• Published 7th Oct 2014
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Sunset Shimmer: Element Bearer - ConningOfficer



A heroine instead of a villain, Sunset Shimmer becomes a leader to her friends at Canterlot High. She begins by helping Sonata Dusk after the Battle of the Bands...

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Chapter Three

“Aria, follow the girl. I’m going to stay here and watch. Don’t let her see you and I’ll meet you back at our place,” Adagio Dazzle ordered.

“I’m not so sure we should split up, Adagio. Maybe it would be better if we…” One glance at the Siren’s seething magenta eyes caused Aria to change her tone, “Forget it. I’ll tell you what I find out.” With a quick twirl of her purple and teal pigtails, she quietly moved toward the main road and Apple Bloom. After about fifty yards, Aria glanced back but couldn’t locate Adagio in the moonlight.

Aria pressed on, quickly gaining ground on the younger girl while still remaining silent and concealed. She was glad to have a task to concentrate on, because beneath the surface, her emotions were a boiling cauldron. Simple Sonata had set off Adagio three days ago.

“Adagio, what do we do now?” Aria remembered Sonata’s pleading question. Of course, she wondered the same thing, but it was always easier to let Sonata take the brunt of their leader’s anger. Adagio’s silent fury was fed by the constant barrage of questions, which she still hadn’t answered. The three Sirens had always moved from place to place for hundreds of years, together sowing mistrust and hostility. Once they restored themselves with negative emotions, they would disappear to find a new place to feed. Adagio always had a backup plan, except this time.

Aria still couldn’t shake the shock and terror that she felt when Sonata asked Adagio if they had become human. As Adagio struck Sonata and threw her to the ground, Aria was still frozen by fright. She stared into space thinking only, Will I age as quickly as the humans and die? Sonata’s screams finally pierced the lavender-skinned girl’s mental fog.

Aria didn’t understand why she stopped Adagio and didn’t understand why then the two of them left Sonata bleeding in the alley. She remembered her leader hurling vile insults at Sonata all the while, but Aria could only think, I’m going to die. Maybe tomorrow or maybe in seventy years, but I’m going to die. Over the next two days, while Adagio fumed and plotted, thoughts of mortality ricocheted in Aria’s mind transforming her emotions from fear, to anger, and finally to white-hot fury at Sonata for revealing this awful possibility.

Despite its roots in fear, it was far easier to show anger to Adagio than to risk a beating or separation as Sonata had. The blonde Siren had always been the strongest, most capable of the three. During the Battle of the Bands, the purple-haired keytar player had unleashed a storm of diamonds at Aria’s Siren avatar, nearly breaking her song. But, Adagio rescued Aria, rallying the trio with a blistering counterattack that knocked the microphone from the lavender songstress' hands. Waiting, watching, and obeying were certainly preferable to any alternative Aria could think of.

Apple Bloom, clad in a black hoodie and carrying a backpack, walked towards Canterlot for about a half-mile. Aria watched her nimbly squeeze through a small gap in a chain link fence and enter a forested area. Following fifty yards or more behind, it was tough to find the path that the teenager followed, but fortunately for her pursuer, once through the fence, Apple Bloom was much less cautious. A rough trail wound through maple trees for about a quarter-mile and reached a clearing. Aria slipped to the side of the path and dropped to the ground, her mouth opening in wonder.

Before her was an improbable sight. A small cottage stood in the clearing, obviously built from a mix of materials from the surrounding forest and foraged items from Sweet Apple Acres. Aria watched Apple Bloom retrieve a flashlight from her backpack and quietly enter through the only door. Stealthily taking cover behind a large log about twenty feet from the cottage, she was able to hear a conversation inside the cottage.

“Scootaloo, wake up!”

“I was just restin’ my eyes,” a sleepy voice grumbled then snapped to full awareness. “I’m so glad you made it! I couldn’t do this without you tonight!” A pause and a rustle of fabric indicated a hug to Aria’s keen ears.

“I brought you some leftovers. Granny Smith made way more dinner than usual tonight,” Apple Bloom unzipped the backpack.

