Sparks Catch

by Tale Swapper

Burning Twigs

Morning at Sweet Apple Acres was always earlier than morning in the rest of the Canterlot area. However, early rising was much less necessary in the winter than summer months- provided you didn't need to drive ten miles to get to class at eight o'clock.

For Sunset, morning came before the dawn. Grumbling, she hauled herself out of bed, messy hair strewn about her face. As she turned on the lights, she flinched- only to remember the absence of her headache, as no bolt of agony lanced through her brain. However, as she listened, she heard muffled swears echoing from next door, as Applejack discovered the unfortunate side effects of her own magical headache.

Sunset turned, fully intending to get first dibs on the shower when she had the chance. However, she didn't even reach her door before Applejack opened it, stumbling towards her sister with a grimace on her face.

"Sunset- tell me that Twilight's gotten back to you- please." She groaned, clutching her head. "Ah feel like I swallowed halfa bottle of cousin Shine's special reserve."

Moving to her sister, Sunset placed her hand on Applejack's forehead. "Hmm- no fever, so the magic isn't causing any serious side effects. That's good, at least."

"You don't call this headache serious?" Applejack glared at her sister. "Ah feel like my skull's splitttin, Sunset."

"Yeah, but that's just a thaumobiological feedback response." Sunset explained. "You've seen a sudden expansion in your capacity to conduct mana without opening any of the natural receptacles or outlets for using it, and as a result your thaumic centers are-"

"Sunset, Ah swear if you don't start talkin' English, Ah'm gonna smack you so hard your grandkids gonna feel it."

Sunset blinked twice, realizing Applejack might not understand her magiobabble. "Oh. Umm- You have the ability to use magic, but you don't know how to let it out, and it's trying to escape the part of the brain that channels magic. If it was something which might actually hurt you, your body would fight it- sweating, fevers, that sort of thing."

"Alright. Has Twilight gotten back to you yet?"

Sunset turned, and picked up the journal from the pile of clothes she'd dropped it in after dinner. She grinned, and spun the front cover to face Applejack, who could see the distinct glow of the symbol in the leather. "Looks like she has. Care to take a look with me?"

Both girls sat down on the bed as Sunset opened the journal. Written in Twilight's neat script, the note made both girls sigh with relief.


First, I'm glad to hear that you're all okay. Magic surges can be serious business, especially if they happen without trained supervision. I'm still not sure why you had a surge- as well trained as you were, I would have expected even the sudden resurgence in your magic to be nevermind that- I'd forgotten how badly magic can go wrong when you're startled.

In any case, the fact that Fluttershy manifested magic- and actual healing magic, at that- is remarkable. There are no cases of Pegasi manifesting healing magic of any sort beyond the natural recovery magic they have to repair their wings- and that takes time and only helps the Pegasus who is hurt. If what you think about the headaches is true, all of the girls may soon be manifesting magic- and I have no idea what it would be fore each of them.

I'm happy to come and take a look over the developing magical field and help coach the other girls through their own magical releases- hopefully we can figure out what's going on. However, I'm unable to come to meet with you tonight- I need to help Rainbow Dash prepare for a legal hearing tomorrow. I can arrive sometime early tomorrow afternoon, and stay in the background until we confirm my counterpart isn't really running around the school. Maybe we should plan for another sleepover? It might take more than a few hours to explain magic to the other girls and conduct a few simple experiments.

Looking forward to seeing you soon,
Twilight Sparkle

Sunset turned to Applejack. "I think she might have the right idea. So, whose house should host the sleepover?"

Pinkie Pie stumbled out of bed, her hair at half-mast. It took time, energy, and sugar for Pinkie to become "Extra-Super-Ready for Action!" and at this point int he morning, she was lacking the last two. The pounding headache which throbbed within her skull didn't help matters.

Dragging herself upright, Pinkie began to get ready for the day. After feeding Gummy, checking her backpack was properly loaded with all her supplies (books, pencils, paper, cupcakes, streamers, and confetti), and reviewing her calendar, Pinkie prepared to leave her room.

