• Published 4th Dec 2014
  • 4,973 Views, 875 Comments

Seven Days in Sunny June, Book III - Shinzakura

In the past year, Sunset Shimmer's life has changed radically and now she finds herself with a family and friends - a life she treasures. But big changes are on the horizon....

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June 2: Morning Has Broken

Fluttershy stumbled into the kitchen, half-awake. “Morning, Mom,” she said, pausing only to kiss Posey on the cheek before making a beeline to the coffeemaker. “You’re up early,” the busty teen mumbled before managing to get the scintillating elixir of life down her throat.

Seated at the breakfast table, eating a bowl of cereal and reading from her tablet, Posey didn’t look up from the screen as she said, “I have a meeting at eight. Mrs. Mix has taken a turn for the worst after last night, and Dr. Aftercare wants to discuss stability issues with the staff, and how we’re going to break this to the family.”

“That bad?” Fluttershy asked as she winced, more from the bitter aftertaste of the coffee than her mother’s words.

Posey nodded. “We’ve done all we can, but there’s a point where you just can’t do anymore. Mrs. Mix has lived a long, long life and she’s had children and grandchildren, the kind of life that anyone would want. But no one lives forever.”

The chiffon-haired teen sat down across from her mother and tried to give the kindest smile she could. “Don’t blame yourself. You’ve done everything you could.”

Posey gave her lookalike daughter a warm look. “I thought I was supposed to be the encouraging one.”

Fluttershy’s response made her mother proud: “I learned from the best.” The teen would have said something further had it not been for the ringing of the doorbell. “I’ll go get that.” Hopping up from her seat, the teen went to the door to find a FedEx courier standing there, package in hand. Signing for custody of the small box, she then waved goodbye and headed back into the kitchen, the smile on her face suddenly disappearing as she saw the address.

As Posey watched her daughter return to the kitchen table, she saw the ashen look on Fluttershy’s face as the teen looked at the package. I knew this was going to come sooner or later, the woman mused; Goddamn, I’m an idiot for not taking care of this sooner. “Flutters, I—”

The teen shook her head. “No, Mom, this isn’t your fault. But I already know what’s in it, and frankly, I don’t want to go.” A rare look of anger and disgust crossed the usually-placid teen’s face as she said, “I want nothing to do with him.”

“Flutters, he’s your father,” Posey told her daughter. “You should give him a chance.”

“No. I’ll admit, I have great memories of when I was just a kid. But when he left us – and for a stupid, selfish re—”

A severe look crossed Posey’s face, an equally unusual visage for the doctor. “Fluttershy, this is your father you’re talking about. Regardless of how you feel about him, he deserves your respect, understood?”

“No, no I don’t,” Fluttershy replied, “but, fine.” The look on her face agitated, she said, “I think I’m going to have breakfast out, Mom. I’ll be back before you leave.” Before Posey could even react, the teen had raced to the door, grabbed her keys, and by the time Posey had even managed to reach the door, Fluttershy’s butter-yellow Nissan Leaf rushed down the street.

Don’t know where she picked up that speed, Posey thought glumly as she watched her daughter’s car disappear into the distance. Either hanging around Rainbow has improved her athleticism or she gets it from her father – either one’s legit. Posey looked at the package lying on the table, addressed to both Fluttershy and Angel, bearing their father’s address.

I don’t know who screwed this up more, she thought glumly to the package as though she was telepathically communicating to the sender himself, you or me. Probably both of us – it’s why we ended up together after all.

She then heard soft footfalls behind her, their source a young tow-headed boy wearing Gunbunny-festooned pajamas. “Hey, sweetie,” she told her son, kissing him on the crown of his head. “Want some cereal?” She didn’t bother to sign her actions; she’d known about Angel’s lip-reading ability long before Fluttershy realized it.

He nodded, and with that, she went to the kitchen to get his favorite – Trix, the one with the rabbit on it. She hardly approved of it, but Angel had always been a fussy eater and given the difficult day it already looked to be, she might as well start the day on a high – it was going to go downhill for her family probably by noon at the earliest. Or until he calls, wanting to talk to her, Posey thought glumly.

As she set the bowl in front of Angel, he signed a quick thank you followed by, Where’s Fluttershy?

“She stepped out for a moment, sweetie – she had to drop something off at Rarity’s,” Posey lied. “She’ll be back home in a few minutes.”

Okay. He picked up his spoon, ready to dig into the breakfast before him, when he saw the look on his mother’s face: pensive, anxious. Um…am I in trouble?

“No, dear.”

Is Fluttershy?

“No,” she sighed. “Just…it’s going to be a rough day at work.”

Oh. With that, Angel started eating, knowing that his mother wasn’t going to tell him what was wrong. Obviously his mother and older sister had an argument, causing Fluttershy to head somewhere to cool off – a rare moment for the two older females in his life, but something he knew happened on occasion. He just wished that either of them would tell him the truth; just because he was deaf didn’t mean he was stupid.

The sun was a burning ninety-five degrees as Sunset Shimmer stepped onto the grounds of Canterlot High, ready to start her first day of…summer school. All around her, students looked as though they’d just been given the ultimate prison sentences, and a few of the more dramatic types acted almost as though they were trudging along on a Bataan death march.

Not so for Sunset, however. The smile on her face was bright and cheery, and despite the fact that this was the last place in the universe she wanted to be right now, the very fact that she was here, in this place, and time, was enough to make her grin from ear to ear. Seven days – or five minutes, depending on how you looked at it – had been leading up to this very moment. And by this time next week, she’d know if everything had succeeded…and this time she knew it would.

“You are way too cheerful this morning, you know that?” Sunset turned to see Rainbow approaching. “This is summer school! You’re not supposed to be happy to be here!”

“Rainbow, I just lived through one of the roughest weeks of my life – apparently all in five minutes, too – so I think I’m due a little bit of a break.”

“And you’re sure that princess isn’t going to come after you?” The tone in the athlete’s voice indicated concern for her friend.

“No, Celestia and I made up; something I could have – and should have – done years ago,” the former unicorn admitted. “But things are all better now, Twily won’t have nightmares, and I’m back and better than ever.”

“Yeah, sure – oh, forgot to mention: AJ wanted to know if you’re free for lunch today. She needed a favor.”

“I don’t have to work today, so yeah, I’m clear. In fact, lunch is on me. I know this great place down in Newport Beach tha—”


“Newport Beach, down south. I went back in March, remember? Trust me, you’ll love TK’s. They have th—”

Rainbow’s eye twitched. “Newport Beach.”


“As in…Los Angeles?” Sunset nodded. “That’s six hundred miles!” Rainbow spat.

“Well….” The grin on Sunset’s face was whimsical. “About 587 miles, give or take,” she replied.

“But how….” Her mind disconnected as two and two feverishly voltroned to make four. “You can teleport there?”

