• Published 17th Mar 2017
  • 1,581 Views, 93 Comments

In the Absence of Twilight Sparkle - MyHobby



Twilight Sparkle isn't the only human learning magic, as Sunset discovers when she is invited overseas to visit a school run by Starlight Glimmer. She appears to have good intentions, but Sunset's doubts rise when a magic-powered murderer strikes

  • ...
10
 93
 1,581

Imperfect Reflections

Shining Armor wiped his hands with an oil rag in the hopes of getting even the top layer of grime off. The car parts he’d just installed hummed perfectly as the engine ran. Quite the difference from the state it’d been in when it first arrived at the shop. A few more tests and they’d be able to deliver the car back to the customer.

Not bad for his first day.

“Shining!” Scootaloo called him from across the shop floor. “Take a break, you’ve got a visitor!”

He gave the signal to shut the car off and walked towards the lobby. He looked to Scootaloo as he passed. “Who is it?”

“Dunno, but she looks like your sister.” Scootaloo hoisted a hefty toolbox and pulled it towards the car Shining’d finished up. “Got a cousin I don’t know about?”

“We don’t really have cousins.” Shining shrugged. “Only one uncle on my mom’s side, and he never had kids.”

Scootaloo snorted, waving him off. “M’kay. I hear everybody has an evil twin somewhere in the world, and I think we just found Sparkle’s.”

Shining furrowed his brow. Evil Twin? What the heck was Scootaloo talking about? Did it have something to do with Sunset’s home world? Had he just been visited by—? Yup. Shining entered the lobby and picked her out of the crowd immediately.

Twilight Sparkle sat in a chair nearby the entrance. But it wasn’t. For one, she wasn’t wearing glasses, and Twilight had a well-documented hatred of contact lenses. For another, she wore a knee-length dress, which Twilight was loath to wear on even the most formal occasions (save for being a bridesmaid). For yet another, she seemed to be smiling for the sake of it, which was a rare enough occasion for his little sister that it was worth noting.

Last but not least, when she stood up, she stood eye-to-eye with Shining Armor. Twilight was at least two heads shorter than Shining wearing high heels.

Shining moved to offer her a well-greased hand, thought better of it, and settled for a bow at the neck. “Princess Twilight, I presume?”

“That’s me!” The purple gemstone she wore around her neck glimmered lightly as she spoke. “May I just say I’m very glad to be able to see you again. It’s been quite some time.”

That was an understatement. She had shown up in the background of his and Sunset’s wedding, silently supporting her friend. That had been well over five years ago. Long enough for Shining to put alternate universes and their ways out of his mind. “Yeah. I guess you’re here to help with Twilight’s problem?”

“That’s it exactly.” The princess nodded, her smile still bright. “Afterwards, I also plan to follow up on what Sunset thinks about the new magic school, but that’s for another day. I was hoping we could get everybody to meet somewhere so we can plan out our investigation. Any good ideas?”

“Probably the Apple house,” Shining Armor said. “I get out of work at five, so I’ll meet you guys there.”

“Sounds like a plan.” The princess glanced this way and that, then leaned closer to him. “Do you have any leads so far? I might be able to investigate on my way to their house.”

“Not really.” Shining shrugged. “I only just heard about it last night. I don’t even know who the victim is.”

“Fair enough.” For the first time since Shining had met her, irritation sizzled within the princess’ eyes. That was more the Twilight he knew. “There’s gotta be something. Maybe I should stop by the police station.”

Shining felt his breath catch. “Twilight and Sunset have been careful to keep magic away from the station. I don’t think it’s a good idea to—”

“Don’t they already know?” Princess Twilight put her hands on her hips. “If magic is already a known cause, maybe they’ll be able to shed some light on the subject.”

“Yeah…” Shining Armor gritted his teeth behind pursed lips. “Or maybe they’ll get it in their heads that you’re a likely suspect as well.”

Princess Twilight blinked. She rested her forehead in her palm. “Yeah. Yeah, I can see that. I’d rather not go to jail.” She crossed her arms and blew a long breath through her nose. “Alright. Straight to the Apples’ it is. See you later, Shiny.”

“See you…” Shining leaned over to look out the glass door. He saw a man loitering around the sidewalk, but no sign of transportation. “You’re not gonna walk all the way there, are you?”

“Nah, Skyhook’s ordering a taxi.” Princess Twilight’s eyes lit up. “Oh! I didn’t introduce you!” She leaned out the door and waved the man in. “Commander! I need you to meet someone!”

