Empty cider mugs lay abandoned, strewn about the apple field. The Flim-Flam brothers had quit town, and everypony had finished drinking the spoils of the competition, the celebration reaching early into the night. Now, crickets chirping softly, the ciderfest long over, all that was left to do was clean up.
"So, where will we be keeping the comically large hourglass?" Colgate asked, her magic levitating the hourglass into a straw filled crate
"It's not comically large." Sepia answered defensively, as he tried to pull the posts of the hourglasses frame from the earth, "It's just large." The clockmaker paused, "Well, maybe large and impressive."
A bronze aura surrounded the frame, and it slid smoothly out of the ground, off Sepia's shoulders, floating into the awaiting crate. "Fine, where will we be keeping the impressively large hourglass?" Colgate asked as Sepia placed a lid on the top the crate and took up a hammer.
"Well, I suppose we could donate it to town hall." Sepia answered after getting a nail in, "They could use it judge future events. Or as a paper weight. You can never be sure with the mayor."
Colgate's magic took over the hammer, letting Sepia go and prepare the wagon for transport. "So, you got a close look at the cider-matic 800, right?" She began work on a fourth nail, "How was it?"
"Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000." Sepia corrected automatically, "It was certainly interesting. I mean, even if they did cheat a little bit."
"Oh?" Colgate prompted as the hammer drove the final small metal spike.
"Yes, I mean, come on, magic?" Sepia continued, pushing the wagon next to the crate, "Real artisans don't need to rely on magic to do their job."
The hammering ceased suddenly and Colgate lay the hammer carefully down on top of the box, leaving the last nail halfway in. "Really now?" Colgate loaded the question like a spring half a turn away from busting the entire assembly.
"Oh yes. Everypony knows that, Colgate." Sepia, better at detecting an over-wound spring than over-wound ponies, replied casually, "Real ponies do their work with their hooves." Sepia gave the statement a second thought, and amended "Well, their mouths, too, I suppose."
"So, during Hearth Warming Eve, do you just take a nap during the second act of the play?" Colgate asked, her anger beginning to leak from her control.
"No." Sepia answered baffled by the apparent shift in conversation topic, "Though to be fair, I haven't been to the pageant for years, but the plot is rather…" He trailed off as Colgate pointedly stormed off. "Colgate you okay?"
The blue unicorn did not answer as she walked pass the recently repaired fence post and went home.
Sepia blinked a couple times, and began using his head to push the crate to the wagon. Upon reaching the transport, he came to an awkward realization: he forgot to bring a loading ramp. He'd need Colgate to levitate the crate into the wagon with… her… magic…
Well, hopefully she'd forgive him without too much of a fuss.
The resignation letter pinned to the store door was, admittedly, a bit fussier than Sepia had hoped would result from his faux pas. Addressing it to 'The Doctor' also rubbed sand in the glass cut. It was okay, Sepia told himself, he had managed by himself for years before he hired Colgate, and his father went his entire professional career without magical assistance. In fact, the worst perceivable hindrance is that he wouldn't have an extra pair of hooves around to follow his instructions. So production would be a little slower; Sepia had more than enough stock to cover that minor problem.
He locked the door behind himself and went to bed. He just had to manage by himself as he waited for the unicorn to come to her senses.
The following morning an audience grew on Fillyton Street, in front of the clock store, enticed by the sounds of glass breaking, metallic components busting, and impolite language directed at stairs emanating from within. A ten minute lull hung briefly, after which a meek brown stallion carefully opened his front door, and walked out with a flyer hanging from his mouth, which he taped up onto the window:
Time related knowledge a plus, but not required.
Must be able to carry things up and down stairs.
Sepia gave the crowd an irritated look, "Don't you ponies have better things to do?"
The crowd awkwardly began to look in different directions, some whistling an aimless tune, while others became very interested in a wondering bug on the ground. One brave pony confessed "No, not really."
Sepia grumbled to himself, and went into his shop to wait for applicants.
