Winter. Winter was always a cold time in Canterlot, even as a town on the coast of California, as the climate could be very variable. Usually, the springs were cool, the summers were incredibly hot, and people went to other parts of the country when summer came around, or else stayed indoors or in some place that was cool, usually only emerging, lizard like, in the cool of the evening or at night. Autumn would often bring with it an Indian summer, a last glorious blaze of light and heat, before things went a bit weird in November. It was usually around that time that the snow began to fall, covering the city and the surrounding area in a blanket of white. It may have been cold, but it was never a miserable time, for the townsfolk had much to celebrate, as Christmas was just around the corner.
And it is at that most festive time of the year that we commence our story, for it was Christmastime in Canterlot, and the entire city was most festive. Everywhere you looked, was a beautiful mantle of alabaster, silvery, pure white snow, powdery and soft underfoot, the sort you see in those old Christmas commercials. On most days, children could be seen playing in this snow, making snowmen or engaging in snowball fights. In the town itself, most of the streets had been cleared of the silly soft stuff, but it continued to fall, meaning that the street sweepers were kept busy, and the streetcars were fitted with snowploughs in order for them to cope with the sheer volume of snow on the ground. The cold weather caused more problems for Canterlot’s public transport network than just snow, however. Due to the regular sub-zero temperatures, frost accumulated on the overhead power lines that the streetcars used for power, and the intense heat from the wires, combined with the frost, caused sparks to shower from them and onto the ground. It looked beautiful, but was also somewhat alarming and led to health and safety concerns from the townsfolk.
The buildings in the town also looked most festive, as decorations hung from every shop and home in Canterlot, which helped to increase the festive cheer even further, as every building radiated a sense of warmth and community, happiness and unity abounding in great measure. In a town such as Canterlot, everybody knew everybody else, and this helped keep them together, even more so since the events that had transpired at Canterlot High School that November. A somewhat more irritating facet of the Christmas season was the constant playing of Christmas music in every conceivable public and private space, meaning that by now people were very much sick and tired of hearing ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ being played constantly. As a consequence, many residents brought ear muffs with them when they went indoors.
Canterlot High School, at the heart of the town, proved to be the epicentre of the Christmas season. The entire school was covered in snow, with the white stuff on top off the Wondercolt statue that dominated the courtyard, as well as sitting on top of the roof and the canopy that covered the main entrance, which had recently been rebuilt to enable the doors to open outwards, thereby complying with US building regulations. The snowfall had been a little heavier than usual, and the canopy was positively groaning under the weight of all the snow, the alabastrine wonder of Canterlot. And it is here, on a calm, crisp morning, two weeks before Christmas, that our story begins.
On a typical school day, just in the morning before school began, Sunset Shimmer got off the streetcar service from the northern end of town, and began to walk into the school courtyard toward the main entrance. As she walked along, her hands crossed across her chest, she encountered Applejack, also walking across the snow toward the entrance. The sight before them caused the apple girl to gasp. “Wow!” she said, in wonder at the winter wonderland arrayed before them.
“Yeah,” Sunset deadpanned, as the two of them walked toward the main entrance, bags slung on their backs as they pushed the door open.
“Ah love winter,” Applejack smiled, as they rounded a bend and turned left toward their lockers. “Hot cocoa, the smell o’ new snow, buildin’ a fire in the fireplace-”
“You sound like a Christmas commercial,” Sunset replied, as she stopped in front of her locker and began to adjust the combination. “And sorry if this sounds like a silly comment, but wouldn’t building a fire outside of the fireplace lead to problems?”
Applejack laughed. “Ya said it, Sunset! But still, mah favourite part is just bein’ home with all mah family fer the holidays.”
Now it was Sunset’s turn to laugh. “Sounds fun!”
“Ah know, isn’t it just the best?”
There was a loud clunk as Sunset’s locker swung open, and she deposited her bag in the locker alongside her scarf. “I wouldn’t know,” she replied sadly. “I haven’t been home for our holiday in a long time.”
“What do ya mean, ‘yer holiday’?” Applejack asked, confused, as her own locker opened. “Don’t ya have the same holidays in Equestria, where ya come from?”
“Back in Equestria, we have a festival called Hearth’s Warming,” Sunset explained. “It’s sort of like Christmas and Independence Day rolled into one, minus the flying saucers and Presidents flying fighter jets. During the festival, everyp-everybody gets together with their families to see out the cold winter days and just have fun together.”
