• Published 31st Jul 2017
  • 3,775 Views, 390 Comments

How Not To Use Your Royal Prerogative - Amber Spark



After going to Coloratura's concert, Sunset gets both good news and bad news. Somepony stole her identity and is running around with her face. That's the good news.

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Introductions

The labyrinthian backstage hallways of Hoofbeats stretched out before them. The beats from the afterparty pounded through the walls and the floor. Minuette had started to do her little dance-walk thing again, completely unphazed by Moon Dancer’s barely contained chuckles.

Sunset walked beside Coco, still wondering why this mare had decided to not throw them to the Royal Guard. After all, Sunset Shimmer had been a master of guile and manipulation. She knew the signs of somepony playing a game when she saw them. Still, she didn’t get the feeling that Coco meant them any harm, though she couldn’t be sure.

That’s because you aren’t me anymore. I could tell you within seconds if this Pommel filly is lying, if you’d let me help you. Instead, you keep shutting me out.

I don’t need your kind of help! Sunset shot back to the voice in her head. I’m done with that kind of help!

You do need it, the little voice insisted. Unlike most ponies, you understand how this world works. What’s required to make it work. I’m the only part of you that’s willing to make the hard choices to make sure we succeed. Not just for today, but for life. I’m your drive, Sunset. You won’t get far without me. And you know we could get the answers we want in a heartbeat. You shouldn’t be skulking around backstage like a rat. You should be standing tall and proud, as others give you exactly what you deserve.

And what’s that? Sunset snarled mentally.

Everything.

Sunset didn’t respond. Instead, she forced herself out of her own head and back into the real world. The only way to get her angry little pony to shut up was to distract herself.

“Miss Pommel—”

“Please, Coco is fine,” the earth pony interrupted with a small smile. “Only Gateway calls me Miss Pommel. He used to be a detective.” She laughed a little. “He talks to everypony like that.”

Sunset blinked in surprise and wondered how—and why—Coloratura ended up with a former detective as a security chief. She filed away that little detail and returned Coco’s smile.

“Coco, then. I’m still not getting why you helped us.”

“I told you!” Coco smiled. “I think you might be able to help us figure out who our mystery guest was.” She winked. “Among other things.”

“The police or the—“ Sunset coughed nervously, “—Royal Guard could have done that. That’s kind of their job.”

Gateway, who kept a discreet distance behind them, muttered something Sunset couldn’t quite make out.

“Uh, Sunny, please don’t convince the nice pony to throw us to the cops,” Moon Dancer requested.

Coco giggled lightly. “Should I?”

“I’d vote no,” called Cheerilee from behind the two other unicorns.

“What she said,” Minuette chirped.

“I’d prefer you not,” Sunset replied with what she hoped was an easy grin. “Because ending up in jail is not how I thought tonight would end.”

“Funny,” Cheerilee stage-whispered to Minuette. “That’s exactly how I thought tonight would end.”

Minuette stuck out her tongue at her.

“So,” Coco began casually a few moments later. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you really the Sunset Shimmer?”

Sunset almost tripped over herself. "Uh, yeah? What in the hay does that even mean?"

“It’s not every day we get visits from royalty.” Coco paused and shrugged. “Well, royalty that actually matters, I mean. Nopony counts Blueblood.”

“I-I’m not royalty!” Sunset sputtered, slowing a little.

“She’s really not,” Moon Dancer added helpfully.

“I’m not so sure. I’ve heard some stories.” Coco wore a somewhat unsettling smile. They turned a corner and passed through a set of doors into a nicer section of the backstage area, with richly carpeted floors and walls festooned with concert posters going back thirty years.

Despite herself, Sunset had to ask. “What… what did you hear?”

Maybe she’s one of the smarter ones who understands how much influence you’ll have someday?

“Oh, all sorts of little rumors...” Coco said casually. “There’s the one about you being the most powerful unicorn since Starswirl the Bearded.”

Sunset paled, her heart hammering in her chest as she tried to control her breathing. “That’s… that’s… that’s not true.”

Don’t play games. Even without me you’re more powerful than any unicorn in Equestria. With me… well, we’ve already seen what someday you’ll become, haven’t we?

For a moment, her memory flashed back to that stupid mirror again.

