• Published 5th May 2018
  • 1,192 Views, 376 Comments

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 19: Pale Shelter

“Looks like you’re good to go, Ms. Sandalwood,” the nurse told her as she finished dressing. “Just follow the regimen that was prescribed and you should be right as rain to return to duty.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Sandalwood said, taking the paperwork from the nurse. She had no intention of following it, as she had her own workout regimen she had to follow. Her body felt as stiff as a board after having to sit out all this time at the hospital, and the sooner she brought herself back up to fighting fit, the better.

“Also, your ride is here. Shall I call for a wheelchair to take you out?” the nurse offered.

“The day you do that is the day you can bury me six feet under,” Sandalwood grunted. She heard a snicker from across the room and not even looking away from the nurse, said, “I take it you found that funny, Hearts?”

“Sandy, don’t ever change,” Hearts Aflutter said, going over to pick up her friend’s bag. “You ready to leave?”

“Only on my own two feet,” came the response. “Besides, I’m not sure if I could stomach one more day of hospital food.” She looked at the nurse. “Uh, no offense.”

“None taken,” the nurse giggled. “At least you get to escape – they actually have to pay some of us to stay here on a regular basis, would you believe that?”

As the two departed the hospital, headed for the parking garage, Hearts said to Sandalwood, “Are you sure about this, Sandy?”

“Not really,” she sighed. “Personally, I would have preferred to go back to my apartment but given that it was completely destroyed by the freak hurricane, it’s a condemned loss that I couldn’t even really recover much from. As it is, at least the insurance company gave me a nice fat check to make up for all of it.”

“You know what I mean,” Hearts countered.

“Yes, yes I do. And yes, I’m sure.” The two waited by the elevator for the next one. “This was a colossal mistake on my part. A chance to try to see if I could live like the normal folk do. Boy, did I fuck up.”

“You didn’t fuck up. It just—”

“I appreciate the lie, Hearts, but let’s be honest: I boned this one hard, and now I have to make it right, even though it’s probably going to rip me in two.”

Hearts sighed. “Sandy…please don’t do this to yourself.”

“Too late, Hearts. Too Goddamn fucking late.” They got in the elevator and Sandalwood leaned against the wall as the doors closed. “Every single day, Hearts. Do you know what it’s like? It’s hard enough working with him. It’s impossible for me to keep my feelings in check. Do you know what I dreamed of last night?”

“No, but knowing you, you’re going to tell me anyway,” the other girl replied.

“That he took my cuffs, hooked me up against a chainlink fence, and went to town. And I wanted that. I woke up crying, because I didn’t really get taken in some backstreet alley. Do you know how fucked up that is?” Sandalwood was quiet for a second as the elevator dinged each level. “And to make it worse, his true love is my best friend. I can’t face Cady anymore, you know that? I feel like I’m going to snap at any moment, and when I do, it’s not going to be pretty.”

“Oh, stop being such a drama queen,” Hearts said. “Cady knows how you feel, and she doesn’t hold it against you. She trusts you.”

“I DON’T TRUST MYSELF!” Sandalwood said, punching the nearest wall. She forced herself to calm down; she hadn’t even left the hospital grounds yet and was already maneuvering herself towards another stay. “Trust me…this is the best for everyone.”

“Not for you, Sandy. You have me worried, you know that?” Hearts went over and hugged the other girl. “We’re old friends, you and me. I don’t want you to suffer this alone.”

“I know. And that’s why I’m telling you, Hearts. I just…this is for the best.”

“Not for you.”

“You’re right, not for me. But life isn’t a fairytale, and sometimes we don’t get happy endings.”

“Thanks for coming with me to do this, Velvet,” Cadance told her future mother-in-law as the two stood before the cell block at the North County Correctional Center. “I come here a million times, and normally it doesn’t faze me. But this time….”

“I understand, Cady,” the older woman said. “I’d be lying if I said I wanted to be here, so I completely understand your trepidation.”

“I don’t recommend having that attitude,” the ECSD deputy with them advised. “You’ll get eaten alive with an attitude like that.”

Cadance, long familiar with the place, gave the man a smile. “Don’t worry, Shutdown. I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“I’m sure you will, Counselor – under normal circumstances. But these aren’t normal girls. Hell, if it wasn’t for the fact that even as headcases they’re still considered highly dangerous they’d probably have been moved to the SMW.”

“SMW?” Velvet asked.

“The Secure Medical Wing,” Cadance explained. “It’s where they keep the prisoners with medical issues.”

There was a loud buzz and the large metal gates swung open. “This way, ladies,” the deputy said. “You’ll be meeting with her in Room Two – that’s the one that we have set up for this sort of thing. You’ll be behind a Plexiglas window, so you don’t have to worry about your safety, but even still, I would exercise caution, given her training. We have the room on a live feed that’s also being recorded; the recording is only for the sake of prison security and any copies we give you we also have to give to the defense attorney.”

“A lot of security just for a single girl,” Cadance mused.

“She’s not like any other girl I’ve ever seen,” the deputy replied. “On her first day back up, she nearly killed someone – practically stabbed his heart using a ballpoint pen that the guy dropped. If at any time your life is in danger, we will be just outside the door, and authorized to use lethal force if need be.”

“I’m sure it won’t come to that,” Cadance insisted.

They reached the door. “I’ll be out here waiting for your signal,” he assured them.

The two entered the room, and the door immediately closed behind them. Across from them, separated by a large window of Plexiglas that bifurcated the table, was Contralto Rush. She was seated at the table, her hands handcuffed to it with the chains giving her just enough room to move her hands, but that was where it ended. Currently dressed in a black-and-white prison jumpsuit, the suit also had additional dark-red bands on it as well. She looked sallow, her eyes sunken and her hair stringy and far from the animalistic girl the two remembered from earlier.

“What’s the red bands on the suit mean?” Velvet asked Cadance.

“Super high-risk,” Cadance answered. “Means she’s attempted to kill someone while incarcerated.”

“Because he tried to touch me when I didn’t want it,” a voice said and the two turned to look at Contralto. Her jaw tensed, and her nostrils ruffled slightly. “I had to teach him a lesson, you understand.” She gave a wolfish smile. “I only snapped his wrist – I was being gentle. Unless, of course, you mean the idiot that I stabbed with a pen. Well, he deserved it; I really don’t appreciate being referred to as a criminal.”

“You’re not a criminal?” Velvet asked.

“No. I’m a soldier, a warrior – or, well, I used to be, Dr. Velvet. As to what I am now? I suppose that’s what we’ll find out today, won’t we?”

Both women looked at one another, then back at the girl. “You know who she is?” Cadance asked her.

“I know who both of you are, Ms. Cadenza. But you don’t have anything to fear from me. I’m hardly in a position to harm you, nor would I.” That was unsettling enough until the former SIREN said the words that set both of them on edge: “After all, you are the dearest family members of the Newly-Born Goddess.”

“I don’t think that—”

“You’re not the only one that was changed by time, Ms. Cadenza.” The look in Contralto’s eyes was sad. “I know what I was. I was beautiful and powerful and everchanging and everlasting. I was more than I am now.”

