Eighteen bands moved on from the preliminaries, the Rainbooms being one of them. Moondancer and Twilight, known as Moonlight Requiem (Sunset had almost torn the paper in half) Flash Drive, Trixie and the Illusions, and the Crusaders all made it as well. Five bands from Canterlot High. Normally, this would be seen as a triumph, maybe even a lunchtime celebration. Instead, the bands ignored each other, while the rest of the jilted competitors ostracized them all.
Sunset had almost forgotten what the scornful stares and whispers from her peers felt like. It all came rushing back on Monday as she walked on campus. As hard as it was, she picked up her old mask of cruel superiority and petty anger, if only to keep everyone else’s negativity away. It was worn and cracked, and no longer sat well on her face.
She took it off and smiled at Rarity upon entering first period. Rarity gave a lukewarm reception. Sunset dropped into the chair next to her. “Tough morning?”
Rarity nodded. “Sweetie Belle is no longer talking to me. Nor is half the fashion club.”
“Aren’t you the president?”
“Not if this keeps up.” Rarity slouched in her chair. Sunset knew she had to be upset if she wasn’t correcting her own posture.
Come lunch, Sunset would find Rarity was not the only one having trouble. Apple Bloom refused to talk to Applejack, and the soccer team ignored Rainbow during practice. Sitting at their table near the center of the cafeteria, a dark cloud hung over the Rainboom’s heads. Any way they looked, someone gave them an unwanted glare.
“Geez,” Rainbow said, resting her cheek in her hand. “Now I know how Sunset felt after the Fall Formal. Uh, no--”
Sunset raised a fist.
Sunset lowered her fist. “Just ignore them. Once we beat the Sirens, everything will go back to normal.”
“We grow ears and shoot magic when we play music,” Applejack said. “Normal, we ain’t.”
Normal or not, Sunset couldn’t wait for the students to snap back to their senses. Having divided the school, seen it come back together, seen it turn briefly against her, and now seen it divided again, she much preferred the touchy-feely school unity.
She also preferred when Moondancer didn’t have an excuse to drag Twilight away from their table.
While it was a thin silver line, Sunset found solace in the fact that classes proceeded like normal. No one in her AP Physics class played the Dazzlings music while they worked, giving Sunset ample silence to concentrate on her assignments. Even without outward distractions, however, her mind tended to wander off. Artemis, Twilight, her friends, her possible doppelganger, the Crystal Heart, an unfinished spell, and the fate of the world. She tried not to think about it all at once lest her brain explode.
She carried the notebook containing the spell with her at all times in case she found a moment to work on it. While she wouldn’t admit she was stuck, Sunset noted she still had some progress to make and was merely… stalled at the moment.
The bell dismissing school rang, and she packed up her stuff. She would have plenty of time to have a breakthrough while the girls practiced this afternoon.
The Rainbooms gathered in front of the marble horse statue at the front of the school, then piled into Applejack and Rainbow’s cars. Being free of the school’s negativity rejuvenated their spirits, and by the time they arrived at the farm, everyone had the strength to smile again.
“So, how’s that magic spell thing coming?” Rainbow asked while she plugged in her guitar.
Sunset’s smile folded. “It’s coming. You know, just gotta make sure it’s perfect.”
“Would you like some help?” Fluttershy asked.
“No, I got this. Just keep practicing.” Sunset got comfortable on a hay bale in the corner of the barn and took her notebook out. Help would be appreciated, but she couldn’t distract her friends from doing their part of the job just because she couldn’t do hers.
Fluttershy gave her tambourine a little shake. “Well, I mean, I don’t think it’s good enough to be a counterspell or anything, but I did write a new song for us to play.”
“Hey, me too!” Rainbow said.
“Oh, well, you can go first, Rainbow,” Fluttershy said with a polite smile and bow.
“Sweet!” Rainbow ran to her bag and rummaged through it. “Hey, if your song doesn’t work, Sunset, mine’s awesome enough to beat the Sirens.”
“I’m sure it is, Dash,” Sunset said, not looking up from her paper.
“This one ain’t as conceited as your last one, is it?” Applejack asked.
Rainbow took the lyrics from her bag. “‘Awesome As I Wanna Be’ is not conceited. And to answer your question, no, it isn’t.”
Applejack snatched the lyrics from her. “Hmmm. Well, aside from the chorus, this ain’t half bad.”
“Well, let’s give it a whirl!” Pinkie said, spinning her drumsticks on her fingers.
They spent the next hour and a half practicing their individual chords and learning the lyrics. Everyone except Fluttershy had one solo line, though she lent her voice to the chorus. At a quarter to six, they were ready for their first run through. Pinkie started with a steady beat on the kick before everyone sang the opening verses.
“We used to fight with each other.
“Oh, whoa-oh, whoa-oh, whoa-oh.
“That was before we discovered.