“Sunny?” Moon Dancer sounded far away. “Are you okay?”

“There’s another floating around that you’re actually…” Coco glanced around before lowering her voice conspiratorially, “the secret daughter of Celestia herself!”

Blood pounded in Sunset’s ears. It was so loud she barely heard Minuette’s little whimper.

Don’t act so surprised. You are in all but name, Sunset. You saw the vision. You saw the crown upon your head. You saw the wings on your back. It’s going to happen.

“That’s why you’re the first unicorn in centuries to harness the power of the sun!” Coco continued, sounding more excited with every word. “I’ve heard ponies say that you raise the sun on weekends as practice!”

Cheerilee cleared her throat.

Hm. You know, that’s not a bad idea. After all, your special talent is drawing power from the sun. All you need to do is take it a step farther. Maybe even a step beyond that.

She froze in midstep as Coco continued onward. She saw herself standing on Celestia’s balcony, focusing on the sun, rising into the air as her horn glowed with Celestia’s golden magic.

A wave of dizziness sent her stumbling. Seconds later, the headache started slamming her brain. Coco’s words became dull and distant, punctuated by worried voices saying her name.

Coco stopped next to an unassuming door with a small sign on it that read ‘Do Not Disturb.’ She wore an impish grin as she turned and faced the rest of them.

“Oh, but I saved the best for last! Sunset Shimmer is going to be crowned Princess when—”

“Shut up!” Moon Dancer cried.

Moon Dancer could have been on the moon as Coco’s words blared through Sunset’s mind. Her heart stopped. Her brain stopped. Everything… just stopped.

She heard a voice coming from somewhere. “I see a pony who isn’t powerful enough. Somepony who could be great, powerful… Somepony that could rule Equestria.”

It was her own voice. Back from that day when…

Sunset blinked and ice filled her veins. Right before her stood the fire-eyed version of herself. A blazing crown, a hardened expression of smug superiority and wings of pure flame with nothing but black shadows for company. The pony who haunted her nightmares.

Celestia said it herself, the vision said in a voice as cruel as the inferno outside the window in that dream so long ago. The mirror shows potential. I’m your potential. I am all that you could be, Sunset! Stop fighting me and let me help you!

“No!” Sunset shrieked and stumbled backward, but with that, any control she had over her body vanished in an instant. A stumble transformed into a convulsion. Her breaths came in ragged gasps. Her heart threatened to explode out of her chest. Finally, she toppled backward like a cracked statue.

Familiar pinkish-gray magic saved her from slamming her head against the floor. Distantly, she heard Moon Dancer’s panicked shout as Cheerilee and Minuette rushed over. Sunset tried to force out something coherent, but nothing emerged from her muzzle other than a faint series of stuttering squeaks.

Though she could see Coco’s stricken expression of horror.

Moon Dancer roared like an enraged manticore. “What in Celestia’s name is wrong with you?”

Coco blinked in surprise, her mouth hanging open only to have Moon Dancer shove herself into the earth pony’s face.

Don’t ever joke about something like that around her!” Moon Dancer snarled. Coco backed against the door, her eyes wide, her ears plastered to her head. “You don’t have the slightest clue what you’re talking about. If you did, you would never say something like that to Sunset!”

“Back away from her, Miss Dancer,” growled a familiar voice from somewhere behind Sunset. “Do it now.”

“I-I-I never meant…” Coco stammered.

“She is nothing like that!” Moon Dancer’s face twisted in fury. “She’s spent years fighting to not be that!”

But all of that happened somewhere else. The commotion in the hallway faded away again and echoed in her own voice ripped across her mind like the lashes from a whip.

“Because I can. Because I have a destiny, and you were underhoof. That’s all.”

“What are you studying for? Nothing, that’s what.”

“Who needs anypony? The most important thing in life is to be the best.”

“Perfection doesn’t change, Moon Dancer. It just is.”

“—Even if you somehow gained enough arcane knowledge to rival Celestia herself, you’d still be the monster under these foals’ bed. It’s your nature.”

“…somepony that could rule Equestria.”

A surge of panicked magic erupted from Sunset’s horn, imploding Moon Dancer’s levitation field. She buried her head in her hooves and tried to fight back the tears.

