Spectacular Seven

by The Albinocorn


13. Vs. The World

Trying to rent instruments had been a battle in and of itself. Sunset counted them lucky they didn’t need an electric guitar, as that had been the first to go. Getting the bass for Applejack and drum set for Pinkie required some aggressive maneuvering, as everyone who wanted to compete crowded around the music office, rental papers in hand, and pushing and shoving to be the first in line.

How many of these kids even know how to play an instrument? Sunset wondered as she shoved Roseluck out of her way. Not that she could think much of it; half her friends barely played either, yet here they were. Still, they were doing it out of necessity. Everyone else just wanted their ten seconds of fame.

Mrs. Carol, head of the music department, waded through the sea of students to get to her office door. “Okay, okay, settle down please,” she said, trying to ignore the papers being shoved in her face. “Just let me get to my office first and—ooof! Please, no shoving! You’ll all get an instrument, I promise!” She finally got to her door and opened it up, allowing the students to pour in before she even made it to her desk.

Agile and forceful, Sunset ended up at the front of the line. Someone pulled on her hair, and she kicked her boot back into someone’s shin. She smiled sweetly at Mrs. Carol and laid her papers on the table.

“Hello, Miss Shimmer,” Mrs. Carol said in a tired voice. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Sunset said, pressing herself against the desk thanks to the crowd behind her. “Sorry about the mob.”

Mrs. Carol waved a hand while she read over the papers. “It’s fine. I’m just glad the students are taking such an active interest in music now. So, you need a bass, a drum set, a tambourine, and a keytar?”

“Yes, please.”

She stamped all the forms and handed Sunset a key. “They’re all yours. Take good care of them, and good luck!”

“Thank you.” Sunset turned to find the mob glaring at her. She stuck her tongue out and pushed past them, ignoring the unsavory whispers. Just like old times. She met the girls in front of the band room and they loaded the instruments into the back of Applejack’s truck. Not wanting to bother with trying to book the room for practice, the girls headed out to Sweet Apple Acres.

The paved roads of the city gave way to gravel, then dirt as they rode out to the edge. Farmland rolled in front of them with the Everfree Forest spread out just over the last hill. Applejack made a left and pulled into her long driveway, Rainbow tailgating right behind.

The last time Sunset had been here, the trees had been full of golden leaves, their apples just plucked from harvest. Now, the trees were skeletal, naked branches clawing at the sky. Stepping out of the car, Sunset found the ground hard and cold, and the grass limp and brown. She knew all of it would be alive come spring, but still found it a sorry sight.

The group moved everything into the barn while Applejack herded the animals out to graze. The smell of cows, pigs, and hay still lingered. Sunset pinched her nose. “Well, this isn’t ideal, but it’ll have to do.”

“Hey, no fair!” three voices said in unison.

Sunset turned and found Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo standing at the mouth of the barn, instruments in hand. Apple Bloom pointed an accusatory finger. “We were gonna use this for our practice space! You stole our idea!”

Applejack walked back into the barn, wiping her hands on her pants. “Sorry, sugarplum, we got here first. Why don’t y’all go practice on the hill outside?”

Apple Bloom gave her sister a vicious glare. “Don’t ‘sugarplum’ me. You know the acoustics are great in here. Ah can’t believe you’re trying to sabotage us already!”

“I can’t believe you’re helping her,” Sweetie said to Rarity.

Rainbow stepped up. “Hey, quit with the accusations! Why would we want to sabotage you?”

“To make sure we can’t see the Dazzlings,” Scootaloo said with venom. “Just like the way you took our tickets.”

Applejack waved her hands in a calming motion. “Ah told you before, it was for yer own good. Those concerts are dangerous.”

“Stop treating us like babies, Applejack,” Apple Bloom said, stomping up a puff of dirt. “We’re in high school now; Ah don’t need you hovering over me like Ah’m a little chick.” She held up her guitar. “And Ah’ll prove it by winning the Battle of the Bands!” She turned on her heel and stormed away, her two friends following along after another set of glares to their older siblings.

The three of them sighed, and Applejack tipped her hat over her eyes. “Today just ain’t our day.”

