• Published 9th May 2020
  • 1,397 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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4. O Brave New World

Dearest Sunset Shimmer,

I don't know how to begin this correspondence, exactly. I suppose the best way is with my deepest and most sincere condolences.

I've always found the interconnected nature of our realities surreal. The fact that there are mirror versions of my closest friends in the world – so alike, yet so different from the girls I've known all these years – throws me for a loop to this day. I'll be thinking about how Rainbow Dash loves pineapple on pizza, and I'll have to stop and ask myself which Rainbow Dash I'm thinking of. Maybe both?

But this is the first time I've heard of a friend's counterpart passing away. I don't know how close your Twilight was with Moondancer, but please, tell her how sorry I am for her loss.

As for your question... unfortunately, I don't have any kind of specific answer for you, besides "no." But I've thought about it for some time, and I do have a theory.

We both know that the human world operates under a set of natural and physical laws which are either identical to ours, or so close that the differences are immaterial. Either way, we know that magic exists, even if it can't be observed, much less harnessed.

The difference between our worlds, though, is that humans have no physiological mechanism for using magic. It may as well not be there at all, for what good it does them.

At least, that’s what we thought — until you encountered one of these so-called ‘magical girls.’

It’s possible, I suppose, that some small percentage of humans throughout history have been born with the ability to use magic, and that they’re a completely natural phenomena.

But if that were true, why would there be no concrete, researched evidence of their existence? Why wouldn’t they be a known factor?

Something must have happened to these girls that lets them access magic – some artificial process, some act of outside intervention – where others of their species cannot. Something that specifically encourages them to hide their powers.

If they're not natural, then that raises the question of whether or not these witches are natural.

Which then begs the same question: if neither exists naturally, then where do they come from?

I suspect there's something we're both missing here that would bring all of this into focus. As much as I'd love to help you all discover that missing link, my duties to Equestria take precedence over everything else. I'm afraid there isn't much I can do besides cheer you on.

All I ask is that you be cautious going forward. It isn't that I don't have faith in you, or the girls, but, well... I don't know. Maybe hearing about Moondancer just has me thinking about what it'd be if I lost someone I was close to.

I'm supposed to visit Canterlot this weekend; I should look up the Moondancer who lives there while I'm in town. I know it's silly, but I kind of want to reassure myself that she's still there.

Give my love to the girls.

Your faithful friend,
Princess Twilight Sparkle

"And that's all she wrote," said Sunset, shutting the journal and setting it down on the table.

She ran her hand down the front cover, tracing her fingertips along the edges of the glossy, embossed sigil on its front. She counted each point of Twilight's star, and each ray of her own sun. It was a little ritual she'd started not long after getting the replacement journal – something she did after every message sent, and every message read.

Sunset liked to think that, back home, Princess Twilight did the same.

The diner was uncharacteristically quiet for a Tuesday afternoon – ironically, quieter than on Sunday, when she’d visited with Wallflower and Lorelai, and it wasn't anywhere near as full. It was a shame Wallflower Blush couldn't join them. She would've enjoyed the more subdued atmosphere. Sunset wanted to invite her, but she'd missed school that day, and hadn't responded to any messages since last night.

Probably just processing what had happened, Sunset figured. The last few days had been rough, and the visit to Moondancer's house took a lot out of her.

The girls who were present – Fluttershy, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Twilight – each reacted in their own way.

Twilight – the human Twilight – stared out the window the whole time, her melancholy expression reflected in the glass. Fluttershy, across the table, had her hands at her mouth, gripping a napkin with which she occasionally dabbed her eyes. Applejack kept a hard, stoic gaze, her elbows braced on the table. Rainbow Dash had the tip of a straw in her mouth, its other end at the bottom of a cookies and cream milkshake.

Fluttershy was the first to speak, after wadding up her napkin, and daintily setting it on the table.

"I told you she'd mention us."

"Yeah, yeah," Rainbow grumbled. She pulled a fistful of crumpled bills from her pocket, and deposited them in front of Fluttershy, then chomped on the straw with a pronounced harrumph.

Sunset's jaw dropped. "You bet money on whether or not Princess Twilight would talk about you?"

"Seemed like a safe bet," muttered Rainbow Dash. "Not like she ever comes to visit anymore."

"Missin' the point like a broken pencil, sugarcube." Applejack narrowed her eyes at Fluttershy. "Y'know, that one, I expect this sort'a thing from – no offense, Rainbow."

"None taken."

"But you? Usin' Princess Twilight for a bet?"

"It wasn't much of a bet. I have faith in Princess Twilight, and I value her friendship." Fluttershy picked up Rainbow's money, trying to unwrap and smooth it out on the table. "If Rainbow wants to donate to Angel's new enclosure fund, I'm not going to stop her."

"Ah," said Sunset. "You meant that you value her friendship in a literal sense."

Fluttershy giggled and took a drink from the glass of water in front of her. "I know you were writing Princess Twilight about this magical girl situation. But if it's not too personal, what did you ask her, exactly?"

"Nothing personal at all – essentially, the same thing I asked this one here," said Sunset, elbowing the girl on her right. "Basically, if she’d ever seen evidence of magical girls or witches in this world. Present company excepted, I mean."

"I always kinda assumed magic was just somethin' that you and Twilight brought over yourselves," said Applejack. "Not like we ever saw anythin' magical before you two gals waltzed through the statue."

"If you're referring to Equestrian magic, that's been around way longer than Princess Twilight and I." Sunset steepled her fingers. "We know that Starswirl the Bearded banished the Sirens here over a thousand years ago. And he, and other Equestrian mages, used to dump waste energy from magic spells or experiments into this reality, too."

"What, you mean like nuclear runoff?" said Applejack. "Y'all bury it here, and the radiation does wacky shenanigans? Mutates things, or possesses 'em, stuff like that?"

"Ooh!" Rainbow Dash pointed her straw at Sunset, ignoring the drip of milkshake from its tip onto the table. "Like Godzilla! Right?"

Sunset blinked. "I... yeah? A little simple, but yeah. That’s pretty astute, Rainbow Dash. I didn't know you were a fan."

"We used to binge kaiju films together in middle school," said Fluttershy. She mopped up the spillage from the straw, and dabbed its tip. "Rainbow loves Gamera."

