After Sunset Shimmer is attacked and put into a coma, her friends try to figure out who did it and why. (Not an Anon-A-Miss story)
Sunset Shimmer has been attacked and lies comatose in the hospital. All evidence points to someone who has access to magic. Led by Rarity, the rest of Sunset's friends begin to search for who did it and why.
But the answers may not give them the comfort they seek. And unknown to them, Sunset is having struggles of her own. Part 1 of The Repercussions Trilogy.
I don't believe this. I just... how?! How is SHE getting all this? After everything she did, everybody she hurt, she's suddenly everybody's favorite person and she's EVERYWHERE!
The Battle of the Bands. The Friendship Games. Camp Everfree. And now, she gets a bit part in the new Daring Do movie? Her? The girl who lived for nothing but making everybody who crossed her miserable and ruining them any way she could?
Oh sure, they SAY she's changed, that she's not that girl anymore. And yeah, okay, sure, that MIGHT be true, but that doesn't matter! She's nowhere near making up for everything she did!
… Okay. Deep breath.
What am I going to do about it? Everyone seems to have forgiven her and she and her friends have those magic superpowers now. I suppose I could call the government and report them... No. Even if they believed me, the other six would get hauled off with her. They don't deserve that, even if they have horrible taste in friends.
Maybe I should just let it go. She won, like she always does. And there's nothing I can do to convince anyone else that she still deserves what she has coming to her. God, I'd just love to punch her right in her smug face –
What the – ? Some pink flash of light outside the window.
It's in the backyard! Shoes... where I did I put my shoes?
Shoes on. Grab flashlight. Go downstairs.
I guess I didn't really need the flashlight. Whatever it is, it's still glowing. Looks like it's in the flowerbed. Let's see here.
Wait, is that...? It is! I thought I lost that pendant months ago! That's right, I was helping weed the flowers when it disappeared. It must have gotten covered over with dirt when we were cleaning up. It never glowed like that before though.
What happened? Ooooh, my head. I... what the hell?!
These aren't the clothes I was wearing before! Wait. Am I... taller? What's going on?
Okay, calm down. Stand up. Right.
Definitely taller. By about a foot. I don't think I'm hurt. Just... tingly. The hairs on my arms are standing on end. My fingernails are longer too. Purple polish on them. What?
Pink lighting just danced across my fingers. Hang on. The mall a few months ago. The kids at school were talking about some giant woman who was running amok destroying everything. HER and her friends were involved in that. One of them, some new girl no one had seen before, stopped her. Everyone said it was more magic.
Does that mean... I have magic now too? Let's see.
Oh, yes. Yes! Look at that! I have magic. I HAVE MAGIC!
And I know JUST what I'm going to do with it...
Sunset Shimmer stretched and pushed her hands into the small of her back, being rewarded with a small pop as her spine went back in place. She let out a sigh of relief and walked back towards the back of the sushi restaurant she worked at.
“Koi?” she called, walking into the kitchen. “I took the garbage out and the floor's clean. Anything else?”
Koi Pond, the woman who ran the restaurant, looked over from where she was doing the dishes. “No, I think that's everything, Sunset. Thanks for staying late to close.”
“No problem. I needed the extra money.”
Koi nodded. “Be careful going home.”
“I will. I have a friend picking me up. Oh, I need to text her!”
Sunset walked over to the small bank of lockers where the staff kept their personal belongings. She took out her jacket, putting it on, and pulling her phone out of the pocket.
Hey, Rarity. I'm off work. I'll be waiting by the food court entrance to the mall.
She put her phone back in her pocket and punched out at the time clock. As she put her time card back in its place, her phone chirped and vibrated. Sunset pulled it back out.
Be there in ten minutes! Slight mishap here with Pinkie Pie and some bubble gum. Long story.
Sunset smirked and texted back a quick “I want details” message and put her phone away. “Okay, Koi, I'm leaving now.”
“Okay. Have a good night, Sunset.”
Sunset made her goodbyes, left the kitchen and exited out the front of the restaurant, ducking under the half-lowered security gate that covered the entrance when the mall was closed. She walked through the food court towards the exit. Most of the other eateries had already closed and were dark. She could hear the echoes of the night shift cleaning crew starting their duties coming from the other end of the mall.
As she reached the doors, she waved to Gold Shield, the night watchman who let everybody out of the food court exit when the mall closed. They exchanged a few pleasantries as he unlocked the doors for her, then wished her good night.
The evenings were starting to cool off, so Sunset zipped up her jacket and put her hands in her pockets. She thought about plugging in her earbuds and listening to music while she waited for Rarity but decided against it. She sighed and looked up at the clear night sky, absentmindedly fingering the red geode pendant she wore around her neck.
Things were actually going pretty well for her, all things considered. She was doing great in school, she had landed a pretty decent job at Koi's restaurant, the chill in the air meant the holidays were coming. Sure, there was still the problem of random magic appearing throughout the town, but those incidents had been few and far between, and the last major one had been Juniper Montage's rampage through the mall a couple of months ago. They still had no idea where the magic was coming from or how to stop it, but until they could get some sort of lead, the group had decided to deal with each issue as it came.
Sunset smiled to herself. Bubble gum. I know there's a story there. A good one.
As she amused herself imagining what sort of disaster had happened, someone spoke.
“You think you have everybody fooled, don't you?”
Sunset blinked and she looked to her side. A woman stood there, dressed in a long black overcoat. A floppy brimmed hat obscured most of her face.
“I'm sorry?” Sunset asked.
“This whole reformed act you have going on,” the woman said. Sunset frowned. Something was off about her voice. It had an odd distortion to it. Not quite an echo, but similar.
The woman began walking towards her. “You have everyone at that school convinced you've turned over a new leaf. That you aren't the selfish, evil little bitch you used to be.”
Sunset's frown turned into a full expression of anger. “I don't know who you are, but I do know that you don't know me.”
The woman chuckled. “Oh, I know you, Sunset Shimmer. I know EXACTLY who you are. You're a mean, petty, vindictive little snot who's managed to con everyone into thinking you're something you're not. You may have all of them fooled, but not me. And I'm here to give you EXACTLY what you deserve!”
The woman thrust out her hand, and a bolt of pink lightning shot from her fingertips. Sunset yelped and dove to the side as the lightning struck the sidewalk where she had been standing. She quickly scrabbled to her feet and began running. Behind her, she heard the woman giving chase.
Need to find Gold Shield, Sunset thought. Most of the mall entrances would be locked, but if she could get around to the far side of the mall, where the parking garage was, she'd be able to get help.
Another bolt of lightning zipped past her, impacting right in front of her, sending up small pebbles of sidewalk in front of her. Sunset skidded to a halt and looked behind her. The woman was gaining and raising her hand to throw another bolt. Sunset threw herself to the ground. The bolt passed over her and smashed against the wall, leaving a huge scorch mark. The woman screamed in rage, giving Sunset a chance to get to her feet and resume running.
“GET BACK HERE!” Another bolt shot through the air, barely missing Sunset. She forced her legs to move faster, trying to put more distance between her and her pursuer.
I don't know what I did, but she's definitely not happy about it!
She rounded the corner of the mall, another bolt shooting by as she cleared the turn. Sunset's lungs began to burn as her pace began to catch up with her. She forced herself to take a deep breath and redoubled her efforts. She blinked and realized there was a gap in the wall ahead of her.
The maintenance corridors! There's always somebody at the office there!
Sunset allowed herself to grin as she reached the small alleyway that led to the entrance to the corridors reserved for mall employees. More importantly, those corridors were where the security and custodial offices were located.
If I can make it there, I can get help and-- CRAP!
Sunset skidded to a halt as a shadow passed over her, and the woman landed on her feet in front of her, blocking her only way to the corridor entrance. The woman's lips were curled into a sneer of frustration and anger.
“Nowhere to run,” she snarled. “And none of those 'friends' you hoodwinked into liking you around to help. Or are they actually as rotten as you are? Misery loves company, after all.”
Sunset's own expression hardened. She felt her fear turn to red hot anger. She could take it when someone wanted to call her out on who she used to be, but to even imply that her friends were just as bad as she used to be pushed every button she had.
“You don't know them,” Sunset said quietly, teeth clenched.
“I know they either have poor judgment or they aren't the paragons of virtue they pretend to be. As a matter of fact, didn't the one with the glasses nearly destroy that school of yours a few months ago? Seems to show why you hang around with her, doesn't it?”
Sunset screamed and threw herself towards the woman. She collided headlong into her, causing the two of them to fall to the ground and roll down the alley. As they rolled, the woman's hat flew away. They came to a stop with the woman on top of Sunset, pinning her to the ground by her shoulders.
“Gotcha,” she hissed.
“What did I do to you? Why are you doing this?” Sunset demanded, trying to free herself. The woman's grip was iron, keeping Sunset down no matter how she struggled.
“You really don't know?” the woman asked. “You don't recognize me? Did it really change me that much?”
“I've never seen you before in my life!” Sunset bent her knees and placed her feet flat on the ground. She managed to get one hand up, intending to brace herself and use her knees to throw the woman off of her. But when her hand hit the woman's arm, the geode around her neck flashed red. Images and memories flooded her brain.
It only lasted a split second, but it was a bright enough flash to dazzle the woman, who let Sunset go and covered her eyes with her other arm. She broke contact with the teenager and got to her feet. She glared down at Sunset, who sat up and stared at her, fear and regret in her eyes.
“It's you,” Sunset whispered. “I didn't... I wanted...”
“Shut up,” the woman said coldly.
Sunset felt tears start to form in the corners of her eyes. “I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!”
The woman straightened her coat and glowered down at Sunset. Now that she knew who it was, Sunset could recognize her, despite the changes that had happened. She looked down from the woman's face and her eyes widened at the glowing pink pendant that hung from the woman's neck. The light was too bright for her to make out the shape. She looked back up.
“Where—Where did you get that?” she asked.
The woman's eyes flashed. She raised a hand, pink lightning crackling dangerously around her fingers. “I said... SHUT! UP!”
The lightning exploded into a blinding flash. Sunset closed her eyes and waited for the blow.
I deserve this.
Rarity pulled her car up to the curb outside the food court entrance. She looked around, but didn't see Sunset anywhere. She frowned, got out her phone and dialed Sunset's number.
“Hi, this is Sunset Shimmer. Leave a message!”
Rarity hung up. “Where on earth has that girl gone?”
She turned the engine off and got out of the car.
“Sunset?” she called. “Sunset, are you here?”
Rarity walked up to the doors, but found them locked. She put her hands on her hips and turned around, annoyance evident on her face. Her foot kicked a rock, which bounced away. Rarity looked down to see what her foot had hit, and her expression changed to puzzlement.
There was a hole in the concrete sidewalk. It was jagged and scorched around the edges, and small chunks of concrete peppered the area surrounding it. Rarity's frown returned and she looked around the area. She saw another scorch mark on the wall further away. She walked over and put a hand on it. It was warm to the touch and she thought she smelled ozone.
“Sunset! It's Rarity! Where are you?”
Suddenly an explosion of pink light appeared above the mall. Rarity put her hands over her ears as a massive roll of thunder sounded a split second later. When it passed, she opened her eyes and put her hands down.
That was magic. A lot of it. Sunset!
Rarity dashed around the corner of the mall, trying to locate where the light had come from. It didn't take her long. Smoke drifted from the alleyway. Rarity entered the alley and stopped when she saw the body lying on the ground. She took a few tentative steps forward, then broke into a run when she saw the red-gold hair.
She skidded to a stop and got down on her knees, hoisting Sunset up.
“Sunset? Sunset! Come on, darling, wake up!” Rarity lightly slapped Sunset's cheeks, trying to get her eyes to open. Sunset didn't respond. Her uniform was singed and torn in several places. Blood trickled from small scratches on her face. Rarity frantically put two fingers to Sunset's throat and let out a sigh of relief when she felt a faint pulse.
She was fumbling for her phone, while still trying to keep hold of Sunset when the door leading to the utility corridors opened, revealing Gold Shield. Rarity looked up at him.
“Help me! She's hurt!”
Gold Shield quickly pulled out his own phone and dialed 911. “This is Gold Shield at the Canterlot Mall. I need an ambulance here now. Victim is a teenage girl. Multiple lacerations, maybe worse. She's currently unconscious and non-responsive. Right. Thank you.”
Gold Shield put his phone away and knelt down next to Rarity. “The EMTs are on their way. What happened?”
Rarity shook her head. “I have no idea. I just arrived to pick Sunset up from work. There was this explosion of pink light and I followed it here and... found her.”
Rarity pulled Sunset closer. Stay with us, Sunset. Please.
Rarity had been pacing in the waiting area of the emergency room for forty-five minutes when the others arrived. Rainbow Dash was the first to barge through the doors, naturally.
“Where is she?” she loudly demanded. “Is she all right? What happened?”
“Lower your voice!” Rarity hissed. “This is still a hospital, Rainbow Dash!”
“Sorry,” Rainbow replied.
“Have you heard anything?” asked Twilight Sparkle.
“No. But she went in almost immediately after we arrived. I've been trying to get some answers,” She glared over at the admissions desk. “But they won't tell me anything since I'm not a family member.”
“Well, we've gotta find out somehow!” Rainbow said. “I seriously doubt they're going to believe her parents are a pair of magical talking ponies from another dimension.”
“Don't think it matters anyway,” Applejack said. “A while back, Sunset mentioned her parents passed away about a year before she came through the portal. Dunno if she's got any other relatives.”
“What do we do then?” Rainbow started pacing herself. Her voice started rising in volume as she moved. “We can't get any info because we're not related to Sunset, but Sunset doesn't have any relatives in this world. So basically, our friend is back there, hurt bad, and we can't find out how she is because the jerks here won't tell us anything! This sucks!”
A loud “Shhh!” came from the rest of the group. Rarity, Twilight, and Applejack looked over and smiled at the nurse manning the admitting desk, who was giving them a disapproving look.
“Sorry!” Twilight said, smiling awkwardly. “She's just worried. She didn't mean it.”
“Don't apologize for me!” Rainbow snapped. “I meant what I—MMMPH!”
“Come on, Rainbow,” Applejack said, keeping her hand over Rainbow's mouth and dragging her away from the group. “Let's get you a soda.”
Rainbow's muffled protests drifted away as Applejack hauled her toward the vending machines. The other four girls looked at each other. Fluttershy blinked.
“Oh! What about Miss Bookbinder?” she asked.
“Sunset's landlady?” Twilight said. “What about her?”
“Sunset probably knew something like this could happen to her, especially after the Fall Formal. So maybe she has Miss Bookbinder as her emergency contact.”
“Maybe,” Rarity murmured. “It's worth a try, I suppose. Does anyone have her number?”
The group turned as one to face Pinkie Pie, who had remained surprisingly quiet through all this.
“What?” she asked. “Ooohhhh! You think I might have her phone number because I know everybody in town and my contact list on my phone is, like, fifty gazillion times bigger than anyone else's at school so I could probably have Miss Bookbinder on it, right?”
“Something like that,” Twilight answered.
Pinkie pulled out her phone and scrolled down her list. “Baked Bads... Big Bopper... Blackberry Brambles... Bluesharp Babysplit... Ah ha! Miss Bookbinder!” She hit the “call” icon on the screen and held it up to her ear.
“Hello? Miss Bookbinder?” Pinkie took a deep breath and screamed into the phone. “SUNSET'S HURT AND WE'RE AT THE HOSPITAL AND NOBODY WILL TELL US ANYTHING AND WE'RE ALL KIND OF FREAKING OUT OVER HERE SO CAN YOU COME HERE AND TELL THEM TO TELL US WHAT'S WRONG WITH HER?!”
Twilight slapped a hand over Pinkie's mouth, while Rarity snatched the phone from her hand. She motioned for Fluttershy and Twilight to take Pinkie over to the vending machines. She grimaced at the other people in the waiting area, who were glaring at them for the disturbance. Rarity let out a half-hearted laugh, then quickly turned her back and put the phone up to her ear.
“Hello? Miss Bookbinder?”
“I sincerely hope that you have a good explanation for why I nearly suffered permanent hearing loss just now,” came the voice of the landlady.
Rarity winced. Miss Bookbinder (and heaven help you if you left out the “Miss”) was polite and always treated the girls well whenever they went to visit Sunset, but she did not suffer fools gladly. Pinkie and Rainbow had often been the targets of Miss Bookbinder's mastery of withering scorn and sarcasm.
“Yes, I'm sorry about that, Miss Bookbinder,” Rarity apologized.
“I would also be very interested to know how Miss Pie got my number,” Miss Bookbinder continued.
“Pinkie Pie has everyone's number,” she quickly explained. “But that's not important right now. We're at the hospital, Miss Bookbinder. Sunset's hurt.”
There was silence, then: “What happened?”
Rarity quickly explained what she had seen at the mall. “And, because none of us are related to Sunset, and her family is... unavailable, we were hoping that perhaps she had made arrangements with you to be her emergency contact for things like this.”
Another silence. Rarity felt her teeth clench, and her free hand began playing with the hem of her skirt. Please. Please let us be right.
“I'll be there in a few minutes,” The landlady's voice had softened. “Try to keep those friends of yours calm until I get there. I know a few people at the hospital. I may be able to wheedle some information out of them.”
Rarity let out a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. “Thank you! Thank you so much, Miss Bookbinder.”
“I'll be there soon.”
There was a beep as the landlady ended the call. Rarity sighed again, and headed for the vending machines to find the others.
“She's an emancipated minor and estranged from her family. As you can see from this,” Miss Bookbinder slapped a piece of paper on the admitting desk. “This is a written permission slip from Miss Shimmer allowing you to disclose information about any emergency medical situation she has to me, and for me to make treatment decisions in the event she is unable to do so herself. You will also see that it has been properly notarized and dated. Perfectly legal and above board.”
Miss Bookbinder adjusted her oval-framed glasses. “Now, with all this clearly evident even to a bureaucratic cephalopod like yourself, will you concede that your behind is sufficiently covered and either kindly provide me with the latest information on Miss Shimmer's condition, or, failing that, find me the attending physician so he or she can do so? Or do I have to explain this all again to the hospital administrator, in a much less polite fashion?”
The nurse at the admitting desk looked from the permission slip up to the landlady. The yellow skinned woman wasn't that tall, but radiated an aura of no-nonsense efficiency, enhanced by her green hair pulled back into a severe bun. Miss Bookbinder wasn't much older than Rarity and her friends, but she seemed older thanks to her mode of dress and personality.
“Um... I'll get Doctor Cross,” he said, getting up and disappearing through the doors. Miss Bookbinder turned around, facing the girls, then folded her arms and gave them a confident smirk.
Pinkie leaned over in her chair. “She's scaaaaaary,” she whispered. The others nodded frantically.
A few minutes later, the doctor came out. “Miss Bookbinder?”
Miss Bookbinder stood up and motioned for the girls to follow her. The doctor quirked an eyebrow.
“I'm Dr. Cross. I understand you're Miss Shimmer's legal guardian?”
“Not quite,” Miss Bookbinder answered, “But it's close enough, legally speaking.”
“I see,” Dr. Cross looked at the girls. Miss Bookbinder saw his expression.
“These are Sunset's best friends. Anything you have to say to me, you can say to them.”
“Very well,” Dr. Cross cleared his throat and looked at the clipboard he was holding. “I'm afraid it's a mixed bag. First off, she's stable.”
“'Dead' is stable,” Rainbow snapped. Miss Bookbinder glared at her.
“Not helping, Miss Dash.”
“Well, fortunately,” the doctor said, “That isn't the sort of stable we're talking about. She's not in danger of dying and physically, aside from some cuts and bruises, she's fine.”
“But?” Applejack asked, flatly.
Dr. Cross sighed. “Miss Shimmer is comatose. We still need to do an MRI to confirm, but there doesn't appear to be any brain damage. But she is completely non-responsive to external stimuli. And to be perfectly honest, we have no idea why.”
The girls exchanged nervous glances. Miss Bookbinder remained focused on the doctor.
“So what do you recommend?” she asked.
Dr. Cross took her arm. “Let's go over here and discuss it.”
As the doctor and the landlady walked away from the group, they clustered around each other.
“Magic,” Applejack said. “It has to be magic. Ain't no other explanation.”
“Agreed,” said Twilight.
“Yeah, yeah,” Rainbow said. “But what are we gonna DO about it?”
Rarity looked up. “We're going to find whoever did this.”
The others looked at her.
“Are you sure that's a good idea?” Twilight asked.
“Of course it's a good idea!” Rainbow said. “What the hell, Twilight?”
Twilight frowned. “That's not what I meant and you know it, Rainbow. What I mean is, if this is someone else who's been corrupted by the magic, are we sure we want to pick a fight with them? All the other times we've encountered someone with magical abilities, we've all been together.”
“Except for Juniper,” Fluttershy said. “Starlight managed to talk her into giving up the magic.”
“Yes, but even then, Juniper didn't become fully corrupted until all seven of us were trapped in the mirror.” Twilight replied. “Before that, the magic was limited just to the mirror itself. Otherwise, with Gloriosa we were all together. And then you all fought the Dazzlings and Sunset herself together with the help of Princess Twilight.”
“I see what you're sayin',” Applejack said. “We generally don't whomp the bad guy until all of us are workin' together. Back at camp, the five of us had a hell of a time just tryin' to keep Gloriosa occupied so she didn't hurt anybody else. But she kept countering everything we did as soon as we did it, until Twilight and Sunset got there.”
“From what I've been able to gather from Sunset,” said Twilight, “the magic is at its most powerful when the seven of us are in harmony. But with Sunset comatose...”
“... we might not be able to beat whoever did this to her,” Fluttershy finished.
“Well, we just can't sit around and not do anything!” Pinkie exclaimed. “There's some big meanie out there with magic and Sunset sure wouldn't want them out there where they could do it again. She would say –“ Pinkie smoothed her hands through her hair, which instantly reformed into the shape of Sunset's hairstyle, somehow complete with lighter streaks of pink mimicking the gold streaks in her hair.
“Other people could get hurt, and it's our responsibility to make sure that doesn't happen.” Pinkie finished in an eerily similar voice as Sunset's own. She shook her head, restoring her hair to it's normal cotton candy explosion. The group stared wide-eyed at her for a moment, before Rarity spoke up.
“That settles it then. Danger or not, we are not going to let whoever did this to our friend get away with it. We are going to find them, and when we do, we will make sure they undo whatever they did to Sunset.”
“Right now?” Fluttershy asked, looking at a nearby clock. “It's almost midnight.”
“All right, first thing in the morning, then,” said Rarity. “We'll meet at eight at Sugarcube Corner. Agreed?”
There were murmurs of assent.
“Oh, wait! What about Ray?” Fluttershy asked, referring to Sunset's pet gecko. “He's all alone and is going to be worried about Sunset.”
“No problem!” Pinkie chirped. She reached into her hair and pulled out a keychain loaded down with dozens of keys. “I've got a key to Sunset's apartment!”
Twilight looked at Pinkie. “How did you get that?”
Pinkie shrugged. “Just happened. I have keys to all your houses too!”
“Why would you– Never mind, I really get the feeling I don't wanna know,” said Rainbow.
“All right,” Rarity said. “Fluttershy, you and Pinkie go over to Sunset's place tomorrow morning and make sure Ray's taken care of.”
“Might be a good idea to see if you can find the journal she uses to talk to Princess Twilight too,” Applejack said. “She and Starlight will probably want to know what happened.”
Rarity nodded. “If you do find it, bring it to Sugarcube Corner with you. We can figure out what to tell them. But, I think we should make it clear that they should stay in Equestria, unless we ask them to come through. In the meantime, we can send any sort of magical evidence we find to Princess Twilight and get her opinion. She may be able to give us some insight.”
“All right!” Rainbow cheered. “We have a plan, and we're totally gonna kick this guy's sorry butt. They're gonna regret ever doing this to one of our friends!”
Rarity gave a small smile at her friend's enthusiasm. She put her hand out.
She was nowhere. A formless, featureless void. It reminded her of being inside Juniper Montage's mirror, except it wasn't quite a blank white expanse.
It was hard to figure out exactly what color everything was. One second it was white, but then it seemed blue, or pink or something. After a while, Sunset stopped trying to figure out what it looked like, and also tried to not think too much about what exactly she was standing on.
Sunset decided to look down at herself. Instead of her waitress uniform, she was wearing her usual jeans and blue top, along with her black denim jacket with the orange chevrons on the sleeves.
“Okay,” she thought. Then stopped, frowning.
“Hello?” she thought again. But this time she realized that she wasn't hearing the voice in her head. Her mouth had moved as she thought the words.
“Okay, this is kinda weird.”
“Oh, for crying out loud. Haven't you figured it out yet?”
Sunset spun sharply, looking for the voice that had come from behind her. She didn't see anyone, but her eyes widened as she saw the large ornate mirror that was there. It was almost seven feet tall and mounted in a frame that was gold on the left and silver on the right. She walked closer to the mirror, watching as her reflection grew as she approached.
Except something was wrong. The reflection was off. The clothes hung differently.
“No,” she said. “They're not hanging differently. They're different.”
“Finally, she starts to get it!” said her reflection. Sunset gawped as she reached the mirror. Her reflection was dressed in her old outfit: Leather jacket, orange skirt, magenta shirt with her cutie mark symbol on the front. Her hair seemed different too. The red and gold were bolder, almost luminescent.
“This is impossible,” Sunset said. Her reflection folded her arms and gave her a look she knew all too well: the confident sneer she used when she had someone exactly where she wanted them.
“Well, duh,” said the reflection. “Come on, you're supposed to be so smart. Your reflection is talking to you and your internal thoughts are getting verbalized. What's the logical conclusion?”
Sunset frowned. “I'm dreaming.”
“Ding-ding-ding!” crowed her reflection. “Finally. Although, it's not quite that simple.”
“You want to stop being cryptic and tell me what the hell is going on?” Sunset snapped, folding her own arms.
“Well, let's recap. You got attacked after work by a seven foot tall woman who shot lightning from her fingertips. And thanks to the geode, you got a glimpse inside her mind and lo and behold--”
“Shut up!” Sunset snarled. “I know what I saw!”
Her reflection grinned. “So... where are you?”
“My own mind. I'm asleep. But since I know I'm asleep, I should be able to wake myself up.” Sunset closed her eyes and concentrated. She clenched her fists and bit her bottom lip as she tried to break out of the dream. After a few moments she relaxed and glared at her reflection.
“Why can't I wake up?”
Her reflection looked at its nails. “You aren't just asleep, SunShim. You're in a coma. In the outside world, you're completely non-responsive.” The reflection grinned. “And probably on the business end of a catheter too. Fun.”
Sunset let out a noise of disgust. “I don't have time for this. I need to find a way to wake up.”
She turned to leave, but a firm grip grabbed her arm. Sunset turned her head and gaped as her reflection stepped out of the mirror. The reflection was grinning evilly.
“Oh no no, Sunny,” it said. “You don't get to walk away from me this time.”
Sunset pulled her arm free. “I don't even know what the hell you are.”
The reflection quirked an eyebrow. “Really?”
The reflection sighed. “The jolt must have scrambled your brain. Either that or hanging out with those six bimbos has caused it to rot.”
Sunset's frown deepened. “They're not bimbos.”
“Really?” The reflection's grin sharpened. “That's not what you thought about them just over a year ago. Let's refresh your memory, shall we?”
The reflection gestured at the mirror. An image of Rarity appeared, looking flustered. After a moment, Sunset heard her voice echoing around them.
You seriously thought I'd pay for a dress that looks like an albatross crapped out a wedding cake? I came to you because everybody said you were the best, Rarity. Instead, I get this. Of course, it must be hard to pay attention to what you're doing with your nose so far in the air.
There was a hideous sound of cloth ripping and Rarity caught the remains of an elegant and intricately sewn white evening dress. She looked at the dress, then up, then back at the dress. Sunset winced as she saw the tears forming in her friend's eyes. Then the voice returned.
That's right. Start crying. Declare your life over and go eat a few cartons of ice cream. I'm sure that won't affect your self worth at all, you vapid wannabe preppy.
“How dare you?!” Rarity snapped. Her face contorting into an expression of anger.
Oh, save it. I know your family isn't anywhere near as fancy as you like to pretend. Face facts, you're nothing but a sad, pathetic redneck who pretends she's not the backwoods trailer trash that everyone knows she is!
Rarity burst into tears, and Sunset felt sick as she heard her own mocking laughter echoing around her.
“Stop it,” she hissed to her reflection. “I'm not that person anymore! I apologized to her for that!”
“Doesn't matter if there isn't any forgiveness for it,” the reflection said.
“She forgave me!”
The reflection grinned again. “Are you sure she meant it?”
Sunset growled deep in the back of her throat. “I don't have time for this.”
She began to stalk away, leaving her reflection behind. She stopped suddenly when her reflection appeared in front of her.
“I told you,” it said. The reflection shot out a fist, hitting Sunset right in the sternum. Sunset let our a cry of surprise as she flew backwards through the air. Her cry was cut off as she landed solidly in a chair. Clamps in the arms and legs snapped shut around her wrists and ankles. The chair spun rapidly, causing Sunset's vision to blur.
When it came to a halt, she was facing the mirror again. Her reflection leaned up against it, one arm bracing herself, her feet crossed in a casual pose.
“You don't get to walk away from me this time. We've got a lot of old ground to tread, you and I.”
Sunset struggled against her bonds, but the clamps were immobile. “Let me out! They need me!”
The reflection laughed. The same cold, mocking laugh Sunset had used in the past. “No, no, no. I don't think so.”
The reflection walked over and leaned down so she was face to face with Sunset. It grinned again, only this time the mouth was full of razor sharp teeth. Sunset looked up from the teeth and inhaled sharply when she saw the reflection's eyes.
Pitch black eyes with ice blue irises. Her demon self's eyes. Sunset swallowed as she felt fear travel up her spine. The reflection laughed again as she saw Sunset's reaction.
“That's right, Sunset. We're just getting started.”
Pinkie unlocked the door of Sunset's apartment, admitting herself and Fluttershy. “Hey, Ray! We're heeere!” she cried.
“Um, Pinkie, it's still 7:30 in the morning. Maybe we should keep it down in case some of the neighbors are still sleeping.”
“Oh, right! Gotcha,” Pinkie stage-whispered. She followed Fluttershy into the apartment and slammed the door shut behind them. Fluttershy winced, then sighed and climbed the stairs leading to the loft which acted as Sunset's bedroom.
“Can you see if you can find Sunset's Equestria journal? I'll check on Ray,” she said.
“Yes, sir, ma'am, sir!” Pinkie saluted and walked under the loft to Sunset's desk. She began looking around at the assorted books and papers scattered across the desk. Meanwhile, Fluttershy reached the top of the stairs and crouched down in front of the tank. Ray, Sunset's pet leopard gecko, loped towards the glass. Fluttershy smiled down at him.
“Hi, Ray. Sunset's not going to be able to come home for a little while, so I'm going to be taking care of you until she's back, okay?”
Ray let out a hiss. Fluttershy looked pained.
“Well, she... she's been hurt. She's in the hospital and she won't wake up. We don't know what happened, but we're working on it.”
Ray lowered his head and looked dejected. Fluttershy removed the lid of the tank and reached in, rubbing the top of the gecko's head. Ray craned his head up to meet Fluttershy's fingers.
“I know. I miss her already too,” Fluttershy said. “We're going to find out who did it. I promise.”
Ray looked up at her and his mouth curled up into a lizard equivalent of a smile. Fluttershy smiled back.
“Now, how about a nice cricket for breakfast?”
While Fluttershy fed Ray, Pinkie continued pawing through Sunset's desk, humming to herself.
She opened the bottom desk drawer and let out a squee as she found the large book with the hybrid sun-star symbol on the cover. She pulled the journal out and held it up.
“Oh good,” Fluttershy's voice drifted down from above. “We'll be able to let Princess Twilight know what's going on.”
“On it!” Pinkie chirped. She reached into her hair and extracted a pen.
“Um, Pinkie?” Fluttershy said, coming back down the stairs. “Maybe we should wait until we get to Sugarcube Corner before we write Princess Twilight? We don't want to panic her, right?”
“Good point!” Pinkie opened her backpack and put the journal inside. As she slung her backpack over her shoulder, she looked down into the drawer. “There's another book in here!”
“Is it her old journal?” Fluttershy asked, walking up behind Pinkie.
“Nope! Looks like a scrapbook.” Pinkie reached in and pulled out the book. It was a basic composition notebook, but every page seemed to have an envelope or letter sticking out of it. Pinkie put it on the desk and flipped it open.
“I don't think we should do that,” Fluttershy said. “That's probably Sunset's personal scrapbook. I'm sure she would have told us about it if she wanted us to look at it.”
Pinkie didn't respond. Fluttershy put a hand on her shoulder.
“I think she had another reason for not showing us this,” Pinkie said, quietly. The subdued tone of her friend's voice made Fluttershy swallow hard. She moved next to Pinkie and looked down at the scrapbook.
The book was open to a printout of an email.
Subject: ROT IN HELL!
HEY, DEMON BITCH, YOU CAN PRETEND ALL YOU WANT THAT YOU'VE CHANGED, BUT I KNOW YOU HAVEN'T! IT DOESN'T MATTER HOW MUCH MAGIC YOU'VE GOT, OR WHAT YOU DO TO TRY TO GET EVERYONE ON YOUR SIDE, YOU'LL ALWAYS BE A SELFISH HEARTLESS FRIENDLESS SLUT!!! I HOPE YOU GET HIT BY A BUS AND DIE!
“Oh my,” Fluttershy squeaked. “That's... wow.” She turned the page
I hate you, Sunset Shimmer. Ever since you came to town, everything has gone straight to hell and you're the bitch holding the pitchfork. If I wasn't committed to nonviolence, you would have been on the receiving end of a baseball bat by now. And don't go bringing up what's happened with the Dazzlings. Odds are you just couldn't stand having any kind of competition. In fact, if you hadn't ever come here, the weird things that follow you wouldn't be bothering the rest of us! Do us all a favor and drop dead!
Pinkie flipped through the book. “The next one's worse! And this one... and this one... and this one... and this – ” She stopped and stared wide eyed at the page she had stopped on. “I don't even think that's physically possible!”
Fluttershy looked down at the page and turned bright red. “That's... oh... geez... I... Wait.” She put her finger on the page. “This is dated just last week! How far back does this go?”
Pinkie flipped the book closed and re-opened the cover. “Looks like she started saving these after the Battle of the Bands.”
“Who knows how many of these she's gotten before then? And she never told us.” Fluttershy paged through the scrapbook again. “These are all from different email addresses.”
“There's some regular letters too. She kept the envelopes.”
Pinkie looked at Fluttershy, tears forming in the corner of her eyes. “Why would anybody do this? Sunset's been nothing but kind, and helpful, and friendly ever since the Fall Formal. I thought everyone knew that! Why would they send mean things like this to her?”
“I don't know,” Fluttershy answered. “But she was saving these for a reason, and we should probably find out what it is.”
Fluttershy closed the scrapbook and put it in her own backpack. She looked at Pinkie with a grim expression. “Because we just found an entire book full of suspects who want to hurt Sunset.”
“This is absolutely disgusting!” Rarity said, tossing the scrapbook on the table.
“It's bullshit, is what it is,” Rainbow replied.
“RAINBOW DASH!” cried Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rarity. Rainbow leaned forward in her chair.
“What?! It is, and you all know it! Sunset's done more to make up for who she used to be than she has to. Why would anybody believe she hasn't changed?”
“Anon-A-Miss,” Applejack said quietly. There was an awkward silence as five of the six girls looked at each other.
“'Anon-A-Miss?'” Twilight asked.
“It's a long story,” Rainbow answered, a sheepish expression on her face. “But it wasn't exactly one of our prouder moments.”
“Just call it what it was: a major screw up on our part,” Applejack snorted. She turned to Twilight. “Last Christmas a bunch of our personal secrets got posted on a MyStable account named 'Anon-A-Miss.' Stuff only one of our group could have known. We all thought it was Sunset and well, we pretty much abandoned her.”
“She was innocent, of course,” Rarity continued. “It turned out to be Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo. They were jealous of the time we were spending with her. But it showed that most of the students at school, us included, were all too ready to believe Sunset had gone back to her old ways.”
“Ah-ha,” said Twilight. She decided not to press the issue, leaned forward and picked up the scrapbook. She began paging through the entries, a frown crossing her features.
“Twilight, are you sure you want to read those?” Fluttershy asked. “Some of them get really, um, graphic.”
“I'm not reading them,” Twilight said absently.
“Well, forgive me for asking, darling,” asked Rarity. “But why would you want to look at those horrid things again?”
Twilight didn't answer. She adjusted her glasses, reached into her backpack, pulled out a notepad and pen, and began making notes.
“Oookay, then,” Rainbow said, ignoring Twilight for the moment. “So, we know there's a whole bookload of people who have it in for Sunset. How do we narrow it down to whoever did it so we can whomp their sorry butts?”
“Problem is, it could be that none of the varmints who've been harrassin' Sunset were the one who attacked her,” said Applejack. “We don't know for sure.”
“We don't know one of them didn't do it, either!”
Rarity let out an aggravated sigh. “Even if none of them did do it, the fact that there are such petty, immature, small-minded, mentally incompetent – GAH! I need a cinnamon roll!”
The fashionista got up from her seat and stalked over to the counter.
“Oh! Oh! Get me a lemon bar, please!” Pinkie called after her.
“She saved the headers!” Twilight crowed.
The group turned to look at her, Rarity looking back from where she stood. Twilight blushed and let out an embarrassed laugh.
“Um... sorry. What I mean is Sunset saved the headers from her emails. I think I may be able to use them to see where they came from. And if the IP addresses match from email to email, that means they were sent from the same location. We can narrow it down!”
“You wanna run that by us again in English, sugarcube?” Applejack asked.
“Sometimes, in cases like this – not all of them – what looks like multiple people can, in fact, be the work of one person creating a bunch of fake email and social media accounts.” Twilight began paging back through the scrapbook. “If the IP addresses in these headers match, it means that those two accounts originated from the same location. And if that happened, then it's likely that the same person sent them. We eliminate all the duplicates and we have a narrower suspect pool.”
“That's... actually a good idea,” Rainbow said.
“You think you can figure all that out, Twi?” Applejack asked. “Seems like a pretty hefty job.”
“Well, I won't be able to work on it in earnest until after school, but I should be able to take out a pretty big chunk of them by tomorrow.”
“All right, Twilight darling, we'll leave that to you,” Rarity said, returning from the counter. She handed Pinkie the lemon bar she asked for. “As for the rest of us, we need to keep our ears open at school for anything that could help us find the miscreant.”
“I may already have,” Twilight said. “I recognize one of these email addresses. Or at least, the domain it came from. This email comes from 'chessblasters.org.' That's a website for a chess club I used to be a part of.”
“So a chess nerd started sending death threats to Sunset?” Rainbow asked. “That's just messed up.”
“It's not any chess club,” Twilight answered. “Chessblasters.org is the website of the Crystal Prep Chess Club.”
“I knew it!” Rainbow cried. “I knew nobody at CHS would be that rotten.”
“I wouldn't celebrate too much,” Twilight said. “There's three other domains here that are registered to CHS clubs. As well as quite a few standard internet provider domains, plus web based email services.”
She sighed and looked up. “Like I said, I can probably narrow our list down, but there's still going to be quite a few possibilities left over.”
“Well, then while Twilight's getting rid of the sock puppets, we can look into the ones we know about, right?” Pinkie said.
Applejack nodded. “That's a good idea. Twilight, you still friends with anyone in the Chessblasters?”
Rarity blinked. “Why on earth would they kick you out? I've seen you play Sunset to a draw several times!”
Twilight grimaced. “I sort of beat everybody in the club. Multiple times. They didn't like it. At all.”
“Ah,” Rarity said, not wanting to prolong her friend's discomfort. “Well, I suppose I could call Sour Sweet and see if she or any of the others have heard anything.”
“And Applejack and I can look into the clubs at school!” Rainbow smacked a fist into her palm. “We'll get to the bottom of this in no time.”
“Um, Rainbow?” Fluttershy whispered. “Maybe you shouldn't do that.”
“Why not? It's the fastest way!”
“But maybe not the best way,” Rarity interjected. “No offense, Rainbow darling, but you and Applejack can be a little... intimidating when the two of you are on edge.”
“On edge? What are you talking about?”
“She means when you get all riled up, you tend to punch first and ask questions later,” Applejack answered.
“I'm not gonna punch anybody!”
“Not with a fist, maybe. But you and me both have a reputation for not bein' all that fun to be around when we're upset. I'm with Fluttershy. If we're gonna investigate the clubs as school, we're gonna need to send in people who aren't gonna get their guards up.”
“Subtlety is the keyword,” Rarity said.
“Okay, but who's gonna do it?” Rainbow asked. “No offense, 'Shy, but if they start getting aggressive, you're gonna clam up and not get any answers. Me and AJ can't do it because if we get aggravated, THEY'RE gonna clam up. Rarity's going to be busy talking to the Crystal Preppers. Twi's doing her computer nerd thing, which only leaves... oh no.”
She looked over at Pinkie, who had somehow procured a can of whipped cream and was emptying most of it onto her lemon bar. She put the can down and shoved the whole mess into her mouth, causing her cheeks to bulge outward.
“Whaf?” she asked when she saw everyone looking at her.
“'Subtlety,' right,” Rainbow said, shooting Rarity a look. “So if you three are doing all that, what are me, AJ, and Fluttershy going to do?”
“One of the most important things we can,” Rarity said. She reached over and took the scrapbook from Twilight. “Excuse me, Twilight.”
