• Published 21st Oct 2019
  • 1,054 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 Headstone

The morning was unseasonably cold. The thin veil of snow that had settled on the grass out front of Canterlot High now crunched under Sunsets boots as a layer of ice crystals, with morning dew clinging to spider webs glinting in the rising sun.

Sunset drew her leather jacket around herself against the cold, glancing down at her watch to reveal she was ten minutes early. She looked up expecting to see no one, but to her surprise Rarity was standing by the strange horse statue out the front of the school, wearing a fashionable ski jacket, white with purple highlights to match her perfectly, with a matching satchel slung over her shoulder.

“Good morning Miss Shimmer.” Rarity smiled softly as Sunset approached. “Did you sleep well?”

“Not really,” Sunset replied, making Raritys’ smile falter. “Lovely jacket you have though.” She added, moving the conversation on. “Where did you get it?”

“Well, I got the fabric from an online shop, being a speciality item and all. The lining came from another old coat of mine. The exterior was too worn but I couldn’t let the silken lining go to waste and the buttons I saw in this little thrift store off the main square.”

Sunset found herself looking stunned at the young girl. “You made this?”

“But of course. I want to be a fashion icon when I am older, and there is no better way to practice than making my own stunning ensemble.” Rarity replied with a wild grin. “Why, do you like it?”

Sunset merely nodded, scanning the coat for a single imperfection, but she found none.

“I’m glad to hear it. It is its first outing and it's nice to make a good impression. Why I made a beautiful leather jacket for Sunset, it matched her to a tee, she always wore it when it was cold…” Rarity suddenly stopped, her eyes wide like she had just been stabbed through the heart.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes… just… painful memories.”

Sunset let it slide, not wanting to worry the girl more than necessary. Scanning around she examined the school and the surrounding area. Cars rolled past on the road out front, birds flitting from eve to eve on the houses opposite.

“How many people are coming,” Sunset asked.

“With any luck, Four.” Rarity replied. “In fact, here comes one now.”

Sunset saw a familiar pink haired girl appear from around the corner of the school building. Wearing a long green skirt and matching green hat, thick white tights with pink boots to match her hair, the girl stopped dead when she caught sight of Rarity and Sunset. After a wave from Rarity, she finally approached, keeping her head tilted so her long hair covered her face.

“Morning Fluttershy.” Rarity held out a surprisingly formal hand, which Fluttershy took slowly in both her own. An understanding seemed to pass between them both, until they both embraced tightly, both squeezing the other with a tightness that Sunset knew only came from a deep, personal connection.

“Morning Rarity.” The girls' voice was just as timid as it had been when answering the register. Fluttershy glanced up at Sunset and gave a nervous smile. “Hello, Miss Shimmer.”

“Sunset is fine.” She replied, holding out her own hand.

Fluttershy eyed it warily for a moment like it might suddenly disappear. Slowly she reached out and shook Sunsets hand, her grip just as timid as her voice.

An awkward silence reigned again, Fluttershy avoiding Sunset’s gaze, while Rarity fidgeted with the buttons on her coat.

“Do you think the others will come?” Fluttershy asked, her voice barely audible.

“I think so.” Rarity replied but wasn’t forthcoming as to why.

Sunset was tempted to leave them for a moment and head back to the small garden, examine the picture and the epitaph once more. Her plan was discarded as she spotted a red truck pull up in front of the school. The door banged open and out clambered a blonde-haired girl in jeans and thick green chequered jumper. The snow crunched under her heavy leather boots, very practical and almost opposite to Raritys’ stylish ensemble. She stopped short of the small group, her eyes flitting between them, an unusual pained, perhaps reluctant, smile on her face, the tassels of her knitted woollen hat swaying in the breeze.

“Howdy.” the girl said stiffly, stuffing her hands in her jeans.

“Applejack.” Rarity replied politely but she didn’t hold out her hand.

Fluttershy merely smiled at Applejack in acknowledgement.

Deciding she should at least be civil, Sunset offered her hand. “Hi. Sunset Shimmer, but Sunset is fine.” After eyeing it, just like Fluttershy, Applejack eventually shook her hand. In contrast to Fluttershy, Applejacks’ grip was firm and strong. If the truck and industrial level boots were any indication, Sunset expected the girl was used to manual labour and probably only using a fraction of her strength.

