Sunset had done a bit of research on the Friendship Games since they were first brought up, which helped her to understand a few things for which there was little or no prior explanation. On her mind right now was the break period between the second and third events, a span of a few hours in which the schools were meant to interact, talk about how they did in the past two events, trash talk a little about the upcoming one to psyche each other up, and just generally socialize. The only part of that to actually happen in the last few decades was purely mean-spirited trash-talking, which was probably why the students of both schools now largely sat on separate bleachers out in front of CHS, where the next event (traditionally kept a surprise until the last minute) was due to be announced.
This seemed like a good time to search for and talk to Twilight, but as Sunset and her friends wandered a nearly abandoned CHS, it seemed that Sunset's shouty criticism may have been taken to heart. If she still wanted to survey the school for traces of magic, now was the time. Granted, the only sources of magic that Sunset knew about were her, her friends, and the portal, all of which Twilight had gotten to already. Well, there were also the sirens, but Twilight probably didn't know that, so if she was going to keep up her investigation, it would almost definitely be away from everyone else. Wherever she was, they needed to find Twilight soon, if only so they could get the magic back (as they'd seen first-hand how dangerous it could be in if not kept under control) and fix the portal somehow.
When she got Adagio's text, Sunset swore under her breath, urged the others to keep looking for Twilight, and headed for Principal Celestia's office.
"My door is always open," she likes to say. Guess she meant that literally?
That was the theory Sunset chose to settle on as she pushed that very unlocked door open. In Celestia's chair sat Adagio, who leaned back with her elbows on the armrests and her fingers folded in a little tent over her stomach.
"Thank you for coming. There's something I need from you."
In a hurry to fix things with Twilight, Sunset tapped a foot. "Please make it quick?"
Adagio nodded. "I need a guarantee from you that whatever's going on with Twilight, it won't leave Aria, Sonata, and I... as we were."
Sighing with exasperation, Sunset gently facepalmed. "You're worried about your magic because that was the basis of our deal, I get that, but I've kinda got more important things to do right now, so-" She was cut off when Adagio sat up straight and cleared her throat.
"Ah," she gasped, voice low and breathy as one hand cupped a breast and the other sensually glided just over her stomach, fingers pointed downward, "S-Sunset, d-don't- Ahh-hahn! N-no, please, not there! I-I can't-AAaaaAAAHHH!!"
Still standing in the doorway, Sunset burned scarlet, her jaw slack, one knee shaking, and her palms sweating. In the back of her mind, she wasn't even sure if she was still breathing, but she definitely inhaled sharply when Adagio, beaming like Pinkie at her Pinkiest, slowly stretched out an arm to hover a finger over the intercom. Then Sunset paled, her very soul filling with ice as she registered what would follow if Adagio serenaded the school (and Crystal Prep) with her little act.
Knowing that she couldn't run across the room and unplug the thing or even tackle Adagio out of the chair before she got out something damning (nevermind the mental images it would send if she were abruptly cut off...), Sunset clapped her hands together in a praying motion and loud-whispered. "No, please, no, you win, I surrender, please don't-"
Her hand still hovering over the button, Adagio took in a deeeep breath, then smiled warmly. "Thank you."
Sunset nearly dropped to the floor in relief. "Geez... You know, you-" Temper, Sunset, temper! Keep in mind that she could always come back and do this later, without warning. Knowing her, she'd wait until I didn't have a solid alibi, too. "...you, uh..." Adagio's raised eyebrow drew a sheepish grin. "You have my undivided attention."
Adagio nodded. "I'll be blunt: I cannot allow a repeat of our time between the Battle and just the other day, and it seems that this other Twilight may cause exactly that. The three of us were..." Her eyes fell to the desk as she trailed off. When she picked up, Sunset could almost hear the lump in her throat. "...in a bad place, when you found us, and there was nothing I could do about it." She looked up again with renewed conviction. "So I need to know; what exactly does Twilight's medallion do to its victims?"
Sunset frowned. "I'm not actually sure. It drained the others of their magic when they ponied up, but I felt myself getting weaker when I tried to use the portal, which got drained along with me."
"As weak as the others?"
"Uh..." Sunset scratched her head. "Actually, no, I felt fine almost immediately afterward. Do you think the portal took the brunt of it?"
"Or you just have much more power than the others and didn't lose as much, proportionally. Remember that it was you that brought your group to gargantuan, crystal alicorn levels in the Battle."