“Oh, whoa-oh, whoa-oh, whoa-oh.
“That when your friendship is real.
“Oh, whoa-oh, whoa-oh, whoa-oh.
“Yeah, you just say what you feel.
“And the music, yeah the music,
“Gets us to the top!
“As we learn how the rainbow...
Rainbow belted out a series of wild guitar riffs, her entire body beginning to glow in the process. The rest of the Rainbooms started to glow as well, sprouting pony ears and their respective wings and horn. By the time the song finished, all of them hovered just off the ground, and the barn walls reflected their shimmering aura.
Sunset applauded as they giggled and cheered at their performance. “For a first run through, that sounded really good.”
“It felt really good too,” Rarity gushed. She kicked her feet, pedaling herself higher into the air. The aura faded away and she fell back to the floor in a gentle descent. She took out her compact and examined herself. “I still say I could come up with some great accessories for my horn. They can match the ensemble I have planned out for the rest of the competition!”
“You have dresses planned for the entire battle?” Rainbow asked.
“Of course. I have outfits for all of you.”
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Rarity, we’re not here to play dress-up. We go in, beat the Sirens, and go home.”
“Well who says we can’t look fabulous while doing it?”
Rainbow glided overhead. “I’m okay with a few outfits as long as they look cool. I don’t want my band to look like one of those bubblegum pop bands.”
“Your band?” Applejack raised an eyebrow.
“Our band,” she corrected herself. “Though I am the band leader.”
“Keep tellin’ yourself that.”
The magic timed out, and Rainbow crashed to the floor, her wings evaporating into blue wisps. “Lame,” she grumbled, massaging her tailbone.
“I think that’s enough practice for today,” Sunset said, snapping her notebook shut. She had made some progress too, successfully coming up with one new line!
Fluttershy stepped out of her back corner. “But we didn’t get a chance to practice my song. I mean, it’s okay, you all worked hard today, and Rainbow’s song was great…”
“Ponyfeathers,” Sunset said, slapping a hand against her forehead. “I’m so sorry, ‘Shy, I totally forgot. We’ll try your song tomorrow, I promise.”
The girls tore down and packed their gear away, but when Applejack pushed the barn door open, she found a note taped to the other side. “You gotta be kiddin’ me.”
“What is it?” Pinkie asked, trying to read over Applejack’s shoulder.
“Apple Bloom’s so mad, she won’t even talk to me anymore. She just left this note.” Applejack gave it a shake before reading it aloud. “‘Dear ‘sister’, Ah must inform you that tomorrow, Mah band has claimed dibs on the barn to practice for our inevitable win in the Battle of the Bands. Both Big Mac and Granny Smith agree that you’ve been hoggin’ the space. Failure to comply will result in a whuppin’ from Granny. Signed, The Crusaders.’”
Rarity hung her head. “She probably got the idea from Sweetie Belle. She only communicates with me via sticky notes.”
“At least they’re leaving you messages,” Rainbow said. “Scootaloo won’t even look at me.”
“So, umm, where do we practice now?” Fluttershy asked. “The band room is booked all week.”
Sunset tapped her skull. “Give me a sec. I’m sure I can think of something.” A secluded place with good acoustics and where they wouldn’t be bothered anymore. Trixie had dibs on her home, and none of the other girls had enough space for all of them. Sunset almost wished she had a place of her own again. Like…
“The factory!” she shouted.
“You mean the old dump you used to live in?” Rainbow asked.
“Yeah! You can practice in the main room! No one will bug us there! It’s perfect!”
“Save for hygiene,” Rarity muttered. “But, I suppose beggars can’t be choosers. We’ll convene after school and head to the factory for practice. Good thinking, Sunset.”
“It’s what I do.” She picked up the drum case and helped heave it out of the barn. Yep. It’s what I’m good for: coming up with ideas. Executing them… Her ratio of successful plans to failures was… disheartening to say the least.
She rode with Rainbow back home, arriving to the Lulamoon household to find Trixie blaring her guitar from her room again. Sunset made her way to the second floor, finding the study door open and Selena sitting at Artemis’ table. She looked up and gestured for Sunset to come in.
“How was your day?” Selena asked, setting a book face up on the desk.
“All right. Yours?”
She gestured to the book. “I still can’t find anything on musical counterspells, but I think I might have found how the Sirens got off that island.” She tapped a finger on the top of the open page. “A leygate.”
“A leygate.” As Selena began to explain, Sunset stepped closer and followed along in the book, looking at a picture of the world with many silver lines crisscrossing everywhere. “I remember Artemis talking about them a while ago. A long time ago, when magic was prevalent throughout the world, veins of magic would run through the planet. These were called leylines.” She put a finger on a silver dot at a junction of several lines. “Leylines were connected by leygates: sort of spots where there was a large influx of magic.”
“‘Magic attracts more magic,’” Sunset whispered, remembering Artemis’ words.
