• Published 8th Feb 2019
  • 580 Views, 14 Comments

Confessions - Flynt Coal



In the week leading up to Sunset's coronation, Pinkie Pie and Applejack both have confessions to make, as dark forces gather in the human world..

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Chapter 2

Sunset pushed, and Applejack dodged and deflected. The two combatants stood in a makeshift ring composed of the stone path and Cornflower’s garden in Applejack’s backyard. The setting sun cast long shadows in the grass, making the sparring pair seem like clashing giants. Sunset was on the offensive as she had been for most of the match, delivering swift jabs and hooks to probe at Applejack’s defenses. Applejack only weaved and parried with the occasional token retaliation, her mind miles away.

This went on for a few minutes until Sunset finally spotted an opening, feinting with her right hand and following up with a swift uppercut to the stomach with her left. With a faint “urk,” Applejack lurched forward and stumbled back. Down but not out, Applejack regained her bearings and prepared a counterattack. That was when the alarm set on Sunset’s phone went off, signifying the end of the round.

After checking to make sure Applejack wasn’t badly hurt (now that Sunset was an alicorn, she could never be too careful), she decided to say what was on her mind: “You’ve been a little off your game today, AJ. You feeling okay?”

“Just, y’know… thinkin’ about the essay, I guess,” Applejack said as the pair of them went to the nearby table where a laptop and a pile of schoolwork waited.

The pair of them were breaking up schoolwork crunch sessions with rounds of taekwondo practice, to keep either of them from getting too burnt out on their work. Though, this struck Sunset as odd for one reason.

“AJ, your essay looks good. Really,” Sunset insisted as the two of them sat down. “Apart from the errors here and there that I pointed out, you’ve got more than the requisite number of references and make a clear and concise argument. All you need is a good conclusion to tie it all together.”

“Yeah, that’s always the tricky part, ain’t it?” Applejack asked. “To summarize all of this in a way that’s easy to understand….”

Sunset gave the freckled girl a puzzled look. Even now, Applejack wasn’t focused on her essay, but something else. Somewhere else.

“Hey AJ, when are we gonna cut the BS and talk about the real reason I’m here?” Sunset asked. “You could’ve asked anybody to help you with this essay.”

Applejack cleared her throat. “How about I just wanted to hang out? Doesn’t always need to be some big problem for you to solve!”

Sunset just sighed. Even out of the ring, still dodging and deflecting. “C’mon, AJ. What were you talking about back at the Corner?”

“Nothing. Should’ve just said nothing to begin with.” AJ looked shiftily from side to side—she never was a good liar.

“Why? Because you don’t want my help?” Sunset asked, starting to get a little annoyed.

“No! Because I promised her I wouldn’t tell you!”

Sunset’s eyebrows went up. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.

“Promised you wouldn’t tell me specifically?” Sunset asked. “I know my reputation kinda precedes me, but I thought everyone was more-or-less past looking at me as ‘the Terror of Canterlot High.’” She chuckled. “Now, if I can get them to stop looking at me as an actual princess, I should be fine.”

Applejack immediately shook her head. “No, this has nothing to do with that, sugar.”

“Then what’s this about, AJ?”

“I told you, I can’t tell you! I made a promise!”

Sunset let out a sigh and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I get that, but… I can’t help but feel like you want to tell me anyway.”

Looking down with an almost fearful uncertainty that was so unlike her, Applejack said, “It’s just… I’ve been thinkin’ a lot lately about all the stuff that happened back during the summer. You know, with the Canadian mercs, that magic European nut, and… you dying.”

“Yup. I also remember that,” Sunset said, nodding with a hint of a humorous grin. “Wasn’t the most fun vacation ever, was it?” Her grin got wider as she said, “Good thing that didn’t actually happen, right?”

“Not helping.”

“Just trying to get you to open up, AJ. We are friends, you know.”

Applejack ignored that attempt at probing. “And then there was that dream we all had… if it even was a dream. I can’t stop thinking… do you think more stuff like that could happen?” Applejack asked seriously. “Are there more things out there that mean us harm?”

Sunset had certainly thought about it many times. More than once since then she’d felt a foreboding sense of something bad on the horizon, but it was vague. Like a half-remembered dream.

“It’s certainly possible,” Sunset answered honestly.

“Then that’s my dilemma…” Applejack sighed, leaving it at that as she got to work finishing her essay. “I feel like you need to know, but I promised not to tell.”

Sunset understood, without really understanding. Responsibility for the protection of Earth was a huge weight, and Sunset knew that it wouldn’t be long before that responsibility came into conflict with her own personal ideology. But that was a problem for another day, and right now, Applejack’s own dilemma continued to perplex and worry her. The way she spoke, it sounded like Applejack knew something—and that something had to do with Sunset’s duties as the Alicorn of Earth.

But before Sunset could say anything, her phone started vibrating, and “August Day Song” by Tanto Tiempo started playing. Sunset recognized that ringtone, and sure enough, when she pulled out her phone the image of Pinkie Pie grinning with a mouth full of frosting greeted her. She looked like an incredibly cheerful rabid animal foaming at the mouth.

“Oh, Pinkie wants to Facetime,” Sunset said as she held up the phone and pressed the button to answer.

The image of Pinkie that appeared when they connected was a far cry from the one on her caller ID. The goofy, grinning girl was replaced by a much more morose thing with red-tinged eyes.

Hey, Sunny,” Pinkie said, sniffing.

“Pinkie? Is everything okay?” Sunset asked.

Fine, just….” With another sniff, Pinkie continued. “Can I come over to your place and stay there for, uh… ever?

“Pinkie, I’m not even home right now. I’m at Applejack’s.”

To illustrate her point, Sunset rotated the phone so that Pinkie could see Applejack.

“Howdy, Pinkie!” Applejack said, giving the girl a sympathetic smile. “Something happen?”

It seemed a long time before Pinkie finally answered. “Well… I sorta, kinda, maybe had a fight with Uncle Carrot and Auntie Cup.

Sunset turned her phone back around so the camera was on her again. “Let me guess, they found out about the little stunt you pulled with the cupcakes?”

Applejack tilted her head and momentarily looked at Sunset like she was simple, before writing it off as “typical Pinkie Pie”. Given how upset Pinkie looked, Sunset wondered just how heated the talk had gotten.

Pinkie whimpered and nodded, but then added, “It’s not just that…. They know about us.

“Right… ‘us’,” Sunset said with careful neutrality.

Pinkie nodded again. “And it’s not just that, either! I… may also have said too much about, y’know… my history with the Club.

Sunset gasped, covering her mouth. “Oh God… how much do they know?”

Technically, they still don’t know anything,” Pinkie said, noticeably trembling even through the laggy image. “But they definitely have their suspicions now. They’ve only just stopped knocking at my door.” With another groan, Pinkie asked, “So, can I stay over, Sunny?

“Well….”

I promise not to take up too much space! Besides, you have a queen-sized bed anyway, right? Plenty of room for the both of us!

“Well, we have rooms to spare, but Pinkie, I don’t think….”

But this way I can practice being your personal Dutch Wife!

“I thought you were Anglo-Cherokee?”

At that, Applejack burst out laughing. “Sunny, sometimes you are too dang precious!”

Sunset got the distinct feeling like she was missing something—even now, she found her knowledge of human culture lacking being not native to her adopted homeworld—but decided whatever it was wasn’t important at the moment.

“Look, Pinkie. Running away—because that’s exactly what you’d be doing by staying with me—it isn’t a permanent solution. Trust me, I learned this the hard way,” Sunset said. Her tone was stern so Pinkie would know how serious this was, but Sunset made sure to keep her voice soft and sympathetic. “You were always going to have to talk to your aunt and uncle about this eventually, and by the sound of things, it’ll be sooner rather than later.”

Pinkie took a trembling sigh, and for a moment Sunset thought she’d reached her, but then Pinkie said, “I could always make something up.”

“What?”

“I could tell them Sweet Cicely was the Club’s first victim, and that was why she and Royal Atlas moved away!” Pinkie grinned, but with her hair so straight it only looked desperate and sad. “That’ll work, right?”

She must have been extremely desperate if she was willing to paint her first abusers as victims, Sunset thought.

“Pardon mah Fancy, but fuck no it won’t,” Applejack said, and Sunset turned her phone so Pinkie could see her. “Pinks, if you lie about something this big, it’ll taint your whole relationship with your aunt and uncle! In a situation like this, honesty is the best policy.”