“Don’t be dumb, Rainbow, of course I can’t teleport straight there. Just because I got all my magic back doesn’t make me alicorn strong.”

A relieved look came onto Rainbow’s face. “Oh, good – because for a m—”

Sunset pulled out her phone and brought up Google Maps. “Given the distance, we’d probably have to make quick, five-minute stops in Chico, Yuba City, Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Visalia, Delano, Bakersfield, Lancaster, Downtown LA, and Long Beach just so I can regain my bearings, since it’s a bit of a trip for a chained teleport. If we meet up with AJ at 12:30, we should be at TK’s by about two in the afternoon, tops.”

“You know, I’m glad you’re my friend, or I’d be really worried right about now.”

Sunset cringed at that remark. “Rainbow….”

“Sunny, we’re cool now and all, but you can’t expect me to just forget what you used to be like, or what you briefly became,” Rainbow reminded her.

“But I….”

“I know – I get it – you have awesome mad skills, and you want to show off to your friends. But we’re also supposed to look out for you, right? Last thing you or your family needs is for black helicopters and all that top-secret government agency crap. So, instead of getting frequent flier miles for lunch,” Rainbow suggested, “why don’t we just have lunch at the In-N-Out over on Riverfront Road and you can take us all on a trip to Disneyland later, okay?”

“Yeah,” Sunset admitted dejectedly, feeling both glad that Rainbow was there to talk sense into her – and a sense of weirdness that she was having Rainbow, of all people, talking sense into her. But as they approached the school entrance, they were met by Trixie. “Hey, I didn’t know you had summer school,” the flame-haired girl told the newcomer.

I don’t – Lyra forgot her backpack, and her mom asked me to drop it off while I was headed to the children’s center,” the teen magician replied. “Oh, and a couple of things: my mom insists that I bring you by for a crystal infusion and a chat with a friend of hers who’s an acupuncturist – probably more of that ‘Sunny needs her chi!’ crap. And…I was wondering if we could arrange a time for you to start showing me that bian lian?”

“Um…sure! You free for lunch? AJ, Rainbow and I were going to In-N-Out after class, and you’re welcome to join us if you want.”

“That sounds like a good idea.” Out of her eye, Trixie saw Lyra approaching and she said, “Okay, just give me a call when you’re ready. See you then!”

As Trixie departed, Rainbow whispered, “See? Now arentcha glad I talked some sense into you?”

“Hey, I already admitted—”

“Good morning, Sunset, Rainbow.” Behind them, Ms. Luna’s voice rang loud and clear. “I would like to see you both in my office right now.”

As she pulled into the parking lot of the Equestria County Alternative High School for At-Risk Students, Celestia grunted as she parked the district-issued 2007 Toyota Corolla into the staff space, thinking about how much she hated driving this thing and how it handled, well, like the clunky piece of crap it was. Admittedly, she would have much preferred to drive her baby, but parking a pristinely-kept 2007 Hyundai Tiburon GK FL2 in the middle of Sunnytown was tantamount to painting “HEY BREAK IN AND STEAL THIS CAR!” on the sides. Besides, as the assistant superintendent for the summer school program, she had to look professional, and though she tended to be a bit more impish than most of her peers, even she had her limits.

As she parked, a well-dressed gentleman with dark skin, a trim haircut, and soul patch came out of the featureless, blandly-gray building. Like her, he had a reputation for being unconventional, all the more so for his job as the principal of “The Blanks”, which unlike all the other schools, ran year-round. At the moment, he was wearing a black suit, gray shirt and a black tie that changed to a red gradient towards the end. “Ah, Superintendent Celestia, what a pleasure to see you!” he said in a growly, bassy voice that didn’t seem to fit his lithe frame.

“Dr. Sombra,” she said, flashing a smile. “You didn’t need to come out here to see me.”

“It would be rude of me to let a lady – or an old colleague and friend of mine – to walk around unescorted in such a place,” he said, with a grin to match hers. “So, I hope you didn’t run into too much trouble on the way here.”

“No, other than three cops cuffing someone down on the corner of Piedmont and Gladiola and making a show of it,” she replied. “I would hope it’s not one of your students – he looked pretty young.”

Sombra dropped the smile as his features took a more serious appearance. “Tia, you’re an old friend, so do me a favor: Just because I run the county’s quote, ‘problem child school’, unquote, doesn’t mean that my students are problems to be shoved off until they can be incarcerated. Yes, they are here – no one can deny that – but each of them is worthy of a second chance. Certainly I’m sure you can see that, can’t you?”

“Especially since I’ve seen the biggest turnaround of my life in the past year,” she admitted, “from a student of mine that I fully expected to end up here one day.”

“Oh?” he asked, his interest piqued. After Celestia gave him a brief explanation of Sunset Shimmer’s year, he nodded in approval. “And all she needed was someone to love and understand her. You don’t know how many of my students end up here just because of broken or non-existent families…especially the increase of said type of student this year as a result of the incident back in January.”

“Well, someone like Sunset, of course; but some of them, like Gilda Griffin – a former student of mine and now one of yours – I have serious doubts about.”

“And yet Ms. Griffin’s record indicates that she had a history of being abused as a child by her father,” Sombra noted. “Copies of the relevant police reports were in her file.”

“But I’ve met her mother and stepfather,” Celestia countered. “She's been living with them ever since her father was imprisoned. They’re some of the most diligent and caring parents I’ve ever met; furthermore, she hasn’t had contact with her father since she was nine. Sombra, I honestly don’t like saying this about some of my students, but sometimes a rotten egg is a rotten egg.”

“Funny; my old teachers said the same thing about me when I got sent here,” he told her, an even look on his face.

“Your tea….” Realization dawned on her. “You were a student here?”

“One of the worst,” he admitted, a sad look on his face. “I cared nothing for school, and what little I did was involved in – if you’ll excuse the term – ‘bitches and bucks’. What got me sent here from Pine Grove High was that I got caught having sex in the bathroom with my girlfriend at the time.”

“That doesn’t seem—”

“It was the principal’s daughter. Oh, and I was fifteen at the time – she was twelve.” When Celestia blanched, he nodded. “Once I arrived here, however, I got straightened out the hard way by one particular teacher who told me that ‘You can have as many second chances as you want – but only the first one counts.’ So after that, I turned my life around; didn’t graduate with honors, but got decent enough grades to get into the Marine Corps, where I really got my ass kicked – needed that reinforcement just as much. After that, studied to get my education degree while in the Corps, left as a staff sergeant, and then got a teaching job here – specifically here, because the students here needed an example that yes, there is more to life than just gangbanging.”

Celestia, needless to say, was impressed. “Wow, I did not know that about you.”

He grinned. “That’s because I don’t publicize it. Least thing I need is for someone like Higher Standards over at Sunnytown High to bitch how The Blanks’ principal is ‘no better than those he’s teaching.’ Besides, Waddle knows.”

“He does?”

