• Published 5th May 2018
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Seven Days in Sunny June, Book V: The New Frontier - Shinzakura



The conclusion of the Seven Days in Sunny June saga! The world has changed, and those within it must cope with the aftermath of what has happened.

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August 16, PM: Tonight, Tonight

At Night’s insistence, he was going to barbeque. It would be an excuse to use the max-size Big Green Egg he’d apparently bought two years ago, as well as a chance for him to show off his own cooking talents. He also insisted that no one help, because apparently barbequing was traditionally a man’s thing and he was going to be sexist just for tonight and not for a house almost entirely with ladies in residence to hold it against him.

Sunset laughed and conjured up enough meat for her father to take care of that, as well as creating a large enough picnic table that they could set up on. The well-manicured grounds – apparently landscapers came by once every other week to take care of it – were pristinely kept, and so Sunset decided to put the table within range of the swimming pool so that people could enjoy a pool party as well.

“How are you feeling?” Sunset asked Raspberry as the latter helped her conjure up side dishes for the whole thing.

“How do you do it?” Raspberry asked. “Right now I’ve got this wad of something stuck up my—”

“Yes, Mom told me that you went into your cycle today. And yes, I know it’s scary; I was freaked out about it the first time it happened – hell, probably every girl has. Are you in a lot of pain?”

“Just a small stinging sensation and some soreness, why?”

“Sounds like you got off light. Some girls get it real bad – when she has them, Fluttershy starts popping Advil like it’s candy.”

“Look, I don’t want to get off light, because I don’t want it at all! When can you send me home?” Burgundy eyes grew wide with worry. “Is there even a home to go back to?”

“Razz, please calm down. I’ll check tonight, okay? I’ve had a very busy day and I’m still getting adjusted to everything that’s changed in, well, everything.”

“And then there’s Heelee! I haven’t seen him at all! What if Faust’s time thing erased him, or left him behind in Equestria?”

“Razz, calm down. I know you’re worried, but trust me, everything’s going to be okay.”

“For you, maybe! But what about me?”

Sunset hugged her friend. “Because I know it will; I’m an alicorn now, so I know these things.” She smiled. “Besides, even if I wasn’t? I don’t have to know. They just happen.”

Raspberry then felt a slight weight on her shoulder. She turned to see a sizeable green canary land on it, warbling a song of happiness. The girl then started to choke up at the sight of Helidor sitting there, unharmed and happy.

“Go spend a few minutes with him, okay?” Sunset said. “I can take care of the rest of the side dishes.”

“You sure?”

Sunset picked up one of them. “I take it you like hay salad?”

“Absolutely! Especially when it’s mixed in with bluegrass, why?”

“Both of those are inedible to humans.”

“Oh.”

Sunset giggled and changed the dish to a pasta salad when Raspberry walked off, all but hugging her charge as they happily reunited.

“Looks like you did a good deed.” Sunset turned to see Velvet standing there, carrying a tray of vegetables and dip.

“I guess. Is everything going to be ready, Mom?”

Velvet nodded. “I suppose it will. Oh, and by the way, you have additional guests here.”

“Is that going to be a problem?”

“I don’t think so. It’s the other Sunset Shimmer and her family.”

Equestria was in mourning.

Mourning both the dead and the wounded, the incalculable damage done by Tirek, and the loss of one of its heroes.

But within the palace, things were far more personal in grief.

“She’s locked herself in,” Luna said to Cadance and Shining. “She’s convinced that something happened to Sunset on the other side of the barrier. And furthermore…I don’t think she’s wrong.”

Cadance had a confused look cross her face. “How so, Auntie?”

“Once I was informed that the Guard found her babbling incoherently about Sunset, I immediately attempted the experimental spell Twilight and I have been working on in order to reopen the portal,” the night alicorn explained, “and though I managed to get it open, wild, unrestrained magic blasted out of the Mirror like a jet. It took everything I had to get that thing closed before we had extensive thaumic radiation leakage.”

“Unrestrained magic? Like chaos magic?” Shining asked.

“No. Different. It’s like the dimension on the other end isn’t there anymore.” When the other two gasped, Luna raised her hoof. “It may be that, but it might also be a case of a broken interdimensional leyline. What happens when a leyline is broken?”

Cadance, originally having been a pegasus before she became an alicorn, looked blankly at her aunt, but Shining, having been a unicorn all his life, answered: “A broken leyline causes temporary thaumic radiation leakage, which substantially changes the magic profile of the area. Most of the time it’s a temporary condition and things return to normal within a few days as the leyline heals itself.”

“Correct. But sometimes it also remains permanently ruptured, which is why the Everfree is the way it is now,” Luna stated.

“But…doesn’t current thaumophysics state that leylines should be impossible between elevated planes?” Shining asked.

“It does…but it’s wrong,” Luna told him. “After the creation of Platinum’s Mirror, Starswirl intentionally spread a rumor about that; he had concerns that if advanced mages realized it was possible, it would cause multiple incursions between our world and others. Given the existence of Sombra’s Mirror, clearly he was correct about that.”

“So at the best, Sunset’s dimension is unavailable for the foreseeable future,” Cadance stated.

“And at worst…alive or not, she’s gone. I don’t want to be the one to have to tell Cellie that. Not when she finally accepted that she should have adopted Sunset.” The look on Luna’s face was grim. “Nightmare Moon was created because of my anger, jealousy and fear. What would happen if Celestia went over the edge?”

“I hope we never have to find out.”

“So do I, Cadance. So do I.”

The three were silent for the longest time before Cadance said, “I should go talk to her.”

“Be careful, Cadance. I fear she’s in a very bad way right now, a way she hasn’t been in since the day…well, since the day she lost me.”


Cadance finally found Celestia not in her quarters, but Sunset’s. Cadance had never been in the unicorn’s room before, and she was surprised to find that it wasn’t as ostentatious as she’d thought it would be. In many ways, it was even more plainspun than hers had been when she lived here regularly.

“Auntie?”

“My fault.”

The words were so soft, Cadance almost hadn’t heard them. She turned, and there, lying against the bed, with her head on the mattress, was Celestia. She looked paler than normal, her hair colors muted and dulled. She seemed as if she’d been taken down a peg somehow – and given what she believed…maybe she had been.

“My precious filly. I never told her that enough,” she whispered to nopony and everypony. “Never told her enough how much I loved her. Never gave her the support I should have. Was always too much the ruler, never the mother. And now I can never change that.”

“She knew.” Seeing her aunt like this crushed Cadance, so much so that the younger alicorn wondered if Celestia wasn’t the only princess at fault for pushing Sunset in the direction she went.

“I chased her away. I never saw her grow into the mare she’s become. And now I never will again.”

“Auntie….”

“Please go, Cadance. Go before I ruin your life as well.”

Cadance went over and hugged her aunt. “You didn’t. You haven’t. Sunset understood.”

Celestia wept once more, an empty mare. And Cadance couldn’t help but weep herself, seeing her beloved aunt and mentor in such a state.

You’d better be alive, Sunset, Cadance thought to herself. Or else our world is going to fall apart.

In a reality now gone, Sunset remembered that the house was about a quarter-acre in lot, if she recalled right, and that around the block, were similarly-sized homes. But that was in a past no longer the past. Now, the house itself was tripled in size and sat on a six-acre homestead, a small portion of which were trees that were technically part of the Everfree Forest even if not part of Everfree National Forest or Everfree State Forest Reserve.

And now she walked the treeline, accompanied by someone she had never thought she’d be standing alongside.

