• Published 1st Nov 2014
  • 15,421 Views, 1,499 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 I-III

First day back and I was already running late. I couldn’t understand how this happened, but there was little point ruminating upon the root causes of my latest travesty. No, the only thing that mattered was barreling down the hallway as fast as my legs could carry me in order to reach the classroom before Mr. Cranky locked me out. It would have been fitting justice, though, given how many times I had deliberately caused delays for other students so that they would have to deal with Mr. Cranky’s particular brand of discipline.

The halls were empty, which meant I made good time racing up the stairs. Though I did not want to trumpet my arrival by slamming through the door, gasping for air, I had few options if I wanted to avoid bouncing off a locked door like a tennis ball. It was odd that there weren’t more stragglers in the hall, especially those more notorious for it like Snails or Vinyl Scratch. Their whereabouts, however, were a distant concern when I spotted my destination up ahead. After making sure one last time that my backpack was still full of my required texts, I hurried my pace and prayed to Celestia that I wasn’t about to dislocate my collarbone in five seconds.

Much was my relief when the door gave way, heralding my tardy arrival with a loud ‘thud’, followed by uncharacteristic silence. It took me a few seconds, after I caught my breath, to realize that the classroom was completely empty. And I don’t mean that it was empty in that there were no students; it was completely devoid of anything and everything save for a single desk and a large, high-back chair facing away from me. It appeared more like I was in the principal’s office than math class.

“Is anybody here?” I called out.

The answer I got was the door behind me suddenly slamming shut. Driven by confusion, I tested the door only to discover that it was locked, which should have been impossible unless somebody managed to install the door knob backwards. One didn’t need to be an academic to realize that something was horribly awry with the situation.

“This isn’t funny,” I shouted while attempting in vain to force the door open.

“What’s the matter? Isn’t this what you wanted?” a voice finally broke the silence. It sounded familiar: cocksure and filled with malice.

“To be locked inside an empty classroom? Yeah, it’s my wildest dreams come true,” I snapped back. The voice had definitely come from inside the room, with the only possible source being the turned-away chair.

“To be left alone,” the voice replied as I walked towards the source. “Nobody to get in your way or annoy you. You’ve never needed anybody before. It’s how you’ve always been—all you’ve ever known.”

Despite its familiarity, I was no closer to figuring out who the taunting voice was. I wasn’t in the mood for guessing games, however, so I just grabbed the chair by the headrest and prepared to give it a hefty spin.

“And how do you know what I want?” I asked just before turning the chair. That’s when I found myself staring face-to-face with myself, or rather a demonic version of me.

Eyes as black as night stared back at me, sending a petrifying chill up my spine. Twisted lips curled into a sinister smirk, revealing the horrid fangs beneath. “I think the how should be pretty obvious,” she replied.

“This... this can’t be real,” I stammered, staggering back a few steps.

She didn’t let me slip away, however, rising to her feet and swooping around to my side. Claw-tipped fingers draped across my shoulders, squeezing just tight enough to give me pause without drawing blood.

“And why does it matter what’s real? Don’t you remember what it felt like when we were together? With all that power at your fingertips, ‘real’ was whatever you willed it to be.” She leaned in, close enough so that I could feel a stinging warmth against my neck as she spoke. “How could you ever turn your back on me? On everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve. We deserve each other.”

“I got exactly what I deserved when I was left at the bottom of that smoking crater,” I snapped back before pushing away from the demon. “You’re not a part of me anymore, and I’m a better person for it.”

“Oh, how precious! You almost sound convinced of that. Look at yourself now: everything you have has been tossed to you like coins to a beggar. What pride can you take in the pity you’ve been receiving?” she continued to taunt. She followed in step behind me, this time wrapping her arms over my shoulders and then pulling me into an embrace. “You can never get rid of me. I’m the fire that burns in your soul, driving you forward. You’re nothing without me.”

There was something burning inside, but it wasn’t motivation. I pulled free from her grasp once more, this time turning about and shoving the demon back. “You were nothing but hate!”

“And that hate has always been what made you strong!” she snarled back, fangs bared. “It doesn’t matter which side of the mirror you’re on, the world is always the same: full of useless feelings, pitiful weakness, and fleeting minds. Everyone always so content with what meagre little they have, and they parade it around like they should be proud of their tiny and pathetic so-called accomplishments! You never want to be like them, weak and insignificant, and that’s why you’ve always pushed to be stronger and smarter than the rest.”

