Spectacular Seven

by The Albinocorn


18. Winners and Losers

They weren’t broken up; Sunset refused to believe that. She and Twilight were just taking a short break due to magical influences. Influences Sunset planned to beat into submission if she ever got the chance.

The rest of her weekend had been quiet thanks to Rarity and Applejack still being punished. Sunset’s phone sat quiet on top of her notebook for the spell. She stared at them both, waiting for either one of her friends or Twilight to call, or for inspiration to strike.

Neither happened.

I suppose it won’t matter if we don’t make it to the finals. Monday couldn’t come fast enough, and in that anticipation, the weekend dragged on as long as it could. Sunset’s nights were filled with dreams absent of Twilight and filled with a trio of laughter and occasionally a scarlet inferno.

When she awoke at six o’clock on Monday, it was in a cold sweat. Realizing the day had changed, Sunset booted up her computer and navigated to the Battle of the Bands website. Heart pounding in fear and anticipation, she looked for the semi-final results.

Three names appeared in the final’s brackets: Moonlight Requiem, Trixie and the Illusions, and The Rainbooms. Sunset clapped a hand over her mouth to stop from screaming. They still had a chance! Their fight wasn’t over yet!

Her spirits plummeted when her eyes grazed across her notebook. She now only had a week to rewrite the song and finish the counterspell. All that time wasted. Every wrong note and stupid line.

It’s okay! You work well under pressure! You can do this! She wouldn’t fail, not after all the hard work her friends had done!

Her surge of confidence only lasted until she reached school. Before she walked through the front doors, she felt the eyes of suspicion and doubt lock onto her. It only intensified when she entered the rotunda. Everyone briefly paused to make scrupulous faces at her before walking away.

They already know who moved on. Sunset clenched her fist. And they think I cheated! Sunset stomped to her locker. “You know what, it doesn’t matter,” she said to herself. “They can think what they like. We got there on our own, even with Trixie’s meddling.” She traded her backpack for a textbook and continued her stomp to class, pausing when Flash came into view at an intersection. They locked eyes for a moment, and Sunset could almost taste the waves of hatred pouring off of him. Flash squared his shoulders and kept walking, keeping his head down.

Sunset sighed. “Sorry, Flash. Maybe you’ll thank me someday.” Class went by at a snail’s pace, and Sunset could hear all the unsavory rumors about her and the Rainbooms while she and Rarity did their group work. Neither of them paid it too much heed. Rarity shared Sunset’s mentality; they had made it to the finals, that’s all that mattered.

In fact, despite having the cynicism of the entire school upon them, practice held a steady, upbeat tone. Smiles and compliments were passed around, and it almost felt like things were back to normal.

“One more match, girls!” Rainbow said, punching a fist into the air. “We can do this! Then we’ll send those Sirens packing back to their island where they belong!”

A collective cheer rolled through the factory, and the girls broke into song. Sunset nodded along, a warm flicker stirring in her heart. She scribbled a line in the notebook. That’s it. One line at a time.

“So, I guess our partnership is about to come to an end.” Lamia slid up to Sunset and leaned against the wall.

“Looks like it,” Sunset said, relishing the thought.

“Well there’s no need to sound so excited about it. I might get the impression you don’t like me.”

Sunset lifted her eyes from the book. “You are fifth on the list of people I hate right now. Granted, that’s only because I’m counting the Sirens as one person, but the point still stands.”

“Harsh. Well, come this weekend, I’ll be rich and out of your hair.” She looked over Sunset’s shoulder. “How’s that deus ex machina coming along?”

Sunset snapped it shut. “Just fine, thanks for asking. While you’re off making a profit from a stolen magical artifact, we’ll be saving the world.”

Lamia shrugged and pushed off the wall. “Like I said, we can’t all be heroes. Have fun saving the people who hate you.”

Sunset rapidly clicked the button on her pen. I hope that snake bites her someday. Huh, this is a new form of self-hate.

The Rainbooms finished their set, but still hadn’t ponied up. There had been a few sparkles and light glows, but nothing more. Sunset still considered it a step in the right direction.

Rainbow took a seat on an empty crate. “So when we win, what are we going to spend the prize money on?”

“Whatever you guys want,” Sunset said. The prize money had been the furthest thing from her mind. Thinking on it now, she supposed it would be a great financial boon. Then she remembered she had no bank account and would be forced to carry around hundreds of dollars in cash.

“We could have one heck of a party with that kind of moola,” Pinkie said, spreading her fingers. “Think about it! Fancy location, full catering, super awesome decorations!” She gasped. “A bounce house! We could get a bounce house! With a slide!”