“Mmmmm….” Scootaloo moaned with delight as she noisily ate, “Delicious!” Aria’s stomach grumbled sympathetically. She had been able to steal some lunch, but that was nearly twelve hours ago.

“You’re not going to believe who Applejack brought home today!”

“Rainbow Dash?” Scootaloo asked excitedly, “I’ve been waiting for those two to get together!”

“No, it’s not like that,” answered Apple Bloom with a shake of her head, “She brought Sunset Shimmer home for the night and Sonata, that new blue-haired girl from the Battle of the Bands!”

“What?”

“Yeah, and something happened when Sonata was taking a bath. She came outside on the porch with me and was really spacy,” recalled Apple Bloom

Scootaloo raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t Sonata spacy all the time?”

Behind the log, Aria rolled her eyes. “Yeah, but this was different and more serious. I guess that something I said made her happy. Sonata gave me a big hug, rushed upstairs, and they all went to sleep in Applejack’s room.”

Finishing the food, Scootaloo said, “That’ll be a story that your sister won’t want to tell! Maybe you can get it out of Sunset Shimmer tomorrow. Okay, I picked the flowers this evening and arranged them here in the clubhouse.”

Apple Bloom asked her friend, “Are you sure you’re ready to do this?”

Scootaloo said firmly, “It’ll be tough. But, we need to do this together. I need to do this with you,” Aria heard the sound of the backpack being zipped and the door to the clubhouse being opened.

Aria remained motionless until the two girls passed her. The familiar figure of Apple Bloom was side by side with a second young teenager with light orange skin and short reddish-purple hair.

“They were in a band together,” Aria thought, “I can’t remember the name…”

Aria followed the two girls back to the gap in the fence, where they crossed the road into a more populated area on the outskirts of Canterlot. Oblivious to the fact they were being followed, they stuck to the shadows but continued to move purposefully. Spotty trees gave way to an open meadow, dew starting to coalesce on the blades of grass. Again, the smell of flowering trees permeated the early spring evening. Aria saw a large structure at the end of the meadow, cringing involuntarily, as it appeared to be a temple or a human place of worship.

Scootaloo gave Apple Bloom’s hand a squeeze, and the two continued towards the stone structure. As the moon emerged from behind a cloud, Aria saw dozens of small markers arranged in rows on one end of the temple’s grounds. She crept as close as she dared, and listened closely as her quarry approached a section of the stones with practiced certainty.

Apple Bloom took off her backpack, opened it and took out four bundles of flowers. Even in the dim moonlight, Aria could see that the colors were dazzling and blooms rare and beautiful. Handing two of the bouquets to Scootaloo, she approached a specific stone, marble lovingly carved into the shape of a three-foot-tall apple.

“Ma, Pa, tonight it’s been ten years since I last saw you,” said Scootaloo, struggling to stand up straight.

Aria gasped. There was still much about the human world that she had ignored in disdain or hunger. Realizing that the red-haired girl was speaking to her dead parents, she continued to eavesdrop.

Apple Bloom continued, her voice shaking with emotion. “I was barely more than a baby, but I miss you more every day. I wish I could tell you about the boys I like, and even simple stuff like how boring school can be,” Apple Bloom’s big bow bobbed with an enormous sniff, “Granny is taking great care of us and I know you’re very proud of Big Macintosh. But, you need to know that Applejack saved us from something awful this past weekend. All of us in Canterlot were almost killed or worse and she kept it from happening. I can’t really remember all of it, but the whole thing seemed just like magic and at the end we were all singing along with Applejack’s song.”

Aria leaned forward, captivated not just by the words, but by the passion and feeling behind them. The purity of it made her curious. She glanced over to where Scootaloo had dropped to her knees in front of a gravestone carved to resemble the sun breaking through the clouds. Head buried in her hands, the other girl was sobbing uncontrollably in grief.