Then she picked up her spoon and dipped it into the milkshake, scooping out a fat gob of cream.

"Cleaning fee," she explained, sliding the spoon into her mouth.

Rainbow replied with a scowl. "Thanks for the help, Fluttershy. Hope you get brain freeze."

Fluttershy dipped her spoon back into the shake and pulled out a chunk of cookie. "Plus tax." Then she chomped on it, and beamed at Rainbow.

Watching them, Sunset couldn't help smirking. "Still, it's not that Equestria gave this place magic. It's always been here – there just hasn't been anybody capable of using it until recently. Even then, the only magic we've ever tapped into is Equestrian. Native magic users – people capable of harnessing this world's native magic, the same way ponies back home do – always seemed impossible to me."

"'Til you ran into that Lorelai girl," said Applejack. "Sure she ain't just using Equestrian magic?"

"I'd stake my life on it. And anyway..." Sunset looked at Twilight. "Actually, do you want to take this one?"

Twilight didn't respond.

Frowning, Sunset elbowed her. "Earth to Twilight. You following along?"

Without looking, or even reacting to Sunset's elbow, Twilight adjusted her glasses and answered. "There are accounts of girls with abilities and stories matching Lorelai's that date back centuries. Some are much, much older. Sunset and I did the math, and the oldest ones we could find predate Starswirl the Bearded."

Sunset spread her arms and looked at Applejack. "There you have it."

Rainbow took a long drink from her shake before pulling away and peering at Twilight. "You okay, egghead? You seem a little distracted right now. Like you're not all the way here, y'know?"

"I'm paying attention," said Twilight, with a touch of defensiveness creeping into her tone. "I answered the question, didn't I?"

Rainbow held up her hands in surrender and returned to her milkshake.

A twinge of concern pinched Sunset – Twilight's mood had been sour since the journal came out of Sunset's backpack, and it hadn't been so long since Moondancer's passing.

She almost reached for Twilight’s hand to peek inside that eggy head of hers, but the bell at the restaurant's door chimed first, drawing her attention. In stormed Rarity, striding toward their booth with great, sweeping steps, her stilettos click-clacking against the tile.

"Sunset, darling, could I trouble you to scooch in a bit?" Rarity plopped down without waiting for a response, forcing Sunset to hastily squish herself against Twilight. "Much obliged, thank you."

"Thought you had work 'til eight, Rares," said Applejack, folding her arms. "Somethin' happen?"

"Yes and no, Applejack. Really, it comes down to a mistake on my part. When I shared my schedule, I assumed I was gainfully employed, when, as it turns out, I was actually fired this morning!" She let out a shrieking laugh. "Isn't that hysterical?"

"Um... in an ironic way, you mean?" said Fluttershy. "Because if you were laid off, that wouldn't be funny at all. Just sad. Very, very sad."

"Yes, Fluttershy. It is very, very sad." Rarity cleared her throat. "Pinkie Pie?"

Despite Pinkie not being in the dining room, and despite Rarity not raising her voice to call her, Pinkie appeared promptly, a towel draped over her arm. "Madame?"

"Could I put in for a grief special?"

Pinkie sucked a breath through her teeth. "What're we talkin' here – category nine, ten?"

"Make it a twelve. It's one of those days, I'm afraid."

Pinkie whistled, awed. "Chocolate fudge cookie dough milkshake, with double whipped cream? Must've been a doozie. I'll see what I can do, but heads up – the kitchen staff’s been moving awfully slow today. I had to make Rainbow's shake myself, y'know."

"And a damn good job you did of it, too," Rainbow crowed. "Kept the hair out of it, and everything."

"I am the only employee at this diner who's never gotten their hair in someone's food; I don't know why people are always singling me out," Pinkie grumped. "Anyway. I'll go talk to Greasy Spoon, and see if he can't pick up the pace. Hope he doesn't take it personally – he's so sensitive about his cooking."

Watching her go, Applejack's lips curled into a grimace. "Y'think what she said about the hair's true? Because I'm startin' to reconsider orderin' nachos."

"They'll never finish making 'em, anyway," Rainbow scoffed. "Service here is never good, but it's like, extra bad today. Why do we keep coming here?"

"We're putting Pinkie Pie through college," Fluttershy whispered.

"And holdin' it over her head, right. Thanks." Rainbow glanced at the still-pouting Rarity, sighed, and slid her half-finished milkshake across the table toward her. "Here. Somethin' to tide you over until you get yours."

Sunset waited until Rarity had a bit of sugar in her system before prying. "The boutique seriously laid you off? But you're, like, the best thing about that place."

"I'm well aware, darling. As far as I know, it wasn't due to any flaws in my work." Rarity swirled the straw around in the milkshake, as if stirring a lump of sugar into some tea. "It seems someone broke in late last night, and made off with five hundred dollars' worth of merchandise, and another five hundred in cash. The manager needed a scapegoat, ergo..."

Applejack raised an eyebrow. "Someone knocked in a window and went through the register, and Hemline put the blame on you?"

"That's just it. There isn't actually any sign of forced entry – no broken windows, no indication that the locks were tampered with. In fact..." Rarity took another bite, frowning around her spoon. "The door was already unlocked when Miss Hemline opened up this morning."

"Maybe the culprit had a key to the place," said Sunset, stroking her chin. "That, or whoever closed up last night forgot to lock the door. Who was the last person out the door?”

“Well, I was, but I hardly see how that...”

Rarity trailed off as the girls all gave her the same one-eyebrow-raised look.

She bristled, her face flushing. "Oh, don't even."

Fluttershy coughed. "Rarity, isn't it possible that you forgot to––"

"Not remotely!" snapped Rarity. "I triple-checked when I left – even doubled back after I was halfway home to quadruple-check. I locked the door, I tell you. But did Miss Hemline care what I had to say? No! She just piled her sins and failures upon my shoulders, and cast me into the desert to starve!"

Rarity flung her arms into the air with a long-suffering groan, slumped her shoulders, and slid down the vinyl backrest of the booth, pouting.

"That sucks, Rarity," said Sunset, rubbing her back. "But, hey – you love doing the detective shtick, right? Maybe you could catch the real criminal, and get your job back."

"And we could all chip in and help out!" Fluttershy added, nodding.

