• Published 1st Nov 2014
  • 20,639 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 V-IX

“So that’s the place?” I remarked as I peered through a pair of binoculars to a dilapidated-looking building down the road.

“That’s where Derring’s GPS signal is coming from,” Yearling answered, her expression weighed down by a weary uneasiness.

It took a little time to finally get everything together, but now that we were armed with something resembling a working plan, we could see about getting Derring Do back. I was once again sitting in the passenger seat of Ms. Yearling’s car, except now it was the vehicle’s proper owner that sat behind the wheel. Despite a few dents on the roof and a broken antenna, the damage wasn’t as bad as I had thought, or at least that’s what Blondie had insisted. It didn’t help me feel any less guilty about it, but I was able to push those feelings aside in order to focus on the task at hand.

And speaking of that task, we had managed to convince Ms. Yearling to bring everyone along. There was strength in numbers, after all, even if most of those numbers were just high schoolers. It may not seem like much, but there used to be a large crater in front of my school that stood testament to just what my friends were capable of.

They were probably all hoping for a little bit of magic right now, too.

In the back seat were Rainbow Dash and Rarity, both of whom were looking at some print-outs we made of the building. It was amazing how much information you could find online. I handed the binoculars back to Ms. Yearling and she surveyed the building off in the distance. It looked innocuous enough: the kind of brick and mortar building with broken windows and an old chain-link fence that would be a staple in any TV crime drama.

“I haven’t seen any sign of Caballeron or his men,” Yearling reported, voicing the same skepticism that she had since we set out. “Maybe he smartened up enough to know to send out a decoy.”

“Patience, Yearling,” I reminded her.

We had only been staking out the warehouse for less than hour, parked on the side of the road a couple blocks away from our objective. Behind our car was Blondie’s, who had driven Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Applejack with her. The four of them set out on foot to do some reconnaissance, something that Ms. Yearling vehemently objected to, but was eventually convinced by Blondie to relent. Once again, we had the advantage of anonymity and Caballeron’s overconfidence on our side, so a couple of teenagers walking down the road wouldn’t stand out.

“Are we sure this plan is going to work? I mean, Derring doesn’t usually wear this stuff except out in the field,” Yearling remarked once she set down the binoculars.

She was referring to the old Daring Do costume she now wore, the one I originally saw in the photograph. We had Rarity touch it up a little bit to make it look more authentic and lived-in, I thought it looked very convincing, despite our teacher’s objections.

“Just throw a coat over it and you’ll be fine,” I replied. “It’s the acting part that’ll sell it, after all. You need to act like your sister.”

“You mean like a selfish jerk?” Yearling grumbled like a pouting child.

“Yearling! She’s not that bad,” I snapped back. Normally I wouldn’t have even considered talking back to her with such a tone, but the events of the day had blurred the line in the student-teacher relation. “I mean, I know she can be a bit self-centered, but she’s just trying to find her own way. She’s not a lot different from how I used to be, and you were willing to cut me some slack.”

“You had Celestia to watch over you,” Yearling replied. “Maybe if I could find somebody to play babysitter for my sister, I’d be willing to go a bit easier on her.”

Before the conversation could go on any further, there came a tapping on the driver’s side door. It was Blondie along with my friends. When she leaned in through the open driver’s side window, she donned a triumphant grin, which was a welcomed sight.

“So we took a nice long walk around the place,” Blondie began her report. “There wasn’t much sign of our wayward adventurer, but it looks to me like they’re hunkering down for the night. Now some nice folks running a taco truck did say they saw some panel vans arrive earlier this afternoon, and they went inside our mystery building.”

Dash leaned in from the back seat, having found something far more interesting than news of Derring. “You brought us some tacos, right?”

“You bet’cha!” Pinkie announced as she held up a large paper bag.

“Celebratory tacos,” Blondie informed us with an ever-widening grin. “The best kind of tacos.”

She left the food with Rarity, trading it for a copy of the map. She whipped a pen from her pocket and began scribbling across the map.

“So our warehouse is surrounded by the chain-link fence with a gate here, though it’s secured with a chain and padlock.”

“I should be able to get us past that easily,” I remarked.

“Good. Saves us from having to climb a fence,” Blondie replied with a quick nod. “Now the main doors for the place are down here, which had a guy sitting on watch. Large windows here, here, and here, and the loading docks are along this side of the building.” She started marking the aforementioned items on the map, which gave me the impression this wasn’t the first time she’s staked out a building. “So multiple points of entry, but their proximity means they can be easily watched by only a couple of eyes. Wouldn’t be surprised if a few guys remained on guard in these windows. Our best avenue of approach is along the east wall, which doesn’t have much of anything of value to us.”

“What about these big skylights,” I asked, pointing to the panes visible on the map.

Applejack pointed out the obvious problem with my suggestion. “How would we get up there?”

“Who’s good at climbing rope?” Blondie’s insinuation raised a lot of eyebrows from us, though Rainbow Dash and Applejack nonetheless raised their hands in response. “Excellent! I got some rope and a hook in the trunk.”

She handed off the map to Yearling and headed back to her car, leaving the rest of us looking a little confused.

“Should I even ask why she happens to have a rope and grappling hook with her?” I remarked.

“I’ll be grateful if that’s the only thing from her old days she brought along,” Yearling sighed. “Okay, so Blondie, AJ, and Dash go to the rooftops to provide surveillance; Rarity and Pinkie will stay on the streets to keep watch in case anybody decides to leave the party; and Fluttershy will stay with the car.”

Noticing my name was notably absent from the list, it gave me an unsettling feeling as to where I was going to be. “And me?”

“You get to come with me and watch my back,” Yearling stated plainly. “How’re the decoy amulets coming along, Rarity?”

“Considering I had to make them out of left-over arts and craft supplies, I’d say I did a rather spectacular job,” Rarity beamed with only slightly restrained pride. She reached into her bag and pulled out our freshly made fake amulets, handing them over to Ms. Yearling. “Just be careful with those; I don’t know how well the paint has dried just yet.”

“What do you think, Sunset?” Yearling asked, holding them out for me to inspect.

Upon a closer evaluation, it was remarkable what Rarity was able to pull off with just some old clay and paints. Thankfully, the originals weren’t exactly works of art either so the dried blobs of paint and unsteady markings weren’t going to send up any red flags, at least not right away. As Rarity had warned, it was still a little sticky to the touch; hopefully Caballeron didn’t have sweaty palms.

With one final inspection, and a deep breath to calm her nerves, Ms. Yearling pocketed the amulets and exited the vehicle. “Okay, you all know where to go. Keep your phone lines open and your mics muted so you can keep abreast of any developments,” Yearling instructed. “If things go sideways, just scatter as best you can, and call the police once you’re safe.”