Rarity handed the scrapbook to Rainbow. “Once Twilight has all the information she needs from this, you three are going to bring this to the attention of Principal Celestia.”
Their plans in place, the girls began gathering their things in preparation to leave for school.
“Oh wait!” Pinkie cried. She opened her backpack and pulled out Sunset's journal. “What about Princess Twilight? We were going to let her know what happened.”
“Good catch, Pinkie,” Rainbow said. “Lemme have that.” She grabbed the journal, flipped it open to a blank page, produced a pen, and began scribbling.
“Y'all sure that's a good idea?” Applejack asked, quirking an eyebrow. “We don't want to panic the princess and all.”
“I'm certain Rainbow knows the gravity of the situation and will show the appropriate tact and restraint,” Rarity answered.
“WHERE IS SHE?! IS SHE OKAY?! WHO DID IT?! WHY DID THEY DO IT?! WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?!”
“Or, she could leave out some details and cause Princess Twilight to come rushin' through the portal in a blind panic,” Applejack muttered, looking at Rarity out of the corner of her eyes.
“Yes, I clearly did not think that through—OOF!” The wind rushed from Rarity's lungs as Princess Twilight nearly tackled her to the ground. The princess gripped Rarity's shoulders.
“Rarity, you were there! What happened?”
“Twilight, darling,” Rarity said, prying the princess's hands from her shoulders. “Right now, Sunset's getting the very best care possible.”
Rarity explained what had happened so far, including the scrapbook and their plans. The princess frowned and put a hand to her chin.
“They're good theories, but I think you overlooked something,” she said.
Twilight looked at her twin. “What do you mean? We covered every – no, we didn't.” Her eyes went wide and she smacked her forehead. “I am such a dummy!”
“What're you two eggheads talking about?” Rainbow asked.
The two Twilights answered in unison. “The magic!”
“If Sunset's condition is the result of a magical attack, the amount of energy expended should leave residual traces,” said Princess Twilight.
“And if there's traces,” Twilight continued, “I can modify some of my equipment I used just before the Friendship Games to find those traces.”
“I'm not seeing how that's going to help,” Rainbow replied. Both Twilights let out sighs of frustration.
“If I know what the magic's signature looks like, I can use my equipment to scan anyone we suspect of being Sunset's attacker,” Twilight explained. “If they give off the same readings, we have our culprit!”
“Well, Sunset was attacked at the mall, so I suppose that would be the best place to do that,” Rarity began. She was cut off as the bell rang signaling the beginning of the school day. “But after school. And I'm sure you have important business in Equestria, Twilight.”
Princess Twilight nodded. “I do, but I wanted to offer my help. I can stay if you need an extra hand.”
“I don't think there's anything to do right now, Twilight,” Fluttershy said. “We really haven't had a chance to talk to anyone yet.”
“I suppose you're right,” Princess Twilight said dejectedly. She looked up sharply. “But the second you know anything, I want you to contact me, okay?”
“We certainly will,” Rarity replied. She shot a look at Rainbow. “And we shall have someone else write the message next time.”
“All right, I dunno about y'all, but I think we've taken up enough time on this for right now,” said Applejack. “Homeroom's almost over, and I don't think we wanna be any tardier than we are now.”
“Tardy?!” Princess Twilight yelped. “Go! Go, go, go! Don't let me get you in trouble! If you need anything, let me know.”
The princess gave each girl a quick hug and waved before disappearing back through the portal. The others smiled at each other, amused by her reaction. Rainbow leaned over and elbowed Twilight.
“You ever have epic freakouts over nothing like that?” she asked, smirking.
“About as often as you panic about forgetting to do your homework and come begging me to help you,” Twilight replied with a smirk of her own.
“Oooh, burn!” Pinkie said. There was laughter as they made their way into the school.
“All right,” Rarity said, “We all have our assignments. Twilight, meet me after school and we'll get your equipment and investigate the mall. I'll try to get ahold of Sour Sweet at lunch.”
“Sounds good,” said Twilight. “I'll get to work on those headers then too.”
“And we'll take the scrapbook to Principal Celestia during Study Hall,” Applejack said. She turned to Pinkie. “You know what you're doing, right, Pinks?”
“Check out the three clubs from the email addresses, see if I can find out who sent Sunset those nasty messages, then do whatever I can to get them to confess,” Pinkie's eyes narrowed dangerously. “Even if I have to use... the chicken.”
Up until that point, none of the girls would have thought you could hold a rubber chicken in a menacing matter.
“Uh, Pinkie,” said Rainbow, “Maybe don't use the chicken. Just let us know if you find out everything.”
“Okie dokie lokie!” Pinkie chirped, making the chicken vanish back to wherever it had come from.
Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy entered the office. Rainbow waved to the student aide behind the desk.
“Hey, Pepperdance,” she called. “We need to see Principal Celestia. She available?”
“Oh, hey, Rainbow,” Pepperdance replied. “One sec.” The redheaded girl picked up the office phone and dialed an extension. As she talked, she idly toyed with the chili pepper shaped locket around her neck. “Principal Celestia? Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Applejack are asking if you have a minute to talk to them... okay. I'll send them in.”
She hung up. “She says she'll see you.”
“Great! Thanks, Pepps,” Rainbow said. “We still on for the skate park this weekend?”
“You know it,” Pepperdance replied. “Can't wait to whup you on the half pipe again.”
“You wish!” Rainbow smiled and the three girls entered the principal's office.
“Hello, girls,” Celestia said. She gestured to the chairs in front of her desk. “Have a seat.”
The three of them sat down. The principal folded her hands on the desk.
“How is Sunset?” she asked. Seeing the surprised look on their faces, she explained. “Miss Bookbinder called the school this morning. She told me what happened.”
“To be honest, Principal Celestia, she ain't good,” Applejack answered. “The doctor's say she's stable, but she's in a coma and they can't figure out why.”
“Which kinda brings us to why we're here,” Rainbow said. “We think whatever happened to Sunset has to do with magic.”
“Oh dear,” said Celestia, concern crossing her features. “Why do you think that?”
Rainbow explained what Rarity had seen at the mall, then Fluttershy told how she and Pinkie had gone to Sunset's apartment for the journal.
“And that's when we found this,” she said. Rainbow put the scrapbook on the principal's desk.
“It looks like there's still a whole lot of people who are angry at Sunset,” Applejack said, as Celestia opened the scrapbook and paged through it. “And if one of those somebodies somehow came in contact with magic, well... I think you get where we're goin' with this.”
“But even without the magic involved, we thought you better see this,” Rainbow continued. “It's not fair!”
“No, it isn't. And I agree with you,” Celestia said, closing the scrapbook. She looked at her students. “Just as I did when Sunset told me she was still getting these messages.”
“What?!” the three girls shrieked.
“A few months ago, Sunset came to me with several of these messages. Like you, I was dismayed to see that her efforts haven't convinced everyone that she's turned over a new leaf. I asked her to keep a record of any other messages she received. I was expecting her to bring more in a couple of weeks so we could begin a formal investigation.”
Celestia sighed and looked back down at the scrapbook. “But I had no idea it was this bad. Thank you for bringing this to me, girls. I'll be looking into this immediately.”
“Thanks, Principal Celestia,” Applejack said, standing up. The other two followed suit. “We appreciate you seein' us like this.”
“I'd appreciate it if you could keep me updated on Sunset's condition,” the principal said, getting up herself. “And if I can offer some advice? If magic is involved, I want you all to be careful. What happened to Sunset could easily happen to any of you.”
“We'll be fine,” Rainbow insisted. “We're not planning on doing anything stupid.”
Celestia quirked an amused eyebrow. “You're currently five for five for dealing with magical problems around here. Do you really expect me to believe that you're going to leave this one alone, with the stakes this personal?”
Rainbow let out a nervous laugh. “Aheheh... yeah.”
“All right, yes, we're lookin' into it,” Applejack admitted. “But we know the danger and if things get too hairy, we'll be sure to back off.”
Celestia nodded. “Good. Now, I think the bell's about to ring. You best get to your next class.”
The girls nodded and left the office. As they passed by the desk, Pepperdance looked up.
“Hey, Dash, I heard about what happened to Sunset. I hope you're okay.”
“Yeah, I'm good. Hopefully, she'll come out of it soon. Thanks, Pepps.”
Pepperdance smiled and went back to her work. The three girls left the office.
“Well, what now?” Rainbow said.
“Are you workin' tonight?” Applejack asked.
“No, I got tonight off. Why?”
“I was just thinkin' somebody should got to the sushi restaurant after school and let Sunset's boss know she's in the hospital. I'd do it myself, but Big Mac needs some help fixin' the barn roof this afternoon.”
Rainbow nodded. “Sounds good. I'll head over with Twilight and Rarity after school. You in, Fluttershy?”
Fluttershy shook her head. “I have a shift at the shelter, but call me and let me know what you find.”
The bell rang, and soon the halls were filled with students. The three girls said their goodbyes and headed to their next class. As they disappeared into the throng, someone watched them go.
She clenched her fist, and pink sparks of lightning danced across her knuckles.
Pinkie began her investigation at lunch. Three of the domains on the emails of the scrapbooks all came from the webpage of a CHS club: the Mathletes, the Drama Club, and the Computer Club. Pinkie, being Pinkie, had friends who belonged to all three clubs, and she was sure none of them were the ones sending the emails.
She slid onto the bench next to Wiz Kid, her Mathlete friend. The boy with the bowl hair cut looked up from his phone as she greeted him.
“Oh, hey, Pinkie,” he said. “How's it going?”
“Okay,” Pinkie answered. “Well, not really. Did you hear what happened to Sunset?”
“Yeah,” Wiz Kid replied. “That really sucks, especially after everything she's done to turn herself around. Do the police know what happened?”
“They're still looking into it. But the girls and I think we have another lead. Look at this,” Pinkie produced a photocopy of the email that had come from the Mathletes homepage. Wiz Kid looked it over and paled.
“That's sick,” he said. “And you're sure it came from this account?”
“Yeah,” Pinkie said, her expression sympathetic. “I really, really, REALLY hate to ask this, Wiz, but do you know whose email address this is?”
Wiz Kid looked at the email, his lips curling up in conflict. He sighed and looked at Pinkie. “Yeah. This is Moondancer's account. She's usually in the library during lunch.”
Pinkie leaned over and gave the boy a one armed hug. “Thanks, Wiz. I know how hard that was.” She produced a cupcake with chocolate frosting and orange sprinkles. “It's not much, but I hope this helps make you feel better.”
Wiz Kid gave her a small smile. “Thanks, Pinkie. It kinda does. Try not to be too hard on her, okay? She's not exactly social.”
Pinkie's smile faded. “I'll try.”
Pinkie entered the library and spotted her quarry. Moondancer was at a table surrounded by books. She peered through horn rimmed glasses at the tome in front of her, idly brushing lint off her turtleneck sweater, causing the moon shaped locket around her neck to reflect the light coming through the window. Pinkie strode over and slapped the email down over the book.
“Hello, Moondancer,” she said slowly. “How's your batting arm?”
Moondancer blinked and looked up. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah, you can tell me why you did what you did to Sunset Shimmer,” Pinkie said, leaning over her.
Moondancer quirked an eyebrow. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”
“SPILL IT, MOONDANCER!”
“SHHHHHHH!” came a chorus from everyone in the library. Moondancer and Pinkie blinked in surprise. Moondancer shook her head and glared at Pinkie.
“I didn't do anything to that harpy,” she hissed. “I understand you and your friends are upset because she's in the hospital, but excuse me if I don't shed a tear for someone who did nothing but make my life a living hell at this school for the last couple of years.”
“But she's changed!” Pinkie insisted. “She's making up for how she used to be.”
“Not to me, she hasn't,” Moondancer said, coldly. “But as much as I enjoy the fact that she's finally gotten something even remotely appropriate for what she's done, I'm not the one who did it. If you had bothered to read the entire email, you'd have noticed that I don't condone violence, even against those who deserve it”
“So you did write it!” Pinkie exclaimed.
“Yes, I did. I felt she needed to know that not everyone is as forgiving as you and your friends seem to be.”
The bell rang, signaling the end of lunch. Moondancer got up from the table, putting several of the books into her backpack.
“Well,” she began, “While I can't say it's been pleasant, it has been kind of a relief to vocalize all this. Now, if there's nothing else, I have a biology lab to get to.”
Moondancer hoisted her backpack onto her shoulder and muscled her way past Pinkie, blending into the crowd. Pinkie watched her go, frowning. She sighed, pulled a clipboard out of her hair and crossed Moondancer's name off the list.
“One down, two to go,” she said.
The Drama Club was hard at work building the set for their next play when Pinkie entered the auditorium. It didn't take her long to find her target: A tall green girl, with two-toned blonde hair. She was dressed in ripped leggings, sneakers, and an oversized blue t-shirt that hung off one shoulder, a stylized fireball on the front, and wore a gold pendant in the shape of the word “Boom!” in a comic book font. She was pounding some nails into a staircase on the set.
Pinkie nodded to herself and walked up to the stage. “Firecracker Burst!” she yelled.
The girl blinked and looked around. “Oh, hey, Pinkie.” Firecracker finished driving the nail she was working on and stood up.
“Don't change the subject!” Pinkie snapped, climbing up onto the stage. Firecracker blinked.
“What subject? You just got here,” she said, confused. Pinkie shot out a hand, grabbed the other girl's wrist, dragged her backstage, threw her into a chair and turned a spotlight on her.
“All right, Firecracker Burst, if that IS your real name,” Pinkie snarled.
“It... is my real name?” Firecracker said, frowning.
“And what about 'earthshatteringkaboom99?'” Pinkie thrust a copy of one of the other emails at her. “'You better watch your back, cause if you screw up, you might just find yourself on the receiving end of a barrage of bottle rockets where you sleep!' Sound familiar?”
Firecracker gulped and blushed. She put a hand behind her head. “Oh yeah, that. Um, I guess should explain.”
“Yeah, maybe you should. What did Sunset ever do to you?” Pinkie demanded, folding her arms.
“To me? Nothing,” Firecracker began. “But I hate bullies, and she was one of the worst I've ever seen. You have no idea how many people she made miserable ever since she came here. I can't tell you how many times I had to help put somebody back together after she tore them down.”
Pinkie blinked, and she stared at Firecracker, surprised. “Put them back together?”
Firecracker sighed. “Yeah. When I saw that nobody could stop her from terrorizing the school, I decided the best thing to do was help anyone who couldn't take it. So I started volunteering at the community center help line, helping out the younger kids, being a shoulder to cry on, you name it. Seriously, Sunset used to know how to really get to somebody and make them consider doing some truly stupid things to get her to stop. Fortunately, Twilight – the first Twilight – showed up and put a stop to her crap. And then there was the Dazzlings and she showed she really had turned over a new leaf. But by then I was enjoying the volunteer work I was doing, so I kept it up.”
“But, if you don't have a problem with her now, what about the email?” Pinkie asked.
“Yeah, that was during the whole Anon-A-Miss thing. When word got to me that Sunset looked like she was back up to her old tricks, I was at a party. Berry Punch got into her parents' liquor cabinet,” Firecracker let out a nervous laugh. “I was really drunk when I sent that. And when it came out that she hadn't done that, I was really embarrassed and just decided it'd be better if I tried to stay out of her way.”
She looked down at her feet. “I probably should have apologized to her.”
Pinkie turned off the spotlight, pulled up another chair and sat down. “So you really don't have it in for Sunset?”
“I don't have a reason to have it in for her,” Firecracker answered. “I mean, yeah, if she started her old tricks again, I'd probably do something, but right now? No.”
Pinkie stood up. “All right then. Thanks for telling me, Firecracker. Sorry for pulling you away from the set.”
“No problem,” Firecraker said, getting up herself. “You really think somebody here at school did this?”
“We're not sure yet. But Sunset's been getting nasty emails and letters for months. Three of them came from club websites here at school. I've been trying to find out who sent them and why.”
“Hmmm, how many people have you talked to?”
“Two,” Pinkie said. She passed a copy of the third email over to the other girl. Firecracker took it and looked it over.
“This is really sick,” she said. A frown crossed her face. “And I know who sent this.”
“Who?” Pinkie asked.
“Beachberry,” Firecracker grumbled. “She got on Sunset's bad side about a month before the Fall Formal. I helped her through it, or so I thought. Look, what I sent was wrong and I admit that, but this was sent only a couple of weeks ago. I thought she knew better than that.”
Firecracker looked at her watch. “She's got study hall coming up. She usually spends it in the computer lab. If you want to talk to her, that's the best place to do it. She has a job at the mall after school she usually has to rush off to when school's over.”
Pinkie nodded. “Thanks, Firecracker! You've been a big help! Catch you later!”
She walked out the backstage door leading to the hallway. As the door closed, Firecracker let out a sigh.
Beachberry smirked as she hit the “submit” button on her favorite Daring Do fan forum. A complete breakdown and analysis of the various easter eggs and call backs to other books in the series in the recent movie, including at least five she knew nobody else had spotted yet. The board would go nuts for it.
And then go nuts again when they realized three of them she had completely made up.
She pushed back from the desk and stretched her arms. Yes, it was a cheap gag, but by this point, she had a reputation on the board for this kind of elaborate trolling. She even had a small following who positively delighted in figuring out what was real and what she had made up.
She pulled her three-toned hair (orange, pink, and purple in three parallel lines) out of its ponytail and ran her fingers through it, untangling the snarls. She adjusted the chain of the beach ball pendant around her neck, letting it rest on her pink tank top. She stood up and turned, getting an angry pink face right in her field of vision.
“Gah!” Beachberry staggered back in surprise. “Pinkie Pie! You scared the crap out of me. What the hell?”
Pinkie held out the email. “Why?”
Beachberry took the email and looked down at it.
I know you. I know what you really are, and everybody else does too. No one likes you. No one cares about you. Everyone at this school would be a whole lot happier if somebody just took a fire axe to your skull, then fed your brains to hungry dogs, then took what they crapped out and hurled it into an incinerator then took what was left, mixed it into a drink, swallowed it and pissed your remains into the sewer where you belong.
Or you can save us all the trouble and go back to whatever bizzaro world you originally came from. You don't belong here. So leave. Or kill yourself. Either works for me. Hell, if you haven't got the guts to do that, reply to this email and let me know, and I'll be happy to put you out of our misery.
Maybe I won't wait for you to reply.
Beachberry looked up at the “From” field of the email, then handed it back to Pinkie Pie. “I didn't write this.”
“Firecracker Burst says you did,” Pinkie replied.
“Firecracker Burst is a goody two-shoes who can't mind her own damn business,” Beachberry snapped. She poked the paper in Pinkie's hands. “That's not my email or IP address. So as far as anyone can tell, I didn't send that email. Go bother somebody else.”
Pinkie shoved the email back into her hair and folded her arms, her expression carefully blank.
“Fine, you didn't write it,” she said. “Let's talk about something else. What happened that got you on Sunset Shimmer's bad side before the Fall Formal?”
“Oh, is that what you want to know? Gee, let me just see if I can remember. Oh, right.” Beachberry's expression darkened. “It's none of your damn business!”
Beachberry stepped forward and leaned in, causing Pinkie to take a step back. “What happened between me and Sunset Shimmer is between me and Sunset Shimmer. Nobody else. Not Firecracker Burst, not Principal Celestia, and sure as hell not you or your damn friends! I'd tell you to go ask her if you really want to know, but I guess that's not really an option, is it?”
Beachberry turned away and grabbed her backpack from below the computer desk. She slung it over her shoulder and turned back to Pinkie Pie.
“I don't know what happened to Sunset Shimmer,” she began. “I do know that I had nothing to do with it. And frankly, I could not care less whether she lives or dies. We're done here. Don't bother me again.”
Beachberry shoved her way past Pinkie Pie and left the computer lab. She tried slamming the door on her way out, but the safety bar slowed the door down as she left. Pinkie let out a sigh and pulled out her phone.
“Hey Rarity,” she said. “I found all three of them,but there's a couple of problems. Yeah. No, it's just weird. One doesn't seem to care, it looks like one of the others only sent it when she was drunk and angry, and the last one won't talk at all. Okay, see you then.”
Pinkie ended the call, sighed again and walked out of the computer lab. Being a detective was hard. And depressing.
Rarity made the call at lunch.
“Hello?” came a bright voice.
“Sour Sweet? It's Rarity.”
“Oh, hi, Rarity! What's up?”
“I wish I was calling for social reasons,” Rarity said. “But I'm afraid this isn't exactly going to be pleasant.”
Rarity quickly explained what had happened to Sunset and their discovery of the scrapbook.
“According to Twilight, one of the emails came from Crystal Prep's Chessblasters club. You wouldn't happen to know if anyone in that club is still holding a grudge from the Friendship Games, would you?”
“Not offhand, but then, to be honest, there's a bunch of people here that still look down on the public school kids,” Sour Sweet's voice lowered. “Lamebrained close minded idiots.”
Rarity stifled a giggle. She may have softened, but Sour Sweet's tendency to utter her true opinions of those around her out loud still hadn't changed. She regained her composure and spoke.
“Is there any chance you could ask around and see if there's anyone who does have something against Sunset in the Chessblasters?”
“Not me, but I think Sugarcoat's still a member. I could ask her to look into it.”
“Sugarcoat?” Rarity blanched at the mention of the brutally honest and incredibly tactless CPA student. “Not to disparage her, you understand, but isn't it likely she might, well, scare off anyone she asks about this?”
Sour Sweet let out a short laugh. “Believe me, she fits right in with the Chessblasters. I get what you're saying, but she's the only person I know who has any sort of contact with them. Even around here, the Chessblasters aren't exactly known for being social.”
Rarity sighed. “All right, if you could arrange it, Sour, darling, I'd appreciate it.”
“I'll call you after school and let you know,” Sour replied. “And Rarity?”
“For what it's worth, I'm really sorry about what happened to Sunset. I hope she gets better soon.”
“Thank you, Sour Sweet. I think I speak for all the girls when I say we appreciate it.”
“I'll call you later.”
“Thank you again. Goodbye.”
Rarity ended the call and walked back to the lunch table where Twilight, Rainbow, Fluttershy, and Applejack were waiting.
“Well?” Rainbow asked.
“She's looking into it. Well, more accurately, Sugarcoat's looking into it.”
“Oh great,” Rainbow groaned. “I'm sure THAT'S gonna go well.”
“It's our only way to look into the message that came from Crystal Prep,” Applejack said. “We can't just ignore it.”
“I know that, but jeez, it's Sugarcoat.”
“I don't think she's so bad,” said Fluttershy. “A little blunt, but once you get to know her, like we did making the music video, she's actually pretty nice. Right, Twilight? Twilight?”
Twilight made a non-committal noise, and crossed out some lines on one of the pieces of paper scattered around her, then reached for another one. She scanned it, crossed more lines out and put it on another stack.
“Good thing we photocopied all those emails before we turned the scrapbook over to Principal Celestia,” Rainbow said. “The egghead's marking those up more than Ms. Harshwhinny does when I turn in my homework.”
“Any progress, Twilight?” Applejack asked.
Twilight didn't respond.
“Twilight, darling?” Rarity said, trying to get the bespectacled girl's attention.
“... cross-reference those three addresses with the ones in stack B...” Twilight muttered.
“TWILIIIIIIIIGHT!” Rainbow yelled. The ambient noise in the cafeteria stopped immediately as everyone turned to look where the yelling had come from. Rainbow blushed and laughed nervously.
“Ah... heheh... sorry,” she said. The rest of the students in the cafeteria went back to their conversations. Fortunately, the outburst had the desired effect.
“Sorry,” Twilight said. “I got caught up in eliminating the duplicates. But there's another wrinkle.”
“What do you mean?” Rarity said.
“I'll still have to look more in depth at these when I get home, but if I'm right, it actually looks like almost half of these messages came from the same person. The IP and email addresses are different, but in terms of sentence structure, tone, and grammar, I'm pretty sure they were all written by the same person.”
“How could they all have different IP addresses?” Rainbow asked.
“Easily, if they connected a laptop to a bunch of different wi-fi networks around the city,” Twilight answered. “And it's easy enough to get several email accounts from different providers these days. But, like I said, it's the content of the messages that seem similar. I'm not sure how we can prove that they were written by the same person, but it should at least help us make sure we're on the right track and not chasing somebody who may not even exist.”
“Well, don't forget we need to see if we can find any residual magic at the mall this afternoon, darling,” Rarity reminded. “I'll take you over to your house so you can get your equipment and we'll go.”
“You guys mind if I tag along?” Rainbow asked. “AJ thinks somebody better let Sunset's boss know what happened.”
“Good idea,” Rarity said. “We'll pick you up at the west entrance after school.”
Rainbow nodded. “I hope we find something soon. I hate not being able to do anything.”
“I know the feeling. Believe me.”
Rarity slumped down on the bench and took out her phone. She looked at the photo of the seven of them that served as her wallpaper.
Hang on, Sunset darling, she thought. We're getting closer. We'll find them, I promise.
“Stop it,” Sunset whispered. She was bent over as far as she could with the restraints keeping her in the chair. Her hair hung over her face. “Please, just stop it.”
The mirror had shown her an unending parade of images. Every petty, vindictive, selfish act she had committed from her time as Princess Celestia's student to her reign of terror at Canterlot High. Every insult, every plan, every rotten thing she had done to the students had been shown to her.
It had shown her everything she had ever done to her friends. Destroying the dress Rarity made. Crashing and ruining one of Pinkie Pie's parties that was meant to try to bring everyone at school together. Spreading rumors that Sweet Apple Acres produce was tainted by illegal pesticides. Putting out rumors that Rainbow Dash was using performance enhancing drugs. And worst of all, just making Fluttershy miserable at every encounter they had. It was like being blasted by the magic of friendship all over again, but instead of happening over a few seconds, this never ended.
Her reflection was loving every minute of it.
“Stop? Now?” it sneered. “But we're just getting to the good part. You know, where you get to relive what you did to the girl who put you here in the first place. When you–”
“I KNOW!” Sunset cried, snapping back upright in the chair. Tears were forming in her eyes. “I KNOW WHAT I DID TO HER! I KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HER AFTERWARDS! I WISH I COULD TAKE IT BACK, BUT I CAN'T! WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!”
For the first time, the reflection didn't smile. It walked forward and placed a hand on the back of the chair.
“I want you to realize who you are,” it said quietly. “I want you to know that no matter what you do, no matter how many friends you have, no matter how many times you save that pathetic little world from the magic you inflicted on it, there's no way to escape your real destiny.”
The reflection grabbed the back of Sunset's hair and yanked her head back. It leaned its face closer to Sunset, its voice low and dangerous.
“You are going to ruin everything, Sunset Shimmer,” it said. “And when there's absolutely nothing left for you, you'll come back to me and then, oh, the fun we're going to have.”
The reflection pointed back at the mirror and positioned Sunset's head so she could see. Sunset stared as the mirror flared to life again. She gasped at the image of herself, transformed again into her demon self, laughing as the town burned. Her friends all lying dead at her feet, the shattered remnants of the geodes scattered around them.
“No,” she whispered. She began struggling against her bonds, fear and anger sweeping through her. “That is NOT my destiny!”
The reflection snarled and yanked hard on Sunset's hair, causing her to cry out. It hissed into her ear, its voice now dark and twisted.
“Yes, it is. You wanted to know what I want and it's this. You; powerful, invincible, terrible. And when you've burned that world to ash, Equestria will be the next to fall. And from there, world after world after world after – ”
The voice echoed like a crash of thunder. A golden beam of light shot from the sky and struck the mirror, causing it to shatter into thousands of pieces. The reflection threw up its arms to block the shards, while Sunset tried to curl herself into as small a ball to minimize any impact.
The reflection looked up to see where the attack had come from and it snarled again.
“You,” it growled. It grabbed Sunset's hair again and pulled, forcing the girl to face it. “Don't think we're finished yet.”
There was a burst of flame and the reflection disappeared. Sunset leaned back in the chair and let out a sigh of relief, closing her eyes. She heard and felt a large form land next to her and move close. Sunset felt a warm sensation on her wrists and ankles and then heard the restraints snap open.
“There. You're safe now, Sunset,” came an all-too-familiar voice. Sunset's eyes snapped open and she stared at the large white form in front of her.
“Princess Celestia?” she whispered. The alicorn shook her head, her mane flowing majestically behind her head.
“No, I'm not the princess, Sunset,” she answered. “But you can refer to me as her if it helps.”
“No, of course you aren't,” Sunset said, shaking her head. “This is still my mind. You're just some aspect of my psyche, just like that thing was.”
“Yes,” Celestia agreed.
Sunset stood up. This was the first time she had ever been around the Princess as a human, and she was surprised to see the princess was still almost a foot taller than her. “So now what?”
“That's entirely up to you, Sunset,” Celestia replied.
Sunset groaned. “I'm sorry, but I think my brain recreated you a little too accurately.”
The princess chuckled. “Well, I'm afraid you'll have to take that up with the brain's owner.”
Sunset stared at Celestia for a moment, then laughed herself. “You got me there. How about we try to get specific? I'm obviously still in the coma, and I can only assume you're here for a reason. So, for right now, what do we do?”
Celestia gestured with her horn. Sunset looked in the direction she indicated. A table had appeared nearby, with a chair on one side and a large cushion on the other. An elegant china tea service was laid out on the top, with a selection of cakes and finger sandwiches.
As Rarity and Twilight waited outside the west entrance to the school for Rainbow Dash, Rarity's phone began to ring. Rarity picked it up and frowned at the unfamiliar number. She and Twilight exchanged a concerned glance before Rarity swiped the screen to answer.
“Hello, Rarity. It's Miss Bookbinder.”
“Oh! Hello, Miss Bookbinder,” Rarity said, relaxing.
“I wanted to let you know that the doctor has transferred Sunset out of Intensive Care to a regular room and will allow her visitors starting tomorrow,” said the landlady. “I thought you and your friends would like to know.”
“Oh, yes, that's good to know. Has there been any change in her condition?”
“Unfortunately not. She's still unresponsive, but they performed an MRI and they've confirmed there's no brain damage, so that's something. I'll be sticking around here for a while longer, but then I'll be going home. If there's any change, I'll be sure to let you know.”
“Of course. Thank you so much, Miss Bookbinder.”
“You're very welcome, Rarity. Good-bye.”
“Good-bye.” Rarity ended the call and turned to Twilight, who was looking at her with wide eyed expectation. “Sunset's been moved to a regular room. We can start visiting tomorrow.”
“Well, that's good,” said Twilight. “Any changes?”
“No, she's still non-responsive. Which means we need to get to work as soon as possible.”
Rarity turned in her seat to look out the car windows. She sighed through her teeth. “Where IS Rainbow Dash?”
The back door opened on the opposite side from where Rarity was looking, and Rainbow slid into the back seat. “I'm right here! Hold your horses!”
“You should have been here ten minutes ago,” Rarity said, starting the car.
“I had to help gather up the sports equipment!”
“Could we please not fight right now?” Twilight asked. “We have more important things to worry about.”
“Yes, you're right. Good point, darling,” Rarity said. “Will you need long to get your equipment?”
“Ten minutes tops,” Twilight answered. “I gathered it all together this morning before school.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Rainbow asked, leaning forward. “Put the pedal to the medal, Rares!”
Rarity smirked and slammed down on the gas pedal just long enough to cause Rainbow to be thrust back into the backseat, causing the athlete to let out a shriek and a curse. Twilight and Rarity giggled.
Twilight pulled her latest magic detecting gizmo out of the small bag she had picked up from her house. Rarity recognized part of it as the pendant Twilight had used at the Friendship Games, but the rest of it was a complete mishmash of who knew how many different electronic components.
Twilight noticed her confused look and smiled. “Yeah, I tweaked the anomaly detector after the whole thing with Juniper. I figured it might help if any more magic started manifesting around town.”
“I assume it doesn't randomly absorb magic and rip open the fabric of reality now?” Rarity smiled. Twilight gave her a look, then pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose using a particular finger. Rarity couldn't help but laugh.
“No, it doesn't do that anymore,” Twilight answered. “Right now, it has a really limited range, but I'm hoping eventually I can boost the power to locate wherever the magic is coming from.”
Twilight touched the center of the anomaly detector, which came to life. The small touch screen in the center displayed a six pointed star and the LEDs surrounding the circumference began lighting in sequence. Surrounding the detector was a frame which seemed to be made from two video game controllers and possibly a windowless microwave oven door.
Twilight tapped a couple of buttons, flicked a control stick and smiled as the star display began to pulsate. “Okay, we're up and running. Where did you find Sunset?”
Rarity led her friend over to the alley leading to the access corridors. Twilight began scanning the area with her device. Rarity kept an eye out, unsure if they were actually allowed to be here. She caught sight of a security camera above the door, a red light under the lens glowing brightly.
“Twilight, darling,” she began. “How long do you think this will take? I don't know if we're allowed to be here.”
“Shouldn't take too long. If there's any sort of residual magic, I should get a reading – ah ha!”
Twilight stood up from where she'd been crouching. The purple six pointed star had turned into an undulating pink line, and the LEDs were now all flashing simultaneously. “Got it! Now all I have to do is scan our suspects and if they give off the same reading we'll know they've been in contact with the – what?”
The “what?” was because the detector let out a loud chirp and the LED's went dark for a split second, before one began flashing on its own.
“I've seen it do that before,” Rarity said. “It's indicating magic it's detected, isn't it?”
“Yes, but I didn't expect it to start doing it right away.” Twilight looked in the direction the light indicated. “It looks like it's coming from inside the mall.”
“Well, let's not risk any unfortunate encounters with security,” Rarity pulled out her phone and dialed a number. “The food court entrance is around the corner. Let's meet up – Rainbow? Twilight's magic detector has picked up a signal. It's coming from inside the mall. Do you see anyone we know?”
“Oh yeah, I do,” Rainbow replied. “I just saw Beachberry leaving the Steakery Shack. You think it might be her?”
Rarity took Twilight's arm and half dragged her out of the alley way. “Perhaps, but Pinkie did say that she has an after school job here. Follow her and we'll catch up to you.”
“Check,” Rainbow said. She began walking quickly out of the food court, trying to keep Beachberry in sight without her quarry spotting her. She ducked and dodged behind several kiosks, information signs, and other mall patrons, getting a few dirty looks in the process.
“She's heading down the south hall,” she said into her phone.
“We're right behind you, darling,” Rarity replied. “Don't lose her.”
Rainbow made a few more less-than-subtle attempts at concealment, before stopping behind an information display. She looked around the corner and saw Beachberry stop in front of Nobody Loves Me. The tri-toned girl reached into her bag, pulled out a name tag and pinned it to her shirt before going inside.
Rarity and Twilight caught up to her.
“Well?” Rarity asked.
“She just went into Nobody Loves Me. Looks like she was just going to work,” Rainbow answered.
“Well,” Twilight was looking at the detector. The light was flashing so fast that it was almost solid again and it was pointing right at the store. “The readings are definitely coming from that store. Maybe if I go in by myself and act casual we could – “
Twilight was cut off as an ear piercing shriek came from the store. The three girls quickly looked around the corner of the sign to see an explosion of pink light, and a split second later, the form of Beachberry flying backwards through the air and crashing into the window of the store opposite. The glass held, but Beachberry bounced off and crashed to the floor.
Rainbow moved to go to the fallen girl, but Rarity instinctively grabbed her arm. This proved to be a wise move as a tall woman, nearly seven feet in height, dressed in a black overcoat and floppy brimmed hat strode out of the store and stood over Beachberry's unmoving form.
All three girls' eyes widened when the woman raised a hand and pink lightning began swarming over her palm and up her fingers like a Jacob's Ladder. Near her throat, they saw a glowing pink light.
“It's her!” Rainbow cried. She broke Rarity's grip and dashed out from behind the sign. “Hey, you! Leave her alone!”
The woman looked up. The upper part of her face was obscured by the brim of the hat, but Rainbow saw her lips curl up into a sneer. The woman quickly turned and began running down the hall, throwing magical lightning to force the assorted shoppers to panic.
“Oh, no, you don't!” Rainbow gripped the geode around her neck. There was a flash of blue light and she took off after the woman, leaving a multicolored afterimage behind her. The chase was on.
The woman in the black overcoat skidded to a halt as Rainbow zipped past her and stopped, arms folded, looking confident.
“Hi there,” she said, “You're busted!”
The woman growled and hurled another bolt of pink lightning at the athlete. Rainbow dodged to the left, barely evading the bolt, which crashed into another information sign, causing it to explode. Rainbow leaped into action, zipping through the hallway, grabbing bystanders and getting them to safety as the fragments of the sign flew through the air. She came to a stop and cursed as she saw the woman turn the far corner into the next wing of the mall. She grabbed her phone and called Rarity.
“She's heading into the east hall! I'll keep her busy, you and Twilight try to get behind her!”
She hung up, not giving Rarity a chance to answer. She grabbed the geode again and felt the tingle in her ears and her back as she ponied up. She took to the air and zoomed around the corner, flying over the heads of a couple of astonished security guards.
“Attention customers and tenants,” came a voice over the PA. The speaker was clearly trying to remain calm, but there was an edge of panic to their voice. “Due to unexpected issues, we need to evacuate the mall at this time. Please head for your nearest exit in a calm and orderly fashion.”
Rainbow watched as the customers below her ran for the exits. She scanned the hall looking for any sign of the black-coated woman. .She couldn't have gotten that far ahead of me.
She caught a flash of pink light from the corner of her eye, then pain exploded in her side. Rainbow let out a cry and bounced off the wall. Her vision blurred as she crashed to the floor, rolling a few feet to a stop.
“You just couldn't let it go, could you?” came a voice. Rainbow looked up to see the woman walking slowly towards her.
“Sh-Shut up!” Rainbow gasped. She clutched her side as she got to her feet. It didn't feel like she was bleeding or anything was broken, but she was sure she was going to have a huge bruise later.
The woman ignored her. “You could have just accepted your so-called friend finally paid for what she did, buried her, and moved on, but no.”
She raised her hand again and hurled more bolts of lightning. Rainbow took to the air again and began flying in random patterns, trying to avoid being struck.
“YOU. HAD. TO. KEEP. PUSHING!” the woman screamed. She thrust out both hands unleashing a massive beam of energy at the flying girl. Rainbow yelped and did an impressive mid-air back flip, the beam passing over her and gouging a huge gash in the ceiling.
Rainbow frowned and gritted her teeth. She flew up as high as she could and thrust herself downward, one leg extended. The woman threw her arms up in front of her face as Rainbow's foot connected, sending both of them crashing to the floor. The woman scrabbled back to her feet first and kicked Rainbow in the side, causing the athlete to cry out and collapse back to the floor.
The woman grinned and stood over the fallen ponygirl. She thrust out a sparking hand and prepared to fire a bolt straight into Rainbow's head.
“That's quite enough of that, I think!”
Suddenly, the woman's hand was encased in a purple glow. She fought to keep it in position, but her strength gave out and she was hurled backward down the hall. Rainbow looked up and let out as sigh of relief at the sight of Rarity and Twilight, both ponied up, standing in front of her. Twilight held her hands out, manipulating her telekinetic field. Her teeth were clenched, and beads of sweat were forming on her forehead.
The woman screamed and started to get to her feet, fighting against the purple aura that now surrounded her. The three girls gawped as the woman managed to force herself to her knees.
“Don't let her move!” Rainbow cried, staggering to her feet.
“I'm trying!” Twilight yelled back. “But she's fighting me! I don't know how long I can hold it.”
“Then let me deal with her!” Rarity threw her hands up and sent out half a dozen crystals. They quickly surrounded the woman and caged her. Rarity grinned as Twilight dropped her telekinesis, sighing in relief as she did so.
“That takes care of that,” Rarity said, smiling. “Now, all we have to do is get her to undo – “
Rainbow made a frantic “no no” gesture with her hands. Rarity and Twilight Looked at her oddly, but Rainbow mouthed “Trust me” and stepped forward. The woman, who had been bashing her fists against the crystals, raised her head and snarled at her.
“No,” she said, “We won't let it go. You kill our friend and you think we're just going to let that slide? Not a chance.”
“Hmm?!” both Twilight and Rarity let out noises of surprise from behind her. Rainbow put a hand behind her back and flapped it, indicating they needed to keep quiet.
“Once we figure out how to take away your magic, you're going to jail,” she continued. “And there's only one thing we want to know: why?”
“You should know. Aside from her,” the woman quickly nodded her head at Twilight,“you were all there. You know what she did.”
The woman grinned, the pink glow near her throat beginning to glow brighter. The three girls frowned. Rarity concentrated harder, attempting to reinforce the shield. The glow grew even brighter, refracted by the crystal panels. Rainbow and Twilight put an arm up to block the blinding glare, while Rarity began to squint.
“Something's not right!” she cried. She began to feel the same resistance Twilight had. Across the way, the crystals began to crack. The form of the woman was almost lost in the pink glow.
“As for taking my magic,” the woman's voice echoed inside the crystal prison. “I don't think so.”
The pink light exploded, shattering Rarity's shield and the rush of energy sent the three girls hurtling down the hall. They landed hard and slid twenty feet along the floor. They looked up to see the woman back on her feet, before there was another explosion of pink light. The woman turned into a giant bolt of lightning and vanished into the light fixture in the ceiling, causing it to short out and the other lights to flicker.
“Wow,” Rainbow said, getting painfully to her feet. “That's not good.”
“No,” said Twilight, pulling out her magic detector. She looked at it, pushing buttons and fiddling with the touch screen. “These readings are higher than anything I've seen before. I- I honestly don't know if we can beat her.”
“We'll worry about that later, darling,” Rarity said. “In the meantime, I think we'd better check on Beachberry.”