"I'm afraid that all my femme-fataliest hats are still in the boutique. And one does not attempt to crack a case without appropriate headwear. But thank you for trying to cheer me up." Rarity took a deep breath, let it out, and adjusted her hair. "Speaking of businesses and closure mishaps, has anyone noticed that the 'Open' sign on the door is flipped to ‘Closed?'"

"Uh... it is?" said Sunset. She turned around and looked toward the door, squinting. "Huh. Well. How about that? It said 'Open' when we got here."

"So, you saw a sign sayin' 'closed,'" Applejack said to Rarity, "and you just walked on in anyway?"

"Well, yes, because there were people here, so I assumed there was a mistake. From the outside, the place looks perfectly lively." Rarity glanced around the dining room. "Inside's a different story, though. It's rather quiet."

"And it's only gotten quieter since we've been in here," Fluttershy added. She leaned across the table, beckoning Applejack and Rainbow Dash closer. "Have you noticed that nobody besides us... really seems to be talking?"

Now that she mentioned it, Sunset realized that she hadn't. She'd been so engrossed in her conversation with the girls that she hadn't been paying attention to the rest of the diners. But they weren't talking, or eating, or even moving, just staring into space with the same dazed, tranquil expression.

And it wasn't just the patrons who were acting strangely. The other servers, the cashier, the soda jerk behind the bar... they all just stood, or sat, empty smiles plastered on their faces.

It hadn't been that quiet when they walked in. Customers had been chatting and laughing, and Sunset was pretty sure that Pinkie had wrapped up a musical number right before she took their drink orders.

You could hear a pin drop now, though, she thought.

She turned around and looked into the glazed-over eyes of the person sitting behind them. A needling sensation crept up her palm as she remembered the last person she saw with an expression like that on her face. She stood, casting a worried look toward the kitchen.

"Something's very wrong."

"No kidding," said Rainbow Dash. "No nachos and Rarity gets fired all on the same— ow! AJ, what the hell?"

Applejack rubbed the hand she'd just used to swat Rainbow Dash's head, and looked up at Sunset. "Think it's like what happened to Cadance?"

"I don't feel any Equestrian magic here," Sunset muttered, as the other girls rose from the booth. "Besides what's coming off of us, I mean. So, I'm gonna say, yeah, we got a witch on our hands."

Twilight sidled up to her. "If that's the case, then what're we supposed to do? There's twenty people here, and only six of us. If they try to hurt themselves all at once—"

"Twi, you're gonna find that stopping these people from stabbing themselves in the neck is the easiest part about this whole mess." Sunset felt phantom fingers wrapping around her windpipe, and patted the geode under her shirt for reassurance. "Anybody seen Pinkie?"

"She said she was going to the kitchen, didn't she?" said Fluttershy. "But she hasn't come out yet. Could she be in danger?"

"We're all in danger." Sunset gave her geode a squeeze. "We should link up with her. If this is a witch, then things are gonna get weird in a hurry, and I don't want us getting separated. C'mon."

The people in the diner, customers and staff alike, watched the girls as they passed through the dining room, heads swiveling to keep tracking them, their bodies stock-still. Sunset looked at a pair of at a table as she passed: the happy couple of Celery Stalk and his girlfriend, Bubblegum... Something.

At least, she assumed they were happy. The grotesque, contorted grins on their faces were hard to read. They turned their heads to meet her gaze, watching her retreat to the kitchen, and revealing the marks on their necks.

An explosion, like a firework, with five trails in mauve and magenta.

Sunset shook her head and double-timed it to the kitchen. Pausing at the door, she glanced back at her friends, who'd clustered close together.

She held a finger against her lips, nudged the door open, and tiptoed through.

As soon as she saw Pinkie’s body, and smelled the acrid stench of inside, she abandoned all pretense of stealth, and burst through.

Greasy Spoon, the balding, red-haired cook, stood in front of the stove. His arms dangled at his sides, one hand curled around a wooden mallet, an identical mark to the happy couple's on his neck. Behind him, Pinkie sprawled out on her side, moaning, on the floor.

The noise of her entrance drew Greasy Spoon's attention. He turned his head, slowly, and leered at Sunset, the air between them shimmering and wavering.

With his free hand, he reached for the ignition on the stove – the stove that was steadily leaking flammable gas into the room.

A rush of wind blew past Sunset as Rainbow Dash charged ahead. She slammed into Greasy Spoon with enough force to catapult him against the far wall. He slammed into it, and collapsed to the ground, silent, and unmoving.

Rainbow turned her attention to Pinkie, cursing under her breath and kneeling beside her, while Sunset darted over to the stove and switched off the gas.

"Talk to me," said Rainbow. She rolled Pinkie onto her back, and cupped a hand around the mess of candy floss that she called hair. "Are you okay?"

"...Are you with HR? I have an incident to report." Pinkie's eyes fluttered open. "That guy can not take criticism."

Rainbow broke into a relieved laugh as the other girls filed into the kitchen, surrounding Pinkie. Sunset gently nudged between Rarity and Fluttershy and knelt, putting a hand on Pinkie's shoulder.

"What happened to you?"

"I came in to ask Greasy Spoon about the nachos, and he clocked me in the noggin with a mallet. Not much more to it than that." Pinkie rapped her skull with her knuckles. "Luckily, all this poof's shock-absorbant, but it still stung, lemme tell you."

"Well, how about that, Rainbow?" said Rarity, folding her arms. "Sounds to me like you owe Pinkie an apology for that wisecrack about her hair."

"Yeah, yeah. Sorry I ever doubted you, Pinkie."

With Rainbow's help, Sunset guided Pinkie back to her feet. Surprisingly, between her head injury and her roller skates, Pinkie somehow maintained her balance. She dusted off her dress, fluffed her hair, and planted her hands on her hips, neither fussed nor mussed.

Then she looked past Sunset, and her pose immediately wilted, her face blanking as she pointed at the doorway. "Uh, girls?"

Sunset turned, and blanched.

One of the servers – her name tag said "Tip Top" – stood in the kitchen's entrance, her knuckles white around a serving tray, the doorway swinging behind her. She grinned disconcertingly at Sunset.

"Sunset Shimmer," she said in a chilling, customer service drone. "Thank you for joining us again."

"Again...?" Sunset patted her chest, the feel of the geode under her shirt once more providing some reassurance. "Have we met before?"