“Personally, I’d like a weekend spa trip with all the accommodations,” Rarity said with a dreamy sigh. “Deep tissue massage, mud bath, facials, seaweed wraps.”

“Or, we could be practical and put that money away for our futures,” Applejack said.

Pinkie pretended to think it over. “Nah, party sounds better.”

“I say we use the money to record an album, go platinum, and become superstars!” Rainbow said.

Applejack gave a definitive shake of her head. “You can go start your solo career if you want. After this, Ah’m done with pop bands. The only instrument Ah’ll be playing is my banjo.” She glared at Sunset as she said it.

Fluttershy nodded in agreement. “I’ll be glad when we don’t have to play anymore. I don’t like being on stage.”

“Gee, I wouldn’t have guessed by the way you were playing hide-n-seek on Saturday,” Pinkie said with a bite. “I was hoping being in a band would be fun, and so far, it’s been kinda disappointing, so sorry, Dashie but you can count me out.”

Rarity huffed. “So sorry this didn’t live up to your expectations, Pinkie. We’ve been a little busy stopping everyone from turning into brainwashed zombies!”

Sunset stood and clapped her hands. “Okay, I think we’re good for today! Let’s pack it up and try some more tomorrow!” The looks of frustration in her friend’s eyes gave her dangerous flashbacks to the week before the Winter Ball.

Indeed, clean up was tense and silent, the elation from before completely evaporated. Sunset bade the girls farewell and got half-hearted returns. As she rode home, her thoughts turned to Trixie. Sunset hadn’t told Selena of Trixie’s saboteuring and wondered which was worse: keeping it a secret or ratting her out? On one hand, there was a chance Selena could talk sense into her. On the other, it could sully Trixie’s feelings for Sunset further.

If they wanted to win, Sunset couldn’t afford any more underhanded tricks. And Trixie already didn’t like her. But, Sunset remembered the fear in Trixie’s eyes, a fear that hadn’t been there before. Concern and anxiety maybe, but not terror. Would telling Selena just push her into a corner and force her to act out?

Sunset arrived home and walked through the front door, scooping up Spot as he ran toward her. She nuzzled him all the way up to Trixie’s door, then set him down and knocked. “Trixie?”

A beat. Then, “What?”

“I just want to talk.”

“Trixie doesn’t want to talk to you.”

Sunset leaned on the doorframe. “Trixie, tell me what’s wrong. I know there’s something else going on.”

“Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. It’s none of your business.”

“Trixie, I just want to help,” Sunset said, too tired to be annoyed with Trixie’s flippant attitude. “Is there anything me or your mom can do?”

“No, there isn’t!” Sunset heard Trixie’s voice crack. “Now go away!”

Sunset lingered for a moment. “Okay. But if you want to talk, you know where I am.” She waited for any response. When none came, Sunset returned to her room. Before she closed the door, she was sure she heard a sniffle from down the hall.

*******

Come Tuesday, Sunset’s brief sense of victory had been completely extinguished. Even within their shared classes, Twilight refused to speak or even look in Sunset’s direction. She took a different lab partner during chemistry and sat on the opposite side of the room for economics and trigonometry.

Band practice ran more smoothly than school, but still had its speed bumps; side comments and small barbs made against one another. Lamia’s usual snark didn’t help either.

Sunset poured every second of her free time into making the counterspell perfect. With each passing day, her heart clenched tighter, and she found herself pulling harder and harder on her hair. Time loomed over her, it's indomitable shadow shaping itself to look like the Sirens.

She scribbled and scratched, sketched and erased, filled page after page of her notebook with half-finished ideas and sappy lyrics about friendship.

“See? In the end, you haven’t learned anything,” her reflection taunted her while she laid on her bed Wednesday evening.

Sunset kept the notebook clutched to her chest. “I can do this. I can do this.”

“No you can’t. You’re powerless. You had one job and you couldn’t even do that right.”

“I can do this. I can do this.”

“Look at everything you’ve already lost. Look at how far you’ve fallen. Artemis, Twilight, and soon, all your friends will be gone.”

“I can do this. I can do this.”

“If you gave in again… if you reclaimed the fire right here in your heart…”

Sunset forced her eyes closed. “I can do this. I can do this. I can do this,” she repeated until sleep overtook her.

She stood in the center of a stadium, the crowd cheering wildly. In front of her were the Sirens, towering like colossi.

