• Published 25th Sep 2016
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Spectacular Seven - The Albinocorn



As graduation draws near, magic begins to awaken in the human world, drawing out old rivals and opening the doors to new adventures. It's up to Sunset and her friends to keep Canterlot safe, all while dealing with their looming futures.

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Phoenix Rising III: Pomp and Circumstance

Sunset and Twilight had returned to Prom just as the final song had ended. They weren’t perturbed in the slightest. They had shared a dance over the ocean; what was the dance floor to them now?

Flash, of course, had been named Prom King, and in a pleasant surprise, Ditzy had been crowned Queen. Rarity had been a little put out, but Sunset assured her that, if she had run, Rarity would have won in a landslide.

The nine of them stayed out until well past midnight, taking the limo to a sweet shoppe not too far from the hotel. They spent half an hour recapping to Flash what had transpired on the roof, and when Sunset saw Twilight emotionally retreating, she changed the topic to their last two weeks of school.

After dessert, they were dropped off one by one, Twilight and Sunset sharing one more kiss while Trixie pretended to gag behind them.

“I’m sorry about Moondancer,” Sunset said as the limo took them home.

Trixie looked out the window, her expression sullen. “So am I. I can’t believe she would side with our mortal enemy. Though, maybe Twilight is right. Maybe she doesn’t have a choice.”

Lamia slept for two days following Prom. Like Artemis had said, Selena did not take immense pleasure in housing the thief, but did so out of kindness to Sunset. They kept her on a cot in the second spare bedroom, filled with a random assortment of extra clothes and other moving boxes that had been left in storage.

Sunset returned home after school on Monday, surprised when Spot was not waiting for her as she opened the front door, but was instead upstairs, barking at the closed door to her room. Sunset opened it and found Lamia lounging on her bed, reading one of her old science notebooks.

“Finally,” she said exasperatedly. She sat up and tossed the notebook away. “Do you know how bored I was waiting for you? You don’t even have a diary or porn magazines to read in here.”

“Why would…” Sunset pinched the bridge of her nose. “You could at least say thank you. I could have easily sent you to jail.”

“I was getting to that.” Lamia got off the bed and stretched, popping her shoulders. “Oh man, this is the best I’ve felt in a month.” She let out a relieved sigh. “Okay, listen, kid. Your tattle-tailing is the reason I got wrapped up in all this, so in a way, this is all your fault.”

Sunset grit her teeth, feeling a rush of expletives rising to her throat.

Lamia held a hand up. “But, I also admit, maybe I didn’t make some of the best decisions along the way.” She walked over to the window and gazed out it. “I got tired of fighting all these people with magical powers. My luck had turned real sour real fast. They said that if I took that magic you had, it would give me an even playing field. I was dumb enough to listen.”

She turned an eye on Sunset. “They wanted to see if they could put a soul in another body, and I was their guinea pig. I don’t know how you do it. They put that… demon thing inside me and I couldn’t keep a lid on it. All I felt was hatred and jealousy and… it hurt.”

Sunset eased her jaw. “Yeah… it takes a lot out of you. But I’m not fighting with it anymore. I’ve just come to accept it.”

“Hmph. Sounds cheesy.” Lamia crossed her arms. “But what I’m trying to say is yeah, I’m sorry for going a little too far with wanting revenge. And thanks for taking that demon out.”

“You’re welcome.”

Lamia flopped back onto Sunset’s bed. “So why didn’t you send me to jail?”

Sunset picked up the notebook Lamia had tossed and put it away while looking for anything else Lamia had mishandled. “I wanted to hear your side of the story. You were in pain when we came up to the terrace. And I wanted to see what you knew about Tempest and what she’s planning.”

A tense silence fell between them. Sunset turned and saw Lamia had sat up, but was staring fixedly at the carpet, her mouth twisted in a grimace. She raised her hands and ran them down her face.

“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t want to… but I lost control…”

Sunset walked over to her. She held a comforting hand out but was unsure if it was the right gesture. Lamia didn’t notice. She continued on her own.