You could have already proven yourself worthy of being Celestia’s daughter, you know. You still could. All you need to do is let me help you. Show everypony the sheer power you can command. You’ve seen it, Sunset. You’ve seen the truth. You simply need to accept it.

Leave me alone, Sunset cried to the evil little voice. Please, just leave me alone. I don’t want that life anymore. I’ve changed.

You are what you are. Why can’t you accept there’s no shame in it? It’s almost sad. The voice filled with pity. It almost sounded motherly. One day, you’re going to accept that I am what you are meant to be. Until then, I’ll be here. Watching… and waiting.

“Sunny?”

Cheerilee wrapped her hooves around her. Minuette and Moon Dancer were there too, just being there, being close, reminding her that she wasn’t alone with that horrible, horrible thing that lived inside her mind.

My friends.

“You’re okay, Sunny,” Cheerilee whispered. “We’re here. You’re okay.”

Her voice was like Celestia's, singing an old lullaby, like the ones she used to sing for Sunset when she’d been small. Cheerilee’s voice carried the same comfort and warmth. It was a quiet and gentle thing. Slowly, her friend’s low murmurs washed away the panic in a wave of warmth. Sunset’s breathing started to slow.

Moon Dancer looked up in the direction of Coco and let out an audible growl. She seemed completely oblivious to the fact that Gateway now stood between the two of them, his face hard and his muzzle locked into an expression of stoic fury.

“Maybe this was a bad idea,” Moon Dancer hissed through clenched teeth. “We should just go.”

“I think that might be for the best,” Cheerilee agreed.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Gateway growled, his voice the sound of an oncoming avalanche. “Do it quickly, before I decide to call—”

“No! Wait!”

Coco was on her knees in front of Sunset in an instant. Tears spilled from her eyes and trickled down her cheeks, making little damp spots on her cravat. Her chest heaved as if she had just sprinted five miles.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so, so, so very sorry. I meant it as a-a… I don’t know! I was going to make a point about it about… h-how I know you’re not… y-you’re not like that! It’s stupid now. I didn’t know it would upset you. If I had known… I swear I didn’t meant to bring up… whatever… um… this was…”

The sight of the young mare in tears finally snapped Sunset free from her paralysis with a gasp and a shudder. Without her saying a word, all of her friends backed off a little, giving her room to breathe. Slowly, Sunset felt her body relax, though her heart still ached and she could still hear the echoes of those hateful, horrible words.

Her words.

Sunset glanced at her friends. Moon Dancer still looked furious. Minuette chewed her lower lip. Cheerilee looked as if she were restraining herself from grabbing Sunset in another hug. Sunset gave each an awkward little smile and then looked back to Coco.

She didn’t mean it like that. She’s teasing. She just… didn’t know.

“Let’s… just…” Sunset’s voice was raw as she choked back the enormous knot in her throat. “Apology accepted.”

“Sunny, we should go back to the hotel,” Cheerilee insisted. “You’ve had a long day. You should—“

“No,” Sunset mumbled as she slowly wiped away a few stray tears. “No, I promised I would get you in to see Coloratura, and I meant it.”

Coco quickly scrambled to her hooves. “Please again, let me—”

The door behind Coco opened and a bleary-eyed light green-gray earth pony stepped out. Her indigo blue hair was a complete mess, almost hiding a few bright teal streaks. Her eyes were bloodshot as she stood blinking in the stark lighting of the hallway. The earth pony took in the scene in front of her before she focused on Coco and Sunset. When she looked at Sunset, a spark of recognition ignited behind her eyes. Sunset knew she looked like a wreck with lines of tears still trickling down her face, but at the moment, she was too tired to care.

A tiny part of Sunset squeed like mad at the sight of Coloratura herself. Most of her was still trying to banish the thoughts Coco’s careless comments had dredged up.

Even the other girls’s reactions were muted. Minuette hopped up and down a couple times, but Moon Dancer and Cheerilee barely seemed to react to the singer’s presence. They were both still focused on Sunset.

“Coco?” Coloratura asked as she rubbed her eyes. “What’s going on? I heard shouts.”

Coco blushed. “Oh, just… making a foal out of myself.”

“What would make you say that?” The pop star blinked a few times. “Are you okay?”