“There was no strength with you. All I had were delusions,” I argued back. I could feel a burning rage beginning to well up inside. I had no doubt the other me was trying to provoke a hostile reaction, so I tried my best to fight down those feelings. “Twilight and her friends showed me what real strength is, and it’s a lot better than anything I could have ever achieved with you!”

“Oh yes, and that’s why you’re so strong now,” she said with an insulting laugh. “Friendship hasn’t strengthened you; it’s only keeping you underfoot. It’s working too—you already tremble at the thought of going back to school. One little shove and you were already running away.”

“Th-that’s different! I was confused! I...I panicked.”

“You were weak! And here I thought the blue-haired bimbo that pushed you around was pathetic. You’re embarrassing just to watch!” To add emphasis to her point, she gave me a nice, sharp tap to the chest. I recoiled away, grasping at the tear her claw left in my shirt. “See what I mean? Nothing but fear and anxiety now. You used to be great, but now you’re just pitiful. You’ve become everything that you hate in the world.”

The anger inside had reached its breaking point. “The only thing I hate is you!” I screamed as I threw my fist at her. When I struck the demon, though, it did not give way as a person should, but instead I heard the crashing of shattering glass as the mirror now standing before me crumbled into pieces. In the shards at my feet, I could still see the demon’s reflection, except now she just stared back with a weary gaze, the same as mine.

If I thought I would finally get some peace, I was horribly mistaken. The silence was shattered as the door leading in was broken down. For a brief moment, it looked as though I would have my freedom, but then in poured the students of Canterlot High, and they did not looked happy to see me. Fear flooded through my mind faster than the students filled the room, all of them glaring at me with hate and vengeance in their eyes.

“There she is! There’s the monster!” one of them shouted as they began to swarm around me. It didn’t take long for me to get backed into a corner. Fear did not even begin to describe what I felt. Bowel-loosening terror would be slightly more apt.

“Please, d-don’t come any closer,” I begged as my back pressed against the wall. “I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry! Just don’t hurt me!”

They didn’t relent. The crowds drew closer, hands outstretched and ready to tear me apart, figuratively and perhaps even literally. “Why? You never stopped for us!” one student shouted.

“Where was our mercy?” said another.

“Just leave me alone!” I screamed, curling into a ball in the corner. “Just stay away!”

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

I awoke with a startled gasp, bolting upright as a cold sweat began to trickle down my forehead. A heightened sense of vigilance drove my vision to dart about the room, looking for signs of danger, but there was nothing. I wasn’t in a classroom about to be lynched by an angry mob, but in a bed in Celestia’s home. It was empty save for a few dressers and a large wardrobe on the far side of the room. The only movement was a shadow of some tree branches dancing across the wall beside me. With the exception of the jackhammering of my heart, not a sound could be heard.

I was safe, my mind eventually decided after several seconds, nestled beneath the down-filled duvet of my new bed. There was nothing to fear in what Celestia said was to be my new bedroom, even if I did still hesitate to refer to it as such. It figures that my first night in a decent bed would end with a bad dream. Perhaps I should not have put so much guacamole in my fajitas yesterday.

It was strange to be sleeping in a different bed. Despite the poor quality of the one I had used for the past few years, I had grown so used to it that everything felt off when I tried to sleep now. It was as though my subconscious decided that ‘comfort’ was not something that I deserved just yet. Either way, I decided to stretch my legs with a quick trip to the kitchen. It was early in the morning, long enough for me to feel rested, but still a while to go until school started.

Another thing I had to get used to now that I was living under Celestia’s roof was the new layout. In my old apartment, everything was in plain sight, but now I had to go through the hall and down the stairs if I wanted to get something from the kitchen. Along the way, I passed by Luna’s room, which I had been stipulated by an extremely inebriated vice principal that I was not to enter under any circumstances. It was an odd rule, but I just chalked it up to Luna being a private person and left it at that.

Everything in Celestia’s home was neat and organized, much like its owner: every picture frame hung at perfect levels with equal spacing; shoes were organized in neat rows next to the front door; and the vase full of flowers in the main hall was delicately arranged so that every flower was afforded an unobstructed view of the world. Even the air smelled pristine, which should not have been a point of note for most people unless you lived like I had: down the hall from somebody who worked as a butcher at a seafood market. Years of smelling cod and halibut did far more to turn me away from meat than my years living as a pony.