Sombra laughed. “Who do you think was the father of my then-girlfriend? Besides, once I straightened out and we were older, I rekindled my relationship with his daughter. Chrys still carried a torch for me, and....” He chuckled, savoring the memory: “Plus, when we told him he was going to be a grandfather, well…at least that finally made him accept our relationship.” Pointing to a glassed area down the hall, he stated, “So, with that, let’s head over to the Crystal Empire and my office, shall we?”

As they walked down the hall, Celestia asked, “Crystal…Empire?”

He laughed louder this time. “About ten years ago, the principal of the time was this paranoid lunatic who thought that every student here was out to get him. He had the glass in the administrative office replaced with bullet-proof polycarbonate,” he said, rapping his knuckles against the clear surface. “Well, he blew the school’s budget that year almost entirely on the bullet-proof glass as well as a reinforced titanium door. His secretary thought it was the most stupid thing ever, and commented to us teachers that ‘Principal Glassheart’s acting like an emperor in a crystal palace!’ Well, word got out, one of the students at the time coined the phrase ‘Crystal Empire’ to refer to the admin office, and since then, it’s stuck. As for Glassheart, the following year he took an assistant superintendent job in Seattle, and probably’s doing the same stupid shit there.”

As they walked in, Sombra ushered Celestia to a table in his office, then gave her a manila folder. “Here’s the thing: With the addition of the students who were expelled from their schools and sent here, we’re currently running at 138% capacity. I can’t support any more students and with this school’s reputation, it’s always been difficult to hire extra faculty. So with that, I have no alternative but to return not only the students who met the threshold for academic reinstatement into the standard school network, but the borderline ones as well. In the case of Canterlot High, that’s fifteen students, including Roneo, Three Leaf and Gilda Griffin.”

Opening the folder, Celestia looked over the list of students that he’d handed her. Sure enough, there were fifteen students on the return list, many of them ones that she’d regretted sending here but had no choice, given the district rules. The last three on the list, however, were her biggest concerns: Roneo was a violent teen who liked solving any issue with fights; he’d ended up here because he’d attempted to hit Cheerilee after she gave him detention for smoking in the hall – and he would have hit her had not Macintosh Apple not stepped in and blocked the blow. Three Leaf, in all honesty, was mostly harmless…except that she’d been caught making heroin using the school’s chemistry rooms; she was a gifted girl otherwise and wasn’t a drug user, but her passion for chemistry got her into serious trouble. And as for Gilda…Celestia had to admit that she felt a certain level of protectiveness now for Sunset Shimmer, but knew that the alien teen could protect herself if necessary.

“Who barely missed the cutoff?” she asked.

Sombra stated, “Both Starlet and Ruby. In Starlet’s case, she would have made the cut-off outright, if she’d gotten a C in her Social Studies class.” He then sighed and added, “In Ruby’s case, while she technically did make the cut-off, Canterlot High isn’t listed as having a substance abuse counselor, so….”

Celestia recalled the two students. Starlet was a talented girl…if she ever applied herself. Unfortunately, she was another student who had been sent here on a technicality, mainly painting graffiti tags all over the school, including one – objectively and aesthetically beautiful, Celestia privately admitted – “BITCH” mural all over Mrs. Harshwinny’s brand-new Mercedes Benz. As for Ruby, she shouldn’t have been one of her students: The girl’s house was in the boundaries for Riverfront High, but her mother used their grandparents’ address so she and her twin sister Mitta could attend Canterlot High. Ruby was an average student, made worse by repeated drug use – some of which had been supplied by Three Leaf. Mitta, on the other hand, was one of her best students, but the teen constantly fretted over Ruby’s status.

Plus, if I have to be honest, I’ve let Sunset slide by all this time, when the factory she lived in is technically in the Riverfront zone. I can’t afford to play favorites, but I’m not about to send Sunset away. She smiled inwardly; the answer was obvious.

She set the list down. “Give me both of them. I’d like to think Starlet’s learned her lesson. And as for Ruby, one of my counselors, Iron Will, is taking a substance abuse counseling training course this summer, so we’ll have some help for her if she really wants to get off the drugs. In turn, you keep Roneo – I don’t care how.”

Sombra nodded. “I was hoping you’d say that – on the last day of regular classes, Roneo took a swing at his Geometry teacher just because Plank Owner gave him detention for smoking in the bathroom. Unfortunately for Roneo, Plank Owner is a former Navy SEAL.”

Celestia looked at him, astonished. “How many of your staff is ex-military?”

“Most, to be honest.” A sober look came over his face as he confided, “You won’t believe how often it comes in handy.”

Fluttershy came back thirty minutes later, as promised. “Mom, look, I’m sorry,” she said, a contrite look on her face.

“Fluttershy, I’m already late as is,” Posey said, grabbing her car keys. “We’ll talk about this tonight at dinner, okay? I just want you to remember something: As hard as it is for you and Angel to deal with the situation, he is still your father, and that’s not ever going to change.”

“Okay,” the teen said in a repentant voice.

Posey kissed her daughter on the cheek. “I know you’ll get through this, sweetie. Angel’s already eaten and he’s upstairs playing videogames right now. And no, he can’t play those violent ones again.”

“Got it, Mom.” Waving her mother off, Fluttershy sighed for all of a second before she felt a punch on her leg, one that stung but wasn’t hard enough to really do damage. Wincing at the pain, she looked down to see Angel standing there, scowling. “Oh, good morning, Angel,” she said, knowing that he was already in his element.

What did you do to Mom? the child furiously signed, his fingers flickering with the speed of motion, a sign he was really not happy with his older sister.

“Angel, I don’t really want to talk about it right now,” Fluttershy said in a morose tone. “Mom and I had a…disagreement…and we’ll solve it. It’s what adults do.”

Don’t bullshit me, he responded.

Fluttershy shook her head. “You know you’re not supposed to use language like that.”

Yeah, and I’m not supposed to play my favorite videogames, either, the boy replied. So, here’s the deal: I don’t bother you about what you and Mom fought about, and you leave me alone while I’m playing Firefall. Promised some of my friends I’d be thumping in Broken Shores this afternoon, since I’m so close to getting Gaea Enforcer.

“I have no idea what you mean, but it can’t be good,” Fluttershy groaned. In response, Angel merely crossed his arms and scowled at his sister. “Don’t even think that I’m….” she started, but her younger brother merely stood his ground. She sighed in response and said, “Fine. But only for a little while, okay?”

Yeah, yeah, whatever. When the pizza gets here for lunch, just bring me up a couple of slices, okay? Without waiting for an answer, he walked back towards his bedroom.

Fluttershy rolled her eyes; she knew she spoiled her little brother rotten, but he was generally a good kid, so he deserved it, right?

It was a second later that Fluttershy then realized something: “Wait – I’m supposed to meet Rarity for lunch today!”

