• Published 5th Sep 2018
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The Golden Age of Apocalypse - Book I - BlueBastard

A Berylverse Story - The ponies investigate an ancient prophecy tied to Sombra's plan to destroy Equestria, all the while Sunset prepares for her coronation. But not all is as it seems when the mystery begins to imply a far darker truth of the past.

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Chapter 28: Culture Shock Therapy

Golden Age of Apocalypse

Chapter 28—Culture Shock Therapy

The speed of light is calculated to be 671 million miles per hour. With that figure in mind, one can only begin to understand the absolute speed with which the sun rocketed above the horizon into the morning sky, giving Luna barely enough time to prevent the moon from being consumed by the burning nuclear space furnace.

CELESTIAAAAAAAA!” shouted Luna, immediately storming up to her sister’s room in a huff. “We agreed that during this time of year, you would give me at least six minutes for a buffer between the moon going down and you raising the sun!”

“Oh, did I not give that to you?” replied Celestia, flustered. “I thought I was running late, sorry.”

Luna just shook her head. “Celly, I know today’s a big day for you, for all of us, but for everypony’s sake try not to get us all incinerated—least of all Sunset’s family.”

“You mean her other family. We’re her family too, are we not?”

“I MEAN ALL OF US!” Luna gasped.

Celestia blushed. “Yes, that would be bad.”

Sitting on the couch in the living room, Sunset Shimmer, the newest alicorn and soon-to-be princess of Equestria, was pensive, her chin resting on her templed hands. The culmination of a lifetime’s worth of achievement—especially after she’d abandoned the dream of ever becoming one—now stared her right in the face. And as she looked outside to see the falling leaves of autumn as the sun began its swing towards the southern hemisphere, Sunset idly felt the tug of the perpetual nuclear detonation 93 million miles away, just as her other mother—the closest thing she had to a biological mother—did back in her native dimension.

She ignored the call within her soul. After all, it wasn’t her place to do that. Truth be told, she was still figuring out what her place was in that regard, at least as far as the paracausal went here on Earth.

Fear. That’s it, isn’t it? she thought. I’m afraid. Afraid of how both my mothers will react once they finally meet. Afraid of how the others will take meeting their counterparts; in retrospect, I should not have held off telling them for so long. Afraid of how Twily’s going to react when she meets Twi—oh, that’s going to be complete and utter hell. She looked down to see her reflection in the glassy coffee table, and gave her mirror image a smile, as if the returned function would boost her spirits. It didn’t. Ironically, the last thing I’m afraid of is being coronated. After everything I’ve been through, it’ll be a snap.

“Sis?” Sunset looked up to see an all-too-familiar figure descend the stairs: her sister, Twilight Sparkle. The girl who had been her practical obverse since the day they met; from the very beginning, they’d been virtual siblings. And now, for roughly a month and a half, it was outright, due to her adoption by Twilight’s family. She was a fountain of strength for Sunset, just as Twilight claimed vice versa, and Sunset couldn’t picture her life any other way now.

“Decided to dress the same as me?” Sunset laughed. Sure enough, Twilight was wearing an exact copy of what the humanized alicorn was wearing: white-and-black plaid long sleeve shirt, black varsity-style sweater, gray skirt, socks and black skater shoes.

“Both me and Tavi,” Twilight said with a sunny smile, though it was a strained one.

Around the time of Sunset’s adoption, the girl who had also been a virtual sister to her, her now-cousin Octavia Melody, had inexplicably changed, becoming darker and moodier and at one point outright violent. Sunset had at first thought it to be a combination of both the delayed results of the Vibe (the drug that had affected Twilight earlier in the year) as well as her own ill-thought-out attempt to cure Octavia of the drug by hitting her with a point-blank healing spell. That turned out not to be the case, however, and the true answer was both far more mundane and frightening at the same time. Octavia was dealing with it through a combination of medicines she didn’t want to take and therapist appointments she didn’t want to go to, but given that the alternative was giving in to her darker persona, something Sunset couldn’t remove from her, she had little choice. All Sunset could do was to promise that she would be there for her as much as she was for Twilight.

“Something I should be aware of?” Sunset asked her sister, deciding to go for the direct approach.

“Yes. I know you talked about it with Mom and Dad, but you didn’t mention anything to me: are these appointments you set up with pony therapists going to help her any? I mean…” The look on Twilight’s face was one of worry.

“She’ll be fine, Twily. These are resident experts in their fields of thaumic healing and therapy. And while I might not be able to do something, they might. And even if they can’t, they still have training like human therapists, so they’ll be able to assist her in ways Dr. Chrysoberyl might not,” Sunset pointed out. “Besides, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that sometimes the best way to approach a problem you can’t solve is from a novel angle.”

“I sure hope so.” The two turned to see the last member of their immediate trio approached, dressed the same as them. Octavia Melody, to Sunset, was as much a sister as Twilight, even if the relationship was technically farther out. Still, the three were thick as thieves and with the addition of the triplets made for six very close sisters.

“I wouldn’t steer you wrong, Tavi,” Sunset said as she rose from the couch.

Octavia embraced her. “I know you wouldn’t. It’s just…well, no offense, but I can’t help but feel as though I’m going from professionally-trained psychiatrists to witch doctors.”

Sunset grinned. “Oh, don’t worry about that. We’re not going to be in Equestria long enough for me to make any appointments with Zebrican shamans. Though if you’re interested, I could do that next time.”

Octavia looked at her cousin. “Are you serious?”

Sunset laughed. “I’m an alien goddess from a species your own has always thought of as fictional. Next question?”

The response to that was a sudden shriek. Sunset watched as a thing slithered through her shirt, forcing her to partially unbutton it. A second later, a head poked up and out from the opening: It was her pet ferret, Arbuckle. As part of her treatment, it had been suggested that Octavia get a pet, and after talking it over with her aunt and uncle, Arbuckle had come into their lives.

Arbuckle nuzzled his mistress, making her giggle before she removed the ferret from her bosom. “You little pest!” she scolded him. “Sorry about this, girls,” Tavi apologized. “I’ll go put him back,” she told them. “Are you sure he’s going to be okay?”

