Just before the decorating phase began, Pinkie was seen whispering to the sirens. They chuckled, but nodded affirmatively.
Off the pan and on the plate,
now's the time to decorate!
Colored icing adds some flair,
make sure that it's even-layered!
The last part of the cheer was delivered just as Pinkie and Fluttershy showed off their cake.
CHS's is so high,
but inside is the real surprise,
Most of the room, most of all the judges, could only stare in shock at the Mona Lisa made into the layers of a cake. Some of the Shadowbolts quietly raised questions about the purpose of putting that much effort into something that was meant to be eaten, but Sour Sweet remained very, very quiet.
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
On the way to the workshop, where the next part of the competition was to take place, Aria scratched her head.
"So, I thought Crystal Prep was 'fielding its best students'. Wuddup with those guys' cake, then? Did you see that thing?"
"Yea," nodded Sonata, "and CHS had a bummer, too! Were they both just hoping their side's good cake would make everyone forget the sucky ones, or what?"
She and Aria waited for a comment from Adagio, but turned to see her staring off into space as she walked along with them, earning a shoulder-poke.
Sonata frowned. "You okay there, Dagi? You were doing that thinking-too-hard thing again."
This won a mild scowl. "I do not 'think too hard,' you just don't think hard enough."
Aria frowned. "So what are you thinking about?"
Adagio flinched, lowering her head as she tried to hide behind her long, fluffy bangs. "W-well... It's not important, but, um..." She gulped. "I have mixed feelings on cheering, and it scares me."
Aria and Sonata shared a look of a single raised eyebrow each, but the latter giggled.
"Maybe it's in your DNA. I mean, you practically look like a pom-pom already!"
Hearing a tiny, pained groan as Adagio's shoulders slumped, Aria shrugged dismissively. "Ahh, it's probably just shakin' your ass in a revealing outfit that you're liking, not rooting for people we hate in a contest we don't care about."
That won a tiny smile out of Adagio, but Sonata made an inquisitive face.
"Wait, do we still hate them, leaving out Sunset? I mean, I know the rest didn't lift a finger to help us when we were all depressed, but it's not like they could have been expected to do anything about magical problems they know next to nothing about, and they haven't made fun or acted like they owned us or anything, so apart from the whole mad quest for power thing (that we didn't really get to do all that much anyway), should we even still be mad?"
Eyes full of fire said Aria wasn't convinced. "They took our purpose in life and left us to rot."
Pouting, Sonata replied in a low whine. "But dwelling on bad feelings suuuuucks! You should know, you were sulkier than any of us for those long, sucky months!"
Aria's eyes (flames thankfully extinguished) widened for a second before she crossed her arms and looked away. "So?" she asked weakly, "Doesn't mean they didn't still screw us."
"Doesn't mean moping about it doesn't still suck."
"Gdrk-! You-! That-!" Aria groaned. "Adagio, shut her up!"
Smiling a little, Adagio draped one arm around Sonata's shoulders to pull her in for a light hug. "See? Thinking hard. Good girl."
Sonata let out pleased little giggles as Aria replied with another tortured groan. She'd quit hating things when she was good and ready, dammit!
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
Cut, drill, saw, bash,
wood parts fashioned in a flash!
Ham-mer, and, nail,
or the house is sure to fail!
Paint, on, thick, layers,
even if the birds won't care!
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
"Man," Rainbow remarked aloud on the way to the next event, "why'd they paint flames on a birdhouse? I don't think when birds see a forest fire, their first thought is "Oh, I'mma build my nest in that!""
"It's really not," muttered Fluttershy.
Applejack would have commented in jest on the merits of painting flames on a scarecrow to keep the buzzards away, but not while Fluttershy was in earshot.
Rarity sighed, keeping her voice down. "It might have looked ridiculous, but at least theirs didn't fall apart at the slightest touch. Perhaps we should have made sure everyone knew what they were doing before we chose teams?"
"Speaking of touching," Pinkie piped up, "I heard some of the Shadowbolts talking about their Twilight, how she's been feeling up the sirens today!"
"What?!" Sunset's head whipped around so fast that she heard the ends of her hair snap against something, along with a familiar, frightened squeak at the same time. Shock melting to heart-felt contrition, she turned, much more slowly, to see Fluttershy with her hands over her nose. "S-sorry!!"
Still rubbing her nose, Fluttershy managed a little smile. "It's okay, that just startled me a little." She had to actually let Sunset see her nose before her Sunset was convinced she hadn't been hurt, but the reminder of how much her former bully had changed still warmed her heart!
"Okay," Sunset said while looking back at Pinkie, "what was that about Twilight?"