“You were a monster,” Cadance accused.

“Not ‘were’, Counselor. I always was one. Cantata Blast and the Canadian government made me one.” The SIREN looked at Cadance. “Did you know that at the age of nine, I killed my first person? Executed a man who was on death row. By the way, officially Canada doesn’t have a death row, but as the world knows by now, Ottawa has been very good at being very hypocritical.” She leaned forward. “The fact is, Divine Right’s magic only made me the personification of what I was: forever changing, forever beautiful on the outside…and forever a monster as well.” She sighed. “I thought that’s what I wanted. But I was drunk on my own power, too high to realize what it was doing to me.

“And now? Well, now I know what I was, but at the same time, I also recall what was placed into my brain. But you know what? Magic is a funny thing, ladies. It permeates you, marks you and never, ever lets you go. It won’t let go of me.” She paused. “It won’t let go of my child, either.”

“Child?” Velvet asked, looking over the medical record she was given.

“Yes, didn’t you know? Canzione and I are pregnant. Oh, I’m sure the record will show otherwise, but I can feel my child growing within me. Cell division by cell division.”

“Who’s the father? Was it that boy you killed? We should notify the parents when you start to show.”

“Oh, that won’t be the case. You see, the father is in here with us…though she’s back to her original gender,” Contralto spoke.

Both adults looked at each other in shock, then back at Contralto. “Please tell me you’re joking,” Velvet said weakly.

The SIREN’s eyes were filled with sorrow. “Medley suffered worst of all of us, it seems. Yes, she wasn’t always what you could call an ideal person, even for what we did, but she didn’t deserve everything she went through. And now her mind is barely there.” She sighed. “Counselor, would you answer a question for me?”

“I’ll do my best within the legal framework,” Cadance said simply.

“What happened to the ones that turned on the organization? I know that there were some.” The response was oddly calm and even contemplative – as though Contralto had finally given up.

“I can’t answer that.”

“You can,” the ex-SIREN said matter of factly. “You just won’t. That’s okay, I wasn’t expecting an answer from you. I was really going to ask her anyway.”

“I’m afraid I can’t be of service either,” Velvet said, but then both she and Cadance realized she didn’t mean either of them.

“I know you’re there,” Contralto spoke to an empty space to the women’s side. “You don’t have to hide. I’m no longer in a position to do anything.”

There was a flash of light, and to Velvet and Cadance’s surprise, Sunset appeared from nowhere. “What are you doing here?” Velvet demanded of her daughter.

“I wasn’t going to let you walk into the lion’s den, Mom,” Sunset said. “You or Cady.”

“Sunny, you know this is being recorded, right?” Cadance asked, astonished at the sudden presence of her future sister-in-law.

“The video is recording a calm conversation between you three,” Sunset replied, crossing her arms. “It’s not picking up any of this.”

Contralto clapped. “Brava, Divinity, brava! You are everything that fool Divine wanted to be. I am suitably impressed.”

“You wanted my attention, Contralto; you have it. What do you want?”

“I have a request, Divinity.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“You are a goddess, Divinity, it is only right.” To the shock of the two women, Contralto got up and snapped the metal chains as if they were nothing. She then walked over to the edge of the Plexiglas…and genuflected. “You are power and love, Divinity. You are more powerful than I…and I fear you. But I also know you don’t harm the innocent.”

Sunset stood there, folding her arms and not saying a word.

“You know what’s going to happen to us. That there is one change left within us and it will kill us three. That we are going to die for what we did, and…I’m at peace with that now. But I don’t want my child to suffer, mine or Canzy’s. So I have three requests. I know I am not in a position to request anything, but if you are truly a fair one, Divinity, you shall grant them to me.”

Sunset was quiet for the longest time, and Contralto took that as a sign to continue.

“When Canzy and I give birth…make sure our daughters – and yes, we will have girls, I can feel it – never know about us. Never let them know we existed. Change their genes, give them new DNA and parentage, let them live innocent lives. Otherwise, I fear my rage and anger will pass to my own daughter and she will become a flurry of hate and despair. And I can’t even begin to think of what will be passed to Canzy’s child, much less what Medley has brought into the mix.”

“I will. I won’t have this happening again,” Sunset promised. “Your next request?”

“Our next change will destroy us. Your grandmother has seen to that, and it is our punishment. Not even the laws of man can stop that.” Contralto looked troubled. “I ask that whatever we become…that we not be allowed to know what we were. I fear that if we did, it might be…harmful.”

“You’re asking for a karma houdini, is that it?” Sunset asked.

“No. There’s no way to escape what Faust did to us, and I’m not sure I want to even if I could. It will happen the day after I give birth. I will shed who I am and become…Other, as will Canzy and Med. And when that happens, we won’t know what we were. We might not even be human still. But if by some chance we are, the person I will be won’t be Contralto Rush anymore. And I deserve to be forgotten.”

“I’ll consider it. And your last request?”

“Destroy SIREN. You know that it still exists. Even if your cousins were never a part of it, even if any of the girls that escape aren’t a part of it in this new reality your grandmother built, CSIS is still there, Director Golden Rule is still in charge and she is like any other spymaster – she won’t let go of an asset that’s too valuable to the nation. She’s a true believer in Canada and she’ll take the fall before Canada gives up SIREN. Plus, there’s no guarantee that even her successor will. Even with it now being a public scandal, they will find a way to hide it. So SIREN must be destroyed – and only you can do that.”

“That I will agree to. I really don’t like messing with geopolitics since they’re not my forte, but I would do it even to Washington if I knew it was happening here in the US.”

“Thank you. Now, please leave and let me be the monster I am supposed to be for a few months more,” Contralto told them. “Don’t bother saving us – we will see our punishment in less than a year and there is nothing that can be done about that.”

“Contralto…there’s still time to change. Yeah, you’ll probably never see a day beyond bars again,” Sunset told her, “but you’ll have peace of mind for the remainder of your days.”

“No. I can’t. As much as I want to, I can’t.” Contralto began to cry. “It’s…it’s tempting. But it would be a lie. I am a monster, Divinity. And monsters rage and thrash and gnash and claw and bite and cause fright. I am the thing that children must fear under their beds and adults must pray remain behind bars. I have to be who I am, to show the world I am what I was made to be.”

“Please don’t do this.”

“You are worthy of your power, Divinity – we are monsters and yet you still wish to spare us.”

“No, I’m not worthy of being an alicorn, Contralto – I never was. I’m just as flawed as you are.”

“Be that as it may, you are now such. And you have your role to play in the cosmic scheme of things as we do. Please leave – I have to figure out how I’m going to cripple the guard that brought me in here without killing him, and that’s going to be a challenge in these cuffs.”


“The angels must always have their devils to contest with. And you, an…alicorn, you said you were now? Well, you must have whatever it is in your world that you must contest with as well. And as you are the Alicorn of Earth, I will be that for you. Until the time comes when I am no more.”

Sunset vanished and Cadance and Velvet quietly left the building. By the time they made it to the car, sitting in the backseat was a disconsolate Sunset.

