• Published 19th May 2018
  • 967 Views, 39 Comments

When We Break - CommissarAJ



Tempest vowed she would never again be left to the mercies of a cold, uncaring world. And then she met Twilight Sparkle...

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Chapter 2

“How bad is it?”

“We were able to set the fractures, but the extent of the nerve damage was… significant. It’ll be some time before we know the full extent.”

The gentle afternoon breeze carried with it a strange sense of tranquility and, dare she say, optimism with it. Maybe it was because Canterlot High was in a much more affluent neighborhood: the kind with clean sidewalks, neatly trimmed yards, and neighbors who waved to you using all five fingers. Everything just seemed brighter and more cheerful for some unknown reason. All of it left Tempest Shadow feeling sick to her stomach; it was like stepping into somebody’s sugar-coated dream with all the empty smiles and air-headed naivety that made her eyes want to roll right out of their sockets.

It made sense that a place like this would result in students like Twilight Sparkle: blind fools that figured smiles and good feelings were all that were needed to get through life. The idiocy for somebody to think just throwing some left-over at the same person who just days before mugged them would be a good idea. Who went through life thinking things like that?

And yet, despite all of her misgivings and grumblings over goodwill gestures, Tempest was still standing outside Canterlot High School, leaning up against their infamous, but broken, statue.

“This is so stupid,” she murmured under her breath. “Why am I even bothering with this?”

The cool air did little to temper the teen’s patience, but nonetheless she forced herself to stay put. A little standing around never hurt anybody, she reminded herself; she’d loitered for longer in worse conditions, and at least this neighborhood didn’t smell of piss and garbage. She tried to check for the time, but when she looked to her wristwatch, she discovered that her hand was quivering uncontrollably. It was a subtle tremor, but enough to catch her attention. With a sneer, she clenched her fist, enough to turn the knuckles white, and after a few seconds, the shaking subsided and she was able to relax again.

Thankfully, Tempest didn’t have to wait much longer. Soon after calming her troublesome nerves, the school bell’s clarion call rang out through the air, signaling the end of another day.

“About damn time,” she sighed. Of course, this all still meant more waiting, but at least now she was close to the end of this kaleidoscope nightmare.

While a tidal wave of smiling and carefree students poured out, Tempest continued scanning the crowds as they milled past her. A number of the passing students gave her puzzled looks and raised eyebrows. And with good reason, too: between the missing limb, scarred visage, and a tense air of restrained contempt about her, she looked as out of place at Canterlot High as a blood-soaked butcher at a vegan convention.

Only one student didn’t give her a wide berth, to which she was discretely thankful for, as it spared her having to search any further.

Twilight Sparkle approached the other girl without worry or trepidation for the first time, though she was curious—and secretly hopeful—as to the reason why Tempest was at Canterlot High.

“What are you doing here, Tempest?” Twilight asked, keeping her enthusiasm restrained lest she come off as too eager. Despite her efforts, though, the older teen easily noted the optimism lacing her voice, and how she wore a colourful linen scarf that concealed the fingermarks left behind from their encounter the day before.

“Twilight, what happened yesterday really opened my eyes. I had always told myself that I had been stealing and bullying my way through life because that was what I needed to do to survive, but your compassion, grace, and generosity has shown me how wrong I was. Thus, I have decided to not return your possessions, but to renounce my selfish ways and to embrace this path of compassion and friendship you have set me upon.”

Tempest didn’t say any of that, but it was what Twilight had hoped for. What actually came out of the surly teenager’s mouth was far more blunt.

“So you can take your damn tupperware back,” she said as she held out a small plastic bag.

Twilight raised an eyebrow but nonetheless took back her belongings. “You steal my phone and money, but you give me back my tupperware?”

“Ain’t worth fencing, and I sure as hell ain’t keeping it—got friggin’ rainbows and flowers all over it,” Tempest answered. She had a brief flash of an amused smirk, enjoying the confusion she sowed, but it was soon replaced with a harder, stoic glare, as if remembering she was in public. “Plus, you did go through all the effort so I thought I owed you at least the same in return.”

The last part caught Twilight’s attention, and a new idea formed in her mind. “If I brought you more food, would you be willing to return my things?” she inquired.

Unfortunately, her request was not met with the kind of response she had hoped for, as Tempest let out a long, quiet sigh. “And that explains that mystery.”

