• Published 1st Nov 2014
  • 15,446 Views, 1,500 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-VI

Back when I lived in Equestria, if I ever needed to twist somebody’s hoof in order to get what I needed, it often took weeks of hard work and observation. Even the most rigid and steadfast of ponies had some weakness, some bargaining chip, with which they became as pliable as blades of grass. It was always just a matter of watching and waiting for them to reveal it. For some ponies, it was an old memory that they would give anything to re-live; others just wanted that one special item that they had sought after their whole lives; and the really easy ones were more than willing to follow a cute butt straight off a cliff.

Life at Canterlot High made gathering information about others a million times easier. When I first discovered the popular MyStable website, I almost cried out in joy—a whole section of the internet where people just put their entire lives up on display for the whole world to admire. Social media was almost a mandatory requirement for teenagers these days, and even I had to forge my own page so that people thought my world was infinitely better than it actually was.

Now when I needed to find an angle on somebody, all I had to do was turn to MyStable, and all the details were handed over to me. Some people required a bit of deduction and reading between the lines, but people in this world seemed to enjoy sharing intimate details of their lives with one another. Perhaps it was just a part of ‘friendship’ that I had yet to grasp, but I had always thought of such unsolicited revelations to be just inviting trouble to come your way.

As I had expected, a self-absorbed brat like Diamond Tiara had a MyStable page that detailed every pointless and trivial detail of her life as though anybody really cared about her thoughts on breakfast or the latest fashion trend. I spent most of Wednesday evening toiling away on my laptop, combing through months upon months of vapid drivel. Had I the time and inclination, I could’ve deduced a mountain of vulnerabilities to go after, just like when I deduced that Applejack’s country pride as an easy way to get under her skin. However, I only had a single evening, and I just needed enough to get Diamond Tiara off my back. For that, even innocuous details could be helpful—a particular brand of soda seen in frequent pictures, a photograph and joyful comment relating to the school cafeteria’s popular Tutti-Frutti parfait, to posted song lyrics from the same handful of bands.

After some hours, I had all the details I needed.

“Sunset Shimmer?” came a voice and a knock from my bedroom door. It was Celestia. “May I come in?”

“J-just give me a second,” I shouted back before hastily closing my laptop and setting it aside. I grabbed a nearby binder and textbook, and spread them across my bed so that when Celestia came in, it would appear as though I had been busy with homework.

Upon opening the door, I was greeted to the sight of my newly self-appointed guardian, who happened to be carrying a tray with a sandwich and a steaming bowl of soup upon it.

“You didn’t come out for dinner, so I thought I would bring it to you,” Celestia explained.

“Dinner?” I repeated before I realized that I must have allowed more time to slip by that I had anticipated. “Oh! I’m so sorry, I must have lost track of the time.” Thankfully, she did not inquire further as to what had kept me so busy. As I returned to my bed to continue my ‘work,’ Celestia came inside and set the food down on a bedside table.

“I know that you are still adjusting to living here, so I didn’t want to force you to come out,” Celestia explained. “You’re welcome to eat in here if that is what you prefer, but I think it would be beneficial if you joined Luna and I for dinner next time.”

To be honest, I hadn’t given much thought towards something that, at first glance, seemed so mundane. Eating with others wasn’t something I did a lot of other than to keep up appearances, especially back when I was dating Flash Sentry. To me, eating was a necessity that I kept as much to a minimum as I could in order to better spend the rest of my time. It was an old habit, and one I realized that needed to be put to rest if I were to change as a person.

“I would like that,” I answered. “Maybe tomorrow you could knock on the door just to make sure I’m not too absorbed in my homework.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Celestia said. Just before reaching the door, however, she paused and turned about once more. “I saw what was in the school paper today. Would you like to talk about it?”

“What? Those pictures?” I scoffed, followed by a dismissive wave of my hand. “It’s just harmless gossip, and some students getting the justice they’ve been owed for a long time.”

“I would hardly call getting shoved into a locker to be anything like justice,” Celestia replied with a disapproving frown. I foresaw a lengthy conversation arising, as she closed the door and proceeded to lean against it. “I spoke with the students, and they told me that you practically begged them to act. I’m hard-pressed to believe that these students would act with such malice, so I have to ask: did you ask them to put you into a locker?”