“Tempest took me around… as Scarlet. She… she would use her find other people with magic and… and take their souls like she took yours. Then…” Lamia’s voice trembled. “Then… she… I… I killed them…. Burned their bodies to ash.”

Sunset dropped her hand. “Oh…” She moved and collapsed onto the bed next to Lamia. Suddenly, she could see the fire in her mind’s eye. It was hazy and distant, like how her memories had been when her soul had been fractured.

An aching sadness pierced Sunset. Mournful tears for the lives lost slid down her face. She dropped her head into her hands. She had committed…

No!

She snapped her head up. No. It had not been her who had done that. She would not feel guilty for a crime she did not commit. Remorseful, yes, but not guilty. Sunset stood up and moved in front of Lamia again.

“You didn’t kill those people,” she said firmly.

Lamia looked up at her, eyes damp. “Yes I—”

“No, you didn’t. Scarlet did. Tempest did. But not you. And not me. Scarlet was a force that belonged fully to neither of us. She had her own will, her own motivation. Yes, she spawned from me and my tampering with powers I didn’t fully understand, and yes, she was used through you. But neither of us had control of her. She was her own entity. So I refuse to believe that I murdered those people. And you should too.”

Lamia stared up at her, not looking as convinced as Sunset could have hoped. Still, she gave a weak nod and took in a composed breath. “Yeah… yeah, sure. All right.”

Sunset didn’t believe her, but left it alone. “What else can you tell me about Tempest and her plans?”

Lamia leaned back on the bed, still looking distracted. “Not much. They kept me in the dark about most things. Even their base. They met a lot in Moondancer’s fancy house, but Tempest would take me somewhere else via her freaky portals. They’ve got like, a lab somewhere underground.”

Cliché villains are cliché.

“And Tempest,” Lamia continued, “man, she’s changed a lot. When I met her, she was just some explorer. She was really frail though. Wheezed and coughed a lot. I don’t know what happened, but whatever power she got is apparently pretty healthy for her. She got a freaky shadow arm out of it."

“You’ve met her before?” Sunset asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah. Met her in Brazil. She was hunting some super rare snake, and I thought it’d be fun to tag along. Well, we found it, and I thought to myself, ‘this would make a really great pet.’”

“So you stole it,” Sunset deadpanned.

“And named him Jórmangandr.” Lamia folded her arms behind her head. “So yeah, she didn’t take too kindly to that. Forced me to work for her after she caught me stealing stuff for Loony Moony.”

“Yeah, that revenge street runs two ways.”

“Hey, if it helps, I’m done trying to get revenge against you. Load of good it’s done me so far.”

Sunset sat down at her desk. “So, what are you going to do now?”

Lamia glared at the ceiling. “Tempest has my snake. I’m going to get him back, we’re going to steal something, then I’m finally going to retire to Greece.”

Sunset snorted. “Good luck with that.”

“Also, can I crash here for a bit? I’ve got nowhere else to go, and I think Tempest might try to hunt me down in case I ‘know too much.’ I figure here’s probably safest.”

Before Sunset could respond, a voice from down the hall yelled, “Absolutely not!

*******

The remainder of the semester passed without fanfare. Sunset caught up in all of her classes thanks to Twilight and several more study/violin/make-out sessions that were interrupted by Shining just checking if Sunset still needed anything after her ‘harrowing incident.’ Moondancer no longer showed up to school, and while Sunset wanted to say she didn’t care, her absence left a forebodence.

Artemis tried several times to visit the manor but no one ever answered the door. He had even spied on the house two separate nights, yet neither Moondancer nor her father made an appearance.

With begrudging acceptance, Lamia was allowed to stay with the Lulamoons. Sunset vouched for her, using herself as an example.

“You took me in. And I did some pretty bad things, too.”

“Yes, but you were sorry for it,” Selena argued.

“Hey, I said I was sorry too,” Lamia said. “I didn’t want to get tangled up in all this magical shit.”

