Spectacular Seven

by The Albinocorn


19. Hollow Heart

True to their word, her friends came back the next day, bringing the Lulamoons with them. To Sunset’s surprise, Trixie gave her a hug almost as strong as Pinkie’s. She quickly pulled herself off and cleared her throat.

“That was from all of us. Mostly Mom and Dad. Trixie is just glad you’re not a useless vegetable anymore.”

“How ya feelin’ today, sugarcube?” Applejack asked.

“A little better. Still sore and tired, and I can’t eat solid foods for a little while.” Sunset smiled weakly. “But it could be worse. I’m just glad to be awake again.”

“And we’re so glad to have you back!” Artemis exclaimed. “It’s like the clouds have lifted and the sun is smiling again! We must celebrate the moment you get out of this hospital!”

“I’m already on it!” Pinkie said. “One super-duper, ‘Welcome Back, Sunset, We Missed You a Whole Lot’ party complete with a triple layer strawberry cake and tons of red and yellow balloons, coming up!”

Artemis laughed. “I like this one!”

Sunset ran her fingers back and forth across the blanket Rarity and Fluttershy had made for her. “That sounds great, Pinkie. But, umm, I still have something I need to tell you guys.”

“Yeah, like what happened to you,” Rainbow said. Applejack elbowed her in the arm. “What? She offered!”

“You’re right, I did.” Sunset put her hands together. She really didn’t want to bring down the mood, but they had to know. “It’s long, and I don’t really know why it all happened to me.” She paused, gathering her thoughts.

“I was walking through the park on the way back from Twilight’s house...” She paused, her memory slightly hazy. She remembered leaving in a bad mood, but couldn’t recall why.  She shook her head. “That’s when I ran into Shimmer. Which reminds me, I forgot to tell you guys—”

“She’s Lamia,” Rainbow finished. “Yeah, Selena told us.”

Sunset dropped her head lower. “Sorry. I didn’t meant to keep it a secret. She—”

“Blackmailed you,” Rainbow finished again. “It’s cool, Sunset, seriously. Stop apologizing.”

“Right, sorry. I mean… right. Shimmer and I fought, and she won. Then she called some woman named Tempest, who I guess has magic, because she can make portals from darkness or something. They took me to… somewhere, and tried to force me to use my dark magic. It’s a little hazy, but I think they wanted me to turn back into a demon, but I refused.”

She allowed herself a small smile. “I didn’t give in, thanks to all of you.” Her smile fell at the hesitant expressions her friends gave her. “What is it?”

“Nothing, darling!” Rarity said, her voice an octave too high for Sunset’s comfort. “We’re so proud of your effort!”

“We can’t not tell her,” Applejack said.

“Tell me what?”

Applejack ran a hand down her face. “Ah don’t know to put it nicely, Sunset, but when you were gone… you’re demon came around and attacked us.”

The room fell so quiet, even the heart monitor stopped beeping. A quiet, “Oh,” was all Sunset could muster. She didn’t have control over her body during that time. She supposed Tempest could have done whatever she wanted with it, including forcing her to attack her friends.

“It wasn’t you,” Twilight said before Sunset’s tears could start to fall. “I know it wasn’t. You would never attack us, no matter what. So don’t blame yourself.”

Sunset wasn’t one-hundred percent sold, but didn’t have time to dwell on it and prove Twilight wrong. She took a deep breath and continued. “When I refused to cooperate, Tempest pulled out this amulet.” She made a weak furrow of her brow. “This is where things get really weird. The amulet is called the Soul Lock, and it has—”

“The power to take people’s souls,” Artemis finished, all the blood gone from his face. “The instrument of Tirek.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Rainbow made a T with her hands. “Time out. You had your soul taken? That’s why you were in a coma?”

“And who the heck is Tirek?” Applejack asked.

“A dark sorcerer who tried to usurp the gods and become one himself,” Artemis said. “Our ancestors stopped him twice before but... “ He looked over at Sunset. “But how do you know all that?”

“Because when my soul was in there, I met Apalla,” Sunset said gently. “She told me everything.”

Selena caught Artemis as he staggered back, a hand against his chest. “You… you saw…? But she’s dead. She died in a car accident. How is her soul in there?”

“Tempest wanted her husband’s help. Apalla tried to warn him, but Tempest took her soul. I don’t know if she’s using it as leverage against him or not at this point.”

Artemis slouched over like he had been kicked several times in the stomach. “I don’t believe it. Trapped all this time and I didn’t know. And Moondancer… maybe that’s why she’s been so distant ever since.”

Rainbow held a hand up. “Okay, so the soul sucking thing I get is bad. But why does this Tirek guy want them?”

“Souls are the most powerful type of magic,” Sunset said. “Tirek uses that amulet to make himself stronger by feeding on souls. Tempest wants to resurrect him somehow.”

“And if she does, he will bring about the end of all,” Selena said grimly.

“Unless we find the Rainbow of Light,” Artemis added.

