Spectacular Seven

by The Albinocorn


16. Revelations


Twilight didn’t call until late Sunday afternoon, giving Sunset nearly twenty-four hours of anxiety. She pounced on her phone the second she saw the call was from Twilight. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” There was a slight edge to Twilight’s voice. Sunset wanted to attribute that to her constant pestering of Twilight’s well-being. But she knew it wasn’t fine. Nothing was fine.

Sunset didn’t know how to broach the topic. If Twilight was aware of the Sirens’ powers, would she be able to put up a better resistance? And what would Sunset say anyway? ‘Twilight, you’re being manipulated by evil magic, stop it.’

“How are you?” Twilight asked, her voice soft again. Sunset realized she had been silent too long.

“I’m fine,” she said, dragging the words from her mouth. “Uhhh…” She looked at the clock. 4:53. “I know it’s late, but do you want to come over?”

“I can’t. Moondancer is coming over to work on some music.” She at least had the courtesy to sound guilty.

“Oh.” Sunset tried not to, but couldn’t help but feel molten fury course through her. She couldn’t say anything else, lest it seep through.

“Sorry,” Twilight said. “I’ll see you tomorrow though.”

“Yeah, see you.” They both lingered on the line until Sunset could no longer handle the awkward silence and hung up.

The world slowly fell to pieces around her—because of her—and all Sunset could do was watch. She tried to hold it together, but the shards just slipped through her fingers, cutting them open.

The spell around Twilight was fading; Sunset knew it. It was a special kind of torture, knowing she couldn’t do anything.

She sat up on her bed. Perhaps she couldn’t, but maybe someone else could. It was a long shot, but Sunset had to try. She pat Spot on the head, her signal that she would be back soon, and walked down the hall.

“Trixie?” She knocked on the door.

“Go away,” a subdued voice answered.

Sunset knocked again. “Please, Trixie, I need your help.”

“Don’t care.”

Sunset tightened her fist. “It’s not for me, it’s for Twilight. Look, I know you’re mad at me. I know you think I’m trying to upstage you or replace you, but I’m not! Trixie, I want to save Artemis and the rest of the world as much as you do! We’re on the same side; we shouldn’t be fighting! Whatever spell Artemis used to protect Twilight is fading and I need you to recast it.” She rested a hand against the door. “Please?”

She thought she heard covers shift, but Trixie gave no response.

Sunset smacked her palm against the wood. “Fine!” She stomped back to her room and slammed the door shut, startling Spot. “Sorry, buddy.” She sat down, and he cuddled up to her, stretching his neck up to lick her face. A sweet gesture, but not enough to make her feel better.

What if our plan doesn’t work? What if everyone stays hypnotized even if we beat the Dazzlings? Sunset looked at her notebook sitting on her bedside table. All the faults in her plan burned through the cover and blinded her, all of the uncounted variables, like her inability to write a counterspell or if her friends could create a rainbow with only five members. Was all their practice in vain?

“Don’t give up yet,” Princess Twilight said, her own squeaky voice tired. “You can’t let your friends down.”

Spot barked and wagged his tail. Sunset scratched him behind the ear. “I’m not giving up. I’m just wondering if we can win.”

To that, Princess Twilight said nothing.

*******

Sunset looked around, but the grassy field appeared empty. Yellow flowers grew in small patches here and there. She stooped down to pick one, rolling it between her fingers.

“Sunset!”

She turned around. On a hill stood Twilight, waving with a cheerful smile. But as Sunset ran toward her, a bouquet of roses in hand, a shadow rose up behind Twilight. It formed into Moondancer, wearing a calculating smile.

“Little star,” she said sweetly, “look what I have for you.” A floating palace materialized above her, purple waterfalls cascading off the sides. Flowers of every bloom coated the walls and ran up the towers.

“Bye, Sunset!” Twilight said, swooped up in Moondancer’s arms. They jumped into the sky, vanishing into the castle with heartfelt laughs. Laughs that slowly became twisted as clouds stormed the clear skies. The grass around Sunset caught fire, burning away the flowers until ashes and skeletons remained. The ground broke apart, and the Human Sunset climbed up from the molten depths. She looked at Sunset with empty eyes.

“There can only be one!” She reached for Sunset with an enormous hand.

