By Wanderer D
The Fault in Our Tree
"Oh, here you are, Veronica."
Veronica turned her head to look up at her twin sister, Serena. "Yep! Here I am," she replied, before turning to gaze back at the town below them.
She had always liked this area of the gardens; a little balcony held above the plaza, right next to the inn. The ancient white columns—a traditional design common through the whole town—almost glowed a slight blue in the moonlight, and the single tree that grew in that balcony made it look quaint… but most importantly, it was a quiet place, where she could think of things to come, usually when her sister was asleep.
But tonight was not an easy night to enjoy the quiet. Too many thoughts, too many things happening, too many people around. All good people. Her friends and family… and one looming, giant shadow that she could feel creeping behind them. She looked at her sister. Serena was sitting on the edge of the balcony with a smile on her face, blue eyes bright and hopeful. She was leaning back, resting her weight on her hands, as she contemplated the people below.
It was clear that no one in their party was ready to go to bed yet. Jade was standing over by the temple columns, watching Sylvando, who was performing for a small crowd of people and dazzling them with his juggling skills; she had seen Rab make his way to the empty playgrounds and start practicing his martial arts… Erik was brooding by the water fountain, lost in his thoughts and the Luminary… well, it appeared that their beloved hero was the only one able to sleep, after all.
It was for the best, he'd have the hardest job once they reached Yggdrasil anyway.
"Do you think everything will turn out alright?"
Veronica sighed, then forced a smile, turning to face her gentle sister. The shock in their parent's faces when they had seen her in that belly-dancer's getup had been worth memorizing. So much so in fact, that she had cast a spell to record that memory forever. The memory of it made her smile a lot more genuine. "Of course!" she answered her sister's question. "What could go wrong with me there to help you useless lot through it?"
Serena giggled. "You're right. We've come all this way together, right? With you and the others… there's no way we can fail. Not now." She looked up into the sky and Veronica followed her sister's gaze up towards the floating island where Yggdrasil had taken root. The tree glowed with internal energy, a ponderous, gentle green light that seemed to erase the shadows in her heart for the briefest of moments.
"You should go sleep, Serena," Veronica said softly, "we need to wake up early. And you know how the High Priest gets when people are late. He won't shut up about the value of punctuality. Even if it makes us late."
Her sister giggled again and nodded, standing up and helping Veronica up as well. It was weird still, how getting her magic stolen had affected her body. Now, she was half the size of her own identical twin sister.
But even with that size and apparent age difference, Serena was her twin, and immediately noticed her disposition. "You're not coming with me?"
"Nah," she said, "I want to take a walk first." She smirked confidently at the concerned look Serena gave her. "Don't worry, I'll stay in Arboria. Might even chat with mom and dad later, I just… need to clear my mind, and lying down turning and tossing in bed unable to sleep is not my idea of relaxation."
"If you say so…" Serena did not look too happy about it, but after a brief hesitation, finally nodded and walked away homeward.
Veronica sighed and glanced around. For all its charm, Arboria was arguably the only town she knew that didn't have a bar. "Not that they'd let me in anyway," she muttered, putting her hands behind her back and started to meander down the stairs that would take her to the inn, but rather than turn towards the plaza, she headed further into the town, where her friends would not be about.
It was there that she noticed the odd door. It clashed with everything else around it; Arboria's architecture was classic, built with white stone, and plenty of fluted columns. This entrance was more like something that would be at home in Heliodor (or even Dundrasil, before it was destroyed), with it's dark stone arch and the strange sun-like symbol on the oaken door, so different than the lighter blue and white doors common in her hometown.
But most important was the sign above the door, next to a quaint little lantern, declaring it a bar.
That meant that whoever owned it might be aware that she was not a child at all. That meant that she might finally get a drink! Finally! After going dry for months now! Granted, it was odd that it had appeared on a wall built against the mountainside, but who cared?
This might be her last chance, after all.
Sunset Shimmer frowned then turned the instruction manual upside down. Her eyes lit up with recognition. "Aha! So that's what it is!" she muttered to herself as she put it down and started writing runes on the open parchment she had stretched over the table. Several ingredients were piled to her side as she carefully traced her spell around the many magic circles that were part of her pet project. The fact that she had to also do a three-dimensional alteration on something two-dimensional in order and then incorporate continuous time was a bit of a drag, but it could be done. It just required the right level of attention.
The bell to the bar chimed as the door was opened, but she didn't look up. The bar was closed, and the only person that had access right now was Rarity. "Hey, sorry, I'm right in the middle of this fourth-dimensional credit-scanning-and-transferring spell."
