• Published 24th Oct 2020
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Danganronpa: In Harmony's Wake - Dewdrops on the Grass



Trapped on a cruise ship with fifteen others, all with lost memories, Sunset Shimmer struggles to survive a killing game orchestrated by a mysterious being only known as Monoponi. Post Season Nine FIM. Now complete!

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Chapter Six: Dead in the Water Part 6

Chapter Six
Dead in the Water
Post-Trial

I watched my friends fall to pieces before my eyes. Rarity and Tiara clung to each other, crying their hearts out, both babbling about wanting to live. Scootaloo zipped to and fro, running and flying around, as if she was trying to get all the experience she could out of her magic while she had it. Applejack had found a fallen podium to sit on, head bowed, hands held in prayer, whispering to her family about joining them soon. Princess Twilight had taken to fussing over the nuke, poking and prodding in case there was some way she could stop it. Which of course there wasn’t, because she’d made it Twilight-proof, showing even she knew how often she messed up.

“T-minus twenty-eight minutes until detonation.”

“Aaah, isn’t that such a wonderful sound, Sunset?” Cozy teased, flashing me a smug smirk, her eyes twinkling with mirth. “That’s the sound of your life ticking away, second by second!”

I didn’t bother looking up from where I’d been trying to fix up my arm. It was a ruined mess, everything below the shoulder completely destroyed. I’d given up and removed it, husk and all. All I could do now was patch up the stump, which thankfully wasn’t bleeding… probably thanks to the harmony magic.“Why are you so happy? You’re going to die too you know.”

She gave a playful shrug. “I know! It’s exciting! Exhilarating, even. I’m looking forward to it.”

Now I did look up, setting my one hand on my hip and glaring. “Oh come on. You’re not Junko. Stop acting like it. You’re as scared as the rest of us.”

She grinned back, but I caught the sign of hesitation, the brief bit of fear dancing in her eyes before it faded, replaced with her usual cold-hearted malice. “Maybe I don’t love despair the way she did,” she replied, her words coated in venom, “but I do love watching my enemies suffer from it. You took everything I had away from me. If getting my last victory means I die too? I’m okay with that.”

I glared right back. Despite the hatred I’d held for Monoponi during this whole game, and likewise held for Cozy… my feelings on her were mixed, thanks to my returned memories. I remembered how much fun I had with her, when I knew her as Heather Heart. We’d laughed, we’d cried… we were good friends. At least, I’d thought we were. “Tell me something, Cozy: did any of it mean anything?”

She scoffed. “Any what mean anything?”

I pointed at her then back at me. “Us. Our friendship. The times we shared together, before all of this.”

Her face twisted up in total shock, her jaw dropping. “What?” she whispered. Then she shook her head to clear the shock, schooling her face back to her usual conceited grin. “Why would you ask me that now? What’s the matter? Feeling hurt that your friend used you like I did?”

“Kinda, yeah,” I admitted with a wan grin. “I was really happy when we were friends, you know? I’d never had a younger sister before. I didn’t know what I was missing out on.”

Her grin faded, replaced with an uncertain frown. “You can’t be serious,” she spat. “You can’t honestly believe I actually liked spending time with you.”

“Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t, I don’t know,” I said. Then I smiled, and held out a hand. “But there’s a way to find out.”

She hissed like an angry cat, withdrawing into the throne like she was trying to bury herself in a cave. “Don’t touch me! I won’t let you!”

I stood up and stepped over, till she couldn’t retreat any further. “Normally I’d respect that, Cozy,” I said as I reached out, “but not this time. I have to know. And you’ve given up the right to privacy.”

Before she could fight back I took hold of her arm and saw.

We were together in my brownstone apartment, sitting on the couch, chatting animatedly. Heather had a huge grin gracing her face as she talked endlessly about her favorite characters in the first Danganronpa game. About how she’d wished some had lived, wished others had died, and so on, while I replied back. I’d found we agreed on a lot of the same things.

Unlike before, when I experienced this for myself, from my perspective, I saw what Cozy felt. I saw the warmth taking hold in her heart. I saw what she’d do when she wasn’t around me, how she’d drop her disguise and shout endless hateful words in an empty room every time she got home, because she’d started to feel something other than pure loathing. Happy feelings in her heart warred with her plans, with her lust for power. Every night she’d go to sleep whispering to herself over how she just had to keep going, keep moving with her plan.

But the more time she spent with me, the more she seemed to regret it. I saw all the expressions I hadn’t seen. The worry in her eyes whenever I turned away. The guilt worming its way slowly into her heart, over time growing until it threatened to swallow her whole. The way she gritted her teeth and hissed spiteful words under her breath when I couldn’t hear them.

“Damn you Sunset Shimmer. I won’t let you win me over. I won’t give in to your insipid friendship! Just remember the plan, Cozy. Remember the plan. Remember… the plan…”

And then came the time for the birthday party. The trap for us all, the trap that would carry us away to our deaths. I watched from her perspective as we entered the room, the runes flashing to life, trapping us all in magical bonds. I saw from her point of view the sheer betrayal on my face as she transformed, revealing her true self. I saw from her mind the overwhelming guilt and shame that briefly held her soul before she washed it all away with her joy and jubilation over her success.

I saw her slowly wind up as we journeyed to our destination. How she watched us all make friends and lovers for the first time and again, while she was trapped in her disguise as Monoponi. How she wished, every day, that she could participate. That she could walk right up to me and ask to be my friend again. And then I saw the self-flagellation she’d undergo to banish those feelings deep into a pit where she’d never, ever acknowledge them, till finally, on the eve of the start of the killing game, she was so bitter and hateful that all she ever felt anymore was rage.

And during the game, when we first discovered Wallflower’s body, I saw how hurt she felt when I told her I’d only be happy when she--that is, Monoponi--was dead. How she spun it away in her mind as foolish weakness, how she embraced the disguise so much she’d subsumed herself in it.