When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I noticed that there was a light on in the kitchen. Given the level of care and attention that Celestia gave to the rest of the room, it was unlikely she would have been so careless as to leave a kitchen light on overnight.

Sitting inside the kitchen at the little island at the center, elbows propped upon the black granite countertop, was Celestia herself. A newspaper was unfurled before her, which she read in silence between sips of coffee. It took a few more steps before she noticed my arrival. Nothing was said at first; our eyes met and I flashed a brief, awkward smile to her. I was trying to keep an open mind about my new living arrangements, but it was hard not to be reminded of the other Celestia when the one before me was draped in an ivory white bathrobe.

“Good morning,” Celestia finally greeted. “I’m surprised to see you up so early.”

“First night on a new bed is always the hardest,” I answered before heading to the fridge.

One could derive a lot of information about a home from the contents of their fridge: a jug of filtered water, a half-empty carton of eggs, two crisper drawers packed with fruits and vegetables, two cartons of skim milk, two bottles of caffeine-laden Alpine Mist soda, and a roll of pre-packaged jerkys. There was a definite dichotomy between some of the items—one part caffeine junkie to two-parts health nut. From what I could recall of the prior night, it wasn’t hard for me to deduce which of the sisters were responsible for the various purchases.

“I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer at the moment other than water and skimmed milk,” Celestia offered as an apology. “Perhaps later I can take you grocery shopping and we can find some items that you would prefer.”

“No, it’s okay,” I insisted as I grabbed one of the milk cartons. “You don’t need to go out of your way just for me. I’ve adjusted once before, I can do it again.” I popped open the carton and was about to take a swig from it when Celestia shot over a disapproving glare. “Oh...right. Sorry,” I said upon realizing my folly. “Force of habit.”

Celestia pointed over to some overhead cabinets next to the fridge. “Glasses are in there,” she said. “There’s some bread next to the toaster if you’d like some breakfast as well.”

While it felt a bit early for breakfast, I decided to go for it anyways. Toast had been my usual breakfast over the past few years, so even without Celestia’s invitation, I would’ve chosen it anyways. I did note that Celestia appeared to prefer her bread rye, which was a nice change of pace from the cheapest-on-the-shelf white stuff that I had been eating for years.

“Where’s your sister?” I asked while I waited for the toaster to finish its job.

“Still sleeping,” Celestia answered with a smirk. “It’s a good thing you woke up when you did; saves you from Luna’s wake-up call in about—” she paused and checked the nearby wall clock, “—five minutes, forty-five seconds.”

That was eerily precise, but I was too preoccupied with my own thoughts to question it. My recent dream had been dancing atop my mind ever since I woke up. Despite reminding myself that it was just a random concoction of my subconscious, I could not help but shake the feeling that it was trying to tell me something. It was spot-on about my recent bout of self-loathing, but I didn’t need a manifestation of my subconscious to remind me of that obvious fact. Besides, feeling horrid about my past actions just meant that at least my conscience was alive and kicking once more, even if it felt like it was stomping on my chest with three-inch stiletto heels.

Once I had my toast, I took a seat at the island across from Celestia. She glanced up from her newspaper and gave me another awkward, reassuring smile. One could see that she felt almost as out of place as I did. It was hard to stop being a principal to somebody you’ve only ever known as a student, especially when you’re still in your sleepwear.

“So should I still call you Principal Celestia?” I asked in order to crack the silence.

“I think that’ll only be necessary when we’re at school,” she answered.

I didn’t know what else to say at that point, and it appeared that neither did Celestia. Perhaps it was too early in our new relationship to try and force dialogue. As such, we didn’t say much else until a few minutes later when there came a sudden, terrified howl from upstairs, followed by a loud thud.

“Tia!” Luna’s voice roared from up the stairs.

When I glanced back to the aforementioned sister, she was smirking and clearly doing her best to refrain from laughing in front of me.

“What was that?”

“How should I know?” Celestia replied, feigning innocence. “However, if I had to guess, I would say that somebody turned the volume up on Luna’s cell phone alarm, and then plugged it into her favourite pair of headphones, which by chance she may have been wearing.”

“That’s an oddly specific guess,” I replied, no less confused than before.

“With any luck, that’ll help her realize that she should not drink so much on school nights.”

Up until then, a part of me had been somewhat fearful of Luna and had taken solace in knowing that Celestia would be looking out for me. Now, however, it appeared that I had reason to be equally worried about both sisters. A few moments later, a visibly annoyed Luna came storming into the kitchen.

“Good morning, Luna, did you sleep well?” Celestia greeted with a cheerful smile.

Luna said nothing; she only scowled for a moment before grabbing Celestia’s coffee and heading for the toaster. To my surprise, the older sister did not seem bothered by this act of retaliation and just went back to reading the newspaper. I began to seriously wonder just what kind of household I had been dragged into. These two were not the hard-working professionals that I had grown to know over the years at Canterlot High. It made me wonder what other surprises were in store for me during my stay with them.

“By the way, if there’s anything that you might need from your apartment for class, we can swing by there before we take you to school,” Celestia informed me.

“I’m going to school with you?” I questioned. “As in, riding along in the back seat in the same car as you?”

“We could put you in the trunk, but I believe there are laws against such treatment,” Luna quipped as she took a seat next to her sister. She then helped herself to some of Celestia’s toast while still sipping from the stolen coffee mug. Whether this was regular behavior or simply revenge, I neither knew nor felt inclined to find out.

“Is that really necessary? I could walk to school from my apartment,” I suggested as an alternative.

“Forgive us if we want to make sure you arrive at school this time,” Luna answered, earning herself a silent glare from her sister. Either she did not notice Celestia’s disapproval or she simply did not care, but either way it was obvious that Luna was still exercising caution with me. To be fair, were the situation reversed, I would’ve dragged her to school with a leash.

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

Though I had enough misgivings about being chaperoned to school by Celestia and Luna to fill the back end of a pickup truck, I held my tongue during the actual car ride. My presence had created enough of a rift between the siblings and I did not want to antagonize things any further. I worried what other students would think if they saw me arriving with the two top administrators of Canterlot High. They might see it as ‘added security’, which would only play into the continued notion that I was some threat that needed to be monitored. Conversely, though, perhaps it was for the best that I had somebody forcing me to return, even if Celestia insisted that she would not force anything upon me. My anxieties had already driven me away from the school once, and I doubt yesterday would be the only time such thoughts would cross my mind.

I was snapped from my downward spiral of anxieties when I heard a knocking on the glass next to my head. I had become so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I didn’t even notice our arrival, and Celestia was waiting for me on the other side of the door.

“Are you coming?” she asked, waving a hand gesture for me to extricate myself.

I sank further into my seat until I could only just barely see over the edge of the door. “Is the coast clear?” I replied.

“Embarrassed to be seen with me?” Celestia said with a chuckle.

“That presumes I have any dignity left,” I grumbled. “I just...don’t want people getting the wrong impression.”

Celestia just smirked and rolled her eyes. “What do you think is more likely to result in you being seen? The five seconds it takes for you to get out of the car, or however much time that will pass by as I stand here trying to coax you out? I might even start to speak louder, just so that everyone in the parking lot can hear me.”

“Touché,” I sighed in resignation. If she kept this up, I’d reach a point where I’d be more afraid of her than I would be of what might be waiting for me at the school. Perhaps that was her intention from the very start, though that would require a certainly degree of ruthlessness that I doubt she possessed. “There’s still more than half an hour until school begins,” I commented as I stepped out. “What am I supposed to do in the meantime?”

“You’re free to wait in the main office until class starts,” Celestia offered. “However, I believe I saw one of your friends near the front of the school when we drove in.”

Even though the parking lot looked almost deserted of any other students, it still did not ease my concerns or the fear that people would see me. I eventually convinced myself that this was just paranoia.

As tempting as hiding in an office would be, there was no reason to not start spending time with my new ‘friends,’ as they described themselves. Besides, hanging out in Celestia’s office would only strengthen the narrative that I was still a menace to the populace. If I were to rebuild my image, a process that I suspect would not be too unlike rolling a boulder up an endless hill, I would have to take the initiative.

Lucky for me, few students arrived this early so I had little risk of being hassled just yet. With the exception for the various clubs and sports teams, there was little reason for anybody to wake up this early in the day unless you really liked school, and the only people who did were the nerds and overachievers. Nobody would ever have mistaken me for either of those groups because that would technically be an improvement over my current social standing, if you could consider ‘face down in the dirt’ a standing.

A part of me had been suspicious that Celestia’s remarks about one of my friends being out front was just a ruse to get me moving. Thankfully, it was one of many occasions where I was glad my suspicions were unfounded—I spotted Fluttershy out by the main statue. As the saying went, fortune favored the bold, though I didn’t want to be too bold or I might scare her off, so I headed on over to say hello.