As she stood in front of her chest of drawers, however, she froze. Something was happening- something she didn't quite understand. Last night, she'd heard remote snippets of conversation, brief lines from a script she couldn't read. Today, however, some of what she was hearing was becoming clear. Three words in particular, spoken in Sunset Shimmer's voice-

"... host the sleepover?"

Pinkie's hair immediatley poofed straight up. We only do sleepover parties these days when we want to talk about something, and that means we're gonna talk about magic, and that means TWILIGHT'S COMING! Pinkie began to bounce in place. Oooh! I need to help them plan, gotta help them plan- We gotta plan a PARTY!

Something inside Pinkie's head twisted at the last word, as a bright pink haze surrounded Pinkie's hands. Pinkie didn't even notice as her headache disappeared, her eyes narrowing. Well, they can't plan a party without me!

Bouncing over to her closet, Pinkie waited for a few moments. Out loud, she found herself muttering "Gotta wait for the scene-" even as she dove forward towards the racks of dresses before her.

Sunset's head jerked up, and Applejack fell off the bed as Sunset's closet burst open. "-transition!" Pinkie Pie yelled, rolling across the carpet before springing up and seizing Sunset by the shoulders. "Ohmygosh, Twilight's coming, and we get to have a "Yay we All have Magic Now" party, and we should have it here so that we can have plenty of room in case you go boom again or maybe if I go boom-"

"Pinkie?" Sunset's eyes were wide with shock. "How the hell did you get here?"

Pinkie's speech paused, and she cocked her head. "That's a good question!" She responded after a moment's thought. "I mean, I was at home, and then I heard you talking about having Twilight over, and I realized there was a party planning session going on, and then I-"

"Pinkie, slow down." Sunset frowned, then tapped Pinkie on the forehead. "Is your headache gone?" At Pinkie's nod, she continued. "Then you somehow used your magic to come over here. But I didn't see any teleportation signatures..."

"Silly, I just came through the door! Whenever you come into a friend's house, you always come through the door, right?"

Sunset found her headache come roaring back. "Pinkie, that's a closet door. How did you come in through my closet door?"

Pinkie shrugged. "I dunno!" she chirped.

Sunset stared at the grinning girl for a few more seconds, before Applejack finally spoke up. "As startled as Ah am by her arrival, Ah also got a question for Pinkie. Sugarcube- why ain't you wearin' a shirt?"

Pinkie and Sunset (who immediately blushed and looked away) looked down at Pinkie's exposed chest. "Oh. I was still changing when I realized you were planning a party. I must have left my shirt behind."

Applejack stood up, burying her head in her hands. "Well, can you go back and get it?"

"Yeah, just as soon as the proper moment comes up again."

"What proper moment?"

Twilight Sparkle watched the data surge across her computer monitor. Her failure the night before had left her irritable, and she'd left the house early, making her way to her lab long before dawn broke in the Eastern sky. The data she'd been on hand to observe was welcome- although she was curious how the energy readings she'd picked up twice now were coming from two locations at once. At least Shining Armor understands why I want to leave- even if her still thinks I'm pushing myself too hard. Still, everything is hard here- especially pleasing Principal Cinch.

As though the very though of her name had summoned her, Twilight heard the distinctive footsteps of the principal enter the lab behind her. Standing up, Twilight turned around, coming face to face with her patron's expressionless visage. Cinch spoke up, a cup of coffee clenched in one hand. "Ms. Sparkle. I received your email last night regarding your little field trip."

"Yes ma'am. Thank you for looking at it so early, I know it must be-"

"You do not need to thank me, Ms. Sparkle." Cinch's eyebrow rose, and her gaze sharpened slightly. "Although, I am confused- you mentioned needing to take tomorrow off for your research. Care to explain?"

Twilight nodded, then drew in a deep breath, then turned back to her tack board, which now had a small map showing a blueprint of Canterlot high school and it's surrounding grounds. "This shows my readings spread out across CHS, from what little data I could restore from the destroyed device I mentioned in the email. The issue is that the highest energy concentrations occur at the statue, here-" She motioned to one point on the map "-and somewhere within the CHS building. Although the statue has a distinct signal, it is relatively weak compared to the constant output located inside the central building. I need to get inside CHS and take readings to find the source, and figure out the full nature of the energy's source."

Twilight continued her discussion, explaining how she'd managed to triangulate the exact source of the energy signature. However, Cinch only half-listened, long practice in parent-teacher conferences and board meetings giving her an ear for details, even when her attention was focused elsewhere. While Twilight explained her methodology, Cinch pulled a small thumb drive out of one pocket, and carefully inserted into the back of Twilight's desktop. She then turned to face her student as she concluded with her discussion.

"Ms. Sparkle, though I understand your need to gain access to the CHS school building, I don't think it would be a good idea to go during the school day-" Cinch hazarded. "Wouldn't it be just as effective to go after school hours?" Inwardly, Cinch grinned. Ms. Sparkle should be able to steal their research if she goes after hours- and I know none of Celestia's brats won't be able to keep up with my- our resident genius.

However, her hopes were dashed as Twilight shook her head. "My brother, Shining Armor, said that should anything go wrong, I'll need to have an official escort. My last device malfunctioned when large amounts of the new energy blew out the internal energy buffers. If it had blown up while I was in the school, it could have caused serious damage."

Cinch allowed a tiny frown to grace her features. If one of my top students got arrested for vandalism... "Shining Armor is an alumni of the school, correct?" At Twilight's nod, she continued. "Then I suggest we follow his advice. I will arrange for you to have a day off tomorrow, and see to it that you have a guide at CHS." She turned, and walked back to the door, and, as an afterthought, turned back. "Good luck, Ms. Sparkle. I have every confidence that you will succeed in figuring this puzzle out."

As Cinch walked out, Twilight shuddered slightly. Cinch had left off two words from her last sentence, but Twilight had still heard them, clear as a bell.

Or else.

Sunset leaned against the statue plinth, looking across at the drive in front of the building. Applejack leaned up next to her, watching ht approach of Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. Rainbow was grumbling under her breath. As they approached, Rainbow turned a glare on Sunset. "Dammit, Sunset..."

Sunset blinked. "Look I'm sorry about the headache, Rainbow, but-"

"No, I know it's not your fault." Rainbow cut her off. "It's just- you absolutely shredded on your guitar at Tuesday night practice. You tried to play through this headache- and succeeded." She pulled in a ragged breath "How the hell did you do that? I can barely run, much less play!"

"...Don't know what to tell you, Dash. I've always had pretty good pain tolerance- helped me a lot when learning fire spells."

"Well, at least Shy was around to patch me off after I tried flying with this headache." Dash said nonchalantly, looking out over the school.

There was a brief pause as Sunset and Applejack stared at Rainbow Dash. Applejack was the first to speak up. "Dash- what the hell do you mean by flying?"

Rainbow looked back at her friends and gave a brief chuckle. "Well... ever since the Battle of the Bands we've been able to pony up by rocking out, right? So whenever I got bored, I'd shred a few riffs, transform, and go for a fly- to clear my head." She shook her head. "Only lasts for a few minutes- so you can't exercise or work out stress, but flying's awesome." She grinned, but the expression soon faded. "I thought- maybe if I ponied up and flew, I might make my magic work." She looked down at her hands. "But- no dice. I got maybe ten feet up before the headache got real bad, real fast. Fell like a brick."

"I've watched her fly a few times." Fluttershy added. "I went with her to make sure she got home safe." She looked down at her own hands- and Sunset could see the odd lines of old burns running across them. "Dash broke her ankle when she fell- and I patched her up."

Sunset took Fluttershy's hands in her own, and examined the small burns which tracked across them. "Fluttershy, you can't use your magic anymore, do you understand? I don't want you to hurt yourself."