Adagio opened her mouth and let loose an ear-piercing caterwaul that knocked Sunset off her feet. She rolled across the stage, stopping at the back of Rainbow’s legs.

Sunset got up to see all of her friends walking away, heads bowed in defeat, instruments destroyed. “Girls, wait!”

Applejack looked back at her with scornful eyes. “Thanks for nothing, Sunset.”

Sunset yelped and dropped the notebook she had been holding, now smothered in flames. She spun around to see the Sirens stalking forward with sharp-toothed smiles.

“You can still win.”

Sunset clutched at her heart, burning hotter and more wildly than the notebook at her side. The heat coursed through her veins until she thought it might incinerate her from the inside out.

“Just give in!”

She cried out in pain, and at her shout, the Sirens started to withdraw. Dragging her hand from her chest, Sunset saw it dyed bloody red and curled into claws instead of fingers. Her hand rose, palm toward the cowering Sirens. Sunset’s pained yell became malicious laughter, and a scarlet inferno tore across the stadium, and drowned the Sirens in a hellish blaze.

“No!” Sunset started awake, sweat pouring down her face. Spot jumped off her stomach and pressed against her neck, whining softly. Sunset sat up and took in quivering breaths of air. “It’s… it’s okay, buddy.” She set him in her lap and stroked his fur. “It’s gonna be okay.”

Princess Twilight sat on her nightstand, completely silent.

*******

Though the finals were on Friday, Sunset couldn’t stand another day in Lamia’s presence, so with only three bands left, she snagged the music room for Thursday’s practice. The school day leading up to it dragged on slowly, time seeing fit to nearly come to a standstill while Sunset shared a room with Twilight.

Sunset would have gone through her entire penance again if it meant Twilight would talk to her, ask her about magic, scold her whenever Sunset became too abrasive.

Goosebumps ran across her body as she thought about their dividing argument on Saturday. Had she just been using Twilight to further her own goals? Had Flash been right all along?

But Twilight volunteered to drop out of the competition. That’s on her, right? But then, what of trust? Did Sunset not trust Twilight with more dangerous roles? She strangled her pencil. I trust her! We’re just dealing with magical forces she has no defense against! She’s spinning this back on me like it’s my fault! I’ve been trying to keep her safe! Sunset eased her grip and took a breath. She’s not in her right mind. Don’t blame her.

From her seat in the back of the class, Sunset had a perfect view of the back of Twilight’s head. Sunset dropped her chin onto her desk and sighed again. Their picnic seemed so long ago, done by another version of themselves. Shifting a little, she felt something poke her just above her cleavage. She reached into her shirt and pulled out her cutie mark necklace given to her by Trixie at Christmas. Putting it on had become such a daily routine, sometimes Sunset forgot it was even there.

She held it in her palm, smiling at the perfect likeness, the red and gold chasing each other in an eternal dance of duality. It was funny. After all these years, she still wasn’t quite sure what her cutie mark meant. But just looking at it gave her hope. It flickered and sputtered, but Sunset clung to it.

School let out, and the Rainboom’s final jam session began back where it all started. The girls positioned themselves on the bandstand with Rainbow at the front, tuning her guitar.

“So, any particular reason we’re here instead of the factory?”

Sunset made an innocent shrug. “I thought we could use a change of scenery.”

Everyone raised an unconvinced eyebrow at her..

Either we’ve been friends way too long, or I’ve really lost my touch at lying. “Okay, I got sick of Shimmer and her smug attitude.”

“You mean your smug attitude?” Rainbow said with a smirk.

“Dash, stop trying to make it onto the list of people I hate.”

“All right, no more of that,” Applejack said. “What are we gonna play tomorrow?”

“‘Awesome as I Wanna Be’!” Rainbow said automatically. Everyone groaned. “Come on! We haven’t played it at the fair yet, and it’s the next song we’ve practiced the most.”

Sunset opened her mouth to protest, but realized Rainbow had a point. Now would be a really good time to finish that counterspell. “Yeah, fine, indulge her ego one more time. We’re never singing it again after this.”

“Hey, you’ll thank me when this song gets my band—”

“Our band!”

“—to win the finals.”

Sunset made herself comfortable in the corner. “Just shut up and start playing.”

*******

Moondancer exited the theater department and hurried down the hall, not wanting to keep Twilight or the limo waiting. Since the Rainbooms had managed to snake their way into the band room today, she and her precious flower had to go back to the manor to practice.

