Principal Celestia, High-Educator of Canterlot High, sighed as she stared at the clock on the wall. The rhythmic tapping of the mechanical instruments echoed through the small office, exacerbating her already-growing migraine. The final bell had rang five minutes ago, and the thundering of a thousand pairs of shoes on tile had long since faded. She would have been gone as well, if it weren't for this very important business.
Celestia lowered her head until her eyes were in line with the objects on her desk. A smashed stone in a plastic bag sat at the center of the desktop, near a few flyers and school announcements she had yet to approve. On the far corner was a pile of binders and folders, carefully organized and stacked as requested. And then there was the particular pile of pages sitting right in front of her, which Celestia struggled to keep from staring at.
A part of her just wished to back away, forget this ever happened, and throw herself on her bed. Nevertheless, that wouldn't solve her problem. Whatever this meeting had changed into, she had to see it through. Such was the burden of a High School Principal. She could, however, have done without the massive headache she was currently experiencing.
There was a knock on the door. Celestia raised her head back to a level position. “Come in,” she said in a commanding-but-civil tone.
The door opened, revealing the first of the two people most responsible for Celestia's recent bouts of hypertension: Sunset Shimmer, the former self-appointed tyrant of Canterlot High, and now the one she had to rely on the most when it came the school's increasing strangeness. She was also apparently a unicorn from a magical land where Celestia was an actual ruler, but the principal did not like to dwell on such thoughts. Otherwise, her brain was likely to explode.
“Good afternoon,” said Sunset Shimmer.
Celestia smiled and waved to the three plastic chairs in front of her. “Please, have a seat.”
Sunset was in the chair before the door even had a chance to close. Celestia could read the nervousness eminating from her – one did not become a principal without seeing that fear of her presence every day – but there was also a sense of excitement and/or giddiness in her being. “Are you sure you don't want my friends here? They'd love to hear all about this.”
“There really isn't too much of a reason for them to be here right now,” Principal Celestia said sternly. “Princess Twilight and I have already reviewed everything, and I'm fairly certain we're thinking of the same course of action. She just wanted this last meeting to close out the final details.” She allowed herself a small smile. “Thank you for your assistance, by the way. I have to admit, wrapping my head around there being two Twilights...it's still a challenge.”
Sunset nodded. “It was for us, too. At least for a little bit. But the two are so different when you get down to it...”
Suddenly, the door came flying open. “Sorry I'm late!” shouted the familiar voice of Twilight – or rather, Princess Twilight. Said pony-turned-temporary-human was standing in the door frame, panting heavily and with one of her eyes twitching from the sweat pouring over it. One seemingly mighty leap later, she was sitting in her own chair, taking the opposite side of Sunset's. The mere sight of such an athletic move, especially for the pony who lacked the years of acclimation Sunset had experienced, would have been breathtaking enough on its own.
What was more surprising, however, was her clothing.
Rather than the traditional garb Princess Twilight had worn whenever she had crossed over, she was instead decked out in an orange tweed jacket, a long dress skirt of matching color, and a while dress shirt underneath. The sleeves were of uneven length, the shoulders were inflated so that she resembled a very skinny linebacker, and the entire thing was covered in unsightly wrinkles, as if it had just been thrown on moments before entering the room. The ensemble would have been tacky enough to give Rarity a dozen simultaneous heart attacks, but the fact that Princess Twilight was still wearing her normal pair of boots just pushed things over the edge.
Sunset Shimmer's jaw dropped. Principal Celestia, being older and of stouter stuff, barely managed to hold her mouth closed long enough for the shock to pass. “Princess Twilight?”
The Princess nodded. “Yes. I'm sorry I was late, but there were some things I had to deal with on Equestria. You know, dotted lines to sign, speeches to prepare...clothes to get ready...”
Principal Celestia nodded. “I see.”
“Where did you even get those clothes?” asked Sunset. “And while you're answering that, why are you wearing them?”
Princess Twilight looked away nervously. “W-Well, this is the first official meeting between Equestria and Canterlot High – I mean, outside of the times everyone's life has been in danger.”
Celestia rolled her eyes.
“A-Anyway, since this was so important, I thought I would try to at least adhere to some of the customers of this world. So the last time I was here, I had this world's Rarity take my measurements in this body, took them back to my world, and had my Rarity design a new outfit!” She looked about her crime against the fashion world. “I got the design out of a political magazine in this world. I wasn't certain about the materials or color, but I think it turned out just fine, don't you?”
“Um...yes, just fine,” Sunset said nervously. “But...why didn't you have this world's Rarity make the suit for you?”
“Because that would have been an inconvenience for her. She's still a student, after all, while my Rarity is already running her own franchise. Besides, it would have been yet another stop before I got here, and...”
“I...think we've discussed your choice in attire long enough,” said Principal Celestia.
“Yes! Yes, I mean, thank you.” The amount of sweat running down Princess Twilight's forehead made it appear that a waterfall had sprouted from her skull. She wiped her brow with one sleeve before rising to her feet, clearing her throat, and bowing in a most regal manner towards Principal Celestia. “As Equestria's Princess of Friendship, I am delighted that you have agreed to enter a diplomatic relationship with my beloved homeland.”