“I should hate you,” Shimmer said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I really should. You stole my life here. Hell, from what one of your friends says, Compass Rose is even in love with you. She used to be one of my best friends when we were children, did you know that?” The look on the shorter teen’s face was not one of anger, but resignation. “I should really hate you. And…I know I shouldn’t, because you literally died to save me.”

“I didn’t know,” Sunset replied in an apologetic tone.

“You had no way of knowing. From what you said, you didn’t even know I was still alive, thanks to the old newspaper articles.” She laughed. “Mom showed them to me once; they were so badly written it does imply that I died instead of that an officer brought me home within an hour. I guess that shows why the Canterlot Star-Herald is out of business now.”

“So if you hate me, then why—”

“I said I should hate you…but I don’t. And even if I did, really, I don’t have that right. We have a saying in France: «Si un cambrioleur vous sauve la vie en pénétrant dans votre maison, l'arrêtez-vous pour cambriolage?»

“If a burglar saves your life when he breaks into your house, do you then arrest him for burglary?” Sunset translated.

“You speak French?” Shimmer asked, as realization hit a split-second later. She threw up her hands, muttering, “Of course you speak French. You’re perfect, after all.”

“I guess it comes with the territory; believe me, I’m as shocked as you are. And I’m not perfect, Sunset.”

“Shimmer, if you must, or Shimmy, preferably. I really don’t like my first name, and really, only my mother calls me that.”

That caught Sunset’s attention. “Oh? Why’s that?”

“Because my father used to take me out at dusk and tell me that there were beautiful sunsets – but only one beautiful Sunset. And after he died, I didn’t want to hear that from anyone ever again.” Shimmer wrapped her arms around herself as a sad look came over her face. “For a while I believed the car crash was my fault. And now, after what I’ve been through? I don’t know anymore.”

“I’m sorry for what you had to go through.”

“It’s not your fault. Divine wanted my mother, and my father was in the way. If the accident was true, then he could do so with a clear conscience. And if it wasn’t, he was already unworthy of my mother to begin with.”

Sunset silently nodded at that then told her counterpart, “At least you had a father that loved you. I didn’t until I came into this family.”

Shimmer looked at her with surprise. “You didn’t?”

“No. Truth be told, I’m a foundling – twice over, in fact – and an exogam.”

“Exogam?”

“Archaic term for a female without a father. Nowadays I’d be called a bastard, just like a boy would. We still use the term in Equestria, though. I lived in an orphanage until I was six, and my magic flare caught the attention of the Princess. If not for that, I would’ve been a nopony in Equestria, of unknown parentage and raised by the orphanage until I could get into an apprenticeship program.”

“Apprenticeship program?”

“Equus…is about a century behind Earth in progress in most respects. The school system is highly developed – provided you have the right connections. The princesses are trying to improve that, but just like when progress happened here…well, people don’t like change, whatever species they are.”

“I see.”

“She loved me and I blew that. I’ve made up with her since, and it was hard lying to my mother here that I still have a mother at home. Fortunately, Grandmother forgave me for that and hinted that it was okay for me to forgive my own guilt at that. I don’t have to choose between two mothers or two families, because it’s what I needed.”

“That sounds familiar,” Shimmer told her. “My uncle Noblesse has been a father figure to me because I grew up without mine. So I kind of understand your situation. I just never thought it would apply to more than just myself, if that makes sense.”

“It does, believe me, Shimmy. It does.”

The two were quiet for the longest time before Shimmer asked, “So…am I you? Will we just vaporize if we touch or something?”

“No, that’s not how it works. We’re both Sunset Shimmer, but we’re not the same person. From what I’m told, it doesn’t even work that way in time travel.”

Shimmer looked at Sunset with disbelief. “Time travel?”

“I said Equus was behind Earth in most respects, not all.”

The two walked a bit longer in silence, until they reached the perimeter fence denoting the end of the property. “So, what happens to us?”

“Well, from what I understand, there’s still a lot of paperwork that both your mother and my parents have to do. Your mother declares that I’m your missing sister, but that she’s not going to contest the adoption. Then you go back to your life in France and I continue to live life here. Nothing really changes, why?”

“And you’re not worried about this? I mean…next week, my mother is going to lie to the world and state that you are my biological sister, but that she is going to let your parents have custody because you didn’t grow up with us. There’s going to be questions, both from my family and the world.”

“No, I’m not. Sure, I’m worried about what impact it will have on my friends and family, and even yours. But I’m not worried about me.”

“Because you’re a goddess?”

Sunset laughed. “No, because I have people who love me. A deity can live without worshippers or adorants – but people can’t really live without each other. I love my sister, my cousins, my family and my friends. Don’t you think the same thing about yours? Won’t your friends step up to help you when you need it?”

“I do. They’re the best girls I know, and I’m glad I have them in my life.”

“And I have to honestly say that I wouldn’t be the girl I am now if it wasn’t for my friends. They started me on this journey to where I currently stand. If it wasn’t for them, Chernabog would firmly have a hold on me.” Shimmer shuddered at that and Sunset put a comforting shoulder on her. “Are you worried about her?”

Shimmer looked into Sunset’s eyes. “Terrified,” she admitted.

“I promise that she won’t ever harm another soul again.” Sunset’s tone was firm. “If she ever tries, I will do everything in my power to stop her – and I assure you, there won’t be a second time.”

“You mean that?” When Sunset nodded, Shimmer looked at her with astonishment. “But you died because of her! Because of me!”

“Stop that. I didn’t die because of you. I died because I set things in motion that needed to be set right.” Sunset closed her eyes for a brief second. “I don’t think anyone intended anyone to die, and I feel the loss of every life that happened as guilt and probably will for a long time. But I don’t want you to ever feel guilty for what happened. You were a victim, Shimmer – you were killed as well, if you recall. You didn’t agree to that.”

“I know I didn’t, but…Chernabog said that if it wasn’t for the fact that I had the right genetics and the right time, I would have just been dead. She claimed that saving my life was a pleasure.” She wrapped her arms around herself again. “And I thought I was alone in that, at least until I saw you.”

“You’re not alone. You have your friends and your family,” Sunset told her younger counterpart. “As they say in my family, you can’t let your sister down.”

Shimmer looked at her doppelganger. “Um…I don’t have a sister.”

Sunset hugged Shimmer. “Yes you do.” As the older held the younger one, she could feel Shimmer briefly cry. Sunset wasn’t sure why, but somehow she knew that she needed this. And somehow, she knew it was the right thing to do.

After a couple of minutes, Shimmer let her go and looked at the girl who was her and yet not her. “I have one last question, if you don’t mind. Plus, I’m sure my mother is going to want to know as well.”

“I’ll answer it as best as I can,” Sunset told her.

“The girl that my parents buried, the stillborn baby. Is that my real sister?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t think you should either,” Sunset told her delicately. “I suppose I could go find out, but to do that, in my opinion, would be wrong. Not because I want to hide anything from you, but….”

“No, I get what you mean: because to dwell on it would reopen old wounds?” Shimmer offered.

“Your mother has those memories now due to the time change my grandmother made,” Sunset reminded her. “And you said that even in the old timeline, she had a stillborn child anyway. It is entirely possible that in this timeline, we weren’t twins, but triplets, at least as far as the world will know. And can you imagine how much pain just all of this is bringing back to your mother?”

“I know. We’re lucky we have Zephyr,” Shimmer admitted. “Plus, now that he’s in our lives, I’m apparently going to be an older sister myself.”

“It’s worth every bit of it,” Sunset said with a sincerely loving smile, the kind that made Shimmer realize how true that was.

“Well, dinner’s probably ready,” Sunset told her. “We should be heading back. And then we can talk about other things.”

“Other things?”

“Typical girl stuff with my friends,” Sunset said with a smile. “If you’re going to be in town for the next two weeks, you might want to get to know them. Trust me, you’ll like them, and they’ll like you.”

