• Published 18th Oct 2019
  • 1,792 Views, 54 Comments

Saving Sunset Shimmer - Lets Do This



Needing advice on an important project, Twilight, Tempest, and their friends work to reopen the mirror portal, and rescue a former student of Celestia's... Sunset Shimmer.

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The Gathering Dark

Twilight took the sudden change of form as well as could be expected.

"Yaaaaaaaaaa!"

She knelt on the cold, gray concrete path, staring at the bizarre, spidery things on the ends of her forelimbs, feeling anxiously for a horn and tail that weren't there, trying to sort out exactly who and what she was...

"Twilight?"

Blinking, she looked down at the purple, green-eyed creature putting a worried paw on her knee.

"Spike, you're not supposed to -- wait, are you a dog?"

"I... think so! But I have no idea what you are..."

Suddenly, Twilight felt a steadying hand on her shoulder. She looked up...

At Tempest. The maroon face, large watchful eyes, and plume-like mane were unmistakable. But otherwise, she looked as strange as Twilight now felt. Tempest was standing on her hind limbs, dressed in some kind of black leather garment, which looked like it had lost an argument with a zipper-and-buckle factory.

Tempest glanced around, then smiled reassuringly.

"Don't worry, Twilight, you get used to it. It must be something to do with the portal spell: it helps us adapt to... wherever this place is..."

"Why doesn't it bother you?" Twilight asked, as the taller girl helped her to stand on her own two... feet, she thought in surprise.

"Who says it doesn't?" Tempest examined one of her own hands uneasily. "Remember, I used to live on the street. It teaches you to adapt quickly."

Tempest glanced around again, at the grim-looking brick building in front of them, the rearing horse statue behind... but mostly at the sky. It was heavily overcast. The clouds were ragged, leaden swirls scudding across the sky in a brisk wind.

"For an alternate world," Tempest said, "that's meant to grant the caster their greatest wish, somehow I pictured it being... oh, I don't know, sunnier?"

Twilight nodded. "It's chilly, too." She'd acquired clothes as part of her transformation, a light blue blouse and a purple skirt with her cutie mark on it. And... shoes, she thought, on her feet. Yet even so, she wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. "I wish I'd thought to bring a cloak!"

"You could always go back and get one," Tempest suggested. "I'll wait."

Twilight looked ill. "I... think I'll let my stomach settle down a bit first, before going through all that again..."

"Bleagh! Tell me about it!" Grubber groaned, as he came to. "Spike! Why do I keep letting you drag me into stuff like this?"

Then he looked around at himself, and up at Tempest.

"Aw, geez, boss! Spike gets to be a dog. Why do I gotta be a snake?"

Twilight smiled down at him. "A python, actually," she said. "Malayopython reticulatus."

"Uh... yeah. One of them."

"Probably due to your personality being so warm and cuddly, Grubber." Tempest reached down and picked him up. For want of anywhere else to put him, she draped his diamond-patterned length across her shoulders.

"Yeah, well. There is that!" Grubber peered around at everything from his new perch. "Hey, you wouldn't have a mouse-flavored cupcake on you, would you, boss?"

"Quiet, Grubber," Tempest warned him. "Remember, snakes are seen, not heard."

"Story of my life..." he grumbled, rolling his eyes. Then he suddenly jolted in surprise.

"Yo, boss!" he whispered to her. "We got incoming!"

"Hey!" a voice called, from the building entrance in front of them.

Looking up, Tempest and Twilight saw a stranger running down the sidewalk towards them: a tall girl with red-and-yellow hair, dressed in a black jacket, a bookbag slung on her back.

Tempest quickly stepped forward, putting herself in front of Twilight. "All right," she called back. "That's close enough. Who are you?"

The girl came to a startled halt, staring at them desperately. "Did you two just come through the portal?"

Tempest motioned for Twilight to remain silent.

"What portal?"

The girl stood there for a moment, gritting her teeth. Then she swung off her backpack and dug into it. "My journal... all these new messages just started appearing in it... so I thought... well, I hoped..."

She was paging through a hardback book with a flaming sun cutie-mark on its cover... the same as the one on her shirt.

Twilight leaned around Tempest, eyes wide. "Are you Sunset Shimmer?"

Sunset stared in surprise at something on a page of the journal. Then she looked up. "Are you Twilight Sparkle?"

"Yes!" Twilight said, overjoyed. Darting around Tempest, she flung herself at Sunset, hugging her tightly. Caught by surprise, Sunset uneasily returned the hug, with a look of confused relief.

Tempest glanced at Grubber. "And here we thought it was going to be difficult..."

"Don't jinx it, boss!" Grubber whispered back.

"Oh, and this is Tempest!" Twilight said. "She's a friend of mine."

"Uh, nice to meet you." Sunset uneasily put out a hand. "Are you like... her bodyguard or something? Back home, I mean?"

Tempest stared at the hand, momentarily puzzled, then shrugged and shook it. "Let's just say I take Twilight's safety very seriously."

"I'm so glad we ran into you, Sunset!" Twilight said. "Princess Celestia asked us to find you, and I wouldn't have known where to start looking..."