At that moment, they heard the faint sound of a siren. Which brought their attention to the destruction surrounding them.
“On second thought,” Rarity began. “Let's talk to Beachberry tomorrow after she's been seen to.”
“We probably should leave now, before the police show up,” Twilight said. Her breath was starting to become fast and erratic. “Because then we'll have to explain about the magic, and what we were doing, and then they'll call our parents, and we'll be held responsible for the damage, and then we'll get sued and grounded and – “
“Twilight!” Rarity and Rainbow shouted. Twilight shut up and swallowed hard. There was a flash of light and the three reverted to normal.
“Right,” Rarity said. “I think it's time to go.” The three began quickly making their way to the nearest exit. Twilight continued fiddling with the magic detector as they walked.
“At least now we know what we're up against,” Rarity said. “She's not going to be easy to defeat. She seems to be in tune with the magic much more than anyone else we've faced.”
“We know something else too,” Rainbow replied. “She thinks she's killed Sunset. She said we should have just buried her and got on with our lives.”
“Ah!” Rarity exclaimed. “That explains that.”
“Not really,” Twilight piped up. “Something's bothering me. She thinks she's killed Sunset, but she also said you were all there when whatever Sunset did to her happened. The kids at school all seem to know Sunset's in the hospital, not dead. Not only that, if Sunset was her target, and she thinks Sunset's dead, why attack Beachberry?”
“We'll find that out tomorrow,” Rainbow said. “And this time, we'll make sure to find out why she had it in for Sunset to begin with.”
“But she was just attacked,” Twilight insisted. “That proves she's not whoever that woman was. She couldn't have attacked Sunset.”
“No, but as Shadow Spade always says, 'you never know what's going to be a clue if you don't get as much information as you can,'” Rarity said, quoting a line from her favorite series of mystery novels. “As for her thinking she killed Sunset, it's entirely possible that while she attended CHS, she doesn't anymore.”
“Which clears Firecracker Burst and Moondancer, doesn't it?” Twilight asked. Rarity frowned, realizing the implications. The group finally reached Rarity's car, got in and managed to leave without being noticed by the police who had arrived on the scene.
After the mall had vanished from the rear view mirror, Rarity spoke.
“You're absolutely right, Twilight. If she thinks Sunset's dead, then she can't go to CHS. And if she doesn't go to CHS, then she can't be any of the three girls Pinkie talked to.”
“Unless she's lying,” Rainbow said in a quiet voice. Rarity and Twilight looked at her in the rear view mirror. Rainbow had an expression of wonder on her face, like something had just clicked in her head.
“What do you mean?” Twilight asked.
“She might have been trying to fake us out,” Rainbow explained. “Just like I was trying to get her to spill the beans, she might have been pretending to think Sunset's dead to keep us running in circles.”
“Possible,” Rarity conceded. “But, you must admit, kind of a gamble to take.”
“I know,” Rainbow said. “That's the only thing that doesn't make sense. Why use that trick now? There's only two reasons I can think of. Either she does go to CHS and knew we were looking into what she did to Sunset and she wants to throw us off. Or – ” Rainbow trailed off and her eyes grew wide with shock. “Call Miss Bookbinder! Now!”
“Whatever for?” Rarity said.
“It's a threat!” Rainbow exclaimed. “I hope I'm wrong, but if not, she may be going after Sunset to finish the job right now!”
“What the hell is this?!” she demands, gesturing at the TV, where the news is covering my fight with the bitch's friends.
“I ran into her friends. Wasn't expecting them,” I say, tossing the hat and coat onto the couch. She folds her arms and frowns.
“Yeah? And Beachberry? She had nothing to do with it!”
“She may not have made it public, but she sure as hell circulated it all over MyStable and the rest of the internet! She's just as guilty as Sunset is!”
“You blasted her into a store window!”
“She didn't break it.”
“Are you even listening to yourself right now?”
“I'm doing this for you!”
“I never asked you to put one girl in a coma and another into a storefront!”
“Well, excuse the hell out of me for caring about you!”
“Caring is one thing, revenge is another! Neither of them deserved this!”
“They don't – oh, my God. Now who's not listening to what they're saying? Your life was ruined because of that damn dance election, and now you're fine with them just walking away scott-free?”
“There's better ways to deal with Beachberry, and Sunset has turned herself around! I've seen it just as much as you have! I forgave her a long time ago.”
“She's never even apologized for what she did to you!”
Her voice goes quiet. “Since when has an apology been a requirement for forgiveness?”
She comes closer to me, her voice soft but firm. “This is over. Give me the necklace.”
My hand shoots up to the pendant around my throat. “Not a chance. And this isn't over yet. You're going to get justice, whether you want it or not.”
Her expression changes from anger to sadness. “That's not your choice to make. Give me the pendant. It's done something to you. Changed you, and not in a good way.”
“I can't. I can't let this go unpunished. You deserve better.”
“Give me the pendant, or I walk out that door and never come back.”
I stare at her, shocked. “You wouldn't.”
She nods. “I don't want to, but I will. You give me the pendant, and tomorrow we go to Sunset's friends and explain what happened. Then you undo whatever you did to Sunset and apologize to Beachberry. We'll deal with the consequences together.”
My heart sinks and I feel like I just got kicked in the ribs. She's serious. I don't even have to ask. I can see it in her eyes.
“And if I don't, you leave,” I say, my voice flat.
“Yes,” she answers. “If you choose that thing over us, then you aren't the girl I want to be with anymore.”
I clutch the pendant. Even though I'm not actively using the magic, I can feel it coursing over my skin in electric tingles. I look into her eyes and see her pleading me to give it up. I see the sadness, the misery, the yearning for things to be normal again.
The same things I saw when Sunset spread her god damn lies and everything came out.
“I can't,” I say. “I'm sorry.”
She sighs. “So am I.”
She pushes past me, heading for the door. I grab her arm.
“What happens now?” I ask.
“I'm going to talk to Sunset's friends. What happens after that is up to them... and you.”
She pulls her arm away and grabs her purse. When she turns to open the door, I grab the pendant, activating the magic. I reach out and touch her shoulder, sending the magic into her. She staggers and falls backwards. I catch her, then lift her up and carry her to the bedroom, laying her on the bed.
It's roughly the same thing I did to Sunset, but not as extreme. This should only put her to sleep for a few days. Long enough for me to finish what I started.
She'll hate me when she wakes up. She'll probably leave me. But she'll have justice, and that's what's important.
“I have never been so glad to be wrong,” said Rainbow Dash, collapsing back into Applejack's sofa. There were other expressions of relief from the other five girls.
“Is she still going to be okay by herself, though?” Fluttershy asked.
Rarity nodded. “Miss Bookbinder appears to be taking her emergency contact duties seriously. She plans on being there every morning in case Sunset wakes up.”
“And in the afternoon?” Applejack asked.
“One of us will be there after school in case our enemy decides to make good on her threat.”
“Can't we tell the police?” Twilight asked. “I know we had to leave the mall, but if she does try to ki – finish Sunset off, some professional protection would be a good idea.”
“We'd have to explain the magic then,” Rarity answered. “And let's be honest, given what happened to us at the mall, it's unlikely the police will be able to deal with her.”
“If they looked at the security tapes, they'll already know about the magic,” said Rainbow.
“But we still don't know how it works,” Rarity insisted. “Only how it works for us. The police will have a lot more questions. Questions we don't have time to answer.”
“It's like that show about the lady detective with superpowers,” Applejack said. “We don't hide that we have magic, but we don't advertise if we can help it.”
“Regardless, until we take care of this situation, I don't think we should get any bystanders involved if we can avoid it. So that only leaves us to guard Sunset in the afternoon and evenings.”
“Will we be able to stay overnight?” Fluttershy asked.
Rarity shrugged. “Probably not, but from what I understand, security tends to be greater overnight. Cold comfort, but better than nothing.”
“Well, I'll tell you what I wanna know,” said Pinkie, “Why would Miss Meanie go after Beachberry? I thought this was all about how much she hates Sunset?”
“That is a good question,” said Applejack. “Have we figured out what Beachberry has to do with all this?”
“Not really,” Rarity said. “Pinkie wasn't able to get any information out of her. But whatever problem she has with Sunset, it got her very agitated.”
Rarity's phone began ringing, playing the “Dance Magic” song that had won them and the Crystal Prep girls the music video contest. She picked it up and answered.
“Rarity?” came Sour Sweet's voice.
“Oh hello, Sour Sweet.”
“At the mall, was that them?” Sour's voice was panicked.
“Yes, I'm afraid so,” Rarity answered. “Unfortunately, she got away.”
“She?” Sour asked. “So it's definitely a woman then?”
“We're fairly certain. Why?”
“Well, it means you can cross off the email Sunset got from the Chessblasters. Sugarcoat talked to them this afternoon. Jet Set sent it. Apparently, it was over some online match he and Sunset played a few months ago.”
“He sent that filth because Sunset beat him at online chess?” Rarity shrieked, outraged. “What sort of sexist, chauvinistic – “
“I know,” Sour interrupted, her voice hard. “So does Principal Cadance. He's being dealt with. Word is he might even be expelled. The disciplinary committee hasn't decided yet.”
Rarity inhaled and exhaled through her nostrils. “Well, I certainly hope he gets what's coming to him. Thank you so much for looking into it, Sour, the girls and I really appreciate it.”
“Glad to do it. How's Sunset?”
“No change, I'm afraid.”
“Well, let me know if there's anything we can do, okay? Even if you guys just need to talk.”
“Thank you. We appreciate it.”
“All right, I have to go, but Rarity? Be careful.”
“We will. Thank you again, Sour Sweet.”
“You too.” Rarity ended the call and looked up at the girls. “The Chessblasters email came from a male student at Crystal Prep. As much as I hate to say it, it would seem that our mysterious nemesis does indeed have regular access to Canterlot High.”
“So what's the plan?” Rainbow asked.
“Tomorrow, if she's up to it, we talk to Beachberry and find out what she has to do with all this. Applejack, I want you with me on that. Given Pinkie's difficulty in getting answers from her, we may need to be a little more... direct.”
“Can do. Just let me know when,” said Applejack.
Fluttershy raised her hand. “Um, is there anything I can do? I feel like I haven't really been contributing to helping Sunset all that much.”
“I was just about to ask,” Rarity said. “Would you mind going to visit Sunset tomorrow after school? The rest of us will be along as soon as we can. Who knows? You might even be able to get through to her.”
Fluttershy nodded. “Anyone want to join me?”
“I have to work after school,” Rainbow said.
“Same here. Sorry, Flutters,” said Pinkie.
“And my family's going out to dinner tomorrow night,” said Twilight. “Sorry.”
“Ah, don't fret about it, Twilight,” Applejack said. “I'll go with you, 'Shy. I'll have the truck tomorrow. I can drive you over there.”
“And I'll be over as soon as I can,” said Rarity.
Rainbow frowned. “What are you doing after school?”
“Depending on how things go with Beachberry, I'm going to have a little chat with our other two suspects.”
“There's something I don't understand about all of … this,” Sunset waved a hand, indicating the entire environment. She ignored the fact that she was still human and Celestia was an alicorn, deciding it was too weird to deal with at the present time.
Celestia sipped her tea and levitated her teacup back to the saucer on the table. “And that is?”
“I don't know what this actually is,” Sunset said. “I don't know much about comas, but what I've read seems to indicate most coma patients don't dream. So what exactly is this?”
“What do you think it is?” Celestia asked. Sunset gave her a look.
“No, let's not do the thing where you ask me questions about my questions and I end up answering them. What is this? Seriously.”
Celestia gave her a small smile. “All right. As I'm sure you've realized, this is not a traditional coma as defined by medical science.”
“So it's magic in nature,” Sunset sighed. “Which means all the normal rules are probably out the window.”
“They are. It would probably be best to think of this place as a magically enhanced form of your own mental landscape, created when you were attacked. Unfortunately, the circumstances of the creation of this... realm, for want of a better word, prevent you from leaving it without some sort of external assistance.”
“Someone out in the real world will need to figure out how to counteract the attack in order for you to wake up.”
“Great,” Sunset groaned. “I was hoping I'd just have some kind of personal inner revelation and wake up.”
“Sadly, life is not a bad student art film from the 1970s,” Celestia smirked. Sunset laughed, then blinked.
“Wait, I know you're not really Princess Celestia, but that's a reference I would never make. I've never seen any 1970s student art films.”
“Ah,” Celestia said. “I guess I did let that slip. You're correct, of course. I'm not entirely a construct of your mind.”
“Then who or what are you?”
Celestia didn't respond but gave Sunset an enigmatic smile. Sunset quirked an eyebrow.
“Oh, so this one I have to figure out on my own, huh?”
Celestia's smile didn't budge. Sunset sighed.
“Okay. So let's see here. This isn't a dream, but something similar comprised by the interaction of the magic and my mind. Correct?”
“Correct,” Celestia answered.
Sunset nodded. “Okay. Therefore, it stands to reason that this place and everything that inhabits it is comprised of a mix of magic and something from my psyche. Memories, personality traits, my own sense of self.”
Sunset drummed her fingers on the table, her eyes staring off into the distance as she thought. “You admitted outright that you aren't really Celestia, which means that you probably aren't composed of a memory, outside of your appearance. So why would you manifest as Celestia, unless my mind associates her with some other aspect of your being?”
Celestia sipped her tea again. Sunset got up from the table and began pacing.
“I associate the princess with knowledge, wisdom, learning, and magic. Wait?” Sunset whirled around to face her mentor. “You're the magic?”
Celestia smiled. “Not quite, but it's close enough. I am a projection of the Magic of Friendship created by your mind. This is actually quite unusual, even Princess Twilight's never been in this position.”
“I don't think the Princess of Friendship is likely to be attacked by people she's wronged in her past.” The sarcasm was evident in Sunset's voice. Celestia laughed.
“No, probably not.”
“So,” Sunset began, “If you're the magic, I have to ask. Why don't you work the same way as you do in Equestria?”
“That's a simple one. Different world. Different rules.”
“I figured that, but why the pony ears and tails? Why the geodes?”
“I am manifesting in many different ways in this world because right now, I am out of balance. Ever since the portal was created, I have been leaking through. If you want to use a faucet analogy, imagine that I was leaking through one drop at a time, with each drop falling through every few years. When the portal opened, the drops became a trickle.”
“And when I brought the Element of Magic through, I turned the faucet on full blast.”
“More accurately, that happened when you tried to use the Element against Twilight Sparkle,” Celestia clarified. “Then, when the portal closed, the faucet, for want of a better term, wasn't closed all the way. The trickle was still happening, especially after Twilight figured out how to open the portal permanently. As a result, I am flowing into this world from Equestria on a small but consistent basis.”
“And the Friendship Games!” Sunset exclaimed. “Cross-dimensional rips must have brought more magic into the world.”
“Exactly,” said Celestia. “And so, I needed to try to balance the forces. Hence, the geodes.”
“And things are still out of balance, which is why you're running rampant,” Sunset concluded. “But, I have to ask, why are you corrupting anyone else who encounters you?”
“Magic isn't inherently good or evil, you should remember that from your time in Equestria,” Celestia replied. “In the case of friendship magic, it's empathic in nature. When you and your friends are in harmony with yourselves and each other, beneficial things happen. But if someone who isn't in harmony gets ahold of something I inhabit, well, you've seen what happens.”
“But why us? No.” Sunset stopped herself. “I know why the other girls. They're the counterparts to the Element bearers in Equestria. Why me?”
Celestia smiled and stood. She walked over and leaned her head in close to Sunset's own.
“Because, Sunset, you – “
Sunset was thrown back as a bolt of dark energy connected with Celestia. The alicorn let out a high pitched scream which was abruptly cut off as she exploded into a multi-colored cloud. The force of the explosion hurled Sunset backwards. She crashed to the ground and let out a cry of pain.
She sat up and stared in disbelief at the scorch mark where Celestia once stood. “Princess?”
“Sorry, got tired of her blathering.”
Sunset whirled around and she grit her teeth at the sight of her dark reflection standing behind her. The reflection waved.
Night fell over the city. For six friends, it had been an exhausting day, full of hard questions and very few answers.
Applejack sat on her bed, idly strumming her bass, lost in thought. The whole situation made her angry. Sunset made mistakes in the past, but her efforts to change that counted a lot more to the farm girl.
Her expression softened as she started remembering the times she had spent with Sunset. Just after the Fall Formal, Sunset had been plagued by nightmares about her demon self. Pinkie had set up a week long series of sleepovers, where each girl spent the night with Sunset. The company seemed to help Sunset with the nightmares, as well as give each of them a chance to get to know her.
Applejack found Sunset's stories about Equestria fascinating. She'd never admit it out loud (and definitely not in front of Rainbow Dash), but she still loved fairy tales, and hearing about Equestria's princesses, monsters, dragons, and other magical creatures made her feel like a kid again. Sunset also proved to be pretty good at video games, and unlike Rainbow, Sunset look losing gracefully. During that sleepover, the two girls had cemented a true friendship, even to the point of Applejack telling Sunset something she hadn't admitted to anyone before.
But memories weren't solving the current problem. She put her bass back on the stand and got out her phone. She sent a text to her friends.
Hey, anybody free to talk?
After a few moments, her phone rang. She swiped the screen to answer it.
“Hey, Fluttershy,” she said.
“Hi, Applejack. Is everything okay?”
“I dunno, sugarcube,” Applejack leaned back against the headboard. “I keep thinkin' there's somethin' more I should be doin' to help Sunset.”
“I know the feeling,” Fluttershy replied. “The other girls seem to finding out all these things, and aside from taking care of Ray and finding the scrapbook, I haven't really done anything.”
“There's gotta be somethin' else we can do besides just being the moral support!”
“But what? We still don't know who attacked Sunset, and Rarity, Rainbow, and Twilight are the only ones who've even seen her.”
“'Tain't fair!” Applejack snapped. “Sunset doesn't deserve this. She's changed, and everybody knows it. And it just galls me that there's still people at school who still won't see her as anything but the bad guy! She worked so damn hard for this and it seems like no sooner does she get back up than somebody comes along to knock her down again!
“What if this time, she can't get back up? I don't wanna lose her. I don't wanna lose any of you again.” Applejack's voice hitched and she wiped her eyes. “I'm scared, Fluttershy. I'm scared we're all in over our heads, and without Sunset, I don't rightly know if we can win this one.”
“We're not going to lose,” Fluttershy's voice was calm, but determined. “I'm just as scared as you are, Applejack, but I know that as long as we stick together, we'll find a way to beat whoever this is, and bring Sunset back. Don't lose hope.”
Applejack smiled. “Thanks, Fluttershy. I just needed to get that off my chest.”
“No problem. Are you still going with me to the hospital tomorrow?”
“Yep. Meet you at the statue out front after school?”
“Sounds good. See you tomorrow!”
“Good night, Applejack.”
Twilight poured through the copies of the emails. Even though they were sure the woman from the mall either attended or worked at CHS, she still felt obligated to finish the job she promised to do. She had managed to eliminate over half of the emails as duplicates of another message in the stack. As for the ones which all seemed to be written by the same person, she had tracked them to the same source: a computer which had been connected to several of the same wi-fi networks, but the majority of the connections had been at Canterlot High, further confirming the girls' theory.
She yawned and looked at the clock. It was almost ten. She'd been at this for most of the night. Spike looked up from where he was napping on the bed and followed her gaze to the clock.
“C'mon, Twilight, time to call it a day,” he said.
She leaned back in her chair and sighed. “Yeah, you're probably right, Spike. I think I've done just about all I can with these emails. Let me just get this all cleaned up and we'll turn in.”
She gathered up the papers scattered across her desk, organizing them according to source. When she had most of them in neat stacks, one fell off the edge of her desk. Twilight sighed and leaned over to grab it. When she leaned back up, she glanced down at it, and blinked.
“What?” Twilight looked closer at the email. Unlike the others, there were no headers with this one. The address in the “From” field was a series of letters and numbers and came from a free website based email service. But it was the message itself which held Twilight's attention, because it was completely different from all the others. Four words:
I forgive you, Sunset.
“When did she get this one?” Twilight asked. She looked at the date on the email. “This is way before I came to CHS. In fact … “ Twilight trailed off and grabbed her phone.
“Rainbow? It's Twilight. When was the Battle of the Bands? Uh-huh. What about the Fall Formal? Okay. I'm not sure. I need to check a couple of things. I'll talk to everyone tomorrow if I find anything out. Thanks, Rainbow. Good night!”
Twilight hung up and turned back to her computer. Spike jumped off the bed, walked over and put his paws on her foot.
“Twilight? I thought you were going to bed?”
Twilight shook her head. “Sorry, Spike, but this one's just so weird, I can't help but think it's tied to all of this somehow. I need to figure out where it came from!”
Spike sighed and curled up at Twilight's feet. “I'll be here if you need me.”
Rarity let out a sigh of frustration and tossed the latest Shadow Spade novel onto her nightstand. She couldn't focus on fictional mysteries when she had a real life one right in front of her.
Not that I seem to be making any headway on this mystery either.
She got out of bed and went to her sewing machine. She didn't want to wake anyone else in the house, so she picked up a needle and thread and began piecing fabric together. Her fingers worked subconsciously, while her brain began working on another level.
All right, let's play “What Do We Know?” We know that someone, most likely someone at CHS, still has a grudge against Sunset. We also know that person has acquired magic somehow.
Rarity's brow furrowed. Her fingers began working the needle and thread faster as her mind raced.
We know Sunset has been the target of constant cyberbullying at least since the Anon-A-Miss incident, possibly even earlier. We know the identities of four of those who sent that trash to her: Moondancer, Firecracker Burst, Beachberry, and Jet Set. We know that the culprit is a woman. Therefore, Jet Set is eliminated. We also know she attacked Beachberry at the mall, so obviously it can't be her. Why, exactly, she attacked Beachberry we don't know. Yet.
Unless Twilight finds some compelling evidence to the contrary in the rest of the emails, our most likely suspects are Moondancer and Firecracker Burst. Both admit to sending nasty messages to Sunset, but Moondancer claims to be a pacifist, and Firecracker claims she believes in Sunset's reformation.
Someone is lying.
Rarity put her sewing down and stood up. She walked over to her other bedroom window and looked out at the night sky. She glanced over towards the center of town, where the hospital was.
Oh, Sunset, I wish you were here. You were always so analytical. If it had been one of us in your position, you would have found the guilty party by now.
She folded her arms and looked up at the moon. Suddenly, her eyes widened and she turned back to the nightstand. While Sunset wasn't available, and Twilight was most likely asleep, there was one other person, or rather, princess she could turn to.
Rarity opened the nightstand drawer and pulled out Sunset's Equestria journal. She sat on her bed and began writing on a blank page.
Twilight? Are you there? It's Rarity.
She sat back and waited. It was possible it was late in Equestria and Princess Twilight was asleep. After a while, she concluded no reply would come tonight and went to put the journal away. Just as she sat up, there was a flash of violet light from the journal and Rarity watches as text began to form on the page.
Yes, I'm here! I'm sorry for the delay. I was in the other room. Has something happened? Is Sunset all right?
Rarity smiled. She grabbed her pen and began writing back.
Unfortunately, there hasn't been any change in Sunset's condition. On the plus side, the doctor is allowing us to visit her starting tomorrow. Fluttershy and Applejack will be seeing her tomorrow.
Well, that's good. What about the investigation? Any idea who's responsible?
No, but we do have suspects.
Rarity wrote down everything they had found out so far, including the cyberbullying evidence and the encounter at the mall. She made sure to include every detail she could remember about the fight with the woman in the black coat, focusing on the odd attack on Beachberry and the magical lightning the woman had hurled. She sat back when she finished and waited for the reply.
Looking at all this, I can say that whoever it is, you're going to have to be careful. She seems to have a lot of raw power at her disposal. It's entirely possible she could cause serious injury to you all in a head to head fight. But, I think I can offer you some good news despite that.
And that is?
I don't think she has as much control of it as she thinks. Lightning is almost always the form unchanneled magic takes. She's using it like a club. A lot of force, but no precision. It may be that she intended to kill Sunset, but somehow only succeeded in putting her into the coma.
Rarity looked at the statement, then wrote back with a wry smile.
The idea that murder may have been her intention has occurred to me, darling. Rarity tacked on a smiley face to indicate she was making a joke. After a moment, Twilight responded.
I will never get used to the fact you humans have figured out how to create shorthoof for emotions in text. Twilight's reply ended with a pony version of the same smiley face. After another moment, Twilight's reply continued.
In any event, if she is using raw magic against you, you can probably use that to your advantage. But be careful, Rarity. It sounds like she gets agitated easily, and with the unpredictable nature of the magic on that side of the mirror, plus what you've told me here, it could be that her emotional state affects the power she has.
So the angrier she gets, the more powerful her magic?
It's a possibility. Are you sure you don't want me or Starlight to come through to help?
You have responsibilities in Equestria. But, I promise, if it looks like we're in over our heads, we'll send for both of you. The next response took a couple of minutes to come.
All right. I'm not happy with this decision, but I'll abide by your wishes. But, PLEASE, be careful, Rarity. I care as much about all of you over there as I do about your counterparts over here. I don't want anything to happen to you all.
Rarity smiled. Thank you, Twilight. And we'll be careful.
Do me a favor then? Write me a message every day so I know you're all okay? Just until this is over.
I will. Thank you for taking the time to chat, Twilight. It's helped.
I really must get to bed. We need to talk to Beachberry tomorrow, plus I have to figure out how to approach things with Moondancer and Firecracker Burst.
I have some advice. I'm friends with Moondancer over here. We had a falling out, but we managed to reconnect after I realized what a horrible friend I was to her back when I lived in Canterlot. If she's anything like my Moondancer was when I went to apologize to her, she'll probably do everything she can to brush you off. Try not to get hostile with her. Instead, see if you can figure out why she's acting the way she is. It might help you get through her shell.
That's very helpful, Twilight. Thank you.
You're welcome. Now, I better let you get to bed. Good luck tomorrow, Rarity.
Good night, Twilight.
Good night, Rarity.
Rarity closed the journal and put it back on the nightstand. She climbed under the covers and cuddled up to her pillows. There were challenges ahead, but talking to Princess Twilight made her feel much better about their chances.
Rainbow Dash hung up her phone after her brief conversation with Twilight. She reached back to her nightstand for her copy of Daring Do and the Secret of the Baltimare Menace, when her phone started ringing again. She sighed and answered.
“Rainbow Dash, whatcha want?” she asked.
“Um... yes? This is Jalepeno Jelly, Rainbow. Pepperdance's mom?”
Rainbow sat up. “Oh, hi, Mrs. Jelly! Sorry about that.”
“Have you seen Pepperdance tonight? She said she was going to visit some friends after school, but she hasn't come home yet.”
“Who was she supposed to meet?”
“Lyra and Bon Bon. I called them earlier. They said they met her at Sugarcube Corner, but she said she had something to do and left about an hour later. Nobody I've talked to has seen her since. I haven't gotten any calls or texts from her.”
“Wish I could help,” Rainbow said, “But I haven't heard from her since school either. Sorry. If I hear from her, I'll be sure to tell her to head home, or check in, or something.”
“Thank you, Rainbow. Have a good night.”
“Yeah, thanks Mrs. Jelly.”
Pepperdance's mother ended the call. Rainbow reluctantly put her phone down and picked up her book. She opened to her bookmarked place and tried to read. Unfortunately, the words wouldn't register in her brain. Her attention kept drifting back to the phone call, and it wasn't until she realized she had been reading the same sentence for the last five minutes that she finally tossed the book aside and picked up her phone.
“C'mon, Pepps, pick up,” she muttered as the phone rang. Eventually, the call went to voice mail.
“Yeah, Pepps, it's Rainbow. Your mom is really worried about you. Get home, or call her and let her know you're okay, yeah? Talk to you later.”
Rainbow frowned in thought, then called another number. “Pinkie? Rainbow. Listen, you know everything about everybody, any idea what Pepperdance's Thursday nights are usually like? Uh-huh. Listen, Pinks, can you borrow your sister's car? Mom and Dad are having a date night tonight.
“Yeah, we're going to find Pepperdance.”
Rainbow and Pinkie came to a stop across the street from the Hey! Burger a couple of blocks south of Canterlot High. Rainbow looked as the lights in the restaurant began going out.
“You're sure this is where she works?” she asked.
“Absolutely-tootly!” Pinkie chirped. “She traded shifts with Flitter so she could have Saturday off to spend the day with you!”
“And you know that how?”
“Flitter told me when she had to reschedule our bi-quarterly pie eating contest.”
“Wait, you and Flitter have bi-quarterly pie eating – never mind,” Rainbow said, turning her attention back to the restaurant. “Are you sure she's even here? I mean, you would think her mom would know if she was working tonight.”
Pinkie pointed. “Well, if she's not working tonight, why is she hiding in the shadows over there at the gas station next door?”
Rainbow gaped. “Why didn't you say something?!”
She didn't bother waiting for an answer, instead getting out of the car and running across the street. Pinkie got out of the car and followed.
Rainbow didn't waste any time, grabbing Pepperdance's arm. “There you are!”
“Rainbow Dash!” Pepperdance cried. “What are you doing?”
“Looking for you! Your mom's losing her mind wondering where you are!”
“I know,” Pepperdance said, looking at the ground. “But I needed to come here without anyone knowing. Honestly, if I'd been thinking, I would have insisted we do this somewhere else.”
“Do what?” Rainbow asked.
Pepperdance looked at her, then sighed. “I guess you guys were going to find out eventually. Look, I kinda saw what happened to Sunset the other night.”
“So that's how everyone knew what had happened! You put the word out!” Pinkie exclaimed.
“Yeah,” said Pepperdance. “I saw the woman in the overcoat hurling magic and chasing Sunset. I followed them and saw them next to the maintenance corridors.”
“And she zapped Sunset, right?” Rainbow asked.
“Yeah, but just before that, her hat fell off. She looked different, but I was sure I had seen her before. It hit me earlier today, but I wanted to be sure. So I called her and asked to meet her to be sure. She told me to meet her here.”
“Called who?” Rainbow asked. “Who did you think you saw?”
Pinkie suddenly twitched so hard, her head painfully shot to the left. She quickly tackled the two other girls to the ground. “DUCK!”
A bolt of pink lightning shot out of the darkness, striking the side of the gas station. Shards of brick spattered around them. The three of them looked up to see the woman in the black overcoat standing on the sidewalk. She raised her hands, sparking with more magic, and hurled more bolts towards them.
The three rolled out of the way and scrabbled to their feet. Pepperdance ran off in a panic. The woman sneered at Rainbow and Pinkie Pie and took off after her, moving with a surprising amount of speed.
“Not this time!” Rainbow cried. She turned to Pinkie. “Call the girls!”
She grabbed her geode and activated it. She took off in a multicolored blur, closing the distance. The woman looked behind her and raised a hand to her throat. Rainbow frowned and poured on the speed, which is when the woman in black did something unexpected.
She stopped running.
Rainbow zoomed past her and dug her heels into the ground, trying to cancel her momentum. She shot past Pepperdance, who also came to a halt as the rainbow blur threw her off her stride. Rainbow skidded to a halt and spun around. Her eyes widened in horror.
“Pepperdance! Look out!”
Pepperdance turned and let out a cry of pain as she was hit with a bolt of magic. She collapsed to the ground. Rainbow felt sick as she heard the girl's skull hit the concrete with a loud crack.She snarled as the woman in black came into view.
The woman looked down at Pepperdance, then up at Rainbow. She grinned, gave Rainbow a mocking salute, then vanished in another bolt of lightning that shot away down the street.
Rainbow cursed and rushed back to Pepperdance. She kneeled down and her expression softened. Pepperdance was out cold. Worse yet, when Rainbow lifted her off the ground, the hair on the back of Pepperdance's hair was sticky.
“I called for an ambulance!” Pinkie said, rushing up. “Is she okay?”
“I don't know!” Rainbow cried. “She's not waking up, and there's blood and I – I don't know what to do!”
She held her friend closer, not noticing or caring that tears were rolling down her cheeks. “I'm sorry, Pepps, I'm so sorry!”
A siren became audible in the distance. Pinkie kneeled down and held Rainbow as they waited for help to arrive.
The music room was empty except for five girls who were all feeling the same sensations of failure and dread. Fluttershy looked at her friends and repeated herself.
“This has to stop. It's too dangerous now. This – this isn't like what we've done before. This isn't something from Equestria trying to take over the world, or people playing with power they don't understand,” Fluttershy's fists clenched tightly as her voice rose in volume. “This is someone who is using the magic to try to kill people!”
“We all get that, Fluttershy,” Applejack began, but the other girl cut her off.
“I don't think you do, Applejack! Sunset's only alive by sheer luck, and if some of us hadn't been there when Beachberry and Pepperdance were attacked, they'd both probably be dead now! And without Sunset, we don't know if our magic will be enough to stop her! If we try to take her on...”
Fluttershy trailed off and she slumped in her chair, her hair falling over her face. “I don't want anyone to die. I don't want any of you to die.”
The other four girls exchanged glances. Rarity pulled a chair over to face Fluttershy. She reached over and took her friend's hands.
“Look at me, Fluttershy,” she said gently. She waited until Fluttershy looked up, and gave her a small smile. “You're absolutely right. This does have to stop. But who can we hope will stop her? The police aren't prepared for any sort of magical force like this. Sunset isn't available. And I know we don't dare put Princess Twilight in danger. So that only leaves us. We have to stop this. It's our responsibility. You understand that, right?”
Fluttershy sniffled and nodded. “But I'm so scared. I know, I know. Big surprise.”
The other girls were shocked at the almost bitter tone Fluttershy's voice had taken, but they wisely said nothing, letting her say what was on her mind.
“But I'm not scared for me. I'm scared for everyone who'll be left if we lose. What if whoever this is beats us? What happens then? I – I don't think she'll stop at us,” Fluttershy's head rose, her eyes wide enough for the others to see the terror in her eyes.
“I think she might kill the entire world if she's not stopped.”
There was an awkward silence as the girls tried to figure out how to respond. It was Applejack who broke the silence.
“Then we need to figure out who it is and put an end to all this. But first things first.”
She turned to Pinkie who was more subdued than usual, sitting on a chair and idly toying with one of her drumsticks.
“Pinkie? How's Rainbow and Pepperdance?”
Pinkie sighed. “Pepperdance is in the hospital. She hasn't woken up yet either. It doesn't look like she's in a coma like Sunset though. But the police took her phone as evidence, so we couldn't get a chance to check her call log to see who she talked to yesterday.”
“And Rainbow?” Twilight asked.
Pinkie just shrugged. “She wasn't good when I saw her last. Her parents took her home and said she wouldn't be at school today. I tried calling her this morning, but she didn't answer.”
Rarity let out an exhausted sigh. “I can't say I blame her. She's known Pepperdance since elementary school. Pinkie, would you be up to visiting her this afternoon with me?”
“Yeah, sure,” Pinkie said, unenthusiastically. The other girls exchanged a worried glance, unused to seeing their friend so quiet.
“Er... Twilight,” Rarity began, “Any luck with those emails?”
“Oh, right,” Twilight opened her backpack and pulled out the sheaf of emails. “Eliminating those we know can't be her, I'm fairly confident that most of the cyberbullying Sunset received came from someone here at Canterlot High. And as I thought, about half of these emails all came from the same set of IP addresses. I can't say with 100% certainty, of course, but I think we can be reasonably sure that the same person sent these messages. But here's the really interesting one.”
Twilight pulled out the email she had found the night before and handed it to Applejack. The cowgirl's eyebrow raised and she handed it to Rarity, who stared at it, unbelieving. The email was passed around to the other girls, with similar expressions of surprise.
“I tried figuring out where it came from, but I, uh, kind of fell asleep at my desk,” Twilight blushed in embarrassment. “But I still thought you should see this.”
“I don't get it,” Applejack said, “Why would Sunset keep this email with the others?”
“I'm not sure,” Twilight answered. “But it clearly has some sort of significance to her. Maybe she thought it was sarcastic, or a set up for another wave of nasty letters.”
“Can you figure out where it came from?” Rarity asked. “I don't know if it's relevant to what's going on, but it might give us another lead.”
“I'll need more time. There were no headers with this one and the email address seems to have been randomly generated by the website. I might be able to work it out, but I'm not confident.”
“Then we go back to talking with our suspects for now,” Rarity said. “Does anyone know if Beachberry's back at school today?”
“I saw her earlier this morning,” Fluttershy said. “It looks like her arm is broken.”
“Better a broken arm than anything else,” said Applejack. She looked at Rarity. “Still wanna go with the original plan?”
“We'll be less intense than we intended, but we definitely need some answers from her.” Rarity pulled out her phone. “Assuming her schedule is still the same, we'll talk to her in the computer lab this afternoon. Then after school, before Pinkie and I go see Rainbow Dash, I'll have a word with Moondancer.”
“You think you're gonna get any answers out of her?”
“Princess Twilight is friends with her Equestrian counterpart. She gave me some advice on how to handle her. We'll see if it works.”
“What about Firecracker Burst?”
“Given what happened to Rainbow, I think we may need to postpone her interview until tomorrow.”
“You need me for backup with Moondancer?”
“No,” said Rarity. “You and Fluttershy head to the hospital to visit Sunset as we planned. We've been away from her long enough. I'll be by as soon as I can.”
“Sounds good,” Applejack replied. She looked at the other girls. “Look, y'all, I know this ain't what we hoped would happen and we're up against someone who definitely is more dangerous than anything we've dealt with, but we can't fall apart now. If we give up, she wins, and I know we ain't gonna leave Sunset behind like this, right?”
“Right!” Rarity said firmly.
Twilight nodded. “Right.”
“Right,” said Fluttershy, after wiping her eyes.
The girls looked over at Pinkie, who blinked and looked up. “Huh?”
“Pinkie, darling,” Rarity's voice was filled with concern. “Did you get any sleep last night?”
“Not really,” Pinkie murmured.
“Are you sure you're up for school today?”
“I'm fine,” Pinkie replied, her voice flat.
The bell rang and the hallway outside the door began filling with the sounds of students. Pinkie stood up and grabbed her backpack. “I'll see you after school, Rarity.”
She trudged out of the room and joined the throng of students. The others exchanged another worried glance.
“I think we better keep an eye on her,” Applejack said.
“I agree,” replied Rarity. “I'll try to find out what's going on when we go see Rainbow this afternoon. Twilight, you have a few classes with her, don't you?”
Twilight nodded. “I'll make sure she meets up with you later. I better go catch up.”
She grabbed her own backpack and left the music room. The remaining three girls stood up themselves. Fluttershy rushed over and hugged both Rarity and Applejack. Her friends returned the hug.
“It's gonna be okay, sugarcube,” Applejack whispered into Fluttershy's ear. “I promise.”
Fluttershy released her friends, gave them a small smile and left the music room. Rarity and Applejack sighed and looked at each other.
“We're in over our heads, ain't we?” Applejack asked.
“Yes, I'm afraid we are. But what else can we do?”
Applejack nodded. “The best we can, Rares. The best we can.”
Sunset didn't even dignify her reflection's appearance with a response. Instead, she hurled herself forward, tackling her other self to the ground.
“You killed her!” Sunset screamed. She drew back a fist and smashed it into her doppelganger's cheek. “I never wanted that! Ever!”
Sunset drew her fist back and brought it down again and again. Her reflection didn't make a sound. Eventually, Sunset's rage exhausted itself and she leaned back, breathing heavily. She blinked and looked down at her handiwork.
There wasn't a mark on her reflection. Its eyes snapped open, once again with black corneas and aquamarine irises. It grinned at her.
“You can't lie to me,” it said. “I know you've wanted to kill her. To take what you felt was rightfully yours.”
Sunset's expression hardened. “No, I did not. Not even at my worst did I ever want Celestia dead.”
The reflection barked out a short, sharp laugh. “Sure you didn't. Suppose you had taken over Equestria. What were you going to do with her?”
Sunset didn't answer. Her lip began to curl in anger. Her fist clenched again. The reflection noticed.
“Go ahead,” it said. “Do it. Do it and be rid of me for good.”
Sunset glared down at it. It did nothing but smile at her, its grin wide and dangerous. Sunset's frown of anger turned instead to a look of suspicion. She lowered her fist and stood up.
“No,” she said.
The reflection also got to its feet. “'No?' Why?”
“Because it's what you want. You want me to give in, and do what you want just so you can prove yourself right. Or is that it?”
The reflection actually looked surprised. “What?”
Sunset looked at the reflection with a puzzled expression. “What do you want? What's the point of all this? You say you want me to revert to what I was, but that can't be it. It's too obvious, and it's been too long. Yes, I still feel terrible about what I did, but I've learned to live with it. And no matter how much you make me relive every rotten thing I've ever done, it won't make me break. My past is not today.”
The reflection made a puking noise. “Oh, spare me that bullshit. Everyone remembers what you did. No one really forgets the truly horrible things someone does. They're remembered, catalogued, saved to bring out when the person least expects it.”
“Some people are like that. Not me. Not anymore,” Sunset said. She turned from her reflection and began to walk away.
“Where do you think you're going?!” the reflection demanded.
“Away from you. I don't know what you want, and frankly, I don't care. I need to wake up and get out of here.”
Sunset continued walking, keeping her eyes locked ahead of her. She ignored the shouting coming from behind her, determined to keep moving.
A bolt of dark magic crashed into her back. Pain radiated up her spine and exploded in her brain. She let out a scream and fell forward, landing hard on her face. She groaned and began to get up, only to feel a booted foot slam down on her back. Sunset cried out again, as the reflection dug its foot between her shoulder blades.