Much like the animals that she cared for, one had to be cautious when approaching Fluttershy, even in her natural environment. Even outside with nothing but grass beneath her feet, the cool fall breeze in the air, and vast open ground on all sides, Fluttershy was always alert; always ready to run at the first sign of danger. One incorrect step, a decibel too loud, or even just a sudden hand movement would be enough to set off her fight-or-flight instincts, which were permanently hardwired into ‘flight’ only.

With great diligence and care, I approached my new friend, taking every precaution I could as to avoid startling her—a slow approach from a wide angle in plain view and a calm, even-toned greeting.

“Good morning, Fluttershy.”

“EEEK!” With a shriek, her whole body went into a seizure-like fit, throwing a scatter of leaflets into the air.

Why did I even bother?

It took her a few seconds to calm down, after which we were both profusely embarrassed and apologetic.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you,” I began. I quickly swooped in to gather some of the leaflets before the breeze carried them off.

“Oh, it’s not your fault,” Fluttershy replied. “I wasn’t quite expecting you so soon.” It took us a few minutes to chase down all the loose leaflets, and it was only afterwards that Fluttershy finally got around to asking, “What are you doing here so early?”

“Just...avoiding the crowds,” I explained. It was kind of like the truth—I did want to avoid the crowds. A part of me did feel bad about starting my new life off with a half-hearted white lie, and even though she was about as threatening as the rabbit she carried in her backpack, I was still too embarrassed to admit openly that I was living with the principal. “What about you?”

“I’m just handing out some flyers for the animal shelter,” Fluttershy said before showing me one of the leaflets we had gathered. “I usually only do this on Wednesday, but they’re having a big ‘adopt one get one free’ event this weekend to help with overcrowding.”

Handing out leaflets before school sounded about as entertaining as a visit to the dentist; however, friendship, as I had been told, was about helping each other. Fluttershy and the others were going out of their way by a country mile to help me out, the least I could do was hand out some papers. In fact, it felt like it literally was the least I could do.

However, baby steps were needed, I told myself, lest I wind up running off a cliff in my eagerness.

“Would you like some help with that?” I asked, putting on the most sincere expression I could fake at a quarter-past seven in the morning. “I could hand out some of those flyers for you.”

“Really?” Fluttershy replied with a mixture of surprise and diminutive enthusiasm. “Are you sure you don’t mind? I don’t want to be a bother.”

“It’s no bother at all, really,” I insisted. Deciding not to give Fluttershy the time to second-guess herself, I grabbed a hefty pile and headed off to stake out a high-traffic plot of land to begin my new job. No point in both of us petitioning on the same spot. I figured the more exposure, the more help Fluttershy would receive in the end. I was just handing out flyers, after all, how hard could it be?

However, upon reaching a nice spot near the school’s side entrance, I realized there was a problem in my master plan. My brilliant scheme to hand out flyers had a fatal flaw—I had to hand out flyers. I don’t think I could convince the school population to throw me a bucket of water if I was on fire, let alone give heed to anything I might recommend. Too late to back out now.

“Get a grip, Sunset!” I scorned myself. “You do not back down when things get a little rough. You are going to hand out these flyers and help those animals!”

It wouldn’t be long before I noticed a nearby student on an approach vector. My target was sighted, my payload ready, and hands ready to deploy. Judging by his attire, he was from one of the sports teams, heading to the locker rooms to get changed before class began. I stood between him and his objective, so there was no way he could elude me. With purity in intent and nobility in my heart, I made my move.

“Good morning, um...spiky haired guy! The animal shelter is having a two-for-one special on adoptions this weekend.” I tried to give him my friendliest smile, but I worried that it may have come off more ‘sociopath’ than sociable.

“Hmph,” he scoffed in response, purposefully averting his gaze from mine as he headed inside.

“Not a great start,” I muttered under my breath once he was out of earshot. “Might have gone better if I knew his name.”

It was just a minor setback, nothing more. When the next student came along, I was just more determined than before to succeed. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck with names this time around either.

“Hi there! It’s Peach...something, right? Would you be interested in hearing about the animal shelter’s upcoming two-for-one special?”

Apparently ‘it’s the thought that counts’ didn’t apply when you could only half-remember somebody’s name. She didn’t appreciate my efforts very much, and just had a chuckle to herself at my expense, muttering something about how silly I sounded. To be fair, she made a salient point. I spent the past years being forceful, cruel, and manipulative, so polite and friendly sounded as alien coming from me as a monkey reciting Hinny of the Hills.

