• Published 9th May 2020
  • 1,347 Views, 223 Comments

Magica Ex Dolori - Posh

A wave of suicides sweeps through Canterville. Sunset and the girls can't stop it. But maybe Wallflower Blush can. She just needs someone to show her how. A crossover with Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

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3. Blooming in Moonlight

Wallflower Blush sat with her back against the bedroom door, hugging her knees against her chest. Kyubey's pinkish aura pulsed with a slow, steady rhythm; the shadows around the room lengthened and shrank as his light brightened and dimmed rhythmically.

Kyubey hadn't moved from Wallflower's bed since he started speaking, or taken his eyes off her, or even blinked. It felt like hours before he wrapped up, though it was probably more a matter of minutes.

"Do you understand the contract as I’ve explained it?" he said, after pausing long enough to let Wallflower process his lecture.

Which, thank goodness for that, because there was a lot to process.

"I make a wish," said Wallflower, rolling her jaw thoughtfully. "Any wish I want. And you give me whatever it is I ask for, just like that."

"Well, not quite 'just like that,'" Kyubey replied. "In exchange, you become a magical girl, with all the burdens and duties that entails."

"Right, you don't need to remind me about that part." After all those years of watching shojo anime, admiring girls with fluttery fuku skirts and heart-shaped staves, being told that they were real and she could be one of them was a little hard to forget. All she had to do was make a wish.

She’d come up with something to wish for in seconds. Lately, there was only one thing in the world she wanted.

"Are there any rules about what a person can, and can't, wish for? Anything that's impossible to do?"

"It depends on who is making the wish, as much as the nature of the wish itself," said Kyubey. "What you wish for is entirely up to you. There are no rules or restrictions placed on what you may, or may not, request."

"Even the laws of physics? Nature?" With her fingertip, Wallflower idly drew a little circle in the shaggy carpet of her bedroom. "Could I... could I wish for someone to come back from the dead?"

Kyubey didn't say anything for a moment. In his silence, Wallflower could sense his rejection.

"Were that to be your wish," he said, slowly, at last. "I wouldn't be able to grant it."

A rotten feeling spread in her chest, and she dug her fingertip into the carpet, up to the first knuckle. "So there are rules. Limits."

"You can think of it that way, if you'd like. But I was speaking literally. I wouldn't be able to grant that wish for you." With a quick stretch, Kyubey hopped off the bed and padded closer to Wallflower, stopping in the middle of the room.

"You see, a magical girl's potential is equivalent to the weight of her karmic destiny. A greater destiny allows for a greater wish, as well as a more powerful magical girl. For one with a truly powerful destiny, resurrecting the dead through a wish is possible. In your case, though, it isn't."

"Then the problem's with me." Wallflower scoffed and looked away. "I'm just not good enough."

"I wouldn't think of it that way," said Kyubey. "Your own potential is well above average, particularly among your peers. But some girls are outliers by normal standards, destined to work miracles with their powers. To spark revolution, or change the course of human history."

Wallflower screwed up her face. "In other words, I'm special, just... not that special?"

"Don't be discouraged. Your magical potential is still exceptional enough that there are virtually unlimited possibilities for your wish. It's why I've sought you out, specifically." Kyubey tilted his head. "Do you have something in mind?"

Wallflower didn’t answer. She sank the rest of her fingers into the carpet, losing them in the shaggy surface.

"Wallflower?" Kyubey chirped.

"Don't be pushy," Wallflower growled. "You tell a girl she can have anything – literally anything – that she wants, and you think she's just gonna come up with something in a couple of minutes?"

She neglected to say that she had come up with something already.

Sorry, Moondancer.

"Of course not. There's no rush." Kyubey's tail swished lazily through the air. "I simply thought you might like to discuss any additional possibilities you've thought of. It is my duty to answer your questions about the different avenues that your wish could take."

“‘Your duty.’ I don’t even know what that means.” Brushing her hand off on her jeans – a lot more dust in the carpet than she thought – she stood, and started to pace. "You grant wishes, and you make magical girls. Why?"

"Simple. I face an existential threat, as do you. I can't fight witches, myself, but I can harness the power of wishes to create magical girls, and they can do what I cannot. All life, myself included, benefits from their work. You might think of our relationship as symbiotic."

"Why's it have to be girls? Why aren't there magical women? Magical boys?"

"It doesn't have to be, necessarily," said Kyubey. "But female juveniles have greater magical potential than others of your species. Perhaps because, at this stage in your growth, your desires, aspirations, and capacity for hope reach a peak. The energy behind such emotions fuels your abilities as a magical girl."

Wallflower paused and crossed her arms. "You don't know for sure? You seem to know plenty of other stuff."

"The universe is full of mysteries, Wallflower Blush, and even I don’t know all the answers." Kyubey bowed his head, almost humbly. "I know enough to carry out my duty. No more, and no less."

“There’s that word again. ‘Duty.’” Wallflower caught herself chewing her lip, and stopped before she gave herself her third canker sore of the month. "Duty to who?"

"My work helps preserve the universe's karmic equilibrium – the delicate balance between hope and despair, personified by magical girls and witches. You could think of me as an arbiter of that balance."

"And who made you the 'arbiter of hope and despair?'" said Wallflower, punctuating the question with air-quotes. "God? The universe?"

"If I asked who made you human," Kyubey replied, "would you be able to answer?"

Wallflower smacked her forehead. Talking to an actual cat about this would have been more productive.

"Perhaps I should explain myself differently," said Kyubey. He raised his paw to his mouth and licked it, then swept it across his cheeks and chin. Somehow, he kept talking through the motion. "I preserve a cosmic balance between opposites, for the sake of all life in the universe. My existence is necessary, so I exist."

His choice of words jarred something in Wallflower's memory. Lorelai, with the salt and pepper, drawing two piles into parallel lines... "equal and opposite reactions," she called them.

"This balance you're talking about... you create magical girls to help maintain it, right?"

Kyubey closed his eyes and swept his paw over his ears and... the things coming out of his ears. "That sounds accurate."

Wallflower said, "Where do witches come from?"

Pausing his bath, Kyubey shook his head, whipping his ears and not-ears back and forth. A pair of golden rings hovered around his not-ears, and they jingled with the motion. "If magical girls are born from wishes, then witches are born from curses. They are grief and despair made manifest—"

"I know all of that; Lorelai explained it. But how does it happen?" Wallflower gestured with her hands, her palms vertical and parallel. "You make magical girls. Is there an Evil Kyubey somewhere turning little girls into witches?"

"There is no such entity as you describe," said Kyubey. "And while there are similarities between witches and magical girls, they are not born through the same process."

"So it's, what, spontaneous for witches? A person feels really really bad, and then poof, a witch appears?" Wallflower clapped for emphasis.

"Simplistically put, but accurate," replied Kyubey. "Just as some have more potential as magical girls than others, some humans are especially susceptible to grief and despair. Over time, that energy coalesces, and manifests as a life form. In that sense, it's not wrong to say that humans create witches."

"Humans create witches, but you create magical girls. I'm not sure that adds up." Wallflower ran a hand through her hair, gripping a fistful tightly. "Lorelai said that magical girls and witches were 'equal and opposite' equivalents. She made it sound like there was a direct relationship between them."

