The Sun Shines No More

by CGPH

First published

After getting attacked on the street Sunset’s life begins to spiral out of control. As her mental and physical condition worsens, she soon finds that her salvation may lie with an unlikely trio.

On her way home one evening, Sunset Shimmer is jumped. Beaten and broken, she must now try and reintegrate back to her normal life, all while living under the constant fear her attackers will return to finish the job. As her mental condition worsens, it soon becomes apparent this is one problem that a blast of rainbow magic won’t solve...


Wonderful artwork courtesy of kul. Proofread by ForBloodySummer. Probably my best work, if you're only going to read one of my stories, make it this one.
(Teen tag due to indepth description of physical violence in opening chapters.)

Now has a review by Arcanum Phantasy, which can be watched here!

Chapter One: Grey Day

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Sunset Shimmer walked briskly through the empty streets of Canterlot. It was Sunday evening and she was on her way home from a long study session at the town’s library. She didn’t really have anything to study for this late into the school year, but she and her friends found the library a good hangout spot and “study session” sounded better than “try not to get caught playing computer games”.

Pinkie Pie and Applejack couldn’t come due to work, so the meet was only between herself, Rarity, Fluttershy and their newest addition, the Twilight Sparkle from this world. As for Rainbow Dash… Apparently playing hooky from school wasn’t enough and it turned out she had to avoid anything that sounded even remotely educational. So while it was just the four of them, they had still had a good time.

Sunset and Rarity played a game of cards, Fluttershy browsed cat videos on the internet and Twilight… Fair dos to her, Twilight actually did study. The four of them spent the day there, sharing personal stories, playing silly games, and just in general enjoying the circumstances their lives had put them in.

But now it was late and they all had homes to get to. It was a school day tomorrow and things had already started to get dark out, and although Sunset admittedly enjoyed walking home in the dark (she found the atmosphere very therapeutic), it didn't hurt to be cautious, so she'd left with ample time to get herself home before the sun had completely disappeared behind the horizon. Twilight actually tried offering her a ride home, but on the basis they lived in opposite directions and her flat was only a short walk away, Sunset politely declined. The four girls all said their farewells at the library gate and went their separate ways.

There was an unforeseen benefit from walking home at this time: one hell of a nice sunset to admire.

Oh, how narcissistic of me,” she thought, smiling at her own joke.

A chilling breeze of cold air brushed against her face, causing Sunset to tighten her scarf.

It was late November and the cold had really begun to set in. Christmas was just around the corner, and snow seemed ever present on the horizon.

They only had a few short weeks of school left now before they broke up for holidays. This would mark Sunset’s fifth Christmas in the human world, but only her first that really mattered. The first three she'd spent alone, ignoring the holiday in favor of self pity and scheming. And then whole "Anon-a-miss" incident of kind of spoiled last years festivities. Thus this would mark her first actual Christmas where for once, everything was how it was supposed to be.

Even back when she was the old Sunset, she always loved this time of year. Near as she could figure out, although the origins of the two holidays differed greatly, Christmas was essentially this world’s version of Hearths Warming Eve. It was one of the only constants she found when coming through the portal, and she’d be lying if she said the nostalgia didn’t play a big part in her love. From the decorations, to the carols, to the snow crunching beneath her feet, to the streets bathed in an orange glow; Sunset lived for it. Normally she didn’t like the cold, but she could get over it if Christmas was involved.

The scarf she wore right now in particular she treated as a festive item. It was given to her by Rarity the previous Christmas, when she and the girls had stayed over in Applejack's barn. It was dark purple, with her initials SS stitched into one corner. Rainbow once joked that to anybody who didn’t know her name, it probably looked really dodgy.

Sunset gave another light smile at the memory and glanced up at the sky.

Despite there still being just enough light for her to see unaided, the street lamps had already come on, giving Sunset an early taste of her eagerly anticipated Christmas glow.

Her observation was suddenly interrupted by contact.

“Gah!” she jumped in alarm.

She felt a force roughly bury itself into her leather jacket and drag her back. In the confusion Sunset automatically pulled against it. She didn’t know what was going on, but she didn’t like it. The little resistance Sunset could muster in the heat of the moment wasn’t enough, and she was torn backwards. The warm light from the streetlamps suddenly disappeared as she was dragged into the cold shadow of an alleyway. At this point her disorientation hit its peak and she lost her footing. She fell backwards into the force that was dragging her.

She could only force out a yelp as she fell, falling back into what she instantly knew was a person. Sunsets head shot around, trying to make sense of the situation. What was going on? Was she being mugged? Is that what a mugging was like?

Sunset’s eye’s settled on a person now in front of her. It wasn’t the person she’d fallen into, as they still had hold of her jacket and presently, was the only thing stopping Sunset from falling to the floor. The new person was only in frame for a second before descending upon her.

“Wha-“ Sunset tried to get out.

A fist collided with her face.

She felt the dull knuckles cut their way through her cheekbones, and an audible crack was heard as her neck was forced to the side. Her world span as a white daze overtook her vision.

She fell limp against the figure holding her. Before Sunset had time to recuperate from her daze, a second fist hit her. This one right into her gut, but Sunset could have sworn it went straight through her. The air was forced out of her lungs in a zombie-like cough and she felt her soul drain out of her body. She tensed up, and attempted to keel over into the fetal position, but the figure behind her clung tightly to her jacket, holding her up.

The pain from her face and stomach suddenly turned into nothing more than a tingle, and even her panic drained away as her body switched to autopilot. She was at the mercy of her attackers now, who seemed very aware of that.

The figure behind her stepped aside, letting Sunset fall back. Her head crashed into what was clearly a gravel brick wall, and suddenly her whole world seemed to revolve around the taste of pennies. She could taste pennies, she could smell pennies, and as far as she was concerned she had become a penny. Her body soon followed suit and she collapsed in a heap on the ground, folding up like a deckchair. Her head had stopped spinning, but instead ofthe slow, gentle halt she would had preferred, everything crashed down on her like a ton of bricks. A thumping pressure in her head caused her to force her eyes shut. With each pump her head felt like it was getting tighter and tighter, as though she was a balloon on the verge of popping, and each pump was a breath blowing her up. Sunset groaned in pain and her eyes leaked open. She could make out the fuzzy silhouettes of four legs stood in front of her.

She opened her mouth to call out, took a jagged breath and closed it again. The taste of pennies was churning her stomach. Luckily she didn’t have time to focus on that, as suddenly two hands made contact with her again. She tried to fight it, but her best efforts managed to amount to just a flinch and a brief whimper. The hands closed around Sunset’s arm and dragged, pulling her into the sitting position. She had no choice but go along for the ride. Two more hands came into view, sealing themselves around her other arm. Sunset knew what was coming next, and tensed herself up as she felt them lift her. As she gained altitude, black spots dotted in the corner of her vision.

She was pushed back against the wall again, this time her attackers spreading her arms out and pinning her down. Even in her disorientated state, Sunset could suddenly feel how exposed she was. She heaved and tried pushing back, making any attempt to free herself. She thrashed from side to side, but her weak struggles were nothing against her attacker’s strength. A new taste joined the pennies in Sunset's mouth. She licked her lips, recognizing the salty sensation and realized she was now crying. It was now she was able to make out the source of the metallic taste in her mouth; her own blood.

Sunset lifted her eyes forward. Even through the white daze, black splotches and darkness of the alleyway, she could make out the two figures standing before her. Despite the large jackets they wore -the hoods of which did a good job at masking their faces- she could tell by their shape they were female. Quite who they were, she couldn’t say. But she knew enough to know they did not have good intentions.

Sunset closed her eyes, preparing to have her pockets pillaged or her jacket torn from her. But the ransacking never came.

What did come however, was another swift punch into her gut.

AUUUGGH!” Sunset wheezed.

The air escaped her lungs at a speed that felt like sandpaper surfing up her neck. Her arms pulled against her restraints as her body tried yet again to retreat into the fetal position, but they remained firmly pinned against the wall. Suddenly the concrete floor and the feet of her attackers were the only thing in her field of view, as she realized her head was hanging limply.

An unseen hand took a fistful of Sunset’s fringe, and before she could respond to what was happening her head was lifted up, only to go careening to the side again as another fist was smashed into it. Facing the ground, the little light she could make out was now tinged red, and the taste of pennies in her mouth was stronger than ever. The thumping in her head seemed to focus primarily on her left eye now, which Sunset could only guess was were that last punch had landed.

“Please… sto-“ was all she could force out.

Again her head was lifted up by her hair, this time with the back of her skull getting smashed back into the brick wall. The white daze returned and the black spots clouded her vision. Sunset’s body shuddered and then hung loose. Whatever little resistance she could give was now gone. She submitted to the pain, and braced herself for whatever was to come next.

The girls took turns hitting her. Each blow hit causing Sunset to go a little bit more numb. In a strange way she was thankful they had attacked her head first, it meant she couldn’t feel the true extent of the rest of the pain they were inflicting on her. Each hit into Sunset's stomach caused her body to react, trying to contract in on itself but unable to because of the girls grasp. Sunset dry heaved, but all that came out was a light dribble of blood. One of the girls hit her in the face again, but it didn’t matter now, Sunset had ascended to a new plain of existence where she was above feeling physical pain. All she could do was watch and get thrown about as the girls lay waste to her.

She didn’t know how long they were there for, but things had gotten darker now. Whether that was because she was losing consciousness, her eye had swollen over or they had just been there that long, she didn’t know. In likeliness, it was probably all three.

Then, there was a new factor. Up until this point, the only sounds Sunset could hear was her own jagged breathing and the thumps as her attacker’s fists collided with her body. The attackers themselves had remained almost entirely silent, outside from an occasional grunt to add emphasis into a punch. But now there was a new sound. A voice, and it was growing ever closer.

“STOP, Y-YOU’RE GONNA KILL HER!” the voice spluttered. Even in her state, Sunset could tell the speaker was distressed.

She mentally thanked the voice. But unfortunately, the voice’s begging did nothing to impede her attackers. Punch after punch was sent into her gut and chest, with the occasional one in her face. She was at least getting used to the rhythmic beats, and could prepare herself mentally for them.

But then the rhythmic beats came to an abrupt stop, and she felt the arm pinning her right arm down get jolted. She couldn’t lift her head to see what was going on, but her confusion was quickly explained by the voice.

“Aria please stop! She’s had enough!” the voice begged.

There was another jolt on her arm, and for a split second Sunset felt relief. A very brief relief that was then snatched away as the pressure on her arm returned and another fist collided into her face. Not a second later, there was a jolt on her other arm, and the voice returned.

“Adagio you said we weren’t going to kill her! We need to go, please!” the voice shouted.

It took a second but the force pinning her left arm against the wall released, allowing her body to drop limp. Sunsets left half swung round, crashing into the legs of the other attacker, who at this point still had her arm pinned against wall. There was a silence, before a very audible grunt, and Sunsets other arm came free. She flopped face-first against the pavement, and if she actually had any feeling left in her head, she’d have probably cared. Though her attackers had released her, she could still feel their presences. They were talking. About what, Sunset couldn’t make out. But she prayed whatever it was was more interesting than her.

Then, a noise she recognized. Footsteps. Quick footsteps. Growing quieter.

Her attackers were leaving.

A wave of relief washed over the still-conscious parts of Sunsets mind, but the relief that came too soon. Another impact, much harder than any before, was delivered into Sunsets chest. There was a sharp crack and even with her body numb, she felt it. Sunset let out another violent cough, causing blood to splutter out of her mouth and onto the pavement before her. And with that the remaining attacker joined the other two, and Sunset was alone. There she lay, eyes closed.

She didn’t move.

She didn’t think.

She just, existed.

At some point she’d stopped crying, making the only sound discernible to her being her own wheezing breaths. No dripping pipes, no cars in the distance, nothing. It was as though she’d gotten off a roller-coaster and gone immediately to the surface of the moon. The entire world around her had fallen silent, as though she was the only living being in it.

Sunset didn’t know how long she was laid there for. She didn’t know how long the attack had lasted. She didn’t even know how long ago she had left the library. But she did know that that world, the world of her friends, the world of magic and Equestria... couldn’t have felt more far away than it did right now.

She seemed to dip in and out of consciousness. Sometimes she was able to think, to process, sometimes it’d be revealed she was just dreaming that she could think. Her head danced around her, whatever little light she could make out from the end of the alley way was visible from each direction at any given point. To say her head was spinning would be an understatement.

But oh, how she wished she could have stayed in that state.

The first thing that came to her was thankfully, the coldness of the pavement against her face. It had obviously rained sometime previously, and the mixture of drool and blood coming from her face wasn’t helping matters. She licked her lips and swallowed, getting another hit of dirty pennies. She winced.

The second thing that came back was the thumping in her head. First it had started off in the distance, but then gradually got closer. The rhythmic thumping of her own heartbeat got louder and louder, like a giant monster was running towards the city. Each thump flared the whiteness in her vision, and put her head ever closer to the point where she was sure it was going to burst. Sunset went cross-eyed and tensed the muscles in her ear canal, trying anything to fight off the pain. But nothing worked, and she tried instead just to block the pain out.

She failed.

She tried focusing her vision forward, and could make out the rough outline of what looked like a trash can. The sun had set during her attack, and the only light she was getting was from the street lamp back out on the road. But her eyes were adjusting reasonably well to the darkness, all things considered. She could make out the nearby trash can, and the short distance she’d had to travel to get back out onto the street.

She lifted her hand towards the trash can, planning how to use it to pull herself up. What a mistake that was.

All around her, pain flared. Her chest contracted, tightening around her lungs to the point where she couldn’t breathe. A wave of pain swept through her gut as it seized up, like she’d done thousand sits ups all at once. Sunset gasped out in agony and dropped her hand, having only gotten it barely few off the ground anyway. She winced, waiting for the pain of her sudden movement to stop. It didn’t, but it did slow. The thumping in her head eventually relaxed and turned more akin to background music. Her gut relaxed itself, and only when the pain had reached its lowest form did she open her eyes again.

Moving was not an option. She had experienced pain like that before, when she’d broken her arm during her first year here. But never had she experienced pain like that coming from every inch of her body at the exact same second.

She didn’t have to move. She just had to call out for help. Somebody would come find her, wouldn’t they? It was a main road she was walking down after all, somebody would have to come down it at some point?

So she waited, laying perfectly still. Even when focusing all of her energy into not moving a single muscle, the pain still echoed through her body. It caused a sensation almost like an itch, making her want to scratch the tender areas of her body. Like when taking off a bandage that’s been on for a long time, the nicest feeling is being able to give a good scratch to the fresh skin. The fact she couldn’t move at all -never-mind scratch the itch- seemed to make this whole shitty situation a lot more shitty.

She waited for a sign of anybody approaching. Whether it was distant footsteps, the mumbling of a voice; anything at all to indicate a living person was in the nearby vicinity would have been music to her ears right now.

But no nobody came.

Then she realized she’d been out studying on a Sunday afternoon. It was dark out now, making it what, at least eight?

Nobody had gone past because everybody was already home. Nobody stayed out late in Canterlot on a school night. This was a good city with a routine, people were at home prepping for Monday morning. Whether that was to catch the school bus or drive to work, the last thing anybody at this time would be doing was walking the streets at night.

Minus the girls who attacked her.

It was ironic the reason nobody was coming to her aid was because everyone in this town lead a sheltered existence. Crimes in Canterlot were unheard of, and even when they were it was never anything more than a simple shoplifter or an illegal parking.

But Sunset had been attacked.

Not mugged, like she expected to be when they grabbed her. Attacked. Beaten to a pulp and then left for dead. Why? Had she done something to offend those girls? Who were they? Were they just doing it for their own sick amusement? Why had they stopped? Was this directed at her or was this a case of wrong place at the wrong time? If it was directed at her, what had she done?

All these questions and more flooded into Sunsets head as the reality of the situation began to settle in on her.

She had been attacked. She had never been attacked before; she’d never even been in a fight. Minus the time she became a raging she-demon and got blasted with the Elements of Harmony, and the time she became an angel and had to blast a different raging she-demon with the Elements of Harmony. They were never physical scraps though, even when Sunset was her old self she had never found herself driven to violence.

Opening her eyes again, her thoughts settled back on the nearby trash can. Help wasn’t coming, so she would have to help herself. The worst part was going to be standing up, she knew that. Most of her injuries were centered on her chest and stomach, her legs were okay. She just needed to get onto them.

She took a deep breath, wincing as her lungs expanded further than they were comfortable doing at this point. Holding the breath tightly in her lungs, she pushed on it and forced all of her energy into her arm.

A pain shot through her that was so bad, for a second it didn’t even register as pain. It registered as something, a feeling, not a tingle, more like a blank space. She got a sensation as though she a mannequin, she had the body, but she wasn’t real. And when that feeling died down into actual pain, only then did she gasp.

It was the first time she’d vocalized properly since her punch in the chest and whoa… did she regret not learning Princess Twilight’s breathing exercises. The breath she’d been holding in was forced out of her body, tearing apart her throat on the way up and exploding out her mouth.

“Ghhhggghh,” Sunset grunted through her teeth.

Relief came in the form of her fingers touching the cold rusted rim of the trash can. It didn’t have a lid on it, which meant she was going to have to be careful with her weight ratio.

Sunset quickly took another breath, reassuring herself the worst part was nearly over. She moved her other hand into position. Clenching her teeth against the pain, she placed it on the floor beside her and pushed.

She was able to lift herself barely a few inches off the ground. Her arms, her legs, hell, her entire body screamed in protest. Her stomach twisted and contorted, rebelling against her as though it was about to liquefy. The use of her body parts had caused the thumping in her head to return louder than ever. She scrunched up her face and tried to bare the pain.

She felt a mild panic as the rim of the trash can began to tremble under her weight. She could feel the other side of it lift off the ground and prayed it wasn’t about to come crashing down on top of her.

But success, Sunset lifted herself from the ground and was able to drag a knee up beneath her. Turns out her legs weren’t in as good as shape as she thought, but she was stable. She was able to take her weight off the rim of the garbage can, lowering it to the ground. She gasped her next breath, ignoring the horrid sensation coming from her throat and focusing instead on the stretching feeling she felt as she breathed. It wasn’t an unpleasant sensation –provided she didn’t push on it- but it was a sensation she could definitely feel.

She blinked a few times. She tried again to reassure herself that despite the pain she still felt in her head and chest, the worst was now over. Her grip on the garbage can had loosened but she still cling to it, as if anything the cold sensation of it on her fingers was helping distract her.

Sunset looked up. She could see the entrance to the alleyway. Hell, she was almost stood in it. The girls that grabbed her only dragged her barely a meter in, if that. Whoever they were they didn’t seem very bothered about getting seen. Or maybe they had also just noticed how empty it was around here on a Sunday evening.

Taking enough breaths, Sunset regained her composure as best she could. She released her grip on the bin, and used the sleeve of her jacket to wipe her mouth. To her disgust, a trail of her own blood stained spit came away with it. Still needing her other hand to support her, she did all she could to get rid of it and wiped it on her already oil-stained skirt. If Rarity saw the state of her right now she’d likely drag Sunset into an alleyway of her own and give her a beating far worse.

The thought gave Sunset a small smile. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and stood.

As she first began to rise she had a little wobble, and quickly took the rim of the trash can again. Using it as her ballast, she continued her ascent. Her stomach had almost become a second heartbeat, with a wave of pain flowing through her with every pulse. She gritted her teeth and pulled herself up.

Suddenly she felt the rim of the trash can slip from her grasp. She’d pulled it too hard, and it crashed to the floor beside her in an over the top display. The sound waves were a shock to her system and she stumbled back, flinching at the noise. The acoustics in the alleyway turned what would have been a small crash into a thunderous bang, almost like a strike of lighting.

But, she was okay. She’d made it to her feet, and the worst was over. She took a sigh of relief, and placed her hand over her tummy. She knew even as a foal that rubbing her tummy did nothing to ease pain, but the feeling of the fabric of her shirt rub against the tenderness of her pained spots was her version of scratching that itch from earlier.

The stench from the fallen garbage now began to seep towards her. She screwed up her nose. Rotten meat, gone-off cheese and… oh Celestia, what was that? Sunset spied the garbage on the floor, among which was a half-eaten taco and… an open dirty diaper?

It was time to leave.

Sunset had spent more than enough time in this alleyway. Home. She needed to get home.

She looked back towards the entrance and began to wobbly trudge towards it. Her legs ached. She wasn’t sure why considering they never touched her legs, but none the less it felt like she’d ran a marathon. She secured both her hands around her tummy, as though she was holding it from falling out. And with the pain she kept feeling from it, that didn’t seem like something unlikely to happen. As she got closer to rejoining the main street, the light from the streetlamps got harsher. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, causing her to wince as she traveled further into the light.

Reaching the street, she poked her head out. There was nobody around. All was dead. A light fog had set in, causing the whole world around her to become eliminated in an orange glow. If she had seen this sight an hour ago she’d had loved it, but right now she couldn’t care less about the aesthetic of the street. With one more glance around to make sure she was truly alone, Sunset ventured out back onto the street.

Her walking was slow. Each step was a limp, Sunsets only guess was at some point she must have been kicked at or landed on her own foot, because she was getting a lot of pain from walking. And with the pain in her stomach still not letting up, each step was becoming an accomplishment. She kept her head down, watching her own feet as took step after step. The pain she was going through now was a lot more stable than when she was on the floor, provided she didn’t move her upper torso that much, she could control it well enough.

Another breeze snaked its way around her, causing her body to instinctively shiver. Gritting her teeth against the pain caused by her automatic reaction, she went to tug at her scarf again, only to realize it wasn’t there. She stopped.

It must have been torn from her during her attack. It was probably still on the floor back in the alleyway somewhere. Sunset briefly considered going back for it, but then remembered that really… it was just a scarf. She wasn’t too far away from her apartment, she could deal with the cold until then. And Rarity would probably be more than happy to make her another one, realistically right now, she needed her priorities straight. She gave a sympathetic sigh and continued walking.

As she went, her eyes remained firming on the ground. She didn’t feel like looking around, she just wanted to get home. But the way she held her stomach was for more than just the sake of stopping it from hurting. She felt vulnerable. And rightly so, she was. She had no way of defending herself right now if her attackers were to return. She couldn’t run, or even call out for help. She would be completely at theirs, or anybody else’s, mercy. Closing her eyes, she gave a sigh and quickened her pace.

Man, she wished she hadn’t thought of that.

As she passed under each street lamp she watched as her shadow grew and shrank with her. It was strangely hypnotic. As she’d approach a lamp her shadow would start as a part of the darkness that filled the void behind her, but then as she got closer it would take form, filling in her footsteps. Then as she went under the light it’d reach its most human and be a direct dark image of her, facing downwards instead of up. When she was stood directly under the light, if it was side-on and she was stood on water, not concrete, it’d look like a perfectly mirror split. Then as Sunset would walk away, finally the shadow would overtake her, until eventually going full circle and re-joining the void of darkness out of the street lamps range.

This pattern continued as she made her way further down the street. She found herself getting lost in it. There was no background noise, no cars driving past or members of the public to distract her. Just her own shadow, growing and shrinking as she took step after step. Her footsteps were the only soundtrack to this hypnotic view, which further added to the rhythm.

It wasn’t much, but it was enough to distract her from the pain. It was something to focus on, something other than the blisters under her feet. Or the tightness she felt when she breathed. Or the pounding in her head. Or the waves of pain from her stomach. Or the fact that she couldn’t see what was behind her.

Breaking out of her trance, Sunset quickly glanced over her shoulder.

There was nothing there. Sunset silently cursed herself for getting scared like that. She returned to watching the pattern of her shadow below her, only to notice it had gone. She stopped again.

She’d reached the end of the street. There was a crossroads in front of her, taking her onto the next street. Another block down and she’d be at Sugar Cube Corner, which she could almost make out the outline of in the distance. Which meant…

Sunset frowned and looked to her left. She was outside her apartment block.

“…huh."

She was confused, but not complaining.

Turning to her left, she made her way over to the steps that lead up to main entrance. It was a small apartment block, only maybe ten or fifteen rooms in the whole building, all on top of each other. And she was… on the third floor.

Sunset swallowed again and mentally prepared herself. With her “just do it” attitude, she began to climb the steps. She placed her hand on the rail for support, which definitely helped take some of the weight of her feet. Each step she took was crooked, with one foot joining the other on the same step rather than one at a time. She held the breath in her lungs again, using it as a rock to push off of.

She reached the top of the steps and approached the main door. There was a buzzer in the wall labelled “Concierge”, with just above it a slot for inserting your apartment key.

Sunset closed her eyes and gave another sigh. She definitely had her key when she left the library, but had no idea if it was still on her. Mentally crossing her fingers, she patted herself down. A wave of relief hit her as she felt a small rectangular bit of plastic in her top pocket. She took her key out, and pushed the bit of plastic up against the slot. The was a second of waiting, then a red light turned green, there was a buzz, and the door before her gently swung open.

A familiar sight went a long way for the condition Sunset was in. This was the first place that Sunset moved into in this world (once she'd stopped staying in the schools library) and she’d been here ever since. True the actual “block” bit of the apartment block wasn’t the most appealing… exposed brick walls, bare piping and rusted over glass windows, but it was something that Sunset had gotten used to. Sealing the door behind her felt like sealing a leak in a dam of anxiety, and hearing that lock click into place was more satisfying she could have heard right now. She lost the feeling of vulnerability she had and it was replaced with a sense of security. Not a big one, but it was enough.

She turned towards the metal staircase. Three floors.

She could do this.

The metal railing was cold to the touch, but luckily the staircase was narrow enough for Sunset to be able to put both hands on the railings of either side. Her first step was easy enough. She didn’t have her hands on her stomach to give that extra bit of support she needed, but she was okay. As she lifted each leg however, that’s when she began to become not okay. Her gut started twisting again, it was pain similar to what she’d feel doing sit ups only a lot, lot worse. Her stomach rumbled in protest, though that was also probably because she was hungry.

With the first set of steps done, she did the short walk across the landing and onto the next set. She clenched her eyes shut as the pain in her stomach began to worsen. She briefly tried lifting herself entirely by her arms, hoping to be able to just bypass the stairs completely and swing her legs over them. But the burning sensation in her biceps told her that was not a good idea. So she carried on, step after step, with the pain in her waistline getting worse and worse. Due to the sudden increase of body movement, blood had begun circulating her body faster, which had caused the dull pained beats in her head to return. There was a grandfather clock in her head and every second was an hour. The louder it got the more painful it got, and at this rate Sunset was wincing in sync with every heartbeat.

This place needs an elevator,” she mumbled to herself.

One more set to go. Sunset gritted her teeth, sucked in another deep breath and started to climb the last few steps. The thumping in her head was almost unbearable now, only the knowledge that covering her ears would not help silence it stopped her from doing so. Her stomach screamed out in protest as she tensed it again and again, lifting her leg to the next step. Even her arms at this point had begun to burn.

As tears began to well up, Sunset finally took the last step and reached her landing. She had been happy many a time to see her front door, but none more so than right now. Her limps hurt more now than before, each step making them worse and worse. She had blisters on her blisters. She hobbled to her front door, key still in hand and after a few shaky misses, managed to get the key into its slot.

Ku-lunk

Her door swung open. Leaning against the door frame to support herself, she stepped in. Another feeling of relief washed over her. It was the smell. It wasn’t particularly nice, or of anything one thing in particular. But it smelt like home. It smelt of safety and comfort. It smelt of her shower and her bed. It smelt of her books and coffee mug. It smelt of alcohol and Netflix. Celestia, what she wouldn’t give for all of those things right now. Especially the alcohol part.

Swallowing again, Sunset pushed herself off the door frame and stepped inside properly. She turned, closing the door behind her and lifted the handle up, clicking the lock into place. Then after a moment’s hesitation, she put the chain lock on.

She’d never used it before, but she needed it right now.

Dropping the keys onto the bookshelf in her hallway, Sunset stepped back. The thumping rhythm in her head was still there, and her feet were screaming in protest for her to get off them. Every step she took her stomach rebelled and tried to tear itself out of her. She sighed, and got another unpleasant taste in her throat.

Water.

That was what she wanted right now. Before she did anything, she wanted a glass of water. She turned around, the kitchen was the first exit from the hallway, also making it the easiest option as well. She trudged forward towards it, wincing with every step. She took another deep breath –as deep a breath as she could take- and relished the smell of her apartment. It was yet another small distraction that she was trying to focus on, anything to take her away from her pain.

Reaching the sink, Sunset took a whiskey glass off the draining board and filled it up. The sound of the water splashing into the glass was like music to her ears. She licked her lips. The blood had dried since her attack and crusted over. Filling it to a good height, she turned the tap off and lifted the glass up.

It never reached her lips.

Instead it smashed down onto the kitchen floor, with an unconscious Sunset following immediately behind it.

Chapter Two: Broken

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A sudden vibration brought Sunset back.

She opened her eyes, only to have her cornea immediately singed by the sun. She winced and shut them again.

As her thought process began to boot up, it went every direction but straight. It went up, it went down, it backtracked, it brought up memories of long ago and some she didn’t even knew she had. She was playing with her younger brother as a foal. Then discovering dark magic in the Canterlot archives. Earning her cutie mark. Being accepted as Celestia’s private student. Escaping through the portal. Buying her first apartment. Joining CHS. Stealing the crown. Her reformation. Becoming an angel.

These images and more danced around in front of her. Then as things got closer to the present they slowed and began to fade. There was an orange glow, darkness, and then… redness.

The air around her was warm and sticky. The sunlight beating down on her wasn’t helping matters. She could smell her sweat and could felt its dampness as her clothes clung to her. She took a breath. Her throat was a desert and her mouth tasted like the backend of a skunk. A dull throbbing pain begin to arise in the back of her head.

Shifting her head so it was out of the sun’s trajectory, Sunset opened her eyes again. It took a second for her eyes to focus, but as they did she found herself -much to her own confusion- sprawled out on her kitchen floor. She frowned and scanned the room slowly, still in a daze. There was broken glass beside her in a small pool of water. She spied something more; blood on her shirt. Moving her head to get a better look, Sunset discovered there was a lot of blood on her shirt.

Lifting her head caused the throbbing pain to worsen, so she relaxed it back and stared up at the ceiling.

What the hell had happened?

She began to recollect her most recent memories. The last thing she remembered was showing Twilight a card trick she’d learned. Twilight had selected the ace of spades (though Sunset pretended to be none-the-wiser) and she’d then proceeded to pull the card out from behind Twilights ear. Her scream of delight was more than enough to get a laugh out of her and the rest of the girls.

That was all in the library, the library she was at yesterday. The library she walked home from. She walked home from it… she…

The person descended upon her.

“Wha-“ Sunset tried to get out.

A fist collided with her face. She felt the dull knuckles cut their way through her cheekbones, and an audible crack as her neck was forced to the side. Her world span as a white daze overtook her vision. Her body went limp.

Sunset blinked, recounting the memory to make sure she wasn’t mistaken. All of last night’s events came flooding back in one big gush, and her heart rate begin to pick up.

She had been attacked on the street. They held her down and took turns hitting her. Then stomped on her before leaving her to die out in the cold. They had targeted her a-and waited for her to be alone. They c-could have done anything they w-wanted, she could have been stabbed- she could have been murdere-she could have bee-shecouldhavebeen…

She sat bolt upright, as a world of pain hit her like a freight train. Her abdomen felt like a knife had been jabbed deep inside of it, which sent a red hot stinging right through into her soul. Sunset gasped in pain. She clenched her fists and pushed herself towards a work surface.

She threw herself back against it as a panic began to set in. She needed to call her friends. She needed to call the police. She needed to call Celestia. The people who attacked her were still out there, and they knew where to find her. They could come back for her. They would come back for her.

Her chest spasmed and constricted, her breathing shortened and she began taking quick raspy breaths, unable to catch up to herself. She found each breath worsened her ability to breathe; she was suffocating. Sunset’s fists opened and she dug her nails into the kitchen titling. The thumping pain in her head was now screaming at her. Her mouth opened as wide as it would go, desperately trying to take in as much air as she could. All that did was make matters worse as Sunset suddenly found herself unable to breathe at all.

She grasped at her throat with her hand. Tears began rolling down her face. She tensed her stomach up in the struggle, hoping the pain would cause her the breath. But the only thing that came was more pain. Her nails clawed the kitchen floor beside her as her knuckles turned white. She felt like she was drowning on air.

Sunsets panic was interrupted by a harsh knock at the door.

Her eyes snapped to the door with the look of dread.

It was them.

Her attackers had come for her. Who else would it be? She didn’t get visitors without it being prearranged, a-and why would somebody she knew knock that hard? Sunset was in no state to fight. She n-needed to get to her bedroom. She kept a bat under her bed for e-emergencies. But even with a bat she was no match for three of them! NO WAIT, she didn’t need the bat! She was already in the kitchen. She had knives. Lots of knives! She had a big meat knife. She could see it now. Just beside the sink. Its handle was sticking out of its display stand. All she had to do was reach out and grab it, then she was safe.

“Sunset darling, are you in there?”

Sunset stopped reaching for the knife. That wasn’t the voice of an attacker. That was… Rarity?

Her thought process began to calm down. She looked at her hand, up and the knife, and then slowly brought it back down. She’d began breathing again, taking slow, deep breaths. Stretching her lungs out was painful to her, but she needed it right now. Sunset blinked a few times and licked her lips, regaining her composure.

Rarity was at the door. Why was Rarity at the door? It was a school da-

Sunset looked at her kitchen clock.

4:32PM.

She’d completely missed school. Oh Celestia, that was all she needed. Her friends were probably worried sick about her. Another quick vibration in her top pocket caused her to flinch in surprise. She recognized it as the same sensation that woke her up. Wincing in pain, she lifted her hand up and dug it into her top pocket. She brought out her iphone, the screen still illuminated from its most recent alert.

Rarity (3 missed calls)

Rainbow Dash (1 missed call)

(None-Pony) Twilight (3 missed calls)

Applejack (2 missed calls)

Fluttershy (2 missed calls)

Pinkie Pie (22 missed calls)

Sunset closed her eyes and sighed. In a way she was touched. In another way, she was extremely stressed right now.

“Sunset, its Twilight and Rarity!” another voice came from behind the door.

Her eyes were drawn back to her front door. She needed to let them know she was okay. But she was in no state to answer the door.

Sunset coughed, trying to clear her voice. Instead all she did was pouring salt onto a sandpaper wound. She winced and took a deep breath.

Hey guys,” she started. Her voice was raspy and quiet. She’d have to try a lot harder than that.

“Hey guys,” she tried again, a lot louder, “I’m here I’m just… busy, right now.”

There was a second’s silence, and Sunset swore she heard whispering.

“So busy that you missed school?” Twilight’s voice came.

“Er… Yeah. You know me, busy busy busy, haha.” Sunset’s attempted humor turned into a very violent cough. Her stomach struck again and whiteness began to form around the edges of her vision. She leaned back against the counter, trying to bring her breath under control. She leaned up and grasped the side of her worktop, pulling herself up against it slightly.

“Sunset dear… Are you okay? You don’t sound particularly, er…”

“Alive.”

“… I was going to say okay, but that works too.”

Sunset took a deep breath and pulled herself up by the counter. The throbbing in her head told her she didn’t have long before it completely exploded. It had become so loud now she found it difficult to decipher what the girls were saying. As she pulled herself to her feet, her legs began to shake as they took more of her weight. Almost fully up now, with both hands on the kitchen counter she began to pull herself out of the kitchen.

As she reached the kitchen door, she took the wooden frame with both hands and pulled herself through it. Now she wasn’t using them as much her stomach muscles were no longer throwing a temper tantrum, but they still rumbled and gargled like a naughty child on the time-out step. Taking her full weight onto her feet, Sunset limped her way down her small hallway and towards the front door. She peeked through the eye whole, and saw the recognizable but blurred silhouettes of Twilight and Rarity, who seemed to be currently whispering between themselves.

Sunset pulled away from the door. There was a mirror in the hallway, she typically only used it for last minute outfit and makeup checks whenever she left the house. And true, she’d seen many a strange sight in this mirror; Cosplay, Halloween costume, fancy dress parties. This one had all of them beat by a mile.

Her mouth and neck were stained with blood. If she had to guess, it was blood from her mouth that had dripped out and then dried. Her left eye was bloodshot and the area around it purple. If Sunset couldn’t know any better, she’d say she could physically see it pulsating. Blood, dirt and oil stained her shirt. Even her leather jacket had managed to retain some of gravel from the alleyway floor. In short, she looked a vampire/homeless/zombie apocalypse survivor/actual zombie cross. Or put shortly, a wreck.

“Guys I’m fine,” Sunset croaked. “Just go away, okay? I’m… super busy.”

There was a silence from the other side. Sunset could feel the girls trying to think of how to react to her request. Asking something so harsh and straight forward was extremely out of character for her. She just prayed that on this one occasion her friends wouldn’t be smart enough to figure out something was wrong.

“Sunset dear, are you sure everything’s alright?”

Sunset sighed, still locking eyes with her reflection.

“Yeah, just… fine.”

“Then… I’m sure you wouldn’t mind coming to the door and telling us that. It’s extremely rude to turn a guest away in the first place, never mind not telling them face to face.”

Sunset’s heart sank. She knew from the moment she heard Rarity’s voice it was going to go this way. If it had been Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, or even Applejack, she’d had a chance at getting away with it, but not Rarity. She looked back towards the door and picked her keys up off the bookshelf.

She put the key in its hole and twisted until she heard a metal clank. Leaving it in the lock she then took the metal chain off the door.

“Time to face the music,” Sunset thought.

She pulled open the door.

It took Rarity and Twilight a moment to react. First their expressions were of confusion, which changed quickly in surprise, and then into panic. Not unlike Sunset’s reaction when she woke up, in fact. The two girls pushed into her apartment and started pampering her.