“I cast a spell on his cage; the food and water will appear when necessary,” Sunset assured her. “We won’t be gone long enough for it to matter, but I did it just in case.”

The raven-haired girl nuzzled her beloved pet again. “Thanks,” she said, walking upstairs with her prize in tow, determined to make sure he stayed put this time.

As Octavia headed back upstairs, Twilight sighed. “I really wish you could do something about helping her, Sunny.”

“I did everything I could,” Sunset assured her. “Anything else would be unethical, and I don’t mean just by wings-and-horn standards. She’s family and I want the best for her, so I’m doing everything I can, got it?”

“I’m not sure I do, but I trust you.” As Sunset sat back down, Twilight leaned against her. “If I was this bad back then? I don’t know how you did it.”

“Because you’re my sister and I love you,” Sunset said, putting an arm around her sister.

There was a ding, and the elevator opened, with three heavily armed girls in camouflage uniforms departing from it. Given that the house was merely a two-story mansion, it seemed unusual that it would have an elevator, but the truth was that the lift arrived from below, not above. Sunset recalled that these weren’t the same uniforms she’d seen them in earlier, but an entirely different camouflage design.

“That should do it,” Adagio Dazzle said, looking to her sisters Aria Blaze and Sonata Dusk. “Okay, make sure our seabags are packed and meet back here in ten minutes for Pre-Op.”

“Roger that,” Sonata said with a grin. Aria merely nodded and both ladies ran upstairs, their boots tromping in time.

“Dagi, what’s that?” Sunset asked. “These the new uniforms you were asking about?”

Adagio stood at attention while speaking to her cousin and liegelady. “Rarity brought them over last night. Design is based on the US Army ACU, though the pattern is standard MultiCam—she had some trouble getting it for us, but it didn’t cost too much. Hopefully the REN can reimburse our OPBUD, and—”

“English, please,” Sunset said as she got up from her seat.

Adagio smiled. “Sorry, your grace, I forget that you probably haven’t memorized the terms manual I gave you last week an—”

“Dagi, not now, please?”

Adagio sighed. “Look, your grace—”

“I have a name, you know.”

“We’re on the clock right now and we agreed to this. I was stupid to let you override me last time we deployed, and look what it cost us. This time it’s different, and the stakes are higher—and my sisters and I will not let our family and friends be in danger. So we’re going to do things my way, and I don’t want arguments. If—and that’s for me to decide—if we’re safe enough amongst the Roman-era weapons and pre-historic armor, then I’ll dial it down. But right now? No. I’m more than just your cousin, your grace, I’m also a military professional—and the military professional in me is terrified shitless of the shit that could happen if some freak like the one we fought two weeks ago were to pop up within striking range of, say, Twily?”

Sunset’s eyes narrowed in anger. “That’s not going to happen.”

“You’re right, it won’t—because the first thing that gets that close that I can’t identify gets an armor-piercing, anti-personnel brain implant.”

Twilight joined them. “What’s going on, Dagi?”

“Crown business, Twily,” Adagio replied. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Oh, her you call by name?” snarked Sunset.

“Have you given her, or any of your court, titles I should be aware of?”

“I don’t have a court,” Sunset sighed, feeling a headache coming on.

“Funny, her highness Princess Twilight said that her Elements of Harmony are her court.”

“Yes, but she doesn’t use their titles unless it’s in a formal situation and they don’t use hers unless it’s the same!” Sunset groaned. “Please, you’re giving me a headache, okay?”

Adagio looked at Sunset stonefaced for a minute or two. She then grinned and said, “Gotcha.”

“I’m soooooo going to kill you.”

“I’m the one with the submachine gun, Sunny.”

“I don’t need one,” she said as the two girls hugged.

“Pinks, you’re insane,” flatly said Applejack.

Come on, AJ!” said Pinkie in response. “It’s gonna be a giant, big welcoming party and Sunset deserves the best!! Therefore, we have to make the Marzipan Mascarpone Meringue Madness!”

AJ shook her head. “Pinkie, do you even remember the trouble that cake caused everypony?”

Pinkie rolled her eyes. “Yes, but that was because Sugarcube Corner is tiny compared to this place!” To emphasize, Pinkie reared and spread her forelegs wide, encompassing the entire breadth of the royal kitchens—the total area of its footprint being larger than that of Sugarcube Corner in its entirety.

“You girls are overthinking this!” chided Rainbow, who suddenly appeared with a tray filled with lightly fried pastries covered in powdered sugar. Offering up the confections, Pinkie and Applejack took one each and sampled them.

“MMMMM!” hummed Pinkie appreciatively.

“Yeah, these are really good,” agreed AJ, “what are these?”

“They’re called sopaipillas,” explained Rainbow with a hint of pride. “Admittedly I’m not as good a cook as either of you two, but these pastries are one of the few things I can reliably make well, so I figure I’d offer them up as an option for dessert for Sunny’s arrival dinner.”

Pinkie shrugged. “Sorry, Dashie, but I still think—"

“DON’T YOU DARE START UP AGAIN!” howled the desperate looking head chef of the royal kitchens, a plump earth pony by the name of Sugar Cookie. “I’m sorry, but you two have been arguing over who should do what as part of the dinner we’re supposed to be making for over an hour and it’s driving all of us in the culinary staff crazy!”

“But—" tried to interject Rainbow, but a hoof from Sugar Cookie silenced her.

“Look, girls, if it will make you all just stop bothering us, we can make all these things. We are the royal cooking staff after all. But we need to get started right away and….”

“Now we’re just kinda gettin’ in the way, huh?” finished Applejack with an embarrassed grin. “Yeah, we probably should be headin’ to meet with everypony else, girls, we’ve made enough of a mess here.”

A few minutes later, a few cars pulled up in front of the house. The first one was Fluttershy’s Nissan Leaf. She’d had the car before everything had been changed during that chaotic summer, and sometimes it felt as though it was the only part of her life that still seemed like it was from the so-called “time that never was” (as Adagio was fond of calling it.) As the car came to a stop, she looked at her childhood friend Rainbow Dash, who had come along for the ride.

“Raini, we’re here.”

