• Published 1st Nov 2014
  • 20,636 Views, 1,634 Comments

A New Sun Rises - CommissarAJ



Sunset Shimmer has never needed anyone or anything - she had her magic, she had her ambition, and she had intellect. Others just stood in her way or held her down. So what do you do when your plans for world domination fall through?

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Act III-III

Life in the Royal Palace afforded me the luxury of being on the invitee list of virtually every party, gala, or banquet held within a hundred kilometer radius. To be honest, I rarely attended more than a handful of them, and it was always at the request of the Princess. The idea of spending an evening in a room listening to self-absorbed sycophants fawn over their inflated sense of self-worth did not strike me as the best use of my time; not when I could be locked away in the study, indulging my own inflated sense of self-worth.

Parties in Equestria’s Canterlot were often quiet, sombre affairs. It was often more about pageantry than it was about having fun, if one could ever find semblance of such. I remembered one Grand Galloping Gala with the Princess where ‘fun’ was about as down the list of priorities as ‘unleashing crazed weasels.’ For a young unicorn, digging through the walls with your horn to escape seemed like a preferable way to spend the night, even if Princess Celestia said it ‘would be to my long-term benefit.’ I often wondered if the Princess found those events as insufferable as I had, but had learned how to conceal her boredom and disdain behind royal-bred etiquette and practiced sincerity. Given that I had once seen the Princess engage in a dialogue with a treant who took five minutes to say ‘good morning,’ nothing was beyond her ability to endure with quiet dignity.

The county Harvest Festival was quite unlike anything I had experienced before. It was nothing like the Fall Formal back at the school, which I admit I only attended for as long as it took for Principal Celestia to put the crown on my head and then make a convenient excuse to leave.

If somebody had told me that fairs could be like this Harvest Festival, maybe I would’ve put my plans for world domination on hold. I arrived a bit earlier than I needed to so that I could use some of that free time to explore the fair grounds. People were already beginning to flock to the event, and once again I felt a small sense of comfort in a cloak of anonymity within the crowd. There was an energy in the air that reminded me of my afternoon at Crystal Heart Academy: full of positive emotions and excitement.

There was also a lot of savory scents already floating in the air. From what Applejack told me of the festival, there were all manners of cook-offs and confectionaries available, not to mention deep fryers for literally any food item you could imagine. At one point I even saw somebody put a frozen pizza in a fryer.

It was enough to make your mouth water and stomach growl for attention. Though I suddenly felt as though I was starving, I was not starved for choice. As I wandered through the aisle of vendors and stalls, my nose and eyes darted from one source to the next, each more tantalizing than the last: cotton candy in every colour of the rainbow; caramel-coated apples, pears, and even carrots; corn cobs cooking over open flames; and enough sizzling meats to make even my primal-side start to second-guess my vegetarianism.

That was when a fragrance upon the breeze drifted past my nose. It was an air of sweetness that stung at my nostrils like thousands of tiny, sugary bees. There was an entrancing warmth to it, a flower of fire and spice beckoning for my attention. It didn’t take long for my eyes to follow along, joined shortly thereafter by my legs. Within a few moments, I was standing before a humble stall that had a pair of bubbling pots containing thick, red-brown concoctions.

“My god, that chili smells delicious,” I mumbled under my breath, keeping a safe distance from the brew in case my salivary glands got the better of me.

“Didn’t expect to hear a compliment from you,” a familiar voice pried my gaze away from the cauldron and to the gray-haired woman standing behind it.

“M-Miss Yearling!” I stammered in my surprise. “I… I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Why not? I’m allowed to have a life outside of my job,” Yearling replied with a hint of indignity. “And what’s it to you if that happens to include making the best dang chili con carne you’ll taste this side of the border. That cook-off title is as good as mine this year; no rhyme-spouting upstart is going to stand between me and my prize this year.” Her fists clenched as her eyes gazed past me to another booth further down the aisle where a young, mohawked woman wearing large gold rings was toiling away at her own cauldron. “That rotten heathen uses pork in her abomination. Can you believe that? Pork! Why not just throw a deep-fried turkey into that while you’re at it!”

“I was not aware you were such a chili aficionado,” I commented with a raised eyebrow.

“There are a great many things about me that you are not aware of,” Yearling explained with a wry grin. She glanced around, as if paranoid about onlookers despite being in the middle of a county fair, before gesturing me in closer. She reached under her cooking table and pulled out a very small jar, upon which was scrawled writing I was unfamiliar with. “My secret weapon for this year.”

“You’re going to poison the competition?” I asked.

“Why would you think that?”

“Well, there is a little picture of a skull and crossbone on your jar,” I said as I pointed to the tiny symbol.

