Walking away from the ice cream cafe and the humans they'd met within, Sunset Shimmer could tell that something was making Starlight Glimmer uncomfortable. Sunset could have just touched her to see what was wrong, but… no. She didn't need to be constantly invading other people's mental privacy, just because she could.
So, Sunset went with the old-fashioned way: talking. "Hey, Starlight? Are you okay?"
Starlight hesitated. "Was that really Sour Sweet? She seemed... less bipolar than Princess Twilight described her."
"Apparently, Sour Sweet is taking her meds again."
"Humans have medicine for things like that? There's a spell I could cast, if I could actually cast anything here. Ugh, there's got to be some way around that!"
Sunset smirked, hands in her jacket pockets. "You think you can find a way, when I couldn't? Knock yourself out. Although, I don't know if easy access to magic would be a good thing for this world…"
There were no laws about magic on Earth, since Earth was so ignorant of magic, which had made it doubtful they could arrest the Sirens even if they could find them. Assuming the Sirens were even still alive after their jewels were shattered and they'd lost their immortality.
Still, a lot of things had changed for the better. For the sake of the reputation of Crystal Prep, Dean Cadence had asked Cinch to retire, rather than face the scandal and humiliation of being exposed and fired for her blackmail and allowing the bullying of Cadence's sister-in-law. Students like Suri were no longer scared to death of failure… she'd begun cheating not because she was lazy or stupid, but because she was just that scared of disappointing her parents and her teachers, who had drilled it into her head that ‘failing means that YOU are a failure.'
Sunset stepped in front of Starlight, blocking her path. "Now tell me what's really the matter."
"You learned that from Celestia, didn't you?"
"It's like you read my mind," said Sunset dryly.
"Alright. It was Trixie."
"Trixie?" asked Sunset. "What about her? You shouldn't let someone like her bother you. Just ignore her."
Starlight sighed. "I can't… It's a little disturbing, seeing Trixie how she used to be."
"You're friends with the Trixie of your world? Oh wait, oh, OH!" Sunset slapped her forehead. "Right! Twilight told me how you, Trixie, King Thorax, and Discord saved Equestria."
"And ponies finally stopped holding her past against her. I know the Trixie here isn't MY Trixie, but it makes me wonder. Why didn't she meet the human Starlight Glimmer and make a friend? What's the Starlight Glimmer of this world like?"
Sunset Shimmer put a hand on Starlight's shoulder. "Eh, I wouldn't dwell on it. Our counterparts, wherever they are, aren't us, and they're not drop in replacements for us, or us the way we should have been."
Starlight smiled knowingly. "You're still upset that Princess Twilight doesn't come to visit any more, aren't you? The dangers of her interacting with her human counterpart..."
Sunset shook her head. "Twilight can be that way if she wants, but I'd never give up my life and my friends here, just because some stranger with my face showed up. I'm not some interchangable actress who can get replaced at the director's whim, I'm the star of this show! ... I'm starting to sound like Pinkie Pie, aren't I?"
"... A bit." It was still weird how Starlight's first impression of Pinkie Pie had been of a mare who never smiled, only to learn later that Our Town had been the one exception, and she was legendary as the pony who ALWAYS smiled.
Once, Starlight had asked Maud Pie WHY she'd been so casual about telling Starlight what she needed to help found Our Town.
Maud Pie had spoken in a dark otherworldly voice, "I WANTED TO SEE HOW FAR YOU'D GO IN PURSUIT OF A SOCIETY THAT EMBRACED BEAUTIFUL ORDERLY NAUGHT AS ITS IDENTITY." Then Maud blinked and carried on talking blandly about enchanted rocks as if nothing had happened.
Starlight shook herself, not wanting to remember that voice anymore. "So... Twilight's profile on you said your magic was teal. Want to tell me why it was red just now, back there in Twilight's castle? The last time Twilight met someone whose magic wasn't the same color as when they met... it turned out to be Chrysalis."
