Spectacular Seven

by The Albinocorn


Showdown in Canterlot II: Welcome to the Show

Two stagehands led the Rainbooms down one of the corridors under the coliseum. Even down here, beneath a layer of concrete, Sunset could hear the first stirrings of the crowd above. Aside from the squeaking wheels of their music and wardrobe cart, it was the only noise the girls had in the dim hallways. The stagehands finally stopped at a large door with a star marked on it.

“Here’s your stage,” one of them said as they opened the door. “Show’s in one hour, so make sure you’re ready and on the platform by then.”

Sunset quickly understood what he meant upon walking inside. A metal dais rose from the center of the room, red signal lights around its edges. She could see grooves in the ceiling where it would split open and bring them up onto the field. “That’s pretty—” The door slammed shut behind her and her friends. “Cool.”

“Is it just me, or did they already seem off?” Rarity asked.

Applejack climbed up onto the stage. “We’re in the Sirens’ territory now. Wouldn’t surprise me if they have the entire staff under their thumb.”

Sunset flipped her book open. “We knew what we were getting into when we came here. We have our instruments and we have the spell. As long as you girls get up there and pony up, it doesn’t matter what the Sirens do at this point. We’ve got an hour. Let’s set up, have a play through, then I’m going to see if I can find the Heart.”

“Now, now, let’s not do anything hasty,” a voice said from the ceiling. The girls looked around until Pinkie pointed out a PA system in one of the corners. “Hello, Rainbooms,” Adagio said with sadistic glee. “Enjoying your stage so far? Sorry it’s a little under-decorated. We figured you wouldn’t mind too much.”

“Actually, I kinda do,” Pinkie said. “You couldn’t have given us a background or some color? Steel grey is so boring!”

Adagio was silent for a moment. “You know what, I’ll have some set designers work on that right after the show.”

“Well there’s no point if they do it after the show, ‘cause no one will—oooooooh!” Pinkie’s face fell. “We’re not gonna be in the show, are we?”

“Ding, ding, ding! That is the correct answer! … No, Aria, we’re not trading Sonata for her.”

Sunset ran to the door and tried the knob, but it refused to turn. She kicked it with her boot, only to be rewarded with a sore toe. She spun around and leered at the PA. “What’s the matter, scared we’ll upstage you?”

“You? Upstage us? Ha! You really think you got this far on skill? Your band is terrible! Laughably bad! You have a tambourine player no one can see and can barely hear, a bass player trying to strum it like a banjo, a keytarist with terrible fashion sense, and a lead guitar who hogs the stage with her mediocre voice and flashy guitar. The only one who’s half-decent is your drummer, and that’s not saying much.”

Sunset watched as one by one, her friends’ faces fell into shock and hurt, save for Rainbow who grit her teeth while her cheeks turned bright red.

“No, Rainbooms, we picked you to win from the outset. We wanted to make sure you got to the cusp of victory, so it would taste all the more bitter when you lost.”

“But why us?” Applejack shouted.

“You mean you haven’t figured it out?” Adagio asked in a mocking sweet voice.

The dots connected in Sunset’s mind, and she squeezed her eyes shut as she leaned against the door. “They knew. They knew the entire time.”

What?” Rainbow whipped her head between Sunset and the speaker. “How?”

“Because we could taste your magic from a mile away.” Adagio laughed. “If you were trying to be subtle, you failed at that too.”

Rainbow let out a feral growl, then yelled, “Why don’t you come down here and face us in person?”

“Because, as tempting as that sounds, we have a show to get ready for. Soon, all of your friends and family, everyone you care about, the entire world will be under our spell! And with the power of the Crystal Heart and your Equestrian magic—”

Sunset’s eyes flew open.

“—I think even you’ll have a hard time resisting us. If not, then it’ll be fun to watch you fight against your loved ones. Ta ta, Rainbooms. I hope you enjoy the show!” Her laugh carried over the sound system before it cut out, leaving the room silent.

“Ah can’t believe it.” Applejack fell back onto the stage and held her head. “This entire time, we’ve been playing their game. We never stood a chance from the start.”

Pinkie knelt beside her. “Come on, we can still win somehow, right?”