Aria listened to Apple Bloom again as she said, “I love you both so much. I’m sorry for sneaking out like this because you always taught us to tell the truth and do the right thing, but I had to come by with Scootaloo tonight, since well, that’s when it happened.” She turned her head upon hearing her friend’s cries. “She’s having a rough time right now and I need to help her. Just know that every time I see a shooting star, I think of you and wish for one more day with you. I love you.”

Aria watched as Apple Bloom ran to Scootaloo and held her tight. She couldn’t make out everything, but heard enough between sobs.

“Scoots, it wasn’t your fault!” cried Apple Bloom.

“But if I hadn’t run off, they would have never gotten in the car that night! I killed your parents, too, Apple Bloom!” cried the despondent girl.

Aria Blaze touched a purple hand to her cheek and found it wet. She looked at the tears on her fingertips in confusion and disbelief, but continued to listen.

“That’s why they call it an accident! You can’t blame yourself! You’ll go crazy. I can only move ahead and be thankful that you and Sweetie Belle are the best friends I could ever hope to have,” Apple Bloom grabbed her friend by the shoulder, tipped her chin up and looked her in the eye. “Scootaloo, we have to make the best of the time we get. We didn’t get many years with our parents, but we still love them and miss them. They’d want us to make the right decisions and to follow our dreams – like you want to be an Air Force pilot and Sweetie Belle wants to be an actress. I’m sure that’s what would make them proud.” The two girls held each other again and were silent in their grief for a long time.

To die and be remembered like this... Aria thought as the tears silently dripped down her face, her fear and anger forgotten for the moment, “What is a life worth living?” she silently asked herself.

“Are you all right, Scootaloo?” asked Apple Bloom.

Aria strained her ears and barely heard the short-haired girl mumble, “…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…” The Siren was captivated by the prayer.

Scootaloo smiled sadly at Apple Bloom. “I’m better now. More at peace. Thanks, Apple Bloom. I couldn’t have made it here without you. I can never come here without you.”

“Then let’s get you back to the farm, Scoots. We already have two extra guests, and I’m not having you spent a cold night at the clubhouse by yourself. It’s only a bit after midnight. We’ll still get four or five good hours of sleep in a real bed,” declared Apple Bloom, smiling sadly at Scootaloo.

The two friends left the cemetery and started their long walk back to Sweet Apple Acres. Unbeknowst to them, Aria Blaze, in a tangle of emotion unfelt for centuries, was unable to rise and follow the pair, trapped in a lost memory.

------

Over a millennium before Canterlot High School’s Battle of the Bands

The drums boomed along the undersea road from Nautilus Hall to the Trench Gate in the great undersea realm of Aquastria. Three carriages, pulled by enslaved seaponies, slowly made their way past the throngs of mermares. Weighed down with heavy chains, the seaponies’ swimming was labored. The stern and stoic mermares watched the procession with a combination of fear, pity, and respectful admiration.

In one of the three carriages, Aria Blaze, a mermare filly, looked up at the impassive face of her mother with frightened violet eyes. Focused Blaze glanced down, but her attention remained on the road ahead. For her entire life, she had reliably served the mermare Queen. When she decreed that it was time to provide tribute to He Who Swims in Darkness, Focused knew it was her obligation to offer her eldest daughter.

The carriages stopped at a huge gate made of obsidian on the edge of a bottomless ocean trench. The seaponies swished their tails in terror, but made no other sound knowing that the punishment would be death or worse.

“Mother, I wish there was another way,” Aria said cautiously, “I will miss you.”

The merest hint of sadness came to the mermare’s eyes, but was gone in an instant. “As will I, Aria. Whatever happens below, you must endure it. Your sacrifice helps to ensure the safety and dominance of our people. Our family always does what must be done. Now it is your turn. Go, and fulfill your destiny.”

For centuries, the supreme dominance of the mermares beneath the surface of Equus’ oceans had been assured by He Who Swims in Darkness. His true name was unknown, but the priestesses’ names for him were Leviathan or Lord Kraken. What was known to every Aquastrian is that abject terror heralded his approach and that his magic was full of darkness and death. Periodically, three mermare fillies must be given to Leviathan to reseal the bargain that ensured the Queen’s reign would go unchallenged. The sacrifices were never seen again once they passed beyond the obsidian gate.