“You sure? They won’t mind?”

Sunset waved it off. “Hey, we’re twins, right? I guarantee both of us come up with things that our sisters think are weird.”

Shimmer leaned against Sunset, a smile coming to her face. “I grew up without a sister, Sunny. You have a lot to make up for.”

Sunset smiled. “I’ll do my best.”

“They’ve been gone a long time. Think they’re okay?” Rarity asked.

Pinkie looked irritated. “That other Sunset better not be trying to steal my Sunset!” Before anyone could correct her, she immediately added, “Then again, if she does, maybe I can have both!”

“Someone stop her from being too creepy….” Rainbow groaned.

“Pinkie….” five voices suddenly said in perfectly synchronized rapprochement.

Rainbow blinked. “Okay, that’s even creepier.”

“This is going to take a lot of getting used to,” Applejack sighed.

“Now I’m sure I don’t want to live in this weird world,” Raspberry muttered.


Seated not too far away, the adults present looked at the teens.

“You know, it’s weird: yesterday we were all fighting for our lives,” Zephyr commented. “And now, it’s like it never happened.”

“Because it didn’t,” Celestia told him. “I think we’ve all had memories and reality changed for us in the past few hours. A life that we’d lived never happened, and lives we never knew have always been there.”

“Anyone else confused?” Solaire asked. “Because I know I am.”

“Soli….” Velvet began.

“Oh, no, Vel, certainly not about that. I certainly meant what I said: your Sunset will stay with you. In fact, the reason we are here is because my daughter wished to talk to yours. We certainly hadn’t planned that, nor did we know you were having a dinner with friends tonight.”

“This was thrown together at the last moment, because we wanted to compare notes as to what changed.”

“Whatever for?” Solaire said simply, smiling as she did so. When the others looked at her, she added, “You are so worried about how the world has changed, and I can certainly understand it. But from what I gathered from that Faust woman, she ensured that we would all have, as odd as it seems to say it, ‘happy endings’. Perhaps a reward for everything we have been through, or perhaps preparation for what comes next.”

The other adults looked at one another, but not one said a thing. Finally, Celestia spoke. “You don’t think this is over, do you?”

“My family just went through a succession crisis, Tia. I had to leave here to support my father as Prince in Pretense and Head of the Household. And I got involved in family intrigue as a result and I could not return here with my daughter, where we would rather have lived. On the other hand, you are dealing with a sweet girl who is a neophyte literal deity. What could potentially be coming your way will make what my family went through look like a philosophical debate in comparison.”

Sable looked at his girlfriend’s lookalike. “That is not something I really wanted to hear, Soli.”

“None of us do. My daughter and I could still potentially be in danger once more, but this time because of Sunset’s existence, not merely because my family spawned a megalomaniac. You will need to be careful.”

“And those girls will need military training,” Sable commented, briefly looking at the triplets – the former SIRENs. “There was a reason they are in this timeline, clearly because Faust felt Sunset needed protectors.”

“They needed protection as well,” Velvet said defensively. “Besides, based on this morning, they hardly need further training. Somehow they retained everything from their past lives.”

“Not surprised,” Sable said. “But combat training is a very perishable skill; you lose your edge if you don’t hone it regularly.”

“Are you volunteering?” Zephyr asked him.

“Yeah. Probably crazy, but…yeah. Those girls need grounding, and someone who’s been there before. And even though they’re capable, I can guarantee they haven’t seen half the shit you or I have.”

“Yeah, well, better you than me, I guess,” Zephyr replied. “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

“So we should ask him?” Aria asked her sisters.

“We should really talk this over with Sunny tonight. She might say no,” Sonata said.

“She’ll say yes. We’re here because we have to protect her – she will need her SIRENs. But we can’t be the same SIRENs we once were. So maybe having adult supervision should rectify it.”

“Girls, what are you three talking about?” Twilight asked.

“SIREN stuff,” Adagio told her cousin. “We don’t want to leave you three out, but I’m not sure how much of this you want to be privy to.”

“We’re all in this together,” Octavia reminded them.

Adagio explained. “When we were SIRENs, we had a senior officer that we reported to that was male. As sexist as it sounds, someone thought that having an avuncular father figure for all of us would be a calming factor. It was the death of the last admiral overseeing SIREN that made the organization rebel.”

“Yeah, the fact that it turned out that some of our own assassinated him was conveniently left out of the information briefing,” Aria seethed.

“The point is, we’ve fought alongside Sable, and he’s tied to Celestia, which makes him a potential candidate.”

“Have you asked him?”

“We…uh, have to clear it through Sunny, first. I’m sure she’ll want input.”


By the time Sunset and Shimmer arrived back at the table, just about everyone was staring at them.

“Is this normal for you?” Shimmer asked her counterpart.

“I gave up trying to figure out what was normal a long time ago, Shimmy,” Sunset sighed.

A reality away, Luna watched as Cadance walked out of the room, a defeated look on her face, her mascara smeared slightly. “Any change?” she asked her niece.

“Auntie believes that Sunset is gone,” the alicorn said to the others, “and there’s no changing her mind. And as you said, it might be true.”

Luna frowned. “There must be a way to repair all this. Perhaps Discord—”

“Do you really think he would fix something?” Shining asked her incredulously.

“No, not really,” Cadance added. “But even he knows there are limits to things. In either case, I suspect he’ll be busy for quite some time hunting for the leftovers of Tirek’s forces.”

“Perhaps Twilight and I should get to work on seeing what we can do to open the portal and repair the interdimensional leyline,” Luna stated. “We cannot afford to have my sister in this state, the worries of what it will do to her notwithstanding.”

“Twily is not in the best of situations right now,” Shining told the alicorns. “She had to tell the others about Razz’s death. Needless to say, aside from the extensive rebuilding and such that Ponyville will need, she will need time alone to grieve with the others.”

“In my haste, I’d forgotten about that,” Luna said with a hint of guilt in her voice. “So, Sunset’s fate must wait for now.”

“Hers isn’t the only fate that needs to be discussed,” Cadance added. “We also need to discuss Pavane’s, too.”

“Pavane Bayan? The Princess’ Hoof that died escorting Razz?” Shining asked. “She’s a hero for what she did, certainly, and I’m sure I can speak to the Castellan and we’ll arrange a hero’s funeral.”

“It’s more than that, Shiny,” his wife told him. “It’s far more than you think.”

A couple of hours later, the afternoon sun had moved closer to the western horizon to signal the end of the day. However, to Sunset, it seemed to do so reluctantly, as if somehow she could feel it not wanting to stop shining on her now. It was an odd feeling.

“Go,” she told it softly. “You’ve had a duty to do long before I was here.” She knew it was an inanimate object and not the semi-imbued thing of magic that she’d grown up with, but somehow, it seemed like the right thing to say, because as she said that, the feeling of recalcitrance vanished softly.

“Sunny!” She immediately felt two arms clamp around her. “Come swimming with us!”

“Pinkie?”

The jubilant teen turned and smiled, her bright blue eyes laser-focused on Sunset’s own. “Yes?”

“Would you stop fondling me?”

“Oh.” Pinkie removed her hands from the offending locations and blushed. “I, er, would it make up for it if I let you fondle me?”

“Pinkie….”

“Look, give me a second to take my top off.”

“Pinkie….”

“You could do other things to me, too. I won’t mind at all. Really.” She blushed again. “Actually, I’m kinda hoping that you would do other things to me….”

Sunset sighed and pulled Pinkie’s top back down. “Pinkie, we need to talk.”

Those words seemed to trigger something in Pinkie, because she looked at Sunset with sudden fear. “No,” she breathed.