Sunset turned and ran, stumbling and jumping from rock to rock over pits of boiling magma. She didn’t have the luxury or the courage to turn around. Over her, the black sky roared in tumultuous fury, dropping fists of lightning around her. She came to the edge of the world, darkness spiraling out beneath her. With nowhere left to go, she jumped.

The fall was much slower than she anticipated. In fact, she swore she was floating. She fanned her arms out, finding her movements slowed by gallons of water. She swum downwards until she broke the surface, gasping for breath. The night sky was calm and filled with stars that sparkled on the water. Sunset swam until she found a small island.

She washed up on it, thinking she had finally found shelter, but as she looked up to explore the island more, she found her scarlet colored demon smiling back at her.

Sunset jumped back, fists raised and teeth clenched. “What do you want?”

“Why, to help you of course,” she said, spreading her arms wide. “You want to save your friends, right? You want to beat the Dazzlings, don’t you?”

Sunset lowered her fists a fraction. “Yeah?”

Her demon drifted closer. “Well, you have the power.” She pointed a claw at Sunset’s heart. “Right here. All you have to do is let me back in.”

“Not going to happen!”

“Would you rather have your friends brainwashed by rejects from the eighties?”

Sunset jabbed a finger. “No! But I’m not going to let you have your way with them either!”

The demon rolled her eyes. She leaned back and crossed her legs, floating in midair. “So reluctant to do anything. You have all the power to take what you want, but you don’t use it. Friendship has made you soft. You used to be feared. You used to be respected.”

“That wasn’t respect; they hated me! I’m not going back to that!”

“But think about what you could accomplish.” She drifted around Sunset whispering to her from every side. “With all your power, you could get rid of the Sirens and everyone would hail you as a hero. Then, things could go back to the way they were. You, the undisputed queen of Canterlot High, maybe even the entire city! Everyone will be eating out of your hands! And you’ll have your precious Twilight back from Moondancer.”

Sunset’s jaw tightened. “I certainly don’t need your help to win back Twilight.”

“You’re right. You don’t. You have the ability all on your own.” She stopped by Sunset’s ear. “The one thing Moondancer can’t have. All you have to do is seal the deal.” She leaned in close. “Go ahead. Deflower her precious Twilight.”

Sunset whirled around and slammed her fist into the demon’s cheek. She spiraled back, shock and fear scrawled on her face. Sunset slammed a boot into the sand. “Torment me all you want! Mock me, insult me, drive me insane; I don’t care! But you will not force me to take advantage of Twilight! Especially just to spite Moondancer!”

The demon rubbed her mouth. “You didn’t seem to have a problem with it when you were kissing her.”

“Rrrrgh!” Sunset ran at the demon, but she vanished in a puff of smoke.

“Fine. But when the world comes crashing down around you, don’t say I didn’t give you a way out.” The island beneath Sunset faded to white. The buzzing of angry wasps filled the void until she realized it was her alarm clock.

*******

The Rainbooms had made it to the semi-finals. The Crusaders had not. Sunset found out online before heading to school Monday morning. Only nine bands remained, and four of them came from CHS. She could only imagine the tension waiting for her at school, not to mention what Rarity and the others were going through with their sisters.

Sunset closed her laptop and grabbed her bag. No sense in delaying the inevitable. She left the house on foot, paranoid someone would deface her bike again in lieu of her friends’ victory. The walk gave her white clouds painted on the sky in thin brush strokes, and an abundance of early morning sunlight.

The fresh air helped ease Sunset’s nerves. The Rainbooms had advanced to the next round. They still had a chance. She would prove that dark phantom of hers wrong: she didn’t need its help to beat the Sirens! Sunset would finish the counterspell and her friends would make everything right again!

Her thoughts turned to Twilight. What could Sunset do in the meantime to help her? Did she need help? What if Sunset was over thinking things and Twilight was actually fine? The churning in her stomach quashed that idea immediately.

And what about the other Sunset? Would she still allow the Rainbooms to practice in the factory after what had happened on Saturday? Though she supposed the barn could be used again since the Crusaders were out. Sunset still felt obligated to check in on Shimmer just to see she was okay.

She walked onto campus, receiving dirty looks or being flat out ignored by other students. She continued onto her locker, remembering a time when she reveled in their disdain and misery.

“I have to admit, I’m surprised you made it this far,” someone said behind her as she stowed her bag away. She looked over, finding Flash leaning on the other locker with a smug smile that he didn’t wear well.

“My friends and I are full of a lot of surprises,” Sunset said, keeping her face neutral.

