• 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 29: Only When You Leave

As she always did, Juniper Conifer went for a morning jog in her nice neighborhood of Mesquite, Texas. The middle Conifer sister, she didn’t look anything like her older or younger sisters, but she stated that was because she’d been adopted. The three sisters had recently moved to town after deciding to leave Seattle, where they’d spent years in the software industry – which was kind of odd, given that all three sisters had the look of someone who had recently gotten out of the military. When asked about that, Juniper’s older sister Larch admitted that their father had been a Marine, so growing up, they’d done a lot of PT with him and at this point in their lives, daily workouts were just force of habit to them. That made them popular with a lot of the single guys in the area, especially the ones who were military vets themselves.

As she finished her run, she came to a stop in front of the Java Paradise Shack, Mesquite’s finest coffee shop. Walking in, she called out, “Hey, Ice! Got anything for me?”

Iced Mocha, the owner of the Java Paradise, waved her over. “Why, sure thing, sugar,” she said in a thick Texas drawl. “Got th’ mornin’ usual for you an’ your sisters. How’s things goin’ at the daycare?”

Juniper laughed. “All things considered, I’m wondering if getting out of the software gig was a good thing. Kids are tough to deal with, you know? Rewarding, though.”

“Yeah, mah li’l Chocolate Éclair’s almost three now,” Ice said with a grin, “an’ she just gets into everything! Wouldn’t have it any other way, though. Anyway, let me throw this all in a bag an’ a carrier for ya an’ Ah’ll be right back.”

While waiting, Juniper turned her head to watch CNN on the TV in the shop. Onscreen, the newscrawl on the bottom revealed the headline: CANADIAN SPYMASTER ARRESTED FOR ILLEGAL CHILD SOLDIER SCANDAL. Above that, the reporter was talking about how mysterious documents received by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police implicated Golden Rule, the director of the CSIS, Canada’s equivalent of the CIA, in a decades-old illegal program; and how shortly after the documents’ arrival, Rule had surrendered herself to the authorities.

Juniper watched the screen with vague interest. Inwardly, however, the woman that had once been Madrigal Storm cheered as the organization that had raised her and turned her against everything she loved finally saw its downfall.

“Can ya believe that?” Ice asked Juniper as she passed the woman a tray of coffees and a bag of breakfast sandwiches. “That’s some crazy shit, innit? Ah swear, Ah don’t know what Ah’d do if Ah was ever in that sitch’ation, Ah tell ya! Poor girls, Ah swear.”

“Yeah,” Juniper agreed, recalling everything she ever knew – and then blanking it out, locking it away in her mind for good. She was, after all, just a former codemonkey and jarhead’s daughter turned overtime babysitter, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “Yeah, I don’t know how anyone could ever live that life.”

Buried Lede ran The Cheyenne Prairie Times, the second newspaper in Wyoming’s capital. Based in the old headquarters of The Cheyenne Herald, it served as an upstart against the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, the statewide newspaper. Small but spunky, the Times existed all thanks to Lede, a self-admitted “failed blogger from LA” who won the California Lottery and decided to move to the middle of nowhere to chase his dreams of being a newspaper magnate. So far, he was doing well, but given the competition, that wasn’t saying much.

At the moment, Lede sat in his office watching MSNBC and the news of the arrests in Canada. He was about to reach for the remote when there was a knock at his door. He looked up to see Newsprint, his star reporter, leaning against the door jamb. Of course, she was his star reporter entirely due to the fact that she was hired away from the Tribune a week ago, but in that short time, she’d already managed to get the scoop on her former paper quite a few times. After he hired a few more folks, he was planning to make her editor-in-chief, but that could wait until there were more than just four people on staff.

“Hey, boss, you following that shit?” she asked him. “Want me to write up a story about it, or should we just go with the wire?”

Lede stroked his trimmed beard and then shook his head. “Are you kidding? Nobody cares about that shit, Print. What I need is for you to keep pushing the story about the I-25 delays. I get the feeling WYDOT isn’t telling us the whole story, and I suspect after the gas tax hike, readers are gonna want to know where the money’s going.”

“You smell a story brewing?” she asked.

“You’re damn right I do,” he told her.

She flashed him a smile. “I’ll get right on that, boss.”

“Good – I want it on my desk by the end of the day.”

“I’ll have it to you by 2:30!” she called back as she walked off.

Lede continued to watch the MSNBC article, and a small smile came briefly to his face. Speaking to no one in particular, he said softly, “You did it, Grandpere. Your actions saved all those girls.” Picking up the remote control, the man who had once been known as Agent Changeling turned off the TV and went back to work.

After all, news stories didn’t write themselves.

“It’s over,” Adagio said, a wide smile coming to her face as they saw the newscrawl on the kitchen television. “We’re free.” Her sisters hugged her close, and the three cheered.

“Weren’t they technically freed by your grandmother to begin with?” Octavia asked Sunset.

“Let them have their moment, Tavi,” Sunset advised, watching the three girls bounce and cheer in excitement.

“Yeah, besides, they’re free of being Canadian SIRENs,” Twilight pointed out. “They’re still Sunny’s SIRENs.”

“Don’t remind me, sis,” Sunset told her sister.

The triplets went over and hugged Sunset fiercely. “We’re all yours now, free and clear, cuz!” Adagio said with a grin.

“You’re extraordinarily happy about this,” Sunset said with a smile on her face. “You sure you’re going to be okay?”

“Yeah, I think I will be,” she said with a grin.

“I’m fine,” Aria agreed.

“Yeah, no problems here!” Sonata chirped.

“Well, we need to get going soon,” Sunset told them. “We need to see Shimmy and her family off at the airport.”

Twilight heard the catch in Sunset’s voice. “You’ve really grown close to her, haven’t you?”

Sunset nodded, not sure of what to say.

“It’s okay, sis,” Twilight told her. “Speaking as someone who woke up one day and suddenly had more family than she knew what to do with, I can honestly say that it’s fine. So you and Shimmy consider yourself sisters now, and that’s okay. She’s someone else you’ll have in your life, a friend who will always be there.”

“So, friendship is magic?” Sunset commented.

“That sounds so corny,” Twilight said in a droll tone.

“Yeah, probably,” Sunset laughed. “The others said they’ll meet us there. Mom and Dad are taking care of some stuff with Spike, so they can’t make it, but they said they were going to have breakfast separately with Shimmy’s mom and Zephyr before they head to the airport. Ms. Luna is doing something related to work, but Ms. Celestia said she’d be there. Cady and Shiny are out of town this weekend before he goes off to Quantico for a month for his new job.”

“Wow, feels like things are really changing,” Octavia commented. “Like an end of an era.”

“Or maybe just like things are winding down from a whirlwind year,” Sunset commented. “That’s certainly how it felt to me.”

“Well, if we’re all going to go, I guess I’m driving,” Octavia commented. “Let me go get the keys to my van and we can go.”

Waiting at the airport, Shimmer was apprehensive. Her aunt and uncle were there, as was Coco. Even though the flight wasn’t for another hour, she still wanted to spend some final time with someone who had become very dear to her.

“A bit antsy, aren’t you, Shimmy?” Zephyr said wryly.

“It’s going to be the last time I see her for a while,” Shimmer said, “so I want to see her again.”

“Yeah, I get that. It was great seeing my kid sister again, and I feel like I missed out on a lot of her life,” Zephyr told the girl, “so I get that you want to see Sunny once more. But don’t forget: just because you gals’ll be separated, doesn’t mean you’ll be separated, if you catch my drift.”

“Yeah,” Shimmer said with a smile. “I get you.”

“I’m going to miss you, though,” Coco said, hugging Shimmer.

“I’m going to miss you too, Coco,” Shimmer said, returning the hug. “Don’t forget to write, okay?”

“I promise I won’t forget!”

“Well, I hate to leave you all to your devices, but we have a long day ahead of us of our own,” Autumn told her, “and besides, I hate long goodbyes.” Final farewells were said and then Autumn Forest and his family departed, leaving the others to go.

“Is she coming?” Shimmer stated, asking no one in particular but hoping for an answer.

“Sorry we’re late; parking was hell.” Shimmer turned and smiled widely at the sound of her own voice, even though she hadn’t been the one to speak. Instinctively, she raced to the embrace of someone who was technically her very own self, but over the past few weeks she’d come to regard as far more than that.

