packages at the train station. The first train from Canterlot was already there. Perfect timing, for once. She glided in to a landing in front of the building that handled cargo.

As she went inside, the aquamarine stallion behind the counter greeted her. “Ah, Derpy. I do believe a package arrived for you.” He searched the shelves behind him until he found it then carried it to the counter. “Here you go.”

A quick look at the sender confirmed its contents: letterheads for the newest Equestrian princess. “Thanks, Clean Shelves,” she said, as she placed it in a saddlebag.

As she departed, she wondered what to do next. There wasn’t really a need to verify that the letterheads had been printed correctly. She had given the job to a Canterlot printer, one that had previously done much work for the royal court, as cost wasn’t a major concern—unlike the job for a recent wedding she would rather forget. She could deliver it to the castle right now.

Ordinarily, Derpy didn’t do that. She had a store to run. That left little time to deliver stuff. The princess’ number one assistant would eventually come by to pick it up.

But it was an opportunity to talk to the princess about Dinky and Celestia’s school and scholarships.

The pegasus changed course for the castle. Twilight might not even be there, of course, but then she’d be no worse off than if she hadn’t tried.

A few minutes later, she arrived. The front door was open. That was probably a good sign. She drifted inside, then stopped. The long hallway had all those doors—and what about the upper floors?

“Hello?” she tentatively asked, then mentally scolded herself. Nopony was going to hear that.

But before she could say it again, this time louder, she got a reply.

“I’m in the library,” a distant voice called out.

Derpy resumed her forward motion. Silly me, of course that’s where she’d be. Hopefully, nopony else would be in there with her.

And there wasn’t. The princess was by herself, sitting behind a table covered in piles of books. She looked up from a particularly thick book she was reading and spotted the unexpected pegasus hovering just inside the library.

“Derpy?” Twilight said. “Is there something I can do for you?”

After a moment’s hesitation, she drifted over to the alicorn. “The, uh, the letterheads you ordered arrived.”

As she retrieved the package from a saddlebag, Twilight looked at her curiously, obviously wondering why she was delivering it in person instead of waiting for Spike to pick it up.

Derpy nervously placed the package on top of a not-so-tall stack of books, there being no other real place to put it. Twilight left it there for the time being, keeping her attention on the mare in front of her.

“I know you must be busy…” Her eyes independently scanned the books. “But, um…”

The princess took the hint, giving her a friendly smile. “I have some time,” she said. “What’s on your mind?”

The pegasus lowered herself to the floor, all the while avoiding Twilight’s eyes. Suddenly it seemed like a bad idea. What could the newest alicorn do for her? Talk to Princess Celestia on Dinky’s behalf? Yeah, right.

Wings coiled, she once again looked across the table. Twilight was patiently waiting. She did attend that school, Derpy reminded herself, so if nothing else she could tell me what to expect.

Finding her voice, she said, “It’s about my daughter Dinky. Cheerilee thinks she should apply to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns.”

“You must be very proud of her,” she said, offering a big smile. “As I’m sure you’re aware, I, myself, am a graduate. It’s not easy to get in, but Cheerilee wouldn’t have suggested it if Dinky didn’t have a real chance of being accepted.”

“That’s…” Derpy sighed. “That’s not my main concern.”

Twilight got up and walked around the table, then sat on her haunches in front of the pegasus. “What is?”

With despondent eyes, she said one word: “Cost.”

“I see,” the princess replied carefully.

Here it comes…

“It’s certainly true that the School caters to the upper classes, but there are scholarships available. My own parents were by no means wealthy, but that would not have prevented me from attending.”

Derpy blinked. “Well, obviously not,” she said, somewhat confused, “since you did.”

“Oh, right,” Twilight chuckled. “What I meant was, they didn’t have to pay anything at all since Princess Celestia took me on as her personal student. I still attended the school, of course, since a princess cannot be a full-time teacher.”

“I don’t suppose Princess Celestia is looking for another personal student?”

Instantly she regretted asking that. It was so presumptuous of her.

Twilight slowly shook her head. “Someday, certainly, but not at this time.”