“Well now, you’re playing with the real bands… and Trixie. I hope your friends have a surprise good enough to make it to the finals. Even though you’re still going to lose to me.”

“Pre-mature gloating. Coming from you, it’s not cute.” Sunset pointed a thumb at herself. “We’re going to win, and you’ll thank us for it later.”

Flash rolled his eyes, magnifying Sunset’s urge to hit him. “What do you mean ‘we’? You don’t do anything, you just watch the others do all the hard work while you sit back and reap the benefits. Again.

Sunset recoiled at the jab. All of her old plots and schemes rushed to the forefront of her thoughts, times when she had forced Snips and Snails or other pawns to do her dirty deeds while she kept her hands cleaned. “That isn’t true! This is a team effort! I’m trying my best to help them!”

“Right, you filled out the paperwork. Great job.”

I wonder if blunt force trauma to the head is enough to break the spell. “How my band operates is none of your business!”

“‘Your’ band has nothing on mine. I bet you don’t even know what you’re doing.” Flash turned to leave, but not before Sunset saw the hint of green in his eyes. “We’ll knock you out in the next round, because there’s no way you deserve a spot in the finals.”

She watched him go, clenching her fists until her palms locked up in protest. She shook them out and grabbed her textbook, then slammed her locker as hard as she could. The force caused the locker next to hers to pop open, not that she cared.

Walking into first period, Sunset found Rarity with a surprising lack of make-up. Sunset realized she had never seen Rarity without it. She sat subdued, shoulders hunched and head down.

“Sweetie told me she hated me and never wanted to talk to me again,” she said weakly as Sunset took her seat. “I know it’s just the spell talking but…” She wiped her eyes. “I’ve never heard her so angry before.”

Sunset reached over and gave Rarity the best one-armed hug she could. Rarity sniffled, tugging at Sunset’s heartstrings. “Don’t worry. In two weeks, everything will be back to normal.”

Rarity pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed her eyes. “Right. Two weeks. We can do this. So the counterspell is coming along then?”

“Yep!” Sunset said with false cheer. “I think I’m almost done! Just gotta tweak it a bit!”

“That’s wonderful news! I knew we could count on you, Sunset.”

Sunset faced the board, holding onto her smile even as Mr. Noteworthy walked in. I’m a terrible friend. 

The hostile atmosphere at lunch had shifted. Instead of each group of students harboring hate for one another, every band that had been knocked out so far pooled their hatred together to focus it at those remaining. The isolation aspect remained the same, however.

Sunset couldn’t see Twilight amongst the throng of students. She could only imagine what her and Moondancer were doing. She forced her attention to her friends. Like Rarity, Applejack and Rainbow had been scorned by their sister and surrogate sister respectively. The Crusaders occupied a table on the other side of the room with a few more of their friends, stoutly refusing to look the Rainbooms’ way.

Applejack slammed a fist onto the table, startling everyone out of their sullen moods. “Those stupid Sirens are tearin’ mah family apart! If Ah ever get mah hands on any one of them…” Sunset had seen her tackle Bulk Biceps to the ground once. She had no doubt Applejack could follow through with her threat.

“Hi, girls.” Twilight dropped into the seat next to Sunset. “Sorry I’m late.” She gave up her faint smile upon seeing everyone’s despondent dispositions. “What’s wrong?”

“Everything,” Rainbow said, dropping her head against the table.

“The Crusaders got knocked out of the competition and now, the girls won’t talk to us,” Sunset explained.

Twilight shrugged. “Yeah, I saw. Honestly, I’m surprised they made it to the quarterfinals. I mean, I couldn’t count the number of times Sweetie’s voice cracked. And Scootaloo kept playing C chords when she clearly should have been playing in A.” She let out a very un-Twilight snort.

Rainbow raised her head to join Rarity in glaring at Twilight. Digging into her lunch bag, she didn’t seem to notice. Sunset took a deep breath, deciding to tackle this problem head on. Maybe she could talk sense into Twilight. Before Sunset opened her mouth, three pairs of footsteps approached the table. The Crusaders stopped, arms crossed and eyes pointed past Sunset and at their older sisters. Sunset had to hand it to them, they actually looked a little intimidating.

“You lied to us,” Apple Bloom said between her teeth.

Applejack sat up and looked back with affronted eyes. “Lied? About what?”