"Just that she apparently groped Aria and Sonata before pushing Adagio down to have her way with her, right there in the hallway! Then they dragged her off somewhere just before the games started"
Sunset had no words.
Breaking the portal (which may have been involved with Rarity and Pinkie's sudden fatigue), then fondling three girls? What the Hell is she playing at here?! If she's doing something with magic, is it because she knows about the sirens? Was she trying to access their magic somehow too, or was that just a random impulse? I mean, they are attractive girls, and maybe she swings that way too, but why would she stop whatever she's doing with the magic to-
"Hey," snickered Applejack, "y'think them belly-shirts are doin' a lot fer more than just Sunset?"
Her friends' giggling snapped her out of her thoughts as she flushed red. "Guys, I-I told you, sh-she was just, it was a joke! She was just joking!" She looked to Rarity for support, but Rarity sharply averted her eyes and said nothing. Of course, she hadn't defended Rarity either when the sirens poked fun at her, so maybe it was too much to expect midriff-related-embarrassment solidarity now.
Pinkie beamed. "Every joke carries an ounce of truth, Sunset!"
Extremely rare was the day that Fluttershy would join in on any kind of teasing, but with a small, mischievous smile did she do exactly that. "If they're okay with cheerleading, they m-might be okay with belly-dancing for you, too."
"Don't worry about it, Sunset," Rainbow said with a wide grin, "no one is judging your love of belly-shirts."
"I don't love belly-shirts, and the miniskirts are much hotter anyway!"
For a second, the Rainbooms stopped dead, even as everyone else continued to walk around them. Luminous, Sunset quickly picked up the pace in both movement and conversation. "But, the real point of having them dress like that is still converting them to the light side and all, like we talked about before."
The rest vaguely nodded and murmured in agreement as they followed along, hoping for Sunset's sake that no one else really heard that in the din of the hallway.
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
The sirens knew without being told that they weren't allowed to cheer (let alone spell things out with their cheers, whether they were related to the current word or not) during the Spelling Bee, but they were permitted to perform short victory dances when the Wondercolts got one right. Fluttershy and Sunset were the leading cause of pom-pom swinging for that event, the latter being no surprise. It looked like Sunset had been the driving force for the Wondercolts in the Chemistry event too, which the sirens took to mean that her labcoat wasn't an impulse buy when she started screwing with magic.
Sugarcoat found that her team didn't do a fantastic job either, bar Twilight Academic Robot Sparkle, but she blamed her own mistake on the Wondercolts' cheerleaders. Their silent dances were meant to throw her off, flailing their limbs in ways that subliminally implanted the wrong letters into her mind, she was sure of it!
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
And then came time for the Elimination Equation, which saw Sunset and Twilight as the sole competitors. Each stood in front of a chalkboard and were asked to solve the same equation... with everyone staring at them. Again, the sirens were silent, as concentration was key, and since Sunset was facing away from them, they didn't even dance this time, instead sitting idly by while vaguely wishing her luck.
While working on the equation, Sunset kept glancing at Twilight out of the corner of her eye.
"Twilight? Pssst! Twilight! I need to talk to you!"
No response. Her attention divided between the chalkboard and the girl to her right, Sunset tried again.
"Hey! Twilight! Twilight Sparkle whom I understand not to be the one everyone at this school is already familiar with! Talking to you!"
"It's about the magic here. You must have some idea of what's going on, right? Bump into something if you can hear me!"
She gave no signal.
"So help me, I will drag my nails down this chalkboard!"
Sunset focused on the equation for a moment while waiting for a response. Either Twilight didn't hear her or she was calling her bluff. Scowling, Sunset opted to just get through the event for now and find a minute to talk things out with her later. Twilight, for her part, remained steadfastly focused on the board in front of her, lest she remember something about someone being in front of a LOT of people waiting to judge them for their every slightest movement. She sure wouldn't want to be someone like that right now!
Have to get this right, HAVE to get this right! Yes, yes, the third quadratic is...
When she was finished, she turned and waited for the verdict. The sound of Cinch saying "Incorrect" made her wince, but she quickly realized that she was pointing to the other girl's board when she said that.
Sunset blushed a little, both for having failed in front of everyone (quite possibly due to a lack of concentration...) and for Photo Finish snapping a picture of it for posterity.
Also in the crowd, Aria muttered her question to the others. "So, was Cinch the sole judge of that event, or...?"
They had no answer as Luna tallied up the points on her clipboard. "That means the winner of the Friendship Games first event is... Twilight Sparkle and Crystal Prep!"