"Princess Celestia!" Sunset drew back. "But... she shut the portal on me! She abandoned me here!"

"No-no-no!" Twilight waved her hands. "It's not like that at all! The portal had a time limit. It closed on its own. But we were able to reopen it! And Celestia... look, the portal wouldn't let her through, so she sent us. She wanted you to know she regrets what happened. She wants to make it right if she can. She says you're welcome to come back, any time. She's waiting for us on the other side of the portal, right now!"

"She is?" Sunset stared at the portal in stunned silence. "Oh..."

Tempest looked at Twilight.

"Might just be me, but I'm not getting that whole 'you just saved me from being marooned in another dimension, thank you, thank you' vibe here." Tempest looked at Sunset. "Mind letting us in on what the problem is?"

"I do want to go home -- more than anything." Sunset turned to look at the large building beyond the statue. "But... I have some friends here, and..."

"You made friends?" Twilight asked, astonished. "Here?"

"Well, of course!" Sunset stared at her. "Twilight, this world's inhabitants aren't just illusions, or holograms, or anything like that. They're ponies... uh, I mean people... just like you and me!"

Sunset's gaze fell, in shame. "And they were unbelievably kind to me when I showed up here, even though I was a complete stranger. I can't just abandon them..."

"So..." Twilight asked, "you're saying... you want to stay here?"

"No! I want to go back! It's just... look, Twilight, when I came here, some of Equestria's magic came through with me. It altered this world, made it over to suit my wishes. And then when the portal closed, that magic was cut off, forcibly. I think that's left this world... broken, somehow. It's different from when I arrived. It's darker, colder. It just feels wrong. And that's my fault. I made this happen! I just..."

She stared up at the building again.

"I just can't go back... not until I straighten this out. My friends here, they deserve that much from me..."

She put a hand to her head. "Look, I know this isn't your problem. And I'm in no position to ask anything. But... I'm not that sure I can do this on my own! Since you're here, Twilight... could I maybe, possibly ask your help in fixing this? Please?"

"You mean..." Twilight asked, in increasing excitement, "stick around and help explore a totally different dimension... with a totally different society... that no other ponies have ever seen before?"

"Uh oh," Tempest whispered to Grubber. "I know that look..."

Sunset blinked. "Uh, yeah? I suppose?"

"Yes!" Twilight punched the air. "Count me in! We'd be glad to help! Right, Tempest?"

Tempest frowned at her.

"Twilight, a certain very important pony charged me with making sure you got back home safely. And this... well, it's kind of the exact opposite!"

Spike reached up and put a paw on Twilight's knee. "I'll help, Twi!"

"Uh, I don't want to alarm you," Sunset said, staring at him, "but your dog just talked."

"Oh, yeah," Grubber said. "The dog can't keep his mouth shut." Then his eyes went wide. "Oops!"

Sunset stared at him. And then at Tempest. "I know this is asking a lot. And any time you decide it's safer to head back to Equestria, I won't stop you. But I have to do this. It's important!"

Tempest glanced uneasily between Sunset and Twilight -- from one set of pleading eyes to another.

"You know," she said, "in a test of magic, either one of you could likely mop the floor with me. So why am I suddenly the grownup here?" She sighed, and rolled her eyes.

"What the hay... I'm not your truant officer, Twilight. I'm just along to make sure you don't fall down a well or something."

"Yes!" Twilight said. She turned to Sunset. "So, what do we need to do?"

"First," Sunset said, "let's talk with my friends here, get everyone on the same page. They'll probably be in homeroom in the School."

"This is a school?" Twilight said, staring at the castle-like building.

Sunset shrugged. "I've never known anything but life at school, so this is what I found when I got here."

"Hmph." Tempest frowned. "Couldn't you have wished for something... a little grander?"

"It's not exactly up to me." Sunset shrugged. "Supposedly, it's what I need, not what I want. Though it's really hard figuring out why, half the time."

"Let me borrow your journal," Twilight said. "I want to send the Princess a message, let her know what we're doing." Taking the book from Sunset, she fumbled it open. And then stared in bafflement at the pen Sunset was offering her.

"Oh, I forgot! I'm not sure I know how to write yet, without my horn."

Spike held up his paws. "I'd help you, Twi, but..."

"Don't worry, I'll write," Sunset said, taking the journal back. "Tell me what to say."

"Dear Princess Celestia," Twilight dictated, "Tempest and I have found Sunset. We need to help her take care of one or two things here, so we may be a while. Will write more when we know it. Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle."

"Wait... you're Celestia's personal student now?" Sunset asked.

"Uh... yeah?" Twilight admitted uncomfortably.

"Wow." Sunset's face fell. "She didn't waste any time, did she? It's been what... less than a week at the outside?"

"Errr..." Twilight gritted her teeth. "It's been... a bit longer than that. When the portal closes, time can pass differently on either side. It's actually been... well... a few years..."

"Years!" Sunset looked horrified. "But what about..."

Her mouth shut tightly, miserably. She shut her eyes, anguished.