She sighed. “Even before I came here, I was never very close to my parents or my brother Sunburst. And the last three years since I came here, well...I wasn’t close to anybody for obvious reasons.” She paused, letting the information sink in, before speaking once again. “Well, I can’t exactly blame anybody for not wanting to hang out with me. I did sabotage friendships, manipulate people, and generally was a bitch, after all.”
Normally Applejack would have chastised Sunset for the use of bad language, but chose to let it go. “So, you’ve been alone durin’ the holidays, fer all that time?”
Sunset nodded. “Yep. Why are you so opposed to calling it Christmas? It’s almost as if the person who wrote this wanted to appeal to as many religious demographics as was possible.”
“Sunset, you’ve been spendin’ WAY too much time with Pinkie,” Applejack said quietly, a frown on her face. “But that’s just plain awful, you bein’ alone all this time!”
“Yep,” Sunset said again, her voice devoid of emotion as per usual. Although she was now a lot more popular than she used to be thanks to the Battle of the Bands, she was still cautious around people, as she suspected it would take little for people to be hurling insults at her. Or worse, rubbers.
Her tone suddenly changed, as she drew Applejack into a hug. “But don’t worry about me! I’ve got you guys now!” She headed off down the corridor, smiling. “I’ll see you later, AJ!”
Now it was Applejack’s turn to look glum. “Yeah. See ya, Sunset,” she said sadly, as her friend vanished into the crowd of students. Christmas really was an awful time to be alone, and Applejack regarded Sunset (as well as her other friends) as effective sisters. She wanted to do something to help out, as Sunset was clearly miserable.
Just then, she had a brainwave. She took out her phone and brought up MyStable. Although Facebook and Twitter were still popular mediums for communication, MyStable had taken the social media world by storm due to its adaptable nature and ease of use. She loaded her account, typed in her friends' names, and created a group message.
Applejack: Hey girls! Friendship emergency! Secret meeting in the library after school! DON’T TELL SUNSET!
The message was sent, and was then followed by several beeps on several phones across campus, the message having received its intended recipients.
Later that day, shortly before school ended, Cheerilee was finishing up some grading in the library office. Although she was principally a music teacher, she also oversaw the library on some days due to the usual librarian being on maternity leave. It had been a fairly quiet day, mostly trying to get the younger 7th graders interested in the fundamentals of music. However, they had been less than receptive, meaning that Cheerilee had resorted to combining such teaching with Christmas songs, which had instantly made them much more interested. Being able to play the guitar was an added bonus for her, which made teaching and interacting with the students a lot easier. After all, it was this interaction with students, watching them grow and develop, which was the main reason she had become a teacher. That, and to more easily be able to keep an eye on her daughter, who was one of her own pupils, which could get a little awkward at times.
Her train of thought was suddenly interrupted by a loud, persistent tapping coming from one of the computers. It was rather irritating, and Cheerilee got up to go and investigate. After all, these question papers on Tallis that were somewhat poorly answered could wait a few minutes. Sure enough, she entered the library proper, and sitting at one of the computers was the source of the disturbance.
There was Pinkie Pie, typing loudly and incessantly, and up on the monitor was her MyStable page, complete with some pictures of her. Cheerilee walked over to her to read what was on it.
“Oh, Pinkie!” she called, causing the pink haired girl to swing her chair around suddenly.
“Yes, Miss Cheerilee?” she asked.
“I hope you're not using a school computer to go on MyStable!” the teacher cheerily replied, before walking over to a bookcase.
Pinkie laughed nervously. “Ha ha ha! Of course not, Miss Cheerilee!” she replied, doing a terrible job of covering her tracks.
Cheerilee just facepalmed. Honestly, some students were just a nightmare to keep under control, and Pinkie Pie was one of them. “I think I’ll need a drink when this day is over,” she sighed.
Pinkie paid no notice, as suddenly her friends appeared. Rarity arrived first, then Rainbow Dash, and finally Fluttershy. “Hey girls!” Pinkie called. “Over here!”
Rainbow Dash was the first to speak. “So, what’s the emergency, AJ?” she asked, as the cowgirl entered the room. “What’s up with Sunset?”
“Well,” Applejack began, “Ah think she gets a little lonely durin’ the holidays, an’ Ah think we can help her with that!”
“Well,” Rarity started, with a smile. “What’s your plan dear?”