Yearling scoffed and rolled her eyes. “This, my ignorant little pupil, is a jar containing a small sampling of the infamous bhut jolokia: the ghost pepper. Cultivated from a remote village in the far east, and traded only to those who succeed in passing the natives’ ritual known as the test of fire and brimstone! A pepper so dangerous that the natives believe it to be an act of vengeance upon humanity by dark gods.”

After a couple seconds of vapid, blank staring, Yearling realized that what she just said flew straight over my head. “Was anything you just said actually true?” I asked.

“Just the name. I ordered it online from a site my sister recommended. It’s supposedly as hot as the fire of a thousand suns, but I’m still trying to balance out the right amount.”

Who knew making chili could be such a complicated and sordid affair. I wasn’t even sure that Yearling approached school work with this level of zeal and determination, but as she said, there was much I did not know about her. That ignorance, in fact, was what led to my next inquiry.

“You have a sister?” I asked.

“Sorry, did I say sister? I meant to say my friend, but we’re so close it’s like we’re sisters,” Yearling answered. I couldn’t help but notice that her answer felt a bit more hurried than her usual practiced, and deliberate tone. If I didn’t know any better, I caught her off-guard inquiring about family, but why would she lie about that? Questions for another day, unfortunately, since Yearling was now aware of my curiosity. I would have better luck prying answers from the dead.

A quick gurgle from my gut reminded me why I had stopped by this stall in the first place. “Don’t suppose I could try some of that chili?” I asked.

“But of course,” Yearling said. She grabbed a nearby ladle, and began scooping out a small helping. “Would you care to try some of the ghost pepper with your chili sin carne?”

“I don’t think I’m ready to tempt the vengeance of dark gods right now.” I liked the thrill of a nice, spicy meal as much as the next girl, but ‘fire of a thousand suns’ sounded like something only the clinically insane would consider a good idea.

“Fair enough; you already live with one, after all,” Yearling said before letting out a loud, but brief, laugh. “Don’t tell Luna I said that.”

“Your secret’s safe with me.” I doubt Luna would have believed me even if I had told her; there was little that the vice-principal took at face value when it came to me.

“So what are you doing here anyways?” Yearling inquired, leaning against the nearby counter with a curious look in her eyes. “You’ve never really been the type to bother with these kinds of events. Is this part of your Celestia-guided ‘rehab?’”

That was a far better question than Yearling likely realized. Was I just at this festival because of some contractual obligation I had with Principal Celestia, in which I had to subject myself to her plans and machinations like they were terms of parole? On the one hand, I would not have been at the fair were it not for being strong-armed into volunteering as a farm hand yesterday, but I didn’t feel like I was being compelled to be here today. I felt guilty about Big Mac yesterday, that was true, but that wasn’t the feeling that guided me to the festival today.

After a few more seconds of mulling over my words, I finally had my answer. “I’m here because a friend needs my help.”

“Applejack, right?” Yearling asked, to which I nodded.

“How’d you guess?”

“I’ve been doing this festival for quite a few years now,” Yearling said with no restraint on the pride she carried with that experience. “Nobody else in your circle of friends has a regular stall here, plus I saw her wheeling her products in earlier today without her older brother in tow.” Unfortunately, the mentioning of the absent brother caused a nervous pang in me. I think Yearling picked up on it when she saw me quickly avert my gaze and shuffle my feet in the dirt. I may as well have had ‘guilty’ written across my forehead. She must have been feeling merciful as she tossed me a quick distraction. “Why don’t you take a bite of your chili and tell me what you think.”

In hindsight, in my haste to find something new to focus on, I may have been a bit too zealous in shoveling down a mouthful of Yearling’s creation. I enjoyed a spicy meal as much as the next person, but by Celestia’s golden throne, that first mouthful hit like somebody had covered a gold brick in tomato, covered it in napalm, and then rammed it down my throat. Make no mistake, it was delicious, and I believed I detected a hint of butternut squash in the mix, but the spreading wildfire made it hard for my fragile mind to focus on anything else.

“That’s… really opening some sinuses I didn’t know I had,” I said with an exasperated gasp. There was a powerful, sweet heat to Yearling’s chili, and despite the sweat gathering upon my brow, I was soon going in for another, albeit smaller, bite. A part of me must have been a little crazy to continue subjecting my tastebuds to limbo between torment and ecstasy.

The look of playful amusement upon Yearling’s face reminded me of a cat watching their prey make its last, desperate flails. I wasn’t sure if she was happy because I was enjoying the chili, or because of how much it was making me grimace and sweat. “Hey, would you be able to do a favour for me?” Yearling asked out of the blue.

“Maybe. What is it?” I replied, though it came out as more of a wheeze. I think I saw a small plume of smoke in there as well.