“Are you sure we can’t just call the police now?” Fluttershy asked.

“But where’s the fun in that?” Blondie jokingly replied as she strolled back, now toting some rope and a bag full of Celestia-knows-what. At least, it sounded like she was joking. “We’ve never needed the cops before, so why start now? Besides, Derring always said it’s like cheating to just call in the police.”

“That certainly sounds like the sorta thing she’d say,” Yearling sighed.

“Hey Pinkie, mind if I borrow your phone for the mission?” Seeing as mine was still sitting in a shallow grave, I’d need something to help keep in touch with the others. As Rarity and Pinkie would be working together, they’d still have a phone between them.

“Okie dokie,” she cheerfully replied before tossing the phone my way.

We took one last look over the map, grabbed our bags, and then split up into our respective groups. Blondie and her team took a slightly more roundabout path in order to avoid suspicion, and we all met up again at the locked gate.

“You sure you can take care of this?” Blondie asked, examining the lock and chain holding the gate shut. “We could just climb the fence.”

“I’d rather have a quick exit route available, if it’s all the same to you,” I replied as I reached into my bag to grab my lockpicks. “Just give me a minute to crack this thing open.”

“Well I dunno,” the skeptical blonde continued, “that looks like one of them LockCo brand padlocks. You know, the kind with the commercial where they show this criminal trying to break into it using a hammer, and then a crowbar, and then he takes this big ol’ gun to—”

“Got it.” Took a bit of willpower not to sound too smug as I tossed the lock aside and pulled away the chains, but it was hard not to smirk at Blondie’s bewildered look.

“Remind me never to buy a lock from those guys again.”

We split up again once we were inside the perimeter, with Blondie taking her group towards the east side of the building, while we continued our approach from the south. The outer yard was mostly bare, save for a few abandoned metal containers, numerous rusted barrels, and an old trunk that looked like it had seen better days back when I was still in diapers. We used the containers to conceal our approach, racing from one piece of cover to the next with Yearling taking the lead.

We scampered across the courtyard until we finally reached the edge of the building, pressing our backs against the wall and taking shelter underneath a rickety, old awning.

“So what do you think? We could try for one of the windows up there,” Yearling said, leaning out enough to glance upwards.

“Better than trying the front door,” I answered. I glanced about to try and figure out how we could get to the windows, but there was little in the ways of hand-holds. The side of the building was just a pragmatic slab of stones and bricks. There was, however, one of the abandoned metal crates near the windows. “Hey Yearling, think you could give me a boost?”

“Good thinking.”

While I might’ve been able to climb atop of the crate without help, given that it was only about seven feet high or so, I didn’t want to alert the whole neighborhood of our arrival in the process. Getting a little boost from my teacher made the climb much easier, and I, in turn, helped her scale the side of the crate afterwards.

“Gotta say, I thought dealing with the Dazzlings was going to be the last of my crazy adventures,” I remarked once we were both on top of the crate.

While we now had the elevation, the open windows in question were a good three feet or so from the crate itself. Yearling began eyeing the gap, perhaps trying to summon her own inner Daring Do. It was by no means a long jump, but neither of us were the type that did much jumping in our day-to-day lives.

“You’re far too young to think you’ve hit the highlight of your life,” Yearling said as she stepped back, lining up her approach. “And honestly, would you really want that?” With a short burst of speed, she flung herself across the gap and just narrowly made it through the open window.

When she phrased it like that, it did sound naive to think that my adventures were all in the past. With Equestrian magic showing no sign of fading away, I was going to have my hands full for the foreseeable future. And as crazy as the day had been, it was proving to be far more entertaining than toiling over chemistry homework. I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

Except maybe a smaller gap to jump.

“Really wish I could fly like Dash right about now,” I muttered to myself. After a few breaths to steady my nerves, I lunged up and over, and promptly slammed chest first into the window frame. “Stupid bipedal locomotion!” I grunted and wheezed before Yearling reached out and pulled me in.

“Okay, we’re inside on the second floor,” Yearling reported to the others with her phone. “Is everyone in position?”

“Got a nice view from up here,” Blondie replied. “Looks like Caballeron’s holding your sis in the big ol’ center room. She’s tied to a chair and the doc’s doing his usual song and dance.”

As for us, we were in what looked like an old office, probably once used by the warehouse’s foreman. While I crouched down behind a run-down desk in order to wait out the dull ache in my chest. This place was a dump; the air was still damp with the scent of old chemicals and years of dust build-up, everything not made of concrete groaned whenever we shifted our weight, and there were enough pieces of broken metal and discarded screws that I made a mental note to check on my tetanus record as soon as I got home.

Yearling glanced out the door, checking down the hallway in both directions. “Any sign of the chest?” she asked over the phone.

“Give us a second,” Blondie responded. “Okay, we got what looks like a fancy box in the… northwest corner room. I can see a couple of dudes guarding it, but they seem more interested in watching the game.”

“Then wait for our signal.” Yearling then gestured for me to follow and we proceeded into the hallway.

We had to keep our heads down, however, as the opposite side of the hallway consisted of grimy or broken panes of glass, affording an overview of the main chamber. Since it was an abandoned warehouse, there wasn’t much present, save for old shelves and much of the same trash and discarded containers that had decorated the courtyard. The hallway connected to some metal catwalks that lined the perimeter of the building, which connected to catwalks above and the ground via a number of stairs. It meant an easy means to move about without having to go to the ground level and narrow passages to limit any numerical advantage.

A few tables and chairs had been set up for the comfort of our kidnappers, and in the center was Derring Do and Dr. Caballeron. It was like watching a scene straight out of a Daring Do novel, except without the plot armour to ensure that our heroine escaped without a scratch. A few of the hired hands were milling about, but most seemed to be gathered around a portable television set up in the far corner, near the room where the chest was being held.

From where we were, we couldn’t quite hear what was going on between Derring and Caballeron, though I imagined it involved a lot of gloating and witty rebuttals. It didn’t look like our stalwart adventurer was injured or mishandled, but the books had always portrayed Caballeron as the type to let others get their hands dirty.

“All right, Sunset, you know the plan,” Yearling whispered to me.

I gave her a quick thumbs-up and then we split up, with each of us heading down opposite direction of the hallway. Yearling headed onto the catwalk, remaining silent as she crept into position while I stopped at the junction between the hallway and the open catwalk, waiting for her signal. Thankfully, the setting sun helped cast plenty of shadows across the catwalks, making it easier for us to stay hidden. Now all I had to do was sit and wait, whether to continue with the plan or to run for the window and hope that I had better luck jumping out of it than in.