Someone hopped onto the chair in front of her.
Sunset frowned. Rarity wasn't short, blonde, braided her hair or wore red. She slowly raised her eyes to the young girl who was looking down at her spellwork with interested, and mildly impressed eyes. "You wrote that wrong," the girl said. "I'm not sure what you were aiming for, but it doesn't match the other runes."
Sunset looked down and growled, she had been distracted and now the flow-of-time rune, spelled "river" in Gallifreyian. "Right."
The girl thankfully seemed content to watch as Sunset corrected her mistake, then finished the current set of runes before expanding the circle up into a three-dimensional sphere and incorporating the additional runes, then collapsed it back into a two-dimensional object.
Sunset leaned back and sighed, then checked the door for good measure. Yep. The sign was inverted, but she had a guest, and she had been polite enough to wait.
"Thanks for your patience," she said, smiling at the young girl. "My name is Sunset Shimmer, and this is my bar."
"Pleasure to meet you!" the girl said. Sunset noticed she had a slight Australian accent. Except she wasn't dressed like someone from modern Earth Australia. Her red hat and white dress gave her more of a Hansel and Gretel vibe. "My name is Veronica, I was born here in Arboria." She hesitated. "I hope I don't offend, but… are you human? You have a very unusual complexion."
Sunset stood up and motioned for Veronica to follow her to the bar. As the girl sat down, she explained, "I am! I just happen to come from a different world. My bar is not really part of yours… it exists outside time and space, appearing only to those that really need a drink."
"So, it doesn't bother you that I look like I'm ten?"
"From your choice of words I'm assuming you're not, but my bar also would detect your true age." Sunset smirked. "And even though you look ten, my senses are telling me that your body is actually that of an adult." She passed Veronica a menu. "Want to talk about it over a drink?"
"Oh, yes. Finally!" Veronica leaned onto the bar. "You have no idea how hard it's been. Every place I go, every city, town, dungeon, camp or ancient ruin. If there is a bar, I get kicked out! Why can't they see that I'm not a child?"
Sunset raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, granted, I look like one. But they could at least check!" Veronica huffed, "It's not my fault my body was affected like this!"
"Well, here you can have your drink. Just keep in mind that even if you're an adult, I'm not going to indulge you until you're passing out. Last thing you need is to be in that body knocked out in a street."
"Nothing would happen to me," Veronica said waving her hand dismissively, "but even if I wanted, I can't… I have a mission tomorrow."
"Ah, one of the 'save the world' kind of missions?"
"Yes indeed," Veronica answered, perusing the menu. "I think I'll go for something simple. I'd like a beer." She studied the list up and down. "Schraderbrau or Dragon Milk?"
"Sure," Sunset said. "But before I give you either, I'll help you choose: do you think dragons should have mammary glands?"
Veronica stared at Sunset. "So what you're saying is that this is beer is not… just a fancy name?"
"Nope. Sectoid Sweat is a fancy name. Dragon Milk is literal."
Veronica nodded. "I see." She cleared her throat. "Schraderbrau it is then."
Sunset chuckled and served a couple of glasses from the tap, one for herself, and the Schraderbrau for Veronica.
"I thought you said Dragon Milk was literal?"
Shrugging, Sunset drank some of her beer. "I got used to it. I serve drinks from multiple universes, the squick goes away quick. Besides, it's delicious."
"Right, right," Veronica said, tasting a little bit of her beer before humming appreciatively and drinking more. "I'll take your word for it."
Sunset nodded. "So, want to talk about what's bugging you?"
Veronica sighed, and glanced up at Sunset. "It's complicated."
"You're saving the world," Sunset pointed out, "It's never easy."
"I guess that's true," the child-like woman admitted, looking slightly older when she was being serious. "Are you aware of what is happening in my world right now?"
"I'm afraid not," Sunset said. "The bar sort of chose to appear there for you, even though it was supposed to be closed… so I know it's very important, and so are you if that happened."
"Well, I can't tell you how happy I am your bar decided to grant me this one," Veronica chortled, raising her tankard in salute. She sipped it before she spoke again, "Long story short… a long time ago, in the age of heroes, The Luminary—Erdwin—and his friends defeated the Lord of Darkness, bringing peace to the world, but now darkness has returned, and the Luminary been reincarnated. My twin sister and I are also both incarnations of one of the legendary's heroe's friends: the sage Serenica."
Sunset frowned. "But how does that work?"
"Our soul is basically the same," Veronica said softly, looking down at her tankard. "We were born on the same day, and… I hope that we'll remain together until the end."
Sunset grimaced. "You don't sound convinced."
Veronica sighed. It was a heavy sigh, with a lot of weight behind it... the type that didn't belong in a child and truly showed that this young woman was not what she appeared at first glance. "Who can be certain of that kind of thing?" she asked softly. "I'm not a seer, but the shadow that grows across the world each passing day is crawling up to us, almost catching us in its grasp. My sister and I… we were raised from childhood, knowing we would help the Luminary achieve his goal. That we would protect him with our magic and our lives."
An almost overwhelming sense of inevitability seeped into Sunset. Something deep inside was telling her that this was probably the last time she would see this young girl in this world. As if fate itself was warning her of a great loss. She sighed. "I know all too well the weight of destiny and the… expectations that come with it. Good and bad."
"We are not alone, thankfully," Veronica said, shrugging. "We have good friends. Sylvando, Jade, Rab… together with the Luminary, there's nothing that can stop us." She looked to the side. "Even if there's a cost. I've had this… sense of unease grow within me. A knowledge that-that I might have to do something that will hurt, and I'm afraid of what that could be." She took another, long drink, before shuddering in place. "What if... what if one of my friends is supposed to die to stop Mordegon? What if it's my sister?" She wrapped her arms around herself. "I couldn't live on without gentle, sweet, Serena!"
Sunset gulped. "Well, you're not a seer. You said so yourself. This could be just anticipation."
Veronica giggled. "You're not very good at lying."
Sunset smiled sadly. "I used to be."
"Well, this is more charming, I promise," the girl replied, nodding in approval.
"Is there any way that you can prepare?" Sunset asked gently.
"I fear we are as ready as we're going to be," Veronica said. "The road here has been long and hard, and now all that remains is reaching Yggdrasil and giving the power within to the Luminary. After that… Mordegon."
When Sunset didn't reply, Veronica chuckled. "You know, don't you?"
"I'm not a seer either," Sunset said weakly.
"You don't have to be." Veronica finished her beer and placed it on the bar. "There's a sense of finality coming along with our quest's end. Perhaps it's the world ending, if we fail. Perhaps it's just… one of us. But there is more out there, as your bar proves. I can only hope that whatever happens, my friends and family are safe." She sighed. "Anyway, I should go. It was quite late back home when I left, and I only have so much time to sleep before we head out."
She reached into her purse and put a gold coin on the bar. She then looked thoughtful and glanced up at Sunset. "Are you an adventurer?"
"I usually stay in the bar, but I've been dragged out there by my business partner," Sunset said warily. "Why?"
Veronica smiled, pulling a gold chain out of her purse and putting it next to the gold coin. "Then keep this. We were about to sell it anyway, it looks classy and it also protects you from harm. Both things a girl needs, right?"
When Sunset opened her mouth to protest, Veronica jumped to stand on her chair, arms akimbo as she leaned forward with a serious look on her face. "And don't you dare think of saying it's not necessary! You've really helped me unwind tonight, you know?"
Sunset felt a knot in her throat. "Right. H-hey, before you go, I have a small tradition here," she said, passing Veronica her card. "Let's take a picture together."
"Really darling," Rarity said, studying the magical construct that hovered like a holographic sphere next to Sunset. "We can simply stick to local currency."
"Ha! And deal with exchange rates? No thank you. I already have this patented by TSAB."
"Ugh, fine, fine," Rarity sighed. "And you are absolutely certain that it works just fine?"
"I had it stress-tested, it does."
"Good. Anyway, I should prepare, I have an upcoming trip to a most unpleasant world, and it's always so distressing to deal with murderous alternate versions of myself."
"I'm sure it is."
"And darling, I couldn't help but notice that marvelous little necklace of yours, whichever world did you get it from?"
"It was a gift," Sunset said, reaching up to hold it with her fingertips. "From a friend I made a couple of nights ago in Erdrea."
Rarity said something, but Sunset didn't hear. Her eyes were drawn to a small blonde figure with a bent pointy red hat and a red and white dress holding a large, slim staff, standing at entrance to the bar. Blue eyes sparkled as the young girl smiled and waved.
"...if you ever go there again," Rarity said, snapping Sunset's attention back to her for a second. She quickly looked at the entrance again, but there was no sign of Veronica.
"Are you okay, dear?" Rarity asked. "You've gone pale."
"I—" Sunset gulped, and glanced to the picture on the wall. "Do you mind locking up the bar when you leave?"
Rarity blinked, but nodded.
Sunset walked behind the bar, opening the door to her room. "Thanks," she said over her shoulder, closing the door gently behind her. She stood in the darkness, breathing slow. She'd never trade her bar for anything… but sometimes… it really sucked to know.