Cadence pulled up to the studio parking lot at 5:32 A.M, before the sun had even risen. Turning off the engine, she wanted nothing more than to curl up and go back to sleep, preferably wrapped in Shining’s arms.
Her head thumped against the steering wheel. She didn’t register the pain. Her groan was for an entire different reason. “You can do this, Cadence. It’s just one day of the year.”
Her most hated day of the year. Valentine's Day.
She loved love. She loved spreading it and encouraging it. Pure, honest love. Not commercialized horse manure that told vulnerable teenagers when it was appropriate to tell someone you cared about them and that you had to do something special on this particular day otherwise you were a bad partner, while the single men and women of the world were left out and reminded they were alone.
She tightened her grip on the steering wheel. Being Canterlot’s Goddess of Love and Fortune, she spread the message of love and kindness through music and talk segments. Being a radio personality with a contract, she had to spread the commercialized manure around through sponsors and romantic clichés she abhorred.
“Just one day,” she grumbled. “You’ve done it before. Then, there’s a nice hot bath waiting at home.” She brought her head up, a cheery smile stuck on her face. “Happy Cadence! Perky Cadence!” she said, taking deep breaths.
After repeating her mantra a couple of times, she stepped out of her car, taking her cup of coffee and scarf with her. Her breath appeared in little puffs in front of her face as she crossed the nearly empty parking lot.
Cadence warmed considerably upon entering the radio station. She waved to Clear Note, the early morning receptionist, and headed upstairs to her studio. Her new intern Vinyl Scratch waited on the loveseat outside the door.
“Morning, boss,” Vinyl said, removing her expensive looking headphones. Her shades, however, never left her face. In the two weeks she had worked here, Cadence still hadn’t seen her eyes.
“Good morning, Vinyl. How are you?” Cadence unlocked the door and allowed Vinyl to step inside first. The studio was comprised of two rooms, the first of which belonged to Vinyl. She kept track of incoming calls and gave Cadence her cues. It also served as a staging area for guests. Visible through a glass screen was Cadence’s recording room. A large desk with mixers, mics, and other miscellaneous objects curved along the wall. A comfy black rolling chair sat in the middle.
“I’m okay. Octy got reservations for some fancy-shmancy restaurant downtown tonight, so, you know, that’ll be fun.”
Cadence held in a sigh and just nodded. She pushed into her recording room and crashed into her seat. Only fifteen hours to go. She flipped the system on, fit her headphones and mic around her head, and rolled out the kinks in her neck.
“You doing anything today?” Vinyl asked.
“A very long bubble bath,” Cadence said with relish. “Shining and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day.”
Vinyl bobbed her head. “Riiight. Forgot you hate today. Heh, irony.”
Cadence sighed. “Yes, it’s not lost on me.” She checked the clock. Only two minutes to showtime. She warmed up her voice with a few exercises and ran through her mantra again, coming out of it with her best smile.
“Ready?” Vinyl asked before shutting the recording door.
“As I’ll ever be,” she said in a chipper voice.
“All right.” Vinyl’s voice now came through a small speaker. “You’re on in 5… 4… 3…” Through the screen, Vinyl counted off the last two seconds on her fingers, then pointed to Cadence as the sign over head blinked green and read, ‘On air.’
Cadence clapped her hands and held them to her cheek. “Good morning, Canterlot!” She sang into her headset. “This is your Mi Amore in the Morning wishing you the happiest of Sundays! But not just any Sunday; that’s right, it’s that time of year again! Grab that special person in your life, partner, parent, sibling, or friend, and tell them Happy Valentine’s Day!” She had to sell it, but that didn’t mean she had to only sell it to couples.
“I’ll be with you all day, playing all of your favorite love songs, and starting at noon, I’ll be taking caller requests, so have your phones ready! Plus, I have three special guests here for an exclusive interview at three, so stay tuned!” She flipped a few switches and set the queue for the first ten songs. “Well, let’s get right to it! Start your Valentine’s Day right with some soothing love songs courtesy of your Mi Amore in the Morning!” She hit play and switched her microphone off, then slumped back in her chair. Only fourteen hours and fifty-seven minutes to go. She rubbed the space between her eyes.
“You okay, Boss?” Vinyl asked through the intercom.