Cloudchaser had waited patiently for her turn to be interviewed for the position outside the shop with the other interested ponies. When she was called in, she happily fluttered down into the basement workshop, where the brown stallion had repositioned one of his workbenches for use as an interviewer's desk. "If you'll take a seat, miss." He said, indicating the empty stool on the other side of the work bench, and evened a pile of papers meaningfully. They were blank, but it made Sepia feel official.
"It's nice to meet you, sir." Cloudchaser said as she took a seat. Sepia took her application from the small pile to his left, and looked at it.
Sepia checked the form. "So, Cloudchaser, what qualities do you possess that makes you an ideal assistant?"
"Well, I have above average wing strength and power, I graduated top of my class from Ponyville public school, and I don't spook easily." Cloudchaser answered with pride, her wings flapping slowly with excitement.
Sepia nodded, "Right, right, all admirable traits. Do you have experience with complex machinery?"
"I'm afraid not." Cloudchaser admitted, "However, I am willing to learn to use any tools required to best assist you!"
"That's just the sort of enthusiasm I love to hear!" Sepia said encouragingly, "Here, I sometimes need to go and deliver stock or perform my duties in other towns. How do you feel about being responsible for either watching over the shop, or travelling far distances?"
"I am always eager to face a challenge." The pegasus answered, "I don't mind being far from home, or being entrusted with complicated, but vital tasks."
Sepia chewed on the erasure of his pencil; Time for the important part of the interview. "One more question, possibly the most important one: who am I?"
"You're the Doctor." Cloudchaser gasped, "Unless I'm not supposed to know that. What's your alias again?"
Do not smack your forehead, Sepia. Just politely dismiss her, and move on. "Yea… no, please leave." Close enough.
The rejected pegasus paused for a moment, then wordlessly stood up and began up the stairs.
"Oh, could you please send down the next applicant on your way out? Thank you!" Sepia called after her, and slid her application into a trash can. Thus far, every applicant thought the 'help wanted' sign was a clever ruse to select his next companion. He'd give anything for somepony rational.
He looked at the name on the next application as her hoofsteps echoed down the stairs. "Alright, Miss Lulamoon, if you'll take a… oh, hi, Trixie."
"Good morning, Sepia." Trixie said, her every step laced with pure narcissism, "I am proud to announce your search is over, for your hero, Trixie, the GREAT and POW-"
"Yes, yes, I know who you are, Trixie." Sepia interrupted her, his hoof already rubbing his forehead, "You don't need to perform an introduction every time you enter a room."
"But if I didn't, how would ponies prepare themselves for the grandeur and marvel that is Trixie?"
"Yes, I suppose an ear plug warning is nice." Sepia replied icily. The continuing friendship of the two always took a seemingly antagonistic tone, but Sepia did consider Trixie a friend nevertheless. "Why are you applying to replace Colgate, anyways?"
"Replace Colgate?" This astounded Trixie, "What happened to her?"
"I… may have accidentally offended her…" Sepia admitted reluctantly, "She kind of… quit...
Trixie merely quirked an inquisitive brow.
Sepia tried to turn the conversation back to Trixie and away from Colgate. "Anyways, don't you have a traveling show? Why're you applying here?"
Trixie shrugged, "It's the off season." She answered simply, "So I thought I might as well get a short-term job for the interim. Still have a few payments left on my caravan wagon."
"Well, I suppose I can hire you until Colgate comes back." Sepia conceded, "I mostly need somepony who can help me with managing the stock and store."
"So, why exactly did Colgate quit?" Trixie asked, "I mean, she loved working here, it's all she ever talked about. Sounds a little weird she'd just up and leave."
"Well, I may have, inadvertently implied that, maybe, using magic wasn't a method of real clockmakers…" Sepia admitted, diverting his eyes from the magician across from him.
Trixie sat silently.
The many ticks and tocks seemed to grow louder in the eternity as the two ponies sat there, Trixie giving Sepia a hard stare as he tried his best not to return her meaningful glare.
"While I appreciate the job offer," Trixie said, slowly, "I'm afraid my accepting it may cause a conflict of interests."