The tip of Kyubey's ear flicked. "Did she?"

"Yeah. She did. That's Newton's Third Law, right?" She mentally patted herself on the back for remembering that on the spot. "So, if you create magical girls, and witches are connected to them by that 'karmic balance' you were talking about... do you get an equal number of witches for every magical girl you make?"

"No," said Kyubey. "Every magical girl does not have a witch counterpart. You're correct that they have elements in common, but they are still more different than they are similar. To put it another way, both plants and humans require sunlight, but you would not say they are the same."

"Then how are they equal and opposite? How are they related? How can something be so similar, and so different at the same time?!" She almost yanked a fistful of hair out right then. "You talk like this is all so simple. I make a wish, get magic powers, kick ass and take names, and spread hope... somehow. But half of what you're saying makes no sense, and the half that does has all these... implications!"

She finished with a growl and turned her back on Kyubey, dropping to her knees and pulling, hard, on her hair.

Dammit. Wallflower pressed a hand to her chest. Her heart thudded, her breaths grew faster, more shallow. Not now. Not in front of the bunny-cat.

There came a gentle rap on her door, then, and a muffled voice from the other side. "Wally? Sweetie, is everything okay in there?"

Wallflower stiffened and wiped at her eyes. She wasn't crying; she was just used to the motion.

"Yeah, Mom. Did I wake you?"

"Don't worry about it." Mom's voice was thick with sleep, syrupy. "Are you on the phone with someone?"

"Uh... yeah, with my friend Sunset." Wallflower said it a little too quickly, and wondered if Mom caught the lie. "I'm sorry. I'll quiet down, I promise."

"As long as you're having fun, I don't mind." She heard a rustling on the other side of the door. "The Szechuan Beef is all yours, if you're hungry later."

"Thanks, Mom." Wallflower hesitated, and added, "Love you."

"Love you too, baby." Mom stopped for a long yawn. "Happy eighteenth."

The floorboards creaked as Mom moved away. Wally sighed – she was sure she would've broken down if Mom hadn't distracted her. Her heartbeat slowed, and her breathing evened to normal.

With a deep breath, she straightened her back.

"I don't know much about karma, or magic," said Wallflower, quietly, yet firmly. "And I definitely don't know that much about physics. But I do know that nothing comes without a price. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. I won't accept what you're offering unless I know what I'll lose."

"You've studied the Law of Equivalent Exchange as well, I see," said Kyubey, quietly.

"Sure. Let's let's go with that."

Wallflower heard Kyubey approach her, padding across the carpet. "If I've given you the wrong impression about my duties, or my intentions, then I apologize. I work to preserve life, and everything I do is in service of that goal. I’m not here simply to mislead you."

Kyubey waited for her to say something, or to just turn around. When she didn't, he sighed.

"Perhaps I can’t answer all of your questions to your satisfaction. But I can tell you this much: your city has become a locus for witches in this region. Lorelai will not be here forever, and without a magical girl to stand against them, there will only be more victims." He paused, and pointedly added, "Your friend Moondancer won’t be the last casualty."

Wallflower's heart seized all over again. She stared at Kyubey from over her shoulder, the tears she'd fought back before springing to her eyes at the mention of her friend's name.

Yet Kyubey sat still and expressionless as ever.

"I did say that I'd been watching you for a long time," he said, sensing her confusion. "Didn't I?"

"How long is... 'a long time?'" Wallflower whispered.

"Long enough to know that her passing has affected you. Long enough to know that you'd save others from her fate, if you only had the power – and the will to use it selflessly."

Unlike last time, Wallflower thought. Does he know about the Memory Stone?

Kyubey's aura brightened, casting long shadows across the room. Wallflower shielded her eyes; she wanted to look away, but Kyubey's gaze commanded her attention – held it.

"There are many, many would-be victims in this city who need a champion, and that champion could be you," said Kyubey. "But in taking up that mantle, you would sacrifice your future, like all magical girls before you, and bind yourself to the karmic fate of the universe. You'd accept a duty that cannot be shirked, a burden you can never lay down."

He stared at her, silently, a moment longer, as his aura receded into a soft, gentle glow. Then he turned, and hopped onto the window sill.

"That is the price that you pay for your wish. It's up to you to decide whether that price is worth the reward." Kyubey looked down at her from his perch; his aura faded altogether, and his body with it. "You don't need to know right away, Wallflower. Sleep on it, and we'll meet again tomorrow. Until then, farewell."

Then he was gone, and the room went dark, silent, and empty again.

Wallflower didn't dare to move for a long, long while. It felt like hours before she crawled into bed, not even bothering to change her clothes. Over the covers, she hugged her pillow, and closed her eyes tightly.

In the dark, she saw Moondancer's face. It stayed there until she slipped away into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The cemetery sat in the middle of a vast, level valley, surrounded by blue skies and rolling green hills. A lone tree jutted high overhead, its bare branches casting spindly shadows like skeletal fingers on the plane.

Behind Sunset stood a mixed congregation of mourners, humans and ponies. Most were familiar enough, but only discernible by their colors; no matter how she tried to look at them, she couldn't see their faces.

Among them was Cadance, slumped over tiredly, standing beside Princess Twilight. One hand idly stroked the alicorn's mane. Behind them was a unicorn that might have been Starlight Glimmer, but a veil of black silk suddenly descended from nothing and shrouded "Starlight's" face before Sunset could be sure.

To her left stood Wallflower Blush, who had something cupped between her hands. She smiled down at Sunset, and lowered her hands so she could see what was in them: A mound of dirt, and five pebbles. Opening her hands, she let them fall, her smile shifting into a mischievous grin.

Sunset caught them in a glimmering red aura, and cradled them close. Turning from Wallflower, she trotted toward the lone gravestone in the cemetery. The mourners followed at a distance.

The headstone was a polished pane of glass, a mirror that cast no reflection, overlooking an open grave. Behind the mirror was the face of a pale girl with glasses, smiling uncomfortably, glancing away. Flies swarmed on the mirror's surface, living blemishes upon the girl's face.

Lorelai waited at the edge of the grave, her hands in her coat pockets. She narrowed her eyes as Sunset slowed, and jerked her head toward the grave.

Sunset ignored her, and leaned forward, peered down at the coffin deep below. She looked up, and saw the girl on the headstone looking back, the smile on her face plaintive, pleading.

A hard shove on her hindquarters drove Sunset forward. She shot a glare over her shoulder at Lorelai – now wearing her magical girl garb – before turning back to the grave.

Swallowing, she floated the six pebbles onto the headstone, laying them out in a line. Then she flung the dirt onto the casket, and the hole filled completely. The branches' shadows clawed their way forward; Sunset felt a chill as they fell over her, and stretched past to grip the grave and headstone.

Then the grave burst open in a cloud of dust; the mirror surface of the gravestone shattered, scattering flies and glass in all directions, and Moondancer slumped forward from the vacant frame like a rag doll.

Vines shot from the grave and encircled Sunset’s front hooves; one caught her horn and snapped it at the base. They pulled, pulled hard, and Sunset couldn't move, couldn't so much as twitch her hooves.

