• 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-IV

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

While I appreciated Twilight Sparkle’s concern for my well-being, my stubborn pride barred me from accepting any of her dozen or so offers of help. Instead, I limped my way across the fairgrounds back to my vendor’s stall, trying my hardest not to grunt in pain with every step. For a normal person, the collision should have left little more than maybe a sore knee, but the impact did nothing for my already-injured backside.

“I’ll be fine,” I insisted with perhaps a touch of anger in my tone.

I was absolutely furious: the kind of rage that made the more rational part of my mind grateful that I was not in Equestria because possessing any kind of magic would have resulted in dire and explosive consequences. However, with Twilight trailing alongside me, fueled by her naive sense of pity and concern, my emotions had to be kept in check. I didn’t know why, but the thought of her witnessing my darker nature was… disconcerting. So while Trixie was out there, likely laughing to herself in triumph, I had to retreat back to my stall and lick my wounds.

“You were limping kind of badly back there. Maybe you should go to the first aid tent and get it checked out,” Twilight suggested. She followed me behind the counter, and took a seat on the stacked cider crates next to me. “You seemed like you were in a hurry. What was going on?”

Curious as always, I knew she’d ask at some point. Unfortunately, the aches had distracted me from concocting a plausible cover story, which left me with nothing but the truth. “Just some annoying girl from school gave me a hard time, and then stole my headpiece.”

“Your what?”

“My headpiece,” I explained with what limited knowledge of fashion I had. “It’s like this lacey white thing that went in my hair. It was part of the outfit.”

Twilight took a few seconds to stare at the vacancy in my hair and then to the rest of my ensemble. “Speaking of outfits, why are you dressed like that anyways?”

“Long story,” I answered. It wasn’t, of course, but most people took that answer as an invitation to change the subject. Lucky for me, Twilight’s curiosity was focused on other things.

“So this girl just came over, bothered you, and then stole your hat?” Twilight reiterated for clarification. She paused and pondered over the issue, running her finger across her chin in her typical thoughtful manner. “You sounded like this wasn’t the first time this has happened. Does she give you trouble often?” Twilight suddenly let out a gasp, and then leaned in close, a look of growing concern on her face. Her next words were soft whispers, suppressed by equal parts concern and fear. “Sunset, are you being bullied?”

“I do not get bullied!” I barked in retaliation. I may have gone a bit overboard with my protest, as my friend looked a bit shaken by the volume alone. “Bullying is what happens to sniveling little weaklings, not me.”

“I get bullied,” Twilight replied. “Does that make me a sniveling little weakling?”

It was a rhetorical question, of course, and one that made me realize how badly I had stuffed my foot into my mouth. If I wiggled my toes, I would’ve been able to tickle my tonsils. I was half-expecting to get an earful about my insensitive rhetoric, but Twilight had only a sympathetic look to her. I found myself at a sudden loss for words.

“I know it can be hard to admit, but you don’t have to be ashamed of it,” Twilight said. “Remember back at the academy during the soccer game? I didn’t want to admit to it either.”

When I thought about it, every time I had an issue with Trixie I told myself it was just retribution for all of my past misdeeds, and that it would end once her thirst had been sated. When phrased like that, it seemed like a minor, but temporary, inconvenience. Describing it as bullying made it feel less about my past, and more about my future. It stopped being an inconvenience, and became an actual problem.

“Maybe I am getting bullied a little bit,” I admitted with a quiet grumble of discontent.

“What happened to all that ‘they only have as much power as you let them’ stuff you told me before?” Twilight inquired. “I mean, you made it sound so simple back then.”

It was very simple, but for some reason it just seemed to always become so difficult for me. “I’m just not as strong as you are,” I explained. A part of me was tempted to write it off as a product of an uncontrollable temper or Trixie being persistent, but the simple truth was that I just wasn’t strong enough. I let my pride or rage take over because it’s easier; it’s familiar; it’s safer.

“Well why don’t you and I go and confront this girl together? You helped me, after all, it’s only fair that I try and return the favour.”

Were it not involving Twilight or Trixie, I would’ve had no qualms with accepting such an offer. However, one did not need to be a genius to realize the disaster that could arise if Twilight and Trixie were to have a face-to-face.

“It’s okay, really,” I insisted. “It’s just a silly piece of fabric, anyways. She swiped it to provoke a reaction, so the best course of action is to just ignore it.” Lucky for me, Twilight deferred to my expertise on bullying tactics. It might not be worthy of pride, but at least that knowledge was still proving to be useful.

