When the school bell goes in the early morning before lessons begin, you know it's never good news. That, at least, was the situation that was presented that morning when the students began to gather for lessons.
The Rainbooms, having split over the issue of Sunset Shimmer being Anon-a-Miss or not, were seated at opposite ends of the cafeteria, with Applejack and Pinkie Pie being as far away from the door as possible, with their chairs against the wall and sad looks on their faces. This was mostly due to the sundering of their friendship, as it saddened them their former friends wouldn't see sense, and another key factor being the animosity they felt toward a lot of the other students, who had mocked and jeered at them for a week now, and it seemed looked down on them.
At the other end of the cafeteria, next to the doors, or as close as they could get to the doors without being physically in them and being hit by flying debris and other such objects, were Fluttershy, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash. They were equally sad. Not only over the bullying they had received, but because of the loss of their friends. This was partly why they were seated at opposite ends of the cafeteria, as otherwise an argument would break out over who was the biggest group of fools; either Rainbow Dash, Rarity, or Fluttershy, for failing to see the obvious (as Applejack perceived it to be the case) or alternatively that Applejack and Pinkie Pie were complete morons for believing Sunset was Anon-a-Miss. Still, it seemed that Applejack partly had a point, given that the person in question (Sunset) wasn't even around, presumably having her breakfast elsewhere on site, or alternatively not even on school grounds at all. Sugarcube Corner had supported her through the dark times despite the secrets released about Mr and Mrs Cake, even throwing out a group of students bullying her (although this had led to the establishment being slanderised online by another anonymous official). Alas, the mood was one of tension in the cafeteria, as nobody knew who's secrets would get leaked next.
Rainbow Dash sighed, nursing a coffee. She had no appetite to eat anything anymore. The days were just too depressing, and she was worried about Sunset. She had checked in with her a few days back, and she seemed sad and broken. "This is such a mess," she sighed, expecting her phone to start beeping any minute now, as the Anon-a-Miss posts usually appeared around this time in the morning.
"Well, I must say darling," Rarity answered, "Sunset may not be behind it, but by isolating herself from the school, she's not exactly doing herself any favours."
"I can understand why she doesn't want to be here, around the other students," Fluttershy whispered, picking at her salad with great disinterest. "I wouldn't want to get beaten up."
As if on cue, shouting and screaming started up from the neighbouring corridor, as (presumably) another student got his or her secrets spilled. But then a loud crashing and banging started up, followed by another beep, which none of the girls bothered to check as it was Anon-a-Miss again. But a few moments later, the entire population of the cafeteria turned around and began looking at them. Particularly, their gaze was focused on Rainbow Dash, Rarity and Applejack.
"Is there something going on?" Rainbow Dash asked, visibly confused.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," a student said coldly, before looking the other way.
"Ashamed for what?" Rarity asked. "Ashamed for standing up for a poor, innocent girl whom you so believe is guilty?"
There was no reply, as another sound started up. It sounded like somebody had taken the noises of an old petrol engine, a strangled cat scratching its claws down a blackboard, and a traction engine starting up, then thrown them into a blender and tried to mix them together into a coherent noise. This was, of course, the sound of the school intercom starting up, the noise being due to years of maintenance, or should I say the lack thereof.
"Can Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Rarity, and Miss Cheerilee please report to the Principal's Office?" came the message down the intercom, the voice crackling more than an old WW2 radio.
"What could they want with us?" Rarity asked, as she got up and pulled on her coat. Rainbow Dash got up a few moments later, pushing her chair under as she did so.
"Maybe Sunset's finally confessin', the darn snake," Applejack smiled, knocking her fists together.
"When will you get it into your thick skull that Sunset's innocent?" Rainbow Dash snapped. "You aren't half stubborn all the time!"
As they walked down the corridor, they stepped into the aftermath of a massacre, or what seemed like it. The lockers were covered in white substances, presumably leftover paint and eggs, and some traces of fruit juice pooled on the floor. In addition, there were also many, many burst tomatoes lying around, and one of the lockers had a freshman sized dent in it. The carnage could be seen everywhere, and paper lay all around. There was also milk scattered on the floor, and a trail of a red substance that nobody could discern what it was. When they rounded the bend, they saw Cheerilee walking toward them, her face white with shock.
