• Published 21st Oct 2019
  • 1,060 Views, 30 Comments

The Phoenix and the Headstone - Francium Actinium



People rarely consider their actions, even less consider the consequences. What they might push someone too, or how far they will fall. Sunset Shimmer knows this all too well. Pain makes people do terrible things.

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The Substitute

Rushing through the streets of Canterlot as fast as she dared without drawing unwanted attention, Twilight Sparkle hoped her fears were unfounded. The text she had received was brief. Twilight herself had been busy after hours in her private laboratory at Crystal Prep, collating the final pieces of data she had been gathering over the past three years for her personal project, but the moment she received the message she knew something was up. The data could wait. She didn’t even care that she was now winding her way to a cafe she had never heard of, past foreign and unknown buildings and street names which on any other day would have given her anxiety attack. No, all that mattered was finding out what was hurting her one and only friend.

Risking a glance up, she felt a rush of relief when she noticed the name of the cafe, its sign hanging cheerfully out into the street. Part of her was irked by how the building wasn’t actually on a corner as the name might imply, but she discarded that thought. She had greater concerns. A bell jingled playfully above her as she entered and looked around for her friend's distinctive hair. After a longer moment than she would have liked, every other patron in the shop stopping to stare at the new arrival, Twilight spotted her quarry hiding away in the far corner of the shop. Skirting the counter, and not noticing the shocked stare the woman behind the counter gave her, she made her way over quickly and slipped into the cubicle across from her friend.

Instantly, Twilight knew there was something really up. No smile greeted her. No cheery hello. No loving and affectionate hug. Hands cradled a large, full, but cold mug of Earl Grey before her. No movement was made to acknowledge her arrival. With anyone else, Twilight would have not dared, but this woman was different. She gently took the woman's hands in her own, ignoring the cold mug that interfered with the action, but this finally got a response. The larger hands slowly took Twilights own and gripped them tightly.

“This world is… horrible.”

Twilight remained silent. She didn't know what was going on and she didn’t want to say the wrong thing, as she frequently did in difficult social situations, so her mind told her to wait and observe until she understood the situation. She wouldn’t screw this up. This woman was far too important to her.

“My first-ever class. They all looked at me like I was a monster or a ghost. I didn’t even do anything. I barely talked to them. I had a girl faint at the sight of me. How can the world be like this? It’s not even their fault… she… that poor girl...”

Twilight’s heart cracked when she heard a sob break from her friend's lips. She squeezed tighter and got a reciprocal response. Only one possible cause crossed her mind. Twilight wasn’t unaware of how cruel children and young adults could be. Even in her final year at Crystal Prep, she was still an outcast. No friends. No support. Still bumped and tripped in the corridors. Her bag hidden or her lockers lock filled with glue. Or…. no. Twilight suppressed those dark thoughts. She had one friend, right in front of her, and that friend needed Twilight right now.

“What happened?” Twilight asked. ‘Keep it simple Twilight’. ‘Listen and observe’.

Finally, her friend moved. Her beautiful eyes lifted to look into Twilights own, shining with tears.

“What didn’t?”

***---***---***

“I don’t know who she is, Lu, but Cinch promises me she is the best. Or will be the best when she finishes her training.” Principal Celestia quickly shuffled papers around on her desk, rifling through the various stacks. “And hearing those words from that old bat makes me believe she might just be. Cinch doesn’t use the word ‘best’ lightly.”

“I guess we don’t have much of an option. No one else is available until tomorrow at the earliest.” Vice Principal Luna sighed, donning her formal jacket with haste. “When did Cinch say she would be here?”

“Any minute now,” Celestia replied. “I’d greet her myself but I still have these exam board documents to scan and send, and I need to begin preparing for remembrance. And I need to dig up Harshwhinny’s lesson plans so know what lesson plans to give this woman.”

Unlocking the office door Luna turned back to Celestia “I’ll be back once I’ve got her settled in. If she is as good as Cinch implies then we shouldn’t have anything to worry about. She is training at Crystal Prep so that certainly says something about her skills.” Celestia only gave a vague nod and a wave of her hand in reply so Luna decided to leave it there, and head down to meet their guest.

She bustled through the empty corridors, everyone in their Form rooms, creating a background rumble that was unique to the school environment. She flung open the impressive main entry door to Canterlot High, hoping she would have a moment to collect herself before the woman arrived. She cast her gaze around and felt her heart stop.

“Hello. You must be Vice Principal Luna.” The woman held out her hand, and only through rote action did Luna manage to reach forward and take it in her own. The warm flesh under her skin almost burning like fire. Such a terrifying contrast.

“Y… Yes.” Luna managed to stutter back. “Yes. It’s lovely to have you here. Thank you so much for coming in on such short notice.”

“It’s not a problem at all, I can assure you. I was passing by and not only does it get you out of a bind, but this will also be a great experience for me too.”

Luna walked back inside, guiding, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away. Those eyes. So bright. So cheerful. So unique. So empty. Haunting.

“Yes, I hope it is.” She found herself replying. “Ms Harshwhinny has an Upper Sixth-Form registration group, so you should find the first period an easy one. They are all beautifully well-behaved.”