I nodded. It might not have been a smart move to confess to it, but I counted on Celestia being more merciful to the perpetrators if she knew that I had encouraged them in the first place. I didn’t need more reasons for people to be upset with me. Unfortunately, that did leave me in the uncomfortable position of having to explain myself. I did not want Celestia involved in my dealings with Diamond Tiara, as the last thing I needed tacked onto my reputation was ‘Celestia’s protected pet.’ That presumed she even believed me if I told her the truth.

“I don’t know,” I said in a feigned attempted to deflect the question. “Everybody hates me, for good reason, and I just thought it could...change things.”

Celestia let out a quiet sigh as a look of worry and concern fell across her face. “Sunset Shimmer, I know you want to make things right,” she began with a gentle tone, “but life isn’t a karmic bank account where you just lump all the bad and the good in together. Punishing yourself isn’t going to fix things. You’ll find it hard to forgive yourself if you keep believing that you deserve bad things to happen to you.”

A part of me still felt as though I had gotten off easy for what happened at the Fall Formal. Having the entire student body hate me was to be expected, but I would hardly call it ‘punishment.’ Living with Celestia, while potentially problematic at times, felt like an upgrade to my former living conditions. Were it not for the fact that I was not living in the Royal Palace of Canterlot as I had intended, one could argue that I came out of the Fall Formal better than I had gone into it. It was hard to forgive yourself when it felt like your past sins still loomed overhead like a dark cloud.

I averted my gaze and began to shuffle my feet against the hardwood flooring. “I’m not sure I know how to do that,” I murmured in thinly-veiled despair.

“You’ll learn...in time,” Celestia reassured me.

I wanted desperately to believe that, but nothing thus far had suggested that I was learning anything other than how to continually make a mess of things.

“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” I answered. “Um, thanks for the food. I really should get back to my work though.”

Satisfied that she had imparted some token of wisdom upon me, Celestia said her goodbyes and headed on her way. I could tell a part of her was hesitant to leave, but even she was still adjusting to the new boundaries of our relationship, and didn’t want to overstay her welcome. With the prying eyes gone, I was able to return to my work planning my next move against Diamond Tiara, albeit with far less enthusiasm than before. It became hard to focus on my work with Celestia’s words trotting through my mind. If I kept telling myself I deserved misfortune, was I just dooming myself to a self-fulfilling prophecy?

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

The next day at school, I was ready to to put my plans into motion. With Gabby Gums willing to work for me, I could wrest away Diamond Tiara’s leverage against me. But stopping Diamond Tiara now wasn’t enough; I needed a way to ensure that she kept her distance from me and Gabby. The only way to do that was through some good old fashion blackmail. Now Tiara did a fair job keeping her distance from me so that nobody would suspect that we had been collaborating, but she was not the only person who knew how to manufacture evidence.

After first period had ended, I raced back to my locker to begin the first phase of my plans. Judging from the timestamps of Tiara’s numerous complaints about her teachers, it was easy to piece together what her class schedule was like. First period was social studies with Ms. Cheerilee, then followed by Ms. Yearling for English. However, that did mean I had to make it across the school in order to intercept Tiara before she reached Yearling’s classroom.

I gathered my supplies and slammed the locker shut, ready to make my cross-school trek were it not for a familiar demure figure now standing before me.

“Fluttershy!” I blurted out, almost spilling my books in the process. I swear to Celestia, somebody needed to put a bell on that girl so you could hear her approaching. “Wh-what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be heading to class?”

“I will, but I was hoping I could talk to you,” Fluttershy said. “That is, if you don’t mind.”

“Can this wait? I’m really in a hurry.” I felt bad having to brush my friend off as I had, but I had a schedule to keep.

“Oh, I’m sorry then,” she apologized. She almost looked saddened by the realization that she was taking me away from other business. “It...it’s not that important, really.”

It probably was, but far be it for her to assert herself.

“We’ll talk later, I promise,” I reassured her. I didn’t want to leave my friend feeling disheartened and that small gesture seemed to be enough to brighten her spirits. I wasn’t sure when ‘later’ would be, but I made a note to find the time somewhere in my day. Once Fluttershy was out of sight, I hurried on my way.

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

People and ponies alike have always been creatures of habit. Give them a task to be done regularly, such as go from one classroom to the next, and they will find an efficient way to do it, and they will keep doing it that way until they’re pushing up the daisies. Routines made people predictable, which made finding them and staging an ‘accidental’ encounter all the easier.