“Two words!” Applejack replied. “Slumber parties!” She then began to speak again before anybody could interject, her words getting faster and faster as her mouth tried to keep up with the speed at which her brain was working. “We should have parties at everybody's houses, leadin’ up ta everybody comin’ over ta Sweet Apple Acres for the holidays!”
“Yeah!” Rainbow Dash cried, punching the air as she did so.
“Why, Applejack, that’s a wonderful and simply splendid idea!” Rarity exclaimed.
“Oh, I’d love to!” Fluttershy beamed. Her parents always loved having guests around, even if her mopey brother didn’t. It always stunned people that she was the older sibling, given Zephyr Breeze had grown like a weed during puberty and stood a lot taller than her.
Rainbow Dash then addressed her. “Ya know, Fluttershy, I don’t know if I’ve ever met your family.”
Fluttershy beamed. “Really? Well, they’re-”
Before she could finish, Pinkie interrupted. “Ooh ooh ooh ooooooooooh! Me first! Parties are my life!”
Applejack was stunned at Pinkie’s enthusiasm, but chose to roll with it. “Uh...sounds good ta me Pinkie!” she answered.
The pink haired girl flew into action. “Great! I’ll tell Sunset!” she cried, before vanishing in a puff of smoke. The other girls followed suit fairly promptly, heading toward Sunset’s locker.
Just then, Scootaloo, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle entered the library, putting their bags down and sitting at one of the tables. Cheerilee smiled when she saw them. Those three were some of her favourite students, although she did have a personal bias. “Good afternoon girls!” she said.
“Good afternoon Miss Cheerilee!” Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle chorused.
“Hi mom!” Scootaloo said instead. It surprised many to learn that Scootaloo was Cheerilee’s daughter, but after a while the idea seemed less odd. The girl was exceptionally close to her mother, a side effect of her father being away with the military in Germany for long stretches at a time. It was sad not seeing much of him, but the pay certainly helped keep the family going.
Cheerilee smiled, her face full of warmth and love. “How’s your day been, dear?” she asked.
“Mr Cranky Doodle gave us some REALLY hard math homework,” Scootaloo replied. Whilst Scootaloo was good at some subjects, sadly math was not one of them, as she struggled with it greatly due to her autism. “Say, have you seen Rainbow Dash anywhere?”
“Oh!” Cheerilee replied. “They were here a few minutes ago, planning some sort of social occasion. Something about a slumber party.”
Apple Bloom groaned. “Well, there goes mah hopes ta spend time with Applejack.”
Sweetie Belle smiled. “Don’t feel so down! We’ve at least got each other, and we’ll get PLENTY of time with our siblings over Christmas break.”
Apple Bloom nodded. “S’pose yer right.”
Just then, Sunset entered the library, and put her bags down, having come from her last lesson via a detour to the art department. “Hi girls!” she said.
“Hi Sunset!” they chorused. Like most of the school, the Crusaders-Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle-had once been hostile towards Sunset, but after she had saved them from the Dazzlings, they had become close friends.
Sunset sat down at the table and looked at them. “So, what did you want help with this time?” she asked, an eager and friendly smile on her face.
“We were asked ta find the hippopotamus or somethin’,” Apple Bloom said, “but we don’t really get it.”
“Hypotenuse,” Sweetie Belle corrected.
Sunset laughed gently. “Oh yes. I struggled with this when I was your age.” She took a piece of paper, and drew a triangle on it, marking three sides A, B, and C.
“As you can see,” she said, “each of these sides is a different length. The formula for finding the hypotenuse is that it is the square root of the sum of the squares of the opposite sides.”
“Say what now?” Scootaloo asked, now even more confused than before.
“Or, put more simply, A2 +B2 = C2.” Sunset wrote the formula down under the triangle. “Now, let’s say that A is 2, and B is 5. What is the answer?”
Sweetie Belle was first to speak. “We need to square both 2 and 5.”
“Which works out to 4 + 25!” Scootaloo added.
“29!” Apple Bloom added. “If only you were our teacher, Sunset!”
“We’re not quite done yet, girls.” Sunset pointed to the 29. “29 is C2, not C. So now we need to get the square route of 29, and for that you’ll need your calculators, or calculator app on your phones.”
The three girls took their phones out, and punched in some numbers. “5.38516480713!” the three girls chorused at once.”
“Unless the question tells you otherwise, you should always round to two decimal places,” Sunset added.