“The honor is mine,” said Principal Celestia. She could have brought up the fact that this “diplomatic meeting” was occurring long after the princess had intruded upon her world, set up a functional portal directly on her school's doorstep, and years after an apparent fugitive had gone into hiding as one of her students, but a degree of tact was called for in these situations. There was plenty of time to stick her nose in such things later. Besides, there was something oddly adorable about the whole thing.
“Um...Twilight?” said Sunset Shimmer. “You know this is a school, right? It's not like you're talking to the head of an actual country or anything. Trust me, I learned that the hard way.”
“Well, it's a...start?” Princess Twilight stammered in response.
“I agree that doing it this way is a bit silly. I was hoping for just a simple talk regarding the matter. Then again, this might help when we have to explain the last year to people who...haven't experienced the events of this last year,” added Celestia. “Luna and I both wished we had some way to prepare for this when we found out about the portal and Equestria. I swear, we hadn't encountered something so confusing since the Fall Formal. No offense, of course.”
A biting chill ran down Sunset's spine at the mention of the Fall Formal. An invisible hand seemed to grab her heart and squeeze it tight. A thousand soundless pictures flashed through her mind, forcing her to relive every one of her terrible deeds, from ruining the friendships of those that stood in her way, to threatening the life of an innocent dog/dragon because she couldn't handle somepony else being actually worthy of power. And then there was the pain, the hot agony of her body being twisted and turned into that demonic...thing. In her mind, she could still smell the smoke from her flesh burning, feel the white-hot blood pouring through her veins. The hatred was pounding through her brain, driving away any restraint, any logic, anything that could separate her from a mindless beast...
And thus, the pain was hidden.
Princess Twilight cleared her throat, calling attention back to her. “In any case, we – that is, 'we' in the royal plural, not the singular – have reviewed your demands for establishing contact between worlds...and for letting us keep the portal.”
Principal Celestia smiled and nodded. “Of course. Our demands.”
“I have approached my fellow princesses and discussed our initial proposal. That includes making full restitution for any destruction in property that occurs as a result of the mingling of magic with this world, dispatching research teams and security detail – you know, scholars, soldiers, monster handlers – to handle any threats, and providing the authorities with a full list of all known artifacts or creatures that may have crossed through to the other side. In return, we are allowed to keep the portal open, Sunset Shimmer will be allowed to remain as both a student and official representative of Equestria, and you will not seek legal or military action against us.”
Sunset rolled her eyes. “Again, Princess Twilight, there is no military. It's a school.”
“It helps to cover all your bases,” said Princess Twilight. “Besides, didn't you try to turn the student body into a zombie army? Somepony else may try the same plan again.”
“And seeing how well that worked out for me, I don't think that will be a problem.”
“This proposal is...quite substantial,” said Principal Celestia. “ Even more than we discussed originally. I can't see the...other me agreeing right away.”
Princess Twilight sighed and shook her head. “I know it's not the best deal in the world, but we have to take responsibility for this. All of these happenings...they really are Equestria's concern. If it weren't for our carelessness, things like the Sirens and the Memory Stone would never have placed anyone's lives here in danger. And if I wasn't so careless with leaving the portal open, maybe the other me wouldn't have accidentally absorbed its power and torn reality apart, or broke the portal so badly that magic is still seeping through.”
“What did Princess Celestia say?” asked Sunset Shimmer.
Princess Twilight's head snapped back to facing the principal...or at least, her face turned back towards the principal while her eyes turned towards some chipped paint on one of the walls. “A-Actually, there's a funny story that goes with that. You see, I explained everything to...well, the other you, and she insisted I have somepony else discuss the situation with us before we do anything.” She chuckled and tapped her knuckles together. “Someone...very experienced in these matters.”
A menacing aura seemed to permeate every inch of the tiny office. Principal Celestia struggled to say something, but the intensity of her migraine had increased to the point where coherent thought was almost impossible.
“How 'experienced' are we talking about here?” asked Sunset.
“W-Well,” Princess Twilight stammered, “y-you could say that he...um, was the first to teach Princess Celestia on the matter.”
Before the awkward conversation could sink further into disrepair, there was another knock on the door. The sudden sound bashed through the wall of pain in Celestia's head like a wrecking ball, bringing enough relief for the principal to speak once again. “Come in.”
The door opened, revealing the shadowy form of Vice-Principal Luna. And judging by her strained smile and narrowed eyes, it was a good guess that she was not coming to exchange pleasantries. “Good afternoon, Principal, young ladies.”
“Is everything alright, Vice-Principal Luna?” asked Celestia.
“There's a bit of a situation at the front entrance,” said Luna. “Apparently, there's an old man shouting at the doors to open. He's insisting that he's here to speak to you three.”
Princess Twilight let out a low groan, one not too far off from the cry of a zombie with severe arthritis. “That would be him.”