“No,” the young mare replied, not meeting Coloratura’s gaze. “No, I’m not. Look, Rara, these ponies sort of... snuck in to see you. Gateway caught them. After the most recent fiasco, I thought they could help.”

Gateway grumbled something indecipherable.

“Then… what happened?” Coloratura took a deep breath and blinked a few more times, fighting back a yawn. “It sounded… almost like somepony was getting attacked.”

Coco opened her mouth to speak, but Sunset cut her off.

“I… I’m sorry, Miss Coloratura,” Sunset confessed. “That was my fault. I just got startled by something. It really doesn’t matter.”

To Sunset’s surprise, Coloratura’s eyes bored into hers with a sudden intensity. After a few seconds, something glinted behind the singer’s eyes. With that, Sunset knew without a doubt Coloratura knew she was lying. She didn’t know how or why, but she knew.

Before Sunset could react, the singer’s gaze slid to Gateway. Even though Sunset could have sworn Gateway’s expression hadn’t changed at all, Coloratura seemed to get something from him. She nodded at the security chief and shifted her attention to Coco, who still wouldn’t meet her eyes. After a few awkward moments, Coloratura finally nodded.

“Okay. Why don’t you all come in? I’ll get some tea going.”

With that, the singer stepped back into her room and left the door open. Sunset tried to gather her wits and get her brain back up to speed. Then, Coco held out a hoof to her. Sunset stared at it for a long second before taking it. Cheerilee backed away, allowing Coco to pull Sunset to her hooves.

“Well, are you coming?” Coloratura’s voice came from inside the room.

“I’m sorry,” Coco whispered.

“I know.” Sunset even managed a smile at the young mare. “It’ll be okay. You didn’t know. Anyway, you didn’t let Gateway kick us out… so let’s call it even, okay?”

Coco returned Sunset’s small smile and nodded.

The young mare led the way into the large room, which appeared to be some sort of lounge. Sunset didn’t get a chance to look around. Instead, she finally realized that she stood in the very same room as Coloratura. And Coloratura had just finished putting a kettle on to boil for them.

The pop star trotted up to them with a slightly sleepy smile.

“Sunset Shimmer,” Coco said formally. “I’d like you to meet Coloratura…”

Sunset couldn’t help but laugh a little as Coloratura walked up to shake her hoof. Despite how tired the singer looked, it was a surprisingly passionate gesture. Her hoof vibrated for quite a while after the musician let go.

“For the record, Miss Coloratura,” Sunset said with a smile and a faint hint of a squee in her voice. “This is all my fault.”

Coloratura broke into a grin. “Well, she’s honest at least. I’ll give her that.”

“Occasionally,” Moon Dancer whisper-coughed.

“Well, while I finish with the tea, why don’t you make yourselves comfortable? Then maybe Coco here will tell me all about why I have Sunset Shimmer—the real one, I assume—at my door?”

Sunset rubbed the back of her neck and tried not to blush.

Okay, maybe Cheerilee was right. It’s possible this wasn’t my brightest idea. What with the whole getting caught, imposter thing and panic attack...

As Coloratura busied herself in the kitchenette, Gateway closed the door from the outside with a final piercing glare aimed at both Sunset and Moon Dancer. Sunset turned and took a breath to try and steady her nerves. The lounge wasn’t nearly as impressive as Sunset had expected. There were a few couches in a semi-circle with cushions scattered about, a small bar and a couple of beds against the far wall, next to another door. Though surprisingly spartan, the room was decorated in a style that was warm, relaxing and inviting. All around the walls were framed portraits of headlining performers going back fifty years. Sunset’s own quarters in the Castle—for when she’d stayed too late to make it back to her apartment—were far bigger than this tiny little place.

Somepony of Coloratura’s status should have been able to command an entire suite at some swanky hotel, but from the overnight bag in the corner, it looked like Coloratura was spending most of her time here for the duration of her performance.

Why would she be staying in the green room? Assuming that’s what this is.

Coloratura must have noticed the expression on Sunset’s face. As she stepped over with a tea trolley, she smiled. The singer motioned for Sunset and her friends to take a seat as she put out teacups in front of each of them. Sunset sat on a sofa, flanked by Moon Dancer and Cheerilee, both of whom were still giving Coco the occasional dark look. Minuette peered at the pictures on the wall with various notes of awe and admiration.