That they did, and the answer came out as 5.39. “Thanks, fer the help Sunset,” Apple Bloom said.
“Yeah, the homework ought to be a little easier now,” Sweetie Belle added.
Sunset got up, and picked up her bag. “Well, glad I could help,” she smiled, and turned to leave the library.
“Sunset?” Cheerilee called. Sunset turned around.
“Yes, Miss Cheerilee?”
The music teacher turned librarian smiled. “You’ve come so far since October. I’d go far as to say that you’re a model student here.”
“Thanks,” Sunset replied. “But I never got a chance to properly apologise for messing up the carpet that time.”
“You are forgiven,” Cheerilee answered, as Sunset walked to the door.
Scootaloo looked at her mother. “Was that why you were home late on my birthday?” she asked.
Sunset walked back down the corridor with a warm feeling in her heart. Since she had become friends with the Crusaders, she had become, in a way, their personal tutor, helping them out with homework and the like. She pulled some stuff out of her locker, and then closed it.
Suddenly, Pinkie materialised in front of her, as Pinkie was known to do from time to time, and squealed. Before Sunset knew what was happening, she was in Pinkie’s bedroom! “Welcome to party central!” the hyperactive girl cried.
Sunset pushed Pinkie’s ability to defy any known law of physics and space-time to the back of her mind. “Wow, Pinkie!” she exclaimed. “You went all out!”
“Only the best for my gal pals!” Pinkie replied, a smile on her face so wide it would give the Cheshire Cat a run for his money.
“Dibs on the games!” Rainbow Dash cried, landing in front of Pinkie’s TV and booting up her XBOX 360. “Hey,” she asked, “anybody wanna play me in Project Gotham Racing 4? Here Fluttershy, try a round!”
Fluttershy looked nervous as a controller was handed to her. “Um, thanks, but I don’t think-”
Rainbow Dash was having none of it. “Oh, c’mon! It’ll help you relax!”
Fluttershy was still nervous. “Thank you, but-”
“Look, you can spray any vehicle with a bunny pattern!”
Fluttershy’s manner immediately changed, fire appearing in her eyes. “I will destroy ALL my enemies!” she cried.
About an hour later, things had changed little. Drinks had been served, and the six friends were just happily chatting.
“I know I went to one of these a while back,” Sunset asked, “but I’m still not entirely familiar with the concept here. This is all we do at slumber parties? We just...hang out?”
“Don’t forget the pillow fights!” she and Pinkie Pie chorused.
Elsewhere, Rainbow Dash called a break on the game. “I think Fluttershy needs to lie down for a while.”
“Use your drift, Mr Fuzzles!” Fluttershy answered, having taken to calling her car of choice, a Callaway Sledgehammer, Mr Fuzzles, for some odd reason.
Just then, the doorbell went. “Oh, I’ve got it!” Pinkie Pie cried, jumping up and sprinting over to the door. Upon opening the door, she was greeted by the sight of her sister Maud holding a pile of boxes.
“Hello Pinkie,” she said, in her typical flat, emotionless tone. “The sixteen pizzas you ordered have arrived.”
“Oh Maud!” Pinkie replied. “You’re the best sister ever!”
“They’re dripping grease on my shoes.”
Applejack looked over. “Why precisely did you order sixteen pizzas, Pinkie?”
“Simple!” Pinkie Pie said. “Six for now, six for the next slumber party, and four left over!”
“How many slices per pizza?” Rarity asked. “Two to three is usually enough for me.”
“Oh boy,” Rainbow Dash replied. “I’m so glad I didn’t get anything out of the machine...”
About an hour after that, they were done with eating pizzas, and Rarity took to applying nail polish to Applejack’s fingernails. “And, done! Now, don’t touch anything until they dry, Applejack!”
The farm girl laughed. “Ah don’t know how y’all can use this stuff all the time, Rarity.”
Elsewhere, Fluttershy was combing Rainbow Dash’s hair. “Hold still, Rainbow.”
Sunset smiled happily, her heart content and her stomach full. “Thank you, girls,” she said. “We haven’t done anything like this in such a long time...it’s good to have friends.”
“Hey, I feel the same!” Sunset yelped as Rainbow Dash suddenly teleported across the room and appeared on her right-hand side. “I don’t know what I’d be like without you girls!”
“Same here!” Applejack added. “It means a lot ta me. Havin’ friends ta support me makes-”
“We're Apples forever, Apples together
We're family, but so much more!”