Scootaloo took over, her cheeks flushed with anger. “You said we couldn’t go to the Dazzlings’ concert because it was dangerous. You took our tickets. Then you went to the concert yourselves!”

Rainbow winced. “Scoots, you don’t understand.”

“No, we understand perfectly,” Sweetie said. “You extorted tickets from us! That was all our allowances from two months!”

“How did you know we went to the concert anyway?” Rarity asked.

“Diamond Tiara saw all of you there.”

“Almost all of us,” Twilight grumbled under her breath. She actively avoided eye contact with anyone else.

“Admit it!” Apple Bloom said, slamming her palm on the table. “You’ve been out to sabotage us from the beginnin’! First you wouldn’t let us go to the concert, then you hog our music space! Why are you tryin’ to make our lives miserable?”

“Ah’m not tryin’ to make your life miserable!” Applejack said, standing from her chair. “Y’all don’t understand what we’re tryin’ to do, and are makin’ up this story of us messin’ you up.”

“Though she is right about the extortion,” Twilight said.

“Not helpin’!”

The Crusaders decided they had had enough and turned to leave one by one. Apple Bloom gave Applejack a holier-than-thou smile. “Wait ‘till you get home. You’re gonna be in so much trouble.” She mimed a belt smacking into her palm and joined her two companions.

With them gone, Sunset turned back to Twilight, who decided to make eye contact again. Sunset wished she hadn’t after seeing the anger and irritation in them. “So, am I the only one who didn’t go to that concert?” Twilight asked bitterly.

Rarity leaned over. “Sunset, did you forget to tell Twilight we went with you that night?”

Sunset tapped her fingers together. “That may be something I neglected to mention, yeah.” She tried to smile. “But hey, at least I didn’t go alone, right?”

“No, you got to go play hero with all your other magically endowed friends while I sat on the sidelines because it’s ‘too dangerous’ for nerdy me.” She grabbed her lunch bag and stormed off.

“Sparky, wait!” Sunset got up from the table, but Twilight broke into a run, exiting the cafeteria in a storm. Sunset paused at the door, wondering what chasing after her would accomplish. How much of that was the Sirens’ doing, and how much were Twilight’s own feelings?

She’s going straight to Moondancer though. Sunset pushed through the door and into the hall, but that moment of hesitation had given Twilight the time she needed to make herself scarce. “Twilight!” Sunset called. It went unanswered.

She returned to the cafeteria, head hung in defeat, and sat back at their table. The hollow feeling born from the revelation about the leygates returned to feast on Sunset’s misery. She slumped in her chair, dreading what her next encounter with Twilight would be like.

Pinkie pushed her peas around her plate. “Even I’m having a hard time putting a positive spin on this.”

Sunset looked at her own food, appetite completely gone. Pinkie without any positives was a bad omen to be sure.

*******

Twilight sat in the music room, angrier now than she had been at lunch. Third period had given her a whole two hours to think about what Sunset and her friends did behind her back—what they were doing right now! Apparently, in this circle of friends, magiclessness equaled uselessness.

She ran her bow across her violin strings and received a harsh screech. She took a deep breath and tried again, receiving a much softer sound. She had to remember she could never play stressed. Stupid girls stressing me out. Maybe this is how they intend to make me drop out this round. The violin made another screech, and she took another breath and slowed down.

I’m supposed to be helping them though. They have the magic to beat the Sirens. Her playing grew a little faster. But who’s to say I can’t find my own way to do it? She raced her bow across the strings. Just because I don’t have magic doesn’t mean I can’t do something significant!

Scrreeeeeech! 

Twilight winced at the worst dissonant sound yet. She set the instrument down and got up from her stool to stretch. She needed a short break before Moondancer arrived.

As if summoned by Twilight’s thoughts, the door opened and Moondancer stepped in. “Little star, are you ready to begin?” She frowned. “Sweetness, you look upset.”

Twilight looked away. “It’s nothing. I’ll feel better when we play.”

“Naturally.” Moondancer glided over and put an arm around Twilight’s shoulder. “But I still want to hear what’s troubling you. You know I always have an open ear.”

“I know.” Twilight nibbled her lip. What did she say without giving magic away? Then again, did she care who found out her friends had magic? They had all gone behind her back and were now working without her. She supposed she could be the better girl one more time. Still, how did she put her feelings into words? “It’s… I think my other friends don’t appreciate me. They think I can’t handle myself.”