"Sunset," Applejack hissed, "should we really be talkin' to—?"

An ear-splitting rumble, like rolling thunder, silenced Applejack. The noise made Sunset clench her teeth, scraping them together painfully.

Tip Top didn't react to it at all. She rolled away from the door, farther into the kitchen, allowing another ghoulishly grinning waitress – Sugarsocks – to enter behind her.

"Your time with Briar Rose ended so quickly," said Sugarsocks, as Celery Stalk stepped in after her. "She hardly got to know you."

"We hope you'll show us—" Celery Stalk began.

"More courtesy than you showed her," the trio finished together.

A line of fire traced up Sunset's palm. She clenched her fist and took a step toward Tip Top. "And why do you want to 'get to know' me?"

A chorus of laughs, a dozen strong, echoed in the kitchen, echoed from the dining room. The door swung open, and more people filed in, a dozen other faces for whom Sunset had no names.

"You wished it, didn't you?" said Celery Stalk. "You called out for friendship, and we've answered."

"Would you really deny us?" said Bubblegum. "You'd only be denying yourself."

Sunset's anger flared. "Whatever you are, don't pretend you know a thing about me."

"We're not pretending," said Tip Top, as another low, warning rumble rolled through the kitchen. "We know exactly who Sunset Shimmer is. Her heart's desire is plain, and bright, as the harsh light of day."

"We just don't know what she is," added Celery Stalk.

"Is she merely the reflection in the mirror?" said Sugarsocks. "Or is she the mirror, itself?"

"The girl who shatters hearts, like glass?" said Tip Top. "Or the girl who mends and makes them whole?"

"The girl who breaks our chains and sets us free?" a gruff, male voice added – Greasy Spoon was standing again, still gripping his mallet. "Or binds us together permanently?"

A hot wind blasted through the kitchen, full-force into Sunset's face. She shielded herself with her arms, squinting.

Tip Top and the others behind her kept right on grinning.

"We really don't know the answer, ourselves," said Tip Top, her hair and clothes tossing about. "Do you?"

"Because we'd like to hear it from you," the voices said, in unison.

A hand caught Sunset's wrist from behind and pulled her back toward the girls. Wrenching her hand free, Sunset whirled – it was only Twilight, holding her glasses against her face in her other hand. Behind her, the girls clumped close to Rarity, who shielded them from the wind with a wall of magical diamond.

"Indoor wind and hive-mind slam poetry do not good times foretell," Twilight said, as Rarity's shield opened to allow her and Sunset in. "Especially not poetry addressed to you, by name."

Tip Top tittered, and rolled closer; the line of people behind her spread out in a semicircle.

"You don't need to be afraid, Sunset Shimmer," said Tip Top, as the patrons and servers tightened their formation. "We want nothing more than your friendship. We want to understand you—"

"As you want to understand us," said Greasy Spoon, his mallet raised. "But if you won't tell us what we want to know—"

"Then we'll have to read it in your ashes," said Sugarsocks. "When ours and yours intermingle, as we rise into the heavens."

"Like a phoenix," sang the chorus, together. "Burning bright."

Another wind burst shot through the kitchen, conjuring a chaotic maelstrom of pots and pans, dirty dishwater and filthy rags, and fryer oil and half-cooked food. Sunset braced herself against it, but another ring of diamonds appeared, encircling the girls and forming a refuge, with the stove behind them.

With a grunt, Rarity shot the barrier outward, shoving Tip Top and the others away. Briefly staggered, they quickly recovered and flung themselves against Rarity's shield, hammering with their fists and feet. Tip Top wielded her serving tray like a bludgeon, and from the other side, Greasy Spoon pounded the shield with his mallet.

All the while, the windstorm buffeted them with debris – hot oil, cold water, every appliance not nailed down.

"I can hold this for a while, but it won’t last," Rarity called over the din. She had one hand around her geode, the other thrust forward. "We need a long-term solution, darling!"

"Wish I could," Sunset replied. "But I've only dealt with one of these things before. I figured we'd have time to come up with a plan before we ran into another – this caught me off guard."

"Right there with ya, sister," said Pinkie. She cast a curious look at the wall where Greasy Spoon hammered away, the head of his mallet splintering more with every strike. "But you're still more of an expert than anyone else here. If anyone's gonna have a clue, it's you."

"I..." Sunset set her teeth. She still gripped her geode – she'd kept her hand on it the entire time without realizing. Squeezing hard, she transformed, the tingly, Sunset Shimmery sensation of magic sweeping over her, from head to toe.

Her equine ears twitched – she could hear it, that familiar hum. Distant, muted, it left her aching for more, but the rhythmic, magical pulse comforted her like nothing else could.

"First thing's first," she said. "We gotta snap them out of this somehow."

"How're we gonna do that?" said Rainbow Dash. The other six geodes chimed, and flashed, painting the room in a spectrum of Equestrian magic. "There's like a million of them, and seven of us. Not saying we couldn't take them, but—"

"These are innocent people, Rainbow!" Fluttershy chided. "We're trying to stop them from getting hurt!"

A frying pan winged Tip Top in the head.

"...Any worse than they already are," Fluttershy amended.

"We don't need to hurt them," said Sunset. "We just need to break their possession. And if their magic runs on similar rules to ours, then maybe we can disrupt whatever's influencing them by combining our powers."

That still left the witch itself, but they could punt that problem for now.

Pinkie clapped her hands, grinning. "We gonna give 'em the Sunny-Sirens-Twiley-Juniper-Gloriosa-Wallflower-Valencia special?"

"Uh... sure." Sunset cringed – she was pretty sure Twilight did, too.

The girls formed a line along the perimeter of Rarity's wall, staring down the crowd pushing against them, and linked hands, forming a chain. Fluttershy took one of Sunset's; Twilight took the other.

"Hey, Sunset?"

Sunset turned to regard Twilight, and saw her smiling – and shining brighter than she had in days.

"Look what we're doing. Hands-on research."

Sunset chuckled, despite herself, and squeezed her hand.

Then she shut her eyes, and shut out the world – everything but her friends' hands in hers, and the distant pulse of ambient magic. By her side, six more pulses, like heartbeats, in time with hers.

Sunset opened her eyes, and let the world back in.