As Rainbow and Sunset sat down, Luna looked at them both across the expanse of her desk. “To begin, I want to make this clear that this has nothing to do with academics. This is entirely focused on Sunset’s ‘problems’, if you understand my meaning,” the woman clarified.

The two teens gave each other relieved looks before Sunset began. “I know we didn’t have much time to talk once I got back yesterday, Ms. Luna, but….”

“Celestia and I just want to make sure that you’re safe now,” Luna replied. “You do realize the concerns that we do have, do you not?”

“I promise that’s not an issue any longer,” Sunset insisted.

Um, Ms. Luna?” Rainbow began. “Did you ever watch that movie where that one guy wishes he had the power to do anything and then one day he magically did?”

“I’m not sure what film you’re referring to,” the educator stated, “but I gather that you’re a lot more powerful now, Sunset?” There was a brief flash in the woman’s eyes, something that would normally have been ignored. But Sunset had seen that look on Rainbow’s face not too long ago, and it filled her with dread.

“Do you trust me, Ms. Luna?” Sunset asked in a worried tone. In response, Luna only nodded. “Then give me your hand. You too, Rainbow.”

Both Rainbow and Luna did so, with the principal suddenly saying, “I don’t see what this has to d—”

“—o with trus…ting…you?” Luna’s statement suddenly veered into a question as she realized she was no longer in her office – or the school building. A second later, she realized she wasn’t even in Equestria County, much less Canterlot.

“Is this…Horseshoe Bay?” she asked, astonished. She could feel the spray of the Pacific even from the cliff side where they were, looking down at the seaside city below, nearly 150 miles west of where they were just a breath ago.

“Holy shit – you weren’t kidding!” Rainbow shouted, completely caught off-guard. “This. Is. AWESOME!

While Luna privately agreed, she instead looked at the flame-haired girl with concern. “Sunset, you…?” Seeing the hurt look in Sunset’s cyan eyes, Luna bit off what she was going to say, and instead asked, “How difficult is this for you?”

“Still need to let my magic recharge, but that’s more out of being out of practice than actually being winded,” Sunset replied. “But the teal deer version is that I’m no longer bound to the moon for my magic. This is the full power I was born with, the power I was always meant to have. The Princess unsealed it just before I left, because she couldn’t comprehend ‘how hard it was for me to live without magic for so long’, quote unquote.”

“And it was sealed because…?”

“Training wheels, of a sort,” Sunset replied, but her tone lowered as she admitted, “and truthfully, up until now I didn’t deserve to have my full abilities restored.”

“Still, all that power in human hands can be quite a temptation,” Luna replied, hoping she didn’t sound too scolding.

“Don’t worry, Ms. Luna, I promise I’m only going to use my powers for good – and only if I need to. Besides, I’d rather be just a normal girl than a relatively all-powerful unicorn,” Sunset told her as she raised her hand and a flash of aqua-hued power flared from it.

A blink later, and the trio were back in the comfort of Luna’s office. As she returned to her seat, the principal sighed in relief. “You don’t realize how much that means to me,” she told Sunset. “Not because I feared that you would misuse your powers, but because it shows that you truly love those who have taken you in.”

“I had the option to remain back in Equestria,” Sunset admitted. “After I made amends with Princess Cel…I mean, the Princess, she wanted me to return to my studies as her apprentice, but my family was more important to me. Instead, she gave me a new assignment.” Figuring that both Rainbow and Luna would want the whole story, Sunset then explained everything that happened that past week; she figured she’d be retelling it quite a few times in the next few days in any case.

“And maybe it’s too early to tell, but I just wish that someone would call and let me know Twily’s okay,” Sunset said in a worried voice as she completed her tale. “I mean, I know the spell’s done with – that and the component aura that blindsided everyone else – but I just want concrete evidence that she’s okay.” Seeing the distraught look on her friend’s face, Rainbow merely reached over and patted Sunset on the shoulder.

“Well, I’m sure they’re all rather busy at the moment, but Armonia sent Celestia a quick text yesterday to let her know they all arrived safely at Pisa, so everything should be fine,” Luna told Sunset, and was rewarded as a look of guarded relief came onto the younger woman’s face. “So don’t worry, things will come around at the right time.”

“I just hope it’s soon.”

“I’m sure it will be, Sunset. Now go ahead and get going to class, you two – you don’t want to be late on the first day.”

“Thanks, girls,” Fluttershy said nervously. While she adored Rarity, Applejack and Rainbow’s younger sisters, the three tended to be a little overzealous for their Girl Scout badges, if overzealous could be best described as “religiously fervent on the level of the Inquisition”. In fact, seeing Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo standing there, huge grins on their faces, Fluttershy was sure this was probably not a good idea at all.

“Um…how much do I owe you?” Fluttershy asked.

“Oh, it’s nothing at all,” Sweetie Belle replied. “We’re doing this for our babysitting badge. Consider it gratis.”

Scootaloo narrowed her eyes. “‘Gratis?’ What are you, Dictionary.com?”

“Hey, I overheard my mother using it in a call with her editor,” Sweetie Belle explained.

“Girls, could we not do this right now?” Apple Bloom groaned, nearly facepalming. “Besides, we promised we wouldn’t fight in front of Angel, and Ah don’t know about you, but Ah intend to keep mah promise.”

Fluttershy blinked. “Excuse me, Apple Bloom?”


“I know this sounds silly, but…I noticed your accent isn’t anywhere near as strong as your sister’s.”

“Yeah, mah English teacher, who had AJ and Mac before, said the same thing. She thinks it’s because Ah grew up here in Canterlot during mah formative years, while mah siblings had their childhoods back in Oklahoma. Sure, Ah’ve got a bit of an accent, but that’s just because Ah’m around mah family enough to pick some of it up.”

Scootaloo groaned again. “First it’s ‘gratis’, now it’s ‘formative years’. Does everybody I know secretly have a Wiktionary fetish?”

“Can we not start this again?” Sweetie Belle retorted. “Not all of us want to be a birdbrain like you!”

“Hey, look, just because I already have my career mapped out doesn’t mean that I need to be smart about it! I mean, hell, I’m going to be a fighter pilot! Those guys rock!”

“Um, Scootaloo?” Fluttershy pointed out, “I don’t know if you know this, but fighter pilots are highly educated. They have to do math all the time while they’re in the air.”

The sudden crestfallen look on Scootaloo’s face was so schadenfreude-worthy, both her friends had to clamp their mouths to prevent laughing out loud. “You’re joking, right?”

Fluttershy shook her head. “No, I’m afraid not. I remember that in Sixth Grade, one of my classmates brought her uncle to show and tell, and he was an Air Force fighter pilot. He said that they use math all the time, doing the numbers in their heads.”

“In their heads,” Scootaloo said numbly. She almost sounded as though she was watching her career take off on wings she couldn’t follow with.