“Pinkie, for starters, I came over here by myself because I needed some time to think – not because I was doing a ‘come hither’. Secondly, I know why you’re feeling the way you are. And that’s part of the reason why I came over here to think. But now that you’re here, it makes it easier.”

“You’re going to dump me?” Pinkie asked.

“No, Pinkie, I’m not going to dump you…because we’re not dating,” Sunset explained. “Listen: what I’m about to tell you is not going to make sense, but it is the Truth. Maybe not our Truth, but a Truth nonetheless. And I need you to trust me.”

“You know I do.” Pinkie sat down next to Sunset, leaning against her shoulder. “More than anyone in this world.”

“When my grandmother changed things, she…well, she didn’t exactly change things, per se. Rather, what she did was reconstructing the timeline from bits and pieces of other timelines and parts. Some of the quantum strings of time make sense, and some of them don’t.” Sunset snapped her fingers and countless glowing orbs appeared around them both. “Some made sense in some contexts, while some did not.”

“I’m confused.”

“You wouldn’t be the only one.” Sunset reached out and picked up one of the orbs. In it, was a small image of Sunset and the girls, along with Princess Twilight, facing off against the triplets. But somehow, they were magically imbued – and evil. “Like I said, some of them really don’t make sense.”

Pinkie looked at a reality that the orb showed. “This isn’t real, is it?”

“It is, and it isn’t. In another time and place maybe it is, but this isn’t our reality. Our reality isn’t even the one it was yesterday, in a manner of speaking.” She let the orb go and it vanished. She reached out and picked up another one. In it, it showed a thirty-year-old Fluttershy in an Army uniform carrying a gun and with a grim look on her face. “Some of them won’t ever make sense.”

Pinkie looked at that one, too. “Why are you showing me this?”

“Because I know what you are, Pinkie. And it saddens, comforts and scares me all at once.”

“Why? I would never hurt you.”

“I know that. Believe me, I do, and it has nothing to do with that – but I can’t explain why or what exactly I mean. It’s not for you to know now, but to find out in time.” Sunset gave her friend a sad smile. “But that doesn’t have to do with why your feelings for me have gotten stronger.”

“I…I know they have. And I know you don’t like it. But I can’t help the way I feel.”

Sunset nodded. “I know.” She then reached inside Pinkie and plucked an orb out, much to the cotton-candy-haired girl’s surprise. “This is why.”

Pinkie looked at the orb, seeing her and Sunset making love within. “Is this real?”

“It’s a Truth,” Sunset said, blushing as she saw things the image of her in the orb doing that she had never thought of. “As I said earlier, it’s not our Truth, but one nonetheless. In any case, one of these quantum strings got, for lack of a better term, ‘stuck’ within you and that’s why you feel the way you do. Well, the intensity, in any case.”

Pinkie looked at the orb and a feeling of longing came over her. She reached out to Sunset, but then forced herself to lower her hand. “Because in some other reality, we’re lovers?” she asked instead.

“Because in some other reality, we’re married.” Sunset held the orb in her hand. “Pinkie, I can make this go away if you want. But if I do, it will change your feelings about me—”

“No.” The answer was instantaneous. “Put it back.”

“It’s not meant to be, Pinkie,” the neophyte goddess said, gesturing to the cut-off reality within. “I don’t feel that way about you and I probably never will.”

“I know. But it’s how I feel about you. And clearly, somewhere a you feels that way about a me. And maybe that’s enough.” She smiled sadly. “And I will master my feelings and get them under control. I am the master of who I am, not the other way around.”

“Are you sure?” Pinkie nodded, and Sunset slipped the ball in. Pinkie cooed at the touch, reluctantly moaning as Sunset removed her fingers. “Are you sure you’re going to get a hold of that?” Sunset wondered when she was done.

“Sunny?” Sunset looked at her friend and Pinkie suddenly looked abyssally sad. She held her friend and Sunset returned the embrace. “I love you, you know that?”

“I know, Pinkie. I love you too, in my own way.”

“I know. I just wish you could love me love me, if that makes sense,” she sobbed.

The two sat in the treeline until nightfall, not moving but instead just in each other’s company.

“Are you sure you wish to do this, mon tournesol?” Solaire asked.

Shimmer nodded. “We still have two weeks here, and I should get to know Sunset better,” she explained. “Besides, I don’t doubt that you and Zephyr will need some peace and quiet and time to know each other now as you apparently do.”

“My, you’re being cheeky, daughter of mine,” Solaire said with a sly grin.

“Yeah, well, I learned from the best,” she said, kissing her mom on the cheek.

“We’ll make sure she’s okay, Soli,” Velvet said.

“I know you will,” the princess commented. “Besides,” she said, leaning into Zephyr. “I do believe this scamp has yet to introduce me to his family, so a week in Atlanta will be nice.”

“Yeah, and I have to check on the kids and Paradis as well,” he admitted. “My ex isn’t going to recall any of this, you don’t think?”

“Hopefully not, but if she does, too bad – I’m keeping you,” Solaire insisted.

“Well, we need to get going as well,” Celestia added. “I have a meeting in the morning with Waddle to turn over the remaining documentation and items for summer school superintendent before I go back to being just the principal of Canterlot High.”

“Yeah, and I should probably head back to the Blanks itself and start taking down that storm boarding,” Sable added, “since Sombra and I took forever putting it in. Maybe we should call in several of the other teachers to help take the shit down as well.”

“We have some funds in the summer school account left,” Celestia offered. “If I can talk Waddle into moving it over to the Alternative Education account you can have custodial services attend to that.”

“I’d love you forever if you did, hon,” he said.

“I thought you were going to love me forever regardless?”

“Yes, but a little insurance never hurt, did it?” She giggled in response at that.


At this time, Sunset and Pinkie joined the others. They all noted both of them looked the worse for wear emotionally.

“So, which one of you is having the baby and should we worry about losing you at the hospital?” Rainbow joked in an attempt at levity and got smacked in the back of the head by Adagio for it.

“I should really kick your ass for that,” the oldest triplet growled.

“Hey, I was just joking, okay?” Rainbow grunted.

“Yes, but their stepmother died due to that,” Octavia told her friend.

“Shit, I did not know that,” Rainbow said. “Sorry about that, girls.”

“Yeah, we figured it was just you just being you and making a typically tasteless joke,” Aria commented. “We know you.”

“Good,” Rainbow replied. “Besides, Dagi, if you’re going to use someone as a punching bag, go do it to Razz, okay?”

Adagio smirked. “Might just do that anyway.”

“HEY!” the former unicorn protested.

“Don’t worry about it, Razz,” Sonata added. “That’s just how you can tell she likes you, isn’t that right, sis?”

“Sis, now is not the time for jokes. Especially with the mutant freak there.”

“You mean the mutant freak that’s like me?” Sunset commented, crossing her arms.

“Well, you’re my cousin, Sunny. That’s entirely different,” the eldest triplet pointed out.

“Speaking of which…how do we explain Razz?” Twilight asked. “We can’t exactly claim she’s a cousin; at some point someone’s going to wonder if mine or Tavi’s family line looks like chop suey.”

“Yeah, I guess we are kinda ‘cousined’ out around here, aren’t we?” Sonata commented.

“I suppose I could volunteer that she’s part of my family,” Shimmer ventured. “I owe her a small bit of gratitude as well for helping stop Divine, plus, she will need some coverage for a while, won’t she?”

“That’s awfully nice of you, Shimmer,” Applejack said.

“I’m sure if the situation was reversed, Sunset would step in to protect one of my friends,” Shimmer said, “so it’s fair.”