I kept an eye on Dr. Caballeron as I waited. He was still talking to Derring, and I could make out a few words when he raised his voice, but nothing out of the ordinary. He’d insist that she should ‘join him’ and she’d say something that made the doctor frown. But then he’d smile confidently once more, making what I imagined to be an empty threat as he stroked the stubble upon his chin.

Yearling waited until she was far enough along so that when she finally stood up and made her presence known, every set of eyes looked to her and far away from me.

“Nice place you’ve got here,” she called as she stepped out into the light. A quiet chuckle escaped her lips as she leaned casually against the nearby railing. “It’s got a nice, eighties action film feel to it.”

I wish I could’ve seen the look on Caballeron’s face when he turned his gaze upwards and saw his arch-nemesis looming over him. However, I had more important matters to focus on and began my slow and careful trek along the perimeter.

“Derring Do? Wait, how? But you’re—” Caballeron exclaimed, swinging his gaze frantically between the Derring above him and the one tied to the chair beside him.

“Oh come on, did you really think you’d be able to catch me that easily?” Yearling said with a trifling laugh.

“But if you’re… then who is—?”

“That’s a body double I hired so that you’d waste your day following her rather than me. Didn’t think you’d honestly get this far without realizing that it’s not me.”

“Don’t listen to her! She’s just trying to steal my thunder!” the real Derring Do exclaimed. Either she was able to quickly deduce our plan or she really didn’t like the idea of somebody mistaking her for her sister. “I’m the real Derring Do, that’s just my stupid twin sister!”

“You don’t have a sister!” Caballeron snapped back, swinging back to Derring. “In all of our years, you’ve never once mentioned siblings!”

In all fairness, it did sound rather unbelievable to have somebody pull out an identical twin out of the blue. Even if Caballeron was smart enough to realize he was in the midst of a ploy, he had no way of knowing which was telling the truth.

“Seriously, Caballeron, she looks nothing like me. I’m almost hurt that you can’t even recognize me,” Yearling pressed, playfully laughing all the while. “If you check her pockets, you’ll find the five hundred bucks I paid her.”

Sure enough, Caballeron sifted through his captive’s pockets and pulled out a wad of twenty dollar bills, much to Derring’s protest. “Give that back! I haggled for that cash fair and square!”

“Be quiet and let the grown-ups do the talking!” Yearling snapped at her sister. “Now, let the girl go, and you can have the stupid amulets.”

Caballeron continued to stare at the evidence before him, taking careful calculations as how to avoid falling into whatever trap Derring had set for him. When Ms. Yearling took out the fake amulets and held them out for him to see, the pressure to play ball increased. Now if he had been smart, he would’ve deduced that Derring was clearly not working alone and should, thus, put his lackeys on high alert. As it was, however, everyone continued to stare off towards Yearling like a bunch of obedient school children. All the while, I continued my silent trek across the catwalks until I was nearly overtop of the room containing the chest.

“You spin an interesting tale, Derring Do, if that is indeed who you are,” Caballeron mused, turning towards Yearling. “But I’m going to need something a bit more concrete. Considering how many times you’ve tried to outwit me in the past, you can understand a man possessing a healthy skepticism.”

“Oh, does this mean I get to reveal some secret information about you that only I would know?” Yearling said with a few excited hops. “You spent five years claiming your favourite colour was aubergine because it sounded more cultured, despite the fact that you were really thinking of auburn and actually had no idea what aubergine was.”

That clearly wasn’t what Caballeron had in mind, as he shifted uncomfortably on the spot, clearing his throat to hide his obvious embarrassment while the nearby henchmen snickered amongst themselves.

“It’s an eggplant, by the way.”

“Th-that’s not quite what I meant,” Caballeron stammered through his recovery. “Besides, you could’ve learned that anywhere. I’m talking about concrete and immovable evidence that only Derring could produce.”

Oddly enough, now it was Ms. Yearling’s turn to be taken aback and fumble her response. “Y-you can’t be serious. Here?”

“Well unless you don’t want to save your… innocent little patsy here,” the sinister doctor mused. He patted Derring on the head a few times, flashing a malicious grin towards the other sister.

“I’m not a patsy, you dim-witted simpleton!” Derring continued to holler, but to no avail.

Yearling bristled and grumbled under her breath. As I had gone as far as I could across the catwalks while staying hidden, to get to the chest room, I needed to take the nearby stairs down to the main floor. That took me precariously close to some of lackeys and I didn’t feel safe enough to traverse further.

“Alright, fine!” Yearling shouted back. “But your henchmen need to cover their eyes. This ain’t no peep show!”

I wasn’t sure if this was just a ploy to help me along or a genuine concern, but either way it seemed to convince Caballeron, who proceeded to order his lackeys to cover up. It still struck me as an odd request, but I wasn’t about to let a golden opportunity slip by, so I began sneaking down the stairs and towards the chest room. My curiosity, however, did override my better judgment so I lingered a bit to see what exactly my teacher was so concerned about.

That’s when I noticed Ms. Yearling was undoing her pants. She pulled them down part-way on her right side, just enough to reveal a large tattoo on her upper thigh of a compass rose. The matching tattoo she got with her sister back during their college years.

“Happy now?” she called out.

“Yes, quite.”

With everyone still covering their eyes, I picked up my pace across the last stretch of open ground and into the room. Once inside, I was able to let out a small sigh of relief. Sitting before me on a simple folding table was the chest that all this fuss was about. To be honest, I was a little disappointed in what I found. In the Daring Do novels, the ancient treasures were always held in these elaborate, gold-encrusted chests with intricate carvings depicting great kings or ancient battles. What I got instead was a decrepit box made of wood and cast iron, faded and worn by the ravages of time. Honestly, it looked like a few hits with a sledgehammer would break it open, let alone requiring some intricate locking system.

Speaking of locks, while Ms. Yearling distracted Caballeron with the fake amulets, I had the real ones. Figuring out the locks might be a difficult task, but it looked like it would be a lot easier than trying to carry the chest out of the room.

I pulled out the amulets and kept them in one hand while I used my other to examine the locks. They looked sturdy enough despite their age, but there didn’t seem to be much sign of a keyhole. In my examination, however, I felt a subtle depression under my fingertips, and it felt vaguely beetle-shaped.

“Now what are you hiding here,” I murmured to myself as I took a closer look.

There was some old grime across it, but with a little bit of spit and elbow grease, I was able to clear away some of the mess. It revealed a very familiar-looking symbol.

“That’s from one of the amulets.”