Rarity sat down in one of the spare chairs. “Goodness, that’s a lot to take in. I never imagined Sunset going missing would snowball into all of this.”

“Which begs the next question: how did you get out?” Selena asked.

“Apalla helped me,” Sunset said simply. “Well, I guess all of you helped me. The strength of our friendship helped pull me out.”

“Amazing,” Artemis said with a watery smile. He wiped his eyes. “So simple… yet an idea that would easily be overlooked. Apalla would be the one to discover it. She was always more curious about the ‘how’ of magic.”

“Okay. So, this crazy lady named Tempest wants to bring back this crazy sorcerer named Tirek,” Rainbow said. “What do we do about it?”

Artemis straightened up. “We have to find the Rainbow of Light. It’s the only thing capable of stopping him if he is brought back with his full power.”

Pinkie folded her arms and frowned, looking more serious than Sunset was used to seeing from her. “Wait… so if this Tirek meany was here before, and his amulet is super scary and bad… why didn’t you just destroy it? I hear volcanoes are good at stuff like that.”

And in a rare moment of surliness that also caught Sunset off guard, Artemis said in almost a growl, “Contrary to what popular fiction would have you believe, you can’t just destroy magical items you don’t like.”

“Why not? We did with the Sirens’ pendant things,” Rainbow said.

Artemis sighed. “Well, the magic you wield comes from another world entirely. Maybe it works differently there. But here, you can’t just toss things in volcanoes and not expect consequences. The Soul Lock is an extremely complicated piece of magical enchantment. It’s the culmination of hundreds of interweaving spells, and serves as a gate to a special pocket dimension. Trying to break it with raw force could creating a devastating backlash of magic!”

Rainbow gulped. “How devastating?”

“Nuclear bomb levels of devastating,” Artemis said grimly. “Or, it’ll force the pocket dimension to touch the physical plain, and potentially rip apart the surrounding space-time continuum.”

“Okay, so no destroying the Soul Lock,” Applejack said, rubbing the back of a hyperventilating Fluttershy. “Got it. Any idea where we can find that Rainbow of Light thing?”

Trixie shook her head. “It has been lost to our family for generations.” She raised a hand to the ceiling, curling her fingers. “It has been the dream of every Lulamoon since to find it and reclaim our family’s legacy!”

Rarity let out a distressed giggle. “Okay, so, no Rainbow of Light. Do we have a plan B?”

Artemis adjusted his hat. “Find this Tempest character before she can resurrect Tirek. Though, I’m not sure how she plans to go about it. There’s not nearly enough magic to cast something so powerful.”

Sunset saw Trixie’s eyes double in size and her cheeks turn pale. It lasted a split second before she returned to looking like nothing was wrong. No one else seemed to have noticed, and Sunset wanted to inquire what Trixie had thought of, but a sharp glare told her to drop it.

Doctor Stables came in and told them all Sunset still needed plenty of rest. While Sunset did still feel exhausted, she would have preferred their company instead of being alone. They all bid her farewell, promising to return tomorrow, and Twilight kissed her on the cheek. She didn’t say ‘I love you’ again, but Sunset could see it in her eyes. She wanted to say something, anything to Twilight, but her tongue was glued to the top of her mouth. Instead, she smiled and waved her out.

The room seemed impossibly small with everyone gone. It was also too quiet, save for the heart monitor still attached to her. The conversation hadn’t been cheerful, but having all of her friends surround her almost made her feel normal. On her own, all she could think about was the hollow feeling her emotions brought. She had been wrong. A night’s sleep had not made things better.

Perhaps this was just an adverse effect of coming out of the Soul Lock. Maybe Sunset just needed time to readjust. She told herself that was the case, having no other explanation for her stunted emotions or missing memory.

She yawned and flexed her arms. They were still stiff, but she could move them without too much difficulty. She still needed assistance walking down the hall, and her stomach could only handle soft foods like mashed potatoes and creamed corn. But, Doctor Stable said she would be out soon, and that brought a small smile to Sunset’s face.

There was a knock on her door, and Doctor Stables poked his head in. “Sorry to bother you, Miss Shimmer, but you have one more visitor for the day.”

Sunset blinked curiously at him. All of her friends had just left; who else could want to see her?

Opening the door wider, Doctor Stables let in Shining Armor, dressed in his suit and tie, and his detective badge pinned to his chest. The doctor smiled apologetically before closing the door and leaving them alone.

“Hey, Sunset,” Shining said with a smile. He pulled a chair up to her bedside. “How are you?”

“I’m…” The words faded on her breath. She looked down at her hands and sighed. “I don’t know.”

Shining put one hand over hers. “It’s okay. You’ve been through a lot. But you’re a tough fighter. You’ll pull through this too.”

Sunset kept her head down. “Part of me feels like… I’m not really here. It’s… hard to feel things. I should be happy I’m awake and have so many people to greet me. But, I’m just… okay.”