Twilight ran straight past Sunset and into the kitchen, while Rarity took Sunsets hand in her own and bombarded her with a million questions at once. Questions Sunset couldn’t entirely hear, if she was being honest. She wasn’t paying attention. She knew that just like last night, she was completely under these girls control now. They were going to do whatever they wanted to her and she just had to accept it, no point putting up at fight. Hopefully this would go a lot more painlessly than last night’s encounter.

Sunset stared blankly at Rarity as the questions kept coming, and the fact she wasn’t getting any answers didn’t seem to faze her. Twilight returned from the kitchen holding a green box. Sunset recognized it as the first aid box given to her by the landlord when she moved in. She hadn’t seen that thing in years, so props to Twilight for finding it that fast. Sunset didn’t think she would have been even able to find it at all if she had looked… truth be told, she’d forgotten she had it.

Twilight put the box down in front of them. She opened it up and after some messing around inside, pulled out a damp rag. She dabbed the rag lightly on Sunset’ face, causing a burning sensation that finally brought her out of her trance.

“Ow!” Sunset recoiled, pulling her hand from Rarity and shielding her cheek with it.

Twilight recoiled a bit. “Erm... yeah, it will do. I’m just cleaning you up.”

“Sunset dear, what the hell happened!?” Rarity snapped finally, losing her lady like composure completely.

Sunset looked at Rarity, and then back at Twilight.

She gave a sad sigh and took the rag from Twilight’s hand. Closing the front door, Sunset began to dab the rag on her own face, as she prepared to inform them entirely of the previous night’s events.

“On the way home last night I was… I was jumped. By some girls. They beat up and… well, they didn’t take anything.”

Rarity and Twilight’s faces both expressed horror to the greatest degree.

“You were jumped?!”

“Are you okay!?”

“Have you called the police!?”

“They take anything?!”

“Do you know who they were!?”

“Did you see what they looked like?!”

“I don’t know who they were,” Sunset put her hand up to silence them. “I didn’t get a good look at their faces, they had their hoods up.”

Rarity sank a little. “You have no idea who they were?”

Sunset shook her head. “If I know them, I didn’t recognize them. I don’t…”

“Sunset?” Twilight asked.

“Sunset, what’s the matter?”

“Aria please stop! She’s had enough!”

Another fist crashed into her face. Sunset spat blood. She felt the third party run around to her other attacker.

“Adagio you said we weren’t going to kill her! We need to go, please!”

“…Adagio.” Sunset mumbled.

“What was that?” Rarity asked.

Sunset looked up. “Adagio. Adagio and Aria. Those are the names of the girls who attacked me.”

Rarity frowned. “Well I haven’t heard the name Aria before, but Adagio… wasn’t she-“

“The leader of The Dazzlings,” Sunset said.

A wave of coldness swept over her. Goosebumps arose and the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.

It had been the sirens that came after her last night.

Adagio and Aria had attacked her… which meant it was the blue one (Sonata?) that came in at the end. It made sense now why they targeted her out. She wasn’t just in the right place at the right time, they had gone after her deliberately. Nobody had seen nor heard of The Dazzlings since the Battle of the Bands. A week after they disappeared they’d never crossed Sunsets mind again, if she’d thought about them she’d presumed they’d skipped town.

How wrong she was. They’d waited for her in that alleyway. Waited for her to go past and then took their revenge.

“We know all about you, Sunset Shimmer.”

The words echoed in her head. When she first heard them she took them as nothing but an idle threat. They’d obviously just heard about her off another student, she’d thought. But now she knew they were serious. They knew all about her. About her enough to know that she had made plans to meet up with the girls yesterday. About her enough to know the exact route she’d be taking home. About her enough to know she’d have left at the exact time so she could watch the sunset on her way home. About her enough to know where she lived, and probably even which apartment number.

Her breaths began to grow quicker and quicker.

“Sunset… you okay?” Rarity asked, noticing Sunsets ever increasing state of panic.

“I-I... I c-can’t… b-b…” Sunsets hands tightened around her neck again as she began gasping for air

“Sunset! Sunset breath!” Twilight took her by the sides and shouted.

“I’ll call an ambulance,” Rarity dashed off into the living room.

Sunset reached out an arm in protest but found herself unable to speak.


The ambulance men had told them they’d be with them within twenty minutes, and gave the girls specific instructions on what to do with Sunset until then. They took her into the living room and laid her out on the sofa, from there it was only a matter of helping her take control of her breathing, which wasn’t easy with the tightness Sunset was feeling in her chest. But it had worked, and Sunset had eventually began to calm down. Her first request was a glass of water, which Rarity had immediately ran and gotten her. While in the kitchen Rarity happened across the mess Sunset had made from the night before. As Rarity cleaned, Twilight used her time alone with Sunset to ask her something.

“So… who are The Dazzlings?” Twilight asked cautiously, hoping not to set Sunset off again.

Twilight had only joined them a few weeks ago and since then most of the magic based discussions they had were questions about Sunset, the pony Twilight or Equestria itself. It had never occurred to Sunset that nobody had actually explained to her what happened at the Battle of the Bands.

Sunset handed Twilight her now empty glass (which she had drained in a matter of seconds, thank you very much) and explained.

“They’re evil sirens from Equestria. Or, they were. They came to CHS last year and tried to feed off negative energy by turning everybody against each other. We stopped them but… only barely. That’s the first time we discovered we pony up when we play music.”

“Sirens…” Twilight seemed to let the word sink in a bit before continuing.

“What do you mean were? Are they not anymore?”

Sunset nodded. “When we blasted them with our magic, we took away their magic. They could still speak, but they couldn’t control people anymore. They’re just regular teenage girls now.”

“Huh… They must have been the source of the readings that pointed me to your school, then.”

Sunset looked up. “What do you mean?”

“Last year there was a really big surge of, well, what I know now was magical energy. It took me a while to figure out where it originated from… but when I did I went to go investigate. That’s when-“

“-That’s when I saw you messing around with the portal,” Sunset finished.

Twilight blushed and nodded.

A few minutes later Rarity returned with the ambulance men and they all helped Sunset down the stairs of her apartment block. Travelling down them was agony, but it was an agony she could deal with on the painkillers they’d dosed her up on. They’d put her in a stretcher and loaded her into the back of the ambulance, reluctantly allowing Rarity and Twilight to travel along with them.

The journey was taken in near silence. A single nurse accompanied them in the back. She sat beside Sunset, asking her standard questions and then jotting her responses down on a note pad. In between her answers Sunset shot an occasional dirty glance towards Rarity.

Sunset didn’t want an ambulance. She hated hospitals. She’d tried telling Rarity that while she was having her… whatever that was. But Rarity had gone ahead anyway, and now here they were.

True she shouldn't entirely blame Rarity, let’s be honest Sunset was fooling herself if she thought she wasn’t going to end up in hospital over this sooner or later, but still. Rarity was the reason she was heading there, and Sunset was going to be mad at her for it, with or without logic.

But by the time they arrived at hospital, Sunset was so high on painkillers she didn’t care about being mad anymore. She didn’t care about anything anymore, actually. Life was a rollercoaster, and she was strapped in and ready for the ride. Literally, as it turned out. To avoid causing her any unintentional damage from not knowing the specifics of what was wrong with her, the Doctors had kept Sunset tied down on her stretcher. They had tried asking her what was wrong with her, of course. But apparently there was no medical term for ‘being attacked in the back alley by evil mermaid horses’.

A number of medical examinations, a change of clothes and some serious sobering up later, Sunset found herself settled down in a hospital bed. It was night out, and most of the other patients on her ward seemed to be sleeping. The redhead nurse from the ambulance was by her bedside, pinned to her chest was a card that read “Redheart”.

“Ahh, the sun finally rises I see,” Redheart smiled at Sunset.

“Mmmhmmmm... how long was I out?” Sunset spied the darkness of a nearby window.

“Technically you haven’t been. Just been very off your head on painkillers. Not surprised either, if what the doctors are saying is true you’re a much tougher girl than I was at your age.”

Sunset frowned. “What’ve they said?”

Redheart nodded and made her way down to the bottom of Sunsets bed. She unhooked a clipboard from the railing and began to read it aloud.

“Diagnosis: Black eye, ribcage cracked in two places, fractured toe and a number of serious bruises on abdomen, arms and legs.”

Sunset nodded, surprisingly not taken back by this news.

Could have been worse. The cracked ribcage made sense. That must have happened towards the end of the attack, when one of the girls kicked her. She lifted her hand and pressed it between her breasts. As her chest rose and fell she could still feel the tightness trapped inside it. Like inflating balloons far past the size they were supposed to reach.

“Well… that explains the tightness when I breathe,” she thought.

“Which reminds me, I’ve been told to give you these,” Redheart continued. She placed a small bottle of pills on Sunsets bedside table.

“One four times a day. I could tell you what they’re for but honey honestly, when you’ve worked here for as long as I have this stuff all blurs together.”

Sunset laughed, or tried to. It actually came out as more of a wheeze, which sent her into a coughing fit.

Oh how she hadn’t missed that pain in her stomach. Sunset sat up, keeling over and coughing viciously into her hands. Comfort came in the form of a hand rubbing along her back.

“Note to self, making jokes is a no-no,” Redheart sympathized.

Sunset swallowed and breathed. It took a second for the pain in her stomach to calm down, but when it did she allowed herself to relax back down into her bed. It was now Sunset got to take a good look around the room.

White walls and a shiny floor, pretty standard hospital scenery. There was a sign above the door that read “SHORT STAY UNIT”, a sight which pleased her greatly. There were other people in the ward as well as her, a gathering of maybe six other beds, all of whom somehow managed to stay asleep during Sunsets coughing fit.

Nurse Redheart made her way down to the bottom of Sunsets bed again, this time returning the clipboard and taking out a second one.

“Just got a few standard questions to double check with you sweetie, if that’s okay.”

Sunset nodded.

“Full name?”

“Sunset Shimmer.”

“Date of Birth?”

“Ermm…. Nineteen years ago.”

“Nineteen, yeah that sounds about right.” Sunset said to herself. The age difference between ponies and humans was inconstant at best when travelling through the portal, it appeared humans aged much slower than ponies did. Whether travelling through the portal actually de-aged somebody, Sunset wasn’t of yet. She still had to work out the finer details, but being twenty-two in the pony world… nineteen would be a good estimate.

“You don’t seem awfully sure about that. Those painkillers not worn off?” Redheart squinted at her.

“No no, Nineteen, I’m sure.” Sunset laughed. “Which would make my birth date… June Ninth, Nineteen Ninety-Seven.”

Nurse Redheart stared at Sunset a moment longer, before shrugging and writing her answer down.

“Now, have you taken any illegal substances within the past 48 hours?”

“No.”

“Do you drink alcohol?”

“Occasionally.”

“How occasionally?”

“Parties usually. Sometimes a glass of whiskey when I read. Not loads, though. Not enough for it to be worth mentioning, anyway. I don’t know why I did, sorry.”

“Mmhmm. Sexually Active?”

“No, Mom.”

This earned Sunset a giggle from Redheart, which pleased her.

“And who’s your next of kin?”

“I don’t have one.”

“No parents? Relatives of any kind? Legal guardians?”

Sunset shook her head.

Redheart gave her a sympathetic nod and wrote down her answer. It was probably against the rules of her job to comment on a patient’s family life, but Sunset could tell she wanted to say something.

The worst part is it wasn’t true. Sunset had a loving family. She had both her parents, and a younger brother. But they were back in Equestria, and she hardly thought, “Yes, but they are in a different dimension” was an answer she could give. Not if Sunset fancied leaving the Short Stay Ward anytime soon anyway.

Redheart put the clipboard down and locked eyes with Sunset.

“And last one… how you feeling, honey?”

Sunset smiled and gave a casual shrug. She liked this nurse, her attitude reminded Sunset of her grandma.

“I’m okay… better than I was.”

Redheart nodded. “That’s good, because you’ve got visitors.”

Sunset gave a confused frown. “Really?”

“Mmmhmm. The two girls who came with you and four other girls.”

Sunset sighed and closed her eyes.

“Great, just what I need.”

“Not looking forward to seeing them? I can send them away if you like?” Redheart asked, noticing Sunsets distaste.

“No, no, nothing like that, just…” Sunset thought for the right words to use. “I don’t really like having a fuss caused about me, is all. I didn’t even want to come to the hospital in the first place.”

Redheart nodded. “Being here is for the best honey. And don’t worry, they can’t stay long. Visiting finished three hours ago, but you get special treatment, being a new arrival and all.”

Sunset gave a sarcastic smile, “Lucky me.”

“I’ll go get them. Try and keep the noise down,” Redheart left Sunsets bed and traveled further down the ward, out of Sunsets view in the low light.

What happened next could only be described as a flood of pastel.

“SUNNY ARE YOU OKAY?!”

“Oh my goodness, we were so worried!”

“How are you feeling darling?”

“Did ya get a good look at em?!”

“Why, when ah get my hands on those good fer nuthin’…”

“Girls!” Redheart snapped. “Quiet, please. You have ten minutes.”

Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, Rainbow Dash and Applejack hurried around her bedside, with Twilight hanging back a few feet to exam one of the clipboards Redheart had left behind. They all looked at her with expecting faces, waiting for her to respond.

“…I…er...”

She didn’t know what to say.

Fluttershy looked on the verge of tears, while Rainbow Dash and Applejack couldn’t look angrier. Rarity retained her concerned look but stayed in her fixed posture, arms folded and in deep thought. Pinkie on the other hand, just looked happy to see Sunset was okay. It was a rare occurrence to see Pinkie stressed, but this was one of those times. Her hair was a mess (more than usual) and it looked like she was only awake due to caffeine’s sweet influence.

“I’m… fine, girls. Don’t worry.”

This caused a few of them to deflate a little. They all exchanged glances with each other, unsure of how to proceed.

“What prescriptions did they give you?” Twilight asked, looking up from the clipboard.

“Erm.. I’m not sure… I’ve got to take these pills four times a day, and I’ve got this thing,” Sunset gestured first to the bottle of pills on her bedside and then at the drip in her arm.

“Ouch, that looks painful,” Pinkie Pie moved in for a better look.

Sunset examined the drip. She couldn’t see the exact point where the needle penetrated skin as it had all been covered by a bandage. But she wasn’t feeling any pain from it, so no complaints. She could feel it sure, but it was more just kind of a nuisance than a pain. Like a stone in the back of your shoe.

“Eh, it’s not too bad, and I’m on a bunch of painkillers.”

“What’d you even need that for?” Rainbow frowned.

That’s the painkillers,” Twilight spoke again, “first few hours in the hospital are always the worst. It’s probably either morphine or tramadol.”

Sunset looked up at the IV and spotted the words “Morphine” on its label. Again, fair play to Twilight.

“Oh Sunset, we were so worried when Rarity told us what happened!” Fluttershy said, reaching out and taking Sunsets hand.

“Rarity told you, did she?” Sunset shot Rarity another glare.

Rarity groaned.

“Oh, what was I supposed to do? You couldn’t breathe dear! And even if you could, I’d have still insisted you come to the hospital anyway… You were in no fit state to stay at home, I stand by my decision!” Rarity defended herself.

“She’s right Sunset, heck the way she described it almost had the rest of us thinkin ya weren’t gonna make it...” Applejack scratched the back of her neck.

Bit of an over exaggeration,” Sunset said under her breath.

“This is Rarity we’re talking about, ain’t it?” Applejack asked.

The group all shared a giggle at Rarity’s expense.

Sunset sighed. “It’s okay Rarity, I forgive you. I just… don’t like hospitals. I don’t like feeling helpless. And you guys aren’t helping by all fussing about me.”

“That’s the spirit, Sunny! Even when you’re down you still aren’t out!” Pinkie smiled.

“And none of us think you’re helpless,” Fluttershy held Sunsets hand tighter. “You’re being really brave after what happened to you.”

“Speakin of what happened to you, spill,” Rainbow demanded.

Sunset frowned. She turned to Rarity and Twilight.

“You didn’t tell them?”

“Oh, one minute I’m telling people too much next minute I’m not telling them enough, I swear there’s no winning with you tonight Sunset Shimmer!” Rarity exaggerated.

Twilight shrugged. “Wasn’t really our place to say?”

Sunset nodded and turned back to her other friends. They all stared back at her with wide eyes, waiting on her next words.

She looked away from them.

“It was when I was on my way home from the library last night. I was attacked, on the street.”

Sunset didn’t know how much Rarity had told them, but her best guess was not a lot. They all grew wide eyed, but stayed silent. Fluttershy grasped her hand tighter.

“…When ya'll say attacked,” Applejack began slowly. “What… is it ya mean by that?”

Sunset gave a sad shrug.

“They held me down against my will and then took turns hitting me.”

“Did they take anything?” Fluttershy asked.

Sunset shook her head. “Still had my keys and my phone when I got home.”

“You sure all they did was hit you?”

Sunset frowned and looked up at the cowgirl. “Yeah… I mean what else would they…”

She caught on to what Applejack was implying.

“Oh… oh, god no. No no, nothing like that. All they did was hit me. One of them stamped on me as well, that was fun.”

Applejack let out a sigh of relief. “Good... ya never know these days.”

“Did you get a good look at their faces?” Rainbow Dash asked.

Sunset nodded.

“You recognized ‘em?” Applejack asked.

Sunset nodded again.

“Who were they?” Pinkie asked.

Sunset sighed.

“It was The Dazzlings. Adagio, Aria and Sonata. They had their hoods up so I couldn’t see their faces, but I heard them calling each other by their names. Technically it could be a different Adagio and Aria, but I doubt it. Not when they didn’t take anything.”

The group was silent again.

Applejack took off her hat.

“Heck, I thought we’d seen the last of those lot. Thought they skipped town or summat.”

“I knew they were evil but…” Fluttershy began. “I didn’t know they were that kind of evil.”

“Yeah, well if they have any common sense skipping town is something they’re gonna be doing,” Rainbow scowled.

“Yer not saying yer gonna go after them?” Applejack frowned.

All eyes in the room fell on Rainbow.

“No, I’m saying we’re gonna go after them,” Rainbow gestured to them all. “They beat up Sunset. Straight up attacked her! They need to be taught that first, they can’t get away with something like that and second, you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!”

Applejack shook her head. “Now don’t be silly Rainbow, if we go after em we’re just as bad as they are. And what would we do if we found em?”

“Pummel the heck outta them!” Rainbow smashed her fist into her hand, causing Fluttershy to flinch.

Applejack laughed her off. “Oh yeah, because Rarity, Fluttershy, Twilight and Pinkie Pie are really the pummeling type.”

“Hey!”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, she’s not wrong…”

“Well fine then!” Rainbow threw her arms in the air, “Just me and you. We can take the three of them! Better yet we wait for Sunset to come with us, get some revenge of her own!”

“Sunset ain’t going anyway fer a long time, look at her!”

“Well duh I’m not saying we do it now, it can be like in a week or two, we can wait.”

“Couldn’t they have skipped town by then?” Pinkie Pie asked.

“Hmmm good point Pinks… Sorry Sunset, you’ll have to leave this one to me and AJ.”

“Now hold on just a sec, I ain’t going anywhere near those Dazzlin’s, and neither are you! What we should be doing is going to police and reportin’ this.”

“Pffftt the cops,” Rainbow waved her off, “Those pigs won’t be able to do anything, and even if they do catch them it won’t teach them a lesson!”

“The law exists for a reason Rainbow Dash, we need to go to the proper authorities on this.”

“The law doesn’t care about revenge!”

“She doesn’t need revenge she needs time to recover, let the police deal with it! What you got against them anyway?”

“Nothing! I just want to send a message. Let them siren gals know we’re a force to be reckoned with!”

“Erm, girls?”

“A force to be recko-Do you hear yourself?! We’re a bunch of teenage girls, what are we gonna do, shoot them?”

“Girls…”

“Don’t be stupid! I just mean we lay into them a bit. Smack the leader around, tell them to stay away from Sunset or they’ll be seeing us again.”

“Girls.”

“Since when did you start confusing pony powers for the mafia?!”

“Why don’t we ask Sunset what she wants to do?” Fluttershy raised her voice suddenly.

Every eye in the room shot to her. Even Redheart poked her head in the room, glaring daggers. Fluttershy gave her a nervous smile and mouthed an apology.

“Fluttershy’s right, we should ask Sunset what it is that she wants to do about it,” Rarity told them all.

Twilight, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy all nodded, while Rainbow mumbled something very unlady-like under her breath.

“Well, Sunset?” Twilight asked.

Sunset looked to her lap.

“I… er, I….”

It had never occurred to her what she wanted to do about this.

She hadn’t had the time to sit down and think about everything properly. From the second she woke up today she’d been busy or dosed up on painkillers, and last night her top priority was just getting back to her flat in one piece.

So… what did she want to do?

“We should go to the police,” was the first thought that hit her.

The police would be able to handle it. They’d come see her in the hospital and listen to her statement. They’d find The Dazzlings, Sunset would confirm it was them and they’d do time. There would probably be a court case thrown in there somewhere, but she imagined that’s the gist of what would happen.

It’s not like The Dazzlings would be too tricky to find would they? Canterlot wasn’t that large of a town. It might be trickier if they really have skipped town by now, but Sunset had faith in the police’s ability.

So… why wasn’t she agreeing with Applejack?

Because going to the police would drag everything out. Sunset could be fully healed and her life back to normal by the end of the week. Involving the police would be a big event in both her and her friend’s lives, they’d probably all be taken in for questioning and asked all manner of ridiculous questions. “Why do you and the three girls who attacked Sunset not like her?” was one question that’d be difficult for them to answer.

It’d probably be on the news, which would mean everybody at school would hear about it. Now that was the last thing she wanted. She already hated everybody fussing about her right now, she couldn’t imagine having the entire school doing it. Snips and Snails opening doors for her, Trixie letting her cut in line in at the cafeteria, Miss Cheerlie letting Sunset’s lateness to lesson slide. It would be like back when she was evil again. Except this time people’s reactions to her wouldn’t be out of respect or fear, they’d be out of pity.

So she didn’t want to go the police. She wanted this to be over as quick as possible. But… she also didn’t want the sirens to get away with what they did. If they did it to her, they could just as easily do it again to another person.

But she definitely didn’t want them to go after The Dazzlings either. It was a stupid suggestion, and Sunset felt even Rainbow would come to admit that in time. She was just lashing out, she wasn’t thinking. Right now Rainbow was just angry and aggressive, she’d simmer down eventually.

As if Sunset would really send her friends after them like that. Even if she was well enough to go with them, that’s not her style. The whole reason her friends were together was because of friendship. Not just the act of it, but the lifestyle. Accepting others for their differences, being open minded, having a willingness to share, Sunset had spent the last two years learning about all of that. She wasn’t about to throw it all away over some pity revenge scheme.

And like Applejack said, who among them was actually a good fighter? Applejack and Rainbow Dash seemed like they’d be able to hold their own in a fight, but the rest of them? Fluttershy and Rarity look liked they’d be the first to scarper when things got physical, and Pinkie didn’t have a mean bone in her body. Twilight would probably just surrender immediately. That’s not to say anything bad about her friends… she just knew what they were like.

But…

If she was honest, her pacifist nature wasn’t the main reason she didn’t want to go after The Dazzlings.

It’s because the thought of seeing those girls again… it did something to Sunset.

The feeling of exposure she felt during her attack, the feeling of being powerless, it came back when she thought of them. When it was happening she was completely under their control, and they showed her no mercy. Sunset dreaded to think about what would have happened if they hadn’t stopped. She dreaded it, but it that didn’t stop her. They would have killed her. If those girls had been allowed to continue beating on her... if nothing had distracted them... Sunset wouldn’t be in this hospital bed right now. She’d have been in the morgue, nothing more than cold body laid out on a slab.

They had the mental capability to go through with killing her. Sunset had never been driven to violence before, no matter how much she hated somebody or something. But these girls hated her so much that they were willing to kill. They were driven to the point of wanting to end a human life... The very thought of her doing something like that sent chills down her spine.

Sunset didn’t want to get the police involved because she didn’t ever want to see or think about them again. She wanted this whole thing to blow over, she wanted to return to her normal life. Because the thought of seeing those girls again, even if it was through bars… the thought of it again terrified her.

It didn’t scare her, it didn’t make her feel anxious. It terrified her.

Sunset realized she’d started taking shorter and shorter breaths again. Tears had begun swelling in her eyes, which didn’t go unnoticed by her friends. Applejack took a step forward and placed her hand on Sunsets shoulder. She opened her mouth to speak, only to be beaten to it by Sunset.

“I want to focus on getting better right now. If I do decide to take action, it'll be after I’ve recovered… and it’ll be going to the police.”

“Look, Sunset…” Applejack began.

“I’m fine,” there was a harshness in her words. “Just… stressed.”

She wiped away the forming tears and faced the group before her.

“You can’t really be letting them get away with this?” Rainbow said quietly.

Out of nowhere Sunset’s temper flared. She sucked in a sharp breath to answer, but this time it was Applejack who beat her to it.

“She dint say she was letting ‘em get away with this, she said she wanted to focus on gettin better! Then she’ll go to the police.”

“Awwww but the police won’t do anything! Trust me...” there was an air of sadness to Rainbows tone. “If we want this doing properly we need to do it ourselves.”

Although Rainbow’s offer was tempting, Sunset doubted even she would be able to take on all three of them. Even if it did mean that Sunset wouldn’t have to see them again, she refused to put her friend in danger. Sunset wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she was to blame for Rainbow ending up in the same situation as her.

“No Rainbow Dash…” Sunset began, “Promise me you won’t do anything to them without me telling you to?”

Rainbow groaned again.

“I’m telling ya, gimme a few days to figure out where they’re staying and I can be in and out, piece of cake!”

“Rainbow. No. I don’t want you or anybody else getting hurt over this. I don’t care if you can handle it, I refuse to put you in harm’s way,” Sunset said firmly.

After a grumble, Rainbow crossed her arms and sighed.

“Fine. I promise I won’t do anything without your permission,” her words made it sound like she was talking to a parent rather than a friend.

“Good, well, now that’s settled… how are you feeling Sunset?” Rarity moved them on quickly.

Sunset gave a smile at Rarity’s ability to handle disagreements.

“I’m okay. Better than I was, I mean,” she shrugged. “Not in the best of moods, but painkillers are doing their jobs.”

“You should have a pretty quick recovery,” Twilight finally put down the clipboard. “Doctor’s know what they’re doing, you should only be in here two days, tops.”

Sunset smiled. “Good. I can’t wait to get out of here, actually.”

Her friend’s responses were cut short by Nurse Redhearts return. She clapped her hands together and began shooing her friends out.

“Right girls, ten minutes are up. Miss Shimmer needs her rest.”

Begrudgingly, the girls detached themselves from Sunset’s beside and after each of them had exchanged hugs with her, began making their way towards the end of the ward.

“Wait a minute… Do I… know you?” Redheart asked.

“Ermm.. Nah! Never seen ya before in my life lady,” Rainbow swallowed nervously. “See ya Sunset.”

Sunset laughed and waved them all off. As they disappeared around the corner, Redheart handed her some pills and a glass of water.

“Kicked them out two minutes early, hope you don’t mind… you didn’t seem terribly comfortable with them arguing like that.”

Sunset smiled mentally thanked Redheart. She was a nurse who definitely had experience with people in her position. She seemed to know all the right things to say.

“Now I gotta warn you, those are pretty fast acting. They’ll knock you straight out.”

“Thank you, I could… really use that right now,” Sunset popped the pills into her mouth and gulped down the water.

“There. N’night sweet pea, just press the buzzer if you need anything,” Redheart turned off the light above Sunsets bed and left her alone.

Angling herself in a way most like her usual sleeping position -but with the extra room for the cannula in her arm- Sunset lay back into her pillow. She closed her eyes, took a heavy sigh and tried to enjoy the softness of the pillow pressed her face. It felt the last time she could genuinely say she felt comfy was a lifetime ago. It was definitely an improvement over the wet concrete of last night.

In fact all in all Sunset felt the best she had done since her attack. Not that that was saying much, she was still pretty high on the morphine, and even with that she had to be careful when tensing her stomach and breathing. But finally everything seemed quiet now. She didn’t know how long she was going to be here for, but she didn’t care. Nurse Redheart seemed a joy to be around, and while she was here she was getting some well needed rest. And as much as she hated to admit it, she was getting the care she did need.

“Maybe hospitals aren’t so bad afterall,” she thought to herself.

Sunset thought back to her friends. They had all looked so concerned when they came charging in. It both broke and warmed Sunset’s heart. She felt bad for worrying them, for taking them all out of their beds and forcing them to wait on her. But she also felt so happy that they had all done it willingly, not one of them had passed up the opportunity to check on her, they had all wanted to see she was safe with their own eyes.

Knowing them she’d probably be seeing them again tomorrow actually. A thought which again, both pleased and saddened her. She didn’t mean to be the center of everybody’s attention, that was something the old Sunset would do. But she knew there was no fighting it, her friends loved and cared for her. Almost to the point of wanting physical revenge on the Dazzlings in Rainbows case.

The smile on Sunset’s face disappeared.

As the feeling of sleep began to cloud her consciousness, there was one thought that lay dominant in Sunset’s mind.

She was terrified of The Dazzlings.

Chapter Three: Charity

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She felt a force roughly bury itself into her leather jacket and drag her back.

“Wha-“ Sunset tried to get out.

A fist collided with her face.

Before she had time to recuperate, a second fist came. This one right into her gut, though Sunset could have sworn it went straight through her. The air was forced out of her lungs in a zombie-like cough as she felt her soul drain out of her body. She tensed up, and attempted to keel over into the fetal position. But the figure behind her clung tightly to her jacket, holding her up.

She opened her mouth to breath, took a jagged breathe and closed it again. The taste of pennies was churning her stomach.

“AUUUGGH!” Sunset wheezed as another fist hit her stomach. The air felt like sandpaper surfing up her neck. Her arms pulled against her restraints as her body tried yet again to retreat into the fetal position, but they remained firmly pinned against the wall.

An unseen hand took a fistful of Sunset’s fringe, and before she could respond to what was happening, her head was lifted up, only to go careening to the side again as another fist was smashed into it.

“Please… sto-“ was all she could force out.

Again her head was lifted up by her hair, this time with the back of her skull getting smashed back into the brick wall. Her vision clouded white and black spots popped in her vision. Sunset’s body shuddered and hung loose. Whatever little resistance she could give was now gone. She submitted to the pain, and braced herself for whatever was to come next.

“Stop!” Sunset jolted awake.

But there was no alleyway anymore.

Replacing it was… hospital ward? White walls, white curtains, shiny floor… yep, definitely a hospital ward.

She wasn’t pinned down in a dark alleyway. She was in her hospital bed, hunched over in the most uncomfortable position imaginable. Her arm with the cannula in dangled off the side of the bed, in a deeper sleep than she had been at any point of the night. She’d been sweating during her sleep, making her hospital gown cling to her in a horrible sensation. Her breathing was quick, but her panic began to settle as the familiar setting calmed her.

Just a dream,” she thought to herself.

Well, not just a dream. A memory. A memory that’s in the past, so chill out okay?” she added.

Sunset sat up and took a scan of the hospital ward. She wasn’t chilling out.

There were people all around her. Patients sat in their beds watching TV, reading books or talking to friends. Between them, Nurses and Doctors busied themselves walking up and down the aisles, each with jobs to do. They all moved so quickly. Every one of them moved with a purpose. They had a place to be and nothing was stopping them getting there. It was so busy now compared to the emptiness of last night.

It made Sunset feel very exposed. Anyone could have approached her while she was asleep and she’d have been completely defenseless against them. The curtains around her bed hung open. There was nothing separating her from the rest of the ward and anybody on it. Anybody could have come up to her and she’d have been at their mercy, not even aware of the danger she was in as she snoozed.

Sure, why would somebody do that in a hospital? That wasn’t the point, the point was they could have done. They could have done anything. She’d just spent however many hours lay out in the open where anyone could have gotten to her.

“Gooooood morning sleepy head,” Redheart approached her bedside.

Sunset’s heart jumped and she forced out a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

Redheart noticed Sunset’s frightened expression and backed off.

“Okay there, honey?”

Sunset nodded blankly.

Redheart eyed her suspiciously, before slowly approaching. “Erm… You missed breakfast, but I figured you could use the rest. Dinner’s in two hours, you need anything until then?”

Sunset shook her head.

Redheart nodded. “Okay, get one of them tablets down you. Call me if you need me.”

She turned to leave but stopped as Sunset suddenly vocalized.

“One thing, actually,” she croaked. “Could you close my curtains? I’d like a little privacy.”

Redheart turned back around and gave a sympathetic sigh, “I’m sorry honey, hospital rules. Not allowed curtains fully shut unless you’re getting changed or being examined, gotta keep eye on you.”

Sunset nodded and looked down.

She was being stupid anyway, she was perfectly safe in the hospital. There was nobody in here with malicious intent... heck this was probably the safest place for her to be. It’s not like The Dazzlings were going to sneak into the hospital to try and finish her off.

“I could probably pull them too a little though, if you like? It’s not much but…” Redheart half pulled each of the curtains around. She was right, it wasn’t much, but it was a little improvement.

Sunset gave her a small smile. “Thanks.”

Redheart nodded to her and left.

...and then returned immediately. She moved quicker this time, making a beeline for both Sunset’s curtains. She pulled them shut the whole way, then made her way around and sat at the base of Sunset’s bed.

Sunset’s eyes flickered around the room awkwardly, not knowing what to expect.

“Nightmare?” she asked.

Sunset frowned, looking at Redheart. “How did you…?”

Redheart sighed and nodded her head. “Listen, Sunset… we get a lot of pretty girls like you in here. Some of them a lot worse off than you as well. Broken bones, stabbed, violated… and some who didn’t even make it through the first night.”

Sunset stayed silent.

“I’ve seen what they go through. Not feeling safe, the paranoia, the jumping… I want you to know it’s all perfectly natural. There’s nothing to be ashamed of around here. We understand this is a place nobody wants to be, and for the ones who are unlucky enough to be here it’s a real low point in their lives.”

Sunset couldn’t help but nod in agreement.

“But this is the best place for you right now. Nobody here is out to get you, but we are all here to help you. There’s six nurses on this ward and every single one of us is here for you, whatever you need. If you need to talk to us about anything, even if it sounds stupid to you, just know that we’ve heard a lot stupider in the past, okay?”

Sunset thought for a minute.

Something clicked in her mind. Redhearts entire attitude made sense now. She seemed to be saying all the right things because she was saying all the right things.

She’d dealt with people in Sunset’s situation before. Even despite her relaxed and unprofessional manner, there was a hint of wiseness in her words. It was a surprisingly grandmotherly approach for a woman who looked only to be in her late twenties.

“Okay,” Sunset nodded, “thank you, I... appreciate it.”

Redheart gave a big grin and hoped off Sunset’s bed. She began re-opening the curtains around them.

“Now, although you have missed breakfast, I could probably whip you up something in the staff room if you’re hungry?”

“Thanks but I’m…” Sunset began, but then remembered the words Redheart had spoken to her.

“Actually… yeah, if I could have some toast or something, I’d like that.”

“Righto dear,” Redheart gathered a clipboard off the end of Sunset’s bed. “Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be right back.”

It was only after the nurse left did Sunset catch on to her joke and gave a bemused smile.

Pushing herself up into the sitting position, Sunset gave a heavy sigh. She was glad Redheart had said what she had, it was what she needed to hear.

Sunset hated being helpless. She hated having no choice but to rely on others for her needs. But, as Redheart had pointed out, it was literally the nurses and doctors jobs here to wait on patient’s needs. They were getting paid to ensure Sunset had the best possible recovery, there was no point she should try and make their jobs harder for them.

She had nothing to lose, she might as well just get her head down and accept what was happening to her.

'Maybe if you hadn’t had done that in the first place you wouldn’t be stuck here,' a harsh voice in her head spat.

Sunset took another sigh and pushed the nasty thought to the back of her head. She paused. She noticed an improvement in her breathing. She took another breath, heavier this time to check it wasn’t a fluke. The tightness came back, but it was a lot tamer than previously.

Sunset pulled back her hospital gown and looked down. Below her left breast was a medium sized bandage covering her ripcage. It was on pretty tightly, not enough for Sunset to have trouble breathing, but enough for her to feel it. It was probably on there to stop her over exerting herself, as well as stopping any swelling. Sunset knew the science behind having a cracked rib. Realistically she’d be waiting about a month or so for it to be completely healed, until then she’d have to be on daily painkillers and probably wearing some kind of support, not unlike the bandage she had on now.

The rest of her injuries were pretty minor all things considered. The concussion, with the treatment she was getting she should be over that by the end of tomorrow night, though she still felt a little dizzy. The bleed in her stomach and the bruises on her legs and arms she again, was getting the right treatment for. The black eye (which she could still feel throbbing) was going to take a little longer to heal but… well, as long as she didn’t have it when she went back to CHS, she’d be happy.

A sound pulled Sunset from examining her bandages and her eyes fell on the bed opposite her.

There was a girl in it who, if Sunset’s memories were correct, hadn’t be there the night before.

She was crying. She was sat with her knees up, weeping into her hands. Sunset’s first instinct was to go check on her, but then remembering she was physically attached to the bed via the cannula, she abandoned that plan.

'She must have come in while I was asleep,' Sunset thought.

Sunset angled herself so she could get a better look at the girl. She was wearing a hospital gown much like her own, as was expected. But what was confusing Sunset was she didn’t have any obvious injuries of any kind. Granted she couldn’t see the girls face, so she couldn’t say for sure, but the fact that she didn’t have any form of cannula in or crutch near her bedside confused Sunset, especially when the majority of other patients did.

But whatever was wrong with her was obviously bad enough for her to be crying, right?

'She could have a mental thing?'

Actually no, Sunset doubted they would keep mentally unstable patients in the Short Stay Unit.

Then the words that Nurse Redheart had told her about the other girls she’d seen on this ward came to mind.