Cadence sat up and took a large gulp of her coffee. “Yep! Doing great! When are the Dazzlings arriving?”
Vinyl checked a clipboard. “They promised to be here an hour before the interview.”
“Great, thank you.” Cadence leaned on one of the arm rests. Why the station and the Dazzlings wanted her to interview them still puzzled Cadence. Had the Dazzlings heard her remark that she wouldn’t play any of their songs? It wasn’t anything personal; it was in her contract: only play love songs. That was her thing. The Dazzlings could be the nicest people she ever interviewed, it wouldn’t change anything unless they wrote a love song.
Besides, every other station already played them around the clock. Something Cadence found a little odd. Sure, she liked the Dazzlings’ music and found herself humming it at odd times, but playing them every fourth song seemed overkill. No one had done that when Countess Coloratura debuted last year.
Cadence made a mental shrug. Maybe today she’d see what all the hype was about.
Sunset laid the blanket out over the dead grass. Despite being the middle of winter, Canterlot Park still looked nice from the top hill. She put the basket on top and took out two bowls, two cups, a thermos, a small pot, and some bread.
“I know you don’t like Valentine’s Day that much, but still, it’s been awhile since we’ve been on a date,” she said. She sat down and patted the the spot next to her.
Twilight sat close and nuzzled up to Sunset. Her thick jacket took some of the intimacy away, but Sunset still appreciated the closeness. “Yeah, you’re right. Anytime we’re alone together, we’re usually studying.” Her pink nose twitched. “Mmm, it smells really good.”
Sunset pointed to the pot. “I made my special: vegetable ramen with egg.”
“How gourmet.” Twilight giggled. “Cadence kinda rubbed off on me in regards to Valentine’s Day. But the fact that you made all of this yourself and that we’re out having a picnic instead of fighting for a space at some dumb restaurant makes up for it.” She leaned over and kissed Sunset on the nose.
Sunset cupped Twilight’s cheek and kissed her back on the lips. “You’re cold,” she said afterwards. She dug in her bag for the ladle and opened the pot up. “Here, hot ramen before you freeze to death.”
“It’s not that cold.” Twilight took the bowl and fork from Sunset and started blowing on the heap of noodles and vegetables.
“She said while wearing her giant jacket and gloves.”
Twilight glared at her through the steam rising from her food. “You can’t go one day with being snarky, can you?”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Sunset ladled herself a bowl, the poured each of them a cup of hot cocoa. “Happy February 14th, Sparky.”
Twilight raised her cup and clinked it against Sunset’s. “Happy February 14th, Shimmy.”
Sunset snorted, thankful she hadn’t taken a sip yet. “Shimmy?”
Twilight blushed. “You don’t like it?”
“I never said that. It’s just, you never call me anything other than Sunset.”
Twilight threw a hand up. “I know. But you call me Sparky all the time.” She tapped her fingers together. “I kinda wanted a pet name for you.”
Sunset’s heart fluttered in the way all the cheesy romance novels described. “Awww. Wait, what about Sunny?”
“Pinkie and Artemis already call you that. I wanted one to myself.”
“Awwww,” Sunset repeated. “Well, Shimmy isn’t bad, but keep trying.” She dug into her ramen, pleasantly surprised at how it turned out.
Twilight hummed in delight and nodded her head. “This is really good, Sunset!”
“Well, it’s one of the few things I lived off of for three years, so I hope I’m good at cooking it.” They let their quiet munching and slurping speak for themselves for a time.
Twilight set her bowl down, melancholy leftover on her face. “I know you wanted us to just forget things for a day but…” She laced her gloved fingers together. “Is it wrong for us to be having a good time when there’s so much going on around us?” She looked at Sunset directly. “I mean, the Sirens kidnapped Artemis, and the Crystal Heart is in the hands of a thief. But we’re here having a picnic.”
Sunset took her time responding. She had thought about it a lot between their conversation yesterday and now. This did feel like something her selfish version would have done: had fun while others suffered. It bounced back and forth through her head all night; she thought she wouldn’t sleep. She laid a hand over Twilight’s fingers. “I know, it kinda sucks. But we’ve done all we can right now.” She tightened her other fist. “I know Artemis is gone right now, but you know what he’d tell me if he were here?”
Twilight shook her head.
