By Pen Stroke
Pre-read & Edited by
Sunset at Sunrise
The sharp beeping of the alarm roused Sunset from her dreams. She cracked open her eyes and fumbled with one hand to find her phone. After a few moments, she found the familiar shape of its plastic casing and pressed a button on one side of the device. The alarm went silent, and Sunset let her eyes slide back shut. She snuggled back into her pillow for just a few seconds, lingering in the warm embrace of the covers. Sleep hovered, clinging to her mind like the loose, yet still gripping tendrils of a jellyfish. But as the waking world beckoned her, she was forced to slip away and leave her dreams to drift and disappear into the aether of her memories.
Sunset opened her eyes again and looked across the room from her bed, the space bathed in colors by the multiple lights on Twilight’s computer that never turned off. The Library was their base of operations, but since the Friendship Games, it had also become her primary residence. Technically speaking, the space itself had already been that. Where Princess Twilight had made herself a bed of books in the school library for the few nights she spent in the human world, Sunset had picked someplace more secluded. Through odd jobs and the pawning of some jewels brought from Equestria, she had made the space livable and gotten the bare minimum of legal papers assembled to give herself a real identity in the human world.
However, in the wake of the Friendship Games, a nosey Pinkie Pie caused a domino effect of events to occur. In the end, her little hobo hideout was found out. Even the worst scolding she had received from Princess Celestia paled next to the lecture she received from Principal Celestia. The principals not only spoke of the numerous laws that were broken, but the dangers Sunset had posed to herself by living alone in a substandard capacity. She pointed out flaw after flaw, eventually making Sunset wonder how she had managed to survive nearly four years in the human world.
Until other arrangements could be made, Sunset was to stay with her friends, but those plans were put on hold when an old painting in the art room began spewing paint at students and berating their creative skills. That first incident exposed how weak the veil between the worlds had become. New holes were forming, and with each new hole came one or more entities. At the rate of new occurrences, it seemed inevitable that Equestria’s existence would be exposed.
In the interest of both Canterlot High and Equestria, Sunset used her book to arrange a meeting between worlds. Principal Celestia, Vice Principal Luna, and Dean Cadance crossed through the portal, the first humans to enter Equestria. Sunset and her friends never heard the details of what happened, and never heard how three grown women reacted to having hooves and being in a world of horses. They were only told the results once the principals and Dean Cadance returned.
That was how Sunset and her friends began their part time job and when The Library was established. Raw Equestrian gemstones, which grew in the kingdom’s magically-infused ground like potatoes, would provide the necessary finances. Principal Celestia arranged a buyer, a wealthy eccentric only known as Mr. Chord, whom she had become acquainted with over her career as principal of CHS. His history with the school hadn’t always been pleasant, but for now, he was their ally. He would accept the Equestrian jewels and pay appropriately for their worth.
With the more than generous funds, the school’s long-neglected storeroom was made into a livable space. It was only during the party, where they were celebrating the The Library’s completion, that her friends and the principals revealed that they wanted Sunset to consider it a new home. She had been bouncing between her friends’ homes in a never-ending string of sleep overs, but that night, they gave her the master key to The Library.
Those memories, conjured sometimes in the quiet mornings of The Library, always made Sunset smile. She hugged at the blankets of her bed. Her mattress sat on a somewhat elaborate wooden frame with drawers, unlike the simple metal frames of the other beds. After all, she need just a little storage space for her clothes and a few private possessions.
Perhaps The Library could be more lavish. They had a lot of funds coming from Equestria, but Principal Celestia was keeping a tight hold on the operation’s purse strings. In a way, Sunset was thankful for that. They had what they needed and a few creature comforts, creating a balanced environment that really felt like a home.
Two of her friends had stayed at The Library that night with Sunset. One was Twilight, who slept in a nearly perfect straight line beneath her covers, her arms on top of the blanket. Because of the long bus trip, and the many happy phone calls she had with her parents, Twilight had the freedom to stay at The Library more than anyone else. She’d work late into the night, researching possible anomalies and entities across the city. Spike even had his own basket, food bowl, and water bowl over near the computer.
Rainbow Dash was the last, having fallen asleep in her clothes from the night before. Like so many mornings, she proved to be a very active sleeper. Rainbow was sprawled out on the bed she had claimed, body half-covered with a blanket, while her head was partially covered with her pillow. In the past, Sunset had tried to replace her friend’s blanket. Being in a basement, The Library could get cold at night, even with Twilight’s computers constantly putting out heat. Rainbow, however, always kicked the blanket back off within a few minutes, and Sunset had taken on a policy of letting sleeping rainbows lie.