Coco sat alone on a small cushion on the opposite side of the coffee table from Sunset, not meeting her eyes. Once Coloratura was done serving the tea, she sat down beside Coco with a faint frown. However, she redirected her attention at Sunset again and smiled.

“You don’t think much of my little home-away-from-home, do you?” Coloratura noted, her bright blue eyes sparkling.

Sunset winced. “Sorry, Miss Coloratura, I didn’t mean to presume anything. It’s just… not what I expected.”

“You sound like a theater manager,” Coco said with a reserved laugh.

“Tabloids like to paint me as somepony who demands the best.” Coloratura blew a bit of steam from her tea. “I’ve been called a diva, a prima donna and a lot worse.” She smiled distantly. “All of it is just rumors and gossip. When I’m not backstage resting, I’m out there with my fans. It’s where I belong. Believe it or not… they help keep my hooves on the ground. Always.”

Coco coughed.

“Okay, fine.” Coloratura rolled her eyes. “Maybe not always.”

“Better.” Coco smiled.

“I do try,” the singer said with a very faint pout.

“You have gotten better.” Coco laughed.

“I don’t get it. Why?” Minuette said, standing in front of a picture of Coloratura at a charity concert a few years ago. “Somepony like you could get… an entire floor at the Ritz Colton with just a wave of your hoof!”

“Minuette!” Cheerilee admonished.

“No, no! That’s fair!” Coloratura laughed again. “When I first started out, Spotlight—my manager—did book us entire suites of rooms. Somepony in upper management even tried to set me up with a fancy title. I think it was… Queen? No. Lady? No. Hm. What was it, again, Coco? I can’t remember.”

Coco’s laugh descended into a short series of snorts. She shook so badly she had to put down her teacup. Finally, she managed to speak as Coloratura smiled at her.

“Countess. They wanted to call you Countess Coloratura.”

Coloratura rolled her eyes and facehoofed. “I can’t believe I almost let the agency talk me into that. Ugh.”

“What stopped you?” Minuette asked.

Sunset smiled at her blue friend and shook her head.

How long have we been here? Five minutes? And Minuette is already making friends with one of the three top performers in all of Equestria.

Sunset rolled her eyes. Only Minuette...

“A long time ago, a filly I once knew warned me about all the glitz and glamor that can come with this life. If you start to let the spectacle get bigger than you are… you get lost. Celestia, I started to think even Spotlight wanted that for me. Turned out, she was just getting pressure from upper management.” She shook her head.

“I still owe her for getting you to see reason,” Coco commented. “If you hadn’t… you would never have hired me.”

Coloratura frowned and scratched at her mess of a mane. “Can… can we not talk about that?”

“Rara, it’s okay. That’s behind you now.” Coco elbowed her in the ribs. “Now you’re the very model of the modern pop star. Good, honest and humble.”

Coloratura snorted. “It’s hard to be humble with friends like you.”

Coco blushed a little at that.

Minuette laughed before downing half of her tea in one long drink. Cheerilee raised an eyebrow at her, but only shook her head and sipped from her cup.

“I’m sorry, Miss Coloratura.” Sunset blinked a few times. “You just met us. Why are you telling us all this?”

“I may have just met you in person, Sunset Shimmer,” Coloratura replied, leaning forward. “But when you’ve performed in Canterlot as many times as I have, you can’t help but hear about Princess Celestia’s prized student.”

Sunset wilted, from ears to tail.

This is the last thing I need right now. Especially after that last attack.

Cheerilee scooted a bit closer to Sunset. On her other side, Moon Dancer put a hoof on her shoulder and ground her teeth a little.

“I’ve also heard about a new Sunset Shimmer.”

“I’m sorry… again,” Coco interjected, putting her hooves up. “Look, what I had been trying to say before? All the rumors of you being the Princess’s successor? Well, Rara and I, we do a lot of charity work.”

“It’s mostly you.” Coloratura beamed at Coco.

Coco blushed, but pushed on. “We met a lot of ponies from the ‘upper class.’ A lot of high-society types.”

“Bunch of stuffy, useless twits,” Coloratura snorted. For a moment, her voice almost became a growl. “I don’t know why the Princess keeps them around.”