“Wait, didn't anyone tell whoever-this-is about the whole...changing species thing?” asked Sunset, wriggling her fingers for emphasis.
Princess Twilight sighed as she rose to her feet. “I thought I had. I wrote out instructions, drew him a map, went over an exact schedule for everyone in the school...” The rest of her muttering, which included several prayers to the Principal's more divine counterpart not to find him on all fours, faded off as she followed Luna out the door and down the hall.
Principal Celestia rubbed her forehead vigorously, her strokes failing to silence the tiny jackhammers burrowing down on her skull. The same thoughts keep running through her mind like a broken tape player. This was supposed to be so simple. We just needed one thing. One little thing...
“I'm sorry. We all have that problem the first time we come over.”
Too late, she realized she was still not alone.
Principal Celestia rolled one eye towards Sunset Shimmer. The girl was still firmly seated in her chair, likely just as confounded with this new situation as she was. This was not the most desirable atmosphere for an educator's office, but considering the underlying situation, it was perhaps unavoidable.
In any case, she needed to get a conversation started. This silence would simply not do.
“So,” said Principal Celestia, “you're more familiar with the residents of Equestria. Do you know anyone that matches the description Princess Twilight gave?”
Sunset shrugged. “Not really. The other you has been alive for a very long time, so anyone who would have taught them should be long gone.”
If there was meant to be an insult there, Principal Celestia chose to take the high road and ignore it.
“I remember Twilight writing to me about something a few weeks ago, but, well, Pinkie was having me help judge an ice cream eating contest between Rainbow Dash and Applejack, she decided to get involved as well, and...well, when I woke up, my head felt about twenty pounds heavier and the page was covered in mint chocolate chip...”
Principal Celestia raised a hand. “I think I get the message.”
There was a knock on the door. Princess Twilight's voice was muffled, but otherwise audible. “Hello? We're back.”
“Come in,” said Celestia.
The door opened just far enough for Princess Twilight to squeeze through. She grabbed the other side of the door handle, cleared her throat, and raised her head until both nostrils were plainly visible. “Principal Celestia, Sunset Shimmer, I am pleased to introduce Equestria's...'official' representative. The most brilliant, most important unicorn to have ever lived...”
Sunset could feel her blood beginning to turn cold. Twilight has only talked about one pony like that before...but that would mean...
Princess Twilight's face pressed itself into a goofy smile. “I am pleased to introduce Star Swirl the Bearded!”
She pulled the door open all the way, revealing a tall and skinny old man. His blue eyes seemed to shudder under the wisdom hidden behind them, and yet it still felt like they were staring a hole straight through the principal and into the back wall. He was clad in a long blue robe and pointy blue hat, each of which were adorned with golden bells around their edges that rang and chimed with every motion the man made. The most striking feature, however, was his long white beard, which stretched down to just above his waist and did much to obscure his facial features.
To say that Sunset Shimmer was surprised would have been a massive understatement. She leaped to her feet so quickly the chair beneath her followed an inch into the air before falling back down. Her jaw dropped hard and fast enough to threaten dislocation with the rest of her mouth, her eyes seemingly doubled in size, and her knowledge of vocabulary was quickly pulled back to that of a toddler, leaving her mumbling half-finished words while drooling slightly. Principal Celestia, meanwhile, did everything she could to keep from bursting into laughing at the man's name, outfit, and beard. “Star Swirl the Bearded, was it?” she asked.
The old man nodded slowly. “Indeed, although just Star Swirl will be acceptable.” He moved into the office, with every step feeling just a little bit less ponderous than the last, and took a seat between Princess Twilight's and Sunset Shimmer's. Once his back was fully leaning against the support railings, he let out a very loud sigh, not unlike a bagpipe being compressed. Princess Twilight returned to her own seat, her expression somewhere between “walking on hot coals” and “melting with excitement.”
“And I am to understand your are Princess Celestia's...doppelganger in this universe?” Star Swirl continued.
“That is what I've been told,” said Principal Celestia.
Star Swirl turned his gaze towards Sunset Shimmer. The girl was still standing, frozen in shock at the person before her. “And you must be Sunset Shimmer, Princess Celestia's former student. The one who ran through a magic mirror without thinking of the consequences.”
The insult, as backhanded as it may have been intended, was enough to get some life pouring through Sunset's veins again. Her brain sputtered back to life like an old car engine, restoring her higher functions even as she remained partially paralyzed. “S-Star Swirl the Bearded? B-But you can't...you're...you have to be...”
Princess Twilight cocked her head. “Didn't you read my message? My friends and I released Star Swirl and the other Pillars of Equestria from Limbo a few weeks ago.”
Sunset's mouth flapped like a gasping fish. “O-Other...Pillars...Limbo...” was all she could mutter as she slowly slid back into her chair. That does it. No more mint chocolate chip ice cream. Ever.
“There were...a few complications,” said Star Swirl. Princess Twilight shrank back in her seat a little. “Still, I am free to once again protect Equestria. And when Princess Celestia informed me of Twilight Sparkle's dealings with this world, I was more than ready to provide assistance.”