“Maybe you’re still in shock.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

Shining rubbed a thumb against the back of her hand. “Just remember, all of us are here for you. Even me.”

Sunset looked up and offered him a small smile of appreciation. “Thanks.” She could remember his cold attitude toward her a few months ago and felt that, even if she wasn’t in her current state, she wouldn’t begrudge him for it. The relief in his eyes was very sincere.

He removed his hand from hers and sighed, looking away. “That was big brother Shining talking. Officer Shining came here for a more pressing reason.”

Sunset nodded slowly. “You want to know about what happened.”

“Anything you can tell me,” Shining said, soft but firm. “It’s not an interrogation. We just want to know.”

There was a lot Sunset could tell him. But how much would he believe? She could vaguely remember the night she had told him of her origins. She couldn’t remember the events that led up to her sitting in his car, but knew she had told him of her unicorn heritage. Still, this was another layer of strangeness entirely.

Sunset took a deep breath and said, “When I was going home, I…. Shining, even if I tell you, I don’t think you’ll be able to tell anyone else.”

Shining put a hand to his temple. “Oh no. It’s about to get weird, isn’t it?”

“Yep.”

He groaned. “Well, tell me anyways. I want to know out concern. I’ll see what I can spin for the rest of the department.”

“All right.” And Sunset launched into an explanation of what had happened, telling him about Lamia being this world’s version of her, Tempest Shadow, and the removal of her soul. She remained vague about Apalla and Tirek, feeling that was too much magic for him.

Shining interrupted occasionally to ask questions, but he remained focused the whole time. When Sunset finished, he let out a slow breath.

“That’s quite the ordeal, Sunset. I’m sorry you had to go through all that. But, I’m even more relieved that you’re okay now.”

“Thank you.” She leaned back in her bed. “So, what now?”

Shining hummed. “Well, I can’t exactly tell everyone your evil twin kidnapped you. That’ll lead to even more questions. No, I think I can pin all of this on Tempest. Sounds like she’s the mastermind anyway.”

Sunset frowned. Concern, easily recognizable cut through her. “Shining, be careful. She’s dangerous. I just got back, I don’t want to think about what would happen to Twilight if you lost your soul.”

Shining stood and smiled appreciatively. “Come on, Sunset. We deal with dangerous criminals all the time.” In a more serious voice he said, “I’ll have them all know not to get to close to her if they spot her. But I figure tracking her down is going to be the hard part.”

“I’m sorry. I wish I could tell you where they took me.”

“Hey, no need to apologize. You’ve been through a lot, and gave me a lot of information.”

“Sorry you can’t use it all.”

Shining put a hand on her shoulder. “Come on, Sunset, stop apologizing; it’s fine.”

“Sor—right.” She cleared her throat. “Glad I could do something useful.”

“A little better,” Shining said slowly. “Get some rest, kiddo. I’ll see you later.”

Sunset waved as he left. With the police and Artemis tracking Tempest down, maybe Tirek would never get the chance to resurface. She then thought of Apalla, waiting in the Soul Lock. Would that mean her sacrifice was in vein?

“Tirek will come again someday.”

Sunset reclined the bed, getting ready for sleep. If they prevented him from coming back now… who would stop him later? If the Soul Lock couldn’t be destroyed, was this cycle endless?

Much like concern, fear made itself well known in Sunset’s stomach.

*******

The hospital released Sunset on Sunday after she could walk up and down the halls without feeling exhausted and could process soft vegetables. True to her word, Pinkie had a party ready for her when she stepped back into the Lulamoon household. She looked up at herself; a large banner with her face on it surrounded by the words ‘Welcome Home.’

Spot was the first to greet her, running around her legs and pawing nonstop while he made whines of joy. Sunset scooped him up and held him close, letting him lick her face nonstop. Twilight, of course, was next to greet Sunset, kissing her on the lips, the one place Spot hadn’t gotten to.

Sunset still hadn’t responded to Twilight’s declaration of love, not only out of uncertainty about her current temperament, but also because there had not been a good time. They had not been alone since Sunset had first woken up.

Sunset wanted to tell Twilight she loved her, yet the way she felt now made it seem like a partial lie. Was idle contentment and half-hearted joy really love?

She snapped out of her thoughts when Twilight took her by the hand and led her deeper into the party. Red and gold streamers and balloons clashed against the blue walls of the house. In the kitchen, a spread of food had been laid out, most of them soft or squishy so Sunset could consume them. On the table sat Sunset’s strawberry cake, pink with white frosting and topped with strawberries.

No one spoke of Tirek or Lamia or Tempest that night. They joked and laughed and danced and ate. Or rather, Sunset passively watched as her friends did most of those things. She ate and listened in on conversations, but didn’t do much talking herself.

“Are you feeling okay?” Twilight asked, bringing her slice of cake.

Sunset took it and poked at the strawberry with her fork. She wanted to be honest, even if she couldn’t put it into words. “I don’t know. I feel… off? Maybe I was asleep too long.”