“He’d tell me to go out and have fun, and to smile more.” Sunset actually allowed herself a small smile. “Just because we’re out having fun doesn’t mean we don’t care. We can’t be consumed by bad events all the time.”
Twilight leaned against her and closed her eyes. “I know that. It just feels different when it’s happening right in front of you.”
Sunset rested her head atop Twilight’s. “It’s just one day, remember? That’s all we’re taking. We’ll get through it. I promise.” A cold wind blew over them, but in each other’s embrace, they hardly felt it.
A yawn escaped Twilight, and she leaned up and stretched. “Hold on. I need to give you your February 14th present before I fall asleep.” She reached back for her violin case and pulled it onto her lap. “I composed a song just for you.”
Sunset’s heart did that cheesy romance novel fluttering again. “R-really? Just for me.” Her cheeks heated up. “Twilight, I don’t know what to say.”
Twilight tuned her violin and tucked it under her chin. “Don’t say anything. Just listen.” She made a quick test of her strings, then began to play. It opened with a quick tempo composed of many short and sharp notes that created a harsh sound. It Twilight’s hands, it still sounded elegant, but Sunset knew it was meant to be rough. Twilight’s strokes became slower and softer, and she played in long low notes. Sorrow and loneliness welled up in Sunset, almost bringing a tear to her eye. Something else stirred within the music. Nostalgia perhaps? It wasn’t her own sadness Twilight tried to capture in her strokes, but the emotion proved strong enough for her to shed a tear. She rose up to higher notes and played a much more jovial and heartwarming melody.
Sunset thought of her time spent with her friends, getting to know each of them, their hobbies and likes. She sucked in a sharp breath, realizing why this song was written for her. This song was her. Starting from the moment she and Twilight had first met, to Sunset pouring out her all of her painful fears and sorrow, to them spending time with each other while Sunset grew as a person. Twilight drew to a close, finishing with a regal and confident flourish, the last note echoing off the hill. Sunset’s future: that she would do something incredible.
"That...” Sunset couldn’t help it anymore. She wiped away the tears running down her face. “That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. And-and you made it for me. It was like a symphony of angels.”
Amidst her modest blushed cheeks, Twilight said, “Huh, Symphony of Angels. That would be a good title for it.” She set her violin down and snuggled up to Sunset again. “I’m glad you liked—mmmmph!” Sunset pressed her lips onto Twilight’s and brought her to the ground.
Hands tangled in hair, bodies pressed against each other, Sunset proudly called this her first sloppy make-out session with Twilight. It was a good thing the surrounding area was empty. Twilight kept her hands on Sunset’s waist, moving them in a way that warmed her more than any winter pants.
When Sunset let up so they could both breathe, Twilight asked in a winded and hesitant voice, “We aren’t about to…?”
Sunset rolled off Twilight, face scarlet. “Oh, oh n-no, no. I was just… sorry, I got caught up in the moment. I-I mean… unless…”
Twilight sat up, glasses askew. She looked away as she took them off and cleaned them on her shirt. “N-no! I mean, not right now! I mean, we’re in public! Th-that is to say, I don’t not want to! I-I just…”
Sunset put a gentle hand on Twilight’s leg, prompting her to turn around. “It’s okay. I get it,” she said sincerely. “It hasn’t even been two months yet. And I like where we are right now.” She was relieved Twilight had shown enough sense for both of them. A primal and longing urge had started creeping up on Sunset; one that she knew she was nowhere near ready to give into.
Face-to-face again, Twilight smiled and set her glasses on again. “Yeah. This is good for us. The books I’ve read—and Cadence—say it’s important to go at a pace that is comfortable for both of us and that we communicate to make sure we both know what that pace is.”
“There’s my little nerd,” Sunset said with a laugh. She gave Twilight a much gentler kiss. After Twilight pulled away, she lowered her head into Sunset’s lap and closed her eyes.
Sunset kept one hand on Twilight’s head and used the other to lean on while she looked up at the patchy sky.This is all that I need. This is all that I want to happen right now.
“Umm… did you ever… do it with Flash?”
Tranquility broken. Sunset looked down at Twilight with a lidded glare. Twilight opened an eye and recoiled. “O-open communication!” she pleaded.