“That is good to hear.” That smile. That laugh. The way her hair always shone.“I will have to get used to unruly teens at some point but I’m quite happy to be eased into it.”

“Quite,” Luna responded, doing her best to remain professional on the outside while suppressing her internal horror. “It’s this room just here.” She gestured. “I will head in and introduce you first then…”

Ring…. Ring…

Damn it! Why now of all times Celestia! Luna cursed internally.

“My apologies. It's the Principal, I have to answer.” Luna smiled, doing her utmost to keep her face pleasant and welcoming. “Just a moment.” She flicked the answer button. “Vice Principal Luna speaking.”

“Luna, we have a problem.” Celestia’s voice was panicked. Far more than Luna had heard in awhile. “I need you back here right now.”

“I have a problem of my own. You need to…”

“Please Luna. This is really important” Celestia begged.

“Two minutes and I’ll head straight up.” Luna replied, before hanging up.

“If you need to go, don’t let me keep you.”

Internally, Luna screamed. Externally she allowed a brief grimace to cross her face, before wiping it and turning back around.

“Thank you,” Luna said, keeping her voice as level she could. “I’m afraid I will have to leave you. Just head in and let them know you are standing in for Ms Harshwhinny. I will be back as soon as I can with the lesson plans. Until then, Personal Study will have to do, but I will be back as soon as I can.”

The woman just nodded with a nervous smile. “Okay, thank you Vice-Principal. I hope it's nothing serious. I guess you are having one of those mornings.” She added with a smile, as she entered the classroom and shut the door behind her.

“You have no idea…” Luna muttered under her breath, turning to ‘walk’ back to Celestia's office.

***---***---***

The classroom was filled with excited whispers and curious chatter.

“She’s never this late. Something must be up.”

“Maybe someone rearranged all the plaques in the trophy cabinet again, and she is rearranging them all before she comes here.”

“Messing with someone's OCD isn’t funny!”

“If it gets me a free period I reckon it's worth a little hassle.”

Fluttershy cast a dark look across the room at the girl who had made the callous remark but she bit her tongue and returned to reading the veterinary entry exam book she was studying, rather than snapping at the immature teen. She had learned over the past three years that such jibes back only drew the attention to her and that was something she didn’t want. Rainbow wasn’t exactly a bully, but she wasn’t passive either.

Fluttershy felt her heart clench uncomfortably. It's not her fault. It's not her fault. Fluttershy repeated in her head. It's not her…

But it was. It really was. And Fluttershy could never forgive her for it.

The sound of the opening door and a gentle laugh caught her attention. It was hard to pick out why Ms Harshwhinny would be laughing over the now quite raucous banter happening around her, but she was here now and that meant her impromptu study time would have to end. Taking her time as not to damage the book, Fluttershy heard the room go quiet; as expected at the arrival of the teacher and slipped the bookmark in between the pages before folding the tome-like volume and slipping it into her backpack. She looked up towards the desk at the front, and her world stopped.

It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. Literally could not be.

The entire room had stopped. No one breathed. No one moved an inch.

“Good morning everyone. If you would all take a seat. As you may have noticed I am not Ms Harshwhinny, I’ve been told she has taken ill but should be back at the beginning of next week. Until that time I will be standing in as your form-tutor. My name is,”

She heard it, but Fluttershy didn’t believe it. A glance around suggested that no one else did either. But what their eyes were showing them was evidence to the contrary.

Fluttershy barely registered her automatic response to her name being called out. That voice. She had heard it in so many different ways.

Anger. Smugness. Gloating. Fear. Regret. Hope. Happiness. Pleading.

Broken.

“... Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash to the Principal’s office now please.”

Fluttershy blinked and looked around. Almost every eye was on her. Either her or the girl across the other side of the room. Fluttershy caught Rainbow Dash’s gaze. At that moment, Fluttershy saw so much in her old friend's eyes. Shock. Fear. Pain. Grief.

It suddenly registered to Fluttershy that her name had been followed by an instruction. Like a machine, Fluttershy grabbed the strap of her rucksack and stood up, while Rainbow did the same, gingerly looping the strap of her satchel over her shoulder. Together they walked to the front of the classroom, neither once taking their eyes off the woman behind the desk at the front of the room. Rainbow Dash clumsily opened the door and Fluttershy slowly followed her out, shutting the door as slowly as she dared, never removing her gaze until the door clicked shut.

“Shy?”

“Don’t call me that!” Fluttershy spat, whipping round to face Rainbow. To her surprise the girl took a step back, such was the venom in her words.

The two shared a long look at one another, Fluttershy seeing the fear and pain in the athletic woman's eyes, while her own vicious anger slowly faded to pain and finally turned to numb shock.

“That was…” Fluttershy gulped. “That was her. Wasn’t it?”

“I don’t know,” Rainbow replied, her voice barely above a whisper. “Come on. Celestia clearly knows more than us, she wouldn’t have called otherwise.”

When Rainbow grabbed her hand, Fluttershy’s instinct was to yank it away, but the way she took it: the power and care, the strength and precision, it was almost like the old Rainbow was back. Just for a moment. Fluttershy let herself be led away by the hand, a guilty part of her enjoying the firm guiding touch of her old friends… no, her old girlfriend's body.

***---***---***

The office door banged open. Rainbow Dash stumbled in, dragging Fluttershy in behind her. Both stopped when they saw the full office and chairs around them. Celestia watched their eyes dart from chair to chair, taking in their friends.

Old friends, Celestia had to remind herself. Oh, how things have changed.

Since there were no more seats, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash stood. Looking around with a mixture of confusion and deep sadness, Celestia herself was finding it very hard to keep herself composed. If she had known, she would have turned the woman away in an instant. It would have broken her heart, but it would have been worth it to save the girls before her, even the whole school, from the pain. Now though, it was too late, and by the end of the second period, everyone in the school would know, and there was almost nothing she could do to stop it.

Behind her, Luna leant against the large oak desk, her prim and crisp Vice-Principal facade fracturing just a little in the face of… well, for her it was more personal than even the girls before her knew, if not in the same way.

“Is it her?” Applejack’s unmistakable country twang cut through the silent room.

Of course, the honest girl would have to ask her, Celestia sighed internally. She glanced up at the monitor on her desk, its contents currently hidden from everyone except Luna. She took a deep breath, then spun it around. The gasp and singular squeak that came from the assembled girls wrenched at her heart.

“It is,” she confirmed, wringing her hands before her. “I know you never worked out exactly how the time difference worked between there and here, but she was slightly older than you anyway.”

“What?” Pinkie Pie gasped, her usually bouncy pin hair hanging as straight as a ruler.

“By about eighteen months.” Celestia finished. “It would seem this worlds version is older still. Early twenties.”

“So that is,?” Rarity whispered. “That is…?”

“Yes.” Celestia watched the realisation settle on every girl before her. “That woman is this worlds’ Sunset Shimmer.”

***---***---***

Lunchtime came, but Sunset found she had no appetite at all. Slumped on a well-worn sofa in the empty staffroom, she prodded at her box of salad picking out the few bits of chicken she had thrown in, but not feeling up to eating anything more.

The morning had been a disaster.

The two girls in her form that had been called away returned after about twenty minutes; along with Vice-Principal Luna. Any other day the disturbance would have been a mild irritation, breaking her flow, but today anything was better than the way the entire class stared at her. She’d pressed on regardless, ignoring the tension that gripped the whole room until their return. She had been handed the lesson plans for the day, and with a forced smile, the Vice-Principal had wished her luck, before casting a long intense look around the classroom. Whatever message was being conveyed in that stare, Sunset wasn’t privy to it, but at least it made a minor improvement to the tense atmosphere.

For the next sixty minutes, Sunset did her best to continue their lesson on Business and Enterprise, but when the bell rang, she felt an immense sense of relief. Everyone silently packed up their books and left, many giving her long, sad, even scared looks as they passed.

In the five minute gap she had, Sunset skimmed through the various other lesson plans for the day, learning Ms Harshwhinny seemed to teach a variety of subjects, which mainly focused around either Sports, History or Business; an interesting mix if Sunset said so herself, and was about to start writing the first set of notes on the board when a massive crash sounded from outside making the door rattle.

Opening the door revealed a mid-teen girl scrambling to pick up all her items that had spilt from her open bag, her apple-red hair a mess around her shoulders and she hurried to pick up her belongings. For a moment Sunset figured it was just an accident, but a glance up revealed three sniggering boys, all with looks of satisfaction on their faces.

“How do you like it, Miss Bloom.” One of the boys sneered. “You’re lucky, you deserve worse.”

If Sunset wouldn’t tolerate one thing, it was bullying, and this was about as clear cut as it got. She did consider approaching the boys herself but being a Substitute she knew she wouldn’t hold the clout or power required to properly deal with the situation. In an instant, she spotted at least five distinguishing features about each of the boys to help identify them to Principal Celestia later so she could deal out an appropriate punishment, before kneeling and picking up an open lunchbox and its contents. The girl seemed to register her help but didn’t acknowledge it, still stuffing things back into her bag, which; Sunset noticed, was heavily used and torn in abnormal ways. This blatant abuse made her blood boil.

“Are you alright?” She asked the girl, standing up and holding out the lunchbox. “No cuts or bruises?”

“Ah’m fine.” The girls' reply was very timid, an indication of just how regular this abuse was for her. She didn’t look up but leaned out to take the lunchbox. “It… was an accident.”

“I don’t know how things work in this school, but where I work, I do not allow students to come to harm. I will be reporting this to Principal Celestia.” Sunset replied, trying to sound supportive but serious. Realising this was only making the girl more nervous instead she asked. “What is your name?”

“Apple Bloom.”

“That is a lovely name. Mine is Sunset Shimmer, but since I am standing in for Ms Harsh Whinny you’ll have to call me…”

Sunset stopped. At her name, the girl had looked up. She could visibly see the colour drain from her young face. Her eyes darted around examining every point on Sunset’s face, while she simultaneously seemed to shrink beneath Sunset’s stunned gaze. A long moment passed where the young girl locked her red eyes on Sunsets own until the girl dropped to the floor like a cut-string puppet.

