With relief, the young woman turned off the engine and lent back in the driver's seat. She hated it but getting her licence had finally meant she could be independent in a way that using a scooter just couldn’t compare too. Her instructors had just considered it standard learner jitters and that it would pass in time. It wasn’t that though. Being behind one and a half tonnes of steel scared the teen for a different reason, and driving in morning rush hour traffic just made it worse.
Her breath steady again, Scootaloo lent over to the passenger seat and carefully picked up the bouquet of red and yellow tulips, making sure not to catch them on anything as she clambered out of her small car. After confirming the clunk of the central locking, she began her slow, nervous walk towards her destination. Forcing herself to look up from her feet, a habit she had gained shortly after it had happened, Scootaloo gazed around the street she hadn’t set foot on in over two years. Not much had changed which surprised her in a way, yet the lack of change also began to bring fear and pain back up to the surface of her mind. Feelings that she had only begun to take control of in the last year.
Six months of being little more than a husk that barely ate or drank. Six more months running, sleeping rough and stealing to survive. Three months in hospital having been stabbed in an alleyway for taking from the wrong people. A whole year unable to decide if she was angry that the blade hadn’t killed her, or relieved that she’d saved her limited number of friends and family from even more pain.
Tears began to swell in her eyes, but rather than clamping down on them, trying to force the negative feelings away, she let them come taking steadying breaths and gently wiping them away. Hiding from what she had caused, what she had done, wasn’t the way anymore.
Her eyes now clear, Scootaloo stopped to gaze upon her old school, standing on the pavement out front and taking in the u-shaped structure, painfully aware of its three stories and tall roof, topped with the stained-glass dome, the horse still prancing majestically upon its plinth. Slowly, Scootaloo advanced towards it and laid her hand upon the marble plinth. The fact that right here, beneath her fingers, a gateway to another world would form. A place of magic, where friendship was a spectrum coloured laser weapon, and where a Sunset Shimmer had been born, never to return home.
Scootaloo’s fist clenched against the cold unyielding surface. She didn’t know exactly when the portal would open again, but if her rough estimates were correct it would be only a couple of months away. While recovering from her stab-wound, Apple Bloom had come to visit. It had been a painfully awkward reunion, but the girl had relayed an event that had transpired right where she stood if Apple Bloom was to be believed. Twilight Sparkle had come back through and taken Sunsets journal from Rarity, severing the tie that kept the portal open, and so preventing the girls from having any chance of contacting Equestria. Scootaloo wasn’t sure why but hearing that had sent a fresh wave of pain and despair through her while she lay in her hospital bed. It was like someone had slammed a door in her face, having just permanently barred her from entering their house again, not giving her a chance to explain herself.
That was simple enough. Sure, her logic had been flawless at the time, but to this day she knew she’d never considered the consequences, never looked past the benefits it brought her and her friends, to the black hole she had pushed Sunset into. Scootaloo was never sure if the pain and emotional toil she had, and still was, experiencing could make up for what she had caused, but she knew until her dying breath she would never forget. Whether that was enough, that wasn’t for her to decide.
A long shuddering breath ran through her before Scootaloo turned and walked towards the stairs that lead up to the large double doors at the front of Canterlot High. As she neared the top she spotted something. A significant dent in the handrail that ran up the stone steps. Horrible images flashed through her mind of what had caused it. She wasn’t even sure if that was the reason, but her mind couldn’t deny the dark connection that was there.
Scootaloo took another shuddering breath but focused to lay the flowers gently on the steps. If she had known where Sunset’s grave was, she would have gone there, but she had never found out and didn’t dare to ask someone who might know.
The girl turned quickly to see a face she hadn’t seen in a long time. She was taller, much taller. Her signature coloured hair back in a ponytail rather than the free curtain of old. The way she held herself, taller and straighter, no longer the meek, gangly teen that Scootaloo remembered but now a young woman. The jeans and tee-shirt were also not what she remembered, far more practical and functional than the dresses she used to wear, and accompanied by a large satchel bad draped over one shoulder.
“Fluttershy,” Scootaloo answered, realising she had been staring.
“What are you doing here?” The girl asked.
Scootaloo pointed to the flowers that she had lain. “I just… I’d never been able to visit her grave. I wanted to pay my respects. This seemed the only place that made sense.”
“She doesn’t have one,” Fluttershy replied, her voice colder than Scootaloo expected. “Her ashes were returned to Equestria.”
“Oh… I didn’t know.” Scootaloo gulped.
“If I recall, you all but severed ties with everyone involved,” Fluttershy replied, a little more kindly. “I wouldn’t expect you to have known that.” The yellow-skinned woman looked the teen up and down. “I heard you were stabbed? Some kind of fight in an alleyway? Is that true?”