The purple-haired man was a little shorter than the princess, but quite a bit more strongly built. Clearly a man of action. His skin was pale, as though he’d never before seen the sun. His eyes seemed to glow as he entered the relative dark of the auto shop lobby.

“Commander Skyhook is captain of my personal guard.” Princess Twilight placed a hand on Skyhook’s shoulder. “He’ll no doubt be a fantastic asset on the mission.”

“I insisted she bring me,” Skyhook said. “Things are getting more dangerous lately. In all worlds.” The commander narrowed glittering golden eyes at Shining. “You guys don’t have trouble with the Unseelie Court around here, do you?”

“I, uh…” Shining wracked his brain, but the name was unfamiliar. “I’ve never heard of them before.”

“One problem at a time, Skyhook.” Princess Twilight sighed, touching her fingers to her amethyst necklace. “Is that taxi close?”

“About ten more minutes.”

“In that case, I should probably get to work.” Shining Armor nodded to the princess and Skyhook in turn. “It was nice to meet you. I look forward to working with you.”

Skyhook smiled. His canines seemed abnormally large to Shining’s eyes. “Prince Shining Armor is a personal hero of mine. From what I hear, you’re his equal in every sense.”

If Shining had been drinking, he would have showered the two of them. Prince? It took a second for the memory to click. Right; the other Shining Armor was prince of his own kingdom.

Shining Armor could barely take care of his own family, let alone a kingdom.

He plastered a smile on his face and trotted back to his work area. At least working with his hands would take his mind off of things.

***

Sunset Shimmer pulled her baggage from the claim. The sounds of an unfamiliar land surrounded her. They all spoke the same language as her, but the inflections and accent were different. The slang was unfamiliar. They even drove on the opposite side of the road.

Unique scents trailed in from the airport’s food court. Visitors from various nations of the world clustered with their brethren. All around was a bustle that Sunset likened more with Manehattan than anything else.

“You okay, Sunset?” Celestia hoisted her backpack as Sombra struggled with his suitcase. “You look a little lost.”

“Yeah, but who wouldn’t be?” Sunset Shimmer sent a grin Celestia’s way. “It’s not the first time I’ve stepped into a whole new world, you know. I know what not to expect.”

Sombra pointed his cane towards one of the many pathways leading through the airport. “Our ride will be waiting for us that way. I’m anxious to get out of this awful din.”

It was the work of a few moments, but pushing through the crowds still felt like an exercise in patience. A pale, white-haired man approached them and touched a hand to Sombra’s shoulder. “Doctor! I have the car parked in lot B. Follow me, please.”

Once the crowds thinned, and they reached the open air of the car lot, the man fell into step with them and introduced himself. “My name’s Double Diamond. I’m a friend of Starlight Glimmer’s. You’re Sunset Shimmer, right?”

It wasn’t the accent Sunset was expecting from someone from the Highborn Isles. He sounded like a stereotypical surfer dude from some kid’s TV show. “Yep. That’s me.”

“Rad. Glim’s been looking forward to meeting you.” He offered a hand to Celestia, who took it lightly. “And you’re the Doc’s old buddy?”

“Just Celestia, Double Diamond.” Celestia looked ahead to where they were walking. A sad little car awaited them. “Are we… going all the way to the island in that?”

“Nah way.” Double Diamond unlocked the doors manually. “This is a rental. It’s just gonna take us to the harbor. We’ve got a couple new students arriving. We’ll meet them there.”

Sombra gingerly lowered himself into the passenger’s seat. He hoisted his braced leg with a grunt and adjusted his large frame to just barely fit into the rickety car. Sunset sat with her legs crossed and her suitcase on her lap, while Celestia did her best to stuff herself behind Sombra’s seat.

“It’s only a fifteen minute drive,” Double Diamond assured them. “Tops.”

The car sputtered to life. Sunset wrinkled her forehead. If this was the level of finance the school was able to throw around, how did they have the funds to pay her that truly absurd fee Sombra had promised? She’d even checked that morning—they’d already delivered a sum to her via direct deposit. If anybody was flush, it appeared to be someone other than Double Diamond.

The drive through the old city was disorienting, not least of which was due to the traffic flow. Sunset thanked her lucky stars she didn’t have to navigate it herself. Though, if she accepted the position, perhaps she eventually would?

The smell of seaweed and fish flowed into the car as they neared the harbor. Fishing boats moored side-by-side, and a cargo barge could be seen at the mouth of the inlet. The sea was choppy and green, the rocky shore slime-covered, and the sky perpetually overcast. The cool wind tugged at her hair as she extracted herself from the deathtrap that had the audacity to call itself a car. It felt like a call to adventure. A promise of excitement and newness that filled her heart with a steady beat of magic.