“I’ll need to go look at some French documents so I can make copies for Razz,” Sunset commented.

“I can lend you mine. I have them in my purse.”

“Okay, so…now we’re forging international documents in addition to hiding Sunset’s secret,” Rarity said flatly, looking at her friends. “I don’t think I’d ever envisioned a life of crime when I met you all, darlings.”

“But you wouldn’t give it up for the world, would you?” Fluttershy said, a surprisingly impish smile coming over her face.

“Not in the least, Fluttershy dear, not in the least.”

The girls spent the remainder of the time in the pool, laughing it up and acting for a change like careless teenagers, until the outdoor clock read eleven in the evening.

“Well, I should probably get some sleep,” Rarity said, sighing slightly. “I do need my beauty sleep.”

“We probably all should,” Applejack suggested.

“Woah, are you kidding?” Rainbow asked. “Can’t we, like, just stay up all night and then have Sunny like, zap us and shit so that we’re not sleepy or anything?”

“Can you do that?” Pinkie asked her.

“Can? No idea? Would? Not a chance,” Sunset told them. “You are my friends and I am very reluctant to use my magic on you for a number of ethical and other reasons. Things I wouldn’t have to think about before.” Pinkie was about to open her mouth to say something when Sunset added in, “And even if you volunteer, Pinkie, no, I’m not going to give you an artificially-induced dream about what you saw earlier.”

“Then can I—”

Sonata patted her friend on the shoulder. “I really think you should just drop it, okay?” she advised.

“Well, can we at least contact Equestria?” Raspberry asked. “I think my parents would be worried about me, given everything going on over there.”

“So, even the freak has a family,” Adagio drawled. “Will wonders never cease.”

“Okay, that’s it,” Octavia said. “Dagi, you’re out of line here, okay? If we want to talk about families, you’re hardly one to do so!”

Adagio reacted as if slapped. “Look, Tavi….”

“Excuse us for a minute, would you?” Octavia grabbed the golden-haired girl’s hand and dragged her to the other end of the pool. “No, you listen, okay? Look, I get that you hate Razz, and I have no idea why, but get off her case for now, okay?”

“And why should I?”

“Because from what little I know, she’s on the verge of falling apart right now. Aunt Velvet said that Razz took a nap while we were all out and running about and that she’d cried herself to sleep. I think she’s worried about her home with that war that she mentioned. Sunny’s probably worried as well, but you know she doesn’t try to show it as much.”

“I still fail to see the concern here.”

“Dagi, please don’t be so thickheaded, okay? I know you better than that. Think about it: if there was an apocalyptic war here—” That was met by an are you serious? look from Adagio, so then Octavia amended with, “You know what I mean!”

“Just get to your point, okay?”

“Okay, long story short: if you were in her shoes, do you think you’d want someone who hated you to just constantly waylay into you? I’m not asking you to be buddy-buddy with her, Dagi; no one is. But she’s from the same world as Sunny, and if she’s right, that world might not survive. Sunny and Razz might be the only ones of their kind left, and honestly? I can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like.”

Adagio sighed. “Fine, I’ll lay off her for a bit – but only because you asked.”

“That’s good enough for me.”

“Come on, we’d better get out of the water before the others start getting ideas. Like spying on us or something.”


Standing from a distance, Twilight smiled. “I think Tavi handled that pretty well, don’t you?”

“Yeah, usually you all make me do the hard stuff,” Sonata said half-jokingly.

“Because you’re good at it,” Sunset told her.

“Yeah, okay, point,” Sonata admitted.

“You know, watching this long-time family dynamic that you all seemed to have developed literally overnight is going to take some getting used to,” Rarity admitted. “My sister and I aren’t as close as you six seem to be, and given, well, everything, it makes me wonder why that is the case.”

“Because Grandmother willed it to be so, I guess,” Sunset said. “Personally, I’m not going to complain.”

“You did when I borrowed one of your shirts last week,” Aria jibed.

“Yes, and I was not happy that you spilled marinara sauce all over it, either. It’s going to take forever to get the stain out.” Aria, in turn, stuck her tongue out at her cousin, to which Sunset summoned a splash of water from the pool to soak the drying teen. Aria retaliated by tackling her cousin and pushing her into the water, after which the two descended into laughing and water fighting.

“Ladies, I present to you: the new normal,” Twilight said without a trace of irony on her face.

“Yeah, this world is definitely going to take some getting used to,” Raspberry said for what must’ve been the umpteenth time.

Ten minutes later, they went back in the house, and after a quick change into normal clothing, moved the bookcase – the bookcase would have to go on gimbals later in order to automate moving it in case of emergencies, Sonata noted aloud – and they took the elevator down into the secure area.

“You have this underneath your house?” Shimmer asked Sunset.

“Yeah. Somehow it exists independently of either timeline, and Sonata said she built it all, so we’re not sure how that happened,” Sunset said. “There’s a few instances where I’ve found that it’s just better not to ask.”

The elevator doors opened, revealing a room the size of a basketball court. In one corner was a bunch of weightlifting equipment. A room with a window led just off it and within it was a target range. In the second corner was a worktable with lab equipment and various other gear that seemed far too complex for the average house to have. Against the far wall was a series of weapon racks, all of which carried various armaments. Next to it, in perfect condition, was a BAE Valanx, armed with an M2 .50 machine gun on the top; next to that was a small garage’s worth of materials in order to keep it in top condition.

In the center of the room was various tables, computers and a command center display, all of which fed back real-time information to the screens.

“When the hell did you have time to set all of this up?” Rainbow asked Sonata.

“Look, some of that I don’t even know how to set up!” was the response. A quick infodump stare later, and Sonata added, “Okay, looks like I do. But seriously, I…let’s just let it go, okay, Rainbow?”

Applejack whistled in appreciation. “What’s behind the iron doors over there?” she asked, pointing to the ones across from them, the centerpiece of the room: a massive vault, with steel doors, and no indicator of what’s behind it.

“I’m guessing the portal is behind that?” Sunset asked Sonata.

The youngest triplet nodded as she walked over to the three-meter-tall doors. “In the event of a breach or unannounced arrival, the vault is supposed to flood with an incapacitating agent – methyl propyl ether, if I recall correctly. Then, if the walls or vault doors are attacked, signals get sent to the three of us and you, while the room then switches to a secondary defense system designed to neutralize the threat. Combination of flamethrowers built into the walls, ceiling and ground. In the last-ditch event that nothing can be saved, explosive charges are supposed to go off, destroying everything in the room, the portal included. The vault is encased by foot-thick steel-reinforced concrete, and the doors themselves are meter-thick 945A-class steel alloy. If anything gets past that, then having the portal destroyed is the least of our problems.”

“And you would know all of this how?” Rarity asked her friend.

“Look, I have no idea. In the old timeline, I took pride in my engineering skills, and in this new timeline, I’ve always had an affinity for it thanks to Aunt Glitter, but in neither timeline should I have been able to build the Batcave here!” she explained.

“If Ah had to guess, probably Sunny’s grandma did all of it and implanted the info in your head for maintenance reasons,” Applejack offered. “Ah know it’d be something mah granny’d do.”

Sonata had an odd look cross her face. “That…had never occurred to me.”

Aria hugged her sister. “Well, I love you regardless of how weird you get, sis.”


Meanwhile, Sunset looked at Raspberry and the sudden look of homesickness on the other girl’s face as she gazed at the iron doors and the unspoken promise of home on the other side. “I promise I’ll get you home, Razz. And I know there will be a home to get you to,” the alicorn insisted.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am.” She gestured to the table. “Ladies, go ahead and have a seat. I’m going to summon the candle so that we can try to reach Equestria.” She then looked at Twilight, Octavia and Shimmer. “I know this might all be a bit overwhelming for you three, so there’s no shame if you don’t want to be a part of this.”

