Twilight took up the rear end of the procession, heart hammering. She wished the doctor moved faster. The smell of antiseptic and her shoes squeaking against the sterile tiles only made her more tense. After an endless walk down the blue and white checkered hall, they reached their destination, and the doctor pushed the door open. Night Light entered first, followed by Cadence, then Twilight.
Her heart stammered upon entry. Shining laid in bed, looking pale and grumpy but otherwise fine. Nevertheless, he laid in a hospital bed, the second-to-last place Twilight wanted to see him resting. Twilight Velvet hovered over him, dressed in her scrubs.
“Do you need me to get you anything, sweetie? I can get more pillows for you to make you comfy.”
“Mom, for the fifth time, I’m fine.” He broke into a relieved grin as everyone else filed into the room. Cadence rushed over and wrapped her arms around him.
“Are you okay? They just told me you were in the hospital from police work! I came as fast as I could!”
Shining patted her back. “I’m fine, I promise. It was just…” he mumbled something, not making eye contact with anyone.
"What was that?” Night asked.
Velvet crossed her arms. “Poison. It was just poison.”
“Poison!” Cadence screeched into his ear. “Someone tried to poison you?”
Shining gave his mother a cross look. “Yeah. Her snake was venomous. But, she left the antidote right next to me, so it was administered almost immediately. It’s just some bruises now.”
Twilight breathed out all of the tension she had held onto since being awakened to the news her brother had been hospitalized, only to seize up again at the mention of a snake. It’s okay. Snake isn’t here. Just breathe. She stepped closer to the bed and tried to level out Cadence’s hysteria with calm. “What happened last night?”
“Well…” Shining took a second to reposition himself and get comfortable. “They needed more security for the Dazzlings’ concert near the end, so Harshwhinny and I were put on standby. After it was over, we hurried back to the museum, just in time to see it being robbed.”
Twilight tensed. “Did you see who it was? What were they after?”
Shining thumped his head on the headrest. He closed his eyes in concentration and grunted, “There were two parties. But the one with the snake, Lamia, she’s the one that got away with the Heart.
Twilight inhaled sharply.
“I never got a good look at her. Her mask got torn at one point, but she ran afterwards. Her eyes though… I think they were green? Maybe blue.”
“And even if he could remember, that’s sensitive information, Miss Sparkle,” a stern, cool voice said from behind. Twilight looked over her shoulder, finding Shining’s senior detective Ms. Harshwhinny standing in the doorway. She looked back at Twilight with her famous stoic frown and flat eyebrows, giving her an appearance of perpetual displeasure.
Shining made a half-hearted salute. “Good to see you’re up already, ma’am.”
“Caught by surprise, nothing more,” Harshwhinny grunted. But when she stepped further into the room, Twilight could see her limp. “As for the events of last night, the details remain on a need to know basis.” She glanced around the room. “All you need to know is that last night, the museum played grounds to a theft. Three suspects all got away, and the Crystal Heart was stolen.”
The tenseness that had embraced Twilight’s whole body centered itself in her stomach to the point of nausea. She leaned on Shining’s bedside for support. Oh no… oh no, no, no. First Artemis, now the Crystal Heart. What are we going to do?
“Do you at least have any leads?” Cadence asked, sounding fuzzy in Twilight’s ears.
“One,” Harshwhinny said tersely. “Fortunately, it’s the only one we need.” Her eyes scanned the room again. “But, I can see I’m interrupting a family moment. I just came by to see how you were doing, Detective Armor, but I can see you’re in good hands.” She turned for the door. “I expect to see you in my office as soon as you’re discharged. Good day.”
They watched her turn down the hall, then Night Light broke the silence with an awkward laugh. “Must be fun working for her, eh, Shining?”
Shining sank back into his pillow. “That’s one word you could use.” He sighed. “Anyway, the doctor said I should be free to go tomorrow evening.”
Velvet made a disapproving tut under her breath.
“Mom, I told you, I’m fine. I could get up and walk around right now if I wanted.”
“Oh no you don’t!” Both Cadence and Velvet said from either side. Cadence put a hand on her hip and wagged a finger. “You’re not moving until the doctor says you can.”
Velvet nodded. “I still say you need an extra day of rest, but you’ll at least wait until Doctor Stables clears you before you go chasing after thieves and criminals again.
