• Published 1st Nov 2014
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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 V-III

When I first joined Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns as the Princess’ personal protege, I thought she knew everything there was to know about magic. She was, after all, the most gifted and magical pony in the entire kingdom, and it was natural for a naive, young filly to think that Celestia was the end-all, be-all when it came to magic. It wasn’t long into my studies before I realized that even if you combined all the knowledge of Celestia and other brilliant minds like Starswirl the Bearded and Coperneighcus, you would barely even scratch the surface when it came to magic.

Exploring the frontiers of magic and uncovering its long-lost secrets became a new passion of mine. Like many of my hobbies, though, it too fell victim to my growing ambitions, and my search for the unknown was corrupted by my need for more power. What easier way to surpass the Princess of Equestria than to gain knowledge that she lacked? It was a plan that proved to be about as foolproof as every other scheme of mine.

In the human world, I had figured my days of delving into the catacombs of arcane knowledge were behind me; my appetite for knowledge had to settle instead for quantum physics and calculus, which weren’t nearly as interesting for me. As mentally stimulating as they were, I had always preferred more hands-on exploration, and I could only stare at a textbook for so long before I yearned for the heat death of the universe.

That all changed, however, the day that Rainbow Dash decided to throw everything I knew about magic out the window before flying out of it herself. It was as though something dormant inside me had been stirred awake, albeit with all the subtlety of bashing it over the head with a crowbar.

I had to find the answers, and I vowed not to rest until I discovered the truth.

“Hey Sunset, we got your text message!” Applejack announced as she and the rest of my friends filed into their usual practise room at the school. With the exception of Pinkie Pie, each were carrying their instrument along with their puzzled expressions, no doubt wondering why I had urgently beckoned them to partake in some rehearsal.

In truth, my exact words were ‘need musics now!’ In my defense, I was a bit too excited to send a proper message.

“So what exactly is going o—holy sweet applesauce! What in blazes is all this stuff?”

The ‘stuff’ as Applejack so eloquently phrased it, was a large number of computers, sensors, and other lab equipment I had borrowed and jury-rigged together in the short period of time since Dash’s transformation the day before. I had tried my best to make enough space available for my friends to still rehearse, but one could only push aside so many industrial-strength power cables. The entire array flickered and hummed like the nerve center of a computer lab, accented only by the occasional sputter and flicker as some of my home-made equipment protested against the amperage being forced down their gullets.

“Just a little lab equipment I whipped together,” I explained as casually as one would detail the current weather. “We need to run some tests.”

“Are you okay, dear?” Rarity asked, trying her best to remain polite despite a growing sense of concern. “You’re looking a little… ragged.”

I found the question almost humorous, chuckling out loud while I grabbed another heavy-duty cable and plugged it into the computer array beside me. It coughed and churned to life to a symphony of beeps and bloops, followed by a loud vibration that required several strikes with a wrench to silence.

“Never felt better!” I insisted.

“And the dozen empty coffee cups?” Applejack inquired, directing everyone’s attention to the collection of paper cups strewn across the room.

“Seventeen, but who’s counting?” I corrected her. In retrospect, I may have taken that vow a bit too seriously. “I mean, I had considered trying to put in an IV line, but after the fifth cup my hands were shaking too much to make it work.”

Unsurprisingly, my friends were less than convinced of this. Still, after numerous promptings on my part, they began to set up their equipment in the only clearing at the center of the room. I had hoped for more enthusiasm from my friends, but they continued to glance about nervously at all the equipment around them, as if one of them would burst into flames at a moment’s notice.

“Now as you may know, Rainbow Dash was able to pony up yesterday without use of her instrument,” I said with the hopes that some explanations would help allay their fears.

“Yeah, we know. She hasn’t been able to shut up about it all day,” Applejack replied.

“Exactly, so that convinced me of how imperative it is that I deduce how magic works in this world, as it clearly doesn’t follow the normal laws of magic that we have in Equestria,” I continued to explain. “I stayed up all night getting all this equipment together so that I could properly monitor you five as you pony up using your instruments. If I can understand how the music influences your magic, then I can formulate a theory as to how it functions without music.”