Selena nodded. “Leylines could be created if two places in the world were very magical. The magic would seek each other out and connect.”
“Okay, so they were like magical vents,” Sunset said. “But what does that have to do with the Sirens getting out?”
“It’s just like you said: they’re like vents—passages. Leylines were unique and powerful in that you could ride them to anywhere in the world.”
Sunset’s eyes widened. “Ride them?”
“Yes. If you found a leygate, you could step in and ride the magic current to the other end, almost instantaneously. It was like teleporting over long distances.” Selena leaned back in her chair. “Technically speaking, leylines are underground, so the Sirens bypassed Artemis’ barrier—”
“By tunneling under it,” Sunset finished. “That’s why Artemis didn’t notice anything—the shield is still up, they just got around it!”
“The last question is how?” Selena drummed her fingers on the armrest. “You need two sources of magic to create a line. I guess being magical sirens stuck in one place would create some magical energy, but what would they connect to? Artemis’ magic alone wouldn’t be enough to create a gate.”
Sunset went rigid, shoulders locking in place, heart freezing in her chest. Her mind moved a mile a minute, however. The crown, the blistering pain, the power, the rainbow.
“Sunset, what’s wrong?”
Her knees buckled, and she lurched forward, using the sides of the desk to stop herself from hitting the floor. “The Fall Formal,” she said breathlessly. “That stupid crown… and the Elements of Harmony… It was me. I created all that magic. It must have been enough for the leygate to form. I… I let the Sirens escape. This is all my fault.” The revelation fell on her shoulders and she arched her spine to counter it. But the guilt crashed on top and proved too much for Sunset to carry. Her school, the city, Artemis, possibly the whole world was in danger because of her! Because she had to be a greedy, spoiled brat! Because she had demanded power and respect!
“One day…” she whispered, blinking and realizing she was kneeling on the floor. “I can’t go one day without being reminded of how badly I screwed up.”
“Sunset.” Selena placed a hand on her back. “You made a mistake.”
“I was fully aware of what I was doing,” Sunset said bitterly. “And now, my actions are going to doom the world.” She brushed Selena’s hand away. The guilt and anxiety drained out of her, leaving her cold and empty. “I need to lay down for a bit.”
Selena helped her up, looking like she wanted to say more but let Sunset be. Sunset dragged herself out of the study and into the hall, finding Trixie leaning against the wall, watching her with harsh eyes. Sunset couldn’t bring herself to explain, or snap, or apologize, or even make eye contact. She just kept walking, closing her room door behind her.
Spot looked up from the bed and gave a sympathetic whine. He curled against Sunset as she laid down, numb to the world around her. Princess Twilight didn’t make a sound.
Unease and guilt followed Sunset into her dreams, if they could be called that. She tossed and turned most of the night, caught between brief moments of sleep where the Sirens would mock her with demonic laughter as the night of the Fall Formal played back in front of her, and lying awake, eyes toward the ceiling while she reflected on her past with a heated self-loathing she hadn’t felt since her friends broke up right before the Winter Ball.
Her alarm finally went off, playing one of the rock and roll songs Flash had shown her. She let the whole song play out before turning over and switching it off.
The lead ball in her stomach told her today was a good day to stay in bed. Her heart, as strangled as it was, told her to get up and be with her friends. Her brain demanded to know how she was going to tell them she had unleashed ancient evils upon the world.
I could not. That’s an idea. What they didn’t know wouldn’t bite her in the flank.
“Haven’t you learned by now to tell your friends the truth?” Princess Twilight asked in a tired voice.
“I’m not lying to them,” Sunset said, equally tired. “I’m just not telling them something.”
“That’s more or less the same thing.”
Sunset groaned. She gently tucked Spot out of the way and rolled out of bed, feeling a large knot in her shoulder. “It’s going to be one of those days.” On the bright side, she had class with Twilight. The downside, Sunset knew she couldn’t fake a cheery attitude all day, and Twilight would ask her what was wrong. If Sunset said ‘nothing’, then she’d be lying, and Twilight was the last person she wanted to lie to.
“Rocks and hard places,” she murmured on her way to the bathroom, only to find it occupied by Trixie. Asking her to hurry was a futile act. The condemning glare she had given Sunset in the hall said that she had heard the vital parts of last night’s conversation. Sunset would be lucky if Trixie ever talked to her again. Heck, if Artemis came back and learned Sunset had set the Sirens free, Sunset might have to make the factory cozy again.
After patiently waiting for Trixie to run down the clock before school started, Sunset cleaned and got dressed, foregoing her breakfast and avoiding eye contact with Selena, even when she wished Sunset a good day at school. Riding her motorcycle, Sunset barely made it before the first bell rang.
Twilight waited for her at the lab table in the back. “Shim, you look terrible.”
