• 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 2 - There's Beauty in the Breakdown

Celestia had learned very quickly that she should not leave Sunset’s line of sight. Whenever she even so much as rounded the corner ahead of her student Sunset would scramble to catch up and then grasp Celestia’s wrist. The teen also seemed to need as near-constant physical contact as possible, even if she was just clutching Celestia’s arm as she drove back to her house. A quick inquiry about hunger (with the odd, seizure-like response) led them briefly to a drive-through window to pick up some food on the way to Celestia’s home.

They ate in silence, the single buzz from Celestia’s phone (turning out to be a weather notification) being the only interruption. Sunset grimaced slightly when she saw the burger, but picked it up and ate it anyway. Not wanting to interrupt the girl’s eating with another question that would only prompt another of those odd muscle spasms, Celestia mentally filed the moment away for later investigation.

When it came time for Sunset to get ready for bed, things seemed to be going smoothly until it was time for the girl to use the bathroom. She stepped into the restroom with her bundle of loaned pajamas, then seemed to come to a realization. She whipped around and grabbed Celestia’s wrist, fear etched on her face.

“What? What is it?” asked Celestia; she immediately cringed as Sunset started having one of those odd seizures that happened whenever she was asked something. “Alright, so you can’t answer my questions,” she said, placing a hand on the girl’s shoulder to comfort her. “Please don’t try if it’s going to cause more distress.” She started wracking her brain for a way to have communication when one person wouldn’t...and Celestia was starting to suspect that it was because Sunset couldn’t. “Okay...Sunset, I’m going to assume you can’t communicate for some reason.”

The girl gasped, dropping the small bundle Celestia had given her and grabbing Celestia’s other wrist with her bandage wrapped hand. Aquamarine eyes sunk into a sallow face darted back and forth, looking into each of the older woman’s eyes in turn. Ripples of muscle movements across Sunset’s jaw being the tell-tale giveaway that Sunset was struggling against saying anything, desperately trying to fight off another seizure.

Celestia’s heart leapt to her throat for a moment. She was very close to understanding what was going on, but she was missing some pieces of the larger puzzle. For the moment, she chose to focus on the immediate problem. “So if I were in your position, what would I be needing most right now?” She glanced down at the bundle, “You have a change of clothes and a towel and a toothbrush, so that’s not the concern. You obviously know how to use the facilities,” she glanced around the bathroom, looking for inspiration as Sunset started to fidget with her hips and mince around on her feet, “And it’s not like you aren’t aware of the need.” She looked into Sunset’s eyes again, “You’d need privacy…” the pressure from the other girl’s fingers on her wrists suddenly increased, and Celestia watched Sunset’s pupils dilate as her jaw clenched harder.

Celestia’s mind started scrambling. Sunset is clearly physically and mentally capable of doing this task on her own, or Granny Smith or one of the girls who’ve been taking care of her would have said something. If it’s a magical reason, it would have come up by now as well...I think. Celestia was still wrapping her head around having to factor in “magic” as a Thing That Is, but reality made it clear to the entire student body the week prior that it had to be considered, That leaves an emotional reason. Emotionally Sunset is very...frail...oh! Celestia started cataloging the visible and reported symptoms she was seeing, Possible change in appetite, obvious fatigue, nightmares, extreme withdrawal and disconnectedness, clearly displaying signs of hopelessness until...something...I said or did...muscle tension...suicide attempt...she’s suffering accute depression, probably compounded by trauma… Once again, Celestia found herself wishing that Princess Twilight had left the portal to her home open, because Sunset needed psychiatric (and possibly magical) help more than anything else right now, and Celestia had no way of getting the girl either of these things. On the heels of that wish she also realized that she was all Sunset had right now.

Depression, what happens with depression? Dark thoughts, thoughts of suicide, negative thought loops...Sunset is afraid of being alone with her own thoughts!