As she pulled back her hand, Sunset heard Applejack whisper something like ‘Apples and Pears!’ with a tone of shock. What that meant she had no idea.

“So. What have you told her?” Applejack asked Rarity, ignoring the fact Sunset was right next to her.

“Applejack, manners.” Rarity hissed.

“What? Are we just cookin’ for one, or is the whole family gonna come over.” The blonde girl replied, with Sunset only just catching what she meant.

Rarity rolled her eyes. “We… we will see who turns up.” She finished, as if reluctant to use the girls' odd analogy.

Tapping her boot slowly in the snow, Applejack eyed Rarity. “Ah see. And any sign of that faithless good-for-nothin’? Or is she still runnin’ from her problems?”

“Applejack!” Fluttershy squeaked.

“Oh come on Shy? It’s true. Besides, ah thought you’d given up on her.”

Fluttershy took a couple of steps back, positioning herself just behind Rarity, looking anywhere but at the irritable woman.

“Going for brutally honest are we now Applejack?” Rarity chirped. Applejack glared at Rarity but seemed to think better of retorting.

Sunset looked between the three of them with surprise. “Any particular reason you’re biting each others heads off?” She rhetorically. “Or is this how kids behave when they don’t attend a Prep school?”

Rarity and Applejack looked at one another, their expressions falling. Applejack looked away, kicking the ground with a boot, with Rarity giving Sunset an apologetic smile.

“No, this is…” She began, only to stop and stare into space. “You know, I’m not sure what it is anymore. Too much has happened for me to be able to put it in simple terms.”

“Ahm sure the Princess would have a word,” Applejack added wryly. “Did yah ask her to come?” She added after a moment.

“I did, but I never got a reply.” Rarity replied sadly. “Honestly, I’m not sure if she ever wants to return.”

A penny dropped in Sunsets mind. “Rarity, who is this Princess? Yesterday, your sister said Princess Twilight. Unless she is leading a seriously secret double life, the Twilight you met yesterday isn’t a Princess. Is there another girl with a similar name.”

If Rarity could go paler than she already was, Sunset was certain her body managed it.

“Oh, uhhh… yes, but, uhhhh, she is…”

“From abroad.” Applejack finished for her.

Sunset nodded suspiciously. “Uhuh. And the Princess part?”

“That part is true… she is a Princess where she is from.” Rarity smiled sheepishly. “Quite a shock when we found out, but she had a crown and everything.”

Sunset wasn’t sure why they would lie to her, but somehow a Princess randomly attending this school seemed a little far-fetched. ‘You’ve just discovered your share the likeness and name of a dead girl at a school you were only teaching at my pure chance’ her brain reminded her. Damn.

All four women were distracted by a bus pulling up out the front of the school. The doors opened but it took a few seconds for a girl to clamber carefully down from the bus, a satchel slung over one shoulder while she supported herself on a crutch with the other. Sunset recognised her rainbow coloured hair instantly from the day before but was pretty sure she hadn’t been limping. As the girl got closer Fluttershy gasped and rushed to her side, the other three going wide-eyed.

“Rainbow?” Fluttershy stammered, her hands reaching out for the girl but stopping short of making contact, as if holding herself back at the last moment. “What happened?”

Rainbow looked up at the assembled girls to reveal a heavy black eye, with cuts down the same side of her face. She turned away from Fluttershy with a grunt. “Gilda.”

“That hussy is still givin’ you beatin’s?” Applejack admonished. “Ah thought the police had put a stop to that?”

Rainbow shook her head but said nothing.

“During form, you and I are going to go and see Principal Celestia and file a report with the police.” Sunset moved forward to Rainbow’s side. Taking the girls face in both her hands she gently tilted it up to examine the bruise and cuts. “When did this happen? These haven’t been cleaned or seen too.”

“I got it, okay.” Rainbow pulled away roughly, standing up and dropping her crutch. “I’m just fine. See…” Rainbow’s leg gave way and she topped forwards. Sunset lunged to grab her and managed to prevent her from hitting the frozen ground.

“Applejack. Under her other arm. We’re going to the matron’s room. Your school does have one right?”