“You're never getting out of here. You and me, doing this hour after hour, day after day, until the day this pathetic husk of a brain finally decays and you drop dead!”
Sunset let out more cries of agony as the reflection pounded her spine on each of the last two words. The reflection grinned sadistically as tears began forming in Sunset's eyes.
“That's right,” it crowed. “That's what I want. I want you to suffer. I want you to bleed. I want to make you feel miserable about every decision you ever made. That's what I want, Sunset Shimmer.”
Sunset turned her head so she could see the reflection out of the corner of her eye. “Why?”
“I'm amazed you even have to ask. I hate you. I hate what you've done. I hate who you are. I hate your insipid friends. I hate that everyone seems to love you now despite the fact that I know what you really are! I hate that you're still alive! I hate that you keep succeeding where in any just universe you would be rotting in the ground!”
Sunset's cries started up again as the reflection began stomping and kicking her over and over again. “I hate you! I HATE YOU! I! HATE! YOU!”
For the first time since waking up in her mindscape, Sunset's vision started to fade at the edges. The pain was more or less constant and the litany of hate dug into her ears. Sunset felt her strength begin to fade.
“Sunset?!” came two voices she never expected to hear. Sunset's eyes shot open and she stared at the images of Fluttershy and Applejack. They weren't solid, like the reflection, but translucent, cloaked in yellow and orange auras.
“What?!” the reflection snarled, stopping her assault.
“Get your filthy boots off her, you... you... cheap knock-off!” Fluttershy shouted.
“I dunno what you are, but you ain't hurtin' our friend anymore!” yelled Applejack.
“No, girls, don't!” Sunset cried. She forced her bruised body to its feet and staggered towards her friends.
“Yes, girls,” the reflection grinned, raising its hand. Dark magic crackled around its fingers. “Don't.”
The magic shot forward. Applejack and Fluttershy gasped and threw up their arms. Bolts of orange and yellow energy shot from the auras around them. The two magics collided mid-air and exploded. Sunset dashed toward her friends, arms outstretched.
“C'mon Sunset, we're all waitin' for you!” Applejack cheered. She and Fluttershy held out their hands, waiting to rescue their friend.
“NO YOU DON'T!” came an inhuman roar from behind her. Sunset glanced behind her to see the reflection had become her demon self. The demon took to the air and rushed towards her. Sunset forced her legs to run faster.
The demon tackled her at high speed. The two rolled across the ground, pushing and clawing at each other. They came to rest with the demon on top. It grinned down at Sunset.
“Time for your friends to go now!” It hurled another bolt of dark magic at Applejack and Fluttershy. The two sent out bolts of their own, but the dark bolt twisted and writhed around them and collided with Sunset's friends. Sunset stared in horror as Applejack and Fluttershy screamed and vanished in a flash of violet light. She screamed and pushed with all her might, forcing the demon off her and getting to her feet. She stood in silence, staring at the space where her friends had once been.
“Now,” the demon sneered. “Where were we?”
Sunset felt her nails digging into her palms. Her teeth clenched so tightly she was half expecting them to shatter. She whirled around, her eyes locking on the demon. She began stalking slowly towards her adversary.
“What the hell do you want?” Beachberry asked when she looked up from the monitor to find Rarity and Applejack standing next to the desk.
“Answers,” stated Applejack.
“Quite right,” added Rarity. “And I believe, considering Twilight, Rainbow Dash, and myself assisted in preventing you from being injured any worse than you already are, that you might be more inclined to answer our questions than you were yesterday.”
Beachberry's expression was blank. “You believe wrong. Oh, and thanks for actually checking on me before you chased after the other magical freak.”
An uncomfortable expression crossed Rarity's face. Seeing her friend's distress, Applejack jumped in.
“Look, I know you don't like Sunset, and you really have no reason to talk to us, but whoever attacked you is still out there, and she's getting worse. You hear what happened to Pepperdance last night?”
Beachberry frowned. “No. What happened?”
“Our mutual enemy attacked her. And unlike your encounter, she succeeded this time,” Rarity answered, regaining her composure.
Beachberry's frown deepened. “Is she all right?”
“Not sure,” Applejack pushed her hat back on her head. “She's alive, at least. But we don't know much more than that.”
Beachberry leaned back in her chair. Rarity came around the desk and sat in the chair at the next computer.
“I know you don't like Sunset, and I'm not here to plead on her behalf. But you've been attacked, and both Sunset and Pepperdance are in the hospital. Whoever is doing this is getting worse. Unless we find out who she is and stop her, it's very likely someone is going to die as a result of her actions. So, please, tell us anything you can. Anything that might help us understand why this is happening.”
Beachberry sighed and rubbed her eyes. “Pinkie made a mistake when she talked to me yesterday. Sunset didn't do anything to me just before the Fall Formal. I did something to her.”
Applejack and Rarity exchanged surprised glances. Applejack folded her arms. “Go on.”
“I got curious about what her deal was and I began doing some digging online. And I found absolutely nothing. No school records, no birth certificate, nothing. Of course, I figured this meant that she was an illegal alien, and maybe if I threatened to expose her, it would get her to back off on the rest of the school. So I confronted her with what I knew.”
The tri-toned girl sighed again. “I should have known better. In trying to dig up dirt on her, I kind of accessed a bunch of government databases I shouldn't have. And the day after I told her I was going to expose her, she came back with solid evidence that I had hacked into those databases. So, we cut a deal.”
“We both agreed to leave each other alone and to not use the information we had on each other. And after the Fall Formal, it really wasn't a problem. But I was still pissed about how she had gotten one over on me, so... yeah, I kept sending her messages just to get under her skin. I guess I wasn't as careful with the one Pinkie showed me.”
Rarity frowned and reached into her bag. She pulled out a few of the emails Twilight said came from the same person, despite the different email accounts and IP addresses. “Are these some of them?”
Beachberry took the emails and thumbed through them. She looked up at the other two girls with a suspicious expression.
“We won't tell anyone you sent them,” Rarity said. She looked up at Applejack, who quirked an eyebrow at her. Rarity gave her a look and thrust her head in Beachberry's direction a couple of times, indicating the farm girl should agree. Applejack rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Oh, all right,” Applejack said. “We won't rat you out, but Principal Celestia has all the emails Sunset saved. So if she figures out you sent them all, you're on your own. Fair?”
“Fine,” Beachberry said. “Yes, most of these are mine. I did it to keep her from tracking me down.”
“What about Firecracker Burst?” Applejack asked. “She told Pinkie she helped you out after you and Sunset got into it before the Formal.”
“I didn't go to her. She sought me out. Wanted me to cry on her shoulder and all that touchy-feely garbage. She wouldn't let it go, so I pretended to be all broken up about it so she'd leave me the hell alone.”
She handed back the emails. “So that's it. That's all I know. I don't know who the woman was who attacked me at the mall, and I don't know why she has a mad on for me.”
Rarity looked thoughtful. “You say you got into some government databases when you were looking to blackmail Sunset?”
Beachberry shifted in her seat. “I don't know if I'd use the term 'blackmail – '”
“I would,” Applejack stated. Beachberry shot her a dirty look.
“But yeah,” she said, “I did. Why?”
Rarity paged through the emails, pulling out the one forgiving Sunset. “We found this one, but there's no headers and the address seems to be randomly generated. Is there anyway you can find out who sent it?”
Beachberry took the email and looked at it. “I've dealt with this site before. I might be able to figure it out.” She looked up. “What's in it for me?”
“Not reporting you right now to Principal Celestia for what you did seems like plenty to me,” Applejack frowned.
“Applejack,” Rarity said, her voice holding a warning note. “If you can help us with this, Beachberry, and if everything comes out, we'll put in a word with Principal Celestia for you, asking her to be lenient. It will still be her decision, of course, but we'll do what we can.”
Beachberry considered for a moment. “I guess that's the best I can hope for. Give me your number. I'll call you tonight if I find anything out.”
Rarity gave Beachberry her number, and shot a smug smile at Applejack. The cowgirl rolled her eyes again and leaned down.
“Y'all are just lovin' this, ain't you?”
“Perhaps a little,” Rarity whispered back. Her smile turned into a grin. “Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I am!”
The last bell rang, freeing the students of Canterlot High for their much anticipated weekend. Plans were made. Groups of friends left the campus for after school fun. Club members got together for meetings.
Moondancer put her laptop into her shoulder bag, made sure she had her homework as well, then closed her locker. She jumped as she realized Rarity was waiting behind the open door.
“I'm so sorry, Moondancer,” Rarity smiled. “I was hoping to have a word with you before you took off for the weekend.”
“I don't have anything I want to say to you,” Moondancer turned and started walking away. Rarity frowned and hurried to catch up to her. Moondancer spotted her out of the corner of her eye and sighed.
“I understand you want answers about Sunset, but I can't give them to you.”
“Perhaps not,” said Rarity. “But we won't know that unless we talk, won't we?”
Moondancer sighed again. “I don't like Sunset Shimmer. And I don't believe she's changed as much as everyone thinks.”
“And that justifies you sending threats involving baseball bats and her skull?” Rarity made sure to keep any accusation out of her voice. Sadly, it didn't work.
“I'm sure Pinkie Pie told you, I don't believe in violence. I just wanted her to understand that not everyone is buying her act.”
Moondancer came to stop as Rarity's hand shot out in front of her, holding the sheaf of emails.
“I believe that message was adequately received.” Rarity's expression was cold. Moondancer blinked and she began skimming the emails.
“Oh... Oh, dear. These... wow.” Moondancer's eyes widened. “This is just –“
“Disgusting? I agree,” Rarity finished. All the lightness had gone out of her voice. “So, with that in mind, would you care to account for your whereabouts the night Sunset was attacked?”
“I was at home,” Moondancer replied before she realized she had started talking. “I did my homework, surfed the internet for a while, and went to bed.”
Rarity quirked an eyebrow. “Not exactly vindication, you must admit.”
Moondancer sighed. “No. But it's the truth.”
The two of them exited the school and headed for the student parking lot. Rarity took the emails back from Moondancer and tried a different tack. “What about last night around 10:30?”
“Same thing, I'm afraid,” Moondancer answered. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her car keys. “I know this doesn't clear me, and it's really not all that helpful. But I didn't do anything to Sunset, or anyone else.”
Rarity sighed. “I wish I could believe you, Moondancer. Truly, I do.”
“I know,” Moondancer opened her car door and climbed inside. She started the car and rolled down the window. “I didn't realize so many people were doing the same thing I was. It was wrong. Very wrong.”
“Then the question is, what are you going to do about it?” Rarity said, folding her arms. Moondancer looked down at her steering wheel for a moment, then back up at Rarity.
“I don't know yet. But I'll think of something. I promise.”
Rarity nodded and stepped back, allowing Moondancer to back out of the parking space and leave the parking lot. She huffed in frustration, and pulled out her phone.
“Applejack? Yes, I talked to her. Not well, I'm afraid. No, no, she was very forthcoming, it's just her alibi is useless. She says she was at home when Sunset and Pepperdance were attacked.”
Rarity listened for a bit, and her eyes widened. “Oh, for the love of – No, I didn't. I should have asked her where she was while we were at the mall. It would have been much easier to confirm her alibi that way! I am such an idiot.”
Rarity trudged her way over to her car. “I guess we'll have to ask her about it on Monday. Unless we can find her somewhere around town this weekend. Oh! I'll ask Pinkie! She should know where she lives or works or something. Right, right. Sorry. Got a bit carried away. Yes, you and Fluttershy head for the hospital. I need to pick up Pinkie and go check on Rainbow Dash. Hopefully, we'll be there in a couple of hours. Right. Talk to you later.”
Rarity reached her car, got in, and started it. She drove around to the front of the school. As she pulled up to the curb, she saw Pinkie trudging down the sidewalk. The pink girl's hair was limp and lifeless.
Definitely not a good sign. Rarity thought. She drove forward and rolled down the passenger side window.
Pinkie looked towards the car. “Oh, hi, Rarity.”
“Did you forget we were supposed to go see Rainbow Dash after school?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Okay.”
Rarity stopped the car, and leaned over to open the passenger door. Pinkie slid inside and closed the door, before latching her seat belt. Rarity looked at her, concerned, before driving off campus.
“Pinkie, is something wrong? You haven't seemed like yourself today.”
“I'm fine,” Pinkie said. She had her chin resting on her hand and idly looked out the window at the passing scenery.
“You most certainly are not,” Rarity said firmly. “You and Rainbow had a terrible night last night and – “
“A terrible night?” Pinkie repeated. She turned to look at Rarity, her expression dark. “A terrible night?!”
Rarity gulped, the harshness in Pinkie's voice taking her by surprise. Pinkie's voice became louder as she spoke.
“It was the worst night of my life! I had to stand there and watch as that – that – witch hurt Pepperdance and we couldn't do anything to stop her. Then, I had to see Rainbow Dash crumble into tears and hold her hurt friend, and there was nothing I could do to stop that! I couldn't do anything, Rarity! Nothing but hold Rainbow while we waited for help. She was crying! Rainbow doesn't cry! And I couldn't do anything to help her! What good am I if I can't help my friends?”
Pinkie finally broke down and started bawling uncontrollably, burying her face in her hands. Rarity quickly pulled the car over and unbuckled her seat belt. She leaned over and hugged Pinkie Pie tightly.
“Now, you listen to me, Pinkamena Diane Pie,” she began, pulling back so she could look at Pinkie's tear streaked face. “You did nothing wrong. Rainbow Dash did nothing wrong. You both did everything you could to save Pepperdance.”
“B-but it wasn't enough!” Pinkie's eyes began to tear up again. Rarity nodded solemnly.
“Yes, but we're also up against someone who doesn't play fair, and has absolutely no scruples. Frankly, while all three of you getting through last night unscathed would have been ideal, I certainly am glad both you and Rainbow managed to make it through. And, without you two, I might add, Pepperdance may be in a worse condition than she is right now.”
Rarity produced a handkerchief and wiped Pinkie's eyes. She leaned in close for another hug. “You may not have kept her from getting hurt, but you just might have prevented her from being killed. And that is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Pinkie sniffled and gave Rarity a small smile. Her hair began to slowly poof back up to its normal mass of unmanageable curls. She shot forward and gave Rarity a rib-crunching hug of her own.
“You're welcome,” Rarity extricated herself from Pinkie embrace and refastened her seat belt. “Now, let's go help Rainbow Dash realize the same thing, shall we?”
“You betcha!” Pinkie sat back in her seat, her hair and herself back to normal. Rarity smiled and started the car.
“I'm glad you stopped by, girls,” said Windy Whistles, Rainbow's mom, as she let them into the house. “I'm worried about Rainbow.”
“Is she all right?” Rarity asked. “We've been trying to get hold of her all day, but she hasn't answered.”
“No, I don't think she is. She's pretty much stayed in her room all day. I brought her lunch a couple of hours ago and she was asleep. Or pretending.”
Windy sighed. She opened her mouth, as if to say something further, but closed her mouth and just gave the girls a sad smile. Pinkie came forward and gave her a hug. Windy blinked, but returned the hug after a moment.
“I'm sorry, Mrs. Whistles,” Pinkie said. “I should have been here today to help. I was kind of wrapped up in myself.”
Windy broke the hug and looked at her. “What are you talking about? If you hadn't been with her, I don't know if she'd have even come home last night.”
“Why wouldn't she?” Rarity asked, frowning.
“Back in elementary school, Dashie and Pepperdance were inseparable,” Windy explained, leading the girls back to the kitchen. She offered Rarity a bottle of water and handed Pinkie a soda. “Not a weekend went by when the two of them weren't out running around the neighborhood. As they got older, naturally, they started making more friends and didn't hang out as much, but they still made time for each other.
“I know she likes to play it cool and tough around everyone, but underneath, Rainbow cares deeply about everyone in her life. And when Pepperdance got hurt last night, she took it harder than you probably thought.”
“Well, if they've been friends that long, of course she did,” Rarity said.
“If you hadn't been there for her, Pinkie, I'm pretty sure she would have insisted on staying by her side all the way to the hospital. Most likely, without taking care of herself.” Windy sighed. “Her father and I try to be supportive of her in anything she does, but I worry about her when things like this happen. She just shuts down when she thinks she's failed.”
“Well, we'll see what we can do,” Rarity said. “Is it all right if we go up and see her?”
“Yes, of course. I'm sorry, girls, I'm talking your ears off.” She led the girls to the staircase and called up. “Rainbow? Rarity and Pinkie Pie are here to see you! I'm sending them up, okay?”
There was no response. Windy indicated that the two should go on up in spite of the lack of reply. They climbed the stairs and made their way to Rainbow's room. This was easy to find, as the closed door was covered in posters of assorted sports teams and stars.
Rarity knocked on the door. “Rainbow? It's us. May we come in?”
There was an unintelligible sound from behind the door. Rarity and Pinkie looked at each other then opened the door and went in. The room was dark, with the blinds down and a pair of heavy blue curtains drawn on top of them.
A large lump was visible under the dark blue comforter that covered the bed. Rarity pulled the chair from the nearby desk. She placed the chair next to the bed and sat down.
“Rainbow? Are you awake?”
“Go 'way,” came Rainbow's muffled voice from under the comforter.
“I will not,” Rarity replied. “We're worried about you, and we're not going to leave until we know you're okay.”
“'m fine. Thanks for comin'. Go 'way.”
Rarity and Pinkie exchanged concerned looks. Rarity reached out and began pulling the comforter down. A blue hand shot out and began pulling it back up. The two struggled for a while, before Rainbow yanked the blanket hard enough to pull it out of Rarity's grip and back up over herself to the point that her feet were left exposed.
Rarity huffed through her nose and glanced over at Pinkie. “Do it.”
Pinkie grinned and began tickling the bottoms of Rainbow's feet. The feet began kicking at her hands, but Rarity reached over and grabbed her ankles. Pinkie redoubled her efforts. Under the comforter, Rainbow began laughing. After a minute of tickling, Rainbow sat up and threw the comforter off.
“Okay, okay, okay! Knock it off!” she cried, kicking her way out of her friends' grip. She sat up. “Whaddya want?”
“We want to make sure you're okay after last night, considering we haven't seen you all day,” Rarity said sharply. She heard her tone and shook her head. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you.”
Rainbow shrugged, her expression glum. “Go ahead. I deserve it.”
“You do not!” Pinkie cried, crashing onto the bed next to her. “You were awesome last night! You saved Pepperdance!”
“No, I didn't! She's hurt and lying there in the hospital, just like Sunset!”
“But it's not your fault!”
“Yes, it is! I have super speed! I have magic superpowers! There's no reason I shouldn't have saved her!”
Rainbow whirled and pounded her fist into her pillow. “I thought having magic was going to be awesome, like in all the comics and cartoons and movies and stuff. I thought we were gonna be kicking bad guy butt and saving people.
“I thought we were going to be heroes.”
Rarity leaned forward. “We are heroes, Rainbow Dash. You are a hero.”
Rainbow looked up. Her eyes were wet. “I couldn't save her.”
“You did save her,” Rarity insisted. “If you hadn't been there to scare her off, Pepperdance would be far worse off than she is now.”
“She wouldn't be hurt at all if I hadn't fallen for her stupid trick!”
“You made a mistake!” Rarity yelled. “Everyone makes mistakes! I don't know why you have this ridiculous obsession with making sure that everyone sees you as this unflappable pinnacle of awesomeness, but you don't need to do that with us! We're your friends!”
“I know that!” Rainbow yelled back.
“Then why on god's green earth are you so bound and determined to punish yourself for something which is not your fault?!”
“Because I could screw up again!” Rainbow screamed. “She could do something to you, or Pinkie, or Twilight, or any of the others! She scares me, okay?! She scares the living crap out of me, and I don't want my friends to pay the price for my stupid failures!”
“Is everything all right up there?” came Windy's voice from the hall. “I thought I heard yelling.”
There was an awkward silence as the three girls looked at each other.
“Yeah, Mom, we're fine,” Rainbow called.
“Well, if you need anything, let me know.”
Rarity leaned forward again and spoke softly. “Rainbow, we're all scared. Sunset isn't here to help us, and our adversary is clearly deranged. But we can't let our fears keep us from doing what we need to do. Otherwise, what happened to Pepperdance is going to happen again, and again, and probably worse. And that would hardly be awesome, now would it?”
Rainbow looked down at her feet, then back up at her friends. Pinkie was grinning widely and nodding, while Rarity's smile, while smaller, was just as encouraging. Rainbow blinked, then gave them a small smile of her own. She flopped forward and hugged both of them.
“Thanks, guys,” she whispered.
“Glad to have you back,” Rarity whispered back. Pinkie sniffled then began bawling uncontrollably.
“I'm so gla-a-a-d!”
“Okay, okay,” Rainbow groaned. “Turn off the waterworks already!”
Pinkie got herself under control and the hug broke up.
“So now what?” Rainbow asked. “I called off work today. Didn't think it'd help.”
“Same here,” Pinkie said.
“Then I think it's high time we visited Sunset,” Rarity stated. She pulled out her phone. “I'll give Applejack a call and – “ She was interrupted as her phone began ringing and vibrating. “Oh! Speak of the devil. Applejack? Yes, I'm with Pinkie and Rainbow Dash. We'll be there in a bit. Rainbow still needs to shower.”
“Hey!” Rainbow yelped. Rarity smirked at her and was about to speak again, when her eyes widened.
“Hold on, I'm going to put you on speaker!” Rarity tapped the screen. “Now say that again.”
“Y'all need to get down here as fast as you can!” Applejack's voice was high with excitement. “I dunno how it happened, but Fluttershy and I managed to make contact with Sunset!”
When the last bell rang, signaling the beginning of the weekend, Fluttershy hurried to her locker to get her homework and drop off the textbook from her last class. As she put her backpack on, Applejack came up to her.
“Hey, Fluttershy, you ready to go?”
“Just about,” Fluttershy adjusted the straps of her backpack. “Okay, let's go.”
The two began making their way out of the school with the majority of the students. They returned greetings and well-wishes for the weekend. Finally, they passed through the main doors of Canterlot High and into the parking lot, where the Apple family's well-used pickup truck was parked. Applejack unlocked both doors and the girls climbed into the cab. Fluttershy put her backpack on the floor between her feet.
“I hope she's doing better,” she said. “Is it too much to hope she woke up while we were in class?”
“Dunno, sugarcube,” Applejack said, fastening her own seat belt. She put the keys in the ignition and turned the key. Nothing happened. The farm girl frowned and reached under the steering column, fiddling with wires as she continued speaking. “If we're really lucky, maybe she will be, but I wouldn't count on it.”
Applejack leaned back and twisted the key again, only this time she slammed her fist against the side of the steering column. The engine revved, sputtered, and then roared to life. “Ha! Showed you who's boss again, didn't I?”
Fluttershy giggled. This was a ritual anytime Applejack had the truck. The truck would always start up with no problems for Big Mac, whereas Applejack usually needed five to ten minutes of fiddling with the wiring, looking under the hood, and occasionally a constant stream of cussing that usually got her some scandalized looks from anyone in earshot.
Applejack put the truck in gear and headed out of the parking lot. As they pulled into traffic, Fluttershy spoke again.
“So, do you have any ideas who's doing all this?”
“Not really,” Applejack replied. “But if I had to put money on it, I think it's either Moondancer or Firecracker Burst.”
“Firecracker Burst? Why? She said she doesn't have anything against Sunset.”
“'Cept she still sent that email.”
“But she was drunk and angry. Haven't you ever done something like that when you were... oh, probably not, huh?”
Applejack smirked. “Don't be so sure. There's a reason why I don't let y'all come over when cider season first rolls around.”
Fluttershy giggled again, then became serious. “But, still, I can't see Firecracker doing the kinds of things that woman's been doing. She's all about helping people, not hurting them.”
Applejack shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. But somethin' in my gut tells me she knows more about what's goin' on than she's tellin'. I could be wrong, I hope I am, but I ain't seen anything so far that makes me wanna cross her off our list.”
“I guess,” Fluttershy murmured.
Applejack's phone rang from the cupholder in the dashboard. “You mind answerin' that and puttin' it on speaker, sugarcube?”
“Sure thing,” Fluttershy picked up the phone. “It's Rarity.”
The rest of the drive was taken up with Rarity's report of her conversation with Moondancer. Once the call ended, Applejack pulled out of traffic and into the hospital parking lot. The two girls got out and walked into the lobby, stopping at the information desk.
“Hi,” Applejack said to the nurse on duty. “We're here to visit a patient. Sunset Shimmer. We were told she's allowed to have visitors?”
The nurse consulted her computer, then looked up. “Yes, room 419.”
The girls thanked the nurse and went to the elevators. They rode up to the fourth floor and checked in at the nurse's station on the floor. A nurse showed them to the room.
“I'm afraid she's still unresponsive,” she said, opening the door to the room. “But feel free to talk to her. It tends to help in cases like these.”
“Thank you,” said Fluttershy. The nurse smiled and left the room. Applejack and Fluttershy turned to the bed.
Sunset was lying on her back. She had been dressed in a standard hospital gown. A feeding tube was in her nose, and an IV drip was attached to one arm. Wireless EEG electrodes were attached around her forehead, below her hairline. The EEG monitor itself was next to the bed, displaying Sunset's brain activity. Both girls weren't happy to see there wasn't much fluctuation to the lines displayed. Sunset herself looked pale and washed out. Her hair hung limply around her head, spread out over the pillow.
They found a chair and a stool and pulled them up next to the side of the bed. Fluttershy reached out and took Sunset's hand.
“Hi Sunset. I know you're not doing okay here, but I hope wherever you are, you're safe. We really miss you.”
“She's right, Sunset,” Applejack said, taking off her hat. “Things are goin' nuts out here. Whoever did this to you is hurtin' other people too. And honestly, we don't know if we can beat her without you. I just wish I knew if you can hear any of this.”
Fluttershy blinked, let go of Sunset's hand and went to the tall cabinet opposite the bed. She opened the doors, revealing a bulging plastic bag hanging from one of the hangers. She opened the bag and smiled as she saw Sunset's clothes and other belongings inside.
“Fluttershy, what're you doin'?” Applejack asked, replacing her hat.
“Do you have your geode with you?” Fluttershy kept digging through the bag. She pulled out Sunset's jacket and began rooting through the pockets.
Applejack reached into her shirt and pulled out her geode. “Right here, why?”
Fluttershy let out a squeak of triumph as she found Sunset's geode necklace. “Sunset's geode has the power to let her read minds and see memories, right?”
“Yeah,” Applejack frowned.
Fluttershy leaned over Sunset and put the geode around her neck. She reached into a pocket of her skirt and pulled out her own geode. “Well, when Twilight was worrying about turning into Midnight Sparkle at Camp Everfree, Sunset managed to bring all of us into her mind to help her conquer her fears.”
“That's right!” Applejack's eyes sparkled as she realized where Fluttershy was going. “So maybe, if she's wearin' her geode and we're wearin' ours...”
“... We might be able to communicate with her!” Fluttershy finished. “Maybe even bring her out!”
“It's worth a shot.” Applejack walked around to the other side of the bed. “What are you thinking?”
Fluttershy took one of Sunset's hands and indicated Applejack should take the other. The farm girl did so. Fluttershy's other hand closed around her geode. Again, Applejack did the same.
“Ready?” Fluttershy asked.
“Rarin',” Applejack answered.
Both girls concentrated and the geodes flashed to life. Applejack felt strength flow into her limbs and the odd tingling sensation on the top of her head that happened when she ponied up. Across the bed, Fluttershy ponied up as well, her wings appearing at her shoulders.
“Okay,” Fluttershy said, reaching towards Sunset's geode. “Let's see if this works.”
Applejack placed her hand over Fluttershy's She looked at her friend and nodded. Fluttershy's hand closed around Sunset's geode. There was a flash of red light that blinded the two of them.
When the light cleared, the two girls found themselves... somewhere else.
It wasn't exactly like the blank white void that had been the inside of Juniper Montage's mirror. The colors seemed to shift and move constantly.
“Where are we?” Fluttershy asked. Applejack turned to answer, but she stared when she saw her friend.
Fluttershy was translucent and surrounded in a glowing yellow aura. She hovered slightly above what passed for the ground in this place.
“Um, 'Shy? Yer glowin'.”
Fluttershy looked down at herself, then over at Applejack. “So are you!”
Applejack looked down at herself. She was also floating and translucent, only her aura was a bright orange. “Well, don't that beat all?”
A scream of pain echoed from the distance. Applejack and Fluttershy quickly turned towards the direction it came from.
“Come on!” Applejack concentrated and flew forward, Fluttershy following close behind.
A pair of figures came into view, and Applejack's teeth clenched. One of the figures was on the ground, while the other one was clearly standing with its foot on the first one's back. They let out a gasp of shock as the standing figure began driving its foot over and over into the other's back. An ugly voice began screaming.
“I hate you! I HATE YOU! I! HATE! YOU!”
“We need to hurry!” Fluttershy cried. Applejack nodded and the two forced themselves to move faster. As they got closer, they were finally able to get a clear look at the figures.
“Is that Sunset?” Fluttershy asked. Applejack pointed at the standing figure, which also resembled Sunset, only wearing the clothes she used to wear.
“Forget that! Is THAT Sunset?!”
The Sunset on the ground let out a horrifying cry of pain, and she collapsed. Her friends gasped.
“Sunset?!” they cried. Sunset's eyes shot open and she stared at them.
“What?!” the other Sunset snarled, stopping her assault. Applejack and Fluttershy hesitated, seeing that the other Sunset's eyes resembled those of Sunset's demon form from the Fall Formal. Fluttershy gulped, then frowned in anger.
“Get your filthy boots off her, you... you... cheap knock-off!” she shouted.
“I dunno what you are, but you ain't hurtin' our friend anymore!” yelled Applejack.
“No, girls, don't!” Sunset cried. She forced her bruised body to its feet and staggered towards her friends.
“Yes, girls,” the other Sunset grinned, raising her hand. Dark magic crackled around its fingers. “Don't.”
The magic shot forward. Applejack and Fluttershy gasped and threw up their arms. Bolts of orange and yellow energy shot from the auras around them. The two magics collided mid-air and exploded. Sunset dashed toward her friends, arms outstretched.
“C'mon Sunset, we're all waitin' for you!” Applejack cheered. She and Fluttershy held out their hands, waiting to rescue their friend.
“NO YOU DON'T!” came an inhuman roar. Fluttershy let out a gasp as the other Sunset transformed into the demon. It rocketed forwards and crashed headlong into Sunset. The two rolled across the ground, pushing and clawing at each other. They came to rest with the demon on top. It grinned down at Sunset.
“Time for your friends to go now!” It hurled another bolt of dark magic at Applejack and Fluttershy. The two sent out bolts of their own, but the dark bolt twisted and writhed around them and hit the girls full force.
Applejack and Fluttershy screamed as the dark magic poured into them. Everything went dark for a split second, and they found themselves sprawled on the floor of Sunset's hospital room. They quickly got to their feet, worried about Sunset.
Sunset remained in the same position she was before. She appeared to be none the worse for wear.
“We have to get back in there!” Fluttershy said. “She's fighting that... thing all by herself!”
“Don't worry, she ain't gonna be fighting alone for long.” Applejack pulled out her phone and dialed Rarity. “Rarity? Y'all need to get down here as fast as you can! I dunno how it happened, but Fluttershy and I managed to contact Sunset!”
Rarity, Pinkie, and Rainbow arrived at the hospital about twenty minutes later., meeting their friends in the lobby. Applejack raised an eyebrow at the fact that Rainbow was dressed in her pajamas, but decided not to comment.
“Where's Twilight? I thought you were gonna call her?” she asked.
“We tried,” Rainbow answered. “It just went to voice mail.”
“She did mention she was going out for dinner with her family tonight,” Rarity added.
“But that has to be hours from now,” said Fluttershy. “We just got out of school.”
The other three girls looked at Fluttershy and Applejack. Rainbow blinked.
“Uh... it's almost seven.”
“What?” Fluttershy and Applejack looked at their watches, then at each other.
“We lost almost four hours!” Fluttershy said.
“Four hours?” Rarity asked.
“Yeah, but to us it was only like a few minutes,” said Applejack. “It's weird.”
“What about the hospital staff? Didn't they come in at all?”
“I dunno. I guess not. They probably would have done somethin' if they had.”
“Well, whatever happened,” Rainbow began. “If it helps us get Sunset back, I say we go for it, freaky time skips or not.”
“But can we actually get Sunset back from wherever she is without Twilight?” Pinkie asked.
“I dunno,” Applejack said. “But I think we can do it. I'm pretty sure if whatever that thing was hadn't blasted us, me and Fluttershy could've pulled her out.”
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Rainbow began heading for the elevators. “Let's go get her back!”
The rest of the group smiled and followed her.
“Okay,” Fluttershy said. “Everyone have their geodes?”
Each of the girls produced their necklaces. Those who weren't already wearing them put them on. Rainbow looked out the door into the hallway, then closed it.
“All right,” Fluttershy took a deep breath. “We need to do this fast. We don't know when the nurse will make her rounds to check on her. Everybody get around the bed.”
The girls circled the bed. They were silent for a moment, the only sound the beep of the EKG monitor measuring Sunset's heartbeat. They exchanged glances.
“Pony up, everyone.”
The girls grasped their geodes. A flash of multicolored light later, and the girls stood with pony ears and tails visible. They linked hands, with Applejack and Fluttershy standing at the ends on either side of Sunset.
“Everyone ready?” Applejack asked. The rest of the girls nodded. “All right, then. On three?”
Fluttershy nodded. “One.”
They each placed a hand on Sunset's geode and in a flash, all five girls found themselves back in the odd color changing landscape. All five were floating off the alleged ground and glowing in a different color. There was only one major difference from when Applejack and Fluttershy had been there earlier.
Sunset and her doppelganger were both missing.
Applejack frowned and held her hands to her mouth. “Sunset?! Sunset, where in the heck are you?”
“Let's keep moving,” Rarity said. “Maybe she's further along and we can't see her.”
The group began floating forward, calling out for Sunset. After a while, the shifting colors began hurting their eyes, and there had been no sign of Sunset.
“I don't get it,” Applejack said. “She should be right here!”
“Well, she's not,” said Rainbow. “And we've been here forever!”
“Almost,” said Pinkie. She gestured with her arm, where her watch was visible. “This says it's only been about half an hour, but AJ and Fluttershy were here for only a few minutes and they lost almost four hours!”
“So how long have we been – “
“WHAT IS GOING ON IN HERE?!”
A deafening voice boomed from everywhere, causing the group of friends to cover their ears. As soon as they did, there was another flash of light. When their vision cleared, they were back in the hospital room. Outside, night had fallen, the stars twinkling through the room's window.
There was also a visibly angry nurse standing in the doorway.
“Well, great, now they think we're part of a cult.” Rainbow flopped back onto the hood of Rarity's car.
“They do not,” said Rarity. “They just didn't know what on earth we were doing there so long after visiting hours”
“Seeing all of us standing in a circle with our eyes closed around Sunset probably didn't help, though,” said Pinkie. “If I saw a bunch of teenage girls doing that I'd certainly think there was something culty going on.”
“Um, I think we're missing the important thing here,” said Fluttershy. “What happened to Sunset?”
“That's what I'd like to know.” Applejack pushed her hat back on her head. “It's her own dad-blamed mind, right? So how can she vanish from it?”
“I don't know, Applejack,” Rarity answered. “But since the five of us weren't enough to find her, it would seem we still need Twilight to help her.”
“Well, let's get her down here then!” Rainbow sat up. She reached into the pocket of her pajama pants, fumbled around for a minute, then gave a sheepish grin. “I forgot my phone.”
“I've got this,” Rarity smiled. She reached for her own phone, but blinked when it started to ring. “Again?”
She swiped the screen to answer the phone. “Hello? Beachberry? What can I – Oh! Let me put you on speaker! I'm with the girls. They'll want to hear this.”
She tapped the speakerphone icon and Beachberry's voice came out.
“Okay, so I looked at that email you gave me,” she began. “The one without the headers.”
“What did you find?” Rainbow demanded.
“Oh, goody, you.” The sarcasm in Beachberry's voice was audible. “I hacked into the account, and found that it's linked to another account on the same site. I found something I wasn't expecting.”
“Well, don't keep us in suspense, darling. What did you find?
Beachberry was quiet for a moment, then sighed. “The linked account belongs to Gardenia Glow.”
The five girls exchanged a look of surprise. Rainbow frowned.
“Gardenia Glow? Didn't she graduate?”
“Yeah, she did,” answered Applejack. “But I think we all know why she might be involved in all this, don't we?”
“Yeah,” said Beachberry. “Anyway, that's all I got. I'd figure you'd want to know.”
“Thank you so much, Beachberry,” Rarity said. “You have no idea how helpful you've been.”
“Yeah, just remember our deal, okay?”
Beachberry hung up. Rarity looked up, her expression grim. “We need to find Gardenia. Now.”
“Oh! Oh!” Pinkie bounced on the balls of her feet. “I know her sister. She told me Gardenia still lives in town!”
“Good. Call her and find out her address. I think we need to pay her a visit.”
Rarity went back to her phone and dialed Twilight's number.
“Hello?” came a sleepy voice.
“Twilight, it's Rarity. We have a new lead we're going to check out.”
“Now? It's almost ten-thirty.”
“This can't wait, Twilight. That email you found forgiving Sunset? It came from an account belonging to Gardenia Glow.”
There was a pause. “And Gardenia Glow is?” Twilight asked, her voice flat.
Rarity blushed and coughed slightly. “Ah, yes, you wouldn't know, would you?”
“No,” Twilight's irritation was packed into the single syllable. Rarity cleared her throat and regained her composure.
“Gardenia Glow was the last girl who challenged Sunset for Princess of the Spring Fling before Princess Twilight first came to Canterlot High.”
“Okay, still not following you on why this is important enough to visit her tonight.”
“Because, Twilight, darling, when Sunset Shimmer set out to force Gardenia to drop out of the race, she wound up causing Gardenia's parents to kick her out of the house.”
Gardenia Glow knew something was wrong as soon as she walked into the school. It was something in the air. A cloud of suspicion and secrecy. People weren’t looking her in the eye as she came in. Normally friendly students didn’t offer her their usual morning greetings. Others turned away from her as she passed, huddling together and occasionally turning their heads to watch her as she passed.
Gardenia frowned. This little hallway drama had been enacted before, just not with her as the focal point. She turned the corner and headed down the hall.
Firecracker Burst was chatting with Moondancer and Beachberry at her locker. The three of them went silent as Gardenia walked up, confirming her suspicions.
“What did she do?” Gardenia asked.
“Just let it go, Gardenia,” Firecracker said, holding up her hands. “There’ll be other dances. Let her have this and she’ll back off.”
“What did she do?” Gardenia repeated. The three girls exchanged glances.
Moondancer adjusted her glasses. “You don’t want to know. Really. You don’t.”
“What. Did. She. Do?” Gardenia’s voice was quiet and deadly as she enunciated each word.
Beachberry sighed, and pulled up MyStable on her phone. She scrolled to the relevant post and handed the phone to the dark green girl. “Here. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”
There was a post made on the unofficial Spring Fling interests page. Unsurprisingly, it was made by Sunset Shimmer. What was surprising was the post was a picture of Gardenia going into the Planned Parenthood clinic. Gardenia blinked and clenched her teeth as she read the text above the photo.
Why would one of your Spring Fling princess nominees visit Planned Parenthood? STD? Birth control? Or perhaps even… but no, some things are just too important to speculate about. In any event, given this event and the other picture attached to this post, could it be that Gardenia Glow isn’t the nice girl she pretends to be? That maybe she’s hiding a few dark secrets she doesn’t want anyone to know? Is this really the kind of person you want representing you at one of our most important social events? Think about it, won’t you? I know I will.
She thumbed the screen to the next photo, and her face contorted in rage. The image showed Bulk Biceps kissing her on the cheek as she got out of his car in front of her house. She had been over at his house tutoring him in Algebra and had graciously offered to drive her home that night. He’d been a perfect gentleman and certainly didn’t deserve to get caught up in Sunset Shimmer’s latest sleazy plot.
Gardenia handed the phone back to Beachberry, then spun on her heel and began walking away. Firecracker caught up with her and grabbed her arm.
“Gardenia, wait. Don’t do anything crazy. That’s just what she wants.”
“I’m not going to do anything crazy,” Gardenia snarled. “I’m just going to have a conversation with my honorable opponent.”
“At least wait until you’ve calmed down,” Moondancer said, catching up to them and walking on the other side of Gardenia. “If you confront her now, she’s going to find a way to turn this to her advantage.”
Gardenia stopped walking. “I will not back down from the likes of Sunset Shimmer. She’s kept us all in a state of terror ever since the day she set foot in this school and no one will do anything to stop her. All of us are afraid of her, and everything she does is done so she has plausible deniability if Principal Celestia decides to come after her. She’s Teflon. Nothing sticks to her, ever!
“When does it stop? When is she going to finally get knocked off that self-made pedestal of hers?”
“Look,” Firecracker began. “It sucks, but the school year’s over in a couple of months. You’re graduating. Who cares about the Spring Fling? Graduate, collect your diploma, then get the hell out of here and you’ll never see her again.”
“And what about you two?” Gardenia asked. “You’re still going to be here next year. And so is three quarters of the rest of the school. Until she graduates, it’s never going to be over.
“I don’t care if I get elected or not, I just want her to understand she can’t bully everyone into submission, no matter what dirty tricks she plays. And the first step in that is for whoever she tries to push around to start shoving back.”
Gardenia turned and resumed her search for her rival. Moondancer and Firecracker exchanged worried glances and followed after her.