“But… I don’t want them to know. It’ll break their hearts!”

“It probably will,” Applejack said simply. “But the truth hurts us sometimes. For better or for worse.”

“But what if they decide to send me back to Arkansas?” Pinkie continued, desperately groping for some reason not to tell them. “The whole Dead Hand Killer thing was hard enough on them, but if they find out I was actually assaulted… Sunny, I can’t go back there. You and the girls are the only thing that gets me through some days! I can’t… I don’t know what I would do without my friends… without the love of my life….”

Seeing that Pinkie was on the verge of tears, Sunset couldn’t take it. “Hold on Pinkie, I’m going to teleport you over here….”

But before Sunset could even start to pull in magic, Applejack’s eyes went wide and she held out her hands, shaking her head rapidly. “Sunny, don’t! My whole family is here. What if they see?”

Sunset stopped immediately. “Oh, right….”

Of course, Applejack could also see just how distressed Pinkie was, and how not being able to help her was hurting Sunset. So she gently took the phone from Sunset and looked Pinkie Pie right in the eye.

“Pinkie, I know that the prospect of confessing everything is scary. I know that sometimes it feels like telling the truth will actually do more harm than good, but I’ve always believed that as far as the people you care about go, being honest with them is the better long-term strategy.” Applejack sighed and looked away after she said her piece, and Sunset wondered whether she realized just how topical her words were.

“AJ’s right,” Sunset said, getting into frame. Pinkie looked back at her, quiet and contemplative. “Take it from me: You don’t want to make the mistake of waiting too long to be honest with the people you love.”

“Yeah, I guess you would know all about that, huh?” Pinkie gave a sad little laugh, but it still sounded more genuinely joyful than anything else she’d said that conversation. “Okay, I’ll think about it. As the great Meat Loaf once said, ‘Oh baby let me sleep on it.’”

Sunset laughed. “Okay, I guess that’ll have to do. You think you’ll be good?”

“Yeah, you’re good to hang up if you want. Applejack’s there, so I’d feel a little weird if we started sexting.”

Considering the return of Pinkie’s sense of humor (weird though it was) a sign that she was starting to feel better, Sunset and Applejack said their goodbyes, and after doing the same, Pinkie hung up.

“Gotta say, that was some good advice you gave her,” Sunset said, giving Applejack a knowing look. “I can see why honesty is your wheelhouse.”

With a roll of her eyes, Applejack said, “Yeah yeah, I see what you’re doing, Sunny. But you’re right. Or, I guess… I’m right?” Applejack shook her head. “Regardless, I suppose I owe you an explanation. A real one.”

With that, Applejack stood and turned to the door, motioning for Sunset to follow. “C’mon, I gotta show you something.”

Looks like the confessions are gonna keep coming, Sunset thought as she stood and followed Applejack inside. The pair of girls went upstairs to Applejack’s room, and when they got there, the blonde closed the door.

“Back in March, when you and Tavi went to that exhibit in LA, and Pinkie went home to Arkansas, I was visiting relatives over in Oklahoma,” Applejack explained as she went to her dresser and started rummaging through the drawers.

“I remember. You were visiting your cousin Braeburn or something, right?” Sunset asked, idly wondering where her friend was going with this, not to mention what she was looking for.

“That’s right. Well, while I was there I sort of… met this girl….” Applejack trailed off and grunted in frustration as she apparently couldn’t find what she was looking for.

Sunset couldn’t keep herself from grinning. “Aw, that’s great! I’m happy for you. Didn’t know your barn door swung that way, though!”

Pfft. Shut up, Sunny,” Applejack grunted, ignoring Sunset’s good-natured laughter before muttering “Ah-ha!” and pulling something out of the bottom drawer: a small envelope. “Anyway, this girl… turns out she wasn’t really a girl.”

Sunset tilted her head and asked, “What does that mean?”

“It means she’s like you, Sunset. Not a girl, but a mare,” Applejack said seriously, and Sunset’s mouth slowly drifted open as she added, “A unicorn mare from Equestria.”

Applejack handed Sunset the envelope, but Sunset just stared at her in silent shock. “It’s been over half a year since then, AJ. Don’t you think that’s something I would have wanted to know?”

“I told you Sunny, I made a promise. This girl… pony… whatever, she’s been through a lot. Wants to put her old life in Equestria behind her, and I think seeing you would just… remind her of everything she’s lost.” Applejack then sighed. “But I had more selfish reasons for not telling you about her as well. You see, she’s engaged to my cousin Braeburn.”

Sunset nodded, thinking she might have figured out where Applejack was going with this if their earlier conversation was anything to go by.

“That’s why the events of this last summer had me so… conflicted,” Applejack continued. “If more stuff like what happened with that Divine Right fella could potentially happen, this girl doesn’t want to get involved for the same reason I don’t want her involved either.”

Sunset understood immediately. “Braeburn.”

“Both of them. She’s a part of the Apple family now as much as Brae is,” Applejack said. “But at the same time, if more danger is on the horizon, you’re gonna need as much information as you can get. And, well….”

Applejack pointed at the envelope she’d handed Sunset, and Sunset finally looked down to see writing on the back.

To be opened only if either world is in true peril.

“Do you know what this is about?” Sunset asked, looking back up at Applejack.

With a shrug, Applejack said, “I’m a little fuzzy on the details. She mentioned something about a Witch, or somebody—guess that’s somepony—plotting against her old master. You’re probably better off just reading that, or talking to her yourself.”

Sunset nodded, but the message on the envelope told her she shouldn’t get too ahead of herself. Instead, she put the envelope away.

“Thanks for telling me this, AJ,” she said sincerely. “I know making that decision wasn’t easy for you. And I promise, if I do contact your friend, I won’t do so lightly.”

Now, Sunset Shimmer sat in the early morning darkness of her bedroom, the closed envelope before her. She had meant the promise she made to Applejack the day before, but the dream that had awakened her was still vivid in her mind’s eye: the gathering shadows, her dying friends, and the horrible taunting face of the eyeless man. She’d written down the details of the dream in a journal, but it hardly seemed necessary considering how clear it still was.

Looking at the message written on the envelope, Sunset knew that opening it would be passing a sort of point of no return—it would be accepting that there really was danger coming, and would potentially be putting Applejack’s family in the line of fire. But Sunset had ignored the dreams that had preluded the events of last August, and she didn’t intend on being blindsided by more malevolent forces. Never again.

So with resolve, Sunset tore open the envelope and pulled out the paper within. After unfolding it, Sunset found handwriting so neat she could have mistaken it for a fancy computer font.

Sunset’s eyes scanned the letter again and again, drinking it all in. If she was reading this right, then this “Jade Lily” wasn’t just a transplant from Equestria—she was a transplant from Equestria as it was millennia ago. Sunset was very curious to learn more about that, in addition to everything else she’d already wanted to know. She briefly checked the address written at the bottom of the letter, and noted it was for the student residence building at Michigan Tech University.

She glanced at the digital clock on her bedside table. The number 3:35 glared back at her with red LED light. In Michigan, it would have been 6:35, and on a weekday, it was more than likely that Jade would be awake; if not now, then soon. So with a yawn, Sunset grabbed a bundle of clothes and strode across the hall to the bathroom, where she showered, brushed her hair, put on clothes, and applied make-up—nothing fancy, just enough to look presentable. Returning to her room, Sunset grabbed her bag and filled it with her journal in addition to whatever magic-related items she thought she might need.

Then she went to her computer and opened up Google Maps. Entering in the address for the Michigan Tech residence building, Sunset entered Street View and studied the campus and the surrounding area carefully, committing as much detail to memory as she could. Then with one final glance at the clock (which now said 4:01) Sunset closed her eyes and concentrated, trying to focus on the images of the campus as she built up magic power. Then in a flash of cyan light, Sunset disappeared.

Sighing contently, Jade Lily dozed in her bunk within her dormitory at Michigan Tech. A glance at her phone confirmed it was ten past seven—still another three hours until her first and only class of the day. Then she got to spend the rest of it, and then the weekend, with the man she was crazy for.

Rolling over, Jade gazed across the room to the other bunk where the love of her life slept, snoring softly. Braeburn had a long weekend at the University of Hawaii, so the both of them thought it would be a good idea for him to fly in so they could spend the weekend together. Looking at the well-toned muscles on his shirtless body, Jade felt traces of hot pressure build in her loins. She would have greatly preferred having Braeburn in her own bunk with her, but knew that he was saving himself for marriage.

