“So, the Dazzlings are actually evil sirens?”
“And they want this Crystal Heart thingy to power themselves up and take over the world?”
Six pairs of eyes stared back at Sunset, each filled with varying degrees of shock and amazement, and in the case of Fluttershy, fear.
“That’s pretty hardcore,” Rainbow said.
The Spectacular Seven sat in Sugarcube Corner, having picked a table tucked away in the back. A spread of pastries sat in front of them, most untouched after Sunset began explaining what Artemis had told her last night.
Applejack rhythmically tapped a finger against the table. “So, does that mean we’re puttin’ the fate of the world in the hands of Trixie and her parents?”
Sunset shrugged. “Hey, they stopped the Sirens before. Who says they can’t do it again?” She took a sip of water to ease her parched throat, then started on a strawberry scone.
“Still,” Rarity said, tapping a finger against her cheek, “I feel like there’s something we could do to help.”
“Yeah!” Pinkie raised a hand. “We have magic now, too! We could totally swoop in and go pow, right to the Dazzlings’ faces!”
Sunset snorted. “What, like superheroes? You girls grow horns and wings when you play music, but that doesn’t make you superheroes. Besides, for all we know this could be some passing thing until the Equestrian magic in you just, I don’t know, runs out.”
“Could it work like that?” Twilight asked.
“I dunno. They’re humans with pony magic; who knows what’ll happen?”
“That’s why we were running tests. Which reminds me, I have a new idea, but it’s going to require a few blood samples—”
The collective chorus of, “No!” quickly shut Twilight down into her seat. Sunset stroked her hair, trying not to laugh. “Maybe we should hold off on the tests for a bit.”
Twilight muttered something about stifling her scientific mind and started moodily chewing through a cookie. The humor of seeing Twilight dejected wore off quickly, and Sunset brainstormed a way to cheer her up, or at least get her mind off magical science.
She groaned inwardly as her thoughts stopped on one particular subject. “So…” Sunset swallowed her petty demeanor. “Did you have fun with Moondancer yesterday?”
Twilight rose out of her slump and smiled. “Yeah. We walked around uptown and got cupcakes from this little pastry shop—”
Pinkie made a small, “Harrumph.”
“—then we went ice skating.” She looked down at her cookie, but continued to smile. “I fell a lot.”
“I’m glad you had fun.” Sunset counted that as a half truth. Was she glad Twilight had fun? Yes. Was she bitter that said fun was had with Moondancer? Only a little.
Why didn’t you ever take her for ice skating? Because I don’t know how to skate! Then you both could have fallen down and laughed about it!
Sunset blocked the taunting voice in her head. “Maybe you and I can do something special next weekend. Maybe hang out at the mall?”
In an unexplainable way, Sunset knew she would dread Twilight’s answer. Her smile was genuine, her eyes bright, but the second Twilight opened her mouth, Sunset’s entire body tensed.
“Actually, Moondancer thought it’d be a great idea to have a day for all of us to hang out. We could all go to the mall together!”
Hayseed, ponyfeathers, rotten Tartarus below! “Yeah, that sounds like a fun plan!” Sunset said, her voice raised an extra octave. “Doesn’t that sound like fun, girls?”
“Sure does,” Applejack said, her eyes pointed to the front door. “Too bad Ah’ve got a lot of farm work planned next weekend. Y’all know how it goes.”
“Actually…” Rarity twisted a finger around a lock of hair. “Flash and I have a… prior engagement on Saturday.”
Pinkie gasped and pointed. “I knew you two would get together after the ball!”
Rarity tried to hide her pink cheeks behind her mug of hot chocolate. “Don’t be silly. We’re just seeing a movie together. We’re not an item.”
“Yet,” Sunset said, smirking in satisfaction. Perhaps the poor, lovestruck dope would finally find a good girl this time. “Well, what about the rest of you.” Do not leave me alone with Moondancer!
Fluttershy pulled on her longer bang. “I’m really sorry, girls. But I already promised Pinkie I’d give Gummy a check up.”