Sunset could feel herself growing misty-eyed over the absence the other Sunset was going to cause in her life. Even though things had worked out far beyond what she had ever expected, Shimmer had become a part of her life in a way that she knew was going to be empty with her not around. “I’m going to miss you,” the alicorn said with all sincerity.

“Is it bad I’m missing you already?” Shimmer said, not even bothering to hide the tears welling in her eyes.

“That is truly touching.” Sunset turned to see Rarity and the others approach, smiles on their face. “It’s good to see you whole, Sunset – both of you,” the fashionista amended. “You both needed this and even though you’ll be separated once more, it’s only temporary.”

Sunset let go of her “twin” and Shimmer went over to embrace Rarity. “Thank you for everything, Rarity,” she said softly.

“Think nothing of it,” Rarity said, waterworks already in her eyes. “Besides, you can invite me on your next vacation. I’d love to go to Monaco!”

“It’s a deal,” Shimmer said, then turned to Fluttershy. “I can’t wait to see you perform again, Fluttershy.”

“But I’m not….” the chiffon-haired teen began to protest.

“I know you will. It’s in your blood. I heard your guitar and singing and you’re destined for fame,” Shimmer said, hugging her friend. “Don’t forget to invite me to your first concert, okay?”

“Okay,” Fluttershy said, blushing.

“AJ, you take care of Rainbow and vice versa, okay?” They were the two that Shimmer knew least well, but that didn’t mean she didn’t want the best for them.

“Uh, sure thing,” Applejack said, not sure how to reply.

“Yeah, no problem,” Rainbow agreed.

She then turned to Pinkie. “My sister’s happiness is important to me, Pinkie,” Shimmer said, looking solemnly at the cotton-candy-haired girl. “If you really, truly love her, you’ll safeguard that happiness and not subsume it with your own. I know you love her, but you have to love her as well.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Pinkie admitted as she hugged her intended’s twin, “but I promise I won’t ever hurt her.”

“That’s all I ask.” She then turned to Sunset’s family. “Girls, I don’t think I need to say this, but I will: take care of my sister…our sister. I….” She sniffed.

Twilight took Shimmer in a hug. “We love her too, you know. Of course I’m going to take care of my sister.” The others joined in on the hug as well.

“She means the world to me, so yes, I’m going to do everything I can for her,” Octavia added.

“We wouldn’t have a life if it wasn’t for her, so count me in,” Adagio admitted.

“Same here,” Aria said.

“No arguments there,” Sonata promised.

Finally, tears in her eyes, Sunset turned to Sunset. “This…when we first met, I never imagined this would happen,” she admitted. “I thought I’d just hate you and move on my life. But I found a sister.” Shimmer reached over and tearfully embraced Sunset, breaking down into tears.

“In all my days, I never would have thought I’d see this,” Solaire admitted, feeling misty-eyed. “She’d told me once she felt a bit guilty about being the surviving sister, but now in this new life we have…she finally has family she can rely on.”

“Well, she’ll have more once my kids come to live with us next week,” Zephyr reminded her. “Besides, once you and I tie the knot, then we can talk about having a couple of our own.”

“I’m going to hold you to that, Zeph,” Solaire told him.

“As long as it’s you holding me,” he said, slipping an arm around her waist. She leaned against him and sighed.

Unaware of her mother’s own flirting, meanwhile, Shimmer felt devastated in a way she couldn’t describe. She finally had a sister, and now she was going to have to say goodbye! The world wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair at all and….

“It’s okay.” She looked up to see Sunset’s calm cyan eyes looking into her own. They were misty with tears, but they were calm and at peace, a peace Shimmer wasn’t sure she felt at the moment.

“This isn’t goodbye for good, you know,” Sunset whispered, reaching up and wiping Shimmer’s eyes, then kissing her on the forehead. “I meant everything I said: we’re sisters, and we will see each other again.”

“I know, I know, but—”

Sunset smiled. “Someone’s gotta teach you magic, Shimmy. I’m sure you can practice on your own, but better that you learn from a pro, right?”

“You promise?”

They heard a gasp, and Sunset smiled.

“Look around,” she said.

Shimmer looked, and their magic was in harmony again, resonating strongly, motes of red and cyan racing around them like tiny satellites in a low-Sunset orbit. In the distance, people ignored them, focusing on their own lives and their own worlds.

“How, I didn’t—”

“You did,” Sunset told her. “I didn’t do this; you did.”

“I did?”

“Well, not the background pony spell; that was me, admittedly,” Sunset confessed. “But the harmonization? That was from you – from your heart.”

Tears streaming down her cheeks, Shimmer put on a brave face and a smile. “I never thought I’d ever have the chance to say this, but I’m lucky I have a sister like you.”

“I’m going to hold you to those words, Shimmy.”

“You’re going to come visit in December, okay? Promise me!”

“My whole family’s coming, because I want to meet this extended family I have now. Did you want to come to my coronation in Equestria?”

“I’m not sure that would be wise, Sunset.” Both Sunsets turned to look at Solaire. “As tempting as it would be, your true birth mother will have a tough time having to adjust to your adopted parents being there. Having to deal with us as well? It’s not a good idea.” She saw the look of heartbreak on Shimmer’s face and said, “I know you wish to support her, but remember: we are princesses as well and we have duties of our own. I’m sure Sunset will be more than happy to show you the pictures when she returns.”

Shimmer sighed. “Okay,” she grumbled.

“But….” Solaire smiled. “There is one thing, Sunset. Though you may be crowned a princess of this Equestria place, technically before that you were – you are – a princess of Imperial France. And as a result, you have attire of station to wear.” Solaire opened her carry-on and pulled out a small wooden box. “This arrived for you this morning by courier at my brother-in-law’s place.” She handed to Sunset.

Sunset opened it…and looked at Solaire, unsure of what to say.

“A replica of the tiara of Princess Beharnaise, Princess of France and Queen of Holland. Each princess of the family is issued one for formal attire.” Solaire smiled. “This one is yours.”

“I’m…I’m honored.”

“You are a princess of Imperial France, Sunset. Wear that tiara with pride.”

She sent it back home via magic. “I’ll insist on being coronated with it.”

“That’s more than fine with me. After all, it has been a while since a Bonaparte has been on a throne. And now we can say that time has come again…after a fashion.”

With that, Sunset let go, and just in time, as the announcement came over the line that boarding would begin soon. With that, the girls watched as the family got in line, using diplomatic passports and bypassed security. Zephyr used his government credentials and did the same. Once on the other side, Shimmer waved goodbye as did Sunset, and with a heavy heart, they rounded the corner, out of sight and towards their flights.

Twilight slipped her arms around her sister. “It’s okay to cry, you know. I know you’re putting up a brave face, but we’re your family.” Sunset turned to her and buried her face in Twilight’s shoulder, letting the tears flow.

“She becomes more human each day, and love ennobles her,” Rarity said softly.

“That’s ‘The Tale of Growing’, isn’t it?” Adagio asked. “I remember reading it last year.”

Rarity nodded. “It’s a favorite poem of mine, reminding me that we all have to grow up sooner or later. We let go of that which we love, so that they may grow as well. Sunset has moved on a long way since the girls and I offered to teach her friendship. We didn’t know she would learn to love as well.”

Pinkie immediately moved to approach, but Applejack put her hand on her friend’s shoulder and shook her head. Pinkie bit her lip and silently pled with the blonde, but the look in Applejack’s eyes was clear: Let Sunset’s sister deal with it. Her hair wilting, Pinkie turned away reluctantly.

Meanwhile, Twilight continued to hug her disconsolate sister, saying, “C’mon. Let’s go home. We have our lives to lead, and so does Shimmy. She won’t forget and neither will you.” Twilight took her sister’s hand and led her off, and Sunset mutely followed, feeling surprisingly hollow-hearted.

“I…think we should get her home,” Octavia told the others. “Give me a call tonight and we can talk about maybe doing something tomorrow, okay?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Rainbow said. “C’mon, let’s get going and leave the sisters to their business.”

As the others led Sunset off, Pinkie angrily wheeled on Applejack. “What the fuck, AJ? I wanted to—”

“Ah know you did, sugar,” Applejack said calmly, “but it’s not your place to do that.”

“What do you mean it’s not my place? She’s my girlfriend!”