“Ah, goldarn it!” Applejack exclaimed. “That’s mah phone! Can somebody get that fer me?”
Fluttershy tossed Applejack her phone, and Applejack checked the number. “Ah great,” she said. “What’s she done now? Caused a boiler explosion?” She flicked the green icon to the right, and set the phone to speaker. “Whoever this is, you just ruined a real heartwarmin’ moment.”
The crackly voice at the other end made the speaker’s identity more than clear. "Hey big sis!” said the voice of Apple Bloom. "Granny just wanted me ta call and make sure yadoin’ alright. Ma an’ Pa are out in town in case y’all are wonderin’.”
“Course Ah’m all right!” Applejack snorted. “Ah’m with all mah friends! Tell Granny ta quit her worryin’!”
There was a laugh at the other end of the line. "Thanks,fer the help with the math, by the way.”
“You’re welcome!” Sunset replied.
“It were a real help,” Apple Bloom answered. "Ah’m just the messenger. Have a good night...piggly wiggly.” Just then, the line clicked shut.
Applejack sighed, as the entire room burst into sniggers.
“Did your sister just call you piggly wiggly?” Sunset asked.
“Uh, yeah. She did.” Applejack sighed. “Ah was hopin’ Ah wouldn’t have ta tell this story again.” And so, Applejack focused, and began to speak. Her words were rhythmical, and melodious, as if she had told this story many times before.
“This story comes from the early days, before Sweet Apple Acres became an orchard and Pa got his job in the city. About where the barn where we keep the locomotives fer the railroad is now, there used ta be a pigpen. Before Apple Bloom was born, Ma and Pa often had their hands full tryin’ ta keep things in order, meaning that Grand Pear and Granny often ended up lookin’ after me and Big Mac. We followed them around as they did the chores and kept the farm runnin’.”
She paused a moment, to check she still had everyone’s attention. “Fer some reason, Ah especially liked it when she went and fed the pigs. So, one day, I went in the pen and began playin’ with the pigs in the mud, and accordin’ ta Granny, Ah stayed in there fer hours! As a result, she began ta call me piggly wiggly, and it sorta stuck as a family nickname. The folks, Apple Bloom especially, use it when they think Ah’m getting' too big fer mah britches!”
There was another awkward pause. “Well, that’s family fer ya, Ah guess. Gotta take the good with the bad!” Suddenly, it became apparent that everybody else, barring her and Sunset, were asleep. “Maybe we oughta go ta sleep,” she added.
Later that night, Sunset took out her journal, given to her by Celestia as a means of contacting the other world, and began to write.
Dear Princess Twilight,
How are things in Equestria? Things here are pretty quiet after the Battle of the Bands, and Christmas is just around the corner. It seems as if everybody is all so happy, and I hope we won’t have to deal with any crazy magic as a result.
Please write back when you have the time.
Meanwhile, back at Sweet Apple Acrres, Apple Bloom looked at the MyStable account create page with grim determination. “All right then,” she said. “Time ta get ya outta the way.”
Morning came the next day, and it was a wonderful one too. There was not a cloud in the sky, and as a result the sun’s radiant beams shone upon Canterlot, and through the bedroom window of Pinkie Pie.
The arrival of the sun, and the corresponding warmth, caused the residents inside, either on the bed or splayed in numerous awkward positions on the floor, to wake from their slumber, groaning as they did so.
“Is it morning already?” Rainbow Dash asked, rubbing her eyes. “If so, that was a really short night.”
“Well, we did go to bed pretty late,” Fluttershy countered, looking around her with bleary eyes. “What time is is? I can’t see the clock.”
Applejack leaned over to look at it, and gasped. “Gosh dang it! It’s 8 in the mornin’!”
Sunset suddenly looked to be in a panic. “We’ve only got an hour to get ready and get to school!” She bolted from the room and flew out of the door, only to come back a moment later. “Hate to ask Pinkie, but where’s the shower?”
“Take a left, then a right, then go up a flight of stairs, and then you’ll get to the bathroom.” Pinkie Pie’s instructions were at once helpful and yet vague. “But, remember to let the water tank recharge or else the shower will be very cold.”
Sunset nodded. “Yep. I know all about cold showers on a morning.”
“What do you mean, darling?” Rarity asked. “I thought all homes in Canterlot had some form of water heating system.”