“Very well, then,” said Principal Celestia, a note of resignation in her voice. “Did Princess Twilight explain the situation to you?”
“She gave us a full list of your demands, yes.”
Celestia rolled her eyes. “Yes, well...I actually...”
Star Swirl's foot stomped against the ground, cutting off Celestia's words and startling the other two. He closed his eyes and leaned his head forward just slightly, leaving him looking somewhere in between a wise man meditating and an old man napping. “I have taken the time to review the situation, consulted with both Princesses Celestia and Luna, and reviewed the Equestrian archives to cover as much as possible of the events since my departure. And upon further review, it is my official recommendation that...”
His eyelids flew open, revealing the burning irises underneath. “Equestria is to deny your requests.”
The declaration echoed throughout the room, seemingly growing more forceful with every reverberation. Principal Celestia tried to maintain a neutral expression, even as mounting frustration threatened to tear her head open from within. Princess Twilight's jaw dropped like she had just seen a dead body. As for Sunset Shimmer, she cupped her hand over her heart, just in case she needed to massage it back into beating, while every muscle in her arms and legs seemed to tremble in fear.
“Mister Star Swirl,” said Principal Celestia, “perhaps I can explain things better. Princess Twilight...”
Again, Star Swirl cut off Celestia. “...Is an intelligent pony and a fine student, but also far too quick to assert herself in matters she does not understand.” He glanced over at Princess Twilight, who proceeded to roll up in her chair like a preschooler in time out. “She has a tendency to go out on these escapades to try and impress her mentor, and so far has had nothing but troubling results. Seeing as she is still young and not equipped to handle such diplomatic matters, Princess Celestia entrusted me with making certain Equestria's interests are properly represented.”
“And just saying 'No' at the beginning is any better?!” Sunset shouted. She promptly cupped her hands over her mouth as Star Swirl turned his attention towards her, just in case he had managed to sneak over some kill-you-by-looking-at-you magic. Once she was satisfied she wasn't going to be turned to dust with a glance, she lowered her hands and continued. “I mean, you said that you reviewed everything. So you have to know what's been going on.”
Star Swirl let out a grunt. “Of course I have. As I already told you, I reviewed the information we had on the magical occurrences on this world before my arrival. I know about your dealings with the Sirens, that plant elemental, the stolen Element of Magic...”
Sunset's body went tense at the last example. “Um...Star Swirl?” said Princess Twilight, looking almost as tense as her friend. “Maybe you should...”
“And so far, this world has handled itself perfectly well against a few minor threats...”
Sunset Shimmer's heart stopped so fast it almost broke free of her aorta. She could feel her blood beginning to percolate in her veins. “Minor threats?” she said, her voice wavering with every syllable. “People have almost died because of some of these things! How could you possibly...?”
Before Sunset could voice her opposition any further, Principal Celestia cut her off with a loud grunt of her own. All three guests turned their attention back towards her. “Mister Star Swirl, I'm afraid I don't understand. You said that you were fully versed on everything that has happened here, and yet you claim that everything we experienced has been 'minor?'”
Star Swirl nodded in agreement. “Compared to the natural dangers Equestria faces on a daily basis, yes. When I first learned of this world over a millennia ago, I did not see any manticores devouring your young, or despotic gods perverting the laws of nature for their own pleasure. Compared to such things, something as trifling as a singing plant hardly measures up.”
“Except plants aren't supposed to sing, or dance, or try to eat students and their dogs,” said Celestia.
“Do you have any idea how freaked out Twilight was after that?” asked Sunset. “She couldn't go near the gardening department at a store without breaking into a sweat!”
Star Swirl turned his head towards the other former pony. “Is that true, Princess?”
“Um...I think she's talking about the...'other' me,” said Princess Twilight.
“There's another you?”
Sunset rolled her eyes and groaned. “Of course there is! There's a double of just about everypony in Equestria around here! Didn't you bother to learn about that before coming here?”
For the first time since his arrival, a splash of red could be made out beneath Star Swirl's gray skin and white beard. His voice was still slow and cold, but the hint of venom in his words was impossible to ignore. “I apologize if I did not remember such unimportant trivia. What truly matters is that Equestria is being accused of endangering an entire world, and if we are to find a proper solution, we will need to get past such things.”
Sunset Shimmer began shuddering, shivering, and possibly quivering in her seat. “That 'unimportant trivia' happens to include my friends! The same ones who saved me, who were there when I needed them...the only people who've ever really cared about me!”
From her tiny position on her chair, Princess Twilight squeaked something about friendship and caring. Not that what she said mattered at that point, because Principal Celestia had risen to her feet and clapped her hands together so loud that all other noise had seemingly ceased to be. And then there was her voice, striking with the fury of a thousand boulders rolling downhill. “If I may interrupt, I would very much like to move this conversation forward.”
