• Published 18th Oct 2019
  • 8,028 Views, 295 Comments

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 4 - All We Do Crumbles to the Ground

Author's Note:

8k words.

I dun told you.

EDIT: 11/29/2019 07:28 am
Actually nearly 9,000 words.

Made some changes suggested in the comments for word usage, also did another read through for grammar and punctuation and fixed a missing strike-through that got through the import tool I use.

Pinkie Pie was a giant pink golden retriever. This was the only conclusion Celestia could possibly come to as she looked at the five girls on her front porch. The only thing that Celestia found truly odd about the pink girl after having her for a student for two years now was the lack of a pink collar as she stood next to Rainbow Dash and yipped and panted like a dog. With the recognition that the girl had to be a canine in human form, it made complete sense that she should find Sunset Shimmer in situations where she could not possibly be expected to. One simply had to ignore the fact that a human girl couldn’t possibly be a dog in disguise.

No, wait, magic is a real thing, maybe Pinkie could actually be a dog. Or maybe it’s just Pinkie being Pinkie.

While Rainbow Dash sighed and scratched Pinkie behind the ears to get her to stop yipping, Rarity explained their presence on their principal’s doorstep. “So you see, while we do understand that you’re probably the best person to be taking care of Sunset during this...challenging time, we all realized that as ‘convenient’ as it would be to let someone else handle the matter, none of us felt right not following through on a request for an absent friend, especially when that friend tasked us with the wellbeing of another person.”

Celestia couldn’t help but smile in pride at the five.

“Besides,” interjected Rainbow Dash, “Nobody’s seen you at school in days, people are starting to talk.”

Applejack flicked Rainbow’s ear, prompting an offended ‘Ow!’ before speaking up herself. “Bein’ honest with you, Principal, it seems Sunset’s...fall, fer lack of a better word, has made a...whatcha-callum…”

“A power vacuum,” prompted Rarity.

“That’s the jasper. While the rest of the students are pretty open and friendly, seems there’s some...elements that’re hoping to pick up where Sunset left off. Me’n Rainbow found and interrupted a couple’a altercations. Rarity’s been hearin’ ‘bout some people tryin’ t’pick up Sunset’s information network, and Pinkie’s been noticin’ some people hornin’ in on her party last week, tryin’ t’keep out some people on account that they aint in the right group.” Applejack shook her head ruefully.

Pinkie put her hands on her hips, “I didn’t say that, I just said that those cheerleaders clearly didn’t know how one of my parties worked because they kept telling people coming in that they needed an invite. I don’t do ‘invites,’ because then how will I be able to make all those friends that I’ve never met before and so wouldn’t get an invite because I didn’t know their name to invite them? So I told those girls that they didn’t need to man the door like they were doing and they could just enjoy the party, but I think one of them musta had something bad for lunch because she got a sour look on her face and left, so I guess she needed to use the bathroom or something, and it was kinda a bummer because a bunch of her friends went with her to make sure she was okay, and I mean I know girls often go to the bathroom in groups because we like to chat and keep each other company but that was way too many people for a bathroom run, but then maybe they were going to get something from the pharma…” the remainder of Pinkie’s sentence was muffled by Rainbow Dash’s hands.

Rarity continued, “The point is, once we realized that you probably hadn’t sent Sunset to a foster care or something similar, we figured that she was still with you after you’d picked her up from Sweet Apple Acres. Pinkie said she knew how to find your home, and a short car caravan later, here we are.”

Celestia stifled a sigh as she pondered her options. It was true that she hadn’t been back to the school since taking in Sunset, but she didn’t regret that decision on the grounds that the girl needed someone to take care of her. But then, a good leader knows when to delegate, and who to delegate to. She smiled at the group, “I’ll have to check with Sunset to make sure she feels up to visitors, but I don’t see the problem with you checking on her. Come on in,” she stepped back to give them access to the foyer, “Just stay by the door until I can ask her.”

The girls gratefully shuffled in. They had to have come straight from school to get here when they did, nonetheless, the sun was starting to set and the chill fall air was brisk enough to make the coats they were wearing a requirement. After shutting the door, Celestia left the girls huddled together (Rainbow and Pinkie already pulling off their jackets without waiting for Sunset’s final say) and padded into the living room to find Sunset had fallen asleep sitting curled up at the end of the couch. Celestia noticed that the girls hushed when they saw Sunset.

Sunset still clutched her new phone in one hand, her head tilted forward in what had to be a horrible angle for the girl’s neck. Celestia giggled to herself, noticing that Sunset had managed to hook the case of her phone on the bandages around her right hand, which was probably all that was keeping the phone from tumbling to the floor. She carefully lifted the phone out of the girl’s grip and gently shook her shoulder. “Sunset, sweetie, you have some visitors.”

With a mild snort, the girl shook herself awake. She blinked owlishly and almost frantically looked around until she saw Celestia, then saw the older woman holding out her phone. The girl took it with a smile, unlocking it out of clear habit. Celestia nodded in the direction of the front door, “The girls are here to see you. Do you think you’re up to visiting with them?”

For a moment, Sunset was panicked, but then she saw who Celestia was referring to and sagged back into the couch. Sunset tapped on the phone’s screen, a mechanical voice saying, “Yes.”

Celestia turned to the girls, “Come on in, thanks for your patience.”