Perhaps if I acted like a more restrained version of my older, I would be greeted with more success. Despite not liking it, people were more accustomed to my more up-front and direct mannerisms, which might make them more receptive, so long as I didn’t slip back into terrifying people. In addition, it also meant that I didn’t need to wait around for people to cross my path, so I went out in search of potential recipients.

Finding students wasn’t too hard as the start of class drew closer. One by one, students began to coalesce into groupings around the school. I found one particular bunch wasting their time by kicking around a soccer ball.

“You there!” I said, voice firm and even-handed, as I approached. “The animal shelter is having a two-for-one adoption special this weekend. Some adorable animal is in desperate need of a home, so do your part to help.” Rather than wait for a response, I took one of my flyers and shoved it into the grasp of the still awestruck group of students, or at least I think it was awe that left them silent.

It looked as though I had finally found the right way to petition for the animal shelter. My smug sense of self-satisfaction lasted for about five seconds before a crumpled-up flyer smacked me right in the face.

“You could’ve just said ‘no thanks,’” I growled before leaving them to their fit of laughter.

Over the next quarter of an hour, I tried to hand out more flyers and was shot down every time. The closest thing I had to success was one freshman who took a few flyers, but then it turned out that he just needed some scrap paper for an art project. He did say ‘thank you’ though, so I had that going for me. Nonetheless, it appeared that my effort did little to help any animal shelters. The only thing that frustrated me more than my failure was the knowledge that a week ago, I would have had zero problems handing out the entire pile to the school. I would have had Snips and Snails wallpapering the entire school in them. If only I weren’t hamstrung by a moral code, I could have had that entire animal shelter emptied out by lunch. The frustration I felt was reaching the point where stapling the leaflet to their faces was becoming a viable-sounding alternative.

Why did being good have to be so difficult?

After a while, I was just about ready to give up. I wondered how Fluttershy ever succeeded at this, but then I realized that I had never seen her hand out more than a few. Maybe this was just an impossible task to begin with.

“Animal shelter, two-for-one special,” I droned on auto-pilot as a pair of students wandered past me. “Get a pet...or not. I don’t care at this p—” Even when I wasn’t trying, somebody decided to make things more difficult. One of the students scoffed and smacked the stack of leaflets right out of my grasp, scattering them across the sidewalk. “Oh come on! Was that really necessary?”

So low was my reputation, even my outrage didn’t warrant a response. They laughed and continued on their way as though they had just heard a kitten trying to sound menacing.

“You’re only hurting the animals!” I shouted, though to no avail. A stiff breeze then came through, blowing the scores of leaflets across the school grounds. “And the environment! Jerks!”

Well that had been a waste of a morning. I had become even less than helpful as now the school yard had a nice new layer of pink confetti that somebody had to clean up. At least Fluttershy would’ve been able to end the day with leftovers she could use another time. The only flyer I had left over was the one still clutched in my hand.

“Um, excuse me,” a voice spoke up, followed by a tap on the shoulder.

“What?” I snapped in response, shouting into the air like a madwoman. “You people have already taken every shred of dignity I’ve got! What more could you possible tear from my soul next?!”

When I spun around to face whoever wanted to give me a hard time next, I was instead greeted by the sight of a cowering Fluttershy, who appeared to be one step away from turning catatonic. Way to open my big mouth without thinking first. If I got it any wider, I would probably be able to fit both feet into it.

“Oh god, I’m sorry Fluttershy,” I promptly apologized. “I didn’t realize it was you.”

“Th-that’s okay,” my friend nervously stammered back. “I-is something the matter?”

“Take a guess,” I groaned back, holding up the one flyer I had left. I let out a heavy sigh and allowed the shame to drag my head down. “Guess I’m not very good at helping.”

When I felt a hand settle onto my shoulder, I felt that weight suddenly dispersing. I glanced up and saw that Fluttershy was neither disheartened or disappointed. She was...smiling of all things. “It’s not your fault, I know you tried your best,” she reassured me.

Oddly enough, rather than feeling a sense of calm or peace, Fluttershy’s words only caused a renewed surge of determination. “You haven’t seen my best,” I replied. “Give me those flyers; I’ve got an idea!”