“Mystery?”

“Why you were going through this whole song and dance,” she answered, sounding more annoyed by the moment. “Should’ve realized you were just working an angle to get your stuff back.”

“What?! N-no! That’s not it at all,” Twilight blurted out. It would be a lie to say that she didn’t hope to get some of her things back, but the way Tempest phrased it made all her previous actions sound like she had sinister, ulterior motives. “I just… I mean, t-the geode you took; I’d really like to have that back. I thought maybe if I could be your friend, you’d return it. Otherwise, I’d have to go to the police, and I’d rather not have to do that.”

There was a brief flash of surprise across Tempest’s features, her scar stretching to disproportionate lengths as it tried to keep pace with her eyebrows. Were it anybody else, Twilight’s words might have come off as a threat, but she came off as menacing as a comatose kitten. Of course, Tempest couldn’t let her moment of surprise be too obvious; that might leave her exposed. Naturally, she hardened her expression and just grinned as if she were some benevolent monarch.

“Well if it means that much to you, I suppose I could let you have it back,” she mused. “For a price, of course.”

“How much?”

“A hundred bucks.”

“Deal!”

The second time around, it was harder for Tempest to suppress her wide-eye reflex. She had expected a bit of haggling over the price, but it was becoming evident just how desperate the other girl was to get this trinket back. May as well make a meal out of it, she figured.

“And dinner,” Tempest quickly added. “Lasagna: I want something hot this time.”

“Sure.”

“And more of those cannolis.”

“Okay,” Twilight said with a smile and a nod, all of which unsettled Tempest further.

This was too easy. Tempest couldn’t shake the feeling that she was the one getting played. Was Twilight that degree of a conniving genius, or was she just overthinking things? Eventually, she just decided to accept it at face value for now, and she’d deal with any fallout later. Besides, it was just some dumb little high schooler. What could Twilight possibly do to her?

“I’ll meet you here tomorrow,” she instructed.


When a knocking came from Tempest’s door, she thought nothing of it as she grumbled and shuffled her way across the dingy, dilapidated studio apartment. She was just about to head out anyways, so it wasn’t as if she wasn’t heading in that direction already. However, when she swung the door open, mumbling something about ‘this better be important’, she was greeted to the sight of an eager, smiling Twilight Sparkle standing on the other side.

“Holy sh—!” Tempest blurted out, catching herself only part-way through to regain her composure. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“We had a deal, remember?” Twilight said, oblivious or indifferent to the shock she gave to the other girl. She held up a large plastic container which bore the same colourful and flowery patterns as the previous tupperware she had given out. “I know you said you’d meet me at the school, but I was running ahead of schedule. If I waited until you arrived, then it would get cold, and the deal was for a hot dinner.”

While that made reasonable sense and could even be constrained as considerate in better circumstances, that still left Tempest with a more important question boiling to the surface of her mind. “How the hell did you even find where I live?” she demanded.

“You have my phone,” Twilight stated in a matter-of-fact manner. “I just tracked the GPS.”

“I took the battery out.”

“I fitted the GPS to a backup power source. In case I ever lost it and it ran out of power before I could track it down.”

This girl was beginning to prove to be more trouble than she was worth, but Tempest just reminded herself that in ten minutes this would all be just a memory and she’d never have to think about it again. She reached out to take first of the offered container, but Twilight pulled it away at the last second.

“I want to see my geode first.”

“Guess you’re aren’t as dumb as I thought,” Tempest sighed.

“Thanks.”

“Stop being so damn nice,” she snapped. “Now wait here; I’ll be right back.”

Tempest Shadow slammed the door shut, disappearing back into her apartment and leaving Twilight alone once more in the hallway. Despite being a bit out of her element, the young Canterlot High student still felt confident and optimistic. Sure, the hallway was dank and dingy, with a lingering odour that reminded her of a mixture of vomit and mouthwash that had been left stewing at the bottom of a dumpster on a hot summer’s day, but she was making progress. She was solving this problem with nothing but her wits and friendship. It felt almost… empowering. Not even the rats scampering across the floor between her feet could ruin her mood right now.

That was until she heard the floorboards creaking and turned to discover herself standing before a trio of tall, broad-shouldered young men, all clad in black leather coats and smelling of cigarettes. All of them stared down upon her with a devilish glint in their eyes and a sneer across their scruffy, thick-jawed faces. The man at the lead looked the most unsettling to her with a face framed by so much unkempt hair that Twilight wondered if she was actually looking at a person or a very intelligent orangutan.

“Well hello there, little lady,” the lead man greeted. There was a deceptively cheerful greasiness to his voice, as if West Side Story had been about used cars salesmen. “What’s a pretty thing like you doing in a dump like this?”

Despite every instinct born from eons of evolution screaming at Twilight to run, she held her ground and stuck to her principles and politeness and courtesy. “I’m just… uh, delivering some things to a friend.”

“Well aren’t you just the sweetest little peach,” the man replied with a playful grin. “Just warms this heart of mine to see charity so alive and well, don’t you agree?” He turned for a moment to the two men flanking him, both of which nodded with guttural grunts. Looking back to Twilight, his stare took on a more predatorial glint as he took a step forward. “You know, I’m a pretty swell guy; you wanna be my friend?”

“O-oh, w-well, th-that’s nice of you to offer,” Twilight stammered as she took a cautious step backwards. “M-maybe another time. I’m rather busy today. I-I’d offer to text you later, but my phone got stolen the other day so—”

“Oh, but I insist. It’d be just awful if we couldn’t show you our hospitality.”

As he took another step towards Twilight, she tried to back away more, but instead of finding floorboard, her foot came down upon something squishy and lumpy that made a loud squeak. It was enough to startle her and throw off her balance, causing the girl to crash to the ground with a panicked shriek. Sprawled across the grime-covered hallway floor, she was just about ready to throw the lasagna at them in the hopes it’d buy her enough time to run away when a loud ‘ahem’ drew everyone’s attention back to the nearby apartment door.

Tempest stood there, arms folded, looking like the angry neighbor who’s fed up with all the kids arguing outside. “What are you doing, King?”

In an instant, the man’s tone was back to its upbeat and lively nature.

“Oh, hey Tempest,” the lead figure, whom Twilight presumed to be ‘King’, replied. “We’re all just out here making friends, is all. Nothing to worry your pretty little head about.”

She glanced over to Twilight, who looked like a petrified mouse surrounded by hungry cats, and then back to King. “I know what sort of friends you keep,” she answered bluntly. “I have business with the girl, so hands off.”

“Tempest, you wound me. I am a gentleman with nothing but honest intentions,” King said while feigning indignation. “Besides, what sort of business could you possibly have with her? I didn’t think you went for the preppy schoolgirl type.”

“It’s a business transaction: she has something for me.”

“If you’re in a business mood, then how about you and I make a deal? I let you finish yours first, and then you let me finish mine afterwards.”

Twilight didn’t like the sound of any of that, not least of all about being spoken about as though she were a commodity. She looked to Tempest with pleading eyes, uncertain if there’d be any mercy to be found there, but it was the only hope she had at this point. It felt like hoping for a wolf to chase the bears away.

“Yeah, I think I’m going to go with a ‘no’ on that,” Tempest eventually answered. “Because when preppy schoolgirls go missing, police tend to go looking, and I’m not in the mood for dealing with cops sniffing around my home.”

After a brief moment of contemplation, King calmly answered back, “And if I disagree?”

“Then somebody gets to lose a few teeth. Any volunteers?”

Her stare hardened as she clenched a fist, which was enough to give the two men flanking King pause. They both grimaced, glancing to each other with wary stares as if trying to silently tell the other, ‘no, you first’. Twilight was left wondering if these men, despite their advantages in size and numbers, were genuinely afraid of Tempest.

For his part, King remained silent at first, sizing up the defiant teenager with scrutinizing eyes but a frustrated frown. It was brief, however, and soon the man relaxed and the sneer was replaced with an unsettlingly welcoming grin. He swaggered up alongside Tempest and had his arm around her shoulder before she could even react.

“Oh, you crack me up,” King said, though his words did little to change Tempest’s posture. “I never thought I’d see the day the big, scary Tempest Shadow would go soft for somebody.” He reached out with his free hand and patted her on the cheek, each tap making her grow ever tenser. “Since I like you so much, I’ll let you have this one… as a favour to you. Be sure to play nice with your new friend.”