“So what are you doing here anyways?” I asked out of curiosity. “You don’t strike me as the festival-going type.” To be fair, I had only seen Twilight a few times thus far, and this was the first time I had seen her in something you could describe as ‘casual attire.’ Rarity would’ve described the sweater as bland and generic, but I imagined Twilight put as much thought into her wardrobe as she did her hair. “You’re not here to gather more… samples, are you?”

“That? No,” Twilight replied whilst rolling her eyes. “My brother locked my equipment in the trunk of his car.” I had to hold back a snicker as I watched Twilight pout over her predicament. “Truthfully, though, I was trying to follow some of your advice to spend more time with my brother. When I heard he was coming to the festival, I insisted on joining him.”

“You should probably go spend time with him, then, rather than waste it hanging around here,” I said as I gestured to the empty void on the other side of the counter. Though I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings, when I briefly cast my gaze towards the milling crowds, I saw a familiar and frightening flash of movement. It was Flash Sentry, and he was heading right for me. I couldn’t tell if he could see Twilight through the crowds, but judging by his indifferent march towards me, he had yet to notice her.

I had few options and little time to formulate a plan. If he saw Twilight here, there would be no end to the world of trouble I’d be in. There was only one thing I could think of, and while it was undeniably insane, I went with it. I grabbed Twilight by the shoulders and shoved her towards the space underneath the counter, shouting ‘get down!’

“Sunset! What are you doing?” Twilight yelped as she tried to resist. Thankfully, I had taken her by surprise so by the time she was fighting back, I had her half-way below the counter. Another strong push, throwing my weight into it, was enough to push her the rest of the way.

“I’ll explain later, just stay down and be quiet, please!” I hastily explained.

“Ow! Sunset! I’m not going to fit!” Twilight continued to protest. Not the first time I had heard a bespectacled nerd insist that they wouldn’t fit into a tight compartment, but it was the first time I had real motivation to succeed. For a scrawny girl, Twilight had some surprising strength in her, as demonstrated as she attempted to force her head out from below.

Glancing up, I could see Flash drawing closer. Thank Celestia something seemed to be drawing his attention elsewhere.

“Twilight, you’re going to have to just trust me on this,” I said in as strong a whisper as I could afford. Somehow, the scuffle did not draw any attention, but Twilight still continued to fight back. I needed to free up my hands if I were to maintain an inconspicuous facade, but I couldn’t let Twilight go just yet. Desperate times called for desperate measures, so I pinned Twilight’s head between my knees and pulled my skirt overtop to hide the evidence. Surprisingly, she went very still and quiet all of a sudden, though in hindsight the reason should have been obvious. At the moment, I was too preoccupied trying to look casual as Flash Sentry came to a stop on the opposite side of the counter.

“F-Flash? W-what a pleasant surprise,” I stammered while trying to put on a friendly face.

Unfortunately, given that my last conversation with Flash ended badly, the pleasant facade did little more than confuse him. “Um, hello Sunset,” he greeted. “You’re surprisingly… pleasant-sounding.” He stuffed his hands into his coat pocket, continuing to give me a half-tilted ‘confused puppy’ stare. “I… um, was wondering if you were free to talk.”

“Talk?” Now it was my turn to be confused, which lapsed my concentration enough for Twilight to start struggling once more. Thankfully, I was able to keep my jostling to a minimum, and Flash didn’t seem to notice. “Last time we spoke, we were both pretty angry. Wh-why would you want to talk, and now of all times?”

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” he explained. The Flash Sentry I dated would’ve just forgotten about our squabble because fixing it would be far too much work for him. Why did he have to choose today to be a boy scout? “I mean, Applejack was right; some proper, honest closure would be good for the both of us.”

“Now is really not a good time for this talk.” Were my voice not straining because of the effort needed to keep Twilight still, I might’ve been more convincing. Instead, all I did was make Flash suspicious.

“What do you mean now is not a good time?” he replied in disbelief. “Sunset, I am trying to not be a jerk this time around, the least you could do is meet me half-way and—” He paused when he noticed me writhe about as I once again struggled to keep Twilight hidden. He leaned forward a bit and glanced down at the noticeable bulge in my skirt. “Are you hiding somebody under your skirt?”

“Don’t change the subject,” I shot back.

“So do you want to talk about yesterday then?” he asked, now more confused than curious.

“I don’t want to talk about that either.” I was hating myself for having to push Flash away like this, but I couldn’t have him linger about forever. The only surefire way I could think of ensuring a timely departure was to make the conversation far more trouble than it’s worth. “In fact, I don’t want to talk to you at all! You made me look like a fool in front of my friend, and I fell down a flight of stairs because I was so infuriated with you.”

“Fine, I’m sorry I got you so upset yesterday.” Even if his apology didn’t sound very sincere, I could tell that he was genuine in his desire for a closure. Any other time I would have loved to take him up on that offer, which only twisted the guilt-knife in me.