I grabbed one of the aforementioned home-made devices, which consisted of a colander and an array of electrodes and wires, and proceeded to strap it down upon Fluttershy’s head. In my blind enthusiasm, I probably mistook her paralyzing fear for consent.

“Are you sure you don’t need some rest?” Fluttershy asked.

“One hundred and ten percent,” I once again insisted. “Did you know we spend almost eight hours a day sleeping? That’s a whole third of our life doing nothing! Imagine what I could accomplish with all that extra time.”

Yet again, my genius was ignored in favour of the pervasive sense of uncertainty and dread that continued to cling to the room like a bad odor. I opted to continue ignoring their concerns and went about hooking up the rest of my friends to the various monitoring equipment. Out of everyone, at least Pinkie Pie seemed to be somewhat enthusiastic about the idea, stating that all the electrodes I put on her made her feel like a ‘party robot.’

“Is this safe?” Applejack voiced yet more concerns.

“Don’t worry, I brought a fire extinguisher,” I said in order to demonstrate that I wasn’t being completely irresponsible. For some strange reason, that just seemed to worry them more than anything.

Undaunted by their lack of faith, I pressed forward and continued with the set-up. Soon, I had the entire band hooked up to every sort of sensor and computer analyzer that our school had available. It may not have been an array worthy of the great pony analysts of the past, but I was still just a high schooler.

Out of all of my friends, Rainbow Dash had remained the quietest during this time. However, while she didn’t object with words, her body language spoke volumes as she continued to shuffle and fidget against the cables, growing more impatient with my preparations.

“Can we just get on with this?” she finally spoke. “I feel like I’ve been standing here for hours!”

“It’s been fifteen minutes,” I shot back. “And I’m almost ready. I just need one last thing.”

Sadly, between the dozens of empty coffee cups, miles of cabling, and more discarded granola bar wrappers than I could count, the ‘one last thing’ in question appeared to be missing. Under normal circumstances, such a minor setback would’ve been ignored, but my mind, which by now was embalmed in pure caffeine, proceeded to go nuts.

“Wait a second, where did it go?” I called out in growing dismay before racing to the nearest pile of refuse to start sifting through it. Worry turned to panic in short order, again assisted by the twin cocktail of sleep deprivation and caffeine overload. My friends probably would’ve come over to assist but the sheer number of attached wires made it impossible to move without tripping everyone up. “Oh no! Nononononono! This can’t be happening! Not now!”

“Is everything okay, Sunset?” Rarity asked.

“No! Nothing is okay!” I shouted in response, dashing across the room to continue the search. “It’s gone missing! The most important part of this entire process is gone. What am I going to do? This is the worst possible thing ever!”

“And I thought Rarity could be a drama queen,” Applejack muttered under her breath.

Eventually, after nearly being hit by an empty cup I threw across the room in the midst of my search, Fluttershy spoke up. “Um, what exactly are you looking for?”

“My lab coat!” I shouted while throwing my arms up in borderline hysteria. “I can’t do science without my lab coat!”

“Sunset, we’re going to start playing now with or without you,” Rainbow Dash warned.

“One must always wear the proper vestments when in the temple of science!”

“Sunset!”

“Fine, fine! Can I at least get another cup of coffee before we start?”

“No!” my friends shouted in unison.

Despite my delusional misgivings and the pervasive dread that I was somehow offending the great gods of science, I nonetheless grabbed my clipboard and hurried over to my workstation. It was time to roll up my sleeves, get my hands dirty, and do some proper science and experimentation. Perhaps it was my nerves so addled by caffeine, but I felt a rush of excitement at the prospect of venturing once more into the unknown. Magic was unheard of in this world so I was pioneering this new field of research, except perhaps with the exception of Twilight Sparkle who was still oblivious to the true source of her research.

“Okay girls, now I want to start off with just some base-line readings,” I explained as I settled in behind my computer. “I just want you all to play together like you normally do, pony up, and then keep playing for a few more minutes.”

“Only you could make rocking out sound so boring,” Rainbow Dash remarked.

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” I tried to reassure her. “You won’t even notice I’m here.”