Twilight rested against Sunset’s shoulder. “You just need a little time to adjust. You’ll get better soon.”

“I hope so.” She took a bite of her cake. The taste seemed a little duller than she remembered.

Flash, Shining, Cadence, and even Maud stopped by to celebrate for a little while, expressing their relief in different ways. Cadence gave Sunset a bone-crushing hug and a smile that one gave when they knew something. Shining also gave her a hug, albeit, much gentler. Flash played her a short song he had wrote. Maud gifted Sunset with rock.

“It’s a sign of affection in many cultures,” she said. She patted Sunset on the shoulder, waved to Pinkie, and left without another word.

Pinkie bounded over and gasped at the rock in Sunset’s hand. “That’s from her personal collection! She must really like you, Sunny!”

“Yaay?”

The party wore down around nine o’clock, with Selena reminding them they still had school in the morning. Sunset saw each of her friends out, receiving a hug from each of them. With Cadence and Shining watching, Twilight kept her kiss short.

“I’m so glad you’re back,” she said as she pulled away.

“I’m glad to be back. I’m actually looking forward to school tomorrow.” Having a normal routine again would be a welcome change from sitting and doing nothing most of the day. As all her friends drove away, Sunset returned inside, finding all of the decorations had already vanished.

Artemis twirled his wand before sliding it into his pocket. “That was fun. We should host more parties in the future. Providing we have one.”

“What are we going to do about Tirek?” Trixie asked.

You—” Artemis pointed strictly at her “—are not going to do anything. Your mother and I will handle this.”

Trixie crossed her arms and huffed. “That’s what you said about the Sirens.”

“Yes, and compared to what might come next, they’re merely an opening act. There is no defense against the Soul Lock. I consider it a miracle Sunset escaped from it. I want you nowhere near this fight if I can help it! Besides, I’m not sure what course of action we have yet.”

Trixie pouted and made a unsatisfactory croak in her throat, but said nothing else. Sunset nodded in agreement, however. She wanted nothing more to do with soul sucking warlocks and the end of the world. She had passed on Apalla’s message, her job was done. Now all she had to worry about were the last weeks of school. She had a lot of homework to catch up on.

Sunset went up to her room, finding it neater than when she had left. Her clothes had been washed, her bed made, and all the dust had been cleared away. She gave a silent thanks to Selena and settled on her bed, Spot accompanying her. She looked over at the princess doll sitting on her dresser.

It looked at her like it wanted to say something. Sunset shook her head, finding the idea ridiculous. Why would a stuffed doll talk to her?

*******

Sunset ran, her heart battering against her chest in an effort to get free. She didn’t know why she was running, or what from. She just knew she had to get away before it got her.

Thick gray fog surrounded Sunset on all sides. Shadows unregulated just beyond the fog: unrecognizable blobs of varying shapes and sizes. In the distance in front of her was a faint light. Sunset ran toward it. She had to reach it at all costs.

The fog grew denser, and the shadows moved closer, still formless. Sunset picked up her speed. It was getting closer. The road in front of her started to crumble, falling away in pieces and chunks. Sunset jumped from one safe spot to another, desperate to keep moving forward.

A faint laugh echoed behind her, but Sunset didn’t dare look back. The light steadily grew nearer. Sunset stretched her hand out.

A hand grabbed the back of her neck and swung her around. Her own face looked back at her, grinning with twisted glee, malice glinting in her eyes. She lifted the golden medallion that was the Soul Lock, and Sunset writhed in pain.

She was being torn in half, splitting apart from her heart! The other her just laughed, growing louder over her screams. The ground fell away, and Sunset dropped into darkness, her body limp and useless. She watched it fall, then held up her soul, examining the cracks in it.

Then, she crushed it.

Sunset bolted upright, clutching her heart. Spot was by her side immediately, rubbing himself against her arm. She gulped down several breaths of air before lying back against the headboard.

“It’s okay, Spot. It’s okay,” she croaked. “I’m…” She was far from okay. She knew she had experienced nightmares before, but not like that. The pain almost felt real, and it magnified the emptiness she felt.

She aimlessly stroked Spot and stared into the darkness. “What’s wrong with me?”

*******

Students fell silent and stared as Sunset walked onto campus. Many of them at least waved and gave her a warm greeting, but the majority looked on in surprise or uncertainty, like they weren’t sure how say hello to someone who had come back from a coma. Their stares got uncomfortable after a while, and Sunset squirmed as she sat down in her history class, feeling everyone’s eyes on her.

“Welcome back, Miss Shimmer,” Mr. Noteworthy said, sparring her only a short glance. “You’ve been gone for a while so see me after class to find out what you’ve missed. Now then…”

Sunset figured she’d be doing that for all of her classes. Rarity was kind enough to let Sunset read over her notes so she at least had an understanding of what they were talking about that day. English was a little easier to integrate back into, and Miss Cheerilee was more sympathetic and willing to help Sunset catch up.