Scootaloo was glad to hear more of the compassionate Fluttershy she remembered in those words. It seems she was at the very least willing to be civil with her once more.
“Fight would imply I actually had a chance.” Scootaloo grimaced as the memory floated to the surface. Fluttershy’s gaze hardened, making Scootaloo look away uncomfortably. “I’d been stealing from a shop over in the industrial district. Turned out they had links to drugs and various other illegal stuff. I don’t know if they thought I was a police informant or just a druggie trying to get a fix, but they cornered me and… well you know the result I guess.”
Fluttershy had turned pale, her hand to her mouth.
“Sorry.” Scootaloo grimaced. “I guess it just doesn’t scare me to talk about it. I was so numb at the time that I just didn’t care.”
“What about your aunts?”
“I ran away,” Scootaloo admitted with a long sigh.
“May I ask why?” Fluttershy asked tentatively.
“Lots of little things.” The orange girl ran her fingers through her hair. “The way they looked at me. How they kept trying to make me feel better. The way they hung on my every groan and sigh I made. Like, I know why they were looking back. They were trying to be supportive. I just… I just didn’t feel like I was worth supporting.”
Scootaloo stood shocked as Fluttershy pulled her into a crushing embrace.
“Please tell me that has changed,” Fluttershy whispered.
“Most of the time, it has,” Scootaloo answered eventually.
“And the rest of the time?”
Scootaloo sighed, wrapping her arms around Fluttershy in return. “Therapy.” She mumbled.
Scootaloo expected Fluttershy to release her, but the woman kept holding onto her, her fingers tight, clutching at her back, while she pressed her head into the teen’s neck. After a few minutes, she finally let go.
“I feel two years is enough self-imposed isolation.” She gave Scootaloo a stern but supportive look. “I know Apple Bloom has started talking to Sweetie Belle again. Rarity and I, we… well, we couldn’t stay apart after what happened.”
“You mean when Twilight came back and took the Journal?” Scootaloo asked.
Scootaloo noticed that Fluttershy suddenly looked apprehensive as if weighing something up but she still responded with a gentle nod.
“Yes. We were all there. I mean, not Sweetie and Apple Bloom, but the rest of us. It was… painful, but thinking about it, it did seem to spur everyone on. Or at least, let us get on with our lives.”
The two girls shared a sad smile, Fluttershy fiddling with the strap of her satchel, Scootaloo shuffling with her hands in her pockets.
“I’m afraid I need to get going,” Fluttershy said into the silence. She flipped open her satchel and pulled out another set of flowers, these a mix of exotic shapes, much fierier in colour and shape than Scootaloo’s tulips, but laid side by side they created an impressive little display of colour. She stood back to admire them with a soft smile. “I expect the others will be adding to it later today.” She said to no one in particular. “They’ve won’t have forgotten.”
“Where are you going now?” Scootaloo asked.
“I have lectures at Canterlot University. I’d come in the evening but I am due at the Shelter for a meeting. Someone recently gave a fairly large donation so we are going to decide how best to use the funds.”
“That's good.” the orange girl smiled a little. “So, I guess I will see you around?”
Fluttershy nodded slowly. “Yes. I am glad things seem to be improving for you. I hope we will run into each other again.” With a gentle wave, Fluttershy turned.
“Fluttershy.” The woman looked back at Scootaloo’s call. “Do you know… do you know when it will open again?”
Fluttershy cast a glance towards the statue with a worried expression.
“The next full moon.” She replied after a long silence. “If what the Princess said is true.”
She turned back to the flowers draped on the steps. Only to wish she hadn’t. In her mind's eye, they were now blood, dripping down the tiers of stone. It took a lot of effort to not kick them aside, but that would be highly disrespectful to Fluttershy, and Sunset. Her positive mood scattered to the winds, the teen began her slow walk back to her car.
She didn’t know what she would say. She didn’t know if it would make her feel any better or anyone else for that matter, but seeing as the next opportunity wouldn’t happen for another two and a half years after this one…
Scootaloo made up her mind.
Twenty-seven moons. Twenty-seven months. Eight-hundred and twenty-one days and four hours, with just two more to go. Twilight Sparkle stared apprehensively out the train window, not really seeing the darkening world flash by as the sun set on the horizon. She had tried her best to forget. She had even destroyed all her data just as the other her had said. ‘Only after Sunset begged you’, her mind interjected. Well, regardless, she had done it, as much as it pained her. Or she thought she had, until she came across a small external hard-drive under one of the heavy metal filing cabinets, discovered as she emptied her personal laboratory at Crystal Prep in her move to Manehatten University.