“Plus, her manners are terrible,” Selena growled.

Sunset shrugged. “You got me there.”

Lamia made an annoyed sigh. “I promise, I’ll be on my best behavior. I’ll probably be in my room most of the time anyway.”

“It’s not your room,” Selena said, her growl getting lower.

A full hour of negotiation later, and the Lulamoons had a new guest. Out of all the ways her life could have gone, Sunset would have never guessed she’d be sleeping under the same roof as her dimensional counterpart.

Finals week dawned on the seniors of Canterlot High. Accumulated tests of everything they had learned during the past semester stood between them and their caps and gowns. Like at the end of the semesters before, exam anxiety ran high, and nerves were tested.

“Sunset, quiz me!” Twilight shouted during lunch on Monday, shoving her chemistry notebook into Sunset’s hands.

“Didn’t we do this yesterday?”

“Quiz me again! I will not fail my tests and get stripped of my valedictorian status! I already told my parents!”

Rainbow looked up from her own notes, eyes red and bleary. “I’m pretty sure it’s impossible for you to fail a test.”

“You don’t know that! What if I sit down and just forget everything?”

“Then wouldn’t studying be ultimately pointless?” Pinkie asked.

Twilight began to hyperventilate.

Sunset smacked Pinkie on the head with the notebook. “Sparky, you’re a genius. You’re going to be fine. But if it helps you relax, yes, I’ll quiz you again.”

The exams began the next day, starting with history for Sunset. She looked at the four page, double-sided packet laying on her desk. The solace in this is that I’ll never have to worry about history again.

She looked over at Rarity, gave her an encouraging thumbs up, and set to work. Of course Mr. Noteworthy couldn’t make an easy test. Many of the questions were fill in the blanks or short answers with only a handful of multiple choice. Even with the two hours allotted, Sunset ran the clock down with her precise answers and need to triple check everything.

Her test in English wasn’t as stressful. Two pages of multiple choice and true or false questions followed by a short essay. She finished it with time to spare and studied for her remaining tests after handing it in to Miss Cheerilee.

Wednesday brought the heavy science tests, starting with physics. Even with her abundant studying, the exam left Sunset chewing on the end of her pencil as she re-read each question before writing out an answer. She could feel an oncoming headache by the end of it, and still had chemistry to get through. Lunch would have been a welcome respite, but she spent half of it keeping Twilight calm.

“Fifteen percent of our grade. Fifteen!

“And you already have a one-hundred,” Sunset said reassuringly. “You’re fine.”

“Yeah, even if you completely tank it, you’d still pass the class,” Rainbow said in a confident voice that told Sunset she was at least trying to be helpful.

After practically spoon feeding Twilight her lunch, it was time for chemistry. They sat next to each other, and Sunset gave Twilight a kiss for good luck before the tests were handed out. Mr. Cranky didn’t pull his punches either. The sheer amount of numbers and letters crammed next to each other was enough to make one’s head spin. The questions were multiple choice, but solving for each of them would take forever.

She took a quick peek at Twilight, seeing her pencil already flying across her scratch sheet of paper. Well, if she can do it, so can I. Sunset put her pencil to the page and got to work, hyperfocusing for the next two hours on the formulas and problems before her, stopping only to chew on her pencil, then pinch herself to get her to quit it.

When Mr. Cranky called time, Sunset dropped her pencil and her head against the desk. She could see Twilight leaning back in her chair, looking quite pleased with herself. When the bell released them for the day, the test was all Twilight could talk about.

“Number twenty-seven really threw me for a loop the way it was worded. Proof that critical reading skills are necessary in all fields, not just English. Oh, but what did you think about number thirty-one? I think a lot of people might get that wrong since you have to correct the formula before plugging it in.”

“You did?” Sunset rubbed the side of her head. “Aw, horsefeathers.”

Twilight patted her on the back. “I’m sure you still did great.”

“Yeah, we’ll see.” She lightly punched Twilight’s shoulder. “I told you you were panicking for nothing.”