A shape grew out of the grave – a head, with mottled green skin. She took it to be Briar Rose, until the dirt and flesh sloughed away from her face, and Sunset Shimmer stared back at herself, grinning wide, teeth flashing, eyes hollow and dead.

The shadows of the branches wrapped around her throat, and squeezed, and squeezed, and squeezed the life from her—

Sunset panicked when she tried to sit and found her limbs refusing to cooperate, but with a mighty effort, she managed to roll onto her stomach, sucking down a deep gasp of air. The pillow was damp and cold on her face, and sticky sweat glued her pajamas to her body.

She patted her forehead to check for a horn, and immediately felt ridiculous for doing so.

Sighing, Sunset groped around on the side table for her phone. Finding it, she tapped its screen, and groaned. Six AM; her alarm wouldn't go off for another hour.

She also had fifteen missed messages. All of them were from Twilight.

Sunset had texted Twilight twice last night, once to warn her about Cadance, and once to give her the all-clear. Since then, Twilight had replied with fifteen increasingly frantic apologies and desperate pleas for an explanation, between four AM, and now.

The most recent message simply read, "Please, talk to me." Received at five-fifty. And if Sunset knew Twilight, she was probably staring at her phone right at that moment, too.

Guess I wasn't the only one who had trouble sleeping.

Sunset thumbed out a quick reply – "It's a long story, I'll tell you at school" – dropped her phone on the mattress, and fell back onto her pillow. The sticky, icky sensation of cold, sweaty fabric made her wince, so she shoved the pillow off the bed. Then, pulling the covers over her head, and feeling more tired than she had when she'd fallen asleep, Sunset shut her eyes.

Her phone buzzed, and the tinny sound of "Dance Magic" filled the bedroom. Groggily, Sunset reached for the phone, and answered without opening her eyes.


"I will literally hyperventilate to death before the first bell unless you tell me what happened last—"

"Fine, fine. Geez." Sunset slapped her face and groaned.

She was not prepared to face the day.

Twilight tried, and failed, to stifle her yawn. Perhaps triggered by hers, or perhaps just because it was 7:55 AM, at least three other students that Sunset could see sympathy-yawned with her.

Smirking at her, Sunset said, "Long night?"

Twilight lifted her glasses off her nose and rubbed her baggy eyes. "Don't get me started."

"I spent my morning telling you about my crazy night instead of showering," said Sunset, sipping from her second energy drink of the morning. "The least you could do is tell me about yours."

"You didn't shower?" Twilight wrinkled her nose. "Is that why you smell like urban decay and BO?"

"Excuse you, I do not have BO," Sunset snapped. But she gave herself a tentative sniff, anyway, and recoiled. "'Urban decay,' though, I'll grant you."

"See? Ugh, it's like you dabbed garbage-water behind your ears when you woke up." Twilight made a gagging sound. "Anyway, to make a long story short, I ran into the Shadowbolts at the vigil, and got drafted into an impromptu wake at Soursweet's house. We were up until four AM playing party games and drinking."

Sunset narrowly avoided choking. "You, drinking?"

"Come on, this is me we're talking about," said Twilight. "It was all virgin daiquiris and Shirley Temples, stuff like that. They're just as square as I am. Arguably moreso.”

"Good." Sunset took another sip, fighting back a yawn of her own. One energy drink hadn't been enough, and she was starting to wonder if this second one would even make a difference. "Because you know my position on underage drinking."

"Uh, 'do as I say, not as I do?'"

"One time, I shoplifted wine coolers from the bodega," Sunset huffed. "And that was before you met me, anyway."

"Which tells you just how infamous the incident was." Twilight giggled. "Incidentally, and speaking of, Soursweet's real name? 'Midori Sour.' But you didn't hear that from me."

"Gosh, it sounds like you had a blast. Wish I could've joined in." Sunset drained the last of her drink, crushed the can, and tossed it under her desk. "But I was too busy getting sucked into hell, assaulted by vine-tacles, and negged by a dumb blonde. Shame you missed out on all my fun."

"I told you, my phone died – that last OS update makes my battery drain twice as fast. I didn't even realize why I wasn't getting notifications until I got home. By the time I'd charged up, you were already asleep." Twilight tapped her fingers together. "I wish I'd been there for you."

Sunset sighed – that came out way angrier than she intended. "Don't feel bad, Twi. I'm not angry, and I never was. It's just, after what happened last night, I..."

A sudden itch sprouted in her palm, a line of prickling needles where she'd gripped the blade she stabbed into Briar Rose's chest. It'd been coming and going all morning – not quite pain, but the feeling that she should have been in pain. It was all she could do to not scratch herself raw.

Which she started doing, compulsively, and had to stop after drawing a confused stare from Twilight. Flushing, Sunset forced herself to yawn – not that hard, under the circumstances – and changed the subject.

"Have you heard from anyone yet? About Cadance?"

"From Shiny, Mom, and Dad. In that order. They're all taking the week off to be with her." Twilight whipped out her phone, scrolled through her messages, and turned the screen towards Sunset.

She'd pulled up a picture of Cadance in a hospital gown, sitting up in bed. Her hands were cupped in the shape of a heart, though a lopsided one, owing to the bandages wrapped around her right. Her face looked as tired as it did last night, but the smile she wore seemed real.

Sunset pressed her thumb against the picture. "She looks a lot better."

"I'll take your word for it. Shiny is beside himself, though. I don't know what he would have done if he'd lost her."

Twilight shut the phone off and looked away, briefly lifting her glasses to rub her eyes.

"Tired, sorry. Not crying. I promise." She replaced the glasses on her nose and looked at Sunset. "So, this Lorelai girl... what she said about magic. What do you make of that?"

Sunset hid a sad smile behind her hand. Twilight was as transparent about changing the subject as her. "I don't quite know yet, honestly. Actually, I wanted to ask you—"

"Happy Monday, everyone!"

Miss Cheerilee's voice rang out louder than the bell as she strolled into the room, a thermos in her hand, and her care-worn copy of the class textbook under her arm. Her face shone with the endless potential of a new day, and all its myriad possibilities.

At least someone liked Mondays.

Miss Cheerilee had a lectern at the front of the room beside her desk, which she often stood behind during readings or discussions. She planted her textbook down, flipped it open, and beamed at her class.

"I know that we normally begin the morning with a quick-write, but since we left our discussion last Friday on something of a cliffhanger, I figure that we should revisit Act II before we tackle the rest of the play. You all remember where we left off, then, don't you?"

A chorus of silence replied.

"I thought not." Miss Cheerilee chuckled. "That's okay. Flip open to 230, the end of Faustus, Act II, and review the last scene. Refamiliarize yourself with your notes as necessary. Take a few minutes to read quietly, then chat with a classmate. We'll come back together at, oh, ten past the hour."

She clapped her hands, and the class broke into pairs and singles. Books cracked and desks scraped against tiling as twenty-five students poured over half-remembered or utterly unread passages.

Sunset, personally, appreciated the reprieve, not that she necessarily needed to study last week's reading. Hell, she could probably write a thesis on Faustus.

...The first two acts, anyway.

Flipping to the start of Act III, she immediately began speed-reading. Maybe she could get far enough in that she could fake it if Miss Cheerilee called on her.

