Sunset Shimmer looked around the cafeteria table at her friends and breathed a sigh of relief.
She was glad to have the business with the Memory Stone behind them. Of course, like all the magical mishaps they found themselves in, some good did come out of it. A reunion between Sunset and Princess Celestia finally happened. Sunset learned the lesson that there's a difference between being neutral and being nice. Not to mention that she could be good friends with the Great and Powerful Trixie. Who knew that was possible?
Things were back to normal now, which Sunset was determined to enjoy. She finished her lunch and pushed her tray to the side, ready for some reading. Sunset reached into her backpack and fished out a centuries-old book. She still couldn't believe Celestia and Luna not only permitted her to check it out of Canterlot Library's restricted section, but take it across the portal into another world. Surely it was a sign of her earned trust. Sunset would guard it with her life in that case.
"I'm going to read until lunch ends, if you guys don't mind," Sunset thoughtfully announced. Wouldn't want anybody mistaking her reading time with standoffishness, after all.
"No prob, SunShim," Rainbow Dash said coolly. In truth, Rainbow was a bit envious of how both Twilight and Sunset could read out in the open. Sure her friends knew all about her love for Daring Do, but movies were one thing and books were another. She still had a reputation around CHS to keep, after all. One in which being an egghead wasn't included.
"Wow, that book appears ancient," Twilight Sparkle noted with interest.
Sunset chuckled as she opened it. "Oh, it is. It's a history book from Equestria."
"Interesting." Twilight still had a million questions about Sunset's native world. Of course, she tried to hold herself back, opting to sprinkle in just a few per conversation. She knew very well that if she wasn't careful, she'll spend all day bombarding Sunset. "What's the title?"
"Canterlot Cantabiles, Volume 31," Sunset answered without looking up.
The sound of a few spoons, lipstick, and an apple simultaneously hitting the table rang out. Sunset quickly looked up. Surrounding her was the faces of her friends, filled with various stages of confusion, shock, and utter horror.
"Uh, what?" Sunset asked.
"What'd ya say that book was called again?" Applejack asked.
"Canterlot Cantabiles, Volume 31," Sunset repeated.
"Whoa, seriously?!" Rainbow shouted.
"Hardcore!" Pinkie Pie complemented(?)
"Please tell me yer foolin'," Applejack implored, unamused.
"Oh, ponies, no..." Fluttershy whimpered.
"Sunset..." Twilight uttered in disbelief. "How, wha...?"
"Nope, darlings," Rarity announced, throwing her hands up. She immediately got up and left.
The eyes of very much confused Sunset darted around to each of her remaining friends. "Um, what's the problem here?"
"Is that kind of thing... common within your world?" Twilight asked.
Sunset shrugged. "Enough for thirty-one plus volumes."
"Oooooh, so ours is a dog eat dog world and yours is a horse eat horse world?" Pinkie giggled.
Applejack slapped the table. "Now Ah'm sorry, Sunset, but mah horses don't eat nuttin' they share a stable with!"
"Wait, what are you guys talking about exactly?" Sunset asked, increasingly confused.
Twilight rubbed the back of her neck, uncomfortably. "Well, Sunset, it's just that after all the incredible things you've told about your world's Canterlot, it's quite jarring to hear that cannibalism is casually practiced."
"Wouldn't you rather eat carrots?" Fluttershy suggested with hope.
Sunset's eyes widened. Cannibalism?! Where the heck did they get CANNIBALISM from?!
"So, quick question," Rainbow began with a sheepish smile. "Earth ponies, unicorns, or pegasi... which taste better?"
"Rainbow Dash!" Applejack scolded.
"Still nope!" Rarity called from the safe distance of two tables over.
"Oh, like I'm the only curious one here!" Rainbow defended.
Sunset shook her head. "Guys, guys, guys! Wherever you got this idea from, it's not – "
Pinkie shot up and frantically waved her hand in the air. "Follow up question! Follow up question!! How are the ponies prepared?"
"Pinkie..." Sunset growled, feeling as if a migraine was coming on.