Twilight pushed up her glasses. “It was not for nothing. That was our hardest class and the test was worth fifteen percent of our final grade. I was panicking the right amount.”

“Whatever you say, babe. So, how’s the speech coming along?” Sunset should have known better than to ask. Twilight stopped walking and looked like a deer in headlights. “And here we go again.”

They spent Wednesday night going over speech drafts for the graduation ceremony before cramming in one last study session for their final classes. By the time Thursday came to an end, and Sunset had finished her econ and trigonometry tests, she hoped she would never see another number in her life.

The halls on Friday were decorated with streamers and confetti in their school colors. Hanging in the rotunda was a banner reading ‘Congratulations, Seniors!’ Yearbooks were handed out in their first class, and the periods were spent trading them around and having them signed.

Sunset and Rarity sat side by side, flipping through the pages of memories. She found Rainbow in five of the sport teams shots, holding a trophy in each one.

“Goodness, look at my hair!” Rarity held the book away from herself. “I knew I should have ran a brush through it one more time! Oh, now I’m going to be haunted by this forever!”

Sunset leaned over and saw Rarity’s picture with the fashion club. “Rarity, your hair looks fine.”

“Do you not see it?” she hissed, shoving the book closer. If Sunset squinted, she could see one small fiber of hair sticking out in the back. “How could I have been so careless? And on picture day, too!” She swooned.

“Rarity, people are only going to know if you point it out to them,” Sunset said, trying to keep from sounding too annoyed.

“But I will always know!”

Let it go, Sunset, you’re fighting an unwinnable battle. She continued browsing the book, finding the page on the Fall Formal. There were several shots from the dance on one side, and on the other, a full picture of Princess Twilight wearing her crown.

Sunset chewed on the inside of her cheek. She let the feelings of guilt and shame run their course. Thinking on that night would always bring an unwelcome twinge. But, one deep breath later, and the thought of everything she had gained from that night, and Sunset was fine again.

Still, as she looked down at Princess Twilight’s photo, lingering resentment still swirled inside her. Something about the princess’s face still ticked her off. The girl who had taken everything from her, beaten her, then left. She went home to Celestia, with a crown and a kingdom to look forward to, while Sunset had to suffer and struggle in this world. Sure, half of her suffering was her own fault, but she had stood tall and cleaned up every mistake, no thanks to the princess. Even with everything she had gone through, Sunset’s animosity toward Princess Twilight couldn’t be snuffed out.

Mr. Noteworthy handed out their grades, pausing to give Sunset a rare, if tiny, smile. “Congratulations, Miss Shimmer. Perhaps you’ll still make something of yourself.”

Old Sunset would have said something snarky. Heck, Sunset from a month ago would have too. This Sunset just took the compliment and turned her paper over, finding an A+ in the box next to history. Rarity squealed beside her, showing off her own A.

Miss Cheerilee gave a short speech on how she would miss all of them before handing their grades back. Her smile to Sunset was much warmer as well, going nicely with her second A+. Before lunch arrived, Sunset had three perfect grades, tying her with Twilight.

“Maybe they’ll switch us at the last second and I’ll be valedictorian,” Sunset said teasingly.

“You’re forgetting that I took six AP classes. You only have five,” Twilight said with a confident smile.

Rainbow waved her report card. “I’m just happy I passed. You know what they say, ‘Cs get degrees.’”

“You’re gonna do so great in college,” Applejack said dryly, showing off her two Bs and an A.

They passed around their yearbooks, writing long, heartfelt messages to each other. In Pinkie’s case, she took up a whole page, explaining in detail how much she loved each of them and what made them special. By the end, half the table was in tears and sharing long hugs.

“You guys are so sentimental it hurts sometimes,” Sunset said, finding herself caught between a sobbing Pinkie and Fluttershy.

“Hello, pot, we’re kettle,” Rarity said, dabbing her eyes.