“Hey, cheer up,” Apple Bloom said, patting her friend on the shoulder, “at least there’s always…um, what do you do that’s decent?”

“Well, that’s my cue to get Fluttershy out of here,” Rarity replied as she stepped out of the bathroom. “Fluttershy, dear, we still have to meet up with Pinkie. I figured we could go to the In-N-Out on Riverfront, then hit the spa – we have an appointment at 1:45.”

“That would be great,” the chiffon-haired teen replied. “But won’t that drive Pinkie up the wall?”

“Yes, but you know Lotus and Aloe – they love a challenge,” the fashionista said with a grin. “After all, if they can tame our dear Sunset, they should be able to handle anybody, n’est-ce pas?”

Sunset suddenly sneezed.

“You coming down with a cold?” Trixie asked.

“If’n y’ are, Sunny, lemme know so’s Ah c’n stay clear,” Applejack said, only half-joking. “Fer some reason, Ah’m always catchin’ colds durin’ th’ summer, an’ least thing Ah need is one.”

“No, I think it was an involuntary motion,” Sunset replied.

“Or maybe it’s like anime, where you sneeze if someone’s talking about you!” Rainbow suggested. In turn, the prism-haired athlete suddenly had three other girls stare at her. “Or…maybe not?”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “You watch waaaaaaay too much anime, Rainbow.”

“Well, it was a thought!”

“Yeah, and you do know that it’s a bodily response to more than just being sick, right? People sneeze for a variety of reasons, Rainbow. For sta—”

“You know, I think I liked you better when you weren’t such an egghead. You’re starting to turn into your sister.”

“Speaking of which,” Trixie asked, “how’s that coming along?”

Sunset kept her face even as she spun yet another lie. She was starting to get sick of them, but she also found how paradoxical it was that in order to be the girl she wanted to be, she had to even more of the dishonest, untrustworthy person she used to be. And with Trixie’s self-esteem issues, if she finds out I’m lying to her, she’s going to pull a Fluttershy because she thinks I can’t trust her with my biggest secret.

“I don’t know,” the flame-haired girl replied. “They just left for Italy yesterday, so it’s too early to tell. They’ll be back in a week, though, and I’m hoping that with a change of scenery, that should do some good.”

“Yeah, it’ll be a great way to soak up some of the energies from the local ley lines!” No sooner than Trixie had said that than she buried her face in her hands. “Oh, I can’t believe I just said that!”

“What’s wrong, sugarcube?” Applejack asked.

“I’m starting to sound like my mother – only she would go on vacation for ‘mystic vibration recharges!’”

Sunset was suddenly about to respond when she felt a pair of arms wrap around her, saying, “And you didn’t tell us you were coming here? My feelings are hu…okay, not really.”

“Heya, Pinkie, Flutters, Rarity,” Applejack said from her spot. “Whut’s up?”

“Oh, nothing at all,” Rarity said as they sat down to join their friends. “Unfortunately, there was a gas leak in the building where I work, so they had to close down for the day. Since Fluttershy and I already had plans for lunch, and we just happened to run into Pinkie while we were on the way here, we thought it would be wonderful if we had lunch together. But I see that you are all here as well, so that makes it absolutely delightful.” She then turned to Trixie. “And another friend here! Absolutely marvelous!”

“Thanks,” Trixie said, blushing.

“So, what brings you all here?” Pinkie asked as she detached herself from Sunset and plopped in the seat next to Trixie.

“Well, just finished school for the day and figured we had some time to kill, so thought we’d get lunch,” Rainbow replied. “Then after that, I gotta head to practice for my summer soccer league.”

“I was thinkin’ ‘bout doing some sparrin’ with someone fer mah TKD,” Applejack said, “but unfort’nately, Mac’s gone on a graduation trip with Scoops.”

“Oh, yes, Jamaica – I think that’s soooooo romantic,” Rarity cooed. Seeing Applejack’s nod, the teen fashionista said, “Now if you were to ask me, I’ll wager that Mac and Scoops will likely tie the knot even before they finish college.”

“Well, prob’ly,” Applejack admitted. “Bro’s goin’ t’ Canterlot State in th’ fall, an’ while Scoops s’posedly got a scholarship t’ USC, she turned it down ‘cause she wanted t’ stay with Mac.” The former farmgirl sighed. “Ah hope Ah c’n find someone like that fer me someday.”

“Well, there’s always that Trenderhoof guy, right?” Pinkie suggested, and at that, both Applejack and Rarity groaned. Trenderhoof was a teen who moved from Philadelphia to Canterlot during his senior year, and the then-freshman Rarity immediately found herself infatuated with him. Unfortunately, he had seen Applejack one day and started pursuing her. The two friends stopped speaking to each other over the issue – it was a rare moment that Sunset had not exploited, she admitted, mainly because she didn’t know about it – and in the end it became a moot issue when a senior girl, Sweet Orchid, asked him out. As far as either Applejack or Rarity knew, the two lovers were still together and attending Shasta University, the private university in town – and neither teen wanted anything to do with him, given how it had been part of what splintered their friendship.

“Well, I, um, have to be out of town for the next few days,” Fluttershy said softly.

“Later this week?” Rarity asked.

Fluttershy did a facepalm; it was both cute and odd coming from her. “No, sorry, had my dates confused; I’m not leaving until 4th of July weekend. I’m…uh…well…I’m flying to San Francisco to, um, mtmyfthr.” The last part came out quiet and mumbled, a clear sign that she didn’t want to mention it.

“What was that, Flutters?” Sunset asked, noticing her friend was trying to hide behind her hair.

“I, uh, I have to go to San Francisco to meet with my father.” The group suddenly fell silent, and Trixie took that as a sign, valid or otherwise, that she didn’t need to be around for this.

Um…I have to step out for a moment,” the teen magician said. “Say, Applejack, I know Bon-Bon’s practicing this afternoon at the Asian Cultural Center, and I’m sure she’d be happy to spar with you.” Trixie then turned to Sunset and said, “Besides, I guarantee Lyra will likely be there and she might be interested in the bian lian as well.”

“Sounds like a plan, then,” Sunset said, quickly following it up with a silently mouthed thank you. Trixie nodded, pulled out her phone and started dialing as she walked off towards the outside.

Sunset immediately wasted no time in turning to face Fluttershy. “Flutters, if you need me to, I can go with you.”

“How?” the chiffon-haired teen asked. “I’ll be there for the majority of the week and besides, don’t you have school?”

“Doppelganger spell, plus I can teleport back and forth in a fifteen-minute period,” the flame-haired girl replied. “Plus if I tell Ms. Luna, I….” Sunset paused as she suddenly saw the looks on her friends’ faces; only Rainbow didn’t look shell-shocked.