She knew that Sunset would be very cross with her, for keeping the data and for what she was doing right now. Thankfully she had prior commitments so Twilight’s plans on how to sneak out of the shared apartment they both rented, saving a little on the costs of living in the massive coastal city, hadn’t been necessary. Somehow it didn’t feel right that Sunset had seemingly forgotten what had happened, yet it also made perfect sense. Who would want to remember?
Twilight was jolted from her thoughts by her change in velocity as the train began to break, the tannoy bursting into life to confirm their imminent arrival at Canterlot Park Station. Rather than heading to the centre, Twilight had realised it was faster to get off just outside the city and then board one of the university busses which happened to go right past the school, as it wound its way from the student housing on the cities edge to the various campuses dotted at its core.
A short jump down, a brisk walk to the barriers, and finally she was out into the evening air. She quickly located the bus stop she needed and was glad to see a double-decker already waiting. Despite the late hour, the station was busy with busses and taxis with a steady flow of cars streaming in, with most of the travellers of university age. A ticket later and she clambered up to the top deck and sat right at the back of the bus. She wasn’t entirely sure why. Perhaps she was worried she would be found out or discovered, but she wasn’t doing anything wrong, at least not legally. Still, her gut squirmed and she found herself double-checking her inhailer was still in her raincoats inside pocket.
Her foot tapped nervously as the bus set off through the night, the smattering of other passengers chatting away, some sleepy, others excited for a night out. The occasional loutish shout made her flinch, but thankfully no one looked her way.
The bus lurched as it came to an abrupt halt outside a trio of large tower blocks, modern affairs built of red brick and selectively rendered to break up the profile of the imposing structures. Twilight idly looked up to peer into the illuminated rooms, some occupied by students with pyramids of beer bottles stacked against the windows, others by families having their evening meal.
Twilight looked around at her name. She scanned the seats before her but no one seemed to be looking specifically in her direction. It was probably someone else. It wasn’t like Twilight was a common name but the odds weren’t that outlandish. The purple girl dropped her head back against the glass as the bus pulled away, making the glass vibrate against her head. It tingled.
“She’ll be there, despite what the Princess said.”
“You think so?”
Careful as not to be seen, Twilight looked around and tried to pick out where the conversation was coming from. The voices weren’t familiar but the conversation and the timing were far too convenient. She peered down the aisle and spotted a pink head, peeping out from above one of the seats, and beside it was a very unique spectral flurry.
“I’m certain. Maybe her Sunset got her to follow through on destroying her research but if the Princess is anything to go by, she will be there. Her curiosity will get the better of her.”
“I don’t know. We barely met her and…”
“Shy…” The tomboyish voice cut in, only to stop. “Ah, whatever. Doesn’t really matter I guess.”
Twilight sat back in her seat, shrinking low. Rainbow and Fluttershy if her memory was correct, and it usually was. They had to be heading to CHS as well. Well, now she was in trouble. There was no way she could get off the bus at the same stop, she would be recognised instantly, and she couldn’t get off before as they’d see her as she descended the stairs, even if she kept the hood of her raincoat up.
A short while later when Fluttershy’s delicate hand pressed the bell, Twilight ducked down again in her seat and only emerged again once the bus had started moving. She peered into the darkness and did her best to remember the turns and corners the bus took so she could retrace the route, but the darkness and drizzle now gently falling from the sky made picking out any key landmarks difficult at best. Twilight rang the bell the moment she spotted the next stop under the yellow glow of its street light and leapt down the steps two at a time. The bus driver called after her, something about taking it easy. Twilight ignored him, sprinting into the gathering darkness as the rain began to fall in earnest.
Rarity stood a short distance from the statue. Being too close felt wrong like she was intruding on someone's private space. Her gloved hand clutched at the large white and blue umbrella that shielded her faux fur coat from the worst of the weather. Usually, getting one of her custom creations caught in the rain was the cause hysterics on the part of the young woman. She didn’t really care about that now. Her eyes were fixed on the base of the statue, waiting. She wasn’t even sure what she was looking for. The portal might already be active, and she just couldn’t see, but still, she didn’t approach. Beside her under the umbrella stood her sister. She was better, overall. The nightmares had stopped, mostly. She was regrowing her hair back to its previous flowing form, and Rarity no longer caught her staring into space while pressing the tip of her fountain pen hard into the face of her thumb.
The white woman swallowed.
“Rarity?” She looked down into her sister's eyes. “What is going to happen?”
“I honestly don’t know Sweetie.” Rarity replied, placing a soothing kiss atop Sweetie’s head.
“Do you even know if she is coming?”
Rarity shrugged. “I don’t know.” ‘And if I did, I am not sure I could be here’, her mind added.