Sunset gaped and stared at the singer. A round of collective gasps echoed around her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw all of her friends staring at Coloratura with the same shocked expression Sunset probably wore.

Both Coco and Coloratura laughed this time.

“What?” Coloratura grinned at all of them. “You all live in Canterlot, I assume?”

Cheerilee raised a hoof. “I’m from Ponyville, actually.”

“Oh, so you probably understand this better than anypony… except maybe Miss Shimmer here.” Coco clapped her hooves together. “Perfect!”

“Here’s the thing.” the singer continued. She finished off her tea and slid it to the side so she could stare right at Sunset. “I know about the kind of family you’re from—”

Moon Dancer let out a low growl that silenced Coloratura.

“Moon Dancer…” Sunset sighed.

Coloratura raised her hoof in surrender. “Not trying to push here, but it’s part of the reason.”

Moon Dancer slid a little closer to Sunset, glowering at both Coco and Coloratura in equal measure. Sunset couldn’t help but smile at her overprotective friend.

“As I was saying,” Coloratura continued as if nothing had happened, “it’s hard not to hear gossip about the personal protégée of the Princess of the Sun in these circles. Somepony’s always trying to get in with Spotlight, Coco or myself by offering up dirt on anypony they can. And in the last few years, you’ve become a very popular topic.”

Sunset’s ears flattened and she felt her cheeks burn. Coloratura apparently noticed and had the grace to look a little embarrassed for her. Coco did everything but look at Sunset or her friends.

“And what…” Sunset forced herself to ask. “Do they have to say about me?”

“You stopped playing the game.”

Sunset blinked and ignored the angry little voice in the back of her head. “Sorry, you’ve lost me.”

“They’re saying that you’ve gone soft.”

Sunset blinked again. “Wha—?”

“Maybe we’re reading a bit too much into this…” Coloratura smiled, her eyes sparkling. “But Coco, Spotlight and I have come to the conclusion whenever anypony in ‘high-society’ says something bad about another pony, especially something like ‘going soft,’ that means they’ve changed for the better.”

“That’s the whole point!” Coco cried, finally looking up again at Sunset. “Please, Miss Shimmer, we’ve heard about what you used to be. Even as a filly, you had the Canterlot elite eating out of your hoof. Ponies five times your age were both terrified and in awe of you!”

Sunset winced and felt a little sick to her stomach.

“According to the rumor mill,” Coloratura continued. “You played the game better than Blueblood himself.”

Sunset let out a growl before she could stop herself. Minuette giggled and both the singer and Coco joined in.

“I’d recommend against comparing her with Blueblood,” Moon Dancer suggested. “Just a little safety tip.”

Coloratura’s grin was enormous.

“Now, I don’t pretend either of us know the whole story,” Coloratura said. Coco nodded emphatically. “But something changed in you a few years ago. To us, that’s practically a letter of recommendation from Princess Celestia herself. It means we’re a lot alike.”

Sunset nearly dropped her tea. She blinked and blinked again. Her mouth opened, but nothing came out.

“In fact,” Coco said with a sigh, “the rumors are that you’ve gone to actually caring about what other ponies think. I don’t need to tell you what most of high society thinks of that. But despite a rocky start, Rara here is just like you! That’s… that’s what I had tried to tell you, but it came out all wrong. I wanted to tell you that she’s just a normal pony.”

“If anypony says differently, I have some words for them.” Coloratura expression changed into something almost angry. Fire flashed in her eyes as she ground her teeth. “I know who I am. And I refuse to let this industry change me. I’ll be honest… there are plenty of days when that’s hard to do. But thankfully, I have some pretty good friends to help me keep my hooves on the ground.”

Coloratura winked at Coco, who blushed profusely. Finally, the musician took a deep breath.

“In all honesty, Miss Shimmer,” Coloratura said, looking a little hesitant for the first time. “I’ve… always wanted to meet you. To ask you what happened. How you did it. And why you did it.”

“That’s not what Coco said,” Moon Dancer pointed out.

“I didn’t want to embarrass her,” Coco muttered, staring at her hooves yet again.

“Is that the reason for all the guards?” Minuette asked. “Your security chief seems to be taking his job extra-seriously tonight. And if you really want to be that accessible…”

Minuette trailed off when she saw the pained expression on Coloratura’s face.