Before anyone could speak, Rainbow added, “This is probably the part where I should tell you that she took me and Ms. Luna all the way out to Horseshoe Bay and back in a ten-minute span.” Seeing the looks on the others’ faces, she then added, “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Girls….” Sunset said, suddenly feeling afraid that she was about to lose the friends she had. After everything she’d been through in the majority of a year, then the weirdest-week-in-five-minutes where she had to essentially prove herself to the pony versions of her friends and now seeing the looks of fear in their faces….

Will I ever escape my sins? she wondered.

Rarity reached over and grabbed Sunset’s hands. “Sunset, darling? What happened over there?”

“I thought we were going to talk about Flutters’ issue,” Sunset replied.

“Your situation’s more important, Sunny,” Fluttershy responded, brushing her hair out of her eyes. “We can talk about mine later.”

“Well, I knew I was going to be telling this story over and over for the next couple of days,” Sunset replied.

When her explanation finished a few minutes later, she saw something she’d never thought she’d see in her friends’ eyes again: fear. Do you really not trust me? she wanted to say to them. After everything we’ve been through, all the changes I’ve undergone and you still don’t trust me?

The five girls looked at each other, trying to figure who would be the first to speak. Finally, Rarity, knowing she was likely the closest to Sunset, cleared her throat. “Sunset, I….”

“No, don’t say it.” Sunset rose from her chair, and for a second her friends thought she was going to lose her temper, as she had often done in the past. But they looked into her eyes and saw the sadness within them, knowing that they’d unintentionally hurt her far worse than she’d ever done to any of them individually. “I…I lost my appetite.” Grabbing her bag, she said in a flat tone, “I’ll see you all later.” She then stepped out the door, pausing briefly to talk to Trixie, before heading off to the subway stop.

As they watched their friend walk into the distance, Applejack was the one to voice it: “We done screwed that pooch hard, ladies.”

A second later, Trixie came back in. “Wow, Sunny took that harder than I expected.” When they all looked at her in confusion, she said, “Mom needs me to help Lyra cover in the store since she has an appointment with her herbal therapist – why she can’t go see a doctor like any other member of the human race is beyond me, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, I told Sunny I’d have to postpone until tomorrow, and she seemed as though the world was ending. What’s with that?”

Rainbow watched the part of the sidewalk where their friend had been a second ago before she walked down into the subway station a block away. “Sometimes, it does,” Rainbow said cryptically. “Othertimes, you do it without intending to.”

“Oh, and Applejack, Bonnie says just give her a call and she’ll be happy to spar with you anytime – her style’s some Vietnamese one, but I don’t recall the name. Anyway, I can bump her number to you if you have your phone with you.”

“Yeah,” Applejack said as she handed Trixie her phone. It helped to get her mind off the fact that she just hurt one of her closest friends.

“…and that should be that,” Sombra said as he stood up from the table. “Thanks for coming, Tia – I hadn’t intended this to take so long.”

“No, no, that’s fine,” Celestia replied. “Besides, like you said, it was an eye-opener for me. While there’s not much I can do for your regular year-to-year funding, I can at least ensure that your summer school session is better funded than it should be.”

He nodded in appreciation. “Thanks. These kids need someone to give them a second chance, and by getting me those funds, I can make sure they have it.” He paused. “Oh, and we’re still on for dinner Thursday, right? I’m sure Chrys would be happy to have you over.”

“Absolutely. Well, I’ve already taken up far too much of your time,” the summer school superintendent said to the principal. “Let me let you get back to your work and I’ll talk to you later, okay?” As he waved farewell, she in turn walked out of the building, back towards her car.

She didn’t get very far before two students approached her. Both had wiry, gangbanger looks on their faces. “Hey, sweet thang,” the taller one, a dark-haired boy with an oddly-pallid complexion, sidled up to her. “All sweet as honey and got that MILFy look I like. Gonna give me a little sugar?”

“Excuse me?” Celestia asked, already not liking this, and a second later, her concerns were confirmed as she felt a hand pat her rear. Turning to move out of the way, the second boy, a dark-complexioned, burly kid with a fiery-orange hair and soul patch grinned. “Oh, she got the moves, too. Bet she knows all kinds of acrobatics.”

“Bet she can keep us going a long time,” the first one replied.

“Boys, I think we’re more than done here,” Celestia said with a confident tone she never felt. Yes, she was a lot more cocksure and snarky when she was younger, but that was just that – when she was younger. Back then, though she and Velvet were the divas of the school at the time, they were also just young women who fantasized about magic and other things that were the wont of teenage dreams at the time. But now – now she was a woman in her mid-fifties (even though she could still pass for her early thirties!) – and she wasn’t the same girl she was back then.

“Oh, no, teach,” the dark-haired boy replied with a sneer on his face. “I think class is in session. After all, I failed biology, and I could use a refresher…maybe the birds and the bees?”

“Wonder how comfy that back seat is, Grey,” the second boy said, pushing Celestia against the car.

“Wonder how comfy she is, Stoney,” the first said, moving forward like lightning to clamp down over Celestia’s mouth just as she was about to scream. Suddenly she felt very, very afraid – fighting as a teenager against her younger sister was one thing; fighting against her best friend was another. But fighting two boys, both a third her age and clearly more than capable of outmuscling her, was something much horrifyingly differ—

“Ahem.” The new voice was bassy and deep, rising from above. A look of fear in her eyes, Celestia looked up at a mountain of a man, easily over six feet, built like a bodybuilder in his prime and with eyes that seemed to pierce the soul. Said man was behind her two assailants, and in an instant clamped a pair of huge hands on their shoulders, getting their attention immediately. “You have less than a second to let go of her,” he said in a growling, lupine snarl. “If a full second goes by, you’ve just pushed your luck, because a second after that, I break you.”

The two boys froze instantly. “Hey, we’re just jo—”

“Get. The hell. Out of here,” the man roared in a soft-spoken voice that seemed to roar. The two boys immediately complied, running like the wind.

The danger past, Celestia’s adrenaline wore off and she slumped to the ground, her heart pounding against her chest. She was so freaked out by what just happened, she barely heard the voice say, “Hey, are you okay?” She looked up and the man seemed to be looking at her with concern, his golden eyes expressive as could be. She also noticed his pine-green and black hair and his tanned complexion, all within a tailored suit that barely seemed to fit his muscular frame.

“I’m…I’m fine,” she said, knowing she wasn’t. He offered her a hand, and she took it gratefully.

“I’m sorry,” he told her. “Grayhoof and Gladstone are two of our worst students here, and they know how to operate around the system – hell, I think they’ve even got their POs fooled.”


“Parole officers. Those two have criminal records already and they’re only here because some bleeding-heart judge thinks they can be reformed. Personally, I have my doubts. Anyway, I hope you’re okay, ah, Ms….?”

“Celestia,” she said.

“Oh! The superintendent!” The sudden look on his face as it went from concerned to comical, was priceless. “Shit. Dr. Sombra’s going to have my ass, and I just started this job, too!”

“You did?”