“Tell me about it,” Sunset and Rarity said, both of them emotionally drained. The girls finished set up and took their positions. Fluttershy stood in the back next to Pinkie while Rarity and Applejack flanked Rainbow in the middle. Sunset sat on a crate to the side, a pen and notebook in her lap. Everyone looked at her expectantly.

“What?”

“What do we play?” Rainbow asked. “You’re the one making the counterspell.”

“Oh…. well…” Sunset pulled at her hair. “The spell isn’t ready yet. Besides, you girls need basic practice anyway. So just, I dunno, play some composition pieces or something. We need to win the competition before we can play the spell anyway.”

“Alrighty then,” Applejack said, giving her bass a few plucks. “Guess Ah’ll get used to playin’ this. Can’t be too hard.”

“We can practice with ‘Shine Like Rainbows’,” Rarity suggested. “That’ll be a good song to play at the preliminaries on Saturday.”

Sunset smacked a palm against her forehead. “Right, you’re gonna need at least three other songs to sing through the battle. I’ll see if I can’t try to compose something else too.”

Rainbow waved a hand. “Don’t worry; I’ve already got some songs written and ready to go.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow. “Are they all as egocentric as your first one?”

“No!”

“Umm, I also wrote a song or two,” Fluttershy said from the back.

Sunset clapped her hands. “Well, this is great. We’ll just tune them to the new instruments and use them to practice. Hop to it, girls.”

The first hour of practice wasn’t easy on Sunset’s ears. Many strings were off key and Fluttershy rattled her tambourine either too softly to hear or off beat from everyone else. As they practiced, Sunset kept her pen tapping against her paper. How did one make a musical counterspell exactly? Was it in the lyrics? Or did the girls just need to pony up while singing? She thought about the Sirens and their hit song. Right in the chorus, they bragged about everyone being under their spell, and lo and behold, it came true.

Sunset scribbled a few lyric ideas. Might as well cover both bases. The lyrics would be the easy part; it was the composition that would prove tricky. She only had two classes worth of experience.

A flash of light caught her attention. Looking up, she found Rainbow hovering a foot off the ground, pony ears up and wings spread wide. She played a quick solo and laughed. “Still awesome!”

Good to see that still works. “Yeah, make sure you don’t do that at the competition. We don’t want the Dazzlings to know we’re onto them. Or get disqualified.”

“Right, right,” Rainbow said with a casual wave. “Be awesome, but not too awesome. Tough, but I think I can manage.”

No one else had ponied up by the end of the day, leaving Sunset to wonder if that was a good or bad thing. She had a page full of notes and ideas, but hardly anything she could call concrete yet. She had at least a few weeks, but wanted time so the girls could practice.

Rainbow dropped her off at home, and stepping through the door, Sunset could hear an electric guitar coming from upstairs. She found Selena in the kitchen, slowly putting together a casserole. “I take it Trixie’s still mad?” Sunset asked.

Selena smacked her serving spoon onto the counter. “I don’t know where she gets this stubbornness. Even Artemis isn’t this foolhardy. I don’t know what she thinks she’s trying to prove, saving him and beating the Sirens by herself; I’m already proud of her!” She sighed and looked at Sunset with sorrowful eyes. “I know she doesn’t want it, but you’ll be there for her if something happens, right?”

“Of course,” Sunset said automatically. Unapologetic as Trixie was, Sunset wouldn’t let anyone else in her pseudo family get hurt.

“Thank you, Sunset,” Selena said, her sorrow turning to gratitude. She moved over to the cutting board and began dicing green onions with a little more vigor. “How was your day?”

Sunset took a seat at the table. “I’ve had better. Twilight joined Moondancer because she didn’t think she could help us, not having magic and all. Flash hates me because he thinks I’m out to ruin his life, and the sisters of my friends think we’re trying to sabotage their chances of winning.”

“That’s a lot to handle in one day. I’m sorry to hear it.” Selena set the knife down and washed her hands. “How’s the counterspell coming?”

“It’s… started.” Sunset put her notebook on the table, and Selena came over and started reading through it. “I’m trying to think of lyrics to counter everything the Sirens say in their songs.”