“Yeah but…” Applejack began until Rainbow shoved her off and with the swing of her good leg, lunged free of Sunset, dropping to the ground with a grunt.

“I told you, I’m fine. Just leave me alone.” She hissed, pulling herself up on her crutch.

“No, you’re not.” Sunset tried again to lift her up but Rainbow swiped at her with the stick, almost falling over again. “What is wrong with her? She was fine in class yesterday.”

“It's her way of atonin'” Applejack replied bitterly. “She’s been letting stuff like this happen ever since Sunset…”

“Shut up!” Rainbow screamed. “You keep your lying mouth shut!”

“Oh come on Dash!” Applejack yelled back. “It's bucking obvious and the whole school knows it. Why do you think no one tried to help you or gets involved.”

“You…!” Rainbow yelled but never finished as she swiped at Applejacks legs with the crutch, this time lunging forwards, but the blonde girl simply stepped back and Rainbow topped to the floor once more. She forced herself to her knees again with a hiss, glaring at Applejack. She made to stand again until a pair of yellow hands slipped around her middle.

Fluttershy hugged Rainbow tightly, burying her head in the girls rainbow coloured hair, a faint muffled sobbing cutting into the air. Rainbow slumped to the ground, beating the snow with her free fist.

“Damn you Shy.” She moaned. “Damn you.”

Fluttershy didn’t reply but kept clinging to Rainbow while her sobbing continued. Sunset watched, confused and stunned. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rarity bite back a sob, wiping her tears on the sleeve of her coat, while Applejack stared down at the two fallen girls, a deep sadness in her eyes that Sunset couldn’t ever remember seeing on a face so young. All five women waited in the snow until Fluttershy helped Rainbow Dash to her feet. Fluttershy took a step back once Rainbow was stable, yet the athletic girl took a long steadying breath and held out her hand towards the demure teen. Fluttershy made a little gasp but took Rainbows hand.

“I’ll let you take me to the matron,” Rainbow started. “After this is over.” She shot a firm look at Sunset. “Got it?”

Sunset nodded, still shocked. It was blatantly obvious but she knew this strange display of vastly different feelings and moods was only scratching the surface of a very old and very complex relationship between these four girls. She had met plenty of adults in her short working life and encountered those background grudges or spoiled friendships, hidden under the surface but never forgotten. Those people however were nearing the end of their careers, with decades of friendships and broken partnerships under their belts, not girls still in their teens.

“Looks like I missed a party.”

Sunset jumped a foot in the air at the pink-haired girl who had materialised beside her. She stared around at the others but they seemed not to be shocked in the slightest at the new silent girls' arrival.

“Morning Pinkie Pie.” Rarity gave the girl a gentle smile and wandered over to give her a soft hug. “How are your sisters?”

“Same as always. Maud is tough, Limestone is angry and Marble is… she is still rolling.”

A sad smile graced Rarity’s lips. “I guess we should be happy for what we have got.” she replied squeezing the pink girl tighter before holding her to arms length. “Your hair is lovely, very glossy. Have you been straightening it?”

“No.”

Given that the girl's hair was ruler-straight, Sunset didn’t know if she was lying or it was kept that way by magic. Given her newfound knowledge somehow the latter didn’t seem that outrageous. Pinkie proceeded to gently hug Fluttershy, Applejack and finally, after a long pause which seemed to include an entire conversation by staring match, Rainbow Dash

“So, now we are all here. Where to begin.” Everyone turned to look at Rarity. Her eyes were bloodshot and her nose was a little too red to just be cold, yet she stood tall and defiant. “You are familiar with the social site MyStable?”

“I loathe it but, yes, I am,” Sunset replied.

“Did you ever hear about a profile by the name of Anon-a-Miss?”

“I have. It is used as a very dark example of the dangers of social media, anonymity and online safety.” Sunset replied bluntly, crossing her arms.

Rarity visibly grimaced and went stiff. “Yes, that exact one.” She coughed and continued. “How about a gas leakage at a school?” She gestured to the building behind them.

“You mean it was this school? Gas explosion in the middle of your end of year ball? Destroyed the front of the school?”

“Something like that.” the fashionista replied. “And perhaps, a musical showcase that turned into a battle of the bands?”

Sunset raised her eyebrows. “The one where someone set of so many fireworks during the final performance it lit up the entire sky?”