Rarity squawked in protest as Pinkie and Rainbow dropped their jackets on the foyer floor, Pinkie bouncing as she was wont to do, somehow the others not in her way as she gave herself a tour of the living room around Sunset while Rainbow pretty much vaulted over the railing separating the small foyer space from the living room, darting over to plant herself next to Sunset on the couch.

Rainbow had been hesitant about the idea of approaching the Principal and VP when they weren’t at school, but the others had made a whole bunch of good points that she couldn’t come up with any reason it was a bad idea against, so she went along about as enthusiastically as one of the school’s resident pranksters could be when meeting with an educator and authority figure in any setting.

The athlete wasn’t quite sure what she’d been expecting in terms of the house where Principal Celestia and her sister lived, but a (by all appearances) completely normal house wasn’t it. Maybe it was just her preconceptions from when she first entered the school system and teachers seemed like demi-gods and principals seemed like Faust Herself ruling from atop The Canterhorn. Somehow she’d expected some sort of grand palace. It was a bit jarring to encounter a comfortable home (and the television was a nice model with, like, all the game systems hooked up to it).

Dash scrambled in to sit right next to Sunset before anyone else could on purpose. She knew her friends, even with a gulf of time of a couple years before Princess Twilight showed up. Pinkie would be likely to get well inside Sunset’s personal bubble, Rarity would also get a little too up-close and personal under the impression that physical proximity would naturally lead to emotional intimacy. Applejack would sit across the room as near to face to face as she could manage, but doing nothing about the other two making Sunset uncomfortable until it’d been pushed too far, and Fluttershy would be likely to park herself on the other end of the room completely and say nothing as to “not make anyone upset.”

Dash loved her friends, but sometimes they seemed like they were completely clueless with how to deal with people who didn’t deal well with other people. Growing up with Fluttershy as a best friend helped the otherwise extremely extroverted Rainbow Dash learn how to recognize when someone was pegging all the “Oh, Faust, too many people get me out of here!” meters. Right now, Sunset Shimmer was showing all the signs that she was fighting her fight or flight instincts and that she had just been woken up probably wasn’t helping. Thus her parking herself in the spot next to the apparently alien girl; not so close she was touching, but close enough that even the antics of Pinkie “I have no idea what ‘personal space’ means” Pie couldn’t wedge herself in.

As the other girls made themselves comfortable and Principal Celestia sat on a stool in the connected kitchen where she could watch the interaction, Rainbow leaned slightly nearer to Sunset and nudged her conspiratorially, “So, you’re an alien?” she asked with a grin.

This seemed to be just what the other girl needed because she smirked and tapped on her phone again and the slightly mechanical voice came from it, “Yes.”

Putting the confusion of why the girl was responding with the phone to the back of her mind (she’d ask Applejack or Fluttershy about it, she could have sworn they said something earlier that week about it, but she wasn’t paying the closest attention and couldn’t remember exactly) she let her smirk break into a grin, “That’s pretty cool.”

“Oooh, what’s that?!” piped in the high-pitched voice of Pinkie Pie. Before anyone could react, the girl who more resembled an over-caffeinated ball of pink frizz snatched Sunset’s phone from her hands. Sunset looked positively panicked now, and Rainbow was about to launch herself at Pinkie to retrieve the phone.

The girls were spared the inevitable hijinks when Principal Celestia’s voice cut in, “Return that immediately, Ms. Pie.” Anyone who has ever experienced the sun breaking through the clouds in the depths of winter would understand the cold chills that were caused by the simple command spoken with dispassionate authority. Pinkie got the look of a very small animal that’s been targeted by a bird of prey as she slowly, exaggeratedly held the phone in a pinching grip with both hands, touching as little of it as possible, as she stretched her arms out and deposited the device in Sunset’s waiting hands, the entire time maintaining a rictus grin as she kept her eyes locked with the principal’s.

Only once Sunset was once again holding her phone did Celestia explain, “For whatever reason, Sunset has lost her ability to speak or write. I believe it’s related in some way to the magic used at the Fall Formal. The phone has software on it that is normally used for helping low-functioning autistic kids to communicate. Without that phone, Sunset cannot even give a yes or no answer to a question without having some sort of seizure.”

The mood was already pretty depressed, but that declaration killed it completely. “Sorry Sunset,” muttered Pinkie Pie.

Rainbow watched as Sunset tapped one of the three large buttons on her phone’s screen, which brought up another panel of buttons, and she tapped the big green one at the top. “Thanks,” came the robotic voice.

Pinkie giggles, back to her usually perky self. “You sound like Amazon now,” she gushed, referring to the smart-assistant that was being sold by the online retailer Silk Road, “Hey Sunset, tell me a joke!”

Sunset gave the pink girl a flat look and tapped another button on her phone, “No,” came the voice.

That got a laugh from the girls and Celestia leaned back with a sip of her coffee, the initial tension dispelled.

The Sunday after the Fall Formal...

“Are we really wasting our time following Pinkie Pie around because her ears tingle?!” growled Rainbow Dash.

Rarity looked up from her phone where she was busy texting, “I do understand, Rainbow, but we’ve hit a bit of a dead-end. It seems that nobody has ever been to Sunset’s place, and my contacts that have access to Sunset’s file in the school database are coming up with the Chinese restaurant.”