At least she hadn’t offended the princess. Not that it wasn’t a lost cause anyway. Even if Princess Celestia was looking for another student, to be chosen her little muffin would have to be another Twilight Sparkle.

It wasn’t looking good. That only left scholarships. Might as well confirm what she already feared: “How much would a scholarship cover, and how hard is it to get one?”

The alicorn thought it over for a moment. “It’s hard to say; there are a lot of variables to consider. I have some influence, but competition is fierce for limited funds.”

Derpy sighed. “Thanks for your time, Your Highness.”

The pegasus went airborne and drifted to the door, but stopped and looked back at the sound of the princess’ voice.

“Wait a minute.” Twilight flew over to a distant corner of the library, picked out a book, and brought it over to the pegasus. “This might be a bit advanced for Dinky, but if Cheerilee’s right she should be up to it.”

Derpy looked at the levitating book. It was about magic, unsurprisingly. She put it in her saddlebag. “Thanks,” she said. “I’ll give it to her.”

Twilight gave an earnest smile. “Please keep me informed, okay? I’ll see what I can do.”

Filthy Rich led Derpy to the bakery department, past the counter, and into the kitchen. A half-dozen ponies were busy making bread dough, decorating cakes, and baking cookies. It very much had an assembly line feel to it. Quantity, yes. Quality? The pegasus didn’t think Sugarcube corner had much to worry about.

“This is the only Barnyard Bargains with a bakery, for now.” He took a baguette off a cooling rack, tore off a piece and offered it to Derpy. “We need to first work out the kinks before upgrading all the stores across Equestria.”

She carefully bit into the still steaming bread. Her mouth was pleasantly surprised.

“Allow me to introduce you to Cream Filling, our head chef.” A tangerine earth pony mare, her yellow mane mostly hidden under a cap, came forward. “She’ll work with you to establish a workflow for making your muffins.”

“Pleased to meet you.” The chef threw Filthy Rich a glance. “I’ve been hearing a lot about your muffins.”

Derpy returned the uncertain compliment with an uncertain smile.

“I’m sure you two will get along famously, so I’ll just get out of your way.” Filthy Rich departed the kitchen.

Cream focused her attention on the pegasus. “Shall we get started?”

“Uh, sure,” Derpy said, shuffling on her hooves. “What do we do?”

“Well,” she exhaled. “Why don’t we start with your awesome muffin recipe.”

Derpy reached into a saddlebag, retrieved a sheet of paper with her muzzle, and presented it to the chef, who quickly scanned it as it limply hung from the pegasus’ mouth.

Her skeptical eyes returned to the recipe’s author. “That’s it? Seems rather generic to me.”

A frozen grimace was all Derpy could manage as she wondered what to do with the recipe still hanging from her muzzle.

“But…” The chef reached for it with a hoof. “It’s all in the execution, right?”

She quickly nodded as she released her grip on the sheet of paper. Sure, execution, that makes sense. Somehow, she doubted it was that simple.

“Okay, then. You go ahead and make some muffins while I watch, and we’ll figure out how to scale it up.” Cream trotted over to some shelves on the back wall. “The ingredients you need are over here.”

Derpy walked over at a somewhat slower pace. She studied the large containers of raw ingredients, containers much larger than what was sold in the attached store. Would they be as good? Like many ponies, she bought ingredients there because Barnyard Bargains was true to its name. Whatever made her muffins so good, it wasn’t because she used only the “finest” ingredients.

Besides, the bread she had sampled was certainly good enough.

Might as well get it over with, she thought as she began gathering up the necessary ingredients. If it was going to blow up in her face, the sooner it was over with, the better.

It wasn’t long before a pan full of raw muffins went into an oven. “Fifteen to twenty minutes,” she said, her gaze fixed through the oven’s window on the muffins-to-be.

“Come over here, please,” Cream said from a not-so-nearby workstation. “I need you to observe as I try to replicate your methodology.”

Conflicting needs fought within her. She always watched the muffins bake, ever since that very first time. Yet she couldn’t just ignore that chef either.

The chef was getting irritated. “I promise you nopony is going to steal them.”