“Yes Swee... oh.” Both girls watched as two formed appeared out of the gloom. Only when the pair had stopped in front of the sisters did Rarity relax. “Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy. It’s lovely to see you again.”
“Hello, Rarity.” Fluttershy reached out for a hug and Rarity accepted. “It is good to see you, and Sweetie as well. I like your hair, Sweetie. Yet another stylistic change?” She asked, letting go and looking down gently at the younger sibling.
Sweetie shrugged with an awkward smile. “Yeah, something like that.” After a moment she accepted the hug Fluttershy offered her, feeling nervous but the soothing strokes that Fluttershy made through her hair helped the worries ebb away.
Rainbow Dash stood off to one side, waiting. When Fluttershy let go of Sweetie, Rarity turned to her with a smile, but Rainbow could tell it wasn’t the same smile she’d just given Fluttershy. It didn’t look forced, like she was not happy to see her, more strained like something wanted to tug the corners of her mouth the other way. It didn’t surprise the athletic girl.
“And how are you Rainbow?” Rarity asked. Her arms moved up as if to make for a hug only to fold across her chest instead. “I heard you are earning yourself quite a name amongst the university sports teams. Soccer, athletics and now climbing.”
Rainbow Dash smiled at her old friend, at least her praise seemed full and untainted. “Yeah, I don’t think I am the best at anything specific, but I think they like the fact that I can pick up any position or distance and be able to give a dedicated player a run for their money.”
“She came second the other week in a speed climbing event too,” Fluttershy added, a hint of pride in her voice. “Her first event too.”
Rarity noticed the smile that passed between Rainbow and Fluttershy was something she hadn’t seen for a while, but still, her social eyes saw the underlying rift was still there. ‘I doubt it will ever fully close’, her mind added only for her to chastise herself. Things couldn’t go back to the way they were, but they could be healed, she reminded herself. Yes, it had been a key point in their lives, but it didn’t define them.
The sound of a truck drew their attention. Rarity could recognise that battered old wagon anywhere even before the doors were thrown open and its owner clambered out. Applejack still wore her trademark Stetson hat, a thick and heavy chequered jacket made her look even stronger than she already was, while her muddy jeans and boots sealed the stereotypical farm-girl aesthetic. After a moment the rear door open and two smaller figures clambered down. One Fluttershy recognised instantly as Scootaloo, her style very similar to that when they’d run into each other in the weeks prior. While the other was clearly Applejack’s little sister, Apple Bloom, though that was more by dint of expectation than actual recognition.
Gone was her curtain of rosy red hair, now cut back to a rather masculine spiky style that was unkempt and messy, by design or from lack of attention the girls couldn’t tell. The raincoat she wore was heavily used, muddy and a little oversized, while her jeans and boots were much like Applejacks.
As the girls drew nearer, Applejack having to coax her sister forwards, Rarity noted the determined yet worried look on Applejack’s face, while Applebloom showed signs of severe anxiety and worry. Scootaloo, on the other hand, looked resolute, if a slightly nervous.
“So I guess this is really happenin’?” Applejack sighed with resignation.
“It is.” Rarity smiled and approached Applejack opening her arms. After a second Applejack gripped Rarity in a very strong hug, making the fashionista squeal as she was lifted off the ground. “Applejack! Put me down this instant!”
“Just wanted to check if you’d changed is all. ”Applejack set Rarity down, the farmer giving a wry grin, but she seemed happy all the same.
Rarity rolled her eyes, scoffing. “Trust you to still behave like a child.” Straightening her clothes, Rarity turned to Applejack and Scootaloo who’d both run up to Sweetie Belle and joined in a three-way hug. “What did Apple Bloom do to her hair?” She whispered.
“She still refuses to have it long.” Applejack whispered back. “She still doesn’t want to see ‘that’ face in the mirror.”
Rarity bit her lip. “Sweetie did that too.”
“Seems like she got past it.” Applejack replied, indicating Sweetie’s long hair.
“Not completely, but her sessions have helped a great deal.”
Applejack didn’t respond, only watching the trio before them with sad eyes. “I hope what happens tonight helps and doesn’t make things worse for ‘em.”
“So, what is going to happen?”
Rarity shook her head, scattering her thoughts to bring her mind back to Rainbow’s question.
“We don’t know.” Rarity replied with a shrug. “I would dearly love to know how this evening will pan out but I just don’t know.”
“It will be up to the Princess,” Fluttershy added after a pause.
“Speaking of,” Rainbow looked around into the darkness, but the rain and down-lights from the street lamps made identifying anything in the darkness near impossible. “What about the other Twilight?”
“What about her?” Sweetie asked. “You don’t think she will be here too?”