Taking position at the far end of the hallway, I spotted my quarry making her approach. I waited calmly at the corner, as though listening to the music currently playing in the headphones I wore. Further down the hall in the opposite direction, I could see Apple Bloom and her friends getting into position, too, and waiting for my signal. I suspected they were still hesitant to trust me, even after I had explained my plan to them, but I didn’t need their trust; only their compliance.

Oblivious to what awaited her, Diamond Tiara continued her stroll down the hallway, too busy chatting up the friend that walked alongside her to pay attention to what’s ahead. As she moved into position, I turned on the music and stepped into the intersection. All it took was putting my leg in just the right spot, and Diamond Tiara went tumbling to the ground, scattering all of our books across the ground.

“Oh my goodness, I am so sorry!” I exclaimed, mustering my best feigned sincerity. I hung my headphones around my neck before reaching down and helping Tiara back to her feet.

“You should watch where you’re going,” Tiara snapped back. Despite her attitude, she didn’t object to the help.

“I know, I know,” I insisted apologetically. “I just got too absorbed listening to this new album I got. It’s from ‘One Orientation’—you ever listen to them?”

A rhetorical question, actually, as Diamond Tiara quoted enough of their lyrics to convince me that she knew every word of every song they had. “Listen to them? I’m probably their biggest fan ever,” she replied. Even when agreeing with me, she sounded boastful about it. “I even have backstage passes to their next concert.”

“You do? Wow. Paint me green with envy,” I continued the charade. “Personally, I’m really digging their latest song. You have to listen to it.” Without even waiting for an answer, I put my headphones onto her and turned the music up.

She took the bait, quickly becoming absorbed in the sounds of her favourite tunes. With her attention now split, I made a deft move to pluck the cellphone from her coat pocket. I didn’t keep the phone in hand for very long. Right on cue, Apple Bloom and her friends passed by in the hallway behind me, taking the stolen phone off my hands. Their responsibility was to break into Tiara’s phone, which wasn’t as hard a task as one might think. Young kids rarely thought about security or using intricate passwords, so all one needed to do was look at the fingerprint patterns on the phone’s screen protector and one could guess the password after a couple of tries.

While the younglings were off playing amateur hacker, I kept Diamond Tiara preoccupied with musings about her favourite band. It was easy to keep people talking when you shifted the conversation onto something they loved. I started handing books back to her, making sure that I also handed her the stolen playbook that I had been carrying with me.

“Oh wait, that one is mine actually,” I apologized after realizing my intentional mistake, and took the book back before she realized what I had given her.

A few moments later, one of Apple Bloom’s friends made another pass in order to casually drop the stolen phone back into my possession. I had no time to check whether they had succeeded in their sabotage, so I had to put my trust in them. Hopefully they were more competent minions than my previous ones.

“Here, you dropped your phone,” I said as I pretended to have just plucked the phone from the ground.

“Oh?” Tiara replied, looking genuinely surprised by the revelation. “Um, thanks, I guess.”

Having everything I needed from Tiara, for the time being, I made my excuse to exit the stage. “Goodness, look at the time,” I feigned as I looked to my own phone. “I better get going before I’m late for class.” In a haste, I gathered the rest of my fallen books and my headphones, and hurried on my way down the hall, leaving Diamond Tiara none the wiser.

When I turned the nearby corner, I was able to meet up with Apple Bloom. She looked quite pleased with herself, though the smile faded shortly after my arrival.

“Did you get everything?” I asked.

“An expertly captured photo, if I do say so myself,” she replied with a little bit of boasting of her own. She held out her phone and showed me one of the pictures when I ‘accidentally’ handed the playbook over to Tiara. To a casual observer and with the appropriate accompanying story, it made for a convincing scene of Diamond Tiara being handed stolen property.

“Then I’ll see you girls at the start of phase two.”

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

The next part of my operation began at lunch hour, or at least it began for me. There was some waiting involved, however, as I needed the game pieces to be in the right spot before I could commence. A large, crowded room with hundreds of students talking and shuffling about made for a perfect environment for subterfuge.

Though I was surrounded by my friends, I said little during our meal time. Rainbow Dash was so busy talking about the upcoming soccer game that it was hard for anyone else to get a word in anyways. I kept an eye on the lines at the cafeteria, vigilant for any sign of Diamond Tiara’s arrival.