Pinkie nodded fervently. “Yep. Can you believe most veterinarians won’t look at baby alligators? Good thing Fluttershy is super-duper awesome!”
Sunset’s pleading eyes fell onto Rainbow, but the blaise look on her face already told Sunset she’d find no backup there.
“I just don’t wanna go,” Rainbow said flatly.
I hate you, Dash.
Twilight wilted momentarily but sprouted back up. “So I guess it’s just the three of us,” she said to Sunset. “We can still have plenty of fun. Besides, I really want you two to get along.”
“What are you talking about? We’re practically best friends already!” Sunset said, still fighting to get her voice to normal. I’ve lost my touch at lying.
It was enough to convince Twilight at least. The rest of the girls just smirked in amusement.
Sunset had a whole week of school to suffer through before her play date with Moondancer. Once Artemis and Selena had told her about the Sirens, it seemed the only thing on most of the student’s minds were the Dazzlings and their music. Either she hadn’t cared to notice before, or their influence spread like wildfire.
Having learned from their previous mistakes, Artemis knew attacking the Sirens directly would only paint himself as the villain. For now, his and Selena’s main objective was to make it as hard as possible for them to get the Crystal Heart. In the meantime, they would track the Sirens’ progress while working on a plan to reseal them.
Like Artemis, Sunset found herself wondering how the Sirens escaped from a deserted island surrounded by a forcefield. Part of her wanted to attribute it to Artemis being not as good at magic as he thought, a trait that seemed to run in the family. However, she had seen first-hand some of the feats he was capable of. She rubbed her stomach, remembering when he had sawed her in half upon their first encounter. When he stopped goofing around, he could do incredible things.
So how were the Sirens walking free?
The only answer Artemis had drawn was that someone had set them free. That theory meant someone incredibly powerful had to have intentionally released them, taking down the barrier without Artemis noticing. Of course, he had managed not to notice Sunset and Princess Twilight’s showdown, so it remained feasible. That added the questions of who set the Sirens free and why?
Sunset paused her train of thought and slowly came back to her AP English class. This wasn’t her fight. Why was she spending so much time pondering this? She cared and hoped the Lulamoons could stop the Sirens and whatever sinister plot they had up their sleeves. But she had more important things to worry about.
For instance, as her subconscious mind now liked to remind her constantly, what the hay was she going to do after graduation? As welcome as she now felt, Sunset had no intention of living with the Lulamoons and working in the emporium for the next two years. And when the portal opened up at the time, did she even want to go back? Going back meant looking Celestia in the eye and admitting, once again, that everything Sunset had done in the past had been wrong. Sunset was sure she could get over that part, but there still remained the issue of sharing a dimension with Princess Twilight Sparkle.
Sunset shuddered in disgust. She held onto the urge to punch the princess in the face the next time they met.
Third and finally, when the portal opened, Sunset would have to say goodbye to everyone here that she had come to love. Her friends, her foster family, Twilight… The thought of it made her heart tighten. But the thought of never seeing Equestria again gave her equal pain.
In the end, she would have to give up something.
The bell rang, dismissing the students for lunch. Sunset packed her bag, moving slow so she could massage her head. Too much thinking. You’re just giving yourself a migraine. She stepped out of the classroom and headed for the cafeteria, wondering if it was too much to ask for Pinkie to be quiet.
Arriving at the lunch table, Sunset found Pinkie’s volume level was the least of her concerns. Both Moondancer and Trixie had taken seats next to her friends. You know, it’s hard to be the Spectacular Seven when there’s nine of us.
She dropped into the chair next to Moondancer, forcing Twilight to sit on Sunset’s left when she arrived. Moondancer and Sunset exchanged pleasant smiles while their eyes traded silent jabs.
Rainbow sat across from Sunset and spoke first after initial greetings were through. “So, gonna be honest, I kinda got curious enough to listen to some of the Dazzlings songs. I gotta say, not impressed.”
Trixie threw her hands up. “Finally, someone agrees with Trixie!”