“If she is anything like the Princess, I’d bet my best boots she will be here. Somewhere.”
Twilight ducked down in the bush she was crouched in at the sound of her name. She was already uncomfortable, her lanky body more made for the research lab and libraries than crawling through the mud, but she would endure it. For science. For Sunset.
The small measuring device in her hand flashed away, indicating pulses that it was picking up from the statue nearby. Twilight looked down at it, a guilty knot in her stomach, but after she had found the backup of her research she couldn’t go on without rebuilding her equipment. In secret of course. If Sunset had discovered what she was doing, Twilight dreaded to think what she might do. Kick her out of their apartment. Tell her parents. Get the university to retract her scholarship? Part of Twilight rolled her eyes at her ability to devise insane results to her every action, but her name hadn’t become a verb for nothing.
The small device in front of her went crazy. The needle redlined and the small tri-coloured LED she had fitted instead of the Geiger ticker turned solid red as well. Looking up Twilight could see even from her obscured hiding spot a flash of white light illuminate the front of the school and cast the four girls standing nearby into sharp relief. It only lasted for a second before both the light faded away and her device relaxed, the light now glowing purple to indicate elevated ambient radiation, and the needle hovering just off the yellow which told her there were still small spikes of energy being released.
Twilight crawled forward in her bush as far as she dared, her glasses dripping with rain as she peered into the gloom towards the statue.
All seven girls stared at the figure that approached them. No, figures. As they approached, Rarity recognised Princess Twilight Sparkle, but she was much taller than she remembered and far more grown-up than the lanky teenager she remembered. Rather than fifteen or sixteen, Twilight could easily have passed for Thirty, and she was certainly dressed more adult. She wore a form-fitting raincoat that somehow made her look both active yet alluring, slimming jeans and functional yet still fashionable boots. She gripped a very large Umbrella above her head that was patterned with what Rarity recognised as the symbol that had been on the dress she had worn the first time they had met. Twilight’s gaze roamed across everyone present, her expression reserved and formal. She didn’t look angry or upset, but neither was their that spark of excitement or curiosity that Rarity had seen the last two times she had met her. Her eyes stopped on Rainbow Dash, widening for a moment, but that was all before her gaze moved on.
Pulling her eyes from Twilight’s cold and muted reception, Rarity examined her companion. Taller than the other girls and looking like she might be in her mid-twenties now, the woman’s hair was a similar shade to that of Twilight’s and even had the same twin tone stripe, but hers was teal and violet instead. Her large light purple eyes were a similar colour to Twilight’s skin too. Rarity couldn’t help but wonder if she was looking at Twilight’s younger sister. The woman wore form-fitting jeans with stylish tears at the knees and thighs, while all they could see of the top half was a black puffer jacket with purple trim and toggles, the hood pulled up to protect her from the worst of the weather. Rarity also noted how she kept having to check her balance as if she were dizzy. ‘She was a quadruped just a minute ago’ she reminded herself.
All six stood in silence, waiting and staring, no one willing to make the first move. The only person moving was Apple Bloom, and that was only so she could hide behind her sister as if using her as a shield against Twilight’s gaze.
“Evening everyone.” Twilight eventually said, her body relaxing a little. “I’ll admit, I was expecting to see all of you here tonight. Where is Pinkie Pie? Has something happened in our time apart?”
“Twilight… we…” Rarity stammered. “No, Pinkie is away with her work, that’s all.”
Twilight nodded slowly. “I see.”
Rarity took a step forward, forcing Sweetie to move and hide behind Fluttershy. “It’s good to see you again.” She managed to say, despite her voice wavering. “Really it is. You look… much more mature than when we last spoke. I must say it is a striking sight.”
Twilight stuck out her arms and checked out the clothes she was wearing. “Hmmm. Interesting. The portal must have...” She trailed off, then looked down to the woman beside her. “I’m sorry, everyone, this is Starlight Glimmer, my personal student.”
Starlight held up a nervous hand and waved. “Hi.” She smiled before glancing to the Princess. “Like that?” She asked. Twilight nodded slowly with a slight smile.
“Personal student. You must be very skilled in magic then.” Rarity held out her hand in greeting, which Starlight shook, a slight look of confusion her face as she did so. “A princess would only choose the best.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty good.” Starlight replied. “Still got a lot to learn though.”
“Well, I am certain Twilight will be able to help you realise your full potential. Just like she was helping…” Rarity stopped herself, shrinking back from Twilight a fraction as she realised her words.