“Win?” Rainbow let out a sarcastic bark of laughter. “We’re screwed! We’re locked under the stadium…” She pulled out her phone. “With no signal, while the Sirens have the Crystal Heart and are about to sing a song to brainwash everybody! If we don’t starve to death down here, our friends are going to open that door and maul us because the Sirens told them to! And even if we did somehow get out, we’d have to go out there and play a song that probably wasn’t going to work in the first place!”

Fluttershy burst into tears and threw herself into the nearest corner, burying her face into her knees.

Applejack threw a hand out. “Great, now look what you did.”

Rainbow threw her hands up. “I’m just being honest! You know, the element you’re supposed to represent!”

Applejack stood and rolled a sleeve up. “Oh, you want some honesty? I’ll give it to ya. You’re a loudmouth show-off with an ego a mile wide! This band is just an excuse for you to flaunt your guitar skills, and that’s a word Ah use loosely! Maybe if you spent less time wailin’ on that thing and more time helpin’ us, we wouldn’t sound so bad!”

Pinkie threw herself between the two of them. “Hey, remember how Selena told us to not fight with each other? Well, you’re doing the opposite of that! We were supposed to be a band and play together! But you’ve all done more fighting than playing!”

“Fine then!” Applejack tore her glare away from Rainbow and stared at the wall. “Since Dash is committed to the idea that we lost, consider this mah resignation.”

“Good, I didn’t need you in my band anyway!”

Our band!” Pinkie and Rarity screeched.

“Like it matters anymore!” Rainbow crossed her arms and faced the opposite wall.

Sunset slid down the door, barely cognisant of her friends’ exploding tempers. “How did they know it was Equestrian magic?” she whispered. “Are they from Equestria too?” She wracked her brain, trying to remember any mention of singing monsters from her history classes. She ground her train of thought to a halt. “Focus. How are we going to get out of here?” She pulled her phone out of her pocket. Like Rainbow said, there were no bars down here.

Minutes went by without any noise. Everyone stood apart, stewing in their own anger and despair. Sunset had nothing left to say, nothing left to give. The Sirens had won before the game even started. Sunset ran her hands down her face. Everything she had done had been for nothing. All she could do now was wait for the end.

“No!” A lingering spark shot through Sunset, and she jumped up and backed away from the door. “We’ve gotten this far; it can’t end here!”

“Sunset, we got here on a fluke,” Rarity said lifelessly.

“I don’t care! I’m not giving up without a fight!” She ran at the door and slammed into it with all her might. Her shoulder yelled in pain, but she backed up again and ran into the door with even more force. The door shuddered but refused to yield. “I’m not going to let some stupid Sirens—”

Bam!

“Take over the world!”

Bam!

“I started this!”

Bam!

“And I’ll end it!” She ran into the door one more time. Like all the assaults before it, Sunset failed to make it do anything more than wobble. She gripped her aching shoulder, wincing at the touch, and sank to the ground again.

“What do you mean you started this?” Rarity asked.

Sunset tightened her grip, doubling the pain. She deserved it. She couldn’t face her friends as she spoke. “It was me, okay? I set the Sirens free. The magic I unleashed the night of the Fall Formal created a leygate—a magical, underground tunnel the Sirens used to escape.” She could feel the lump starting to swell in her throat. “So I’m the reason why.” She let go of her shoulder and reached for the notebook. “And Rainbow’s right. The counterspell wouldn’t have worked. There is no counterspell—there never was a counterspell!” She threw the book across the room. “I just couldn’t do it, okay? I couldn’t do the one thing I said I would do! Go on! Go back to hating me! This is all my fault anyway.” She wiped the hot tears on the sleeve of her jacket, but they kept falling.

Rarity approached from behind and gently put a hand on her good shoulder. “Sweetheart, why didn’t you ask for help?”

“Because I should be able to do this on my own! Magic is the one thing I’m good at! You all had your own things to worry about; I couldn’t bug you about something I should have been able to do!” Sunset took a shuddering breath and looked down at the floor. “I bet Princess Twilight could have handled this just fine.”

“Maybe.” Rarity sat down and pulled Sunset into a hug. “But maybe because she would have asked us to help. I admit, I don’t know much about magic, but I would have been more than happy to help you write a song.”

“I write songs all the time,” Fluttershy said between hiccups. “We just never play them.”