Sunset sighed and looked to the sky again. “No. Flash and I never had sex. Of any kind.” She could feel a tense breath leave Twilight.
Sunset looked down again. “Pooky?”
Surprise and gratitude filled Sunset. The universe had seen fit to give her two uninterrupted, drama free, Moondancer free hours with her girlfriend. Of course, she should have known the second she let her guard down something bad was due to happen.
She and Twilight had just finished their last mugs of cocoa when Sunset’s phone went off. A second later, so did Twilight’s. They looked at each other then examined their phones. “Mine’s from Rarity,” Sunset said.
“Mine’s from Rainbow.”
Sunset flipped her phone open. “This can’t be good. Hey, Rares, what’s up?”
“Hi, Sunset!” Rarity said in a voice that sounded a little too chipper for Sunset’s liking. “How’s your date going?”
“It was going great,” Sunset said, not trying to be subtle. “Aren’t you supposed to be on a date with Flash?”
“We had brunch earlier and saw a movie. Oh, it was such a wonderful time! Ahem, but uh, that’s not the reason I’m calling.”
“What?” Twilight’s outburst made Sunset fumble with her phone. Sunset looked over to see her on her feet, pacing the blanket.
“Rarity, Rainbow just called Twilight, so if you don’t want me to hear a second hand account, you better tell me what’s up.”
Rarity took a deep breath. “The Dazzlings were just on the radio, Cadence’s radio station to be exact. She just had an interview with them, and they’re hosting a city wide Battle of the Bands competition. The winner gets 50,000 dollars and a chance to open for them at an encore concert here in Canterlot.”
“I don’t know. But I sincerely doubt it’s for publicity alone.”
Sunset looked up at Twilight, still walking the length of the blanket. A competition? And an encore performance? With them around, any competition is sure to breed negativity for them to lap up. But why a Battle of the Bands? And why let the winners perform with them? Her phone buzzed in her hand, and her screen told her she had a new message. “I’ll call you back, Rarity. Thanks for letting me know.”
“Of course, Sunset.”
Her new message was a short one from Selena. ‘Come home.’
“Right then.” Sunset tucked her phone away and stood up. “Not even a full day, huh? It was nice while it lasted though.” She started packing everything away while Twilight wrapped up her conversation with Rainbow.
“This is… unexpected,” Twilight said.
Sunset rolled the blanket up and put it in the basket. “Yeah. But it does mean we get to keep an eye on them. Text the girls and tell them to meet at my… Trixie’s house in half an hour.”
Twilight took to typing while Sunset continued to think. That Lamia thief has the Crystal Heart, so they don’t want to leave without it. Sunset lined a few of the pieces up, but she couldn’t help but think there was something missing.
She and Twilight left the park as the wind grew colder and the sun sank lower in the sky. It was a short ride back to Sunset’s house, where Selena and Trixie waited in the kitchen, along with the last sound Sunset expected to hear in their house.
“Battle! We wanna win it
“Let's have a battle, battle of the bands
“Let's have a battle, we'll go all in it
“Let's have a battle, battle, battle
“Battle of the bands!”
Sunset dropped her supplies at the sound of the Sirens’ voices. “Why are you playing that?” She raised an eyebrow. “And I thought you only listened to Mi Amore in the Morning?”
Selena gave her a glum look. “This is Mi Amore in the Morning.”
“That’s right!” Cadence’s upbeat voice came on as the song faded out. “You just heard the Dazzlings’ brand new song, tying in perfectly with their announcement of the Canterlot City Battle of the Bands! Anyone between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are eligible to sign up for a shot at winning 50,000 dollars in prize money and the chance of a lifetime! Opening for the Dazzlings themselves when they play Canterlot in an encore performance! Do you have what it takes to shine with the brightest? Remember: there can only be one winner!”
Twilight whimpered and dropped her face into her hands. “They got to her too. She only plays love songs. I tried to tell her they were evil but she wouldn’t listen to me!”
Sunset wrapped a comforting arm around Twilight’s shoulder. “It’s gonna be all right. This is all temporary, I promise.”
Selena switched the radio off. “They’re trying to extend their stay so they can find the Heart,” she said, matching Sunset’s thoughts. “I just don’t understand why they’re offering such extravagant prizes. You would think they wouldn’t want to share the stage with anyone.”
