• Published 21st Oct 2017
  • 4,879 Views, 337 Comments

Sparks Catch - Tale Swapper

Sunset Shimmer has emerged from the events of Anon-A-Miss with deeper bonds with her friends- and a proper home for the first time in a decade. The fires of friendship burn brightly within her. But Friendship is magic, and fire tends to catch...

  • ...

Banked Coals

As the sun rose over Sweet Apple Acres, a compact car rolled between the hills. With a quiet hum, the responsible hybrid car rolled into an empty parking space between Big Mac's truck and Shining Armor's sedan, sliding smoothly into place, almost as if to not disturb the silence surrounding the house.

A few seconds later, the doors opened, and raucous laughter filled the air. Discord flipped out of the car, coming to a three-point landing, barely evading Luna's grabbing fingers. From within the vehicle, a stream of curses and threats echoed from the nearly-incoherent, underecaffeinated vice-principal. With a snarl, Luna pulled herself out of her car, and stalked around to glare at the laughing janitor.

"Discord, we could have crashed because of you," she hissed. "It may seem amusing but-"

"Oh come now, Luna. I did you a favor. One day of drinking decaf isn't going to kill you-"

"Discord I swear-"

Their argument was interrupted by the rumble of an approaching vehicle. Turning, Discord's jaw dropped as Luna rolled her eyes.

A customized chopper leapt up the drive, softly skidding to a halt not five yards from the two CHS staff with a roar from the engine and a squeal of tires. The tall figure which dismounted the bike smacked the kickstand into place with one leather boot, and strode past them both, reaching up to pull off her helmet.

With a silent whisper, Celestia's long rainbow locks cascaded out of her helmet, obscuring the script on the back of her jacket. Combing a hand through her hair, she spun to face Luna, her wide grin failing to fall at the sight of Luna's exasperated face. "How was the ride, Luna?"

Switching her disapproving visage to Discord, Luna growled. "It would have been far better if you'd helped me corral this miscreant- or hadn't forgotten to make coffee this morning." Looking back at Celestia's unabashed smile, she continued. "One of these days, you'll have to give up that deathtrap, you know. You can barely use it anyway, considering your desire to remain professional."

"You're right that I barely get to use her. It's been far too long since I go the chance to ride Philomena, and I wasn't going to pass it up to ride with the two of you." Looking back at Discord, she frowned, and brought her hand up to close his mouth.

Behind her, she heard a startled gasp. Celestia took one step to the side as a red-and-gold blur sped past, slush and gravel kicked up as Sunset skidded to a halt besides the cooling motorcycle. "Is that an Indian Chief?"

Celestia's grin widened. "It is. She's an old friend of mine, and we've had some stories together." Coming to stand beside her student, she rested a hand on the bike. "I bought her half-scrapped when I was nineteen, and worked with some friends of mine to get her into shape. It took a lot of elbow grease and two years, but I've kept up with her ever since."

"...wow." Sunset shook her head. "I can't see you as a biker, Principal Celestia." Her principal looked at her with a reproachful grin.

"First, we're out of school right now, Sunset. You can call me Celestia. Second, I think you of all people should know that we often have pasts which are far different than our present circumstances." She allowed a few puzzled lines to cross her face as she continued. "Third, I'm a little surprised you're awake at eight o'clock on a Saturday. I'd have expected you to sleep until noon after yesterday."

Sunset scowled. "I- well it's complicated." She rubbed the back of her neck. "I thought that having my old magic- my equestrian magic- meant I wouldn't get one of the powers like my friends got. But I was wrong." She took in a deep breath. "I got... something. It's complicated, and it tired me out. I didn't last much later than ten o'clock last night, even with Twi to talk to. We figured out a lot, talking together, and interviewing Scootaloo, but I wasn't able to stay up with the rest of the gang."

Discord finally spoke. "While I'm happy you all figured some things out, I would appreciate talking about it inside." He pulled on the collar of his tattered brown jacket, multiple patches scattered along its back. "I was not expecting to stay so long out in the cold."

Luna nodded. "And they might have coffee inside. REAL coffee." She turned and ascended the steps to the front porch, stopping only long enough to glance back at the two leather-clad figures still standing beside the bike. "Well? What are you waiting for?"

Sunset slurped on her own coffee mug as she watched Luna. The vice-principal's caffeine consumption was legendary, and Sunset had expected Luna to grab a mug as soon as she'd come in.

She hadn't expected the woman to pour the entire pot into a mixing bowl, add cocoa and sugar, then brew a fresh pot while slurping down the first. As she watched, Luna finished her bowl, then glanced up at Sunset. "What?"

"...how do you not vibrate like Pinkie Pie?"

"Tolerance. Besides, that's not really how caffeine works."