Sunset readied a remark, but decided to discard it. She’d go with Shim for now. “I didn’t sleep well last night.” Still telling the truth.
Twilight scooted closer, allowing Sunset to pick up her subtle lavender perfume. “Is everything okay?”
“You mean besides literally everything not being okay?” If Sunset hadn’t been so tired, she would have worried about sounding unnecessarily snarky.
Twilight didn’t seem to mind. In fact, after making sure Mr. Doodle wasn’t looking, she snuggled against Sunset, settling into the crook of her neck. “Does this help?”
“A little,” Sunset admitted. She felt warm from Twilight’s body heat but cold on the inside from the guilt.
“Moondancer has theater today, so we can’t practice. Which means I get to see you girls instead.”
Sunset brightened. While it didn’t absolve her guilt, it at least gave her a reason to smile.
“Miss Sparkle, Miss Shimmer, no PDA in my class!” Mr. Doodle snapped.
Twilight bolted up and moved her chair back, her face bright red. “Sorry, sir.”
Being with Twilight gave Sunset just enough energy to stop her guilt from eating her alive. To her friends, she still looked worn, but the simple explanation of a lack of sleep stopped them from prying any further. Her pestering conscience chastised her each time she said it, but it remained the truth, even if it was a half truth.
When the school day concluded, the Spectacular Seven gathered in the parking lot for the carpool to the factory. “Are you sure that’s the only place you can practice in peace?” Twilight asked, helmet in hand as she prepared to join Sunset on her motorcycle.
“Is Shining going to let us practice in the garage?” Sunset asked.
“Then yes.” Sunset’s bike roared to life, making the other vacating students jump. With Twilight securely fastened around her waist, she pulled out of the parking lot and took to the streets, moving fast but not enough that her friends couldn’t keep up.
They kept to the surface streets and made their way to the other side of the suburbs, where all the nice houses gave way to older and seedier locals before turning into warehouses and factories still waiting to be torn down. The roads hadn’t been repaved in years, leaving them cracked and uneven. Trash clogged the gutters and gathered at the base of the chain link fences.
The old neighborhoods gave off a different atmosphere. While the newer ones created a serene quiet broken only by children playing, a dreary silence born of neglect and disuse coated these buildings. Only the roar of Sunset’s bike was strong enough to break it, leaving it thicker after she left.
The girls arrived to the factory, looking exactly as Sunset left it two months ago: the garage door sealed shut and the windows brown from dirt and age. Sunset led them to the blue door in the alley while the others brought their instruments. She tried the knob. The door was unlocked but stuck like always. She shoved her shoulder into it and it burst open.
The checkered floor wasn’t as dusty as she thought it would be. Sunset flipped the light switch, finding surprise in all of the hall lights turning on. Like the windows, the bulbs had a layer of grime on them, creating a dim light, but light nonetheless. Sunset followed the hall to the other end and pushed open the door to the factory floor. Dust motes danced in the open space. A draft blew over everyone as they stepped onto the concrete. As cold as the hallway had been, the room proved a few degrees cooler.
Sunset never liked coming in here when she had lived in this desolate factory. The room was too large and filled with too much nothing to be comfortable. The high windows and grey walls created the impression of a prison more than anything—a prison designed by giants. Even with all their equipment laid out, the Rainbooms barely took up the back wall.
Rainbow plugged her amp in and shot her hand back as a wild spark jumped from the outlet. “Are you sure this place is safe?”
“Depends on what you mean by ‘safe’,” Sunset said, pulling up a corner and taking her notebook out. She heard Fluttershy mewl and rolled her eyes. “It’s fine. The worst you’ll do is blow a fuse or something.”
Twilight stood awkwardly, watching the girls finish with set up while stealing glances at Sunset. After a minute of deliberating, she walked over and asked, “Do you need any help?”
Sunset shook her head. “No thanks, I’ve got this.” She kept her eyes down while she lambasted herself for her first outright lie. At the present moment, Sunset had nothing. A nothing greater than the room had held before they occupied it. But she had to have something. She set the Sirens free. The least she could do was give her friends the means to put them down.
“Right, of course. I’ll just, umm…” Twilight’s awkward stammering was cut off by a loud guitar riff courtesy of Rainbow.
Everyone froze at the second set of noises. They had come from none of the present party. Sunset bolted to her feet and looked up at the window to the manager’s office hanging over them. It sat wide open, and the single bulb inside emitted its weak glow.
“Something tells me we’re not alone.” She stood up and crossed over to the door.
Twilight grabbed her by the wrist. “Wait, what if they’re dangerous?”
Sunset wiggled her wrist loose. “I’ve handled dangerous things before. Besides, five of you have instruments.”
Pinkie scratched her head with the drumstick. “You want us to hit them with a rainbow?”
“I want you to hit them with something,” Sunset said with an irritated undertone. Before she could reach the door, it swung open with a violent crash.