Yearling brought out a small plastic container that had been sitting on the ground. Once she set it down, she popped open the lid to reveal a collection of small metallic cylinders, each maybe only four inches long and an inch wide. There didn’t appear to be any labels on them, so I was left baffled as to the exact nature of this favour. Their nature wasn’t clear until Yearling took one and pulled it apart, revealing it to be a small spray canister.

“I wasn’t aware you were trying to get into the perfume business,” I quipped. “Is this ‘L’Eau du High School?’ I wouldn’t have pegged there to be a market for the fetor of prepubescent sweat and cheap body sprays.”

“Very funny,” Yearling replied. “It’s a pepper spray.”

“Ah, self-defense. That makes more sense,” I answered with a slow nod. “Though with you, I would’ve pictured something more… incendiary.”

“I meant for your food.”

“Well I’ll admit this chili has some serious bite to it, but I think I’m winning in the grand scheme of things.” At that point, I flashed a playful grin to let Yearling know that I was just being intentionally obtuse, not that I didn’t think she couldn’t have figured that out on her own. “So basically a spray-on hot sauce, huh?”

“For the traveling connoisseur looking to add some kick to their snacks,” she explained. “I’m still perfecting the recipe, so if you’re not too busy, I could use some in-the-field testing.”

While I had no plans to stuff my face during the course of the day, it seemed like a good idea to curry some favour with Ms. Yearling. Plus, if the spray was even just half-as-good as the chili, I would be in for a treat. At the same time, though, I saw no reason not to see if I could squeeze a little bit more from this opportunity.

“Throw in another bowl of chili and you’ve got yourself a deal.”

*******************

By the time I found Applejack, I had polished off that second bowl of chili sin carne and was still dabbing beads of sweat from my brow. She was still unpacking boxes of pies and crates of fizzy cider from her trolley, but what caught me by surprise was the outfit she was wearing. Given that it was a Harvest Festival, I expected Applejack would have been in her usual work clothes, or at best some dolled up cowgirl-style get-up. What I got instead was a full ensemble more suiting to a Prench housemaid than an apple-selling country girl.

“What in the name of the gilded feathers of Canterlot are you wearing?” I asked upon my arrival.

Applejack must have been too distracted with her work to notice my arrival as she was surprised to see me approaching. “Oh, hey! Didn’t think you’d actually show up today,” she greeted with her usual, cheerful grin. It was strange seeing my friend without her hat, like seeing Princess Celestia without all her regalia.

“I said I’d be here,” I reassured her, “and you didn’t answer my question.”

“Oh? This?” she repeated, as if I could be referring to anything else. “I may have… um, lost a bet with Rarity the other day. Now I gotta wear this thing all day. It ain’t actually half-bad, though: feels kinda nice and I sure do look fancy, don’t I?” Her humour and enthusiasm might have fooled a more casual observer, but my trained ears picked up on how forced some of her words were. It was the kind of tone you used to laughingly cover up how much you were screaming on the inside.

“Well if you pull the skirt up a bit, it might help sales,” I joked, which Applejack didn’t find too amusing. Rather than make any comeback, she grabbed something wrapped in brown paper and threw it to me. It was soft and lightweight, though the crinkling brown wrapping paper made it hard to tell what exactly I was dealing with. I was forced to ask, “What is this?”

“It’s your outfit. Rarity whipped up a matching set for you.”

Clinging to my skepticism, even if it was a fleeting hope, I peeled back the wrapping paper, revealing the white lace and black silks of a matching housemaid ensemble. “And why on earth would I wear one of these? Are we that desperate to sell apples?”

“Apples sell themselves,” my friend insisted, “but if I’m the only one dressed up like this, I’m gonna look ridiculous.”

I got the distinct impression that I wasn’t being given the luxury of choice in this matter. On the bright side, if Rarity had provided it, then at least I knew it would be of quality craftsmanship. Once Applejack pointed out a nearby tool shed that I could use to get changed in, I, too, had my own frilly, lacy maid outfit. Despite how patently ridiculous I looked, I had to admit that the silk did feel luxurious. I hadn’t touched silk since leaving Equestria, and it felt very different against bare skin compared to when I was a fur-coated unicorn. Once I got settled into my new uniform, I joined Applejack behind the stall counter and helped to finish setting things up.

“Oh, ho ho! What is this?” Yet another voice that I had not expected to hear today, but it immediately sent a surge of utter dread through my core, as if a dark magic had just plunged through my chest and wrapped its icy tendrils around my heart.

“Trixie…” I growled under my breath. I knew a county fair meant running into a few people from school, but that cackling witch was the last person I wanted to deal with today. She stood on the opposite side of the stall, leaning upon the counter with eager fingertips tapping out a rhythmic pattern.

“Nice outfits, you two. I should’ve brought my camera so everybody at the school can enjoy this scene,” Trixie remarked with the sort of malicious grin you’d find more at home with a deranged comic book villain.

