"Okay so," Aria Blaze said, ticking off points on her fingers. "We have our wings back, we have pony ears. We have our voices back, but we don't have our gems back." She frowned. "So...do we actually have our powers back, or what?"
"I don't think so," Adagio said. "Not entirely, anyway." She examined her fingernails. "It's strange that we transformed at all, especially after what those...Rainbooms did to us."
"Maybe we could try it out and see?" Sonata suggested. "I know the perfect pla~ace!"
Aria facepalmed. "If you say—"
"Let's go to LOS TACOS HERMANOS!" Sonata cried enthusiastically.
"—that," Aria finished lamely, groaning.
Adagio shrugged. "It's not a bad idea...for once. We need to be someplace there are people, and since it's Saturday, Los Tacos Hermanos is likely to be packed." She frowned. "Besides, I'm hungry, and tacos actually sound good right now."
* * * * *
Rarity frowned thoughtfully as she stretched her measuring tape along the length of Sunset Shimmer's body. "Hmm," she mumbled. "I...I have to be honest, darling. I have no idea what I'm doing here." She tilted her head. "How does one measure a pony for clothes?"
Sunset's muzzle furrowed. "Croup, dock, haunch, shoulders, hip?" she guessed. "I...honestly don't know. To be honest, the only time I ever wore a dress was at formal affairs like the Grand Galloping Gala."
Rarity grimaced. "I...I'm sorry, darling. I just don't know if I can—"
Fluttershy rolled her eyes. "Give me that," she said, snatching the measuring tape away from Rarity. She crouched down next to Sunset and began taking numerous measurements, a frown of concentration on her face. Sunset squirmed uncomfortably. "Got it," Fluttershy said. She took Rarity's sketch pad and started drawing.
"Hey!" Rarity cried. She moved over to take her sketch pad back, then paused, looking at what Fluttershy was drawing. "Oh...oh my," she said. Her lips quivered. "That...that might actually...yes!"
Applejack squatted down next to Sunset. "Might wanna run," she stage-whispered.
Sunset's ears wilted.
The door opened, and Pinkie Pie walked in. "I'm ba~ack!" she called. She carried four bulging bags of groceries. "Sorry it took so long, I had to go ten whole blocks to find a decent supermarket."
Sunset stared at her. "Wow, Pinkie! I only sent you after a couple of things!"
"Oh, I know!" Pinkie said cheerfully. "But I saw so many good things on sale I just knew you'd like! Besides, the rest of us will be stopping by so often, it's a good idea to stock up, don't you think?"
"I guess," Sunset said. "Here, I'll help you put that stuff away."
Rainbow's phone rang. "Hey Dad," she said into it. "Yeah, I'm still at Sunset's place. Yeah..." She sighed. "Yeah, I'll be home later on. Probably around dark." She pocketed her phone and looked around miserably. "I'm gonna have to go soon," she said.
Applejack checked the time on her own phone. "Shoot," she said. "It's gittin' mighty late, ain't it? Ah'm gonna need t' git on home soon too."
"Oh, I do wish I could stay," Fluttershy said, "but...I'm going to need to go home too..."
Sunset smiled. "Hey, don't sweat it, girls. You being here last night and all day today? That's more than I could ask for. Besides, your families need to know about...all this," she said, gesturing with a hoof. "I'll be fine by myself, don't worry! Just go home and relax for the rest of the weekend, take care of whatever else you normally do..."
"If...if you're certain, darling," Rarity said.
"Positive," Sunset said cheerfully.
The girls gathered up their things and, with farewells and promises to call and text often and to check in with her on Monday, left the apartment. Once they were gone, Sunset locked the door behind them, then trotted into the living room, curled up on the couch, and sighed.
"I wonder how Twilight's doing..." She lowered her head into her hooves. "I don't want to be stuck like this any longer than I have to..."
* * * * *
"This is magic I've never even heard of before," Moondancer said. She frowned; her bushy eyebrows drew together in the center of her forehead. "I've spent my entire life doing research, and only in the last few months have I really started to realize just how much I don't know."
"Don't despair, my little pony," Celestia said. "I'm millennia old and I'll be the first to confess I don't know anywhere close to as much as some ponies think I do." She frowned. "For instance, I honestly don't remember ever seeing you before, even though you were a student at the School for Gifted Unicorns—"
"Whose attendance rolls you do not oversee personally," Moondancer said, adjusting her glasses, "because the school is merely named for you."