Selena nodded. “You’re off to a good start. I don’t know what you’re going to rhyme with ‘orange’ though.”

Sunset took the notebook and scribbled it out. “Yeah, I knew that was dumb.”

*******

Saturday came all too soon. Sunset considered it good fortune she shared three classes with Twilight, for Moondancer snatched her away every lunch and after school, always with a look of sheer elation, and a hint of smug satisfaction if Sunset caught her eye.

Practice for the Rainbooms had been slow but steady, with them running through ‘Shine Like Rainbows’, ‘Awesome as I Wanna Be’ (to much disgruntlement), and a few short instrumentals Rainbow had thrown together. In between practice, Sunset had a few of them test chords for her composition of the counterspell. She had the first verse down and had an idea of how she wanted it to sound.  

In the meantime, they had the preliminary auditions to get through.

The Battle of the Bands would be hosted at the Canterlot Fairgrounds, not too far from Sweet Apple Acres. When the Rainbooms arrived, a large crowd had already gathered around the three stages set up. Stands for food and Dazzlings memorabilia flanked the outskirts.

“Boy, they’re sure goin’ whole hog, aren’t they?” Applejack said when they settled in the dirt parking lot. “The Dazzlings are havin’ people eat this competition idea up like it’s the greatest thing since apple fritters.”

Rarity stepped lightly, trying not to get dirt on her new designer boots. She had dressed fancy for the occasion, sporting a new purple dress with fake glittering diamonds around the waist. “The least they could do is put in a paved pathway.”

“Ah told you we were goin’ to the fairgrounds,” Applejack said, annoyed.

“Yes, but I didn’t think it would be so… dusty. It’s going to completely ruin my ensemble.”

Sunset messaged her temple. Personally, she didn’t think the judges would care about a little dirt as long as they didn’t look like hobos on stage. “You can come with me to check the schedule then,” she said. “There’s grass further in.”

“I’ll go too,” Rainbow said. “The rest of you stay here and guard the equipment. I don’t trust any other band out here today.”

A justifiable paranoia, Sunset thought as they moved to the heart of the fair. Like Canterlot High on Monday, tension polluted the air, creating a toxic atmosphere that made Sunset’s skin crawl. Collectively, a dull murmur could be heard through the crowd, but upon further inspection, Sunset saw only bandmates talking to fellow bandmates with no outside communication. Just like lunch.

And like renting equipment, Sunset had to fight her way through the crowd gathered in front of the scheduling board. She found the Rainbooms under the 2:00 P.M. column, giving them three hours until showtime. She pushed her way back to Rainbow and Rarity finding them staring open mouthed down the main thoroughfare.

Sitting on a black grand piano being carried by four muscular men was Moondancer, legs crossed, hands folded, and surveying everyone beneath her like she was a princess and they her loving subjects. Twilight walked beside her, trying not to look too embarrassed.

“Set it next to the stage, gentlemen,” Moondancer said while Twilight broke away to the Rainbooms.

“Hi girls,” she said, still looking flustered. “Hi, Sun.”

Sunset drummed her fingers against her lips. “Nah. Keep trying.”

Twilight sighed exasperatedly and leaned up to kiss Sunset. “How’s everything coming along?”

“They’re all getting better, but I guess our first test will be today.”

“Pffft.” Rainbow waved a hand. “Please, we got this on lock. We sound awesome! We just have to make sure we don’t sound so awesome we let you-know-what slip out.”

Sunset glanced over to Moondancer, stepping off her piano. “How’s your practice coming along?”

Twilight brightened like a purple lamp. “It’s been a lot of fun! I forgot how well Moondancer can play! We wrote a lot of great songs and I can’t wait for you to hear them!” She dimmed and cleared her throat. “I mean, it was okay. Just fine.” She wrapped herself around Sunset and leaned into her. “I’ve missed spending time with you though.”

“Awwww,” Rarity gushed.

“Make way! Here comes Trixie and the Illusions!” Trixie pushed her way past Twilight and Sunset, barely sparing them a glance.