Finally feeling awake enough to leave the warm embrace of her bed, Sunset sat up and swung her feet over the side of her bed. She found a pair of fuzzy bird slippers, a gift from Fluttershy. They bore an uncanny resemblance to Philomena. Sunset had even wondered if this was some prank being pulled by Princess Celestia, but had decided not to push the issue and accepted the gift for what it was.
Rummaging quietly in a few of the drawers of her bed frame, she pulled out her normal exercise clothes and slipped into the bathroom. A few minutes later, she emerged in some Canterlot High branded track gear and running shoes. She moved to the door and smiled at the sight of her usual jogging partner.
“Morning, Spike,” Sunset said quietly. She put one hand on the door and the other on a leash that hung off a hook next to the door. “Ready to go?”
He mustered a small yawn, then nodded as he tilted his head to one side to expose his collar. “We going to the park today or to the river?”
Sunset cracked open The Library door, then kept it open with her heel as she bent down and attached the leash to Spike’s collar. They all knew the now much more intelligent canine was capable of walking without a leash, but the city had a strict leash law. Spike had already spent one night in the pound, and Twilight had to pay a fairly steep fine to get him out. Still, they had tried to make it as accommodating as they could for their pawed pal. The leash was extremely long and light, and to the girls’ joy, there wasn’t a need for a little plastic thing of bags.
Spike, after all, was now intelligent enough to figure out the toilet, though it had taken a few tries to master positioning himself on the seat without falling in.
“Just the park today,” Sunset said when she finally got the leash hooked onto the collar. “Not up for going all the way to the river after last night, so you’ll just have to chase the ducks tomorrow.”
Leash secured, Spike and Sunset slipped out the door, closing it silently behind them once Sunset double checked the pocket of her jacket for her keys. After that, she withdrew a pair of earbuds from one pocket, plugging the tip into her phone before inserting one earbud into her ear. She liked to listen to music, but at the same time, she wanted to be able to talk to Spike if they had something to talk about and no one else was around.
Workout playlist started, Sunset and Spike did a few stretches before heading out from The Library’s exterior door, which was on the back side of the school. They walked the first few blocks before finally breaking into a jog once they were warmed up. They reached a park near the school, a simple field with grass, trees, and a few playground toys in the center for the kids. The usual routine for the both of them was to do a few dozen laps around the park before heading back to get cleaned up for the day.
The weather was getting warmer. During springtime, the sun tended to rise just as the pair would be arriving at the park. Sunset had to put on a pair of orange-tinted shades to shield her eyes from the light, but she found herself smiling at the view as always. Nothing could compare to one of Celestia’s sunrises when the princess had a reason to really make it extravagant, but the human world’s physics driven solar cycle was nothing to sneeze at either. Each sunrise was unique in one way or the other, driven by the chaotic nature of physics and weather patterns.
That morning, on a gust of wind, Sunset’s nose picked up a smoky fragrance. It overwhelmed some of the less appealing smells of the city, and it made Sunset take notice of the redness of the horizon. There were some fires burning to the far east. If she remembered the news correctly, it was nothing dangerous. They were controlled burns, set by the government to help keep the forest-covered national park healthy. The sun had taken on a pinkish hue as it was climbing away from the horizon, and the smells were bringing a smile to Sunset’s face. The aroma on the wind was reminiscent of campfires and fragrant bushes.
Moments like this could make Sunset miss Equestria, but they also made her appreciate the wonders the human world had to offer.
She continued to stride along the park, shifting Spike’s leash to her wrist as she worked to roll up the sleeves of her track jacket. Part of it was to combat her rising internal temperature from the workout, but she also took the opportunity to scratch at a tender spot on her forearm. The wounds from Fluttershy’s feeding had healed for the most part. There was no visible mark anymore, but some of the lingering, deeper tissue damage made the spot a bit itchy. Still, Sunset fought the urge to scratch harder. She powered into the more intense part of her exercise routine, Spike following her lead as they picked up the pace.
She forced herself not to think of Fluttershy, letting her mind get lost in the beats. She didn’t want to have to deal with that ever-gnawing guilt until after breakfast, but something still bothered her. There was a pressure, an itch, a nagging sensation that wouldn’t leave her mind. She tried to focus on her music, even timing her strides to the beat, yet it was like something was actively pressing against her thoughts. She slowed to a stop at a corner of the park, pulled out her one earbud, and shook out her hair before looking across the park.