“I’m serious, Flash; I am not in the mood to talk. Just save your breath and leave me alone.”

“But I—”

“Leave me alone!” This time, my shouts managed to garner a lot of attention from the surrounding crowds. With everybody staring at him, likely wondering why a girl was shouting at him to leave her alone, Flash decided to cut his losses and backed off.

“Fine, I’ll go,” he grumbled in resignation. As he turned to leave, I felt another pang of guilt shoot through me. He looked so disappointed and defeated, like I had just stomped all over his dreams. I was probably the only connection he had to the Twilight he sought after, and now he was probably wondering if that slim chance had just been crushed.

If there was any silver lining to my guilt-ridden conscience, it was that I didn’t have much time or opportunity to dwell on it. Once Flash was gone from my sight, I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed, which gave Twilight the opportunity she needed to finally break free. She burst out from underneath my skirt like a child who swam a little too deep for their lung capacity, red-faced and lungs heaving for breath. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if she was going to start screaming or punching, perhaps even both.

“What? You. Head. Legs. Skirt. Why?” It appeared that Twilight was too flustered to even form a coherent sentence. She hadn’t bothered to fix her glasses yet, which still sat askewed across her nose.

“I… um, I couldn’t… I mean, that is to say,” I fumbled with my words as I tried to figure out how to talk my way through this mess. I needed something that she wouldn’t inquire too much into. “The truth is, that was my ex-boyfriend.”

Thank Celestia, my half-baked response managed to soften Twilight’s expression. “Your… ex?” she repeated, a bit wide-eyed in her surprise. “That’s a very odd reaction to have when dealing with past relationships.”

“And how many ex-boyfriends have you ever had to deal with?” I asked with a strong idea as to what the answer was.

“None. Point taken.” Another small miracle.

Now I just needed to sprinkle in some truth to finish the job. “I’m really sorry about what happened. When I saw him, I panicked,” I explained. “It’s only been about a month so it’s still kind of… a sore spot for me. And it doesn’t help that I was really horrible to him.”

“It sounded like you passed up an opportunity to make up for some of that horribleness,” Twilight commented. She was definitely still confused, but her curiosity seemed to be shifting back to concern.

“It’s complicated,” I said with a remorseful sigh. “Could we please talk about something else? The day’s been rough enough for me already.”

“Fine, but next time give me a little more warning if you need me to get out of sight.”

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

Having Twilight around provided for a nice distraction from the non-existent sales—and thoughts of bothersome magicians. I tried to remind her that she had come to the festival with the intent of spending the day with her brother, but she kept insisting that there would be sufficient time for both. To be honest, once we had spent a few minutes talking, a part of me did not want her to leave. For the casual observer, it would be easy to fall under the false impression that Twilight didn’t like to talk or that she was bad at conversations, but I knew it was just a matter of finding the right topic.

Once I managed to get her onto the subject of something she read in recent issues of ‘Science Monthly’ and ‘Popular Mechanics,’ I couldn’t get her to shut up if I tried. She was going on about particles emissions and new advancements in spectroscopy, most of which went above even my understanding. Not that I wasn’t able to keep up, mind you, as Twilight had no problem answering any questions that popped to mind.

“How can a moon wobble in its orbit?”

“Because of its shape and the proximity of all the nearby satellites. As it goes through its orbit, the gravity from all the other moons constantly pulls it in other directions. The moon basically looks like a potato spinning in a completely random fashion!”

As she carried on talking about the works of some particle physicist she apparently had a poster of in her bedroom, I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between us. Even when I was a filly, I knew I was smart; I was a fast learner. It didn’t matter if it was about magic theory or advanced calculus, it all came quickly to me so long as I put in the time to read and study the material. I advanced my learning because it was a means to an end. In Equestria, I studied because that was the way to harness the power of magic; in this world, I studied because I discovered soon that people would pay good money for access to my intellect.

For Twilight, however, learning and understanding was an end in and of itself. There was no end goal, no ulterior motive, no selfish desires; she just wanted to understand how the world around her worked because she loved to learn. I used to think of it as being naive, but maybe I was just rationalizing my own cynicism. It made me envious; it reminded me of how I used to be when I first started learning under Princess Celestia. When did my curiosity get so overridden by ambition?

“So then the professor said ‘how about we try reinitializing the power coupling?’, to which I replied, ‘you mean you want me to turn it off and on again?’”