“Sunset?” a voice snapped me from my concentration, followed by a light tapping of a fork against my half-empty glass of water. It was Fluttershy, whom I had almost forgotten had been promised a conversation. “Is everything okay? You’ve been awfully quiet today, and you haven’t touched your dessert at all.”

“Hm?” I replied without thinking. “Oh! I’m fine. Just...lost in thought, that’s all. Feels like a lot is going on.” To avoid needing to say anything further, I preoccupied myself with a drink.

“Is it about the stolen playbook?” she inquired.

When I heard her question, I almost choked on my beverage, leading to a coughing fit that left the rest of the table staring at me in confusion.

“H-how do you know about that?” I gasped out between wet coughs. Lucky for me, any sign of nervousness or concern was masked by the invasion currently being waged in my trachea.

“Everybody’s been talking about it,” Fluttershy explained, confused by my show of surprise. “They said somebody broke into the coach’s office and stole it right from under his nose!”

For a moment, I wondered how rumors of the theft had begun to spread, until I realized that it was likely planted by a certain newspaper editor in preparation for the big scoop tomorrow. Tiara made a smart choice by going after the famous playbook, as it ensured it would be a subject on the lips of every student.

“I heard the thief broke in through the air vents,” Rainbow Dash chimed in with her own version of the story. “Crawling through the ducts and then lowering down on ropes like a master spy. You know, you were in the coach’s office for a while, Sunset, did you see anything unusual?”

“Well, um...I thought I heard something in the air ducts, but I thought it was just my imagination,” I lied with a half-hearted shrug. Anybody with an ounce of common sense, though, would be able to tell you that the average building air vent was way too small for most people to fit through. Not to mention, crawling across that much sheet metal would probably sound like the god of thunder was attempting to invade your building.

The untouched desert that Fluttershy had mentioned earlier was part of my plan with Diamond Tiara. The Tutti-Frutti parfait was a popular dessert item at the cafeteria, and its scarcity as a Thursday special made it all the more sought after. In fact, if one did not arrive at the cafeteria within ten minutes, there would likely be none left.

And given that Diamond Tiara was currently being held late in Ms Yearling’s class due to somebody’s phone alarm being set to go off at full volume right in the middle of class, there would be none of her treasured parfaits left when she arrived. Depriving somebody of their favourite dessert might sound needlessly spiteful, but it was only one step in this phase of my operations.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Diamond Tiara taking a seat at a table on the far side of the cafeteria. “If you’ll pardon me, girls, I need to go and attend to some business,” I excused myself.

“Is this the same business from earlier today?” Fluttershy asked. “B-because I was hoping that I could talk to you...um, about that thing from earlier.”

Right, the conversation I had promised her. As my time was still on a limited supply, I had no choice but to offer up a half-hearted apology, and another promise that I would find the time for her. She sounded understanding, but I was reluctant to believe it. I eased my conscience by reminding myself that I would have plenty of time to talk with Fluttershy once I had secured our safety from future Gabby Gums columns.

“It’s newspaper stuff, don’t worry,” I insisted one last time before grabbing my tray.

With my friends once again pushed to the wayside, I made my way across the cafeteria, making sure to use the crowds to mask my movements. I didn’t need my friends asking too many questions, nor did I want Diamond Tiara to realize I was coming until I was right on top of her. The freshman editor tried to hide her surprise, but she wasn’t fast enough to conceal the reflex response to my sudden presence in the seat across from her.

“What are you doing here?” she asked with a hint of indignation. Her aqua eyes narrowed in suspicion, and I had no doubt that she was contemplating whether she should be on guard around me. I needed to put her at ease if I were to have any success.

“My, my, somebody is cranky,” I mused while giving a playful smirk. “What’s the matter, did the cafeteria run out of your favourite parfait?”

The vacancy on her lunch tray was evidence enough of this, but the annoyed glare she gave me helped to lend confirmation. “Is there something you want?” she asked.

“I was hoping I could set things right, so could you stop glaring daggers me?” I pleaded with her. I succeeded in getting her to relax her guard just an iota. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to work with. “Listen, I’ve been giving a lot of thought about what you said to me yesterday, and I realize now that you were right. There’s no need for animosity between us, especially when you’ve gone to such lengths to help me out already. It’s not as if people are lining up to offer me help.”