The morning was quiet. There were a few passing cars and singing birds, but otherwise, the suburbs were calm. She could even hear the music from her earbuds, though she never turned up the volume as high as some of her friends. She looked across the park, holding an earbud in each hand as she scanned her field of vision. The sensation was still there, and apparently, she wasn’t the only one that felt it. Spike was growling at her feet. She glanced down to see where he was looking, then followed his gaze. A somewhat familiar squirrel was staring at them from the tree like they were intruders in his domain.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve seen him,” Sunset said with a chuckle as she looked down at Spike. “I guess he must be feeling better.”
“Oh yeah, he is. That fuzzy psychopath threw a pinecone at me yesterday morning when Rainbow Dash and I were jogging.” Spike raised the volume of his voice, reverting to common barks. It was the closest he could get to shouting at the squirrel without everyone in the surrounding homes hearing a talking dog cursing out a squirrel. Sunset was always curious what Spike was saying in his native tongue, but decided not to intrude on his private war with the local wildlife.
Still, Sunset couldn’t help but chuckle to herself as she let Spike get the barking out of his system. It felt silly to be so paranoid when the thing stalking her and Spike was just a squirrel. She scratched at her forearm, then put her earbud back in as Spike replacing barking with a low growl. “Come on, why don’t we head back a little early?”
“Yeah, okay. No sense sticking around where we aren’t wanted,” he said, turning his nose up and away from the squirrel.
They resumed their run, doing one more lap around the park before crossing the street to begin the return trip to the school. They had to pause on one corner to allow a car to go by, and while they waited, Sunset glanced back over her shoulder at the park. The squirrel was gone, but the somewhat odd sensation lingered. It was weaker than before, but it was still there.
Sunset, however, brushed it off and began crossing the street with Spike once the car had gone by. She began to wonder, as she began to match the beat of her music once more, if all the hunting of strange, magical anomalies was making her paranoid.
Sunset had finished getting cleaned up for the day and was just slipping on her usual leather jacket as she walked up behind Twilight. “So, what’s the weather like?”
As usual, Twilight had rolled out of bed while Sunset was out on her jog and went straight to her cork board, beginning her morning routine of appraising the changes in the city’s magical climate. She was reviewing local news stories that had occurred overnight on a tablet computer. If anything stood out to her, it got printed on their semi-reliable, garage-sale inkjet printer and placed on the cork board with an appropriate colored pin.
It had become their morning weather report, a name that stuck after Pinkie Pie used it once.
“Not too bad.” Twilight picked a fresh piece of paper up from the printer and pinned it to the board with an orange pin. “Not a single mention from any of the usual sources from last night's operations, and nothing new is really popping up for the weekend either.”
“A weekend off? I won’t know what to do with myself.” Sunset turned and moved towards their compact but well-stocked kitchen, procuring a glass from the cupboards and filling it with some water.
Spike was also recovering from their jog, eating from his food bowl. That was one thing some of them were thankful for. Despite his increase in intelligence, Spike still liked dog food and doggy things. The only consideration they had to worry about in that regard was cleaning the bowls a little more often and getting a better brand than Twilight had been using.
“Not entirely off.” Twilight reached up and tapped on one of a few orange pins that were clustered together in one part of the cork board. “I got a message from Dean Cadance. She says the students at Crystal Prep have been making a fuss about some strange occurrences. Since she’s in on our little secret, she asked if I could take a look while I’m visiting my parents this weekend, since I’ll be in the area.”
“Who’s going with you?” Sunset asked as she returned, glass of water in hand. She took a sip as she stood next to Twilight and surveyed the maze of pins, yarn, and paper on the cork board. She was one of the few in their group that could kind of keep up with the connections Twilight was able to form.
Twilight snipped a length of red yarn from the box beneath the cork board, next to Spike’s bed. “Rarity. When I sent out the e-mail a few minutes ago, she replied back within seconds. I think she wants an excuse to go shopping in the downtown fashion district. I’m a little worried it might be a distraction from our work.”
“A distraction is sometimes a good thing, Twilight. I’m sure you two will have a lot of fun.” Sunset took a drink of water. “Besides, I bet Rarity will spend the rest of the day hinting that you two should have a sleep over. When you do finally cave to the pressure, that will mean you two will have the end of today and tomorrow morning to take care of whatever is going on. That leaves plenty of free time to go shopping with Rarity.”
Twilight chuckled a little and glanced away from the cork board for the first time since Sunset returned. “Yeah, I suppose. Though, if she sends pictures to you of some strange outfit she’s got me in, don’t share them with Rainbow Dash this time.”