Graduation can’t come fast enough, Jade thought, looking at the promise ring on her finger.

Her fantasizing was interrupted by a knock at the door. Jade let out a quiet moan. Who could possibly be knocking at this time in the morning? Half dressed and probably looking like a hot mess, Jade didn’t want to get up to answer the door. So after checking to make sure Braeburn was still asleep, Jade called Equestrian magic to her hand and summoned her “roommate”.

A dark-skinned girl with pink and sea-blue hair appeared in a coalescence of sparkles. After the… incident with her former roommate, Jade had created a magical construct in the shape of a girl named Pink Pearl, not unlike the magical constructs she’d created to serve as “parents” back home in Oklahoma. Pink Pearl was based on a filly Jade had been friends with at the old Mage Academy back in what was now Equestria—or, how Jade imagined she might have looked as a human. That, plus a few traits of a dearly departed friend here at MTU.

Jade kept her focus on Braeburn as Pink Pearl went to check the door. Partly because she’d told him her roommate was away for the week and wanted to make sure he wouldn’t wake up, and partly because she just liked watching him sleep.

“Hey…” she heard Pearl say, inflecting a tired tone of voice. “Do you need something, uh… sorry, do I know you?”

Jade frowned. She had programmed the construct with knowledge of the names and faces of everyone in the residence. So who was at the door?

“Huh… I have to say, this is really well made,” a strange female voice replied to Pearl’s, and Jade felt a pit of worry form in her stomach as she started to wonder just what the stranger was talking about.

“Excuse me?” Pearl asked.

“The skin complexion is extremely detailed, and the emotional algorithms are incredibly convincing,” the stranger continued, and Jade realized with rising panic that she wasn’t talking to Pearl. “But you’re not really using magic power very economically. This thing is practically radiating arcane energy!”

Climbing down from her bunk in a frenzy, Jade made her way to the door, summoning magic for a defensive spell, thinking that his agents had come for her again. Jade stepped beside Pearl and opened the door all the way, where an unfamiliar girl with red and yellow hair like a wild flame stood looking at her with soft cyan eyes.

“You’re Jade Lily, right?” the stranger asked. “Applejack’s told me all about you.”

It was at that moment when everything finally clicked, and Jade dispelled the magical energy she was preparing.

“Are you… Sunset Shimmer?” she asked, and when the other girl nodded, Jade smiled. “Heh, I’ve heard a lot about you from AJ myself. Nice to finally meet you. Please, come in.”

Jade stepped aside and with a wave of her hand, dispelled the magic holding together her construct, sending Pearl back to the enchanted gemstone on the desk beneath her bunk.

“Sorry for dropping in unannounced like this, but you didn’t exactly leave me any other way to contact you,” Sunset said as she looked around the rather modest dorm room, taking in the wooden bunk beds on either side and the cluttered desks that sat beneath them.

“It’s alright,” Jade said, before realizing she was in nothing but a bra and panties and smiling awkwardly. “But maybe I should put some clothes on!”

“It’s okay. We need to talk, and if it’s alright with you, I figured we’d do so in our, um… true forms.”

Jade gave a worried frown. “You know, my message said for it to only be opened if either world is in grave danger. Are they…?”

“I don’t know…” Sunset said, looking worried herself. “I guess that’s what I’m here to find out.”

“Then we should talk in my lab,” Jade said, before going over to the bunk where Braeburn began to stir. Her hand glowed with a soft gray aura, and Braeburn lay still, his soft snores returning.

When Jade turned around, she saw Sunset looking at her boyfriend with a knowing smile. “So, is that Braeburn?”

With an awkward smile of her own—half-sheepish and half-proud—Jade held up her hand, showing off the ring. “My future husband, yeah.”

“Well, if he’s half as brave and honest as Applejack, then you lucked out,” Sunset said, before clearing her throat. “Now, should we get to business?”

Jade answered by going back to the door and unclasped the curtain of beads framing it all the way down to the floor. Sunset quickly noted that each bead was actually a piece of gemstone that Jade had broken down and enchanted. With another wave of her hand, Jade cast the activation spell and each individual bead glowed with many colors. The surface of the closed door rippled and changed, until the door was gone, a portal to a large room in its place.

“After you,” Jade said, motioning for Sunset to step through. Suffice it to say, she was infinitely more impressed with the portal than she was with the construct.

Wasting no more time, Sunset stepped through the portal and Jade followed, pausing only to glance back at the sleeping form of her boyfriend. The room beyond was cavernous and filled with a contradictory combination of technology (TV screens, computers) and magical equipment. What appeared to be a cheap chemistry set was on a table off to one side, a chalkboard covered in chalky dust was to the other, and drawings of runes and written spells were scattered about. In the corner was what appeared to be an enchanting table, next to a cabinet filled with chemical—or more likely, alchemical—reagents.

“Wow… I need to get some of this for my Batcave!” Sunset exclaimed, looking around in wonder. The SIRENs' command room in the basement of her mansion didn’t have nearly as many magical implements. “Where exactly are we?”

“My house back in Heavener,” Jade explained. “Or rather, the secret room beneath the old barn that someone who lived here before me had installed. My best guess so far is that it was used to make moonshine… or maybe it was a meth lab, I dunno.”

Jade then cast another spell, and in a few quick moments she felt her body shrink and change as she got to all fours. Soon, a unicorn mare with a verdigris coat stood in Jade’s place. She looked up at Sunset, only to find the girl staring at her in disbelief and… trying to suppress laughter?

“What? You said you wanted to do this in our true forms, didn’t you?” Jade asked, rubbing a hoof along the adjacent leg self-consciously.

Sunset merely snorted as she pointed at something on Jade’s chest, and the unicorn mare suddenly felt even more self conscious as she looked down at herself. She was still wearing her bra and underwear, which looked utterly ridiculous on her quadrupedal from. Feeling the heat of a blush tinge her cheeks, Jade quickly teleported the clothing away as Sunset summoned cyan magic and changed her own from. The other girl had the sense to teleport her own clothes away as she did so, and once Jade saw the other pony, she realized why.

“What the…? That’s not possible…” Jade gasped as she looked at Sunset’s horn… and wings. “Applejack said you might be Celestia’s daughter, but I didn’t think….”

Suddenly gasping even louder, Jade remembered herself and engaged in the proper protocol for this kind of scenario. She crouched low and bowed her head to the alicorn before her.

“Forgive me, Your Highness! If I had only known….”

Sunset looked at her own wings as if just remembering them herself, before saying, “No no no, there’s no need for that! Jade, you’re practically Applejack’s family, which means you’re practically my family. Just call me Sunset, or Sunny. Without the grovelling, please.”

“Sorry, Your High… er, Sunset,” Jade said as she stood. “Wow, I guess Equestria really has changed a lot over the years….”

Sunset levitated her bag off of her back—the one article of clothing she hadn’t teleported away when she transformed—opened it, and began pulling out books and notes. “Yep. Now, as much as I’d enjoy filling you in on just how our homeland is doing now, I think that conversation will have to wait for another time. For now, we have more important things to discuss.”

Then Sunset told her about the dream she had. The dream she was all but certain was a prophecy of events to come. She spoke about seeing all of her friends on both worlds being struck down by enemies. Many, many enemies from all over, the only identifiable face being that of the eyeless man.

“Well that’s certainly foreboding…” Jade said when Sunset was finally finished. “But it doesn’t exactly give us much to go on, does it?”

“No kidding,” Sunset said. “The only thing I was even remotely able to make sense of was the riddle. And that was only because I Googled it before I came here.”

Jade looked down at one of the notebooks Sunset had showed her while she’d explained everything, and read the words on the page again. What is the creature that walks upon four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening? For the sword that protects, evening lasts eternal.

“Right, that’s the riddle of the sphinx, from the Greek myth of King Oedipus,” Jade said, having recognized it instantly. Sunset raised an impressed eyebrow, and Jade elaborated, “We had to read Sophocles’ play for English class back in high school.” Jade grinned awkwardly and shook her head. “Gotta say, I was not expecting that story to go the way it did!”

“Right. Anyway, that only covers the first part of the riddle,” Sunset said. “The second part—the ‘sword that protects’? I have no idea what it could mean.”

“Me neither, but it sounds familiar. I feel like I read something about ‘the protecting swords’ back when I studied under Lord Starswirl…” Jade said, putting a hoof to her chin. “But the first part of the riddle… in the story of Oedipus, the answer to the riddle of the sphinx was ‘man.’”

“The eyeless man said that ‘Earth already has a ruler.’ Could he be talking about humanity itself?” Sunset supposited. It made some sense, she supposed. Still, it revealed nothing of the eyeless man’s identity.

“Regardless, without more information we can only speculate,” Jade said before turning towards a nearby desk. “But more information is exactly what you came for, isn’t it?”

With a nod, Sunset said, “That’s right. Your letter mentioned something about researching Equestrian magic in the human world?”

Pulling out a small stack of books and notes, Jade walked back over to the alicorn. “That’s right. I don’t know if Applejack already told you about my theory that somepony was plotting against Lord Starswirl. According to the history book Applejack gave me, Lord Starswirl’s mirror portal went missing shortly after his death. Around the equivalent time here on Earth, the Ordo Duodecim appeared.”

Sunset tilted her head. “The what?

“A secret order of humans with Equestrian magic. In Latin, it means ‘the Order of Twelve,’” Jade explained. “I’m not sure on the name’s significance. I’d say it’s a reference to the twelve disciples from the Bible, but I’m pretty sure this group predates even that.

“Regardless, these people were bad news. Only a few history books I found actually make mention of them, and then only as little more than footnotes, but what I found was disturbing. They apparently made it a habit to ritualistically mutilate, burn—and in some accounts, eat—people they described as ‘unworthy of the Gift.’ Something that, apparently, each member of the Order possessed.”

Already feeling her stomach churn, Sunset asked. “And you think this ‘Gift’ was Equestrian magic?”

“That or human magic,” Jade stated. “See for yourself.”

Sunset looked at the pages Jade placed in front of her, looking to be printouts from some website. Pictured there were symbols that the Ordo Duodecim often made use of—symbols that Sunset recognized as Equestrian spellcasting runes, albeit very old ones.

“I got this from a website run by a bunch of hardcore historians; these guys have spent a few years scouring some of the oldest archives in the world and putting as many obscure pieces of history as they can up on the web. I’ll link it to you—it’s pretty neat stuff,” Jade said, almost reaching Pinkie levels of enthusiasm for a second. “The posts on their website are some of the only sources I could find that even makes mention of the Ordo Duodecim existing at all, but even then their presence is scarce.”

“Almost like someone wants to keep them out of the history books, huh?”

Jade looked at Sunset with quiet horror, as if that disturbing thought hadn’t even crossed her mind. This group would have to be pretty powerful—in both magic and politics—to so effectively suppress history.

“What’s the earliest period of time they appeared at?” Sunset asked, trying to keep Jade focused.

Flipping through her printouts, Jade said, “The earliest mention of them I can find was during Julius Caesar’s reign of the Roman Empire, but by the sound of these descriptions they were around even before that.

“There’s a few sporadic mentions of the Order throughout Caesar and Augustus’ respective reigns, and then it says they were all put to death by the emperor some time in the later half of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. At first I had thought that was the end of Ordo Duodecim...”

Sunset wondered if that was exactly what they wanted us to think, but this time elected not to say anything out loud as Jade continued, “Then I found this in MTU’s library, of all places.”

Jade pulled out another book, this one titled The Unabridged History of the Holy Crusades, by Dusty Tome. Flipping to a certain page, Jade turned the book so it was facing Sunset and pointed to a picture of what appeared to be a coat of arms. Beside the picture was a caption: The oldest known version of the sigil of the Knights Templar.

Pictured was a red cross that divided a white banner into four quadrants. Two of the quadrants were occupied by a few of the same Equestrian runes from before. Another—the bottom right—was filled by a white unicorn head in profile; the sigil of Old Unicornia. Finally, the top left quadrant was filled by XII… the roman numeral twelve.

“Huh…” was all Sunset said.

“It was a French knight called Hugues de Payens who founded the Knights Templar and was its first Grandmaster. But according to this book and this book alone, he also went by the title ‘Cæcus Sphinge’… which just so happened to be a title used by the leaders of Ordo Duodecim centuries before.”

“So… you’re telling me you think the Ordo Duodecim survived and founded the original Knights Templar?” Sunset asked with uncertainty.

Jade frowned at the look the alicorn was giving her. It felt like she was imagining a tinfoil hat on her head.

“It’s possible. More than possible, even! Here, look at this,” Jade said, flipping through even more pages of the book until she found the page she wanted.

Sunset looked at the page and read, starting at the paragraph Jade indicated.

Notes from the memoirs of Raynald of Châtillon indicate that tensions were high between the various contingents within King Baldwin IV’s force leading up to the Battle of Montgisard. According to him, Odo de St. Amand had his Templar knights round up many of the villagers of Ascalon during Baldwin’s defense of the coastal town from Saladin’s forces. Claiming them to be heretics, St. Amand and his Templars had the villagers’ entrails cut out and burned. When Raynald brought this information to King Baldwin, the king apparently met with St. Amand in private, after which he concluded the Templars did the right thing in purging those unworthy of ‘the Gift.’ One can only speculate as to what that means, only that Raynald’s memoirs state St. Amand mentioned it many times, and then after meeting with him, so did the king.

Sunset put the book down, trying to make sense of it. Sunset’s rational mind told her they were being paranoid… or perhaps she just wanted to think that’s all it was. But a tiny voice inside her couldn’t deny the similarities between that account and those of the original Ordo Duodecim in Rome hundreds of years prior.

“It doesn’t say so here, but St. Amand also bore the title of Cæcus Sphinge within the Templars,” Jade said with a sigh. “There were incidents like that all throughout the Crusades, with the Templars putting down supposed heretics for possessing a ‘Gift,’”

“All of them people with magic?” Sunset asked.

“Yes, and I don’t think it ended when King Philip IV disbanded the Templar Order either. Ordo Duodecim survived mass execution at the hands of Rome, it seems likely to assume they were able to survive persecution at the hands of the Holy See, too,” Jade said, moving to a large series of computer towers on one side of the room.

Sunset followed her, and quickly noted that they weren’t just computers: She could see spellcasting gems through the clear outer case fitted carefully into the wiring. An unusual amalgamation of magic and technology.

“I built this just last year. It uses the worldwide web to detect uses of all kinds of magic all over the world, and relays the data back here,” Jade explained, and Sunset let out an impressed whistle. “It’s pulled in a lot of results on dark magic rituals—the same kind I theorize Ordo Duodecim used. There’s way more here for those ‘Dead Hand Killings’ back in your hometown to account for them all.”

Sunset was curious just how much Jade knew about the events of the summer, and wondered if she should tell her everything that had really happened. She ultimately decided to focus on the current issue.

“Where are these results coming from?” Sunset asked, thinking they could use this to determine a location for this group—assuming they still existed, of course.

Jade just gave her a grim look. “Everywhere. Across the US, the Vatican City, Italy, Egypt, Eastern Europe, most of the UK, even fucking Japan.”

“Sweet Celestia…” Sunset muttered.

“Granted, there’s no way to know for sure that any one of these is Ordo Duodecim’s handiwork. For all we know, it could just be completely unrelated groups or individuals across the world, but even so...“ Jade said. “For this many different actors to all know the same dark rituals…. I don’t like it.”

“Me neither. Dark magic rituals are never a good thing.” Sunset paused to really think about everything she’d just been told.

There was certainly enough circumstantial evidence to suggest the Ordo Duodecim was still a threat, but that’s all it was. There was no reason to believe they were the source of all this. Were she and Jade simply latching onto an obscure, long extinct cult out of paranoia? Am I really that desperate to find some shadowy enemy to explain the dreams?

But then Sunset realized: Jade never mentioned having any such dreams, and she was researching this ancient magical order with tenacity. Sunset had only just met her. For all she knew, Jade was a paranoid schizophrenic. But something told her that wasn’t the case.

“Jade… is there a reason you’ve been so focused on researching this cult?” Sunset asked. “You haven’t been having weird dreams too, have you?”

Jade shook her head.

“Then… did something else happen?”

At that, Jade sighed slowly, and her gaze fell to her hoof as it idly scuffed the floor. Sunset initially took that as a no, but then she really saw Jade’s face. Her frown was haunted, and her eyes were seeing horrors miles away.

“Something happened alright. It’s why I have that construct back in my dorm instead of a real roommate,” Jade said. She sounded afraid. “About a month ago, I actually encountered an agent of Ordo Duodecim personally. She was my roommate, but it turns out she was actually sent here to spy on me, and then… she murdered one of my friends here. That’s how I know what kind of dark rituals the Order uses. I saw the casting circle with my own eyes.”

“I’m sorry,” Sunset said sincerely, resting a hoof on her shoulder. “This agent… where is she now?”

Jade just shook her head. “Evidently, being discovered displeased her master. Whoever… or whatever this guy is, his power is horrifying.”

A thought occurred to Sunset. “You think the eyeless man is in charge of the Ordo Duodecim?”

“I’d put money on it.”

“And you’re not still in danger from this guy, are you?”

Finally, Jade’s eyes met Sunset’s, and the alicorn could see their haunted depths. “Honestly? I think we all are.”

Jade closed her eyes, willing herself to relax a bit. When she opened them again, more of the mare Sunset had met was back again. “But we still have time, I think. Before he makes his move. And I’m taking way more precautions than I was before. My new ‘roommate’ isn’t the only new defensive measure I’ve got. If Ordo Duodecim sends any more of its agents my way, I’ll be ready.”

“Right, well I guess that’s all we can do for now,” Sunset said, suppressing a yawn. It was still very early in the morning back in Canterlot, and all of that not-sleep she had gotten that night was suddenly hitting her like a ton of bricks. “I’ll talk to my family about beefing up our own security at home. After my coronation in Equestria, we can start to look into this in earnest. I’ll give my people your information so we can keep in touch if anything comes up.”

At that, Jade looked more uncertain. “Sorry Sunset, you know I’ll help you however I can, but… I said in my letter I didn’t want to be too heavily involved with this stuff.” Jade looked back towards the portal to her dorm room in Michigan. “I don’t want to put any of my loved ones in danger.”

“I know how you feel, and I don’t like the idea of putting the people I care about in the line of fire anymore than you,” Sunset said, putting a hoof on the other mare’s withers and smiling sympathetically. “But I’m a princess now—the Alicorn of Earth. It’s my duty to protect this world from anyone or anything that would do it harm.”

“I know. And if I find any more information I think you can use, I’ll be sure to send it to you,” Jade said. “But otherwise… I’d rather be left out of Equestrian affairs.”

“I understand,” Sunset said. She only just met Jade, and she couldn’t very well draft her into her steadily growing personal army. The poor girl had been through enough already, both with her recent encounter and with everyone she ever knew in Equestria being long since dead. As tragic as the thought was though, it did bring another to the forefront of Sunset’s mind that was simply too exciting for her to ignore.

“So… what was he like?” Sunset asked, practically starry eyed as the two of them walked back towards the portal. “How was it being the apprentice to Starswirl the Fucking Bearded?

Jade gave her a look that just said, “Really?” and Sunset said, “Sorry, I’m just… kind of a fan.”

Finally allowing the humorous smile to adorn her face, Jade answered, “He was extremely cool. Stern, of course, and came off as a little mad at times, but he was utterly brilliant. It really seemed like he’d seen it all. And I got the sense that… he really cared about my future as a mage, you know?” She then blushed and said with a hint of sorrow, “I like to think that if there was anypony he saw as a daughter as much as the young Princess Celestia… it was me.” Tears started to fill her eyes as she continued, “I just hope that… that he didn’t blame himself for what happened to me.”

Suddenly feeling very guilty for having asked, Sunset draped a wing over her. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. It’s in the past,” Jade said, drying her tears before they could fall. She then added with a sad little laugh, “Thousands of years in the past.”

The two stood there in silence for a few moments, just outside the portal back to the dorm room. They then wordlessly agreed it was time to take their assumed forms, and with a bright flash of cyan and gray light, the two mares became two young women. Jade had fortunately remembered to summon more or less proper clothes, and now wore a t-shirt and pajama pants. The two of them then walked through the portal, Jade closing it after they came out the other side.

“You know, if you ever wanted to go back to Equestria… you could come with me to my coronation. As a guest, of course, not as part of my—or anypony’s—retinue.”

For a while Jade only looked at her, until finally, with a nostalgic sigh, she said, “Thanks, but… I don’t know. What would I do if I went back? The home I knew is gone… as are all the ponies I knew. No, I’m sorry, but… going back now would hurt too much.” Jade sighed again and looked over at the young man still asleep in one of the bunks. “Everything I’ll ever need is in this world now.”

The pair of them chatted for a few minutes longer, with Jade telling her a bit about her life in pre-unification Equestria, and Sunset sharing some of her own experiences. Jade even gave Sunset one of the Wonderstones that Starswirl had tasked her with bringing to the human world.

"I suppose they'd be important historical artifacts in our world now. At least one of them should be in a museum there," Jade said, before her lover's sleeping form caught her eye again.

Sunset watched her go over to the bunk where Braeburn was still sleeping, checking on the spell that had kept him asleep and lingering a few moments just to look at him. A hint of concern entered the disguised alicorn then.

“You really love him, don’t you?” Sunset asked. “But he doesn’t know about what you are, or where you really came from, does he?”

Looking back at Sunset, Jade shook her head. “I’m still figuring out how I’m going to tell him.”

“Well, you want my advice? Don’t wait too long to figure it out.” Sunset gave the other girl a serious look. “Trust me, you don’t want to make that kind of confession too late. It’s… the kind of thing that could destroy a relationship.”

It didn’t take much for Jade to realize Sunset was speaking from personal experience there. But she still wasn’t sure how to to talk to Brae about it.

“I’ll… I’ll keep that in mind,” Jade said, giving her new friend a sincere—but still endearingly awkward—smile as she then escorted her to the door. “Thank you, Sunset. It was nice to meet you.”

With a trembling breath, Pinkie Pie stepped out of her room. She was still in her pajamas, and she’d only barely brushed her hair enough to make it presentable. Very little sleep had been gotten the previous night since her Facetime with Sunset. Pinkie knew what she had to do, but it was hard. It was so damn hard.

But Pinkie was steadfast in her mission; she was a fool to think she could ever get out of making this confession. She walked down the hall to the kitchen, where she heard her aunt and uncle preparing coffee and breakfast. She could hear their voices as she drew nearer.

“You heard what she said, Carrot,” Aunt Cup’s voice said. “I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I’m so worried….”

“I know, Cup. I know,” Uncle Carrot’s soft, comforting voice quickly followed. “But she’ll talk to us no sooner than when she’s ready….”

Carrot immediately trailed off as Pinkie entered the kitchen. Pinkie didn’t miss the cautious way they both looked at her as the twins gurgled in their respective highchairs.

“Good morning, Pinkie,” Cup said after a pause.

“Auntie Cup, Uncle Carrot,” Pinkie greeted seriously. She knew that the lack of humor in her voice was telling, but she didn’t care. “We need to have a talk.”

Her aunt and uncle exchanged a look, and Pinkie felt an almost reversal of roles from last night, with her being the one to say the dreaded words. So without protest, the Cakes followed Pinkie into the living room.

“First of all, I owe you guys an apology. I’m sorry I yelled at you,” Pinkie said somberly once the three of them were seated on the living room couch. “But there’s something you need to know. Something I should have told you a long time ago.”

Pinkie closed her eyes and took a breath, and felt a hand on hers. Her Auntie Cup was there when she opened her eyes, smiling warmly at her. Both of them were. That was when Pinkie knew this was it: If they didn’t suspect it before, there was no way they didn’t now. No turning back. Pinkie thought to herself, and then she began.

“Do you guys remember my old boyfriend?” Pinkie asked.

Royal Atlas?” Cup gasped, clearly already grasping where Pinkie was taking this as her look turned stony after that. “So I take it you didn’t just break up with him because he moved away?”

Pinkie shook her head. In truth, she was kind of thankful that her aunt had already put some of it together herself. If Pinkie didn’t know better, she would’ve thought she’d inherited her intellect from Cup. For all the good it ended up doing me.

She then opened her mouth and continued to speak. She spoke about how the pills Atlas had given her to replace the ones she’d lost were nothing but placebos, and that he and his supposed half-sister Sweet Cicely were secretly manufacturing dependency issues within her. She spoke about Cicely taking her out to a party one night—one that Cup remembered with horror she’d allowed them to go to—and how it was the worst night of her life.

She spoke about how she was overpowered, stripped, and degraded as the four or six boys (Pinkie couldn’t honestly remember how many there were) used her, including Flash Sentry and a few of the others involved with the Vibe incident from the previous year. How they each took turns—one at a time, two at a time—laughing and insulting her all the while. How Cicely herself had debased her once Pinkie had been all but destroyed. Her Uncle Carrot was actually the first to start openly weeping, with Cup following shortly after Pinkie mentioned something she remembered one of the boys saying when she begged them to stop.

Shut up, you love it, whore.

But Pinkie wasn’t finished yet. She went on to speak about six weeks later, when she started feeling the telltale morning sickness, increased appetite and mood swings that Cup was all too familiar with. She went on to speak about going down to the abortion clinic in Norville and making the decision that still haunted her.

The whole time she spoke, Pinkie was as terrified as she’d been when she’d confessed all of this to Sunset back in the summer. Except this was somehow worse. The pain on her aunt and uncle’s faces hurt her so much more than seeing it on Sunset’s. And then there was the silence. The deafening silence, punctuated only by the occasional sound of sniffling, whether from her aunt and uncle or Pinkie herself. She could only imagine what must have been going through their heads.

Finally, Uncle Carrot outstretched his hand, and tentatively—very tentatively, as if she were made of glass—touched her shoulder. It made Pinkie irrationally angry. What, did they suddenly think she was going to shatter at the slightest contact?

“Pinkie… sweetheart…” he said painfully, and then put his arm around her fully. Pinkie’s anger faded as quickly as it had come. “Why… why didn’t you say anything?”

With a helpless shrug, Pinkie said, “Why do you think? This was my burden to bear. I didn’t want to break your hearts.”

Hearing that drew a fresh sob from Cup. “Oh, sweetie,” she said, reaching over and taking Pinkie’s hand in hers. “What breaks my heart is knowing you’ve been suffering alone all this time!”

“I haven’t been alone,” Pinkie said, thoughts of her friends—of her dream girl—beginning to push away the dark memories. “Not entirely.”

“Still, I wish you would have told us sooner,” Carrot said, giving her shoulder a gentle rub. “But I’m glad you told us now. This must have been hard for you, huh?”

Pinkie nodded. “Also, I kinda was worried you were gonna send me back to Arkansas to live with Mom when you found out.” Pinkie gave a nervous grin. “Guess that was a little silly of me, huh?”

“All things considered, we can hardly fault you for getting a little irrational.”

Carrot gave her a smile. It was pained, but he was trying, and more of the darkness and bad memories were pushed away. Then she looked at Cup, who looked torn between utter heartbreak and utter anger.

“Maybe we should have...” she said tearfully. “We were supposed to keep you safe! Quartzie trusted me to take care of you! I should have seen the signs, I should have been paying attention!” Then in a quiet, broken voice, she uttered. “This is all my fault….”

“No!” Pinkie exclaimed immediately. “See?! This is exactly why I didn’t want to tell you! If anything, what happened is my fault. I was stupid enough to….”

“Pinkie, stop right there,” Carrot said firmly. “You’re not at fault for anything, okay? You’re a victim.” He then looked over at his wife. “The only ones we should be blaming are the degenerates responsible.”

Cup’s face darkened. “I swear to God if I ever see Royal Atlas or Sweet Cicely again, I’m going to strangle them!”

“Well, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that,” Pinkie said. “He and Cicely are gone with the wind. I don’t even think those are their real names, or that they were actually siblings. And honestly? I would be happy simply never seeing them again as long as I live.”

But Cup wasn’t going to accept that. Pinkie had seen her aunt mad before, but this was something else. It wasn’t just parental anger this time, but genuine pain, and Pinkie hated seeing it. “We need to go to the police! Maybe they can find those two bastards. Hell, they could probably even reopen the case against Flash Sentry and his friends! They all need to be stopped before they hurt someone else!”

“Auntie Cup, I appreciate the thought, but I already know how that will play out,” Pinkie said, her voice starting to break. “It’s just going to turn into a long, painful trial where I’ll be forced to relive that awful night over and over again. Police and lawyers are going to ask all these questions: What I was doing, what I was wearing, why I waited so long to come forward. The defense will probably bring up my bipolar condition and use it against me, and there will be an endless debate over whether it was actually consensual. Even if I tell them I was in tears, begging them to stop the whole damn time.

“After all, Flash already fought a case like this—a case with far more evidence against him than I’ve got, by the way—and he came out smelling like a fucking rose.” Pinkie sighed and felt the first tears of the morning come, and found herself letting out a sad chuckle that out of all of it, this was the thing to affect her the most. “Trust me, I’ve actually given it a lot of thought and research. As soon as Flash inevitably wins the trial, his lawyers will turn right around and sue you guys for defamation on my behalf.” With a humorless laugh, Pinkie added bitterly, “The system doesn’t exactly favor the victim in cases like mine.”

“B-but… they hurt you. My precious girl…” Cup sniffed, holding her tight. “There has to be something we can do about it!”

Feeling cozy and warm in her aunt’s arms, with her uncle gently rubbing her back, Pinkie nuzzled into their embrace further.

“You can do this,” Pinkie said with a content sigh, trying her hardest to smile. “Right now, this is enough.”

The three of them sat there for a few minutes, holding each other in comfortable silence. For the first time since waking up that morning, Pinkie started to think that things might turn out okay.

“What in the world are we going to tell your mother?” Carrot asked, and just like that, the feeling was gone.

“I don’t know, that I was gangraped at a party? Or ‘I was gangraped at a party, got pregnant and had an abortion?’” Pinkie said darkly. “Or, how about ‘I was raped at a party, had an abortion, realized I was attracted to girls and boys, and fell in love with the girl indirectly responsible for it all?’ Because, I’m sure any combination of those are gonna go over great!”

Cup and Carrot didn’t answer right away. Instead, the twins started crying in the other room. Cup instinctively made to get up, but Carrot stopped her and went instead. He gave his girls one final look that said “we’ll get through” before leaving the room.

“I’ve actually thought about how to talk to Mom about this,” Pinkie said. No one could say she didn’t prepare for all scenarios. “My plan is to wait until I’m eighteen, maybe older. That way, she can’t force me to come back and live with her.” But Pinkie’s frown indicated it wasn’t a plan she was happy with. “Even still, she’ll probably disown me on the spot.”

“Don’t be so quick to write off your mother, sweetie,” Cup said as she tenderly held her. “Things have been rocky between you and her, true enough, but I know a few things about her that even you don’t.”

Now Pinkie was curious. “What kind of things?”

Chewing her lip, Cup said, “It’s not really my place to lay bare your mother’s demons, I’m afraid. Long story short, the eighties were a weird time for Arkansas.”

“I… see…” Pinkie said, despite the fact she clearly didn’t.

After a short silence, Cup then asked. “And what about your father? Do you feel like you could talk to him about any of this?”

Pinkie hesitated and played with her hair. “Maybe. I mean, I’m pretty sure he would be way more understanding of it than Mom. It’s just….”

“It’s just that he also happens to be married to her?”

“Yup, and although he loves me, I don’t think he quite has the stones to hide anything from her.”

Cup sighed and leaned back into the couch. “Well, you’re a big, smart girl. I suppose I’ll leave it to you to decide when’s the best time to tell your parents about all this.” After a few moments of sitting in silence, Cup looked over at Pinkie and asked, “There’s one more thing I need to know. You said this all started when Sunset stole your bag with all your meds in it. Does she…?”

“She knows everything,” Pinkie said, feeling momentary guilt over the fact that she’d spilled her guts to her former tormenter before her own surrogate parents. “I told her over the summer, and she feels absolutely terrible about it.”

With a simple “hmmph”, Cup nodded and said, “I might have to have a little talk with her about this.”

Pinkie knew that tone all too well, and pleaded, “Please, don’t get mad at Sunny, okay Auntie Cup?”

With a frown, Cup asked, “What makes you so sure I’m mad at her?”

“Well for one, I know that look in your eye,” Pinkie said, counting off on her fingers. “And two, there was a time that I hated Sunny for what she did, too. That is, until I realized it wasn’t really her fault: she couldn’t have known what would happen!” Cup looked at her niece skeptically as she continued. “I think I knew that all along, but with Atlas and Cicely gone, she was the only one I had left to blame. But she’s already tormented by her past enough, so please please don’t blame her!”