A jet of red light shot upward from her geode, meeting six beams from her friends. They coalesced into an iridescent, shifting sphere of light. Arcane ripples and currents of energy swirled within the barrier, and tongues of magic lapped up and down Sunset's skin, each pass leaving goosebumps in their wake.

The wind lashed harder against the shield. Angry black thunderheads now roiled overhead, shrouding the ceiling lights and casting the room in darkness. Thunder cracked again, echoing in the enclosed space.

Sunset gripped her friends' hands tighter, and prayed that lightning didn't strike and ignite the gas.

The girls’ sphere burst into a blinding shockwave of light and color that forced Sunset to close her eyes and turn her head away.

Still, deep inside, she felt the warm, comforting, familiar pulse of Equestrian magic.

When the light faded, Sunset opened her eyes, and saw her attackers scattered around the kitchen, unconscious. The wind had died down, and Rarity, no longer worried about an errant pan dinging anyone in the head, dropped her shield. Sighing, she pulled her hand free from Applejack's, and fanned herself.

"I always feel like I need a cigarette after we do that," she breathed. "I don't even smoke."

"Maybe you could bum one off of Sunset," said Rainbow with a smirk, pulling her hand free. "You have been to the bodega recently, haven't you?

"Make your jokes." Sunset slumped over – she might've fallen, but Twilight held her other hand. "I'm too relieved to care."

Their victory was short-lived. The clouds still billowed above them, thick and black, and though the wind had died, the room still felt like a sauna. All around them, the air shimmered, distorted like a mirage.

Twilight gripped her hand tighter. "We're not out of the woods yet, are we?"

"What are you talking about, Twilight?" said Pinkie, oblivious. She planted her hands on her hips and widened her legs in a triumphant stance. "The Sunny-Sirens-Twiley-Juniper-Gloriosa-Wallflower-Valencia Special works every flippin' time."

But a sharp thunderclap made Pinkie leap.

The clouds suddenly descended and swept through the kitchen with the hiss of escaping air, trapping the girls in a prison of fog. They cried out and clung together.

Through the clouds, Sunset could see the familiar world melting away. The walls, the counters, and all the familiar trappings of the kitchen melted into sludgy puddles, drawn into two rushing rivers, with Sunset and her friends on an isthmus in between. The tiled floor warped into a swirling mess of black and purple and sprouted thin tufts of bluish grass.

Structures rose from the rivers, two lanes of stone-carved, polished buildings, framing a central meadow. Rows of towering obelisks and stone cherubs, carved tombs and mausoleums with burnished, black doors, all facing toward the meadow, and stretching past the horizon.

A cemetery. This witch dwelt in a cemetery. And scattered through the cemetery were the unconscious victims from the diner. Instinct commanded Sunset to rush toward them. She almost did, but Twilight, still holding her hand, pulled her back.

"Hold on a minute." She released Sunset, and gazed warily down the cemetery garden. "They're too exposed – I think it might be a trap."

Pinkie laughed nervously. "I take it back – I don't think the Sunny-Sirens-Twiley-Juniper-Gloriosa-Wallflower-Valencia Special did the trick, after all."

"Yeah, well, it kept us from getting our heads bashed in, at least," Sunset muttered, giving Pinkie a look. "We really should workshop that name, by the way."

She glanced around at the garden, wary. There should’ve been a witch – so where the hell was it?

As if on cue, a pedestal rose from the ground at the far end of the meadow, with a statue of a woman in a flowing, hooded robe. Her arms were spread, and she held two staves: One, a rod of Asclepius, the other, a crescent-bladed glaive. Her face, barely visible under the hood, was blank, save for two hollow eyes and a wide, toothless grin.

A deep-voiced, full-throated chuckle echoed from all around them.

Headstones burst from the ground behind each of the unconscious victims, throwing clumps of purple-and-black dirt into the air. Neat, rectangular lines appeared beneath the bodies, drawing them into the ground.

An overwhelming sense of deja vu swept over Sunset. She sucked down a sharp breath – whether or not it was a trap, she couldn't leave those people to their fate.

"Spread out!" she snapped, yanking her hand free from Twilight's. "Keep 'em above ground, whatever it takes!"

Then she bolted for the graves, the other girls' feet pounding the grass behind her. A blue streak shot ahead of the pack, angling toward the most distant headstone.

Tip Top, sinking fast, was the closest to Sunset. Desperate, she dove the last few feet and scrambled on hands and legs to close what distance remained. The earth had swallowed most of Tip Top by then; only her head and shoulders were still above ground.

Grabbing her underarms, Sunset arched her back and pulled, fighting against gravity and suction and Tip Top's own weight. Nearby, Applejack gripped Celery Stalk by the collar, and slowly worked him free of the ground. Clearly the witch didn't count on any of them possessing super strength.

Pinkie and Fluttershy had someone between them; Rarity had one person, solo. Rainbow was too far away to see, nor was Twilight in Sunset's field of vision, but she made her presence known. Violet auras surrounded the bodies that the rest of her friends couldn't get to, preventing them from sinking, even if she couldn't pull them free.

She heard a frustrated, country-fried groan from Applejack. Growing impatient with her slow progress, Applejack leveled the headstone behind Celery Stalk with a kick. The stone shattered from the force of impact; the rectangular plot vanished, and Celery Stalk popped free, into Applejack's arms.

Applejack took a step back to brace herself, a nonplussed expression coming over her. Then she shook her head, and threw him over her shoulder.

"Girls!" she cried. "If you smash the tombstones—"

"We don't all have super strength, AJ!" groaned Sunset.

Another chuckle rang out – a laugh that mocked their discovery, a laugh that made Sunset's skin crawl. The doors to the tombs and mausoleums flung open, and jets of fire burst from within, searing blue flames that trapped the girls on every side.

And there's the trap.

A latticework of diamond barriers appeared to hold the flames at bay. Flames licked and lapped at the shields, which glowed from stress and friction.

Sunset chanced a quick look at Rarity. Sweat beaded and ran down her forehead and reddened cheeks, and though her arms were spread wide and steady, her legs shook, threatening to buckle. In casting the shield, she'd abandoned Greasy Spoon, but an aura surrounded him before he could vanish into his grave. With so many bodies in her grasp, Twilight's magic began to slip, and it wasn't long before Greasy Spoon sank again.