I suppose there are worse fates. She smiled, bemused by her own humors. Yes, this week had almost been perfect. She had Twilight all to herself, just like years past. They had joked and laughed and read and played, and it filled Moondancer’s heart until she thought it fit to burst. The only thing that marred it was…

She curled her fingers at her side. Even with a chasm between them, Twilight still turned her eyes for Sunset. She would speak nothing of the fiery-haired harpy, but Moondancer could see the desire in Twilight’s poise, and at the furthest point of her absent stares.

Moondancer stopped and breathed, keeping herself collected. Hers was a jealousy that Othello would find troubling. But she could not help it. Twilight: pure, gentle, with an intellect that put all others to shame. Sunset: wild, temperamental, with a dark aura that made Moondancer’s skin crawl. Yet Twilight drew to her like a butterfly to sweet nectar.

I know not what foul spell you’ve cast that I cannot break, Sunset Shimmer, but I will have my due. One more victory should serve as a coup d'etat to your foul game, then I can move on to what really matters. Her mouth curled into a frown as she remembered Sunset’s verbal flaying from last week. I’ll consider your loss tomorrow recompense for your words. Though I will admit… it was a well-worth monologue. You have my reluctant applause.

Her walk took her past the music room, where she paused out of curiosity and peeked through the window. She thanked the moon the room was sound proof, as she could see Rainbow Dash wailing away on her guitar, no doubt making obstreperous noise that would wake Hades. Moondancer turned to go, sickened by the very thought of Rainbow Dash’s ‘contribution’ to the musical arts, when the guitarist began to glow. Moondancer snapped her head back, seeing wings sprout from Rainbow’s back and pony ears pop out from under her elongated hair. The rest of the girls glowed in a similar manner, but none of them underwent the same transformation. Sunset walked into view with a content smile. She spoke to Rainbow, who proceeded to make a loop in the air with her newfound wings.

Moondancer stepped away from the door. New scenarios and possibilities wrote themselves within her mind. She folded her hands in front of her and continued her walk.

“Interesting, and… quite curious.”

*******

It was a very small crowd that greeted the last bands after school on Friday. With all three bands coming from Canterlot High, it left little room for diversity. Pinkie’s sisters sat in the stands not too far away from Night Light and Shining. Anyone else’s family either wouldn’t or couldn’t come.

Each band got a stage all to themselves. The Rainbooms had the center stage and would be the last to perform that night. Sunset paced behind the curtain, chewing the top of her pen. “This is it,” she said between nibbles.

“Yeah, that’s the eighth time you’ve reminded us,” Rainbow said irritably. “Quit pacing and sit down somewhere; you’re making me nervous.”

Sunset found a chair to collapse in and bounced her leg up and down. “Sorry, I can’t help it. We got this far, but what if it all goes wrong tonight?”

Applejack gave the best confident smile she could muster, though Sunset could see the strain in it. “It won’t. We’ll win the finals, beat the Sirens, and put this whole mess behind us.”

“Right.” Sunset clutched her necklace. “We can do this.”

On the stage to their left, Sunset heard Trixie pouring her heart and soul into her last song. Sunset got up from her chair and stuck her head out from the curtain to watch. Trixie took center stage, wearing a purple dress with a yellow belt embedded with a blue jewel, and yellow boots Rarity had gagged at. Her hat and cape fluttered in the breeze, the stars glowing under the stage lights.

Ya better believe,

“I got tricks up my sleeve.

“See me dominate,

“'Cause I'm powerful and grea-ea-eat.”

She looked right at the Dazzlings, eyes inflamed with passion.

I'm here to take you down a peg!

“Oh, whoa, oh-whoa-oh-whoa-oh-oh.

“By the time I'm done, you're gonna beg!

“Oh, whoa, oh-whoa-oh-whoa-oh-oh. 

Trixie looked over to Sunset now, her smile haughty as she swayed back and forth.

To be in my band, application rejected!

Rejected,” her bandmates chorused.

Don’t look so sad and so dejected,” Trixie sang in a babying voice.

Sunset pulled her head back. Well, she brought her A game today. Though she’s not exactly being subtle. Sunset swallowed a lump in her throat. I hope the Sirens don’t see the family resemblance. Someone grabbed her by the collar and dragged her back to the chair.

“Sit,” Rainbow commanded.

Sunset squirmed but did as she was told, at least until she heard Twilight’s violin from the other stage. She sprung up and ran back to the curtain, Rainbow facepalming in the meantime.

Moondancer and Twilight played flawlessly, uninterrupted by any of Trixie’s tricks. Even with just the two of them, Twilight kept her eyes closed, lost in her own world of heavenly music.