The identities of the tribute mermares were kept a secret until the last possible moment. Aria was the first to remove her cloak and swim forward to the gate. The second filly, with light blue scales and darker blue streaks on her fins glided alongside Aria. Her jewelry and keepsakes were plain and homemade, so Aria assumed she must have been from a lower-class family hoping to purchase favor with the throne.

She nervously introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Sonata Dusk.”

“I’m Aria Blaze, but it doesn’t matter since we’re going to be dead in a few minutes,” she replied.

Sonata's lilac eyes went wide with wonder. “We don’t know for sure what happens after we go through the gate. Maybe we won’t die!”

Aria gasped, “Look!” and gestured with her fin.

The third sacrifice had removed her cloak to a gasp and a cheer from the crowd. A golden-scaled mermare filly with fierce, defiant magenta eyes swam alongside her mother, who was none other than Her Imperial Majesty of the Deep, Queen Blinding Dazzle. The filly joined Aria and Sonata, pausing a half-tail forward of the other two. Of course, Princess Adagio Dazzle needed no introduction.

Without preamble, the Queen began in a magically amplified voice, “He Who Swims in Darkness, I have brought to you three gifts to ensure your protection of our underwater empire! Open your gate and take possession of them to do as you will, sealing our fates to one another as has been the tradition of centuries!

Almost immediately, the water grew cold and dark. An impenetrable inky cloud began to escape between the cracks in the great obsidian gate. The immense crowd felt chills that had nothing to do with the temperature, starting to fall victim to the horror that Leviathan brought with him whenever he appeared. As the doors began to swing outward, the power of the darkness was palpable and it took every drop of courage that Aria possessed to keep from fleeing.

A voice deeper than the roots of mountains intoned from the darkness, “Queen Dazzle, I am pleased you followed my instructions so carefully. As such, you will be rewarded,” A bit of darkness detached from the inky mass, then coalesced and formed into a jet-black trident. The weapon obediently delivered itself and floated in the water next to the Queen. “I sense that these three have the talent I demanded.”

Queen Dazzle bowed. “Yes, Powerful Master. All are possessed of remarkable skill in song, but,” adding a haughty sniff, “none more so than mine own daughter.”

The deep voice roared in triumphant laughter. “Then I will tell my subjects of my plan,” Becoming louder and even deeper, the darkness continued, “Today we go to war to dominate and enslave the earth ponies, unicorns, and pegasi of the surface world. We will divide and conquer them using the tribute that I will mold like clay from the ocean’s floor! Fillies, swim to me!”

Masking their terror, the three sacrifices swam to the threshold and were consumed by the darkness. Their screams mingled with one another as intense pain ripped through their bodies and spirits. He Who Swims in Darkness transformed their very beings, infusing them with foul, ancient magic. The screams braided upon themselves into a dark harmony, a tortured song that portended distrust, failure, and anger.

Queen Dazzle, I give you your advance vanguard that will divide our surface enemy and eliminate resistance before it begins. These mermares are no more. They are now my Sirens!”

All three mermares were now unrecognizable as such. Leviathan’s magic had left their tails in place, but had given them a front set of hooves. The most striking change to their bodies was the addition of a large, diamond-shaped crystal that was embedded in the center of their chests.

Aria heard the mermares loose a deafening cheer for the coming of war and conquest. He Who Swims in Darkness and Queen Dazzle joined the cheer with maniacal laughter. As she swam in circles with the other Sirens, Aria Blaze looked down at her mother, meeting her eyes and knowing she would make her family proud by ensuring the safety and dominance of the mermares. Focused Blaze, amid the bloodlust, stoically gave a single haughty, satisfied nod to the creature that was once her daughter from the carriage. Aria returned a twisted smile and surrendered herself to the dark song placed in her heart and the supernatural hunger gnawing at her soul.