Granny Smith looked up from the stove. "Girl, that much black gunk is gonna rot your insides." She snorted. "And considerin' what you drink elsewhere, Ah know you've already killed your poor taste buds."

Luna scowled. "And you haven't? I tried your "Grade A Apple Shine" once, Miss Smith. That stuff strips paint."

"A little shine reinforces the backbone and strengthens tha' heart. As long as yah don't drink too much, it's medicinal." Granny snorted. "You drink your poison by the gallon, and follow up with energy shots made in a lab."

As the two women began to argue over the damage inflicted by caffeine versus alcohol, a low groan sounded from the door. Applejack shuffled in from outside, rubbing a bruise spreading across her face. "Aria, Ah think we got different ideas about "reasonable sparrin'". It's way too early for this."

The ex-siren walked in behind her, rolling her neck. "I thought you all kept farmer's hours?" She sat down at the table, reaching for the ever-present cider pitcher. Pouring herself a mug, she continued. "And when you're groggy is a perfectly valid time to spar. Your enemies aren't going to only attack you when you're fresh, and neither will I."

Sunset watched the two bicker, allowing a small smile to cross her lips. Last evening, she'd heard Applejack let the family know about the new sparring partner, and Apple Bloom had been willing to back up her big sister. Looks like that gamble paid off, at least...

As the morning wore on, more people trickled in from the various rooms throughout the house. Finally, as ten o'clock approached, Sunset heard the last sets of footsteps thump down the hallway. Rainbow Dash and Flash staggered in through the doors, the first barely conscious and the second helping support his friend, while Scootaloo watched anxiously.

Once everyone had gathered in the kitchen (and Rainbow had acquired the last of Granny's pancakes for her breakfast), Sunset spoke up. "Alright. A bit of research last night confirmed a few facts. First, Twi and myself have finally nailed down what happened to Scootaloo."

Sunset pulled in a breath. "Magic has always adapted to the lands where it settles. In Equestria, and the rest of Equus, that means a pervasive magical field which incorporates all physical objects; here, it appears to have settled in the minds of its users instead. From what I can tell, the magic of this world has already developed a rudimentary consciousness from that interaction; when someone accesses magic for the first time, their innate talents and predilections alter what powers they receive, filtered through the "lens" of the raw magical consciousness. For an instant, magic's mind melds with the mind of the user, and that in turn shapes what forms the person's magic can take."

Twi nodded. "I talked to Scootaloo last night. She told me that she wanted to stop the pain- protect herself. As far as I can tell, the magic's desire was to protect itself, and it was driving Scootaloo to act as a channel. The similarities of their desires created a gestalt consciousness which overpowered Scootaloo's own." She let out a sigh. "Scootaloo told me that she... offered herself to magic when she went to the band room. Magic took that as an opportunity to imprint on Scootaloo's psyche. When it needed to stabilize the connection between Equestria and Earth, Scootaloo was the easiest tool."

"Wait." Flash spoke. "If that mind took over Scootaloo once, could it do it again?"

"No, since that mind no longer exists. Magic created a mind that was based off Scootaloo's own, but with an overarching purpose; namely to keep her safe." Sunset summarized. "I guess you could say that the reason it lashed out at Twilight and the rest of us is because they saw us as threats. Think of the magic-made mind as a program, of sorts. It doesn't have morality, or reason- just a task and a set of ways to deal with impediments. Once its task was fulfilled, it was unmade, and Scootaloo regained control."

Scootaloo whimpered under her breath. It might not come back... but there's still a chance. If it happens again...

Oblivious to his younger sister's fears, Flash pressed on. "So, magic's fixed, right? So there's no reason for magic to want another host. Does that mean no one else can get magic?"

"No." Everyone turned, brows raising, to look at Sweetie Belle. She continued, only quailing slightly at the gazes turned to her. "Sunset said that magic wants to be used, right? Well, when I was... possessed, I guess, I got some flashes about what it wants. It's going to seek out new people to use magic- probably nearest to the source."

Twilight spoke up, her voice quiet. "From what you've told me, the other world, where Sunset and the other me come from, is saturated with magic. The portal is going to leak more through, so Canterlot High is most likely to be the first place the get higher magic levels."

"Which means more of out students are going to get their hands on disruptive magical powers." Luna took another slug of coffee. "Sunset- have put any thought into my request?"

Ignoring the confused looks from nearby, Sunset nodded. "Yeah, and reached out to a couple of people who can help you."

"Good." Celestia sipped her tea. "Beyond that, we need to make a decision, about how to progress from here. Do we let the whole school know on Monday about the events of yesterday? We cannot keep this quiet for long, and the resources I levied to keep things under wraps until now will not be able to handle dozens of students."