“I would have,” she told them. “If she’d just changed, I would have given her a second chance. But she doesn’t want it.”

“Sunny, I know this is going to be hard to square with your, er, newfound power,” Cadance said, “but I believe in the rule of law. It’s why I’m a lawyer. I believe that when crimes are committed, we must do what we have to in order to make sure it never happens again. I can’t count on divine punishment to do what must be done. That’s why we have laws.”

Velvet looked at her daughter with sympathy. “This must be hard for you.”

“I’m supposed to be both a normal girl and an all-powerful alicorn,” Sunset said. “And now a goddess to humans as well? I just…I don’t know. I don’t have the mindset of the divine, not yet at least. I can’t see things the way my grandmother and my biological mother do. I’m not even sure the latter thinks in those terms, to be honest.”

“You’ve never told me much about her, not even her name.”

“It would be rather complex if I did, Mom. Besides, I don’t want you to think that I’m….” Sunset didn’t finish her sentence; she wasn’t sure how to do so.

“It’s okay. I get that you’re conflicted, sweetie. And no one said you have to love your biomom any less because of me, or that you have to love me more. You’re an adopted child, Sunny. Things like that are normal, especially when they’re adopted as late as you are. Have you talked to the triplets about it? Now that this new timeline has given them a bit more perspective on that, maybe they can help you with your feelings on the matter.”

“Maybe,” Sunset said, wiping tears from her eyes. “I know I’ve talked to both Rainbow and her sister – Scootaloo is adopted – but it just really never sank in. Maybe….”

“Maybe we can go get some lunch and talk about this there?” Cadance suggested. “You know, I’ve been the big sister type for Twily and the others, Sunny, and I don’t intend to give that role up now. Maybe it’s time that I show you how things are done around here.”

Sunset giggled and smiled. “I guess I still have a few things to learn, don’t I?”

Cadance gave her a smile back. “That’s what being a big sister’s about, Sunny. Learning as you go.”

“I’m at the Pizza Hut,” Sonata sang softly. “I’m at the Taco Bell. I’m at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell….”

“Seriously, sis?” Aria said testily, leaning over her plate of tacos. “You’re seriously doing that here?”

Sonata took her headphones out. “Sorry, Ari, were you saying something?”

Aria facepalmed and Adagio just gave her sisters that look. “Nevermind, Soni,” the eldest triplet told her. “Put away your headphones and put your game face on. Oh, and ask the freakazoid if she’s got her spell ready.”

In the booth across from them, Raspberry glared at Adagio. “I have a name, you know.”

“Just ignore her, Razz,” Sonata told her. “Ari and I appreciate you doing this for us.”

“Yeah, well, I’m adjusting to using this human magic while I still have it. It’s…unique. You guys are more violent than my species, and yet your magic is more utilitarian – like it doesn’t have a concept of alignment to it like pony magic does. Weird.” She then held up a quesadilla. “Plus, I don’t get much of a chance to eat burroñeso food back home, because Ponyille doesn’t have a burroñeso restaurant. In any case, the spell is already operating. People won’t hear anything out of the ordinary.”

“Thanks, Razz,” Aria told her, then turned to her older sister. “See? That’s how you should treat her. I don’t know why you don’t like her, sis.”

“Whatever,” Adagio sighed. “Look, Sable’s supposed to be here any minute now, okay?”

“Good thing I showed up then.” Sable approached the table, and unlike the others, he had a couple of slices of pizza with him. “Tia’s a pizza purist, so I’d be dead eating here normally,” he told them.

“Don’t worry, we won’t say anything,” Adagio said with a smile. “But I’m glad you arrived. Thanks for coming.”

“Yeah, well, I figured that would be the case,” Sable told them. “So, what’s up?”

“Look, I know this is unusual, but we’re going to get right to the point,” Aria began. “We want you.”

Sable looked at her oddly. “Uh, thanks, Ari, but I have a girlfriend and you’re a bit too young for me.”

Aria looked at him wide-eyed, then realized what she said and blushed furiously.

Adagio tried not to facepalm. “What Aria means is that…well, do you remember what we told you in the old timeline? About how we SIRENs were overseen by a male figure and why? Things are different now, obviously, and as you can gather, we weren’t SIRENs in this timeline. But we still have our training and we still have the mission to protect Sunset.”

“But combat training is a perishable skill,” Sable noted.

“But combat training is a perishable skill,” Adagio repeated, agreeing with him. “And we need someone who has been there for us, someone we trust, and someone we respect. And we will follow your lead.”

“Have you spoken to Sunset about this?” Sable asked her.

“Not really. This is our business, and I know she’s going to try to stymie us whenever she can, because we’re her cousins now and to us, family is family,” Adagio explained. “But I remember what her grandmother insisted and I gather it’s not a good idea to go against the will of a deity.”

“Yeah, plus given everything Twily went through earlier in the year and what Tavi’s going through now, I’m not sure us telling her that we’re going to be throwing ourselves at the wolves every time we’re worried about her safety is going to do wonders for home life,” Sonata added.

“So, with that in mind, we want you to be that commander,” Adagio said. “We’ve asked Raspberry, when she gets home, to deliver a letter to Sunset’s biological mother, who is the ruler of that nation, to transfer our flag to Equestria’s military.”

Sable smiled. “Well, problem is, girls, for starters, you don’t have a flag. In this reality, you three were never military personnel and so thus you have no flag to transfer.”

“Yeah, there is that,” Adagio admitted, “but the way I think of it is that we were given this life in order to protect Sunny and so to me, that’s a commission – which means there’s a flag to transfer.”

“And the other thing is that a flag must be held by a general officer,” Sable noted. “Or a flag officer, since technically you three were naval commandos.”

“And that’s where you come in. Ultimately, we can’t do this alone,” Adagio said. “We must rebuild SIREN, but if we’re going to do it, we need to do it the right way. Which means we need someone of strong moral fiber to be our flag officer, someone who’s been there and knows what it’s like.”

“What do you mean ‘we can’t do this alone’? There’s only three of you, four if you count me into this mess.”

Adagio reached into the bag she brought with her and slid a letter over to him. “This is the letter that is our proposal to the Equestrian government. If you accept, you need to be the one to sign it.”

Sable looked at the letter, reading it. Then reread it. Then read it a third time, because he didn’t believe what he was reading. “You realize what you’re proposing, right? This isn’t just some spur-of-the-moment thing. You’ve put some thought into this.”

“Sunny is our cousin and like a sister,” Adagio said softly. “And even in the time before that, she was probably one of the first real friends we had outside the Sisterhood. And now we’ve been tasked with keeping her safe, something we would already do because we love her. So yes, I’m going to do what I can for someone who is my liegelady and my cousin, because she means that much to me.”

“That’s actually sweet,” Raspberry said, and without looking, Adagio flipped her off in response.

“Real mature, sis,” Aria admonished. “You should be nicer to Razz. She’s doing a lot for us right now.”

“Can we focus on the matter at hand?” Adagio deflected, then turned back to Sable. “So, what do you think?”