Applejack ran a hand against her forehead. “Phew. Ah thought Ah was the only girl whose curiosity got the best of her. Yeah, they sound okay, but Ah don’t see why everyone else is goin’ gaga over them.”
“I personally find their voices a musical treat for the cultured ear,” Moondancer said. “Which is saying something, because as a matter of course, the pop and rock and roll genre is a degenerate and garbled mess of sounds trying to pass as something akin to music.” She clapped her hands together and held them to her chest. “Their voices, however, are a melodic harmony words cannot describe.”
“Oh I bet you could if you tried hard enough,” Sunset said.
Pinkie eagerly raised her hand. “Can I try?”
Trixie sighed and picked up her sack lunch. “Well, Trixie has to go put up with more talk about how great the Dazzlings are from her friends.” She made eye contact with Sunset, glanced over to Moondancer, then back with a small shake of her head.
Sunset nodded, savvy enough to understand the message. Still, it meant a change in subject for the rest of her friends. “So, who’s ready for the musical showcase next month?”
Rainbow pumped her fist. “Oh yeah! I’m gonna remind the school why Rainbow rocks!” She played an air guitar and banged her head, ponytail flipping wildly about.
Applejack twirled a finger, her face deadpan. “Five whole minutes of you showing off for the entire school. Can’t wait.”
“Actually, I’ve gotten my guitar solo to six minutes now,” Rainbow said smugly.
“Great. Six minutes of our lives we won’t get back.” Applejack snorted as Rainbow took her stetson and shoved it further down her head.
“I’m really excited too,” Twilight said, bouncing in her seat. “Mrs. Carol wants the school orchestra to perform at the end, so this will be my first performance for the school!”
“How extravagant!” Sunset and Moondancer said over each other. They shared sweetly poisonous smiles again.
Pinkie gasped and reached over to grab Twilight by the shoulders. “You’re going to play in front of the entire school! That’s so super swell! You must be so excited! You must be so nervous! Is there a word for that?” She gasped again. “You must be so nervouscited!”
Sunset rubbed her temple. “Pinkie, please remove that word from your vocabulary forever.”
“Awww.” She slumped back to her side of the table. “You never let me have any fun.”
“Shouldn’t you tell Moondancer about the Sirens?” Sunset realized how hypocritical that sounded when she had just told her friends to keep their magic tests a secret. But this was a matter of safety. As much as Sunset didn’t like her, she didn’t want anything bad to happen to Moondancer.
Trixie sat up on her bed, dropping her textbook into her lap. “Trixie did. In fact, Moondancer already knew the whole story. But since she doesn’t have any magic in her, she’s still vulnerable to their effects.” Trixie sighed. “She’s already been infected by their black magic. If she came over, I’m sure father could put a protection spell over her, but she’s always busy with something after school.” Trixie rolled her pencil between her fingers. “Which reminds Trixie, how come your friends, or you for that matter, don’t seem to be affected?”
Sunset leaned against Trixie’s doorframe and tilted her head back. Why hadn’t Rainbow and Applejack started to fall in love with the Sirens like everyone else? The answer presented itself as obvious. “Because they’ve been touched by magic. The Elements of Harmony. It’s probably impossible for them to fall for any mind control now.”
“What about you?”
Sunset cringed. “Well… I touched magic too. Bad or good, I guess it blocks out the Sirens’ influence.”
Trixie gave her a dark smile. “Guess that black magic was good for something after all.”
“Good night, Trixie.” Sunset turned on her heel and stalked to her room.
“Oh come on, Trixie was joking!”
Sunset shut her door and pressed her back to the mirror hanging on the other side. “She’s lucky she didn’t add ‘no offense’ to that.” Still, Sunset supposed she should be grateful. Whether it came from putting on the crown or being hit by a rainbow beam, at least she could count on not being mind controlled.
She bit her lip. She was safe. Her friends were safe. What about Twilight? Until she had seen Rainbow transform, she had never been exposed to magic. Luckily, Twilight didn’t use the radio very often, and only listened to public broadcasting when she did. Sunset made a mental note to see if Artemis could cast a protection spell around Twilight just to be safe.