Their last duet was a long one, soft and slow, packed with sorrowful emotion until the last minute when they sped up, almost racing each other to the end of the song. Twilight ended with a flourish, and despite everything that had happened between them, Sunset found herself clapping with the tiny crowd.

She retreated behind the curtain again as the judges drew near. “Okay. This is it. I have complete faith in you girls!”

Rainbow picked up her guitar. “Sunset calm down. We got this.”

Sunset breathed. “Right. Yeah. I’ll just be over here. Good luck.” She carried herself over to the side as the curtains parted.

“And last but not least, the Rainbooms,” Adagio said with a purr. “I hope you can give us a showstopping performance.”

“Count on it,” Rainbow said. She gave a nod to the others.

Pinkie gave a quick, unenthusiastic sigh, then perked up and counted them off.

Hey! hey! hey! hey! hey! hey!

“Awesome as I wanna be!”

Sunset gripped one of the support rails. We should have picked a different song.

First you see me riding on a sonic boom.

“Got my guitar shreddin' up my latest tune.

“There is nothin' you can do to beat me.

“I'm so good that you can't defeat me!

Sunset looked out to the judges. Aria didn’t look impressed, and Adagio was impossible to read. Sonata bobbed her head along in delight, but as Sunset had seen throughout the competition, she liked just about everything.

I’m awesome! Take caution!

“Watch out for me, I’m awesome as I wanna be!”

Rainbow’s wild playing aside, the rest of the girls struggled to look inspired. Pinkie forced a smile the entire time, and Fluttershy kept a thin mask of disappointment while she shook her tambourine. Sunset saw their moods dip further south when Rainbow entered her guitar solo.

What was I thinking when I said we could play this song for the finals? Sunset’s eyes widened to saucers as she witnessed a blue glow surround Rainbow, and sparkles manifest themselves around her head and back. No, no, no, no! A slew of profanities flew through one half of Sunset’s mind while the other searched for a solution to the looming tragedy. She looked behind her, and gave the chair she had been sitting in a hard kick.

The noise made Fluttershy jump, but Rainbow was still lost in her own world. The blue aura intensified, and any second now, Rainbow’s pony features would burst forth and their entire plan would be ruined. Sunset pulled at her cheeks. There was no time to close the curtains, no time to find a big enough distraction, no time to do anything except…

Sunset broke into a sprint, preemptively regretting the next ten seconds of her life. She ran onto the stage, turned to her side, and shoulder tackled Rainbow to the floor. The song came to a crashing halt, Rainbow’s guitar smacking against the stage and sliding from Rainbow’s hand. The crowd gasped, and Sunset heard a few gales of laughter. She didn’t look up, choosing to believe none of them came from Twilight.

Sunset, what the actual hell?” Rainbow yelled in her ear.

“Uhh… there was a spider on your back?” Sunset tried to look guilty in front of the judges. It proved easy with all of her friends glaring at her. Rainbow threw Sunset off and stood up to grab her guitar and make sure it hadn’t been damaged.

Cadence cleared her throat. “Well… nice job, girls. I think we’ve heard enough.”

Sunset continued to lay where she had fallen. This was it. Their gambit was over. All she could do now was hope Trixie won and somehow pulled a miracle out of her pocket.

“Nice performance, Raingoons.”

Speak of the devil. Sunset turned her head and saw Trixie leaning against the stage.

“I especially loved the part where you sabotaged your own friends, Sunset.”

Sunset smashed her teeth together, then screamed to the sky, “I haven’t sabotaged anyone!” It at least got Trixie to back up a foot. Sunset took that as her chance to get up and join the others backstage in a very cold reception.

“Mind explainin’ what happened out there?” Applejack asked, crossing her arms.

“Rainbow was about to pony up! I panicked!” Sunset threw her arms in the air. “What did you want me to do?”

“Give us a signal?” Rarity offered. “Throw something at her? Unplug her microphone? Anything other than that?”

“I’m sorry, did you miss the word ‘panic’ in that last sentence?”

Rainbow snapped her guitar case shut. “Well thanks to your ‘panic’ we can kiss everything we know and love goodbye. Thanks a lot, Sunset.”

Sunset curled her fists and hunched her shoulders. “Maybe this wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t such a narcissist!”

Rainbow stepped over and got in Sunset's face. “Hey, at least I have some self-confidence, unlike you! ‘Oh boo-hoo, woah is me! I turned into a raging she-demon so I’m going to sit in the corner for the rest of my life!’”