“Alright, I promise not to rake her over the coals, but she and I will talk about this, okay?”

Pinkie just nodded, knowing her aunt’s mind was made up. Finally, Cup’s face softened as she said, “You really love her, don’t you?” and when Pinkie spread her arms as wide as she could to indicate how much, Cup smiled. “So, you make a move on her yet?”

Pinkie’s face turned bright red. “Well…” then she grinned. “We actually started dating near the end of the summer!”

“Niiiiiiiice, up top!” Cup exclaimed, holding her palm in the air.

Pinkie gave an embarrassed groan, “Auntie Cuuuuuuuuuuuup!”

“C’mon, don’t leave me hangin’!”

With a very teenagerly roll of her eyes, Pinkie gave her aunt a half-hearted high-five right as Carrot came in carrying the twins. Seeing their happy, gurgling faces put a bittersweet smile on Pinkie’s face. They were still so innocent, and Pinkie hoped they would remain so far longer than she did. Cup gave her a kiss on the head and messed up her poofy pink hair as Carrot sat down with Pound and Pumpkin.

“Hey guys, ready to see a magic show?” Pinkie asked, rolling up the sleeves of her pajamas.

The twins answered in baby gibberish which Pinkie took as a sign to begin, and started humming a song while performing a series of simple hand illusions that wouldn’t have fooled a toddler, but made the twins laugh and giggle. Carrot and Cup looked on with loving smiles, and Pinkie decided that right now, things weren’t so bad.

Enjoying a simple breakfast of eggs and toast, Sunset sat at the table in the spacious kitchen back at her own mansion in Canterlot. Her phone sat on the table beside her meal, where she had just sent a text to Pinkie Pie that said, Morning. Everything OK?

The sound of soft footsteps heralded Twilight Sparkle’s arrival as Sunset thoughtfully chewed on a piece of toast.

“Morning, Twily,” Sunset greeted after swallowing.

The younger girl went over and gave Sunset a brief hug. “Morning, sis. You were up pretty early this morning,” Twilight said as went over to the counter to make some toast of her own. “What were you up to?”

A few months ago, Sunset would have made up some lie or excuse. Anything to keep her beloved sister ignorant of her true nature, and that of her world.

“Just beamed myself to Michigan to talk to a friend of Applejack’s—another pony like me,” Sunset casually explained. “Spent the morning looking into an ancient magical cult, and whether they’re still at large now.”

Sunset had gotten an earful from Adagio for that, who had been on bodyguard duty outside her room that night. Sunset hadn’t wanted to make her little trip into a big deal, especially that early in the morning, but she supposed she could have told the girl whose job it was to keep an eye on her. In light of the fact Sunset was already in trouble from her impromptu trip to Europe a while back, Adagio had elected not to tell Sunset's parents about her latest excursion... just this once.

“I... see,” Twilight said, her tired mind clearly struggling to wrap itself around what Sunset had just explained.

Sunset couldn’t help but chuckle at her sister’s perplexed face. “Kinda makes you miss the days when you only thought I was a troubled runaway, huh?”

“I’ll admit, our lives certainly seemed simpler then. But I think I prefer the complete transparency policy we have with each other now,” Twilight then gave an embarrassed grin that Sunset noted seemed to be hiding still deeply rooted guilt. “It means you get to see less of ‘crazy vindictive Twilight.’”

Seeing how uncomfortable the topic was starting to make her sister, Sunset added, “Plus, I don’t know about you, but I really like the mansion!”

“Oh, you bet!” Twilight exclaimed as the toaster popped.

Sunset was about to resume eating her own breakfast when she heard her phone chime beside her. A reply from Pinkie displayed on the phone’s screen.

> Just talked to aunt and uncle

The moving ellipses was just below it, and Sunset braced herself for whatever news her friend would report. So it was with relief that Sunset read the next message.

> I think everything’s going to be okay

> You were right, it actually feels good to have it off my chest

Smiling, Sunset started texting a reply.

“Hey Sunny, is it okay if I try some of that honey your friend gave you yesterday?” Twilight asked, standing over by the open fridge.

Sunset suddenly remembered the jar with the piece of honeycomb that Mrs. H had given her before the day had gotten truly crazy.

“Sure, go ahead Twily,” Sunset answered as she sent her reply to Pinkie:

> Knew you could do it, Pinks. You’re stronger than you know.

Sunset smiled when she received a spam of heart emojis as a reply. The dreams from before still sat in her mind like a shadow in the corner of the room, as did the things she learned in her meeting with Jade. But in that moment, Sunset felt calm and happy. Whatever darkness may have been on the horizon, she knew that she would face it together with her family and friends. Together, there was nothing they couldn’t overcome.

Augh!” A startled yelp from Twilight drew Sunset’s attention, and she was about to ask what was wrong when she saw it.

A single bee flew frantically around Twilight’s face, buzzing softly. The small girl swatted at it with her hands a few times until the tiny insect retreated across the kitchen, the buzz of its wings prevalent in the silent room.

“I thought your friend told you they got rid of all the bees?” Twilight asked when she had a moment to let the panic from her little start dwindle.

“She did. I even checked it when I got it,” Sunset said, genuinely perplexed at how they could have missed the pest. We had it refrigerated overnight, Sunset realized.

Sunset looked around, trying to determine where the thing had gotten to. She heard the sound of buzzing again, much fainter this time, and looked just in time to see the tiny speck fly out of the kitchen and into the next room. As if the damn hives popping up all over the grounds weren’t bad enough…. Sunset closed her eyes and groaned; she was too damn tired to deal with it right now. She figured she’d just tell her parents about it later, and whoever happened to find the bug next would deal with it. Maybe she’d tell Mrs. Honeycomb about it the next time she dropped by the Sugar Cube Corner.

Of course, Sunset had no idea that Mrs. Honeycomb would not return to the Corner ever again.

Her breakfast was interrupted by a soft, papery murmur, heard more with her mind than with her ears. Honeycomb had wondered when the girl would activate her little construct. Closing her eyes, the older woman reached out with her Gift and found the construct: a small worker honeybee much like the ones in her apiaries. Through its eyes, she spied two young girls. One was a small, scrawny thing with plum hair with magenta streaks, and the other one was her. The girl that Honeycomb and her family had been sent out to Canterlot to watch: Sunset Shimmer.

The two briefly talked about how there could even be a still living bee in the jar Honeycomb had given them, before quickly dropping it and moving on to other inane topics. Good, it doesn’t seem she suspects.

Crafting the construct had been a challenging endeavor. Honeycomb knew that this Sunset girl was powerful—incredibly powerful. Thus, she had to be extremely economical with her use of magic in creating it, as well as still making sure it functioned correctly enough to pass as a real insect. The excessive levels of detail, combined with the corners she had to cut to reduce its magical signature meant that it wouldn’t last as long as she would’ve liked—three days, give or take a couple of hours—but it would last long enough for Honeycomb to get an idea of the mansion’s layout.

Smiling, Honeycomb opened her eyes and returned to her family’s meal of honey-pickled foodstuffs. The dining room was dark and stuffy, with very little light from the sun seeping in. The people her family had “acquired” the house from (and now served as hives in her apiaries) had boarded up the windows and battened down the hatches for the storm that had passed through the area a few months ago. The storm that, from what Honeycomb heard, was caused by the Grandmaster’s own disgraced former pupil.

To her right, Honeycomb’s daughter looked up from her own meal and smiled her wide smile. “Can you see Sunset Shimmer, Mommy?”

“Yes I can, honey. The plan worked perfectly,” Honeycomb answered with a motherly smile.

Little Darque Eulogy returned it, clutching her green-and-burgundy haired doll tight. “I liked her. She was nice.”

Honeycomb returned to her meal while her young daughter looked at her doll, still smiling wide.

“She would make a really cute dolly,” Eulogy said, stroking her doll’s hair. The beads that made up its eyes seemed to be screaming silently. “I love making new friends!”

“Now now, the girl’s ultimate fate is not up to us to decide,” Honeycomb gently chastised, before turning to her husband, seated to her left. “Isn’t that right, dear?”

Red Robin hadn’t aged as gracefully as Honeycomb had, in the woman’s own opinion. Most of his red hair was gone, the little that remained steadily going gray, and he had grown fat and wrinkled.