Sunset stepped away from the mirror, but a burning hand grabbed her by the wrist. “Or, we could do it instead,” a voice hissed into her ear. The hand yanked her down to the cold ground, and she stared up at her demon. “Hi, Sunny!” it said with false sweetness.
“Ponyfeathers!” Sunset rolled onto her side in time for her demon to kick her away. She rolled across a black floor. Everything around her was black. Only she and her dark half existed in this place.
“There’s still power within you, Sunset.” Her voice drifted hauntingly in her ears, a siren song of its own. “Power that you could wield to stop these little Sirens. To put Moondancer in her place.”
Sunset got to her feet. “I don’t want power,” she said through gritted teeth.
Her demon inhaled deeply, a sadistic grin sliding across her face. “I smell regret. I smell fear. I smell guilt.” She rushed forward, three times larger than Sunset when she closed the space between them. She grabbed Sunset in her claws. “And I smell a liar!” Her hair blazed, licking Sunset’s face with scorching embers. “You still want me—you still need me!”
“No I don’t!” Sunset wiggled and squirmed, but the grip only tightened until she could no longer breathe.
“When all your friends abandon you, when you have nowhere left to turn, when you claw desperately at the mirror begging to go home, you’ll come crawling back to me! You can’t outrun your shadow!”
Sunset’s eyes snapped open. She sucked down gulps of air, like a great weight had just been lifted off her chest. Something wet touched her cheek, and she bolted upright just to find Spot wagging his tail at her. She felt her bed beneath her and a notebook in her lap.
“When did I fall asleep?” She looked out the window. The sun had yet to rise, but her clock read 6:17 A.M. “Well, guess I’m up now.”
“This fear isn’t healthy,” Princess Twilight said, sitting on Sunset’s night stand. “You should tell someone.”
“Tell them what? I’ve already told them everything. I’ll get over it. Eventually…” Repeating that mantra again and again ad nauseum, eventually it had to become the truth. She gathered up her clothes and headed to the bathroom, grateful that Trixie still slept. A thirty minute shower was just what the doctor ordered.
The week progressed, talk of the Dazzlings’ upcoming concert growing louder each day. No one seemed hypnotized, just overly excited, much like the days before one of the school dances. Sunset thanked Celestia when the weekend arrived to escape the talk of pop divas, but dreaded what came next. On Saturday before their rendezvous with Moondancer, Sunset brought Twilight to Artemis. They stood in his study once more, no beanbags thankfully. Artemis sat on his desk, twirling his wand between his fingers.
“Our,” Selena said, walking past the door.
“—Investigations, the Sirens don’t have any true influence over people via the radio. Moderate suggestive properties at best—enough to get people to want to see them in person.” He stood and held his wand up. “Still, dangerous in its own way. Listening to them could lead to an obsession.” He moved over to Twilight and put his wand level to her forehead.
She closed her eyes and flinched back. “This isn’t going to hurt, is it?”
“Nonsense, you won’t feel a thing!” He pushed the wand against her. “Lulamoon!” Twilight’s eyes dilated after a short flash of light. When it passed, she shook her head and stared in astoundment.
“I… just had magic done on me.”
“Yep!” Artemis pocketed his wand. “I’m quite amazing, aren’t I? As long as I’m around, you shouldn’t have to fear the Sirens.” He gave both of them a grave look. “But that isn’t an invitation to go looking for trouble. Let me and Selena handle this.”
Sunset nodded her head. “Don’t worry, we won’t.”
“Good. Now, off with you! Go have fun! And please, tell Moondancer to visit us the next time she’s free.” Artemis said with exasperation.
“Will do.” Sunset took Twilight’s hand and led her away, feeling a small weight lift from her shoulders.
“This is going to be so much fun!” Twilight squealed as they got to Sunset’s motorcycle. “A whole day with just the three of us! We can go shopping and get food and go ice skating and—”
“Yep, it’s gonna be a great time!” Sunset tossed Twilight her helmet with more force than she intended. “Come on, we don’t want to be late.”