A subtle, throat-clearing cough drew Sunset’s attention to Twilight, who leered at her from the corner of her eye. Her book was open and propped up, and her hand sat on the edge of the desk closest to Sunset.

"I have to read, Twilight," Sunset hissed. "I put it off all weekend, until Sunday, and then I spent Sunday comforting you, Wallflower, and Cadance. In that order. Before getting the life choked out of—"

"Quiet while we're reading, please!" Miss Cheerilee sang, casting a knowing look at Sunset from behind her lectern.

Sunset blushed and wagged her fingers at Miss Cheerilee in an embarrassed wave. Then she looked down at her book again, trying to concentrate.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Twilight's fingernails clicked insistently against the surface of her desk. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Biting her lip, Sunset looked between Twilight and Miss Cheerilee. The teacher's nose was in her book, her thermos at her lips. She glanced up for a moment; their eyes met, and Cheerilee smiled at her.

Sunset returned the expression with a fake, loopy grin, until Miss Cheerilee looked away again.

Then, gripping her desk, she edged her hand over to Twilight's, lacing their fingers together. She rested her cheek in her other hand and pretended to read. Then she breathed, in and out, pushing away her stray thoughts and worries, and clearing her mind.

The geode burned hot against her skin as she touched her mind to Twilight's.

She could never find the words to describe how it felt to join her thoughts to someone else's. It was intimate, and somehow, more personal than simply parsing memories. Each person she communicated with this way had their own unique sensation, too. Wallflower felt like gripping a live wire. Cadance felt cold... at least, with Briar Rose sharing her headspace.

Twilight was the opposite. Twilight felt warm and cozy and comforting, like wrapping up in a blanket and curling up in front of a fire.

"Fancy seeing you here."

Twilight's words echoed in Sunset's mind. Behind her glasses, she narrowed her bloodshot eyes, rested her chin in her hands, and smirked.

Cozy, yet obnoxious. The duality of Twi.

"You're gonna let me get the reading from your memories while we're doing this, right?" Sunset groused.

"And sully my good name?" Twilight heaved the kind of sigh one expected from a long-suffering academic, not a seventeen year old girl. "Academic dishonesty policy might not cover mind-reading powers explicitly, but the spirit of the law applies, if not the letter."

Sunset rolled her eyes. "Bet Princess Twilight isn't this much of a goody-two-shoes."

"You're right. 'Goody-four-shoes' would be more apt." Twilight waggled her eyebrows. "So, you were saying?"

Sunset looked down at her book, feigning reading. "I'm pretty sure whatever Lorelai was using wasn't Equestrian magic. Until last night, I assumed this world had no native magic users. But you studied magic before the Friendship Games. What do you think?"

"I'll remind you, it was before and after. You filled out the dossier I wrote for you, Sunset, you should know this."

"I guess I repressed the memory. My little overachiever." Sunset sucked her teeth. "You're sure you never saw anything indicating there were magic users in this world before Equestrian magic crossed over?"

The smug look on Twilight's face dissolved. She looked down at her phone, tapping and swiping rapidly through her photos.

"Before the games, no. But afterward, I researched various branches of folklore and mythology, to compare our own legends with what you told me, and with what was coming in from Equestria. I wanted to confirm that what's happened here at Canterlot High really is the first time magic's been used in this world. If nothing else, I thought I could find something in our own history to help me understand Equestrian magic better."

"Phone pictures? You can't just beam the memories of them into my head?" Sunset thought, with a worried glance at Cheerilee. "We're trying to be discreet here, Twi."

"I don't remember them precisely, Sunset. Although I appreciate you assuming I have an eidetic memory." The corners of Twilight's lips pulled down. "Unfortunately, all that folklore and mythology turned out to be just that – pure superstition. Nothing remotely helpful, and nothing to prove, or disprove, that magic use is an exclusively Equestrian phenomenon."

Twilight tapped one picture on her camera roll, and turned the phone toward Sunset.

"But, like you, I'm starting to rethink that conclusion."

On the screen was a scan of a woodcut, depicting a young girl in silhouette. Small and slim, in a long dress and pigtails, she held a longsword over her head. Twilight swiped to the next picture: a page of an old manuscript, in some language that Sunset wasn't remotely qualified to read.

She raised an eyebrow at Twilight. "Care to explain what I'm looking at?"

"A tenth century account of the clash between a warrior – a young girl – and a demon plaguing a village in Eastern Europe, on the Feast of Saint Walpurga. The girl was said to perform inhuman feats, and was more skilled with her sword than any of the village men." Twilight hummed, out loud. "Naturally, they condemned her as a witch, and burned her at the stake."

Sunset scoffed. "How heartwarming."

"Yes, literally. But when she wouldn’t burn, the townsfolk took it as a sign that she wasn’t a witch, but an angel. So, they cut her free, and she became an object of... lesser worship, let's say."

Sunset cupped her chin, nibbling on her thumb. "It certainly sounds similar to what I saw last night. At least on the surface."

"The similarities are more than skin-deep." Twilight's fingertip traced a line of text on the phone. "The monk who transcribed the village's account wrote that the demon spread 'malice and grief' through the countryside, and unleashed the 'wicked natures' of men throughout the region. And in addition to having inhuman strength and agility, the girl used 'divine light' to heal a woman who'd slashed her own throat open. I think that's what made the villagers try to burn her, in fact."

"That's gratitude for you. The light, though. Lorelai had some kind of stone that she used to transform, the same way you and I do. Used it to heal me, too. Flashed a big green light."

"Perhaps those stones are a common element to all magical girls, analogous to our geodes," thought Twilight, tapping her chin. "Green light, you said? Maybe she's really Daisy Buchanan."

"That doesn't even make sense. Just because we're in English class doesn't mean you can make literary allusions all willy-nilly." A thought struck Sunset, a gnawing curiosity she couldn't quite explain. "That source doesn't say what happened to the girl, by any chance, does it?"

Twilight shrugged. "Vanished without a trace, not long after they tried to burn her. But there are similar accounts of warriors with abilities like hers, fighting monsters like the one from the story – from a lot of cultures, in a lot of different regions. Not all of them are as wholesome."

Twilight started swiping again, and a string of photos passed Sunset's gaze. A painting of a geisha with a flaming fan in front of her face. A stone relief of a girl in a feather headdress raising a macana over a jaguar. A tile mosaic of a girl in laurels that flowed past her shoulders, like long braids, nocking an arrow at a seven-headed monster.

The album ended on a close-up portrait of a woman's face: upside-down and featureless, except for a pair of red, grinning lips, and a blue harlequin's cap.

"I know I asked what you made of Lorelai, and her magic," Twilight thought, with a stern, serious expression on her face. "But... we're kind of thinking the same thing now, aren't we?"

Sunset let the picture sink in – it was haunting, especially that grin, that awful red grin – before sinking back in her desk.

"You know that I was a unicorn in Equestria. And unicorns are naturally attuned to magic. It's hard to explain what that feels like, exactly, but the best way I can describe it is as this ambient pulse. Like a heartbeat, or a super chill bass line, that you always hear, always feel. But when I first arrived here..."