Sunset and Twilight received their grades from their final classes, A+s for both of them. As the final bell for their high school career rang, Canterlot High burst into jubilant cheers and cries of victory that sang through the halls. Papers and notebooks were tossed into the air, practice for the ceremony tomorrow.

As the girls convened in the rotunda, Sunset took one last look at the trophy case. “Hard to believe we never have to come back here again.”

“It’s very surreal,” Rarity said. “Four years worth of memories are in these halls. Now we’re on to bigger and better things.”

“Yeah.” An honest smile graced Sunset’s lips. “Bigger and better.”

*******

Her cheeks hurt from smiling so much. “Artemis, come on. We’re going to be late.”

The camera flashed again. “Okay, okay, just one more for Trixie. Smile, baby girl!”

Trixie posed and smiled again. “You should enjoy this while it lasts, Sunset. After all, it’s only going to happen once for you.”

“Ha ha.” Sunset smoothed out her blue graduation gown and adjusted the sash over her shoulders. “We can take more pictures after the ceremony. Remember, I have to help lead the procession and give one of the first speeches.”

Selena opened the front door and pointed outside. “She’s right. I’d hate for them to be late today of all days.” She turned her head to the stairs and shouted, “Hurry up and get down here!”

Lamia descended, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and thick sunglasses. “I’m all happy for you, really, but why do I have to go? I didn’t even go to my own graduation.”

“Because I trust you here alone about as far as I can throw you,” Selena said. “Now, march.”

Thanks to Artemis’ insistent picture taking, finding parking around Canterlot High was nearly impossible. They had to park two blocks away and walk at a brisk pace to make it one time. But, the sun was bright and the weather surprisingly cool for the last week of May.

Sunset hurried to the front of the line, waving at all her fellow graduates and watching them dance anxiously as they waited to enter the stadium.

“You’re almost late,” Twilight said. She had done her hair in a braided ponytail today. Her gown also looked a size too big for her, the sleeves completely covering her hands.

“You look like a child.”

Twilight swatted her with her sleeves. “I told them small! Apparently, someone shoved a medium into a small bag, and I got this!” She groaned. “And I’m wearing heels. What if I trip? The whole stadium is going to laugh at me! Then, when I go up there to speak…” Her face paled.

Sunset reached for her hand, having to dig a little for it. “I’ll be with you the whole time. So if you trip, we’ll at least go down together.”

At Twilight’s giggle, the stadium speakers crackled, and Miss Celestia began to speak, welcoming family and friends. A wave of butterflies passed through Sunset’s stomach. She had made it. She had ran out on her studies before she could finish at Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. It wasn’t a degree in magic, but the swell of accomplishment rising through her told her these years in the human world hadn’t been completely in vain.

Celestia’s speech ended, and ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ flared to life, uplifting and triumphant. Miss Luna opened the gates to the stadium and picked up the school flag. “Single file behind me,” she said over the rising violins. “Best behavior, all of you.”

Falling in step behind her, hands still locked together, Sunset and Twilight entered the stadium to a congratulatory roars and a storm of applause. The stands were packed to the brim, parents cheering and crying, friends whooping and blowing air horns, and cameras flashing everywhere. Sunset spotted Artemis and Selena, an easy feat with the miniature fireworks coming from Artemis’ wand. Lamia sat next to them, looking bored even with her sunglasses on. She saw Pinkie’s entire family sitting in the front row, all of them stone faced. Twilight’s family sat not too far away, Velvet and Cadence already blowing their noses.

Rows of white chairs lined the football field with a stage set up at the home team’s endzone. The students passed under an archway of balloons to get to their chairs, walking down a blue carpet that matched their gowns. Sunset and Twilight took their place at the front and looked back at their friends, two rows behind them. Pinkie waved enthusiastically and shouted, “Good luck!”

The music hit its crescendo as the last student walked onto the field and sat down. There were a few open chairs left, and doing another quick scan of the students, Sunset knew one of them had been meant for Moondancer.