Rainbow groaned. “I thought you were going to stop calling me that,” she muttered. “Now you’ve got AJ doing it, too.”

Fluttershy grinned warmly in a way she wouldn’t have done a year before. “We all have to get past childhood embarrassments sometime, Rainbow.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Rainbow replied as she got out of the car, grabbing her gym bag out of the backseat. “You need help carrying anything?”

“No, I’ll be fine, Rainbow.” Fluttershy pulled a dainty Hello Kitty luggage bag out of the trunk, then clicked the side, lowering the wheels. A second later, she pulled out the other thing she was bringing: her guitar. “Thank you, though.”

As she closed the hatch and clicked the lock and alarm on the car, Rainbow said idly, “This is gonna be weird: we’re gonna be the first humans to travel to another world!”

“The triplets went with Sunny to…Equus? a couple of weeks ago,” Fluttershy reminded her.

“Yeah, maybe, but that was just the warm-up. Now the main show’s comin’, and the ponies are gonna have to get a load of the awesomeness that is yours truly!”

Rainbow briefly knocked on the door, which was answered by Sonata. “Hey guys!” she said with a smile. “C’mon in. Need help with the bag, Flutters?” The chiffon-haired girl shook her head and then both visitors came in.

“New BDUs?” Rainbow asked.

“BDUs are a type of battle dress,” Sonata said with authority, “but these are different. We don’t have a name for them yet, but we’re working on it.”

“Can I have a pair? Just ‘cause they’d look awesome on me, of course.”

“You’ll have to ask Dagi, to see if she’s willing to clear them for civilian use,” Sonata said as she motioned for them to set the bags down. “Then you’ll have to ask Sunny if she’ll authorize it—she is our boss, after all. Lastly, then you’ll have to have Rarity look at iss—”

“Okay, okay, forget I asked. Sheesh, didn’t think it was going to be that much of a headache.”

“Would you expect the US military to give you stuff right off the bat?”



The three headed over to where Aria was going over something on a tablet. Rainbow looked over her friend’s shoulder briefly and noted what looked like a spreadsheet detailing several weapons on it. “Seems like you’re packing some serious firepower,” the athlete mused.

“Not enough,” Aria grunted, “but Sunny won’t let us prepare for the worst.”

“Do you really think there’s going to be danger?” Fluttershy asked uncomfortably. In the past, she probably would’ve tried to hide behind Rainbow, but she’d matured beyond that in the past year.

“I always prepare for the worst case scenario,” the middle triplet replied with a tone that put shivers down the spines of her friends. Seeing that, she softened her tone and added, “It’s to protect my family and friends, the ones I care about. So if I have to be a haridelle to do so, I’ll be that.”

“Haridelle?” both Rainbow and Fluttershy said at the same time.

Aria grinned. “Slang in Equestria; means bitch or something like that—but it’s also old French for nag. I thought it was funny, so I kept it in mind.”

“You would think that’s funny,” Rainbow told her.

“Yes, I do, Raini. You have a problem with that?”

Rainbow groaned. “You, too? Fuck.”

Fluttershy giggled.

“I don’t like this,” Sable Loam said as he threw his bags into the back of his car, making room for the other luggage.

One way or another it all came back to the knowledge that aliens are real, and one of them was now his boss in a sense. Granted, Sunset Shimmer seemed like a very normal person otherwise, and those cousins of hers that now served under him were far more competent at soldiering than many he’d served with before—and that itself was a horrific situation—but this whole thing bothered him on a scale he hadn’t comprehended before.

No small part of that was because this was also, in a sense, a business trip. As the overall commander of Sunset’s new protection detail, Sable was going to have to attend several meetings with the naval brass of this world to facilitate the transfer of their personnel to the new SIRENs. If these people (ponies?) were anything like the USN officers he had the misfortune of dealing with during his time in the Army, it was going to be one hell of a hard sell. At least he’d have their princess to facilitate things.

“You don’t have to like it,” Celestia said with an assuring smile as she placed her own suitcase in the back. “You just have to be there for me, okay?”

“Yes, because we’re going to a land of talking miniature horses and magic and for God’s sake I sound like I’m on drugs just mentioning that, hon,” he noted.

“How do you think I felt when I first found out?” she chuckled. “I spent the night at my sister’s place getting drunk off my ass, then had to spend the week after not only making sure that Sunset stayed out of trouble, but covering for the alien that disguised herself as Twilight, as well.” Celestia then explained in brief the situation that had arisen a year prior; Sable listened with interest that soon morphed into worry and then outright shock.

“And you still let her run around, as dangerous as she was?” Sable gasped.

“She was confused, in a lot of ways,” a new voice said. Both turned to look at Luna as she got out of her car; they’d been so engrossed in their conversation that they never heard her approach. “She needed a lot of structure at the time, but we didn’t find that out until after and when Velvet was willing to take a chance on her. I could say that we did it out of the goodness of our hearts, but the truth was, we did it because that alien princess asked us to.”

“No offense, ladies, but that doesn’t seem like a valid enough reason,” he said as Luna passed him her bag.

“You’re right, it’s not. But we took that chance anyway—and it was Velvet and her family that took the bigger chance and look what happened. Sunset died—literally died—to save the rest of us from a horrific fate, Sable,” Luna said, her eyes taking on a hard edge. “So excuse me if I’m just a bit protective of her—she is essentially family now.”

“Easy, easy, Luna—I’m only stating plain facts. Honestly, I’m just being analytical,” Sable said, hoping to defuse the woman’s ire.

“Touche,” Luna admitted. “As it is, truthfully, you’re not the only one. I think that once we get there, Tia’s going to want some words with that alien princess that caused all this mess in the first place. I probably will as well.”

“Luna, I thought we agreed to drop it. Sunset asked us to; in fact, she said ‘Twilight’—still not sure if that’s really her name, by the way—was only doing her job.”

“Are you sure about this, Dad?” Shining asked, as he lugged his bag around. He hadn’t even been home yet, having literally just debarked the plane from Washington DC a couple of hours ago. Now that he’d traded in his duties from the CPD to the FBI, things had gotten a lot more interesting in his life.