Everyone quickly shut their mouths and turned their attention back to the principal, each of them seemingly a little quieter and more respectful than when the bickering had started. At least, more respectful towards her. Sunset Shimmer had crossed her arms and was staring a hole in the back of Star Swirl's head. The elder wizard was scratching his cheek furiously as he examined both Celestia and Sunset Shimmer. And Princess Twilight was still frozen in her seat, completely overwhelmed by everything transpiring around her.
“Very well, then,” said Star Swirl. “To reiterate, your world is already in a good enough state to handle these threats as they come. There is no need for Equestria to have to pay this...frankly ridiculous sum you have demanded, or to dispatch vital horsepower and resources to patrolling this realm for a few minor bobbles.”
Celestia cocked an eyebrow as she turned her full attention to Princess Twilight. “Really? You told them I demanded that much?”
Princess Twilight squirmed and giggled nervously as three pairs of eyes locked onto her. “W-Well, you see, Principal Celestia didn't necessarily mention anything about money or guards or...anything.”
Star Swirl's eyes narrowed. “What?”
“I can explain,” said Sunset Shimmer. Princess Twilight let out a sigh of relief before returning to becoming one with her chair. “After we had our encounter with the Memory Stone, Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna approached me about speaking with Princess Twilight. The school's been through a lot since...well, the Fall Formal happened, and since Equestrian magic was partially at fault, we tried to come up with a...reasonable solution, I suppose.”
“And do you think Princess Twilight's proposal is 'reasonable?'”
The room fell silent. Sunset looked at Princess Twilight, turned towards Principal Celestia, and finally returned her attention to Star Swirl. Her friend looked at her in desperation, begging for some kind of support. Her principal was massaging her temple once again as the ordeal dragged on. And Star Swirl was the worst. His wizened eyes seemed to stare directly at Sunset's soul, threatening eternal punishment if her response did not meet to his satisfaction.
“W-Well..., I suppose...” Sunset struggled to get the words out, but the truth was too bitter for her tastes. Especially when she was so close. “I mean...we could use some extra help, especially after the Memory Stone incident. If things hadn't come together perfectly at the last minute, everyone's memories would have been lost forever.”
“And yet, between Princess Twilight and your compatriots here, you were able to do what even Clover the Clever could not and destroy the stone permanently.” Star Swirl shook his head. “No, there is no need. You are perfectly capable of handling things on your own.”
Sunset cocked her head. “Did you...miss the part where we said it almost became permanent? Everyone at school hated me! My friends forgot all about our time together! And it's all because your student left that thing here instead of taking it back to Equestria!”
“And what happened to the one who used the stone?”
Star Swirl waved a hand towards Princess Twilight. The royal's cheeks became blushed with pride. “From what I was briefed, the one who perpetuated these vile acts was acting out of jealousy and loneliness. What did you do with her after her defeat?”
There was an almost audible pause before Sunset answered. “We...talked to her about friendship and forgiveness. She's still working in the Gardening Club. She has a lot more friends now, and she's trying harder to not fade into the background so much.”
“So things worked out in the end, did they not? There was no need to banish or destroy her. A quick speech and a showing of friendship was all that was needed.” Star Swirl turned his head towards Sunset Shimmer. “From what I've learned of your past, that could describe your entire life, could it not?”
In a flash, Sunset was on both legs and behind her chair. She had managed to lift the thing only about two inches off the ground before Princess Twilight leaped from her own seat and stood between the two, arms outstretched and lips curled into a forced smile. “N-Now, let's all just...calm down,” she said to her foalhood idol and the friend who was about to break a plastic chair across the back of his head. She waited until both parties had returned to grumpily staring at each other before addressing Principal Celestia once more. “This isn't the real issue, is it?”
“Indeed,” said Principal Celestia. “Before the Memory Stone, we had the incident at Camp Everfree. And before that, reality being torn apart during the Friendship Games, sirens brainwashing the student body, and we cannot forget the Fall Formal.” She lowered her hands to the top of the desk. “And in between all of that, we've had singing plants, endless destruction of school property, random explosions...the list goes on. There is hardly an inch of this school that has not been smashed, destroyed, or nearly erased from existence at least once in the past year.”
Star Swirl, having been just introduced to this catastrophe after over a thousand years in Limbo, nodded a simple acknowledgment. Princess Twilight, who had taken an active hand in three of these crises, bowed her head in regret. Sunset Shimmer, who had lived through all of them, settled for staring intently at a little spot on the floor.
“We tried to keep things under control, but the more incidents that have happened, the more concerning things have become.” Principal Celestia exhaled and leaned back in her chair. “That was why I spoke with Princess Twilight initially. I wanted some assurance that these matters would be dealt with.”
“What kind of assurance?” asked Star Swirl.
“She wanted a list,” said Sunset. “An itemized list of every thing, living or not, we have somehow sent over here.”
Although his features were normally hidden by his beard, Star Swirl's expression noticeably melted at that. “Oh...then the issues with reparations and detachments...”
“I assume those were Princess Twilight's own ideas,” said Principal Celestia.