Sunset heard no response from her shy friend. She looked up, intending to repeat herself, but instead found her staring into a set of composed blue eyes. This wasn't the stare, simply the look of someone so well-centered that no objection will deter them. Fluttershy spoke quietly "Sunset... I can't do that." She slowly pulled her hands from Sunset's. "If someone's hurt- I have to help them. I think- that may be why my powers are what they are- I can't help but help. You reminded me of that- remember? I can't stay silent- can't do nothing- when I can help."

"But- your hands-"

"I don't like it either. But it's a small price to pay." Fluttershy stepped back, then turned and leaned against the plinth beside her friends.

A sudden sniff drew The girls' gazes towards the white-clad girl standing nearby. Rarity looked a mess- bags were evident beneath her eyes, and her hair was more frazzled than usual. The tears streaming down her face, however, and the broad smile on her lips, told a different story. "Darling , that was wonderful!" Fluttershy hid behind her hair as Rarity scooped her into a hug. "Oooh, if only I could be as inspired with my work as you seem to be! Ooh!"

"Yeah! You go, Shyshy!" Pausing, all five girls looked up to see an obnoxiously cheerful Pinkie Pie hanging over the edge of the statue, looking down at her friends.

"...How did you get up there?" Applejack asked.

"I dunno."

'Was it like that thing you did this morning? Did you get home safe?"

"Yuperoonie! Or at least, I think so- see, as far as I can tell, as long as no one's looking, I can pull off all sorts of neat tricks!"

Rainbow Dash blinked. "So... you got your magic? And it lets you teleport if no one's looking?"

"Yeah, but I really don't think it's that simple." The pink girl stopped and cocked her head. "By the way, those are all good questions, but they're the wrong questions."

After a few perplexed seconds, Rainbow hazarded a response. "...What's the right question, then?"

"Is that the tardy bell?"

All five girls on the ground froze as the last bell before class began sounded. With hardly a word, all of them set off on a mad dash for the front of the school. All of them, with the exception of Pinkie, who instead waited a few moments, then said, "Okay, someone's still watching me. But there's no one around-"

Celestia massaged her temple as she stared at the phone in front of her. There were many types of conversations she tried to make as infrequent as possible, including discussions concerning her diet, parent-teacher conferences, and reviews from the local administrator. However, this particular conversation could not be put off. The person who reached out to her had friends in high and strange places, and she knew rejecting the call would have irritating and possibly dangerous consequences.

Steeling herself, Celestia pressed the speaker button. "Principal Cinch. What a pleasure to speak with you."

"Do not bother with pleasantries, Celestia." Cinch's cool tones rang from the speaker. "I know this is a bit of a bother to you, but I do need your attention for a bit." A tiny edge of scorn rang through Cinch's next sentence. "After all, I'm sure you need to keep a tight ship after that incident in December."

"Anon-A-Miss has been dealt with, Abacus. That particular problem has been resolved." Celsetia massaged her brow for a moment, knowing Cinch couldn't see her. "And if we are going to skip the pleasantries, we can save time by skipping the barbs as well, don't you think?"

"Agreed. Now then, to put it simply, one of my students has discovered a new energy source around Canterlot, focused on CHS."

Celestia froze. New energy? That- wait. Magic. One of Cinch's students has discovered the magic around CHS- oh sh-

Cinch continued, unaware of the cold sweat breaking out on Celestia's brow. "Now, according to my student, this energy is of a completely unknown type. She would like to get a more in-depth study of the energy at the source, but such a study required access to your school building."

Oh hell. Having a Crystal Prep student poking around the school will end-

"So, in the interest of scientific cooperation, I ask that you provide a guide to Ms. Twilight Sparkle and her brother so that they might further her research into the matter of this energy. Do you have any objections?"

Celestia's mind froze, then began spinning even faster. Twilight Sparkle? How could she be- wait. There was my counterpart who showed up a few weeks back- it would make sense that Twilight would have a counterpart on this side. I can't refuse her request, but I might be able to get her the answers she wants without causing a scene. Aloud, Celestia promptly responded. "That seems doable. However, we still need to work out an appropriate date and time..."