That broke the stalemate. “Uh, sorry… coming…”

She joined Cream at her workstation, and watched as the professional prepared and mixed the ingredients into a batter of her own. There really wasn’t much for her to comment on. Mixing was just mixing, right? Certainly when it was done thoroughly enough.

Once that was done, the chef put it into another oven. Derpy took that opportunity to look at her own baking muffins, but immediately got pulled away again as Cream repeated the process all over again. She didn’t repeat it exactly. Whether those tweaks served any purpose wasn’t clear, but since she was the professional, presumably they did.

By the time Cream’s second batch was in an oven, Derpy’s muffins were almost ready. Finally, she could watch them bake. Another two minutes passed, and she removed them from the oven and set them aside to cool off. They looked and smelled no worse for not having been watched over.

It’s all going to work out, she told herself. It was silly to obsess over watching them bake. It wasn’t as if it could possibly have made a difference.

While her muffins cooled, she wandered over to where a stallion was assembling a cake, then watched as he decorated it with frosting. By the time he was finished, Cream’s first batch of muffins joined hers on the counter.

Derpy returned to her muffin pan. She took out one and hoofed it over to Cream Filling, then took one out for herself. She eagerly bit into it, anticipating the airy goodness—something was wrong.

“I have to be honest,” the chef said, a frown on her face. “Seems rather ordinary to me.”

And it was: not bad, just… ordinary. “I… I don’t know what went wrong.”

“Well… figure it out.” She tasted one of her own muffins. “Maybe a slight improvement, but perhaps it’s just my imagination.” She gave one to Derpy. “But Filthy Rich is not in the habit of imagining things, so you’ll get one more chance.”

Cream Filling escorted Derpy out of the kitchen. “I suggest you make it count.”

Derpy rushed over to Doc’s workshop, nearly colliding with two other pegasi in her panicked rush. It didn’t help that she had to fly into the setting sun, but somehow she made it there in one piece. She literally flew in the front door and—just barely—avoided colliding with a large grandfather clock.

“That’s a priceless antique!” An irate donkey with a really bad toupee fumed at her.

The pegasus could only spare him a quick grimace before flying over to Doc. “I really need to speak to you,” she pleaded.

The donkey stamped a hoof. “I’m being served right now.”

“And I assure you, Cranky, this will take but a second.” Dr. Whooves turned to face the distraught pegasus. “I left something with Dinky you’ll find helpful. I suggest you go home.”

Something helpful? Did he finish whatever it was he was working on that involved that red goop?

Cranky was still glaring at her.

“Uh, okay, I’ll go do that.” She carefully hovered around the grandfather clock. “Sorry,” she said belatedly.

Cranky wasn’t terribly impressed.

Derpy got out of there as quickly as she could.

She quickly, but more carefully, flew back home, all the while wondering what Doc had left her—and wondering if it had been wise to leave what was no doubt a highly magically charged item with an inquisitive unicorn filly. She could only hope her little muffin was so engrossed by that book Twilight lent her that she’d pay it little attention.

Arriving home, she went inside. “Dinky?”

“In the kitchen!”

She flew over and her fears were realized. Sitting at the table was the filly, and on the table in front of her were those crystals from that contraption. They didn’t seem that different. Each was still a different color of the rainbow, but now they softly glowed. Dinky’s attention was focused on several sheets of paper in front of her.

“Please tell me you have nothing to do with them glowing.”

Dinky looked up in shock at her mother. “No! They were like that when Doc brought them over.” She pushed the sheets over with her magic. That she could do so at such a young age was one of the reasons she could be considered “gifted.”

Derpy looked them over. They were in Doc’s hoofwriting. The crystals were some type of universal magic probe. They were to be placed around the batter as she made it, and then around the muffin pan once it was in the oven.

“Well, that looks simple enough,” she said as her eyes diverged.

Just to be sure, she read it again.

“Are you gonna make muffins now?”

She put the notes down, and looked into the filly’s eager eyes.

I have to make it work somehow.

“Sure, let’s put those crystals to use.”