"Well...technically, I founded the school," Celestia said. "But I haven't had much direct involvement in its administration for quite some time."
"Focus!" Twilight snapped. "Ahem. Your Majesty."
"Forgive me," Celestia said. "You're right. We need to stay on task." Her ears wilted. "I must do everything I can to help Sunset Shimmer..."
"Wouldn't it be easier just to have her return to Equestria and seal the portal forever?" Moondancer asked. "I mean, doesn't she belong in our world in the first place?"
Twilight sighed. "I don't want it to come to that if I can help it," she said. "Sunset Shimmer has found friendship for the first time in her life. I remember when...when I first met my friends in Ponyville. I...I was so happy to have met them, and then I realized I might have to leave..." She smiled and wiped away a tear. "When Princess Celestia assigned me to Ponyville to study friendship, it made me so happy, and...and it didn't take long for me to feel like I was where I belong." She looked up at Moondancer. "Sunset Shimmer is where she belongs. I feel it in my heart. And...and I don't want to take that away from her."
"Nor do I," Celestia said with sadness and resignation. "As much as I would love to see my former student again, to forgive her and ask her to forgive me...I can't fathom separating her from her friends, from her life in the other world..." She frowned at the book she was reading. "Somewhere in all this mess, Starswirl has the answer. He has to."
Moondancer's muzzle crinkled thoughtfully. "Friendship and belonging..." Shaking her head, she selected a new book from her pile and began scanning the text.
*I may be new to this whole friendship thing, and I don't completely understand what's going on, but...I'll do whatever I can.*
* * * * *
Pinkie's tummy rumbled as the girls reached the curb. "I don't know about you girls, but I'm starving," she said. "I skipped lunch."
"I could do with a bite myself," Rarity said.
"I could eat," Rainbow agreed with a shrug.
"Heck, Ah'm not gonna make it home by dinnertime no-how," Applejack said.
"Oh, umm...well...I wouldn't mind a quick bite," Fluttershy said. "I'm still full from lunch, though."
"Hey, why don't we all go to Los Tacos Hermanos?" Pinkie suggested. "It's not too far from here, and I've been wanting to go there!"
"Sounds good to me," Rainbow said.
"Heck, Ah could go fer a taco or two," Applejack agreed.
"I suppose...as long as they have a low-fat taco salad," Rarity said.
"I'll probably just get chips and salsa, but I'll go with you girls," Fluttershy said.
"Okay, let's go get our taco on!" Rainbow declared, throwing a fist in the air.
Fifteen minutes later, the girls arrived at a modest-sized fast food restaurant. The parking lot was crowded, and several cars were queued up in the drive-thru. "Maybe we should...go someplace else," Fluttershy whispered.
"Nah," Rainbow said dismissively. "It's cool. It just LOOKS crowded! Trust me."
The five girls entered the restaurant and looked around. Two thirds of the tables were occupied, and two lines of customers stood at registers. After several minutes, they stood across the counter from a brown-skinned man of indeterminate age, who had short dark hair, faint wrinkles, wire-rimmed glasses, and a placid expression. "How can I help you, ladies?" he asked, raising an eyebrow slightly at their unusual appearance.
"Gimme th' number two combo," Applejack said. "An' a large soda."
"I'll have the number four," Rainbow said. "And the fiesta nachos and a large soda."
"I'll have the gigante nachos, two crunchy beef tacos, and a large soda," Pinkie said.
"I'll have a taco salad with extra sour cream and a medium soda," Rarity said.
"I just want some chips and salsa and a medium water," Fluttershy said. After a moment, she added, "Oh, and a bean and cheese soft taco, I guess."
The cashier finished ringing up their order and gave them their total. They each pulled a few bills from their wallets and pooled the money, handing it over; they split the change, then moved to an empty table to wait for their food.
As they waited, they noticed they were drawing quite a bit of attention. People were whispering; some had their phones out and were taking pictures. Fluttershy hid her face, Applejack frowned, and Rainbow posed proudly, flaring her wings.
"Yeah, our lives are gonna git crazy," Applejack said.
Almost five minutes later, their food was ready; Pinkie and Applejack brought it to the table.
"Aww yeah!" Rainbow cried as she unwrapped the first of her four tacos. "Fartbomb time!"