“But this means we have another chance to rescue Father,” Trixie said excitedly.
“Actually—” A knock at the door cut Sunset off. Huh, they got here faster than I thought. “Sorry, Selena, I didn’t think they’d be this quick, but I invited some friends over,” Sunset said as she went to let them in.
“Hello, Sunset,” Rarity said, standing at the front of the whole group. “Sorry your date got interrupted.”
Sunset stepped aside to let them in. “Yeah, it’s a bummer, but this is kinda important. I’m just surprised you all got here so fast.”
Applejack said, “The four of us were already at Rainbow’s house spendin’ the day together. We just had to wait for Rarity before we could move.”
“Selena,” Sunset said as she led them into the kitchen, “these are the rest of my friends.” They all gave a polite wave.
Selena smiled genuinely at each of them in turn. “It’s nice to meet all of you, truly. Sunset speaks fondly of you.” She looked at Sunset. “And I don’t want to sound rude, but why are they here right now?”
“Because I think they can help. They’re the ones that…” Sunset sighed and looked at the floor. “They beat me when I turned into a demon.” She perked up again. “They have magic now that resists the Sirens.”
All eyes were on her now. Selena gave her a trusting nod, urging her to continue. Trixie looked dubious at best but gave Sunset her attention.
Sunset took a deep breath, lining up the pieces in her head. “So, the Sirens want to have a music competition while they look for the Heart so they can feed off the negativity it’ll create. The bad news is, no matter what, they’re going to get stronger. But, I think I might know how to stop them.” Everyone leaned forward, hooked onto Sunset’s every word. “Before Artemis… left, you guys were trying to find a counterspell against the Sirens’ magic, right?”
Selena nodded. “That’s right. We didn’t find anything conclusive though.”
“That’s okay, because I think the answer was in front of us the entire time.” Sunset raised her arms. “What’s the best way to forget a song you don’t like?”
Pinkie flailed her hand about. “Oh, oh! I know! Another song!"
Sunset snapped her fingers. “Exactly! The best way to counter the Sirens’ is with more music! We need a musical counterspell! Artemis said it himself: music is one of the oldest forms of magic. If we can create a counterspell and win the competition, we can play it at the concert! Everyone who’s already being influenced will be there or be listening, so the spell will break!”
Her friends looked back at her with amazement and pride. “That’s not a bad plan at all,” Twilight said.
Selena nodded, looking contemplative. “No, it’s quite good. It just…” She pursed her lips. “It requires you girls standing in harm’s way.”
“But that’s just it,” Sunset continued, “it’s the safest plan we have. The Sirens already captured Artemis; they probably think they don’t have any enemies left to worry about aside from you. They won’t suspect a thing as long as the girls don’t pony up. The hard part is just getting to the finals and winning.”
“That’s a pretty big hurdle to jump, Sunset,” Applejack said. “Ah mean, Pinkie can play anything and Rainbow can play the guitar pretty well—”
Applejack rolled her eyes. “But the rest of us aren’t all that great.”
“It’s a competition for teenagers, Applejack,” Sunset said. “You don’t have to be amazing, just stay in rhythm and sound better than the other garage bands playing.”
Rainbow punched a fist into the air. “I’m all for this plan! We get to rock out and kick some Siren butt! We’ll make a band, save the world, get paid for it, and become stars! There’s no downside to this!”
Applejack held a hand out in front of Rainbow. “First and foremost, we’ll do it to protect our loved ones. It’s gonna take some practice, but if it means keepin’ Apple Bloom safe, Ah’ll do it.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun along the way!” Pinkie said, bouncing on her toes.
“Or look fabulous doing it,” Rarity added.
Selena yielded a sigh. “Technically, I can’t stop you girls. But since you’re all dead set on trying to help, then I’ll do whatever I can to assist.” She smiled again. “If anyone can save Artemis, I have a feeling it will be the eight of you.”
Every head turned toward Trixie. “What?” Sunset asked.
“Trixie said no!” She balled her fists. “You all just waltz in here like it’s no big deal, claiming you all have magic and can beat the Sirens and save Trixie’s father! Well, Trixie won’t be upstaged or held back by a bunch of talentless nobodies! Especially if you’re going to treat this like a game!” Her heated glower hyperfocused on Rarity, Pinkie, and Rainbow.