After a quick round of nervous glances and a silent but fruitless game of ‘who wants to tell Sunset she’s acting a little crazy,’ my friends turned their focus to their music. In hindsight, they were understandably nervous being asked to play while hooked up to a room full of questionable electronics, but at least one of them knew how to look past their fears.

“Beep boop, engaging party mode!” Pinkie shouted out before drumming out a steady rhythm for the others. Soon the others joined in and their fears were swept away in the music.

Sadly, my obsession with scientific pursuit left me fixated on my computer monitors rather than enjoying the music itself. In fact, it was barely even a minute into the solo before I started considering getting earplugs just so that I could focus on the results rather than the ‘obtrusive background noise.’ The fact that I considered it as such lent credence to just how addled my sleep-deprived mind was at that point. However, my focus was soon rewarded as streams of data began pouring into my computer, followed shortly thereafter by my friends turning into their pony forms one by one.

And each time one of my friends transformed, it was accompanied by a burst of new data: numbers rattling off by the scores, waveforms spiking, and a lot of things turning bold and red, which I didn’t realize was an issue until everything on the screen was flashing red.

“Oh, no! Stop pla—!”

In another moment of prophetic hindsight, I realized too late that the amount of magic the girls gave off when playing together was far more than what my computers could handle. Shoving that much energy and data through the computers was like trying to force a dump truck through your front door, and the end result was just as disastrous. With a single, echoing bang of protest, my computer belched out a thick cloud of rainbow-coloured smoke before falling dead and silent.

“My goodness, are you okay Sunset?” Rarity called out.

After a fit of coughing whilst clearing the air around me, I managed a weak thumbs up to reassure my friends. “Just… overloaded the computers a bit,” I explained. Attempts to get my computer working again were met with a sharp hiss and a spat of sparks. “Okay, girls, new plan: we test you one at a time.”

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

It took about a quarter of an hour to get my computers back up and running, much to the relief of the growing impatience of my friends. On the bright side, I did have their music to help motivate me along, though they kept the tempo light in order to avoid triggering their transformations again.

The new round of tests were going to be simpler, if only to avoid another electrical mishap. The last thing I needed was all my data being destroyed because I got too ambitious with my methods. I decided Fluttershy would be the first to test, if only because I theorized her gentle nature might mean that her magical output would be the least stressing on the machines.

“Okay Fluttershy, we’re all set to go. Are you ready?” I called out to my friend who stood nervously amidst a tangled mess of hanging cables.

“If I said ‘no,’ could we stop?” she replied.

“Come on, this is for science,” I reassured her. “Just do it for me, please?”

It took a little bit more coaxing, but eventually Fluttershy started shaking her tambourine about. Thankfully, despite being terrified of the stage, along with so many other things, she had a habit of getting lost in the music just like the rest of us. Within moments, a golden aura enveloped her and the magic spilled out in all its brilliance. Or at least, so I presumed since I was once more glued to my workstation, monitoring the sensor readings. Of particular interest was the oscilloscope’s readings, which was fluctuating in wild, unpredictable patterns, not to mention flashing in every colour of the spectrum, which was particularly confusing given the oscilloscope could only output in green.

“Fascinating,” I murmured to myself, scribbling notes all across my clipboard. “The measurements are unlike anything I’ve ever seen.” The patterns on the scope began to change and contort away from the typical wave-like pattern, forming a shape that I almost didn’t believe at first. “Is it me or does that look like a butterfly?”

Before anyone could even suggest an answer, there was sudden vibrant flash from Fluttershy’s direction. Apparently, her magic was only now just erupting out in full force, unleashing a swarm of colourful, shimmering butterflies throughout the room. And for some particular reason, many of these new fluttering friends decided to get nice and cozy with Rarity—perhaps having been attracted to all of her shiny jewelry. Sadly, the sentiments were not mutual.

“EEEEEK! They’re in my hair! They’re in my hair!” Rarity shrieked in distress.

“Don’t panic, Rarity, you’ll just—!”

My warnings came too late as she tried to flee from the technicolour swarms, only to trip over some of the power cables. The screams were soon replaced with a cascade of crashes as cables and equipment were ripped violently from their housings. While the noise did scare away all the magic butterflies, it left a good portion of my equipment in ruins.