“Yeah, I heard about that, Pinkie,” Rainbow said. “Frankly, it sounds like you kinda took advantage of Sunny. She’s, well….”

“Sensitive,” Fluttershy blurted out. She looked right at Pinkie. “Yes, both of you have been through bad relationships, Pinkie, no one’s denying that. And you of all people deserve to find love in the deepest and truest way. But Sunny’s been reeling from one thing to another right now and you took advantage of her emotional state.”

“But I didn’t!” Pinkie looked forlorn.

“You didn’t intend to, certainly,” Rarity said, giving her friend a smile, “but you didn’t let her choose, did you? You announced that you are Sunset’s girlfriend. You didn’t let her tell us – and that’s a textbook case of…well, I shan’t say it, but you understand.”

“Sugar, we know you love her,” Applejack said. “But you also want to be more than just her girlfriend. You have to be a friend, too. Ah’m not in any way an expert on relationships, but Ah do know that when someone’s emotionally compromised, it’s not the best time to be setting up shop in the heart. Things could go bad. Real bad.”

“I….” Pinkie was at a loss for words.

“Just take your time, Pinkie,” Fluttershy told her. “Take it from me: I’m letting my relationship with Puppytails go slowly and it’s worth it. Just let things go as slow as it needs to and if she really wants to come to you, she’ll come.”

“I…I’m going home,” Pinkie said, turning in the direction of the parking lot. “I need to relax.” Not even bothering to say goodbye to her friends, she just walked away.

“She didn’t take that well, did she?” Rainbow asked.

“Can you blame her?” Fluttershy commented. “Sunny’s disconsolate and under normal circumstances Pinkie would want to cheer her up. But given that it’s Sunny, it’s only magnified the situation – and the kind of cheering up Pinkie wants to do would hurt them both.”

“I hope she’ll be okay,” Rarity said, watching the forlorn figure retreat into the distance.

“Yeah, so do Ah,” Applejack agreed. “So do Ah.”

Despite Celestia’s earlier suggestion, Luna hated the Boards. She hated it because her career was, in part, based on it. It had been her experience during her career that teachers were recommended, requested and desired – all of Celestia’s postings, from her first day teaching at Forest Ridge to the posting she’d just received, had been because people had wanted and requested her there. Luna, however, for most of her career, had been at the Boards, right up until she’d been requested by Celestia to take over the vice principal slot at Canterlot High. Normally that would have been nepotism but given that she had been the only one qualified at the time, that had been overlooked – and Luna had busted her ass to make sure that she proved she wasn’t there just because she was Celestia’s kid sister.

The “Boards”, of course, were the Equestria County Unified School District’s Board of Certification Standards. Every school district had their own way of choosing teachers and slots, and each was unnatural and arcane and the ECUSD’s was no different; trying to explain it to an outsider would be just as futile as to why the short name of the board was The Boards. Personally, she suspected that it was probably the brainchild of the same person who had decided to nickname the Equestria County Alternative High School for At-Risk Students “the Blanks”. But to sum it up, if you were up for a promotion or wanted to move laterally, if you weren’t actually requested, you’d apply to the Boards. And so, the Boards had taken on, perhaps unfairly, the general feel of holding the teachers who were the also-rans, the ones that weren’t the best of the best, and the ones that were “just there”.

Kind of like untraded Pokémon, forever condemned to sit in Pokéstorage until someone wanted them, she sighed inwardly. At least she knew that the games really didn’t work like that and that the bits of data were fictional. The names on the Boards were very real people with very real lives, all put into a waiting bin because of someone’s whim, their careers going nowhere because of that. The three years she spent as a science teacher at Darkside High was proof enough of that; she’d been taken on by the principal there because no one else had the credentials. And admittedly, while working at DHS wasn’t as bad as, say, Sunnytown High or the Blanks, she’d hated every bit of working there, mainly because working under the shadow of Mt. Shasta and the tallest part of the Everfree National Forest, the small town seemed like it was drenched in gloom all the time. She loved the night, especially given her name…but dreariness was an entirely different thing.

So now, here she was, the incoming principal of Canterlot High (again, due to her sister’s influence, albeit indirectly) and she had to look for a vice principal. She’d gone through the candidates and had selected one. Unlike the others, he wasn’t local, but had moved from Cincinnati, where he’d been the math chair over at Walnut Hills High. He’d moved here over the summer, but Luna wasn’t sure why. And when she asked why he’d applied to the Boards, he’d thought, oddly, that certification boards were normally how things were done in other school districts. Given that he was coming not only from another district, but out of state, perhaps that made sense.

But here she was, at the Souplantation in Bella Vista, where she agreed to meet him for lunch to get a feel for things. It felt odd: like a date, but the match would be someone she could work with. And given that she’d recently gotten engaged, she really didn’t get why her mind made the connection. Still….

“Dr. Luna?” She looked up from her tablet to see the man standing there. Graying black hair and goatee with sallow skin, he was dressed currently in a maroon polo and stone-gray slacks and overall gave the impression of an entertainment lawyer trying to dress down, or (and she was sure it was going to get mentioned) Dracula slumming in California. He stood ramrod straight, which either meant he had military training or was a stickler for posture.

As she stood up, he offered his hand. “Chancellor Neighsay. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She gave a winning smile as she shook. “Chancellor?”

“The Neighsay family has been in education since the early days of the United States,” he said with a smile. “My mother always told me that when the Mayflower came over, one of our ancestors was busy holding classes during the voyage. Anyway, I think I fared better than my sister – her name’s Docent.”

“I see,” she said, gesturing to the seat. “Please, have a seat, Dr. Neighsay.”

“Please, Chance is fine.”

“Chance it is, then; you can call me Luna,” she told him. “Now, admittedly, everything is in order as far as your credentials and CV goes, but I’ll admit: I’m curious as to why you moved from Cincinnati. From what I gather, Walnut Hills is one of the top schools in the nation, and you were the math chair. Certainly you were destined for bigger and better things, right? Why move to Canterlot? And why ECUSD?”

“Oh, believe me, I was happy there, but circumstances forced my hand,” he admitted. “My ex-wife moved here about five years ago, with our two children. However, she admitted to me that she has terminal cancer, so I needed to take the kids in. After some discussion, we agreed that moving our kids was not in the best interest, either for them or her. So, I chose to move here.”

“That’s very commendable,” Luna admitted.

“Not as much as you might think,” he admitted with a bemused smile. “The first two places I applied was both Zacherle and Munechinger, given their pedigrees. Unfortunately, positions weren’t available there. I then considered a position at Holy Cross, but I’ve never really been the most religious person there is. Finally, I was talking to Bunsen Burner over at San Palomino High – we attended college together, so she’s been a huge fount of advice – when she suggested I apply with ECUSD. However, I didn’t know about the reputation the Boards had, else I would have just applied directly to the Board of Education.”

“I gathered that. Either way, I need a vice principal to take charge on the day-to-day. Dr. Celestia’s promotion to assistant superintendent was rather sudden, and I was glad they’re giving me the principal slot, but even still, after working for seven years as CHS’ vice principal, moving up is going to be a challenge, so I’d like to have someone knowledgeable in the vice slot.”

“I can do that. I was principal of one of the summer school locations last year. I believe I was able to bring up the profile of Westside High quite a bit,” he said with a smile.

“From my research, you were. And whatever recommendations you made must have stuck, because academically they have improved over the year. I hope that you can bring that sort of diligence to Canterlot High.”

“I certainly hope to.”

That was enough for Luna. Celestia would tell her to think things over a bit more, but Luna didn’t have much choice. School started on Monday and with teachers already working, several of them were inquiring about the change in how things were going on at CHS. Celestia, although still technically the principal for this final year, pointed to the principal’s office and its newest occupant, mainly Luna. Luna knew she couldn’t do it on her own – years of her sister's pulling Luna's own fat out of the fire having proven that – and as much as she would have liked to promote someone from within the ranks of CHS, no one was qualified except for Kibbitz – and he was so close to retirement, he said he’d preferred just to keep working “in the trenches” until it was time.

So there was no choice.

Offering her hand, she said, “Welcome to CHS, Chance.”

Trixie Lulamoon climbed out of her magic wagon, seeing it almost buried in snow due to the stronger-than-normal snowstorms that had been occurring. She’d heard rumors that Princess Celestia had been ill and as such the sun wasn’t as bright as it was normally, but she couldn’t get confirmation. The most she got was that Duchess Highfalutin’ had imposed a greater tax in the lands that she governed in order “to cover the famine”.