Sunset Shimmer was holding court in the cafeteria. Various sycophants, toadies, and those who hoped being on her good side would spare them from her wrath were in the chairs at her table and a couple of nearby tables.
Gardenia stalked into the cafeteria and up to Sunset's table. Sunset saw her coming, and held up a hand, stopping the conversation. She straightened her leather jacket and smiled at the pink-haired girl.
“Gardenia Glow, to what to I owe the pleasure?” Sunset's grin had no actual mirth. It was predatory and prideful.
“I went to Planned Parenthood for a check up. That's all. Big mystery solved.” Gardenia folded her arms. “Can we move on now?”
“Oh sure, we can move on,” Sunset smirked. “Of course, you would claim it was just for a check up. I mean, why go all the way there rather than your regular doctor?”
Gardenia blinked as the crowd began to murmur among themselves. She frowned.
“Because it's more comprehensive than a general practitioner, Sunset. I'm surprised you don't know that.”
Sunset's grin vanished. The crowd began murmuring again, in a completely different tone. Sunset glared out the corners of her eyes at those around her and smirked again.
“Sure it is. You'd want the most comprehensive examination, I'm sure. Nothing but the best for you and Bulk, right?”
More murmurs. Gardenia's face flushed as she felt herself getting angry again. “I was tutoring him,” she hissed through clenched teeth.
“Keep saying that. Maybe somebody here will actually believe it... eventually.” Sunset's smarmy grin returned. “Or are we talking about another kind of tutoring, hmmm?”
Gardenia's fists clenched, her nails digging into her palms. “It's nothing like that.”
“Oh? That bad, is it? Y'know, there's plenty of books on the subject if you and he are having trouble in that department.”
The murmurs now had a few giggles here and there. Gardenia felt a hand on her shoulder.
“C'mon,” came the voice of one of her friends. She was too angry to pay attention to which beyond simple classification. “She's not worth it.”
“More like Gardenia's not worth it, if she's doing that with Bulk Biceps,” Sunset sneered. “I mean, I can understand being attracted to muscles, but seriously, the guy's got a brain the size of a pea. Or is that the attraction? Knowing you're the brains in the relationship? Or does he seriously live up to his name in the other department?”
The words were out before Gardenia could stop them. “I'M NOT ATTRACTED TO BULK BICEPS! I'M NOT PREGNANT! I DIDN'T GET AN ABORTION! I LIKE GIRLS, OKAY?!”
Dead silence. Gardenia opened her eyes to a sea of shocked faces. Some looked embarrassed. Some looked ashamed. Even Sunset had an expression of surprise on her face. Gardenia looked around, her face flushed, her expression one of panic.
The murmuring began. And worse, came the sound of phones coming to life. Texts being sent. Posts being made. And in the middle of it all, Sunset Shimmer just smiling at her.
Tears formed in Gardenia's eyes and she ran out of the cafeteria before they could fall. She heard someone calling her name, but she kept running. She had no idea where she was going, but she thought anywhere would be better than the school. She thought anything would be better than seeing the faces of the other students as the news made its way through the grapevine.
Later that night, when she got home, she found out how wrong she was.
Twilight, seated in the back of Rarity's car next to Pinkie Pie, stared at Rarity and Rainbow Dash in the rear view mirror mounted on the windshield.
“Sunset actually outed her?” Shock was evident in her voice. Up front, Rarity and Rainbow exchanged glances.
“She told us later she had no idea that Gardenia had those preferences,” Rarity answered. “She apparently only wanted to spread the pregnancy rumor.”
“But that's... that's horrible! She had to have considered that it could cause problems for her beyond the dance election!”
“Back then, Sunset didn't really consider anything besides herself,” Rainbow said. “She admits she was a grade-A bitch.”
“And you all knew about the things she did?”
“Everyone did,” Pinkie said. “No one wanted to get on her bad side, because she always knew where to hit you where it hurt the most. And she always did it in a way that kept her from being punished for it.”
Twilight sat back in her seat and looked out the window. After a moment, Rarity looked at her in the rear view mirror.
“Twilight? Are you all right, darling?”
Twilight muttered something that was inaudible. Rarity and Rainbow exchanged a glance.
“What'd you say, Twi?” Rainbow asked. Twilight swallowed and looked up.
“How can you all be friends with her knowing she did that?” Twilight's voice was quiet. “That's one of the most despicable things I've ever heard anybody do. I just – I don't know how to feel about this.
“Maybe... maybe we should reconsider whether we actually should bring Sunset back.”
“What?!” Pinkie shrieked. Rarity opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again. She and Rainbow looked at each other. Rainbow nodded, and grabbed Rarity's phone. She dialed a number, while Rarity looked down the road for somewhere to pull off. She spotted a drive-in fast food joint, and signaled her intention to turn.
“AJ? Change of plan,” Rainbow said. “We're stopping at the Twisty-Freeze. We all need to talk.”
“What?” asked Twilight. She began playing with her hair, nervousness creeping into her voice. “What about Gardenia Glow?”
Rarity glanced up into the mirror again. Her expression was oddly neutral. “If that is what you truly believe about Sunset, Twilight, then I think she can wait until we deal with this.”
Eleven PM on a Friday night was usually when things were busy at the Twisty-Freeze Drive-In. People looking for late night snacks, whether it was burgers or milkshakes, coupled with the restaurant's two AM closing time, always resulted in plenty of customers who came and went.
Seated at one of the outdoor tables surrounding the main building of the drive-in, six friends, fortified with the ice cream based confection of their choice, prepared to have an uncomfortable conversation.
“Twilight, darling,” Rarity began. “Let me be clear right now that we are not upset with you. Given what we told you in the car, your reaction is only natural.”
“But what you just said... majorly uncool,” added Rainbow. Twilight swallowed again, and looked down at her milkshake, idly swirling her straw through it.
“I didn't mean it,” she said quietly. “I just don't know how you all can be friends with her knowing what she did. I know Princess Twilight asked you to help her after the Fall Formal, but somehow, becoming a demon and trying to conquer Equestria with a zombie army somehow seems less awful than what happened to Gardenia.”
“And Sunset would agree with you,” said Applejack, pointing with her plastic spoon. Twilight looked up, her expression perplexed.
“It took us almost three weeks to get Sunset to a place where she didn't feel completely overwhelmed by guilt,” said Fluttershy. “She spent a lot of time beating herself up over everything she had done since coming to Canterlot High. And even then, it wasn't until the sirens came when she actually believed she deserved any sort of forgiveness.”
“She spent those three weeks apologizing and trying to make up for everything she did. But Gardenia had graduated by then, and after her parents kicked her out, she just kind of vanished off the radar,” Rainbow continued.
“I didn't even know she was still in town until a short while back when her sister started at school this year,” said Pinkie.
Rarity took Twilight's hand. “Don't think it was easy for us either, darling. It took us nearly as long to truly see that Sunset was making a legitimate effort to change. And there were fights. Oh lord, were there fights.”
“I almost knocked her block off once,” admitted Applejack. “She tended to keep insultin' people when things didn't go the way she wanted. Made the mistake of sayin' somethin' about Apple Bloom.”
“It took me, Pinkie, and Rarity to hold her back.” Rainbow grinned. “She still kept trying to get at Sunset. Picture this: Me on AJ's left arm, Rarity on her right, and Pinkie getting dragged on the ground while she's hanging onto her left leg.”
Twilight let out a short laugh, then cut it off and blushed in embarrassment. Applejack gave her a small grin.
“Naw, go ahead and laugh. It was a funny image. Point is, after I calmed down, me and Sunset had a talk and worked things through.”
“We all had talks with her over that time,” Rarity elaborated. “We all had issues with how she acted before the Formal, and we had to work through them. It was hard, but it was worth it in the end.”
“But, I don't know if I can get past this,” said Twilight. “I know, intellectually, that she's changed, but if she did things like... that, I'm just so appalled that I don't even know what to do!”
Fluttershy finished sipping her slushie, and looked up at Twilight. “You do what we did. You talk to her about it.”
“When she wakes up, of course,” added Pinkie. “Because it'd be a really awkward conversation to have right now.”
“And if you still think you can't be friends with her after talking to her, that doesn't mean we'll stop being your friends,” said Rainbow. “That's not how we roll.”
“No one expects you to be okay with Sunset's past, Twilight,” Rarity finished. “We only want you to give Sunset a chance to show you that Sunset is gone and she truly isn't that person anymore. Do you think you can do that when we get her back?”
Twilight considered for a moment, stirring her shake with the straw again. She looked up at her friends. “I think I can do that.”
Pinkie cheered and hurled herself off the table into a flying tackle hug. Twilight yelped as Pinkie crashed into her, causing both to fall off the bench Twilight had been sitting on. After the surprise wore off, the entire group began laughing. Pinkie got off Twilight and helped here back up onto the bench.
“All right, now that we know what we're doing when Sunset finally wakes up, what about talking to Gardenia?” Rainbow asked.
Rarity looked at her phone and grimaced at the time. “I know I insisted on seeing her tonight, but given how late it is, I think I may have been hasty in that decision.”
“We could talk to her tomorrow,” Applejack said. “I'm free in the afternoon.”
“Same here,” said Rainbow.
“I'm closing at the boutique tomorrow,” said Rarity. “I won't be available after two o'clock.”
“We could still go talk to her.” Applejack tossed her cup into a nearby trash can. “I think RD and I can restrain ourselves for one conversation.”
She exchanged smiles with Rarity and Rainbow. Twilight cleared her throat.
“Um, would it be okay if I went with you? Maybe if I can hear how she was able to forgive Sunset, it might be helpful.”
“Sounds like a good idea, sugarcube. We'll pick you up around three. Will that work?”
“I think I can swing that,” Twilight answered.
“Yay for emotional and investigatorial progress!” cried Pinkie. She gestured to what was left of her gargantuan banana split. “Now, could somebody please help me finish this thing?”
Saturday morning. The sun rose over the mountains that framed the valley. Slowly, the streetlights began to wink out. In the houses and apartments across the city plumbing gushed, coffee makers percolated, breakfast foods sizzled, and other sounds of people awaking were heard as the sun continued to climb.
In seven residences scattered across the suburbs, seven young women began their day. All of them were occupied with thoughts of the previous few days. Some were worried, some were angry, and others were just trying to keep their emotions from running rampant.
Fluttershy refilled the bird feeder on her back porch, while several birds chirped and fluttered around her head. She smiled as she closed the feeder back up.
“All right, everyone, breakfast is ready. Eat up!”
As the birds began eating, Fluttershy sat on one of the deck chairs at the patio table and watched them for a while. Her thoughts began to drift back to Sunset. The disappearance of her friend from... wherever she and Applejack had been when they touched Sunset's geode concerned her. She had no real proof, but she suspected the girls had wound up in some sort of magical representation of Sunset's mind.
But if that was Sunset's mind, where did she go? Fluttershy drummed her fingers on the table as she thought. How can someone disappear from their own mind?
A squirrel dropped from the tree limb hanging over the porch and chittered at Fluttershy. She blinked and looked down. “Oh, hi, Rocky. How are you?”
More chittering. “Oh good, I'm glad. And how are the little ones?”
The squirrel chittered again and ran in circles for a moment. Fluttershy giggled.
“Well, I'm sure she'll think twice before eating those berries again.”
The squirrel sat up and chirped a few times. Fluttershy shook her head.
“No, I'm fine. It's just been a stressful few days. One of my friends has been in the hospital, and so has another girl I know. We've been trying to figure out who put them there.”
The squirrel let out a series of clicks and chirps. Fluttershy gave it a small smile.
“That's very nice of you, but I think my friends and I have it covered.”
She reached into the bag of birdseed, extracted a sunflower seed and handed it to the squirrel. It quickly shoved it into its mouth. Fluttershy smiled again and got up. “I have to get ready for work. Thanks for chatting with me, Rocky.”
The squirrel chittered again, muffled thanks to the seed in its mouth, then scampered off the table and back up the tree. Fluttershy opened the sliding glass door leading back into the house. She put the birdseed away and headed for the bathroom to shower.
As she scrubbed, her thoughts returned to the events of the previous night. After talking at the Tasty-Freeze, the girls had compared schedules and it was decided that if there hadn't been any changes in the next day or two, all six would go back to Sunset's hospital room Monday afternoon and try to reach her again.
I hope we can get her back, she thought. I think we're going to need her really soon.
Applejack placed a large bucket underneath one of the trees in the field behind the Apple house. She looked up at the apples hanging from the tree, then re-positioned the bucket. She looked at the other two she had also placed under the tree. Satisfied, she gripped her geode. It flashed to life and the farm girl felt the magic surge through her muscles. She cracked her knuckles and began stretching.
While it had been agreed that visits across the mirror should be limited to the princess, Starlight, and Sunset for now, Princess Twilight had used the journal to allow the girls to talk with their Equestrian counterparts. During Applejack's time with the journal, the two had exchanged anecdotes about life on their farms, as well as traded techniques which the other hadn't considered using.
AJ was going to try one of those techniques today. The Equestria Applejack had talked about apple bucking, which allowed her to clear all the apples off a tree in a few seconds. While it sounded good in theory, Applejack didn't think she'd be able to do the same, at least not without breaking something. But, with her newly endowed super strength, it now seemed like apple bucking might actually be feasible.
Applejack finished stretching and took a deep breath. Naturally, Equestria Applejack was a pony, and her apple bucking technique was geared for a quadruped. After consulting with Sunset and Princess Twilight, Applejack figured she had a way to get the same result without needing four legs to do it.
She closed her eyes, took another deep breath, stepped back, turned ninety degrees, and unleashed a mighty side kick that struck the trunk of the tree with a loud crack. The limbs rustled and Applejack smiled as most of the apples fell from the branches and landed in the buckets. There were still a few stragglers, but overall, she was pleased with the results.
She set up the ladder she had brought out with the buckets and began picking the remaining apples from the tree. Ironically, hard work was the way she liked to relax. There was something tranquil to her of being out in the field, picking fruit, hearing the wind in the leaves and the reassuring thump of the apples landing in the bucket. When she had described the feeling to the girls, Rarity said it was almost Zen. Applejack didn't know about that, but she always felt better after a couple of hours in the field.
Unlike Equestria Applejack, the Apple family didn't rely entirely on Sweet Apple Acres as their source of income. Applejack was jealous that her pony version literally had acres of land covered in fruit trees. Here, Sweet Apple Acres was only about five acres total, and those apples that weren't sold as is were used primarily to make cider in the fall. It made enough money so that the Apples could live comfortably, but that still meant Granny Smith had to work as CHS's lunch lady, and Applejack had a part-time job in the winter months at the smoothie stand at the mall to keep up that level of comfort. They weren't wealthy, but they did all right.
To her, there was something real about working in the field and the trees. The smoothie stand job was okay, but it never felt real to her. It was okay, but being cooped up in a concrete box with fluorescent lighting for eight hours three times a week just didn't have the same sense of accomplishment to her.
Which wasn't to say she looked down on the other people who worked at the mall. She was there during the holidays, she knew how hard those people worked. But she always felt like she had accomplished more when she could actually get outside and use her hands as opposed to running blenders.
She dropped the last apple into the bucket and climbed down the ladder. She grabbed her water bottle from where it rested against one of the buckets and took a swig. She reached down and hoisted one of the now-full buckets up and onto the wagon she had brought everything out on.
She was avoiding thinking about it. She knew that. She didn't want to think about what they were up against. About how this time, the stakes had gotten very high. She had been here before, and it had nearly destroyed her when it happened.
She knew the possible pain they were facing all too well. She also knew that if anything happened to any of her girls (and yes, ever since Princess Twilight had brought them back together, Applejack had always thought of them as her girls) it could destroy the others. With the exception of Sunset, none of them had ever experienced that kind of loss.
Applejack frowned, remembering what Rarity had told her about Pinkie and Rainbow's reactions after Pepperdance had been attacked. If Sunset or any of the others died, she knew those two would be utterly crushed. So would the others.
And so would she, if she were being honest. Ever since Princess Twilight came through the mirror, Applejack felt she didn't have one sister; she had six (including Princess Twilight herself). That number changed to seven with Sunset after the Battle of the Bands, and then to eight after their Twilight had transferred to CHS. Her girls were more than friends, they were family. And there was almost nothing Applejack wouldn't do to keep her family safe,
She put the last bucket on the wagon, grabbed her water bottle and headed for another tree.
Twilight lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling, much like she had done most of the night. After being dropped off at home, she had gone to bed and tried to sleep, but it had proven to be elusive. No matter how much she tried to put it out of her mind, her brain kept returning to the revelation that Sunset had outed Gardenia Glow.
I know she's not like that anymore. I know that. If she was, she wouldn't have helped me at the Friendship Games in the first place. At the very least, Rainbow and Applejack wouldn't have anything to do with her if she hadn't actually changed.
But she ruined that girl's life. She got her kicked out of her home. She had to know something like that was a possibility when she decided to start that stupid rumor.
Twilight put her hands over her face and let out an aggravated growl. From his pet bed on the floor, Spike's head popped up, eyes bleary.
“Huh? Wazzat? Squirrel?” he yelped.
“Sorry Spike,” Twilight said, rolling on her side and reaching down to scratch her dog behind the ears. Spike made a noise of pleasure. “I was just thinking.”
Spike turned his head upward to look at Twilight. “Sunset?”
“Yeah,” Twilight sighed. She rolled onto her back. Spike jumped from the floor to the bed, lying down next to her. “I know she's changed, but I just can't get past what she did to Gardenia Glow. If she could do that, what else has she done that she doesn't talk about? How can I trust her not knowing what else she's done in her past?”
“Does that matter?” Spike asked. Twilight sat up and looked down at him, disbelief on her face.
“Of course it matters! I have incomplete data, Spike! How am I supposed to trust her if I don't know everything she's done before Princess Twilight came over here? ”
“Because she's your friend,” Spike replied. “Friends trust each other.”
“But – “ Twilight was cut off as Spike placed a paw over her mouth.
“If you're going to demand proof that she's changed just for you to be friends with her, then you're the one not being a good friend, Twilight. She has changed.”
“But how can I know that?” Twilight drew up her knees and wrapped her arms around them. She sighed, resting her chin on her knees. Spike walked around and sat in front of her.
“Okay,” he began. “You want to know? Here's what you know. You know Sunset is your friend. You know she has done bad things in her past. You know she has been trying to make up for them. You know she helped you when the magic took you over. You know she's been there for you while you were adjusting to life at Canterlot High. You know that the other girls wouldn't give her the time of day if they didn't believe she changed. You know that she did everything she could at Camp Everfree to help you realize that having magic isn't a bad thing. You know she's your friend, Twilight. You know she'd do anything to help you, because she's already done it.”
Spike frowned at his owner. “You also know that she's lying comatose in the hospital because someone else with magic attacked her. You know that same person is somewhere out there, using the magic against other people. You know that person needs to be stopped, and you and the others are the only ones who can do it.”
His expression softened. “And you know that you all won't be able to stop her if you doubt your friendship. Sunset has been there every time you've needed her, Twilight. Now, she needs you. Are you really going to turn your back on her now just because of something you know, deep down, she probably feels terrible about? Are you really going to do that?”
Twilight stared at Spike for a moment, then swallowed when she realized her eyes were tearing up. She sniffled and wiped her eyes, before grabbing Spike and holding him close.
“How did I get such a smart dog?” she whispered. “You're right, Spike. You're right about everything. I'm a terrible friend.”
“No,” Spike reassured her. “You're not, Twilight. You just forgot how friendship works for a minute. Not everything can be boiled down to a data point. Not everything should be.”
Twilight nodded and hugged Spike tighter. Spike smiled and licked Twilight's cheek. She giggled and held him up to her face. “Thanks, Spike, I needed that.”
“Twilight, breakfast!” came Twilight's mother's voice from downstairs. Twilight put Spike on the floor and grabbed her glasses.
“C'mon, Spike. I know a certain wise dog whose earned himself some bacon with his breakfast this morning.”
“Awesome! What are we waiting for?” He dashed over to the door and began pawing at it, then excitedly jumping up, trying to reach the doorknob. When that failed, he sat down and looked at his paws and howled. “Why couldn't I have gotten thumbs as well as speech?”
Twilight took pity on him, picked him up and opened the bedroom door. She made sure Spike got three strips of bacon, ignoring the many looks her mother gave her.
Rainbow Dash was out for her morning run. A real run. No magic super speed involved. While she loved the powers that she had, it felt like cheating if she didn't go through her normal workout every morning.
Her running shoes hit the pavement in time with the beat of the music thumping through her earbuds. Her normal run was about three miles, changing her pace with the tempo of the music. As such, her playlist was an eclectic mix of everything from hard rock, to rap, to reggae, and surprisingly, some classical suggestions from Twilight. (Much like Applejack's love of fairy tales, Rainbow would never admit out loud that she loved the rush from racing through the streets to the 1812 or William Tell Overtures.)
As she ran, she gradually tuned out the lyrics being sung and her subconscious took over monitoring the beat. Her thoughts began to turn to the events of the last few days and her mood darkened.
She was angry. She could admit it to herself if no one else. She was angry Sunset was in the hospital. She was angry she wasn't able to keep Pepperdance from getting hurt. And if she was being completely honest with herself, she was angry at her friends for not getting any closer to finding out who was doing all this. Day after day of questions and answers and nothing to show for it.
I just wish whoever it is would come out of hiding and just attack us or something. She has to know we're looking for her. Just get it over with already!
Her foot hit an uneven slab of concrete in the sidewalk. Rainbow staggered, snapped out of her thoughts, and quickly righted herself. She stopped and leaned against the fence running alongside the sidewalk. She caught her breath and wiped the sweat from her face.
“Guess I better look where I'm going,” she said aloud. She adjusted her earbuds and skipped to the next track on her phone. Much to her surprise, it was a song with a slower beat. Rainbow shrugged and began to jog leisurely down the sidewalk. It wasn't long before her mind picked up where it had left off, only this time her thoughts turned more to the identity of their enemy.
She's fast, we know that, she thought. And it's the kind of speed that isn't just from the magic. It's like mine. Not as fast as mine, but she's definitely someone who's used to running regularly, or doing sports or something like that. Athletic.
Rainbow frowned as she thought back to the fight at the mall. She tried to remember how the woman moved as she attacked. She had been hampered somewhat by the overcoat, but as Rainbow thought about it, she realized her assumption was wrong.
No, not athletic. Strong, yeah, but not someone who works out on a regular basis. She moves too stiff. So someone who doesn't do a lot of training, but still gets a workout from time to time. Maybe she lifts weights?
Rainbow let out an aggravated sigh. I'm no good at this kind of crap. We need Sunset or Twilight for that. You need somebody taken down, just point me at 'em and I'll handle it. I'm no detective. GAH! So frustrating! I need some different music.
Rainbow pulled her phone out of her pocket and thumbed through the tracks until she found something with a driving beat that made her head pound and she began barreling down the street, her thoughts drowned out by screeching guitars and thundering drums.
Rarity was in the tub, submerged under a field of bubbles, a washcloth over her eyes. Normally, she didn't indulge in a bath this early in the day, but she had a scant few hours before she had to be to work at the boutique and was determined to enjoy it to the fullest.
She hummed a formless tune as she felt the warmth of the water penetrate her skin. Her house had an old fashioned cast iron claw-foot tub. It was much deeper and longer than the normal tubs you found in houses and apartments these days. It was one of her favorite things about the house, and she knew in the back of her mind she was going to miss it terribly when she left for college.
College. There was something looming on the horizon. High school wouldn't last forever, after all. Graduation would be here sooner than she thought. Applications to fashion schools, or internships at some prestigious design firm would need to be filled out. Perhaps a couple of years at university to earn a degree, with some focus on costume design. It never hurt to be able to apply one's expected trade in other fields like the theater.
Or at the very least, I could build a decent side line making custom Halloween costumes and cosplay pieces. Rarity giggled to herself. While working on the cutting edge of fashion was her ideal dream career, she harbored no illusions about how hard it was to break in, and how cutthroat the industry could be. Back up plans were not only essential, but vital.
Under the washcloth, Rarity frowned. Yes, back up plans.
They needed a back up plan. They were getting closer to the truth now. She could feel it. They may not have figured out who their enemy was yet, but Rarity knew they were nearly there. The question became, then, what happened once they knew who had hurt Sunset?
Ideally, nothing major. They would hopefully be able to convince them that their current path wasn't the right one, then convince them to undo what they did to Sunset, maybe even help Pepperdance in the process. Then get her to give up the magic, or at very least, use it in a positive manner.
Rarity sighed and pulled the washcloth off her face. Ideals were all well and good, but experience had told her that for every Gloriosa Daisy or Juniper Montage who could be reasoned with, there would also be an Abacus Cinch or Adagio Dazzle who could not. And so far, the woman in the black overcoat seemed to be firmly in the camp which could not.
Rarity grabbed the loofah from where it hung on the bathroom wall and began scrubbing her arms and shoulders. Her mind continued working on the problem of the woman in black. There was going to be a fight soon. She had no evidence, of course, but she had been feeling something building in the air for the last day or so.
Three days. Has it really only been three days since I found Sunset? It seems like so much longer.
Three days of uncertainty. Three days of doubts. Three days of the six of them being tested, faced with the possibility that Sunset might never wake up. Twilight's concerns from the night before would have to be addressed, of course. Rarity didn't really blame her for thinking that way.
While Twilight was making progress, she still had a hard time trusting other people. Which was only to be expected, given the hyper-competitive environment Principal Cinch had established at Crystal Prep, where you expected the other students to backstab and climb all over you to make themselves look better. It was a good thing the principal had retired shortly after the Friendship Games, and Dean Cadance had taken over. Things seemed to be changing for the better, if the girls' newly formed friendship with their former rivals was any indication.
Rarity sighed again, and put the loofah away. The warmth was leaving the water, and she had no further insights into their current problem. She climbed out of the tub and pulled the plug. She toweled off and put on her bathrobe. As she undid the clips holding her hair up, she stared at the water as it swirled down the drain. As the whirlpool spiraled into the blackness of the drain, Rarity felt an ominous sense of foreboding.
She was broken out of her trance when someone pounded on the bathroom door.
“Rarity,” came the voice of Sweetie Belle, her younger sister. “Breakfast is ready!”
“I'll be right there!” Rarity cinched the belt of her robe and opened the door. There were things to do, and time was not on her side.
Pinkie Pie poured the milk over her oversized bowl of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, then put the jug back in the fridge. She rummaged through the silverware drawer, selected a spoon, and took the bowl out to the living room. She sat down on the couch and clicked the TV on, flipping through several channels until she found one playing cartoons. She grabbed the bowl of cereal and sat back on the couch, munching happily.
Her Granny Pie had once told her that when her dad was a kid, you could find all sorts of cartoons on the regular TV networks on Saturday mornings. But that stopped a while ago, what with so many cable stations able to play cartoons at any time of day. Now, the regular networks played news, or sports, or other boring stuff on Saturday.
Pinkie could see why things changed, but since the stations that played cartoons all day just played the same ones they aired the rest of the week, she also kind of wished she could have experienced those kind of Saturday mornings too. Something different from the every day. Something magical.
Magic. Pinkie's shoulders slumped. Magic had been the problem of late. Not that she hated the magic or anything. Things had become way more fun ever since Princess Twilight had first come through the portal and the fact that her and her best friends were now more or less magical superheroes was one of the best things ever.
But Pinkie had also seen the other side of the magic. Juniper, Gloriosa, the Dazzlings, even Twilight and Sunset themselves. The magic was wonderful and exciting, but it was also dangerous. And now, that danger had hit close to home.
“What's bothering you, Pinkie?” came a monotone voice.
Pinkie blinked and looked to her left. Her older sister, Maud, had sat down on the couch next to her. Maud didn't look at her sister, instead choosing to focus on the TV, where a cartoon penguin was being chased by a hunter in a ski parka. The penguin came to a halt, then turned and faced the hunter with a smug grin. The hunter looked down to see large cracks in the ice around him. The ice broke and the hunter disappeared in a splash, emerging a few seconds later encased in a block of ice. The penguin laughed and dashed off screen.
“I like this one. It's funny,” Maud said, her expression remaining neutral as ever. The cartoon ended and a commercial began. Maud turned her head to face her sister. “What's wrong?”
“Huh? Nothing's wrong, Maud,” Pinkie replied before taking another mouthful of cereal.
“One of your best friends is in the hospital. You saw someone get seriously hurt the other night. And I've heard you crying in your sleep.” Maud's voice was still steady and emotionless. “What's wrong?”
Pinkie shoveled more cereal into her mouth. She tried to focus on the TV, occasionally glancing at her sister out of the corner of her eye. Maud's head didn't move so much as a millimeter. Finally, after about three minutes, Pinkie cracked.
“I don't know what to do!” she wailed, throwing the cereal bowl into the air. Quicker than anyone who didn't know her would think possible, Maud shot up from the sofa, caught the bowl in midair, and somehow managed to not spill a single drop of milk in the process. She put the bowl back on the coffee table, and sat back down. Pinkie threw her arms around her sister and began wailing.
“Everyone's doing all this important stuff trying to figure out who did all this, and I don't feel like I'm helping at all! Twilight's doing all the researchy stuff. Applejack and Rainbow Dash are the muscle. Fluttershy's looking after Sunset's pet and checking on her, and Rarity's keeping all of us together and focused on finding that nasty old witch. What can I do? I know I was able to find out who sent all those emails, but I think I should be doing more. Sunset would want me to do more!”
Pinkie pulled back from her sister, letting out a long gasp of shock. “How can you say that? You've met Sunset! Of course she'd want me to do more!”
“I don't know about that. From what I've seen, I think she'd just want you to be you. Helping all the others when they get discouraged or worried that they aren't doing enough. You're their rock. A constant they can rely on when things seem to be getting more grim. Importance isn't about how much you can help, but how much your help is needed. Right now, I would say that all your friends, including Sunset, just need you to be Pinkie Pie. No more, no less,” Maud got up from the couch. “Make sure you rinse out your bowl before you leave it in the sink. I have to go up to the university this afternoon. We're getting a new collection of quartz for the freshman labs. They need to be sorted and catalogued. I'll be home by dinner.”
Maud walked out of the living room and up the stairs. Pinkie watched her go, then smiled, her eyes watering.
“I have the best sister ever.”
I walk into the bedroom where I left her. She's still asleep, but doing okay. I sit on the bed next to her. I pile up the pillows and prop her up into a sitting position. I lean her head back and open her mouth. I take the bottle of water I brought with me and trickle some of it into her mouth. Reflex takes over and she swallows automatically when her mouth fills. I repeat the procedure a few more times. I've been doing this three times a day since I had to do this to her.
Food is trickier. I've had to make do with instant breakfast vitamin shakes. It's more or less the same thing I do with the water. I give her two shakes a day. I hope that's enough.
It'll have to be enough. Because this has to end. The bitch's friends are getting closer. They'll figure it out soon.
I shouldn't have attacked Beachberry. I know that now. Not that soon, anyway. It eliminated one of their suspects. And if Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie hadn't been snooping around at the gas station, I wouldn't have had to take care of Pepperdance either. I could have just scared the hell out of her and convinced her to keep her mouth shut.
I wipe her mouth and ease her back down onto the bed. Now comes the part I really don't like, but it has to be done.
Changing the diaper I put on her is messy, but I get it done without ruining the sheets. She'd hate me seeing her like this, or anyone else for that matter. She hates seeming weak. It's part of what fueled her temper back then. She got better once the shitstorm was finally over. She learned to calm down. And, yeah, I think the fact she didn't have any reason to hide who she was anymore was part of that.
Still doesn't change the fact that she came out before she was ready. If that bitch hadn't put out that stupid rumor in the first place, everything would have been fine and none of this would have happened. The bitch knew about her temper. Knew she would get angry. So even if the bitch didn't know she was gay, she was expecting some kind of outburst. Because that's who Sunset Shimmer really is.
And if I want her gone for good, I'm going to have to deal with her friends. I really hoped they'd be too concerned about the bitch to stay out of my way, but that's not happening. They're going to figure it out eventually, and then it'll all come out. And then, the bitch is back, and sooner or later someone else is going to suffer at her hands.
Well, I'm not letting the bitch come back.
I lean over and kiss her forehead. I know we're done as soon as she wakes up, but I still love her. I just want her to be able to wake up in a world where the person who ruined her life has finally paid for what she did.
And if that means the bitch's friends have to go as well, then so be it.
Saturday morning. Seven young women began their day. A day of work, play, and planning.
All of them unaware that by the time the sun rose Sunday morning, two of them would be injured, and one would be dead.
Sunset folded her arms and stared down her reflection. It had dropped the demon form, and returned to Sunset's old look. It copied her stance and returned her stare.
“Really,” it said. “And what exactly am I?”
“You're not some manifestation of my former self. You aren't the embodiment of all my evil or some stupid sci-fi nonsense like that.”
“How about I just tell you what I am?”
Sunset quirked an eyebrow. “Sure, why not?”
“Cute,” Sunset replied. “Fine. You're everything I hate about myself. Everything I used to be. Everything I regret. You don't want me to hurt and bleed because you want to punish me for what I've done. You want me to hurt and bleed because that's what you do.
“You're my self-loathing.”
The reflection brought up its hands and began slowly clapping. “Well done. I'm so impressed. It only took you three days to figure it out.”
“Three days?” Sunset's eyebrows raised. “It's only been a few hours.”
The reflection laughed. A genuine laugh this time. “You still haven't worked it out, have you? Time is different here. Out there, it's been almost three days since you got zapped. Your little friends probably just lost half of their Friday afternoon with that stunt.”
Sunset stared. “Three days?”
“Three days. Not that it matters. You're not going anywhere. You're stuck here, with me, until the day you die.”
Sunset looked at the contempt on her reflections face and frowned. “You're wrong. I will wake up. My friends will find a way to wake me up.”
“Are you sure about that?” The reflection hissed. “She's still out there. And if they push, she's going to push back. All the other times, all seven of you were there. And I don't think she's going to be as reasonable as Juniper was.”
“They beat me with only six of them.”
“One of which was a newly crowned alicorn princess, plus an Element of Harmony,” corrected the reflection. “You don't have those, despite what Four-Eyes turns into when she ponies up. Face it, they're all dead, they just don't know it yet.”
Sunset felt her face flush with anger. “Shut up.”
“Why would I? I hate you.”
The reflection put its hands behind its back and stepped forward. Sunset's teeth clenched again. It was walking the exact same way Adagio had in the hall when she had confronted the Dazzlings during the Battle of the Bands. Cocky. Arrogant. Smug.
“Your friends are going to die, Sunset,” it began. “They're going to go up against her, and without you, they are going to die.”
“They're stronger than that. They'll beat her, and they'll get me out.”
“You can't lie to me. I'm part of you. I wouldn't be saying that if you didn't believe it on some level.”
“They will beat her.”
“Are you sure?” The reflection grinned. Just as smug. Just as cocky. Just as arrogant. Sunset's eyes narrowed.
“You know how it's going to happen?” it sneered. “Rainbow Dash is going to throw herself headlong at it. Zap. Then Applejack will go right after her when she falls. Double Zap. Rarity and Pinkie Pie? Zap. Zap.
“I'm honestly not sure who's going to be the last one to go. Both Fluttershy and Four-Eyes are the weakest of the bunch. Although, Four-Eyes does have the ability to throw crap around, so yeah, she'll be the next one who goes. Zap. Which just leaves poor, sweet Fluttershy.”
Sunset glared at her reflection. “Don't.”
“Fluttershy, who is going to squeak and cry, and watch as everyone else dies in front of her.” The reflection leaned close and whispered in Sunset's ear. “Right before she gets fried herself. And the last thing she'll think is 'I wish I never heard of Sunset Shimmer.'”
Sunset whirled and punched the reflection square in the face. It let out a cry and fell to the ground. Sunset stood over it.
“That was for insulting my friends. They are strong. They are brave. They beat us before and they can sure as hell beat her now.”
The reflection looked up at her, frowning. “'Us?'”
“You're a part of me,” Sunset answered. “And it's time I recognized that. But you aren't going to win. I said it before, I've made peace with what I've done.”
“Then why is our past biting us in the ass right now?”
Sunset considered this for a minute. “Because some people can't forgive. And I accept that. Some people may never forgive me for what I've done to them or someone they care about. I will have to live with the fact that I did so many shitty things to so many people that there will always be someone who will never believe I've changed. Some of them may come after me. But I'm going to do the same thing to them that I'm going to do to you.”
The reflection looked at her, suspicion on her face. Sunset reached down to her.
“What are you going to do?” The reflection asked. Sunset's expression softened.
“Forgive you. I forgive you for what you've done to me since I got here. I forgive you for what you just said. And that's what I'll do to anyone else who comes after me because I wronged them or someone they care about.
“Because if I don't, none of this has meant anything.”
The reflection stared at her, disbelief on its face. Sunset gave it a small sad smile and held her hand out again. The suspicion drained out of the reflections face and was replaced with a hurt, vulnerable expression. The same one Sunset was sure she wore the night of the Fall Formal. It reached up and took Sunset's hand.
As soon as their hands connected, there was a flash of light. Sunset threw her other hand up to shield her eyes. When the flash faded, she put it down and stared.
Her reflection was gone. She was in the throne room of Canterlot Castle. Every detail stood out to her. The stained glass windows. The fountains. The long red carpet leading from the doors to the thrones. And on one of the thrones...
“Now,” said Celestia, smiling down at Sunset. “Where were we?”
Twilight soldered the wires together and closed the lid on the magic detector. She tapped the touch pad in the center and grinned as it came to life. She picked up the whole apparatus and checked all the controls. After a few minutes, she was satisfied that it was working properly and put it in her backpack.
“All done?” Spike asked from the floor.
“Yep,” Twilight said cheerfully. “The range on the detector has been amplified by ten. Plus I managed to reduce the power consumption, so I can keep it on in my backpack and if any of that woman's magic is in the area, I'll know about it.”
“Cool, so what now?” Spike asked. Twilight frowned and thought for a moment.
“Well, Applejack and Rainbow won't be here until this afternoon. I think... yes! I can give the detector a dry run. I'll head back to the mall and see if it can pick up anything left from where Sunset was attacked. Even though it's been a few days, if I've installed the upgrades correctly, I should still be able to pick up the residual traces from the entrance to the mall's back corridors.”
“Sounds good. Need me to come along?”
“Sorry, Spike, you know the rules. School is one thing, the mall is another.”
“Aw, darn it,” Spike said. “I wanted to say hi to the poodle at Fluttershy's pet shop.”
Twilight giggled and scratched her dog behind the ears. “Maybe next time, Spike. But that reminds me. I think Fluttershy's working today.”
Twilight grabbed her phone and tapped Fluttershy's number. After a moment, her friend picked up.
“Hi, Fluttershy, it's Twilight. I'm not interrupting you at work, am I?”
“Oh, not yet. The mall opens in about ten minutes, but we got all the opening procedures done already, so I have some time to spare. What's up?”
“I'm going to be heading over there in a little while. I've made some modifications to the magic detector, and I need to test them out. I was wondering if you wanted to grab lunch while I'm out there?”
“Well, I normally don't take my break until about two, but I think I can convince Blythe to let me go a little earlier. Will one o'clock be okay?”
“That should be fine.”
“Are you and Applejack and Rainbow still going to see Gardenia Glow this afternoon?” Fluttershy asked.
“Hopefully, if Pinkie manages to find out her address. She's supposed to call AJ later.”
“Okay. Oh! I need to go, Twilight. The store's about to open. I'll see you at one!”
Twilight managed to get to the mall a little after twelve. She got off the bus and hiked her way around the mall's exterior until she reached the alley that led to the maintenance corridors. She took her backpack off and pulled out the magic detector. She held it up and frowned. The touch screen in the center of the pendant was dark.
“That shouldn't have happened. I left it on and it had plenty of power.”
She tapped the pendant a couple of times, then shook the whole device. She rolled her eyes and let out a disgusted “Ugh.” She knelt down and rummaged through her backpack, extracting a small screwdriver. In full problem solving mode, she sat down on the ground and opened the pendant, then used the screwdriver to pry out the cover to the electronics inside.
The connections she had created earlier were still good. Twilight frowned. She reached back into the backpack and pulled out a pocket magnifying glass. She peered at the workings of the pendant for a moment.
“Ah ha!” she cheered. “There you are!”
She put the magnifying glass back and pulled out an eyeglass repair kit. She took one of the small screwdrivers out of the plastic case and used it to tighten one of the tiny screws holding the circuit board in place. She put the tool away and reassembled the device. She tapped the touch screen again, and smiled as the familiar six pointed star appeared. The star turned into the oscillating pink line that indicated the magic signature.
Her smile turned to an expression of surprise as, once again, one of the LEDs began to blink rapidly. The same one that had blinked the day she and the other girls had encountered the woman in black. Twilight blinked and looked up sharply.
She swallowed as she felt panic rising in her throat. She forced it back down and frowned.
No, I'm not going to panic. All the others wouldn't panic. I'm going to follow this and see if I can find out who she is. I won't engage her. I'll just see if I can identify her.
Twilight stood up, put her backpack back on and followed the LED back out of the alley and around to the food court entrance of the mall. She walked in, focused on the device, causing several of the mall patrons to move out of her way when it became clear she wasn't looking where she was going.
The LED began blinking faster and faster, eventually becoming solid. Twilight stopped immediately and looked up, drawing some dirty looks from the people passing behind her. She scanned the tables of the food court, looking for the woman in black. Instead, she saw two familiar faces.
Moondancer and Firecracker Burst were standing in line at the Sausage On A Spear stand. They were talking to each other and hadn't seen her yet. Twilight quickly moved to an empty table and pulled a book out of her backpack and quickly used it to hide her face. She looked down at the magic detector and was not surprised when the LED closest to the two girls was illuminated and solid.