Selena narrowed her eyes to cold slits. “Trixie, watch yourself!”
“I am!” Trixie pointed to Applejack. “She said it herself: half of them don’t know how to play an instrument, and you want to place all our hopes on them?” Trixie ground her teeth. “Trixie won’t have it. Trixie has the magic and the skills to win the competition and save her father! She doesn’t need or want their help.”
Selena grabbed Trixie by the ear. “Enough of this foolishness. We can’t afford to fight amongst ourselves. They’ll have a better chance at beating the Sirens if you add your magic to theirs.”
Trixie yanked her ear free with a cry of pain. She looked at her mother with tears in her eyes. “I can’t believe you’re taking their side. I have the magic to beat the Sirens and save Dad! I’ll prove it!” She turned and ran for the stairs.
“Beatrice Lulamoon, get back down here!” A slamming door was the only response. Selena rubbed her forehead and closed her eyes. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t think she would act this way.”
Sunset responded first. “Maybe she has a point though. She does have some magic.” However weak. “If she competes as one team and the girls compete as another, we have two shots at getting to the Sirens.”
“It also means you’ll be fighting against each other, which is exactly what the Sirens want.”
“Don’t worry,” Rarity said. “If that time comes, we’ll be sure to act with cool heads and keep our confrontation graceful and dignified.”
“Even though we’re totally gonna whoop butt! Ow!” Rainbow rubbed the shoulder Applejack had jabbed.
“I don’t know,” Fluttershy said, hiding in her hair. “I don’t think I have what it takes to ‘whoop butt’, especially in front of a c-crowd.”
Sunset put a hand on her shoulder. “Come on, Fluttershy. You’ve already ponied up twice. And if it makes you more comfortable, we’ll keep you in the back of the group.”
Rainbow beat a fist against her chest. “Besides, everyone will be paying attention to me and my awesome guitar skills! No one will even notice you. Ow!” She glared at Applejack again.
“All right, we’ve finally got a plan,” Sunset said. “Go home, get some rest, and get ready to start practicing tomorrow. I’ll start trying to figure out the counterspell.” She walked them to the door and saw them out. Twilight made sure she was last and lingered in the threshold.
She looked down at her shoes. “Should… I be in the band too?”
“What? Of course! Why wouldn’t you be?”
“I don’t have any magic.”
Sunset shrugged. “Well, I don’t think that’s going to hinder them or anything. Besides, you’re the best instrument player out of all of us.”
Twilight looked up and beamed. She leaned in and kissed Sunset, long and soft. “Thank you for today,” she said softly when she pulled away.
Sunset gave a dazed nod. “Yeah, no problem. Thanks for the song. I really, really loved it. See you tomorrow?”
“Yeah, see you tomorrow.” They both hesitated again before Twilight turned and hurried after the group. Sunset slowly shut the door and made her way back to the kitchen, finding Selena was already gone. Off to talk to Trixie if Sunset ventured to guess.
She pulled up a chair and sat at the counter, drumming her fingers on the surface. “A counterspell, huh?”
“Happy Monday, everyone,” Luna said over the PA as first period began. Sunset sat next to Rarity in the front row, pencil and paper out as she continued to scribble notes for her spell. “I hope you all had a good weekend. Due to the announcement of the Battle of the Bands hosted by the Dazzlings, we have seen this as a conflict of interest with our school’s musical showcase. As such, the showcase has been cancelled so anyone participating can focus on the battle. You can pick up official registration forms in Principal Celestia’s office along with rental waivers for the instruments in the music room. Good luck, everyone. Remember: there can only be one winner.”
Sunset lifted her head, face twisted into a scowl. “Great, looks like they got to the principals too.”
“We may as well resign to the fact that we’re the only ones not influenced in any way,” Rarity said.
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“Now, if Miss Shimmer and Miss Belle would stop talking, we could begin the lesson,” Mr. Noteworthy said. Sunset was almost relieved to see him acting normal.
The beginning of the day passed without incident. Sunset picked up the registration forms and a few rental papers, and discreetly filled them out during English. When lunch came around, all they needed was a band name.
The atmosphere Sunset walked into upon entering the cafeteria was a far cry from the usual warmth and openness. In fact… a chill went down her spine. It reminded her of when she had the school divided. The tables were still integrated with students from different cliques and interests, but they all seemed cut off from one another, scattered islands on a vast sea.