Sunset gave her a guilty frown. “I know, and I’m sorry. You girls made me leader, and I haven’t been doing a good job at it.”

Applejack sat down on Sunset’s other side. “Don’t blame yourself for that part. We’ve all done a good job at getting under each other’s skin. Maybe we aren’t under the Sirens’ control, but they’re still making us snippy.” Applejack let out a deep sigh. “And yeah, maybe you did set them free. But it wasn’t on purpose, even if it did happen when you were at your worst. You were tryin’ to help us fix it. That’s what counts.”

The inflated balloon sitting in Sunset’s chest deflated even more, until only fear over their impending doom kept it aloft. She leaned into Rarity’s hug. “Thanks, girls. I’m just sorry it wasn’t enough.”

“Quit apologizing.” Rainbow turned around and cracked her knuckles. “And start coming up with a way out of this mess.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow. “Weren’t you spouting doomsday ten minutes ago?”

“Yeah, and now, I’m over it. Sunset’s right; we can’t stop here, not without a fight! Let’s get out there and hit those Sirens with a rainbow, because, screw what Adagio said, I know our band is awesome!” She cleared her throat. “At least, it would be if I learned to stop being a show-off.” She walked over and helped Fluttershy to her feet. “And if I listened to other people’s inputs.”

“It’s amazing how much you learn right before the end of the world,” Pinkie said cheerfully.

Sunset stood up. “The world’s not ending. Not without a fight first. We can still do something, we just have to get out of here.” She paced in front of the door and tapped her skull. The control panel for the stage must have been on the other side of the door. “Come on, use your head.” She paused and looked at Rarity with a knowing grin. Rarity’s eyes brightened, and she shared the grin with Applejack, who passed it to Rainbow. Rainbow grinned at Pinkie who looked at Fluttershy and found the girl wearing a smug grin of her own.

Pinkie looked at all her friends grinning at her and her pupils shrank. “Oh no.”

*******

Trixie followed her mother through the overcrowded stadium. Passing by a clock, she saw there were only five minutes until the show started. As the crowd began migrating to their seats, Trixie and Selena slowly pushed their way back against the tide. They were met with angry shouts and shoves, and Trixie was tempted to push and yell back, but her mother’s calm but firm hand on her back kept Trixie from losing her cool.

With the entire stadium packed to the brim, sneaking into any unauthorized area would be even harder than the previous concert. Security marched everywhere, and maybe it was Trixie’s imagination, but they seemed to linger around her and her mother more than anyone else.

They made their way to the northeast part of the coliseum, where Trixie had found the hallway her father’s magic had emanated from. The lights were on this time, and screaming fans filled the seats. Trixie stuck her tongue out while she and her mother pretended to wait in line for the bathroom.

Six o’clock rolled around, and the coliseum lights dimmed in anticipation. The sun lingered on the horizon, giving an orange hue to the sky that faded with each passing minute. As the last of the crowd moved to their seats, Selena and Trixie moved behind a pillar to watch the two security guards in front of one of the restricted doors.

“How should we get through?” Trixie asked in a whisper.

“Normally, I’d say one of us provides a distraction while the other sneaks in.” She flipped the hat off her head and reached inside, retrieving a black scabbard. “But, there’s safety in numbers. And, if the two of us just happen to cause a big enough distraction to slow down the show, well, that’d be a shame, wouldn’t it?” She winked at Trixie.

Trixie nodded eagerly. “Got it.”

“Good. Stay close to me.” Selena emerged from their hiding place with Trixie right behind her. But as they stepped up to the security guards, three more walked down the hall from either side with a clear purpose.

“We got a tip two people matching your descriptions might cause a problem here tonight,” one of them said. “Ma’am, drop the sword and please come quietly.”

Selena put a hand on the hilt and took a relaxed breath. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline.” She widened her stance and gestured for them to approach her. One of them took the challenge and ran at her, at which, she nimbly spun to the side and swung her sheath out to smack the guard in the back of the head, knocking him to the floor.

Trixie cheered, then yelled as one lunged for her. She jumped back, staying a hair out of reach. As the man regained his footing, Trixie pulled her wand out and aimed it at him. You can do this. You’re the Great and Powerful Trixie, capable of amazing feats of magic! The man reached for her again, and she ducked back, willing her wand to do something to defend her.