"So, they called you too?" she asked. "Did you see the post?"
"No," Rainbow Dash replied. "We've stopped looking at the page because it's too unpleasant." This was true for the last few days, as Rainbow Dash and her friends had almost totally withdrawn from social media. They had also stopped holding the slumber parties. Nobody was in the mood for them anymore.
"Well, I hope to get this nonsense cleaned up as soon as I can," Cheerilee replied.
"As do Ah," Applejack answered. "Sunset'd better-"
"Can somebody PLEASE turn her off?" Rarity asked.
Applejack went up to the door, and knocked. "Come in," said the voice of Principal Celestia. She sounded angry.
With that, Applejack opened the door. The four of them stepped into the room, to come across a scene that shocked them to their very cores.
Celestia looked at them, her eyes like daggers and her normal smile replaced by a look of anger. Luna, on the other hand, had absolutely no control. It seemed as though she had just delivered a verbal roasting, such was her expression of barely suppressed rage, her face burning with absolute fury and her eyes like claymores.
That wasn't what was most shocking. Before them, in three chairs, were sat three freshmen. And they all looked a mess.
Apple Bloom had an ice pack over her left eye, covering a bruise next to her eyebrow which had been administered by an angry student, it seemed. Sweetie Belle's clothes were covered in food stains, and her jacket, which seemed at a long range to be pink with white dots, on closer inspection was actually covered in milk and egg white. Furthermore, her shirt was ruined, a gigantic fruit juice stain dribbling down the front in a nondescript blob. But Scootaloo was easily in the worst shape. She had her arms over her chests, and was breathing heavily from having been winded several times. In addition, her hair was torn in places, there were tears running up and down her slacks, and a bruise on her knee and forehead. All three of them were not speaking, but it seemed there had been a furious argument going earlier, judging from Luna's face.
"All the evidence points to you!" she boomed, her voice rolling around as a tital wave of noise. "So why won't you end this nonsense and confess to your crimes?"
"It wasn't us!" Scootaloo answered.
"SHUT UP!" Luna roared, which sent the freshman recoiling in her seat. "I will hear no more of your lies." She then turned her attention to the four who had just entered. "Good morning," she said. "Though I daresay it will not seem like a good morning for much longer, given the disgraceful revelations we just had."
"What are you talking about?" Rainbow Dash asked. "Why do these three look like they've been dragged through bushes backward?"
Rarity bent down to look at her sister, who had tears in her eyes from being yelled at. "What's going on?" she asked. "I must say, your clothes look a mess; that'll need correcting pretty promptly."
"Yeah," Applejack added. "Why is mah little sis' here? Fer that matter, why are all three of the Crusaders here?"
Celestia sighed, as she observed Cheerilee's interaction with Scootaloo, the mother trying to comfort her obviously terrified daughter. That'll end soon, she thought. "Undoubtedly, you are aware of the Anon-a-Miss scandal that has swept the school in the last week or so."
"Yep!" Applejack said. "Did Sunset finally confess ta her crimes?"
"Sunset Shimmer is not Anon-a-Miss," Celestia responded. There was a long pause, before she continued. "It was these three. Your. Own. SISTERS!"
Another silence settled upon the room, as Sweetie Belle began sobbing. "We didn't do it," she whispered, through the twin waterfalls running down her face.
"Oh don't try the crocodile tears on us," Luna snorted. "It won't work, and neither will lying."
"You don't seriously think that Sweetie Belle was somehow wrapped up in all this?" Rarity asked. "Because I know for a fact that my sister would never do anything so horrible!"
"We don't think these three did it. We know these three did it." Celestia's words were clear as day.
Cheerilee stood up. "You're going to need some very strong proof to convince me that Scootaloo would do something so utterly stupid."
Celestia turned her monitor around. "How's this for proof?" she asked, with a victorious smirk.
The image was the most recent MyStable post from Anon-a-Miss, the one Cheerilee had seen. It showed all three Crusaders sat at a computer, with the caption below reading it was us.
Rarity's jaw fell open. "Oh God," she said. "I'm clearly not the judge of character I thought I was!"