Sunset paddled over to hers and sat down. “Anyone else feel a mood shift here?”
Applejack nodded. “Everyone here is more tense than a pig before Christmas dinner.”
Sunset rolled her eyes and pulled out the registration form. “Anyways, I’m almost done filling this out.” Rainbow snatched it from her hand and started reading over it. “We just need a name,” Sunset said irritably.
“The Spectacular Seven, duh!” Pinkie said.
“But there’s only six of you playing.”
“Yeah about that,” Rainbow said, holding the form up. “Why aren’t you on here, and why is Twilight playing violin?”
Twilight winced like she had been hit.
Applejack looked ready to thump Rainbow again, but her eyes caught sight of the paper. “Wait, why do you have me playing bass?”
“In order,” Sunset said, counting off on her fingers. “I can’t play any instruments, and even if I could, you know why I’m not playing in the band. Twilight’s amazing on her violin, so be thankful she’s here. And because, Applejack, if I have to go through the whole competition hearing you twang on your banjo, I guarantee by the end of it, either it or you will be broken in half.”
Applejack crossed her arms and sat back in her chair.
Rainbow snickered. “She’s got a point, A.J. But then, why can’t Twilight play something else? A violin is going to cramp our rock and roll style. We already have a tambourine.”
“And a keytar,” Sunset said, patience starting to strain. “You’re not a rock band, you’re pop. Get over it. Now, names?”
“Little star! Little star!” a voice sang.
Moondancer danced over, a form of her own in hand. “My cosmic flower, I’m sure you heard the news! A music competition with fabulous prizes!” She swooped down and took Twilight’s hands into her own. “What do you say, Twily? You and I, on stage together, bringing an air of class and refinement to the drove of ameture performers and homemade bands doomed to toil in obscurity! Your sweet strings and my delicate keys could sweep them all away into stardust!”
Sunset smiled, but felt a muscle in her cheek straining. “Well, as one of the ‘homemade bands doomed to toil in obscurity’ Twilight is playing with us.”
"Yep, a violin in a now pop band,” Rainbow said, making a poor attempt to hide her bitterness.
Twilight turned her hurt look into a sharp glare. “Moondancer,” she said sweetly, “could you give me a second? We need to have our first band meeting.”
“Of course,” she said. Sunset took some satisfaction on seeing her put out. Irritation replaced it as she joined Twilight in staring Rainbow down.
“What’s wrong with the violin?” Twilight asked in a heated whisper.
Rainbow held her hands up in defense. “Nothing. I’m just saying, having it in a pop band seems weird. How many pop songs on the radio do you hear with violins? Now, if we were still a rock band…”
“Rainbow, get over it. Twilight’s playing violin in a pop band. End of discussion,” Sunset said.
“Actually…” Twilight spared a glance to Moondancer. “Maybe I should play with her instead.”
If looks could kill, Sunset would have committed second-degree murder on Rainbow. “Why?”
Twilight wrung her hands. “Well, like I said yesterday, I don’t have any magic. And I know you said it won’t effect anything, but we don’t know that for sure.” She dropped her voice lower. “Besides, if I play with Moondancer, we can help make sure other bands don’t make it too far. Then in the semi-finals, I’ll have a bad day and get us disqualified, helping you girls make it to the end.”
“That’s rather devious of you, Twilight,” Rarity said. “But certainly appreciated.”
“It’s a fair compromise, right?” Twilight asked Sunset. “Rainbow gets her violin free band, I get to spend some time with Moondancer and play violin, and I’ll help you girls save everyone!”
Sunset heard the slight resentment in Twilight’s voice and wanted to sock Rainbow square in the mouth. ‘No’ formed on her tongue, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it. Twilight had sound points. Still, Sunset couldn’t look Twilight in the eyes. “Yeah, it’s a good plan. I’m sure you two will sound great together."
Twilight kissed her on the cheek and squeezed her hand. “Don’t worry, we’re just friends. I’m doing all this to help you, okay?”
“I know. I appreciate it, really.”
Twilight nodded and stood from the table. “Moondancer!”
Moondancer reappeared in an instant, as if coming from thin air. “Yes, my little star?” Her eyes shone with hope.