“Welcome, this year’s graduating class of Canterlot High School!” Celestia said, pausing to allow the students to cheer for themselves. “You have all worked so hard over the course of this interesting year, and that hard work is reflected in the diploma’s you’re about to receive. I am proud of each and every one of you, and know you will go on to create bright futures, not just for yourselves, but for the world around you. Now, to officially welcome you on this momentous day, please welcome your fellow classmate, who we are thrilled to have safe and healthy again, our salutatorian, Sunset Shimmer!”

Sunset rose from her seat to an enthusiastic applause. Twilight gave her hand an extra squeeze before letting go, and Celestia gave her a welcoming smile as she walked onto stage and up to the podium. Looking out at the sea of faces, her heart pounded. You can do this. Show how easy this is for Twilight.

“Fellow students, welcome to the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. The road to get here wasn’t easy, and I know for many of you, I made sure it was even harder. I can never apologize enough for how I treated some of you, and I don’t expect all of you to forgive me.” She took a deep breath to ease her still fluttering heart. “It’s a poor excuse, I know, but it’s said that hardships make us stronger. We learn and grow more as people. Maybe the experiences you’ve had over the last four years have taught you something. Maybe you’re stronger people for it. It’s my hope that you are, and that you go out and use that strength for good.”

Sunset raised an empowering fist. “In this last year, I’ve seen how strong you all can be when you come together. You guys are a force for good! You’re Wondercolts! When you set your mind to something, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish!”

She paused and let them cheer again. “I know I’m late in showing it, but I’m thankful for sharing a class with you. There’s a myriad of talent amongst you all, from music, to art, to baking, and more. Don’t let anyone tell you your talents are useless, and don’t let yourself think they’re useless either. Any talent can be an instrument of change for the world. And like Miss Celestia said, you’ll go on to make the world a brighter place.” She let out an extended sigh of relief as the applause rolled in. “Thank you, Canterlot High! For everything!

She stepped off the stage, smiling at Celestia again, and sat down.

Twilight beamed at her. “You sounded so confident.”

“Easy peasy. If I can do it, so can you.”

Twilight looked away, biting her lip.

Celestia spoke a few more words, introduced the board of trustees, and allowed Luna to speak as well.

“And now,” Luna said, gesturing down to the students, “please welcome your valedictorian, Twilight Sparkle!”

As Twilight rose, Sunset gave her a quick peck on the cheek. “You got this, Sparky.”

Twilight let out a short, high-pitched giggle as she approached the microphone. “F-fellow students… I mean, dearest classmates! I’m very happy to see you all here today. Umm…”

Sunset saw her fidget. It’s okay, Sparky. Just breathe. Come on, look at me and breathe. Like Twilight had heard her, their eyes met, and Sunset took a deep breath, prompting Twilight to do the same.

She cleared her throat. “While I’ve only attended Canterlot High this past year, having to say goodbye to all of you is still one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not just because I’m bad at public speaking.” The audience laughed, and Sunset saw the last of the tension leave Twilight’s shoulders. “In less than a year, I’ve met so many new and wonderful people, including five of the best friends anyone could ask for, and a partner who, while frustrating at times, is one of the strongest and most loving people I’ve ever met.”

Sunset lowered her cap over her eyes, trying to hide her red face.

“There was something vastly different about this school compared to my previous one. I felt it when I first walked onto campus. It was friendship. The amount of friendship and compassion in this school is vast and deep. My previous institution was all about competition and reputation. While it isn’t always perfect, here, students work together and are proud of each other’s accomplishments. And as we move forward to the next part of our lives, I hope you’ll all take that with you: the spirit of friendship. Bring it wherever you go. Continue to be honest, show everyone you meet kindness and generosity. Make someone laugh. And stay true to your friends and to yourself.

“The memories I’ve gained here are some of the best in my life. When we part ways and travel down our chosen paths, I’ll look back on our shared time fondly, as I hope you will too. As Shakespeare wrote, ‘parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be ‘morrow.’ While we have to say goodbye today, I’m sure many of us will cross paths again, and I look forward to sharing what we’ve learned in the meantime. Thank you all so much! Go, Wondercolts!”