"I'm not convinced," Rainbow Dash said. "Anybody could easily just take a picture of them and put a caption on it."
"Then care to explain how they were caught logging into the account this morning? Or how none of the secrets released by the account were about them?" Luna replied. She adjusted her monitor, which was a shot from a security camera in the library. On it, the three girls girls could be seen sitting at one of the computers, the Anon-a-Miss page clearly visible.
Rainbow Dash suddenly felt weak, and staggered backwards. "No," she whispered. "Not my Scoots...not my little sister..."
Celestia then continued. "We also found past secrets and ones yet to be posted, but had been submitted to the account, on their phones. Do you need anymore proof?"
"Somebody could have planted that information," Applejack pointed out. Apple Bloom had gone white with fear. This was their last chance to avoid punishment.
And it went pretty promptly. Celestia spoke once more. "We have an audio recording proving it was them, submitted by an anonymous student." Nobody dared laugh at the irony. "I shall play it now."
“We got two of them away.”
“That’s less than half! I wouldn’t exactly call that a smashing success, Scootaloo!"
“OK, OK! I’m working on it, OK? We need a new strategy if we’re going to get the other three!"
“That’s gonna be a lot of work. Like sluggin’ up a steep hill.”
“This ought to do it”.
Once the recording stopped, there was nothing else to say. Scootaloo tried to say something. "That had-"
"I believe I told you to be silent!" Luna boomed. The freshman simply began crying softly, water trailing into her hoodie and soaking it.
There was a long silence before anbody spoke again. "So, how are you going to punish them?" Cheerilee ventured nervously. "Please go easy on them, they're only kids."
"Kids who broke a hell of a lot of laws, Mrs Collins," Luna growled. "They're lucky I don't call the police this instant and have them clapped in irons."
Celestia took up the conversation. "Firstly, they will be receiving after-school, lunchtime and saturday detention for the rest of the term, and after-school and lunchtime detention for the remainder of their school career here. In addition, they are immediately removed from any clubs they were part of, and are prohibited from joining any clubs for the remainder of their time here at Canterlot High. Furthermore, they are prohibited from attending any school events for the rest of their lives. In matters not relating to these three, all students who have targeted Sunset will be receiving an indefinite suspension, effective after school ends today."
"Getting back onto these three, would that ban on school events include the town barbeque?" Rarity ventured.
"Any school events," Celestia repeated. Apple Bloom simply hid her face in her hands.
"That seems excessive," Cheerilee commented, still trying to dry her daughter's eyes.
"I was only just getting started," Celestia replied coldly, the anger she felt clear. "In addition to what they have already been assigned, they are being assigned to the school cleaning unit, starting tomorrow. Finally, there shall be an assembly later today where these three shall admit their guilt to the entire school. I wouldn't be surprised if there are attempted reprisals."
Scootaloo stood up, and leaned directly into Celestia's face. "You can't make us confess to something we didn't do!" she said defiantly.
"I take it you want to be expelled then?" Celestia answered.
This was simply too much for Scootaloo, who lost her rag. "WHAT SORT OF A PRINCIPAL ARE YOU?" she screamed. "YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO CARE FOR YOUR STUDENTS, BUT WON'T LET US GET A FUCKING WORD IN! I HATE YOU!" She collapsed back into her seat, now crying uncontrollably, as Cheerilee tried to shield her.
Celestia sighed. "I take it you will be administering your own punishments?" she said.
"We will," Rarity said darkly. "I shall beat this uncouth and indelicate manner out of this here ruffian!" With that, she grabbed Sweetie Belle's wrist, and dragged her through the door, ignoring her sister's desperate protests as she did so.
"There will also be beatin's at mah end," Applejack said. "Literally." With that, she shot forward, and tore the bow straight out of Apple Bloom's hair. "You've lost the right ta wear this. Frankly, y'all be lucky if ma and pa don't disown ya fer this."
"Some element of honesty you are!" Apple Bloom shot back. It was a mistake, as Applejack's fist cut across her face.
"This way!" Applejack roared, more in the manner of a drill sergeant than a sibling. With that, she grabbed Apple Bloom by the ear and dragged her off, the younger girl's protests echoing alongside Sweetie Belle's in a cacophanous mess.