Putting her salad down, Sunset took her head in her hands. She’d had the reaction time to catch the girl before she hit the floor, and thankfully at that moment another teacher had arrived, clearly sensing a disturbance. Rather than being her saving grace however, the woman had taken on the same shocked expression the girl had worn. Without saying a word she had picked her up and begun carrying her away to what Sunset assumed would be the Nurses office, leaving her with the girl's bag.

The bag in question rested beside her. She had been planning to take it straight up to Celestia so it could be returned, but then she remembered she had a class to teach. The second lesson had been just as tense, if not more. Halfway through, one girl burst into tears for no reason that Sunset could discern. Not one to judge when she saw real pain, she had suggested she go to the nurses' office and allowed her to leave. Her third period had been much the same, just without any crying.

What was going on, Sunset asked herself. Sure, Crystal Prep wasn’t a normal school per se, but Canterlot High couldn’t be what your average high school was like. The world wouldn’t function if that was the case.

The click of the handle announced an arrival, but Sunset didn’t look up until she felt a weight beside her.

“Afternoon Miss Shimmer.” Principal Celestia settled next to her, her voice relatively calm, if a little weary. “Thank you for your help this morning, both teaching and that little incident. I have seen to it that those responsible will be suitably punished for their actions.” Why did it sound like that would make no difference at all? “I’m sorry you had to see that too. It must have been rather disturbing.”

“You could say that ” Sunset added wryly. “It's just… I… It's not…” She stopped herself and gathered her thoughts. Something was up, but she had no idea how to approach the subject. She didn’t want to seem rude or angry. That wouldn’t bode well for her report back to Cinch, or her future prospects if at her first school she made students faint. But how to even ask the question?

“Sunset… I mean, Miss Shimmer.” Celestia spoke up. “I’m afraid I have something to say. It will explain why everyone here is behaving so strangely, but it won’t change how they look at you even when you know.”

Sunset looked up at the older woman, though she was only old compared to Sunset herself. “What is it?” She asked slowly. “What did I do?”

“You have done nothing wrong. I can assure you of that.” Celestia clarified after a moment. “Your handling of the incident of Miss… Apple Bloom was very quick and to be commended.”

“But she fainted.” Sunset cut in. “She looked at me and fainted.”

Celestia gave a long, pained sigh, her eyes closing as if stealing herself.

“You have an… uncanny resemblance… to a young woman who used to attend this school.” She continued. “A very bright, and very kind, a very caring young woman. The girls in your Form room this morning, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, as well as Apple Bloom and several other students had a strong… history with her.”

Sunset sat and listened intently, an unpleasant feeling growing in her stomach.

“This young girl left an impact on the entire school, for those around to have experienced it, and even those who didn't know about her. Famous might be a way to put it, even if I don’t feel that is entirely appropriate.”

“Are you holding out on infamous?” Sunset added without thinking.

To her surprise, Celestia gave a sad smile. “To begin with, yes, that would have described her aptly. But now, you could use the word legendary, and not be far from the truth about the effect this young woman had on the world.”

“You keep saying ‘had’.” Sunsets’ voice cracked. “You don’t mean she…”

“She is no longer with us.” Celestia finished quickly.

A great pain crossed the Principals face with those words. Sunset could see the effort the woman was exerting to not break down before her. Tight fists, taut muscles, and her eyes staring determinedly forwards. Was this what everyone felt when they saw her? That level of pain and anguish? Poor Apple Bloom had been overwhelmed by the sight of her. Just what did this girl do?

Before she could ask, the bell rang, shattering the tense and pained moment. Celestia gave another long sigh, getting to her feet.

“I hope that helps with the rest of your day. I’m sorry to bear such news to you, but I feel its better you know.” She picked up the bag at Sunset’s feet. “I will deliver this to Apple Bloom. I am not sure we can have a student faint twice in one day.” She gave a shallow smile. “I am free at the end of the day, should you wish to speak more, but I also understand if you want to leave as quickly as possible. I did ask Abacus if you were free for the whole week but if this is too much I understand and I won’t make you stay.” With that Celestia closed the door behind her, leaving Sunset alone once more.

‘I look like a dead girl’, Sunset felt a tear run down her cheek. Death had always pained her, but to hear about someone so young, someone so clearly loved and cherished, Sunset’s heart broke. She wanted to stay, she wanted to cry but she couldn’t. Wiping away the brimming tears, Sunset forced herself to stand and with a long shuddering breath, opened the door.

***---***---***

Twilight couldn’t take it. She slipped out of her seat and moved to embrace Sunset, the older woman openly sobbing in their secluded corner of the shop. Sliding her arms around her back, and under her arms, Twilight pulled Sunset so she rested her flowing fiery locks on Twilights shoulder and began to stroke her hair in what she hoped was a soothing manner. Sunset grabbed Twilights arm, her fingers digging painfully into her skin, but Twilight ignored it, focusing on soothing her friend and holding her close.

Eventually, Sunsets sobs turned to shallow, hitched breaths before she turned to embrace Twilight fully, even if the angle was a little awkward.

“Thank you Twilight. I… I needed that.”

Twilight smiled gently. “You’ve been there for me so many times. Now it's my turn to help you.”