It’d been a while since she last made cinnamon vanilla swirl muffins. She fetched the ingredients and brought them to the kitchen counter. After placing the crystals into position, she started on the batter. Before she knew it, she was pouring the batter into the pan’s waiting cups.

Next, she went over to the oven, set the temperature, and—”Oh, right.” The crystals were supposed to surround the muffins in the oven.

Back to the table she went and picked up one of the crystals, the blue one. It glowed brighter. “That’s odd.” Well, it was one of Doc’s creations. She carried it over to the oven and set it on the rack inside. Fortunately, it was big enough not to fall through. Once she let go, the glow dimmed to its previous level. “Okay… whatever that means.”

She went to pick up another one. It brightened as well.

“Why don’t you help me carry them over.”

Dinky lifted the green one in her magic. It, too, brightened. Mother and daughter deposited their crystals in the oven, repeating the trip a few more times. Once all had been moved, Derpy closed the door and turned on the oven.

It was a good time to make dinner while the oven heated. Not being up to making something complicated, she got out two bowls and filled them with oats and alfalfa. By the time they finished eating, the oven was ready.

In went the pan. Derpy assumed her position at the oven window and kept watch over the baking muffins, only this time Doc’s crystals would watch along with her, doing whatever it was that they do. Odd that they’re glowing brightly again. Maybe it’s the heat this time?

The next morning, before opening her own shop, Derpy dropped in on Doc. As usual, he was in the back, working on something from the partially disassembled grandfather clock. “Hey, Doc,” she said, getting his attention.

He looked up from the clockwork mechanism in time to see a bag placed on the table, the same bag in which he carried the crystals to her home the previous day. “How did the muffins turn out?”

Out of the other saddlebag came the basket of muffins. It joined the crystal bag on the table. “The same as usual,” she answered, not entirely satisfied with that outcome. Doc emptied the bag onto the table. “Why did it glow when I picked one up?”

He inspected a crystal with a jeweler’s loupe. “It was reacting to the hoof magic you used to pick it up.” Demonstrating the point, he picked it up, causing it to glow.

“So that’s why they glowed when Dinky picked them up with telekinesis?”

“Correct.” He began examining another crystal.

“But there’s nothing magical about my oven.”

That got his attention. “You mean they glowed while the muffins were baking?”

Derpy nodded.

“Curious.” He examined the blue one closely. “Did you fly at any time since leaving home this morning?”

“Uh… no. Does that matter?”

“It shouldn’t, not if the crystals were in this bag the whole time.”

“But I walked, so what difference would it make anyway?”

He put down the loupe. “The crystals registered sustained pegasus magic.”

Her eyes diverged in surprise. “Th-they did?”


She was the only pegasus to have been around those crystals. But she hadn’t done anything pegasus-like around them. What could this mean?

“We could do an experiment,” Doc continued. “You should bake muffins without watching them bake. I understand you’d find that a difficult habit to break, but—”

Derpy slammed a hoof to her forehead, grimacing. “Of course.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s already been done. It’s why I flew here in a near panic yesterday. When I made muffins at the Barnyard Bargains kitchen, I wasn’t allowed to watch them bake. They came out… ordinary. The head chef wasn’t impressed.”

“I see.”

“What am I going to do? He wants to sell them across Equestria. I can’t watch every oven in every store!”

The jingling of the bell snapped Derpy out of the doldrums, only for her to see Filthy Rich walk into her store.

Keep it together, Derpy. Just gotta buy Doc some time to figure this out.

She bore a totally unconvincing smile.

“I trust you know what I’m here to talk about,” he said as he walked up to the counter.

The basket full of cinnamon vanilla muffins appeared on the counter. “I… I know it didn’t turn out well, but please please don’t give up on me yet.”

The stallion helped himself to a muffin and took a bite. “Exactly the sort of premium flavors I’m looking for.” He sighed. “I’m willing to chalk this up to nerves and inexperience with a professional bakery, but you need to get past it.” He helped himself to two more and placed them in a saddlebag. “Do you mind? It would help if Cream Filling could taste one herself.”

“Go right ahead,” she blurted out.