“No. I made that mistake once, and I’m not doing it again,” Twilight told her sister. “You’re my sister, and a part of my life. And I lost you once because of my selfishness. For better or for worse, I’m in.”

“I go where you go, Sunny,” Octavia told her cousin.

“Well, I did agree to this,” Shimmer told them. “Besides, apparently magic has been in my family for longer than I even knew it existed, so….” She shrugged and left it at that.

The girls took seats and with a snap of her fingers, Sunset summoned the candle. She lit it, and the thick green pillar candle let off its cloying pine scent, the orange wick dancing before them.

“Okay, so it’s a candle?” Twilight asked her sister.

“More than just a candle.” She looked at those who were already familiarized with magic. “Think of it as a communication device back to my homeworld.” And with that, she tapped the candlewick, and the flame changed from orange to green.

The room filled with an explosion of green flame everywhere, an inferno of jade pouring in all directions. Alarms sounded all over the place and the blast of magical power roared as it screamed out of the candle, much to the horror of everyone present.

“RAZZ, GET THEM OUT OF HERE!” Sunset shouted. But to her shock, Raspberry was completely incapacitated, caught up in the horror of seeing the wild, unrestrained magic.

The sprinklers began to go off, to no avail; in fact, the magical flame began to grow larger and larger, now covering the whole of the ceiling and swallowing every drop of water, sending it who knew where.

Sunset heard a shriek of maniacal laughter and saw Octavia, on the ground, howling in insanity. The look on her eyes was that of a caged animal that was ready to attack at any second.

Sunset did what was necessary: she teleported everyone out of the room, then started placing wards down in a defensive pattern, putting more magic into them than she’d ever done before. It was surprising to her that she could now do so, but she pushed that from her mind and focused at the task at hand.

As she started to get the inferno under control, she could hear weeping from the other end, voices from beyond the veil. She wasn’t sure from where they were coming or what it portended, but now was not the time for speculation.

The flames burned around her, trying to claim her, but her own nature repelled them, letting the unrestrained magic know who the master was here. A second later she could feel extra power as her link to the sun activated, letting her draw in that energy as well. It wasn’t really needed, but it helped to serve as one more anchor to this plane, one more way of saying that she was now inexorably tied to this realm and that though she was from Equestria, it was no longer her home.

“What the hell was that?” Velvet, with Night right behind her, came downstairs to find all the girls save for Sunset and Aria, looking anxiously at the elevator doors. Sparks and strange lights flickered and flew away from the cracked doors, and Twilight and her nieces crowded around Octavia, who was shaking like a leaf. Standing away from them, with terrified looks on their faces, were Shimmer – and surprisingly, Raspberry, as well. As for the other teens, they were already in damage control mode, trying to make sure everything was alright.

It made Velvet wonder how odd this world had become when girls, whose main concerns should be as far away from world-shattering calamities as possible, were now regularly front and center when it came to them.

“DAGI! CATCH!”

Velvet turned to see Aria, from the top of the stairs, throw something to her sister. The matron immediately noticed it was Octavia’s prescription of Malarson. Sonata, seeing it, sprinted into the kitchen, while Adagio rushed over to catch the bottle. She ran it over to Octavia just as Sonata returned with a glass of water, both handing them over to Twilight, who was hugging and comforting Octavia, mothering over her cousin as best as she could while the raven-haired teen was in a practical stupor.

“Girls, what is going on here?” Night asked, just as the ground shook briefly and a muffled thump sounded through the floor.

A second later, Sunset appeared in a shower of sparkles. She was in her alicorn form and was covered in soot and grime. “Everyone okay?” she asked, looking around. She then saw her parents and said, “Mom, Dad, I’ll explain in the morning. I promise. Just…false alarm, everything’s going to be okay now. Trust the goddess, she knows what she’s talking about.”

“That’s a novel excuse if I’ve ever heard one,” Velvet said warily.

“I need a shower right now. And we need to get to bed.” Sunset changed back to her human form; strangely enough, the debris followed along right onto that form. “And I need to do damage control.”

“And explain all of this too,” Night added.

“And explain all of this too,” Sunset wearily agreed.

It was just after one in the morning when a tired Sunset walked back up to her bedroom. The girls, given that they were staying over, had all crowded into Sunset’s bedroom, all of them in sleeping bags. She knew her parents were still downstairs, digesting everything that she’d explained and they would probably have very sleepless nights tonight, given what had just happened beneath the house. For that matter, she knew she would have one as well, trying to make sure that no one had any nightmares tonight.

And she still hadn’t gotten around to taking that shower. She could still smell the sweat on her and while she didn’t stink, the odd, acrid stench of wild magic hung around her like a methane cloud.

Maybe I should take up Rainbow on that suggestion about just zapping them with a rejuvenation spell, just as soon as I invent one for humans, she mentally groaned.

“Sunny?” She turned to see Shimmer, sitting on the final step, outside of her bedroom, as if waiting for her.

“You sound as though you want to leave,” Sunset said, not arguing. “Look, if you don’t want to get to know me—”

“‘You’re my sister’. That’s what Twilight said. You have no biological relation to her, you’re not adopted yet, and yet she loves and idolizes you. And though they didn’t voice it the same way, so do the others – and I don’t mean your cousins. You have ten girls in that room – and arguably Raspberry as well – that look up to you and respect you immensely.”

“I’m sorry if that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

“It does…but not for the reasons it did earlier,” the smaller girl admitted. “I mean, yes, had I seen this earlier today, I would be jealous, because it would have just showed how ‘inferior’ I was in comparison to you,” Shimmer said, doing air quotes. “But now, after having just seen you literally throw yourself into a magical inferno, I…I really don’t know what to say. I’m both afraid and amazed. And I can’t help but wonder if you’re what my real twin sister might have been like if she lived, then….”

“You’re not inferior, Shimmy. And you shouldn’t compare yourself to me.”

Shimmer stood up. “I’m not. I’m saying that I should be looking up to you as well. If you’re going to fill the niche of my twin sister, I should get to know you, good and bad – and weird. So…no, I don’t want to go away. And though I’ll go home in two weeks, I still want us to keep in touch. I mean…we’re sisters, right?” She then reached over and hugged the taller girl.

For the first time in several minutes, Sunset smiled. “Thanks. Right now, that makes me feel far better than you might realize.”

“I’m glad. C’mon, there are two other girls that need your help.”

“They do?”

“Your cousin? Octavia? She wants to talk to you. She’s locked herself in her room. And Raspberry has sequestered herself in hers as well.”

Sunset sighed, knowing it was going to be a long night.

“Can you make it go away?” Octavia asked her.

“Tavi, I—”

“Can. You make it. Go. Away?” the teen repeated, looking up at Sunset with desperate eyes. Right now, she looked like something out of a Japanese horror film, with her hair stringing over her face, her eyes red from tears. She held onto Sunset’s arm like a talisman at the moment, and it made the alicorn ache to see her cousin like this.

“No, Tavi. I can’t.” Sunset held her cousin close. “This is your mind we’re talking about. I can heal your body. But your mind is yours. And I would never want to harm you. I’m sorry.” Sunset felt her cousin bawl horrifically in her arms, and Sunset couldn’t help but cry along with her. She turned to look as Twilight and the triplets stood in the door, all of them with bleak, worried looks on their faces as well.

“We’ll get through this,” Sunset said, kissing Octavia gently on her head. “Sisters always do.”

“I’m alone.”