Fluttershy didn’t question my demands and handed over the stack of papers that she had yet to give out. I came to the realization that the reason I failed was because I was trying to do this task the way that Fluttershy did. Clearly if both of us were failing then it was the methods that were at fault, not the individuals performing the task. I needed to approach this task using my methods, and that meant relying on the trusted tactic that I had relied upon for years—getting somebody else to do the work for me.

At least it was for a good cause this time.

Normally, I used people like Snips and Snails to do such menial labour for me, but I had given Principal Celestia my word that I would leave those two alone. I may have been a liar in the past, but I intended to keep my promises from here on. Besides, after the Fall Formal fiasco, I was hesitant to trust those two idiots with sharp paper. Instead, I found somebody more suitable: a young freshman who was handing out copies of the Canterlot Free Press, the school-run newspaper. While it may not be great reading material, with its two best qualities being ‘durable’ and ‘absorbent’, it was handed out in droves by the newspaper club’s many volunteers.

“Hey, pipsqueak! I need to talk to you for a second,” I called out in order to get the kid’s attention.

“What can I—GAH!” Upon seeing me approach, the kid freaked out and hid his face behind a newspaper. Perhaps I could have taken some solace in knowing that not every person at the school felt they no longer had reason to fear me, but I suspected that had more to do with the fact that this kid in particular was rather short and scrawny.

Nonetheless, the kid’s reaction was still my fault and I immediately regretted letting my frustrations colour my words. “Oh stop cowering, I’m not going to eat you,” I scolded before realizing that I was still being too harsh. I sighed and palmed my forehead. I reminded myself again that I needed to remain polite and courteous if I were to make any headway. “Okay, that all came out wrong. Let me...let’s just start over. What’s your name, kid?”

While my attempt at reassuring his safety did little to ease his worries, he nonetheless began to peer beyond the edges of his paper shield. “P-Pipsqueak, miss.”

“What? No. Listen, I just called you pipsqueak cause you’re short, and I apologize for that. You can tell me your actual name.”

“My name is Pipsqueak,” he corrected me.

“Oh.” Now I felt like an absolute heel. At the same time, though, who names their kid Pipsqueak? It was almost enough to make someone feel bad for the kid. “Um, listen, I was wondering you if could do me—er, do Fluttershy a huge favor. We’re hoping to get these flyers out to as many people as possible, and we were hoping that you could distribute them along with the newspapers for today.”

Once my intentions became clear, Pipsqueak was far less intimidated by me. He looked at the stack of flyers and then to me. “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

“What do you mean you can’t?” I snapped back, forgetting all previous reminders about mannerisms. “You’re handing out paper already, I’m just asking you to add one more lousy sheet to the pile. And this isn’t just me you’re saying ‘no’ to—I can handle you saying ‘no’ to me—but this is Fluttershy you’re turning down!” To emphasize my point, I directed the pint-sized paperboy’s gaze to the aforementioned girl. “How can you turn her down? That girl is as pure and innocent as winter’s first snow!”

Honestly, with the exception of my former behavior, one would have to possess a heart as cold as the Crystal Mountains to be turning down a request from her. Even Pipsqueak started to look a bit torn as he gazed upon my friend, who was desperately trying to gather up the scattered flyers as they were blown across the school grounds.

“I…I can’t. It’s against the rules,” Pipsqueak finally replied, sounding as if heartbroken just by saying that. “All flyers and adverts have to be approved by an editor of the newspaper. You should know that since you’re the reason they put that rule in place.”

It took me a few seconds to remember what exactly the kid was referring to, but once the realization hit, it struck with the force of a falling, fully-stocked vending machine. I knew my past actions were going to come back and haunt me, but I had hoped for something a little less obstructive like feelings of guilt or resentment. This, on the other hand, meant possibly dealing with somebody I had hoped to avoid.

“Alright, kiddo, you’re off the hook,” I said in deep dejection.

The kid wasted no time in hurrying off, probably still afraid that I might change my mind about eating him. As much as the old me might have enjoyed venting frustrations on the weak and defenseless, I no longer derived any sense of joy from it. Instead, I just hung my head again and began a slow march back to Fluttershy.

“I take it your idea didn’t work?” Fluttershy remarked upon my return.

I responded at first with a brief shake of my head, and then wandered over to a nearby tree. “Turns out because of me, you need the editor’s approval to include any flyers with the newspaper,” I said before slumping to the ground.

“What do you mean?” an understandably inquisitive Fluttershy asked.