“Adagio, I want you think about this. Because if this works – and you have no idea if it does – you’re talking about building what would be considered a private army of Sunset’s species and putting them under human command to protect an alien god-queen that prefers to live like a normal human teenager.”

“No, I’m talking about protecting my cousin, who may as well be my sister. Everything else is just incidental to the situation. And I know that Soni and Ari feel the same way.”

“And you’re asking me to be the literal adult voice of reason in this.”

“Hey, I’m just a flighty teen who has no real life experience,” Adagio snarked. “I couldn’t possibly know about the ways of the adult world, much less what it’s like to kill a man in Dubai who was raping his own preteen daughter.”

“That sounds like a suspiciously specific thing.”

“Let’s just say that when I get some free time I’m going to ask Sunny to look into that. And if that change has been reverted, I’m going to go do it again.”

Sable looked Adagio with an inspecting gaze. “What if I say no to this?”

“Then I’ll sign the letter myself and take my chances,” Adagio told him. “I want you to be a part of this, Sable and I’m willing to turn over command to you. But you weren’t the one who was given the directive to ensure Sunny’s safety – we were. And even if I didn’t, I would anyway. We love her and want her safe.”

“Then we do this my way, understood?” He took the letter, folded it and slipped it in the pocket. “This is a good start, but this is more of an executive summary kind of thing. You need an actual plan and you need military documentation. I have an old friend at NAVSPECWAR that can send me declassified and unclassified documentation and we’ll be rebuilding the organization based on those lines.”

“Not on US Army lines?” Aria asked, surprised.

“You girls have a culture that’s naval ingrained, and it would be a shame to change it. And even though you’re not RCN anymore, I’d like to keep that tie for you. Plus, I suspect we’re going to have to justify this to the existing Equestrian navy, and that means we’re going to have to be precisely tuned – and that means we’ll have to go in fully-prepared.”

“So that means you’ll do it, Sable?” Adagio asked.

“It’s not proper for junior officers to speak to their superior officers by name, Capt. Dazzle,” he told her.

“Uh…I’m not a captain. I had to take the sublieutenant rank when I executed Cantata, but that was an emergency protocol. Besides, captain is an army rank.”

“I don’t mean that kind of captain,” he told her. “If you’re going to do this right then we’re going to build this thing along the line of the SEALs – which means you’ll eventually be in charge of a full team. Which makes you a full-bird captain.” He then turned to Aria and Sonata. “And you two will be commanders.”

“That’s a promotion I think I can live with,” Aria said.

“Then your first orders are these: start looking into procuring uniforms and gear for us. I know you have the gear downstairs in that bunker under Night and Velvet’s place, but eventually we’re going to have to find housing for two hundred aliens-turned-humans, as well as the logistical explanation how they’ll live here and how they’ll live on Earth without tripping over their human counterparts.”

“Yeah, that’s going to be a tall order, but we’ll get it done,” Sonata said. “I’m confident.”

“And lastly, I want a name change for this new organization. Calling us ‘Strategic Intervention, Reconnaissance and Execution Network’ is not going to fly if we’re going to impress the Equestrian naval brass, I suspect. Especially the execution part of the name.”

“With all due respect, we’d at least like to keep the SIREN portion of the name if at all possible,” Aria asked. “We may not have ever been Canadian SIRENs, but we are still Sunset’s SIRENs and as trivial as that might seem, it’s important to us.”

“Then I’ll see what I can come up with after meeting with your cousin,” Sable said, “because that’s the last thing: I don’t want this done behind her back. It’s not fair to her and furthermore, if the Equestrian government says yes, then ultimately we will answer to her. I’ll call Velvet and see if I can arrange a meeting for the five of us. For now, ladies, let’s just eat lunch and relax. Then to celebrate, we can go to the movies. My treat.”

“Really?” Sonata asked.

“Just because you’re going to be combat troops once more doesn’t mean you have to stop being teenagers,” Sable reminded them. “In fact, I think I’m going to insist on that.”

Adagio smiled sincerely. “I think I like you even more, sir.”

“Still taken, though.”

The eldest triplet laughed.

“Well, that’s that,” Shining said, packing up the last of his stuff into a box. Today was the last day he was with the combined task force. He was given the week off by the CPD in appreciation of what he’d accomplished, and when he reported to work a week later, he would be back in uniform as a beat cop.

“Hey, gonna miss you around here, man,” one of the other agents told him. “Going to be quiet now that we’re getting back into the normal swing of things.”

“Yeah, between kidnappings, bank robberies, computer fraud and all that, things are going to be dull,” a second agent joked.

“Hey, I’ll take computer fraud over a freak hurricane and three teenage serial killers any day,” Shining commented. Of course he knew the full extent of it, but he could never tell them what really occurred. Truth be told, he could barely believe it himself. “Besides, I wouldn’t worry about it. Isn’t Agent Star going to be joining you guys?”

“Naah. The boss offered her a position here, but she said her work down in LA is too critical to leave, so she went back yesterday,” Cloud Lance said as he came into the area. With Hardline gone, Cloud Lance had been promoted to Asst. Special Agent in Charge of the Canterlot office. “So we still have a slot open, one for handling unusual crimes.”

“Crimes like teenage serial killers?”

“Well, you can’t say that’s the norm down in Homicide in CPD, can you, Shining?”

“No, not really.” He had to admit, that was something he was going to miss once he returned to CPD. “Well, at least you have Sandy sticking around, right? She told me that she wasn’t going back to the ECSD.”

“No, actually, she asked the boss for a favor and…well, I’ll let him tell you about it. He wants to see you before you head out.” Cloud offered his hand. “In any case, take care, Shining, and don’t be a stranger.”

Shining shook Cloud’s hand, then that of the others. “Not on your life.”

A few seconds later, Shining was knocking on Badge’s door. “You wanted to see me?”

“Oh, hey, Shining, come in. I was just filling out the last of the paperwork for your girlfriend’s request,” Badge told him, “but I guess I can take a break for you.”

“Girlfriend’s request?” Shining looked curious for a second until he realized that the senior agent had been talking about Sandalwood, given their close ties. “Sandy? She’s not my girlfriend. And what paperwork?”

“Yeah, I know. Well, in any case, she asked me for a favor, one I fortunately could pull off for her.” Badge picked up a folder off the desk and handed it to him. “Thought you might be interested in knowing.”

Shining read it and the look of bemusement fell from his face. “Paragon City, Rhode Island?”

Badge sat on the edge of his desk and folded his arms. “Naval Officer Training Command. Apparently, they train naval officers there just like the name says. She wants back in the Navy, it seems, and this time she wants to go officer.”

“Sandy’s leaving? I don’t think she told me or Cady.”

“Yeah, I gathered that it was a sudden decision. In any case, I know a guy at NCIS who put me in touch with a guy he knows at NOTC and I put in a good word for her, so they were willing to accept her. I guess anyone who gets shot in the line of duty in order to take down a possible terrorist on US soil is what the Navy wants, so I’m not going to argue.”