“Sunset…” she really hoped she was guessing right on this, “Would you…? No, sorry, I almost asked a question. I will be here, right here,” she pointed at the floor outside the bathroom door, “And I will...sing a song.” Please tell me Luna is too far asleep to hear me singing to a student while she uses the bathroom, she’ll never let me live it down! “And if you’re not done by the time I finish the song, I’ll sing another one. I won’t move from this spot until you’re done. Okay? Okay!” She covered the slip of asking a question with the abrupt, now out of style self-interruption that drove her up the wall when her students used to do it back when she was a student teacher.

Gently but steadily, she pulled her wrists out of Sunset’s hands and stepped back to the spot she had indicated. For a moment, it was as though her mind drew a blank as she mentally scrambled once again, this time for a song she knew well enough to sing. A snippet of lyrics floated up from her unconscious, and before she could censor herself she started singing the words, “Can you hear the drums, Fernando…”

Sunset’s eyes started tearing up and her lips quivered in a watery smile. As Celestia closed the door, she finally knelt down to retrieve the fallen bundle. As Celestia reached the first chorus, she could hear the usual sounds associated with the bathroom’s primary function and smiled slightly at the absurdity of the situation.


Celestia’s head jerked vertical to the sound of a throat being cleared. It was an action she immediately regretted as her neck muscles transmitted sensations of cramped agony to her brain. Hissing, she started rubbing her neck with her hand as she scanned her surroundings.

Right, I must have fallen asleep in the chair… She was in a seat she had brought in from the dining room to sit next to Sunset Shimmer as she tried to fall asleep in the guest bedroom. Sunset must have been successful, as the girl’s eyes were closed, her lips slightly parted, and her breathing was regular and slow. The giveaway that she was actually asleep was the tiny trickle of drool that was making a tiny wet spot on the pillow. Celestia stifled a giggle, then nearly started from her chair when another clearing of a throat brought her attention to the guest bedroom door.

Framed there was her sister, one arm crossed over her torso beneath her breasts, the other holding a coffee mug. She was still in her pajamas, as usual for Saturday mornings, and her hair only slightly managed by pulling back with a hair tie at the nape of her neck. She pointedly leaned against the door frame, cocked an eyebrow, and noisily sipped her coffee.

Mentally grousing about sisters who managed to snark without saying a word, Celestia wordlessly adjusted the blankets covering Sunset and headed to the kitchen to explain the situation to Luna.


”So when does CPS come to get her?” asked Luna.

Celestia’s brow wrinkled in thought, she didn’t otherwise react to the question.

“Sister…” began Luna warningly.

“I just think it would be a huge mistake for Sunset.”

Luna put her mug on the granite countertop between them and leaned on her elbows, tucking her hands against her sides to warm them against the cool air of the fall morning. “She is a child, one who is without a support network, is by all reports homeless, and in desperate need of professional help. How would calling in CPS be a mistake?”

“She’s a literal alien, Luna. Maybe she didn’t come from space, but she might as well have. She has no identification, she’s a completely foreign...organism, for lack of a better word, one who’s been changed to better blend in with the native life. Even without her actions at the Fall Formal, she would be sought after by some government agency, like this S.M.I.L.E. organization,” they both rolled their eyes at the odd acronym, it was unconscious by this point, “And with those activities? I’d be surprised if she weren’t disappeared under the Patriot Act as an enemy combatant.”

Luna shifted her arms to put her palms against the counter and leaned over it toward her sister. “Not to play Grogar’s Advocate, but would that be such a bad thing? As you pointed out, she’s an alien, a foreign agent apparently under exile for crimes against her own country, and actually did attack people here. That’s discounting the campaign of bullying and domination we’ve both suspected her of for the last few semesters.”

Memories of the panicked, desperate eyes that sought help without being able to speak the words overpowered any attempt at a logical rebuttal to her sister’s argument. “She...can’t. Something happened, Lu. Something that’s locked her as a prisoner in her own mind, and quite possibly something magical.” She turned her own haunted gaze to he sister.

Luna’s expression softened, “...what do you mean? I knew she had tried to kill herself, but I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about.”