I found the matching amulet and, since most keys involved shoving one thing into another, I placed it against the depression and pushed in. It gave way just slightly, but it refused to budge more than a hair’s breadth.

“Could it be too rusted? No, it definitely moved. Something beneath it is preventing it from moving. Unless…”

The numbers, of course! It probably didn’t just matter about matching the symbols, they had to be done in the correct order. I began scouring more of the chest’s surface and soon uncovered two more similarly shaped indentations in the metal. I found the point marked with the one symbol and this time repeated the process with the appropriate amulet. This time the amulet sunk into the metalwork with ease and I was rewarded with a ‘click’ as some spring-loaded metal panels popped up, one from the chest and another from the amulet itself.

The way the two panels were positioned, pressed up against one another, it immediately reminded me of a key ignition, so I grabbed the pieces and gave it a clockwise twist. The chest rattled and creaked, but I was rewarded with yet another ‘click,’ which I hope meant one of the locks released.

“Yes,” I whispered to myself, pumping my fist in victory.

Once I repeated the process with the remaining two locks, I slowly pried the lid open. Inside was an object wrapped in several layers of cloth, not much larger than a pineapple. Since I didn’t want to risk damaging the object with my grubby fingers, I grabbed it, cloth and all.

“Sunset to Blondie, I have the macguffin. I repeat, the macguffin is secured,” I whispered into my phone. “Prepare for extraction.”

I headed back to the catwalk, making sure to keep my head down while Yearling continued to keep everyone distracted with her negotiations, which seemed to have stalled. Now it was just a matter of getting back to the window and slipping out with none the wiser. I had to be a ghost—a whisper of a shadow in the night.

“Come on everybody smile, smile, smile! Fill my heart up with sunshine, sunshine!”

And it was just at that moment, standing in front of a couple hired goons, that I realized that I forgot to set Pinkie’s cellphone to vibrate. Every set of eyes in the building spun around to focus on me.

“Who the devil are you?” Caballeron asked.

So what do you say when you’ve been caught with your hand in the cookie jar? If you’re clever, you could come up with something witty in response, as opposed to me who just said the first thing that came to mind.

“Uhhh, hi there. Big fan of yours. Loved you in ‘Ring of Destiny.’”

“Get her!”

“Oh ponyfeathers!”

I bolted for the stairs as if Nightmare Moon herself was after me. I had a decent-enough headstart at least, so I was able to keep ahead of them as I scrambled across the catwalk. I glanced across the warehouse to see if Yearling was in any position to help, but with the charade in pieces, she had her hands full evading some of the other hired goons. Each step prompted a cacophony of rattling metal bars and screws, which at the very least meant I could tell they were behind me without looking.

Unfortunately, the idiot minions were not quite as absent-minded as I had hoped, as one of them had taken the stairs onto the catwalk up ahead of me and was now threatening to cut me off. It was time to improvise a new plan, and lucky for me there was another level of catwalks above and a set of stairs just up ahead.

“Blondie, I need a rope! Aim for the catwalks on the upper level,” I shouted in my phone.

As I reached the top level of the catwalks, I saw what I had called for: a rope descended from the open skylight and dangled just alongside the railing up ahead.

“Grab on, we’ll pull you up!” Applejack shouted from above.

It’d be a lie to say that I wasn’t a bit nervous about the idea of hanging onto a rope, suspended a good thirty or more feet above a hard concrete floor, while also keeping hold of a priceless artifact. Since I only had one hand to hold onto the rope, I quickly tied it around my waist for extra security.

“This is almost an exit fit for Daring herself,” I chuckled to myself.

Once I signaled to my friends up above, they began hoisting me upwards. All the pressure against my lower back was not doing any favours for my sore bones, but I had to grit my teeth and bear with it as I was inched closer and closer to the skylight. I looked below to check how the others were doing. Ms. Yearling was doing a good job of evading the goons by hopping from the catwalks to the ground. In all the confusion, nobody was paying much attention to Derring Do, who was still tied to her chair but was now slowly hopping her way across the warehouse while trying to wriggle her arms free of the ropes.

She definitely had Daring Do’s tenacity.

Disaster struck when the rope, being pulled and grinding against a rusted, old window frame, suddenly snapped. All I could do was scream as I fell victim once again to the capricious whims of gravity. I swore I saw my life flash before my eyes in that instant: I thought about every act of cruelty that I carried out in the name of ambition; my desperation in finding redemption in the eyes of my community; every fit of laughter shared with my friends; every tear shed over a sappy movie; every lunch in the cafeteria sharing photos and stories of the day.

Somehow, in the frantic flailing that consisted of my plummet, the part of my brain that still concerned itself with things like survival managed to grab the catwalk railing as I passed by it. Contrary to what movies and comic books make it seem, grabbing hold of a ledge or railing while in freefall hurt like somebody just replaced my shoulder joint with a red-hot cannonball.

Better than the alternative, however.

The sudden shock from the abrupt stop flung the relic from my grasp, but thanks to quick reflexes I was just able to grab hold of it. Except it wasn’t a firm grip, especially as the cloth wrapping began slipping from the weight. I couldn’t drop the thing—not from this height.

That’s when I noticed Derring Do was just below me, albeit still tied to her chair, hopping across like a mad and desperate fool. It was a long shot, but it was the only chance I had.

“Derring! Heads up!” I shouted just as the relic slipped from my grasp.

The still-restrained adventurer looked skyward and her eyes went wide when she realized what was plummeting towards her. Thinking fast, as she is rather adept at, she flung herself, chair and all, onto the ground, facing upwards. She slid across the ground, just in time to get underneath the relic, landing square on her belly and knocking the wind out of her.

It kept the relic intact, which was all that mattered to her.

Even though I now had both hands free, I was in no better of a situation. All of those movies I watched with Luna made hanging by your fingers look a lot easier than it actually was. I managed to get my other arm up just as the other one gave out, which meant I had simply traded one arm for the other. It was just postponing the inevitable as the other arm would just give out eventually, same as the other.

“Somebody! Help!” No harm in shouting out. Maybe somebody could figure something out quickly. Try as I might, I couldn’t get a firmer grip; my fingers were beginning to slip. If I fell, best case scenario would be me spending the rest of my high school in an intensive care unit and getting my diploma in a wheelchair.

For some reason, as my grip gave way, my thoughts went to Twilight Sparkle: my friend who I might not get a chance to say goodbye to, and wouldn’t learn of my fate unless she watched the evening news.

Then a miracle occurred.

“I’m coming, Sunset!”