“There’s a reason for that,” Coco said. Her ears were flat against her head. “Were you by chance sneaking about backstage maybe… thirty minutes ago?”

Sunset nodded. “Sounds about right.”

“Then you don’t know,” Coloratura rubbed her face with her hooves. “Poor Spotlight got nearly scared out of her wits when some of the overhead lighting above us exploded.”

Cheerilee was the first to recover. “Is she okay? She looked fine to me!”

“Spotlight’s tougher than she looks,” Coloratura assured them. “She’s been working Bridleway for years. She’ll be fine. But it’s only the latest in a long line of things going wrong on this tour.”

Moon Dancer frowned. “I read something about you having effects issues in Fillydelphia?”

Coloratura let out an explosive sigh. “That was such a mess.”

“Somepony killed the lights on the entire stage in Hoofington,” Coco groaned. “And there was the incident with that… fan disguised as part of the backstage staff.”

“Effect failures. Missing instruments. Issues with booking the nightclubs. Damaged sound equipment. Security breaches. Even crazy fans trying to rush the stage!” Coloratura buried her face in her hooves. “Poor Spotlight’s been pulling her mane out trying to keep it all from going completely pear-shaped.”

“I’m worried about her,” Coco said, though it sounded like it was more to herself than anypony else.

“Me too,” Coloratura patted her on the shoulder.

“Okay, that’s a pretty good reason for extra security,” Moon Dancer admitted. “It sounds like somepony’s trying to ruin your shows.”

“I know, and I hate it!” Coloratura growled. She slammed a hoof onto the coffee table. The teacups jumped. Right then, Sunset understood the real source of the singer’s exhaustion. “I hate this whole thing! I should be enjoying the after party with my fans! Not hiding in the green room, exhausted out of my mind, trying to get some sleep because somepony double-booked the hotel… and a new construction project started across the street from it.”

“That’s not the worst of it.” Coco frowned. “Our show is starting to get a reputation for damaging clubs. Ponies think we’re running things dangerously behind the scenes. And that’s beginning to affect our charity work. If we have even one more accident in full view of the public… it could cause some serious damage! We’re afraid that some sponsors might pull out entirely!”

“So, that’s why you wanted to see us?” Minuette asked, hopping over a couch to land directly beside Moon Dancer. “You think we can help?”

“I’m a bit curious myself,” Coloratura admitted. “Where are you going with this, Coco?”

“It was just a passing thought.” Coco blushed yet again. She played with her cravat before continuing, “I just thought you might have some suggestions. You are the personal student of Princess Celestia. And while I’m still not totally convinced the imposter a few nights ago had something to do with this, when the real you arrived… it got me thinking.”

“I still don’t know why anypony would impersonate me,” Sunset muttered.

That’s not true and you know it. Other ponies recognize what sort of power you have, even if you refuse to use it.

“I can think of a few,” Moon Dancer mused. “Especially considering everything they’ve just said. But why haven’t you involved the police?”

“We have,” Coloratura sighed. “They’ve never found anything conclusive. Assuming there actually is anypony behind this and I’m not just being paranoid. No matter how much we tighten security, this sort of thing keeps happening. It’s only a matter of time before somepony gets hurt.”

“Well, Miss Coloratura,” Sunset replied. “I’m not sure what we can really do to help—”

Coloratura waved a hoof. “After listening to us go on like this, the least you all can do is call me Rara.”

“…Rara?” Minuette squeaked. “Are… are you sure?”

“Did you not hear anything I said?” Coloratura huffed, but there was a twinkle in her eyes. “Look, I’m just a pony. Just like the rest of you.”

“Who happens to be one of the greatest—if not the—greatest pop stars around!” Minuette pointed out.

It was Coloratura’s turn to blush. “Well… I don’t know if I’d go that far. But do we really want to go around pointing out everypony’s special talents?”

“No,” Sunset interjected quickly. “No, we don’t.”

“Good!” Coloratura said. “Then call me Rara.”

“If you insist… Rara.” Despite her annoyance, Moon Dancer’s voice squeaked a bit when she said the pop star’s name. “Sunny’s got connections. Now, while she didn’t want to play the whole ‘Student of the Princess’ thing—”

“Please… I need to ask one thing first.” Coco interrupted. “I’m sorry, but I’ve been dying to know. What did you intend to do after you got in here? You can’t have expected just to wander around.”