Come lunch, people seemed to have gotten over their initial shock and walked up to the Spectacular Seven’s lunch table to welcome back Sunset. It was touching, but Sunset wished she had something else to say other than ‘thank you.’

She picked at her food with reluctance between interruptions, an action which did not go unnoticed by the rest of the table.

“Sugarcube, you okay?” Applejack asked.

“Huh? Oh, yeah. I’m… you know… just readjusting.”

Applejack looked far from convinced, but said nothing.

Static fizzled out of the intercom, preceding Principal Celestia’s voice. “Would Sunset Shimmer and Twilight Sparkle please report to the principal’s office? Thank you.”

Rainbow snickered. “You’ve been back for a day. What did you two do?”

“Nothing!” Twilight said, looking panicked. “We haven’t done anything! I haven’t done anything! Sunset, did you do something?”

“I don’t think so?”

Rarity waved a hand. “Relax, dears. I’m sure she just wants to personally welcome Sunset back.”

Twilight stood up, taking a deep breath. “You’re right. Sorry, I just never get called to the principal’s office. Come on, Sunnykins.”

Sunset rose as Rainbow let out a guffaw of laughter. She hoped Celestia just wanted to say hello. With her memory acting up, Sunset was worried she had done something to warrant punishment.

As they slipped out the cafeteria, Twilight took Sunset’s hand and gave it a light squeeze. Sunset discovered she still knew what Twilight was trying to convey, even with the emptiness in her.

“I’ll be okay,” Sunset said. She wasn’t sure who she was trying to convince more.

Celestia’s curtains were open as usual, letting light flood her room. She welcomed the girls with an equally radiant smile, her eyes fixating on Sunset. “Hello, girls. It’s wonderful to see you again, Sunset. I’m so glad you’re back home safe and sound.”

“Thank you, Miss Celestia. It’s really nice to be back.” She gave a quick side glance to Twilight, seeing a faint tremble in her shoulders. “We’re not in trouble, are we?”

“On the contrary. I have exciting news to share with both of you. Which means you can relax, Miss Sparkle.”

Twilight dropped her shoulders and breathed.

“With graduation just around the corner, Vice Principal Luna and I have been going through the student gradebooks to decide who will be our valedictorian and salutatorian for the graduating class.” Celestia focused her gaze on Twilight. “You’ve maintained a nearly straight A+ average since your freshman year at your previous school. It’s safe to say that the title of valedictorian goes to you, Miss Sparkle.”

“R-really?” A giddy smile broke out across Twilight’s face. “I get to be valedictorian? Yes!” She jumped out her chair and started skipping back and forth.

“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!” She quickly scrambled back into her seat and cleared her throat, cheeks burning red. “I mean, thank you. I humbly accept and pledge to keep my grades up all the way until the end.”

Celestia made a soft chuckle before turning to Sunset. “And while you’ve been absent for a few weeks, you were consistently at the top of your class, Sunset. Until Twilight came along at least. More than your grades, you’ve also shown the biggest personal growth of a student I’ve seen in quite some time. If you can catch up in your classes before finals, the position of salutatorian is yours.”

Sunset’s heart made a weak flutter. “Wow, I don’t know what to say. I’d be honored. I’ll try my hardest to catch up on my work, but I completely understand if you give it to someone more deserving.”

Twilight looped an arm around Sunset’s. “Don’t worry, I’ll help her catch up.”

Celestia laughed again. “I had a feeling you would. Both of you are required to give a speech. No longer than five minutes, please. You’ll both get sashes to go with you robes, and you’ll be at the head of the procession and sit at the front of crowd. This is all as long as you keep up your hard work.”

“Don’t worry, we will! Thank you so much for this honor!” Twilight said.

“And thank you for being exemplary students. I’m proud of both of you.” Celestia waved them toward the door. “Now go finish enjoying your lunch.” She looked forlornly at the stack of papers next to her. “I could use a break as well.”

Sunset and Twilight waved as they left. Once in the halls, Twilight jumped as high as she could and shouted, “Yes!” again. “Can you believe it? Out of all the students here, I’m the valedictorian and you’re the salutatorian! It couldn’t be more perfect!”

Sunset cracked a small smile. “Yeah. It’s pretty cool.”

Twilight stopped her celebratory dance and frowned. “You don’t sound that excited.” Her eyes doubled in size. “You’re not mad are you? I didn’t mean to gloat or anything! I know you worked really hard—”

“Twilight, relax, I’m not mad,” Sunset said softly. “I’m really happy for you, honest. You more than deserve this. I should be lucky I get to be salutatorian with all the things I’ve done.” Sunset took one of Twilight’s hands. “Honestly, you’re a perfect choice.”

“Thanks.” Twilight opened her mouth to say more but froze, her eyes widening again. “I have to give a speech. In front of hundreds of people.” Her cheeks turned a faint shade of green. “I change my mind, I don’t want to be valedictorian.”