They sped off down the street, Twilight hanging on for dear life. Remember, this is all for Twilight. If Moondancer can keep her word, so can I. Moondancer had been pretty good so far about upholding their agreement. She hadn’t sabotaged anything yet, just stolen time away. The least Sunset could do was act cordial.
A Saturday afternoon meant crowds of teenagers swarmed the mall. Finding parking even for a motorcycle proved difficult. Moondancer awaited them just inside the door. She wore a purple coat that matched the highlights of her hair, and a wide, welcoming smile.
“Little star, Sunset! How are you two?” She gave Twilight a long, warm hug, then exchanged a much shorter one with Sunset. “Are you ready for our outing together?”
Twilight nodded enthusiastically. Sunset gave a single dip of her head.
Moondancer clapped her hands together. “Excellent! Let us peruse this middle-class melting pot of boutiques and services. And remember, Twilight, if there’s anything you see you want, I’ll be more than happy to buy it for you!”
Sunset narrowed her eyes. Oh, that’s your game?
“Moony, you know I could never let you do that,” Twilight said.
“Of course, of course. But the offer is always on the table.” Moondancer turned and held an arm aloft. “We’re off, my friends!” She skipped forward, spun around, then moved across the sparkling tiles, sashaying from right to left, dancing to a melody Sunset couldn’t hear.
Twilight caught Sunset’s deadpan expression and gave a sheepish shrug. “You get used to it after a while.”
“I’m still getting used to Pinkie.”
First on the docket were clothing stores, and of course Moondancer brought them to the most expensive one. Sunset still saw no point in ‘window shopping.’ If you couldn’t afford it, why bother torturing yourself by looking at it? Though she supposed for Moondancer, it wasn’t really window shopping.
Sunset ran her fingers against a silk nightgown. A little over-extravagant for her tastes, but she wouldn’t have minded falling asleep in it.
“Sunset, how do I look?”
She turned around, the silk falling out of her limp hand. Twilight stood in front of her wearing a form fitting white dress and holding herself in such a demure way, Fluttershy would have been jealous. Sunset notice that what Twilight lacked in breast size, her hips made up for it judging by the way the dress hugged them.
“Uuhhhh…” Way to ditch me, brain!
“You look like the first lavender flower of spring rising from the snow!” Moondancer said, materializing over Twilight’s shoulder. She gave Twilight a second appraisal. “Actually, no. This color is all wrong for you. Back to the fitting room!” She took Twilight by the arm and retreated.
Sunset’s brain rebooted and she swore under her breath. Moondancer kept the ball in her court, doing things she and Twilight had in common and previously enjoyed. What did Sunset and Twilight have in common? Superior intellect, a love of ice cream, listening to classical music. How could any of those activities be applied here?
Also, note to self: find more activities to do together.
Moondancer continued to play dress up, using Twilight as her doll. While Sunset devised a way to turn this day back in her favor, she played along, putting on fancy skirts and designer shoes she would normally never wear. Moondancer even handed her a dress, and to Sunset’s surprise, it looked good on her.
Twilight picked the next store. She searched the directory for anything interesting, but eventually gave into her instincts and took them to the bookstore. At least here, Sunset had even footing. Sort of. They spent a majority of the time listening to Twilight gush about the newest astronomy guide or historical biography.
“Are you sure there’s nothing I can buy you?” Moondancer asked as they headed for the front door.
“Yeah. I’ve still got a mountain of books to get through before I buy anymore,” Twilight said with a wistful look back. At least Sunset knew what she could get as a surprise present for her.
Sunset got to pick their next activity, and as she had no desire to visit any stores, she picked something only she and Twilight shared. They moved to the center of the mall where a giant chessboard was set up. It took a little while to get all of the kids to stop playing with the pieces, but soon, Twilight and Sunset took their places on opposite ends of the board.
Moondancer waited on a nearby bench. “Good luck, both of you. I expect a grand show.”