“You’re forgetting that I lived in an abandoned factory for about a year here, before deciding to transfer to the library,” Sunset replied.
“By factory, do you mean that old place in the north of the city on the left of the highway?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“Yep, that one.” Sunset was a little surprised as to why Rainbow Dash was asking her this, but ultimately chose not to push it further, and instead disappeared off down the corridor to find the shower.
Applejack looked over to Rainbow Dash. “Err, Dash, why did ya ask her where this factory was?”
“That’s the old carriage shop for the California Coast Railroad,” Rainbow Dash replied. “They used it until about 1970, then moved operations to the current building in the centre of town, next to the railroad station.” She grabbed her bag, and went off to find somewhere to change.
Pinkie Pie sighed. “Well, I’ll cook something for you guys,” she said, also vanishing through the door and heading on her way.
Applejack sat down on the bed and sighed. “Ah just hope Apple Bloom’s OK with getting' ta school on her own,” she said, a tone of worry in her voice. “Ah’ve always been there ta help her out, but what if somethin’ goes wron’ when Ah’m not there?”
“Honestly darling, you worry too much!” Rarity laughed. “If the adventures that she and her friends-one of whom just happens to be my little sister-get up to are anything to go by, they are more than capable of handling themselves.”
“Ah hope so,” Applejack said glumly. “Because one day Ma, Pa and mahself won’t be here ta help and protect her.”
Fluttershy put a hand on Applejack’s shoulder. “Hopefully that won’t be for a long time. But I do agree with Rarity; she needs a chance to take on more responsibilities and show she can do things herself.”
Applejack nodded. “Ah guess yer right. She ain’t a baby anymore.”
Breakfast was a delicious procession of omelettes with ham and cheese. Lots of cheese, as Pinkie Pie had considerable amounts of cheese to use up, and had decided to use them all in 12 omelettes. Another indication that this was cuisine de la Pinkie Pie was the combination of cheeses, as little attention had been taken to arrange them rationally. As a result, red Leicester was mixed up with gruyere, blue cheese with brie, and similarly weird and wonderful combinations that sounded good upon paper, but otherwise were quite unpleasant to taste. Nonetheless, as Rarity observed, the thought was what counted, and Pinkie’s food was always a delight despite its occasional weirdness, or large quantities of chocolate frostings that she once put on a steak. That had been one to remember...for all the wrong reasons.
Eventually, 8:30 rolled around, and the girls boarded the local streetcar and rode to school, taking an all stations stopping service to Canterlot High School. The six friends stepped through the main door of the school and headed toward their locker, walking through the central atrium.
Just then, Pinkie Pie yawned loudly, stretching her arms above her to avoid hitting anybody else.
“Ya sleepy, Pinkie?” Applejack asked.
“Never!” Pinkie Pie replied.
“Really?” added Rarity. “Because anything cheese related makes it very hard to sleep, and you effortlessly wolfed down those pieces of cheese pizza yesterday.”
“Rainbow Dash went through hers at speed!” Pinkie protested loudly. “Besides, parties give me my energy! Parties are my...my...my something important!” Having fumbled about for a moment or two for the right word, she finally settled upon a phrase that added little to clarify what she was saying.
But there was no time to consider this, as suddenly a voice rang out in the crowd. “Hey, piggly-wiggly!"
Applejack suddenly wheeled around to try and locate where the voice had come from. “What in the?” she asked. “Who in tarnation said that?”
But the crowd did not yield any suspects. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. The large sea of people streaming in through the doors made it almost impossible to pinpoint the original source of the voice, who by now was undoubtedly out of range.
Applejack turned back to her friends. “That was weird. Did somebody just say-”
Equally suddenly, a blur of yellow and red, with some green, blue, and orange mixed in there, flew down the corridor, stopping next to Applejack and letting loose a stream of incomprehensible gibberish into her ear.
The older girl looked over once the blur had stopped moving and speaking, and saw it was none other than Apple Bloom, her little sister. She looked to be out of breath, and was panting heavily. Her phone was in her hand, which was open on a MyStable page.
“Sorry, could ya please repeat that? Ah didn’t catch a word of that,” Applejack said.
Once Apple Bloom was breathing normally again, she spoke up. “Sis! Sis! Ya gotta see this!” With that, a phone was thrust in Applejack’s face. On it was a post about Applejack. As the older farm girl read the post aloud, her facial expressions kept changing, from confusion to shock to anger and eventually outrage.