It let out a feeble spark.

Come on, do it for Dad! Trixie jumped back and shouted, “Lulamoon!” A bright bolt surged from the tip of her wand and connected with the guard, creating a column of smoke. When it cleared, a green toad sat croaking on the floor.

Selena pushed another guard back and looked over her shoulder. “That better be reversible.”

“I’m sure it is,” Trixie said, too enamored with her handiwork to worry about future consequences. She screamed as someone grabbed her from behind in a bear hug. She flailed her legs trying to kick him but to no avail.

“Trixie!” Selena ducked under a swinging fist and jabbed her hilt up into her assailant’s chin. She kicked out with her boot, toppling him backwards, then ran toward Trixie, only to be cut off by two more guards.

Trixie turned her wand over in her hand and jabbed the side into her jailer. “Lulamoon!” She fell to the ground and rolled over to see her handler twitching uncontrollably as electricity coursed around him. “Strange, Trixie wanted another frog.”

As more guards came into the hall, the hair on Trixie’s neck started to rise. The cheers outside had turned to decries and impatient jeers. Trixie looked at the nearest clock and saw it was 6:15. Where are the Rainbooms? She swung her wand and shot another stunning spell at an approaching guard. “Mom!”

Selena grabbed the arm of a woman wielding a taser. “I know. Something’s wrong.” She twisted the woman’s wrist and kicked her back. Swinging the sheath of her sword, she made her way closer to Trixie. “I’ll create an opening. You go find your father, then find the girls.”

Trixie gave a hesitant nod. “Okay.”

Selena gave her a confident smile. “You can do it. I know you can.” She ran and jumped forward, dodging two guards, and swung her sheath back to strike both of them.

Trixie ran forward, being careful not to step on the frog. She pulled a smoke bomb from her pocket and tossed it over her shoulder, right into someone’s eye. The bomb still went off, and smoke clouded around his head and began to fill the hall. Trixie reached the door, unlocked it with a flick of her wand, and slipped inside.

She slammed it shut behind her, dimming the noise of the fight. The discontent of the crowd still made it through the walls, however. She allowed herself a moment of triumph and punched her fist into the air. She had just taken out three guards! Wait until she told her dad!

She pointed her wand down the hall and closed her eyes. Magic acted like smells in that everyone who could use it had a particular scent, or rather feel. Artemis’ magic felt like joviality and laughter. It was faint, but Trixie still felt it down at the end of the hall. She broke into a run, wand out in front of her.

The hall curved, and another security guard came into view. “Hey, what are you—”

Lulamoon!” Trixie’s wand let out a green bolt that made contact, and the man’s eyes crossed. At first, Trixie thought the spell hadn’t done anything, but then the man sat down on his hands and feet with a blank look on his face.

“Ribbit! Ribbit! Croak!” He hopped past Trixie.

Trixie watched him for a moment then mentally shrugged. “Close enough.” She made it to the door Artemis’ magic came from, almost missing it for the way it blended into the wall. She unlocked it and threw it open, casting a beam of light into the dark room. She stepped forward, then immediately jumped back as a large ax flew past her head and clattered against the wall.

“What?” Artemis’ weary voice came from the darkness. “Did you forget about your own trap?”

Trixie felt for the light switch and flipped it on. At the back of the room, her father sat strapped to an overturned chair, clothes dirty and tattered, and face bruised and untrimmed. She double check nothing else in the room would kill her, then ran to her father’s side. “Daddy! Daddy, it’s me!”

Artemis stretched his head up and looked at Trixie with tired eyes. “This dream again. Funny, I don’t remember going to sleep.”

“No, it’s really me!” Trixie put a hand against his face. “See?”

His eyes unclouded, and he stared awestruck at Trixie. “My little moon… it’s really you,” he breathed. Trixie let out a relieved sob and threw her arms around him. “Shhh, it’s okay, little moon. I’m okay.”

“I-I m-missed you so m-much!” Trixie gasped and pulled herself away to sit him up. She pointed her wand at the chain around his wrist. “Lulamoon!” They unraveled, freeing Artemis’ dislocated fingers. Trixie let out another sob and gently took his hand into hers. “Look what they did to you!”

Artemis winced. “It’s not as bad as it looks. The pain went away around… how long have I been in here?”