“Again, something like that, but it seems you are aware.” Rarity gave a small smile. “All of these events have someone in common. Or perhaps it would be better to say, a group of people in common.”

“You mean aside from the school?” Sunset looked around. “You five?” She asked.

Rarity nodded. “Close enough. The rest of the school that was around do know, but to be more precise I mean Rainbow, Fluttershy, Applejack, Pinkie Pie and myself, along with Princess Twilight, and… Sunset Shimmer.”

“Princess?”

Everyone turned. Rainbow Dash swore, Fluttershy shrieked, and Sunset jumped again.

“Twilight! What are you doing here?” Sunset gasped, rushing over and picking the one thing she knew would make Twilight pay attention. “You’ll be late for school!”

Twilight ignored the shocked looks from the girls behind Sunset and continued. “Already been there. Ran into Cinch in the parking lot. Told her I was spending the day doing field research.” The girl reached into her pocket and pulled out a small hand-held device with two small antennae. “Seems the readings are going down though which is a shame.”

“Twilight?” Sunset replied, still trying to wrap her head around what was happening. “You followed me?”

“No, I just worked out where you were teaching.” the purple-haired girl replied simply. “There were only three schools you could have detoured to yesterday when you were called in as a substitute, and since one was a primary school, and the other was a specialist arts college, it was logical you would be teaching here. Though I suppose it could have been the collage with you teaching music but they would usually call in a specialist for something like that...” Her train of thought petering into silence.

“But Twilight…” Sunset began, only to stop herself. In this mood, there was no way she was out thinking Twilight, not to mention she had bigger issues now. “Look, I appreciate you coming to see me but you need to get back to school.”

“Does she mean Principal Cinch?” Sunset heard Rainbow Dash ask behind her. “The witch at Crystal Prep?”

“Witch?” Twilight sidestepped Sunset, to glare at Rainbow. “She is not a witch! Yes, she is hard and unwavering, but she keeps everyone at Crystal Prep in line and their education is all the better for it.”

Rainbow gaped at Twilight. “Wow, you’re way different than the other you.”

“The other…” Twilight started but Rarity stepped in between the two girls.

“Darling, it’s lovely to meet you again.” She intercepted Twilight’s glare and smiled back in what she hoped was a disarming fashion.

“Rarity?” Twilight seemed to have not noticed she was in the group. “Uh… Hello.”

“Likewise.”

“Ah hate to interrupt,” Applejack called from the back, not sounding sorry at all. “But time’s a-wastin' and we don’t want to havin’ this conversation in front of the whole school.”

Fluttershy visibly shuddered at the idea.

Rarity sighed. “She is right.” She gave Twilight a sad look. “I’m afraid this isn’t going to be pleasant.”

Twilight looked from Rarity to Sunset and back. “You mean worse than yesterday?”

“What happened yesterday?” Applejack cut in again.

After a steadying breath, Rarity replied. “Sweetie Belle and I went to Sugarcube Corner. We ran into Sunset and Twilight, and Sweetie… she had another panic attack.” Rarity finished with a pained expression.

The aggressive expression on Applejack’s face dropped away like a stone. “Oh… damn, I’m sorry Rarity. I really am. Apple Bloom fainted yesterday and all…”

Now it was Sunset’s turn to grimace. She knew that name. “It was me. She fainted in front of me.”

Every girl present, aside from Twilight, gasped.

“Now I know why she wouldn’t say a single word.” Applejack managed to say after a long tense moment. Behind her, Fluttershy began to sob.

“Sunset…” Rarity began. She glanced to Applejack and Rainbow Dash, who was comforting Fluttershy, then briefly at Pinkie Pie before she turned back to a very worried looking Sunset. “There were three girls behind the Anon-A-Miss Mystable page. My sister, Sweetie Belle, Applejack’s sister Apple Bloom, and, while she wasn’t a sister by blood Rainbow Dash was practically family to the third girl, Scootaloo.”

Sunset watched as Rarity forced the words from her mouth, her fists clenched, her bottom lip wavering.

“Over the course of nine months, they revealed secrets about every student in this school. All except one. Of course, everyone blamed the one person who’d had nothing revealed about them for their exposed secrets. Secrets that started reasonably benign, but gradually grew worse and worse. All the while, this individual was threatened, bullied, and… and… abandoned.”