“Ahoy!” A woman in a rain jacket waved at them from beside one of the fishing boats. Purple bangs trailed out from beneath her hood. “We’re over here!”

Double Diamond slammed the door and rushed to her side. “Ahoy yourself! We ready to shove off?”

“Soon as you’re ready, Captain!” The two exchanged a quick hug, which the woman ended by giving him a firm pat on the back towards the boat. “The other passengers are getting settled. You handle the boat, I’ll handle the rest.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Double Diamond hoisted himself onboard and set about untying this and that. The flip of a switch ignited the hum of a motor, and the twist of a dial activated the churn of a propeller.

The woman removed her hood and revealed the pale-blue stripe threaded through her hair. “Welcome to the Highborn Isles! I am your host, Starlight Glimmer. It is my greatest pleasure to welcome you, of all people, to our humble little school of magic.”

Sunset Shimmer and Starlight shook hands. Sunset forced herself to overlook the awkwardness of knowing this woman’s pony counterpart—still a strange task even after dozens of similar encounters. “It’s an honor to be invited. After my experiences were labeled ‘The Canterlot High Hoax,’ I was surprised anybody would take this stuff seriously.”

“I, for one, take magic very seriously.” Starlight smiled, but the expression faded as she turned to Sombra. “Was the service nice?”

Sombra sighed. “Beautiful. Raven would have been delighted.”

“I wish I could have come.” Starlight’s cheeks tinged red as she looked down at her shoes. “I should have come.”

Celestia leaned on Sombra’s arm. “You knew Raven as well?”

“She was one of our first students.” She shook her head, rubbing her eyes and turning their attention to the boat. “Sorry. Sorry, this is supposed to be a good time. We carry on! Please watch your step when boarding. It won’t be a long trip, but do make sure your luggage is secure.”

Sunset couldn’t quite place Starlight’s accent either. If she didn’t know better, she’d say she hailed from the Midwest, like herself. Maybe a bit more northy-sounding. A couple of words still had a slight Highborn twinge, so maybe she was just well-practiced in masking her accent.

She hauled her suitcase onboard and nearly tripped immediately. The boat rocked in time with the waves, and every step seemed to throw her center of gravity in a new and strange direction. She steadied her hand against a crane in the middle of the deck. The whole place smelled like fish, only barely covered with a heavy dose of cleaner.

A man in a black turtleneck shirt and sporting a purple goatee came up from the lower deck. He put on a friendly face as he approached Sunset. “Don’t quite have your sea-legs?”

Sunset Shimmer kept herself from sighing and matched his smile. “I don’t sail much, Mr…”

“Viscount Hammer Dulcimer.” He moved with practiced grace across the swaying deck. “Dulcimer to my friends.” He reached a hand for her bag. “May I?”

“Thank you… Dulcimer.” The name rang a bell, but not one she knew the tune of. “I’m Sunset Shimmer.”

“Ah. The magic prodigy from Libertas.” He hefted her suitcase with the same ease he used walking. “I hear you learned magic completely separate from Glimmer’s little operation, correct?”

“That’s right.” Should she specify? Was her world of origin open knowledge among these people? She decided to hedge her bets and keep quiet for the time being. “I’d say I know a thing or two. Are you one of the new students?”

“Exactly.” A quizzical look passed across his face, which was quickly replaced with a more confident one. “I’m a bit of a test market, so to speak. I’m here at the Prime Minister’s behest. To see what exactly this school looks like from the inside.”

Prime Minister? How high up did this conspiracy go? Sunset reminded herself that she dealt with princesses on a daily basis. Surely Prime Ministers and their ilk weren’t much different.

Still, proximity to such power left her uneasy. “Does that mean you’re looking to make the school a bigger thing?”

“Not necessarily. Not yet. We’re just getting started with a whole new science, after all.” He glanced to the left and the right. Sombra and Celestia had disappeared belowdecks, and Starlight was conversing with Double. “I admit, I’m mostly in it for myself. I’ve always had a desire to learn about magic. Real, true magic. The kind that billows up from the heart.”

Sunset nodded. “Sounds like that’s exactly what you’re gonna get.”

“I hope so.” Dulcimer shifted his footing as the ship began to move out to sea. Sunset clung to the crane to avoid being flung to her butt. Dulcimer raised a hand to get Starlight’s attention. “Miss Glimmer! What’s our ETA?”