But I also saw how furious she was all the time. How the slightest thing would set her off, just as we saw from her actions as Monoponi. How she buckled under the strain, refusing to accept that we wouldn’t follow the rules. And how every single time I gave her any disrespect, it just made her more angry. And I saw how many times she was tempted to off me… and how she refused to act on it, no matter how many opportunities I gave her. Even when she planted the photo album that would seal Adagio’s fate, she still felt regret deep in her soul… and a small amount of hope that I would survive.

But my survival was the tipping point. She’d had herself so thoroughly convinced that she’d banished any happy feelings that when she felt the slightest spark of relief, it sent her over the top. Her wigging out at the trial was much her fighting with herself as it was anger at me. She committed herself to finishing out her plan, no matter what.

Even after that, though, there were the little touches. Giving me fresh clothes, for one. She didn’t have to do that, but she did. The warning she provided, before the final investigation began. And her glee in the trial as she revealed my role, my part in bringing us all together. She was so happy to finally talk about it, even framed in the context of hating me.

It was only when she dropped her disguise that she realized her feelings were still there. She still cared about me, still valued our friendship, no matter what she was saying to us. And she couldn’t take it anymore. It broke her. She finally gave in to her hatred and tried to kill me, using it as a way to purge herself of what she thought of as weakness, once and for all. When I survived, and fought back, it enraged her all the more, till she was apoplectic, so crazed by it she lost most rational thought and just reacted, blasting and blasting like a maniac instead of using the same creative brain that had brought her to this point.

And now. Now that she was defeated. Ruined. She was overwhelmed with regret, and not just because her plan failed. She regretted embarking on it at all, because she’d finally realized, in the embrace of that rainbow light, what friendship meant. What she could have had, if she’d just tried, if she’d just allowed herself to experience it for real.

But she wouldn’t have the chance. She knew she wouldn’t. She couldn’t cope with the loss. She covered it up with her usual excuses, how ecstatic she was that Princess Twilight would die along with her, when in reality, all she could feel was shame. Shame, misery, regret… and a longing. A longing for the friendship she’d never, ever get to have.

As I released her, I backed away, shaking my head in sheer disbelief. “Woah, I wasn’t expecting that.

“You piece of filth!” Cozy raged, holding up both fists and shaking them at me. “How dare you? You just invaded my mind! And you call yourself ethical?!”

My brow furrowed as my lips formed a deep frown of disapproval. I stared down at her in silent judgement. “I had to, Cozy. I had to know. And… what I saw… “ I slumped, sighing. “You idiot. You understood what we meant all along. We would’ve forgiven you, if you’d come forward, before you started the killing game. It might’ve taken a lot, but we could’ve accepted you. You could’ve had the friendship you wanted.”

Her anger evaporated, as did any sign of her mask. When it slipped and fell, shattering to pieces, it left her revealed for what she truly was: a hurt, lost little girl who’d made too many mistakes and walked too far down the wrong path. “I didn’t know… I didn’t understand what I was giving up…”

“Well, now you do,” I replied with another sigh. “I suppose that’s fitting justice, knowing you could’ve had so much more if you’d just tried. It won’t last long, but… it’s fitting.”

Cozy stared at me with uncertain eyes for a moment, then tentatively reached out with a hand. “I… I don’t suppose--”

I slapped her hand away. “No. I’m sorry, but no. We could’ve forgiven your manipulation of me. We could’ve forgiven your planning, your prior attacks on Equestria, all of that. But this? This game? What you’ve done to us? The friends you’ve taken from us? The lives you’ve ended? It’s not happening.”

“Tch…” Cozy pulled her hand back and tucked it into her lap, along with her other hand. Any sign of contrition vanished from her face as her mask reassembled. “Whatever. Not like it matters, since we’re both about to die.

“T-minus twenty-five minutes till detonation.”

I turned away from Cozy, not wanting to waste my last few minutes alive talking to her. I scanned the room, trying to find out where Rarity ended up. Then I spotted her. She’d separated from Tiara, who’d wandered off whispering about something with Scootaloo. The younger two women were holding hands and walking with the shoulders pressed against each other. Rarity, meanwhile, had taken a seat next to Applejack, joining her in silent prayer.

I walked over, giving them a gentle wave. “Hey. Sorry if I’m interrupting…”

“No, not at all darling, please,” Rarity said. She patted the remaining bit of space to her left. “Please, do sit down.”

As I sat, Applejack dropped her hands and looked up at me, giving me a sad smile. “Ah guess it was too much to hope we were gonna make it out of here, huh?”

“We were close,” I said with a wan smile of my own. “We almost made it.”

“Well, as much as Ah’d miss Big Mac and Granny,” Applejack replied, her eyes turning to face the floor, “least Ah know Ah’m goin’ somewhere now.”

Rarity frowned at that, and leaned against the farmer in a display of affection I hadn’t seen since before the third trial. “You had your doubts before?”

Applejack reached up and offered out a hand to Rarity, who took it after a moment. “Sometimes… a little. Ah liked to think mah parents were waitin’ for me on the other side, but… hard to believe in somethin’ when you ain’t got no proof.”

“Funny, I thought that’d be my line,” Rarity said with a quiet laugh. “I’m the one who thought we’d cease to exist if we perished. I’ve never been more glad to be wrong.”

The farmer squeezed Rarity’s hand reassuringly. “For what it’s worth, Rarity, Ah… Ah’m glad for the time we had together. Ah know we fought a lot, and there were times where Ah thought there weren’t no hope for anythin’, but…you matter a lot to me. Ah’m glad Ah still get to be your friend.”

“Likewise, darling.” Rarity glanced over at me. “Sunset, I don’t suppose there’s a chance you could try restoring our memories now? It might be nice to get them back… before…”

I frowned and shook my head. “I wouldn’t know where to begin with that. I’m… I’m honestly a little surprised the harmony magic we used didn't restore them. Or, uh, this, for that matter.” I pointed at my stump of a left arm. “But then, it might’ve been a bit too busy trying to purge all the evil Cozy had accumulated.”