Sunset smiled back, her red eyes looking a little brighter. “I guess it is. But Twi… that's not all. Something else is going on.” She wiped her eyes on the back of her sleeve, then pulled out her phone.

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked confused as Sunset tapped on the screen of her device.

Sunset swallowed, turning the phone around towards Twilight. “Look.”

***---***---***

Afternoon break was in session, something Sunset was immensely grateful of. Just another period and then this day would be over. But until then, she just wanted to get away from the school, and the unnerving stares she received wherever she went. Could she blame them? Sunset couldn’t really feel angry towards the pupils. Seeing someone you thought was dead would certainly be shocking enough without that person trying to teach you. There was something else though, something underlying the shock in their gaze that she couldn’t place. Comprehension? Understanding? Something almost curious.

Setting that puzzle aside, Sunset headed out through the large front doors of the school, noting the much fresher building facade and even the railings looked much newer than the rest of the school. Something had needed renovating. She turned right and followed a series of small signs that indicated the way to the schools’ garden, located in a small wood next to the school. Sunset had noticed most of the students flooding out to the sports fields and track on the diagonally opposite side of the school. Perfect for a few minutes of privacy.

Enjoying the act of exploration and the small hidden unknown she would soon find, Sunset made her way down a small gravel path, noting how the bushes and shrubs on either side were lightly trimmed, looking wild and free but still allowing unhindered access. After a minute the path opened up into a small circular clearing. Around the perimeter, flower beds edged in stone bloomed with colourful plant life, with the occasional stump, plant pot and boulder to break up the profile. In the centre, a large rockery rose out of the earth, succulents and smaller plants cascading down its sides. At its apex was a fountain of fiery orange leaves from a plant that Sunset didn’t recognise, with something nestled between its stems.

Sunset’s happy curiosity drained away as she drew near. Set behind a glass pane, leant up against an ornate, carved stone, lay a picture of a teenage girl that was unnervingly familiar, and made all the more unsettling by the words beneath.

Proof that people can change, no matter their history.

The fire in our hearts, the light of our lives, always,

Sunset Shimmer

If it were not for the admittedly badass leather jacket, Sunset could have sworn she was looking at a photograph of herself. Her eyes, nose, lips, even the way she stood proud, and carrying the aggressive triangular orange electric guitar felt crazily similar. The only thing that told her that this wasn’t her was just how unfeasibly long her doppelgangers hair was, reaching down to the back of her knees, and how she had a pair of cats ears poking out the top of her hair. If this was how this girl looked on stage, it was unique, to say the least.

Wait.

Sunset reread the epitaph. Then again. And again. There was no way they would have put another girls name under the picture which meant…

“Ahhhhgh!” Sunset wheeled around to see a green-haired girl in muddy jeans and a very washed out looking jumper staring at her with terror, hands clamped over her mouth. Neither moved for what felt like an age to Sunset until, “Su… Sunset?” The girl whimpered, unable to take her eyes off the woman before her. “Is it… how are you… are you real?”

“Who is this?” Sunset demanded, standing aside and pointing at the photograph. “Who is this girl?”

“Sun… Sunset Shimmer.” The girl stammered back. “Sunset. It’s me, Wallflower. Do you remember?”

“No! Who is she?” Sunset grabbed the picture and held it up in front of the terrified girl. “This girl right here.”

“Sunset Sh… Shimmer.” The girl cowered. “Her name is Sunset Shimmer. From Equestria. Wait… they destroyed it. Unless…” the girl turned her brown eyes to Sunset. “You’re taller. You’re older. You’re…”

Both women jumped as a bell rang in the distance. Sunset shoved the picture into the girls' arms and ran as fast as her shoes would allow back to the school, leaving the stunned and terrified Wallblush alone.

***---***---***

Twilight didn’t even know where to start. She stared at the screen. The rock garden, the fiery flowers, the photo and epitaph of the girl, a spitting image of Sunset herself. The only difference was her age, Twilight reckoned she had to be seventeen at most, four years younger than the woman across from her. And she was dead. Taking a steadying breath, Twilight pondered what to say. She still wasn’t certain what the problem actually was, that had Sunset in this state. Maybe problems was a more accurate choice, but it wasn’t like this could be fixed or solved. Twilight believed that the human mind was just a biological machine, highly complex and intricate, but a machine nonetheless, yet how did one deal with learning that you not only looked exactly alike but had the same name as a dead girl? Or how to deal with everyone looking at you like you were a ghost.

The tinkling of the doorbell made Twilight look over her shoulder. Two girls entered, both with white skin, under a soaking wet umbrella. The younger one had pink and lavender hair, cut surprisingly short and held back in a single ponytail, while the olders was vibrant indigo and curled perfectly to her hips. A bold statement but that wasn’t going to help her support Sunset.

“Are you going to go back tomorrow?” She asked, hoping to eke out a little more information. “You could ask to teach different classes and have someone else cover. At least that way you wouldn’t get on the wrong side of Cinch. This Principal, Celestia, she seemed pretty kind, I am sure she would let you. This must be a really difficult situation for her as well.”

Sunset’s grip tightened. “I don’t know Twilight. It's frustrating that Cinch is a factor to consider in all this, but she is. She alone got me into this position, way ahead of my years. But I am also pretty sure if I disappoint her she won’t hesitate to drop me. You know how she is.”