Funny, Trixie could still see the famine, she thought to herself as she began to dust off the snow and muck that had buried her wagon. The excess weathering had taken its toll on her cart and she was going to have to make sure that she got it repaired in a town soon; the axles were probably in need of replacing and the front right wheel was slipping in its camber.

After that was done, she created a clearing and brought out her heating crystal so she could cook breakfast: toasted Pinesnax. It was an acquired taste, admittedly, but she’d picked it up somewhere and she absolutely loved it; the extra-crunchy taste of the pinecone coating holding the syrupy-sweet pinesap within. Melted in one’s mouth and just didn’t let go. Also went great with coffee.

After that was done, she looked at the wheel further. She wasn’t a cartwright by any means, but she knew that she would have to go to the next town to get it fixed; a broken axle was going to cost her dearly, especially given all the weirdness, even by Equestrian standards. And for a traveling performer like her, a lost day’s wages could be the difference between eating that day or not.

She summoned her map and looked it over; the closest town was Grassglade, but they didn’t have a cartwright; after that a ways was Meandering Pass, but she…well, best not to think about that. Really, there were only two towns in the area that could service her wagon and both were a distance away: Berryville, which tended to be extraordinarily expensive, since that town was so single-minded about their crops that they practically had to import everything else; and…

She gulped. Ponyville. It was a week away if she took her time, which she would have to, in order to make it easier on the wheel. But she had mixed feelings about going back there.

Still, my wagon needs fixing and Hitching Post is one of the best in the business, even if he’s based in that blasted town, she mentally grumbled.

She didn’t have a choice, really.

With a heavy sigh, she teleported all her gear into her wagon, then cleaned up and prepped for the trip to Ponyville. She hated that she had to pay to have teleportation sigils placed on all her belongings, as though she was an earth pony, but sadly, teleportation was useful and she needed it.

With a sad thought, she finally hitched herself to her wagon and began the slog towards Ponyville. Hopefully she would meet somepony along the way; if nothing else, she could use the company before she got in trouble with the town guards again.

Sunset lay in her room, with Aria sleeping next to her. She really hadn’t wanted the company, but her cousin had insisted, and with the others out taking care of errands, she really wasn’t in the mood to argue. So she lay there, staring at the ceiling, unsure of how to feel.

A year ago, she was a selfish girl that had no plans other than to storm the metaphorical gates of heaven in order to get what she wanted, even though she didn’t want to admit that even to herself, that thing in question was her mother’s love. Now, a year later, she had more family and friends than she knew what to do with, she’d become obscenely rich literally overnight, and she was getting the things that she wanted – actually wanted. Moreover, the trappings of power and fame, the princesshood and alicornhood that she had so desired back then, were now things that she wasn’t sure she wanted after all.

Hell, if she wanted to argue the point, she had the romantic affections of two girls fighting over her. Plus, with the occasional intrusion of another reality’s occasional thoughts in her mind, she realized that other Sunsets had romantic relations with just about everyone she knew…including the girl sleeping next to her. She forced that out of her mind; not only did incest squick the hell out of her, she couldn’t see Aria – or anyone else she knew – in that light.

Really, she was getting to see that her ascension was more trouble than it was worth. She wondered if Twilight – the princess, not her sister – ever had the same issues.

Well, she wasn’t going to get anything done if she continued to lay there. Getting up to make sure that she didn’t wake up Aria, she stepped out of the room and decided to go downstairs to make lunch. Sure, she could magic it up; she could transport herself anywhere in the world to have whatever she wanted, but that was taking a path she wasn’t sure she wanted to take. For all her life, her biological mother had very normal pony desires, needs and actions despite the fact that she could have done whatever she wished, and it was that earlier thought that had gotten Sunset where she was. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and what might be just a simple jaunt to New York for burgers in Manhattan would turn out later for her to be right back where she was a year ago. She refused to let that happen again.

So…normal girl walking to the kitchen to make a normal sandwich.

As she headed for the stairs, she saw Spike intently staring at his door. “Spike? Something the matter?”

“I don’t see them anymore,” he muttered.


He finally looked at her. “When I was just a kid, Mom and Dad used to measure my height by making notches on the door. But I don’t see them anymore. Is it because this isn’t really our house?”

“What makes you think it’s not our house?” she asked him.

“Because I woke up one morning and I had all the videogames I wanted, but I didn’t have that earlier. And I remember that my friends had larger TVs than I did, but I have a bigger one than they do, and it’s in my own room – the one in the den is even bigger! And…well, it feels kinda weird. I remember that problem we had with those soldiers, and now…it’s like it never happened. And instead of our old house, we have this one. And nobody but us seems to remember that. It’s…weird.”

Sunset sighed; she should’ve realized this was going to happen sooner or later. The rest of them, as unusual as it was, could deal with the temporal and realistic changes that had occurred. But Spike was a kid, and that meant his way of looking at the world wasn’t as strongly formed as hers was.

“Spike, do you know why this happened?”

“Well, I would say it’s your fault, but…that’s not fair to you. I remember everyone crying because you got hurt and…did you die?” Sunset was about to say something when Spike added, “But that doesn’t make sense either. You’re here and this isn’t a videogame.” He frowned. “Great, now I’m confused.”

A thought came to her. “Have you had lunch yet?” When he shook his head, she smiled and said, “Tell you what: let’s go wake up Aria and we can go somewhere.”

“Don’t worry, I’m up. And if you’re up for a trip, I know a great little place for lunch.” They both turned to see Aria walking towards them, stretching

“Around here?” Sunset asked.

“Depends on what you mean by here,” Aria replied with a crafty smile.

A few minutes later, they were overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Waikiki, courtesy of a little burger shack. “We were here two years ago after a mission,” Aria explained. “It was the first time one of us had been shot, so our sœurs decided we needed a break, and we ended up spending a week relaxing here in Hawaii.”

“You were shot?” Spike asked, surprised. The wide-eyed look in his eyes suddenly brought up everything that had happened to them in the time that no longer existed and Sunset couldn’t help but wince.

“Spike…I know this isn’t easy for you to understand, but it wasn’t a dream,” Aria told him. “Everything really did happen. We were captured by enemy forces, Sunny fought an evil demon and she….” The teen hesitated to say died, but finally sighed and commented, “Sunny died saving us. Saving everyone.”


Sunset looked at him sadly. “It’s true, Spike.”

“But you’re alive! How can you be alive if you died?”

“Because something had to be done in order to save us all, and it had to be me, because of my magic.”

He looked at her with shock. “You have magic?!”

“Well, we’re in Hawaii right now, aren’t we?” Sunset explained and Spike finally realized for the first time that no, she wasn’t joking. This wasn’t just a part of Canterlot he hadn’t seen before. They really and truly were in Hawaii.

It took several more minutes to explain that it was a secret and that it was supposed to be a secret – and secrets meant nobody gets told, not even his friends. That things had changed for a number of reasons that he was too young to understand right now, but as he got older, he would appreciate how different things were. After all, couldn’t he remember a time when Aria and her sisters weren’t there? When he admitted he had, she smiled and told him that she was happy that they were all together, because it meant they were family. And that was part of the secret.

Finally, as lunch was finished, he went off to use the bathroom and Sunset looked at her cousin. “Thanks, Ari. I wasn’t sure what to say.”

“It’s okay. I get that he doesn’t understand. In the old timeline, I really didn’t get a lot of things either at times and I was lucky that our sœurs took the time to explain things to us when it was needed. So I can appreciate his confusion.” She leaned forward on the table. “I just wish sometimes that I could have been as innocent as he was back then.”

“Not now?”

“Not even in this timeline, really. So if I can keep him innocent just a little longer, I think we’ll be okay.”

“You’re a wonderful person to know, Aria Blaze.”

Aria blushed. “Not really, but I’m working on it,” she commented.

Sunset looked at her phone. “Well, we’d better get back soon. There’s a three-hour time difference between here and home, so we’ll have to explain why we’re skipping dinner.” As Spike came back, she added, “Let me pay the bill and then we can go.”

It was then that Sunset got a text on her cellphone – it was from Garden Variety, and she did not seem calm at all: HEY, CAN WE TALK?