“That’s a lot coming from you,” I snapped back, gesturing at Trixie’s own outfit. She was wearing some bizarre costume that included a star-studded cape and a peaked cap to match. The old me would’ve been having a laughing fit to see Trixie in such a get-up.

My attempt at a counter-attack fell flat on its face, however, as Trixie simply scoffed at it. “The Great and Powerful Trixie is performing, and must look as magnificent as she is great,” she explained with the self-aggrandizing flair that was typical of her. “Unlike you and your silly little apples, Trixie will be drawing scores of adoring fans.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I deadpanned.

“She ain’t,” Applejack informed with her own sigh of resignation. “Trixie has her own little stage show over on the other side of the fair grounds. I used to take Apple Bloom to see it when she was younger.”

That provided a small comfort, at least, since it meant that Trixie would be far, far away from me for most of the day. As much as she probably enjoyed mocking me at every available opportunity, the one thing she loved more was indulging that ego of hers. A captivated crowd would be far too tempting for her to ignore, even for me.

“A good thing you don’t do that anymore, I doubt you’d be able to afford the price of admission this year,” Trixie said, followed by a mocking chuckle. “You must be really desperate, Applejack, to turn to her of all people for help.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Applejack snapped back, taking the words right out of my mouth. Once again, Trixie just scoffed and chuckled, as if privy to some joke that was dancing about just beyond our comprehension. At that moment, I wanted to grab her by those star-shaped earrings she wore and smash her face-first into the nearest pie, if only to wipe that smug look off of her.

“Sunset might have you and your friends fooled, but nobody really believes that anything has really changed,” Trixie explained as her gaze shifted over to me. “Nobody is ever going to believe that Sunset Shimmer will change her stripes, and if Applejack has any sense, she’ll cut you loose before she gets dragged down with you.”

Once again, Trixie demonstrated her remarkable talent for finding the right buttons to push. Despite my best efforts to keep calm, it wasn’t long before I was reaching across the counter for her. “Why I ought to—!” I shouted as I grabbed Trixie by her star-spangled cape.

“You ought to what?” Trixie quickly replied. She showed no sign of intimidation despite having been lifted off her feet and now loomed over a countertop covered in fresh pies. I didn’t have an immediate answer, and when Trixie realized I was beginning to hesitate, she was further emboldened. “Come on, Sunset, tell Trixie what you’ll do in front of all these other people.”

It was only then that I realized we were all in the middle of a large and very public fair ground. I could feel the burning gaze of more than a dozen sets of nervous eyes cast in my direction, all of whom were probably wondering, ‘what is this girl’s problem?’ I’d be lying if I said a part of me wasn’t tempted to just ignore all the staring; to remind myself that this conceited little brat needed to choke on some humble pie, and perhaps a few of her own teeth in the process. Luckily for everybody involved, Applejack was able to interject, and pried Trixie free from my grasp.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, Trixie,” Applejack said in her ‘no nonsense’ tone of voice. “If you ain’t buying anything, I’m going to have to ask you, kindly, to leave.”

“Oh, very well. It’s not like there’s anything of interest here,” Trixie replied. Even in feigning boredom, she had to continue testing my patience. “Just a washed up has-been, and her dreary, hillbilly friend. Good luck… you’re going to need it.”

This time it was my turn to play the role of restrainer: my friend was about two seconds from vaulting over the counter when I grabbed her by the shoulders. I guess she wasn’t a fan of the h-word. Trixie had already turned to leave so she remained oblivious to how close she came to a dirt nap.

“The nerve of some people,” Applejack grumbled under her breath once she had calmed down. She spent the next few minutes incessantly tugging at her apron, which had been crumpled by the forceful restraint, but her wardrobe refused to cooperate with her. Were Rarity here, she probably would’ve started yelling at the countrygirl for ‘man-handling the delicate fabrics,’ followed by Applejack making a half-baked retort about how frivolous it was to have so many layers in one outfit.

“She did have a point, though, about having me here,” I said, adjusting the lace headpiece to my outfit that had gotten knocked askew while I was retraining my friend. “You sure it’s a good idea having the least popular girl at Canterlot High helping you sell apples?”

“Don’t you pay any mind to Trixie. All that nonsense was just her trying to rustle your jimmies because she’s got nothing unless you react to her,” Applejack tried to reassure me. “She can keep spouting all the nonsense in the world, but as long as you keep taking the high road, Trixie is just going to look like a raving lunatic.”

Logically, I knew that everything Applejack said made sense, but even with that knowledge, my jimmies had been rustled, and quite vigorously. All I could imagine was Trixie’s smug face laughing at me as our apple-peddling venture went down in flames. The thought just made my blood boil, and it took several minutes of unpacking to finally get my mind off of things.