“She’s not my friend,” Tempest growled through gritted teeth.

“Of course, sweetie, of course,” King replied with a trifling laugh. He patted her a few times on the back before meandering back over to his compatriots. “Come on, boys, we’ve got a full day ahead of us. Places to go, people to meet, and all that jazz.”

Neither of the girls relaxed until the others had left, and even then there was still an unsettled tension in the air. Sprawled on her backside, apprehension and fear still gripped at Twilight’s heart; the major threat may have been scared away but that didn’t mean that she was out of danger just yet. It felt like an ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ moment, except the fire was more of a bomb, and she was petrified that the slightest action would set it off.

Tempest Shadow’s own mood soon began to settle, her clenched fist relaxing and her arms soon hanging at ease. Her gaze had remained fixed on the hallway where King and the others had sauntered down, but eventually she turned her attention towards the teenager still on the ground. Groaning and rolling her eyes, she thumbed towards her apartment door and barked, “Just get your ass inside already!”

Not wanting to tempt her fury, Twilight gathered her things and scrambled back to her feet. Despite a sudden pain that shot up her right leg the second she put weight on it, she hobbled into the relative safety of the apartment with the other teen following soon afterwards.

“And that’s why I didn’t want you here,” Tempest stated as she closed the door behind her. She leaned back against the door and let out a long, weary sigh. “Damn lasagna better be worth all this.”

With her ankle throbbing in pain, Twilight limped as fast as she could to the nearest piece of furniture, which happened to be an old couch that looked like it had been worked over by a dozen ill-tempered cats.

“Who was that?” she asked once she sat down.

“King? Just some deluded idiot with more ambition than good sense,” Tempest answered, followed by a scoff and a roll of her eyes. “Unfortunately, he commands a lot of loyalty… including mine.”

“He sounds like bad news.”

Oddly enough, Tempest just shrugged her shoulders. “It’s not that bad: I do a lot of odd jobs for him and he pays well enough.”

Twilight just shuddered at the thought of what kind of work she did for such a man, especially considering the mugging and the business dealings she saw in the parking lot. “Well, thank you for stepping in,” she added in a meek whisper.

“I didn’t do that for you,” the older teen scoffed. Walking past the couch, she tossed the purple geode onto Twilight’s lap. “It’s hard enough out here without the cops snooping around because some idiot girl stuck her nose where it didn’t belong.”

Twilight suspected that was no exaggeration. Taking a quick glance around the apartment, she wondered how anybody could stand living in such a dump: the walls were cracked and the paint peeling, the lights flickered sporadically with an unsettling buzzing noise about them, and there was lingering odour in the air that reminded her of the same fetid alley she had been mugged in. There was barely any sign that this was the residence of somebody who had once gone to Crystal Prep Academy, save for when she looked over to the kitchenette area in the corner and noticed a coffee mug with the emblem of their old school.

“Even still,” Twilight continued, “you saved me, so… thank you.”

“Don’t expect a repeat,” Tempest grumbled. “Around here, sticking your neck out for others is the quickest way to lose your head.”

Hopefully that was an exaggeration, Twilight thought.

Reaching into her bag, she took out what money she had managed to scrounge together and set it down atop of the container holding the lasagna. “Here you go, a hundred dollars as we agreed upon.”

“Can’t believe you actually ponied up,” Tempest said with a faint hint of disbelief. Not wanting to risk anyone changing their minds, she scooped up the cash and started counting it while sitting on the table. “You probably could’ve haggled me down to at least half of this if you had tried. Not sure why a hunk of amethyst means so much to you.”

“It’s got… sentimental value,” Twilight explained, followed by a subtle smirk. “I see you still remember Mr. Slate’s geology lessons.”

Tempest chuckled dryly. “If you haven’t noticed, I can’t always brute force my way through my problems. A little wit and knowledge goes a long way when you’re surrounded by drop-outs and idiots, even if it’s only a couple of years of Crystal Prep.” Once she was satisfied with the cash payment, she pocketed the money and began to inspect the other part of their trade. She popped open the container and was greeted to a warm, inviting waft of steam and spiced aromas. Licking her lips as she smiled, she took in a slow, deep breath. “Gonna be hard not to eat all of this in one go.”

“If you want, I could keep bringing you more,” Twilight offered.

