• Published 18th Oct 2019
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My Empire of Dirt - PrincessColumbia



Sunset Shimmer has been defeated at the Fall Formal, but something has gone drastically wrong and Principal Celestia must play magic detective to rescue Sunset from the fallout.

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Chapter 1 - I Hurt Myself Today

Principal Celestia suppressed a sigh of fatigue as she blinked her eyes to stay awake. The darkness of the rural countryside kept trying to draw her into sleep, which would be a very bad thing to happen behind the wheel. It had been an eventful week of dealing with contractors, the school board, the school district board, the finance and budget committee, several law enforcement agencies on the local, state, and federal levels, and jumping through even more hoops to keep her students’ lives as protected from bureaucratic machinations as possible, not to mention the “X-files” type government agency (that she now knew wasn’t just a conspiracy theory concocted by Lyra) that started sniffing around the Monday after the Fall Formal. Goddess, it’s only been seven days since…? she wondered to herself. Seven days since the wildest events that she could possibly imagine happening, events that answered dozens of questions about the last couple years and raised hundreds more.

Oddly, it helped that Sunset Shimmer hadn’t been at the school for the last week. Of course, the reason she wasn’t at school wasn’t good at all.


That morning…

Celestia set her coffee to the side as her door opened fully, the portly matriarch of the Apple family making use of the ‘open door’ policy Celestia maintained with her staff. The friendly greeting she was about to offer died on her lips when she saw the serious, downcast expression on the older woman’s face as she closed the door behind her.

“Hello, Mrs. Smith. Is there a problem in the cafeteria?” After the last week, a simple food supply issue would be a relief.

Granny Smith remained quiet until she could shuffle over to a chair and settle herself into it. She breathed deep through her nose before speaking, “No, I’m ‘fraid not.” she began. “It’s about that Shimmer girl.”

That surprised Celestia. According to Sunset’s file, she was absent today and for good reason. The principal had filed the notice herself, as Sunset’s file had only been removed from her desk on Tuesday in an effort to keep her student’s name from being connected to the events (that were apparently so significant they could be seen from space, Sunset’s file now had the satellite photo to prove it) when the agents of S.M.I.L.E. had shown up. “I don’t understand, I thought she was still in the hospital…?”

Granny shook her head, “They only hold someone for 72 hours, and if they aint gettin’ the patient to talk and they’re otherwise well behaved, they gotta discharge on account they can’t do a diagnosis.”

The statement left Celestia mildly winded. “What?! But when her friends took her in…”

“Yeah, but ‘parently the word of a ‘buncha teenagers’ don’t count fer much.” That Mrs. Smith was actually affronted by this Celestia wasn’t terribly surprised. The woman had raised Applejack to be honest, after all, and someone was calling that honesty into question. “I had t’go pick the girl up. ‘Parently since there was no actual I.D. t’proove she’s underaged and no parents coming in, they were gonna send her to ‘pretective survisis’ ‘till I came in.” Celestia repressed a smile at Granny’s intentional accented slurring of the agency’s name. The principal had been an emotional support to the family after Applejack’s parents had died and had been witness to the attempts of the agency to remove the woman’s grandchildren from the home. There was truly no love lost between CPS and the owner of Sweet Apple Acres.

“So where is she now?”

“At the farm.” Granny sagged a bit again, being brought out of her indignance with the reminder of why she came into the office. “She...barely moves when she’s awake. She has nightmares somethin’ fierce.” She opened her mouth as if to continue, then closed it.

Celestia decided to chase that particular conversational rabbit. “So why come to me? Wouldn’t a psychiatrist or a therapist be better for her right now?”

Granny shrugged, “Maybe, maybe not. She aint said anything, and every time she looks like she wants to talk she gets a look like the combine drove over her favorite puppy and shuts right down again. Aint even written anythin’ down, neither. Nah,” she shrugged and looked Celestia in the eyes, “Thing is, she does talk in her sleep. Most of it’s babble, you know the like, but one thing comes out clear as a sunrise on a harvest mornin’...” she looked right into the eyes of the principal, “She keeps cryin’ out yer name.”