"Was it really? I guess I had other things on my mind." Sunset gave it some thought. "Some magical artifacts can influence the wearer's magic aura. Maybe my geode did something. These geodes are pretty powerful… they might even be this world's version of the Elements of Harmony." She grinned and elbowed Starlight. "I'm definitely not a changeling, if that's what you're thinking."
Neither of them noticed an ethereal winged girl with a jewel on her forehead shadowing them.
"Another villain who absorbed the power of all seven Elements?" Diamond Tiara's Nightmare, Nightmare !$*(i!@i!(, folded her arms, unimpressed. "This is beginning to feel like a cheat."
'That's how it goes, my dear. Instant petty villain, just add rainbows! … So! Are you going to rush straight in and fight another futile battle against an enemy empowered by feral versions of your greatest weakness? Or do you feel like not getting turned to stone for a third time?'
Even if Diamond Tiara's Nightmare wasn't naturally unnoticed thanks to magically-induced obliviousness, she knew most of these humans wouldn't think twice if they saw a goth girl with vulture wings strolling around the mall. Not if Rainbow Dash carelessly letting everyone see her "ponied up" form was anything to go by. Not that anything about Diamond was natural. "Fighting isn't what I'm here for."
'Oh. Well, on the bright side, you're certainly building up quite the pain tolerance, just like mommy dearest. They say you learn more from defeats than victories, and you've had so very many!'
"I defeated Venus' avatar."
'Hmm, yes. A blind with rage avatar that wasn't even meant for combat. Too bad that it's months on this side of the mirror to years in Equestria, instead of the other way around, or you could get some real practice in. Or was it supposed to be the other way around to explain how Sunset was Celestia's student decades ago and isn't middle aged now? It's so hard to keep track.'
"We're slipping along the time stream anyway."
'I'm surprised Rota Fortuna hasn't had more to say about that. She despises time travel, you know. Something about effects coming before causes really just sticks in her craw.'
"Considering that you tore her wing off, I'm pretty sure she'll hate your guts forever, regardless."
'Forever is a long time, missy! Not that I doubt you.'
If Diamond Tiara still had feelings, she might have sighed. "It doesn't matter. That's not why we're here anyway."
'And just WHY are we here AGAIN?'
"Just making sure some things... remain buried. After all, it's not like any of us can say no to Fate anyway."
"Diamond? Diamond Tiara! What are you doing here? Didn't you say you were busy today?"
Diamond Tiara stopped in her tracks. 'No. Way.'
But there she was... the Silver Spoon of this human world. The purple dress and boots weren't the sort of clothes a rich pony would wear, but who else could it have been, standing there with gray skin, two-toned silver hair in pigtails, and a pendant shaped like her Silver's cutie mark?
To her credit, the Nightfilly didn't ask 'You can see me?' Obviously, she could.
Nightmare !$*(i@(i( spread her black wings ominously, overshadowing the other girl. Silver Spoon kept right on smiling at her "friend."
'Well, now isn't that peculiar? She can see Diamond Tiara, but not the Nightmare.'
'There is no Diamond Tiara anymore.'
"I had a few things I needed to take care of," Nightmare !$*i!@is said.
Silver Spoon grinned knowingly, seeming oblivious to the exceptionally cold attitude of her ‘best friend.' "Things like checking out the premiere of the Daring Do movie?" She reached for Diamond's hand. "Come on, we can go together! There's still time to get tickets…"
Silver Spoon of CHS
When I grasped Diamond Tiara's hand, it was like all the world's colors were sucked up by a vacuum cleaner behind my head, sweeping from far in the distance ahead of me to the edges of my sight. The sounds of the mall grew muffled, as if I was hearing them underwater. The delicious scents of the snack carts became a faint memory. People moved around us sluggishly, looking like blurred ghosts. My pulse should've been racing. It was, a little, but not like I knew it should be.