"I really messed this up, didn't I? It's no wonder you're her student now."

"So's Tempest," Twilight said quickly. "In fact, there's a whole group of us back home. It's why we came to find you, Sunset. We could really use your help with a project we're working on."

"Me? Seriously?"

Twilight nodded. "Princess Celestia recommended you personally."

Sunset was silent for a moment.

"That's way more than I deserve." She shook her head. "If I can be any help to you, Twilight, I will. It'll pay you back for having to come get me."

Twilight smiled. "We'll deal with that later. First, let's go find your friends..."

She started to turn towards the entrance to the School, but Sunset put up a hand. "Hold up! We can't go in that way. Like I said, things have gotten... darker here. Principal Celestia has gone missing, and..."

"Wait... Principal Celestia?" Twilight asked, her eyes wide.

Sunset nodded. "There's a lot of things we should talk about... later. What matters right now is, the Vice Principal has taken charge. And she's put this place on lockdown. Or the next best thing. There are security guards at the doors now, and you need a student ID to get in." She showed them a card with her photo on it.

Twilight looked up at Tempest. "Uh oh! We don't have those."

Tempest smiled easily.

"Who ever said we needed them? Either of you have a butter knife?"

They stared at her, confused.

Tempest casually unzipped a pocket on her jacket's sleeve. "Not to worry... I just happen to have one..."

------------------------------

"I keep thinking it can't get any worse," Rainbow grumbled. "I've really got to stop thinking that..."

Having passed word round during morning classes, Sunset and her friends were finally convened around a table in the cafeteria. And Sunset's friends each had something to complain about.

"Luna's gone bonkers with the security," Rainbow went on. "The guards were setting up metal detectors at the doors this morning. And she's banned sports equipment in class! I mean, how am I supposed to work on my rad moves if I have to go all the way to my gym locker to get my skateboard?"

"And they'll be doing bag checks soon," Fluttershy said miserably. "Which means I won't be able to sneak in any of my little friends to keep me company." Opening her bookbag, she lifted out a white rabbit and cuddled him anxiously.

Rarity patted her shoulder. "I hear Luna's planning on instituting a school uniform," she said, "like they have at Crystal Prep." Rarity made a face. "Now, I'm all for setting a proper tone and all, but how am I supposed to set trends and demonstrate what fabulous truly means, if I have to walk around looking exactly the same as everyone else?"

"Ughh! Rarity!" Rainbow frowned at her. "Kinda thinking what we're wearing isn't the most important thing right now?"

Pinkie Pie sighed. "I hear she's going to ban eating during class! But what happens if I need an emergency cupcake to tide me over until lunchtime?"

"That's... not really --" Twilight began, but Rainbow waved a hand.

"No, no, she's got a point there... sugar-crazed Pinkie Pie is bad enough. But sugar-deprived Pinkie Pie? Uhh, let's just say you don't wanna go there..."

Applejack was seated quietly, arms folded about her, eyes lowered in silent misery. It took a moment to realize what was different about her.

"Oh, A.J.!" Sunset said. "Your hat! They didn't..."

"Naw." The farm girl shrugged. "I just left it at home today. Figured I'd save the hassle of having them impound it on me."

Sunset looked around at her unhappy friends. Her jaw set firmly.

"Don't worry, gang. We're going to fix this. We're going to figure out what happened, and get things back the way they were. Twilight, Tempest, and I, we're going to make it right! I promise!"

The others started at her, surprised by her intensity. "If y'all got a plan, Sunset, Ah'll back ya a hunnerd percent," Applejack said doubtfully, "but why's it such a big deal to you? After all, you only just got here yourself."

"Yeah!" Rainbow added. "I mean, sure, things are bad... but it's just how things are, now. Why're you taking it so personally?"

Sunset gritted her teeth. She'd been dreading this moment.

"Well... it's because..."

Pinkie suddenly perked up. "Oooh! Is it because you're all from some alternate world? And you're actually ponies there, in some school run by a Princess? And you came through some kind of magic mirror to get here, and the magic made Sunset all powerful and popular for a while, but then the magic got taken away, which is why we don't remember and things are so cold and gloomy and scary? And now Sunset doesn't feel like she can go home until she puts things right again?"

"Eeeyeah..." Rainbow rolled her eyes. "Pretty sure that's not it, Pinkie."

"Actually..." Spike said in surprise, "she's got it more or less right."

"Ohmygosh!" Rarity gasped. "Your dog can talk?"

"Oh, sure!" Spike struck a pose. "And where we come from, I'm not even a dog! I'm a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon!"

Grubber glanced at Tempest, who shrugged. "Just for the record," he said, "I can talk too... but I wasn't gonna say anything about it..."

The others stared at him. And Twilight stared at Pinkie Pie. "Pinkie, how did you know all that?"

"Ehh, just a lucky guess!" she replied breezily.

"Now hang on a minute," Applejack said. "Lemme get this straight... you three are ponies?"

"From another world?" Fluttershy asked timidly.

"And there's a Princess there?" Rarity gasped. "In a lovely castle? With handsome guards, and exquisite tapestries, and everything?"