Sunset, already feeling emotionally exhausted after having put Octavia to sleep, walked over to Raspberry’s room. She wasn’t in the mood for a second round of this. Yet, she didn’t have a choice: Raspberry needed her. And even if it wasn’t her responsibility as a pony deity-ruler, the stark fact that Sunset was a fellow pony – and that was enough for her.

“Razz, you had a bad night, okay? I wasn’t expecting that to happen.”

That is not the sign of a normal action, Sunny! That means that our home – our world! – is gone! There’s nothing left! There’s nothing left!” Raspberry was frantic, panicking.

“Razz, calm down! I’m sure there’s a valid reason for it! Maybe misalignment of leylines, or…the grand matrices are malfunctioning!”

“I wouldn’t know, okay? I don’t have the training that you do!” The other girl was in tears, and she was shivering, holding herself. “I just…everything’s gone! I know it is! Everypony I’ve ever loved, everypony I care about! And now I’m stuck as a monster forever and—”

“Razz!” Sunset’s shout made her look up, and Sunset took that attention for all it was worth. “Calm. Down. Please. I’m very sure there’s a reason for it. I’ll look into it, and I’ll get you home. I promised, didn’t I?”

“You did,” Raspberry said dully.

“And even if worst came to worst and you were, quote, ‘stuck’, there are a lot of good things about human life that you have yet to experience. I know you’re scared, and so am I – I have family on the other side as well, remember – but you have to have faith that everything’s going to turn out okay. I do.”

“You have faith? With what you saw?”

“Deities run on faith, so I hear. And I believe that we are working for a better tomorrow, whether it’s ponydom or humanity. And I know that we’ll get there. But we can’t get there just because I said so, or my mother, or my grandmother – or the gods on this side. We have to get there through all of us.” Sunset got down on her knees so she could look Raspberry in the eyes. Brushing the hair out of her friend’s face, she said, “Rest. When tomorrow comes, I’ll show you there’s more to humanity than what you see as horror.”

“But what if we have to stay like this for the rest of our lives? What if we’re the last two left?”

“Then you’re still not alone,” Sunset reminded her, pointing to the bird perch and the gently dozing green canary on it. “If we are all that is left, then it is up to us to make sure ponydom is remembered. But it won’t get to that, because I know it won’t.” She tapped her friend on the forehead, whispering a soft, “Sleep.” Raspberry’s eyes immediately closed, and Sunset magically slipped her into sleepwear, and then tucked her into bed.

“Things will be better in the morning, Razz. I promise they will,” Sunset told her friend as she left the guest room.


“You look like shit.” Adagio stood there, looking at her cousin evenly.

“Why, Adagio Dazzle, I’m surprised! Worried about how Razz was reacting?”

Adagio clucked her tongue. “As if. I’m worried about you. It’s been a rough day, and roughest for you, okay? The girls are already mostly asleep, but I stayed up to make sure you weren’t going to go through this alone. Twily’s with Tavi, and my sisters are already conked out, so that left just me.”

“Thanks. I mean that.”

Adagio smiled. “We’re family, Sunny. I would normally say that means a lot to me, but after today? It’s the whole damn world. You’re my cousin – and in this family, pretty much the same thing as a sister – and my liegelady.”

“Never that last one, Dagi.”

“Sorry, but yes, that one. We are your SIRENs as well as your cousins. Your protectors as well as your family. And we intend to take that seriously. Now, yes, during these slow times, we’re your family first. But there’s going to be a time when we SIRENs will have to be the line between you and death, or between the others and death.”

“Dagi, please, can we talk about this later? I’m too wiped out right now to go through this.”

“Sure. Let’s get some sleep, then.” She grinned impishly. “That is, unless you want to cuddle up against Pinkie – she’s already tried to sidle up to Shimmer, and it’s kinda freaked her out, understandably.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” Sunset sighed as she went to her room. Thankfully, it was probably the only thing that she had to worry about right now.

So good to finally be returning home, Areca Palm thought to herself as she drove past wide-open fields interspersed with little country houses and farms. The girl with chestnut-brown hair with a single blue stripe never felt like she could truly be herself whenever she traveled. Appearances needed to be kept up for one reason or another.

None too soon the farmland of Damascus, Oregon vanished through the trees behind her, and Areca drove her SUV down a one-lane gravel road lined with nice two-story houses on either side. Identical Tudor-style homes slowly drifted past and in their windows, Areca could see each of the residents of the little community standing ramrod straight and perfectly still as they silently watched her pass. Most would have found the behavior unsettling, but not Areca—this was her home, after all.

In a few minutes, Areca pulled up to the front gate of her home. A pair of stone lions flanked the gate, and effigies of fantastical creatures roared and clashed above it. Stepping out of her vehicle, Areca waved her hand, and the myriad of invisible protective magical wards parted before her. Then with another wave of her hand, Areca summoned her face.

The Hudoq mask of the Dayak people was the only relic of her past life she still kept. Her father had always stressed the importance of remembering one’s roots, but Areca had no desire to hold onto the weak and helpless Indonesian orphan she’d left behind in Australia. In truth, Areca hated that person. The demon-like mask was Areca’s way of surpassing her: Although she had risen far in the world ever since Da had taken her in, every time Areca saw her face reflected back at her in a mirror or the surface of a window, all she ever saw was that weak, powerless little girl.

Not so when she wore the fearsome fanged face of the Hudoq: As far as she was concerned, the mask was her real face. The friendly, laid back persona she presented for the ignorant outsiders that was the rest of the world – that was her true mask.

She passed a procession of her brothers and sisters in black suits who gave Areca a respectful nod as she walked along the dense wooded path to the mansion. They were on their way to collect her bags and bring them into the mansion, having been notified of her arrival by the magical wards around the property.

Inside, the mansion was filled with ancient things. Finely crafted wooden furniture filled the yawning chambers, many of which had been there long before the country was founded. Old yellow photographs rested in mahogany frames among the china and decorative sculptures, depicting centuries old members of their Order.

In one of the side rooms, Areca found one of her fellow high-level acolytes. The hulking beast of a man sat in meditation amidst a sea of wax candles, the candlelight dancing across the grisly red markings that covered his upper body. His beard was gray and smoky, extending down to his chest, and when he sensed Areca’s presence, his eyes opened revealing fiery orange. He stood to greet her, and Areca had to crane her head back to meet his eyes.

“Brother Cacus,” she greeted. Her voice echoed with a hollow resonance behind her mask. “Good to see you. Hope I’m not interrupting your meditation.”

The giant of a man gave a noncommittal grunt, which Areca took to mean he didn’t particularly mind, and gave her a mildly inquisitive look.

Taking the invitation, Areca asked, “Do you know where the Grandmaster is? I didn’t see him in his study.”

Cacus extended a tree trunk-like arm towards the back of the mansion, and all at once Areca knew where she had to go. After thanking Cacus, Areca made her way to the dining room near the back of the mansion’s west wing. The stuffed, mounted heads of a variety of animals watched as she entered the secret passage next to the hearth and descended the dusty stairs into the hidden network of tunnels below.

The tunnel system had been dug out by the Order centuries ago, and apart from a few additional wooden supports, remained relatively unchanged over the years. The way was lit by candles nestled away in little alcoves in the walls – confirming to Areca that a ritual was underway.

But as it turned out, Areca was wrong. When she opened the rusty steel door at the end of the winding passage, she saw that the ritual had just finished. Twelve robed figures stood around a stone table in the center of a twelve-pointed diagram on the floor. Lying on the table was the girl.