Sunset finished off the glass of water, then playfully elbowed Twilight in the side before turning to take her glass back to the kitchen. “Now, you know that’s a promise I can’t keep.”
“Didn’t hurt to ask,” Twilight said, pressing one final pin into the board before stepping away and heading towards the kitchen herself. Sunset predicted Twilight’s move and set out a box of cereal and bowl for her bespectacled friend before refilling her glass of water in the sink. Sunset then glanced at the clock and saw school would be starting soon. It was the one part of the day when they had to put their entity hunting work on hold.
It also meant someone else had to be roused from her dreams.
As Twilight went about pouring milk over her cereal, Sunset made her way back to the beds. She had refilled her glass, but this time, the water wasn’t for drinking. It’s purpose was more puckish, one that had Sunset wearing a lopsided grin on her face. She dipped her fingertips into the water as she stood near the foot of bed where Rainbow was still sleeping away.
“How many do you think it will take this morning?”
“Four,” Twilight answered from their small kitchen table.
“I don’t know. She seems pretty dead to the world,” Sunset said as she brought her hand out of her glass of water. She then flicked her fingers, sending a few droplets of water across Rainbow. The first time she did it, Rainbow didn’t even flinch. The second time, she groaned a little and brought one hand to grab at the pillow on her face. Third time, she turned her back against the pesky droplets of water. Sunset chuckled a little, and then dipped her fingers into the glass for a fourth time before flicking her hand.
“Okay! I’m up!” Rainbow shouted through her pillow.
“Right again, Twilight.”
“You two are cruel and unusual,” Rainbow complained as she grabbed at her blanket and tried to cocoon herself against the attack of water droplets. “You could just shake my shoulder or something.”
Sunset turned back towards the kitchen. “I know, but we had a deal. We’d stop doing this to wake you up when you sleep in once Twilight guesses wrong. You wouldn’t want to stop her ever climbing record, would you? How many times is that now, Twilight?”
“I’m up to thirty-one,” Twilight said before placing a spoonful of cereal in her mouth.
“You’re so lucky I’m a person who understands what it means to set records.” Rainbow finally sat up in bed, her hair a glorious mishmash of colors. It was an awe-inspiring bedhead. “Otherwise, I would have so gotten back at you two jokesters by now.”
“Why, Rainbow Dash, we don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sunset said, feigning a emotionally-hurt look before placing her water glass in the sink and opening a cupboard. “Now, hurry up and get ready before we’re late for class. I was going to cook a few eggs for my breakfast. You want any?”
“Two over-easy,” Rainbow said as she pulled herself out of bed, stretched, and stumbled towards the bathroom door. “And this doesn’t make up for the water.”
“Of course it doesn’t,” Sunset said as she opened the fridge to acquire the carton of eggs.
4 May. -- I found that my landlord had got a letter from the Count, directing him to secure the best place on the coach for me; but on making inquiries as to details he seemed somewhat reticent, and pretended that he could not understand my German. This could not be true, because up to then he had understood it perfectly; at least, he answered my questions exactly as if he did. He and his wife, the old lady who had received me, looked at each other in a frightened sort of way. He mumbled out that the money had been sent in a letter, and that was all he knew. When I asked him if he knew Count Dracula, and could tell me anything of his castle, both he and his wife crossed themselves, and, saying that they knew nothing at all, simply refused to speak further. It was so near the time of starting that I had no time to ask anyone else, for it was all very mysterious and not by any means comforting.
This was, perhaps, the least appealing book report Sunset had ever been assigned. She slouched in her chair at the library, looking up at the ceiling as she struggled to find motivation to keep reading. It wasn’t that she didn’t like reading. She, Rainbow, and Twilight could have regular geek-out sessions about the latest Daring Do book or news. Their latest round of excited chatter had been over the subject of something they had learned from the pony world, that the author A.K. Yearling, in Equestria, was a true-to-life Daring Do and that the books were more memoir than fiction. They then went on to talk about whether something similar was possible in their world.
But, of course, Daring Do wasn’t a book you could pick up for an assignment in Mrs. Inkwell’s Classic Literature. They were looking at the true classics, things that had proven themselves against the test of time. The Iliad, The Odyssey, Frankenstein, Gulliver’s Travels, The Lord of Flies, and The Grapes of Wrath were but a few of the titles that Mrs. Inkwell had placed in her infamous fishbowl. Some teachers gave assignments. Others let students choose from lists. Mrs. Inkwell, however, liked to make it a bit theatrical and had everyone pull a book assignment at random from a big, glass fishbowl.