For a brief moment, Tiara’s face betrayed the sense of surprise she was feeling before snapping back to smug satisfaction. I doubt she anticipated her threatening taunts from yesterday to have been taken to heart, but far be it for her to turn down somebody handing out compliments.

“Well, I’m glad to see you’re seeing things my way,” Diamond Tiara replied.

“And as a peace offering, I offer you my dessert.” I flashed my most reassuring smile as I slide the Tutti-frutti parfait across the table. “I shouldn’t have gotten upset at you yesterday. I mean, you did sort of threaten my friends, but you’re just trying to protect your interests. The newspaper is like your baby, and, in a way, my refusal was threatening you first.”

Diamond Tiara was half-distracted by the sugar-laden offering that still stood before her. “O-oh, yes! Exactly like that.” She nodded in agreement.

As she began to gorge herself on my peace offering, I leaned forward and rested my chin upon intertwined fingers. “You know, if you really want to make Gabby Gums’ columns more exciting, I could help you get some dirt on other students around here. I do have plenty of experience with snooping, after all.”

To add some honey to my new offer, I pulled out my cell phone and pulled up some images. They were old schoolbook photos from prior years of students and faculty members in humorous or embarrassing situations, but being a freshman, Tiara wouldn’t have the breadth of experience needed to recognize them. All Tiara saw was a treasure trove with eyes widening as if it were being given to her by whoever led that boy band that she was so obsessed with.

Honestly, I made sure to wipe every piece of evidence of their music from my phone once I was finished. I would rather have been tied down to a bed of nails and have the boiling tears of weeping angels poured into my ears than have to listen to another minute of that horrid excuse for music.

The twinkle in Tiara’s eyes was enough to let me know that I had hooked her interest. Before she could reach for my phone, I tucked it back into my coat pocket. She was a little disappointed at first, but she soon realized that I was keeping my cards close to my chest as well, lest I lose what advantage I had. In a strange and twisted way, I think I just earned a bit of her respect at that moment, which left a bad taste in my mouth. It wasn’t as though I disliked her, or that I loathed having her approval, but her arrogance reminded me far too much of my old ways. Were I smarter or wiser, I might have been better equipped to talk her out of her self-absorbed ways, but in my youth, all I could do was hope that she didn’t learn her lesson as harshly as I had.

“I’ll be in touch,” I said with a coy smirk.

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

As the end of the school day drew near, I went from feeling confident in my plans to ‘drunk on empowerment.’ It was hard to believe that it had been just under a week since the Fall Formal, and I was feeling as bold and as assured as I had before my disastrous fall from grace. Taking action, seizing control of my destiny once more, felt so intoxicating I could’ve sworn I had spent the last week going through withdrawal symptoms. Maybe, I thought, returning to Canterlot High wouldn’t be so bad if I went about solving my issues in similar fashions. Just because the students were straight-forward with their disdain for me didn’t mean I had to respond in a similarly straight-forward manner.

If revenge was a dish best served cold, then I was considering starting all of my meals with dessert.

Before my final class was over, I managed to get excused early by citing a need to meet with Principal Celestia before school ended. Now technically that was true, but there was no requirement for me to get to her office before class ended. The teacher, however, did not need to know that, and it gave me ample time to conduct the final component of my scheme. I needed to get to Diamond Tiara’s locker before she did so that I could deliver the ultimatum.

I reviewed my collection of work from the past few hours, all of which had been sent to my phone. With the assistance of Apple Bloom and her cohorts, all of whom still looked at me as though I were liable to turn against them, we had assembled a telling array of photos. If the saying went that a picture told a thousand words, then I had gathered enough to make a small novel.

In a way, that was exactly what I had been planning to do: tell a story. The playbook had been stolen, and the whole school knew, so I couldn’t just put the book back where I found it. Chances were there was somebody keeping an eye on the coaches office, and I couldn’t afford to be caught with the book in my possession. However, if I just tried to straight-up frame Diamond Tiara for it, she’d likely be able to produce a half-dozen witnesses who’ll testify that she was nowhere near the coach’s office around the time of the theft. It’d fizzle out and Diamond Tiara would know who to point the finger at. Once again, it would fall to her word versus mine, and I knew where that would end.