After all she'd been through in getting over her blinding arrogance, Sunset really didn't want to say "Yea, I am pretty powerful, aren't I?" out loud, but she still flushed with modesty at the thought. Then she realized something. "But, if I have any power left, doesn't that mean that she's not taking all of our magic?"
"I couldn't say. How do you think it compares to what the princess told you about that magic-draining episode over in Equestria?"
And then it clicked, Sunset's smile growing by the second. "It's completely different. In fact, it sounds more like what you guys were dealing with a few days ago; the magic not being completely gone, just buried or diminished!" She beamed. "Sing with me!!"
Hesitantly, Adagio stood up to join in as Sunset started the song she'd used to pony up during the trial-and-error phase. Within the first few stanzas, each of them started to glow, at which point Sunset's enthusiasm carried into her song. Not wanting to offset her, Adagio kept up, even if the cheesiness of some of the lyrics made her blush. By the half-way point, both of them were ponied up, hovering just off the ground with pony ears and magical hair extensions. The theory was all but confirmed, but they finished the song together anyway, with the magical effects wearing off shortly after.
"When you said 'how to get our magic back' while talking to Twilight," Adagio mused with idly crossed arms, "I thought it meant that your group had been depleted entirely."
"So did I, but I think I get how it works now! The portal completely disappeared because its magic was finite, but Harmony magic is different. I thought of it like a glass of water being sucked out with a straw, but now I think it's more like fire; roaring flames reduced to tiny embers (by stealing fire somehow? Not a perfect metaphor), then fed to become roaring flames again! If the magic is based on love and friendship and those feelings still exist, then everyone still has their magic, even to the tiny degree that Twilight described!"
"Much like the three of us," Adagio nodded, increasingly contrite. "I'm sorry." Sunset's confused frown said that elaboration was called for. "If the three of us would have still had our magic anyway, then I threatened you for essentially no reason, and-" she reached down to pick up the tape recorder that had been sitting in an open drawer of Celestia's desk, which she immediately shut off with intent to erase later, "-provided you said something I could use, even planned to blackmail you later if necessary."
Her mouth hanging open for just a second, Sunset was actually a little hurt. Of course, given recent discoveries and understanding of just how easy it was to fall back into bad habits, smiling was easy. "Hey, don't worry about it. I might not have even thought about this stuff if you haaaaaaa-..." She trailed off, blushing as Adagio, timidly looking at the floor, started taking off her clothes. "Wuh... wh-what are you doing?"
"I've been nothing but cruel to you since the day we met," she said as she draped her belly-shirt over the back of the chair, "even in spite of what you've done for us, but I think I know how to make up for it." When her skirt hit the floor, Sunset turned her head away, spastically waving her hands.
"No, no, nonononono, th-that really isn't necessary!" A quick glance revealed Adagio still standing there in the dark-blue shoes, long gloves, thigh-high socks, and matching bra and briefs.
"It's alright," Adagio demurred, hooking her thumbs into her briefs to start pulling them down, "I know what I'm do-"
"You don't have to do that, please put your clothes back on!!"
There was a silence, but Sunset didn't dare open her eyes again until the sounds of shuffling fabric stopped. To her great relief, Adagio was wearing the full cheerleader outfit again, though she realized now that that wasn't saying a lot in the first place.
Earnestly confused, Adagio tilted her head. "If you don't want that, then... what?"
Sunset tried not to think too hard about how someone could go from threatening to use sexy noises to have her publicly humiliated or even expelled, to earnestly offering themselves as part of an apology in under ten minutes. "You really don't need to apologize for anything, I wasn't-" Once more, the look on one of the sirens' faces reminded her of herself.
Back when her friends first insisted that they forgave her for everything, Sunset hadn't been ready to forgive herself yet, which left her bouncing back and forth between listless and frustrated, never feeling forgiven because she hadn't been allowed to really make up for things on her own. She smiled in sympathy.
"Okay, you feel bad about how you've been treating me, right?" Adagio nodded, which confirmed beyond the shadow of a doubt the existence of a conscience! "If you really want to make it up to me, then... how much of what you guys sang in the gym was true? Can you tell me the whole story?"
At this, Adagio's eyes widened in shock. "What?! I, but, b-but, we-"
Painful story, I guess, but she didn't look thrilled to throw herself at me either.