“I’m guessing she’s still mad?” Twilight asked.

Sunset gave a sad nod. “Yep. Now all we need is—” Someone shoved past her from behind, and she turned to see blue spiky hair disappear into the crowd. “And the gang’s all here.”

“Attention everyone,” a perky voice said over the loudspeakers, “Please gather at the center stage so we can begin the competition! We have a few announcements to make and a special guest performance!”

The voice sounded familiar to Sunset, and one look at Twilight confirmed her suspicions. “That was Cadence, wasn’t it?”

Twilight gave a regretful nod.

Everyone migrated toward the center of the fairgrounds and gathered in front of the stage. Indeed, Cadence stood front and center, smiling and waving to her admirers. She caught sight of Twilight and gave her an extra large smile.

Twilight returned it halfheartedly. “Why is she here?” she whispered.

Rainbow shrugged. “Celebrity judge maybe? The Dazzlings did announce this thing through her station.”

“Hello, everyone!” Cadence said once the crowd had calmed down some. “I’m Mi Amore in the Morning, but you can call me Cadence! It’s my pleasure to welcome you to Canterlot’s first Battle of the Bands!” She let the crowd roar before continuing. “From today’s preliminary auditions, eighteen bands will move on to the quarterfinals. Nine bands from there will make it to the semis, and three bands will move on to the finals! From there, only one will win the battle and get to play with the Dazzlings!” The crowd cheered again.

“Of course, I will be one of your judges! And now, here are the others!” Cadence gestured to the curtain behind her, where green smoke began to rise up from underneath. “Your favorite songstresses and your judges, The Dazzlings!”

What?” Sunset and the girls chorused. The curtains rose and the Sirens sauntered out, fog drifting with them. They rose their arms and began to sing, the pendants around their neck glowing in the sun.

Ah, ah-ah, ah-ahh,

“ah, ah-ah, ah-ahh.

“Ah, ah-ah, ah-ahh,

“ah, ah-ah, ah-ahh.”

Sunset clapped her hands over Twilight’s ears and pressed down as hard as she could. Twilight squirmed in discomfort but Sunset refused to let up.

Me and you, you and me,

“Why don't we see who is better?

“We don't have to be one and the same thing.

“Oh, what's so wrong with a little competition?

“Are you afraid of failing the audition?

All around her, Sunset could see agitation flowing through the crowd. They were caught between adoring the Dazzlings and trading quiet insults and competitive glares. And looking closer, Sunset saw something she hadn’t noticed before: a green shimmer in each of their eyes, the same green as the fog flowing off the stage.

Well that’s ominous.

By the time the song ended, the crowd was in an angry murmur. Sunset let go of Twilight, allowing her to take off her glasses and rub her ears.

“Are you feeling okay?” Sunset asked.

“I think so?” Twilight set her glasses back on. Sunset couldn’t see any green in her eyes, but couldn’t shake the sinking feeling in her stomach.

Adagio stepped up to the center mike. “We hope you enjoyed our little performance. Now, it’s your turn to dazzle us and prove which one of you is the best in Canterlot!”

Everyone broke into a scramble, shoving and shouting and scrambling over each other to get to their instruments. Sunset huddled close to her friends while the frenzy swarmed around them. As it thinned out, they linked arms and pulled themselves away, finding a safe space near a corn dog stand.

“Great,” Rarity said, dusting her dress off. “The Sirens are the judges, and everyone’s nice and riled up. It’s like they expect us to actually battle.”

“More power for them if we did,” Sunset said. “I thought they might be here, but I didn’t expect them to be judges.” She looked at Rarity and Rainbow. “Now it’s super important you don’t give away your magic. If they see it, there’s nothing stopping them from knocking you out.”

Rainbow put her hands on her hips. “You know, it’s gonna be really hard to show off my awesome guitar skills if I have to hold back this much.”

“We’re here to save the world, not make you look awesome,” Sunset snapped.

“No reason we can’t do both.” Rainbow wilted at Sunset’s guttural growl. “Right, save the world first. Got it.”