And now what his sister had in mind for them all had things even more interesting than that.

Night nodded reluctantly. “Sunny might say it’s safe, but the truth is, everything we went through at the end of the summer is still fresh in my mind, and—”

“Night, so help me if you’re having second thoughts about our daughter,” Velvet started to growl.

Night put his arm around his wife in a pacifying intent. “Of course not. It’s just that we’re headed to another world, and we don’t know how safe it is.”

“Sunny’s from that world and she wouldn’t let us be hurt,” Cadance replied, though the concerned look on her face belied the confidence in her words. Ever the lawyer, she worried about Night’s ad hoc plan and what it could mean for them. The truth was, none of them were diplomats and even though Sunset’s presence would easily smooth over things, there was also the matter of humanity itself to consider—it would not look good for mankind’s first representatives to this world to look like warmongers.

Velvet sensed her future daughter-in-law’s concerns and added, “Besides, the triplets are better prepared for this, dear. Honestly, they’d be rather terrifying if it wasn’t for the fact that we practically raised them. Plus, they’ve already been over, so they know what to expect.”

“Yes, but they can’t anticipate everything—no one can,” he countered. “And that’s why I’d rather have an ace in the hole. I don’t doubt that the triplets have trained for everything, or that Sunny has made sure that we’re protected. The fact is, for all I know we could be going to a place as safe as Britain...or as dangerous as Syria. We should be prepared.”

“Dad,” Shining reminded him, “if we use them, we could be in a lot of trouble.”

“I’d prefer that over someone I care about getting harmed...or worse.”

Shining then looked at his wife. “Thoughts?”

She sighed, then said, “Only if we carry them.” Looking to her in-laws, she said, “Sorry, but as far as I know you’re not qualified.”

“Fair enough,” Night grudgingly admitted. Both Shining and Cadance were armed, as Shining had to be as part of his duty and Cadance was required as well due to some obscure legal ordinance for Equestria County DAs.

“I don’t like this,” Velvet told her husband plainly.

“You can be mad all you want at me,” he told her, then looked to Cadance. “Both of you. But I’d rather all the anger in the world than to come back with a coffin because someone didn’t look out.”

“I still think you’re overreacting—someone as sweet as our daughter couldn’t have come from a world so wrong,” Velvet insisted.

“Then ask yourself this, Vel: as much as I love Sunny—why is our older daughter the most powerful thing on this world? And I mean that literally, not metaphorically. She can probably stop—or set off—a nuclear explosion just with her will. Hell, she killed a demon, then brought someone back to life...before dying herself and then coming back to life! These are Biblical situations we’re dealing with and I can’t even begin to wrap my head around them. All I can be is a father. And right now, my fatherly instincts tell me that I need to protect her. So that’s what I’m going to do, however I can.”

“I don’t recall having to be one of the first ponies to actually meet another entirely different sentient species as part of my job,” said Twilight Velvet.

“It’s not, Mom,” replied Twilight Sparkle, “for better or worse it originally was supposed to be just mine, but then…” The second-newest alicorn took a deep breath, steadying herself to explain matters yet again. She couldn’t help but facehoof anyway—having to explain to her entire gathered immediate family was super-awkward already. “But since you already know that Sunset Shimmer was adopted by the other world’s equivalent of our family after some evil bastard nearly destroyed the space-time continuum and almost released a demonic force by accident—"

“Does this have anything to do with why your friend disappeared for a year?” asked Night Light. As a loosely-affiliated member of the royal family, he was more in the know than most of his colleagues, but even still, there were times when he felt over his head...and most of them tended to deal with whenever any of his three foals were involved.

“In a way, but that’s a long story for another time.” Twilight then followed up with a groan. “Unfortunately, through all of that, I’m almost certain I’m going to be bombarded with questions largely having to do with how and why I unintentionally impersonated the human Twilight Sparkle for a few days, since now I know Principal Celestia and Vice Principal Luna knew that Twilight all along and so were suspicious of my presence from the start.”

“Yeah,” piped up Spike, “because the fact you didn’t attend any classes there but hung around only the school wasn’t raising any eyebrows, somehow?”

“Says the former talking dog,” lightly ribbed Twilight, giggling at Spike’s responsive groan.

“Back on the subject at hoof,” interjected Shining Armor, “are we sure having so many humans in Canterlot for a week at the same time as their Equestrian versions—present company included—is a good idea?”

“I sort of have to agree with Shiny,” said Cadence, “even when it’s just you and your five best friends together, things tend to get a bit crazy as a result. Heck, even just Pinkie Pie by herself can be...disconcerting when left to her own devices and she gets an unorthodox idea in her head.

“I wouldn’t worry, Cady,” assured Twilight, “I mean, yeah, now that you bring it up, we’re essentially putting two Pinkie Pies in the same room, but maybe they’ll, I dunno, cancel each other out?”

“Pinkie, dear, I’m really not sure this is a good idea?” Rarity said to her friend.

“Yeah, Ah’m afraid that Rarity’s right, sugar,” Applejack added, a bemused look on her face.

“What?” asked Pinkie, oblivious as always, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel of her car while they were at an intersection a few blocks away from Sunset’s home. “I mean, this is the perfect chance! I’m meeting my girlfriend’s other mom and Mrs. Velvet’s going to be there too, so I just have to bring my A-Game!”

“Yes,” interrupted Rarity, “but are you sure this is a good idea, Pinkie?”

“I’m a woman in love,” Pinkie said with a grin. “Of course it’s a good idea!”

Applejack held up the item in question. “Are you sure?” Applejack asked. “‘Cause Ah personally think Ah’d rather be surprised rather than have it done in front of mah whole family, if it was me.”

Pinkie waved it off. “Maybe, but I want her to know how much I love her!” the cheerleader said with pride. “After all, it’s my chance to impress both sets of her parents!”

“Pinkie, this is a detailed plan of how you plan to marry Sunset and have children with her!” Rarity cried, exasperated. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

“Of course not! Duh, I know we’re both girls! That’s why I’m planning ahead of time! Auntie Cup didn’t raise any stupid Pinkies, you know!”