“But I—”

“Should be thinking about yourself, Shining,” Badge said. “Which brings me to my other thing.” He held up a second folder. “Director Firm Justice and I go way back and though we don’t always see eye to eye – he hates that I want to stay on the streets instead of taking a job in DC, while I think he does too much bullshit Washington politics instead of cop work – we’re good buddies. And I told him I need good agents I can trust to do the job, because I get the sneaking suspicion that what happened over the summer is just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe I’m crazy, but I get that gut feeling that we’re going to be up to our ears in X-Files shit. And I need the best I can get in order to do my job.”

He handed Shining the folder. “This is an acceptance letter for the Accelerated Agent Training Program in Quantico; it’s for officers from other law enforcement agencies who join the Bureau. You’d be there a month, and while normally afterwards you’d be assigned somewhere else, like I said, I have some pull at the top and so they’ll send you back here where I need you.”

Shining looked at Badge, awestruck. “I don’t…I don’t know what to say.”

“Yeah, figured you’d want to talk it over with your fiancée. But I’ll need an answer by Friday as the next class starts up in September, because I’d like you to be back by October when the trial for the Dead Hand Killers starts up. But for now, go ahead and get out of here and take that vacation CPD gave you. You earned it in spades.”

As he drove back to his apartment, Shining thought about the folder and what it would mean. On one hand, he felt like he owed a duty to the CPD. He wanted to keep his promise to Melati and see to it that her name would be remembered amongst the ranks of the CPD fallen. On the other hand, the pay of an FBI agent was much better and their beat was much larger – the Canterlot field office of the FBI oversaw most of northern California, the southernmost stretch of Oregon and the parts of northern Nevada that didn’t fall under the Cloudsdale field office.

But more importantly, he had to protect his family – including his newest sister and cousins. His family now had a secret that he couldn’t talk about, and he wondered if it was borderline treasonous to hide it from the world. But he wouldn’t tell another soul – even if he was obligated to, he cared too much about Sunset and the triplets to do so. They were his sister and cousins and thus family. And family meant the world to him.

But Sandalwood was family as well, in a sense. And now she was leaving and hadn’t told anyone why. Had something happened to her? As he pulled in the driveway, he grabbed his cellphone, planning to call her. Instead, he got her voicemail.

“Hey, Sandy, it’s Shining. Give me a call as soon as you can, okay? Thanks.”

With that, he grabbed his box out of the trunk and prepared to take a long-needed vacation. A vacation that might just leave him even less rested than before, he wondered.

“Thank you for coming, Doctor,” Chrysoberyl said with relief. “When I called your office, I had expected that we would do a conference call. I hadn’t expected that you would come down for this meeting.”

“It is not often,” the man said, quietly and in a voice that held just a touch of English whimsy in it, “that I find one with the talents like yours, Dr. Chrysoberyl. I must confess, were I younger, I might have challenged your husband for your hand.”

She giggled girlishly. “Flattery, Doctor?”

“Please, just Phix will do. And may I call you Chrys?”

“Of course.” She smiled at the man who sat across from her at the table. Apparently in his mid-seventies, he had the look of a distinguished gentleman that had somehow managed to wander out of Brideshead Revisited or some other dusty novel. He carried an intricately-carved mahogany cane topped with a highly-polished silver grip and wore a simple white pinstripe suit with a black tie which further served to enhance the whole Downton Abbey connection. In fact, had it not been for the round black sunglasses hiding his sightless eyes or the severe-looking young woman behind him who was likely his primary assistant, Chrysoberyl got the feeling that the cane was more for show and that the man was far sprightlier than he seemed. But maybe that was just his way of showing that despite his disability, he was a mind of stunning intellect, and that much she knew.

“I took the time to read the documentation you sent my office, though unfortunately I didn’t have time to read all of it as our tactile writer didn’t translate it all in time. Sadly, the infernal machine broke down.”

“My dearest apologies, Doctor,” the woman at his side said. “I’ll do my best to have it serviced as quickly as I can.” Chrysoberyl looked at the woman who had accompanied the doctor, a girl he’d addressed as “Bubbles”. Sadly, there seemed to be nothing bubbly about her in the least, and for a split-second, Chrysoberyl wondered if she thought she saw an older woman in a wheelchair, but then figured that she was probably imagining things. Guess I need more sleep, she thought.

“It is no matter, Bubbles,” Phix told his aide. “Besides, knowing young Chrys here, she probably had reports prepared as well.”

“Indeed I did,” Chrys said, handing over freshly-printed documents to Bubbles, who set them before Phix. “These are my latest reports on the girl.”

Several minutes went past while the older gentleman read through the documentation, deftly running his fingers over the tactile writing. “The name…Octavia Melody…it sounds familiar for some reason.”

“She was that teenaged musician that played at the Promising Musicians of the Future concerto back in May,” Bubbles reminded him. “I distinctly recall you said her music reminded you of your youth.”

“Ah, yes, her. Now I remember,” he said with a genial smile. “Youth is so often about spending outdoors with friends, or at least in the comfort of one’s own room, boldly engaging in one of those charming videogames—” he made outlandish, exaggerated hand motions that Chrysoberyl presumed was the man trying to imitate someone playing games, even though it was clearly wrong, “—although that technology is beyond me, needless to say. To hear one such of Ms. Melody’s caliber and adroitness at her art is impressive given her age, and it saddens me to see that, like so many other artists, she is plagued by the demons of the mind.” He tapped the report. “Can you tell me more?”

Chrysoberyl went over everything in regards to Octavia and her alter ego, and how vastly different the two were. After several minutes, the psychiatrist finished up with, “and I can’t help but think that the Melody persona is wildly jealous of how fortunate Octavia has it. If I can convince her that they are one and the same and there’s nothing to be jealous of, they might unify and she might be made whole.”

Phix nodded. “Given what you’ve said, I’m quite surprised there is only the one persona. Usually in situations like these, there are at least two more. There was a recorded case in Belgium thirty-five years ago of a musician, similar to Ms. Melody, who had much the same issue – a single alternate persona who was as different from her as could be. I kept up with that case, but sadly, it happened right around the time of my accident, so I couldn’t be directly involved with it.”

“What happened there?”

“For a time, it seemed as though Zwartewolf – the pseudonym given to the dark personality – was going to take over Witteherten. But then Ms. Witteherten had one singular success in her musical career and that was enough of an impetus to help her push back Zwartewolf for good. As I understand of the aftermath, she became an accomplished soloist for the Brussels Philharmonic, as well as a wife and mother. So it is possible. All it takes is the guiding hand of a dedicated healer such as yourself, Chrys. You are doing exactly what needs to be done, and I can’t see anything I would recommend as a change.”

“Even the amounts of Malarson?”

Phix waved his hand. “I have seen far stronger doses used. There’s a case ongoing in Cincinnati right now that I’m consulting on – I can have my office send you some of the documentation, if you’d like – where the doctor in question has prescribed nearly a full gram of Hasbrine, which as you’ll recall is the much more powerful, not to mention narcotic, variant of Malarson. Yes, I will admit that what you’ve prescribed is more than the norm, but I can assure you, it is hardly alarming.”

Chrysoberyl breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad. I was afraid I was going to have to refer this case to Horseshoe Bay.”