I’M TIED UP RIGHT NOW. WHAT’S UP? Sunset texted back.



The response was nearly instant: NO, CAN WE MEET SOMEWHERE ELSE?

HOW ABOUT SAIGON SWEETS? Sunset suggested.


Sunset sighed. “My work is never done.”

“Well, you were the one who wanted to be the all-powerful goddess, right? Comes with the territory,” Aria told her.

“All things considered, I think I’m more of the Greco-Roman ‘Force of Element’ type rather than the omnipotent and omniscient variety, but that’s not the point. The point is that I’m not sure I’m comfortable with solving the world’s problems.”

Aria patted her cousin on the shoulder. “Too late for that.”

“Well, here you go, Sunny,” Bon-Bon said as she set a sizeable confection in front of her, as well as a small jar of hot fudge. “One chocosphere, just for you. On the house.”


“It’s a new dessert we’re working on,” Bon-Bon told her with a smile. “Hollow chocolate shell, filled with vanilla ice cream and some candies in the middle – you pour the hot fudge on it to melt it to open. Hope you’ll like.”

Sunset eyed the thing as if it were giving her calories just by looking at it. Alicorn or not, she wasn’t sure if she’d pick up weight by eating it, though she was highly tempted to risk it. “I’m sure I will, Bonnie.”

Bon-Bon brought out the same thing for Garden and then walked off.

Another girl?” Garden asked her. “You sure you’re not a carpet muncher?”

“Bonnie’s a friend and she’s already in a happy relationship,” Sunset commented. “And for the last time, no, I’m straight and I thought we were talking about your problems?”

“Fine, fine, just trying to bleed some levity off my frustration,” the older girl commented. “Look, I feel real stupid about talking to you in the first place, but for some reason…you’re approachable. No idea why, but I needed to talk to someone.” She took a breath, then continued. “The hospital laid me off today. Something about cost overhead or some bullshit, but the point is, I don’t have that job anymore. Mrs. Desk knows about it and says that isn’t a problem but I want to send Bramble to day care so that Mrs. Desk can enjoy some of her retirement. I know….” Garden looked down. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t keep relying on Mrs. Desk, even though she’s been helpful. And you know I can’t turn to my parents.”

Sunset sighed. There were no easy answers on this one, and she wasn’t even sure where to begin to help on this. Maybe just being a sounding board was enough, but she didn’t think so. “Have you considered applying for the assistant manager job at the café?”

“Oh, no, we’re not getting into that again, kid,” Garden said. “I told you, I don’t want charity, and I really doubt the Cakes are going to pass over their golden girl just because I need a pick-me-up. Sorry, but I’m not going to do that to you and I’m not going to do that to them.”

“It’s not about doing anything to anyone, Garden,” Sunset told her. “It’s about what your son needs, and what you need.” When Garden gave her an inquiring look, Sunset explained: “You need the money. In case you weren’t aware, my information became public the other day and I’m surprised I don’t need bodyguards or anything like that. I actually have more money than my parents do, and they’re wealthy.”

“Yeah. If I had the kind of money you do, I sure as hell wouldn’t be working at a café,” Garden said.

“Well, keep in mind that I do it for other reasons,” Sunset told her. “And I still intend to. But I don’t need the money. You do.”

“I told you—”

“I know you did. And I’m telling you: apply for the position. I’m not giving it up just because of pity or whatever. Ultimately, it’s the Cakes’ decision. All I can do is just give you advice.”

Garden took a bite of her chocosphere, then continued. “I really don’t know if I should or not.”

“You should. Don’t think of how I feel or how the Cakes might feel, Garden. I’m not going to be offended, honestly. And your main concerns should be you, your son and Mrs. Desk.”

“Look, I really don’t want to step on your toes, Sunset. You’re already doing more than enough for me, and I appreciate it. I just…I don’t want to seem like an ingrate.”

“You aren’t, Garden. You’re taking care of your son. Trust me, as someone who was literally just adopted the other day, I can very much appreciate the concept of looking out for family.” Sunset took a bite of her own chocosphere and said, “Just think about it, okay? There’s still time.”

“I’ll think about it,” she said uneasily.

In her bedroom, Pinkie sighed as she lay on her bed, spent from “thinking about Sunset”. However, the words of her friends weighed heavily on her mind even as the pleasure drifted away.

She loved Sunset. There was zero doubt about that. Every bone and muscle in her body ached for her, and even now, Pinkie could feel her body call out for Sunset’s touch. She would yield to those kisses, those lips, that firm, taut form against hers….

She stopped, pulling her hands away before she led herself down the path of desire again. Was this obsession?

Was she turning into something like Atlas and Cicely? The thought terrified her: even though Sunset was far more than capable of protecting herself even before she’d become what she was now, the thought of having a helpless Sunset tied up for Pinkie’s pleasure brought a slight thrill through her—

—and then a deep shame.

“No. I’m better than that. I’m better than them,” she hissed in the dark. She hated them eternally, and for a second, she hated herself for even having those thoughts about the one person she truly loved.

She slipped on some clothing, went to the bathroom and took a quick shower. Thankfully, everyone in the house was asleep, because she really didn’t want to explain why she was taking a shower at two in the morning. She then went back to her bedroom and changed the bedsheets, planning to take them down later today. Throwing on fresh bedsheets, she looked at the soiled ones, marked with her own crime of passion. That made her uncomfortable as well.

She sat back down on her bed, hugging her knees and troubled by her own thoughts. She loved Sunset more than anything. She knew within her heart this was a permanent thing. This wasn’t like Rose (that bitch!) who dumped her own boyfriend just because she wanted Sunset as well. This wasn’t a thing that she knew would go away as the years went by; though she could technically call herself bisexual, she wondered if she was single-target sexual (or “graysexual”; she knew that term existed, too) towards Sunset. Though she found attractiveness in several people she knew, she didn’t love them, didn’t want them like she wanted Sunset.

Was that healthy? Had she really recovered from what Atlas and Cicely had done to her?

Was she condemning herself to do to Sunset what had been done to her?

She loved Sunset too much to do so.

She wondered if Sunset could even read her thoughts right now. When dealing with what was a literal goddess, even a neophyte one, what was on the table and what was off? She trusted Sunset wouldn’t invade the privacy of others, but those were human thoughts…and at the end of the day, the girl she loved wasn’t really human. Ironically, that didn’t bother her in the least – Sunset was far more human than others she knew; certainly more than the animals that had ravaged her and ruined her own life.

Impulse grabbed her and she picked up her phone, opening it to Sunset’s number and typed in a text: If I loved you forever, would you hate me for it? She then immediately erased it without sending; with her luck, sending a text right now would only cause Sunset to come visit her immediately. She didn’t want that – she didn’t want Sunset to see her at her worst and weakest. Pinkie had to be a pillar of strength for the girl she loved, because even a god might feel lonely at times, and being frail just wouldn’t do.

That reminded her of a movie she’d watched years ago, and a quote from it: “Language was invented for one reason – to woo women – and in that endeavor, laziness will not do.” She wasn’t sure why, but she went to her bookcase and grabbed a book she’d been meaning to read for some time.

Perhaps, when wooing an alicorn, laziness wouldn’t do…not even at 2:36AM.

When she was late to breakfast, Cup went in to check on her niece. Finding Pinkie asleep in the curled-up position worried her slightly, but she didn’t pry. She did, however, find Pinkie’s dirty laundry and remembering what it was like being a teenage girl herself, opted not to unintentionally embarrass the girl and decided to just let her sleep. While Pinkie did have to work today, Sundays were fortunately slow enough that the café could do without her, and besides, given that school started tomorrow, Cup thought that her niece probably could use all the rest she could get.

Cup did, however, wonder why Pinkie had fallen asleep in that position with a copy of The Rubiyat, with highlighter ink blotted on one particular quatrain:

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Sunset woke up and went downstairs for coffee. She had a long day ahead of her, the last day before school began. “Hey, girls,” she said to her family as she went down.

“Heya, sis,” Twilight said as the group all read from their individual tablets or phones. “Mom and Dad took Spike out this morning to go shopping for uniforms. Apparently he outgrew his over the summer, so Mom wants to make sure he’s got something that fits.”

“Ah, they grow up so fast, don’t they?” Octavia said with a grin.

“Yeah, luckily for Sunny, she’s the only one who can get away with not wearing uniforms.”