“Let me know when you’re ready to try again.” He turned to leave. “But don’t take too long.”

With Dinky’s help, Derpy once more laid the crystals in the oven. Just as Doc had said, they no longer reacted to hoof or unicorn magic. These crystals were tuned to probe pegasus magic only. Once they were in place, the door was closed and the oven was turned on.

There was a knock at the front door.

“Who could that be?” she rhetorically asked as she went to answer the door. It’d be a few minutes before the oven heated up anyway.

Upon opening the front door, she saw a familiar lavender alicorn. “Twilight?”

“May I come in?”

“Uh, sure,” she replied, stepping aside. “Does this concern our—” she conspicuously glanced back at the kitchen “—previous conversation?”

“Yes,” Twilight quietly said, getting the hint. “I was wondering if she’s had a chance to read that book yet.”

“She’s been reading it, but you’d be the better judge of how well she understands it. I’m not a unicorn, after all.”

“Well, one doesn’t need to be a unicorn to understand elementary magic theory…” She looked into Derpy’s diverging eyes. “Uh, can I talk to her?”

Her eyes snapped back into alignment. “Sure! But, uhm… while you’re here…” Doc was doing his best, no question about that, but nopony knew more about magic than Twilight Sparkle. “There’s something you could help me with, something that’s right up your alley… if you don’t mind, of course.”

“I’d be happy to,” Twilight said with a warm smile. She followed Derpy into the kitchen.

There they found Dinky seated at the table, reading out of the borrowed book on magic. The book hadn’t been there before. Did she just run out and fetch it, having overheard who was at the door?

Twilight, naturally, noticed the book. “Hello, Dinky. Are you learning a lot from that book?”

The unicorn filly looked up, as if noticing the alicorn for the first time. “Sure! This chapter explains how recording crystals can be made to play back the magic they’ve recorded.”

“That’s… a rather advanced topic,” Twilight observed.

“Yeah, it’s too hard for me, but it sounds like the solution to mom’s problem!”

The alicorn looked at Derpy. “Problem?”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” She motioned towards the oven. “Doc gave me those crystals to help solve a mystery.”

The alicorn blinked. “You mean, Dr. Whooves?”

Derpy nodded.

Intrigued, Twilight looked inside the oven. Upon spotting the crystals, her horn lit up for a few seconds. “They’re tuned to record pegasus magic only.” She gave the pegasus a questioning look. “I’m aware that ‘Doc’ is unusually knowledgeable about magic for an earth pony, but what would be the point of recording pegasus magic inside an oven? Is this a mistake?”

“No mistake.” A quick check showed the oven was hot enough. She went to fetch the muffin pan. “A demonstration would make things clear.” She grabbed the pan with a set of tongs. As she approached the oven, Twilight opened the door for her. In slid the pan, and the door closed.

“Watch the crystals.” As she had done so many times before, Derpy watched the muffins bake, watched them as if something might go wrong if she looked away for but a moment. Something she now knew would go wrong.

The crystals started glowing brightly.

“That’s incredible.” The Element of Magic quickly added her own sensing spells, closing her eyes in concentration. After a few seconds, they shot open. “That shouldn’t be possible.”

“Could you be more specific?” Derpy asked, not taking her eyes off the muffins.

Twilight first double checked the pegasus’ wings before replying. They were folded against her barrel. “You’re using a form of weather magic, but without using your wings or hooves or any other physical contact. That’s unheard of.”

Derpy’s eyes almost broke contact with the muffins. “I am? But I’m not trying to affect the weather!” In a lower voice, she added, “I’m not very good at it anyway.”

Twilight was becoming excited. “Well, something is happening inside that oven, and it’s a use of magic I haven’t seen before!”

Dinky approached the two mares, curious as to what the alicorn was doing.

“I’m going to do a thaumic scan of you. Just keep doing what you’re doing. It may feel a bit strange, but it’s perfectly safe.” She addressed Dinky. “Stay back. You don’t want to be too close while I’m doing the scan.”

Yeah, well, what about me?! What had she gotten herself into? Right now, Doc’s contraptions seemed far less risky.