The round of cheers Twilight got were louder than Sunset’s, not that she minded much. Twilight hurried off the stage, stumbling when she hit the grass, but managing to stay upright. She collapsed into her chair and wiped the sweat off her brow. “I never want to do that again.”

Sunset leaned against her. “You did great, Sparky.”

Celestia returned to the podium, thanked all the speakers, then asked for the first row to stand and line up next to the stage. “With the power vested in me as principal of this institution, I will now confer upon these students who have met all the graduation requirements, proof of their hard work, determination, and perseverance. When I call your name, please step forth and receive your diploma. Twilight Sparkle!”

Twilight hurried up the steps, almost tripping again as she got to the top. She accepted the ribbon bound scroll and shook Celestia and Luna’s hands, then walked across the stage, waving to the audience while the music played on in the background.

“Sunset Shimmer!”

Sunset stepped up and took her diploma, beaming back at Celestia as they shook hands. “Thanks for everything,” she said.

Celestia let out a soft chuckle. “Don’t thank me. You got this far on your own merits.”

“Not completely on my own.”

“Very true. I wish you nothing but happiness, Sunset.”

Sunset bowed her head and moved on before the tears could surface. Luna gave her a friendly smile as well, congratulating her and wishing her the best. Sunset looked out to the crowd, seeing Artemis let loose another firework.

She returned to her seat and watched her friends walk across the stage, standing and cheering for each of them. Pinkie, in an act that surprised no one, shoved her diploma into her hair and cartwheeled off the stage.

“Nailed it!” she said, bouncing back to her seat.

When the last student received their diploma, the music died down once more, and everyone rose to their feet. Celestia stood before them for the last time. “Students, it is proper tradition that upon receiving your diplomas, you move the tassels on your cap from left to right, signifying the next change in your life.”

Sunset and Twilight faced one another and moved the other’s tassel. “You ready?” Sunset asked. Twilight gave an excited nod.

“I now present the graduating class of Canterlot High! Congratulations!”

As one, the students screamed in elation and extol, and threw their caps into the air. Sunset wrapped Twilight in a hug and swung her around, savoring her shriek of delight. Five others quickly latched onto their hug, and the Spectacular Seven jumped up and down in each others arms while Pinkie sang, “We did it, we did it, we did it!”

Families flooded the field, bringing with them flowers, balloons and more cameras. With the thrum of victory in the air and the jubilant laughter of her friends, Sunset couldn’t wipe the smile off her face. All of their families herded them up to take pictures and hand them gifts of felicitations. Many a mother rained kisses down on their child’s head.

“Mother stop, you’re embarrassing me,” Trixie bemoaned.

“I’m just so proud of you!”

Artemis hooked an arm around Sunset’s neck and pulled her in for a hug. “And it’s thanks to you we got to live to see this moment! You have my undying gratitude, Sunset!”

She still couldn’t find the strength to frown. “Don’t mention it. Just glad I could help.”

“Come on now, let’s get a picture with all your cute little friends!” Artemis released Sunset and ran off to collaborate with the other parents. They migrated to a less crowded space and pressed the girls together, Sunset standing in the middle.

Flash wandered over with a sheepish look. “Mind if I join?”

Rarity hooked him by the arm and pulled him in. “A gentleman for asking, but of course you can join us.”

“All right now, squeeze in everyone,” Artemis said, holding up his camera. “Big smiles! That means you, baby girl!”

Sunset felt Twilight wrap a hand around hers. She gave it a loving squeeze. I don’t know what comes next. We’ll all have to go our separate ways soon. But in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy every second I have!

“Say, ‘graduates!’”

“Graduates!” they all cheered as the flash went off.

*******

Moondancer gave the mask a little bend, making sure it was flexible enough to her liking. Chafing was something she literally couldn’t tolerate. Satisfied with its flexibility, she carefully slipped it onto the left side of her face, wincing at the contact. A few adjustments, and she finally lifted her head to look in the mirror.