Shining groaned and gave a pleading look to his father. “Dad, say something.”
Night gave him a guilty shrug. “Sorry, Shining. I’m smart enough not to pick a fight with your mother and your fiancé.”
Despite knowing the hidden gravity of the situation, Twilight couldn’t help but giggle at her brother’s plight. He was alive and doing fine if he could complain so much. Still, her mind ran in circles, running between the identity of the thief, what the Sirens would do without the Crystal Heart, and what it all meant for everyone else. Were things better or worse now that the Heart sat in the hands of a third party?
“You okay, Twily?”
“Huh?” Twilight looked up at Shining. “Oh, yeah. I’m fine. Just relieved you’re okay.” Now if Sunset would just text me she’s all right.
Shining reached out and squeezed her hand. “Don’t worry, Twily. I’m not going anywhere.” While she appreciated the sentiment, it felt a bit redundant considering the state he was in. But Twilight put on a good face and kept up with the small talk that went around.
Eventually, Velvet had to get to her rounds and Night still had papers to grade. They gave Shining a kiss on the head, with an additional warning from Velvet not to get up before leaving.
“Why don’t me and Twily go get you some snacks, sweetie?” Cadence asked. “I know how bad hospital food can be.”
“That be nice, yeah.” Shining gave her a sheepish grin. “And maybe a comic book while you’re out?”
Cadence rolled her eyes, then leaned in to give him a kiss. “You’re such a dork. But anything for my brave knight. Come on, ladybug.”
Twilight kissed Shining on the cheek and waved as she followed Cadence out. They passed Velvet in the hall, wheeling another patient to their room. Canterlot General was pretty quiet today aside from the host of security guards occupying various beds across the second floor.
Outside, Cadence had parked her cherry red car in the front row of the parking lot. She and Twilight buckled in, and they took off down the road. Cadence kept the radio low, just enough so that Sapphire Shores made more background noise than the engine. “So, how are you and Sunset doing?”
“Fine,” Twilight said a little too quickly and tersely for Cadence to brush it away. Refusing eye contact didn’t help either.
“Would you like to add anything to that ‘fine’?” Cadence asked gently.
Twilight leaned against the door. “Really, we’re fine. She just… frustrates me sometimes.”
“Well, no partner is perfect,” Cadence said as they came to a stoplight. “I’m picking up comic books for your twenty-seven year old brother.” She reached over and stroked Twilight’s hair. “But it’s better to talk about these things rather than bottle them up.”
Twilight nibbled on the inside of her cheek. Part of the problem was that she couldn’t talk about what was bothering her. Not to Cadence at least. That would require explaining magic and evil Sirens. Still, faced with Cadence’s disarming and loving eyes, Twilight felt the need to get something off her chest.
“Sunset went to that stupid concert last night,” she said crossing her arms and staring at the light as it turned green.
Cadence shifted her focus back to driving but kept a hand on Twilight’s shoulder. “Without you?”
“I mean, I didn’t want to go. I just wish… Sunset hadn’t.” Twilight knew how that sounded and wished she could add more to it. It had already been said, and she pressed her lips closed to listen to Cadence.
She kept her eyes on the road but smiled sympathetically. “Sounds like someone’s got a small case of envy.”
Maybe, but not for the reason you think.
“You guys don’t have to do everything together, Twilight. You’re still two independent people. If Sunset wants to do something you don’t want to, that’s okay.”
“I know. It’s just…” Twilight huffed. I don’t want her doing something that puts her in danger!
Cadence gave her shoulder a light squeeze. "Well, are you and Sunset doing anything tomorrow?”
Having known her since kindergarten, Twilight knew just about all of Cadence’s tell as much as Cadence knew hers. While no resentment leaked into her voice, Twilight knew Cadence enough to know the context behind the question.
“I don’t know. Sunset said she’d make up for going to the concert without me, but she never said what we’d do.” And she hasn’t texted or called me to say she was okay! What if the Sirens got her too! Twilight tried not to hyperventilate while Cadence drove. Instead, she whipped out her phone, shot another urgent text to Sunset, then shoved it in her pocket.
”Well, I’m sure whatever it is, it’ll be lovely.”