The change in Twilight was abrupt, shuddering, her breath uneven. “I… Do you…” She began, trying to find the right words. Her eyes moved from Rarity to the three teenagers hiding at the back of the group, Scootaloo standing defensively in front of Sweetie Belle, while Apple Bloom continued to hide behind her sister. “You three do realise who she was? What her life was like? How much pain she had suffered?” Twilight advanced on the trio, who shrank back and the Princess stared them down, her face tight and set with anger. “Do you?” She demanded.
“Now hold on here!” Applejack marched forward. “Ah know they did wrong, but ‘ave you any idea what they have all been through since? You don’t just get to turn up and lay into ‘em. They’ve suffered enough.”
Twilight stopped. She turned to face the farm girl, a cold mix of disbelief and shock on her face. “They’ve suffered?” She hissed. “They have suffered?” Twilight mouthed wordlessly, trying to formulate some kind of response that didn’t just involve screaming.
“Yes.” Applejack snapped back. “Months or barely functioning, months of therapy. Scootaloo even got stabbed. Yeah, they did wrong, but I’d say two years of pain is at least some way to payin’ for their mistake.”
“Are they going to have foals?”
Applejack’s mind stumbled. “Pardon?”
“Children.” Twilight corrected. “Are they going to have children?”
“Yes!” Twilight snapped. “They can have children. What about a home? Do they get one of those?”
“I guess so?”
“Yes, they do. Do they get to have a family?”
“Yeah, but ‘ah don’t see…”
“Sunset gets none of those!” Twilight screamed. “She lost her family, raised in an orphanage. She won’t get a new family, she won’t have a special somepony, or foals, or grandfoals, or a home, or graduate or be able to go on holiday, or see her old friends, or go to the Grand Galloping Gala, or attend the Summer Sun Celebration, or anything anymore because she is dead! She is gone!” Twilight turned to the three teenagers who were backing away from the irate Princess, terrified. “Yes Sunset did wrong, yes she strayed from the path, but she found her way back. Celestia herself admitted to me that she failed Sunset and that she was waiting for her to come home so she could continue to tutor her, to help her reach her potential, to become the first Magus in centuries, to even become a Princess! But you… you… you had to get jealous, you had to get petty, you had to get manipulative. You had to...”
Twilight stopped cold, her mouth making short sharp movements as if her mind kept trying to say different words all at the same time. She glared at the three girls before her who were now cowering away but unable to step back, pinned in the mud by furious anguish that spilt from Twilight’s lips. Yet, as the three terrified girls watched, something changed in her expression. Comprehension? A memory resurfacing? A puzzle piece dropping into place? Slowly Twilight turned, her eyes coming to rest on Rainbow Dash.
“Twilight… darling… just… take a minute and...” Rarity fumbled, resting a tentative hand on Twilight’s shoulder, she tried to steer the Princess away from her sister and her friends but Twilight wouldn’t move, shrugging off Rarity’s hand and turning to face her instead, her steps like those of a cornered animal.
“Why?” Twilight screamed into the night. “Why did you abandon her? She was your friend. Why didn’t you take a minute, why didn’t you all take a minute? What in Equestria could compel her to turn her back on you all? Where was your generous soul?” She poked Rarity hard in the chest, making her stumble back with a splash. “Where was your kindness, or sense of honesty, or seeing how she was no longer laughing,” Twilight stopped, her hands balling into fists, eyes turning back to Rainbow. “And where was your loyalty?”
Rainbow Dash felt like she’d been kicked in the chest. She hadn’t thought it possible, but right there before her, soaked, shaking, tears lost the rain that ran down her face, was something she never thought the Princess capable of.
“Twilight…” Rainbow dash started. “I…”
“Go on,” Twilight whispered. “Say it.”
Rainbow bit her lip. She tried looking Twilight in the eye as she said it, but her eyes drifted to the sodden ground, too scared to see the woman's reaction.
“Say it again.”
“I’m sorry,” Rainbow repeated a little louder.
“Sorry for what?”
Rainbow bit her lip, one foot grinding into the mud, a wave of strange anger swelling inside her.
“Are you going to tell them or should I?”
Rainbow’s eyes shot up to meet Twilights, the anger being overwhelmed by fear and guilt. She tried to speak, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t yell to tell Twilight to stop. She couldn’t whimper, begging her not to. Her mind was caught in a trap of her own making. A small squeak was as much as passed her lips.
“Rainbow Dash was the reason Sunset was here at all,” Twilight gritted her teeth.
“That was you?” Applejack’s voice was numb.
Everyone turned to stare at her. Surrounded on all sides, Rainbow considered running. It would have been easy enough, even if Applejack could go for longer, she’d just have to hide and…
“Well?” Applejack prompted.
A deep breath shuddered through Rainbow. She nodded.
Rainbow stumbled back, Fluttershy catching her before she toppled. Getting her footing, Rainbow felt up to the impact on the side of her face, and the four thin grazes caused by Rarity’s long nails.