Sunset ran a hand through her hair and sighed. “Okay. We’ve still got a few hours before you go on, so let’s—”

“Twilight!” Moondancer came around the corner, eyes passing over Sunset, Rarity, and Rainbow. “There you are! I was worried you had been captured by a rival band.” Her eyes finally found the others, however briefly. “Come, come; we’re due on stage in twenty minutes and…” She licked her thumb and rubbed it against Twilight’s cheek. “Sweetheart, you have a little smudge right there.”

Sunset wished she had magic just long enough to set Moondancer on fire. “Hey!” she said loudly, draping an arm around Twilight and turning her away from Moondancer’s hand. “Good luck, baby, I’m totally rooting for you!” She pulled Twilight in and gave her a long kiss. She kept her eyes close, choosing to imagine Moondancer’s expression of pain and sadness. Sunset released Twilight and finished rubbing the dirt off her cheek.

“Uhh, thanks,” Twilight said, partly dazed. “Good luck to you, too.” Moondancer quickly draped an arm around her and led her away, giving an extra venom filled glare to Sunset.

Sunset turned away and held her arms while she looked at the ground. “I feel sick.”

“Why?” Rainbow asked.

Rarity closed her eyes and tutted. “Because she kissed Twilight to prove a point. And only to prove a point. Isn’t that right, Sunset?”

She just nodded. Sunset was the jealous type; she knew that. But to kiss Twilight in front of Moondancer like that—to show Moondancer the one thing she couldn’t have… Sunset cringed. Perhaps the Sirens’ magic brought out her old habits. Or she wasn’t as reformed as she thought.

Rarity put a hand on her back. “It’s okay, darling, just breathe it out.” Sunset did as she was told and exhaled a tight breath. “There,” Rarity said soothingly. “Now, you know what you did was wrong, and you can make up for it the next time you see her. There’s no need to beat yourself up over it. To be honest, I can’t say I blame you.”

Sunset unwrapped herself and feebly gestured to the parking lot. “Let’s go see the others. We still have to unpack.”

Rainbow quietly scoffed behind them and shoved her hands in her pockets. “Relationships are so weird.”

*******

Sunset bounced back enough to see Twilight and Moondancer’s duet. Moondancer had managed to change before going on stage, switching to a sparkling white, ruffled dress with a long back hem. She took her seat at the keys of her grand piano while Twilight sat on top.

The judges sat at a table in front of the stage with security guards forming a perimeter around them. Even so, a few fans hovered dangerously close to the Dazzlings.

Moondancer opened, fingers daintily dancing across the keys. She hit every note with perfection, making her piano sing a sweet, melodious song. She smiled confidently, her eyes on Twilight the entire time. To Sunset’s pleasure, Twilight kept her eyes closed in concentration.

Their instruments flowed together seamlessly. The song washed over the noisy crowd, drawing their attention and silencing them.

When the duo finished, Sunset was one of the few who clapped. The rest muttered to one another in angry or jealous whispers. Sunset saw Cadence restraining herself from leaping to her feet to give Twilight a standing ovation.

“Thank you, girls, that was excellent!” she said, giving them her biggest smile. She scribbled what looked like tens in every box on the scoresheet. The Sirens just smiled approvingly while they got up and moved to the next stage.

That’s a tough act to follow, Sunset thought. I feel bad for the next band.

“We are Sex Bob-omb! One, two, three, four!” Sunset heard a clash of instruments and stuck her tongue out. There was one band not making it to the quarterfinals.

“Excuse me, miss!”

Sunset turned around, finding a woman with a mic and a man with with a camera standing only a foot away from her. Sunset leaned back from the mic in her face. “Umm, hi?”

“Inside Scoop from Channel 14 News,” the woman said. “May we have a moment of your time for your thoughts on the Battle of the Bands?”

“Sure, I guess,” Sunset said, still eyeing the mic hovering close to her cheek. She had never been interviewed before.

“Excellent!” Scoop brought the mic back to herself. “What do you think of the competition so far? Are you nervous? Worried? Intimidated by some of the other bands?” She pressed the mic back to Sunset.