Starlight Glimmer had the look of someone who lifted a rock and found a dead rat. She plastered a plastic smile across her mouth and spoke to him with strained friendliness. “About two hours, Viscount. Please don’t muss your perfect hair in the interim, m’kay?”

Viscount Dulcimer scratched his goatee as his admittedly-nice ponytail waved in the breeze. He muttered a dark “takes all kinds” and brought Sunset’s luggage belowdecks.

Starlight might have sworn, but it was swallowed up by the wind. She gave Double Diamond a pat on the shoulder and moved towards Sunset. “I want to thank you again. It’s so wonderful to find other people who have discovered magic.”

She stopped at Sunset’s side and stuffed her hands in the pockets of her raincoat. “From the sounds of it, you’ve known about it longer than any of us. We’ve only been able to practice it for about… six, seven years? But you’ve been at it since high school.”

So she didn’t know about Equestria. Good. All things considered, it was for the best. “That’s only a few years longer than you guys. And there was a period of time when I just didn’t practice it at all.”

“Oh?” Starlight furrowed her brow. She looked Sunset from her head to her feet, as if sizing her up. “May I ask why not?”

“I was starting a family at the time.” Sunset shrugged. “Finishing school. I had a lot on my plate, and it seemed like magic didn’t have much impact on my life. I just let it go for a while. But then…” Sunset thought it over. She’d have to do more than abridge, she’d have to sum up. “One of my friends discovered magic, and it reignited my spark. We’ve studied together for the past couple of years. A lot of the old stuff came right back, and the rest never really left.”

Starlight chuckled lightly. “Sunset, having had a taste of magic, I can’t imagine ever letting it go. It’s like breathing for the first time. Discovering a sensation previously hidden. It’s being alive.”

Sunset smiled. She thought back to her and Twilight at the pond, discussing teleportation with their adrenaline pumping and their eyes aglow. “Yeah. There’s no comparison. It’s the best thing.”

Water sprinkled across the deck. Starlight pulled her hood on and moved to stand beside Double Diamond. “I’d recommend getting yourself below, unless you like being soaked down to your pants.”

Sunset looked to her ankles, where the edges of her pant legs had already taken on water. “My pants are always the first thing to get soaked.”

Starlight’s mouth fell open as her eyes popped. She let loose a wheezing laugh and covered her eyes. “I meant your—never mind. Just keep dry, Sunset.”

***

Twilight Sparkle sketched in the air, lavender lines emanating from her fingertips. The equations Sunset had taught her formed one digit at a time. She had burned them in her memory, recalled as easily as she could recall the names of her closest friends. Her memory had always been sharp; a skill which had served her well in her field of choice.

Little Spike looked up from his pile of scrolls. He lounged on a bale of hay as stars began to prick through the light cloud cover. The two of them had migrated to the outdoors in lieu of something productive to do. He had managed to find some middle ground in holding the pen between the toes on his paws. It was a loose grip, but it was enough to get the ink flowing. “Is that a teleportation spell?”

“Yeah. Sunset and I’ve been trying to use it.” Twilight continued to write, sparing him a single glance. “She says the magic is different here, so it’s taken her a while to work it out.”

“Yeah, that stuff is pretty high-level even back in Equestria.” Little Spike’s tail wagged as his eyes followed Twilight’s hand through the air. “I only know of, like, three unicorns who can do it. Well, two unicorns and a couple alicorns.”

“Alicorns…” She mulled the word over in her mouth, as if she was tasting a strange new food. “Like Princess Twilight?”

“Twilight, Celestia, and Luna can do it. I don’t think Cadence ever learned it.” Little Spike rubbed his chin. His wagging tail knocked a scroll off of its perch. “Nuts. The unicorns I know of are Mom, Starlight Glimmer and… I guess Sunset counts. Counted. Something like that.”

“Your mom’s a unicorn?”

“Twilight’s parents raised me, so she’s ‘Mom’ to me.”

Twilight frowned to herself. The complete equation lay in midair, waiting for some sort of ignition. She supposed it would have to be an emotion. Something to put intent into the spell. “Sunset was a pretty powerful unicorn, huh?”

“One of the best.” Little Spike leaped from his bale and walked around, looking at each of Twilight’s symbols. “She even got the drop on Princess Twilight the first time they met. She teleported around Twilight to steal her crown, which held the Element of Magic.”

Twilight swung her hand to one side. The digits spiraled around an invisible axis. “‘Steal?’ Was this back when Sunset was a delinquent?”

“You got it. She planned to raise an army of brainwashed high schoolers to invade Equestria!”