“Chrys, if I may be frank…do not do that. I’ve met the people at Horseshoe Bay Psychiatric Center, and while they are wonderful professionals who do their utmost, in my experience, one-on-one care is needed for a case like this. At Horseshoe Bay, Ms. Melody would be seen by a group of professionals, none of which would be able to form the singular bond that you can. If you truly care about this girl’s well-being, you will continue your efforts with her. I will do what I can when you ask, but I can see you are already on the right path.”

The rest of the business lunch went by with the two talking about pleasantries. Then Chrysoberyl mentioned her initial work with the Dead Hand Killers in passing, and Phix pressed her for more details, citing professional curiosity. Normally she would have been rather tight-lipped about a case of that nature, but she inexplicably found herself sharing some of the more recent developments. Besides, she knew that he would not go public with them, at least not until well after the case was over and done with.

Phix listened with interest as she told him that one of the three girls had started talking again (though she didn’t mention any names, referring to them as “Ms. A”, “Ms. B” and “Ms. C” made it fairly clear in any case). After an hour, however, Chrysoberyl had to head off to her next appointment, and apparently none too soon.

“Doctor, you’re bleeding!” Chrysoberyl gasped.

Indeed, red tears rolled down the old man’s cheeks and he seemed lost in his thoughts for a moment. “Oh dear, the old injury must be acting up again,” he said in a mournful tone.

Bubbles promptly passed him a handkerchief, and Phix took it thankfully, starting to dab around his eyes. For a brief moment the old man’s face seemed to change – the skin around his eyes seeming to peel like old wallpaper – and for that brief moment some primal instinct within Chrysoberyl long buried by eons of evolution told her to get as far away from her colleague as possible. The moment passed in less than a heartbeat, however and as the old man gave her a charming smile by way of apology, she had to wonder just what sleep-deprived madness had taken a hold of her.

Sombra’s right; I really need to take a week off sometime, she told herself.

Bidding her a good day and gratitude for the pleasant company, Phix saw her off.

“Orders, sir?” “Bubbles” inquired once the younger doctor was well away.

“Have your branch family here look into the Octavia Melody connection as well. It might just be another occurrence of demonic possession, just as with the Zwartewolf case.”

“I remember that. The only one who truly figured it out was the Catholic priest, as I recall.”

“Yes, and that was why the demon killed him,” “Phix” told her. “The demon didn’t consider the psychiatrists a threat at all. Of course, he was stupid for possessing a female to begin with, but oftentimes lesser demons aren’t known for their intelligence.” The man gave a brutal smile. “It makes them easy to kill. But as I was saying it might be possession, or, as my daughter is wont to say, it may be that the girl is, I quote, ‘fucking nuts’. Either way, if she is related to the Child of the Sun, it might be of use to us.”

The girl who was not quite a girl bowed. “It shall be done, Grandmaster.”

“Good. Now I shall return home. The sooner I get away from this town and its vapid idiots such as our good doctor, the better.” He could feel the powerful magic radiating in the distance, the telltale signature of an alicorn. “We have other fish to fry right now and we will deal with the interloper in good time.”

“Sable, how could you?” Celestia looked at her boyfriend, feeling genuinely betrayed.

“Tia, it was either put them under control or let them spin out of control on their own.” The last thing he wanted to have was an argument with the woman he loved, but it was inevitable – all couples did eventually and this issue was as good as any. “At least this way they have adult supervision.”

“Sweetheart, adult supervision is for what you do during your day job. I don’t think training teenage killers qualifies as adult supervision!”

The dinner had been so nice, too. Celestia had been so giddy about her promotion that the moment she got home she’d started homemade manicotti for the two of them. Now dinner sat untouched, cooling due to their spat.


“Don’t ‘sweetheart’ me! You and the triplets were nearly killed several times in…whatever it was that used to be reality! And now you’re doing it again, voluntarily?”

“You were there the other day when Zephyr and I were talking! Didn’t you hear a single thing we were saying?” he asked her.

“I thought we were past this!” She turned away from him. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“Tia, look at me.” When she didn’t, he went over and gently lifted her face, so that his eyes met hers. “Since I’ve met you, I’ve had to live with that worry every single day. I’ve never had anyone like you and it scares the shit out of me that I might come home some day and find out you’re gone and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. At least this way I can protect and watch over you, just as you intend when you mentor Sunset and her friends, right?”

“This isn’t about me,” Celestia said.

“That’s a lie. It is about you. I see it in your eyes. You think the world of those girls. Even when you admonished yourself over giving them supposed preferential treatment, you didn’t argue about how much you cared about them. Because it’s true. You care about all your students, but I would argue you love those girls as if they were a part of your family.”

She looked at him, then sighed. “I hate it when you’re right.”

“I’ll go so far as to argue because I’m right, that also means that you want the triplets safe, especially given that in this timeline they’re the nieces of your best friend. And that’s what I can do if I’m looking over them. I can keep them safe.” He leaned forward and kissed her, breathing, “I can keep you safe.”

She returned the kiss and the two remained there, kissing each other passionately.

When they broke, she blushed and looked at him. “Bed. Now.”

“What about dinner?”

“That’s what the microwave’s for, sweetie,” she said, taking his hand and leading them towards their bedroom.

“Ugh,” Night said. “That’s the second large hive I’ve found on the grounds this week,” Night said.

Twilight looked up from her magazine. “Something up, Dad?”

“Yeah. We seem to have a larger amount of bees this year than normal. Normally I wouldn’t mind, given issues bees have, but you know what kind of trouble your brother can get into.” He went over and picked up his tablet. “I’m going to see if I can find an apiary that can take care of it.”

Twilight remembered last summer, when Spike unadvisedly threw a rock at a hive and got stung a few times for it. “Ask Sunny to relocate it. I’m sure she can magic it away somewhere.”

“I’d rather an apiary deal with it, if only because of colony collapse disorder,” Night suggested. “While I trust your sister to deal with it carefully and humanely, I don’t presume she has years if not decades of expertise in beekeeping.”

“Yeah, I kinda get that she doesn’t either,” Twilight said with a smile.

“That’s a shame, because I do,” Shimmer said as she came downstairs.

“Really, Shimmy?” Twilight asked.

Shimmer nodded. “My uncle Noblesse raises them on his summer chateau in Normandy as a hobby, but when he’s not there, his gardeners use it to raise honey which he sells with all proceeds going to charity. My friends and I spent a couple of weeks at his place and we learned beekeeping from him, so every so often I go out there with him to help.”

“That’s cool.”

“Maybe next time you’re in Europe we can go there and I can show you around. I think you might enjoy it.” She then looked at Night. “Mr. Light, although I do have expertise in it, I don’t have the equipment on hand, so calling an apiary would be a good idea. I’m sure there’s one local.”

“Well, thank you for the information, Shimmer. It’s appreciated.”

“No problem!”

“So,” Twilight asked, looking at their guest, “working on your little plan with Rarity and Pinkie?”

Shimmer looked at her with concern. “So you figured it out?”