“Utter nonsense!” Moondancer swooped around and cupped Twilight’s cheeks. “You are the most brilliant star in the night sky—the first one anyone sees! They have no choice but to admire your radiance! And even if those so called friends of yours can’t see it, I certainly can. You have all the qualities befitting a princess.”

Twilight’s eye made a subtle twitch.

“And if push came to shove, I’m certain you could find a way to handle yourself.” Moondancer released Twilight’s cheeks and took her hands instead. “You’re just as good as they are! Nay, you go beyond them! And if they can’t appreciate your talents, then I say fie on them! I’ll shower you with all the praise you could ever want.”

Twilight blushed. She gripped Moondancer’s smooth and slender hands. “Thanks, Moony. I’m glad someone believes in me.”

Moondancer smiled sweetly. “I’m always rooting for you, little star.” She swept an arm out toward the piano. “And if these ‘friends’ of yours doubt your abilities, perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to prove their folly! Come with me, fair Twilight, for we are fated for victory! Our names will be written in the stars, and all will weep at our beauty!”

Excitement pumped through Twilight’s veins. Winning sounded amazing! Having everyone recognize her musical genius! Making Rainbow eat her comments about the violin! Proving to Sunset she could handle herself! All she had to do was beat the last eight bands.

Wait, wasn’t there something I was supposed to do? Twilight’s heart hardened. Right, she was supposed to drop out next round to let her friends win. They were supposed to save the day and be heroes while Twilight sat and watched.

She furrowed her brow. Why did she have to roll over and give up? She was more musically inclined than all of them put together! If they wanted to win, they would have to do it fair and square! She gave Moondancer a fierce nod. “Let’s do it, Moony!”

Moondancer’s lips curled into a voracious smile. “As you wish, my cosmic flower.”

*******

Sunset told the rest of the Rainbooms what had occurred between her and Shimmer on Saturday, leading them to practice at Sweet Apple Acres for the day. Their reception, however, was not the warmest. Applejack stepped out of her truck and was summoned immediately by her grandmother into the house. The others stood around for nearly an hour before Applejack returned, rubbing her bottom.

“So, uh…” She winced with every step taken. “Apple Bloom told Granny about the whole ticket thing so…”

Rainbow winced in time with her. “She beat you with the belt.”

“Ah wish that’s all she did.” Applejack straightened her posture though her eyes still hung low. “Ah can’t be in the band anymore.”

What?” everyone shouted.

“But Applejack, we need you,” Sunset said. “The fact that Princess Twilight isn’t here to round off the elements already makes me concerned that we can’t throw a strong enough rainbow. But if you’re not there, then I know we can’t do this!”

Applejack lowered her stetson over her eyes. “Ah’m sorry. But Ah’m supposed to come straight home after school until the contest is over; Granny’s orders. Mah hands are tied.”

Sunset tugged on the sides of her hair. “This is bad. You girls need practice, and you need to play together.”

Rainbow snapped her fingers. “Relax, Sunset. There’s an easy fix to this.” She gave a mischievous grin. “Just tell Granny you’re with some other after school group, and we go back to the factory and practice.”

“Ah’m not lyin’ to mah granny!” Applejack said hotly. “Look what just happened the last time Ah did somethin’ dishonest!”

“Yeah, but it’s for a good cause,” Rainbow argued. “Or do you want Apple Bloom to hate you forever?”

Applejack clenched her fists repeatedly, then dropped her shoulders and looked away. “It’s a pointless excuse anyway. She said no matter what, Ah’m to come home the second the bell rings.”

Sunset kicked a loose pebble. “Well, I hate to say it, A.J, but if you can’t lie, that only leaves one option.”

“And that is?”

“Open rebellion.” A dark grin flickered across Sunset’s face. “Don’t lie. Just resist. You’re already in trouble, what else can your granny do to you? Besides, the fate of the world is just a little more important than listening to your elders.”

Rainbow pumped a fist. “I like this plan!”

Rarity tutted. “As much as I hate to admit it, they do have a point. This is for our sisters and everyone else under the Sirens’ spell. If we have to break a few rules to save them, then so be it.”

Applejack rubbed her butt again. “Ah’m achin’ already. But you’re right. Ah owe those hate spreadin’ hogs, and Ah’m not quitten’ until the debt’s been paid.”

Pinkie pointed a finger west. “Back to the factory! I hope Shimmer won’t be too mad.”