And on the list of possible assignments, there were many Sunset would have been eager to do, and only two she had dreaded. One was War and Peace. No one had ever gotten it in the class, but Mrs. Inkwell kept it on the list of possible assignments every year nonetheless. Perhaps it was just a scare tactic, or something to make students appreciate getting other novels that wouldn’t be as overwhelming. No one knew for sure, but once more, War and Peace remained absent from the list of randomly drawn books. But luck was being cruel to Sunset today, because when she withdrew her hand from the bowl, she found that she had drawn the other book that she would have rather avoided.
A few months ago, she would have loved being assigned Dracula. It was a classic of literature and helped defined the modern vampire mythos—a mythos that was perhaps degrading a little because of the vampires that held a side role in the werewolf-focused Pale Moon series. Sunset could not understand how that appealed to so many people. Rarity had gotten caught up in the frenzy as well. She practically devoured those novels and gladly claimed herself as part of Team Lance. But Dracula helped start it all, defining the modern strengths and limitations of the famed Count of Transylvania.
But now the story hit too close to home.
Glancing down at her backpack, Sunset reached in and rummaged around inside before pulling out a black folder. She opened it and thumbed through its contents.
Sunset skimmed the pages, rereading the notes she had all but memorized. Their Dracula was a class three aggressive magical manifestation that had taken the shape of a large vampire bat. It had a wingspan of six feet, and its central body measured a foot and a half in length. It disappeared as the sun rose, fading from existence like many of the entities they chased, but reformed every night with the setting of the sun.
It had no human form, and while it wasn’t smart enough to speak, write, or understand the philosophies of life, it knew how to hide, elude, and set traps. Yet, if that was all Dracula was, it would have been a class two at worse.
But Dracula liked to bite. Like a true vampire, it drank blood for its nourishment. It wasn’t particular about where its fangs found a home in its prey’s flesh. The hand, the leg, or the arm, any place with exposed flesh would do. They had tracked incidents of Dracula feeding all across the city on different animals and people. Once, it had even caused a stir at a blood bank.
Thankfully, no one else had been afflicted like Fluttershy yet.
“I know that folder.”
Flinching, Sunset slapped the folder shut and down onto the table before looking at the source of the voice. It was Principal Celestia, who had slipped up beside Sunset without her realizing.
“I thought I asked you not to bring out materials related to your extracurricular activities during school hours.”
“Sorry,” Sunset said, quickly stuffing the folder back into her backpack. “I just… something happened to make me think about it.”
“I imagine this is to blame,” Celestia said, reaching out and picking up the library copy of Dracula. “I assume this is for a class, and that you're not reading this just to torment yourself.”
“Mrs. Inkwell’s class, the second fishbowl book assignment.”
Celestia nodded and even put on a relieved smile as she offered the book back to Sunset. “I’m very happy to hear that. I know that you take a lot of personal responsibility for what happened that night, Sunset. At the same time, if you feel this is a bit too much for you, I could try speaking with Mrs. Inkwell. I’m sure we can come up with a valid argument as to why you should be allowed to read a different book for your assignment.”
Sunset took the book back and held it in both hands as she looked at the dust cover, which depicted a dark castle set against mountainous terrain. “No, it’s okay, I’ve never actually read it, and it might help us in the long run.” She paused and glanced around a moment, ensuring there was no one in earshot of their conversation. “Our Dracula does seem to follow some of the original mythos, even if it can’t turn into a human. I just wish I understood it better. Then maybe we’d be able to predict where it would show up next.”
“I don’t doubt that you girls will catch up with our little bat problem eventually.” Celestia pulled out a chair at the table, took a seat, and lowered her voice to keep their conversation private. It was a bit of an odd sight, to see the principal of the school just sitting down with a student in the library, but none of the other students in the library seemed to take notice. Or, if they did, they were doing their best to be respectful. “How is Fluttershy doing? Twilight assures me in her weekly reports that her condition is still stable, but I wouldn’t mind more insight.”
“Don’t you talk to her regularly?” Sunset asked.
Celestia nodded. “I do, but the most I can usually get out of her is that she’s doing fine.”
“That makes sense. I doubt I’d want to talk about it much if I was in Fluttershy’s position.” Sunset ran a hand through her hair and leaned an elbow on the table. “Twilight is right, we haven’t noticed any changes in her physical condition. She also hasn’t developed any new powers, and as far as we can tell, her natural magic is still stable.”