Sepia did his best to smile professionally, and failed utterly, "I thank you for considering it, though." Sepia replied, "If you change your mind, I'm sure I could always use your help."
"I don't think it's in the cards." Trixie answered as she dismounted her stool, "I'll see you around." The unicorn took her leave.
With a heavy sigh, the lonely clockmaker gave the pile of applications a reluctant peek. He'd dug himself deep, Sepia knew, and nopony in that uncaring mound of woodpulp would help. Maybe he should just go and beg for Colgate's forgiveness. He reluctantly walked up the stairs and headed to dismiss the waiting talent pool. He slowly nudged the door open.
Flyers were descending slowly from the heavens. The ponies gathered outside, including Cloudchaser and Trixie, all examined one each. Sepia dragged a flyer into his eyesight.
"'Now open in the market square: Minuette's Clock Stall, for all your Time Telling Needs.'" Sepia read aloud, "Who's Minuette?"
Trixie return to giving the clockmaker an annoyed gaze, "Minette would be Colgate's actual name." She answered, "Surely you knew that?"
"Of… of course I did." Sepia lied. I might be a bad boss.
Fillyton Street began to reverberate in delight
"Hey, finally, we've got a clockshop in town!"
"I have been meaning to get a watch for grandpa's birthday!"
"About time a clockmaker moved in!"
"Oh come on!" Sepia shouted, unheard and unheeded. He pointed at the sign hung upon his building, but nopony paid any attention to the mad Time Lord making funny motions as they headed to investigate the exciting new merchant tent. After swallowing his rage at the general populace, Sepia joined the herd moving to the marketplace.
Colgate beamed to herself. It had been a good opening day. The sun was bright, and her future outshone it. It was rather surprising really. She'd only rented a stand for a day to try and make a point to Sepia, but it had become an unmitigated success. She already had sold everything she had made in her spare time at home, and orders for more were flooding in. Ponies lined up beyond her field of vision. Colgate expected to only make enough waves to be barely noticeable in the clockmaking world to get her mentor's attention, and eventually a heartfelt apology and a raise. Now, such an event was becoming increasingly unappealing.
"Oh, real mature, Minuette." Sepia said, his hooves on the counter before his former apprentice. He tried bore his stare into the blue unicorn.
"Excuse me sir, but it seems you've cut in front of me." A meek voice said behind him.
"It'll take a minute, miss." Sepia said, giving the complainer a passive glance.
The yellow pegasus's glare made it through the anger fogging Sepia's mind, and he carefully made his way to the back of the line to politely wait his turn and calm down.
"Hello, Sepia!" Colgate greeted him once he returned to the front.
"Look, I'm sorry I offended you, I wasn't really thinking." Sepia began, "I didn't mean to imply you were in anyway inferior. Please come back, I need you."
Colgate studied the brown earth pony, his eyes wavering, begging to be forgiven. Then she studied her over stuffed cash box and order sheet, hidden discreetly under her folding table. She had only one word: "No."
A cold wind blew between the two, a change in the balance of the universe duly marked and acknowledged.
"Oh." Sepia said. "Fine then," he added after a thought, "So be it, Minuette. I appreciated the years we have worked together, but I guess it's time for us to mutually move on with our respective careers."
"I agree." Colgate answered, "Thank you, Sepia, I will look back upon our time together fondly."
The two rival clockmakers nodded to each other, igniting the unspoken rivalry. "Good luck, Miss Minuette." Sepia left behind Colgate to attend to her customers.
Unfortunately, no rain was scheduled for the day, so the scene was left unpunctuated.
The three certainly were eager, Sepia had to admit, and they declined payment, though he was rethinking allowing the Crusaders to work for him.
"We have a ladder over there, Sweetie Bell." Sepia pointed to the corner that housed the equipment as he deposited a broom and box for the young unicorn, "Next time, feel free to use it."
"Sorry." Sweetie apologized before she took up the broom to recollect the fallen clocks and watches.
"Just be more careful." Sepia told her, and then went to check on the other two, "How's the flyer coming?"