"...You didn't feel any of that," Twilight supplied. "What about now, though? Do you feel it when you use your geode, or when you pony up?

"I mean, yeah, but it isn't the same. It's distant, somehow. Weaker. Like I'm not connected to it directly. And it's only when I pony up, or use my geode. Otherwise..."

A hint of the itch on her palm returned,. Her discomfort must've shown; Twilight gave her hand a comforting squeeze.

"I thought it was impossible for humans to use to magic without some kind of conduit or totem," Sunset continued. "Like the Memory Stone, or Princess Twilight's crown. And I thought it was only possible to use Equestrian magic, to boot. So, I just assumed that meant nobody ever used magic in this world before she and I came, and I left it at that. Never followed up on it. Never did my homework, like you."

Twilight smiled faintly. "Chronic overachiever. That's me."

"If I had... maybe I would've seen what you saw. Maybe I would've rethought my grand machinations. Then again, maybe I would've doubled down, like an idiot." Sunset scoffed. "I was never as diabolical as I thought I was."

"Yes, I know. Rainbow told me about the doctored photos of Princess Twilight. And the bodega."

"Please, stop bringing up the bodega." Sunset sighed. "So, magic use in this dimension predates Princess Twilight and I by... heaven only knows how long. A couple hundred years, at least, or maybe a couple thousand. I don't know. Don't know how to handle it, either. Do you?"

"Search me. All the information I have on this comes from stuff that I initially dismissed as superstition. As concrete info goes, it's little better than hearsay, which makes this magic an unknown variable." Twilight picked up a pen and idly started clicking it. "We're going to need more information if we want to confront the problem. You'll either have to get it out of Lorelai..."

"...Or we'll have to learn through hands-on research," Sunset finished. The unease that'd been building in her stomach finally tugged into a tightly wound knot of anxiety. "Which should be educational, provided it doesn't kill us."

Twilight turned Sunset's hand over and stroked her thumb along her palm, unknowingly tracing the spot where Briar Rose's blade had cut into her hand.

"Hands-on research is how I found all of you." Her touch was a salve, soft and cool, so unlike the warmth of her presence in Sunset’s mind, yet soothing all the same. "Don't knock it."

A sharp cough made both of them look up.

Miss Cheerilee towered over their desks, her arms folded. The rest of the class, except for those brave enough to nap, had stopped their reading to stare.

"I'm sure I don't need to remind my two most academically decorated students about certain class policies regarding distractions. Such as, for instance..." She looked pointedly at the girls' interlocked hands, and cleared her throat. "Cell phones?"

Faces red, Sunset and Twilight broke their grip; that delicious, comforting warmth vanished immediately from Sunset's consciousness as stifled snickers and whispers filled the classroom.

"Sorry, Miss Cheerilee," said Sunset. "I swear, we were only using our phones to look up... um... primary sources."

"Yeah!" Twilight blurted, navigating her camera roll. She pulled up the manuscript and proudly showed it to Miss Cheerilee. "See? German!”

"Like Faust," Sunset added. She and Twilight beamed at Miss Cheerilee with identically lopsided grins.

"That's Romanian." Miss Cheerilee raised an eyebrow. "And Christopher Marlowe was English."

Their grins shattered, and Sunset looked, downcast, at her desk. "Yeah, but Dr. Faustus wasn't."

"He wasn't Romanian, either," Twilight whispered.

Wallflower Blush squinted at the jasmine plant. With careful precision, she snipped six inches down the stem, and carried her cutting across her garden to the planter full of damp sand she'd prepared. The telltale sounds and smells of CHS lunchtime drifted into the garden: fried food and laughter, and the occasional unintelligible shout.

It wasn't her garden, of course, not really. Legally, it was school property, and thus, city property. But people visited so seldomly that she'd grown to think of it as hers – her garden, her plants, her own sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of high school life, as safe and secure as her own bedroom. Moreso, maybe; she wasn't allowed to keep plants in her room.

Today, Wallflower wasn't alone. The creature calling itself Kyubey had smuggled himself into school, via her backpack – not that he needed to be sneaky, since nobody else could see or communicate with him. For all intents and purposes, he was invisible, which Wallflower found pretty relatable.

Must've just been a cat thing.

Right now, he sat beside the planter, nibbling at the petals of a low-hanging flower. A handful of other plants in the immediate area showed signs of being noshed: holes chewed out of leaves and petals, and little teeth marks dotting the stems of larger plants.

Kneeling beside the planter, Wallflower scowled at him. "I really wish you'd stop eating all my flowers."

Kyubey pulled away from the plant he was sampling, and turned an unblinking red gaze on Wallflower.

Wallflower’s heart went cold. "It's just a figure of speech, okay?"

"Of course. I understood intuitively that you didn't intend to waste your wish on something so trivial." Kyubey flicked his tail. "Although the possibility that you were serious did occur to me."

"Sad thing is, I can't even tell if you're pranking me right now," Wallflower muttered as she prepared the cutting for the planter.

"I don't possess what you humans refer to as a 'sense of humor,' and 'pranking' is an entirely foreign concept to me. So, to avoid misunderstandings, you should consider your phrasing more carefully in the future."

"Yeah, yeah, message received. It's straight talk only from here on out."

Kyubey watched her work silently, with what seemed like interest. It was hard to say. He didn't take his eyes off of her, or even blink, and she didn't know how to read his expression. She'd gotten used to the staring, at least; it was still creepy, but it didn't creep her out as much as it had last night. Maybe because he wasn't glowing right now.

His ears twitched, with a strange, rubbery squeak, and he twisted his body halfway around to look down the path leading into the garden. "We have a visitor."

Wallflower frowned, half-disbelieving. She'd gotten so used to the isolation in the garden that she forgot other people occasionally liked to visit. But when she stopped to listen, she heard feet crunching in the grass, sending a spike of worry through her. Hoping it was Sunset, she rose, dusted off her hands on her jeans, and laced them together.

The sight of her visitor, when she finally appeared, didn't put her at ease – though it did make her tummy flutter. It was Lorelai, wrapped tight in her trench coat. She stopped at the garden's entrance when she noticed Kyubey, her jaw clenching visibly.

"This is certainly a surprise," said Kyubey. "Have you come to discuss the contract with Wallflower Blush?"

Lorelai stuck her hands in her pockets and glared at Kyubey. "Scram," she growled through her teeth.

If Kyubey noticed the venom in her voice, his lazy demeanor didn’t betray it. He gave a languorous, very feline stretch, and bounded down the garden path, pausing beside the magical girl.

"I trust that you'll advise her appropriately on this matter, Lorelai."

Then, with a quick bow to Wallflower, Kyubey hopped away. Lorelai didn't take her eyes off of him until he was well and truly out of sight, her gaze sharp enough to cut solid rock.

"You don't much care for Kyubey," said Wallflower. "Do you?"

"Let's just say his charm wears off after a while." Lorelai finally broke her line of sight with Kyubey, and looked around the garden. "Nice place you got here."

Wallflower nodded in thanks. "How did you find me? I mean, here? I mean, how did you find me here—?"

"'Canterlot High wouldn't be half as pretty and peaceful without you.' The lady's words, right? You mentioned a garden club, too." Lorelai shrugged. "More than enough info to track you down."