Sunset’s eyes grew wide as the realization dawned on her. A tang of guilt hit her in the chest and her eyes snapped away from the girl, taking great interest in the ceiling titles instead.


Despite reassuring herself that she was in no danger, Sunset still couldn’t shake her feeling of exposure. It was like walking through her bedroom in the dead of night with the lights off; despite the knowledge that she was perfectly safe, she still couldn’t shake the sense of dread.

She thought back to yesterday morning. When she’d first remembered what happened she had totally freaked out. Don’t get her wrong, Sunset was a high school student, she was used to freaking out… But this wasn’t a usual freak out. This was like her mind was closing up, a panic had set in that got worse with every breath she took. She was falling through the air, and the further she fell the less she could breathe. So actually, it was more like falling through water then, really. Drowning. But a lot quicker, and she couldn't swim. It was like merely existing was making the sensation worse.

And then she felt like that again when she realized it was The Dazzlings who attacked her.

Sunset was intelligent, she knew what it was. She’d just been avoiding acknowledging it until now. She’d had an anxiety attack.

She’d never had a proper anxiety attack before. She’d been in moments of similar stress before, sure, but never moments that put her in actual danger. The majority of her previous dangerous moments she’d instigated herself, like becoming a she-demon. Her failure from that occasion was the closest she’d come to an anxiety attack, but even then her feelings during that time were more like heartbreak than fearing for her life.

Fearing for her life.

That’s what they made her do. A shiver went down Sunset’s spine. She knew what her friends had said last night was true. She’d have to do something about this. She’d have to go to the police. Even if it meant seeing The Dazzlings again, she could put up with it if it meant stopping them from doing the same to another person in the future. Couldn't she? And what would she even tell them?

She couldn’t tell them about her past with The Dazzlings. Not that they would believe her anyway, they’d just think she’d been hit too hard in the head during her attack. But she couldn’t pretend she’d never met them before either, otherwise how did she know it was them when their faces were hidden? She’d have to come up with some sort of cover story, something that she’d have to get her friends in on in case they were taken in for questioning. Something like they did go school with The Dazzlings, but it was personal drama with Sunset that caused them to drop out.

'Yeah, that could work,' Sunset thought. 'Like it was a personal thing between The Rainbooms and Dazzlings…'

'Could be a romance thing, like maybe one of my friends stole one of The Dazzlings boyfriends? That would be a good reason for why we hate each other. Not that any of my friends have actually ever had boyfriends… to my knowledge, anyway. Oh, but then they might want to speak to the boyfriend too! Well, I suppose I could get Flash to pretend… Ugh no, the last thing I want is to be involving anyone else in this. Plus one of them could easily just say they have no idea what I’m talking about…'

Actually that was quite a problem. Whatever story Sunset came up with about her past with The Dazzlings, The Dazzlings would have probably come up with a story of their own. Maybe they could work out a deal? If they collaborate Sunsets story she could promise not to press charges? But then why would she be going to the police if she didn’t want to press charges? They’d never agree to something like that. Plus that would involve talking to them outside of police custody.

Another chill went down Sunset’s spine, and she felt herself curl up a little.

She really needed advice.

She could talk to Nurse Redheart. She seemed like the type who could give good advice. But Sunset would have to be very limited on the facts when explaining her situation, and that’s not really what she wanted.

She could talk to one of the girls. But which one? All of them?

No… she’d already heard their opinion on it. Sunset didn’t want to just talk about going to the police, she wanted somebody she could talk through every option with properly. Her friends were so set on making Sunset do the right thing in this, it had never occurred to them if she was capable of doing the right thing. She wanted somebody she could express her fears to who would actually listen, not just use her words as an argument for her to go to the cops.

'There’s always Princess Twilight,' Sunset thought.

Strictly speaking this was of concern to her. It involved The Dazzlings after all, Twilight would want to hear about it. But granted… it didn’t involve them using magic. So would Twilight still want to hear about it?

Sunset hoped so. Twilight would know the right action to take. And she could actually talk to her about it without having a course of action forced down her throat. Not that Sunset didn’t appreciate how much her friends cared about her but… right now she wanted somebody to vent to, not to plan with.

Her journal was back in her apartment. She could get one of her friends to bring it to her?

Sunset mentally cursed. She wished she had her cellphone on her. She was going to have to wait for one of her friends to visit her, she could ask one of them to get it her then. She shouldn’t have to wait too long, according to the clock on her ward CHS had finished twenty minutes ago, which knowing her friends meant she’d probably be seeing them anytime n-

“Sunset Shimmer, visitors!”

Sunset repressed a smirk. She watched as Nurse Redheart appeared round the corner, all of her friends in tow behind her. Each of her friends slowly filled into the area around her bed, all looking pleased to see her. Sunset couldn’t help but notice they were two girls short, Rainbow Dash and Applejack.

“Heya Sunset!” Pinkie Pie chirped.

“Hey,” Fluttershy said brightly.

“Hey Sunset,” Twilight appeared by her side.

“Hello dear,” Rarity said sweetly, taking her position at the end of Sunset’s bed.

“Hey guys!” Sunset greeted them. She paused before continuing in a quieter voice. “Erm… where’s Applejack and Rainbow Dash?”

Pinkie Pie snorted, causing Rarity to roll her eyes.

“Applejack is working, she sends her regards.”

“Ah, okay...” Sunset said, not understanding what had caused Pinkie to laugh. “And… Rainbow Dash?”

Another snort.

Rarity looked down mumbled quietly. “She’s in the parking lot.

“The.. what?” Sunset frowned.

Rarity sighed, “She’s in the parking lot. She claimed she couldn’t come in until “the coast was clear”... I was going to ask what she meant, until I realized knowing would probably make me an accomplice in something.”

This caused Sunset to stifle a small laugh.

“She did bring something for you though,” Rarity fished around in her handbag for a moment. She pulled out a dark green book.

“Daring Do and the Marked Thief of Marapore!” Sunset smiled brightly. “This has only been out a week, I’ve been meaning to pick it up.”

Rarity nodded. “She got it for herself last night, but decided you are probably in more need of something to read right now than she is.”

“That’s so sweet of her,” Sunset took the book from Rarity and placed it on her bedside cabinet. “Tell her I say thank you.”

“You should be able to tell her yourself, if she can get in.” Pinkie Pie giggled.

Sunset looked at Rarity, who just shook her head in response.

“How’re you feeling, Sunset?” Twilight asked, stepping forward.

“I’m… fine,” she lied.

There was no point worrying her friends about something they couldn’t help her with.

“On the mend. Chest feels a little better. And my headache’s gone.”

Twilight smiled. “That’s good! Are you keeping up with your treatments?”

Sunset nodded. “They come in and inject me with stuff every few hours, I don’t really have a choice in it. Hospital food is terrible though,” Sunset thought back to her toast. “Err… don’t tell Nurse Redheart I said that.”

“Lucky for you we went Sugarcube Corner!” Pinkie Pie cheered and pulled out a plastic bag from… somewhere.

“Got’cha some cupcakes, sponge cake, ice cream cake, chocolate cake, cheese cake, angel food cake, devil’s food cake, banbury cake, Better than sex cake, upsidedown cake aaannndd depression cake!”

Sunset stared at the bag with both envious and frightened eyes.

“Pinkie Pie, that’s so sweet…. Thank you,” Sunset smiled. “But… my eating has to be monitored, I’m not really allowed cake with my stomach how it is. Going to the toilet is a bitch as it is."

Pinkie Pie’s smiled did a one eighty. “Oh…”

Sunset gave her a sad smile.

Rarity suddenly leaned in for what Sunset thought was a hug, until she felt Rarity’s breath on her ear. “It’s actually just some sandwiches and juice. We know they have rules about this stuff, as Pinkie shoveled it all into the bag we shoveled it back out.”

Sunsets smiled as Rarity pulled away. She took the bag from Pinkies grasp. “Actually Pinkie, they probably won’t mind. Thank you.”

Pinkie smile did another one eighty (three sixty?) and she turned to Rarity.

"Ooooooooooooo show her what you brought!"

Rarity smiled and rolled her eyes. "Oh er, yes. I also brought you something myself. I didn’t really know what I could bring that was of use that the others hadn't already... sooooo…”

Rarity handed her a small plastic device.

“It’s my IPod. The chargers in Pinkie’s bag, you can keep it as long as you like hehehe… I have others.”

Sunset could have sworn she heard a record scratch.

The joy she’d been feeling from seeing her friends began to drain away. Her heart dropped.

This was exactly what she was talking about. Rainbow bringing her a book they were both excited for she could understand, as well as Pinkie bringing her sweets to cheer her up. They both suited their character. But Rarity lending her her own IPod... it was all adding up, and Sunset didn’t like it. Rarity was obviously doing it because she too felt the need to give her something. Which was understandable, Rarity's pony self being the element of generosity after all.

But Sunset didn’t want people being generous to her just because they felt sorry for her.

For so long after her reformation Sunset’s friendships relied on other people’s generosity. For her to be feeling animosity about the generosity of others now was an irony not unknown to her.

Sunset didn’t take the IPod, “Rarity you... shouldn’t have.”

“Ehehehe…” Rarity gave a nervous laughter and placed the music device beside Rainbows book on the cabinet. “Honestly it’s nothing, I have two more at home. And it’ll be something to keep you entertained while you’re here.”

“Look, I really appreciate what you guys are doing but I don’t want charity. I feel fine, and I’m getting out of this place soon. You don’t all need to be fussing about me.”

The girls all seemed to stiffen up at this.

“It’s not really charity…” Twilight began.

“You’d do the same for any of us,” Fluttershy brushed her comment off.

“We just wanna make you feel happy while you’re feeling crappy,” Pinkie Pie smiled.

“I mean, it’s our fault you ended up here,” Rarity looked down.

“Wait,” Sunset stopped them. “What do you mean?”

Rarity opened her mouth to answer but Twilight beat her to it.

“What Rarity means is we kind of feel responsible for what happened. And, we kind of are, really…”

The girls all nodded in agreement.

Sunset swore the lights in the room had just got dimmer.

“What... do you mean?” Sunset didn’t understand.

“Well, we were all with you before... what happened,” Fluttershy said.

“We could have walked home with you or… carpooled … something,” Pinkie sighed.

“We shouldn’t have left you to go home by yourself dear, it was irresponsible of us as friends, and look where it’s got you,” Rarity gestured to her position.

That thought had never occurred to Sunset. Not that it was her friend’s fault she was here, they were wrong about that. But the thought that her friends might hold themselves responsible for what happened. It had never struck Sunsets mind that they might feel guilty for not being there for her.

A tang of pain swept through her as she realized her mistake.

They’ve probably been beating themselves up about it since it happened. What kind of friend was she not to have noticed? Her friends had been driven to the point of giving her their own possessions they felt so guilty, and Sunset had done nothing to ease their guilt.

“Okay no, hold up,” Sunset said firmly. “The only reason I’m here is because the sirens jumped me. That’s nobody’s fault but theirs… and my own, to an extent. I should have known better than to walk home alone at night. Twilight even offered me a ride back and I turned it down!”

The girls looked at Twilight, who silently nodded.

“I don’t want any of you feeling guilty for what happened, it’s my carelessness that got me here.”

“Sunset…” Rarity tried.

“No!” Sunset said a little louder than expected.

“Just… ugh…” she huffed, “I’m struggling enough with this as it is, okay? The last thing I need is you guys treating me like charity.”

“We aren't treating you like charity, Sunset,” Fluttershy defended.

“We’d still be doing this even if we didn’t hold ourselves responsible for what happened. You are our friend and it’s our jobs to take care of you. It’s not degrading for you to let the people who care about you help you. Especially when you need the help,” Rarity said just as firmly.

“I don’t need help,” Sunset moaned. “I’m fine, I can take care of myself.”

“You just said you were struggling with this! Nobody is going to think less of you for what’s happened.”

Sunset was silent. She wanted to continue arguing. Partly to retain what little dignity she had left, and partly to let out some built up stress.

“We’re here for you, Sunset Shimmer,” Rarity continued, “it could just as easily been any of us that was attacked instead of you. And are you honestly saying you wouldn’t do exactly what we’re doing now if that was the situation?”

Sunset slowly shrugged.

“I guess.”

Rarity nodded at this, satisfied that she had gotten through to Sunset. She turned to Twilight and gestured towards Sunset with her neck.

“Twilight, tell Sunset what you did.”

Sunset watched as Twilight nervously straightened up her glasses before speaking.

“Well I told my brother what happened. He’s the captain of the Canterlot Royal Police Force and he said-“

“YOU DID WHAT?!”

She felt her heart skip a beat.

How dare Twilight go to the police about this without her! She didn’t even know if she wanted to go to the police or not yet! But now she didn’t have a choice, apparently. Because Twilight had gone straight ahead and done it without her.

It’s not like this was a sensitive issue Sunset needed time to work out or anything! Just casually mention it to your older brother, yeah fine that's fine! Sunset will be able to handle it. Should I bother asking her? Nah don’t bother, she’ll be over it by now.

Anger flooded into her veins as she felt her cheeks glow red.

Each of the girls took a step back, surprised at Sunsets sudden outburst. Twilight backed away a little too far, and bumped into the back of a monitoring machine. It clattered to the floor loudly, causing all eyes in the room to fall on them.

Twilight began frantically playing with her hair as she tried to get her next words out. “I-I-I t-told my b-brother what ha-a-appened a-a…”

“Sunset Shimmer!” Rarity whispered harshly, not wanting to cause more of a scene.

Nurse Redheart appeared around the corner immediately, glaring daggers. She lifted the fallen equipment up and turned to the group.

“What’s going on here!?” she said harshly.

“Go ahead, tell her what’s happened too, you might as well,” Sunset snapped.

“I... I… I… er…” Twilight struggled for words.

“Nothing, Nurse Redheart!” Rarity jumped in, “Twilight just tripped over some equipment, so sorry, won’t happen again!”

Redheart turned to Sunset Shimmer. "Are these girls harassing you?”

“Sunset,” Rarity’s words almost seemed like a challenge, “let Twilight explain before you start shouting at her.”

Sunset’s harsh gaze went back and forth between Redheart and Rarity, before she finally turned to look at Twilight.

“Well?” She asked sternly.

With all eyes now back on her, Twilight began playing with her bangs again.

“I s-spoke to my b-brother, he works for the Ca-anterlot R-royal Police Force. He s-said he’ll set up a case for it but y-you don’t have to t-take it any further until y-you’re ready. They’re g-gonna start looking for The Dazzlings but erm, not like, officially or anything.”

“She just mentioned it to them so they could keep a look out, Sunset.” Rarity said matter-of-factly.

“I w-wouldn’t have gone to the p-police properly without your permission, if t-that’s what you think…” Twilight shied away from her.

Sunset felt another punch in the stomach. This time it wasn’t one of pain, but one of guilt.

She untensed her shoulders and looked down.

“They’re not bothering me, Nurse Redheart.”

Nurse Redheart stared each of the girls down with a slow glare, and began slowly making her way down the ward away from them. Even as she got further away, the girls dared not release the breath they were holding.

“That is a scary lady,” Pinkie Pie said plainly. “And I thought Fluttershy’s stare was bad!”

Sunset sighed. “I’m sorry for shouting Twilight.

“It’s… okay,” Twilight didn’t meet her gaze.

But it wasn’t okay.

She shouldn’t have just blown up at them like that. They were her friends, they deserved to know why she had. She hadn’t wanted to tell them this earlier, but now she’d dug herself into a hole.

It was time to level with them all.

“Okay, look,” Sunset began, “I don’t want the police involved… At all. Or, not for a while anyway. Since what happened I’ve been…”

She took a breath.

“Since what happened I’ve been… jumpy. I don’t want the police involved because I need time to get over this. What happened was just so… unexpected... it really rattled me. And now I’m locked up in here where I don’t feel safe I just feel like I’m a sitting duck waiting for… I don’t… I don't feel safe when I think about what happened, I know it's silly but... I just need time to get over it. I’m sorry for shouting Twilight, really.”

Twilight looked up at this, and after a moment gave a small smile.

“It’s okay. I didn’t mean to betray your trust, I just tell my brother everything and… when I told him it never occurred to me you wouldn’t want me to. He’s got the case open and ready for whenever you want to go them about it.”

Sunset nodded. “Thank you, Twilight.”

The group all exchanged sympathetic looks with one another.

"Sunset.. we didn't mean to upset you," Fluttershy said softly.

"No, no, you didn't. It's me, it's just... I think I'd like to go bed soon, painkillers are kicking in," Sunset gestured to her cannula.

Rarity nodded. "Right girls, let's not keep her waiting! We'll leave you be."

"Oh but Rainbow Dash hasn't managed to find a way in yet!" Pinkie complained.

"You shut up about that before you get us kicked out," Rarity whispered harshly.

Sunset chuckled at her friends antics, "I appreciate you guys coming, really."

"We're all here for you Sunset," Twilight smiled.

Sunset nodded, taking on a warm smile. "I know."

And with that each of her friends exchanged goodbyes and began to file out of the room. Rarity was the last to leave, offering her a small wave as she exited.

As the last slither of purple hair disappeared around the corner, Sunset realized something and groaned.

She'd forgotten to ask one of them to get her journal from her apartment.

"Your pain killers should have kicked in hours ago," Redheart said, apparently not having left the area.

Sunset let out a slow sigh, "I know, they did."

"Why lie?"

Sunset thought for a minute.

"I love my friends but... They're not really what I need right now. They're too... caring. I want to get better, but I refuse to let them wait on me hand and foot."

Redheart nodded. "Damn straight, that's my job."

Sunset chuckled.


It was a long time before sleep finally greeted her that night. And unfortunately, it had brought dreams with it.

She felt a force roughly bury itself into her leather jacket and drag her back.

“Wha-“ Sunset tried to get out.

A fist collided with her face.

Chapter Four: "Get Well Soon"

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“When do you change your bandages?”

“Every morning.”

“When do you take your painkillers?”

“One with every meal.”

“And lastly,” Redheart said, folding her arms. “How are you going to take it?”

Sunset stifled a laugh. “Easy. I’ll take it easy.”

“Good girl.”

It was the morning of Sunset’s release and she felt the best she had in days. At this point most of her bruises had begun fading from harsh purple to a much blander greenish yellow, and the pain she got from them was nothing more than a nuisance now. Her cracked rib still hurt when she breathed in certain positions, but her chest bandage created an illusion of immobility that discouraged her getting in such positions. Provided she didn’t run any marathons, she could deal with it. Her only other noticeable pain at this point was her stomach and eye, both of which still hurt when she tensed up.

Apparently she’d been lucky to get away with no internal bleeding, which she was thankful for. But her insides had still been pretty messed up during the attack, hence the painkillers.

“You know, you’re lookin pretty badass with that eye.” Redheart smirked.

Sunset had come to terms with the fact she was going to be living with a black eye for a while. She wasn’t complaining, the area around it was a bit tender but it was no pain she couldn’t deal with. Her main issue came from the fact that, well… it was a black eye. You could hide cracked ribs, but there was no hiding Sunset’s massive shiner. She’d be getting funny looks in the streets for a few days.

“That’s the angle I’m going for,” Sunset laughed.

“I can tell, leather jacket and all. Look like you're about to set up the Avengers,” Redheart sneered to Sunset’s clothes.

She openly laughed at Redhearts remark.

Sunset was back in her civilian clothes for the first time since her admission. Although they had been cleaned since she last wore them she could still spy some stained redness. Her shirt was bright purple, so it wasn’t exactly obvious, but still. Sunset would have to get it professionally washed later, it was her favorite shirt.

Earlier this morning she’d undergone a physio appointment to check she was capable of going home. It had been pretty standard stuff, walking, stretching, arm exercises, etc. At first she’d proven a little difficult with walking (purely because she’d spent the previous two days in bed) but had gotten the hang of things pretty quickly.

Now her stuff was packed and she was ready to leave.

“Sunset, before I go get your friends…” Redheart began.

The nurse inched closer to her and lowered her voice.

“I want you to know that everything I said still applies for after you leave. Readjusting to life after something like that happens to you… it’s not as easy as it sounds. If you ever need somebody to talk to, the clinic doors are always open.”

Sunset smiled at her. “Thank you, Nurse Redheart. I appreciate it, really.”

Redheart smiled in response and stepped back. “Right, best check you have everything, I’ll be back in a tick.”

With that Redheart left Sunset alone with her belongings. She only had one bag with her, and it was mostly full of things the girls had brought her the previous night. Sunset regrettably hadn’t gotten chance to start Rainbow’s Daring Do book… after her outburst she hadn’t really been in the mood for it.

Sunset leaned back against the bed and looked around.

Hospital hadn’t been nearly as bad as she thought it was going to be. Nurse Redheart definitely seemed to be on the same wavelength as her, which helped a lot. And she had to admit, although she felt guilty being waited on hand and foot she had found the opportunity to relax quite pleasant. It was a nice break from her usual routine of doing everything for herself. Take away the cracked ribs, black eye and the pain from her stomach and it’d have almost been a holiday.

Bearing all that in mind, Sunset couldn’t wait to get home. She’d been confined to her bed the past three days and had gotten more than a little restless. The thought of being able to sprawl out on her own bed with a glass of whiskey, chocolate cake and Netflix had been the thought that kept her going.

Then an ugly prospect came into mind.

When she got home she wouldn’t be able to kick back and relax straight away, she still had to sort out stuff with CHS. Though it’d be too late to call them by the time she got home… she could leave it until tomorrow right? She’d call up, explain the situation to Celestia or Luna and then request the rest of the week off. It pained her to be so willing to take time of school, but realistically she knew she needed time to let herself heal. She’d just have to work extra extra hard when she went back to catch up what she’d missed...

And on that note Sunsets need for Netflix and alchol grew exponentially.

Her thought train was derailed as movement from across the ward caught her attention. It was the girl from yesterday again. She wasn’t in a much better state than when Sunset first saw her. She’d stopped crying though, which was something. But the way she held herself was a sad sight. Unlike her, the girl hadn’t been confined to her bed, so she’d spied her walking around occasionally. She walked with her head down and her dressing gown wrapped tightly around herself, almost like she was in a rainstorm. Sunset had taken note to the fact she hadn’t had any visitors, or spoken to anybody who didn’t work there.

Right now the girl had just returned from somewhere (probably the restroom) and was sat on the side of her bed, staring into space.

Sunset gave a sigh. She didn’t know what the girl was going through, but she had her sympathy. She almost felt guilty that she couldn’t help. Sunset had considered it, but the thought of approaching the girl to ask how she was doing could seem rude. It’s not like what was going on in her life was any of Sunset’s business anyway. But nonetheless, she couldn’t help but feel sad that she was powerless to help the stranger.

Then an idea struck. Sunset’s eyes lit up.

Moving quickly so not to get caught by Redheart, Sunset sprung into action. She turned around and propped open the bag of her belongings. Inside was Rarity’s (untouched) IPod, an Eggsalad sandwhich, some Blackcurrent juice and Rainbow Dash’s book. She snatched up the food items and made her way over to the girl’s bed.

As she got closer, the girl’s finer details began to take shape. She was about Sunset’s age, but something was making her look a lot older. Her shoulder length hair was in a mess, her skin had paled and bags had formed under her bloodshot eyes. The girl’s nose had reddened on its tip, presumably from blowing it too hard. It shocked Sunset to see the girl in such a state. She wouldn’t admit to it, but it also made her feel a bit lucky.

“Excuse me?” Sunset gently, a few feet from her.

The girl jumped at her arrival and her head snapped up, locking eyes with her. The girl’s face was one of fear, causing Sunset to back up slightly.

Sunset offered a weak smile and continued.

“Er, hey. I’m getting out today, I have some stuff left over and wondered if you’d like it? It’s er, just going to go in the trash otherwise.”

The girl kept her eyes locked on Sunset, before slowing looking down to the food that Sunset was offering.

After a moment she replied a quiet, “Yes. J-just the juice, please.”

Sunset smiled, happy with her answer. She placed the juice bottle down on beside her and turned away.

“Thank you,” A small voice came from behind her.

Sunset turned and saw the girl staring back at her with a smile on her face. It was a small smile, but a genuine one. Sunset’s heart fuzzed over, and she returned the girls gesture.

“Odd… she looks familiar,” A background voice said to her.

But Sunset didn’t have time to further the thought, as she was met back at her bed by Nurse Redheart, Rarity and an overly excited Pinkie Pie.

Rarity was Sunset’s ride back to her apartment. She and Applejack were the only two of their friends who had driving licenses, albeit it they had them mostly because of their families. Applejack used the Apple’s pickup truck around the farm, and Rarity had gotten a Mercedes off her parents for her 18th which she used for dropping off orders.

But… Sunset had no idea why Pinkie had tagged along with her.

Actually, scratch that, she had a pretty good idea…


The drive home was not a short one. There was a light trickle of rain as grey clouds covered the sky. The rain alone could be dealt with, if not for the wind, which turned the cold spray into a shower of needles. After a short goodbye with Nurse Redheart, Pinkie and Rarity had quickly ushered Sunset into the back of the merc and taken off. On the way to the car despite Sunset’s insistence's she could walk unaided, she had proven not to be terribly fast and held them all up in the rain. She ended up using Pinkie for support while Rarity brought the car round, much to her own embarrassment.

Although the short walk from the hospital to the car hadn’t been a pleasant one, Sunset was happy to be outside. Her first day in she’d spent off her head on painkillers, the second day had really dragged, and this morning she’d been itching to leave. With the dropping temperature she was secretly hoping snow would be there to greet her as she left. But alas there was no snow, just another grey, weary day.

The hospital was located on the outer rim of Canterlot, whereas Sunset lived in the heart of the city. This wasn’t the first time Sunset had stayed overnight at the Canterlot Infirmary, but she did hope it’d be her last. During her first year in this world she was still getting the hang of things, and a misunderstanding with a traffic light had resulted in her getting her arm broken. Of course back then she enjoyed having everybody run around for her, so staying in hospital then had been a very different experience. It was probably the guilt of that which made her so uneasy about them now.

To get to Sunset’s house it was about a twenty minute drive, more than enough time for her to get lost in the sight from her window.

In the four years she’d spent in this world she’d gotten so used to these streets. She knew Canterlot like the back of her hand. But yet now, it felt so alien to her.

For the first time in many years, Sunset felt something she thought she’d made peace with. She missed Equestria. Ponies were pacifist by nature, and they lived in a society structured around friendship and trust. True, there was more than enough danger in that land, but it was never danger that prevailed. Bad times would come, but no matter what the hardship the light would always return. That was, sadly, where the two worlds differed.

Equestria and this world had different cores. Equestria was driven by friendship, this world by greed. If somepony was to fall from grace in Equestria it was their friends that would help them back up, even if it was at their own expense. In this world a fall from grace just meant a scramble to be replaced, with the fallen person getting crushed underfoot.

Even before coming to this world Sunset had lived a very sheltered life. She was born into a rich family, attended the most prestigious school in the land and had studied under the guidance of the Princess herself. Then when she came through the portal she arrived in Canterlot, a city with some of the lowest crime rates in the state. Of course Sunset had seen some of the atrocities of this world on the television; serial killers, police brutality, hate groups, muggings, but they’d all felt so far away to her.

Now they felt just on the other side of that window.

It had never occurred to her that Canterlot wasn’t a safe haven. All these years she’d walk around without a care in the world. She would smile at strangers as she passed them in the street. She would walk to the supermarket alone at night. She would give money to beggars. She’d been doing this, and never had a thought been spared about her own safety. There had been no reason to, everything she heard about on the television just sounded like exactly that, something you heard on the television. But now she knew that Canterlot was exactly the same as every place she’d seen on the television.

There was nothing protecting it from the muggers, bank robbers, murders, dealers or molesters. There was no magical wall that kept Canterlot pure. Somewhere in the back of her mind Sunset had made the rule that because it didn’t happen, it couldn’t happen. But she was wrong. Anything could happen... Canterlot had just somehow avoided it for this long.

As they passed the library that had been the source of this mess, Sunset realized something.

Something had changed inside her. She didn’t look at these streets and feel home anymore. She felt afraid. Going through these streets in this car felt like she was in a submarine at the bottom of the ocean. This car was all that there was protecting her from the horrors of the world. All of it, the murderers, the muggers, the gangbangers, they were all out there. Sunset had just been lucky enough not to find them.

This world… didn’t feel safe anymore. Sunset had lost something in that alleyway, something more than just a scarf. She’d lost something inside of her. She didn’t know what it was, but she could feel its absence. It was the same feeling she got when thinking about the sirens.

“Sunset?” Rarity’s voice asked quietly from the front.

Apparently during her daydream Sunset’s anxieties had leaked out. Through her rear-view mirror, Rarity had noticed the look she gave the outside world.

“Yeah?”

“You okay back there?”

Sunset gave her a weak smile. “Yeah. Course.”

Rarity hadn’t pushed, and the short drive back to Sunset’s apartment was taken in silence. The rain had slowed to a light drizzle by the time Rarity had parked, which meant there was no rush to hurry Sunset. But that didn’t stop Pinkie from trying though.

It was pretty obvious to Sunset what was awaiting her when she got to her flat, but she decided to play along and act none the wiser. She loved the expressions Pinkie Pie managed to produce while keeping a secret.

Sunset buzzed them in, and again (much to her embarrassment), had required assistance getting up the three flights of stairs. The first she had managed easily enough; it’s when her arms began to give away during the second lot that Pinkie and Rarity intervened. They did so without Sunset’s permission, but the bacon-haired girl had elected to just silently accept their help. She understood it would be a while before she had her dignity back, so there was no point fighting it.

As they reached Sunset’s flat, Rarity produced a key and let them all in. Sunset braced herself.

“SURPRIIIIIIISE!” A choir of voices rang out.


“So Trixie still thinks you’re the Twilight from this world?” Sunset asked.

Twilight nodded and blushed. “We er… tried to explain it to her but…”

“She wasn’t having any of it!” Rainbow laughed.

“Yes, it appears Miss Lulamoon is rather in denial about the whole situation… Of course, if you ask me it’s because she’s just jealous we have real magic and she doesn’t,” Rarity added in.

“What do you mean she doesn’t?” Pinkie frowned. “You saw that card trick she did right?”

The group laughed and Sunset rolled her eyes at Pinkie’s comment.

Now this was what she missed. For the first time in what felt like ages, she was back living the good life. Her friends had quickly ushered her in and lay her out on the couch, then they’d all settle down into their own places littered about her living room. Rainbow and Fluttershy on the floor and Twilight and Rarity on the other couch with Applejack leaning against it. Pinkie Pie just sort of… floated around. Sunset tried insisting she didn’t need the whole couch to herself but any attempt to get up simply made the others fuss over her more.

And they'd done her flat up pretty nicely, she had to admit. They’d turned the lights down, got a small disco light set up in the corner, and brought in Sunset’s radio from the kitchen to get the music playing. Various colors of balloons littered the apartment, some bobbing along the ceiling while others got kicked across the floor. There was even an occasional streamer hung in a door frame. But what topped it all off was a giant “Get Well Soon” banner hung in Sunset’s hallway.

“Oh girls, you won’t believe what happened today in gym,” Fluttershy perked up.

Rainbow burst out laughing. “Aw heck, this is a good one. Go ahead Fluttershy!”

Fluttershy recoiled a bit at the sudden attention. “Actually er… why don’t you tell it Rainbow Dash? You’re so much better at stories than me.”

Rainbow nodded to this and laughed again. “Okay okay, so you know Bon-Bon? Well this time she…”

Sunset wasn’t a fool, she’d picked up on what they were doing. Since she’d sat down not once had anybody asked her about being in the hospital. She was grateful for it, don’t get her wrong. Right now she just wanted to focus on being back home and enjoying her friends. But the fact they hadn’t mentioned it at all… It wasn’t a coincidence.

They’d planned it. They’d obviously deliberated said to each other before she came in, “make sure you don’t mention the hospital to her”. Sunset didn’t know how to feel about that. On the one hand it showed that her friends were caring enough that they didn’t want to trigger her into thinking about something she was obviously upset about. But on the other one, she also wanted her friends to be themselves around her. She didn’t want them walking on eggshells trying not to depress her.

And it’s not like this was the usual attitude of her friends. She loved them all, but they weren’t nearly as aware of their own actions as Sunset was. For weeks after the Fall Formal she was the butt of many off-handed comments about her transformation. Not that she blamed them for that, she deserved to be punished for what she did. And they never spoke anything bad about her when bringing it up, it was usually relevant to the conversation in some way. But nonetheless that, just like this, was a topic she was sensitive about. So why was the situation different now?

Maybe her friends had just learned since then? Maybe as they were teaching her about friendship, they took something away from it themselves?

Sunset thought that was the most likely option. Her friends always had good intentions, even if the way they went about it was sometimes misguided. She definitely didn’t want them having to walk on eggshells around her though, so she’d have to take the first step here.

“…Just like that! Right in front of the whole class!”

The group all burst out laughing, to which Sunset instinctively joined in on. As they quieted down, she spoke up.

“So the doctors say I should be able to walk again fine by next week.”

That did it.

The mood suddenly dropped, and Sunset swore she saw Rainbow turn to Rarity out of the corner of her eye.

“How wonderful dear!” Rarity smiled sweetly. “Any plans for what you want to do when you’re healed?”

“I say we paint the town red!” Rainbow cheered.

“With blood!?” Pinkie asked giddily.

“Errr….” Rainbows face dropped. “No Pinkie Pie it’s an expression… it means…w-why did you think I meant with blood?”

Pinkie simply smiled sweetly and shrugged, “I dunno.”

Rainbow continued staring at her blankly.

“I think we should all do something together.” Twilight suggested. “Maybe like go to the zoo or something?”

“Ooooh I love the zoo!” Fluttershy smiled.

“Ah dunno, the zoo’s a lotta dough to just look at some animals...” Applejack said.

“Well erm… Oh! How about we all go see a show? The Producers is coming to Canterlot this week. It’d be less expensive if we got a family ticket,” Rarity suggested.

“Ooooh I love The Producers! Can we do that?” Twilight quickly beamed.

“I like the sound of that,” Sunset said. “I haven’t seen a lot of musicals.”

Rarity waved her off. “Oh Sunset dear you’d love it. What about you girls?”

“If you girls are gonna go then count me in!”

“I’d quite like to go,” Fluttershy gave a small smile.

“Ehhh I dunno,” Rainbow said, examining her nails. “Musicals aren’t really my thing.”

“Tartar sauce! You loved Chicago!” Applejack pointed a finger at her.

“Rainbow dear, you’re the biggest musical fan out of all of us,” Rarity laughed.

Rainbow frowned. “That’s not true!”

“Then explain Chicago.”

“What? I like that one song from it.”

“The Book of Mormon?”

“It’s controversial! Of course I like it.”

“Les Mis?”

“Helena Botham-Carter. Nuff said.”

“Rocky Horror?”

“It’s Tim Curry in his element! I like him, not the singing.”

“Joseph and the Amazing Technobable Dreamcoat?”

“You mean Technicolour?”

“HA!”

“That doesn’t prove anything! I just know the name, no big deal.”

“Little Shop of Horrors?”

“I like... the plant.”

“You like the plant?”

Rainbow blushed, “Yes.”

Rarity laughed and shook her head. “Well I think that settles it! We break up from CHS at the end of next week, I’ll look for some dates for it then. You okay with that Sunset?”

Sunset smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I’m game.”

Just as she had suspected. The second she’d brought up being in the hospital they changed subject.

Sunset wasn’t complaining. She was more… making an observation. It was strange her friends ever went behind her back like this. They had a good reason, she’d give them that. But still… It was a behavior she hadn’t seen from them before.

But they were doing the right thing, trying to keep her occupied. Weren’t they?

Of course they were! She shouldn’t be mad at them for it.

But…

Sunset wanted to hang around with her friends. Normally. She wanted normal right now. She craved it. She didn’t want them having to watch what they said in fear of triggering her. She didn’t want to be the one stopping them from saying how they were really feeling. She didn’t want to be the one making them stay quiet. That’s what the old Sunset would do, and she wasn’t like that anymore…

So why did she get a horrible feeling in her stomach when Rarity changed subjects?

Sunset couldn’t help but feel, although she was back with her friends, she wasn’t back with her friends. She was being taken care of by them.


“You sure you don’t need somebody to stay over, keep an eye on you?” Rarity asked.

Sunset gave a simple shrug and smiled. “Nah I’m fine, I’m gonna go straight to bed.”

Rarity nodded and exited through the front door. Turning back, she said, “Well if anything comes up, be sure to let one of us know.”

Sunset nodded and took the door by its handle. “I will do, night Rarity. Drive safe.”

“I will do, goodnight dear.”

Sunset pushed the door closed.

She turned back and looked up at her “Get Well Soon” banner. She gave a smirk. It was sweet of them, she had to admit. Sunset knew Pinkie Pie used any event in their lives as a reason to throw a party, but none the less she felt flattered that they had all cared about her this much.

She gave a happy chuckle and shook her head.

“If they cared about me that much they could have at least helped me take it down,” she thought.

The girls had done a pretty good job cleaning up after themselves. They’d put all the paper plates into trash, taken down the balloons and cleaned up Pinkie’s confetti. Everything besides the banner, which Sunset can only assume they’d forgotten about.

Ahh well, she didn’t mind keeping it. For the memories. When she was feeling more up to it she’d take it down herself, maybe fold it up and put it under her bed or in the closet or something. Something nice to remind her how much her friends care.

But on second thought… Sunset didn’t particularly fancy having any keepsakes to remind her of this stage in her life.

She hobbled into the kitchen. She found she was a lot better walking around in her flat than she was outside. She had more surfaces to lean on and knew her way around. And while she could walk unaided fine, it was slow and with a limp, so she found it much easier to use support. As she entered the kitchen, she pushed herself up off the door frame and let her elbows lean on the counter. She spied something up ahead.

“Oh, girls,” Sunset cursed under her breath.

She still had to do the dishes that needed cleaning from before her accident, the dishes that now sat sparkly clean on the washer board. How… nice of them to do that for her. They went out of their way to make sure Sunset wasn’t inconvenienced in any way. She could have probably managed it herself, given that there wasn’t anything wrong with her arms. But still, a nice gesture from people who cared about her.

Sunset gritted her teeth, forced a smile and turned away from them. She exited the kitchen, clicking the light off.

She wanted her bed. She’d save whatever misgivings she had about the way her friends had started treating her for the morning. Even her Netflix, whiskey and chocolate cake fantasy would have to wait for another night; right now she wanted sleep.

Crossing into the living room, Sunset lent against the door frame as her hand touched the light switch. She glanced around the room. Something didn’t feel right. The room felt a lot emptier than it usually was. Probably because she’d just gone from having seven lively people in there ten minutes ago to it being empty, but still. It felt wrong.

She did her best to move across the room, careful not to disturb the peace as she made her way around the foot rest and coffee table. She looked out the window and onto the Canterlot night life.

Nothing. No cars or pedestrians. Just the orange glow of the streetlamps.

The orange glow.

Only now did Sunset notice the heavy silence that hung over the air.

It was almost deafening. There was not a noise to be heard. No cars outside, no clanging of her plumbing, not her neighbors moving about, nothing. Just a dead silence. Sunset felt very aware of her own presence, as though she was the only living entity in an eternity of nothingness. It made her uneasy.

She coughed. She’d tell herself it was due to a frog in her throat, but really it was an attempt to break the uncomfortable stillness.

The cough sounded and died. No echo. No response. Just more of nothing.

Sunset spied around the room uneasily. She didn’t know what it was making her uncomfortable, but she figured it was due to just having her friends round. I mean, she’d gone from listening to music with her six closest friends to a dead silence, of course it felt odd. Yeah, that was it. Sunset tugged at her curtains, pulling them shut. She then crossed back to the light switch and flicked it off, exiting the room.

Sunset then completed this action in the kitchen and bathroom, before finally ending back up in the hallway. She secured the lock on the front door, and then popped the chain into place as well. She’d start using that more often, that was for sure.

She then turned to her left and popped the corridor light off.

The flat was plunged into darkness.

Sunset turned around, unable to see. Even in her state she could make it back to her room easily enough in the pitch black, she’d done it a thousand times before. It was movement memory, after all. Sunset started to limp her way down the hallway.

It was now the sound of silence hit her at its worse.

The lack of light was disorientating her. She’d lost two of her senses entirely. She couldn’t see or hear a thing. She leaned against the wall for support and started shuffling along the floor. The wall acted as her only anchor, almost like she was out at sea clinging to a piece of wood.

Sunset didn’t like this. She was getting a bit creeped out, to be honest. She couldn’t help but feel extremely vulnerable in her situation right now.

She was moving slower than usual, which meant her usual movement memory reflex couldn’t help determine where she was in the corridor. She should be near the framed picture of herself and her friends by now shouldn’t she?

She couldn’t feel it.

Maybe if she just stretched her hand out a little further she could feel it?

Nothing.

Sunset stopped and frowned. Her heart rate began to pick up.

Maybe it was a bit further back?

Sunset stepped back, tracing her hand along the wall. Nothing. Sunset swallowed, confused.

She took off walking slowly again, groping the wall. She should have definitely touched her picture by now, shouldn’t she? What if she’d missed it and had walked too far down the corridor? Then she’d have passed her room and would be near the bathroom. But then she’d be able to feel-

Sunset felt the wooden frame of the picture.

She let out a sigh of relief.

She pushed herself off the wall and took a step to the left.

It was now her feeling of disorientation hit its peak. She couldn’t see or hear, and now she’d lost the sense of touch as well. The unease she’d previously being feeling turned into panic.

Darkness enveloped her like water rushing in around her. The water threw her around like a rag doll. She went from side to side, to upside down, like she was spinning through space. She could suddenly feel herself being looked from a hundred different angles. She felt vulnerable, as though in her flailing about she was powerless to protect herself.

Her hands collided with her bedroom door. Sunset pushed out a jagged breath of relief, and she quickly pulled open the door and ushered herself in.

She quickly pulled the door behind her shut. She lent against it for a second, regaining her composure.

She’d accidentally left her lampshade on when she came in here earlier, but for once Sunset was pleased by her carelessness. The room was dimly light in a reddish tinge, making it look unusually romantic for the current situation.

“I need to stop scaring myself,” she thought as a shiver went down her back.

Sunset stepped away from the door and approached her bed.

She stripped off her leather jacket and hung it to rest on the back of her door. She then wiggled out of her skirt and let it fall to the floor. She stepped out of it and dropped down on her bed; she could just move it in the morning after all. She clicked the lamp off, tugged off her socks, pulled back the blanket and let herself rest.

Her bed was cold. As expected, really. It had been what, three days since it was last used? Sunset relaxed her head back into her pillow, and pulled the rest of the blanket over her. It was cold too. But a refreshing cold, you know? Not a cold cold, but a comforting cold. Like the cold you get in your mouth after brushing your teeth. Or the cold of a nice breeze. It was a happy cold.

Sunset breathed in as deep as her bandage would allow. She held the breath for a second, then released it.

Coming home was not what she had thought it was going to be.

She expected to get home and just be able to slide back into her normal life. And for a short time she did. While her friends were round she’d got lost in their conversations, laughed, and had a great time. She’d gotten so engrossed in one conversation she’d even got that little bit of sweat you get when you’re really enthusiastic about what you’re talking about.

But now everyone had gone home, it was a different story.

She felt back to how she did in hospital. Not in pain, to say. Just… different. When she was at hospital, she was perfectly aware that she wasn’t at home. She felt on edge, she was out of her comfort zone at a time when she really needed her comfort zone. She’d been looking forward to coming home because she expected that feeling to end when she got back.

But… it hadn’t. Despite the reassurance that she was back in her comfort zone, Sunset felt the same way now as she did back in the hospital. Only now there wasn’t Redheart to come rushing to her side at a moment’s notice.

Now she was alone. Alone in… her big empty flat.

Sunset suppressed a shiver and buried herself deeper under her covers. Her eyes had gotten used to the darkness now, she could make out the door opposite her bed.

Sunset never usually slept with her door closed. She was usually a very relaxed person at home, the only door she ever really closed was her bathroom door. So why had she closed her bedroom door this time?

Because of the anxiety she’d felt in the corridor. It was nothing, Sunset knew. She was just scaring herself. It was an embarrassing topic but… Sunset had never been super okay with the dark in the first place. Whenever she turned the light off in the hallway she’d always do a quick little run to her bedroom to make sure the monsters didn’t get her. Not that she actually believed there were monsters, or anything else for that matter, in her flat.

But… now… it was different. She was being stupid. She knew she was suffering from some level of post-traumatic stress disorder. She knew she wasn’t thinking straight. But now… it wasn’t the monsters she was scared of seeing in the dark. It was them.

Not that she was expecting The Dazzlings to rock up in her flat, that would be silly. But the feeling of vulnerability they made her feel after her attack, the same feeling she felt in the hospital… it was the same feeling she had now. Sunset shivered.

She found herself unable to draw her eyes away from her bedroom door. She tried shutting them, only to have them open themselves a few minutes later without her acknowledge. There was just a voice in the back of her head telling her something wasn’t right. She had expected to get into bed and fall straight to sleep, but instead she felt more awake now than she had ever been.

It was the silence, Sunset decided. It was getting to her, it had gotten so loud she found herself hearing noises that weren’t there. Almost like she was forcing her ears to hear something. She tried convincing herself that she had heard a noise from her living room. When in reality, it was just a stray bloody vessel that had caused a slightly above average vibration in her ear.

Sunset knew she wasn’t falling asleep. She was waiting. Waiting for something to happen. Like in a horror movie, when you know the jump scare is coming. The jumpscare was coming. It was too quiet. It shouldn’t be this quiet. Something was wrong. Something had to be happening.

Sunset flinched.

A black shape in the corner just moved. Sunset was sure. She’d caught it out of the corner of her eye. Her eyes scanned the area.

Nothing in the room had moved. And there was nothing in her room that could move. Trick of the light then? Her eyes were just playing tricks on her, surely.

Cr-rreak

Sunset pushed herself up in bed in alarm. Okay, that one was definitely real. Her heart rate picked up. It had sounded like creaking. Like somebody stepping on the floorboards. The floorboards outside her room.

Sunset froze.

There was somebody outside her room.

She waited, completely still. The silence was loud. She listened as hard as she could, waiting to hear it again, or a voice, or for them to touch the doorknob. She had a bat under her bed specifically for intruders, but she wasn’t about to alert them to her position. Any movement while it was this quiet would let them know she was inside.

She got her hand in position ready. At a moment’s notice she was ready to dive off her bed and grab the bat.

But that moment never came.

Ten full minutes must have passed before Sunset finally convinced herself she’d just been hearing things. And those were ten long minutes. Ten long minutes of having her heart in her mouth. Ten long minutes of feeling adrenaline pumping around her body. Ten long minutes of being absolutely terrified.

Sunset put her arm down and swallowed. She had just been hearing things. She was expecting something to happen, so she made herself think something was happening.

But something wasn’t going to happen, because she was perfectly safe in her own bed. Her door was locked, both with a key and chain, and you couldn’t even get into the building without a keycard. The only way somebody would be able to get into her flat now would be if they were already inside.

Sunset winced. She really wished she hadn’t thought of that.

She sighed and rubbed her face. Scratching her eyes a few times, she observed the many galaxies and star systems that appeared around her. As they begin to fade, she was left with just the sight of her ceiling fan. It had already felt like she’d been in bed for hours.

She had hoped getting home would stop her feeling this way. She just…. She felt afraid. All the time. Sure, she’d be able to use logic to help push the thoughts to the back of her mind. If she was sat in a locked flat that only she had the keys for, AND the chain lock was on, she was pretty damn safe. She knew this. It was the same case when she was in the hospital.

But… the issue was she felt the need to remind herself of these facts. Her default setting was being afraid, and after three days of constantly being on edge, it was starting to get to her.

Sunset took a deep breath and sat up. She winced a little against the pain from her stomach. Holding onto her blanket for support, Sunset dangled her right half off the cot. Her hand snaked its way beneath the bed. It rooted around for a moment, before latching onto something. Even in the pitch black, Sunset could make out the shape of the large baseball bat as she pulled it out. Passing it to her other hand, she took a hold of the wooden handle. It was cold and smooth. She bounced it up and down a bit, getting a feel of it. She’d never had to use it for its intended purpose before, she’d always just had it as more of a cautionary.

She stood it next to her bedside and leaned it down against her pillow. Sunset shuffled over in bed and then lay back down. She relaxed her head back into the pillow and closed her eyes. Her hand inched forward, gently touching the end of her finger tips to the handle of the bat.

There. Now if anything was going to get her, she was prepared.

It was a very long time before sleep finally over took her that night. And it didn’t come without dreams.

Chapter Five: More Than Physical

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“Wha-“ Sunset tried to get out.

A fist collided with her face.

Before she had time to recuperate, a second fist came. This one right into her gut. She tensed up, and attempted to keel over into the fetal position.

She opened her mouth to breathe, took a jagged breath and closed it again. The taste of pennies was churning her stomach.

“AUUUGGH!” Sunset wheezed as another fist hit her stomach.

An unseen hand took a fistful of Sunset’s fringe, and before she could respond to what was happening, her head was lifted up, only to go careening to the side again as another fist was smashed into it.

“Please… sto-“ was all she could force out.

Sunset flinched herself awake. Her eyes flew open.

A cold wave of relief washed over her as she found the alleyway gone and her bedroom back before her.

There was sunlight entering the room through a gap above her curtains, giving her enough sight to make out the state she was in. She’d had a rough night. She lay sprawled out in the center of her bed, her blankets now tied in knots around her and only covering her bottom half. The baseball bat she’d rested by the bedside table was gone, instead now lying opposite her. A mixture of sweat and drool had stuck her face to the pillow she was currently spooning.

Sunset tried to slow her panting. Her morning breath was foul, and each breath she took emphasized the feel of her sweat soaked shirt clinging to her. She’d been awake seconds and already hated everything. She wanted to rid herself of all these terrible sensations as quickly as she could.

She slowly dragged herself up into the sitting position, leaving a wet patch behind where she had lain. She crossed her legs and hunched over her knees, groaning.

That had to have been one of the worst night’s sleep she’d had in a long time. If she could even call it sleep. She’d woken up a dozen times and changed position at least twice that amount. She’d been sweating profusely, even just having the blanket wrapped around her lower half now was adding to the Niagara Falls she could feel on her back.

Sunset dragged her T-shirt off up over her head. Feeling the moist fabric leave her skin was a sweet release. She tossed it to the floor beside her skirt from last night and brushed her hair out of her face.

'I need a shower, right now,' she thought.

She’d yet to have showered since what happened and it was starting to show. A damp smell already hung in her room, which had just been added to by Sunset removing her shirt. After she’d gotten up properly she’d have to throw her bedsheets in with her laundry.

She threw her covers off and dropped her feet off the side of the bed. They did a short wander around on the floor before coming across her slippers and snaking their way inside. Sunset steadied her hand against the bedside table and slowly pulled herself up to her feet. She still had to take it easy, even though her injuries weren’t the worst thing bothering her right now. She made her way over to her pyjama drawer, took out a clean pair, tossed them onto her bed and then turned to her door. She tugged at the handle and pulled it open.

Stepping out into the hallway, the cold air hit Sunset like a physical blast. Her rough night must have raised the entire temperature of her bedroom, because walking around the house in her underwear had never felt so satisfying. She did a short walk down to the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

She stripped off her underwear and then paused.

Was she supposed to take her chest bandage off during showers? It didn’t look or feel waterproof, but Nurse Redheart hadn’t given any specific instructions regarding it... When Sunset had the cast on her arm all those years ago she had to keep it dry while she showering, was this like that? If so Sunset didn’t see how she could, her chest was kind of an unavoidable area... Maybe she should just skip the shower and go over herself with wet wipes, just to be safe?

'Oh, screw it.'

Sunset pulled the bandage free and dropped it down into the pile of her underwear. She wanted a shower and she was damn well going to have one. She’d put it back on later, and if she struggled fastening it she’d just… she’d Google it, or something.

Sunset stepped into the shower and turned it on. The shower head buzzed and then roared to life, sending a stream of water thundering down beside her. She stepped into it and gave a sharp inhale as the hot water made contact with her body. A chill of goose bumps swept over her naked person. She suddenly felt all the stress she’d already been feeling this morning simply wash away. The transformation to her mood was amazing.

Sunset tipped her head back, allowing the water better access to her hair. It was a few seconds before the water soaked through her hair deep enough to reach her head, but when it finally did Sunset expressed another pleased moan.

Her body had been through so much as of late, to now be experiencing something she could genuinely say felt nice was a refreshing concept. She must have stayed in this position for at least another twenty minutes. Not thinking, not worrying about anything, simply enjoying herself. That alleyway had never felt further away.

Sunset plucked a bottle of shower gel from the basket hanging off the curtain rail. She squirted some into her hand and began to slowly clean herself.

The coldness of the gel was a shock to the system, causing her goose bumps to return, which only made the hot water even more pleasurable.

Sunset was able to stand quite well while she cleaned. She’d cocked her hip to the side, putting most of her weight onto her left side. She occasionally had to put her hand up against the wall to keep herself steady. Sunset paused as she got to the area her bandage had been covering.

'Ohhhhh, sweet Celestia,' she thought.

She gently rubbed the area with her fingertips, causing her goose bumps to transform into goose mountains. That area of skin had been sealed under a bandage for so long that scratching it now felt like the best thing to happen to Sunset in a long time. She lay her full hand flat on the wounded area and applied more pressure to it. Gently she rubbed her hand side to side.

Sunset shivered as another surge of goose bumps shot over her. She gave a stable breath. Her hand movements sent wave after wave of tingles across her body. The area was extremely sensitive, she was borderline hurting herself right now. But it was a good pain, a strange concept but an enjoyable one nonetheless.

She smiled, moved off the area and resumed cleaning. She squirted some shampoo into her hair and began to thoroughly work her way through it.

The trick to Sunset’s amazing locks was that she’d go a long time without using shampoo or conditioner, a fact which Rarity was furious over when she first found out. To stop her hair from smelling or getting dirty between cleaning sessions she had to rinse it through with water every night, which was always a pain trying to keep on top of. She’d clean her hair with product properly once a week, the trouble with hair as thick as hers was that the conditioner always made it very bouncy, and the opposite of how she wanted it. So the days in between using product she was simply cleaning her hair rather than washing it, and then doing it up in plaits until it dried. Then, lo and behold, she had her iconic hairstyle.

Although she was getting a lot better at moving, Sunset doubted it would be any time soon she’d be able to put her hair in plaits again. Lifting her arms that high would be a strain on her chest. She supposed she could always get one of her friends to do it though… Heck, Rarity would probably jump at the opportunity.

Sunset rinsed out her hair, put conditioner in, cleaned, rinsed it out again and then set about cleaning the shower gel from her body. While doing so she started to plan her day’s schedule.

First she was going to have breakfast, which was a must. She could feel the emptiness of her stomach now. She quite fancied a jelly sandwich, maybe with some peanut butter? Then she’d call in sick to CHS and explain what had happened. She couldn’t imagine that taking more than ten minutes, Celestia and Luna were usually pretty understanding when it came to medical things. After she did that however… that’s when the fun really got to begin. She had the rest of the day to herself then. Netflix and cake sounded like a good plan. Although… though she didn’t have an exact time set in mind, at some point today she wanted to get a letter written to Princess Twilight to fill her in on what happened. But… Twilight would probably be busy during the day, she could leave that until tonight, right?

It was another twenty minutes before Sunset finally turned the shower off. She must have been in there for a good hour or so, or it’d felt like that. She stepped out of the shower, plucked the towel from its area on the sink and wrapped it around her being.

The cool breeze of her hallway that had flattered her earlier now betrayed her as she did the short walk back to bedroom. She closed the door behind her, already shivering. She stripped the towel off and began putting on her new PJs. She had to stable herself a few times while putting her pants on, but all in all Sunset impressed herself by how easily she was able to get dressed.

Placing one hand on the end of the bed, Sunset lent her head down until it was almost level with her knees. The acting of doing so disorientated her a little, and she found herself holding her breath.

'Oh sugar.'

Sunset winced as a high-pitched pain started coming from her chest.

She wrapped the towel around her hair a few times and then stood back up. She wrapped it the rest of the way around her head hat-style and then gave a slow rub to the now-sensitive area of her chest.

She’d been doing so well as well. She sighed.

Sunset trekked back into the bathroom and picked up her dirty clothes. She dropped her underwear into the hamper but held onto her chest bandage. She still had to figure out a way to put that back on. She tucked it into her pajama pocket, popped her slippers back on and finally left the bathroom, ready to begin her day.

…If by beginning her day she meant making herself some breakfast and sitting on the couch for six hours. Which sadly, she did.

She ventured into the kitchen and began assembling the ingredients she needed for a sandwich.

She plucked two slices of bread out from the bread bin, plonked them down on the counter and opened the fridge. She took out the jar of jelly in one hand and a carton of orange juice in the other, and then nudged the door shut again with her hip. She pulled open the jar, grabbed a knife from the drawer below her and stuck it in. She stirred the jelly around a little, breaking down the large lumps. Pulling the knife out sh-

HOOOOOONNNK

“GAAHH!”

Sunset’s body cleared five foot into the air. The knife clattered loudly onto the counter.

A surge of adrenaline thundered through her body. The room span. A hot flush hit her. As her feet hit the ground her body froze up and her vision blurred together. There was a thunderous beating noise, almost deafening.

Sunset stumbled to the side and grabbed at her chest. The noise was her heart beat. Each beat felt like a punch in the ears. Her breathing had stopped. Sunset tried harder to suck in air, but it was to no avail. It felt like the harder she breathed in, the smaller her lungs got.

She was so hot right now, she was boiling in her own clothes. Sweat started forming on her brow and her mouth was dry. Her T-shirt and PJ bottoms might had well been on fire. The thumping in her ears continued. Sunset felt like she was going to burst.

Finally she pushed through the breach and was able to gasp out a breath. As the air filled into her lungs, time seemed to pause. Her senses came flooding back. The room spinning around her began to slow. Her temperature plummeted and her stomach spasmed, causing her to hunch over in pain.

She stabled herself against the counter. As her lungs filled to their limit she released the breath in a violent push.

The room around her took shape again. She began blinking, then swallowed. Her breaths became slow pants. She pushed herself up off the counter. As the panic slowly drained away it was replaced with an icy breeze.

She looked around the room in a daze.

Her hands were shaking. She’d gone from feeling on fire to suddenly being freezing. She was light headed, as though she’d inhaled so much air she’d become hollow. She swallowed and licked her dry lips.

Everything was still. She was in her kitchen. The bread bin was to the right of her and the fridge to her left. The knife she’d been using for her bread lay on the counter, jelly splattered around it from the drop.

Her world had gone from explosions and rioting to a desolate wasteland. Sunset felt very alone. She felt more than alone… she felt… she felt…

She pushed the feeling away.

“It was a car. A car’s horn,” she told herself.

She lived on a main road. It was a common occurrence to hear cars honking their horns. Sometimes she heard people shouting to each other from across the street. Sometimes she heard dogs barking, sometimes she’d hear drunken singing, sometimes she heard police sirens. All of them, completely normal noises to her. Just like a car honking its horn was. Completely normal.

'Completely normal.'

Sunset took a deep breath.

Still shaking, she picked up the knife off the counter and resumed making her breakfast. She scooped a dollop of the jelly out from its jar and smeared it across the bread. She repeated this a few times. She didn’t know how many times. She wasn’t paying attention.

Her head felt cold. Her throat felt empty. She felt empty. Empty and cold. But a refreshing empty and cold. But not a pleasant refreshing. Like a bucket of ice water being poured over you refreshing. A shock-to-the-system kind of refreshing. Like an unpleasant surprise.

Sunset stopped spreading the jelly. She placed one slice of bread above the other, sealing the sandwich. She pulled a plate out from the cabinet above her, placed her food on it and left the room.

The jelly jar, the knife and the carton of orange juice all stayed out on the counter. Her sandwich remained uncut in the middle. But Sunset didn’t notice, she only had one priority right now. She wanted out of that room.

She quickly exited the kitchen and turned, entering her living room.

Her living room was very big. She didn’t always remember it being this big.

This big and empty.

Big, empty and quiet.

Without her noticing her walking had begun to slow.

It was very quiet, wasn’t it?

Was it always this quiet in her flat? Had the car honking its horn deafened her? There was no way it should be this quiet. She felt like she was alone in an empty football stadium. Her flat didn’t feel its usual self. Almost like something wasn’t right.

Sunset noticed she’d stopped walking. She shook her head and quickly sat in her usual seat.

She picked up her sandwich with both hands and took a bite. She chewed it quickly and swallowed. Her eyes flicked to the rest of the room.

Had her flat always felt so sterile?

She took another bite, chewed and swallowed.

Was it always this quiet?

Another bite, chewed and swallowed.

Did it always make her feel this alone?

Bite, chew, swallow.

Did it always make her feel this vulnerable?

Sunset snapped her head towards the TV.

That was it!

She always watched TV when she had breakfast. Silly her. Hahahaha! Sunset plucked up the remote and punched in a random code of numbers. The TV flickered to life. A drama show appeared on her screen. A middle-aged woman sat on the floor of a messy living room, crying.

“Maybe I am a mess. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m out of my mind! But, God help me, I will keep these lights up until the day I die!” the woman shouted.

Sunset frowned and turned the TV down. It had come on louder than expected. She picked up her sandwich and took another bite.

That was better! The silence was gone. All she had needed to do was turn on the TV! She never really 'watched' TV when she ate her breakfast, she more just had it on to distract her and wake her up. And that’s just what it was doing. Yessiree. Distracting her from her flat. Not that there was anything to be scared of in her flat. Not that she was scared, or anything.

She’d just been caught off guard, that was all.

She hadn’t been fully awake, the car horn had made her jump. Perfectly normal reaction. There was nothing unusual about jumping at a car horn. She wasn’t being jumpy, she had a perfectly normal, natural reaction.

Sunset stopped chewing. She sighed.

'I’m getting scared over a car horn.' she said to herself.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She didn’t know what this feeling was. Scratch that, she knew exactly what it was. She felt ashamed. Ashamed in herself. She was a jumpy mess after what had happened. Today she’d woken up and felt fine. She had a nice shower and was ready to start the day. But all it took was one small car horn and she’d been reduced to a quivering wreck.

Sunset blinked a few times, trying to dab away at the wetness forming in her eyes.

She was safe in her flat. She knew this. It was fact. Letting everything get to her was pointless. It was stupid, she was stronger than this.

It’s not like she had a fear of the sirens jumping out from behind her fridge and attacking her. At least if she was feeling that she might be able to make sense of it. But her fears weren’t being that specific. Ever since what had happened she just felt as though she’d been stripped of an invisible shield all of a sudden. Her entire world had changed, even being in her flat she felt she couldn’t let her guard down.

She hated this. She hated feeling like this. It was a car horn. It was probably some kid running out onto the road, or somebody too busy texting to go on the green light. Whatever it was it was not worth getting this worked up over.

So… why was she?

Sunset groaned and stood up. She took her curtains in each hand and tore them open.

The light from outside blinded her momentarily, but her vision adjusted the world took shape. The sun was high in the sky, illuminating the street before her perfectly. A dozen or so cars were slowly moving past her apartment block. Traffic was slow, but it was moving. A handful of people stood at the bus stop opposite her house, one of them pushing a pram. On the street below her a man was walking his dog. A bird stood on the roof of the apartment block opposite her, placing some twigs at the foot of a satellite dish. A newspaper blew across the street. A few of the people at the bus stop chatted politely to one another. The people in the cars lightly bobbed their heads to music or made conversation with their passengers.

Everything was calm. Everything was normal. There wasn’t even any sign of what had caused the car to honk its horn. That car was probably two miles down the road by now.

But to Sunset, everything was the opposite of calm.

That nagging feeling of exposure she’d had… she’d just amplified it.

She might as had just opened the window of a submarine. Anxiety gushed in around her like a raging torrent of water. She felt herself get physically picked up by it. The torrent swallowed her whole and began throwing her around like a ragdoll. She was drowning. Her heart dropped and her lungs seized up again.

She yanked the curtains shut.

She turned around and dropped back against the window. Her eyes weren’t adjusting to the sudden darkness quick enough. She began to panic.

'Not again. Please God, not again.'


Life was bustling with activity in the CHS cafeteria. People lined up to get their food, younger students ran around playing games and the art students rehearsed their monologues and overtures to their friends. In the centre of the room was one table in particular, where a fashionista, a farmer, an athlete, a bookworm, a party girl and an introvert sat enjoying their meals together.

“I’m tellin’ ya, there is nooo way it isn’t rigged!” Rainbow exclaimed, throwing her arms up into the air for extra emphasis.

“RD it’s a blood test. Why exactly would the school nurse fake yer blood test?” Applejack asked.

“I dunno,” Rainbow shrugged. “Maybe to stop me entering the Olympics.”

Applejack groaned and rolled her eyes. “Ah not this again!”

“Yeah this again!” Rainbow pointed a defensive finger at her.

“Rainbow, we know yer good an’ all but these are the best athletes in the ‘tire world! You got a long way to go before you can c’mpete against ‘em.”

“You just wait!” Rainbow turned her attention back to her food. “Tell me that again in five years when I’m the world champion.”

Applejack frowned. “World champion at what exactly?”

Rainbow gave a sheepish smile, “I er… haven’t decided yet… BUT whatever I do decide to do I’m gonna be the best!”

Applejack simply face palmed.

“Erm, quite,” Rarity smiled. “I don’t suppose any of you took notes during Mr Doodle’s class, did you?”

Applejack frowned. “Didn’t ya take yer own?”

“Miss Pie borrowed my pen during second period,” Rarity threw Pinkie a deathly glare.

Pinkie Pie lifted her hands up in defense. “Hey, that was your mistake. You’re my friend, you knew what you were signing yourself up for when you gave it me.”

“I got you covered Rarity,” Twilight smiled, taking a notepad out from her backpack.

Rarity smiled sweetly, taking the pad from Twilight. “Thank you, dear.”

“Oh Twilight, do you mind if I borrow that after Rarity?” Fluttershy asked sheepishly.

“Not like you to not pay attention in class, Flutters,” Rainbow interjected.

Fluttershy blushed. “I may have nodded off a tiny bit…”

This caused a group-wide laughter.

“What’s the special occasion?” Rainbow asked.

Fluttershy perked up. “Oh, last night I was watching this new series on Netflix, and girls it’s simply wonderful-”

CUT MY LIFE IN PIECES. THIS IS MY LAST RESO-.

Applejack groaned and pulled out her cellphone. “Aw heck, sorry. Hold that thought.”

“Nice ringtone,” Rarity snickered.

“Shuddup,” Applejack laughed. “It’s Sunset.”

The group all hushed down as Applejack answered the call. She placed the call on loud speaker. The group waited for a voice to greet them, but none came.

Applejack frowned. “Sunset?”

Only then did a voice appear. It was rough and muffled.

“Applejack. Hey.”

Applejack frowned again. Sunset didn’t sound her usual self. Her voice was quiet, like she had a sore throat.

“You okay, sugarcube?”

It took a second before a reply came.

“Yeah. I’m good. How are you?” she sniffed.

Applejack’s eyes grew wide.

“Sunset… are you cryin'?”

The entire group all reacted, their heads snapping in the phone’s direction. Applejack locked eyes with each of them, concern riddled across her face.

A reply didn’t come. Instead just some muffled noises and another sniff.

“Can I ask a favor?” Sunset’s voice croaked.

Applejack did another scan of the group. They all watched her with wide eyes, waiting on her response.

“Erm, sure… Whatever you need,” she said cautiously.

Heavy breathing came from Sunset’s side.

“Can you gimme a ride to school tomorrow?”

Applejack’s mouth fell open as she searched for the next words to say.

“Err… do ya think ya should really be attentin’ school… in your state?”

A muffled cry came from over the phone. The girls all stayed silent, but looked from one another with worried expressions.

“Please, AJ.”

Sunset was definitely crying.

“I’ve got…” she followed up, “I’ve got school work I n-need to do. I can’t risk getting b-behind.”

“Sunset… you should be restin’,” Applejack said sympathetically.

“I-I know but I…” Sunset choked, “… I don’t… I just… I don’t want to stay here on my own.”

Applejack looked up from her phone. Her friends were all reacting the same way, shocked and concerned. Applejack turned to Rarity and gestured towards the phone. Rarity shook her head.

“Ah’m… sorry, Sunset,” Applejack shook her head, “yer in no fit state to be comin’ in school.”

Another choke from Sunset’s side of the line.

“C-can you pass me to Rarity please?” she asked.

Applejack sighed. “Rarity isn’t going to take you either.”

“Could you j-just pass me to her please?”

“Not if yer gonna ask her to take you to school tomo’rah.”

Sunset gave a frustrated sigh.

“Fine.”

Applejack licked her lips before continuing.

“Sunset, what’s wro-”

“I h-have to go. I’ll see you girls when I get back, whenever that will be.”

Sunset hung up, leaving her six friends in a stunned silence.


Sunset’s ominous phone call had instantly set off warning lights within the group. So much so that as the last period ended, they all filled into the back of Applejack’s pickup and set off to go check on her. On the way they had attempt to call her back, but when no answer came that’s when they officially crossed the concerned barrier and into being worried.

The group of girls climbed the last flight of stairs in the apartment block, whispering quietly among themselves.

“She’s probably just got cabin fever or something,” Rainbow shrugged.

“She’s only been home alone fer one day!” Applejack responded.

“What do you think’s wrong with her?” Fluttershy asked quietly.

Applejack scratched her head. “Ah dunno. Maybe she hurt herself or summthin.”

“If she’s hurt herself, why would she be asking for you to drive her to school tomorrow?” Rainbow said a little too loudly.

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Well heck, how else do you wanna explain her weepin’?”

“Girls, shush,” Rarity told them.

They had arrived at Sunset’s front door. Rarity turned to the group.

“Right, ermm…” she glanced over them all awkwardly, “I think this is best done delicately.”

Applejack frowned. “Whaddya mean?”

“I mean, erm… well I mean… Sunset probably isn’t in the mood to be crowded right now, even if we do mean well by it.”

Applejack nodded. “Yer thinkin’ some of us should hang back a bit?”

“Just until we find out what’s wrong with her… Heaven knows the last thing I’d want is to be swarmed if I were in a sensitive state.”

Applejack glanced over the group. “Makes sense to me. Who’s gonna go in?”

“I’LL DO IT!” Pinkie raised her hand excitedly.

Rarity forced out a polite smile. “Pinkie Pie, I think maybe that’s not the… best idea.”

“Ooooh, but I know a bunch of ways to cheer other people up!” she squealed.

Rarity let out an uncomfortable noise.

“Yes, but you can be a little bit… how do you say, 'too much' sometimes, dear,” she placed her hand on Pinkie’s shoulder.

Pinkie gave a confused frown.

“There’s no such thing as too much when it comes to fun!”

Rarity looked at Applejack for help, who sighed.

“Pinkie Pie, y’all are just gonna end up annoying Sunset, not cheerin’ her up.”

Pinkie shrugged.

“Fair enough.”

Rainbow Dash snorted.

“I think maybe it’s best if Twilight and I go,” Rarity gestured to the bookworm beside her. “I have quite a delicate touch when it comes to these things and Twilight’s, well… It might be nice for her to see a friendly face, so to speak.”

Applejack nodded again. “Makes sense. C’mon girls.”

Applejack turned on her heels and slowly led the rest of the girls back down the corridor they just came from.

“We’ll be round the corner eavesdroppin’ if you need us!” Rainbow Dash waved.

Applejack punched her in the hip.

Rarity turned to Twilight, who had been entirely silent up until this point.

“Do you think something bad has happened?” Twilight asked in a hushed tone.

Rarity gave a sympathetic look towards Sunset’s front door.

“I think something bad already did happen.”

She knocked.

The girls waited for a response. None came. Twilight looked to Rarity, concern written across her face. She knocked again, still no answer.

Then something clicked in Rarity’s head.

“Sunset! Sunset, dear, it’s Twilight and Rarity,” she announced loudly, her voice echoing a few times in the empty corridor.

That did something.

Movement could be heard from inside. A moment passed, then there was a click, and the door opened a few inches. An orange face appeared partially through the gap. Rarity repressed a gasp of shock.

Sunset’s eyes were bloodshot, her skin had paled over and her cheeks shone with the wetness of tears. She offered them a half smile.

“Hey.”

Rarity and Twilight looked her up and down, aghast.

“Sunset!?” Twilight’s voice was unexpectedly high pitched.

Sunset nodded and she cleared her throat.

“What’s up?”

Twilight turned to Rarity, expecting her to answer for her. Rarity’s mouth dropped open as she searched for the right words.

“We… we were worried about you. After that phone call we-”

Sunset let out an annoyed sigh.

“You wanted to come check on me?” Her words were harsh.

Rarity was taken aback by the tone in Sunset’s voice.

“W-well I… Yes, yes we did.”

“I’m fine,” she said sternly.

Rarity and Twilight exchanged another worried glance.

Rarity fiddled around with her hands, looking away. “No need to take such a tone… we were just concerned about you.”

Sunset spat out a laugh.

“Okay, here’s a question: If this were any other normal day – and I asked Applejack for a ride – would you have still come to check on me?”

Rarity just noticed now how slurred Sunset’s speech pattern was.

She frowned. “Well no, we came becau-”

“Because you were worried about me?”

Rarity nodded.

Sunset laughed and shook her head.

“I don’t need you guys checking up on me. I’m fine. If I wasn’t I’d still be in-" she hiccuped "-the hospital! I don’t need you guys treating me like a charity.”

Rarity gave an annoyed sigh. “Sunset, dear, please stop it with this. You rang us up crying, of course we’re going to be concerned about you,” she retorted.

Sunset mumbled something inaudible to the two girls. Rarity decided it was best left unheard.

“Why don’t you let us in?” Rarity offered. “We did come all the way down here, after all.”

Sunset blinked. She looked away from them.

“You can’t just turn up a-and invite yourself in.”

“Is that a no, then?” Rarity raised her eyebrows.

Sunset was silent for a second. Then slowly she closed the door separating them. Twilight looked at Rarity, confused. Then there was a metallic rustling and then the door reopened.

The smell hit the two highschoolers like a train. A bitter, musty smell leaked out from Sunset’s apartment behind her, though a lot of it originated from the girl herself. A cough exploded out of Twilight. She turned away from the door and covered her mouth, blushing.

Sunset stepped aside, allowing them entry in. Rarity gritted her teeth against the smell and smiled. Together, she and Twilight stepped inside.

The first thing they noticed (aside from the increased smell) was how dark the apartment had become. Every blind was been pulled and every curtain closed. The only light was the artificial orange glow of the lampshades.

Rarity focused her attention on Sunset. As she locked the door behind the girls, she held herself steady with one hand against the wall. It took her two attempts to fit the steel chain into the lock. When she finally did she turned back around to her visitors and gave a wonky smile.

“Sunset, dear, don’t take this the wrong way but… have you been drinking, by any chance?” Rarity asked cautiously.

Sunset frowned. “I’ve… had a glass of whiskey, yeah.”

“More like a bottle,” Twilight said under her breath.

Rarity repressed a smile at Twilight’s surprisingly sassy remark. Instead she continued, “Can I ask why? It’s barely one in the afternoon, a bit early don’t you think?”

Sunset swallowed. She seemed to give a little look around before answered.

“Calm my nerves.”

Rarity gave a slow nod. She thought about her next words carefully. But as she opened her mouth to say them, Twilight beat her to it.

“Against what?” she frowned.

Rarity shot Twilight a dirty glare. She made a mental note to make that girl look up the word eggshell in one of her many dictionaries.

Sunset’s change in rhythm was instant. She scowled and opened her mouth to give what would have presumably been a harsh response, but Rarity jumped in first, denying her the chance.

“Why don’t we all go sit down, hm?” Rarity pushed Twilight into the living room ahead of her.

Sunset’s living room was just as dark as the hallway but smelled a lot worse. A nearly drained bottle of whiskey stood on the coffee table next to a.... baseball bat? Rarity frowned.

“I suppose a cup of tea is out of the question?” Rarity asked, dragging Twilight down onto the sofa with her.

Sunset stood in the doorway, supporting herself on its frame. She watched her two friends with narrowed eyes.

Rarity nodded. “I presumed as much.”

Sunset slowly made her way into the rest of the living room, tracing her hand along the wall for support. She came to a stop in front of them.

“Why are you guys here?”

Rarity bit her tongue. She had to play this very delicately. Saying the wrong thing could lead to Sunset getting annoyed, which was the last thing they wanted right now.

“Well…” she began, “you sounded really upset when you were on the phone… So Twilight and I thought we would come cheer you up.”

“It was Rarity’s idea,” Twilight said quickly.

Rarity shot Twilight another glare.

“It’s not because we think you need babying or anything like that. We just thought you might appreciate some company,” Rarity reassured her.

Sunset was silent for a while. She watched her friends suspiciously, as if almost expecting them to pull a gun on her. She looked towards the ground and swallowed, before nodding.

She gently made her way over to the sofa beside Rarity and Twilight. As she tried to lower herself onto it she stumbled suddenly. Her body fell backwards, hitting the sofa at a much faster speed than she intended. Her body spasmed in panic, lifting her feet off the ground and sending one of the slippers flying into the air. It dropped down onto the coffee table with a thud, knocking over the whiskey bottle.

Rarity let out a shriek as she and Twilight jumped to their feet. Sunset pushed herself up and began scanning the room frantically, unaware of what had caused Rarity’s scream. The white girl dived forward and snatched up the bottle, which had already spilled the rest of its contents out onto Sunset’s carpet. Luckily the bottle itself had stayed intact during impact.

“I’ll get some paper towels!” Twilight rushed out of the room.

“W-what? Whaaaat?” Sunset slurred, pushing herself up off the sofa.

She stumbled again, this time completely losing her footing. Rarity reacted quickly, pushing her own body forward to catch her. Sunset fell dead weight against Rarity, pushing them both back. Rarity held her ground and pushed back against Sunset. She repressed a gag. The smell of alcohol was so strong now she practically had the address of the brewery.

“Thank you ‘varity,” Sunset mumbled.

With a heave, Rarity pushed Sunset off herself and backwards onto the sofa. Sunset simply dropped into the position she was pushed in, giving no effort to fight or regain her composure.

Twilight rushed in behind them, carrying a roll of toilet paper. She dropped to her knees and began frantically dabbing the mess on the carpet. Rarity looked from Twilight to Sunset. Sunset simply lay, eyes closed, in the position she’d dropped into. This had gone too far.
Rarity sat down next to her and took her face in her hands. That got Sunset to react, whose eyes grew wide and watched Rarity in alarm.

“Sunset,” Rarity questioned her sternly, “why have you been drinking?”

Sunset swallowed.

“I told you. To clam-alm my nerves.”

Rarity nodded. “But why? Why did you need to calm your nerves?”

The conversation looked was though it was going to take the same turn as when Twilight asked. It looked that way, but only for a moment. Sunset’s eyebrows furrowed into a frown and she expanded her chest, likely to give Rarity an earful. But then something faltered. Her eyebrows softened and her death glare became a light squint. Sunset pulled her head back from Rarity’s grasp, maintaining eye contact. Her lip began to quiver.

“I… I…”

The wall fell. Tears flooded into Sunset’s eyes and she choked back a sob. She turned away from Rarity, trying to shield her face with her hair. Rarity responded by grabbing Sunset again, this time pulling her into a hug. Sunset didn’t resist. In fact, she responded by wrapping her arms around her in return. She buried her head in Rarity’s chest and started breathing heavily. Judging by the wetness she could feel developing on her shirt, Sunset was crying.

Rarity lifted her hand up and brushed the hair out of Sunset’s face.

“Shhh sh sh sh,” she cooed.

Rarity looked up at Twilight. She was on her hands and knees, pressing the toilet paper against the stained carpet. But she wasn’t cleaning, she was watching the two with wide eyes. Rarity gave her a sympathetic smile, and gestured towards Sunset.

It took Twilight a second to catch on, but when she did she stood up, dropped the toilet paper and joined the two. She sat beside Sunset on the couch and placed her hand down on the girl’s back. Sunset flinched in response. Twilight backed off, not knowing whether to continue. Rarity gave her an approving nod, and Twilight placed her hand back down on Sunset. She began rubbing her hand in gentle circles.

Sunset muttered something inaudible to the two. Rarity’s eyes flickered downwards.

“What was that?” she asked gently.

Sunset raised her head slightly off Rarity’s chest. Her face was still invisible beneath her hair.

“I-I just feel... so afraid, all the time,” she wept.

Twilight’s expression went from sympathetic to shocked. She looked at Rarity, who pulled Sunset back in for another hug. Sunset twisted her head away from Rarity’s chest so she could speak.

“I hate this. I don’t even feel safe in my bed. I just want life to go b-back to normal.”

Sunset swallowed and continued.

“I feel like I’m just waiting for them to come back a-and… I know they aren’t but… It’s stupid I know,” Sunset hid her face again.

Rarity shook her head. “It’s not stupid, Sunset.”

“No, it is!” Sunset shot back. “I know I’m being an idiot –b-but I feel like I can’t say anything about it either cause you guys will think I’m attention seekin-“

“Sunset, never!” Twilight interjected.

Sunset let out a loud sob. “You guys keep treating me differently! Like you’re babysitting me a-and I don’t want that! I don’t want that. I just… want things to go back to normal.”

As she finished her sentence she lost the little composure she had left and was reduced to tears and sobbing. Rarity continued to cradle her, stroking her hair while Twilight rubbed circles on her back. The purple-haired girl grimaced at the state of her friend. Sunset’s sweat had seeped through her clothes, adding to the stench of her alcohol ridden breath and making her moist to the touch.

The three girls stayed in this embrace until Sunset’s breathing started to slow and her whimpers became silent.

“Sunset,” Rarity began quietly, “if you genuinely feel that way, then we’ll leave you alone.”

This line caused Twilight’s eyes to make contact with her own. She frowned, waiting for an explanation.

Rarity nodded, still stroking Sunset’s hair with her fingers. “We’ll leave you alone. But I want you to know we’re your friends Sunset and we want to help you. Not because we feel sorry for you or we feel obligated to, but because for us, seeing you like this is… it’s heartbreaking.”

Twilight nodded in agreement.

“We want to help you in any way we can. Because we care about you. So what I want you to do is… I want you to think of something for us to do. Put the worry of being selfish aside. I want you to tell us what you want us -as your friends- to do to help you. Are you listening?”

A quiet mumble was her answer.

“If you don’t want us acting the way we are acting, then tell us how you want us to act. You might be healing but you’re not out of the woods yet, and you need our help. Capiche?”

Sunset gently nodded.

“Good…” Rarity sighed. “So… do you still want us to leave?”

Sunset moved her face into view. Hair clung to her face, attached to her by the tears she was still producing. She gave a long sniff. Rarity repressed a grimace at the revolting noise.

“Maybe stay for a little longer,” she croaked.

Rarity nodded.

“If that’s what you want.”

Sunset closed her eyes and buried her face back into Rarity’s chest. Rarity rocked her back and forth. Eventually her cries began to fade into whimpers, and then the whimpers into sniffles. A few more minutes of silent comforting passed before the sniffles turned into snores.

“How did you know she would respond to that?” Twilight whispered.

Rarity swallowed. “I’ve er… had experience, with people in her position before.”

The look on Rarity’s face was not one that invited pushing. Twilight simply nodded in response.

Part of her almost didn’t want to know anyway.

Chapter Six: Revelations

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The coming days passed by Sunset slowly, but without incident. On the night of her breakdown, Rarity and Twilight had tucked her in on the sofa and left her be, and she’d woken up the following morning to a text explaining what had happened. Sunset wanted to say she’d woken up to worse things but… she hadn’t. As she read the message summing up the previous night’s events, she’d wanted to die then and there. She only thanked Celestia that the girls were being so cooperative with her, it was really sparing her from any added embarrassment.

Sunset had finally come to terms with the fact she felt a like burden on her friends. She’d finally accepted that, yes, she was being a burden, and that was what she needed right now. She was ill and needed the support of her friends, it was as simple as that. They had done more than enough to convince her that they were helping her out of the goodness of their hearts and not through sympathy, and the knowledge she’d do the same for them definitely made the pill easier to swallow.

Physically she'd had been improving a lot. Her black eye had reduced to being nothing more than a green blur now (albeit it a green blur that hurt when she chewed), and between that and her cracked rib only hurting when she tried to stand, Sunset considered herself quite lucky.

She didn’t see her friends again until the weekend, when they all decided to invite themselves over for a study party. This time she’d received a text first, warning of their visit, which had given her time to prepare. Which meant curtains closed, Hooftube up, snacks out and pizza ordered!

When they arrived the lot of them ended up all sprawled out across Sunset’s living room, with only Rarity and Twilight electing to actually rest on the sofa. Pinkie and Rainbow sat in front of the TV with their study books abandoned to the sides as they watched epic fail compilations. Applejack leaned against the base of the sofa, reading while Rarity braided her hair, and Twilight sat beside them, studying in silence. Fluttershy sat quietly on the arm of the sofa, content with simply watching them all.

Sunset was in the kitchen pouring herself a glass of juice. As she closed the fridge door she was met with the sight of two piercing blue eyes and a pale face, and she jumped back in alarm.

“Oh! Sorry dear. I did try making noise as I entered,” Rarity giggled.

“It’s fine,” Sunset laughed lightly, “you just frightened me.”

“Not too much though, I hope?” Rarity asked, a hint of concern in her voice.

The fun buzz Sunset had been getting from having her friends over hit a wall.

Okay, she might have been lying when she said she was over feeling like a burden. Sometimes her friends would say something wrong or… misjudge a situation, and as a result it’d make Sunset feel like an overly sensitive child. She didn’t blame them in the slightest for these occasional mistakes, they were shooting in the dark here and so far had been doing a very good job. But she couldn’t help the terrible feeling she got when they did occasionally mess up.

“Nooo, Rarity, it’s fine,” she almost groaned.

Rarity lightened up at this and nodded. “Oh, good.”

Sunset took her drink in hand and went to rejoin the other girls, but found her exit blocked.

“Got a moment?” Rarity asked.

Sunset frowned and nodded. “Erm… sure. What’s up?”

Rarity nodded and leaned back against the counter. She smiled, and in a hushed tone asked, “I was wondering how you’ve been doing?”

“I’m definitely on the mend,” Sunset rubbed her left arm, giving a sheepish smile.

“I, eh, didn’t mean, er, physically, dear.”

Sunset nodded. “Oh... yeah.”

They hadn’t spoken properly about Sunset’s breakdown since it happened. Sunset had been very grateful for that, just remembering it overwhelmed her with cringe. That whole incident she’d just been trying her hardest to forget.

“W-well, I haven’t been that bad, since. Nothing’s exactly, you know... changed, though.”

Sunset looked away, blushing. She knew she could talk to Rarity about this; a few days ago her fashionista friend had seen her at her worst, after all. But that knowledge wasn’t helping the words form in her mouth any easier.

She swallowed and continued.

“I keep waking myself up at night. I’m also jumping at everything,” Sunset grimaced, wishing she could skip admitting the next part. “It’s the dreams, though” she forced out. “The dreams are the worst.”

Rarity gave her a sympathetic smile. “I think you need to start considering getting professional help. I could understand if this were just a short term thing, but… it’s been nearly a week now, and the way you’re describing it makes it sound like it’s getting worse.”

Sunset didn’t look up.

“It is.”

Rarity nodded.

“So, ah, have you thought about it?”

Sunset sighed.

“I guess... I was going to write to Twilight about it – but I’m kind avoiding it... starting to think I’d just be an unnecessary burden on her, especially when there’s nothing she could do to help.”

“Oh, Sunset, I doubt you’d be a burden,” Rarity waved her off.

“But there’s really no point making her worry about something that’s out of her hands, is there?”

“But she cares about you! You know she’d want to know.”

Sunset gave another sigh and nodded. “I guess.”

“Is that all you’ve thought about it?” Rarity raised an eyebrow.

Sunset shrugged.

“Nurse Redheart told me this kind of thing is common with teenage girls who have been attacked… She said I can come down to the clinic they have there if I need any help.”

“And are you going to?”

She shrugged. “I’ve considered it, but… ugh, I don’t know, there’s no way I could vent properly without telling them everything about the sirens. Which, ah, probably isn’t a good idea.”

Rarity pursed her lips. Sunset could see the cogs ticking behind her eyes.

“That’s a small detail we could leave out,” Rarity said slowly. “It sounds to me, dear, like you’re making excuses to not go.”

Sunset sighed. Rarity had an incredible power for being able to see straight through people. It wouldn’t surprise her if in some alternate universe she had a career as a cop or a private investigator.

She nodded.

“I probably am.”

“You know, CHS has a school councilor. I’m sure Celestia would refer you, if you asked.”

Sunset groaned and put her hand to her face. She’d completely forgotten about CHS.

She’d still not managed to get around to calling the school and formally apologizing for being absent. She’d just had so much on her plate recently, heck, it felt like half the time she was alone was just spent trying not to have a breakdown. The only time she really felt at ease was when she was around her friends, and Sunset wasn’t usually thinking about chores then.

It had been a week already, though. Was it even worth bothering with now?

She shook her head. “School is the last thing on my mind right now. I don’t even like looking out the window… I wouldn’t be able to handle going in.”

Rarity frowned, then released a small gasp. “Sunset? Have you not left the house since what happened!?”

Sunset’s lack of a response was an answer in itself.

“Sunset, you d–”

“Don’t look at me like that,” Sunset huffed, crossing her arms, “you don’t know what I’m going through. Everything’s different now, it’s–”

She broke off, screwing her eyes shut in frustration. “I can’t explain it, okay?”

“Sunset,” Rarity said sternly, “who said I don’t know what you’re going through?”

“What do you mean?”

Rarity sighed and looked around the kitchen, avoiding eye contact.

“Let’s just say we’ve all had our own experiences with the darker side of life. Just because somebody seems fine, it doesn’t mean they didn’t have to work to achieve that image. All the world is a stage, and what not.”

Sunset fell silent. She didn’t like what that had implied.

Rarity seemed to have taken on the mantle of the group’s leader when it came to Sunset’s condition, she’d noticed. It would be small things, like her being the one to arrange their hang outs, or how Rainbow had instantly turned to Rarity when Sunset brought up the hospital. Sunset presumed it was due to her generous nature, she hadn’t given it a second thought until now.

Had something bad happened to Rarity in the past? Or to someone Rarity cared about? That would explain her attitude; Fluttershy was essentially this world’s Element of Kindness and she had yet to display half the tolerance Rarity was towards her.

She racked her brains for anything that might have been established in previous conversations, but nothing came to mind. It must have been something from before she came to this world, otherwise Sunset doubted Rarity would keep something that big in her life a secret from her and her friends.

Breaking the moment of silence, Rarity continued, “Sunset Shimmer, we will help you as much as we can, and I mean that. But you need to help yourself as well. Now, come on, let’s go re-join the others.”

If Sunset still had her pony ears, they’d be very much down right now.


“Wha–”

A fist to her face.

Then a second one, this time into her gut. She tried to keel over.

Pennies. So many pennies.

Another fist into her stomach.

“AUUUGGH!”

Her throat burned.

“Please… sto–”

Another fist.

Her eyesight became red.

Another fist, this one in the stomach.

And then the head.

Stomach.

Head.

Stomach.

Head.

Head.

Stomach.

Head.

Stomach.

Stomach.

A voice.

Sunset gasped herself awake.

She shot up in bed, her cheeks burning with tears. Her eyes frantically scanned the darkness, looking for faces that weren’t there. She was alone in her room. She let out a choke and pulled her knees up to her face. The baseball bat beside her hit the floor with a thud.

She rubbed her face aggressively against her blanket, mopping up what she could of her tears. Outside rain fell in drenching sheets, hammering against her window and the walls of the apartment building. It was a sound Sunset normally enjoyed, but right now she couldn’t care less.

That had been the worst one yet.

She was so sick of this.

She hadn’t had a quiet night’s sleep in days. She hoped as time went on she’d be getting better, but she wasn’t. She was getting worse.

Sunset swallowed hard and tried to regain control of her sporadic breathing.

She hated this. She hated, hated, hated, hated this. She wanted life to go back to normal. She wished she’d never gone that route home. She wished she’d taken Twilight’s offer for a ride. She wished she’d stayed home and never gone out to that damn library in the first place.

‘What’s happening to me?’ she asked.

She didn’t feel safe in her own home, she didn’t feel safe in her own bed. Every moment she was alone she just spent thinking about how vulnerable she was. The only time she had peace was when she was around her friends, and she couldn’t be around them forever. She wanted this to end. She needed it to. She needed her closure.

But the only way completely out of this she knew was Equestria, and… well, in all honesty, that option was feeling less and less silly with every day that passed. But she had a life here, she had friends, people who counted on her. She needed to beat this.

She needed the threat of The Dazzlings to go away. She needed to know they were gone, and that they weren’t coming back. She was sure if she had that, she’d get better. She just needed to get it. The police had been keeping an eye out for them for nearly a week now, and Sunset doubted she wouldn’t have heard anything if they’d found them. Nobody had heard from or seen them at all, in fact. They had just appeared and vanished into mid-air.

But their absence wasn’t enough for her. They had gone almost entirely unseen since what happened at the Battle of the Bands, but then they had managed to just show up again out of the blue and attack her. They did it once, who’s to say they couldn’t do it again? She needed proof, she needed something solid to say they were out of her life forever. That would be her ticket to truly feeling safe again.

She would give anything for it, she would do anything for it, but she didn’t even know where to start. She was on a life raft in the middle of the ocean, she needed something she could latch onto and drag herself towards. Right now she was just floating alone in this darkness, and the sharks were closing in.

‘Maybe if I went back to that alleyway?’ crossed her mind.

It would make sense, perhaps being there again but while completely safe would give her the closure she needed. Maybe if she could make her peace with that area it would be the first step.

Sunset lifted her head. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.

That gave her an idea.

‘No. There is no chance on Earth you could do that. It wouldn’t work,’ her internal monologue told her.

‘…would it?’

‘No! Absolutely not, it’s stupid even considering it.’

‘But if there’s even the slimmest chan–”

‘There isn’t.’

‘I’ve got nothing to lose if it doesn't work!’

‘You wouldn’t be able to handle going through it with.’

‘If it stops me feeling like this, I’m prepared to do anything.’

‘It’s too dangerous.’

‘Our friends could help.’

Sunset was at war with herself. Everything about her idea told her it was too dangerous. But she felt something inside her, egging her on. It was a new feeling, one she hadn’t felt in a long time.

In theory her idea sounded fool-proof. No matter which way the scenario went, she’d come out on top.

It could work. She just needed help with it.

Sunset leaned to the side and snatched up her mobile phone from the bedside table. She pressed her thumb against the home button, wincing at the brightness as her phone unlocked. The clock read 4:32am. She pressed the MyStable app and opened the group chat between her friends.

“Girls, I need you all to come to my place tomorrow morning. I’m okay, but this is important,” she typed.

That wasn’t her deciding to follow her idea through. Of course it wasn’t. This was her just wanting to see her friend opinions on it.

‘What if they agree to help?’

Sunset should have considered that before she pressed send. She gulped.

The rain outside suddenly seemed a lot louder.

‘Then… I guess we’ll go through with it.’


The girls all arrived at Sunset’s early the next morning, in a justifiably panicked state. Pinkie had been the first to reach the flat, since she lived the shortest distance away and had decided to jog down.

“What’s going on, Sunny?” she’d asked immediately as Sunset opened the door.

Sunset ushered her friend inside. “I’ll explain when the others get here.”

Twilight had arrived next, she’d gotten a drive down off her father (who seemed unhappy at being woken so early on a Sunday morning). She too was quickly rushed into the living room by Sunset, who locked the front door immediately behind her. Applejack and Rarity arrived at the same time, which resulted in them fighting over the only available parking space on the street below. Rarity won, causing Applejack to reach the flat a few minutes behind her after looking for a different spot. Fluttershy arrived next and Rainbow Dash was shortly after.

By ten o’clock all of the girls were sat in the living room, waiting expectantly for Sunset’s announcement.

“Sunset, please, tell us what this is all about?” Rarity asked, a hint of frustration in her voice.

“Y’all had us really worried for lan’s sake!” Applejack snapped.

“I-I’m sorry, I did tell you guys I was fine in the message!” Sunset stuttered.

“Sunset, you okay?” Rainbow asked. “You don’t look so good.”

Sunset gave a weak smile. Her hair was a mess (more than it usually was these days) and her eyes had gone red from being scratched. She wore the same pajamas as yesterday, and had the stench of sweat and death about her.

“I’ve, er… been up since four,” she laughed.

The group exchanged nervous glances.

“So, you gonna tell us or what?” Applejack asked.

Sunset nodded and took a breath.

“Right, yes...”

Her eyes dropped to the floor, searching for the words she needed. How the heck was she supposed to make this sound like a good idea?

“Sooo….” she began. “You guys know how I’ve been, like, not well, recently, right?”

They nodded.

“Okay, awesome, great… Well not great, but.... So, erm, I’ve been, I don’t know how… I’m… I’m stuck, on how to get better. I’ve thought of d-doing, erm, going to therapy, or maybe seeing a councilor or something. I… even considered moving back to Equestria for a bit…”

“Huh!?”
“Wait, what?”
“Say again!?”

“IT’S OKAY, it’s okay!” Sunset stressed. “I’m not, I just, you know, considered it for a while.”

Sunset fell silent.

Suddenly she was having doubts. She’d convinced herself this idea was going to work, but even she recognized it was a leap of faith at best. How was she going to sell this to her six over-protective friends? She wasn’t sure she could.

“I… I…”

“It’s okay, take it slow,” Rarity told her.

Sunset locked eyes with Rarity. The stare she got in return told her she needed to try. She knew she was right, she just needed to help the others see it.

“I… I need closure,” Sunset began. “I can’t sleep, I can’t eat… This is killing me, all of it. And I know you guys are doing your best to help me, heck, being around you all is the only time I really feel safe. But I can’t be in your company forever, I need to get over this myself.”

Sunset took a breath.

“I want to go looking for The Dazzlings.”

It took a second for her friends to respond.

Sunset watched the range of emotions as they passed over her friends. First they all furrowed their brows, thinking maybe they’d misheard her. Then their head’s shot back as they recoiled in surprise. Then they opened their mouths, no doubt to protest. But Sunset jumped in first, denying them the chance.

“BEFORE you say anything… just hear me out,” she silenced them. “They dropped off the face of the Earth since what happened, and I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. I suppose in a way it’s good because it means, as far as we know, they’ve skipped town… but it’s also bad because we don’t know where they are. And while I don’t know where they are, I… I…”

She shivered.

“I want us to look for them. If we thoroughly search Canterlot and ask around, and definitely don’t find them, it’s as close to a confirmation as we can get that they are gone. I’ll be seeing for myself that they’re definitely not here anymore, and that’s what I need. I need closure, and I really think seeing that will give me it.”

As she finished her speech, the other took this as their cues to chime in.

“Sunset, ah cannot express how much of a bad idea that is,” Applejack shook her head.

“The Dazzlings are gone,” Rainbow said. “Twilight said so herself yesterday. Go on, Twi.”

Twilight seemed surprised at her sudden mention. She spluttered.

“Erm, I, erm… Would you… like the exact wording or…?”

“Just talk.”

“O-okay, erm, well, according to my brother, since your accident they’ve not had a sighting of the girls anywhere in the city. A-and they’ve alerted the mall, the school, the town hall, the library… if they were still here, he says they’d have found them by now.”

“See? There ya go,” Rainbow gestured towards Twilight.

Sunset closed her eyes and took a breath. There was no way she could convince them why she needed this while still sounding plausible. Or sane, for that matter.

“I know, I know, but… Those are just words to me. I can’t explain it, I just think if I can see with my own eyes that they’re gone, it’d do a lot more. I have to do this.”

Rainbow frowned. “That’s a bit–”

“Sunset has a point,” Rarity butted in. “If she believes this will help her get over her new fears then we should support her with it.”

“But it’s–”

Rainbow.”

Rarity’s tone almost seemed like a challenge.

A twang of guilt shot through Sunset as she watched Rainbow shy away from Rarity’s gaze. She hated doing this to her friends. She knew she was in the one in the wrong right now. Rainbow was being level-headed, she was about to tell her Sunset straight that she was acting crazy (which she was). But Rarity wouldn’t hear of it, which Sunset imagined was to spare her own feelings.

She was being crazy, yes. She was being unreasonable, yes. She was being stupid, yes. But she needed to stick with this. If she wanted to get better, she needed to push this. No matter how confusing it got, her friends made it perfectly clear they wanted to help her and… this is what she wanted help with. She’d make it up to them later.

“Look, ah can get why you wanna do this an all, but… ain’t it a little dangerous?” Applejack asked.

“Applejack has a point, I mean… after what they last did to you…” Fluttershy looked down.

Sunset nodded. “If all goes according to plan, we won’t find them anyway. And if we do… I’ll have all you guys with me. Rainbow said it herself when I was in hospital; I doubt they could take all seven of us.”

Rainbow seemed to cheer up at bit at Sunset’s reference.

“Okay, but then what do we do if we do find them?” Applejack pushed.

Sunset paused.

What would happen if they found them? The last thing she wanted was to ever see them again, even if she did have the support of her six friends. What would she say to them? Would they run? Would they just attack her on sight? They clearly hated her enough to try and kill her once, who’s to say that, if given the opportunity, they wouldn’t do again? What if all ten of them ended up in some sort of street fight? What if the police came and they got arrested? What if the police didn’t come and one of her friends got seriously hurt….

Her breathing began to pick up.

“We… I…” she was lost for words.

“We’d come in peace,” Rarity finished for her. All of the eyes in the room fell on her.

“We’d tell them– we’d talk to them, and we’d say that they need to stay away from Sunset. We’ll tell them that if they stay out of our lives then we’ll stay out of theirs. And if they don’t like the sound of that, well then… As you say, there’re more of us than there are of them.”

“Ya really think threatenin’ them’s the best way ta go?”

“Not at all!” Rarity stressed. “However, if it should come down to it, then I believe we could use a little intimidation if necessary. Just as a precaution, if things were to turn sour.”

Rainbow slapped her hands down onto her knees.

“Okay, you’ve sold me! Let’s do it.”

She turned to the rest of the group.

“Girls?”

“I… I don’t think it’s such a good idea but… well, I’d hate for you guys to go out alone, and if it helps Sunset feel better then… I’m in,” Fluttershy nodded.

“I really think we should get my brother involved properly but… o-okay, I’m in,” Twilight nodded.

“Ya can count on me,” Applejack tipped her Stetson.

“OHHH, I’M SO NERVOUSCITED!”

“Nervouscited?” Rainbow asked.

Pinkie waved her off. “If it makes Sunny happy, I’m game.”

“Me too,” Rarity nodded. “I believe we’ll be able to handle anything that comes our way without any unpleasantries… and Sunset?”

Sunset looked up. She’d gotten so lost in hearing her friends selflessly push aide their own feelings for her well-being that she’d almost forgotten she was a part of the conversation.

She blinked away the tears forming in her eyes and smiled.

“Okay. Let’s do it.”

Chapter Seven: But Nobody Came

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Sunday was a quiet day in Canterlot. It was when all the kids were home resting from their fun Saturday and dreading going back to school on Monday. The adults and older teens retreated behind their closed curtains, content with having a duvet day as their heads recovered from the Saturday night. The mall closed early, and the majority of the stores inside closed even earlier. This deep into winter, the only people out were the daily joggers and dog walkers, giving the city an air of stillness.

A large clock hung from the wall of the Canterlot Mall. As its hour hand ticked over onto twelve, a silver Skoda estate car pulled up outside. Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie climbed out of the back seats carrying a number of papers between them, thanked the driver and set off walking towards the mall. As they neared the entrance, four girls stepped out from the shadows and greeted them.

“Ah still find it freaky how on time ya’ll always are,” Applejack remarked to Twilight, causing a blush.

“Did you get them done?” Rarity asked, gesturing towards the papers in their hands.

“Sure did!” Pinkie thrust the papers forward into Rarity’s waist.

Rarity nodded. “These look good.”

She turned, gesturing towards the paper, “Sunset?”

When all of the girls had stepped forward from their place in the shade, one of them had remained behind. Sunset was leaning back against the wall, holding onto herself. She was not having a good time.

She’d spent so much time at the mall over the past few years, whether it was with her friends or out shopping on her own. It felt like a home away from home for her, and she knew these streets like the back of her hand. In fact she’d go one step further, and say this entire city felt like her home, she felt just as comfortable walking to the store as she did walking to her own bathroom.

But that had all changed now. She didn’t feel comfortable, or safe. She felt terrified. She didn’t recognize these streets, and every person they’d passed on their way down she was sure was out to get her. Every shadow had a murder lurking in it, every car horn was an explosion and every raised voice was directed at her. She knew where she was but she still felt lost. This world had never felt so big to her, it was like she’d spent her life living in a hamster cage and now had a field to run around in.

Normally (or what normal was to her now, anyway) she’d be panicking right now, being this out in the open.

But she was around her friends, and while she was around them she felt safe. It was almost as though they produced an invisible shield, sealing her in from the bad things.

As they stepped out of her apartment block and onto the street, she’d instantly begun to freak out. Her chest had tightened as the world began to spin around her. But then a hand landed on her shoulder and it was all she needed. One reassuring hand on the shoulder brought her back to reality. It was like she was stuck in a raging current and suddenly a life preserver had appeared.

Now, she was on the brink, but in control. Whatever direction she looked in, her brain screamed in protest, telling her she needed to return to the safety of her apartment. But she gritted her teeth against it, and told herself she was safe.

She was in control.

Sunset stepped forward and took one of pages from her pink friend.

There they were, all three of them. Adagio Dazzle, Aria Blaze and Sonata Dusk. Sunset had seen this picture before, it was the one the school had used of them for the Battle of the Bands promotion. They all stood side by side holding a microphone, smiling into the camera. They looked so harmless, cute even. Sunset had known they were bad news, but never in a million years would she have imagined faces like that were capable of doing what they did to her.

“Yeah. These will do,” she nodded.

“Awesome!” Rainbow smiled. “Okay, what’s the plan then?”

Applejack let out a cough, clearing her throat and drawing all eyes onto her.

“Well, ah say we split up, can cover more ground tha’ way.”

“I thought the point of us all doing this was so we had numbers on our side?” Fluttershy asked.

Applejack waved her off, “We’ll just try and find leads fer now. Once we got something concrete, we’ll all group up and follow it together.”

If we find anything,” Rarity reminded her.

Applejack rolled her eyes. “If we find anythin'.”

“Is us all being separated such a good idea though? I mean, what if we do find something?” Twilight asked cautiously.

Applejack nodded.

“We can go in pairs. Two of us take the mall, two of us take the streets and three of us check the park.”

“Wouldn’t it be smarter for the group of three to check the mall? They’ll be a lot more people to ask in there.”

Applejack nodded again. “The mall it is. So who’s going where?”

“I wouldn’t mind going to the park, if that’s okay?” Fluttershy asked politely.

“I wanna do the mall! I’m great with people, if I’m the one asking we’ll have them found in no time!” Pinkie Pie said excitedly.

Rarity rolled her eyes.

“Sunset and I will take the mall too, if anything just to keep a leash on Pinkie,” she laughed.

Sunset frowned.

She appreciated everything that Rarity was doing for her, really she did.

But there was caring about somebody and then there was treating them like your damn child.

Actually,” Sunset interjected, “I’m going with Rainbow Dash.”

Rainbow’s head lifted up at the mention of her name. She looked from Sunset to Rarity, confused.

“Ermm, sure, okay,” she blinked.

Sunset didn’t look in Rarity’s direction, but she imagined if she did she’d have seen a face of confusion and hurt.

“O-kaaay…” Applejack’s eyes shifted around awkwardly. “Well then I guess ah’ll come ta the mall with ya. Which means Twilight, you got park duty with Fluttershy.”

Twilight nodded.

“I’m okay with that,” she smiled.

“Sweet, let’s get this convoy rolling!” Rainbow punched the air.

“Rainbooms, roll out!” Pinkie jabbed a finger into the distance.


“Never seen ‘em before in my life, sorry.”

Rainbow groaned. “Ah, okay… well, thanks anyway.”

Four hours of searching later, Sunset and Rainbow found themselves deep in Canterlot’s housing district. The sky had clouded over and rain loomed on the horizon, which seemed to reflect the luck they’d been having. The neighborhood they ended up in belonged to the stereotypical nuclear families, white picket fences and all. The few people they had seen did not recognize the girls, and the ones that did hadn’t seen them recently.

“I am soooooooo bored,” Rainbow moaned. She sighed and threw her arms into the air. “I’m going to call the girls again, see if they’ve had any better luck. Keep a look out?”

The bacon-haired girl nodded.

Despite her calm and cautious exterior, Sunset was ecstatic. The most excited she’d been in days, in fact.

In the four hours of searching they’d had, they’d found absolutely nothing. Zip. Natta. Nowt. Not a morsel. And they’d been searching hard, they’d gone into every store within a five mile radius, asked every passer-by and put flyers up on every available lamppost. They’d even been in constant contact with their friends, who all appeared to be having similar luck. If The Dazzlings were still here, they were keeping themselves incredibly well hidden. Too well hidden, in fact.

The more they looked, the more she felt the empty place inside her filling up. She was being restored. She wasn’t afraid to see what was around the corner anymore, because she had seen behind the corner and knew it was safe. She no longer felt overwhelmed by the hugeness of the world. She felt grounded, like she knew where she was again. The familiarity of these streets had returned; she no longer felt like a stranger.

Sunset was now almost entirely convinced they’d skipped town. There was no other reason as to why nobody had seen them! They were gone, they had to be.

When they’d first started looking, Sunset had been entirely in her shell. Any sense of protection she got from being in a large group went away the further away they looked, and even the knowledge of Rainbow being her strongest friend hadn’t helped soothe her anxiety. But eventually as fewer and fewer people seemed to even know the girls, much less remember them, she’d began to open up. Now for the first time in what felt like forever, Sunset felt safe. She had seen first-hand that these streets were a safe.

She dared to say she almost felt normal again.

“They haven’t seen anything either,” Rainbow returned, placing her cell in her pocket, “I say we call it quits, what about you?”

Sunset gave another look around.

These streets were nothing to fear. She’d spent years here, she knew they were safe. They were safe. She’d just had one bad experience because of some bad people. Some people who were gone now. Definitely, and completely, one-hundred percent gone. Sunset didn’t know where, and she didn’t care, all she cared about was the fact they were not here anymore. Because they were gone.

“Yeah,” Sunset smiled, “I’m happy.”

“Awesome!” Rainbow cheered. “Guess we won’t be needing these anymore!”

Rainbow dumped the pile of wanted posters they’d be carrying around into the nearest trash-can and set off walking.

“I told you we had nothing to worry about, those guys are long gone.”

“I know,” Sunset blushed, rubbing her arm, “I guess I just needed to see that for myself.”

“I tell you what though, it is a shame we didn’t get to have a tussle with them,” Rainbow nudged Sunset in the rib.

Sunset rolled her eyes. “That’s not funny, Rainbow.”

“Who’s joking?” Rainbow laughed. “Don’t tell me you wouldn’t want a little bit of revenge?”

Sunset shook her head. “Honestly, I’m just happy they’re gone. Those girls being out of my life is a reward in itself.”

Rainbow smiled and nodded. “You’re right. And they are out of your life, completely, positively, absolute-”

“Hey, wait up!”

The two girls looked around to see an elderly man approaching them. He wore a large dark trench coat, had a scraggly beard reaching his knees and (even at this distance) smelled of urine. Rainbow and Sunset tensed up at the sight of him, unable to make an escape in time. Instead they waited for the limping man to approach them. Sunset nudged herself slightly behind her friend.

“Yer lookin’ for these girls?” he asked.

He pulled out one of the wanted posters, one that he’d obviously just fished out of the trash.

‘Oh no.’

“Yeah, what of it?” Rainbow asked.

Sunset felt the world around her begin to close in.

‘Oh, Celestia, please no.’

“Well, I only darn seen them two days ago! Bloody kids tried takin’ cash outta ma collection cup whist ah slept! Chased ‘em about seven blocks!”

“That so, huh?” Rainbow narrowed her eyes. “Where’d ya chase them to?”

“The old Kaos building, not two blocks from here! Security kicked me out, but only after I gave him a piece of my mind! I told him, I said: ‘You shunt be letting young lassies of that nature stay here! They’re poisoning ‘ntire community,’ I said!”

“This coming from a homeless dude?”

The man recoiled, offended.

“Why, young lady, I’ll have you know I’m an aspiring actor.”

Rainbow frowned.

“With a collection cup?”

“I… well, I… gotta cover travel costs, sweetheart.”

“Rigghhhttt… And you’re sure this was them?”

The man gave a gruff nod. “Ah’d bet me life on it.”

Rainbow turned to Sunset.

“Well, what do you think?”

“Let’s check it out.”

“Wait, huh!?” Rainbow asked loudly.

Sunset gave her a firm look and nodded.

“I want to check it out, right now. If there’s even a chance of them being there, I need to know.”

“Don’t you think we should like, wait for backup?” Rainbow frowned.

Sunset looked away.

She felt so on top of the world a moment ago, but now she doubted herself. This man was probably lying, hope to get on their good side in exchange for a donation. But she had come this far, she refused to have everything she’d regained snatched away from her like this.

“No, they’ll take too long. We need to go, right now,” Sunset told her friend.

Rainbow wave a weary shrug.

“Okay, whatever you say.” She turned to the homeless man, “Hey, thanks for your help, buddy.”

The man nodded. “Not a problem, me lassie. Don’t suppose you could help a brother out in return, could ya?” He offered his hand.

‘I knew it.’

Relief washed over her, but she remained vigilant. He had sown the seeds of doubt in her mind, but now, by showing of his true intent, he’d stopped them growing. But they still needed to be uprooted completely, so they were still going to check the place out.

“Ehhh sure, what the heck? Guess you did help us out,” Rainbow took out her wallet and handed the man five dollars in cash.

“Thank yer so much me ladies. 'cord bless ya.” He wandered off.

“You sure this is a good idea?” Rainbow asked.

“Yeah, I don’t believe a word he said, but I need to know. Let’s get this over with.”

The building was only a short walk away from where the homeless man had pointed them. It was a tall slender building in desperate need of restoration. Multiple windows had been replaced with cardboard and graffiti covered the walls of the lower levels. Rainbow grimaced.

“We sure this is it?” She asked.

Sunset nodded. “It is. Come on.”

The girls ventured up the stairs to the entrance and let themselves in. The lobby of the building reflected its outside in both appearance and feel. A large burly man sat behind a desk off to the side, smoking a cigar. As they approached him he didn’t look up.

“Ehh, ‘scuse me?” Rainbow asked, leading the way.

The man looked up from his newspaper, revealing a large scar trailing down his chin. Rainbow fought the urge to take a step back.

“Have y-you seen these girls?” she showed the man one of the posters.

The man leaned forward in his chair and examined the picture. He then looked back up at Rainbow, and then to Sunset.

“Y’all cops?” He asked.

Rainbow frowned, putting her hands on her hips.

“Do we look like cops?” she gestured to herself and Sunset.

The man’s eyes stayed focused on them a moment longer before returning to his newspaper.

“Second Floor. Room Twelve.”

“Thanks.”

Rainbow exchanged glances with Sunset, who nodded. Rainbow gestured towards the staircase and the two set off towards it.

“Hate to sound like a wet blanket, but you sure this is a good idea? This doesn’t really seem like the type of place those girls would hang out…” Rainbow said as she began to climb the stairs.

Sunset nodded.

“If there’s even a one percent chance they’re here, I have to know.”

Rainbow gave a heavy huff. “And what if they are here, Sunset?”

“Then…” Sunset had started before she knew how to finish. “T-then… well, you have my back, right?”

Rainbow nodded. “Always.”

As they reached the floor in question, Rainbow continued.

“But I’d much prefer if it didn’t come to that, if you know what I mean.”

Sunset nodded. “Don’t worry, it won’t. We’re not going to find anything, I’m sure of it.”

“Which room is it?” Rainbow asked.

Sunset looked around.

“There’s five and seven, so, it must be down this way.”

The girls ventured further down the corridor. The closer they got to the number they needed, the more Sunset felt her doubts gaining on her.

‘They won’t be here. They can’t be,’ she repeated. ‘It wouldn’t make sense.’

“This is it,” Rainbow said in a hushed tone, arriving at the door.

The door stood seven feet tall, had a silver brass knob and was coated in chipped white paint. On its center hung a golden ‘12’.

It looked so ordinary, like it was just a door. But it wasn’t just a door, it was the only thing separating Sunset from her nightmares. This door was all that stood in her way. She’d come so far in the past few days, and now this was it. Her final obstacle. All she needed to do was knock.

“Sunset, we don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

That gave her the push she needed. She needed to prove she could do this. Not just to her friends, but to herself.

She knocked on the door.

As her knuckles left the wood, Sunset suddenly froze up, holding her hand in mid-air. A wave of chills washed over her as a white adrenaline hit surged through her veins. Her heart leaped into in her mouth. She could feel Rainbow’s anxious gaze in the back of her skull, but she couldn’t return it. Second began to slow, and every millisecond became an hour.

She wanted to run. She wanted to get as far away from here as humanly possible. She wanted to go back to Equestria and live out the rest of her days there as a school teacher. There was nothing stopping her. She could do it. But she’d have to go now. Like, right now.

Her feet couldn’t move.

The walls began to collapse around her. The backdrop started to melt away like paint, oozing out on to the ground and leaving a black void in its place. From that black void, the familiar sensation of a raging torrent crashed in, swallowing her up and throwing her around like a dog with a chew toy. She felt her legs go numb. Black splodges began to fade in and out of her vision.

“Wha-“ A fist collided with her face.

Sunset blinked the memory away.

Did this corridor seem a lot smaller than it did earlier?

A second fist into her gut.

The walls of this place sure looked a lot higher than she remembered…

Another fist into her stomach.

“AUUUGGH!”

Boy, she hated pennies.

There was a matter of seconds left before somebody opened that door, if that. She was seconds away from being reunited with her attackers. What would they do? She didn’t know this area, they could do anything and she’d be at their mercy. She shouldn’t have come alone. She should have waited for back up. She should have called the police the second she found out where they were. She shouldn’t have done this. This was a stupid idea. She was stupid, and now she was going to pay the price.

But nobody came.

Seconds ticked over.

Four seconds.

Five seconds.

They were coming any minute now.

Six seconds.

Seven seconds.

Did somebody just touch the door handle?

Eight seconds.

Nine seconds.

Apparently not.

Ten seconds.

Eleven seconds.

Sunset frowned and looked to Rainbow, who shared her confused expression.

‘Well, that was anti-climactic.’

“Erm, try it again. Harder,” Rainbow whispered.

And so she did. Sunset pulled her hand into a fist and gave a second, much louder rasp on the door. This time there was a response, but not one she expected. As her fist made contact with the wood, the door loosely swung open a few inches, revealing a glimpse into the darkness inside. Her fist froze in mid-air again as she stared into the dark gap.

She looked to Rainbow again. Her friend was staring at the door with equal shock and confusion.

Sunset lowered her hand and inched closer to the gap, trying to spy as much of the room within as she could. She slowly uncurled her fist and placed it up against the paint-chipped wood. She pushed the door open a few more inches.

The door swung silently open almost completely, illuminating the darkened room.

Sunset stepped forward.

“Hello?” she asked in no more than a whisper.

On the wall opposite the door was a large window, scarcely covered by dark blue curtains. The curtains covered enough to hide the outside world from them, but not enough to make the room pitch black. Sunset could make out some finer details, and she wasn’t impressed with what she saw.

The room was a complete state. What was once beige wallpaper (now yellow) had peeled itself off the walls, exposing the brick layer beneath. Large damp patches were clearly visible soaking through the ceiling, and with more than a few growing things on them. A thick musty smell hung in the air. It was, what, spoiled milk? Dog food? Sunset couldn’t tell.

As her eyes began to adjust to the darkness, the finer details of the room became apparent to her. A carpet of clothes littered the floor (probably for the best, because the carpet looked filthy) and going by their smell, they were all unwashed. A large blow-up mattress lay half-pushed up against the wall, with the thick sheet on it scrunched up in knots. On the left side of the room was a large makeup table, complete with a mirror that had a splinter crack in its top right corner. On its table top lay an assortment of… used medical equipment? Sunset was no doctor, but she was pretty sure that stuff wasn’t very sanitary.

The floor creaked as Rainbow entered the room behind her.

“Jeez… they were really living the life here, weren’t they?” she asked.

Rainbow took off into the room ahead of her. Sunset snatched out a hand to grab but missed.

“Looks like nobody’s been here in ages!” Rainbow said loudly, putting her hands in her pockets and wandering around the flat, taking everything in.

“Rainbow, shhh!” Sunset hissed.

Rainbow waved her off. “Ahh, relax, we must’a’ missed ‘em by a few days.”

Sunset looked over to the pile of medical equipment, and then into the stray beam of light escaping the curtains.

“No, they’re still here. Or still live here, anyway.”

Rainbow frowned. “How can you tell?”

Sunset walked over to the makeup desk and traced her finger across a part of exposed wood. She held her finger up to friend.

“No dust.”

Rainbow leaned forward and squinted. “Huh. Well okay, Miss Holmes.”

The reference made Sunset smile weakly, which Rainbow missed, having already gone back to exploring the room.

She gave a silent gaze around the flat. They were still living here. Here, in this dump of an apartment. This was a studio apartment, which meant this was the only room, barring the toilet. This was their lives.

It was a bit lost on Sunset, the fact that she was actually here. A week ago she thought she’d never see those girls again, and now she was stood in their home. After breaking in to it, no less. This was The Dazzlings’ version of the apartment she’d been holed up for in the past week. They lived here, they slept here, and they ate here. This was their base, the place they came home to every night.

Sunset gave a slow frown.

What had happened to their lives to make it this bad?

Even after everything they’d done to her, after the mental and physical torture they had put her through, Sunset couldn’t help but feel the tiniest bit sorry for them. In her nightmarish fantasies about them, she’d exaggerated them up into horrific demons out to get her. When, in reality, they were three teenage girls struggling to survive. They didn’t have any special powers. They weren’t super-secret spies who had been stalking her to kill her. They didn’t have superhuman strength. They didn’t even have their magic anymore.

They were normal. They were less than normal, in fact; they were weak. They had been reduced to living in a rundown apartment and stealing from homeless people to make a living. They were dirt. Actually, no, less than dirt; they were nothing. Sunset had an expensive apartment, she had friends, she went to school, she had a life. They had this. They’d gotten lucky on that night, because in any other circumstance they couldn’t even come close to touching Sunset.

This was everything she’d been wanting to see and more.

So, the real issue was: why wasn’t she happy about it?

“Hey, fancy a beer?” Rainbow noticed a small fridge and made a beeline towards it.

“Rainbow, don’t, we don’t want them to know we were here,” Sunset tried.

Rainbow shrugged, “Ahh, who cares if they knew we were here? I’ll buy them another one if they get antsy about it.”

Rainbow knelt onto the floor and opened the door of the fridge. She froze.

“Rainbow?”

Rainbow didn’t answer, she simply continued staring into the fridge. Sunset noticed her breathing had halted.

“What’s wrong?”

After a moment her friend then straightened up, closed the fridge door and re-joined her in the center of the room.

“Nothing, just…” Rainbow rubbed her neck. “Let’s get out of here, yeah? This place gives me the creeps.”

Sunset frowned and spied the fridge behind Rainbow.

“What’s in there?”

When a response didn’t come immediately, she turned her attention back to her friend and saw something new. That was an expression she’d never seen on Rainbow Dash before. Her brow was scrunched up and her eyes sloped downwards. She looked… guilty?

“Nothing,” she admitted, deflating, “i-it’s… empty.”

Since getting a good look at The Dazzlings’ apartment, the way Sunset felt about them had begun to change. Deep in the pit of her stomach, where she had once felt anxiety and fear, she felt something new brewing. As the feeling slowly oozed into the rest of her body, she found herself wishing they’d never let themselves in. The vibe she got from the Sirens had done a full one-eighty, and suddenly she and the trio’s past together felt like nothing more than a faraway memory.

She was starting to feel sympathetic towards them.

Sunset sighed. “Let’s get out of here.”

She and her rainbow-haired friend carefully made their way out, suddenly a lot more aware of their surroundings. Sunset pulled the front door to as much as she could, but it still swung open a few inches as she released it.

“What should we tell the others?” Rainbow asked as they began down the corridor they came.

Sunset didn’t know what was going through her head right now. Her emotions were at war with one another. She wouldn’t be able to make a rational decision right now, she needed time to think this over. She needed to process what she’d just seen.

“We’ll tell them the truth… we didn’t find them.”

“Bu-”

“We didn't find them.”


They’d reunited with the girls an hour after that, and had told them exactly that. Against her better judgement, Rainbow had agreed to leave out any details about finding their apartment. Sunset needed to figure out what her next move was going to be. The girls had called it quits then and there, and they all returned home, satisfied that they had solved Sunset’s issue.

But Sunset’s issue hadn’t been solved. If anything, it had been made worse.

She couldn’t stop thinking about their apartment. She didn’t even like standing in there, she couldn’t even begin to imagine what it must be like living there. The image of it, of the wallpaper peeling off the walls, of the medical equipment and the single mattress, it stuck with her long into the night. She didn’t know what it was that was drawing her interest. Was it the shock, the surprise? Or was she taking some low-key kind of pleasure from picturing her attackers living like that? It wasn’t either of them, she knew full well.

She felt sorry for them. Ever since her reformation, Sunset had started looking on the bright side of life. She always looked for something good to say about everything. Even in the darkest of situations, she never gave up hope. Heck, she even enjoyed Batman Vs Superman! She always immediately saw the good in things, to the extent where it had actually become a problem. She’d become a pushover, she was far too forgiving and ready to trust, and it had already bounced back and bitten her in the ass a number of times.

This was one of those times.

Seeing them living like this, it had changed something inside her. Previously, the sirens had been these big evil demons out to get her, but now she saw them as just as vulnerable as she was. Seeing their apartment like that, it had humanized them for her, it had nullified the threat she felt from them. Even now, as she lay in her bed pondering this thought, she felt the safest she had done since this had all started. She wasn’t scared of them anymore.

She should have been happy. Her problems were over and she could finally return to her normal life. But, she wasn’t. That nagging, underlying feeling was still there, it had just changed. The constant flashbacks to her attack were replaced with the images of poverty the sirens were living in. The fear she’d been feeling had been replaced with sympathy. She was still in the same situation as when this all began, except now she felt sympathy towards the girls who attacked her, rather than fear.

As she finished that thought, something deep inside Sunset woke. In a corner of her brain she didn’t even know she had, something clicked, and all became clear for her.

This had all been one big test. Twilight had told her that while studying the magic of friendship in Ponyville, she hadn’t known the lessons she’d learned had been lessons until they were over. They had first presented themselves as problems. It’d be a rough time to get through, but eventually, with the help of her friends, Twilight would come out on top, and usually with a new friend or two. That’s what this was. All of it. It was so clear to her now.

This whole thing was one big friendship lesson. She’d been given a reason to hate The Dazzlings, and it had worked. But now she had been shown them at their weakest, and it was her choice on what to do next. She could take the darker path and let them continue the way they were, and a part of her almost wanted to do that. But no, she wasn’t that girl anymore. She knew exactly what she was going to do.

She was going to help them.

She didn’t know how, but she knew where to start. She was going to consult the expert.

Sunset swung her top half off her bed and snatched up the magic journal from beneath her bed. Giving her first genuine smile in what felt like forever, she began to write.

Dear Princess Twilight

Boy… have I got a story for you.

Chapter Eight: The Most Powerful Magic of All

View Online

A chilly winter breeze snaked its icy tendrils around Sunset’s neck, causing her to shiver. Man, did she wish she still had her scarf right now.

A muffled bell caught her attention. She turned towards the high school and watched as, mere seconds later, students started pouring out of it. She pushed herself up from the Wondercolts statue and took a step forward, scanning the crowd for her friends.

Familiar faces passed by Sunset, some of which slowed to take second glances at her. She didn’t blame them, she’d been absent from school a week now and still had bruising on her eye, probably making her an alarming sight. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Flash Sentry come to a halt. He hesitated, but, just when it looked like he was about to approach, he was beaten to it.

“Sunny!” Pinkie Pie dived into a hug.

“Heya, Pinkie,” Sunset hugged her in return.

The rest of their friends were soon upon them.

“Sunset, dear, how are you not freezing?” Rarity asked.

“Yea, why’d ya insist on meetin’ us here instead’a back at your place?” Applejack asked.

Sunset opened her mouth to respond, but was cut short.

As if on cue the platinum wall beside her began to warp. It rippled like water, the stone bending in a way that defied all known laws of physics. The ripple swelled in size, until finally there was a blinding flash, followed by a loud ‘thump’.

“Ow…”

“TWILIGHT!”

Her friends all squealed, dragging the dazed girl off the ground and up into a group hug. Sunset watched from the side, sporting a weak smile. As the original Twilight recovered from her fall and came to her senses, her eyes instantly locked in on Sunset. Without a word, she pulled herself free from her friends and snatched Sunset into a tight hug.

“Sunset, I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

Sunset smiled and hugged the girl in return.

“It’s okay. No big deal now, I’m over it,” she chuckled.

Twilight pulled away.

“No big deal?! You were- oh, Celestia, your eye!” Twilight gasped.

Sunset blushed. She shrugged and rubbed her arm, embarrassed.

“I’m better now, anyway.”

Twilight sighed. “I know, but I should have been here for you! You shouldn’t have gone through this alone.”

Sunset smiled, “I didn’t go through it alone.”

Twilight turned her attention back to the girls who had helped her up. They stood watching her with attentive eyes, completely over the fact she’d just rudely pushed past them all to get to Sunset. Twilight returned to them.

“Hey girls,” she said softly.

“Howdy, Twi,” Applejack gave a knowing smile and tipped her Stetson.

“Welcome back dear,” Rarity smiled.

“It’s so good to see you again!” Fluttershy chimed in.

“THIS MEANS WE GET A WELCOME BACK TWI-PARTY!”

“Awww yeah, two Twilights again!” Rainbow fist pumped.

Twilight’s eyes grew wide. Her attention was now drawn over to the mirror image of herself, stood a few feet back from the group. She offered the girl a weak smile.

“Hey… other me,” she waved to her.

Human Twilight shuffled uncomfortably in her feet, and returned the polite smile.

“Hi.”

The awkward gaze Twilight shared with the girl broke as she turned back around to Sunset.

“How have you been doing?” she asked.

Sunset smiled and nodded. “A lot better actually. Especially with these girls helping me.”

“Awww yeah!” Rainbow slid in, wrapping her arm around Sunset’s shoulder. “We’ve got her back now, ain’t no mean, nasty sirens gonna mess with her while we’re around!”

“What Rainbow Dash means is…” Rarity interrupted, “we’ve been doing our best to help Sunset recover since what happened. It’s not been easy, but I think I speak for her when I say she’s on the fast road to recovery.”

“That’s great!” Twilight turned to Sunset, “So you’ve already told them?”

Sunset’s smile faded.

“I was er... actually just about to when you showed up,” she chuckled.

“Tell us what?” Fluttershy asked.

“Sunset’s got a plan, haven’t you?” Twilight smiled at her companion.

All eyes fell on their bacon-haired friend.

“A plan fer what?” Applejack frowned.

“Sunset,” Rarity pulled her hands up into a prayer, “please don’t tell us this has anything to do with those awful girls again.”

Sunset smiled nervously at her friends.

“Aww geez, I thought you were over them!” Rainbow swatted the air in annoyance.

“Ehh… well, not… exactly.”

Suddenly the cold air didn’t seem to bother her as much anymore. She shuffled around uncomfortably. Rarity’s pained expression was not oblivious to her.

“Soooo… erm…” Sunset looked around for assistance, “… remember when we all went out looking for them?”

The group nodded.

Sunset’s heart slowed, and she couldn’t bring herself to explain any further. She suddenly found herself back where she was when she first explained her plan to look for The Dazzlings, only this time she didn’t have the reassurance that she knew she was right.

The words refused to leave her throat. She tried pushing them, almost tried dry heaving, but they refused to budge.

“That… waaaaassssss a nice day out, wasn’t it?”

The group all exchanged confused glances.

“Ah… guess?” Applejack asked.

Sunset nodded. “It was nice, we should all do that again sometime.”

“Is that what you wanted to tell us?” Rarity asked.

Sunset forced a smile through her teeth.

“Yeaaahhh… about that… I kind of…. I’ve actually forgotten what it was.” she nodded.

Her friends didn’t seem convinced.

Twilight stepped in. “Sunset, should I tell them?”

“No! Er, I can do it. It’s fine,” she snapped.

She took a breath.

“Well… when Rainbow and I went off looking for them we kinda…” she lit her lip, “well, we… It’s… it’s complicated.”

The group all exchanged glances.

“Ah don’t think ah like there this is goin’… Ew, first offs,” Applejack grimaced.

Rainbow punched her in the side. “It’s not like that, dummy!”

“No, no no!” Sunset held her hands up, “It’s nothing like that. It’s… we… we did find something.”

That perked the group’s attention more. Sunset swore they all leaned in a few inches, though that could have been the wind. What definitely wasn’t the wind was Twilight moving in closer and placing a supportive hand on her shoulder.

“What did ya’ll find?” Applejack asked.

“An alien.”

“An alien?”

“Sunset!” Twilight snapped.

“There was no alien.”

“Ah didn’t think there was, if ah’m honest.”

“Sunset,” Twilight shook her head, “would you like me to tell them?”

Turns out Sunset was actually quite competitive.

Who’d have guessed, right?

Often all she needed was to feel as though she had to prove herself, and that allowed her to push her boundaries.

“We found where they live.”

“The aliens!?”

The Dazzlings, Pinkie Pie.”

The group’s reaction to her statement was instantaneous.

“Oh my…” Fluttershy looked down.

“Are you both alright?!” Rarity almost shrieked.

“Yer kiddin’,” Applejack squinted.

“So, did you see them? Did you speak to them?” Pinkie asked.

“We didn’t see them,” Sunset shook her head, “they weren’t home. But we did get a good look around their flat. And let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty.”

The girls all fell silent, waiting on Sunset’s next words. She took a breath and started from the beginning.

She started with them deciding to call it a day and about the sense of relief she’d felt as her security returned. Then about the elderly man who had approached them, and what he’d said to them. When her story began to raise disagreeable glances between her friends, she tried pushing that the decision to follow up the lead alone was her acting solely on impulse.

“Rainbow Dash, you should have known better!” Rarity scolded.

“She was yer responsibili’ and you could a’ gotten ya both hurt!” Applejack snapped.

Rainbow threw her hands up in defense.

“Hey, she was going either way! What was I supposed to do, let her go alone?! No way!”

“It wasn’t Rainbow’s fault, I dragged her into it.” Sunset defended her friend. “She followed me willingly into danger because she didn’t want me to get hurt. And she did try to talk me out of it.”

Applejack and Rarity’s didn’t falter in their death glares, but they did draw quiet. Sunset continued her story, and finally brought it to a close as she described the apartment. The girls listening all exchanged uncomfortable looks.

“It was horrible in there… like an addicts’ den,” Sunset grimaced, “and they didn’t have any food. Like, at all. I’m all one for them getting their comeuppance, but that was unreal.”

The group all had their own reactions to hearing about the poverty Sunset described. Applejack remained stone faced, almost refusing to show emotion. Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy looked deflated, their gaze met the ground as their feet played games with the stones. Rainbow stood with her arms crossed, staring intently into the distance. Human Twilight was the only one whose eyes remained fixed on Sunset, who looked like she was still waiting for the story to finish.

Beside her, Princess Twilight nudged her slightly, and offered her a proud nod.

“And where does ya plan fit into all this?” Applejack asked.

Sunset winced.

“Yeaah… this is the part I get a feeling you aren’t all going to be happy about.”


“This is the worst idea in the history of worst ideas.”

“We know, you’ve said.”

“Ah’m talkin’ Applebloom tryin’ to train Winona to milk the cows kinda bad.”

“We know, dear.”

“Ah’m talkin’ Big Mac’s attempt to repaint the barn without usin’ a ladder kinda bad.”

“Applejack, we get the point.”

“Ah’m talkin’ making a doohickey tha’ can capture magic tha’ don’t have an off-switch and can tear apart space and time, bad.”
“Hey!”

“Applejack,” Rarity turned around, “none of us are entirely thrilled about this either, but please, Sunset thinks this will work and as her friends we owe it to her to stand by her.”

Applejack shook her head.

“If Sunset thought jumpin’ off a cliff would solve her problems, would you let her do it?”

“That’s a completely different scenario!” Rarity snapped.

“Is it?” Applejack stressed. “Lettin' her do somethin’ like this is just as dangerous and stupid!”

“But we are here for her during it. At least this way if she’s making a wrong decision we can be here to protect her from its consequences.”

“So you admit she’s makin’ the wrong decision?”

“I said if, IF! Don’t try twisting my words like that.”

“Who’s twistin’ anything? The only side I’m on is the side that doesn’t get Sunset, or us for that matter, hurt.”

“You two argue a lot," Twilight observed.

“Rarity starts it.”
“Applejack starts it!”

The two girls met in a vicious glare-off.

“Shut up, we’re here,” a voice up ahead said.

The group came to a halt. They were all squished into a narrow corridor, the carpet and wallpaper around them matching in both in filth and dreariness. The only light came from the few hanging bulbs above them that still worked, making it difficult to identify the numbers on doors that surrounding them. It was a place no teenage girl should ever hope to be, but to two girls in the group it was a sight too familiar.

“It’s this way,” Sunset whispered.

Sunset led them, with Rainbow and Princess Twilight following protectively behind. She walked slowly, her hands gripped tightly into fists and a cold sweat running down her neck. Her heart was in her mouth, but she knew it was too late to back out now. And she didn’t want to, everything she’d done had built up to this moment; she was going to do this.

They drew closer to the door in question.

A cold wave rushed over Sunset as she felt a familiar fear begin to rise in her. The dangling lights above began to grow harsher, giving life to a nagging pain in the back of her head. Freezing water began seeping in around her as the hallway walls suddenly rose ten feet, blocking off any escape.

Sunset forced out a breath and carried on forward. The water around her pushed and tugged, but she refused to let it move her. It felt weird, like the water wasn’t wet. Instead it felt like static, it fizzed, as though her entire bottom half had suddenly been removed. If she looked down she was positive she’d just see her torso floating in the air.

But she didn’t look down, her gaze was fixed on the door rapidly getting closer. The more it drew near, the harsher it glared back at her. By the time she was feet away, the water was almost to her shoulders, and dark spots had begun dipping in and out of her vision.

She felt a familiar presence rest on her shoulder, causing her to blink.

The water was suddenly gone. The walls were their normal size. Princess Twilight stood behind her.

“You ready for this?” she asked.

Sunset didn’t answer, but nodded. She rehearsed her words in her head.

The group behind all braced themselves. Applejack and Rainbow shifted their weight from side to side, taking on a strong posture. Rarity forced out a breath and put on her best death glare. The two Twilights remained still, squeezing tightly onto the air they held in their lungs. Fluttershy and Pinkie swallowed nervously.

Sunset lifted her already clenched fist and knocked. The knock was loud enough to echo through the dreary corridor, but not strong enough to force the door open like last time.

For a joyful moment, there was complete silence.

Then a thump.

Sunset’s blood ran cold.

Another thump.

Quiet whispers.

A louder thump.

There were people on the other side of that door… and they were getting closer.

Sunset bit her lip.

The thumping of her heart was beginning to drain out the ever-approaching footsteps.

She swallowed. She could taste pennies.

The next events took place in a matter of seconds, but felt to Sunset like they stretched out over an hour.

The door creaked open, allowing a partially hidden face to peak through the gap. A magenta eye caught Sunset’s own. For that brief second, Sunset held the person’s gaze. The eye widened.

Despite the door only being opened inches, the bang it made getting slammed shut was enough to shake the building.

There was another thump from behind the door, this time a louder one. It was quite obviously the sound of something hitting the door on the other side, most likely the owner of the eye trying to block them from entering.

A silence fell over the group as they stood in silence.

Eventually it was Rarity who finally spoke up.

“Well, that was rude,” she huffed.

“Rarity!” Princess Twilight scolded.

“Well it was!”

Twilight turned back to Sunset, whose gaze was still fixed on the door.

“Sunset?” she asked.

The girl didn’t respond.

‘Right there. Sweet Celestia, she was RIGHT there.’

“Suns-”

“Adagio! It’s Sunset! Sunset Shimmer, from Canterlot High?” Sunset announced loudly.

“I think she remembers you…” Rainbow said under her breath, earning her a glare from Princess Twilight.

Sunset continued, unfazed. “I’m not here to fight, I just want to talk to you! I know it was you girls who jumped me the other week.”

Quiet whispers were audible from the other side of the door. Sunset’s group exchanged nervous glances.

“Look, I’m not mad,” she thought for a second, ”well okay, I am, but that’s not why I’m here! Please can you open the door? I’m just here to talk, I promise!”

The whispers died down, but that was it. Sunset didn’t know whether to take that as a rejection or as a go ahead, but she didn’t care. She was here to say her part.

“Look, I’ve been where you’ve been, okay? I know what it’s like to have lost everything. I know what it feels like to get drunk on life: you stop appreciating how good you already have it, you become lazy and reckless, and then you do one stupid thing and it’s all over! Everything you worked for is gone, and you get that desperate for things to return to normal that you just pray you’ll wake up and everything will have been a dream! You don’t even care about your goals anymore, you’d just give anything for life to go back to the way it used to be. All you want to do right now is hit the reset button, because it’s absolutely impossible to go on from where you are now.”

Rarity and Applejack exchanged worried looks. Sunset took a ragged breath and continued.

“I’ve been there and I know how hopeless it feels. I know it feels like you can’t go on. But you can, because I did.”

Princess Twilight turned to Sunset with a small smile.

“My friends, they helped me,” Sunset gestured back at her group. “Everything that happened to me, I did to myself; I was the bad guy and got what I deserved. But they saw where I was in life, and they chose to help me. They didn’t need to, they did it out of the goodness of their hearts, because they are good people. Nobody wants to see anybody else suffer. And now… Now I’ve got it all back, it’s better than ever, in fact! And I know now to appreciate what I have, because I’ve experienced life with nothing. I’m so grateful to these girls for helping me the way they did, I had no idea what powers the magic of friendship had. Every day I spend with them is heaven… and I know what that feels like, because I’ve lived in hell.”

She sniffed, and blinked away the wet forming in her eyes.

“I didn’t care about you girls after the Battle of the Bands. You were the villains and we defeated you, that was it! Then, after what you did to me, I hated you. I was terrified of you, I couldn’t sleep in my own bed without waking up to nightmares! Now I see…. Now I see that I was wrong. We were all wrong. What you did to me in that alley was my fault – my fault for not extending the same kindness to you that my friends did to me. I abandoned you, I was being selfish.”

Rarity opened her mouth to argue, but was cut short by a silencing gesture from Princess Twilight.

“That’s why I’m here now. I know what you girls are going through, and I want to do for you what these girls for me. I want to help, I want… I want us to be friends," Sunset bit her lip. "What do you say?”

As Sunset finished her speech, she imagined the girls’ responses. She imagined the siren girls, filthy and skinny, to swing open their apartment door and welcome them inside, ready to embrace the future. She expected to see tears of joy on Adagio’s face as she realized there was a way out of the torment her life had become. She expected to be staying up long into the night getting to know the girls; discussing their past, their present, and their hopes for the future. She expected… something.

But that wasn’t what she got. She got the opposite, in fact. No whispers, no thumps, no footsteps, just silence. As though she’d been talking to a brick wall.

Sunset took a step back and wiped the tears from her. Her brow furrowed.

Why weren’t they responding? She’d just bared her heart to them. They were supposed to respond, or acknowledge her at least! She hadn’t taken this into account when making her plan, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go. She couldn’t move on without this, s-she needed this.

“Adagio… please,” her voice was weak.

Rainbow took a step forward.

“Sunset... they’re not going to bite.”

Sunset looked to the ground, attempting to hide her face from the others. The tears dripping onto her shoes betrayed her.

“We put together something for you girls,” she continued from behind her hair. “It’s a gift basket: it’s got water, bread, milk, some canned food, blankets and chocolate. Think of it as…a gesture of trust. It has my phone number in it, if you want to reach me.”

The girls waited with baited breaths, hoping, for Sunset’s sake, that something would happen.

























But nobody came.

The haunting sound of rejection was obnoxiously loud.

Rainbow placed her hand on Sunset’s shoulder.

“Come on, let’s get out of here.”

“But-” she tried.

“She’s right, Sunset,” Princess Twilight nodded.

Sunset turned to her, confused. The purple princess simply offered a reassuring smile.

“You did what you came here to do. It’s down to them now.”

Sunset turned back to the door, still seeing the imprint of Adagio’s eye. Biting her lip against more forthcoming tears, the girl nodded.

Pinkie Pie took out the gift basket and placed it at the foot of their door. Moving as one, the group all turned and began to make their way back down the corridor they came. They had barely made it to the end before Sunset was crying freely.

The group supported her as they went down the stairs, out onto the road, and then all piled into Applejack’s pickup truck. Applejack returned each of the girls to their respectful homes, minus Princess Twilight, who had decided to stay the night at Sunset’s.

Only after any and all signs of the girls vanished from the corridor did the door creak open again.

The magenta eye returned, scanning the area before settling on the gift basket. When the eye owner was sure the coast was definitely clear, it snaked its yellow hand out and snatched up the basket. The door shut again mere seconds after, leaving the corridor in silence.

Chapter Nine: Retribution

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Despite the large sun desperately clinging to the horizon, the air was cold and harsh. Large shadows were cast throughout the barren streets of Canterlot. The sky and the streets were both clear, empty, as to be expected this time of year. It was a November evening and the sun was setting; all was calm.

All was at rest… aside from three teenage girls. Together, the particularly unusual trio stalked through the empty streets like rats, scavenging whatever they could and making a break for it at the first sign of human contact. Now was the best time for their hunting, people were in bed and the streets were clear, making moving around unseen easy. And unseen was exactly what they needed.

Adagio Dazzle skulked up the street, followed closely behind by Aria Blaze and Sonata Dusk. Their eyes watched the ground as they walked, their heads hidden deep beneath large hoods. Their choice of wardrobe helped them attract less attention. Normally attention was something these girls would never shy away from… but they had an interesting history with the people of this town. And the recent scavenging and thieving they had been doing had not helped them get into anybody’s good books.

As the girls stalked the streets, Aria slowed to a pause behind them. She lifted her head up.

“Wait,” she said, sniffing the air.

Sonata raised her head too, glancing around with cautious eyes. She inhaled, instantly recognizing the smell that had caught Aria’s attention. Her vision landed on the entrance to an alleyway up ahead.

“There,” she pointed in the direction of the smell.

Without another word, the three girls made a beeline towards the alley. They moved quickly and with purpose, as if the entrance was about to close up any minute. As they turned the corner, they were met with the sight of a dark and damp alleyway and at the end of it... four trash cans. The girls came to a halt, Adagio breathed.

“Sonata, keep a look out,” she told her younger sister.

The blue girl nodded and took a step to the side, concealing herself behind the wall of the alley and looking out onto the street.

“Make this quick, it’s freezing,” she told Aria.

The two girls made their way over to the trash cans.

“I’ll say,” Aria huffed. “Remind me why we can’t do this during the day? Y’know, when it’s warm?”

Adagio lifted the lid off one of the trash cans and grimaced at what she found.

“You know why, Aria.”

The two girls began rooting through the trash cans, pulling out anything they deemed of value or half-way edible. Any other time they’d be almost puking, performing such a disgusting act, but times were desperate. Besides, their hands were so cold Aria couldn’t even feel whatever that sticky orange mess was she'd just stuck her hand in.

Their haul wasn’t that bad. Better than what they usually found. Half a packet of chips, some leftover fries, an apple core with a good quarter of apple still attached, and a half empty bottle of cola. They quickly stuffed all their finds into the pockets of their hoodies and moved to the next cans. Aria lifted the lid off hers and instantly let out a chuckle.

“Hey loser,” she said in a raised voice. “Got half a taco over here for ya.”

Sonata’s head instantly snapped back towards them, eyes wide in shock.

“Really?”

Adagio and Aria both laughed quietly, amused by their sister’s childish nature. Aria stepped back from the trash can, gesturing towards it.

“Help yourself,” she chuckled.

As Sonata quickly made her way over to them, Adagio scorned her sister.

“Aria, she can’t eat that, it’s next to a diaper,” Adagio pointed to the wrapped up bundle next to it.

Aria shrugged.

“Diaper’s sealed, I don’t see a problem.”

Adagio frowned, “well, if you don’t see a problem, why don’t you eat it?”

“I promised it to Sonata,” she shrugged again.

Sonata came to a stop between her two sisters and without hesitation, made to pick up the half rotten tortilla.

“Sonata,” Adagio said sternly, “don’t eat that.”

Sonatas hand paused as she looked up to Adagio with sympathetic eyes.

“But… I’m hungry.”

There was no humor in her voice. No cheer or giddiness over the prospect of eating her favorite meal.

Adagio swallowed and shook her head. “Sonata… even if it hasn’t touched the diaper, look at it, half the meat has rotted off anyway. You can’t risk getting ill again.”

Sonata looked away from Adagio, her hand still outstretched. Memories of her last time with food poisoning haunted her, and she wasn’t the only one. Each of the former Dazzlings had fallen gravely ill since they lost their house, and not all of it a result from food poisoning. Adagio was right, they really didn’t have the supplies or strength for one of them to fall ill again.

Then again… she was so hungry… and not all of the meat looked spoiled.

Sonata went to lunge forward for the taco again, but her wrist was quickly seized by Adagio. The grip was tight.

“No.”

Adagio roughly pulled Sonata’s hand away from the rotten meat and pushed it aside. Sonata stepped back, rubbing her now-sore wrist.

“Go keep watch,” Adagio told her.

Sonata’s eyes met the floor and she obeyed, slowly walking back to where she originally stood. Adagio sent a scowl in Aria’s direction before continuing to root through the trash.

The sky reflected the mood of the group, as darkness began to set in. The sun had finally dropped below the horizon, but the clear sky meant the city had no protection by the clouds from the endless void of cold space above it. Above them stars twinkled and shined, but the trio were too preoccupied by the hot puffs of smoke escaping their mouths.

Adagio tugged at her hoodie, trying to cover up as much skin area as possible. Even with the distance between the three, she could hear Sonata’s teeth loudly chattering.

“I’m freezing,” Aria groaned.

Adagio nodded.

“Just a few more places then we can get back home,” she had meant for that to sound encouraging, but the prospect of rooting through garbage in this weather was far from it.

“Girls…” Sonata said from her position a few feet away. “You might want to come look at this.”

Adagio and Aria both raised their heads, sending a confused glance in each others’ direction. Silently, the two girls approached Sonata’s position and peaked out onto the street. Several meters away, a lone girl was making her way down the street towards them.

Aria’s eyebrows shot into her hairline.

“Is that…?”

Sonata nodded.

Yep.”

Aria blinked and took a deep breath.

“Holy cow…”

She looked from Sonata to Adagio.

“What do we do?” she asked.

“I think we should hide,” Sonata said instantly.

Aria frowned.

“Forget that, I’m not hiding. Adagio, what should we do?”

All eyes fell onto Adagio, who continued to stare blankly at the unknowing girl. Sonata squinted and waved her hand in front of her sister’s face.

“Earth to Dagi.”

Adagio blinked, her mind returning to her. She looked between her two sisters, confusion riddled across her face. She took another glance out at the girl, before taking a deep breath and standing up straight. When she finally spoke, her voice was low.

“When she walks by... I’m goinna grab her. Aria, you get her, and Sonata, you keep watch.”

Both sisters’ eyes widened in surprise.

“You serious?” Aria asked, a cautious smile growing on her face.

“W-what are we going to do?” Sonata asked gently, growing rapidly uncomfortable.

Adagio swallowed and cracked her neck to the side.

Exactly what she did to us.”

Sonatas eyes glanced around nervously.

“But we’re not gonna… you know, like… hurt her, are we?” Aria sent a disgusted look in her direction.

Adagio’s face was hardened and cold.

“Yes, Sonata. We’re going to hurt her.”

Sonata nodded fast and took a deep breath. It was obvious to tell she was not okay with that idea. Seeing her sister begin to panic, Adagios mood faltered and she let out a sigh.

“We’re not going to kill her,” she comforted, then continued, “Just hurt her… a lot. Now get ready,”

The girls quickly moved into place. Adagio positioned herself where Sonata had previously stood, hidden in the shadows but with good access to the street beyond. Aria stood, fists at the ready, eager to pounce. Sonata stood furthest from the entrance, playing with her nails nervously.

The seconds ticked down and soon the sound of footsteps began to drawn in closer.

Sonata’s stomach churned, Adagio’s heart leaped into her throat and Aria’s knuckles grew white in anticipation.

A orange and black figure walked past them, lost in their own world and completely unaware of the three's presence. Adagio leaped forward, snatching the girl by the scruff of her neck and yanking her back. They yelped out in surprise and instantly fell backwards, unintentionally pinning Adagio against the alleyway wall. The sisters leaped into place.

“Wha–” the person’s cry of confusion was cut short by Aria’s fist smashing into her cheek. Their body shuddered and went limp.

Adrenaline coursing through her body, Adagio pushed herself up, wrapping her arms around the victim’s shoulders, pulling her in tight. Shaking the pain away from her fist, Aria quickly delivered another punch into the person’s stomach. They let out a violent dry heave.

The girl tried pulling herself free, but even despite her recent loss of weight, Adagio’s armlock was no match for her disorientated defense. Yanking her back again, Adagio swung her round, launching the girl into the wall behind. She simply collapsed to the floor before them, too dazed to put up a fight. It was then the girls got their first good look at the face of their victim.

It was an orange-haired girl, sporting a purple scarf and a black leather jacket. She almost looked like a biker, but the three sirens knew her nature couldn’t be more opposite. Blood trickled from her mouth, clearly a result of Aria’s punch to the face.

Behind them, Sonata's eyes were fixed out onto the dimly-lit street, afraid to look back.

Adagio dove in, wrapping her hands around one of the girl’s arms and dragging her off the floor. Aria joined, and they lifted their victim up into the standing position, pinned against the wall. The girl tried relentlessly to wriggle free, but it was to no avail. She'd begun crying, which made what happened next even more satisfying for sisters.

Using as much strength as she could muster, Aria delivered the hardest punch she could muster into the girl’s stomach.

AUUUGGH!”

After months of repressed rage and aggression, the Dazzlings had finally found their release. Their months of starvation, injuries, illness, freezing nights, scavenging and prayers finally seemed all worth it.

Adagio snagged the girl’s hair and lifted her head up. Her eyes rolled around loosely in her head, unable to focus on one thing. It was a shame she was so disorientated, Adagio thought, having almost wished she had the satisfaction of hearing her beg for mercy. She gritted her teeth and delivered a fierce punch into the girl’s cheek.

The girl’s body was sent careening to the side, but she remained firmly pinned against the wall. Copying Adagio, Aria too took a hand full of the girl’s fringe. But what came next wasn’t a punch, instead Aria slammed the girls head into the brick wall behind her. An inhuman noise rumbled from the girl’s mouth, and as her head dropped down again, a splatter of blood shone on the wall behind her.

Sonata dared to peak a look behind her. The girl was defenseless as they violently laid into her. The way they relentlessly delivered punch after punch, never tiring or showing mercy… it made Sonata glad she was on their side. Her eyes focused on the girl. She was in a very bad shape, blood coming from her nose and mouth and eyes unable to stay open. Sonata shivered.

She didn’t like that girl. She didn’t like her one bit. But… she didn’t deserve this, did she?

All the bad things that had happened to them recently were because of her, as Adagio had constantly reminded them. It should make her happy to see her finally getting what she deserved. But it didn’t.

As blow after blow was delivered, Sonata couldn’t help but notice the girl had entirely stopped moving now. She took a step towards her sisters.

“Guys…?” she asked quietly.

Her sisters had now began grunting with each hit they dealt. It was like they were in a trance, each punch being delivered getting harder and harder. The air around them stunk of sweat. Sonata couldn’t take her eyes off the girl’s limp body.

“Girls… you said we wouldn’t…”

Her voice went completely unheard. It was not unlike her sisters to ignore or dismiss her, but this time it was important. Sonata was in the right, Adagio said they weren’t going to kill her. So by standing by and letting them do it… she’d be going against what she was told to do, wasn’t she? She wasn’t allowed to disobey Adagio.

Moving in as close as she dared, Sonata gently tugged on Adagio’s hoodie.

“Dagi…”

Still no reaction.

She tugged again, harder this time.

“Adagio, stop,” she said a bit louder this time.

Her sisters continued, ignoring her entirely.

Sonata swallowed.

She was sure she was in the right, wasn’t she?

She was, so why weren’t they listening to her?

“Adagio, stop!” she delivered a gentle push to Adagio, who didn’t feel it.

Sonata frowned and turned to her sister.

“Aria!” she tried grabbing her sister’s hand, but it was instantly torn free and sent into the defenseless girls face.

Sonata looked again at the beaten girl. Her face had bruised over and covered in blood, her body shivered uncontrollably and her head dangled loosely from her shoulders. She couldn’t tell if she was still conscious or not.

A suddenly rush of sympathy flared in Sonata’s chest, causing her to close her eyes and shout, “STOP, Y-YOU’RE GONNA KILL HER!”

As she reopened them again, she found her sisters to be continuing completely in ignorance. Her temper flared.

Sonata threw herself onto Aria, tearing her away from the girl.

“Aria, please stop! She’s had enough!” she begged.

Aria violently pushed Sonata aside and dove instantly back into beating the girl.

Sonata turned on her heels and tried to same with Adagio, pulling her arms free of the girl.

“Adagio, you said we weren’t going to kill her! We need to go, please!”

Adagio went to push Sonata away, but caught her eye for brief second. That second was all Adagio needed, she could see the fear welling in her baby sister’s eyes. Tears had begun to well and her lip had started trembling. She didn’t return to beating the girl.

Aria’s head snapped in their direction, and one look from Adagio was enough to tell her to stop. Aria looked away from Adagio’s death glare, over to Sonata’s puppy dog face, and then back at the girl hanging limply in her arms. Giving a heavy sigh of frustration, Aria released the girl, who dropped unceremoniously onto the floor.

“You said you weren’t going to! That’s what you said! You said it!” Sonata cried.

“She’ll live,” Adagio said coldly. She looked over to Sonata, and offered her a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Adagio and Sonata turned, quickly making their way out of the alley. As they stepped out onto the empty street, they noticed they were on their own. They glanced back down the alley, only to see Aria staring scornfully down at the girl’s body.

“Aria!” Adagio snapped.

Aria looked over to her sisters, and then back down at girl. Her hands tightened into fists, and she delivered one last kick of frustration into the girl’s chest. The girl coughed and curled up, confirming to them that she was at least still alive. Aria then slowly re-joined her sisters.

“We need to go, won’t be long until she calls the cops,” Adagio ordered.

With that, the three sisters took off into the night.


The door to the Dazzlings’ rundown flat flew open, and in stomped the three sisters.

“God, that felt good!” Aria groaned, punching the air.

Sonata ran past the two and dived down onto the blow up mattress, pulling the blanket over her head. Even through the blanket, her sobs were still audible. Aria rolled her eyes.

The three girls were in pitch blackness, since their bill for electricity was long overdue. They didn’t massively mind, they had got used to seeing in the dark. What they did mind however, was when the money for the electric had ran out, so had the bill for the heating.

Adagio and Aria made their way over to the kitchen counter and began unloading the contents of their pockets.

“Did you see the look on her face when you grabbed her? Man, that’s gonna hurt in the morning!” Aria, still high on the adrenaline, launched an already-chipped mug straight into the wall and shattered it into pieces.

Adagio gave a small smile. Aria was right, that had been extremely satisfying. But it was just as stupid, she knew. They were supposed to be keeping a low profile, now it would only be a matter of time before they had the cops after them, and they really weren’t in any position to skip town. They could barely keep the apartment they were currently in, never mind trying to make a new start somewhere.

“Oi, cheer up,” Aria said, loudly munching on some of the stale chips they had found. “Don’t tell me you’re feeling sorry for her too?”

Adagio’s gaze caught her sisters and she smiled, shaking her head.

“I’m fine. Just caught up in it all,” Adagio looked down at her blood stained hands.

She gave a weak smile.

“Hear the noise she made when you hit her in the stomach?” she said quietly.

She lifted her head and caught Aria’s gaze. The two siblings shared a knowing smile and laughed. Aria smacked her hands down onto the counter enthusiastically.

“That’ll show her! It’s gonna be a long time before little Miss Bacon Hair and her Rainshrooms think about messing with us again! Oh, and check this…” Aria pulled one last thing out from her pocket and laid it out on the counter before them.

“You stole her scarf!?” Adagio laughed out loud.

Aria nodded. A bloodied purple scarf lay on the counter.

“Damn right I did, you know purple’s my color. Thought I’d treat myself.”

Adagio frowned.

“What does that say?” she leaned in to get a closer look at the scarf. “SS?”

The two girls looked at each other in confusion. They had been on this planet a long time, and had learned more than enough of the SS' history.

“That girl’s into some weeeirrrddd shiz,” Aria laughed. Her attention was then drawn over to the crying form of Sonata, hidden beneath their shared blanket.

Aria shook her head again.

“Cry baby.”

Adagio frowned. “Aria.”

“What? She is, she couldn’t even handle watching!”

“It’s not a competition. You know what she’s like, forget her,” Adagio gestured away from the crying girl.

She placed her hand on her sister’s shoulder, pulling her in intimately and looking her in the eyes.

“And anyway… tonight, we won. That’s all that matters,” she purred.

Aria’s frown grew into a toothy grin as she nodded.

“Hell yeah we did.”


That night seemed so far away now. The last time they had truly been happy. And even then, not all of them had been happy. They had traumatized Sonata and it had been days before she’d started to act normal around them again. Adagio liked using fear to keep her sisters in line but… not like that.

Life had been hell since what happened at the Battle of the Bands. If she would even call it life. They had lost their magic, their house, their wealth. What the Rainboom girl had said earlier was true, they had hit rock bottom. Adagio put on a strong face for her sisters, but even she wasn’t entirely sure they were going to come back from it. They had been staring into the void for a long time now, and as every day passed she began to feel maybe letting go was the easier option.

Adagio turned, her eyes coming to rest on her sisters. Moonlight shone in from the window, revealing their sleeping forms. They were huddled together on the blown up mattress, Aria holding Sonata tight in her arms. It looked like a cute scene between loving sisters, but in realty they needed to be that close to keep warm. Usually they would have Adagio joining them, but not tonight. It hasn’t been that way for a while, in fact. Ever since Adagio had begun realizing they might finally be nearing the end of the line, her nights had become sleepless. How could she tell her younger sisters they were in a hopeless situation?

That thought wasn’t what occupied her mind tonight though.

Adagio looked over to the kitchen counter. On it sat the gift basket the Rainbooms had left them. It was untouched, the plastic wrapping around it totally intact.

She was a proud siren. Normally she would rather die than accept charity, especially from an enemy. That girl had nerve, turning up where they lived. Adagio had wanted to throw open the door and finish what she’d started a week ago. And she would have, had the girl not have brought backup.

Adagio’s knuckles clenched white.

She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know how to carry on. For the first time in her entire life, she had no plan. No more tricks up her sleeve. No more plot twists. This really was it now… she could feel their story coming to a close.

She didn’t believe a word of what the girl had said, she couldn’t. Nobody was that forgiving. The gift basket was a lure she had hoped to use to trick them into coming out. It was probably laced with poison. That’s what Adagio would have done, anyway. Lure the enemy into a false sense of security then strike. Classic Trojan horse technique.

So if Adagio believed it to be a trick… why did she bring the basket inside?

She didn’t have an answer.

Was it because she deep down wanted to believe the Rainbooms’ offer was as good as it sounded? Was it because eating possibly poisoned food was a better alternative to starving? Was it because she was willing to do anything to keep her sisters alive?

She didn’t know. Her head was clouded, so many conflicted feelings had been brought up tonight she couldn’t think straight.

She looked over to her sisters again.

They were so peaceful when they slept. A flicker of warmth sparked in Adagio's heart. It had always been the three of them, even back hundreds of years ago, even when they were still in Equestria. They had fought, they had argued, they had even walked away, but in the end they had always ended up each other again. They were a family, and they had survived thousands of years with nothing but themselves to keep them each other going. As long as they were intact, they were strong. They were unbeatable.

Or they had been, until now. Was Adagio really staring at the end? Things had never got this bad before. Was this the way it was always supposed to go? Or did she have a chance to change their path?

It had always been the three of them. Adagio Dazzle, Aria Blaze and Sonata Dusk. They had been given many names over many life times. The Dazzlings. The Sirens. The Brides of Dracula. The Three Wise Men. The Medusa. The Trimurti. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Whatever the name they had worn, it had always been them. The three of them, just them. And they had been happy together.

To accept help now would be betraying everything they had ever worked for.

She couldn’t give up. What kind of leader would she be to surrender now? They could make it through this. They had done it before. As long as they had each other, anything was possible. The Rainbooms were just a distraction… taken to tempt them away from each other. Adagio knew what was going on, and it wasn’t going to work. So long as the three sirens had each other, they would come out on top. That was the way it had always been. They had their magic taken, but not their strength.

They were going to come back from this. They were. And when they did, Sunset Shimmer was going to pay.

Adagio stormed over to the kitchen counter and snatched up the basket. Slamming it down into the sink, she flicked the switch on the garbage disposable. The mechanism groaned and churned, but eventually it began tearing into the peace offering.

They didn’t need her help, and Sunset would regret thinking they needed it. They were better than her, even now. They hadn’t been defeated, they had just retreated. They had retreated and waited until the time was right, and then they struck back, they struck back hard. That was why Sunset was doing this. She didn’t want to admit defeat, she didn’t want to accept that even with the big flashy show at the end of the Battle of the Bands, she had still lost. She was taking pity on them.

The mechanism churned in protest as Adagio forced the basket deeper into its gears. She smiled a mad grin, relishing the bits of confetti and debris as they spat back up at her like it was the blood of her enemies.

Sunset thought she was on top. She thought she was better than them. She thought she’d won. Well she hadn’t, and Adagio was going to prove it. She was going to come back from this, stronger than ever… And when she did, oh boy when she did, were the Rainbooms going to pay…

On the other side of the room, a Sonata snuggled deeper into Aria’s arms. The noise of the garbage disposal had always scared her, but that wasn’t what was keeping her awake. Luckily, the roaring sound was enough to drown out the grumbling of her stomach. She choked back a sob, hearing the sound of their only hope going down the drain.

Chapter Ten: One Week Later

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It was December and Canterlot was deep into the Christmas spirit. The streets were busy with people in thick coats, scarves and hats, all trying to squeeze in as much shopping as they could before the rush hour. A white blanket covered the roads and rooftops, almost indistinguishable from the blank void that had swallowed the sky. Though the snow had ceased momentarily, it had been coming down in a blizzard over the past week.

It couldn’t have paused at a better time, the deep chime of the clock striking three echoing through the snowy streets as the doors to Canterlot High flew open. A stampede of students came bounding out, half diving to the ground and making snowballs, the other half running and taking shelter. Two girls quickly ran through the parking lot, ducking to try to shield themselves from the inevitable war of snowballs being waged around them. Their giddy laughter drew to a close as they reached the car door.

“Rarity, are you sure about this?”

It was over two weeks since Sunset’s attack, and she was finally back in a stable place. She’d started school again, her face had fully healed over, and apart from the bandage she still wore on her chest, physically she was feeling top notch again.

Of course though, that didn’t stop her friends from worrying about her.

Of cooouurrsseeee, darling,” Rarity said, taking her seat in the driver’s chair. “What kind of friend would I be letting you walk home in such awful weather?”

Sunset couldn’t find it in her to argue and instead fastened her seatbelt. As Rarity put the car into drive, a large snowball collided with the windshield, startling both girls.

Ugh! What kind of immature ruffian snowballs a car that’s trying to drive!? Honestly…” Rarity fumed.

“I, uhh, think that was Rainbow Dash,” Sunset laughed.

Rarity looked back through the windshield, squinting.

Ah.”

She slammed her hand down on the horn, startling anyone in the nearby area. When she saw the distant outline of their attacker leap to the ground, she chuckled quietly to herself and pulled the car out of the parking lot.

“Now, what were we saying?” Rarity smiled.

Sunset laughed, shaking her head.

“I said you don’t need to keep driving me home.”

“Oh pssffttt,” Rarity waved her off, “Sunset, I insist. And anyway, it’s nice to catch up without the rest of the girls.”

Sunset shrugged, “I suppose that’s true…”

Rarity silently nodded to herself and kept driving.

“As much as I love the girls, there’s only so many times you can take Pinkie Pie or Rainbow Dash’s interruptions without it spoiling the mood. Besides… there was something I had wanted to talk to you about.”

This perked Sunset’s attention. She couldn’t help but notice Rarity’s drop in enthusiasm on the last part of that sentence.

“Sure, what’s up?” Sunset asked cautiously.

Rarity laughed nervously.

“Ahh yes… now, the question is, how to delicately steer the conversation into dark territory without it being noticeable and awkward?” she laughed aloud.

Her words began a welling of anxiety and unrest in Sunset’s stomach. She didn’t like where this was going. She eyed her friend suspiciously.

“Everything okay, Rares?” she asked.

Rarity let out another awkward chuckle.

“Everything’s fine, Sunset! Don’t worry about it, nothing’s wrong, just a… eh, sensitive subject is all.”

Sunset couldn’t ignore she was avoiding eye contact and talking through a teethy smile. She could also spy a single bead of sweat making its way down her friend’s temple. She wondered if it was perhaps too icy outside to perform the jump, tuck and roll technique before it was too late.

“What is?” she asked cautiously.

Rarity’s smile began to flatten.

“You, er…” she coughed, “may recall a moment last week… I told you, albeit briefly, that you weren’t the only one who had to deal with some rough things in life….”

Sunset nodded. “Oh yeah, I remember that… Didn’t really know what you meant, but the message got through.”

“Yes well…” Rarity let out a heavy sigh, “this was, ahhhh, a-hem, a lot easier in my head.”

“Look, Rarity… you don’t have to tell me anything you’re uncomfortable with,” Sunset interrupted.

“No, no, no, I was being intentionally vague when I brought that up,” she stressed. “There was no reason for me to be so extra! I do owe you an explanation, making a statement like that with no intention of following it up could seem… unnecessarily mysterious. You know I'm not really the edgy type.”

Sunset shook her head.

“Rarity, really, if you don’t want to tell me, I can live with not knowing.”

“I’d really like to be able to tell you, Sunset. I won’t lie, being able to share this with somebody is also partly for my own benefit.”

Her words struck a chord with Sunset.

After everything Rarity had done for her recently it would be unfair if she wasn’t there to listen to her. More than unfair, actually. It wasn’t like Sunset owed Rarity for her kindness, when Rarity had done whatever a normal friend would have in her situation. Which made it Sunset’s turn to be that normal friend.

She nodded, growing silent.

“Then… of course. What’s on your mind?”

Sunset’s words were the much-needed go-ahead Rarity had been waiting for. She took a deep breath and slowly told her tale.

“With our parents always away, for the longest time Sweetie Belle and I were forced to walk anywhere we wanted to go...”

She paused, as if mulling over what she’d just said.

“Probably why I got a car for my 18th, come to think of it… Now, it wasn’t terribly inconvenient as we never did venture anywhere too outlandish anyway, but… well…” Rarity sighed. Sunset noticed the car slowing and was thankful that they weren’t in a crowded area.

“Canterlot is a very safe area, you see. Aside from what happened to you, I can’t think of a single case of physical violence happening here in the last ten years. And being raised in a place with those statistics can make a girl, shall we say… unusually sheltered, from the outside world. A young girl walking alone in Canterlot is a very different thing to a young girl walking alone anywhere else…. if you catch my drift.”

Sunset didn’t catch her drift, not immediately.

It took her a few moments to catch on, before her eyelids opened wide.

“Oh my god, Rarity…”

Rarity continued, unfazed. “It was in the city… not a few blocks away from Crystal Prep actually, if memory serves. Going out at night was a stupid idea, I blame myself entirely.”

Sunset butted in immediately, “Rarity, that’s not your fault. No one is ever to blame in that situation.”

Rarity gave her friend a dry smile, her eyes still focused on the road… “I appreciate your goodwill, but it’s not what you think… Alas, this was entirely my fault… I’d have given anything for it to have happened to me instead.”

Sunset frowned.

'Happened to me?

So what happened didn’t..?

Then how does that…

Oh.

Oh.'

“You don’t mean?”

Rarity nodded solemnly.

“Sweetie Belle, yes.”

Those words seemed to echo in Sunset’s brain a few times. She suddenly felt very out of her depth being told this. She opened her mouth to say something – anything – to her friend, but was cut off too early.

“It happened four years ago, during her first year at CHS.” Rarity gave a small smile, “around the same time I was competing with you for Princess of the Spring Fling, actually. I’d run out of the fabrics I was using to make my dress… Sassy Saddles had more at her Carousel and offered to keep some behind the counter for me but… well, I was too busy with the campaign to go myself and Sweetie Belle volunteered, so…”

Any discrepancies Sunset had been feeling between her friend's tale and her own situation began diluting into guilt. She stayed silent, listening.

I sent her out there. It was entirely my fault. Not only did I have to deal with the guilt of that, I also had to help her through a lot of what you’ve just been through. Of course I wasn’t nearly as knowledgeable back then as I am now... Things weren’t easy, but I helped her through the worst of it. That’s what I was referring to when I said I had learned to deal with people in your situation.”

As Rarity drew her story to a close, Sunset found herself at a loss for words. The long-gone guilt and anxiety she’d feel when thinking about her old actions made a comeback. She felt like she was walking down the familiar neighborhood she had as a child, but it wasn’t a pleasant sensation. It was a toxic nostalgia.

Sunset forced her words out, not wanting her silence to make Rarity uncomfortable.

“Rarity… I’m so sorry, that’s terrible. I had no idea. And I bet all the horrible stuff I did to you during the Spring Fling made everything worse…”

Sunset hung her head. She could feel the tear ducts behind her eyes beginning to open.

“Oh darling, that’s all water under the bridge now!” Rarity casually waved her off, almost startling Sunset with her unusually cheerful mood. “Even Sweetie Belle’s gotten over it. Mostly, anyway. She still wakes herself up occasionally… has to crawl into bed with me, poor thing. And the way she acts around strangers now, gives the feeling I shan’t be becoming an aunty at any point. I would appreciate your full discretion if you don’t mind, the only one of our friends to know is Applejack, who found out through Applebloom.”

Sunset gave a sharp nod. “I won’t tell a soul. Thank you for trusting me with this.”

Rarity thought for a moment before chuckling.

“I’m not trying to make you feel guilty, Sunset. You taught me that a problem shared is a problem halved. I’ve been doing everything I can to cover my tracks with what happened, I’ve wanted to tell you girls about it but had no idea how to bring it up. Not that I’m expecting weekly council meetings or anything,” Rarity laughed, “I just… it feels nice to tell somebody about it, you know?”

Sunset nodded.

“I know.”

“Well, on a lighter note,” Rarity said in a notably more upbeat voice, “it’s nearly Christmas break! Have you got anything planned?”

Sunset’s eyes shot over in her friend’s direction, frowning. She didn’t understand, how could Rarity share something so deep and personal with her and then want to immediately move on to something more cheery? Surely the mood was set now?

Although, she thought, maybe she needed to take into consideration that Rarity was human too. There were no written rules with these kinds of things, or there definitely wasn’t with what Sunset went through. Doing what felt right was the only way she could move forward, maybe Rarity just needed to get it out of her system.

Her friend had proved she knew what she was doing, so Sunset had full confidence in her to make the right choices. If Rarity needed her, she would be there.

Giving herself a mental nod of confirmation, Sunset forced a smile.

“Just the party with you girls…. Twilight did invite me to come spend Christmas with her friends as well but I’m not sure.”

“With the girls from Crystal Prep?” Rarity pouted. “Why ever not? They seemed nice enough to me?”

It took Rarity a second to hear her own words.

“…outside from the whole… peerpressuringTwilightintobecomingaragingshe-demonandnearlytearingapartthefabricofrealityasweknowit, that is,” she continued.

Sunset gave a short laugh, shaking her head.

“The other Twilight, actually.”

“Oh. Oh. Oh. You mean?”

Sunset gave an unenthusiastic nod.

“Back to Equestria, yeah.”

“I see…” Rarity paused. “Well, why aren’t you going?”

Sunset shrugged. She hadn’t planned on getting into this right now, but figured she might as well while they were having their heart to heart.

“With everything that’s been going on recently I just want some time to relax. Just for these holidays. I can’t go back to Equestria without dragging a bunch of drama with me… and even if I did, there’s no guarantee I’d actually be allowed back. I did… er, technically commit treason… twice. There’s a chance I’ll get thrown in a dungeon the second I step foot– er, hoof, through the portal.”

“I thought a while ago you were considering going back?”

Sunset shook her head. “That was then… I didn’t feel safe in my own home. I’ve got better since then, I’m not in that mentality anymore. I don’t know, I think going back to Equestria now would do me more bad than good.”

Rarity seemed to deflate a little, obviously disappointed in Sunset’s decision.

“Well I suppose that’s your decision to make. Still, ‘tis a shame not getting to see your family for Christmas.”

Sunset gave a casual shrug. “I’ve managed just fine the past couple of years.”

“Oh, Sunset, I didn’t mean to imply–” Rarity panicked.

“No, no, it’s fine, you’re right,” Sunset held her hand up, silencing her. “Last time I saw any of them it wasn’t on the best terms. And yes, before you say it, I recognize that finding excuses to stay in this world is a way of avoiding confrontation… Trust me, anything you can say on the subject has already gone through my mind.”

Rarity smirked.

“You sound well-rehearsed.”

“I guess everything you said a while ago stuck with me. And… it’s been a conversation I’ve been having with myself a lot recently. Ever since what happened.”

Rarity gave a knowing nod.

“Overthinking something only ever extends the suffering. If you feel any anxiety about going back, you should talk to Twilight about it. I’m sure she’d be more than happy to help you figure stuff out.”

Sunset shook her head. She appreciated Rarity’s generosity, but it wasn’t a topic she was ready to debate on.

“I’ve decided on it, it’s not what I need right now. One day, just not right now.”

Rarity nodded.

The tension in the car hung thick. Sunset could feel what was coming, but that didn’t help to soften the blow when it did.

“Didn’t do well at lightening the mood, did we?” Rarity asked.

The two girls gave a shared laugh.

As it died down, Rarity continued with, “So, er… how are you doing?”

Like water down a drain pipe, the mood dampened even more.

Any other time she’d be mad, since Rarity knew this was sensitive subject with her, but she figured it was only fair, as it appeared to be the time for cleaning out their closets. Since they’d all gone to speak to The Dazzlings a week ago, Sunset’s situation had gone all but entirely unmentioned between them. It wasn’t a forced absence, but it was an absence nonetheless. Rarity was allowed to be curious, Sunset figured.

“Better. A lot better, actually,” she nodded. “I really got what I needed.”

Rarity smiled warmly, briefly glancing over to Sunset.

“That’s good… I am ever so glad you’re feeling better. You haven’t heard from them at all, I suppose?” she asked.

Sunset shook her head, and turned her attention to the snowflakes hitting the windshield.

She hadn’t heard a thing from them. She didn’t know whether or not to be glad. She was in a good place now, she was finally happy with her life again. But, thinking back about them, she was filled with… what, sympathy? Regret?

Disappointment. Although she didn’t want to admit it, a small part of her had been hoping they’d take her up on her offer. She’d exposed her heart to them that day and gone at them with everything she had. She really thought she’d got through to them. But as their absence indicated… she hadn’t.

She should be glad, she knew. She’d offered them help and the fact they turned her down probably meant they were in a better place than she’d thought. She had done her part, and if they chose not to take her up on her offer then that was their decision.

Yet still, the sting of rejection hit hard with Sunset.

“Not a thing,” she shook her head. “Kinda saw that coming, I mean… but after all the effort we went through, you think we’d at least get a thank you.”

Rarity sighed and nodded.

“Can’t say I’m massively surprised. But you offered them help and they turned you down, you did your bit,” Rarity confirmed Sunset’s feelings.

Sunset nodded, answering. Rarity picked up on her silence.

“Oh, I’m sure they’re fine. I know Adagio is proud but I’m pretty sure even she’d recognize when she can’t do something by herself. That basket was probably all the help they needed.”

Rarity was right, Sunset did have all the evidence she needed that they were getting on fine. So why wasn’t she satisfied?

“I just… I don’t know. Part of me really thought we’d hear back from them.”

“You’re disappointed we didn’t?”

The question hung in Sunset’s mind. It was a question she knew the answer to, but airing it aloud would make it more real.

“Yes.”

Suddenly, an alarm bell went off in the back of Sunset’s head.

Rarity had just taken a different turning from their usual route. She frowned, confused.

“Where are you going?”

“Kaos Building, Room Twelve, right?”

Sunset felt the color begin to drain from her face.

“Rarity… what are you…?”

“You said it yourself! You did more than your part to help them and didn’t even get a thank you. After all they did to you, you still found the goodness in your heart to help them, and they couldn’t even show basic gratitude? That goes beyond being rude Sunset, that’s just plain unacceptable. If you want your closure, you’re going to get it.”

Sunset gulped.

Yep, she definitely should have jumped, tucked and rolled.


Once again Sunset found herself creeping slowly through the halls of the Kaos building, with Rarity following closely in tow. For whatever reason the security guard that had been on the desk the last time two times they’d come to visit was now absent, likely because of the earlier time of day they were there. It was the first time they had come to see the sirens during the daylight, but that didn’t do much to settle Sunset’s nerves.

Aside from the floorboards creaking underfoot, the atmosphere was suspiciously quiet. The eerie silence made Sunset think back to when she’d read ghost stories online. Apparently in the presence of a spirit, the silence would be deafening, each noise would be as loud as a bullhorn and the air would be hauntingly still. And in this place, more than ever, she was able to imagine what a haunted house would feel like. Walking those halls felt like she was at the scene of a crime committed long ago.

The past two times she’d been she’d let her anxieties had get the better of her, but this time she had her new-found sense of security. She allowed her mind to wander. Although the place wasn’t half as scary as it was by night, it still was somewhere Sunset would never want to find herself alone. One particularly grim thought was what the other residents of the apartment block might be like. If the peeling wallpaper and glass on the floor was anything to go by, she’d hazard a guess that the rest of rooms were similar in states to the Dazzlings. She didn’t know what had made the other residents lives so bad that they’d resorted to living there, but she prayed the decisions she’d face in her life would be more merciful.

Thinking of the kind of scum and villainy that inhabited the place made her watch each door a little more carefully as she walked past.

“Rarity…” Sunset began, her familiar anxieties making themselves known once again, “maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”

Rarity scoffed from behind her.

“Sunset, if you back out now you’ll only regret it later.”

What she was saying was true, and Sunset couldn’t help but notice the sternness in her friend’s voice. She didn’t know what she had done in the car to trigger her friend’s sudden act of tough love, but the further she got down the corridor the more she began regretting it.

As quickly as the door came into sight Sunset soon found herself stood frozen in front of it. She didn’t have to look back to feel Rarity’s strong presence behind her.

Looking at the door, she was instantly reminded of her last time there. She could still mentally see Adagio peeking out from behind it. The butterflies in her stomach began swirling, twisting until she could feel her old problems draining into the hall like gushing water. She gritted her teeth against it -she was over her past anxieties, but the memory of them was enough to churn her stomach and dampen her mood.

Pushing down hard on the breath in her lungs, Sunset raised her fist and gently knocked.

The longest seconds of her life ticked over before, much to her astonishment, an answer came.

“Who is it?” a quiet voice asked.

Sunset and Rarity shared a shocked glance over the response. That was the first time actual contact had been established between Sunset and the sirens ever since her beating. Sunset stumbled over her next words, unsure how to approach this development.

After a few heavy seconds, she answered, “I-It’s Sunset Shimmer and Rarity.”

There was a long pause before the voice returned, and in that time Sunset felt her heartbeat grow ever faster. When the voice did respond, it was noticeably weaker than before.

“Go away.”

There was something different about that voice. It wasn’t the authoritative tone Adagio usually spoke with. It wasn’t demanding they leave; it was asking. It was softer, sounding almost like a child’s. Sunset figured she was most likely talking to one of the other two sirens.

Her Fluttershy instincts kicking in, she replied with her kindest, “we just want to talk, can you let us in?”

No response came. Sunset waited for one, but when it became apparent she definitely wasn’t getting one, she spoke up again.

“We aren’t here to start trouble, I promise. We just want to talk, er, properly this time.”

“You’re not supposed to be here,” the response was quick but equally as weak as the last.

Sunset frowned. That really sounded like a child’s voice. Did one of the sirens have a kid they didn’t know about? If so, Sunset felt infinitely guiltier for them ending up in a place like this. Deciding her options were cut short, Sunset continued under the presumption she was talking to a child.

“Please let us in, after we talk we’ll go away. We won't tell anyone we were here,” she asked gently.

Another drawn out pause. Sunset could practically hear the gears grinding the person’s head.

“P-promise you’ll go away?” the quiet voice replied.

Sunset nodded, “I promise.”

She stood back, waiting for the door to open and for the child to step out. But nobody came, and the door never opened. She frowned, shooting a confused glance in Rarity’s direction. Her friend wore the same expression, but gestured towards the door regardless, and it was then Sunset remembered that the last few times she’d been there it hadn’t been locked.

Stepping forward, she placed her hand on the wooden surface and pushed, discovering immediately her suspicions were right. The door loosely swung open a few inches, creaking along the way.

Cautiously pushing the door open, the two girls stepped inside. The previous times she’d been there had been either at afternoon or night time; the room looked different during the day. Not any better, but different. Sunlight shone in through the holes in the curtains, illuminating the floating dust particles in a way that would have been gorgeous anywhere else. But the added light exposed the true extent of how puke yellow the once-white walls had become, and revealed much more of a mess that she’d seen previously. Sunset almost wished they’d decided to come when it was dark to save their eyes the agony.

The first major thing to grab her attention was a familiar shape off to the left: her gift basket. Or what remained of her gift basket. It looked like it had been torn to shreds in some areas, as though it had been thrown to a rabid dog and then torn away again. A few surviving food items lay on the table beside it, looking like they’d been salvaged from the wreck. A rescue that had gone pretty unsuccessfully by the looks of it, as barely a third remained of what once had been present.

A sniveling noise from the opposite corner caught Sunset’s attention. She turned, expecting to finally see the mysterious child she’d been talking to through the door. What she saw instead caused her to take a step back in confusion.

The blue Dazzling stood backed up in the furthest corner, watching them like a frightened animal, tears welling in her eyes and hands placed tightly over her mouth. She squirmed as their duel gaze landed on her. Sunset didn’t have to look back to tell Rarity was just as confused by this revelation as she was.

Sunset took a step towards the weeping girl, noting that her sobs became more intense the closer she got.

“H-hello?” she asked cautiously

Pulling the hands from her mouth, the girl quickly spat out, “I let you in, now go! You said you’d go, you said that!”

Sunset’s mouth hung ajar, with confusion being an understatement. This was the girl they’d talked to through the door? This was one of the sirens that attacked her and CHS? Physically it was definitely the same girl, but Sunset hadn’t seen a siren act like anything less than a queen, much less a crying baby.

Sunset looked back at Rarity, who too was staring at the girl in shock and confusion. As the seconds ticked along and neither Sunset nor Rarity made to move, the girl began to shake.

“Ahh…” escaped Sunset’s mouth, “–your name is Sonata, right?”

An inaudible mumble came from beneath the girl’s hands.

Sunset shook her head.

“I’m sorry, I… what?”

Pulling her hands away from her mouth again, the girl mumbled, “Y-yeah.”

Sunset offered an awkward nod.

“W-Well, erm, Sonata. It’s nice to meet you, er... again. Properly, this time, I mean,” she extended out her hand.

The hand went unshaken, which she was hardly surprised by. She could feel both Sonata and Rarity staring at her with “really…?” expressions.

“So… Sonata… Are you here on your own?”

Sonata looked around anxiously, as if she was unsure herself. She gave another nod.

“Where are your…” Sunset began.

Friends?

Sisters?

... Parents?

Sunset had no idea what relationship the three shared.

“…the… other two?” she asked.

Sonata had completely broken eye contact and was watching Sunset’s feet. She gave her answer between quick gasps of breath. “They… they aren’t here. P-please j-just go… before they c-come back…”

“Well, we, er…” words failed Sunset as she found herself unable to finish the sentence. She had no idea where she was going with it; she felt completely alienated. Her mind had drawn a total blank. She’d expected a lot of things as they were making their way to the apartment: resistance, hostility, violence, she even hoped maybe forgiveness, but… never did the scenario before her cross her mind.

The way Sonata watched her, Sunset could see the fear in her eyes. From the second she’d revealed her identity, the girl had been absolutely terrified of her. Why? Even if Sunset had come seeking revenge, she wasn’t exactly intimidating or tough. She’d never displayed any hostility to the Dazzlings, so why would she be getting that reaction? Is that what all the sirens were doing last time she and her friends had turned up? Were they all scared of her? She was one girl against three, and they’d already proven they could easily beat her in a fight. So what had she done to make Sonata so scared of her?

“…Are you… okay?”

Sonata’s crying continued as she shuffled around uncomfortably. Her eyes had started flicking between Sunset’s shoes and the door.

“P-please just go. You can’t be here.”

Sunset took another, smaller step towards the girl. She offered out her open palm, much like one would to a stray cat they hoped to pet. It did nothing to ease Sonata’s panic.

“Why can’t I be here?” Sunset asked gently. “What’s wrong?”

Sonata just aggressively shook her head, screwing her eyes up tight and covering her mouth again.

“You really have nerve, you know,” an aggressive voice spat.

The hairs on Sunset’s neck stood on end.

She leaped round, expecting to see the two other sirens coming for her. She dreaded to think what they’d see, walking in on a scene like this. They’d think Sunset was attacking their friend, and that would give them an all new motive to hate her. And it would be even worse than the last time, as she was trapped in their apartment with no escape. Rarity wasn’t much of a fighter; she doubted even the two of them working together would be much of a match for the three girls all at once.

But Sunset didn’t see the other two. A cold wave of relief washed over her, a relief that was then dampened when she where the voice had come from.

Rarity stood with her hands on her hips and her ‘Rainbow Dash has misbehaved’ glare directed right at Sonata.

“I can’t believe it, after all you’ve done, after enslaving our entire school, after nearly killing Sunset, she stands in front of you offering her kindness and you want her to leave?!” she snapped.

Sunset opened her mouth to retort but Rarity simply shouted louder.

“Do you have any idea how lucky you are!? Any other person, any. other. person. would have left you to rot here! Anyone else would have called the police after you brutally attacked them! Anybody else, and you wouldn’t have gotten away with what you did!”

She pointed an aggressive finger at the girl. “But not only did you get away with it, you were lucky enough to pick on the one person in the entire world who is kind and sweet enough that she actually cares about her attackers! She wants to help you! Anybody else would want you in jail! She wants to help you, and not only do you spit in her face by destroying her peace offering, now you won’t even SPEAK to her!?”

Sonata had openly begun shaking, her breaths coming in wretched sobs as she tried to cover her face with her hands. Rarity did not seemed phased.

“You should be on your knees, begging her for forgiveness. Do you have any idea what you did to her!? I’m telling you right now, I’m apparently the most generous one out of all of us and I wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire,” she spat the last word out like a bullet.

“Rarity!” Sunset jumped in. “You don’t nee-“

“I’M SORRY!” Sonata’s words came so loud they caused Sunset to physically flinch. “I- I- I- I TRIED TO MAKE THEM S-STOP SOONER! I TRIED BUTTHEYWOULDN’TLISTEN AND I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING TO YOU I PROMISE, I TRIED TO MAKE THEM STOP. I- I- I- I- DIDN’T T-T-T-THINK THEY WOULD HURT YOU SO MUCH. WHEN I SAW WHAT THEY WERE DOINGITRIEDTOSTOPTHEM.”

Sonata clenched her fists tightly by her sides, allowing the built up tears to come streaming down her face. Sunset took a step back, alarmed by her sudden outburst.

“W-what?”

“A-ADAGIO AND A-ARIA! I TRIED TO MAKE THEM STOP HURTING YOU S-SOONER BUT THEY DIDN’T LISTEN! A-AND I DIDN’T LAY A FINGER ON YOU – I NEVER EVER WOULD! I KN-know I’m evil a-a we make people feel bad b-but… but… I’m not like that! I’m n-not like that and I tried to make them stop, I really did! I didn’t want to hurt anybody,” her voice croaked through the tears.

“T-then why are you so scared of us?” Sunset’s confusion was not masked in her voice.

“Because y-you’re the bad guys!” Sonata pointed an accusing hand at them. “You took our magic away! We lost everything! We hate you and if they see me talking to you they’ll h-h-hate me as well!”

“We are not the bad guys,” Rarity retorted.

Sunset snapped back around, holding up a hand to silence her friend.

“Rarity, I’ve got this, thank you,” she tried in least patronizing voice.

She turned back to Sonata. As Sunset recalled, it had only been two people laying into her on that night. And it was the introduction of a third that had finally caused the first two to cease attacking her. She had made them stop… did that mean she was in the clear?

One by one, conflicting feelings began to cloud Sunset’s head.

Sonata still did her part in taking over the school, even if Adagio was the one calling the shots.

But if she was just taking orders, that made Sonata less of a villain than even Sunset had been... She'd been allowed her reformation, surely Sonata deserved her own?

No, taking orders wasn’t an excuse, she still had the chance to stop, to make the others realize they were wrong. She even admitted she was evil; just because she could cry didn't mean she couldn’t still be the bad guy.

But if that were true, why did Sunset feel like the bad guy at that moment?

Settling her thoughts on the last thing Sonata said, Sunset finally found her words.

“Do you hate me?”

After her outburst, Sonata’s jagged breaths had begun to slow. Her fists were still clenched but her panic had dampened down into a tired weep. She aggressively brushed away at her soaking cheeks with the sleeve of her over-sized hoodie, looking up at Sunset once more.

“What?” the confusion was obvious in her voice.

“You just said you all hate me, because I took your powers away. If you all hate me, why did you stop them attacking me?”

Sonata began slowly swaying from side to side, as if hoping to spot the answer somewhere else in the room. She watched the floor.

“I… I don’t know…” she gave a pause, “you didn’t deserve that… I just, I hate… I hate… what’s happened. And you caused it.”

Sunset could feel she was getting somewhere and decided to tug at the thread.

“What has happened?” Sunset gestured to the room around her. “How did you girls end up like this?”

Sonata continued fiddling with the ends of her sleeves as she watched the floor.

“W-we ran out of money, the only place we could find food was in the trash, and that’s crappy because the food’s gone all cold and gooey… I-I’m so hungry, all the time. And it gets cold. Really, really cold. We steal from people’s pockets when they aren’t looking so Adagio can pay rent, b-but we can never get enough to afford heating or electricity s-so we have to huddle together really close at night to stay warm,” Sonata seemed to mull what she said over in her head before continuing with, ”which is usually okay… but… Aria hasn’t showered in a long time so it’s really difficult to get to sleep with the smell.”

Sunset suppressed a smirk and nodded, listening. Having got the chance to open up (albeit forcefully, thanks to Rarity) Sonata seemed to have started to calm down.

“And Adagio has this really bad rash on her neck and she keeps scratching and that makes it worse and we’ve told her to stop but… she won’t. She and Aria are both just really upset all the time now and…” she fought to hold back more tears, “I’ve tried making them feel better but I can’t and now… now I don’t even want to make them feel better anymore I just… I just want this all to stop a-and… and…”

Sonata slowly ran out of words. Sunset could definitely see why she’d mistaken her for a child earlier. Everything from the way she spoke to the way she held herself was not natural for somebody of her age. She’d stopped crying now, having run herself dry, and instead had taken to lightly drawing circles on the floor with the tip of her shoe. Sunset couldn’t tell if Sonata was doing that to ignore them or if she’d just got distracted.

Sunset did the only thing she knew would console a child. She stepped forward, grabbing the girl by the sleeve and pulling her tightly into a hug. Sonata seized up instantly, but after a few moments she relaxed, sensing she was in no danger and allowing her head to drop onto Sunset’s shoulder. So many times Sunset had imagined what it would be like to see the sirens again. Each time she’d wonder, her heart would be filled with fear, with anxieties, which would drive her to the point of panic. But she didn’t feel panic. She didn’t feel anxiety or fear. As she held her crying attacker in her arms, Sunset felt hope.

Although she’d stopped crying, Sunset could still feel Sonata’s heavy panting against her chest.

“It’s okay. We can help you,” she said gently.

Sonata swallowed.

“H-how?”

Sunset looked over to the window, admiring the sunlight again as it shone through the holes in the curtains.

“Do you still have my number?”

Sunset felt Sonata shake her head.

“Okay… I’ll write it down for you,” Sunset rubbed her back. “When you’re ready, talk to me. Nobody deserves to live this kind of life… especially not around Christmas. I promise, I can help. I can help all of you.”

Sunset pulled back from Sonata and looked back at Rarity. There her friend stood, arms crossed and smugly grinning, as if that had been her plan all along.

Something clicked in Sunset’s head. A wave of déjà vu washed over her.

She turned back to Sonata.

“We’ll leave you alone… if that’s what you really want. But you’ll have my number, and I promise you, Sonata, you can come back from this. All three of you can.”

Sonata blinked, wiping away more tears from her eyes.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked quietly.

Sunset offered her a smile.

“Because…” she swallowed. “No matter how hard it gets, you can always come back from it. So long as you have hope. Your past is not today."

Chapter Eleven: The Shadows By Which We Recognize The Light

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Sunset’s eyes fluttered open. There was no sudden event that caused her to spasm awake. She felt no panic; it was a peaceful awakening. No bad dreams. As her vision took focus, the familiar sight of her room welcomed her. Sunlight came in through the gaps in the curtain, illuminating her room.

Smiling, Sunset pushed away her covers. The heating in her apartment was on a timer, so the air was toasty and warm by the time she woke up. It made for a very pleasant rise, and it especially helped now they were getting deep into winter. Sitting up, her feet traced their way along her bedroom carpet and into her purple slippers.

Sunset stood up and cracked her back, resulting in a series of satisfying pops, then took her gown off the handle of her wardrobe and draped it across herself. She made her way over to her bedroom window and tugged open the curtains.

Despite the snowy blanket that covered the city, the sun above Canterlot shone brightly in the sky. She could spy the life occurring on the street below: a group of playing kids dragging their sledges behind them through the snow, cars carefully driving along the gritted road and tightly wrapped up couples walking arm in arm down the side walk. It was a peaceful scene, almost like something you’d see on the front of a Christmas card.

She let out a sigh and smiled. Oh, how she had learned to treasure a good night’s sleep.

Each sleep had been getting easier and easier since she’d gone to see the Dazzlings, and now she had achieved a state of bliss. Not only had her life returned to normal, but she felt better than ever. She’d look forward to waking up in the morning, no longer taking her life for granted. She appreciated everything and everyone she had, because she’d come so close to having it all snatched away from her. She didn’t know if her life really had got better or if she’d just learned to appreciate the little things, and she didn’t exactly care, because either way Sunset was high on life.

She looked down at the large plastic beatbox she had positioned under her window. It had been a while since she’d used her stereo… the way things had been going recently she’d almost forgot she had one.

“Ehh… what the hay?” she asked aloud, pressing the power button on it. After a few moments a quiet drumming started, and Sunset turned up the volume so it would be audible throughout her flat.

Moving her body in rhythm with the music, Sunset lightly danced her way out of her bedroom and into the bathroom. As she pushed the bathroom door to, she allowed her mind to wander back to the day before.

It had gone much better than she’d expected with Sonata. Much better. Sunset really felt like she’d got through to her. And if she could convince one of the sirens, then Sunset and her friends could convince the rest. It wouldn’t surprise her if she got a call later this evening from all three of them wanting to meet up.

It could work. It really could work. If she could help reform the sirens like her friends did with her, it would really bring her circle to a close. The student would become the master, Princess Twilight would be so proud. Sunset felt so full of hope now, the depression of two weeks ago had never felt further away. Not only had she bounced back, she’d bounced back even happier than before.

Exiting the bathroom, Sunset wiggled her hips to match the beat of the drums. She made her way into the kitchen and set about making her breakfast. Jelly sandwich and orange juice: her favorite.

She was scheduled in to have her final check up and bandage taken off on the 23rd, which was little over a week away now. Not that it mattered now; her breathing no longer felt restricted and all of her bruises had healed up, so Sunset felt right as rain again. But it was hospital rules that she could only take her bandage off to shower, as a conversation with Nurse Redheart over the phone had cleared up. On the 23rd she’d be classed as ‘officially’ healed and would be taken off the hospital’s books, which was a pressure she felt thankful for having removed from her shoulders.

She’d definitely have to head back down to the hospital with some chocolates for Redheart or something, as both a Christmas and a thank you present.

The thought of presents made Sunset moan out loud.

It was less than two weeks away from Christmas and she had yet to get her friends anything. She’d been a little distracted as of late, so she didn’t really hold herself accountable – as she was sure her friends wouldn’t – but still... Her friends deserved far more than she could afford for them on a regular day, never mind after all they had done for her recently. Even if she only got them something small, she had to get them all something.

Her friends weren’t particularly difficult to shop for: for Pinkie Pie something sugary, Rainbow Dash something sports-y, Rarity something fancy, Fluttershy something furry, Twilight something science-y and Applejack something… apple-y?

But she’d also have to get Princess Twilight something… and there wasn’t much that an actual Princess of a nation needed. What was there that Sunset could get her that she couldn’t just ask a Royal Guard to whip up? Maybe she could make her something?

‘Maybe a trip to Equestria isn’t entirely off the table after all…’ an inner voice spoke to her.

She shook her head against the idea.

‘Shut up, we’ve discussed this,’ she told herself off.

‘Just saying, it would really make her Christmas…’

‘She doesn’t even celebrate Christmas.’

‘Hearths Warming Eve then, don’t get prissy with me.’

Sunset was about to answer herself but came up short.

Life had taken such a good turn recently, maybe she shouldn’t cross going back to Equestria off the books? She was on a roll, so why stop now? She didn’t expect her winning streak to last forever, and she’d been finding excuses to avoid going back ever since her reformation so, maybe this was the best time? True, there was still all the legalities that needed to be sorted out with Celestia… But Twilight had been nagging at her to come visit for a while now, surely she’d considered that and would already have a defense prepared?

It was a tall order, Sunset knew, but maybe she shouldn’t be as hasty to cross it off as an option as she was being. If it could work out, a whole new world would be opened up to her. Literally! She could see her family again: her parents, her brother, and even her old mentor.

The last thought came in more daunting than she’d expected, and suddenly Sunset didn’t feel as confident about the idea.

‘Something to think about, at least,’ she told herself.

A knock came at the front door just as she placed her carton of orange juice back in the fridge, and her head snapped in its direction.

A moment of confusion quickly passed before Sunset realized who it most likely was. A week ago during one of her… lesser moments, she’d ordered a weight kit off eStayble. Her mentality had been that if she worked out and made herself big and beefy, then nobody could hurt her again. It wasn’t a terrible idea, but a slight overreaction, as physical intimation was never really Sunset’s style. But she’d decided getting fit anyway was a good idea elected not to cancel her order.

Sunset grooved her way out of the kitchen and over to the front door, still moving in rhythm with her music. But as she approached, she unknowingly ignored all of the obvious warning signs.

The clocks in the kitchen and on her phone both read 2:04pm.

In other words, too late for mail call.

The small pile of letters at the foot of her door signaled that the mail had already been while she was asleep.

But she didn’t look down.

Even the quick glance through the peephole, which would have revealed all, she continued past, lost instead in her own little world.

Sunset unlocked the door and swung it open, greeting the mail man with a bright smile.

But it wasn’t the mail man.

Instead she stared straight into a pair of magenta eyes.

All of a sudden Sunset’s world skidded to a sudden and rough halt. Her senses froze over and her body turned to static. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t even think. All she could do was stare deep into those glaring eyes, frozen.

Her lungs wheezed as the air was pulled from her body, but it felt more like her soul was being drained out through the top of her head. She lost the feeling in her upper arms, as though her blood itself was trying to retreat away from the eyes. Her jaw twitched, as Sunset both tried to suck in her escaping breath and search for any words that would help her situation. Could she taste pennies?

By the time she finally regained control of her body, it was too late.

She threw her entire weight forwards into the door, trying to force it shut, but the door fought back with a far greater force, and slammed back into her.

PHWACK!

The wooden door collided with Sunset’s head and forced her backwards. As she instinctively brought her hand up to the red area on her face, black spots began to cloud her vision. She was overwhelmed by the combined mixture of shock and injury, which caused her to stumble backwards over her own feet. Sunset hit the deck bottom first, allowing gravity to go to town on her skull, slamming it into the floor with full force. The collision forced out a noise, which presented itself as mixed gasp of shock and pain.

Adrenaline pumping through her veins and her heart beating a thousand times a minute, the stun from the impact lasted a mere second before her head shot up again to scan the room for the danger she knew was present. She locked eyes with it.

Adagio Dazzle stood in her doorway, staring her down, a vessel of pure rage. Another wave of fear washed over Sunset as she felt her goose bumps trying to force themselves free, as if they themselves were trying to escape the deadly gaze. She kicked at the ground furiously, trying to crawl backwards away from the intruder. Adagio descended upon her as a predator would its prey. Within seconds she was standing over Sunset and grabbing her by her pajama shirt. Despite Sunset’s struggles, Adagio easily hoisted her up and slammed her backwards against the wall.

It was only now Sunset caught sight of the other two sirens. Aria was stood a few feet behind Adagio, staring her down with a similar expression of anger, while Sonata lingered back in the doorway. The tightening of the grip on her pajamas dragged her eyes back to Adagio’s.

So close that their noses were almost touching, Sunset could feel Adagio’s hot breath against her face. Her face was flushed with fury and her eyes gave off a death stare to rival a tiger’s. Sunset’s mouth dropped open with little more than a whimper.

“How dare you?!” Adagio shouted, though she could have very well spoken it with their proximity making her sound louder.

Sunset lifted her hands up to try and free herself, and felt a light electric shock as her hands locked around Adagio’s fist. A pathetic tugging was all she could manage in her state, and it did nothing but make her feel even more helpless as Adagio’s hands didn’t budge.

“You… stay… away… from us.” Adagio seethed through her teeth. “Or I swear to whatever god you believe in… next time we won’t stop.”

'Won't stop' what? I don't... oh.

Those implications made the blood drain from her face. The cheerful music continuing to play in the background almost seemed to mock her current situation.

“B-b-b-b-but–” she forced out.

She was silenced by Adagio forcing fists into her chest, slamming her harder back against the wall.

“You stay away from me. And you stay away from my sisters.”

The terror she felt during her attack was flooding back to her, all her work to banish it ruined by finding herself suddenly helpless again. Tears began to well up in her eyes as she fought for control of her words.

“If we ever see or hear from you… or any of your friends… ever again… you’ll regret the day you dared to cross into this world.”

Her heartbeat loud in her ears, Sunset desperately brought up anything she could to defend herself.

“B-b-but, S-Sonata…” she whimpered.

The mention of her sister’s name caused Adagio’s temper to flare. Her teeth bared and the grip on Sunset’s pyjamas tightened. Adagio forced her shaking fists into Sunset’s neck, causing the heartbeat in her ears to swell to a primal thumping.

“Shut… up,” Adagio spat.

Sunset’s eyes shot over to the blue girl, who still stood a good meter behind the scene before her. Sonata stood still, her eyes on the floor, and made no attempt to help.

“B-but she–” Sunset tried again.

“Shut up!” Adagio slammed her back against the door frame, silencing her.

It was now that Adagio’s mood faltered. It was only subtle, but her brow relaxed and her scowl lessened. If it wasn’t for their close proximity Sunset doubted she’d have noticed it at all.

“Sonata’s… Sonata’s….” Adagio groaned, “… She’s not like us.”

Sunset frowned, not understanding, which just seemed to reignite Adagio’s anger.

“She’s not… It doesn’t matter, stay away from her,” she growled.

Questions clouded Sunset’s mind, but none important enough to make her speak out of turn again. She nodded silently.

With that, Adagio released her grip and Sunset dropped unceremoniously to the floor. As her body slumped against the wall, the black and white spots returned to her vision, and she fought to keep her head facing in the right direction.

Adagio continued to stare down at her for a few seconds, causing Sunset’s skin to crawl.

“Leave us alone. We don’t want your help.”

With that, Adagio made her exit. Pulling her knees up to her chest, Sunset tried to hide behind herself as much as she could. The footsteps of her attackers leaving was a distant sound, barely audible under tears, rapid breaths and pounding heartbeat.

“Wha–” Sunset tried to get out.

A fist collided with her face.

Her body jolted at the memory. She hadn’t thought about that in over a week. She’d got better.

The taste of pennies was churning her stomach.

“AUUUGGH!” Sunset wheezed as another fist hit her stomach.

Sunset’s breath got caught in her throat. Her sobs became chokes. She couldn’t breathe.

Adagio’s visit hit her like a knife to the heart; her emotional scars had been torn wide open, spewing out her long-hidden fears and anxieties.

She was back in that alleyway.

Using all the power she could muster, she was able to claw her way to her phone. The dialing tone was barely audible under her rough breaths.

All the while, the unfittingly cheerful music continued to play throughout her flat.


The sun had set, which left the familiar, messy room in near-darkness. The only light leaked in under the door from the hallway outside. The door violently swung open as Adagio marched in.

“I hate her. I hate her, hate her, hate her, hate her, hate her!”

Carrying on her rant, Adagio lunged forward and kicked a stool out from beneath the makeup mirror, launching it across the room and into the wall.

Aria and Sonata entered the room slowly behind.

“Oi, watch it!” Aria snapped at her.

Adagio spun around.

“What!?”

“You’re losing it Adagio, chill!” Aria marched past her to pick up the fallen stool.

Adagio’s glare seared into Aria’s back.

“Oh, shut up!” she hissed.

Aria span around and pointed an accusing finger at Adagio. “You can’t tell me to shut up after what you just pulled!”

“And what did I just pull?”

Aria threw her arms up in the air. “That was a STUPID idea! She knows exactly where we live and now has every reason to go the cops! Heck, we’re lucky she didn’t do it the first time, but now!? They’re probably on their way here!”

“What should I have done instead?!”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe ANYTHING but that?!”

“You didn’t try to stop me, did you?!”

“I COULD BARELY KEEP UP WITH YOU!”

“WELL IF YOU’RE SO ON HER SIDE, MAYBE YOU SHOULD GO SCROUNGE OFF HER INSTEAD!”

“I’M NOT ON HER SIDE, ADAGIO, I’M ON OUR SIDE. AND I DON’T WANT US TO GO TO PRISON! IT WAS A STUPID IDEA JUMPING HER IN THE FIRST PLACE.”

“MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE JOINED IN THEN.”

“MAYBE I SHOULDN’T HAVE.”

Another kick from Adagio sent a bedside table crashing into the wall.

“SHE STOLE OUR MAGIC! SHE MADE OUR LIVES THIS WAY, SHE’S THE REASON WE GET OUR DINNER OUT OF GARBAGE! HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT?”

Aria put her hands to her temple and closed her eyes.

“I don’t care about her, Adagio! I hate her for what she did, but I care more about us,” Aria pointed internally. “If we have to trade revenge for being safe, for being alive, then fine. I was okay with it the first time… heck, I loved beating that loser to a pulp, but you went too far! We need to leave, right now.”

Adagio planted her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow. “And go where?”

“Maybe you should have thought about that earlier.”

Adagio growled. “I can’t believe you.”

As Aria began gathering the few scraps of personal artifacts they had around the apartment, Adagio turned her head to Sonata.

Their youngest remained in the doorway, her hands grasped tightly over her mouth and tears freely flowing. She was shaking.

“You got anything to say?” Adagio asked.

Sonata’s fearful eyes locked with hers. She shook her head briefly before taking off into a run down the corridor.

“Sonata!” Adagio shouted.

“Well done,” Aria scowled her.

Aria dropped what she was doing to go after Sonata, but not before Adagio’s arm in the doorway stopped her.

“Aria... I did it for us,” Adagio's voice was softer.

Aria shook her head.

“You did it for yourself.”

Swinging under Adagio’s arm, Aria took off after Sonata.


“Wha–”

Face.

Gut.

Pennies.

Gut.

“Please… sto–”

Face.

Face.

Blood.

Sunset let out a breath.

Again and again her attack replayed. The emotions she thought she’d buried, the memories she’d repressed, they circled her head like a trio of vultures.

Sunset was a mess. Her eyes and nose were red from crying, and her sweat had sealed her pyjamas to her skin. She lay under her covers in the foetal position, tissues littering her room and baseball bat beside her. She was blisteringly hot, but didn’t want to trade her security for fresh air. She’d only stopped crying because she’d run out of tears.

Now she lay staring into the darkness, revisiting well-traveled mental routes. She hadn’t missed this. She hadn’t missed it one bit. She had just finally got out of the woods and now she was right back there again.

They were in her house.

How did they even find her house?

Sunset shivered.

She knew she was safe. But she didn’t feel it. After their visit Sunset had called Rarity, who had instantly rushed over and was currently asleep on her sofa. Sunset had asked her, begged her, not to leave. She hated herself for doing it, for being so helpless, but she didn’t want to be left alone. It’s not like she even had to ask, she knew Rarity would offer anyway, but she didn’t want to risk it. She was at the bottom of the barrel. Despite the foot of duvet over her, Rarity in the living room and the baseball bat beside her, Sunset still felt exposed.

PHWACK!

The door collided with Sunset’s head. She hit the floor.

“Gah!”

She was thrown against the wall.

“How dare you!”

“You… stay… away… from us. Or I swear to whatever god you believe in… next time we won’t stop.”

“B-b-b-b-but-“

She was slammed harder against the wall.

“You stay away from me. And you stay away from my sisters.”

Sunset choked on another breath.

She couldn’t do this again. She couldn’t. She’d give anything not to. She wasn’t strong enou–

PING

Sunset stiffened at the noise, but then relaxed again when she recognized it as her text alert. After a strong sniff, Sunset pulled herself up and plucked her cell phone off her bedside table. Squinting against the harsh light, she read her text message.

Hey, are you okay?

Sunset frowned. It was from an unknown number, one that Sunset didn’t recognize. Maybe one of her friends had got a new phone? Sunset checked the clock. If it was one of her friends with a new number, why were they messaging her at 3 a.m?

Shifting to a better position, Sunset typed her response.

Who is this?

Sunset watched the phone, and it wasn’t long before a response came.

It’s Sonata.

The blood drained from Sunset’s face. She reread the response, trying to find some way she could have misread it. Her heartbeat began to rise and she found herself falling back down that dark hole.

Please don’t text me.

With that Sunset dropped her phone back down onto the counter and turned over in bed, trying to steady her breathing.

PING

Sunset gave a disappointed sigh. Her curiosity was matching her anxiety, and she rolled back over again.

I tried to stop Adagio, I’m so sorry.

‘Not sorry enough to stop her breaking into my flat’, Sunset thought.

She almost typed that as her response, but, fearing she’d get another reply, decided against it. What else could she say to that, though? If anything?

As Sunset put her fingers to the keypad, another reply came through.

They think I can’t take care of myself, but I can. I don’t like living this way anymore and I want it to change. I only told them you came round because I thought I could convince them to trust you.

That revelation piqued her interest.

The way Sonata was talking was very different to how she had been when Sunset and Rarity had seen her. She was less like a frightened child and more like a businessman NOW, holding nothing back and laying it all on the table. Although Sunset had to remember she could be only reading it that way, as she couldn’t hear Sonata’s tone over text.

Again she couldn’t decide what to say. Sonata’s response had definitely made her think.

On the night of her attack there were only two people attacking her, and if her memory served correctly, Sonata had been the one to eventually drag them off. And today, although Sonata didn’t do anything to help, she had never laid a finger on Sunset. Come to think of it, Sonata had never shown any hostility. That didn’t by any means make her trustworthy, but it was something to be noted.

She waited on the off chance another message would come through, but when it didn’t she typed her response.

Do you trust me?

The response was quick.

I don’t have a choice; we’re going to die if we carry on this way. And you haven’t given me a reason not to.

That rang true with the speech Sunset had given outside of their door; she was glad somebody listened. But, Sonata telling her everything she wanted to hear didn’t mean anything for her friends.

Do you think your sisters will?

I know they hurt you and I’m so sorry Sunset. I really did try to stop them, please believe me.

After a moment, a second reply came.

I never wanted to hurt anybody. I've always done what I've had to to survive. And right now that means trusting with you.

Sunset was conflicted. On one hand, this was everything she’d wanted to hear from the sirens. On the other, her gut instincts warned her of the danger. Just because she had never seen Sonata with any malicious intentions didn’t mean she didn’t have any. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as Celestia had once taught her.

How do I know I can trust you?

The response didn’t come immediately. Sunset could almost feel Sonata chalking it over in her head, wondering how to word it.

You don’t, but I’m desperate.

Sunset could feel the strain in her message.

She placed her phone down on her chest to look up at the ceiling.

She knew she couldn’t go through this again. Last time it took her two weeks to begin feeling safe in her own house, and now she didn’t even have that. If she were to continue along this path then she’d end up having to find herself a permanent solution, one which she had dared mulling over more than once.

If there is any chance take a different path, she had to take it. She’d be careful, and she had her friends to protect her. The dangers were obvious to her, but she was strong; she wouldn’t go through this again.

There was a reason they called it a leap of faith.

Picking her cell back up, Sunset typed her response.

Do you want to come to mine tomorrow? Just you, and we can talk about things.

Seeing those words on her screen churned her stomach, but Sunset pushed past the feeling and hit send.

Will your friends be there?

It made sense that Sonata didn’t trust her. Sunset had every reason to want to take revenge on her and the other Dazzlings. As much as the idea of luring her into an ambush secretly appealed to her she-demon, Sunset wouldn’t dream of it.

But then again…

Sonata’s message could easily be interpreted as trying to get her alone for her own ambush.

Her stomach churned again.

If you promise you’ll be alone, I promise I will be too.

The longest seconds of Sunset’s life ticked over before her reply came.

Then I’d like that.

Sunset nodded, reassuring herself of her idea.

Okay, I’ll see you then. Midday – everybody’s in school then.

Thank you, Sunset Shimmer.

With that, Sunset placed her phone back down and rolled over, preparing for a night of scattered nightmares and a lot of over-thinking.

Chapter Twelve: The Leap

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“And you’re sure you’re okay with me leaving you?”

Sunset turned back to her friend, who was already half way out of the door.

“I’ll be fine on my own. I’ve done this before and I know I can call you guys if I need to.”

Rarity huffed.

“Oh, but last night you were so… forgive me, darling, I know you hate it, but I just really don’t feel comfortable leaving you on your own after that,” she pouted. “And it’s our last week before the Christmas holidays, are you sure you don’t want to come in to see everyone?”

Sunset smiled and shook her head.

“I know what I need to do. This time I know what I need to get better.”

“And that’s what?”

Sunset shrugged and rubbed her arm.

“It’s… time for me to face my demons, I guess.”

Rarity gave a small smile.

“Dramatic… I like it.”

She and Sunset shared a chuckle.

Rarity stepped forward and pulled Sunset into a hug. Sunset returned it, noticing her friend was holding her tighter than usual.

“I’m really proud of you, Sunset. I’m so sorry about all of this.”

Sunset smiled.

“Thank you Rarity, you’ve really helped me recently.”

After a second longer the girl released her, retrieved her school bag off the floor and returned to her position at the front door.

“I’ll come check on you after school if you want?”

Sunset nodded, “I’d like that.”

With that, Rarity left, pulling the door too behind her and leaving Sunset alone in the flat.

She had elected against telling her the plan. She knew that she should have, and she would regret not doing so. But right now… Sunset was struggling to convince herself it was a good idea, never mind somebody as protective as Rarity. There was no chance she would have approved, much less let her do it on her own.

She glanced at the kitchen clock. 8:32 a.m.

That gave her roughly four hours to prepare.

Four hours.

She licked her lip nervously, eyes still on the clock.

‘Four hours.’


The first thing she’d done was tidy the place. Even though she’d mentally recovered from her depression, her apartment hadn’t been so lucky. Piles of books, unwashed dishes and dirty clothes had become commonplace. They were the first thing to go, and in their place were polished surfaces, freshly-vacuumed carpets and pine-scented air freshener.

The second thing was to get dressed. She didn’t want anything fancy, but thought pajamas would have been a little too casual. Which meant casual jeans and a dark purple top; nice and simple.

Third was to open as many curtains as possible. It was unusual her apartment being so brightly lit, it left no shadow with a place to hide, and, if anything, the snow outside helped reflect the brightness back inside. She wanted the room to represent her intentions… that, and she didn’t want to give anything the chance to sneak up on her.

As she tugged open the living room curtains, Sunset paused.

Déjà vu set in and a swelling of anxiety washed over her. Her eyes scanned the street below. Cars in traffic, tightly wrapped-up pensioners, the odd runaway newspaper. Nothing scary, yet, not a week ago, opening those same curtains had sent her spiraling into a panic attack.

‘Nothing scary,’ she repeated.

Sunset swallowed hard and continued her preparation.

The fourth thing she wanted ready was some snacks. First impressions were everything, after all, and she wanted her guest to feel welcome. She emptied out a bag of chips into a bowl and placed it in the center of her coffee table.

‘What if she doesn’t like chips?’ occurred to her.

‘Good point.’

Sunset put out a bowl of nuts as well, just to be sure.

‘What if she doesn’t like nuts?’ another voice spoke to her.

Sunset stopped and took a deep, slow breath.

She wasn’t going to let herself over-think it. She knew what over-thinking did to her.

She was okay. She was calm, cool and collected. She was perfectly in control.

The silence hung heavy in her apartment, she noticed. She’d debated putting some music on, but she wanted to keep her ears peeled for the door. Which left her with just her thoughts to keep her company.

Sunset sat down.

The living room was sparkling clean and a place had been set out for both herself and her guest to sit. The place was ready, and a glance at the clock told her she wouldn’t be waiting long before her company arrived either.

The butterflies in her stomach had not gone unnoticed, but she did her best to tame them. She didn’t need to feel nervous. She’s got this. She’d come a long way. Since waking up scared and alone with just Nurse Redheart to keep her company, to willingly inviting one of them into her apartment… At risk of blowing her own horn, Sunset was proud of herself.

This path she’d taken had been a rough one. She believed what she had said to the Dazzlings the night she’d appeared at their door: she did blame herself for not extending her hand to them the way Twilight and her friends had done for her. But it was time to make up for that. She wouldn't leave them alone again.

For so long recently Sunset had been focusing on her attack, reliving the moments again and again in her head, haunted by them. But she was past that now. Now was the time to look towards the future, and embrace the new world that awaited her. She didn’t know how this meeting was going to go, but she was ready to approach it with a smile on her face and the willingness to forgive, forget and grow.

‘Forgive, forget, grow… I like that.’

This revelation made her smile. But that smile only lasted a second, before slowly draining from her face.

‘Stop it.’

Sunset swallowed.

‘You’re doing it again.’

Sunset huffed.

‘You’re over-thinking. Don’t let yourself, you’ve got this.’

Despite her resistances, Sunset could feel her happy mood draining away. New thoughts began to cloud her head.

‘Absence of proof is not proof of absence.’

‘It’s not a trick.’

‘How do you know? What evidence do you have she’s telling the truth?’

‘If I don’t trust her I can’t move forward.’

‘That’s not an answer.’

Sunset jumped to her feet and began pacing.

‘It’s not a trick. She’s never harmed me before and I have no reason to suspect her now.’

‘You have no idea who she is, you have no reason to trust her.’

‘It’s too late now anyway, she will be here any minute.’

‘You can be prepared.’

‘How?’

Slowly Sunset’s gaze made its way to her corridor door.

Her doubts had a point. What if she was begin too optimistic? She was inviting a complete stranger into her house, one who had close ties to people who have done her a great deal of harm. There was nothing wrong with being hopeful, but there was a line between that and careless.

Gritting her teeth, Sunset quickly jogged into her bedroom. She returned a moment later, holding something tightly in her hands.

The baseball bat.

‘A precautionary, nothing more. Just in case,’ she told herself.

Sunset bent over to tuck the baseball bat down the side of her armchair.

KNOCK
KNOCK

Sunset froze mid action.

A whitewash drained over her. This was really happening. Too late to back out now.

Sunset shook her head. She placed the bat hidden away from view and made her way into the hallway. A quick check through the peep hole confirmed her visitor was not only who she thought it was, but that she was on her own.

As her hand inched up to the door handle, Sunset took one last look in the mirror.

Not two weeks ago she’d been looking in the same mirror, bloodied and bruised after her attack, about to let her two friends into her apartment. Now she stood fully healed, prepared to welcome one of those very attackers into her home. Her thoughts from earlier returned.

She really didn’t know the way this was going to go.

If things worked out? Fantastic, no doubt lives could be improved for everybody all around.

If they didn’t? Sunset had her last-minute back up plan, and she had had it up to here with being pushed around. She’d be able to handle it.

Whichever path it was going to take, she was ready to embrace it.

Taking a deep breath, Sunset turned the handle and gently opened the door...

Sonata stood on her doorstep, wearing a similar expression of uncertainty, but with an equally optimistic smile. But that wasn’t all, Sunset noticed. Her eyes were drawn down, where, wrapped tightly around Sonata’s hands she saw…

Sunset smiled.

Her purple scarf.

The End.