Twilight grimaced, looking around at them all. "Uhm, yeah?"

Rainbow's eyes goggled. "That... is... so... AWESOME!"

The others agreed enthusiastically. They hugged Sunset and the others excitedly. When they'd finally calmed down a bit, Applejack rapped the table for attention.

"Right, simmer down, y'all," she said. "So what's the plan? And how can we help?"

Sunset looked to Twilight... who shrugged, and nodded back to her.

"It's your world, Sunset. You tell us what to do!"

"Right... okay!" Sunset nodded. "First thing we need to do is get Principal Celestia back... which means we need to figure out what happened to her. When did any of us see her last?"

They all thought about it.

"The day before all the rainclouds rolled in," Rarity said, "she was on the loudspeaker in the morning, reminding us the Spring Fling dance was coming up soon."

"Before Luna cancelled it," Rainbow grumbled.

"And Ah remember her talkin' with Granny Smith in the lunchroom," Applejack said. "About ways to make up for the cutbacks in the free lunch program."

"And she was bus monitor in the afternoon," Fluttershy said. She ducked her head sheepishly. "She was kind enough to warn me Angel was trying to climb out of my backpack."

"And after school," Rainbow said, "when I was practicing my goal kicks on the playing field, I remember looking over at Celestia's office window, and I saw Luna looking out of it. And then Luna drew the blinds -- really suspiciously!"

"Luna..." Sunset thought back. "Hang on... Luna has a lot of buried resentment of Celestia, because Celestia is Principal of the School, while Luna's been stuck as VP for like, forever..."

"How d'ya know all that?" Applejack asked, puzzled.

"It's... a long story." Sunset didn't think now was the time to go into her empathy talent. "But that means... maybe..."

Rainbow's eyes went wide. "You think maybe Luna got rid of Celestia? I don't mean bumped her off or anything creepy like that. Just... got her fired, or transferred, or something, so Luna could take over and run the place?"

"Well," Twilight said, "Luna has been acting somewhat... extreme, from what you've been saying. It would explain a lot."

"But... wanting to get rid of Celestia?" Fluttershy asked. "Why? She's always been so nice! And she and Luna have always gotten along so well..."

"Yeah," Rainbow agreed. "Luna has always been a little... intense, but I don't see her going that far..."

Sunset shook her head. "You'd be surprised what ponies... I mean people, can be driven to, if they feel their goals are being frustrated. And right now, it seems like the only lead we have to go on..."

"Hold on now!" Applejack said. "If we're gonna accuse a Vice Principal of pulling off somethin' like that, we're gonna need a heap of proof! Where're we going to find it?"

"Is there anyone," Twilight asked, "who might have seen what happened? Like a secretary, or office worker, who'd have been around Celestia's office at the time?"

The others shook their heads. "Celestia and Luna pretty much handle all the admin stuff themselves," said Rainbow.

Fluttershy nodded. "It's amazing, how they run the entire school all on their own."

Rarity nodded. "It's quite the performance, really, every single day!"

Tempest grinned at Twilight. "I imagine the Great and Powerful Trixie could take a lesson or two from that..."

"Ahem!"

They all turned, and found a blue-skinned, white-haired girl standing nearby, tapping her shoe crossly.

"All right!" she demanded. "The Great and Powerful Trixie wants to know how you did it! Trixie doesn't like anyone messing with her stuff!"

"Trixie?" Twilight asked, amazed. "What are you doing here? I thought we left you--"

"You thought you left Trixie confused and uncertain, not knowing who committed this perfidy! But Trixie has evidence!"

"Not now, Trixie!" Rainbow said in disgust.

"Wait, you know her?" Twilight said, eyes wide.

Applejack rolled her eyes. "Unfortunately, yeah! But whatever she's on about, you can be sure there ain't a lick of sense to it."

But Trixie was holding up her phone, on the screen of which there was a photo. It was a selfie, with Trixie and Sunset side by side, smiling at the camera.

Trixie glared at Sunset. "How did you do it? How did you take this photo with Trixie and then sneak it onto Trixie's phone, when said phone has not left Trixie's possession for a moment!" She paused for a moment. "That would actually make a really good trick for Trixie's act... but Trixie still demands to know how you did it!"

"Hold on," Sunset said. "Earlier, while the portal's magic was still active, and I was so popular, I did take a lot of selfies with people here. But I thought all that went away when the portal closed."

Rarity was already checking her phone. "I have one too, darling!" She showed a picture -- of herself, Sunset, and Applejack arm-in-arm.

The others checked their phones, finding similar pictures stored on them. By discreet questioning, they found the same was true for most of the students at the tables around them.

"So..." Twilight said, "the removal of Equestrian magic didn't change everything. It didn't remove these pictures from everyone's phones. I wonder why?"

Sunset shrugged. "Professional courtesy? After all, these phones are this world's equivalent of magic mirrors. Or maybe it's a kind of technology that Star Swirl's magic couldn't take into account. Either way, it's proof of what I was saying, about being a world-famous recording star when I got here."

"Ah was kinda takin' you at your word on that," Applejack said, "but it sure looks like you were tellin' the truth. An' don't that beat all!"

"Yeah!" Pinkie Pie said. "It's like finding out reality doesn't work at all the way that you think it does!"

"That's just you all the time, Pinkie," Rainbow told her.

"I know! But I thought I was the only one! Hee hee hee!"

"But... if the removal of magic didn't affect our phones," Sunset went on. "Maybe there are other devices here that still have a record of what happened with Luna and Celestia..."

"The security cameras!" Rainbow smacked the table. "Luna had them installed a while back. You know, when there was that rash of breakins in the neighborhood? They're all over the place, recording 24/7..."

"Is there one in Celestia's office?" Twilight asked.

"Yeah..." Sunset nodded. "If it's a kind of black, bubble-like thing on the ceiling? I noticed it myself when Celestia called me to her office the first day. I was going to ask what they were."

"Cameras..." Twilight looked around, puzzled. "You mean, someone sits around watching everything, all day long?"

"Nah! There's recording machines." Rainbow hooked a thumb. "Up in the security office. I was shredding up and down the hall near there one day when they'd accidentally left the door open. I only caught a glimpse, but there's a rack of machines and screens in there. It records everything so they can check it out later if they need to."

"So one of them machines," Applejack said, "might've caught what happened, in Celestia's office? Well, that's a start... but how're we going to get in there to check?"

"Really!" Rarity said. "It's not like Luna will just let us in herself!"

"Maybe... if we asked really nicely?" Fluttershy offered timidly.

"Hmph," Tempest said, crossing her arms. "There's an old saying: it's easier to get forgiveness than permission. Though myself, I've always found them equally difficult. In this case, I say we let ourselves in."

"Like with that window earlier?" Sunset asked her, smiling.

Tempest smiled back. "Where is this security office?"

------------------------------

A few minutes later they were up on the second floor, in a short side corridor, which was in shadow due to the overhead lights being burnt out.

Rainbow and Applejack hung back near the intersection, on watch. And Tempest knelt by the door, staring at the unfamiliar-looking lock.

"What do you think, Grubber?" she asked him.

"I dunno, boss," he replied, peering at the lock. "This is the kind of lock they have in the cities, back home. I'm more used to locks I can actually see into..."

Tempest nodded. "I'm afraid this is a bit beyond me too," she finally said. "And whoever put this lock in, they knew what they were doing. We can't pry the door open... and I'd prefer not to force it. We might have to see if we can sneak the key somehow..."

"Or..." said a voice from behind them, "you could just leave it to the professionals? Hmm? Someone with experience picking locks?"

"Trixie!" Applejack warned. "Now ain't the time!"

"Oh, excuse me!" Trixie huffed on her nails and examined them. "From what you were saying, it sounded so important. And who better to deal with an annoying lock, than the world's foremost escape artiste?" Trixie posed dramatically, in a non-existent spotlight.

Tempest shrugged. "You really think you can get this open?"

Trixie drew a pin from her hair. "Watch and learn!"

Tempest reluctantly moved aside, and Trixie set to work, jigging the pin around in the lock, tongue between her teeth, humming busily to herself...

Five minutes later, she thumped the door in frustration. "Come on! Open, you stupid door!"

"So much for that idea." Sunset looked around. "Anyone have another?"

Tempest thought for a moment.

"Rainbow," she called. "Does this room have a window?"

"Sure it does... but we're up on the second floor here!"

Tempest smiled. "Second story work... how appropriate. Sunset, you and the others wait here. Twilight and I will take care of it... and you, Trixie," she added, eyeing her.

"Me?"

"Well, this is a job for the world's foremost escape artiste, right?"

Preening a little, Trixie willingly followed after them.

------------------------------

Outside, the sky was definitely grimmer than before. It was darkly overcast, the ragged cloudbanks looming threateningly, as if a rainstorm was about to start any minute.

They stood close to one of the side wings of the building, looking up at the office window they wanted. Tempest had counted the windows twice, just to be sure they had the right one.

Trixie stared up at it, hands on hips. "So what now? Do we go swipe a ladder or something? How do we get up there?"

"We don't," Tempest told her. "Here, you'll be needing this." She tucked the butter knife in the pocket of Trixie's skirt.

"Huh? What's that for? What? HEY! WAUGHHHHH!"

Tempest had grabbed her up and, with a mighty heave, flung the smaller girl up into the air. Trixie desperately flailed about, and just managed to slap her hands onto the sill of the office window, stopping herself from tumbling back down again.

"Are you out of your mind?" she yelled down.

"You're up there, aren't you?" Tempest replied calmly. "Get to work, master escape artiste. We'll keep watch down here."

Grumbling, Trixie struggled a bit, sneakers scuffing against the brickwork. Then she determinedly managed to haul herself up far enough to have one hand free. Pulling out the butter knife, she set to work on the window sash.

"Uhhh, if she slips," Grubber asked nervously, "you are gonna catch her, right, boss?"

Tempest smirked. "I'll give it serious consideration..."

Twilight was staring up at Trixie, amazed. "She's a lot like our Trixie, isn't she?"

"A little too much, for my liking," Tempest muttered. "I'm still not comfortable around our version."

"I mean," Twilight went on, "she complains and brags a lot, but when it really counts she doesn't back down, she doesn't give up. It's like she's got something to prove to everyone -- or maybe to herself."

"True..." Tempest reluctantly nodded. "That may be why I put up with her."

"And what if..." Twilight went on, "what if everyone back home has a duplicate here? Celestia, me, you, Starlight, Trixie..."

Spike stared up at her. "Even Grubber and me?"

"Don't see why not," Twilight agreed. "Pretty much everyone we know could be here. Except for Sunset, maybe -- she invoked the spell that linked the portal to this world. But anyone else is fair game, I suppose."

"I certainly hope not," Tempest said. "The thought of there being more than one of that pink-haired girl..."

"Hey! Are you two going to stand down there chattering all day?"

They looked up. Trixie was inside the room already. She leaned casually on the windowsill, examining her fingernails. "Told you I could do it! No thanks to you two! Feel free to sing Trixie's praises! Come on, you know you wanna!"

"Nice work, Trixie!" Twilight said willingly.

"Oh, thanks!" Trixie sneered, "Twilight whatever-your-name-was! I'm gonna go let the others in. See you when you get back up here!"

Trixie ducked inside, and slammed the window sash down, hard.

Twilight and Tempest looked at each other.

"Definitely like our Trixie..." Tempest said with a smile.

------------------------------

On the other side of the portal, in the tower workroom, Starlight was alternating between checking that the mirror was still operating properly -- as far as she was able to tell -- and reading over Star Swirl's journals, just to be sure she had the various spells associated with mirror magic clear in her mind. In case things go south in a hurry, she told herself. Because they usually do...

And while she was at it, out of habit Starlight was doing a mental cross-comparison of the mirror's spell components with those of other translocative spells she knew of. After all, if one could find a common link between teleportation, dimensional portals, and even time-transference...

... well now, that'd be pretty cool, wouldn't it?

On the couch, Trixie was still asleep, mumbling and muttering to herself.

"Hello, Princess Luna..." she murmured dreamily.

Princess... Luna? Starlight shook her head in amusement, wondering what grandiose fantasy her showpony friend was dreaming about... and half-wishing there was some way she could join in the fun.

"Trixie found the key, and opened the door..." Trixie whispered. She smiled contentedly, as if expecting praise as usual.

And then:

"WHAT?"

Starlight's head snapped round, just in time to see Trixie tumble off the couch and hit the floor with a thump, her eyes wide and staring. Then Trixie leapt to her hooves and dashed over to the mirror, hurriedly hoisting up the cover over its base and staring into its workings. Her gaze darted back and forth in mounting fright.

"Trixie, what's the matter?" Starlight asked, hurrying over. Only to be grabbed by Trixie's forehooves and shaken like a rag doll.

"Three days, Starlight!" Trixie shouted. "I was so worn out, I wasn't thinking clearly! I completely forgot! The portal shuts down after three days! How could I forget three days, Starlight!"

"But... you replaced the timing gem," Starlight said. "We checked the rest of it over, there wasn't another as far as we could see."

"But why did the portal close after three days? What if the lock-out gem wasn't just a delay? What if it was keeping something else from running out too fast? Or... or burning out... or boiling over... whatever!"

"I've been keeping an eye on it," Starlight assured her. "It seems to be working fine, near as I can tell. And it's been nowhere near three days yet."

"But what if it's no longer three days?" Trixie demanded. "What if it's less? The portal might shut down any second! Ohhhh!" Trixie's hooves danced frantically. "I can't have screwed this up, Starlight! I just can't! Our friends are over there now, and if they end up stuck there, it'll be all Trixie's fault!"

"Wait... Trixie, how did you know Twilight and the others went through the portal? You were sound asleep for that."

"Oh, Princess Luna mentioned it..." Trixie distractedly waved a hoof as she turned back to the mirror, tracing silver leads and counting gemstones.

"Princess who?" Starlight eyed her. "You feeling all right, Trixie?"

Trixie looked up and stared back at her for a moment, with a puzzled, somewhat saddened look on her face. Then she shook her head furiously. "Starlight! Try to keep up! We need to check the mirror again! We need to make sure the portal stays open! The Great and Powerful Trixie's reputation is on the line here!"

"Okay! Okay!" Starlight waved her hooves soothingly. "Calm down, Trixie! We'll check it over again, both of us. It'll be all right."

But Trixie wasn't listening. She had her hooves pressed to her temples, shaking her head anxiously. "Urrgh! Trixie hasn't found the key yet!" she muttered. "Trixie was sure she'd found it... what else could it be?"

"What else...?" Starlight suddenly fell silent, thinking for a moment. And then she looked at the piles of journals on the table. "No, wait... that can't be right... I checked it over myself!"

"What! What is it?" Trixie was beside herself with anxiety.

Starlight went back to the table and pulled over a lengthy scroll. On it was the Research Magic division's attempt to unroll the portal spell into its original spell components -- and now that Starlight knew what she was looking for, she also knew where to find it. Her hoof tapped several sections of the diagram, in order.

"Aha! Star Swirl was a far better mage than a mechanic, and he hid it really well... but there's a decay aspect threaded into the spell itself. Probably to ensure the portal doesn't stay open indefinitely. Star Swirl's notes did say contact between dimensions could have unforeseen, potentially damaging effects. He must have added this to prevent that from happening, same as with the timing gem."

"So... how long do we have?" Trixie asked.

"I can't tell, just from looking at this," Starlight admitted. "There are parts of the spell that depend on the physical components of the mirror."

Trixie's teeth gritted. "Like the timing gem?"

Starlight nodded. "That might affect the spell's delay... or it might not. The only way to be sure would be to cancel the spell, rewrite it, and recast it without the delay aspect. And we can't possibly do that, not until Twilight and the others get back!"

"So... what do we do, Starlight?"

Starlight fretted, debating with herself. And then reached with her magic for the hardback book with the flaring sun mark on its cover, which Celestia had left with them in case they needed it.

"We do what Twilight would do: we let everypony know, so we're all on the same page, and can work on this as a group."

"Uhhh, do we have to mention that Trixie, well... might have screwed up again? Twilight might be really cross. She might even kick Trixie out of the group..."

"Trixie! You know Twilight. She doesn't think like that! She always says, we don't assign blame, we figure out what the problem is and work on that together -- with everypony's help. And hey --" She patted Trixie's shoulder encouragingly. "If you hadn't been pulling an all-nighter, we might not have gotten this far. So why should anypony be mad just because you forgot something? As long as you remember in time to do something about it?"

Trixie smiled gratefully. And then put on an arch expression. "Well, of course, Starlight! The Grrreat and Powerful Trrrixie knows no limits in assisting her friends!"

Starlight rolled her eyes. Then she grabbed a quill in her magic, and began scribbling industriously on an open page in the journal.

------------------------------

When Tempest and Twilight returned to the security office, they found the others inside. Rainbow was sitting at the bank of video screens, eagerly prodding switches and fiddling with knobs just to see what they did.

Sunset held up her journal. "Twilight, do you have a friend named Starlight Glimmer? I think this message might be for you."

Twilight skimmed the scribbled note, her eyes widening. "Uh oh! We might have less time than I thought. Trixie and Starlight found a timing component in the portal spell. They're not sure if it means the portal closes in three days now... or three minutes!"

Sunset's friends looked at each other. "Then we'd best get this sorted out," Applejack declared. "And get you folks back home, pronto!"

They turned to the bank of video screens. Rainbow had worked out how to select a video stream, and how to scrub the video back and forth in time.

"There!" Sunset leaned over Rainbow's shoulder to point at a screen. "That's Celestia's office!"

"Okay... so let's find the right time..." Rainbow grabbed a knob and fast-forwarded the video. There followed a lengthy period of Celestia sitting at her desk, working through a stack of paperwork that never seemed to get any shorter. Occasionally she would turn to the filing cabinet, but for well over two hours by the video's time clock, she did nothing but mark paper and consult reference books.

"Wow..." Applejack said, "I knew Celestia did a lot for the school. But I never realized how monotonous her job is!"

"Okay! Here we go!" Rainbow called. "Luna just walked in!"

There followed a lengthy, apparently heated discussion -- which Rainbow scrolled through quickly, pronouncing it "boring". And then they saw Luna walk quickly out of the room...

And Celestia wasn't there anymore.

"Scroll back, Rainbow!" Rarity said. "I didn't see what happened."

"Neither did I!" Fluttershy said. "It was too quick!"

Rainbow slammed the video into reverse, until both of the Principals were visible in the room again. Then she hit Play.

"-- why must you always be the perfect one, the proper one!" Luna was shouting.

"I've told you before," Celestia said patiently. "The Education Association..."

"Who runs this school?" Luna thundered. "Who works hard to keep it going, day in and day out? Is it them... or us?"

Celestia eyed her. Clearly this wasn't the first time she'd has this argument. "You need to be patient, Luna. Just for a little while longer."

"Patient? Ha! Jam tomorrow, Celestia! Never jam today! And you're so concerned with making sure your students feel comfortable, appreciated, and safe... all the while leaving it to me to ensure they meet the minimum requirements for behavioral and academic excellence --"

"Just like at Crystal Prep?" Celestia interrupted, with an arched eyebrow.

"I should have stayed at Crystal Prep!" Luna tossed her hands in frustration. "Their methods may be a little harsh, but at least they know how to reward hard work and excellence!"

"Luna..."

Luna leaned on the desk, glaring at her. "Prove that I mean anything to you at all!"

"What? How?"

"Make me co-Principal of this School!" Luna shouted. "You don't need anyone's permission! You can just do it! What's stopping you?" Even though they couldn't see Luna's face on the screen, they could hear the anguish in her voice. "Show me that you've always believed in me!"

Celestia stared back at her in silence... for just a little too long.