"I'm certain one of your students can take time out of their rigorous academic careers to guide my student around tomorrow." There was a brief pause, and Cinch continued. "After all, there's no reason to wait before this miraculous discovery has time to hide, don't you think?"

Implied threat, check. Paranoia, check. Does Cinch think I'm trying to spite Crystal Prep again? "I understand perfectly, Abacus. I'll have someone ready to escort your student to any public part of the school tomorrow."

"Good. I look forward to seeing you later this year, Celestia."

Looking forward to adding another trophy to Crystal Prep's hall, you mean. "And I as well." Liar. "Goodbye, Abacus."

As her phone conversation ended, Celestia quickly stood up and walked to Luna's door. Cracking it open, she spoke quickly to her sister. "Luna, we need to talk. And then, we're going to need to speak to Sunset Shimmer."

Apple Bloom looked across at her friends, huddled up at one of the outside picnic tables during lunch. Last year, the Crusaders had met in the cafeteria, but after the events of Anon-A-Miss, they knew they wouldn't be so easily welcome. Although none of the other students had gone out of her way to attack the girls (word of Principal Celestia's punishment to anyone who did deterred most would-be bullies) that didn't deter the harsh looks, casual snubs, and angry insults aimed at the three underclassmen. As such, whenever possible, the three girls took solace away from the other students. None of the other students had claimed picnic tables outside in the January chill, so the girls felt safe enough to eat outside.

Sweetie bell morosely picked at her salad. Although Rarity hadn't placed too much blame on Sweetie's shoulders, she'd wholeheartedly agreed with the punishments her parents had handed down. In addition to the loss of her cell phone, the littlest Crusader had lost her allowance, and wasn't allowed any sweets- leaving her with a simple salad, soup, and water for lunch. Apple Bloom's lunch hadn't changed- but unlike her sisters, she'd been expected to feed the pigs and cattle that morning, and the early hours took their toll on the redhead. Apple Bloom went to bed much earlier then usual, but after being up for six hours, she was already yawing a bit as she dug into her sandwich.

Scootaloo, however, had it the worst out of the three girls. Besides her punishments, which involved both physical training by her mom (a former army officer and physical therapist) and revocation of her allowance and phone, the purple-haired Crusader hadn't heard a word from Rainbow Dash in several weeks. Rainbow had studiously avoided Scootaloo- and Scoots had no idea how to break the silence between her and her idol. While Flash still supported his baby sister, Scootaloo was missing the presence of someone she thought of as another sibling- one whose absence drove home how stupid her revenge-driven actions had been.

Sweetie Belle finally gave up chewing her spinach, and set her food aside. "Hey, Apple Bloom?"

"Hmm?" Apple Bloom mumbled around a mouthful of bread. "Swallowing, she glanced at Sweetie." What's up?"

"Do you know what happened to Rarity last night? She was almost sick when she got back from practice with the Rainbooms."

Apple Bloom looked up, even as Scootaloo turned her attention back to her friends. "What- she didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"Apparently, Sunset accidentally gave them all magic yesterday."

There was a brief pause, and Apple Bloom went back to eating her sandwich. Scootaloo broke the silence. "Wait- she gave them magic? How? And what'd ya mean, accidentally? How does that work?"

Sweetie piped up. "And why did that make my sister sick?"

Between bites of her sandwich, Apple Bloom sketched out the events as Sunset had explained to her family the night before. Finishing her last bite, she wrapped up with "So, Sunset told me that she thinks anyone who got touched by magic before might be able to get it now- and that the headaches were signs that the magic was tryin' to get out. Rarity must not have used her magic yet- Sunset lost her headache, but mah sis- Ah mean, Applejack hasn't, so she's still nursin' one."

As Sweetie Belle pestered Apple Bloom for more details, Scootaloo found herself lost in thought. We've all been touched by magic, right? Everyone in the school, what with the sirens and Demon Sunset controlling everyone's mind. How easy will it be for someone not a Rainboom to get magic?

Her eyes widened. And what would happen if one of us got it?