Twilight gave him a sidelong glance. “Are we talking about the same Sunset?”

Little Spike shrugged. “Hard to say. She was pretty swallowed up by her own jealousy back then.” He grinned halfheartedly. “The thing about friendship is that it takes all six Elements to create harmony. If even one Element is missing… it turns into something ugly. Sunset only had Magic—a spark—the stuff that brings friends together. That’s why she was able to build herself up so much, and also why it came crashing down hard.”

Twilight clenched her fist. The symbols glowed alongside her fingernails as magic poured from her heart. “But she found the other Elements.”

“Sure did. Just like Twilight.” Little Spike cleared his throat. “My Twilight. The princess.” He looked over his shoulder to see Applejack walking across the field. “Though it looks like you found them, too.”

“Maybe I did.” Twilight pushed magic into the spell. Sparks covered her body from head-to-toe. She closed her eyes and concentrated. “Occupying two spaces simultaneously. A leap through time that takes no time at all. A bridge with no length.” She stretched her hand out and ignited the spell. “Teleport!”

The magic burst from her in a whoosh of air. The grass danced. The sparkle of light faded.

She remained standing in the exact same place. “Crap.”

Little Spike scratched behind his ear. “Yeah, that’s what usually happens during the first casting of the spell. Give it time and you’ll get it.”

Applejack finished her walk to them with a hasty jog. “If I may ask: What in tarnation?”

“Just practicing a spell.” Twilight sat down on the hay bale. “A spell that just a liiiiitle too advanced for me.”

“Just so long as you don’t turn nothin’ into a frog.” Applejack propped a leg up on the bale and reached down to pet Little Spike’s head. “Shining Armor just got here. The princess was supposed to get here sooner, but I guess she and the taxi driver got into an argument over payment.”

Twilight’s eyebrows shot up. “What?”

“Equestrian bits look an awful lot like play money, is what I’m sayin’.” Applejack pointed a thumb towards the farmhouse. “Big Mac’s drivin’ over to bail them out. Dunno why they didn’t just bum a ride offa us sooner.”

Little Spike covered up a snort by faking a cough. It was almost convincing. “Twi—Princess Twilight didn’t wanna impose. She figures if she’s gonna spend some time in this world, she should start getting used to it.”

Applejack pulled her lips to the side. “There’s a gold buyin’ store downtown if’n you’re strapped for funds.”

“I’ll make a note of it.”

Twilight pulled herself to her feet and walked towards the farmhouse, the others close behind. A quick walk through the kitchen and down the hall brought them to the sitting room, where Shining Armor and Sunny waited. Sunny was already in the middle of a board game he, Apple Bloom, and Granny Smith were playing. Shining met Twilight halfway and embraced her.

Twilight shut her eyes to hold back the sting of fresh tears. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Sorry it couldn’t be sooner.” Shining took a step back as they released each other. “We’ll get through this. We’ve been in worse situations.”

Little Spike peered around Twilight’s knee. “Name one.”

Shining Armor looked down. He gave the dog a double-take. “Uh—?”

“Yeah, hi. Name’s Spike. I’m a dragon.” Little Spike patted Shining’s shin as he walked by. “Can we skip the whole ‘oh my golly gosh, a talking dog, I never seen the like’ bit?”

Shining Armor looked at Twilight with bugging eyes, pointing a firm index finger at the scientific anomaly.

Twilight let her shoulders hang limp. “All I can say is try to keep up. We’ll have to backfill the details later. He’s Princess Twilight’s Spike.”

Shining rubbed his forehead. “Is Spike just a universal constant, or what?”

“I don’t really have the data to say one way or the other.”

Sunny’s eyes lit up. He leaped off his seat on the couch and raced for Little Spike. “Hi, doggy!”

“What’s up, Sunny?” Little Spike smiled as he was petted on the head by the young boy. “You’ve gotten big, haven’t you?”

Sunny jolted back like he’d been shocked by lightning. His face took on a very similar expression to what Shining’s had been only seconds before. He looked to his father with a mixture of confusion and requesting reassurance.

Shining’s attempt at smiling reassuringly failed spectacularly. “It’s okay, buddy. Spike is a talking dog. He’s friendly.”

Apple Bloom scratched Little Spike all along his back, prompting his hind leg to thump repeatedly. “An’ he’s cute as a dang button, is what he is!”

Little Spike’s face shimmered with a volcanic blush. He gave the young woman a cheesy sort of smile and cleared his throat. “Ahem. Thank—um—thank you for saying so, Miss Bloom.” He attempted to ease away from her, but Apple Bloom either didn’t notice or ignored it.