“Yes dear,” Red stated in a zombie-like monotone, and Honeycomb frowned distastefully.

Red had been her faithful partner for many years, and although his own Gift was relatively faint and weak, he had given her strong sons. But it had turned out that Red… wasn’t as ready to embrace the Order as Honeycomb had anticipated. When he eventually learned about Ordo Duodecim and its customs, he had tried to leave her… to leave all of them. But Honeycomb was a merciful woman, and forgave him immediately. But she did need to use her Gift to keep him obedient. To keep him from running.

Honeycomb had first discovered the exact nature of her Gift when she was a child, helping her father with his own apiaries. She had learned that she could push her will into the bees, making them act on her orders much like their queens. It had been several years after that she’d learned her Gift extended to people as well. Her own personal hive mind. Honeycomb found it distasteful that she needed to use it on her husband, but it was necessary, and Honeycomb couldn’t say it didn’t make her business with the Order easier to manage.

Red Robin ate his meal without any joy, like an automaton going through pre-programmed motions. His eyes were blank and emotionless, but sometimes, if Honeycomb looked close enough, she could see the desperate desire to scream within them—not unlike Darque Eulogy’s dolls, now that she thought of it.

In spite of that setback, Honeycomb was quite happy with how things were. Between her sons, Darque Eulogy, and yes, even Red, Honeycomb felt like she was the queen of her own hive. Unfortunately, the arrival of her youngest son at the table, Sprayer, reminded her that wasn’t entirely true.

“Ma,” the young man had short red hair like his father, and his eyes were wild and bulging, giving him the appearance of the insects he so expertly exterminated. “Grandma wants a word with you.”

Sighing through her nose, Honeycomb thanked Sprayer and put what remained of her breakfast back into its Tupperware container. The dense, silvery, clotted honey that her bees created especially for her family was nothing like the standard honey she gave out. Thicker than molasses, it contained the mystic energies that let her gain greater powers—powers that her swarms took from the life forces of those undeserving of the Gift. In turn, they fed, and fed their mistress and her family.

She took one last look at the nectar her family thrived upon, the argent concoction almost throbbing and pulsing with the essence of life itself, before closing the fridge and heading upstairs to the master bedroom.

Now, it was time to deal with a queen bee of a different sort—one she cared much less for.

Her mother’s personal nurse and caretaker waited for her outside the old doors to the master bedroom, his eyes as blank and emotionless as her husband’s—another necessary measure. Her mother’s last custodian had been a pretty young woman whose name Honeycomb couldn’t recall, but apparently she’d done something to severely displease Mother. Honeycomb had intuited this when she found out the young woman now sat in a psychiatric hospital, screaming herself to sleep every night due to “the spiders under her skin.”

Her mother, Matriarch Smokey Mirrors was an infuriating woman. Infuriating because she stubbornly refused to just keel over and die already. Honeycomb wanted the position of branch family matriarch, and had considered just dealing with Mirrors personally, but ultimately decided against it. The Grandmaster seemed fond of her mother, despite the fact that her family wasn't one of the Twelve main families. Honeycomb knew that if she tried any foul play, he would know.

Honeycomb forced those thoughts aside as she entered Mirrors’ bedroom. In the presence of her mother, such thoughts were no longer private.

“You wanted to see me, Mother?” Honeycomb asked, approaching her and kneeling respectfully. The room was simple, dark, dusty, the pescine stench of old woman mixed in with the sterile smell of medicine.

A frail corpse of a woman sat in a wheelchair facing the window. The steady hiss of the oxygen tank that aided her breathing beside her IV drip was the most prevalent sound in the room, seconded only by the steady ticking of the table clock.

Her mother’s wheelchair was not electric, yet it turned of its own accord, and Honeycomb got a good look at her shriveled face. Matriarch Mirrors didn’t seem alive, not truly. Her skin seemed to be melting off her face, her hair was only a few wisps of white, and her eyes were a similar milky hue, staring unfocused into the distance. But then with great effort, the old crone’s head tilted to the side and her milky eyes looked directly at Honeycomb. Her wrinkled mouth drifted ever so slightly open, and a sound like wind passing through a desolate canyon came forth. Her ability to speak had long since withered away with the rest of her.

So Smokey Mirrors had to show rather than tell. Honeycomb felt a hand on her shoulder, and momentarily startled, she looked behind her. The girl Sunset Shimmer looked back at her, smiling sweetly.

“I think I’ve found out all I’m going to about Sunset Shimmer,” Honeycomb reported, understanding what her mother was asking immediately. “The situation is far more complicated than we anticipated. She has friends with Gifts of their own, and although they’re not as powerful as her, they will need to be dealt with as well.”

The mirage of Sunset Shimmer walked around so she was standing in between the mother and daughter. Then she turned into hundreds of bees, which spread around the room in a buzzing cloud. Honeycomb understood what Mirrors meant to say.

“Yes, I’m afraid Shimmer’s own hive is quite extensive,” Honeycomb said. “In addition to her close friends, there are others. Friends and acquaintances at her school. I have felt the presence of the Gift inside many of them, but they—along with Sunset—seem as of yet unaware of it. But it’s only a matter of time before these other girls learn what they can do.”

Bones cracked as her mother’s hand twitched, and suddenly the bees were everywhere. The floor was covered in a carpet of the buzzing insects, as were the walls and ceiling, blocking out much of the morning light. Honeycomb knew they were only products of her mind, but she could feel them as they brushed against her. The intended message was clear.

“Canterlot is stricken with a deep infestation, indeed. Fortunately, we are very good exterminators.” Honeycomb already knew what had to be done. Remove the queen, the rest will follow.

With a dry grunt, Mirrors shook her head. Then the room caught fire. All around her, the wall of bees burned, creating a crisp, bitter smell, and Honeycomb could feel the heat on her skin. In the center of the flames, untouched, stood the Grandmaster in his full black and gold embroidered robes, his empty sockets covered by cloth stained red. The flames around them illuminated his skeletal smile.

The mental illusion seemed so real, Honeycomb wondered for a second whether it really was him. It was certainly within his power to come and go as he pleased; his Gift seemed to be omniscience itself. “I see. So the Blind Sphinx wants to execute scorched earth, then?”

She supposed there was a good reason the Grandmaster—the Blind Sphinx—had originally suggested their scorched earth protocol from the start. Perhaps he’d known the gravity of the situation all along. Of course, if he really knew, then why bother sending us to do recon in the first place? Honeycomb thought, before thinking better of questioning the Blind Sphinx’s design.

Regardless, it didn’t matter. The Ordo Duodecim hadn’t executed a proper scorched earth protocol since 1666 in London. Honeycomb smiled. At long last, her mere branch family would be a part of events that would forever mark history.

Author's Note:

Phase 4 of the Berylverse is going to be very interesting indeed...

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Comments ( 8 )

Well, this isn't good.

However, if their is a long running cult of evil magic users, their has to be some good running around. Yes, it seems evil has had hold of this Earth for a while, but I can't believe all good magic users have been killed, and that Sunset is their only as last gamble.

It’ll be interesting to see just how Sunset will deal with their scorched earth policy. That will probably be the last thing that the order does as Sunset will come down hard on them in a way that will, if not break the order, then will cause a lot of damage to them.

They may have Equestrian magic but Sunset grew up with much higher quantities available to her and the order will quickly learn crossing her will be a mistake.

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It may also even out. The Order has been around for centuries, possibly even millennia. That speaks to a dangerous level of experience that even Sunset doesn't have.

9461090
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There's also the Blind Sphinx himself, who's a big unknown factor at this point. All we do know about him is that he's powerful enough that even Faust is concerned

Hmmm I can imagine that Celestia, Luna, Swi-Twi and Cadence develops some abilities. Maybe after further exposure to magic and some emotional event. After all their counterparts are alicorns. Sunny so needs her School for Gifted Humans to give her team means to defend themselves.

Can’t see any downsides. Also have to consider future potential SIREN transplants.

One of these days, someone should create a blogpost or a group listing all of the mainline stories in order. I have no idea what I've read, and haven't read, at this point and trying to find them all and read them in order is... well, a mess.

Sorry if there was one already made.

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This might help you.

One of these days we'll remember to post that link in the description of all of our stories

Finally read this, i'm greatly looking forward to Phase 4... a more ambitious phrasing than Marvel!

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