Once again, Princess Twilight found everyone's attention back on her. She sighed and hunched over like a deflating tire. “Not exactly. It's true, I did push to repay Canterlot High for the property damage we've caused. It only seemed fair. I...may have calculated the costs a bit too high, but I thought it would be the best way to maintain a good relationship between both our worlds.”
“I appreciate the thought,” said Principal Celestia, “but the repair bills were never my first concern.”
“And if you hadn't put words in her mouth and brought up such an insulting amount at the beginning, the Princesses might have been able to come up with a response without sending me here,” said Star Swirl.
Princess Twilight shuddered. Facing against her idol's disapproving gaze was like a wilting flower going against the blazing sun. Still, she rubbed her hands together and pumped herself up as much as possible. “I know, but as the Princess of Friendship, it was my duty to accept the consequences for our hasty actions. No matter how we dance around the issue, Equestria has caused harm to this world.”
She turned to Principal Celestia and bowed. “In the interest of friendship between our two world, I promise to do whatever I can to make up for any wrongs we may have done.”
Principal Celestia simply smiled and nodded in return, giving a flutter of hope to the young princess' heart. It wasn't until she had unbent her back that Princess Twilight realized Star Swirl was still glaring at her. “And what of this 'security detail?' Was that your fabrication as well?”
Princess Twilight scoffed. “Of course not. That was all Sunset Shimmer's idea...”
It took Princess Twilight approximately two seconds to realize what she had just said. It took the rest of the room three seconds process the information. And within five seconds after that, Sunset Shimmer found herself sweating like a snowman in a sauna, Princess Twilight had clasped her mouth so tightly it threatened to never open again, and both Star Swirl and Principal Celestia were regarding the former pony with no small measure of grumbling grief.
“Um...well, no one said anything up to this point...,” said Sunset Shimmer.
“Sunset Shimmer, the proposal was so ludicrous that I knew there was no way it would make it through deliberation,” said Principal Celestia. “And even if the other version of myself had approved, I certainly would have rejected it outright. But please, tell me why I should be happy to allow a military presence from another universe wandering around my school.”
Sunset could feel herself sizzling under the heat of the spotlight. Her two interrogators were leaning in on her, suffocating her, making her feel as powerless as she truly was. Princess Twilight muttered a few words of encouragement and apology, but they were lost in the buzzing of thoughts going through her mind. After almost a minute of this agony, Sunset Shimmer fell upon the only recourse available: she told the truth.
“Because I don't want to lose my friends!”
Principal Celestia, Princess Twilight, and Star Swirl jumped back a bit at Sunset's declaration. The girl's eyes were coated with a layer of tears as she struggled to remain in her seat. “My friends and I...we've been targeted by almost every evil thing that ended up here. We can't even go to the movies without some crazy person sucking us into a magic mirror. I can take it – I mean, it's all my fault, but they're normal, friendly, happy girls. Rarity should be able to finish a dress without fearing her sewing machine is going to come alive and devour her. Fluttershy should be able to take care of a hamster without worrying about it turning fifty feet tall and breathing fire.”
“None of those have happened,” said Principal Celestia.
“But they might!” Sunset's voice increased in volume until she was somewhere between shouting and barking. “I know we've been able to win each time so far, but...I thought if I could convince Princess Celestia to take a more direct approach, we could find a way to stop future threats without the seven of us getting involved. It's Equestria's fault these threats are here to begin with, after all. Even Princess Twilight has agreed to that. I almost lost them because someone was jealous. I can't even think of what else could happen.”
The room feel so quiet that the four could hear a pin drop from the classrooms on the other side of the hall. Princess Twilight walked up behind Sunset and put a hand on her shoulder, which seemed to calm her down just a bit. Finally, Principal Celestia took a deep breath and smiled at her most interesting student. “Your loyalty to your friends is admirable, Sunset. And you're right that it isn't fair for you girls to be the ones who have to deal with these crises the most. But what you are proposing isn't a solution, either. Like it or not, things like this may just be how our world works now. It great that you and Princess Twilight want to help, but we have to find a way to stand on our own.”
Sunset Shimmer sighed and bowed her head. “You're right. We can't depend on Equestria forever.”
Celestia smiled. At last, they were almost at the end...
“And how, exactly, is this Equestria's fault?”
Everyone turned their attention to Star Swirl. The ancient sorcerer was stroking his beard in deep thought – or perhaps because he liked the new sensation of fingers moving through his facial hair. His eyes were narrowed, leaving them nearly invisible between the facial wrinkles and the mass of hair from above and below. Principal Celestia, her hopes of a resolution dashed once again, squinted until her own eyes matched Star Swirl's. “Excuse me?”
“You heard everything!” Sunset Shimmer added. “All of these threats came from Equestria!”
“True,” said Star Swirl, “but Equestria itself has suffered the occasional attack from otherworldly beings. Such things are not horribly uncommon.”
“They are very uncommon here,” said Principal Celestia, her voice somewhere between a growl and a hiss. “But getting back to the point at hand, why are so many of these things coming up here?”