Luna jabbed a finger at her. "You're weak-willed, Celestia! And spineless! And... and... selfish! You've never cared about me at all! You just brought me in to hand out demerits and turn the lights off at night! And always, always you've been in... my... way!"

Luna crossed to the door, yanked it open.

"I wish I'd never come here! No wait, that way you'd win, as usual! I wish you were gone, and I was in charge! I HATE YOU!"

She stormed out, slamming the door behind her.

Celestia rose from her desk, reaching out a hand, a pained look on her face.

And then, in a swirling flash of light... she suddenly wasn't there.

"Woah..." Rainbow breathed. She quickly scrubbed the video back, replayed it. It showed the same thing.

Celestia had simply vanished.

Everyone was silent for a long moment.

"I declare!" Applejack finally said. "Must be that Equestrian magic you talked about, Sunset! Luna used it to make Celestia... disappear, or whatever. And now she's in charge, just like she wanted." She brushed her hat back on her head. "Boy, howdy! This thing just got dangerous!"

"Indeed!" Rarity said. "What if she decides to make us go away, too?"

"We need to make our move before she has a chance!" Rainbow pounded the desk. "Stop her dead in her tracks! Right, Sunset?"

"Um... Sunset?" Fluttershy asked meekly. "Are you okay?"

Sunset was staring at the screen, rubbing a shoulder with a hand, an anguished look on her face.

"It hurts just as much," she said quietly, "seeing it from the outside."

She looked around at them. "I'm sorry, everyone. I think this might be my fault," she said. "You remember I mentioned there's a Celestia in my world, too --"

"The Princess?" Rarity asked -- eagerly, despite her fears.

"Yeah, well... when I came here, I had a lot of pent-up resentment for her. And my magic was still active, granting my wishes. When Luna called me to her office, well... let's just say that I understand her resentment. And I might have wished that there was something I could do to help. Maybe my magic rubbed off on her somehow, so that she was able to make Celestia... go away."

"Oooh!" Fluttershy moaned. "Can we get her back?"

Twilight nodded. "Even magic can't make things just disappear. Though it can teleport them... or put them in a limbo state, where they're locked away from everything else..."

Sunset nodded. "We just have to hope that's what happened to Celestia. And that we can talk Luna into bringing her back. And that's not going to be easy, trust me! It's going to be really hard to convince Luna to do that."

"Convince me to do what?" asked a cold, strict voice behind them.

They turned. Vice Principal Luna was standing in the doorway, flanked by two security guards.

The students all stared at her in frightened silence. Luna stared back, with icy aloofness.

"This goes rather beyond a demerit... don't you think?"

Sunset recovered first. She turned to look at Twilight... and then at Tempest.

"You two have done more than enough," she whispered. "Get Twilight home, safe!"

Tempest stared back at her in surprise. And then nodded.

"Tempest..." Twilight said, worriedly.

"Well?" Luna shouted at her guards. "Don''t just stand there! Arrest them!"

"Twilight! With me!" Tempest grabbed her arm and dragged her over toward the window. Shoving it open, she clambered through into the chill wind outside. Clinging to the windowsill, she eyed the drop, then simply let herself fall. She hit the grass, rolling to take the hit, but even so was limping slightly when she stood up.

"You all right, boss?" Grubber asked, clinging fearfully about her neck. "Wish I could have shut my eyes for that one..."

"I've been worse." She stared up at the window, held up her arms. "Twilight! Jump! Now!"

At the window, Twilight looked back into the room. The guards had charged in to stop her and Tempest, but Sunset and Applejack had flung themselves in their way, scuffling with them in order to slow them down.

"Go, Twilight!" Sunset called over her shoulder.

Uneasily, Twilight swung out through the window, shut her eyes, and then let go...

And felt Tempest catch her easily, and set her on the ground.

"Twi-- uh, bark bark!" It was Spike, standing anxiously on the windowsill. Twilight put up her arms and he leapt down into them. Hugging him in relief, she put him in her backpack for safety.

Then Tempest leaned close, her voice cold and stern. "Twilight, if I tell you to run, I want you to head for the mirror portal. Don't look back, just get through it. And then... shut it behind you!"

"Tempest!"

"You heard me!" Tempest snapped. "Don't worry about me, Sunset, or anyone else here! Just get back to Equestria. And stay there!"

Before Twilight could respond, Tempest grabbed her hand and tugged her into a run. Together, they raced along the side of the building, turned the corner...

... and ran smack into more security guards, who were fanning out to encircle the school grounds. There were enough of them that even Tempest didn't want to turn it into a fight.

At least... not yet.

The guards quickly surrounded them, and wordlessly marched them back towards the School entrance.

Tempest eyed the rearing horse statue as they approached it.

"Twilight..." she whispered, timing it... "RUN!"

But Twilight stood where she was. "No, Tempest," she said, uncomfortably. "We came here to find Sunset. We can't just abandon her. Or her friends. We have to help them!"

Tempest stared at her, shocked. And then rolled her eyes, groaning in frustration.

She glanced around at the guards. "You ever have one of those days? When they just don't listen to you?"

The guards looked at each other. And nodded sadly.

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