"Wait-" Shining Armor interjected. "You're why I hadn't heard about any of this? From what I understand, she-" He pointed at Sunset. "committed theft, attempted murder, and major property damage." Looking at Sunset's guilty face and the glares directed at him by by the Rainbooms, he didn't hesitate to continue. "I know there were extenuating circumstances, but that sort of stuff requires a police report. The worst I saw in the incident report was that one of her experiments got loose to cause a gas main break."

Celestia frowned. "Lieutenant, I did make a full report. It is, however, covered under act R-134-"

"The Department of Reform." Shining said softly. "Yeah, that would make sense. Unknown phenomenon would fall under their purview, wouldn't it?" He shot up, eyes wide. "Wait, does that mean Bl-"

"Yes, your girlfriend's brother handled the case." Luna said. "If you want the uncensored report, you could talk to him."

"Yeah, but talking to an ex is all sort of awkward." he groaned. He then tensed as every eye in the room turned to him. "Did I say that out loud?"

"Yeah." Everyone looked over at Big Mac, who was watching him calmly. "Ah didn't know you dated Cady's brother once."

"It was before he came out-" Shining began, before he was cut off by his little sister.

Twilight came to her feet. "Stop!" Spinning to her brother, she glared at him. "You refused to give me a straight answer yesterday. But I think you need to come clean. Are. You Dating. My. Dean?"

Shining gulped as he stared into his sister's gaze. "Yes."

Twilight's mouth became a thin line for a few moments. "Okay. Moving on-" she turned to Big Mac. "And how do you know my Dean?"

Big Mac looked nonchalant across the room, every eye upon him. He shrugged. "Ah'm datin' them both." He took another sip of his coffee.

The room was silent for a moment. Then everyone heard a quiet thump, as Fluttershy fell off her chair. Rainbow, eyes wide, wordlessly reached over and hauled the fainting girl to her feet, quickly removing a tissue from a box behind her to staunch the shy girl's nosebleed.

Rainbow's actions seemed to shatter the frozen moment. As the room broke out in questions aimed at the red-faced Shining Armor (desperately trying to hide behind his hands), laughter from Discord and Pinkie, and wolf whistles from Aria, Sunset reached over to grab Rarity and Sweetie Belle. Glaring at them both, she said softly. "I want your phones. Now."

"Sunset, I'd never share-" Blinking, Rarity glanced down at her hands, which were already clutching her smartphone. "Oh. Perhaps that would be for the best." She handed over her phone, an apologetic look on her face. Sunset glanced down to find several searches for "Crystal Prep Dean Dating" scrawled into the search bar, and immediately locked the device.

Sweetie huffed as Sunset turned her gaze. "I still haven't gotten mine back after Anon-A-Miss. And I think I've learned my lesson about spreading stories."

Twi tapped Sunset on the shoulder as Sunset released the two pale-skinned girls. She murmured in Sunset's ear, "You know, I wonder if something similar is happening in my world. Considering the number of mares Big Mac studiously ignores, it would make a strange sort of sense."

Sunset gave a wry smile. "Yeah, but do you want to give Princess Cadance ideas if it's not?"

"Point taken. When do you think we can resume our discussion?"

Watching Rainbow try to revive Fluttershy and Pinkie yank out a "Happy Triad" banner, Sunset shook her head. "I give it a few hours. We should probably split the group up a bit before we continue; I don't want anyone but the Rainbooms present when I reveal how my magic's manifested here."

"Alright." As they watched Big Mac ignore Apple Bloom's probing questions, Twi grinned. "Well, at least if there's a marriage Chrysalis won't be able to pretend to be both bride and groom."

"You know, you never really told me that whole story..."

The Rainbooms gathered in Sunset's room just after lunch, each girl taking up a place in the room. Rarity was still grasping for her cell phone (despite agreeing to keep the newly revealed relationship under wraps, Sunset was going to hold on to it until she was certain Rarity could control herself), but otherwise the girls were relatively calm. As it turned out, Fluttershy's healing capabilities extended to herself; something Twi found absolutely fascinating.

"Most healers can't focus on their own injuries well enough to repair them, but your abilities automatically kick in when you focus. I wonder to what extent you could heal yourself..." Muttering under her breath, she peered up Fluttershy's nose, only to catch sight of Rainbow and Sunset's unamused stares.

"Twi, calm down. Twilight nearly got us all killed 'cause she went all "mad scientist" on us." Dash snarked. Turning to Sunset, she continued. "So, what's up Sunset? You called us all in here."

"Yeah." Sunset closed her eyes. "Twi and I have figured out... one more thing." She opened her eyes. "The natural abilities you've gotten are the first stage of magic development. We don't know if everyone can get those powers or not, but some people can push past that, and learn to imitate or copy other people's powers." She hesitated. "And some may be able to develop new powers."