“What the hell do you kids—” The speaker stopped, fist raised, mouth open as she stared at Sunset. “Holy shit…”
Sunset stared back, recoiling with her mouth hanging open as well. “Holy sun…”
An iron fisted silence choked the room as everyone stared between Sunset and the newcomer. She stood an inch, maybe two taller than Sunset, had deeper lines drawn into her face, and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail. But those differences were negligible. To everyone in the room, the girl looked exactly like Sunset Shimmer.
Sunset took a step back, bumping into Twilight who looked torn between fascinated and terrified. Sunset only gave her a short glance to make sure she hadn’t fainted. Her own attention remained locked on her mirror image. Noise slowly returned to the room. Sunset could hear her heart hammering, then the collective breathing of her friends, finally, the creaking and moaning of the factory. Sunset tried to say something, but all that came out was a distressed squeak.
Oh Celestia… it’s her… I wasn’t ready! Not with everything else happening! It hasn’t even been a week and she managed to find me! Or did I find her? Dammit all! Okay, say something, anything! “Meeep…”
It was, at least, a great impression of Fluttershy.
The other Sunset recovered first, slowly lowering her fist and turning her back to the group. She took a deep breath, raising her hands to her chest, then slowly lowering them as she exhaled. “I’m going to turn around,” she said. Her voice was just a little lower than Sunset’s. “When I do, there won’t be a second me there. Because that’s just impossible.” She turned around before Sunset had a chance to duck out of the way. “Holy shit,” she said again.
Twilight intervened, putting a hand on Sunset’s shoulder and taking a half step in front of her. “I know this looks a little strange, but—”
“I saw you on t.v,” the other Sunset continued, ignoring Twilight. She paced back in forth in of the threshold. “First I thought I was just dreaming or had some bad Chinese food. But then I tried to look you up and found some records at one of the high schools, but I thought, maybe they were still mine, just with some mistakes. But here… ho-ly shit!” She made one more loop, then repeated her breathing exercise and gave Sunset a piercing glare. “Okay. I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’ll give you ten seconds to explain why you look like me before I get violent. And I promise, there may be seven of you, but I can riverstomp each and every one of your asses.”
Sunset heard Fluttershy mewl again, and snapped out of her shell-shocked state. She took a deep breath of her own and cleared her throat. “Um, hi.” Great start. “Listen, uh, I know this looks weird, and the explanation is… well, weirder, but we mean you no harm.”
“What, are you aliens?” Sunset could hear the sarcasm in the other Sunset’s voice. It sounded both familiar and incredibly foreign coming from her.
Sunset flinched. How did she answer the question? She had never made a plan for this scenario; she had just hoped she would never run into the native Sunset, or knock her out if she did. What did she do now? Tell the truth? Even if she did, the other Sunset would think she was crazy and call the police. Sunset would be carted off to prison for supposed identity fraud. Or to a secret lab to discover how she looked exactly like this girl!
It’s not too late to knock her out, a voice whispered in Sunset’s head. She considered it, but she could see the tension in the other Sunset’s muscles. She was ready to move at a moment’s notice. Something told Sunset that earlier threat wasn’t hollow.
With no lies at her disposal, Sunset resigned to the truth and hoped she could find a nice spot in the Everfree Forest to hide. “Look, they’re all human.” She gestured to the girls. “They’re my friends. My name… well, my name’s Sunset Shimmer. I’m like you… but from another dimension.” She looked for disbelief or confusion or even anger in the other Sunset’s face, but she hid behind a stoic mask.
“Uh-huh,” she said with a simple nod of her head. “You’re really gonna have to sell that if you don’t want me to beat you into next Tuesday.”
Sunset held her hands up. Even in monotone, she sounded threatening. Is this what everyone else has to deal with? I’ll have to get better at that. “Okay, I’ll explain everything; you deserve that much. On the stipulation that you don’t hurt my friends, even if you don’t believe me.”
The other Sunset mulled it over for a moment then shrugged and leaned against the door. “Fine. Start talking.”
“All right.” Sunset inhaled. “My name is Sunset Shimmer, I was born in a world parallel to this one called Equestria where everyone here has a version of themselves over there and vice versa, only in Equestria, everyone is a pony, and I mean a magical pony—unicorn, pegasi, or earth ponies that are in tune with nature. I was a unicorn and the star student of the princess who rules over the land, only I was also a spoiled brat who thought she deserved more, so I ran away through a magic mirror that only opens once every thirty moons, or two and a half years on your calendar. That was three years ago. I’ve been living here ever since. Last fall, the portal opened again and I tried to steal a magic crown that would give me ultimate power, only it backfired and bad stuff happened, and instead, I had to force myself to become friends with them which turned out not to be so bad after all. Now we’re here trying to practice for the Battle of the Bands which we have to win or else really bad things will happen to the entire world.” Sunset inhaled all of the air she had lost during her rant and slowly released it along with the knot in her gut.