As my joke made Twilight curl over in a fit of laughter, I began to wonder why I was doing this. She was precisely the kind of person I wanted to keep as far away from my life as possible: intelligent, driven, way too curious, and in a position to easily discover that something was very wrong at Canterlot High. Through no fault of her own, she represented the single greatest threat to me, my friends, my home, and virtually everything I knew or cared about. And it would all be because of that insatiable drive of hers to solve a mystery that crossed her path.

So with all of that in mind, why did I keep finding myself drawn back to her. If I wanted her out of my life, I could’ve done so just as easily as I had tossed Flash Sentry away, and yet I did nothing. Instead of pushing her away, I was laughing at her jokes; and not because I was trying to be polite. Was it selfish of me to want her to stay? Was it the responsible thing to do? Princess Twilight Sparkle left me here because she believed I wouldn’t be of any further danger to her or Equestria. Just associating with this world’s Twilight was jeopardizing that belief. The last thing I wanted was to give Princess Celestia reason to send her guards through the mirror and haul me away.

It wasn’t just Equestria that I was worried about, either. This world had little to no experience with magic; no real way to defend against it. Had it not been for Princess Twilight and her friends, there would have been little in this world or Equestria that could’ve stopped me. What if something worse than me managed to bridge the gap? Even one dragon would be enough to leave several city blocks in smoking ruins.

“Are you even listening, Sunset?”

Twilight’s voice snapped me out of a contemplative trance. I hadn’t realized it at first, but I had been staring off into space for at least a minute or two.

“S-sorry, I got lost in my own world,” I said with an embarrassed chuckle. “What were you saying?”

“Well I was just about to talk about my latest findings from the samples you gave me back during the soccer game,” Twilight replied. Before she could get into any further details, however, her brother came hustling over. Judging by the gasping and panting when he finally arrived, I got the impression the younger sibling may have forgotten something important.

“Twily, you just can’t run off on me like that,” Shining said between gasps for breath.

“I-I didn’t run off,” Twilight stammered back. She seemed quite insistent in her denial. “It’s not my fault if you’re bad at keeping track of me.”

Shining just rolled his eyes. “Well at least you managed to find what you were looking for,” he said before casting a glance over to me. “I can see why you were in such a hurry, though I never would’ve pegged you as the ‘French Maid’ type, Twily.”

Though I was surprised by Shining’s remark, his sister turned several shades of red.

“Shining!” she shouted as she gave her brother an angry, but fleeting, shove. “That’s not why I came here, and you know it!”

Her brother just laughed off her attempt to push him around. It was like watching a kitten try to take on a doberman. I’m certain she couldn’t move him even if she had a running start. Did all siblings squabble like this? I was reminded of the occasional bouts between Celestia and her younger sister, which while not as physical were nonetheless just as intense. It took some effort on my part not to laugh too loud as Shining Armour continued to tease his sister. Eventually, Twilight got too fed up with her brother, let out a shout, and stormed off in a huff.

“That was a bit mean,” I said, though my smirk betrayed a different sentiment.

“She’ll be fine. Just a bit of playful ribbing,” he replied with a casual shrug.

“So did Twilight actually come looking for me?” I asked.

He nodded. “Yeah, she apparently overheard some people talking about a ‘Sunset’ girl that was sabotaging stuff or something along those lines. I wasn’t paying too much attention myself, but once Twily heard it, she bolted off.”

“Sabotaging stuff?” I repeated in disbelief. The problem with paranoia was that it didn’t feel like any kind of victory when it was proven that your belief wasn’t misfounded. Believing that people were out to get you felt just as unsettling as knowing for a fact that somebody was out to get you. Who would even stoop to something like that? It wasn’t as though that many people knew I was here except for Applejack and…

Trixie…

It had to be her! She must’ve started spreading lies the moment she found out that I was here, which meant her little performance from a few moments ago was exactly that. She never had any intention of playing nice. It was all smiles and good tidings even though she had been stabbing me in the back from the start. The only thing more infuriating than that realization was the fact that this was the exact kind of ploy I used all the time on people.

“You okay, Sunset?” Shining asked. “You’re clenching those fists pretty tight.”

At first I was puzzled by what he said, but when I glanced down to my hands, I saw that they were balled up. So tight, in fact, that my palms ached for a few moments once I relaxed.

“Hey, they’re just rumours. The worst thing you can do with rumours is engage them. Giving them your attention just lends them validity,” Shining reassured me.

He had a good point, although it seemed that the rumours had done sufficient damage. Trixie had been doing shows at this festival for the past few years, so she likely had some credibility in the eyes of the fair-goers. While I was still mulling over the bleak outlook to my day, Shining Armour glanced back to his sister and then gestured for me to lean closer.

“Could I, by chance, ask you a bit of a personal question?” he asked in a lowered voice.

His desire for discretion piqued my curiosity. “Do you… like Twilight?”

That was a question that I didn’t expect. “I beg your pardon?” I replied.

“Do you like her?” he repeated as if changing to a hurried tone made any difference. “You know, is she the kind of person you could see yourself being friends with?”

“I… guess so?” I honestly had no idea how to respond to such a question. I was aware that my knowledge on the subject of friendship couldn’t fill a flash card, but I had always been under the impression that making friends usually required both parties to be present. “Why are you asking me this? I think Twilight is old enough to make these sort of decisions herself.”

“If this was any other person, I’d agree with you,” Shining said with a disheartened sigh. “But Cadance and I have been trying for years to get Twilight to open up to other people and make friends. This is the first time in, like, a year that I’ve seen her actual seek somebody out that didn’t have a PhD.”

“Really?” While I was already aware that Twilight Sparkle was the reclusive type, I hadn’t imagined it was this extreme. Even the nerdy type at Canterlot High were able to make friends amongst themselves. “You mean she doesn’t have any friends?”

“She had some back at her old school,” Shining said as we both looked over to Twilight. She was still keeping her distance, back turned to us. Whether it was because she was angry at her brother or too embarrassed to face me was anybody’s guess. “Problem was, she always seemed so disinterested in them. I had to coax her in order to get her to spend time with them, and once I moved out, she stopped trying altogether.”

“And you think I can fix that?” In my opinion, I was the last person in the world that should be called upon to try and fix anything pertaining to friendship. However, as I looked at Shining, I could see how desperate he was. It was not a bad kind of desperation, rather the actions of a brother who cared deeply for his younger sister, and was willing to make himself look like a fool by asking for help from somebody he had only met just days ago. “What exactly are you proposing?”

“Nothing elaborate,” Shining insisted as he reached into his back pocket. “You can think it over, too, if you want. I’ll give you her cell phone number, and you can decide how you want to handle it, if you do decide to help. And in return, I’ll… um, I’ll buy a case of cider.”

A case of cider in exchange for my consideration. I remembered when my time and effort was worth a lot more than a thirty dollar case of fizzy ciders, but the adage of beggars and choosers came to mind. A sale was a sale, after all, and I was just as desperate as he was. I agreed to his terms, and we made a quick exchange.

“You know, I probably would’ve said yes even if you hadn’t offered to buy the cider,” I commented once I had his money stowed away.

“That’s okay. I would’ve bought the cider even if you had said no.”

I said my goodbyes as Shining picked up the box and hurried on his way. When he caught up to Twilight, she gave him another shove, likely lambasting him for embarrassing her in front of others. She then cast a nervous glance over her shoulder towards me; I waved to her.

When Twilight and her brother disappeared into the crowds, I was once again left to my own thoughts. I spent the next few moments staring at the phone number on the scrap of paper I now held, wondering what I should do with it. Eventually, I opted to postpone any life-changing decisions for another time. I stuffed the paper away into my bag for safe-keeping, but as I did so, I noticed that the spray canister that Yearling gave me was missing.

“That’s funny, I had it here a minute ago,” I muttered to myself as I began searching under and around the counters. It didn’t take long for me to find it, but when I picked it up I noticed that it felt lighter than before. Puzzled, I gave it a shake, and heard the distinct sound of sloshing liquid inside. Now either the container had somehow spontaneously sprung a leak or somebody had used it.

But why would anybody want to use this? Most of the food sold at this festival was not the kind you’d want to garnish with a blast of sweetened heat, especially any sort of sweet pastry. And that was when the realization smacked me on the nose like a rolled-up newspaper.

“...people talking about a ‘Sunset’ girl that was sabotaging stuff…”

“Don’t worry, Trixie won’t be leaving empty-handed.”

“Oh, son of a—”

Before I could finish my profanity-laden train of thought, I caught a glimpse of Applejack rushed towards me. “Sunset!” she called out before screeching to a halt. “You ain’t gonna believe this! There was a huge catastrophe at the pie-eating contest.”

“Let me guess,” I interrupted as I took my friend’s hand, “all the pies mysteriously possess a strong flavour of this.” I then took the spray canister and squirted a small amount of it onto Applejack’s wrist.

Though curious by my swift response, she took a quick lap at her wrist, followed by her face undergoing a series of contorted expressions that one would normally see when passing a kidney stone. I think it was safe to say that Yearling’s experimental spritzer was far from a success.

“Yup, that’s the culprit,” Applejack groaned and shuddered. “The contest was a complete disaster. Most of the contestants ate so fast they were half-done with their pies before the spicy stuff kicked it. This is horrible! Ain’t nobody gonna buy a pie from us when word gets out about this!” My friend looked like Rarity after somebody spilled coffee on her latest project. “Wait a second, how’d you know what the taste was? And why do you even have that spray thingie?”

Before I could answer, however, both of our attentions were drawn to the crowd of people suddenly collecting around our stall. There were quite a few angry faces in the crowd, along with many familiar ones from school, but my focus went straight to the grinning miscreant at the head of the pack. Trixie’s presence alone was enough to convince me that this mob had been planned ahead of time.

“Because, Applejack, I’ve been an idiot,” I said with a quiet sigh.

Trixie knew I would always be suspicious of her; that I would never take my eyes off of her for a second if she were around. But misdirection was the magician’s greatest asset, and while she kept me distracted, it was likely one of Trixie’s assistants who snuck around to cause all the real damage. She had played me like a fiddle, and while I felt an urge to vault over the table and drop-kick Trixie right in her smug face, she still had all the cards in her hand.

“Just tell them the truth, Sunset; you’ve been here the whole time,” Applejack suggested.

“If this was before the Fall Formal, would you believe me?” I replied. Her silence was all the answer I needed. Nobody believed that I had changed my ways, so how could I be expected to convince them now? The only person who could honestly vouch for my whereabouts for the past hour was Twilight Sparkle, and there was no way I was going to point anybody in her direction.

The crowd drew closer; soon we were surrounded on all sides by very unhappy fair-goers. For what it was worth, Applejack stayed by my side even though she was clearly not the target of everyone’s ire.

“And as everybody can see,” Trixie announced as she sauntered up to the counter, “here is your guilty party with the murder weapon still in hand.”

“I had nothing to do with this, and you know it,” I replied, waving the half-empty canister at Trixie. Realizing it might not be the wisest move to wave incriminating evidence about, I promptly tucked the item away behind my back. “I don’t know how you managed it, but I know you’re behind all of this, Trixie.”

“Moi?” Trixie said with feigned indignation. “But Sunset, Trixie has been on stage performing for the crowds this entire time. She was nowhere near the pie-eating contest, and she has a whole audience who can testify to that.” She had me there, but I didn’t expect Trixie to have come without an alibi prepared. “Tell us, Sunset Shimmer, can you account for your whereabouts for the last hour?”

“I was here,” I answered plainly.

“A likely story,” she scoffed. “Do you really expect us to believe that?”

If I had any physical evidence that didn’t rely on revealing my relation with Twilight Sparkle, I would’ve thrown it right in Trixie’s face. She had me in the metaphorical corner, and if I didn’t come up with a solution quickly, Trixie would keep taunting me until I snapped. If I got violent, everyone would have all the proof they’d need that I would never change, and she’d win. If I started yelling, she’d win. If the crowd even detected the slightest hint of anger, she’d win.

“Let me try talking to them,” Applejack whispered.

As tempting as it was to let somebody else handle this mess, I knew it was a bad idea. I couldn’t hide behind my friends forever; eventually I had to face the people who hated me and do the one thing I loathed to: beg for leniency.

I climbed onto the counter and began to scan the crowd. Many of the faces were familiar ones from school; they were the angriest since they already knew about my reputation. The less familiar ones looked on with curiosity and skepticism, as if unsure what to make of this girl in a maid outfit. They would likely remain unconvinced so long as my harshest detractors remained upset with me. They were like the smaller predators waiting in line behind the pack alpha; they’d follow the lead of the strongest.

“People, listen to me!” I called out in order to silence the angry murmurings. “Most of you have no reason at all to believe me when I tell you that the pies in the contest were sabotaged, but it wasn’t by me!” Unsurprisingly, everyone remained unconvinced of my sincerity. “Now I know some of you have avoided buying any of these products because of things—untrue things—you might have heard. I understand that many of you are upset with me; I have done terrible things to you or to people you care about. If you want to punish me for that then I won’t stop you,” I paused for a moment and cast a glance back to my friend, who I wanted to make things right for, “but I’m asking you: please don’t punish Applejack because of my mistakes.”

I could see some quiet whisperings amongst the crowds. I couldn’t tell if I was making any headway, but it was better than angry shouting.

“I know you hate me, but I also know you don’t hate Applejack. She’s one of the girls who stopped me back during the Fall Formal, and made me realize what a horrible person I was. Her family depends upon these festivals and these sales for their livelihood, and the trust they’ve built with the community. Now I promise you, the items here are still safe, so please... help her family out. Now none of you probably believe me, so I guess the only way to show you that I’m being honest is by being honest about the things I’d have the most reason to hide.”

I think it was only then that Applejack realized that I wasn’t trying to save myself, rather I was trying to save her. “Sunset, what are you doing?” she asked, tugging at my skirt.

“I’m doing what you always told me to do: be honest,” I replied. Once more I began scanning through the faces in the crowd. Many were still skeptical, but some of the anger had vanished. What I was looking for, however, were familiar faces that I knew I had a history with. I saw my first opportunity and I pointed out towards a girl in the crowd. “Roseluck! You want to know what happened to your flower bed science experiment? I salted all your soil after class.”

“You what?” she gasped in response. I doubt she was actually as surprised as she sounded.

“Brawly,” I continued on without pause, “lacrosse stick ‘malfunction’ during the junior year championship game. Sandalwood: stole your phone, and posted all of your photos across the school’s main page.” I then proceeded to point to three individuals in the crowd. “You, you, and you: I’ve broken into your lockers enough times that I know your locker combinations by heart. I’m sure there’s things I’m even forgetting so feel free to ask if you want to confirm if I was responsible for the horrible things that had happened in your life.”

For a second, I was worried nobody would believe my offer, but then I saw a hand raise from the crowd. “The pages from my journal that were posted through the school halls?” a voice called out.

It took me a few seconds to remember which particular incident this was because, sadly, I had stolen more than one journal in the past. “In the library, I sent the cute girl with the short skirt to distract you while I pilfered it from your backpack. Made the photocopies and then I had Snips and Snails distribute them.”

“The swapped faces in the yearbook?”

“You left the computers running in the lab, so I played around with the photo editor,” I answered before chuckling. “You have to admit, though, a lot of students had a good laugh at it.”

“And what about that huge story in the school newspaper about that girl that ran against you for Princess of the Fall Formal?” another voice asked.

“Oh, come on! If you need me to point out that I was behind that smear job, you clearly haven’t been paying attention!” I wasn’t even aware that issue was still being questioned given how obvious my involvement should have been.

As I cast my gaze across the many faces, I could see the hints of skepticism beginning to waver. I was sowing seeds of doubt and uncertainty, and while that on its own wasn’t great, it was a step in the right direction. I figured one last passionate plea appealing to their sense of decency should be enough to tip the situation in my favour.

“Was our entire relationship just a lie?”

There were many uncomfortable sounds in the world—nails on a chalkboard, forks scraping together, termites burrowing through your skull—but nothing compared to the unease created when an entire crowd fell silent and collectively shifted their focus onto your ex-boyfriend. Flash was already making his way to the front, squeezing past the last few members so that he stood in the small clearing between the stall and the crowd. As my own gaze met with his, I was left floundering as I tried to figure out his angle. Needless to say, I didn’t expect Flash Sentry to take advantage of my open forum of honesty, much less bring forth what I had considered to be a private affair.

“Flash, couldn’t we talk about that in private?” I replied in desperation.

“Anything you can say to me, you can say in front of the rest of these people,” Flash declared. He folded his arms across his chest, his expression growing stern and impatient. He had dug in his heels so there was little point trying to reason with him any further. Part of me wondered if he just wanted my answer to have enough witnesses so nobody could refute it later on.

I sighed and resigned myself to this embarrassment. Though there likely had been speculation in the past, during my reign, nobody dared to broach the subject. I bet even Flash had his suspicions, but until now he never had the opportunity to get to the truth. It was almost ruthless, and, needless to say, was the kind of tactic the older me would’ve used.

“The whole relationship was a sham,” I finally answered. “You were a well-liked student and a hopeless romantic, it made you an easy target. I dated you to get popular, and then I crushed you to make everyone fear me.”

The murmurs throughout the crowd emerged once more, but I didn’t care at that point. The wind had been taken from my sails now that I had admitted to the masterpiece of my reign of terror. Even pity at this point was probably asking for too much. Disheartened and defeated, I stepped down from my platform.

Applejack was quick to swoop in to offer her support, for what little good it did now. “Don’t be too hard on yourself, Sunset,” she whispered to me as she rested a hand upon my shoulder. “You told the truth, and that’s all that matters. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

The old me would’ve held the horse’s head under the water until it drank. Say what you will about my old methods, they got results. The guilt may have felt like carrying a boulder upon my shoulders, but the helplessness was like trying to swim across the ocean with it.

“Thanks, but I think it would be better if I just left,” I replied.

Then something truly unexpected happened.

“You said these pies were still good, right?” It was Flash again, but now he was standing at the counter, eyeing some of the baked goods.

I shot a nervous glance over to Applejack, hoping that she would step up, but with Flash looking towards me, it was obvious who he was addressing. Before I could insist otherwise, I was nudged forward by my friend.

“Y-yes. They’re all still good,” I answered. “Would you care for a slice?”