-------

Four days after the Battle of the Bands

Sunset Shimmer awoke to bright dawn sunlight filtering between Applejack’s curtains and the crows of Sweet Apple Acres’ roosters. Applejack had already been up for some time and was already dressed for school, silently catching up on homework while her houseguests continued sleeping. Sunset brushed her hair out of her face and stretched her arms and back as she stood.

“Good morning, Applejack!” she said, with a broad grin across her face and enthusiasm that would make Pinkie Pie envious. She shook the blonde girl’s shoulders. “I’m glad to see you slept in for once.”

Applejack stretched and replied, “I’m not complaining that Apple Bloom did the morning livestock feeding for once and gave me an extra hour in bed, but that girl looks like she didn’t get a lick of sleep last night.”

“Speaking of sleepyheads,” Sunset Shimmer pointed to Sonata Dusk’s unconscious form, “we’ve got to get her to school on time.” She gently shook the blue-haired girl, who groaned and rolled over, “Well, that’s a start.”

“Adagio, give me another ten minutes,” Sonata mumbled.

Applejack sighed. “The girl’s memory hasn’t kicked in yet, has it?”

“I have an idea,” Sunset announced playfully. Leaning down and speaking clearly into the sleeping girl’s ear, she said in a sing-song voice, “Sonaaaata, it’s Suuunset Shiiimer! Today is Tuesday, and you know what that means….”

A large lilac eye opened and a lazy smile appeared. “You mean it’s…Taco Tuesday! I’m awake. I’m awake! Where are my clothes?” Sonata Dusk sprang forth from her cocoon of blankets, blue hair sticking out in a dozen directions.

Applejack flashed her friend a knowing smile. “Sunset Shimmer, I do believe you have this girl on autopilot after last night’s troubles.”

Twenty minutes later, and with a paper bag full of apple fritters, the three older girls and a zombie-like Apple Bloom piled into Big Macintosh’s pickup truck to be dropped off at school. Sonata was smiling broadly listening to the three siblings spar back and forth during the drive and was tapping her toe to the country music blaring forth from the radio. The bruise on her cheek was less than half the size it had been the morning before. Sunset knew from her own experience that this was alarmingly fast, even for a native Equestrian.

Sunset reached into the inner pocket of her leather jacket and reassured herself that the small box containing the shards of Sonata’s crystal was still there. While her three years at Canterlot High School had deprived her of unicorn telekinesis, Sunset Shimmer had adapted amazingly well to using her hands. In the fall, she made a perfect, non-magical copy of Twlight’s Sparkle’s crown, which was virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Sunset knew that a human master jeweler couldn’t have done as well as she had. But in the end, the crown was completely mundane. Creating a magical focus from the shards was going to prove far more difficult than the imitation Element of Magic. Even if she got that far, Sunset knew she had to make sure that whatever item she created didn’t have any malevolent side effects. Ponies and humans alike loved to take short cuts. With magic, short cuts usually ended tragically.

Squished between the two older Apples, Sunset replayed the events of last night over and over in her head. Suppressing a frown, she knew that Sonata was going to need close supervision and support. Fortunately, having others around and interested in her didn’t bother the blue-haired girl at all. But, despite her clueless, easily-led exterior, Sunset believed that Sonata had yet-untapped depths of guile. Especially nerve-wracking was the way she twirled her blue hair around her finger and giggled at the Apple siblings’ jokes while stealing glances at Big Macintosh.

Sunset sighed to herself, “How did I end up in charge of her?” Rolling her green-blue eyes, she answered herself silently, “Because she was beaten up and sobbing in the back of your class, Shimmer! And, also because you don’t want to think about what would have happened if Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie hadn’t taken a chance on you.”

As the drive continued, Sunset’s street smarts began to kick in. Even though it was ideal on its surface, she couldn’t have Sonata stay at the same place each night until the other two Dazzlings were accounted for. Rainbow Dash wouldn’t put up with her, Pinkie Pie would probably let Sonata just waltz out the front door, and Sunset wasn’t sure that Fluttershy was up to this. That left only Rarity, Applejack, and herself, which wasn’t exactly a solid safe house rotation. She’d need to plan this out with the fashionista.