Twilight just nodded in response. “I guess that means, go back tomorrow and…”

“Twilight?”

Standing beside her, looking down with bewilderment was the white-skinned, indigo-haired girl she had seen only a moment ago. She clutched her umbrella tightly before her, seeming to not believe what she was seeing.

“Yes?” Twilight replied slowly, trying to be polite. “Can I help you?”

“Oh, yes, no, I mean…” the girl stumbled over her words, looking shy and uncomfortable. “I just mean… It’s good to see you again. What brings you too…”

The teens' voice trailed off into silence as she spotted the girl huddled in Twilights arms. At that moment, Sunset decided to sit up to see what was going on, causing the girl to take a step back.

“Sunset… I mean, Miss Shimmer.” the girl gasped.

“You know her?” Twilight asked.

“Yes I…” the girl began, but she was interrupted by the arrival of the younger girl.

“Rarity, they didn’t have any blueberries left, so I ordered you…” the girl began.

Smash.

Both smoothie pitchers filled with strawberry red liquid shattered on the tiles as the girl dropped to the floor like a stringless puppet.

“Sweetie!” The girl, Rarity, gasped, dropping to her knees and grabbing the girls hand. Sweetie lay on the floor in the spreading pool of red juice, trembling from head to toe, her eyes tightly shut, taking short sharp breaths. Twilights were not like this but Sunset had read enough about them to know what was happening.

“She is having a panic attack.” Sunset stood and moved to block the girl from the eyes of the entire cafe that was now watching with horror. “Please keep your distance. Rarity, do you know what to do?”

“Yes…”

“Then do it,” Sunset ordered.

Gently Rarity cradled Sweeties head, stroking her hair, despite the red juice that soaked into it and began to gently sing to her. It wasn't quite what Sunset had expected, but if it worked, it worked.

Eventually, Sweetie’s shaking subsided. A minute or so after that her eyes opened.

“I deserve to die too…”

Rarity gasped, but turned it into a cough, pulling the girl close. “Don’t say that Sweetie, please don’t say that.” Rarity pleaded, gently rocked the girl in her arms. “I’m here, I’ve got you. I love you Sweetie Belle. I love my little sister so much.”

Twilight and Sunset shared shocked glances.

“I should go.” Sunset stood and made to walk around the sisters on the ground but Rarity grabbed her hand.

“Please. Please stay.”

“Seeing me just gave your sister a panic attack. I don’t think that is wise.” Sunset replied dryly. “Principal Celestia explained to me what is going on. If this is the effect I have one people, I’d best not be here.”

Rarity looked shocked. “She… she did?”

“If I hadn’t seen the small memorial in the school gardens I wouldn’t have believed just how close it was, but yes, she told me about the girl who died, how I look exactly like her, and how I somehow share the same name.”

Rarity blinked slowly. “Yes, just right. I’m sorry, this must be a horrible shock to you.”

“I’m more concerned about your sister at this moment.” Sunset took a deep breath. “I still feel I should leave. I don’t know what that girl did but whatever it was, it certainly made a deep impression on the entire student populace.”

A sad smile crossed Raritys’ face. “Yes. That she did.” It then dawned on her that there was another girl present, the one who had drawn her attention in the first place. “Wait… Twilight, you know this woman?”

“I do know her,” Twilight replied. “How do you know me?”

Rarity suddenly looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

“I just… you know… she said your name.” Rarity pointed at Sunset.

Twilights’ eyes narrowed calculatingly. “No. No, she didn’t. One person with the same name is statistically very likely. A doppelganger, again very rare but certainly not impossible. Having that same person also have the same name is highly improbable. Meeting someone who knows that person and myself while knowing my name despite never having met me is getting out of improbable and entering absurd.”

Sunset put a soothing hand on Twilights’ shoulder. “Come on Twilight… it’s not that big a deal.” Twilight turned and gave Sunset a flat look of ‘really?’. “Fine, okay, it is absurd.” Sunset relented.

“Rarity?” The three women looked down to the girl in Rarity’s arms, who was looking up at Sunset and Twilight with confusion. “Why is Twilight here?”

“Two people! Two!” Twilight pointed. “Something is going…”

“Twilight… please, you’re doing it again.” Sunset warned. “Just sit… okay? In fact, let's all sit.” She concluded against her initial judgement.

Rarity helped Sweetie Belle up and settled her across from Twilight, taking the seat next to her. Sunset was about to go and buy both girls replacement drinks when the woman behind the counter suddenly appeared with exactly that.

“Mrs Cake, please, It's quite alright.”Rarity held up a placating hand.

“It’s quite alright dear.” the plump woman replied. “Carrot will be out in a moment with a mop, though if you girls are getting back together again, I fear we will need to double up on our building insurance.”

Rarity gave a nervous laugh. “I don’t think that will be necessary.” She waved her hand. “Thank you very much though. I’m sorry for the trouble.”

“As I said, it’s quite alright.” Mrs Cake smiled gently at both white girls before returning to the counter. True to her word, a slender gentleman appeared a moment later with a bucket, mop and dustpan to begin cleaning up the mess on the floor.