“Sorry…”

“Not your fault, Fluttershy,” I sighed in response. “Hey, Rarity, are you okay?”

“Just peachy,” she groaned in response.

Refusing to let this setback deter me, I pressed forward with my next friend. “Who wants to go next?” I called for a volunteer.

“I’ll go,” Applejack said as she stepped forward. Her willingness was a refreshing change and I hurried to get her connected to one of the still-intact monitors, lest she change her mind in the interim. “Listen, Sunset,” she began as I attached additional sensor nodes to her, “I can appreciate your hands-on, go-get-em approach, but is all this really necessary?”

I just laughed right back at her. “Necessary? Ha! Was it necessary for Forssmane to demonstrate the feasibility of cardiac catheterization by conducting it on himself?” I replied.

“I have literally no idea how to respond to that.”

“You can start by playing,” I instructed. “Trust me, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Seeing no other way forward, Applejack began strumming her bass guitar, putting out a steady melody that the others were able to enjoy while they waited. Ever dutiful, I paid more careful attention to the data outputs in order to avoid any further accidents. After about half-a-minute, I caught a glimpse of Applejack hovering a few feet off the ground in the midst of her own transformation. Not wanting to overload anything this time, I decided to stop this particular experiment short.

“That’s enough, AJ. Just stop for a second,” I instructed.

Though surprised by my request, Applejack nonetheless complied. As the music faded, she settled back on the ground and her pony accessories faded from sight. “Did I do something wrong?” she asked.

“I just want to get a bit of preliminary data before we get too far,” I explained. Tapping a few keys, one of the computer stations began printing out some of those results. There was a surge of excitement as I tore away the first page and looked it over. “Okay, according to these numbers… ‘Your greatest fear is your own ambition.’ Hold on, why would it even say that?” I quickly checked the second print-out to see what it contained. “‘Also, clowns.’ How did this—I wasn’t even testing for that!”

Off to the side, Applejack and Rainbow Dash tried, and failed, to hide their snickering.

“This machine is clearly defective!” I shouted in frustration before delivering an unceremonious and poorly-thought-out kick, which just hurt both my foot and my pride. “Okay, we’re moving on to plan C. Rarity, front and center!”

“There’s no need to shout,” Rarity politely reminded me.

My ever-decreasing patience was not lost on me, prompting a defeated sigh on my part. “You’re right,” I admitted, “I’m sorry, I’m just—this is getting very frustrating for me. It’s like the answers are dangling in front of me, taunting me by staying just out of reach.”

I turned away from my friends in order to avoid further shame. It was finally setting in that in my overzealous pursuit, I wasn’t being very kind or fair to them. The stress was getting to me and I was taking it out on others, and that realization just made that feeling worse. My friends, however, demonstrated that they were far more forgiving and understanding than I was being as, one-by-one, they swarmed me in an uplifting group hug.

“It’s okay, darling, we’ve all been there before,” Rarity reassured me. “We’ve all held ourselves to lofty expectations before and then struggled to meet them. We know that frustration.”

“You just need to take a deep breath and remember that you don’t have to solve every mystery in a day,” Fluttershy added.

Applejack soon joined in on the uplifting advice with her typical brand of country idioms. “Exactly! You just gotta tackle this problem one apple tree at time.”

And for some reason Pinkie Pie tossed in a quick, “Beep!”

I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean, but it was nonetheless comforting to hear her voice as well.

“And you were right, this has been pretty fun despite all the science stuff,” Rainbow Dash chimed in at the end. “It’s not nearly as boring as I thought it would be.”

And just like that, all the guilt and shame melted away. It was still a strange feeling to have people rush to my side at the slightest hint of depression with nothing but the intention of uplifting my spirits, as opposed to my old ways where I homed in on the emotionally isolated with all the good intentions of a cruise missile.

“You girls are the best,” I sighed contently once my emotional batteries had been recharged. “If you want, we can finish the rest of this later.”

“Well we’re already here and set up, there’s no harm in finishing,” Rarity suggested, followed by a round of nodding heads.

“Would you be willing to go next?” I offered.