Twilight slid the detector off the table and back into the backpack. She took the book up again, and glanced back at the girls. They were in a conversation, and from the looks of it, it was civil but serious. Both girls were frowning, only pausing in their conversation long enough to place their orders. Oddly enough, it looked like all they got for themselves were drinks.
As the two girls walked away from the stand, Twilight got up and followed them, taking care to stay a safe distance behind them. From their body language, they were still talking and it seemed the conversation was starting to get heated. Suddenly, both stopped walking as Moondancer grabbed Firecracker's arm. The taller girl looked at Moondancer's arm and then back at her face. She said something that Twilight couldn't make out over the echoing noise of the mall customers. Moondancer looked chagrined and let go. Firecracker smiled and put a hand on Moondancer's shoulder. She said a few words to the bespectacled girl, and Moondancer nodded in return. Firecracker returned the nod, then said what looked like a goodbye. A few seconds later, this was confirmed when the two girls parted ways and left in opposite directions.
Twilight quickly shrugged her backpack off and unzipped it.. This was her chance. If they were splitting up, all she had to do was see which LED lit up, and she would have confirmation of which girl had been in contact with magic recently. They'd finally have a solid lead on who had hurt Sunset. Twilight couldn't help grinning as she pulled out the detector. The rest of the girls were going to be so pleased when she reported her findings.
And once we know who it is, we can finally get Sunset back and put an end... to... all... what?!
Twilight stared at the detector, her eyes refusing to believe what she was seeing. She tapped the pendant in the middle of the detector but nothing changed. She shook the whole device, but there was still no change.
Two of the LEDs were lit. One on each side of the pendant in the exact directions Moondancer and Firecracker had gone. The conclusion was inescapable: both girls had been in contact with the magic.
“Both of them?” Fluttershy asked. She and Twilight were having lunch in the food court, Fluttershy having managed to take her lunch break early. “That doesn't make sense, though... does it?”
Twilight sighed and did something she hated to do: she shrugged. “I honestly don't know. There's several possibilities. One: the detector wasn't calibrated correctly and got confused somehow as to which one was emanating the magic. Two: one of them is who we're looking for, but the magic was so strong, some of it rubbed off on the other one, giving a false positive. Three: The modifications I made to the detector, plus the repairs I had to make, just completely futzed the whole thing up and it's not working. Four is the obvious: both of them do have magic. But if that's the case, it means we have to ask ourselves some very hard questions.”
“Which one of them attacked Sunset, and are they working together?” Fluttershy finished. She shuddered. “I hope they're not working together.”
“Me too,” said Twilight. “We barely managed to keep one of them from completely destroying the mall the other day.”
“One of who, darlings?”
Twilight and Fluttershy looked up to see Rarity standing at the table. She was dressed in her uniform for her job at the nearby boutique.
“Oh, hi, Rarity!” Fluttershy said. Rarity pulled out a chair at the table and sat down. “Twilight saw Firecracker and Moondancer earlier. She got some interesting readings on her magic detector.”
“Really?” Rarity leaned forward, eyes shining in anticipation. “Well, don't keep me in suspense, darling. Spill!”
Twilight related her discovery and the theories she and Fluttershy had put forth as possible explanations. Rarity expression turned thoughtful as she finished.
“Well, obviously, something untoward is happening with both of them. As much as I hate to say it, I don't think science is going to be of any more help here.”
Twilight gasped and looked scandalized. Rarity quickly smiled.
“Not to say that it hasn't been helpful so far, Twilight. But I think we may have to try another tack. If they've both been exposed to the magic, we're probably going to have to go back to old fashioned detective work.”
Twilight sighed. “I think you're right. We need to find her soon. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I keep feeling like something is going to happen soon, and if we don't find her, it's going to be disastrous.”
“I've been feeling the same way, ever since we tried to bring Sunset back,” said Fluttershy. “It's like when you know a big storm is coming and there's something in the air beforehand.”
“That's another thing,” Twilight added. “Do we really want to wait until Monday to try again?”
“Believe me, I would love nothing more than to try to get her back sooner.” Rarity leaned back in her chair. “But with all our work schedules this weekend, we won't all be available to go to the hospital until then.”
“I'm just worried that she'll try to hurt Sunset while we're all occupied.” Fluttershy put a hand on Twilight's arm.
“She won't be alone. I'm going over there tonight after I get off work. And weren't you, Applejack, and Rainbow going to see Sunset after you talk to Gardenia Glow?”
“Yes,” Twilight answered. “And Pinkie's over there right now. But what about tonight when visiting hours are over?”
“We'll just have to trust security and the hospital staff to do their jobs.” Rarity pulled out her phone. “Heavens, look at the time. I need to grab a quick bite before I head in.”
Fluttershy also checked her phone. “And my break's over. I need to get back to the store.”
All three girls stood up. Fluttershy came over and hugged Twilight.
“You did great, Twilight. Don't let it get you down.”
“Indeed,” Rarity agreed. “If nothing else, I think you've confirmed that our culprit is definitely one of those two. You've done well, darling. Don't think otherwise.”
“Thanks, girls,” Twilight blushed. “It helps.”
Fluttershy hugged Twilight again, then made her goodbyes and headed back to the pet store. When she was gone, Rarity reached into her purse and pulled out a couple of bills.
“Well, I think this calls for a smoothie. Care to join me, darling? My treat!”
Twilight nodded. “Sounds good. But then I need to get back home. Rainbow and Applejack will be picking me up at three.”
The two began walking toward the smoothie stand, unaware that they were being watched.
Fluttershy was feeding the fish when the electronic chime went off, indicating a customer had entered the store.
“I'll be right there!” She climbed down from the stepladder and walked up to the front of the store. As she cleared the aisle she stopped short and stared. Moondancer saw her and smiled.
Fluttershy stifled the “eep” that came to her throat and returned the smile. “Hello, Moondancer. Does Celano need more seed already?”
“No, she's not done with the last bag yet. I think she's stealing the dog food, honestly.”
Fluttershy couldn't help but giggle. Moondancer had bought her pet cockatiel from the store last year. When Celano had been living in the store, she had a habit of swiping food and toys from the other pets. Fluttershy couldn't count how many opening shifts had started by cleaning all of Celano's ill gotten gains out of her cage.
“Sounds like she hasn't quite broken her bad habits yet,” she said. “So what can I do for you?”
Moondancer looked down at her feet for a moment before looking back up. “So, I was talking to Rarity the other day. I guess you know I've been one of the people sending Sunset Shimmer those emails.”
“Yeah,” Fluttershy looked uncomfortable. Moondancer mirrored her expression.
“Yeah. Anyway, after Rarity showed me I wasn't the only one doing that, I felt terrible. I think I need to do something to make up for it. So, I was thinking maybe something for her pet? Does she even have a pet?”
Fluttershy hesitated for a moment. Moondancer's face fell.
“Oh,” she said. “I get it. I don't blame you. I'll go now. Thanks anyway.”
Moondancer turned and began to walk out of the store, dejection evident in her posture. Fluttershy bit her lip, conflicted, then held out a hand.
Moondancer turned back and looked up. Fluttershy came over and took her arm.
“She has a leopard gecko. His name is Ray. I've been taking care of him while she's been in the hospital.”
Moondancer nodded. “I don't know much about lizards. Is there anything in particular she needs for him?”
Fluttershy considered. “Well, she did mention that she could use a new heat lamp for him. She's been using a cheap one she got from the thrift store. It's all right, but I do kind of worry it'll short out on her.”
“Do you carry them?” Moondancer asked, hope in her voice. Fluttershy smiled. She began leading Moondancer down the aisle where the reptile supplies were kept.
“Now, I don't know what your budget is, but Ray's pretty small and so is Sunset's apartment...”
It was about an hour and a half into her shift when Rarity got the surprise. She finished ringing up her customers and stepped out from behind the counter. She went to one of the shoe displays and began straightening the pairs on the table, choosing the right angle for each pair to catch the light and hopefully the eye of other customers.
“Oh yes, very good,” Rarity murmured to herself, taking a step back to admire her handiwork. “I defy anyone to find a more fabulous display of shoes anywhere!”
“I dunno. I thought the all sneaker recreation of the Temple of Ahuizotl from 'Daring Do and the Eye of the Emerald Demon' Rainbow Dash made over at the mall sports store was pretty impressive.”
Rarity responded without turning around to see who had spoken. “Pfft-tsk-tch! An Aztec temple made from shoe boxes may be impressive, but what does it do to show off the style, the elegance, the sheer glory of a top class pair of boots or shoes?”
On a roll, Rarity whirled around, gesturing dramatically to the ceiling. eyes closed. “How could a mere pile of boxes inspire anyone to purchase such wondrous footwear as this? How, I ask you?!”
“Dropping the price by twenty percent?” answered the newcomer.
“Well, of course, there is that.” Rarity smiled and opened her eyes. “But if you're truly in the market for something to make your feet look divine, you simply cannot go wrong with – Firecracker Burst?”
The tall girl grinned. “Well, I've never gone wrong with me before.”
Rarity blinked, but quickly regained her composure. “And you would look absolutely stunning in these!”
She turned back to the display, grabbing a pair of deep blue pumps with a metallic sheen to them. Keep calm. Don't give her any reason to be suspicious. She's just another customer looking for a pair of fabulous shoes.
“Now these,” she said, turning around and presenting the shoes to her unexpected customer. “These would look divine with your skin tone and with your height, oooh, you have no idea how many heads you'd turn when you enter a room.”
Firecracker grinned and shook her head. “Honestly, I'm not actually here to shop.”
“Oh?” Rarity put the shoes back on the display. She swallowed and turned back to Firecracker. “Then what can I do for you?”
Firecracker ran a hand through her hair and sighed. “Why was Twilight following me and Moondancer earlier today?”
Now it was Rarity's turn to sigh. “I suppose we're past the point of subterfuge. She was following both of you because we think you both know more about what happened to Sunset than either of you are telling.”
Firecracker pursed her lips in thought and nodded. “Okay, I kinda figured that. And you're right. We should be honest with each other.”
She paced back and forth a few times, then looked back at Rarity. “I know you're working, and we don't have a lot of time here. But, how about this? You ask me anything you want to know and I'll answer them until your next customer comes in.”
Rarity quirked an eyebrow. “Truthfully?”
Firecracker nodded. “Truthfully. And I'll meet up with you and the other girls later tonight and answer any other questions you want. Fair?”
Rarity considered for a moment, then looked Firecracker in the eye. “Agreed. Question one: Twilight said it looked like you and Moondancer were having a very intense conversation. What was it about?”
Firecracker answered with a sigh. “Moondancer called me last night and asked me to meet her today. I don't know what you said to her after school, but she's started looking into what happened to Sunset too. She was asking me if I sent any of the emails Sunset got.”
“And what did you tell her?”
“I told her that I had sent some of them. But I also told her the same thing I told Pinkie. I was drunk and angry the night I did that.”
“Which brings me to my next question. Why were you so angry the night you sent those messages?” Rarity folded her arms and looked expectant.
Firecracker Burst rubbed her face then looked back at Rarity. “Do you remember Gardenia Glow?”
Rarity kept her expression neutral. “Yes. Terrible what happened to her.”
“Yeah.” The tall girl looked at her feet, sighed again, and then turned her attention back to Rarity. “I was friends with Gardenia when all that happened. So was Moondancer and Beachberry, but I was the one she came to the night her parents kicked her out. It took a few days to get her back on her feet.
“Anyway, for some reason, Moondancer thought all this might have something to do with her, so she asked me if I'd heard from her recently. I told her no.”
Rarity frowned. “Really? Then you didn't know she moved back to town recently?”
“Did she?” Firecracker blinked. “Honestly, we kind of lost touch with each other when she went to college. As far as I knew, she was still up at Baltimare University. When did she move back?”
“No idea. Pinkie Pie found out from her sister.”
“Huh,” Firecracker shrugged. “Weird. You'd think she would have let me know.”
“So that's all Moondancer wanted? To see if you'd been in contact with Gardenia?”
“Yeah. And I told her what I just told you. I haven't.”
“All right then,” Rarity took a breath. “I assume you heard about what happened over at the mall a couple of days ago?”
Firecracker nodded. “Yeah.”
“Where were you when all that was going on?”
“This isn't going to help me convince you I had nothing to do with all this, but I was there. I was over at the music store when all that happened. I evacuated with everyone else.”
“I don't suppose anyone can confirm that? Moondancer, perhaps?”
Firecracker shook her head. “With all the chaos, I'm surprised I even remember I was there.”
“What about the night Sunset was attacked?”
“Still not gonna help my case. I was home, doing some prop work for the show.”
Rarity nodded. “You have to admit, as alibis go, those are pretty useless.”
“I know. But I promised you the truth and that's what it is.”
Rarity opened her mouth to ask her next question, but was interrupted when she felt her phone buzzing in her pocket. The short double buzz that indicated a text had arrived.
Rarity frowned. Her friends and family knew that she wasn't to be disturbed at work unless it was an emergency. Which meant someone desperately wanted to get her attention.
“Excuse me for a moment, Firecracker,” she said, smiling. “Just need to check something.”
Rarity walked behind the counter and pulled out her phone. The text came from Rainbow Dash. The contents of the text changed everything.
“And then we all covered the whole place in nacho cheese!” Pinkie finished. “Isn't that the weirdest dream you've ever heard, Sunset?”
Sunset, naturally, didn't respond. Pinkie, sitting in a chair next to her friend's hospital bed, leaned forward and took Sunset's hand.
“I know you're still in there,” she said quietly. “I know it. And I know you'll come back. You need us as much as we need you. It's not as fun with you not around.”
There was a knock on the door. Pinkie quickly wiped her eyes and turned to see who had arrived. She blinked when Moondancer walked into the room, holding a small bunch of flowers.
“Hi,” Moondancer gave a small wave. “I thought I would come by to see Sunset. That's okay, isn't it?”
Pinkie gawked for a few more seconds, then snapped out of her astonishment. “Sure, Moondancer, come on in.”
Moondancer walked into the room and placed the flowers on the windowsill, then turned back. Pinkie stood up and gestured to the chair.
“Here, you can sit down if you want.”
“No, I'm fine.”
The two girls stood in awkward silence for a few moments. Moondancer kept looking from Sunset to Pinkie and then back to Sunset. She took a few steps closer to the bed, watching Sunset.
“I messed up,” she whispered. She raised a fist to her mouth and began gnawing on her thumbnail. “I messed up so badly.”
Pinkie walked over and put a hand on Moondancer's shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“I didn't mean for all this to happen. I just wanted her to understand. She hurt so many people. So many of my friends. I just wanted her to realize what she did.”
“Did you ever talk to her after she changed?” Pinkie asked. Moondancer looked over at her.
“No,” she answered. “I didn't believe it. Even after the Dazzlings, and the Friendship Games, I didn't believe she changed. I thought it was just a big con. That all she was doing was keeping everyone else off her turf.”
Pinkie looked at the sorrowful expression on Moondancer's face. She bit her lip as a thought came to her. “What happened between the two of you?”
Moondancer looked back down at Sunset. “She hurt someone close to me. A couple of weeks after the Battle of the Bands, she forgave her. Said she knew she was making an effort to change. I don't think Sunset ever knew. But, I didn't – couldn't agree with her.”
Moondancer took off her glasses and wiped her eyes. “I don't know why I'm here. She can't hear me. She can't see me. She doesn't even know I'm here.”
“She can hear you,” said Pinkie. “She's still in there. Applejack and Fluttershy saw her.”
“How?” Moondancer replaced her glasses. “How can you know that?”
“The magic.” Pinkie held up her geode. “We don't really know how it works, but these connect us. Flutters and AJ used them and they saw her.”
Moondancer stared at Pinkie. “Is... is she okay?”
Pinkie's face fell. “We don't know. She was fighting something that looked like her. It managed to kick them back out. When we all got back in, she was gone.”
Moondancer looked back at Sunset. “How is that possible?”
“I don't know,” Pinkie also looked down at Sunset. “But I know she's still in there. She's tough. She fights. She fights all the time.”
Moondancer frowned. “I don't follow you.”
Pinkie gave a sad smile. “She's always fighting. Fighting to prove she's better. Fighting to keep herself from going back to who she was. Fighting to figure out how the magic works and how to keep it from being a bad thing.
“She fights for all of us. Whenever we're feeling down, or scared, or lonely, she's there. She's a fighter. She always has been. That's how I know she's still there. Because she won't stop fighting to get back.”
Pinkie looked up, her eyes shining with tears of pride. “She didn't start out that way, but Sunset Shimmer is the best friend anyone could have. Because she'll fight for you, she'll fight with you, and she never, ever, gives up until she's won. She may have always done that, but now, she's fighting for more than herself. She has other, better things to fight for. And when she fights this and wins, I'm gonna have the biggest welcome back party for her you've ever seen.”
“Wow,” Moondancer blinked, surprised at the outpouring of emotion from the pink haired party girl. “You really think that much of her? After everything she's done in the past?”
“She told us something once, a few weeks after the Battle of the Bands. 'My past is not today.' I dunno how she came up with it, but it's true. Her past really isn't today. She's not the person she was when she first came here. She's not even the person she was after the Fall Formal.”
“How do you mean?”
“After the Fall Formal, she was nervous. Scared, even. So sure everyone was going to turn on her after what she did. Now, she's confident again. But it's not the mean, selfish confidence she used to have. It's brighter, happier. And that's why I can't understand why some people think it's all an act.”
Moondancer looked at Pinkie, a strange expression on her face. “Maybe... maybe it's because they haven't seen it like you have. Maybe they missed part of that. Maybe they –“
Moondancer's sentence was interrupted by a loud cartoonish “sproing!” Pinkie blushed and pulled out her phone.
“Sorry. Forgot to silence it. Do you mind?”
Moondancer let out a small laugh. “Go ahead. Don't mind me.”
“Thanks!” Pinkie looked down at her phone. Her text message icon had a small number one on top of it, indicating a new message. She tapped the icon.
Her loud gasp of astonishment caused Moondancer to let out a yelp of surprise. She whirled around only to find Pinkie staring at her in shock and disbelief.
“Pinkie?” Moondancer stepped forward, frowning. “Are you all right? What's wrong?”
Eyes wide, Pinkie walked forward and handed Moondancer her phone. The other girl took it and looked down at the text that had just arrived from Rainbow Dash.
Sunset stared up at Celestia, then around the throne room. It was almost exactly as she remembered. High ceilings, brightly colored stained glass, polished marble floor, fountains at the base of the throne. It was exactly as she remembered it. She looked back at the alicorn.
“This is a memory,” she said.
Celestia nodded. “Well done.”
“So why am I here now? And please, no more Starswirl method.”
“No,” Celestia agreed. “No more Starswirl method. Time for straight answers. You are here because you finally accepted a part of yourself you've been avoiding.”
“My self-loathing?” Sunset frowned. “I've been fine with that for a while.”
“No, you haven't.” Celestia stood and walked down the stairs from the throne toward Sunset. “While you've made peace with your past, and accepted responsibility for it, you never really forgave yourself for who you used to be. Not fully, at any rate. If you had, all of this wouldn't have happened when you were attacked.”
“Why is that important?” Sunset asked. “I mean, sure, I still have some sleepless nights where my brain seems to enjoy dredging up my past and pointing out my mistakes, but everyone has those nights from time to time.”
“It's important because of who you are.” Celestia reached Sunset and looked down at her. “Following the battle with the sirens, you made some changes to go with your new lease on life. A new perspective. A new attitude. Most tellingly, a new wardrobe.”
Sunset looked down at her clothes then back up at her mentor. “Well, yeah. I wanted something that would show that I've changed. But it's not like I burned my old clothes either. I still wear them from time to time.”
“But you wear these more often,” Celestia said. “And there is one major difference between the clothes you wear now and the ones you wore in the past.”
The princess's horn lit up and fired a burst of magic into the air. It swirled around and formed the image of the two-toned sun that was Sunset's cutie mark.
“My cutie mark?” Sunset stared at the image, perplexed. She looked at Celestia. “I'm sorry, I'm not following you.”
“In your efforts to prove to yourself and others that you truly reformed, you began denying a very important part of yourself, Sunset.”
Sunset opened her mouth to protest, but Celestia held up a hoof to stop her. “Don't misunderstand me. You did not do so deliberately, and most likely didn't even realize that's what you were doing. You began to distance yourself from who you used to be, because you hadn't really forgiven yourself for everything you had done in the past. But while your past may not be today, as you frequently remind yourself, it is still part of what makes you who you are.
“During your time here, trapped in this representation of your mind, you learned to forgive yourself. Quite literally.” Celestia smirked. “And in doing so, along with your continued efforts to improve yourself and protect the human world from the aspects of me currently running rampant, you have finally become ready to reclaim this.”
The princess gestured with her horn. The image of Sunset's cutie mark shrank and moved to hover in front of Sunset. “Take it again, Sunset. Reclaim your destiny.”
Sunset reached out and touched the glowing emblem. It flashed softly with light. She looked up. “I'm sorry. I don't understand what you mean by 'reclaiming my destiny.'”
Celestia smiled. “I'm afraid you'll have to let me indulge for a brief moment in the Starswirl method again. What do you believe your cutie mark means?”
Sunset looked back at the emblem again. “It always seemed to indicate my talent was for magic. And I thought that, since it was a sun, it meant that eventually I'd reach the same level of fame and adoration that you – I mean, the real Celestia – had. I guess, that's why I became so obsessed with becoming a princess back then.”
“Look at the center of the mark,” Celestia replied. “What do you see?”
“It's a circle divided by a slight s-shaped line. The right is gold, the left is red.”
“And does it look similar to any symbols you've seen in the human world?”
Sunset considered. “It's the same basic shape as the yin and yang symbol. And while it typically denotes opposites that complement each other, it's often used as a symbol of ...” Sunset trailed off, her eyes widening with understanding. “... balance.
“Balance. I was selfish, vindictive, and petty when I left Equestria. Now, I try to be helpful, charitable, and generally a better person in the human realm. I left one world and became part of another.” Sunset looked up at her mentor, astonishment in her eyes. “And I help keep you in check as you run rampant across the world.”
Celestia smiled. “Yes, Sunset. This has been your destiny. To balance the forces of two worlds, bringing them together in harmony. But you yourself were not in balance. There was still a part of you that you did not accept. That you had not forgiven.”
“And when she attacked me, I thought I deserved it,” Sunset finished. “Because I still hadn't forgiven myself for what I did. And I wound up here.”
“Where you finally forgave the part of yourself that hates who you are and what you did. At long last, you are in balance, Sunset Shimmer. You have accepted the responsibility given you by the Magic of Friendship. Are you ready to reclaim what has always been yours?”
Sunset looked back at the glowing sun emblem hovering in front of her. She felt warmth emanating from it. The warmth spread over her form, suffusing her being. A sense of peace and happiness spread through her. It was a sensation she hadn't realized had been missing from her life until it returned. It felt good. It felt right.
It felt like home.
Sunset smiled, tears of happiness forming in her eyes. She reached out and touched her long neglected cutie mark. The two-toned sun split apart and began swirling around in her in streaks of red and gold. Sunset felt the magic inhabit her, filling her. She felt old scars begin to heal, old hatreds fade away. A new sense of self filled her, and she felt the need to say it aloud.
“I am Sunset Shimmer, born in Equestria, resident of the human realm. I am here to protect the Magic of Friendship and defend against those who would use it to harm others. I vow to balance the magic and bring harmony to both worlds.”
She smiled as the next sentence came to her.
“My past is not today, but my future begins now.”
The red and gold swirls reared back and thrust themselves at Sunset, colliding in a firework explosion of light. Sunset closed her eyes and laughed, overwhelmed with the sheer joy she felt. It was exactly like the day she first got her cutie mark. She was receiving it again, and with it, a new sense of purpose and fulfillment.
The lights faded and Sunset looked back up at Celestia, tears in her eyes and a giant grin on her face. She threw her arms around the alicorn's neck.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “I didn't know how much I missed this until now.”
“This was all your doing, Sunset,” Celestia whispered back. “I only helped guide the way.”
Sunset pulled back, sniffled, and wiped her eyes. “Of course, I'm still stuck in the coma, right?”
“I'm afraid so. As I said, someone on the outside will have to find a way to bring you out.”
“Well, at least Fluttershy and Applejack got in. Hopefully, they can get all the rest of the girls together to try again now that my double isn't around to interfere.”
There was a flash of multicolored light. Sunset and Celestia looked up to see one of the stained glass windows glowing. A beam of light shot down, tinged with the colors of the glass: yellow, white, purple, orange, pink, and blue. The colors brightened and intensified, glowing with an ethereal luminescence.
Sunset took a few steps toward the rainbow. She put a hand out towards it. As she did so, a streak of red appeared in the bands, growing longer the closer she came. Her grin returned and she looked back at Celestia.
“It looks like your ride's here,” said the princess, returning Sunset's grin.
Sunset walked back to Celestia, and gave her another hug. “I know you aren't the real Celestia, but thank you. Thank you for helping me find myself again.”
“You're welcome. And you might consider speaking to the real me in the future. Closure is much better than uncertainty.”
Sunset pulled back and nodded. “I will. Once all this is taken care of.”
“Farewell, Sunset Shimmer.”
Sunset turned and began walking back towards the rainbow, the red line re-appearing and growing stronger as she approached. As she prepared to enter the light, the rainbow flickered and Sunset stared as one of the colors vanished. She turned back to Celestia, panic in her eyes.
“What's happening? What's going on?”
Celestia frowned and looked up at the stained glass window. She closed her eyes. “I sense conflict. Strife. Imbalance.” Her eyes opened. “Pain. You must go, Sunset. One of your friends is suffering. They need you.”
Sunset turned back. The rainbow flickered again and another color vanished. Sunset looked back at Celestia. The alicorn gestured urgently with her horn at the rainbow.
“Go now, Sunset, while you still can!”
Sunset frowned and nodded. “I won't let you down. I won't let them down.”
She turned to face the rainbow. It began flickering again. Sunset ran towards it, leaping forward the last few feet. The rainbow exploded in a flash of multicolored light.
When the light faded, so had the throne room, the stained glass windows, and the facsimile of the ruler of Equestria.
“Try again,” Rainbow Dash insisted. Applejack sighed in exasperation and rang the doorbell to the apartment for the fourth time. As before, there was no response.
“See? Four times, no answer.” Applejack turned to her friends. “I don't think she's home.”
“She's gotta be home!” Rainbow put her hands on her hips. “There's a car in her assigned space out in the parking lot!”
“Someone could have given her a ride somewhere,” said Twilight. “Or she could be out for a walk or took a bus.”
“I guess,” Rainbow huffed. “I just hate the idea of being so close to answers and not getting them.”
“Well, unless your magic suddenly lets you pass through walls, I think we're outta luck.” Applejack pushed back her hat. “So, should we leave it for now and come back in a couple of hours?”
Rainbows eyes widened and a grin crossed her face. “Wait! We can still get in there! You can unlock the door, Twilight!” Rainbow grabbed Twilight's shoulders hard enough to knock her glasses askew. “You did it back at the movie studio to get me out of that closet!”
Twilight put her glasses back in place and she gave Rainbow a serious look. “Yes, but that was in a semi-public building, Rainbow, and we were trying to find you. This is completely different!”
“How? You were looking for me. We're looking for Gardenia Glow. Same thing.”
“It ain't the same thing and you know it, Rainbow Dash!” Applejack snapped. “You were callin' for help. She ain't, and it's her home. We don't even know if she's there!”
“But we can't be sure she's not!” Rainbow snapped. “Look, I get it. We shouldn't do it, but we need answers! I'm tired of stumbling around in the dark and waiting for what's-her-face to come after us again! Sunset needs us! Pepperdance needs us!”
Twilight and Applejack exchanged a look. Both knew Rainbow had a point. Answers were needed. Things had escalated to an unacceptable point. Their enemy had bested them twice and others had been injured in the process. After a moment, Applejack let out an aggravated sigh, took off her hat and reblocked it.
“Five minutes. That's all. Nobody touch nothin', nobody do nothin' but look. Five minutes and we get the hell out. All right?”
Rainbow grinned. “No problem.”
Twilight, however, wasn't so sure. “Are you sure about this, Applejack? This is breaking and entering. We could go to jail if we get caught!”
“I don't like it anymore than you do, Twi,” the farm girl replied. “But, much as I hate it, Rainbow's right. We need answers. If'n we can get 'em without needin' to bring up painful memories to Gardenia, maybe it's for the best in the long run.”
“You're justifying this to yourself.” Twilight's voice was flat.
“Maybe, but that don't change the fact that this may be the only place we can get some answers. I ain't gonna force you to do it, but I am gonna ask you: Twilight, will you please unlock this door?”
Twilight looked from Applejack's serious expression to Rainbow's hopeful one and back again. She frowned as she considered. Rainbow put a hand on her shoulder.
Twilight looked at the hand then back up at her friends. “Five minutes. No more.”
She took a deep breath then turned to the door. She held up her hands, channeling her magic. She pushed outward with her mind. The purple glow around her hands was mirrored by a similar glow appearing around the doorknob. After a moment, the girls heard a clack. Twilight dropped her telekinetic field and twisted the doorknob. The door opened partway, but Twilight quickly stopped when they heard the sounds of a conversation echoing below them.
She quickly pulled the door shut, while Applejack and Rainbow dashed to the edge of the balcony the third floor apartment was on. They peered over the railing and watched as a couple walked into view, laughing. They rounded the corner, heading for the parking lot. Rainbow let out a sigh of relief and gave Twilight a thumbs up.
Twilight inched the door open, allowing the girls to quickly enter the apartment and close the door behind them.
“See? No problem!” Rainbow's grin earned her a look from the other two girls. Applejack got out her phone and set an alarm.
“Five minutes. No touchin', just lookin'.”
The girls spread out. The apartment wasn't large, but it was comfortable. A plush sofa and love seat set was in the living room, facing a modest sized flat screen TV mounted on the wall. On a cabinet below it was a video game console, although the lack of visible games seemed to indicate Gardenia just used the console for access to streaming services. A nearby bookshelf held several volumes, as well as a few DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
Twilight found herself looking at the pictures on the wall. Most of them were prints of famous paintings, a few sketches that looked like they came from some fan convention or other. Twilight felt a twinge of sadness as she realized there were no photographs of family.
Applejack was in the kitchen. It was neat and tidy, with some very good knives in a block next to the stove. There were a couple of dishes in the sink, but they had been rinsed off. A pair of matching dish towels hung from the handle on the oven door. All in all, the kitchen was fairly cozy. Applejack smiled in spite of herself. She wouldn't mind having a kitchen like this, if and when she moved out of the house.
She walked out of the kitchen and over to Twilight. “Anything?”
“No, nothing,” Twilight sighed. “At least nothing that could help us.”
She walked toward the rear of the apartment, stopping in front of what looked like a closet. She frowned, considering, then turned back to her friend. “I know we said we weren't going to touch anything.”
Applejack nodded. “Figure there's no harm in opening a door. Just make sure you close it when we're done.”
Twilight nodded and opened the door. Coats and jackets hung neatly from the rail inside. Shoes and boots were on the floor of the closet. Twilight looked and stared. On the shelf was something she recognized. Leaving caution aside, she began pushing the coats and jacket across the rail. Applejack put a hand on her shoulder.
“What are you doin'?” she demanded. Twilight ignored her and kept going through the coats. She stopped, staring unbelieving at the coat hanging in front of her. She grabbed it and reached up to the shelf, grabbing what was up there. She turned, bringing the long black overcoat and matching floppy brimmed hat out of the closet and holding them up.
“Rainbow?” she called. “I think I found something.”
“So have I,” came Rainbow's voice. Both girls turned their heads toward the bedroom. “You guys better get back here.”
Both girls walked into the bedroom, then dashed forward at the sight of the unconscious woman lying on the bed. Long pink hair was spread out on the pillow, strands crossing the dark green face. Rainbow was kneeling beside the bed, holding two fingers to the woman's throat.
“She's alive,” she reported. She looked at Twilight and her eyes widened. “Are those...?”
Twilight nodded. “The hat and coat she wore at the mall. I think she lives here.”
“Well, that explains this,” Rainbow said, getting to her feet and nodding at Gardenia's unconscious form. “I think she did the same thing to her that she did to Sunset.”
“But why?” Twilight asked. “Why do this to her? What on earth could she have against both Gardenia and Sunset?”
“I don't think she has anything against Gardenia.” Applejack's voice was soft and distant. Rainbow and Twilight looked up. The farm girl was standing behind Twilight, holding a framed photo in her hands. “In fact, I think it's the opposite.”
She turned the photo around, showing it to her friends. Twilight stared and Rainbow gasped. The athlete pulled out her phone. “I'm texting the girls. We need to find her. Now.”
Eyes wide, Pinkie walked forward and handed Moondancer her phone. The other girl took it and looked down at the text that had just arrived from Rainbow Dash.
“Oh no,” she murmured.
Pinkie took her phone back. “I have to go! But, can you do me a favor?”
“Stay here with Sunset? And if anyone shows up who shouldn't be here comes, text me, okay? Me and the girls will get here as soon as we can.
“Okay,” Moondancer said. “Be careful, Pinkie.”
Pinkie nodded and zoomed out of the room.
Rarity quickly texted Rainbow back and put her phone away. She walked back out from behind the counter.
“Something wrong?” asked Firecracker Burst.
“No, just my mother asking me to stop at the store on my way home. Now, where were we?”
“You were asking me questions.”
“Quite right,” Rarity took a breath. “How close were you to Gardenia Glow?”
Firecracker was taken aback. “Um... we were friends. Pretty close.”
“And yet,” Rarity said, taking a step closer. “You didn't know she moved back to town. You obviously were close enough to know she attended Baltimare University, so why wouldn't she let you know she was planning on moving back here?”
Rarity stepped closer. “It just seems strange to me. Two girls in two different years at CHS, and you managed to stay friends after the tragedy that befell her, long enough for you to presumably stay in touch after she moved to Baltimare. And yet, in that time, you drift apart to the point where it wouldn't even occur to her to tell one of her closest friends she was moving back home?”
“What are you getting at?” Firecracker's tone was harsh. She blinked and her frown deepened. “What was that text?”
Rarity folded her arms. “Your alibis are worthless, your friendship with Gardenia Glow was either very close, or so flimsy that she wouldn't tell you she moved back. You sent Sunset horrific messages threatening her. All circumstantial, to be sure, but elements that lead me to one conclusion: You're lying about something, Firecracker Burst. You're either lying about where you were when Sunset, Beachberry, and Pepperdance were attacked, or you're lying about how you really feel about Sunset, or could it possibly be that you've been lying about your true relationship with Gardenia Glow?”
Firecracker stormed forward, shoving Rarity aside. The fashionista staggered as Firecracker went behind the counter. She found Rarity's purse and reached into it, looking for her phone.
Rarity dashed behind the counter and grabbed Firecracker's arm. “Do you mind?” she shrieked.
“Yeah, I actually do!” Firecracker shifted her full weight into Rarity, knocking her to the ground. As Rarity got back up, Firecracker pulled out the phone and looked down at the text from Rainbow Dash.
She's here at the boutique! Hurry, darlings. I'm going to try to elicit a confession from her.
Firecracker looked up from the phone to Rarity's face. Her expression was stony. Her jaw clenched. Then, much to Rarity's surprise, she smiled.
“I guess you were right, Rarity,” she said, raising a hand to the pendant around her neck. “The time for subterfuge is over.”
She grasped the pendant and Rarity swallowed hard as pink light flashed, and electricity danced across Firecracker's knuckles. She looked up at Firecracker's face and took a step back as the other girl's eyes glowed with magical power. Rarity felt her heart begin to race, and she took another step back as Firecracker began to laugh, cold and mocking.
Twilight used her magic to lock the apartment door as the three girls hurried out of the apartment. Rainbow looked up from her phone.
“She's at Rarity's boutique! Pinkie's on her way, Fluttershy's trying to get away from work.”
“Dammit,” Applejack cursed. “We need to get over there fast! Rarity can't handle her all by herself!”
“I have an idea,” Twilight said. “Pony up!”
If the other two girls were confused, they didn't bother expressing it. All three gripped their geodes, and ponied up. Twilight nodded.
“It'll be faster if we fly over there. We can come back for your truck later, Applejack.”
“Uh, small problem. AJ doesn't have wings,” Rainbow pointed out.
“No, but I can carry her,” Twilight answered. She reached out with her magic, enveloping her friend in a magenta colored aura. She lifted her hands, and Applejack let out a yelp of surprise as she rose off her feet.
“I've been practicing every day since Camp Everfree,” Twilight explained. “Sunset's been helping me. I can lift almost 200 pounds.”
“All right, sugarcube, I trust you.”
“Great, that's taken care of! Let's go!” Rainbow leaped over the railing and began flying away. After floating Applejack over the railing, Twilight took to the air and the three friends flew over the rooftops, rushing to save their friend.
Rarity backed away from Firecracker Burst. Pink lightning flowed over the blonde girl's form. Her eyes glowed with the magical power coursing through her. Rarity watched in astonishment as Firecracker began to change.
Firecracker was already tall, approaching six feet, but she grew another foot as the magic took hold of her. Her clothes changed as well. She now wore a metallic blue dress that hung off one shoulder. The skirt was open at the front, sweeping back over her hips. Under the skirt, she wore skin tight gold leggings and a pair of platform boots, the same shade of metallic blue as the dress. Small stylized purple fireballs appeared along the hem of the skirt, and she wore a gold belt with a purple buckle shaped the same way. Her hair flowed upward, forming into a twist that wrapped around her head. Her fingernails grew, coated in purple polish. The irises of her eyes had turned the same shade of electric pink as her magic, and they flashed every so often as the magic surged through her.
A sadistic grin crossed Firecracker's face. She held up her hands, the pink lightning sparking across the gaps of her fingers. She looked down at Rarity, who had backed into the shoe display.
“You know something?” she began, slowly walking forward. “I'm actually kinda glad you figured it out. I was getting tired of playing it safe.”
“Firecracker, you don't have to do this,” Rarity said. “I'm sorry for being so accusatory earlier, but this isn't right. You see that, don't you?”
“Oh, I see, all right.” Firecraker's expression darkened. “I see that god damn bitch has gotten to you too!”
“You mean Sunset? She hasn't 'gotten' to me, Firecracker. She's my friend! And despite what you think, she has changed!”
Firecracker sneered. “Sure, she has. And I'm sure you and the other five will do anything to get her back, right?”
“Absolutely.” Rarity stood defiant, staring the giantess down.
Firecracker growled and thrust a hand out. A bolt of lightning shot out of her palm. Rarity threw her own hands up, generating a crystal shield. The lightning crashed into the shield with tremendous force, knocking Rarity off her feet and into the air. She quickly multiplied the shield, surrounding herself in a ball of them, just before she crashed through the store window.
Rarity let out a series of squeaks as the crystal ball bounced a few times on the road outside. People on the sidewalk scattered and traffic screeched to a halt as she crashed to earth and the crystals dissipated. Rarity groaned and rolled onto her back. She pushed herself into a sitting position.
“Are you all right?” The driver of the car in front of her put an arm around her shoulder and helped her to her feet.
“Yes... yes, I'm fine,” Rarity murmured. She shook her head to shake off the dizziness she was feeling. She looked at the demolished store window, then at the driver. “You have to go! Now! It's not safe here!”
As if to underline her point, the front of the store exploded outward with a blast of pink light. Firecracker stalked outward, her evil grin back in place. The pendant around her neck glowed brightly, giving her face an inhuman appearance. The driver stared as the giantess channeled a ball of lightning in her hand.
Rarity, without taking her eyes off her enemy, began pushing against the driver's shoulder. “Go! Go, go, go!”
Not waiting to see if the driver followed her orders, she grabbed the geode around her neck and activated it. A wave of light passed over her, leaving her standing in what Pinkie Pie insisted on calling her “superhero outfit;” the clothes the geode created when they first got them at Camp Everfree.
Firecracker saw the flash and hurled the lightning ball towards her. Rarity quickly calculated the trajectory and formed a wall, protecting her and the people behind her who were trying to make their escape. The lightning exploded and coursed across the wall. Rarity grinned, split the wall into its component crystals and sent them hurtling across the street at Firecracker.
Firecracker dodged to the side as the crystals smashed into the ruined storefront, shattering into glittering dust as they connected. Firecracker hissed through her teeth, and thrust out both hands, firing another concentrated beam of magic at Rarity, much like she had done at the mall only a few days before.
Rarity threw herself to the ground as the beam connected with the store behind her. She hears screams of terror, screeching tires, and revving engines as pedestrians and drivers scattered away from the street. Her head shot up as a metallic screech reached her ears. She looked behind her shoulder and gasped as she saw a nearby light post beginning to bend. Her heart began pounding in her ears as she followed its probable arc and saw that it would smash onto a car stuck between two other abandoned cars. A woman and her daughter were inside, cowering in the driver's seat.
Rarity shot to her feet and dashed to the car, throwing up a shield right as the lamp post came down. She braced her feet and pushed the crystal, keeping the post from crashing onto the car. She turned her head slightly, looking at the woman.
“Get out! Hurry!”
The woman snapped out of her terror, unbuckled her seat belt, grabbed her daughter and climbed out of the car from the passenger side. As soon as they were clear, Rarity lowered the lamp post to the ground.
Pain exploded in her back and she felt her muscles stiffen as electricity poured through her. She fell to all fours, and screamed through clenched teeth as she tried to stay upright. Behind her, Firecracker continued to blast lightning into the teenager's body. Tears began streaming from Rarity's eyes and her mouth opened in a silent scream.
Firecracker's grin returned and she started giggling. A mad, hollow giggle that threatened to explode in full deranged laughter. She cut the magic, stalked up to Rarity and grabbed her by the hair. Rarity's scream finally became audible as Firecracker yanked her to her feet.
The giantess let got of Rarity's hair and grabbed her by the back of her neck. Rarity threw her hands over her shoulders trying to get loose. Firecracker whirled around and threw the fashionista back across the street. Rarity closed her eyes and braced for impact with the boutique's ruined storefront.
She let out an “oof” as she connected with something that was firm, but a lot softer than she was expecting. Rarity opened her eyes to see Applejack, also in her superhero outfit, had caught her. Applejack gently put Rarity back on her feet.
“Thank you!” Rarity said, giving her friend a quick hug.
“'Tweren't nothin',” AJ replied.
“Thanks later! Bad guy now!” Rainbow Dash called as she and Twilight flew overhead. The two of them grabbed their geodes again, also transforming into their superhero forms. The two landed next to their friends.
“Where's Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy?” Rarity asked.
“On their way,” Twilight answered. She stared across at the towering woman who stared at them with hate in her eyes. “Is that Firecracker Burst?”
“I'm afraid so,” Rarity answered. “The magic's taken her over! She's completely deranged.”
“Well, reckon we'll have to beat some sense back into her then,” Applejack said. She dashed forward, leaped into the air and came crashing to the ground, driving a fist into the pavement. A shock wave radiated out from where she landed, causing windows to shatter down the street. Firecracker was knocked off her feet, while Twilight and Rainbow grabbed Rarity and took to the air. When the shock passed, they put her back down on the ground.
Applejack grinned as she stood up and dusted off her hands. “All right, Firecracker, you ready to calm down and talk about this?”
A bolt of electricity shot from underneath one of the cars, striking Applejack and sending her hurtling backwards into the building behind her.
“Applejack!” her friends cried. They rushed to the building, where Applejack was pulling herself out of the large hole she had made upon impact. She shook her head and wiped her nose, where a small trickle of blood had started.
“Okay, then,” she said, tossing her long braided ponytail back behind her. “I guess we're doin' this the hard way.”
Firecracker screamed in rage and got to her feet, using the magic to blast the cars left in the street out of her way. Magical lightning sparked and fizzled off her hands. Her face was a mask of hatred, her eyes flashing dangerously. She thrust both hands outward and a beam of magic shot from each one. The beams struck two of the burning cars and the four girls stared in surprise as she used the magic to raise the cars into the air.
“Just DIE!” Firecracker screamed. She thrust her hands forward and the two burning cars flew towards the four girls. They screamed as heavy, burning metal and plastic crashed into them and continued moving forward, smashing into the storefront behind them.
Firecracker grinned at the wreckage she had wrought on the girls and grinned. The only ones left are Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. Give me a real challenge. First things first, though.
She grabbed her pendant, turning into another bolt of pink lightning as the sirens from approaching police cars and emergency vehicles became audible. The bolt zapped into one of the street lights and vanished. The authorities arrived and surveyed the damage.
“Good lord,” said one of the police officers. “You ever see anything like this, Sarge?”
The sergeant pushed his hat back. “Not since I was in the service.”
“Think it was the same guy who tore up the mall a couple of days ago?”
“Wouldn't surprise me,” the sergeant said. He took a couple of steps forward. “Insurance rates on this street are going through the roof. All right, let's look for witnesses and – “
The sergeant was interrupted by a metallic screech. He and the officer turned to look at the two burning cars that were embedded in the building behind them. There was another screech and the two cars shifted across the sidewalk. The officer and the sergeant blinked and stepped back as the cars moved again.
“The hell?” the officer said. His hand began moving towards his gun.
The screech came again but kept moving and both cops stared as the two cars slid aside, revealing a blonde teenage girl in a flashy green dress. She let out a grunt of exertion as she shoved the two cars aside. She turned and looked back into the hole in the wall behind her.
“All clear! I'd hurry though.”
The officer's jaw dropped as three more brightly dressed teenage girls climbed out of the hole in the wall.
“Nice going, Applejack,” said the girl with the odd purple visor over her eyes. She turned to the purple haired girl next to her. “And nice work with the shield, Rarity.”
“Naturally,” Rarity grinned. The smile quickly disappeared as she glanced around the street. “She's gone!”
“We need to find her!” said the rainbow-haired girl. “Before she tears up anyplace else!”
“I don't think she's planning on random destruction, Rainbow Dash,” the visored girl said. “I think she's planning something worse.”
“How d'ya mean 'worse,' Twilight?” asked Applejack.
“She's angry and been corrupted by rogue magic, and as far as she knows, most of her obstacles are out of the way,” said Twilight. “Where do you think she would go?”
“We need to get to the hospital. Now.” Rarity turned to Twilight. “I want to try something. Be ready to catch me if it goes wrong.”
The sergeant stepped forward to ask some questions of the girls, but stopped when Rarity thrust out a hand and a large, flat hexagonal crystal appeared on the ground in front of her. She stepped on top of it and closed her eyes.
The cops' jaws dropped again as the crystal rose into the air, lifting the girl easily. Rarity opened her eyes and grinned. “It worked! Hang on!”
She moved her hand back and forth. The crystal mimicked the motion, moving in the direction she indicated. “I think I just solved the transportation problem for our non-flyers!”
Applejack grinned and leaped up onto the crystal. Rarity staggered from the impact, causing the crystal to wobble. She glared at Applejack, who grinned sheepishly.
“Hehe. Sorry 'bout that.”
“All right, let's go,” said Twilight. “With a little luck we can get there before Firecracker does. Applejack, do you have your phone?”
Applejack patted herself down and let out a pleased noise, when she found her phone in a pocket of the olive green leggings under her skirt. “I'll call Pinkie on the way!”
“What are we waiting for then? Let's go!” Rainbow jumped into the air and flew off into the night, followed closely by Twilight. Rarity raised her arms, and the crystal followed them into the air. Applejack staggered, but put her free hand around Rarity's waist, putting her phone up to her ear with the other.
As the girls vanished, Rarity saying something about looking into Bluetooth headsets and pony ears, the two officers looked back at each other.
“Sarge?” the officer said. The sergeant held up a hand.
Pinkie Pie was driving towards downtown when her phone rang. Since the phone was jacked into the sound system of Maud's car, she tapped the “answer” icon. “Hello?”
“Pinkie, it's AJ! Are you still at the hospital?” Applejack's voice sounded choppy.
“No, I'm on my way to Rarity's store. Are you in a wind tunnel? If so, why wasn't I notified you were all going to a wind tunnel? I wanna be in a wind tunnel!”
“Pinkie!” Applejack yelled. “I ain't in a wind tunnel! Firecracker got away from us. We think she's headin' back to the hospital. You're the closest. Get back there, and make sure you pony up all the way. The magic's taken control of her and she's actin' plum crazy! We'll be there as soon as we can. See if you can get hold of Fluttershy for back up until we get there!”
“Right!” Pinkie hung up, pulled an illegal U-turn across four lanes of traffic, let out a few choice expletives about the other drivers, raced back to the hospital and skidded into a parking space. She opened the glove compartment and pulled out a small box labeled “Emergency Superhero Supplies.” She flipped the lid on the box, revealing the contents: three canisters of sprinkles, a baggie filled with miniature marshmallows, and two oversized chocolate bars.
She gripped her geode and a flash of light later, she was clad in her own superhero outfit. She placed the assorted sweets in the compartments and pockets of her tunic, and grabbed her phone from the cup holder. She found Fluttershy's name and called her.
“Fluttershy?” Pinkie locked the car and slammed the door shut. “Firecracker Burst has gone loco in the coco! She's heading over here to the hospital to take out Sunset, and not in the fun movie-burger-backseat way, either! Where are you?”
“I was on my way to the boutique,” Fluttershy answered. She was whispering into the phone. Her car was in the shop, so she was forced to take the bus. “But it'll take me a while to get to the hospital on the bus.”
“No time! You have to pony up and fly over here! The rest of the girls are on their way!”
Fluttershy swallowed. “R-right! I'll be there as soon as I can.”
She ended the call and pulled the cord requesting the bus stop. When it did, Fluttershy got off and gripped her geode, ponying up into her superhero form. She took off into the late afternoon sky. When she was above the rooftops, she began flying toward the hospital. As she flew, she saw several birds flying nearby. They began chirping at her.
“Oh, I'm sorry, but I don't have time to talk,” she said. “A good friend of mine is in danger and I have to help her!”
Fluttershy beat her wings faster, increasing her speed. She bit her lip, trying to figure out how she could help fight a magically powered Firecracker Burst. While all the other girls had abilities that could help in combat, her abilities didn't seem to offer that much to help in this situation.
Fluttershy's eyes widened as an idle memory of a late night movie she had seen a few weeks ago passed through her mind. She stopped moving forward, flapping her wings to hover. She thought for a moment, then turned and sped back the way she came.
This could actually work.
Pinkie stood out in the parking lot of the hospital, trying to look in every direction at once for Firecracker Burst. The parking lot was quiet and the few people who came and went gave the oddly dressed girl some strange looks. After a few minutes, Pinkie relaxed and grabbed a handful of marshmallows out of the baggie and shoved them in her mouth.
Pinkie, cheeks bulging, looked up and made a sound of delight as she saw Twilight, Rainbow, Applejack, and Rarity descending from the sky. She swallowed the gluey mass in her mouth, briefly choked, then managed to get it down, and rushed to her friends.
“Rarity, who told you you could fly?!”
Rarity grinned. “I did, when I thought of it a few minutes ago. I remembered I was able to keep Muffins from falling into the lake at Camp Everfree. And if the crystals can support the weight of someone, and I can move them wherever I like, well, why can't I use them to move us around as well?”
“That's so cool!” Pinkie hugged her friend. Rarity giggled, returned the hug, and let the crystal dissipate. Across from them, Applejack and Rainbow Dash took up keeping watch in the parking lot. Twilight looked around and frowned.
“I don't know! I called her and she said she was on her way, but she hasn't shown up yet.”
“Have you seen Firecracker at all?”
Pinkie shook her head. “And I've been waiting here forever.”
“That doesn't make sense.” Twilight frowned. “We've seen her turn into lightning. She should have been able to get here long before we could.”
“Well, I did leave for a minute. I was on the road when Applejack called me. But it's okay. I left Moondancer with Sunset. She has my number.”
Twilight's eyes widened. “Call her! Now!”
Pinkie pulled out her phone and called Moondancer. Twilight took the phone and tapped the speakerphone icon. The phone rang. And rang. And rang.
“That can't be good.” Applejack said.
Finally, the call connected and the girls' blood ran cold as the voice of Firecracker Burst came out of the speaker.
“It's all of us, Firecracker,” Rarity replied. Firecracker let out a dismissive sound.
“Oh, goody. You survived.”
Rainbow dashed over. “Yeah, we did! What are you gonna do about it?”
Applejack grabbed her and yanked her back. “What are you doin'?” she hissed. “Sunset and Moondancer are still in there!”
“You don't need to whisper,” said Firecracker, amusement evident in her voice. “Both of them are right here. Go ahead.”
“H-Hello?” came the voice of Moondancer.
“Are you all right, darling?” Rarity asked.
“I'm f-fine. But, she just... she came out of the power socket! What's going on?” Panic crept into the girl's voice.
“Calm down, Moondancer,” Rarity said. “You're going to be fine.”
“Don't assume anything, Rarity.” Firecracker's voice was cold. “For all you know, Sunset's already dead.”
“If you've done anything – “ Rainbow screamed. Applejack slapped a hand over her mouth and pulled her away from the phone.
“I haven't... yet.” There was a pause and then the magically charged girl spoke again. “I should just kill her right now, you know. That's what all this was leading up to. I kill her, then Gardenia wakes up and she can get on with her life knowing that the person who ruined it wasn't around anymore.”
“Firecracker, this isn't you,” Rarity said softly. “You aren't a killer. It's the magic, it's affecting your judgment. Come out and we can help you. Figure out how to get it under control.”
“Sure, like I believe that. You just want to save Sunset. And you know what? You guys have been just enough of a pain in my ass that I want to give you the chance. Just so I can pound you all into the dirt and make you watch as this bitch dies.”
“Not if we have anythin' to say about it!” Applejack's patience had clearly run out. “Come outta there and we'll show you what we can do!”
“Fine. Meet me at CHS. Ten minutes. I'll have the bitch and Moondancer with me. Don't be late.”
The call ended, and the girls looked up as a flash came from one of the windows of the hospital and a bolt of pink lightning blew out the glass and rocketed out into the sky. The girls followed it as it headed in the direction of the high school. Rarity turned to face her friends.
“Someone call Fluttershy, tell her – “ Rarity swallowed and sniffled. She wiped her eyes and looked back at her friends, her face a grim mask. “Tell her to meet us at the school.”
She turned her head to look at where the lightning bolt had vanished into the late afternoon. The sun had begun to set behind the mountains that formed the valley Canterlot City inhabited, casting an orange shade to the city. Rarity's brows came together in a determined frown.
They landed on the CHS football field. It wasn't hard to figure out that was where Firecracker had gone. The lights of the field had been turned on, making the field stand out in the waning twilight. Rarity, carrying Applejack and Pinkie Pie with her, brought another crystal down. The three girls stepped off, and the crystal dissipated. Twilight touched down next to them, while Rainbow Dash hovered next to them.
Firecracker Burst was standing a few yards away from them. Her face was stern. As the five girls landed, she began walking toward them. Rainbow Dash and Applejack clenched their fists. Pinkie Pie grabbed one of her canisters of sprinkles. Twilight Sparkle raised her hands, glowing with her telekinetic power. Rarity held up a hand.
“Wait. Let me talk to her.”
As she started to walk toward Firecracker, Applejack grabbed her arm. “Are you sure, sugarcube? Seems like she ain't interested in talkin' anymore.”
“If she wasn't, she would have tried to blast us out of the sky as we came in.” Rarity gave Applejack a solemn look. “We have to give her a chance. Sunset would want us to give her a chance.”
After a moment, Applejack nodded and let Rarity go. Rarity straightened her tunic and walked across the field. When she got close, Firecracker held up a hand.
“That's far enough,” she snapped.
“Where are Moondancer and Sunset?” Rarity asked, a frown crossing her face.
“I think you'll understand if I don't take your word for that.”
Firecracker smirked and gestured to the bleachers to her left. Rarity turned her head to see a terrified Moondancer sitting on one of them. Sunset, clad in a hospital gown and still unconscious, was laying on the bench next to her, her head on Moondancer's lap.
“Are you all right, Moondancer?” Rarity called, looking back at Firecracker.
“Y-yes,” Moondancer stammered. “And Sunset's okay too, I think. She's still out cold.”
“Stay calm, darling, we'll get you out of this.” Rarity turned her full attention to Firecracker. “Since you didn't attack us the second we arrived, you must want something from us.”
“A deal,” Firecracker replied. “You take Moondancer, and you and your friends leave Sunset with me. In half an hour, you can come back and get her. And you will never see me again.”
Rarity folded her arms. “And if we were to take your most generous offer,” Sarcasm dripped from every word. “What about the magic? We can't let you leave with that kind of power.”
“You don't have a choice. I want insurance you aren't going to come after me.”
“You can't seriously think Gardenia would stand for this. You're considering cold-blooded murder!”
“Damn right I am!” Firecracker snarled. “Because of that bitch, Gardenia's parents kicked her out, cut her off from her college fund, and made her generally feel like shit! You have no idea how long it took me to put her back together! If she hadn't been lucky enough to get a scholarship to Baltimare, she wouldn't have been able to go to college at all! She tried to kill herself twice! I managed to stop her both times! Her life was almost completely ruined thanks to that bacon-haired twat over there!”
“Sunset's changed, Firecracker! She's not that person anymore. We know for a fact that Gardenia forgave her! Your girlfriend would not want this!”
“It doesn't matter what she wants, it's about what they both deserve!” Firecracker rubbed her face with a hand. When she spoke again, it was quieter. “Gardenia deserves justice for what happened to her. And Sunset needs to pay for what she did.”
“Sunset didn't force Gardenia's parents to abandon her. What she did was horrible, and, yes, it started all of this, but it wasn't her fault what happened afterward. That was their decision.”
“Don't you think I know that too? Why do you think it took me so long to get back to the bitch after I accidentally put her in the coma?” Firecracker's face became cold. “I took care of them once I figured out how to do what I wanted with the magic.”
Rarity's eyes widened and she felt nauseous. She looked at Firecracker in horror. “You're insane. You... I can't...”
“Walk away, Rarity. I don't have anything left to lose. You do.” Firecracker folded her arms and looked at the fashionista expectantly.
Rarity's jaw clenched in anger and regret. “Rainbow Dash!” she cried.
A multicolored streak zipped across the field and crashed headlong into Firecracker. The two landed hard on the ground and tore up a long trench in the field. When they came to a halt, Rainbow grabbed Firecracker's wrists and held her hands down to the ground.
“Gotcha!” Rainbow grinned. Firecracker returned the grin, causing the athlete's own to vanish.
“Yes, you do.” Bolts of pink energy blasted out of her palms, colliding with Rainbow's shoulders. Rainbow flew backwards and landed hard on her back. She groaned and rolled over, trying to get back up. A bolt of pink lightning struck her between the wings, causing her to cry out in pain. Firecracker stalked over and channeled more lightning into her. Rainbow's cries turned to screams.
Firecracker's mouth turned up in an insane grin as she continued to blast Rainbow with magic. She was silent as she did so, doing nothing but continue to smile, her eyes glowing with the same magical energy. She brought up her other hand and prepared to add to Rainbow's suffering.
A glove encased hand came down and struck her across the jaw, sending the deranged magic user flying backward. As soon as she hit the ground, Rarity dashed forward and fired a volley of crystals that surrounded Firecracker, imprisoning her.
Applejack looked down at her friend and winced at the burn marks she saw on Rainbow's back.
“Help me up!” Rainbow gasped. Applejack reached down and helped her to her feet. Rainbow hissed through her teeth as pain lanced through her back.
“Easy,” Applejack said.
“How bad is it?” Rainbow asked.
“Can't tell. Not sure what's actual damage and what's just char.”
“It'll have to wait,” Rainbow said. She flexed her wings experimentally and let out a grunt of satisfaction when they responded. They were stiff, but still functional.
“Don't be a fool!” Applejack cried.
“I don't have time to be hurt! Rarity couldn't keep her contained at the mall, and I don't think she's going to be able to now! I'll worry about the pain when that psycho's finally put out of commission!”
Rainbow took to the air, leaving Applejack to curse loudly.
Rarity could feel Firecracker's own magic begin to push back against her crystals. She redoubled her efforts. She called over her shoulder. “Twilight! I need help!”
Twilight flew over and landed next to her friend. She held up her hands and projected a telekinetic field around the crystal cage. The cage rocked with pink lightning, causing both girls to let out cries of exertion as the shock fed back to them through their magic.
“She's gotten stronger!” Twilight cried. “It's not like at the mall!”
“Princess Twilight said this might happen! The angrier she gets, the stronger her magic!”
“What do we do then?”
Rarity looked over at Twilight. Beads of sweat were forming on her brow. “We do everything we can to keep her here.”
Twilight nodded and both girls poured more power into their magic.
Across the way, glowing pink light began to appear in the seams between the crystals. Cracks began to form along the facets. Rarity gritted her teeth trying to hold them together.
“Twilight!” She cried.
“I see them!” Twilight pushed harder, expanding the telekinetic field around the crystals. The pink light receded slightly as the fragmenting crystals were pushed tightly together. Twilight allowed herself a small smile. “I think it's working!”
Pinkie Pie bounced up next to them. “I have an idea! The magic's making her kinda less likely to get hurt like us, right?”
“I think that's a reasonable assumption,” Rarity said through clenched teeth. “Why?”
“When I tell you, drop both your shields,” Pinkie said, rummaging in her pockets and pulling out one of the chocolate bars. She tore off the wrapper and broke the bar in half. “If this works, I might be able to knock her out!”
“It's worth a shot,” said Twilight. “I don't know about you, but I don't know how long I can keep going with this!”
“All right,” said Rarity. “Pinkie, go! Give us the word when you're ready.”
Pinkie nodded and began running across the field toward the cage. She dashed past Applejack who stared after her.
“Pinkie! What in the hell are you doin'?!”
“Trust me!” Pinkie cried. She took the half chocolate bar in her hand. Her own pink magic began to surround it. She built up speed and launched herself toward the cage. “NOW!”
Rarity and Twilight dropped their magic. The pink light exploded outward. It collided with Pinkie, who threw her hands in front of her face. She fought to keep her balance as she feet touched the ground and skidded. The light began to dissipate, and Pinkie saw a silhouette of a tall form appear. She hurled the glowing chocolate bar towards it.
The candy soared through the air and exploded with a loud blast of magical energy. Firecracker flew sideways and crashed to the ground. She rolled a few dozen feet then came to a stop and was still.
Pinkie frowned and walked over. Applejack ran up beside her, and Rainbow Dash came down next to them as they approached the inert form. They came close and looked down at the green girl.
“Did we win?” Pinkie asked.
Firecracker's eyes flashed open. She threw up a hand and fired a massive beam of magic. It connected with all three girls, sending them flying back and crashing into the ground.
“Owwww,” Pinkie said, sitting up. Beside her, Applejack and Rainbow started to get back to their feet. All three stopped and looked up as a shadow passed over them. Firecracker Burst slammed a fist into the palm of her other hand. Magic sparked and crackled as it connected.
Applejack didn't give her the chance. She swung around, planted her hands flat on the ground, and thrust her feet backwards, unleashing the mother of all apple bucks. Her feet connected solidly in Firecracker's stomach, sending her flying into the air. Firecracker cried out in pain as she collided with one of the goal posts, which bent under the impact.
Firecracker growled and fired magic from her palms, propelling herself to her feet. Her eyes were completely washed out by the magic, her face twisted into a mask of anger. Across the way, Applejack, Rainbow, and Pinkie got to their feet. Rarity and Twilight ran up to join their friends.
“I think we made her mad,” Twilight gulped.
Rarity looked at Applejack, then at Firecracker. She quickly summoned a crystal over her head.
Applejack turned her head as Rarity called. She looked at the position of the crystal, then at Rarity, and smiled as she remembered a movie the girls had seen a few months earlier. She took a running start and leaped on top the crystal. Rarity pushed with all her might, sending Applejack flying into the air.
Applejack tucked her legs, forming herself into a ball, flipping forward, before extending her body back out. Her feet collided with Firecracker again, knocking her to the ground. Applejack rolled off of her. Firecracker pushed herself upward, but was struck down again as Rainbow zipped forward, connecting with a right cross to the jaw. Firecracker snarled and got up again, but was felled just as quickly as Rainbow returned for another pass.
Firecracker started to get up again, but blinked as she continued to rise off the ground. She glanced behind her and she grit her teeth as she saw Twilight hoisting her into the air. Twilight bit her lip as she held Firecracker off the ground.
“Cute trick,” Firecracker snarled. She clenched her fists. Pink magic flowed over her hands. Firecracker thrust her hands outward and began pouring magic into the field. Twilight grimaced as she felt the field begin to decay. She braced her feet and poured more of her own magic into the field.
“I don't know how long I can hold her!” she cried. Rarity nodded and turned to Pinkie.
“Do you have more chocolate?”
Pinkie held up the remaining bar and a half. “Ready and raring, RareRare!”
Rarity raised an eyebrow at Pinkie's latest nickname for her. She let it go, and generated another crystal. “Get on!”
They climbed aboard and Rarity raised it into the air. She looked down at Twilight.
“When I tell you, drop her!”
Twilight nodded and poured more energy into the field. Firecracker responded by adding more magic of her own. The field sparked and fluctuated, changing from purple to pink and back again. Firecracker leered over at Twilight.
“I can keep this up all day, Sparkle! How about you?”
Twilight ignored the taunt, but she felt the exertion of keeping the field intact beginning to drain her. She glanced up at Rarity and Pinkie who were hovering above Firecracker. Pinkie had unwrapped the other full chocolate bar and held them at the ready.
“Are you sure you want me to use all of it?” she asked Rarity.
“Half a bar was enough to stun her. If we're lucky, a bar and a half will knock her out,” Rarity answered. “Ready?”
Pinkie nodded and charged up the candy in her hands. Rarity looked down at Twilight.
Twilight cut the field and Firecracker fell to the ground. Pinkie hurled the chocolate down at their enemy. Firecracker rolled onto her side, saw the falling confectionery, and hurled a bolt at it. The lightning connected with the candy, sending it flying back towards the two girls. Both saw it coming a split second too late.
“Oh, shit,” Rarity cursed.
The candy exploded, sending the crystal off balance, dumping both girls off. As soon as they hit the ground, Rarity's concentration broke and the crystal vanished. Rarity shook her head, unable to hear anything over the ringing in her ears. She looked around and saw Pinkie lying on her side nearby, her back to Rarity.
“Pinkie?” Rarity's own voice sounded strange to her. Muted, like she was underwater. She crawled over to her friend. She grabbed Pinkie's shoulder and pulled. She swallowed at the sight that met her.
Pinkie was out cold. Blood was seeping from a large cut on her forehead, matting the pink curls. The blood ran down one side of her face. Her skin was pale, and her breathing shallow. Her other arm was twisted at an odd angle, clearly broken. Rarity fought the tears welling up and reached out, putting two fingers to Pinkie's throat. She let out a sigh of relief when she felt a pulse.
Relief was short lived when she felt fingers tangling in her hair and yanking her backwards. Rarity screamed in pain and kicked, getting her feet under her as Firecracker hauled her up.
“I've had just about enough of all of you!” Firecracker changed her grip, throwing an arm around Rarity's throat. She squeezed tightly. Rarity grabbed the arm, trying to pry it away from her throat. Firecracker brought her other hand up toward Rarity's face, her fingers sparking with magic.
“Let's see how much you think of yourself when that face of your looks like overcooked pork,” Firecracker giggled. A hollow, insane sound that made the fashionista's blood run cold. She struggled against the arm around her throat, but it was like moving an iron bar. Pink flashes danced at the edge of her vision as the sparking fingers came closer and closer.
Rarity's eyes flew fully open as Applejack's voice sounded from behind them. Applejack smashed headlong into Firecracker's back with her shoulder, causing the taller woman to fling her arms back, releasing Rarity, who hit the ground and rolled out of the way as Firecracker came down.
Firecracker recovered quickly, shooting out a hand and making contact with Applejack's ankle. She fired off her magic, causing Applejack to twitch and writhe in agony, before falling to the ground. Firecracker didn't let go, channeling more magic into her. Applejack went into a full seizure, her jaw tightening, cutting off her screams of pain.
That was the most horrifying thing about the attack. Applejack's complete silence as she her eyes rolled up in her head and her body convulsed. A multicolored blur rushed from the side, connecting solidly with Firecracker, sending her rolling away. Rainbow knelt next to her friend, and held her upright.
“AJ?” she called, lightly slapping the farm girl's cheeks. Panic rose in Rainbow's voice. “Come on, AJ, wake up! Applejack, don't you dare die in my arms! People will never stop talking about it!”
Twilight and Rarity rushed over to them. Rainbow looked up, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. “She won't wake up!”
Both girls knelt down. Rarity threw a shield up around them, while Twilight felt for Applejack's pulse. “She's alive!”
“Thank god,” Rainbow hugged Applejack close and touched her forehead to her friend's. “Too stubborn to die, that's you, you goddamn beautiful bitch.”
Their joy was short lived however when the shield was rocked by multiple bolts of magic. In short order, it overpowered the exhausted Rarity, and shattered, exposing them once again to the outdoors. The three conscious girls looked up in dread at the towering woman who loomed over them.
Firecracker said nothing, but raised her hands over her head, a giant ball of magic forming between them. The group of friends huddled protectively around Applejack, bracing for the impact. Firecracker's insane grin returned and she extended her arms as high as they could go.
The fading sunlight suddenly vanished, an unnatural darkness covering the field. Firecracker turned her head, as did the girls. All of them stared at what they saw.
A large black mass was swirling and moving closer to the field. It was large enough to cast a huge shadow over the field. And it only seemed to get larger as it got closer.
“Is that a storm?” Rarity asked.
Rainbow shook her head. “I don't think those are storm clouds.”
They weren't. They were birds. Hundreds of birds flying in tight formation. Smaller birds like robins and sparrows, but larger birds as well. Ravens, crows, owls, falcons, hawks. The girls could even see a few geese and ducks in the mix. All of them, species that had no business flying together were all coming in fast towards the field.
And as the cloud of birds arrived, the girls could see why. The cloud of birds parted revealing Fluttershy, hovering like a golden angel amid the swirling darkness of feathers and wings. She glared down at Firecracker Burst with an expression none of the girls had ever seen on her face before: cold, merciless anger.
Fluttershy extended a hand, pointing directly at Firecracker.
The giant flock of birds hurtled down from the sky toward Firecracker Burst. Firecracker clenched her fists, charged up her magic, and hurled several bolts towards the incoming attack. The magical lightning streaked through the air, heading straight for the birds at the forefront of the cloud.
Fluttershy's eyes widened. “Split!” she cried.
The flock split off into two smaller flocks, allowing the lightning to pass between them. The flock reformed and hurtled down towards Firecracker, who instinctively threw her hands up in front of her face to protect from the incoming volley of beaks and talons.
Which is why she didn't see the horde of dogs and cats that came barreling out of the darkness behind the goalpost. The majority of these were large breed dogs which provided more than enough mass to knock Firecracker off her feet, sending her to the ground yet again. The flock of birds pulled up sharply, rocketing back into the sky. The dogs and cats continued running, vanishing back into the darkness.
Seeing Firecracker fall, Rainbow gently laid Applejack down, raced across the field and leaped onto Firecracker, using her full weight to keep the deranged girl from getting up. Firecracker struggled to get up, but Rainbow grabbed her hands and forced them to the ground. She looked over her shoulder.
“I could use some help over here!”
Rarity called up to Fluttershy, who was descending from the sky. “Look after Pinkie and Applejack! Be ready to call your friends in again if we need them.”
Fluttershy nodded and landed on the field. She grabbed Applejack under the arms and began dragging the unconscious girl over to where Pinkie was still lying on the ground. She looked over toward the bleachers, where Moondancer was staring in shock at everything that was going on.
“Moondancer!” she called. Moondancer looked up sharply. “Go!”
“I can't leave Sunset!” Moondancer called back.
“We'll take care of her! You need to leave! Now! It's too dangerous! Get help!”
Moondancer swallowed, then gently lifted Sunset's head off her lap and slid out from under the unconscious girl. As she got up to go, she saw a pulsing red light shining on her. She looked down, confused, and saw the pendant around Sunset's neck was flashing brightly.
The yellow girl had put Applejack down next to Pinkie and was working on laying Pinkie out on her back. She looked up at the sound of Moondancer's cry.
“The pendant!” Moondancer yelled, pointing at her neck. Fluttershy blinked and looked down. Sure enough, her own pendant was flashing with yellow magic, as were Applejack's and Pinkie's pendants in orange and pink, respectively. Her eyes widened and she flew over to the bleachers, landing next to Moondancer.
“Help me,” Fluttershy said, grabbing Sunset's feet. “We need to get her closer to the others!”
Moondancer nodded and grabbed Sunset under her arms. The two girls lifted Sunset and slowly began hauling her towards Applejack and Pinkie Pie.
Firecracker strained her upper body against Rainbow's weight then reared her head back and brought in forward, connecting with Rainbow's skull with a loud crack. Rainbow cried out in pain and her hands flew to her head. Firecracker blasted the athlete with another bolt of magic. Rainbow flew into the the air, and landed painfully on her injured back.
Twilight and Rarity rushed over. They helped their friend into a sitting position.
“I'm okay,” Rainbow groaned. “Help me up.”
The three girls got to their feet. Firecracker stood opposite them, her shoulders heaving, hissing breath between her teeth. Her face was twisted into a mask of rage. A pink glow began to form around her body in a bright aura.
Twilight swallowed. “That can't be good.”
Rarity didn't reply. She hurled more crystals toward Firecracker, which wrapped around her and locked, pinning her arms to her side. The pink aura surrounding the taller girl began to burn with brighter intensity. A growl developed in Firecracker's throat which grew into an inarticulate scream of anger. The aura exploded into pink flames, shattering Rarity's crystals. The resulting shock wave threw the three girls into the air, bringing them crashing down near Applejack and Pinkie.
“What do we do now?” Rainbow asked. “I'm out of ideas!”
“I don't know! Everything we're doing is making her angrier and that's just increasing her power!” Rarity cried.
Twilight swallowed as a dark thought came to her. “We're going to die tonight, aren't we?”
Rainbow frowned and was about to speak, when all three girls' pendants began to pulse with magical light. The three looked down in surprise, then looked up at each other. They nodded and began to run back to the rest of their friends.
Firecracker screamed and fired more bolts of lightning at them. The girls dodged and weaved trying to avoid being hit. A massive bolt struck right behind them, sending up a cloud of dirt and sod. The three flew into the air. Rainbow quickly recovered and flapped her wings. She swerved in the air, grabbing Rarity and Twilight's wrists before bringing all three of them down next to their two unconscious friends. Fluttershy and Moondancer arrived and laid Sunset down.
As soon as Sunset was down, multicolored lines of magic shot out from each of the pendants, eliciting cries of surprise from the girls. The seven lines converged in the air before them, then quickly formed a rainbow that shot out directly toward Firecracker Burst. The multicolored light struck her and Firecracker let out a scream as the girls' magic reacted with her own.
“I think it's working!” Twilight cheered. The other girls watched, hoping that the tide had turned in their favor.
Hope that was short lived when the rainbow magic was absorbed by the pink aura surrounding Firecracker. Firecracker's scream turned to laughter as she suddenly grew another foot in height. The pink aura receded and reformed into giant ragged wings. Her fingernails grew and changed becoming purple claws. Her eyes turned into blazing pits of pink magic. Her laughter was completely manic and unhinged. She turned an insane grin on the girls.
“Not again!” Rainbow cried.
“What are we going to do?” Fluttershy asked. “Is there anything we can do?”
“Yes,” came a quiet voice.
Rainbow, Twilight, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Moondancer all looked down in surprise. Sunset Shimmer's eyes opened and she slowly sat up. Rarity put a hand on her shoulder.
“Sunset, darling, stay down. You need rest.”
Sunset gave her a crooked smile and put her hand on Rarity's. “I've been resting long enough. I need to do something. This is my fault. It's my responsibility.”
Sunset groaned and staggered slightly as she got to her feet. Her friends, even Moondancer, rushed to support her. Sunset smiled at them and gently pushed their hands away. Rainbow put her hand on Sunset's shoulder.
“You can't stop her by yourself! She's already taken out Applejack and Pinkie Pie! What are you going to do?”
Sunset touched Rainbow's hand and she gave her a small smile. A calm, confident smile.
Sunset slowly made her way across the field toward Firecracker Burst. It was an almost comical sight. The pale, weak teenage girl clad only in a hospital gown facing off against an eight foot tall magically powered giantess.
None of Sunset's friends found the scene funny.
“She's going to get herself killed!” Twilight stepped forward, intending to retrieve her friend. A quiet groan from behind her made her stop.
The group of friends watched as Pinkie Pie's eyes fluttered open and she tried to get up into a sitting position. She let out a cry of pain as she tried to put weight on her broken arm. Rarity knelt down and helped her sit up.
“Easy, darling,” she soothed. “You took a nasty fall. I think your arm's broken. Try not to strain it.”
“I feel terrible,” Pinkie moaned. “What did I miss?”
Sunset tried to calm her rapidly beating heart. Her head hurt, and her legs felt like rubber. She kept putting one foot in front of the other, praying that Firecracker wouldn't blast her into oblivion. It had to be done. She had to talk to Firecracker first, try to fix everything before it got worse than it already was.
To Sunset's surprise, Firecracker simply watched her approach. Magic sparked off her fingers, and her hair had become uncoiled, flowing upwards and sparking with the same magic. She glared down at Sunset as she stopped a few feet from her.
“You're awake,” Firecracker said, her voice echoing oddly, much like it had done the night she had attacked Sunset.
“This has to stop, Firecracker,” Sunset said. “The magic's too strong for you.”
“But it's just fine for you and your cronies over there to use?” Firecracker's expression darkened.
“You don't understand. It's too dangerous for anyone to use by themselves! It's the Magic of Friendship, it's not meant to be used by one person!”
“I seem to be doing just fine with it, thanks!” Firecracker gripped her own glowing pendant and extended a hand, magic forming into a ball in front of her palm. “But you're right. It's time to finish this.”
Sunset looked up at Firecracker with a mournful expression. “What I did to Gardenia was wrong, and I admit that! And even though I didn't expect it to happen, it's my fault her family kicked her out! And I hurt you too, because you had to pick up the pieces. I'm sorry, Firecracker. I'm so sorry, and I'm never going to be able to take it back!”
Sunset rubbed her left arm with her right hand. “I don't expect you to forgive me, but this isn't the way to deal with this! The magic is too strong, and it's affecting your mind. Just like it did with Gloriosa at Camp Everfree. Don't believe what it's telling you! We can work this out without magic!”
Firecracker looked down at Sunset, the ball of magic stopping its growth. She saw the sincerity in Sunset's eyes, and her hand lowered slightly. Her expression softened.
Then hardened again and she hurled the ball of magic right at Sunset. “JUST DIE ALREADY!”
Sunset crossed her arms and closed her eyes as the ball of magic came hurtling toward her. Then she felt a rush of displaced air and a sudden stop. She opened her eyes, to see Rainbow Dash in front of her, and her friends surrounding her.
“Yeah, I don't think she's interested in talking,” Rainbow said, frowning.
“I know, but I had to try,” said Sunset. “We've got to get that pendant away from her. As near as I can tell, the magic is meant to be used by a group of friends. If she keeps trying to use it by herself, I don't know what will happen to her or us. But I do know that if we want to beat her, we're going to need all of us.”
Sunset grabbed her geode and in a flash, she had ponied up into her superhero form like her friends. She was still pale and not looking well, but her expression was determined. She knelt down next to Applejack. “Applejack managed to get into my head with Fluttershy. I'm going to try to get her back out of hers. Keep Firecracker busy while I work.”
“Got it!” Rainbow looked at Twilight, Rarity, and Fluttershy. “Let's go! Pinkie, if she manages to get past us, blast her with whatever you've got!”
“Right!” Pinkie used her good arm to pull a canister of sprinkles and the baggie of marshmallows out of her pockets.
Rarity projected another crystal and climbed on top of it. The four girls rocketed into the sky, heading back towards their enemy. Sunset gripped her geode and placed a hand on the side of Applejack's head.
“Sorry, AJ,” she whispered. “But I can't let you rest right now. We need you.”
“Twilight, we need a plan to get that pendant!” Rainbow yelled.
“Simplest is the best,” Twilight replied. “You, Rarity, and Fluttershy keep her busy, then, when I get the chance, I'll just yank the damn thing right off her neck!”
The other three girls exchanged a look. Twilight never swore. Even something as mild as “damn” was an indicator something was bothering her.
“Twilight,” Fluttershy began, flying closer to the bevisored girl. “Are you okay?”
Twilight looked over at her friend. “No, I'm not. Sunset almost got herself killed, right as we got her back. I just want this over with.”
Fluttershy nodded and put a hand on Twilight's shoulder. Twilight smiled and returned the gesture.
A bolt of lightning shot through the air and exploded right in front of them, causing both girls to shriek and separate. They flew further into the air, dodging further magical bolts. Twilight looked down to see Firecracker Burst put both hands up, magic generating in front of them.
“She's going for the beam attack! Scatter!” she cried.
The four girls took off in different directions just as the massive beam of magical energy shot into the sky. Firecracker screamed in frustration and swung the beam in a wide arc, trying to strike any of them. After a moment, the beam dissipated.
Rainbow did a loop-de-loop and thrust herself toward the deranged teenager. She looked back and smiled as she saw Rarity right on her tail. She made a sweeping arc with her finger, and saw Rarity nod in reply. Rainbow turned her attention to Firecracker and put on the speed. Firecracker saw her coming and began hurling bolts towards her.
Rainbow dodged and weaved through the bolts, trusting that Rarity would see what she was doing and follow suit. She thrust both fists out in front of her and dove hard. She counted down from five and when she reached one, she swooped down in front of Firecracker and zoomed back upward. She took a blind grab at the pendant on her upswing, not surprised when Firecracker turned away. She felt the toes of her boots touch the ground before she began heading back into the sky.
Firecracker snarled and fired a bolt after Rainbow. Rarity took the opportunity to zip down and hurl another set of small crystals at her. The crystals shot forward, three grazing Firecracker's bare shoulder and the fourth managing to score a gouge across her cheek. Blood oozed from the wound and Firecracker slapped a hand over it.
Letting out another scream of rage, she raised her other hand and fired more magic at Rarity. Rarity waved her hands frantically, trying to dodge the bolt. She threw her arms upward. The crystal shot higher into the air. The bolt connected with it and Rarity screamed as she felt the magic course through her legs. The crystal cracked and shattered with her concentration and Rarity screamed as she plummeted to the ground.
Fluttershy and Twilight saw her fall and zoomed forward, hoping to catch her. Twilight got to her first and held out a hand. Rarity flailed her arm and felt her fingertips brush Twilight's before there was nothing but more air. Rarity screams returned, then there was a loud thump as she hit the ground.
“I know, but we need you. Firecracker's still running rampant. We need to stop her, and to do that, we need you.”