The door opened in the next moment, prompting Little Spike to rush across the room. “Twilight! You made it! Just in tim—right on cue. Yeah. As expected.”

Twilight Sparke stood on the far side of the room as the princess entered the house. She was no different from how she appeared two years before, when she’d visited for Big Spike’s funeral. Tall. Graceful. Not a spot or wrinkle to be seen. She walked with an assurance that seemed to say she knew she was the most powerful person in the room.

But, of course, it wasn’t a power she would hold over others. Twilight knew that. It was just a power that Twilight could never hope to match. Compared to the princess, she felt like she was in high school again. Mousy and isolated, with much prettier girls around every corner.

“Hello, everyone!” the princess said. “It’s great to be back. I know we can figure out how to clear Twilight’s name in no time at all.” She moved to the side to allow a pale man to enter. “This is my personal guard, Skyhook. Skyhook, this is the Apple Family. Applejack, Apple Bloom—”

As she continued down the list, Big Mac walked into the house and shut the door behind him. He moved over to Twilight and hugged her from behind. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a brief flash of… some sort of dark emotion from the princess. Anger? Jealousy? She wasn’t certain, and it was gone in an instant.

“That mighta been the strangest car ride I’ve ever been part of,” Mac said.

He slid a hand over her stomach, and she intertwined her fingers with his. “Care to enlighten?”

“Hmm.” He furrowed his forehead and shook his head. “Just relieved to know that you’re still you.”

Twilight quirked an eyebrow. “As opposed to the six-foot-five Empress of Ponyvania?”

“A’yup.”

Princess Twilight approached Twilight Sparkle. She smiled; a bright, genuine thing that would have put her at ease had it been on any other person’s face. “So, Twilight, do we have any leads?”

Twilight glanced at Apple Bloom, then nodded towards Sunny. She got the idea and took the boy into the kitchen to peruse the sweets. With little pitchers and their big ears taken care of, she sat on the couch and spread out Spike’s notes. “The victim was found on the side of the road, fully clothed in what seems to be the outfit she wore at the time of the murder. Her entire body was dehydrated, from the edge of her skin, to her internal organs, to even her blood. Known associates include Principal Celestia and her brother, the Highborn Lord Oscuro Sombra Relámpago.”

Skyhook winced. “Sombra?”

“Yeah.” Twilight leaned an arm on her knee. “Heard of him?”

“You might say that.” Skyhook looked at Little Spike, who chewed on the tip of his pen. “Though, there’s probably no relation.”

“He’s not the first Sombra I’ve heard of,” Little Spike said. “Or even the second. Princess Celestia traveled to another world and found a good King Sombra, and they became good friends.”

Big Mac leaned against the couch back, his lip quirking up in a light sneer. “Whadda ya mean ‘good’ king?”

Princess Twilight took a seat in Granny Smith’s easy chair. “He means that the King Sombra of our world was a tyrant who enslaved another nation. Clearly, he doesn’t share these traits with all the people he shares a name with.”

“Maybe.” Shining Armor paced back and forth, looking over the notes with a perpetual air of confusion. “But could this world’s Sombra be a suspect? Does he seem like the sort of person who could murder his own sister?”

Twilight Sparkle threw her hands out. “I’ve never met him, so I dunno. Can’t exactly talk to Celestia about it, since she’s overseas with Sunset.”

Shining’s eyes lit up. He seemed lighter on his feet as he rounded the corner of the sofa. “What about Luna?”

Twilight narrowed her eyes at her brother. She pushed her glasses further up her nose. “Who?”

“Celestia’s sister. She’s the vice principal at Sunset’s high school.” A smile tugged at his lips as he thought it over. “If we can’t talk with Celestia, maybe Luna’s available.”

Skyhook read over Little Spike’s shoulder as the dog wrote. “If nothing else, we might be able to learn more about who Raven spent her time with.”

“It’s a start.” Twilight rested her elbows on her knees, looking across the room to where the princess sat. She drummed her fingers against her pants. “Any idea what spell could have done this to her?”

Weight settled on Princess Twilight’s brow. She took on a slightly paler pallor, with her face scrunching up as though assailed by a wave of nausea. “I’ve done… research… into the darker arts. This seems like more than simple dehydration, since removing that much liquid should have left some sort of noticeable damage to the skin and organs. Was there any indication that something else was missing?”

Twilight clicked her tongue. “Nothing our instruments can detect. Why’s that?”