This was the mall, and people focused on their own things, their own friends, not the crowd they waded through, but a sunglasses stand owner who had been eyeing me before suddenly seemed to completely lose interest. Unbelievable… two young girls as cute as us, holding hands, and no one gave us a glance?
Diamond Tiara turned her head towards me, eyes narrowing slightly. I let go. Tiara snatched her hand back, and the world returned to normal. The sunglasses seller started to look my way again.
"Diamond Tiara!" I let out a practiced gasp. "You can do magic?"
The seller tilted his head, and thought better of whatever sales pitch he'd been about to make.
"Don't tell anyone," said Diamond. "You'll only make trouble for yourself."
"But... I'm sure Sweetie's sister and her friends can help you with it."
"It's not the same kind of magic as theirs."
"Uh... You weren't going to use this inviso-power to sneak into the theater without paying, were you?" asked Silver Spoon uncomfortably.
"No, I wasn't. And I'm not invisible, just unnoticeable."
"Like the blue box in Doctor Whooves?"
"... Yes, Silver Spoon. Like the blue box in Doctor Whooves."
'Why are you bothering to tell her this? You're only going to wipe her memory anyway.'
"I'm sorry, Silvey, but I have something important to do that I can't delay... "
"I'll come with you."
"No, you won't."
"Gee, I wonder if your 'unnoticed' power still works if I start pointing you out to everyone..."
She looked at me like she was giving serious thought to vaporizing me with her heat vision. She probably doesn't have heat vision... right?
Diamond could have simply gone about her business while Silver made a fool of herself.
No. The commotion would get in the way, and she really didn't have much time. That was the reason why she was going to look out for Silver. Right. Of course it was.
"... Don't ask questions," said Diamond. "Don't meddle with anything in my world, or something is likely to eat you." That was… not entirely a lie.
'Oh, for love of... Please tell me why you're doing this. Don't tell me you're feeling sentimental now.'
'I don't feel anything.'
‘It's not as if it'd be particularly difficult to get rid of our little dovetail. Why, I've thought of a dozen different plans already, and I'm not even trying hard! Not a one of them requires you to spend any time with an alternate version of your best friend.'
'I didn't ask you, and I don't have friends, I don't want friends, I want sycophants, remember?'
I took her hand and entered her world again. Even knowing what to expect, I should have been a lot more creeped out than I was.
= The Final Battle Approaches - Lunar 2 Eternal Blue =
There was another thing that should have scared me. The longer I held onto Diamond Tiara, the more I started to see... things.
Former Principal Cinch stalked past with the collar of her coat turned up and movie premier tickets in hand, and her cold expression only grew frostier when the ghostly spirits that followed brushed against her. After Daisy picked one dress over another clockwork spiders wove elaborate threads reaching from her to others, as more spiders built more threads as people around them made more decisions, and clipped away other threads that lead nowhere. Apple Bloom's big brother stole a kiss from Miss Cheerilee, not seeing the ghostly arrows stuck in their chests, courtesy of the hovering pony-cherub-thing flapping along behind them. Even Trixie was here... I saw a book with a horse head and a red jewel on the cover on a shelf behind her, with black tentacles reaching out of the book towards her.
Had these creatures always been around, just out of sight?
I remembered The Lord of the Rings, how when you put on the One Ring, it didn't actually make you invisible. Instead, it pulled you partially into the spirit world, where you suddenly became MORE visible to beings like the Ringwraiths.
Diamond Tiara paid no notice to any of those spirits, like they were all old news to her. A crowd to be pushed past. Her shadow, though... something was very wrong about it. For a moment, I was almost convinced that her shadow wasn't HER shadow at all, but something else entirely, stapled onto her.
Diamond led me away from the parts of the mall that customers were allowed to go, right past security and into the control office!
The security guard on duty didn't even notice us come in, much less call someone to escort us out. But that could have been because of the spectacle on the security monitors.