Twilight smiled a little, though it ebbed away at the lukewarm praise she got for it as some of the other Shadowbolts joined her on stage. Glancing over her shoulder, she watched girls from the other team huddle together to congratulate her opponent. For failing. She heard something about being happy to get that close to winning, but couldn't help a bitter twinge in her chest at the sheer difference in reactions, despite the inversion of success.
Dean Cadence stood in the center of the stage to deliver the next announcement. "After a careful tally of the points, we'd like to present the students moving on the the Friendship Games' second event."
There was a bit more clapping, but the sound that most got Twilight's attention was the snapping of a palm against her rear, making her jump with a start. Both hands moving to address her stinging posterior, she quickly turned to see a smiling Indigo Zap.
"Great work, ya little egghead!" She turned to smirk at that purple cheerleader, but it quickly faded to a more irritated expression when she saw her talking to the other two, not even paying attention to the proof that CHS was losing anyway! She was tapped on the shoulder by a thoroughly unamused Sunny Flare.
"Was that a sportsmanlike pat to the behind, or sexual harassment?"
"First one, I don't really go for the dweeby types." She smiled at Twilight with only a hint of contrition. "No offense."
Glancing back and forth between the cheerful Wondercolts and her own largely apathetic team, Twilight sighed quietly. She might have liked a little of that jubilation for herself, she'd certainly earned it, but maybe sportsmanlike swatting was where it started? Regardless, the second event wouldn't be starting for a little while, so she got back to work with the spectrometer, stepping past the blue-haired boy again to continue her search.
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
In order to find a private spot to feed Spike and take him for a walk, Twilight slipped out of CHS through a side-door. She had a bit of time before the next event, so it was probably better to take care of him now if she didn't want a mess in her bag (And I very much don't!). Besides, he was whimpering at her from inside the backpack, and the sound always made her feel like she was doing something awful.
When they made their way around to the front of the school, however, she had to pick him up and duck behind a pillar to hide from those other girls. It was mostly just the scary one with the red and yellow hair, but with the dirty looks she'd been giving Twilight since she showed up, she'd have been avoiding her even if she hadn't just beaten her in that event. What happens when you confront someone you've recently outperformed was the first thing Twilight learned at Crystal Prep. Luckily for her, Scary Girl and the rest moved on before long, though one walked in the other direction and knelt by some bushes. Twilight would have kept moving, but the spectrometer flickered to life...
Opening her bookbag, Fluttershy was immediately nuzzled by Angel Bunny, who'd slipped into her bag again that morning. Patting his soft, little head, she heard a rustling sound from the bushes behind her, turning to see the other Twilight. Glancing at Angel, she smiled. "Do you want to give him a treat?"
Somewhat hesitantly, Twilight smiled back as she stepped out of the bush and knelt beside her, holding Spike's leash as he scampered up to say hello via sniffing and tail-wags. "Guess I'm not the only one who smuggles pets into school."
Fluttershy giggled. "Well, just the one. Angel likes to come with me sometimes, but I couldn't possibly bring more at once. I mean, could you imagine three or four living creatures all smushed together in one little bag for hours on end? Even if I were to line the bag with blankets and have no room at all for books, it'd still be horribly uncomfortable before long."
"...You've thought about it."
"Long and hard, yes."
Twilight nodded, gesturing to the puppy at her side as she let him off the leash. "Well, all I have is Spike."
Picking him up, Fluttershy smiled. "It really is uncanny. Does he talk?"
"...Uhh," she uttered with an awkward grin, "not that I know of...?" 'Does your dog talk?' There really IS something crazy about this school!
"Congratulations on winning, by the way," Fluttershy said while rubbing Spike's belly, frowning as she turned to look at Twilight, "though, it didn't seem like anyone on your team was very excited about it."
Twilight frowned a little herself. "No one at my school gets excited about anything they didn't do themselves."
Her frown deepened. "That sounds awful."
Reminded of the (quite unfair!) contrast in responses from both teams not too long ago, Twilight must have let her feelings show on her face, because Fluttershy offered her the rabbit.
"Here, hold this."
On account of having her own cuddly puppy, Twilight was quite familiar with the emotional healing properties of small, cute animals, so she took hold of the bunny without question. A thought occurred as she accepted the tender nuzzles. "I'm on the other team and you just lost. Why are you being so nice to me?"
Fluttershy smiled. "You looked like you needed it."
And then she started to glow...
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
"So," Sunset summed up, "you ponied up, Twilight's necklace started moving, and then the magic went haywire, with Twilight sprinting away in fright?"
"Uh-huh," confirmed Fluttershy, "and by the end of it, Spike was talking and I felt really, really tired."
The Rainbooms walked through the hall together to see the area that had been set up for the next event, with Fluttershy sharing the story of her encounter along the way. Sunset counted off on her fingers.