"Ah. I, uh..." Wallflower chuckled nervously, taking a fistful of hair. "Didn't realize you were listening that closely."

Lorelai didn't reply immediately. She stared, silently and intensely, at Wallflower – almost as intensely as Kyubey had.

"He’s made you an offer,” she said. "You gonna take it?"

The question caught Wallflower off guard, though she supposed she should have seen it coming. "I... I don't know just yet. Can I trust him? What he's telling me about witches, and magical girls?"

Another long moment of silence passed before Lorelai answered. "Nothing he's saying is wrong. If that helps."

It did... a little. "Do you think I should do it?"

"What I think shouldn't matter." Lorelai stepped closer, glancing briefly at the planter and the fresh cutting. "I'm not here to give you advice about what you should, or shouldn't do. I don't really care one way or the other, to be blunt."

The comment stung Wallflower. "Then why are you here?"

"Because I wasn't entirely honest last night about what I’m doing in your city." A breeze whispered through the grass, ruffling Lorelai's blonde ringlets. "I've been tracking a witch for a long time now. A powerful witch – one that makes Briar Rose look like a Chia pet. Followed it from one end of the country to the other, but I've never been able to put it down for good."

"And now you've followed it here... is that what you're saying?" Wallflower's arms wrapped around her midsection. "Is it behind all the suicides? Moondancer, and everyone else?"

"Dunno. Could've been – or it could've been something else. I don't think it's shown up yet, for what that's worth. But when it does, it'll be my job to take it out before it starts to feed. Or – worse – before it wises up, and starts hunting me."

Lorelai pulled her hands out of her pockets to straighten her coat.

"Now, currently, I'm the only magical girl in town, so it's my fight by default – nobody else's. But if you accept Kyubey's contract, and make that wish? It’ll be your problem, too."

Wallflower swallowed, hard. "Are you saying I... shouldn't do it?"

"Didn't you listen?" Lorelai said curtly. "I don't care if you do or you don't. This is professional courtesy, nothing more. You deserve to know what you'd be getting into."

Lorelai turned, and started back down the path out of the garden.

A thought burbled to the surface of Wallflower's mind. Mustering her courage, she blurted, "Couldn't we work together?"

Lorelai stopped in her tracks, and regarded Wallflower coldly over her shoulder.

"If I took the contract, I mean." Wallflower shrank back. "'Cuz, like, I'd need someone to show me the ropes, y'know? And the more of us there are, the easier it'd be to take down this mega-witch. So... couldn't we work together?"

"I don't do sidekicks, kid, and I don't have time to babysit you either," said Lorelai. "You taking that contract wouldn't make us friends. It'd make us competitors."

Her words were frosty, matching the frigid look in her eye. Whatever courage made Wallflower speak up shriveled instantly.

Something in Lorelai's gaze seemed to thaw, but she just scoffed and turned away again. "Make your choice, and live without regrets. That's all you can do. And if you don't take Kyubey's offer? Make sure your little friend stays well away from this fight."

Then she left, and Wallflower was alone again, with only the wind and her plants for company, as the rest of the school enjoyed their lunch break together.

The rest of the school day passed at a crawl for Sunset Shimmer, and the lack of sleep didn’t help. By the time classes let out, all she wanted was to get home, flop down in bed, and pass out for fourteen hours.

But that would mean breaking her word to Wallflower, and the girl deserved better than that. So she bit the bullet, guzzled another energy drink, checked the Internet to find out just how badly she was harming her metabolism by downing so many in the same day – not as badly as she worried – and met up with Wallflower in the courtyard after class.

Moondancer's home was closer to CHS than it was to Crystal Prep, and well within walking distance, according to the address in Sunset's map app. Wallflower asked her to navigate, since her hands were occupied by the planter she carried.

Wallflower seemed a little on edge, too. Occasionally, she'd glance quickly to the side, or roll her shoulder, like she had a loose thread on her sweater, or a bug tickling her that she couldn't swat.

She tried to get Wallflower to open up about her nerves, but her attempts went nowhere. Sunset quit trying after a while – if Wallflower wanted to open up, it'd have to be on her own terms.

Eventually, Wallflower proved her right.

"I have a question for you, Sunset. Kind of a stupid, random one."

"Hey, there are no stupid questions," said Sunset. "I should know; I'm a scientist. Got a lab coat, and everything."

"I'm not sure that follows, but as long as it makes you happy." Wallflower took a breath. "Let's say you had one wish. You could wish for anything – anything that you wanted in the world. What would it be?"

Sunset raised an eyebrow. "You weren't kidding. That is pretty random."

"It's just something I've been thinking about lately, that's all," said Wallflower quickly. "You don't really have to—"

"No no, I don't mind." Sunset pursed her lips, contemplating silently. "Can I wish for unlimited wishes, or is that off the table?"

Wallflower started to respond, but paused with her mouth hanging open. Frowning, she shot a look over her shoulder, then turned back at Sunset, shaking her head.

"You can't blame a girl for asking," Sunset chuckled. "Is anything else off limits, or can it really be anything I want?"

"Um, I guess you... can't bring back the dead?" said Wallflower. "Other than that, anything's fair game."

Odd exception, Sunset thought. But she didn't want to challenge Wallflower, so she kept her criticism to herself, and wracked her brain for a good answer.

Materially speaking, she felt pretty satisfied. She had a cozy life, a comfy home, a job that was... passable. Before, she only wanted power, for power's sake, but that stopped being part of her identity when Twilight and her friends came into her life.

Now, she had everything that she really needed. Friends who loved her, and a place in the world. What else could she ask for?

She felt a weight settle in her stomach as the obvious answer came upon her.

"...I suppose there's only one thing I'd want," said Sunset. She cast her gaze down at the ground, watching her feet move against the sidewalk. "To fix all the grief I caused people, back when I was bad. Take it all back. Or, better yet, change things so that none of it ever happened."

"That's really what you'd wish for?" A hint of skepticism skewed Wallflower's voice.

Sunset laughed. "Is that dumb?"

"Not at all. It's really sweet, I think. Very you." Wallflower shrugged. "I just didn't realize you felt that way. Maybe I could have—"

"Things turned out the way they did for a reason. I'm okay with it, I promise. So don't do that to yourself." Sunset nudged Wallflower with her elbow. "What would you wish for? I told you mine; it's only fair."

Wallflower shifted the planter and freed her hand enough to rub the spot where Sunset's elbow tapped her. "I dunno, exactly. You know my track record with fantastical magical miracle powers better than anyone. I'm really not sure I could be trusted in a wish-for-anything situation. Even if I wasn't gonna use it to hurt someone else, I don't think I could ever be as selfless as you."

Sunset smiled broadly. "Wallflower, come on. That was forever ago. Or... uh... a while ago, at least."

Wallflower gave her a flat, pouty look.

"Okay, maybe that wasn't the most convincing way I could've phrased that," Sunset chuckled, rubbing her head sheepishly. "I'll put it to you this way: If you could do it all over again, would you do things the same way as before?”

Immediately, and vigorously, Wallflower shook her head, flinging her hair wildly around.

"And why not?" Sunset pressed.