Sunset took half a step back. Her ears filtered in the loud mess of noise from the current band and she scoffed. “Intimidated? No. I mean sure, a fair amount of them have some talent but it’s nothing to get nervous about.”

“So do you think you can win? What’s the name of your band and what music do you play?”

“Oh, well, I’m not competing myself. I’m sort of a band manager/stage hand for my friends. They’re the Rainbooms, and they’re a pop band.”

“And you think they have the best shot?”

Sunset shrugged. “With some practice, I think they have a good chance.”

Scoop turned her back to Sunset and looked at the camera. “There you have it! The Battle of the Bands is heating up with talents like the Rainbooms expecting to sweep the competition.”

Sunset leaned over Scoop’s shoulder. “That’s not what I said.” Neither Scoop nor the cameraman paid her any mind. He pointed to another group of kids and they moved on. Sunset stood in the middle of the dry grass, face sour. “Why do I have the feeling this will somehow come back to bite me?”

“Sunset!”

Oh, what now? She turned around to find Pinkie running toward her, a corn dog in her hand.

“We have a teensy tiny problem!” She took a bite out of her corn dog and chewed for a second. “You have to come with me, quick!” She grabbed Sunset with her open hand and dragged her off.

Sunset learned not to resist whenever Pinkie led her somewhere, but it didn’t stop her from glaring at the back of Pinkie’s poofy hair. They went across the field to the third stage, where Flash and his band were trying to set up. Unfortunately, they seemed to be in a heated argument with the other Rainbooms and Sweetie, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo.

Rainbow and Flash were inches away from butting heads. “Fluttershy wrote the song,” Rainbow said heatedly. “It belongs to her!”

“And Sunset practically begged us to play it!” Flash argued. “We have as much right to it as you do since we actually performed it!”

Apple Bloom jumped up between them. “We actually sang the lyrics though! So we have every right to perform it too!” The three of them stopped taking turns and tried to talk over each other, growing louder with each incoherent sentence.

Sunset pieced together which song they were arguing about and sighed. She walked over to Fluttershy, hovering on the edge of the group, away from the main confrontation. “Aren’t you going to say something? ‘Shine Like Rainbows’ is your song.”

Fluttershy played with her fingers. “Well, I mean, I would like it if we could sing it today. But, they do have a good point. I don’t want anyone to be upset.”

“Sweety, you’re too nice for your own good,” Sunset said, patting Fluttershy on the head. She rolled up her sleeves and marched toward the arguing trio. Time to make some enemies. 

She wedged her way between Flash, Rainbow and Apple Bloom. “All of you shut up!” She glared at the opposing band members. “Fluttershy wrote the song. It’s hers. She’s in our band. Ergo, we have first dibs on ‘Shine Like Rainbows.’ Further, I helped finish the song, so I get some say in this too. We get the song, you two can beat it.”

The members of Flash Drive and the Crusaders met her with heated and unforgiving glares. Flash looked ready to spit on her. He turned away, fists tightened, and helped his band finish their set up. The Crusaders turned their hateful glares on their sisters before walking away, noses in the air.

Sunset dropped her arms. “Just when I think I’m done, I get to be the villain again. It’s not nearly as fun as I thought it would be.”

“Yeah, but you helped us out,” Rainbow said reassuringly. “And you sent them away without this turning into a fight. So, positives, right?”

“Sure.” Sunset knew what a used battery felt like. Between the Sirens, Twilight and Moondancer, and making enemies out of her old friends, she was emotionally drained. She still had two hours before the Rainbooms went on; two hours filled with mediocre to average music, soggy popcorn, and numerous shouting matches between the other competitors.

The old me would be having a ball right now, Sunset thought, watching Bon Bon and Derpy get into it. She resumed helping Pinkie set up her drums. Over on the center stage, Trixie and her band finished their song to scattered applause. It didn’t come as a surprise to Sunset, but most bands went completely ignored by the other competitors.

Trixie proved to be Cadence’s opposite. Though she gave a theatrical bow, Sunset could see Trixie fighting not to jump down and tackle Adagio.