The restaurant in question could still be smelled. It was pretty run-of-the-mill Chinese food, featuring the “fast food” versions (in other words, heavily regionalized and almost unrecognizable by anyone from China) that the teenagers were familiar with, and since it was a fast food place the scent of cooking grease could be smelled for blocks around it. Nearly as soon as they got to the location looking for Sunset, Pinkie declared that her “Pinkie Sense” was going off and they needed to head in a seemingly random direction.

Applejack gave a nod, “That an’ Pinkie’s...twitches are pretty accurate. I seen it happen enough where she twitches or wiggles or somethin’ and then what she says will happen happens.” The farmer put her hand on Rainbow’s shoulder, “I understand your lookin’ side-eyed at this, but just entertain us for a bit, ‘kay?”

As the sound of a train horn blaring briefly echoed through the warehouse district, Rainbow Dash sighed and nodded, kicking an empty beer can off in the direction Pinkie was leading them. Rarity was apparently tracking the motion of the can, as she gasped, “Girls...correct me if I’m wrong,” she began, pointing just shy of where the can skidded to a stop at a small red splotch on the ground, “But is that…?”

Applejack and Fluttershy dashed over to the spot, AJ poking her finger into the liquid and then taking a sniff of the fingertip. Fluttershy eyed the red substance and both nodded, “Ayup,” confirmed Applejack, “It’s blood, and it’s fresh.”

Dash scanned the area and spotted more, apparently in a trail. “Look! It goes that way!” she pointed down a gap between two warehouses.

“No, wait,” Rarity interrupted as another train horn blast, this one nearer, reverberated through the urban canyons around them, “The trail stops, or maybe starts only a little ways in. It continues off in that direction.” She pointed off to another gap between buildings opposite the one they were near, this one wide enough to drive a small truck through.

Pinkie did a shivering wiggle dance and clasped her nose. “That’s it! Follow that trail!” The girl then darted off in the direction of the trail of blood.

“Pinkie, wait!” snapped Dash as she and the other girls chased after.

Some part of Dash’s awareness realized that the longer, much closer blast of the train horn had something to do with their situation, but what she couldn’t be sure. She was (naturally) the first to catch up with Pinkie Pie and grabbed the other girl by the arm to stop her. The rest of their group either ran (as with Applejack and, surprisingly, Fluttershy) or staggered to catch up (as Rarity had, bending at the waist to catch her breath). Another blast from the train horn drew their attention across the field of broken down fencing and empty storage yards to see a train track and an old railroad crossing that was clearly not working. On that crossing stood Sunset Shimmer, staring down the tracks. The girls turned to see that the train was bearing down on the girl and now repeatedly blasting its horn.

Sunset wasn’t moving.

Rainbow and Applejack immediately took off running. “First one to the tracks gets Sunset off, the other makes sure the girls call 911.” breathed Applejack.

Rainbow surged ahead, “You know it’s gonna be me that gets there first!”

Rainbow gauged the distance from herself to Sunset, then from Sunset to the train. Less than a soccer field, more than a football field, she thought, ...a little over 100 yards. The train is about a quarter of that distance from Sunset, it’s moving half as fast as me when I’m sprinting...I can do this. I’ve got 20 seconds.

She heard Applejack stumble, then slow down as she turned to snap directives at the others. The corner of her mind that paid attention to details noted that she was ordering Fluttershy to hold on to Pinkie Pie and then having Rarity call 911.

15 seconds and she had to hurdle a downed fence. When standing it had been 9 feet tall, but it’d been pushed over by time and lack of maintenance until it was listing at an approximate 30-degree angle off the ground. She used it to launch herself forward, planting a foot on the crossbar that supported the barbed wiring without tangling her feet in it, then letting the elasticity of the metal launch her back up like a gymnastics springboard.

10 seconds and she had another obstacle, a cement barrier. This one she did a diving leap, curling into a roll that she leapt out of at a dead sprint to make up for losing time on the roll.

At five seconds, she heard the broken crossing signal finally engage, but by this point, the train was only a couple of yards away. That was okay, as the barriers would have made it harder to do what she needed to next.

Rainbow Dash leaped at Sunset, slamming into the other girl and knocking her off the tracks. The train was so close that the very tip of her tennis shoe was clipped as the train barreled through the spot where Sunset had been standing, causing Rainbow’s body to spin slightly as she tumbled to the ground holding Sunset protectively. Once the dust had settled as the train blew past, Rainbow pushed herself up and checked on the other girl.

Something was horribly wrong with Sunset’s right arm. It was clearly the cause of the trail of blood, as there were lacerations from her palm nearly up to her elbow. Dash’s first thought, that Sunset had tried to slit her wrists, was belied by several more similar wounds, but much smaller, that peppered the girl’s hand and wrists. One looked like Sunset may have lost a finger if whatever had caused the wound had been even a quarter-inch deeper. Sunset also didn’t have any shoes on, and no socks. She must have soles of iron because there was surprisingly no cuts in spite of walking across streets, fields, and alleyways that were littered with sheared metal, broken glass, and sharp rocks.

What really scared Rainbow, though, was the other girl’s eyes. They looked dead. They weren’t focussed on anything, and other than the occasional twitching and the dilation of the iris, Sunset’s eyes may as well have been a pair of glass spheres. If she wasn’t breathing, Dash would have assumed Sunset was dead from the eyes alone.

“C’mon, Shimmer, you need a hospital.” Dash tried to shake the girl. When there was no response, she shook harder, “Sunset, you need to get up. Even with AJ, I don’t think we can carry you to an emergency room.”