“Yeah. Started last month after I got out of the Army,” he told her. “75th Rangers, all the way.” The way he said it, followed up by the wolfish grin on his face, clearly indicated that he could have done something about the two boys if they’d gotten out of hand. “Anyway, I should introduce myself. Sable Loam – I’m the new Civics and Earth Sciences teacher here.”

“Two degrees? That’s a bit…unexpected,” Celestia replied, meaning it. Even some of the overachievers on her own staff didn’t have two different degrees.

“Yeah – I was always in overkill mode, even for Army Special Forces,” he laughed. “But…don’t let it get around. Might ruin my ‘tough guy’ image around here,” he said with a wink.

“Well, don’t worry,” she told him. “Your secret’s safe with me. And I can’t thank you enough for saving me.”

“Hey, all in a day’s work,” he told her. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m on the clock and the lunch break’s short.”

A thought came over Celestia’s mind. “Well…heroics do deserve a reward. Let me buy you lunch, okay?”

“I couldn’t.”

“No,” she said, “I insist. I owe you, Mr. Loam. Who knows what those boys would have done to me if you hadn’t been here.”

“I do,” he said softly. “It’s why they have parole officers.”

“You know, I hate doing this,” Octavia told Sunset as they rifled through Twilight’s room. “Why are we doing this again?”

“Because the parentals asked me to?” Sunset replied, sounding equally dour about it. While she knew it was a completely pointless gesture – mainly because she knew the real reason for Twilight’s problems and it was certainly not anything Octavia would ever find – the flame-haired girl still had to go through the motions. At least with Octavia around the share the headache with, it wouldn’t be as mind-numbingly dull; also, it would it would give the girls a chance to start slowly moving Octavia’s belongings into the house. Lastly, given that it was her day off work and Trixie had to suddenly reschedule for the next day, Sunset didn’t really have much else to do anyway.

Besides, I don’t think being around the rest of my friends is a good idea right now, she sadly ruminated. After seeing the looks in their eyes, it hurt Sunset far worse than she’d ever imagined. It had been bad enough that their counterparts hadn’t really trusted her for most of her trip back in Equestria, but those were Princess Twilight’s friends. These were her friends, and to see them look at her as though she was now some hair-trigger weapon, as if after all this time they still thought she could still revert to her old, tyrannical self…it hurt. Granted, she knew they likely didn’t mean it and it was probably some instinctive human reaction that she’d never really understand because she wasn’t born as a human, and things would probably be back to normal in a few days. But until then, Sunset would just have to nurse those wounds.

Now if only I can do so without Tavi wondering what the hell’s wrong, the flame-haired girl mentally added. We’re all friends and sooner or later, we’ll all be back together before the week’s up.

It was Octavia’s words that brought Sunset out of her reverie: “This is Twily we’re talking about, Sunny!” the raven-haired teen gasped, unaware of Sunset’s inner turmoil. “To her, Advil is a heavy drug!”

“I know, okay!” Sunset replied as she removed the sheets from the bed. “I know Twily would never do anything like thi—”

“Then why did you even agree to this?” Octavia snapped.

“Don’t you think I know that, Tavi? Do you think I like doing this? You didn’t have to deal with all of this – I did!” Octavia flinched in surprise, and seeing that, Sunset pulled back immediately. Yeah, scare the hell out of your cousin the day after you get back from the adventure of your life, Shimmer. Great job.

To no surprise, Octavia turned away. “I’m sorry.”

Sunset sighed. “No, I should be the one to apologize – for taking it out on you,” she replied. “You’ve got your own stress right now; it’s only natural that you didn’t want to deal with it. Any apology should be mine to make.”

“No, Sunny, it’s me. I’m just…I’m afraid, okay? What if she really is doing something that you or I could have put a stop to – but I didn’t because I was so absorbed in my problems? And what about what Aunt Velvet said? You nearly killed yourself saving her from getting hit by a truck – if I had been there, it might not have happened!”

“Tavi,” Sunset insisted as she patted her cousin comfortingly on the shoulder, “it’s been rough for everyone. And yes, while you made some mistakes, so did I. We all did. But dwelling on it doesn’t make anything better.” Especially if you’ve been so terrified of your past that when you finally return to your homeworld, you fear the one pony who had been like a mother to you is going to kill you. “You just have to roll with the punches and keep moving.”

“You sure?”

Sunset rolled her eyes, more out of needing to keep up appearances than anything else. “Would you stop worrying about it? I’ll bet right now she’s relaxing on a beach somewhere, working on her tan a—”

“Sunny, it’s 6:30.”

“Yeah, and?”

Octavia shook her head. “Duh, time zone difference? It’s gotta be, what, three in the morning or something over there?”

“Whatevs,” Sunset said as she heard a knock on the door. “That must be the pizza. You keep looking and I’ll go get it, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, stick me with the tough job,” Octavia mock-grumbled and continued to look through Twilight’s plushie collection.

Sunset smiled as she departed the room. At least one of my family’s back to normal, she said to herself as she went downstairs, pausing only to grab her billfold out of her purse. Finally, reaching the door, she opened it and—

—there, holding three pizzas, was Applejack; behind her were the other girls. “Ah’m guessin’ y’ weren’t plannin’ t’ eat th’ whole pizza alone, were ya?” the blonde asked.

“I…uh….” Sunset blinked briefly before coming back down to Earth. “Uh, no, Tavi’s here and she and I are…well, I told you about that already, so….”

“Then we’ll make this quick,” Rarity piped up. “We’re sorry. Yes, you having these new…abilities…are rather surprising, but we’ve known you long enough to know that you wouldn’t do anything untoward with them.”

“And yeah, I know I said that none of us’ll forget the person you used to be,” Rainbow chimed in, “when I, uh, probably should’ve added that we know you’re not that person anymore, not now and never again.”

In the back, Fluttershy and Pinkie said nothing, merely giving encouraging smiles. Seeing that, Applejack then added, “Well, Ah’m hopin’ y’ c’n forgive us fer that.”

“Nothing to forgive,” Sunset said, giving her friends a smile as sunny as her name; inwardly, she felt relieved to know that after everything, they still believed in her, even if she’d told herself as much not a few minutes earlier. “Just…c’mon in and I’ll get Tavi.”

As Celestia sat down at the table, she spoke aloud, “Remind me why we’re having dinner together?”

Stepping away from the chair after assisting her like a gentleman, Sable headed towards his own seat. “Well, unfortunately those two miscreants got in trouble again within earshot, forcing me to have to forgo our lunch plans, but seeing as how you insisted that I should have been rewarded for saving you, you decided that dinner was an acceptable alternative?”

“Works for me,” she said, flashing a smile as the waiter passed her a menu. “So, tell me about yourself, or should I just make up the details?”