“Wasn’t hard. You have the same tells as my sister, and I know when she’s up to something,” Twilight said with a smile. “I’m just not happy that Pinkie put you up to this. Rarity, sure; she’s a hopeless romantic. Pinkie, though…she should know better.”

“The heart wants what it wants, Twily. Take it from a Frenchwoman such as myself: when you learn to love powerfully, it gets a hold of you and never lets go. My mother felt that way about my father, and only death separated them. And now my mother feels the same way about Zephyr, and it’s wonderful watching her in love. I can only hope that I have the same experience. And since Pinkie is your friend, you should support her.”

“Yes, but my sister doesn’t love Pinkie like that. She’s straight.”

“And so Pinkie’s heart shouldn’t matter, Twily?” Shimmer asked her. “If Pinkie is your friend, you’ll support her needs. Yes, she’s not going to succeed, I’m sure, but maybe she needs this date with Sunny to get her to realize that. Did you think of that?”

Twilight sighed. “Not really. It’s just….”

“I know. You love your sister and you want the best for her, but you’re having the same time squaring that with your friendship for Pinkie, am I right?” When the other teen nodded, Shimmer smiled. “I get it, I really do. There was this girl I know back home who really had it hard for me – and by that I mean she was pressing for my affections even more than Pinkie is for Sunny’s. My friend Beachcomber suggested that I just go out with Envie and that would get the point across, so I did. We went on a date and though I was flattered for the attention, it finally got through to Envie that I just wasn’t interested. Now, she’s dating another girl from the school she attends and we’re friends. So I have been where your sister is. And I think she can handle it. Trust me, if your sister is anything like me, she’s stronger than she looks.”

“Yeah,” Twilight agreed. “Yeah, okay, you sold me. I’ll lay off of Pinkie. I just don’t want either of them hurt.”

Shimmer patted Twilight on the shoulder. “You wouldn’t love your sister or your friend as much as you do if you did. Besides, it’s just a date. What could go wrong?”

“You clearly don’t know Pinkie,” Twilight cracked.

Cadance and Shining talked over dinner, especially his concerns. She loved him for that, both the fact that he admitted to having problems squaring family life with his job offer, and the fact that he was bringing her into the decision instead of just making it alone.

As they sat on the couch, the boxes of takeout Chinese food spent, she snuggled closer to him. “So have you decided what to do? I’ll support you in whatever choice you make, hon, and if it means going to Quantico, I can deal without you for a month.” She gave herself a soft smile. “Besides, the make-up sex in welcoming you back will be worth it.”

He kissed her. “I’m thinking about it. The pay increase alone will be worth it, but the chance to spread my wings beyond just the CPD area is even more so. Plus, if I have to be honest, I’ll also have a better chance to keep my ear to the grindstone on better ways to protect Sunny. I mean, she’s done a good job so far of keeping a low-profile, but she’s not going to be able to hide forever, not with her power.”

That concerned Cadance. “I know.” She then related what went on at the county jail and their run-in with Contralto Rush and Sunset’s eventual appearance, the discussion between the two and Contralto’s own proclamation that she would die in police custody – and nothing could stop it.

“I’ll have a talk with her,” Shining said. “I don’t like what she did, not one bit. I’m surprised Mom hasn’t grounded her for that little stunt.”

“I’m not sure what your mother could have done in that situation, love. I’m not sure what Sunny could have done. This sounds like something her grandmother implemented and we’re talking about a being with limitless powers. Even if she believes in the rule of law, it sounds like her law is going to take precedence over mankind’s.”

“Yeah, well, I still don’t like that, even if it’s not Sunny’s fault,” Shining admitted.

It was then that there was a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” he said, getting off the couch. He went over to the door, to find Sandalwood standing there, with a bag in her hand. Behind her was Hearts, and she had a dour look on her face.

“Hey, Shiny,” she said softly.

“Sandy? Where the hell have you been?” he asked. “I’ve been trying to reach you all day!”

Cadance, hearing the commotion at the door, immediately got to her feet. She’d talked to Hearts earlier and knew what was about to happen. Going to the door, she looked at Sandalwood sadly. “This doesn’t have to happen, Sandy,” Cadance pled.

“It’s a lost cause, Cady,” Hearts told her. “You know I tried.”

“She did,” the brunette agreed. “But we’re beyond that. And I’m sorry I betrayed you.”

“You didn’t.” Cadance went over and hugged her friend, Sandalwood flinching in the embrace, but it made the former embrace all the harder. Tears welled in both women’s eyes, and Shining stood there, confused.

“What is going on?” Shining asked.

“I’m leaving for good,” Sandalwood said while in Cadance’s embrace. “I’m leaving and I’m never coming back. I should’ve done that when my parents moved away and my sister went off to college, but I was stupid. I thought I could handle it.” She looked up and tears were streaming down her cheeks. “I was wrong.”

“Is that why you decided to rejoin the Navy?”

She nodded as Cadance let go of her. “Best place to run away. I get to see the world again, maybe find someone of my own…though that last part’s probably a lie as well.”

“Please don’t do this, Sandy,” Cadance begged. “Please don’t do this to yourself.”

“Too late. Already signed the contract and I catch my flight in a couple of hours – only reason I’m even here is because Hearts insisted on it. But I have to go. It’s the only way I’m going to survive. I can’t do this anymore, Cady, I can’t.”

Shining looked at Sandalwood. “Look, Sandy, I don’t know what’s going on, but we can fix this. You don’t have to go. I can help you.”

“No. You can’t. Least of all you, Shiny, least of all you.”

He looked at her, worry etched onto his features. “I don’t understand.”

She explained. By going up to him and kissing him, putting everything into it. Tears of regret, shame and desire rolled down her cheeks, but she forced herself to keep it under control. She then broke it off—

—and then punched his solar plexus, followed by a blow to the jaw, knocking him out.

“Sandy!” Cadance cried, stunned by her friend’s move.

“Well,” Sandalwood sighed, “that was surprisingly cathartic.” She looked at Cadance. “Take care of him for me. Have lots of fat, happy babies and forget that I exist.”

Cadance was now completely confused. “Sandy, stop, please! You’re being ridiculous. You’re my best friend! I’m never going to forget you, okay?”

Sandalwood said nothing, but instead just walked down the stairs in the direction of Hearts’ car. Hearts looked at Cadance and said nothing but instead gave her friend an apologetic look, then followed after Sandalwood.

With a heavy heart, the young woman finally wiped away her tears and dragged her unconscious boyfriend back into the house and closed the door. It felt like she was shutting off a part of her past when she did that, but maybe that was a part of growing up and becoming an adult.

If that was the case, it wasn’t anything Cadance wanted. Not like this.

“This is amazing!” Raspberry said as she looked through the telescope at the night sky. “And nopony creates this?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, you stupid cunt,” Adagio began, “the term is no one, you damn idiot!”

“Dagi,” Sunset warned, and Adagio threw up her hands and just walked into the house.

“I’ll have Mom talk to her tomorrow,” Twilight suggested. “We have no idea how long Razz is going to be with us and if Dagi hates her this much, it’s going to be rough for both of them.”