Sunset tuned her out. Now, it was just her, Twilight, and their respective intellect and strategy. She popped her knuckles and waited for Twilight to take the first move. She opened by moving one of her central pawns, setting it down with a knowing smile.
Either a King’s Gambit or a Sicilian Defense. I love it when you don’t hold your punches, Twilight. Sunset countered by moving her knight first, putting it within range of Twilight’s first pawn. Like many of their other matches, it dissolved into a counter and re-counter game, each girl trying to out move the other. Sunset prided herself on being able to make the necessary sacrifices for the greater good, while Twilight always hesitated when she had to give up a piece to capture something of Sunset’s.
They hardly spoke a word, their actions and eye contacts speaking for them. Acknowledgement of the other’s tactical prowess, complimenting a well-thought move, the occasional flirtatious wink. The last one was mostly done by Sunset.
She lost track of time, but snuck an occasional glance over to Moondancer. Throughout the whole match, she kept an interested gaze and bemused smile. Sunset admired her patience if anything else.
Twilight and Sunset whittled each other down to a few pieces. The match was decided after Sunset lost her second castle. Twilight put her into checkmate with a bishop and a knight.
Sunset hung her head. “One of these days, I’m going to beat you.”
Twilight moved her pieces back to their proper places. “You won the first time we played, remember?”
“That didn’t count; you gave up!”
Moondancer ran over and gave Twilight a large hug. “Oh, my little star! Shining brilliantly as always! Your moves were precise and graceful! Bold and decisive!” She lifted a hand to the ceiling. “Surely, Minerva favors you on this day!”
“And you, Sunset. You performed most admirably. I learned a lot watching you play,” Moondancer said with an unreadable smirk.
“Uh, thanks?” Something cold crawled down Sunset’s neck, and she suddenly knew how her past enemies felt when she was calculating dark machinations. “So, I guess loser buys hot chocolate today instead of ice cream?”
Twilight licked her lips. “Hot chocolate sounds delicious right now.”
“Allow me,” Moondancer said, giving her purse a little shake. “A treat for the riveting bout you two put on.”
Sunset forced herself to smile. “How sweet of you.” She would have protested more, but her wallet would be grateful somewhere down the line.
One line for hot chocolate and scones later, the trio found themselves gathered around a round table instead of sitting in a booth like usual. Twilight scooched a little closer to Sunset, but the space between them still felt infinitely wide.
Moondancer took a careful sip of her chocolate. “So I turn around and standing behind me in line is Prim Hemline herself. She recognized the dress I was wearing was one of her originals. So we start talking and I told her I was in Paris for a little modeling. Of course, she saw my natural talent and asked me to model her new line of dresses. One of my best days all in all.”
“That’s so exciting!” Twilight said.
“Yeah, what are the odds you run into a famous fashion designer in the middle of a random pastry shop in Paris?” Sunset said, stirring her drink.
“Well, perhaps it wasn’t a random pastry shop. I just chose at random… from a list of the best shops in town.” She took another sip. “But enough about me. Anything exciting happen that you haven’t told me about in your letters, Twily?”
“I don’t know. I already told you about the science fair and the Winter Ball. Those were the most exciting things I can think of.”
“Ah yes, your school dance.” Moondancer looked over at Sunset. “That’s where the student body attempted to persecute you for misdeeds, correct?”
Sunset shifted an eye over to Twilight. How much did you tell her?
Twilight nervously blinked twice. Not too much. Maybe.
“I can’t help but wonder what sort of transgressions you partook in that would rouse the ire of most of the school. None of Twilight’s friends appear to be agitators.” She sipped again and gave Sunset a level look. “Though I suppose you do wear that rebellious look quite well.”
“Moondancer,” Twilight said quietly.
Sunset put a hand up. “I did some things I’m not proud of. But my work at the dance was me trying to make up for it.” She pierced Moondancer’s steady gaze with one of her own. “I learned my lessons.”
Moondancer’s expression didn’t change. “Indeed. A lesson learned is a lesson earned.” Her entire face changed to that of a doting mother. She took a napkin, reached over and dabbed at Twilight’s nose. “Twily, you have whip cream on you.”