Applejack opened her eyes and turned back, seeing a ghostly form of Sunset kneeling next to her. She sat up, eyes wide.
“Sunset?” she asked, reaching out a hand. Sunset smiled as Applejack's hand slipped through her when her fingers made contact.
“Remember when you came into my head? It's your turn.”
“I'm in a coma?”
“No, just knocked out. But we can't wait for you to recover normally. Pinkie's got a broken arm, and the others are trying to keep Firecracker busy long enough for me to help you.”
Applejack looked at her friend. “And you're awake now?”
Sunset's smile grew. “Yep. Thank you, by the way.”
“For that. For being you. For believing in me.”
“Why wouldn't I? You're my friend.”
Sunset suddenly choked up and she let out a small sob, before recovering. “You have no idea how much I want to hug you right now.”
Applejack got to her feet. “Well, figure I've lollygagged enough here. Let's get to work so you can!”
“All right,” Sunset said. She raised a hand and a beam of magic shot out, connecting to Applejack's forehead. The light grew brighter, washing out the vision of both girls.
Applejack's eyes shot open and she bolted upright. Sunset let out a yelp of surprise as she broke the connection between them. The two stared at each other, then shot forward and embraced.
“Welcome back,” Sunset whispered.
“You too,” said Applejack.
“Awwwwww, I wanna hug tooooo!” came Pinkie's voice. The two looked over at her, then moved over to bring her into the hug, taking care to avoid making her arm worse.
The hug was broken up by the sound of a scream coming from the sky. The three girls looked on as they saw Rarity falling from the sky. Twilight zoomed down and, for a split second, it looked like she would halt Rarity's descent. They let out a gasp of horror as Twilight missed and Rarity thudded to the ground.
“Rarity!” all three cried. Sunset and Applejack got to their feet and helped Pinkie up. They ran across the field toward their fallen friend. Applejack got there first and slid the last few feet on her knees. Sunset looked up at Twilight, who was hovering over them, her hands covering her mouth.
“We'll take care of her!” Sunset yelled. “Get the pendant!”
“But – But I – “ Twilight stammered.
“It's not your fault! Go!”
Twilight nodded and rocketed off to rejoin Rainbow and Fluttershy. Applejack looked up as Sunset knelt down next to her. “I dunno if I should try to get her up or not.”
“Leave her where she is for now,” Sunset answered. “Let's see if we can wake her up.”
She leaned over and gently shook Rarity's shoulder. “Rarity? Can you hear me?”
“Rarity?” Pinkie leaned over, wincing as pain shot through her arm. Applejack looked over at her, reached down and ripped part of her tunic off, turning it into a makeshift sling for Pinkie's arm.
“There ya go, sugarcube,” she said. “It ain't much, but it should help until we can get you to a hospital.”
Pinkie nodded and turned her attention back to Rarity. “Please, Rarity, wake up! I don't know how much more of my friends nearly dying I can take!”
Rarity groaned and her eyes opened. “Can we go home yet?” she whispered.
The three girls surrounding her let out cheers of relief. Pinkie shot forward to give her a hug, but Applejack stopped her. Sunset looked down at Rarity.
“Are you all right? Can you move?”
Rarity frowned in concentration, then her eyes widened in terror. “I can't feel my legs! Sunset, why can't I feel my legs?!”
Tears began to run down Rarity's face. She reached up toward Sunset, who bent over, allowing the fashionista to embrace her. She stroked Rarity's hair, trying to sooth the girl.
“Why can't I feel my legs?” Rarity's sobbed into Sunset's shoulder, her voice muffled. Pinkie and Applejack looked at each other, uncertain of what to do.
Twilight flew up next to Rainbow and Fluttershy, her expression grim.“The others are helping Rarity. Let's end this.”
She shot forward, causing Rainbow and Fluttershy to blink. The two beat their wings faster and followed her. Rainbow caught up with her, Fluttershy shortly afterward.
Twilight spoke to both of them, keeping her sights on Firecracker. “You two hit her with everything you've got and I'll grab the pendant. Hit her fast. Hit her hard.”
“Twilight,” Fluttershy began. Twilight glared at her.
“Just do it, Fluttershy!” she snarled.
Fluttershy let out an “eep” and flew forward. Rainbow gave Twilight a glare of her own and followed. The two streaked down out of the sky. Firecracker looked up and began hurling magic at them. Rainbow frowned and began dodging again, while Fluttershy did the best she could, ducking, weaving ,and occasionally shrieking as she tried to keep up.
After breaking through the volley, Rainbow zoomed forward, fist out stretched, aiming for Firecracker's face. She saw a movement out of the corner of her eye. She quickly glanced over and smiled as Fluttershy appeared next to her, her fist similarly outstretched.
“Let's go!” Rainbow cried. The two of them shot forward. Firecracker saw them coming and raised her hands. The two flying girls poured on the speed, connecting solidly with Firecracker's face. The three of them crashed to the ground. Rainbow rolled off and got to her knees.
Twilight put out a hand and activated her magic. The telekinetic field formed around Firecracker's pendant. Twilight drew her hand back and it rose from the hollow of her enemy's throat. Firecracker looked down at the floating pendant, then back up at Twilight.
She shot out a hand, and entangled her fingers in Fluttershy's hair. She got to her feet, yanking Fluttershy upward, causing the pink-haired girl to scream. She brought her other hand, sparking, to Fluttershy's face.
“Drop the pendant, or she dies right here!” Firecracker called up to Twilight. Twilight frowned.
“Not a chance!”
Firecracker's grin returned. “It's her funeral.”
Magic shot from her fingers into Fluttershy's face. Fluttershy screamed. A horrible, bleating wail that caused all of her friends to cringe. Rainbow zipped forward, only for Firecracker to swing her arm toward her, blasting her with magic. Rainbow staggered and fell to the ground. Twilight yanked with her magic as hard as she could, only for Firecracker to grab the pendant and channel her own magic back into it.
Twilight stared as the telekinetic field around the pendant changed form purple to pink, then her eyes widened as the field around her hand began to change color as well. She brought her other hand out and channeled more magic into her field, but the enlarged field quickly began changing color as well. No sooner had it turned completely pink, the field exploded, blowing Twilight out of the sky and into the ground.
She staggered to her feet, breathing heavily. She looked down at her hands and winced at the charring across her palms. She swallowed and glared at Firecracker, before raising her hands and channeling her magic. Instead of targeting the pendant, however, she targeted Fluttershy. The field generated around her friend and as soon as she was certain she had a firm grip, she yanked as hard as she could.
Fluttershy screamed again as she was ripped out of Firecracker's grip, leaving several hairs behind. Fluttershy rocketed toward Twilight, who cut her field at the last second, and held out her arms, catching her friend and turning it into a hug.
“I'm sorry!” she sobbed. “I know that hurt. I'm sorry!”
“It's okay,” Fluttershy whispered back. The two girls separated and faced Firecracker. Rainbow appeared next to them, her face streaked with dirt and blood. She looked over at her friends and grinned.
“Okay,” she gasped. “I say we stop playing with her now.”
“She's not stopping!” Pinkie cried. “Why isn't she stopping?”
“We need all of us,” Sunset said. “She's not going to give up the magic voluntarily, so we need to all go after her. It's how we've won before.”
Rarity looked up at Applejack. “Pick me up.”
The girls looked down at her, surprised.
“Rarity,” Sunset began, “We can't do that. You might have actual spinal damage. If we move you, we could cause more problems.”
“And you just said we need all of us to beat her,” Rarity replied. She pushed herself into a sitting position, wincing as she did so. “We need to stop her now. Not for us, but for her.”
Rarity pointed her head in the direction of the bleachers, where Moondancer had retreated and was peering out from under them. Rarity looked back up at Sunset.
“If we don't stop her now, she's just going to get more powerful and anything that's left of Firecracker Burst is going to be overwhelmed by that magical menace over there. You know that, Sunset.”
Sunset let out a sigh and looked back at Rarity. “I know. But I don't want you getting hurt anymore because of me.”
“Sunset, darling, I accepted this kind of thing could happen a long time ago.” Rarity winced as a fresh wave of pain zipped down what she could still feel of her spine. “But, it has to be done. There's time to hurt later. So, pick me up and let's finish this.”
Sunset looked from Rarity to where Twilight, Rainbow, and Fluttershy stood as Firecracker stalked toward them, magic firing off at random around her body. She looked back down at Rarity, who gave her a look of determination. She then looked at Applejack. “Pick her up.”
Applejack gave her a concerned look, but complied, hoisting Rarity up. Rarity put an arm around the farm girl's neck, steadying herself. Pinkie stepped next to them, retying the sling so her injured arm wouldn't bounce around. Sunset nodded and turned towards Firecracker.
They strode across the field, quickly readying themselves. Rarity generated a small cluster of crystals that hovered over her free hand. Pinkie grabbed a handful of marshmallows and began charging them. They reached their friends, taking their places beside them. Sunset took a deep breath and stepped forward, opening her mouth to give Firecracker another chance to surrender.
She didn't get the chance. Firecracker screamed again and fired another concentrated beam of magic directly towards her. It rocketed across the field. Sunset heard Moondancer cry out as she realized they were about to be struck down. The pink light began to wash out her vision, and she suddenly felt several comforting weights surround her.
There was another explosion of light and sound. When it dissipated, Sunset opened her eyes to find her friends surrounding her, their arms holding her in a massive group hug. Surrounding them was a multicolored magical shield. Magic radiated from the girls' geodes, generating the shield. They all looked up at Firecracker, who stared unbelieving at what she was seeing.
Disbelief quickly turned to anger, and Firecracker held out her hands and fired and even larger beam of magic, which slammed into the shield. The girls cried out as it struck, but the shield held. Firecracker poured more magic into her attack, the light pink turning a darker shade of neon pink as she did so.
“It's working!” Pinkie cheered. “Pour it on!”
The girls grabbed their geodes and concentrated. More multicolored magic poured into the shield. It expanded and a rainbow bolt fired back from it, smashing into Firecracker's beam. Firecracker grit her teeth and forced more magic out of her hands. The rainbow beam intensified and pushed back.
“Give it up, Firecracker!” Rainbow called. “It's over!”
“Shut up!” Firecracker snarled. Her beam expanded, threatening to engulf the girls' own. Sunset and her friends frowned and poured more of themselves into their magic. The two beams remained immobile for a few seconds. Sparks began shooting off from the point where the two converged. Sunset's eyes widened as she recognized something she hadn't seen since her days at Princess Celestia's student.
“Resonance cascade,” she whispered. She looked up at Firecracker. “Firecracker! Stop! We all have to stop! There's too much magic in the air!”
“FUCK YOU!” Firecracker pulled her hands back and pushed them forward, redoubling her efforts. A large pulse moved down the beam as high speed. Sunset sucked a breath through her teeth as she saw it coming.
“Brace yourselves!” she cried, throwing her arms up over her face. The others followed suit, Rarity throwing her free arm across Applejack's eyes while burying her face in the farm girl's shoulder.
The pulse reached the point where the two beams met and exploded. Multicolored sparks flew everywhere. The girls' shield shattered, and the shock wave blew them backwards, scattering them across the ground. They all sat up, Applejack helping Rarity and they stared in horror at what was across the field from them.
Firecracker was suspended in an out of control column of magical fire. Her eyes shot out random beams of magic. Her dress had become alight with the same fire. Her screams of pain echoed across the field.
Sunset scrabbled to her feet and dashed across the field. Firecracker's head turned toward her, her face a mask of terror. She held out a hand.
“Help me! It hurts!” Her voice was high and piercing. Sunset reached out her own hand and thrust it into the column. She flew back almost immediately as the magic zapped her hard enough to knock her off her feet.
She got back up and stepped forward again, but found herself being held back, as Twilight and Rainbow grabbed her arms and began dragging her away. Sunset struggled against her friend.
“Let go! We have to save her!”
“We can't!” Twilight cried. “Look at it! It's all gone crazy!”
“She's toast, Sunset!” Rainbow said. Sunset looked at her and to her surprise, she saw regret in Rainbow's eyes. Rainbow sniffed and shook her head.
“It sucks, but she's too far gone. Come on!”
Sunset looked back at Firecracker, who was still screaming in agony. The magic column had become a cyclone of pure white light. Firecracker's form was a shadow inside of it. She felt her throat clench and she closed her eyes and nodded.
“I'm sorry,” she whispered.
The three girls ran for the bleachers, where Fluttershy, Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie had taken cover with Moondancer under them. Across the field, the cyclone spun faster and faster, obliterating Firecracker's form. After another few seconds, the cyclone exploded in a firework display of streaming white sparks of magic. The sparks flew through the air, scattering across the field.
The group of girls stepped out from under the bleachers, watching as the sparks gently fell back to earth, burning out before they hit the ground. Sunset stared up at the vanishing sparks, swallowing as she watched.
A white hand landed on her shoulder. Sunset turned her head to see Rarity and Applejack beside her. Rarity said nothing but pointed across the field. Sunset turned her head to look at where Firecracker had stood, and quickly looked away, closing her eyes in an effort to stop the tears that were beginning to flow.
They seeped out anyway as her brain couldn't ignore the giant scorched circle on the grass which was the only indicator that Firecracker Burst had been there at all.
“You should consider yourself very lucky, young lady,” Dr. Cross said as he shined a penlight into each of Sunset's eyes. Her pupils responded normally, contracting as the light hit them. “Being abducted like that just after you came out of your coma could have caused serious damage.”
He put the penlight away. “Well, I'm happy to say everything looks to be fine, and I think you'll be leaving us soon. Tomorrow, I'd say.”
Sunset smiled. “Thank you, Dr. Cross. I'm looking forward to going home. Um, how are my friends?”
Dr. Cross smiled. “I figured you'd ask, so I made some inquiries. Miss Pie's already been treated and released. Her arm was broken, of course, but it was a clean break and easily reset. Judging from her attitude, I'm sure she's out collecting signatures on her cast right now.”
“Knowing Pinkie Pie, she probably already has half the staff's names on it.” Sunset's expression turned serious. “What about Rarity?”
The doctor's face fell. “Yes. Obviously her injuries were more severe. A great deal of swelling in her back muscles and some trauma to her brain. The good news is there was no actual damage to her spinal cord, so a full recovery is possible. For now, she'll have to get around in a wheelchair, but with time and physical therapy, she should be up and around in a few months. A year at the outside.”
Sunset looked at her hands. The doctor noticed her sorrowful expression. “Are you all right?”
Sunset looked up. “Huh? Oh, yeah. I'm fine. Can I see her before I head back to my room?”
“Certainly. I think we're done here for now. I'll give you another once over tomorrow before you're released.”
Sunset got off the examination table and put on the robe and slippers Applejack and Fluttershy had brought from her apartment. Dr. Cross opened the door and escorted her to the elevator.
“She's in room 520. I'll call up to the nurse's station to let them know you're coming.”
“Thanks, Dr. Cross.”
The doctor smiled and let Sunset board the elevator. Sunset pushed the button for the fifth floor. She got off when the elevator stopped, checked in at the nurse's station and made her way to Rarity's room.
Rarity was sitting up in bed, her red framed reading glasses on, stitching some cloth together. She was humming softly to herself. Sunset smiled and knocked on the open door.
Rarity looked up and smiled brightly. “Sunset, darling! Come in, come in!”
Sunset grabbed a nearby chair and brought it over to the side of the bed. “How are you feeling?”
“Well, aside from the obvious, just fine.”
Sunset nodded. “Dr. Cross told me there's no spinal damage, just some trauma. He says you'll have to go through physical therapy.”
Rarity quirked an eyebrow. “'Have to?' Oh no, try 'already going through.' I know it's for the best, and he's very supportive, but I suspect Tough Love is secretly a sadist and enjoys seeing me in such distress.”
“The whining didn't work, huh?”
“Not in the least,” Rarity deadpanned. The two girls laughed. “How about you, darling? What's the prognosis?”
“They're sending me home tomorrow. What about you?”
“Another day or two. Mother and Father are getting things set up for me to live in the downstairs guest room for now. I'm also trying to figure out how to get around in that blasted thing with any sort of grace.”
She nodded to the wheelchair sitting on the other side of the bed. Sunset looked over at it, then down at the floor. Rarity noticed Sunset's expression and took off her glasses.
“This isn't your fault, Sunset.”
Sunset looked up at the statement. “What?”
Rarity gestured to herself. “This. Firecracker Burst. Everything that's happened over the last week. It isn't your fault.”
“I know,” Sunset said. Her right hand grabbed her left elbow in a pose that Rarity knew was a sign that Sunset didn't really believe herself. “I just... I wish we could have saved her. She didn't deserve to go out like that. The magic corrupted her, turned her anger into something she couldn't control.”
Sunset sighed. “If I hadn't done what I did to Gardenia Glow, none of this would have happened.”
“Maybe,” Rarity said, “But you can't shoulder all the blame yourself. Gardenia's parents made the situation worse when they threw her out. Firecracker let her hate and anger build to this point. The magic just gave her the power to do something about it. While you may be somewhat, and I emphasize 'somewhat,' responsible for starting things, it wasn't your choices alone that caused all this to happen.”
Sunset nodded. “I know. It'll just take time for me to accept that, and to forgive myself for this on top of everything else.”
Rarity opened her mouth to reply when another knock came at the door. Both girls looked up to see a handsome muscular man dressed in scrubs standing in the doorway.
“Sorry to interrupt, but this one,” He gestured at Rarity. “Has another physical therapy session she's due for.”
“Oh, lovely,” Rarity said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Sunset, I'd like you to meet the current bane of my existence, Tough Love. Tough Love, Sunset Shimmer.”
“Pleasure,” Tough Love said, smiling. He turned to Rarity. “All right, you, into the chair. Today we're working on those leg muscles of yours.”
“Unbounded be my joy.” Rarity pulled the covers back and turned to Sunset. “Sunset, darling, would you mind pushing my chair a little closer to the bed? This ruffian is just evil enough to make me try to grab it myself, and won't do a thing to help me unless I fall flat on my face... which he will undoubtedly bring up constantly during our session.”
“Now you know that's not true,” Tough Love rebutted, smiling. “You were the one who insisted on getting the chair yourself yesterday. I just helped you up after you wound up hanging halfway off the bed.”
“I did no such thing, you sadist!” Rarity huffed, folding her arms. Sunset laughed and got up. She walked around the bed and brought the wheelchair closer, locking the wheels.
“You sure you don't want help?” Sunset asked as Rarity maneuvered herself over to the edge of the bed.
“And give the Marquis de Medicine Ball over there more ammunition? I think not!”
It took a couple of minutes, but Rarity managed to transfer herself from the bed to the chair with a minimum of problems. When she was settled, Tough Love came over and helped set up the chair's footrests, placing Rarity's feet on them and fastening the velcro straps. He unlocked the wheels and got into position behind Rarity. As he was about to start pushing, Rarity held up a hand and looked at Sunset.
“I know you already know this, but I think you need to hear it anyway. I don't blame you for what happened to me, Sunset. I'm just thankful I'm still here for you and the girls when you need me. Remember what I said that first night you slept over?”
“Then you know that I will beat this and get back to where I was. And I expect you and the other girls to be there by my side the entire way. I will accept nothing less than your unconditional support and sympathy. Lord knows I won't get it from this brute.”
Rarity threw a hand up and lightly slapped Tough Love's bicep. The therapist grinned.
“Keep that up, and you aren't getting a massage when we're done today.”
Rarity turned her head to look up at him. “You, sir, are a dirty cheat. You're lucky those hands of yours are miracle workers. Very well, let's get on with the torture, shall we?”
“Let's.” Tough Love began pushing the chair again. Sunset followed them out into the hallway.
“Let me know when they say they're going to release you tomorrow,” Rarity said. “I'll see if I can convince this torture-happy but semi-charismatic gorilla here to let me visit before he puts me on the rack, or in the Iron Maiden, or whatever hellish device he has in store for me.”
“I'm partial to the Catherine Wheel, myself,” Tough Love replied. “But I don't think you're up to that yet.”
“Try me,” Rarity smirked. “I can take whatever you dish out.”
“I have no doubt.”
“Oh, a complement.” Rarity looked over at Sunset and stage-whispered. “He's just trying to lull me into a false sense of security. He must have something truly barbaric waiting for me downstairs.”
“I almost wish I could follow you down to see that,” Sunset replied with a grin.
Rarity gave a mock gasp and threw her head back, putting the back of her hand on her forehead. “Abandoned in my hour of need! Curse you and your damnable fickleness, Sunset Shimmer!”
“Hey, I'm reformed, not a saint.”
The two girls giggled as they came to a stop in front of the elevator. Sunset hit the “down” button.
“In all seriousness,” Rarity began, taking Sunset's hand. “I want you to remember that none of this is your fault. That was the old you, and that person is long gone. Don't punish yourself for something you've already been forgiven for.”
Sunset blinked. “What?”
“The email forgiving you in your scrapbook, darling. Beachberry figured out where it came from. Gardenia Glow sent it.”
Sunset stared at her friend. Rarity gave her a bright smile.
“Maybe you should see her for yourself. Twilight, Rainbow, and Applejack know where she lives. Get some closure, darling. More than anyone I know, I think you need it.”
The elevator doors opened and Tough Love wheeled Rarity inside. Sunset followed.
“Fourth floor, please,” she said to Tough Love. He nodded and hit the appropriate button before hitting the button for the second floor. As the elevator descended, Sunset reached over and gave Rarity a hug.
“Thanks,” she said. Rarity smiled and hugged her again. The elevator stopped on the fourth floor and the doors opened. Sunset stepped out and waved goodbye to Rarity. As the door closed, Rarity's hand shot out and hit the “Door open” button.
“Oh! I almost forgot. Stop by my house on your way home. Your journal to Princess Twilight is there. Let her know what's happened, won't you? I promised to keep her updated, but obviously that hasn't happened for the last couple of days.”
Sunset nodded. “Will do.”
Rarity nodded back, then looked up at Tough Love. “All right, I suppose I've kept you from your fun long enough. To the depths of hell with us, you amiable lunatic.”
“Is she always like this?” Tough Love asked Sunset.
“Only on days that end in 'Y,'” Sunset replied. Tough Love let out a theatrical groan.
“Just my luck.”
Sunset laughed as the doors closed. She turned and began making her way back to her room. She had some calls to make.
Inside the elevator, Tough Love looked down at Rarity. “'Princess Twilight?'”
Rarity didn't look at him. “Something far too complex for a glutton of misery like yourself to understand.”
Tough Love smirked. “Just for that, I'm putting the fifteen pound weights on your ankles this time.”
Now Rarity did look up, giving her therapist a defiant grin. “Oh, it. Is. On!”
The next afternoon, Sunset was discharged from the hospital. Rarity did, in fact, manage to convince Tough Love to let her say goodbye to her before “the descent into the pit of despair this borderline psychopath dares to call a gymnasium.” Several more barbs were exchanged with the physiotherapist on the way down to the exit, where hugs were exchanged with Sunset along with Rarity eliciting a promise for Sunset to bring her some “quality ice cream that actually knows what 'Death by Chocolate' is supposed to taste like.”
Applejack had volunteered to pick Sunset up from the hospital and the two were soon on their way toward Sunset's apartment in the Apple family pickup. As they made their way through the streets, Applejack looked over where Sunset was staring out the window.
“You hungry, sugarcube? We could stop somewhere.”
Sunset blinked. “Huh? Oh. Sorry, Applejack. I'm just thinking.”
Sunset frowned, not sure if she should say anything or not. “Um... could we swing by Gardenia Glow's place?”
Applejack blinked. “Really? You sure?”
Sunset nodded. “Yeah. I think I have some unfinished business to take care of.”
Applejack nodded and signaled a turn.
Rainbow Dash knocked on the open door of the hospital room. “Hello?” she called.
The redheaded girl in the bed looked up. “Rainbow Dash?”
Rainbow grinned and walked in. “Hey, Pepps. How you doing?”
Pepperdance sat up, smiling. Her head had a bandage wrapped around it, and she looked a little paler than her usual shade of dark pink. But she was smiling, which Rainbow took as a good sign.
“Hey! Rainbow!” she said brightly. “I'm doing good. The doctors say I can go home tomorrow.”
“That's great!” Rainbow grabbed a chair and brought it over. “Been missing you at the skate park.”
“Me, or your weekly butt whupping?” Pepperdance smirked.
“As if! You'll have whupped my butt when you can pull off all sixteen tricks on the list without wiping out on the rail!”
“Whatever lets you sleep at night, Crash.”
The two girls laughed. After they had stopped, Rainbow looked at her friend.
“Listen, Pepps, not to get all sappy or nothin', but I'm sorry.”
Rainbow blinked. “Well, for this.” She waved a hand at the hospital bed. “If I'd been faster, you wouldn't be here right now.”
“And who was the moron who arranged a late night meeting with a magically charged lunatic who had already put someone in a coma?” Pepperdance asked. “Rainbow, it wasn't your fault. I know you did everything you could.”
“But you got hurt and you've been out for the last couple of days. I could have stopped her!”
“Is she stopped now?”
“Well, yeah,” Rainbow admitted. Pepperdance grinned at her.
“Then you made up for it. Not that you really had to make up for it.”
“Wha?” Rainbow blinked. Pepperdance let out a laugh.
“Wow, you really do suck at this sappy stuff. Come here.”
Rainbow got up from the chair and walked over to the bed. As soon as she was within reach, Pepperdance grabbed her in a bone-crunching hug. “You're my friend, you dope. Of course, I don't blame you for what happened. You're too awesome to suck that badly.”
Rainbow swallowed and smiled. She returned the hug. “When did you get to be so damn smart?”
“One of us has to be.”
Rainbow pulled back to see Pepperdance giving her a classic “shit eating grin.” She punched her friend gently in the shoulder.
“You're a dork.”
Applejack pulled into one of the parking spaces outside the apartment complex and shut off the engine. She looked over at Sunset. “You want me to come with you?”
Sunset considered for a moment, then shook her head. “No. I shouldn’t be too long.”
“All right, sugarcube,” Applejack replied, doubt in her voice. “But if you need me, just text, okay?”
“Okay.” Sunset closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Which apartment?”
“Building 5, third floor, number 532.”
Sunset nodded and got out of the truck. It only took a couple of minutes for her to find the right door. She took another breath, steeling herself and rang the doorbell.
After a few moments, she heard the sound of locks being undone and Gardenia Glow opened the door. Her eyes widened in surprise at the sight of Sunset and for a moment, the two just stared at each other. Sunset swallowed and broke the silence.
Gardenia blinked then came out of her own shock. “This is about Firecracker, isn’t it?”
Sunset nodded. “Yeah.”
Gardenia let out a sad sigh. “I suppose you should come in.”
She stepped aside, allowing Sunset access to the apartment. Sunset walked in and stood in the living room while Gardenia closed the door. She felt an unexpected sense of relief when her former victim didn’t lock it behind them.
Gardenia stepped past her and headed toward the kitchen. “Would you like some water or something?”
“No, I’m okay.”
Gardenia nodded and walked into the kitchen. Sunset heard water running in the sink, followed by a few moments of silence, and the sound of a glass being put on the counter. A few more moments later, Gardenia came out of the kitchen and gestured for Sunset to sit down.
Sunset sat on the loveseat, while Gardenia made herself comfortable on the sofa. She looked at Sunset. “She’s dead, isn’t she?”
Sunset’s face fell and she looked down at her feet. “Yes,” she answered.
Sunset looked up, regret evident on her face. “It’s a little hard to explain, since magic isn’t part of your everyday life, but basically, her magic ran out of control when she tried to use it against me and my friends. It reacted with the magic we were using to defend ourselves, and the whole thing just backfired on her.”
Sunset rubbed her face, trying to figure out how to continue. Gardenia said nothing, allowing her to gather her thoughts. “It’s called a resonance cascade. It can happen when there’s an overabundance of the same kind of magic in the same place. It overcharges itself and there’s a massive feedback loop, so the whole thing becomes unstable. Firecracker got caught in the backlash.
“There’s nothing left of her. I’m sorry.”
Gardenia looked at Sunset, her lips pursed. Sunset bit her own bottom lip and plucked at the hem of her top. She looked back up at Gardenia. For a long moment, the two simply stared at each other. Gardenia’s expression was blank. Not angry, not sad, just a careful neutral expression.
It was too much for Sunset. She felt her composure shatter and tears began to fall from her eyes. “I’m sorry! I tried to warn her. To get her to stop, but she just kept pouring out more magic. I didn’t want this! I didn’t want anyone to die! But she just wouldn’t stop using the magic and she was so much stronger than us! I don’t know why, but she just kept getting stronger the angrier she got and I… I couldn’t…”
Sunset trailed off into a sob. She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a tissue. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose. She cleared her throat and looked back up at Gardenia. “I’m so sorry, Gardenia. For everything. For what I did to you. I know you probably won’t believe me, but I didn’t know you were a lesbian. If I had, I wouldn’t have started that stupid rumor in the first place, even back then. But I can’t take it back. I can’t take back any of the awful things that happened to you and Firecracker because of it. I wish I could just –“
“I forgive you.”
Sunset stared at Gardenia, who still had the neutral expression on her face. “What?”
“I forgive you. I forgave you for the Spring Fling a long time ago. I’m sure your friends told you about the email I sent?”
Sunset nodded. “I wasn’t sure if they told you –“
“—that they broke into my apartment a couple of days ago?” Gardenia finished. She nodded her head. “Twilight Sparkle showed up the day after I woke up and explained everything. That girl is terrified of breaking any kind of rules, do you know that?”
Sunset smiled despite herself. “Yeah. We’re trying to help her get over that.”
“You’ve got your work cut out for you.” Gardenia finally let a small smile cross her face, before it fell. “Firecracker made her own decisions, Sunset. She’s the one at fault here. She’s the one who obsessed over you after I moved to Baltimare. She’s the one who abused the magic she came across. She’s the one who knocked me out when I asked her to stop. She's the one who kil–“ Gardenia cut herself off, clenching her fists. After a moment, she continued. “And she’s the one who paid the price for it.
“Am I sad she’s gone? Yes, of course I am. Despite everything, I still loved her, and she loved me. Am I angry? Absolutely. But not at you and your friends. I’m angry at her for not choosing life with me over some twisted need to be an avenger of my honor, or whatever she thought she was doing. “
Gardenia sighed and let herself sit back in the sofa. Her voice hitched as tears of her own began to form. “She was brash, impulsive, and wanted so badly to save everyone from you. And she couldn’t see what I saw when I moved back. That you had changed. That you were making an effort to make up for everything you did. After I heard about the Anon-A-Miss thing, and believe me, Firecracker was gleeful about that the whole time, I realized that it didn’t fit with what I was seeing and hearing about you. And I realized that I really was ready to forgive you.”
“So, you sent the email,” Sunset said.
Gardenia nodded. “I wasn’t ready to let you know it was me. Some part of me was still angry with you over it. Some part of me is still angry with you over it, and I doubt it’ll ever go away. But I forgave you for that, and I forgive you for what you had to do to protect yourselves from Firecracker.
“I don’t think we can ever be friends, Sunset Shimmer, but I know I don’t want to be enemies either. I read something a long time ago which stuck with me, and I wish I’d been able to get Firecracker to understand it. ‘Vengeance is counterproductive, always. Not to mention it gets your soul all sticky.’”
Sunset let out a chuckle. Gardenia joined her.
“Yeah, it’s funny,” Gardenia said. “It’s also true. So, if that’s what you need so we can both get on with our lives, I forgive you.”
“Thanks. And, for what it’s worth, I forgive Firecracker,” Sunset replied. “If nothing else, I understand it.”
Gardenia gave her a sad smile. “Thank you for that.”
There was another awkward pause and Sunset was about to excuse herself when the pink haired girl spoke again.
“Have you told her parents?”
Sunset shook her head. “Not yet. Honestly, we haven’t even figured out what to tell her parents or the authorities for that matter. “
Gardenia considered. “I think you should tell Firecracker’s parents the truth. They deserve to know that she’s—what happened to her. As for the authorities… well, I may have some ideas on that. We’ll have to get Firecracker’s parents on board with it though.”
“’We?’” Sunset asked.
Gardenia nodded. “I think I should go with you to tell them my end of things. I think it’ll help. They like me, and, more importantly, they trust me. And if you bring your friends to prove that the magic is real, that will probably help too.”
“Gardenia,” Sunset looked at her… not friend. “Why? Why would you help us with this?”
“Because you need it. I need it. The sooner we get this sorted out, the sooner we can all grieve and get on with our lives.”
Gardenia stood up. Sunset took that as a sign it was time to go and stood up as well.
“I’ll call Firecracker’s parents and set things up,” Gardenia said as she walked toward the front door. “I have Pinkie’s number. I’ll call her and let her know when we should all meet with them.”
Sunset nodded. “All right. Um… if you don’t mind my asking? What happens now?”
Gardenia looked at Sunset. “Long term? I make sure my sister is set up at my aunt's. Then, I’ll probably go back to Baltimare and finish my degree. I took a few months off because I was burning out. As for you and your friends, you go back to school, graduate, and hopefully live as happily ever after as you can. And with a little luck, you and I won’t ever see each other again once I move back.”
Sunset nodded again, trying not to look dejected. “I wish things weren’t so broken between us. You’re really cool.”
Gardenia let out a surprised laugh. “It’s nice of you to say that, but I am a complete mess right now. As soon as you leave, I’m settling in to cry to myself for the rest of the night and drink heavily.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Sunset asked. “I mean, being alone tonight?”
“I have other friends. Once I’ve gotten through the initial crying fit, I’ll call someone over. I’ll be fine, eventually. Don’t worry about me.”
“All right.” Sunset opened the door. “Let Pinkie know when we can go see Firecracker’s parents. The sooner, the better, probably.”
“Yeah,” Gardenia said. “Oh, and for what it’s worth, I hope Pinkie and Rarity get better as soon as they can. “
“I’ll pass on your well wishes. Thanks for helping us, Gardenia.”
Gardenia nodded. “I’ll call in a day or so. Goodbye, Sunset.”
Sunset waved a hand. “Goodbye.”
The door closed and Sunset went back to the truck.
“How’d it go?” Applejack asked as Sunset climbed in the cab.
“Better than you’d think, actually,” Sunset replied. Despite the fact that she knew she and Gardenia wouldn’t ever progress beyond whatever understanding they’d reached, it was nice to know they had cleared the air between them. Sunset turned to look at Applejack.
“Hey, I just realized I’m starving. Wanna stop somewhere for a burger or something? My treat.”
“Things must’ve gone good if you’re offering to pay.” Applejack reached for the key and twisted. The truck refused to start. “Oh for Pete’s sake!”
As Applejack began her usual ritual of fiddling, checking, and cursing, Sunset smiled to herself.
It was a few days later when Gardenia met Sunset and her friends in a subdivision a few miles from Canterlot High. The girls had taken two cars. Pinkie, Sunset, and Twilight had come in Maud's car, while Fluttershy had managed to borrow her family's minivan to bring herself, Rainbow, Applejack, Rarity, and most importantly, Rarity's wheelchair. They parked next to the curb a few houses down from Firecracker Burst's house. The girls piled out. Fluttershy opened the side door of the van. Rainbow and Twilight got the wheelchair out of the back and set it up.
Rarity unbuckled her seat belt, grabbed each leg and moved them so she could maneuver out of the van. “Thank you so much, darlings.”
“Uh... are you sure you don't want any help, Rarity?” Rainbow asked.
“Thank you, darling, but no. I need to be able to do these things for myself.”
Rarity pushed off with her arms and slid to the floor of the van, then transferred into the chair. She got her legs situated and wheeled her way around the van to the curb. She studied the curb and considered.
“I can help you with that, Rares,” said Rainbow. Rarity looked back at her and gave her a grin. She grabbed the wheels of the chair and shifted her weight back, raising the smaller front wheels up onto the curb. She frowned and rolled the back wheels forward. When they hit the curb, she changed her grip on the wheels and pushed forward, her biceps bulging. The wheels shifted up onto the curb and she pivoted the chair in a tight semicircle, the front wheels in the air, before bringing them back down to face her friends.
“Thank you, but I've got this, Rainbow,” she said, with a defiant grin.
The rest of the girls grouped on the sidewalk. Rainbow leaned over to Applejack.
“Is it me, or is she trying too hard?”
Applejack shrugged. “That gal's determined. Ain't nothing wrong with that.”
“Yeah, but, she's acting like this is all no big deal.”
“Is it?” Applejack folded her arms and raised an eyebrow.
“No! I mean... kinda? I dunno. It's just – “
“You're concerned that Rarity seems to be taking this way too well for being paralyzed, and she may be masking her true feelings about everything that's happened to her through bravado, and taking her physical therapy super serious and putting on an air of supreme confidence in order to disarm everyone and distract them from how she really feels?” Applejack and Rainbow let out yelps of surprise as Pinkie popped up between them.
Rarity looked over her shoulder. “Is something wrong?”
“Oh, Rainbow's concerned that your attitude is an elaborate fron—mmmph!”
“Nothing!” Rainbow said, as Applejack clapped a hand over Pinkie's mouth and dragged her off. “Just Pinkie being Pinkie!”
Rarity giggled and joined the rest of the girls as they headed down the sidewalk. Rainbow sighed and followed after them.
As they got closer to the house, Twilight put a hand on Sunset's shoulder. “Hey, you okay?”
Sunset shrugged. “I dunno. I know this isn't going to be good. There's no way it can be.”
“I know, but we're here for you, Sunset. All of us.”
“She's right,” said Fluttershy from Sunset's other side. “Whatever happens, we'll face it together.”
Sunset smiled, took each of her friends hands and squeezed. “Thanks girls.”
“There's Gardenia.” Fluttershy said, pointing. Sunset looked up to see the dark green girl walking toward them from the other direction. The two groups met in front of a well kept two story house. Sunset took a step forward.
“Sunset,” Gardenia said. Sunset gestured to Twilight.
“You remember Twilight Sparkle.”
Twilight smiled and held out a hand. “It's nice to see you again. I wish it could be under different circumstances.”
Gardenia took her hand and shook it. “Likewise.”
Gardenia sighed and looked at the house, then back to the girls. “They're expecting us. You ready for this?”
Sunset grabbed her arm. “Not really. Are you sure they'll go for it?”
“Reporting Firecracker as a runaway is the easiest way to deal with the cops and anyone else who may start asking questions you don't want to answer,” Gardenia answered.
“Yeah, but if they don't agree to support that story after we tell them what actually happened, what then?”
Gardenia sighed again. “I don't know. You might have to go public.”
“Great.” Sunset looked at the ground. She took a deep breath and looked up. “All right, girls, let's do this.”
The group walked up to the front door. Rarity generated a crystal under her chair and levitated it off the ground. She looked at the group.
“Well, if we're going to tell them about the magic, we might as well make a good impression.”
Sunset gave her friend a small grin. She looked over at Gardenia.
“Let's do this.”
Gardenia nodded, and rang the doorbell. Sunset looked behind her at her friends. All of them gave her encouraging smiles. Sunset nodded. It would be hard. It would be ugly, and there was no guarantee Firecracker's parents wouldn't throw them out the second they told them what happened.
But, if nothing else, they would have the truth about their daughter's disappearance. And that was the real point of this visit. Sunset felt the love from her friends and used it to steel herself.
The door opened.
She walked through the halls of the office, her slim black suit looking elegant with every stride. As she passed the desks, conversations stopped. Interns got out of her way as she walked through the cube farm.
Bright red hair bounced over one eye as she made her way to the Director's office. Those who knew her reputation began whispering as she passed. She was the most infamous field agent current working for the Specialized Taskforce Overseeing Remarkable Matters. Her closure rate was twice as high as any other field agent in the organization. Who knew how many unnatural disasters had been averted thanks to her timely intervention.
Admittedly, the organization also had to file three times the amount of damage reports, expense claims, and official explanations to Congress since she had first been deployed in the field. But she got results, and that was what the Director cared about.
Hence, the meeting.
She knocked on the Director's door and stepped inside. The Director, a middle aged man with an impressive beard, looked up from his computer.
“Good, you're here,” He snapped, skipping the pleasantries. “Got something going on in Canterlot City."
“Well, there's been a whole crapton of weird happening out there of late. Used to be the usual, lights in the sky, mass hallucinations of flying sea monsters, crazy plant monsters. Y'know, standard Class Two bullshit.”
The Director tossed a file on top of the desk. She picked it up and began paging through the contents. “What's changed, sir?”
“Two mall rampages in the last three months. Really tall women doing really weird crap with lasers and wrecking stuff. But that's not all. Guess what all this has in common?”
She looked up at the Director briefly, then thumbed back through the various reports, news articles, and photos. She spotted the connection almost immediately. “Girls with horse ears and wings.”
“Exactly.” The Director leaned back in his chair and grinned. “Just the kind of Class Five stuff you're good at dealing with. I dunno what's going on out there, but we're gonna contain this nonsense right now. Get out to Canterlot City, find out who these girls are, and neutralize them.”
“They look like kids, sir. Teenagers.”
The Director leaned forward and gave his top agent a sinister grin. “That's why I called you in. Make this go away. Fast."
She tried to keep her brow from furrowing. "Sir, with all due respect, with minors involved, this could be a serious problem if things go public."
"And I want to know exactly what we're dealing with out there. I don't care how gunshy you are after that mess in Las Pegasus. I want this done."
The Director leaned back in his seat and smiled expansively. "And maybe, if you clear this up fast enough, I'll be able to give you what you've been asking for after all this time. Do I make myself clear, Agent?”
Senior STORM Field Agent Tempest Shadow closed the file, tucked it under her arm and saluted. “Crystal clear, Director Stormking.”