Big Mac dropped the three high school students in front of the school and sped away. Sunset Shimmer took the opportunity to coach Sonata. “Okay, I want you to come with me to all of my classes for the next few days. After that, we’ll go see Vice Principal Luna and get your classes changed to something more your speed. Do you remember where your locker is?”

“Yup!” She answered cheerfully.

“Okay, get your books and a pad of paper, and then meet me in Ms. Raven’s class," instructed Sunset Shimmer.

“I’ll be there, Sunset,” leaning forward, she added with a whisper, “and thank you for helping me.” One eye closed in an enormous wink and she joined the river of students moving down the hallway.

-----

The Rainbooms had reserved their usual practice room during the period immediately before lunch. Nominally, the six girls had study hall that period, but had permission to use it for music rehearsal.

As Sunset Shimmer and Sonata Dusk walked next to each other in the tightly-packed chaos of class change, they received a wide range of reactions from students. Trixie Lulamoon stomped off in a jealous rage. Flash Sentry narrowed his eyes in suspicion. Vinyl Scratch gave the two of them a thumbs-up and a smile. Sunset knew this was far better than should be expected.

All of a sudden, Sonata cocked her head, listened to something intently, then handed her books to Sunset saying only, “Hold this,” with (for her) an intense expression of concentration on her face. Sonata darted ahead.

As Sunset grew closer, she heard a disdainful voice scream, “I’ve had it with you and your little friends making us look bad.”

“Well, if you had actually done any work on the project, then we wouldn’t have to tell Miss Cheerilee that you left us hanging!” returned Apple Bloom.

Diamond Tiara, alongside her co-tormentor Silver Spoon, had the Apple Bloom pinned against a row of lockers. Diamond Tiara screamed in rage, “You arrogant hick! I should tell my daddy to foreclose on that farm once and for all. You Apples wouldn’t be so proud living out of cardboard boxes!”

With all eyes on Apple Bloom and the two wealthy girls, only Sunset Shimmer noticed Sonata sneak up, remove Diamond Tiara’s electronic tablet from her backpack and place it in Silver Spoon’s oversized purse. Her jaw dropping, Sunset then saw the blue-haired girl nimbly unclasp an ornate silver necklace from Silver Spoon’s neck and toss it down the hallway. Apple Bloom was nearing the point of fight or flight, her jaw and fists clenching as Diamond Tiara’s diatribe reached new insulting heights.

Sonata interrupted, “Wow, your tablet looks just like that other girl’s! Can I see?”

Diamond Tiara’s wheeled around in confusion and anger. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Sonata continued innocently, as if the other girl hadn’t even spoken. “And, you really shouldn’t have ripped off her pretty necklace,” she said, pointing at Silver Spoon’s bare neck.

The two friends started to argue with one another, which gave Apple Bloom a chance to get away. As the enormous red bow retreated down the hallway to safety, Sunset Shimmer caught up to Sonata and guided her by the arm towards the music room. Fortunately, they were the first to arrive.

“What was that all about?” Sunset asked in exasperation.

With a self-satisfied smile, Sonata replied, “That was helping out a friend in trouble. Applejack’s sister helped me last night and I needed to return the favor.”

Setting her bag down and wiping her face with one hand, Sunset skewered the other girl with her green-blue eyes, “You pickpocketed Diamond Tiara, planted evidence on Silver Spoon and ripped off her necklace. You forced the two of them to argue! Doesn’t that sound awfully familiar to you?”

Sonata shrugged her shoulders. “I only tried to help!”

Sunset Shimmer shook her red-and-gold streaked hair from side to side and made an effort to calm herself. “Sonata, your heart was in the right place. It is good to help people in trouble. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen you do anything for someone else. But don’t help people by doing bad things, like stealing and making people fight, unless you have no other options, all right?”

Confused, she answered simply, “Okay.”