Behind Rarity, Fluttershy slowly sunk to the floor, openly weeping into Rainbow Dash’s arms. Pinkie Pie looked like someone had sucked all the fun out of her entire life, while Applejack looked ashamed, silent tears running from her eyes.

“What… what happened to him?” Twilight asked, her eyes darting from Sunset to the girls before her.

“Her.” Rarity clarified, with a pained smile on her face. “She had pulled herself out of the darkest hole I’ve ever known someone to escape from, she became a beacon to all of us… only to fall even lower, but this time with no one to help her out.”

Sunset watched Rarity’s gaze as she turned and looked up at the school building, her eyes streaming in the rising sun.

“Sunset Shimmer leapt to her death off the roof of this school. Only then did everyone stop believing she was Anon-A-Miss.”

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

It took a while for everyone to gather their feelings together into some semblance of normality. While the five girls dealt with the pain in their own way, Sunset and Twilight had retreated away from the school building to Sunset’s car. Beside her in the passenger seat, Twilight simply stared into space, clutching her coat with one hand and her inhaler in the other.

Sunset meanwhile continued to stare at the roof of the building. Now she knew why Sweetie Belle had her panic attack. Now she knew why Apple Bloom had fainted. She was the spitting image of a girl they had driven to suicide. She’d never met the other girl, Scootaloo, but she wished to the sun that she would never have to cross paths with her.

Part of her was worried about trying to explain why she couldn’t teach at CHS to Principal Cinch. A small part of her chastised her for even worrying about something like that at a moment like this, but Sunset was almost certain it would be best if she never returned to this school. A bad or difficult conversation with Cinch was nothing compared to the pain she had put the school through yesterday. ‘It's not your fault’ part of her kept trying to remind her. ‘You couldn’t have known’. That was true, but it also dawned on her just why it hurt the other students. They may not have been behind the page, but she could only surmise that they had spread secrets about each other, making the situation worse, trying to out-shock one another with the craziest or most embarrassing secrets. Yet worst of all, they had been the ones to bully and shun a teenage girl to the point where she believed her life was no longer worth living. In a way, they were just as responsible as Sweetie Belle, Applejack and Scootaloo.

“I’m going to delete my account.”

Sunset jumped slightly as Twilight spoke.

“It’s not like I use it much anyway.” the lilac girl continued. “I never ever want to see or hear about anything like this ever again.”

Sunset took Twilights hand. “Twi, that's not necessary. I mean, sure you don’t have many friends on there but I am certain they will have taken steps to ensure something like this never happens again.”

“I doubt it. Studies have shown that large corporations are very slow to respond to individual cases or issues. Only when a problem affects them directly or could cause financial disruption do they…”

A strange ticking was coming from somewhere. Twilight reached into her jacket and pulled out the small device she had been holding earlier. The small meter at the top was bouncing back and forth like crazy, the ticks sounding more and more like a Geiger counter.

“Twilight!” Sunset called, but Twilight ignored her, leaping out of the car and sprinting across the carpark, the device held before her like a compass. Sunset followed suit, leaping from her seat and sprinting after her. She rounded the corner, sliding to a halt only for her mind to stop.

Twilight stood before her, back facing towards Sunset, her streaked purple hair up in its bun on the back of her head, the pleated dark purple kilt of Crystal Prep peeking out from under the puffy blue down jacket she wore to keep out the cold.

Twilight also stared right at her, hair falling down in a curtain that was swept back over her shoulders, wearing a short purple skirt with a star on it and a button-up blouse, while she shivered from either cold, rage or shock as she stared from the Twilight Sunset knew to the five girls who were stepping back from the rearing horse statue in alarm.

Sunset approached cautiously, looking over to Rarity as if to say, ‘Well, an explanation would be nice!’ only to get a shocked and sheepish shrug back, which seemed to indicate that Rarity was both surprised at the appearance of a second Twilight and was also very worried about that exact occurrence.

“Princess Twilight.” Rarity eventually called. “I… you didn’t tell me you were coming.”

“I am not at the beck and call of a bunch of teenagers playing hero.” The new Twilight replied curtly. “Is this why you called me here? Because you found the other Twilight? You were very vague in your message. Didn’t want to hold that diary for longer than absolutely necessary?”