“And what about the rest of you?” Celestia asked. “Have any of you had trouble healing after giving Fluttershy what she needs?”
“Not yet, anyway.” Sunset pushed up the sleeve of her jacket, showing off her forearm even though there was no visible mark. “It was my turn last night, and it was completely healed before the first bell. We’re just lucky that getting better in touch with the magic of friendship inside us has given this enhanced healing. I don’t know what we would have done for Fluttershy otherwise.”
“It has proven particularly useful, especially since I don’t have to explain to any parents why their daughters are coming home with bumps, cuts, and bruises.” Celestia’s eyes wandered across the library, looking across some of the other students as they went about their work. “But how is Fluttershy doing emotionally? I’d personally like it if she could speak to the school counselor about this regularly, but the last time I brought it up, she said it was more important to keep the secret.”
“I think she’s getting used to it, a little, but she still doesn’t like it.” Sunset frowned, sinking into the table a little, as if partially deflating. “She still cries when she has to feed, and she’s still trying to skip days. She just hates the idea so much that she has to hurt us to keep herself alive, even though we’ve told her dozens of times that it's alright.”
“Please, keep reassuring her like that,” Celestia said as she stood from the table. “Even if it doesn’t seem to be getting through, I have no doubt that it’s helping Fluttershy deal with this difficult time in her life. Now, I’d better be off. Twilight’s probably already waiting in my office with this week’s report. Have you already copied it out for the princesses?”
“Did it over lunch, like usual.”
“Very good.” Celestia turned to leave, but looked back at Sunset as she walked away. “Come talk to me if you change your mind about speaking to Mrs. Inkwell. Though, the last time I had this talk with her about a student, that student ended up getting assigned War and Peace.”
“Thanks,” Sunset said, waving goodbye to Celestia before focusing back on the borrowed copy of Dracula. She chuckled and cracked it back open to the page she had been on. “Might as well stick with the book I have a chance of finishing before the assignment is due.”
“Am I doing this right? This number don’t look right to me.”
Sunset glanced up from her own homework and looked over at Applejack’s math assignment. She glanced over the handwritten work, following the flow of math in her head. She then turned her pencil around in her hand and pointed at a particular number. “This is supposed to be a three, not a two. You just copied it wrong.”
“Well, that makes me feel a mess better.” Applejack pressed the eraser of her pencil to the page, rubbing away the offending number and the equations that resulted from it. “Don’t know how I didn’t catch that myself.”
“It happens to all of us. Can you hand me that book to your right, though? I want to make a quote for my essay.”
Applejack obliged, passing over the red-covered book before the pair sank their heads back into their homework. It wasn’t long before they were interrupted again. The clink of a plate on the small coffee table drew their attention, making both of them look up to see Fluttershy setting down a couple of glasses of water as well.
“I guess that means you're done with your home economics assignment,” Applejack said as she smiled up at Fluttershy.
“I still have to bake the rest of them, but I think the recipe turned out well.”
Sunset cocked her eyebrow before reaching out and taking one of the cookies. They were lumpy and spongy, not at all what she would consider a regular cookie. She took a bite, and couldn’t help but smile. It was still warm from the oven, and the soft, spongy texture felt good on the tongue. Sunset could taste chocolate chips, but the main part of the cookie had a sweet flavor to it as well. But it wasn’t just sugar. “What kind of cookies are they?”
“Pineapple Chocolate Chip,” Fluttershy answered. “Everyone else already picked most of the regular recipes that were available for this assignment, but the teacher said that she’d never had a student get anything but an A with this cookie recipe. It’s pretty easy, actually.”
“Well, I wouldn’t have ever thought of putting pineapple in chocolate chip cookies or making them this spongy, but I can’t argue with the results. You’re bound to get an A with this, Fluttershy.” It was then Sunset noticed Applejack was eyeing her cookie, examining it like a math problem she couldn’t quite figure out.
“What, have something against pineapples?” Sunset asked with a chuckle.
“Nah, but look at my cookie. Is it just me, or does this one kind of look like Vice Principal Luna?”
Fluttershy and Sunset leaned in to examine the possibly principal-resembling cookie, but their senses were assaulted by a sharp, loud blare. The noise was coming from Twilight’s computer setup, and several screens were flashing red messages and exclamation points. Sunset vaulted over the coffee table and rushed to the computer. Fluttershy and Applejack were a few steps behind, Applejack stuffing the cookie into her mouth just to get her hands free.