"Maybe if I understood where you were coming from," Sunset said in gentle tones, "I could understand you, and if I can understand you, forgiveness comes much easier. I won't tell anyone else if you don't want me to, but I'd really like to know what made you three who you are."
And then Adagio looked a bit like a trapped animal, visibly chewing her thoughts while making occasional, furtive glances at the door and windows. Eventually, she stopped and loosed a quiet sigh. "...V-very well." Bringing her eyes to Sunset's, she gave a small, hopeful smile. "But first, shouldn't we find Twilight to settle matters with her?"
Sunset's mouth formed a little 'o' shape, which quickly shifted to a playful smirk as she turned toward the door. "Sneaky." Heading out, she snapped her fingers, ending the gesture just as she pointed the index finger of that hand at Adagio. "Raincheck!"
Following, Adagio tried to hide her guilty smile. "As you wish."
The two split up to go looking for Twilight, with Sunset having dope-slapped herself for not instructing her friends to do exactly that.
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
A little earlier...
Peeking around a corner, Aria and Sonata watched as Sunset answered her phone, said something to her friends, and walked off at a brisk pace. It was time.
Turning to Aria, Sonata motioned to the Rainbooms, then themselves, then the Rainbooms again, then raised her middle and index fingers, quickly touching them together twice, held them together, raised that wrist so her fingers pointed downward, made a walking motion with them, pointed over her shoulder with a thumb, retracted all but her pinky finger into a fist, rotated that wrist back and forth, then raised the backs of her hands to her cheeks to make fluttering motions with her fingers.
Aria stared at Sonata in silence, smacked her upside the head, and walked around the corner to follow the Rainbooms.
"Hey, mind if we talk to you guys?"
Pinkie was the first to turn around, smiling. "Sure!"
The rest came to a stop as Aria and Sonata approached. Aria was glad, because she didn't have a follow-up plan if the Rainbooms told them to piss off.
Straightening her hat, Applejack chuckled. "You two lose track'a Adagio again?"
"Very funny. So, Sunset is trying to stop the magic from messing up the games, right? Because it apparently means a lot to her that nothing goes wrong."
Rarity nodded. "She really has changed a lot since we first knew her, to be so invested in this for our sakes."
Quirking an eyebrow, Aria smirked. "Ohh, so you guys are the reason she cares so much. Now it makes some sense." She chuckled at their confused expressions. "She told us that she was on magic duty to keep anything like the last event from happening, but I heard the real reason she cares is because CHS just reeeally wants to win, and they won't get that if Crystal Prep doesn't 'feel like they lost.'" The looks of surprise were delicious, but before she could prod further, Sonata happened.
"I thought you had us sneak behind the stairs specifically so we could eavesdrop when they were talking to Celestia?"
The Rainbooms' faces (even Fluttershy!) shifted to harsh, unamused glares, under which Aria withered as her cheeks flushed a hot, painful crimson. She briefly pondered whether or not she'd have a chance to force-feed Sonata her own medicine some day before doing her best to shake the moment off. "Okay, okay, so we were listening in, but doesn't change what you guys did to Sunset!"
Applejack was a mix of confused and indignant. "What we did?!"
"Well, lemme see if I've got the story straight: Sunset is trying to keep the magic down so it doesn't ruin the games, which she, her closest friends, and some borderline useless dorks are all competing in while the rest of the school sits back doing nothing. However, from what she told Celestia, just playing in these games, just winning these games, isn't good enough; everyone wants your team to 'beat Crystal Prep,' which, according to her, doesn't matter if they don't think they've lost fair and square."
She held up both hands in a vague gesture of exasperation. "And let's just ignore that even a completely clean, unambiguous win might be contested if it's a school that's never lost suddenly being bested by their long-time inferiors; there'd most likely be a bunch of them that swore CHS cheated somehow to their dying day, thus not feeling like they really lost, and rendering the whole damn thing moot. It's like, I still think you guys cheated us in the Battle, but it doesn't matter what I think about it; you still stopped us because we needed to be stopped, and we're all better off for it!"
Dead silence. It took a few seconds for Aria to process what she'd just said, but the words kept coming on their own. "I mean, yea, we were pissed about losing our magic, voices, and purpose in life, but now, just in the last few days? We've been living a lot easier than we did before, and being a bad guy kind of sucks, so..." She shrugged, wearing a tiny frown as she quietly addressed the wide-eyed Rainbooms. "Thanks, I guess."
There was one of those I-Seriously-Regret-This-Line-Of-Thought pauses, but before any hugging happened, Rarity smiled.