Sunset grinned. “Hey, we have a dress code, you know. Granted, students always try to push the boundaries of it, but Ms. Luna isn’t exactly going to let that go. Anyway, I need to get going. Need to go to the café for something.”

“Back to work?” Sonata asked. “Mrs. Cake has me starting off at the new location on Tuesday.”

Sunset didn’t want to tell her cousin what she was up to; Sonata had been moved because Sunset was going to work at the San Palomino branch. With Sunset effectively giving that up, she didn’t want Sonata to think she was doing something untoward; her youngest cousin could be surprisingly sensitive about those sorts of things. “No, just some stuff regarding the location,” Sunset said glibly.

“Okay, well, don’t forget to be home in time tonight,” Adagio said. “We’re making dinner tonight – Chinese.”


“We come from a family of Chinese restaurateurs, remember?” Aria said with a laugh. “We’re going to see how much Mom rubbed off on us.” She then added, “Okay, okay, admittedly we really didn’t learn much from her and we’re adopted obviously, but we learned from our grandparents whenever we went back to Vancouver, okay?”

“Sounds fine by me,” Sunset said. “I’m going to grab breakfast there. I’ll see you when I get home, okay?”

“If the kitchen hasn’t been set on fire by then, sure,” Octavia said with a giggle, getting three mock-glares as a result.

Sunset made it to the door when she heard Twilight’s voice. “Sunny?” She turned to look at Twilight, who had a calm look on her face. “You might be able to hide it from the others, but not me. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, Twily,” Sunset told her as she grabbed her purse.

The look on Twilight’s face changed to one of concern. “Sunny, I might not be as powerful as you are, but I’m still your sister. I’m still someone you can rely on, you know that. If something is wrong, I want to help.”

“Twily….” Sunset sighed. “Seriously, nothing is wrong, sis. I’m going to help someone else out, because someone else – someone you don’t know, sorry – is in trouble and only I can help. Otherwise, she’ll be in dire straits, and I can’t let that happen.”

“Sunny, please don’t take this the wrong way, but…well, you might be a goddess, but you’re not my – or any other human’s – deity. I certainly don’t consider you one and I can’t. So don’t set the world on your shoulders.”

“Believe me, I don’t want you to consider me one.” Sunset went over and gave her sister a loving smile. “And this doesn’t involve any horn-and-wings business. This is me, just being a normal girl, helping out someone when I can, because I’m in the best position to do so.”

“Well, I’m here for you either way. Just don’t ask me to slay a dragon for you, okay?”

“Of course not!” Sunset laughed as she opened the front door. “Why kill off a good secretary? See you later.”

Twilight stood there, looking at the space where her sister had been a second before. She wasn’t sure of what was going on, but she knew that Sunset still needed her family, and that was enough for Twilight. They could sort out the rest later.

A second later it hit her.

“Wait – secretary?”

“Thanks for doing this, sis,” Luna told Celestia. The pair were standing by one of the public grills at Three Heroes Park, where Celestia had rented one of the picnic pavilions. The reason was both a farewell party for Celestia as outgoing principal, congratulatory for Luna as incoming principal and a welcome for Neighsay as the incoming vice principal. At the moment, the older sister was flipping burgers, making sure that her soon-to-be former employees were well fed.

“Hey, when I first took over the principal slot at CHS, Study Session did this for me,” Celestia explained. “I think it’s a kind of tradition, so it’s not a problem.” She looked at all of the CHS faculty, assembled and just talking amongst themselves as peers and friends, from Raven and Cheerilee mercilessly flirting with Tofu to Iron Will and Bulk Biceps challenging each other to a game of cornhole while hoisting brews and laughing like old friends.

“You’ve got that faraway look on your face,” Luna told her.

“Of course I do. Even though I’m technically still the school principal, functionally I won’t be, and then next year, when I move to the headquarters building, I won’t be outright. As it is, with all the increased duties I’ll be taking on, I doubt I’ll be around much anyway. It’s your show now, sis. These are your folks and I’m sure you’ll do a great job.” She glanced at Neighsay, who was moving around and getting to chat with several of the other teachers. “Looks like your vice is breaking the ice with the others; maybe you should go do so as well.”

“What, and not stay here with you?”

“I’m a relic, sis. You’re the future of CHS now, not me.” Luna swore that for a second, a brief ghost of sorrow and regret passed over her sister’s face. “Go be that boss your faculty deserves.”

“Hey, are you getting maudlin on us, Tia?” She turned to see Harshwhinny approach, a grin on her face and a wine cooler in her hand. “This is supposed to be a time when we’re unwinding! Lord knows, we can be serious tomorrow when we’re dealing with recalcitrant brats and reprobates.”

“Remind me why you’re a teacher again, Winnie?” Luna asked.

“Because strippers and pole dancers don’t pay as well?” the woman laughed.

Celestia gave a grin. “Fair enough. But seriously, if I can let reality intrude for a moment….”

“Typical Tia. This party’s for you and you’re talking work!” Bulk muttered as he walked up to grab a burger.

“Hey, seriously. I’m just curious to know what you plan to do for tomorrow’s incoming assembly. The change of leadership isn’t the only one you have to acknowledge, folks. There are the students who aren’t coming back…and I’m not talking about the ones that moved or graduated.”

A silent pall suddenly sank over the gathering as they realized what she meant. “Something wrong?” Neighsay asked.

“At least one of our students was a victim of the Dead Hand Killings over the summer,” Kibbitz told him. “Between that, the freak hurricane and the earthquake two weeks ago, it’s been a rough summer here in Canterlot.”

“There’s also the rumors going around about both Fluttershy and Sunset Shimmer,” Cherilee added. “Honestly, I’m not sure which is weirder.”

“The rumors are true,” Celestia told them. “Fluttershy is the daughter of Discord and Sunset Shimmer is a long-lost French princess who met her birth mother over the course of the last few weeks.”

“Great! As if shit wasn’t weird enough,” Harshwhinny groaned.

“Winnie…Fluttershy’s parentage hasn’t really affected her. Just because she’s the daughter of a rock star doesn’t mean that she’s the same as he is.”

“That’s true,” Raven commented. “She’s always been, well, shy.”

“Likewise, Sunset Shimmer has changed quite a bit over the last year,” Luna added. “She’s not the same girl that she used to be, and you have to take into account that everything that has been published publicly about her is true.”

Peachbottom looked at her fellow teachers and said, “I’ve been following the case over the summer. As one of the school’s counselors, it’s my job. And everything I was able to find out about Sunset Shimmer over the course of the year? I’m frankly amazed, given her upbringing, that she merely ended up as an overkill queen bee rather than something much, much worse. Folks, she was raised by a criminal, and then for the past four years lived by herself, homeless, in an abandoned factory. I don’t know about you, but half the kids I know in our school can’t live without their cellphones for five minutes much less manage to lead a life for years without adult supervision.

“Tia and Luna, you two know more than anyone else about Sunset’s case. We know she’s changed…but we haven’t seen her during the summer, obviously. What’s changed?”

“Tia and I know her adoptive mother and I can assure you: Sunset has changed,” Luna informed them, sprinkling a bit of truth in before the bold-faced lie came about. “Furthermore, we’ve been told by her adoptive mother that Sunset was just as surprised to find out about her true parentage. She’s not sure how to take it, but the fact that she was already living with a wealthy foster family that adopted her was a shock enough to her. For her to now be a literal princess with an inheritance that makes her potentially the richest person within a 500-mile radius?”

“I’m glad Velvet has a good head on her shoulders,” Celestia added, with a hint of amusement. “I’m not sure what I’d do in that situation.”

“I’d say, give her a chance. Hell, give them both a chance.” They all looked at Cranky Doodle, whose words were surprising, given that he’d always stated a mistrust of Sunset. “You remember last year, when Homecoming happened and that exchange student showed Sunset up? When the school’s façade fell apart? That night, I swear I thought I saw that girl turn into a demon.”

Luna and Celestia looked at each other oddly, before Harshwhinny called out, “Yeah, I remember that. You later told us that medication you were on also made you see a talking purple dog and some other things.”