Then Rarity's legs gave out, and she dropped to her knees, though she still held her arms wide. Applejack called her name and bounded toward her, with Celery Stalk slung over her shoulder. The barrier holding back the flames flickered and wavered.

Sunset's muscles burned, and her grip on Tip Top weakened. She squeezed her eyes shut, gritted her teeth, and put every ounce of strength she had left into holding Tip Top up, vowing to fight to her dying moment.

Then came a sudden crashing sound, like rock pummeling through rock. The force pulling back on Tip Top vanished, and Sunset collapsed backward, dragging Tip Top on top of her – she tensed her muscles at the last second, and resisted having the wind knocked out of her.

When Sunset opened her eyes, she found Tip Top’s gravestone shattered. The flames from the tombs had died, and in the distance, the statue's mask had flipped – from a sick grin to a melancholy frown.

Did Applejack do that? she wondered.

But no – Applejack still stood with Rarity, letting her lean on the shoulder that didn't have Celery Stalk slung over it. She smashed Greasy Spoon's headstone with her foot, and stooped to pick him up.

Rarity's shields glowed and brightened, solidifying again into walls of impenetrable diamond.

"Lo and behold!" a voice cried out – a girlish voice struggling to sound deep, macho, and heroic. "Just when all hope seemed lost, and the warriors of light and magic despaired in the face of oblivion, a new heroine appeared in the monster's lair, and tossed down the gauntlet of defiance!"

Sunset's eyes widened. She gently laid Tip Top on the ground, and stood. In the open expanse of the labyrinth, she couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from, and she whipped her head around looking for a source.

"Sunset!" Pinkie cried. She stood some distance away, holding one of Bubblegum's arms – Fluttershy had the other. She briefly dropped it to point at an obelisk overlooking the labyrinth, then grabbed Bubblegum with a flustered yelp as she started sinking into the grave.

Sunset looked where Pinkie indicated – at a girl with a ratty nest of hair spilling down from a bowler hat, standing on tiptoe, at the obelisk's peak. The labyrinth was too dim, and the obelisk too far away, for Sunset to discern anything else about her.

But that head of hair, and that tryhard voice, were more than enough to give away her identity.

She heard footsteps stealing up behind her, and heavy, bookwormish breathing.

"Hey," Twilight panted, adjusting her glasses. She leaned against Sunset, craning her neck back to stare at the obelisk. "Isn't that...?"

Sunset shook her head – not in denial, but for want of anything to say.

The girl on the obelisk forced a triumphant, yet awkward, laugh.

"'Who is this stranger,' they ask themselves, 'to think herself the monster's match? Is she bold, or is she mad? But a true hero is both – and it is this bold madwoman who you now face, evil fiend!"

She thrust her finger, like a sword, at nothing in particular.

"You will not harm these innocent people, nor these brave souls who stand up to you. For they fall under the protection of the fearless Puella Magi, Wallfl—"

The hollow pits of the statue's eyes flashed, and it swiveled on its pedestal toward the obelisk. Spotlights lanced from its sockets, bathing Wallflower Blush in cyan light.

Wallflower's pupils shrunk, like a deer staring down an oncoming car. She didn't move.

Maybe she was unflappable; maybe she was just too scared to budge.

Wallflower wore a double-breasted black jacket, buttoned tight and hugging her figure, and a matching, ruffled skirt that hung just above her knees. Sunset saw a pattern embroidered on the jacket and skirt, but was too far away to discern it. Underneath that were black leggings, ending in a pair of flat-soled boots, and wound around her neck was a crimson scarf, its tails tucked down the front of her coat.

Very much unlike her usual frayed jeans, muddy sneakers, and drab sweaters.

The statue thrust its arm with the glaive forward, leveling its point at Wallflower's chest.

Wallflower finally turned her head to look at the statue, trembling. "Uh... is it too much to ask that you let me finish my speech? I kinda ad-libbed it, but I think I was doing good..."

The statue’s eyes flashed, and crescent-shaped cuts criss-crossed the obelisk.

Wallflower leaped away as the obelisk crumbled into neatly sliced, angular chunks. She arced through the air gracefully, landed beside Sunset and Twilight, and fell forward, hitting the ground with a pained groan. But she quickly jumped to her feet, brushing herself off.

Now closer, Sunset could tell what the patterns on her outfit were: vines and leaves, embroidered along the jacket's collar and cuffs, and running along the skirt's hem. A red band encircled the hat, above the brim, with a bright sunflower tucked into it.

Noticing Sunset's gaze, Wallflower pinched the brim of her hat, and tipped it.

“M'lady," she drawled. Noticing Twilight, she winked, and amended, "M’ladies."

Then she spun, doffed her hat, and flung it toward Sugarsocks's gravestone. The hat cracked through the stone, and Sugarsocks popped free; Twilight caught her in a levitation field, gently pulling her over.

The hat circled around and raced back like a boomerang, on a collision course with Twilight's face. Sunset grabbed Twilight around the shoulders and dove, pulling her down to the dirt.

Wallflower grabbed for the hat and missed; she chased after it with her arms flailing, and snagged it out of the air.

"Sorry," she said, turning back to Sunset. "I guess I should hold off on throwing this thing until I've got the hang of catching it. It's all pretty new to me."

"What's pretty new?" Sunset demanded, disentangling herself from Twilight. "Wallflower, what the hell is all of this? What did you do?"

"Remember how I said I wished that I could help?" Wallflower grinned, twirled her hat, and planted it back on her head. "Well, it turns out that wishes come true. Don'tcha love it?"

A cold feeling spread through Sunset's veins as Twilight's voice whispered in her mind.

Something must have happened to these girls that lets them access magic... where others of their species cannot.

"Wallflower," Sunset growled, narrowing her eyes. "What. Did. You. Do?"

Wallflower blinked, her grin shrinking. Her mouth opened, and she started to stammer out an answer.

But a shrill, keening screech filled the labyrinth, silencing her. The statue's eyes flashed again, and a storm of crescent slashes streaked toward Wallflower.

With a clumsy roll, Wallflower evaded, and scrambled to her feet. A look of intense focus crossed her face as she glared at the statue – but there was a glint of good humor in her eyes, too.