Sunset sat down beside Twilight, and across from Rarity. Sweetie Belle still stared at Sunset like she was a ghost or apparition, but seemed to be stable enough, one hand clinging to the sleeve of Rarity’s designer raincoat.

Sunset leant forward slightly and looked Rarity in the eye. “So. Why did you want us to stay?”

“And what is going on.” Twilight cut in, but Sunset silenced her with a look.

Rarity pondered her answer for a good minute, sipping daintily on her fresh strawberry smoothie. She was about to speak when Sweetie Belle spoke up.

“Could it be the other them?” She asked her sister quietly. “Princess Twilight always said…”

Rarity placed a finger on her sisters' lips. “Shhhhh, Sweetie. I need you to be quiet for a while okay? This is very… delicate. We need to be very careful about what we say.” She looked over to the neutral gaze of Sunset and the suspicious look from Twilight. “I am very sorry. This is, almost three years of very intense and personal events, and I am not certain I should even be telling you this. Any of it. It may be best if you didn’t know.”

Twilight huffed. “How can we know that unless you tell us?. You clearly know a lot more than…”

“Twilight. This isn’t some scientific puzzle or hidden discovery.” Sunset snapped at her. “You can’t force this. You saw what happened. Let them say it in their own time. In their own way.” She gave her friend a firm look.

In an instant, Twilights frustration and anger crumbled, her face now very nervous and ashamed. “I’m sorry. I just… I got…”

“It’s okay Twi.” Sunset smiled. “It’s another one of those. Well, I hope it is.” Twilight nodded slowly in reply and settled back, still looking like a recently disciplined child, one hand rubbing her arm through her uniform.

“May I ask.” Rarity hesitated. “Is that a Crystal Prep uniform?” Twilight nodded slowly. “Well, that means you must be incredibly intelligent. Crystal Prep takes only the best of the academic crop.”

“Twilight here is the best of the best.” Sunset smiled proudly. “Best student the school has ever seen.” The words of praise made Twilight shrink more into her seat, her cheeks tinted red, a small smile on her face.

“So that would make you…” Rarity began, looking back to Sunset. “Are you at Canterlot University?”

Sunset shook her head. “I am technically at Manehatten, but yes I am still a student. A few more months and I will finish my Masters. But I am spending most of my time working at Crystal Prep as part of my training.”

“Your masters?” Rarity gasped. “I know it's impolite to say, but you don’t look a day over twenty, yet you are just finishing a masters degree?”

“I’m twenty-one, but thank you.” Sunset couldn’t help but let slip a small grin. “And yes, I am two years ahead.”

Rarity looked between the two girls in shock. “That is incredible. You both are.”

Both girls shared a shy happy glance, Sunset reaching over to squeeze Twilights’ hand. Rarity almost let out a squeak as she watched. It was both endearingly cute, making her romance senses tingle, and simultaneously creepily similar to a love that had come crashing down.

Rarity bit her lip hard. ‘That was a poor choice of words darling’ she scolded herself.

“So, Ms Rarity,”

“Rarity is fine darling.”

“Very well Rarity.” Sunset continued. “So, what can you tell us both about the first Sunset Shimmer?” She asked, eyeing the girl before her.

Again Rarity sat pondering for a good minute. Sunset wondered if she would say anything at all, or if she was trying to concoct some elaborate but believable lie, but that didn’t seem to fit her character from what Sunset could read. Beside her Sweetie Belle sipped on her smoothie, looking less scared than she had done previously, however that tension was still there and her eyes, they looked so pained and broken. It then struck Sunset just how different the sisters looked.

They were definitely sisters; their skin tone, their slender fingers, the shape of their faces, their eyes. Rarity though carried herself almost like an older woman, her mannerisms and nurturing treatment of Sweetie Belle, they were motherly. Yet Rarity looked barely older than Twilight: maybe Upper-Sixth? Was this just how she was? Or was this behaviour forced on her by circumstance?

Sweetie Belle, on the other hand, she was skittish, nervous, tense. Horribly, she reminded Sunset of an abused child, afraid of every action and every move, scared it would provoke an angry response. Her hair was cut almost aggressively short, and was uneven too, in vast contrast to Raritys’ own silken, flowing locks. Given Raritys’ sense of style and fashion, Sunset was surprised she didn’t have hair like her sisters, or at the very least cut cleanly, yet she wore the same designer labels as her sister which would imply this was a choice of her own.

“Sunset Shimmer,” Rarity began slowly, jolting Sunset from her thoughts. “Our Sunset came from somewhere far away. When she joined the school she was like a fish out of water, barely understanding even basic concepts about technology and social interactions. But this didn’t last long. In a few months, she went from this strange outsider too, well, a manipulator. None of us could see it at the time, at least not at first but by the end of her second term, she had cemented herself at the top of the school hierarchy. By the end of the first year, she had used social manipulation and her very rapid grasp of technology to create rifts in the student body. By the middle of the second year, she practically ruled the school with an iron fist in a velvet glove.” Rarity paused, looking up at the ceiling for a long moment before continuing. “She was smart, not just book smart, or a quick study, she was everything. No offence my dear,” She turned to Twilight. “But she might have been just as smart, if not smarter than you or most of those at Crystal Prep.”