Those words gave the older teen pause, as she responded with a skeptical gaze. “You’ve got your bauble, Twilight; there’s nothing else for you here.”

“What about you?”

“Me? I robbed you, remember?”

“And you’ve saved me, twice,” Twilight answered in earnest. “You might not recall, but I remember a girl who was brave, and smart, and respected; a girl filled with potential, and somebody who I would’ve liked to have gotten to know better… if only I were a better person back then.”

Tempest Shadow let out a snort before looking down, her eyes settling on the empty space above her stumped arm, as if there was still something attached to it. “That girl’s gone,” she answered in a somber voice. “She died a long time ago.”

Finding a sudden surge of courage, Twilight snapped back in a firm voice, “I don’t believe that!” It caught her host and rescuer by surprise. “You could’ve threatened me into silence at the parking lot, but you chose to parlay with me instead; you could’ve extorted me for more money, but you chose to be reasonable; you could’ve taken the food and my money, and left me to King and his friends, but you intervened.” Though her heart was racing, probably from a mix of fear and adrenaline, she pressed on as Tempest continued staring in stunned silence. “You were a good person, and you still are… but something happened, didn’t it? How’d you go from one of the most expensive prep schools in the city to living in this squalor?”

A heavy, crushing silence swept through the room. For a moment, Twilight worried that this was just a literal calm before the storm, and mentally braced herself. But the thunder and fury never came, and instead Tempest just got back to her feet and walked over to the kitchenette. She wasn’t sure if Tempest was just ignoring her or biding time or genuinely had something else to worry about, but she didn’t want to come off as pushy. Waiting patiently, she watched as Tempest opened the fridge and began to rummage through its contents.

“Did you ever get that big speech from Dean Cadance? The one she gives to the incoming freshman classes?” Tempest asked out of the blue.

Twilight nodded. She remembered a rousing welcoming speech from the Dean, which most of the students in her grade ignored almost entirely.

“‘Work hard and you can succeed at anything,’” Tempest quoted a portion of the aforementioned speech. She hip-checked the fridge door closed and soon returned to the couch with a beer can in her hand and a bag of frozen peas balanced on her forearm, the latter of which she dropped onto the cushion next to Twilight. “‘The friendships you make here will last a lifetime.’ Now put the peas on your ankle before the swelling gets worse.”

“You… don’t agree with that?” Twilight asked before complying with the given instructions.

“Just a bunch of feel-good nonsense. Sooner or later, the real world gives you a wake-up call to teach you that life’s not fair,” she scoffed in response, which was followed by a sharp hiss as she cracked open her beverage. After taking a quick sip from her can, she let out another disgruntled snort. “If you’re lucky, that reality check just shakes you up, but no amount of being a ‘good little girl’ can stop your world from crashing down around your ears when it decides it wants to.”

“Th-that’s not true… is it?”

“You probably think yourself a good little girl,” Tempest said with an amused smirk, as if enjoying watching Twilight’s festering doubt. “Would any of that have saved you if I decided to use my knife instead of my fist back in that alley?”

Twilight fell deathly silent, lacking any meaningful answer to that question; instead, she preoccupied herself by taking the bag of frozen peas and holding it against her injured ankle. There was no denying that there were brief moments back on that fateful day where she thought that her last seconds on earth would be in that alleyway. Perhaps if she were the aggressive type like Tempest, she could’ve just used her magic to fight back, but that went against everything she believed in. How could that be right?

After a while Tempest collapsed onto the couch just a few feet away from Twilight, letting out wistful sigh between sips of beer. “World doesn’t owe you jack-shit, kiddo,” she murmured. “The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can start learning how to stand on your own.”

Watching the other teen drink, Twilight was reluctant to put faith in such a cold and cynical world view. Every time life became difficult, her friends had always been there to help her out, and not just the big moments like when she became possessed by a magical power she couldn’t control. She was no stranger to pride in independence, particularly during her time at Crystal Prep before the Friendship Games. That time, however, she looked back at with regret that it had taken her so long to realize the value in friendship, and that trying to go through life alone was hampering her in the long run.

“So what was your reality check?” Twilight finally asked.

“A head-on collision with a Cadillac,” Tempest answered flatly. “Just a few seconds of inattention and then everything was gone: friends… family… that childhood naivety. Just… waking up in a hospital room with a dozen broken bones and a bunch missing.”