Twilight could hear the falseness in Cadence’s voice. It was nearly impossible to pick up on unless you knew her as well as Twilight or Shining did. “I’m guessing you’ll be working all day tomorrow?”
“Yep.” Her smile strained, and her grip on the wheel tightened. “Mi Amore in the Morning’s Valentine’s Day Special! Don’t miss it!”
Twilight pat her on the knee. “You’ll get through it. You always do.”
Cadence loosened her grip and sighed. “I know. It’s just, now I have Shining to think about the entire time on top of the manipulative commercialization of this holiday. On a slightly better note, the Dazzlings are coming in for an interview.”
Twilight’s blood froze. “The Dazzlings?” Her voice cracked. “Why?”
“Not sure actually. My producer just called me this morning and told me it was happening. Maybe they want to drop a new love song.”
Twilight chose her words carefully. “Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean, your fans are so accustomed to hearing only love songs and advice. What if the Si—Dazzlings, don’t have a love song? You’re ratings could plummet! Fans would revolt!”
Cadence held a hand to her mouth and laugh. “Twilight, I think you’re over exaggerating. I appreciate the concern though.”
Biting her lower lip, Twilight tried to think of another approach. She couldn’t find a subtle way around this though. No doubt, Cadence had already heard their music and was under their influence to some degree, but Twilight still had to try. “I just think this interview is a bad idea, Cady.”
“Oh? And why is that?”
Twilight weighed her options. Either she told the truth and A: sound like a crazy person, or B: possibly protect her sister-in-law. Or, remain silent and allow Cadence to go through with meeting the Sirens without even trying to help. It wasn’t a hard choice.
“The Dazzlings are actually Sirens and they use music to mind control people and make them feel negative emotions so they can feed off it!” she said in one breath.
The car fell silent as they came to another red light. After coming to a complete stop, Cadence burst into laughter. “Twilight, you’ve been reading too many of Shining’s comics.” She pat her on the head. “I know you’re mad Sunset went to their concert but don’t be silly.”
Twilight slumped in her seat. The fact that she had tried did nothing to assuage her fears. Sure, the Sirens weren’t going to do anything worse than what they did to everyone else, but it still meant Cadence was walking straight into their hypnotism.
And if the Lulamoons couldn’t get the Crystal Heart, there would be no recourse.
They pulled into a small shopping outlet and disembarked. Cadence gave Twilight a twenty dollar bill. “You go get his comic. You’d probably know what he’d like more anyway.”
Twilight faked a smile and walked off before Cadence could tell it was counterfeit. She passed through a small plaza with a fountain in the center, and an open coffee stand to the side. Twilight shuddered, remembering the last time she had been wired on caffeine. At least Sunset had gotten a good laugh out of it.
She whipped out her phone and furiously typed Sunset’s number. Twilight half paced, half stomped back and forth in front of the fountain, listening to the phone ring six times before going to the voicemail. She opened her mouth, angry rant at the ready, but as she pivoted on her foot to turn again, her scathing words tumbled back into her throat.
Stepping away from the coffee stand was a woman with a familiar presence about her. She wore a loose white shirt and baggy jeans, and a wide sun hat covered her head, falling just over her sunglasses. Yet underneath it, Twilight swore she saw red and gold hair rolled up into a tight bun.
Her stomach squirmed. No, it can’t be. The girl looked about the same height as Sunset. She had the same skin tone, too. Twilight crouched behind the fountain and reached for her phone. When the woman turned around, coffee in hand, she tipped her hat up, and Twilight saw more of her face. Leaning into Sunset so many times, sitting in her lap, reaching up to kiss her, Twilight recognized her facial structure. Her soft cheek bones, her round chin, and the way her lips folded down like she was always dissatisfied with something.
Twilight snapped a quick photo and threw herself down against the base of the fountain, aware that she was now hyperventilating. She clapped a hand over her mouth and remained completely still, praying Sunset—the other Sunset—hadn't seen her.
When a minute passed and nothing happened, Twilight chanced looking over the fountain again. Human Sunset had vanished. Twilight stood and slowly backed into the comic store, gripping her phone extra tight in her sweaty palms.
Sirens, magical artifacts, doppelgangers of my girlfriend! Twilight hit the send button for the picture and shut her phone. She looked at the display of comics on the shelves. When did my life get so weird?