Human Sunset stared long and hard at her, occasionally glancing to everyone else like she was looking for some sort of confirmation. “I’ve told some stories in my day,” she said slowly, “but that one takes the cake.” Her stone face cracked and she smiled. “Another dimension? Full of ponies? Either you’re insane or you’re telling the truth, because there’s no way in hell you could make all that up on the spot.”
Sunset brightened. “So you believe me?”
“No, I’m leaning toward crazy.” She cracked one of her knuckles.
Twilight tensed and ducked behind Sunset. She held an arm out to shield Twilight and shouted, “Wait! I can prove all of it! Sort of.”
The other girl crossed her arms. “I’m waiting.”
Sunset looked back at the Rainbooms, all of them wearing matching worrying frowns. “Girls, pony up. Please.”
“And hit her with a rainbow?” Pinkie asked.
“No!” Sunset shouted. “Just play!”
“‘Shine Like Rainbows’,” Pinkie said. “One, two, three, four!” The start was a shaky, but each Rainboom fell into their groove and delivered a powerful rendition of the song. Sunset kept her fingers crossed and legs slightly bent in case she had to jump out of the way, either from a rainbow beam or a swinging fist.
As the song progressed and nothing happened, the knot in Sunset’s gut returned, and she felt ready to vomit. On the last chorus, her friends came through and ponied up in a brilliant flash of lights, their features bursting into existence. Sunset jumped and cheered, and turned around to see the other Sunset’s jaw hanging down.
She snapped it shut as the song ended. “Okay… first, that song was fruity as hell. Second, I believe there is some freaky voodoo shit going on…” She hesitated and looked up in thought for a moment. “But why do they look like furries and you don’t?”
“Furries?” Rainbow asked indignantly.
“When I came here, I brought magic with me that they harnessed due to reasons. Similar reasons are why I don’t want to pony up. Bad things will happen if I do.”
“Ominous,” Human Sunset said. She straightened up and took a step closer to Sunset. “So let me get this straight. I have a twin from another world made up of freakin’ ponies who came here and apparently brought magic that turns her friends into anthro furries. Am I with it so far?”
“You know, it’s pretty simple when you say it like that,” Pinkie said.
She pointed at Twilight still hiding behind Sunset. “So what’s her deal?”
Sunset kept her protective stance. “She’s just human. Super smart, but no magic. Long story about how she got wrapped up in all this.”
Her twin rubbed her temples. “Okay, so it’s down between a really bad mushroom trip or you’re telling the truth. And I haven’t touched the stuff since that time in Puerto Rico, so…” She looked at Sunset, pursed her lips, then gave a tired grin. “Sunset Shimmer, it’s nice to meet… me.” She extended her hand, and Sunset flinched back, almost knocking Twilight down. Human Sunset retracted her hand, eyes wide. “What, will the universe explode if we touch?”
“I don’t know. That’s one reason why I never looked for you.”
Twilight stepped around Sunset to stand between the two. She straightened her glasses, a precursor to her ‘lecture mode.’ “That logic is purely science fictional even by—” She gave a limp wave of her hand “—all of this. You’re still two fundamentally different people even if you look the same. Even if you are magic, Shim, unless you’re made of dark matter, nothing should happen between the two of you.”
Human Sunset shrugged. “Well, if the nerd said it, it must be true.”
“Hey, only I get to call her a nerd.”
“All right, don’t get your panties in a knot, kiddo.”
“And don’t call me ‘kiddo.’” Sunset felt heat rising to her cheeks.
Rainbow leaned over to Applejack. “If they start fighting, who do we root for?”
“Sunset of cour—oh. Err…”
Human Sunset stepped into the room but remained close to the door. “So, how about some names to your colorful faces?”
“We are the Spectacular Seven!” Pinkie gave a drum roll and ended with a crash on her symbols.
Sunset fought to keep her grin down. “That one is Pinkie. That’s Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, and this is Twilight Sparkle,” she said pointing at each of them in turn.
“So, crazy, jock, hick, preppy, doormat, and nerd,” Human Sunset said, mimicking Sunset’s finger. “Wow, it’s every high school cliché in one room. You’re like the Breakfast Club part two.”
Sunset didn’t know if that was an insult but felt a rush of aggravation regardless. “Whether or not you can kick our butts, don’t insult my friends.”
“Yeesh, you’re wound tight. I’m just trying to break the ice a little.” She started circling around Twilight and Sunset. “So, how long have you two been dating?”
Sunset involuntarily flinched. She couldn’t say why; she was perfectly comfortable with her relationship with Twilight. Perhaps she didn’t expect the other her to pick up on it so quickly.
“About two months,” Twilight said, blushing.