That was probably the biggest surprise to have hit Celestia since one of her students turned into a demon and five others sprouted animal ears and tails. She almost didn’t breath for a moment, “...what?” she finally gasped out.

“Firs’ time I heard the girl shoutin’ out in her sleep I ran in, an’ she was shiverin’ and cryin, beggin fer somethin, not quite sure what, but then she said, ‘Please, Celestia, help me,’ and then let out the saddest cry you ever done heard.” The matriarch closed her eyes and swallowed thickly, “Most nights have been pretty much a repeat of that. Two, three times a night she starts cryin’ out in her sleep and at least once yer name comes up.”

The principal was flummoxed, “But...why? I’ve certainly had my share of interacting with Sunset Shimmer...she has been one of our...problematic students, after all. But why would she be calling to me in a dream?”

Granny Smith shrugged, “I ‘spect you’ll have to ask the Shimmer girl that directly t’know for sure, provided you can get her to talk while she’s awake. I did talk to Applejack ‘n Rainbow Dash, seein’ how they’re taking the most time with Sunset tryin’ to be friends like that visiting princess girl said to.” She shook her head wryly, “Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d be utterin’...Anyway, they said that the reason Princess Twilight was able t’make friends so fast with all the students was ‘cuz where she and Sunset Shimmer are from there’s dopel-whatchahoozums, y’know, duplicates of everyone?” Celestia nodded her comprehension and Granny Smith continued, “From what they understand, the two girls are from a place where Twilight already knew everyone there, so used that knowledge to bring everyone together here. My thinkin’ is that Sunset Shimmer was pretty close to that other version of you an’ has been calling out for her now that...well.” The elder woman’s eyes slid in the direction of the front door of the school, as though she could see through the walls to the crater left behind after Sunset’s defeat.

There were a few beats of silence, the occasional noise of a busy school in early morning activity making its way into the room through the closed door and open window. With a sigh (she’d been doing far too much of that since the Fall Formal) she said, “I suspect you didn’t come in just to give me an update.”

Granny’s lips quirked up at the corner, “Yep. I’d be much obliged if you could make your way out to the farm to see what you can do for the girl. Also, I’ve been writin’ notes to excuse Applejack a couple o’ days this week, and Mac’s taken a day off so he can help, but right now Sunset needs...monitorin’ in case she decides to...well, you know.” She shifted uncomfortably. “Now, you know me, Miss Celestia…”

Celestia felt a knot in her stomach forming even before Granny had gotten to the part that referred to the reason Sunset had landed in the hospital. “...she needs a place to stay and someone to watch her?”

Granny sighed again. There was a lot of that going around, “Yeah. You know I wouldn’t ask if I had…”

Celestia leaned forward and reached across the desk. With the furniture in between them, there was no way she could actually clasp the older woman’s hand reassuringly, but she could at least make the gesture and know her friend and coworker would understand. “Granny, you do as much as any three other people and you’re raising your grandkids to do just as well...maybe better if Mac and Applejack are any indication.” She smiled warmly at the other woman, “I’ll see what I can do. Do you need me to come over at a specific time…?”

A relieved smile caused Granny’s face to crinkle as the laugh lines worn in by time framed her eyes, “Nah, just come out when you can. I’ll let AJ and Mac know to expect you. Applebloom’s been...well, you know the CMC.” the amused snort reflected the mood of the entire school’s staff at the trio’s antics. “Anyway, I know yer busy…”

Just then Celestia’s phone intercom buzzed and Luna’s voice came through, “Sister, Agents Gingerbread and Harvest are back.”

Granny Smith nodded knowingly at the phone. Celestia snorted and keyed the button to reply, “Thank you, Luna. I’ll be there shortly.”

Mrs. Smith continued once the intercom light clicked off, “Like I said. You just come on over when you get the chance.”

They exchanged a farewell as Celestia grabbed the folio that she was starting to call “the X-file,” slipped the most recent report from Prof. Whooves in that showed no appreciable radiation above the background levels, and glancing at her computer chose not to print out the report she’d been reading about a theoretical new fundamental force. It was early, early stages of purely theoretical research and mathematical work, but from what Celestia could understand from the (incredibly dense) technical jargon, it did fit the phenomenon that they observed the previous Friday night. Just as she hit the key combination to lock her computer, her eyes flitted to the byline for the article. Huh…’T. Sparkle.’ I wonder…? Shrugging the thought away, she locked her desk as well, grabbed her keys, and headed off to deal with the paranormal investigators who seemed intent on digging into information that would put her students' lives under threat, and she considered it her job to keep that from happening.