“Twilight called in on the emergency number,” Sunset said, grabbing the computer’s mouse and sliding it across the screen. The emergency number was something they set up through a computer phone service, one that let you use your internet connection as a phone number. It was an internal 911, one the group could call if faced with a life or death emergency.
Moving the computer cursor over the answer icon, Sunset clicked the mouse. A window popped up with Twilight’s picture, a candid shot of her sleeping on The Library’s couch with Spike curled up on her chest like a cat. Though the profile picture was a scene of peace, the noises coming over the line were anything but. There was panting, the sound of running, and the whistle of air rushing by the microphone.
“Twilight? Twilight! Are you there?” Sunset shouted, picking up the headset microphone as she sat down. She moved the call window to one side of the screen and brought up another program on the computer. It was a cell phone location program, another service they had subscribed to as a means of patching together a safety system for their needs. The program had all of their cell phones listed. Sunset quickly tapped on Twilight’s entry in the list, and a spinning icon appeared in the program as it began trying to locate her phone.
“Twilight, say something,” Sunset nearly shouted into the headset microphone as she turned her attention back to the call.
“Sunset! I need backup. Class 3 aggressive. It’s—” A sharp bang of metal came over the call, making the three girls wince as Sunset reached to turn down the computer’s speakers. “Say again, Twilight.”
After that one word, the call from Twilight went silent, the speakers providing nothing more than a low level buzz until the software ended the call.
“Did she just say…?” Applejack asked, but the answer was written all over her friends’ faces. Fluttershy was clutching her arms around her chest, as if trying to shake off a nasty chill in the air. Sunset’s hands balled into fists, and she stood up from the chair as her eyes looked to the cell phone locator app. It had pulled up a map and placed a purple dot on it, representing Twilight’s phone. Though the street names were unfamiliar to the three girls, the picture brought up by the app wasn’t. The closest address the locator software was able to associate with Twilight’s position was Crystal Prep.
“Get your lockets and your gem studs,” Sunset said, slapping her palm against the surface of the desk. She turned away and began walking across the room towards her bed. “We’re leaving, now.”
“What about Pinkie and Rainbow?” Applejack asked.
“Call them, but we aren’t waiting. They’ll have to catch up,” Sunset said as she arrived at the foot of her bed and reached down to one of the lower drawers that were tucked beneath it. Sunset grabbed a small, black fabric bag from amongst her folded shirts before stepping over to the bathroom door. She slipped in, pulled the door shut behind her sharply, and quickly went to the sink.
It was only then she noticed the blood smeared on her left hand.
She had clenched her fists so tightly at the computer, her finger nails had broken the skin. She could only imagine the trail of blood she had left behind on Twilight’s desk and on the bathroom’s door handle. She thought about cleaning the blood before it stained, but Sunset shook her head.
“There’s no time to clean up the mess,” she told herself. She turned on the faucet, washed off the blood, and then gave it a spray of disinfectant before she tried applying a band-aid. But band-aids never really worked well on the palm of someone’s hand. She could tell already it wasn’t going to put for very long, especially when they’d likely be riding the school’s motocross cycles to get to Crystal Prep in time.
Luckily, they had more than enough medical supplies for something more traditional. She pulled a small bandage pad from a box, and then grabbed a roll of medical tape. A few moments later, she had the cut covered. She opened and closed her hand a few times, ensuring that the pad wasn’t going to wiggle loose. Satisfied, Sunset grabbed her black prep-kit and opened it on the bathroom counter.
The prep kit was just about the size of a medium, paperback book. To anyone else, it would seem like nothing more than a travel toiletry bag, plain in color with a zipper. But for her and her friends, these bags contained all the essential tools for the duty they had taken on. Unzipping the bag, Sunset began to remove items from the bag with practiced efficiency, ensuring each one was in their proper place. The fully charged, wireless ear piece went to her ear. With a tap of a button, it would pair up with her phone.
Next came the gem studs. They were magical artifacts straight from Equestria, a gift from Princess Celestia to help the group with their mission. The studs made it easier for them to access the magic of friendship within. While the magic was still largely unpredictable, the gem studs acted as a focusing point. It let them pony up at will for short periods of time, which let them access the magical talents they had developed in their enhanced forms.
After that, each girl’s prep kit varied. Some of her friends didn’t have more than those two things, and this led to some variances in the size of their bags. For Sunset, she didn’t need much additional space. In her bag there were two photographs printed at wallet size. One was a picture of her friends, which she took and placed in the right chest pocket of her coat. She hardly glanced at that one, but the second of the two pictures always made her pause.