Soapy Bubbles was an intern at the local branch of one of the Order’s shell corporations – an electronics company – and had very quickly become taken with her father to hear the old man tell it. She had problems at home and very few friends, and Areca’s father had provided a shoulder to lean on during those hard times. Naturally, this only caused more problems for poor young Bubbles when her parents found out all about the increasing amount of “intimate” time the two spent together. Their fears (in that regard anyway) were unfounded, of course. Her father was never with the young girl in the biblical sense. After all, it would defeat the whole purpose of what he was doing.

The blue haired girl was splayed out on the stone slab in a big X, her wrists and ankles bound in rope. The golden hilt of an ornate sword rose from her chest, and blood slid from the edges of the stone table, turning the diagram on the floor red. Areca felt a certain satisfaction looking into Bubbles’ lifeless eyes – the girl had been exceptionally arrogant when she was with her father. Areca only regretted not arriving in time to see Bubbles discover her true destiny.

Areca watched as an old man wearing the Grandmaster’s black robes with gold embroidery pulled the sword from the lifeless girl’s chest, wiping away the blood on the blade with a cloth. Having already absorbed the power from the runes filled with virgin’s blood, the other black-robed figures began to disperse, silently making their way past Areca to the door. Sensing her presence, the old man turned to face her and Areca looked upon her father’s familiar wrinkled visage.

“Welcome home, my dear,” he said warmly as he returned the sword to his sheath, and it became his cane. The old man wore his white cloth bandages over his eyes, and Areca could see the edges of the burned skin around his empty sockets.

“Hello, Da!” Areca said, her genuine smile hidden beneath her mask.

Only when the last of the other members of their Order were gone did Areca move forward to hug her father, making sure to do so in full view of Bubbles’ lifeless gaze.

“How was Japan?” her father asked as they broke from the hug.

“Productive,” Areca answered, getting straight to business. “I made contact with the Oyabun and gave him your message. They seemed…receptive of our offer.”

“As always, you have done fine work, my child,” her father said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “But I sense some trepidation.” Areca said nothing, but her silence gave her away. “Come now, you know you can speak your mind with me.”

With only another moment’s hesitation, Areca said, “All due respect, Da, I think it was a mistake letting this ‘Satsuma Rengo-kai’ group become as powerful as they have. We should have dealt with them years ago.” They were going to be a lot more difficult to deal with now, Areca knew.

“They still have a role to play in events to come,” the Grandmaster said. “It is foolish to discard a thing that still has some use.”

Areca glanced distastefully at the girl on the table. “That why you kept her around as long as you did? What role did she play for you?”

Naturally, her father couldn’t have seen her sour expression even if he still had his eyes, but he could easily discern his surrogate daughter’s feelings for Bubbles.

“There’s more than one way a person can have their use,” the Grandmaster said, leaving it at that.

Just like there’s more than one way a man can enjoy a woman’s body, Areca wanted to say, but held her tongue. She too thought it best to simply leave it at that, and turned to walk back through the winding tunnel, the old man’s cane feeling the ground ahead of him.

“Oh! I have some good news, Da,” Areca said as they walked through the dark dank tunnel, each candle going out in its alcove as they passed. “Your ‘admirer’ is no longer a problem.”

“So I heard. Apparently three very deranged young women were responsible for this latest batch of ‘Dead Hand Killings,’” her father said with a knowing smile. “But you and I know better, don’t we?”

Areca could only guess by her father’s satisfied smile that everything had gone exactly as he had foreseen.

“As I recall, you had expressed your desire to preemptively deal with him as well, and I told you then as I tell you now that he still had a purpose to serve,” her father continued. “Now, both Grogar and Chernabog have been removed from the picture, and the powerful magic user rising in Canterlot is dead.”

The Child of the Sun, the Grandmaster had called the girl in Canterlot. Daughter of two worlds. Strangely enough, her father’s demeanor changed whenever he spoke of the enigmatic girl. It was hard to put a finger on how, exactly. At least now she can’t trouble him any longer.

“Still, it’s a shame young Divine Right turned out the way he did,” her father went on. “He had such potential, but considering who gave his lineage their powers, I suppose his grasp was always destined to exceed his reach.”

“I don’t believe you ever told me how you know him,” Areca said with genuine curiosity.

Her father smiled. “It’s quite simple really. Divine Right was my apprentice before you. I met him when he was studying abroad at USC back in the 80s. He was only vaguely aware of the power he possessed at the time, so I took it upon myself to train him in the arcane arts.”

Of course, the place and time was all too familiar. “So the original Dead Hand Killings…?”

“That’s right,” her father said. “Amazing how frequently history repeats itself, is it not? There wasn’t just one Dead Hand Killer now, and there wasn’t just one then either.” The old man gave a nostalgic sigh. “The Prince took to my teachings eagerly enough, but his technique was sloppy. Still, I thought he might one day prove to be a valuable asset. Instead, his power-hungry follies made him a liability to the Order, and we severed all ties with him.”

Areca smiled beneath her mask. “Well, with him and the girl out of the way, what’s the next phase of our…?”

Areca trailed off as her father abruptly stopped in his tracks. When she turned to face him, she saw the familiar sight of a pair of red spots growing on the white cloth over his eyes. Soon, red tears began to stream down the old man’s face. Ask, and you shall receive.

“Da? What do you see?” Areca asked.

“I’m not sure yet. Something is amiss…eungh!

Areca’s heart nearly skipped a beat when her father suddenly grunted in pain and clutched his head. Her father’s cane clattered to the ground, and suddenly she found herself holding all of the old man’s weight. With a wave of her hand, Areca summoned a wooden chair from the dining room with a red velvet pillow, and gently set her father down in it.

“Are you alright, Da?” she asked. As a part of his Gift, her father had many visions like the one he just had, but never before had one of them evoked such a strong reaction from him.

The old man sat still and silent for quite some time, and Areca knew there was nought to do but wait patiently. His Third Eye had traveled far this time, and when Areca looked close, she could see his lips moving ever so slightly. Is he…speaking with someone? Finally, her father started to laugh. It started as a simple chuckle, like he’d just heard a mildly amusing joke, but it grew and grew until it became a mad cackle, and for the first time in a long time Areca was afraid of him.

“What happened?” she asked when the old man’s mirth finally subsided.

“A divine intervention….” he answered breathlessly. “The destiny of our world has been changed…. It would seem that She has finally seen fit to play Her hand.” Her father shook with laughter again. “She has played with a double-edged sword, and the benefits She has reaped pale in comparison to what it has allowed us to grasp!”

He had spoken of Her before, and Areca still wasn’t entirely sure who “She” was. “What’s changed?” she asked.

“Many things,” Her father curled a trembling hand into a fist. “The girl lives. The sentimental bitch did it all to save her.”

It took barely a moment, but Areca understood. “The Child of the Sun?”

Her father nodded. “This complicates things greatly.”

A thought suddenly occurred to Areca. “I forgot to mention this, but…I think I met the girl while I was traveling.” Her father looked up at her, and even though he had no eyes, Areca swore she could feel them boring into her.

“It was at the resort owned by one of our shell companies. Club Tropicana. I spoke with a girl who matched your description of the Child of the Sun. I could sense her power, and it was immense.” Of course, if the destiny of the world really had changed as much as her father claimed, Areca had to wonder, did I really meet her? Or had that changed too?

“Did you get a name?”

Areca then decided it didn’t matter. She remembered meeting the girl, and that was enough. “Sunset Shimmer.”

The old man pondered this news for some time. “Send one of the branch families to Canterlot, have them find out everything they can about this Sunset Shimmer girl.” Her father stood and picked up his cane. “I have many things to think on. My visions have changed, and there are many new riddles to solve.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing you can’t handle, Da,” Areca said. He gave her his familiar smile, and Areca knew that this was nothing more than a minor setback. “After all, who better to solve riddles than a Sphinx?”

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