“Of course, darling, I’d be happy to,” she replied.

I directed her back to the clearing at the center of the room and set about prepping some new equipment for the next battery of tests. “Now for this test, it will be important for you to try and stay still,” I instructed. “I’m going to be using a series of lasers to—”

“Lasers?” Dash interjected in a burst of excitement.

With a roll of my eyes and a quiet chuckle under my breath, I quickly explained, “They’re for measuring thermal energy and other outputs along the electromagnetic spectrum.”

“And now that sounds boring,” Dash sighed in defeat. She fell into a chair near the window and propped her feet up on one of the amps. “Congratulations, you made lasers boring.”

Rarity’s enthusiasm began to waiver again when she saw just how many lasers I had set up: at least a dozen attached to a couple of steel poles so they could be aimed at various points along her body. It was almost like a laser-powered holiday tree, minus the tree, presents, and everything else that people associated with the holidays.

“Now just remember, Rarity, you’ll want to try and minimize any excessive body movement,” I reiterated one of the more crucial parts of the experiment. “Also, don’t look directly into the lasers.”

With a flick of the proverbial switch, I activated the sensor array and signaled for the band’s pianist to work her magic. This time around, I wanted to see her transformation as quickly as possible so Rarity went for one of her favourite solos, unleashing a dazzling display of rhythm and magic. Her radiance became accentuated by a flurry of magic diamonds that began to swarm around her. As mesmerizing as the display was, though, her new accessories began refracting all of my lasers, creating a light show across the ceilings and walls. The others enjoyed the show, of course, letting out a chorus of ‘ooo’s and ‘ah’s as streaks of lasers danced above, but the display was throwing all of my measurements out of the window.

For a brief moment, however, I allowed myself the opportunity the enjoy the spectacle as well. Who said science had to be bland and boring, after all? It was almost breath-taking in its beauty. It was majestic; it was awe-inspiring.

And then it was going straight into my eye.

“GAH! My eyes!” With all the grace of a drunk and blind ballerina, I yelped and flailed in panic. Once again, the copious quantities of cables reached out and grabbed hold of me, sending me cascading to the ground and dragging all the laser sensors along with me. The experiment was brought to a crashing halt with my friends swarming to my side.

“Okay, I take back what I said about lasers being boring,” Dash said as she and the others hovered over me. “Are you okay, Sunset? How many fingers am I holding up?”

My eyes were still welded shut so I couldn’t answer even if I had wanted to. “My god, it’s full of stars,” I groaned once I tried to see the world again. “No, wait, that’s just my retinas burning in agony.”

“Maybe we ought to take a break,” Applejack suggested.

“Noooo!” I groaned in protest. “Must continue the experiment. Just… just somebody help me up.” I pawed at the air for a few moments before one of my friends grabbed my hands and helped hoist me back to my feet. “Thanks, Fluttershy.”

“It’s me, silly,” Pinkie Pie answered instead. “Fluttershy’s behind you.”

I squinted and leaned for a closer look. “Eh, close enough for jazz, I guess.”

“Oh, can I try that next? Jazz sounds like fun!” said our drummer, now bouncing in excitement.

At least I could count on Pinkie remaining gung-ho, even when the experiments had proven to be one mishap after another. But if she wasn’t going to be dissuaded then I wasn’t going to give up either. Since a good portion of my equipment had been rendered useless thanks to the experiments thus far, I opted for something simpler and more robust. I attached a number of electrode leads to my friend, which would feed biometric data into the remaining computers. Trying to measure the effects of magic directly had proven problematic, so I decided to try measuring its indirect effects on the human body.

As Pinkie began with a steady beat, I turned my attention to my monitors. I needed her drumming for a few minutes in order to establish a baseline of her physiological responses.

“Good, good,” I murmured to myself in the midst of my note-taking. “Oxygen saturation is at maximum, respiration rate is steady, pressure is good, and pulse rate is steadily increasing.”

The pulse rate was the only thing changing, as to be expected with the increased activity. I watched with intense focus as the coloured line pulsed across the screen, jumping up and down in a steady, rhythmic fashion—up and down, up and down, one after the other.

One beat.

Two beats.

Three beats.