Sunset stepped forward and put a hand on a blue-skinned shoulder. “I’ll chalk it up as a step in the right direction,” as the others began to enter and set up their instruments. Sonata gave a sheepish smile in return.

Rainbow Dash reacted exactly as Sunset had anticipated, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! I didn’t expect her to be here today. I’m not so sure this is a good idea.”

Thankfully, Applejack was way ahead of Sunset Shimmer. “Hold on there, Rainbow Dash. We had a heart-to-heart last night at the farm. Sonata’s going to need some help, but I think it’ll be good for her to hear a band that sings about good things for a change. Besides, there’s no point to hide the magic anymore,” interjected Applejack, moving to stand next to Sonata.

“I want a pool party!!!” yelled Pinkie Pie randomly as she beat on the bass drum, dispelling all of Sonata’s worries.

“Whew, that was a close one,” whispered Fluttershy to Rarity.

“Darling, you have no idea just how close,” she replied seriously. “We have a tightrope to walk between those two,” glancing at Sonata and Sunset, “and this one,” gazing at Rainbow Dash.

As they finished setting up their instruments, Fluttershy spoke up. “Sunset, could you please sing Twilight’s part of the song we sang at the Battle of the Bands? We’ll need to write some guitar parts for you later, but I’d love to hear that song again.”

Pinkie Pie jumped in. “Sonata, we don’t want to make you mad! Are you going to be okay with us playing that one? I love it, but I’m not you!”

“No offense intended, dear,” added Rarity.

“None taken,” Sonata Dusk replied, shrugging her shoulders. Sunset Shimmer suppressed a self-satisfied smile.

The Rainbooms sang with Sunset Shimmer taking the lead:

Oh-oh, oh-oh-oh
I've got the music in me
Oh-oh, oh-oh-oh

Don't need to hear a crowd
Cheering out my name
I didn't come here seeking Infamy or fame

The one and only thing
That I am here to bring
Is music, is the music
Is the music in my soul

Just as during the Battle of the Bands, as the whole band joined the song in earnest, the magic within them burst forth, adding Equestrian ears to all six band members and wings to Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. Sunset Shimmer, again overcome with homesickness and emotion, sang with tears of joy streaming down her face.

Sonata watched raptly, mouth slightly open and eyes scarcely blinking. Her right hand strayed to her throat, finding nothing to grasp.

Gonna break out (Out!)
Set myself free, yeah
Let it all go (Go!)
Just let it be, yeah

Find the music in your heart
Let the music make you start
To set yourself apart

After the song finished, Rainbow Dash hugged Sunset Shimmer. “It still works!” she cried, setting down her blue guitar carefully, “You still get your ears and longer hair! Your magic is back!”

Sunset Shimmer’s body was still tingling with the resonance of magical energy, even though the song had ended. After being without it for so long, she was having difficulty focusing. Glancing at Sonata, who had her arms crossed over her chest protectively, she forced herself to remember that she was the odd one out just a few days ago. She had to redirect her friends’ enthusiasm. “I’m so happy that we’re all friends after everything that’s happened! But, before we start another song or get too deep into the love fest, I need to do a little planning. Sonata, have you met Rarity?”

“Not really, Sunset Shimmer,” she replied, crossing her alabaster arms across her chest.

“Rarity, Sonata. Sonata, Rarity,” she said with a sardonic grin. “Good, now we can move on. Rarity, do you have anything planned tonight at the boutique?”

Pinkie Pie leapt to her feet. “Wait! I get it! We have to keep our secret agent,“ she extended a pink index finger in Sonata’s direction, “completely hidden from the bad guys. So, we need to move her around all over the place.” Pinkie ramped up the drama, hiding behind different parts of her drum set. “One night, she’s concealed at the farm. The next, squirreled away at the dress show. Finally, she finds a new home with the bakers and candy makers!!! Yay!!! Happy ending!!!” she cried, spreading her arms wide and giving the confused Siren a bear hug that took her breath away.