Sunset scrubbed as hard as she could, hoping her guilt would wash away with the dirt. If there was any dirt. Selena kept her kitchen clean as a whistle. Sunset’s knees ached from sitting on them for an hour while she and Trixie cleaned the floor with scrub brushes.
They had walked through the door at a quarter to eleven to find Selena waiting for them in an armchair. The minute they made eye contact, Sunset knew she knew where they had been. She also understood why Selena made the rules in the family. The anger in her eyes reminded Sunset of Celestia.
Pushing her brush back and forth across the tiles, Sunset’s stomach churned, too upset to be hungry despite not having eaten anything in the last sixteen hours or so. Just like Celestia, she had betrayed the trust of someone who cared about her. Yes, it was for a good cause, but it stung all the same.
Trixie paused her scrubbing. “Mom—”
“Don’t talk.” Selena sat at the island table, arms crossed and eyes closed. After yelling at them and sending them off to bed, only to wake them up at the crack of dawn to clean the house top to bottom, Selena hadn’t said much beyond basic instructions. The silence forced Sunset to reflect and agonize over her deceit. She had already apologized profusely, but Selena had been in no mood to hear it.
“Can’t believe you two would do something so foolhardy,” Selena muttered. She opened her eyes and looked down at Trixie. “Actually, I can. You’re your father’s daughter after all.”
Trixie turned her head away, but not before Sunset saw a proud smile. Sunset wished she could emulate it but couldn’t find the heart. Geez, you have gone soft. Things like this used to never bother you at all! Now here you are, scrubbing floors like an earth pony!
Sunset shook her head and scrubbed harder. Need to work on that. And at least I feel guilt. Let’s me know I actually learned something.
Her pocket buzzed. She tried to ignore it, but it buzzed again. It had been buzzing all morning, but Sunset could never find a good time to pull it out. Selena had her eyes closed, but Sunset had the distinct feeling that she was still watching like a hawk. Her phone proved persistent though, and Sunset finally yielded. She continued scrubbing with one hand while reaching for her phone with her other. She found nine texts and two missed calls from Twilight, the first time she had made contact since school yesterday.
Her eyes bulged. Oh crap, I forgot about Twilight! Sunset quickly scrolled through her messages, wincing at each of Twilight’s frantic texts asking if she was okay. They rose from concerned to angry with each message save for the last two, one of which was a file trying to upload at 22%. Stupid ancient flip phone. Sunset looked at the attached message.
'Sunset!? ‘Do you see her? She looks like you. Sort of, it’s hard to tell with her hat on, but I’m sure that’s you!’ ‘And for the love of science, answer your phone! You better be okay! Sunset, please answer.’
Sunset’s heart twisted at the last message and she started typing a hasty and typo ridden reply with just her thumb when her eyes saw the file still trying to load a few messages up. Wait, what is she talking about? The file still had 48% to load.
“Sunset, please give me the phone.” Selena’s frosty glare found her. Sunset winced, She sent her half-finished message and placed her phone in Selena’s outstretched hand. “Now go wash up while I make some lunch. Then I’ll find something else for you to do.”
Both girls sighed in relief and headed upstairs to the bathroom. At the top landing, Trixie whispered, “Trixie blames you for us getting caught.”
“Me? How the flying feather is this my fault?”
“If your motorcycle hadn’t made so much noise, we could have easily snuck back in.”
“Or maybe if you had snuck out better, your mom would never had been suspicious in the first place!” They both tried to enter the bathroom at once, only to get their shoulders stuck in the door frame. “Trixie, I am so not in the mood for this!”
“Then let Trixie go first!” Trixie wedged her way past Sunset and shut the bathroom door in her face.
“Everytime,” Sunset hissed. She leaned on the wall next to the door, mind quickly turning to more important matters. What had Twilight been trying to show her? Someone who looked just like her? Twilight couldn’t have been talking about the Human Sunset, could she?
Impossible. I’ve been here three years and no one’s ever mentioned her before. But maybe… Sunset rubbed her throbbing temple. Her human doppelganger running around was the absolute last thing she needed to happen. I need to get my phone back.
Sunset ignored the pit in her stomach and headed back downstairs. She could already smell eggs and toast cooking. Perhaps Selena would be in a slightly more reasonable mood. She stood in front of the stovetop scrambling eggs. Her lips remained tightly pressed, but her eyes had warmed a few degrees.