It was a good thing Pinkie had her eyes on the road, or else she would have been treated to both her friends facepalming at once.

“Oh good, we’re here,” Rarity said, not wanting to deal with any further of Pinkie’s standard-issue weirdness.

“Are we all ready?” Pinkie asked as she whipped her car around to powerslide right into one of the guest parking spaces at the mansion owned by Sunset’s parents.

“Ah don’t think anyone’s ready for this,” Applejack muttered under her breath. Rarity, meanwhile, simply patted her friend on the shoulder in sympathy.

“I am!” Pinkie chirped.

“Pinkie, dear, that’s not important right now,” Rarity commented with a strained smile that would’ve done a flight attendant proud. “The important thing is that we join our friends and support Sunset. She’ll need all the help she can get.”

“Ah’m gonna need all th’ help Ah can get just survivin’ this trip,” Applejack muttered under her breath as the three made their way to the house.

Just a few days ago, Coco had been looking forward to meeting Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, having already met Princess Cadence during the pool tournament in Ponyville—exchange some pleasantries before the royals had their busy day to return to, preventing them from asking any in-depth questions about Coco that she truthfully didn’t have answers for. But that had been only when the most significance she should have had was merely being Miss Rarity’s assistant for the upcoming coronation’s need for dressmaking.

That’s when she’d learned the princesses had already been made aware of what Coco really was. Thankfully, the meeting had been relatively straightforward anyway, but ever since, Coco had been acting as if she was walking on nothing but pins and needles if the princesses decided to drop what could have been a pleasant facade and eliminate the first changeling of any kind to be back in the castle after Cadence’s wedding. So when three of the princess’s own maid staff appeared in the ballroom looking for her, it was Fluttershy who suddenly found her own hair being used for somepony else to hide behind for once.

“Coco, darling, they’re just maids,” chuckled Rarity, “they’re probably going to ask you something about how you want your sheets done.”

“They’re not maids!” firmly stated Coco, which immediately put the other two ponies in the room—Rarity and Fluttershy—on edge. “They’re...I don’t know, but you all know the reason why I should know they’re not what they seem!”

Adagio Dazzle blinked in confusion, as did her usual two companions, then laughed softly. “Oh! You don’t need to worry, Miss Pommel—the Princess already told us you’re hiding your own true form.”

Coco blanched. “She what?!”

Aria shrugged. “Hey, for what it’s worth, she trusts you, so we’re not going changeling hunting here. If anything, you’re sort of a kindred spirit in that respect, though granted at least you still resemble a pony without the disguise while we…” She coughed into her hoof with a slight blush, “Well, let’s just say we’re kind of like fish out of water and leave it at that.”

“Fish outta what now?” asked Applejack, who emerged from the door behind the three maids, along with a bouncing Pinkie Pie and a groggy looking Rainbow. “If yer talkin’ about how Ah don’t recall seein’ any one of ya around these parts, Ah guess that’s an accurate statement.”

Recognition flashed in Rainbow’s eyes, then confusion. “Hey, wait a minute, what are the SIRENs doing here?”

Sonata blinked in confusion. “Uh...we work here?”

“Since when? Aren’t you three supposed to be Sunset’s overprotective cousin bodyguards or something?”

“Oh! You’re talking about our human counterparts? Yeah, we’re not them. We’re just your everyday variety of siren.”

“What’s the difference?” asked Pinkie, a mischievous gleam in her eye. “Are you like, actually sirens from a fire engine? Or you’re referring to the use of the word as the scientific genus of salamanders and you’re all actually lizards! Alternatively, you’re mutant Breezie butterflies and ‘siren’ is just the nickname of the Hestina brush-footed butterfly! Or maybe, you’re- WHOA!”

After a brief rolling of eyes, the maid garbed trio chose to go for the simple, visual answer and skipped the vocalizing in favor of jumping straight into their true, more aquatic forms.

Pinkie Pie gaped. “Uh...I guess that means you’re actual sirens, with the singing and the dancing and all that?” The ponies, not having known the truth of the castle’s suddenly monstrous recruiting habits, struggled to come to terms with what they were seeing. Against all odds, it was Fluttershy who broke the silence.

“...Oh! You said you were like fish out of water...and you’re fish-like ponies...not in water...I get it!”

“Yeah,” squeaked Coco, “fish ponies with really big teeth!

Fluttershy walked into Octavia’s room, while she was playing her bass. “Hey, I came to check on you,” she said to her friend.

“I’m going to be okay, Flutters,” Octavia said. “I appreciate you worrying about me, but between the drugs and my family, I should be fine. Plus, Sunny set up some appointments for me while I’m there to see if there’s anything that can be done.”

“Oh, I’m not here about that,” Fluttershy told her. “I know you will be. I just wanted to know if you’re still interested in the band thing.”

Octavia stopped her playing long enough gesture to her guitar. “I know you were talking to Lyra about it. But do we have anyone who can play the drums?”

Fluttershy nodded. “Yeah. Lyra knows a girl who goes to County who does. Girl by the name of Audioblossom. But that’s not the point I came up here for.” She grinned. “I was wondering if you were interested in helping me with a little something?”

“What’s that?” Fluttershy then explained and as she did, a large smile came over the other girl’s face. “You know what? I think I’d really like that. It’d give us a chance to practice and spread goodwill.”

“So it’s a deal?”

Octavia grinned. “Deal.”

Rainbow looked at Sunset with a gaze that was somewhere between happy, shocked and adored. “You mean it?” she asked, a creepy Pinkie-esque smile crawling onto her face.

“I don’t really look like that, do I?” Pinkie said of Rainbow’s smile. She then turned to Sunset, grabbing her beloved’s arm. “Well, I’m sure you can wipe that smile off with other things, right?”

Genuinely embarrassed by her friend’s affections, Sunset blushed. “Pinkie, not right now, okay? Especially with my parents in the kitchen?”

“That’s right! I still have to ask your dad for your hand! I mean I told your mom a few months back, but I still have to formally ask your dad and tell your biomom!” Pinkie chirped.

Sunset looked to her sister. “Help? Please?”

“Sure,” Twilight said sweetly. “Rainbow, it was actually my idea.”