“Well, making up the details is always fun,” the man said with a grin, “but usually kinda sorta wrong. As for me, I’m originally from Rock Springs, Wyoming, and like just about everyone else my age, I joined the military after 9/11. Went through boot, then RASP, saw the world – including a few places I never want to see again – got my degree, then decided I could do more outside than in. Signed up for the DOD’s Troops to Teachers program, they had an opening here, and so I took it.”

The look on Celestia’s face was one of intrigue. “Sounds interesting.”

“Well,” he said with a grin, “at least with my students, I know where the attacks are coming from.”

Over the course of the dinner, the two colleagues chatted back and forth about various things. Sable had never been to Canterlot prior to moving here; he chose it mainly because he liked the images from the tourist bureau, something Celestia laughed at. He was surprised to find that she was originally from San Diego and Italy prior to that; she explained that she’d gone to college here and just never went back and instead her family followed her up north. They talked about various other things, trivialities and pointless comments, and did a lot of smiling at one another.

Finally, as dessert came around, Sable nodded and said, “Well, that settles it.”

“Settles what?”

He leaned on the table in a roguish manner. “Settles on whether or not I should ask you out on a date this weekend.”

The look on Celestia’s face was one of surprise. “You do realize I’m older than you, right?”

He shrugged. “What, a couple of years? That doesn’t bother me – my mother’s older than my father by a few.”

“How old are you?” she asked him.

“Thirty-one, why?”

She smirked. “You’re slightly older than half my age. I'm fifty-six.” As his jaw dropped from surprise, she smiled. “Youthful looks have always run in my family; I’m guessing it’s due to my Italian blood. That, or I’m just lucky.”

“I…I coulda sworn you were early thirties, tops!” he admitted.

“You should see my mother – she’s in her late eighties, but looks like she’s barely hit sixty.”

“I see. Well, that’s not about to make me change my mind, Celestia. Age difference isn’t an issue in the slightest.”

A thoughtful look came over the woman’s face, quickly punctuated by a sip from her wine glass. She then set it down and said, “So, eight at my place on Saturday?”

“So what’s the surprise? What is it? Tell your favorite Pinkie!” Pinkie chirped.

“Ssssssh!” Sunset whispered harshly. “You’ll wake Tavi up!”

“Heh, sor~ry!”

After an intensive search with the girls helping, they declared the house clean, after which they all decided on an impromptu sleepover. Thankfully, between Twilight’s bed and some spare sleeping bags they had around the house, Sunset was able to squeeze all the girls in. Evening and Ballad happily agreed to it, as it would give them a night alone, and with that, the girls enjoyed a nice overnighter at Sunset’s.

But the real reason for it all, Sunset told them, had to wait until Octavia was asleep. Once the raven-haired teen was out for the evening, Sunset took the girls downstairs into the kitchen, where she placed a glittering purplish-green candle on the kitchen table.

“Okay, so…it’s a candle. Big whoop,” Rainbow said, looking unimpressed. That is, until Sunset reached out and tapped the wick with her finger. There was a sound like a muted dragon’s roar, followed by an explosion of green flame, and a second later the candle was alight with verdant fire, the room filling with the scents of cinnamon and vanilla.

“This is a dragonfire candle,” Sunset explained. “It’s based on a method we use back in Equestria to send quick messages back and forth. Think of it as magical email and you get the idea.”

“That’s nice,” Fluttershy said, “but why show us this, Sunny? Unless….” A soft smile suddenly appeared on the chiffon-haired teen’s face when she realized what Sunset implied was now possible.

With a snap of Sunset’s fingers, paper and pencils appeared in front of all of them. “Basically what you do is write a letter, and then once you’re done, place it over the flame and think about who you want it to go to. The flame will ‘burn’ it, then reconstitute the paper over at the other side.”

Finally the other girls got it. “So we can send…?”

“Well, technically you can send anything – gifts, furniture, et cetera – but I thought you might want to start simple, first,” Sunset said with a smile. “Just something short and sweet to send to Princess Twilight so you can say hi. Later, once I don’t have to worry about anyone waking up at an inopportune time, then we can send other stuff.”

The girls didn’t need to be told twice. As a one they immediately started working on their missives, the silence only broken by Pinkie’s asking if it was possible to send increasingly larger things until Sunset said that yes, they could in theory send a blue whale, and no, that wasn’t going to happen. And while the other five wrote letters to their absent friend on the other side of the dimensional veil, Sunset began to write her first report:

With that, Sunset folded the sheet of paper, and, setting it on top of the flame, watched as it disappeared in a puff of green fire, smoke and motes of magic.

“See? Easy,” she told her friends. One by one, they all did the same, watching their letters vanish into jade-hued flame.

“And you’re sure she’s going to get it?” Rainbow asked.

“Trust me,” Sunset replied.

“Y’ know we do,” Applejack replied.

In a house in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris, a phone rang. A gentleman pushed a dozing girl off of him so he could answer the gently chiming receiver. «Bonjour.»

«Est Monsieur Suisse à la maison? C’est Mademoiselle Russie,» the speaker on the other end of the receiver said in a clearly computer-disguised voice.

«Je crains que Monsieur Suisse est en vacances en Italie.»

«Une telle tragédie. Il devra passer à côté de l’entreprise d’une belle dame. Trois, en fait.»

The banter would have been seen as flirting to a bystander – like the one in the bed – but in truth, this was a pre-arranged set of passphrases. “This is Delta,” the man said, switching to French-inflected English. “Go ahead.”

“Our contacts have spoken to Alfa, and he states he will not stand in the way of your plans save for one condition.”

“Do tell.”

“He wants a certain plot of land currently under...partial ownership…and if he takes ownership, he will be content with that.”

“I expected that; tell him I have discussed this with the Spanish and the Vatican, but neither are budging. I suspect it will take time, but if Alfa will support me, I will see this through.”

“Understood, sir. I will send my courier immediately. And as for the designated?”

“Dispatch 01 – don’t kill him, but incapacitate him to the point that it removes him from the line; obviously I don’t need to specify that it should look like an accident. Leave 02 and 02A, and 03 and 03A alone, but continue to monitor them. I do not want them to find out what’s happening. Furthermore, do you have plans for that contingency in case they move left?”

“Understood, sir. As for the ‘leftward move’, Eta has some contacts in the area which may be of use. We can use them to keep track of the targets should they move into that zone…but it will cost, sir. Unfortunately, we likely won’t be dealing with professionals.”

“Money is no object. Keep tabs on everyone.” With that, he hung up the phone, not wasting time on pleasantries and knowing the person on the other end wouldn’t bother, either. It was part of the reason why he hired them, after all.

He turned and looked at the girl in his bed. Perfect, so much like her in every possible way. Right now she was strung out on that German drug his connections had supplied him with; to call her his puppet would be an understatement – a puppet at least had the option to fall. She didn’t even have that much.

He grinned, a rictus that held no warmth or jocularity within. He had power – power over her, power over his minions and soon, would have power over so much more.

It was, after all, his divine right.