"I'll tell you later, Sunset," she said. "Just sit back for now – I'm about to get up close and personal with this thing!"

She sprinted – loped, more like – toward the statue. Fast as she was, she ran with big, awkward steps of her legs and short, jerky pumps of her arms. The witch-statue struck again and again, slashing the air and the earth, but Wallflower slid and rolled aside from every strike.

Her last roll brought her to Bubblegum's grave, where Pinkie and Fluttershy still struggled to keep the girl from sinking. Wallflower didn't seem to notice any of them as the statue sent another storm of slashes toward her. She paused long enough to doff her hat and smash the headstone to rubble, then she rolled aside, just ahead of the witch's attack.

Fluttershy and Pinkie yelped – but a blue blur and a rainbow contrail swept them up and vanished.

Rainbow appeared beside Sunset and Twilight, Pinkie and Fluttershy slung under her arms, and Bubblegum across her shoulders. She dropped her friends to the ground, and fell back onto her butt, gasping for breath.

"Either I'm not as fit as I thought," she panted, "or the three of you need to cut some weight."

"Like I said, we don't all have super strength." Sunset offered Fluttershy and Pinkie her hands, pulling them up. "Are you two okay?"

"No thanks to Wallflower – we almost got julienned 'cuz of her!" grumbled Pinkie Pie, dusting herself off. "And don't shame me, Dashie – I work in a diner, for heck's sake."

Fluttershy unslung Bubblegum from Rainbow's shoulders and rested her on the ground. "She's one of them isn't she? Wallflower, I mean."

Sunset followed her gaze, gnawing her bottom lip anxiously. "Yeah. She's one of them."

A magical girl. Like Lorelai.

Her eyes followed Wallflower as she loped and rolled, obliterating every headstone in the cemetery. Twilight's levitation pulled the freed victims through the air, creating a procession of unconscious bodies floating through the air, borne away from the thick of the fighting.

Applejack and Rarity made their way toward the group, Rarity stumbling as she maintained her shields. Every now and again, Wallflower would dodge an attack that still put a victim at risk, and Rarity would toss up a new wall of diamond to deflect the attack.

Each time, her shield held, but Rarity looked increasingly fatigued after every one.

When no headstones remained, and Wallflower stood alone in a field of rubble, she let loose a triumphant belly laugh.

"Are we in Salem right now?" Wallflower pointed at the statue, grinning. "'Cuz I'm goin' witch-hunting!"

Her one-liner sent a wave of disgust over Sunset.

Oh, Wallflower.

A trail of crescent slashes streaked toward Wallflower. She bound over them, landed, and leaped again, sailing toward the statue with her hat held high, poised to deliver the killing blow.


The statue thrust its Rod of Asclepius forward, and a cyan aura snagged Wallflower out of the air. Her battle cry morphed into a frightened yelp as the statue pulled her close, holding her mere feet away.

The chortling filled the air again as Wallflower hung, helpless in the witch's grasp.

Sunset called out her name, and tensed, coiling her legs to sprint – not sure what the hell to do, but positive that she had to do something.

Then the glaive's blade snapped off, blasted away by a crossbow bolt. It spun through the air, impaling at the pedestal's base.

"Let her go, Miranda!"

Lorelai stood on a mausoleum, far to Sunset's right, a crossbow in her arms. She tossed her spent weapon away, and a pair of miniature replacements appeared in her hands, in a flash of green.

"We do this fair," she shouted, "or we don't do it at all!"

The moment balanced on the edge of a knife. Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. Wisps of fog drifted through the meadow, passing between the rubble of the headstones, obscuring the bodies caught in Twilight's levitation field – only the purple glow of her aura, tracing their outlines, gave away their positions.

The statue's face flipped again – from tragedy, to comedy.

Wallflower suddenly flew toward Lorelai, wailing and flailing as she went. In the same moment, the Rod of Asclepius glowed turquoise, and the pieces of the broken glaive reformed.

Lorelai tossed her crossbows away and caught Wallflower, as the statue bathed Sunset in a pair of cyan spotlights. The glaive thrust forward, and a storm of slashes ripped across the meadow, straight toward Sunset – and her friends, behind her.

Twilight flung the unconscious bodies out of the line of fire, losing them amid the thickening fog, and lunged for Sunset, calling out her name.

Then cables of light – thin, wiry strands – appeared in front of Sunset. The crescent slashes struck them; the cables shook and vibrated, absorbing the attacks.

Sunset stumbled backward out of reflex and looked up. They weren't cables – they were the strings of a giant, glowing green harp, plucked with every cut. Sparks, like musical notes, danced off the strings, playing a melody that Sunset couldn't recognize.

Twilight knelt beside Sunset, and they watched the display together as a hot wind swept through the cemetery, whipping the fog into a whirling, cloudy soup.

Gradually, the music faded, as the witch's attack ceased. The wisps of fog drifted away, and the air again shimmered, warping and swirling, until the labyrinth vanished, and Sunset once more found herself in the diner's kitchen.

She exchanged a look with Twilight.

"I'm okay," Twilight said. Looking behind herself, she added, "Is everyone alright? Anyone hurt?"

"I mean, my coworkers won't be pulling any shifts anytime soon, but I think we're all in one piece. Hope we get hazard pay for this – especially Tip Top. Sheesh." Pinkie glanced between the unconscious bodies littering the floor, then at the exhausted Rarity. "You want a glass of water, or something?"

"I'd like to get out of this gas-filled kitchen before I asphyxiate," Rarity huffed. "That is what I want."

"I'll get'cha a glass of water." Pinkie stood, crossing over to the kitchen sink. "What happened back there, anyway? I don't think we beat the monster."

"No, we didn't," Sunset said. She bit down on her knuckle. "It must've run off – didn't care for its chances once Lorelai showed up."

Which meant it felt perfectly confident taking us on without her. Even with Wallflower around.

She bit harder into her knuckle until it stung.

What the hell did you do to get that kind of magic, Wallflower?

Fluttershy counted the unconscious bodies littering the floor, lips moving silently, before frowning. "Sunset, we're missing a lot of people. Most of the victims, in fact."

Twilight nodded. "Yeah, we got Bubblegum, Celery Stalk, and, uh... I don't know the others' names."