There was a blink then a groan, so weak that Rainbow almost didn’t hear it over the sound of the train. Other than that, Sunset didn’t respond.

Dash looked up and saw the other four girls standing on the other side of the train. It was like looking at one of those old film movies that you could still find tucked away in the storerooms at CHS run in slow motion. She watched as Rarity spoke on the phone, whatever she was saying lost to the clacking and roaring of the train. Pinkie and Fluttershy looked shocked and surprised, hugging each other for support. Applejack just got the same look she always did when given a difficult task that she’d do no matter what.

“Hang on Sunset,” said Rainbow, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but we’re here for you. We never leave a friend hanging.”


“What do you think, Dashie?” said Pinkie.

“Huh, whu…?” Rainbow brought her attention back to the present. “About what?”

Applejack snickered, “A little lost in yer own thoughts there, sugarcube?”

Dash rolled her eyes, “Yeah, so? I got bored hearing your countryisms.”

Pinkie waggled her hand, “Eh, I give it about a six on the Applewood Sick Burns index.”

We were…” interjected Rarity forcefully, “Asking what you thought Sunset’s world is like. Pinkie decided to make a game of it while you were pondering...whatever you were pondering.” The last bit was said with an apologetic smile.

“Oh, huh...okay.” Rainbow glanced over at their resident alien and found the girl giggling quietly, her shoulders shaking and her eyes lit up with mirth. Well, as long as she’s good for it, let’s see what I can come up with. Rainbow pondered for a minute, then snapped her fingers, “I know, you come from a race of space squids! They’re actually distantly related to humans, but it’s been so many generations that even the computer records have gotten lost. You’re at war with a race of cyborgs and you came here to escape their evil mind probes!”

By the time Rainbow had finished, Sunset was doubled over in laughter, rapidly tapping the, “No” button on her phone.

Dash ignored Rarity complaining that she’d mostly lifted the idea from an anime (which was true, so she wasn’t going to fight the other girl on the point) in favor of letting Sunset have a good belly laugh. She may not have been a doctor with fancy titles or a head-shrink, but she could take some blows to her pride if it meant she’d help Sunset to never be that dead inside again.

Monday came with the inevitability of a sunrise. And with the sunrise, also came to Canterlot High a Sunset. Principal Celestia had told the girls that she was going to be bringing Sunset Shimmer for at least the first part of the day and then see how well the girl could keep up. The five had volunteered to take Sunset in so the principal could hold a staff meeting to explain Sunset’s presently...reduced capacity.

They had dropped Sunset off at her homeroom (which she shared with Fluttershy) and broke off to get to their own (Though apparently Applejack was on duty to help in the cafeteria kitchens instead of homeroom, something that Rainbow hadn’t been aware of until that morning).

Things had been going fairly well until until Rainbow got a text from Fluttershy that she didn’t know what class Sunset had for second period and as far as she knew none of them shared that class with Sunset. Rainbow dashed (heh) off a quick text to the group to confirm Fluttershy’s fears, then began racing down hallways as fast as she dared and not get called out on by a teacher.

The bell rang, and just as Rainbow made the conscious decision to take whatever time it took to find Sunset and damn the consequences, she hit the bottom of the stairwell and turned the corner in the eastern wing of the school and heard what she was hoping she wouldn’t. Down one of the lesser used hallways came a repeated and mechanical, “No.”

Dash darted around the corner to find Lightning Dust and her latest band of cronies, The Washouts, gathered around Sunset Shimmer at the join of a t-junction of hallways, cornering her against some lockers. Sunset had clearly been knocked to the ground, her backpack had spilled open and her two textbooks for the morning were being kicked against the wall by Short Fuse. Sunset had her injured arm tucked up against her torso in instinctive protection and her right hand was holding her phone, her thumb repeatedly tapping the “No” button on the display. Rolling Thunder kicked at Sunset’s legs, forcing the former bully to tuck in tighter and in an even less defensible position. Rainbow was far enough away that she couldn’t quite make out what Lightning Dust was saying, but the tone was clearly jeering and taunting.

Then Lightning snatched Sunset’s phone out of her hand, and Rainbow saw red.

Before Lightning could even get the phone turned around to look at the screen, Rainbow had rocketed down the hallway and slammed her knee against Lightning’s forearm, the force of the kneeing kick slamming the other girl’s arm against the locker, denting the locker and pinning the arm. A muffled cracking sound could be heard as Lightning’s fingers dropped the phone, and Rainbow snatched it out of the air. Rainbow had the fleeting thought that she was surprised that LIghtning hadn’t turned at her approach, but the thought was crowded out with being self-impressed on how quickly she was able to snatch the phone out of the air.