There was something almost hypnotic about the readings. A sudden spell of drowsiness washed over me; my eyelids felt heavier and heavier with each passing pulse. I swear, even the noise it made started to sound like ‘sleep… sleep… sleep…’

It made for a very compelling argument, or at least so it seemed at the time. There was no reason I couldn’t shut my eyes for a little while: Pinkie was so busy drumming she wouldn’t even notice me sleeping, and the computer was recording all the data regardless. Resting my forehead against the monitor for support, I was whisked off to the land of puffy white clouds and blissful dreams.

Sadly, my brief stint in dreamworld was short-lived; I was jarred awake by an abrupt upswing in the drumming, accentuated by a loud ‘watch out!’ What my friends were warning me about was the barrage of several dozen balloons of every shape and size imaginable, which had been launched from the drum set like some kind of balloon-cannonade. There was no time for me to dodge, and all I could do was try to shield myself from the coming onslaught with my clipboard. The barrage struck with all the ferocity of a thousand leaves of paper, which made sense since they were all just made of rubber and lots of air. Had I been more awake, I would’ve realized it sooner rather than bracing myself and looking like an idiot as the balloons bounced off me or whisked through my hair.

“Sunset, are you okay?” Applejack promptly called out.

Taking a few seconds just to collect all of my senses after such an abrupt wake-up, I gave a smile and a thumbs-up to let everyone know I was still intact. Magical or not, they were still just balloons.

“Heh. You know, for a second I was expecting an explosion or something,” I chuckled back.

“I didn’t accidentally ruin your science, did I?” Pinkie asked.

“It’s fine—the computer’s been recording the data anyways,” I reassured her. “In fact, let me just hit the save button before I lose any of this data.”

Unfortunately, I had neglected to take into consideration what happens when scores of balloons rustle through your hair. The moment my finger came within an inch of the computer terminal, there came a static jolt of such resonance that even the god of thunder would’ve stood up and paid respect.

The next thing I knew I was laying on the ground, staring at the ceiling with the biggest headache known to man and pony-kind.

“Wowee! I didn’t know a person could jump like that!” Pinkie exclaimed as she and the others rushed to my side.

“Why do my feet feel weird?” I murmured, still disorientated.

“Probably cause your boots are still on the other side of the room,” Applejack answered. “Now come on Sunset, let’s get you up.”

With Dash’s assistance, Applejack hoisted me back to my feet and then lent their support as I stumbled back to my workstation. There was a massive scorch mark across the now-cracked screen, and several of the keys had been melted into unrecognizable blobs. The scent of scorched plastics and solder was the key detail that let me know that the machine was, in technical terms, bricked.

“I am beginning to notice an unfortunate trend with this experiment,” I sighed, overwhelmed by exhaustion, pain, and disappointment. “Well this has been a waste of a day—barely any good data at all, and a whole lot of broken computers I’m going to have to explain to Celestia afterwards. This is so coming out of my allowance…”

“You know what I think?” Dash said as she pulled me away from the smoldering remains of my broken dreams. “You are way too tense right now—you need to unwind a bit.”

“I think she needs a whole lot more than just that,” Applejack chimed in, but was promptly ignored by her friend.

“I think it’s time for you to let loose a little,” Dash suggested as she hefted up her guitar and shoved it into my arms.

I stared at my friend in disbelief for a few moments while awkwardly cradling her precious guitar in my arms like a bundle of firewood. “Are you sure that’ll actually help?” I replied.

“Positive.”

Rainbow Dash’s assertions were further bolstered when the rest of my friends nodded in approval. If they thought a little time on the guitar would help me relax, then who was I to argue? I was the person, after all, who thought staying up all night modifying computers and lab equipment was a good use of time, and look where that got me.

“Could we at least plug me into my laptop so I can record the output?” I asked, hoisting up a few cables.

“Fine,” Rainbow said, laughing quietly to herself while slowly shaking her head. “Can’t just shut off that brain for a minute, can you?”

“I don’t like being in the dark about things, especially things that can cause problems for me,” I explained. After a few moments of testing the chords on the guitar, I felt confident enough to try out a few solos. “Okay girls, let’s see how much I still remember.”