“You remember how I used to be part of the newspaper club?” I replied, to which she nodded. “And you remember what happened last year just before the Fall Formal to that girl that ran against me for the title?”

“The newspaper printed that three-page advertisement spread that had those embarrassing pictures and copied passages from her diary, and—” Fluttershy paused for a brief instant, then gasped loudly. “That was you?”

“You only just figured that out?” I quipped in response. To be fair, it wasn’t as though my name had been plastered across the advert, but anybody with common sense knew that I had been behind it, if not directly then at least by proxy. The worst part of that was I didn’t even need the advert by that point. Victory had already been secured by then, but I decided to throw that last hit in just to make sure that everybody in the school knew the price for defying me. “Anyways, now adverts need to be approved by the editor first.”

“Couldn’t you just ask the editor then?”

The editor was the reason why my past was kicking me in the butt. “I doubt Ms. Yearling would listen to me,” I explained. “She may never have been able to prove it, but she knew I was behind that advert, and she’s never been happy about it. I had to resign just to get her to leave me alone about it.”

In fact, there were many things that the newspaper editor had suspected me of being involved. Students I may have been able to push around, but the school’s faculty were another thing. For them, I had to act sweet, play victim, or otherwise deceive in order to get what I needed from them. Most were suitably impressed with my strong grades or moved by a quickly fabricated sob story, but the newspaper editor and head of the english department, Ms. A.K. Yearling, was never so easily fooled. She was also the reason I left the newspaper club, lest her suspicions drive her to become the Sherlock Hooves to my Mareiarty.

“Maybe if you apologized to her, she’d be willing to hear you out,” Fluttershy suggested.

She made it all sound so simple; as if a mere ‘I’m sorry’ would be enough to convince people to give me a second chance. Sure, it helped with Fluttershy and the others, but they made their promise to Twilight Sparkle. Ms. Yearling had no such obligations, nor any desire to be my friend.

“Forgive me if I don’t share your level of optimism,” I answered before handing back the flyers. “You should...um, get back to the front yard. You can probably catch the last big rush of students before class begins.”

Fortunately for me, Fluttershy took the hint and left me to my own devices. It wasn’t as though I didn’t want her company, but seeing her disappointment at the sight of so many wasted flyers was making me feel guilty. She may have told me that she appreciated the effort regardless of the outcome, but I had never been the type to settle for just ‘trying your best.’ There was no pride to be had in failure, especially when I knew there was more that I could do. All I had to do was figure out what that ‘more’ was.

“Looking to get something into the newspaper, huh?” another voice spoke up to break my internal monologue. This time around, I looked to see who was addressing me before I said something stupid or insensitive again. It was not Fluttershy, though, but rather some other girl that I did not recognize. She was young, probably a freshman, with violet hair and an outfit that looked like it cost more than the rent on my apartment.

“And who are you?” I asked, refraining from showing any annoyance due to the fact that this girl had been eavesdropping on me. “More importantly, why does my business matter to you?”

“The name’s Diamond Tiara,” she replied, letting out a small self-aggrandizing chuckle. “I just so happen to be the student editor for the newspaper club. If you really need that little flyer in our paper, I could arrange for that to happen.”

I got the immediate impression that a ‘but’ the size of the moon was about to be dropped into the conversation.

I decided to avoid any beating around bushes and just went straight to the point. “But you’re going to want something in exchange.”

She nodded. “You’re familiar with Gabby Gums, correct?”

“The gossip columnist for the school paper,” I answered. I didn’t know this Gabby personally, but it was hard not to have heard of the name since her columns became a regular appearance in the paper. “Her stuff is usually good for a giggle or two.”

“I can arrange for your flyer to be included in our paper, but in exchange, I’ll need you to provide some material for Gabby Gums’ columns. I don’t need to remind you that after the Fall Formal, you’ve become something of a hot item for the newspaper to report on.”

If she were trying to come off as though she were doing me a favour, somebody needed to give the poor girl some acting lessons; otherwise, what she was suggesting was as devious as it came across. Nobody featured in Gabby’s column was painted in a positive light and everyone knew that, which meant she was asking me to willingly throw myself to the wolves. If I had any semblance of dignity or self-respect, it was guaranteed I wouldn’t by the time that Gabby Gums was finished with me.

Had I known what I was about to sign myself up for, I would’ve told Diamond Tiara to take her newspaper and take a hike. Alas, blinded by ignorance and obsession, all I saw was opportunity.

“You’ve got yourself a deal.”

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