Present...

If only Princess Twilight had bothered to establish formal diplomatic ties...or even just keep the gate or portal or whatever it is open...Celestia allowed herself a small bit of grumbling as she pulled onto the small private road framed by the sign “Sweet Apple Acres.” The headaches kept piling on as more time passed. The agents had continued trying to pry, attempting to pick apart the staff’s agreed-upon story that the front facade of the school was damaged by a freak accident of a particularly intelligent student messing with materials that she didn’t fully understand and it went out of control. True as far as it went, but it left out huge pieces that the agents were starting to suspect were being kept from them.

Poor Cheerilee was practically shaking in frustrated anger after the pair had interrupted class attempting to pull a few students for questioning. Cheerilee wouldn’t be brought up on charges of assaulting government employees as the pair had overstepped the bounds of what the law allowed, but the teacher had to take the rest of the day off and Celestia had to step in as substitute since it was too late in the day on a Friday to find one through the usual channels. Of course, her regular workload could only be delegated so far, and she still had to stay after school for several hours to complete paperwork and make requisite calls to parents.

As Celestia pulled in, her headlights’ beam passed over the white and purple VW ‘bug’ that Rarity drove. She smiled, satisfaction that her five...most visible students were doing so much to take care of what had been the school’s biggest bully. With Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash in the group, she couldn’t call them her “best” students by traditional academic measures, but if “character” were taken into account, the five would blow away pretty much any other school’s entire student body combined. She was heartbroken when the five’s friendship broke during their freshman year. Their recent reconciliation and subsequent teamwork literally saving the students and faculty just proved that the five were natural born leaders.

She parked, not bothering to lock the car given how deep she was into private property. The front door to the house opened as she approached, young Apple Bloom practically bouncing out of the way to let the educator in. “Granny told us you were comin’ over. She had ta’ take a nap after dinner. I’ll go get’r up.” Before Celestia could tell her not to bother the older woman, Apple Bloom was off like a shot to the stairs leading to the bedrooms, nearly bowling over Applejack as they passed on the stairs.

“Apple Bloom!” snapped the older sister, “How many times do we have to tell you to WALK in the house?” she nearly shouted up the stairs.

A somewhat distant, “Sorry sis!” floated down, but they could still hear the running pace of the youngest Apple as she ran through the upstairs hall.

Rolling her eyes, Applejack finished descending the stairs and approached the educator. “Evenin’ Principal. Sorry y’couln’t come out under better circumstances.”

Celestia smiled at her student, “It’s alright, Applejack. I’m just glad that you and your friends stepped up to help as you have been. I couldn’t be more proud to be your principal.”

Applejack’s shoulders squared in pride even as the girl blushed and scratched the back of her neck in embarrassment. “Aww, shucks, ma’am. Twern’t nuthin’ any right-thinkin’ person wouldn’t do.”

Celestia chose not to respond, as she knew from dealing with the girl’s grandmother for years that no matter how much praise one heaped on an Apple, they just wouldn’t allow themselves to be spoken “too highly” of. She simply nodded and turned to the stairs again when Granny Smith appeared at the top.

The older woman refrained from climbing down the whole way, only going down far enough to catch Celestia’s attention and waved her over.

Once Celestia had joined Granny Smith on the stairs, the older woman climbed back up and began leading the principal down the hall. She spoke quietly as the moved, “I have her in our guest bedroom, it’s across th’hall from mine and right next to Jackie’s, so there’s always some’un to respond if necessary. She’s aint been eatin’ and with her sleep being so bad, well, she’s pretty tuckered most of the time.” Arriving at the door to the mentioned bedroom, Granny Smith opened it.