A brief explanation of what happened (and Celestia’s theories) later, and Luna had to sit on the barstool at the counter instead of leaning against it. “I see what you mean. Any alphabet agency that got their hands on her would take her inability to communicate as unwillingness and use measures more and more extreme...and if she happened to be any sort of V.I.P. from...over there, we might inadvertently be starting an interdimensional war. Yes, you’re right, CPS would be a bad idea.”

Celestia chuckled, “That’s not really why I was saying that…”

Luna waived absently, “Of course not, but it needed to be considered.” She buried her face in her hands, “Why didn’t that weird princess girl just leave the door to her kingdom open? And who sends a princess on a rescue mission?” She finished her grumble with by rubbing her face and flopping her hands down on the counter on either side of her coffee mug.

Celestia snorted, “I imagine we’ll be repeating that refrain quite a bit before this is all over…” Her train of thought was interrupted by a distressed sound from the guest bedroom. Before she even consciously thought to do it, she was rushing down the hall to check on Sunset.

Luna’s eyebrow arched as she watched Celestia’s empty coffee mug spin around in a cartoonish fashion.


The night of the Fall Formal…

“Get me the bucket of bricks you id…” Luna watched as Sunset Shimmer’s face contorted before she fell silent, the angry scowl the girl usually wore replaced by a flicker of rage before settling into depressed resignation. “Please give me the bucket of bricks.” she repeated to her cohorts. Snails hauling a bucket in the most awkward way possible and nearly tripping himself doing it.

Having dealt with Sunset Shimmer quite a bit, Luna was noticing the girl seemed less vocal than usual when dealing with her cronies. She was definitely worse-for-wear, tears in her clothing and visibly shaking limbs. Luna could tell she was still moving through sheer pig-headedness. Shaking her head, the vice-principal turned to the parking lot, where she was pleased to see a pair of headlights pulling into a spot. “Snips, Snails,” she called, “You’re done. Come get your cell phones and go home.”

Snips glanced over to the parking lot, then scrambled over to Luna, Snails in his wake. “Tools,” she said simply with a glower, and the boys quickly scurried back to where they’d dropped the shovel and pail in their haste and walked them back over to the designated spot by the small pile of waste bricks the three troublemakers had been building. They then slunk back to the vice principal. She returned their devices, and they ran off to the waiting car. She realized in that moment that she hadn’t collected Sunset’s phone, but then the girl hadn’t once even moved to take it out, let alone get distracted by it. It was a bit late to do so now.

Luna turned to the remaining delinquent under her supervision. It’d been nearly two hours since the dance ended, the last of the cleanup crew having fled after they finished and Sunset being the only student left on the premises. This meant that Luna had to stay as long as Sunset had to wait for her ride. She suppressed a grumble as she watched the girl filling another pail with brick debris.

She felt a buzz from her pants pocket. She pulled it out and saw the message her sister sent from the office where she went to pull up Sunset’s file.

Phone # on file for S. Shimmer’s parents not working. Mother listed as “Sunny Skies.” Found “father’s” name listed on a Pirate Name Generator site.

Eyebrow lifting was inadequate for the surprise Luna was feeling. They had started suspecting a few hours ago that Shimmer’s files were incomplete or incorrect when they started making disciplinary calls. How did Sunset know about Celestia’s sorority name?

Another buzz and a follow-up message came up:

Emergency contact: Nightmare Moon

At this Luna had to restrain herself from gasping out loud as here eyes bugged out. How had Sunset known about my stage name?! I haven’t even picked up my guitar in years...over a decade!

Composing her features and putting her phone back in her pocket, she looked up to see the delinquent of the hour pouring out another bucketful of bricks into the debris pile. Luna heaved a cleansing breath and barked out, “That’s good enough Shimmer. Are you expecting a ride?”

Sunset’s shoulders slumped, the bucket hanging limply from the tips of her fingers. After a moment, she shook her head in the negative without turning to face the educator.

Unsure if it was fatigue or rebellion, she decided to shrug it off. “You’re done for the night,” she said to the girl, “Come see me on Monday to receive whatever discipline we’ll have for you.”