“I’ve seen corpses like hers before. In Equestria.” Princess Twilight brought her knuckles together, resting her chin on two fists. “Completely dry. Shriveled and shrunken. Their cells clearly having been alive the previous day. An impossible mummification.” Now the green tinge to her skin was unmistakable. Her expression devolved into a morose grimace. “Their magic had been ripped from their bodies.”

Little Spike offered a leery expression. “Like when Tirek ate magic?”

“No, not quite. Tirek stole the magic built up inside the individual. He devoured magic already produced.” The princess rubbed the corner of her eye. A soft breath brought her equilibrium back into check. “These ponies had their fairy strings forcibly ripped out.”

Applejack glanced between the two Twilights. “What the hey’s a fairy string?”

“Veins carry blood. Fairy strings carry magic.” Princess Twilight sent a spell towards her fingertips. She turned her arm so that the bottom faced Applejack. Golden lines traced their way through her skin, just visible at the surface. “The heart metabolizes it and the fairy strings carry it to whatever body part uses the magic. I’m pretty sure most living creatures have them, with a few notable exceptions. Your technology is just unable to detect them.”

“Wait.” Big Mac spoke slowly, deliberately. “This spell basically pulls veins from your body to kill yah?”

Princess Twilight nodded. “It was invented by King Sombra over a thousand years ago for his wicked experiments. Since then, I’ve only known of one pony evil enough to try it out for themselves. But Viscount Dulcimer’s been dead for more than two years.”

Shining crossed his forearms. “You sure about that?”

“Uh huh.” Princess Twilight’s sigh dragged her further downward. A weight pulled on both her body and soul. “I helped kill him.”

The room became as quiet as a graveyard. Just as cheerful, too.

Shining Armor coughed lightly. “I’ll call Luna and get a meeting set up between her and Twilight. And also Twilight. Tomorrow work for you guys?”

Twilight Sparkle smiled joylessly. “I have no plans otherwise.”

“Ditto,” the princess said.

“In the meantime…” He looked to Applejack with a small, hopeful light in his eyes. “You guys feel like having company for supper?”

“Heck yeah. Wouldn’t dare think otherwise.” Applejack flipped her hat through the air, where it landed perfectly on her head. “Don’t y’all go nowhere, soup ’ll be up in a few.”

***

Sunset Shimmer accepted her suitcase back from Dulcimer and made her way to the upper deck. Their destination loomed close—an isolated island off the east coast of the Highborn Isles mainland. The “countryside” was an assembly of rolling green hills and a lightly-populated forest. Most likely manmade, due to the even clusters the trees grew in. Their rickety fishing boat rolled up to an equally-rickety dock, and was soon tied down and shut off.

Starlight Glimmer leaned over the side of the boat and shouted to somebody onshore. “Skyhook! Get your butt over here! Be a dear and help us unload!”

A pale, rough-faced man pulled his knit cap over his ears. He checked the strength of a nearby knot before leaping onboard and grabbing one of the boxes Double Diamond was stacking near the prow. Dulcimer approached with a friendly grin. “Care for another set of hands?”

“Suit yourself, mister.” Skyhook nodded briefly to Sunset before he disembarked. She returned the greeting in kind, unsure of whether she recognized him or not. The name at the least rang a bell.

Sombra eased himself onshore with careful shuffles. He sat on a wooden crate and set about unbuckling his leg brace.

Sunset stepped onto the deck and felt immediately off balance, as if the entire world was rocking on its axis. Celestia caught her before she could twist an ankle. “Easy does it,” Celestia said. “The first step’s a—”

“Real doozy, I know.” Sunset rested her hand on a wooden pole that anchored the dock. She turned a concerned glance Sombra’s way. “Are you okay, sir?”

He removed the brace fully. His face broke into a wide grin, which seemed at odds with the chiseled wrinkles that made up his visage. “I’m better than fine, Mrs. Shimmer. Watch the magic at work.”

He raised a hand. His fingernails lit up with swirling purple magic. Strands of starlight snaked their way down his leg to his shin. They wrapped themselves around the knee, connecting the upper and lower leg. Before Sunset’s eyes, they hardened to solid crystal. Sombra stood up with no sign of pain or weariness. He bounced from one foot to the other, light as a feather.

A deep, booming chuckle came from the back of his throat. “I haven’t felt this alive in decades.”

Celestia covered her mouth with her hands to suppress her laughter. Her wide gaze flipped between the empty brace and his new crystalline prosthetic. “What is—?”

“This is the sort of magic they teach here.” Sombra took Celestia’s hand and tugged her towards shore. A devilish twinkle gleamed in his eye. “I’ll race you there.”