A plain white mask with a narrow slit for her eye covered half her face. With its smooth paleness, it almost looked like she was whole again. A tear splashed down onto her vanity, and with a sweep of her arm, she knocked away her collection of makeup and hand mirrors.

She rested the good side of her face in her hand and sighed. Once again, she was a prisoner in her own house. Tempest said she had a mission for her soon, but in the meantime, Moondancer was to go nowhere.

Today would have been graduation day. She should have been on a grassy field, listening to thunderous applause at the completion of her high school career. Now, she didn’t even get that luxury.

Moondancer sighed. She could see Twilight walking across the stage in her mind’s eye. She was proud of her little star. Her thoughts then turned to Sunset, and she dug her nails into her palm. Her eye caught sight of her reflection.

You’ll pay for this, Sunset.

But even that threat felt hollow now. Moondancer relaxed her hand and sighed again. Without the Archon Amulet twisting her thoughts, even her base level of animosity felt lower than usual.

“Does it still hurt?”

She swung around, her tense shoulders falling in disappointment. “Oh, it’s you.”

Night Shade stood in her door, something close to concern on his face. “You’ve been quiet the last few days.”

“I’ve had nothing to say.” Moondancer turned back to her vanity, loathing that she could still see him in the reflection.

He shifted nervously. “I’m… proud of you,” he said slowly.

Moondancer cocked an eyebrow. “Are you now?”

“Today’s graduation day, isn’t it? You’ve finished high school.”

Moondancer studied his reflection. She was surprised he had even been keeping track of such a thing. “It is. But in case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t gone to school in the past three weeks. I failed all of my finals. I did not graduate.”

“It’s the idea that counts,” Night Shade said, more slowly.

Her irritation flared. Moondancer stood up and stormed toward him, practically shoving him out of the way. “No, it does not count. And if you must know, yes, it always hurts.” She continued her march down the hall and turned toward the long flight of stairs leading up to the third floor.

When she got to the top, she looked back to make sure he hadn't followed. Not that he ever did. Moondancer faced the plain door at the end of the short hall. She smoothed out her dress, wanting to look presentable, and turned the silver knob.

The room beyond was beige and plain. The window was open, allowing the curtains to flutter in the breeze. A soft, rhythmic beep filled the quiet space.

Moondancer shut the door behind her. “Hello, Mother.”

Apalla laid in a large bed, her head tilted toward the window. Her wrinkled hands were neatly laid on top of her lap, and an IV extended from her arm.

Moondancer walked around and pulled the only chair up to her mother’s side, looking into her blue eyes. She lifted a hand and ran it through Apalla’s wispy and dry hair. “The orchids are about to bloom again. I’ll bring you some when they do,” she said softly. She brought her hand down to her mother’s sunken cheeks. “You’d like that, right?”

Apalla didn’t answer.

“I… I know I haven’t done the best things. But the end justifies the means. I’ll make the world a better place. I will!” Moondancer’s hand fell, and she looked down at the floor. “I just… I wish…” She clenched a fist.

“Sunset says you chose to stay in the Soul Lock, but she’s wrong! You would have come to see me if you could have, right?” She wiped the tear coming out of her right eye. “Right. That horrible demon. She’s never had to sacrifice anything. She’s never lost anything like I have. Yet she thinks she can lecture and patronize me.”

Moondancer looked up again. “But it’s not over. I won’t give up. I can’t give up.” She tightened her curled hand. “Tirek will be summoned, and when he arrives, I will slay him with my own two hands. The cycle will come to an end. Then, your soul will finally be free, Mother. We can be together again.”

She laid a hand over her mother’s, tears falling onto both of them. “You’re all that’s left for me now. But I’ll fight for you until the very end.”

Volume II

End

Author's Note:

Standby for the postscript.

Not interested in the author's commentary? Well, I hope to see you next time for Volume III!

We're almost halfway there, guys...

Volume III Closing Theme

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