Once Dinky had moved back a half dozen feet or so, Twilight turned her attention to the object of study. A circle of lavender slowly swept the pegasus from head to tail and back again. There it stayed, around her face, slowly contracting, zeroing in on something.

It vanished. “It’s your eyes,” she declared. “Somehow, pegasus weather-like magic is coming from your eyes.”

“My… eyes?” The pegasus blinked, momentarily realigning them. “What, how… huh?”

“It’s because they’re special!” Dinky proclaimed.

“That does seem to be the case,” Twilight said. “I don’t think there’s any precedent for this. I don’t mean to be rude, but how did your eyes get this way?”

Derpy shrugged. “I was born this way. A cause was never found.”

The three ponies waited in silence for the muffins to finish baking. They were removed from the oven and placed on the counter to cool down.

“This doesn’t really solve my problem,” Derpy finally said. “I can’t personally bake muffins in every Barnyard Bargains in Equestria, and now I know nopony else can bake them like I can.”

“Is that what this is about?” Twilight levitated the crystals out of the oven, magically cooled them off, then started inspecting them.

“I could use the bits, if you know what I mean.”

Twilight nodded understanding of the implied meaning. “Looks like they captured your magic at work, and that could be the solution to your problem.”

“I-I don’t understand.”

The alicorn beamed at Dinky. “Your daughter had the right idea. These crystals can be induced to play back the magic they’ve recorded. You just need to make a set for each store. They’ll wear out, so you’ll have to keep making new ones, and suitably skilled unicorns would be required to make and enchant the crystals, but I’m sure Filthy Rich can deal with that.”

The crystals all glowed in lavender for a moment. “A proof of concept would help. I just cast a spell on these crystals to play back your magic whenever they’re at baking temperature.”

Dinky gasped. “You can do that?! Make a spell do something only when something else is happening?”

“You sure can!” Twilight said, beaming at the filly. “Just keep reading that book. You’ll get to it eventually.” She set the crystals down on the counter. “And there are plenty of other books you can borrow once you finish that one.”

The filly excitedly returned to the table and the open book upon it. Twilight motioned Derpy to follow her. Upon reaching the front door, she opened it and stepped outside.

“Hopefully, this will help with covering tuition,” she said quietly. “If Filthy Rich has any questions or concerns about the crystals, tell him he’s free to talk to me about it, but I don’t see any reason why this wouldn’t work. I can also write a letter of recommendation based on the insight I just witnessed.”

Derpy gave the princess a heartfelt hug. “Thank you!

Cream Filling opened the oven, exposing to the relatively cooler air of the bakery a muffin pan and the glowing crystals around it. Carefully, she removed the pan and set it aside to cool.

This was the moment of truth. Derpy hadn’t been present as the head chef made the batter, much less watch the muffins bake. Only as they were being removed from the oven had she entered the kitchen, accompanied by Filthy Rich.

Several minutes passed as they cooled. They looked good, and the smell was heavenly, but that was true the last time as well.

“Let’s see what we got.” Cream Filling hoofed over a muffin to each of them.

Derpy was too nervous to do more than stare at the muffin she held.

Filthy Rich dove right in, taking out a big chunk. He took his time savoring it.

That’s a good sign, right?

Cream Filling had also taken a bite out of hers. “I’m still not sure I believe it, but it’s hard to deny it. A perfect distribution of air bubbles yielding an indulgent texture and enhanced flavor.”

“I know, right?” The stallion forced himself to set the muffin down. “Even the princess had never heard of pegasus weather magic being used in this way, but I’m not complaining. I need to come up with a steady supply of enchanted crystals, I suppose, but I’m sure I can find some outfit in Canterlot that can do the job.”

He picked the muffin back up and headed towards the door. “Shall we get the paperwork out of the way?”

It’s happening! “Okay,” she joyfully said as she caught up to him.

“And have you decided on the exclusivity agreement? Ten thousand bits up front for five years, in addition to royalties?”

It was the easiest decision she ever made. “I’ll take it!”

Nothing will stop my little muffin from going to Celestia’s school now.

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