“Yeah… maybe this wasn’t one of my best thought out plans…” Sunset blushed, suddenly missing the bubbling laughter she’d left behind after getting caught. “I wanted to find some backstage passes once we were inside.”

Coco covered her muzzle as she tried to hold back a laugh.

“Um…” Coloratura said with a very similar expression. “We don’t have any of those back here. Why would we? All the staffers have their own badges. Anyway, we haven’t done backstage passes since Hoofington.”

“Fillydelphia,” Coco corrected absently.

“That long? Ugh. Sorry, Fillydelphia,” Rara continued. “So… did you have a Plan B?”

Everypony stared at Sunset, who shrank under their gazes.

“No,” she muttered. “Okay, fine. Maybe I had a bit too much apple cider, okay?”

“Worst. Plan. Ever,” Cheerilee moaned. “Seriously, Sunny, how do I let you talk me into these things?”

“Because it was fun,” Minuette suggested.

Cheerilee sighed again.

Coco and Rara were both grinning like lunatics.

“Well,” Rara admitted, “This isn’t the first time we’ve caught somepony trying to sneak in after having a few too many. But this is the first time a member of the Canterlot elit—”

Rara stopped when Sunset winced.

“Sorry,” the singer said. “I forgot.”

“It’s… it’s fine.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” Rara said, her eyes twinkling. “You help us figure out what’s going on around here and I’ll give you all backstages for life.”

Minuette’s head popped up. “Really?”

Coco smiled at Rara and gave her a rather exaggerated wink. “I think that sounds fair.”

“Didn’t you just say you didn’t do backstage passes?” Moon Dancer asked.

“Don’t ruin this, Moony!” Minuette shot her an annoyed glare, which was rare enough on it’s own to make the other unicorn stare at her friend open-mouthed.

“And if we can’t figure it out?” Cheerilee asked, her voice wavering.

Rara shrugged. “Then we’ll throw you to the Royal Guards and file restraining orders against all of you.

Sunset and her friends stared at the two earth ponies. Despite herself, Sunset’s heart started to hammer in her chest, right up until Rara broke up laughing, nearly falling onto the floor.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” she said between gales of laughter. “I couldn’t resist.”

The rest of them broke into real laughs, Minuette the loudest of all. She actually did fall out of her chair.

“No,” Rara said with a wave of a hoof. “No, there’s no price tag. We’re happy to spend a bit of time with you. And if you don’t feel like helping, that’s okay. We’ll just bring in the police again and hope they find something new.”

Coco grimaced, her amusement fading in seconds.

“And you don’t want to do that,” Moon Dancer guessed.

“If the police becomes involved, it’ll become an even bigger PR disaster!” Coco said with a sigh. “And those ponies I mentioned? They’ll pull their funding for our charity work. Somepony’s out there trying to ruin us and it’s working. Gateway can only do so much! But if we need to bring in the police again… we can probably weather the storm.”

Coco’s face betrayed her. And her ears. And her entire body.

She doesn’t think they can. I’d only heard rumors, but this sounds serious. They’re desperate.

Sunset glanced at the other girls. She already knew Minuette’s answer. Moon Dancer had her trademark cocky grin on—the one she had outright stolen from Sunset herself—and even Cheerilee looked interested.

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” Sunset said with a smile. “You’ve got yourselves a—”

A resounding crash interrupted Sunset, followed shortly by a chorus of panicked screams. Coco and Rara’s eyes widened in shock and they both darted for the door. Sunset didn’t bother. She focused on the location of the crash with a quick seeker spell and found it in a manner of seconds. With a sharp pop of magic, she teleported, trusting her friends to join her soon enough.

The flash of the teleport faded… and Sunset froze.

She had appeared behind the curtain separating the main stage from the backstage area. Sunset could see the silhouette of the DJ on the main stage through the thick fabric. The music had stopped dead. Just like Sunset’s heart.

In the center of the stage, Rara’s manager, Spotlight, lay unmoving beneath a fallen truss.

Author's Note:

:pinkiegasp: What a twist!


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