“That’s not what I meant, sis,” Sunset said.

“I know. You don’t pay me hazard pay like you do our cousins,” Twilight defended, “so I’m taking the path of less resistance.” Turning to Rainbow again, she continued. “I was thinking that with some of us having particular talents, we could show them to ponies. Be ambassadors of goodwill and all that.”

“Fuck that! You said soccer—that’s all the inspiration I need!” Rainbow cheered, jumping up and down.

Sunset sighed. “Way to be a role model, Rainbow,” she drolled.

Meanwhile, downstairs, Adagio and Applejack were chatting. To Adagio’s surprise, the blonde was effortlessly lifting crates with the words WEAPONS SYSTEMS emblazoned on them, carrying them over to where the portal was. As she set the last one down, Applejack wiped her hands. “Anything else you need a hand with, Dagi?”

“No, but thanks. It would have taken us longer to get these in position since they’re intended to be ported by two,” Adagio told her. “But you just lifted them like it’s nothing.”

Applejack grinned and flexed a bicep. “Superstrength, Ah guess. It’s just how mah magic manifests.”

Adagio nodded. “Still so weird to see that, but then again, it’s weird to begin with remembering that we’ve lived two lives,”

“Feelin’ thoughtful about that, sugar?”

Adagio was silent for the longest time. “When we went two weeks ago, we ended up having to go against a pegasus that...well, I won’t bore you with the minutiae. But we weren’t prepared, and we paid the price. Soni was seriously wounded.”

“Yeah, you mentioned that before, but I saw you all the day after you got back,” Applejack told her. “I don’t recall seeing you injured.”

“Because we spent several days back there recovering with healing magic,” the eldest triplet explained. “I mean, the ponies used magic to heal us, or else we would’ve been in seriously bad shape—and Soni was in critical condition..”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Oh, no worries—that’s not happening again,” Dagi assured her. “Because if we ever have a threat of that magnitude, I’m not going to do it the nice pony way. No, I’m going to be very human, and my tango is going to be very dead.”

Sandalwood bucked at the study’s door as hard as she could, but it just wouldn’t budge.

“Celestiadamnit!” she swore, “what the buck is this door’s problem!”

“Maybe the last pony to use this room forgot to disable the magic lock spell?” suggested Lyra, who chose to make the best of the situation and kept looking into various books she’d brought about the mythical human species. “Besides, the entire reason you and I are here is because Sunset Shimmer’s coming back and bringing every other human who knows about her secret. That’s a whole lot of humans and Princess Twilight explicitly told us that—as the foremost experts on humans from the pony point of view—we should be here for when humans finally walk on Equus!”

“Your point?”

Lyra sighed. “They’re obviously not going to start without us, right? I’m sure somepony will come looking for us and let us out when things are going to start.”

Down the hall, Lockbox chuckled. “Sorry, you two, but we can’t risk—"

“Risk what?” suddenly intoned the voice of Raspberry Beryl. Caught off guard, Lockbox let out an eep and quickly turned to face an unamused Beryl, with an equally unamused looking Heliodor perched on her horn.

“H-how did—" stammered Lockbox.

“I was looking for you so we could go meet with the official ‘welcoming party’ when Sunset’s contingent arrives—all I did was just sense out your magic and teleport here.” Razz’s brow then furrowed as she added “Only to find you locking in Lyra and Sandy because of some yet-to-be-explained ‘risk’ if I heard correctly?”

“Wait, you were able to track me down by feeling out my magic?” gaped Lockbox. “Since when could you do that?!”

Razz rolled her eyes. “Come on, Lockbox, you knew I was a dark magic user the second I stepped foot into Nightshade, before we’d even met face to face, and we both know I’m far more acquainted with dark magic between us. And yes, while the spell you used to lock them in that room was a normal spell, I still sensed a faint trace of dark magic in it, because as you should know, simply just using dark magic even in extreme moderation as you do still leaves its mark if even in the tiniest way. Now, if you’d be so kind, can you answer my question, please?”

Lock grunted. “Okay, fine. Look, I get why those two are here, but you’ve spent more time than me with them so you should know they’re going to be fillies in a candy shop when those ‘humans’ come through, and I saw the mirror—Sunset’s fellow humans are not coming through that thing faster than one-by-one and you know it. You really think having two human-obsessed mares around is a good idea, then, as they overwhelm each human as they come through?”

Razz raised an eyebrow. “I’ll admit you have something of a point there, but there’s better ways than locking them in a room with no way to get out.”

“You really think those two wouldn’t figure out how to slip past a royal guard detachment specifically appointed to keep them out of the room temporarily?” countered Lock. “No, it’s better to let all the humans get here first, then have Lyra and Sandalwood come barging in to see their conspiracy theory nirvana come true. That way, the humans aren’t nearly as overwhelmed by their antics and really the whole thing can move faster as well.” Lock then added “And the spell I put on the door expires in an hour anyway—they’ll be fine.”

Sunset knocked on the door, hearing laughter and musical notes. “Hey, you guys ready to go?” Fluttershy opened the door, revealing that the two had been playing their musical instruments and preparing for their part in the cultural exchange; a good thing, given that she wasn’t sure if her cousin would be interested in it.

“Hey, do you mind if I have a talk with Tavi?” Sunset asked her friend.

“No, I think I need to make sure I use the restroom before we go,” Fluttershy said, moving past Sunset to leave the two cousins to discuss what they needed to.

“I really don’t want to talk about this,” the raven-haired girl said in a barely audible voice. Sunset’s answer was to sit down next to her as Octavia took Arbuckle out of his cage again..

“I already know what you’re going to say,” Octavia told her. “Could we...just not talk about this?”

Sunset sighed. “Look, we agreed to this, Tavi. I know it’s not going to be easy for you, and I know you’re putting up a brave face about it, but..."

“I KNOW!” Octavia shouted, and Arbuckle, scared by her yell, squirmed in her hands. Finally, he jumped away from her and ran over to the desk, where he lay down by her computer monitor. Undeterred, Octavia continued. “You don’t understand, Sunny! I can’t take any of this anymore—I just can’t!” The look in her eyes was one of fear. “You know how the pills break me! And you know how much I hate having to deal with Dr. Chrysoberyl—how much I hate dealing with all of this.”