“Did ya guys know when AJ was a kid, she loved playin’ with her pigs? Oh-Em-Gee! She sat in the mud fer hours! Her whole family calls her ‘piggly-wiggly’ ‘cause she loves them so much! What a PIG?”
Her eyes scanned down the page, and noticed the post was not only tagged to her account, but had been uploaded by a user called ‘Anon-a-Miss', who had a crude image of Sunset Shimmer as its avatar. Applejack groaned at the awful pun, but then noticed several folks in the school who disliked her, such as Trixie Lulamoon and Dumbbell, had liked the post. Not only that, 67 others had liked it as well; quite a few of whom didn’t even go to the school, but to Crystal Prep Academy 200 miles to the south!
“What?” Applejack exclaimed. Her mouth fell open in shock and her eyes widened. “How the? What the?”
“When did this go up?” Sunset asked, getting to the point.
“It got posted three hours ago!” Apple Bloom exclaimed. Something didn’t seem right at all, as Apple Bloom seemed to be overacting. That, or the post had really troubled her.
Sunset looked at the account page. “Who’s this ‘Anon-a-Miss'?” she asked. “This just screams of somebody doing something dodgy.” She then looked closer. “They’ve clearly got something against me though, given that the profile avatar is a crudely drawn caricature of myself.”
“Her profile were created at the same time as th’ posts-no clue who she is!” Apple Bloom replied. “She posted on yer page, mah page, all you guys pages-the whole school probably knows about it by now!”
All around was evidence seemingly confirming Apple Bloom’s statement, as voices spoke mockingly from the crowd.
“Piggly-wiggly!” called one.
“Piggly-wiggly!” called another.
“Oink oink!” called yet another.
“Well,” Applejack sighed. “This ain’t gonna bother me. Why should Ah care if somebody too scared ta show their face thinks Ah’m a dumb hick? Ah can handle a little teasin’.”
Rainbow Dash wasn’t convinced. “Fine,” she said, “but what about this ‘Anon-a-Miss'? How did she know about your nickname?”
“And why would she post it online?” Fluttershy added. “That...that’s just...cruel!”
Sunset looked around at her friends. “Why should it be a ‘she’?”
“Sorry, darling?” Rarity asked, confused at the question.
“Why should this ‘Anon-a-Miss' be a girl?” Sunset asked them again. “If there's anything about this world that I’ve learned, it’s that you should never make assumptions about who’s running a social media account-especially since you only know them from the opposite side of a computer or phone screen. Why should it not be a guy running it?”
Just then, the bell for registration went. “Ah guess the questions are gonna have ta wait until after school,” Applejack sighed.
“Let us know if we can help, AJ,” Sunset told her, her face full of concern for her country friend.
“Sure thin’, Sunset,” Applejack replied, her face gloomy and full of woe. With that, the gathering split, going in two separate directions. Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Sunset all went in one direction, leaving Applejack alone with her sister.
There was a brief silence, before Apple Bloom began to speak. “So, about this ‘Anon-a-Miss' person...” she started, seemingly with some sort of intent.
“What about her?” Applejack snapped, causing Apple Bloom to recoil back.
“Well,” Apple Bloom began, “the only person who knew about yer nickname was us an’ yer friends. Ya sure ya didn’t tell anybody else?”
Applejack sighed. “Positive. What’re gettin' at, Apple Bloom?”
Apple Bloom continued with a sigh of her own. “Well, Sunset only heard the story last night, and as Sunset herself pointed out the account avatar is a crude caricature of herself...”
Something inside Applejack snapped at the very suggestion. “Apple Bloom!” she bellowed, loud enough to blow open windows and shatter glass. “How could you? Sunset’s mah friend!”
Apple Bloom blinked. “If Ah may finish,” she answered. “The account is too obvious. It is, quite frankly, sloppy and suggests that somebody or other is mimickin’ her in an attempt ta make us think it’s her, when it really isn’t!”
Upon hearing this, Applejack calmed down almost immediately. “Sorry, sugarcube,” she said. “Ah thought ya were implyin’ Sunset were doin’ it, and here ya are defendin’ her. But if not her, then who?”
“That’s mah question too,” her little sister replied.
Applejack set off in the direction of her registration. “See ya later!” she called. “And ya may wanna run, lest ya want the tardy bell ta catch ya!”
Apple Bloom didn’t reply, and instead turned around to walk off to her registration. On the way, she ran into Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle. “Hiya guys!” she said.