“No… yes... I mean…” Rarity stammered, taken aback by the aggressive and venomous words of the small girl before her. “She wasn’t supposed to be here… I messaged you about…” Twilight followed Rarity's slender pointing finger and looked like her world had fallen out from under her.

The girl, the Princess, slowly walked towards Sunset, totally ignoring her doppelganger, until she was just a few feet from a very shocked Sunset. Ever so slowly, the young girl reached out her hand up to Sunset’s face. Too stunned to move, Sunset let the girl touch her skin, her cold fingers making her gasp slightly only to warm as the new Twilight pressed her palm to Sunset’s face, her thumb gently caressing her cheek. Tears began to stream from her eyes, and suddenly Sunset found herself in a crushing embrace.

“I’m so sorry Sunset!” Twilight wailed. “I failed you. I failed you utterly. I’m so so sorry…” She continued to weep uncontrollably into Sunset’s chest, her words of pain and sorrow lost in her tears and agony. Slowly Sunset wrapped her arms around the Princess, confused on so many levels, but if this catharsis helped her at all, Sunset would endure the awkwardness.

Eventually, Twilight stopped sobbing, her pain reduced to hitched breathing. She slowly extricated herself from Sunset and stood back from her, her eyes red and puffy.

“I’m… I’m sorry about that.” She whispered. “I just… I never got a chance to…”

Sunset gave the girl a supportive smile. “It’s okay, I… I think I know how you feel. Though, I can’t say I’ve ever met someone who was the spitting image of my mother.”

Twilight’s mouth made a silent ‘oh’, but she said nothing.

Both girls were distracted by a sudden burst of ticking. They turned to watch Twilight, Sunset’s one, standing next to the statue, device in hand, passing up and down the stone base. The little device zinged and clicked as she paced around it, all sadness forgotten, a scientific focus in her eyes.

“This is the anomaly?” She spoke to herself, confused. “This thing?” Sunset watched as Twilight came to a halt before the statue’s school facing side.

“Ah wouldn’t touch that if I was you.” Sunset heard Applejack call, but Twilight seemed completely oblivious.

“Is it some form of radiation? Some new kind of element? A release of unknown particles?” Twilight reached out her hand towards the statue.

Slam.

Twilight toppled hard to the ground with a cry of shock, the Princess bowling her over and shoving her away from the statue. Both girls slid to a halt in the snow, the small device coming to rest a few feet away, still clicking frantically.

“What the hell was that for?” Twilight yelled at the Princess who was slowly pulling herself to her feet.

“Don’t touch it, whatever you do, don’t.” the Princess replied. “I can’t tell you what or why just, don’t.”

“I’ve been tracking strange emissions and particles for almost three years.” Twilight shot back. “That is the source, right there!”

The Princess gave Twilight a long stare. If meeting a nearly identical version of herself was shocking or scary, the girl didn’t show it, instead, she turned to look at Rarity with a firm expression.

“How much do they know?”

Rarity fidgeted. “Not much, I guess? They both know now that there are copies of people, I guess that is all, apart from that device she has.” Rarity pointed.

Princess Twilight stared down at the device in Twilight’s hand “You said you’d been tracking something, for almost three years?” The Princess asked. “When did it start?”

Twilight gripped her arm nervously. “Uh, it was near the end of my first year. Got three spikes on some old measuring equipment I happened to be testing. At first, I thought it was broken but then I got several other small spikes until there was a massive surge one night.”

“The fall formal.” The Princess muttered to herself. She seemed to contemplate for a moment before asking, “Did you get any other readings?”

“Yes, about nine months later, there was a gradual increase in readings. Slowly building and building until there were several more massive spikes, with another final one that caused the machines to max out one evening before it dropped back down to the same background level as before.”

“And The Dazzlings.” The Princess looked around the assembled group. “So, what was the plan? Fill them both in on everything? Let even more people know the secret?” All the other girls looked at Rarity who seemed to shrink when she realised she was suddenly at the centre of attention.

“I… I didn’t have a definitive plan darling. It was more, start and see where things went naturally. I mean, Sunset has a right to know why everyone was reacting so strangely, doesn’t she?”