"Because, it... would be wrong? Like, duh?" Wallflower frowned. "Then again, right and wrong didn't stop me before, did it?"

"But it'd stop you now. Because something in you is different from before." Sunset laced her fingers together behind her head. "I have more than a little experience in this arena. Trust me – you don't have it in you to hurt anyone anymore."

"Are you sure I can trust your opinion? I mean..." Wallflower eyed Sunset quickly, head to toe. "You're not even wearing your lab coat."

"A true scientist wears her lab coat in her heart, Wallflower."

She got a giggle from Wallflower. But the girl followed with a sigh. "It's not just a matter of wanting to hurt people, versus wanting to help them. Truth is, I'm not sure I trust myself to wish for something that'd actually be helpful to anyone but me."

"I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to do something to help yourself, though."

"Anything I want, and I use it for my own gain? C'mon, you can see how bad that is," said Wallflower bitterly. "As far as I'm concerned, having a wish like that and not using it to help other people is just as bad as using it to hurt someone."

Sunset narrowed her eyes. "This is all still hypothetical, right?"

Because it was getting oddly deep for a game of what-ifs.

"I... yeah, of course it is," Wallflower stammered. "I'd tell you if something was up. I promise."

"...Hm." Sunset chewed on that for a moment. Then she bounded ahead, in front of Wallflower, and turned to face her. She backpedaled as she spoke, maintaining their pace.

"If you have the means to help other people," said Sunset, "then there's nothing wrong with helping yourself, while you're at it. And if helping yourself means that you can help other people, too, then so much the better. Right?"

"I guess?" Wallflower shrugged. "But that still seems wrong to me. Selfish."

Sunset sighed. She stopped moving, and held out her arms to stop Wallflower before they collided.

"You'd want to put other people's needs ahead of your own. But what you want – what you need – matters just as much." She gripped Wallflower's shoulders, squeezing gently. "It's okay to help yourself before you help someone else. Friendship is magic, and all that, but you gotta be a friend to yourself, too."

Wallflower looked away, shrugging limply.

Bowing her head, Sunset released a small sigh, sympathy tinged with exasperation. She was smiling when she looked back up.

"I'll tell you what," she said. "If you wind up with a wish like that before the end of the day, and you still can't decide what to do with it, just use it on me. You could, say, give me an encyclopedic knowledge of the works of Christopher Marlowe."

"Oddly specific," Wallflower muttered. With her head still turned away, she flicked her gaze toward Sunset. "You reading that in Cheerilee's?"

"Well, the rest of the class is, at least."

A smirk tugged at Wallflower's lips. Straightening, she tossed her neck back to clear her bangs out of her face. "Okay. Fine. The contract is sealed."

Then she broke into a fit of snorty giggles.

Sunset joined her in relief – relief that this wounded girl could still laugh.

Moondancer's mother greeted them at the door. Her exhaustion showed in the lines on her face; she was plainly still grieving, yet she still invited them inside her darkened home, and accepted Sunset's condolences warmly.

Wallflower's present brought a tired smile to her face, and tears sprang into her eyes when she unwrapped the plastic covering from the planter. "Jasmine."

"It's from my garden. Uh, the garden. At Canterlot High. The one that I keep. For the gardening club." Wallflower cringed, and took a sharp breath. "Moondancer said you liked plants, too, and I thought, um, it would be a good gift."

"Because it's my name?" Moondancer's mother said wryly.

"I, um, didn't actually know that," Wallflower mumbled, wringing her hands. "I meant because it's a flower that blooms—"

"In moonlight, yes," the older woman finished. She led the girls into the sitting room, stroking the planter as she walked. "My husband wanted to name my daughter Jasmine. And her older sister, too, before her. Like me, and my mother. I talked him out of it both times. Two generations of Jasmines was enough; I wanted something unique."

There was a coffee table in the middle of the sitting room. Jasmine set the planter down and cupped her hand around its rim, kneeling.

"It's good to have people in the house again," she said. "People to talk to, I mean. I haven't had a lot of company since..."

She trailed off.

Wanting to spare Wallflower the burden of breaking the silence, Sunset spoke up. "It must be lonely without her around to talk to."

"Not much has changed on that front, actually," said Jasmine. "My first daughter moved across the country after my husband passed. After that, Moondancer and I hardly ever saw one another. She mostly stayed in her room, chatting, or reading, or pacing around – I swear, I heard her upstairs, just the other night. I always left her to her own devices."

She let out a sad, bitter laugh.

"I should have reached out."

"You did, though," said Wallflower. Her voice was timid, fragile, and threatened to break. "She knew, and she... she wished that you could've been closer, too. Just, after her dad, and with Morning Roast so far away... it was hard."

"It was hard for me, too," Jasmine whispered back. "We should've been there for each other. All three of us."

Jasmine stayed by the plant for another long moment, before rising. She wiped her face on her wrist, and took a deep breath.

"I have a... a curious request for you both. Tell me if it's too strange, and I'll understand." Jasmine turned to regard Sunset and Wallflower. "My daughter's room... nobody's been in since the day she passed, not even me. It's like a time capsule, you see, of her final days. Somebody needs to open it up."

She smiled wanly.

"You were her friend, Wallflower. It ought to be you."

Wallflower waited so long to respond that Sunset expected her to decline. But, finally, she gave a short, jerky nod.

Jasmine led the girls to the stairs, where portraits were hung along the wall. Sunset regarded them as they climbed. A photograph of a baby Moondancer, unrecognizable except for her prominent, if wispy, eyebrows. A family portrait of Moondancer and her mother, and a school-aged girl with freckles and braces. A solo photo of the same older girl, in a Crystal Prep uniform.

And beside that, a younger Moondancer in the same uniform. She wore a barrette in her hair, a shy smile on her face, and a pair of glasses over her eyes – eyes that looked directly at the camera.

Jasmine noticed Sunset admiring Moondancer's portrait, and chuckled. "I really wish they'd used that one for the memorial."

They stopped at a closed door down the second floor hallway, a door painted with a crescent moon in flaking, purple paint.

"Her father did that when she was a baby," said Jasmine, eying the crescent moon. "The older she got, the more she hated it – said it made her room look like an outhouse."

"She didn't hate it," said Wallflower. "She thought it was hilarious."

"No one did understand her sense of humor. Except you, I suppose." Jasmine shook her head. "My daughter never had anyone over at the house, much less in her room. She had no friends at school, and her classmates – she used to say that if she had one wish, it'd be for all the people who ignored her at school to show up at her funeral."

"Well, a candlelight vigil isn't quite a funeral," said Sunset, noticing Wallflower's fidget from the cornet of her eye. "But... same spirit, I suppose."

"Yes. I was thinking that, myself, just last night." Jasmine traced the faded moon with her fingertips. "Losing one's child is a sort of pain that nobody should ever have to face – and I hope neither of you ever experience it. But seeing all those candles last night, all those people remembering my daughter... and seeing you two here, now, knowing that Moondancer was noticed, and loved, after all... it helps."

She gave the crescent moon one final, tender stroke with her fingertips, and let her hand slip away, back to her side. "I'll go find a spot in the greenhouse for the flower. The two of you, take all the time that you need – I'll meet you downstairs when you're finished."