“So did I turn your brother into a cripple?” I asked as I hefted off another crate of fizzy ciders from the trolley. I should’ve asked about him sooner, but between Trixie and my new uniform, I had enough things to worry about.

“He just twisted his ankle a bit,” Applejack answered. “A couple days of rest and he’ll be fine.”

One less thing for me to worry about. I could only imagine how important a guy like Big Mac was to a family-run farm, so losing him for even a few days might be a setback to their financial future. After unpacking a few more items from the trolley, we finally had our stall decked out in the best goods from Sweet Apple Acres. Before the day began, I had been curious as to what kind of products Applejack would bring to the table. Clearly my culinary imagination needed improvement because we had a plethora of offerings, from pastries to drinks to apples made in every culinary method they had a name for. A part of me wondered if the biggest challenge for today was just resisting the urge to sample our own products.

If only that had been the case.

“Heads up, Sunny, we got our first customer in-coming,” Applejack woke me from my train of thought. She nudged me with her elbow and gestured to a pair, a young man and woman, that were heading in our direction. At first, I was curious as to the source of Applejack’s certainty, but the answer became apparent within a few moments.

“Heya AJ! How’s business?” It took me a few seconds to realize that the guy who had just greeted my friend was none other than Soarin’, a former member of Canterlot’s soccer team. I hadn’t seen him since he graduated, not that I paid much attention to him, which made me worry he might still see me as ‘Sunset Shimmer the horrible tyrant.’

“Hot and fresh, just like always,” Applejack replied as she immediately grabbed a whole pie tin and held it out. “I take it, y’all will want your usual order?”

“That predictable, huh?” remarked the accompanying young woman, whom I correctly assumed to be Spitfire. It was hard to forget that hair style, after all. I stepped back and kept my distance as Applejack chatted away with her long-time customers. I didn’t dare say anything out of fear that things might sour if they realized I was here. Soarin’ and Spitfire had never been considered targets or serious threats to me, but I know that I’ve caused grief for members of their team in the past.

After a few minutes, the pair said their goodbyes and headed off with their prize in hand. I don’t think either of them even blinked an eye in my direction, which meant they either didn’t realize who I was, or just didn’t care anymore. It felt oddly satisfying either way since it meant it was possible for people to forget about me without any grand gestures or pleas of forgiveness.

“See? Nothing to worry about, just like I said,” Applejack said. A confident grin stretched across her face as she held up the wad of cash for me to see. “Only a couple of minutes in, and we’ve already made our first sale. If this keeps up, we’ll be rolling in dough in no time!”

*******************

After almost two hours, the only thing Applejack and I were rolling in was the pervasive, all-consuming boredom that clung to us like the dust upon our aprons. My friend had managed to fashion herself a makeshift chair out of the crates of apple cider we still had with us, while my sore backside forced me to remain hunched over the counter supporting my chin in my hand. By this point, our sales had been so abysmal that I didn’t just want to say ‘I told you so’ to Applejack, I wanted to go out to Sweet Apple Acres and carve it into every tree in the orchard so that she would be reminded of this day for the rest of her natural life.

However, I had to settle with just a discontented grunt.

“I think Dante described moments like this as one of the seven levels of Tartarus,” I remarked to nobody in particular. “Or maybe I’m just confusing this with purgatory.”

“You could try acting a bit more cheerful,” Applejack snapped back. “Folks would probably be more willing to come take a peek if it didn’t look like you were ready to snap like a bear trap.”

“I thought apples sold themselves,” I sniped in retaliation. “What does it matter what I do? We haven’t sold a thing since that guy with the proverbial mouth-on-fire bought a fizzy cider, and that was from pure desperation.” I didn’t want to outright say that people were avoiding our stall, but my friend could tell those words were lingering at the front of my mind.

Applejack let out a frustrated groan, fueled both by my insolence and our meagre sales performance. “Have you ever heard of the term ‘self-fulfilling prophecy?’” she asked while she reached into the crate she sat on and fished out a bottle.

“No, I zoned out when Ms. Yearling talked about that last Thursday,” I quipped.

“Then I shouldn’t have to explain to it to ya!” With a scoff and a flick of her wrist, Applejack popped open her bottle and started chugging it down. Perhaps she had a point, and my sour disposition was just ensuring that we achieved the failure that I had prophesied, but pride wasn’t about to let me admit anything just yet.

Another thing my friend and I had in common was our disdain for failure. Nobody liked failing, of course, but having a lot of pride meant taking it personally. I could see that the lack of sales, the abundance of pies and candied apples that still sat on our counter, was tearing down Applejack’s usual upbeat attitude, leaving only charred and bitter remains.

It was getting close to noon and our prospects were looking grim. “Maybe I should just make myself scarce,” I suggested. “That way you can get some sales, and I just come back at the end of the day to help you pack up.”

“Oh, no you don’t! I ain’t quitting on you yet!” Applejack shot up from her seat, positioning herself to trap me against the apple-covered counter. “The second you leave is the second you prove everything that Trixie said was true. That ain’t happening—not on my watch!”

“I appreciate the vote of confidence, AJ, but I’m not going to be the reason your family is forced to tighten their belts.” I tried to force my way past Applejack, but between her years of labouring on a farm and my sore backside, it was child’s play for her to force me back. “Come on, now isn’t the time for your ‘keep on trucking’ countryisms. You need to face facts, and the simple fact is, I’m clearly scaring away customers.”

“That is a load of cow patty,” Applejack scoffed, pushing me back after a second attempt to escape. “I know things can be tough at school, but we are literally half-way across town from the school. You’re just being paranoid!”

“Oh for Celestia’s sake, stop being so naive!” I barked back.

Applejack just raised an eyebrow and stared at me as if a second head just sprouted from my body. “Did you just say—?”

I felt my face begin to heat up as the faux pas dawned upon me. “Shut up! It’s a perfectly normal thing to say where I come from!” I blurted in my defense.

An awkward silence enveloped the two of us. We were both tense, frustrated, and weary from the long, tedious hours we’ve already endured. Just two stubborn girls trying to be the more helpful, selfless friend, or at least that’s what I kept telling myself. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a small part of me that just wanted to leave in order to avoid further embarrassment.

Applejack remained unflinching as she stared me down. That confidant glare was a silent message telling me that the only way I’d get past her would be by bowling her over. I began tabulating what my chances were if I grabbed a pie and smashed it into her face. Maybe blinding her would give me the time or leverage I’d need to get past her. However, before I could say or do anything, one of the loudspeakers, mounted on those telephone poles that were speckled across the fairgrounds, crackled to life.

“Would Applejack please report to the organizer’s tent at your earliest convenience,” the old, neglected loudspeaker spoke in a static-laced cacophony.

“Looks like I’m needed elsewhere,” Applejack said with an unsettling smirk across her face.

I started to feel nervous; it wasn’t hard to deduce what my friend had in mind. “Where are you going?” I asked.

“There’s a pie-eating contest in a little bit. And guess who provides the pies?” I didn’t actually need to guess, but nonetheless Applejack grinned and pointed both thumbs at herself. “So you stay put and handle things here while I go hammer out the last few details with the contest organizers.”

She couldn’t do this to me! She couldn’t just abandon me to the merciless hordes. One may as well pour chum all over me and throw me into a shark tank. The icy grip of panic began to grasp at my heart.

“W-what if I just leave once you’re gone?” A fleeting threat, unfortunately, and definitely an underhanded manoeuvre. It was the kind of threat that the old Sunset Shimmer would use, and judging by the way Applejack didn’t even twitch, she knew that too.

“Then people would probably rob my stall of all its goods,” Applejack answered in a very matter-of-fact tone. “And I’m willing to bet that you’d feel worse about that than you would if you stayed put.”

I was just about to fire a rebuttal, mouth wide open and finger pointed upwards, when I realized that she was one-hundred percent correct in her assessment. As much as I hated the idea of standing around watching the whole world shun me, abandoning my post would be unforgivable. It was exactly the kind of deviousness that the old me would’ve done to screw a rival over.

“I might be gone for a lil’ while. I reckon I ought to grab some lunch while I’ve got the chance,” Applejack added as she headed on her way.

Soon, it was just me and my cornucopia of apples and baked goods. It dawned upon me that Applejack likely knew she would get called away, which meant that I was, once again, snared in another one of her schemes. I missed the days when I was the one who was always outwitting people.

“Come on, Sunset, you’re doing this for Applejack. Just need to have faith in yourself; Applejack certainly does,” I reminded myself as I returned to my duties. Unfortunately, the pep talk just reminded me of the expectations that were now upon me, and how much I was going to hate myself when I inevitably failed and let my friend down. There needed to be a way to help bolster sales, but I didn’t know the first thing about being a salesperson. Maybe I needed to show more skin to attract attention. If only Rarity were here: she knew how to turn heads for the right reasons.

Despite my injury from the day before, I decided to make use of Applejack’s cider throne as my feet were beginning to complain. Aching feet or aching backside; it seemed like I couldn’t catch a break if it were sick and crippled. As I stewed in a broth of boredom and chronic pain, I pulled out the spice spray that Yearling had given me earlier. I hadn’t much opportunity to test it out yet.

“I wonder if there’s a market for spicy apples,” I murmured to myself. It could attract customers through, if nothing else, its sheer curiosity factor. But I was no culinary expert; I still had trouble with eggs. Tampering with Applejack’s products seemed like the kind of crazy scheme that only worked in Saturday morning cartoons. In the real world, that idea had ‘highly explosive’ written all over it.

Thankfully I didn’t have to linger on those thoughts for very long as I noticed a gentleman approaching my counter. He actually stopped and began looking over the products. Maybe I was a bit desperate for a sale, but I felt such a surge of hope that I didn’t even care how much it hurt when I sprang back to my feet.

“Good morning, sir,” I greeted with every ounce of cheerfulness I had in my reserves. It was the ideal customer, too: young, hungry, and I didn’t recognize him in the least, which meant he had no clue who I was. “May I help you with anything?”

He cast only a brief glance in my direction. “Oh, I’m just looking,” he murmured. I could hear the indecision in his voice; he was hungry, but he just wasn’t convinced of a choice. It was time to lay on some Sunset Shimmer charm.

“Well, sir, if you’re feeling a bit peckish, you’ve come to the right place,” I began while picking up a pie tin. “We’ve got every treat for every desire, made by hand, and with only the freshest, farm-grown apples in the city.”

His lips pursed, followed by a slow nod and the faintest of ‘hmm’s. He was considering my proposal—I was about to make a sale.

“And if you need to wet your whistle, Sweet Apple Acres has got you covered,” I added while reaching for a bottle. As I pulled up the fizzy cider, I gave it a small toss in the air for embellishment, but also so that I could hold it with the label facing him.

His droopy-eyed gaze widened for the briefest of moments. Maybe he was more thirsty than hungry, or maybe he just really liked cider, but whatever the reason, I was luring him in. I could use one of the Apple family’s patented ‘big as your skull’ fritters to seal the deal.

“Did you make these?” the customer inquired.

“Um, yes. Yes I did. Maybe not everything you see here, but I did do my fair share.” I had no idea what compelled me to outright lie about that, but I was desperate to make a sale. I couldn’t bake a pie if its instructions were ‘put in oven and turn on.’ I don’t even think the apples I gathered yesterday were used in any of the products on the table.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t think I caught your name.”

“It’s Sunset Shimmer,” I answered, feeling that paranoia creeping up.

“Right, of course,” the man said with a quiet nod. Then all of a sudden, without another word, he walked off.

I was left speechless. I had him. He was practically salivating over the fritters for Celestia’s sake. There was an urge to shout at him to get back, but that sounded a bit too much like begging, and my pride wouldn’t let me stoop to that level. I had no choice but to watch in silence as my closest opportunity to a sale strolled into the crowds and vanished from my sight. I didn’t want to sound paranoid, but the fact that he left right after learning my name was too much of a coincidence to ignore.

“Argh! I was this close!” I growled. In my frustrations, I slammed the pie tin down with enough force to knock the pie out, causing it sit in the tin at a skewed angle. Not wanting to ruin perfectly good product, I picked the tin back up and carefully jostled the pie back into position.

“A swing and a miss,” came the voice of the last person on the planet I wanted to deal with. “If you’d like, Trixie could give you some pointers on how to improve your ‘performance.’”

Maybe that creeping paranoia was just my ‘Trixie-sense’ going off. She did seem to enjoy making my life miserable, so it shouldn’t have surprised me that she made a return to rub salt in the wound.

“Just don’t throw the pie, Sunset. Take a deep breath, and just put the tin down.”

My heart began pounding in my chest. Tension slowly built, spurred on by every word from that blue-haired harpy. Slowly, my lungs expanded, and the cool, autumn air was drawn in. I shut my eyes; I wasn’t facing Trixie so she couldn’t read my expression. Her words began to fade into the backdrop until it was little more than white noise at the back of my mind. The thumping in my chest subsided; the tension melted away.

I set the pie down.

“Finally, a smart decision.”

“What’s the matter, Sunset? Cat got your tongue?” It was just like Applejack said, Trixie was trying to get me to snap again, but I couldn’t beat her if I tried to play the game on her terms.

“Don’t you have a rabbit to be pulling out of your hat?” I said in a calm and level tone as I turned about. “With the way you keep coming back to me, one could get the impression you’ve got a thing for me.”

“As if!” Trixie scoffed, folding her arms across her chest as she strolled across the front of the stall. “Trixie needed to see for herself just how badly you were failing at yet another one of life’s little tests.”

“I’m selling treats and apples, Trixie, it ain’t the SATs,” I replied. Trixie was going to keep testing me, which meant I had to deflect and dodge. If she found the right button to set off my temper, she would latch onto it like a rabid dog. “Don’t you have anything better to be doing?”

“Trixie is taking a little break,” she said before leaning down to examine some apple fritters. “If you ask politely, I could be convinced to buy something of yours.”

A smart move by Trixie; it was exactly the sort of play that the old me would’ve done. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she had been watching and learning from me all these years. If I tried to take up her offer, she could string me along for her amusement for Celestia knows how long. However, if I told her off, then she could start telling everyone else at the fair how I drove her away. It’d be all the ammunition she needed to ensure nobody bought anything that even resembled an apple.