“Selena…” Sunset pulled her fingers and shuffled in place. “I’m really sorry about lying to you. I just wanted to help in some way. After everything you and Artemis have done for me... I know sneaking into the concert was dangerous and risky, but it was the only thing I could think of to help save Artemis. I…” Sunset sighed, out of words to defend her actions. “I’m sorry.”
Selena turned the eggs over one more time and set the burner low before facing Sunset. Her lips were no longer pressed together, and her stare didn’t freeze Sunset’s soul. “You’re a very sweet girl, Sunset, and it’s not that I don’t appreciate the gesture. I admire your drive to make something right when it’s wrong,” she said with a smile. “But this fight is too dangerous for you and Trixie. I stayed behind so I could protect you in case something happened to Artemis, and I’ll burn all of my manuscripts before I let those monsters touch you.”
Heat rose to Sunset’s cheeks. She suppressed the rare urge to hug someone other than Twilight and said, “Thanks. That really means a lot.” Sunset rubbed her arm. “The last adult I stabbed in the back kicked me out. I mean, I kinda deserved it—I was a lying brat!” Sunset’s voice steadily got louder with an added hint of hysteria. “She trusted me completely and I spat in her face! So, I’m just really glad you’re giving me chores and still care about me and aren’t kicking me out even though I, um, yeah, haha…” Sunset’s entire face burned. The toast popping out of the toaster provided her a great distraction to stare at.
After shoveling the eggs into a bowl, Selena ran a hand through Sunset’s hair and smiled. “I would hardly call what you did a ‘stab in the back’. You’re a good girl, Sunset with a big heart.” She moved to put the toast on a plate. “I just need you to stay out of trouble.”
“Right. Yeah. Sorry, I don’t know where all that came from.” Her heart clenched, remembering her ulterior motive for coming to apologize. So much for being a good girl. “I, uhh, know you’re trying to punish us, but…” She pressed a hand to her face. “Nevermind, forget it.”
“You want your phone back?” Selena asked, cutting into a cantaloupe.
“I forgot to tell Twilight I came back safe. And I think she was trying to tell me something really important.”
“That explains why it’s been ringing non-stop.” Selena reached into her pocket and handed Sunset her phone. “Here. But don’t make any plans today. I’m not finished with you two yet.”
The minute Sunset touched it, the phone vibrated again. “Understood. Thank you!” She rushed upstairs to her room, shut the door, and flipped her phone open. She got one ring before Twilight picked up. “Twilight, I’m so sorry—”
“Oh thank God, you’re okay!” A pause. “Sunset Shimmer, do you know how worried I was?”
Sunset held the phone away from her ear. She’s using my full name. I’m in so much trouble. “Listen, I can explain—”
“You better! I woke up to find my brother in the hospital and still no messages from you! And when you finally do send a message, it’s a garbled mess of typos that cuts off after the first sentence!”
“Wait, what happened t—”
“I thought you had been kidnapped! Or texted while driving and crashed! Teens our age have the highest statistic for dying in car related accidents! And you ride a motorcycle! Do you know how much worse that makes it?”
“Not to mention the fact that I think I just saw you! I mean, the other you! The you from this world and not yours—a concept I am still trying to wrap my head around! You’re actually a magical unicorn, not a human! Yep, there it is again! I’m dating a magical unicorn from another dimension and I just saw her human doppelganger! Nothing about this makes sense! This whole day has been nonstop crazy! Some random thief has the Crystal Heart, the Sirens are going onto Cadence’s show tomorrow and she won’t believe me when I say they’re evil, and I had to spend the last five hours wondering if you were even alive! And now, there’s a second you! Why is there a second you? Why is all this crazy stuff happening now? Why is it happening to me?”
Sunset heard Twilight flop onto her bed and breathe heavily like she had just finished a sprint. She gave it a half a minute before asking, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah…” Twilight took a few short breaths. “Yeah, I think I’m good.”
“All out of your system?”
“Okay then.” Sunset sat on her bed, only to hear something scratch at her door. She let Spot in, who quickly took up residence on her lap. “I’m sorry I didn’t call or text you when I got back. Selena was kinda waiting for us when we got home. So Trixie and I have been doing chores all morning.”