“I know, and if I could just magic away your problems, I would, Tavi, you know I would. But I’m not qualified to do it. The mental help professionals in Equestria are, and they may be able to do things that Dr. Chrysoberyl can’t.”

“I’m afraid,” she admitted. “If I don’t take those damn pills, Melody comes back. But if I do...I’m lost and listless…. I don’t even feel like myself anymore.” She looked out the window, as if the answer would be there. “What happens if she wins? What happens to me?”

“She won’t. You’re stronger than that.” Sunset looked at her. “You’ve been there for me at my lowest and I’m sure as hell as not going to abandon you when you need me. We’re sisters and I would rather give up my wings than let you be hurt. We’ll get through this, I promise.”

“I just want my life to be more than a bare mockery of sanity,” she said with a humorless laugh. “We’ve lived two timelines because of what your grandmother did—"

“She did it to protect me and the triplets, you know that.”

“I know, and I’m not blaming her. But it’s not normal. We—well, technically you and Twily, since they’re on your mother’s side—have three more cousins that we’ve known for all our lives—and yet just met two months ago. Doesn’t that freak you out? That your grandmother just changed timelines like they were bedsheets?”

“I know it’s not easy, Tavi—not even regular ponies can quite understand that we alicorns are powerful. My biological mother literally moves the sun on our world, and my aunt moves the moon. My cousin on that side is the embodiment of love itself. What does that tell you?”

But Octavia didn’t seem to hear her, instead, carrying on. “What about your father? Uncle Night wanted nothing more than to be a physics teacher at Canterlot State...but now he’s always been a famous physicist, astronomer, author and television host? At least your mom’s still the same Aunt Velvet I’ve always known. But what about Shiny and Cady? Are they still the same? Or Spike? For fuck’s sake, we went from living in a simple two-floor house in San Palomino to a mansion that you’ve always lived in!” She closed her eyes and started to cry, her tears falling freely. “I can’t even say my life’s different anymore, because all of this is supposedly how it’s always been!”

“I’m sorry. I know this isn’t easy for you. But I can’t say it enough: you’re not alone. I know you feel your parents abandoned you, but you know that’s not true. And even if by some horrific reason they did, you still have us. Twily, the triplets and I would go to hell and back for you.” Sunset took her cousin’s hands in her own. “Don’t ever feel you’re alone. You will, no matter what, always have us.”

Sunset pulled her crying cousin into an embrace. “I can’t promise that they’ll be able to do anything in Equestria, but I can promise, they’ll sure as hell try. One way or another, by the time we come back, we’ll make sure you never see Melody again.”

As Velvet and Night returned to the home that still didn’t quite feel like a home to them, they noticed to their relief that everyone else had arrived, safe and sound.

Seeing the look on his father’s face, Shining asked, “What, were you expecting half of them to have disappeared or something? This isn’t a Castlerock novel.”

“Says the guy who kept complaining our hotel in Italy looked like the one in The Shining,” Velvet responded to her son, an amused smile coming onto her face.

However, the smile on her face was matched by the dour look on Celestia’s as she eyed her niece and soon-to-be nephew-in-law and sighed. “Not you two as well,” she groaned.

“As...well?” Cadance asked, not having a good feeling about that. In response, her aunt hooked a weary thumb to where three girls—now joined by an older man wearing the same kind of camouflage as they—were looking over a vast assortment of weapons and ammunitions, enough so that it made Shining’s eyes practically pop out of their sockets.

“I’m presuming you have a license for all of this,” he said to Adagio.

“You’ll have to ask him,” she told her cousin, then focusing back on a set of grenades she’d been doublechecking.

“Oh, so that’s how it is,” Sable snarked. “I’ll remember that, Capt. Dazzle.”

“Um...just deferring to the flag officer present?”

He grinned. “Fair enough. But don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to run laps with any new recruits. Just think of it as learning the responsibilities of leadership.”

“Seriously, you think we’re going to eat you?” asked Sonata, scratching her finned head. “Trust us—these chompers are a bitch to clean and that’s not including the fact I’m not the biggest fan of dentists, either. That’s why we’re vegetarians.”

“Very picky vegetarians, I might add,” chuckled Celestia, who had chosen that moment to enter with her own little party of ponies—Luna, Cadence, Twilight, Spike, Shining, phoenix-wearing Razz, as well as Lockbox and—for some reason—Night Light and Twilight Velvet too. “It’s very expensive to import their traditional diet foodstuffs from half a world away economically.”

“We’re worth it though, right, Your Highness?” Sonata said with a smile.

“Always, my little pony, always,” the princess replied with equal mirth.

Noting that neither Twilight nor Razz seemed at all surprised at the floating sea monsters, whereas Lockbox was, Rainbow furrowed her brow. “Sorry, but I’m still caught on the part of how we’re the last ones to evidently know how fishy the maid staff has been this whole time.”

“Ah have to agree with Rainbow,” supported Applejack. “Are they some new kinda gimmick around here? Don’t recall ‘em bein’ in town when the changelings attacked a few years back.”

“Oh, we were here during that, alright,” groaned Adagio. “But we couldn’t take our true forms because, well, just look at us! A bunch of love-sucking bugs start shooting green acid lasers everywhere and you really think the populace, already driven into a panic, are going to believe the mythical eat-lost-sailor-ponies flying seaponies—"

“Not to be confused with actual seaponies,” pointed out siren Aria.

“—are actually trying to protect the common citizens? Thank goodness nopony remembers the Sirenia-Equestria Incident. That really didn’t do much to improve our reputation with Equestrians at the time.”

“Oh, yeah, I recall Marimba mentioning that to me a while back,” remarked Razz.

Rainbow shrugged. “Yeah, alright, I can get that.” She then glanced over to the mirror. “Though I’m not sure it’s a good idea for you three to still look like that when Sunny’s contingent comes through.” The sirens nodded in agreement, promptly shrinking back down to their maid-garbed forms.

In the meantime, Twilight had trotted over to the mirror, which was beginning to show signs of activity. “Alright, everypony, it’s almost showtime!”