Dash was grateful for the martial arts lessons her father insisted she take (and then subsequently embarrass the stuffing out of her at every exhibition match) as she let her muscle memory launch her off the wall in a spinning punch that slammed into Rolling Thunder’s stomach. Dash was wondering if the girl’s reputation for being a hotheaded streetfighter, and a damn quick one at that, was warranted given how slowly the girl was moving. Hell, the girl almost wasn’t reacting to Rainbow’s arrival at all. She tossed the phone up and slammed her now free hand into a second solar plexus jab as she reached up and caught the phone with the hand that had just been used for an attack, a niggling worry that maybe she was missing something started to tickle her thoughts as she once again noted how the phone had, really, barely moved once it left her hand. Not wanting to give Rolling the chance to retaliate before she could deal with Short Fuse, Rainbow hooked a foot behind Rolling’s knee and yanked with the intent of forcing the other girl to fall. Her balance must have been pretty spectacular, because she remained vertical, though there were signs that she was starting to lean, so Dash slipped around the still reeling Lightning and drove a knee into Short Fuse’s rib cage, slamming the smaller girl against the lockers hard enough to cause the entire bank of them to thunder from the impact. The part of her brain that worked on quippy one-liners noted that she should have used this move on the other girl, as a joke about the lockers making the sound of ‘rolling thunder’ as she was kicked into them would have been hilarious. Another part of her brain, one that was starting to sound alarms, noted that the sound of the lockers crashing like they were shouldn’t sound like low rolling thunder, no matter how hard they were slammed against. As the girl dropped, Rainbow slipped the phone down into Sunset’s bandaged hand, being as careful as possible to not just throw it at her friend in case the injured arm might cause her to bobble the catch. Pushing away from the wall with her foot, Rainbow launched herself at Lightning Dust and grabbed the other girl by the collar. She was pulling back a fist when she became aware of what seemed like a very low voice saying her name as slowly as possible.

She paused to look around, then suddenly the world snapped into focus. Rolling Thunder finally let out an agonized wheeze from her stomach being impacted and collapsed to the floor, her leg whipped out in front of her. Short Fuse finally hit the floor after her forced faceplant with the lockers. Lightning Dust screeched in agony and clasped her right arm with her left, bursting into tears and the initial signs of shock started rocking her body. Under the sounds of the girl whose shirt was in Rainbow’s balled up fist came the odd voice, which suddenly sped up and went from a deep base to the more familiar alto of Vice-principal Luna, “...aaaaaaiiiinbow Dash, stop!”

Rainbow blinked and realized that the VP was just down the hall of the t-junction. She looked around and realized that Short Fuse was unconscious and barely breathing, Rolling Thunder was not breathing and her eyes were rolling in her head as she gagged and convulsively tried to take in air, and Lightning Dust’s arm was clearly broken and the girl was shaking from trauma. Dash lowered the other girl as gently as she could and glanced down the hallway she had just come down, realizing it was half the length of the soccer pitch and she’d covered the distance in less than a second, black scorch marks where her shoes had created friction burns in the two places her feet had actually made contact with the floor.

Sunset Shimmer’s eyes were wide with an expression of panic, her uninjured hand clasped over her mouth and her bandaged hand limply holding the phone that had been the catalyst for Rainbow’s reaction. Luna was just standing in the middle of the hallway, jaw hanging slack as she stared at her student.

“...what just happened?” asked Rainbow.

Rainbow Dash felt sick to her stomach. She could see the flashing lights of the three ambulances that had to be called in for the injuries she’d accidentally caused. She watched as they started pulling away in a caravan, fortunately none of them had to turn on the sirens as the injuries were determined to be severe but not critical. She almost didn’t hear anything Vice-principal Luna was saying.

“...and due to the...magical nature and you being as surprised as anyone else to what happened, I’m willing to overlook the rather nasty injuries you caused your fellow students.” Dash blinked owlishly, returning her focus to the disciplinarian. Would she really just be getting off scot free? That didn’t seem right. “Let’s instead talk about why you thought that fighting in school was going to be a good idea.”

Rainbow’s thoughts swam, trying to gather themselves. “...so...I’m not in trouble? Or am I? I...I nearly killed Thunder…” her stomach started threatening to launch it’s contents again, Rainbow started shivering. “I...I should be under arrest, not getting off without a punishment.”

She heard a gentle sigh from the older woman across the desk, “Miss Dash, while you are in trouble, it would be...unjust of me to prescribe a punishment for the more extreme results of your actions. It would be akin to strapping chainsaws to a baby and then punishing the child for the damage the chainsaws caused when the infant started behaving as infants do.” Rainbow turned her gaze up to the educator who was holding up a placating hand, “This is not to say you are an infant or acting childish, but whatever magic is at work on you is powerful, and as you completely accidentally demonstrated earlier, is incredibly easy to cause damage unintentionally. I will be assigning you detention for fighting in school, but I will not be punishing you for things you have no control over nor could you have possibly anticipated them.”

Knowing that she was being granted a small mercy was a relief, but even so, she felt she had to provide a justification for her actions. “I just couldn’t let them pick on Sunset. She can’t even talk, fer crying out…” some of the emotions that had been held back by shock started leaking through, “She’s so helpless right now, and I don’t care what someone did before, you don’t do that to someone who can’t defend themselves.” She sniffed, wiping at her nose with the back of her arm, “She’s...hurt...and if I’d been any slower than I had…I had to go faster…” tears started trailing down her face, her thoughts not about the earlier altercation in the hallway but back at the train tracks, and she huddled in on herself. She sensed more than saw the vice-principal round the desk and sit down next to her, rubbing her back with gentle motions as she wept.

Celestia set the pen down on the freshly signed document and rubbed her eyes, attempting to bleed some tension out before an actual headache set in. Catching up on a week’s worth of work, even when her sister had done a lot of it and delegated what she could, was daunting no matter what the cause. Trying to find new and creative ways to bullshit the bureaucracy to keep the word “magic” out of the paperwork was especially tiring. She pressed a button on her phone, activating the intercom feature between her and her secretary. “Raven, would you mind terribly bringing me a tea, and maybe see if you can get an ibuprofen from Nurse Redheart, please?”

Celestia chose to ignore the slight mirth in Raven’s voice as she replied, “Of course, your majesty.” Well, OK, an eye roll, but otherwise ignored. The staff had taken the news that their principal’s other-universe counterpart was royalty with plenty of good-natured humor. Except for Cranky, but then he treated pretty much everyone in exactly the same curmudgeonly way.

A handful of minutes and a couple hundred milligrams of anti-inflammatory later, Celestia decided to take a moment for a quiet contemplation break as she sipped her tea. As she sat leaned back, her gaze drifted idly over her desk, then around the office, finally alighting on the large purse she’d taken to carrying lately so she could put all the things that needed to go to and from home with her on a daily basis, especially with a special needs teenager now in the house. Sticking out of the bag was the journal that Luna had retrieved from Sunset’s locker. She hadn’t brought it up to Sunset, because, of course, there was no way for the girl to say anything about it, and possibly not even any way to write in it, so Celestia was keeping it handy.

A niggling voice told her to read it. She had shied away from doing so as that would be quite the invasion of privacy, but she’d been growing more and more open to the idea in the last few days, as since the incident involving magic and the creation of the...conspiracy board? Relationship network? She still wasn’t sure what to call it, but since Sunset had created it, she hadn’t been able to speak or write again. Reading the girl’s journal seemed more and more like the best way to try and get a few more pieces of the puzzle.

She took a calming breath and turned back to her desk and eyeballed the stack of work she still had in her “to do” pile, then set the teacup down and pulled Sunset’s journal out of her purse.

It was a gorgeous piece of art on its own. Clearly hand-stitched, or whatever Sunset’s people used in lieu of hands. Its size was a bit odd, but apparently the other universe used the Golden Mean as well for their books, as it was proportional to any other book she might pick up from a book store. The front cover had the glyph or mark that Celestia was growing to understand was special to Sunset, but the spine was unmarked, as was the back. Mentally steeling herself, she opened the cover...and once again had her perception of reality shaken.

In her own handwriting was a dedication written on the inside front cover, “To my beloved faithful student. If you ever have need of my counsel, I am but a quill-stroke away. Yours, Princess Celestia.”

So, apparently it was a “thing” for Celestia to take in Sunset Shimmer in some capacity or another. She was mildly curious to find out if there were other universes out there where other versions of herself found themselves with other versions of Sunset, and if those versions of Sunset were from other universes...she stopped her train of thought, as it struck her as one of those, “turtles all the way down” kinds of philosophical navel-gazing.

She tried to mentally brace herself, but then realized the futility of it and flipped open to the first page with writing.

“Dear Princess Celestia,” it began, “I don’t know how ‘Professor’ Arcane manages to hold on to his tenure, he knows nothing about forming a proper spell matrix…”

Well, thought the principal, At least I know this is, indeed, Sunset’s journal. She’s never shied away from calling out what she saw as incompetence in educators. A small smile quirked up her lips for a bit as she read. The following entry, though, was a bit of a surprise, as it was a reply from the princess herself. Celestia had thought this would simply be a sort of “mental dumping ground” for Sunset’s thoughts, but she now realized the two had used this book to communicate. Could they not simply have chat? Did the princess’ duties keep her from being able to do one-on-one time with her student so they just traded the journal? Celestia’s questions were answered over the next few entries as Sunset had stayed home as Celestia went abroad and the text began implying the conversation was happening in near real-time, rather like a chat room online, or more accurately one of the instant messenger platforms. The journal must be magical… she allowed herself to be overcome with a sense of wonder, realizing she was one of the few, if not the only person on the planet that held an honest to goodness magical artifact in her hands.

Shaking off the feeling, at least enough to focus on her chosen task, she went back to reading. This time she was feeling much better about doing so, as this was a two-way communicator and not a private journal. There was some entries that were a bit more personal than Sunset may have wanted to be transmitted to third parties, but overall it was a fairly straightforward correspondence between two people.

The story of the two was as sad as it was inevitable. Celestia could see the frustration written in ink from both the princess and her student as Sunset’s ability and knowledge began outpacing what her teacher could provide. Demands for access to learning and education were stymied by equally insistent pleas for the student to, in so many words, “get a life.” Celestia saw Sunset beginning to chafe at what she perceived as intentional blockades of her studies, while Princess Celestia was practically begging her pupil to go out and make some friends or, at the very least, get along better with her collaborators. Principal Celestia was noticing that the further she read, the more time seemed to pass between ‘sessions’ of entries in the book, either her doppelganger would declare she would be giving Sunset “her space,” or Sunset would write an angry entry in a fit of pique that apparently stung some aspect of the princess’ pride and the journal would be silent, until another entry where they would tentatively dance around the real issue before getting into another written argument.

It finally culminated in an argument that clearly had more going on that was written. References to spoken words, miscommunications through other people (some names of which she recognized from her own life, including Counselor Neighsay, president of the school district’s board of directors, and even Raven, who was her opposite version’s seneschal), and repeated references to a “destiny” and some sort of mirror, then finally some angry words written in splotchy quill writing.

The final entry was completely different. Apparently written sometime after that final, vitriolic exchange, it was the princess communicating to her student, “My dearest Sunset; I am so sorry. I allowed my fears and emotions to get the better of our discussions regarding what was, for you, a very important topic that needed answers, not my continued stonewalling. You guessed correctly that it had to do with Nightmare Moon, but you don’t know the whole story. I would like need to tell you the part the reference and history books leave out. There is much you don’t know, and in my hubris, I believed it wasn’t your right to know. I know you cannot return any sooner than two years from this letter, but I would like to know that you are still there and whether you are well.” There was a block of writing that was completely obscured. Whatever had been written there by the princess had also been heavily redacted, most likely by the princess herself given what was written next. “I am sorry, I allowed my emotions to overcome me once again. I would sincerely appreciate the opportunity to mend some fences between us. Please write back as soon as you’re willing.”

The next three entries in the journal were heartbreaking;

“Sunset, are you there?”

“Sunset, please answer me”


Celestia leaned back in her chair and pondered the new information she had now. The other Celestia had mentioned something called “The Elements of Harmony,” which seemed to correspond in some respects with the displays she had seen when Princess Twilight was on this side of the portal. It did help her to understand the center of the relationship web (or whatever they were going to call it) that Sunset had put together, and may have some bearing on what happened with her five students that had been most directly affected by the magic, but she wasn’t sure why some magic called specifically Harmony would lock up Sunset’s ability to communicate. They couldn’t even seek advice from either of the other princesses because Sunset couldn’t write back to them…

Celestia’s heart stopped for a moment, ...I don’t have the communication block that Sunset has...I could write to the princess!

Should she, though? Was it right for her to use Sunset’s journal, her means of communicating, apparently privately, with her old mentor?

Her train of thought was interrupted when her sister came in without knocking. The younger woman didn’t quite flop down into one of the guest chairs on the other side of the desk, but it was clear she was drained enough that she wanted to. She let out a sigh of exhausted frustration, “Miss Dash will be serving detention for a week, but I’d recommend we get her to the school counselor and find some way to get her to a therapist. She’s not taking this well.”

Celestia blinked owlishly at this sudden intrusion, “...taking what well?”

Luna looked a bit askance at her sister, “The incident in the hallway with Sunset? The injuries?” Celestia’s face must have betrayed her confusion, “What have you been doing all day, Celly?”

The principal indicated her desk, “Beyond the obvious, I’ve been reading through Sunset’s journal. It’s...actually a magical artifact.”

This made Luna sit up abruptly. “Given what happened with Rainbow Dash earlier, are you sure you should be handling it if that’s the case?”

“It’s been sitting in Sunset’s locker for the better part of two years, I doubt it’ll cause anything to happen now; but tell me about the incident with Miss Dash…?

Luna spent the next few minutes relaying what she knew of the situation to her sister, “...I’ll have to come up with some way of explaining this to the girl’s parents. ‘Your child was magically punished for bullying a classmate in such a way we had to call in some EMTs, but please don’t look too closely at this or talk to the government spooks that are nosing around’ doesn’t look good on a note.”

Celestia snorted in amusement. “Quite, though I do agree with you on what we should do about Rainbow Dash, or at least recommend. I believe a carefully worded note to a trusted therapist might be necessary, not to mention a briefing of some sort on the nature of magic...and won't that be an interesting conversation.”

“Listen to us,” Luna sighed, “Giving briefings, dodging agents...when did we turn into a branch of the government?”

“Technically? When we went into teaching at a public school.” Celestia giggled at her sister’s unamused glower, “But yes, I think it was when we had a refuge from an alternate dimension show up in our school.”

“Universe,” corrected Luna, “She’s from another universe, not dimension. My point is that we’re not really equipped to deal with this. Cherrilee is only in class and teaching right now because the S.M.I.L.E. agents overstepped first. Had it gone any other way, she’d be in Twin Rivers Bay or some other facility we’ve never heard of.”

Celestia said nothing, just resting her elbows on the desk and her chin on her folded hands. The two sat in silence for a bit before Luna stood.

“I have to go sit detention soon. I know you’ve still got paperwork, but you and Sunset do still need to eat. Please make sure you get home in time for dinner.” She waited to leave until Celestia silently nodded.

The principal remained deep in thought for a few more minutes after Luna left. Sunset’s...crippled due to magic, Rainbow Dash is harming others because she’s accessing magic somehow, government agents circling like sharks...

Celestia reached for a pen, pulled the book closer, and started writing.

Dear Princess Celestia...

Luna’s mood was sour as she approached the classroom that held the student she really didn’t want to have in detention. She understood exactly what Rainbow Dash had intended, and truly wished she could encourage such behavior. If more people intervened for others when they saw bullying, the problem would be much less severe and Luna’s workload as school disciplinarian would be much reduced. Rules were rules, however, and as Dash had been the one to escalate from assault to battery, she had to be punished, intent be damned.

As she drew nearer to the open door, she realized she heard Rainbow Dash’s voice. “...eriously, Sunset, just go! I’m the one who got detention for fighting in school, not you. Did you get detention for blowing off the front of the school? N…” she was interrupted by a mechanical, “No.” from Sunset’s phone. “No, that’s right, you didn’t. So you don’t belong here, now shoo!”

“No.” came the robotic reply.

An exaggerated groan floated through the open door, “C’mon, Sunset. I don’t know what you think you’re doing, and only being able to speak in yes’s and no’s is driving me crazy!”

“Maybe.” The synthetic voice was underscored by quiet snickering.

“Ha-ha, very funny,” growled Rainbow Dash, then came a sigh. “Well, fine, look. When Vice-Principal Luna gets here, I’ll let her get you to go home. I guess you can stay until then. You’re all right, and...and I kinda wish I’d gotten to know you better before...well, I mean...look, I’m not good at this mushy stuff, but I guess if you wanted we could be friends. You know, if you want.”

Silence reigned for a moment, then, “Yes.”

There was a rustling, “You’re all right, Shimmer.” More rustling and a thump. “Ow! And you hit hard, too! I’m gonna have to teach you how to do friendly shoulder punches.”

Luna smiled and looked at her watch. Well, she thought, I think they’ll keep each other company nicely, and as long as Miss Dash doesn’t leave the room, I think I can consider her detention for the day served. Decision made, she quietly walked away to leave the two new friends to their own devices.

An hour later, Celestia and Luna approached the detention classroom, Celestia was strangely reserved, but Luna brushed it aside as the stress of the day. She once again heard the vibrant tones of the school’s star athlete, “So they bite into the ‘cookies,’” the emphasis on the word ‘cookies’ indicated that this was yet another retelling of one of Rainbow Dash’s infamous pranks, “And they nearly all spit them out! Well, everyone but Pinkie, but you know how she is with the weird foods.”

Sunset’s laughter could be heard from the hallway, and they were both grateful for whatever was locking up Sunset’s speech wasn’t also keeping her from making any sounds at all. “Well,” began Celestia as they entered the room, “I understand today has been busy.”

Rainbow jumped to attention, having been leaning against the teacher’s desk as she spoke, “Oh, uh, Principal Celestia, VP Luna...I, uh...I was just…”

Luna smiled, “Relax, Miss Dash. I knew Sunset was here with you. By the by,” she said, ignoring the raised eyebrow from Sunset at the anachronistic phrase, “I’ve been in contact with the hospital. Lightning Dust was the worst injury and she was discharged an hour ago. The other two were mostly shock-related trauma and are expected to recover fully within a few days. Miss Dust’s broken bones will have to take their usual time healing, but then she has a history of such with her sports activities anyway, so as gauche as it is to say...she’s used to it.”

Rainbow Dash relaxed visibly. “Wow...just...thanks, Vee-Pee.”

Celestia chose to chime in, “That said, Miss Dash, while I agree that getting into fights in school is never acceptable...I think I can agree with your reasons in this case.” She winked conspiratorially at Sunset.

Luna elbowed her older sister. “I do expect to see you back here tomorrow, Miss Dash. And Sunset,” the girl turned to face Luna, “Well meaning though it may be in joining Rainbow Dash today, I am afraid she is in detention, not you. Solidarity aside, the form must be followed. You’re going home with Celestia tomorrow.”

Sunset let out a resigned sigh and tapped the, “Yes.” button on her phone.

Luna smiled at her, then turned to Rainbow, “You’re done with detention today, you may go home now.”

As soon as the final syllable left Luna’s mouth, Sunset sat up ramrod straight and grasped the desk she was sitting at, here eyes suddenly unseeing and then they started glowing.

Rainbow had leapt into a sloppy defensive stance and Luna almost tripped over backward at the sight. Celestia was startled, but recognized it. “This is what happened last week!” she gasped as the other two recoiled. The light almost projected against the opposite wall, and the others could almost see a very blurry gear shape that was gently spinning. One of the five spokes glowed a bright blue, in contrast with the golden-white light of the rest, then the glow stopped and Sunset was left gasping in her seat. Abruptly, she stood and power-walked almost robotically out the door to the classroom.

Celestia only briefly looked at Luna, who just said, “Go!” in permission for the older sister. Celestia took off after Sunset, and moments later the duo could hear a squeal of tires in the parking lot, presumably Celestia trying to drive Sunset.

Rainbow Dash was shocked, but not as badly as earlier that day. “What was that about?” she gasped.

Luna shook her head, “I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect that’s related to whatever magic is keeping her from being able to speak. If I guess right, they’re headed home, where a...project is that Sunset put together the first time that happened.” She shrugged her shoulders, “Come, at least I can drive you home.”

Celestia tucked Sunset into bed and plugged in the girl’s phone, putting it on the bed near her for when she woke up. She stood and studied the relationship web for a moment, admiring the blue string that now connected probably three-fifths of the wall. From what she had read in Sunset’s journal, somehow whatever happened today was connected to what she assumed was Rainbow Dash’s element, Loyalty.

Shaking her head, she decided to go to bed herself. Her thoughts were growing fuzzy, and she still had to go back to school tomorrow, probably to deal with three new sets of parental inquiries tomorrow as well as everything else.

A brief shower later, she climbed between her bedsheets and double-checked her alarm on her phone. Grumbling slightly at the realization that she’d only be getting about five hours of sleep at this point, she put her phone face down on her end table and nestled in.

Just as she was about to slip off to sleep, she heard a buzzing and a throbbing light filled the room. Damnit, she thought, I could have sworn I put that thing face down! Grumbling under her breath, she pushed herself off her pillow and looked at her phone...which was still, silent, and face down on the end table.

Confused, she looked around the room to see the light coming from her large purse. She stood and walked over to the hook she hung it on next to her door, pulling it open to see the journal, vibrating gently and glowing with magic.

Slowly, almost not believing it was actually happening, she opened the journal to the bookmark she had put in it after finishing her entry earlier that day, she looked down at the page below her signature line. Just before the glow of the book’s magic faded in response to her opening the book to view the message, she read the words, Dear Principal Celestia...