Sunset drew her fist back, but Applejack grabbed her arm before it came forward. “Sunset, will ya quit tryin’ to pick fights with everyone!”

Everyone’s trying to pick a fight with me!”

“Attention, everyone!” Adagio called over the mic. “We have the winners of the first Battle of the Bands!”

Applejack let go of Sunset’s arm. As a group, they rushed to the edge of the stage, standing over the other bands and the judges. The air stilled as everyone waited on baited breath.

“This year’s winner, the best band in Canterlot is…”

This is it. Sunset inhaled a nauseating breath. Do or die. And she was almost positive they were dead.

Adagio pointed a finger at the center stage. “The Rainbooms!”

“What?” Twilight yelled.

Impossible!” Trixie said with equal volume, tears already in her eyes.

Moondancer stood with her mouth hanging open for a moment before remembering her dignity and turning away with a pout.

The Rainbooms looked to one another, stricken by confusion and disbelief. Sunset knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this defied all explanation. They had won? Even after her mid-song tackle of Rainbow? Their plan was still alive?

“Congratulations, Rainbooms,” Adagio continued, either oblivious to their confusion or reveling in it. “You’ll get to perform in front of Canterlot and the entire world live on Sunday as our opening act!” She swung a reaching arm out. “And all the bands that participated will get free tickets to the show!”

Said bands gave no response.

Adagio just continued to smile. “We can’t wait to see you come Sunday! It’ll be a show to remember!” She cackled as she walked away with her sisters in tow, leaving the crowd to turn to the Rainbooms. Sunset looked down on them and saw nothing but contempt for the Rainboom’s ill-earned victory.

Twilight marched away, glasses fogged to the point where Moondancer had to guide her. Trixie had vanished completely, leaving her band mates to clean up the rest of their equipment. The crowd slowly dispersed into the settling evening, leaving the Rainbooms on stage to ponder their fortunes.

One by one, they walked back to finish putting their instruments away. Rainbow sat her guitar case upright and leaned on it. “We won,” she said, dazed.

“Yeah,” Applejack said with an absent nod.

Fluttershy sighed. “This doesn’t feel like a victory.”

“It isn’t,” Sunset said. She kept a distance from the others. “They saw an opportunity to create even more anger and resentment: give the victory to the one band who deserved it the least.”

After a beat, Pinkie asked, “So, what do we do now?”

Sunset picked her notebook up. “They were dumb enough to let us win. So now, let’s finish this once and for all.” They weren’t quite the harmonious smiles she had been looking for, but her friend’s expressions told her they were ready for a showdown.

*******

Trixie had beat Sunset home, ran upstairs, and locked her door. Sunset found Selena in the kitchen, bags starting to appear under her eyes. She sipped her mug of tea, then said, “I can take a guess that Trixie didn’t win, so please tell me it was you.”

Sunset nodded. “It wasn’t the most conventional win, but we did it.”

Selena breathed a sigh of relief. “Then all we need is a plan for the big event. Even if the Sirens don’t suspect anything, they’ll still try whatever they can to get as much negative energy as possible.” She gave Sunset a look of sympathy only a mother could know. “But first, you should get some sleep. You look exhausted.”

Sunset shook her head. “I’ll sleep better when this is all over. Besides, I’m not the only one who needs rest.” For a moment, Sunset thought she might have crossed a line with the sharp look Selena gave her.

A second later, Selena cracked a tired smile. “You’re right. This hasn’t been easy for any of us.” She looked over to her sword leaning against the wall. “But I intend to help put an end to this and bring my family back together.” She focused her attention back to Sunset. “At least go wash up. Hot water is good for clearing the mind.”

There was little point in arguing. Besides, Sunset never said no to a hot shower. She headed upstairs, Spot at her heels. As she sifted through her drawers to find pajamas to change into, she heard a soft knock at the door. She turned and stared at Trixie in the threshold, holding herself so tightly, Sunset was afraid any sudden movement might break her.

Trixie looked at Sunset, not with contempt or disdain. Her purple eyes held only heartbreak. “Trixie…” She cleared her throat and wiped her eyes. “I… I just… You won, so…”

Sunset took a step forward, and as she suspected, Trixie slowly crumpled, sliding down to her knees, face wet with tears. Sunset joined her on the floor while Spot settled in her lap. Trixie pressed her face into Sunset’s shoulder and let out a slow sob.

“Please… I just want him back.”

Sunset wrapped her arms around Trixie. “Don’t worry. I promise, we’ll bring Artemis home.”