Clever girl.

“If you’d like to make a purchase, most of our items are a dollar-fifty each, save for whole pies,” I played along. It was a gamble, but if I could get even Trixie to buy something, a little loss of dignity couldn’t hurt. “Or you can buy an item and a drink for two-twenty-five.”

“Hmmm, well Trixie does like a good fritter,” she mused as she tapped her chin in thought. She was making a performance, I could tell, but I still didn’t know if she’d stay true to her word or not. “What would you suggest?”

“A fritter and a cider would give you the best value for your buck.”

“Okay, Trixie will buy that,” she said, albeit with a tone that screamed ‘strings attached,’ “but only if you ask her nicely.”

A somewhat degrading request, but nothing I couldn’t manage. Applejack wanted me to be more friendly, after all, so a bit of practice being kind in the face of adversity would be good for me. Or at least that’s what I told myself.

“Would Trixie like a fresh cider and a fritter?” I asked. Not to sound like a braggart, but I like to think I did a good job. Polite and courteous, just like Applejack.

“Oh no, that won’t suffice,” Trixie replied. “I want you to say, ‘Oh, Great and Powerful Trixie, could you please buy a fritter and cider.’”

“Seriously?” I deadpanned.

“Be grateful that Trixie isn’t asking you to get on your knees as well.”

It was no surprise that Trixie went and moved the goal posts on me. She was probably testing to see how much she could get from me, and the way she was smirking as she watched me mull over my choices told me the goal post would be pulled out like a rug.

“Sorry, Sunset. We got no choice here.”

I pulled out my best smile. “Oh, Great and Powerful Trixie, could you please—”

The rest of that sentence is best not repeated in polite company, but suffice to say that Trixie’s face briefly turned as red as the apples she was looming over.

“Just couldn’t help yourself, could you?”

Though caught off-guard by my particular choice of words, Trixie was more amused than anything else. “Oh, so close. You almost had Trixie convinced it wasn’t all just an act,” she taunted. “I guess I will just take my business elsewhere.”

“I’ll comfort myself knowing I’ve deprived you of the best darn fritters in the city,” I replied in a paltry show of defiance. As Applejack would say, no point in being happy about closing the barn door when the horses had already fled.

“Don’t worry, Trixie won’t be leaving empty-handed.” Trixie’s cryptic words hung in the air for a few seconds before she made one of those showy hand-wave gestures that stage magicians frequently did. Suddenly, she had in her hands a white, lace headpiece; a very familiar-looking headpiece, in fact.

“Wait a second—” With a startled realization, I palmed the top of my head, but felt only hair and scalp. “That’s my headpiece! How did you—?”

“A magician never reveals her secrets,” Trixie teased with a wagging finger.

“Give that back,” I warned, feeling the tension returning in force, along with its friends ‘rage’ and ‘violent impulses.’

“You’ll have to come and take it,” Trixie challenged. I didn’t know what her game was at this point, but I wasn’t about to let her walk off with my headpiece. It didn’t matter that I thought it was stupid-looking or utterly useless; it was mine, and that was reason enough.

As Trixie began to slowly back up from the counter, I was faced with a tough decision. If I vaulted over the countertop, I could jump her before she even had time to turn and run, but it was guaranteed that almost everything on said countertop was going to be knocked to the ground in the process. If I ran around the counter, Trixie would have enough time to get a significant head start, but at least our goods would be safe.

“Gah! Stupid goody-two-shoe nonsense!” I couldn’t bring myself to make things worse for Applejack, so I opted to go around. As expected, Trixie turned and sprinted off into the crowds before I could even get to the other side of the counter. Now I had to chase after Trixie through a crowded fairground while wearing heels. The things I endured for the sake of friendship.

Lucky for me, Trixie’s ridiculous get-up made her easy to keep track of. It was hard not to lose sight of that sparkle-laden cape of hers, even if she was pushing through crowds of old ladies and young kids.

“Give that back, you harpy!” It was a fleeting hope that, maybe, seeing one person chasing after another would prompt somebody to help me out. However, they were probably just as likely to assume this was just the typical, juvenile antics of two friends. Despite knowing full well I was better runner than Trixie, I was nonetheless losing ground thanks to my inappropriate footwear, and crowds that seemed intent on getting in my way.

The footrace came to an unceremonious end when one of my heels got snagged between a couple of rocks in the path. My already precarious balance was launched head-over-heels, much like I was when I collided with an unsuspecting fair-goer.

I had thought that Trixie was the last person on the planet that I wanted to deal with at this fair. That proved to be an incorrect assumption; one that I realized when I discovered that I was laying atop the one person I wanted to see even less.

“Oh... h-hello, Twilight. Funny seeing you here.”