• Published 27th Aug 2018
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The Winning Formula - Bookish Delight



Twilight Sparkle and Sunset Shimmer have a leisurely talk on the couch. It is the most important–and dangerous–event in the history of both their worlds.

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[010] Commencing the Experiment

The concept of Defeat was not new to Sunset Shimmer.

She'd experienced it several times before. She'd been handily, humiliatingly bested when she'd tried to control the minds of Twilight's world, starting with the Canterlot High student body, requiring Princess Twilight to travel from Equestria to stop her. She'd experienced moral defeat from the Sirens before finding out what sort of person she really was, and what friendship really meant.

She'd even suffered countless losses bashing her head against the brick wall that was Flim and Flam's ring toss booth at Equestria Land—now going into its tenth year, and finally with them no longer a part of it.

Those memories seemed so far away now, yet she remembered them clear as day. Not that she had any shortage of more recent setbacks—the frustration of fighting the world's unruliest thunderclouds during her last two years of unicorn magic studies still wore fresh in her mind. Especially from the first several times they'd gotten the best of her.

Still, no matter the cause, Defeat was not something Sunset Shimmer took lightly, nor enjoyed.

At least... she thought she didn't.

Her latest Defeat had been a mere hour ago, to a magical being she'd never heard of in any legend or history book—and while that Defeat still stung, she wasn't as broken up about it as she had been about all of those other times.

As she walked through Sugarcube Corner's shattered doors and out into the street, Sunset looked at the gauntlet she held in one hand, resisting the urge to cradle it, to cuddle it. She'd... gotten something during that Defeat one hour ago that she'd never gotten from any of her other losses, and she was still trying to pin down just what that something was.

Usually, Defeat would nag at her. Defeat would cause her, no matter how much she knew better, to question her worth as a person. Defeat would replay itself, over and over in her mind, until she inevitably sought the support of a friend to remind her that Sunset Shimmer was still someone worth being.

Defeat was awful, it was heartbreaking, it always took far too long before its effects passed, it was why she didn't like to lose.

But this time, even in the face of Defeat... none that had happened. Her heart, her mind, her merciless inner critic, didn't nag at her, didn't dwell on the loss. Instead, she felt an all-consuming desire to jump straight back into things. Everything within her cried out for her to try, try again—possibility of Defeat be damned. She wasn't even sure what the word meant at that very moment.

She would have happily obliged those cries, even if she felt she had a choice.

Her heart raced as the doors swung shut behind her, and she faced the spectral, who was still taking a bite out of a nearby building—one which sold wedding cakes. Pinkie would probably have words about that for her later.

The right side of Sunset's lips curled. Her eyebrows narrowed. Teeth showed. A breeze swept through her hair. She looked up at the spectral, then down at the gauntlet.

"All right," she scoffed. "Both barrels it is."

The orange gauntlet glowed, her cutie mark insignia in particular pulsing in time with her rising excitement. Sunset slipped it onto her right hand. She still couldn't believe that it was apparently made of metal, no matter how far ahead of its time it may have been. It felt like slipping on a fabric glove, and it showed no signs of wear or tear, even though she'd seen it take a beating once already.

She flipped the switch at the gauntlet's base, relishing the high-pitched whine that sounded when she did so, and made a fist. Fixing her stare on her target, she slammed her right fist into her left palm. From nothingness, a belt appeared, strapping itself around Sunset's waist, with her cutie mark once more serving as a centerpiece in the form of the belt's buckle.

With preparations now complete, Sunset spoke the activation word, programmed into the gauntlet by its original creators:

"Henshin."

The effect was instant and overwhelming.

The sun-shaped belt buckle spun in place at blurring speeds. The glow spread from both gauntlet and belt, spreading all over Sunset's body, then jutting outward, taking its own form. It manifested further, and in moments, a personalized, fiery cyclone swirled in the middle of the street, with Sunset in its eye.

Neon-orange armor materialized on her limbs, her torso, her feet, her neck, her shoulders, her fists—every single area of her body barely weighing any more than usual, yet simultaneously fueling a feeling of invincibility. It was a claim she'd already field-tested, and found to be... not entirely accurate, but still closer to the truth than she ever would have expected.

Oh, and speaking of defying expectations, there was the surprisingly loud speaker next to the gauntlet's switch which, as her armor gradually assembled, bellowed out the most metal ballad Sunset had ever heard in her life. It was all she could do fight the urge to headbang like she was at a Lemon Zest concert.

Amidst the crashing guitars, a booming voice shouted to the heavens:

"IGNITE THE POWER OF THE SUN! PHOENIX SHIMMER IS SECOND TO NONE!"

The helmet was the last piece of armor to form over Sunset, fitting itself over her head as cleanly as the gauntlet did on her hand. When it was over, any onlookers—if they hadn't all been evacuated—would have seen a young woman fitted in armor which carried a vaguely insect-like aesthetic, complete with metallic angular "antennae" on the top of that helmet. Which was actually their function; even now, satellite signals containing location values, vitals and threat assessments beamed from space to the informative, but non-intrusive heads-up display which popped in front of Sunset's field of vision.

Only when her transformation was complete, and the cyclone dissipated, did Sunset notice that—finally—the spectral noticed her at some point during its playtime, and had been looking at her while the whole transformation spectacle was going on. Once her new form solidified, it visibly reacted, doing a double-take and then standing to face her completely, with another otherworldly roar.

Good.

Sunset gritted her teeth. Adrenaline spiked. She opened her body's floodgates, allowing it to consume her.

She would not lose again.

With her own roar, she rushed forward.


"Thank you all so much for coming," Twilight said as she, Sunset, and their five longtime friends stood in one of Starswirl Research's laboratory rooms.

As far as Sunset was concerned, and could also see from everyone else's facial expressions, the atmosphere of the lab was overbearing to everyone except the girl who worked in it for all hours of the day. Florescent lighting bore down on everyone's vision, and the air smelled faintly of metallic shards. Meanwhile machines, flashing lights, video screens, burners and beakers surrounded the seven people who were currently inside—and Sunset knew that, at best, two and a half of them understood what they were all for.

"It really means a lot to me that you've decided to help, and I'm really, really excited about what's going to happen here today," Twilight continued.

"That makes one of us, given that you've been cagey about what's going on here to even me." Sunset looked at her girlfriend, tilting her head and giving her a good-natured, but still accusing, look. "I thought we were in this together? You picked my brain like crazy for months, and then did that thing you do where you shut yourself in your lab for weeks on end."

Twilight sighed. "I know, I know, and I'm really sorry," she said, her voice taking on what Sunset knew to be a genuinely contrite tone—she'd heard Twilight's apologies often enough. "I really tried keeping you in the loop this time?" Twilight shifted back and forth, from one foot to the other. "It's just, well, you know what happens when—"

"When you get inspired, yes, honey. It's why I gave you your space, as usual." Sunset gave Twilight a kiss on the cheek, then pointed to her while chuckling in the direction of the others. "Seriously, when she's on an invention bender, this girl forgets to go to the bathroom if I don't remind her."

"Sunseeeeet," Twilight said, through gritted teeth and a deep blush.

"This is your punishment," Sunset replied, to which Twilight simply sighed in defeat.

"Yeah, been there, done that whole tunnel-vision thing," Pinkie Pie said, staring off into space with wide eyes. "The eating contest war stories I could tell you."

"Or, you know, you could not," Rarity said, shuddering. "But please, Twilight, do go on. Believe me when I say we're all just as excited as you are, even if we lack full knowledge of the circumstances." The others nodded in agreement.

"Right, of course!" Twilight jumped and down with a little squeal. "So, as Sunset alluded to just now, she and I came up with this idea two years ago, but it's taken us that entire two years of working in secret to get it to even this early stage."

"Well, then," Rarity said, "by all means, please don't keep us in suspense! In my line of work, playing your cards too close to the chest can mean the difference between an enraptured audience and an apathetic one, no matter how good your product may be. I mean, we're your friends and we'd never stop caring, but..."

"It's the same whenever I have to do a scientific presentation," Twilight replied, pacing across the room while looking at the others. "Ten years ago, to this very day, I created a device meant to track and contain electromagnetic fields, along with any anomalous related energies. It was on that day that I learned that 'magic' was real, that it took many forms, and that it could be both contained and combined.

"Since then, I've used magic in various forms..." Twilight clasped her hands, looking down. "And magic has also used me. And I feel comfortable in asserting that the same applies to all of us in this room, to say nothing of other unfortunate souls in Canterlot who were affected by it in more... distressing ways."

All present collectively sighed as shared memories wafted through each of their minds.

"And for years, I lived in fear of that." Twilight looked up again, then walked to Sunset, hugging her from the side. "However, two years ago, after seeing Sunset beginning her studies anew, to allow her to embrace the magic that has been so often misused... well, I decided that if she could do it, so could I."

"But how?" Pinkie Pie asked, throwing up jazz hands. "In her world, Sunset's a literal unicorn with a built-in horn that lets her do all sorts of super-real magical things!" She fetched a party hat from her hair, and placed it atop Sunset's head. Sunset chuckled and rolled her eyes. "No wibbly wobbly science-timey stuff needed!"

Twilight nodded. "Well, it starts with what I do best. The magical detection and containment device I mentioned? I've, uh, maybe been tinkering with and iterating on it since that day. Just a bit at a time, over time."

"Um... how much is 'just a bit'?" Fluttershy asked.

Twilight walked to the rear of the laboratory and flipped a switch on the back wall, causing the section beside it to slide out and to the side. In several seconds, everyone present was treated to the sight of a small chamber, with a diamond glass-covered metallic pedestal in the center.

"Meet the Friendship Converter, Mark 28," Twilight said, amidst scattered gasps from her friends. "The nomenclature came to me once I learned from Sunset that friendship and camaraderie are the literal building blocks of Equestrian magic." She pointed to the seven round, empty slots atop the pedestal. "This chamber is modeled after the geode pedestal we originally found at Camp Everfree."

"Whoa!" Rainbow Dash darted over to it, poking her face dangerously close. "Literal keen gear! This thing looks amazing!" She ran around it a few more times, squinting at various areas of it, poking at it, prodding at it, 'hmm'ing at it... before looking at Twilight and blinking blankly. "Uh... so, what does it do?"

Twilight's eyes sparkled. "What you're looking at, Rainbow, is our gateway to clean, self-renewing power. No need to endanger our world by wasting its natural resources, when friendship is an infinite resource all its own!"

"Now, hold on there, missy," Applejack said. "I ain't no rocket scientist—that's your department—but, ain't that kind of a, how you say... 'universal impossibility'?"

"In this universe, yes, and even in Equestria as well! But combine the principles of both, and we can break through any scientific limit!" Twilight raised closed fists to her chest as she gave her smiling speech. "Imagine it: pollution, radiation, and other environmental risks born from conventional power sources are about to become things of the past! New technologies are now possible around every corner! We can even take these innovations back to Equestria! Who knows what kind of magic is possible with our technology giving it a hand?" She leaned back on the lab table with a happy, almost spent sigh. "Endless possibilities begin here, my friends. They begin with us."

"So... what do you need from us?" Rarity asked.

Twilight nodded, still beaming. "This is why I asked you to bring your pendants. The Converter requires a reliable source of Equestrian magic to function. Which we'll be asking Equestria itself to lend us, once we're sure that this concept fully works as envisioned. Meanwhile, however, just as Equestria has their Elements of Harmony, we have our Harmonic Geodes." She held out her hand. "I'll need to borrow just a little bit of their magic to showcase this."

The others gave Twilight their pendants, and Twilight separated the geodes from their necklaces. "Now, I just feed them into the chamber, like this," she said, placing them, one by one, into each of the pedestal's seven slots. "Mark 29's slots will likely be tailor-made to each element, after I do further research into seeing exactly which pseudo-harmonic frequencies will allow for maximum conversion throughput from Loyalty, from Kindness, et cetera." She placed her own geode in last, stepping away and adjusting her goggles as she peered at all seven sitting inside. "However, for right now, a flat elemental siphoning will do just fine."

Twilight then replaced the diamond glass housing atop the pedestal. "And that's it! The machine is pre-set to the lowest intensity—Equestrian magic is potent, so this will siphon only a trickle, if that, for the energy conversion process." She passed out safety goggles to everyone, giggling as she did so, then pointed up, towards several incandescent bulbs lining the chamber's ceiling. "And now, provided all goes well, we'll soon witness the creation of a brand new power source! The fun begins when I press this button. Everyone ready?"

All nodded, and Twilight moved to a green button on the side of the metallic pedestal. "All right, then! Three... two... one... let there be light!"

Twilight pressed the button on the side of the Friendship Converter, which gave off a quiet hum as the geodes glowed faintly, followed by the top of the pedestal itself. Soon, lights of all colors of the rainbow shot from the geodes, bouncing around within the glass.

All of the young women present gaped at the sight, then looked up at the bulbs. For several seconds, nothing happened... then, one of the bulbs blinked. Sunset and Twilight gripped each other's arms.

Another bulb blinked. Then another, and another. With each sign of life, Sunset and Twilight held each other more tightly... until, in the space of a minute, all ten bulbs shone brightly.

Everyone cheered, except for Twilight, who was positively screaming, bouncing around the small room, and hugging Sunset for all she was worth—before kissing her outright in front of everyone. Sunset, fortunately, was too happy to be embarrassed. "Sunny, Sunny, did you see?" Twilight squealed after the kiss was broken.

"My eyes still work, Twi, so yes," Sunset laughed. "You totally did it."

"No way—we did it!" Twilight placed her palms on Sunset's cheeks. "I keep telling you, love, just because I build these things doesn't mean you're any less important to the process! The very blueprints for this chamber would not have existed without your knowledge, without your coming to this world and into my life! Do you get me?"

Her heart warming, Sunset hugged Twilight. "Thanks. That means a lot to me to hear."

Twilight hugged back. "Then I'll keep saying it until it sticks. For now, though, it looks like it's time to take notes on a successful experiment. Oh, gosh, I'm already wondering how I can take this further! What if we cut out the middleman entirely, and made light sources entirely from magic?"

"That is a concept worth looking into," Sunset said.

"I've already got a name for it if it works: "Equestrian Luminescence!" Twilight spread her arms wide, visibly continuing to float on cloud nine... until she heard Applejack's voice:

"Uh, Twilight? Is it supposed to do that?"

Twilight blinked. "Huh? Do what?"

Applejack pointed up, whereupon Sunset noticed that the glow from the bulbs were still getting brighter.

"Huh. Those bulbs are glowing far past their lumen specs. I'll cut the chamber's master power." Twilight pulled a large lever on the wall.

Nothing happened—at least, nothing that Sunset expected from the words "cutting the master power". Instead, the dull hum of the Friendship Converter turned into a loud whine. Twilight backed away. "That's... not good."

"What's going on?" Rainbow asked.

Twilight ran around the chamber, looking frantically for clues. "As near as I can tell, the Equestrian magic must have overridden the circuits! That shouldn't be possible—"

"Even though we just accomplished the impossible a minute ago," Rarity finished.

Upon seeing several bulbs pop, one after another, Sunset took charge. "Everyone, out of the chamber!"

"But—" Twilight began.

"Now!" Sunset herded everyone out, back into the lab room. She then ran to Twilight, who straggled behind the rest, pulling her away from the chamber which was now glowing red, then orange.

"Twilight? Honey? Talk to me, what's going on? Do I need to do anything drastic? Do I need to pull alarms? Evacuate? Help me out here."

"I-I-I don't understand," Twilight said, as if she hadn't heard Sunset at all. "This wasn't supposed to happen. The test wasn't supposed to go like this!"

The chamber glowed yellow. Sunset gestured for everyone to leave the lab, and go to the building exits, pulling the fire alarm along the way. "'Wasn't supposed to?'" she yelled over the din of the alarm. "You mean you haven't tested this before?"

"Not with the real thing," Twilight yelled back, "but I have everyone's geodes' harmonic and electromagnetic signatures on file! I've run simulations for every scenario!"

As they made it out of the building, and to the end of the block, a pang hit Sunset's heart. She had a painful hunch. "Did those simulations account for the anomalies that always take place when all seven are close to each other?"

Twilight stopped, looking back at the building. She could see a faint blue light from the room they'd just left. Of course! Our geodes, and the Equestrian magic within them—always tended to adapt to situations, especially when all seven were brought together. They might know what we're trying to do here... and be trying to compensate."

Sunset's eyes widened. "How do you compensate for trying to bring limitless power to an entire world?"

The lab window shattered, a violet light emanating from the opening.

"I..." Twilight shuddered. "I think we're about to find out."