“Yup, glad they changed my dosage – my wife thought I was some kinda high-ass hippie,” he said with a gruff laugh. “Anyway, I think we all know what that girl is capable of at her worst. And yet, she’s never done anything that’s landed her in anything other than detention. Certainly not suspension or expulsion, though in hindsight, maybe we would’ve found out what her real home life was if we had.” He took a swig of his beer and said, “Anyway, given what Peach just told us, I’m willing to give her a chance. Maybe she’s a spoiled fucking princess, or maybe we’ll find out that now, she’s a regal one. Either way, we won’t find out until we give her that chance.”

“Fair enough,” Will told them. “Always glad to see our students improve themselves.”

“Hey, that’s enough sobriety for now,” Raven commented. “We’ve got the rest of the day to unwind! We can worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes, right?”

“Yeah, let’s just relax for now,” Tofu agreed, and the unofficial faculty conference broke off once again into various discussions as the staff of Canterlot High let themselves unwind once more.

Both Celestia and Luna breathed a sigh of relief.

“Are you sure about this, Sunset?” Carrot Cake asked her. Seated in the offices of Sugarcube Corner Café, both the Cakes and Sunset discussed what was to come.

“Very,” Sunset told them. “After the past month, I need normalcy in my life. I need to know what it’s like to be a normal girl again.”

Cup gave her employee a knowing smile. “I’m sure every princess out there would say that being a princess is perfectly normal, your highness.”

Sunset groaned. “Please don’t do that.”

“She’s only joking, of course,” Carrot told her. “You were Sunset to us before all this happened and I don’t see why that would change.”

“Thanks, guys. So, please, give it some thought. I’m not going to be hurt or offended by it if you decide to give the job to Garden. She needs it far more than I do, and we know she can do the job.”

“We had always planned on something like that someday if she planned to stay with the company,” Cup admitted, “but this…this is, admittedly, very selfless of you, Sunny. I hope you don’t mind us saying this, but we’re proud of you.”

Sunset blushed deeply. “Really, it’s what anyone would have done.”

“No, it’s not. I know you don’t need the money, but not just anyone would turn down a higher-paying job because someone else needed it.” Cup smiled, then leaned forward across the desk. “Regardless, I’m not going to let you get off that easy. We were planning to give Garden a pay raise for being the senior company waitress anyway, and so with what we were planning to pay you as the assistant manager, I think we can still afford to do that and pay Garden the salary she’ll need, won’t we, dear?”

From where he sat, Carrot nodded. “I think so. Means we’ll probably have to put off the Autumn-O-Rama promotional cups this year, but I think given the pumpkin spice overload that our competition keeps bringing up, I think we’re safe in doing that,” he admitted with a smile.

“Well, in that case, we’ll give her a call and set something up. When do you think you’ll be able to come back to work? If we’re going to be switching things out, we’ll need you back soon.”

Sunset slunk back in her chair, relieved that everything was going to work out. She hadn’t used her powers, and that was for the best, all things considered. “Will Tuesday be okay? I want to get back into the swing of things at school and I suspect given my public profile as of late, the first day of school tomorrow is going to be…interesting.”

“I don’t envy you at all, Sunset. I still remember how high school can be at that age and I didn’t have to deal with the additional pressures you do. Still, if you ever need someone to talk to, you know where to find us.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Cake, Mr. Cake. I know it’s been a rough month having to deal without both me and Soni, but we won’t let you down.”

“I’m sure you won’t, dear. You haven’t since you came to work for us.”

As Sunset left the café, she felt a lot better about things. Sure, she didn’t need the money at all, but maybe she could figure out a way to use it in charities discreetly. She would have to ask the triplets about that, as she was sure Sonata probably had some experience in that regard. If not, she was sure Derpy probably did.

She looked at the time on her phone and realized she had a lot more time on her hands than she expected. As she walked to her car, she considered calling Rarity and seeing if she wanted to go shopping; it felt like forever since the two of them had last hung out together. Maybe we can grab Flutters and make a day of it, she thought to herself.


Hearing Pinkie’s voice immediately put those thoughts to a halt. She knew her friend and the sound of said speaker was exhausted and haggard. Sure enough, Sunset turned to see a Pinkie who looked as though she hadn’t had any sleep in the prior night.

“Are you okay, Pinks?” Sunset asked, genuinely concerned.

“Do…do you have time to talk?” Pinkie asked.

“Sure. Let’s go somewhere. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Somewhere where we can be alone and talk without being disturbed,” Pinkie said, yawning. “Sorry, I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“Sure. I can think of a place or two, if you want. Plus, where I’m thinking, you can sleep in the car along the way.”

The cheerleader gave her a wan smile. “Works for me.”

A couple of hours later, the two were sitting on the Horseshoe Bay pier, Pinkie nuzzled against Sunset’s shoulder, both munching on the highly traditional Horseshoe Bay snack of “Crab Cobs” – elotes seasoned with Old Bay spice. “A breezy afternoon, lazing on the pier with my babe? You really know how to treat a girl, Sunny.”

Sunset sighed. She had to end this. She really had to. “Look, Pinkie….”

“I know what you’re going to say, so let me stop you,” Pinkie said, without looking at her. Her voice sounded sad and wistful. “Sunny…I love you. This isn’t some silly schoolgirl crush that I’ve settled on, nor is it some artifact of the thread that was within me. It’s…I have no other way to say it. I love you so much that it hurts sometimes. I’m always afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing that will push you away from me, because I’m so screwed up.”

“Believe me, Pinkie, you’re not the only one who thinks that.” Mainly because I have no idea how I’m going to get out of this mess! Sunset thought to herself.

Pinkie chuckled, and spoke once more:

“It’s too bad if a heart lacks fire,
And is deprived of the light
Of a heart ablaze.
The day on which you are
Without passionate love
Is the most wasted day of your life.”

Sunset looked at her. “I didn’t know they had The Somnambulat here.”

Pinkie smiled. “No, that’s from The Rubiyat – it’s a tenth century book of Persian poetry. What’s The Somnambulat?”

“I presume it’s the Equestrian equivalent. A book of poetry written in the pre-classical era by the priestess Somnambula. It’s considered one of the great books of romantic love.”

Pinkie blushed. “I dreamt last night that you and I were in a great marbled palace. That you lay before me, on a bed of silks, dressed in satins and gold. And all I could do was to prostrate myself before your greatness, feed you grapes and sing to you quatrains of a time long gone.”

“Pinkie, that sounds way too much like worship, and I don’t—”

“I know. I love you. I idolize you and I ache for you, Sunny. But I don’t want to worship you. If I did that, I would lose myself and my reasons for loving you. Relationships are built on equality, not on a lop-sided tug of war where one has all the advantages and the other begs for table scraps, real or imagined. I don’t want that for us.” Pinkie’s eyes gazed into Sunset’s. “I…I’m not sure how to say this….”

“Pinkie, listen, I—”

“I want you to make the first move.” The words tumbled out of Pinkie’s mouth, unbidden. “I don’t want to feel like a seductress, like I’m becoming someone to lord over you. And I don’t want to worship you, to beg for your affections. I want you to come to me for me, Sunny. I want you to love me for who I am.”

“Pinkie, I’m—”

“Not the happy-go-lucky cheerleader and party girl everyone knows. The girl I am: one who likes reading classical texts. One who loves museums, and poetry, long walks and calm nights by a fireplace.” She blushed again and added, “One that can effortlessly get lost in your beautiful cyan eyes, like I’m adrift on the Caribbean.”

Sunset sighed; this is exactly how she got caught up last time. She wasn’t going to let that happen again. “Pinkie…we can’t. I….”

“I know. We both need time to take this slowly.” Pinkie smiled, and Sunset saw the usual girl she knew, not the one bent on taking her heart. “I am your friend as well as your girlfriend, your courtier and your bride…but that last part isn’t for a while.” She smiled sadly again. “I don’t want to be like Rose, giving you an ultimatum – ‘fuck me or else I go back to Ward’. I would never do that to you. I never could.”

“Pinkie, she didn’t—”

“You don’t have to cover for her,” Pinkie said with surprising venom. “That bitch can be devious. I overheard her tell Shimmy she’s going to be her sister-in-law someday. Over my dead body, that’s for sure…and I sure as hell am not rolling over.”

“Pinkie, would you listen to yourself?” Sunset told her, not letting her friend interrupt her.

“I….” Pinkie frowned. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Sorry. I’m probably going to be like this for a while. Damaged and adjusting to a real relationship, because I’ve never had one until I met you.” Sunset wanted to point out to her that they weren’t in a relationship, but at the same time, she realized that with Pinkie’s state of mind, that would probably be the worst thing to say at the moment.