Sunset and Twilight shared a long, knowing look, which Rarity saw but couldn’t decipher.

“Anyway, that was how it was. With everyone broken into their own little cliques, Sunset Shimmer ways able to control the school, by adding a little bit of mistrust here, some dangling threats and the occasional bit of blackmail.” Rarity gave a long, painful sigh.

“Why didn’t your principal do something about it?” Twilight cut in angrily. “Get her removed or give her detention at the very least.”

To Twilights’ surprise Rarity let out a small giggle. “Detention only works if the person considers it a punishment, Sunset would consider it quiet time to do more scheming in her head, and getting her removed from school would require substantial evidence, of which there was not even a whisper. Sure, everyone knew that Sunset Shimmer ruled the school, but beyond that, there was nothing tangible. Do you now understand what I mean when I said she was smart?

After opening and closing her mouth several times, Twilight sat back in her seat and folded her arms, seemingly defeated, or at least understanding.

“This can’t have lasted though.” Sunset mused. “The way you look when you think about her, it was like she was a sister to you.”

Sweetie suddenly looked away, her hands balled into tight fists, her breathing shallow. Rarity slipped her arms around her sister and pulled her close, kissing her hair and cooing in her ear. Sunset and Twilight looked at one another, clearly, that had been a poor choice of words. When Sweetie had calmed down again, Rarity looked across at the red-haired girl.

“Yes, she was.” She replied tears in her eyes. “She was and we…”

Rarity bit her lip and looked away, blinking the tears from her eyes. She took a deep breath and looked back to Sunset and Twilight.

“Anyway darlings, that is when things began to change. Another girl, transferred, to the school. Perhaps it was because she thought no one would challenge her, or because she figured she could just bide her time and manipulate her over time like everyone else, but Sunset ended up on the back foot. This girl was incredible at making friends and fixing all the small problems that had kept the school divided. Sunset tried, in a very rushed effort, to discredit her, but it wasn’t enough. In one week, Sunset fell from the top of the school to rock bottom. All her power gone, all her carefully crafted deceit exposed. And just as quickly as she arrived, this girl left.”

“What stopped this other Sunset from just resuming her methods and taking back over the school?” Twilight asked slowly. “If she was that smart, that intelligent, surely…”

Rarity held up a hand. “The girl that came in, she was just as smart, just as intelligent, but more importantly she was kind, caring and she did something that no one expected her to do.”

“Which was?” Sunset and Twilight said together.

“She gave Sunset a second chance.” Rarity smiled, holding up her hands to stop the tirade she knew was coming. “Trust me, I was just as shocked as you, and she asked my friends and I to look after her and help her…” Rarity trailed off again, her voice cracking, tears swelling in her eyes again. Beside her Sweetie was looking ready to cry too, her smoothie long since abandoned. “But I’m afraid… that will… have to wait.” Rarity wiped her tears away with a finger, doing her best to smile.

“Will you be teaching at Canterlot High tomorrow?” She asked Sunset, standing up and helping Sweetie Belle to her feet.

“I… yes,” Sunset replied.

“Would you mind getting there early, say seven-thirty?” Rarity asked. “I believe there are some people you should meet.”

“Sure,” Sunset replied slowly.

Rarity smiled sadly. “I shall see you there then darling.”

Without another word she took Sweetie by the hand a lead her from the cafe, the younger girl never taking her eyes of Sunset until the door closed behind them with a merry jingle.

“Well, that was…” Twilight began, but she couldn’t find the right words to convey her thoughts.

“Vexing?” Sunset offered.

“Yes, vexing.”

The two girls sat in silence for a while, both lost in their own thoughts.

“Her sister called me ‘Princess Twilight’...” Twilight mumbled. “And she said ‘the other them’.”

“I wouldn’t read too much into it Twi.” Sunset sighed, stretching. “There was something very… perhaps it’s better to say she was traumatised, and Rarity was also affected very deeply.”

“I’ve never had anyone I know die before,” Twilight whispered. “No one I was close too anyway. Is that what it always feels like?”

Sunset didn’t reply, a knot tightening in her chest. She knew but she wasn’t about to tell Twilight. She was also certain that this younger Sunset’s passing wasn’t by natural causes. Or perhaps it was, it would explain the shock and pain. Even friendships couldn’t stop cancer.

“I’ll give you a lift home Twilight.” Sunset stood, grabbing the two abandoned smoothies and taking them to the counter.

“Can’t I stay at yours?” Twilight asked tentatively, blushing.

“Any other night, I might have said yes.” She ran a gentle hand through Twilights’ purple hair. “But I don’t think you want to be around me tonight. Besides, you know your parents aren’t that keen on me.”

“They will come around, I know it,” Twilight replied, optimistically, leading Sunset out the door and into the darkening night.

“I am sure they will,” Sunset replied.

Author's Note:

A very different story to what I have written in the past, I hope people are still enjoying it so far.
My thanks to Between Lines for being my Pre-Reader on this story!
Let me know via PM if you encounter any errors!

If you enjoyed this, please consider checking out my other stories.

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