It was Rainbow Dash, her voice beckoning my gaze towards the skylight. What I saw would’ve taken my breath away had I not already spent most of it screaming. My friend, driven by equal parts bravado and loyalty, had dove headlong through the skylight. As she did so, a vibrant blue light engulfed her and an instant later I saw my winged friend swooping in towards me.

She grabbed hold of me only moments after I had lost my grip, whisking me through the air with such speed that everything around me was a blur. The next thing I knew, I was sliding along the concrete floor, coming to a halt upon bumping gently into the far wall. And somehow, Derring Do and the relic were right next to me as well.

“What just happened?” a disorientated Derring Do muttered.

Rainbow Dash must’ve grabbed her as well during her daring aerial manoeuvre.

“I happened,” Dash exclaimed, landing just behind Derring.

“Holy cheese, you got wings!”

Luckily, Rainbow Dash took her idol’s shock in stride, and she didn’t get distracted by her usual need to showboat. “I told you about them at the library, remember?”

“Dash you… you saved my life.” It might’ve felt like stating the obvious, but I was so convinced I was doomed that I was only just now coming to grips with what happened.

“We’re not out of this yet,” my friend reminded me.

Spurred back into action, we quickly untied Derring Do, helped her back to her feet, and we ran for the exit. The plan was to get out as quickly as possible once we had Derring and the relic, so I had to trust that Yearling could make her own way out.

“Fluttershy, we’re coming out hot!” I shouted in my phone as we shoulder-checked the exit door open. “Start the cars!”

“But… but I only have my learner’s permit,” Fluttershy replied. “I’m not allowed to operate a car without a licensed driver with me.”

“Start the car or we’re running home: take your pick!”

All I got back was a terrified squeak, but it sounded close enough to an affirmative so we went with it. As the three of us scampered across the courtyard, or rather two of us with Dash flying alongside us just because she could, I glanced over and saw Applejack and Blondie quickly rappelling down the side of the building in order to join in the retreat.

“Where’s my sister?” Derring asked, looking back towards the warehouse.

The answer to that question came just moments later when Ms. Yearling suddenly smashed through one of the second-story windows, feet first and swinging from a large length of chain. The unfurling chain slowed her descent, allowing her to land safely into a forward roll and then break into a mad sprint to join us.

“That… was so… awesome!” Dash exclaimed in a high-pitch squeal.

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

“You should’ve seen the look on Caballeron’s face when Ms. Yearling appeared! He looked like he had just seen a ghost!” I exclaimed, followed by an uproar of laughter.

We returned to Ms. Yearling’s home, spirits higher than ever thanks to the success of our rescue mission. It wasn’t until we had reached our destination that we were finally able to let down our guard and officially call this a victory. There had been no sign of pursuit by Dr. Caballeron or any of his minions, which may have had something to do with Rarity and Pinkie Pie finding where they had parked all their vans, and then discreetly letting all of the air out of their tires.

We were all looking forward to being able to sit down and relax for a change, and several of us were really keen on celebratory tacos. Personally, I just wanted to lay down and be thankful that I was still alive.

“And you should’ve seen me when I swooped in and grabbed Sunset just as she was falling,” Rainbow Dash added, having spent a good portion of the trip talking non-stop about her ponying up again. Considering what she did was pretty spectacular, we all allowed her to indulge in her ego for a bit.

“I just hope we didn’t make any problems for ourselves down the road because you used magic in front of so many people,” I commented before throwing myself across the couch. Though I said nothing of it, everybody knew that I was sore all over. I’d be content if I didn’t have to move a muscle for the remainder of the day.

“Oh, please. I was flying way too fast for anybody to know what they saw.”

Her reassurances did little to comfort me, although she soon had support.

“She’s got a point,” Derring Do chimed in. “I mean, all I saw was a technicolour blur and then I was next to you on the other side of the warehouse.”

We all gathered in the living room, finding seats where we could and occasionally having to use our friends as seats, and handed out the tacos for a well-deserved meal. Nothing like beans, salsa, and guacamole to end an eventful day.

“So I guess I ought to thank you all for the rescue,” Derring remarked between mouthfuls. “Not that I couldn’t have gotten out of their on my own, but you certainly helped speed things along.”

“We totally saved your butt back there.” Despite her insistence, Yearling didn’t sound too concerned over who got credit for what. She didn’t agree to go along with this plan for the glory, after all. “And I hope you realize the risk I’ve brought to myself now that Dr. Caballeron knows I exist.”

“Oh, you’ll be fine. He’s not like that.” Just then, Derring’s phone began to ring. “Well speak of the devil. Here, let me put this on speaker.” She tapped a few buttons on her phone and then set it down on the coffee table. “Derring Do residence, how may I help you?”

“Don’t think you’ve won, Derring Do! This isn’t over!” Caballeron sneered from the other end of the line.

“Except I’ve got the relic, the amulets, and the tacos. I’m three-for-three, so that’s definitely a win for me,” Derring replied. While her smile couldn’t be conveyed over an audio line, her triumphant tone just screamed ‘smug, victorious grin.’

In the face of overwhelming evidence, even a stubborn villain had to cut his losses and save what little of his pride he could. “Very well, but next time things will be different. Mark my words, Derring Do!”

“You’re always free to try again; I’m only ahead by eight points now,” Derring said, followed by a round of chuckles from the rest of us. She leaned in and looked about to hang up and leave the good doctor stewing in his own failure, but then she said something none of us expected. “So are we still on for dinner at the end of the month?”

“Oh, of course! It’s been so long since we’ve had you over.” Caballeron’s tone swung about so quickly it almost gave the rest of us whiplash, now sounding as if addressing a long-time friend. “You know the missus has been looking forward to seeing you again, and she’d never forgive me if I let you forget.”

“Is she going to be making her balti gosht?”

“Just the way you like it.”

“Yes! So looking forward to it!” Perhaps I had just hit my head too hard, but to me it sounded as though Derring was more excited about this balti gosht than she was about the priceless relic she kept in her lap. “Say ‘hi’ to Saffy and the kids for me.”

“I’ll send your best regards.”

As Derring hung up, she settled back into the couch and folded her arms behind her head, looking smug and triumphant. “Best day ever, I’d say,” she remarked, still oblivious to all the incredulous looks the rest of us were giving her.

“What the hay was that?!” I exclaimed at long last.

“Um, dinner plans?” Derring replied, giving me a puzzled look. It was only then she noticed everyone else was sharing in my expression. “Is… is something wrong?”

“Why are you making dinner plans with your arch-nemesis?” Though I shouldn’t have needed to point that out.

“Because we’re friends?” Once again, Derring looked to us as though we had started babbling nonsense.