The three ponies-turned-human looked about each other, as if silently working out a response. Princess Twilight was the one who finally spoke. “Well, from what I can tell, this world and Equestria are surprisingly close to each other, despite...some major differences.” She waggled her fingers along with the last few words. “Opening a gateway to another world is especially difficult, not to mention dangerous. Only the most powerful unicorns have been able to create one.”
“I dabbled with interdimensional gateways for a few years,” Star Swirl continued. “I was able to open portals to other worlds, but the openings were unstable and would have cataclysmic consequences for both Equestria and the other world if abused. When I discovered this world, however, I found a realm that was not only close enough to our own that it would allow for continuous travel, but was also lacking in the magic that permeates throughout Equestria.”
Sunset felt the nerves in her brain begin to crackle. “And since there was no magic...”
Star Swirl nodded. “Then by being in this universe, they would remain inert. With this discovery, we found a means of disposing of objects and beings too dangerous to remain in Equestria without the loss of life, and without endangering the lives of that realm's native inhabitants.”
“Then what about the Sirens?” asked Sunset. “As far as we can tell, they still had their magic even after being banished.”
Star Swirl grimaced. “Obviously, it was not a perfect solution. The world always had some magic – every world does. The difference is in how much there is and how it represents itself in nature. The tiny shreds of magic may have allowed the Sirens to survive far longer than they should have, and even to feed on small amounts of despair, but as far as I can tell, this land seemed to go about its development just fine, even with those three running about. We can therefore assume that they didn't go about driving entire towns into civil war simply to feed.”
“That's exactly what they were doing to Canterlot High!” Sunset jumped up from her chair.“If it weren't for our friends, they would probably have this entire world under their control!”
Star Swirl rose from his own seat, albeit more slowly and with an air of menace. “And if we had not driven them out of Equestria, our land would have been likewise conquered a millennia ago. We did not have Elements of Harmony back then, child. We used the tools available and made the best decisions we thought possible.”
“And...that just makes it okay to dump them on a place with no idea what magic is?” said Sunset.
“Does being denied the status of princess make it 'okay' to steal one of the most important artifacts in Equestria for your own purposes?”
It was at this point that Princess Twilight chose to interject herself back into the conversation. “Okay, okay, that's enough. No need to...”
Whatever else she was going to say died in her throat as Sunset shot up like a rocket, hurling Princess Twilight backwards and to the ground. The impact was enough to rip the seams of her jacket's sleeve, not to mention leave the royal pony-human disoriented. In any case, she was completely unable to stop Sunset from raising her fist and charging towards Star Swirl, or to keep the latter from scooping up his own chair to knock down the former. All she could do was weep internally as another attempt to spread friendship via diplomacy ended in bloodshed.
Or at least it would have, had Princpal Celestia not jumped over her desk, landed between the two, and grabbed Sunset's arm and the chair in one swift motion. “That is enough! I have tried to be patient. I have tried to guide the conversation in the right direction. But this nonsense has gone on far enough!”
No one can say whether it was the anger in her voice, the bellowing tone, or the sudden physical contact that prevented the teenager and the old man from beating each other down. Whatever it was, the two quickly found their tempers cooling, until Celestia was finally convinced it was safe to let go. “All I wanted...everything that I wanted...was that list. I wanted to know what had been sent through to our world.”
“But...why?” asked Sunset Shimmer.
“Something like that would be of little value...unless you sought to track these things down yourself,” added Star Swirl.
Principal Celestia quickly circled around to the back of her desk. She grabbed the massive sheet of signatures. “Do you know what this is?”
Everyone – including Twilight, who had finally picked herself halfway off the floor – shook their heads.
“This is a petition from the last PTA meeting.” Celestia's voice suddenly dropped a decibel. “Just about every parent to every student in this school has signed, not to mention attached complaints from Crystal Prep, the Canterlot Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor's office, and about eighteen different environmental groups. And do you know what they're complaining about?”
The three looked about each other for just a moment. “The...magic stuff?” Sunset said stupidly.
Celestia slammed the stack of papers hard against the desk. “Exactly! Do you know how difficult it is to keep a school open when everyone's ready to pull their kids out? We have people terrified to send their children to Canterlot High because they're afraid they'll be brainwashed by a sea creature, or eaten alive by some monster, or sucked into another universe! The Crystal Prep PTA already threw Cinch out when she nearly kickstarted the apocalypse, and now we have the girl who caused said near-apocalypse as a student here!”
Princess Twilight, now back on her feet, slowly approached the desk. “I-I'm sure we can...”
“All I needed was a list.” Principal Celestia's voice slid into a low moan. “I just wanted to show everyone that we were looking into the situation and doing everything we could to make things safe. Many of them would still be scared, but if they could believe that we had their children's safety in mind, we could smooth things over until we found a practical solution.”
She glared at the three. “Instead, I have a princess who thinks she can make everything better with money, a student who twisted my words to protect her friends, and an old man who would rather assign blame than try to fix their mistake.”