Rarity started. "Sunset- you've been using spells from your home. Does that mean you-"

"I think I'm the second type. I haven't been able to develop anything new yet, but I have been able to make use of all the old spells I studied. And... I got my own personal power last night."

Sunset pulled in a shaky breath. "When I look at someone- I can catch a glimpse of what they're capable of, what they're thinking and feeling. I can't quite read minds, but it lets me get a feel for what a person can do, and what they need." She raised a hand to forestall questions. "But- last night, Twi agreed to work with me to figure out the new magic, and that sense jumped. As long as she was working with me, I Knew exactly what she needed, was able to catch a glimpse of her frustrations, skills; even mimic some of what she could do. I've always had a knack for manipulating others, but this magic seems to be geared to lead them."

Pinkie's eyes widened. "Ooh, so if you're working with someone, your empathy becomes mind reading?" As Sunset nodded, Pinkie grinned. "Ooh! I wanna help you figure out how it works! Do me, do me!"

Sunset's eyes went wide, and she leaned forward, groaning. "Pinkie- do your thoughts ever slow down?"


As Sunset tried to pull her mind back together, Applejack frowned. "Sunset? Earlier you mentioned a request from the Principal. What's up with that?"

Sunset straightened up. "Just- Celestia wants to get some magic she controls besides Discord, so she can keep the school safe. I'm arranging to have them meet with a couple of experts."

Fluttershy let out a quiet noise. As the room turned to her, she spoke softly. "Um, but why couldn't Twi handle that? I mean, she is the Princess of Magic..."

Twi looked down. "Yes. I am. And that means I've got responsibilities on the other side of the portal." She let out a heavy sigh. "I wish I could handle this- and in fact, I probably could. But-" she shook her head. "Sunset brought up a good point last night. I can't be here for every disaster- I wasn't here for this one." She looked back up at the faces of her friends. "You may have to handle the next problem without me."

Applejack was the first to break the resulting silence. "Shoot. Ah knew this would happen eventually." All faces turned to look at the farmer as she rubbed her forehead. "When you first told me you were a princess, Twi- well, I thought of fairy tales. But Sunset told me about what y'all get up to on the other side. You've got other friends, political responsibilities, and even your own monsters to fight." She tweaked an eyebrow. "Though some of the stuff you gotta handle sounds a mite weird. Jes' outta curiosity- you had to help the other Dash with a court case?"

"Yeah, apparently being an element bearer doesn't excuse damaging the weather factory. Especially when said damage was caused trying to prevent winter from coming." Twi groaned. "Let's just say I had to talk them down to community service to prevent it from killing her chances of joining the Wonderbolts, and leave it at that." She muttered under her breath. "I swear, getting so bent out of shape over a tortoise..."

"Right." Applejack decided she really didn't wanna know. "So, we're gonna have to handle the next shebang ourselves? Huh."

"You might." Twi hedged. "I mean, Sunset has magic, as do you all, but..."

"You might be busy." Applejack finished. "And you think we can handle things." She grinned. "Thanks for trusting us, sugarcube."

"No problem." Twi looked at back and forth through the group. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright. "Wait-"

Every girl tensed as a sudden, fierce sensation of wiggling scurried up their backs. Rarity shrieked. "Oh dear! What on earth was that?"

Twi bolted upright and headed for the door, even as two identical strands of laughter began to permeate the house- although one had a much deeper, maniacal air. "That? That's chaos magic." From below, the girls could hear Aria roaring, even as the laughter got even more intense. "I suspect my Discord has come to meet his counterpart."

Sunset fell in step behind the princess. "How screwed are we?" She glanced out the window as the snowman Rarity had built yesterday began to thump across the ground, turning a different color with every bounce.

"Not very. But we may have a mess to clean up before all's said and done..."

Author's Note:

Yes, Celestia's the biker in this family. Luna is a gamer (as usual), but her college days were spent learning the ins and outs of the digital world. Celestia, however, joined the Motorsports team, as a chance to get her hands dirty for a change. Luna also learned to pick locks, which came in handy that one time Chrysalis got them locked in a toy factory on a dare. It's a long story. (And one which may never get written down.)

In other news, Shining and Big Mac have revealed their relationship. Fluttershy may be the only one who fainted, but Rainbow, Rarity, and Aria are going to have some saucy dreams tonight as well. (Which will also never get written down. I'm not that kind of writer.)

A lot of people questioned what possessed Scootaloo, and if it might return. So here's the answer- Scootaloo kind of possessed herself, aided by magic, and it won't happen again. Well, not anytime soon, anyway.

I never intended to turn this chapter into 50% funny or fluffy moments. However, I'm almost out of expose and plot, so the diversion is a good one. There's going to be one more "full" chapter, which will set up the events of the next story, then three short epilogues.

Oh yeah, and I think this is a good extension of Sunset's "canon" powerset. Thoughts?

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