"Yeah, of course," said Sunset. "Thank you for inviting us."

"And for sharing this with us," Wallflower added. "It means a lot. To me."

Jasmine smiled at them again, tiredly, but genuinely. "And it means more to me than you know that you came."

She descended the stairs, leaving Sunset and Wallflower alone.

Wallflower took the doorknob in hand. She held it loosely, with fingers that trembled at first. Then she gripped, turned, and pushed the door open, in a burst of vehement energy.

She didn't enter the room, though – didn't even peek.

"You first," she said.

Part of Sunset wanted to refuse. Something about setting foot in a dead person's bedroom, especially so soon after they passed, felt intrusive, improper. But if Wallflower needed this, then the last thing Sunset wanted to do was let her down.

She nudged past Wallflower, and into Moondancer's room.

The first thing that struck her was how fresh the air smelled. Jasmine said that nobody had been inside Moondancer's room since the day she died, and Sunset had expected it to be stifling and stale. The window was open, and the curtains – velvety bolts of purple – fluttered with the gentle breeze coming in from outside. It must've been airing out all weekend.

The next thing that struck Sunset was how well-kept everything was. Moondancer's room was spartan: dresser, shelf, desk, bed, and little in the way of decoration. Only her choice in color scheme afforded the room a sense of personality. Everything was shades of purple, not just the curtains, but the walls, the carpet, the bedding, even the furniture.

Being in the middle of that barren room, and seeing that starkness for herself, felt eerie. This room really was a time capsule of Moondancer' last days: cold, sterile, and empty.

All the better for something like Briar Rose to fill with grief.

The carpet crunched softly as Wallflower edged into the room behind Sunset. She looked around pensively, her eyes lingering on the open window behind the computer desk.

"What's on your mind?" said Sunset.

"It's so neat in here – so tidy." She crossed toward Moondancer's desk, where a laptop lay, folded up. "Me and Moondancer video chatted a couple of times, and the room behind her was always a little messy. Socks on the floor, clothes hanging out of the dresser – stuff like that."

Sunset looked down at her feet – there were tracks from a vacuum cleaner in the carpet. "The last thing she did before she died was... clean her room?"

"That's more common than you'd think with suicides," Wallflower said. She stepped away front the desk, toward the bed. There was a pair of shoes by the bedframe, and something folded up on the duvet, a plaid pattern whose purple tones blended so well with the bedding that Sunset had overlooked it. A Crystal Prep uniform: shirt, vest, and skirt.

"I know that it's common," Sunset said, nibbling on the end of her thumbnail. "It's just... if she stopped to clean up, put things in order, doesn't that suggest that what she did was premeditated?"

Wallflower looked at her quizzically. "I guess, but... suicides usually are, y'know?"

"Cadance's wasn't. She didn't know why she tried to kill herself, remember? It was like she was acting on impulse – and that impulse came from Briar Rose. I don't think that's how it worked with Moondancer." She looked at the Crystal Prep uniform, a cold, creepy feeling crawling down her back. "Did you hear anything about her leaving a note?"

Wallflower didn't answer right away – she was staring at the corner of Moondancer's bed, as if in a trance.

Sunset snapped her fingers, twice. "You with me?"

Blinking, Wallflower shook her head. "Uh, it— there's nothing saying that witches couldn't work that way, too, right? I mean, if they eat pain and suffering, then... feeding into it and drawing out the process... gets them their meal over a longer period of time. And bigger returns, too. Y'know?"

"I... yeah, you got a point." Sunset folded her arms – Wallflower's speech was slow and halting, like she was choosing her words carefully. "That was pretty astute."

Wallflower gave an exaggerated shrug, and turned to sit on the bed. She folded her hands on her lap, her fingers playing against one another nervously.

"It’s not so weird that she didn't leave a note, either," she added. "Statistically, most people don't."

"I know that, too," Sunset said quietly. She sat beside Wallflower – sitting on a dead girl's bed felt wrong, just like being in her room at all, but comforting Wallflower took priority. "Do you need to talk anything out, Wallflower? Being in here can't be easy for you."

"No. Yes. Maybe?" Wallflower looked around, sniffling. "I can't stop thinking about all the times I talked to her – all those late-night chats and conversations. Her lying back on this bed while we told each other about what we were going through at home, swapped stories..."

She raised her hands and let them fall back on her thighs, in a helpless, dismissive gesture.

"Everything she went through, I went through, too," Wallflower added. "Not one hundred percent the same way, but close to it. I see her room like this, and I think..."

Her hand reached out for the folded skirt beside her on the bed. Fingertips brushed gently over the fabric.

"There, but for the grace of God, goes Wallflower Blush."

Sunset's eyes widened in comprehension. "You think it could've been you that the witch went after, instead of Moondancer."

"Yeah. Or it could have gone after us both – we both would've been buffets to a monster that eats sadness. No rule saying it had to stop at one. So why didn't it?"

"Luck, I guess. Or maybe it just overlooked you."

"Maybe. Or maybe it was something else." Wallflower smoothed out her jeans and rose, stepping slowly to the center of the room. "Things got better for me, after a while, in a way they didn't for her. Maybe that made all the difference. If I'd never found that thing... never used it, never made up with you... would they be burying me and Moondancer together?"

Sunset stood and moved behind Wallflower. "I know you feel guilty about her death—"

"That's just it – I don't feel guilty anymore. It's the witch's fault she's dead, not mine. I know that now." Wallflower shrugged Sunset's hand off and turned to face her. "But there are a lot of girls out there, just like Moondancer, and just like me, who won't be safe as long as those witches are around."

Sunset tilted Wallflower's chin up to look her in the eye. "And as long as I'm breathing, I'll do everything I can to protect them."

"I believe you. I just wish that I could protect them, too." Wallflower hugged herself and pulled back from Sunset, casting a glance out the window. "Do you, um... do you think I could have a minute to myself in here?"

"Sure. Of course." Sunset stepped around her, heading for the door. "I'll be downstairs – you take all the time that you need."

She’d made it halfway down the hall when Wallflower's voice called her back. "Sunset?"

Sunset turned – Wallflower's head stuck out of the doorframe.

"What Moondancer's mom said, about people remembering..." Wallflower bit her lip. "If it was me, do you think they'd remember me the same way?"

Sunset's hand went to the geode around her neck; it felt cool, and hard, in her grasp.

"I know I would."

Wallflower stayed in the doorway long after Sunset had left. She didn't need to turn around to know Kyubey was staring at her; he hadn't taken his eyes off her once. Even now, she could feel his gaze, like a pair of red-hot coals burning her to the bone.

"You've made up your mind," he said.

"Yeah. I have." She looked at Kyubey. "But not here. I don't wanna do it here."

"Nor do I." Kyubey's tail curled around the front of his paws, its tip twitching. "It's best we wait until we're certain we’re alone."

Wallflower nodded, and stared out the opened window. A breeze ruffled the curtains. They swayed, like hands, waving to her, beckoning her.

Author's Note:

Special fangz (geddit?) to DannyJ and Dubs Rewatcher for editing, and an extra special fang to Morning Sun, who helped me craft Kyubey's dialogue.