“Cute. I wouldn’t have pegged myself to be a lesbian.” Human Sunset shortened her circle to just around Sunset, pausing and humming every few seconds. Sunset felt like one of Rarity’s dresses. Human Sunset stepped back and nodded her head. “Yeah, eight out of ten. I’d do me.”
Heat rushed to Sunset’s cheeks again, but she narrowed her eyes. “Wait, eight out of ten?”
“That’s the part of the sentence that worries you?” Twilight said, her voice rising a pitch.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Rarity muttered, “but this Sunset is more crass than our Sunset.”
“I heard that,” Sunset said, still processing that her doppelgänger rated her as only an eight. She waved her hand. “Anyway, I have questions for you.”
She shook her head. “Listen, it’s cute you’re a lesbian and all, but I wouldn’t actually do myself. I’m not into that.” She put a hand on her chin. “Although, I don’t think there’s anyone else who can say they’ve slept with another version of themselves.”
The heat in Sunset’s cheeks rose to a burn. Sweet Celestia, Rarity is right! What is wrong with me? “That is not the question I was going to ask!”
“Oh. Then what’s up?”
Sunset took a second to recompose herself, pinching the bridge of her nose and wishing she had never gotten out of bed this morning. “What are you doing here?”
Human Sunset pointed a lazy finger. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that? If you’re a unicorn from magical pony land, why’d you come here?”
“I…” Sunset rubbed and arm and looked at the ground. “Like I said, I was a spoiled brat who thought she deserved everything. When my teacher wouldn’t give it to me, I tried to find power on my own.” She lifted her hand to her forehead. “I didn’t know this world wouldn’t have any magic. What started as a rebellion turned into an exile. And even if I wanted to go back, I’ve got two more years until the portal opens again.”
“Hardcore.” Human Sunset turned her palms to the ceiling. “Well, kids run away from home all the time. Don’t sweat it too much. Besides, two years? It’ll fly by like that.” She snapped her fingers.
Sunset made a noncommittal grunt. She felt Twilight place a hand on her back and found her reassuring smile. Sunset smiled in return, but frowned upon facing the other Sunset again. “You never answered my question.”
“Hmm? Oh, right.” She copied Sunset’s familiar stance of crossing her arms over her chest. “If you must know, I’m squatting here for a bit. I like to roll from place to place. See the world, ya know? It’s just not the most lucrative job, so I can’t stay in fancy five star hotels.” She kept eye contact with Sunset the whole time, but her head tilted from left to right as she spoke.
Either that’s a verbal tic, or she’s lying. Sunset looked up to the window of her old bedroom. Even if she was lying, what was she trying to hide? More importantly, did Sunset want to know? Today had already given its share of revelations, most of them told by her. But finding her doppelganger pushed the limits of Sunset’s mental and emotional energy. Plus, the fact that she released the Sirens continuously slammed into the forefront of her mind. She could forget about making headway in the counterspell today.
On the other hand, her human counterpart stood right in front of her! Sunset wanted to know everything about her; see where the course of their lives overlapped and diverged. Curiosity, exhaustion, residual guilt, and the occasional prickle of tension all stirred together in Sunset creating a reaction that would have left her hysterical had she been gifted with any less composure. Instead, she sighed loudly and pictured herself strangling her plushie back home.
“You okay there, kiddo?”
Sunset opened her eyes. “I said don’t call me that. And I’m fine, I’m just… processing.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose again. “How are you staying so calm?”
Human Sunset shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve traveled the world; I’ve seen some weird shit, and this is by far the weirdest. But, talking this all out has made it a bearable weird.” She leaned to one side. “Or, my mind is just dead set on thinking this is a dream and is just rolling with it.”
“I wish this was a dream. This makes life a lot more complicated.”
“Tell me about it.”
Both of them shared a short laugh, born of awkward humor and tinged with a faint bitterness. The awkward laugh turned to silence until Human Sunset spoke again. “So, you kids need to practice for the band thing?”
Pinkie nodded. “We need to win so we can go beat up the Dazzlings before they hypnotize everyone!” She tapped her drumstick on her cheek. “Which, since the Crystal Heart got stolen should be a lot harder for them, right? But, we still gotta break the spell everyone else is under so the school will stop being all grumpy and everyone can go back to being themselves!”
The other Sunset raised an eyebrow. “I only followed about half of that. The Dazzlings hypnotize people with a crystal heart?”
Twilight spoke up. “It turns out, Sunset isn’t the only magical person around. The Dazzlings are actually Sirens and use their voices to get what they want, in addition to feeding on negativity. The Crystal Heart is an artifact that doubles the output of emotions felt, so it would potentially make them stronger. We have to stop them so they don’t do that.”
Human Sunset’s eyes widened. “Oh God, I just stepped into a freakin’ anime! You got the power ups, the super villains and everything!” She shook her head. “Maybe that’s why I’m not flipping out: I have something to relate this to.”
Rainbow laughed. “Hey, if we were an anime, I’d totally watch us.”