“Okay, now that we’re all here,” Sunset told them, as they all assembled downstairs in front of the portal statue, “I have a few things to say.” She held up a wooden box containing what looked like wristwear: some were bracelet watches, some were standard wrist watches and more than a couple were Fitbits. “It is important that you wear these at all times while in Equestria. These will serve as watches set to Canterlot time, boosters in case you need to use cell phones to call one another, but most importantly, they are shields protecting you from the natural balance magic that is in Equus.”

“The natural balance?” Velvet asked.

“Yes. Here, we’re humans. There, we’re ponies. Just the natural way of things.” She pulled out one of the bracelets. “This will keep you as you normally are.”

“Well, what if we lose or break it?” Rainbow asked.

“Then you’d better learn to live with being on four hooves until somepony can create a replacement,” Sunset told her. Looking back at the others, she said, “Each of them is personally set to your DNA, BEM field and, for those of you who have it, magic signature. Don’t try to switch; they won’t work for other people.

“And Pinkie, yours is triple ensorcelled just so you can’t take it off,” Sunset said with a grin. “I know you too well.”

“As long as I get to take off other things when I’m–”

Luna glared at her. “I strongly suggest you don’t finish that sentence, Ms. Pie,” the educator cautioned her.

“Anyway, the next thing, though this should be blatantly obvious, is: just be yourselves. Yes, you’ll be the first known humans in my homeland, and yes, you’ll have to set a good example for humanity. But everypony knows that you’re not diplomats. Some of your counterparts are younger, some are older, but they’re not really that different from you. Remember that Shimmy, even with her different upbringing, isn’t all that different from me, personality-wise. Just because, for example, pegasus Rainbow Dash is a weather manager and our Rainbow is a student-athlete doesn’t mean that they’re not both egotistical idiots.” Sunset grinned to take the sting out of her words.

Rainbow grunted. “Glad to know who my friends really are,” she mock-pouted, sticking her tongue back at Sunset.

Sunset ignored her friend and turned back to the assembly. “That means that you should get to know ponies, especially your counterparts. Lyra and Sandy—”

“Wait—Lyra has a counterpart?” the girls asked at once.

“Yes, she does, and no, I’m not going to tell Lyra. She’s a friend, but...remember what I said? Personalities are very similar.”

“Oh,” the teens said in unison.

“That being said, Lyra and Sandy—yes, that Sandalwood, though she’s another example of somepony whose life went in a different direction—will be available to help should you have questions. Which brings me to the third point.

“For most of you, the week before the coronation will be a vacation and a chance to look around. But for me, the triplets and Mr. Loam—excuse me, Admiral Loam—will be rebuilding the SIRENs and as for me, I’ll be doing a lot of paperwork. So we won’t be accessible often. You will have security to protect you, and in many cases, you’ll be with your counterparts, who are all famous celebrities, heroes or senior government officials, if not rulers. You will be safe and they will do anything to make sure you stay that way. So trust them, please.”

Sunset sighed. “Lastly...I want to thank you all for everything. This isn’t going to be easy for me. Once, this was the thing I wanted most out of life, and was willing to put everyone through hell to get it. Now, it’s not nearly as important to me as any of you are...but it’s something I’ve earned. I couldn’t have done this without any of you. Thank you all—I love you all and I know this week I’ll need you all more than ever.” Sunset never got to finish her words as she was wrapped up in a huge group hug of girls.

“Well, I guess it’s time to open the portal,” Sunset remarked. She walked over to the horse statue that had once sat in front of Canterlot High and tapped it. The front facade glowed with a golden hue, before bursting outwards briefly, like the event horizon of a portal on a military sci-fi show from years back. The wall then turned into a rippling, pulsating thing.

“Okay, everyone slip your stuff into my backpack and I’ll carry it all,” Sunset told them, and the group gathered, marvelling as somehow their combined equipment seemed to shrink and somehow fit with ease into Sunset’s backpack.

Adagio opened one of the weapons crates and pulled out four P-90s and ammo, followed by web belts and pistols. Handing them to her sisters and Sable, she said, “I’ll take point.” She nodded to Sunset, who gave her an encouraging smile, and with that, Adagio Dazzle stepped into the portal.

The mirror’s surface rippled for a brief moment before a tall, sultry figure emerged, unlike what most of the present assembled ponies had ever seen. And for those ponies who knew what humans were, only Raspberry recognized that it was Adagio—partly because of her orange hair, but mostly because she was also clad in what appeared to be some kind of camouflage pattern from neck to toe...and in her hands she held a rather sizable gun, with a second one at her side.

Not even one of the humans who hasn’t been here before and she already walks in with a dangerous weapon unknown to ponykind, internally groaned Razz. We’re off to such a great start.

Almost as if completely oblivious to the miniature herd of horses, dragon, and phoenix silently observing her, Adagio quickly glanced around as if looking for any potential threats—despite having prior knowledge that the mirror was going to be inside one of the most secure places in this reality—then reached a hand up to her ear and spoke into an object hanging inches from her mouth.

“Alpha 2 and Alpha 3, Alpha 1. Contact made and area secured. Send through first contingent, over.”

Pinkie, warily leaned over to whisper in Twilight’s ear. “I thought her name was Adagio?” Twilight merely shrugged, prompting Pinkie to pop over to where pony Adagio and her compatriot sirens were standing and ask them a slightly different question. “Are you three all named ‘Alpha’ with a number attached at the end? When did you guys change your name? And why didn't you tell me? I would've thrown a 'The Triplets Changed Their Names' party! Oh, and how do you spell it? Is it the word, the letter A or the Roaman character?"

“Is she usually like this?” asked Adagio—ignoring Pinkie’s motormouth for the moment—of Princess Twilight.

“Yeah, you get used to it. Plus, there’s only just the one, not sure if the world is ready for—"

Just then, before the mirror even had a chance to ripple, human Pinkie Pie inexplicably launched out of the magical portal. In that same instant, both pony and human Pinkie Pies made eye contact.

Elsewhere, reality huddled into a corner and wept.

Author's Note:

And so...it begins...

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