I started off slow, strumming out a few chords as I worked into a steady pace. I was still fighting varying levels of fatigue and frustration, so my focus was scattered worse than Pinkie Pie’s. Little by little, thoughts and worries about magic began to drift from my mind, carried away on the steady current of the beat. Tensions slowly melted away, replaced by the warmth of the music inside me. The tempo picked up its pace, and my hips swayed side to side as the music flowed through me. In no time at all, my troubles were barely an afterthought and I was no less concerned about magic than I was about what note to play next, each of which flowed from my fingertips with barely a thought to them. I could hear my friends clapping and cheering, but if they were saying anything in particular, I couldn’t tell. I was lost in the catharsis.

My spirit soared with every note, and soon I felt as light on my feet as I did in my heart. It was only then that I realized how literal that feeling was when I chanced a quick glance downward and noticed I was levitating above the ground. I didn’t care enough to say anything, though, nor interrupt my playing. It was as though there was this fire burning inside, growing more intense with the music, and it was screaming to be released. Far be it for me to deny what my heart cried out for, so I ended my solo with one final crescendo, and let the magic explode in a blaze of sound and fury.

I wasn’t sure how it was for the others, but for me, ponying up provided a strange sense of comfort; it was like slipping on your favourite sweater on a cold winter evening. It was the small piece of home I could still carry with me. As my feet touched down, I remained silent and basked in the warmth of my transformation, which was far more intense than I remembered it being.

“Sunset, you’re on fire!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed.

“Heh, that was pretty impressive, wasn’t it?” I replied with a modest chuckle.

“No, I mean you’re actually on fire!”

“What do you me—Oh sweet Celestia’s horn!”

Perhaps if I had been paying more attention, I would’ve noticed that all my magic-infused music was overwhelming my poor, little laptop. Rather than just coughing and fizzing out, however, it decided to quit the mortal realm with a funeral pyre. I must’ve stood too close to the flames as there was now a section of my coat ablaze.

Panicked didn’t even begin to describe my mad scramble to wriggle free of my coat with one arm while keeping Rainbow’s guitar a safe distance from the flames with the other. Once I was free, I threw the coat onto the ground where Applejack, as the only sensible one of us it seems, blasted it and my laptop with a fire extinguisher.

Any sense of relaxation or ease I may have had were now as smothered as the flames had been. I sighed, staring in disbelief at the powder-covered remains of two of the most significant possessions in my life.

“Are you okay?” Rarity asked, putting an arm across my shoulders.

“I really liked that coat,” I whimpered.

“I guess that answers my question about whether that was real leather or the fake kind,” my friend added in a quiet mutter under her breath.

“I give up,” I groaned in dismay. I sulked on over to a nearby pile of cables and cords and sat down in the middle of it like a deflated beanbag chair. “I have no idea how magic works in this world.”

“Sunset, dear, I know things didn’t go too well today, but you can’t let it get you down,” Rarity tried to offer some reassurances. “It might be a good time, though, to step back and collect yourself before making another attempt. And you can look on the bright side.”

“What bright side?” I replied.

“Well, now we have the perfect opportunity to update your wardrobe,” she suggested. “I mean, I know you liked that coat but I think you’re due for a new make-over to help differentiate the new Sunset Shimmer from the old one.”

Despite the timing being a bit out of place, Rarity did have a good point. I had done so much to turn my life around, perhaps it would be good for me to shed the look that accompanied the old me for so long and adopt a new style. If her intention had been to give me something better to think about, it definitely worked.

“If you ask me, if Sunset wants to get to the bottom of this magic problem, she should get help from a magic expert,” Dash suggested.

“We don’t have any of those,” Applejack deadpanned, parroting the same thought that I had. “Wait a moment, you better not be thinking that crazy theory that I think you are.”

“It’s not crazy! I’m telling you—Daring Do is real!”

Whatever Rainbow Dash and Applejack were arguing about, I wasn’t paying enough attention to make out any further detail. In fact, wherever their conversation went, it was something that I was going to have to concern myself with at another time. Once I was off my feet, it didn’t take long for me to be whisked away once again to dreamland, and this time for a good, long while.