Sunset adjusted the hi-hat and stepped back. “All right, Pinks, you’re good to go.” She looked at the others, already set up and in position. She breathed out the butterflies in her stomach. “Well, break a leg, girls.”

“Don’t worry, Sunset,” Rarity said, “I’m sure we’re good enough to claim one of eighteen spots.”

Sunset gave them a thumbs up and stepped into the backstage shadows as the judges came and took their seats. “Band number twenty-six,” Cadence said, “The Rainbooms.”

“And what will you be playing for us today?” Adagio asked.

“It’s a song that’s totally ours and no one else should be playing it!” Rainbow shouted. Leaning forward, Sunset saw why. Flash chose that moment to walk past the stage. He and Rainbow exchanged burning glowers, trying to incinerate each other.

“Dash, you’re an idiot,” Sunset said under her breath. She saw all three Sirens take a collective breath and grin at one another.

When Flash stalked off, Rainbow gave a nod to Pinkie, and she tapped her drumsticks together, counting off, “One, two, three, four!”

“Once… upon a time,

“You came into my world and made the stars align,” Applejack sang while she softly strummed her bass. As Sunset had found out over the week, all her friends (save for Fluttershy who refused to open her mouth unless they sang together) had pretty good voices.

Rarity took the next verse. “Now, I can see the signs,

“You pick me up when I get down so I can shine.”

As one they sang, “Shine like rainbows, ohohoh.” Sunset saw Fluttershy’s mouth move but couldn’t hear her voice. She supposed it didn’t matter in the end, but it would have been nice to hear Fluttershy. Sunset had a gut feeling she had a lovely voice.

Looking out to the crowd, Sunset found Twilight watching with a smile on her face. Even from the stage, Sunset could see the tiny dimples in Twilight’s cheeks, and her perfectly aligned, sparkling teeth. It wasn’t a complete recharge, but it sparked something warm in Sunset again.

She shifted her attention back to the girls. ‘Shine Like Rainbows’ proved to be a good, mellow song for an opening act. They had practiced it enough times, everyone managed to get through their parts without any noticeable mistakes.

As the song neared completion, Sunset swore she could see all of them beginning to sparkle. She gripped the side of the curtain as a soft light started to envelope each of them when they reached the final chorus. She wasn’t hallucinating; they were about to pony up.

I specifically told you not to do that! Sunset looked around frantically for some way to stop them. A bucket rested a yard away, and thinking of nothing else, she ran and gave it a hard kick toward the stage. It bounced and clattered, startling Fluttershy enough to drop her tambourine and throw off the closing line. As the bass line faded, the Rainbooms turned back and gave Sunset mystified looks. Luckily, all of their glitter and glow had disappeared.

“Sorry,” Sunset said with a sheepish wave of her hand. “Clumsy me. Tripped on the bucket.”

Cadence wrote something down but gave them an encouraging smile. “Well, distraction aside, that was lovely, girls.”

“I’ll say,” Adagio purred. “A little saccharine, but still enjoyable.”

Sonata bobbed her head. “I thought it was super cute and catchy!” She looked over to Aria who gave an uninterested shrug.

Sunset wiped the sweat gathering at the top of her forehead. Three out of four judges was pretty good.

Rainbow unplugged her guitar from the amp. “What was with the bucket?” she whispered to Sunset as the judges walked away.

“You were all starting to glow. I had to do something.”

Rarity looked at her keytar. “Really? I didn’t feel like I was doing anything extravagant though.”

“Me neither,” Applejack said. “Ah was just tryin’ to have a good time.”

“I always have a good time!” Pinkie banged on her drums then tossed her sticks into the air. They came back down and disappeared in the labyrinth of her hair.

Sunset hoisted the amp up and walked it off stage. “The point is, you sounded good and you didn’t give yourselves away. I think you managed to survive to next week.”

Fluttershy followed her, arms full of cables. “So, what do we do now?”

Sunset set the amp down on the grass to catch her breath. “You keep practicing. I’ll keep writing.” She looked out into the moving crowd. Twilight had disappeared again. “And we hope for the best.”