"Sugarsocks, Greasy Spoon, and Tip Top," said Pinkie, handing Rarity her glass of water. "That's only five out of twenty. You think the witch took off with the rest of them?"

"Were that the case, I'd be worried for Wallflower," Rarity added, between sips. "And that other girl, too – the one who came in at the end."

Lorelai. Sunset thought about the harp that took the witch's last strike – Lorelai had a clasp on her cape just like it.

Was that her? Did she save us?

"Don't be sorry, be better!"

That voice – Lorelai's voice – came from the dining room, muffled by the kitchen door. Sunset stood and bolted through.

The unconscious bodies of the witch's victims littered the room, some flat on the floor, others laid out on booths. The tiles were painted with uneaten meals and spilled drinks, tables and chairs were knocked over and upside-down, and hairline fractures and shatter-spots spiderwebbed out on the windows.

And, somehow, parts of the labyrinth had come with them – little bits of incongruous stonework and rubble, and pieces of broken headstones poking through the ground. The register had fused with the bottom half of an obelisk, its cash drawer protruding from a surface of polished granite.

In the middle of that scene stood Lorelai, her arms folded, glaring at Wallflower as she cringed away, hat in hand. Both looked at Sunset as she entered.

Sunset glanced between the two girls, her friends trailing behind her. "What the hell's going on here? What did I walk in on?"

"Nothing you need to worry about," said Lorelai. Her eyes narrowed as she counted the girls filing into the dining room, watching as Fluttershy rushed toward the unconscious bodies on the floor. "So, these are the friends you talked about? They certainly don't look like—"

She froze as she turned her gaze toward the kitchen entrance again, her eyes widening. "Wait a minute, you?"

"Hiya!" Pinkie sang, bounding in front of Sunset. "Sure is a good thing you came in when you did – you're just the tip that keeps on tipping, aren't you?"

Lorelai's eyes sank shut, and she rubbed her forehead in exasperation. "I wouldn't have had to if someone here had taken my advice. Or, failing that, if someone else had done the job correctly."

Wallflower cringed. "I said I was sorry."

"And I said—"

"Watch how you talk to her," said Sunset, with a sharp glare at Lorelai. "Just because you saved our butts today—"

"Again," Lorelai interjected. "Which – and I hate to harp on this point – wouldn't have been necessary if you'd listened to me the other night, and not stuck your collective noses where they didn't belong."

"That thing had our friend!" said Rainbow, gesturing to Pinkie, who nodded emphatically.

"An' it was gonna flash-fry all'a these poor souls," Applejack continued. "What d'you think, we were jus' gonna turn tail, an' let it have its way?"

"If you were smart, that's exactly what you would have done," said Lorelai, with a pointed look at Sunset. "Guess it's not just you who's lacking in the common sense department, huh?"

A voice that Sunset tried very, very hard not to listen to anymore compelled her to feed Lorelai her own teeth.

"Girls, please – can we try to get along?"

Fluttershy's voice froze Sunset before she could do anything she'd later regret. She knelt beside Greasy Spoon, two fingers against his neck, and looking pleadingly, between all the conscious girls in the room.

"Right now, these people need medical attention, and that monster needs to be stopped before it can hurt anyone else," she said. "That's what all of us want, right? Why don't we set our differences aside, and work together?"

Lorelai snorted. "You want to call an ambulance, then be my guest. But none of you have any business going after that witch, and what happened here today proved it. So, all the best to you, but please – stay the hell out of the way from here on out."

Lorelai maneuvered to the door, stepping over rubble and unconscious bodies alike. The door was stuck when she pushed it, so she gave it a harder, more vigorous shove, jarring it open and snapping off the bell.

She stood in the opened doorway, looking back at Wallflower, who still stood in the center of the room, wringing her hat.

"You coming, Newbie?"

Wallflower blinked and looked up at Lorelai.

Me? she mouthed.

"Uh, yeah. You're the lone exception to my 'stay the hell out of the way' rule. Being a magical girl and all." She swept her arm toward the door.

Sunset stepped in front of Wallflower and folded her arms, glaring at Lorelai. "You don't have to go with her if you don't want to," she said, without turning.

"I mean..." Wallflower edged out from behind Sunset and stood to the side, looking between her and Lorelai. "Uh..."

Lorelai regarded her calmly for a moment. Then she spoke in a soft voice, with no trace of sarcasm or whimsy.

"No regrets. Remember?"

Wallflower's pupils shrank. She squeezed her hat one last time.

Then she un-bunched the hat – it sprang back into shape quickly – and pulled it back onto her head, trudging toward the door.

Sunset did a double-take, and lunged for her, catching her by the hand and freezing her in her tracks.

"Just wait a minute, okay?" she said, harried. "You don't—"

"Yes, I do. I really do." With a baleful smile, Wallflower pulled her arm free from Sunset. "I'm a magical girl now. This is part of the deal."

"What deal? Deal with who? With her?" Sunset balled her hands into fists and looked past Wallflower, to Lorelai. "This girl shows up completely out of nowhere, and you turn into a superhero, and now you have some kind of deal that you can't get out of? If someone's making you do something you don't want to do, then—"

"But I want to do this, Sunset!"

She didn't say it loudly, nor with much oomph in her voice. But there was a sliver of iron backing her words, conviction that Sunset had never heard from her before.

Normally, Sunset would be proud. Now, she felt like she’d been stabbed.

"I have to do it," said Wallflower. "And I want to do it, too. It's my choice. Nobody's making me do anything. And it's..."

She stiffened, eyes falling to Sunset’s feet.

"It's not something you can help with."

Sunset tried to take her hand again, but Wallflower had already run out, leaving Sunset with her arm half-raised.

Lorelai watched Wallflower leave, nodding. She stepped outside without another word, or so much as a glance at Sunset and the girls. Wallflower lingered in the doorway a moment longer, and looked back at Sunset, and her friends, with clear eyes.

"You saved me from myself once. Please, let me return the favor."

Then she let the door slam shut.

Jarred by the impact, the fallen bell jumped, giving one last sad chime in farewell.

Author's Note:

Special thanks to Dubs Rewatcher and DannyJ for editing, even though all Danny did was eat my Craoyla paint and demand I call Greasy Spoon "Wojack."

The working title for this chapter was "Wallflower Blush Absorbs Pinesol Through Her Scrotal Pores."