Sunset paled as well. “Oh wow, almost forgot about that.” She gave a nervous tug on her collar. Public speaking didn’t use to scare her, did it? “I-I’m sure it’ll be fine. We can worry about that later.”

Twilight squeezed her hand. “Y-yeah, you’re right. We have to make sure you pass all your classes first. And Prom is this Saturday, we can’t forget that.”

Only Sunset had. It was hard to conceptualize just how much time had elapsed between her kidnapping and her awakening. The end of the school year was upon them, bringing with it and extra helping of chaos for seniors.

“So… umm…” Twilight twisted back and forth, twirling the skirt she was wearing. “I know it’s implied, but I just want to make sure so I don’t assume anything, so…” She gave Sunset her cutest smile, cheeks painted pink. “Sunset, will you go to Prom with me?”

Sunset nodded, her mouth dry. “Of course I’ll go with you.”

Twilight squeed and flung her arms around Sunset. “It’ll be so much fun! I can’t wait!” She nuzzled Sunset’s neck.

“Yeah. Me neither…”

*******

Their friends jumped at the news of their new honors, with Pinkie wanting to throw another celebration. Sunset politely declined this time, suggesting they save that for the actual graduation party. After school, Sunset followed Twilight home to begin her tutoring session. She had two history chapters to catch up on, an English paper to write, and all of their chemistry, physics, and trigonometry homework to work through. Though Twilight had most of the answers memorized, she made Sunset solve them the hard way. Sunset didn’t complain. How else was she to learn?

Twilight would reward her with a kiss for every problem solved, and when Sunset finished a chapter in her history book, Twilight played Symphony of Angels, the song written just for Sunset, on her violin. Sunset nodded her head along to Twilight’s melody. It didn’t move her to tears like the first time she had heard it. It tried to stir something in Sunset’s heart, but the feeling died before Sunset could fully grasp it. Still, she smiled and clapped when Twilight was done. Regardless of what she felt, it had been a beautiful and well-played piece.

Evening turned to night, and while Sunset was invited to stay for dinner, she chose not to intrude upon the Sparkle’s family time.

“Are you sure?” Velvet asked, taking a casserole out of the oven. “We always have room for you, you know.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Velvet, but I should get home before the Lulamoons worry.”

Shining got up from the couch and grabbed his keys. “I’ll give you a ride.”

Sunset, who had not driven her motorcycle since she woke up, knew better than to argue. Walking home alone sounded like a poor idea anyhow. “Thank you,” she said, following him to the door.

Twilight stopped her at the threshold and gave one last kiss for the day. “I love you,” she said, quiet enough that Shining couldn’t hear.

“I love you, too,” Sunset said shakily, giving Twilight a lopsided smile. She backed off the porch, waving at a furiously blushing and smiling Twilight.

Sunset felt sick with herself. The flutter in her stomach whenever she saw Twilight, the electricity she felt when any part of them touched, the pounding in her heart when Twilight smiled and laughed and blushed. Sunset didn’t feel any of that anymore.

Yet, she had told Twilight she loved her.

Her mind told her it was true. Sunset knew it was true. She just couldn’t feel it. It felt like a cruel lie.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

Sunset raised her head, unsure when she had actually got into Shining’s car. He was the last person Sunset could explain this to. “No, I’m just… you know… recovering,” she said weakly.

Shining didn’t press the issue any further. He dropped her off at home and bade her good night, reminding her that things would get better soon. Sunset went inside, Spot’s barking announcing her presence. She joined the Lulamoons just as they sat down for dinner.

“I hear someone is going to be the salutatorian,” Artemis said, winking.

“Oh, yeah. It’s nice.” Sunset helped herself to a plate of salad.

Trixie raised an eyebrow at her. “Nice? That’s all you have to say?”

“What else do you want me to say?”

“Trixie doesn’t know. She just expected you to say more than ‘it’s nice.’”

Sunset shrugged. “I get to give a speech. Twilight’s valedictorian, so that’s pretty cool too. I’m happy about it. There’s not much more to say.” Sunset could have added that she didn’t feel like she deserved it, but thought it best to leave that out.

They enjoyed a quiet family dinner together that Sunset wanted to say she enjoyed wholeheartedly. Yet, like with everything else, it felt stunted. She cleaned her plate off and excused herself to her room so she could get started on her current homework. At least her excitement for that had stayed the same, it being nonexistent.

Tuesday found Sunset feeling much the same. She practiced smiling to herself in the mirror. It looked genuine enough but it never reached her eyes.

Maybe I should talk to my friends about this. And tell them what exactly? She barely understood what was wrong with her. Either way, she couldn’t tell Twilight. That would be admitting that she hadn’t fully meant it when she said ‘I love you.’ And that would break Twilight’s heart.

Her other friends would just tell her it would go away in time, though they would appreciate her opening up to them.