*******

Adagio opened the door to their hotel suite and graciously let her sisters in first. She found herself in a good mood again today. One that almost made up for the seething anger she had felt all week after her idiotic and incompetent sisters had come home without the Crystal Heart!

Thankfully, they hadn’t had any public appearances, because Adagio was sure she had left bruises.

Sonata jumped onto the plush couch and curled against a pillow larger than her head. “That was so much fun! I’m like, so full right now!”

Aria sat next to her and put her boots up on the table. “Full, sure. But that was a total borefest. Almost all of those ‘bands’ sucked.”

“You’re just mad because none of them played your screamo death metal junk.”

Aria grabbed another pillow and pushed it onto Sonata’s face.

Adagio stomped her boot. “Enough!” Her good mood didn’t extend to putting up with their shenanigans. Aria released the pillow, allowing Sonata to sit up with a gasp of air. Adagio messaged her temple. She could see a hot bath in the near future. “I think I already know the answer to this, but did either of you feel what I felt out there?”

“Nope!” Sonata said chipperly.

To Adagio’s surprise, Aria nodded her head. “The Equestrian magic. Those Rainblossom girls were dripping with it.”

“Oh, was that what that was? I thought something tasted like Fruity Pebbles.”

Adagio ignored her. “The point is, despite your dismal failure last week—”

“We said we were sorry!” Aria shouted, throwing her hands up. “Forgive us for not anticipating another thief and her pet snake would be there! And I told you, I’ll handle it!”

“You better,” Adagio growled. “Everything else is going to plan. But if we want to be all-powerful, we still need the Heart.” She crossed her arms and smiled. “But, hearts and Equestria aside, I noticed something else at the fair today.”

Sonata cocked her head. “Was it the popcorn? I thought it was pretty soggy. The corn dogs were good though!”

Aria shifted her leg and kicked Sonata. “Continue.”

“There was human magic there too,” Adagio said without missing a beat.

Aria looked up at her. “What? You think Apalla was there spying on us?”

“No.” Adagio’s smile widened. “I think there’s a new Lulamoon in play. One who will do anything to save her dear daddy.”

*******

As far as hideouts went, Lamia had used worse. Much worse, in fact. Sure, the old factory she took refuge in now had a slight cockroach infestation and no central heating whatsoever, but it had a kitchen, working lights, and running water. It showed signs that someone had lived here once, but they had long since left. She found a few old clothes in a dresser in the foreman’s office that were close to her size.

Lamia laid on the stale mattress tucked against the wall. Jörmangandr curled himself around the Crystal Heart under the desk and snoozed. It was a pretty boring existence.

Still, Lamia made do. She had been fortunate enough to find an old t.v a few blocks from her new squaller. Tiny with a cracked screen, but it still worked fine. And since the factory still had working outlets, she could actually use it!

Soon she would have a plasma screen. How many inches? Maybe seventy. And surround sound! Set in the middle of her living room in her new villa waiting for her in Greece. All she had to do was bide her time until her trade went down. Then she could say goodbye to the Crystal Heart and hello to millions and millions of dollars!

She reached for her coffee cup, tasting her lukewarm cinnamon latte. The news came back on, the color a little faded on the tiny television screen.

“Today marked the beginning of Canterlot City’s first Battle of the Bands, hosted by the newest pop sensation, the Dazzlings,” the anchor said. “Here’s Inside Scoop with a look at the competition.”

Lamia rolled her eyes. She had given up pop music after Sapphire Shores sold out. Now she only heard the drivel when she went grocery shopping. She took another sip of her latte as Inside Scoop cut to some of her interviews.

“They’re the Rainbooms, and they’re a pop band,” a familiar looking girl said.

Too familiar.

Lamia spat her coffee onto the floor and bolted off the mattress to get as close to the screen as she could. Even with the muted colors, she could see the familiar red and gold hair, even styled the same way it had been in high school. Her eyes, the same shade of teal, her mouth leaning toward a perpetual frown, arms crossed with indifference.

“With some practice, I think they have a good chance,” the girl said.

Sunset Shimmer stared at her doppelganger, mouth agape. She kept staring even as the picture transitioned back to the news room.

“What. The. Fuck.”