Sunset pressed the bridge of her nose harder. “Listen, we have nowhere else to practice. Is it cool we stay here for a bit? The world’s kinda at stake.”
“Hmmm.” Human Sunset looked up at rafters. “Well, if I said no, I’d be stuck with a ratty t.v that only gets six channels. You’ll serve as slightly more entertaining, so yeah, knock yourselves out.” She looked back at them with expressionless eyes. “Just stay out of my room.”
“I think we can manage that,” Rarity said.
“Thanks… Sunset,” Sunset said.
“You’re welcome, kiddo,” Human Sunset said, grinning at Sunset’s grimace.
“One more thing,” Sunset said as the other turned to leave. “I don’t know who you talk to but, could you keep the whole magic and doppelganger thing a secret? We really don’t need people knowing about that.”
“Don’t worry,” she said, walking away with a swagger in her step, “my lips are sealed.”
Adagio took her time walking down the stone corridor, the heels of her platform boots throwing echoes in front of her. She held her arms behind her back and hummed merrily. Even with their setbacks, everything was unfolding quite well. She could feel herself getting stronger everyday! The tension all throughout the city stretched tighter and tighter. All she and her sisters had to do was keep pushing the right buttons, and the rest would take care of itself.
They would have magic! They would have an adoring legion! And then, they would take Equestria!
She reached an unassuming metal door, painted beige like the rest of the wall. It might have blended in if not for the handle and the ‘Restricted Access’ sign. She turned the handle and stepped inside, flicking on the light switch as she did. Really, the room was nothing more than a spacious storage unit, but it served the perfect size for what Adagio needed to store.
In a chair at the far end, wrists tied behind his back by chains bound to the floor, fingers bent at odd angles, was Artemis. He leaned back in his chair, bruised and cut face toward the ceiling. As Adagio stalked closer, he lifted his head and looked at her with his good eye. “Great, the noise is back,” he said listlessly.
Adagio put on a sweet smile. “How are you today, Artemis?”
“Perfectly well, thanks for asking.” He rested his head back. “Now, go away.”
“Tsk tsk.” Adagio closed the distance and cupped a hand around Artemis’ cheeks, making sure to press her fingers into one of the purple spots. “It’s proper etiquette to look at your host when speaking.”
Artemis stared blankly at her, but Adagio could feel his cheeks expanding and… getting warmer? She ducked and twisted out of the way, throwing herself against the back wall as a jet of scarlet flames flew from Artemis’ mouth. Adagio lifted her hand and chopped the back of his neck, putting an end to the fire. She spun to the front and delivered a fist to his gut. Artemis doubled over and coughed up puffs of smoke.
Adagio grabbed him by the hair and lifted his head up again. She took a calm breath and asked, “Did you really think that would work?”
He coughed a few more times and smiled weakly. “I’m an optimist.”
“You’re an idiot.” She moved her hand back to his cheek, this time keeping her nails pressed against his skin. “But I have to give you some credit. This whole time, I’ve yet to make you angry. It’s really hard to feed off your magic if keep so calm, Artemis.”
He smiled at her, then winced as her nails dug in and started dragging down.
Adagio kept her own calm composure. She didn’t have to get upset, not over a game she had already won. “Are all Lulamoons as stubborn as you?” She took her nails out, wiping the skin and blood off on Artemis’ shirt.
“It’s a good family trait.”
“I’m sure.” Adagio crossed an arm over her chest and rested her other arm on top of it. “I wonder if your daughter inherited it as well.”
Artemis’ eyes widened and the color drained from his face.
Got you. “Oh, was I not supposed to know that?” Adagio let her smile overtake her face. “You and Selena were certainly busy over the last two decades, weren’t you?”
In a restrained voice, Artemis said, “Please, leave my Trixie out of this.”
“You see, I’d love to, Artemis, I really would. But it seems your little Trixie has already signed up to be in our little contest. I wonder, how far is she willing to go to try and save you?”
“Adagio, I’m warning you…”
A hollow threat if she ever heard one. “What’s the matter? You don’t think your daughter can stand up to three big bad Sirens?” She reached down and pat him on the head. “I can promise you this, Artemis: we won’t touch one hair on her pretty head. No, we have something much better in store for her. You may be resistant to our hypnotism, but there are more ways to skin a cat.”
Artemis gnashed his teeth together, tears falling from his eyes. “When I get out of here—”
Adagio kicked his chair back. He landed on his fingers and let out a cry of agony. “Please, spare me the cliché.” She turned for the door. “When it’s all over, I’ll let you have your reunion with Trixie. It’ll be the last happy seconds of your lives.”
Behind her came the sounds of struggle, then Artemis let out a scream of despair. Adagio paused in the threshold and took a deep breath, feeling a surge of energy. She switched the lights off and slammed the door, then carried on down the hallway, laughing softly to herself.