“You mean, both of your parents are—there’s nobody else?”

“It was a small family to begin with; now it’s just me.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Tempest shrugged, and then took another sip. “It’s made me stronger; stronger than I would’ve been otherwise. I’m better off this way.”

“You don’t honestly believe that, do you?”

“Doesn’t matter if I do or not, it’s not like I have other options available to me,” Tempest said before gesturing to her surroundings. “Out here, it’s survival of the fittest, and if you haven’t noticed, I’m already playing with a handicap.”

Without even thinking, Twilight murmured out, “This is no way to live.”

Sadly, those words did not go unnoticed, nor welcomed with open arms. The only warning signs of growing irritation were the subtle crinkling of aluminum as Tempest tightened her grip on her beverage, and her narrowing gaze.

“Well excuse me Miss Ivory Tower if the view ain’t so grand from down here with the rest of us plebeians! Half a year of intensive care and physio took pretty much every penny my family had left.”

“Th-that’s not what I meant!” Twilight blurted in a blind panic. “I-I j-just—I mean, I was—”

“Just out with it!”

“I want to help you!”

The apartment fell silent for a second, Tempest with a puzzled look on her face, and Twilight frozen in terror like a cornered mouse. Luckily for the latter, the other teenager’s expression just flattened, a look of bored weariness upon her face. Neither spoke for the next couple of minutes, which proved to be the longest and tensest minutes in recent memory for Twilight. However, she wasn’t about to risk provoking further hostilities: if her suggestion hadn’t yet been met with anger, then there must have been good reason for it.

After a slow, lengthy swig from her beer can, punctuated by a crisp sigh of relief, Tempest cast her scarred gaze back to the other girl. “And what possible kind of help do you think you could offer?” she said in a tone that sounded more like a challenge than curiosity.

Twilight’s mind went into a frantic pace to respond: she had to provide something or else the suggestion would be revealed for the desperation that it was. But then an idea popped into her head; an absolutely crazy one, but an idea nonetheless. Maybe she was a little desperate, but since nothing better came to mind, she blurted it out before she could second-guess herself.

“Come back to high school with me!”

Tempest blinked for a moment. “Say what?”

The momentary distraction was just the opening that Twilight needed: a few desperate seconds for her brain to grab hold of that lifeline and formulate a plan around it.

“Y-you never graduated, right? If you get your high school diploma from Canterlot High, you could maybe apply for college,” Twilight explained, albeit in a hasty and stammering fashion like a nervous girl on her first date. “A-and given you used to go to Crystal Prep and your current situation, y-you could probably qualify for a number of grants and scholarships.”

Once again, to Twilight’s relief, the response was not thunder and fury. Tempest just stared off into the distance, holding the edge of her beer can to her lips but refraining from partaking in it.

“I think it’s a bit late for that,” she murmured. “Besides, who’d take in a kid off the street?”

“Principal Celestia is nothing like Cinch; she’s a very compassionate woman! I’m certain she’d be willing to let you attend.”

And compared to the things that Twilight and Sunset Shimmer had done in the past, Tempest Shadow would, by far, not be the strangest student to have graced the halls of Canterlot High with their presence. If Celestia was willing to overlook somebody tearing apart the fabric of spacetime, a bit of petty thievery could be forgiven. After all, Tempest had to steal in order to survive, right? It was kind of like stealing a loaf of bread to feed your family, except it was wallets and smartphones instead of baked goods. Whatever sense of moral outrage she might’ve felt about being threatened and mugged, Twilight found it impossible to hold it against Tempest, a girl who had seemingly lost everything.

“Me going back to school? What an absurd idea,” Tempest eventually scoffed.

“It’s not absurd!” Twilight shot back, a new surge of passion in her voice. “If you’re worried about money, I can cover the student fees, and I can get you the supplies. I know it might not sound like much, but a high school diploma can open at least a few doors for you. Studies have shown—”

“Do I look like the type of person to give a shit about studies?” Tempest barked back, silencing the other girl in a heartbeat.