Scootaloo held up her Rainbow Dash fan art.
"First of all: the paints are running together, you'll either need to use a thinner brush, or paint on a larger scale. Second: how will help bring in customers?"
"Well, Rainbow Dash is awesome, so anything associated with her much be cool by relation." Scootaloo explained her logic.
"Okay, okay, I follow you're logic. However, we don't actually have her here, so that's a little dishonest." Sepia explained, then called down into the basement workshop, "Apple Bloom you making any progress with those simple clocks I left you?"
"Well, ah got a little distracted evening out these workbench legs."
Sepia heaved a sigh, "Alright, I'm going out for a little while." Sepia explained to his little assistants, "I want the three of you to just sit here, behind the sales counter, and tell anyone who comes in that we're closed, and that I'll be back in, say ten minutes. Can you do that for me?"
The two present fillies nodded acknowledgement.
"Alright, I'll be back soon."
"I challenge you to a duel!"
"Hello again, Sepia." Colgate greeted him. Today she had managed to prepare enough clocks keep some around as examples for customers to order. "May I inquire what the terms of this duel are?"
"If I win, you will return and be my assistant again." Sepia answered.
"And when I win?" Colgate put a little more confidence into her reply than she intended, but it was too late to retract it.
"I'll give you my store." Sepia answered without a second thought.
A hush fell upon the marketplace.
A chill tingled down Colgate's spine, "But then what will you do if you don't have the store?"
Sepia shrugged, "Buy a caravan and travel Equestria. The hypotheticals don't matter."
"What sort of duel are we talking about here?" Colgate asked, discomforted by the intensity of Sepia's expression.
"Clockmaking, of course. Construction, sale, and performance of our work." Sepia answered, "What better challenge?"
"How will we judge this?" Colgate asked. She was hoping that some reason not to rise to the challenge would present itself.
"A panel of our peers, as overseen by an unbiased official." Sepia had had plenty of time to think on the walk to the marketplace. "I'll rent a tent of my own, and send out invites to appropriate ponies as soon as you give the word."
Colgate inhaled deeply, "Alright, Sepia, you're on."
"Excellent." Sepia smiled, "I think next week should be enough to time to make the arrangements."
"Sounds good." Colgate nodded.
"See you in a week, Minuette!" Sepia turned and began to trek back to take command back over his store.
"Excuse me, Colgate?" Trixie carefully approached her, levitating a resume, "I was wonder if you might need an assistant."
Sepia stomped over and gave the magician a hard glare, leaning a centimeter from her eye. "Et tu, Trixie? Et tu?"
"Don't you have a clockmaking duel to prepare for?" Trixie asked him.
Sepia maintained his glare as he slowly backed away, until he stumbled over a bushel of apples, righted himself, apologized profusely to Big Macintosh, awkwardly checked around, gave one last shot of stink eye at Trixie, and ran off.
"Is… is he feeling okay?" Trixie asked Colgate.
"Hello, Doctor!" Derpy announced, "You feeling okay?" She added, noticing his disheveled hair.
"Sepia Tock, Derpy, Sepia." He corrected her automatically, "And I feel fantastic. I would like to mail these." He took a bundle of envelopes from his saddle bag and deposited them on the counter, and tried to ignore that his eye seemed to be twitching.
The mailmare took the letters, and let out a shrill whistle, "Wow, these go all over the place!"
Sepia puffed up his chest, "Yes, well, I can only have only the best to judge my and Colgate… I mean, Minuette's contest!"
Derpy began to sort them, and checked the price sheet, "That'll be twenty-seven bits together." She said, then beamed at the rolled up scroll, "Hey! I always like when I'm delivering these! She always gives me the best muffins!"
Sepia's eye kept twitching. When did that start? He wondered, "I'm sure she does. Make sure to say hi to the Duchess, Felicity, and the Brigadier-General for me."
Derpy carefully slid the scroll into the Canterlot cubby, "It's Major-General now, actually." She said conversationally, "He got promoted lost month… Doctor?"
The Clockmaker had already gone, leaving the payment behind. He had to get ready.