“We’ll talk to her in the morning as well,” Aria added. “Soni and I consider Razz a friend and that might be exacerbating things as well; the three of us have never been at odds before, so it’s somewhat of a novelty.”

“I just hope she doesn’t resent us for it,” Sonata mused.

“She won’t,” Octavia insisted. “Her feelings might be hurt, but she knows you two love her and vice versa. We’re all sisters, right?”

“Well,” Sunset asked Raspberry, “are you ready?”

“Yeah,” she said nervously. After the incident the other day, they decided to bring the dragonfire candle outside, where it could be tested in a safer situation. They were just short of the swimming pool, with Raspberry being given directions to dump the whole pool’s worth of water on the candle should it come to that.

“Okay, everyone stand back,” Sunset advised. “I’m going to light the candle.”

“Wait!” Octavia cried. “Given how it might have impacted me, I think I’d better go inside the house.”

“It impacted you?” Sunset asked.

“Remember that I had my episode right as the candle lost control. Maybe it was just coincidence, or maybe my fear got the better of me, but I think we’d better be safe than sorry,” the raven-haired girl commented. “Besides, Dagi would probably like some company right now and I can talk to her that way.”

“Good idea,” Sunset suggested, and they waited a few more minutes for Octavia to go back into the house as well.

“Everyone else okay?” Sunset asked.

“Yeah,” Twilight said, as she and Sonata finished checking some monitoring equipment that the latter had suggested. While they weren’t going to even try to study magic – much to Twilight’s slight dismay – the youngest triplet thought that recording the incident might yield data that could help Raspberry get home.

“We’re all clear,” Shimmer told her counterpart.

Sunset walked over to where the candle was in the wide field behind the swimming pool area and lit the candle, with it acting as normal. She then activated its flamefax spell, and the flame turned green, becoming an inferno once more. This time, even though it was still wild and blasting with raw, untampered magic, it seemed more subdued, as if whatever energy force it was tapping into was becoming more muted. Still, it was well beyond the controlled flame that Sunset was used to, so while she drew protective wards around it, she signaled to Raspberry to douse the flame.

Raspberry did so, reaching out with her human magic, scooping the whole of the water out of the pool, much to the surprise of the the non-magical folks present. With that, she created a giant ball of water and dropped it down the mystical funnel that Sunset created, dousing the candle.

Sunset walked over to Raspberry, who dropped down on the ground in depression. Sunset snapped her fingers, refilling the swimming pool, then went over to minister to her friend’s needs.

“I’m never getting home, am I? I’m going to be human for the rest of my life, aren’t I?” Raspberry asked softly, crying into Sunset’s shoulder.

“We made progress tonight, Razz. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but we made progress. C’mon, let’s go in and get some sleep. The world will look better in the morning, I promise.”

Raspberry wiped her eyes. “You promise?”

The words left Sunset’s mouth before she even realized she’d said them: “Of course, my little pony. I always try to keep my word.”

Raspberry looked at her friend. “You do realize you just sounded like your mother a second ago, right? Not the one here. The one back home.”

Sunset wasn’t sure what to say to that. She just knew that she had to make her friend happy.

As they all went indoors, it made Sunset think about another friend and her happiness. Going into her bedroom, she picked up her cellphone. She looked at the phone for the longest time, as if it would hold the answer. Finally, she hit autodial for a familiar number.

“Oh, hi, Sunny!” Pinkie chirped on the other end. “Was just thinking about you!”

“I know,” Sunset replied, rubbing the bridge of her nose. Well, in for a penny…. “Look, Pinkie, I know this is going to sound weird, but…do you want to take me out on a date?”

“Twi, this isn’t healthy!” Spike told the alicorn.

“I’ll eat later,” Twilight told him, pushing aside her favorite daisy salad sandwich and chips. “I need to figure out this new spell matrix to see if it’ll work with the background resonance on interplanal formations!” She looked at him and saw she’d hurt his feelings in the process. “Spike…this is important. More important than anything I’ve ever done, and only I can do it. Luna’s counting on me. I’ll come down for dinner and we’ll go out to eat tonight. Promise.”

He picked up the tray dejectedly, and she was already so engrossed in her work she never heard him say, “You said that this morning.”

The young dragon had worked himself to the bone trying to familiarize himself with their new home, the ugly crystalline castle that had popped up in the middle of a still-rebuilding Ponyville. It had been a month since the Tirek War and Spike had just gotten back after spending all that time with his parents. He’d returned to a destroyed hometown, his old domicile gone, and a new one having taken its place.

On the bright side, he now had his own room, so…bonus?

But right now, he had bigger concerns. Bigger concerns like the fact that he’d returned to have found out that Raspberry Beryl had lost her life during the war, and that because he was just a colt, he wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral. Or that something was very wrong with Princess Celestia, and by extension, the sun as well. It was late summer, and he was already starting to wear a scarf outdoors as if winter was just about to approach. Adults wouldn’t tell him what was going on, and correspondence that he was usually in charge of for his sister’s sake was now being teleported directly to Twilight from the others, usually now from Princess Luna.

He was confused, but more than that he was worried about his sister. She’d been working on a project non-stop, and while he was used to that when she was in one of her “study raptures”, somehow this was different. In many ways, radically so – Twilight was acting as though her actions were critical to saving Equestria from something. But she wouldn’t say what…nor did many of their friends.

So he did what any good little gentledrake would and stood by his sister’s side. It was what their parents had taught them, and even if they hadn’t, he loved her enough to do so.

Down he headed towards the kitchens. It was a chore, but right now with just him and her, he would have to deal with it. In time, he was sure that they wouldn’t be alone here much longer – not only were there rooms for each of the other girls, but for other, currently-nonexistent castle staff as well. In time, the place would look no different than Canterlot Palace or the Imperial Palace, and he wasn’t sure how to react to that. Sure, he grew up in the former, but when push came to shove, he liked it with just him and Twilight and their pets. It felt more like a home, and less like the hotel Raspberry had lived in or some of those new “apartment” buildings that were starting to be built in the ruined section of Ponyville. He wasn’t sure he could live in either of those.

He had just reached the bottom floor, where the kitchen was, when he heard a steady drip of water echoing through the halls. Setting the uneaten food on a nearby counter, he went off in search of the sound. He found it in a room that was off to the side of one of the labs. A puddle was forming underneath the door.

“Funny, I wasn’t even aware we had water pipes in the castle,” he mused as he opened the door, planning to assess just how bad it was so he could clean it up. Instead, he was met with a sudden deluge of water that blasted from the room, carrying him on a quickly-made torrent of water, dragging him into the kitchen, sopping wet and cold.

But that wasn’t the thing that confused him the most.

The water. It was the water. He bent down and smelled it. “Smells like chlorine,” he said to himself. That wasn’t normal, but then again, nothing was normal around here. He debated about telling Twilight about it, but given she was so focused on whatever she was doing, she’d probably just give him a vague answer and turn back to her work, he decided it wasn’t worth the effort. He went off to find where the broom closet was – after all, strange water wasn’t going to clean itself up.

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