"It would be disingenuous to say we did anything of the sort on purpose, but I think we're all glad that worked out for you."
The others smiled, nodded, and muttered affirmatively, but Sonata whispered into Aria's ear.
"Weren't you ranting at them a minute ago?"
"Yea, but I kinda lost my train of thought with the better-off-now talk."
"Hah, you big sap."
"Heehee! No big, I think I can get it." Sonata cleared her throat in very leader-like fashion. "Sunset cares about this thing so much that she brought us, her old enemies, into the fold to help out, but she wouldn't have bothered if you guys hadn't dragged her into it."
Scoffing, Rainbow crossed her arms. "We didn't drag her into anything. She joined in because she wanted to help us win, because she's part of CHS too, losing stinks, and we're sick of Crystal Prep getting all smug and rubbing it in our faces."
Aria raised an eyebrow. "Uh-huh. How did you feel about beating the three of us? Or blasting Sunset into a crater before that?" No one said anything, but the uncomfortable looks on their faces were answer enough. "It's fine when you feel high and mighty, right? Or were you just doing your-" she didn't hold up her fingers, but the mocking air-quotes were almost percussive, "-heroic duty?"
"That was totally different," attested Pinkie, "you even said we had to stop you!"
"Yea," nodded Sonata, no aggression or challenge in her face, "it was different. So what do you have to lose now? What's so important that this means so much to you? Are Crystal Prep plotting magical domination too? Do you think they've got some big ol' doomsday weapon that only works if they win some dumb contest?"
Rainbow's eyes narrowed. "It's not a dumb conte-"
Now Sonata looked annoyed. "Answer the question!"
There was a pause, but Rarity flipped her curls derisively. "Was it not your group that made a point of being 'the best' above all else?"
"First," retorted Aria, "that was part of what made us the bad guys, remember? Second, we did what we did to screw with your school enough to harvest the resulting flow of negative energy. If we wanted a real competition, we wouldn't have influenced the judges' choices in every single match for the ideal outcome. Speaking of which," she said with a growing smirk, "did I ever mention? You guys never 'won' a single round of the Battle, nobody did, not even us, because we hand-picked the winners every time based on who would best serve our purpose, even going so far as to set up the tiers while your principal and VP were still eating out of our hands. I mean, unless you thought the fact that there was no chance of Dazzlings vs. Rainbooms coming up before the very end was a total coincidence?" Losing the grin, she crossed her arms. "Seriously, I kinda hope they voided the whole thing after, because if we'd left Luna and Celestia alone, they might have picked the tween rappers for all we know."
Applejack scratched under her hat. "If y'all were in control the whole time, why didn'tcha just make us lose in the first round?"
"Adagio wanted to keep you around until the end to give you hope, so it would hurt all the more (and make you that much shorter with each other so we could get your magic, natch) when that hope was ripped away." She briefly examined her nails. "Judging by that power surge we felt, it worked until the headphone girl showed up."
"So, again," Sonata picked up, "what's so important about the Friendship Games that you just have to win? Why does your petty rivalry with a school all the way across town get priority over Sunset?"
"I-it doesn't," protested Fluttershy, a mix of hurt and worry on her face.
"Then why did you pressure her into joining these games? Why did you keep chasing the next win no matter what happened? Because from where I'm standing, it wasn't for the sake of winning some stupid, empty bragging-rights contest (against people that, if it's only every 4 years, you'll never even see again), but so everyone at CHS could feel like they won some stupid, empty bragging-rights contest despite only a few CHS students actually participating at all. The whole school apparently wants this as much as they wanted the Battle of the Bands, but without the excuse of magical manipulation, which put tons of unneeded stress on Sunset for little more than your school's self-esteem. Is that about right? Because if so, that's a pretty lousy thing for the 'magic of friendship' crowd to do to a friend, don'tcha think?"
"...Wow," muttered a frowning Pinkie, "that's a lot to take in when you say it all at once."
Applejack looked similarly distraught. "Yer sayin' we ain't really done right by Sunset with all this?"
"But she willingly joined," said Rainbow, though who she meant to convince was in question, "she chose to go out of her way to help!"
Rarity shook her head, speaking just above a whisper. "She didn't know or care about the Friendship Games until we urged her to. Is it at all possible that, in addition to jumping at another chance to show the school how much she's changed by doing something she knew they'd like, she only went along with it at all because of peer pressure?"
"Well what else were we supposed to do? Ask to have the games cancelled or postponed until all the magic stuff was sorted out? The six of us not compete at all since we're the only ones who had magic in the first place? Let Sunset deal with the magic by itself while not worrying about our rivalry with a school she'd never heard of before then? How would we beat Crystal Prep if we did that?!"
Aria looked genuinely concerned. "Why is that so important to you? Does the winner get something that we weren't told about? Adoring servants, huge payload of magic, tons of cash, anything?"
Rainbow seemed confused by the question. "We, uh, the winners... get to win...?" There was another short silence, but she answered this one herself while rubbing the back of her head. "Okay, okay, I think I get it. We've been going about this thing all wrong from the start, huh? It's not supposed to be about winning or being the best, it's supposed to be about everyone having fun together. That's what the original spirit of this thing was supposed to be; to play for the sake of playing, like what we said we were doing at the end of the Battle." She chuckled guiltily. "I even sang about how we were different now, but maybe we can prove it this time."
Fluttershy, Pinkie, Rarity, and Applejack each put a hand on her shoulders, smiling warmly. Rainbow returned their grins before winking at the sirens and regaining her competitive smirk. "But that doesn't mean we'll go easy on Crystal prep in the last event! Even if we're just playing games, no reason we can't give it our all... Just as long we're all having a good time in the process."
Aria and Sonata actually smiled appreciatively at this, quite content.
"Guys? Why are you all standing around?"
Everyone turned to see Sunset, who looked quite confused. More-so when her friends simultaneously hug-tackled her while expressing apologies, though whether or not it was for her new bruises was not clear. She looked up to see Aria smirking at her, which drew a scowl.
Revenge-hugs by proxy! Damn her!
Shortly after, when Sunset had been informed as to main points of the conversation (and the reason behind her five-person hug-tackle), and asked for her thoughts on the games, she smiled somewhat sheepishly.
"Well... yes, I still think getting so worked up over the Friendship Games is a little silly, but it seemed like you guys really wanted this, so-EEK!!" She tensed up when her friends closed in again, but the hugs were much gentler this time. Sighing with relief, she looked at the two cheerleaders and smiled again. "So, correct me if I'm wrong here, but you guys talked to them about this for my sake?"
For a second, Aria and Sonata stared back at her in wide-eyed surprise, but the former scoffed, crossed her arms, and turned her head away. "Tch, no. I just like telling people when they're wrong." To her great relief, Sonata didn't Sonata this time, just stood there with wide, unblinking eyes and her mouth drawn in a thin line. The Rainbooms giggled at them anyway, but it was never too late to change the subject! "So, how'd your talk with Adagio go, Sunset?"
Sunset smiled widely. "Pret-ty well! And on that note, we should split up if we wanna find Twilight faster."
And so they did.
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
Meanwhile, Adagio wandered the halls on her own, not sure how to even talk to herself about what she'd just pulled with Sunset. It turned out fine for both of them, sure, and she was even due to share very personal information later as punishment, but twisting people to her own ends felt distinctly different when she actually cared about (or at least owed a debt to, it was still a little foggy to her) those she was twisting. In fact, it felt kind of terrible. Not even in a good way, like the pain that came with drawing in negative energy and the power that would follow, or the lingering sting of... certain activities discovered after coming to this world.
I'll give these people credit for one thing; they're certainly... creative.
She still hadn't asked about what to do with her life, and whether she rightly deserved an answer or not, time was rapidly running out. She didn't know what to tell Aria and Sonata at the end of today, but she could at least affirm that they wouldn't be losing their magic or their voices again. Who knew? Maybe they'd been thinking about the future all day and had plans of their own?
And maybe our new ability to pony up comes with a side of Princess Twilight's magical fix-everything powers. And chocolate.
Keeping an eye out for the other Twilight, Adagio didn't see another soul in the halls save for a completely different Shadowbolt.
Sugarcoat spoke when she was sure her nemesis was close enough to hear her clearly. "Your hips abnormally wide."
Adagio smirked, not slowing down or even making eye-contact. "Thanks for noticing." To her slight surprise, there was more.
"And your chest is flat!"
Now Adagio stopped, turned, and looked at Sugarcoat, who was giving her a triumphant little smirk.
Ooh, she thinks she's won. How adorable!
Pacing back toward her heckler with a hand on one hip and an unfazed grin, Adagio chuckled. "You point this out because you believe women should be unconditionally buxom, I suppose?"
"No," the not-terribly-endowed Shadowbolt quickly replied, "just stating that your mammary glands are of lesser stature than most." She was sure this would have aggravated the vain cheerleader, there was no way someone that prioritized sex appeal could withstand such a statement! However, absurdity again won out today as Adagio gave her an apathetic shrug.
"Perhaps, but I'm not worried. You seem like the academic sort, so here's something to study closely: Big breasts aren't always a point in a lady's favor. I understand that it's easier to make people -note that I didn't say 'men,'- drool over you when you can spike their heart-rates just by holding your hands together, if you need that kind of crutch, but the drawback to such an easily-noticed feature is that it's more difficult to ignore. You're not exactly top-heavy yourself, but I'm sure you're aware of the tendency some people have to glance downward when talking to girls?"
"It is a well-known fact that such occurrences are common. Your point?"
Smirking, Adagio brushed the fingertips of one hand across her modest chest. "As you can see, I usually don't have that problem. When people look at me, they don't see two mounds of jiggling fat like they might on some other girls, they look me in the eye." Standing with one leg just slightly splayed out and her hands behind her head, elbows raised high, she fixed Sugarcoat with a half-lidded stare, though she hid her amusement at the little blush this drew. "If I want to be seen that way, it's like flipping a switch, but for those who were 'blessed' with stiff shoulders and back pain? It never shuts off, and onlookers often see them as nothing but their assets. Not uncommonly, they think less of them for it than they would otherwise."
Returning to a normal stance, Adagio shrugged, her grin unchanged. "This isn't even accounting for, well... gravity, later on. So no, being humble in that department doesn't bother me, because being buxom is typically considered a bimbo trait, and I know my intellect will seldom be overlooked on account of my chest. Furthermore?" She winked. "Trust me when I say that some actually like them small."
The appearance of sweat on Sugarcoat's brow said the girl was grasping at straws. "You say that large breasts would be inconvenient, but the same applies to your bloated posterior!"
Adagio let out a short laugh. "Oh, you mean the part of my body people only see when I'm no longer addressing them, leaving an impression they'll never forget as I walk away? Well, it goes something like this..." Flipping her hair, Adagio turned and walked off, swaying her hips in slow, sultry fashion to drive the point home.
Sugarcoat only looked for reasons relating to study of the described phenomenon. Unfortunately, Adagio must have noticed her doing this and drawn completely unfounded conclusions, because she stood with a hand on her hip, smirking over her shoulder and raising one eyebrow. Sugarcoat's face burned. Gnashing her teeth in defeat, she snarled one last statement of honesty. "I dislike you with great intensity."
Adagio chuckled. "Love you too, Sugarplum." Winking again and blowing a kiss were unnecessary, which might have been why Sugarcoat looked even madder as the triumphant siren continued on her way.
Hah, still got it!
A little further down the hall, her smile slipped away as the realization crept in.
Yes... still got it...
Alone, Sugarcoat finished counting in her head, which had always proven an oddly effective mind-clearing technique. She'd lost again, but at least this time she'd done it without witnesses to rub it in. Better safe than sorry.
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
Out in front of Canterlot High, nearly everyone stood on their respective sides to await the next event.
When Principal Cinch heard that the girls who had clearly cheated in the last event wanted a word with her star student (academically, that is), she thoroughly denied them the chance. It wasn't just to prevent whatever nonsense they were up to now, but to keep them away from poor Twilight as she nursed her emotional wounds from the last event. When Indigo Zap (admitted to Crystal Prep for her outstanding athletic prowess) had informed her that Twilight was sitting alone under the bleachers and wouldn't come out, Cinch had instructed her to let Twilight remain where she was, and bar anyone from disturbing her. The other Shadowbolts adhered to this nicely, preventing the 'magic' squadron from tampering with Twilight and whatever she had collected.
It had been a very long day, after all, and it wasn't quite over yet. Twilight (and the magic she had gathered) deserved her rest until the third and final event.
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
Under the bleachers, Twilight was surprised to be left alone (give or take Spike, curled up beside her) through most of the waiting period, because she usually didn't get away with sulking in public this long. Of course, bar Indigo Zap's attempt to draw her out of there, everyone's minds were apparently occupied with the previous event and the one that would follow, so maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise.
Every voice she could hear was complaining very audibly about the 'win' going to CHS, even when that plant thing attacked, but no one seemed to even suspect that it was her fault. No, no, their thoughts were only on their precious 'win,' how it was unbelievable that the students at Canterlot High could possibly be counted as having beaten Crystal Prep in anything, ever (even though if not for me, who didn't even want to be there, they'd have probably won the first event, too!).
The thought left a lump in her throat, but she hadn't been treated fairly, and it hurt. It wasn't just the way CHS competitors were rewarded in some way no matter what they did (I bet Sunset even got pats on the back for yelling at me), or how Principal Cinch was unabashedly blackmailing her with the Everton study (quite possibly the biggest academic opportunity of my life, and she's holding it hostage for a stupid game!!), but how her teammates expected so much of her when she didn't want to be there in the first place, and even when she did what they wanted, Crystal Prep as a whole (give or take stinging swats) was apathetic to her at best. Was this all she had to look forward to? Is this what being 'The Best!' meant; super high demands all the time with no reward or encouragement? It wasn't supposed to be like that.
Back in first grade, she'd never wanted stickers or candy for doing well, especially not with something easy or meaningless, she wanted to learn, wanted to know all about everything, because to her, knowledge was the reward. Learning was fun, the world was full of fascinating things, and she wanted to understand them for its own sake. But then she got older, life got more complicated, her studies had to mean something, had to show something, and that was fine, but more and more, she found herself surrounded by people that didn't care about scientific progress or anything like that, just being "The Best!" at things, whether there was any meaning in doing so or not, just as long as they were "The Best!". She didn't like it, didn't want to be part of that, so she never joined any sort of competitive school activity, which was fine with Cinch, because she was still earning grants or whatever, getting more of that precious prestige just through high grades in the most advanced programs CP (and thus, anyone) had to offer.
From first grade onward, the candy and stickers were the perfect scores on her papers, showing that she had mastered the new things and was ready for more, but now, today? There was nothing of value in this whole, miserable affair, because she hadn't learned a darn thing abou- (no, damn thing, studies show that swearing can help relieve various kinds of pain, so say DAMN thing!!) hadn't learned a damn thing about the magic (beyond the fact that MAGIC is a thing and who knows how much of what I've always believed is invalidated now?!) coming from this school. It made people glow and float off the ground, and sometimes ripped holes in time in space. How?! What did that mean?!
As childish as it sounded, there were supposed to be rewards for things,
dar dammit! Nobody did anything if they didn't think they'd get something out of it, but while the rest of her school was getting their 'win' and everything that came with it, Twilight wasn't getting anything out of this at all, and it wasn't fair!
Looking down at the spectrometer, she could attest that she'd gotten uncertain quantities of magic, but with how much went wrong every time it opened, she wasn't sure there was more to do than use the release function just to see what would happen. She probably wouldn't be able to replicate the experiment, of course, at least not without being allowed to go around draining magic again, but by the looks on those girls' faces, being drained was actually kind of painful, to say nothing of the dangers she'd seen from the magic in general. So, if she couldn't continue without risk of hurting someone, what had she really gained from all of this? Nothing! She didn't care about winning or prestige or 'legacies' or some stupid rivalry that didn't even involve her, or probably anyone but the adults, she only wanted to learn what was going on with this school!
She still had the spectrometer, but what the Hell was she going to do with it?! There was no such thing as safe testing conditions if holes in the fabric of reality were a factor, but maybe she could siphon off small amounts somehow and... do... something? There was no procedure to follow, magic was a complete unknown, give or take its apparent propensity toward chaos! She was completely in the dark here, and one wrong move could cost her everything she'd scraped together up to this point.
Twilight ruminated further on these thoughts until Dean Cadence (one of the only people in Crystal Prep that never pushed me around, never made me feel unwanted, never gave me dirty looks for doing better then them, or administered wedgies for any reason) gently coaxed her out from under the bleachers, because the last event was starting soon.
Twilight rejoined the Shadowbolts as Spike scampered off to hide in the nearest bush, but to her disappointment, Cadence didn't stay close to her to project feel-better particles (another phenomenon I've not found answers to), but walked off to announce things with Vice Principal Luna. Maybe they were old friends. That left her with her with her teammates, and Cinch, none of whom she could look in the eye without harsh, ugly little feelings prickling through her being.
Looking across the field, where Sunset, her (surprisingly nice) friends, and the pretty cheerleaders waited, Twilight felt a twinge of something even uglier.