"Rarity ponied up when she made us outfits, Pinkie when she threw her party, and Fluttershy when she..." There had to be a dignified way to say this, but Sunset's brain was a little frazzled as it was. "Um... Advocated, bunny snuggles." She tinted pink as her friends giggled, but kept things moving herself. "And in all of those events, it sounds like Twilight was the one stealing the magic. I know she was close when the portal crapped out, so maybe she was responsible for that too!"
Fluttershy tilted her head. "How?"
The question came like a sledgehammer to the back of Sunset's head, making her pull at her own hair in frustration. "I don't knoooow! And the pony and/or princess who could tell us is completely unreachable right now!" She tensed, then immediately relaxed when she felt Rarity's hand on her shoulder.
"It'll be alright, Darling. There are still two events and the victory festivities before the other Twilight is due to leave, and we're sure to find a chance to talk with her before then."
Sighing, Sunset didn't share her confidence. "I sure hope so."
"Yea, well," said Rainbow as she pushed open half of a double-door, "let's just focus on beating the Shadowbolts for now. As long as this event puts me in a playing field," she said with a confident grin, "we've got nothing to worry about!"
Applejack pointed to the stage for the next event. "Oh, it puts you in a playing field alright."
The Rainbooms took in the sight of an obstacle course that ended with a shooting range encircled by a race-track, which itself was encircled by a bigger, wilder race-track made of dirt and ramps.
Sunset in particular looked shocked, then very annoyed. "Does everyone remember my bitch-rant about half the books and quite a few computers in the library being out of date a few years ago? Well now I know where the funding went, and this does NOT make me feel better!!"
Despite her short, tiny relapse into her old self, Sunset's friends giggled. Academics was one subject she'd learned she was allowed to get irritable about, thanks to a few logical arguments back when she was first getting to know them. The others wandered out to explore the field while she fumed about spending priorities, leaving her by herself. Movement on the far side of the outer-most track caught her eye, where she saw Aria and Sonata climbing around on one of the upraised ramp-structures like monkey bars.
And if they're here, then...?
Pacing around the outer perimeter of the field, she caught sight of Adagio, as expected. She walked up beside her to find Adagio with a passive look on her face as she watched Aria and Sonata hang upside down (revealing tight short-shorts the same shade of dark blue as their uniforms) and swing back and forth making monkey noises, respectively.
"Are you going to join them?"
Not turning her head, Adagio lightly tugged one side of her skirt up about an inch. "If you want a peek, you can get in line behind this world's Twilight."
"Very funny. I heard about what happened from the others, and I'm a little surprised you guys didn't knock her block off for that."
At this, Adagio turned, wide-eyed. "Were we allowed to?! I mean, n-not that we were going to, but, er-" She chose to stop talking when Sunset giggled.
"I know, I know, you wouldn't do anything to jeopardize the games for either side, just like I asked," she gave Adagio a warm, earnest little grin, the light breeze of the open field gently running through her hair and a bright gleam of understanding shining in her eyes, "right?"
"Uh-" Fumbling for a response, Adagio felt her cheeks get warmer. "Y-yes, that... So, what's with the outfit?"
Sunset blinked. "Huh?"
A smirk growing on her face, Adagio nodded. "I've noticed a few changes to your wardrobe since the first time we saw you. More specifically; I don't think you wore tights and high heels before. Now where could you have gotten an idea like that...?"
Seeing where she was going with this, Sunset smiled guiltily. "Heh, heh... Well, I, guess I just liked the look?"
"Mhm," Adagio hummed while slowly scanning Sunset's fashion choices, "and as it appears you only took inspiration from the waist down, I think I know where you were looking."
Flushed, Sunset quickly broke eye-contact. "Haha, r-right, well, I should really get ready for the next event, gottagoseeyabye!!"
And off she ran, leaving Adagio to chuckle fiendishly... which slowly faded as realization sunk in.
"Oh, by the way, how did you cope with your life falling apart?" You were supposed to ask her. She was alone and everything. And, what was with the outfit questions? She shows you calm compassion and you respond like that?! You can't say it's just in your nature, because Aria and Sonata were (mostly) supportive for you even when you toyed with both of their heads this morning! What's the matter with-
"AAIIIIIEEE," came Sonata's high-pitched bird-call from the ramp she and Aria climbed on, "DAGI, HEEEEELP!"
When she turned to look, Adagio's jaw went slightly slack at the sight of Sonata with her hair snagged in the metalwork while Aria stood atop the ramp, pounding her chest with both fists like a gorilla. She sighed.
Help now, scold later.