Twilight turned to glare at Rarity. “I told you all, in no uncertain terms to never discuss this again with anyone else. We are exceptionally lucky that the authorities bought the story about Sunset, and the Dazzlings, and... the first time I came here.” Twilight stopped for a moment, a shadow passing across her face before she took a long breath and continued. “You are not ready. Humans are not ready. I told you this.” Princess Twilight turned to Sunset and Twilight and resigned expression on her face. “I’m sorry about all this, but it is best if you try and forget what you’ve seen and heard. If this version of me is anything like I am then I know that is going to be very difficult but please,” she fixed her opposite with a pleading stare. “Please, some things are best left alone. I know every instinct you have is wired to learn, just like it is with me, but I can say from personal experience, you may not like what you find and you will end up regretting it.”

Twilight gulped. After a moment she nodded slowly.

“Please keep true to that.” Princess Twilight gave Twilight and Sunset a firm and comforting smile. “And, while you are at it, please destroy this,” she indicated the small device. “And any data you have on your readings. There are things out there who would do anything to uncover this secret. You will be safer if you know nothing more.”

Again Twilight nodded. Seemingly satisfied, her counterpart turned to Rarity with a grim expression.

“Give me the book.” She demanded, holding out her hand.

Rarity took a step back. “Twilight?”

“Give me the book!” The Princess snapped. “I know you have it on you, I can feel it. Now please, give it to me.”

“But… the portal…” Rarity stammered. “With it gone…”

“I know and it is for the best.” Twilight glared at each girl in turn while Sunset and Twilight watched, bewildered. “Give it to me. At least that way you also won’t have another reminder.”

Rarity didn’t move. She just gave the Twilight before her a pleading look, silently begging her but the Princess’s expression remained unmoved. The white girl turned and gave the girls behind her the same pleading stare but none were forthcoming. Applejack looked away, shame written all over her face. Pinkie Pie responded with a thousand-yard stare like her mind was off in another place entirely. Fluttershy’s eyes were once again streaming with tears, while Rainbow Dash defiantly looked away, her own eyes silent rivers of pain.

With a hitched breath Rarity unclasped her satchel and with trembling hands, withdrew a heavy bound tome. Sunset spotted the gilded golden edges to the spine, the thick hardback face depicting an elaborate symbol of a fiery yin and yang, caught in the heart of a blazing sun motif. But the dark brown and red that stained the pages and cover of the book were what drew every girl's attention.

Ignoring the gasps and distressed moans of grief, Twilight carefully took the book from Rarity’s shaking hands and clasped it tightly against her chest. For a moment she stood shivering in the cold, the hairs on her bare arms rising against the frosty wind that blew through them all, holding the book like it were a loved relative. With one final look around at everyone present, the Princess let a faint smile grace her lips, the hard and pained mask slipping just a fraction.

“Twenty-seven mooons.” She spoke softly. “From the next full moon, it will be another twenty-seven until the portal opens again on its own. I hope you have all made strides to redeem yourselves by then.”

Without another word Twilight turned and walked towards the statue, only to walk straight through the solid stone at its base. There was a flash of rainbow light, the surface of the stone rippling like water and she was gone.

Sunset didn’t know what to think. What to feel. So she didn’t do anything. She kept a firm hand on Twilight’s shoulder, the younger girl making twitches like she wanted to rush forth and follow but Sunset kept her grip firm.

Tentatively Rarity crunched through the snow and reached towards the statue, only to lay her palm flat to solid and unyielding marble. Her composure broke. Rarity collapsed to her knees screaming in anguish, her hands sliding slowly down the cold stone, curling up in a ball at the foot of the prancing horse.

A noise behind her caught Sunset’s attention. She turned to see a gaggle of students stopped at the corner of the school building, staring at the sobbing girl on the ground and the others standing around in the snow. Sunset expected them to start whispering or to even pull out their phones, but not a single one did so. Instead, they all looked pained, guilty and resigned. A few spotted her looking at them and jumped but their shock was short-lived, slowly they kept advancing keeping their distance and heading into the school itself.

“Rarity…” Fluttershy managed to squeak, kneeling next to the sobbing teen. “We need to go.”