“Th-tha-a-a-a...th-th-th…” Sunset stuttered what sounded like the start of a ‘thank,’ but suddenly shuddered and fell silent. Again without turning, she nodded her head. She gently put the bucket down next to the debris pile and started trudging off into the dark between street lights.

Before she could disappear from view, Celestia quietly stepped next to her, eyes also on Sunset as the girl walked away.

“We’re following her?” Luna inquired.

“Of course.” was the quick reply as they stepped around the damage and debris.


It took the better part of an hour and walking through increasingly seedier parts of town before they finally arrived at Sunset Shimmer’s “home.” The girl wound her way into the warehouse district, not taking anything remotely resembling a direct route. The sisters had to scramble, both to catch up with the girl and to avoid being seen as whatever path Shimmer took was obviously designed to either lose or reveal anyone who may be tailing her. It seemed to be a habitual action on Sunset’s part, though. She was so very clearly wrapped up in her own thoughts that she didn’t notice the two principals even when she passed within five feet of them after one of her double-backs through an alley.

Eventually, Sunset made her way to an apparently abandoned warehouse. The windows were mostly boarded over, and there was signage on the front declaring the city was “in the process” of seizing the property from FlimFlamCo. As the dates printed on the signs were from nearly eight years prior, it seemed most likely that the place had been caught in bureaucratic limbo, which meant that someone with no listed parents who apparently came from another world entirely would be able to stay there indefinitely.

During the trip there, Luna was growing more and more concerned over her sister’s reactions to the situation. Celestia had worn her heart on her sleeve when they were younger, and while she’d learned to keep herself composed and restrained to the general public, Luna knew all the signs to see her sister’s moods and feelings. The further on their unplanned trek they went, the more heartbroken Celestia got. By the time Sunset was struggling to open a loading dock door, the elder sister had the swollen eyes of someone fighting tears. The sounds of a rolling door protesting moving at all broke the silence of the night as Sunset finally got it open, then again once the girl entered and fought the recalcitrant door to close it.

The two sisters used the opportunity to rush across the street and try peering through the windows. Using her height, Celestia found an uncovered strip of glass over the top of one of the boards that most people wouldn’t be able to look through without a stepstool, while Luna found an old knothole that she was able to look through. They saw Sunset using her phone as a flashlight to navigate around, Luna catching the shadow of a motorcycle off to one side as well as the shapes of abandoned tool benches and machinery. They saw the girl trudge up a set of stairs leading to what looked like what had been a manager’s office while the warehouse had been operational and the door closed behind her. After a couple of minutes, the light of the cellphone-flashlight stopped moving, then went out.

Luna pulled her own phone out of her pocket and checked the time. It was nearly three in the morning. She put a hand on her sister’s back in an attempt to comfort her. “Come, sister. There’s nothing more we can do tonight.”


Present…

Luna stood in the doorway as she watched her sister gently caress Sunset’s forehead. The girl was apparently still asleep, whatever was causing her to be unable to speak during her waking hours not stilling her tongue in slumber. She was murmuring and tossing gently, mostly unintelligible nonsense, but the occasional clear word popped out. Her sister’s name was said at least once, but she also heard some phrases that had something resembling proper word structure but Luna could only guess at their meaning, like ‘thaumaturgical’ and ‘emotomancy.’

Through it all, Celestia was holding the girl’s hand, careful to avoid the injuries that had happened sometime between when they left the warehouse the week prior and when Miss Pie led her friends to find Sunset when she was attempting to take her own life. When the tossing and turning settled down and the sleep talking settled to a murmur, then stopped, Celestia continued to gently stroke the teen’s forehead, humming a gentle tune...is that ‘Dancing Queen?’ thought Luna incredulously.

Sister, Luna thought to herself, You’d better be careful. You care so much, Sunset Shimmer could so easily break your heart into a million pieces...

Author's Note:

For those of you eagle-eyed people who caught the plot point that I won't identify here, no, you didn't miss anything and I didn't forget anything. :raritywink: