Princess Twilight Sparkle spent the rest of the day examining the portal and making notes while Sunset Shimmer got caught up on school life. Later in the afternoon, Princess Twilight enchanted a new, more powerful magic detection crystal for Tirek. At the end of the day, an exhausted Princess Twilight went home with Sunset; the other girls made plans to drop by later in the evening.
Fluttershy's reaction to Princess Twilight's true form was a source of amusement for hours.
Princess Twilight also took the time to use Sunset's journal to write a note to Princess Celestia, telling her about the discoveries she'd made. She refrained from mentioning the human Tirek, but did mention her own counterpart, and most importantly, mentioned the discovery of Cutie Map magic paired with an unknown magical element on the human side of the portal. Celestia was very concerned about this, and urged the two Equestrians to partner with the local Twilight Sparkle to learn anything and everything they could.
The next day, while Sunset returned to CHS to get back to her routine and keep an eye on things, Princess Twilight, back in human guise, went to Crystal Prep to assist Twilight in rebuilding and refining her magic tracker...
* * * * *
Princess Twilight whistled as she looked around the lab. "Nice setup," she said. "This blows my old lab away! Of course, the technology in Equestria is nowhere near as advanced as the technology here."
A purple dog in a basket at the back of the room sat up and barked happily, running up to the two girls. He then paused, looking back and forth between them, and let out a confused whine. Twilight giggled, crouched down, and scratched his ears. "Hey Spike," she said. "I bet this looks pretty weird to you, huh? Don't worry, she's okay."
Spike whimpered uncertainly, gave Princess Twilight a cautious sniff, grumbled to himself, and retreated to his basket. He kept a wary gaze on Princess Twilight.
"Sorry about that," Twilight said.
"Nah, it's cool," Princess Twilight said. "I'm sure he's just confused." She giggled. "I mean, there's two of us, and I probably smell strange to him." She lapsed into awkward silence, then wrung her hands. "So, umm...I guess we should get started?"
Twilight nodded. "Yeah." She, too, lapsed into awkward silence.
A long stretch of awkwardness passed between them.
Princess Twilight broke it by rolling her eyes and smirking. "And this is why two of anyone is a bad idea," she said.
Twilight giggled. "Yeah...sorry, I'm still getting used to...this." She coughed into her hand. "So! Let's start with trying to fix my magic tracker, then you can help me, umm...make sense of some stuff. And maybe then I can...help you make sense of some stuff?"
Princess Twilight nodded. "Sounds like a plan."
* * * * *
"Ah don't know about this plan, sugarcube," Applejack said uneasily.
The Rainbooms were hanging out by the vending machines during the break between classes. Sunset Shimmer stood at the end of the group, watching Tirek, who stood further down the hall, observing the students as they came and went. His eyes occasionally strayed to their group.
"Yeah, he's...a little scary," Fluttershy whimpered.
"Twilight wants us to keep an eye on him," Sunset said with a shrug. "Besides, with him here while Twilight's busy with...well, Twilight...we can control the amount of information about Equestria he has access to. There's an open, active portal at Crystal Prep that leads right into the heart of Canterlot Castle. Twilight doesn't want to take the chance of him..." She made a trotting gesture with her fingers.
"Yeah, fair point," Rainbow said. "And he seems like just the kind of guy who'd go for a little walk across worlds."
"Good morning, girls!" Starlight Glimmer approached their group, a broad smile on her face. "I'm looking forward to seeing all of you in Civics class today!"
"Yeah, I don't have that on my schedule," Rainbow Dash said.
"Really?" Starlight Glimmer asked, blinking. "Well, we certainly must do something about that, mustn't we?" She tilted her head and smiled cheerfully. "I'll be sure to speak to Principal Celestia during my free period."
"Yeah, no," Rainbow said.
"It's not as if it's a required subject, Ms. Glimmer," Sunset said.
"Oh, but Civics is ever so important!" Starlight Glimmer insisted. "After all, every person has an equal say in our equal society, and if you don't learn how it all works, how can you possibly expect—"
"Sorry girls, I gotta be...anywhere else," Rainbow interrupted rudely, wandering off.
"Pay no attention to her, Ms. Glimmer," Rarity said. "I'm afraid Rainbow Dash has little interest in anything that doesn't involve some sort of competition or a guitar solo."
"I see," Starlight Glimmer said. "Well, it's certainly her loss! I do wish she'd see the value of a proper education, but if she wants to be an ignorant jock, that's certainly her right! After all, we're all free and equal here, aren't we?" Her smile became something a bit frightening, her eyes clouding. "So! I will be seeing the rest of you in my class, right? Oh, and I do hope your good friend Twilight Sparkle will—"
"Twilight's not a student here," Sunset said. "She...it's a long story."
"Uh-huh," Starlight Glimmer said. "I see. Well then!" She clapped her hands briskly. "That's a matter I'll certainly be discussing with Principal Celestia!"
The bell rang.
"Oops! It looks as though it's time for all students to get to class! And teachers too, I suppose...run along now, girls!"
As Starlight Glimmer trotted briskly down the hall, the remaining girls watched her. "Is it me, or is her girdle on a bit too tight?" Applejack said.
"She seems nice enough," Fluttershy said. "A bit...intense, maybe? But nice."
Sunset frowned. "I don't like her," she said. "Maybe it's just what Twilight told me about the other Starlight Glimmer, but—"
Tirek suddenly stomped up to their group. "That woman you were talking to just now," he rumbled. "Who is she?"
"She's the new Civics teacher, Starlight Glimmer," Rarity said. "Why?"
Tirek scowled, his hand cupped around his detection crystal. "She possesses magic," he said. "And if I understood your princess' explanation of frequency and intensity patterns, her magic is stronger than Sunset Shimmer's, but slightly weaker than Princess Twilight's."
The girls looked at each other, blinking.
Sunset shook her head. "But...but that's impossible," she said. "There isn't any magic like that in this world."
"That you know of," Tirek pointed out. Then, in a lower voice, he added, "Of course, if it were Equestrian magic..."
The girls stared at him, then at each other. Their eyes widened.
"Okay...that's bad, right?" Pinkie asked.
Sunset's brow furrowed. "If...if this world's Starlight Glimmer has Equestrian magic, then...but why...?"
Tirek grunted. "The question you should be asking yourself," he said flatly, "is whether or not that even is this world's Starlight Glimmer."
A heavy silence fell.
Sunset paled. "I have to warn Twilight." Shoving her books into Fluttershy's arms, she turned toward the school exit and ran.
* * * * *
For the better part of an hour, Twilight Sparkle had shown her pony counterpart around her lab, demonstrating her various devices and showing her the data she'd collected from the magical activity at Canterlot High School. Princess Twilight, for her part, was impressed by the sheer scope and variety of data collection devices her human counterpart had at her disposal. "You know, if we can refine some of this equipment and calibrate it so it won't short out around stronger sources of magic, this may actually help me figure out what went wrong with the portal at CHS and how to fix the imbalance."
Twilight smirked, pushing her glasses up. "When it comes to science, nothing is impossible!" She laid her broken tracker on a work bench and opened the cover.
Princess Twilight frowned at the exposed circuits. "Okay, I'm no expert on this world's technology, but...it's not supposed to be all melted like that, right?"
"Well, now I know it's not the sensors themselves that broke. It's the connection to the power supply. Must've been a feedback surge or an overload." Twilight pulled a slender metal cylinder from her pocket. She aimed it at the broken device, and one end lit up a brilliant, strobing blue. A high-pitched oscillating hum filled the air.
Princess Twilight stared curiously at the tool her counterpart was using. "What the heck is that?"
"Sonic probe," Twilight said absently as the pitch of her probe's oscillation changed. "Doesn't always work right..." Several sparks and a thick plume of black smoke erupted from the now very broken device. "Shit," Twilight muttered.
Princess Twilight tilted her head. "So if it doesn't work right, why are you using it?"
"Well how else am I supposed to make it work right?" Twilight retorted. "If I don't use it at all I can never figure out how to fix it!"
Princess Twilight frowned. "So your idea of fixing one thing is using it to break something else?"
Princess Twilight facepalmed. "Yeah, you're definitely me." She shook her head. "Okay, so you just broke your scanner thingie worse than it already was, right?"
"Well...yeah," Twilight admitted. "But!" She tossed the broken scanner into a plastic bucket, then pulled a rolled-up blueprint off a shelf and spread it out. "It shouldn't take long to build a new one, and then we can start calibrating it. Actually, we can probably improve the design during construction of the second prototype based on my observations from the initial test."
"Alright, where do we—"
The door burst open. The two Twilights turned to see Dean Cadance and a very out-of-breath Sunset Shimmer in the doorway. "Twilight!" Sunset panted. "We've...we've got a problem..."
* * * * *
"I'm afraid you girls are mistaken," Principal Celestia said. She spread a series of folders out on her desk. "I've reviewed Ms. Glimmer's credentials myself. She has valid teaching certificates and comes very highly recommended." She fixed the girls with a concerned gaze. "I'm not certain why you believe her to be an impostor, but—"
"Principal Celestia, we have very good reason to believe Starlight Glimmer is a refugee from Equestria," Rarity said. "And from what admittedly very little we know of her, if she is who we suspect her to be, she's dangerous."
"Or she could simply be a Civics teacher who happens to resemble someone else," Celestia pointed out. "You could all be jumping to conclusions. Just like Twilight Sparkle did earlier, if I'm not mistaken." Her eyes were soft but stern. "Until you have something more than a vague suspicion, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you all to go to class. This is still a school."
The Rainbooms looked at each other and sighed. "Yes, Principal Celestia," they chorused.
* * * * *
Princess Twilight paled. "Are...are you sure?"
"Tirek seems to think so," Sunset said. "He got a strong magical reaction from the crystal."
"Couldn't he have just been detecting you and those other girls?" Twilight asked.
"He was far enough away from us that it wouldn't have reacted," Sunset said. She paused, then grimaced. "Anyway, that woman creeps me out. I...I won't lie. I'm kinda biased against her. She's...she's not right." She frowned. "She kept going on and on about how we're all equal and how everybody should take her class and she said some pretty rude things about Rainbow Dash."
"Well that sounds like the Starlight Glimmer I know," Princess Twilight said. "Maybe I should head back—"
"No, you need to work on the portal," Sunset said firmly. "I just...I thought you should know." She frowned. "If this woman is who we think she is, I'll keep an eye on her. If she starts anything or causes any trouble, I'll break my transformation spell and take her down."
Princess Twilight shook her head. "No," she said. "If it is her, she's using the same spell we're using to appear human. Which means she could change back into a unicorn, and you'd be in real trouble if you tried to fight her one-on-one." She frowned. "But how could she be using the same spell? I mean, I came up with that spell, and the spell locks came from Canterlot..."
"Yeah, if she can steal Cutie Marks, I wouldn't put shapeshifting and spell locks past her," Sunset said distastefully. "Or, y'know, theft..." Her eyes widened. "Wait a second. The scroll with the spell on it...where'd you see it last?"
Princess Twilight's brow furrowed. "I don't remember," she said.
"I'm gonna go home and check," Sunset said. "I've got a bad feeling..."
As she left, Dean Cadance walked in. "I, umm...I couldn't really follow that whole conversation, but...is there a new problem?"
"Possibly," Princess Twilight said. She turned to her counterpart. "Twilight? Let's get to work. We need a new magic scanner and we need it better than the old one and we need it ready to go by tomorrow."
* * * * *
Starlight Glimmer tutted and marked her roll sheet. "I saw her here earlier today," she said absently. "Cutting class...that's not going to look good on her record. And such a terrible record she has, too..." She looked around the room. "I hope you all understand the importance of discipline, respect, and responsibility? Students who cut class are irresponsible, undisciplined, and ultimately not only hurt themselves, but everybody around them! After all, some of you will have to catch Ms. Shimmer up on what she misses in my class today. And perhaps some of you aren't as capable of grasping the material as others and might have relied on Ms. Shimmer to tutor you. She can't very well tutor you if she's not here to learn the material, now can she?" She turned sharply to face Fluttershy. "Fluttershy! You're good friends with Ms. Shimmer, am I right? You wouldn't happen to know why she's decided to skip my class, would you?"
Fluttershy gulped nervously. "Um! Well! Y-you see, M-Ms. Glimmer, umm...Sunset, she umm..."
"She went home," Applejack said, her eyes darting around the room. "Went home sick. Got th' squirts at lunch."
Starlight Glimmer's lips thinned. "I see," she said. "Well, that's certainly unfortunate. Although it would have made more sense to see the school nurse. And one wonders how wise it is to drive clear across town on a motorcycle if one has...'the squirts', as you put it. Class? Is there anyone here who would drive clear across town on a motorcycle if they had the squirts?"
"Then I suppose Ms. Shimmer simply isn't as bright as she's made out to be," Starlight Glimmer said with a smirk. "Well then! Enough about that. Let's get started, shall we?"
Fluttershy turned to Applejack. "Really?" she hissed.
"Well you froze up!" Applejack retorted. "Ah was tryin' t'—"
"NO TALKING, GIRLS!"
"Yes, Ms. Glimmer..."
* * * * *
Sunset Shimmer, back in unicorn form, flopped down in the middle of the living room, her mind whirling as she rested her tired body. Her horn ached from turning her apartment upside down. "It's not here," she groaned. "It's not here..."
By the time she'd finished searching every inch of her apartment, evening had fallen and the sun was low in the sky. She'd found things that she'd lost months ago, a few things she didn't even know she had, and a few things that brought back memories she'd rather have left forgotten...but no transformation spell. It had simply vanished.
She heaved herself to her hooves and began pacing. "But when? And how? And if it is her, how'd she...AAAARGH!" She threw up her hooves, then flopped back down. "This doesn't make any sense..."
She'd have to tell Twilight as soon as possible, but Twilight was busy working with, well...Twilight at Crystal Prep, and she was too tired to turn herself into a human again. Since Princess Twilight didn't have a phone and she hadn't thought to get the other Twilight's number...
With an aggravated sigh, Sunset turned on the TV. "It can wait until tomorrow," she decided. "How much trouble could Starlight Glimmer possibly cause in one day, anyway?"
//—back to our breaking coverage of the freak winter storm in Vanhoover...//
Sunset frowned. "Winter storm? This time of year?"
//—unseasonable cold, wind chills to minus ten, and heavy snowfall expected, along with hazardous icy conditions on roads...//
* * * * *
The bitter wind bit through the thin pinewood slats that reinforced the walls of Beck's shanty. It bit through the threadbare blanket covering her, through the layers of clothing she wore.
Her face scrunched as fitful dreams seized her sleeping mind...
It was cold that night too.
The holidays had come. It was her favorite time of year. There were decorations and happy songs everywhere, there was lots of tasty food and yummy candy, and there were presents to be had!
But more importantly, Mommy and Daddy both took a vacation from work so they could all go on a trip to Caneighda. It rarely snowed where they lived, after all, and she was looking forward to playing in the snow and having snowball fights with Daddy and building a snowman and...
"Be careful, dear," Mommy said nervously. "The ice..."
They'd flown to Vanhoover, but then they'd rented a van to go up north. Daddy wanted to do some sight-seeing and some driving through the country. It had all started off alright; light flurries had dusted everything with powdery snow that looked like sugar on yummy donuts.
But then the storm had come. The sky was dark grey and ugly, and the roads were black and slippery...
Everything lurched. She bounced around in her seat. Mommy screamed. Daddy started saying lots of bad words.
Shattered glass rained down on her head; she cried and screamed. The wind was roaring. She couldn't hear Mommy and Daddy. She could hear the horrible, terrible crunching sounds the van made as it rolled again and again.
Something hit her in the head. It felt like a hot hammer. She cried louder.
Over the wind and the busting glass and the crunching metal and her own wails, she just barely heard her Mommy:
"Sunset? SUNSET! My god...Sunrise, she's bleeding! Her head! It's—"
And then the world fell out from under her and everything was cold and black
The cold night wind howled through the Camp.