“I’ve decided to team up with you. It’ll be just like old times!”
Moondancer threw her arms in the air and spun around. “Oh, joyous day! The Muses have granted me their favor!” She took Twilight by the arm and whisked her off. “Marvelous, simply marvelous! Come now, we have so much to do! Compose, practice, dress up! We’re going to shake the heavens, you and I!” As they exited the cafeteria, Moondancer looked back with vain triumph in her eyes.
She wrote you a song. Remember, she wrote you a song. Even then, Sunset couldn’t help but clench her fists under the table. She turned back to Rainbow, who now found her fries were incredibly interesting. Applejack raised her fist and slugged Rainbow in the shoulder.
"Thank you, Applejack.”
“No problem, sugarcube.”
Pinkie picked up the form. “Well, we can’t be the Spectacular Seven now. Anyone else got a name?”
Rainbow rubbed her arm. “How about the Rain—”
“Rainbow, I swear to every god listening, if you try to name this band after yourself, I will reach over and strangle you until you’re purple,” Sunset said in a dark monotone.
“...booms. We can be the Rainbooms. That’s totally what I was going to say.”
Fluttershy raised her hand. “I like it.”
Pinkie nodded. “We are going to shoot a rainbow at the Sirens, right? I say it fits.”
Sunset rolled her eyes and wrote ‘Rainbooms’ at the top of the paper. “All right, you girls are officially the Rainbooms.”
“What about you, Sunset?” Rarity asked.
“Consider me your band manager, I guess. You girls focus on practicing, I’ll worry about everything else.” The lunch bell rang soon after, and everyone shuffled into the halls, bumping elbows and brushing shoulders without acknowledgement or apology. And it’s only going to get worse, Sunset thought.
“Hey, Rarity!” The rest of the girls stopped and looked back as Flash strolled up to them.
Rarity twirled a finger through her hair and smiled. “Hello, Flash dear. How are you?”
“I’m good. Totally psyched about this Battle of the Bands. Once my band wins, my music career will be set!” He straighten the collar of his jacket and gave Rarity that smile that made other girls swoon while Sunset inwardly gagged. “So, do you wanna come listen to my band practice after school?”
Rarity’s smile became pained. “I’d love to, Flash, but… the girls and I are set to practice after school as well.”
Flash stared dumbfounded at her. “Practice? For what?” Sunset could tell he already knew the answer.
“The Battle of the Bands. We’re competing as well.”
He looked over Rarity’s shoulder to the other girls for a moment, then stared back at her. “You’re joking, right? Aside from Rainbow, none of you play any instruments. You don’t even have a band.”
Rarity wilted, still trying her hardest to give a polite smile. “It’s not a joke, Flash. Most of us have some musical background, we’re just learning to play different instruments.”
Flash’s calm veneer split, revealing the scowling teen beneath. “I can’t believe you.” He jabbed a finger at her. “I can’t believe you’re going to compete. Against me! I thought you liked me!”
“Flash, you don’t understand!”
“I understand that you’re trying to take my one chance at proving to my parents that I can be somebody—that music isn’t just a hobby! You knew how badly I wanted that!”
Sunset stepped in front of Rarity. “Lay off, Flash! This isn’t just about you, okay?”
Flash narrowed his eyes. “It never is, is it? Not when you’re around. You just like seeing me miserable, don’t you?”
“What are you talking about?”
He banged a fist against the locker. “Every time something good is about to happen to me, you’re around and it goes away. The first Twilight comes to Canterlot, you turn into a demon and then she goes home. The second Twilight, turns out she likes you instead. I start dating Rarity and have a shot at my dreams, you turn her against me to make sure I lose!”
“You’re out of your mind!” Sunset yelled, blood boiling.
“And you’re out of your league! There’s no way I’m going to let you beat me this time!” He snorted and stomped past them, hands still curled. “I can’t believe I thought you changed! We’re not friends, Sunset.” He looked back at Rarity. “And whatever we were, we’re not that anymore.”
They watched him go, as did the small crowd that had gathered during the escalation. Applejack gently ushered them to keep moving to class while Sunset kept an arm around Rarity’s shoulder. She looked more shellshocked than anything, but soon, the tears started falling.
Yeah. It’s only going to get worse.