As a result, rather than attempting to pin all the blame on Tiara, I planned to use the photographic evidence to paint her as the mastermind that she truly was. I had enough to make for a convincing tale: pictures of two girls enjoying a common interest in music, chatting over lunch, offering each other dessert, and even sharing pictures from one’s phone. The piece de resistance, however, was the picture that appeared to have me handing off a book to Diamond Tiara that looked remarkably similar to the stolen playbook. Once accompanied by a column by Gabby Gums detailing a plot hatched between two ‘friends’ to steal the treasured playbook, no amount of feigning innocence would help in escaping this noose.

The only thing left to do was to plant the stolen playbook inside Diamond Tiara’s locker, and then switch out her padlock with one of my own. That would leave me in a perfect position to get Diamond Tiara to back off, lest the principal receive an anonymous tip on where to find the stolen property.

Your run-of-the-mill combination lock was actually ridiculously easy to break into once you knew how: all you needed was a thin piece of pliable metal, and time to hone your technique. In the past, the false sense of security those locks brought out in students made it easier for me to operate without suspicion. If, for example, you left your phone in your locker, then you’d never even consider the possibility of me breaking in and stealing all of the data off of it.

Today, though, I planned to use my skills of breaking and entering to help others rather than ruin their lives. Granted, it was by threatening to ruin one person’s life, but the needs of the many outweighed one girl’s feelings, or so I told myself.

Once I reached Tiara’s locker, I checked my surroundings one more time before setting to work. Thirty more seconds of work, and my problems with that girl would be nothing more than a bad memory, and a reminder not to trust spoiled brats.

“This isn’t your locker,” a terrifyingly familiar voice sounded behind me.

I spun about quickly, keeping my back against the locker as to hide my illicit activities, to once again discover that my friend, who I began to seriously suspect was a ninja in a previous life, Fluttershy had managed to get the drop on me again. What caught me by surprise, though, was not the source but just how firm the tone was. Hers was not a comment of the inquisitive nature, but rather one of subtle accusation.

“How do you keep doing that?” I exclaimed. My friend seemed confused as to what I was referring to, as if she were unaware of her seemingly inhuman ability to appear at my shoulder without a sound. Seeing the confusion on her face, I decided to just push the conversation past it. “Just forget about it! What are you doing here?”

At first, there was nothing but silence and a stern glare, which coming from Fluttershy felt both foreign and terrifying. “I should be the one asking that,” she remarked. Slowly, her arms folded across her chest, and her gaze narrowed in on me. “Just what exactly do you think you’re doing?”

I had feigned innocence so many times in the past, it should have come naturally to me. Yet, for some reason, Fluttershy’s petrifying gaze set every panic-nerve off in my brain.

“N-nothing really,” I tried to insist while tucking the playbook behind my back. “I was just on my way to Principal Celestia, that’s all. Honest!”

“Oh really?” came her response, accompanied by growing skepticism. “If you ask me, it looks more like you’re trying to break into someone’s locker.”

“What? Break into a locker?” I tried to deflect the accusations with my own display of incredulity. I scoffed and waved off the suggestion, even letting out a forced chuckle of feigned amusement. “That is, like, such a ridiculous thing to think, Fluttershy. Why on Earth would I ever do that? N-not that I even could. I mean, it’s called a locker, after all.”

I may have had more luck trying to convince her I was the Princess of Equestria because she just grabbed my arm and wrenched it out into the open, revealing the stolen playbook. Perhaps if I had gone with the lie that I was merely returning a book to its owner, which wasn’t too far from the truth in a twisted way, I may have had more room to verbally manoeuvre. As it was, all I could muster was a half-hearted smile. There was little hope that Fluttershy would not recognize what was in my hand, as she happened to be staring at the side of the book with the word ‘playbook’ scrawled across it.

“I...found it behind a dumpster?” That was less of an explanation and more of a hopeful plead that Fluttershy would give me some scrap of trust.

Whatever reservoir of trust I may have had with Fluttershy beforehand, there was none left to be had now. She released her vice-like grasp on my wrist and proceeded to set her hands upon her hips, glaring at me with the intensity of a thousand suns.

“I am only going to ask you this once, Sunset Shimmer, were you going to threaten Diamond Tiara by planting the playbook in her locker?”

The precision with which she dropped her accusation was far too good to be just a lucky guess, or even a well-thought-out deduction, no offense to Fluttershy’s intelligence. No point trying to keep up a facade at this point.