At least, I hoped they were still good. Many of the pies were still in their boxes, after all, so it was unlikely that any saboteur would’ve had time to contaminate them during my brief dereliction of duty.

“I would, tha—”

“What are you doing?” Trixie interrupted as she stepped in between Flash and I. “You can’t seriously be willing to trust her after all that?”

“Why not?” Flash said as he eased Trixie aside. “Sunset had a valid point: regardless of how I feel about her, it does not change that I do consider Applejack a friend.”

As tempting as it was to rub my victory in Trixie’s face, I was still too surprised that Flash agreed with me on something.

“Besides,” he added, “Applejack makes the best pies in the city. You’d have to be insane to turn one down.”

What began to unfold before me was a case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’ as some of the still skeptical members of the crowd began to edge forward into a makeshift queue behind Flash. There were still a lot of distrusting people in the crowd, but as more people formed the line, more began to question their preconceptions.

“S-stop this!” Trixie shouted as her angry mob began to turn into awaiting customers. “Can’t you see that this is just another one of her ploys? She’s playing you all. I bet Flash is even in on this whole charade!”

“And how exactly do you think she’d manage that?” Flash said as his laid-back attitude gave way for his sterner side. “Do you honestly believe that after everything that’s been said and done, I would owe Sunset Shimmer any semblance of loyalty?”

For once, the boisterous loudmouth had no words left in her purse to spend, and just stood there stammering like a senile old fool. With a parting scoff, Flash turned his attention back to me and the slice of pie I now held out to him. He accepted the pie with a surprisingly polite ‘thank you’ before taking a big bite out of it for everybody to see.

“Mmm, that is good pie,” he said with a chuckle and a small flurry of crusty flakes. “Top notch as always, Applejack.”

And then, as if completely indifferent to the audience that had been watching his every step, he turned and strolled away. I began to wonder if this had been part of his plan the whole time: force me to confess to something horrid so that he came across with more credibility when he asked for a slice. I had trouble picturing Flash Sentry as being that clever; it was far more likely that he just went through that routine relying on nothing but dumb luck.

Thankfully, I had little time to dwell on the issue because Flash’s impromptu advertisement resulted in the entire crowd lining up for a slice. Applejack stepped in to handle the money while I began carving out plate after plate. Though at first there were still a few wary glances cast in my direction, within a matter of minutes there was nothing but one happy customer after the next.

The only unhappy face in the vicinity was Trixie, who was still fuming off to the side and giving me such a hateful stare that I worried that one of us was going to burst into flames at any moment.

“This isn’t over yet, Sunset!” Trixie blurted out.

“But shouldn’t it?” I shot back, pausing once I handed out the plate I was holding. “I mean, I get you want to be the new queen bee at school, but don’t you think this is getting a little excessive? This is the sort of cloak-and-dagger stuff I used to do, and do you really want to go down the same path as I did?”

“Well, I just… what I mean to say is…” Trixie began to stammer and fumbled her words. No doubt all the hamsters were running at full tilt in their wheels to try and get Trixie’s train of thought back on track, albeit without much results to show for it.

“Trixie, there’s far better things you can be doing with your time than trying to make me miserable. Besides, the last thing you want to do is make me your enemy. You do remember how I used to treat my enemies, right?” I wasn’t about to outright threaten Trixie, especially in front of so many people, but it felt fair to warn her of the potential consequences of her actions. I flashed a quick smile to reassure my adversary, and then reached under the table to produce a freshly opened bottle of fizzy. “Tell you what, have a fizzy cider on the house: just as a little ‘no hard feelings’ gift. I think we should just go our separate ways and try to stay out of each other’s hair from now on. How does that sound?”

Trixie frowned for a moment, but snatched the bottle from my hand regardless. “Trixie will consider your words, and accept this gift as a token of your forgiveness.”

I decided not to contest her interpretation, and allowed her to leave with what little dignity she had still intact. Once she was gone, I just rolled my eyes and went back to work.

“That was mighty sensible of you, Sunset,” Applejack commented out of the blue. “Most folk probably would’ve been too stubborn to try and take the high road with Trixie. I’m proud of ya!”

“Don’t be,” I said as I held up the spray canister. “I might have emptied this into Trixie’s cider.”

I was a bit nervous admitting that to my friend. It was not the sort of move somebody learning about friendship was supposed to pull. But Applejack just smirked and started laughing, although she was trying to keep up a polite facade.

“That was kinda mean,” Applejack said between chortles. “You probably shouldn’t have done that.” She was trying to voice her disapproval, but clearly having trouble hiding her enjoyment. Just because I was trying to be a better person didn’t mean I was going to be a pushover for the rest of my life.

Besides, Trixie still had my hat; I had to get some retribution for it.