“I thought Caballeron was a greedy, selfish jerk who was only interested in archaeology to get rich quick,” Dash stated, relying upon her reservoir of Daring-related trivia.

“Sure, but that was from before I introduced him to his wife. He really mellowed out after that, and once the kids came along then all he was concerned about was a steady paycheck, health insurance, and a retirement portfolio.”

“So what does he do nowadays then?” Dash asked.

“He took a teaching gig at Oxtrot University. He is a doctor, after all.”

While I was just surprised, the same could not be said for Ms. Yearling, who looked apoplectic. She rose from her seat and marched over to her sister. “But what about the kidnapping? The hired thugs? I thought your life was in danger!” Before anyone could say anything, she reached down and pulled her sister up to her feet by the scruff of her collar. “Explain, now!”

“Danger? Oh, come on. This is Caballeron we’re talking about,” Derring waved off her sister’s concerns. “Sure, he won’t tie me down onto a slow-moving death trap anymore, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t have some fun like we did back in the old days. The goons, the chasing, the constant attempts to sabotage one another—they motivate us both to think smarter and work faster. And it makes the whole process a lot less boring than it usually is.”

“You mean… there was never a kidnapping?”

“Of course not! He ties me to a chair and tries to get me to surrender, while I try to escape. If you had arrived about an hour earlier, you probably would seen him feeding me snack cakes while we watched the soccer game.”

“You were never in any danger…” Yearling muttered in disbelief.

Derring just laughed it off, patting her sister on the shoulder. “Seriously, sis, do you think I would’ve taken these two if there was any actual danger involved? Did you really think I’d be that irresponsible?”

I expected some sort of harsh, lengthy rebuttal from Yearling espousing the importance of honest and open communications, but instead she decided to go for a much more primitive form of expression and just punched her sister in the gut. It was hard enough to drop Derring to one knee, clutching at her gut while gasping to catch her breath.

“Point… noted,” she wheezed.

“Once you’re done eating, I want you out of my house,” Yearling stated flatly.

Without another word, she stormed off to another part of the house, her bedroom I presumed. The rest of us just stared on in disbelief, save for Blondie who looked like a parent having to chase down their tantrum-spewing toddler.

“I’ll try talkin’ to her,” Blondie excused herself before giving chase.

And things had been going so well. While I could understand Yearling’s reaction, I wasn’t sure if it was entirely warranted. “Are you okay?” I asked, offering Derring a hand back to her feet.

“I’ve had worse,” she answered with a groan. After I helped her up, though, she managed a weary smile and gave me a grateful pat upon the shoulder. “Kinda used to her being a drama queen.”

Having lost her interest in celebratory tacos, Derring Do just gathered her things together and bid all of us a fond farewell. I was still reluctant to allow things to just end like this, with Derring and Yearling clearly still at odds with one another. I followed her outside, though I was still trying to figure out what exactly to say even as she began packing her things away onto her motorcycle.

“So… what happens now? You’re just going to leave like this?” I wish I had something more poignant to say, but sometimes simplicity worked.

“You saw how my Dee was,” Derring answered while stuffing her relic into a sidebag. “If I stayed any longer, she’d be breaking out the ‘you need to be more responsible’ speech again.”

“Not telling us about this whole arrangement with Caballeron was pretty irresponsible.”

“I didn’t ask you guys to launch a rescue attempt,” Derring said with a sudden upswing of anger. “In fact, I told you and Rainbow Dash to go back to Yearling and wait for me! You guys were the ones who decided I couldn’t help myself and you had to do it for me!”

While not the most responsible choice, emotional impulse compelled me to meet the escalation in kind. “I fell off a freaking catwalk for you and your treasure hunting game! The least you could do is act a little grateful for the risks I took.”

Derring Do didn’t say anything right away, instead opting to answer with a pouty frown and folding her arms across her chest. “I guess you have a point there,” she muttered back. “I… I suppose I owe you an apology then. I’m so used to doing things my way, it’s not always easy to take other people into account. So I’m sorry, Ms. Shimmer, I honestly didn’t think anybody would bother worrying about me.”

“It’s okay. It’s not always easy to keep others in mind, but it’s still important.”

“Probably best for me to be on my way,” Derring continued with a half-hearted shrug. “Yearling was bound to go off on another ‘go back to school’ lecture, and I get my fill of that from Caballeron and his wife.”

“They pester you about that?” I asked, confused by the remark.

“Yeah, Caballeron keeps offering me a spot in his post-graduate program,” she explained, letting out a quiet laugh all the while. “Part of his whole ‘join the dark side, Derring Do’ bit. He gets a laugh out of it every time. And I always have to be ‘I’ll never work for someone like you!’” However, she quickly noticed I wasn’t laughing. “Hrm, guess it’s more of an inside joke.”

“So why don’t you take him up on it?”

“I’m fine the way things are now,” Derring insisted, though I had trouble believing that to be true. “Besides, my sister needs the material for her Daring Do books, and I’m not cut out for the scholarly stuff…”

“He must think you are if he’s making the offer,” I countered.

“He’d be the first to think that.”

I had spent the better part of the day getting to know the Daring sisters. In one there was a woman who was intent on maintaining control over every aspect of her life, fueled by a sense of insecurity; and on the other side was a woman who refused to be controlled by anyone or anything, going to extreme lengths to relive the adventure and excitement of yesteryear. Deep down, though, it felt as though both of them wanted the same thing, but were too proud or stubborn to openly admit it to the other person. Maybe it was time for somebody to grab a carrot and stick.

“I just had an idea,” I said as I suddenly took Derring by the arm. “Come on!”

Perhaps fueled by a sense of obligation over my near-death, Derring Do followed along without any protest, though she repeatedly expressed curiosity over what my intentions were. I told her to just wait and see since I didn’t want to get anybody’s hopes up or, more realistically, cold feet. I brought Derring back inside and eventually tracked down Ms. Yearling who was brooding in her bedroom with a frustrated Blondie standing nearby.

“What are you two doing here?” Yearling asked in an accusatory fashion.

“I’m taking a page from Celestia’s playbook, and fixing this,” I boldly proclaimed. “The two of you have been letting your stubbornness and bitterness get in the way for too long. Now I want you both to have a seat and listen.”

“Hey! We’re the adults here!” Yearling protested.

Thankfully, I had some unexpected but not unwelcomed support from Blondie. She positioned herself at my side, folded her arms across her chest, and then bellowed like a steely-eyed drill sergeant, “Sit down and shut yer yaps now!”