In a split second, Pinkie zipped up into Sunset's face. "No really! Could you barbecue them, boil them, broil them, bake them, sauté them? Are there pony kabobs, pony creole, pony gumbo, pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried? Is there pineapple pony, lemon pony, coconut pony, pepper pony, pony soup, pony stew, pony salad, pony and potatoes, pony burger, pony sandwich...?" She paused. "Is that about it?"
At that moment, the Crusaders were passing by on their way to return their trays when they noticed the commotion at the older girls' table.
"What're ya guys talkin' about?" Apple Bloom asked.
"Sunset's a cannibal," Rainbow casually replied.
The three freshmen appeared horrified for a moment before grinning at each other as if opportunity had struck.
"Cannibal, you say?" Apple Bloom said, stroking her chin.
"I sure do hope Anon-A-Miss doesn't catch wind of that," Sweetie Belle mischievously said.
"We're so not Anon-A-Miss, by the way!" Scootaloo suddenly spat, unconvincingly.
An annoyed Apple Bloom elbowed Scootaloo in the arm before quickly ushering both her blockheaded friends away. Sunset groaned and turned her attention back to her own confounding comrades.
"So, seriously, which pony type is tastiest?" Rainbow demanded.
"Pony cupcakes?" Pinkie gleefully asked with a slight eye twitch.
"Nice crunchy carrots?" Fluttershy suggested once more.
"Subject change, please!" Rarity called from now three tables away.
"Y'all ponies need religion," Applejack flatly stated.
Sunset clutched her head. She felt as if her brain was about to explode. How did they get from talking about a book to this? Were her friends crazy? Was she crazy? Could Equestrian magic be warping reality? What was even happening anymore?
"Wait, everyone," Twilight spoke up. She got up, went over, and gently placed her hands on Sunset's shoulders. "Sunset is our friend. We know her. We've been through way more than most friends could ever imagine together with her. Should we really be making a big deal over what her culture does?"
Sunset rolled her eyes. "Twilight, my 'culture' doesn't – "
"Shouldn't we be living up to such ideals as love and tolerance?" Twilight continued. "After all, should we truly be the ones casting the first stone? Have we or have we not as humans practiced cannibalism throughout our own history?"
Around the table, reluctant nods and mutters of agreement were exchanged. Even Rarity began to inch back over.
"It does happen in our nature as well," Fluttershy admitted before adding in a slightly disturbed tone, "As much as cute, fluffy animals eating each other freaks me out on the inside..."
"Look around," Twilight directed, motioning her hands about the table. "We have a tomboy jock, a chronic partier, a hard-working southerner, a glamourous fashionista, a meek animal advocate, and, if I may say so myself, an accomplished scientific genius. Our group is the epitome of diversity and we should be honored to include an equine cannibal!"
Sunset pinched the bridge of her nose. "Twi, stop."
"All civilizations have their unique perspectives that could enrich the lives of the open-minded." Twilight smiled broadly as she picked up the ancient Equestrian tome. "And I don't know about you girls, but I for one think it would be a privilege to learn more about Sunset Shimmer's proud and cherished tradition of can – " She glanced at the title and paused. Her brow furrowed in thought for a moment before she grew a stoic expression. "Sunset?"
"You were mispronouncing the title."
Sunset raised an eyebrow. "Huh? What do you mean?"
Twilight faced the front of the book toward Sunset and pointed to the title's second 'c' word. "This word isn't said the way it's spelled. It's proper pronunciation is 'kahn-tah-bi-leys'. The way you were saying it made it sound like you were saying 'cannibals'."
A slight blush came across Sunset's face. "Oh..."
Twilight handed back the book and promptly took her seat. An awkward silence befell the table. Twilight was embarrassed that she had launched into a cultural understanding speech for nothing. Applejack was wondering if she had come off as a bigot by bringing up her horses and religion. Rarity was ashamed how she just walked off on her friend like she did. Fluttershy was trying to get the image of ponies gnawing on each other out of her head. Pinkie was busy trying to catch her eye floaters...
"So hypothetically then..." Rainbow finally broke the silence. "... pegasi would taste better than earth ponies, right?"
Applejack smacked the back of Rainbow's head.