“You and me both,” Sunset said. They all piled back into their cars, Applejack casting one more tentative glance at the house before switching the engine on and pulling out onto the road. “It’ll be fine,” Sunset said, putting a hand on Applejack’s shoulder. “You’re fighting for the right reasons.”

“Ah know. That doesn’t mean Ah feel good about it.”

Sunset gave a solemn nod and looked out the window. She had been telling everyone things would be fine. But the way things had spiraled, perhaps she was only propelling a lie. No! We can do this! They can do this! Minor setbacks, but nothing can stop us! 

They arrived in front of the old factory and piled out. Before they pulled their instruments from the trunks, Sunset said, “Let me go in and make sure we’re still cool.”

Rarity nodded. “Good idea. Would you like us to come along?”

“No. I think we need to talk alone for a sec.” The girls wished her luck, and Sunset stepped up to the blue door. She knocked three times. “Hello? It’s me!”

No one responded.

Sunset thought there was a low chance her voice would carry through the door and upstairs. Still, it didn’t hurt to be polite. She knocked again, waited five seconds, then forced the door open. The hall light flickered, reminding Sunset of those cheesy horror films. She walked up the stairs, nostalgia washing over her as she neared her old bedroom. She had once coveted this place as her sanctuary, free from those crazy girls trying to be her friend. She had plotted and schemed here, creating lies and sowing mistrust between the students of Canterlot High just so she could stay in power.

Not too unlike the Sirens.

She pushed the thought away as she came to the top of the stairs. The door to the foreman’s office had been left slightly ajar. She knocked and it widened, revealing a room devoid of Shimmer. “She must be out somewhere.” Sunset gulped. “Hopefully with a disguise.” The room hadn’t changed much in Sunset’s absence. A set of old sheets stretched over the mattress she had once called a bed, a duffle bag containing dirty clothes sat near the door next to a box of Chinese takeout, and an old t.v sat propped against the wall, a large crack running across the screen. What Sunset found odd was the large rubber snake curled under the desk. She took a step further into the room, seeing something glittering underneath it. “Wait…”

She took another step, the sparkling blue stone becoming more prominent the longer she stared at it. “The Crystal Heart,” she said breathlessly. It was here! Under a fake snake!

The snake flicked its tongue and rose its head to Sunset. That’s not fake… She stepped back. A live snake and the Crystal Heart… Sunset’s heart constricted, her mind coming to one possible conclusion. The human me is Lamia. But… She bumped into something soft and solid behind her.

“I had one rule,” Lamia said, low and threatening. “Don’t go in my room. And you had to break it.”

Sunset turned around and met with a solid jab to her shoulder. Her entire arm went numb, and she sagged to one side. She tried to curl her fingers, but they refused to respond. “What? How? You’re…” She took a small step back, remembering the snake sitting under the desk. “You’re Lamia.”

Lamia narrowed her eyes. “I was really hoping to keep that quiet. I only needed another week, then I could have been gone and you wouldn’t have known anything.” She sighed and shrugged. “Guess I can’t win them all.”

Sunset’s mind continued to reel. She couldn’t decide which concerned her more presently, her dysfunctional arm, or her criminal doppleganger. “I don’t understand. Why are you Lamia? What did you do to my arm?”

She held up a finger. “‘Why?’ Because it’s fun and I’m good at it. Short and simple. ‘What?’ I hit one of your pressure points and paralyzed your arm for a bit. It’ll wear off in about an hour.”

“I… you…” Sunset took a deep breath, pushing down her urge to scream. “Why do you have the Crystal Heart?”

Lamia leaned on the door. “I stole it, clearly.” She smirked. “But I’m guessing you want a more detailed answer than that?”

Sunset let her glare give a sufficient enough answer.

“All right. For the money, duh. Do you want to know how much this baby is worth on the black market? A. Lot. Like, I would never have to steal in this lifetime or the next one. You think they would have had more security around it. But, it was annoying enough to get with those Dazzling-Siren whatevers interfering.”

“So that’s it? You’re just going to give the Crystal Heart to the highest bidder? Even after we told you what it does?”

“Yeah, pretty much. Then, me and Jörmangandr here are moving far away to the biggest house we can buy.”

The snake behind Sunset let out a happy hiss.

“Besides,” Lamia said, “you should be happy I’m selling it away. That way, the Dazzlings can’t have it either.”