Rarity was the bright spot in the room. The teenager started at the sudden opening of the door, then relaxed when she saw Mrs. Smith, only to start up again when she saw Principal Celestia. The lights were kept low, only the bedside lamp next to the chair Rarity had been sitting in was on. The room itself had clearly not been used regularly, for all efforts had clearly been made to keep it livable. Dust clung to some surfaces, while curtains that hadn’t been moved since spring cleaning hung like they were reluctant to break the habit of stillness.

Celestia was so used to her most unusual student’s room filling presence that she had the fleeting thought that they were playing a trick on her. It was only a second look at the figure under the covers on the bed that she realized she really was looking at Sunset Shimmer. While she didn’t look emaciated or sickly, (there hadn’t been nearly enough time since she last saw the girl for either condition to be true) it was like the girl’s presence had just...collapsed in on itself. Celestia couldn’t help but think of a documentary she had seen about dying stars that didn’t have enough fuel to go nova. They just burned out, their matter pulling in until they were just faintly glowing orbs in the sky, barely visible, destined to extinguish long before their brethren. What Celestia could see of her face was drained of most of its color, leaving the normally bright orange skin looking more like pale rust. Her body was curled in on itself under the covers, and the principal was struck by how small Sunset really was.

“Oh, Sunset…” she whispered to herself, then turned to Rarity, “Has she said anything?”

The fashionista bit back an unlady like huff. “No. Every so often when I do something to help her, she seems like she’s about to, but then stops and looks like she’s about to cry. Honestly, I’ve just taken to assuming she’s trying to thank me and simply saying, ‘you’re welcome,’ in reply. She at least smiles at me when I do...though I can see that she’s frustrated about something.”

Celestia watched Sunset as Rarity spoke. The bedridden girl was breathing, but otherwise not moving. “Is she asleep?”

Rarity paused and watched Sunset for a moment before answering. “No, I don’t believe so. She has a...slightly slower breathing pattern when she sleeps. It was hard for me to tell at first, but after watching her for a few hours I was able to pick up the differences.”

Celestia unconsciously gave a slight shake of her head, then stopped herself when she realized what she was doing. “Thank you, Rarity. Would you mind giving us the room?”

“Of course, Principal.” Rarity collected her purse and left, smiling and nodding at Granny Smith as she went.

Granny stepped fully into the room now that it had enough room for her. “S’too bad it took this to bring that girl out to the farm, I think she and Applejack’r good fer each other.”

Rather than replying, Celestia moved around the bed. As she entered Sunset’s field of view, the girl’s eyes snapped to her, but otherwise she didn’t move. The girl watched her as she approached, tracking every movement even as the principal sat down next to her on the bed. “Sunset, can you move on your own?” Celestia watched as Sunset’s head started twitching, accompanied by her shoulder’s tensing, then she closed her eyes and simply sagged into the mattress, seemingly more defeated than before. “...I’ll take that as a yes.” At that the girl’s eyes snapped open and locked onto the older woman. The educator’s years of reading body language was all she had to rely on in that moment, as Sunset’s fixed gaze spoke volumes that her voice wasn’t. Despair, defeat...and a tiny, faint glimmer of desperate hope.

With so little feedback from her student, she was unsure what to do, so she relied on her instincts. She slowly reached out her hand in invitation, “I want to help you. Will you come home with me?”

Sunset’s muscles did the twitching and tensing action again, and instead of replying directly, she reached out, her arm trembling as she did so, until she was able to drop her hand into Celestia’s. The effort seemed to have exhausted the girl for some reason, as she practically sagged into the mattress again. This time her face showed...contentment? No, Celestia corrected herself, Victory. Exhausted victory, like she had to fight an army just to hold my hand.

Just then, Sunset started crying. Not loudly, there was no noise, and at first Celestia had mistaken the sobbing for the odd muscle twitching she had observed earlier. A moment later, the tears started flowing from the teen’s eyes. Celestia pulled the girl up into a hug, and Sunset continued to silently cry.

Author's Note:

I'm not expecting this to be very long or epochal. It's mostly just a germ of an idea that happened to latch on to the emotions and trauma related to my own recent stint experiencing homelessness. It doesn't have a tragic ending, but does deal with issues of suicidal acts and acts of self-harm, not to mention depression and recovering from trauma. The end of this chapter is less than ideal, but it was either capping it here or turning this into an 8k-word chapter. :twilightsheepish: