Seven Days in Sunny June, Book V: The New Frontier

by Shinzakura

First published

The conclusion of the Seven Days in Sunny June saga! The world has changed, and those within it must cope with the aftermath of what has happened.

The conclusion of the Seven Days in Sunny June saga!

She’s defeated an ancient evil and literally saved all of reality. And due to her death and resurrection, Sunset has now become an alicorn - a literal goddess amongst ponykind. But despite all that, she's still living as a human and that means some very human problems.

Now, as the days wind down towards school and her life (thanks to her grandmother) has become far more different than even she expected, how has her life changed and how will the world before her unfold?

If nothing else, it's a new frontier....

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This has been willed where what is willed must be.

Vancouver, British Columbia

“He’s an artist, a pioneer:
We’ve got to have some music on the new frontier….”

The music of Nightfly came over the speakers of the Dodge Neon as it rolled up on Granville Street. Two well-dressed individuals were in the car, with one of them fidgeting ever so slightly.

“What if they turn us down, Sky?” the woman next to him said nervously. She was dressed in a blouse and skirt, trying to look as natural as possible without looking too ostentatious. She had green hair and in a short, pixyish hairstyle that brought out her yellow eyes. “I hope they won’t.”

“They won’t turn us down, Lo, I promise.” The man had sky-blue and white hair in a short cut, with his gray eyes covered by eyeglasses. “You’ll be great – and we’ve wanted this for the longest time,” he said as he pulled up in front of the New Futures Foundation building. “Plus, they need you.”

“Who needs me?”

Everblue Sky smiled at his wife Lotus Garden as they both got out of the car. “Whoever it is we choose, love. Whoever it is.”

As Sky opened the door for his wife, the receptionist greeted them. “Dr. Sky? Mrs. Garden? Welcome to New Futures. If you’ll come right this way, I’ll have you meet with our main counselor, Dr. Greater North.”

“Sure, lead the way,” Sky said to the woman, giving his wife a comforting look. So far, so good.

Greater North looked across the desk at them. “I must admit this is unusual. While the Government of British Columbia appreciates your desire to foster a child with the intent to adopt, we usually have Canadian families do the fostering.”

Lotus spoke up. “Dr. North, with all due respect, I am Canadian – grew up in Burnaby. And my family has been a fixture in the community for decades.”

“Yes, I’m quite aware; I had to look up your records as part of the process. I am curious, however, how a restauranteur and an American diplomat got together.”

Sky laughed. “College. Lo and I attended a year as exchange students overseas in Paris at the Sorbonne. I was studying economics; she was in the culinary school. We ended up living in the same apartment building and it just clicked. So surprise to both of us when we found out that we were both attending the same university normally as well. We moved in together, then got married when we graduated.”

“And my congratulations to you both; I’m sure that given your individual disciplines, it has not been easy to reconcile your professional lives with your personal ones.”

“You’d be surprised at how many people would jump to hire a classically-trained chef,” Lotus said with a smile, “and it helps as well that my family’s restaurants here in Vancouver are world famous.”

“I will admit that my career in the Foreign Service has presented some challenges for us, but given her own career, she’s been able to make a name for herself in some of the restaurants of some of the finest places in the world.” He put an arm around Lotus. “Lo is probably on speed dial for most of the world’s famous chefs. I doubt many can say that.”

“Indeed. You’re cultured, diverse – Mrs. Garden is of Chinese ethnicity, while I understand you’re Hispanic, Dr. Sky?”

“Half and half. My mother’s Hispanic; my father is typical Midwestern stock – Scandinavian sorts, I guess,” Sky explained.

“Well, that works as well. You both speak a few languages, and you’re well-off. And while we admittedly have never had a foreign adoption before, I’ve spoken to a few people from the Ministry and they are willing to give whatever aid they can. However, due to potential conflicts of interest, the provincial government will not be able to furnish you with the typical stipend we give foster families. I trust that will not be a problem?”

“Not at all,” Lotus answered.

“Also, one last thing: while I know you two asked for a single child, either a boy or a girl, we cannot accommodate that request at this time. However, if you are willing, I have a case that needs urgent placement, and you two look like very qualified candidates.”

Both Sky and Lotus looked at each other with hope, and then turned those eager smiles onto Dr. North. “In for a penny, in for a pound, Doctor,” Sky said, while Lotus merely nodded.

“Good.” He reached into his drawer, pulling out a folder. “About two days ago, Vancouver Police found a pair of people, both in their early twenties, and both apparently Chinese nationals – allegedly they were illegal immigrants, with almost no documentation whatsoever. While that in itself is problematic, it was exacerbated by the fact that they were discovered dead – both of drug overdose. Moreover, they left three girls behind – fraternal triplets, no more than a week old at the most.

“We’ve discussed this with the Chinese consulate, and with what little documents were provided, it seems Beijing cannot find any matches to the deceased. As a result, they concur that the children were likely born here in Vancouver and as a result are Canadian citizens. However, they did request that we settle them with a Chinese-Canadian family if at all possible. And as you point out, Mrs. Garden, you are such a person.”

A curious look came over Lotus’ face. She was more than ready to be a mother, and she’d always wanted more than one child, especially a girl. More than one at once, however, was going to be a challenge. “Sky?”

“I’m okay with this, Lo,” he told her. “Just makes for a bigger family, is all.” He turned to Dr. North. “Would you tell us more, please?”

Dr. North handed them the folder. “As we said before, there was little documentation for the adults – and none for the children. As a result, the police officer who found them named the three.” The adoption counselor chuckled. “He named them Adagio Dazzle, Aria Blaze and Sonata Dusk.”

Sky blinked. “As in The Dazzlings? The 60s girl group?”

“One and the same; I was informed that Officer Blueline is a huge fan, apparently,” he said with a smile. “In any case, there were no indicators of birth order, so we’re assuming age based on naming order. The Ministry has issued birth certificates based on the day that they were found by the police, as they are too young to get a definitive answer via DNA testing.” He pulled picture out of the folder, the image showing a cute-as-a-button newborn with burgundy-colored eyes and a tuft of orange hair that poised to curl. “That would make Adagio here the oldest, followed by Aria and then Sonata.” Two more pictures were produced, and both girls had violet eyes, with Aria having violet hair and Sonata light blue.

Lotus fell in love instantly. “Doctor, when can we meet our girls?” she said, making it clear that she would accept them.

“They will be out of the hospital tomorrow. Given their parents’ deaths, we had to check to see if there were any latent drugs in their system. Sadly, too many children are born addicted to drugs because their mother abused them during pregnancy,” Dr. North said in a sad voice, but then perked up. “We will see that they are well-cared for before we turn over custody, and I can tell you both will give them the finest care afterwards.”

“You can bet we will,” Sky said with confidence.

“You know, Lo, I really hate you,” Lotus’ sister-in-law Twilight Velvet said in jest. “I had a baby the hard way. You’re just being a lazy ass.” Lotus of course knew Velvet was joking, as she’d gone to the child psychologist for advice on adopting when they discovered that Lotus was barren.

“Yeah, well, I remember when you had Shining, and I thought, ‘Naah, no thanks.’ So for you to do it again?”

“Call me a sucker for punishment. Little Twily is just worth it, though, so much so that I’ll probably have another. I will definitely wait until Shiny’s in high school, however. Give some spacing between whale periods.”

“Yeah, well, look at it this time,” Lotus mused. “At least you only have to buy for one. We have to buy for three.”

“That’s certainly going to be a challenge. Are you ready for that?”

“As much as we can be. Sky’s out right now with my father getting two extra cribs and what we need. Mom and my brother are getting the bedroom ready – you won’t believe how much English and Mandarin things my parents have bought. I suspect Mom wants to make them into the next generation of family members ready to take over the business.”

“Is that even going to be possible? I thought you and Sky were getting ready to move to Washington next year?”

“Yes, but we’ll manage. The guys in Sky’s office are already putting together the paperwork so that we can bring them once we move. And the Canadian government says so long as I’m still Canadian – which last time I checked, I was – we’re filling the agreement that the adoption agency made with the Chinese consulate. So we should be good to go there.”

“Well, I think I need to get going. I hear the baby, which means it’s feeding time.”

“Not sure I envy you on that or not, Vel.”

“Hey, at least I have someone to have a pity party with – my sister-in-law gave birth to her daughter last month down in LA. They’re planning to move here in August, so we can complain about getting old and fat together. Plus, Twily will have someone to play with when she gets older.”

“That’s good. I’ll let you go so you can feed the beast. Give our love to Night for us. Bye!” Hanging up the phone, Lotus heard the approach of a truck. She looked out the window to see an IKEA vehicle pull up, with her father’s truck behind it.

“Well, I think we got enough stuff,” Sky told her as the IKEA workers started to offload the needed baby gear. “And if not, we can always get more. After all, our girls must have the best, right?” He reached over and hugged his wife. “Tomorrow it all starts.”

FOURTEEN YEARS AGO: Turn! Turn! Turn! (There is a Season)

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Ashburn, Virginia

“So, how long do you think it’ll be before you and the girls are reduced to a hunter-gatherer existence?” asked the voice over the phone.

Sky laughed. “Mom, there’s an IHOP down the road. If the girls and I are reduced to that, at least we’ll be fat and happy.” He looked over his shoulder from his perch in the kitchen, where a trio of toddlers quietly watched Noggin on TV. “Besides, Lo is only going to be in LA for a couple of days, so we should be fine.”

“You must be really proud of her.”

Sky nodded. “I am – a cooking segment on ABC will do wonders for Lo’s already stellar career,” he commented, “and then I can have my in-laws get off my case about my career.”

“They still asking you if you’re planning to run for office?”

“Yeah; Lo’s dad thinks I should start small and just run for the state legislature. Seriously, though, I have no interest.” It was at this point that there was sudden hammering on the door. “Well, someone’s pounding on the door, so I better go see what’s going on. Talk to you later, and give my love to Dad, okay? Bye.” Sky hung up the phone and made a beeline for the door. “I’m coming, okay? Hold your shirt!”

Sky opened the door to find his next-door neighbor, Muddy Trails, and his daughter, Softspoken, standing there. Muddy was a USMC lieutenant colonel assigned to the defense coordination office at State, down the hall from his office, and the two had hit it off immediately. Muddy, like Sky, had taken the week off, but his reasoning was different: he was expecting his in-laws in town in a couple of days. Meanwhile, his college-age daughter, Softspoken, had babysat for the girls on numerous occasions and just loved them to death.

“Oh, man, Sky! Thank God I found you! Get dressed; we need to get going immediately!” Muddy insisted. Sky immediately noted that Muddy was in his military uniform.


“Don’t worry, Mr. Sky, I’ll watch over the girls,” Softspoken said. “They’ll be fine – you have my word.”

“Muddy, what’s going on?” The urgency of his friend started to worry; as a Marine, usually he was the kind of cool customer that didn’t even yell at the idiots driving on the Toll Road heading into DC. So to see him this frantic really worried Sky.

“Attacks – we’re under attack in New York and here as of thirty minutes ago,” he explained. “C’mon, my car’s ready. I need to drop you off at the Emergency Site, then I need to get to Quantico and see what the hell’s going on.”

“Attack?” Sky asked, pausing only to grab his ID and a blazer; he was in a t-shirt and jeans but given the situation taking the time to change into something more formal was out of the question. “Who’s attacking?”

“Dunno,” Muddy told him as they both got into the man’s car, a brand-new Mustang. Muddy gunned the engine and took off, adding, “Called the Sheriff’s Office; they’re going to have an officer meet us at the Toll Plaza. From that point, State Patrol will escort us in the rest of the way. Turn on the radio and see what you can find.”

Sky turned it to the news and was horrified to hear what was going on the radio:

“We’ve just received confirmation that American Airlines Flight 77, departing Dulles for Los Angeles, has been identified as the aircraft that was crashed into the Pentagon thirty minutes ago. Firefighters are on the scene and we take you live to our reporter on-site, Investigative Query. Investigative, can you tell us what happened?”

Sky slunk into the seat of the car. “Oh, my God….”

Muddy did not like the sound of Sky’s voice. “What’s wrong?”

“Lo was on Flight 77.”

A few days later, a flamingo-pink S3T Lightning motorcycle pulled up in front of the house. The rider got off, pulled off her silver helmet and shook a shaggy mop of teal and black out. Golden eyes scanned the area.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, seriously? This place has El Rancho Camelot written all over it!” she groaned. She put her helmet on the bike, then went to the front door and rang the doorbell.

After a few minutes, Softspoken opened the door. “Yes, can I help you?”

“Hi!” the newcomer said, blowing a bubble from gum. “Is this 54920 Lakeview Lane?”

“Yes. Can I help you?”

“Hot Touch Prostitutes, Inc. Got a client here, says he needs his rocks off. You the other girl they hired?” the girl removed her sunglasses. “You’re kinda hot, but I don’t do girls unless I get paid enough, or I get enough alcohol, okay?”

The door was slammed in the girl’s face, and she groaned. “No fucking sense of humor, I swear….” she moaned. She knocked on the door again and Softspoken opened the door once more.

“You have ten seconds to leave before I call the police,” she warned.

“Look, okay, it was a bad joke.” The girl pulled off her sunglasses. “Seriously, I’m Twilight Glitter. I’m Sky’s kid sister, and I just drove up here from Miami since the country’s got every fucking plane that isn’t military grounded right now. My mom and big sis Velvet both said I had to get up here, so I hauled my very cute little college girl tush up here. Somebody want to explain what’s going on?”

“And why should I believe you?”

“And who are you? Wasn’t aware Sky and Lo were into threesomes.”

Softspoken was about to slam the door in Glitter’s face again, but the girl stuck her foot in the door. “You do not have a sense of humor, do you?”

“No, and if you’ve been paying attention to the news, you wouldn’t either,” the other girl growled.

“Look, I get it okay? Some fucking towelheads did their Allahu Snackbar into the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon. I’m not dead, so the President just gets an excuse to nuke the Middle East and call it that, right?”

Tears started filling Softspoken’s eyes. “Your sister-in-law was on one of those flights, you bitch!”

The cocky smile fell from Glitter’s face. “Oh, fuck. Shit, I didn’t know. Godfuckingdammit, look, I didn’t know, okay? I love my family, but we’re not exactly the talkative types, okay? It’s why I went to school at UM – wanted to get away from everyone.”

“I’ve been here trying to take care of the girls, because Mr. Sky is just too broken up right now!”

Glitter bit off a joke she was going to say; making suggestive comments that this girl go take her brother to bed and clear his problems that way suddenly didn’t seem funny anymore. “I know. I loved Lo. I probably got along with her more than I do my actual big sister – Vel and I just don’t see eye to eye, and Tia and Lu never had time for me since they’re older than I am and…you know what, nevermind. Let me get my bag and come in, okay?”

Softspoken nodded, and Glitter went and retrieved her saddlebag and ran back over. “How’s he doing?”

“Dad’s with him next door at our place. He didn’t think that it was a good idea to leave Mr. Sky to his own devices right now.”

“Yeah. I’m a bartender and I’ve seen more than a few people try to drink their sorrows away – never works,” Glitter admitted. “Where are the girls?”

“Watching TV right now. Mrs. Garden was supposed to come back today and sooner or later, the girls are going to figure it out. They’re very smart for their age.”

“Yeah, I know.” She walked into the room and stripped off her riding suit; she was in a babydoll tee and cutoff shorts right now; she’d change into something more modest later – contrary to Velvet’s arguments, Glitter did know what propriety was.

She looked at Softspoken. “Go get my brother. He needs to be here for this shit. I know he’s hurting – we’re all going to be hurting, especially the girls – but he can’t back out. They need their father.”

Softspoken nodded and left.

Glitter approached the girls, looking at them as they continued to watch the TV. Even at their age, they were already watching Sesame Street, which was probably for older kids.

They’re going to be smart and beautiful, Lo, Glitter said, feeling her eyes sting with tears as the crushing reality of what was going on hit her. I’ll make sure of it. She was going to have to find a university to transfer to up here and talk to her boss to see if she could transfer from the Hooters she worked at to one that was local. Or maybe she’d have to get a real job in addition to college, because she was going to have to be a role model now.

She sat down next to her nieces and hugged the three of them, fighting tears. She needed to be strong for them. Unlike Vel, that bitch, she was going to show her nieces what it was like to be a girl in this family.

I’ll take care of them, Lo. I promise.

TEN YEARS AGO: Time Passages

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Broadlands, Virginia

“Do I do it like this?” a young voice said.

“Yes, but be careful,” Glitter’s gentle voice said. “You want to make sure all the screws are in place, Soni.”

Sonata used both hands to turn the screwdriver, given that her aunt wouldn’t let her use the automatic drill. “Like this?”

Glitter mussed her niece’s hair. “Yeah, like that. You finish up here and I’m going to go check on your sisters, okay?”

The young girl nodded, her pigtails bobbing in time. “Okay, Aunt Glitter!”

Glitter smiled again and went in. She knew she’d have to check the plate later, but Sonata was showing a real propensity for mechanic work, even at her age. She probably got it from me working on my bike and Sky’s car. Such was the case around this house, though; it had been that way since she’d moved in four years ago. She’d quit her job at Hooters and thanks to some connections her old boss had up here, got a job at Virginia Tire & Auto as a mechanic. It gave her time to continue her studies at Fairfax University, especially since not all her credits from UM transferred and she had to do a lot of catching up.

As she walked into the house, she noted Aria playing with the dirty laundry, rolling up the clothing and shooting three-pointers with damn good skill for a child her age. Maybe a future basketballer, she wondered. “Heya, Ari.”

“Hi.” The distracted look on the middle triplet’s face was a dead giveaway that something was up.

“Something wrong?”

“Aunt Glitter? Can you talk to Dagi?” she asked.

Glitter knew that tone all too well. “What happened?”

“Dagi got into a fight with Homerun at school today,” she said. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you or Daddy but I’m worried about her.”

“She did, did she? Did she punch him?”

“Yeah, made him cry, too. Forest Ridge said he was going to tell the teacher, but they never did and Homerun said he ran into a tree, ‘cause he was too embarrassed that a girl popped him one!”

The woman chuckled. “That’s my girl. But next time, you’re supposed to tell the teacher, even if he deserves it, okay?”


“Is she in your bedroom?”


“Okay, let me go talk to her. I was thinking about your dad and I taking you to Six Flags, but depending on what Dagi tells me, those plans might get cancelled.”

“Oh,” Aria said sadly.

Glitter put an arm around the child and hugged her close. “You did the right thing, Ari. Sometimes doing the right thing is hard, but it’s worthwhile. Trust me, there will come a time when you’ll have to do something harder than you know.”

“Okay,” the girl said, not quite understanding.

Glitter grinned and made her way up the stairs. Hard to believe it’s been four years. She looked at the picture of Lotus on the wall, forever young and beautiful. Glitter had made sure that the girls knew their mother loved them more than anything, and that she herself was a pale substitute for a mother figure, no matter how much she tried.

“They’re beautiful, Lo,” she said, touching her sister-in-law’s image. “You’d be proud of them.”

At that, she started to hear the sounds of a videogame in the room. Sure enough, hunched over a controller and PlayStation 2 and trying to get Sakura to throw a fireball, was Adagio. The girl’s movements were rough and rigid, a sign she was angry, and that translated to subpar play on screen.

“Dagi, you know how to do it, right? Forward, quarter circle, punch,” Glitter advised.

Adagio flinched as if scared, then turned to look at her aunt like she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “Uh-oh.”

“Uh-oh is right. I thought you were supposed to clean the room?”

“I didn’t want to.” To her credit, Adagio didn’t lie; she was honest to a fault. “I was mad.”

“I kinda noticed. Want to talk about it?”

“No,” she pouted.

Glitter took that as an invitation. She sat down next to Adagio, picked up the other controller and selected Cammy. As the game started, Glitter asked delicately, “I heard you punched someone.”

“He deserved it! He was a stinky butthead!” Adagio insisted.

“I’m sure he was. But I’m sure he had a reason for his stinkiness?”

The anger on Adagio’s face fell, followed by a sad look. “Mrs. Daffodil was talking about heroes yesterday at school and said Mommy was one. Then today Homerun said that Mommy wasn’t a hero because she didn’t stop the bad men from hitting the Petnangon—”


“Yeah, that. He said that his daddy and mommy are soldiers and that they’re real heroes, and that Mommy was a fake hero and a loser.” She put down her controller and made a fist. “So I hit him when I got a chance.”

Glitter thought about it for a second. “Did you hit him hard?”


“Well, as proud as I am of you, you’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to tell Mrs. Daffodil, you know that.”

“Yeah. Am I in trouble?”

“Well, I was going to take us to Six Flags this weekend, but maybe I won’t because of what you did.”

A look of horror came over the girl’s face. “But that’s not fair!”

“You’re right, it’s not. But sometimes things happen that aren’t fair, and you need to brush them off. Your mom wasn’t a loser – she was a wonderful woman and one of the best people I ever knew. And Homerun’s parents are heroes, but for a different reason. He wasn’t being nice, but you weren’t being nice either by not letting your teacher know, got that?”

“Okay,” she said, not convinced. Then she said something that Glitter hadn’t expected: “When I grow up, I’m gonna be a soldier.”

Glitter had never heard Adagio say that before; last time she said something like that, she wanted to be Batman. “Why? Because of Homerun’s parents?”

“Nuh-uh,” Adagio said. “Because soldiers protect people – even stinky buttheads like Homerun.”

“Well, you’ve got a long time to think about that, kiddo. Don’t make choices just yet.”

“No, really! When me, an’ Ari an’ Soni grow up, we’re gonna be soldiers! Promise!”

“We’ll see. But for right now, you’re grounded, okay? I want you to put away the game, then clean up the room. And then after that, you’re going to write an apology letter to Homerun for hitting him.”

“But he—”

“Won’t do it again, because I also want you to write that if he says that again, you’ll hit him again, okay?”

The carrot-topped girl grinned from ear to ear. “Okay!”

It was then that the phone rang. She darted into her room and answered it. “Sky residence.”

The voice on the other line was tinny and crackling. “Hey, sis. How are the girls?”

Glitter’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not on a plane, are you?”

He sighed. “Look, sis, what I’m doing is important—”

“So are your children, Sky. I mean, look at me. I’m practically out of childhood myself and raising them. And I have post-grad studies to consider. You need to be here.”

“No. I need to be out here, doing what I do best, so that no one like Lo ever suffers again.”

Glitter groaned and crashed on her bed; she’d had this argument with her brother so many times, she wondered if she was now less sibling and more pseudo-spouse. “Sky…the girls need you. They need their father. I know that helping to rebuild war-shattered nations is important, but you’re missing the vital part of their lives!”

He said something, but the phone crackled once more, making the words incomprehensible. “—know. And I love my girls dearly, you know that. I wouldn’t be out here doing this if it wasn’t to keep them safe.”

Except you’re not keeping them safe, big bro, you’re running away. Even Vel would say that. “Dagi got into a fight at school today. Apparently some bully talked smack and she laid into him. Kids did the usual code of silence thing, but still….”

“Yeah, maybe it’s time they got martial arts training.”

“Your daughter just beat up a bully and your answer is to make her better at it?”

“Lo always wanted them to take it because martial arts runs in her family – her brother is a stuntman in Hong Kong, in case you didn’t know. Besides, the arts will instill some discipline in them, I’m sure.” There was some talk in the background, then: “Okay, gotta go. Flight leaves for Baghdad in five minutes. I’ll be home in a few weeks, Glitter. Take care of the girls and give them my love. Bye.”

Glitter held the phone for a second before putting it back in the cradle. “I’ll be home in a few weeks.” You said that last time. You haven’t been home in months and…. She took a breath and did that breathing exercise she learned once. She would not cry in front of the girls; they had enough concerns without worrying about her.

Fuckit. Deserving or not, she’d take the girls to Six Flags this weekend, because if their father wasn’t going to be around for that, someone had to show them they were loved.

Now, if I can find someone to go with me and keep an eye on the little troublemakers. Fortunately, I know just the person.

“Hey, thanks for coming with me, Softy. I know you had other plans today.”

Softspoken gave her friend a small smile. “Glitter, we’re best friends, right? Of course I’d do this. Besides, you know how much I love the girls.”

“Yeah, you do.” Despite their rocky beginnings, the two had grown close and became two peas in a pod despite having radically different tastes and attitudes. If it wasn’t for the fact that Soft lived at home to take care of her mother and Glitter lived with her brother and the kids, they would likely have an apartment together somewhere in the Beltway.

“So how’s your mother doing?” she asked while they watched the girls laughing and enjoying themselves on the kiddie plane ride.

“Not well,” Soft admitted. “Since Dad was killed in Afghanistan, she’s lost the will to live. She wanted to grow old with him, and she blames Dad for wanting to go out and fight the Taliban. She was never really healthy and now with Dad gone, she keeps telling me the only thing she has to look forward to is grandchildren before she dies.”

“Yeah, well, your dating prospects are a little dim, Softy. I keep trying to set you up with guys, but you never like any of them.”

“I know,” she said softly. There was a long pause before she added, “I’m going to sleep with your brother when he gets back.”

Glitter almost choked on the soda she was drinking. “What the fuck? Softy, if you’re going to joke about that—”

“I’m not joking.” Soft looked at Glitter. Her feathered baby-blue hair angelically framed her honey-brown skin and pink eyes. “I’ve…given it some thought….”

“Like hell you have! Softy, Sky is two decades older than you! For fuck’s sake, you met him when you were a teenager!”

“I know. But I love those girls and they need a mother. And you can’t be there forever,” she countered. “Have you told your brother about your plans next year?”

“No. There’s never been a really good time. And besides, I’ve been the closest thing the girls have had to a mother since Lo died. I…I don’t want them to think I abandoned them.”

“Which is why I should step in. Look, I know what you’re going to say: that there’s a million reasons why I shouldn’t chase Sky, and should look for someone my own age. That I’m probably too wrapped up in unrealistic dreams, and that I need someone to ground me. But do you know what?”

Glitter gave Soft the look that she’d lost her mind. “Sure, hit me.”

“I’ve kind of had a crush on your brother since I was a teen. I knew he belonged with Lotus; I wasn’t going to pull an American Beauty on them. But I’ve seen what your brother is like now. He needs a woman in his life to ground him.”

“Softy, we’re both twenty-four. The woman part is debatable.”

“I have girl parts—”

“And that statement just invalidated anything in regards to your woman argument.”

“I’m serious! You’re moving to Singapore next year, and you haven’t told your brother. And what will happen to the girls without you? Don’t you want someone there who loves them just as much as you?”

“I notice you’re talking a lot about the girls and not a lot about Sky. That’s a part of the relationship, too.”

Softy turned away. “None of your business,” she stammered, her cheeks flushing from within.

Five months. You’ve been gone from home for five months, Sky gnawed at himself as he got out of the taxi. You were only supposed to be gone for two weeks. Glitter is going to kill you. The girls probably barely remember you exist!

He sighed, slumping as he shut the door and watched the cab drive off. He knew he should’ve been home more. He knew he was missing out on the important parts of the girls’ lives. He loved them and wanted the best for them…but as a father, he was a failure. He knew that, too. Without Lotus, he was lost and he knew it. Without his beloved wife, he could barely hold it together.

Here he was: Everblue Sky, one of the Department of State’s finest economists and diplomats, and he was a complete wreck without apron strings attached. More than once people had joked about him being pussywhipped, but it wasn’t that: he just felt incomplete without Lotus. And with her gone all these years, he realized just how much he was lost without her.

Right now, though, he had a few weeks at home before he had to head back. It would be enough time to rekindle his relationship with his daughters and to hope that somewhere in heaven, Lo would forgive him. He certainly felt he needed it.

He opened the door and noticed the house was darkened. “Glitter? Girls? Anyone home?” He thought he’d heard soft jazz playing from upstairs, from his bedroom no less. He set down the bag and walked upstairs, wondering what it was.

He walked into the room…and into a fantasy. There, lying on the bed, without clothing, was Softspoken. She got up and approached him, a girl unpracticed in the ways of love attempting to be a seductress. Slipping her arms around him and leaning into him, she sighed. “You’re home.”

“Soft,” he began, feeling his body stir, something that he instantly felt shame about since this was once his wife’s bedroom as well. “Why are you—”

“Glitter took the girls down to King’s Dominion for the weekend,” the young woman told him. “So it’s just you and me.”

“Soft, this is wrong. You’re Muddy’s daughter. I’m practically an old man—”

She silenced him with a kiss, which he quickly backed off from. “This is all I’ve ever wanted,” she told him, looking into his eyes. “I want to be the girls’ stepmother. I love them. I want to be there for you. You need me, Sky. I know you love and miss Lotus – I know that. But please. Give me a chance. For the girls.”

For the girls. It was both the right thing to say, and the worst possible thing.

She kissed him.

This time he returned it.

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Long Way Down (Look What the Cat Drug In)

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Reston, Virginia

“And so Softy calls me, right? Says she’s walking bowlegged all weekend and can barely move!” Glitter laughed, moving so animatedly that she nearly knocked over her beer. “And she asks, ‘How do I put them back together’? And I’m like, ‘What do you mean “Put them back together?”’ And then she tells me she’s been having so much sex with my brother during the last two days that she literally can’t close her legs!” At that point the woman just died laughing, doubling over until she was gasping for breath. “She later told me she was a virgin when she slept with Sky. Looks like he took care of that in spades!”

Velvet took a drink of her own beer, rolling her eyes. “My kid sister, ladies.”

Armonia giggled. “You know, when I was dating Sky, we never really got that far – we decided that we were just better off as friends – but I could see how he could be the kind of man that would satisfy a woman.”

“And you just broke my brain, Moni,” Luna grunted. “Sky’s like a big brother to me, and you’re talking about his—”

“He’s a man,” Celestia said sardonically. “Yes, we’ve all been a part of each other’s lives, but at the end of the day, Sky is a man with needs just as we are women with our own.”

“Tia, I really did not need that image of my brother, thank you very much,” Velvet growled and Celestia laughed.

“Still, she made him happy. Never thought it would work,” Glitter said. “But for all that time, she was what he needed. Damn those fucking doctors for fucking up.” She angrily grabbed her beer mug and threw it across the room, where it shattered into so many pieces. “DAMMIT!”

“Hey, that’s enough!” the bartender shouted.

“My sister’s devastated,” Velvet apologized. “Our sister-in-law just passed away and they were best friends. Cut her some slack, okay?” The bartender nodded sympathetically and moved on.

Luna lifted her beer and looked at the brown bottle. “To think that women still die in childbirth at this day and age. And to lose both mother and child. It’s not a fair world.”

Armonia nodded. “No, it’s not. And even though she was only with him for a short time, Softspoken loved him for a lifetime’s worth. But right now, ladies, we need to be there for Sky. Let him know that he can turn to us.”

“I’m more worried about the girls,” Glitter said. “I just got in from Singapore two days ago and I haven’t seen them yet. Where are they?”

“My daughter’s watching them,” Armonia explained. “I’m sure it will be good for both them and Cadenza.”

“Cadance also has Twily with her, so it will be good for them to socialize,” Velvet added.

“I hope so. The triplets have a fiercely independent streak. They’re a little too independent, truth be told.” Glitter signaled to the bartender for another drink. “That’s probably my fault. Or maybe it’s Sky’s. Sure as hell not Softy’s.”

“It’s no one’s fault, Glitter,” Celestia told her. “Some kids are just like that.”

“Not at that age, Tia. Not at that age.”

“Twily, they’re your cousins,” Cadance gently admonished the girl. “You should get to know them.”

“But they scare me,” young Twilight admitted. At the moment, she held onto a thick book like a lifeline. Meanwhile, outside in the backyard, three girls did what they usually did in their house: Sonata puzzled over what looked like a lawnmower engine she was repairing without supervision, Aria practiced with a kid’s bow and arrow set, sinking shot after shot into a target a distance away. Finally, Adagio practiced martial arts katas.

“They’re just normal girls your age.” Cadance watched the three and had to admit that was a falsehood; there was nothing normal about these three, even that she could notice. For starters, they were acting far older than their peers, Twilight included. While the latter tended to be introverted and often only opened up to Octavia, her other cousin and probably only friend her age, there was an unnatural rhythm that the triplets had settled into, one that Cadance was pretty sure wasn’t supposed to be on the minds of just children.

She turned back to her charge. “You won’t know until you try, Twily.”

“I wish Tavi were here,” the younger girl whined.

“I know you do. But Tavi couldn’t come. And besides, these three need your help. Their mother just died, and they probably could use a friend.” Cadance kissed the young girl on the forehead. “If nothing else, do it for me, okay, ladybug?”

Twily smiled, showcasing a missing tooth whose adult equivalent had yet to grow in. “Okay!”

Twilight looked at the three and decided that Sonata was the most approachable. Leaving her book with Cadance, she walked over to where Sonata was, grease on her hands and staring at the motor as if it were a misbehaving puppy.

“What are you doing?” Twilight asked.

Without looking at her, Sonata reached for her wrench. “Fixing Mr. Acorn’s lawnmower,” she said, matter-of-factly. “He was going to throw it away, but Softy…Softy said….” She suddenly became very quiet.

“Are you okay?”

“NO!” Sonata shouted, tears in her eyes. “I can’t fix this! Softy said I could, and I can’t! And I couldn’t fix Softy, either!” Sonata started crying, and Twilight had no idea what to do, looking at Cadance for help.

She found out a second later as she was shoved to the ground. Looking up, tears filling her eyes from the pain she suddenly felt as Adagio stood over her, fist cocked, ready to hit Twilight at the first chance. “What did you do to her?” she yelled.

But that wasn’t the part that horrified Cadance as everything went south practically instantly. No, it was the fact that without even considering what was going on, Aria had trained her bow and arrow on Twilight without even thinking twice.

“ARIA! ADAGIO! BEHAVE YOURSELVES!” a voice ripped through the air. The two standing triplets immediately complied at the sound of that voice.

“Aunt Glitter!” both of them said at the same time. From the tone, Cadance noted the words may as well have been synonymous with mother.

Glitter stood there, an angry look on her face. “Girls, I saw what happened,” she said in angry tones, “and I am disappointed in you both.”

“But we were just trying to protect Soni!” Adagio insisted.

“By hitting your cousin? And Aria, what did I tell you about bows and arrows?”

“Never point them at people because they could get hurt,” the middle triplet replied.

“Twily was just trying to talk to Soni, and she cried. That happens, because she’s sad about what happened to Softy. Don’t you feel the same way?” Glitter walked over and looked at the two. “I’m not going to say violence isn’t the answer, because sometimes it is. But unwarranted violence is the same thing as bullying! And we taught you two better than that.”

Aria and Adagio immediately started crying, hugging their aunt and begging forgiveness. In turn, Glitter cried along with them, both for the loss of her best friend and sister-in-law and the loss of the triplets’ childhood. They had been forced to grow up – no, they forced themselves to grow up – far faster than any child should have.

Sonata, meanwhile, went over to Twilight and did something truly wonderous. She hugged her, saying, “It’s okay. I’m sad right now, but I have Ari and Dagi and they make me happy. Do you have sisters?”

“Sorta. I have Tavi and Cady,” Twilight explained in a non-explanation. Going over the fact that the first was actually her cousin and the second one was her babysitter and a friend of her older brother’s was going to take too long.

“See! You have sisters too!” Sonata chirped. “And sisters never let you down.”

From where she sat, Cadance allowed herself a sigh of relief, glad that an adult was on hand to defuse the situation that had spun out of control before she could even leave her chair.

Then she realized her mother was going to hear about it – and Cadance realized she was probably as good as dead when that happened.

Shining felt out of place in the funeral home, given that it wasn’t a place for the living. Even though he was an accomplished DM at Dungeons & Dragons, he really didn’t have much experience with death – he wasn’t even really a fan of horror films, truth be told. And he definitely didn’t want to be here. Of course, the alternative was staying with his mother and sister…and a group who was entirely female, save for his newborn brother.

“Shining, you okay?” Night asked.

“Yeah, Dad,” he lied, tugging at his tie. He hated them and swore he wouldn’t wear one when he grew up. “Just thinking about the situation.”

“No one expected it,” Night commented. “Just like no one expected your uncle to fall for a girl half his age. But honestly, I think Softspoken was good for Sky.”

“Really? How so?”

He grinned sadly. “Lotus’ death really hurt him. They’d been together forever and they really loved one another – the kind of love you don’t see often.” He then elbowed his son in the side gently, adding, “Well depending on whether you end up with Cadance or one of her friends.”

Shining rolled his eyes. “Dad, Cady is sweet, but I don’t think that’s going anywhere, not with Buck Withers being an ass about it. And besides, Hearts, Lemony and Sandy are just friends, and I can guarantee none of them are looking at me that way.”

“Sure, son,” Night said in a tone that implied he didn’t believe it at all. “But anyway, your uncle had the love of a lifetime with your aunt Lotus. And that life was stolen and it halved Sky. You might be too young to get this, but sometimes a guy just needs a girl, or else he’s incomplete.”

“Maybe,” he said, his mind thinking about a beautiful young lady with three-toned hair.

“So when he suddenly announced he was eloping with a girl he’d known for years but was half his age, needless to say, your mother thought he’d lost his mind. But I knew that when I met Softy that she was perfect for him. She made him feel young and alive again and taught him how to love again. It was enough to bring him back from the dead – and living or not, he was just as dead as Lotus was the day she was murdered.” He shook his head. “And now she’s gone and I think we’re all worried.”

“About him?”

“About him and your cousins. Velvet said that he might not have been the most involved in their lives, and speaking as a father who has tried to be in yours…if that’s true, I don’t know what that’s done for your cousins’ psyches.”


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Broadlands, Virginia

Turn and face the strange
Don’t want to be a richer man
Turn and face the strange
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t change time”

Normally Ziggy Stardust’s music was something that Glitter absolutely adored. When she was a teenager, she used to fantasize about marrying him, even with all the rumors about him being gay or something. But now that she was older, she understood the lyrics a little better – especially the ones to this song.

“You’re not going to come home, Aunt Glitter?” Aria had asked her, and it broke the woman’s heart.

“Ari, the work I do in Singapore is very important,” Glitter said, knowing that was a half-truth. The work could be done at any engineering company anywhere in the world. It was just one of the guys who worked at the company, a fellow American, who really made it worth working there. “Do you remember what I told you three about work?”

“If it’s not worth doing right, it’s not worth doing at all,” Adagio chimed in.

“But you know I miss you three every day, right?”

“You do?” Sonata asked. “Then can we come live with you?”

She shook her head. “No, you can’t. As much as I would love you to, my apartment is too small for all of us and besides, you need to be here for your dad, okay? He’s going to be lonely without Softy, and you three are supposed to make him smile.”

“Or else he’s going to run away again,” Adagio said with the tone that only a child knew.

“That’s not fair to your father,” Glitter reminded her. “He has a very important position in the government.”

“No! He’s going to run away again! He ran away when Mommy died and you had to take care of us and he’s going to do it again now that Softy’s gone!” Adagio looked at her aunt with the gaze of the broken. “I don’t want to be alone anymore! I don’t!”

“You won’t. It’s not going to happen again, I promise.”

“State is thinking about assigning me to the Embassy in Baghdad,” Sky said softly. “I had thought about not taking it before, because I was going to be a father again. But now? It might just be what I need.”

“You fucking coward,” Velvet hissed. The rest of the family was there, too, save for their parents, who had flown back to San Diego earlier in the day. “You’re running out on your children again.”

“Yeah, thanks for making a liar out of me, big bro,” Glitter snarled. “Velvet and I don’t agree on much, but this time I think she’s spot on. You are a fucking coward! Why are you doing this to the girls?”

Sky looked at his sisters. “Ladies, you don’t understand.”

“Then explain it to me.” They turned to see Armonia walking into the room – and she was not happy in the least.

“I thought you had caught the flight back to Canterlot with Tia and Lu?” Velvet asked her.

“I took a later flight on purpose. Sky and I have a different relationship than the rest of our family does, because we were sweethearts once, and so I know him on a more intimate level than you do,” the older woman told her. She then looked at Sky. “Or at least I thought I did.”

“Moni….” he started.

“No. Do not think you can do that to me, Sky,” she said coldly. “Ladies, please leave. I think your brother and I should have a private discussion and besides, I think you need to prepare for the inevitable.”

“The inevitable?”

“You’ll understand.”

The two sisters got the point and departed. Velvet looked at Armonia and said, “Be careful.”

The woman smiled wolfishly. “You should know it is not I that should be careful, Velvet.”

The two looked at each other for a while before Armonia wandered over to the house bar, where Sky had kept a well-stocked liquor cabinet. “There was a time,” she began, “where I would have left my husband for you. I love Chivalry like no tomorrow, and he has given me Cadenza. But even still, I knew that if you had only asked, I would have left him.” She poured a whiskey on the rocks for herself. “When we decided that we were better off being friends? I lied. I hoped that time would make you realize you cared about me as much as I did about you, and that even when I met Chivalry and married him, and when I had Cadenza, that somehow you would realize where you belonged.”

“Moni, I—”

“I’m not done yet,” she growled. “When you finally met Lotus and told me, your oldest friend and once-love, that you had finally found someone, I was both jealous and happy for you. I learned to put away childish things, foolish hopes like my emotions because I had a husband I loved and a child that was my world. But even then, I had still hoped. And when Lotus was murdered by those bastards, I knew you would hurt. I didn’t want that, but there was nothing I could do.

“I never thought you would abandon the children you had with her. I think it shocked me more than I could say, because the Sky I knew once told me that he wanted a family, because family meant more to him than anything. And then here you were, with three children, three beautiful little girls, and you abandoned them.”

She swallowed the whiskey in one draw, then poured again. “And then I heard that you took another bride. One only a handful of years older than my own child. As odd as it may seem, I don’t blame you for that. Softspoken, from what I know, was a beautiful young woman and she made you feel alive, something you clearly needed. By this point, I was long past my feelings for you, but I still valued our friendship, because you have been my oldest and closest friend.”

She picked up the glass and walked over to him, a smile on her face – but clearly not a happy one. “And now your child bride is dead, and you are running away from your children again, Sky. And I see a man who looks like someone I loved – I love – very dearly both as friend and once-lover…and I don’t see that man at all. Do you know what I see? A weak, spineless fool who let himself fall apart so badly that his baby sister had to grow up faster than necessary. And then you turned to the arms of a child…and foisted a child on her. Maybe that would have made you wise up. But then tragedy struck and you know what? You are running again.”

With a move so fast he couldn’t track it, she slapped him across the face. “How long before you find some pliant fifteen-year-old girl in Baghdad? How long before the cycle occurs again?”

His hand went to where she’d connected, and he glared at her. “I don’t like your tone, Moni.”

“And I don’t care for what you are doing to your and Lotus’ children. Would you have done the same if Softspoken had her child and then died? Your girls are being forced to grow up one step short of feral, Sky. Cadenza told me that to protect Sonata from a misunderstanding, Adagio hit her cousin Twilight – and Aria trained a bow on her. Those are not the actions of children – those are the actions of sociopaths who become that way because they have no parents in their lives. And I am not talking about Glitter, or Softspoken or even Lotus. There is only one parent at fault here – because he doesn’t have the courage to stay and raise his children.”

He glared at her. “I think you should leave.”

“Yes, I think so too,” she said, genuine sorrow in her eyes. “I see the boy I loved is gone and the man I cherished isn’t here anymore. I don’t know who you are.” She looked away, and Sky thought he saw tears in her eyes. “Goodbye, Sky. We probably won’t see each other ever again.”

“Moni, I….”

But she was gone.

Back at the hotel, Armonia sat by the bar, with Velvet, Night and Glitter. Tomorrow they would all return to Canterlot, leaving Sky here with his children.

“Velvet, you are not to leave tomorrow,” Armonia told her in a stern voice.

“I know. Night and I have talked about it, and so have Glitter and I.”

Glitter chimed in. “I would do anything for those girls – I practically see them as mine. But I can’t give up my life as it is right now. And they need stability right now, stability Sky can’t – or won’t – give them.”

Night was quiet. “We’re already raising Octavia half the time because of how busy my brother and sister-in-law are. But thankfully my last book sold enough that we were able to look into getting a newer house out in San Palomino.”

“Really? I was not aware of that.”

Night laughed and nodded. “When I was Shining’s age, I thought I’d be a sci-fi writer. Didn’t pan out, so I became a physicist. Wrote a book just to get it out of my system, and now the number one non-fiction book out there is mine. My agent called me and actually asked if I had any fiction that I’d dabbled in. Said I could be like Billion Stars himself, both respected scientist and well-known celebrity.” He swirled his drink in his glass. “It was enough that the university wants to offer me a raise, because they probably think Shasta University’s going to want to hire me away when my contract is up,” he joked.

“The point is, we have a house big enough for Twily, the baby, Tavi and Shiny here,” Velvet answered. “And if we have to accommodate three more girls…well, family takes care of family.”

Armonia smiled. “You’ve been a mother three times, Velvet, and as Night says, you’re raising your niece as well. Can you take three more girls in?”

She looked at Night, and in return, he took her hand. “I’ve always wanted a large family,” she admitted. “Who knows? Maybe when the girls get settled in, we’ll think about adopting someday as well.”


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San Palomino, California

“Girls, welcome to your new home.”

The triplets looked on in shock. “Really?” Sonata asked.

“Yeah, really,” Velvet said, leaning against her husband and glad she had him to fall back on. The week after they got home, they started looking for a new place in San Palomino and found one, a large home that was due for renovations as the original owner had fallen through and the house had been left on the market for several years. Despite the fact that it was expensive as hell, they signed the agreement and had moved in two weeks ago.

At the same time, Velvet, with some assistance from her parents and Glitter, had slammed her brother with an ultimatum: he would either hand over the girls to her, their parents, Lotus’ parents, or put them up for adoption again. Otherwise, Velvet would sue for custody. Needless to say, it put her and her brother at odds, but at the same time it also had the reverse effect of healing the long-standing rift between Velvet and Glitter. When all was said and done, Sky turned over custody of the triplets to Velvet, but she knew it was going to be a long time before she and her brother would be on speaking terms again.

Still, for Adagio, Aria and Sonata, it was worth it, Velvet decided. If nothing else, it would give them some of the stability they so sorely needed.

Standing next to her, Shining said, “Come on, let me show you to your rooms.”

“We get our own rooms?” the three said at once.

“Yes, you get your own rooms,” he laughed. “Even Tavi has her own room here and she doesn’t live with us all the time.”

“Wow!” the girls chirped at once, now giddy about the chance of living here.

As Shining gave them the grand tour of the house, Velvet looked at Night. “Did I do the right thing?”

“You’ve asked yourself that a billion times, love,” he reminded her. “They need stability. And while Sky might be angry with you right now, ultimately he knows it was the right thing to do.”

“Yeah, but now in addition to Twily and sometimes Tavi, I have to manage their schedules as well! I have to find a karate school around here for the girls, an archery set—”

“I called around while you were gone; both Big 5 and MainSix carry various ones in stock.”

She grinned in gratitude. “And a local makerspace for Soni. What is a makerspace?”

“That one had me stumped, but I think it probably has something to do with Soni’s love of engineering. I’ll ask some of the engineering faculty and see what they know.”

“Thanks, love. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Probably lose your mind because you have five young girls running around the house, one teenage boy and one infant?”

“Oh, that – lost my mind about that long ago,” she giggled.

“Thank you for meeting with me, Principal Cinch,” Velvet said. “I realize it’s the weekend, but I wanted to make sure that I had everything in place.”

“Not a problem in the least, Dr. Velvet,” Abacus Cinch said as she ushered the woman in through her door. “Crystal Prep prides itself on being the best school we can for children who will attend both Zacherle Academy and Muenchinger Institute. We fashion young minds and young hearts so they can be the best they can be when they graduate.” She laughed. “Besides, I am a principal. The paperwork never ends.”

“Yeah, my friends Tia and Lu say the same thing.”

“Tia? As in Celestia?” When Velvet nodded, Cinch smiled. “I wasn’t aware you were friends with Drs. Celestia and Luna over at Canterlot High.”

“We grew up together in San Diego.”

“Ah. Celestia and I attended the same education track at college – had a bit of a rivalry in our studies back then, but that’s in the past.” Cinch sat down at her desk. “So what can I do for you?”

“I wanted to make sure that everything will be ready for my nieces when they start on Monday,” Velvet said. “They’ve gone through a lot of upheaval in their life as of recently and I want to make sure that there are adequate resources available here at the school should they be needed.”

“I see. Forgive me for asking, Doctor – it is both school policy and state regulations, as you well know – are we talking abuse of any kind?”

“No. Their stepmother died two months ago, and their father is a diplomat and is going to be stationed overseas. He wanted to place them in a boarding school, but I didn’t think that was best for them, given that they are no strangers to grief: their mother was killed in the September 11th attack on the Pentagon and my younger sister had to step in to help raise them for years before she moved away and Sky married his second wife.”

Cinch removed her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I see. Well, I can put your fears at rest somewhat, I hope: we have a school nurse on hand, a Mr. Bruised Ego. He has considerable training in child trauma. Not as much as you, given your position of course, but he has more than a layman’s expertise on the subject.”


Cinch nodded. “I’m not usually given to talking about my staff’s past, but in this case, I don’t think he would mind. Ego’s father died before he was born; his father was killed in the Lockerbie Scotland bombing back in 1988, so he grew up with his mother being a single parent.” Cinch leaned forward and smiled. “I promise you that we will have resources on hand to care for your nieces. As it is, your daughter and your other niece are exceptional students here, and with three more from your family attending, it will be quite the feather in our school’s cap.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Evening asked his brother and Velvet later that night; they were over for dinner. “We don’t leave on our trip for another week.”

“No, this will be good for Tavi to get to know the triplets,” Night suggested. “It’s a change for all of us, and the sooner they get used to each other the better off we will be.”

Ballad laughed. “You mean the sooner they get through whatever eventual catfight happens they’ll be buddy-buddy or at least tolerable frenemies?”

“Well, I wasn’t going to put it that way, Ballad,” Velvet said sardonically.

Meanwhile, down in the den, the girls were all settled around a TV and eating pizza. “So, you play music?” Adagio asked.

Octavia nodded. “Yup. I want to be a musician when I grow up, like Mom and Dad! I play a couple of instruments. If you want, I’ll play for you later.”

“That would be cool!” Aria chirped.

Twilight, still a tiny bit afraid of the triplets, looked over at Octavia. “Aria does bow and arrow.”

“It’s called archery,” Aria commented with a confident air. “And besides, Twily, I said I was sorry for when I tried to shoot you.”

“You tried to shoot Twily?” Octavia gasped.

“We thought she was picking on Soni,” Adagio said defensively.

At that point, Sonata spoke up. “Girls, quiet! My favorite show is gonna start!”

“What show is that?” Twilight asked.

The Chocolate Sisters Cooking Show! It’s the best show on Nickelodeon! Even better than Spongebob!”

“The what?”

“It’s a cooking show with twin sisters,” Octavia said. “I’ve never seen it, but my mother composed the opening song for it.”

Sonata wheeled on her. “Really?” she asked, eyes glittering as if she was in the presence of a celebrity.

Jaunty music then came onto the screen as an outlandish kitchen in a riot of colors showed on the screen. At once two teenage girls, one white with blonde hair and the other black with green hair, wearing matching clothing and aprons, came onto the screen and danced, singing the show’s theme.

“I’m Milk!” the dark one said.
“I’m Mint!” the other one called out.
“We’re Choc-o-lites!
And welcome to our show!

“We’ve got cooking!”
“And songs!”
“Fun sing-alongs!
On the Chocolate Sisters show!”

As Sonata happily sung the theme song along, Octavia looked at the two. “They don’t look like twins.”

“That’s because they’re fraternal twins, like we’re fraternal triplets,” Adagio noted. “They have the same parents, just they’re not lookalike twins.”

“Identical twins, you mean?” Twilight offered.

“Yeah, that.”

On screen, as the song ended and the sisters moved to the first counter, Milk looked at Mint and said, “Hey, sis, you know what?”


“Before we start our first recipe, we have a special request!” Milk produced an oversized envelope, pulling out an equally too-large letter. “It’s for three special little girls who watch our show, from their stepmom.”

“Oh, wow, that’s cool!” Mint chirped. “Why don’t you read it for them!”

“Will do!” She held the letter in an exaggerated reading position. “‘Dear Soni, Dagi and Ari:’”

The girls in the room stopped. “Are…are they talking about us?” Sonata asked, surprised.

“‘I know having a little brother is going to be different in your life when I have the baby, but I know you three are going to be the best big sisters ever! And I know that, because your dad and I love you three. And your little brother will love you too! So hang in there – I know you can do it!
Your Stepmom,

Obviously oblivious of the tragedy, Mint said to her sister, “Wow, those are three lucky girls!”

Milk looked directly at the camera. “Girls, if you’re watching this, don’t forget: being big sisters is a really important responsibility! Just remember that having your sister – and then your brother – is a great feeling!”

Mint leaned on her sister, grinning at the camera as well, “Don’t we know that! Right, sis?”

“Right! So, why don’t we work on our first recipe – Birthday cake!”

As the sisters onscreen went over to the preparation table, the three sisters looked at each other as if Sonata’s favorite TV personalities had just kicked their dog.

“Sweetheart, there was no way to know,” Night told Velvet later that evening. “Those shows are taped months in advance.”

“I know, but to hear them just cry…it broke my heart,” Velvet said.

“Well, they’re not alone anymore,” Night told her. “They have us now, and we’ll give them all the love they’ll ever need.” He kissed her gently. “I promise.”

Later that night, Twilight woke up, and shook her cousin. “Tavi, you awake?”

“I am now, why?”

“C’mon. We gotta go see our cousins.”

“Twily, we should be in bed!”

“We will. I just want to make sure they’re okay, okay?”

Octavia yawned. “Okay.”

They left Twilight’s room, headed over to Adagio’s, where she wasn’t to be found; then Aria’s, where the bed was empty as well. Finally, they went to Sonata’s, where they found the three girls sleeping together, fitfully, but clearly with Adagio and Aria on either side of Sonata, serving as symbolic shields for their sister.

“So like us,” Octavia said, knowing what that was like.

Twilight scrambled onto the bed. “C’mon, let’s go to sleep.”

“You sure?”

“They need us, Tavi,” was all Twilight said.

When Velvet checked on them in the morning, there were five girls squeezed tightly onto one bed – but now with smiles on their faces.

“My sweet little girls,” she said, a wide, sunny smile coming to her face.

Monday came and though it was a challenge, the five girls had gotten ready for school in time, slipping into their uniforms and getting ready for breakfast.

Twilight immediately noticed something about the trio: “How come you don’t have your hair in pigtails, Dagi?”

“I have curly hair – it doesn’t look good in pigtails,” she explained.

“I don’t like pigtails, but it’s easy to do in the morning,” Sonata chimed in.

“I thought you did,” Aria countered.

“I did it because you like it,” Sonata replied.

“Well, I have an idea,” Velvet said, walking behind the youngest triplet and undoing her pigtails, then fixing her hair around. “Go look in the mirror in the living room and tell me what you think.”

Sonata rushed over and looked. “A ponytail? But I thought only big girls had their hair that way?”

Velvet laughed. “Are you saying you’re not old enough?”

“I am!” Sonata insisted. “Can I keep it?”

“You should,” Velvet said. “It looks good on you.”


Adagio looked at Twilight. “I didn’t say thank you for last night, Twily. You really looked out for us.”

“We’re family, Dagi! I’d do the same for Tavi.”

Night nodded. “Girls, if there’s one thing I think you’ll find out is that here, the words cousin and sister practically mean the same thing.”

TWO YEARS AGO: Kids in America

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San Palomino, California

Founded in 1893 in Canterlot – then still called Camelot, having shifted from its original name of Poverty Flats a year prior – the Zacherle School of Manners was designed to edify the minds of young girls of the growing town. Created as a sister facility to the Muenchinger Boys School, while the latter took its inspiration from the great schools of Munich, Germany, Zacherle was based on the namesake school founded at Zacherle Castle in Belgium, where the genteel young ladies of Europe were educated and encultured.

That was over a century ago.

Now located in the city of San Palomino (which became independent of Canterlot in 1947) the now-named Zacherle Academy for Girls (as well as the since-renamed Muenchinger Institute for Young Men) still served the same purpose – but as times changed, so did the school. With the current focus of educating the top young ladies in the Canterlot Metro Area, it was more than just about teaching them manners and etiquette. It was about making them highly-successful members of society, and this Zacherle did, so much so that it was perpetually listed in the top twenty-five “All-Girls High Schools in America” list, and often frequently within the top ten itself. A quick list of distinguished alumni of the school could easily be mistaken for a Who’s Who list of distinguished American women of the 20th century:

Speedburst, Olympic athlete whose world record for the 400-meter relay had yet to be broken;
Maui Gingerflower, world-famous folklore musician;
Sweet Orbit, vaunted mathematician who had worked on the NASA Apollo program;
Hearts Aflame, celebrated activist and philanthropist;
and finally, no list would be complete without Zacherle’s most famous alumnus: Princess Platinum, senator and stateswoman, the so-called “Unbreakable Diamond of California” whose name had become legend in the halls of Congress.

This was the Zacherle Academy of today. And though the past remained, it was frequently updated for the future. Even the school’s team name and mascot, the Princesses, had been updated from the original elegant and virginal Disneyfied beauty of the past to a modern animesque badass in knightly armor. It was a maxim that if you were a Zacherle girl, you were either going to be the textbook example of success…or the woman who eventually rewrote the rules.

And now a new generation of girls was to join the vaunted ranks of the Zacherle elite.

Row after row of freshmen, dressed in the telltale maroon blazers, black skirts, white shirts and striped red ties of the school, joined the other students there: the glad-to-not-be-freshmen-anymore relief of the sophomores, the breezily-experienced juniors and the ready-for-their-final-year seniors, all facing the front of the assembly, where the school’s headmistress, Mrs. Honey Lemonade (herself a Zacherle alumnus and a history maker in her own right) addressed the student body, with the faculty seated behind her, as well as three girls: the student class president and the school’s two “divas”. While the former was normal, the latter was a uniquely-Zacherle touch: the school had semi-formalized the naturally-occurring concept of a student “queen bee” and although the divas were not formal members of the student government they had just as much limited authority and responsibilities, one being a check and balance for the other and vice versa.

Approximately a hundred girls sat in the freshman seats, most having graduated from Crystal Prep earlier in the year, though many came from some of the other private schools and a few even from public institutions. All of them ready to make their mark on Zacherle and the world.

But few had already earned themselves nicknames before coming to the school. And in this case, for Twilight Sparkle, valedictorian of her graduating class at Crystal Prep, as well as her cousins, had earned the nickname of “the Five Sisters”, for their generally insular nature and small, self-contained circle. That wasn’t to say that they weren’t friendly or helpful to others, but rather that in the world that was high school, with cliques to be found and groups to be created, theirs was a naturally-existing one already.

“We’re finally here!” Sonata cheered softly. “High school girls!”

“I really don’t think much has changed, Soni,” Octavia whispered back. “I mean, I don’t feel any different than yesterday.”

Adagio snickered. “Because you only pay attention to your bass, Tavi. If you’d notice, there’s a whole world out there. Like that sophomore in the other row that keeps looking at you.”

“Only you would notice that, Ms. Social Butterfly,” came the response. “Besides, you know I don’t swing that way.”

“You know I’m only teasing you, cuz,” Adagio said with a smile.

“Yeah, besides, knowing how flirty sis can be, she’d probably try to hook up with her first,” Aria jibed and got punched in the calf for it.

“Be nice, Ari.”

“Hey, don’t blame me, okay? I guarantee every girl’s going to be looking at Tavi’s chest during the Lingerie Follies.”

“The what?”

“Girls, let’s talk about this later, okay? I really want to hear what the class president has to say.”

“Figures that you’d want to focus only on scholastics, Twily. You really need to pay more attention to the world around you!”

“I have you all. I don’t need anyone else,” Twilight insisted, and her four cousins just sighed.

Phoenix Temple brushed her blonde hair out of her eyes. Despite her Chinese name, she was American; she explained that her name came about from her parents having lived in Beijing for a number of years. She was the student council president and the presumed valedictorian. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about you, Twilight Sparkle. I have no doubt that you’ll probably be standing up there when the time comes.”

Twilight blushed. “Thanks.”

“Oh, c’mon, Pheo, don’t make her turn red!” With her bright red hair and eyes, Gleaming Light was one of the two divas. “That’s Umi’s job, anyway.”

The other diva, Umi, was a Japanese girl whose father worked at the local Japanese tourism bureau. They’d lived in the US so long, the blue-haired girl had pretty much Americanized herself. “Well, I know which girl I want to see up on stage.”

“You would, you lesbo,” Light countered.

“Damn straight,” Umi laughed.

“Um…about that….” Octavia began. The three seniors looked at each other and then all laughed.

“Don’t worry about it,” Light insisted.

“I won’t ogle too much, I promise,” Umi replied.

“Okay, you two,” Phoenix told them. “Look, it’s true: as part of the freshman class Initiation Week, yes, you have to wear lingerie for a whole week. But only on campus and within school buildings – so you wear your uniforms to and from school and PE uniforms during PE, obviously.”

“Don’t forget about the Follies!” Umi said.

“Down, girl,” Light sighed. “Yes, and on the last day of Initiation Week, there’s a talent show that you have to do. While wearing the lingerie and yes, expect some of the hornier girls around here to probably try to soak you with water.”

“Is that even legal?” Adagio asked.

“It’s tradition, so chalk it up to borderline,” Phoenix admitted. “Be thankful that you didn’t attend when we were freshmen. They still had the Minerva Show then.”

“Do I even want to know?” Aria asked.

“Like the Follies, but completely in the nude,” Light replied, blushing slightly.

“Hey, I got to meet my first girlfriend out of it, so it wasn’t that bad,” Umi drawled.

“Ignore her – she’s a slut,” Phoenix said about her friend.

“And proud of it!”

“I…am never doing this again.” Twilight was in a full-body blush, so much so that it almost blended well with the racy, lacy purple number she was sporting.

“I didn’t think it was that bad.” Probably wearing the raciest of all of them, Adagio looked perfectly calm.

“Figures. The Social Butterfly amongst us is perfectly fine with being in her intimates in public!” Octavia said, trying desperately to cover up.

“Look, girls, it’s a mindset. We’re all girls here, and I think that’s the whole purpose of this past week,” Aria pointed out. “Besides, it was kinda fun and we participated in something that’ll probably be gone by the time we’re seniors.”

“You think?” Sonata asked.

“Tavi, how many girls asked you out?” Aria asked, and the response to that was Octavia immediately trying to hide behind the nearest plant. “See, my point is made. I’m sure when these stupid traditions were made, they didn’t think much of it. But now that we know lesbianism is a thing, they don’t have to worry about just the guys from Muenchinger’s that have been trying to spend the whole week sending drones over.”

“Sending drones over? With cameras?” Twilight squeaked.

“Oh, yeah, Twily,” Aria responded. “The archery club’s sophomores were specifically tasked with sticking around after school with instructions to shoot down any drone they see. Apparently, Fletcher Feather managed to even nail a two-in-one that caught footage of…well, a two in one, if you catch my drift.”

Octavia fainted.

“Fuck you, Dazzle. Stick your brownnose elsewhere, got it?” the junior said.

“You hit my cousin,” Adagio said, standing as the lone bulwark between the older student and a bleeding Twilight who was being administered to by both Octavia and Sonata.

“She fucking deserved it, the plagiarizing cunt!” another junior replied.

“You both are idiots, okay? She was up all night working on that science project – don’t blame her for the fact that she’s smart enough to figure out what you, two years older than her, can’t.” Adagio gestured to the bruise on Twilight’s face. “Plus, you hit her – that makes it my business.”

“Figures the Five Sisters stick up for one another,” the first one said. “Which one of you gets to fist her?”

“Good one, Straw!” the second girl said with a malicious grin.

Adagio sighed. “I’m going to let that one slide because I’m actually amazed you used enough of your brain to come up with an insult that intelligent, Strawberry,” the younger teen said. “But that’s all you get. You’re sliding on thin ice already. So, let’s make this clear: you ever touch my sisters or my cousins and I will straight-up fuck your day over, got that? You’ll be bleeding out of places you can’t pronounce.”

The second girl, Coral, got right in Adagio’s face. “You’d better be ready to back those words up, Dazzle. I’ve been doing kung-fu since I was a kid, and I guarantee I will wipe the floor with your shit-eating gri—”

Coral went down instantly, gasping for breath, much to the shock of her friend…who had never seen Adagio move. As Strawberry looked at the younger girl in shock, Adagio smiled. “Yeah. Knows kung-fu my ass,” Adagio said simply. Looking down at the fallen teen, she said, “You know I didn’t put much force behind that one-inch punch, stupid drama queen. But you also know that if I can do that, I will break you before you even lay a hand on me.”

“You bitch!” Strawberry seethed.

“Whatever. That’s the last warning you get. Stay away from us or I will tear you a new asshole, got it? In fact, spread the word: don’t fuck with me. I have very little patience for that sort of thing.” She turned away from the junior and walked back to where the others were, as Aria showed up with Light in tow.

“I didn’t…I didn’t mean….” Twilight was sobbing.

Sonata hugged her. “Don’t ever apologize for being smarter than them, Twily,” the youngest triplet said. “We love you and that’s all that should matter.” The Five Sisters embraced their fallen one and Light walked over to where Strawberry was helping up Coral.

“You kicked the viper’s nest, didn’t you?” Light asked the two.

“Fuck you, moonlight twat,” came the response.

“Yeah, still being a pointless thug, I see, Coral. And I had such high hopes that you’d grow up someday. Guess that’s not happening. Well, word of advice for the remaining time you’ll be a student here: you picked the wrong girls to try to bully. There’s something about those five that…well, walking naked onto the boys’ campus would probably be safer. Not that you don’t do that already, I suspect.” She frowned. “Just be smart and stay away from them or you’re going to pay.”

“I’m not afraid of that cunt Adagio.”

“She’s not the one you should be afraid of,” Light warned. “They all follow Twilight, and Twilight is leagues smarter than you. She’s the one you should be afraid of.”

Light’s words turned out to be prophetic two weeks later.

Twilight stormed into the AV room, rage in her eyes, approaching a bunch of her fellow freshmen who were laughing their asses off. “Which one of you is Remix?” the teen seethed.

“I’m Remix,” a girl with short green and orange hair replied.

Twilight looked at the screen the girls were watching, then back at Remix. “This your work?”

“Yeah! You want a copy? I can burn you one from my USB.” She reached over and plucked a flash drive from the computer. “Just be careful, okay? Only copy I have is on here.”

“Good,” Twilight said, taking the flash drive…and snapping it in two in front of the shocked girls.

“Hey, what the fuck?” Remix asked, while the other girls looked on in shock.

“You think this shit is funny?” Twilight seethed, pointing at the screen. “You think that’s a fucking joke?”

“Fuck yes, it is! That’s comedy gold! Do you know how long it took me to edit that shit, you bitch? And now you’ve fucked it up!” Remix snarled.

“You’re lucky that’s all I can do, because right now, I would do so much more if I could.”

“Okay, look, Sparkle, just chill the fuck out, okay? We were all babies when it happened, okay? Nobody remembers or cares about that shit anymore,” a second girl, Videobloom, spoke. “And everyone we showed our video to thought it was hilarious, okay?”

Twilight’s response to that was to slap Videobloom hard. When Videobloom looked at the normally quiet girl with shock, Twilight snarked, “Oh, I’m sorry, I guess you didn’t find that funny, did you?”

“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming over here and telling us what to do, Sparkle, especially since you ruined our class project, you cunt,” Remix said. “Besides, it’s not like we hurt anyone, okay?”

Twilight glared at Remix with an intensity that made the girl stumble back. “You made a YouTube video making fun of the planes that crashed on 9/11,” Twilight said. “That’s tasteless enough. But then you go so far as to ‘critique’ in your video how the terrorists could have done more damage – and you showed that by repeatedly crashing a plane into the Pentagon via computer model.”

“So what? It’s a free country, and we’re allowed to do things like that! It’s called satire, sweetie,” Videobloom said, reaching over to attempt to slug Twilight.

To her surprise, Twilight blocked the blow. “Except you showed that video to my cousins,” Twilight said with a sudden calm that was even more dangerous in its tone. “Their mother – my aunt – was one of the victims on that plane. And you essentially made them relive their nightmares over and over again, right in front of everyone.”

“I didn’t know….” Remix said. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, I’m not buying that shit,” Videobloom countered. “Chances of that are infinitesimal. Besides, Mixie, I have a copy of the video right here on my iPad—”

An iPad that, a second later, Twilight ripped from the girl’s hands and threw right out the window. “Whoops,” Twilight responded.

“You bitch!” Videobloom said. “You’re going to pay for that!”

“Sure. For my family, it’s worth it,” Twilight said, glaring at Videobloom. “Stay the fuck away from us, you bitch.”

As Twilight left the audiovisual room, she noted Phoenix standing there. “I’ll do detention, pay her back for the iPad, whatever you recommend,” the younger girl said to the older one.

Phoenix adjusted her glasses. “I’m sure they didn’t know, Twily. I’m not saying Vid’s in the right, but….”

“I don’t care. They hurt my family, Pheo. I’m not good at standing up for much, but I will for my sisters.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m going to tell the school that you’re going to serve detention for the rest of the month to make up for the broken iPad. And that Mixie and Vid are going to have to make a video on sensitivity training and will have to apologize to the triplets as well.”

“Works for me,” Twilight responded.

“You know where study hall is. You start tonight, understood?”

Twilight coldly nodded and walked off, not seeing the proud smile on the face of the senior.

Twilight walked over to where three sobbing, heartbroken girls were being comforted by Octavia. “Did you do it?” Octavia asked, and Twilight nodded.

“Twily, you didn’t have to go that far,” Adagio said, wiping her smeared mascara from her eyes.

“We could have dealt with it,” Aria agreed. Sonata said nothing and just sat there with her head on Octavia’s lap.

“No. You protected me, Dagi, and now it’s my turn to protect you. That’s what sisters do.”

By the time the holidays rolled around, word had gotten out to the student body: messing with any one of the Five Sisters immediately brought the wrath of the others.

As the school year wound down, officially they were known still as the Five Sisters.

But behind their backs, everyone referred to them as the Furies.

TEN MONTHS AGO: Life in a Northern Town

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“…and you’ll also be expected to help around the house and some other chores,” a woman told her, brushing locks of purple and gainsboro away from her lively ice-blue eyes. “Otherwise, we’re not going to impose anything on you that we wouldn’t on our own daughter, or our nieces, since they live here as well.”

“How…many girls live here?”

“Well, technically one of them doesn’t; she just stays over often since her parents travel a lot. My daughter, as well as my three other nieces, who are triplets, do, however. So that’s five girls your age.”

Standing there, Sunset didn’t know whether to praise or curse her luck. Wherever turned out to be the home of the cop’s parents, in the affluent suburb of San Palomino – 482 Golden Oaks Drive, to be exact. To make matters both better and worse, it turned out that Armor’s mother was the assistant director for Equestria County’s Department of Social Services. While Twilight Velvet, as the woman was named, had a Ph.D. in Child Psychology, more importantly she had the expertise that could only be gained by raising three children of her own. Furthermore, Armor’s father was Night Light – both a noted physics professor over at Canterlot State University, as well as an author and television host. Still, somehow the two were very involved in their children’s lives.

Standing next to her, Night grinned as Sunset squirmed slightly. “You can relax now. You’ll be fine here, I promise. Of course, as my wife mentioned there will be some adjustments: for example, you’ll have to adjust with sleeping in a boy’s room for a while…provided that my son did clean up his room.”

Armor rolled his eyes. “Dad….” he groaned. “You know, there is a reason that Cady and I moved in together….”

Night just chuckled. “And here I thought it was because you wanted to keep your brother from getting into your comic book collection.” As the son rolled his eyes once more, Night addressed Sunset again. “Don’t mind Shining, miss. He’s a good kid and he’s marrying a wonderful gal. And I trust my son’s judgment, so if he says he thinks you’re okay, then you should be.”

A thought suddenly came to Velvet’s mind. “Oh, also, where are you attending school? Canterlot, County, or one of the ones outside the city?” the older woman asked.

“Canterlot, ma’am,” Sunset replied. As her eyes darted around, looking at the police officer, the older gentleman and the woman, there was something about them that the former pony couldn’t put her finger on, something that seemed unnaturally familiar about them that she couldn’t yet define.

A light blinked on in Velvet’s mind. “Oh! Tia! That will make things easier, then!” Seeing a confused expression come onto the teen’s face, Velvet explained, “Your principal is an old friend of mine. I guess I should call her and let her know about your change of status.”

Sunset’s eyes suddenly widened in panic – if things were problematic before, things just went nuclear, as far as she was concerned.

Forty minutes of shopping later, Sunset and Shining returned to his parents’ home. Seated at the kitchen table was Celestia; it was clear that she’d been waiting for their return. “Shining, if you don’t mind, I’d like to have a word alone with my student.”

“Fine by me,” he told her. “Cady’s probably going to kill me for being home so late anyway,” he said with a grin. “Where are my parents?”

“Both of them went off to pick up your brother from a birthday party he was at, I believe?” she told him.

“Okay, I’ll just call them later, then. Take care, Celestia. And you too, Sunset.” With that, he departed, leaving the two alone in the kitchen.

It didn’t take long for Celestia to begin. “I’m guessing you’re wondering what I told them?” the educator asked, and Sunset nodded. Giving her student a softer glance, she answered, “Don’t worry, I didn’t mention that. I owe a debt of gratitude to that alien princess for fixing everything, and I am a woman of my word, so I’m going to keep my promises to her. Plus, even if I could explain it all, I doubt Velvet would believe me or Luna anyway. I’m sure most people just think that the incident was the result of poor construction when the school was built.”

“Thank you,” Sunset said in a soft voice.

“Oh, I’m not done yet,” Celestia said, and the smile disappeared. “I just had to lie to my best friend, someone I’ve known nearly all my life, just to cover for you. Velvet and I have been friends since childhood, so she’s like family. Furthermore, Shining is marrying my niece, and so that will make them quite literally my family. So as you can see, this is very personal for me.” Celestia took a drink from her coffee, and then continued.

“So I want to make this crystal clear, Sunset Shimmer. This chance you’ve been given? It’s your last. I won’t tolerate any more lies, deceit or whatever you have on your plate. As of now, Velvet will be giving me weekly reports on how your life is here, and likewise, I’ll be doing the same for your schoolwork – so that means no more getting Snips or Snails to do your homework for you.”

Sunset shifted in her seat. “They don’t speak to me anymore since…you know,” she said, starting to wish she was somewhere else at the moment. She wasn’t sure if they even remembered what she’d done to them or even what they’d done to their fellow students, but the two did recall enough to know they wanted to stay the hell away from her.

“Good. Also, I’ll be informing the vice principal of this as well. I know it’s rumored in the school, so let me spell it out for you: yes, Vice Principal Luna is my younger sister. But what that means is that in this arrangement, she’ll have just as much involvement, including getting a hold of Velvet should she need to, understood?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Lastly, I feel that your friends should be made aware of the change in your residence.”

At that, Sunset panicked. “No! Don’t! Please!”

Though she kept it off her face, Celestia was shocked – she now saw the fear Sunset had on her face, completely directed at her. Shit. Velvet, you were right. The thought shamed Celestia slightly and she forced her anger and mistrust of the alien teen to subside. “I didn’t say I would be the one to tell them; I think it should be you.”

“I…I can’t,” Sunset told her.

“Sunset, one of the things you need to learn about humanity is that we rely on each other. I don’t know how things were for you on your homeworld, but if that princess’ actions were typical of your kind I suspect that your species and ours aren’t really that different. Maybe someday there will be an official meeting of the worlds and we’ll find out, but until that time, you’re just a human girl and you need to rely on…well, human nature. And part of that is your circle of friends.

“So I’m going to give you until Monday to tell them – but if you don’t, I will. I’m aware that you work part-time afterschool for the Cakes, and as the guardians of their niece they deserve to know about you and your situation, but that much Pinkie can tell them. Regardless, they are your friends, and they’re likely concerned about you, as that’s what friendship is about, after all.”

Celestia sat there for a few more seconds and before taking another drink of coffee before and finishing up with, “One last thing, Sunset: they have a saying here in this household: the difference between the words cousin and sister is nonexistent in this family. I sincerely suggest you not fight with any of the girls here, because they are very protective of one another, and they will end any fight you start – and it will not go well for you.” She drained the remaining coffee, then looked at the teen once more. “Now, do you have any questions for me?”

“No, but I do have something to say, ma’am: it sounds like you really don’t have much faith in me.”

“Given your track record, can you blame me? Fortunately for you, I have a promise to keep and faith in my students…including you.”

It was the third knock on the door the following morning that stirred Sunset awake. Her head screaming, she sat up, bedhead on her hair and a very loose Sapphire Shores tanktop that was slipping off her shoulder. She was barely able to open her eyes, and she felt completely exhausted. Even though the bed she was currently on was utter heaven compared to the dingy bunk she’d been sleeping on the past few years, the nightmare of the previous night had ruined any real chance of sleep for the first night she’d likely been completely safe since her exile began.

There was another knock on the door, and before she could really gather her wits about her, Sunset mumbled something that sounded vaguely in the ballpark of “Come in.” As her vision came to, she saw a figure before her. She blinked, then rubbed her eyes, making sure she wasn’t hallucinating. But standing before her, wearing a black-and-gray hoodie with Japanese on the front and a poodle skirt – poodle skirt? – was a person she never thought she’d see in her lifetime:

Twilight Sparkle.

There she stood, the same soft smile on her face and the same twinkling purple eyes. “Um…good morning,” she said softly. “Are you okay?”

A sudden flood of emotions overcame Sunset and she was too overwhelmed to speak as she sat up to look at her fellow pony. A dozen sensations roiled through her: joy at seeing her first real friend once more. Sadness in being reminded how that friendship had come about. And confusion as to why the alicorn princess had returned to Earth.

“Twilight?” she asked, barely able to get a hold of herself. “What are you doing here?”

“I…um….” Twilight mumbled, looking down at the floor in an action more akin to Fluttershy than anything else. Finally, with her head still down, she said, “Uh, your shirt….”

Sunset immediately realized that as she sat up, the other strap of her tanktop had slid off that shoulder and the whole thing, already oversized, had slid down her body, and was hanging down past her torso…with nothing now covering her. Sunset quickly covered herself with the nearest pillow, turning bright red in the process.

A rousing amount of laughter sounded from behind the door and another girl came into the room, patting Twilight on the shoulder. Wearing a CARE BEARS STARE THERE! t-shirt and jeans, she had long black hair and eyes the same color as Twilight’s. “Twily, once again, you prove you have such a way with words,” the other girl said, grinning.

“But I….” Twilight stammered.

“Don’t mind her; she’s socially awkward,” the newcomer said.

Recovering somewhat, Twilight blushed and said, “Um, let’s try this again. Hi, I’m Twilight Sparkle, and this joker here is one of my cousins as well as my dubious best friend, Octavia Melody.”

“Why Twilight, I am offended you would say that!”

Twilight shrugged. “It’s a contest between you and Dagi. At least she doesn’t laugh at me.”

“Not that you notice, blockhead,” Octavia drawled. “Anyway, you can just call me Tavi and she goes by Twily. And you’re Sunset? Sunny? Setty?”

“Sunset,” the ex-pony replied as she wriggled under the sheets to adjust her tanktop. And as she did, she now realized why things seemed so familiar: this was the human Twilight Sparkle, and the alicorn princess that Sunset knew was likely still in Equestria, since the dimensional gates were still closed. Likewise, that pony’s pet dog, Spike, had a counterpart in the eight-year-old boy living in the house, though how that happened was beyond Sunset’s ability to grasp.

“Well, Mom figured that you were going to sleep in since you likely didn’t sleep well – unfamiliar location and all,” Twilight rambled, unaware of Sunset’s thoughts, “so she’s making brunch now. I set up the bathroom down the hall for you if you want to take a shower or bath; chances are, the triplets aren’t going to use it right now since they’re probably doing their morning workout. Afterwards, we can eat and talk. I’m guessing you want to know a little about me and Tavi and we’d like to get to know you as well.”

A third girl, one of Chinese ethnicity with curly golden hair poofier than Pinkie’s poked her head in the door. “Hey, I heard we got company?”

“Yeah, didn’t you get Mom’s text?”

“I had a tournament last night, remember?” the new girl told her. “I was exhausted by the time we got home. Ari and Soni are still asleep.”

“Didn’t know it was that late,” Twilight said. “Anyway, this is my other cousin, Adagio Dazzle. Her sisters are still asleep. Dagi, this is Sunset Shimmer. She’s going to be staying with us for a while.”

Adagio offered her hand. “That’s cool. Nice to meet you.” She looked at the clock on the wall. “Wait – does that say 9:30? Shit – Soni’s going to miss her show. You know how she gets when she misses an episode.”

“Yeah, well, let’s go wake her and let Sunset get ready for the day,” Octavia advised.

“Good idea. We’ll see you downstairs, Sunset,” Twilight commented as the girls departed the room.

“Um…okay,” Sunset answered as she struggled for words, lost for them once more. Maybe if this was Princess Twilight Sparkle, perhaps she could have handled the whole thing better, but the awkward girl standing in front of her was definitely not that pony, and so Sunset was just going to have to start off from scratch. Maybe that was a good thing; there were probably large differences between the two Twilights, just as there had been between the two Celestias and most definitely the two Spikes – it would be unfair to hang what Sunset knew of the alicorn princess on this girl standing before her.

Besides, if we’re going to be living together, I should get to know her and not just assume she’s like the Twilight I knew, Sunset thought to herself as she climbed out of bed to get ready for the day.

Velvet had worried about Sunset’s freakout earlier in the night at Buca, given that she was overwhelmed, but thankfully the girls had taken care of that for her. They were now doing their best to try to make her feel comfortable since she would be living here for a while, but unfortunately for them, tomorrow was a school day.

Velvet knocked on Sunset’s door and poked her head in. “Girls, I know you’re all having fun, but you should really call it a night, okay?” When the group groaned, she added, “I’ve got to get up early, get us all fed, then drop off both Spike and Sunset before heading to work. Twily, your father will be taking you five to school tomorrow. So with that being said, cut us old folks some slack, okay?”

“Fine, we get the message, Mom,” Twilight answered.

“We were just wrapping up anyway, Aunt Velvet,” Octavia answered.

Aria stretched. “Yeah, besides, I need to get up early anyway, if I’m going to take a shower before everyone hogs all the hot water.” When her answer earned her scowls from the other teens, she asked coquettishly, “What did I say?”

Sunset chose to ignore that and instead addressed Velvet. “Besides, I’m guessing that Principal Celestia will want to see me before class starts,” she hazarded.

“Most likely,” Velvet agreed. “Goodnight, girls; see you in the morning.” With that, Velvet closed the door, leaving the group in peace.

About an hour later, Velvet noticed that the lights were still on. Girls, it’s two in the morning, she mentally grumbled. You’d better have a good reason for staying up so late! Opening the door, she was prepared to scold the hexad…but stopped.

Though the lights were on, five girls were asleep on the bed. Though they all had their own separate bedrooms, it was more than common for Twilight and Octavia to sleep together, given that they’d been doing it since they were children. But when Velvet found out the triplets did it as well, it was an interesting coincidence. Moreso when all five started doing so.

And now there was a sixth: in the center, seeming as though she’d always belonged, was Sunset. There was a hint of a smile on the girl’s face, as though she subconsciously knew that for the first time in a long while, she didn’t have to fear being alone. Velvet had no doubt whatsoever that tonight would probably be the best night of sleep that the troubled youth would have had in a long, long time.

A motherly smile crept onto the matron’s face. Quietly entering the room, she bent down and kissed her daughter on the forehead, then her nieces. And after a slight second, she did the same to Sunset. Taking care to be quiet, she slipped the comforter over the group, gazing at them one last time before she turned off the light switch.

“Good night, my sweet girls,” she whispered warmly before closing the door.

NINE MONTHS AGO: The Unforgettable Fire

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“So, how do you guys know Sunset?” Twilight asked, taking a drink from a double-chocolate raspberry mocha. From the looks on the faces of the five girls seated across from Applejack and her friends, she noted that this seemed more like an interrogation than anything else – this Twilight definitely didn’t seem as friendly as the alien princess that they knew.

Applejack started. “Well, Ah met her when Ah moved here to Canterlot couple of years ago from Heavener, Oklahoma – mah family had a farm there, but things didn’t do too well and we moved here to take over mah grandpa’s old store. So Sunset and Ah met then. Truthfully, let’s just say things’re better now than they were back then.”

“Yeah, no shit,” Rainbow continued. “As for me, I’ve probably known her the longest. Met her back in Seventh Grade when I moved here from Cloudsdale. She was a bitch back then and we’ve done a couple of mano a mano dances, but…I like her the way she is now.”

Rarity was next. “Well, Fluttershy and I met her last year during our freshman year. It…didn’t go well, and frankly if you’d asked me back then, I would have said I wouldn’t want to have a single thing to do with her. Thankfully, I’ve been proven wrong.”

“Pass,” Pinkie said. A second later, she said, “She used to pick on me a lot because I’m somewhat excitable, admittedly, but I never let it really get to me. But now that she’s my friend? It’s totally awesome!”

“Well, what about you five?” Rarity asked. “Forgive me for inquiring, but you seem very concerned about her well-being, considering that none of you are related to her.”

Twilight took another sip of her coffee, then looked at Rarity. “The five of us were raised with a saying: that there’s no real difference between sister and cousin in our household. In a sense, I don’t have four cousins – I have four sisters.”

“Sucks being the youngest,” Sonata joked.

“It’s important to us. So…well, I know this is going to sound funny, but I almost feel as though I have to be there for her. Yes, she’s living with us now, and we could probably ignore her with minimal fuss. But from everything I’ve known about her for the past month, she was someone who’s been hurt terribly, someone who’s been forced, in a sense, to live by herself all this time, and has nothing, really. From what it sounds like, she didn’t even really have you as friends until recently.”

The five girls looked at each other. “That’d be truthful, Ms. Twilight—”

“Please, just call me Twily,” the girl said. “If we’re going to be friends, then Twily’s fine.”

Applejack grinned. “Then it’s ‘AJ’ for me. Anyway, yeah – after the incident at Homecoming, we came into her lives the way we are now.”

“Yeah, definitely,” Rainbow said, popping herself into the conversation, much to Applejack’s relief. While she didn’t want to lie to Twilight and the others, she’d never been very good at falsehoods, as if being honest was an elemental part of her life. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on the situation), Rainbow’s thing was loyalty to friends and as such, she had no compunctions about lying. “Yeah. Earlier, she was a total sack of shit. But that night, after the building fell apart and she got dumped from being the Homecoming Queen, she came to the five of us. Maybe it was because she picked on us more than anyone in the school, or maybe it was because she felt we’d be able to give her a second chance, but she promised us that she’d change her ways, and in the past few weeks, she has been. And she knows that lots of other students at school won’t give her a second chance – hell, a few of them are probably even carrying a grudge. But she’s really trying and for that, she’s got my friendship, no doubt.”

“Mine too,” Applejack agreed.

“I daresay that goes for all of us, ladies,” Rarity added, while Fluttershy nodded.

“Well, girls, if you’ll keep an eye out for her at school, we’ll do the same at home,” Octavia answered. “Oh, and by the way, you can just call me Tavi.” Pointing to each of the triplets, she said, “And that’s Dagi, Ari and Soni.”

“Sounds like we’ve got a plan then,” Rainbow said. “Now, the next thing: gotta find out who the fuck did this to her.” Turning to her fellow Canterlot High students, the athlete then said, “Based on who we know could have done this, my guess is…” Her face went crestfallen as she added, “…pretty much any student on campus except the five of us.”

“Really? Please tell me you’re kidding, Rainbow,” Aria asked, somewhat surprised at Sunset’s “accomplishment.”

“No, I’m not. And maybe there was a time where you could have theoretically added us to that list, too,” Rainbow told the other girl. “But it’s different now. Whatever she’s done in the past, Sunset’s my friend now and I’m not going to let whoever hurt her do it again.”

“Well, when you find out, let us know,” Adagio said in a dangerous tone. “I’d be very interested in having a chat with someone who doesn’t play by the rules.”


Adagio sighed. “So let me see if I get this: you three are fighting because…fuck, I have a headache. Ari, you deal with this. I’m going to see if I can find where Uncle Night puts the booze and go get drunk.”

“I’m joining you,” Aria added. “Soni, all yours.”

“Gee, thanks,” she said to her sisters. Sonata then turned to face the girls. “So let me see if I got this straight: while we were out of town – out of town because we had to go attend our grandfather’s funeral in Vancouver – you three got tied up in that shit with the rape club that’s all over the news right now…and you three are mad at each other because Sunny saved you two?”

“I didn’t ask for it!” Twilight said defensively.

“She risked herself needlessly!” Octavia added.

Sunset didn’t say anything, but instead sat there sulking.

Sonata facepalmed. “Girls, may I remind you I’m the youngest of us six and you three are acting like you’re barely older than Spike? Grow the fuck up! We are a family! Cousins, sisters, whatever, fill in the blanks!”

“Her fault!”

“No, hers!”

Again, Sunset added nothing to the conversation, but instead gave Sonata a look that basically said, Help me out here.

Sonata groaned and fought the urge to facepalm once more. “If you three don’t shut up I’m going to start quoting from Hilo & Stitch,” the youngest triplet threatened. When the three did not, Sonata did a credible imitation of the character: “Ohana means family. Family means—”

“We get the point, Soni,” Octavia said testily.

“Oh, you do, Tavi? Sorry, I’m tired from having just gotten off a flight an hour ago. You know, the flight back from Canada where I lost yet another member of my family?” The caustic attitude vanished from Sonata as she said, “You three know me and my sisters. We’ve lost too much. We barely know our father, we lost our mother and our stepmother, and we don’t get to see the aunt that may as well have been a third mother to us as much anymore. I don’t want to lose you three, too.”

“You won’t, Soni,” Sunset told her. The three other girls looked at each other, realizing how foolish they’d been to one another, and within minutes, started making up.

Watching from the kitchen, Adagio said to her sister, “Toldja she’d be able to do it.”

“Damn, she is one manipulative little bitch,” Aria said appreciatively of her sister’s skills.

“Guess there's some advantages to being the youngest of us,” Adagio replied. “Anyway, you owe me $10.”


“Dagi, you weren’t there!” Sunset said. “Twily tried to kill herself!”

“Sunny, no offense, okay? I have a hard time believing that. This is Twily we’re talking about here – she’s afraid of blood if it’s not in a clinical setting. You’re getting worked up over nothing.”

“No, I’m not. It’s just….”

Adagio patted her pseudo-cousin on the back. “I know this isn’t easy. Tavi’s having to deal with her parents moving away for good, and while my sisters and I are used to that, I’ve got a big karate tournament I’m practicing for, Ari’s got Olympic archery tryouts, and Sonata is trying to get everything ready for when we go spend two weeks in Berlin with our dad while everyone else is going to Italy.”

“You don’t understand!”

“Look, real talk time here, okay? A few weeks after Softy died, one of us – not sure which one of us it was – developed a problem wetting the bed due to stress.”

“So you were wetting the bed because you were stressed out?”

“I…yeah, okay, it was me,” she said, blushing. “I thought I had to be the big sister not just for my sisters, but for the baby Softy was going to have. And for a while, after she died, I thought it was my fault, because I wasn’t going to be a good enough big sister. Because I couldn’t save my stepmother. I know it wasn’t my fault, but critical thinking skills are kinda lacking when you’re nine years old. The point I’m making is that at one time or another in our life, we just…we just fall apart. Maybe we’re supposed to as people. I don’t know.”

“You sound as though you’re experienced with this.”

“We barely have a relationship with our father because we’ve been raised either by our aunts or a stepmother not really much older than we are now,” Adagio said with a hint of resentment. “You tell me.”

“I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

“So am I. Don’t get me wrong: we love our father. We wouldn’t be who we are, or maybe even together if it wasn’t for him and Mom. And he’s trying now, which is better than nothing. I mean, it’s why we’re going to go spend two weeks with him, right?” The smile came back onto Adagio’s face. “Twily’s freaking out right now, but maybe it’s just the stress of everything that’s getting to her. Trust me, give it a couple of weeks after vacation and things will be back to normal. I’m sure of it.”

Sunset thought about Cavalcanti’s mirror and the world on the other side of it – and the threat hitting her sister because of it. “I’m going to make sure of it, Dagi. I’m going to make sure of it.”

TWO MONTHS AGO: Hard Act to Follow

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Deep Dish’s Pizza Parlor was across the street from the hospital and at the moment, the largest table was taken up by two extra-large supremes, a couple of pitchers of Coke, eight teenage girls and one woman. As each of them grabbed a slice, Posey took a drink from her beer and asked, “Where do you want me to start, sweetie?”

“The truth, Mom,” Fluttershy said simply. “And start from the beginning.”

“Okay, you know that Redheart and I have been friends since medical school, right?” Fluttershy nodded. “Well, your father and I met when Red and I went to a concert at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater. We won backstage passes that night and went. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect – was I going to be treated like some groupie, ending up stoned, drunk and with my pants off in his bed? Or was I going to be given the kid gloves treatment? The truth was? Neither.”

“Neither?” Sunset asked.

Posey shook her head. “The concert itself? It was great. Watching him and the band on-stage – this was the classic line-up, with him, Tirek, Screw Loose and Steel Strings. They rocked hard, and even before everything, I was a fan. So it was just a shock to see the wild, deliriously silly and happy Discord walk off stage…and turn into probably the saddest man I’ve ever met. Don’t get me wrong: he was polite, shook our hands, signed some autographs and then walked to his dressing room. Screw Loose was with her fiancé, so I didn’t get to meet her then; and this was just before Steel Strings was kicked out of the band for excessive drug use, so he was already high as a kite. But it was Tirek who had the most impact.”

“Wait – aren’t Discord and Tirek rivals ever since he quit to form ECI?” Sunset asked.

Posey laughed. “Nothing but record company posturing. They wanted to give Tirek an edge, so that’s why. In truth, he and Discord have been best friends since they first met. In any case, Tirek pulled us aside and took us to the staff cafeteria, where we sat down for some coffee. He told us that happy, crazy Discord, a man who even then was considered one of the new gods of rock, was completely and utterly dialing it in.That he was tired and lonely and though he loved performing, he was still, after all these years, nursing a broken heart after the one that got away.”

“Celestia,” Twilight spoke as if on cue.

“MS. CELESTIA?!” Fluttershy, Sunset, and Rarity said at the same time.

“Yeah,” Aria said. “She and Aunt Velvet were talking about it one day while we were working on our homework, and we overheard. They used to be an item, but for some reason it didn’t really pan out.”

“I…guess that explains the awkward meeting she and I had your freshman year, sweetie,” Posey told Fluttershy. “I just thought that it was just one of those natural dislike issues people have from time to time, but I guess she must’ve found out and put two and two together. I suppose that also explains why she’s tended to keep tabs on you more than the average student, unless she’s that involved in all her students’ lives like that. But again, I’m digressing.

“Anyway, Tirek apologized for Discord, but pointed out that it had been the anniversary of the day he’d broken up with her – well, now I know it’s Celestia – and that he forced himself to go onstage. He offered to give us tickets for the next venue along with others to make up for it, and Red took him up on that. But I couldn’t.

“So, ignoring what probably was my better judgment, I rushed upstairs and stormed into Discord’s dressing room, where he was playing with a silver pistol and tears streaming down his cheeks. Fearing the worst – this was the month after Flaming Burrito committed suicide with a gun in his hotel room in Vegas – I knocked it out of his hand and hugged him as hard as I could, saying that he wasn’t alone, that it wasn’t the way to end it, that I wouldn’t let him end himself like that.

“I could feel his tears soaking my shirt. That night, he let everything go – all his pain, all his heartbreak, all his loss – for a crazy medical student who knocked a pistol-shaped lighter out of his hands.”

“A lighter?” Fluttershy asked.

“Yes, a lighter. When he realized how it looked, he couldn’t apologize enough,” Posey answered. “That night, I slept with him – and no, don’t get any wrong ideas; we had a late dinner that night, then went to his hotel room and talked into the wee hours – he apparently really needed to talk. By the time he was done airing everything out, we both crashed on the emperor-sized bed in his penthouse suite. The following morning, we had breakfast in bed, and I skipped classes talking to him all day. We then snuck out of the hotel – it was his last day in town before he was scheduled to play in Phoenix – and went to the movies. After that, he had the limo drop me off at the apartment me and Red lived at and saw me off.

“For the rest of that year, we kept in touch via email or he would call me – you’d laugh if you thought how many others thought I was dating a guy named Disco Red. By the time he came back, I’d already started my internship at UC Irvine Medical. He strode on in, making a big show in the emergency room then parked right in front of the desk with the biggest bouquet I’d ever seen. And, because Discord was being Discord, the bouquet was nothing but dandelions…common flowers that are often considered nothing more than weeds.” The smile on her face was wide as she added, “A bouquet about the diameter of a telephone pole, made up of nothing but florist-grade dandelions. To this day I have no idea how he pulled it off. But as I came in, he formally asked me for a date and of course I said yes – the year of constant talking to each other had tied us together enough to set a spark, but it was then that it became a fire.”

Rarity sighed. “That’s very romantic, Doctor.”

“The next few years, were great. We lived in his mansion in Corona Del Mar, and I commuted to and fro while he recorded more music. Eventually Steel Strings was bounced out of the band and was replaced by Smooth Strummer. Eventually on the European leg of another tour, I joined him in Monaco, where he proposed to me. We then married a year later, and…that’s when everything went wrong.”

“Went wrong?”

Posey nodded. “You were everything he always wanted, Fluttershy,” her mother told her. “He loved you from the moment he found out I was pregnant and never let go. He didn’t want to. To him, you, and later Angel, were his life. You remember those moments, don’t you?”

Fluttershy said nothing, but instead recalled everything: the father who would, out of the blue, decide to make a cake for his precious daughter at four in the morning; the dad who used to take her for long walks in the fields, pointing out the various kinds of butterflies; the parent that would, despite his wife’s profession, insist on taking care of Fluttershy’s cuts and scrapes, kissing them to make them feel better. Everything that Fluttershy remembered about her father in the past was nothing but pleasant memories. But that was the problem: it was in the past.

“Forgive me for asking,” Twilight spoke, “but…what happened?”

Posey was about to continue, when Fluttershy rose from her chair. “Everyone…I…I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” the teen said, a distraught look on her face.

“Sweetheart, you can’t keep hiding from your father,” Posey told her daughter. “You may want to deny it, but he still loves you. He still loves all of us.”

“And you never told me that you’re still married to him,” Fluttershy accused. “You never told me anything!”

“It was to protect your father,” Posey answered, looking down at the table. “You don’t remember, do you? Your father had neglected his career, and the record company was about to drop him. Furthermore, we were being hounded by paparazzi who wanted to prove that your father had turned his back on his fans – they weren’t doing it just for the money, they were actually out to hurt him and us!” Posey looked away. “So, he and I made an agreement.”

“An agreement?” Sonata asked.

Posey nodded. “We would live separately. We moved from Orange County up here to Canterlot, where I was from, and he bought the house we live in. At the same time, he sold the place we were all living in and bought a higher-profile one in Malibu so that he could throw meaningless parties and keep up his image, just to keep the press hounds off us.”

“Mom, what do you mean ‘move up here’? I was born here! Lived my whole life here!” Fluttershy countered.

But the doctor shook her head. “Sweetheart, have you actually looked at your birth certificate? You were born at the UCI Medical Center in Irvine, sweetie. We lived in Corona Del Mar until you were nine.”

“But I attended Mrs. Cuddlebunny’s kindergarten class! And we’ve lived in the same house practically since I first learned to walk!”

“Fluttershy, you attended Mrs. Fluffykitten’s kindergarten class at the private school we sent you to – and the fact that those two teachers were identical twins was one of the weirdest things that I found out about since we’ve lived here! Hell, your father and I made sure that our current house looked a lot like the old one. We even kept the recliner that you used to sit in with your father – you used to fall asleep in his lap all the time,” she said, tears of melancholy starting to well in her eyes.

“Fluttershy, I love your father – he has been the only man in my life. And despite what you’ve read in the news, he only loves me. But it’s hurt him to be away from you two. He wants you back in his life, Fluttershy! He wants us to be a family again, and he doesn’t care if it costs him!”

The chiffon-haired teen folded her arms. “I wish I could believe that. And he’s had years to do so…but he never did.” She then looked at Rarity, a look of pleading in her eyes. “Do you mind if I stay over your place tonight? I…I need some time to think.”

“Not at all; of course you’re welcome over, Fluttershy, dear,” Rarity replied, though she sounded nervous. She felt that she was stepping into a situation that she shouldn’t be involved in, but she couldn’t turn down a friend in need.

“Fine; let’s go.” Without waiting for anything else, or even saying goodbye to her mother, she picked up her purse and walked out of the pizza place.

Posey took the hint immediately. “Rarity, please take care of her. This…this isn’t ea….” Posey broke down into tears and Octavia moved to her side immediately.

“We’ll take care of this,” the raven-haired girl told her friend. “You deal with Flutters.”

“I’ll go with her,” Twilight offered. “You two take care of Dr. Posey and we’ll see to Fluttershy.”

“I think I’d better go with as well,” Adagio suggested. With that, all three girls departed the pizza place, chasing after their frustrated friend.

Meanwhile, Octavia looked at Posey and asked, “What can we do, Doctor? I know I’m to blame for all of this coming out, and I want to make amends, both to Flutters and you. She told me it wasn’t necessary, but….”

Posey looked up at the two girls with tear-stained eyes. “Just…please…help my daughter. She doesn’t understand what’s going on. And while she has the right to her feelings – neither my husband or I have handled this well, in hindsight – we just want what’s the best for our children. Fluttershy will be an adult soon, and on her own, and I want her and her father to make up before she heads off to college. If not, they may never do so.” She took Octavia’s hands in hers and pled, “Please. For my family’s sake, I need your help. Fluttershy needs your help.”

“We’ll do everything we can, Doctor, I promised you and I mean to keep that vow,” Sunset said from behind Octavia. “Fluttershy’s our friend; we won’t leave her hanging. Will you be okay?”

The doctor nodded. “I’m a big girl, Sunset. I’ve been through much worse. But I appreciate the concern. Go ahead and get going; I’ll take care of everything here.”


“You know, even after all this I still have a hard time believing your father is Discord,” Aria told Fluttershy as they all waited in the terminal at Napa Airfield, waiting for the charter flight that would take them home.

“I suppose it is, but as you know, it’s true,” Fluttershy told her friend. “It’s been…tough, but I can’t deny that. And now that I know the truth about my parents, hopefully things will be better.” She looked at Adagio. “But did you have to hit Rose and Pea?”

“Well excuse me for overreacting,” Adagio non-apologized. “I go into your room to read you the riot act, and Pea is there, naked as a jaybird, you look like you’ve been slugged and Rose is yelling at you. Sorry, but I protect my friends.”

“Pea was what?” Sunset asked.

“You did what to Rose?” Rainbow retorted at the same time.

“It was a misunderstanding, okay? We got it cleared up. We were trying to help Flutters and we didn’t think our cunning plan all the way through,” Rose admitted.

“You mean you were being extra stupid about it,” Adagio reminded her.

“Dagi, you know what I used to do for a living. Sorry if I’m still a bit limited in scope when it comes to planning,” Sweet Pea muttered.

At this point Rainbow stepped in. “You owe me a better explanation than that, Dazzle. Rose is a close friend of the family.”

“And Fluttershy isn’t?”

Rainbow suddenly realized what she was saying. “Yeah, okay, I sound like an idiot.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time, Rainbow,” Aria cracked.

“So, you’re not coming with us, Flutters?” Sonata asked, trying to change the subject.

Fluttershy shook her head. “I actually took the following week off as well, so Dad asked if I’d come with him to his tour dates in Sacramento and then the tour bus should be able to drop me off at home while he’s on the way to finish up the rest of his tour.”

“Sounds like you have a lot of catching up to do,” Twilight commented.

“Yeah. But it’ll be worth it.” Fluttershy hugged her friends and thanked them for everything, not sure of what else she could say. “I don’t deserve to have friends as good as you all.”

“We’ll send a bill for services,” Rose cracked, and Sweet Pea laughed.

“But I guess that means you’re moving to LA?” Pinkie asked sadly, her hair starting to deflate. “That’s where your dad lives, right?”

Ha! As if,” Discord said, walking up to them all, Posey and Angel in tow. He was dressed in a polo shirt and slacks again, very much not what was expected of him – and something he relished. “Actually, we’re keeping the Malibu place as a vacation home. We actually own undeveloped land in San Palomino...something something Golden Oaks–”

“Wait – you own that undeveloped plot at the end of the street?” Twilight asked. “That means that Fluttershy’ll be living down the street from us!”

“Not immediately,” Posey explained. “We still have to build a home there and that’s going to take a bit. We’ll actually be renting out the penthouse in the Marriott Renaissance Retreat downtown. And since we’ll still have ownership of the house we’re currently living in, Fluttershy can still use that as an address so she doesn’t have to change schools if she wants to stay at CHS.”

“I do,” Fluttershy said, putting her arms around Rainbow and Sunset. “I wouldn't want to leave my life just because it’s changed.”

“Are you sure?” Discord asked. “Now that people know who you are, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to hide from the paparazzi.”

Fluttershy beamed as she gestured to her friends. “I think I’ll have enough help with that.”


“So I was thinking we could all go to Modesto for the end of the year vacation, not only to celebrate the end of Summer, but also to celebrate both Twilight and the triplets’ birthdays, as well as Sunny’s adoption at the end of August!” Pinkie chirped. “We’ll make this a blast to remember forever!”

“Yeah, you girls had to go and be born a week away from each other, didn’t you?” Fluttershy gently teased.

“Technically, we don’t know when we were born,” Adagio told her. “Our birth certificates are actually marked with the day we were found. Hell, to be honest, we don’t even know our birth order – that’s based on when we were given our names.”

“Yeah, just think about it: Soni could actually be the oldest of us,” Aria said with a grin. “Wouldn’t that be horrifying?”

“But I like being the baby!” Sonata responded with a mock-pout.

“Well, from comparing all our calendars, the best time to do it would be just after Twily’s birthday,” Octavia suggested. “What do you think, Twily?” The answer to that was silence, as Twilight sat, sulking in the corner.

Adagio got up from her seat. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but I promised Bonnie I would spar with her today. You up for coming with, AJ?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind swinging by mah place so Ah can get mah gear,” she said.

“Not at all.” She looked at the others. “We’ll see you guys later.”

“Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but it looks like work is picking up again,” Sunset said, “so I gotta get back to work.”

“We can help,” Sonata and Pinkie said.

“Aren’t you two off the clock today? Besides, if necessary I can call in Pepperdance and Garden Variety, if they’re not already scheduled to work at the other store.”

Sonata looked at the clock. “Oh, besides, I think Trixie wanted me to come over and see if I could fix her PS4 controllers. Apparently, Lyra’s been throwing them against the wall again when she loses.”

“You’d think she’d stop being such a poor sport in PVP,” Pinkie added.

“Well, far be it from me to stop you from doing that,” Sunset said. “You two go on and have a fun day off.”

Both Pinkie and Sonata left Sugarcube Corner, headed towards Sonata’s car. “Pinkie, you’ve got to tell her.”

Pinkie uncharacteristically frowned. “I shouldn’t have told you.”

“Pinkie, the last sleepover we had I caught you nearly kissing Sunny while she was asleep. It was fairly obvious.”

“Yeah,” Pinkie said dully as she got into the car. “I suppose it was.”

“Look, are your aunt and uncle opposed to you being gay or something?”

“Well, for starters, I’m bi, not gay – I had a boyfriend last year and the relationship…ended badly. And I’d rather not talk about him right now, if you don’t mind.” She sighed. “It’s just…look, I’ll tell Sunny when I have the chance. I just had a moment of weakness.”

“No, you had a moment of desire, girl,” Sonata said as they headed towards Trixie’s house. “And last time I checked, it was all just a part of being human.”

“When it comes to your cousin,” Pinkie sighed, “that’s just part of the problem.”

FIVE WEEKS AGO: This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)

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“Yeah, we’ll do so as soon as we can. Don’t worry, Evening, we’ll take care of it. You know we’ll take care of her…even if it means that we’re going to have to replace all the stuff in her room…yes, she even broke those. Yeah, we’re worried too. I’ll keep you guys updated.” Night hung up the phone and looked at his wife, who was lying down in bed. “Evening and Ballad want us to take her to see a psychiatrist as soon as we can – actually, they beat me to the punch in suggesting it.”

“I’ll call both Zecora and Posey in the morning and see if there’s anyone they can recommend,” Velvet mourned. “I hate this. I hate seeing our girls like this, Night, at each other’s throats. It’s that damn drug – it hurt Twily, and now it’s hurting Tavi!”

“We don’t know that, Vel,” he said, moving next to his wife. “Maybe it’s something else. We won’t know until we take her in.”

“You didn’t see, Night. The look in her eyes – it was like she wasn’t our Tavi anymore.” The look on Velvet’s face was heartbroken. “It wasn’t our niece, Night…I think she would have murdered Sunny if she had the chance!” She turned away from him. “I can’t bear to see another one of our girls go through this again.”

He reached over and embraced her. “We’ll get her the help she needs. Evening and Ballad are counting on us, and I would do it even if they weren’t.”

There was a knock on the door. “Mr. Night? Mrs. Velvet?” The door opened slowly, revealing Trixie. “I just thought you’d want to know: Sunset’s up.”

Velvet, despite her pain, leapt off the bed and raced for the door in a flash. She nearly made it to Sunset’s room when she stumbled, only to be caught by Minuette.

“She’s fine, Mrs. V,” Minuette explained. “We’re giving her some space to eat and talk to the others. But I think our bigger problem’s in the other room. How are you feeling?”

“Truthfully? I don’t know what hurts more right now: my stomach or my heart.” Velvet looked down the hall that had led towards the addition of the house had been built. Sitting outside a door and looking very uncomfortable, was Rainbow. “Where are the others?”

“Inside with Octavia,” Rainbow yawned. “It’s literally taking every one of the martial artists we have in this house right now to keep Tavi pinned down. I don’t know what the hell’s going on, but it’s like Tavi’s got the strength of like, four people or something. I’ve never seen anything like it. She actually landed a hit on Dagi!”

“And why are you there?” Velvet looked to see Night standing next to her, looking at the teen. He already knew the answer, and though he said nothing, the very idea worried him.

“Not gonna let her go anywhere near you or Sunny. Tavi’s one of us, but between you and me, that…whatever…that’s in there? That’s not Tavi. Not the one we know.”

“Well, I need to go in there to talk to her,” Night said. “I trust that my niece won’t hurt me.”

“Frankly, right now I don’t, but you’re the one in charge here,” Rainbow said, standing up and moving from the door.

“Dad!” Fluttershy shouted from her room.

“It’s too early in the morning for this, hon,” Posey said, trying not to fall asleep in her coffee. “What did you do?”

In the kitchen making omelets, Discord had the very look of innocence on his face. Which, of course, meant that everyone knew he was guilty as hell. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean.”

“Hon?” Posey said simply, and in that simple syllable contained the multitudes of every raised eyebrow, every huffed statement and every angry glare. This was clearly a married woman who knew her husband all too well.

And he knew it too. “Okay, okay, look, I just want to try to make up for not being there all those times, okay?”

“It’s not a contest, Dee,” his wife reminded him.

“You’re right, it’s not,” he said in a tone that sounded hurt. “I just want to make it up to her, okay?”

“I don’t know what you did, but you’ll want to explain it soon.”

At that point, Fluttershy came out of her room with her bags in tow, the look on her face somewhere between hurt, testy and worried. “Dad, I’m sure you had a very good reason for doing it, but could you please tell me why you cancelled our plans to go to Modesto?”

Discord gave his daughter a bemused smile. “Because it’s nothing but farmland?”

Fluttershy crossed her arms. “Except for the camping area and the cabin we took forever to find.”

He sidled over to her and put a loving arm around her shoulders. “Fluttershy, dear, don’t you think that I would’ve made sure my darling daughter and her stalwart friends had the time of their lives?” With a sleight of hand that would’ve made a magician – or at least a particular teenage one Fluttershy knew – jealous, he produced an ivory-colored folder with gold embossing on it. “You might just prefer this instead.”

Fluttershy took it and looked at it. “Club Tropicana?”

Posey woke up slightly at that. “The one in Harmony?”

“I would’ve set them up at the one in Jamaica, but I didn’t know if the others had passports,” he said with a shrug.

Posey walked over to the coffeemaker, a slight smile on her face. “You old charmer,” she said fondly to her husband.

He winked. “Aren’t I, though?”

As for Fluttershy, she opened the folder and looked at the documents within. “Dad, this is—”

“One of the best resorts in the world – exclusive luxury beachfront villas, complete with a private beach, golf course and reservations desk service. So premier, in fact, the waiting list is a year in advance – and that’s if you’re a celebrity; the merely wealthy have to wait even longer. You’ve got two weeks to enjoy everything there is there, as well as the town of Harmony itself and nearby Cambria and Morro Bay. You’ll love the place.”

“You will,” Posey said, moving to where her husband was. “Your father took me there before we were married. It’s a gorgeous place.”

A look of amazement crossed the teen’s face followed by realization that there was no way she could afford this, much less her friends. “Are you sure?”

He waved it off. “Just put it on the card. In fact, you can pretty much put everything you all need on that card. Heaven knows American Express charges me a fortune for it anyway.”


Sunset was jolted out of her thoughts from that one word. She looked up at the flames to make sure she hadn’t slipped into a dream. The flames themselves were almost out and more of the glowing embers from charred wood, as small tendrils of smoke escaped into the sky. But the smoke was clear enough that Sunset could see across to the other side of the concrete ring, and on that other side, was a plum-haired girl with locks of magenta and violet, looking right at her.

Sunset said nothing. She wasn’t sure what she could say anymore.

Twilight looked at her. “I really don’t know what to think anymore, I really don’t. So I’m going to say what’s on my mind – and I don’t want you to say a single thing. I just want you to listen.” Sunset merely nodded, waiting for Twilight to continue. “I don’t know what’s going on with you and the others – and I don’t care. What I care about is our relationship. You’re supposed to be my sister. You’re supposed to be there for me when I need you…and I’m supposed to be there for you when you need me.

“Tavi and Dagi think you’re running from something, something so bad that it makes you refuse to talk about your past, because you’re so frightened that you refuse to even accept that it exists, much less tell us. And I have to wonder: are you in danger? Are we? Are you putting us in danger?” Sunset gazed up at Twilight, a horrified look on her face. She was about to say something when Twilight said, “Don’t. Talk.”

Twilight moved over next to Sunset and sat down. “This is the part I hate most about you, Sunset Shimmer. You’re supposed to be my sister. Sisters rely on each other. Our cousins and I have been there for each other through thick and thin, you know that. And we’ve fought before – usually my fault, because I’m probably not the most mature person on the planet when it comes to my emotions. And you and I should be the same way.

“You saved my life – literally, and nearly at the cost of yours. And now there’s something you’re afraid of, but you’re not turning to the family that loves you, that’s there for you.” Twilight got back up and dusted off her shorts. “I have to wonder: should we be afraid as well? And if the girl who was brave enough to throw herself in front of a speeding truck in order to save my life is afraid of something? We should probably be afraid, too.”

Twilight took a step away from Sunset, her back to the flame-haired girl. “Please, if I’m wrong, tell me. If you love this family enough to protect it from whatever you’re afraid of, then you’ll say something. Because I have a family that I love, and that I have to protect as well.”

Sunset looked at her sister. “Twily, I—”

A gasp sounded, and both Sunset and Twilight turned around to see…Sunset Shimmer. She was with, surprisingly, Coco Pommel, of all people.

“Twily?” Coco gasped, looking at her soon-to-be school mentor and the taller Sunset Shimmer.

“Coco, what are you doing here?” Twilight asked.

“My aunt and cousin were in town for my grandmama’s funeral,” Coco explained, “and then she decided that we needed a few days of relaxation, so she brought us here. What are you doing here?”

“Spending time with my sister, my cousins and my friends.”

But to their surprise, it was the two Sunsets that looked at each other with fascination. The taller one spoke first. “Wow,” Sunset said, scratching the back of her head in surprise, knowing full well who she was face to face with. “I guess it’s true what they say: that there’s someone on the planet that looks exactly like you.”

“Yeah, color me surprised.” The shorter flame-haired girl smiled and offered her hand. “Hi, I’m Sunset Shimmer.”

Twilight’s jaw practically dropped. “What did you say your name was?”

“It’s Sunset Shimmer, though I usually go by Shimmy, why?”

Twilight pointed at the girl next to her. “Because she’s Sunset Shimmer!” Twilight looked at her sister with sudden fear.

“Twily, I-I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this….” Sunset stammered, only to see her sister start backing away in terror.

Thankfully, she was stopped as she almost collided with Pinkie. “Hey, Twily, be careful where you’re walking! Almost ran into me.” It was then that Pinkie saw both Sunsets and gasped. “Oh my God – I think I’m going to have some awesome dreams tonight!”

Sunset sighed. “Pinkie….”

“No, you can’t stop me from dreaming, Sunny! And this is definitely hitting all my buttons!” she grinned sultrily.

Sunset looked at her doppelganger. “Look, I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason why we look alike and are both named Sunset Shimmer.”

“There is,” Shimmer said with surprise, “but if it’s true…you’re a ghost.”

“And that’s all you can tell us?” the FBI agent asked. It was two days later, and they were back in Canterlot, awaiting the testing.

“That’s all I really remember,” Sunset said. “Ms. Faustus just departed one day and I ran away. It started snowing heavily that night and I don’t recall much else, other than I ultimately ended up at the old Flim-Flam Bros. factory. She’d taught me to be independent and resilient, and as I told Shining, I found some old seed money there, as well as the drugs I’d thrown away.”

“I can’t believe it,” Solaire said, her eyes moist with tears. “All these years, we thought you’d been stillborn – we didn’t even check the coffin when they brought it to us, because we believed what we were told. But it was a lie.”

“Soli….” Velvet began.

“No. It is not your fault.” Solaire’s eyes blazed with anger. “It is the fault of the nurse that stole my child from me and made my family live a lie.”

It was then that another FBI agent showed up. “Hey, I just went through their records,” he said to Shining. “It checks out: there was a nurse named Faustus that briefly worked here around the time that Ms. D’ Celestia gave birth and quit the week afterwards. She worked in natal care, so there’s a motive.”

“That’s assuming this isn’t all just one big coincidence,” Shimmer said.

“No. I know it is not. I know my child when I see her, mon tournesol,” Solaire told her daughter. “She is taller than you, but…a mother knows her child.”

At this point, Posey came in, an ashen look on her face. “Vel? Sunset – well, the one we know – has a 99% match to both this other one and Ms. D’ Celestia. She is the missing child.”

“I have a twin sister.” Shimmer looked at Sunset, the surprise still setting in. “I have a twin sister, one that was supposed to be dead – but here you are!”

“Well, this has been a summer,” Shining said. “First we have that freak hurricane, then we have those Dead Hand Murders that loosely tied to the Canadian government, and now I find out my newest sister has supposedly been dead all these years.”

Sunset looked around at Shimmer and Solaire, then to her family; Twilight instantly wrapped possessive arms around her while Octavia and the triplets subconsciously moved closer to Sunset, as if Solaire would abscond with her at any moment. “What happens to me now?” she asked in a choked voice.

“I believe we need to talk,” Solaire told Velvet and Night. “I know you love her and she is a part of your family. And I don’t want to break that up for you – it would be just as horrific as what was done to me all those years ago.”

“I agree,” Velvet said wholeheartedly.

“I’m not letting her go,” Twilight insisted, taking one of Sunset’s hands and holding tight. “She’s my sister.”

Our sister,” Octavia said, grabbing her other arm, while the triplets placed their hands on Sunset’s shoulders.

“I guess that was decided already, wasn’t it?” Shimmer said, laughing.

“Yeah,” Sunset said, feeling a little overcome by emotion. “It was.”

TEN SECONDS AGO: Always Forever Now

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“This is your world now, my dearest grandchild. I made it as safe as I could for you. Guard it well, for it is yours, just as you are its. And this is your bailiwick that I charge you with protecting – Alicorn of Earth.”

Sunset opened her eyes.

August 16, AM: Today

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Sunset woke up with a start. The first thing she noticed was that her room was larger. A lot larger. There were items in the room that she’d never seen before but could suddenly remember getting. Items she’d never owned before but knew she bought at one time or another.

She stretched, got out of bed, and stepped onto the luxurious carpet that felt like it melted under her feet. That was new, too. Everything in the room was expensive, ridiculously so, and she wondered at what point did she end up back in Canterlot…Equestria’s Canterlot.

She walked over to the bedroom door, completely confused. Grandmother, what did you do?

She then left the room, hearing several other doors open at the same time.

“Sunny?” she heard a voice say just a second before she got a hug. It was Twilight, and her face was a picture of confusion. “Where are we?”

“Home? I think,” she said and the moment she did that, she could see two things in her mind: both what had been and yet had never been, and the now that had never existed but was clearly here.

She saw a briefly blank look come over Twilight a second later, her sister shook her head. “That…was weird. Was this your doing?”

“No, but I think it was my grandmother’s.” The two looked around and saw what vaguely looked like their original house, but now on a much larger, much more luxurious scale: there were sculptures and paintings. The antique press that Fluttershy had purchased with her father’s credit card now sat as a display piece downstairs, now looking not-so-ridiculously-out-of-place as it had before.

“This…is weird.” They turned to see Octavia approaching, with an equally freaked out look. “I just came out of my bedroom, which has all-new stuff from when I….” She suddenly looked afraid. “Did I…?”

“Yeah, you did,” Sunset said, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. “But we’re family, okay? I forgave you then, and that hasn’t changed.”

Three more doors opened and a familiar voice said, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” The three turned to see the triplets come out of three other rooms – their rooms.

“Did I just imagine all of reality?” Adagio asked them.

“Did you really wet the bed when you were nine?” Sunset asked.

“I don’t know!”

“She did,” Sonata explained.

“She did?” Aria asked and then had that blank moment. “Yeah, she was stressed, but thankfully Aunt Glitter helped with that.” Those last words came out of her mouth automatically, and then Aria had a moment of disbelief. “I haven’t had an aunt before. Or….”

“What about our sœurs? They were our mothers, practically,” Sonata said in a soft voice. “And I barely remember them! I don’t want to forget them!”

“I don’t think it works that way, sis,” Adagio told her. “We never met them in this timeline because we have parents…but we won’t ever forget.”

“Let’s get down to the kitchen,” Sunset suggested. “I think we’re all going to need some coffee.”

“Sure! Lead the way, cuz!” Sonata said, then looked at Sunset as though she was stunned to say the same thing.

The six girls looked at each other with apprehension, recalling both a time that didn’t exist and one that did – and they weren’t sure which was which.

Sunset smiled and closed her eyes and recited the unofficial family mantra: “In this household…”

“…the difference between cousin and sister is nonexistent,” the other girls all said automatically, looking at one another.

Group hug immediately ensued afterwards.

After a few minutes, the six girls went downstairs, walking by Spike’s room; unsurprisingly they heard the sound of videogames from within and decided it would be best to leave him alone for the moment. He was a kid, and best not to shock him.

As they descended the stairs, Adagio noticed something. “Wait a minute,” she commented, pausing the group. She looked at the large mirror on the wall, then said, “Ari, give me a hand with this.”

“No need,” Sunset said, snapping her fingers. At once the mirror floated off the wall in a cyan glow, levitating just out of the way. Behind it was a solid steel door, clearly meant to be an access point of some kind.

“An elevator shaft,” Sonata said automatically. “I built this.” She blinked. “I…built this? But that’s impossible!”

“That word you keep using,” Octavia snarked, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Princess Bride jokes will only get you so far. But seriously, it shouldn’t have been possible for me to build this – in either timeline. And yet I clearly remember doing so!”

“Maybe we should look into it?” Adagio advised.

“We should look for my parents right now,” Twilight told her. “We know Spike’s okay, but what about them?”

“Good point,” Adagio noted. “Ari, take point. Soni, take the rear—”

“Dagi, I think we’re safe. We’re at home, with my magic,” Sunset assured her.

“We’re in a place we think is ours, and your magic might be our only ace in the hole. We might not have ever been Canadian SIRENs, but we are your SIRENs, Sunny.”

“Guess we’ll have to come up with a new name,” Aria mused. “I kinda liked SIREN, personally.”

“We should probably talk about that later. Let’s head downstairs.”

As they reached the bottom of the stairs, they noticed a bookcase that was conspicuously set for anyone who was particularly looking for something. “And there’s the actual doors to the elevator,” Sonata said. “We can look into it later.”

“I hear voices coming from the kitchen,” Octavia said. “At least I think that’s still the kitchen.”

“Sunny, hate to do this, but could you gen up some guns for us?” Adagio asked.

“Tasers would be better,” Aria suggested. “That way if there are any innocents in the line of fire, it’s not fatal.”

“Tasers it is, then.” Sunset held out her hand and a second later, three gunbelts with tasers appeared.

“That is going to be entirely too convenient,” Octavia observed. “Could we ask your grandmother to redo the timeline again so that we’re biologically related to you, Sunny?”

Sunset gave her cousin a smirk. “Cute.”

“I thought it was.”

As they reached the closed door, Adagio gave hand signals, making it clear they were to strike in three. She counted down: 3, 2, 1, and got into position to kick the door in.

Unfortunately, right as she launched her strike, that was right when the door opened. She felt the impact of her foot against something soft, and ingrained habits being what they were, she rushed in, stomping over the obstacle in order to get to her target.

“DAD!” Twilight shouted.

Adagio froze, realizing that somehow, she’d done something stupid without intending it.

“Dagi, do you mind putting that gun away?” Adagio looked and saw Velvet, her hands up, with a coffee mug precariously perched in one hand.

“And get off my dad!” Twilight insisted.

Adagio looked down to see that she was standing on Night Light, who looked a bit worse for wear.

“I’m in trouble, aren’t I?” she muttered.

“We’ll work our way from ‘grounded until the next century’ and go from there,” Velvet said evenly.

“This…is going to be an adjustment, girls, no doubt about that,” Night stated a few minutes later, once he recovered his dignity from being body slammed by a slip of a girl.

“I’m sorry,” she said, genuinely, feeling bad for hitting her uncle like that. The fact that he was now – and always had been – her uncle, she didn’t comment on.

“I’ll admit, I didn’t expect this much of a change,” Velvet said, “but I guess if I’m raising six girls, I should’ve seen this coming. The thing is, I feel bad for my brother.”

“Dad?” Adagio asked, not believing the word that had come out of her mouth. “Why so?”

“The Everblue Sky I remember from the old timeline…if that’s the right thing to call it…was a confirmed bachelor. While he and Lotus dated for a while, they never got married because he wasn’t the tied-down type. And he probably wouldn’t have slept with Softspoken, much less married her. When I last spoke to him, he was an economist for the London embassy, not the chargé d’affaires for the Baghdad embassy.”

“I see.” Adagio looked at her sisters. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think,” Aria said. “This…this is a massive change for all of us and yet it’s never been a change. The thing is, I think this is a change I’m going to like. We’re SIRENs, but we’re also normal girls.”

Sonata snapped her fingers. “That’s what the elevator leads to!” she crowed. “That’s where we keep all the weapons, ammunition and the gateway to Sunny’s homeworld – in a secure bunker beneath the house!”

“Okay, maybe not so normal,” Octavia said with a whimsical grin.

After a quick breakfast that Sunset summoned up – and Velvet insisted Sunset not get used to that – the whole family talked. It was agreed that they weren’t going to speak much about it with Spike, except to see what he remembered and what he didn’t. After that, they compared notes once more, with Sunset explaining everything she knew that might not have changed vs. everything that might have.

“So everyone else is relatively safe – most of the changes happened to us, it seems,” Night commented. “Although I have some questions, needless to say.”

“I think we all do. But the biggest one I have is: are Shining and Cadance safe?” Velvet asked. “As well as Tia and her boyfriend and Luna’s, too.”

“I think she mentioned Moonshadow had been shot by SIRENs,” Night commented. “And then there’s the other Sunset Shimmer and her mother.”

A crestfallen look washed over Velvet’s face. “Dear Lord, what if she doesn’t want to go through with what we agreed upon?”

“I think she will, dear. I don’t think Sunset’s grandmother would have gone to all of this if it was going to backfire. I’m sure she made sure that Sunny would stay with us.”

“Just in case, I’d like to talk to her again. To make sure that’s the case.”

At that point, Night’s cellphone rang and he answered the phone. “Yeah, Night here…Oh, heya, Iron! What’s up?…Really? Well, I hadn’t really thought of that…No, sure, I’d be happy to at least look at the contract, though I’d have to see if the University would let me do it…Really? They’d go that far? Well, sure then…Yeah, just bring the contract by and I’ll give it a look see…Okay, talk to you later. Bye.” He calmly set down the phone and said, “That was my agent.”

“You have an agent?”

“Yeah, and we’ve apparently known him for years,” he said delicately. “Ironclad Contract.”

“The name sounds vaguely familiar,” Velvet replied, then she got what Sunset was mentally terming the “infodump gaze” as Velvet suddenly recalled a past that never was yet always was. “College buddy of yours that went into law and helped you get a contract for your first book.”

“Yeah,” Night said, not entirely convinced. “Anyway, I just got an offer to do a new version of Cosmos – the old show by Billion Stars? Apparently, they’re doing a sequel, and Planetarium wants me to co-host it with him! Apparently he’s a fan of that show I did on PBS a few years back – Just Visiting This Universe – and he insisted that he wanted me as a co-host!”

Twilight’s eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets. “Planetarium? Planetarium?” Though Sonata said nothing, she too got a case of eyeshine.

“That’s the black astrophysicist in New York, right?” Sunset asked.

“As well as one of Twily and Soni’s personal heroes,” Aria noted. “Stand by for freakout in 3…2…1….”

“OhmiGod – you have to do it, Dad!” Twilight was practically leaning over her father. “You have to!”

Sonata had joined her. “Please, Uncle Night? Please? You’d do it for your favorite niece because you love me, right?”

Velvet never looked up from her coffee cup, instead choosing to use it as her personal talisman at the moment. “Girls, let him breathe.”

Night silently thanked his wife for that. “Well, Ironclad said that given that the original series was filmed in several locations, they’ll probably do the same thing again, so I’ll be doing a lot of travel. But he also said they spoke to the University already and they’re fine with it and willing to work with my schedule in order to do it.”

“Except you never did a show on PBS, dear,” Velvet reminded him, and then got the infodump gaze again. “Apparently that, as well as your books, paid for this house. Nevermind.”

Except that Octavia noted it. “Are we going to be doing that for a while? That weird stare that we get when our brain catches up to the new reality we’re living in? That’s going to be creepy as hell.”

“At least we’re coping with this together. I don’t know how the others are.”

And then they heard the panicked scream from upstairs.

Seated on the porch of the guest cottage at her uncle’s place, Sunset Shimmer looked at the wide field. Somewhere to the northeast was the city of Canterlot and somewhere out there was her sister. Or maybe herself. Counterpart? She wasn’t sure of the term anymore.

Sunset Shimmer was now not only not the only Sunset Shimmer in this world, she was literally not the only Sunset Shimmer in this world. It was different from twins. Back at school, she knew a pair of identical twins that attended the British section. Fish and Chips were so alike that you actually had to pay attention to what they were wearing to tell them apart. But that was the thing in the end: you could tell them apart. They were Fish and Chips, not Fish and Fish or Chips and Chips.

But now this alien/not alien, this girl who was both her identical twin sister and yet her doppelganger from another reality was here, and she was also Sunset Shimmer. They were both Sunset Shimmer and even though she herself went by Shimmy and the other by Sunny, there was little to tell them apart, save that the alicorn looked like Shimmer hoped she would in a couple of years. Maybe that was what she would look like when she hit twenty.

It made her jealous of Sunset. When they got back to Sunset’s family’s home, Zephyr had looked at her and called her “porn star perfect”, a fitting if jarring appellation. Aside from earning a glare from both her mother and Sunset’s mother, it wasn’t too far off: Sunset looked like a perfect version of Sunset, if that made sense. And now here Shimmer was, the imperfect Sunset, while the other one – an apparent literal goddess amongst her kind – chose to walk this world instead.

She knew her friends would tease her about that if they ever found out. Especially Beachcomber, who often liked to say that “people should be the best them they are.” As grammatically incorrect as it was, it made sense: don’t worry about others; worry about your own self. But how could she do that when the best version of her wasn’t her, but was another her – and that best her was better than her by a longshot?

It gave Shimmer a headache just thinking about it.

“Hey, you look like someone shot your dog.” Shimmer turned to see Zephyr standing there, looking at her. “You okay, Shimmy?”

“No, I’m not. All my life I’ve been Sunset Shimmer and now I find out I’m a second-rate one.”

He headed towards the kitchen to get some coffee, though still talking to her. “You’re not second rate, kid. It’s just…well, that other Sunset has a few extra things.”

“I know. And it makes me feel inadequate.”

Zephyr smiled as he poured himself a mug. “I’ll bet she feels the same way, too.”

She looked over at him. “How so?”

“Well, for starters, you’ve been human all your life, where she’s only been that for about five years now. She still doesn’t get everything about us. And she seems like she carries a lot of guilt about something, not the least of which is that demon that possessed both of you – she probably thinks it wouldn’t have appeared here if it wasn’t for her. And her family has only been in her life for a year, while you’ve had your mother for all your life, and me for at least a year now.”

“That’s another thing! We only just met you a couple of weeks ago, and now you’ve been my mom’s boyfriend for a year, Zephyr! Doesn’t that seem weird to you?” Shimmer asked.

“No. Way I see it? I owe Sunset’s grandmother for tweaking that. Your mother and I fell in love while we knew each other in the short time we did. Call it crazy, but that’s how love works. And I was a hurting unit over what my wife did to me. But now that Paradis has been my ex-wife for two years in this new reality and I have custody of the kids….” He chuckled. “You’re going to be a big sister now, you know that? Just like she is – sudden and out of nowhere. I’m sure you two could talk about that.”

“But all the deaths! And your partner!”

“Yeah. Saffron didn’t deserve what happened to her, and knowing her, she went out like a champ.” He gave her a melancholy grin. “But I think she would’ve been okay with this. The good guys won, the bad guys will get what’s coming to them, and the world doesn’t know how close it came to everything ending. I call that a win – bittersweet, but better than the alternative.”

“But I have more questions than answers still.”

“I guess that’s how it works. And I guess the answer to that is: do you want to know the answers? There’s someone who can give them to you, if you’re willing to reach out to her.”

Raspberry had a full body blush. “Look, it’s not like I instinctively know how humans use the restroom!” she gasped. “Nor have I figured out how human locks work – I thought that little thing at the end of the knob was decorative!”

“Well, Spike,” Aria said, patting her mortified cousin on the shoulder, “just think that you might find that interesting in about a decade more.”

“Ari, that’s just sick,” Octavia pointed out.

“Hey, not my fault that some people are into that—”

“I can ground more than one of you,” Velvet said archly and the middle triplet suddenly realized that discretion was the better part of valor.

Sunset tapped her friend on the forehead, and said, “Here. Now you know everything I do about feminine care in this world.”

“Thanks, Sunny,” Raspberry said appreciatively.

“Don’t mention it.”

Raspberry thought about it for a second, then looked at the other girls in horror. “You mean once a month you have to—”

“What part of ‘don’t mention it’ did you not understand, you idiot?” Adagio snarled. “The quotation marks?”

“I’m sooo glad things are returning to normal around here,” Twilight said, genuinely happy.

“Hey, don’t we have to work today?” Sonata asked Sunset and the latter nodded.

“Yeah, we may as well go,” Sunset said.

“We should probably all go,” Twilight advised, “and I’ll call and have the girls meet us there. I suspect we have a lot to talk about.”

“So it was just three teenage mercenaries who caused all this shit,” Shining Badge said from behind his desk.

“Yes. From what evidence we’ve uncovered so far,” Shining Armor replied, “we found that they were taking a specialized performance-enhancing drug that was designed to boost their natural abilities. The problem was, it severely damaged their minds and made them think they were some sort of animal. They were already ritually killing young women for reasons we have yet to understand. But at some point, they just snapped and committed wholesale slaughter of their own kind, save for the three we have in custody.”

“The ones that turned themselves in to warn us about the firefight that broke out during that freak hurricane,” Badge grunted. “I still have a hard time believing that they just turned themselves in on ‘what they felt was right.’ Seems too pat, if you know what I mean.”

Someone knocked on Badge’s door, and a second later the office secretary poked her head in. “Hey, boss, Agent Truth is here to see you.”

“Yeah, the CIA. Right on time, what a surprise,” Badge said. “Sure, send him on in, Paperclip.” Shining was about to depart when Badge added, “Stick around; I think you might want to hear whatever bullshit’s about to be spun.”

Shining thought of what he’d been through the past few days, as well as what he’d also really been through the past few days…and he still wasn’t sure which one was real. But he knew one thing: he had to protect his family, including his not-really-human sister. “Sure thing,” he said, moving over to a nearby seat.

Hidden Truth came in, followed closely by another man. “Well, good morning, Special Agent Badge, Agent Armor. Glad you’re both here.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever you say, Agent Truth,” Badge said lightly. “Who’s the other spook?”

The other man grinned. “Please to make your acquaintance, gentleman. My name is Changeling, and I’m an agent for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Since you two clearly seem the direct type, we won’t waste time beating around the bush: we’re here for the three women you have in custody.”

“The Dead Hand Killers? Oh, no – no. Those girls aren’t going anywhere,” Badge said, leaning against his desk. “Right now, they’re in the medical wing over at Norco, both because they killed literally hundreds of people as well as the fact that whatever drugs they were being fed backfired on them. They’re drooling bodies now, and from what the DA’s office says, they might not even ever stand trial.”

Changeling nodded. “Oh, I’m not here for them – you can have those three, Agent. They can rot in whatever little hellhole Uncle Sam finds for them, and we don’t care. No, I’m here for Lt. Blue and SLts. Storm and Blue. They’re heroes of the nation and we can’t have them sitting in prison.”

“Agent Changeling, you might have a hard time believing this, but they didn’t have authorization to be on American soil with guns and military hardware that usually belongs to our boys and girls. At best, that’s terrorism – and I don’t think I need to go into what it looks like otherwise.”

Truth looked at them. “We would have a crisis on our hands right now if it wasn’t for those three women, Agent Badge. Doesn’t that concern you?”

“I’m not concerned with geopolitics – not my job or my inclination. My job is justice,” he said. “And what I have is three women that broke a serious amount of laws. Now I get that they essentially stopped shit from getting out of hand, and I can appreciate that on a personal level. But whether or not they see one side of a prison cell or the other is for a court to decide, not me.”

“Well, too bad your boss disagrees with you.” Truth reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a letter. “I have a signed letter here from FBI Director Firm Justice ordering the release of said RCN officers to the Canadian authorities, namely Mr. Changeling of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”

When both Shining and Badge glared at Changeling, he gave an affable smile. “I wear a lot of hats, gentlemen,” was all he said.

“So that’s it? They get away?” Shining gasped.

“No, they don’t.” Changeling looked at the two FBI agents and his jovial nature vanished. “One of the people brutally murdered by Capt. Blast was her XO, Cmdr. Rhapsody Blue, who was the older sister of Vesper and Intermezzo Blue, as well as sororal figure to Madrigal Storm as well. They had to let her die – to sacrifice herself – in order to plan their counterstrike on their own organization, as well as to turn themselves over to your custody. They may be heroes, but they will have to live with the fact that their older sister died and that they are forever traitors to the Canadian military. For three women literally raised from birth as illicit Royal Canadian Navy commandos? Letting them sit in your prison would actually be a kindness, as far as they are concerned.”

“And if that’s the case, sending them back to Canada would be a death sentence for them, wouldn’t it?”

“Les SCARS would probably agree with you, as would ARROWHEAD. Believe it or not, not all Canadians are nice and polite. Some of us, sadly, can be downright…well, let’s just say American-like, when the situation calls for it,” Changeling replied. “But that’s not your problem anymore, gentlemen – that’s an issue for the RCMP.”

A few minutes later, when the spies departed, Shining looked at Badge. “I don’t like this.”

“I don’t like this either, Shining. We lost several good people on this case, and it doesn’t feel right.” He sighed. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to make a call to Washington and try to figure out just who was stupid enough to even agree to this fiasco. Take the rest of the day off – you earned it.”

“Yeah, besides, I’ll need it, since now that the task force is winding down, I’ll probably be transferred back to CPD.”

“We’ll talk about that later. Now get going; I’m sure that lovely lady of yours would like to spend time with you,” Badge grinned.

The first thing that Sunset noticed when they got to Sugarcube Corner was that it was larger – a lot larger. The original one took up a corner storefront on the block. The new one looked as though a couple more storefronts got added to it, as well. She wondered if Pinkie and her aunt and uncle still lived above the restaurant.

“Well, ready?” Sunset asked.

“No, not at all,” Sonata admitted. “Think they’ll forgive me for just up and quitting?”

“Who said you did?” Sunset commented. “You left last time because you got dragged back into that military fiasco. In this reality…that wasn’t there to begin with.” She patted Sonata on the shoulder. “Besides, you have me.”

“Yeah, I guess I do, don’t I?” Sonata said hopefully. “Well, here goes. Are the others going to be here soon?”

“Well, everyone except for Pinkie, who lives here.”

“We think.”

“Good point.” Sunset was quiet for a second. “Also, wasn’t there a building here last time? I don’t recall the café having its own dedicated parking lot.

“Yeah. I think things are going to be very different, Sunny.”

They walked into the door and the first one to greet them was a familiar face. “Welcome to Sugarcube Cor…oh, hi, Sunny! Hi, Soni!”

Sunset fought to keep the look of shock on her face. “Rose? What are you doing here?”

Compass Rose smiled. “Well, Pepperdance called in sick, and Blossom has a last-minute medical checkup,” she began, “and Cucumber Splash had to work over at the Knickerbocker store today, so I offered to switch with Pep.” She sighed. “Besides, it was either sit at home and be maudlin about Matchie’s death or get out here and do something. I hope you don’t mind, boss.”

Boss? “Uh, no, but….”

“Thanks. I knew you wouldn’t mind.” Rose kissed Sunset on the cheek. “I appreciate it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta take this to table 23.”

“No, uh, go ahead.” As Rose walked off, Sunset said, “Boss?”

Sonata followed it up with, “Table 23?”

A familiar head peeked out from behind the kitchen. “Oh, Sunset, you’re here today,” Cup said, a tired smile on her face. “I thought you were taking some time off due to your familial issues.”

“I…needed to talk to Pinkie,” Sunset said truthfully. “Is she in?”

“No, she’s probably back at our place,” Cup replied. “But while you’re in, do you have a moment? I think we need to talk about the San Palomino location.”

“San Palomino location?” Sunset asked.

“Uh, go ahead, Sunny. I’ll…um…call the girls and see if we can meet at Pinkie’s.”

“Sure. Go right ahead,” Sunset stated, stalling for time while she raced through her brain to try to figure out what had changed.

“Well, c’mon, Sunset. We can meet in the office, upstairs.”

Office upstairs? “Sure thing.”

As they walked up the stairs, Cup sighed. “You know, I almost wish I could go back to the days before you started working here, when we only had the one store. But between five stores and two more opening in the area, we’re doing very well. Still, I miss the time when I was just a baker and coffee shop owner, instead of the CEO of a small chain of coffee shops.” She chuckled. “Well, Starbucks, Caribou and Panera haven’t been able to meet our numbers in town, so we must be doing something right.”

“No doubt,” Sunset said, looking at a wall. There, against the wall, was a map of the Canterlot Metro area. In addition to this store and the Knickerbocker, there was also one at the mall, one over by ECMAH and one in Northside. There were also two additional pins denoting the upcoming locations in Old Towne San Palomino and Bella Vista.

As they reached the top of the stairs, she saw the comfortable home that had been above the café was gone…and might not have ever existed. The whole thing was configured for an office, with three main offices, as well as a conference room. Only the kitchen, which looked far different than she recalled, hinted that this floor had ever been used for a domicile.

They entered Cup’s office and she gestured towards a small table, where she and Sunset sat down. “Now, I know you’ve needed to take off a few weeks because of what is going on with your home life. How is that going, by the way?”

“It’s weird,” Sunset said, just telling the truth – sorta. “To find out I’m a long-lost French princess is…well, it’s nothing I ever expected, that’s for sure.”

“I’m sure it isn’t,” Cup agreed. “In any case, with the two stores opening soon, I’ll need to hire a new head waitress for this location.”

Sunset’s eyes widened. “Mrs. Cake, I’m sorry, but….” The teen stopped as she saw the woman grinning. “Is something the matter?”

“Oh, Carrot and I were talking and decided that we were having such a hard time finding an evening manager for the San Palomino location that…well, if you’re interested, we want to offer you the position of assistant manager for that location. It would be closer to home for you and Sonata, since I’m sure she’d want to work there as well. And usually while a position like that is typically for an adult, we trust you implicitly.”

“But what about this location?”

Cup smiled. “Garden Variety just started college, remember? She’ll have a lot more flexible of a schedule to be able to handle the position. Besides, you trained her and all the other ones well – it’s part of the reason why we gave you the position.” She grinned. “Sadly, I think Rose will be disappointed, though – it’s clear that she’s got her eye on you.”

“I think she’s dating someone else,” Sunset replied, silently adding, At least I hope she still is. She made a mental note to see how her extended circle of friends were doing.

As Sunset came downstairs, she looked at Sonata. “Things have changed a lot.”

“Yeah. Apparently I’ll be working with you at the new store, since it’s closer to home,” Sonata told her cousin and Sunset looked even more confused. “I guess they figured that it would be better for me as well.”

Sunset hugged her cousin. “That sounds great, Soni.”

Sonata smiled at the affection. “Anyway, I called Pinkie. They apparently now live in a house three blocks away over on Bowtie Road. She said she’ll call the others and have them meet us there.”

Celestia woke up. She wasn’t usually one to sleep in, but today was the day to do it. She knew what had happened the night before. She knew what awaited them now and it frightened her.

She had seen something in the eyes of Sunset’s grandmother – something divine and indecipherable. Something that had judged her and found her wanting. Maybe she was imagining it, but there was something in that alien being’s eyes that made Celestia look inward…and it unnerved her.

Like a part of a life lost, something – maybe a million things – she should’ve done.

“Are you okay?”

She turned to look at her boyfriend, Sable Loam. Scarcely older than half her age, and they’d only been together for a handful of weeks and yet she would do anything for him. She was his now, as he was hers. Years were meaningless if they had nothing to show for it in the end, and in the small time they had been together, Celestia felt as if she’d lived and loved the same number of years as Velvet had for her husband.

“No, I’m not. I’m afraid of what the world has in store for us the moment I get out of bed.”

“It has me, doesn’t it?” He smiled. “It has you. Tia, that’s all I’ve ever wanted and all I ever need.” He leaned down and kissed her.

Kissing him reminded her of something instantly. She sat up and unintentionally butted heads with him.

“Wow, remind me never to make you angry,” he said, rubbing his head, but with a slight smile on his face.

“Lu! Oh God, Shadow was shot! We have to—”

“Do nothing,” he told her calmly. “She called half an hour ago. It seems she woke up with him at a hotel in Klamath Falls, where they went this weekend.”

“This weekend? But didn’t we…?”

“No. I’ve been sitting here, trying to puzzle everything out. The dinner that we had over at their place happened a month ago, not last night. And…I met your family two weeks ago.” He grinned. “Your mother insisted that we elope immediately so we can start working on a grandchild for her since, as she said, you’re not getting any younger.”

Celestia frowned. “That sounds like something Mama would say,” she groaned. “How’s Lu?”

“Luna’s just as confused as we are. She says she’s going to make sure that Shadow wasn’t shot, just in case, so they’ll be in bed all weekend.”

That sounds like something she would say,” she added. “And what about us?”

“Oh, I’m fine. So are you. Trust me, I checked.”

“No. I mean—”

He silenced her with a kiss. “Tia, when you were captured, I thought my life was over. Not because I had to fight my way into some sort of evil castle to rescue you from a madman and his militaristic gunmoll – and does that ever sound like the discarded plot of a videogame, let me tell you,” he commented drily. “No, I thought my life was over because I thought I was going to lose you.”

“You haven’t. You won’t.”

“I know. Things are different now and I don’t know how different. I still have my school ID, and apparently, I’m still a teacher over at the Blanks. You’re still principal of Canterlot High. That’s as much as I know. How different everything else is, we’re going to have to find out. But we’ll find out together.”


“I thought we agreed to at least wait a year so people won’t think we’re nuts.”

“After what we’ve just been through, it’s taking me everything I have to not throw you in the car and drive to the Nevada border.”

“Then at least let me take the time to buy you a ring before we make it formal?”

“Sable, I’m fifty-six. I could care less about formal.”

“You might not, but your mom would. Imagine if she didn’t get to be the mother of the bride.”

Celestia sighed. “Okay, you have a point.”

The house on Bowtie Road didn’t look familiar to Sunset at all, but once she walked in, despite the different configuration, it looked like, for lack of a better term, a “remixed” version of the apartment she remembered Pinkie’s family living in. And at the moment, eleven girls sat around a coffee table, confused as could be.

At the moment, she’d explained how much their lives had changed and how much they remembered a life that somehow happened despite not happening. The others listened intently, and from what Sunset saw, occasionally one of them had a moment of infodump blanking them out as new details filled their world.

“And that’s how my – our – lives have changed,” Sunset explained.

“So where is Raspberry right now?” Rarity asked.

“Mom is giving her a quick rundown on how life is as a human. We don’t know how long she’s going to be with us; tonight, I need to figure out how the portal works since it’s been moved, and barring that, get a note to Equestria via dragonfire candle. If what Razz says is true, my own homeworld could still be in danger.”

“I don’t even want think to think about getting into another war right now,” Adagio drolled.

“We’re not. I’ll send Razz back if it’s safe to, but right now she’s stuck here,” Sunset replied. “Cut her a little slack.”

“Sure. All she has to do is just not be a bitch and I won’t punch her face in.”


The eldest triplet huffed. “Fine. But only because you’re my cousin.” She flashed a quick, private smile at that, then went back to frowning.

“Well, that’s our lives in a nutshell,” Octavia said. “What about the rest of you?”

“I guess I’ll go first,” Pinkie said. “I still get a ladyboner over Sunny…and now that there’s two of them, well….”

“We did soooo not need to know what you were thinking, Pinkie,” Aria groaned, facepalming.

“Hey, at the end of the day one’s enough for me. Even a Pinkie can get too much of a good thing.”

“Anyone else have anything to contribute?” Twilight asked.

“Well, as far as I can tell, nothing in my life has changed at all, except that I don’t have a job at the zoo anymore,” Fluttershy said, blushing. “I guess my public performance was hampering with zoo operations because people were coming to see me for who I was rather than for the place, so I quit. Since then, I’ve been working on my music.”

“We should jam together sometime then, Flutters,” Octavia told her.

“I think I’d like that,” the chiffon-haired girl said with a soft smile.

Rarity was next. “Nothing in my life has changed at all. My parents still have the same jobs, we live in the same place, and about the only thing that has is that they bought me a car last year,” she said. “Though I think Mother’s considering having a third child.”

“Yeah. Same on this end, including the parents doing the horizontal bop, though you guys already knew that,” Rainbow added, trying not to blush. “Scoot’s complaining that she’ll have to change diapers, but hey, that’s life.”

“Mah life hasn’t changed much,” Applejack said, “except that now Ah have a little brother. Ma…she didn’t lose the baby and now he’s seven. He’s named Melrose, or Mel for short. Pa totally loves him even though…well, Pa just says he’s an Apple no matter what his genes say.”

“I’m starting to see a pattern here,” Rarity commented.

“Hey, Grandmother is a goddess. Are you going to tell her no?” Sunset giggled.

“Seriously, what about our friends and whatnot? Apparently, Rose works at Sugarcube now. As well as some girls I hadn’t heard of.”

“Yeah,” Pinkie stated. “Although with the County Fair going on at the end of the month, we’re going to be real busy at the main store. So while most of the girls will be working at the stand there, it’ll be like things didn’t change, at least for a few days.”

“Besides, I think the uniform is cute,” Fluttershy admitted.

“Although I wouldn’t mind seeing Sunny in just the apron….”

“I think I liked Pinkie better when she wasn’t as horny,” Rainbow said in a monotone.

“I think we should take the day to figure out what’s changed and what hasn’t,” Sunset commented. “We can meet at my family’s place this evening and discuss it. For that matter, I think we’ll need to speak to Ms. Celestia and Ms. Luna, as well as my brother and Cadance and compare notes. Plus, I want to see the underground bunker. I know this much: those that died are still dead. Rose is still mourning Tennis Match’s death.”

“Ah would be more worried if some of our friends became casualties, like Lyra or Bonnie,” Applejack added.

“Okay, so meet at our place at six tonight, okay?” Twilight suggested and they all got ready to depart.

“So what’s your plan now, Sunny?” Octavia asked her.

“I have something…personal to do. Soni, mind dropping me off?”

“Sure, no problem,” the youngest triplet commented. “I want to get home to start piecing together everything about downstairs anyway.”

As Sunset left with Sonata, Twilight pulled Pinkie aside. “Can I have a word with you?”

“Sure thing, Twily.” Pinkie’s smile fell as she watched her love depart before turning to said love’s sister. “You’re not going to hurt me or anything, are you?”


“I’m not stupid. I recall the old timeline and the new one. And I know something’s happened to my feelings for Sunny. Before, I guess you could call them a girlish crush, but now? I know she’s the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. And yes, I am feeling a bit hormonal right now; I would hope that will pass in time, because I love your sister too much to make her feel squicked out about me.”

“Then can I offer you a bit of advice?”


“Be yourself. Be the Pinkie we know and love. I don’t know what her preferences are, only that she’s very emotionally vulnerable right now because of everything that’s happened. But I do know that you’ll push her away if you come on too strong. Think about Rose and how she is.”

“I try not to,” Pinkie commented. “I don’t want to get into ‘Here Comes a New Challenger’ mode.”

“Look, I’m just saying that right now she needs a friend more than anything else. If you want to score points with her, be that friend.”

“So you’re giving me your blessing to chase after your sister?”

Twilight sighed. “I plead the Fifth.”

Luna looked on at the skyline of Klamath Falls, Oregon. She was still coming to terms with everything that happened. The fact that her boyfriend had died and that she and Celestia nearly had as well, before Sable rescued them. She had known that Sable had been in the military, but she hadn’t known he had been Army Special Forces. But that hadn’t mattered in the long run, because she was grieving.

And then she’d been put to sleep by Sunset’s otherworldly grandmother and something within her had said that everything was going to be fine.

She woke up this morning here, next to him.

She passionately made love to him. Not sex, like they usually did, but love.

She was seriously going to have to rethink her life priorities now.

He was asleep again and she was here, watching the day go by.

She smiled; even though she was fifty-two, she felt like she was perpetually in her late twenties and that she was more her niece Cadance’s age than her own. That Velvet, even though she had been Luna’s lifelong friend, was living another life that Luna couldn’t touch.

And now for the first time today, she had.

She looked back at her sleeping boyfriend, then to her own hand – and the engagement ring that hadn’t been there the day before.

She smiled. The future wasn’t going to be so bad, was it?

“So, the DA has assigned me the case, because the killers are underage,” Cadance told Shining over lunch. “As usual, my ‘Goddess of Love’ reputation strikes around the office.”

“He knows I’m the arresting officer, right?” Shining asked her. “Isn’t that a conflict of interest?”

“At this point, nobody gives a damn about anything other than making those Black SIRENs fry,” Cadance told him.

“You’re…taking this a lot better than I was, Cady.”

“Because they’re killers, love. Whether they were the Dead Hand Killers in this new reality, or whether they were just shapeshifted attack dogs in the last one…they did it willingly, according to the triplets.”

“Yeah, that’s another thing.”

“Shining Armor, don’t you dare say anything about them!” Cadance warned. “They’re your cousins, and raised practically like your sisters – like Tavi!”

“No, not that. I don’t think anyone would believe me anyway. Besides, Sunny vouches for them, and even without the interference from her grandmother, they were on the side of the angels. They get a pass, as far as I’m concerned,” he told her. “What I meant was that will the charges stick?”

“Again, no one really cares. I suspect you would even have a hard time finding an impartial judge, and if they’re ever sane enough to stand trial, it’s going to have to be moved out of the county. I’m going to have to make arrangements to go see them, in order to offer them the inevitable plea bargain that I know the DA doesn’t really want to give but that the state requires. For that matter, your mother will have to come with me, as they are legally minors until a judge declares them to be held liable as adults.”

“Well, Badge told me I have the rest of the day off, so I’m going to go see Mel’s family and see how they’re holding up,” Shining commented. “Then I’ll go check on Sandy in the hospital.”

“Let her know I’ll be there later,” Cadance told him. “But for now I just want to enjoy the time I have with my fiancé, because right now?” She gave him the sunniest grin possible. “That’s the most normal thing in my life, regardless of whatever time fuckery Sunset’s grandmother did.”

“I hear that,” he agreed.

“And so we’ll have you stay in this room for the moment,” Velvet said, pointing to a particular one. “This one is a guest room. I think. I still haven’t gotten the hang of the house.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Velvet,” Raspberry said in a soft voice.

“You’re welcome, dear. I know this is hard on you – it’s been hard on all of us – but I’m sure you can deal with it.”

“No…I’m not sure I can.” Raspberry looked up at the woman.

“I doubt that,” Velvet assured her. “You’re a strong young lady.”

“No! I mean…I’m not talking about my ability to fight. I would do that for anypony—”

Anyone, dear. Not anyhuman and definitely not anypony.”

“See? I don’t know how Sunny does it. She’s so natural at being a human and I don’t know if I could do this for the rest of my life. What if I had to? Where would I go?”

“We wouldn’t just force you out, Raspberry. We owe you a debt of gratitude and besides, I wouldn’t let a child go like that.”

“I’m not a child, though. I’m twenty-three.”

“No, you’re not. As a pony you might be, but what I see is a sixteen-year-old girl. Maybe your counterpart, wherever she is, is the same age. At least, given what I see between my daughter and the other Sunset, that’s what I figure. But you won’t be alone on this world, Raspberry. You have us, at least.”

“Thank you. Now I just need to know one thing, if you don’t mind.” She whispered something into Velvet’s ear.

Velvet gave the girl a sardonic smile. “Raspberry, dear, you’re about to learn the horrors and joys of what it is to be a human woman.”

Raspberry looked at Velvet with fear. “I was afraid of that.”

“Come on. I’ll take you to the store and I can explain everything on the way.”

“And you’ll promise to keep that under your hat, Lyra?” Fluttershy asked.

“I’m genuinely hurt that you would think I would tell anyone, Flutters!” Lyra told her. “Besides, I haven’t told anyone about you.”

“Yes, but my information is public already, as much as I would rather have done it in a better way. Sunny’s isn’t, however, and I think she and her family – both sides of her family – should make that public in their own fashion.”

“Don’t worry, Flutters: we’ll keep it under wraps,” Trixie insisted. “She’s our friend, after all. Though is it really true?”

Fluttershy nodded. “Yes, as unusual as it may seem.”

“Coming from you? That says a lot.”

“Well, French princess or not, she’s our bud, and we don’t go blabbing on buds,” Lyra insisted. “She doesn’t want to talk about it, we don’t talk about it, simple as that.”

“Wow, Ly, that’s surprisingly mature of you,” Trixie told her best friend.

“At least until I can figure out how to work it out to my advantage,” the celeste-haired girl said with a grin.

“I hereby rescind my compliment,” Trixie sighed.

Sunset got off the phone. “Dad said he’ll make the calls and see who can make it tonight. I think that should be everyone, except for Ms. Luna, who’s out of town.”

“Okay. Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Soni, I have to test my new powers out in a relatively safe location,” Sunset said. “Right now I don’t know if it’s safe to have anyone around for that.”

“I can wait, maybe go down the road to the Burger King and sit it out there?”

“Look, I know you’re doing that SIREN thing, but have some faith in me, okay? I need to test my powers out, because I don’t know what the limits are.”

“Okay. I take it you’re just going to teleport home, then?” The look on Sonata’s face was unconvinced.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“I know you will be. I’m just more worried about how Dagi will react if she knows I left you by yourself right now.”

“We’ll talk about it tonight, okay?”

“Deal.” With that, Sonata got in the car and departed, leaving Sunset in the middle of the Everfree Forest.

She hadn’t taken two steps before she heard mocking laughter behind her.

“I thought it was you.”

Though her voice was faint, it was unmistakable: Chernabog. “So the pretty pony got an upgrade. I hear you’re even more fuckable now. Bring me back and I can satisfy you all night.”

“I’m looking for that last string you have tied to this realm,” Sunset said, ignoring the demon’s taunts. “Once I cut it, you’ll never be able to return.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I could be of use to you. Help you.”

“I really don’t want your help,” Sunset said, beginning to weave an intricate spell. “You’ve done enough damage to this world, you and your kind.”

“You don’t even realize what you’ve pissed off. That old biddy of yours done stepped on some tails she shouldn’t have. And you’re going to pay the price for that – you, and everyone you love.”

“The more you talk, the more I can zero in on that one connection,” Sunset responded. “You must be desperate to be forever trapped in nowhere.”

“No, just giving you a final word of advice, Sunset.”

That was different. Chernabog had never referred to her by name before. “What can you tell me that would make me want to listen?”

“Only the simple fact that you ponies aren’t the only ones with magic in this realm. Humans have it, too. It’s rare, but they have it. And we demons covet it. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Judeo-Christian legend of the Twelve Tribes. There is some truth in that: there are twelve different magical bloodlines on this Earth.”

“I already know that,” she lied. Sunset then made a mental note to follow up on Chernabog’s claim, even if it yielded her nothing but a little peace of mind.

“Bullshit you did. I could tell you more, but there’s a price.”

“I told you, I don’t make deals with demons.” And then, shining in front of her, was the quantum string in question, vibrating in time with the universe. “And I found your loophole. Any last words before the world forgets you exist?”

“Just one. And please, hear me out.” To Sunset’s surprise, the tone was sincere.

“You’re not going to be freed. Don’t bother asking.”

“I know you won’t. But let’s just say that neither you nor Shimmer were the first in her family that I’ve possessed. The last time I did, I had me some fun. And had a child as a result. That child inherited my powers, and those powers rang on true down the bloodline.”

Sunset laughed. “Oh, you’re not going to tell me that you actually care about something other than yourself, Chernabog.”

“No, I’m telling you because you care about her. She is one of your own friends. And she may be tempted by a power far more dangerous than I.”

“And why are you telling me this?”

“Because, young goddess, I want to see how good you really are. If you can beat me as a mortal…there might just be more to you than even you realize.”

“Who is she?”

“I don’t have to tell you. You can figure it out yourself.”

Sunset looked at the quantum string. Cutting it wouldn’t impact reality, but would ensure that Chernabog had no way of having any influence on this realm at all. Unfortunately, that damage was already done, and there was nothing left but the healing, both the clean breaks and the metaphorical scar tissue.

Besides, it had been her mother – her pony mother – that had taught her that sometimes having an enemy survive was better than vanquishing them. It was pragmatism over idealism, something Sunset hated.

“Fine. I will leave this string alone for now. But you will have no influence at all in this world. And if you even try to possess her, I will destroy you.”

“Couldn’t even if I tried – I need a descendant with the right genetics, and that only comes along once a millennium. Your friend is safe. Well, from me at least.”

“No – she will be safe, period. And if she has your powers, Chernabog? You might just find that she is made of far stronger stuff than you will ever be.”

“Now that’s just insulting, Sunset. Boo hoo. I guess I’ll just have to play with myself to keep busy while biding time for the next opportunity.”

“One you will never have.” And with that, Sunset banished the link. While the string remained intact, thankfully there were other ways to plug the metaphorical hole in the dyke.

Now, it was just a matter of finding out which of her friends had the blood of a demon, assuming that was even true.

Yeah, and I thought starting school again in a couple of weeks was going to be the hardest thing I’d have to deal with. Turns out that’s going to be a cakewalk.

At least one thing was for sure: she knew and trusted her friends. Whether it was Rarity or Bon-Bon, Rose or Applejack, it didn’t matter: she knew them and trusted them.

If you are telling the truth, Chernabog, it’s not going to do you a damn bit of good. I of all people know that our pasts are not today.

Sunset teleported back to her room. She was done for now.

“And so it was three little girls,” Sandalwood said in an angry tone though Shining wasn’t sure whether she was angry at herself or the Dead Hand Killers. “Three kids that literally slaughtered hundreds?”

“Well, not exactly. Keep in mind that those ‘kids’ were trained since birth to be Canadian assassins—”

“Canadian assassins,” Sandalwood scoffed. “Do you realize how stupid that sounds? Canada is known for Lightfoot and really bad beer, not military prowess!”

“Be that as it may, from what the task force is piecing together, the current theory going is that these girls were killing others ritually in trying to summon demonic powers for themselves—”

“I repeat my last: you realize how idiotic that sounds?”

“Just before I left work, they told me that forensics found a hidden location beneath the construction site that’s filled with a bunch of antiquities stolen from museums around the world as well as from the estate of some French prince who died last year.”

The woman shook her head. “This is getting more and more ridiculous.”

“Thus, when they didn’t get their magic powers or something, the drugs they’d been taking just overloaded their minds and they snapped and turned on their masters.”

“So let me get this straight: a firefight between these Canadian rogue military personnel and mercenaries hired by Canada to stop them takes out half of them at a hidden base during the freak hurricane.”


“Meanwhile, the other half of them are drugging up three girls with performance enhancers that boost their natural abilities but damage their minds into thinking they’re some sort of animal creature ritualistically killing innocent girls to sacrifice for demonic powers. And when that doesn’t work, they turn on their benefactors, slaughtering the remaining military personnel during the earthquake we just had – a 6.0 earthquake where nothing got damaged because we’re in the stable part of California?”

Shining merely held his hands up in a shrug, as if that would answer anything.

Sandalwood groaned. “Clearly the doctors need to give me what it is that the rest of you are taking, because I still don’t believe it.” She sighed. “Look, you know as well as I do that with a group like this, they don’t let their rogue elements loose, because that’s a potential noose around their neck. If I was whoever’s the ringleader of this shit and I had three girls that were about to go nuts? I’d put them down, because they could spell potential disaster for my plans, not steal ancient artifacts and let them build a sacrificial altar or some shit.”

“And yet the current theory is just that. Apparently the three women that switched sides and informed us about all this are saying that this Cantata Blast woman did just that.”

“Three of them turned tail?”

“Yeah. Apparently three women in their thirties, who were raised together by the organization, saw the light and turned themselves in to give us as much warning as they could. They’re in Canadian custody now, and on the way back to Canada, I presume, to inform their government and stand trial there. I don’t know the full details, and I suspect we won’t know.” Shining diplomatically omitted the fact that the CIA had pulled strings to ensure that the three SIRENs would be turned over to CSIS.

“I don’t know. Something still seems too pat about this, like it’s a patch job to cover something up.”

“Between you and me, Sandy?” Shining told her. “It probably is. The higher ups wanted the killings done, and they’re done. When I arrested those three girls, they seemed like they were out of their minds, too far gone to be able to mastermind the serial killing of a couple dozen girls. They were naked and howling like animals…and certainly not capable of killing dozens of heavily-armed women. So you want to know what I think? I think that the three women we let go are the ones that killed all the others of their kind. That they took them down by surprise when it was least expected, because they had a chance to do so before this Cantata Blast executed whatever her plans were. And I don’t think it was just those three – I think they’re just the only ones that survived.”

Sandalwood thought about it for a second. “Yeah. That makes a hell of a lot more sense. But it’s not going to be on the official record, is it?”

“At this rate, we’ll be lucky there is an official record – everyone higher up wants to just bury this and forget it ever happened, probably because we’re talking an international incident now. I suspect you’ll hear a lot of accusations from Washington and a shitload of apologies from Toronto—”

“The capital of Canada is Ottawa, Shiny, not Toronto.”

“You know what I mean. In any case, a year from now, this will be forgotten except by some low-level Federal employees playing cleanup, historians and conspiracy theorists.”

“Yeah, I guess. In any case, I hope those three women get what they want. As much as people think they should probably be behind bars, they probably saved a lot of lives. But as someone who was in the military myself? I know the heroes often don’t get the credit we deserve. So I hope they get a happy ending.”

“Probably not,” Shining told her. “From what I gather, they’ll probably get kicked out of the Canadian military and either spend the rest of their days behind bars or be executed by other elements of their government for existing as an embarrassment.”

“Hell of a way to go,” Sandalwood said sadly. “I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be in their position right now.”

It was late afternoon when Madrigal, Intermezzo and Vesper walked out of the Central Equestria County Jail. Waiting for them, by a nondescript silver SUV, was Changeling.

“Hello, ladies,” he said calmly. “Hail to the Heroes of Canada.”

“Spare us, whoever you are,” Intermezzo told him. “We know you’re here to take us back to Ottawa for trial.”

“No, I’m not,” he said, and they looked at him with confusion. “I’m a spy, not a coroner. I don’t deal with dead bodies, unless I make them so.” The moment he said that, they tensed up, ready to attack him. Sensing that, he waved his hands in front of him. “I’m not here to do the deed, especially not here in front of a jail, okay?”

“Then why are you here?”

“I’m here to tell you that you’re dead. In an hour, you’re expected to board a chartered Air Canada flight back to Ottawa. What you’re not supposed to know is that it’s a trap – the aircrew aboard is Les SCARS, and they have orders to kill you until you are very, very dead. Your little act of counter-rebellion might have earned yourself the sobriquet of heroes in the eyes of Parliament Hill, but as far as CSIS goes, any surviving SIREN is a noose around their neck, and they can’t have that.

“So, this is what we’re going to do: you’re going to give me hair and blood samples. Then you’re going to get in that SUV and head to Dallas, where you will find a house in the pleasant and quiet suburb of Mesquite. Your new identities have bank accounts and an untraceable paper trail attached to them, so you won’t have to find jobs immediately, though I’d recommend doing so in the long run so you can become valued members of the community.” He then frowned. “As for Vesper and Intermezzo Blue and Madrigal Storm, sadly, they will become victims of a plane crash somewhere in the Canadian Rockies. Of course, foul play will be suspected, especially once they’re identified by DNA samples. CSIS will get the authorities off their backs, at least until the anonymous package mailed yesterday gets to RCMP National Headquarters with enough incriminating evidence to put Golden Rule and her cronies behind bars for the rest of their days. But that’s a few months down the road, and by then, you three lovely Texas ladies won’t have a care as to what another country’s problems are.”

Madrigal looked at Changeling and asked a simple question: “Why?”

“Because I wasn’t always Agent Changeling, CSIS. A long time ago, I was an RCN petty officer who knew Admiral Poutine long before he was chosen to lead a secret project. The admiral was the sort of man that was kind and gentle and would never let an injustice like SIREN stand.” He took off his sunglasses and looked them straight in the eyes. “My grandfather was not that sort of man, not at all.”

“And what happens to you? You’re not going to be able to hide from this kind of heat,” Intermezzo told him.

“I vanish, of course; it’ll only be a matter of time before they trace everything back to me – and I can’t have my wife and children remain in danger. So I – we – vanish.” He grinned. “But maybe someday, if you’re ever in Cheyenne, Wyoming and you see a familiar guy, you might want to wave hello.”

Twenty minutes later, it was done. Changeling got into a black sedan across the street, waved farewell and departed, leaving the three women to the future.

“So what now?” Vesper asked. Madrigal laughed and her friend asked, “What’s so funny?”

“Just something I was thinking about. Last night, I had a dream. The three of us, well…we had daughters. Teenage daughters.”

“Teens?” Intermezzo shook her head. “Do you realize how young we would have had to have been to have kids who are now teens?”

“As it was, we got turned down for being sœurs,” Vesper reminded them, “so we didn’t have teenagers around us at all.”

“Look, it was just a dream, I know that,” Madrigal told her. “But…it felt so real, almost like it really happened. We were all a family: we loved them, and they loved us.”

“So you want to be a mother, Maddie, is that what you’re saying?”

The now-former SIREN nodded. “Yeah. As crazy as it sounds…yeah. I don’t think I’d mind being a parent.”

Vesper looked through the phone that Changeling had given her. “Well, if I’m reading this right, there’s a day care center for sale in Mesquite.”

“Day care center?”

“Good a place to start as any. You up for it, Maddie?”

“Sure…as soon as I figure out what my new name is,” she laughed.

Intermezzo groaned. “You two are impossible, you know that?”

“Maybe,” Vesper admitted. “Let’s go be impossible together.”

“Thought you’d never ask.”

August 16, PM: Tonight, Tonight

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At Night’s insistence, he was going to barbeque. It would be an excuse to use the max-size Big Green Egg he’d apparently bought two years ago, as well as a chance for him to show off his own cooking talents. He also insisted that no one help, because apparently barbequing was traditionally a man’s thing and he was going to be sexist just for tonight and not for a house almost entirely with ladies in residence to hold it against him.

Sunset laughed and conjured up enough meat for her father to take care of that, as well as creating a large enough picnic table that they could set up on. The well-manicured grounds – apparently landscapers came by once every other week to take care of it – were pristinely kept, and so Sunset decided to put the table within range of the swimming pool so that people could enjoy a pool party as well.

“How are you feeling?” Sunset asked Raspberry as the latter helped her conjure up side dishes for the whole thing.

“How do you do it?” Raspberry asked. “Right now I’ve got this wad of something stuck up my—”

“Yes, Mom told me that you went into your cycle today. And yes, I know it’s scary; I was freaked out about it the first time it happened – hell, probably every girl has. Are you in a lot of pain?”

“Just a small stinging sensation and some soreness, why?”

“Sounds like you got off light. Some girls get it real bad – when she has them, Fluttershy starts popping Advil like it’s candy.”

“Look, I don’t want to get off light, because I don’t want it at all! When can you send me home?” Burgundy eyes grew wide with worry. “Is there even a home to go back to?”

“Razz, please calm down. I’ll check tonight, okay? I’ve had a very busy day and I’m still getting adjusted to everything that’s changed in, well, everything.”

“And then there’s Heelee! I haven’t seen him at all! What if Faust’s time thing erased him, or left him behind in Equestria?”

“Razz, calm down. I know you’re worried, but trust me, everything’s going to be okay.”

“For you, maybe! But what about me?”

Sunset hugged her friend. “Because I know it will; I’m an alicorn now, so I know these things.” She smiled. “Besides, even if I wasn’t? I don’t have to know. They just happen.”

Raspberry then felt a slight weight on her shoulder. She turned to see a sizeable green canary land on it, warbling a song of happiness. The girl then started to choke up at the sight of Helidor sitting there, unharmed and happy.

“Go spend a few minutes with him, okay?” Sunset said. “I can take care of the rest of the side dishes.”

“You sure?”

Sunset picked up one of them. “I take it you like hay salad?”

“Absolutely! Especially when it’s mixed in with bluegrass, why?”

“Both of those are inedible to humans.”


Sunset giggled and changed the dish to a pasta salad when Raspberry walked off, all but hugging her charge as they happily reunited.

“Looks like you did a good deed.” Sunset turned to see Velvet standing there, carrying a tray of vegetables and dip.

“I guess. Is everything going to be ready, Mom?”

Velvet nodded. “I suppose it will. Oh, and by the way, you have additional guests here.”

“Is that going to be a problem?”

“I don’t think so. It’s the other Sunset Shimmer and her family.”

Equestria was in mourning.

Mourning both the dead and the wounded, the incalculable damage done by Tirek, and the loss of one of its heroes.

But within the palace, things were far more personal in grief.

“She’s locked herself in,” Luna said to Cadance and Shining. “She’s convinced that something happened to Sunset on the other side of the barrier. And furthermore…I don’t think she’s wrong.”

Cadance had a confused look cross her face. “How so, Auntie?”

“Once I was informed that the Guard found her babbling incoherently about Sunset, I immediately attempted the experimental spell Twilight and I have been working on in order to reopen the portal,” the night alicorn explained, “and though I managed to get it open, wild, unrestrained magic blasted out of the Mirror like a jet. It took everything I had to get that thing closed before we had extensive thaumic radiation leakage.”

“Unrestrained magic? Like chaos magic?” Shining asked.

“No. Different. It’s like the dimension on the other end isn’t there anymore.” When the other two gasped, Luna raised her hoof. “It may be that, but it might also be a case of a broken interdimensional leyline. What happens when a leyline is broken?”

Cadance, originally having been a pegasus before she became an alicorn, looked blankly at her aunt, but Shining, having been a unicorn all his life, answered: “A broken leyline causes temporary thaumic radiation leakage, which substantially changes the magic profile of the area. Most of the time it’s a temporary condition and things return to normal within a few days as the leyline heals itself.”

“Correct. But sometimes it also remains permanently ruptured, which is why the Everfree is the way it is now,” Luna stated.

“But…doesn’t current thaumophysics state that leylines should be impossible between elevated planes?” Shining asked.

“It does…but it’s wrong,” Luna told him. “After the creation of Platinum’s Mirror, Starswirl intentionally spread a rumor about that; he had concerns that if advanced mages realized it was possible, it would cause multiple incursions between our world and others. Given the existence of Sombra’s Mirror, clearly he was correct about that.”

“So at the best, Sunset’s dimension is unavailable for the foreseeable future,” Cadance stated.

“And at worst…alive or not, she’s gone. I don’t want to be the one to have to tell Cellie that. Not when she finally accepted that she should have adopted Sunset.” The look on Luna’s face was grim. “Nightmare Moon was created because of my anger, jealousy and fear. What would happen if Celestia went over the edge?”

“I hope we never have to find out.”

“So do I, Cadance. So do I.”

The three were silent for the longest time before Cadance said, “I should go talk to her.”

“Be careful, Cadance. I fear she’s in a very bad way right now, a way she hasn’t been in since the day…well, since the day she lost me.”

Cadance finally found Celestia not in her quarters, but Sunset’s. Cadance had never been in the unicorn’s room before, and she was surprised to find that it wasn’t as ostentatious as she’d thought it would be. In many ways, it was even more plainspun than hers had been when she lived here regularly.


“My fault.”

The words were so soft, Cadance almost hadn’t heard them. She turned, and there, lying against the bed, with her head on the mattress, was Celestia. She looked paler than normal, her hair colors muted and dulled. She seemed as if she’d been taken down a peg somehow – and given what she believed…maybe she had been.

“My precious filly. I never told her that enough,” she whispered to nopony and everypony. “Never told her enough how much I loved her. Never gave her the support I should have. Was always too much the ruler, never the mother. And now I can never change that.”

“She knew.” Seeing her aunt like this crushed Cadance, so much so that the younger alicorn wondered if Celestia wasn’t the only princess at fault for pushing Sunset in the direction she went.

“I chased her away. I never saw her grow into the mare she’s become. And now I never will again.”


“Please go, Cadance. Go before I ruin your life as well.”

Cadance went over and hugged her aunt. “You didn’t. You haven’t. Sunset understood.”

Celestia wept once more, an empty mare. And Cadance couldn’t help but weep herself, seeing her beloved aunt and mentor in such a state.

You’d better be alive, Sunset, Cadance thought to herself. Or else our world is going to fall apart.

In a reality now gone, Sunset remembered that the house was about a quarter-acre in lot, if she recalled right, and that around the block, were similarly-sized homes. But that was in a past no longer the past. Now, the house itself was tripled in size and sat on a six-acre homestead, a small portion of which were trees that were technically part of the Everfree Forest even if not part of Everfree National Forest or Everfree State Forest Reserve.

And now she walked the treeline, accompanied by someone she had never thought she’d be standing alongside.

“I should hate you,” Shimmer said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I really should. You stole my life here. Hell, from what one of your friends says, Compass Rose is even in love with you. She used to be one of my best friends when we were children, did you know that?” The look on the shorter teen’s face was not one of anger, but resignation. “I should really hate you. And…I know I shouldn’t, because you literally died to save me.”

“I didn’t know,” Sunset replied in an apologetic tone.

“You had no way of knowing. From what you said, you didn’t even know I was still alive, thanks to the old newspaper articles.” She laughed. “Mom showed them to me once; they were so badly written it does imply that I died instead of that an officer brought me home within an hour. I guess that shows why the Canterlot Star-Herald is out of business now.”

“So if you hate me, then why—”

“I said I should hate you…but I don’t. And even if I did, really, I don’t have that right. We have a saying in France: «Si un cambrioleur vous sauve la vie en pénétrant dans votre maison, l'arrêtez-vous pour cambriolage?»

“If a burglar saves your life when he breaks into your house, do you then arrest him for burglary?” Sunset translated.

“You speak French?” Shimmer asked, as realization hit a split-second later. She threw up her hands, muttering, “Of course you speak French. You’re perfect, after all.”

“I guess it comes with the territory; believe me, I’m as shocked as you are. And I’m not perfect, Sunset.”

“Shimmer, if you must, or Shimmy, preferably. I really don’t like my first name, and really, only my mother calls me that.”

That caught Sunset’s attention. “Oh? Why’s that?”

“Because my father used to take me out at dusk and tell me that there were beautiful sunsets – but only one beautiful Sunset. And after he died, I didn’t want to hear that from anyone ever again.” Shimmer wrapped her arms around herself as a sad look came over her face. “For a while I believed the car crash was my fault. And now, after what I’ve been through? I don’t know anymore.”

“I’m sorry for what you had to go through.”

“It’s not your fault. Divine wanted my mother, and my father was in the way. If the accident was true, then he could do so with a clear conscience. And if it wasn’t, he was already unworthy of my mother to begin with.”

Sunset silently nodded at that then told her counterpart, “At least you had a father that loved you. I didn’t until I came into this family.”

Shimmer looked at her with surprise. “You didn’t?”

“No. Truth be told, I’m a foundling – twice over, in fact – and an exogam.”


“Archaic term for a female without a father. Nowadays I’d be called a bastard, just like a boy would. We still use the term in Equestria, though. I lived in an orphanage until I was six, and my magic flare caught the attention of the Princess. If not for that, I would’ve been a nopony in Equestria, of unknown parentage and raised by the orphanage until I could get into an apprenticeship program.”

“Apprenticeship program?”

“Equus…is about a century behind Earth in progress in most respects. The school system is highly developed – provided you have the right connections. The princesses are trying to improve that, but just like when progress happened here…well, people don’t like change, whatever species they are.”

“I see.”

“She loved me and I blew that. I’ve made up with her since, and it was hard lying to my mother here that I still have a mother at home. Fortunately, Grandmother forgave me for that and hinted that it was okay for me to forgive my own guilt at that. I don’t have to choose between two mothers or two families, because it’s what I needed.”

“That sounds familiar,” Shimmer told her. “My uncle Noblesse has been a father figure to me because I grew up without mine. So I kind of understand your situation. I just never thought it would apply to more than just myself, if that makes sense.”

“It does, believe me, Shimmy. It does.”

The two were quiet for the longest time before Shimmer asked, “So…am I you? Will we just vaporize if we touch or something?”

“No, that’s not how it works. We’re both Sunset Shimmer, but we’re not the same person. From what I’m told, it doesn’t even work that way in time travel.”

Shimmer looked at Sunset with disbelief. “Time travel?”

“I said Equus was behind Earth in most respects, not all.”

The two walked a bit longer in silence, until they reached the perimeter fence denoting the end of the property. “So, what happens to us?”

“Well, from what I understand, there’s still a lot of paperwork that both your mother and my parents have to do. Your mother declares that I’m your missing sister, but that she’s not going to contest the adoption. Then you go back to your life in France and I continue to live life here. Nothing really changes, why?”

“And you’re not worried about this? I mean…next week, my mother is going to lie to the world and state that you are my biological sister, but that she is going to let your parents have custody because you didn’t grow up with us. There’s going to be questions, both from my family and the world.”

“No, I’m not. Sure, I’m worried about what impact it will have on my friends and family, and even yours. But I’m not worried about me.”

“Because you’re a goddess?”

Sunset laughed. “No, because I have people who love me. A deity can live without worshippers or adorants – but people can’t really live without each other. I love my sister, my cousins, my family and my friends. Don’t you think the same thing about yours? Won’t your friends step up to help you when you need it?”

“I do. They’re the best girls I know, and I’m glad I have them in my life.”

“And I have to honestly say that I wouldn’t be the girl I am now if it wasn’t for my friends. They started me on this journey to where I currently stand. If it wasn’t for them, Chernabog would firmly have a hold on me.” Shimmer shuddered at that and Sunset put a comforting shoulder on her. “Are you worried about her?”

Shimmer looked into Sunset’s eyes. “Terrified,” she admitted.

“I promise that she won’t ever harm another soul again.” Sunset’s tone was firm. “If she ever tries, I will do everything in my power to stop her – and I assure you, there won’t be a second time.”

“You mean that?” When Sunset nodded, Shimmer looked at her with astonishment. “But you died because of her! Because of me!”

“Stop that. I didn’t die because of you. I died because I set things in motion that needed to be set right.” Sunset closed her eyes for a brief second. “I don’t think anyone intended anyone to die, and I feel the loss of every life that happened as guilt and probably will for a long time. But I don’t want you to ever feel guilty for what happened. You were a victim, Shimmer – you were killed as well, if you recall. You didn’t agree to that.”

“I know I didn’t, but…Chernabog said that if it wasn’t for the fact that I had the right genetics and the right time, I would have just been dead. She claimed that saving my life was a pleasure.” She wrapped her arms around herself again. “And I thought I was alone in that, at least until I saw you.”

“You’re not alone. You have your friends and your family,” Sunset told her younger counterpart. “As they say in my family, you can’t let your sister down.”

Shimmer looked at her doppelganger. “Um…I don’t have a sister.”

Sunset hugged Shimmer. “Yes you do.” As the older held the younger one, she could feel Shimmer briefly cry. Sunset wasn’t sure why, but somehow she knew that she needed this. And somehow, she knew it was the right thing to do.

After a couple of minutes, Shimmer let her go and looked at the girl who was her and yet not her. “I have one last question, if you don’t mind. Plus, I’m sure my mother is going to want to know as well.”

“I’ll answer it as best as I can,” Sunset told her.

“The girl that my parents buried, the stillborn baby. Is that my real sister?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t think you should either,” Sunset told her delicately. “I suppose I could go find out, but to do that, in my opinion, would be wrong. Not because I want to hide anything from you, but….”

“No, I get what you mean: because to dwell on it would reopen old wounds?” Shimmer offered.

“Your mother has those memories now due to the time change my grandmother made,” Sunset reminded her. “And you said that even in the old timeline, she had a stillborn child anyway. It is entirely possible that in this timeline, we weren’t twins, but triplets, at least as far as the world will know. And can you imagine how much pain just all of this is bringing back to your mother?”

“I know. We’re lucky we have Zephyr,” Shimmer admitted. “Plus, now that he’s in our lives, I’m apparently going to be an older sister myself.”

“It’s worth every bit of it,” Sunset said with a sincerely loving smile, the kind that made Shimmer realize how true that was.

“Well, dinner’s probably ready,” Sunset told her. “We should be heading back. And then we can talk about other things.”

“Other things?”

“Typical girl stuff with my friends,” Sunset said with a smile. “If you’re going to be in town for the next two weeks, you might want to get to know them. Trust me, you’ll like them, and they’ll like you.”

“You sure? They won’t mind?”

Sunset waved it off. “Hey, we’re twins, right? I guarantee both of us come up with things that our sisters think are weird.”

Shimmer leaned against Sunset, a smile coming to her face. “I grew up without a sister, Sunny. You have a lot to make up for.”

Sunset smiled. “I’ll do my best.”

“They’ve been gone a long time. Think they’re okay?” Rarity asked.

Pinkie looked irritated. “That other Sunset better not be trying to steal my Sunset!” Before anyone could correct her, she immediately added, “Then again, if she does, maybe I can have both!”

“Someone stop her from being too creepy….” Rainbow groaned.

“Pinkie….” five voices suddenly said in perfectly synchronized rapprochement.

Rainbow blinked. “Okay, that’s even creepier.”

“This is going to take a lot of getting used to,” Applejack sighed.

“Now I’m sure I don’t want to live in this weird world,” Raspberry muttered.

Seated not too far away, the adults present looked at the teens.

“You know, it’s weird: yesterday we were all fighting for our lives,” Zephyr commented. “And now, it’s like it never happened.”

“Because it didn’t,” Celestia told him. “I think we’ve all had memories and reality changed for us in the past few hours. A life that we’d lived never happened, and lives we never knew have always been there.”

“Anyone else confused?” Solaire asked. “Because I know I am.”

“Soli….” Velvet began.

“Oh, no, Vel, certainly not about that. I certainly meant what I said: your Sunset will stay with you. In fact, the reason we are here is because my daughter wished to talk to yours. We certainly hadn’t planned that, nor did we know you were having a dinner with friends tonight.”

“This was thrown together at the last moment, because we wanted to compare notes as to what changed.”

“Whatever for?” Solaire said simply, smiling as she did so. When the others looked at her, she added, “You are so worried about how the world has changed, and I can certainly understand it. But from what I gathered from that Faust woman, she ensured that we would all have, as odd as it seems to say it, ‘happy endings’. Perhaps a reward for everything we have been through, or perhaps preparation for what comes next.”

The other adults looked at one another, but not one said a thing. Finally, Celestia spoke. “You don’t think this is over, do you?”

“My family just went through a succession crisis, Tia. I had to leave here to support my father as Prince in Pretense and Head of the Household. And I got involved in family intrigue as a result and I could not return here with my daughter, where we would rather have lived. On the other hand, you are dealing with a sweet girl who is a neophyte literal deity. What could potentially be coming your way will make what my family went through look like a philosophical debate in comparison.”

Sable looked at his girlfriend’s lookalike. “That is not something I really wanted to hear, Soli.”

“None of us do. My daughter and I could still potentially be in danger once more, but this time because of Sunset’s existence, not merely because my family spawned a megalomaniac. You will need to be careful.”

“And those girls will need military training,” Sable commented, briefly looking at the triplets – the former SIRENs. “There was a reason they are in this timeline, clearly because Faust felt Sunset needed protectors.”

“They needed protection as well,” Velvet said defensively. “Besides, based on this morning, they hardly need further training. Somehow they retained everything from their past lives.”

“Not surprised,” Sable said. “But combat training is a very perishable skill; you lose your edge if you don’t hone it regularly.”

“Are you volunteering?” Zephyr asked him.

“Yeah. Probably crazy, but…yeah. Those girls need grounding, and someone who’s been there before. And even though they’re capable, I can guarantee they haven’t seen half the shit you or I have.”

“Yeah, well, better you than me, I guess,” Zephyr replied. “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

“So we should ask him?” Aria asked her sisters.

“We should really talk this over with Sunny tonight. She might say no,” Sonata said.

“She’ll say yes. We’re here because we have to protect her – she will need her SIRENs. But we can’t be the same SIRENs we once were. So maybe having adult supervision should rectify it.”

“Girls, what are you three talking about?” Twilight asked.

“SIREN stuff,” Adagio told her cousin. “We don’t want to leave you three out, but I’m not sure how much of this you want to be privy to.”

“We’re all in this together,” Octavia reminded them.

Adagio explained. “When we were SIRENs, we had a senior officer that we reported to that was male. As sexist as it sounds, someone thought that having an avuncular father figure for all of us would be a calming factor. It was the death of the last admiral overseeing SIREN that made the organization rebel.”

“Yeah, the fact that it turned out that some of our own assassinated him was conveniently left out of the information briefing,” Aria seethed.

“The point is, we’ve fought alongside Sable, and he’s tied to Celestia, which makes him a potential candidate.”

“Have you asked him?”

“We…uh, have to clear it through Sunny, first. I’m sure she’ll want input.”

By the time Sunset and Shimmer arrived back at the table, just about everyone was staring at them.

“Is this normal for you?” Shimmer asked her counterpart.

“I gave up trying to figure out what was normal a long time ago, Shimmy,” Sunset sighed.

A reality away, Luna watched as Cadance walked out of the room, a defeated look on her face, her mascara smeared slightly. “Any change?” she asked her niece.

“Auntie believes that Sunset is gone,” the alicorn said to the others, “and there’s no changing her mind. And as you said, it might be true.”

Luna frowned. “There must be a way to repair all this. Perhaps Discord—”

“Do you really think he would fix something?” Shining asked her incredulously.

“No, not really,” Cadance added. “But even he knows there are limits to things. In either case, I suspect he’ll be busy for quite some time hunting for the leftovers of Tirek’s forces.”

“Perhaps Twilight and I should get to work on seeing what we can do to open the portal and repair the interdimensional leyline,” Luna stated. “We cannot afford to have my sister in this state, the worries of what it will do to her notwithstanding.”

“Twily is not in the best of situations right now,” Shining told the alicorns. “She had to tell the others about Razz’s death. Needless to say, aside from the extensive rebuilding and such that Ponyville will need, she will need time alone to grieve with the others.”

“In my haste, I’d forgotten about that,” Luna said with a hint of guilt in her voice. “So, Sunset’s fate must wait for now.”

“Hers isn’t the only fate that needs to be discussed,” Cadance added. “We also need to discuss Pavane’s, too.”

“Pavane Bayan? The Princess’ Hoof that died escorting Razz?” Shining asked. “She’s a hero for what she did, certainly, and I’m sure I can speak to the Castellan and we’ll arrange a hero’s funeral.”

“It’s more than that, Shiny,” his wife told him. “It’s far more than you think.”

A couple of hours later, the afternoon sun had moved closer to the western horizon to signal the end of the day. However, to Sunset, it seemed to do so reluctantly, as if somehow she could feel it not wanting to stop shining on her now. It was an odd feeling.

“Go,” she told it softly. “You’ve had a duty to do long before I was here.” She knew it was an inanimate object and not the semi-imbued thing of magic that she’d grown up with, but somehow, it seemed like the right thing to say, because as she said that, the feeling of recalcitrance vanished softly.

“Sunny!” She immediately felt two arms clamp around her. “Come swimming with us!”


The jubilant teen turned and smiled, her bright blue eyes laser-focused on Sunset’s own. “Yes?”

“Would you stop fondling me?”

“Oh.” Pinkie removed her hands from the offending locations and blushed. “I, er, would it make up for it if I let you fondle me?”


“Look, give me a second to take my top off.”


“You could do other things to me, too. I won’t mind at all. Really.” She blushed again. “Actually, I’m kinda hoping that you would do other things to me….”

Sunset sighed and pulled Pinkie’s top back down. “Pinkie, we need to talk.”

Those words seemed to trigger something in Pinkie, because she looked at Sunset with sudden fear. “No,” she breathed.

“Pinkie, for starters, I came over here by myself because I needed some time to think – not because I was doing a ‘come hither’. Secondly, I know why you’re feeling the way you are. And that’s part of the reason why I came over here to think. But now that you’re here, it makes it easier.”

“You’re going to dump me?” Pinkie asked.

“No, Pinkie, I’m not going to dump you…because we’re not dating,” Sunset explained. “Listen: what I’m about to tell you is not going to make sense, but it is the Truth. Maybe not our Truth, but a Truth nonetheless. And I need you to trust me.”

“You know I do.” Pinkie sat down next to Sunset, leaning against her shoulder. “More than anyone in this world.”

“When my grandmother changed things, she…well, she didn’t exactly change things, per se. Rather, what she did was reconstructing the timeline from bits and pieces of other timelines and parts. Some of the quantum strings of time make sense, and some of them don’t.” Sunset snapped her fingers and countless glowing orbs appeared around them both. “Some made sense in some contexts, while some did not.”

“I’m confused.”

“You wouldn’t be the only one.” Sunset reached out and picked up one of the orbs. In it, was a small image of Sunset and the girls, along with Princess Twilight, facing off against the triplets. But somehow, they were magically imbued – and evil. “Like I said, some of them really don’t make sense.”

Pinkie looked at a reality that the orb showed. “This isn’t real, is it?”

“It is, and it isn’t. In another time and place maybe it is, but this isn’t our reality. Our reality isn’t even the one it was yesterday, in a manner of speaking.” She let the orb go and it vanished. She reached out and picked up another one. In it, it showed a thirty-year-old Fluttershy in an Army uniform carrying a gun and with a grim look on her face. “Some of them won’t ever make sense.”

Pinkie looked at that one, too. “Why are you showing me this?”

“Because I know what you are, Pinkie. And it saddens, comforts and scares me all at once.”

“Why? I would never hurt you.”

“I know that. Believe me, I do, and it has nothing to do with that – but I can’t explain why or what exactly I mean. It’s not for you to know now, but to find out in time.” Sunset gave her friend a sad smile. “But that doesn’t have to do with why your feelings for me have gotten stronger.”

“I…I know they have. And I know you don’t like it. But I can’t help the way I feel.”

Sunset nodded. “I know.” She then reached inside Pinkie and plucked an orb out, much to the cotton-candy-haired girl’s surprise. “This is why.”

Pinkie looked at the orb, seeing her and Sunset making love within. “Is this real?”

“It’s a Truth,” Sunset said, blushing as she saw things the image of her in the orb doing that she had never thought of. “As I said earlier, it’s not our Truth, but one nonetheless. In any case, one of these quantum strings got, for lack of a better term, ‘stuck’ within you and that’s why you feel the way you do. Well, the intensity, in any case.”

Pinkie looked at the orb and a feeling of longing came over her. She reached out to Sunset, but then forced herself to lower her hand. “Because in some other reality, we’re lovers?” she asked instead.

“Because in some other reality, we’re married.” Sunset held the orb in her hand. “Pinkie, I can make this go away if you want. But if I do, it will change your feelings about me—”

“No.” The answer was instantaneous. “Put it back.”

“It’s not meant to be, Pinkie,” the neophyte goddess said, gesturing to the cut-off reality within. “I don’t feel that way about you and I probably never will.”

“I know. But it’s how I feel about you. And clearly, somewhere a you feels that way about a me. And maybe that’s enough.” She smiled sadly. “And I will master my feelings and get them under control. I am the master of who I am, not the other way around.”

“Are you sure?” Pinkie nodded, and Sunset slipped the ball in. Pinkie cooed at the touch, reluctantly moaning as Sunset removed her fingers. “Are you sure you’re going to get a hold of that?” Sunset wondered when she was done.

“Sunny?” Sunset looked at her friend and Pinkie suddenly looked abyssally sad. She held her friend and Sunset returned the embrace. “I love you, you know that?”

“I know, Pinkie. I love you too, in my own way.”

“I know. I just wish you could love me love me, if that makes sense,” she sobbed.

The two sat in the treeline until nightfall, not moving but instead just in each other’s company.

“Are you sure you wish to do this, mon tournesol?” Solaire asked.

Shimmer nodded. “We still have two weeks here, and I should get to know Sunset better,” she explained. “Besides, I don’t doubt that you and Zephyr will need some peace and quiet and time to know each other now as you apparently do.”

“My, you’re being cheeky, daughter of mine,” Solaire said with a sly grin.

“Yeah, well, I learned from the best,” she said, kissing her mom on the cheek.

“We’ll make sure she’s okay, Soli,” Velvet said.

“I know you will,” the princess commented. “Besides,” she said, leaning into Zephyr. “I do believe this scamp has yet to introduce me to his family, so a week in Atlanta will be nice.”

“Yeah, and I have to check on the kids and Paradis as well,” he admitted. “My ex isn’t going to recall any of this, you don’t think?”

“Hopefully not, but if she does, too bad – I’m keeping you,” Solaire insisted.

“Well, we need to get going as well,” Celestia added. “I have a meeting in the morning with Waddle to turn over the remaining documentation and items for summer school superintendent before I go back to being just the principal of Canterlot High.”

“Yeah, and I should probably head back to the Blanks itself and start taking down that storm boarding,” Sable added, “since Sombra and I took forever putting it in. Maybe we should call in several of the other teachers to help take the shit down as well.”

“We have some funds in the summer school account left,” Celestia offered. “If I can talk Waddle into moving it over to the Alternative Education account you can have custodial services attend to that.”

“I’d love you forever if you did, hon,” he said.

“I thought you were going to love me forever regardless?”

“Yes, but a little insurance never hurt, did it?” She giggled in response at that.

At this time, Sunset and Pinkie joined the others. They all noted both of them looked the worse for wear emotionally.

“So, which one of you is having the baby and should we worry about losing you at the hospital?” Rainbow joked in an attempt at levity and got smacked in the back of the head by Adagio for it.

“I should really kick your ass for that,” the oldest triplet growled.

“Hey, I was just joking, okay?” Rainbow grunted.

“Yes, but their stepmother died due to that,” Octavia told her friend.

“Shit, I did not know that,” Rainbow said. “Sorry about that, girls.”

“Yeah, we figured it was just you just being you and making a typically tasteless joke,” Aria commented. “We know you.”

“Good,” Rainbow replied. “Besides, Dagi, if you’re going to use someone as a punching bag, go do it to Razz, okay?”

Adagio smirked. “Might just do that anyway.”

“HEY!” the former unicorn protested.

“Don’t worry about it, Razz,” Sonata added. “That’s just how you can tell she likes you, isn’t that right, sis?”

“Sis, now is not the time for jokes. Especially with the mutant freak there.”

“You mean the mutant freak that’s like me?” Sunset commented, crossing her arms.

“Well, you’re my cousin, Sunny. That’s entirely different,” the eldest triplet pointed out.

“Speaking of which…how do we explain Razz?” Twilight asked. “We can’t exactly claim she’s a cousin; at some point someone’s going to wonder if mine or Tavi’s family line looks like chop suey.”

“Yeah, I guess we are kinda ‘cousined’ out around here, aren’t we?” Sonata commented.

“I suppose I could volunteer that she’s part of my family,” Shimmer ventured. “I owe her a small bit of gratitude as well for helping stop Divine, plus, she will need some coverage for a while, won’t she?”

“That’s awfully nice of you, Shimmer,” Applejack said.

“I’m sure if the situation was reversed, Sunset would step in to protect one of my friends,” Shimmer said, “so it’s fair.”

“I’ll need to go look at some French documents so I can make copies for Razz,” Sunset commented.

“I can lend you mine. I have them in my purse.”

“Okay, so…now we’re forging international documents in addition to hiding Sunset’s secret,” Rarity said flatly, looking at her friends. “I don’t think I’d ever envisioned a life of crime when I met you all, darlings.”

“But you wouldn’t give it up for the world, would you?” Fluttershy said, a surprisingly impish smile coming over her face.

“Not in the least, Fluttershy dear, not in the least.”

The girls spent the remainder of the time in the pool, laughing it up and acting for a change like careless teenagers, until the outdoor clock read eleven in the evening.

“Well, I should probably get some sleep,” Rarity said, sighing slightly. “I do need my beauty sleep.”

“We probably all should,” Applejack suggested.

“Woah, are you kidding?” Rainbow asked. “Can’t we, like, just stay up all night and then have Sunny like, zap us and shit so that we’re not sleepy or anything?”

“Can you do that?” Pinkie asked her.

“Can? No idea? Would? Not a chance,” Sunset told them. “You are my friends and I am very reluctant to use my magic on you for a number of ethical and other reasons. Things I wouldn’t have to think about before.” Pinkie was about to open her mouth to say something when Sunset added in, “And even if you volunteer, Pinkie, no, I’m not going to give you an artificially-induced dream about what you saw earlier.”

“Then can I—”

Sonata patted her friend on the shoulder. “I really think you should just drop it, okay?” she advised.

“Well, can we at least contact Equestria?” Raspberry asked. “I think my parents would be worried about me, given everything going on over there.”

“So, even the freak has a family,” Adagio drawled. “Will wonders never cease.”

“Okay, that’s it,” Octavia said. “Dagi, you’re out of line here, okay? If we want to talk about families, you’re hardly one to do so!”

Adagio reacted as if slapped. “Look, Tavi….”

“Excuse us for a minute, would you?” Octavia grabbed the golden-haired girl’s hand and dragged her to the other end of the pool. “No, you listen, okay? Look, I get that you hate Razz, and I have no idea why, but get off her case for now, okay?”

“And why should I?”

“Because from what little I know, she’s on the verge of falling apart right now. Aunt Velvet said that Razz took a nap while we were all out and running about and that she’d cried herself to sleep. I think she’s worried about her home with that war that she mentioned. Sunny’s probably worried as well, but you know she doesn’t try to show it as much.”

“I still fail to see the concern here.”

“Dagi, please don’t be so thickheaded, okay? I know you better than that. Think about it: if there was an apocalyptic war here—” That was met by an are you serious? look from Adagio, so then Octavia amended with, “You know what I mean!”

“Just get to your point, okay?”

“Okay, long story short: if you were in her shoes, do you think you’d want someone who hated you to just constantly waylay into you? I’m not asking you to be buddy-buddy with her, Dagi; no one is. But she’s from the same world as Sunny, and if she’s right, that world might not survive. Sunny and Razz might be the only ones of their kind left, and honestly? I can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like.”

Adagio sighed. “Fine, I’ll lay off her for a bit – but only because you asked.”

“That’s good enough for me.”

“Come on, we’d better get out of the water before the others start getting ideas. Like spying on us or something.”

Standing from a distance, Twilight smiled. “I think Tavi handled that pretty well, don’t you?”

“Yeah, usually you all make me do the hard stuff,” Sonata said half-jokingly.

“Because you’re good at it,” Sunset told her.

“Yeah, okay, point,” Sonata admitted.

“You know, watching this long-time family dynamic that you all seemed to have developed literally overnight is going to take some getting used to,” Rarity admitted. “My sister and I aren’t as close as you six seem to be, and given, well, everything, it makes me wonder why that is the case.”

“Because Grandmother willed it to be so, I guess,” Sunset said. “Personally, I’m not going to complain.”

“You did when I borrowed one of your shirts last week,” Aria jibed.

“Yes, and I was not happy that you spilled marinara sauce all over it, either. It’s going to take forever to get the stain out.” Aria, in turn, stuck her tongue out at her cousin, to which Sunset summoned a splash of water from the pool to soak the drying teen. Aria retaliated by tackling her cousin and pushing her into the water, after which the two descended into laughing and water fighting.

“Ladies, I present to you: the new normal,” Twilight said without a trace of irony on her face.

“Yeah, this world is definitely going to take some getting used to,” Raspberry said for what must’ve been the umpteenth time.

Ten minutes later, they went back in the house, and after a quick change into normal clothing, moved the bookcase – the bookcase would have to go on gimbals later in order to automate moving it in case of emergencies, Sonata noted aloud – and they took the elevator down into the secure area.

“You have this underneath your house?” Shimmer asked Sunset.

“Yeah. Somehow it exists independently of either timeline, and Sonata said she built it all, so we’re not sure how that happened,” Sunset said. “There’s a few instances where I’ve found that it’s just better not to ask.”

The elevator doors opened, revealing a room the size of a basketball court. In one corner was a bunch of weightlifting equipment. A room with a window led just off it and within it was a target range. In the second corner was a worktable with lab equipment and various other gear that seemed far too complex for the average house to have. Against the far wall was a series of weapon racks, all of which carried various armaments. Next to it, in perfect condition, was a BAE Valanx, armed with an M2 .50 machine gun on the top; next to that was a small garage’s worth of materials in order to keep it in top condition.

In the center of the room was various tables, computers and a command center display, all of which fed back real-time information to the screens.

“When the hell did you have time to set all of this up?” Rainbow asked Sonata.

“Look, some of that I don’t even know how to set up!” was the response. A quick infodump stare later, and Sonata added, “Okay, looks like I do. But seriously, I…let’s just let it go, okay, Rainbow?”

Applejack whistled in appreciation. “What’s behind the iron doors over there?” she asked, pointing to the ones across from them, the centerpiece of the room: a massive vault, with steel doors, and no indicator of what’s behind it.

“I’m guessing the portal is behind that?” Sunset asked Sonata.

The youngest triplet nodded as she walked over to the three-meter-tall doors. “In the event of a breach or unannounced arrival, the vault is supposed to flood with an incapacitating agent – methyl propyl ether, if I recall correctly. Then, if the walls or vault doors are attacked, signals get sent to the three of us and you, while the room then switches to a secondary defense system designed to neutralize the threat. Combination of flamethrowers built into the walls, ceiling and ground. In the last-ditch event that nothing can be saved, explosive charges are supposed to go off, destroying everything in the room, the portal included. The vault is encased by foot-thick steel-reinforced concrete, and the doors themselves are meter-thick 945A-class steel alloy. If anything gets past that, then having the portal destroyed is the least of our problems.”

“And you would know all of this how?” Rarity asked her friend.

“Look, I have no idea. In the old timeline, I took pride in my engineering skills, and in this new timeline, I’ve always had an affinity for it thanks to Aunt Glitter, but in neither timeline should I have been able to build the Batcave here!” she explained.

“If Ah had to guess, probably Sunny’s grandma did all of it and implanted the info in your head for maintenance reasons,” Applejack offered. “Ah know it’d be something mah granny’d do.”

Sonata had an odd look cross her face. “That…had never occurred to me.”

Aria hugged her sister. “Well, I love you regardless of how weird you get, sis.”

Meanwhile, Sunset looked at Raspberry and the sudden look of homesickness on the other girl’s face as she gazed at the iron doors and the unspoken promise of home on the other side. “I promise I’ll get you home, Razz. And I know there will be a home to get you to,” the alicorn insisted.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am.” She gestured to the table. “Ladies, go ahead and have a seat. I’m going to summon the candle so that we can try to reach Equestria.” She then looked at Twilight, Octavia and Shimmer. “I know this might all be a bit overwhelming for you three, so there’s no shame if you don’t want to be a part of this.”

“No. I made that mistake once, and I’m not doing it again,” Twilight told her sister. “You’re my sister, and a part of my life. And I lost you once because of my selfishness. For better or for worse, I’m in.”

“I go where you go, Sunny,” Octavia told her cousin.

“Well, I did agree to this,” Shimmer told them. “Besides, apparently magic has been in my family for longer than I even knew it existed, so….” She shrugged and left it at that.

The girls took seats and with a snap of her fingers, Sunset summoned the candle. She lit it, and the thick green pillar candle let off its cloying pine scent, the orange wick dancing before them.

“Okay, so it’s a candle?” Twilight asked her sister.

“More than just a candle.” She looked at those who were already familiarized with magic. “Think of it as a communication device back to my homeworld.” And with that, she tapped the candlewick, and the flame changed from orange to green.

The room filled with an explosion of green flame everywhere, an inferno of jade pouring in all directions. Alarms sounded all over the place and the blast of magical power roared as it screamed out of the candle, much to the horror of everyone present.

“RAZZ, GET THEM OUT OF HERE!” Sunset shouted. But to her shock, Raspberry was completely incapacitated, caught up in the horror of seeing the wild, unrestrained magic.

The sprinklers began to go off, to no avail; in fact, the magical flame began to grow larger and larger, now covering the whole of the ceiling and swallowing every drop of water, sending it who knew where.

Sunset heard a shriek of maniacal laughter and saw Octavia, on the ground, howling in insanity. The look on her eyes was that of a caged animal that was ready to attack at any second.

Sunset did what was necessary: she teleported everyone out of the room, then started placing wards down in a defensive pattern, putting more magic into them than she’d ever done before. It was surprising to her that she could now do so, but she pushed that from her mind and focused at the task at hand.

As she started to get the inferno under control, she could hear weeping from the other end, voices from beyond the veil. She wasn’t sure from where they were coming or what it portended, but now was not the time for speculation.

The flames burned around her, trying to claim her, but her own nature repelled them, letting the unrestrained magic know who the master was here. A second later she could feel extra power as her link to the sun activated, letting her draw in that energy as well. It wasn’t really needed, but it helped to serve as one more anchor to this plane, one more way of saying that she was now inexorably tied to this realm and that though she was from Equestria, it was no longer her home.

“What the hell was that?” Velvet, with Night right behind her, came downstairs to find all the girls save for Sunset and Aria, looking anxiously at the elevator doors. Sparks and strange lights flickered and flew away from the cracked doors, and Twilight and her nieces crowded around Octavia, who was shaking like a leaf. Standing away from them, with terrified looks on their faces, were Shimmer – and surprisingly, Raspberry, as well. As for the other teens, they were already in damage control mode, trying to make sure everything was alright.

It made Velvet wonder how odd this world had become when girls, whose main concerns should be as far away from world-shattering calamities as possible, were now regularly front and center when it came to them.


Velvet turned to see Aria, from the top of the stairs, throw something to her sister. The matron immediately noticed it was Octavia’s prescription of Malarson. Sonata, seeing it, sprinted into the kitchen, while Adagio rushed over to catch the bottle. She ran it over to Octavia just as Sonata returned with a glass of water, both handing them over to Twilight, who was hugging and comforting Octavia, mothering over her cousin as best as she could while the raven-haired teen was in a practical stupor.

“Girls, what is going on here?” Night asked, just as the ground shook briefly and a muffled thump sounded through the floor.

A second later, Sunset appeared in a shower of sparkles. She was in her alicorn form and was covered in soot and grime. “Everyone okay?” she asked, looking around. She then saw her parents and said, “Mom, Dad, I’ll explain in the morning. I promise. Just…false alarm, everything’s going to be okay now. Trust the goddess, she knows what she’s talking about.”

“That’s a novel excuse if I’ve ever heard one,” Velvet said warily.

“I need a shower right now. And we need to get to bed.” Sunset changed back to her human form; strangely enough, the debris followed along right onto that form. “And I need to do damage control.”

“And explain all of this too,” Night added.

“And explain all of this too,” Sunset wearily agreed.

It was just after one in the morning when a tired Sunset walked back up to her bedroom. The girls, given that they were staying over, had all crowded into Sunset’s bedroom, all of them in sleeping bags. She knew her parents were still downstairs, digesting everything that she’d explained and they would probably have very sleepless nights tonight, given what had just happened beneath the house. For that matter, she knew she would have one as well, trying to make sure that no one had any nightmares tonight.

And she still hadn’t gotten around to taking that shower. She could still smell the sweat on her and while she didn’t stink, the odd, acrid stench of wild magic hung around her like a methane cloud.

Maybe I should take up Rainbow on that suggestion about just zapping them with a rejuvenation spell, just as soon as I invent one for humans, she mentally groaned.

“Sunny?” She turned to see Shimmer, sitting on the final step, outside of her bedroom, as if waiting for her.

“You sound as though you want to leave,” Sunset said, not arguing. “Look, if you don’t want to get to know me—”

“‘You’re my sister’. That’s what Twilight said. You have no biological relation to her, you’re not adopted yet, and yet she loves and idolizes you. And though they didn’t voice it the same way, so do the others – and I don’t mean your cousins. You have ten girls in that room – and arguably Raspberry as well – that look up to you and respect you immensely.”

“I’m sorry if that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

“It does…but not for the reasons it did earlier,” the smaller girl admitted. “I mean, yes, had I seen this earlier today, I would be jealous, because it would have just showed how ‘inferior’ I was in comparison to you,” Shimmer said, doing air quotes. “But now, after having just seen you literally throw yourself into a magical inferno, I…I really don’t know what to say. I’m both afraid and amazed. And I can’t help but wonder if you’re what my real twin sister might have been like if she lived, then….”

“You’re not inferior, Shimmy. And you shouldn’t compare yourself to me.”

Shimmer stood up. “I’m not. I’m saying that I should be looking up to you as well. If you’re going to fill the niche of my twin sister, I should get to know you, good and bad – and weird. So…no, I don’t want to go away. And though I’ll go home in two weeks, I still want us to keep in touch. I mean…we’re sisters, right?” She then reached over and hugged the taller girl.

For the first time in several minutes, Sunset smiled. “Thanks. Right now, that makes me feel far better than you might realize.”

“I’m glad. C’mon, there are two other girls that need your help.”

“They do?”

“Your cousin? Octavia? She wants to talk to you. She’s locked herself in her room. And Raspberry has sequestered herself in hers as well.”

Sunset sighed, knowing it was going to be a long night.

“Can you make it go away?” Octavia asked her.

“Tavi, I—”

“Can. You make it. Go. Away?” the teen repeated, looking up at Sunset with desperate eyes. Right now, she looked like something out of a Japanese horror film, with her hair stringing over her face, her eyes red from tears. She held onto Sunset’s arm like a talisman at the moment, and it made the alicorn ache to see her cousin like this.

“No, Tavi. I can’t.” Sunset held her cousin close. “This is your mind we’re talking about. I can heal your body. But your mind is yours. And I would never want to harm you. I’m sorry.” Sunset felt her cousin bawl horrifically in her arms, and Sunset couldn’t help but cry along with her. She turned to look as Twilight and the triplets stood in the door, all of them with bleak, worried looks on their faces as well.

“We’ll get through this,” Sunset said, kissing Octavia gently on her head. “Sisters always do.”

“I’m alone.”

Sunset, already feeling emotionally exhausted after having put Octavia to sleep, walked over to Raspberry’s room. She wasn’t in the mood for a second round of this. Yet, she didn’t have a choice: Raspberry needed her. And even if it wasn’t her responsibility as a pony deity-ruler, the stark fact that Sunset was a fellow pony – and that was enough for her.

“Razz, you had a bad night, okay? I wasn’t expecting that to happen.”

That is not the sign of a normal action, Sunny! That means that our home – our world! – is gone! There’s nothing left! There’s nothing left!” Raspberry was frantic, panicking.

“Razz, calm down! I’m sure there’s a valid reason for it! Maybe misalignment of leylines, or…the grand matrices are malfunctioning!”

“I wouldn’t know, okay? I don’t have the training that you do!” The other girl was in tears, and she was shivering, holding herself. “I just…everything’s gone! I know it is! Everypony I’ve ever loved, everypony I care about! And now I’m stuck as a monster forever and—”

“Razz!” Sunset’s shout made her look up, and Sunset took that attention for all it was worth. “Calm. Down. Please. I’m very sure there’s a reason for it. I’ll look into it, and I’ll get you home. I promised, didn’t I?”

“You did,” Raspberry said dully.

“And even if worst came to worst and you were, quote, ‘stuck’, there are a lot of good things about human life that you have yet to experience. I know you’re scared, and so am I – I have family on the other side as well, remember – but you have to have faith that everything’s going to turn out okay. I do.”

“You have faith? With what you saw?”

“Deities run on faith, so I hear. And I believe that we are working for a better tomorrow, whether it’s ponydom or humanity. And I know that we’ll get there. But we can’t get there just because I said so, or my mother, or my grandmother – or the gods on this side. We have to get there through all of us.” Sunset got down on her knees so she could look Raspberry in the eyes. Brushing the hair out of her friend’s face, she said, “Rest. When tomorrow comes, I’ll show you there’s more to humanity than what you see as horror.”

“But what if we have to stay like this for the rest of our lives? What if we’re the last two left?”

“Then you’re still not alone,” Sunset reminded her, pointing to the bird perch and the gently dozing green canary on it. “If we are all that is left, then it is up to us to make sure ponydom is remembered. But it won’t get to that, because I know it won’t.” She tapped her friend on the forehead, whispering a soft, “Sleep.” Raspberry’s eyes immediately closed, and Sunset magically slipped her into sleepwear, and then tucked her into bed.

“Things will be better in the morning, Razz. I promise they will,” Sunset told her friend as she left the guest room.

“You look like shit.” Adagio stood there, looking at her cousin evenly.

“Why, Adagio Dazzle, I’m surprised! Worried about how Razz was reacting?”

Adagio clucked her tongue. “As if. I’m worried about you. It’s been a rough day, and roughest for you, okay? The girls are already mostly asleep, but I stayed up to make sure you weren’t going to go through this alone. Twily’s with Tavi, and my sisters are already conked out, so that left just me.”

“Thanks. I mean that.”

Adagio smiled. “We’re family, Sunny. I would normally say that means a lot to me, but after today? It’s the whole damn world. You’re my cousin – and in this family, pretty much the same thing as a sister – and my liegelady.”

“Never that last one, Dagi.”

“Sorry, but yes, that one. We are your SIRENs as well as your cousins. Your protectors as well as your family. And we intend to take that seriously. Now, yes, during these slow times, we’re your family first. But there’s going to be a time when we SIRENs will have to be the line between you and death, or between the others and death.”

“Dagi, please, can we talk about this later? I’m too wiped out right now to go through this.”

“Sure. Let’s get some sleep, then.” She grinned impishly. “That is, unless you want to cuddle up against Pinkie – she’s already tried to sidle up to Shimmer, and it’s kinda freaked her out, understandably.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” Sunset sighed as she went to her room. Thankfully, it was probably the only thing that she had to worry about right now.

So good to finally be returning home, Areca Palm thought to herself as she drove past wide-open fields interspersed with little country houses and farms. The girl with chestnut-brown hair with a single blue stripe never felt like she could truly be herself whenever she traveled. Appearances needed to be kept up for one reason or another.

None too soon the farmland of Damascus, Oregon vanished through the trees behind her, and Areca drove her SUV down a one-lane gravel road lined with nice two-story houses on either side. Identical Tudor-style homes slowly drifted past and in their windows, Areca could see each of the residents of the little community standing ramrod straight and perfectly still as they silently watched her pass. Most would have found the behavior unsettling, but not Areca—this was her home, after all.

In a few minutes, Areca pulled up to the front gate of her home. A pair of stone lions flanked the gate, and effigies of fantastical creatures roared and clashed above it. Stepping out of her vehicle, Areca waved her hand, and the myriad of invisible protective magical wards parted before her. Then with another wave of her hand, Areca summoned her face.

The Hudoq mask of the Dayak people was the only relic of her past life she still kept. Her father had always stressed the importance of remembering one’s roots, but Areca had no desire to hold onto the weak and helpless Indonesian orphan she’d left behind in Australia. In truth, Areca hated that person. The demon-like mask was Areca’s way of surpassing her: Although she had risen far in the world ever since Da had taken her in, every time Areca saw her face reflected back at her in a mirror or the surface of a window, all she ever saw was that weak, powerless little girl.

Not so when she wore the fearsome fanged face of the Hudoq: As far as she was concerned, the mask was her real face. The friendly, laid back persona she presented for the ignorant outsiders that was the rest of the world – that was her true mask.

She passed a procession of her brothers and sisters in black suits who gave Areca a respectful nod as she walked along the dense wooded path to the mansion. They were on their way to collect her bags and bring them into the mansion, having been notified of her arrival by the magical wards around the property.

Inside, the mansion was filled with ancient things. Finely crafted wooden furniture filled the yawning chambers, many of which had been there long before the country was founded. Old yellow photographs rested in mahogany frames among the china and decorative sculptures, depicting centuries old members of their Order.

In one of the side rooms, Areca found one of her fellow high-level acolytes. The hulking beast of a man sat in meditation amidst a sea of wax candles, the candlelight dancing across the grisly red markings that covered his upper body. His beard was gray and smoky, extending down to his chest, and when he sensed Areca’s presence, his eyes opened revealing fiery orange. He stood to greet her, and Areca had to crane her head back to meet his eyes.

“Brother Cacus,” she greeted. Her voice echoed with a hollow resonance behind her mask. “Good to see you. Hope I’m not interrupting your meditation.”

The giant of a man gave a noncommittal grunt, which Areca took to mean he didn’t particularly mind, and gave her a mildly inquisitive look.

Taking the invitation, Areca asked, “Do you know where the Grandmaster is? I didn’t see him in his study.”

Cacus extended a tree trunk-like arm towards the back of the mansion, and all at once Areca knew where she had to go. After thanking Cacus, Areca made her way to the dining room near the back of the mansion’s west wing. The stuffed, mounted heads of a variety of animals watched as she entered the secret passage next to the hearth and descended the dusty stairs into the hidden network of tunnels below.

The tunnel system had been dug out by the Order centuries ago, and apart from a few additional wooden supports, remained relatively unchanged over the years. The way was lit by candles nestled away in little alcoves in the walls – confirming to Areca that a ritual was underway.

But as it turned out, Areca was wrong. When she opened the rusty steel door at the end of the winding passage, she saw that the ritual had just finished. Twelve robed figures stood around a stone table in the center of a twelve-pointed diagram on the floor. Lying on the table was the girl.

Soapy Bubbles was an intern at the local branch of one of the Order’s shell corporations – an electronics company – and had very quickly become taken with her father to hear the old man tell it. She had problems at home and very few friends, and Areca’s father had provided a shoulder to lean on during those hard times. Naturally, this only caused more problems for poor young Bubbles when her parents found out all about the increasing amount of “intimate” time the two spent together. Their fears (in that regard anyway) were unfounded, of course. Her father was never with the young girl in the biblical sense. After all, it would defeat the whole purpose of what he was doing.

The blue haired girl was splayed out on the stone slab in a big X, her wrists and ankles bound in rope. The golden hilt of an ornate sword rose from her chest, and blood slid from the edges of the stone table, turning the diagram on the floor red. Areca felt a certain satisfaction looking into Bubbles’ lifeless eyes – the girl had been exceptionally arrogant when she was with her father. Areca only regretted not arriving in time to see Bubbles discover her true destiny.

Areca watched as an old man wearing the Grandmaster’s black robes with gold embroidery pulled the sword from the lifeless girl’s chest, wiping away the blood on the blade with a cloth. Having already absorbed the power from the runes filled with virgin’s blood, the other black-robed figures began to disperse, silently making their way past Areca to the door. Sensing her presence, the old man turned to face her and Areca looked upon her father’s familiar wrinkled visage.

“Welcome home, my dear,” he said warmly as he returned the sword to his sheath, and it became his cane. The old man wore his white cloth bandages over his eyes, and Areca could see the edges of the burned skin around his empty sockets.

“Hello, Da!” Areca said, her genuine smile hidden beneath her mask.

Only when the last of the other members of their Order were gone did Areca move forward to hug her father, making sure to do so in full view of Bubbles’ lifeless gaze.

“How was Japan?” her father asked as they broke from the hug.

“Productive,” Areca answered, getting straight to business. “I made contact with the Oyabun and gave him your message. They seemed…receptive of our offer.”

“As always, you have done fine work, my child,” her father said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “But I sense some trepidation.” Areca said nothing, but her silence gave her away. “Come now, you know you can speak your mind with me.”

With only another moment’s hesitation, Areca said, “All due respect, Da, I think it was a mistake letting this ‘Satsuma Rengo-kai’ group become as powerful as they have. We should have dealt with them years ago.” They were going to be a lot more difficult to deal with now, Areca knew.

“They still have a role to play in events to come,” the Grandmaster said. “It is foolish to discard a thing that still has some use.”

Areca glanced distastefully at the girl on the table. “That why you kept her around as long as you did? What role did she play for you?”

Naturally, her father couldn’t have seen her sour expression even if he still had his eyes, but he could easily discern his surrogate daughter’s feelings for Bubbles.

“There’s more than one way a person can have their use,” the Grandmaster said, leaving it at that.

Just like there’s more than one way a man can enjoy a woman’s body, Areca wanted to say, but held her tongue. She too thought it best to simply leave it at that, and turned to walk back through the winding tunnel, the old man’s cane feeling the ground ahead of him.

“Oh! I have some good news, Da,” Areca said as they walked through the dark dank tunnel, each candle going out in its alcove as they passed. “Your ‘admirer’ is no longer a problem.”

“So I heard. Apparently three very deranged young women were responsible for this latest batch of ‘Dead Hand Killings,’” her father said with a knowing smile. “But you and I know better, don’t we?”

Areca could only guess by her father’s satisfied smile that everything had gone exactly as he had foreseen.

“As I recall, you had expressed your desire to preemptively deal with him as well, and I told you then as I tell you now that he still had a purpose to serve,” her father continued. “Now, both Grogar and Chernabog have been removed from the picture, and the powerful magic user rising in Canterlot is dead.”

The Child of the Sun, the Grandmaster had called the girl in Canterlot. Daughter of two worlds. Strangely enough, her father’s demeanor changed whenever he spoke of the enigmatic girl. It was hard to put a finger on how, exactly. At least now she can’t trouble him any longer.

“Still, it’s a shame young Divine Right turned out the way he did,” her father went on. “He had such potential, but considering who gave his lineage their powers, I suppose his grasp was always destined to exceed his reach.”

“I don’t believe you ever told me how you know him,” Areca said with genuine curiosity.

Her father smiled. “It’s quite simple really. Divine Right was my apprentice before you. I met him when he was studying abroad at USC back in the 80s. He was only vaguely aware of the power he possessed at the time, so I took it upon myself to train him in the arcane arts.”

Of course, the place and time was all too familiar. “So the original Dead Hand Killings…?”

“That’s right,” her father said. “Amazing how frequently history repeats itself, is it not? There wasn’t just one Dead Hand Killer now, and there wasn’t just one then either.” The old man gave a nostalgic sigh. “The Prince took to my teachings eagerly enough, but his technique was sloppy. Still, I thought he might one day prove to be a valuable asset. Instead, his power-hungry follies made him a liability to the Order, and we severed all ties with him.”

Areca smiled beneath her mask. “Well, with him and the girl out of the way, what’s the next phase of our…?”

Areca trailed off as her father abruptly stopped in his tracks. When she turned to face him, she saw the familiar sight of a pair of red spots growing on the white cloth over his eyes. Soon, red tears began to stream down the old man’s face. Ask, and you shall receive.

“Da? What do you see?” Areca asked.

“I’m not sure yet. Something is amiss…eungh!

Areca’s heart nearly skipped a beat when her father suddenly grunted in pain and clutched his head. Her father’s cane clattered to the ground, and suddenly she found herself holding all of the old man’s weight. With a wave of her hand, Areca summoned a wooden chair from the dining room with a red velvet pillow, and gently set her father down in it.

“Are you alright, Da?” she asked. As a part of his Gift, her father had many visions like the one he just had, but never before had one of them evoked such a strong reaction from him.

The old man sat still and silent for quite some time, and Areca knew there was nought to do but wait patiently. His Third Eye had traveled far this time, and when Areca looked close, she could see his lips moving ever so slightly. Is he…speaking with someone? Finally, her father started to laugh. It started as a simple chuckle, like he’d just heard a mildly amusing joke, but it grew and grew until it became a mad cackle, and for the first time in a long time Areca was afraid of him.

“What happened?” she asked when the old man’s mirth finally subsided.

“A divine intervention….” he answered breathlessly. “The destiny of our world has been changed…. It would seem that She has finally seen fit to play Her hand.” Her father shook with laughter again. “She has played with a double-edged sword, and the benefits She has reaped pale in comparison to what it has allowed us to grasp!”

He had spoken of Her before, and Areca still wasn’t entirely sure who “She” was. “What’s changed?” she asked.

“Many things,” Her father curled a trembling hand into a fist. “The girl lives. The sentimental bitch did it all to save her.”

It took barely a moment, but Areca understood. “The Child of the Sun?”

Her father nodded. “This complicates things greatly.”

A thought suddenly occurred to Areca. “I forgot to mention this, but…I think I met the girl while I was traveling.” Her father looked up at her, and even though he had no eyes, Areca swore she could feel them boring into her.

“It was at the resort owned by one of our shell companies. Club Tropicana. I spoke with a girl who matched your description of the Child of the Sun. I could sense her power, and it was immense.” Of course, if the destiny of the world really had changed as much as her father claimed, Areca had to wonder, did I really meet her? Or had that changed too?

“Did you get a name?”

Areca then decided it didn’t matter. She remembered meeting the girl, and that was enough. “Sunset Shimmer.”

The old man pondered this news for some time. “Send one of the branch families to Canterlot, have them find out everything they can about this Sunset Shimmer girl.” Her father stood and picked up his cane. “I have many things to think on. My visions have changed, and there are many new riddles to solve.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing you can’t handle, Da,” Areca said. He gave her his familiar smile, and Areca knew that this was nothing more than a minor setback. “After all, who better to solve riddles than a Sphinx?”

August 17: Roll the Bones

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Seated in the kitchen, sipping on her coffee, Velvet looked at her husband. “I see Sonata is rather excited this morning.”

Drinking from his own mug, Night agreed. “Is it bad that this is the first time we’ve heard this and yet we know exactly what is going on?”

“Somehow, when I agreed to take in our nieces, I hadn’t expected this,” Velvet said, smiling slightly.

“Somehow, when we agreed to watch over them, I didn’t expect they’d be our nieces,” Night added.


Sure enough, a second later, she rushed into the kitchen, bouncing up and down as though she was Pinkie Pie. “I won! I won!” She rushed over and gave her aunt and uncle kisses, dancing around the table for all she was worth. “I won I won I won!”

“That’s nice, dear,” Velvet said with a wan smile. Somehow, she was both amused by the girl’s antics while at the same time long used to them; she didn’t bother to question how the novelty of the former contrasted with the incomprehensible familiarity of the latter.

“Care to clarify before you burst any further eardrums?”

The teen had the good grace to blush. “Sorry!” she said as she walked over to the coffeemaker. “I won the ‘Hangin’ With the Twins!’ contest!” She squeed emphatically. “I get to hang out with Mint and Milk!”

“The Chocolate Twins? Isn’t that the show you watch on Nickelodeon?” Night asked.

“No, Nickelodeon’s for kids, Uncle Night!” the teen reminded him.

“But I thought—”

“No, they have a new show now on YouTube! Hangin’ With the Twins! is for teenagers, not for kids. They go into a lot more stuff that’s relevant to me now. Besides, I’m grown up now – I shouldn’t watch kids shows anymore.”

“Says the girl with the Filly Funtasia pajamas?” Velvet asked, pointing at her niece’s sleep pants. Sonata blushed once more in response. “It’s okay, sweetie, I know this isn’t easy for you.”

“I don’t think this is easy for any of us,” Sonata admitted. “I mean…I know you weren’t expecting to have the three of us….”

“It’s an adjustment for all of us,” Night told her. “But it doesn’t mean that we don’t want you around. You three needed a family – and now you have one.”

Sonata gave him a loving smile, then said, “I guess I should start working on breakfast, since we’re going to have a lot of hungry girls waking up in a couple of hours.”

Velvet smiled and sidled up next to her niece. “I think we can do it together, can’t we?”

Sonata looked at her with astonishment before it changed to acknowledgement. “We always do, Aunt Velvet,” she said, overcome with brief emotion. “That’s what we do.”

Close to an hour later (and after extensive cooking by Sonata, who turned out to be very familiar with the kitchen), Sunset and the others lazed around the large table in the dining room, which was the only one in the house with enough capacity for a baker’s dozen worth of girls.

“Well, I do believe I can spare some time preparing clothing for Raspberry, if we don’t know how long she’ll be here,” Rarity stated to Sunset. “If you don’t mind conjuring up what I need, then I can start right after breakfast.” She then looked at Shimmer. “Of course, if there’s anything you need as well, Shimmer, dear, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“I appreciate the offer,” Shimmer replied. “I might just do that.”

“Well, I’d love to stay,” Rainbow said, “but I’ve got Summer Soccer League today, and I gotta get some game time in. But if you gals do anything afterwards, don’t forget to include me, okay?”

“Yeah, well, as Ah recall, Ah promised Mel Ah’d take him to the movies today,” Applejack said. “Probably should get to know mah little brother, especially since he wasn’t around the last reality. Really makes me appreciate family all the more.”

“I should probably spend time with my little brother as well,” Fluttershy admitted. “Do you mind if I go get him and we tag along?”

“Not a problem. For all we know, they might actually know each other.”

“I don’t have plans today, but I think I’ll help Aunt Velvet around the house,” Aria chimed in. “As far as I know we don’t have maid service, so it wouldn’t be fair to have her do everything.”

“You might be doing it entirely by yourself,” Octavia sighed. “Remember that I have my therapist appointment today, and Aunt Velvet’s going to be taking me.”

“Taking us,” Twilight insisted. “I’m not letting you go alone.”

“That makes two of us,” Adagio agreed. “Given what’s happened the past few times….” The eldest triplet decided to leave it at that. She saw the heartsick look on Octavia’s face and said, “Nothing’s going to happen, Tavi. You know we won’t let it.”

“Easy for you to say. You’re not the insane one.”

“Neither are you, so please don’t say that, okay?” Sonata asked. “You’re just going through a tough time right now, Tavi, but you have all of us. We’re not going to let you down.”

“Yeah,” Octavia said as an acknowledging smile came to her face. “Yeah, I should know that. Thanks for reminding me, Soni.”

“Oh! Before I forget: I won the ‘Hanging with the Twins!’ contest! I won an all-expenses paid trip for me and two guests to go to Disneyland next week and be on their YouTube show! Isn’t that a blast?” She looked at her family and friends. “You’re all going to come with me, right?”

“Apparently you forgot how to count,” Aria drolled. “That’s two people – not thirteen.”

“Don’t worry about it, Soni,” Shimmer told her. “I can take all of us – least I can do to spend time with my friends.”

“You sure?” Sunset asked her. “That’s a bit over the top, Shimmy.”

“It’s okay, Sunny, I don’t mind, and I think my mom wouldn’t have a problem with it,” came the answer.

“Yeah, plus, if she didn’t, I’m sure my dad would have insisted since we had to cut our vacation short – well in this timeline at least,” Fluttershy added.

“Plus, that way we’ll all have some time to hang together before school starts and Shimmy heads back home,” Sunset told her. “As it is, after school starts, Pinkie and I have to work at the main store while everyone else runs the pop-up stand at the Fair.”

“Are you sure?” Pinkie asked her. “Auntie Cup said you didn’t have to come back to work until you got all of your personal stuff sorted out.”

“By then the personal stuff should be sorted out. Besides, I promised her I’d do it…I think.” Now it was Sunset’s turn to have an infodump stare. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I promised her last week…well, last week in this reality, at any rate. Besides, we talked about it yesterday before we went over to your place.”

“Well, let’s all talk later tonight, okay?” Twilight suggested. “I think going along with Soni to support her favorite celebrities would be nice, and I’m sure we’d probably have fun.” Everyone else agreed happily, with Sunset deciding to usher Raspberry, Shimmer and Rarity up towards her room, when she saw Pinkie trying to flag her attention.

“Yes, Pinkie?”

Pinkie blushed and started fidgeting, and at that moment, Sunset knew she was going to be in for one of those awkward situations. Again. It didn’t help things further as a second later, the cotton-candy-haired girl buried her face in Sunset’s bosom. “Are you okay?” Sunset asked her.

“No, I couldn’t sleep last night,” Pinkie admitted. “Kept having nightmares about your death.”

Sunset sighed. “Pinkie, we discussed this repeatedly, okay? I’m fine. It was…awkward—” Not unlike now, actually…. “—but I’m okay.”

“No we didn’t,” Pinkie sobbed, her voice muffled courtesy of Sunset’s now tear-soaked shirt. “I watched the girl I love die – and not just in a ‘Rarity on her fainting couch in her bedroom’ way.” She finally looked up, and in her red-rimmed eyes was a look of deep, unyielding sorrow. Her hair began to straighten as she said, “I watched your body – your dead body – melt into nothingness. Do you know what that did to your sister? To me?”

“I thought only Twily had to see that.”

“In real life, maybe. But dreams…you know how they can be.” Pinkie shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself.


Boldly, Pinkie reached up and caressed Sunset’s face. “How do I know this is really the same cyan eyes I get lost in? Those luscious lips I want to kiss? That gorgeous body I want to….” Pinkie stopped speaking at that point, which didn’t make Sunset feel too comfortable as the girl started drooling.


“Oh, just…um, well, fantasizing a bit,” Pinkie admitted with a girlish giggle.

“You know, I’m right here….”

“I know. And now you’re so perfect, because you’re literally divine now. A lot taller now, and a body that makes me want to melt.” The thought made Sunset wince; despite Pinkie claiming that she would get her magically-overlaid feelings under control, she wasn’t doing so easily. “You’re just so….”

“Do I really want to know?” Sunset asked, more for herself than her friend.

“Boysenberry body oil and whipped cream,” Pinkie voiced, deep in reverie again. “Yummy….”


“Sorry, daydreaming again.” A near-full body blush enveloped Pinkie as she reluctantly let Sunset go.

“I know!”

“Anyway,” Pinkie began as she started nervously tapping her index fingers together as if hoping they’d be caught in a Chinese finger trap, “I was going to ask—”

“I know what you were going to ask.” Sunset sighed; she knew this was going to come, sooner or later. “Pinkie, we’ve discussed this.”

“No we didn’t, not about this. Trust me, I’m good at looking for loopholes.”

“Look, I’m flattered, okay?” Sunset gave her friend her most disarming smile, the kind she’d used to turn down several guys in the past…and now that things had changed for her, she knew it was probably going to come back into heavy rotation once more. “Pinkie, I love you dearly as a friend, but nothing more. It’s not in me, and I don’t want you to pine after someone you can’t have.”

“You can’t deny me this,” Pinkie told Sunset. “Please don’t deny me this.”

“Pinkie, I….” Sunset didn’t know what to say.

“Just once? For me?”

“I…I can’t answer that.”

“I know.” Pinkie got on her tiptoes and kissed Sunset on the cheek. “But please, think about it. Besides, going out on a date with me might be fun. Bonus: once Rose finds out, she’ll blow a fuse.”

“Are you doing this because you want to go out with me or because it’ll make Rose annoyed?”

“Little of Column A, little of Column B?” Pinkie admitted. “Look, I gotta go home and get ready for work. Just…please think about it, okay?”

“No promises, Pinkie.”

“I know. It’s part of why I love you.” With that, Pinkie smiled and rushed upstairs to grab her backpack so she could head home.

“You know, you have a really interesting life,” Shimmer told her twin. “Maybe I should be glad I don’t live in town. My friends and I get into enough trouble without one of them having feelings for me.”

“Lucky you. Want to trade lives?”

Shimmer giggled. “You’ve already taken mine here – what more do you want, Ms. Greedy?”

“I’m glad you came to meet me for breakfast outside of a school setting,” Waddle began. “I’d have offered to take you out to lunch during the work week, but I’m sure you’re quite busy. Besides, I’ve had my summer busy spending time with my daughter and son-in-law pestering them for a new grandchild.”

“You mean you haven’t killed Sombra yet?” Celestia laughed. Her friend had already told her how he and his wife had first met.

“Oh, I assure you, it took me forever to forgive that young reprobate for what he did,” Waddle mock-growled, adjusting his glasses. “Thankfully, he’s proven to be every bit of the gentleman the Marine Corps beat into him. But enough about Sombra. We’re here to talk about you.”

“About me?”

He nodded. “I have decided to retire at the end of the year, and after some consultations with both the County Board as well as the mayors of some of the cities, they have decided to appoint Core Curriculum as my replacement.”

“I see.” Celestia had met the woman a few times and thought she was too focused on standardized tests, rather than an actual mastery of subjects. Luna tended to agree with her sister’s point of view, and thankfully they were not in Curriculum’s school cluster. It did, however, make life miserable for the schools that were.

Waddle chuckled. “I know what you’re thinking – she’s too focused on testing standards. Well, for one, I actually agree with you, but I’m not allowed to select my replacement. I can, however, still fill in positions that will be empty before I depart. And that’s what I intend to do.” He fidgeted with his glasses once more, then looked at her with cerulean eyes focused onto her lilac ones. “This will be your last year at Canterlot High, Tia. After the year is over, your new duties will be that of assistant superintendent, taking over Curriculum’s area – Cluster Two.” Celestia was quiet for several minutes, so much so that Waddle laughed. “I seem to have caught you for a loss of words. Will wonders never cease?”

“I…I don’t know what to say. I mean, I’m honored, Waddle, I really am. But I can’t take Cluster Two.”

“Oh, I know about your boyfriend, so that shouldn’t be a problem; Sombra was concerned about that as well, given how long you two have been friends. In any case, I’ve spoken to Textbook and he has agreed to take The Blanks into Cluster Three, which will resolve that conflict of interest. And since CHS is in Cluster One, you wouldn’t be overseeing Luna.”

“But what about CHS itself?”

“I thought you’d have some concerns about that, and I don’t blame you: you’ve run that school like royalty, I daresay. Well, I think it’s time that Luna should learn to stretch her metaphorical wings, don’t you? I know she’s been interested in the principal slot over at Bella Vista, but Guiding Hand is probably going to stay on for another year, and CHS will need a principal soon. As for a vice principal, well, that one I will have to leave up to Curriculum, but I’m sure that she’ll want your and Luna’s input on that.”

“I see.” Celestia wasn’t sure of what else to say; being promoted out of Canterlot High was not what she’d expected during a quick working breakfast. Furthermore, given everything she’d been through, she privately felt she had to watch out for Sunset and her friends, something she couldn’t do as easily if she had no easy access to them.

“I know you’ve got some trepidation about it. But I think you’re the one for the job, if you ask me. Besides, it’s either you or Bookwise, and between you and me, he doesn’t really have the flair and passion for education that you do. Sometimes I wonder if he went into education looking for something else other than the futures of his students, but you really don’t get as far as he has without caring a little bit, so….” The old man shrugged and said, “In any case, please consider taking it. I wouldn’t make the offer if I didn’t think you were the best, and the Equestria County Unified School District and its student body needs the best in place to steer them towards the future.”

“I’ll think about it,” Celestia said.

“That’s all I ask. Just let me know before the school year starts. I’ll have to have an answer for the Board by then.”

Celestia managed to make it back to her car before she breathed a nervous sigh of relief. It was a chance of a lifetime: not just for her, but Luna as well. And it would change so much about her life and give her a chance to soar even higher in academia!

But…it would also mean that she wouldn’t be there to protect Sunset and the others anymore. And she had grown to care about them in the past year, more so than just the standard educator/student relationship. Part of her knew that she was probably going beyond the bounds when it came to the girls, but she cared enough about them to want to see them succeed at more than just school life. Because in many ways, the future of Earth rode on the success of Sunset Shimmer and the others, and it was that success that Celestia knew she had to make sure she was there to aid and mentor them every way she could.

Regardless of what she chose, she knew that she had to be there for them, because while teaching a student was only for a short period, mentoring was for a lifetime…and she knew that her life was now inexorably linked with that of Sunset Shimmer and the others.

It made Celestia wonder if somehow that was always supposed to be that way. If so, it would be one hell of a cosmic joke.

In a clinic on the west side of Canterlot, a teleconference was in progress. Both in a room within the clinic where it was happening, as well as a second location on the other side of the world, watched a blank room, with two people in it. And on screen, hell was unfolding.

“Now, Octavia,” the woman began.

“Go fuck yourself. While you’re at it, you can fuck me, too.” The look on the girl’s face was practically demonic. “Now call me by my name.”

“Fine – Melody,” the woman said, sitting down in a chair across from the teen.

“Now untie me, you cunt,” Melody demanded. “Unless you like taking me this way. I like it rough.”

The even look never left the psychiatrist’s face. “Melody, I want to know what you want.”

“You know what I want. It should be so obvious.”

“Why don’t you tell me then?” the psychiatrist asked calmly.

“I want you to lick me until I come,” Melody replied, a sneer on her face. “And then I want you to find a way to kill that prissy little bitch Octavia so that I can have what’s rightfully mine.”

In the observation room, Velvet, Twilight, and the triplets sat quietly, while onscreen, a world away Evening held a teary Ballad to his side. “How could this have happened?” he asked Velvet.

“I wish I could give you an answer,” Velvet told them. “Is there anything that you might be aware of on your side?”

Ballad caught her sister-in-law’s undertone. “You mean to ask if there’s mental illness in my family.”

“I didn’t want to say that and make you think—”

“No, Vel, I understood what you meant. Maybe there is some sort of mental illness in my family,” Ballad admitted. “I’ve certainly told you everything about how my mother and sisters act.”

“I don’t think that’s it, Ballad. You would have known something by now, if only because they would have belittled you about it.”

“I hate to say it, sweetheart, but Velvet’s right,” Evening noted. “It would have been mentioned time and time again if it ran in your family – and if they knew about this, your sisters would have a field day.”

“I know,” Ballad sobbed. “I just want my baby to be okay again.”

“Night and I’ll do everything we can,” Velvet insisted.

“We know, Vel. It’s just…Tavi’s our daughter and we know we haven’t done as right by her as we could—”

“Aunt Velvet?” Adagio immediately interrupted. “You might want to watch what’s going on on-screen.” The look on the oldest triplet’s face was not that of the niece she knew/didn’t quite know/had always known, but instead the uncanny stare of a SIREN.

As Velvet turned her focus to the camera feed of what was going on in the room, she saw that an orderly was holding Octavia down. Somehow, she’d managed to break through the straps holding her and had lashed out at the psychiatrist.

“What did you fuckers do?” the teen railed. “Everything’s changed! You changed time! How the fuck did you do that?”

Velvet forced herself to keep the look of shock off her face. What the…?

“Ms. Melody, I assure you that you are mistaken. There’s no possible way to change time, as you have so colorfully put it.”

“Bullshit!” The teen turned to the camera – how she had known it was there, no one knew, as it was a carefully-hidden one. There was a burning hate in her eyes, an animalistic rage that contorted the face of the girl they all loved. “I know you’re there, all of you. I don’t know what you did, but if you did this to protect your prissy little cunt from me, it’s not going to happen. This is my body, and I will kill her, do you understand me?” The orderly forced Melody down, but she laughed viciously. “Nothing you do will stop me, do you hear me? Nothing!”

The psychiatrist called out, “When I count to ten, you will enter a deep sleep. And when you awaken in twenty minutes, you will be gone and Octavia will return.”

“Like hell she will! I own this body now and I will do what I want!”

The psychiatrist counted down, slowly but surely, from ten to one. And as she did, Melody stopped thrashing as the preset mental suggestion sank in. As she reached one, there was nothing more than a dozing teenager, looking completely at peace, for all that had just occurred.

“Administer 200mg of Malarson to her, then let her sleep for a bit,” the psychiatrist told the orderly. “End the feed when she wakes up. I’m going to go talk to the others.”

A few seconds later, a door opened, and a very shaken psychiatrist came in, running a hand through her hair. “You know what the sad part about all this is? I used to love horror films when I was younger. The Exorcist was one of my all-time favorites. After today, I’m probably going to have to reconsider my tastes.” She went over and poured herself a coffee. “Right about now a sensible practitioner would be suggesting that you seek inpatient stay for Octavia, probably at the Horseshoe Bay Psychiatric Center.”

“Chrys….” Velvet began. On the other end of the line she could hear Ballad gasp.

But the woman gave a wan smile. “I said a sensible one. My husband would be the first to say I’m not sensible.” She chuckled, then took a drink of her coffee. “Just like I didn’t give up on my feelings for Sombra even when it was common sense to do so, I’m not going to give up on Octavia. I think she’s a fighter, and I think she can beat this – she just needs the right help. And between you and me, sending her to an inpatient stay at a psychiatric center is hardly what I’d call the right sort of help.”

“Will my baby be okay?” Ballad asked her.

“It may take a while. It might take years, Mrs. Ballad,” the psychiatrist admitted. “At the risk of being honest? There might come a time when it will be her husband that will be the one to aid her and not you. But I am confident that she will overcome this. I have seen worse in my professional career.”

“How much worse?”

“I’ve been asked by the County to evaluate the Dead Hand Killers. Obviously professional rules prevent me from giving details, but from a layman’s point of view? Those are three seriously fucked-up girls. And Octavia is clearly nowhere near that gone. Trust me. That girl’s a fighter, and I’m going to give her a fighting chance. Now, what the plan is, is that I’m going to up her dose of Malarson for the moment and given that she’s stated it’s made her lethargic at times, I’m going to also prescribe 5mg of Kasevansoc. It’s an antifatigue and should help regulate her a little better.” She looked at everyone in the room, then those at the screen. “I will be honest: this is going to be an uphill battle. DID is not well understood and due to media portrayals, there’s a definite prejudice against her. She is going to need every bit of your support.”

“She’s got it,” Twilight said without hesitation. Though the triplets said nothing, they all nodded as one.

“I’m glad to hear that. Now, I’ll be right back; I need to make some quick system entries so that way we can get the ball rolling on this. It will also allow me, if you’ll permit, to discuss the case with someone more familiar with DID than I am.”

That caught Ballad’s attention. “Oh?”

The doctor nodded. “He’s a psychologist that lives up north in Oregon. Apparently was a wunderkind in his native Britain, but his daily practice was cut short by a horrible accident and so he turned to teaching. Furthermore, he still does extensive research on mental states and has given lectures at several conferences. I’ve met him a couple of times and he’s always been helpful. I’m sure if I bring the case up to him, he might be able to give me some suggestions on additional treatment. I just need your permission.”

Evening was quick. “You have it, Doctor.”

“Good. I’ll call Dr. Phix tomorrow. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll give you all some time to talk amongst yourselves as to what to do next. That way I can also submit the prescription and get Octavia for you; she should be stirring soon.” With that, she departed.

Velvet and the girls spoke with Octavia’s parents for several minutes, assuring them that she would be taken care of. While they of course completely trusted Velvet, the fact was, they were Octavia’s parents and thus deeply worried. Finally, they needed to get off the conference call and the look of heartbreak and worry in Ballad’s eyes Velvet knew very well. It was the look of a mother terrified to learn that her daughter was one step from the meatgrinder and that there was nothing she could do about it.

In a time that no longer existed – thankfully so – Velvet had the same look on her face as she watched Sunset fight against impossible odds. It bothered her to see that look on the face of her sister-in-law, but this time Velvet could do something about it. She had to – she’d failed both Twilight and Octavia before, and now she had a chance to make up for it.

“She knew.” Velvet turned to look at Adagio, who looked at the sleeping girl with an uneasy look.

“Dagi,” Twilight said in a warning tone.

“Twily, don’t, okay? I’m not talking about Tavi. We’re family and I love her dearly – you know that. Hell, even in the time that wasn’t—”

“Is that what we’re calling it now?” Sonata chimed in.

“Soni, not now, okay? The fact that Tavi’s alter-ego knows what happened should be worrisome,” the eldest SIREN commented. “Sure, it sounds like crazy rambling – no offense intended, obviously – but it could turn out to bite us in the ass if we’re not careful. We’re going to have to be on guard for this.”

“Tavi’s not a threat,” Twilight said, standing up to Adagio.

“I know she’s not, Twily. But given everything we went through – in a sense – do you want to go through it again? Because if Sunny’s right, there are still things out there that can push hard against Sunny…and if ‘Melody’—” she seethed, doing finger quotes, “—says the wrong thing at the wrong time, we could be in trouble. I trust Tavi with my life – but I don’t trust this Melody persona.”

“Twily’s got a point, though, sis. We have to make sure that Tavi knows we know we’re safe around her,” Aria advised. “And I for one want to make sure she knows.”

“Thank you, girls,” Velvet said, somewhat relieved.

On the other side of the building, the doctor approached her secretary. “Flowerpot, get a prescription into the pharmacy for Ms. Melody: up her dosage to 250mg of Malarson, as well as 5mg of Kasevansoc.”

Flowerpot looked at her boss. “Isn’t that a bit much?”

“Yeah, we got a bad one here. Also, do me a favor and call Damascus College. See if you can arrange a conference call later in the week between myself and Dr. Phix. I suspect that I’m going to need his advice on this one.”

“Um, sure, but if it’s that bad, shouldn’t you turn it over to Horseshoe Bay?”

“Not on your life, Flowerpot. Doing so means to give up, and you know I don’t do that.”

Flowerpot chuckled and nodded. “I guess not. Anyway, while I have you here, you have a call on line one. It’s the insurance company calling about the leftover bills from the February incidents.”

“Oh, right – those,” the doctor said with distaste. “Yeah, I guess I should get on those. I really don’t like billing those girls after what happened to them, but I guess I don’t have a choice, do I?”

“You’re a shrink, Chrys, not a miracle worker.”

“Yeah, I guess.” She walked into her office and picked up the phone. “Yes, this is Dr. Chrysoberyl,” she said with resignation.

“I really feel sorry for your Pinkie.” Sunset turned to look at a nearly-identical face as the other spoke. “You do realize you’ve ruined her for life, don’t you?”

“And how exactly did I ruin Pinkie, Razz?” Sunset asked Raspberry. Raspberry said nothing, but instead just looked at Sunset with an even gaze, so Sunset decided to make her point. “I mean, I already have to live with a lot of guilt about how I’ve unintentionally hurt her in multiple other ways, so please, give me another reason to feel bad about everything, why don’t you?” Sunset adjusted slightly. “Rares, are we almost done here?”

“Almost done with your measurements, dear,” Rarity told her friend. “After that, I’ll have to measure Raspberry, and then Shimmer here.”

“You really don’t have to do that for me, Rarity,” Shimmer said, protesting.

“Yeah, besides, I’m practically the same size as Shimmy, which means I can borrow all of Sunny’s old clothes, right?” Raspberry commented. “As it is, I’m still trying to figure out why you humans wear clothes all the time to begin with!”

“Well, Shimmer, dear, you are a friend and friends do things for one another, do they not?” Rarity said with a beaming smile. “And to answer your question, Raspberry, darling, while I suppose we can get into a discussion about naturalism at a later time, there are certain articles of clothing one simply does not borrow; intimates, for one – I suppose we can take you shopping for that, later. But as to why I am measuring her, well, with her added height and bust, I’m quite sure Sunset would like better-fitting clothing, which I am all too happy to provide; and as I said for Shimmer, she is a new friend and I think it would be divine to create new clothing for such a new person!”

“Yeah, you’re Rarity, all right,” Raspberry drolled.

Without catching Raspberry’s statement, the teen fashionista continued: “But Raspberry, dear, your tones are different from both Sunset and Shimmer, and while her old attire would fit you, it would not look as good. Both of them are of a fiery Gallic persuasion, while you seem to lean towards a cooler, Persian inflection.” The smile on Rarity’s face was beatific. “You need a different look for a different you!”

“I have no idea what you just said, but whatever.” Though in her head, Raspberry noted, Yup, this is definitely the human Rarity.

“Fiery Gallic persuasion?” Shimmer said to no one in particular.

“Just roll with it, Shimmy,” Sunset responded, cutting in. “Anyway, what were you saying, Razz?”

“Oh, yeah. Anyway, I was saying that your situation with Pinkie reminded me of…well, remember the old story The Fall of Queen Calyx?”

“That doesn’t sound familiar,” Rarity said as she finished with Sunset and went over to measure Raspberry.

“It shouldn’t, as it’s from Equus, not Earth,” Sunset explained. “It’s part of the Matter of Unicornia, and dates back to the earliest of pre-unification times.”

“Well, I’d love to hear it, if you don’t mind,” Rarity stated. From where she sat, Shimmer agreed as well.

“Okay, let me see if I remember the whole thing; it’s been a while. The story goes that the princess of Unicornia at the time, Princess Calyx, grew up with the son of one of the castle’s cooks, a young colt by the name of Sunburst. Despite their stations in life, they were the closest of friends and as they grew older, that strong friendship blossomed into the truest of love. But, alas, Sunburst was a commoner – he couldn’t become a knight, much less a noblestallion. And as for Calyx, as the only foal of the king, she was destined to become queen someday—”

“Wait, wait just a second,” Rarity asked. “Sunset, I thought your grandmother was queen.”

“She is.”

“And I thought your mother – well, your biological mother, that is – is the ruling princess regent.”

“She is.”


Raspberry was the one to explain: “When Queen Faust gave up the throne, her daughters were too young. As a result, some nobles stepped in and declared themselves kings and queens for a few hundred years; the earth ponies and other tribes split off as well, and so for a few centuries, there were separate nations that had constant conflict against each other, and we call that period in our history the Warring States era. As for Princesses Celestia and Luna, they had been all but forgotten save for their tutor, Starswirl, who kept them safe until the coming of the Calamity.”

“The Calamity?”

Raspberry, who had heard that the local Fluttershy’s father shared the same name as the avatar of chaos and could possibly be Discord’s counterpart, decided to go with the alternate name for the Discordian era; the last thing they wanted was a panicked Fluttershy. In any case, Sunset overheard and nodded slightly in agreement, so Raspberry went with that. “It was Starswirl’s successor, Clover the Clever, who urged the Royal Sisters to fight the Calamity and restore their mother’s throne.”

Sunset took back over, preventing further questioning from Rarity. “In any case, this story happens during the Warring States era. Now, their stations didn’t deter Sunburst’s love for Calyx, nor hers for him. Even as she learned statescraft and was wooed by nobles, she remained ever true to her heart’s desire. And even as Sunburst learned the art of the sword and bow from a kindly knight, becoming such a warrior of renown that even other swordsponies would bow before his skills, and the king himself would call upon Sunburst to deal with crises of the highest threat, his heart would have no other.

“Whenever they could, they met in secret and loved one another as only true hearts could. They dallied whenever their time was free, with only the closest of her hoofmaidens in the know. After all, it would be a scandal for the Crown for a commoner to be in such intimate discretion with his future ruler. And as for her, none of royal birth could deign to be with a commoner; far easier to marry a griffin warlord than to wed a commoner unicorn – or worse, one of the other tribes. And yet under the apple tree in the royal gardens they swore their ever-pledged love to one another with only the stars and her truest vassals as their witnesses.

“Years passed and the king grew old and infirm, and Calyx assumed the position of viceroy, doing what her father could not and continuing the prosperity of the land, while Sunburst continued to bedevil anypony who would threaten the safety and sanctity of Unicornia. The king, unaware of the love between his daughter and the warrior, offered Sunburst as a token of thanks the hoof of any common mare in the realm, but he refused, stating his heart was pledged elsewhere. As for Calyx, she begged her father to honor the warrior with knighthood and nobility, but the other nobleponies, jealous of Sunburst’s accolades and prowess, persisted in getting the king to reconsider.

“This continued for years, until the old king passed and Calyx rose to the throne. Once crowned queen, her first edict would be that not only would she make Sunburst her greatest of knights for his services to the realm, but she would take his hoof in matrimony. The kingdom cheered for their new queen and her prince-to-be, but the greatest joy would be within the hearts of Calyx and Sunburst, finally to be united in love at last.

“However, one would not hear of this impending marriage: Lord Briarthorn, who coveted both Calyx’s hoof as well as the throne. He conspired with other foul knaves—”

“‘Foul knaves’?” Rarity giggled. “My, it seems as though someone is getting into the story.”

“Look, do you want me to tell it?” Sunset said, stopping the argument. “In any case, Briarthorn, the court’s mage and historian, told Sunburst that if he truly wished to perform acts worthy of a knight, he had to go out and recover the greatest of gifts: the sword of Queen Faust herself, Rosegarden, Sword of Love. Then and only then would he prove himself worthy. Knowing this to be true, Sunburst set off in search of Rosegarden. In truth, however, Briarthorn marshalled a cabal of forces against his rival, sending assassins that would harry Sunburst for years.

“And this treachery by Briarthorn began to succeed over the years: with Sunburst away, Briarthorn continued to pledge his troth to Calyx, only to have it spurned time and time again. Meanwhile, Sunburst fought monsters, assassins and countless attempts to woo him away from his goal, yet they failed for he continued to forever stay close to Calyx in heart. Even still, Briarthorn continued his evil ways, in the chance that fortune would swing his way.

“And then one day, it did.” Sunset looked at her friends and could see they were hushed, well caught up within the story. Rarity’s eyes were swept up in the thoughts of two true loves, holding together against all odds. As for Raspberry, while she’d heard it all before, she did love a good tale spun now and then.

“Years had passed, and Sunburst and Calyx had not given up on each other, though time had taken its toll. The smile Sunburst had loved so much on Calyx’s face had all but vanished, and in the castle, Briarthorn continued to press for her hoof. Meanwhile, Sunburst had found Rosegarden in the farthest reaches of the Crystal Empire, and was now enroute to Unicornia, when a strange being requested his aid: the Megan.”

“The Megan?” Rarity asked, intrigued by the name.

“A mythological hero,” Raspberry explained. “In our myths, humans are considered either monstrous, evil creatures who mean harm to ponies or wise preternatural beings who grant your every wish.”

“Like genies,” Sunset clarified. “The Megan is the lone exception to the rules. The stories go that the Megan came from the human lands to teach ponies culture and civilization, that she got ponies to stop speaking the old tribal tongues and settle on Equish as the lingua Franca. We don’t know if she’s real, though. I suppose Grandmother knows the truth – I could ask.”

“I think we’re better off not knowing,” Raspberry replied, “besides, I know enough humans now anyway. Go ahead and continue, Sunny.”

“Sure thing. Anyway, the Megan asked for his assistance in freeing a town of ponies from brigands; they were too much even for her might. Seeing a need to save innocents, he readily agreed and the two fought a massive battle to save a small town of earth ponies from pegasus raiders. For hours, they toiled with sword and spear, battling off waves and waves of pegasus hordes, until victory came, and with it, treachery: from the shadows of a nearby glade of trees, one of Briarthorn’s assassins struck true, firing a poisoned arrow straight into Sunburst’s barrel. Though the Megan removed the arrow from her companion’s side, it was too late and the venom had struck true.

“Emboldened by the news, while Sunburst was facing his final fate, Briarthorn and his forces attacked – and conquered – Unicornia. Declaring himself king, he then forced himself on Calyx, and then to add insult to injury, he repeatedly stabbed her, leaving her alive but maimed, both for legitimacy and so she could not raise an army against him.”

Sunset could practically see Rarity’s jaw drop. “I thought you said this was a fairy tale!” she gasped.

“Not all fairy tales are pretty,” Shimmer spoke. “They’ve just been changed over the years. Even the ones that seem antiseptic, like Snow White, have darker origins.”

“But that’s horrible!” Rarity cried.

“Do you want to hear the rest?” Sunset asked, and Shimmer nodded. Finally, after recomposing herself, Rarity did as well, and Sunset continued.

“Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, as he lay dying, Sunburst begged the Megan to head to Unicornia to save his love, to give her Rosegarden and to let her know that his last breath was of love for her, and that he would always be so. And with that, Sunburst closed his eyes and remained forever still. Vowing that she would fulfill his final wish, the Megan sallied forth towards Unicornia, mercilessly slaughtering the assassins Briarthorn threw against her. Now knowing the full story, she would put Briarthorn to her sword’s justice and save Queen Calyx.

“But it was not to be, for when she finally arrived at the gates of the capital, the Megan wept for what she saw: the town had been reduced to an abattoir, with the bodies of the dead and the ruined everywhere. And in the center of it all, was Calyx, filled with rage and hatred…and changed. Her horn was cracked and bent and looked nothing like a proud licorne. Her once bright coat was now turned black, from both soot and caked blood. Her mint-green mane was now a teal mess, and despite her wounds, she wore armor that looked nigh-demonic.

“When the Megan explained her presence, Calyx screamed at her for not being there to protect her from Briarthorn…or the populace from Calyx’s grief-and-rage fueled slaughter. She blamed her fellow unicorns for letting her nobles have their way, and other ponies for abandoning them. She even blamed Sunburst for breaking his promise to be forever with her; as naught more than a shade now, he could not keep his vow. And with that vow broken, she swore a new one – that all unicorns, and indeed all life on this world, would suffer just as she had, screaming out the pain of agony just as she had for losing the one she loved most.

“Knowing what was at stake, the Megan pled for Calyx to give up her hatred and forgive, that Sunburst would not want to see her in such pain and would have given his life once more to save her from such agony. The human masterfully pled her case, noting that when true love is present, few forces are stronger, and that her eternal love for him would forever keep him alive, just as he would always exist within her and never abandon her. And to show proof, Megan showed Calyx Rosegarden, the sword once belonging to Queen Faust, now Sunburst’s truest token of love for Calyx.

“But Calyx screamed that she would forever be alone; worse, she would give birth to the foals of the stallion that had defiled her. She claimed herself forever cursed and would suffer until the end of time. But the Megan then asked Calyx a single question: if she were to kill the world, if she were to destroy everything out of pain and misery, would Calyx remain the mare that Sunburst had loved so?

“Standing there with her wounds festering and her coat, armor and very soul stained in more blood than thought imaginable, Calyx spent a long time in thought, so much so that the Megan feared the near-insane unicorn would recommence her wanton slaughter. The Megan could not abide that, and with a heavy heart, she knew she had to slay Calyx if it came to that. But the unicorn looked at the human with soft eyes, and in response, the wounded, wronged queen made two last requests of the Megan, that the latter pledged to do without fail:

“The first would be to find a foal from the poorest of the poor, but with a heart purer than the best magical-grade gem or the most sterling of gold. The Megan found that foal in a ramshackle village: an orphan who gave more of herself than she should. Her name was Penny Lane, and though the colts and fillies of the village taunted her for being parentless, they soon changed their tune once the young Queen Penny was coronated and enthroned upon the Seat of Unicornia. The Megan watched over the young queen until she was of age, and afterwards, none could gainsay that Queen Penny was unjust, unfair or unwise.

“The other vow was to bury Sunburst in a place of honor, far from Unicornia and the other pony lands. And far from all, atop a vast spire of stone, a giant needle of granite that seemed to pierce the very heavens, Sunburst was laid to rest, with Rosegarden embedded into his headstone. The Megan swore that someday would Sunburst find the peace he desired and the love he never had the chance to fulfill.

“The sword still sits upon the Lonely Spire to this day, waiting for a champion to claim it – a soul so invested in love for another, that the sword will be the instrument of justice and valor that it was always meant to be…the tool of a great hero to protect the one loved most.

“And on some nights, somewhere, you can still hear Queen Calyx – now known by her name of Queen Chrysalis – mourning the love she lost and the emptiness she forever feels.”

As Sunset finished her story, the trio were silent for a few moments, until Rarity gasped, “That is a horrifying tale, and I fail to see how that story has anything to do with Sunset!”

“Well, without Rares’ dramarama, I’m going to have to agree with her, Razz,” Sunset added. “Care to explain?”

“Because it’s a story about somepony so in love with another that he did anything to prove himself worthy of her, not realizing that the most important thing was to be there for her. And likewise, Calyx could’ve been smart about it by defying the nobility and taking Sunburst’s hoof anyway…but she cared a little too much about how it would look, tying herself to others’ opinions rather than that of her loved one.” Raspberry looked at Sunset. “From what little I’ve seen, I can tell that your Pinkie is completely and utterly in love with you…and that she’ll probably never change from that.”

Sunset looked at her fellow Equestrian. “Look, Pinkie’s said that there are a few other guys and girls that she’s—”

“No, I believe I understand what Razz is saying,” Shimmer interjected. “Sunny, you are now a goddess – a literal, living goddess.”

“Wasn’t exactly my choice,” Sunset muttered.

“Doesn’t change the facts, though. But even if Pinkie were to marry some Hollywood heartthrob like Sunglass Flare, she would never – could never – love him, not the way she loves you. After all, how do you top a deity? How is there any possible way to top that?”

“Exactly,” Raspberry added. “I think that’s part of the reason neither Celestia nor Luna date: when you’re an alicorn, the chances of finding somepony, like when Cadance found Shining, is rare – beyond that, even. And I’ll bet that even though you’re probably looking for a human partner, Sunny, it’s probably not going to be any easier for you, either.”

Sunset looked at the others with a look of incredulousness. “So you’re saying that I should just throw myself at Pinkie even though I don’t feel anything romantically for her? Razz, just because we come from a world where homosexuality is far more common than it is here doesn’t mean that ‘all mares are bi’, just like the old joke says.”

“I’m not suggesting that.”

“Then what are you suggesting? Pinkie’s heart is not a toy, and I certainly would never treat her like one,” Sunset said firmly.

“I think I understand what our dear Raspberry is suggesting,” Rarity spoke. “Raspberry, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you mean to suggest that Sunset go out with Pinkie on a single date?”

Raspberry nodded. “Exactly.”

Sunset looked at her friends warily. “You did just catch the part where I said I wasn’t going to treat her like shit, didn’t you?”

“Of course we know that, Sunset, darling. And for you, perhaps it’ll be nothing more than spending a day with a good friend, and that’s that. But to Pinkie, it would mean the world to her.”

“Besides, Sunny, you’re the Alicorn of Earth now, and the well-being of this realm is your responsibility, including that of your court. Of course, I’m not suggesting that you sleep with all of them,” Raspberry laughed.

“You’re really pushing it, Razz,” Sunset growled.

“Oh Celestia I’m so glad I’m in Twi’s court – her only problem is which book to read in the evenings!”

Rarity decided it was time to defuse the situation. “Sunset, do you truly care about Pinkie and her happiness?” she asked.

“You know the answer to that, Rares!” Sunset retorted.

“Then please, ask yourself this: if it were any of us in your shoes…if, say, for example, it was Pinkie in love with me…wouldn’t you ask me to give her the night of her life? Not because I care for her romantically, but because she’s a dear friend and you care enough to see her smile? That’s how I feel: Pinkie’s happiness means a lot to me, and one night out with a friend to you is just de rigeur, but it would mean the world to her.” Rarity took her friend’s hands in her own. “So, please, consider it. Despite Raspberry’s tasteless jokes, no one is asking you to be intimate with Pinkie, but please, consider what I am asking.”

Sunset sighed. “I’ll…consider it. I’m not saying yes, only that I’m going to consider it.”

“Good. Now, with that said, I shall be taking my leave, and taking Raspberry with me.”

Raspberry looked at her. “Uh, why?”

“Well, darling, I am quite capable of making many items for my friends, but footwear, I’m afraid, is beyond my ken. And besides, a lady can never have too many shoes. So we’re going shopping!”

“Can I take a raincheck on that?” Raspberry asked nervously, having remembered the times when she’d gone shopping with the Rarity she was more familiar with.

Sunset couldn’t help herself. “Gee, Razz, Rares is a dear friend of mine and I care about how she feels. It would be nice if someone were to agree to go with her, because even though it’s a minor concern for them, it would be the world to me….”

Raspberry narrowed her eyes and glared at the alicorn. “You did this on purpose.”

“Nope, not at all. Have fun!”

Shimmer looked at her twin. “You really didn’t do that?”

Sunset shook her head and giggled. “No, trust me, I would’ve been a lot more blatant if I had.”

Cadance looked at the paperwork on her desk. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, seriously,” Hearts Aflutter, her friend, stated. “It’s what the boss wants, and since you got the short end of the stick….”

Cadance buried her face in her palms. “He can’t possibly be serious! My fiancé was the arresting officer, and that’s a massive conflict of interest! I know I was joking about it before, but just the whiff of impropriety could get the case thrown out!”

“Cadance? Seriously? They’re not going anywhere, remember? They’re catatonic, as a result of whatever happened to them shortly after Shining collared them. You’ll be fine.”

“Not anymore,” someone said and the two women turned to see one of the other guys in the office standing there. “Just got a call from Norco: one of them came out of her stupor, and so the jail wants to arrange an interview with the defense attorney for the three of them as soon as we can. We also have to contact social services, as they are still technically minors, or at least until a judge inevitably charges them as adults with the intent to stand trial.”

“All the more reason I don’t think I should be on this case. Public Defender’s office is probably going to have a field day with this one.”

“Yeah, we know. But you got the draw, Cadance, and you can’t get out of it easily,” Hearts told her. “I would work something out with County and then get it over and done with. From what I’ve done in cases like that before, when you have someone that far gone, they’re creepier than any shit you see in a movie. Trust me, you’ll want it over and done with soonest.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” he told her. “But for what it’s worth? I don’t think this one is ever going to trial. No sane human being does that sort of thing, and even the sickest bastards – Nightstalker, Helter Skelter, and so on and so forth – they were methodical and planned. Everything I’ve seen so far of this case says these girls acted like wild animals. That’s not the actions of sane people. Trust me, they’re never going to see the nice side of bars ever again.”

The first thing Octavia went and did when she got home was race upstairs to her bedroom, running past everyone without saying a word. She suddenly felt possessed, driven – and by something other than the evil counterpart within her, constantly trying to take over. She couldn’t explain why she felt the way she did at the moment; she just knew she needed to go up to her room.

The moment she arrived, she reached out for her acoustic guitar and started to play. She wasn’t sure why she was, only that somehow it felt right. As if it was something that kept the monster within her at bay. Maybe it was that Melody, despite her name, hated it. Maybe because it was Octavia’s shield against her darker side, because it was a part of who she truly was. Maybe because it was the surest thing she knew.

She let her pick slide over the strings, her finger dancing on the neck, the haunting tune coming out of her. She wasn’t sure if it was the best or not, only that she had to play for some reason. Somehow, that was enough for her right now, if for no other purpose than to give a fuck you to her alter ego.

“Yeah, so it goes
Yeah, so it goes
That sweet heirloom,
Them abbey stones

Oh, take a chance and roll the bones
Cut off your hair, unplug your phone

Yeah, and sell your belongings,
All your clever drawings
And try to make a dollar from the grave

Yeah, and sell your belongings,
All your clever drawings
And try to make a dollar from the grave

But who’s to blame?”

Her eyes filled with tears. This was the one thing she had that proved who she was. That she was Octavia Melody, not merely Octavia and definitely not Melody. That she might be physically two people in one, but that fusion was a single person that she was, and that whatever it was within her wasn’t going to destroy her. She would stand firm and fast, and despite the fear rising up to her throat, she would force it down with her talisman of Earthwood phosphor bronze strings and Epiphone maple neck.

“Well, so it goes
Yeah, so it goes
Them city boys in country clothes

Oh, take a chance and roll the bones
Go crash your car, burn down your home

Yeah, try to forget all your enemies and debts
They’ll just chase you round and give you sour dreams

Yeah, try to forget all your enemies and debts
They’ll just chase you round and give you sour dreams

Or so it seems….”

She continued to play until she was spent, until she couldn’t strum another note and couldn’t sing another line. Until she had to face the inevitable and drown herself in 250 milligrams of personality killer and 5 more milligrams of fake personality. The two drugs would force Melody away, but she was afraid they were forcing away who she was as well.

But to give up would be to let Melody win. And that terrified Octavia most of all.

“Yeah, so struggle all you like,
Yeah, put up the good fight –
They say someday, everybody dies alone

“Yeah, so struggle all you like,
Yeah, put up the good fight –
They say someday, everybody dies alone

But hey,
Who knows?
Yeah, hey who knows?
Yeah, hey, who really knows?”

She felt two arms snake around her and she dropped her guitar, bawling uncontrollably. Behind her, holding onto her for all she was worth, Sunset consoled her cousin, reminding her how much she was loved and how much Sunset would be there for her. Four more girls joined in the embrace, and soon six sisters cried in unison, a Pleiades of sorrow.

Standing away from them, Shimmer turned away, knowing this was a private moment for the six girls. To her, it was the final quashing of any feelings of jealousy or envy she had towards her doppelganger. Sunset might have been a more “perfect” version of the two of them, but those perfections were magnified by not just her flaws, but her problems as well. Problems that Shimmer wouldn’t have once she returned to France.

She went downstairs, just in time for both Raspberry and Rarity to step into the house, the latter carrying several boxes, much to her consternation, while the former gave a soft smile.

“The sisters are tied up right now,” Shimmer told them, explaining what little she saw of Octavia’s haunted, impromptu session and the outpouring of the other girls.

“Good, because what I have to say isn’t for them to hear,” Rarity told her. “Shimmer, are you serious about your offer this morning to take us all to Los Angeles for a make-up vacation?”

“Absolutely,” the girl stated.

“Then, if you don’t mind…I need your help,” Rarity stated. “For Pinkie’s sake.”

“I know what you’re going to ask me,” Shimmer responded, “and don’t bother explaining. I’ll agree to it.”

Rarity looked at her oddly. “You’re not interested in hearing my proposal?”

“No. I think in the short time we’ve known each other that you’d do whatever you’re planning for your friends, because you love them dearly. I would do the same for my friends, too. And I have spent the last two days jealous that Sunny is the more perfect of the two of us without realizing that she’s really not perfect – she’s just better at being the Sunset she needs to be. So I need to be better at being the Sunset I need to be.”

“That’s rather poetic, Shimmy,” Raspberry commented.

“Perhaps, but truth doesn’t have a monopoly on the condition of the soul. And I think that maybe if I improve my own self-standing, maybe it will be enough to make me feel less jealous about my ‘big twin sis’, you know?” She smiled. “So let’s go into the kitchen and talk this over. I suspect this plan of yours is going to involve money – and that I can easily outspend Sunny on.”

The sun had been like this for two weeks now. Barely flaring, and a late summer afternoon had become like late fall in terms of warmth. It was starting to affect agriculture and even the best of earth ponies were starting to have problems growing crops. The sun and its warmth and magic were needed and Luna, practically running the government at the moment, had no time to continue working on the situation.

Celestia had sunk into a deep depression, and the world was suffering for it. But at the same time, Luna could hardly blame her. With two weeks on, there was no confirmation that Sunset’s home dimension was accessible. Twilight had her hooves full trying to begin the restoration process in Ponyville, as well as the fact that there was the dead to be buried and mourned, one of which was Raspberry.

But it wasn’t just Ponyville. Whole sections of Equestria, from the Empire to the Badlands, from the Unknown West to Baltimare, were recuperating from the war. And while Equestria’s allies were doing what they could to help, the fact was that Tirek’s forces were still out there, fighting remainder battles. The last report from Appaloosa indicated as such, with several Guards and soldiers lost in the battle, though they’d completely destroyed the enemy forces there.

And out there, somewhere, was another evil. There always was. But this time, Equestria knew it wasn’t ready. And given that of all the nations on Equus, Equestria tended to be the readiest for issues like this, another flareup could be a lethal wound to the nation – to the world.

Somehow, the world seemed to hang on a thread right now…no, a mane follicle. A single gold-and-ruby mane follicle.

You’d best be alive, my niece, Luna thought to herself as she watched the pale orb, barely brighter than her own moon, settle down for the night. Or else I fear that your loss may just precede our own.

August 19: Pale Shelter

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“Looks like you’re good to go, Ms. Sandalwood,” the nurse told her as she finished dressing. “Just follow the regimen that was prescribed and you should be right as rain to return to duty.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Sandalwood said, taking the paperwork from the nurse. She had no intention of following it, as she had her own workout regimen she had to follow. Her body felt as stiff as a board after having to sit out all this time at the hospital, and the sooner she brought herself back up to fighting fit, the better.

“Also, your ride is here. Shall I call for a wheelchair to take you out?” the nurse offered.

“The day you do that is the day you can bury me six feet under,” Sandalwood grunted. She heard a snicker from across the room and not even looking away from the nurse, said, “I take it you found that funny, Hearts?”

“Sandy, don’t ever change,” Hearts Aflutter said, going over to pick up her friend’s bag. “You ready to leave?”

“Only on my own two feet,” came the response. “Besides, I’m not sure if I could stomach one more day of hospital food.” She looked at the nurse. “Uh, no offense.”

“None taken,” the nurse giggled. “At least you get to escape – they actually have to pay some of us to stay here on a regular basis, would you believe that?”

As the two departed the hospital, headed for the parking garage, Hearts said to Sandalwood, “Are you sure about this, Sandy?”

“Not really,” she sighed. “Personally, I would have preferred to go back to my apartment but given that it was completely destroyed by the freak hurricane, it’s a condemned loss that I couldn’t even really recover much from. As it is, at least the insurance company gave me a nice fat check to make up for all of it.”

“You know what I mean,” Hearts countered.

“Yes, yes I do. And yes, I’m sure.” The two waited by the elevator for the next one. “This was a colossal mistake on my part. A chance to try to see if I could live like the normal folk do. Boy, did I fuck up.”

“You didn’t fuck up. It just—”

“I appreciate the lie, Hearts, but let’s be honest: I boned this one hard, and now I have to make it right, even though it’s probably going to rip me in two.”

Hearts sighed. “Sandy…please don’t do this to yourself.”

“Too late, Hearts. Too Goddamn fucking late.” They got in the elevator and Sandalwood leaned against the wall as the doors closed. “Every single day, Hearts. Do you know what it’s like? It’s hard enough working with him. It’s impossible for me to keep my feelings in check. Do you know what I dreamed of last night?”

“No, but knowing you, you’re going to tell me anyway,” the other girl replied.

“That he took my cuffs, hooked me up against a chainlink fence, and went to town. And I wanted that. I woke up crying, because I didn’t really get taken in some backstreet alley. Do you know how fucked up that is?” Sandalwood was quiet for a second as the elevator dinged each level. “And to make it worse, his true love is my best friend. I can’t face Cady anymore, you know that? I feel like I’m going to snap at any moment, and when I do, it’s not going to be pretty.”

“Oh, stop being such a drama queen,” Hearts said. “Cady knows how you feel, and she doesn’t hold it against you. She trusts you.”

“I DON’T TRUST MYSELF!” Sandalwood said, punching the nearest wall. She forced herself to calm down; she hadn’t even left the hospital grounds yet and was already maneuvering herself towards another stay. “Trust me…this is the best for everyone.”

“Not for you, Sandy. You have me worried, you know that?” Hearts went over and hugged the other girl. “We’re old friends, you and me. I don’t want you to suffer this alone.”

“I know. And that’s why I’m telling you, Hearts. I just…this is for the best.”

“Not for you.”

“You’re right, not for me. But life isn’t a fairytale, and sometimes we don’t get happy endings.”

“Thanks for coming with me to do this, Velvet,” Cadance told her future mother-in-law as the two stood before the cell block at the North County Correctional Center. “I come here a million times, and normally it doesn’t faze me. But this time….”

“I understand, Cady,” the older woman said. “I’d be lying if I said I wanted to be here, so I completely understand your trepidation.”

“I don’t recommend having that attitude,” the ECSD deputy with them advised. “You’ll get eaten alive with an attitude like that.”

Cadance, long familiar with the place, gave the man a smile. “Don’t worry, Shutdown. I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“I’m sure you will, Counselor – under normal circumstances. But these aren’t normal girls. Hell, if it wasn’t for the fact that even as headcases they’re still considered highly dangerous they’d probably have been moved to the SMW.”

“SMW?” Velvet asked.

“The Secure Medical Wing,” Cadance explained. “It’s where they keep the prisoners with medical issues.”

There was a loud buzz and the large metal gates swung open. “This way, ladies,” the deputy said. “You’ll be meeting with her in Room Two – that’s the one that we have set up for this sort of thing. You’ll be behind a Plexiglas window, so you don’t have to worry about your safety, but even still, I would exercise caution, given her training. We have the room on a live feed that’s also being recorded; the recording is only for the sake of prison security and any copies we give you we also have to give to the defense attorney.”

“A lot of security just for a single girl,” Cadance mused.

“She’s not like any other girl I’ve ever seen,” the deputy replied. “On her first day back up, she nearly killed someone – practically stabbed his heart using a ballpoint pen that the guy dropped. If at any time your life is in danger, we will be just outside the door, and authorized to use lethal force if need be.”

“I’m sure it won’t come to that,” Cadance insisted.

They reached the door. “I’ll be out here waiting for your signal,” he assured them.

The two entered the room, and the door immediately closed behind them. Across from them, separated by a large window of Plexiglas that bifurcated the table, was Contralto Rush. She was seated at the table, her hands handcuffed to it with the chains giving her just enough room to move her hands, but that was where it ended. Currently dressed in a black-and-white prison jumpsuit, the suit also had additional dark-red bands on it as well. She looked sallow, her eyes sunken and her hair stringy and far from the animalistic girl the two remembered from earlier.

“What’s the red bands on the suit mean?” Velvet asked Cadance.

“Super high-risk,” Cadance answered. “Means she’s attempted to kill someone while incarcerated.”

“Because he tried to touch me when I didn’t want it,” a voice said and the two turned to look at Contralto. Her jaw tensed, and her nostrils ruffled slightly. “I had to teach him a lesson, you understand.” She gave a wolfish smile. “I only snapped his wrist – I was being gentle. Unless, of course, you mean the idiot that I stabbed with a pen. Well, he deserved it; I really don’t appreciate being referred to as a criminal.”

“You’re not a criminal?” Velvet asked.

“No. I’m a soldier, a warrior – or, well, I used to be, Dr. Velvet. As to what I am now? I suppose that’s what we’ll find out today, won’t we?”

Both women looked at one another, then back at the girl. “You know who she is?” Cadance asked her.

“I know who both of you are, Ms. Cadenza. But you don’t have anything to fear from me. I’m hardly in a position to harm you, nor would I.” That was unsettling enough until the former SIREN said the words that set both of them on edge: “After all, you are the dearest family members of the Newly-Born Goddess.”

“I don’t think that—”

“You’re not the only one that was changed by time, Ms. Cadenza.” The look in Contralto’s eyes was sad. “I know what I was. I was beautiful and powerful and everchanging and everlasting. I was more than I am now.”

“You were a monster,” Cadance accused.

“Not ‘were’, Counselor. I always was one. Cantata Blast and the Canadian government made me one.” The SIREN looked at Cadance. “Did you know that at the age of nine, I killed my first person? Executed a man who was on death row. By the way, officially Canada doesn’t have a death row, but as the world knows by now, Ottawa has been very good at being very hypocritical.” She leaned forward. “The fact is, Divine Right’s magic only made me the personification of what I was: forever changing, forever beautiful on the outside…and forever a monster as well.” She sighed. “I thought that’s what I wanted. But I was drunk on my own power, too high to realize what it was doing to me.

“And now? Well, now I know what I was, but at the same time, I also recall what was placed into my brain. But you know what? Magic is a funny thing, ladies. It permeates you, marks you and never, ever lets you go. It won’t let go of me.” She paused. “It won’t let go of my child, either.”

“Child?” Velvet asked, looking over the medical record she was given.

“Yes, didn’t you know? Canzione and I are pregnant. Oh, I’m sure the record will show otherwise, but I can feel my child growing within me. Cell division by cell division.”

“Who’s the father? Was it that boy you killed? We should notify the parents when you start to show.”

“Oh, that won’t be the case. You see, the father is in here with us…though she’s back to her original gender,” Contralto spoke.

Both adults looked at each other in shock, then back at Contralto. “Please tell me you’re joking,” Velvet said weakly.

The SIREN’s eyes were filled with sorrow. “Medley suffered worst of all of us, it seems. Yes, she wasn’t always what you could call an ideal person, even for what we did, but she didn’t deserve everything she went through. And now her mind is barely there.” She sighed. “Counselor, would you answer a question for me?”

“I’ll do my best within the legal framework,” Cadance said simply.

“What happened to the ones that turned on the organization? I know that there were some.” The response was oddly calm and even contemplative – as though Contralto had finally given up.

“I can’t answer that.”

“You can,” the ex-SIREN said matter of factly. “You just won’t. That’s okay, I wasn’t expecting an answer from you. I was really going to ask her anyway.”

“I’m afraid I can’t be of service either,” Velvet said, but then both she and Cadance realized she didn’t mean either of them.

“I know you’re there,” Contralto spoke to an empty space to the women’s side. “You don’t have to hide. I’m no longer in a position to do anything.”

There was a flash of light, and to Velvet and Cadance’s surprise, Sunset appeared from nowhere. “What are you doing here?” Velvet demanded of her daughter.

“I wasn’t going to let you walk into the lion’s den, Mom,” Sunset said. “You or Cady.”

“Sunny, you know this is being recorded, right?” Cadance asked, astonished at the sudden presence of her future sister-in-law.

“The video is recording a calm conversation between you three,” Sunset replied, crossing her arms. “It’s not picking up any of this.”

Contralto clapped. “Brava, Divinity, brava! You are everything that fool Divine wanted to be. I am suitably impressed.”

“You wanted my attention, Contralto; you have it. What do you want?”

“I have a request, Divinity.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“You are a goddess, Divinity, it is only right.” To the shock of the two women, Contralto got up and snapped the metal chains as if they were nothing. She then walked over to the edge of the Plexiglas…and genuflected. “You are power and love, Divinity. You are more powerful than I…and I fear you. But I also know you don’t harm the innocent.”

Sunset stood there, folding her arms and not saying a word.

“You know what’s going to happen to us. That there is one change left within us and it will kill us three. That we are going to die for what we did, and…I’m at peace with that now. But I don’t want my child to suffer, mine or Canzy’s. So I have three requests. I know I am not in a position to request anything, but if you are truly a fair one, Divinity, you shall grant them to me.”

Sunset was quiet for the longest time, and Contralto took that as a sign to continue.

“When Canzy and I give birth…make sure our daughters – and yes, we will have girls, I can feel it – never know about us. Never let them know we existed. Change their genes, give them new DNA and parentage, let them live innocent lives. Otherwise, I fear my rage and anger will pass to my own daughter and she will become a flurry of hate and despair. And I can’t even begin to think of what will be passed to Canzy’s child, much less what Medley has brought into the mix.”

“I will. I won’t have this happening again,” Sunset promised. “Your next request?”

“Our next change will destroy us. Your grandmother has seen to that, and it is our punishment. Not even the laws of man can stop that.” Contralto looked troubled. “I ask that whatever we become…that we not be allowed to know what we were. I fear that if we did, it might be…harmful.”

“You’re asking for a karma houdini, is that it?” Sunset asked.

“No. There’s no way to escape what Faust did to us, and I’m not sure I want to even if I could. It will happen the day after I give birth. I will shed who I am and become…Other, as will Canzy and Med. And when that happens, we won’t know what we were. We might not even be human still. But if by some chance we are, the person I will be won’t be Contralto Rush anymore. And I deserve to be forgotten.”

“I’ll consider it. And your last request?”

“Destroy SIREN. You know that it still exists. Even if your cousins were never a part of it, even if any of the girls that escape aren’t a part of it in this new reality your grandmother built, CSIS is still there, Director Golden Rule is still in charge and she is like any other spymaster – she won’t let go of an asset that’s too valuable to the nation. She’s a true believer in Canada and she’ll take the fall before Canada gives up SIREN. Plus, there’s no guarantee that even her successor will. Even with it now being a public scandal, they will find a way to hide it. So SIREN must be destroyed – and only you can do that.”

“That I will agree to. I really don’t like messing with geopolitics since they’re not my forte, but I would do it even to Washington if I knew it was happening here in the US.”

“Thank you. Now, please leave and let me be the monster I am supposed to be for a few months more,” Contralto told them. “Don’t bother saving us – we will see our punishment in less than a year and there is nothing that can be done about that.”

“Contralto…there’s still time to change. Yeah, you’ll probably never see a day beyond bars again,” Sunset told her, “but you’ll have peace of mind for the remainder of your days.”

“No. I can’t. As much as I want to, I can’t.” Contralto began to cry. “It’s…it’s tempting. But it would be a lie. I am a monster, Divinity. And monsters rage and thrash and gnash and claw and bite and cause fright. I am the thing that children must fear under their beds and adults must pray remain behind bars. I have to be who I am, to show the world I am what I was made to be.”

“Please don’t do this.”

“You are worthy of your power, Divinity – we are monsters and yet you still wish to spare us.”

“No, I’m not worthy of being an alicorn, Contralto – I never was. I’m just as flawed as you are.”

“Be that as it may, you are now such. And you have your role to play in the cosmic scheme of things as we do. Please leave – I have to figure out how I’m going to cripple the guard that brought me in here without killing him, and that’s going to be a challenge in these cuffs.”


“The angels must always have their devils to contest with. And you, an…alicorn, you said you were now? Well, you must have whatever it is in your world that you must contest with as well. And as you are the Alicorn of Earth, I will be that for you. Until the time comes when I am no more.”

Sunset vanished and Cadance and Velvet quietly left the building. By the time they made it to the car, sitting in the backseat was a disconsolate Sunset.

“I would have,” she told them. “If she’d just changed, I would have given her a second chance. But she doesn’t want it.”

“Sunny, I know this is going to be hard to square with your, er, newfound power,” Cadance said, “but I believe in the rule of law. It’s why I’m a lawyer. I believe that when crimes are committed, we must do what we have to in order to make sure it never happens again. I can’t count on divine punishment to do what must be done. That’s why we have laws.”

Velvet looked at her daughter with sympathy. “This must be hard for you.”

“I’m supposed to be both a normal girl and an all-powerful alicorn,” Sunset said. “And now a goddess to humans as well? I just…I don’t know. I don’t have the mindset of the divine, not yet at least. I can’t see things the way my grandmother and my biological mother do. I’m not even sure the latter thinks in those terms, to be honest.”

“You’ve never told me much about her, not even her name.”

“It would be rather complex if I did, Mom. Besides, I don’t want you to think that I’m….” Sunset didn’t finish her sentence; she wasn’t sure how to do so.

“It’s okay. I get that you’re conflicted, sweetie. And no one said you have to love your biomom any less because of me, or that you have to love me more. You’re an adopted child, Sunny. Things like that are normal, especially when they’re adopted as late as you are. Have you talked to the triplets about it? Now that this new timeline has given them a bit more perspective on that, maybe they can help you with your feelings on the matter.”

“Maybe,” Sunset said, wiping tears from her eyes. “I know I’ve talked to both Rainbow and her sister – Scootaloo is adopted – but it just really never sank in. Maybe….”

“Maybe we can go get some lunch and talk about this there?” Cadance suggested. “You know, I’ve been the big sister type for Twily and the others, Sunny, and I don’t intend to give that role up now. Maybe it’s time that I show you how things are done around here.”

Sunset giggled and smiled. “I guess I still have a few things to learn, don’t I?”

Cadance gave her a smile back. “That’s what being a big sister’s about, Sunny. Learning as you go.”

“I’m at the Pizza Hut,” Sonata sang softly. “I’m at the Taco Bell. I’m at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell….”

“Seriously, sis?” Aria said testily, leaning over her plate of tacos. “You’re seriously doing that here?”

Sonata took her headphones out. “Sorry, Ari, were you saying something?”

Aria facepalmed and Adagio just gave her sisters that look. “Nevermind, Soni,” the eldest triplet told her. “Put away your headphones and put your game face on. Oh, and ask the freakazoid if she’s got her spell ready.”

In the booth across from them, Raspberry glared at Adagio. “I have a name, you know.”

“Just ignore her, Razz,” Sonata told her. “Ari and I appreciate you doing this for us.”

“Yeah, well, I’m adjusting to using this human magic while I still have it. It’s…unique. You guys are more violent than my species, and yet your magic is more utilitarian – like it doesn’t have a concept of alignment to it like pony magic does. Weird.” She then held up a quesadilla. “Plus, I don’t get much of a chance to eat burroñeso food back home, because Ponyille doesn’t have a burroñeso restaurant. In any case, the spell is already operating. People won’t hear anything out of the ordinary.”

“Thanks, Razz,” Aria told her, then turned to her older sister. “See? That’s how you should treat her. I don’t know why you don’t like her, sis.”

“Whatever,” Adagio sighed. “Look, Sable’s supposed to be here any minute now, okay?”

“Good thing I showed up then.” Sable approached the table, and unlike the others, he had a couple of slices of pizza with him. “Tia’s a pizza purist, so I’d be dead eating here normally,” he told them.

“Don’t worry, we won’t say anything,” Adagio said with a smile. “But I’m glad you arrived. Thanks for coming.”

“Yeah, well, I figured that would be the case,” Sable told them. “So, what’s up?”

“Look, I know this is unusual, but we’re going to get right to the point,” Aria began. “We want you.”

Sable looked at her oddly. “Uh, thanks, Ari, but I have a girlfriend and you’re a bit too young for me.”

Aria looked at him wide-eyed, then realized what she said and blushed furiously.

Adagio tried not to facepalm. “What Aria means is that…well, do you remember what we told you in the old timeline? About how we SIRENs were overseen by a male figure and why? Things are different now, obviously, and as you can gather, we weren’t SIRENs in this timeline. But we still have our training and we still have the mission to protect Sunset.”

“But combat training is a perishable skill,” Sable noted.

“But combat training is a perishable skill,” Adagio repeated, agreeing with him. “And we need someone who has been there for us, someone we trust, and someone we respect. And we will follow your lead.”

“Have you spoken to Sunset about this?” Sable asked her.

“Not really. This is our business, and I know she’s going to try to stymie us whenever she can, because we’re her cousins now and to us, family is family,” Adagio explained. “But I remember what her grandmother insisted and I gather it’s not a good idea to go against the will of a deity.”

“Yeah, plus given everything Twily went through earlier in the year and what Tavi’s going through now, I’m not sure us telling her that we’re going to be throwing ourselves at the wolves every time we’re worried about her safety is going to do wonders for home life,” Sonata added.

“So, with that in mind, we want you to be that commander,” Adagio said. “We’ve asked Raspberry, when she gets home, to deliver a letter to Sunset’s biological mother, who is the ruler of that nation, to transfer our flag to Equestria’s military.”

Sable smiled. “Well, problem is, girls, for starters, you don’t have a flag. In this reality, you three were never military personnel and so thus you have no flag to transfer.”

“Yeah, there is that,” Adagio admitted, “but the way I think of it is that we were given this life in order to protect Sunny and so to me, that’s a commission – which means there’s a flag to transfer.”

“And the other thing is that a flag must be held by a general officer,” Sable noted. “Or a flag officer, since technically you three were naval commandos.”

“And that’s where you come in. Ultimately, we can’t do this alone,” Adagio said. “We must rebuild SIREN, but if we’re going to do it, we need to do it the right way. Which means we need someone of strong moral fiber to be our flag officer, someone who’s been there and knows what it’s like.”

“What do you mean ‘we can’t do this alone’? There’s only three of you, four if you count me into this mess.”

Adagio reached into the bag she brought with her and slid a letter over to him. “This is the letter that is our proposal to the Equestrian government. If you accept, you need to be the one to sign it.”

Sable looked at the letter, reading it. Then reread it. Then read it a third time, because he didn’t believe what he was reading. “You realize what you’re proposing, right? This isn’t just some spur-of-the-moment thing. You’ve put some thought into this.”

“Sunny is our cousin and like a sister,” Adagio said softly. “And even in the time before that, she was probably one of the first real friends we had outside the Sisterhood. And now we’ve been tasked with keeping her safe, something we would already do because we love her. So yes, I’m going to do what I can for someone who is my liegelady and my cousin, because she means that much to me.”

“That’s actually sweet,” Raspberry said, and without looking, Adagio flipped her off in response.

“Real mature, sis,” Aria admonished. “You should be nicer to Razz. She’s doing a lot for us right now.”

“Can we focus on the matter at hand?” Adagio deflected, then turned back to Sable. “So, what do you think?”

“Adagio, I want you think about this. Because if this works – and you have no idea if it does – you’re talking about building what would be considered a private army of Sunset’s species and putting them under human command to protect an alien god-queen that prefers to live like a normal human teenager.”

“No, I’m talking about protecting my cousin, who may as well be my sister. Everything else is just incidental to the situation. And I know that Soni and Ari feel the same way.”

“And you’re asking me to be the literal adult voice of reason in this.”

“Hey, I’m just a flighty teen who has no real life experience,” Adagio snarked. “I couldn’t possibly know about the ways of the adult world, much less what it’s like to kill a man in Dubai who was raping his own preteen daughter.”

“That sounds like a suspiciously specific thing.”

“Let’s just say that when I get some free time I’m going to ask Sunny to look into that. And if that change has been reverted, I’m going to go do it again.”

Sable looked Adagio with an inspecting gaze. “What if I say no to this?”

“Then I’ll sign the letter myself and take my chances,” Adagio told him. “I want you to be a part of this, Sable and I’m willing to turn over command to you. But you weren’t the one who was given the directive to ensure Sunny’s safety – we were. And even if I didn’t, I would anyway. We love her and want her safe.”

“Then we do this my way, understood?” He took the letter, folded it and slipped it in the pocket. “This is a good start, but this is more of an executive summary kind of thing. You need an actual plan and you need military documentation. I have an old friend at NAVSPECWAR that can send me declassified and unclassified documentation and we’ll be rebuilding the organization based on those lines.”

“Not on US Army lines?” Aria asked, surprised.

“You girls have a culture that’s naval ingrained, and it would be a shame to change it. And even though you’re not RCN anymore, I’d like to keep that tie for you. Plus, I suspect we’re going to have to justify this to the existing Equestrian navy, and that means we’re going to have to be precisely tuned – and that means we’ll have to go in fully-prepared.”

“So that means you’ll do it, Sable?” Adagio asked.

“It’s not proper for junior officers to speak to their superior officers by name, Capt. Dazzle,” he told her.

“Uh…I’m not a captain. I had to take the sublieutenant rank when I executed Cantata, but that was an emergency protocol. Besides, captain is an army rank.”

“I don’t mean that kind of captain,” he told her. “If you’re going to do this right then we’re going to build this thing along the line of the SEALs – which means you’ll eventually be in charge of a full team. Which makes you a full-bird captain.” He then turned to Aria and Sonata. “And you two will be commanders.”

“That’s a promotion I think I can live with,” Aria said.

“Then your first orders are these: start looking into procuring uniforms and gear for us. I know you have the gear downstairs in that bunker under Night and Velvet’s place, but eventually we’re going to have to find housing for two hundred aliens-turned-humans, as well as the logistical explanation how they’ll live here and how they’ll live on Earth without tripping over their human counterparts.”

“Yeah, that’s going to be a tall order, but we’ll get it done,” Sonata said. “I’m confident.”

“And lastly, I want a name change for this new organization. Calling us ‘Strategic Intervention, Reconnaissance and Execution Network’ is not going to fly if we’re going to impress the Equestrian naval brass, I suspect. Especially the execution part of the name.”

“With all due respect, we’d at least like to keep the SIREN portion of the name if at all possible,” Aria asked. “We may not have ever been Canadian SIRENs, but we are still Sunset’s SIRENs and as trivial as that might seem, it’s important to us.”

“Then I’ll see what I can come up with after meeting with your cousin,” Sable said, “because that’s the last thing: I don’t want this done behind her back. It’s not fair to her and furthermore, if the Equestrian government says yes, then ultimately we will answer to her. I’ll call Velvet and see if I can arrange a meeting for the five of us. For now, ladies, let’s just eat lunch and relax. Then to celebrate, we can go to the movies. My treat.”

“Really?” Sonata asked.

“Just because you’re going to be combat troops once more doesn’t mean you have to stop being teenagers,” Sable reminded them. “In fact, I think I’m going to insist on that.”

Adagio smiled sincerely. “I think I like you even more, sir.”

“Still taken, though.”

The eldest triplet laughed.

“Well, that’s that,” Shining said, packing up the last of his stuff into a box. Today was the last day he was with the combined task force. He was given the week off by the CPD in appreciation of what he’d accomplished, and when he reported to work a week later, he would be back in uniform as a beat cop.

“Hey, gonna miss you around here, man,” one of the other agents told him. “Going to be quiet now that we’re getting back into the normal swing of things.”

“Yeah, between kidnappings, bank robberies, computer fraud and all that, things are going to be dull,” a second agent joked.

“Hey, I’ll take computer fraud over a freak hurricane and three teenage serial killers any day,” Shining commented. Of course he knew the full extent of it, but he could never tell them what really occurred. Truth be told, he could barely believe it himself. “Besides, I wouldn’t worry about it. Isn’t Agent Star going to be joining you guys?”

“Naah. The boss offered her a position here, but she said her work down in LA is too critical to leave, so she went back yesterday,” Cloud Lance said as he came into the area. With Hardline gone, Cloud Lance had been promoted to Asst. Special Agent in Charge of the Canterlot office. “So we still have a slot open, one for handling unusual crimes.”

“Crimes like teenage serial killers?”

“Well, you can’t say that’s the norm down in Homicide in CPD, can you, Shining?”

“No, not really.” He had to admit, that was something he was going to miss once he returned to CPD. “Well, at least you have Sandy sticking around, right? She told me that she wasn’t going back to the ECSD.”

“No, actually, she asked the boss for a favor and…well, I’ll let him tell you about it. He wants to see you before you head out.” Cloud offered his hand. “In any case, take care, Shining, and don’t be a stranger.”

Shining shook Cloud’s hand, then that of the others. “Not on your life.”

A few seconds later, Shining was knocking on Badge’s door. “You wanted to see me?”

“Oh, hey, Shining, come in. I was just filling out the last of the paperwork for your girlfriend’s request,” Badge told him, “but I guess I can take a break for you.”

“Girlfriend’s request?” Shining looked curious for a second until he realized that the senior agent had been talking about Sandalwood, given their close ties. “Sandy? She’s not my girlfriend. And what paperwork?”

“Yeah, I know. Well, in any case, she asked me for a favor, one I fortunately could pull off for her.” Badge picked up a folder off the desk and handed it to him. “Thought you might be interested in knowing.”

Shining read it and the look of bemusement fell from his face. “Paragon City, Rhode Island?”

Badge sat on the edge of his desk and folded his arms. “Naval Officer Training Command. Apparently, they train naval officers there just like the name says. She wants back in the Navy, it seems, and this time she wants to go officer.”

“Sandy’s leaving? I don’t think she told me or Cady.”

“Yeah, I gathered that it was a sudden decision. In any case, I know a guy at NCIS who put me in touch with a guy he knows at NOTC and I put in a good word for her, so they were willing to accept her. I guess anyone who gets shot in the line of duty in order to take down a possible terrorist on US soil is what the Navy wants, so I’m not going to argue.”

“But I—”

“Should be thinking about yourself, Shining,” Badge said. “Which brings me to my other thing.” He held up a second folder. “Director Firm Justice and I go way back and though we don’t always see eye to eye – he hates that I want to stay on the streets instead of taking a job in DC, while I think he does too much bullshit Washington politics instead of cop work – we’re good buddies. And I told him I need good agents I can trust to do the job, because I get the sneaking suspicion that what happened over the summer is just the tip of the iceberg. Maybe I’m crazy, but I get that gut feeling that we’re going to be up to our ears in X-Files shit. And I need the best I can get in order to do my job.”

He handed Shining the folder. “This is an acceptance letter for the Accelerated Agent Training Program in Quantico; it’s for officers from other law enforcement agencies who join the Bureau. You’d be there a month, and while normally afterwards you’d be assigned somewhere else, like I said, I have some pull at the top and so they’ll send you back here where I need you.”

Shining looked at Badge, awestruck. “I don’t…I don’t know what to say.”

“Yeah, figured you’d want to talk it over with your fiancée. But I’ll need an answer by Friday as the next class starts up in September, because I’d like you to be back by October when the trial for the Dead Hand Killers starts up. But for now, go ahead and get out of here and take that vacation CPD gave you. You earned it in spades.”

As he drove back to his apartment, Shining thought about the folder and what it would mean. On one hand, he felt like he owed a duty to the CPD. He wanted to keep his promise to Melati and see to it that her name would be remembered amongst the ranks of the CPD fallen. On the other hand, the pay of an FBI agent was much better and their beat was much larger – the Canterlot field office of the FBI oversaw most of northern California, the southernmost stretch of Oregon and the parts of northern Nevada that didn’t fall under the Cloudsdale field office.

But more importantly, he had to protect his family – including his newest sister and cousins. His family now had a secret that he couldn’t talk about, and he wondered if it was borderline treasonous to hide it from the world. But he wouldn’t tell another soul – even if he was obligated to, he cared too much about Sunset and the triplets to do so. They were his sister and cousins and thus family. And family meant the world to him.

But Sandalwood was family as well, in a sense. And now she was leaving and hadn’t told anyone why. Had something happened to her? As he pulled in the driveway, he grabbed his cellphone, planning to call her. Instead, he got her voicemail.

“Hey, Sandy, it’s Shining. Give me a call as soon as you can, okay? Thanks.”

With that, he grabbed his box out of the trunk and prepared to take a long-needed vacation. A vacation that might just leave him even less rested than before, he wondered.

“Thank you for coming, Doctor,” Chrysoberyl said with relief. “When I called your office, I had expected that we would do a conference call. I hadn’t expected that you would come down for this meeting.”

“It is not often,” the man said, quietly and in a voice that held just a touch of English whimsy in it, “that I find one with the talents like yours, Dr. Chrysoberyl. I must confess, were I younger, I might have challenged your husband for your hand.”

She giggled girlishly. “Flattery, Doctor?”

“Please, just Phix will do. And may I call you Chrys?”

“Of course.” She smiled at the man who sat across from her at the table. Apparently in his mid-seventies, he had the look of a distinguished gentleman that had somehow managed to wander out of Brideshead Revisited or some other dusty novel. He carried an intricately-carved mahogany cane topped with a highly-polished silver grip and wore a simple white pinstripe suit with a black tie which further served to enhance the whole Downton Abbey connection. In fact, had it not been for the round black sunglasses hiding his sightless eyes or the severe-looking young woman behind him who was likely his primary assistant, Chrysoberyl got the feeling that the cane was more for show and that the man was far sprightlier than he seemed. But maybe that was just his way of showing that despite his disability, he was a mind of stunning intellect, and that much she knew.

“I took the time to read the documentation you sent my office, though unfortunately I didn’t have time to read all of it as our tactile writer didn’t translate it all in time. Sadly, the infernal machine broke down.”

“My dearest apologies, Doctor,” the woman at his side said. “I’ll do my best to have it serviced as quickly as I can.” Chrysoberyl looked at the woman who had accompanied the doctor, a girl he’d addressed as “Bubbles”. Sadly, there seemed to be nothing bubbly about her in the least, and for a split-second, Chrysoberyl wondered if she thought she saw an older woman in a wheelchair, but then figured that she was probably imagining things. Guess I need more sleep, she thought.

“It is no matter, Bubbles,” Phix told his aide. “Besides, knowing young Chrys here, she probably had reports prepared as well.”

“Indeed I did,” Chrys said, handing over freshly-printed documents to Bubbles, who set them before Phix. “These are my latest reports on the girl.”

Several minutes went past while the older gentleman read through the documentation, deftly running his fingers over the tactile writing. “The name…Octavia Melody…it sounds familiar for some reason.”

“She was that teenaged musician that played at the Promising Musicians of the Future concerto back in May,” Bubbles reminded him. “I distinctly recall you said her music reminded you of your youth.”

“Ah, yes, her. Now I remember,” he said with a genial smile. “Youth is so often about spending outdoors with friends, or at least in the comfort of one’s own room, boldly engaging in one of those charming videogames—” he made outlandish, exaggerated hand motions that Chrysoberyl presumed was the man trying to imitate someone playing games, even though it was clearly wrong, “—although that technology is beyond me, needless to say. To hear one such of Ms. Melody’s caliber and adroitness at her art is impressive given her age, and it saddens me to see that, like so many other artists, she is plagued by the demons of the mind.” He tapped the report. “Can you tell me more?”

Chrysoberyl went over everything in regards to Octavia and her alter ego, and how vastly different the two were. After several minutes, the psychiatrist finished up with, “and I can’t help but think that the Melody persona is wildly jealous of how fortunate Octavia has it. If I can convince her that they are one and the same and there’s nothing to be jealous of, they might unify and she might be made whole.”

Phix nodded. “Given what you’ve said, I’m quite surprised there is only the one persona. Usually in situations like these, there are at least two more. There was a recorded case in Belgium thirty-five years ago of a musician, similar to Ms. Melody, who had much the same issue – a single alternate persona who was as different from her as could be. I kept up with that case, but sadly, it happened right around the time of my accident, so I couldn’t be directly involved with it.”

“What happened there?”

“For a time, it seemed as though Zwartewolf – the pseudonym given to the dark personality – was going to take over Witteherten. But then Ms. Witteherten had one singular success in her musical career and that was enough of an impetus to help her push back Zwartewolf for good. As I understand of the aftermath, she became an accomplished soloist for the Brussels Philharmonic, as well as a wife and mother. So it is possible. All it takes is the guiding hand of a dedicated healer such as yourself, Chrys. You are doing exactly what needs to be done, and I can’t see anything I would recommend as a change.”

“Even the amounts of Malarson?”

Phix waved his hand. “I have seen far stronger doses used. There’s a case ongoing in Cincinnati right now that I’m consulting on – I can have my office send you some of the documentation, if you’d like – where the doctor in question has prescribed nearly a full gram of Hasbrine, which as you’ll recall is the much more powerful, not to mention narcotic, variant of Malarson. Yes, I will admit that what you’ve prescribed is more than the norm, but I can assure you, it is hardly alarming.”

Chrysoberyl breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad. I was afraid I was going to have to refer this case to Horseshoe Bay.”

“Chrys, if I may be frank…do not do that. I’ve met the people at Horseshoe Bay Psychiatric Center, and while they are wonderful professionals who do their utmost, in my experience, one-on-one care is needed for a case like this. At Horseshoe Bay, Ms. Melody would be seen by a group of professionals, none of which would be able to form the singular bond that you can. If you truly care about this girl’s well-being, you will continue your efforts with her. I will do what I can when you ask, but I can see you are already on the right path.”

The rest of the business lunch went by with the two talking about pleasantries. Then Chrysoberyl mentioned her initial work with the Dead Hand Killers in passing, and Phix pressed her for more details, citing professional curiosity. Normally she would have been rather tight-lipped about a case of that nature, but she inexplicably found herself sharing some of the more recent developments. Besides, she knew that he would not go public with them, at least not until well after the case was over and done with.

Phix listened with interest as she told him that one of the three girls had started talking again (though she didn’t mention any names, referring to them as “Ms. A”, “Ms. B” and “Ms. C” made it fairly clear in any case). After an hour, however, Chrysoberyl had to head off to her next appointment, and apparently none too soon.

“Doctor, you’re bleeding!” Chrysoberyl gasped.

Indeed, red tears rolled down the old man’s cheeks and he seemed lost in his thoughts for a moment. “Oh dear, the old injury must be acting up again,” he said in a mournful tone.

Bubbles promptly passed him a handkerchief, and Phix took it thankfully, starting to dab around his eyes. For a brief moment the old man’s face seemed to change – the skin around his eyes seeming to peel like old wallpaper – and for that brief moment some primal instinct within Chrysoberyl long buried by eons of evolution told her to get as far away from her colleague as possible. The moment passed in less than a heartbeat, however and as the old man gave her a charming smile by way of apology, she had to wonder just what sleep-deprived madness had taken a hold of her.

Sombra’s right; I really need to take a week off sometime, she told herself.

Bidding her a good day and gratitude for the pleasant company, Phix saw her off.

“Orders, sir?” “Bubbles” inquired once the younger doctor was well away.

“Have your branch family here look into the Octavia Melody connection as well. It might just be another occurrence of demonic possession, just as with the Zwartewolf case.”

“I remember that. The only one who truly figured it out was the Catholic priest, as I recall.”

“Yes, and that was why the demon killed him,” “Phix” told her. “The demon didn’t consider the psychiatrists a threat at all. Of course, he was stupid for possessing a female to begin with, but oftentimes lesser demons aren’t known for their intelligence.” The man gave a brutal smile. “It makes them easy to kill. But as I was saying it might be possession, or, as my daughter is wont to say, it may be that the girl is, I quote, ‘fucking nuts’. Either way, if she is related to the Child of the Sun, it might be of use to us.”

The girl who was not quite a girl bowed. “It shall be done, Grandmaster.”

“Good. Now I shall return home. The sooner I get away from this town and its vapid idiots such as our good doctor, the better.” He could feel the powerful magic radiating in the distance, the telltale signature of an alicorn. “We have other fish to fry right now and we will deal with the interloper in good time.”

“Sable, how could you?” Celestia looked at her boyfriend, feeling genuinely betrayed.

“Tia, it was either put them under control or let them spin out of control on their own.” The last thing he wanted to have was an argument with the woman he loved, but it was inevitable – all couples did eventually and this issue was as good as any. “At least this way they have adult supervision.”

“Sweetheart, adult supervision is for what you do during your day job. I don’t think training teenage killers qualifies as adult supervision!”

The dinner had been so nice, too. Celestia had been so giddy about her promotion that the moment she got home she’d started homemade manicotti for the two of them. Now dinner sat untouched, cooling due to their spat.


“Don’t ‘sweetheart’ me! You and the triplets were nearly killed several times in…whatever it was that used to be reality! And now you’re doing it again, voluntarily?”

“You were there the other day when Zephyr and I were talking! Didn’t you hear a single thing we were saying?” he asked her.

“I thought we were past this!” She turned away from him. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“Tia, look at me.” When she didn’t, he went over and gently lifted her face, so that his eyes met hers. “Since I’ve met you, I’ve had to live with that worry every single day. I’ve never had anyone like you and it scares the shit out of me that I might come home some day and find out you’re gone and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. At least this way I can protect and watch over you, just as you intend when you mentor Sunset and her friends, right?”

“This isn’t about me,” Celestia said.

“That’s a lie. It is about you. I see it in your eyes. You think the world of those girls. Even when you admonished yourself over giving them supposed preferential treatment, you didn’t argue about how much you cared about them. Because it’s true. You care about all your students, but I would argue you love those girls as if they were a part of your family.”

She looked at him, then sighed. “I hate it when you’re right.”

“I’ll go so far as to argue because I’m right, that also means that you want the triplets safe, especially given that in this timeline they’re the nieces of your best friend. And that’s what I can do if I’m looking over them. I can keep them safe.” He leaned forward and kissed her, breathing, “I can keep you safe.”

She returned the kiss and the two remained there, kissing each other passionately.

When they broke, she blushed and looked at him. “Bed. Now.”

“What about dinner?”

“That’s what the microwave’s for, sweetie,” she said, taking his hand and leading them towards their bedroom.

“Ugh,” Night said. “That’s the second large hive I’ve found on the grounds this week,” Night said.

Twilight looked up from her magazine. “Something up, Dad?”

“Yeah. We seem to have a larger amount of bees this year than normal. Normally I wouldn’t mind, given issues bees have, but you know what kind of trouble your brother can get into.” He went over and picked up his tablet. “I’m going to see if I can find an apiary that can take care of it.”

Twilight remembered last summer, when Spike unadvisedly threw a rock at a hive and got stung a few times for it. “Ask Sunny to relocate it. I’m sure she can magic it away somewhere.”

“I’d rather an apiary deal with it, if only because of colony collapse disorder,” Night suggested. “While I trust your sister to deal with it carefully and humanely, I don’t presume she has years if not decades of expertise in beekeeping.”

“Yeah, I kinda get that she doesn’t either,” Twilight said with a smile.

“That’s a shame, because I do,” Shimmer said as she came downstairs.

“Really, Shimmy?” Twilight asked.

Shimmer nodded. “My uncle Noblesse raises them on his summer chateau in Normandy as a hobby, but when he’s not there, his gardeners use it to raise honey which he sells with all proceeds going to charity. My friends and I spent a couple of weeks at his place and we learned beekeeping from him, so every so often I go out there with him to help.”

“That’s cool.”

“Maybe next time you’re in Europe we can go there and I can show you around. I think you might enjoy it.” She then looked at Night. “Mr. Light, although I do have expertise in it, I don’t have the equipment on hand, so calling an apiary would be a good idea. I’m sure there’s one local.”

“Well, thank you for the information, Shimmer. It’s appreciated.”

“No problem!”

“So,” Twilight asked, looking at their guest, “working on your little plan with Rarity and Pinkie?”

Shimmer looked at her with concern. “So you figured it out?”

“Wasn’t hard. You have the same tells as my sister, and I know when she’s up to something,” Twilight said with a smile. “I’m just not happy that Pinkie put you up to this. Rarity, sure; she’s a hopeless romantic. Pinkie, though…she should know better.”

“The heart wants what it wants, Twily. Take it from a Frenchwoman such as myself: when you learn to love powerfully, it gets a hold of you and never lets go. My mother felt that way about my father, and only death separated them. And now my mother feels the same way about Zephyr, and it’s wonderful watching her in love. I can only hope that I have the same experience. And since Pinkie is your friend, you should support her.”

“Yes, but my sister doesn’t love Pinkie like that. She’s straight.”

“And so Pinkie’s heart shouldn’t matter, Twily?” Shimmer asked her. “If Pinkie is your friend, you’ll support her needs. Yes, she’s not going to succeed, I’m sure, but maybe she needs this date with Sunny to get her to realize that. Did you think of that?”

Twilight sighed. “Not really. It’s just….”

“I know. You love your sister and you want the best for her, but you’re having the same time squaring that with your friendship for Pinkie, am I right?” When the other teen nodded, Shimmer smiled. “I get it, I really do. There was this girl I know back home who really had it hard for me – and by that I mean she was pressing for my affections even more than Pinkie is for Sunny’s. My friend Beachcomber suggested that I just go out with Envie and that would get the point across, so I did. We went on a date and though I was flattered for the attention, it finally got through to Envie that I just wasn’t interested. Now, she’s dating another girl from the school she attends and we’re friends. So I have been where your sister is. And I think she can handle it. Trust me, if your sister is anything like me, she’s stronger than she looks.”

“Yeah,” Twilight agreed. “Yeah, okay, you sold me. I’ll lay off of Pinkie. I just don’t want either of them hurt.”

Shimmer patted Twilight on the shoulder. “You wouldn’t love your sister or your friend as much as you do if you did. Besides, it’s just a date. What could go wrong?”

“You clearly don’t know Pinkie,” Twilight cracked.

Cadance and Shining talked over dinner, especially his concerns. She loved him for that, both the fact that he admitted to having problems squaring family life with his job offer, and the fact that he was bringing her into the decision instead of just making it alone.

As they sat on the couch, the boxes of takeout Chinese food spent, she snuggled closer to him. “So have you decided what to do? I’ll support you in whatever choice you make, hon, and if it means going to Quantico, I can deal without you for a month.” She gave herself a soft smile. “Besides, the make-up sex in welcoming you back will be worth it.”

He kissed her. “I’m thinking about it. The pay increase alone will be worth it, but the chance to spread my wings beyond just the CPD area is even more so. Plus, if I have to be honest, I’ll also have a better chance to keep my ear to the grindstone on better ways to protect Sunny. I mean, she’s done a good job so far of keeping a low-profile, but she’s not going to be able to hide forever, not with her power.”

That concerned Cadance. “I know.” She then related what went on at the county jail and their run-in with Contralto Rush and Sunset’s eventual appearance, the discussion between the two and Contralto’s own proclamation that she would die in police custody – and nothing could stop it.

“I’ll have a talk with her,” Shining said. “I don’t like what she did, not one bit. I’m surprised Mom hasn’t grounded her for that little stunt.”

“I’m not sure what your mother could have done in that situation, love. I’m not sure what Sunny could have done. This sounds like something her grandmother implemented and we’re talking about a being with limitless powers. Even if she believes in the rule of law, it sounds like her law is going to take precedence over mankind’s.”

“Yeah, well, I still don’t like that, even if it’s not Sunny’s fault,” Shining admitted.

It was then that there was a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” he said, getting off the couch. He went over to the door, to find Sandalwood standing there, with a bag in her hand. Behind her was Hearts, and she had a dour look on her face.

“Hey, Shiny,” she said softly.

“Sandy? Where the hell have you been?” he asked. “I’ve been trying to reach you all day!”

Cadance, hearing the commotion at the door, immediately got to her feet. She’d talked to Hearts earlier and knew what was about to happen. Going to the door, she looked at Sandalwood sadly. “This doesn’t have to happen, Sandy,” Cadance pled.

“It’s a lost cause, Cady,” Hearts told her. “You know I tried.”

“She did,” the brunette agreed. “But we’re beyond that. And I’m sorry I betrayed you.”

“You didn’t.” Cadance went over and hugged her friend, Sandalwood flinching in the embrace, but it made the former embrace all the harder. Tears welled in both women’s eyes, and Shining stood there, confused.

“What is going on?” Shining asked.

“I’m leaving for good,” Sandalwood said while in Cadance’s embrace. “I’m leaving and I’m never coming back. I should’ve done that when my parents moved away and my sister went off to college, but I was stupid. I thought I could handle it.” She looked up and tears were streaming down her cheeks. “I was wrong.”

“Is that why you decided to rejoin the Navy?”

She nodded as Cadance let go of her. “Best place to run away. I get to see the world again, maybe find someone of my own…though that last part’s probably a lie as well.”

“Please don’t do this, Sandy,” Cadance begged. “Please don’t do this to yourself.”

“Too late. Already signed the contract and I catch my flight in a couple of hours – only reason I’m even here is because Hearts insisted on it. But I have to go. It’s the only way I’m going to survive. I can’t do this anymore, Cady, I can’t.”

Shining looked at Sandalwood. “Look, Sandy, I don’t know what’s going on, but we can fix this. You don’t have to go. I can help you.”

“No. You can’t. Least of all you, Shiny, least of all you.”

He looked at her, worry etched onto his features. “I don’t understand.”

She explained. By going up to him and kissing him, putting everything into it. Tears of regret, shame and desire rolled down her cheeks, but she forced herself to keep it under control. She then broke it off—

—and then punched his solar plexus, followed by a blow to the jaw, knocking him out.

“Sandy!” Cadance cried, stunned by her friend’s move.

“Well,” Sandalwood sighed, “that was surprisingly cathartic.” She looked at Cadance. “Take care of him for me. Have lots of fat, happy babies and forget that I exist.”

Cadance was now completely confused. “Sandy, stop, please! You’re being ridiculous. You’re my best friend! I’m never going to forget you, okay?”

Sandalwood said nothing, but instead just walked down the stairs in the direction of Hearts’ car. Hearts looked at Cadance and said nothing but instead gave her friend an apologetic look, then followed after Sandalwood.

With a heavy heart, the young woman finally wiped away her tears and dragged her unconscious boyfriend back into the house and closed the door. It felt like she was shutting off a part of her past when she did that, but maybe that was a part of growing up and becoming an adult.

If that was the case, it wasn’t anything Cadance wanted. Not like this.

“This is amazing!” Raspberry said as she looked through the telescope at the night sky. “And nopony creates this?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, you stupid cunt,” Adagio began, “the term is no one, you damn idiot!”

“Dagi,” Sunset warned, and Adagio threw up her hands and just walked into the house.

“I’ll have Mom talk to her tomorrow,” Twilight suggested. “We have no idea how long Razz is going to be with us and if Dagi hates her this much, it’s going to be rough for both of them.”

“We’ll talk to her in the morning as well,” Aria added. “Soni and I consider Razz a friend and that might be exacerbating things as well; the three of us have never been at odds before, so it’s somewhat of a novelty.”

“I just hope she doesn’t resent us for it,” Sonata mused.

“She won’t,” Octavia insisted. “Her feelings might be hurt, but she knows you two love her and vice versa. We’re all sisters, right?”

“Well,” Sunset asked Raspberry, “are you ready?”

“Yeah,” she said nervously. After the incident the other day, they decided to bring the dragonfire candle outside, where it could be tested in a safer situation. They were just short of the swimming pool, with Raspberry being given directions to dump the whole pool’s worth of water on the candle should it come to that.

“Okay, everyone stand back,” Sunset advised. “I’m going to light the candle.”

“Wait!” Octavia cried. “Given how it might have impacted me, I think I’d better go inside the house.”

“It impacted you?” Sunset asked.

“Remember that I had my episode right as the candle lost control. Maybe it was just coincidence, or maybe my fear got the better of me, but I think we’d better be safe than sorry,” the raven-haired girl commented. “Besides, Dagi would probably like some company right now and I can talk to her that way.”

“Good idea,” Sunset suggested, and they waited a few more minutes for Octavia to go back into the house as well.

“Everyone else okay?” Sunset asked.

“Yeah,” Twilight said, as she and Sonata finished checking some monitoring equipment that the latter had suggested. While they weren’t going to even try to study magic – much to Twilight’s slight dismay – the youngest triplet thought that recording the incident might yield data that could help Raspberry get home.

“We’re all clear,” Shimmer told her counterpart.

Sunset walked over to where the candle was in the wide field behind the swimming pool area and lit the candle, with it acting as normal. She then activated its flamefax spell, and the flame turned green, becoming an inferno once more. This time, even though it was still wild and blasting with raw, untampered magic, it seemed more subdued, as if whatever energy force it was tapping into was becoming more muted. Still, it was well beyond the controlled flame that Sunset was used to, so while she drew protective wards around it, she signaled to Raspberry to douse the flame.

Raspberry did so, reaching out with her human magic, scooping the whole of the water out of the pool, much to the surprise of the the non-magical folks present. With that, she created a giant ball of water and dropped it down the mystical funnel that Sunset created, dousing the candle.

Sunset walked over to Raspberry, who dropped down on the ground in depression. Sunset snapped her fingers, refilling the swimming pool, then went over to minister to her friend’s needs.

“I’m never getting home, am I? I’m going to be human for the rest of my life, aren’t I?” Raspberry asked softly, crying into Sunset’s shoulder.

“We made progress tonight, Razz. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but we made progress. C’mon, let’s go in and get some sleep. The world will look better in the morning, I promise.”

Raspberry wiped her eyes. “You promise?”

The words left Sunset’s mouth before she even realized she’d said them: “Of course, my little pony. I always try to keep my word.”

Raspberry looked at her friend. “You do realize you just sounded like your mother a second ago, right? Not the one here. The one back home.”

Sunset wasn’t sure what to say to that. She just knew that she had to make her friend happy.

As they all went indoors, it made Sunset think about another friend and her happiness. Going into her bedroom, she picked up her cellphone. She looked at the phone for the longest time, as if it would hold the answer. Finally, she hit autodial for a familiar number.

“Oh, hi, Sunny!” Pinkie chirped on the other end. “Was just thinking about you!”

“I know,” Sunset replied, rubbing the bridge of her nose. Well, in for a penny…. “Look, Pinkie, I know this is going to sound weird, but…do you want to take me out on a date?”

“Twi, this isn’t healthy!” Spike told the alicorn.

“I’ll eat later,” Twilight told him, pushing aside her favorite daisy salad sandwich and chips. “I need to figure out this new spell matrix to see if it’ll work with the background resonance on interplanal formations!” She looked at him and saw she’d hurt his feelings in the process. “Spike…this is important. More important than anything I’ve ever done, and only I can do it. Luna’s counting on me. I’ll come down for dinner and we’ll go out to eat tonight. Promise.”

He picked up the tray dejectedly, and she was already so engrossed in her work she never heard him say, “You said that this morning.”

The young dragon had worked himself to the bone trying to familiarize himself with their new home, the ugly crystalline castle that had popped up in the middle of a still-rebuilding Ponyville. It had been a month since the Tirek War and Spike had just gotten back after spending all that time with his parents. He’d returned to a destroyed hometown, his old domicile gone, and a new one having taken its place.

On the bright side, he now had his own room, so…bonus?

But right now, he had bigger concerns. Bigger concerns like the fact that he’d returned to have found out that Raspberry Beryl had lost her life during the war, and that because he was just a colt, he wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral. Or that something was very wrong with Princess Celestia, and by extension, the sun as well. It was late summer, and he was already starting to wear a scarf outdoors as if winter was just about to approach. Adults wouldn’t tell him what was going on, and correspondence that he was usually in charge of for his sister’s sake was now being teleported directly to Twilight from the others, usually now from Princess Luna.

He was confused, but more than that he was worried about his sister. She’d been working on a project non-stop, and while he was used to that when she was in one of her “study raptures”, somehow this was different. In many ways, radically so – Twilight was acting as though her actions were critical to saving Equestria from something. But she wouldn’t say what…nor did many of their friends.

So he did what any good little gentledrake would and stood by his sister’s side. It was what their parents had taught them, and even if they hadn’t, he loved her enough to do so.

Down he headed towards the kitchens. It was a chore, but right now with just him and her, he would have to deal with it. In time, he was sure that they wouldn’t be alone here much longer – not only were there rooms for each of the other girls, but for other, currently-nonexistent castle staff as well. In time, the place would look no different than Canterlot Palace or the Imperial Palace, and he wasn’t sure how to react to that. Sure, he grew up in the former, but when push came to shove, he liked it with just him and Twilight and their pets. It felt more like a home, and less like the hotel Raspberry had lived in or some of those new “apartment” buildings that were starting to be built in the ruined section of Ponyville. He wasn’t sure he could live in either of those.

He had just reached the bottom floor, where the kitchen was, when he heard a steady drip of water echoing through the halls. Setting the uneaten food on a nearby counter, he went off in search of the sound. He found it in a room that was off to the side of one of the labs. A puddle was forming underneath the door.

“Funny, I wasn’t even aware we had water pipes in the castle,” he mused as he opened the door, planning to assess just how bad it was so he could clean it up. Instead, he was met with a sudden deluge of water that blasted from the room, carrying him on a quickly-made torrent of water, dragging him into the kitchen, sopping wet and cold.

But that wasn’t the thing that confused him the most.

The water. It was the water. He bent down and smelled it. “Smells like chlorine,” he said to himself. That wasn’t normal, but then again, nothing was normal around here. He debated about telling Twilight about it, but given she was so focused on whatever she was doing, she’d probably just give him a vague answer and turn back to her work, he decided it wasn’t worth the effort. He went off to find where the broom closet was – after all, strange water wasn’t going to clean itself up.

August 21: You Made It

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An Embraer Lineage 1000 lanced its way through the summer skies, headed south. The plane had been hastily arranged in order to fly several people down southwards towards Los Angeles, which was a good thing, given its current, somewhat-sizeable passenger manifest.

«You know, I thought the next time I got back aboard a plane, we’d be headed back to Paris, not down south,» Shimmer admitted in French. «Plus, if I had to admit, though my mother and I prefer to fly like normal people, more often than not we’re usually in situations like this.»

«Hey, you live like Diamond Life, Shimmy, so you can afford to get away with it,» Sunset responded back in the same language. As part of the preparations for next week, the two agreed to practice in French for Sunset’s sake, though they both knew that wasn’t necessary.

«Diamond Life? Who’s that?» Shimmer asked.

«Celebutante that Rarity follows,» Sunset explained. «She’s mainly famous – or rather, infamous – for ending up in the news a month ago for auctioning off her virginity for charity. She dubbed it “Do Me for the Kids”! Needless to say, she insulted everyone, including the charity in question, by that stunt…and that’s normal for her.»

“I’m not that bad,” Shimmer laughed, switching back to English. “Besides, technically after the 29th, you can too. My mother will formally acknowledge you as her missing daughter and although you’ll also be adopted by your current family, you’ll still be a part of the Bonaparte line. Though if I know my extended family, they’re probably already planning to write you out of the line of succession simply because of the adoption.”

Sunset, who had already cautioned the girls about talking about the real ties between both her and her “twin sister”, looked oddly at her counterpart. “I had never really thought of that. I mean, to be honest, until we met I thought I was just a runaway orphan with a very odd mentor.” Sunset thought about the memory changes that her grandmother had placed in her mind as her cover story. “Ms. Faustus had always said she was an old friend of my parents and that she was keeping me safe, though I don’t know why she raised me in a small cabin in the deepest part of the Everfree.”

“Well, I don’t want to bring up bad memories for you,” Shimmer said, seeing her counterpart was struggling with the constructed memories. Sunset was grateful; the two of them had far more in common than either of them had initially thought, and perhaps in a different time they would have been actual cherished sisters rather than just learning how to be that. “Still, we’re here for you, Sunny.”

A new voice chimed in. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell her, but she doesn’t listen.” Hearing the new voice, Sunset turned in the direction of the voice, smelling lavender body wash and lilac shampoo – and only one person she knew used that particular combination.

“Heya, sis,” Sunset said to her sister, Twilight Sparkle. “Bored of talking with the others?”

Twilight plopped into the seat next to her. “Maybe I’m just jealous that my sister’s being stolen by her twin?” she said with a grin.

Shimmer laughed. “Oh, Twily, you have nothing to fear. I’m so damn confused right now I don’t even have a clue what I would do with a twin sister running around. Trust me, when this is all over and I head back to France, you can have her back.”

“Thanks! Besides,” Twilight said, leaning on her sister’s shoulder, “I thought it would only be fair to warn you of the hazard you have wrought, sister mine.” Looking at Sunset, she said, “I tried to rein her in, you know, for your sake. But Shimmy talked me out of that.”

Shimmer gave her doppelganger a sympathetic look herself. “Sorry about that, but sacrifices must be made for the happiness of others.”

Sunset chuckled. “Look, Pinkie’s not going to do anything, okay? She knows how I feel and that’s not going to change, so don’t worry about it, Twily.”

In her seat, Pinkie looked over a few things. “So….”

Octavia facepalmed. “Pinkie, please tell me you didn’t….”

Pinkie blushed. “Tavi, we’re friends, right?”

“Yes, and before you ask, Sunny is my cousin, but she’s practically like a sister.”

Pinkie then held up two packages. “So…does she prefer cheesecake or pineapple?”

“Pinkie…you’re asking me which flavor of edible underwear my cousin would prefer?”

“Too soon?” Pinkie asked.

Octavia was about to speak, when a new voice popped up, “I have some banana split-flavored ones, if you want to try that.” Said speaker immediately felt her shoulder light up with pain. “Owwww!”

“LYRA!” Bon-Bon gasped. “Could we not talk about our personal lives?”

“But Bonnie….” Lyra whined.

The pair had come along as Sonata’s “Plus-Two” for the trip…which had spiraled out of control, naturally. When Sonata had explained a few things over the phone to the Chocolate Twins’ manager and somehow the news about how Sonata was the cousin of the “Missing French Princess” that was now starting to make the news, said manager had shrewdly arranged to pay for everyone, not just Sonata’s official guests, hoping to get onto the zeitgeist train. So, with that in mind, Sonata turned the whole thing into a huge “bring the entourage” affair, but between Blossomforth being in the last stages of her pregnancy and Trixie, Minuette and others simply too busy, Lyra and Bon-Bon were the only ones who accepted the offer.

“Look, what we do is our business, not whatever Pinkie’s got planned for Sunny, okay?” Bon-Bon scolded her. “Look, it’s weird enough finding out one of our friends is a long-lost French princess!”

“Yeah, how does that work anyway, Tavi?” Lyra asked.

“Look, Sunny and her…um…‘biological mother’ are still kinda figuring that out,” Octavia said hesitantly. “Personally, given that Mrs. D’ Celestia said she’s not going to contest the adoption, I don’t think Sunny’s going to be a princess.”

“Well, that sucks, doesn’t it?” Lyra muttered.

“SO!” Pinkie chirped, barging back into the conversation. “You know why I wanted to talk to you, right?”

“Because we’re the only two lesbians you’re friends with?” Lyra asked, and Bon-Bon facepalmed.


Bon-Bon bit off a Vietnamese curse and looked at Pinkie. “Pinkie, forgive me for saying this, but…are you sure about this? You said Sunny’s straight, right? I don’t want to see you get hurt over this.”

“I won’t, really.”

“Says the girl who wants a pair of their edible undies,” Octavia retorted.

“Well, look, if you want me to keep the banana split, we have other flavors, right?” Lyra reached over and grabbed her backpack. “Let’s see: rainbow sherbet, watermelon….”


“Well, yeah, I didn’t want TSA going through our luggage.” Octavia was about to speak up, before Lyra added, “And yes, this was before I realized that they don’t scan our luggage on charter flights and they would’ve scanned my carry-on.”

Octavia shook her head. “And you’ve been dating her for how long before you realized she was an idiot?”

Bon-Bon giggled. “Oh, be glad Trixie couldn’t make it. You’d be hearing a life story’s worth of stupidity for hours.”

Aria tapped Fluttershy on the shoulder. “What are you listening to?”

Fluttershy removed her earphones. “It’ll All End in Tears, by This Mortal Coil. Somehow, it seemed appropriate. I don’t think this is going to go over well.”

“Oh, I don’t know, I think it’s wonderful that Sunset and Pinkie have found one another,” Rarity said, looking away from her book.

“Um, Rares? Is that…?” Sonata asked.

Trapped in an Elevator,” Rarity said. “One of my favorite books. Two girls meet and they get trapped in an elevator in a building and during their time the—HEY!” the fashionista screamed as Adagio ripped it out of her hands.

The SIREN took a look at the cover, which depicted a curly-haired redhead making out with another girl, the latter with feathered hair of gold and pink. Not surprisingly, the two looked somewhat familiar. “Ouroboros?”

Rarity blushed as she took the book back. “Yes, he’s one of my favorite authors, why?”

Adagio handed it back with disdain. “Really? These look like complete trash, Rares.”

“Well, that’s your opinion. I just happen to think differently,” Rarity huffed.

“Your choice. Anyway, Flutters has a point,” Adagio interjected.

“How so, sugarcube?” Applejack, who had been silent all this time, asked.

“C’mon! Isn’t it obvious? If Sunny and Pinkie start swapping spit, what’s the dynamic for our group going to be like?” Rainbow asked.

“Um…Ah’d be more concerned with Pinkie’s feelings, Rainbow,” Applejack replied. “We know Sunny’s straight, but Pinkie’s fallen for her hard. And you know Pinkie’s had a fucked-up life, especially after what happened to her.”

“Sisters?” Adagio said, looking at Sonata and Aria with steadfast determination. “We find the two that hurt her, and we take them out, agreed?” The other two triplets nodded as one.

“Adagio! I cannot believe you’re talking about casually murdering two people!” Rarity gasped.

“Rares? Technically we’re state sanctioned by Equestria via Sunny, so it’d be assassination, not murder,” Sonata pointed out.

“As if that’s any better!”

“WOULD YOU ALL SHUT UP?” They all turned to see Raspberry, looking green in the gills and holding onto her armrests for dear life. “I’m trying not to think of all the ways we could die horribly and you are all talking about that?”

“Raspberry, dear,” Rarity said, “you’ll be fine! After all, I was—” The teen found her mouth covered by Fluttershy of all people, who had already heard Rarity’s story of the time she’d been in a minor plane crash as a baby.

“This might not be the best time to mention that,” the chiffon-haired girl noted.

“We would very much prefer you not mention that,” the triplets intoned darkly.

“I’m going to be sick,” Raspberry moaned.

Thirty minutes later, Raspberry all but collapsed in relief on the tarmac at Santa Ana airport in Orange County. The others tried to shield the former unicorn from view while trying not to laugh. Fortunately, as opposed to last time, it was much easier.

“This is uncomfortably familiar,” Sunset sighed.

“Sorry, sis,” Twilight said, squeezing her sister’s hand in support.

Sonata bent down to help Raspberry up. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Just glad Heelee’s not here to see this.” A thought crossed her mind. “Are you sure he’s going to be okay? I really didn’t like leaving him behind.”

The ponytailed girl smiled. “Don’t worry, Spike will make sure he’s okay.”

A flicker of green flame sizzled through the air, and a young boy dived behind the safety of the couch. “Stupid bird!” he spat.

The green canary chirped a fast series of warbles at him that sounded oddly like avian profanity.

“Spike? Is everything okay?” Cadance came out of the kitchen, looking at him. At once, Heliodor soared over to the woman and sat on her shoulder, nuzzling her cheek.

“Aww, aren’t you the most adorable little thing?” Cadance said, gently rubbing Heliodor on the head with a finger. “Are you hungry?”

Heliodor sang a thankful chirp.

“C’mon, we’ve got some fruit in the kitchen,” she said, leading the pleased bird into the kitchen.

Spike poked his head out from behind the sofa. “Hate you so much,” he muttered.

“Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see you all.” They turned and saw a familiar person walking towards them.

Rainbow hugged Melancholy Rose. “Heya, Rose. Long time no see.”

“Yeah. When the Twins found out about the change, they brought my dad on as a producer, and when I saw Sonata’s name, I knew I had to get involved.” She looked nervously at Adagio. “Water under the bridge?”

“So long as you don’t do anything stupid, Rose, we’re cool,” Adagio commented coolly. “Besides, I’m more inclined to dent moron’s head here,” she said, hooking a thumb at Raspberry.

“Hate this place so much,” Raspberry muttered under her breath, and Aria patted her friend’s shoulder in consolation.

“Well, if you come right this way,” Rose told them, “we’ll grab your bags and head towards the limos.”

“Limos?” Rainbow asked.

“Rainbow, we’re family – of course limos,” Rose said with a wink. “Besides, one of you is the contest winner, so we’re kinda obligated in any case.”

“Aw yeah!” Rainbow cheered. “We’re living the good life!”

After a quick trip through the baggage area, the three were then whisked off in their limos. A few people there had popped pictures at the group of teenagers coming out, and Shimmer swore she saw one or two paparazzo she was familiar with, they all clambered into the limos and sped off.

“Well, this is something I’m not used to,” Bon-Bon admitted.

“Believe it or not, me neither,” Shimmer replied. “My mother and I try to live normal lives when we’re back home, so we try to avoid the pageantry of the family whenever possible. Besides, right now, we’re here to have fun, so let’s just enjoy the ride.”

“Oh, believe me, I’m going to be enjoying plenty of rides,” Lyra commented, and Bon-Bon glared at her. Lyra realized what she said and quickly amended with, “I meant the rides at the park, sweetie!”

“I hope you meant that,” Bon-Bon huffed. Lyra pouted and Bon-Bon leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek, forgiving her faux-pas, writing it off as simply Lyra being Lyra.

“Well, Ah do hope you two pop out of your room once in a while,” Applejack teased.

“Hey, can’t have room service forever, right?” Lyra said, leaning against her girlfriend.

“No kidding,” Bon-Bon spoke, before turning to look at the older of the twins in the room. “Sunny, do you have a plan of how you’re going to deal with this? I’m going to guess that you’re doing this for Pinkie’s benefit and not your own.”

“You’d be right,” Sunset replied. “I love Pinkie dearly, but just as a friend. I have no more romantic interest in her than I do you, Lyra, or the others.” She sighed. “In fact, given how bad my last relationship went, I think I’m off the dating train for a while.”

“Then why bother at all?” Lyra asked her.

Octavia, sitting next to Sunset, merely gave her cousin a look, and Sunset knew what she would have said if they’d been in private. It was a tacit reminder that Sunset was treading on very thin, Pinkie-shaped ice. Sunset sighed; after all, just about everyone present was already having these concerns, why should her family be any different?

“Well, to be honest, this is Pinkie’s call, girls,” Sunset told them. “She’s taking me on a date, not the other way around. Maybe she’ll ask for suggestions, but aside from that, I don’t really think so. But I think you’re worrying a little too much. This is just a fun time for me and Pinkie.”

“Should you tell her?” Lyra asked, looking at Bon-Bon with a seriousness that was uncommon for the tomboy.

Bon-Bon nodded, then took a drink of the soda she’d taken from the limo’s minifridge. “Sunny….”

“No, Pinkie, I’m putting my foot down on this,” Twilight told her.

“Twily, you’re my dearest friend, but frankly, this is none of your business,” Pinkie said coolly. “I love your sister, and I’m not going to do anything to harm her. You know that.”

“Sugarcube,” Applejack told her, “we’ve all been out of sorts lately, let’s just be honest about that okay? Ah know Ah’ve been – Ah feel like Ah’m still trying to catch up to mah own life.” At her words, the rest of the group recalled that moment, and the atmosphere of the room turned to an icy chill.

“I know how that feels,” Twilight said with a bit of shame. “I still recall how I acted, and then having my sister die in my arms….”

Pinkie went over and hugged Twilight. “I don’t know how you managed that,” the cotton-candy-haired girl admitted in a soft tone. “I just remember that I wanted to die that day.” Her words sent a chill through the occupants of the cabin. “When you said she was gone…I knew my life was over, and I had nothing to live for.”

“Pinkie, don’t you say that,” Rainbow told her. “Don’t you ever say that. You’re too important to us for that to happen.”

Twilight looked Pinkie directly in the eyes. “Pinkie, no one is worth losing your life. Not even my sister.”

Pinkie shook her head as tears formed in her eyes and her hair started to straighten. “You were ready to murder that man because of what happened to Sunny. You lost it, Twily. And…I know how you felt. I was practically destroyed. Part of me wished at that moment that he’d slit me in two instead of Shimmy—”

“Ladies?” Aria interrupted. “This is getting way too maudlin. We won, right? Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating happier times?”

“Furthermore, thanks to Sunny’s grandmother’s messing with time, we never had to go through with that. So nobody died and we’re all fine and alive,” Sonata added.

“You’re right.” Pinkie’s hair recoiled back into shape like a slinky on methamphetamines. “I want to live again! I want to be a happy Pinkie!”

Sonata giggled. “Then make this a date for the ages, Pinkie!” Twilight glared at her cousin, but Sonata ignored it.

“Yay! Raspberry vanilla body oil and chocolate garters!” she said with a wide grin that seemed unnatural even for Pinkie.

“Great going,” Aria told her sister, who immediately facepalmed.

“Um…Pinkie? How do you know about all this?” Adagio asked. “I was going to be the one trained to be the seduction expert, so I know a little bit, but how do you know?”

“Oh, believe me, when I put my mind to it, I can research anything. And with such a hot body at stake? You better believe I’m going to find out everything this girl needs!” A thought then crossed her mind. “Um…what’s a seduction specialist?”

Adagio sighed in relief. “Believe me, I am glad for the timeline change. What the seduction specialist is, is two years of learning the, ahem, sexual arts. Basically, working for a year in one of the whorehouses in Nevada – the Sisterhood has a connection there – followed by another year of attending orgies and pretty much seducing anything that moves to learn the ‘skills of the trade’.”

“But you’re straight, aren’t you?” Rarity, silent all this time, asked.

Adagio nodded, entirely glad Rarity pointed that out. “As a line.”

That resolved, Rarity turned back to Pinkie. “Pinkie, dear, would you be a dear and do something for me?”

“Of course!” Pinkie replied. “Unless it’s sharing Sunny, in which case, no, I’ll do her for myself!”

“Perish the thought,” the fashionista replied, “but to be honest, so should you. Pinkie, as much as I enjoy reading romance novels…what you’re doing? There’s no romance in it. It’s…well, it’s vulgar. As a virgin, don’t you want your time with Sunset to be special?”

“What are you doing?” Twilight hissed in her friend’s ear.

“Trust me, darling,” Rarity said back before turning her attention back to Pinkie.

“Rarity, I’m not a virgin. If anything, I’m probably the exact opposite of a virgin.” The look in Pinkie’s eyes seemed normal, but Rarity, having been there all this time, knew the fragility behind it.

“Yes, you are,” Rarity said, giving Pinkie her warmest smile. “You didn’t offer those brutes your maidenhood, Pinkie. They took it. And offering your virginity to the one you love most is the truest thing of all.”

“But I—”

“No. They took your body, and they played with your mind. But you know where your heart belongs, and in your heart of hearts, that is what you want to give Sunset, correct?”

“Yes! All my heart, forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever—”

“We get the point,” Aria chimed in.

“Aria, darling, please,” Rarity said, piping that down. “So, Pinkie, dear, you want Sunset with all your heart and soul?”

“Of course! We go together like peanut butter and chocolate! Like red velvet cake and fudge filling! Like the silvery moon and the stars that flicker in June!”

“I see,” Rarity replied. “Then…why are you trying to drive her away?” The moment Rarity said that, one could practically hear the record scratch in the air.

“I…I don’t understand,” Pinkie replied, genuinely.

“Rarity, may I?” Adagio asked.

“The floor is yours, dear.”

“Pinkie…I know you’ve told me what you’ve been through, and words cannot express how much I wish I could fix that for you. But the truth is, you were set up. Atlas and Cicely probably targeted you from the start. Everything they did was calculated to hurt you in little ways. And none of that is your fault. So Rarity’s right: within your heart, you are still pure, regardless of whatever happened.

“But you’re not the only one that has been hurt. Think about it: Flash was part of that group, and Flash was Sunny’s boyfriend. Yes, she had ulterior motives as well, but from what she’s told us, it didn’t sound like a loving relationship. Remember, she hated being called Sunny for the longest time because of Flash’s little poem.”

“I’m going to hurt him for that,” Pinkie suddenly growled.

“The point I’m making is that you two were abused in one degree or another. You really shouldn’t think about sex right now, because it’s been a part of your scars, for both of you. If you really want to win my cousin’s heart, then you need to do it by showing her you love her, not that you want to jump her bones. Because between what you both have been through, one way or another, it’ll all end in tears.”

“Wow, Dagi, that was surprisingly insightful,” Twilight told her.

“And you’ve known me for how many years?” Adagio asked her cousin.

“Which timeline?” Sonata added.

Adagio and Twilight looked at each other, remembering both the past few months of a life lived, and at the same time, half their lives. Both nodded slightly and turned to Sonata.

“Take your pick,” they both replied at the same time.

Not long after, the group walked through the lobby of the Disneyland Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, the poshest of the three hotels on the resort. Having been exposed to luxury several times, most of those present were no longer wowed by the opulence.

Two girls, however, were not so jaded.

“This is amazing!” Lyra said, her eyes like that of a child handed the keys to the Hershey candy warehouses.

“Honestly, I’m a little overwhelmed,” Bon-Bon admitted.

“Heh, you should see Spring Break! Me and my friends all rent the penthouses in Monaco for that week and we just laze around the beach,” Shimmer told them. “Trust me, I spend a lot more during vacation.”

“Monaco?” Rarity exclaimed, starry-eyed. “Can I come live with you forever?” she squealed.

“Easy, Rares,” Applejack said, pulling her back. “Let’s not get too hasty, ‘kay?”

“Well,” Rose suggested, “maybe you should check into our hotel rooms and then go get some food. Then after I’ll take you all to meet the Chocolate Twins. Admittedly normally it would be just Soni and her two guests, but given that you all came, I think we can make an exception.”

“Are they here right now?” Sonata asked excitedly.

“No, they should be arriving in the hour, though. As I understand it, they were filming a segment of their show in Hawaii, so they’ll be landing soon. Worst case scenario, you’ll get to meet them tomorrow, though I think you’ll get the chance to do so tonight.”


The other girls agreed and decided to split up according to their room assignments; with the lone exception of Lyra and Bon-Bon, the rooms came equipped with double beds and all the amenities possible. Additionally, the rooming assignments had been given out and much to Pinkie’s disappointment, Sunset would be bunking with Shimmer, while the cheerleader got tied up with Raspberry.

One by one, they departed towards their rooms, with the agreement to meet back in thirty minutes. They all filtered out, even Raspberry (with all the clothing she was wondering why the hell she now owned if she was never going to use any of it once she returned to Equestria), until all that was left was Sunset and Pinkie. Both knew why they’d remained behind.

Pinkie picked up her bag. “Sunny…are you sure you really want to go through with this?” Pinkie asked. “I don’t want you to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with.”

Sunset gave Pinkie a soft smile. “What happened to the girl who was so eager to take me out?”

“I got reminded why I’m such a screw-up,” Pinkie said mournfully.

In response and not sure why she did, the flame-haired girl walked over and gave Pinkie a kiss on the cheek. “I know you better than that, Pinkie. And I wouldn’t do anything I didn’t want to. So, if you’re going to sweep me off my feet, as you so clearly want to do, we’re going to have to talk about that.”

Pinkie felt the warmth of Sunset’s lips against her buccal skin, then flushed furiously. “Okay, I’m your Pinkie!” she chirped.

“Oh, my Pinkie? Not anyone else’s Pinkie?”

“Well…my aunt and uncle have a long-term lease until I’m eighteen, and my parents have some ostensible legal claim on my genes, but otherwise, yeah!” She then reached over and picked up Sunset’s bag as well. “Chivalry and all that,” she insisted.

“Spoiling me already? A girl could get to like this,” Sunset said lightly, moving forward towards the elevator.

Pinkie stood still for a second, watching her friend’s tush as she moved. “Oh, trust me, a girl could get to get to like a lot of things,” she commented as she joined Sunset towards the elevators.

Watching from a distance, Lyra looked at her lover. “Thoughts?”

“Tomorrow is going to be very, very interesting…in that not very good way,” Bon-Bon sighed.

“You think so too, huh?” Lyra stated, and Bon-Bon couldn’t help but agree.

“I hope Sunny knows what she’s doing, or else this could be a really bad thing.”

Lyra leaned against her girl. “Well, let’s go get up to our rooms. We might have enough time to get a quickie in before we have to come back down.”

“Is sex all you ever think about?”

The tomboy grinned as she put an arm around the other girl. “With your body? I wouldn’t want to think about anyone else, babe.” Bon-Bon merely kissed her, then took her hand and walked towards the other set of elevators and their own room.

Thirty minutes later, while Sonata was excitedly dancing around the room, Rose came by and gave her the bad news: “Soni, the Twins’ flight got cancelled due to weather, and as a result, they won’t be able to meet you until tomorrow afternoon. But I made reservations for us to have lunch at Club 33, so we’ll have all the privacy you’ll need. Plus, they agreed to stick around an extra day, because they do want to meet you.”

“Is everything okay?” Sonata asked, slightly down.

“Things like this happen all the time in show biz,” Rose explained. “The life of a celebrity isn’t all glitz and glamor, despite what people think.”

“I know. Fluttershy tells me her father has a hard time just walking around town because of who he is,” Sonata admitted.

“Well, I’m sure that you’ll want time to get to relax and all, so just take it easy this evening. Tomorrow will be a busy day for you, okay?”

Sonata comically saluted. “Roger that!”

As Rose departed, Aria noted the sad look on her sister’s face. “Are you okay, Soni?”

“Yeah, it’s just I’m kinda nervous about meeting them, you know? Will they remember the letter they read on the air when we were kids?”

“Sis, I didn’t remember that letter until you mentioned it just now.”

“I remember,” Sonata said softly. “It broke my heart…it broke all our hearts. We went to bed early, and Twily and Tavi ended up sleeping with us that night to make sure we would be okay.” She sighed. “I know they weren’t to blame,” she admitted, “but I hope they don’t think that I hate them for it.”

Aria went over and hugged her sister. “Soni, you’ve always had a big heart. I’m sure everything will be okay, so you don’t have to be nervous, alright? At the end of the day, they’re just normal girls like you and I.”

Sonata laughed. “We’re hardly normal girls, sis.”

“True, but I like to keep thinking that we are.”

“So, here we are again, sis,” Twilight said as the two sat outside, in the cool late summer evening. There was no one by the pool, and though neither of them had any plans to swim, the two just sat on deckchairs outside, having a private moment between themselves. “Just outside together.”

“I’m ashamed of how I acted,” Twilight suddenly admitted. “I didn’t trust you and as a result, you paid the price.”

“It was partly my fault as well, Twily,” Sunset reminded her. “I was afraid to tell you about, well…me. I should have been honest with my family, but I wasn’t.”

“You had good reason, in either reality. In the old one, I wasn’t ready to believe that you aren’t human. And in this new one, I didn’t know you were a twin. And I abandoned you, and you suffered because of it. Because of me.”

“Twily, you didn’t abandon me in this time—”

“It doesn’t matter.” Sunset looked at her sister, and Twilight was in tears. “You’re my sister. I gave you a lecture about trust…and I wasn’t the one that trusted you. And you died, Sunny! I was responsible for your death! How can you even forgive me?”

Sunset walked over and hugged her. “Because you’re my sister, Twily, and I love you. We’re a family. I was ready to die when I dived into traffic if it meant that you lived, and I was ready to die when I went back home to find out what was harming you. And I obviously did when our family was at stake. And I’d do it again even now, because you are my sister. Mom, Dad, Spike, Shiny, everyone – I would do it without a second thought, because I love you all.”

The two sisters sat there, hugging one another, glad to share this moment. Finally, the two broke off, and Twilight asked, “So, what’s it like not being human?”

“I could ask you what’s it like not being a pony, Twily, and the answer you’d probably give me is the same one I’d give you: I really don’t know. It’s just…well, it is. Yes, having been both, there are pluses and minuses – the monthly inconvenience is much more preferable, in my opinion, than going into heat once a year.” Twilight looked at Sunset oddly and the latter laughed. “We have magic that takes care of that, and believe me, it’s not like it’s porno city or anything; it’s just a heightened awareness that you really want to get your groove on, so to speak.”

“Did you ever, um…?”

“No. For one, I was never social enough to have any interest in colts. Second, even if I was, I was the daughter of the Princess, and I couldn’t debase myself that way, so one of the first spells I learned was the enstilling spell.”


“Yeah. Basically it fools your body into thinking you’re an immature filly, not ready to romp in the meadow. Think of it as a sort of equivalent of a weeklong cold shower and you get the idea,” Sunset laughed. “When I became human and found that humans don’t have an estral cycle and have to deal with only the menstrual? I felt like I was free. Of course, that was before I hooked up with Flash and stupidly did not realize I could have ended up…well, like Blossom.”

“Do you regret that?”

“Yes and no. I regret that Flash ruined her life, and I wish that I’d known about it, though knowing Flash, I don’t know if I could have stopped that bastard. But I don’t regret that I was able to save you from him, or that I’m there to help Blossom now that she needs me. And I’m thankful that I never got pregnant by him. I would have been utterly ruined if I had.”

“I’m glad you didn’t, either,” Twilight told her. “Although….”


“Although if you had, I guess I wouldn’t have had the chance to get to meet and love a wonderful sister. And as a result, I wouldn’t have had the life I do now. It would have been just me and Tavi alone in our isolated world, rather than the new one we’ve been given, where I have a larger family and a ton of friends. And I have you to thank.” Twilight leaned against her sister and smiled softly in contentment.

After a few minutes, she said, “Pinkie said she saw other realities with you. Aside from the fact that it boggles my mind that there are other realities, what did you guys see?”

Sunset groaned. “I told her not to talk about that. Look, sis, you’re smart enough to know in the abstract that they do exist, my very existence notwithstanding. But yes, there are plenty of them. And I would rather not discuss them.”

“Like the one where you two are a couple?”

“There are ones where we’re a couple, Twily.”

Twilight looked at her sister with a disbelieving gaze. “What?”

“You heard me.”

“But I would never—”

Sunset couldn’t help but tease her sister. “Apparently in some, you did.”

“How can you take this so calmly?”

“One, because those aren’t this reality. You’re my sister, not my lover. Two, I don’t feel that way about you, or any of my friends, or frankly anyone right now – and certainly not about members of my family. And third, I’ve already seen you naked, Twily – it’s not like there’s a grand mystery.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “You are soooooo lucky you’re getting officially adopted next week or else I’d kill you. Again.” At that, Sunset laughed, and after a second of pouting, Twilight then joined in, glad to be with this wonderful girl she was lucky enough to call her sister.

Watching from a distance, Pinkie felt a mixture of emotions. Jealousy at the closeness between the two sisters. Shame that she did. And an ache that she should have been the one spending this beautiful moon-drenched night with Sunset, instead of Twilight. It wasn’t fair to either of them, she knew, but the heart never really bothered to ward away such feelings.

Disgusted at her own feelings and concerned about how she was going to make it up to Sunset, Pinkie walked back into the hotel. She had a long, lonely night to think about it.

Sunset Shimmer stretched the following morning, the fabric of her Tahiti 80 shirt following her contours. It was a keepsake of her father’s ever since he’d been a child, or so her mother had said; she kept it as a result (besides, she liked the namesake band). While she didn’t know if the story about her father was true or not (as it made the shirt older than her), it was something she believed could be true and a cherished memory of her father one way or the other.


She turned her head and saw the other person in the room; officially her twin sister but technically herself, or at least another facet of it. Sunset Shimmer, a non-human from another dimension, had taken to living in this world in the life Shimmer had left behind, but after all was said and done, she didn’t mind it a bit. After all, she lived in France, and Sunset lived here in the US and though they considered themselves sisters and friends, they had different lives they led and would part ways after next week.

“Oh, hey, Sunny, what’s up?”

“Well, this is supposed to be the part where we fight over who gets the shower first.”

Shimmer giggled. “Well, we could take a shower at the same time. It’s not like either of us has anything we haven’t seen before, and plus, didn’t you say that ponies are a social species that don’t wear clothing?”

“Um…Shimmy?” Sunset said, blushing, only to be met by her twin’s raucous laughter.

“You actually thought that I was being serious?” she giggled, pointing.

Sunset tried not to invoke the Ritual of the Facepalm Gods. “Look, given what I’ve been through the past month so far, selfcest is probably the least weird, okay?”

“There’s an actual term for it?”

“I see you’re not familiar with TVTropes.”

“No, actually the grand majority of my internet reading is in French. Besides, you know I was just kidding.” Sunset then grabbed her phone, went to the page in question and showed Shimmer. After a few seconds, the smaller twin said, “Merde. I didn’t even know. Sorry.”

Sunset waved it off. “Trust me, after everything I’ve seen, this is tame.”

“Why do I have a feeling that I should be worried about that?”

Sunset gave her twin a grin. “Not right now, anyway.”

“Wow! Can you change your skin to look like a smurf?” Pinkie asked. “Be Smurfette!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, oh, oh! Do Miss Martian instead! She’s green! You can do that, right?”

“Pinkie, I—”

“Oh, wait – can you make your skin look yellow?” She thought about that for a second. “No, actually don’t do that. That sounds racist, sorry.”

Raspberry got out of bed and rushed to the bathroom, seeing her curse in full force: black and red hair, chalk white skin, her fangs were longer than normal, and her eyes were solid black, even though she could see through them. If anything, she probably looked like the human equivalent of a vampony.

“Great, just great. I turn into a monster and Pinkie thinks I’m some Nightmare Night reject,” the former unicorn groaned.

“Halloween reject!” Pinkie helpfully called out from the other room.

Raspberry facepalmed.

Thirty minutes later, everyone met at the Storyteller Café for breakfast. Everyone looked fresh and ready for the day, except for Lyra. “Ugh, I need coffee,” the celeste-haired girl moaned.

“You okay?” Rainbow asked.

“Didn’t get much sleep last night,” Lyra admitted.

“What were you doing? Gaming?”

“You could say that,” Lyra replied as a lazy smile came onto her face.

“Uh, Rainbow?” Bon-Bon spoke.


Bon-Bon’s face was practically beatific. “None of your damn business,” she said with a smile.

“Oh.” The athlete’s cheeks began to flush, and everyone had a chuckle at her predicament.

“Well, looks like they have a breakfast buffet,” Sonata chirped. “Shall we?”

“I hope they have some vegetarian options,” Raspberry commented. “I know you humans eat meat, but it still kinda squicks me out.”

“Remember what I said, Razz: ponies don’t need meat, but humans do,” Sunset advised. “I mean, there are ways around it, but it tends to be complex and annoying. And if you’re going to be here for a while, you might want to get used to it.”

“I’ll…think about it,” Raspberry replied.

At this time, Rose came into the restaurant. “Oh, hey, I see you already found a spot,” she chirped as she walked up. “Mind if I join you all?”

Rainbow gestured to a seat next to her. “Have a seat-sat. So what’s the plan?”

“I just got off the phone with my dad. The Twins just landed at LAX an hour ago, and they’re going to go by their place and drop off their luggage before meeting us at Club 33 for lunch. Soni, they said to pass on their apologies for not being able to meet you at all yesterday and they hope you weren’t too inconvenienced.”

“No, everything’s okay,” Sonata replied with the nervous energy of a young girl wishing to achieve a dream. “I’m just nervous, that’s all.”

“The girl who can build her own weapons systems and fought monsters to a standstill is nervous about meeting two YouTube celebrities?” Rainbow whispered to Applejack.

“Be nice,” the blonde reminded her friend.

“Wow, they have an awesome pancake bar!” Everyone turned to see Pinkie carrying a stack of pancakes almost as tall as her.

“Are you seriously going to eat that?” Shimmer asked the other girl.

“Well, yeah, but not going back for seconds,” Pinkie insisted. “Need to keep my girlish figure if I’m going to ever get Sunny to gaze longingly at my firm abs and booty!”

“Why do I get the feeling I missed something?” Raspberry asked, completely confused.

Aria patted her friend on the shoulder and said, “Welcome to the human race, Razz.”

Twilight, meanwhile, was already by the omelet bar, making her order. Adagio came up to her and said, “You look pissed.”

“Well, yeah. I think this whole thing is a farce and even though I agreed to not make waves, you just know this is going to go south quickly.”

“Twily, I’m shocked,” Adagio said. “Jealous?”

“No,” Twilight huffed. “Okay, maybe a little,” she admitted. “I know I shouldn’t be, and I trust Sunny, but….”

Adagio laughed and put her arm around her cousin’s shoulders. “Maybe nothing, Twily. You really shouldn’t worry about it. You have us, remember? And it’s not like anything’s going to happen, you know that.”

“I know, it’s just….”

“Your heart tells you one thing, and your mind another, and you’re not sure which to believe, because we’re all adjusting to what’s happened, right? Plus, I’ll bet you’re still feeling guilty over what you did in the old timeline, didn’t you?”

“How’d you know about that?” Twilight asked.

“Rarity told me while we had lunch yesterday,” Adagio explained. “She thought there were some extra things from the old timeline that I might want to be aware of. And I have to admit, Twily, I’m shocked at your behavior.”

“I know,” the plum-haired girl said guiltily. “I didn’t acquit myself back then, and I’m frankly surprised Sunny forgave me for that.”

“Because she’s family, just like we are,” Adagio reminded her. “And because she’s family, you should have more faith in her. What are you going to do if for some reason they hit it off and actually do start dating?”

“You don’t actually believe that, do you?”

“Not in the least, but that’s not my point. Did you act like this when Shiny and Cady started dating?”

“Of course not. And don’t think I’m prejudiced against Pinkie’s feelings for Sunny. I consider Lyra and Bonnie to be good friends of ours, and they’re clearly lesbian.”

“I didn’t say that. What I am saying is that you’re overreacting. Yes, we should be concerned about what Pinkie’s going to attempt, but because we don’t want them hurt – not because you feel bad that you ostracized your sister, and now you’re trying to protect her from every perceived threat, real or imagined.” Adagio smiled. “That’s our job, in case you forgot.”

“I seem to recall stepping up to the plate for you plenty of times, Dagi.”

“I know, and I love you for that, cuz. But that is only in the present – focus on that. You’re stronger than you were back then, and I think you’re forgetting that, Twily. Let the past that doesn’t exist anymore stay that way. Believe me, you’ll be better off for it.”

Rarity looked at Fluttershy. “So far, everything seems to be going okay. Although I must admit that while this wouldn’t be my first place to go on vacation, I suppose one must do with one must do for friends, correct?”

“I take it you’re not a fan of Disneyland?” Fluttershy asked.

“It’s okay, I suppose, but this is more along the line of Sweetie’s interests,” Rarity admitted. “Now if you ask me, I think I would much more prefer to go to South Coast Plaza or Fashion Island, which are not too far from here. Now that would make for a much more elegant and refined time of relaxation than running around in the so-called, ahem, ‘Happiest Place on Earth’.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Fluttershy demurred. “I actually like this place. I remember once when Dad brought me here when I was a kid, just before when I thought my parents divorced. We used to spend a lot of time on It’s a Small World, and I used to be amazed at all the cultures of the world, especially because I could understand the Japanese parts. Of course, I was just a little girl back then, but I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to see how much things have changed.”

Rarity was touched by her friend’s memories. “Must’ve been happier times.”

Fluttershy nodded. “It was one of the few memories I didn’t allow myself to taint when I thought they got divorced and I ended up hating my dad unfairly. I’m hoping we’ll get the chance to come back again sometime, because I really want to make new memories with him.”

“I’m sure you will, dear, I’m sure you will.”

The rest of the group ate in subdued conversation, with questions, being asked, plans being made and answers being given. Pinkie, surprisingly, was paying more attention to her friends than Sunset, to the latter’s relief at the moment; the last thing she wanted was to turn down her friend again. It wasn’t until after they’d all eaten that Pinkie finally flagged her down.

“Yes, Pinkie?” Sunset asked.

“I hope you don’t mind, but…can we wait until tomorrow for our date?” she asked. “Today is Soni’s day and I don’t want to take that away from her. She’s wanted this for a long time and I don’t want to step on her toes.”

Sunset smiled at that. “I appreciate that,” the alicorn-as-human replied. “This really means a lot to her.”

“Well, she’s one of my besties,” Pinkie answered honestly. “I can’t let her down, not on today of all days.”

Meanwhile, Rose was on the phone, talking to someone on the other end. “Oh, sure! That would be great, actually!...I’ll ask them. I don’t think they’ll mind at all!...No, not a problem. Anyway, we’ll see you in a little bit. Bye!” She then turned to the others. “Well, they’re on the way here, and will be meeting us at Club 33 as planned. Besides, they have a surprise that they dug up for you, Soni, because they were late last night.”

Sonata perked up at that. “Really?”

Rose nodded. “Yeah. They’re pretty good about that. Everything will be fine. In the meanwhile, ladies, if I might remind you, we’re at Disneyland! May as well get on the rides and have a fun time until 1, right?”

“Right!” everyone except both Sunset and Rarity, though the rest really didn’t pay much attention at the time.

“Okay, everyone meet at the front of the hotel in twenty minutes and we’ll head over!” Rose cheered.


“So, what is this Disneyland place?” Raspberry asked Sunset when those in the know weren’t around. “Is it like Thrillville in Baltimare or Unicorney Island in Manehattan?”

“It’s more like Crystal Adventure Park in the Empire, or so I’m told,” Sunset explained. “Except that instead of Crystally Crystal, there’s Mickey Mouse, and instead of a bunch of unhealthy things like hayburgers and lilypops, there’s a bunch of unhealthy things like cheeseburgers and swirlpops.”

“So they have a ride like Sombra’s Revenge?”

Sunset looked at her friend. “You let them make a ride called Sombra’s Revenge?”

Raspberry grinned. “They wanted to use the crest for royalties, and since as the head of House Sombra, it technically belongs to me, they had to license the trademark. I get decent royalties from it, so I can’t complain. Plus, I have a lifetime free pass to Crystal Adventure Park. My favorite ride is Journey to Hilsrious. It’s one of those dark rides with neon lighting and such. So what’s this place like?”

“Dunno, never been here before. Remember, I live hundreds of miles to the north of here, so it’s not like I could have just teleported down every weekend or so.”

“Couldn’t you have?”

“And explain that to my family?”


“It’s a world of laughter,
A world of tears
It’s a world of hopes
And a world of fears
There’s so much that we share
That it’s time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all….”

“Guys? Please stop singing that!” Rainbow moaned to Pinkie, Sonata and Fluttershy after the group departed the ride for the fourth straight time. “You’re gonna emotionally scar me for life or something!”

“Wow, I come from a land of technicolor ponies that sing and dance on a regular basis and even I find this to be overkill,” Sunset groaned. Twilight said nothing, but instead patted her sister on the shoulder in sympathy.

“Yeah, Ah’m gonna have to agree,” Applejack sighed.

“Oh, but it’s such a fun ride,” Fluttershy defended.

“Rainbow?” Lyra turned to her.


Space Mountain, before we lose our minds?” Rainbow nodded fervently and stood next to the celeste-haired girl in solidarity.

“You know, we could always just split up and meet up at this lunch thing at 1, can’t we?” Bon-Bon asked Rose.

“Yeah, besides, it’ll let me get some planning done. This might be fun time for you all, but for me this is just another working assignment, because Dad can’t deal with teenyboppers like us,” Rose sighed.

“That bad, huh?” Adagio asked her.

“I want to do this for a living, but believe me, sometimes it’s not fun and games even when the people I’m with are doing just exactly that. For example, Sweet Briar pretends to be the girl next door in her films, but in real life, she’s a complete bitch. Wants to go drinking and can’t keep her pants on around anything with a pulse. It’s a wonder that the paparazzi haven’t found that out yet.”

“That’s a shame; I loved her performance in Dreaming Lilies,” Rarity said.

“Yeah, well, I can guarantee you that Dreamy Lily is just a character and Sweet Briar is nothing like her,” Rose grunted. “I swear, I’d like to say that I hope I never work with her again, but sadly, given that Dad’s teaching me the business, it’s only a matter of time before I end up working with that cunt. But enough about that.” Rose pulled out her phone and looked at the time. “It’s 10:15, so everyone meet at Pirates of the Caribbean at 12:45, okay?” The group nodded, and everyone split into groups or two, three or four. Pinkie, consciously not trying to focus on Sunset, instead grabbed Shimmer and declared she was going to be her “practice date” before dragging the girl off.

After a few minutes, even the triplets had wandered off, leaving Sunset with Octavia and Twilight.

“Looks like it’s just us three,” Twilight said, smiling.

“In a sense, it’s always been just us three,” Octavia responded. “Don’t get me wrong; I love the triplets, especially since they’re a part of our lives now. But part of me has always thought it’s always been us.”

Twilight nodded. “Dagi, Ari and Soni mean the world to me, but Tavi’s right: in the beginning it was us, and it should be us now.” She took her sister’s arm and leaned against her shoulder. “I mean, it’s always better when sisters are together, right?” she said with a grin.

“You’ve corrupted her,” Octavia said with a grin.

“Gladly, too,” Sunset said with an equal grin.

“Guess you’ll just have to share me,” Twilight said salaciously, and the three laughed.

12:45 came, and the girls all appeared in front of Club 33, as necessary. A general feeling of exhilaration was in the air amongst the fifteen girls present, and chief amongst them all was Sonata, who was acting as much like Pinkie as she could.

“Looks like Soni’s practically climbing up the walls,” Shimmer said, laughing.

“Yeah, but we love her anyway – besides, too late to get rid of her now,” Aria replied, equally laughing.

“Well, ladies, if you’re ready for this momentous occasion, then we should get inside. I’ve had a busy day wrangling, and I’m starved!” Rose chirped.

“Yup, let’s not keep them waiting!” Sonata said and strolled over to the mysterious door at 33 Orleans Street. “Uh, how do we get in?”

Rose smiled. “With the magic key, of course,” she commented, holding up an ornate-looking pass to an old-fashioned door knocker. The door slid open, and a pleasant young man around their age let them in, ushering them into the private Court d’Anges.

“This is absolutely fabulous!” Rarity squeed in delight.

“Glad you think so,” Rose said. “Costs my dad a small fortune a year to keep the membership, but we think it’s worth it. Anyway, I would wait until later and we can take some pictures with the Twins and such, okay?”

“Yay!” Sonata cheered.

The group went up the carefully (and artificially) verdigrised wrought iron stairs, listening to Rarity’s oohs and aahs, until they’d entered the door, where the young man held the door open for them. The teens walked past the glory that was Le Salon Nouveau, which was an art nouveau work of absolute breathtaking art.

“Unfortunately we can’t go in there,” Rose told them. “That’s the bar, and it’s kinda off-limits to those who are underage.”

“It looks absolutely divine,” Rarity murmured with stars in her eyes. “I can practically see myself sitting at the bar, sipping a cosmopolitan, and dressed to the nines, waiting for the attention of some dashing young gentleman.”

“You’ll be waiting a long time, Rares – most of the people who have memberships to this place tend to be stodgy old men who entertain business guests by bringing them here,” Rose replied with a grin. “In fact, there are probably quite a few who come to the park only to bring them to Club 33 and the 1901 Lounge over at California Adventure.”

Rarity sighed. “A girl can dream, I suppose.”

The group followed the maitre d’ as he led them to Le Grand Salon, which was where they would meet up with Sonata’s heroes. As several young men pulled out the seats for the ladies, Adagio purred, “A girl could get to like this attention.”

“Tell me about it,” Pinkie replied.

“Trust me, it’s not worth getting used to it,” Shimmer responded in kind. “I’m a literal princess and I really don’t care for all the attention. If anything, I suspect I would rather be in your shoes, like a normal person.”

“Maybe, but some of us don’t mind being spoiled by all this attention,” Applejack said, with an appreciative grin as she looked at one of the guys that had caught her eye.

“Looks like someone remembered she’s a girl,” Rainbow said, elbowing her friend.

“Oh, Ah never forgot – Ah just don’t get much of a chance to appreciate the finer things at our school,” she replied with a smirk.

“I’ll have to agree,” Fluttershy said, equally looking at someone else.

“Don’t you have a boyfriend, Flutters?” Aria asked her.

“Sorta. Puppytails and I are taking it slowly. He’s not exactly one to get all my hints, sad to say,” the chiffon-haired girl admitted. “I wish he would, though.”

“Maybe he just needs someone to talk to him,” Adagio said. “I’d be happy to.”

“No, I want him to figure things out,” Fluttershy admitted. “Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one who wants our relationship. I know he’s attracted to me, and I’m obviously attracted to him, but…well, some people are wallflowers, I guess, and that would definitely fit him.”

“It used to fit her, too,” Rainbow whispered conspiratorially to Applejack, who sniggered at the comment.

As the waitress passed out menus, the girls pored over them, chatting about and commenting about various things. Sunset did notice one thing, though, which she brought to Rose’s attention. “Rose, if it’s lunch time, why are we the only ones here? Shouldn’t there be some other people here?”

“Yeah, but apparently the Twins’ production company cut a deal with Disney to have exclusive rights to Club 33 for the afternoon, both so we could eat lunch and do the interviews here,” Rose explained. “While we’re chatting along and eating, the camera crew will be setting up over in the bar. Apparently it cost them a lot, but I suppose it’s worth it.”

“We tend to think so, but then again sis and I come here whenever we’re in the park,” a new voice said. The girls all turned to see two women in their early twenties standing there, both with dazzling smiles on their face. The one on the left was white, with long, two-toned blonde hair and hazel eyes. Standing next to her was a black girl, with shoulder-length frizzy pine-green hair and brown eyes. Both of them had similar mannerisms and identical height, and even though the two looked dissimilar, there was something very relative about them…mainly because, despite their apparently different races, they were twin sisters.

These were Sonata’s heroes, Mint and Milk Chocolate, stars of TV, internet and music. Two young celebrities that she’d idolized since she’d first watched them as young teenagers on Nickelodeon, and followed their careers with intent, and now she was before them, a dream come true.

But that wasn’t what suddenly came to Sonata’s mind as she finally – truly – saw them in the flesh.

“It’s you,” Sonata said, her voice an amazed whisper. “I…I can’t believe it. It’s you.”

“Yup!” Milk said, winking. “It’s us.”

“You must be Sonata Dusk,” Mint said, stepping forward and proffering her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

It was then that Aria and Adagio looked at one another, realization coming over them as well. “It is them, isn’t it?” the former asked the latter.

“It has to be,” Adagio said in a wary tone. And a second later, her words confirmed what all three triplets were thinking: “Sunny Side and Evergreen Pine. You’re alive!”

“I’m sorry, were you talking to us?” Milk and Mint turned to look at Adagio, and somehow something in their eyes looked very much like an infodump stare.

“Sunny, need you to take control of the situation now,” Adagio said in a curt tone.

Sunset didn’t even ask what her cousin was up to – she just did it. There was a snap of her fingers and a flash of cyan energy and suddenly everyone in the room who did not know of the existence of magic suddenly froze in place.

“I just put the room in a timefreeze filter,” Sunset told her cousin. “What’s going on, Dagi?”

“You can freeze time?” the other girls said, completely shocked.

“I’m guessing they didn’t quite get the message that you’re a goddess now?” Raspberry said with a smile.

“But that…that’s not scientifically possible!” Twilight exclaimed before looking at her sister. “You’re not scientifically possible!”

“And yet I just did it, sis,” Sunset reminded her. “Magic can do a lot of things, as you saw. Please, calm down, okay?”

“I’m just….”

“Mind blown?” Octavia, equally as shocked, supplied.

“Yeah, that.”

Sunset, meanwhile, turned back to Adagio. “What’s going on?”

“It’s them, Sunny: Sunny Side and Evergreen Pine. The ‘sisters’ that fought alongside us.”

“But now they really are sisters, apparently,” Sonata said.

“But didn’t Greenie say she was done with this life?” Aria asked. “And Sides died! She was killed right in front of us!”

“But that doesn’t mean that Grandmother wanted them to suffer,” Sunset noted, walking over to the frozen women and looking at them carefully. “You remember what Greenie was willing to do just for me: she was going to confess to the crimes so that they wouldn’t try to look for anything that might trace back to the rest of us. Even when someone she loved died, she was still willing to be a hero for my sake…for all our sakes.” A flicker of a smile came onto the flame-haired girl’s face. “It would be very much like Grandmother to make sure someone got rewarded for their efforts.”

“Yeah, that does sound like her majesty,” Raspberry agreed.

“And giving them what they wanted most – to really be sisters – would be the perfect reward for them,” Sonata said, touched.

“The question is, do we want to let this go, or reach out to them?” Sunset asked them. “Clearly they’re not Sides and Greenie anymore – they never were in this timeline. We have no guarantee that my grandmother did the same thing with them as she did with all of us, and being the Chocolate sisters might be the only thing they are.”

“Furthermore, even if they remember their past, the Chocolate sisters may be all they want to be now,” Fluttershy added. “It would be cruel to remind them of a life they don’t want to live.”

“Ah think we should, if only because they deserve to know,” Applejack voted. “Ah know if Ah were in that situation, Ah’d want someone to tell me.”

“I think we should leave it be. Letting them have the life they have now? It was very generous of your grandmother, Sunset,” Rarity cautioned, “and it would be an unkindness to take that from them, even if just a bit.”

“I think we should tell them. They stuck it out with us before, they’ll be strong enough to do it again,” Rainbow voiced.

“I agree with Fluttershy and Rarity. They’re entitled to their happiness,” Pinkie commented, “and I would never want to take that from them.”

“What about you gals?” Adagio asked Shimmer, Twilight, Octavia and Raspberry. “I think you have a say in this too.”

“I don’t feel I have the right to make that decision,” Shimmer said. “Speaking as someone who had choice taken from her, I dislike that option, but at the same time, just having had my life invalidated, I know I wouldn’t want that for them.”

“I’m in agreement with Shimmy,” Twilight said. “I don’t think it would be fair to them.”

“I think we should tell them,” Octavia chimed in. “They have the right to know.”

“I would tell them,” Raspberry insisted. “Otherwise they might be at risk for things they don’t even know they’re endangered by; they might end up being hunted by enemies they don’t recall. That would be nightmarish enough. At least telling them would make them prepared for any situation.”

“Sunny, you’re lead here,” Adagio told her. “This is your call to make.”

“I don’t like that idea,” Sunset admitted.

“The reigns of leadership aren’t ever easy, but that’s what you have now. You’re our leader and the oldest of us here. Again, this is your call to make – the rest of us can’t do that for you.” The other girls nodded to various degrees of agreement, but all did so.

Sunset was quiet for the longest time. Finally, she said, “I…we owe them. As much as they are happier this way, and I really don’t want to take that from them, but…now you know what’s out there. You know there are things out there that aren’t friendly and are not looking out for your best interests. And while I can protect you, I don’t know if I can be everywhere at once. Many of our friends I’m going to be there for, but I can’t be everywhere all the time. And if I can do something to make sure others can protect themselves, isn’t that worth it?” She sighed. “So…yes. I’m going to tell them.”

Sunset went over to the two motionless twins and tapped them on the head. “Wake up,” she said softly.

The two blinked into wakefulness and looked around nervously. “Where are we?” Milk asked worriedly. Mint stepped in front of her sister to protect her; a subconscious sign that Side was protecting Pine as they did in their previous life.

Sunset waved her hand. “Know who you are at every age,” she intoned, and as she did, her voice reverberated. The eyes of the two suddenly cleared as if a veil was lifted, and in a second, Milk and Mint were gone, though their bodies remained.

“I…I thought this was a dream,” Mint said, looking at Sunset with sad eyes. “But it isn’t, is it? I died, didn’t I?”

Milk, meanwhile, wrapped arms around her sister. “I thought it was just a story we told ourselves as children…brave soldiers fighting against monsters to save the world. But it really happened, didn’t it? We…we’re not who we thought we were, are we?”

“You are,” Sunset promised. “Who you were doesn’t change who you are. In a past that never existed, you were Sunny Side and Evergreen Pine, brave warriors that gave all to save the world.”

“Warriors that were good friends and allies to us,” Adagio said.

“Soldiers that did the right thing because it had to be done,” Aria added.

Sonata walked over and took their hands in hers. “But that doesn’t change who you are now. You two wanted to be sisters, because you loved each other so much that’s what you considered each other to be. And now, that’s what you really are.”

“Then why?” Milk asked.

“Because we needed to know if you were safe,” Sunset told them. “The world hasn’t changed because Divine Right and Cantata Blast were destroyed and their evil ended. In many ways, only the top layer of the onion was peeled off. The world still needs heroes. My cousins are still in the fight, not only just to protect me, but to protect everything we stand for. And I was hoping to find out if you were ready as well.”

Of the two sisters, Mint was known to be the elegant and dainty one, moving with a grace and sophistication that Sonata had come to associate with Rarity. But the way the girl sat down now clearly reminded her of Side and her rough, efficient manner. “Everything we’ve done in our lives…the martial arts and dance, the acting, the musical reading and notation, even the passion for guns that we really never talk about much with the public…it was all leading us to this, wasn’t it? We were never in the military, but we had to be trained, and this was how.”

Milk’s usual perkiness had faded away into Pine’s somber exterior. “And yet we got everything we wanted. The sœurs that raised us. They don’t know who we are. And yet, our parents…they’re very much like our sœurs were. Now that I think about it, Dad’s like my old sœur was, and as for Mom….”

“Yeah,” Mint told her sister, in a tone somewhere between disbelief and sudden realization.

“I don’t know if I can ever be the same person I was two minutes ago,” Milk told her sister, and while Mint said nothing, the look in her hazel eyes answered the same way.

“I can make this go away if you want. I can snap my fingers and take it away, and you two can just go back to being the Chocolate Twins. You won’t remember this happened, and we can proceed as if none of this did,” Sunset told them. “It’s your choice.”

Both Milk and Mint were silent for the longest time, and Sunset had to wonder if the old human saying about twins having some form of telepathic communication was true; given how the triplets acted at times, it was certainly plausible. The eerie silence of the world not moving clashed with the soft breaths of those who were still animated, an irony give their current location.

Finally, Mint looked at Sunset and said, “I…I don’t know if we would want to live in a world where we were oblivious that someone like Divine Right lives.”

“I know I wouldn’t,” Milk added. “I don’t know if sis and I can be the military people we used to be. Maybe it’s okay for you three—” she said to the triplets, “—but we’re not Side and Pine. I mean, we are, but we’re not.”

“We might be able to help in a pinch, but we can’t be a part of your regular organization,” Mint stated. “Our lives are too different now. Maybe we can be intelligence assets for you and maybe aces in the hole when worst comes to, but I don’t think we can ever be front line soldiers ever again.”

“I wouldn’t want you to be,” Adagio told them. “To be honest, I didn’t even know it was you until a few minutes ago. Maybe we should have recognized earlier, but somehow it never sank in.”

“Yeah, I’m an idiot,” Sonata sighed in embarrassment.

“Soni, it happens,” Sunset told her, before turning back to the twins. “So are you sure about this?”

Milk nodded. “I know who we were. And I know we can’t quite be those people ever again. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t help in our own way.” She looked at Sonata. “And while we’re talking about being helpful, there’s something I should tell you three: we found out about what happened to your stepmother a year after we filmed that episode. We felt really guilty about it, but we didn’t know how to get a hold of you to personally apologize. I’m glad you won this contest, Soni, so I can tell you that we’re so sorry about that.”

Sonata nodded. “I know. And Softy would have told us it wasn’t your fault, anyway,” the teen admitted.

Mint gave an awkward smile. “Well…how about we get to this interview and eat lunch? We have a few days together to get to know our new friends, as well as celebrate all of this!” She paused and then added, “Well, all of the normal stuff. I’m not sure even YouTube would get how we’re the reincarnation of elite Canadian supersoldiers.”

Sunset snapped her fingers and a second later, time moved forward, as if nothing had happened. Showing their skill as the consummate professionals they were, Milk and Mint immediately slipped back into their normal personalities, walking around, chatting and introducing themselves to the other girls, before they themselves finally took the empty seats next to Sonata.

The waitress finally showed up to take their orders when a new person showed up, exclaiming, “Hey, you two, thought you weren’t going to start the party without me! And looks like we have one heck of a party here!”

Everyone turned to look at the stranger, a dark-skinned girl with silvery hair and gray eyes. She was dressed fashionably and had a dazzling smile on her face.

“Oh, I don’t know if any of you are familiar with her,” Mint said, gesturing to the newcomer. “Everyone, meet our best friend and the keyboardist in our band, Piano Bliss. Pia, have a seat and we’ll do introductions all around, okay?”

“Sure,” Piano said with a grin. “Have we ordered yet? I’m so hungry, I swear I have a monster appetite right now!” She picked up the menu. “I wonder what the seafood special is today?”

The triplets all looked at each other with a brief glance of confusion.

Hours later, after a full day of interviews and fun at the park, the evening was winding down at a private dinner at Napa Rose, the whole of the group looked elated and relaxed. For Sonata, it was more than just the culmination of having met her favorite stars – it was a part of reconciling her past and her present, making a part of her whole that she’d wondered about.

Now she knew that even though Side and Pine were in a sense truly gone, Mint and Milk would continue to play a role in their lives, something that the youngest triplet found to be a reward of its own. Plus, though she hadn’t known Piano Bliss in the previous timeline, she was finding her to be funny, personable and friendly in this one – a far cry from what she’d heard about Cantata’s sacrificed petite sœur.

After that, they spent more time back at the main park, the large group pretty much taking control of the rides as the younger crowds realized they were amongst celebrities, flocking to the twins – and, surprisingly, Fluttershy as well. Also surprisingly, the latter teen managed to keep her panic in check as she spoke with the crowds about her father and her own musical endeavors and even signed a few autographs. Rarity noted the making of a star, and the rest of the evening was spent with the new group of friends letting their worries and cares melt away in the Happiest Place on Earth.

“Looks like it all worked out, didn’t it?” Pinkie asked Sunset once the dinner had broken up and the parties had started to head to bed for an evening before more fun the next day. At the moment, the pair lounged on a bench at the large Downtown Disney overpass flowing over Disneyland Drive, with scant cars passing beneath in the warm summer air. Canned music played from hidden speakers, and families out late and young lovers moved back and forth, headed to their final destinations, none of which bothered the two.

“I’m glad Soni got to realize her dreams today,” Pinkie continued. “She was elated, not just because she got to meet her favorite stars, but because she found out they were SIRENs that she knew! Ones that turned out to survive and be on our side! I’m glad it worked out for her.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Sunset said glumly, her thoughts elsewhere.

Pinkie reached up to caress her love’s face. “Are you okay?”

Sunset shook her head. “I have to wonder if I did the right thing tonight. Before today, Mint and Milk only dreamed of who they used to be and thought nothing more of it other than the imaginations of their childhood. Now they know the truth and they’re going to have to live with it…and I’m going to have to be the one to have to live with having opened that door.”

“How’s that bad?”

“I took away the agency for that decision from them. It wasn’t a case of ‘do I show you a world you were once a part of’ and let them decide; I opened that door for them and then said ‘do I close that door for you, knowing what you’ve already seen’? They didn’t have the choice to remain oblivious or not.”

Pinkie laughed bitterly. “At least you gave them the choice. I had my agency taken away from me when Atlas and Cicely planned what they did. I honestly have to wonder if I had been targeted, or if I was their only target.” She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “Just like you finding out what Flash did to Blossom, I have to wonder if there’s another girl out there that suffered their corrosive touch. If someone is as damaged as I am.”

Sunset placed a hand on her friend’s shoulder. “Pinkie, you’re not damaged.”

“Yes I am. So are you, for that matter. We were both damaged by our circumstances, and although we reacted differently, it does not take away the fact that we are both wounded birds. Maybe it’s part of the reason I love you – we belong together, because we’re broken dolls on the shelf of life.”

Sunset didn’t know what to say to that, so she tried the one tactic she hoped would cheer up her friend: “So, are we still on the date for tomorrow?”

Pinkie nodded. “I’ll be fine in the morning, I promise. I just….”

“Pinkie, talk to me, please.”

“I thought I saw them today. I swore I saw them today. I was with Shimmy and I thought I saw them over by Splash Mountain, so I raced over there, and it turned out to be a guy and a girl who just happened to look exactly like they did from behind…but it wasn’t them. I had to lie to Shimmy and go buy some churros in order to pass it off, because she doesn’t know and I don’t think she should.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“Because the rage I felt at that moment. I wanted to smash their heads in and scream at them for destroying me. For destroying me back then and for destroying me right now. For making me a wound I can’t ever heal from.” Sunset moved over to hug her, but Pinkie gently moved away. “Please, not now,” she begged. “If you hold me now, I might never want to let you go.”

“Pinkie, I—”

“Just go, Sunny, please. I need to be alone right now.”

“Are you sure?” Something in Sunset told her that now was not the time to leave Pinkie alone.

Pinkie nodded. “It’s nothing you did. Or nothing I did. I just…it’s hard to explain. I wish I could. Maybe you know already and you just don’t want to voice it. I don’t know.”

“Then I’ll see you in the morning?”

Pinkie reached over and kissed her friend and would-be love interest on the cheek. “Try and stop me.” She waved and watched Sunset head off into the distance. Several more minutes passed before Pinkie got up from her seat. Here she was, at Disneyland, the place that should have given her ultimate joy, with Sunset, the thing that set her heart ablaze, and for some reason she didn’t feel comfortable at the least.

“I hope it goes well tomorrow,” she said to no one in particular, and touched her chest. Her hand glowed a bright blue and, in her mind, the image Sunset had shown her days before played, the one where they made love. Sunset had told her it was another reality, one that wasn’t theirs, but Pinkie herself wasn’t so sure. Not because she loved Sunset; that was her own biases talking.

No, she wasn’t sure…because something told her, it was the future. Maybe not next year, or a decade from now. Maybe hundreds or even thousands of years in the future, but something in her told her this was prophecy, not potential.

She remembered Sunset’s words the day she had revealed that to her: “Because I know what you are, Pinkie. And it saddens, comforts and scares me all at once.”

“Because someday, I will be her bride,” Pinkie said to herself. “Because we will have to go through hell before that day happens.”

Pinkie closed her eyes and visualized the rest of it.

A tear rolled down her cheek.

August 23, AM: The Show Must Go On

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“Pinkie, are you okay?”

Her hair straight, Pinkie Pie sat up in bed in the room that she was currently sharing with Raspberry Beryl. After the night before, when the alien girl had explained her curse to the cheerleader, Pinkie wasn’t as fazed to see the strange shape approaching her. Granted, she hadn’t been really bothered by it the day before, but for some reason Raspberry felt the need to explain herself.

“What do you mean?”

Raspberry gave the other girl a smile. “You were a lot bouncier yesterday, asking me to change into a bunch of things. You reminded me…well, actually, you reminded me of the Pinkie I regularly know.”

“Oh? How so?”

“Well, she’s very happy-go-lucky,” Raspberry said, casting a spell. Yellow magic cascaded over her body and she found herself in the human form she was normally using. “But you look like something’s bothering you.”

Pinkie was quiet for the longest time. Finally, she asked, “Does the Pinkie you know have a special someone?”

“No. Truth be told, she’s probably the least romantically-inclined pony I know.”

Pinkie sighed. “She must be one lucky bitch,” was the only thing she said.

As with the day before, everyone met at the Storyteller Café for breakfast. Of the newcomers, Piano was the first to arrive. “Hey, Mint and Milk said they’re running a few minutes late, but that they’ll be here soon enough,” the girl promised.

“Is everything okay?” Sonata asked.

Piano waved it off. “Oh, yeah. They were just working out in the gym last night and lost track of time is all.”

“Working out in the gym?” Adagio asked.

Piano nodded. “Girls, they’re dancers and celebrities. They have to keep their bodies in tip-top condition for everything they do. Trust me, there are days when I can’t even keep up with them, and I’ve known them my whole life.”

“Well, they’ll catch up soon enough, I’m sure,” Twilight responded sleepily, eyeing the coffee carafes. “Shall we get started?”

Applejack sniffed the air. “Applewood smoked bacon. Ah think Ah’m in heaven.”

“You can tell?” Shimmer asked her.

“Ah lived on an apple farm when Ah was a kid. And even though Ah grew up here in Canterlot, our organic store sells a lot of special deli products, like applewood-smoked bacon,” the blonde explained.

“I have no idea how you human….” Raspberry began, but then realized there were several people present who didn’t know her secret. Her words trailed off as she suddenly realized she had no idea how to end the sentence without sounding weird.

Fortunately for her, Rainbow came to her rescue: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you keep saying it over and over: you have no idea how we think eating meat is humane. For fuck’s sake, you sound like a broken record already. Besides, I told you repeatedly we’re not all vegans here, Razz, so get off your high horse about that already, okay?” she said in a mock-annoyed tone.

“Hey, don’t sweat it, Razz,” Piano told her. “I’m not vegetarian or vegan, personally, but eating meat all the time kinda makes me feel bloated, so I try to minimize it. Different strokes for different folks and all that.”

“Well, let’s not just stand around,” Bon-Bon suggested. “Let’s get some food and then when the twins come down, we can figure out what to do about the day, okay?”

As they all walked towards the buffet, Raspberry grabbed Rainbow. “Thanks for the save.”

“Hey, it’s what I do for friends,” Rainbow replied with a grin. “Don’t sweat it.”

“I just have one question, though.”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Uh…what’s a ‘high horse’ mean here? Back in Equestria, it’s an insulting thing to call pegasi.”

Rainbow laughed, then pulled out her phone and brought up Wikipedia. “At the risk of being an egghead like Twily? Read it yourself,” she insisted, handing it over to a completely confused Raspberry.

Standing with a cup of coffee in her hand and feeling clear of mind, Twilight flagged Sunset; not surprisingly, their cousins were behind her. “Hey, sis, can we talk to you for a second?”

Sunset looked at her sister. “Okay, what are you five up to?”

“We had a talk last night,” Octavia said. “And I’ll be honest: Twily and I don’t think you should go on with this. The date with Pinkie, I mean.”

“Actually, none of us think you should go through with it,” Aria added, and the others nodded.

“Girls, we’ve been through this like a billion times! This is just having fun with Pinkie, and while I know how she feels about me, she also knows that nothing’s going to happen.”

“Does she really?” Sonata asked. “Didn’t Bonnie tell you about what they were discussing the day we got here?”

Sunset sighed. “Yes, she did. And yes, I was a little shocked. But as much as we’re all family and I adore you all, you have to remember: Pinkie is in love with me. She’s not just lusting after my body—”

“Sunny, she has a few pairs of edible undies with your name on them,” Adagio pointed out.

“Okay, I think I could have lived without knowing that,” Sunset admitted. “But we’re all friends. I trust her completely, and so should you. And frankly, I’m a little shocked that you’re acting like this.”

“Sis, we’re just looking out for you,” Twilight told her. “You’ve been doing that for us, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t look out for you as well.”

“We’re just worried that she might go a little overboard,” Aria stated. “It’s not like we don’t trust Pinkie, it’s….”

“Let’s not split hairs,” Adagio said. “We do trust her. We just don’t trust her judgement entirely on this situation. And as your family, we’re just looking out for you, okay?”

“No. Not okay.” Sunset crossed her arms. “I think you’re being a little unfair to Pinkie. Have you brought it up with her?”

The others suddenly found the ground interesting. “No, we didn’t,” Twilight mumbled.

“Okay then. This conversation is over.”

“But sis—!”

“‘But sis’, nothing! You’re being completely unfair to Pinkie!” Sunset hissed. “I’m going on a date with her and whether it ends with nothing or me sleeping with her is my business, got that?” At that statement, several people turned around and looked at the young goddess, and more than a few appreciatively.

“Sunny! You’re making a scene!” Twilight said.

“You made it first.” She walked over to Pinkie. “C’mon, let’s get going.”

Unlike the day before, Pinkie’s leaning tower of pancakes had been replaced by a small pyramid of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls. “But I haven’t even eaten anything yet!” In response, Sunset bent over and whispered something in the shorter girl’s ear. Pinkie immediately looked up at her with all the love in the world. “You mean that?”

“Completely,” Sunset smiled.

“Then let’s go!” Pinkie chirped, setting Mt. Cinnabon on a random table, taking Sunset’s hand and leaning against on her shoulder. With that the two headed towards the door.

“Sunny, wait!” Shimmer called out just as the older twin had reached the door.

“What? You going to give me grief as well?” Sunset asked. Pinkie, still leaning against Sunset’s shoulder, gave the other Sunset a glare, as if she’d staked a claim to the taller one and the taller one alone.

As for Shimmer, she reached into her wallet, and then produced a card. “Here,” she said, handing it to Sunset. “You two go have fun, on me.”

Sunset gave her doppelganger a curious look. “Are you sure?”

Shimmer nodded. “You don’t have access to the family trust yet, and I’m sure you want to have fun on your date, and I probably won’t have need for it today. Go and have a good time.”

“Really?” Pinkie chirped, quickly warming up to the other flame-haired girl.

“Yes,” Shimmer giggled. “You take care of my big sister, okay?”

“YAY!” That was more than enough for Pinkie. In less than a blink of an eye, she was holding onto Sunset with a huge grin that threatened to split her face, and then a second later, both were gone and there was nothing more than a pink cloud of gas where the two had been.

As the others got back to their table, Lyra pretty much said it all. “I have no idea how she does that.”

“Shimmer!” Twilight gasped. “What were you thinking?”

“Darling, without being as, well, vocal, as Twilight here, I do have to agree,” Rarity spoke up. “Are you sure that was a wise idea?”

“Let’s hear her out, girls,” Fluttershy cautioned. “I’m sure she had a good reason, right?”

Rainbow, between bites of a large breakfast burrito, mouthed, “Ths owta beehs gud.”

Shimmer looked at them all. “Rainbow, first? That’s disgusting.”

“Sorresh.” She gulped her food down. “Uh, sorry.”

“Secondly, Twily, Sunny is special to me. I’ve never had a sister before, and now I do; a twin no less.” Looking at Sunset’s relatives, and aware of the timeskip, she told them all, “Isn’t she just as special to all of you once she came into your lives? She has a way of doing that.”

“Yeah,” Twilight and the others admitted.

A catty grin then came over the teen’s face. “Plus….”

“Plus?” all the others said at once.

“The credit card I gave her? It has a tracking chip in it, just in case.” She giggled, but when the others only responded with disbelieving stares, she elaborated, “C’mon, I’m a princess! Don’t you think that the French government would take precautions in case I was in trouble? Don’t worry, I have the frequency, and I can install the app for you on your phones, if you can stand to read French.”

Most of them said no, with only the triplets, Twilight, Rarity and Bon-Bon acknowledging their knowledge of the language.

“Now, eat up, and then we’ll get things going. We’ll be able to keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t have a problem. And besides, if I may remind you, we’re here for Soni, not for them.”

“I just hope things won’t get too out of hand,” Fluttershy admitted.

“What do you mean, ‘don’t get out of hand’?” Raspberry asked.

“Well…no offense, but Sunny seems to be a chaos magnet – and Pinkie seems to be chaos in motion. What do you think will happen when you put the two together on a quasi-romantic tryst in sunny Southern California?”

All the other girls shivered as one.

It was at this point that Mint and Milk finally appeared in the café, smiles on their faces. “Okay, we ready to seize the day or what?” Milk asked aloud, then saw the variety of concerned looks on the others’ faces.

“Was it something I said?” she asked.

“Smooth, sis. Real smooth,” Mint commented.

“Wow, teleporting’s fun!” Pinkie chirped as they arrived at the front gate of Magic Mountain. “But why’d you take us here?”

“You wanted to be alone with me, right?” Sunset asked.

“Yeah, but….” Pinkie began tapping two fingers together, a sign she wanted something.

“Pinkie, we’re not going back to the hotel and—”

“I don’t want that!” Pinkie suddenly cried, much to Sunset’s surprise. “I want to know you.”

“But you do know me.”

“Not as much as I should.” Pinkie shook her head, recalling the dreams and nightmares of her last trip home. “I don’t know your favorite song, or your favorite color, or what your favorite food is – human or pony. I don’t know where you grew up, or what really makes you happy – not what turns you on, but really makes you happy.” Pinkie sidled up to the taller girl until they were practically within kissing space. “I want to know you – not just my friend, but my potential lover, too.”

“Pinkie, I….”

Pinkie boldly reached up and kissed Sunny on the side of her face. “I know my friend and I love her dearly. But I don’t know this part of you…and I want to.” She then took Sunset’s hands in her own. “Even if it doesn’t work out for me, at least I will know someone I care about a little better.”

Sunset blushed a bit; if nothing else, she was already farther along than Flash had ever been on romance. “Okay, then I should be honest: I’m really not a fan of amusement parks.”


Sunset nodded. “When I was a filly, Princess Celestia, er…you know, I’m really going to have to figure out how to disambiguate her from my mom, you know?”

“I know what you mean. Go ahead.”

“Anyway, she took me to an amusement park in Baltimare – Thrillville – but then she got called away on business. She meant to leave a guard with me, but there was a miscommunication and so I was left by myself the whole time. I didn’t think much about it at first – no eight-year-old really does – but when it came after hours, and the park was empty and I was all alone? I ran, shouting for help, looking for some place – any place – where I could get help. And that’s how I ended up at The Horrors of Humans: The Ride, the most frightening ride at the park.” She chuckled. “Even had an age limit, but there was no one at the park to tell me I couldn’t go in, because I was looking for help.”

‘The Horrors of Humans’?” Pinkie asked.

Sunset nodded as they walked away from the park’s admission booths and towards the parking lot. “It was named after a popular play at the time. Equestria – well, all of Equus, really – is schizophrenic when it comes to technology: we have advanced medical technology and musical equipment…but trains that are a century out of date here and dirigibles. We have plays, but no movies, and amusement parks that are a match for things here, but no monorails. But one thing I think we do better,” Sunset said with a frown on her face, “is dark rides, especially the scary ones. However, if you’re a foal…probably not the best place to be.

“The Princess finally found me the following morning; she didn’t even know I hadn’t been brought back to the palace and didn’t know anything was amiss until I didn’t show up for breakfast. By then cleaning crews had found me in one of the ride’s carts. I’d passed out from being frightened half to death, wet myself and my eyes were red from crying. The Princess…she…she took me home, shut down court for the week and spent that time with me in quiet, just to make sure I was okay.”

“Like a mother should,” Pinkie noted.

“Yeah,” Sunset said wistfully as she sat down on a park bench facing the parking lot. “Now, clearly the whole thing was exaggerated and humans aren’t like they were in the ride. But I think that scarred me from that point on and I’ve never really liked amusement parks. Human ones are different, and I can deal with them, but….” She shrugged, as if that was enough of an answer.

“Then let’s go somewhere you want to go,” Pinkie insisted.

“But don’t you love amusement parks?”

“Oh hell yes!” Pinkie admitted. “But I love you more, Sunny. Trust me, the Mouse House, or any other park, can wait another day. It’ll be here when you bring me back again. For now, let’s do what you want to do.”

Sunset ignored the subtle flirting and said, “Are you sure? Aren’t you supposed to call the shots since you’re taking me out?”

“Like I said, I want to know what you want to do. It’s a part of the Sunset I want to know.” Pinkie sat down next to her and leaned against her. “If I’m going to win your heart, I have to start somewhere, right?”

“True. I actually prefer museums. When I went to the Brentwood back in March, I absolutely loved it. It taught me a lot about the culture of my adopted home.”

“Awesome! Have you been to the LA County Museum of Art?” When Sunset shook her head, Pinkie grinned. “Then let’s go! Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut,” she paused, “let’s not teleport!”


“Yeah, let’s take our time going there! Besides, we haven’t had breakfast yet. Can you summon a car?”

Sunset thought for a second, and when she opened her eyes, a second later a brand-new Prius appeared before them. “This work?”

“Sure! I’ll drive! That way you can relax in style and tell me what else you like! Plus, that way we can think about what to tell the others!”

“The others?”

Pinkie giggled as Sunset tossed her the keyfob before walking towards the driver’s door. “You have three cousins who are master military experts, four other girls who have the inklings of magic and your supposed twin sister, who is the kind of VIP that probably has everything with a tracking chip, especially after what happened to us.” A pause for thought while Pinkie got in the car. “Just thinking of that makes me glad that didn’t carry over into this new timeline, or else we’d be in trouble.”

“No kidding,” Sunset agreed. “What we have now is hard enough as is.”

“How so?”

“Well, for one, all those girls that were killed and I can’t bring back – girls my grandmother wouldn’t bring back, because it would rupture the timeline,” Sunset said grimly while Pinkie left the park grounds, headed for the Interstate. “In the end, we avoided everything in the new timeline, because we were never meant to be involved.”

“Honestly, I don’t know how you keep this straight in your head, Sunny,” Pinkie said. “But let’s change the subject before we get too maudlin, okay? Any idea of where we can have some decent breakfast?”

“I’m sure we can find something,” Sunset said, conjuring a pair of sunglasses for herself, then a second pair for Pinkie. “Look at it this way: it’s a whole new world, and everything that’s there, even if it seems familiar is just something new!”

Sunset thought about Pinkie’s last words about the tracking chip. Fishing out the card her “twin” had given her, she peered at it and instantly saw the secondary chip within. She blinked her eyes, and a second later an identical card, sans chip, appeared next to it. Holding up the original card, she set it afire in spellflame.

“Sorry, girls, but this is too important,” she murmured to herself as they sped off in search of breakfast.

Sitting and tapping her phone with disgust, Adagio groaned. “Well, we boned this one, that’s for sure.”

“In hindsight I guess we should have expected it.” Seated next to her and eating popcorn, Twilight looked at her cousin. “I mean, we should’ve known that Sunny was going to find a way to make sure we didn’t find out where she was. Besides, we have to remember that we’re here for Soni, too.”

Aria watched as yet another crowd began to build around the Twins, Piano, and Fluttershy. Not surprisingly, due to Fluttershy’s exotic looks, she was getting most of the attention. Meanwhile, several of the others got into the line for the Tower of Terror. “Looks like she’s doing it again,” the middle triplet said.

“Doing what?” Twilight asked her.

“Fussing,” Aria said. “She’s focusing on something that she has no control over. She took it really hard when Softy died, remember?”

“I do,” Twilight said. “And you two were just protecting her.”

“Well, if we’d known you like we do now, it never would have happened,” Adagio told her cousin. “But Ari’s right. Soni’s always been the most emotional of us all, because she’s so big hearted. Even in the time that never occurred, she was like that. You might not believe this, but this isn’t the first time we’ve been to Disneyland. Back in the time that wasn’t, when we were seven, for our birthday, Maddie, Mezzo and Vesper took us here for a week, just so we could be little girls. I think maybe it was because they were horrified that at age seven, we’d already been taught to kill someone.”

Twilight’s eyes widened in shock and her mouth formed an O of shock.

“It wasn’t in the field – we weren’t cleared for field duty at that age.” Twilight looked at Adagio, horrified, but Adagio stared into the distance. “Trust me, they weren’t innocent by any means. They were human traffickers, men who kidnapped pretty teenage girls and shipped them overseas to willing buyers who wanted sweet young flesh for the right price. They were convicted of child rape and several other nasty things, but Canada doesn’t have a death penalty. What it did have, however, was an influential member of parliament that CSIS wanted in their pocket, an MP that wanted these guys hammered bad. And what better way to take care of guys who harmed young girls than to have them killed by little girls?”

Twilight gasped. “Dagi, that’s—”

“I can still remember that day. The knife was slick with his blood, and there was the smell of iron in the air. And it was us that did it…too young to really realize what we’d done.” Adagio’s tone was curt, but Twilight knew her cousin well enough to know when she was suffering. “But do you know what I also remember? That same day in this timeline. There was also death involved, but this time it was commemoration. Aunt Glitter took us to see Mom’s grave. It had been a handful of years since 9/11 and we were beginning to understand why we didn’t have a regular mother. We knew Aunt Glitter loved us, but she always told us she wasn’t our mother and on that day we knew why.”

“I’m sorry you had to experience that. No child should.”

“It’s okay. I have you and my – our – sisters, and I love them to death.” Despite her emotional pain, Adagio smiled. “I have a family that loves me and one I love, and that’s all I really need right now. Anything else comes after, especially since there’s a whole new world.”

“Have you thought about that? You don’t have to be Sunny’s SIRENs all the time, don’t you? You can have your own life.”

The look on the golden-haired girl was one of disbelief. “Do you really think that, Twily?”

“Yes. Sunny wouldn’t want that for you. I know I don’t, nor do my parents. And I’m sure your dad wouldn’t either, if he knew.”

“Then I hope he never finds out. And the truth is that I know this is going to be my profession. Sure, I could just get with AJ and open up a martial arts dojo, but that’s not my style. I’m a military girl, and I need to do that. And if it means protecting my cousin, then it’s all the better, especially since that’s what I’m charged with doing. Now, I’m not going to speak for Ari or Soni, but I suspect they think the same.”

“You can speak for me, sis,” Aria added. “I feel the same way. And I think Soni does, too. It’s what we were trained as in the previous reality, and even though that’s not the case here, it rang true still, because it had to. Yes, we could probably do anything else with our lives, Twily, and we love that you even consider that, but…that choice was removed from us. But we’re okay with that. Sometimes, that’s just how things have to go.”

From where she was in line, Sonata sighed. “I wonder what they’re thinking about,” she told Octavia. “Probably worried about how I’m taking everything. I love my sisters, but seriously, they worry about me just a little too much sometimes.”

“Well, you are the youngest of us,” Octavia reminded her. “It’s only natural that they – and we – would worry. Besides, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t care.”

“Yeah, I know. Just drives me nuts.” Sonata gave a smile to take away the sting of her words, and she continued. “I wonder how Pinkie and Sunny are doing on their date.”

Shimmer frowned. “I am not happy about them ditching us like that. I know why Pinkie would want to, but I’m beginning to wonder if I created a monster.”

“Twily warned you,” Octavia pointed out. “She told you that Pinkie would be up to something, and she clearly talked my cousin into doing it. I’m blaming you for this, Shimmy.”

Shimmer groaned and muttered a French swearword under her breath.

“So, here we are,” Sunset said as they pulled into the parking garage. “The LA County Museum of Art. Tavi was telling me that the last time she was here, they had some beautiful works of art, so I’ve wanted to come visit for quite some time.”

Pinkie smiled. “Sounds like fun!”

“Are you sure? I didn’t think that museums are your cup of tea, Pinkie.”

“Well, to be honest, I kinda prefer modern and contemporary ones, especially the pop art ones. Nothing wrong with Goya or Buonorotti,” Pinkie said matter-of-factly, “But I kinda like Benday Dot, Paint Splatter and Blue Phase a lot more. For example, did you know that Blue Phase originally studied under Cubismo Grafico when the latter lived in Rome? He’d initially gone there to study under Tela di Pinta, but ended up working with Grafico instead. Admittedly, their styles are radically different, but you can see the influences: Nude by the Staircase, for example, evokes a lot of Grafico’s style even though it’s considered one of Blue Phase’s masterworks.”

Sunset smiled. “Sorry, I’d forgotten that you’re a lot more cultured than people give you credit for.”

Pinkie grinned as she got out of the car. “Well, I like a little bit of everything. Auntie Cup didn’t raise me to be one-dimensional, you know. I love being well-rounded and smarter than your average Pinkie. For example, I’ve been reading Dogged Research’s biography on norules. The man was a genius in the way that he wrote his poetry without following any of the established rules of, well, anything, punctuation included. You could say he was the father of modern internet writing, although that’s entirely by accident.” She gave Sunset a sincere smile. “I want to be a girl who’s more than just her looks…although if a certain someone wants me for that, I’m not about to complain.”

“Pinkie, I….”

“I know. But I meant that sincerely. If I have any hope of winning you over, then I have to be a girl worthy of your heart, right? You deserve someone with the headspace to go along with the chassis. I refuse to be someone’s trophy girlfriend, but if I’m going to be yours, it would be an insult to you to be that way. And speaking as a friend, I would not let anyone – myself included – do that to you.”

“Pinkie, you’re going to make me blush.”

Pinkie got on her tiptoes and kissed Sunset on the cheek. “Then I’m doing my job, right?” She took her friend’s arm and said, “Let’s get inside. I really want to see some of the Greco-Roman art they have here – it’s supposed to be one of the best collections in the world!”

“Well then, lead the way.”

The two made their way from the garage to the front gates, only to run into a problem: only the Asian art building would be open that day, as the main structure was closed for a special event. Sunset frowned; she wasn’t sure if they would have time to drive down to the Brentwood, which she’d already seen but Pinkie had not. As they turned away from the gates, however, Sunset heard her name being called out. She then turned to see a familiar face waving towards them.

“You know them?” the guard at the door asked.

“Yeah, she’s a good friend of mine and I’m sure she’ll vouch for the other,” the newcomer said as she went over to Sunset and gave her a hug. “Hey, Sunny! Long time no see!”

Pinkie looked on with surprise. “You’re Midnight Moondust!” she said, a bit starstruck.

For her part, Sunset returned the hug. “Heya, Midge, how goes?”

“Just living the life of a teenage pop star,” Midnight admitted. “Who’s your friend?”

“I didn’t know you knew a pop star, Sunny,” Pinkie accused.

“You mean, like we don’t know Fluttershy?”

“That’s different.”

Midnight’s eyes opened at that. “Fluttershy? As in that girl who was with Discord during his concerts last month?”

“Yeah, that’s his daughter. We go to school with her, why?”

“Is she getting into the business or something? I’m surprised Tavi’s not jamming with her on a regular basis, if you know her.”

“Oh, they’ve started playing together. Maybe they’ll start a band,” Sunset answered. “I’ll ask them when I get back to the hotel.”

Midnight looked at her oddly. “They’re in town?”

“Oh, yeah!” Pinkie chirped happily. “They’re currently hanging out with the Chocolate Twins in Disneyland at the moment.”

That got Midnight’s attention even further. Looking at them with shock, she added, “And you two are here?” When Pinkie nodded, Midnight sighed. “Sunny…. I’m the celebrity and why do you know more buzzworthy folks than I do?”

“Luck of the draw, I guess?” Sunset said. “Anyway, I guess this whole thing is for you?”

“Yeah. Recording the video for my newest single. Wanted to try something different, so I went with something a little more elegant than half-naked teenyboppers on the beach or at the pool. And despite me wanting to move away from my previous image, I also definitely don’t want to get career advice from my parents, right? So Violet suggested that I work something in at a museum. I got my agent to start the process and lo and behold, LACMA was more than willing to close down for a day so I could film. Anyway, what are you doing here?”

“Date!” Pinkie said, leaning against Sunset’s arm and nuzzling it.

Midnight gave Sunset a sly look. “I didn’t know you were—”

“Long story,” Sunset sighed, a look on her face that Midnight picked up on immediately.

“Ah. Okay, not going to pry further. But I’d really hate to ruin your, um, date, especially since you didn’t know the museum was going to be closed and….” A thought then came over her. “Wait, why don’t you two be extras in my video? It’s a couple of hours, you’ll get to have fun and then afterwards, while the filming is shutting down for the day, you two can walk around and take in the museum with no one around.”

“I appreciate that,” Sunset began.

“Yes! We’ll do it!” Pinkie cried, then looked at Sunset. “Is that okay with you, Sunny?”

Sunset saw the look in Pinkie’s eyes. It was one that looked for fun, and so very Pinkie. This was the Pinkie she knew: exuberant, fun-loving and happy. Not the self-doubting one she saw last night. If – if – there would ever be a Pinkie that she would want a relationship with, it would be this one.

…Not that I’m looking for a relationship with Pinkie, of course, she reminded herself needlessly, but if I was, this is the Pinkie that I would want to be with. She snuck another look at Pinkie and she looked to be in Seventh Heaven, completely at peace in the world. If Sunset had to put another appellation to the joyful look on her friend’s face, it was that she looked cute.

I’m doing this for her, Sunset reminded herself. Pinkie’s happiness was important to Sunset, and if it meant sacrificing in little moments like this, then it would be worth it.

“Sure, sounds fun,” Sunset told Midnight.

“Okay, then follow me!” the singer told them. “You’ll have to sign some waivers, standard Hollywood stuff since you’ll be extras in the video, but it shouldn’t be a problem. Trust me, you just sit there and follow the director’s instructions and call it that. Should be easy! C’mon, I’ll take you over to costuming, since I need to get ready myself.”

As they followed Midnight towards a set of pre-fab trailers, Pinkie looked at Sunset. “How do you know her?”

“She’s Tavi’s cousin,” Sunset explained. “I thought you knew.”

“No, she didn’t exactly explain that,” Pinkie explained, “but given how much Tavi doesn’t like to talk about her extended family, I can understand that.”

“Well, trust me, Midge is one of the ones she gets along with,” Sunset assured her. “I wouldn’t be friends with her if that wasn’t the case. Besides, she’s a great person to know.” She turned and called out to Midnight, “How’s the home life, Midge?”

“Not bad. I moved in with Violet, and it’s been great. Yeah, my parents still offer their advice – after all, what parent doesn’t do that, right? – but Vi’s been pretty good at looking out for me. She’s even had me start working on learning how to play my own instruments so that I’m not ‘just a singer’, since those kinds of starlets end up actually needing the kind of career advice my parents dish out, and since I don’t want to be a has-been by the time I’m twenty-two, I think I’ll trust my sister’s advice more.” They headed down a short flight of steps and then Midnight announced, “Well, we’re here.”

“So, what’s the video about?” Sunset asked, looking at the one person coming out of costuming wearing an elegant gown, as if attending a formal party.

“Oh, it’s for my cover of an old 80s song,” Midnight explained. “Basically the video is going to be of a group of formal partygoers having a cotillion here, when all of a sudden a skater girl straight out of the 80s comes out and starts trying to liven things up, dancing around statues and playing with the artwork, screwing with the guards and generally having a good time. I got a chance to see some of the replica artwork the art department provided, and they look amazingly like some of the artwork we’ll be screwing around with. So much so that Vi commissioned one of them to make an additional copy of Ten Views of a Ling-bi Stone, an ancient Chinese painted scroll, for our house.”

“THERE YOU ARE!” a voice shouted and an obese man with a long white ponytail and unshaven neckbeard came waddling towards them. “Midnight, honey, we got problems!”

“What’s up?” Midnight asked.

“Who are these two?” the man immediately inquired.

“Friends of mine who are here by coincidence,” Midnight explained. “Sunny, Pinkie, this is my manager Big Direction. What’s up, Big?”

“We got serious problems,” the man said in a nasally voice, taking the time to stop and wick sweat off his forehead. “The dancer we hired? Dazzling Steps? She just quit.”

“What?” Midnight asked. “How? Why?”

“How is simple – she walked right out, saying she wasn’t going to work with the director again. As to why, well….” He leaned into Midnight’s ear and whispered a few things. Though neither knew it, Sunset could hear everything easily and the moment she heard the words sexual advances her blood boiled.

“Fire him,” Midnight said curtly.

“What? Midnight, honey, I can’t—”

“No. I don’t give a damn if Showreel’s won four MTV Video Awards or whatever. I don’t care if he’s a Grammy-winning director. I’m not going to put up with this kind of bullshit on my music video. Besides, from what I’ve heard, this isn’t the first production he’s tried this shit on.” She sighed and slumped her shoulders. “But this is going to ruin things, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is. It took weeks to find a director that we can work with, and weeks to find a dancer that could do what you wanted,” Big told her. “And that’s just the easy parts. It took me months to work out something with the museum, and the only reason they agreed to do it today was because they were going to be moving a lot of stuff around for another exhibition they’re bringing in. We could be looking at months before we get this chance.” He groaned. “Well, let me go bounce Showreel, then we can talk things over lunch.”

“This is going to destroy my new single!”

“Hey, Midnight, this is just how Hollywood is – you know that,” he told her. “Anyway, let me hit Showreel with the bad news. Guy’s got it coming, anyway.” The man scurried off as fast as his legs could take him.

Midnight sat down morosely on a nearby bench. “This sucks.”

“You okay, Midge?” Sunset asked her.

“No. I was….” She sighed. “Look, I recorded the song as a favor for a friend of mine. Her mother has terminal cancer, and the song was her favorite. I wanted it to be a gift for Dreamscape and her mother, because she’s not expected to survive. Dreamy and her mother are going to be here any minute so that Dreamy can be in the video and her mother could watch. And now everything’s ruined because some middle-aged asshole can’t keep his hands off the merchandise!” The look on the girl’s face was a mixture of anger and sorrow. “And I don’t know what to tell Dreamy and her mother – and that hurts even more than just the fact that I’ll have to have a lyric video made for a song I put my heart and soul into.”

It was then that Pinkie had a sudden idea and leaned over and whispered something into Sunset’s ear. Sunset smiled and said, “What if I could fix it all, Midnight?”

“Look, Sunny, I appreciate the platitudes, but no, this can’t be fixed.”

“No, I’m being serious,” Sunset told her. “What if I could fix this?”

Midnight looked at the flame-haired girl and saw the serious look on Sunset’s face. “You can?”

“I probably can. Might take an extra hour to get things in place, though. Think your manager could get us an extra hour of filming today?”

“Yeah. Big’s got a lot of sway, which is why I work with him,” Midnight replied. “But then there’s the museum’s folks….”

“I can take care of that, too,” Sunset insisted, and the look in her eyes was one of drop-dead seriousness.

Midnight’s face showed a bit of relief. “If you can do that, I swear I’d kiss you!”

Pinkie frowned. “That’s my job,” she warned.

“Sorry, figure of speech,” Midnight laughed. “But seriously? If you could do this, it would mean the world to me, Sunny.”

Sunset reached for her phone while Pinkie smiled. “Trust the alicorn,” she said. “She can do anything.”

“Uh…what’s an alicorn?”

The first snows came, far faster than had been expected. Rainbow, currently on the ground, looked up and covered her eyes with a wing. “This…isn’t natural,” she said softly.

“Yes, it is a bit too early in the year for snow, isn’t it?” Rarity asked her, casting a spell to summon her muffler and saddle. But a snowflake then fell on her muzzle and she looked at it as it melted against her pearl-white fur. “What do you mean this isn’t natural?”

“From what Cloud Kicker told me, we weren’t supposed to have snow today. And unless this wandered in from the Everfree – and believe me, that place is creepy enough – then it had to form naturally. And since we pegasi don’t let that happen….” She shrugged her wings. “It’s not natural.”

“Ah think y’ might have to rethink what ‘natural’ means, sugarcube,” Applejack told her. Always the practical one, she’d come with her ever-present hat, a scarf and a well-worn duster coat. “Although if this snow is comin’, that means that it’s comin’ early – and that’s gonna harm the apple crop.”

“Girls, please, can we talk about other things right now?” Fluttershy looked at them, heartbroken. “We’re here for other reasons, right?” The others fell silent at the soft-spoken pegasi’s plea.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Rainbow said softly, turning away in shame. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Rarity said. “We’re all friends here and we make mistakes.”

They stood before Raspberry Beryl’s grave. She’d been gone three months now, and to the girls, it had felt as if it were forever. This had been a season of pain, one that had not let up. Even after the Tirek War, and attempts to rebuild, his forces and followers continued their onslaught. The small town garrison that had always been a handful of ponies at best was now turning into a full fort with a company of EUP guards. Whole sections of Ponyville had not been rebuilt, and on the far west side of town, four of those “apartment buildings” that were common in Canterlot or one of the larger cities were now climbing into the Ponyville sky. The once-lackadaisical town, so used to brushing off parasprite swarms, greedy dragons and zebra misunderstandings, was now genuinely on edge. It didn’t feel like home anymore.

And the grave of their lost friend was just one more reason why.

Sweeping the light dusting of snow off the gravestone with her wing, Fluttershy gave it a sad smile. “We’re sorry we haven’t been by in a week,” Fluttershy began sadly. “But we haven’t stopped thinking of you.”

“Your highness, here’s the current town outlay.” Mayor Mare handed Twilight the papers. Twilight was spending a rare day working on statecraft rather than her all-consuming project, and only that because she’d had the meeting scheduled with the mayor that she couldn’t get out of. Besides, with town hall destroyed and a whole floor of the palace now dedicated for use as an acting city hall office, it wasn’t as though Twilight could hide from Ponyville’s municipal government forever.

Twilight scanned the document, then looked at the mayor with aplomb. “Seriously?”

Mare nodded. “Sadly, yes. We will need the additional funding—”

“Double it.” Twilight looked at her bleakly. “I will not let my ponies go homeless for one more day. I know some ponies don’t like those apartment complexes and that they feel that they’re taking away from the town’s character, but if they’re the quickest way to make sure that we get families out of tents and back into a normal semblance of life, then that’s what has to be done.”

“Frankly, Princess, up until now I was one of those ponies,” Mare admitted. “But after touring the camp set up on the fairgrounds, and the fact that the air is getting colder quickly…we won’t have normal homes built in time, not with the extra incursions from the Forest and especially not with all the Tirek fanatics that seem to have sprung up as of late.” She gave the princess a sad glance. “After all that, if it means saving the townsponies, I’ll replace every house in this town with those blasted apartment buildings by myself with my own hooves if need be.”

“Thank you, Mayor. I know it’s a struggle,” Twilight told her, “but it is worth it.”

“TWILIGHT!” Pinkie Pie rushed into the throne room and unceremoniously interrupted the meeting. “We have an emergency!”

“Pinkie, I’m in the middle of a meeting—”

“No! It’s an important emergency!” The look on the earth mare’s face was one of stone-cold sobriety. “Like double-secret super emergency-type stuff!” She immediately grabbed her friend’s pastern and started tugging. “We don’t have time to waste!”

Twilight looked at the mayor apologetically. “I’m sorry, Mayor, but I guess I need to attend to this.”

Mayor Mare chuckled. “I understand, Princess. I certainly know by now not to interfere with Bearer activities. I will send the paperwork over tonight by courier so you can sign the final documents.”

“Done,” was all Twilight could say before Pinkie managed to successfully drag her out of the throne room. When they exited, Twilight looked at Pinkie sternly. “What’s up, Pinkie?”

“You, Twi,” Pinkie said sadly. “You’re the emergency. Don’t you know how worried we are about you? We haven’t seen you in days!”

“Pinkie,” Twilight groaned, “I’ve been busy. This project I’m working on for Luna is extremely important—”

“You haven’t held Twilight Time for Sweetie, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom in weeks. Spike says you haven’t eaten in days. You missed my ‘Yay We Beat the Tirek Invaders for the 58th Time’ party I held two days ago!”

“I don’t think you understand how important this project is, Pinkie! It might be key to saving our world—”

“Today’s Razz’s birthday,” Pinkie said flatly, her mane starting to straighten out. “And we’re all meeting by her grave to let her know how much we love and miss her.”

That took the wind out of Twilight’s sails. “I….”

“I know. You can’t talk about it. And we know something is up with Princess Celestia and we’re not supposed to talk about that, either. But you can’t do anything if you force yourself to the point of exhaustion! You might be an alicorn, Twi…but you’re only pony.” The look on Pinkie’s face was sad. “Please. We know what you’re doing is important but…we need you, too.”

Twilight turned away, ashamed of herself. “I….”

Pinkie hugged her. “We know. But you’re the Princess of Friendship – and we need that more than ever right now.”

Twilight and Pinkie hugged one another until Pinkie’s mane sprung out once more and Twilight felt more at ease. She then went to look for a guard. She finally found one she hadn’t seen before, a unicorn stallion with a purple mane, golden eyes and features similar to that of Prince Blueblood. “Excuse me, have you seen Capt. Stormbreaker?”

“Capt. Stormbreaker was recalled to Canterlot because of a family emergency, your highness,” the unicorn said simply. “I’m here to fill in for her for a few days. What can I do for you?”

“Yes, I need to step out for a few….” Twilight suddenly trailed off as recollection suddenly came to her face. “Do we know each other, lieutenant?”

The unicorn smiled. “I see you do remember,” he said with a grin, “although it’s been a few years, your highness. But I do recall you’ve grown lovelier than ever, if I may say.”

“New coltfriend, Twi?” Pinkie asked.

“He’s an extended member of the royal family, one of Blueblood’s cousins, as I recall.”

He nodded. “Yes. So far down the line that although I’m technically a prince, I rarely bother with the title,” he explained. “In fact, the only one who really does is my sister, Duchess Highfalutin.” He then looked at Twilight. “And I’m sorry about all the problems she’s been causing as of late, your highness.”

“Twilight, if you please. If we’re equals, we should be calling each other by first name, er…

He laughed. “If you insist, Twilight. But let me introduce myself to your friend, at least.” Bowing gracefully, he said, “Prince Divine Right, Lieutenant of the Solar Division of the EUP Guards, and Prince of Westermare, at your service, Lady Pie. Although, I’d rather be known for being a lieutenant than a prince. Like I said, I’m not big on titles.”

Recollection finally came to Twilight’s features. “Div! Oh, I’m so sorry I forgot!”

“It’s okay. As I said, it’s been a few years, Twilight. Anyway, what can I do for you?”

“I need to step out for errands, but they’re personal, so I was hoping I could do without the escort.”

“That’s fine; I’ll let the duty sergeant know. As it is, I need to increase patrols around the campsite. A barrow-wight apparently tried to attack early this morning and two ponies were injured. I’ll be leading a small team into the Forest later today to deal with that.”

“I wasn’t aware.”

“I know you weren’t; I only found out about it a few minutes ago myself. I’m not happy about it, though – we serve our ponies, and it won’t do to have them injured, not when I can do something to protect them.”

“Well, as I recall, you would often say that is, ahem, your ‘divine right’, am I right?”

He rolled his eyes. “I am so glad I grew out of saying that all the time. It made me sound stupid and megalomaniacal.”

“Thank you for all your help, Mrs. Armonia,” Sunset said over her phone a few minutes later. “I truly appreciate everything you’ve done.”

On the other end, Armonia laughed. “Anything to help Velvet’s daughter,” she said. “Besides, I haven’t spoken to Dr. Artifact in years, and it was nice to catch up with him on old times. As it is, though, I must get back to my work.”

“I’ll let you do that. Thanks again. Bye.” Sunset hung up her call then turned back to Midnight. “Done and done. You’re cleared to take however long you need.”

Midnight stared at Sunset in surprise. “Are you magic or something, Sunny?”

“Yes, actually, I am,” she said with a smile. She then laughed and added, “I just happen to know people, is all.”

Big looked at the girl with an impressed look. “Maybe I should take you under my wing, kid. With that contact list you got there, you’d be a natural in this business.”

Sunset had made a few calls, and an hour later, all of her friends, as well as the Chocolate Twins, Rose and Piano, had come up. At the moment, the Twins were looking over the script, and Rose was calling her brother to see if he could come and film the video himself. As for the others, they were all in costuming, having filled in parts as extras, since some extras had heard about Showreel’s firing and didn’t want to be a part of the production any longer.

“Well, I would be ruined if it wasn’t for you, Sunny,” Midnight said with gratitude. “I really appreciate everything you’ve done.”

“Well, that’s why I’m lucky she’s my cousin,” Octavia said, just having exited costuming. She was dressed in 1930s elegance, as if she’d been a time traveler from the Gilded Age, having gotten lost on the way to some swank Manhattan party. “She’s practically like a sister to me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I don’t doubt that at all, Tavi,” Midnight replied.

“Oh, this is divine!” Rarity, now also dressed similarly, came out as well. She looked even more the bit than Octavia did currently, yet at the same time also seemed to be completely at home in the formal attire. “Although, Ms. Moondust, you may want to have your costuming department be a bit more accurate – I can see you’re going for 1930s elegance for some of the background, but that gentleman there,” she said, pointing at a man in the distance, “is wearing an ascot tie, which is somewhat anachronistic for the time period.”

When Midnight looked at Rarity with confusion, Sunset explained. “Rarity’s a fashion designer by nature, so it’s not surprising that she knows these things.”

Midnight just whistled in appreciation. “Are you sure you’re not magic, Sunny? It looks like you have expertise on hand that some experts don’t!”

“I’m just well informed, Ms. Moondust,” Rarity said simply, with an elegant shrug of her shoulders.

Rose walked up. “Okay, got a hold of my brother,” she said to Midnight. “Cam’s going to drop everything and be here within the hour. He’s really going to love doing this, and it’s going to be a huge break for him, especially since he’s still in college.”

“Look, beggars can’t be choosers, so I’m just glad that I was able to get someone, Rose, and someone I know works just as well. Besides, I didn’t know you knew Sunny or Tavi. Plus, now that we have the Chocolate Twins involved, this really makes things exceptional!”

It was then that Milk, Mint and Piano walked over to them, script in hand. “Well, we have good news and bad news,” Mint began. “Sis?”

“Yeah, we can do some of this stuff, Midge,” Milk began, “but we’re not this good. Some of these routines call for doing it on rollerblades, and that’s some precision dancing.”

“Yeah, I know Dazzling Steps personally, and she’s known for moves like this,” Piano added. “The choreography alone is going to be precision. I can make some calls, see if some other dancers are available that can pull it off, but I don’t know if I can get anyone of this caliber in time.”

“What about Twinklespin?” Mint suggested.

“Broke her ankle a few weeks ago,” Piano pointed out. “Not going to be available in time.”

“Flight Star?” Milk offered.

“Six months pregnant, so I doubt she’ll be dancing.”

“Steel Roller?”

“On her honeymoon – and she lives in New York now.”


Piano rolled her eyes. “Okay, now you’re stretching,” she said. “Just because she got drunk and started dancing on the table at your house that one time doesn’t mean she’s a dancer for a living.”

Mint blushed. “Okay, point. Well, let’s pool together our resources. We should be able to come up with something in time.”

“Can’t we just call Dazzling Steps back since that odious man is now gone?” Rarity asked.

“We could have…until they found her at a bar about thirty minutes ago, drunk off her ass and moaning about how she won’t let some guy diddle her titties,” Big said. “She’s clearly, um, broken up about the whole thing, so we sent her home, with pay. Besides, last thing we want is a lawsuit and when it comes to Tinseltown, having her drunk and paid just to sit and sober up is better than the lawsuit we’d get hit with otherwise.”

“Well, I can probably get Pure Imagination to do it,” Rose said, “but it’s going to cost you.”

“No, Rose,” Midnight said. “Not her. No way in hell.”

“Who’s she?” Big asked.

“Girl I go to school with,” Rose explained. “Cheerleader and dancer and has an ego bigger than the Hollywood sign. She’s good, admittedly – damn good – but I guarantee the moment she finds out she’s a last-minute fill in, and that all these celebs are here? All that money for this single that Midge was going to donate to charity may as well go to the Let’s Pay Pure’s Credit Card Bill fund.”

“Yeah, I know who she is,” Midnight responded, “and I don’t even go to the same school as you. No way in hell, Rose. Sorry.”

“You need a dancer who can pull it off.”

“We’ll come up with something. We still have time to think of something, right?”

Sunset coughed to get their attention. “Well, we do have one option left.”

“And that is?”

Sunset merely gestured over to her date, who was standing there – but for all of Sunset’s gestures, it may as well have been equivalent to a dozen lighted arrow signs surrounding the cotton-candy-haired girl.

Rarity grinned. “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

Everyone present turned to Pinkie. “You can dance?”

“Well, yeah,” Pinkie said, ticking off her fingers. “I’m a cheerleader, dancer and martial artist, so I do dance a little.”

“Dance a little?” Sunset blurted. “Who was the one who came up with that sexy impromptu belly dancer routine on me back in the cabin a couple of weeks ago?” A few beats went by when Sunset realized what she said.

“‘Sexy bellydancer routine’?” Midnight asked.

“I wasn’t aware of that,” Octavia said, crossing her arms and looking at her cousin slyly.

“I thought you were straight, Sunset, dear,” Rarity accused, an equally knowing look on her face.

“THAT’S NOT WHAT I MEANT!” Sunset blurted, turning nearly as red as her hair.

“Sure it wasn’t,” Rarity and Octavia said at the same time.

“Yay!” Pinkie glomped Sunset. “I knew you’d like it! Took me a bit to make sure I had the glistening oils on my naked body just right for you!” she said without thinking twice.

Everyone just looked at the two, without saying a word.

“Someone kill me now, please,” Sunset begged.

“But didn’t you—” Rarity began.

“Someone make it permanent this time.”

Twilight, who had overheard and was just coming out of costuming, decided to spare her sister further mortification. “Seriously, though, do you think you can do this, Pinkie?”

Pinkie walked over to where Milk and Mint were looking at the choreography script. “May I?” she asked and they handed it to her. Pinkie then looked it over with a lot of hmms and hahs before handing it back to the twins. “Oh, this is easy. But can I make some suggestions?”

“At this point, I’m all ears,” Midnight said.

“Have me, Mint, Milk, Piano and Bon-Bon do the dancing,” Pinkie suggested. “Have A-Camera focus on me and have B-Camera film the others. That way if there’s a move I can’t pull off or doesn’t look good after repeated takes, then you’ve got B-Roll of the others that you can turn to.”

Midnight hugged Pinkie. “That’s brilliant! Thank you, Pinkie!”

Pinkie blushed at the gesture. “I’m just being me, really. No need to thank your friendly neighborhood Pinkie for doing her job.”

Bon-Bon, at Pinkie’s words, had picked up the script as well; fortunately, she hadn’t gone into costuming yet. “Yeah, this isn’t hard to do at all,” she said. “A lot of this works the same way. I suggest we sit down and go over this real quick and see what we can replicate so that we can get this taken care of. In fact, given how martial artists work, we have several dancers here,” the girl said, looking at the others.

“No thanks,” Adagio demurred. “I’m not wiggling my butt out there.”

“Dagi, you’re as good as I am,” Bon-Bon told her. “For that matter, so are your sisters and AJ.”

“Nope, count me out,” Applejack said. “Ah’ll be happy to be in this video, but Ah ain’t as fast with techniques as you. Ah know my limitations.”

“Suit yourself. Ari? Soni?”

“Sure, count me in,” Aria said.

“Absolutely! Dancing with Milk and Mint? It’s like a dream come true!” Sonata chirped happily.

“Fine, fine,” Adagio said. “But I’m only doing it if AJ does.”

The others looked at Applejack.

Applejack groaned. “Ah’m gonna get you for this, Dagi.”

“If I have to suffer for art, you have to suffer for art,” she said with a laugh.

It was then that a security guard approached, escorting a girl and a woman in a wheelchair. “Ms. Moondust?” the guard asked. “These two are here to see you.”

“Hey, my friend’s here!” Midnight said with a smile. “Let me introduce you all to them and we can figure stuff out from there, okay?”

“Is there a store around here?” Shimmer asked.

“Yeah, there’s a department store two blocks north of here, why?” Rose asked.

“If they’re going to dance, they need to work on a routine, fast. Which means they’re going to need workout clothing, and I doubt anyone brought them.” She looked at the newly-chosen dancers and said, “I need your sizes; I’m going to go get you some workout gear.”

“Better yet, there’s an LA Fitness across the street,” Milk said. “We have a membership with them, so let us handle that.”

“Allow me. My twin here might have the magic contact list, but I’m the one with the credit cards,” Shimmer said with a grin. “I have my own magic too.”

“Are you sure, Shimmer?” Sunset asked her.

“Remember what I told you about being the best Sunset Shimmer you can be? That applies to both of us,” she said with a grin.

“Okay, then let’s get this done, then!” Midnight said. “We can save this, and I owe it all to you guys!”

Sunset, meanwhile, pulled Pinkie aside and looked at her. “Are you sure about this, Pinkie? I mean, I didn’t intend to ruin our date.”

“It’s okay,” Pinkie assured her. “Your friend needed help, and celebrity or not this is a for a good cause, right? I don’t mind. Besides, I’m with you and if we get this done in time, we have a whole museum to ourselves, right? And it’s not like I’m alone – I’m still out with you.”

“I really appreciate this, Pinkie. Midge is a friend and it sounds like she was in some seriously desperate straits.”

Pinkie looked at Sunset with adoration. “And it shows how much you care about others, Sunny. And you wonder why I fell in love with you.” She sighed and leaned against her. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go work on my routine with the others.”

“Good. I’ll look forward to seeing it.”

“Oh, I’ll be looking forward to shaking my cute little ass, just for you.” Sunset blushed and Pinkie laughed joyfully as she walked off to join the others.

August 23, PM: Dancing in Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop)

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“Are you ready? Here we go!
Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow
Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow”

A group of girls practiced perfectly syncopated moves in a service hallway at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Out of sight of the rest, the girls went through their paces, and it was a testament to their training in their disciplines that even thirty minutes later they had managed to work out a near-perfect coordination between them.

“Countdown, it’s getting to the flight time
Night stars are shining in my eyes
Ma says I’m going to be the first one
To dance the be-bop in the skies…”


The girls all stopped and looked at a college-aged guy with shaggy silver and black hair in a ponytail, wearing glasses over red eyes. “You missed your cue, Pinkie,” Camera Angle told her. “You need to be a second faster.”

“The rear wheel on my right foot is sticking, making it hard to launch off,” Pinkie said. “It’s going to have to be worked on.”

Camera nodded. “I’ll have wardrobe work on that.” He turned to Rose, who was standing by him. “Can you get Quick Change to get the next set?”

“On it,” she said, running off.

Standing aside, back in their normal clothing for the moment, Sunset and the rest watched as the group that Pinkie had dubbed “Operation Dance Magic” went through their paces.

“It’s coming along pretty fast,” Midnight said. “Honestly, I was worried.”

“Naaah, why worry? We’re all here and when I’m here, everything’s gonna run like clockwork,” Rainbow said proudly.

“Says the girl who ruined four sets of pantyhose,” Fluttershy said, teasing her old friend.

“Hey, I’m not the formal type, okay? Besides, Soarin’ doesn’t complain about me being in or out of pantyhose.”

“TMI, Rainbow,” Octavia told her.

“Uh, wait – that didn’t come out right, did it?”

“Please tell me you at least had protection,” Twilight said to her.

Rainbow muttered something under her breath.

“What are you doing?” they heard a shout from across the room.

“Wonder what’s going on?” Midnight asked.

“Probably should check it out,” Sunset insisted, and the two went over to look. They found Lyra angrily glaring at some other girl, anger seething in Lyra’s citrine eyes.

“You should have more respect for the instruments!” she snarled.

“Like, I don’t know what your problem is,” the other girl said in a Valley Girl accent. “It’s just a fucking prop, okay? Don’t freak out or anything.”

Freak out? It’s a lyre! Do you even know what that is?” Lyra hissed.

“It’s like a harp, right? And look, I’m just an actress, okay? I’m supposed to just pretend how to play the damn thing – I don’t actually have to know how to play!” The girl then saw Sunset and Midnight approaching. “Hey, will someone get this freakstick lesbonoid out of here? She’s, like, totally making me uncomfortable.”

“Well, one, the ‘freakstick lesbonoid’ is actually a lesbian, so I would appreciate you not being insulting,” Sunset told the girl. “Secondly, she’s a friend of mine, so I would really appreciate you not being insulting.” She looked at Lyra. “What’s up?”

“This bimbette here is abusing a lyre.” Lyra ripped it out of the girl’s hands.

“So, who cares what it is? And I was using it normally, okay? Plucking the strings and all that.”

Lyra groaned. “This is a yoke lute lyre.”


“It has a weaker bridge than a Scottish or Saxon lyre, so it’s not meant to be plucked!” Lyra snarled at the girl, then pulled out her keys. On the end of them was a tuning key, which she inserted into the bottom of the lyre in order to tighten the strings. “You’re supposed to play it like this.” She then fiddled with the tuning bulges for a few seconds before playing a short tune on it.

“Strings are beat, but it’s salvageable,” Lyra muttered. “Still doesn’t give you the justification to treat it like an air guitar.”

“You know how to play a lyre?” Midnight asked.

Lyra nodded. “I can play just about any stringed instrument, though I mainly work with a guitar, why?”

Midnight then looked at the other girl. “And you were hired to play the harpist?”

“Well, yeah, because I’m totally hot and all that. Showreel even said so.”

“Yeah, well, unfortunately for you, he’s totally no longer the director, so as of now, you’re an extra.” She looked at Lyra. “Would you mind playing at the beginning of the video? You can play whatever; it’ll be overdubbed with the opening bars of the song, but I’d rather a professional musician handle an instrument with care.”

“Yeah, sure, no problem,” Lyra said with a smile.

“You can’t do that! I’m going to go talk to the director!” the other girl protested.

“Given that I just fired Showreel an hour ago and the new guy works for me, he’s going to side with me,” Midnight told her. “If you’re getting paid for this gig, I highly suggest you shut up at this point and just look pretty for the camera, or else I’m going to fire you, got that?” The girl looked angrily at Midnight but said nothing further, instead choosing to stomp off.

“Don’t worry,” Midnight told Lyra. “I’ll find out how much she was paid and make sure you’re paid the same for it.”

“Uh, I wasn’t doing this for pay,” Lyra told her, “but thanks!”

As Sunset and Midnight walked back towards where the others were practicing, the former said, “Thanks for that, Midge. You didn’t have to do that.”

“Yes I did,” the pop star told her. “Your friend is clearly a true professional, given that she cared about the instrument even though it’s just a prop. Trust me, I’ve seen plenty of so called ‘musicians’ who didn’t really care. And if I can give them a hand’s up, then that’s what I’ll do. Besides, I owe you for saving my bacon, Sunny. Least I can do is pay it forward.”

“Well, I really appreciate that.”

“Hi,” Twilight said quietly, pausing before Raspberry’s grave. The brief flurries of snow had stopped, but the area was now dusted with white, giving everything a ghostly cast. Perhaps it was appropriate.

“I…I feel guilty,” Twilight told the gravestone. “It was partially my plan that got you killed, Razz, and it’s my fault. I…. We’ve lost countless lives, we lost you, and now, if I don’t find a way to prove that Sunset’s home dimension is still there, we might lose Celestia as well – and I don’t want to think about what will happen then.”

Twilight sighed. “But it doesn’t mean you’re forgotten. Your parents…they’re hurting right now, but they’re taking it day by day. Your whole adopted family came for both the funeral and the dedication to your statue. They were proud to be related to you, Razz. I know your natural family doesn’t know you and you don’t know them, but your adoptive family loved you like no other.” She sat down by the grave.

“Did you know they want to name Lonesome Dove after you? When the townsfolk found out what happened to you, Shady Tourmaline petitioned to have the town renamed ‘Raspberry’s Haven’ in your honor. I told them to think about it for a bit and think about what you would want. I know you weren’t fond of things like that, but it seems right. When the petition comes back, I’m going to allow it. You deserve the honor. You deserved so much more than you got in life.”

Tears filled the alicorn’s eyes. “I blew it and I’m still here. I didn’t fight hard enough to protect the innocent and too many died, Razz, most of all you. Our friends are all here, but you’re not. Your parents don’t blame me for what happened, but I blame myself. I don’t feel like I can do anything right anymore.” Tears filled her eyes. “Maybe if Sunset is still alive out there, maybe…maybe everything I’m doing won’t have been in vain. Maybe then I can feel like I’m worthy of my crown and title. Maybe then I can forgive myself for letting you die.”

“You didn’t fail her, Princess.” Twilight turned to see both Ascot and Cashmere standing there, looking at the princess with sorrowful eyes. “We never blamed you for what happened.”

“But why not? It was my order that—”

“It was a monster that invaded our homes and threatened to kill all of ponykind,” Ascot told her. “My daughter did her duty to protect ponies, as did you. Yes, we hurt that she’s gone, but she did everything she could to save all of us.”

“As a parent, that means more to me than the statue you all put up of her,” Cashmere added. “We weren’t in her life for all of it, but what little we were, we were her parents and she was our foal. And that was more than enough for all of us – and I couldn’t be prouder.”

Ascot walked over and offered a hoof up to Twilight. “So young as a princess and too young to have to endure the pain that is life. We didn’t want that for our daughter and we wouldn’t want it for you, either.” Ascot looked at Raspberry’s grave. “And she wouldn’t have wanted that for you at all, Princess.”

“Be proud. You and your friends saved us. I am proud of that, as is all of ponykind. And I know so is our daughter.”

Twilight bawled, begging for forgiveness while Ascot and Cashmere embraced her, telling her it was okay.

Standing a distance away, Luna watched with a melancholy heart. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, ladies,” she told the other Bearers. “Even though the crisis has kept me busy, I am not so engaged that I would let Twilight suffer so. This has been hard on all of us and it will not get easier anytime soon, I’m afraid.”

“Are things that bad, Luna?” Applejack asked her.

“Celestia is in a deep depression, and the sun weeps with her. The weather patterns of the Everfree are starting to appear everywhere and it is overwhelming weather teams across the nation. There was a naturally-occurring tornado for the first time in centuries just outside of Oatmaha two days ago.”

Rainbow looked at her with surprise. “What? That’s—”

“Impossible?” the night alicorn cut in. “No, it’s not. It happened and dozens of homes were destroyed, farmland ruined but thankfully nopony was injured. But it’s only a matter of time until something happens.”

“Isn’t there anything we can do?” Rarity asked.

“Keep her company. Let her know that she is loved. Twilight, as you well know, has a propensity for pushing herself to her limits. In order to save the world, she may have to push herself even farther. She may be the only chance to find my niece.”

“Your niece? Sunset Shimmer?”

“Yes. Because I fear that at this point, whether she wishes it or not, Sunset is key to saving her mother and our world.”

Raspberry Beryl stood in a beautiful dress, with makeup and mascara, a hat and “dressed to the nines”, as Rarity – the local Rarity – had said. Truth be told, she kind of liked the outfit. She understood that it was human formalwear, and when she found out that it was clothing from nearly a century ago, she was surprised. Attire like this was something similar to what the Rarity she usually associated with would have designed.

Furthermore, while everyone else was getting ready, she had a chance to walk around and look at some of the human artwork on display. It was ironic. Given her entry into this world, she’d come in a museum, a pinnacle of human culture, and had not seen what it had held because of the urgency of the situation. Now that she was trapped here with the possibility of never going back home again, she now had all the time to see what human culture entailed, and she found that it was beautiful, far more than she had expected.

At the moment, she was gazing at a finely detailed drawing called Retrato de Posada en Su Taller, by an artist called Gráfica Popular. She could almost feel the tension of the man in the portrait, and it spoke to her jumbled feelings at the moment.

“I just read up on the picture,” Sunset told her. “Posada was a shopkeep in Mexico City, where Popular was an artist. The man…well, both men, actually, were dreamers, always with their eyes on the horizon. It was why Popular decided to do a drawing of the man, so that his view would forever stretch beyond the confines of the horizon he knew.”

“This is what you meant by human beauty, isn’t it?” Raspberry asked Sunset, never taking her eyes off the picture.

“Part of it. There’s others. You’ve been to Disneyland, and even though that’s a pop culture example, it shows that my adopted species isn’t all about war. There’s more, Razz. So much more. And if you are stuck here – and again, I’m going to do my best to make sure that you’re not – you have a lifetime to find out about that.”

“I really don’t want to,” Raspberry said. “But…if I don’t have a choice…you’ll be here?”

“We’ll be here.” Twilight approached and stopped behind her sister. “You won’t be alone, Razz. As you can guess, my family is big on…well, family, and you’re a part of that now. We will back you, no matter what your plans are.”

“Thanks. I guess if I have to stay here, I’ll have someone to care about me.”

“You will, Razz. You will.”

“What’s up, sis?” Sunset then asked Twilight.

“Came to get you both. They’re going to be starting the test runs first before the actual filming, so we need to get back.”

Sunset nodded. “Okay. You ready, Razz?”

“Yeah, I’ll be there shortly.” Raspberry watched as her friends walked off, then moved across the empty room towards another line drawing, one that was by an artist named Ojo Enfocado, who was a student of Gráfica Popular. In it, she could see a picture of a winged girl screaming in pain and sorrow. But that wasn’t what caught her attention.

It was that the girl, presented as naked in the image, had a strange marking on her side: what looked to be a star and a thunderbolt.

What looked like a cutie mark.

Enraptured by her discovery, Raspberry looked at the plaque next to the image:

The Tragedy of the Pegasus (La Tragedia de la Pegasa)
Ojo Enfocado (Mexico, Mexico City, 1931 – 1976)
Mexico, 1962
Prints; linocuts
Linoleum cut
35 x 22 ½ in. (88.9 x 57.15 cm)
Gift of Dr. Oceanfront & Mrs. Oaktree (M.88.61)

CURATOR NOTES: This cut, one of Enfocado’s few subjects that did not deal with Mexican politics, is based on a story that his grandmother told him during his childhood. His grandmother, Vuelo Estrella (? – ca. 1936), had told him many tales as he had grown up, but the one he recalled most was her claim that she was not originally human, and that she had been born a pegasus from another world, and that she had been somehow transported to ours. That, unable to find her way back home or even to turn back into her native form, she had been nursed back to health by his grandfather and they fell in love. With Sra. Estrella unable to return to her home, she married Enfocado’s grandfather and started a family with him.

This artwork depicts a scene from her story, in particular the part where she crashed to earth and became human. Note the strange tattoo on her side, something she claimed was called a linda marca (roughly, “beautiful marking”) that was native to her kind, a sort of branding natural to pegasi. In his memoirs, Enfocado said that although he never believed it to be a true story, his grandmother did, and that was enough for him.

Tears streaming down Raspberry’s face, she whispered, “You’re just like me. You were never able to get home again. You’re just like me.”

No longer able to look at the artwork and what it might have ordained, Raspberry ran from the room, crying. Thankfully, the first person she ran into was Sonata, who was taking a break just before they started the routine. She was wearing silvery short shorts, a tube top, excessive makeup and her hair was down long and over her shoulder. “Razz? You okay?” When the former unicorn explained, Sonata hugged her. “It’s okay. I know how you feel. That even though you have people who love you and you can turn to, in the end you still feel completely alone.”

Raspberry looked at her with surprise. “How?”

Sonata sadly chuckled. “Easy: I’m not as pretty as Dagi, nor as easygoing as Ari. I don’t have Twily’s intelligence or Tavi’s sophistication. I’m certainly not like Sunny in any way, and all my friends outclass me in some way or another. If it wasn’t for my engineering skills, I would be behind in everything. And sometimes it makes me feel like I’m by myself and that I hold the others back.”

“But I don’t—”

“You do; it’s obvious. Maybe you are top of your game as a unicorn, but you’re way behind the curveball in human form. And your only example is Sunny, who has been here for half a decade and has completely gone native. You’re afraid you’re never going to fit in and that it’s going to hurt you forever. I know you don’t even want to be here, but you’re afraid that you’ll be stuck like that pegasus woman.”

“I’m afraid, Soni. I’m always afraid now. Back home, I knew my purpose and my friends. I knew what I had to do and what I was going to do in life. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but at the end of the day, I knew who I was and what I did. I was nobility, an archmagus, and part of the Court of Friendship. Here? I don’t know what I am.”

“I know what you are,” Sonata told her. “You’re my friend. You’re brave, you’re strong, you’re magical, and even if you’re not as ideal as you used to be, so what? You can just build over.”

“Easy for you to say. I’ve been on the run for all my life.”

“In a time that doesn’t exist anymore, I was trained to kill since childhood. I could have died unmourned, unloved and even unrecognized by my government. They didn’t care about us, they only cared about SIREN. And even now in this new life, it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for me, either. I’m not telling you to buck up like Rainbow would, or to get in touch with your feelings like Flutters would. I’m saying that even though you feel alone…you’re not. You have me. You have all of us. And even if you never make it back home…don’t think you won’t have one here.”

“You promise?”

Sonata hugged her again. “Should be obvious by now, right?” The two stayed like that for a while before Sonata said, “We gotta get back to the production. Can you fix up our makeup?”

“Sure thing,” Raspberry said, calling on her magic – the magic she now had as a human, and was now becoming part of her.

Will it someday banish my curse? she wondered.

“So that’s the last of my things,” Celestia said as she wiped her brow, carrying the box out of what used to be her office. “You should have a plaque ordered as soon as you can, Principal Luna.”

Luna looked at her sister oddly. “Sis, you’re still the principal here.”

“Only in name during this transition year,” Celestia assured her. “I’ll still be here, but I’ll be taking on more superintendent duties while we do this transition. Have you given a thought as to who will be your vice principal?”

Luna chuckled. “Actually, Abby was the first to come to mind—”

“Are you out of your Goddamn mind?” Both women turned to see Abacus Cinch walking towards them, carrying one of the last boxes out of Celestia’s old office. “If I wanted to slowly lose my mind I’d go work in the civilian sector!” The three women laughed heartily at that.

“Thanks for giving us a hand, Abby,” Celestia told her friend. “I know you’ve been busy.”

“Well, we haven’t seen each other in a while and I figured now would be a good time,” Cinch said. “Besides, Bulk and I are headed out on a date tonight and I just told him I’d meet him here.”

“I didn’t know you and Bulk were dating,” Celestia noted.

Cinch nodded. “We met at a sporting conference. I manage the junior high girls’ basketball team at my school and so I went off. We bumped into each other, literally, and I ended up with coffee all over a stark white shirt – and I hadn’t been wearing a bra that day,” she said with a blush. “Fortunately, he was a gentleman and offered me the hoodie he’d brought with him. Push came to shove, we had dinner to make up for it, and have I mentioned he’s great in bed?” She gave them a wink as she took a drink from her water bottle.

“Didn’t need to know that,” both Celestia and Luna said at the same time.

“Seriously, though, as honored as I am, Lu, I love my job too much to leave,” Cinch told her. “Anyone else you’ve given a thought to?”

“Well, there’s Extra Credit over at Greengrass Junior High.”

“Wouldn’t recommend it. She’s going through a very nasty divorce right now, and she’s a bit off-kilter,” Celestia advised. “From what I know, she’s doing a great job where she is, but taking on a whole new load might just fry some circuitry there. What about Report Card?”

“Card?” Cinch laughed. “Wouldn’t do it. I know for a fact that he’s a functional alcoholic, and the only reason he hasn’t been fired yet is because he’s great at inspiring kids. But I would not put him in a position of seniority at all. What about Red Ink?”

“She lives up to her name,” Celestia told her. “There’s a reason why she’s been at Sunnytown High since the first day she started teaching. She’s almost as bad as the students.”

“What about Chalk Stick? Isn’t she local?”

“No, she moved last year to take a principal job out in Cloudsdale,” Celestia said. “Hate to say it, sis, but you might just have to actually look at the boards.”

“Yeah, I was afraid of that,” Luna said. “I was hoping to keep it with someone I knew already, but if I have to go to the boards, then I have to go to the boards.”

Cinch smiled. “Hey, could be worse: you could end up with Humble Bumble, my former vice principal,” Cinch told them. When they looked at her for an explanation, she grinned. “The first year I was teaching over at Crystal Prep, the principal was a guy named Distant Horizon, and Humble Bumble was his vice. And vice was definitely a word I’d use with him; the man was single, but on the make for any lady that was single or at least willing. He would hit on some of the parents hard, and he was the kind of idiot that wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

“Oh, what happened to him?”

“Got the girl of the moment pregnant, then tried to act like he was in high school – the old ‘not my kid, you can’t prove shit’ kind of bullshit. Unfortunately for him, the woman he got pregnant was the sister of our school’s biggest donor, who then threatened to pull funding unless they canned him. He was out on his ass the week after, and since no one else had the expertise, Horizon asked me to take over math faculty chair so that Weighty Problem, who was the department chair at the time, could fill the vice principal slot. It got me where I am today.”

“And what happened to that Humble Bumble guy?”

“Last I heard, he’s teaching out on an Indian reservation in New Mexico. Couldn’t keep his pants on and earned himself a reputation that got him sent to the middle of nowhere. But that’s hardly my fault.”

Camera Angle looked at everyone present. “Are we ready? Time to get this show going!” he called to the crowd. “Soon as we get this done, the sooner we get this done!”

“You sound as though you’re ready for this, bro,” Rose told him.

Camera grinned. “Are you kidding? This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am not letting this one slide by! Places, everyone!” The various actors moved to their places on the set, ignoring the bright spot lights and the various other bits that marked this as a production.

A woman with a slate called out for scene one, take one, and slapped the arm down, the rap of the board sounding out and echoing through the cavernous room as the actors began their movements on the microcosmic stage. For Sunset’s part, she was pretending to be a socialite, doling out nothing more than banter and light talk with the exaggerated motions of an age nearly a century ago.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Shimmer doing it and Sunset had to admit, she was a natural at it. Did her twin have acting abilities that Sunset herself did not? That would be pretty cool, all things considered. Or was this just a normal part of the life that she led? Sunset had herself lived that life for many years, but the time spent away from Canterlot had made her rusty, all things considered. Besides, now in hindsight, she realized it was a lifestyle that had been toxic to her nature and had turned her into the person that she hated now.

Still, for a time, it was good to pretend. Perhaps it would even be a way for her to learn how to navigate this lifestyle as herself – as she was now – rather than to have to sink back into the sort of pony she’d been back then.

“Dollar for your thoughts, dear?” Rarity asked her.

“Just thinking about the bad old times, and how much they ruined my life,” Sunset whispered back.

“Surely you’re fortunate now, though? No need to think about the past.”

“True, no argument about that. But sometimes I just wonder how my life would’ve been if…nevermind.” As she listened, in the distance she could hear the order for the dancers to come out. Sunset had not seen how they had looked yet, and she wondered exactly how that would play out.

“My word!” A man, clearly too much into his role said, looking with feigned shock. Clearly a method actor hamming it up a tad, as they were told they weren’t supposed to “notice” the dancers until the stage direction had come. Sure enough, a second later the call came out and the rest of them could look with gazes of surprise and wonder at the futuristic creatures that had come into their midst.

Sunset fixed firm her jaw in surprise at what she was seeing before her. The creatures before her were visions of retrofuturistic sexiness and scintillating beauty, recollections from the golden age of laser and neon. Several girls, standing there in big hair and tight silvery short-shorts and tube tops, all followed their leader, Midnight Moondust, as she was in a golden variation of same. She began singing (or at least lip syncing) and taunting those dressed in the garments of the past, as the girls all briefly did a dance number while in perfect movement.

Sunset was, admittedly impressed; for the short couple of hours the girls had practiced, not only did they nail the number down, but they did it in perfect synchronization, which was a testament to their individual skills. All of them were perfect visions of feminine wiles, and the brief smoldering bedroom eyes that Bon-Bon had flashed Lyra, Sunset knew those two would be doing any actual sleeping tomorrow while on the plane instead of tonight.

And then Pinkie came out, dressed similar, but also wearing streamers of neon colors that trailed behind her like blurs of laserlight, electronic beams that flickered as to where she had been but not where she would go. She approached one of the “guards” and took his hat, laughing gaily and tossed it onto one of the green replica statues (which would be digitally given the marble coloring in post-production) before moving on, bumping her butt (and her 80s-style Walkman) into the side of a second guard, knocking him over. She then soared off, an invite to give chase.

Sunset had seen Pinkie’s dancing skills before. She knew what her friend was capable of, from the mundane of cheerleading to the (objectively) seductive. Pinkie was possessed of both brains and skill and was far more than what people gave her credit for. And today she showed yet another facet of herself that none had seen before: consummate dancer, moving with a skill and practiced ease that no one had known she could do. For a girl born well more than a decade after the dance styles that she was performing, she gyrated, shimmied and swayed as if she’d been there during the halcyon days of living in oblivion.

It was hypnotic, and for the second time that night, Sunset found herself musing that had she been of the inclination, Pinkie would be a perfect match for her. Certainly the younger girl was interested, even if Sunset herself wasn’t, and that kind of thinking could be dangerous. Still, Sunset let herself think about it, if for no other reason than the fact that Pinkie had presented herself, moving past her own fears, worries and trauma to admit how she felt about the alicorn.

It made Sunset wonder if there had ever been any pony/human pairings. There were her suspicions about Octavia’s ancestor, and if true, then that meant that both herself and Raspberry weren’t the only ones of Equestrian blood on this world. But that had been so long ago, if the raven-haired girl truly had a pony as an ancestor, the bloodline would be all but diluted now, with Octavia maybe having only one or two chromosomes left within her DNA, being more related to the average person on the street than any particular pony.

“Dancing in Heaven
I never thought I’d ever get my feet this far
(Orbital Be-bop)

Dancing in Heaven
I never thought I’d ever get my feet this far
(Orbital Be-bop)

(Kick it out)
Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow
Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow”

As for Pinkie, she was a girl in a one-way corridor, stealing through the world like an urban toreador with wheels on her feet. She switched and shimmed, dancing around and with the fake statues, moving effortlessly around her fellow dancers and the guards, moving in perfect motion with the music being pumped in through the headphones – an MP3 player built from the guts of an old 80s Sony Walkman.

No fears at night, she let herself sail through the crowd, with the headphones on so tight and the music playing loud.

Part of her wanted to slide over to Sunset and apply her womanly wiles, as Pinkie knew she had the room’s attention on her, and likely in more than one way. She could see desire in several young men’s gazes on her, and at least one other girl. But she didn’t care about that. Right now, she performed for an audience of one, and that audience was not whoever would ultimately watch this video.

Pinkie was a girl in love with an alien goddess-queen, one that had chosen to walk the earth as she did. Pinkie had fallen for her and didn’t ever want to let that feeling go. This wasn’t some bygone crush as she’d had with Atlas before he’d destroyed her, or some chemically-induced realization of herself, as she’d found when she realized she loved Cicely as well. Those two revelations had ruined her and brought her to a suicidal low, brought to its worst and ugly rearing when her hatred for Sunset had ended in an all-encompassing desire to end herself.

But she hadn’t. And that hatred had turned to an offer of friendship and eventually morphed into a pure, true love for the flame-haired girl, for the girl that wasn’t a girl but a woman in a girl’s body and not even that but a mare – an alien female cast down to the world and into the life of a girl Pinkie’s own age, so that she would renew herself and in doing so save Pinkie from her worst enemy…ultimately, Pinkie herself.

Pinkie didn’t love Sunset because she didn’t have a choice; Pinkie loved Sunset because Sunset had been the choice. Sunset’s own changes had given Pinkie the will to live and move on when there was no reason to do so, and had illuminated her own life. For that reason alone, Pinkie would virtually enslave herself to Sunset’s life. But Sunset wouldn’t have that enslavement and it only made Pinkie love the neophyte goddess that much more.

So Pinkie danced a procession of one, a carnal worship towards a goddess she would forever love though never truly worship. Sunset didn’t want worshippers anyway, and Pinkie wouldn’t give that to her.

Pinkie hoped she would give Sunset so much more if she had the chance.

Behind the counter at Sugarcube Corner, a magenta tail twitched. An ear flopped, a heart syncopated and a warm feeling spread throughout Pinkie Pie like she’d never felt before. She collapsed to the ground, dazed, but with a smile on her face, and she didn’t know why.

“Pinkie, dear, are you okay?” Mrs. Cake said.

“I…I just had the strangest feeling, Mrs. Cake, and I’m not sure why. I’ve never had my Pinkie Sense act like this before.”

“Like what?”

Pinkie giggled. “Somepony is so in love with somepony else that even Princess Cadance couldn’t have done better. Funny thing is, I’m not sure who it is.”

Mrs. Cake just looked at the younger mare with a gaze of utter confusion while Pinkie started rummaging through the cake tins.

“What are you looking for, Pinkie?”

“The wedding cake tins!” Pinkie chirped. “I mean, whoever this pony is, clearly they love their special somepony so much that I’ll bet they’ll be in tomorrow to ask us to make the wedding cake! Doesn’t hurt to be prepared, right?”

Mrs. Cake shook her head in amusement. As always, Pinkie danced to her own beat, and no mortal pony – and maybe not even the alicorns – knew what she was up to.

But somehow Mrs. Cake didn’t doubt that their baking apprentice was even remotely wrong. Besides, even in dark times like this, there still had to be light. And right now, a young baker and party planner looking towards the future was as bright as it could be, hopefully.

No sooner than five minutes later, a young stallion walked in. Mrs. Cake walked over to him and said, “You’re just in time, sir. Our baker has already started on your order.”

“My order?”

The older mare nodded. “Yes. Aren’t you a charming young stallion swept away by the feelings of a tenderhearted young mare?”


Mrs. Cake smiled in satisfaction. “Then we will have the wedding cake done to perfection, sir. Never you fear.”

Standing there with a look of confusion, Lt. Divine Right didn’t know how to respond. He’d been warned that Ponyville, even with everything that was going on, had an ongoing reputation of weirdness…and he had just discovered that oddness, front and center.

Guess I should probably look for a different place to have dinner tomorrow, he mused.

“Okay, and that’s a wrap!” Camera said a few hours later. “I’m actually surprised, too,” he admitted with some astonishment.

“Yeah, no kidding,” the cameraman commented. “Usually these things, even the one-day productions, take forever. Never been on a production that was ahead of schedule before!”

“Well, I knew we were going to be done in time,” Pinkie said proudly. “I have a date to go on tonight!”

Camera looked at Pinkie. “Usually the production doesn’t care much about your personal schedules.”

From where she stood, Rainbow whispered to Rarity, “The production clearly hasn’t realized that Pinkie doesn’t give two shits about what they want if it interferes with her date with Sunny!”

Rarity giggled. “Crude, but oh so very true.”

Meanwhile, Midnight walked over to where Sunset was. “Things went absolutely perfect today and I can’t thank you enough,” she told Sunset. “Dreamscape and her mother will have a moment to treasure always and I couldn’t have done it without you and your friends. I mean that.”

Sunset waved it off. “Seriously, Midge, I was just trying to do what was right. You needed help and you’re a friend, so of course I was going to do what I could.”

“You went above and beyond what I expected you could, Sunny!”

“Seriously, Midge, don’t mention it,” Sunset said, starting to feel a bit self-conscious about her friend’s compliments.

“Well, I’ll make it up to you, somehow, I swear. Anyway, we’re done, so go ahead and change back into your normal clothing, and don’t forget to give me your address – your physical address, that is.”


“So you can get paid, of course!”

“Pay? But I didn’t—”

“No, you didn’t,” Big said as he approached with a relieved smile on his face. “But you did more today to save this production than anyone expected. Honestly, once Showreel bounced out I was going to freak that all the cash and resources we’ve invested in this would go out the window. But you saved us from that, and that deserves to be rewarded. Besides, with us having some extra cost savings due to a faster wrap-up, the money should go to a good cause, right? In any case, since you’re a minor, we’re going to have to mail a document to your parents so they can sign as well. But don’t worry, you’re going to get paid. I don’t back down from promises like that.”

Sunset blushed; she hadn’t expected this at all. “But I didn’t—”

“Just take it, Sunny.” Sunset turned to see Pinkie approach her, a creature of exotic beauty that filled her vision. Lightly covered in a sheen of perspiration from her actions, it somehow made Pinkie look even more attractive and lovely. Pinkie then went over and boldly put her arms around Sunset’s neck. “So, how’d I do?”

Sunset blushed all the more. “Uh, Pinkie….”

Pinkie sighed as she got well within Sunset’s personal space. “Yes?”

Sunset demurely moved away from Pinkie, though not as fast as she would’ve preferred. “Production’s over. You can change back into your normal clothing now.”

“What, don’t like what you see?” the cotton-candy-haired girl asked coquettishly. When Sunset was actually lost for words, Pinkie grinned sultrily. “I could get out of these just for you.”

Sunset was now as nearly as red as her hair. “Pinkie. Go change. Please.” The cheerleader laughed and skated off toward the costume trailers.

Standing a slight distance away, Octavia asked Twilight, “Are we sure Sunny’s straight?” When Twilight glared at her cousin, Octavia just laughed and said, “You know I’m kidding. Yes, I know Pinkie’s coming on a little lotta strong there.”

“Maybe you should tell her to knock it off,” Twilight told Sonata.

“Nope, Twily, not going to do that,” Sonata told her. “Look, I don’t know why you’re irritated by the possibility of them being together. If they are, fine; if they aren’t, also fine. I want both of them to be happy, and so should you.”

“That’s really profound, sis,” Aria pointed out.

Sonata shrugged with an easy smile. “I have my moments.”

It was then that Raspberry approached Sunset. “Sunny, do you have a few seconds?”

“Sure, Razz, why?”

A few minutes later, Sunset looked at the same drawing that had so profoundly affected her friend earlier. “I’ll look into this first chance I get, Razz. I promise. I’m sure you don’t want me to, but….”

She sighed. “If I’m going to be stuck here on Earth for the rest of my life? I have to know. I need to know that there’s going to be a tomorrow and not just because you say so. No offense intended at all, but she didn’t have you, and if she really was what she said she was, then she had a very sad life and I can’t even imagine being cut off from everything like you were or she was. I just can’t.”

“You’re not, Razz, believe me, you’re not. You have people who—”

“I know. You’ve said that a million times, and I know that. But until I know here—” she pointed at her heart, “—instead of just here—” she then pointed to her head, “—I’m going to have to keep trying to adjust. And that’s not your fault, or mine or anyone’s. It’s just…well, you know how my personal life was before I met everyone in Ponyville, so it’s a feeling that’s never really gone away. Believe me, I had the same problems when I was in Ponyville for quite some time, so it’s nothing you did.”

“Razz….” Sunset held her hand out, though she fought to keep the look of hurt off her face. She wanted to help her friend, but Raspberry was in much the same way as she herself had been when she first arrived on Earth: alone, despite being surrounded. It was nothing Sunset could do except to be there for her; time would have to see to the rest of the unicorn’s wounds.

A second later, Sunset felt soft hands wrap around her eyes and a voice coo, “I’m all yours again!” She turned to see Pinkie, having changed back into her normal clothing, but having still kept her 80s makeup on, giving her a distinct blend of both the new and the old.

“I guess I should go change as well, shouldn’t I?” Sunset said, deftly moving away from Pinkie this time.

“No, don’t ever change – I love you just the way you are!” Pinkie chirped and Sunset blushed once again.

“Pinkie, stop, okay? You’re making me blush.”

“Then I’m doing my job right!” she said with a saucy wink.

“Well, I’ll be right back,” Sunset said. “Going to change and then we can look around the museum a bit before we join everyone for dinner – apparently Midge had dinner catered for everyone since they thought it was going to be a very long shooting period. There is some other art I want to look at, so don’t go anywhere.”

“I’ll be right here, waiting with bated breath!” Pinkie assured her. As Sunset walked off, Pinkie jumped up and down in a small bit of triumph. “Yes!”

As Sunset walked back to wardrobe area, she ran into Midnight one last time. “They’re tearing down stuff right now and setting up dinner in a couple of hours,” she explained, “so if you’ll want to look at the exhibits, now’s the time. A lot of the extras are going to do that as well before catering comes in, but I wanted to give you the head’s up because I feel a bit bad about ruining your date with you and your girlfriend.”

Sunset said, “Um…Pinkie’s not my—”

“You two make a cute couple, you know that? I don’t say that often, but in this case I think you really do.”

“I don’t think you understand, Midge. It’s not like that.”

Midnight waved it off. “She doth protest too much, methinks. It’s not like it was in the old days, Sunny. I mean, I’m not inclined that way personally, but I know Rose is, and she’s a pretty good friend, so it’s not like I’m offended or anything—”

Sunset sighed. “Why does everyone think Pinkie and I are dating?”

“Because…you’re…on a date?” Midnight pointed out.

“Nevermind,” the alicorn-as-human sighed. She then explained everything going on with Pinkie and the insistence that she take Sunset on a date and that Sunset had reluctantly agreed. That the date so far had been interrupted and while Sunset didn’t mind in particular, she was concerned for Pinkie’s sake. And that Pinkie was trying her utmost, given her feelings for Sunset, but that Sunset was trying not to encourage her while trying to let her down gently.

After the clarification was done, Midnight looked at the flame-haired girl with a look of surprise. “So you’re doing this for her, even though you’re not?” she asked. When Sunset nodded, the singer looked at her with surprise. “I’m…at a loss for words. I don’t think I would have the courage to do what you’re doing, especially with someone who was part of my close circle of friends. I’m genuinely impressed.”

“I just don’t want to hurt Pinkie’s feelings,” Sunset said. “She’s been hurt enough in the past and I don’t want to add to that.”

“Then you should be careful how you let her down,” Midnight cautioned. “Take it from a girl that gets propositioned by both boys and girls on a regular basis. Sometimes you have to be firm, but other times you can just be kind. It’s all in how they see you and how you want to be seen. And since Pinkie is a friend of yours, you should know how to react.”

“Ultimately, I want to see her happy. I just don’t want to see her happy in that kind of way, if that makes sense.”

“Well, only one way to find out and you’re doing that, right?” Midnight winked. “You’ll be fine, Sunny. I know you will. Now go have some fun. As my sister says, you’re only a teenager once in your life.”

Sunset couldn’t help but smirk. “Oh, I know at least one person who can prove you wrong on that.”

Given free rein of the museum, Sunset and Pinkie wandered its halls, the two partaking in sights with a severely reduced crowd. Though quite a few of the actors also joined in the viewings, the majority of them were the typical jaded Hollywood types and instead spent their time either networking with one another, schmoozing and engaging in small talk or trying to talk themselves up before the larger-than-life celebrities present, namely Midnight and the Chocolate Twins. Surprisingly, quite a few of them had also noticed Fluttershy and were now including her in that group; it was a testament to how much she’d grown in the year that she didn’t find herself hiding but instead chatted calmly with others with a minimum of handwringing.

Neither Sunset nor Pinkie noticed this, however, as they were engrossed wandering the halls, chatting about artwork and art styles and the differences between Earth’s and Equus’ various artists.

“Personally, I think Levitated Art’s style was better in his pointillist period,” Pinkie pointed out. “He was well ahead of the curve when it came to cubism, though and I don’t think enough people give him credit.”

“Strangely enough, Levitated Art had a counterpart in Equestria, a pegasus that was known for skypainting – moving clouds here and there so it would affect the sun’s rays whenever it set. He had a serious influence in skypainters, but nowadays he’s all but forgotten, except for a few personal copies of renditions that were done for the palace itself. His apprentice, Sky Lily, was even a bigger name than he was.”

“The Sky Lily here wasn’t an artist herself, but a known patron of the arts, and, if I recall correctly, a lover of several of them. She’s known for being a muse in several works, most famously Nude on a London Evening by Brushed Feathers. Of course, there were also rumors of Brushed Feathers being gay during a time when it was really frowned on, which is why he might have consorted with Sky Lily….”

“Ah. Well, the Brushed Feathers from my world wasn’t a stallionlover; quite the opposite – he had so many affairs, it was believed that he practically drove his first wife, Rosegarden, to her Final Flight.”

The name Rosegarden set off a pulse in Pinkie’s mind, but she pushed that aside for the moment. “Final Flight? What’s that?” she asked.

“It was ritualized form of suicide that used to be popular amongst pegasus nobility and dates back to Pegasolopis. Basically you would fly as hard and fast as you could, away from public lands, and eventually exhaustion or oxygen deprivation would put you unconscious. You’d fall from the sky and nopony would ever find your body.”

“That’s macabre.”

“That was the point – without a body to bury, it brought shame on the family, and in this case, Feathers. Of course, he didn’t care. It’s funny, though, because nowadays the tragedy of Rosegarden is better known than any of Feather’s particular works. And as for the practice, my mother banned it a few decades before I was born. She knew Rosegarden and from what I understand, she took the mare’s death pretty hard.”

“And what happened to Brushed Feathers?”

“He went into seclusion for about six months before he started working on his next piece of art, a sculpture. It was rumored that his ‘time of reflection’ was just more debauchery that he was smart enough to keep under the radar, but nopony really knows.” Her stomach then growled. “Well, speaking of debauchery, I guess we should go find where the food is, right?”

Pinkie shook her head. “Nuh-uh!” she chirped.

“And why not?”

“Because I got us reservations at Crayons!” she said with a smile. “Midge asked if I wanted anything and I said I wanted to make tonight special and I asked if there was a place where we could go that would be special. She called in some favors and we have reservations in an hour. So we should probably get going.”

“Do you know where this place is?”

Pinkie winked as she brought up her phone. “Maps for the win!”

An hour later, they were at Crayons. An elegant restaurant in the Westwood district, it was known for its unusual-yet-striking décor as well as the top-notch food. But to Pinkie, that wasn’t why she was here.

She instead couldn’t take her eyes off the vision of loveliness in front of her. It made it hard for her to drive, to be honest. And as they arrived at the restaurant, she felt as though she could finally start walking on clouds, given that she was at long last alone with her dearest love. Things went by in a daze as they sat down, and by the time she had menu in hand, she felt she was going to burst from absolute delight.

“Pinkie? Are you okay?” Sunset looked at her from across the table and Pinkie couldn’t get her mind off those luscious eyes, the sweet lips that just called to her like ripened cherries and…


The younger teen sighed and gave Sunset a dreamy look. “Oh, nothing, nothing at all. Unless this day ends, in which case then something will be wrong and that thing is that this day will end.” She gave Sunset another loving look. “So have you decided what you want yet? I have.”

Sunset looked at the menu. “I’m leaning towards the fettucine carbonara. You?”

Pinkie continued to gaze at Sunset with the hazy eyes. “Oh, I definitely know what I want.”

“And that is?”

That seemed to get through to her. “Oh, you mean the food.” Pinkie had the good graces to blush. “I….”

The waiter came up and asked, “May I take your orders?”

Sunset gave hers, opting for the fetuccini carbonara, a side salad and a sparkling lime water.

Pinkie didn’t even open the menu, instead handing it over to the waitress. “Cheeseburger,” she said flatly.

“Anything else with—”

“Surprise me,” she said with surprising curtness, then turned back to Sunny with wistful eyes. The waitress, finally getting the clue, giggled slightly and then left the two lovebirds be, pausing only to whisper to Sunset, “Oh, she’s got it bad. You might want to pay attention.”

Sunset said nothing and instead turned her attention back to the girl before her. “So, anything else you want to ask, Pinkie?”

“No, I think I’ve got a lifetime’s worth to go through, and hopefully I’ll have the lifetime to ask it,” Pinkie replied with a slight blush. “I mean, we’re always going to be together, all of us, right?”

“I don’t know.” Sunset looked at one of the pictures on the wall, an exquisitely-rendered image of a beach done in vintage Crayola. “Rarity’s applied to the New School, which is a fashion college in New York. My sister’s looking at Harvard, and Tavi’s applied to Juliard. AJ’s applied locally, and I’m not sure what Flutters’ plans are. I don’t know what yours are, either.”

“I don’t know,” Pinkie admitted. “My parents can’t really afford to send me to college, nor can my aunt and uncle. And while I can easily get a scholarship, I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life once I’m out of high school. What about you?”

Sunset sighed. “Dunno. Ms. Celestia says my grades have improved enough that I could get into something more than just community college, if I wanted to. But I really never thought that far. I suppose I’ll need to take political science so I can understand this world better and how I’ll fit in, but then again, I don’t doubt my mother – my biological one, that is – will want me to take a year or two at Royal Canterlot University, if only to see how the political studies of my old world will tie in with my new one.”

Pinkie caught the undertones of that. “So you’ll be going back?”

“I’ll probably commute back and forth. After all, the portal should be able to allow me to do that. I’m the Alicorn of Earth, after all. I really can’t afford to leave my position on a regular basis, and I think even my mother knows that. Besides, this is my home now, even if I’d never become an alicorn. I’m more human now than pony, I guess, though you never really forget where you come from.” Sunset thought about it. “Isn’t there anything you want to do?”

“I thought I did, once. I thought about being a professional party planner, but Auntie Cup thinks it would be a waste of my talents, she says. Uncle Carrot says that with all the reading and art I’m interested in, I should go into museum sciences or the like, maybe history. Besides, it probably makes more sense for a person like me to do that anyway.”

“What do you mean? Your counterpart is a baker and a party planner, Pinkie. I don’t see why you can’t do the same.”

“She…probably doesn’t have the same trust issues I do. From what Razz tells me, she’s a bit flighty and vapid. I wish I could be that lucky, but that was stolen from me by people I thought I loved.” She leaned against the table, looking at Sunset as a friend for the moment before looked at her eye to eye. “Do you…ever wish you could get your innocence back? I mean…not virginity. I mean…innocence, that child-like wonder of the world before you realize that everything is smoke and mirrors, and that everything you’ll learn from that point is just bullshit and Oujia boards?”

“I’m not sure I ever really had it,” Sunset said honestly. “I was an orphan when my mother took me under her wing. And I was a runaway here when Mom did the same. Those aren’t the actions of a normal filly.” They were quiet for a second while Sunset got her soup and Pinkie asked for a refill on her Coke, then continued. “I mean, look at me. I did all this shit because I wanted my mother to love me. I made a mess of my own life and it’s a wonder that I’m still standing. But if I had that choice to take it all away? I wouldn’t. Because if I did, I might not have all my family or friends, or those that I love.”

Pinkie bit her lip, unsure what to say about that.

“So no, Pinkie, as much as it would be nice to be innocent again, it’s not a realistic thing. I can’t just look at things like the average Equestrian does anymore, and it wouldn’t behoove me to do so. And I don’t think you could operate that same way, could you?”

Pinkie chose not to answer that. And as the food arrived, she realized she really didn’t have an answer for it to begin with.

“He is currently indisposed, madame,” the aged stallion said to her, “and doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Oh, please, Broome,” Octavia Melody said to the older pony. “This is me we are talking about.”

“That makes it all the more so, Miss Octavia,” Broome said with a wry smile. “I fear he has taken ill.”

“Then let me attend to this,” she told him. “Please.” The pleading in the mare’s purple eyes was one of sincerity, a look that the old stallion knew for quite some time and knew it to be not an actual look of pleading, but instead a weapon – a weapon to be deployed by this young mare whenever she had something in mind.

“I believe,” he said suddenly, “I am in need of a cup of tea. Yes, a cup for myself would do quite nicely. That way I couldn’t possibly be blocking the door and telling others that the master is not to be disturbed.”

She craned her neck and gave the old stallion a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, Broome.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about, Miss Octavia,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “I am merely taking care of my own refreshment. Perhaps afterwards I shall be by to bring you a kettle as well?”

“That would be lovely,” she said with a smile. “I know I will need one shortly.” She watched as he walked down the hall, then she went in the opposite direction, headed towards her destination.

She found it a few minutes later. The room smelled like sour wine, like nothing had been changed in days. Spent bottles were everywhere, and the room was a mess. And somewhere within the pile of ruined clothing, cheap wine and other bric-a-brac, she found her quarry. Nestled between two mares, snoring as if a demented Sleeping Beauty, was said quarry.

Octavia wasted no time. She walked over to the minibar and found two glasses which had yet to be destroyed or even used. Walking behind the bar, she filled them up with water, and then getting on her hindlegs – a good thing her career allowed her to be able to walk short distances bipedally – she splashed water on the two mares, making them both yipe with surprise.

“Ladies, I’m not even going to ask,” she said in an even tone. “I’m just going to tell you to get out.”

The first one, a rather tall unicorn mare that seemed reminiscent of a curly-haired Fleur Dis Lee, narrowed her eyes. “Who the buck are you?”

“The mare kicking you out,” Octavia said, polishing a hoof against her chest. “I’d tell you more, but I suspect you weren’t brought here for your intelligence.”

The other mare looked at her as well. “Well, he was with me last night! You weren’t here! I guess that makes me more important than you, huh?”

“If you wish to believe that, fine,” Octavia said. “I’m still kicking you both out. Now I’m going to assume you did this for the fame, because prostitution is still illegal in Canterlot province, as well as the capital.” Both of them looked at her with surprise, then anger. “You know where the door is. Outside, there are taxis waiting to take you wherever. Have them put it on my tab – they’ll know who I am.”

“Funny, I don’t know who you are,” the “Fleur” of the pair said. “And I don’t take orders from some high horse, got that?”

“Well, lucky for you I’m not some high horse,” Octavia replied. “What I am, however, is a mare who is losing her patience. You really don’t want me to lose my patience, because if I do, it’s not going to go well for you at all. So, we can do this the nice way, or we can do this the not so nice way. And after everything I’ve been through in the past few months, you really want it to go the nice way for me.”

The two read the forceful look in her eyes and then both clambered out of bed heading towards the door, with the shorter one pausing only to grab a risqué, revealing set of socks from the ground before following after the first.

Octavia rolled her eyes. She had other things to do. She looked at the bed’s sole remaining occupant and sighed.

Why are you torturing yourself like this? She wouldn’t want this. She didn’t want this. And yet somehow she wasn’t even remotely surprised this happened.

Leaving the occupant to sleep, she walked over to the curtains to let in some light in the hopes that it would partially sterilize the room. Opening up the window would do the same for the smell, she hoped.

A second later, the slumbering menace awoke. “What was that?” came a slurred, drunken voice from within the remaining lump of sheets and pillows.

“I came to wake you up,” Octavia said simply.

“Sorry, going back to bed.”

“You can’t. You promised.”

“I can break my promise. That is my prerogative.”

“No it’s not. Not to me,” she said firmly.

There was a sigh, then a muffled grunt which may have been a profanity spoken under breath. “Fine. You’re right. Let me get up and get dressed.”

She smiled. “You know I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t care,” she said sweetly as Broome showed up with the tea.

The cityscape of Los Angeles spread out like a symphony of stars. Leaning over the edge of the railing at the world-famous observatory seated atop Mount Hollywood in the city’s Los Feliz Park, Pinkie looked on with a look of glee and beauty at the sky below. The parking lot was relatively empty, and though the observatory itself was closed, many people were there, enjoying the beauty of the warm Los Angeles night.

“It’s beautiful,” Pinkie said softly. “You know, sometimes I wish we moved down here.”

“You do?” Sunset asked her.

Pinkie nodded. “Back in the early days, Uncle Carrot had an offer to come work with a patisserie down here in LA. We almost sold the Sugarcube to come live here, but at the last moment he decided it was better to keep going our way. And, of course, in either timeline it worked out okay for us. But there’s still a part of me that wishes I’d been an Angeleno. I wonder if I’d be the same person I am now?”

“The great friend I know?”

Pinkie blushed at that. “I know I wouldn’t be. I’d be a vastly different soul. I wouldn’t have met the love of my life, for starters.” She reached over and took Sunset’s hand in her own. “I wouldn’t have suffered, but I suppose I had to in order to become part of what I am now.”

“I don’t want you to suffer, Pinkie,” Sunset said. “Do you want me to—”

“No,” Pinkie said firmly. “I know what you’re thinking, but no, I don’t want you to. They aren’t a part of my life any longer, and even just sending out the wolves after them gives them more credence than they deserved. They ruined me, but I am stronger for it.”

Sunset hugged her friend. “You are, Pinkie. You’re one of the strongest people I know and I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“You can’t mean that,” Pinkie told her. “I’m probably just a pain in your side.”

“No. You’re someone who means the world to me, Pinkie. I mean that.” Sunset had the girl turn around and blue gazed into cyan. “I mean that more than you can even imagine.” Two sets of feminine pools gazed into one another, drawn by the moment.

Lips touched, furtively, then came together briefly, once. Twice. Continuously.

And for a moment in time, Pinkie felt that everything was right in the world, and that truly she was in the City of Angels.

“YOU DID WHAT?” Twilight screamed at her sister later. Behind her, in various states of either disbelief or facepalming, were their cousins.

Sunset blushed. “Look, I…kinda got carried away by the moment,” she admitted. “I don’t like Pinkie in that way.”

“You made out with someone you aren’t attracted to,” Adagio pointed out. “Even I don’t make those kinds of mistakes, Sunny.”

“I kissed a girl and I liked it,” Sonata sang under her breath, and hearing her, both Aria and Octavia snickered.

Twilight wheeled on them, glaring. “You’re not helping,” she seethed before turning back to her sister. “Sis, I love you but how could you be that fucking stupid?” Twilight asked archly.

“Look, it was just heat of the moment, okay? I didn’t mean anything by it, okay? I’ll apologize to Pinkie in the morning, but I’m not taking the car back.”

“The car?” When Sunset explained, Twilight fought the urge to scream. “You gave her a car?”

“Well, yes, I genned up a Prius. We already have cars at home, and her aunt and uncle can’t really afford to get her one, even with their business, and—”

Octavia sighed. “Sunny, you said you’re actually thirty as a pony, right?”

“Yes, why?”

“How’d the hell did you manage to fail your teenage years – twice?”

“Not funny.”

“I thought it was.”

Twilight sighed. “Look, sis, if you’re bi or a lesbian, it’s not like we’re bothered by that—”

“I’m not! Look, I just got caught up in the heat of the moment. As much as it pains me to admit it, replace Pinkie with Brad-sshole and the same thing would have happened. As you so pointed out, I’m a teenager again which means hormone city, right? For that matter, any of you could have been in my situation and done the same thing. After all, may I remind you we all sleep together often?”

The other five girls looked at each other uncomfortably before Aria sighed. “Yeah, okay, point taken. But even if it was just a really stupid thing, Sunny, I hope you’re prepared for what’s to come: after this, you have a girlfriend. Whether you consider her one or not, you have a girlfriend.”

Sunset sighed. “Don’t remind me,” she grumbled.

In her bed, Pinkie slept with a body pillow, cozy as could be. The fact that Raspberry didn’t know where the teen had come up with it was freaky enough, but the fact that it had a photorealistic picture of Sunset in a negligee with a “come hither” pose really weirded the unicorn out.

Pinkie held the body pillow closer, cooing Sunset’s name in her sleep and giggling girlishly.

“I swear I am never going to understand this world,” Raspberry muttered as she turned around to try to get some sleep before tomorrow’s flight back to Canterlot.

August 25: A Day in the Life

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Her phone rang at 3:45 in the morning. Strangely enough, Sunset immediately snapped to wakefulness. Reaching over and grabbing the phone, she looked and saw who it was. “Is it time?” was all she asked.

“We’re on the way to the hospital now!” Blossomforth grunted, her voice sounding like she was already starting to feel pain. “Will you be there?”

“Did you even really need to ask? Let me get dressed and I’ll get going!” Hanging up, Sunset immediately cast a light spell only she could see so that she could get dressed, but then the bedsheets next to her rustled.

“Go back to sleep, sis,” Sunset told Twilight.

“Easy for you to say,” Twilight replied. “The person I was cuddling with is out of bed.”

“One, that sounds so wrong,” Sunset said, casting a cleansing spell on herself that would serve in lieu of a shower. “Two, you could have stayed in your room, you know.”

“Yeah, well, I thought you might want some female company that’s not trying to get into your pants,” Twilight teased.

“I don’t remember you being this snarky in the time that wasn’t,” Sunset replied.

“I blame my older sister for that,” Twilight said, matter-of-factly. “She’s been a horrible influence on me.” Twilight then laughed when Sunset grinned. She then asked, “Is it time?”

“Would I wake up at four in the morning for any other reason?”

“Tell her I said hi,” Twilight yawned as she turned back over. “The rest of us can swing by later. I’m going back to bed now.”

A couple of hours later, Sunset held a tiny life in her arms. So small and beautiful, with a tiny shock of sapphire-blue and spring-green hair. She opened her eyes, revealing cornflower-hued eyes that looked up at Sunny with the wonder only a new life beheld.

You have your father’s eyes, Sunset thought. And I’m sorry you won’t ever know him. But you won’t ever know a day when you’re not loved, I promise. She then looked at the tired mother. “She’s beautiful, Blossom.”

Blossomforth tiredly looked over at Sunset. “Little Sunny is just as beautiful as her auntie.” When Sunset looked at her friend, Blossom gave a beatific smile. “I was serious about what I said earlier: if you were a guy, I would have tried very hard to make you my boyfriend. You’re everything Flash wasn’t, and it’s not hard to see why both Rose and Pinkie are in love with you. If I swung that way, I probably would be, too.”

Sunset looked at her friend. “You’re delirious, you know that?”

“No, I’m serious. There’s something…well, I guess you could say, ‘perfect’ about you. You’re the perfect girlfriend, and the perfect friend. I wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for you.”

“Now I know you’re kidding. Did you forget that your parents have backed you up?”

“Yeah, I’m lucky that Dad was more interested in my condition than he was in being a fire-and-brimstone pastor. I guess me acting like a Preacher’s Daughter really brought it home for him. But again, I wouldn’t have the support I do if it wasn’t for you, Sunny. I really do owe you, which is why I named her Sunset Blossom and why I couldn’t ask anyone else to be her godmother.”

“I’m honored,” Sunset said, touched. “I really am.”

“It’s an honor just to have you be there for her. And me.” The bed-ridden girl yawned. “Now, given that I feel like I’ve run a marathon, I need some sleep. Would you mind staying a little longer until my parents get here?”

“No, go right ahead,” Sunset assured her. “I’ll watch the little bundle of joy until then.” Sunset was sure that Blossom hadn’t heard her, as she heard dozing the moment she finished her sentence. She turned, and sure enough, Blossomforth was out like a light.

Sunset then looked at her goddaughter. The term didn’t exist in Equestria, though the concept did; as a pony, Sunset would have been called a loveguard and the baby a loveward. Just as with humans, it was an important role of honor, and one the alicorn felt she couldn’t shirk. It was just too solemn a choice and one that she could respect Blossomforth’s wishes for.

Then, as she looked into the child’s blue eyes, she thought she saw something…and then Sunset Looked. Deep within Sunset Blossom’s soul, a tiny mote of spellfire burned within, showing the child’s capability for magic. The look of surprise on Sunset’s face was one she fought to keep off, lest someone misunderstand.

“I will protect you, little one,” Sunset told her softly. “If your powers are true, then I will nurture them. I hope they aren’t; I hope you have a normal life and grow up to be a normal girl. But if that is not in the cards, then I will make sure you will be as normal as you can be.” Sunset kissed the child on the forehead, and a flicker of the alicorn’s magic went into the child. “But until that time, just be a beautiful little bundle of joy for your mother. Be beautiful and better than your father. And I will be here for you, no matter what.”

The young woman held the child in her arms, humming the Celestial Lullaby to her until her grandparents arrived to take over. Sunset explained a few things, and with their thanks and gratitude to the teen, she left the newly-expanded family to get to know one another.

She stepped out of the room, yawning. She didn’t need sleep anymore, but she appreciated it as much as the next person. And another thing she appreciated as well, something she felt she needed – coffee. As she walked down the hall towards the elevators, she hoped the hospital’s cafeteria was open so she could grab a cup and maybe breakfast there before heading home; with her extended powers, she probably could have just summoned a cup, but where was the fun in that ? She had several last-minute things to do before she was going to spend the day with her “birth family”, and be told all the ins and outs of Shimmer’s biological family, something she figured she was going to need to know before the adoption.

The elevator took forever, and as Sunset got in, she wondered what else was going to happen today.


The teen looked over to see a familiar girl with tan skin, twin-tone green hair and brown eyes looking at her.

“Garden? What are you doing here?” Sunset asked. “And…why are you in hospital scrubs?”

Garden Variety sighed. “It’s a long story. You headed to the café?”

“Yeah, I need some coffee,” Sunset admitted.

“Same here. You probably have some questions why I’m dressed like this.”

“The thought did cross my mind,” the teen admitted.

Garden sighed. “Fine. Let’s go talk.”

“So what’s the plan today?” Twilight asked the others as she came down. The triplets, Shimmer and Octavia were already downstairs, while Raspberry was nowhere to be found.

“Well, Shim and Sham want me to come into work for the new orientation,” Adagio said. “I guess the pizza place is almost ready to open up now, so they want to make sure I’m trained up as an assistant manager before we take on new waitresses.”

“I’m teaching the archery class at the Y today,” Aria said. “I’m also sure that cute guy from County is probably going to be there today. Hope he doesn’t screw up like last time.”

“Last time?” Shimmer asked her. “I’m guessing there’s a story there.”

Aria laughed. “Yeah. He’s taking the archery course just to try to get my attention even though he has no idea what he’s doing. Last time he tried to act cool in front of me and nearly shot an arrow into his foot.”


“Yeah. Lucky for him he was wearing zoris and the arrows are blunt, so no harm done. Even still, it punched through the rubber, so I think he got the point. Uh, no pun intended.”

“What about you, Soni?”

“I don’t have anything going on, why?”

“Tavi and I were thinking about going over to Bonnie’s place today and see if they’ll have that ‘special project’ done in time for the adoption. She said that she and her sister were going to be working on it, since it’s so important to everyone, but she wanted me to swing by and see how it’s going and if I have any advice.”

“Yeah, sure, count me in,” the youngest triplet replied. “I’d love to go.”

“Sorry, but I’m going to have to cancel out, as much as I’d love to go,” Octavia replied. “For one, your mom asked me to watch over Spike. Secondly, Razz has been depressed for the past few days ever since she found out about that thing that she refuses to talk about.”

“The picture in LA?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“I guess I should stay as well,” Shimmer said. “She could probably use some friends right now.”

Adagio scoffed. “No, what she could use is an ass-kicki—”

“ENOUGH!” Aria slammed her hands on the table, glaring at her older sister. “What the hell is your problem, Dagi? Razz is stuck here, probably permanently! She’s had to give up everything, and she’s had to go through hell in the past couple of days!”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, do you actually believe—”

Sonata glared at her sister. “Yes, we do. In fact, we have one who is like a sister to us, remember? We are fucking related to an alien, okay? So yes, I believe it.”

Adagio looked over the table at her family, who was all glaring at her. “Oh, so I’m the bad guy here?”

Twilight sighed. “Dagi…no one’s saying you have to be best buddies with her, okay? But be nice to her. Without her, we’d have been in a world of hell, if not straight-up dead. And I don’t have to remind you that she and Sunny might be the last of their kind. Sunny has us, so I don’t know how she’s reacted yet, but Razz….”

“I’m done.” She threw up her hands and got up from the table. “I have to go to work.”

“We’re not done talking about this,” Octavia said, clamping her hand down on her cousin’s.

“Remove it or you lose it,” she growled.

“So you’re going to treat me like Razz too, is that what you’re saying?” Octavia hissed. “I thought we were family!”

Adagio reacted as though she’d been slapped. Instead, a wounded look came over her face and she pulled away her hand from Octavia’s grasp. Murmuring a barely audible “Sorry” she headed towards the door, pausing only to grab her purse and keys. A few seconds later the rumble of a motorcycle could be heard as she took off.

Twilight sighed. “I’m…sorry you had to see that, Shimmer.”

“It’s okay. Trust me, I’ve seen much worse,” the teen replied.

“No, it’s not okay.” Aria looked at the door where her sister had been a few minutes ago. “We have to tell your parents, Twily. This has gone on long enough, and if we don’t do something, she’s going to come to blows with Razz. And then Aunt Velvet’s going to ground us all for not telling her sooner.”

“Okay, I will. Anyway, Shimmy, do you mind coming with us to Saigon Sweets? In the event that it might be tied to how Sunny looks, well….”

“Say no more,” Shimmer replied. “I don’t mind at all. Plus, that way I can pick up something special for my mom and Zephyr when they get here from Atlanta.”

“I’d completely forgotten about that,” Octavia replied. “You two still planning to go over the paperwork and whatnot with Sunset tomorrow?”

“We have to. She is my twin sister, after all,” Shimmer said with a slight grin. “In any case, the documents should be arriving at my uncle’s place tonight, which will give us time to read them.”

“Nothing bad, I hope.”

“No, I doubt it. My mother has already said she’s not going to contest the adoption, so if anything, the documents will say that she’s being written out of the formal family line of succession. They may give her a family stipend, especially given her ordeal, and she will be recognized as a princess of House Bonaparte, but she probably won’t have any say in how things are done familywise. If anything, the real problem is going to be hitting any minute now.”

“Any minute now?”

Shimmer nodded. “Yup. I got an email from several of my friends earlier this morning – the news is already all over the French media, and they’re asking repeatedly what my sister is like. And if they know I’m here in Canterlot, you can bet the press knows about it, too. Things might get a little hectic,” the teen said with a slight blush of embarrassment.

“How hectic?” Twilight asked.

“Oh, wow!” The shout came from Spike, who was by the front window. “Hey, check it out! There’s a bunch of news vans parked just outside the front gate!”

“What?” all the girls, save for Shimmer, said.

“Should’ve expected this,” she sighed. Taking a drink of her coffee, she explained. “Look, back at home, we’re not too big of a deal, any more than any wealthy person is here in San Palomino. But here, that princess part kicks in with extra importance – and I figure that the less scrupulous of the press in France will do anything for that exclusive, just like they would here.”

The two remaining SIRENs looked at each other, then back towards the hidden door to the SIREN lair beneath the home.

“No,” Twilight told them.


No. You know how my parents will get if you start shooting at journalists.”

The remaining triplets pouted. “We could use non-lethal rounds,” Aria suggested.

“Do you want my mom to ground you?”

“No,” she sighed.

“Then just drop it. We’ll call Shiny and see if he can get the ECSD to take care of it,” she said with finality.

“And here I thought my life as a princess was going to be the abnormal one,” Shimmer said with a laugh.

“I don’t….” Sunset looked at her with guilt. “I don’t know what to say, Garden.”

“I don’t need your pity,” she said in a tired voice. “I made that choice a long time ago, and I haven’t regretted it since. I love my son more than anything, and yes, I was stupid for getting pregnant when I was a teenager, and seeing Blossom going through the same thing just bothers me, especially since her parents were accepting. But I can’t take that back, and at this point, I don’t want to.”

“Yeah, but—”

“No, okay? I’ve finally gotten my life straightened out and I’m lucky that I was able to graduate high school while being an unwed mom. I’m also lucky that one of the teachers at school actually gave a fuck about me when I got kicked out of my parents’ place; Mrs. Wooden Desk has been a Godsend to put me up in one of her rooms at her place all these years and watch over Bramble when I’m working my second job.”

“Yeah, but—”

Garden sighed. “Sunset…look. I know what you’re going to say but let me remind you of something: you’re still a teenager. I’m an adult now, technically speaking. I’m nineteen, going to community college so that I can make a better life for me and my son and so I can pay back Mrs. Desk for the faith she had in me. Yes, it’s tough, and I’m glad I don’t live in Sunnytown or worse, ended up doing tricks or something. We all don’t have your luck.”

“My luck?”

“Don’t give me that shit, okay? I overheard the Cakes talking about you. For years, I thought you were lucky enough as is, some runaway that managed to snag themselves an adopted family in one of the richest suburbs in the country. You don’t have to work for shit, yet you do. Maybe it’s so you can impress your two girlfriends? Not judging or anything, but seriously, you should just sleep with them and get it over and done with, because they’re constantly using their eyes to peel your clothing off.”

Sunset sighed; she was never going to live down what she did with Pinkie in the heat of the moment, even if it wasn’t public knowledge. “Look, I’m straight and—”

“I don’t care if you are or you aren’t; that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about when we first met, I thought you were some runaway with a chip on your shoulder. In this past year, you’ve gone from that to being the girl the Cakes rely on, the girl that gets adopted by a TV celebrity scientist and his wife, the Cakes’ niece wants to fuck your brains out, the other girl in the café wants to do the same, and I suspect Blossom would as well if she were gay; and now that shit I heard the Cakes talking about the other day – that you’re a Goddamn French princess – a literal princess?” Garden sighed. “I swear, if this wasn’t real life, I’d think you were some contrived cartoon character refugee from a girl’s show, because there is no way this shit would be normal otherwise. Next thing I’m going to turn around and find out that you’re secretly a unicorn or something.”

Sunset nearly choked on her coffee at those words.

Garden groaned. “Look, I’m not jealous or anything – well, not much, but you get the point. The point is that we all don’t have whatever lucky dice you have and we all can’t have perfect lives. Even with the help of Mrs. Desk, I still have to work two jobs because it would be unfair of me to make her pay for everything for Bramble, even though she’s offered more than enough times. As it is I’m lucky as fuck that my parents merely threw me out of the house for getting knocked up. If they were any more Old Country, they’d probably have shoved my ass on the first plane back to Pakistan to marry some second cousin I never met and have to spend the rest of my life as his living blow-up doll. As it is, they want nothing to do with me and I’m fine with that. Hell, even if they do, they’re never going to find me.”

“Changed your name, I take it?”

“What, you think some girl born in Karachi has an English name like ‘Garden Variety’? No, I changed it when I was eighteen. I was originally born as Jotnay Wala, which technically would make my name translated as Cultivar. But when I got kicked out, I went with Garden Variety because it’s a play on words that also means ordinary. And when I became a legal adult, I made that my name. I also dye my hair so that I don’t look like I used to.”

It was then that Sunset noticed the burnt-pumpkin orange of Garden’s eyebrows…and thus original hair color. “Contacts, too?”

“Yeah. Purple contacts make my eyes look brown. Normally they’re citrine in color.” She took a look at her coffee cup and groaned. “Shit. Look, I gotta get home so I can study for a test so that way I can get to work at the Café in time.”

Sunset, however, wasn’t letting go easily. “Look, you’re in hospital scrubs right now which means that—”

“Yes, I’m a janitor on the overnight shift,” Garden finished. “And if you’re going to ask if I’ve slept, the answer is no, I haven’t. But it’s not like I drive or anything; can’t even afford a car even with two minimum wage jobs…well, technically one minimum wage and the fact that the Cakes pay decently, but even still. Thankfully, I’ve mastered sleeping on the bus.”

Sunset sighed. “Look, Garden….”

“Sunset.” The older girl looked at the younger. “Don’t. I know what you’re going to suggest, and no. I rely on Mrs. Desk too much as it is, even though she’s practically my kid’s de facto grandmother at this point. Making up with my parents is out of the question; they’re not jihad-happy Muslims, but they were enough to kick my ass out of the house. And the father of the child? He’s…gone. Just up and vanished on me, and I don’t care. My son is my son, not his. So unless you’re going to break out in some random song routine like life is some kind of Disney film – and that would be weird as fuck if you did – my life is as it is. Some of us don’t get the lucky rolls of the dice. Some of us have to make our own luck.”

“I think you should tell the Cakes.”

“And what, have them take pity on me? I’ll be honest: I know they’re going to give you the assistant manager slot at the San Palomino store. And I know that they’re going to want to keep me at the main store as the senior waitress. And I know while that’s going to be a bump in pay, it’s not enough to let me quit this second job. So yes, I am jealous as fuck that you, some girl two years younger than me, is getting that break, okay? But I don’t hate you for that, and I don’t want the Cakes to take pity on me because I fucked the wrong guy. It just means that I have to work harder to get what I want so that way I can make a better life for me and Bramble, and so I can pay back Mrs. Desk.”

Sunset looked at Garden, but unbeknownst to the older girl, Sunset wasn’t looking at her. No, Sunset was looking at herself…or rather, a version that she could have been if she hadn’t been as lucky. She had no one to turn to in this world when she’d arrived, and her sexual relationship with Flash could have gotten her in serious trouble, as it had Blossomforth. Would she have had the strength to do what Garden was doing? Or would she have ended up in a worse situation than Sweet Pea had, with no one to turn to and weighed down by a half-human child? The thoughts tore at her, but she had no answer and only endless questions.

“Look, I gotta get going, okay? Just…please don’t tell them. I don’t want anyone’s pity.”

“Well, then will you accept a ride?” Sunset offered. “Probably easier to sleep in my car than it is on a bus.”

“Yeah, and I don’t have to worry about waking up to find some old perv next to me feeling me up,” Garden admitted wearily. “That was not fun, let me tell you.”

Octavia carried breakfast up to the guest room. “Razz? You up?”

“Yeah, come in,” came the muffled response.

Octavia opened the door and walked in to find Raspberry, without clothing and looking over herself in a mirror. “Razz, I’m flattered, but I’m straight. Besides, I already had to turn down one girl earlier this year.” When Raspberry looked at her oddly, Octavia said, “Nevermind,” and put the tray on the table.

“Oh, you mean….”

“Yes. Do you mind putting some clothing on?”

“Sure. It’s just that….”

“Stop. I know what you’re going to say and all I’m going to say is that you live here now, for as long as you need to. Uncle Night and Aunt Velvet already said you belong. And if for some reason it stretches credibility to have yet another teenage girl living in this house, didn’t Ms. Luna offer you the spare bedroom at her place?”

“Yes, but….” She plopped on the bed, reclining in a way that was just a little bit provocative.

“Okay, now you’re doing that on purpose.”

“Doing what?”

“Lying like that. I don’t know what it means in pony terms, but in human terms that is a blatant female sexual come-on.”

Raspberry blushed. “Uh….”

Octavia passed her a pair of pajamas. “Please.”

Raspberry put them on without complaint. “I’m sorry. As you can guess, I’ve still got a lot of learning to do if I’m going to be here permanently.”

“Are you giving up?”

“I don’t want to. I want to go home, okay? I want to see my family and friends again! No offense, but I hate living here as a human being! I think about that woman – that poor pegasus mare – who was stuck living the rest of her days, forced to marry some guy she didn’t know, have kids with him and—”

Octavia sighed. “I have no idea why you and Dagi hate one another. You’re both stupid as fuck, you know that?”


“Razz, I get that you’re afraid of losing everything. But that doesn’t give you the right to project yourself onto others. Yes, if what that thing said is true, neither you nor Sunset were the first of your kind to be stuck here. And yes, she probably had no hope of getting back and had no choice but to settle in rural Mexico. But you know what? She had a child with him. Not a child forced on her by him, but a child with him. A child that she raised with love and was loved enough to have a child of his own, one that old woman loved and confided her greatest secret in, because he was family. And even if he didn’t believe it, he knew his grandmother loved him enough that she was proud to be his grandmother. I suspect if you could have spoken to her and told her what you were and offered her a chance to go home? She might not have. Home is where you make it.”

Raspberry sat up. “Why do you say that?”

“Because I have five sisters despite the fact that I’m technically an only child. Because one of my sisters is an alien and she’s the most human person I have ever met. Because even when I’m at my worst, my sisters won’t ever let me down. Because that’s what family is, and what family makes it. You told me you were adopted and that your adopted family loves you far more than your birth one ever did. So I ask you: if you know that, what gives you the right to not only forget that…but to blatantly assume that of others?”

Raspberry looked at her and buried her face in her hands. Octavia went over and hugged the other girl, the two of them sitting there for the longest time. Finally, Raspberry wiped her eyes and said, “Thanks. I needed that.”

“Hey, what are friends for, okay? Now, c’mon, I need to go buy some new strings for my instruments and I figure we can stop for chocolates over at Saigon Sweets and meet up with the others, okay?”

“Chocolate’s fine by me.”

“Also, if you do that again I’ll drop a line to Sunset’s ex-boyfriend and tell him you’re on the meat market, got that?”

“Look, I told you I’m going to try to stick it out as a vegetarian as long as I….” The deadpan stare from Octavia made her stop. “I take it ‘meat market’ means something different this time?”

Octavia laughed. “You’re hopeless, you know that?”

“Listen, sugarcube, Ah don’t mean t’ pry in Twi’s business or nothing,” Applejack said, “but it’s mighty funny that she’s got a colfriend out of nowhere.”

Divine Right facehoofed. “What?”

“Well, I for one think it’s lovely,” Rarity said. “I’ve personally always suspected that her highness has had, ahem, ‘plans’, as it were, for us, so I suspect it would make sense to pair the most eligible bachelorette in all of Equestria with a minor prince. But I would hope that the princess would find me a more suitable match after that debacle with that cur, Blueblood.”

“What?” Divine said again.

“And I would hope that she would find somepony to match Pinkie’s, er, ‘exuberant’ nature. Personally, I don’t think that Fluttershy or Rainbow will need paramours of their own, given that the latter has her eye on that dashing young Wonderbolt – Soarin’, I believe his name is? – and our dear lovely Fluttershy is already an item with Discord—”

“Rarity, Ah don’t know why you think Shy an’ Discord are an item,” the farmmare said.

“Oh, but it is elementary, my dear Applejack. And of course we mustn’t forget you! Some strong, strapping young stallion who can keep up with you and this farm. Of course,” she teased, “finding one that isn’t an Apple already is going to be a challenge, is it not?”

The stallion present looked at the two mares. “What in Equestria are you two talking about?”

“Oh, please, you don’t have to hide it from me, my good sir. It is obvious! Capt. Stormbreaker has to suddenly be recalled to Canterlot on extended business to be replaced by a handsome young lieutenant who is also a minor prince? And after our dearest Twilight is suffering the twin arrows of pain and frustration, both from the reconstruction of our town and the extended duties she must take care of because Princess Celestia is on, ahem, ‘extended convalescence’? It is clear that our dear Princess Luna feels that Twilight must step up her duties, as it were, and I suppose that means royal issue.”

His eyes widened. “What?”

She patted him on the shoulder. “Well, isn’t it obvious? There aren’t many stallions in Ponyville and the few that are, are for the most part either taken or too young to think of such things. Ergo, Luna would have to import a fine, strapping male as yourself.” Rarity gave him a dazzling smile. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but if things do not work out between you and Twilight, I myself am available.”

“Rarity, did you just say you would try to steal Twi’s coltfriend?” Applejack asked her.

Rarity suddenly froze. “That, er, did come out wrong, didn’t it? I apologize, good sir. Twilight is like a sister to me and I assure you, I would never do such a heinous thing to her!”

Divine facehoofed. “Why me?” he asked nopony in particular.

“Hey, Div!” The unicorn looked up to see a cobalt-blue batpony mare soar down to see him. “Good thing I ran into you!”

“Oh, hello, Stormbreaker!” Rarity said to the batpony. “How was Canterlot?”

Stormbreaker shrugged. “Eh, it is what it is. You know. ‘Sides, I prefer being back in Ponyville anyway. Smell of apples in the air is something you just don’t get out of your system.”

Applejack grinned. “You sure you’re not an Apple, Stormy?”

“Heya, Stormy,” Divine said to Stormbreaker. “You’re back earlier than expected. Thought you wouldn’t be back for at least another week.”

“Yeah, well, things change,” she told him. “You got a moment?”

“Sure, I’m just being interrogated by Twilight’s courtiers is all,” he drolled.

She laughed. “Rarity, Div here isn’t dating anypony, okay? He’s here on temporary assignment because I had to head back to Canterlot on personal business.”

“I thought you said they were going to send over Lt. Stonewall?”

“Apparently she got married last month, and she’s on her honeymoon right now. Fortunately, Div here was willing to cover for me.” She then turned to him. “And apparently you’re going to have to cover a little longer. Like permanently.”

“Permanently?” he asked.

“Yup. Look, my mom is really sick, but she doesn’t want to stay in the hospital up in Canterlot anymore. The doctor said that what she has isn’t going to kill her or anything, but she’s going to need some more time convalescing. So I spoke to the vice captain, and she cut me a deal. Because of all that shit that happened with the Tirek thing, the Guard’s got orders to expand its garrisons in places that the Army or Navy aren’t located, and one of those is a new garrison located just outside my mom’s hometown.”

“Which is?”

“Small little seaside town in the west known as Nightshade. Town’s known for its pecan farms, but the place makes Ponyville look like Manehattan in size. Anyway, I came back to clear out my room at the castle, give my new orders to the princess, and then to debrief you. Until they get a new commander for the guard division here, you’re it.”


“Y’ seem awfully fond of that word, Lieutenant,” Applejack noted. “He’s been sayin’ it all day,” she explained to Stormbreaker.

She patted him on the back with her wing. “You’ll be fine, Div. ‘Sides, didn’t you tell me once you had the hots for Twi? That she’s got a cute flank?”

“AHA!” Rarity said triumphantly. “I knew it!”

“When did I say that?” he asked, glaring at Stormbreaker.

In reply, the batpony grinned. “Hey, not my fault you talk too much when you’ve had too much cider to drink.” Stormbreaker looked at Rarity. “Why I remember this one time you were telling Stampede that you wanted to hook up with that researcher out in West Canterlot – what was her name? Moonprancer? Sundancer or something like that? – because she looked a lot like Twi and you really liked her plot—”

Divine covered Stormbreaker’s mouth. “I think we need to go over the classified documents so I can get you out of here in time. We really shouldn’t keep you waiting here. After all you have to get your mom out to Nightshade, right?” He looked at the two other mares with embarrassment. “Ladies, I’d love to keep talking, but the good captain and I have business to discuss, so I’ll see you both later!” With that, he dragged the mare off.

The two mares watched for the longest time as the two officers receded into the distance.

“So…you think Luna or Cadance is trying t’ fix them up?” Applejack asked.

“I would hope it’s Cadance,” Rarity said. “No offense meant to our dear friend Luna, but I would think that Cadance has a better idea of what we’re all looking for in stallions than Luna does.”

The minute Sunset pulled up to the Sugarcube Corner Café, she realized she knew she had no idea what she was going to tell the Cakes, but her mind was made up. Garden needed the job far more than she did. Even though she felt she would be disappointing the Cakes, she knew she had to do it. The guilt of her own fortune gnawed at her, and she wasn’t sure of what to say.

As she rounded the corner to head to the parking lot, she noted the presence of newsvans. A lot of newsvans. Wondering what was up, she opted to go around the block and park over by the print shop. She could walk over and hopefully the extra time would help her compose what to say—

She felt lips on hers. Backing up, she saw Pinkie standing there, a smile on her face. “Hi, babe,” she said.

“Uh, hi, Pinkie, I….”

Pinkie snuggled up closer to Sunset and giggled. “I’ve missed you, you know that? I haven’t seen you in a whole couple of days!”

“Pinkie, it’s been just two days, okay?”

“Yes! Federal law states somewhere that as my girlfriend, we’re supposed to spend a lot of time together giggling and cuddling and making out – especially that last part – until the initial passion wears off. Then we can be more like a normal couple!”

“Pinkie, I….” Aria’s words from the other day suddenly hit Sunset like a hammer: you have a girlfriend now, whether you want one or not. “Pinkie, we’re not—”

“I know, it’s going to be kind of awkward to tell my aunt and uncle, since they don’t even know I’m bi,” she sighed. “But look, aside from that, I’m glad I caught up with you. You really don’t want to be here right now. Those newsvans are looking for you, and I kinda think you’d want to avoid that right now.” She grinned. “Let’s go back to my place and make out! That should take some of the stress off you and me, right?” Pinkie went over to Sunset’s car. “Or maybe we could go somewhere for lunch. I hear the café at ECMAH has a great chicken panini.”

“Pinkie, listen to me, okay. Just because we kissed—”

“You kissed?” Sunset suddenly froze at those words, realizing she’d said them aloud. She turned to find Rose standing there, a shocked look on her face.

“Rose, it’s not like that,” Sunset began to explain, realizing she was already well over her head and sinking fast.

“Oh, yeah,” Pinkie said cattily, sliding her hand around Sunset’s waist. “Babe and I are a couple! Declared our love under moonlit skies in La-la-land and everything! Too bad, so sad for others, huh?”

“Sunny!” Rose said, a betrayed look coming over her face. “How could you?”

Sunset looked at her wondering what she was going to say to get out of this one and at what point did her life turn into a demented harem anime. “Rose, listen to me. There’s nothing going on—”

Rose didn’t let her explain, instead immediately locking lips with Sunset. “I bet she can’t make you feel like a woman like I can,” Rose said breathily.

Pinkie narrowed her eyes. “Rose, get your hands off my girl or I will put my hands on you and the next hands you feel after that are going to be a surgeon’s.”

Rose glared back. “I saw her first! I have known her since second grade, you hussy!”

“Oh, you really don’t want to piss me off, you bitch,” Pinkie snarled back.

“Girls!” Sunset pled. “In case both of you forgot, those newsvans are looking for me and your little argument might just get them to look around the corner!” At that, the two immediately stopped.

“Truce?” Pinkie quickly offered. “You might be a bitch, but I won’t risk my girl to the wolves.”

“She’s not your girl yet,” Rose insisted. “And I care about Sunny too much to let that happen.”

“Okay, in that case, let’s head back to my place and we can—” Pinkie’s phone immediately went off and Pinkie answered it. A quick phone call happened and she sighed. “Great, just great.” She looked at Sunset with sad eyes. “Look, sweetie, I hate to do this, but Auntie Cup needs me to head home to watch the twins while she heads back to the café to play damage control. And given how close our house is to here, it might not be a good idea to head to my place.”

Rose squeed. “So, I get to take you on a date!” she said, wrapping her hands around Sunset’s arm. “C’mon, let’s go!” She reached down to squeeze Sunset’s butt.

Pinkie blocked that. “Keep your hands to yourself. I trust my girl. I don’t trust you.” She looked at Sunset apologetically and then kissed her. “Sorry babe, but duty calls. But keep in mind I’m thinking of you, okay?”

“Um…okay?” Sunset stammered, not sure of what else to say. “C’mon, Rose, let’s head to the museum.”

“Oh, I love the museum! Especially ECoPop! Have you been there?” Rose asked.

“No, I haven’t—”

“Then let’s go!” she said. She then turned back to Pinkie and cattily called back, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure her lips stay nice and warm!”

“Don’t make me regret letting you breathe, Rose,” Pinkie said in a dark tone that surprised Sunset.

What the hell have I gotten myself into? Sunset asked herself as she got back into her car.

“This is beautiful, Bonnie,” Twilight told Bon-Bon. “I am honestly impressed.”

“Yeah, my babe works wonders, doesn’t she?” Lyra said, looking wistfully at a tray of chocolate nonpareils that had yet to leave the kitchen and head for the storefront.

“You can have one,” Bon-Bon said without looking at Lyra.

“Did I mention she’s psychic, too?” Lyra said, gleefully taking more than one.

“You are so lucky my parents absolutely adore you,” Bon-Bon said with a laugh.

“I’ve always wondered how that works,” Sonata asked. “I mean, aren’t your older brother and sister already dating or something?”

“Oh, yeah, Harper and Burgundy got engaged back in November,” Lyra told them.

“And your parents are okay with you two dating as well?” A sudden silence came over the two, and Sonata looked at them oddly.

Shimmer picked up on it instantly. “They don’t know, do they?”

To their surprise, Lyra turned away. Bon-Bon answered. “My parents love her dearly – love us dearly, and they’re okay with us seeing each other. But Lyra’s parents…let’s just say they think we’re good friends and leave it at that, okay?”

“How bad?”

“Bad enough that my parents would likely put me in conversion therapy if they found out,” Lyra told them. “One time we stayed out late and I lied and told them I went out with a guy, and my mom was thrilled because she was ‘genuinely’ afraid I might be a sybarite. She then told me that if I got pregnant by my boyfriend, she would be disappointed in me, but at least that would be better than being a dyke!” Lyra’s fists clenched. “I swear, I hate her for that.”

“Sweetie,” Bon-Bon said, “I’ll stand with you all the way, as will my family. And you know Trixie and hers will too.”

“I know,” she sighed. “Just gotta hold out until we’re adults and then I can blow that popsicle stand for good.” The two held one another, and Twilight, looking at them, couldn’t help but feel anger for her friends.

“We could come back later if you need to sort something out,” Sonata offered.

“It’s okay. We deal,” Lyra insisted. “Besides, this is about Sunny’s big moment and I’m not going to let my problems with my parents ruin that.”

“But from what I showed you, it’ll be ready in time for the reception at your place. I am surprised that you didn’t have Sunset’s work prepare it.”

“Pinkie’s got some other surprises planned for Sunny, I’m sure,” Twilight told her.

“Ones that can be shared in public, hopefully?” Bon-Bon teased.

“I sure as hell hope so.”

The Equestria County Pop Art Museum, better known as ECoPop, was located in the Eastwick neighborhood of Canterlot. Nestled in part of the older section of that district, the modernist building stood out amongst the older brick facades like a sore thumb, with its neon-blue ribbon wrapping around the aluminum-clad building and practically screaming for attention. The outdoor displays did as well, including the life-size Robotech mecha replica that was built there as part of the planned Northern California Museum of Science and Technology. The whole thing was garish, bright and in-your-face like no tomorrow.

And there Sunset was, sitting at the café, munching on a kale salad, remembering that she hated kale, but this was one of these “neo-fusion” places where artistic creativity meant more than actual food.

“So, Sunny, please be honest with me,” Rose began. “Are you and Pinkie an item?”

Sunset sighed. “No, Rose, we’re not an item, and I’m not seeing anyone.”

“But you said you kissed her!”

“I did, but…it was a mistake. I got caught up in the heat of the moment. Haven’t you had any situations like that?”

Rose nodded. “I have, and it’s nothing I won’t repeat.” She gave a soft, girlish smile, then, and said, “Does that mean—”

“Rose, I’m straight. I’m serious when I said that I kissed Pinkie in the heat of the moment. I could have just as easily done it if I was with Flash or anyone else.” A thought then came over her mind. “Besides, I’m rather disappointed in you. Even if I’m not dating Pinkie, I’m surprised you’re going after me. What would Berry think?”

The look that Sunset got back from Rose was a shock. “Who?” she asked.

“Boysenberry? Your girlfriend?”

“Sunny…you’re the first girl I’ve ever felt anything for. And I have no idea who Boysenberry is. Does she go to our school, or County, or….”

Sunset’s eyes widened. “She goes to Central Junior High! Or well, she did; she’s supposed to be an incoming freshman this year.”

“Sunny, why on earth would I date an eighth grader? Sure, I pal around with Giftwrap from time to time, but I’ve babysat her for years, so she kinda looks up to me like a big sister, but dating?” Rose shook her head and took a bite of her tofu burger. “Besides, you know I was dating Ward before…well, before we broke up.”

“Forward Pass? Berry’s older brother?”

“Sunny, Ward’s an only child. Are you sure you’re not confusing me with someone else? Maybe Roseluck? Although as I recall, she has a boyfriend she’s going out with right now as well….”

The serious look on Rose’s face set off alarm bells in Sunset’s mind. “Rose, please tell me you’re joking.”

“Sunny, I’m dead serious. Look, it hasn’t been easy coming to terms with my feelings about you. And it especially didn’t help that it cost me my relationship with Ward. But we have known each other since second grade, and it feels weird wanting to, ahem, ‘play house’ with someone you used to do so, but in an entirely different way, but—”

“Rose, this is going to come as a shock to you, but we didn’t meet until eighth grade.”

“But we went to school together when we were kids! I remember you distinctly.”

“No. You remember my twin sister.” Sunset then went and explained “the truth”, though she felt horrible about lying to Rose. Still, Rose could not be told the real truth, but she at least deserved to know what happened to the sad little girl she’d once played with as a child. And when Sunset was done, Rose sat back, completely dazed by the taller girl’s tale.

“So you really aren’t the Sunset Shimmer I grew up with?”

“No. That would be Shimmy – we both have the same names, though I suspect that was because Ms. Faustus came up with it coincidentally – though if you want, I could arrange for you two to meet. She does remember you fondly.”

“I…I think I’d like that. And…wow. You’re really a French princess?”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far, since the Imperial family is in pretense, not ruling, but yes, for all intents and purposes, I’m a princess.”

“I’m in love with a princess,” Rose said with a tone of wonder, which in turn set off even more alarm bells for Sunset.


“Sunset…please go out with me?” Rose asked. “I’m laying it out on the table. I fell for you hard, and I want to get to know you. Not just the girl I’m friends with, but a girl I respect and admire and have…feelings…for.” She blushed furiously, and it was all Sunset could do to not panic.

“Rose, I—”

“Don’t worry; I’m not going to pressure you like Pinkie. I suspect that hussy forced you into going out with her just because your friendship would be at stake, and I refuse to do that to someone I care about.” She leaned over and gave Sunny a kiss on the cheek. “And just to show you that I mean what I say, I’m going to get going now. You think about what I said, Sunny, because I meant every word of it. And I still do want to meet your sister, if just to rekindle our friendship.” Rose giggled girlishly. “Who knows? Maybe someday she might be my sister-in-law,” she added, giving a flirtatious wink to top it off as she left.

Sunset watched as Rose walked off towards the subway. After that, she looked at her kale salad, the rest of her lunch now unappetizing.

Two girls. I have two girls competing for my affection and I don’t want either – hell, I don’t want any of them!

Still, that wasn’t the thing that nagged at her the most. Reaching for her phone, she made a quick call.

“Hey, Sunset! Wasn’t expecting a call from you.”

“Hey yourself. You got time to meet? I have some questions I need to ask you.”

“Yeah, sure – you had lunch yet or anything? I’m about to take my lunch break in thirty minutes and we can meet then, if it’s cool with you.”

Sunset pushed aside the half-eaten bowl of kale. “Yeah, sure. You still working at the same place?”

“Yeah, kinda.”

“Okay, see you in thirty, then.”

“Shimmy, are you okay?”

Shimmer looked at her phone and there was something distinct about the absent look on her face.

“Yes and no, I guess. That obvious?”

Twilight smiled. “I know my sister, and she has the same look on her face that you do when she’s like that.”

Shimmer gave her a smile. “I guess that’s normal then, given that we’re both the same person.”

“You want to talk about it?”

“Yeah. I’ve…actually had a lot of fun here. A lot. And, if I’m honest…I’m a bit jealous. In this past week, I’ve gotten to know Sunny – really gotten to know her and…well, I wish we were sisters for real.”

“But you two are, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but it all goes away when I head back to France on Sunday.” Shimmer gave a wistful smile. “It’s been…nice. And although in this new timeline I’m going to be an older sibling to Zephyr’s kids, I haven’t actually met them yet, because they’ve been spending the summer with their mother.” She sighed. “Part of me wishes I could stay here, but I have my friends, my life, and yet….”

Sonata nodded. “I understand. I’d be personally lost without my sisters – and by that I mean both the ones I was born with and the ones I have now. I’m really not sure I would make it as an only child. So I totally get what you mean.” She looked at Sunset’s twin and said, “But here’s the thing you’re forgetting: Sunny’s, well, Sunny…if you ever need her, all you have to do is call and she will probably literally be there. Or if you ever need to come, she’d bring you by as well.”

Twilight nodded. “Yeah, it’s clear you adore her, and she cares about you as well. It doesn’t matter that you weren’t born sisters. You two are sisters, and trust me, Sunny takes sisterhood very seriously.”

Shimmer blushed. “Thanks, girls.” She then picked up the menu. “So, I guess I should just enjoy the time we have left then, right? So, lunch is on me, ladies. Any idea of what we want?”

“Twilight Sparkle? Sonata Dusk?” The two looked up to see an older girl approaching them, and as she did, they smiled.

“Pheo! It’s great to see you!” The two got up from their seats and hugged Phoenix Temple, the now-graduated senior from Zacherle, and currently a college student. The two quickly introduced Shimmer to Phoenix, and she was invited to join them at lunch, talking briefly about both sides and how they knew one another.

“So, she’s the twin sister of your adopted sister, Twily? Sounds like you’ve had a fun few years. Wish I could say the same.”

“Is everything okay, Pheo?” Sonata asked.

The older girl shook her head. “For me, yeah. That year of study I did overseas in Beijing was great, and I learned a lot about the Fujian green canary. Did you know that in Chinese mythology they were once believed to be baby phoenixes? Obviously that’s not true, but somehow the myth has persisted, and so the bird is considered a treasure of their nation.”

Twilight, Shimmer and Sonata all thought about Raspberry’s pet phoenix, and the fact that he looked like a green canary – somehow the world had made the odd connection, which was why Heliodor had become a canary instead of something else.

“Anyway, I came back and was ready to start working on my real passion: working on my teaching degree.” She grinned. “Did you know that as part of that, Mrs. Lemonade got me a part-time assistant teaching job at Zacherle?”

“Are we going to have to call you Ms. Temple now?” Sonata asked.

“Only during school hours. Anyway, I’m glad I ran into you. I heard you and Tavi were given Diva status. Light and I always knew you were going to get it. Well, Umi did as well, but she also wanted to sleep with Tavi, so let’s not get into that,” Phoenix said with a giggle. “Anyway, now that you’re Divas, I need a favor from you two.”

“Of course,” Twilight told her. “What can we do for you?”

“Well, to be honest, it’s not for me, but for my cousin. I don’t want to get into what happened, but her parents recently passed away and so she’s living with my grandparents right now – well, technically she’s living with me in the penthouse at our grandparents’ hotel, but you get the point. Anyway, they’ve decided to send her to Zacherle, so she’ll be incoming as a freshman, but obviously she’s new in town, so she doesn’t know anyone but me. And since I’ll be on faculty half the time and not there the rest, there’s only so much interaction I can have with her during school hours. If you can keep an eye on her for me and introduce her to some other students that might do her a world of good, I really would be appreciative.”

“I’ll see what we can do. When can we meet her?”

“I’ll introduce you the first day of school. Would that work?”

Twilight nodded. “Works for me, Pheo.”

“Thanks, Twily. You have no idea how much it would mean to me. Ribby really could use a friend right now.”

“As a Diva, I’m proud to be of service,” Twilight said solemnly.

“And even though I’m not one, you can bet my sisters and I will happily back Twily’s play,” Sonata said. “We owe you for sticking up for us in our freshman year, and we always pay our debts.”

“Welcome to Hinoiri Sushi!” a voice called out as Sunset walked into the place. As she walked in, she was hit with the various seafood scents of the sushi shop. Pleasant and clean, there was something about the place that made her feel at home for some reason. Likely, it was the name; Fluttershy had once pointed out that the name of the restaurant in English was Sunset Sushi. Either way, as much as she loved coming here, she was glad that she worked for Sugarcube Corner Café, because if she ever worked at a place like this, she’d probably get fat eating all the sushi.

As she sat down, a few seconds later, a green tea and a sushi boat was placed in front of her. She looked up to see Forward Pass, Canterlot High’s star quarterback, wearing the Hinoiri Sushi uniform and setting an identical boat and a Coke down across from her. “I hope you didn’t mind,” he said to her as he sat down. “I figured I’d make it easy. It’s on me, really.”

“Thanks, Ward,” Sunset told him.

“Well, I guess I should wonder how you have my phone number,” he began. “I mean. At first I thought you got it from Flash, given that he and I used to be friends, but then….” He shook his head. “Look, it’s not important. It’s just funny though, you know?”

“Why’s that?”

The look on his face was sad. “I love Rose. I mean, we’ve known each other for years, and we’d been dating since freshman year. And then when I found out that she was bi? I said…. Look, I said some stupid things, and it cost me my relationship with her. Yeah, sure, I’m the star of the football team and shit, and could probably get any girl I wanted, but I had the girl I wanted. And now here I am, talking to the girl that I lost her to.” He chuckled, but it didn’t sound like a happy one. “I guess that makes you a better man than me. Er, no offense.”

“None taken,” Sunset assured him. “What did you tell her?”

“I was angry and jealous and told her that maybe if she wanted you that much, that I could get my hands on the Vibe and get both of you so we could….” He saw the sudden look of rage in her eyes and he waved his hands in placation. “Look, Sunset, I never meant that! I broke off my friendship with Flash because I was disgusted by what he did to all those girls, okay? You know I knew him for years, but after I found out what he was really like, I dumped his ass to the curb!”

Sunset saw the genuine look on his face and relented. She felt the brief flash of an infodump hit her and then she suddenly recalled that in this timeline he and Flash had known one another for the longest time, although in the timeline she once remembered, they never actually crossed paths.

Sunset took a deep breath and said, “Okay, I believe you. It’s just….” Sunset then explained what Flash had done to Twilight, as well as what he’d done to Blossomforth. When she was done, the look on Forward’s face was one that convinced Sunset he was genuine in his attitude.

“Fuck…I wish I’d known that; I would have kicked his ass for that, Sunset. I’m sorry. ” He sighed and took a drink of his Coke, then continued. “Anyway, I was stupid, okay? I love Rose, and us being broken up all this time? I haven’t seen anyone else, because I don’t want anyone else. Yeah, like I said, I could probably bed some hot cheerleader like Turnabout or even your friend Pinkie, but…I love Rose for who she is. Gentle and sweet and I don’t care that she likes you. I want her back, but I guess you two are dating now?”

“No, I’m straight, so I can assure you I’m not dating her. Although, you should consider how you talk to her. She is a friend of mine regardless, Ward, and if you truly love her, then you need to talk to her directly.” Sunset diplomatically chose to leave out that she would be very appreciative if he did, if only to get one unwanted suitor off her back.

Forward looked relieved. “Really? That takes a load off my mind, Sunset. Thanks!”

“No problem, but Ward, I really didn’t come here to talk to you about Rose.” When he looked at her oddly, he said, “I came to ask you about your kid sister.”

The look on his face was one of confusion. “I…I don’t have a sister, Sunset. I’m an only child.”

“I thought you have a sister by the name of Boysenberry?”

“No, not at all. Admittedly, I have a cousin named Blackberry Compote, but she lives down in Texas and she’s way older than me. Why do you ask?”

Sunset suddenly had an idea, one that hadn’t come to her earlier. She reached into her purse and within, cast a spell, opening a slight portal to her bedroom. She then cast a second spell and withdrew a picture that she’d received a long time ago: one of Rose and Boysenberry, from the old timeline. Somehow, the picture had survived, and at the time, Sunset hadn’t thought much of it, other than some pride that she’d created a happy couple. But now….

“Does this look familiar?” she asked Forward as she handed him the photo.

He looked at the picture. “No, not at all. Unless….” He looked at her oddly. “Are you suggesting Rose cheated on me? I mean, this girl looks a bit young, and I know Rose. She wouldn’t cheat on me, Sunset! I know she wouldn’t.”

“No, she’s….” Sunset felt the rising panic sink its claws into her, but she kept calm. “No, I thought the girl was your sister. At least, that’s what Rose told me. And I know Rose wouldn’t cheat on you.” Especially since that’s her girlfriend! I know that, because I fixed them up together!

He handed the picture back to her. “No, like I said, I’m an only child. It’d be nice to have a sibling I guess, but I don’t know.”

Sunset suddenly felt as though she’d been slapped, although she kept the look off her face. Taking a drink of her tea with hands she forced to stop shaking, she gave Forward a smile and continued to talk to him about other things, some of which were about Rose, a girl who he’d hated for dating his sister…and now was in love with, given he’d dated her. The fact that he had been so dismissive of the picture meant that there were more questions than answers, but in the end, only one answer was clear.

Boysenberry, a sweet young girl, was dead.

Worse, she never existed.

And it was Sunset’s fault.

Sunset finished up her lunch with Forward, barely able to face the brother of the girl who had never existed, promising she would talk to Rose on his behalf, much to his clear relief. She also assured him he could call her if she needed further advice. Finally, he had to go back to work and saw her off. She managed to make it to her car before breaking down in tears, unable to take it.

So many girls that had died because of Divine Right, and none of that was her fault, she knew. But Boysenberry had been a friend, and now she was gone. And that blood was on Sunset’s hands. Because Sunset needed to be safe, an innocent girl had become a sacrifice.

Sunset chose to teleport both herself and her car home, unable to drive…and much to the shock of the guy getting into the car next to hers. He took a look at where the car had been a second ago, then at his car, then back to the empty parking space, then opted to get back out of his car and walk down the block towards the bar. He was going to need more than a few stiff drinks.

Twilight clicked on the smartphone she’d been given by Sunset as a gift. Right now the alicorn princess was in her human form as she stood before the portal. It let her be closer to her friends on the other side of the destroyed – no, temporarily separated – hole. Things in Equestria were reaching a crisis point. There had been another attack by Tirek fanatics, destroying several new buildings. It amazed her that there were so many…wrong-headed beings out there that would follow that mad centaur and his plans, but mixed in amongst the lifeless golems were other beings: kitsune, pandas, jaguars, goats, minotaurs…and even the occasional pony.

A discussion with Discord had her worried, because it had him concerned: he wasn’t sure how they came to be that way. He said it wasn’t chaos at work, that there was the feel of desperation behind it. And she understood that. With Celestia “in extended convalescence” and the world already into deepest winter when it should be late fall, it sometimes felt that the Princess of the Sun had abandoned the world. And to a degree, she had, though Twilight would never voice that personally.

She knew why, though. Celestia feared her daughter was dead.

Twilight refused to believe it, though. She’d already lost friends to this madness. She wouldn’t lose another.

And that was why she sat in front of the portal in human form, looking at Platinum’s Mirror, hoping for something, anything that would give her access to Earth once more. She wanted to see her friends. She wanted to meet her counterpart. She wanted something to feel like it was going right for once.

“Attempt 7635: will be attempting to send over a basket of Pinkie’s cupcakes, with a note for Sunny.” She looked at the basket, filled to the brim with cupcakes. “Personal note: I want to see my friends again. Sunny, I know you can’t hear this, but please be there. I don’t know how Celestia will fare if you’re truly dead. I don’t know how any of us will. But I know this much: you are one of my best friends. I miss you.”

Please, your majesty, she thought to Faust. If you’re merciful, we’re all suffering here. Your daughter is, most certainly. She needs her own daughter – your grandfoal. For the sake of the world, we need Sunny back.

Twilight went over and set the cupcakes in front of Platinum’s Mirror and cast the complex spell she’d been working on in order to get it to operate. Runes that both she and Luna had placed on the Mirror glowed in the colors of both Twilight and Luna’s own magic hues. Small magical circles began to flicker across its silvery surface, and something began to happen.

Twilight barely had time to dodge in her unfamiliar form before the jet of unrestrained, raw magic unleashed itself from the mirror, incinerating the cupcakes. And then the portal went still once more.

Twilight looked at the carbon-scored spot where the cupcakes had been…and where her failure, once again, was signed by ash. She screamed in frustration and broke down crying, unable to feel like she’d done anything of use anymore.

What good am I as a princess and an alicorn if I can’t save the ponies I love? If I can’t help my friends?

The human girl sat there, crying alone in a laboratory, with only her reflection in the mirror as a witness.

“Experiment 2206…failure,” Sunset said into her headset while her tablet recorded. “The flames have died down significantly, but the dragonfire candle is still pumping out raw interdimensional magic. I don’t know what happened to the letter I sent as a test.” She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose, feeling a headache coming on.

“I can’t….” She ripped off the headset and threw it against the wall, screaming in frustration, then slumped in her chair.

“Sunny?” she looked up and saw Night knocking on the protective plexiglass, carrying a plate. Sunset waved her hand and a portal opened up, allowing him entry. “When you didn’t come up for dinner, I thought you might want some.”

Sunset looked at the clock on her tablet. “Sorry, Dad. Working on trying to send Razz back home still,” she sighed, “and nothing is working. I don’t want to give up, because I can’t.”

“No one is expecting you to,” he said as he set the plate down in front of his daughter. “But I don’t want you to wear yourself out. You’re only human, after all. Well, in a manner of speaking.”

“No, Dad, I’m more than that now.”

“No, you’re not. Look, I’m not going to get into theological arguments with you. I’m a scientist and Catholic and you could already say that my mind is split between those two realms without having to figure out the ramifications of an immensely powerful alien daughter. But that’s the rub, Sunny. You’re my daughter. I would hope that you’re always going to need your mother and I, no matter what.”

Despite her frustration, Sunset gave a wan smile. “Always, Dad,” she said, the love clear in her voice.

“So, can I convince you to at least eat if you’re going to be down here much longer?”

“Yeah, I probably should’ve gone up to eat with everyone else, but I needed the time alone to blow off some steam,” she sighed. “I guess I’ll go up and see what the girls are doing.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” Night told her. “Luna came over earlier and took the girls out to pizza and the movies. Officially, I think she took them out so they wouldn’t have to deal with the newsvans.”

“Are they still there?”

Night nodded. “It’s already starting to hit the English-language news, sweetheart. You and Solaire will have to make some sort of statement tomorrow, I’m sure.”

“Not looking forward to that,” Sunset sighed.

“I know. But anyway, the other reason Luna was here, I suspect, is because she’s already thinking ahead of what will happen if you can’t get Razz back. You know that Luna offered her the chance to live with her, right?”

“Oh, that should be wild,” Sunset laughed. “From what you and Mom say, Ms. Luna is nothing like how she is at school.”

“As I’m sure you know, sometimes people are different in one location than they are in others, and the face we show one group might not be the same one we show others. She might be an old friend of the family, but because you are her student, she has to be different at school in order not to show favoritism.”

“I know.” She looked at the plate, and then at the office. “You know what, I need a break. Going to come upstairs and eat, then unwind.” She laughed. “I’m just a girl, after all. Can’t let my teenage years slip by, after all.” She blushed. “Well, a second time, anyway.” With that, she teleported her and her father upstairs to the house.

A second later, in the secure area, the statue that had once been in front of Canterlot High School flickered with various energies, and a second later, a basket of cupcakes popped out of a magical portal, which quickly disappeared. A second later, the dragonfire candle flared to life, and the flames licked the edge of Sunset’s tablet, vaporizing it in an instant and turning it into green sparks of nothingness.

“Thanks for taking us to the movies,” Raspberry said to Luna as the two sat by the fountain, eating ice cream. Luna had asked that the other girls give them some space, as the two needed to talk. “Seeing basically oversized television is a new experience, that’s for sure.”

“Yes, Sunset said they didn’t have movies in Equestria,” Luna commented.

“Well, they do, but it’s a nascent form of entertainment. Nothing like what you guys have here, that’s for sure.”

“I see. Razz, I know we haven’t discussed it much, but….”

Raspberry was quiet for the longest time as she finished off her cone. “If I give up going home…I give up being me. Please don’t take offense when I say this, but I don’t like this world. I don’t fit in and I don’t think I ever will. I feel uncomfortable being human, and I can’t see why Sunny is so comfortable with it. Maybe it’s because that’s her destiny as the Alicorn of Earth, but it’s not mine. And I don’t like it.”

“I know, but if you can’t get home….”

“I just felt I had to tell you. You of all people would understand that, I suspect.”

Luna nodded, recalling her teenage years when she had that “Nightmare Moon” alter-ego that let her cope with being an outsider. “It’s why I offered to take you in. Because I do understand. And I know it’s not going to be easy for you.”

“I just want to go home.” Raspberry started crying, and Luna hugged the girl close. “I just want to go home.”

“I know, dear, I know. But I promise if you can’t…you’ll always have a home with me.”

Watching a distance away, even Adagio felt sorry for Raspberry. “I hate that bitch,” she admitted to her family, “but if I could send her home, I would. No one deserves that.”

Shimmer looked at Adagio with surprise. “I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said about her.”

“Yeah, well, I know as well as you what it’s like being a stranger in a strange land – I was born Canadian, after all. But at least this is my home and I have a choice, as ephemeral as it is. I have a feeling that as much as she hates being human…that cunt is going to have to deal with it until the end of her life. That’s absolute torture, and I wouldn’t wish torture on even my worst enemy.”

“Really, sis?” Sonata asked her.

Adagio watched as Luna stroked Raspberry’s hair and comforted the heartstruck girl. “Well, I’m watching what probably is my worst enemy now, and…no. I wouldn’t wish that on her.”

Sunset stood on an empty grassy field, the sky gray and overcast.

“Sunny? I don’t feel so good.” Sunset turned around and there was Boysenberry, the spunky girl that had captured Compass Rose’s heart. But she looked sad.

“Berry, are you okay?”

She shook her head. She opened her mouth to say something, but words never came out. Instead, she began to disintegrate before Sunset’s eyes, and she began to panic.

“BERRY, NO!” Sunset reached out to her, but her hand passed through where the girl had been standing just a second ago. The last thing she saw of Boysenberry was the girl’s terrified eyes, begging for Sunset to save her, pleading for the Alicorn of Earth to rescue her…

…but there was no rescue. And Sunset stood alone in an expansive, endless field.


She woke up with a start, soaked with sweat and her heart pounding. The last few seconds of her dream jolted into her mind and Sunset started crying.


Sunset looked up and saw Twilight at the door. “I…I was just passing by your door, and—”

Instinct took flight of Sunset’s mind at that moment and she leapt up and grabbed her sister, teleporting them in an instant.

“Right now, I should be afraid,” Twilight said to herself. “Very afraid.”

The teen looked at the endless clouds, knowing that she was at least 40,000 feet above the ground, way in the stratosphere where normally only airliners went. She also knew that she should be either freezing to death at the moment, given that she was still in her pajamas, and even this high up, the muggy summer nights couldn’t be felt. She also knew, instinctively that what she was doing – standing on a cloud as though it were solid ground – was impossible…scientifically impossible.

She also looked at the bawling alicorn and knew why it was possible. And she walked over and, wordlessly, hugged her sister, letting Sunset cry her heart out. Twilight held her as much as she could, uncomfortable with this position, given that she was used to embracing her sister as a human, but that didn’t stop Twilight from giving her sister succor. Sunset needed her and that was all that mattered.

“Twily…I’m a murderer,” Sunset said in an empty tone. Twilight patiently waited for Sunset’s explanation and a few seconds later, she got it.

“Sunny, you couldn’t have known. There are too many variables to life, too many reasons why X isn’t Y or why probability chooses one path instead of another. Give me time and I could probably calculate out as far as I could the chances and it would never still be enough.” Twilight kissed her sister on the forehead, her lips brushing maize-colored fur. “The chances are as astronomical as a closeted bookworm ending up with a magical alien creature for a beloved older sister.”

“But she’s dead, Twily! Worse, she never really died, because she never really lived! Rose, who absolutely loved her, doesn’t remember her. Ward, who actually hated Rose for dating Berry, now dated her himself – and is still in love with Rose!”

“Maybe this was the only way to have a happy ever after for some people,” Twilight reasoned. “Didn’t you say there are universes where we’re lovers instead of siblings? That also stands to reason that there are ones where we’re just friends, or enemies or maybe ones where we never even met. All those Twilights, living without a Sunset in their lives…that’s sad. But that’s not my problem,” the teen scholar said. “Because I live in the one where I have an older sister I love more than anything, five cousins who are also de facto my sisters, and I love them too. That’s the only world I know now, and even though I’ll cherish the memories of the timeline that we lived in, there are also memories there that I want to leave behind. Like betraying you and watching you die. I don’t ever want to see that again. And in this life, I didn’t, not to that degree.”

“But Berry—”

“Loved Rose. And maybe there’s a timeline out there…a story, I guess you could say in a sense, where they get their happily ever after. Maybe there’s a reality where Rose and Berry have their life together and grow old together and love each other forever. The multiverse is infinite, from what you said, and even before that I knew that already. Besides, from what little I knew of her, I think she would think it’s a fair trade. Her life for yours.”

Sunset looked at her sister with shock. “How can you say that?”

“Because it was you that stopped Chernabog and Divine Right. It was you that came back to save your family and friends and made the ultimate sacrifice to do so. Sunny, I know this seems kinda blasé to say, but it doesn’t make it any less true: you literally saved the Earth, and you died doing it. But you had to be here still in order to do what your grandmother expects you to do. Otherwise people you love die. And one of those people is your friend, Compass Rose – the girl Berry loved more than anything. I suspect if you asked her, she would have gladly given up her life to make sure that her love would see tomorrow.”


“Call me crazy, but I get the feeling that in the old timeline, Rose wasn’t supposed to survive. I don’t know why, but I get that feeling,” Twilight said to her sister. “Maybe, so that she could survive, Berry prayed that Rose would, and that was the key. Despite my scientific background, I do believe in God. It’s just that my mind can’t wrap the natural around the preternatural. But maybe Berry could, and maybe she prayed to keep Rose safe. I don’t know. I have no way to answer that. All I do know is that you’re safe…and that’s what I care about. Call me selfish, but I love my sister, and I don’t ever want to see her hurt again.”

Sunset’s large alicorn eyes gazed at her sister. After a few minutes, she gave Twilight a wan smile. “I’m lucky to have you, you know that?”

Twilight hugged her again. “That’s what I should say.”

Sunset laughed. “Climb on my back, wouldja?”

“Sure, why?”

“Well, it just dawned on me that I have yet to test my wings out,” she said, fluttering the appendages. “And I can’t think of a better way than to go on a moonlit flight with my sister. Let’s go make some memories, okay?”

Twilight moved to where she was and climbed onto Sunset’s back, wrapping her arms around the alicorn’s neck, hugging her close. “Let’s go, sis.”

The two lifted off into the night.

August 27: Ça Plane Pour Moi

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The shrill scream radiated through the whole of the house, jolting Sunset awake. She knew that sound – it was her own.

Or rather, not hers, but that of her “twin”, the Sunset Shimmer native to this world.

Vaulting out of her bed, her sheets blasting around her in a cascade of fabric, Sunset immediately teleported into the guest room…to see chaos.

Her clothing hanging off her in tatters, Shimmer was floating in the air, surrounded by a bright red nimbus of energy. Various objects in the room orbited her like a makeshift star system, and she was curled into a ball, mystic flames licking off her body.

Sororal instinct took over Sunset, and rushing into the energy, she grabbed Shimmer, tore off her clothing and immediately teleported both of them into the bathroom. Throwing the girl into the bathtub, she immediately turned on the water, making sure it was cold. The red energy slowly started to bleed off into nothingness, and then after a few seconds, the girl’s body reflexively arced as she let out a huge gasp.

Sunset looked down at her with concern. “How do you feel?”

Shimmer looked at the older twin. “What happened?”

“Well, there’s no real way I can explain it in human terms, but…you had a foalsflare.”

“A what?”

“A foalsflare. It’s what happens the very first time a foal’s magic erupts.” Sunset gave her counterpart a smile. “Congratulations and welcome to the world of magic, Shimmy.”

Sunset didn’t expect what happened afterwards: Shimmer reached out and slapped her counterpart hard across the face, anger and betrayal in her eyes. Sunset looked at her with shock, and then Shimmer started to cry.

A second later, behind the closed door of the bathroom, Velvet’s voice could be heard. “Is everything okay in there?”

“Yeah, Mom,” Sunset called back. “It’s just—”

“Why does the guest bedroom look like it was set on fire?”

“I’ll take care of it in a second. Kinda busy here.” Sunset turned her attention back to her twin. “Shimmy?”

“Make it go away!” the younger twin moaned, slipping into a fetal ball and shivering.

“I…I can’t. I don’t know whether that is human magic, or if it’s something you got from me when I infused my lifeforce into you, but…it’s part of you now. You have magic.”

“How could you do this to me?” Shimmer cried, fear in her eyes.

“Shimmy, listen to me. I want you to listen, and I want you to focus,” Sunset said evenly. “You’re in shock right now. I’m going to teleport us back to my room, and then get some clothing on you. Then I want you to go back to sleep and we’ll talk in the morning, okay? Can you do that for me? You don’t have to say anything, just nod yes or no.” Shimmer meekly nodded, and that was enough for Sunset.

A second later, Shimmer was crashed out on Sunset’s bed, asleep courtesy of one of Sunset’s spells. Sunset then cast a spell to dry off her own sleepwear and finally stepped out of her room to see everyone up, looking at her.

“You know,” Velvet said, crossing her arms, “I remember a time when I could sleep past four in the morning and have an alarm clock wake me up, not the latest crisis to go on in this household. I sincerely hope this isn’t going to be commonplace.”

Looking at them, Sunset explained exactly what had happened to Shimmer and how it had shocked her completely. When she was done with her explanation, Adagio was the one to react: “Sunny, I think you need a new hairdo. Apparently every girl in this house with that hairstyle seems to wig out with magic.”

“Not funny, Dagi.”

“Wasn’t trying to be. First you, then the bitch, now Shimmy. At least I can take solace that the middle lunatic is sleeping over at Ms. Luna’s tonight and getting adjusted to staying there if it’s permanent.”

“Adagio Dazzle, did I just hear you refer to someone as a bitch?” Adagio suddenly froze and looked sideways to see Velvet looking at her. “I’m waiting for an answer, young lady,” was all Velvet said.

“Figure of speech, Aunt Velvet?” Adagio said weakly.

“Smooth, Dagi. Real smooth,” Octavia yawned.

“Okay, girls, I think this has gone on long enough. I think Velvet and I are owed some answers, or any resident female under the age of eighteen in this house is spending the first month of school grounded whether or not she did something,” Night said testily. As coverage, he then added, “Including the ones who already went through their teenage years once already.”

“I’ll go make the coffee,” Sonata said. “I have a feeling we’re going to need it.”

“I’ll go fix the guest room while you all go down,” Sunset added. “Won’t take long.”

A little over an hour later, the sun began to peek over the horizon as two parents looked at their six charges.

“Well, I guess I’m lucky I’m the director now,” Velvet sighed, “so I can work from home today. It’ll give me an excuse to sleep in and my staff knows I’ve got things planned for this week anyway.”

“Same here,” Night sighed. “I need to look over the latest script that was sent before I fly out next week, so this’ll be a good chance for me to do so.”

The six teens all looked at the two adults wordlessly, awaiting whatever sentencing was going to happen.

“For one, there’s the obvious: Sunny, I want you to do what you can for Shimmer,” said Velvet. “Clearly you’re the only one who can, but if she needs someone to talk to, I’m available. May as well put my degree to use, but I suspect this is more up your alley.”

“On it, Mom.”

“The rest of you…keep a low profile. Those newsvans are still out there, and I have to wonder if they saw the magic flare. We’re going to have to come up with a plausible explanation for the lightshow if that makes the news.”

“I’m sure I can come up with something,” Twilight told her.

“We’ll think of something,” Sonata said, supporting her cousin.

“Thank you, girls.” She then looked at Adagio. “Adagio, I’m disappointed in you. You of all people should understand what Raspberry’s going through. You don’t have to like her, but you should be sympathetic for her situation, and I am not happy to hear you’ve been haranguing her all this time. I don’t ever want to hear again that you’re calling her nothing but insults. She has a name, and you should use it. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Aunt Velvet,” Adagio said in a cowed tone, feeling genuinely guilty for disappointing her aunt.

“We’ll talk about your punishment later, but at the very least, you owe Raspberry an apology when you see her again.” She drained her cup, then put it in the sink. “For now, I intend to go back to bed and wake up at a more decent hour. Girls, I suggest you do the same.”

As the two adults left the kitchen, the other teens looked at one another. “Great fucking going, sis,” Aria snarled. “Nearly got us all in trouble because you can’t get off your hate boner for Razz!”

“Okay, I fucked up, okay?” Adagio said to her sister.

“No, it’s not okay,” Twilight interjected. “Dagi, you don’t have to like her, but we’re all sick of this one-sided catfight you’ve got going on with Razz. If she’s permanently stuck here, she’s going to be part of our circle of friends. You’re going to have to get used to that, whether you like it or not.”

“I don’t,” she said, folding her arms.

“Tough shit,” Sonata said, glaring at Adagio. “Razz is my friend. I love you, sis, but you’re in the wrong here.”

“Fine,” Adagio sighed. “I’ll be nicer to her. I hate the cunt, but I hate you all being pissed at me even more.”

Sunset reached over and hugged Adagio. “Dagi, we love you, okay? This is just a part of normal life, one way or another. We’ll get through this.”

“Yeah, easy for you to say. I’m going to be the one grounded for a week, just watch.”

“Knowing Mom? Probably for two,” Twilight commented.

“Great,” Adagio sighed.

“Well, isn’t this what you wanted? The life of a normal girl? Good comes with the bad, cuz,” Octavia reminded her.

Adagio was silent for the longest time. Then a smile came over her face and she said, “Yeah, actually, yeah – this beats being cycled any day of the week.”

Shimmer sat on Sunset’s bed, hugging her knees. “I’m sorry,” she told Sunset.

“It’s okay, Shimmy,” Sunset said softly. “I know you didn’t mean to do it.”


“Because we’re sisters?” Sunset said.


“Because I just know. You were in shock and you’re afraid right now. You’re afraid of what you have now.”

Shimmer looked into Sunset’s eyes with tear-filled ones. “Of course I’m afraid! I’m going to end up like Divine, or like Chernabog, having gone nuts with my magic—”

“As opposed to when she possessed me, given that I have far more extensive knowledge of magic than you do?” Sunset pointed out, and Shimmer looked at her in surprise. “I know you’re afraid. But I wasn’t, because I know you.”

“How do you handle it? You’re so different from everyone and—”

“No I’m not. At the end of the day, I’m just a teenage girl, like you. Sure, technicalities aside, and yes, in my case there are a lot of those, but Shimmy, at the end of the day I’m no different than you. And you’re no different than you were the day before.”

“Did you know this was going to happen to me?” Shimmer asked her.

“I suspected it was possible, yes,” Sunset admitted.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it’s not a big deal,” Sunset assured her. “Yeah, sure, you have a power that isn’t understood by nearly anyone in this world, and up until now, your only example was the megalomaniac in your family, so it’s understandable that you’re afraid. But do you remember what I told you about you and I?” Sunset took her counterpart’s hands in her own. “You’re my sister now. Even if you’re on the other side of the world, Shimmy, I will always be there for you. Whenever you need me, I’ll be there.”

“You can’t mean that.”

“I do. I know what it’s like to be alone and not have anyone – I did it for years, and it’s a feeling I don’t ever want anyone I care about to ever feel if I can help it. We’ll get through this. Keep in mind it’s not going to be easy, because I’ll have to find a way to adapt magic kindergarten books to something more human in nature, but everything you know about human magic? Ignore it. You have the real deal, and we’ll make sure you’ll be okay.”

“You promise?” The look in Shimmer’s eyes was one of terror: don’t leave me.

Sunset gave her twin a smile and put her hand out. “First lesson: transference.” Sunset let go of Shimmer’s hand and held it out before her, cupped. “Focus and call your power to you. As a unicorn, it would be to charge your horn, but since we’re humans….” A cyan sphere of energy appeared in Sunset’s hand.

Shimmer did the same, closing her eyes and focusing. A second later, a much smaller sphere of red magic appeared in Shimmer’s own palm, wavering and warping, but present all the same.

“How does it feel?” Sunset asked her.

Shimmer looked at the sphere with wonder. “Like…like it’s a part of me I’ve never known before. Like I could move a muscle I didn’t know was there.”

“Do you trust me?” Sunset asked her again. Shimmer nodded hesitantly, but then gulped and nodded more firmly. Sunset took her hand, still holding the magical sphere, and then placed it on Shimmer’s own. As their hands touched, the two spheres split, becoming smaller motes of light that danced around their hands.

“This is called the Dance of Magic,” Sunset said softly. “It’s considered very intimate, something that you only do with somepony you trust more than anyone.”

“Intimate? Like a lover?” Shimmer asked oddly.

Sunset laughed. “Intimate…like family,” she said with a smile.

With her other hand, Shimmer wiped her eyes, then reached over and hugged her older sister, as the red and blue magic orblets danced around the two Sunsets.

After a few moments, Shimmer let go. “Just out of curiosity, what would have happened if I didn’t trust you or…well, you know?”

“Oh, we would have disintegrated into component atoms,” Sunset said blandly. When Shimmer looked at her with horror, Sunset laughed and said, “Just kidding. Seriously, if we weren’t so close? The two magics wouldn’t have mixed to begin with. They would have repelled one another. You have to be in harmony to do the Dance.”

“Oh.” A second later, she slugged Sunset in the shoulder. «Ne me fais pas peur comme ça, espèce de morveux!» Shimmer grumbled, then laughed.

A second later, Aria rushed into the room, carrying something. “Sunny, look!”

Sunset didn’t think too much of the basket of cupcakes, aside from the fact that Pinkie had probably left them overnight as a token of her undying love.

A second later, however, she saw the wax-sealed scroll and gasped.

Twilight felt gentle claws shaking her. “Sis? Why are you…human?”

“Oh,” the Princess of Friendship said, blushing. “I must’ve fallen asleep like this. I’m sorry, Spike,” she said.

Spike went and hugged her. “What’s going on? Nopony’s telling me anything, you’re almost always by yourself now and the girls are afraid! It’s winter when it shouldn’t be, and Mom and Dad are worried about us!” The look in his eyes was one of colthood fear. “I don’t want to see you hurt.”

Twilight rubbed her hand across his head scales. “I’m okay, Spike. I’m sorry I’ve made you worry, little brother, but I…it felt right doing this work this way. I’m trying to reach out to Sunset, but so far nothing has worked and I feel like I’ve been thrown for a loop—”

She never finished her sentence as Platinum’s Mirror suddenly flared and spat something out, smacking Twilight in the head with force before clattering to the ground.

“Ow!” she yelped, rubbing her forehead, feeling a trickle of blood. Glad that I’m human right now, or else whatever that was would’ve smacked my horn!

“Twi!” Spike called out, waving something in her face. It was a second before her vision cleared up enough to realize what it was that her brother was holding.

Twilight took it from him, and gasped. Aside from half the symbols on the screen that she couldn’t read and the clearly wrong time – 8:37PM, when it was some time in the morning, it looked like one of those oversized cellphones humans used like magazines. But that wasn’t what caught her attention.

No, what caught her attention was the picture on the screen: of twelve girls, almost all of which she knew. Three of them were strangers to the alicorn princess, but that didn’t matter, because she knew half of the girls in the image, especially the one with red-and-gold hair…who now seemed to be much taller than Twilight remembered.

But it was the girl with a similar hairstyle to Sunset that made Twilight gasp. A cornflower-and-lilac mane, with wine-colored eyes. The light brown skin threw her off, but the rest…it had to be her. It had to be her!

Twilight let out a cheer of relief and joy, picking up her brother and dancing around the room with him before showering him with kisses. “Thank you, Spike!” she cooed.

Spike, as any colt would do, wiped off the mushy kisses. “Yeesh, Twi! What made you do that?”

“Can’t explain – I gotta go,” she said, changing back into her alicorn form. “Gather the girls for me and tell them to meet me in Canterlot ASAP! Oh, and in one of the top cabinets in the kitchen is a sea opal – have at it.”

“A sea opal?” Spike’s mouth practically watered at the sound of that; they were one of his favorite gems. “Are you sure?”

“You earned it, little brother,” she said, kissing him on the forehead. “But for now, I need to go. Don’t forget to tell everypony! See you in Canterlot!” With that, she teleported away, the strange item in her mystical grasp.

Spike went over to the desk to get some paper to write messages for the others. The sooner he did that, the sooner he could get that opal – he could almost taste it.

“CELESTIA!” Twilight cried as she teleported straight to her mentor’s room. “CELESTIA, WAKE UP!”

A weary alicorn looked at Twilight with infinitely sad eyes. Her pink, powerless mane was disheveled and unmoving, and she looked nearly mortal and frail. She said nothing, instead looking at Twilight with lilac eyes reddened from crying without end.

“She’s alive! They’re alive!” Twilight said, thrusting the tablet into her mentor’s face.

“What?” Celestia asked, unsure if she heard her apprentice’s words correctly.

“Sunny – and Razz – are alive!” Twilight said, pointing out the evidence on the giant cellphone that had somehow made its way from Sunset’s world.

Out in the sky, for the first time in months, the sun exploded with a luminal intensity that burned like midsummer. Ponies looked up in the sky in wonder, wondering what was going on.

A beam of bright light lanced into Luna’s room, waking her up. She grumbled at first, until she realized what it meant.

“She’s alive,” Luna said with relief and joy. “Twi did it. My niece lives.” She laughed heartily, stretching as she got out of bed. Sleep could wait. Right now her sister needed her more than ever.

An hour later, Raspberry wept tears of joy as she hugged Heliodor close to her as the group sat in the living room of Sunset’s home. “We can go home!” she said with unabashed joy.

“Razz, I want to caution you: this is just the first step. I don’t want to get your hopes up,” Sunset said.

“I know a Sugarcube Corner cupcake when I taste one,” Raspberry said, holding up one of them. “I don’t even need to see whatever’s on that scroll. I know.”

“Congratulations, Razz,” Luna told her. “Still, for as long as you need to, you have a home with me.”

“Thank you,” Raspberry replied, wiping the tears from her eyes, as Heliodor reached up and caressed her face with his wing. “That means a lot to me.”

“Good, now we can get rid of you,” Adagio said, then covered her mouth and realized she’d said it aloud.

“That’s three weeks, Adagio,” Velvet said flatly. “Are you trying to go for a whole month?”

“No, Aunt Velvet,” Adagio sighed dejectedly. “Look, Bit…Raspberry,” she began with gritted teeth.

“I don’t care what you have to say,” Raspberry told her. “For the sake of your cousin and sisters, I’m going to forgive you. Just…just leave me alone and we’ll call it that, okay?”

“Yeah, works for me,” she grunted.

Feeling elated, Raspberry then turned back to Sunset. “So, foalsflare, huh?”

“Yeah, bad one, too. I had to immerse her in cold water, because as a human, she has no fur that she could discharge the extra mana through. It was burning her up as a result.”

Raspberry whistled. “Yeah, that is bad. She’s okay though, right?”

“Thankfully, I was able to catch it before things got bad,” Sunset replied as she nodded. “I told her to sleep a little longer until her mother got here, then we can explain everything. Now the tough part is going to be coming up with a way to train her.”

“Well, if we reestablish a connection back to Equestria, when I go back, I’m sure I can send over some magic primers, like Little Flicker Learns Levitation?”

Sunset laughed. “Oh, I remember the Little Flicker stories from when I was a filly. I always wondered why she couldn’t understand basic magic and had to be taught everything from scratch all the time. Seriously, not one of the best written series, though I suspect I was always too advanced for it.”


“Anyway, Razz, I’m going to be busy with other stuff for the next couple of days, so….”

Raspberry nodded. “I wouldn’t take that away from you, Sunny. I know how important this is to you, so go ahead. I’ve been here for a couple of weeks now, right? A couple of days more isn’t going to really hurt, right?”

“THIS CALLS FOR MY ULTRA-SPECIAL PARTY-O-MATIC 9001!” Pinkie cheered at the top of her lungs. Before anypony could ask, she added, “Why 9001? Because it’s over nine thousand!”

“Pinkie, you can come down from the clouds – that’s my job,” Rainbow told her, though in truth she was no less ecstatic. “So, when do we get her back, Twi?”

Waving her forelegs repeatedly, Twilight told her friends, “Look, girls, it’s just the first step – and finding out they’re still alive was a lucky chance. We need to continue working to make sure that we—”

A polite cough interrupted Twilight’s small explanation. “Your highness?” Twilight turned to see a couple dozen of her mages standing there. “We have been ordered by Princess Celestia to assist you in this portal project.”

“Prof. Jumpspace, I have it all under control,” Twilight began, regretting seeing him. Jumpspace was a fine researcher but had a tendency to bully anypony who he didn’t think was as academically accomplished as he was.

“With all due respect, your highness, I’m a specialist in teleportation fields,” Jumpspace reminded her. “I was the one who wrote the recent monograph on the power reevaluations regarding Faraway Frontier’s Finetuned Focusing Fields, which as you know, is a must in advanced teleportation.”

A second pony joined him, one that Twilight knew as well: Mirage Trick. While she was quite the accomplished mare as well, she also had a habit of belittling ponies she felt were beneath her, skillwise. “And I was the lead researcher in redefining Stardust’s Special Spatial Spellbinding Sieve! You’ll need me as well, your highness.”

The third unicorn merely gave a wave. “Hi, Twi,” she said with a smile. “I came as soon as I could. Princess Celestia didn’t ask for my help on this, but I figured I couldn’t let a friend down.”

Twilight smiled at Moon Dancer. “Moony, I could really use your help with this.”

“Of course!” she chirped.

“Okay, Moon Dancer is project lead while I’m gone,” Twilight told the other two. “You two will report to her, and the rest will report to you.”

Jumpspace’s jaw practically hit the floor. “But…but…your highness!” he protested. “She’s only a…researcher! She isn’t illustrious enough to work on such a project of Royal Importance—”

“Hey!” Rainbow said, jumping in his face. “If the princess says she is, she is, capisce?”

“Moon Dancer is one of the most accomplished ponies out there,” Twilight reminded him. “Yes, I know she doesn’t have the magic levels that befit someone like myself or the archmagi, but when it comes to magical knowledge, I trust her implicitly!”

Moon blushed. “Thanks, Twi.”

“I mean that. It’s going to be a tough job, but I believe in you, Moony.”

“Twilight, dear,” Rarity said as she walked into the room, “forgive my suggestion, but I feel it is my duty to suggest that two other ponies be at least made aware of updates on this important project.” The unicorn fashionista stepped aside, revealing an overwhelmed Cashmere and Ascot.

“Your highness,” Cashmere spoke with a catch in her throat. “Is…is it true?” Though he said nothing as he stood behind his wife, Ascot’s face was a mask of anxiety.

Twilight nodded. “Yes. She’s still alive. Somehow, instead of being destroyed by Tirek, she got teleported to another world – the same world that Sunset Shimmer lives on. We believe that she’s with Sunset and that she’s safe.”

Cashmere broke down in joyful tears, collapsing to the floor in a puddle of relief. Immediately Ascot was at her side, nuzzling her and crying for joy alongside her. Finally he looked up at Twilight with gratitude in his eyes. “Thank you, Princess,” he said softly.

Fluttershy approached Twilight. “Rarity and I felt they deserved to know, Twilight,” the soft-spoken pegasus told her. “They love her so much, and I know if I were in their hooves, I’d want to know, too.”

“You did the right thing,” Twilight told her friend. “I was so busy focusing on trying to prove they were there that I hadn’t even thought to let them know. Thanks for doing that.”

“Twilight.” The alicorn turned at the sound of the familiar voice to see Celestia approaching. She still looked worn out and haggard, tired and disheveled. “Do whatever it takes to get the connection reestablished. She…they…deserve to come home.”

“We’ll get right on it, Princess,” Twilight assured her.

“Please do. I’m not….” The words were thick on her tongue, and the look in the great alicorn’s eyes was one of anxious hope. “I’m not asking this as your sovereign or your fellow alicorn, Twilight. I’m asking this as a mother. Bring my filly home. I want to see her again.”

“I will,” Twilight vowed. “I will.”

“I am proud of you, mon petit tournesol,” Solaire told Shimmer. “If this is true, you are far more than your father and I hoped.”

“Mom, I’m still not comfortable with this power I have,” Shimmer told her.

“I understand, but you must also realize that we can never allow someone like my cousin to arise again. It was a Godsend that we were able to stop him, and now we have you able to deal with future problems.”

“I didn’t ask for this,” Shimmer grunted.

“Shimmy, we know you didn’t. But we rarely ask for what is thrust onto us,” Sunset reminded her. “And I promised you I will be there when you need me.”

Shimmer gave her twin a quick arm squeeze of gratitude. “Thanks, sis.”

“Well,” Solaire said with a smile, noticing the closeness of the two girls. “It looks like you two got along fabulously while I was out of town. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that was going to happen.”

“It’s nice having a sister,” Shimmer said, favoring Sunset with a smile. “And even though we’ll be continents apart, I don’t think that’ll make a difference.”

“It won’t,” Sunset promised.

Solaire’s phone chimed, and she looked at it. “Well, that is all well and good, but now I am afraid we must get down to business. The lawyer the family hired is here.”

Night and Velvet looked at Cadance. “Good thing we brought one of our own.”

Cadance gave her future in-laws a grin. “Good thing the state bar has a mandated pro bono requirement that I could fill for you two,” she told them. “This would be racking up the bills otherwise.”

It was hours later and the group was all located at the Four Seasons Hotel, courtesy of Solaire’s brother-in-law. Given that the family had owned the vaunted hotel, it made for the best place to hold both the talks and the press conference afterwards. And given that the media frenzy had reached bizarre heights as the “truth” of Sunset’s existence had come out into the public arena, the fact that a girl who had been a runaway turned out to be a secret French princess was the top-of-the-hour news item on every local news source, and quite a few national ones as well.

A couple of seconds later, there was a knock on the door, but before anyone could get it, a thin man in an expensive tailored suit with slicked-back light gray hair and red eyes behind equally-expensive Italian eyeglasses walked in, carrying a briefcase. Setting it on the table, he said, “Hello all. My name is Contempt O’Court, and I have been hired by the House of Bonaparte to represent their interests in this matter.”

“Thank you, Mr. O’Court,” Solaire began, but she was quickly cut off by the lawyer.

“Mrs. D’Celestia,” he began in a curt tone dripping with contempt, “it was made very clear to me that you are not to be a party to this. Quite frankly, if I may, I have spoken with several family members, and they find this second ‘Sunset Shimmer’ to be a charlatan, regardless of what the DNA record says. Therefore, your father felt it was best for your immediate branch of the family to step aside in this regard, and as a result, things will be decided by the Florentine branch of your family. And, quite frankly, they have decided that they do not want some unknown ragamuffin mongrel within the family.”

“What?” Shimmer and Solaire said at once.

“Who’s the Florentines?” Sunset asked.

“That bastard Divine Right’s family,” Solaire hissed. “Clearly this is meant to punish me because I’ve chosen to date Zephyr instead of that monster. Even in death,” she commented, “he vexes me.”

Sunset looked at Solaire and gave herself a private smile; her “biological” mother was clearly a talented actress, given that she knew the truth about Divine’s whereabouts, as well as the story that he himself had put out about his death. Even though she wasn’t truly related to her, the alicorn felt a small surge of pride at the princess’ particular skills.

“Whatever that may be, Mrs. D’Celestia, the fact is, the Florentines have been given the authority to speak for the House, and as such I have been directed to tell you that the American girl calling herself Sunset Shimmer does not have legal standing within the House, and will not be recognized by the family.” He gave a grin. “Frankly, given her unusual circumstances, she doesn’t even have a birth certificate because of her situation – she’s not even legally a person.”

Cadance leapt to her feet. “Counselor, you’re out of line,” she warned him.

“And you’re out of your depth, Ms. Cadenza. This is how we sharks play in the world of law outside the coddled justice system. Just shut up, log your pro bono time and that’ll be that.”

“I’ve got a mind to report you to the bar, Mr. O’Court – your attitude is reprehensible.”

“And I’ve got a mind to wonder what you look like out of that clothing. You free tonight? I don’t have to catch a flight back to Cloudsdale for at least another day,” he commented drily.

“I’m filing that report, Counselor, you can be sure of that,” Cadance snarled.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever turns you on. By the way, meet me at the bar after all this and I’ll tell you what room I’m in.” He turned to the rest of them. “Sorry folks, but that’s just how the ball’s played. Welcome to the world of actual law.”

«TROP C’EST TROP!» Everyone turned to look at Shimmer, who was glaring at O’Court with eyes full of rage. “How dare you!”

He looked at her. “Kid, you’re out of your depth—”

“I am no child!” Shimmer rose from her seat, and despite the fact that the man was taller than her, looked him right in the eyes. “I am Her Imperial Highness Sunset Shimmer of the Sarzanist Branch of the House of Bonaparte, and I will not be talked down to!” She leaned over the table, continuing to glare. «Vous êtes un cochon grossier, savez-vous à qui vous parlez?»

“I don’t have to stand here and listen to you, child,” he sneered, closing his briefcase. “We’re done.”

“You take one step out of this room, and I will inform the family that you walked out of negotiations early. My grandfather may have given permission to the Florentines to deal with this,” Shimmer said firmly, “but he still decides whether you get paid for doing your job or not.” She set her cellphone on the table, revealing that she’d been recording the whole thing. “And I am most certainly not done.

“For all of my life, I have had to live with the fact that my sister was gone. With the grief that I was the one that survived. And then this year, I discovered a girl, just like me, who was living the life I had when I lived here. My mother knew who she was right away, but I didn’t believe it. How could I? My sister was dead. But my mother,” the girl said, gesturing to Solaire, “knew. She knew in her heart what I couldn’t wrap my own mind around. That my sister was most certainly alive and here with us.

“I have spent the past two weeks getting to know her. And I am convinced. Not because of a DNA test, or genetics or anything like that. She could be an alien shapeshifted into human form,” Shimmer said in a flat comment, “and it wouldn’t make a single bit of difference. I know my sister, and she is not to blame for what happened to her so long ago! She is a princess of the Imperial Family just as I am, and how dare you suggest otherwise!

“I am Sunset Shimmer…but I now know I am Sunset Shimmer, deuxième. She is Sunset Shimmer, première. And I suspect the child my mother buried is also my genetic identical.” Shimmer turned to Sunset. “Sister, I suspect the reason you suffered – why we all suffered – is because we weren’t twins…

“…we’re triplets.”

“Funny you should mention that.” Everyone turned to see Zephyr standing by the door, a wry grin on his face. “I called in a few favors I had with the FBI and had that checked myself. Turns out you’re right, Shimmy. That would make the child buried in the grave, er, Sunset Shimmer III?” He shrugged. “I dunno. I don’t speak French.”

Shimmer wheeled back to O’Court. “Regardless, Sunset is my sister and also an Imperial Princess of France – and neither of us will stand for this insult. If I must, I will speak your language, you cur: I am younger than you and richer than you and I will bring those assets to bear against you.” Seeing the smug look on his face, she then added, “And I’m not talking about the wealth of House Bonaparte. Right now, we stand in a hotel owned by my uncle – my paternal uncle – which means I have that inheritance to draw back on as well.

“I have more money than you can imagine, Mr. O’Court, and I will weaponize it. For my sister, I will do anything to protect her. So sit down, shut up, and let my mother have her say, or else I will make sure nothing goes right for you anywhere in the Anglo- and Francospheres, am I clear?”

The room looked at Shimmer, who daintily sat down, befitting a princess.

“I believe you heard my daughter,” Solaire said, a wide, proud smile on her face. “Would you care to let us see the documents the Florentines provided?”

“We’re going to miss you, you know that?” Sonata told Raspberry.

Raspberry laughed. “Soni, if this works, the portal will be open whenever. You guys can come visit me whenever you get the chance.”

“Yeah,” Aria agreed, “but I’m sure you’ll agree having your friends live close by kinda helps.”

The three were in the lair, lounging around while Raspberry continued to work on the candle. For her own safety’s sake, Octavia remained upstairs, and Adagio was already doing extra chores around the house as part of her punishment, leaving the trio to their own devices.

“Well, given interdimensional vagaries and whatnot, I guess you could say that I live literally next door,” Raspberry pointed out. “Plus, I have to admit that if it wasn’t for you two, I would probably be miserable here.”

Sonata frowned. “Razz…forgive Dagi, okay? It would mean a lot to us.”

“I already did, Soni. You two are my friends, and I appreciate everything you’ve done for me here, not the least of which is the brace I’m wearing,” Raspberry said, patting the object bound around her leg. “But it’s more than that. You two made me feel welcome here. Not that the others didn’t, mind, and Sunny’s done everything she could. It’s just….”

“You don’t have to say it, Razz, we get the picture,” Aria said with a grin.

The candle’s flame started to get stronger, and Raspberry hopped back to her feet. “Ari, set the security doors or something. Soni, can you get the fire extinguisher?”

“On it,” both girls said at once.

Raspberry started casting a containment spell; as much as she hated to admit it, that was going to be another thing she was going to miss about living in the human realm: having human magic with its utilitarian nature was far better for her than the polarized nature of pony magic. Here, she could almost pretend she was a white magic archmagus, just like Sunset. Here, she didn’t have to worry about being shunned by the general population. Here, she didn’t have to worry that losing her temper also meant losing her guise if she was pushed hard enough.

Plus, when the girls saw it, Rainbow had called her a “badass vampiress”. A quick lookup showed that vampires were the equivalent of vamponies, and she had to admit, after reading everything, she guessed she did kinda look like a badass vampiress.

Maybe if I wasn’t going home, she mused to herself, living here wouldn’t be so bad after all.

The wick turned green and spat out a large, guttering flame; even still, it was much smaller than in previous days, a sign that things were on the mend. The flames coalesced into verdant smoke, which then transformed itself into a simple scroll, tearstained and bound by a simple white ribbon.

Raspberry’s eyes started to tear up, and shame welled within her. How could she think about staying here when she had a family back home that loved her? She didn’t have the unique situation Sunset did, and she probably never would. She belonged in Equestria.

She looked at the candle, then grabbed a pen.

I’m coming home, was all she wrote, then set the letter ablaze in the magefire. The flamefax did its job, then guttered out and returned to an orange hue once more, becoming a normal candle again.

Raspberry could feel arms encircle her in an embrace, then felt a head rest atop hers. “Are you okay?” Aria asked her.

“No. Not until I get home again,” Raspberry said softly. “Not until I get home again.”

As O’Court stormed out of the room, Cadance looked at Shimmer with appreciation. “You know, maybe you should consider being a lawyer, Shimmy,” she said. “You sure can argue a case.”

“Are you sure this is what you want, mon petit tournesol?” Solaire asked her daughter as she looked over the new documents.

Shimmer nodded. “Even if I didn’t, this is what has to happen in order to protect Sunny,” the younger flame-haired girl replied. “Besides, it got him angry, and as Uncle Noblesse says, when you argue in a rage, you don’t think about what you’re doing.”

Sunset looked at her counterpart, gaining a new respect for her. Sunset had been trained in diplomacy and negotiation by a princess, but she never really gave it much use in her life. Shimmer, however, knew exactly how to use those skills and did so to the fullest extent, so much so that it made Sunset herself reevaluate her position on that.

She looked at the copy of the document in her hands. With this, she was officially an Imperial Princess of France, and technically a French citizen. Moreover, with the other documents that had been signed by both Solaire and Sunset’s own parents, with Cadance witnessing and O’Court signing as approver on behalf of House Bonaparte….

“Shimmy, you shouldn’t have,” Sunset said, stunned.

“Mom, do we have to be present for the press conference?” Shimmer asked Solaire.

“No. In fact, I think I would rather do this myself, presuming if you would be of assistance, Night? The public knows both of us, so it should be sufficient, don’t you agree?”

“I do. I think I’d rather shield the girls from all this.”

“Good!” Shimmer said. “Sunny, can you teleport us to the nearest flowershop? I have something to do.”

“Sure, but—”

“Mom, we’ll catch you later at Uncle Autumn’s place, okay?” She leaned over and kissed her mother on the cheek. “C’mon, Sunny! Time’s wasting!”

As the two girls vanished, Cadance laughed. “Going to be hard to get used to that.”

“Yes, I suppose,” Solaire replied, “but I have never thought of my daughter as anything less than special. After today, that’s magnified a hundredfold.”

“You raised a wonderful young woman, Solaire,” Velvet said sincerely.

“I raised a princess,” came the reply. “And not just in name.”

In a well-furnished hotel half a world away, two old men looked at one another. Both seemed to be what they were not: the first old man seemed to be a frail, elderly English gentleman blinded by an accident ages ago. The second appeared to be a fit Japanese businessman of advanced years, dapper yet formal. Around them stood retainers and servants.

As he set down his chopsticks, the Sphinx smiled. “My compliments to your chef, Shokuden-dono. Perhaps I may wish to borrow his services for a banquet I intend to hold next month.”

Taking a sip from a sake cup, the other man nodded and replied in a gravelly voice, “Please, dear friend. Speak only the time and location and they will be delivered to you for your needs. My employees are at your disposal, and the Satsuma Legend Corporation aims to please.”

“Indeed you have, dear friend,” the older man said. “And now that our wonderful dinner is over, I am afraid I must mar this pleasant meeting by talking not of pleasure, but of business.”

“Of course,” Shokuden replied. “I shall have my underlings discuss the joint financial projects, starting from the European concerns, if that is what you wish.” The man gestured to his left and a second man in his mid-forties bowed, approaching with a package of documents.

“Perhaps later,” the Sphinx replied. “For now, I wish to speak of the Baraka Project.”

Shokuden nodded, then raised his hand to bid the first man to stop. “I see.” He then waved his hand again, and an elegantly-dressed young woman approached and bent over. Shokuden whispered something in her ear, and she nodded, then departed. “The rest of you, please, see to your concerns,” he told his side. “My friend and I wish to discuss private business.”

The Sphinx nodded, then moved his head ever so slightly. At the slight movement, all of the personnel that had been behind him turned and silently departed, save for a young woman dressed in business attire.

“Palm-dono, would you care for a seat? It wouldn’t do to have such a beautiful young lady stand.”

Areca Palm shifted slightly. “How does the old saying go, Shokuden-dono? ‘One must be careful of entreaties from both friends and enemies’? An old saying of Oda Nobunaga, if I recall.”

From behind Shokuden, a young man the same age as Areca and with a scowl on his face, glared at her with blood-red eyes. “Those were actually the words of Akechi Mitsuhide.”

“Ah, I see. Thank you for the correction.”

Shokuden laughed. “Ah, the trifles of youth. How I wish I could be so unconcerned with the future!”

“Perhaps,” the Sphinx said, “but it is always best to be cautious of what is to come. I come to you bearing information on your treasure. I also come bearing a warning.”

Shokuden raised an eyebrow. “It is not often that the great Grandmaster of the Ordo Duodecim comes bearing warnings.”

“It is not often that the oyabun of the Satsuma Rengo-kai requires such,” the Sphinx replied. “And yet…my spies received word that your treasure has been moved once again.”

“That is…information we already have,” Shokuden replied.

“She is also attempting to contact a being called the Chīkyū no Megami. Are you familiar with such?”

Shokuden laughed. “A fairytale, nothing more. A kami that all spirits and mages answer to? If such a creature actually existed, she would be in my grasp by now.”

“I see. Well, I felt it prudent to warn you. Your quarry and her guardian are expending considerable resources to find this being, and whether it is a waste of time or not, one must let one’s friends be aware.”

“Yes, and I thank you for the information.”

The two old men continued to sit there, as ancient magics swirled around them. High above the skyline of Tokyo, in a great skyscraper, the grand city below had no idea of the meeting that had just occurred.

Nor, if they did, would they have had any power to stop it.

After the meeting ended Areca followed her father to his limousine. “So they have no idea,” she said to him.

“Oh, he knows,” the Sphinx said wryly. “He would not be Shokuden Shinosa, the oyabun of the most feared of the yakuza gangs, were he not.”

The Sphinx waited until they were in the limo – protected from prying ears by technology and magic both – before speaking his mind. “I think it would benefit us later on down the road if we allowed his treasure to contact the so-called Chīkyū no Megami.” With a smile, he added, “It would be easy to wipe two pawns off the chessboard instead of one, don’t you think?”

Watching the limousine depart, the young man snarled in his native Japanese. “Grandfather, how could you let those gaijin go! They knew something we had no information on!”

“You mean you had no information, Shujin. I have been quite aware of the existence of the Chīkyū no Megami for quite some time.”

“I thought you said it was a fairytale!”

“I did. But all legends have a grain of truth to them. And as you well know, even the smallest grain can someday become a field if given time.” He turned to glare at his grandson. “Find our treasure and bring her under our heel, before she contacts the Chīkyū no Megami.”

Shimmer set the two sets of roses on the gravestones. “Hi, I’m back.”

Standing a polite distance away, Sunset watched as Shimmer spent some final time with her father and her unborn sister – her actual unborn sister. The girl who had never received any other appellation other than CHILD OF SUMMER BREEZE AND SOLAIRE D’CELESTIA. In the days to come, the small gravestone would be replaced with an actual name: SUNSET SHIMMER 3ème, HIH, HOUSE BONAPARTE.

It made Sunset wonder what was with her own true birth family, and if their own fate had been as horrific as Raspberry’s or if it had been an idyll, or whatever.

Finally, Shimmer stepped away from the graves and wiped her eyes. “It’s…done. I’ve made as much peace as I can.”

“Have you?”

Shimmer nodded. “I did. I…I told my father what I did, and I hoped that he would be proud of me. Mom…is going to be okay with it, and I suspect my uncle and grandfather will as well. I know those bastards in the Florentines won’t, but that’s my choice.”

“Shimmy…you just gave me half your entire fortune!”

“No,” Shimmer said with a smile. “I gave my sister what she rightfully deserves as her inheritance. If our sister had lived, it would have been split three ways. And since we didn’t know you were alive, I inherited it all. I’m just—”

“Stop, please.” Sunset looked at her counterpart. “I get that you’re wealthy, even though you told me that you live in a middle-class home in suburban Paris.”

“By choice – Mom and I want to have normal lives.”

“Shimmy, that’s your money, not mine. And in case you forgot, I’m the daughter of a princess outright to begin with. If I had to hazard a guess, the GDP of Equestria alone is probably twice that of Earth in entirety. We’re literally swimming in gems and we feed top-quality jewels to dragons and other creatures. Our mid-grade is your top quality. And yet you just—”

“It’s just money,” Shimmer said as she walked over to a bench in the cemetery. In the distance the sun began to sink behind the horizon, as if giving a notification to its namesakes. “I would rather my sister get her fair share.”

“But we’re not really—”

“We are.” Shimmer patted the seat next to her, asking Sunset to sit down. “I’ve learned a lot from Twily these past two weeks. She doesn’t care what you were born as or who you were. To her, you are her sister. You told me that you were my sister, and I said I’ve never had one before. Now, I’ve had one for two weeks, and I share so much with her.” She raised her palm, calling magic to her hand. “If it wasn’t for you, I would be dead or worse, Sunny. Giving up half my inheritance to prove your existence to the world, to me, is worth it.”


Shimmer placed a gentle finger on Sunset’s lips. “No buts. I once told Twily that you were the best Sunset you could be, and I needed to be the best Sunset I could be. So I’m doing that now, so that both of us can live our lives unfettered. Besides, it’s not as though my true birth sister was going to put it to any use, you know?”

“I’m…I’m honestly touched, Shimmy. You gave up more than just money, though.”

“Yes, but I never wanted to be involved in my family’s politics anyway. That’s not my calling, and so I don’t mind giving up my vote within family politics if it means you get official family recognition. Besides, the Florentines and the other family factions never really considered me a true Bonaparte, given that I’m half-American.”

Sunset gave a wistful smile. “I don’t know what to say,” she admitted.

“Well, my mother told me the best thing to say is a thank you,” the younger girl said lightly. “Unfortunately, you got kidnapped and so you didn’t learn that little nugget of wisdom from our mother. So I guess you can be forgiven that.” She leaned against Sunset and the two watched the sunset continue to fall. “You promise that you’ll always be there for me, Sunny?”

“As much as I can. Unfortunately, I do have my own life as well, and sometimes I’m not going to be able to break away.”

“I guess that’ll have to do. I guess in time, I’ll learn to teleport and then I can come visit you.”

“You’ll have to practice hard,” Sunset insisted. “Teleportation is a pretty advanced skill.”

“I’m sure I can master it. I do have the best teacher around,” Shimmer said with a smile.

It was days. Days of sheer torture since they had sent out that letter. Days of wondering what had become of it, what would be the fate of the simple missive, a simple plea from a mother, for her filly to come home.

And now that wait was over.

Cashmere held the letter in her shaking hooves, tears of joy staining the letter she’d sent days ago, with a simple message scrawled back on it:

My filly is coming home, Cashmere thought, her mind swimming with relief and joy. She’s coming home!

Watching from a distance, Celestia felt a mixture of emotions at the moment: joy, because one of her missing ponies was able to safely contact home. Jealousy, because Raspberry’s mother had received a letter from her daughter, when she herself had not. And shame, because she knew she shouldn’t feel as she did, especially as the ruler of the nation.

“I’m sure Sunset would have written you if she could,” Luna gently whispered into her sister’s ear. “Maybe there was no time or she wasn’t around and Raspberry wanted to make sure that we got the message. Given that it’s been days, Twilight and I already suspect there’s some level of time dilation involved.”

“I know,” Celestia said softly. “I just miss my sweet filly.”

“She hasn’t forgotten you,” Luna assured her. “She loves you.”

“No, she’s probably been adopted by that human mare by now,” Celestia said sadly, “which means I’ve lost her forever.”

“No. I can assure you of that, sister. Mothers aren’t forgotten so easily. Just because Sunset will end up with more than one mother doesn’t mean she’s forgotten you. That other Velvet might be taking care of her, but you raised her. The love is there – it will always be there.” Despite the protocol of the situation, Luna reached up and caressed her sister’s heartbroken face. “She hasn’t forgotten. She never could.”

Autumn Forest’s face had a look of both shock and sorrow on it. “All this time…all this time, she’s been here in the area,” he said to Solaire, apologetically. “All this time, we…we could have looked, if we’d known. We would have looked, if we knew.”

His wife, was inconsolable. “We should have known,” she sobbed, her face buried in her hands. “We should have.”

“It’s okay,” Solaire said, hugging her sister-in-law and feeling guilty about it. Even her extended family would have to be kept out of the truth in order to let Sunset live safely. Was this what Sunset had to go through every day of her life here on Earth? If so, Solaire didn’t care for it one bit, even though she would continue to live that lie – now not only for Sunset’s sake and her promise to her grandmother, but for her own daughter as well. “There was no way to know, and so long as she’s healthy and safe, everything is okay.”

“Are you sure about this, Soli?” Autumn asked her protectively and she knew what he meant.

“Yes. To take Sunset away from her family would be as dastardly as the woman who stole her from me. Besides, they love her – and I would not do that to another family.”

“Well, if that’s what you want,” Autumn said. “It still doesn’t mean that I won’t involve myself if you need me to.”

“You should meet her adoptive parents. They are wonderful people and I don’t feel as though I am failing my child a second time, I assure you.” Solaire gestured to where Velvet and Night waited a respective distance.

Meanwhile, there was someone in the extended family who was not waiting a respective distance. Giggling and giddy, Coco hugged Sunset without abandon, happy as a clam while Shimmer, Twilight, Octavia and the triplets watched without trying to laugh.

“Yay! I have another cousin that’s a girl!” she cooed contentedly.

Sunset looked at Shimmer wordlessly before her twin replied, “Look at it this way: you now have a cousin…that’s actually a cousin.”

“Yeah, I think Sunny’s met her quota of sisters for the rest of her life,” Adagio said with a grin.

“And best of all we all go to Zacherle together!” Coco crowed.

“Uh, actually I go to Canterlot High,” Sunset explained. “Kinda prefer that, to be honest.”


Twilight stepped in and rescued her sister from perpetual embrace. “Coco, you still have us, okay? Just because Sunny goes to a different school doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t there. Trust me, I know Sunny would want us to take care of her darling little cousin just as much as she would.”

Coco blushed at the compliment and Adagio whispered to Octavia, “Looks like Soni’s out of a smooth-talking job.” The raven-haired girl giggled at that.

“Okay,” Coco said, letting go of Sunset and immediately clamping onto Twilight.

“You know, she kinda reminds me of that toy that was out when we were kids. Constant hugging thing or whatnot,” Aria mused.

“And you had to pull the batteries out when you wanted it to stop hugging?” Octavia added.

“Yeah, that’s the one. Softy got us some on our birthdays and I think we had them until she died. Then Soni took them apart to see how the motors worked. Good times.”

Sonata interjected, “Well, by then we’d grown out of toys, so….”

Coco then looked sadly at Sunset. “Were you mistreated by you captor?”

“I….” Sunset looked at Coco’s innocent eyes and knew she couldn’t lie. A year ago, she could have – and likely would have – without issue. But she wasn’t that Sunset anymore. She’d grown quite a bit, and this was, for better or worse, her family.

Fortunately for her, Twilight stepped in. “Coco, given that she’s been around family, I don’t think it’s a good idea to ask that,” she suggested. “She might be fine now, but what happened to her is still an ordeal she has to get through. Remember that she thought her captor was her family for the longest time, so it’s not fair to ask her a question like that. It would be like me asking you how things are going with Crackle’s sister.”

“Oh.” Coco then looked at Twilight and Octavia. “Crackle…she forgave Suri, because they’re sisters. But Crackle doesn’t know if she can trust her. It hurts me to see her like that, but I don’t know what to do.”

“Just be patient, Coco. I’m sure that things will improve. Maybe Suri will change, or maybe she won’t,” Octavia told her. “But that’s not for you to do. That’s for Crackle and her sister to work out. Just be there for her. You and your friends – you are friends with the CMC, right?”

“Yeah! My parents are letting me join the Girl Scouts and then I can get badges right along with the girls!”

“Something tells me we should be worried about that,” Sunset said to no one in particular.

In other parts of the town, Applejack, Rarity and Rainbow all shivered at once, feeling as if someone had stepped on their grave, to use a term.

Finally, Sunset and the others went home. Velvet hugged Sunset close to her. “Are you ready for tomorrow, sweetie?”

Sunset looked at her, then nodded. “A dream come true,” she had to admit.

“For all of us,” Night told her. “But remember what Velvet said: just because we’re making it official tomorrow doesn’t mean that you have to love your birth mother any less. I have a feeling that she’s going to be in your life still, especially since you’re sending Raspberry home, right?”

“You sure?” Sunset asked, not wanting to correct them about the birth mother phrasing. Princess Celestia was her mother, she knew that – birth or not.

“Very, Sunny. Love is, to coin a phrase, a very human thing,” Velvet said. “And you shouldn’t let your love for her be forgotten. Someday, I want to meet her and thank her for the special gift she gave us – you.”

Sunset blushed. “Mom, you’re making me blush.”

“Of course, dear. That’s what moms do.”

“Well, we should get some sleep. Need to get up early tomorrow for the most important day of our lives!” Sonata said.

“Not really,” Twilight said, and everyone looked at her. She smiled and said, “All it’s doing is just putting on paper what we already know.” She kissed Sunset on the cheek. “My sister.”

“Our sister,” the other girls said at once.

Sunset blushed brightly, thinking about how absolutely lucky she was and how much her world had changed. Tomorrow would make for one of the most important moments in her life, and she couldn’t stop thinking about it. In a sense, she’d been adopted multiple times: by Celestia, by her new parents, and kinda sorta by Shimmer’s family. For a filly that had been found at an orphanage with no name or lineage to speak of, she’d been blessed a hundredfold over for it.

I guess I am the luckiest girl in the world, she thought to herself with a smile.

But a fleeting thought came to her, if only for a moment: what ever happened to her actual birth mother? Did she ever think of Sunset? Did it matter? To Sunset, no, not really. But somewhere in Equestria there might have been a mare who always wondered what happened to the filly she gave away.

“Here ya go,” a cider-soaked voice said, setting a mug down on a splitwood bar counter. “Finest of the house.”

The stallion, a gruff earth pony, gave her a salute and a grin. “Yeah, thanks.” He downed it quickly, without so much as even needing to breath. “Ah, that hit the spot!” He reached into a sidepack and pulled out a couple of bits, which he slapped on the worn countertop. “Get me another, will ya?”

The bartender laughed. “You keep hitting the cider, Arroyo, and your sister’s not gonna be happy about that.”

“Eh, well, not like there’s much to do out here in Flat Plains, right?” He shrugged.

The bartender picked up a mug and started polishing. “Yeah, smallest little town in the Badlands.” She laughed. “I went to Ponyville last year on business – for a ‘small town’, the place felt huge, like I was in Manehattan.”

“You’ve been to Manehattan before, Star?”

She looked wistful. “Yeah, once.”

He was about to ask her another question, when a scroll popped up in front of him. He opened it and sighed. “Well, duty calls – I gotta get back to the cactus farm. Don’t worry about the drink, but you can keep the change. I’ll catch you later!”

“Yeah, later, Arroyo,” she said, waving as he rushed out. She then took his mug and threw it into the sink; there was always a patron at the Flat Plains Saloon, which served the finest drinks in the Badlands. She smiled. This was her life, and her all, and even though she missed her husband greatly, at least he left her enough to keep this old place going so that they could have a comfortable life.

She laughed to herself; decades ago, this wouldn’t have been a comfortable life to her. No, to Rising Star, a Canterlot girl that desperately wanted to live the high life and be a noblemare, she threw herself at just about every stallion – and quite a few mares – to see if she would end up with a ring on her horn. That stupidity had cost her when she slept with the wrong stallion, especially when his wife found out about it. It had ruined her life, and that of another, and after all was said and done she’d ended up in Flat Plains, wondering how she’d destroyed her life. After all, she wasn’t meant to be here in the middle of this Lunaforsaken excuse for a town – no pony in their right mind would!

It had turned out to be a Celestiasend. Desperate for bits and not willing to become a mare of the night, she applied for the only job available. Said job was working for Stemmed Glass, the owner of the Flat Plains Saloon and a pony well older than she was. At first, he was gruff and rude to her – how dare he, the old bucker! But as time went on, she began to realize it was her that needed the attitude adjustment. And over time, she did.

And in time, somehow, they fell in love and she married him.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to last. A stray timberwolf being where it wasn’t supposed to be left her widowed and with foal. And although she had enough to run the bar comfortably, it didn’t mean a thing without her loving Stem.

Still, she had something to look forward to every day, and right now, said thing to look forward was rushing into the saloon.

“Momma! Momma!” A young earth filly with a cream-yellow coat and purple-and-silver hair rushed towards her, her glasses barely staying on her head. “Didja hear the news?”

“No, Dreampop,” Star told her daughter. “What’s the news?”

“Princess Celestia! She’s fine! She’s okay now!”


Miss Readwell, the town schoolmarm, was also the publisher of the Flat Plains Perodical, the weekly newspaper. She got flamefax stories from the big city papers like Equestria Daily, so it stood to reason that she would know.

“Uh-huh!” Dreampop said, adjusting her glasses. “Even more, they’re saying that the Princess’ daughter – Baroness Sunset Shimmer – is an acilorn now! She’s so pretty!”

Rising Star’s eyes widened, too shocked to appreciate the adorable mispronunciation of the word. “What?”

“Uh-huh! Miss Readwell let me keep the paper!” Dreampop chirped as she pulled it from her saddlepack. “Wanna see?”

Star levitated it up. The picture, of course, was a drawn representation instead of a photo, but it was a color one, and seeing it, the mare’s heart practically leapt out of her body. There, standing regal and noble, was Sunset Shimmer.

The daughter Rising Star had abandoned decades ago, too selfish to try to raise her herself.

Over the years she’d followed Sunset’s escapades as part of her personal penance for abandoning her foal. And it hurt her to see her daughter become the adopted daughter of Princess Celestia herself. And it hurt even more when the news came that Sunset had turned against her mother, rebelled and had vanished.

But now the papers said it was all a cover story. That Sunset had been on a special mission for Princess Celestia, to a strange land. That she had become an Archmagus, succeeding Princess Twilight in the position. And now…she was an alicorn. A beyond-impressive accolade for a foal that Star had left, without even so much as a name, on a doorstep so long ago.

My sweet filly…though you’ll never know it, Star thought as she looked at Dreampop’s cyan eyes with her own, I am so proud of you.

A tear rolled down Star’s cheek.

“Momma? Are you okay?” Dreampop asked, worried.

“Better than ever, my sweet,” Star said, vowing someday to tell Dreampop about her famous sister. “Better than ever.”

August 28: E=MC²

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“All rise,” the bailiff announced. “All rise. Department Two of the Superior Court is now in session. The Honorable Judge Docket Brief is now in session.” The judge came in and sat behind his bench. “Please be seated.”

Brief, a genial older man with thinning forest-green hair and squarish glasses, shuffled papers on his benchtop before looking at everyone. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Now, I will admit, adoptions tend to be a fairly commonplace thing. Easy as pie, procedurally speaking.” He then took off his glasses and gave everyone a helpless stare. “But I have never, before in my judicial career, processed an adoption for a girl that technically does not exist, much less one gaining international attention. ” He looked at Cadance. “Counselor, would you please clear this up for me?”

Cadance couldn’t help but be impish: “Your honor, it all apparently started the day when a magical unicorn came through a portal located at Canterlot High School….” Her further speech was cut off by the sudden laughter from the witness stands.

Brief himself chuckled. “That answer actually seems more plausible than everything I’ve read here,” he said with a smile. “In any case, I have looked over the documentation and as I understand it, the subject of the petition never got a birth certificate due to her circumstances?”

Cadance looked at documentation she had prepared at her table; she obviously knew the truth and ironically had just told him so, but she had to act her part. Besides, as a lawyer, she knew any good lie had to have a grain of truth in it. “Yes, sir. The FBI is currently looking into the case. While I am not privy to details due to conflict of interest, my general understanding is that all the evidence was correct: seventeen years ago a young girl was stolen from her parents and it was undetected because of the unfortunate still birth of her fellow triplet. The surviving unabducted sister was believed to be the only one, and for years this persisted.”

Seated at the petitioners table, Sunset looked at Cadance, then the judge, and couldn’t help but feel a little lost. She knew this was all a tale being spun for her sake, yet it was plausible and believable and she felt bad for deceiving the judge. Yet a lie had to be a legal truth in order for her to exist in this world.

Brief looked at his bailiff. “What is the situation regarding that?”

“I was able to inquire, your honor. There is a warrant out for a Ms. Faustus.”

“That’s good to know. In the meanwhile, we can correct at least one wrong here immediately: I am directing the California Department of Social Services to promptly issue a birth certificate for the subject individual, backdated with all the relevant information copied from her sister. I am additionally directing the State to make relevant corrections to the sister’s birth certificate as well. Additionally, the State must notify the Social Security Administration, so that the relevant SSNs can be issued and/or adjusted, as required.” He looked at Sunset. “Welcome to the world of the legally living, Ms. Shimmer.”

He then looked back to Cadance. “Now, as for the other portion: I understand that the birth mother has recently found out about the existence of her daughter?”

“Your honor, I call Her Imperial Highness, Princess Solaire Beaharnaise Pagerie Trois-Îlets de Martinique d’Celestia of the House of Bonaparte, to the stand.” Solaire walked up.

“Uh….” Brief began, unsure of where to go with that mouthful.

“‘Mrs. D’Celestia’ would suffice, your honor,” Solaire told him. “I was married to an American man and hold American legal resident status.”

“I…see. Well then, Mrs. D’Celestia, if you would be so kind as to explain?”

“I would be delighted to.” Solaire then went on her practiced statement, explaining how she felt upon encountering Sunset, filling in the details from both the old timeline and the new and weaving them smoothly so that it would work. She then explained her shock and joy at Sunset being alive, tempered by the sorrow of losing her once again in a sense.

“I see. Thank you. But I must ask: you do not have a problem with the petition going through?”

“No.” Solaire looked at Night and Velvet and said, “In the past month, I have grown to know them and they are wonderful people. And I would not do that to loving parents, nor to my own child. As difficult as the decision is, fate has already made its move and I would not be the monster that compounded the issue.”

He then looked at Night and Velvet. “And do you feel the same way?”

“Your honor, we love her,” Velvet said, simply and honestly. “Since the day she came into our lives, she has been a special part of it, both the ups and the downs, and I wouldn’t want to change a single thing.”

“I completely agree,” Night said. “I have had a unique time raising several other girls, and Sunset is no less special. She came to us in need and we have grown to love her and take her in as part of our family. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Finally, the judge looked at Sunset. “Ms. Shimmer, do you wish to say anything?”

Sunset looked at the judge, then stood up. “I…I’m not sure of what to say, your honor. I’ve been blessed with so much…friends, family, a life, when I had nothing a few years ago. Maybe if I’d not tried to go it on my own for so long, things could have been easier for me, but that was what I was taught by my guardian…by Ms. Faustus. And…I don’t hate her. I can’t hate her. She made me what I am today.”

A liar, because no one like that exists, Sunset thought bitterly, though she kept that part to herself.

“All I can say is that I’m lucky enough to have what I have now, and I don’t want to lose it – I don’t want to lose them. I love my family, and I want to be with them.”

Brief looked at her and smiled. “Well, now, I don’t think I could say no to an earnest response like that. Let it be known that on this date, the State of California grants the formal petition for Night Light and Twilight Velvet to adopt Sunset Shimmer.” He smiled. “Congratulations to the happy family.”

Sunset’s heart stopped. At long last, the words she’d longed to hear had occurred, and she now truly had a mother and father. She broke down in tears of joy and fiercely hugged both her mother and then her father, then Cadance and turned to barely mouth out a “Thank you!” to the judge, but no sound came, because she was too overcome.

Velvet, however, did it for her. “Thank you, Dock,” she said solemnly, tears running down her cheeks.

Brief himself felt a bit misty-eyed. “For all the good you’ve done with children, you’ve earned this, Vel,” he told her. “While I’m glad you ended up in my court, I doubt even if the judge didn’t know you they’d find you to be a wonderful mother, and your husband an excellent father.”

A massive squee sounded from the witness seats as over a dozen girls rushed forward to hug Sunset, cheering her good fortune and crying along with her, bouncing along in happiness and generally causing disorder in the court.

“Should I call for order, your honor?” the bailiff asked.

Brief leaned against his hand on the bench, watching as thirteen teenage girls involved themselves in a massive huggle ball.

“No, I rather think given everything she’s been through she’s entitled to a little disorder, don’t you think?” Brief said with a smile.

A couple of hours later, the reception was held at Sunset’s home, and to say that the house was swimming in teenagers was an understatement. Friends both close and extended all came to wish Sunset well, and she’d had time to talk to many of her friends. Even Pinkie and Rose, who were still at each other’s throats over Sunset’s affections, called a temporary truce so that Sunset could spend the day with others.

“I’m…I’m so…happy for you!” Rarity said, all waterworks and drama, her mascara smearing. She hugged Sunset warmly, congratulating her dearest friend for something that was long overdue.

“Thank you, Rares,” Sunset said, knowing her friend’s drama mode was well-intentioned even though it was the usual Rarity being Rarity.

“Looks like you hit the big time, huh?” Applejack said, clapping her friend on the shoulder. “Ah knew you deserved this, sugar.”

“Thanks,” Sunset said, blushing.

As for the rest of her friends, they all came by and offered their congratulations as well as more well-wishes and Sunset took it in stride. Yes, she was now an official princess; the press conference Solaire had yesterday confirmed it. No, she didn’t think it mattered much. No, surprisingly she did not want to forget Ms. Faustus; despite Sunset knowing what the woman that had raised her had done was wrong, Sunset couldn’t find it in her heart to hate her.

Kinda hard to hate someone that doesn’t really exist, she added, though she kept that last part to herself.

No, she wasn’t moving to France. Yes, she and her family probably would accept Solaire’s offer to head to Paris for Christmas this year so that Sunset could meet her extended birth family. No, she really didn’t have an opinion on what it was like to be raised American, and then suddenly find out she was both French and American. Yes, when she went she would spy on several chocolatiers for Bon-Bon.

For once, Sunset felt like she did in the old days, when she’d forced the whole of Canterlot High to make her the center of attention. But this time was different. This time, she was the focus because her friends wanted her to be, and it was nothing that she’d done. If anything, the fact that she’d tried for so long not to be the center had caused this.

In the end, it didn’t matter whether people knew the truth of the matter or not, Sunset decided. She had a family that she loved and loved her back. That was a start, and a jumping point that she could happily appreciate. Tomorrow would bring new challenges and adventures, but for now, she could just bask in the life of a normal teenage girl and not worry about the world.

It could sort itself out.

Seated a slight distance away, Compass Rose looked at Shimmer. “So, you leave tomorrow?” Rose asked.

Shimmer nodded. “I really don’t want to, to be honest. This past month…it’s been like a dream, and not just because I finally found my sister. It’s been a learning situation for me, but it’s also been somewhat of an ordeal. And, well, I have my life to get back to, Rose.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Rose told her. “I’m sorry I couldn’t have been there for you when you needed me. I know we were just little kids, but you were my friend, and I didn’t do enough for you.”

Shimmer gave her a smile. “You did as much as you could. We were children, remember? Not as worldly as we are now, or not even as worldly as children that are the same age we were back then are now.”

Rose nodded. “Oh, and I have something for you,” she said, digging into her purse. “I had always meant to give this back to you, but for some reason, I kept forgetting to give it to Sunny. Maybe it was my subconscious mind saying something; not really sure. In any case, I know this belongs to you.”

Rose withdrew a small plush dog and handed it to Shimmer. “You lent this to me on a day I wasn’t feeling so good and now it’s time for it to go home.”

Shimmer took the plushie, holding it close to her, the memories coming back to her. “Thank you,” she said softly, touched by her friend’s gesture.

“And even though you’re returning to France, I want to keep in touch,” Rose insisted. “You were my friend before your sister became my love interest, and I don’t want either to go by the wayside.”

“Rose, Sunny’s straight. I know how you feel about her, but don’t push yourself onto her,” Shimmer cautioned. “Even though she’s remaining here, it doesn’t mean that we’ll be out of each other’s lives, so I’ll know about it if you do – and I consider myself protective of her now, even though she really doesn’t need me to do that. Regardless, I would love to keep in touch.”

“Well,” Rose said with a gleam in her eye, “if I play my cards right, you just might be my future sister-in-law.” Shimmer couldn’t help but giggle at that.

Pinkie found Raspberry sitting by herself by the far edge of the property. Pinkie had wanted to take a walk herself, given that she was going to keep to her self-imposed promise to let her love be today, but given the forlorn look on her friend’s face, she felt she had to intervene.

“Razz? You okay?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Raspberry said softly. “It’s just…okay, seeing Sunset get exactly what she wanted makes me homesick all the more. I know I’m going home; now it’s a matter of when instead of if. It’s just…I don’t know how long I’ve been gone, or what’s going on. The last letter I sent to Equestria this morning hints that there’s some sort of time dilation going on, so while for me it’s only been a couple of weeks here, it might have been months or years away from home, and I don’t know what’s changed.”

“Yeah, Narnia time will do that,” Pinkie said sadly.

“Narnia time?”

“It’s a reference to a novel series that has time dilation as one of the principles of going between this world and the other,” Pinkie explained. “Granted, it’s really just a plot device that allowed the author to be as allegorical as he wanted to be, but nowadays people see it as an early example of metaphysicality in fantasy and science fiction.”

Raspberry looked at her. “You know, sometimes I forget that you’re smarter than your counterpart. I mean, no offense to her; Pinkie’s sweet-natured and one of my dearest friends. But she’s not as complex as you are.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve been told I’m not the average sort of Pinkie,” she said with a wink. “So what’s next for you? We go back to school next week. You planning to join us?”

Raspberry shook her head. “No, I’ll be working downstairs and trying to strengthen the connection so I can go home. It’s probably for the best that I don’t involve myself with human affairs any longer anyway; I’ve just started to get adjusted to this place and I really don’t want to run into something that will make me change my mind again.”

“Well, I’m sure that Sunny will be able to get you home. You’re important to her, and besides, I suspect you’ll be carrying an important message for her.”

“Oh yeah, don’t worry – I haven’t forgotten about that jerk,” Raspberry said, thinking about the crystal currently in secure storage that held an unconscious miniaturized Divine Right. “He’ll be headed straight to Tartarus as soon as I get home.”

“That’s great, but…I’m not talking about that.”

“Oh, the triplets’ petition to restart SIREN as a part of the Equestrian military? Yeah, I—”

Pinkie looked at Raspberry, eyeball to eyeball. “Razz? You know what I mean.”

“I…I’m honestly not sure, Pinkie. Remember: I’m not human. I don’t have a human mindset and so I can’t think exactly like you do.”

“Well you love your adoptive parents, right?”

“They’re the biggest reason I want to go home,” Raspberry admitted. “Even without my friends and my duties, if it wasn’t for them, I would still be alone in this world, Heelee aside. They love me and I love them and I want to see my parents again.”

But I suspect you also love your birth mother, too, right? I know you told me about how your father mistreated you and abused you and what you were forced to do to survive. But in that, I didn’t hear any condemnation for your birth mother. Which means that you must have loved her enough that you don’t like to talk about her, because you’re afraid you’ll conflate your love for her with your hatred for your father, right?”

Raspberry looked at the other girl before her and was reminded once again why the two Pinkies were so different. While they were at heart the same, her pony friend back home was more innocent and hyper. This one was the latter, but the slings and arrows of human experience had given her a far different way to look at the world. And the analytical mind that Raspberry had usually equated with Twilight was now on full display.

“I…I see that in Sunny, too. She loves and misses her birth mom but doesn’t really know how to reconcile it with the adoptive parents she now has. She’s afraid that even mentioning her will make her lose that connection, even though I’m sure that Mrs. Velvet and Mr. Light told her that isn’t the case. But Sunny, deep down, is emotionally fragile and doesn’t take well to being hurt like that.

“I love her more than anything and I want to make sure that she never feels that pain. Because I have a love-hate relationship with my own mother, and I’m always afraid that will color my interactions with my father and my siblings. It doesn’t – nor would Auntie Cup and Uncle Carrot let that happen – but I can see how Sunny would be afraid of losing the mother she had because of the parents she has now. It’s a silly thought, but…well, we’re only human, after all.”

“I see. But how does that square with Sunny?”

“Because I know she’ll write a letter to her mother, asking to come home. To let her know that despite everything, Sunny still loves her birth mother. And I want to make sure that letter gets there. Because I love Sunny and I want the best for her. Even if we take a long time to end up with each other – and boy is that going to be an interminable wait – I still want what’s best for her.”

Raspberry didn’t take the time to correct Pinkie that Sunset was not the foaled daughter of the princess. “You’re probably right about that letter.”

“I know I am.”

Sunset looked at the delicacy before her: a cake that had been made not by Sugarcube Corner Café, but by Saigon Sweets.

“It’s not anything we normally do,” Bon-Bon told her, “but for you, it was worth it.”

“It looks heavenly,” Octavia said with appreciation.

“Yes, but I’m not planning to do this regularly,” the chocolatier insisted. “I would hate to run into competition with Sugarcube Corner Café, even if indirectly; and besides, we’re confectioners, not a café.”

“Well, I’m sure that Pinkie’s family appreciates that,” Fluttershy insisted.

“I’m sure I appreciate that,” Lyra insisted. “If Bonnie’s family made cakes, too, then I’d never lose any weight!”

It was now late afternoon. All of her extended circle of friends had gone home, and Sunset and Raspberry, accompanied by the rest of the “Majestic Twelve”, Shimmer and the rest of the folks in the know crowded down into the SIREN lair. The reason was, hopefully, to see Raspberry off back to Equestria.

At the moment, the portal flickered with iridescent energies. It looked as though it was calm, but that could be easily deceptive: the dragonfire candle was warping and wavering, going from calm at one moment to raging flame the next.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Razz?” Sunset asked her. “I’m not entirely sure it’s safe.”

“Sunny, I want to go home,” Raspberry told her. “Besides, you know me. I’m made of sterner stuff, okay? If I can survive werewolf bites and having my throat slashed, I’m pretty sure I can last this.”

“You had your throat slashed?” Fluttershy gasped, shocked.

“Werewolf bite?” Rainbow asked, interested.

“And here I thought Ponyland was supposed to be nice and calm,” Aria said with a smirk, her arms folded in a smug posture.

“Well, just because things are more peaceful there than they are here doesn’t mean that it’s a cakewalk by any means,” Raspberry insisted. “We still get our share of weirdness and problems, which is why I’m lucky to have my magic.” She sighed wistfully as she called a yellow magic sphere to her hand. “Although….”

“Let me guess,” Sunset ventured. “You’ve gotten used to the utility of human magic?”

“That obvious?”

“Only to someone with your affliction, Razz.” When Raspberry looked at her oddly, Sunset said, “Look, the magic is going to eventually have to go somewhere: it’s the law of thaumophysics at work. But we can’t allow it to go back to Divine Right somehow, or worse, someone with a similar magical imprint – that would just make them that much stronger. So…the only choice we have will be to bind it to you.”

“Can you do that?” the unicorn asked.

“Yeah, but if I do, you’ll only be able to use it when you’re in your human form. And obviously it won’t heal your leg, nor will it override your Sombraic form. It isn’t doing that now, so it won’t do it afterwards. But it will give you access to that magic in your human form.” Sunset smiled. “Think of it as a secret weapon you’ll have when the chips are down.”

“I can live with that.”

Sunset cast a spell, embedding it into Raspberry’s heart. “While you’re in Equestria, you’ll be able to access your human form with limited time. The magic isn’t yours natively, so you won’t be able to recharge it as fast, but hopefully it will give you the edge you need in case of an emergency.”

“Thanks, Sunny. I appreciate that.”

“Well, I guess we should test the portal,” Sunset suggested. She walked over to the candle, and jotted down a quick note on paper, sending it over. “Hopefully, someone on the other side should be watching for our response.”

A few seconds later, a response came.

Sunset stepped in front of the mirror. “Well, time to test it out. Wish me luck!”

Raspberry looked at Sunset oddly. “What?”

“Razz, you might be strong…but I’m an alicorn. If there’s anypony who should test it, it’s me.”

“Sunny, I….”

“Please don’t!” Twilight rushed over and hugged her sister fiercely. “What if you get stuck and we never see you again?”

Sunset hugged her sister back. “That won’t happen, Twily. I promise it won’t.”

“Are you absolutely sure?” Luna asked. “While I know that you’ve worked everything out from the last time you went, as I recall, you spent a week there and it was only five minutes here.”

“There seems to be some sort of time dilation going on,” Sunset explained. “We need to know how to counter it if you’re going to visit Equestria.”

“What?” all of them said at once.

Sunset nodded. “Someday…you’re going to want to know about where I’m from, and I’ll want that, too. Plus, Ari and Soni will probably want to visit Razz, too.” She then looked at the triplets. “And then there’s that project you three have been cooking up behind my back….”

Adagio looked at her cousin uncomfortably. “So you…know about that, huh?”

“No, but thanks for confirming what I suspected,” Sunset sighed. “That’s for Mom to decide, though.”

“I’m not thrilled with it,” Velvet said, side-eying her three nieces, “because I’m supposed to keep you three safe. But at the same time, if it wasn’t for your grandmother, Sunny, they wouldn’t be here to begin with, so I guess there’s little choice in the matter.”

“Probably not,” Sunset agreed. “Give the documentation to Razz, and she can present it to the Crown on your behalf.” Sunset took a look at the portal, which was starting to turn an angry red. “Razz, put a shield up for when I go through.”

“You got it,” the unicorn replied, while the triplets fetched small arms from the racks, just to be on the safe side.

Taking a deep breath, Sunset wandered through….

…and screamed in pain as the raw magic burned her…

…and then came out the other side, still in her human form, her clothes scorched, and wisps of heat coming off her as the air warped in the process, but otherwise unscathed. She shivered at the sudden cold in the air.

“Sunny?” She felt fur enclose her, and a warm embrace fill her. “How are you feeling?”

“Like I just went sunbathing in Death Valley in the middle of summer,” she said woozily.

“You guys have a place called Death Valley?” Sunset looked up and saw two familiar cyan eyes looking at her with worry.

She then realized who she was speaking to. “It’s just a name, Fluttershy. It’s actually a desert that’s full of life. I suspect it’s called Death Valley because it’s a low desert and everything hibernates until that rare rain or snowstorm. But it does get hotter than the Badlands during the summer.”

“Oh, well, that’s good, I guess.” The timid pegasus shuffled her wings slightly in nervousness; clearly she still wasn’t used to Sunset’s human form, or still had some apprehension due to the myths. “Well, it’s good to see you.”

“Yeah, but why is it so cold? It’s late summer where I’m from and the time dilation can’t be that bad.”

“Actually….” Sunset looked up to see Twilight looking at her. “it was much harder to break than we expected. Apparently, it was built into the Mirror as a failsafe by Star Swirl, though we don’t know the reason. The only way to remove it was to place an equally-strong spell on it so that it didn’t end up like Sombra’s mirror. As a result, there’s going to be a permanent time dilation, but on the bright side, the new spell will return you back to your world only a second after you left.” The alicorn gave a wan smile. “It was…probably one of the most complex spells I’ve ever had to assemble, and Luna helped a lot.”

“How bad are we talking?” Sunset asked, until she noted that Twilight was wearing a scarf. “Winter?”

“It’s the 17th day of Midwinter, 1237 Anno Alicornis,” Twilight told her. “Five months after we last heard from you and eight months since Razz got teleported over. How’s she doing? Everypony’s been worried about her.”

“She’s doing fine. She’s not happy about being stuck in my world, but….” Sunset shrugged, while her mind swam. Eight months. Razz is not going to be happy about that.

“Fluttershy, do you mind giving us some privacy?” Twilight asked her friend. “I need to speak to Sunset alone for a moment.”

“Of course,” the pegasus said sweetly before heading out of the room while Sunset repaired her clothing, then changed into something a bit warmer.

“Sorry about that; I hadn’t thought to have the room heated. Still trying to figure things out about my castle,” Twilight said.

“You have a castle now, huh?” Sunset asked her.

“Well, as I understand it, you have wings now, so we’re even,” the other alicorn said with a grin. She then added, “You know, your mother asked me to let her know as soon as you arrived in Equestria.”

“I figured as much, but…not right now,” Sunset told her. “Not that I don’t want to see her; I have so much to say to her, but we need to get Razz back home and we can’t have this time dilation messing with things. Plus, the raw interdimensional forces were enough to cook me and make me hurt; I’m not sure even she’s going to be able to survive that.”

“Yeah, that is a problem,” Twilight said. “I’m sure we can figure something out, but that’s going to take extra time we don’t have, especially now that you’re here. Time still moves on.”

“Well, maybe if you can do some quick calculations for me, I might be able to fix it.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow.

Sunset just folded her arms, smug as could be.

“You what?” Raspberry blinked. Sunset had been gone for ten minutes and during that tense time, she’d explained that two days had gone past in Equestria, that “Narnia time” (as Pinkie had put it) was stabilizing, but it was still jagging here and there and probably would for at least another day or two until the new quantum tunnel stabilized.

“Yeah. We fixed the portal. Basically it involves carving a whole new wormhole through the interdimensional medium, but given that I’ve got the raw power output, I could do it. I’m exhausted, though. Probably not going to do that again anytime soon since I had to tap into the raw mana field surrounding Equus in order to do that.”

“That’s not scientifically possible!” Raspberry gasped. “You’re not scientifically possible!”

“Where have I heard that before,” Twilight drawled and rolled her eyes, eliciting a giggle from her cousins.

“Actually, I think any alicorn could have done it,” Sunset pointed out. “It’s just that I have the strongest power output and with the help of sompony else who has far better granular control of magic than I do, we got the job done. The point is…you can go home. But you’ll want to change to winter clothing; it’s the equivalent of mid-winter back there.”

“I’ll just feel inadequate right now until I figure out how you did it,” Raspberry sighed. She then looked at her baggage and everything else. She then looked at Heliodor, who was calmly sitting on his perch. “You ready to go?”

He chirped and nodded.

“Well, this is it for a while,” Raspberry began, but was immediately set upon by hugs from Aria and Sonata. “Hey, no need to be so clingy, okay? We’ll see each other again.”

“We’d better,” Aria insisted.

“I’ll cry if you don’t,” Sonata added.

She hugged the two, then looked at the others. “Don’t be strangers, okay? You’re welcome to come to Equestria anytime.”

“Don’t forget us, dear,” Rarity said as she embraced the girl.

“I couldn’t. Trust me, after being tortured with a bra? I can’t forget that,” Raspberry said awkwardly.

“Well, at least you don’t have to wear them where you’re goin’, Ah figure,” Applejack said.

“Lucky her,” Rainbow grumbled, and all the other girls glared at her. “Just sayin’, okay? They chafe.” Flat stares continued and Rainbow blew a fuse. “What, you think I wear sports bras all the time?”

“TMI, Ms. Dash, TMI,” Luna cautioned.

“Says the teacher who doesn’t wear them on occasion!” Rainbow said, pointing at Luna’s current attire.

Luna blushed and Velvet laughed. “She has you there, Lu.”

“Shut up.”

“Well, be that as it may,” Celestia said, “tomorrow is still a long day and I’m sure Raspberry doesn’t want to spend any longer here.”

Raspberry then went over and hugged Luna. “Thank you for offering to take me in.”

Luna hugged her back. “I couldn’t do anything less. You needed someone.”

She then went and said her goodbyes to the remainder of the girls, as well as Night, Cadance, Shining and Spike (who really did not care for the kisses on the cheek, though he said he’d miss her). Doublechecking all her items, as well as the documents and “critical package” she needed to deal with, she then stepped through the portal and went home.

Sunset watched as the portal stopped flickering when Raspberry went through, and then touched a sigil on the statue. The magical circle flared once before vanishing, and the statue became a lifeless hunk of concrete, metal and marble once more.

“And that’s that,” Sunset said, looking at everyone. The melancholy was thick, as they all seemed to realize that a part of their whole adventure was now ending, and life was beginning to shift back to normal.

Night looked at the clock. “Anyone up for dinner? I guess we can have one last barbeque before Shimmy and family head back to France.”

Velvet looked at her husband with loving appreciation. “That sounds like a wonderful idea,” she said, leaning on his shoulder.

Raspberry stepped through the portal, feeling the cold instantly; her winter coat hadn’t grown in, and she was already starting to feel the biting cold.

“Razz?” a voice creaked. “Is that you?” Raspberry turned to look as an aged pegasus in her senior years stepped forward. To Raspberry’s horror, there was still some identifiable color in the mare’s multicolored mane.

“Rainbow?” the unicorn gasped. “Wha…what happened?”

“Sunset was wrong,” the old mare commented. “Her and Twi’s idea…it didn’t work. You’ve been gone a long time.”

How long?” Raspberry said, dread creeping into her voice.

“About six or seven decades.” The look in Rainbow’s eyes was sad. “I’m…I’m so sorry. Your parents….” Rainbow coughed, cutting off the rest of her words.

“No….” Raspberry whispered, disbelieving. “My family. My friends! My life!”

Rainbow looked with pity at her timelost friend and said one single word:


Raspberry’s eyes went wider than dinner plates as the “old” mare fell to the ground collapsing in a fit. A bracelet fell off her hoof, dispelling the aging illusion.

“Did you actually think—” Rainbow’s words trailed off into side-splitting laughter as her ultimate prank worked wonders on Raspberry.

“RAINBOW!” Raspberry snarled, her anger immediately coming to the forefront.

“Hey, you had to admit, it was a good prank, right?” Rainbow asked, suddenly realizing she might have gone a bit too far. The pegasus began to back away from Platinum’s Mirror, step by step. A blast of green fire flickered past Rainbow’s withers, and she immediately bolted, only to be caught in a magenta magic field.

“Sorry about that, Razz,” Twilight said as she entered the room. “I went to use the little filly’s room, and if I had known she was going to do that….”

“Let’s just say she’s lucky I didn’t lose my temper,” Raspberry replied, glaring at the trapped pegasus.

I’m surprised,” Twilight admitted. “Usually your temper would’ve gotten the better of you by now.”

“Yeah, well, let’s just say spending two weeks in the human world has been a unique situation for me,” Raspberry admitted.

“Well, I don’t know what time it is over there, but here it’s just after midnight,” Twilight told her. “I know you’re going to want to go home, but your parents aren’t there right now.”

“They’re not?”

Twilight shook her head. “Your parents are spending the week with your brother in Manehattan,” she explained. “Your sister-in-law gave birth to a colt, so congratulations, you’re an aunt now.”

“I missed most of Black Cherry’s pregnancy, it seems,” Raspberry admitted, “though then again I still really don’t know them all that well yet. I guess I’ll have to wait until Mom and Dad get back then; I have a lot of ground to cover Crown-wise, Twi. The least of which is prisoner handling.”

“Prisoner handling?” Twilight asked.

Raspberry nodded. “We have, believe it or not, a human that’s dangerous enough that he has to go to Tartarus. I know that sounds strange, but he could destabilize our world if he’s not there…and he’s too dangerous for Earth.”

“He could destabilize our world? How?”

“Because he’s responsible for Sunset’s death,” Raspberry explained. “You were the one who told me what one of the vital things necessary for an alicorn to rise was, right? Well, let’s just say that getting her to that point was no fun.”

“Celestia’s going to want to know about this.”

“No, she’s not. Think about it.”

Twilight thought about it, and her eyes grew as wide as Raspberry’s had been earlier. “You’re right – we probably shouldn’t tell her about it.”

Raspberry reached into her sidepack with her magic and pulled out a large crystal. “Here. He’s trapped in this thing.”

Twilight took it and looked at it. “Wow, a containment crystal? I’ve never seen power compression on this level. Sunset?”

“You had to ask?”

Twilight nodded. “I’ll have one of the guards put this in secure storage until we can get to Tartarus to release him. In the meanwhile, if I may recommend, you’ll probably want to get to sleep early so you can readjust to the day/night cycle.”

“Yeah, you have a point.” She then looked at the crystal walls. “So, new digs, I understand?”

“Yeah. It’s a long story, but I’ll tell you about it in the morning while I give you the tour. In fact, let’s get you to your room.”

Raspberry looked at her friend. “My room?”

“Yup! All of my courtiers have permanent rooms here if you ever feel like staying in it. Call it the privileges of being in the Court of Friendship, and besides, it helps liven up an empty castle.”

“Thanks. Mind showing me?”

“No problem.” Twilight grabbed Raspberry’s bag in her magic grasp and the two walked off.

As they walked off, Rainbow called back, “Twi, mind…uh…releasing me?”

“Oh, the spell will wear off in the morning, Rainbow,” Twilight said smoothly. “Think of it…as a prank.”

Rainbow sighed.

“And that’s everything,” Raspberry said the following morning as they sat at the round table, facing all her friends. It had been hugs and nuzzles all around and her friends were overjoyed to see her (Rarity cried up a storm when she saw her) and over breakfast, the whole group talked, with Raspberry going through everything that she’d experienced over the past couple of weeks, including the time change.

“So, in resetting the timeline over in the human reality, her majesty must’ve unintentionally broken the interdimensional links between our world and theirs,” Twilight mused. “At any other time, that would be a fascinating thing to study, but things were touch and go for a while there.”

“Yeah, it’s been a rough time. Between th’ end o’ th’ war against Tirek, an’ winter settin’ in early ‘cause o’ Celestia’s depression at thinkin’ Sunset was dead, it’s been tough for us farmers,” Applejack told her. “Luna’s been payin’ farmers for both lost crops an’ to try to grow whatever we can right now. We Apples are workin’ t’ the tailbone, as are th’ Carrots an’ several other families. Still,” she said with a yawn, “Ah know Ah’m plum tired, an’ Ah wouldn’t doubt any other farmhoof is as well.”

“Yeah, and we’ve been trying to bake lots of extra food for the needy, especially since there’s still so many of them after all the repeated attacks by Tirek fanatics,” Pinkie said. “We’ve actually had the ovens at Sugarcube Corner burn out their heating crystals twice and as a result we couldn’t bake an engagement cake for Twi and Div!”

Twilight facehooved. “Pinkie, for the hundredth time, Div and I are not engaged!”

“The more you deny it, the more it’s obvious,” Rarity commented drily.

“Did I miss something?” Raspberry asked.

“Oh, not much,” Fluttershy commented. “Just that Twi has a coltfriend now and he’s a charmer.”

“For the last time,” Twilight gasped, “Divine Right and I are not dating!”

“What?!” Raspberry asked, shocked.

“Is everything okay, Razz?”

Raspberry then explained everything about the Divine Right she’d had to deal with, and what he’d done and what he had planned to do to the human world. When she was done, her friends all looked at her with shock.

“But that’s not the Divine Right we know,” Fluttershy told her. “He’s a gentlestallion and a genuinely nice guy.”

“Ah’ll say,” Applejack agreed. “Even though he’s Captain of the Friendship Guard an’ a prince, he’s been helpin’ out on th’ farm on his days off just ‘cause we’re overworked.”

“Yes, he is quite the gentlestallion,” Rarity agreed. “I, for one, cannot believe what you’re saying, Raspberry, dear. Not that I believe you’re lying, but I just cannot reconcile the charming fellow with this monster you’ve had to deal with.”

“Spike,” Twilight asked her brother, “would you be so kind as to invite Capt. Right to breakfast with us? I think having his input might be a good idea.”

“He has today off, Twi,” Spike reminded her. “He’s probably out at Sweet Apple Acres right now, helping out the others.”

“Yeah, now that Ah reckon, Ah saw him this morning on mah way over,” Applejack added.

“Well, for a stallion, he’s totally cool,” Rainbow told Raspberry. “Plus, he’s got a hot plot!”

“Rainbow!” Rarity scolded.

“Well, he does. I mean, yeah, he’s not as cute as Soarin’, but still.”

“Well, I think he’s handsome,” Fluttershy said, blushing. “But I wouldn’t dream of stealing Twilight’s coltfriend.”

“Why me?” Twilight sighed. After a few minutes, she recovered and said, “Well, in any case, I have a meeting scheduled this afternoon for us with Princess Celestia. She’ll be coming here so you can debrief her.”

“And what about my parents?” Raspberry asked.

“I sent her a note asking her to send a courier to Manehattan as well as a carriage, so they can ferry your parents back as soon as possible,” Twilight added. “I know they’ll want to see you.” She looked at the rest of her court. “As for the rest of us, well, you already know what needs to be done; nothing changes in that regard until Ponyville is back to normal.”

“We’ll do our best, Twi, dontcha worry,” Applejack assured her.

“Good. For now, we have to head to Tartarus.”

“Tartarus?” the others gasped.

“Yes. We have something important to do there,” Raspberry told her.

Divine Right opened his eyes and found himself laying on the ground somewhere. «Où suis-je?» he mumbled.

“Rise and shine!” he heard a taunting voice. He then turned to look and see….

He blinked.

Though he said nothing, his facial expression did it for him: Am I still asleep?

“No, you’re not asleep.” A purple winged unicorn with a mane that looked like the girl that was shooting at him earlier spoke to him – and she also had the same voice, strangely enough. “You’re in Tartarus, Equestria’s maximum security prison.”

“Tartare.” The word was thick on his tongue.

“Your people would call it Hell.” The one was from a second pony, this one with a darker coat but a mane in the same hairstyle as….

«Quelle? Je dois être en train de rêver,» Divine muttered to himself.

A flicker of magic appeared in front of him, which coalesced into a mirror. He gazed into it…

and saw hell.

There, where his face should have been, was the face of a unicorn. White fur, golden eyes and a long, flowing purpure mane. Strangely enough, despite the facial fur, the unicorn also had facial hairs the same color as the mane, indicating stubble….

Divine screamed, and the image screamed along with him.

«Nononononononon…. Qu’est ce qui se passe ici?» he gasped. «Cela doit être un rêve! Ça doit être!»

A second spell was cast. “Sorry, not everypony here speaks Prench,” the winged unicorn told him.

“You speak Prench?” the smaller unicorn asked the larger.

“Learned it when I was a filly, but I assume you don’t.”

“Not at all.”

Meanwhile, Divine was still freaking out. “What is happening to me?” he shouted.

“You,” the second mare told him, “are now in prison, where you will spend forever for your crimes.”

“Forever~!” a voice that vaguely sounded like a chirpy teen echoed in the distance. The two mares looked at each other oddly.

“She couldn’t have, right?” the smaller mare asked.

“I’m not going to bother even trying to figure that out,” the larger one said.

“How dare you do this to me!” Divine snarled at them. “I am a prince!”

“You are nopony,” the winged unicorn said. “And if you value your life, you will remain nopony. After what I heard you did to somepony who means the world to me and to your own world? You’re testing my capacities as Princess of Friendship. If I was any less of a mare, I would….”

“He’s not worth it,” the smaller mare told her. “Sunny even said so.”

“You’re right,” the larger one agreed. “He’s not. We’ll be back, Mr. Divine Right,” she said, emphasizing the lack of use of his title. And you had best hope it’s just the two of us, and only the two of us.”

“I demand you release me this instant and return me to my normal form!” he shouted.

The two mares vanished into thin air, leaving a screaming unicorn in a glowing magic pit, forever to his fate.

The two reappeared outside the exit to Tartarus. Cerebus looked happily at Twilight and barked with his three heads patiently waiting for Twilight to summon dog treats for him, which she immediately administered.

“I’m going to want to talk to him again when I calm down,” Twilight told her.

“I know how you feel,” Raspberry insisted. “But like I said, Princess Celestia can’t afford to know about this. It won’t be healthy for her.”

“I don’t like keeping secrets from my teacher,” Twilight sighed, “but you’re right; we can’t. C’mon, let’s go back home. We still have an hour before your meeting with her.”

Just as they were going to get into the carriage, a second one pulled up, and a well-built stallion hopped out. The two mares did a double-take before calming down.

“Wow, that is freaky,” Raspberry said as she looked at Capt. Divine Right.

“Yeah, gonna have to get used to this,” Twilight admitted.

“Your highness, I heard there was a priority prisoner transfer, and I came as soon as I could,” Divine told her. Seeing the look on the two mares’ faces, he removed his helmet and looked at them with concern. “Is…something the matter?”

Twilight bit back a snarl; this was not the prisoner, and this Divine was both her loyal captain and a friend. “Div…it’s nothing you did. The prisoner we dealt with is just….”

“Let’s just say you’d hate his guts,” Raspberry added. Offering a hoof to bump, she said, “I don’t believe we’ve met. Raspberry Beryl, Archmagus of Equestria.”

He reached out and bumped. “Capt. Divine Right, commander of the Friendship Guard. I understand that you’ve been through an ordeal, Archmagus. Allow me to extend my gratitude for your service and relief that you’re back in Equestria.” He bowed.

“Yeah,” Raspberry said as she looked at the polite, cultured doppelganger of the monster she’d just locked up a few minutes ago, “this is really going to take some getting used to.”

“I’m sorry?” Divine asked.

“Don’t worry about it, Div,” Twilight demurred. “Anyway, I thought you were off today?”

“I was, but then Sgt. Bowshock told me that you had a prisoner transfer going on. As much as I wanted to continue helping out on the Apple farm, my duties come first.”

“I appreciate that, but I don’t want you overworking yourself,” Twilight told him.

“Twi, our ponies need us. As a prince and captain of your guard, I have to do everything I can for them,” he reminded her.

Raspberry heard his words and blinked. “Yeah, really going to have to get used to this,” she said to nopony in particular.

Celestia and Luna both arrived right on time for their meeting with Raspberry. They were assembled in the grand meeting hall, so there would be enough room for all of them to discuss issues, but there was only one on the sun alicorn’s mind.

“Is she okay?” Celestia asked, worried.

“She’s okay,” Raspberry assured her, reaching into her saddlepack and handing over an envelope, which Celestia immediately opened.

It was a sight to see Celestia break down in utter tears of joy. “She hasn’t forgotten about me,” she sobbed, tears of joy streaming down her cheeks. “My filly….”

“You should be proud of her,” Luna said, feeling a little misty-eyed herself. “She has grown.”

“Should we take a break to let her compose herself?” Raspberry asked.

“No, I’ll be okay,” Celestia said, wiping her eyes. “I need to know what’s going on.”

“Well, the second thing is this,” she said, holding up a small package. “This is a proposal for Sunset’s own protective guard—”

“Approved,” Luna said, taking it in her magic without even opening it.

“Don’t you want to look at it?” Raspberry asked her.

“Probably later,” Luna replied. “But if we don’t provisionally approve it now, sister’s going to insist we send half the Princess’ Hooves to Earth immediately to begin protecting Sunset. If my niece already has a plan in place and we approve it now, even provisionally, then it becomes active. Please send the provisional approval to Sunset’s guard captain and let them know they can proceed.”

“Trust me, you’ll want to read that,” Raspberry assured them.

“I trust my daughter’s judgement,” Celestia said. “I’ll agree to Luna’s terms.”

“Oh…kay,” Raspberry said in an unsure tone. “In any case, I’ll need to be briefed on what happened while I was gone.”

The rest of the meeting went over what had happened to Equestria and what was still going on to some degree. Raspberry, who had seen the extensive damage and some of the rebuilding done to Ponyville, set her mouth in a tight line of anger. So many ponies had died or had been injured, and dozens more had been put out of home. They were building Manehattan-style apartment complexes in order to help improve things, but between extended attacks by Tirek and other strange forces, it had delayed things well into winter. Things were so bad that there was a concern that Winter Wrap-Up wouldn’t go very smoothly this year, simply because with the fairgrounds holding the refugee camp, there was no temporary location to put the snow build-up this year. Worse, as a side effect of Ponyville now having its own princess, ponies were flocking from other towns and cities to move close to the political center of the region, putting an even harder strain on an already strained town.

“There has already been talk that they want somepony else to be mayor aside from me,” Mayor Mare said in a disgusted tone, “because now that Ponyville is growing, surely I can’t handle the rigors of a larger municipality.”

“Yes, dear, but keep in mind that the uncouth ponies saying that are simply ones that don’t know you as we do,” Rarity assured her. “They’re simply ponies that only want power, and as they are not nobility, the best they can do is stand up in civic government and attempt to grow their base that way. It’s rather disgusting, if you ask me.”

“Desire for power always is, Rarity,” Divine told her.

“You cannot be for real,” Raspberry told him.

“I’m sorry, did I say something wrong?”

“Nothing. Just…nevermind,” the mulberry-coated mare sighed.

“In any case, we’ll still have to run extra patrols,” Divine told those present. “I want our ponies protected.”

“Spoken like a true prince, Divine,” Celestia told him.

He blushed. “Thank you, Auntie,” he replied solemnly.

“That is your…divine right, is it not?” she teased. Raspberry flinched at hearing that, and Divine groaned.

“You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?”

“You were so cute as a colt saying that all the time!” she said with a smile, and he rolled his eyes.

“As much as I’d like to get into nostalgia that I was never here for,” Luna reminded them, “there are still other matters to discuss. Like the food supply. A good amount of it is still coming from Ponyville, but at the pace you’re using magic to continually grow it, I have concerns that you may have to let the land go fallow soon.”

“Yeah. We’re not happy havin’ t’ use magic to speed grow things, since we Apples do things the old-fashioned way, but ponies need food right now. Ah suspect the Carrots are havin’ the same issues as well, though Ah haven’t talked to them ‘bout that yet.”

“I can do so,” Mayor Mare commented. “I have to meet with Golden Harvest this afternoon.”

“Now then,” Celestia asked, “if there’s anything else?” Celestia was about to add something else, when one of her guards came up and whispered something in her ear.

Celestia smiled widely and said, “I would continue with other business, but I do believe that somepony has more urgent business with Archmagus Raspberry than we do.” When everypony looked at her oddly, Celestia just nodded to the guard, who walked over to the door and opened it.

There, standing at the door, looking wide-eyed and in shock, were Cashmere and Ascot. “Razz?” Cashmere said softly, not believing what she was seeing, as if she were deep in one of Luna’s gentle dreams.

“MOM! DAD!” Raspberry leapt out of her seat and rushed over to her parents, embracing them and crying in joy. Cashmere and Ascot wrapped their hooves around their daughter in a tight embrace, and the three ponies broke out in tears of joy as both mares bawled in utter happiness.

For the second time that day, Celestia’s eyes became watery from joy. But this time, she felt no tugs of jealousy. She looked at her sister and said, “They’ve earned this moment.”

“So have you, Celly,” Luna told her. “And your daughter will come home soon.”

“I know she will,” Celestia said, watching the two parents hug and kiss their returned adult foal. “I know she will.”

Dinner that evening was both awkward and embarrassing to Raspberry…and though she wouldn’t admit it aloud, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Here, have some bluegrass and gruyere quiche,” Cashmere said, placing a fourth triangle of the foodstuff on her daughter’s plate.

“Mom, it’s not like I starved over there!” Raspberry insisted.

“Dear, you look thinner than usual. How do I know you were eating healthy over there? It’s a mother’s job to worry, you know,” Cashmere replied.

“It’s a mother’s job to make sure I don’t get fat because you’re stuffing me like a Thanksgiving turkey!” Raspberry retorted.

“What’s a Thanksgiving turkey?”

Raspberry sighed. “It’s a…figure of speech from the human world,” she said, really not wanting to explain the details.

“Well, I for one am glad my dearest filly is back,” Ascot replied, his face beaming with pride. He turned to Celestia, a grateful look on his face. “We owe it all to you, your highness. Words cannot express how glad I am that you brought my dearest daughter back.” A fit of chirping then sounded out, making Ascot glance down at the spot next to Raspberry where Heliodor – back to his normal form of green and gold – was feasting on some pears. “And we’re glad you’re back as well, Heelee,” he added with a smile.

“You’re welcome, my little pony,” Celestia told him solemnly. “Love her as only a parent could. You never know when they’ll be taken from you.”

“Indeed, I know that,” he told her.

Before she could call it a night and head back to join her parents at the Retreat Inn, there was something else she had to do, something that she felt was vitally important.

Raspberry stood before a grave, one where she dropped flowers off.

“It isn’t fair that I made it and you didn’t,” she said to the grave of Pavane Bayan. “You protected me and gave your life to defend me, and I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for you. I owe you a debt I can’t repay…and yet I promised you I would do as you asked me,” she said softly. “I intend to keep that vow, because I owe you.

“Still, I wish things could have been different. You deserve to be standing here, victorious and happy. You deserved your life, to grow old and get married and all that sort of stuff that normal mares do. But you’ll never get that, and I’m sorry.”

Raspberry wiped tears from her eyes, and set down something else: a small plastic Mickey Mouse figurine she’d purchased while at Disneyland. She’d intended to keep it for herself initially, but somehow leaving it here seemed like the right thing to do. “I got this in another world, one I was trapped in for a while. But I was alive to be trapped there, and I wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for your quick thinking. I’m not blaming you for that. I’m thanking you for that. So I’m leaving this here for you. Maybe others won’t understand what it is—” Especially that MADE IN CHINA part underneath Mickey’s foot, she thought with a private grin, “—but it’s the least I can give you for what you did for me. I wish I could give more. I wish I could give you your life back, Pavane.

“All I can say though is to rest, my dear friend. Rest in the Great Pasture and know that I won’t ever forget what you did for me. You were a great mare, and I hope that someday I can live up to the measure of sacrifice you did.”

No more to say, Raspberry walked back to the carriage, where Twilight and Raspberry’s parents were waiting. “Equestria won’t forget her sacrifice,” Twilight promised her friend. “There are statues and memorials to her now.”

“Twi, I don’t care about those,” Raspberry told her. “What I care about is that the world doesn’t forget that she was a sweet mare who did her duty. Not some cardboard-cutout hero that will just be reduced to myth and legend in a generation or two. She might have been a hero of Equestria, but for what little time I knew her, she was my friend. And to me, that’s more important.”

Twilight grinned. “I can think of no higher honor than that.”

Ascot draped his wing around his daughter’s back. “Come on – let’s go home. The nightmares are over, and you are finally home, my dearest one.”

“Yeah,” Raspberry said softly. “At least I was able to come home. Some never got that chance at all.”

In her office at CSIS headquarters in Ottawa, Golden Rule, the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, set down the phone. It had been another asschewing at the hands of some minor functionary for the Ministry of Public Safety, providing them cover while the inevitable scandal continued to play out in the news.

She sat back in her chair and rubbed her temples. How stupid was the fucking public to just realize that Canada was just like any other nation and looking out for its own interests? Down south, the Americans did it all the time and nobody gave a fuck!

She groaned. “What about the little girls whose lives you ruined?” Well, Senator, perhaps if you actually gave a fuck about them, you’d realize SIREN gave them a purpose! Without it, they’d be forgotten cogs in the system, little wastes of taxpayer money that would never get adopted because no one gives a shit about them. At least this way they serve Canada’s needs and became valued members of society in the process!

She needed a vacation, but there was no relief in sight. Especially with the news that Agent Changeling had been found murdered. She highly doubted it, however; though he was effective, she never trusted him and given that his family went off the grid two weeks prior to Changeling’s death, he’d clearly faked it and vanished, though hell if she knew where he’d gone.

I just have to get through this, she told herself. All it would take was calling in every favor she had in parliament and maybe with some of the Five Eyes, as well. She might have to lay low for a bit; if the worst came to worst, she might even have to resign her position. But it would be just as easy to maneuver back into the good graces of the Department after a few years, and restart SIREN, maybe under a new name – it wouldn’t have been the first time SIREN changed its name.

All I have to do is just bide my time. She pulled out a cigarette, lit it and took a long drag to relax, calming her nerves. I’ve survived bigger issues than this; this is certainly not going to stop me.

The intercom on the phone went off. “Director?” her secretary spoke into the line. “I have someone here to see you. She got into the building but won’t give me her name.”

“Not surprised; go ahead and send her in.” The lack of identification was a dead giveaway: the CIA clearly wanted answers. Well, that wasn’t too surprising; the bastards at Langley clearly had zero issue running rampant around the world but there was hell to pay if someone else did stupid shit on American soil. Well, despite everything, she needed their support, especially if it meant digging up dirt on some of the more recalcitrant do-gooders in parliament.

A second later, a woman in a suit walked in, someone that Rule hadn’t seen before, but clearly had the posture of someone who radiated unassailable authority. Clearly this was one of the spooks directly from CIA headquarters. Well, CIA or not, this was her office and her fiefdom and she wasn’t about to be bullied in her own spot.

Remaining seated at her desk, Rule gave the woman a smile. “I see the Company has decided to make a personal visit. What can I do for you?”

“I’ll be clear,” the woman said in a curt tone. “SIREN ends now. As do you. After I leave this office, you’re going to call the RCMP and turn yourself over for all the crimes you have committed.”

Rule laughed. “Well, I see Washington clearly sent someone with a sense of humor! Seriously, what can I….” Rule stopped as she saw the woman continued to stand there, arms akimbo and a scowl on her face. “You’re serious?”

“You’re running out of time, Director Rule,” the woman said evenly. “We can either do this nicely, or we can do this my way, but it will be done – and I will not be denied.”

Rule glared at the other woman. “Excuse me? You have the gall to come into my office and tell me what to do? Sorry, but I don’t take orders from Langley. Get the fuck out.”

“I’m not from Langley,” the woman said simply. “To be honest, I don’t even know what that is.”

Rule reached under the desk for her Rosario FM95. She’d had it since the first day in service, and she’d ended more than a few lives with it. She easily withdrew it and pointed at the stranger. “I don’t know who you are, you haven’t given identification, and you’re issuing demands. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t pull the trigger.”

The woman fixed Rule with hard blue eyes as strands of her blood-red hair started to move in an undetectable breeze. “I see we’re going to do this the hard way,” she spoke.

In the end, Golden Rule’s scream could be heard for blocks in every direction.

August 29: Only When You Leave

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As she always did, Juniper Conifer went for a morning jog in her nice neighborhood of Mesquite, Texas. The middle Conifer sister, she didn’t look anything like her older or younger sisters, but she stated that was because she’d been adopted. The three sisters had recently moved to town after deciding to leave Seattle, where they’d spent years in the software industry – which was kind of odd, given that all three sisters had the look of someone who had recently gotten out of the military. When asked about that, Juniper’s older sister Larch admitted that their father had been a Marine, so growing up, they’d done a lot of PT with him and at this point in their lives, daily workouts were just force of habit to them. That made them popular with a lot of the single guys in the area, especially the ones who were military vets themselves.

As she finished her run, she came to a stop in front of the Java Paradise Shack, Mesquite’s finest coffee shop. Walking in, she called out, “Hey, Ice! Got anything for me?”

Iced Mocha, the owner of the Java Paradise, waved her over. “Why, sure thing, sugar,” she said in a thick Texas drawl. “Got th’ mornin’ usual for you an’ your sisters. How’s things goin’ at the daycare?”

Juniper laughed. “All things considered, I’m wondering if getting out of the software gig was a good thing. Kids are tough to deal with, you know? Rewarding, though.”

“Yeah, mah li’l Chocolate Éclair’s almost three now,” Ice said with a grin, “an’ she just gets into everything! Wouldn’t have it any other way, though. Anyway, let me throw this all in a bag an’ a carrier for ya an’ Ah’ll be right back.”

While waiting, Juniper turned her head to watch CNN on the TV in the shop. Onscreen, the newscrawl on the bottom revealed the headline: CANADIAN SPYMASTER ARRESTED FOR ILLEGAL CHILD SOLDIER SCANDAL. Above that, the reporter was talking about how mysterious documents received by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police implicated Golden Rule, the director of the CSIS, Canada’s equivalent of the CIA, in a decades-old illegal program; and how shortly after the documents’ arrival, Rule had surrendered herself to the authorities.

Juniper watched the screen with vague interest. Inwardly, however, the woman that had once been Madrigal Storm cheered as the organization that had raised her and turned her against everything she loved finally saw its downfall.

“Can ya believe that?” Ice asked Juniper as she passed the woman a tray of coffees and a bag of breakfast sandwiches. “That’s some crazy shit, innit? Ah swear, Ah don’t know what Ah’d do if Ah was ever in that sitch’ation, Ah tell ya! Poor girls, Ah swear.”

“Yeah,” Juniper agreed, recalling everything she ever knew – and then blanking it out, locking it away in her mind for good. She was, after all, just a former codemonkey and jarhead’s daughter turned overtime babysitter, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “Yeah, I don’t know how anyone could ever live that life.”

Buried Lede ran The Cheyenne Prairie Times, the second newspaper in Wyoming’s capital. Based in the old headquarters of The Cheyenne Herald, it served as an upstart against the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, the statewide newspaper. Small but spunky, the Times existed all thanks to Lede, a self-admitted “failed blogger from LA” who won the California Lottery and decided to move to the middle of nowhere to chase his dreams of being a newspaper magnate. So far, he was doing well, but given the competition, that wasn’t saying much.

At the moment, Lede sat in his office watching MSNBC and the news of the arrests in Canada. He was about to reach for the remote when there was a knock at his door. He looked up to see Newsprint, his star reporter, leaning against the door jamb. Of course, she was his star reporter entirely due to the fact that she was hired away from the Tribune a week ago, but in that short time, she’d already managed to get the scoop on her former paper quite a few times. After he hired a few more folks, he was planning to make her editor-in-chief, but that could wait until there were more than just four people on staff.

“Hey, boss, you following that shit?” she asked him. “Want me to write up a story about it, or should we just go with the wire?”

Lede stroked his trimmed beard and then shook his head. “Are you kidding? Nobody cares about that shit, Print. What I need is for you to keep pushing the story about the I-25 delays. I get the feeling WYDOT isn’t telling us the whole story, and I suspect after the gas tax hike, readers are gonna want to know where the money’s going.”

“You smell a story brewing?” she asked.

“You’re damn right I do,” he told her.

She flashed him a smile. “I’ll get right on that, boss.”

“Good – I want it on my desk by the end of the day.”

“I’ll have it to you by 2:30!” she called back as she walked off.

Lede continued to watch the MSNBC article, and a small smile came briefly to his face. Speaking to no one in particular, he said softly, “You did it, Grandpere. Your actions saved all those girls.” Picking up the remote control, the man who had once been known as Agent Changeling turned off the TV and went back to work.

After all, news stories didn’t write themselves.

“It’s over,” Adagio said, a wide smile coming to her face as they saw the newscrawl on the kitchen television. “We’re free.” Her sisters hugged her close, and the three cheered.

“Weren’t they technically freed by your grandmother to begin with?” Octavia asked Sunset.

“Let them have their moment, Tavi,” Sunset advised, watching the three girls bounce and cheer in excitement.

“Yeah, besides, they’re free of being Canadian SIRENs,” Twilight pointed out. “They’re still Sunny’s SIRENs.”

“Don’t remind me, sis,” Sunset told her sister.

The triplets went over and hugged Sunset fiercely. “We’re all yours now, free and clear, cuz!” Adagio said with a grin.

“You’re extraordinarily happy about this,” Sunset said with a smile on her face. “You sure you’re going to be okay?”

“Yeah, I think I will be,” she said with a grin.

“I’m fine,” Aria agreed.

“Yeah, no problems here!” Sonata chirped.

“Well, we need to get going soon,” Sunset told them. “We need to see Shimmy and her family off at the airport.”

Twilight heard the catch in Sunset’s voice. “You’ve really grown close to her, haven’t you?”

Sunset nodded, not sure of what to say.

“It’s okay, sis,” Twilight told her. “Speaking as someone who woke up one day and suddenly had more family than she knew what to do with, I can honestly say that it’s fine. So you and Shimmy consider yourself sisters now, and that’s okay. She’s someone else you’ll have in your life, a friend who will always be there.”

“So, friendship is magic?” Sunset commented.

“That sounds so corny,” Twilight said in a droll tone.

“Yeah, probably,” Sunset laughed. “The others said they’ll meet us there. Mom and Dad are taking care of some stuff with Spike, so they can’t make it, but they said they were going to have breakfast separately with Shimmy’s mom and Zephyr before they head to the airport. Ms. Luna is doing something related to work, but Ms. Celestia said she’d be there. Cady and Shiny are out of town this weekend before he goes off to Quantico for a month for his new job.”

“Wow, feels like things are really changing,” Octavia commented. “Like an end of an era.”

“Or maybe just like things are winding down from a whirlwind year,” Sunset commented. “That’s certainly how it felt to me.”

“Well, if we’re all going to go, I guess I’m driving,” Octavia commented. “Let me go get the keys to my van and we can go.”

Waiting at the airport, Shimmer was apprehensive. Her aunt and uncle were there, as was Coco. Even though the flight wasn’t for another hour, she still wanted to spend some final time with someone who had become very dear to her.

“A bit antsy, aren’t you, Shimmy?” Zephyr said wryly.

“It’s going to be the last time I see her for a while,” Shimmer said, “so I want to see her again.”

“Yeah, I get that. It was great seeing my kid sister again, and I feel like I missed out on a lot of her life,” Zephyr told the girl, “so I get that you want to see Sunny once more. But don’t forget: just because you gals’ll be separated, doesn’t mean you’ll be separated, if you catch my drift.”

“Yeah,” Shimmer said with a smile. “I get you.”

“I’m going to miss you, though,” Coco said, hugging Shimmer.

“I’m going to miss you too, Coco,” Shimmer said, returning the hug. “Don’t forget to write, okay?”

“I promise I won’t forget!”

“Well, I hate to leave you all to your devices, but we have a long day ahead of us of our own,” Autumn told her, “and besides, I hate long goodbyes.” Final farewells were said and then Autumn Forest and his family departed, leaving the others to go.

“Is she coming?” Shimmer stated, asking no one in particular but hoping for an answer.

“Sorry we’re late; parking was hell.” Shimmer turned and smiled widely at the sound of her own voice, even though she hadn’t been the one to speak. Instinctively, she raced to the embrace of someone who was technically her very own self, but over the past few weeks she’d come to regard as far more than that.

Sunset could feel herself growing misty-eyed over the absence the other Sunset was going to cause in her life. Even though things had worked out far beyond what she had ever expected, Shimmer had become a part of her life in a way that she knew was going to be empty with her not around. “I’m going to miss you,” the alicorn said with all sincerity.

“Is it bad I’m missing you already?” Shimmer said, not even bothering to hide the tears welling in her eyes.

“That is truly touching.” Sunset turned to see Rarity and the others approach, smiles on their face. “It’s good to see you whole, Sunset – both of you,” the fashionista amended. “You both needed this and even though you’ll be separated once more, it’s only temporary.”

Sunset let go of her “twin” and Shimmer went over to embrace Rarity. “Thank you for everything, Rarity,” she said softly.

“Think nothing of it,” Rarity said, waterworks already in her eyes. “Besides, you can invite me on your next vacation. I’d love to go to Monaco!”

“It’s a deal,” Shimmer said, then turned to Fluttershy. “I can’t wait to see you perform again, Fluttershy.”

“But I’m not….” the chiffon-haired teen began to protest.

“I know you will. It’s in your blood. I heard your guitar and singing and you’re destined for fame,” Shimmer said, hugging her friend. “Don’t forget to invite me to your first concert, okay?”

“Okay,” Fluttershy said, blushing.

“AJ, you take care of Rainbow and vice versa, okay?” They were the two that Shimmer knew least well, but that didn’t mean she didn’t want the best for them.

“Uh, sure thing,” Applejack said, not sure how to reply.

“Yeah, no problem,” Rainbow agreed.

She then turned to Pinkie. “My sister’s happiness is important to me, Pinkie,” Shimmer said, looking solemnly at the cotton-candy-haired girl. “If you really, truly love her, you’ll safeguard that happiness and not subsume it with your own. I know you love her, but you have to love her as well.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Pinkie admitted as she hugged her intended’s twin, “but I promise I won’t ever hurt her.”

“That’s all I ask.” She then turned to Sunset’s family. “Girls, I don’t think I need to say this, but I will: take care of my sister…our sister. I….” She sniffed.

Twilight took Shimmer in a hug. “We love her too, you know. Of course I’m going to take care of my sister.” The others joined in on the hug as well.

“She means the world to me, so yes, I’m going to do everything I can for her,” Octavia added.

“We wouldn’t have a life if it wasn’t for her, so count me in,” Adagio admitted.

“Same here,” Aria said.

“No arguments there,” Sonata promised.

Finally, tears in her eyes, Sunset turned to Sunset. “This…when we first met, I never imagined this would happen,” she admitted. “I thought I’d just hate you and move on my life. But I found a sister.” Shimmer reached over and tearfully embraced Sunset, breaking down into tears.

“In all my days, I never would have thought I’d see this,” Solaire admitted, feeling misty-eyed. “She’d told me once she felt a bit guilty about being the surviving sister, but now in this new life we have…she finally has family she can rely on.”

“Well, she’ll have more once my kids come to live with us next week,” Zephyr reminded her. “Besides, once you and I tie the knot, then we can talk about having a couple of our own.”

“I’m going to hold you to that, Zeph,” Solaire told him.

“As long as it’s you holding me,” he said, slipping an arm around her waist. She leaned against him and sighed.

Unaware of her mother’s own flirting, meanwhile, Shimmer felt devastated in a way she couldn’t describe. She finally had a sister, and now she was going to have to say goodbye! The world wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair at all and….

“It’s okay.” She looked up to see Sunset’s calm cyan eyes looking into her own. They were misty with tears, but they were calm and at peace, a peace Shimmer wasn’t sure she felt at the moment.

“This isn’t goodbye for good, you know,” Sunset whispered, reaching up and wiping Shimmer’s eyes, then kissing her on the forehead. “I meant everything I said: we’re sisters, and we will see each other again.”

“I know, I know, but—”

Sunset smiled. “Someone’s gotta teach you magic, Shimmy. I’m sure you can practice on your own, but better that you learn from a pro, right?”

“You promise?”

They heard a gasp, and Sunset smiled.

“Look around,” she said.

Shimmer looked, and their magic was in harmony again, resonating strongly, motes of red and cyan racing around them like tiny satellites in a low-Sunset orbit. In the distance, people ignored them, focusing on their own lives and their own worlds.

“How, I didn’t—”

“You did,” Sunset told her. “I didn’t do this; you did.”

“I did?”

“Well, not the background pony spell; that was me, admittedly,” Sunset confessed. “But the harmonization? That was from you – from your heart.”

Tears streaming down her cheeks, Shimmer put on a brave face and a smile. “I never thought I’d ever have the chance to say this, but I’m lucky I have a sister like you.”

“I’m going to hold you to those words, Shimmy.”

“You’re going to come visit in December, okay? Promise me!”

“My whole family’s coming, because I want to meet this extended family I have now. Did you want to come to my coronation in Equestria?”

“I’m not sure that would be wise, Sunset.” Both Sunsets turned to look at Solaire. “As tempting as it would be, your true birth mother will have a tough time having to adjust to your adopted parents being there. Having to deal with us as well? It’s not a good idea.” She saw the look of heartbreak on Shimmer’s face and said, “I know you wish to support her, but remember: we are princesses as well and we have duties of our own. I’m sure Sunset will be more than happy to show you the pictures when she returns.”

Shimmer sighed. “Okay,” she grumbled.

“But….” Solaire smiled. “There is one thing, Sunset. Though you may be crowned a princess of this Equestria place, technically before that you were – you are – a princess of Imperial France. And as a result, you have attire of station to wear.” Solaire opened her carry-on and pulled out a small wooden box. “This arrived for you this morning by courier at my brother-in-law’s place.” She handed to Sunset.

Sunset opened it…and looked at Solaire, unsure of what to say.

“A replica of the tiara of Princess Beharnaise, Princess of France and Queen of Holland. Each princess of the family is issued one for formal attire.” Solaire smiled. “This one is yours.”

“I’m…I’m honored.”

“You are a princess of Imperial France, Sunset. Wear that tiara with pride.”

She sent it back home via magic. “I’ll insist on being coronated with it.”

“That’s more than fine with me. After all, it has been a while since a Bonaparte has been on a throne. And now we can say that time has come again…after a fashion.”

With that, Sunset let go, and just in time, as the announcement came over the line that boarding would begin soon. With that, the girls watched as the family got in line, using diplomatic passports and bypassed security. Zephyr used his government credentials and did the same. Once on the other side, Shimmer waved goodbye as did Sunset, and with a heavy heart, they rounded the corner, out of sight and towards their flights.

Twilight slipped her arms around her sister. “It’s okay to cry, you know. I know you’re putting up a brave face, but we’re your family.” Sunset turned to her and buried her face in Twilight’s shoulder, letting the tears flow.

“She becomes more human each day, and love ennobles her,” Rarity said softly.

“That’s ‘The Tale of Growing’, isn’t it?” Adagio asked. “I remember reading it last year.”

Rarity nodded. “It’s a favorite poem of mine, reminding me that we all have to grow up sooner or later. We let go of that which we love, so that they may grow as well. Sunset has moved on a long way since the girls and I offered to teach her friendship. We didn’t know she would learn to love as well.”

Pinkie immediately moved to approach, but Applejack put her hand on her friend’s shoulder and shook her head. Pinkie bit her lip and silently pled with the blonde, but the look in Applejack’s eyes was clear: Let Sunset’s sister deal with it. Her hair wilting, Pinkie turned away reluctantly.

Meanwhile, Twilight continued to hug her disconsolate sister, saying, “C’mon. Let’s go home. We have our lives to lead, and so does Shimmy. She won’t forget and neither will you.” Twilight took her sister’s hand and led her off, and Sunset mutely followed, feeling surprisingly hollow-hearted.

“I…think we should get her home,” Octavia told the others. “Give me a call tonight and we can talk about maybe doing something tomorrow, okay?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Rainbow said. “C’mon, let’s get going and leave the sisters to their business.”

As the others led Sunset off, Pinkie angrily wheeled on Applejack. “What the fuck, AJ? I wanted to—”

“Ah know you did, sugar,” Applejack said calmly, “but it’s not your place to do that.”

“What do you mean it’s not my place? She’s my girlfriend!”

“Yeah, I heard about that, Pinkie,” Rainbow said. “Frankly, it sounds like you kinda took advantage of Sunny. She’s, well….”

“Sensitive,” Fluttershy blurted out. She looked right at Pinkie. “Yes, both of you have been through bad relationships, Pinkie, no one’s denying that. And you of all people deserve to find love in the deepest and truest way. But Sunny’s been reeling from one thing to another right now and you took advantage of her emotional state.”

“But I didn’t!” Pinkie looked forlorn.

“You didn’t intend to, certainly,” Rarity said, giving her friend a smile, “but you didn’t let her choose, did you? You announced that you are Sunset’s girlfriend. You didn’t let her tell us – and that’s a textbook case of…well, I shan’t say it, but you understand.”

“Sugar, we know you love her,” Applejack said. “But you also want to be more than just her girlfriend. You have to be a friend, too. Ah’m not in any way an expert on relationships, but Ah do know that when someone’s emotionally compromised, it’s not the best time to be setting up shop in the heart. Things could go bad. Real bad.”

“I….” Pinkie was at a loss for words.

“Just take your time, Pinkie,” Fluttershy told her. “Take it from me: I’m letting my relationship with Puppytails go slowly and it’s worth it. Just let things go as slow as it needs to and if she really wants to come to you, she’ll come.”

“I…I’m going home,” Pinkie said, turning in the direction of the parking lot. “I need to relax.” Not even bothering to say goodbye to her friends, she just walked away.

“She didn’t take that well, did she?” Rainbow asked.

“Can you blame her?” Fluttershy commented. “Sunny’s disconsolate and under normal circumstances Pinkie would want to cheer her up. But given that it’s Sunny, it’s only magnified the situation – and the kind of cheering up Pinkie wants to do would hurt them both.”

“I hope she’ll be okay,” Rarity said, watching the forlorn figure retreat into the distance.

“Yeah, so do Ah,” Applejack agreed. “So do Ah.”

Despite Celestia’s earlier suggestion, Luna hated the Boards. She hated it because her career was, in part, based on it. It had been her experience during her career that teachers were recommended, requested and desired – all of Celestia’s postings, from her first day teaching at Forest Ridge to the posting she’d just received, had been because people had wanted and requested her there. Luna, however, for most of her career, had been at the Boards, right up until she’d been requested by Celestia to take over the vice principal slot at Canterlot High. Normally that would have been nepotism but given that she had been the only one qualified at the time, that had been overlooked – and Luna had busted her ass to make sure that she proved she wasn’t there just because she was Celestia’s kid sister.

The “Boards”, of course, were the Equestria County Unified School District’s Board of Certification Standards. Every school district had their own way of choosing teachers and slots, and each was unnatural and arcane and the ECUSD’s was no different; trying to explain it to an outsider would be just as futile as to why the short name of the board was The Boards. Personally, she suspected that it was probably the brainchild of the same person who had decided to nickname the Equestria County Alternative High School for At-Risk Students “the Blanks”. But to sum it up, if you were up for a promotion or wanted to move laterally, if you weren’t actually requested, you’d apply to the Boards. And so, the Boards had taken on, perhaps unfairly, the general feel of holding the teachers who were the also-rans, the ones that weren’t the best of the best, and the ones that were “just there”.

Kind of like untraded Pokémon, forever condemned to sit in Pokéstorage until someone wanted them, she sighed inwardly. At least she knew that the games really didn’t work like that and that the bits of data were fictional. The names on the Boards were very real people with very real lives, all put into a waiting bin because of someone’s whim, their careers going nowhere because of that. The three years she spent as a science teacher at Darkside High was proof enough of that; she’d been taken on by the principal there because no one else had the credentials. And admittedly, while working at DHS wasn’t as bad as, say, Sunnytown High or the Blanks, she’d hated every bit of working there, mainly because working under the shadow of Mt. Shasta and the tallest part of the Everfree National Forest, the small town seemed like it was drenched in gloom all the time. She loved the night, especially given her name…but dreariness was an entirely different thing.

So now, here she was, the incoming principal of Canterlot High (again, due to her sister’s influence, albeit indirectly) and she had to look for a vice principal. She’d gone through the candidates and had selected one. Unlike the others, he wasn’t local, but had moved from Cincinnati, where he’d been the math chair over at Walnut Hills High. He’d moved here over the summer, but Luna wasn’t sure why. And when she asked why he’d applied to the Boards, he’d thought, oddly, that certification boards were normally how things were done in other school districts. Given that he was coming not only from another district, but out of state, perhaps that made sense.

But here she was, at the Souplantation in Bella Vista, where she agreed to meet him for lunch to get a feel for things. It felt odd: like a date, but the match would be someone she could work with. And given that she’d recently gotten engaged, she really didn’t get why her mind made the connection. Still….

“Dr. Luna?” She looked up from her tablet to see the man standing there. Graying black hair and goatee with sallow skin, he was dressed currently in a maroon polo and stone-gray slacks and overall gave the impression of an entertainment lawyer trying to dress down, or (and she was sure it was going to get mentioned) Dracula slumming in California. He stood ramrod straight, which either meant he had military training or was a stickler for posture.

As she stood up, he offered his hand. “Chancellor Neighsay. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She gave a winning smile as she shook. “Chancellor?”

“The Neighsay family has been in education since the early days of the United States,” he said with a smile. “My mother always told me that when the Mayflower came over, one of our ancestors was busy holding classes during the voyage. Anyway, I think I fared better than my sister – her name’s Docent.”

“I see,” she said, gesturing to the seat. “Please, have a seat, Dr. Neighsay.”

“Please, Chance is fine.”

“Chance it is, then; you can call me Luna,” she told him. “Now, admittedly, everything is in order as far as your credentials and CV goes, but I’ll admit: I’m curious as to why you moved from Cincinnati. From what I gather, Walnut Hills is one of the top schools in the nation, and you were the math chair. Certainly you were destined for bigger and better things, right? Why move to Canterlot? And why ECUSD?”

“Oh, believe me, I was happy there, but circumstances forced my hand,” he admitted. “My ex-wife moved here about five years ago, with our two children. However, she admitted to me that she has terminal cancer, so I needed to take the kids in. After some discussion, we agreed that moving our kids was not in the best interest, either for them or her. So, I chose to move here.”

“That’s very commendable,” Luna admitted.

“Not as much as you might think,” he admitted with a bemused smile. “The first two places I applied was both Zacherle and Munechinger, given their pedigrees. Unfortunately, positions weren’t available there. I then considered a position at Holy Cross, but I’ve never really been the most religious person there is. Finally, I was talking to Bunsen Burner over at San Palomino High – we attended college together, so she’s been a huge fount of advice – when she suggested I apply with ECUSD. However, I didn’t know about the reputation the Boards had, else I would have just applied directly to the Board of Education.”

“I gathered that. Either way, I need a vice principal to take charge on the day-to-day. Dr. Celestia’s promotion to assistant superintendent was rather sudden, and I was glad they’re giving me the principal slot, but even still, after working for seven years as CHS’ vice principal, moving up is going to be a challenge, so I’d like to have someone knowledgeable in the vice slot.”

“I can do that. I was principal of one of the summer school locations last year. I believe I was able to bring up the profile of Westside High quite a bit,” he said with a smile.

“From my research, you were. And whatever recommendations you made must have stuck, because academically they have improved over the year. I hope that you can bring that sort of diligence to Canterlot High.”

“I certainly hope to.”

That was enough for Luna. Celestia would tell her to think things over a bit more, but Luna didn’t have much choice. School started on Monday and with teachers already working, several of them were inquiring about the change in how things were going on at CHS. Celestia, although still technically the principal for this final year, pointed to the principal’s office and its newest occupant, mainly Luna. Luna knew she couldn’t do it on her own – years of her sister's pulling Luna's own fat out of the fire having proven that – and as much as she would have liked to promote someone from within the ranks of CHS, no one was qualified except for Kibbitz – and he was so close to retirement, he said he’d preferred just to keep working “in the trenches” until it was time.

So there was no choice.

Offering her hand, she said, “Welcome to CHS, Chance.”

Trixie Lulamoon climbed out of her magic wagon, seeing it almost buried in snow due to the stronger-than-normal snowstorms that had been occurring. She’d heard rumors that Princess Celestia had been ill and as such the sun wasn’t as bright as it was normally, but she couldn’t get confirmation. The most she got was that Duchess Highfalutin’ had imposed a greater tax in the lands that she governed in order “to cover the famine”.

Funny, Trixie could still see the famine, she thought to herself as she began to dust off the snow and muck that had buried her wagon. The excess weathering had taken its toll on her cart and she was going to have to make sure that she got it repaired in a town soon; the axles were probably in need of replacing and the front right wheel was slipping in its camber.

After that was done, she created a clearing and brought out her heating crystal so she could cook breakfast: toasted Pinesnax. It was an acquired taste, admittedly, but she’d picked it up somewhere and she absolutely loved it; the extra-crunchy taste of the pinecone coating holding the syrupy-sweet pinesap within. Melted in one’s mouth and just didn’t let go. Also went great with coffee.

After that was done, she looked at the wheel further. She wasn’t a cartwright by any means, but she knew that she would have to go to the next town to get it fixed; a broken axle was going to cost her dearly, especially given all the weirdness, even by Equestrian standards. And for a traveling performer like her, a lost day’s wages could be the difference between eating that day or not.

She summoned her map and looked it over; the closest town was Grassglade, but they didn’t have a cartwright; after that a ways was Meandering Pass, but she…well, best not to think about that. Really, there were only two towns in the area that could service her wagon and both were a distance away: Berryville, which tended to be extraordinarily expensive, since that town was so single-minded about their crops that they practically had to import everything else; and…

She gulped. Ponyville. It was a week away if she took her time, which she would have to, in order to make it easier on the wheel. But she had mixed feelings about going back there.

Still, my wagon needs fixing and Hitching Post is one of the best in the business, even if he’s based in that blasted town, she mentally grumbled.

She didn’t have a choice, really.

With a heavy sigh, she teleported all her gear into her wagon, then cleaned up and prepped for the trip to Ponyville. She hated that she had to pay to have teleportation sigils placed on all her belongings, as though she was an earth pony, but sadly, teleportation was useful and she needed it.

With a sad thought, she finally hitched herself to her wagon and began the slog towards Ponyville. Hopefully she would meet somepony along the way; if nothing else, she could use the company before she got in trouble with the town guards again.

Sunset lay in her room, with Aria sleeping next to her. She really hadn’t wanted the company, but her cousin had insisted, and with the others out taking care of errands, she really wasn’t in the mood to argue. So she lay there, staring at the ceiling, unsure of how to feel.

A year ago, she was a selfish girl that had no plans other than to storm the metaphorical gates of heaven in order to get what she wanted, even though she didn’t want to admit that even to herself, that thing in question was her mother’s love. Now, a year later, she had more family and friends than she knew what to do with, she’d become obscenely rich literally overnight, and she was getting the things that she wanted – actually wanted. Moreover, the trappings of power and fame, the princesshood and alicornhood that she had so desired back then, were now things that she wasn’t sure she wanted after all.

Hell, if she wanted to argue the point, she had the romantic affections of two girls fighting over her. Plus, with the occasional intrusion of another reality’s occasional thoughts in her mind, she realized that other Sunsets had romantic relations with just about everyone she knew…including the girl sleeping next to her. She forced that out of her mind; not only did incest squick the hell out of her, she couldn’t see Aria – or anyone else she knew – in that light.

Really, she was getting to see that her ascension was more trouble than it was worth. She wondered if Twilight – the princess, not her sister – ever had the same issues.

Well, she wasn’t going to get anything done if she continued to lay there. Getting up to make sure that she didn’t wake up Aria, she stepped out of the room and decided to go downstairs to make lunch. Sure, she could magic it up; she could transport herself anywhere in the world to have whatever she wanted, but that was taking a path she wasn’t sure she wanted to take. For all her life, her biological mother had very normal pony desires, needs and actions despite the fact that she could have done whatever she wished, and it was that earlier thought that had gotten Sunset where she was. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and what might be just a simple jaunt to New York for burgers in Manhattan would turn out later for her to be right back where she was a year ago. She refused to let that happen again.

So…normal girl walking to the kitchen to make a normal sandwich.

As she headed for the stairs, she saw Spike intently staring at his door. “Spike? Something the matter?”

“I don’t see them anymore,” he muttered.


He finally looked at her. “When I was just a kid, Mom and Dad used to measure my height by making notches on the door. But I don’t see them anymore. Is it because this isn’t really our house?”

“What makes you think it’s not our house?” she asked him.

“Because I woke up one morning and I had all the videogames I wanted, but I didn’t have that earlier. And I remember that my friends had larger TVs than I did, but I have a bigger one than they do, and it’s in my own room – the one in the den is even bigger! And…well, it feels kinda weird. I remember that problem we had with those soldiers, and now…it’s like it never happened. And instead of our old house, we have this one. And nobody but us seems to remember that. It’s…weird.”

Sunset sighed; she should’ve realized this was going to happen sooner or later. The rest of them, as unusual as it was, could deal with the temporal and realistic changes that had occurred. But Spike was a kid, and that meant his way of looking at the world wasn’t as strongly formed as hers was.

“Spike, do you know why this happened?”

“Well, I would say it’s your fault, but…that’s not fair to you. I remember everyone crying because you got hurt and…did you die?” Sunset was about to say something when Spike added, “But that doesn’t make sense either. You’re here and this isn’t a videogame.” He frowned. “Great, now I’m confused.”

A thought came to her. “Have you had lunch yet?” When he shook his head, she smiled and said, “Tell you what: let’s go wake up Aria and we can go somewhere.”

“Don’t worry, I’m up. And if you’re up for a trip, I know a great little place for lunch.” They both turned to see Aria walking towards them, stretching

“Around here?” Sunset asked.

“Depends on what you mean by here,” Aria replied with a crafty smile.

A few minutes later, they were overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Waikiki, courtesy of a little burger shack. “We were here two years ago after a mission,” Aria explained. “It was the first time one of us had been shot, so our sœurs decided we needed a break, and we ended up spending a week relaxing here in Hawaii.”

“You were shot?” Spike asked, surprised. The wide-eyed look in his eyes suddenly brought up everything that had happened to them in the time that no longer existed and Sunset couldn’t help but wince.

“Spike…I know this isn’t easy for you to understand, but it wasn’t a dream,” Aria told him. “Everything really did happen. We were captured by enemy forces, Sunny fought an evil demon and she….” The teen hesitated to say died, but finally sighed and commented, “Sunny died saving us. Saving everyone.”


Sunset looked at him sadly. “It’s true, Spike.”

“But you’re alive! How can you be alive if you died?”

“Because something had to be done in order to save us all, and it had to be me, because of my magic.”

He looked at her with shock. “You have magic?!”

“Well, we’re in Hawaii right now, aren’t we?” Sunset explained and Spike finally realized for the first time that no, she wasn’t joking. This wasn’t just a part of Canterlot he hadn’t seen before. They really and truly were in Hawaii.

It took several more minutes to explain that it was a secret and that it was supposed to be a secret – and secrets meant nobody gets told, not even his friends. That things had changed for a number of reasons that he was too young to understand right now, but as he got older, he would appreciate how different things were. After all, couldn’t he remember a time when Aria and her sisters weren’t there? When he admitted he had, she smiled and told him that she was happy that they were all together, because it meant they were family. And that was part of the secret.

Finally, as lunch was finished, he went off to use the bathroom and Sunset looked at her cousin. “Thanks, Ari. I wasn’t sure what to say.”

“It’s okay. I get that he doesn’t understand. In the old timeline, I really didn’t get a lot of things either at times and I was lucky that our sœurs took the time to explain things to us when it was needed. So I can appreciate his confusion.” She leaned forward on the table. “I just wish sometimes that I could have been as innocent as he was back then.”

“Not now?”

“Not even in this timeline, really. So if I can keep him innocent just a little longer, I think we’ll be okay.”

“You’re a wonderful person to know, Aria Blaze.”

Aria blushed. “Not really, but I’m working on it,” she commented.

Sunset looked at her phone. “Well, we’d better get back soon. There’s a three-hour time difference between here and home, so we’ll have to explain why we’re skipping dinner.” As Spike came back, she added, “Let me pay the bill and then we can go.”

It was then that Sunset got a text on her cellphone – it was from Garden Variety, and she did not seem calm at all: HEY, CAN WE TALK?

I’M TIED UP RIGHT NOW. WHAT’S UP? Sunset texted back.



The response was nearly instant: NO, CAN WE MEET SOMEWHERE ELSE?

HOW ABOUT SAIGON SWEETS? Sunset suggested.


Sunset sighed. “My work is never done.”

“Well, you were the one who wanted to be the all-powerful goddess, right? Comes with the territory,” Aria told her.

“All things considered, I think I’m more of the Greco-Roman ‘Force of Element’ type rather than the omnipotent and omniscient variety, but that’s not the point. The point is that I’m not sure I’m comfortable with solving the world’s problems.”

Aria patted her cousin on the shoulder. “Too late for that.”

“Well, here you go, Sunny,” Bon-Bon said as she set a sizeable confection in front of her, as well as a small jar of hot fudge. “One chocosphere, just for you. On the house.”


“It’s a new dessert we’re working on,” Bon-Bon told her with a smile. “Hollow chocolate shell, filled with vanilla ice cream and some candies in the middle – you pour the hot fudge on it to melt it to open. Hope you’ll like.”

Sunset eyed the thing as if it were giving her calories just by looking at it. Alicorn or not, she wasn’t sure if she’d pick up weight by eating it, though she was highly tempted to risk it. “I’m sure I will, Bonnie.”

Bon-Bon brought out the same thing for Garden and then walked off.

Another girl?” Garden asked her. “You sure you’re not a carpet muncher?”

“Bonnie’s a friend and she’s already in a happy relationship,” Sunset commented. “And for the last time, no, I’m straight and I thought we were talking about your problems?”

“Fine, fine, just trying to bleed some levity off my frustration,” the older girl commented. “Look, I feel real stupid about talking to you in the first place, but for some reason…you’re approachable. No idea why, but I needed to talk to someone.” She took a breath, then continued. “The hospital laid me off today. Something about cost overhead or some bullshit, but the point is, I don’t have that job anymore. Mrs. Desk knows about it and says that isn’t a problem but I want to send Bramble to day care so that Mrs. Desk can enjoy some of her retirement. I know….” Garden looked down. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t keep relying on Mrs. Desk, even though she’s been helpful. And you know I can’t turn to my parents.”

Sunset sighed. There were no easy answers on this one, and she wasn’t even sure where to begin to help on this. Maybe just being a sounding board was enough, but she didn’t think so. “Have you considered applying for the assistant manager job at the café?”

“Oh, no, we’re not getting into that again, kid,” Garden said. “I told you, I don’t want charity, and I really doubt the Cakes are going to pass over their golden girl just because I need a pick-me-up. Sorry, but I’m not going to do that to you and I’m not going to do that to them.”

“It’s not about doing anything to anyone, Garden,” Sunset told her. “It’s about what your son needs, and what you need.” When Garden gave her an inquiring look, Sunset explained: “You need the money. In case you weren’t aware, my information became public the other day and I’m surprised I don’t need bodyguards or anything like that. I actually have more money than my parents do, and they’re wealthy.”

“Yeah. If I had the kind of money you do, I sure as hell wouldn’t be working at a café,” Garden said.

“Well, keep in mind that I do it for other reasons,” Sunset told her. “And I still intend to. But I don’t need the money. You do.”

“I told you—”

“I know you did. And I’m telling you: apply for the position. I’m not giving it up just because of pity or whatever. Ultimately, it’s the Cakes’ decision. All I can do is just give you advice.”

Garden took a bite of her chocosphere, then continued. “I really don’t know if I should or not.”

“You should. Don’t think of how I feel or how the Cakes might feel, Garden. I’m not going to be offended, honestly. And your main concerns should be you, your son and Mrs. Desk.”

“Look, I really don’t want to step on your toes, Sunset. You’re already doing more than enough for me, and I appreciate it. I just…I don’t want to seem like an ingrate.”

“You aren’t, Garden. You’re taking care of your son. Trust me, as someone who was literally just adopted the other day, I can very much appreciate the concept of looking out for family.” Sunset took a bite of her own chocosphere and said, “Just think about it, okay? There’s still time.”

“I’ll think about it,” she said uneasily.

In her bedroom, Pinkie sighed as she lay on her bed, spent from “thinking about Sunset”. However, the words of her friends weighed heavily on her mind even as the pleasure drifted away.

She loved Sunset. There was zero doubt about that. Every bone and muscle in her body ached for her, and even now, Pinkie could feel her body call out for Sunset’s touch. She would yield to those kisses, those lips, that firm, taut form against hers….

She stopped, pulling her hands away before she led herself down the path of desire again. Was this obsession?

Was she turning into something like Atlas and Cicely? The thought terrified her: even though Sunset was far more than capable of protecting herself even before she’d become what she was now, the thought of having a helpless Sunset tied up for Pinkie’s pleasure brought a slight thrill through her—

—and then a deep shame.

“No. I’m better than that. I’m better than them,” she hissed in the dark. She hated them eternally, and for a second, she hated herself for even having those thoughts about the one person she truly loved.

She slipped on some clothing, went to the bathroom and took a quick shower. Thankfully, everyone in the house was asleep, because she really didn’t want to explain why she was taking a shower at two in the morning. She then went back to her bedroom and changed the bedsheets, planning to take them down later today. Throwing on fresh bedsheets, she looked at the soiled ones, marked with her own crime of passion. That made her uncomfortable as well.

She sat back down on her bed, hugging her knees and troubled by her own thoughts. She loved Sunset more than anything. She knew within her heart this was a permanent thing. This wasn’t like Rose (that bitch!) who dumped her own boyfriend just because she wanted Sunset as well. This wasn’t a thing that she knew would go away as the years went by; though she could technically call herself bisexual, she wondered if she was single-target sexual (or “graysexual”; she knew that term existed, too) towards Sunset. Though she found attractiveness in several people she knew, she didn’t love them, didn’t want them like she wanted Sunset.

Was that healthy? Had she really recovered from what Atlas and Cicely had done to her?

Was she condemning herself to do to Sunset what had been done to her?

She loved Sunset too much to do so.

She wondered if Sunset could even read her thoughts right now. When dealing with what was a literal goddess, even a neophyte one, what was on the table and what was off? She trusted Sunset wouldn’t invade the privacy of others, but those were human thoughts…and at the end of the day, the girl she loved wasn’t really human. Ironically, that didn’t bother her in the least – Sunset was far more human than others she knew; certainly more than the animals that had ravaged her and ruined her own life.

Impulse grabbed her and she picked up her phone, opening it to Sunset’s number and typed in a text: If I loved you forever, would you hate me for it? She then immediately erased it without sending; with her luck, sending a text right now would only cause Sunset to come visit her immediately. She didn’t want that – she didn’t want Sunset to see her at her worst and weakest. Pinkie had to be a pillar of strength for the girl she loved, because even a god might feel lonely at times, and being frail just wouldn’t do.

That reminded her of a movie she’d watched years ago, and a quote from it: “Language was invented for one reason – to woo women – and in that endeavor, laziness will not do.” She wasn’t sure why, but she went to her bookcase and grabbed a book she’d been meaning to read for some time.

Perhaps, when wooing an alicorn, laziness wouldn’t do…not even at 2:36AM.

When she was late to breakfast, Cup went in to check on her niece. Finding Pinkie asleep in the curled-up position worried her slightly, but she didn’t pry. She did, however, find Pinkie’s dirty laundry and remembering what it was like being a teenage girl herself, opted not to unintentionally embarrass the girl and decided to just let her sleep. While Pinkie did have to work today, Sundays were fortunately slow enough that the café could do without her, and besides, given that school started tomorrow, Cup thought that her niece probably could use all the rest she could get.

Cup did, however, wonder why Pinkie had fallen asleep in that position with a copy of The Rubiyat, with highlighter ink blotted on one particular quatrain:

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Sunset woke up and went downstairs for coffee. She had a long day ahead of her, the last day before school began. “Hey, girls,” she said to her family as she went down.

“Heya, sis,” Twilight said as the group all read from their individual tablets or phones. “Mom and Dad took Spike out this morning to go shopping for uniforms. Apparently he outgrew his over the summer, so Mom wants to make sure he’s got something that fits.”

“Ah, they grow up so fast, don’t they?” Octavia said with a grin.

“Yeah, luckily for Sunny, she’s the only one who can get away with not wearing uniforms.”

Sunset grinned. “Hey, we have a dress code, you know. Granted, students always try to push the boundaries of it, but Ms. Luna isn’t exactly going to let that go. Anyway, I need to get going. Need to go to the café for something.”

“Back to work?” Sonata asked. “Mrs. Cake has me starting off at the new location on Tuesday.”

Sunset didn’t want to tell her cousin what she was up to; Sonata had been moved because Sunset was going to work at the San Palomino branch. With Sunset effectively giving that up, she didn’t want Sonata to think she was doing something untoward; her youngest cousin could be surprisingly sensitive about those sorts of things. “No, just some stuff regarding the location,” Sunset said glibly.

“Okay, well, don’t forget to be home in time tonight,” Adagio said. “We’re making dinner tonight – Chinese.”


“We come from a family of Chinese restaurateurs, remember?” Aria said with a laugh. “We’re going to see how much Mom rubbed off on us.” She then added, “Okay, okay, admittedly we really didn’t learn much from her and we’re adopted obviously, but we learned from our grandparents whenever we went back to Vancouver, okay?”

“Sounds fine by me,” Sunset said. “I’m going to grab breakfast there. I’ll see you when I get home, okay?”

“If the kitchen hasn’t been set on fire by then, sure,” Octavia said with a giggle, getting three mock-glares as a result.

Sunset made it to the door when she heard Twilight’s voice. “Sunny?” She turned to look at Twilight, who had a calm look on her face. “You might be able to hide it from the others, but not me. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, Twily,” Sunset told her as she grabbed her purse.

The look on Twilight’s face changed to one of concern. “Sunny, I might not be as powerful as you are, but I’m still your sister. I’m still someone you can rely on, you know that. If something is wrong, I want to help.”

“Twily….” Sunset sighed. “Seriously, nothing is wrong, sis. I’m going to help someone else out, because someone else – someone you don’t know, sorry – is in trouble and only I can help. Otherwise, she’ll be in dire straits, and I can’t let that happen.”

“Sunny, please don’t take this the wrong way, but…well, you might be a goddess, but you’re not my – or any other human’s – deity. I certainly don’t consider you one and I can’t. So don’t set the world on your shoulders.”

“Believe me, I don’t want you to consider me one.” Sunset went over and gave her sister a loving smile. “And this doesn’t involve any horn-and-wings business. This is me, just being a normal girl, helping out someone when I can, because I’m in the best position to do so.”

“Well, I’m here for you either way. Just don’t ask me to slay a dragon for you, okay?”

“Of course not!” Sunset laughed as she opened the front door. “Why kill off a good secretary? See you later.”

Twilight stood there, looking at the space where her sister had been a second before. She wasn’t sure of what was going on, but she knew that Sunset still needed her family, and that was enough for Twilight. They could sort out the rest later.

A second later it hit her.

“Wait – secretary?”

“Thanks for doing this, sis,” Luna told Celestia. The pair were standing by one of the public grills at Three Heroes Park, where Celestia had rented one of the picnic pavilions. The reason was both a farewell party for Celestia as outgoing principal, congratulatory for Luna as incoming principal and a welcome for Neighsay as the incoming vice principal. At the moment, the older sister was flipping burgers, making sure that her soon-to-be former employees were well fed.

“Hey, when I first took over the principal slot at CHS, Study Session did this for me,” Celestia explained. “I think it’s a kind of tradition, so it’s not a problem.” She looked at all of the CHS faculty, assembled and just talking amongst themselves as peers and friends, from Raven and Cheerilee mercilessly flirting with Tofu to Iron Will and Bulk Biceps challenging each other to a game of cornhole while hoisting brews and laughing like old friends.

“You’ve got that faraway look on your face,” Luna told her.

“Of course I do. Even though I’m technically still the school principal, functionally I won’t be, and then next year, when I move to the headquarters building, I won’t be outright. As it is, with all the increased duties I’ll be taking on, I doubt I’ll be around much anyway. It’s your show now, sis. These are your folks and I’m sure you’ll do a great job.” She glanced at Neighsay, who was moving around and getting to chat with several of the other teachers. “Looks like your vice is breaking the ice with the others; maybe you should go do so as well.”

“What, and not stay here with you?”

“I’m a relic, sis. You’re the future of CHS now, not me.” Luna swore that for a second, a brief ghost of sorrow and regret passed over her sister’s face. “Go be that boss your faculty deserves.”

“Hey, are you getting maudlin on us, Tia?” She turned to see Harshwhinny approach, a grin on her face and a wine cooler in her hand. “This is supposed to be a time when we’re unwinding! Lord knows, we can be serious tomorrow when we’re dealing with recalcitrant brats and reprobates.”

“Remind me why you’re a teacher again, Winnie?” Luna asked.

“Because strippers and pole dancers don’t pay as well?” the woman laughed.

Celestia gave a grin. “Fair enough. But seriously, if I can let reality intrude for a moment….”

“Typical Tia. This party’s for you and you’re talking work!” Bulk muttered as he walked up to grab a burger.

“Hey, seriously. I’m just curious to know what you plan to do for tomorrow’s incoming assembly. The change of leadership isn’t the only one you have to acknowledge, folks. There are the students who aren’t coming back…and I’m not talking about the ones that moved or graduated.”

A silent pall suddenly sank over the gathering as they realized what she meant. “Something wrong?” Neighsay asked.

“At least one of our students was a victim of the Dead Hand Killings over the summer,” Kibbitz told him. “Between that, the freak hurricane and the earthquake two weeks ago, it’s been a rough summer here in Canterlot.”

“There’s also the rumors going around about both Fluttershy and Sunset Shimmer,” Cherilee added. “Honestly, I’m not sure which is weirder.”

“The rumors are true,” Celestia told them. “Fluttershy is the daughter of Discord and Sunset Shimmer is a long-lost French princess who met her birth mother over the course of the last few weeks.”

“Great! As if shit wasn’t weird enough,” Harshwhinny groaned.

“Winnie…Fluttershy’s parentage hasn’t really affected her. Just because she’s the daughter of a rock star doesn’t mean that she’s the same as he is.”

“That’s true,” Raven commented. “She’s always been, well, shy.”

“Likewise, Sunset Shimmer has changed quite a bit over the last year,” Luna added. “She’s not the same girl that she used to be, and you have to take into account that everything that has been published publicly about her is true.”

Peachbottom looked at her fellow teachers and said, “I’ve been following the case over the summer. As one of the school’s counselors, it’s my job. And everything I was able to find out about Sunset Shimmer over the course of the year? I’m frankly amazed, given her upbringing, that she merely ended up as an overkill queen bee rather than something much, much worse. Folks, she was raised by a criminal, and then for the past four years lived by herself, homeless, in an abandoned factory. I don’t know about you, but half the kids I know in our school can’t live without their cellphones for five minutes much less manage to lead a life for years without adult supervision.

“Tia and Luna, you two know more than anyone else about Sunset’s case. We know she’s changed…but we haven’t seen her during the summer, obviously. What’s changed?”

“Tia and I know her adoptive mother and I can assure you: Sunset has changed,” Luna informed them, sprinkling a bit of truth in before the bold-faced lie came about. “Furthermore, we’ve been told by her adoptive mother that Sunset was just as surprised to find out about her true parentage. She’s not sure how to take it, but the fact that she was already living with a wealthy foster family that adopted her was a shock enough to her. For her to now be a literal princess with an inheritance that makes her potentially the richest person within a 500-mile radius?”

“I’m glad Velvet has a good head on her shoulders,” Celestia added, with a hint of amusement. “I’m not sure what I’d do in that situation.”

“I’d say, give her a chance. Hell, give them both a chance.” They all looked at Cranky Doodle, whose words were surprising, given that he’d always stated a mistrust of Sunset. “You remember last year, when Homecoming happened and that exchange student showed Sunset up? When the school’s façade fell apart? That night, I swear I thought I saw that girl turn into a demon.”

Luna and Celestia looked at each other oddly, before Harshwhinny called out, “Yeah, I remember that. You later told us that medication you were on also made you see a talking purple dog and some other things.”

“Yup, glad they changed my dosage – my wife thought I was some kinda high-ass hippie,” he said with a gruff laugh. “Anyway, I think we all know what that girl is capable of at her worst. And yet, she’s never done anything that’s landed her in anything other than detention. Certainly not suspension or expulsion, though in hindsight, maybe we would’ve found out what her real home life was if we had.” He took a swig of his beer and said, “Anyway, given what Peach just told us, I’m willing to give her a chance. Maybe she’s a spoiled fucking princess, or maybe we’ll find out that now, she’s a regal one. Either way, we won’t find out until we give her that chance.”

“Fair enough,” Will told them. “Always glad to see our students improve themselves.”

“Hey, that’s enough sobriety for now,” Raven commented. “We’ve got the rest of the day to unwind! We can worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes, right?”

“Yeah, let’s just relax for now,” Tofu agreed, and the unofficial faculty conference broke off once again into various discussions as the staff of Canterlot High let themselves unwind once more.

Both Celestia and Luna breathed a sigh of relief.

“Are you sure about this, Sunset?” Carrot Cake asked her. Seated in the offices of Sugarcube Corner Café, both the Cakes and Sunset discussed what was to come.

“Very,” Sunset told them. “After the past month, I need normalcy in my life. I need to know what it’s like to be a normal girl again.”

Cup gave her employee a knowing smile. “I’m sure every princess out there would say that being a princess is perfectly normal, your highness.”

Sunset groaned. “Please don’t do that.”

“She’s only joking, of course,” Carrot told her. “You were Sunset to us before all this happened and I don’t see why that would change.”

“Thanks, guys. So, please, give it some thought. I’m not going to be hurt or offended by it if you decide to give the job to Garden. She needs it far more than I do, and we know she can do the job.”

“We had always planned on something like that someday if she planned to stay with the company,” Cup admitted, “but this…this is, admittedly, very selfless of you, Sunny. I hope you don’t mind us saying this, but we’re proud of you.”

Sunset blushed deeply. “Really, it’s what anyone would have done.”

“No, it’s not. I know you don’t need the money, but not just anyone would turn down a higher-paying job because someone else needed it.” Cup smiled, then leaned forward across the desk. “Regardless, I’m not going to let you get off that easy. We were planning to give Garden a pay raise for being the senior company waitress anyway, and so with what we were planning to pay you as the assistant manager, I think we can still afford to do that and pay Garden the salary she’ll need, won’t we, dear?”

From where he sat, Carrot nodded. “I think so. Means we’ll probably have to put off the Autumn-O-Rama promotional cups this year, but I think given the pumpkin spice overload that our competition keeps bringing up, I think we’re safe in doing that,” he admitted with a smile.

“Well, in that case, we’ll give her a call and set something up. When do you think you’ll be able to come back to work? If we’re going to be switching things out, we’ll need you back soon.”

Sunset slunk back in her chair, relieved that everything was going to work out. She hadn’t used her powers, and that was for the best, all things considered. “Will Tuesday be okay? I want to get back into the swing of things at school and I suspect given my public profile as of late, the first day of school tomorrow is going to be…interesting.”

“I don’t envy you at all, Sunset. I still remember how high school can be at that age and I didn’t have to deal with the additional pressures you do. Still, if you ever need someone to talk to, you know where to find us.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Cake, Mr. Cake. I know it’s been a rough month having to deal without both me and Soni, but we won’t let you down.”

“I’m sure you won’t, dear. You haven’t since you came to work for us.”

As Sunset left the café, she felt a lot better about things. Sure, she didn’t need the money at all, but maybe she could figure out a way to use it in charities discreetly. She would have to ask the triplets about that, as she was sure Sonata probably had some experience in that regard. If not, she was sure Derpy probably did.

She looked at the time on her phone and realized she had a lot more time on her hands than she expected. As she walked to her car, she considered calling Rarity and seeing if she wanted to go shopping; it felt like forever since the two of them had last hung out together. Maybe we can grab Flutters and make a day of it, she thought to herself.


Hearing Pinkie’s voice immediately put those thoughts to a halt. She knew her friend and the sound of said speaker was exhausted and haggard. Sure enough, Sunset turned to see a Pinkie who looked as though she hadn’t had any sleep in the prior night.

“Are you okay, Pinks?” Sunset asked, genuinely concerned.

“Do…do you have time to talk?” Pinkie asked.

“Sure. Let’s go somewhere. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Somewhere where we can be alone and talk without being disturbed,” Pinkie said, yawning. “Sorry, I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“Sure. I can think of a place or two, if you want. Plus, where I’m thinking, you can sleep in the car along the way.”

The cheerleader gave her a wan smile. “Works for me.”

A couple of hours later, the two were sitting on the Horseshoe Bay pier, Pinkie nuzzled against Sunset’s shoulder, both munching on the highly traditional Horseshoe Bay snack of “Crab Cobs” – elotes seasoned with Old Bay spice. “A breezy afternoon, lazing on the pier with my babe? You really know how to treat a girl, Sunny.”

Sunset sighed. She had to end this. She really had to. “Look, Pinkie….”

“I know what you’re going to say, so let me stop you,” Pinkie said, without looking at her. Her voice sounded sad and wistful. “Sunny…I love you. This isn’t some silly schoolgirl crush that I’ve settled on, nor is it some artifact of the thread that was within me. It’s…I have no other way to say it. I love you so much that it hurts sometimes. I’m always afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing that will push you away from me, because I’m so screwed up.”

“Believe me, Pinkie, you’re not the only one who thinks that.” Mainly because I have no idea how I’m going to get out of this mess! Sunset thought to herself.

Pinkie chuckled, and spoke once more:

“It’s too bad if a heart lacks fire,
And is deprived of the light
Of a heart ablaze.
The day on which you are
Without passionate love
Is the most wasted day of your life.”

Sunset looked at her. “I didn’t know they had The Somnambulat here.”

Pinkie smiled. “No, that’s from The Rubiyat – it’s a tenth century book of Persian poetry. What’s The Somnambulat?”

“I presume it’s the Equestrian equivalent. A book of poetry written in the pre-classical era by the priestess Somnambula. It’s considered one of the great books of romantic love.”

Pinkie blushed. “I dreamt last night that you and I were in a great marbled palace. That you lay before me, on a bed of silks, dressed in satins and gold. And all I could do was to prostrate myself before your greatness, feed you grapes and sing to you quatrains of a time long gone.”

“Pinkie, that sounds way too much like worship, and I don’t—”

“I know. I love you. I idolize you and I ache for you, Sunny. But I don’t want to worship you. If I did that, I would lose myself and my reasons for loving you. Relationships are built on equality, not on a lop-sided tug of war where one has all the advantages and the other begs for table scraps, real or imagined. I don’t want that for us.” Pinkie’s eyes gazed into Sunset’s. “I…I’m not sure how to say this….”

“Pinkie, listen, I—”

“I want you to make the first move.” The words tumbled out of Pinkie’s mouth, unbidden. “I don’t want to feel like a seductress, like I’m becoming someone to lord over you. And I don’t want to worship you, to beg for your affections. I want you to come to me for me, Sunny. I want you to love me for who I am.”

“Pinkie, I’m—”

“Not the happy-go-lucky cheerleader and party girl everyone knows. The girl I am: one who likes reading classical texts. One who loves museums, and poetry, long walks and calm nights by a fireplace.” She blushed again and added, “One that can effortlessly get lost in your beautiful cyan eyes, like I’m adrift on the Caribbean.”

Sunset sighed; this is exactly how she got caught up last time. She wasn’t going to let that happen again. “Pinkie…we can’t. I….”

“I know. We both need time to take this slowly.” Pinkie smiled, and Sunset saw the usual girl she knew, not the one bent on taking her heart. “I am your friend as well as your girlfriend, your courtier and your bride…but that last part isn’t for a while.” She smiled sadly again. “I don’t want to be like Rose, giving you an ultimatum – ‘fuck me or else I go back to Ward’. I would never do that to you. I never could.”

“Pinkie, she didn’t—”

“You don’t have to cover for her,” Pinkie said with surprising venom. “That bitch can be devious. I overheard her tell Shimmy she’s going to be her sister-in-law someday. Over my dead body, that’s for sure…and I sure as hell am not rolling over.”

“Pinkie, would you listen to yourself?” Sunset told her, not letting her friend interrupt her.

“I….” Pinkie frowned. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Sorry. I’m probably going to be like this for a while. Damaged and adjusting to a real relationship, because I’ve never had one until I met you.” Sunset wanted to point out to her that they weren’t in a relationship, but at the same time, she realized that with Pinkie’s state of mind, that would probably be the worst thing to say at the moment.

Pinkie took a long breath and repressed the lovesick girl in favor of the manic pixie girl everyone knew. “That’s why I’ll wait. For as long as it takes. Until my dying breath and the end of time, Sunny. Because I love you, and because I want you to love me as much as I do you. And I won’t lie: it’s going to be hard for me, I know it. Just…please be patient with me. I’m probably not going to be the best girlfriend I can be, because I’m really not sure I’m doing it right. But I want to be the best for you, not just some abstract ‘the best’.” She punctuated the last with air quotes.

Sunset couldn’t help but be sincere in her next words, because they were the truth: “You’re a lot more romantic than Flash ever was, that’s for sure. For him, romance was dinner just before a ride in the sack.”

“Then I’ll make sure I never do that.” The look in Pinkie’s eyes was serious. “You are more to me than just ‘some girl’. I am yours forever, Sunny. I will always be yours. That is my fate and my wyrd. I won’t ever leave your side, metaphorically and maybe literally. I dare not treat you like ‘some girl’.” She snuggled up against Sunset again. “So I’ll wait and be content until I have your lips.”

Pinkie then sang a soft melody:

“Kiss me with your mouth,
Your love is better than wine
But wine is all I have –
Will your love ever be mine?”

The Rubiyat again?” Sunset asked.

Pinkie chuckled. “No, Lilac Time. 80s singer, was the original vocalist for Duran Duran. I’ve always liked his work.”

Pinkie looked into Sunset’s eyes, blue gazing into cyan once more. The former’s lips moved furtively…

…and paused, turning to kiss Sunset on the cheek. “I meant what I said. It won’t be easy for me, my love. But you’re worth waiting for.” She snuggled closer to Sunset, listening to the rhythm of the latter’s heartbeat, and before she knew it, she was softly dozing.

Sunset, however, felt the crushing weight of the metaphorical iceberg that slammed into the Titanic. She couldn’t break Pinkie’s heart. She didn’t love her that way. She couldn’t. Maybe – maybe – centuries from now, but Sunset really, really, doubted it; if she was attracted to girls, she could have easily dated someone – or somepony – else of her own gender by now.

And yet here she was, as straight as an arrow, with her girlfriend leaning against her. A self-declared girlfriend that Sunset loved too much (in the very much platonic sense) to hurt.

They stayed that way, Sunset watching her namesake occur as the sun sank over the Pacific horizon. They still had a two-hour drive back home, maybe get dinner along the way, and then prepare for school tomorrow.

Not wanting to wake Pinkie because she looked so exhausted, Sunset swallowed her embarrassment and scooped Pinkie up, sweeping her off her feet like a bride carried over a threshold – and she really hoped no one she knew was around to see it.

“I love you,” she heard Pinkie murmur and felt Pinkie’s nuzzling her neck and followed by soft kisses as whatever dreams the cheerleader had were impacting her sleeping form.

Setting her in the car, Sunset got into the driver’s seat and turned on the air conditioning full blast, hoping the cold air would remove the full-body blush of mortification she had going on right now. Hopefully it would go away by the time they got to the Equestria County line.

Finally, after getting Pinkie home, Sunset walked into the house. She was tired and told her parents she was just going to skip dinner.

“So how was your date?” Aria asked her.

“Ari, for the final time—”

“—it was a date,” Aria said, crossing her arms. “You just told your parents you and Pinkie went out to Horseshoe Bay. You claimed that you needed to talk to her in private, but couldn’t you have just gone to Everfree Glades or Ponyville, which is half the distance? No, you went to Horseshoe Bay, with its scenic views and romantic boardwalk.”

Sunset looked at her slack-jawed.

“You can’t help but dig yourself in deeper, can you?”

Sunset facepalmed. “Fuck. Ari…I….”

“Look, Sunny, I don’t care if you’re lesbian, bi, or just stupid. The point is that if you don’t want to date Pinkie, don’t do shit she’s going to clearly misunderstand. Hard to look romantic when you’re in the stench of horse ranches out in Ponyville, right?”

“Wow,” Sunset said flatly, “you really know how to work on someone’s feelings. You should get a job with Hallmark.”

Aria brushed it off. “Hey, it’s the job of family to tell you what you need to hear sometimes, right? Just consider it one of my many talents.”

“Yeah, whatever. Anyway, I’m just going to go upstairs for a bit and prep my clothes for tomorrow. You might be lucky enough to only have to wear a uniform, but I have to dress to impress.”

“Yeah, but impress who is the question?” Aria called back as Sunset trudged up the stairs.

As Sunset reached her room, her phone went off. The first five texts were from Pinkie, with hugs and kisses…and one fully-nude image, which Sunset made a mental note to chew Pinkie out for sexting her. Even if I was dating her – and I’m not! – I’m not going to let her do that to herself! The next text was from Rarity, asking her if she was ready for tomorrow and what she planned to wear so they could all wear matching colors as her unofficial retinue. The one after that was one from Shimmer, letting her know that they’d landed safely at Orly and that she missed her big sister. Sunset couldn’t help but smile at that.

Sunset was just about to set her phone on the charger when a final text came in from Fluttershy, asking her to meet at her old house at 7:30 in the morning. Apparently she had a surprise planned for all of them for their first day of school and it was actually her father’s idea. Sunset smiled at that as well; knowing Discord, it probably was to pull out all the stops given that this would be his first day as the parent of a kid in school – well, to him, anyway. Part of her imagined a massive soundstage being put in the CHS parking lot so his band could perform during lunch, but maybe he actually wanted to be a parent. She didn’t know.

She lit the dragonfire candle, back in her room once more; while she was sure that things were safe for it to be used in its original setting, it now had a limiter spell on it that would send it downstairs into containment if the transport flame got higher than three inches. Its green flame came alive, and then coalesced into ash, which in turn materialized into a wooden box much like the one that her mother had sent her weeks ago after her last visit to Equestria.

Opening it, she found a note from Raven Quill, her mother’s seneschal, congratulating her on her ascension and that the following scrolls were to be delivered as soon as Sunset touched them. The letter explained that they were official invites from Princess Celestia to her human family and presumptive court inviting them to Equestria during the week of Rising Solstice for the occasion of the coronation and investiture of Sunset Shimmer as the Princess of Seekers.

Princess of Seekers? Sunset wondered what the hell that was supposed to imply. After all, her mother was Princess of the Sun, her aunt Princess of the Moon, Twilight was Princess of Friendship and Cadance was Princess of Love. But what the hell was the Princess of Seekers?

The first postscript was an official note from Raven stating that Princess Luna had provisionally authorized the deployment of the Special Initiative, Royal Equestrian Navy, pursuant to the Lord Admiral of the Fleet’s final approval. Sunset grinned at that; despite the fact that she hadn’t been too happy about finding out that her cousins were risking their neck for her, it was good to see that Aria’s wish that “SIREN” be changed to something of worth had come true.

The last part was a personal note from Raven asking if Sunset could come a few days early, at her convenience, so that Celestia could explain it all – and also to see family, because it was clear the solar alicorn missed her daughter dearly.

Sunset felt a bit emotionally touched at that; even as an adult mare, she guessed she would always be her mother’s filly. Sunset then responded that she would as soon as she worked things out locally. She then lit the letter, sending it on the way. Finally, she opened the box, and the various scrolls within started to vanish in flashes of golden light, the telltale magic of Princess Celestia’s aura at work even from a reality away.

Sunset then felt, for just a moment, the warm sensation of two large wings envelop her in a loving embrace. She knew it didn’t happen, of course, but the sympathetic magic spell had been placed there to make it clear: her mother would always love her. Even through all that they’d been through, Princess Celestia loved her daughter and would always do so.

Sunset wiped tears of joy from her eyes as the sensation vanished. She owed it to her mother to visit Equestria again as soon as she could.

That done, she went to her closet to try to figure out what to wear for the first day of school tomorrow. Rarity had already sent out a list of the colors and style she would be wearing, and Sunset had to see what she had that would match it. Hell, even Rainbow, of all people, had volunteered to wear a skirt tomorrow for this coordination, so it had to be momentous.

Tomorrow, after all, was the first day of a new adventure.

August 31: Here's Where the Story Ends

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As was tradition for her and her friends, during the first day of school, Shimmer sat down to a lunchtime picnic on the park grounds across the street from her school. Seated underneath the shade of a sturdy tree, they ate sandwiches and chatted about their time while the radio one of them had brought along was set to Radio Nova. Playing over the speakers was “Dancing in Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop)”, the latest single from Midnight Moondust.

“And you were actually there to film the music video?” Priceless asked, stunned after Shimmer explained a bit about the song.

Shimmer nodded. “Yeah. My sister knows Midnight Moondust personally; apparently Midge is an old friend of hers or something. Anyway, since we were in LA, we went down and filmed the music video. You’ll see both me and Sunny in the background of the video if you’re careful.”

Night Lily shook her head and grinned. “Sounds like you had a far better time than you were expecting. I mean, you were originally going just to attend your grandmother’s funeral, right?”

Beachcomber took a bite of her sandwich and leaned back against a tree. “Yeah, she was broken up as hell about that, too. And then all of a sudden you find your literally long-lost twin sister. I mean, that’s just mind blowing, you know?”

“Well, technically we’re both the surviving triplets, but I guess you could call us twins for the sake of argument,” Shimmer said, thinking of Sunset, who, given the nine-hour time difference, was probably nestled asleep in her bed right now.

“So, you haven’t told us much about her yet. She’s got the same name as you, right?”

“Yeah, apparently that was just grand coincidence that her kidnapper had done that,” Shimmer explained. “But since she prefers to go by her first name, and I go by my second, it’s easy to tell us apart. Plus, she’s taller than me.” The teen brought out her phone and thumbed it over to a picture of both her and her twin, showing it to her friends.

“Wow, she’s like almost a foot taller than you, Shimmy!” Beachcomber exclaimed.

“Thanks for making me feel short, Beachie,” Shimmer grumbled.

“Well, she also looks more, uh, ‘developed’ than you? Like she’s reached her adult body faster?” Priceless commented. “If anything, she looks like you’ll look in a couple more years or so.”

Eh, she’s probably more developed because all the chemicals in the diet back home,” Night Lily added. “Unfortunately American companies put all kinds of shit in everything.”

“Yeah, probably,” Shimmer agreed. “Still, it doesn’t bother me. We figured out she’s the older of us, so I guess it sorta makes sense that she looks older.”

“So, what’s she like?”

Shimmer allowed fond memories of the girl she considered her sister. She’d see Sunset again someday; they were, after all, family. “In a word?” the flame-haired girl asked. When her friends nodded, Shimmer could only say one thing.

“To be honest, I guess the best way I can describe her is, well, magical.”

Sunset was the last to come down the stairs. Given that she didn’t have to take a shower in the mornings (yay for cleanliness spells and natural alicorn perfection!) it allowed her to sleep in while the other five girls her age slowly ran up the water bill. Finally, however, her phone chimed telling her it was time to get up, which she reluctantly did. She cast her spell, slipped on her clothing and went downstairs to begin her day.

As she did, she looked at everyone, already seated around the table. “Morning, sleepy!” Velvet said as her oldest daughter approached them.

“Heya, all,” Sunset chirped as she plopped into a chair and grabbed a scone; with the exception of her father, she was the only one not in a uniform or business attire. “I kinda feel out of place.”

“Well, you could switch over to Zacherle with us,” Twilight teased.

“Not on your life, sis.”

“Well, this should be fun: we’re juniors now! The experienced ones of the school!” Sonata squealed. “All the little freshmen are going to come up to us and ask for advice and I’m going to look down at them and say, ‘Survive’.” She narrowed her eyes as she said it, taking on a gruff, hardened look. She then relented and added, “And when they’re scared out of their wits, I’m going to sit back and I’m gonna laugh.”

“Soni….” Octavia sighed.


“Seriously, though, it is kinda sad that you can’t join us, sis,” Twilight told her.

“You make it sound as though I’m going to go away,” Sunset told her. “Trust me, I’ll be home tonight. Things should be okay.”

“Well, I won’t be here,” Night said. “We’re filming in upstate New York this week, followed by a few days in LA, so I won’t be home until next week.”

“At least you’re coming home,” Adagio told him. “We went through years of that not happening.”

“I know. I wish I could have prevented that,” Night told her, “but all I can promise is that I’ll come for all of you.”

Adagio rushed over, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. “That’s all I’m hoping for.” When everyone looked at her oddly, she just gave a smirk and said, “So I’m a Daddy’s girl. Should’ve figured that one out by now, folks.”

“Whatevs,” Sunset commented as she munched on a bagel. She then looked at the time. “Well, I need to get going to Fluttershy’s old place; apparently Mr. Discord has something planned.”

Velvet rolled her eyes as she took a drink of coffee. “Why am I not surprised?” She then looked around and said, “But before you go, sweetie, I want to take a picture of all of you so that I can send it to your grandparents.” She pulled out her phone, then had them stand up and line up.

“Really, Mom?” Spike asked uncomfortably.

“Trust me, Spike: pictures of grandkids are like catnip to grandparents,” Sonata told him. “My grandmother has a ton of pictures of me and my sisters back in Vancouver and it seems like she never has enough.”

“I guess I’ll put that theory to the test in a decade once Shiny and Cady have their kids,” Velvet said with a smile as she gestured for the kids to all bunch together for a shot. “Then I can wait on you all.” Collective groans were uttered and Velvet chose that exact moment to take the picture.

“You’re not going to send the picture like that, are you?” Octavia asked. “My grandmother would have a fit!”

“Relax, Tavi – I don’t even have any way of contacting your maternal grandmother, so you’re safe for now.”

“I’m just as concerned as my other grandparents getting it as well,” Octavia countered. Spike, Twilight and Sunset, recalling Nachtlict and Calliope, shuddered at that.

“Oh, that’s right: she hasn’t met our paternal grandparents yet, has she?” Adagio asked. “Aunt Velvet, do you have plans for them to come visit soon?”

“Not sure, but that would be a wonderful idea!” Velvet insisted. “I’ll see if I can get my parents to come up for a weekend. But enough of that. You all have to get to school, and I need to get Spike to school and then drop off Night at the airport before I get to my own job.” She sighed. “Looks like life is back to normal.”

Night gave his wife a loving kiss on the cheek. “Thank God for that.”

It was kind of embarrassing, really.

Raspberry Beryl had been back from her “vacation” to Earth for a week now and she’d only been home for one day before she was called off to archmagus business. Today’s trip was to the Endless Vale, a tiny town near the Siren Shoals, where all-too-familiar obsidian crystals had been growing. Strangest thing was, she’d never been to this location before.

Accompanying her was a huge, bulking earth mare by the name of Embiggen, who, by the looks of things, could best be described as “the theoretical offspring of Bulk Biceps, Big Mac and Fluttershy all at the same time.” The massive mare was looked even more shy than the retiring pegasus, and Raspberry couldn’t even figure out how that was possible, much less for her to be a guard.

“Well, um, there’s really, um, only one career path for me given my size,” she said, while blushing. “I really don’t like it. I really don’t want to hurt anypony, but ponies…think I’m big and scary and I guess that counts?” She would have hid behind her mane if it wasn’t for the fact that guard grooming regulations required mares to have short manes, and her bobbed mane did not allow the luxury of hiding.

“Well, I’m sure this is a routine thing, so I wouldn’t really worry about it,” Raspberry said, glad that she’d convinced Heliodor to stay at home. The rocky, unending seaside around here was nearly devoid of any greenery or vegetation and likely would have bored him to death. For that matter, it really looked as though it would bore anypony to death, so it made her wonder why anypony would settle down here.

“We’re almost there,” the lead pegasus pulling the skychariot called back. Out here, there was no train service, so in order to get there in a timely fashion, she had to arrange for a chariot. Thankfully, there were plenty of guards available, several of whom had wanted to hear the story about the “dead mare who didn’t really die”; her extended trip to Earth had caused some pretty interesting talk around the guard garrison and she wanted to put those rumors to rest.

After circling a few times, the chariot finally came down on some dunes in front of a very small seaside village, the kind one usually saw in paintings or postcards. Not quite a fishing village, given the tell-tale signs of seaweed farming offshore, but enough to make her wonder why this place was called “Endless Vale”.

“Because there’s a valley just under the surface of the ocean where we grow all our seaweed,” a voice said. Raspberry saw an older pony standing there, probably about the same age as Granny Smith, if she had to guess. But where Granny was all frailty and age, this mare had a look of eternal youth and age at the same time, all the wrinkles but with a body in healthy enough condition still that she was nearly as fit as the guard.

“Hello, I’m Sargasso, the mayor of this little town. And you must be the Archmagus! An honor and pleasure to meet you, your highness.” They bumped hooves, and Sargasso signaled for a few of her people. “They’ll take care of your folks while we attend to business. And what a doozy it is!”

“Thanks,” Raspberry said as she followed Sargasso. “So what seems to be the problem?”

“Well, about a year ago, I had this lovely opal brooch my daughter got me from Canterlot…she works for the palace, one of the princess’ maids, so she got me this wonderful brooch from Rarity for You for my birthday. It was just lovely, you know? Unfortunately, I lost it a couple of days later.”

Rarity for You…isn’t that Rarity’s jewelry business? The one I made gems for? A pit began to sink into her stomach. “Let me guess…oversized black pillar of obsidian?”

The mayor gave an awkward grimace. “Not…quite,” Sargasso stated as she pointed at the area in front of them.

The first thing Raspberry wondered was how the hell she missed something as large as that from the air. That thing must be the size of Twilight’s nightmare castle! she thought.

A massive latticework of black obsidian, bigger and taller than the castle, tore out from the center of town, carrying at least three homes with it. The ground around it swelled with a deep red energy, and it looked evil. Raspberry could sense her own magic there, but…something had, for lack of a better word, “contaminated” it. She had never seen anything like it before.

As if to answer her questions, Sargasso mused, “Bebop Blister…she used to be a maid as well, before she retired and moved back here…thinks that it must involve the Hungerstones, somehow.”

“The Hungerstones?” Raspberry asked.

“You’re not familiar with them, your grace? I….” Sargasso immediately shut up, as if she was now withholding something she did not wish to talk about.

“Mrs. Sargasso, I am an Archmagus of Equestria. There is little I don’t know about the magical intricacies and intrigues of the Crown. If you’re hiding something from me….”

“No!” the older mare exclaimed. “No, I mean….” She paused. “Do you know about the Hooves?”

“I do,” Raspberry stated.

“Then you know that the majority of them come from this region, correct?” When the look on Raspberry’s face indicated she didn’t know that, Sargasso gave a terse smile and said, “Endless Vale is a kelp farming village. We’re composed of the candidates that weren’t fit to be part of the Hooves, or for various reasons have chosen not to be that. But between this town, and some of the others on the Sirenian Coast, we still have our myths and legends. Like that of the Frozen Tomb, or the Hungerstones.” She gestured forward, and the two continued walking.

“Both of those sound ominous,” Raspberry admitted.

“Yes. The Frozen Tomb is supposedly the burial place of the queen that had enslaved my people, until her highness freed us,” Sargasso explained. “The Queen and her generals – or daughters; I’m not sure which one is correct to the myth – had mystic weapons called Hungerstones, precious gems filled with an arcane power that…well, you know of what Tirek did to ponies by stealing their magic, correct? The Hungerstones were said to be capable of doing that and so much more.

“Darkness calls to darkness, I believe. I think whatever was in that Rarity for You stone must have somehow resonated with the Hungerstones, or something magical in the area.”

“You believe the Hungerstones are real?”

“Your grace, I have lived a very long time, and even though I have not had the honor of serving as one of her highness’ Hooves, I know there are things that go bump in the night. Things that ponies shirk from and things that make our kind fear claws that scratch and teeth that gnash.” She looked at the massive monstrosity that had claimed a good portion of her town, then at the sea in the nearby distance. “It would not in the least surprise me if the Hungerstones – or the Frozen Tomb – are real.”

As Sunset pulled up to the house where Fluttershy used to live, she saw something she hadn’t expected: a large stretch limousine, its engine running and ready to depart at any moment. A few of the neighbors looked on in surprise, and in the center of the ad hoc circus of attention, with a gleeful look on his face, was Discord. He was dressed not as “Mr. Discord”, i.e. the man that Sunset knew to be Fluttershy’s father, but Discord, rock star extraordinaire.

As she got out of her car and approached, he walked over and grinned. “Hey, so how’s it hanging?”

“Not a guy, sorry, they don’t hang.”

“Oh, trust me, they will. Give it a few decades, but when you’re old and gray, they’ll hang and sag and you’ll want enough plastic surgery done that they’ll tighten them ‘till your nipples are somewhere around your back.” As he approached, he bent down and whispered in her ear, “There are two newsvans parked down the street, obviously for the sake of me and my daughter. I know what you’ve been going through and I can sympathize.”

“Really?” she asked.

He gave her a shit-eating grin but continued to whisper: “You’ve been through a lot these past two weeks, according to Fluttershy. I want to offer my sympathies on that. The world of celebrity is stifling and hateful, and I hope you can adjust to that quickly. I fear they’re not going to leave you be anytime soon.”

“Is that why you’re dressed in your, uh, work attire?”

He nodded. “You don’t think I’d wear skintight alligator leather pants for fun, do you? Honestly, they chafe.” He ushered her over to the limo, quick as could be. Looking at the camera, he mugged and said, “Sorry, just tossing the tyke in the playpen, you know?”

“Tyke?” Sunset blurted but didn’t have time to wait for an answer as she was literally pulled into the limousine. She didn’t have much time to react and landed gracelessly.

“Rainbow? Don’t do that again.”
“Oh, I don’t know, I don’t mind.”
“Yeah, figures you wouldn’t.” A pause. “Sorry about that, Sunny.”

Sunset, after a few seconds, realized where she was: namely, splayed out across the laps of three particular girls…and her head was buried in the lap of one particular pair of all-too-familiar stonewashed jeans. She immediately tried to push herself and roll off her friends at the same time, only to end up crashing on the floorboard of the limousine.

From above her now-floored position, she could hear Pinkie pout. “Awww….”

“Pinkie, that is inappropriate!” she heard Rarity admonish.

“Maybe for you. Some of us like—”

“Don’t you dare finish that statement, sugar,” warned Applejack as she reached down to help Sunset up. “Hey, care for a seat like normal people?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Sunset said, shifting to a seat. She then looked next to her and saw Fluttershy sitting there, giving her a sympathetic look.

“Sorry about this, Sunny,” she said. “Dad thought it would be a good way to take the heat off of you and me during our first day back at school.”

“How? Refuge in audacity?” Sunset asked.

“Something like that.”

Meanwhile, Rainbow was scratching her head and blushing slightly. “Um…sorry about that,” she apologized. “Pulled a little harder than I expected.”

“No problem,” Sunset replied, just glad to be in a seat. “You three okay?”

“I’ve been better,” Rarity blushed, “though I’m more concerned about you, Sunset, dear. You weren’t hurt, were you?”

“Naah, I’m fine, though being dragged into a limousine and onto someone’s lap is a rather new experience.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Pinkie said, as a lascivious grin came to her face, “I could think of a few ways we could liven it up….”

“Pinkie….” Sunset sighed.

Pinkie then realized what she was doing and then frowned. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” she said softly. “Sorry.”

“Hey, hey, no frowning! Turn that frown upside down or some clichéd comment,” Discord said as he climbed into the passenger seat next to the limo driver. He had on mirror shades and that plastic smile still. “Dunno, I’m still working on my PTA credentials or something.” A brief frown flitted across his face as he added, “Hey, you guys think I need to get a Trapper Keeper or something? Maybe a Pee Chee folder or two?” When his comments were met with blank stares, he said, “Please don’t tell me I’m an analog parent living in a digital world. I don’t think my nostalgia could take it.”

“Don’t worry about it, Dad,” Fluttershy assured him. “We get it.”

“Good. Because tomorrow I get to do this again with your brother and I’m sure that’s going to be even more awkward.” A flicker of awkward concerned parent washed over his face before he settled back into his goofy chaotic grin. After a few seconds, he said, “I’m going to close the blinders so that you’ll all have time to talk about…girl stuff—” He made a disgusted face, but it was clearly meant in jest, “—while we’re on the way to the school.”

Rarity looked at Fluttershy. “Will your father be okay? I mean, I understand he still prefers to keep his performer persona separate from his everyday bit….”

Fluttershy smiled in response and leaned back in the plush seats. “It’s okay. I think Dad knows now that it’s really too late to turn back the clock, especially now that the world knows Angel and I exist. I think mostly he’s trying to square what the world knows of him with the father he’s had to be from afar and the father he’s trying to be now that everything is out. Besides, he told me that he’s worked with the chauffeur before, so he’s trustworthy – we won’t end up with our info splattered all over the news or worse.”

It was then that Sunset noted that Fluttershy had something underneath her seat, something that caught her attention. “What’s that, Flutters?”

“Oh, you’ll see,” Fluttershy said with a simple grin that implied she was up to something.

“No, seriously, Flutters.”

“I’d just let it go, Sunny,” Rainbow advised. “She has a plan and she wants it to be a surprise. Personally, I’d like to know what it is myself, but I’m not going to push her for it.”

“Well, I for one am surprised,” Rarity admitted. “I would have never thought that our dear Fluttershy would be insistent about not discussing something. I suppose she’s changed over the course of the last year.”

“Ah suppose we all have,” Applejack said, though she didn’t comment further.

“I know I have – for good and for bad,” Pinkie admitted. “And I’m not talking about the way I feel regarding you, Sunny.” Her eyes drifted towards the sliding pane that the adults in the front controlled.

Sunset nodded and snapped her fingers; a small burst of cyan light came from them. “Okay, we have complete privacy,” she told them. “You can say whatever you want.”

“Okay. What I was saying was….” She held out her hand, and a sphere of bright blue appeared in her palm. “I told you I already had to use my powers once before. I’m sure Cov, Jolly and the others won’t say anything – they were just too happy that I ended Hope’s reign of terror. But it makes me wonder about what I can do now and stuff. I really haven’t thought about it much since I’ve been focused on other things, but….”


“You offered Shimmer training when she manifested magic…and I’ve had it for far longer without any training.” She gave Sunset a sober look. “I think I’m going to need to know how to control it, because I’m a lot stronger than I used to be, and that’s the only thing I know. There could be other things as well.”

“Well,” Sunset admitted, “that does make sense, given that your counterpart’s an earth pony—”

“A what?” Applejack asked.

“An earth pony. Earth as in ground, not the planet – my native homeworld’s name is Equus, though the other races call it something else in their languages. Anyway, I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but earth ponies are the ones most like regular horses here. That being said, they’re a lot stronger, both in terms of draw power and whatnot. Think of them as, well, like superheroes with superstrength and the like, and that’s the average earth pony. They’re also amazing at growing things. AJ, your counterpart is a farmer and nearly single-handedly – or rather, single-hoofedly – runs a farm that would take at least a dozen farmhands here, if not more.”

“Um…okay,” Applejack said, recalling her own time on the farm and the events of March. “So if she’s a farmer, Ah’m guessing she’s an earth pony as well? If that’s the case, Ah might want to get some training, too.”

“Did you manifest your powers as well, AJ?” Sunset asked.

A thoughtful look came across Rarity’s face and she shifted in her chair. “Keep in mind that Twilight – the princess, not your sister – channeled the power of magic through us to deal with your, ahem, possession. Likewise, you did the same for us when it came to Chernabog. It probably means the magic is deep within us now, and if we’ve had to use our powers twice….”

“Yeah! Superpowers! I wanna see exactly what I can do! Maybe I can fly and shit or shoot laser beams!” Rainbow crowed. “I’M A’ FIRIN’ MAH LAZER!”

“I know I’d be interested in seeing what else I can do,” Fluttershy admitted.

“Look, girls,” Sunset began.

“No. Don’t ‘look, girls’ us,” Rarity told her. “Sunset, you died literally saving the world. We were knocked unconscious because we could not handle the powers that were channeled through us. If we had been able to control them better, don’t you think that we would have wanted to protect you?” The look in the fashionista’s deep blue eyes was one of sorrow. “I don’t mean to be maudlin, but we are your friends, your allies—”

“Your significant other,” Pinkie added sotto voce, though Sunset heard it.

“—and I suspect, your court, if you are to be a princess,” Rarity continued without missing a beat. “We have abilities that few people on this world have, and if we are to be there for you – and mark my words, we do not wish to be left to the side like curios on display – we will require training. I don’t presume to speak for the others, but I do speak for myself, Sunset.”

“Look, we can talk about it later, okay?” Sunset told them. “Oh, which reminds me….” She reached into her backpack and handed them one scroll and one envelope. “These are for you all. The scrolls are your official invitation to my coronation back in Equestria, while the envelopes are something that I’ve held on for a while now, until the moment I thought the time was right. They’re letters from your counterparts to you.”

“To us?” Rarity asked as she accepted hers.

Sunset nodded. “Yes. Keep in mind that they’re older than you – about half a decade or so older; if I recall correctly, Fluttershy is the oldest at twenty-four – but their lives are so different that in some ways you’re more mature than they are. That’s not to say anything against them; they’re sweet mares and you’ll be glad to know them once you meet them.”

“Well, Ah would say that it’d be weird to meet…well, another me, but given that we know your sister and your counterpart, Ah guess it shouldn’t be too bad,” Applejack commented as she slid hers into her backpack. “But Ah think Ah’ll read mah letters later.”

“Good idea,” Pinkie said. “I think we all should.”

Sunset looked out the window of the limo. “Especially since we’re here now,” she told the others. “Game faces, ladies; I think this is going to be a day to remember.” She snapped her fingers, releasing the privacy spell, and just in time, the window to the front came down.

“Okay, next stop: the kiddie farm everyone will recall with a love-hate mixture years down the road,” Discord said with a grin.

“Oh, I take it you didn’t care for yours, sir?” Rarity asked him.

“Naah, growing up in Cardiff was interesting, though not for me,” he admitted. He gave a chuckle and added, “Maybe I should go back someday and see if the place is still standing. Given that Tirek and I left long ago, San Diego County must be breathing much easier now. Anyway, we’re here.”

As they walked onto the school grounds, a lot of girls stood and took notice of both Twilight and Octavia and their golden ties, the sign of their status as Divas. Behind them, the triplets walked, all three with easy strides, but their eyes tracking the whole of the campus, as if the trio expected something bad to occur. From the confident stride of the quintet, they projected an air of easy authority, one they hadn’t intended but nonetheless exuded.

Without looking at them, Twilight commented, “I’m sure we’ll be fine, really. I doubt anything’s going to happen.”

“Give the summer we’ve had, Twily,” Adagio commented, “I wouldn’t put anything past the pale right now.”

“No kidding,” Aria agreed. “Especially after that tussle with Suri and Blueblood. I wish I’d been there for that.”

“Well if they push on Tavi, I’m going to push right back,” Sonata said coolly.

“Thanks, Soni,” Octavia commented, and got a hug for the response.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t the incest club.” The five girls stopped, facing a group of girls wearing the same school uniform and stone-gray ties, indicating them as the student government. And at the front of them was the school student government president herself, Suri Polomare.

“Heard you added a sixth member to your group, but she’s too dumb to go here,” Vanity Fair, Suri’s best friend and fellow bully, said. “Then again, I also heard some bullshit about her being a French princess, but I doubt that – a real princess wouldn’t have the time to spend with you cunt lickers.”

Twilight yawned in their faces. “Seriously, you had the whole summer to think these insults up, Vanity?” Twilight asked her, a wolfish smile on her face. “You couldn’t take the time to, you know, read?”

Octavia folded her arms. “Might be a little too complex for her,” she said in a breezy tone. “All those words with multiple syllables, no full-page pictures to illustrate things for her, and nowhere for her to color with her crayons.”

Next to them, Swift Wind, followed by two new girls, appeared. “Oh, she can color. Blood tends to be her favorite color – and mine.”

“No problem,” Adagio told her. “We’ll be happy to have you donate plenty of your own.”

“Sis, you shouldn’t pick on the weak and defenseless,” Sonata said, never taking her eyes off Swift Wind. “It’s not fair to take on people who aren’t at our skill level.” One of Swift’s friends twitched her eyebrow slightly, and Sonata grinned, knowing she’d struck true.

“Look, I don’t have time for this,” Suri argued. “Let’s make this clear: you don’t deserve to be divas and you barely deserve to be here. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll resign your positions as divas now, and hand it over to more capable people.”

“You mean more capable like you,” Octavia drawled.

“Well, I’m glad you came to your senses!” Suri commented. “So, all you have to do is hand over your ties and your—”

“Up yours.” Suri turned to see Twilight glaring at her, standing there, and unsurprisingly, her sisters noted that Twilight was not standing there on her own, as formidable as she had grown over the years, but instead had taken on the regal, challenging mantle of the one of their number that wasn’t there: Sunset.

“Excuse me?” the senior asked.

“There is no excuse for you – you are in no way, shape or form, worthy to be in the student government, much less a diva!” Twilight hissed. “For starters, you insulted my family. Both my cousins here and my sister who isn’t here to defend herself. Not that you prove any sort of challenge for her whatsoever. She would verbally, emotionally and physically tear you to shreds, Suri. You can’t hold a candle to her, and it is because I am being kind to you that I will not tell her. She doesn’t need me to fight her battles, but you’ll need me not to tell her so you can survive yours.”

The plum-haired scholar raised a hand and lowered a second finger. “Secondly, you abused your sister’s own best friend for your own sick, twisted ends. You’re lucky as hell that she has a very resilient mind and doesn’t remember what you did to her, or else your ass would be in jail, where it deserves to be. I have no idea why your sister forgave you – you don’t deserve her.” Twilight’s eyes shrank to pinpricks of hate, recalling all of what she’d done to her own sister and it disgusted her – but she hadn’t treated Sunset anywhere near as badly as Suri had Coco.

“You bitch,” Suri snarled. “How dare you tell me what to do regarding my own sister! I love Crackle, and I would never—”

“And yet commenting about my cousins, girls I have grown up with and are essentially my own sisters, are perfectly acceptable targets? Suri, hypocrite doesn’t even begin to describe you,” Twilight shot back. “And again, I won’t even comment about what you said about my actual sister.” She marched up to look Suri, face to face, Twilight’s indignant eyes of violet boring into Suri’s own beige ones. “Let’s be clear: I don’t want to be a diva. I never asked to be one. And under different circumstances, I would happily stand aside. But now I have a purpose in being a diva, and that purpose is, simply: protect the student body from you, Suri Polomare. You are a predator, a viper in the grass who thinks every girl in this school is prey. And do you know what I have to say to that?”

Suri looked at Twilight, her eyes imperceptibly changed. To a casual viewer, they wouldn’t have noticed the change, but to those around, it was clear: this was no longer Suri Polomare’s playground. She waited for Twilight to make her response.

And so Twilight did:

“At the hole where he went in,
Red-Eye called to Wrinkle-Skin
Hear what little Red-Eye saith:
‘Nag, come up and dance with death!’”

With that, Twilight moved on past Suri, who looked at the younger girl with impotent anger. She wanted to lash out and attack Twilight; or more accurately, order her lackies to do so. But such a directive made it clear: the young diva was watching, and any attempts by the senior to assert her authority would end up with it being slapped down or worse.

It wasn’t until Twilight rounded the corner that Suri screamed in pointless anger.

As the girls walked away from that, they instantly heard clapping. “Brava! I just witnessed that, and I must admit, it was a worthy performance of a diva in her duties. Ms. Sparkle, that only proves you worthier of the role than you know.”

Twilight blushed and turned to the speaker. “Thanks, Pheo…sorry, I mean, Ms. Temple.”

Phoenix Temple stood there, dressed in business attire befitting a junior teacher in training. She gave the girls and smile and adjusted her glasses. “It’s good to see you girls again,” the young woman told her. “I was wondering if you still will be able to meet my request?”

It was Octavia that answered. “Twily told me everything and while she said her piece, let me say mine: I agree with her. We divas are here to help our fellow students and if someone needs us, that’s why the job exists.”

“We’re with them,” Adagio said. “Whether we need to be muscle or just a shoulder to cry on, we’re with them.” Behind her, both Aria and Sonata nodded in agreement.

“I’m glad to hear that.” Phoenix then poked her head into a classroom. “You can come out now, Ribby.”

“Do I have to?” a familiar voice asked. “And you promised to stop calling me that!”

Phoenix mock-huffed. “Fine, RB.”

To the girls’ surprise, a girl came out of the classroom. She was dressed in the school uniform, wore a raspberry-colored beret, and was clearly a freshman, and used a cane to walk, her stiff gait measured by her lame left leg. But despite her timorous attitude as she tried to hide behind her own hair, it was clearly her – or rather, her human counterpart.

“Girls, this is my cousin, Raspberry Beryl,” Phoenix said, “or RB, as she prefers to be called.” Raspberry, to their surprise, all but hid behind Phoenix as she looked at the others. “Ribby, this is Twilight Sparkle, Octavia Melody, Adagio Dazzle, Aria Blaze and Sonata Dusk. They’re all cousins, but were raised together as sisters, so they understand your situation.”

Raspberry looked up at Phoenix with eyes that radiated worry and fear and on the verge of tears.

“Ribby, I’m a part-time teacher here and when not that, I’m attending classes of my own at college. I can’t be here all the time for you,” Phoenix gently admonished. “It’ll be good for you to find friends your own age, and I wouldn’t leave you in the care of Twily and her sisters if I didn’t trust them completely.”

“RB?” Raspberry looked at Twily, who was offering her hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you,” Twilight lied smoothly, “and I didn’t think Pheo’s cousin would be this adorable.”

“R-really?” Raspberry asked, her voice shaking.

“Stick with us; we’ll make sure you’re okay,” Octavia said in the confident older sister tone she’d picked up from her years in both timelines. “We’ll watch over her, Pheo. We promise.”

“Thanks, girls,” Phoenix said as the warning bell chimed, indicating that classes started in fifteen minutes. “Well, that’s the warning bell. I need to get to the teacher pre-brief. I’ll see you all at the opening assembly, okay?”

“So, RB, where’s your first class?” Twilight asked easily but was met with silence. “RB?” Twilight asked again.

“You don’t….” Twilight turned to look at the girl, and she was nearly in tears. “You don’t have to watch over me because Pheo asked,” she said, her voice sounding like someone barely in control. “I know I’m a bother and a problem and—”

Aria went over and hugged the shivering girl, taking her in a warm embrace. “You remind me of someone I know,” the middle triplet said softly. “She was always worried about everything as well. But my sisters and I told her it would be okay, because if you have friends, you have people who will stand with you through thick and thin.”

“You mean that?”

Sonata put a gentle hand on Raspberry’s shoulder. “She does. We look out for our friends. We’re not doing this because Pheo asked us to or even because it’s the right thing to do. We’re doing it because we want to, right, sis?” she asked, giving an even look at Adagio.

Adagio, despite her hatred of Raspberry’s counterpart, couldn’t hold it against this girl. She took a breath and said softly, “She’s right. You’re amongst friends, RB. And friends don’t steer you wrong.”

“Thank you,” the girl sobbed, starting to suddenly cry, the anxiety too much for her to bear. The five sisters stood and looked at other students who were wondering what was up, but the moment they saw the divas and the triplets, they either thought the problem was solved or not worth inquiring in further.

The moment the limousine pulled into the parking lot of Canterlot High, the student body and faculty knew something was up.

Celestia and Luna, standing at the front of the school as they did every year, watched and the words from the former’s mouth said it all: “Oh, shit.”

The front burst open and a man in alligator leather pants, cowboy boots and an open, shirtless vest burst out of the front passenger seat, his mirror shades reflecting the morning sun. “Good morning, Vietnam!” he called out, to the sudden assembly of students that realized that Discord, yes, Discord, was in their midst.

With their attention firmly on him, he sauntered on over to both educators, huge bouquets of daisies in hand. Passing them over to each lady, he waggled his eyebrows and pranced around them, singing, “Heya teach! Not late for school, for I’m no fool since that’s not cool. It makes me drool and that’s the rule!” He then held out a packet of oatmeal and added, “Care for some gruel? It gives me fuel towards music’s pool, ‘cause it’s my tool!”

Both Celestia and Luna laughed and grinned easily. “It’s been a long time, Dee,” Celestia told him with a note of fondness in her voice.

“Too long. Heard you snagged yourself a young, strapping lad,” he told her. “You should come over to the penthouse sometime. We’ll do dinner.” He kissed her on the cheek, then did the same for Luna. “And it’s been a long time since I saw you, too, Spooky. Grats on the engagement.”

“Yeah, thanks. How’d you hear about that?”

“News travels fast where I go,” he said breezily. “That and Velvet told me.”

“So what brings you here other than to harass my students?” Luna asked her.

Your students?”

Celestia nodded. “I got promoted to regional assistant superintendent, although technically I’m still principal for this last year here of transition. Luna’s taking over as CHS principal now and she’s already got her vice principal inside going over the daily stuff with the faculty.”

“I see someone’s moving up in the world.”

“About time, too – she’s earned it,” Celestia said, and Luna blushed slightly. “Anyway, you were saying?”

“Oh, yeah!” he chirped, then rushed back to the limo. “Ladies and gentlemen, especially those of you who have no idea what either of those words mean, which is clearly why you’re here at school!” he crowed. “It is my honor, my duty and my general ‘screw with the world’ nature to present to you, the ladies who so finely grace this location!” He then opened the door, calling in, “Okay, showtime!”

Out stepped the girls, feeling both on display and having the attention of the entire school. For them all, it was more than a bit overwhelming, admittedly, as they had never quite stepped into the school in a situation such as this. Applejack, the first to step out, was completely overwhelmed, trying not to look completely mortified as she exited the vehicle, walking towards the school, waving and hoping not many people were taking pictures.

Next was Pinkie Pie, who bounced around, shouting out, “You like me! You really, really like me! Thank you!” She blew kisses to the crowd, went and shook a few of her friends’ hands and also made her way into the school.

Next up was Rainbow Dash, who took it in stride. Sliding on her Ray-Bans, she waved at them all, basking in the unexpected adulation, waving at her teammates and making sure she had the attention of Soarin’, who was looking at her with sudden surprise. She lowered her shades, gave him the look, then smiled and blew him a kiss before making her way into the school as well.

Rarity was next, and she soaked in the adulation, just as Rainbow did. Practically voguing as she walked up the walkway towards the school entrance, she knew she had the attention of several other students, friends and fellow members of the fashion and other clubs. In the distance, she could see Debonair Lace laugh slightly; the two would no doubt have much to talk about after school during their club meeting today. But after a few seconds, she too vanished into the school’s innards, ready for the year.

Second to last was Fluttershy, and although she hesitated at first, she then felt the item on the back, her talisman, giving her confidence. She stepped out of the limousine, calm, collected and striking the posture she had when she was briefly modeling for Rarity during their freshman year. Students noted the absolute change in the chiffon-haired girl and watched with awe as she strode calmly towards the school, not hiding behind her hair, with a guitar on her back, feeli