“I see you’ve spoken with Applejack,” I remarked.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Fluttershy demanded. As she stepped in, I had to flatten against the locker just to keep a comfortable level of distance from her.

“You already know the answer.”

“I want to hear it from you.” Were it anybody else, I would’ve expected an ‘or else’ to have followed those words. However, coming from Fluttershy, it’s absence made for an even deeper impact. Her stare was petrifying, which only made me wonder how in Equestria did I go three years without her ever unleashing it on me?

Rattled by guilt and anxiety, my conscience finally had enough and threw in the towel. “Fine! Yes!” I snapped back. “I was going to leave the playbook in Diamond Tiara’s locker so I could force her to quit the newspaper and leave us all alone!”

Suddenly, Fluttershy’s expression softened up, and the glare of accusation turned to one of saddened disappointment. “Sunset Shimmer, how could you do this? I thought you were better than this,” she lamented.

Better than this? I had no standing at the school anymore; a handful of friends who were asked to look after me; and I slept in the guest bedroom of my principal’s house. I hadn’t the slightest clue what I was anymore, let alone what constituted as ‘better.’ I tried to play nice, and all I got in return to show for it was a big fist full of failure. When I tried to be more proactive, and went to great lengths to try and avoid hurting others, save for one stupid midfielder, I just got taken advantage of. I had spent the past several days getting more acquainted with fear and loathing than any person should. In fact, that day had been the first time since the Fall Formal where I had actually felt confident and in control of my life. If this was ‘worse,’ then somebody needed to explain to me why I should be avoiding things that made me feel great.

“I’m just doing this to protect you and the others,” I explained. Despite feeling ‘great,’ staring at Fluttershy seemed to be causing guilt to creep up on me. “I knew there would be risks to me when I made the deal with Diamond Tiara, but I thought making a personal sacrifice for somebody else was part of what being a friend is all about.”

“That is part of being a friend,” Fluttershy answered as she rested a hand upon my shoulder, “but kindness is also about taking your friend’s feelings into consideration. Do you really think I care about the animal shelter more than I care about you?”

“Um...yes?”

The disappointing glare I got in response told me that I had the wrong answer.

“I care about the animal shelter, and about you,” my friend continued on. “I would never, ever, be happy knowing that these animals were only benefiting because of your personal suffering.”

“I’m not suffering, Fluttershy.” This time I was insisting something that I felt to be true. The pictures in the paper were embarrassing, yes, but nothing that would make me lose sleep. “I’d rather people be laughing at me than hating me.”

“And what about this?” she replied while gesturing to the stolen book.

I didn’t quite follow what she was getting at since neither the theft nor my subsequent plan for dealing with Tiara caused me any suffering beyond enduring some awful music. When I gave Fluttershy a puzzled shrug, she let out a sigh.

“Sunset, do you know what it means to be good?”

That was an odd question, and certainly one that I could’ve spent the next hour or so having a lively debate over, citing the various moral and ethical philosophies from some of the greatest minds in Equestrian history like Immanuel Canter or Fetlocrates. However, I suspected Fluttershy had a much more poignant answer in store for me. At first, I thought it had been a rhetorical question, but as my friend continued to stare at me in silence, I realized that she was expecting a response.

Uncertain of how to respond, I threw up my arms in a half-hearted shrug. “Gaining...the most benefit for the most number of people for the least amount of harm inflicted?”

Judging by the familiar glare, I was wrong yet again. Apparently Fluttershy did not prescribe to the school of utilitarianism, which in hindsight I should’ve realized from everything she had said moments earlier.

“It’s about acting with kindness in your heart,” she explained and accentuated her answer by resting her hand upon the center of her chest. “And that’s towards everybody, not just the people you want to help. Doing what gets the best result for your friends cannot be the only measure—what’s in your heart and how you act are just as important. What you’re doing is exactly what you used to do before: lie, cheat, and steal. Just because you’re doing it to help your friends rather than to help yourself doesn’t change the fact that it’s still wrong.”

“But...but I don’t know what else to do,” I said, shame now washing over every part of me. I looked down to the playbook, its tattered pages now feeling like a lead weight of guilt in my hands. “I can’t let you and the others suffer because I screwed up. I just...I just wanted to help.”