Rarity held out her other hand to me. “That’s all right. It seemed like the others got their memories back when they… passed on. Perhaps we’ll be just as lucky.”

Taking up her hand in mine, I replied, “I hope so. Otherwise, I’ll have waaaay too much explaining to do.”

That got them both chuckling.

“T-minus twenty-three minutes until detonation.”

Applejack scowled in the direction of the nuke. “Ah wish that thing would just shut up with it’s readin’ out the clock. Ah’m nervous enough as it is.”

I joined her in glaring at the infernal device, and even more at Cozy, who’d shut her mouth--finally--and curled up next to it like it was a pillow. “Seriously.”

My attention was caught by Princess Twilight letting out a loud groan of frustration and punching the clock on the other side of the nuke. With a hunched over stance she trudged her way over, plopping her rear on the floor next to us. “Well, I’m out of ideas. I can’t stop it.”

“I figured you wouldn’t,” I said, wishing I had a free hand to reach out and pat her on the shoulder.

She eyed me for a moment, unsure whether to glare or roll her eyes. “I heard what you said to Cozy, by the way.”

“Oh?” I arched an eyebrow. “And what does the Princess of Friendship have to say to my turning down the villain’s final attempt to reach out?”

“I’d say you should’ve slapped her across the face a few times,” Twilight groused.

A bubble of unexpected laughter escaped my chest. “Wow. She really got to you too, huh?”

Twilight squeezed her eyes shut, a few tears leaking out before she opened them again. “Yeah. She did. I messed up bad this time, Sunset. Really bad.”

“Equestria’ll live on without you,” I said in an attempt to be reassuring. “I mean, Celestia and Luna are still around, right? They retired, but it wasn’t like they died.”

“Not if Earth invades, it won’t,” Twilight said, her breath sticking in her throat. She let out a shuddering sigh. “What in Celestia’s name was I thinking, bringing that thing along? There were so many other ways I could’ve handled a backup plan, but noooo, I have to go for the big boom!”

“Well you know what they say…” I quipped. “You know… about nuking… and orbits?”

The flat, ticked off look the Princess shot me over gave me uncomfortable reminders of similar looks I’d received during the early trials. “It’s not funny, Sunset. I messed up. Cozy… she… she wasn’t wrong when she said I came here to stop her from exposing Equus to Earth. It was far from the only reason, but it was a reason. And now I might as well have rolled out the welcome mat and sent every leader in the world mouthwritten invitations!”

Applejack’s mouth curled into a confused pout. “Ah’m not sure Ah see how…”

Twilight’s nostrils flared as she snorted, but before she could respond with acid she managed to bite it back and dial it down. “Nuclear weapons aren’t something that you can just go buy in a store, Applejack. They’re one of the, if not the most dangerous, most controlled things in the entire world. Every nation with them knows how dangerous they are. Your world had a whole historical period fraught with danger over them.”

“Ah’m well aware of the Cold War, thanks,” Applejack retorted, her eyes flashing with impatience. “But it ain’t like the two sides’ve got their nukes shoved down each other's throats these days. It ain’t gonna cause a nuclear war, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“No, they don’t, but what do you think they’re going to do when a thirty-kiloton nuke goes off in the South Pacific with no warning or explanation?” Twilight shot back. “It’ll attract every naval force on the planet. They’ll all come screaming to find out what happened. They’ll investigate. They’ll find the wreckage of the Avenger. Between that and all the resources we’ve left lying around Canterlot while trying to find you guys? They’ll discover Equestria.They’ll know it was us. And without someone like me to play ball with, who knows Earth well… I don’t think they’ll risk leaving Equestria to its own devices. They’ll invade just to play it safe. Trust me, I’ve been thinking about this problem for a long time.”

Applejack bit her lower lip, a note of contrition entering her tone as she replied, “Oh… Ah see what you mean now. Ah wouldn’t want that to happen neither.”

“Certainly not,” Rarity agreed. A dark frown crossed her face. “Perhaps… perhaps we should hope that Cozy is still broadcasting this game somehow. That perhaps those who’re still alive on your side, Princess, will see what happened here. Maybe that will be enough.”

“Hate to break it to you, morons!” Cozy called, not bothering to open her eyes from her sleepy posture. “But I stopped broadcasting the minute I felt Princess Twilight’s ship show up! I only needed that to lure her in.”

Twilight’s lips pulled back in a sneer as her head shot up to glare at the villain. “Would you shut up, Cozy? The last thing we want to hear right now is you talking.”

“Wow, Princess, bitter much?” Cozy snickered. “It’s almost like you’re about to die! Oh wait. You are!”

The Princess leapt up from the floor. “That’s it, I’m going to muzzle that little--”

“Simmer on down there, sugarcube, she ain’t gonna do nothin’ now,” Applejack said reassuringly, reaching out just enough to grab the Princess gently by the arm. “Don’t let her get you down. If these are our last moments, we oughta be findin’ peace within ourselves.”

“Peace,” Twilight repeated with a snort. “Peace? Seriously?”

Applejack arched a single eyebrow, her lips thinning. “Yes, Princess. Ah’d think you’d understand the value of that, if anyone would.”

Twilight opened her mouth to retort, then shut it and sighed. She sat back down on the floor, and drew up her hand in a sweeping motion in front of her chest while taking a deep breath. Then in a reverse sweep she pushed her arm out while releasing her breath. She did this a few more times, until her eyes began to flutter. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“Ain’t no need to apologize, Princess,” said the farmer with a smile. “Ah’m just glad you listened.”

“T-minus twenty minutes until detonation.”

“Sunset,” Rarity said suddenly, turning to face me. “I have a question. Actually, several questions.”

I gave her hand a squeeze. “Shoot.”

Rarity hesitated a moment, choosing her words carefully. “When Applejack and I were married, were we… happy together? Did we love each other?”

A bittersweet smile graced my lips. “You did. Very much so. Hell, you two have been over the moon for each other since the early days of high school. You didn’t admit it till near the end of high school, after that whole Vignette Valencia thing, but you were hopelessly in love. I mean, yeah, you argued. You fought. Even the best of couples do that on occasion.”

“How did we get married?” Rarity pressed. “Was it… fancy?”

“Fancy? Try resplendent! Ostentatious even! You insisted on designing all the outfits yourself, from the bridesmaids dresses to the suit that you wore.”

Rarity tittered as she considered that. “Of course I would. I would never allow for anything less.” Then she blinked. “Wait a moment. Did you say suit? I wore a suit to my wedding?!”

“You did,” I nodded with a laugh. “It was a great suit, too, a three piece affair. I think it must’ve stuck in my brain because I dreamed about you wearing that suit once. You wore it because Applejack insisted she wear a wedding dress and she didn’t want you both in dresses because, and I quote, ‘Ain’t no sense in both of us wearin’ somethin’ impractical with a long-ass train.’”

Applejack burst into laughter. “That sound like somethin’ Ah’d say all right.”

“How odd,” Rarity said after a moment, her brow furrowing in thought. “I would’ve thought if anyone would prefer to wear a suit, it would be you, Applejack.”

“What, me? Nah.” Applejack shook her head. “Ah hate wearin’ suits. Can’t stand ‘em. Too fancy. A dress, though, that’s different. For special occasions, Ah’ll wear one. Ah’d rather wear a dress over a suit any day, cause it leaves my legs free.”

“It’s true,” I agreed. My smile turned wistful as the images of the wedding came forward in my mind. “It was a pretty great wedding, but the reception was even better. Pinkie Pie catered it, planned it, and spent dozens of hours working on it to make it perfect. She somehow managed to combine country hoe-downs and elegant balls into a single type of party, and it worked. Then you two went off on honeymoon for a week, and I heard that was an adventure in and of itself. I wasn’t there for it, of course.”

“Oh, of course not,” Rarity said, with a smile matching mine. She rewrapped her hands around mine and Applejack’s, holding on tight. “It’s… a little hard to picture, being that happy, after what we’ve gone through. After what we’ve lost.”

“You’re right about that,” Applejack nodded with a half smile. “Ah do care about you, Rarity, a great deal, but… Ah think you had a point, when you said our sisters might always be between us. Even now, as much as a part of me wants to be in love with you… there’s still a part of me that’ll always resent you, too.”

Rarity let out a bittersweet laugh at that. “I suppose the same is true of me. I wouldn’t let it get in the way of our friendship, of course, but… well, maybe it’s just the missing memories, but my feelings are still trying to point me elsewhere for love.”

“To Sunset, right?” Applejack let out her own laugh, hearty and hale. “Ah don’t blame ya for bein’ interested in her. Sunset’s the kind of gal that you can rely on when the chips are down. Ah won’t stand in your way, if that’s what you want. Ah just want you to be happy.”

“And I won’t stand in your way if what you decide is to go back to Applejack after all,” I added with a chuckle. “I mean, don’t get me wrong… now that I have my memories back, I realized I had a crush on you for quite a while during high school, after… well, it doesn’t really matter now. Too much to explain. I got over it, but I won’t lie: recent experiences have made me pretty interested again.”

Rarity flushed a florid pink as she held our hands even tighter, a few sad little giggles escaping her lips. “Can I just say, darlings, I wish we had the time to find out? To discover what it is we each truly want, and pursue it?” She pulled us both in for a hug, which was a little bit awkward on the makeshift bench. “I love you both dearly as friends. At least, if I have to spend the last few minutes of my life with anyone… it’s with people like you.”

“T-minus seventeen minutes until detonation.”

“Me too, Rarity,” I said. I leaned against her shoulder, my tired body glad to have something to prop me up. “There’s no one I’d rather spend it with.”

“Wow, just kiss already, jeez,” came Tiara’s teasing voice.

My eyes shot open as I looked up and scowled at Tiara and Scootaloo, who’d wandered over to us and were both snickering at the sight of Rarity and I sitting together next to Applejack. “Excuse you?”

Thankfully Diamond Tiara saw the annoyance in my eyes, and her cheeks flushed as she frowned apologetically. “Sorry,” she murmured, taking a seat on another knocked over podium, tucking her magically elongated hair out of her way as she did so. “Old habits die hard.”

“Oh don’t worry about it,” Rarity said. Her eyes twinkled with amusement. “Besides, if anyone should be saying two people should kiss already, it’s us to you and Scootaloo.”

Her face burning right up to her pony ears, Tiara pouted and looked away from us. “That’s… I…”

Scootaloo extended a wing to wrap around Tiara’s shoulder and tucked her closer, then to my shock leaned over and planted a kiss right on her cheek. “There. Done.”

Applejack’s belly shook with laughter as she watched Tiara cover her face with her hands. “Hoo-whee, Scootaloo, you and your gumption.”

“Eh, what can I say?” Scootaloo replied with a cocky shrug, a smirk gracing her face. She pulled Tiara even closer and snuggled against her. “Knowing your life’s about to end really helps bring a bit of clarity, you know?”

“You don’t have to embarrass me in front of our friends though!” Diamond Tiara shouted, smacking Scootaloo on the arm with a fist.

All of us laughed at that, even Princess Twilight. She eyed the two younger women and gently shook her head. “I still can’t believe those two started dating before all of this. The Scootaloo and Diamond Tiara I know would never do such a thing.” She cocked her head to the side and twitched her eyebrows. “Then again they’re also not even sixteen yet.”

“Different lives, Princess,” I said. “They’re similar people, but they’re not the same people. Anymore than you and this world’s Twilight were.”

I regretted bringing that up as soon as I said it, because I watched the Princess’s face pale dramatically. “She… I… I know that, Sunset. I know we’re not the same people,” Twilight whispered. “But while I was watching you all, during the game… sometimes it felt like it. Especially when…”

“Oh damn, that’s right,” I muttered, frowning in realization. “When she was… executed, she’d lost her glasses and her hair was down. She looked just like you.”

Princess Twilight held a hand to her breast and let out a shuddering sigh. “It scared me so much, for a short while I thought it was me. Then when I saw the pony Trixie right after, I… I… I almost killed her. It took Starswirl and the other unicorns to stop me.”

“Holy shit, Twilight,” I gasped. “I’m so sorry, I never should’ve brought this up. I can’t imagine how much that--”

She held out a hand regally, asking for silence. “It’s all right. You couldn’t have known, and this is something I needed to get off my chest before… before I die.”

“Did… did anything else happen while you were watching the game?” Diamond Tiara interjected, her voice trembling with uncertainty. “You, you didn’t do anything like hurt my mom’s alternate when I told Sunset my secret, right?”

Twilight’s face drooped at that even as her eyes widened in shock. “No, no, of course not, Diamond Tiara. Of course I wouldn’t do anything like that.” Then she frowned. “Though I might’ve requested a brief private investigation to make sure the pony Spoiled Rich hadn’t done anything similar with the animal abuse. No, the only reason I nearly killed Trixie was I… I was so angry over Pinkie’s death. I was just as angry as you were, Sunset. I’m… I’m glad that she made up for it, before she died. The human Trixie, I mean.”

“We all are, sugarcube,” Applejack said. She gave me a pointed look. “And don’t think Ah didn’t see what you whispered to Adagio when our friends showed up. Ah’m proud of you for finding it in you to forgive her.”

“Of course I did,” I sighed. I looked away from them all, not wanting to meet anyone’s gaze. “Adagio lost so much progress as a person when her memories were stripped. The only one who lost more was Wallflower. Despite what I thought, she was just like the rest of us: she never, ever would’ve done it without the circumstances of this killing game.”

“Even so, darling, it’s admirable,” Rarity added.

“T-minus fifteen minutes until detonation.”

“Anyone else need to get any regrets off their chest before the end?” Twilight said, her tone turning whimsical.

“Ah dunno, Ah think we more or less did all that durin’ all the speechifyin’ earlier,” Applejack said with a chuckle.

“I regret that we’re going to die,” Tiara said flatly. “That’s a pretty big one.”

Any amusement faded from Twilight’s face as she bowed her head in shame. “I’m sorry about that. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have--”

“Stop it,” Tiara ordered. She stood up, walked over to Twilight, and placed her hands on the Princess’s shoulders. “Listen to me, Princess. I don’t know you very well, but I’m not about to let one of my friends beat herself up over something they couldn’t’ve helped. You went through torture watching us. Cozy got to all of us, but you were the one she focused on. You were the one she was trying hurt the most. So you messed up because of that. So what? You still tried to do the right thing. I think that’s pretty important.”

Twilight looked up at Diamond Tiara in awe before breaking into sad laughter. “Of all the people to ever give me a friendship lesson,” she said. “Thank you. You’re… you’re right.”

Tiara smirked, and started to jab a thumb at her chest. I saw the words she was going to say. And then she let it drop, along with the smirk. “Just trying to be helpful,” she said, sitting back down next to Scootaloo.

“I guess if there’s anything I regret,” I said, “It’s not being able to say goodbye to people.”

Applejack grunted in affirmation. “Eeyup. Ah would like to say goodbye to Granny and Big Mac if Ah could. Ah hope… Ah hope it don’t hurt Granny too much when she finds out she lost both of her granddaughters. One’s gonna be bad enough for her heart.”

“Indeed,” Rarity nodded. “My parents… I wanted to explain what happened to them myself. I suppose we’ll have to leave it up to the police.”

“The police…” I whispered. Then my eyes widened. “Twilight, you said Shining Armor’s name earlier. Was he on your ship?”

“He… He was,” Twilight said, her breath catching in her throat.

“Which means he’s a rotting corpse at the bottom of the sea now!” Cozy abruptly interjected, looking up from her throne with a wide grin on her face. “Like everyone else on that ship!”

Twilight growled under her breath, her eyes shooting over to stare at Applejack. “Are you sure I can’t muzzle her?”

“Actually, Ah’m about ready to do it mahself at this point,” Applejack growled right back, glaring Cozy’s way.

“Go ahead!” Cozy said, crossing her arms over her chest. She’d moved up to sit at the edge of her throne, her feet high enough off the ground that she looked even more like the little kid she really was. “Muzzle me. Tie me up! Punch me in the face, why don’t you? Whatever you want to do. It doesn’t matter. You’re dying either way. Why not get some last minute revenge in?”

“You know what, Princess?” Applejack said, looking at Twilight. “Ah changed mah mind. Forget her. She ain’t worth it.”

Twilight snickered as she watched Cozy groan in frustration. “You’re right. She’s not.” Then she looked back at me and the amusement died from her voice. “But, yes, Sunset. Shining Armor was aboard the Avenger. Detective Shining Armor, I mean.”

“Damn it,” I muttered, glaring at the floor. “If there was any reasonable authority figure that’d be left after all this, it would’ve been him. He’d know the right way to explain to everyone’s families what happened. Or did he already?”

“No,” Twilight said with a shake of her head. “The police kept everything quiet. As far as your families and everyone else’s are concerned, you’re all still missing. They didn’t want to say anything to anyone until the situation was resolved. I was working on a cover story to give Chief Spitfire, but… well, maybe Starswirl will get it to her. Or Starlight.”

“They might not keep it secret after we all go,” Scootaloo said, her voice low and heavy. “Not without you around.”

“You’re right about that,” Twilight replied. “It took a great deal of effort to convince Chief Spitfire to stay quiet, and she almost turned her back on it when… when Rainbow Dash died.”

“Oh, that reminds me, Princess,” Rarity said, looking up. “Forgive me if this is a silly or rude question, but, um, I was curious as to what you thought of our Twilight getting together with Flash Sentry.”

The Princess shrugged. “Her choice. Doesn’t bother me one way or the other, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

“Oh.” Rarity blinked in confusion. “And here I thought perhaps you’d have more of an opinion.”

“Nah, you wouldn’t know this, Rarity, because you don’t remember,” I said, patting her on the shoulder, “But the Princess here stopped being attracted to Flash a long time ago. She was kind of into him the first couple of times she visited, way back, but--”

“But I got over it,” Twilight interrupted. A sigh escaped her lips. “I very briefly tried dating the pony Flash Sentry, only to realize whatever attraction I had towards him--towards either version of him--was purely physical. We… weren’t compatible.”

“Like I said before, different lives.” I leaned back against Rarity. “Similar, but not the same.”

“Wow.” Cozy, who’d gone back to nuzzling up against the nuke, looked up from her position and sneered. “This is the shit you’re talking about when you’re about to die? Where’s the screaming? Where’s the whining about how unfair it is? Where’s the crying? It barely lasted two seconds!”

“Cozy, you might not get this because you don’t understand other people,” I replied with a frustrated sigh, “but we’re not ‘whining’ because we’ve got each other. Does it suck that we’re about to die? Hell yeah it does. I want to get out of here. I’ve got so much more I wanted to do with my life. But we’ve been blessed with the understanding of what’s happening, given time to come to terms with it, and we get to be with our friends. It’s… I’m not sure if I can think of a better way to die than this.”

“Seriously,” Scootaloo seconded. Using her wing she pulled Tiara over till the other young woman was laying against her, holding her tight despite the growing blush on Tiara’s cheeks. “What better way than to be with the people I love?”

“Love?!” Tiara gasped, her eyes wider than dinner plates. “Isn’t that a little fast?!”

Scootaloo chuckled as she gave Tiara a squeeze. “I meant it, uh, what’s the word where you love your friends, in a way that’s not romantic?”

“Platonic?” I supplied.

“Yeah, that,” Scootaloo nodded. “I meant it platonically.”

“You’re being pretty damned affectionate for platonic,” Tiara muttered.

Scootaloo’s mouth turned down. She loosened her hold on Tiara. “I’m sorry, if it’s too much, I’ll--”

Tiara reached around Scootaloo to cling to her tighter. “I didn’t say stop.”

“T-minus ten minutes until detonation.”

“You know what Ah wish we had right now?” Applejack said with a wistful sigh. “Ah wish we had some of mah family’s cider.”

“Oh god don’t make me think of cider,” Tiara said, sticking out her tongue. “My stomach still hurts from that experience.”

Rarity’s cheeks flushed. “Yes, the less said about that, the better.”

Applejack snorted. “Ah’m just sayin’, it’d go real good with the mood right now. Help us relax.” She glanced over at Twilight. “Ah don’t suppose you have anythin’ hard in that satchel of yours, do ya?”

“Uh, I don’t think I do,” muttered the Princess. She opened up the satchel, started to dig a hand into it, then scoffed and dumped the contents on the floor instead with a loud clatter. There was a small bottle of water, a couple of ration bars, a notebook--of course--a couple bottles of some sort of beverage, and something else that rolled over to my feet. She ignored everything in favor of the twin bottles. “Oh, wait, I’ve got this. I forgot I had this.”

“What is it, darling?” Rarity said, releasing my hand so she could reach out for one of the bottles to take.

“Emergency cider,” Twilight replied with a wider smile. “Straight from Sweet Apple Acres. My Sweet Apple Acres.” She handed the other bottle over to Applejack, who took it reverently, like she’d just been handed a holy artifact.

“Mah goodness,” Applejack breathed as she held the bottle. “Ah can’t believe it.”

“Thank your alternate, Applejack,” Twilight said, giggling at the farmer’s reaction. “She likes to send me these bottles every now and then as a reminder to take it easy in life, since I haven’t lived in Ponyville in years. Go ahead, open ‘er up.”

Applejack didn’t need further encouragement. She reached for the stopper and plucked it out with ease, then held it up to her lips and took a sip. A soft sigh of satisfaction slipped out as she swallowed it, her eyes fluttering closed. “Oh that’s heavenly. As good as anythin’ Ah’ve ever made.” She handed the bottle back to Twilight.

Twilight took a sip herself, savoring it. “She only sends me the best.” She glanced over to Tiara and Scootaloo. “Did you want any?”

Tiara shook her head as a hint of green touched her cheeks. “I’ll pass, thanks.”

“Yeah, me too,” Scootaloo added. “Not really feeling it.”

“Well, I would like some, if you don’t mind,” Rarity said, setting down the unopened bottle. She took a long drink, sighed, then held it to me. “Interested?”

Yes, please,” I said. I knocked back the bottle to get a good solid mouthful of the cider, letting the sweet taste fill my mouth with pleasant warm tingles. It didn’t burn as I swallowed, but went down smooth.

“Good, ain’t it?” Applejack said with a chuckle.

“Fantastic.” As I handed the bottle back to Twilight, I happened to accidentally kick the thing that rolled against my feet. I bent down to pick it up. “Oh hey, this is that radio of yours,” I said, looking it over. It was an olive green, boxy affair, with a very long antennae, made of some sort of plastic, with an oversized grill and buttons that, like the nuke’s keypad, had been designed for use by hoof. “It’s smaller than I would’ve expected.”

One corner of Twilight’s mouth quirked up. “Radios are one thing Equestria already had, before I started introducing new technologies. It was very limited, but we had them. I just expanded upon the technology.”

“It’s pretty neat,” I replied as I fiddled with it. “Reminds me of radios from the Second Great War, except it’s a lot smaller. Same basic design though.”

As I messed around, I happened to click a button, and almost dropped the radio in shock when it abruptly squawked, “--Twily! Twily, come in! For goodness sake, answer me already!”

“What the fuck?!” Cozy roared, sitting up on her throne.