The fury and pain in Rarity’s eyes vanished. “Oh Rainbow! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to…”
“Leave it.” Rainbow pushed her away with her free hand as the other covered up the cuts on her face. “I deserve far worse.”
“But I… just let me…”
“Leave it Rarity!” Rainbow yelled. “I fucking deserved it!”
“What does AJ mean?” Scootaloo continued. “What did you do?”
It was as if the colour was washed from their faces as Rarity and Applejack turned the three teenagers behind them. Applebloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo all stared at the older girls, with confusion and anxiety.
“You mean you didn’t tell them?” Twilight was suddenly the centre of attention, but she didn’t care in the slightest. No one replied. Applejack looked like she wanted too but couldn’t formulate a decent response.
“I’m the reason Sunset was at the school.” Everyone now turned to Rainbow Dash. Her arms hung limp, her head down, rain dripping from the tips of her hair to the floor below like tears. “I… She…” Rainbow turned to Scootaloo. “No, what you posted. It got me in a lot of trouble with the team. It risked my place. Of course, I figured it was Sunset so… I told her to meet me behind the school.” Rainbow took a deep shuddering breath, swallowing hard, but she couldn’t finish. Her shame and guilt pulled on her neck like a noose, strangling any attempts to explain her actions but it wouldn’t come.
“She’d set up an ambush for Sunset.” Twilight’s words cut across the group like a sword. “Sunset said she never saw you, but it was easy for her to complete the puzzle. From what I was able to glean, no one was ever caught for it, but the coroner identified that not all her injuries were from her jump.” Twilight shuddered, barely able to look at Rainbow. “You do you know if it weren’t for you, she would probably still be with us? What they did,” She pointed to Sweetie, Applebloom and Scootaloo. “It was wrong, misguided, ignorant, but you… you were malicious.”
Fluttershy gasped, hand to her mouth, tears streaming down her face. Rarity looked like a ghost, somehow her white complexion lacking its usual life, traded for a blunt and cold shade. Applejack’s shocked eyes didn’t even blink as he stared rainbow down in disbelief.
“You know… the whole time I’ve been furious at them.” Twilight whispered, her voice barely audible above the patter of rain on mud. “But It wasn’t them, not really. What you did, you might as well have pushed Sunset yourself.”
The tension snapped. Rarity and Sweetie Belle screamed as Rainbow let out a roar of anger and pain, lunging towards Twilight. Applejack leapt forward to try and block her but slipped in the mud, tumbling over and knocking Fluttershy off her feet. Starlight made a motion with her hands only to look shocked as nothing happened. Twilight took a single step back from Rainbow’s fist, but she was too surprised to run.
Rainbow’s roar turned into a yelp of surprise and pain, her arm being deflected downwards while her other arm was brought round behind her. She slammed face-down into the mud, a firm knee pressing into her back while she gasped in pain, her arm now being held behind her in a painful arm lock.
“From what I have heard tonight you should be serving time.” The voice had Rainbow freeze like stone. “But if what I saw last time and the cuts on your arm here are any indication, you need just as much help as the girls in front of me.”
Rainbow’s mud splatter face turned enough so she could look behind her. Her heart both soared and plummeted, rending it in two.
Everyone looked up to see another figure dashing through the rain. It slid to a halt looking shocked, and then very sheepish.
Carefully, Sunset rose to her feet, keeping Rainbow Dash’s arm pinned behind her, pulling the woman to her feet. “I knew you couldn’t stay away.” Sunset’s voice was bitter with disappointment. “Did you really think I could forget this?” She gave Twilight a knowing look, a small sad smile on her face. She looked down at the girl she still held in her grip. “Do I have to keep you like this or can I let go?”
Rainbow Dash didn’t reply but she slumped in Sunset’s grip. Slowly she released Rainbow’s arm letting the girl walk a short way out of the surprisingly large group that was now gathered at the base of the Wondercolt statue.
“Princess.” Sunset turned to the royal Twilight, giving a slight bow. “You’ve grown up a lot since we last met.”
The Princess stared at Sunset for a long moment. Twilight wanted nothing more than to hug the woman before her and never let go, but she knew they weren’t the same person, even if she looked, sounded and smelled exactly the same. With great effort, she replied, “So have you, it’s good to meet you again.” She swallowed hard and forced herself to look at her doppelganger. “Hello again, Twilight. Still getting into trouble I see.”
“I’m not in…” Twilight began to say, but one very raised eyebrow and firmly crossed arms from Sunset had her stammer to a halt. “Yeah… I guess I am.”