It was a bit blurry, a picture captured in the haste of the moment. She had shouted at Twilight so much for taking pictures at the time, but in the end, she was thankful for it. It was a good motivator.
Tucking the second picture away, Sunset looked to the final item from the bag, something that she had never taken with her before. Sunset reached out, clicked open the wooden case, and touched the cold metal of the item inside. She drew her hand away, second guessing herself. She touched the outside of her coat, feeling the two pictures tucked away inside the interior pocket. Her brow furrowed, and her resolve hardened. Sunset took the wooden case and slipped it into the left chest pocket of her jacket, noting its reassuring but uncomfortable weight.
The hum of the motorcycle’s motor faded away from between Sunset’s legs. She reached her hands up to remove her helmet, and shook out her hair for a moment before looking at their destination. Crystal Prep looked just like it did in the pictures. The stately, dark-red bricks of the building’s walls met with the columns of crystal that stood at every corner. The clock above the main entrance showed the time, a few minutes past nine. Already, Sunset felt like it had taken them too long to arrive, even if taking the motorcycles had let them avoid some of the regular city traffic.
The engine of Applejack’s cycle, the other of the two motocross bikes from the Friendship Games, died with a flick of the key. She flicked up the visor of her helmet to take a look at the school as well. “Why is it that all schools look so darn uninviting at night?” She removed her helmet, hanging it off a handlebar before reaching to a pair of saddle bags that were on either side of her bike. One was specifically shaped to hold her hat, which she removed and placed back on her head. The three girls had forgone the normally fashionable skirts they wore at school. This was a dangerous situation, and despite Rarity’s frequent protests, dangerous situations called for pants and running shoes.
“Why couldn’t we have just taken a bus?” Fluttershy asked, her voice shaking a little as she got off the back of Sunset’s bike. She was visibly shaken and had to place a hand on the motorcycle as she clutched the other to her chest. “And did you have to go so fast?”
“We were only going five miles per hour over the speed limit, just as fast as everyone else on the highway,” Sunset said as she hung her helmet off her handlebar. She swung her leg back over the side of the bike, but kept a firm grip on the handlebars to ensure it stayed upright. They were still outside the gates of the school, though they were noticeably cracked open. She pushed the bike towards the gate, using a foot to kick it a little further open before continuing inside. “Now come on. We have to find Twilight and Rarity.”
“Aren't you even going to wonder why the gate’s open?” Applejack asked as she and Fluttershy followed Sunset through the gate and onto the school grounds.
“I’m sure Rarity and Twilight just left it open.” Sunset turned her bike to the left, getting it away from the gate and eventually coming to a stop in the teacher’s parking lot. She lowered the kickstand and leaned the bike against it gently.
“Sunset, you know they wouldn’t do that, especially if they’ve got a key. Don’t you think Dean Cadance would have given them a key?” Applejack got her bike parked next to Sunset’s, pulled the key from the ignition, and slipped it into her pocket. “Now, would you slow down for just a second? I know we're here to find our friends. I know the only reason you're so gung-ho is because Twilight mentioned Dracula, but that’s no reason to lose your head.”
“Why isn’t it?”
Applejack put up her hands defensively while Fluttershy hid a little behind her. “Because that’s the last thing any of us need right now. We go in there without thinking, we could just put Rarity, Twilight, and ourselves in danger. So just take a breath for me, Sunset, and believe me when I say that everything will work out.”
“You’re right,” she said, taking the recommended deep breath and running a hand through her hair. “Sorry, I just got myself worked up on the ride over here.” She took another steadying breath. “Thank you for saying something. I’m better now, but we still have to hurry. Let’s go try the front door, see if we can get in that way. Any alarm system should be off if Rarity and Twilight are still inside.”
“Now, that’s sounding like a good plan,” Applejack said as she and Fluttershy followed Sunset’s lead towards the front door. The school was completely quiet, a stark contrast to the sounds of panic they had heard over the phone. Sunset found the silence unsettling, and for a moment, fears of what they could find inside flashed in her mind. Would they discover Rarity and Twilight slumped in some corner, now bearing fangs like Fluttershy… or was something even worse waiting for them?
With a surge of her will, Sunset pushed those thoughts away as she, Applejack, and Fluttershy climbed the exterior steps of the school. They would find their friends, and then they would kick some magical-fueled entity butt. Tonight was the night they fixed their failure, Sunset was sure of it. She reached out for the handle of the front door and gripped it firmly before pulling. The door was unlocked, and it swung open easily and without a sound.
The girls moved inside the school, and behind them, the gates to Crystal Prep were nudged shut.