I saw a giant woman marching out of the theater with a mirror in her hand. Even in Tiara's dim gray world, this woman was in full color, in fact, she looked weirdly oversaturated. She wasn't a spirit, either… people were actually turning their heads, gawking, doing double-takes. Probably thinking she was some last-minute promotion for the Daring Do movie, considering the freaky green and purple dress she was wearing.
Sure, she was super tall and had a nutty look on her face, but she just didn't seem like that big a deal, not after Nightmare Inferno, the Sirens, and Nightmare Midnight. She didn't even seem to be doing anything bad, so far.
A teenage girl with stylishly ripped jeans and a wool cap came running out of the theater, chasing the giant woman. Her body language kinda reminded me of when Twilight Sparkle first showed up. The first Twilight, I mean. Unlike the other mall patrons, she actually looked worried.
As the giant woman strode through the mall with a demented look on her face, the security guard stopped staring and made an urgent grab for the phone on his desk. Diamond Tiara touched his shoulder. "No need to call the police."
The guard hesitated, then put the phone down, seeming satisfied that there wasn't any trouble here. "No need to call the police."
As if things weren't strange enough, a winged, adult version of the teenage girl began popping up on the security monitors, slipping from person to person like a wisp, a jewel on her forehead sparkling.
There should have been no audio, but I COULD HEAR HER whisper in the shoppers' ears, one word, over and over, one by one.
The shoppers immediately did just that, going from finding the giant woman strange to terrifying, like a switch had been flipped.
The winged woman was in color too, with light violet skin and purple hair with a turquoise streak in it. Diamond looked as puzzled to see her as I was. Diamond's eyes furrowed the way they always did when she was trying to figure out something that didn't go according to plan.
"Shouldn't we do something to help?" I asked. "We could find Sweetie's sister and her friends. They always handle stuff like this."
"I am helping... making sure that when this is over, she can have a normal life."
That's when I noticed that Diamond Tiara was running her hand over the consoles. I knew just enough about computers to piece together what she was doing. "Are you… erasing the security footage?"
That's when the giant woman spotted the teenage girl who'd been following her, and grabbed her. Was she... was she trying to crush her?! The adult version of the teenage girl flew behind her and gave her a boost, letting her kick the mirror out of the giantess' hand. The winged woman helped her teenage wingless self down, and nudged the falling mirror into her hands. Neither the teenager nor the giantess seemed to notice any of this.
Diamond frowned, ever so slightly. "Well... that's taken care of. Now I just need the distraction to come at the right time. Or would it have worked out better if that video hadn't started playing just then? Oh well, that's the way fate rolled her dice."
The winged woman vanished from the monitors... and reappeared right in front of us!
Up close, I could see she was wearing a pale, perfectly symmetrical dress and woven sandals. The entire design was kinda modest. The brooch on her collar was shaped like an equal sign with spiral mother-of-pearl colors. She wasn't skinny or pudgy. Her figure wasn't flat or busty, her hair wasn't long or short. She wasn't grotesquely hideous or insanely pretty. Everything about her seemed deliberately average.
She seemed interested in the same controls Diamond Tiara had touched. Diamond narrowed her eyes. Her grip on me tightened, until I was worried it might bruise.
= Battle Realms Soundtrack - D - Dragon Warrior_Combat =
"You," Diamond Tiara said coldly. "What are you doing here?"
Only then did the winged woman notice Diamond Tiara. I'm still not sure if she noticed me.
"Dear, Rota Fortuna gave me this task as part of my penance," she said, gently admonishing. "The question is, what are you doing here?"
Diamond Tiara was unmoved. "I have my own penance. And you have an overdeveloped sense of your own sins, as usual. At least you didn't know what you were doing."
"I wonder if this is part of my own trial," the woman mused, stroking her chin. I really don't know what she meant.
Diamond Tiara's Nightmare spread her vulture wings, shrouding the whole room. "Ever since I gained my power, I've fought those with toys custom-made to be against me, or powers that naturally gave them an advantage to beat the hay out of me."