Sunset arrived at school just as a light rain began to fall. May in Canterlot loved to flip-flop between bright sunny skies and gray clouds that brought a quick shower before drifting away.

Today, Sunset got to share all her classes with Twilight. Instead of joy, barbs of guilt dug into her stomach as she remembered the three little words she had spoken. Sunset remembered how she had only wanted to say it when she was one hundred percent sure she meant it. Now, they were just words, thrown out in the same way every other teenager had tossed it so carelessly.

Sunset sighed. There was nothing she could do about it now. She put on her content smile and met Twilight by her locker before moving on to their chemistry class.

When Mr. Doodle wasn’t looking, Twilight leaned into Sunset and said, “You know, whenever I’m near you, I undergo anaerobic respiration because you take my breath away.”

Sunset paused her notetaking and looked up. “Um, thanks?” She realized it was supposed to be a pun and made a short giggle.

Twilight looked at her with mild concern, but went back to work, helping Sunset catch up in the areas she had missed. They repeated the group dynamic in physics only without any bad puns.

“I appreciate the help, Twilight,” Sunset said on their way to lunch.

“Of course. I get to help you and do some extra studying at the same time. It’s like solving two equations with one formula.” She looked at Sunset expectantly while she held the cafeteria door open.

“Oh, I get. Good one, Twilight.” Sunset walked through the doors, oblivious to Twilight’s disappointed eyebrow. Sunset had only taken two steps into the cafeteria when someone crashed into her, sending her to the floor in a frenzy of mashed potatoes and salad complete with ranch dressing.

“Oh no! Sunset, I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you there! Are you okay? Here, let me help you up!” Ditzy pulled Sunset up by the arm, then grabbed a handful of napkins from the nearest table and started trying to clean her jacket off. “I’m so, so, so sorry!”

“Don’t worry about it. It was just an accident,” Sunset said, grabbing napkins to speed up the process.

Twilight looked on, her mouth slightly agape. “You’re not mad?”

Sunset wiped a smear of ranch off her sleeve, frowning when it left a gray stain. “No. She didn’t mean to do it. And it’s nothing a little dry cleaning won’t fix.”

“But that’s your…” Twilight snapped her mouth shut. “Right, of course.” She directed Sunset back toward the door. “But I don’t think dry napkins are going to get all of that off. You should go clean up in the bathroom while I help Ditzy clean all this up, okay?”

Sunset looked at herself. A little water would definitely expedite the process. “Yeah, that sounds good.” She gave Twilight a wave and headed for the bathroom.

*******

Twilight kept her word and quickly helped Ditzy clean up the fallen food before rushing over to the table, where her friends had watched the whole debacle transpire. “Girls, I think there’s something wrong with Sunset,” she said in a frantic whisper.

“I’ll say.” Rainbow jerked her head toward Ditzy. “Someone spilled food all over her favorite jacket and she didn’t even yell.”

“She’s certainly been a lot more reserved ever since she woke up,” Rarity said.

“And Ah don’t think Ah’ve heard one sarcastic or snarky comment come outta her mouth,” Applejack added.

Twilight looked back at the door Sunset had walked out of. “She hasn’t groaned at any of my puns, or called me Sparky. I’m starting to worry.”

Rainbow shrugged. “I mean, she did just get her soul back. Maybe there’s some side-effects to that?”

“Should we talk to her about it?” Fluttershy asked.

“It wouldn’t hurt,” Rarity said. “But we should choose our words carefully. So, Rainbow, don’t say anything.”

“What; why not?”

Rarity crossed her arms. “Because you have the sensitivity of a cactus and the subtlety of a brick.”

Rainbow huffed and sulked in her chair while they waited for Sunset to return. Before Sunset came back, Trixie walked up to the table, her cheeks puckered in soured though.

She looked at Twilight. “Have you seen or heard from Moondancer recently?”

“No…” Twilight said in a surprised whisper. She hadn’t heard from Moondancer since the night Sunset woke up. In fact, she hadn’t seen her friend at school in the last two days. Twilight wilted in guilt. She had been so focused on Sunset, she had neglected Moondancer.

Trixie made a slight growl in the back of her throat and looked away, muttering under her breath.

Applejack raised an eyebrow. “Why? Is somethin’ wrong?”

“Maybe.” Trixie leaned over the table and dropped her voice. “Remember when we told you Lamia had stolen something from our house?”

They nodded.

“Father remembered what it was: the Archon Amulet. It boosts the wearer’s natural magic to dangerous levels at the cost of their sanity.”

“But Lamia doesn’t have any magic,” Fluttershy said.

“Exactly.” Trixie jabbed a finger against the table. “And there are only two keys that can get into the chest where the amulet was. My father has one, and Moondancer’s mother had the other. Lamia is working with Tempest, and if Tempest is really working with Night Shade, then there’s a high chance Moondancer is working with her too.”

Rarity furrowed her brow in thought. “You think Lamia somehow got the key and stole the amulet for Moondancer? But why? Moondancer doesn’t have magic either.”