“Holy shit, Shining Armor?!” I gasped.

Scootaloo and Tiara shot out of their seats as Twilight snatched the radio. “Give me that!” She pressed down on the transmit button. “Shining! Shining, it’s me! I’m here!”

“Oh thank god!” came Shining’s reply, even as Applejack let out a whooping holler of jubilation. “I’ve been trying to reach you for the past twenty minutes! What the hell happened?”

“Oooh, and you didn’t hear it because I turned off the radio when I handed it back to you!” Cozy said, her tone saccharine sweet despite the look of sudden rage on her face. “Ooopsie.”

“Shining, there’s no time to explain!” Twilight shouted as she leapt to her feet. “We have to get out of here, now. Is the Avenger--”

“The Avenger’s gone, Twily,” Shining interrupted, his words like a bucket of ice water over the freshly lit campfire that was our hope. “I’m on one of the seaplanes. The pilot and I managed to take off right as the missiles impacted the ship. We’ve been staying out of sight for a while, but when the storm around the cruise ship suddenly dissipated and the guns stopped firing we decided to try and land on the deck, next to the bridge tower.”

The spark of hope flared back to life within us. “Then there’s a chance we could escape!” Twilight replied. “It’s a slim chance, but still--”

“It’s far better than what we had a few minutes ago, darling!” Rarity said as she got up. “How long do we have?”

“T-minus eight minutes until detonation.”

“Not long enough!” Tiara shouted as she ran for the elevator shaft. “Come on, we’ve got to hurry!”

“We can’t take the elevator,” I said. “It’s way too slow. We’ll have to fly.”

“Fly?” Tiara gaped at me. “Is… is that a thing we can do?”

In response, I called upon my magic to rise up in the air. “If it wasn’t I wouldn’t suggest it.”

“The elevator shaft’s still the best way up though, right?” Scootaloo said, her face taut with determination. “We just have to get the elevator out of the way.”

“Ah’m on it!” Applejack declared as she got to her feet. With a few quick strides she’d made her way over to the elevator shaft. Her apple red and granny smith green aura flared to life as she wrenched open the doors, rose up and with several mighty punches tore apart the top of the elevator. She ruined it, but the damage left plenty of room for us to head up one at a time. “If we’re gonna move we better move fast!”

“Twilight, Scootaloo, can you still fly?” I asked, giving them an appraising look. They were the ones with the actual wings, and with plenty of injuries to them besides.

Scootaloo gave hers a test flap and cringed, but she rose in the air all the same. “Good enough for this!” She glanced over at Tiara and winked. “Tiara can catch me if I fall.”

Twilight, however, shook her head. “No, I’m… I’m going to need help.” She pressed down on the receiver. “Shining, listen, we’re on our way up, but you have to be ready to take off the instant we’re aboard. We have to fly away from the ship at top speed. Burn the engine out if we have to.”

“Wait, why? What’s going on?”

Letting out a quiet whimper, Twilight replied, “Remember that device I brought? It’s… a bomb. A big one. Like, nuclear big. And it’s about to go off.”

“Holy shit Twilight what the hell is wrong with--”

“There’s no time for this!” Twilight shouted back. “You can yell at me if we survive. We’re on our way. Be ready!”

“All right, we’ll be ready, don’t worry.”

“T-minus seven minutes until detonation.”

Rarity held out her arms. “Princess, would you like me to take you up?”

Twilight stuffed the radio into her satchel, then nodded. “Go ahead.”

Careful not to touch too many of the Princess’s injuries, Rarity scooped up the Princess and carried her bridal style. “All right, I know this is possible, I just have to… oh!” She rose up in the air with a sudden burst of acceleration, then managed to get it under control. “Wonderful. Let’s go.”

“Lemme go ahead so Ah can open the door up top,” Applejack said. She leapt into the air and disappeared up the shaft, with Rarity and the Princess following swiftly behind.

Scootaloo spread her wings. “Okay, me next. Tiara, stay right behind me. I meant it when I said I might need you to catch me.”

Diamond Tiara gulped, then nodded her head. “R-right. Let’s get moving!”

With a burst of speed Scootaloo shot up like a rocket, Tiara trailing behind her

“T-minus six minutes to detonation.”

As the last one, I prepared to follow after them, but just as I reached the shaft, I heard Cozy cry, “Wait!”

I turned back, the sudden rush of possible escape causing the ticking clock of the bomb to fill me with massive amounts of anxiety. “What?”

She hopped off her throne and ran over to me. “You… aren’t you going to offer to take me with?”

Arching both eyebrows I replied, “Seriously? I thought you were looking forward to dying.”

Cozy grit her teeth, her eyes flashing with ire. “I… I am! But you’re supposed to offer to take me. Isn’t that what you do? You always give the villain a chance?”

Snorting in sheer disbelief, I said flatly, “Cozy, you gave up your last chance when you started this game.”

“T-minus five minutes to detonation.”

“But what about my punishment?” Cozy snapped. She reached forward and grabbed my wrist. “I thought Twilight wasn’t going to have me executed. I thought she--”

I shook off her hold easily. “I don’t have time for this shit. No one’s going to miss you, Cozy. Now if you’ll excuse me…”

As I took to the air and flew as fast as I could, I heard Cozy shout after me, “No, please! Sunset! Wait! Please! ...I’m sorry!”

That last one caused me to halt. I looked back down at the bottom of the shaft, where I saw her looking up from the hole in the elevator. “You mean that? You truly mean that?”

Cozy Glow gave me an innocent smile and held up her hands in a friendly pleading gesture. “Uh-huh! I do!”

I flew back down just far enough so she could see the malicious smirk on my face as I flipped her off. “Go to hell.”

Then I zoomed back up the shaft at top speed, even as I heard the sound of Cozy breaking into tears.