Twilight looked away, feeling disheartened and worried she may have come off too strongly. Her gaze remained fixed on the floor with only the occasional glance back to check on Tempest’s mood. She looked… irritated, but not in the violent manner. It was more of an internal, contemplative ire, as if coming to terms with some unpleasant truth. Getting to her feet, Tempest meandered to the far side of the room, near where the ‘bedroom’ was, albeit it was little more than a mattress on the floor with a rickety, old dresser next to it, with drawers sitting skewed on their rails and one of the legs replaced by a small stack of bricks.

The young girl stared out the window for a moment, looking to the cracked, ramshackled apartments that lined the street and the downtrodden people who called this area home. Would this be all there was to Tempest Shadow?

“Mom! Mom! I did it! I got into Crystal Prep!”

“Fizzy, that’s wonderful! Let’s go share the good news with your father.”

“What have I got to lose?” Tempest murmured under her breath.

“What did you say?”

“I said, let’s play a little game.” In an instant, Tempest’s bout of introspection was over, her voice filled once again with her poise and confidence. Walking over to her dresser, she picked up a cellphone and held it up for Twilight to see, revealing that it wasn’t just any phone, but the one stolen just a few days prior.

“What do you mean?” a visibly confused Twilight asked, tilting her head to one side. “And… is that my phone?”

“That’s right, and if you want me to step into your world, then you’ve got to step into mine,” she explained while tossing the phone up and down. “Because in my world, if you want something, then you have to learn how to take it for yourself. Nobody out here is going to rush to your aid or throw you a bone. If you can take this phone from me, I’ll go to Canterlot High with you.”

Twilight adjusted her glasses as she regarded her newly-declared opponent. Wrestling free a cellphone from a girl who was clearly her physical superior felt like a test she was doomed to fail in. If Tempest really didn’t want to go along, she could’ve just said so, instead of dangling some forlorn hope in front her.

“This seems like a very arbitrary test,” she remarked. “What purpose does this even serve?”

“Let’s just say I want to see how much you really want this.”

It still sounded like an excuse, but Twilight wasn’t about to give up just yet. Scrutinizing Tempest Shadow thoroughly, she began running through the possibilities in her mind.

Reason with her? No, that’d never work. Maybe if Rarity were the one asking: she could be very persuasive.

Throw something to distract her? No, even if there was something close enough that could be of use, she was more liable to hit the window than come anywhere close to Tempest. It was a shame that Applejack wasn’t around to help: she could hurl something with enough force to make Tempest duck for cover.

Just rush at her headlong? Definitely not. Even if her ankle wasn’t hurting, she wasn’t nearly fast enough to take someone by surprise. Rainbow Dash could’ve snatched the phone away before Tempest could even blink.

The more Twilight thought about it, the more discouraged she became. If any of her friends had been here, this would have been a piece of cake. Then again, that was exactly the point: Tempest wanted to see what Twilight could do by herself, without relying on others. She was clearly a girl who did whatever she had to do to survive on her own, so Twilight had to be willing to do just the same. But what did she have aside from her intellect?

As that thought crossed her mind, she looked down into her hand, and the small purple stone she still held in it.

“Oh, right,” she mumbled to herself. “Say Tempest, are there are sort of… rules or regulations regarding this challenge?”

“What? Rules? Don’t be ridiculous,” Tempest replied with a dismissive laugh. “This is the real world: rules are just there for people who aren’t tough enough to protect themselves. Honestly, I’d love to see what sort of underhanded tricks a goody two-shoe like you would pull. You gonna break out the big, sad, puppy eyes?”

For the first time in what felt like an eternity, Twilight was able to don a confidant grin, her magic geode clenched tightly in her hand. “I just wanted to make sure,” she replied before reaching out towards Tempest.

Her phone was suddenly enshrouded by a bright and sparkling violet aura.

“What the hell?” a startled Tempest yelped out. In her shock, her grip on the phone loosened, and in that instant, as if driven by its own will, it flew from her grasp and straight into Twilight’s awaiting hand.

“I win.”

“What the actual f—”

“Magic.”

It took a lot of willpower on Twilight’s part not to snicker at Tempest’s normally confident expression getting steamrolled by a surge of bewilderment and disbelief. It was like she had just watched a unicorn walk in and take a nap on her couch.

“S-seriously? Like… actual ‘abracadabra’ magic?” Tempest eventually stammered out.

Twilight nodded. “If you want to learn more about it, I can tell you all about it… at school tomorrow.”