Twilight managed to stifle her gasp, but couldn’t help bite down on her thumb knuckle.

“What’s up, Sugarcube?” Applejack asked.

“N-nothing! I’m just worried about Moondancer!” Twilight said loudly. She cringed, caught between a rock and a hard place. If she told her friends about Moondancer’s magic, she’d be breaking her promise. Not only that, but it would serve to incriminate Moondancer even further.

“Trixie is still putting the pieces together,” Trixie said. “But Father said they would need a lot of magic to resurrect Tirek. The Archon Amulet can give a lot of magic. And Moondancer has been avoiding my family of late. Father has been trying to check in on her, but she won’t respond, and the house appears deserted.”

Twilight bit her knuckle harder. But Moondancer wouldn’t. Unless she was forced to…

Trixie stood up tall. “Just thought you should all be aware. Trixie hopes she’s wrong about all of it.” She walked back to her table, leaving the girls in silence.

“I mean…” Rainbow shrugged. “Wouldn’t surprise me if Moondancer was actually evil. She gives off that vibe, you know?”

Rarity shot her a withering look.

Rainbow blinked. “Okay, I see what you mean.”

Twilight ignored both of them and pulled her phone out, texting Moondancer to ask how she was doing. Moondancer always responded to her texts posthaste.

Sunset walked back through the doors and took her seat next to Twilight. Her jacket still had food stains on it, but she didn’t seem to mind.

“Sorry about that. I hope Ditzy didn’t have to pay for a second lunch.” She looked at the concerned frowns worn by everyone present. “What’s wrong?”

A quick telepathic message jumped through the group’s mind. One problem at a time.

“Sunset, dear,” Rarity started slowly, “you know we love and care about you.”

Sunset’s cheeks turned red and her eyes drifted down toward her sack lunch. “I love you guys too.”

“We know, dear. So we want you to be honest with us. Are you feeling all right?”

“Y-yeah.” Sunset lifted her head and forged a smile, though Twilight could see the effort Sunset went through to keep it up. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Because you’ve been about as quiet as Fluttershy and didn’t flip out when your jacket got ruined.” Rainbow said, ignoring Rarity this time.

Sunset shifted in her seat. “Okay, maybe I haven’t felt like a hundred percent. I’m not feeling bad, but I’m not feeling good either. I’m just…” She pressed her lips together. “It just feels like I’m missing something. Some of my memories are gone and I can’t… I can’t feel happy. I’m content. But that’s as good as I can get.”

Twilight watched her closely. Sunset was deliberately avoiding her eyes. Did that mean she, Twilight, didn’t make her happy? Did that extend to the rest of Sunset’s emotions?

“Is there anything we can do to help?” Fluttershy asked.

“I don’t think so. Everyone says it’ll just go away on its own, and maybe it will. Other than that…” Sunset gave a half-hearted shrug. “I don’t know what else can be done.”

Twilight put a hand on Sunset’s arm, unsure of what else to do. She was sure Sunset didn’t want to hear everything would be okay again, but she didn’t have any solutions to offer.

“What you need,” Pinkie said, “is something super spectacular to pull you out of your funk!”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Let me guess: a party?”

“Not just a party. The party.” Pinkie waved a hand through the air. “Rarity is right: Prom is the most magical night of the year! It’s our last dance together! It’s where true love is declared, friendships are reinforced, and memories are ingrained in our hearts and souls!”

Pinkie stood up on her seat. “And as the head of the Event Committee, and as your best friend, and as a natural born party-planner, I, Pinkamena Diane Pie vow to make Prom night the best night of our young lives! There will be music! There will be dancing! There will be laughter! Someone will probably spike the punch!” She pointed to Sunset. “And you, Sunset Shimmer, will find your flame again!”

Rarity blew her nose into a napkin. “Pinkie, that was beautiful!” she said, unaware of the pink glow surrounding Pinkie.

Applejack and Rainbow took notice, however, and yanked Pinkie off her stool just as she ponied up. They pressed against her from two sides, with Fluttershy backing them up from behind, blocking her from view.

“Heehee! It still tickles! Ooh, ooh, does this mean I get some cool power like Rainbow and Fluttershy? I wonder what it is! Maybe I get to shoot lasers from my eyes, or create giant cupcakes from nothing!”

Rainbow clapped a hand against Pinkie’s mouth. “I almost hope you don’t get a power. You’re crazy enough as it is.”

Twilight wanted to marvel at Pinkie’s transformation, but she already had too many things to worry about. Sunset still looked put out, and Moondancer had not texted her. Still, she made a mental note to herself that, once school was over, she would devote the summer to studying magic.

Pinkie’s transformation timed out and vanished in a burst of light. “Aww. Well, it was fun while it lasted. And I meant every word I said. You girls are gonna get the best Prom ever!”

Sunset smiled, looking a little more earnest than before. “I can’t wait, Pinkie.”