“There you are!” Tiara said when I reached the top and emerged onto the food court. The whole place was a complete wreck, tables and chairs knocked over or broken into pieces. Half the restaurant storefronts were a mess of smashed up food and broken plates, while goods from the stores littered the floor in front of their entrances. “What took you?”

“Cozy tried some last minute crocodile tears. Come on!”

I followed after her as we raced down the promenade towards the bridge deck. In my head the seconds ticked away, keeping record like a perfect clock. Four minutes.

When we emerged onto the deck, the sunlight was nearly blinding after being below for so long. A large, goofy looking plane was sitting square in the center. It featured an elongated, curved body shaped vaguely like a fat banana without the taper at the end, complete with the same shade of bright yellow paint. Two large wings spread out to either side, with twin prop motors. Pontoons for a sea-based landing hung down from each wing, next to the landing gear. One side had a hanging door, currently swung open.

Shining Armor stuck his head out from the plane. “Come on you two, hurry! We don’t have time!”

“Don’t have to tell me twice!” Tiara shouted as she raced to board the plane.

I followed right after, and once aboard I took the last remaining open seat. There was just enough room for all of us aboard the plane, which was something of a miracle. “Uh, I don’t know a lot about planes, Twilight,” I said as Shining closed the door behind us. “But how’re we going to take off without a runway?”

“Leave that to me, miss,” said the pilot, a maroon skinned woman with a shock of mulberry hair wearing an unusual naval officer’s uniform, complete with rank insignia of a silver pair of outstretched wings and a horn. “We don’t need one.”

“Boysenberry?” Twilight gasped as Boysenberry began hitting switches, the engines whirring to life in an instant. “I wasn’t expecting you to be the pilot. Did… did the other seaplane--”

“Sorry, your Highness, but we’re the only two survivors,” Boysenberry said, all business despite what sounded like a note of sorrow in her voice.

“And we were lucky,” Shining added. “She escorted me off the bridge to this seaplane because they were having trouble removing the broken levitation charm, since they weren’t used to having fingers. I’d just replaced it when we heard people shouting to take cover. Since it was inside the plane…”

“You were both sitting right in the seat, ready to go,” Twilight finished with a bittersweet sigh. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Definitely,” Shining nodded in agreement as he took his seat. “The ship was exploding all around us even as we took off. It was a wonder none of the flying debris took out one of our wings. As it was, the shockwaves from the secondary explosions of the ship’s magazines almost knocked us into the water. And it did knock out our radio.” He held up a handheld unit, identical to the one Twilight used. “This didn’t have the range to reach you till we got close.”

“Guys, we don’t have time to talk about this,” I warned. “We’ve got three minutes!”

In response, Boysenberry pulled back on the stick, causing us to rise slowly into the air, straight up. “Well aware of that, miss.”

The movement of the plane felt utterly glacial as the time ticked by in my mind. We rose fifty feet, one hundred feet, and reached one fifty right as I announced, “Two and half minutes!”

“I’m so sick of countdowns today,” Scootaloo said with a scowl.

“Um, not to unduly alarm anyone,” Rarity said with a panicked expression as we continued to float straight up, “but why aren’t we flying yet?!”

Boysenberry’s frown tightened. “Need to reach safe altitude or else we won’t have enough lift to stay in the air.”

Tiara’s face twisted into a look of dismay. “Wait, we’re seriously just going to go straight up and then drop like a stone and hope we get enough lift to fly? What kind of a design is this?!”

“The only practical way we could accomplish creating a VTOL aircraft with the tech we had,” Twilight grumbled.

Shining moaned as his face turned green. “God I hate flying…”

“Two minutes!” I shouted. “Do we even have enough time to get away?!”

“Hold on!” Boysenberry commanded as she abruptly pushed the stick straight forward. The plane nosedived straight back for the water, giving us a clear view of the choppy seas below. She janked up the throttle as we fell and only started pulling back on the stick when we were less than a hundred feet above the water. Everyone screamed, especially Applejack, who clung to her seat with a white-knuckled grip.

We just pulled out of the dive, skimming the water’s surface with our pontoons even as I automatically shouted, “ninety seconds!” Boysenberry punched up the throttle to full, causing the engines to whine like crazy as we shot forward.

“Uh, we gonna stay right on top of the water like this?” Applejack yelped. “This don’t look safe!”

“No choice!” Boysenberry replied as she kept her hold steady. “That bomb’ll knock out the engines when it goes. We can’t risk being too high in the air.”

“One minute!”

“Everyone!” Twilight called out as she dug into a box sitting under her chair. She pulled out several pieces of black cloth and started handing them out. “Cover your eyes! If they’re open when the bomb goes off we’ll be blinded!”

Rarity took one and began to wrap it around my head. “Here, let me do this. You can’t tie it with one arm.”

“Thanks,” I murmured. “Hey, Boysenberry, how fast are we moving?”

Boysenberry replied, “Top speed’s about two hundred miles per hour, why?”

“Oh, no reason,” I said, my heart sinking fast. “Thirty seconds, guys!”

I felt Twilight lean over to whisper into my ear, “Sunset, I don’t think we’re going to make it. The distance we need to cover to get out of range--”

“I know, I did the math too,” I replied. “But it was worth a try.”

Twilight patted my arm, then shouted to the others, “Everyone brace yourselves!”

Five.

Rarity took my hand in hers and held it tight even as she leaned forward to cover her head.

Four.

Tiara whimpered as she clung to Scootaloo. “I’m scared…”

Three.

“Me too,” Scootaloo said.

Two.

“Hang on, y’all!”

One.

I lowered my head down to my lap, covering my eyes as tight as I could. Then, even past the blindfold and my arm a great white light brighter than the sun filled the cockpit. Warning alarms flared to life only to die just as suddenly as the plane jerked forward, the engines chugging to a halt. I screamed for dear life as the pontoons skidded across the water, the sound of shearing metal filling the air as a great heat washed over us like fire everything was fire and burning and flames and

Author's Note:

...

Cliffhangers are a pain, aren't they? :trollestia:

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