Trixie wasn’t sure why, but she laughed. It was weak and watery, but it released some of the tension stirring around in her stomach. She wrapped her arms around her father again and clung tight. “I love you.”

“I love you too, buttercup.” He nuzzled the top of her head. “But please tell me you didn’t come here by yourself. Where’s your mother?”

A guard flew past the door and skidded across the floor.

Artemis chuckled. “Nevermind, I found her.”

Selena paused at the threshold to clip her sword to her belt. She looked at Artemis with a whirlwind of emotions spinning behind her eyes. “Are you okay?”

“Come now, we both know I’ve been through worse,” Artemis said with a smile.

“True.” Selena stalked across the room, pushed Trixie out of the way, and lifted Artemis out of the chair by his collar. “You said you were just getting information,” she said through clenched teeth. She gave her husband a vigorous shake. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

Artemis laughed nervously. “I love you?”

Selena glared at him for a long minute. “Good enough.” She pulled him forward and kissed him hard on the mouth.

Trixie looked away, her pretend gag turning into a content sigh.

“Attention, everyone!” Adagio’s voice rang throughout the stadium. “It seems the Rainbooms have forsaken their victory and decided not to perform tonight.” A tumultuous cry came from the crowd. When it started to die down, Adagio continued, “So, we’re skipping straight to the main event! Here come your Dazzlings, everybody!” The cheers of the coliseum echoed down the hall and into the room. Trixie then heard a faint bass line.

“I’m just in time for the finale it seems,” Artemis mused. “So, what’s our plan, family?”

“We need to find Sunset and her friends,” Selena said quickly. “They have the magic to cancel out the Sirens’ spell. Barring that, we find the Crystal Heart to stop them from getting anymore power.”

“Excellent!” Artemis stood, then immediately lurched forward, stopped only by Selena.

She put his arm around her shoulder. “You’re in no condition to go wandering around on your own.”

“But what about—”

“We’ll go together!” Trixie said, raising her wand. “As a family! The Lulamoons!”

Artemis’ smile stretched from ear-to-ear. “That’s my girl!”

*******

Twilight sat in the VIP box with her arms crossed and lips pursed together. Several others shared her sentiment, including Moondancer.

“Winning the contest, then not showing up to the actual show? I’d call it rude, but that would pay them a compliment!” Moondancer huffed. “I would never speak ill of the Dazzlings, but I think they picked the wrong band to be the winner.”

Twilight nodded, too angry to vocally agree. What was Sunset thinking? Hadn’t she gone on and on about how badly she needed to win this? And now, none of them have the nerve to show up? Twilight felt like she had been slapped in the face.

“The only silver lining I see to this is that we don’t have to endure their disharmonic cacophony.” Moondancer straightened up in her seat and pointed to the field below. “Look, it’s starting!”

A green fog spread out across the dark, empty field while a bass thrummed over the cheers of the crowd. Twilight’s heart hammered in excitement. She’d been waiting all weekend for this! At the west endzone, part of the field opened up and a circular stage slowly rose, spotlights flashing into the sky. Three figures stood silhouetted by the blinding light of a heart shaped diamond set into a large alter.

“Canterlot! Are you ready?”

Twilight and Moondancer screamed the way only teenage girls could, mixing their voices with everyone else.

“Ahh, ah-ah, ahh…”

This was much better than having to sit through another of the Rainbooms’ songs. She still couldn’t believed they hadn’t shown up. Was this a part of the plan Sunset hadn’t trusted Twilight with? It didn’t make much sense if it was.

Twilight furrowed her brow. Why was she so hung up on this? She should be enjoying the music. But something about her friends not being there set her on edge. What if something had happened to them? What if they were hurt?

And the music. She rubbed her ears. Why did it sound so… annoying? Corrupt? A second ago, it sounded like a heavenly choir, now Twilight wished the Dazzlings would shut up so she could think straight.

She blinked and shook her head, and it was as if a fog slowly lifted from in front of her eyes. What? Twilight looked around, seeing everything for the first time. What am I doing? Her eyes widened. What am I doing!? She cringed at the words she had spoken to Sunset. How could she have even thought that?

Heart racing, Twilight jumped from her seat. Something was wrong! Her friends were in trouble, she knew it! She had to do something before the Sirens finished their song. Twilight looked down at Moondancer, swaying back in forth to the music. “I’m, uuhhh, going to the bathroom!”

“That’s nice,” Moondancer said dreamily as Twilight sprinted up out of the box.

“Ah-ha, ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah,

“Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah.”

Twilight ran down the hall as fast as she could, pulling out her cell phone in the process. She dialed Sunset’s number, but it only went to voicemail. “I hope it’s because she’s mad at me and not because she’s hurt.” Twilight slid to a stop to gain her bearings and think. Her heated argument with Sunset and counterfeit feelings crept up on her until she forced them back down. “I can’t believe I let those Sirens get to me. I know better than that. Sunset trusts me. She wouldn’t undermine me, ever!”

The Sirens raised their voices, giving Twilight incentive to keep running. They came up from the stages beneath the field. If they’re on the west end, then maybe my friends are on the east end. It was a good place to start. Twilight just hoped they were somewhere in the coliseum, otherwise…

Even as she ran through the halls, she couldn’t help but wonder, why had the spell stopped working on her? Had Artemis’ protection spell decide to kick back in on its own? Questions for later. She ducked behind a pillar as a group of angry looking guards ran by. She counted to five, then continued sprinting, ignoring the iron ball growing in her side.

She came up to one of the restricted doors with only one guard in front of it. All right, Twilight. How can you get around him? He was a little on the scrawny side. Maybe Twilight could take him in a fight. A cynical part of her brain laughed at her as she continued gasping to regain the air she had spent. Okay, any other ideas?

A commotion to her left grabbed her and the guards’ attention. From around the corner hobbled Trixie with Artemis leaning on her shoulder. Selena appeared a moment later, knocking back a hounding officer. The guard at the door leapt to attention but was struck by a spell from Trixie, and when the smoke cleared, he was left with a frog’s head. He raised his arms and ran in a circle, croaking.

“Stop doing that!” Selena yelled.

“But it’s fun!” Trixie yelled back.

“I concur,” Artemis said with a grin.

Twilight ran out from behind the pillar, and threw her hands up when Trixie pointed her wand at her. “It’s me! Don’t turn me into a frog!”

Trixie raised a suspicious eyebrow. “What do you think of the Sirens’ music?”

“It’s terrible and right now consists of them singing the same few notes over and over again.” Trixie kept her wand level for a few more seconds, scrutinizing Twilight’s face. She lowered it, and Twilight let out a breath of relief. “I don’t know why the spell stopped working on me, but I can think clearly again, and I need to find my friends.”

Footsteps came from behind Twilight, and she turned to find a host of bruised and furious guards running toward her and the Lulamoons.

Selena ran in front of her and held her sword sheath out. “You go find the Rainbooms. We’ll hold them off. Just make sure they get up there and put an end to the Sirens’ music.”

Twilight ran for the door, forfeiting any argument. She just hoped the Lulamoons would be okay against what looked like the entire security force. The hall on the other side of the door was dim and cold, but Twilight’s furious sprint quickly warmed her up.

The music above her picked up again, and Adagio began to sing in a smug tone.

“Welcome to the show,

“Ah-ah-ah-ah, ah,

“We're here to let you know,

“Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah…”

Twilight skid to a stop ten feet away from another guard in front of a door with a star on it. Found them!

“Our time is now,

“Ah-ah-ah-ah, ah,

“Your time is running out.”  

A reminder Twilight didn’t need. The guard turned his head and looked at Twilight with surprise. “Hey, how did you get down here?” He moved toward her.

“Um, well, see…” Twilight backed up. What do I do now? What would Sunset do?

He grabbed her wrist, and in an act of desperation, Twilight threw her knee forward into his groin. The man instantly released her and let out a squeal of pain as he fell to his knees.

Twilight punched a fist into the air. “Yes!” Sure, she had just assaulted a civilian, but it was for a good cause! She ran up to the door, hearing a loud thud as she approached.

“Okay, one more time,” she heard Sunset command. “We still need Pinkie conscious for this.”

“It’s okay, my hair cushions the concussion!

Twilight wrenched the door open just as Applejack and Rainbow had finished backing up, holding Pinkie like a battering ram. Twilight knew she shouldn’t have been surprised after all the time she had spent with them so far, but she still couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. “Um…”

“Twilight?”

*******

Sunset stared into Twilight’s eyes. The clouds of green anger were gone, restoring the starry universe of compassion and curiosity to normal. Sunset stepped around Rainbow and Applejack. “How…” She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. You’re okay.”

Twilight played with her tresses. “Yeah. I don’t know why really. It’s like I just woke up from a really grumpy nap.” She inched forward. “Sunset, I’m so sorry if I hurt you. I knew why you girls had to win, I volunteered to forfeit, but everything just got…” She made a wild gesture with her hands. “Knotted up in frustration, and I felt like I had to prove something.”

Sunset took her by the arm. “Yeah, well, I shouldn’t have yelled at you either.”

“But you had every reason to yell at me.”

“You weren’t in the right mind and I knew that. I still shouldn’t have—”

“Oi!” Rainbow yelled. “Will you two just kiss and make up already! We still have a world to save!”

Sunset realized how close she and Twilight were to each other and finished closing the distance. She moved her hands to cup Twilight’s cheeks while she kissed her soft lips. Everything melted away; all of her fears and anxieties disappeared in the moment. She had Twilight back, she had her friends behind her. For a few glorious seconds, the world was realigned.

They broke away, panting. “I missed you,” Twilight said.

“I missed you too.”

“Yaaay, we’re all friends again,” Pinkie said with a hint of delirium. “We should sing a song.”

A song… The wheels in Sunset’s mind turned at rapid speed.

“Feel the wave of sound,

“As it crashes down!”

Sunset felt a pressure in the atmosphere. Dark magic was happening on stage, and a voice in the back of Sunset’s mind told her she should be angry, furious that the Sirens had gotten this far, that her friends had been incompetent, and that she had failed in her own bid for world domination not too long ago.

Instead, she focused on the solace being with her friends brought. That focal point made the music seem quiet and distant.

Music is magic!

“‘Music is magic,’” Sunset whispered, “and so is friendship.” She lifted her head, eyes shining. “That’s it! I can’t believe it—the answer’s been right in front of me the entire time!”

Rainbow finally set Pinkie back on the ground. “So what is it?”

“It’s you girls! It’s your friendship, duh!” Sunset paced in front of them, gesturing with her hands. “Artemis said music is one of the oldest magics in the world. So is friendship.” She held her hands out to them. “Your magic comes from Equestria and mingles with this world, so it’s activated by music, but it’s fueled by friendship! That’s why you get stronger when you play together! You do it as friends, as a team! And that’s why you stopped ponying up at practice; you girls were fighting with each other and lost that spark of friendship.” She glared at the ceiling. “And that’s why the Sirens wanted us to win just to lock us down here, to leech off your Equestrian magic while we fought.”

“So, what about the counterspell?” Applejack asked.

“You already have the counterspell,” Sunset said, grinning from ear to ear. “You just have to go out there and play. It doesn’t matter what, as long as you do it together.” She looked over her shoulder, down the hallway. “The Dazzlings may have the Crystal Heart, but it reacts to the strongest emotion it feels. In the time I’ve spent with you girls, I’ve never seen this much love and affection from any group of friends. If your love can overpower their hate, you can win this.”

Rainbow punched a fist into an open palm. “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go show those Sirens they messed with the wrong town and the wrong friends!” She looked back at Fluttershy. “And I think I know the perfect song to play.”

Fluttershy’s eyes widened like a kid on Christmas Day.

Applejack put a hand on Rarity’s shoulder. “And if we’re about to save the world in front of an audience, it’s only appropriate we look our best.”

Rarity squeed like a foal on Hearth’s Warming. “Time for the fastest wardrobe change ever!” She grabbed Applejack by the hand and pulled her toward the clothing rack.

Twilight slipped a hand into Sunset’s. “Good job, Sunset.”

“Couldn’t have done it without you, Sparky.”

Rarity returned and grabbed both of them by their free hands. “Don’t think I forgot about you! I even have a dress for you, Twilight, just in case!” She pulled them forward, ignoring their cries of surprise. As she handed Twilight her outfit, she leaned over to Sunset. “And for the record, I think you make a great leader, Sunset.”

Sunset blushed and looked away. “Come on, we’ve got a show to put on.”