“Trixie went to the concert?”
“She snuck into the concert. But she found out the Sirens didn’t have the Crystal Heart, and that they’re holding Artemis somewhere under the stadium.”
“So he’s alive! That’s great news!” Twilight paused. “Well, I mean, he’s still being held prisoner, but it’s still better than, you know…” She cleared her throat. “But yeah, the Sirens don’t have the Heart, someone else does!”
“I know, you mentioned that during your freakout. Care to elaborate?”
“Last night, someone snuck into the museum and stole the Heart with the help of their…” Twilight gave a shuddering breath, “pet snake. It bit Shining and poisoned him, that’s why he’s in the hospital.”
Sunset grimaced. “I hope he gets better soon. But who else would want the Heart?”
“For money, I guess? It is a giant diamond… that happens to be magical.”
“Well, this is just fantastic,” Sunset said, voice bitter. She fell back onto her bed, allowing Spot to curl up on her stomach. “More complications to an already complicated game.”
“Look on the bright side, at least the Sirens don’t have it.”
“Sure, I guess. But now neither do we. And what’s this about another me?”
Twilight took a delicate pause. “I think I saw this world’s version of you. Did you see the picture I sent?”
Sunset shook her head. “Old phone. It was still loading when I called you.”
“Look at it as soon as you can. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but I swear, she looked a lot like you. At least from a distance. Where do you think she’s been all this time? What would happen if the two of you met?”
Sunset closed her eyes, trying to shut out the pressure building between them. Dazzlings, diamond thieves, now doppelgangers? It was becoming too much to handle. She opened her eyes and glared at the ceiling. What the hell, universe, I thought we were cool!
“Sunset,” Twilight said gently, bringing her back, “what do we do now?”
Sunset took a second to collect her thoughts. “I don’t know. I just promised Selena I would stay out of trouble. I… I know it’s not good if there’s a second me running around. But we’ve avoided each other so far, hopefully we can stay out of each other’s lives a few more weeks at least. I’ll tell Selena about the thief. Hopefully she’ll think of something.”
“So you’re really going to leave this alone?”
“With everything else going on…. Yeah, I think so. For now, at least.” Sunset’s base instinct told her not to let it go so easily—to look into it just a little. She had always been curious about her parallel other. But to actually have a chance to meet her? What would they do? What would happen if they occupied the same space? Could reality handle that?
She brushed the thought away. Science fiction or not, Sunset wasn’t quite sure she wanted to look her doppelganger in the eye yet. “Yeah,” she said after what felt like too long a pause. “We need a break, Twilight.”
“What? Why? I know I told you I was a little mad but—”
Sunset sat upright and waved her free hand as Spot tumbled onto the bed with a growl. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! No! I didn’t mean us! I meant we need a break from all this stuff going on.”
“Oh…. Oh, right.” Twilight made a feeble laugh. “Of course that’s what you meant. Ahem, right.”
Sunset let out a breath of relief for both of them. “Tomorrow, just me and you. I’m taking you to the park, we’ll have a picnic, we’ll talk, we’ll laugh, we’ll pretend just for a few hours that we’re normal and not being threatened by power-hungry monsters. Think you’re up for that?”
“Yes.” Twilight’s voice grew more excited. “Yes, that sounds like a great way to spend Valentine’s Day. I’ll even bring my violin.”
“Sounds great. I’ll see you tomorrow then?”
Sunset heard a hitch in Twilight’s breathing, like she wanted to say something else. It never came though, leaving just an awkward air between them. Sunset started to say something but hesitated as well. “Umm… see ya.”
“Yeah, see ya.” More awkward air.
Sunset finally broke it by snapping her phone shut and throwing herself against her bed again. Butterflies danced around her heart, then fluttered into her stomach and stayed there. “I hate you, Sparky.”
At least she could still lie to herself.
Sunset raised her phone over her head and flipped it open again. She scrolled up to the fully downloaded attachment and clicked to enlarge it. The photo was a grainy, but Sunset could see what Twilight had captured and why it had freaked her out. Twilight said she hadn’t been perfectly sure, but for Sunset, it was like looking into a mirror. The hat and shades could only hide so much.
“Sunset Shimmer,” she said softly. “It’s nice to meet me.”