She was right about a lot of things, of course. It made me question whether this plan had been concocted out of a true desire to help my friends, or simply because this was how I used to solve my problems. I had spent days feeling insecure and uncertain about myself, and it led me to grabbing onto the first thing that gave me some semblance of the time when I wasn’t. Was I really looking to help my friends, or just saving myself from my own anxieties?

Suddenly, I felt Fluttershy’s hand upon my chin, gently lifting my gaze back up to meet her reassuring smile. “I know you do, but you’ve been down this road before, and you know where it will lead. Is that what you really want?”

I shook my head.

“Then how about we find a better way?” she offered with an outstretched hand. “May I have your phone, please?”

It was easy to guess why she wanted the phone. Yet even when buried under a mountain of truth, doubt still held a grip on my mind. I reached into my pocket, but I hesitated to go any further. “But without these photos, I’ve got no leverage. She’ll sic Gabby Gums on you and the others.”

“It’s just a gossip column,” Fluttershy reminded me. “A few embarrassing pictures might hurt, but it’ll pass. If you go through with your plan, I’m worried that things might never change for you.”

A part of me wanted to tell her that this was a one-time affair—that I only did this because I had to, not because I wanted to. However, deep in my heart, I knew that wasn’t entirely true. I had other options available, but this was the one that I trusted because it was what I was most familiar with. Justifying my actions felt more akin to making excuses, and if I could justify returning to my old ways for the sake of my friends, how long would it be before I was justifying it for my own sake?

The realization felt like getting smothered with a pillow: something normally so light and comforting, yet it would be the end of me if I didn’t escape while I still had the chance.

Before I could second-guess myself any further, I shoved the phone into Fluttershy’s awaiting hand. At least if she took the option away from me, I wouldn’t be tempted by it any longer. I was beginning to understand why Celestia felt I needed supervision as I clearly couldn’t trust my own sense of judgement to make the right calls, at least not until I had a better understanding of the nuances of friendship.

As the afternoon bell rang, signaling the end of the day, Fluttershy and I decided it would be best to make our way elsewhere before Diamond Tiara showed up. For the moment, I followed alongside Fluttershy, and not just because she still had my phone. Without the pictures, I had no means to defend myself against Tiara, and I was still in possession of certain stolen goods. In a few hours, Tiara would come looking for me in order to arrange the hand-off that would see me get plastered across the front page of the school newspaper. I had no doubt that she had a back-up plan in store just in case I got cold feet at the last second. Fluttershy may have saved me from one bad decision, but I was still in a world of trouble because of other ones.

“I still need to do something about this,” I commented while gesturing to the book in my possession. I kept it close to my chest, concealed under my coat so that no passing student noticed it. With all of the students pouring out of the classrooms in their mad rush for freedom, the last thing I needed was a random do-gooder noticing my misdeeds.

“I have an idea for that,” Fluttershy replied. She decided to remain intentionally cryptic about her intentions, leaving me to ponder what schemes could arise in that soft-spoken mind of hers. Given that my recent experiences with Luna and Celestia exposed me to completely unexpected sides of their lives, I would not have been surprised if somewhere under the quiet innocence, Fluttershy had a vindictive streak a mile long.

Thankfully, Fluttershy had something far more restrained in mind, although no less uncomfortable for me. Her plan was, in fact, something that had been brought to my attention before but I had dismissed it off-hand. Even though I was willing to trust anything that my friend suggested, a small part of me was still hesitant when we stopped outside of Ms. Yearling’s classroom.

“What if she doesn’t believe me?” I murmured as trepidation began to take hold.

I felt my friend’s hands rest upon both of my shoulder. She stood just behind me, although I did not know if it was to help encourage me forward, or just to keep me from running. A very gentle pressure then began to push against my back, ushering me towards the door.

“You’ll just have to trust her,” Fluttershy reassured me.

In a frantic rush, my mind ran through dozens of possible scenarios as to how to respond: throwing the book inside and running as fast as I could came in as the top contender, followed by tearful pleas for mercy, and play dead. Even begging Fluttershy to go in my stead was sounding like a favorable alternative to confronting Ms. Yearling. The last time I really spoke to her, I said something along the lines of ‘it’ll be a cold day in Tartarus before I ever come to you for help,’ which had been in response to Yearling insisting that my actions and subsequent departure from the newspaper club would have long-standing repercussions.

“You say that like trust is that simple,” I said.

“It is,” she insisted, “trust me.”

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