The unfortunate security guard felt an incredible chill, finding himself questioning whether he'd really done anything worthwhile or memorable in his entire life, and wondering who would appreciate or know anything he'd done a hundred years after he was dead.
"You believe in fairness don't you? Even Steven? Maybe beating someone in a fair fight would help me work out my frustrations."
'Dear, I'm not sure if this is the best use of our...'
The woman's wings seemed to glow with an equal amount of life that pushed against Diamond Tiara's void. "I didn't come here to fight, but if I can knock some sense into you…"
The security guard began to think about his friends and family, and those whose hopes he shared, and the satisfaction of knowing of a job well done.
Nightmare !$*(i@is took a step forward, raising a clenched fist. The adult version of Starlight Glimmer held her ground.
"WAIT!" Silver Spoon said quickly, trying to get in between the two without letting go of Diamond Tiara's hand. "You came here because you wanted to HELP, right? Both of you had important stuff to do to help everyone, right?! Then... Then you shouldn't be fighting! It would be pointless!"
"Everything is pointless," droned Diamond. "The only meaning anything has is what it's given."
"NO IT ISN'T! And no it doesn't! Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon being friends doesn't have to be given meaning, it has its own meaning! So... So why do bad stuff? I mean, didn't we want to get away from hurting others who'd done nothing to us just to make ourselves feel better?"
Diamond Tiara glared at Silver. ‘Shut up!' she wanted to say. ‘You're such a child, thinking it could ever be that simple. You don't understand and I hope you never have to understand…'
Instead, she wordlessly folded her wings, letting the darkness recede.
Diamond Tiara glanced at the office clock suddenly, her eyes widening. So did the winged woman. Tiara was faster, and she rushed to the computer and... stopped short in confusion about what to do. Still holding my hand, but not so tightly now, she looked at me.
"Silver Spoon." She tapped one of the monitors. "Would you kindly play this video on every screen in the mall?"
I decided that I would play that video on every screen in the whole mall. I felt a pure and absolute calm as I got to work, pleased that I'd learned all about this in computer class and I could put it to good use here. Not that it was really hard or anything. The security guard was still logged, so the computer didn't even ask me for a password. I really didn't want to let go of Tiara, but she helpfully rested her hand on the back of my neck so I could use both hands and type faster.
"I know how to do that too, you know," said the winged woman. "Sunset showed me."
"You know Sunset?"
Diamond nudged me. "Focus, Silvey."
I got the video up and running. It was Dance Magic, the one that the Shadowbolts and our resident magical girls recorded together for that contest. One of the biggest screens in the mall started playing right behind the giantess, distracting her long enough to let the teenager get away. Again, I could actually hear the video and see it in full color. I actually started tapping my foot and swaying back and forth, humming along.
"Don't be too impressed," Tiara said, grasping my hand again once more. "This world's Twilight Sparkle is into classical, not this JPop stuff. She lip-synched with Princess Twilight's singing."
"Diamond, how do you know all that?"
"You should know I always have my ways, Silvey."
The winged woman waved her hand over the security monitor, and suddenly, I could hear what the teenager and the giantess were talking about.
"Is fame really what you're after, or are you looking for something else?"
"Like what?!" the giantess snarled.
"Like... a friend?"
"Who would want to be my friend?"
"Because I understand you, Juniper. You think getting revenge is going to make you feel better, but it's not! Please, don't make a mistake that you'll end up regretting for the rest of your life."
"I've already made too many mistakes. What I've done is... is... unforgivable."
Huh? Why did that last part sound like it had an echo?
"No, Juniper," the teenager pleaded. "I know they'll forgive you, but first you have to set them free!" That middle part sounded like it echoed too.
"... Shut up," said Tiara, snapping me out of my trance..
I looked to her, not understanding. "Tiara?"