“Yes… yes, we do.” she managed to sob back. Slowly she pulled herself to feet, brushing the snow off her coat and leggings. She lay a lingering hand on the base of the statue before tearing herself away and heading towards the school. She paused, looking back at Sunset and Twilight. “I’m sorry, that is it.” She wiped more tears from her eyes. “I will see you in class… Miss Shimmer.” with those final forced words she turned and marched herself inside.

Without a word, Applejack and Pinkie Pie turned and followed, though with the farm girl keeping a deliberate distance from the pink-haired teen.

“Take her to the matron,” Sunset ordered as she spotted Fluttershy and Rainbow heading away from the entrance and round the side of the building. “I will be checking up on you later Miss Dash.”

Rainbow’s shoulders fell, giving a resigned thumbs up without turning around, Fluttershy helping her hobble away through the snow.

With only Twilight at her side, Sunset steered the girl by her shoulder back across the grounds and to the car park. She unlocked her car and clambered inside, with a confused Twilight copying her. Once both doors were shut both, they sat in silence, watching as more and more students made their way towards the school to start the day.

“Sunset...” Twilight began. “Is it wrong of my mind… all I can think about… she walked into the statue? And she looked exactly like me? Does that mean that Multiverse theory is true? Does…” the girl petered to a halt when she caught the broken expression on Sunset’s face. “Oh… right… I’m sorry. I should have…”

“Honestly Twilight, if you hadn’t been thinking about that I would’ve been more worried,” Sunset responded. “You use it as a coping mechanism. A way to avoid thinking about all the bad things that happen. Someone knocks you down in the corridor and you just redouble your efforts on that assignment that is due in. Someone steals your shoes and you just walk home barefoot so you can start on that night's homework.”

Twilight gaped at Sunset, only to draw up her legs and wrap her arms around them. “Yeah… I do.” There was an awkward pause both women lost in their own heads.

“Sunset?”

“Yes?”

“You said ‘I think I know how you feel’.” Sunsets breath stopped. “Did you lose your mum like that?”

The fiery haired woman stared out the windscreen, her hands clenched tightly on the steering wheel.

“Yes.” She replied after a long pause. She heard Twilight gasp and felt hands grip her arm. “I was seven.” She continued, preempting Twilights inevitable question. “I was dropped home and found her in the bathroom.”

“Why?” Twilight asked. “She had you, a daughter. She got you into music. I’ve seen the photos on your desk. You looked so happy together.”

Why indeed.

Sunset knew Twilight would have no idea what torrent of painful, guilty and unanswered thoughts she had unwittingly unleashed, but it didn’t make it any less painful. Nor did her own knowledge that it was one simple word that would encompass everything, yet answer nothing. Closing her eyes, Sunset did what she needed to end the torrent, that rushed through her. All Twilight saw from the outside was a shudder and a long, steadying breath.

“Depression.” Sunset wiped her eyes on the back of her sleeve. “Even now people are not really aware of it. Fourteen years ago, it was still not really understood and had greater social stigma.”

Sunset heard Twilight open her mouth but it seemed the teen realised this wasn’t the right time to press for information.

“I’ll take you back to Crystal Prep.” Sunset sat up and started the engine. “I’m sure they can cope for half an hour without me. Meanwhile, I want you to remember where every bit of data you have on this project is so tonight we can destroy it all.”

“What!” Twilight gasped. “No, we are not…”

“You promised!” Sunset snapped back. “You saw her walk through the statue. You saw the pain in her eyes. The blood staining that book. I don’t care what this proves. I don’t want you getting involved. Dark things happened. Terrible things and I know you Twilight. You won’t be able to cope with it.”

Twilight’s mouth worked but no sound came out. Eventually, she turned away and stared pointedly out the window, away from Sunset. Sunset didn’t mind, it saved her from having to keep justifying it to herself, or keep thinking about what she had just seen. Maybe this Princess Twilight was right, maybe some things were better left alone. With a final glance to the statue and another to the roof of the school, Sunset put the car in gear and drove away.

Author's Note:

I hope I did this justice. I've been lucky enough to never have this happen with one of my own friends or family. To those that have, I hope I gave the respect that is deserved.

Once again, Between Lines was my pre-reader on this chapter.

If you want something to cheer you up, take a look at The Infinite Office Of Destiny.

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