And when a six-foot-four woman yells at you to sit, only a fool would choose not to plant their bottom on the nearest surface. The twins promptly sat down on the bed, falling silent as they both stared at me with a mix of curiosity and nervousness. With Blondie at my side, I felt more comfortable continuing on, even as my friends began to gather outside the door just to see what was going on.

“Okay, it’s time for the two of you to own up to some truths,” I began as I paced about the room. I took a few deep breaths, which may have come across as creating a dramatic pause, but I just needed a moment to formulate my thoughts. “Ms. Yearling, you are a great teacher, and you’ve made for yourself a fantastic life with somebody who truly cares for you. However, you are a bit of a control freak, and you keep letting your jealousy of your sister’s popularity get to you.”

“You’re… jealous of me?” Derring asked in disbelief. “But you’re the one who’s always yelling at me to fix my life.”

“And despite that mess, everybody who’s met the both of us prefer you over me,” Yearling replied, rolling her eyes. “You’ve always been the popular one. I mean, you’re Daring Do, or at least as far as every fan of the book is concerned. You had teenagers volunteering to put themselves at risk just to help you. People cheered the last time I had to take a sick day.”

“In our defense, it did postpone a quiz,” Dash quickly chimed in.

“Listen, that redhead over there has spent most of the time I’ve known her defending you,” Derring continued on. Much to my relief, neither of them sounded even in the same postal code as being angry. “And from what I’m told, you’re the best teacher that school has. At the end of the day, who do you think is going to have a bigger impact on these kids’ lives? When was the last time you saw a valedictorian thank a literary character?”

Since I didn’t want the conversation to be focused entirely on Yearling’s failings, I steered the conversation towards the next issue. “As for you, Derring Do, you’ve spent so many years doing things on your own that you rarely stop to consider the needs of others anymore. Everyone around is growing up, starting families, and building a future, while you continue to seek instant gratification and reliving the past. I think that’s made you uncomfortable because you don’t think you can.”

“I am not!” Derring snapped back, earning a harsh glare from everyone else in the room. It quickly eroded any sense of defiance and prompted her to slump her shoulders in defeat. “O-okay, maybe I am a little.”

“Why would you think that?” Yearling questioned in disbelief.

“It might have something to do with a sister who probably hasn’t given her a genuine compliment since before ‘Quest for the Sapphire Stone,’” I answered, giving her a disapproving stare of my own. “Did you ever stop to consider that Derring brought you on that adventure because she wanted to spend time with you? To share her world and her interests with you? The two of you used to be inseparable, remember? For her, Daring Do wasn’t about glory or fame or money, it was about two sisters collaborating on something.”

Yearling looked to her sister with genuine surprise, all of her prior frustrations and grievances seemingly melting from her face. “Is… is that true?”

Her sister just gave a sheepish little shrug, looking almost embarrassed to tell the truth. “I always said the first book was the best,” she answered. “It wasn’t because the adventure was spectacular, it was because I got to do it with you. Being a team was the best part. It’s why I keep asking Blondie to come along because I figure maybe that’ll get you to join as well.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because all you tell me to do is go back to school or get a proper job,” Derring snapped, though not from anger but another emotion building up inside her. “It’s just another excuse to get me out of your life. And every time I give you notes, all you do is fret and complain about the stuff I wind up doing! You never once go ‘good job sis’ or ‘way to go.’”

Derring paused for a brief moment, looking away from everybody else in an attempt to hide what was welling up in her eyes.

“Can’t you just be proud of me for once?” she whimpered.

“Oh, Derring.” Overcome with guilt, Yearling wrapped her arms around her sister and pulled her in close. “You’re my sister, and I will always, always be proud of you. I just… I guess I just worry about you, and I do a lousy job of expressing that worry, don’t I?”

Derring just nodded with a murmur of a response, but kept her face buried in her sister’s shoulder.

“I’m so sorry,” Yearling said in a whimper of her own. “I keep insisting that you need to be a better sister, without even realizing that I wasn’t being a very good one to you either.” She then broke away from the hug, bringing her sister back out to arm’s length so she could look her square in the eyes. “Can you ever forgive me?”

Derring was still trying to hide that she was crying a bit, but managed a weak smile in response. “Depends—are you willing to forgive me, too?”

“If I may interrupt,” I spoke up again, even though I was hesitant about butting into the conversation at this juncture. “I have something of a compromise to propose.”

“A compromise?” the sisters replied in unison.

“Yes, because while it’s good to see you two recognize the problem and commit to fixing it, having a road map to do that will help things along,” I explained, using my own experience to help guide me. “One of you wants approval and cooperation, and the other wants responsibility and commitment. I think I have a way to do that.”

Derring must’ve caught on to what I was alluding to as she tried to respond. “You’re not suggesting that I—”

“Let me finish, please,” I quickly replied. “Now Derring Do has so informed me that Dr. Caballeron has an open offer to take her into his graduate program. I think it would be a good idea for her to take the good doctor up on this.”

“That sounds like just Yearling getting what she wants,” Derring replied with a hint of skepticism.

“Ah yes, but in return, Yearling must promise to help support you during this process,” I continued with my explanation, while turning my gaze to my teacher. “Because your sister will need that help in order to succeed, and I mean more than just financial. Give her something to look forward to at the end of the road. Be there for whatever problems arise. And once Derring’s completed the program, I think she’d make a great partner to help you with future Daring Do novels.”

They both stared at each other for what felt like an eternity, hopefully fighting through their typical urge to just think of themselves. Slowly but surely, the sisters began to smile again, followed by embracing each other in a heartwarming hug. The sisters weren’t the only ones caught up in the moment, as Blondie rushed over and bear-hugged the two of them.

“Oh, well ain’t this just the sweetest thing! My two favourite gals together again!” Blondie squealed in delight, fighting back her own tears of joy and remaining oblivious to the twins squirming for air as she crushed them.

I couldn’t help but hide my giggling as I watched the twins wrestle their way free of Blondie’s crushing affection. Eventually, they managed to break free and were soon gasping for breath between fits of laughter.

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Yearling asked her sister. “You’ll be giving up your adventures for quite a few years to go back to school. It’ll all be ‘Derring Do the boring grad student’ rather than ‘Derring Do the intrepid explorer.’”

“Yeah, I think I’m okay with this,” Derring nodded back. While she didn’t sound excited, she did sound hopeful, which was far better in the long run. “If it means the two of us can be sisters again like we used to, I’m willing to deal with a few adventure-less years. Just promise me that when I’m a big-shot proper archaeologist, you’ll tag along on some of the expeditions.”

“You become a big-shot proper archaeologist and I’ll fund you an expedition.”

Things quieted down, though neither sister moved from the bed just yet. They were still absorbing everything that just happened, until finally Derring Do reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone.