Everyone stood, unsure what would happen next, the rain continuing to fall harder and harder. Sunset noticed her Twilight was shivering, the coat and dress she had selected having been suitable for Manehattens weather as she left, not the torrent falling from the sky.
“I don’t know about you but I think we should get out of this weather, one way or another.” Sunset’s eyes moved from the Princess and Starlight to the statue’s base and back again. “I also think this is far from over.” She continued, her meaningful gaze locking on each person in turn, indicating that her words were not just a passing thought.
“It’s one in the morning.” Rainbow Dash said, her voice drained of its usual flare. “Where could we even go? Even I am not stupid enough to suggest we try and hold such a conversation in a night club.”
“I… I have an idea.” Scootaloo raised her hand nervously like a child at the back of the classroom. With every eye suddenly on her, she faltered. “I, uh, I mean, there is the new Hungry Horse on that development they just finished. I know it’s twenty-four-hour. We could go there.”
“A fast-food restaurant isn’t the kind of place for such a delicate matter.” Rarity replied, her tone strained.
“New establishments on such development sites tend to take a few months to build a customer base.” Twilight cut in. “Being new, we can be assured it is clean, and given both the hour and its recent opening I would say that the chances of there being any other patrons are very low. Food, warmth and relative privacy. Exactly what we need right now. It’s also a short walk away, so no need to get a bus or drive.”
Deciding to overlook Twilight’s encyclopedic knowledge of business development, Sunset clapped her hands together progressively. “Hungry Horse it is.” She called, cutting across Rarity’s retort and giving Scootaloo a supportive thumbs up. “Good idea.”
After a moment, Scootaloo gave a happy shrug. “Thank’s Sunset.”
As the group slowly followed after Scootaloo, Sunset walked up behind Rainbow Dash and push a firm hand on her wrist, pulling her to a stop.
“Given the delicacy of the situation and the additional complications around Princess Twilight,” She began, her voice even and low, dangerously so. “I will hold off reporting what you did to the Authorities, for now. Also,” Sunset tightened her grip just a little. “If you do not take steps to change how you are ‘repenting’, I will be forced to inform your coach.”
“Are you blackmailing me?” Rainbow asked, shocked.
“I suppose I am,” Sunset replied. “I know from personal experience such acts can lead too, and,” She turned stepped round to face Rainbow properly. “I doubt they could cope with losing yet another friend.”
Rainbow had gone as white as a sheet. “Wait what? Do you mean what telling the cops would lead to or… you know…” She finished awkwardly, glancing at her arm.
“Both.” Sunset replied. “Right now, the only thing stopping me from calling them right now is the fact that two of our party and the girl in question don’t appear to be from this world. What you did…” Sunset took a long steadying breath. Rainbow could only imagine Sunset was screaming at her inside her head, but no words crossed her lips. “Turn yourself in.” She finally whispered. “You save everyone else here from a lot of very difficult questions, you get a punishment that from what I can see you think you deserve, and the three young girls ahead of us might just be able to piece their lives back together. If you don’t,” Sunset locked eyes with Rainbow. “I will be informing them.”
Rainbow stared back into Sunset’s gaze. She got the distinct feeling that she was very lucky to still be standing, or even breathing. The look in the woman's eyes was, well, a mix of very dangerous and scary emotions. All of which, deep down, Rainbow knew she deserved.
“Do you know what will happen?” Rainbow asked eventually.
“No, I do not.” Sunset replied shortly.
“Are you going to tell them?”
“No. And just so we can get through this evening, I don’t think you should either.” Sunset responded flatly.
“Do you realise you are being just like her?”
That comment took Sunset by surprise. “Pardon.”
“Social manipulation? Blackmail? Talking people into doing things for you?” Sunset was surprised that Rainbow didn’t sound angry or aggressive. It was calm, even melancholy. “That is what made her so good at being bad, when we met her. A word here, a half truth there.”
“You think I’m manipulating you into doing something bad?” Sunset asked rhetorically.
After a moment, Rainbow shook her head, sending droplets of water flying from her sooden fringe. “No. I may not like it, but it for something good, and it’s entirely my own fault.”
There was a long pause where the only sound that could be heard was the hammer of rain and two uneven breaths in the damp air.
“So. Are you going to do it?” Sunset prompted.
“Can I have a couple of weeks to sort stuff out?” Rainbow asked, biting back a sob.
Sunset gave a slight smile. “I can’t see why not. From what I’ve heard tonight it may well be necessary. But, in the long run, I think this will change things for the better.” Sunset gave Rainbow a final reassuring smile. “I think talking to Fluttershy might be a good start. I am pretty sure she would know someone you could talk too."
Leaving Rainbow to ponder that last comment, Sunset followed after the others towards the restaurant.