“Unless they steal it from the next person who has it! You need to give it to us so we can keep it safe!”

Lamia threw her head back and laughed. “Funny joke, kid. You’ll keep it safe? Trust me, you and your friends can’t stand up to me, and I almost lost to those other magical freaks. If they really wanted it, they’d take it from you like candy from a baby.”

“Oh yeah, what’s your excuse then?”

“I’m trying to get rid of it as fast as I can. I already have a few bidders. In a few days, the heart will be out of the city and away from the Dazzlings. I’ll have my money, and they won’t have the Heart, everyone wins.” She patted Sunset’s head, and the world melted away again.

Sunset stood inside a dojo, watching other kids spar against one another in their gis and head gear. Some of them were a lot bigger than her.

“Gymnastics and judo. Are you sure about this, Shimmy?” her father asked.

Sunset just gave a determined nod. She’d show those bullies one way or another.

Lamia ripped her hand away and clutched it close to herself. “Crap, I can’t believe I forgot about that!”

Sunset pushed her good hand against her forehead. The experience left an odd tickling in her brain. “Listen,” she said, fighting through it, “if you don’t turn over the heart—”

“You’ll what? Turn me over to the police? Newsflash, kiddo, we look almost alike. If I wanted to, I could sneak back into the museum without my mask on, steal something, and blame it on you. Then what would you do? Tell them your alternate twin did it? I can make myself disappear. Until you stuck your nose around, Sunset Shimmer had dropped off the face of the earth years ago.” She crossed her arms, smirking. “You’re my get out of jail free ticket. And if worst comes to worst, I still know your deep secret. So, thanks for handing me all the cards!”

A roar clawed at Sunset’s throat, begging for release. She swung her fist at Lamia, who grabbed it with ease, then slammed her palm into Sunset’s stomach, sending her to her knees. Sunset wrapped an arm around her middle as she tried to breathe, failing the first few times before air filled her center again. She sputtered then glared up at Lamia. “I hate you.”

Lamia shrugged. “Hey, we can’t all be heroes, kid. And I’m only presenting what will happen if you try to rat me out. We can keep this relationship perfectly civil as long as you keep your mouth shut. We’ve both got sweet gigs going on. Would be a shame if they got ruined, wouldn’t it?”

Sunset bit back a slew of profanities her other seemed fond of. She spent that energy instead to get back to her feet. “Fine. We’ll play it your way.”

“Sweetie, we’ve always been playing it my way. It just took you this long to notice. Oh, don’t give me that look, you know I’m right. Tell you what, you and your friends can keep practicing here if you want, I don’t care. Go do your saving the world magical girl thing.” She leaned in, a shadow crossing her face. “But if they blab, not only will I take you down, I’ll take down each and every one of them. My computer can hack anything; shouldn’t be too hard to find, or even make up something that could screw their futures.”

“Bitch,” Sunset hissed.

Lamia hovered a finger over Sunset’s nose. “Only if you cross me.” She squeezed past Sunset, being careful not to touch her, and fell back onto her bed. “Now get out of my room.”

Sunset gladly obeyed, moving as fast as she could. A numbness different from the one in her arm spread to the rest of her body. Not only was her human counterpart a thief, she was also a near perfect imitation of Sunset less than a year ago. Manipulative, egocentric, cocky, vindictive. Sunset leaned on the stair railing. So this was her in a world without magic and friends?

“No matter how far I go, there’s always something that reminds me of what I’ve done.” Sunset supposed she deserved it; she had been awful. But she had been trying to get better—she was always trying! Apparently, the universe didn’t see it as an excuse not to show her what she had once been.

She finished her climb down the stairs and walked out to her friends waiting in the alley. “So, how did your talk go?” Rarity asked.

Sunset rubbed her numb shoulder. “Um…” If she didn’t tell her friends, they couldn’t have a chance of accidentally telling someone else. Their futures could still be protected. “It went okay, we just talked, you know?” Sunset stared at a space in between Rarity and Fluttershy. “We can still practice here, just keep interactions with her short. She’s, uhh… on edge.”

“Roger dodger!” Pinkie said with a salute. “Maybe some music will cheer her up!”

Sunset watched the girls carry in their instruments, chills running down her spine. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe she should have just kept them away from the factory entirely. She tried to move her arm again, but it hung limply in place.

Lamia. Sirens. Sunset was right. Nothing was fine.