"Ugh!" Rarity huffed. "You are so crude sometimes, Rainbow Dash!"
Applejack chuckled as she peeled the wrapper off a burrito and took a huge bite.
"So," she said after chewing for a moment, "y'all reckon we'll have a hard time at school on Monday?"
"I doubt it," Pinkie said. "I mean, the whole school's seen us like this already. Sure, we might get some funny looks, but they'll get over it." She frowned. "Honestly? As crazy as things are at our school lately? I'm pretty sure Sunset Shimmer could go back to school the way she is now and by about Thursday nobody would even care."
"I don't think we should try that," Fluttershy said. "Especially not when there are still people who have a grudge against her. Like...Trixie."
"Ugh, Trixie," Rainbow groaned. "Yeah, Trixie seeing Sunset right now would be the worst—"
Rainbow blinked, bits of lettuce and beef hanging out of her mouth, as she looked up, eyes wide.
The other girls followed her gaze.
"Whoa nelly," Applejack said, her ears folding down.
The Dazzlings stood in the center of the restaurant, making as much of a spectacle of themselves as they could. With their new fin-like wings and pony ears, that wasn't very difficult; they stood in a circle, backs to one another, and raised their voices in perfect harmony. Several people were watching them curiously. A few phones were pointed at them.
"Oh no, not again," Fluttershy whimpered.
Rarity frowned. "How could they possibly have their magic back?"
Pinkie tilted her head. "I don't think they do," she said. "Look. Nobody's getting all mind-control-eyes. It's...it's more like they're just curious."
Indeed, as the Dazzlings fell silent, there was some polite applause, then everyone went back to their food and conversations.
"Huh," Applejack said, tilting back her hat and scratching her head. "Ain't that a thing."
Rainbow stood up suddenly, slapping her palms on the table. "YO! ADAGIO!"
The Dazzlings—along with half the restaurant—turned to face Rainbow.
"Yeah, I'm talkin' to you, you big walking hairpile!" Rainbow pointed dramatically. "You may think you're back on top, but we've got Equestrian magic too!"
Adagio smirked. "Well, well, well. If it isn't Rainbow Dash. Love the new look."
"Rainbow," Rarity hissed, "you're making a scene..."
Rainbow ignored her. "If you sucky Sirens try to start anything, we'll kick your sorry butts again!"
Adagio laughed theatrically. "My, my. I do believe the gauntlet has been thrown down."
"Uhh, Adagio?" Aria said nervously. "We don't have any magic."
"Yeah, we'd need like, lead pipes or guns or something to take those girls on," Sonata said.
Adagio rolled her eyes. "We will meet again, Rainbooms!" She swept dramatically to the doors. "Come on, you two."
"But...I never got my tacos," Sonata whined.
Adagio paused. "Oh, for..." Facepalming, she rejoined the customer queue. A lot of the restaurant patrons started chuckling at her; she glared murderously at them.
"Wow," Fluttershy said quietly to her friends. "I almost feel sorry for them. They're...kind of pathetic."
"Still...we probably should tell Sunset Shimmer about this," Rarity said. "I don't think we should dismiss them so easily. After all, they have transformed..."
* * * * *
Twilight, Celestia, and Moondancer, all nursing headaches, decided to take a late afternoon tea break. "I shall need to leave shortly to attend to the sun," Celestia said. "You two should break for the evening soon. Get some rest so we can get an early start."
"I'm pulling an all-nighter," Twilight said. "I can't just—"
"Twilight," Celestia said mildly, "whenever you pull an all-nighter, your judgment and, frankly, your sanity lapse severely." She smiled. "I seriously doubt Sunset Shimmer's world will fall apart overnight if you stop to get a good night's sleep." Draining her teacup, she left the Aethenaeum.
"She's right," Moondancer said. "You need to pace yourself. I know how it is to get lost in research and let hours and hours pass until it's almost dawn, but...this is important, right? You need to keep a clear head."
Twilight sighed. "You're probably right. I just—"
The journal started glowing and vibrating. Blinking, Twilight opened it.
My friends just ran into the Dazzlings. They've grown wings and ears and have their voices back. We don't know how much of their magic they've regained, if any at all.
Twilight's eyes widened and her ears pinned back. "Oh no," she whispered.
Moondancer sighed. "Should I get Lemonhearts to keep the coffee coming?"
"Yes," Twilight said. "Coffee. Lots of coffee."