“One night at a time, Pinkie, dear,” cooed Rarity. “Sunset, I would be delighted to host you and Sonata tonight,” looking at Sonata's bruise she added, “Perhaps I can give you a makeover to hide what’s left of that nasty injury. Let’s meet in the library after school lets out.”

“Thank you, Rarity,” said Sonata, “I know you’re all trying to keep me safe. Can I ask a question?”

“Of course,” answered Fluttershy.

“When do I get to eat tacos?”

All seven girls laughed loudly until Applejack finally answered. “After one more song, Sonata. Let’s play ‘Shake Your Tail’ to work up an appetite and then we’ll get down to the cafeteria.”

-----

Without an instrument to put away, and with Pinkie Pie looking after Sonata (cheerfully extolling the virtues of sugary taco toppings), Sunset Shimmer was the first to arrive at their usual cafeteria table. During rehearsal, she had felt the book tingle with magic from across the room, and was eager to hear from Twilight. It was vital that this book stay secret from Sonata, so she seized the opportunity and opened the large Equestrian volume on to her lap. Looking down, she read:

Dear Sunset Shimmer,

I’m very sorry but this must be another short reply. I only have the opportunity to give you some vague impressions along with some direct advice.

First, as the Princess of Friendship, I am happy to learn you’re caring for Sonata, but am concerned about how long she has lived in darkness. There are others that have returned from the shadow, but all have required help to set themselves on the path of light once more. I must trust your judgment on how much freedom you give her, but be very careful.

Second, it’s encouraging that Sonata surrendered her shards. I will research magical items and cleansing curses. I will help you, because it’s what friends do, but I must consult with Princess Celestia. I have an idea on how to send you more tangible help, but that sort of help is mercurial at best. The bottom line is that I advise you to be cautious. Celestia mentioned that you were on track to be the most talented artificer in hundreds of years, but these items can be used to terrible effect in both Equestria and your world.

We’re in uncharted territory. The dangers in Equestria are mounting. Starswirl the Bearded is gone, and neither Celestia nor Luna have been forthcoming about the obstacles they encountered until these dangers reappear. I have dispatched an envoy to King Leo of the Aquastrians to request books from his archives, but this is a long shot. Forgive the rambling, but I must talk to Fluttershy about whether my idea to help you has any chance of working. Leadership is tough, and the only thing that I am certain of in this letter is that all of Canterlot High School needs you right now.

Yours in friendship,
Princess Twilight Sparkle

Closing the book, Sunset Shimmer took a long drink of water and mumbled to herself, “Well, what did you expect, Shimmer? A scanned and e-mailed copy of the Canterlot Arcane Forge’s historical records? I see she’s annoyed or worried enough to sign with her title again. This is going to have to wait.”

Resolving to get through another night with Sonata before replying to Twilight, Sunset Shimmer put the oaken tome away, warmly greeted her friends and enjoyed Sonata and Pinkie Pie trying to top each others’ silliness as they ate tacos.

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Adagio Dazzle felt the tumblers give way with a resounding “click”, and opened the door to a nondescript, cheap efficiency apartment. The dim, dirty room was neglected and appeared as if it had not been lived in for a couple of weeks.

A devious, hateful grin twisting her beautiful face, Adagio addressed the empty room. “So, Sunset Shimmer, let’s see what sins you’ve locked away here.”

Author's Note:

First, I would like to note that I drew my Aquastrian content heavily from Mary Jane Begin's "My Little Pony: Under the Sparkling Sea". It's a book that I have enjoyed reading to my four-and-a-half year old daughter, and I'm sure that they were wrapped up in the epic events that shaped Equestria.

I'd also like to extend a special thanks to IsabellaAmoreSirenix and Cryosite for their constructive feedback on Chapter Two. I hope Chapter Three is a better effort. Also, I did my best to omit any reference of a specific religion, but couldn't do so completely. A lot of passion went into the cemetery scene, so I appreciate your feedback if my heart overruled my head to the point where it hurt the plot.

Please accept my deepest thanks for your feedback and support and I hope you enjoyed this chapter!

Minor edits made on 12/20/2014 to correct grammatical mistakes.