Twilight rubbed her nose when Moondancer finished. “Thanks.” She squirmed in her seat. “Actually, I think that hot chocolate went right through me. I’ll be back.” She stood and hurried toward the restrooms.
Sunset watched her go until she was out of earshot, then whipped around to Moondancer. “Are you trying to make me mad?”
Moondancer propped her chin on top of her folded hands. “Is it working?”
Sunset took a deep breath. “No. It’s not. I’m not letting you get under my skin.”
“Oh? That’s good to know.” Her unreadable smile returned. “I heard you used to have quite the nasty temper, Sunset.”
Guard doubled, Sunset asked, “Really? What else have you heard?”
“Oh, this and that,” Moondancer said with a wave of her hand. “Your fellow students have a lot to say about you. It’s difficult to discern fact from fiction. But as I told you before, I find your character dubious at best. However…” She moved her mouth behind her hands. “The more I examine you, the more… interesting you become.”
Sunset raised an eyebrow and leaned her body back. “Interesting?”
“Yes. How does one get from queen of the school, to shunned outcast, to where you’re sitting now? How do you go from hateful and hated to… courting Twilight Sparkle?”
“Through a long and painful road,” Sunset said, keeping her voice even.
“Perhaps. But I’ve found that zebras don’t change their stripes.”
Sunset balled her fists. “You think a little second hand information and staring tells you everything about me?”
“Oh, not everything. But a lot. I can tell you were a lonely child growing up. Either your parents didn’t love you or didn’t have enough time to spend with you. So you shunned everyone else and focused on making yourself the center of attention through power. Then, to hold onto that power, you used fear and manipulation. But something happened and you lost that power you clung to so tightly. But I still see it in your eyes. And in the way you play chess. You’re not afraid to crush or sacrifice anyone in your way.”
Sunset fought to keep her face stoic, but Moondancer’s words cut dangerously close to home. Aside from the magic and world hopping, she had practically nailed Sunset’s past story. Sunset breathed steadily through her nose. “You still don’t know everything about me. I’ve changed. I’m in a much better place now.”
Moondancer’s lips rose above her hand again. “‘The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.’”
Sunset raised her hands and pressed them into the table. “All right, princess, you wanna go right now?”
“‘Go’?” Moondancer raised an eyebrow. “Are you challenging me to a duel of some sorts?”
“As a matter of fact, yes, I am! How about you and I play a match of chess? Let’s see what I can’t learn from you.”
Twilight came back, a smile on her face. “Hey, girls, what did I miss?”
Instantly, the negative energy flowing around the table dissipated. Moondancer moved her hands and beamed at Twilight. “Nothing much. But Sunset seems eager to make up for her earlier loss, so I am going to be her next opponent in chess.”
Twilight gasped. “Oh, that’ll be great! I’ll get a fresh perspective on both of your strategies. It’ll be so much fun!” She drained the rest of her drink and sprung from her chair again. “Come on, let’s go.”
Sunset finished her cup and slammed it onto the table before shooting Moondancer one last challenging stare. They moved back to the board, devoid of any children needing to be shooed away.
This time, Sunset faced Moondancer on the other side of the black and white tiles. She thinks she can read me through the way I play? Then I’ll give her a whole novel!
Picking the white pieces, Moondancer had the first move. She kept a hand under her chin while she thought. Sunset swore Moondancer stared more at her than the board. She moved her first pawn, taking time to ensure it fit perfectly into its square.
Sunset took her turn, following her usual set up to let one of her bishops move freely next turn. She hesitated as she set her pawn down, keeping a hand on it. Moondancer had just watched her play. She no doubt expected Sunset to play in a similar fashion. To take necessary sacrifices whenever she saw an opportunity.
That doesn’t reflect how I act in real life… does it? No, of course not! I would never sacrifice my friends! This is just a game. She took her hand off the pawn and stepped back. Moondancer wouldn’t get to her, not under her skin or in her head.