Pinkie took a long breath and repressed the lovesick girl in favor of the manic pixie girl everyone knew. “That’s why I’ll wait. For as long as it takes. Until my dying breath and the end of time, Sunny. Because I love you, and because I want you to love me as much as I do you. And I won’t lie: it’s going to be hard for me, I know it. Just…please be patient with me. I’m probably not going to be the best girlfriend I can be, because I’m really not sure I’m doing it right. But I want to be the best for you, not just some abstract ‘the best’.” She punctuated the last with air quotes.

Sunset couldn’t help but be sincere in her next words, because they were the truth: “You’re a lot more romantic than Flash ever was, that’s for sure. For him, romance was dinner just before a ride in the sack.”

“Then I’ll make sure I never do that.” The look in Pinkie’s eyes was serious. “You are more to me than just ‘some girl’. I am yours forever, Sunny. I will always be yours. That is my fate and my wyrd. I won’t ever leave your side, metaphorically and maybe literally. I dare not treat you like ‘some girl’.” She snuggled up against Sunset again. “So I’ll wait and be content until I have your lips.”

Pinkie then sang a soft melody:

“Kiss me with your mouth,
Your love is better than wine
But wine is all I have –
Will your love ever be mine?”

The Rubiyat again?” Sunset asked.

Pinkie chuckled. “No, Lilac Time. 80s singer, was the original vocalist for Duran Duran. I’ve always liked his work.”

Pinkie looked into Sunset’s eyes, blue gazing into cyan once more. The former’s lips moved furtively…

…and paused, turning to kiss Sunset on the cheek. “I meant what I said. It won’t be easy for me, my love. But you’re worth waiting for.” She snuggled closer to Sunset, listening to the rhythm of the latter’s heartbeat, and before she knew it, she was softly dozing.

Sunset, however, felt the crushing weight of the metaphorical iceberg that slammed into the Titanic. She couldn’t break Pinkie’s heart. She didn’t love her that way. She couldn’t. Maybe – maybe – centuries from now, but Sunset really, really, doubted it; if she was attracted to girls, she could have easily dated someone – or somepony – else of her own gender by now.

And yet here she was, as straight as an arrow, with her girlfriend leaning against her. A self-declared girlfriend that Sunset loved too much (in the very much platonic sense) to hurt.

They stayed that way, Sunset watching her namesake occur as the sun sank over the Pacific horizon. They still had a two-hour drive back home, maybe get dinner along the way, and then prepare for school tomorrow.

Not wanting to wake Pinkie because she looked so exhausted, Sunset swallowed her embarrassment and scooped Pinkie up, sweeping her off her feet like a bride carried over a threshold – and she really hoped no one she knew was around to see it.

“I love you,” she heard Pinkie murmur and felt Pinkie’s nuzzling her neck and followed by soft kisses as whatever dreams the cheerleader had were impacting her sleeping form.

Setting her in the car, Sunset got into the driver’s seat and turned on the air conditioning full blast, hoping the cold air would remove the full-body blush of mortification she had going on right now. Hopefully it would go away by the time they got to the Equestria County line.

Finally, after getting Pinkie home, Sunset walked into the house. She was tired and told her parents she was just going to skip dinner.

“So how was your date?” Aria asked her.

“Ari, for the final time—”

“—it was a date,” Aria said, crossing her arms. “You just told your parents you and Pinkie went out to Horseshoe Bay. You claimed that you needed to talk to her in private, but couldn’t you have just gone to Everfree Glades or Ponyville, which is half the distance? No, you went to Horseshoe Bay, with its scenic views and romantic boardwalk.”

Sunset looked at her slack-jawed.

“You can’t help but dig yourself in deeper, can you?”

Sunset facepalmed. “Fuck. Ari…I….”

“Look, Sunny, I don’t care if you’re lesbian, bi, or just stupid. The point is that if you don’t want to date Pinkie, don’t do shit she’s going to clearly misunderstand. Hard to look romantic when you’re in the stench of horse ranches out in Ponyville, right?”

“Wow,” Sunset said flatly, “you really know how to work on someone’s feelings. You should get a job with Hallmark.”

Aria brushed it off. “Hey, it’s the job of family to tell you what you need to hear sometimes, right? Just consider it one of my many talents.”

“Yeah, whatever. Anyway, I’m just going to go upstairs for a bit and prep my clothes for tomorrow. You might be lucky enough to only have to wear a uniform, but I have to dress to impress.”

“Yeah, but impress who is the question?” Aria called back as Sunset trudged up the stairs.

As Sunset reached her room, her phone went off. The first five texts were from Pinkie, with hugs and kisses…and one fully-nude image, which Sunset made a mental note to chew Pinkie out for sexting her. Even if I was dating her – and I’m not! – I’m not going to let her do that to herself! The next text was from Rarity, asking her if she was ready for tomorrow and what she planned to wear so they could all wear matching colors as her unofficial retinue. The one after that was one from Shimmer, letting her know that they’d landed safely at Orly and that she missed her big sister. Sunset couldn’t help but smile at that.

Sunset was just about to set her phone on the charger when a final text came in from Fluttershy, asking her to meet at her old house at 7:30 in the morning. Apparently she had a surprise planned for all of them for their first day of school and it was actually her father’s idea. Sunset smiled at that as well; knowing Discord, it probably was to pull out all the stops given that this would be his first day as the parent of a kid in school – well, to him, anyway. Part of her imagined a massive soundstage being put in the CHS parking lot so his band could perform during lunch, but maybe he actually wanted to be a parent. She didn’t know.

She lit the dragonfire candle, back in her room once more; while she was sure that things were safe for it to be used in its original setting, it now had a limiter spell on it that would send it downstairs into containment if the transport flame got higher than three inches. Its green flame came alive, and then coalesced into ash, which in turn materialized into a wooden box much like the one that her mother had sent her weeks ago after her last visit to Equestria.

Opening it, she found a note from Raven Quill, her mother’s seneschal, congratulating her on her ascension and that the following scrolls were to be delivered as soon as Sunset touched them. The letter explained that they were official invites from Princess Celestia to her human family and presumptive court inviting them to Equestria during the week of Rising Solstice for the occasion of the coronation and investiture of Sunset Shimmer as the Princess of Seekers.

Princess of Seekers? Sunset wondered what the hell that was supposed to imply. After all, her mother was Princess of the Sun, her aunt Princess of the Moon, Twilight was Princess of Friendship and Cadance was Princess of Love. But what the hell was the Princess of Seekers?

The first postscript was an official note from Raven stating that Princess Luna had provisionally authorized the deployment of the Special Initiative, Royal Equestrian Navy, pursuant to the Lord Admiral of the Fleet’s final approval. Sunset grinned at that; despite the fact that she hadn’t been too happy about finding out that her cousins were risking their neck for her, it was good to see that Aria’s wish that “SIREN” be changed to something of worth had come true.

The last part was a personal note from Raven asking if Sunset could come a few days early, at her convenience, so that Celestia could explain it all – and also to see family, because it was clear the solar alicorn missed her daughter dearly.

Sunset felt a bit emotionally touched at that; even as an adult mare, she guessed she would always be her mother’s filly. Sunset then responded that she would as soon as she worked things out locally. She then lit the letter, sending it on the way. Finally, she opened the box, and the various scrolls within started to vanish in flashes of golden light, the telltale magic of Princess Celestia’s aura at work even from a reality away.

Sunset then felt, for just a moment, the warm sensation of two large wings envelop her in a loving embrace. She knew it didn’t happen, of course, but the sympathetic magic spell had been placed there to make it clear: her mother would always love her. Even through all that they’d been through, Princess Celestia loved her daughter and would always do so.

Sunset wiped tears of joy from her eyes as the sensation vanished. She owed it to her mother to visit Equestria again as soon as she could.

That done, she went to her closet to try to figure out what to wear for the first day of school tomorrow. Rarity had already sent out a list of the colors and style she would be wearing, and Sunset had to see what she had that would match it. Hell, even Rainbow, of all people, had volunteered to wear a skirt tomorrow for this coordination, so it had to be momentous.

Tomorrow, after all, was the first day of a new adventure.

Author's Note:

Next week: the finale.

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