Rainbow Dash simply walked away. "It'll be a long time before you earn my trust again, squirt," she said sadly, her voice vanishing into the distance.
That just left Cheerilee and Scootaloo. "Scootaloo," Cheerilee said, calmly and slowly. "I'm very disappointed in you. We shall discuss this with your father later."
The younger girl put up no resistance. She was spent, and simply nodded. With that, they left the room, and Celestia and Luna were left in the darkness.
When Sunset came into the corridors for lessons beginning, she was expecting another hail of abuse, food, and other such instruments of humiliation. But what actually happened surprised her somewhat.
Several students had gathered in the corridor, looking frightfully sorry for themselves and their actions. At the head of them was Trixie Lulamoon, who to her credit had not done anything against Sunset, and the boy who had thrown stuff at her several days ago.
"Hello?" Sunset asked. "What's going on?"
Trixie was the first to speak. "The Great and Powerful Trixie wishes to offer a Great and Powerful apology for the actions of her classmates which were simply disgraceful."
"Wow," Sunset said quietly. "I have no idea if that is genuine or sarcastic. So I'll take it as the former."
"Put simply," the boy spoke up, his eyes looking at the floor. "We're sorry for what we did, Sunset. I'm sorry."
Sunset sighed. "I'm not sure I can forgive you right now. But I'll try." There was a pause. "So, who was behind it?"
Just then, three freshmen boys, whom Sunset identified as Pipsqueak, Button Mash and Rumble (or, the boyfriends of Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo) pushed through the crowd to speak to her.
"According to the assembly earlier, it was the Crusaders," Pip started, looking very worried.
Sunset took a step back. "Is this some sort of joke?" she asked.
"It seems not," Rumble said. "It doesn't mean we have to believe it though. Anon-a-Miss has been spreading lies the entire week. Why shouldn't this be another one?"
Sunset took out her phone, went to the MyStable app, and checked her post. One from this morning was Anon-a-Miss, showing a shot of the Crusaders, with the caption 'It was us'.
Sunset laughed at the post. "Honestly, this is fucking amateurish. Thanks for raising this to my attention boys. It needs dealing with, and as quickly as we can."
Later that day, the tone of tension that had existed in the school seemed to have dissipated. The Crusaders, somewhat wisely, had chosen not to show their faces and were having lunch elsewhere. The cafeteria itself was a place of jubiliation, students playing horns and vuvuzelas (which got incredibly irritating), loud cheering booming off the walls and windows, and students enthusiastically partying, as Pinkie Pie had somehow whipped up cakes and other myriad deserts for an impromptu 'Sorry for thinking you were Anon-a-Miss Sunset' party. Sunset Shimmer walked through the crowds, her face still a frown, as she collected her lunch and sat down at a table with the Rainbooms, whom she was a little apprehensive of, and waited for the conversation to star. It didn't take long for the platitudes and apologies to start rolling out of their mouths, and it went on and on and on.
"First off Sunset," Applejack said, her hat over her face, "Ah'm sorry fer thinkin' ya were Anon-a-Miss. Turns out the truth were right under mah nose the whole time and Ah couldn't see it."
"Likewise Sunset," Pinkie added, her face sad and her hair, rather than being poofed up as usual, was drooped around her. "I was a real jerk and party pooper to you, I know."
"Thanks guys," Sunset replied in a disinterested tone, taking a bite out of her burger. Whilst many were surprised that Sunset ate meat, this was a side-effect of her now-human biology, which was something she couldn't stop at least whilst she was on Earth. "So, this Anon-a-Miss business."
"Good God," Rainbow Dash sighed. "Who'd have thought it? Scootaloo leaking our secrets! I won't be going anywhere near her anytime soon." With that, the rainbow haired girl took a swig of her drink, only to start coughing moments later, requiring a pat on the back from Fluttershy.
"I can proudly and affirmatively confirm that Sweetie Belle will be properly and comprehensively chastised," Rarity added, seemingly determined to ensure that her words would alliterate effectively. "A lady should be demure and decent, not to mention really useful. And those three have caused nothing but confusion and delay!"
Sunset looked in confusion. "Rarity, I have no idea what you just said. How can I grasp what you are exigent if you are simply selecting contention from the lexicon?"
"That honestly made little sense, darling," Rarity answered, taking a bite out of her sandwich.
"That's the entire point!" Rainbow Dash exclaimed, facepalming.
"Anywhoo," Applejack said, with a satisfied look on her face, "Ah'll see ta it that Apple Bloom gets a spankin'. What she did was wrong, and punishment should be an obvious solution."
Sunset looked horrified. "That's barbaric!"
"In Equestria, all forms of physical chastisement were outlawed as forms of abuse. Where I'm from, we try to rehabilitate the offender and get them back into society. I think you're more interested in getting revenge then ensuring your siblings get anything productive out of this."
"I have no idea what Cheerilee has planned for Scootaloo, but it had better be good," Rainbow Dash sighed. "She needs a clear warning not to spill secrets."
What happened next shocked them all. Sunset looked at them. "I don't think they did it."
Applejack spat out her food. "Have Ah got apple sauce in mah ears, or did she just say she doesn't think they did it?"
"Yes, I did," Sunset replied, her face serious.
"But the evidence-!" Rarity began, before being shushed.
"Think about it," Sunset said, making sure she had their full and undivided attention. "Some mysterious user starts posting our secrets, then suddenly the Crusaders appear, with the evidence loaded on their phones, attempt to log into the account in school on a public server, and then an audio recording appears of them? It's far too convenient."
"They're the only ones who could have got that information," Fluttershy said quietly. "Apple Bloom knew Applejack's nickname, Sweetie Belle was in the same house as us when the slumber party was going on, and Scootaloo would have access to her mother's photos. So I don't see how it couldn't have been them."
"Firstly," Sunset answered, "remember that all the student body, bar us, were under the Dazzling's control during the Battle of the Bands, and this meant that secrets would have been spilled when they were competing with one another."
"But we know nobody remembers anything from that time!" Rainbow Dash countered.
"Do we?" Sunset asked rhetorically. "Or are we simply assuming it to be a fact? It is entirely within reason somebody could have remembered the nickname from when Apple Bloom blurted it out at some point. Furthermore, there are plenty of people who are good with technology. They could have hacked my phone and taken the pictures and videos off then! If you need proof, check Sweetie Belle's computer for photographs."
"There's no need for that," Rarity said darkly. "We've sold it off, alongside all of Sweetie Belle's other possesions. If she can't be trusted with the internet, why should she be trusted with anything?"
Sunset's mouth was open in shock. "That's just cruel!" she exclaimed.
"Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind," Pinkie Pie answered, helping herself to a cupcake.
"Finally, let's consider the nature of how they were uncovered. Why, would a person who was previously untracable and impossible to locate, suddenly and out of all reason and logic load their information for the account onto their phones, take it into school with them, and then attempt to log into the account on a public connection? It simply makes no sense. It's sloppy. Not to mention those three have nothing against me anyway." Sunset sat back in her chair, waiting for a reply.
"What if they were pretendin' ta like ya, so they could stab ya in the back?" Applejack asked.
"You have serious trust issues, don't you?" Sunset asked. "No wonder you believed Rainbow Dash had skipped your bake sale on purpose so easily." Applejack had no counter to this, and fell silent.
Sunset continued. "Think of all the fun we've had together, the times I helped them with work and their social lives. Heck, I helped Sweetie Belle open up to Button Mash! Not to mention all the times they helped protect me from attacks, or defended my name, and reputation."
"Darling, there really-"
"Don't fucking give me that, Rarity," Sunset snapped. "You always saw your sister as a niusance. Now you're finding a way to be mean to her."
"Yer mad ta think that they're innocent," Applejack said with finality. "The evidence points to them and them alone. Now move on and we can get on with our lives."
That was the last straw. Sunset stood up and kicked her chair under the table. "Fine! If that's how you want to play it, go ahead. Be obstinate dicks and fail to see what should be right in front of your eyes!"
"Sunset, are you saying that?" Fluttershy asked.
"Yes, I am," the bacon haired girl snapped. "You can forget about being my friend whilst you keep this up." And with that, she walked off and went to another table.
"That could've gone better."
Rainbow Dash sighed. "Rarity...shut up."