The silence returned, feeling more like the grave with every passing moment. Princess Twilight looked at Star Swirl, but could make out nothing from his bowed expression. Sunset Shimmer didn't even look at Principal Celestia or Twilight, but instead focused on wringing her hands together and silently praying for salvation. Principal Celestia continued to stare at the three, her body completely unmoving. And on the desk, the worries of concerned parents and guardians continued to sit, unattended to by anyone in this room.
“Principal Celestia,” said Princess Twilight, “I've already taken the liberty of compiling a list of every known artifact or creature I could find. I was holding onto it back at Ponyville until we had a clear course of action, but...”
Celestia nodded. “I would appreciate a copy, if nothing else.”
“I can't guarantee it's complete,” continued Princess Twilight. “A lot of the records from those ancient times are lost or damaged. But I will get everything I have to you.”
She turned to leave. She stopped, however, when she reached the door. “And...I'm sorry if it sounded like I wanted to buy your friendship.”
“I'm sorry, as well,” said Principal Celestia. “You meant well, and perhaps the school could use some extra funding for repairs, but the safety of my students must come first.”
Princess Twilight flashed a smile back at Celestia before opening the door. She started intently at Star Swirl, although it took the old wizard a few seconds to notice. “It would appear my services are not needed any longer. I apologize for my conduct earlier, Principal Celestia.”
“I suppose we were all a little too tense,” Celestia responded. “I'm sorry the actions of these two forced you to have to come clear up some matters.”
Star Swirl gave a small bow to Principal Celestia. He then turned towards Sunset Shimmer. “As for you...I have been told of both your past and your present actions. You were right that I applied this solution perhaps a few times too many. I wish you and your friends well.”
Sunset sighed. “I've got a bit of a temper still, so...yeah. I'm sorry I tried to hit you.”
Sunset turned her head so that she was looking at both Star Swirl and Princess Twilight. “I know I shouldn't be expecting any royal guards or anything, but if we ever need help sorting out some Equestrian Magic in this world, can I still ask you guys for advice?”
Both Princess Twilight and Star Swirl smiled and nodded in agreement. “I'm your friend,” said Twilight. “I'll always be there to help.”
“And I am still the one who taught Celestia and Luna, so if you ever wished to know more about magic...” He smile widened slightly. “...Or perhaps, to swap stories of Celestia's own foalishness, let me know.”
For the first time in this ordeal, Sunset Shimmer found herself snorting back a laugh. Star Swirl and Princess Twilight both disappeared through the doorway, leaving only Sunset and Principal Celestia in the office. The latter collapsed into her chair, taking in long breaths as she did so. “Finally,” she muttered. “It feels like someone's taken a hundred pounds off my brain.”
“A good shouting session can do that,” said Sunset.
Principal Celestia smiled and cocked her head slightly. “So...we should have that list before too long. Do you think you and your friends would feel comfortable presenting it to the PTA at the next meeting?”
Sunset smiled back. “Of course we would. Heck, our Twilight would probably kill me if we didn't let her get in on this.”
The two exchanged one final nod before Sunset departed, leaving Principal Celestia alone in her office. The migraine that had crushed her brain for so long had departed, and the absence of that pain felt like the sweetest bliss. It had been a crazy meeting, no doubt. She had perhaps entertained Princess Twilight's attempts at diplomacy too long, or could have stepped in before the fight was about to break out. All things she would remember the next time she had to deal with these three.
For now, however, it was over. She stretched out her arms and leaned back in her chair, sucking in every last bit of comfort she could.
“Now we just need to settle things with the PTA, and we'll be fine.” She smiled and laughed. “That shouldn't be too difficult. How many threats could Equestria have sent here, anyway?”
Sunset Shimmer wanted to cry.
Sitting in front of Sunset and her friends were a pile of scrolls. Not just three or four, but rather several dozen rolls of parchment, stacked into a neat pyramid thanks to the group's resident nerd. The group had only managed to summon the courage to open one of the scrolls.
Rainbow Dash pointed to one of the lines on the scroll. “Munchor the Mighty...devoured five entire villages of ponies. Banished to the other world. Functionally immortal.” She shuddered. “We're gonna have to deal with that thing someday?”
“You think that's bad, darling?” Rarity pointed to another item a few lines down. “Grogar's Bell. Resurrects any corpse within hearing distance as a mindless zombie slave.” She gagged. “How positively disgusting!”
“Are y'all thinking that everything we've had to deal with...has been the easy stuff?” asked Applejack.
The entire group went silent. Sunset looked back up at the pile of parchments and whimpered. “This isn't even everything. Princess Twilight said there was no way to really track it all...”
Twilight adjusted her glasses and shook her head in defeat. “Even worse, there's no way this is going to calm the PTA down. Not when they see how many scrolls there are.”
Sunset nodded in agreement. They were doomed. There was now so much written evidence of Equestria' using this world as a garbage dump that...
An evil thought came to Sunset's mind. She turned to Pinkie Pie. “Say...do you girls want to get some ice cream. I have a sudden craving for mint chocolate chip...”