"Shut up, it's beyond forgiveness." The air grew heavy and tense… a water glass shattered for no reason. A monitor screen cracked. A notepad sparked and caught fire. I should have been terrified, like the security guard… he was freaking out, trying to extinguish the flames.. "There's no saving or friendship. Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up."
"Tiara... You're hurting me!" I cried, trying to wriggle my hand loose.
Her grip loosened at once. Tiara looked at me, her face blank but not indifferent. I felt her quiver. She turned on a heel, still holding my hand, and before the winged woman could say anything, she leapt. Everything became a blur.
"I... I wish I could make up for my mistakes," I faintly heard the giantess say.
And suddenly we were back in the mall proper.
Our local magical horse girls and the new girl were hugging and cheering in the mostly abandoned mall. The giantess was gone, but in her place stood a mousy girl with the same color hair and glasses, now together with the group. I'm not stupid. I put two and two together. I saw the remains of the mirror the giantess had held.
Diamond Tiara reached down, plucking the last shard of glass off the floor and pocketing it.
"What are you going to do with that?" I couldn't help but ask.
"Don't worry, I'll put it to good use." She let go of my hand, and suddenly I was back in the living, breathing, bright-colored world. No more gray colors. No more unearthly creatures all around us, just as real, maybe more real than us. Diamond gently stroked over my hand, and it didn't hurt anymore. It didn't feel like it was healed, more like the damage to my hand was erased.
"I'm sorry I hurt you... it seems that's all I'm good for."
I put a hand on her shoulder. "Tiara... that's not all you're good for."
"You're right, I'm very good at hurting everypony."
"Tiara, stop beating yourself up. You can't change your past, but you can decide your future. You shouldn't just run away from your own hurt. Don't you have a Silver Spoon waiting for you?"
Her eyes got big, and she turned her head like a doll, the rest of her body still. "When?"
"Roughly three-seconds after I laid eyes on you," I said casually. "I had a feeling you didn't want to talk about it, so I didn't bring it up."
'So are you going to entropy her memories away now? This is reeeeeeealllllly getting awkward and a little tedious. Or, I suppose you could go out for ice cream, do a little roller blading, buy expensive dresses you don't need, play at the video arcade, see the latest must-see movie... You know, all the things that bored little rich girls do with their besties! I bet you'd have simply LOADS of fun! Of course, I'd be bored out of my skull, but please go ahead, enjoy yourself!'
Nightmare !$*i!@is raised her hand, reaching for Silver Spoon's forehead... and stopped.
"I can't stay," I said. "I'm on a top secret mission from Princess Twilight, so you can't tell ANYONE about it, not even Sunset and her friends, or it could cause a lot of trouble. Think you can do that, Silvey?"
"Okay, Tiara, I will." Silver Spoon nodded. "You can count on me!"
I put on my best 'okay, whatever you say, Tiara,' smile. She's lying, but I know she'd never lie to me unless she HAD TO. I don't want to hurt her feelings or make her think she's slipping. Diamond Tiara's always been a very good liar, I'm just very good at picking her tells. We're best friends after all. Isn't friendship supposed to pierce all barriers?
"Your Silver Spoon is waiting for you, isn't she?" I say, not forceful, not harsh. "You should go back to her. She must be worried sick."
"She's better off without me."
"I don't believe that, and I'm sure neither does she."
"I'm sorry I let you get involved in that mess..."
"I did what I've always done, helped you when you needed it. You should let your Silver Spoon do the same." I moved to give her a hug.
She flinched away from me like I was a cobra. Without another word, she took a step back and magically vanished. I had a feeling I wouldn't be seeing her again. Maybe I'll never know the whole story of what's going on, but hopefully her own Silver Spoon can help her. Me? I don't regret that I met her. And I have my own Diamond Tiara I need to help too!
'She won't give up, you know. Across time, across reality, she won't give up on you. She'll crawl through Tartarus for your sake.'
'She'll only get hurt if she hangs onto me. She has to let go. It's for her own good.'
'Her good? Or yours?'
'Come on, we have a final battle to fight.'