The two of them took off down the road, Sombra leading the charge, Celestia laughing breathlessly as she fought to keep up.

Starlight Glimmer smiled wide as she knelt down to pick up Sombra’s discarded brace. She slung it over one shoulder, raising an eyebrow at Sunset. “I was gonna give them the grand tour, but maybe I’ll let them have a little privacy.”

Dulcimer bent at the neck to lower himself to Starlight’s eye-level. “Well, worry not. I’m already very impressed with the school, Miss Glimmer.”

The mirth fled from Starlight Glimmer at a speed to rival Sombra’s. “Double Diamond, would you please show the viscount to his room? Thank you.”

Viscount Dulcimer shrugged and allowed himself to be lead away by Double Diamond and Skyhook, all three carrying boxes of supplies.

“I’m afraid I can’t show you to your room just yet,” Starlight said. “There’s somebody here who’s really interested in meeting you.”

Sunset tilted her head. “Someone here knows me?”

“No, I don’t think so.” Starlight tapped her lip and ultimately came up with a shrug. “We’ve all heard about your activities in Canterlot High. Most of us never thought we’d meet you until Sombra suggested bringing you here.”

Starlight held a hand forward and began to walk across the island. A building could be seen from shore; what appeared to be a large metal-sided warehouse. Windows were cut into the sides, revealing what seemed to be two floors. “There she is. The culminations of seven years of work. We were lucky Double Diamond could acquire the old abandoned army base from the war.”

Sunset Shimmer could see a few people walking here and there around the warehouse. One girl practiced spells in the corner while others watched. A couple of young men tossed a frisbee back and forth, guiding it to each other with both raw skill and a hint of magic when the wind took it. Celestia and Sombra crested a nearby hill, with naught but a few scattered helloes to delay their race.

Sunset turned to Starlight as they reached the warehouse. “Which war was that?”

The war. The Great War.” Starlight held the door open and allowed Sunset to enter. “The last one fought on Highborn soil. I believe both Sombra and Celestia were combatants. It’s how they met.”

Sunset muttered to herself. Try as she might, she still struggled with this world’s history. Events seemed to blur into indecipherable dates, even though their modern history only went back a couple hundred years. Yet Equestria’s thousand-plus year existence still came to mind as naturally as breathing.

The inside had been heavily modified from the one-room warehouse it had once been. The second floor did not encompass the full floor-plan, but acted as a sort of balcony. A series of rooms lined the upper and lower levels of the school, leaving the center open as a makeshift courtyard.

“Our bunks are in the rear. Ladies’ room on the right, mens’ on the left.” Starlight spun with her hands outstretched. “This is our central lecture hall. We’re still a work in progress, unfortunately, but we’ve made great strides!”

Metal stairs led to the second level, which was lined with a metallic, waist-high railing. Steel mesh made up the floor until it reached the rooms, where it became a more foot-friendly sort of surface Sunset couldn’t identify. She and Starlight headed for the back of the warehouse’s upper level, where a few closed doors awaited their arrival.

“It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the woman who taught me magic.” Starlight Glimmer rested her hand on a handle. She gave the door a knock and turned apologetic eyes on Sunset. “She’s a bit short with people. But she warms up quickly once you get to know her.”

Sunset gazed into a dark room as Starlight opened the door. Only the light from outside illuminated the place, and only for a few feet.

Starlight leaned on the door and slapped the hard surface. “Ha! She’s finally here! Didn’t I tell you she’d come?”

Two lights appeared in the back of the room. Like two cats’ eyes shining out of the gloom. A book closed as someone stood up from a chair. As the lights drew closer, Sunset could see that they were indeed eyes, but two that belonged to a human. They lit up from within, charged by a magic spell.

She was a slim figure of a woman, unsure in her strides. Cautious. The book she held was inches thick, and apparently handwritten. Her expression was as uneasy as her gait. That said, there was strength in evidence. Her eyes pierced straight into Sunset’s soul. Searching the deepest parts of herself. Prying into her darkest secrets. Begging to understand.

The face was all too familiar to Sunset Shimmer. She took a step back and nearly stumbled into Starlight. Her mouth went dry as she took in the sight, her mind unbelieving of what her eyes knew to be true.

The woman slid a finger through her bangs and brushed aside the pink stripe tracing its way through her lavender locks. A voice as near and dear to her as could possibly be issued forth from the stranger’s mouth. “Hello, Sunset Shimmer. I am Dr. Twilight Sparkle of Equestria. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!