“I… um, I suppose I should call Dr. Caballeron and let him know,” she announced as she started sifting through her contact numbers. A moment later she had the phone to ear her and an anxious look on her face as she listened to the ringing. “Hey Caballeron, it’s Derring again. Listen, uh… is that spot in your program still available? I had a, um, re-evaluation of my priorities. What? No, I’m not going to—” Derring’s face turned a deep shade of scarlet as she grumbled, “Don’t make me say it.”

She nervously glanced to the rest of us, and then let out a mournful groan.

“I want to join forces with you Dr. Caballeron…”

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

It was late into the evening by the time I staggered through the front door and into my home. Despite being tired, sore, and way behind on my homework, I still felt apprehension upon my return. It’d be a lie if I said that my time spent with Yearling and her sister hadn’t served an ulterior motive in keeping me away from home and, more specifically, Celestia.

We hadn’t spoken a word to one another since our argument over my reckless pursuit in satisfying my magical curiosity, and unfortunately the events of today only demonstrated how dangerous my behavior could get. The whole day basically justified most of the worries that Celestia had, and I hadn’t even made much progress in my search. At best, Ms. Yearling promised that she would round up all the notes and books she had used to research the magic parts of Daring Do, but I wasn’t optimistic on that front anymore.

Magic just wasn’t a natural part of this world.

At least Rainbow Dash was learning how to harness her magic, though hopefully she wouldn’t jump through any more windows.

“I’m home!” I called out despite my inclination for the opposite. Trying to hide wouldn’t work anyways since Yearling would’ve already sent a message to Celestia explaining my prolonged absence. She thought she was doing me a favour, but it could just as easily set me up for disaster.

At first, I thought I might be okay since nobody responded to my announcement. I could understand Luna not saying anything as she was probably in her room wearing headphones and unable to hear anything short of the second coming of Discord. Maybe Celestia had already gone to sleep and I could at least have some more time to collect myself before facing the music in the morning. However, that hope began to flicker like a dying candle when I heard the faint mumblings of the television.

As I crept into the living room, my fears were confirmed when I saw Celestia lounging across the couch, reading a book while listening to the late night news. Was she ignoring me? She had to have heard me enter, so this had to be a deliberate act. Maybe she wasn’t sure what to say, just like how I felt right now. If she was unwilling to say anything to me, then I knew I had to take the opportunity while it was still available and retreat to the sanctuary of my room.

Except I had just spent part of my day convincing two grown women to talk their problems out as well rather than continuing to act on pride and preconceptions. It’d be rather hypocritical to let myself fall into the same cycle.

So swallowing my pride, which thankfully these days was still about as large as Pinkie Pie’s sense of subtlety, I stood before Celestia and spoke my mind.

“I’m… sorry about what I said during our argument and for getting so angry,” I began, which was enough to pique her curiosity. “I left Equestria because I thought Princess Celestia was trying to hold me back, and when you told me to stop studying magic here, it felt just like a repeat of that whole ordeal.” I let out a soft chortle in disbelief. “So it turned out I had learned from my mistakes, and now knew them so well I could repeat them exactly.”

“Sunset—”

“Please, let me finish,” I interrupted with a raised hand. “It was wrong for me to get upset and say those things. I didn’t stop to really think about how you felt. For me, I grew up around magic; I used it every day for even the simplest of tasks. So naturally for me, I see wielding magic about as casually as you see driving a car down to the school. But magic was never that to you—for you, it’s been this dark, dangerous thing that’s threatened to take over the school and hurt the people you care about.”

Likewise, if I had taken some pickup trucks from this world and dropped them onto a house in Ponyville, the inhabitants would naturally start to feel a bit wary whenever they see one.

“I was inconsiderate to your feelings, and for that I am deeply sorry. I promise I won’t do any more experiments.”

Were this Princess Celestia, I would’ve expected a brief but polite lecture about the lessons I had learned, and the importance of accepting responsibility and forgiveness. And I wouldn’t have had an issue if Principal Celestia had elected to go the same route since I so obviously still had much to learn. Instead, however, she just smiled to me as she set her book down and turned the television off.

“Have a seat,” she invited me over, patting the spot beside her.

I set my bag down and joined her on the couch, and was pleasantly surprised when she put her arm around my shoulder. She pulled me in a bit closer and gave me a firm, but reassuring squeeze.

“I feel I owe you an apology as well,” she began. “My decision was… hasty, and motivated by fear rather than sound reasoning.”

“But you have every right to be concerned about the dangers,” I hastily replied.

“That is true. The concerns may be justified, but that doesn’t make what I decided the right choice,” she went on. She leaned back in her seat, guiding my head onto her shoulder as she let out a heavy sigh. For a brief moment, there was nothing but the stillness of her breath and the droning whirl of the ceiling fan above. “I’d be lying if I said the thought of more magic in my school doesn’t frighten me a little, but that fear is born mostly of ignorance. I should’ve been more open-minded when you tried to reassure me.”

“I… I may have been overselling my case a bit,” I reluctantly admitted. “I really have only the faintest idea of how magic works here, and I’m not even entirely certain about what little I think I know.”

Celestia gave me a few light pats and a reassuring little smile. “But I trust you’ll be able to figure it out in time. You just need to be patient.”

“So wait, are you… saying you’re okay with me continuing my research?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow to convey my confusion.

She answered with a quiet nod before responding, “You’re a bright young girl, Sunset Shimmer: passionate, dedicated, and most importantly, curious. That kind of curiosity shouldn’t be stifled; the more you try to contain it, the more powerful it will become. Plus, I think after today we can both agree that even if I did tell you to stop, you’d go ahead and do so anyways, but taking even greater risks in the process.”

I was surprised by Celestia’s sudden change in policy. Much like my obsession with the magic mirror, she recognized my insatiable curiosity, but instead of trying to put a stop to it, she’s chosen to help guide it in order to minimize the risk. I wasn’t about to argue against a decision that worked in my favour, but I couldn’t help but feel like she was giving me more than I deserved.

There were, of course, a few conditions to this arrangement. “Just promise me you won’t do anything crazy without telling me, and that you’ll do your best to stay safe, okay?”

Her request was more than reasonable, so I didn’t hesitate to nod back and seal the deal with a warm hug. “You’ve given me so much, Celestia; I don’t want to lose your trust.”

“And I don’t want to lose you again.”

I felt her hand gently brush along the back of my head, drawing me in closer so that my head nestled just under her chin. It instilled a strange sense of comfort and tranquility, as if there was absolutely nothing in the world that could harm me at this moment. I wish I could’ve stayed there forever.