But as the match progressed, Sunset found herself second guessing what should have been particularly easy moves to take. Moondancer played a defensive game, setting a good wall against her king and making sure most of her pieces could quickly be avenged if one was taken. She offered up bait for Sunset to take, but seeing three moves ahead, Sunset knew it would only be detrimental to her in the long run. Occasionally, Moondancer would move a piece only to move it back the next turn.
She’s waiting, Sunset realized. Most of the pieces remained on the board; only pawns had captured. Neither of them had struck a real blow. She wants me to make the first move. She wants me to prove her point. One look into Moondancer’s eyes confirmed her suspicions. Throughout the entire game, she wore a calm smile, and her eyes held a superior see-all gaze.
Sunset’s turn came around again, and she couldn’t decide on an action. Her knight stood ready to take Moondancer’s rook, but then her own knight would take Sunset’s. Three squares over, Sunset had a pawn that could be taken by Moondancer’s white bishop. If Sunset moved her rook a few paces and Moondancer took the bait, Sunset could take the bishop. It was just a pawn. It was worth it, right?
You can’t win this game without sacrifices! It’s strategically impossible! She glared at Moondancer. I know what you’re doing.
Moondancer wiggled her eyebrows. Do you?
It’s just a game! I’m allowed to be ruthless! In fact… Sunset moved her rook into position, firmly setting it down. Moondancer stepped onto the board as soon as Sunset stepped off. She nudged her bishop forward a single space instead of the full three it took to reach Sunset’s pawn.
So, she’s not stupid.
Moondancer tipped her head to the side. This is the best you can do?
I’m just getting started! She moved her knight to take Moondancer’s rook, and as predicted, Moondancer captured Sunset’s knight with her own. What followed was a lightning quick exchange of moves and captures. Sunset beat into Moondancer’s defensive line, losing several pieces, but opening the path to the king.
With half her key pieces missing, Moondancer switched to the offensive. She left her own king with little defense, but persistently dogged after Sunset’s, making it impossible for Sunset to target her. Sunset didn’t switch to a defensive strategy, she just tried to outmaneuver Moondancer, creating an elaborate dance across the field.
Turn after turn, they cornered the other’s piece or moved their own out of danger. Sunset had no more pieces she could sacrifice. Everything mattered now. As the fight dragged on, Twilight danced on her toes, running from one side of the field to the other to examine each of their moves, sucking in air at the excitement.
Sunset placed her last knight on a square in radius of attacking Moondancer’s remaining bishop. If Moondancer moved it, Sunset could put her rook in front of Moondancer’s king for a check.
“Oh dear,” Moondancer said, the first words spoken the entire game. She quietly scanned the field for a few minutes, then crossed an arm in front of her middle and bowed. “I concede defeat.”
Sunset slouched over, adrenaline fading fast. “What?”
“I know when I am bested. You play this game marvelously, Sunset. Kudos on your victory.”
“But… I…” Sunset sighed and ran a hand across her face. “What is with you people and just giving up?” Twilight’s tackling hug, lifted her up from her disgruntled spiral.
“Sunset, that was great! You looked so focused out there.” She ran over and hugged Moondancer too, sucking away what little feeling of victory Sunset had. “You played really well, too! Have you been practicing?”
“Oh, a little here and there. I miss having you as a partner though. No one else can push me to my mental limits.” Moondancer raised her head to Sunset. “Though, Sunset might be a good contender.”
Sunset crossed her arms. She didn’t… throw the match, did she? No, she put way too much effort into this just to lose on purpose. Then again, Moondancer’s entire reason to play seemed to just be so she could prove a point. Sunset looked into Moondancer’s eyes, determined to discover something herself.
She wore her mask well, better than anyone Sunset had intimidated thus far. But behind the smug confidence, Sunset could see something. A crack in the Shakespearean veneer. Just like her defensive wall around her king, Moondancer was trying to protect something.
Rich girl. Busy dad, absent mom. Comes from a family with unusual abilities and inherited none of it. Sunset smiled at Moondancer. That’s right, two can play at this game. You’re not as great an actress as you think.