“Hey, did you see that Anon-a-Miss post?” Scootaloo asked.
“Yup,” Apple Bloom replied miserably. “Ah know she won’t show it, but Applejack is mighty upset about it.”
“I’m not surprised,” Sweetie Belle added. “It was really mean in tone, not to mention it seems to be targeting Sunset.”
“You spotted that too?” Apple Bloom asked, surprised.
“Yes, we did,” Scootaloo commented. “The sloppy editing, the prose style, the avatar that is a crude drawing of Sunset-it just screams of being a bad frame job.”
“Can we talk about somethin’ else?” Apple Bloom asked. “Has anythin’ interestin’ been goin’ on fer you two?”
“Dad and I have expanded the model railroad a bit,” Sweetie Belle said. “We’ve added a depot with working coaling tower and roundhouse turntable. I’d love to show it to you two.”
Scootaloo had a grin on her face. “And I showed Mom how to use Raildriver yesterday,” she smiled. “Boy was it funny...”
Scootaloo relaxed at her desk as she finished writing her last answer. That support session with Sunset had really helped her, and the questions hadn’t been too tough.
“And, C equals 23!” she added, as she retracted the nib on her pen. Now that her homework was done for the day, she could relax and spend her time as she saw fit. And there was plenty to look forward to. After all, Christmas was only four weeks away, and that meant something especially important to Scootaloo.
It meant she could see her dad.
The first question most people asked her was who her dad was. A Mr William Collins, he and her mom had met at college, and she had been born in 2001. But duty called, as her dad was in the military, and he had been deployed to Germany with his unit, where he had been for years, only coming back at allocated points in the year when he was permitted leave. Although they often spoke over Skype, he had been absent for more of Scootaloo’s life than he was present. As a result, every chance she had to see him was special to her, and never something she would ever take for granted.
At least he wasn’t on the front lines of America’s wars, as he was a member of a support squadron. Scootaloo wouldn’t know what she would do without him, or her mother.
On the topic of her mother, her voice could now be heard flowing through the wall. “Argh! Why won’t it move?”
Scootaloo got out of her chair, and opened the door, walking in the direction of the voice. Sure enough, she saw her mother sitting at the PC, with the Raildriver unit plugged in, and apparently frustrated.
A year ago, Cheerilee had received a bonus for having worked for the school for 10 years, which she had spent on a Raildriver unit for Scootaloo’s birthday. Although it spent most of its time plugged into Scootaloo’s computer, sometimes Cheerilee borrowed it (Scootaloo was getting one for her mom for Christmas). And now, Cheerilee was trying to get a Class 87 to move, but it wouldn’t budge.
Cheerilee turned her chair around to look at her daughter. “Yes, dear, I am,” she replied. “I’ve released the brakes, got the reverser set up, and am ready to apply the tap changer, but the engine won’t move. Am I doing something wrong?”
Scootaloo stepped over, and looked at the air brake gauge. “That’s because you haven’t overcharged the brakes.”
“You need to hold the air brake lever in the release position for 60 seconds for the brakes to reset and be maintained throughout the train.” To demonstrate, Scootaloo held the train brake lever down on the console, and a loud sucking noise came from the speakers to indicate the brakes being reset. Eventually, the lever clicked back up to indicate the brakes were ready.
Cheerilee then adjusted the power lever, applying notch one. And sure enough, the locomotive began to move away, but slowly.
“Once the speed limit increases, I’d suggest setting the throttle to ‘Run Up’,” Scootaloo added. “That’ll allow you to increase speed without needing to constantly change throttle settings.”
They completed the run without any difficulties, and Cheerilee shook her daughter’s hand. “Thanks for the help,” she said.
“No problem. We make a pretty good team,” Scootaloo replied.
Cheerilee laughed. “Well, that’s enough of that; time to do some marking.” She got up, and headed to her office (or, as it was most of the time, her bedroom).
“Yer really good at that, ain’t ya?” Apple Bloom asked.
“You’ve got the APT startup sequence from memory, haven’t you?” Sweetie Belle enquired. “I was thinking of getting that for Christmas, and thought you could help me.”
“I’ll happily run you through it,” Scootaloo replied. “Ah, here we are.” She pushed open the door, and they stepped into their homeroom for their registration.
At the end of the day, following a multitude of name calling and mockery, Applejack stood at the streetcar stop outside Canterlot High. The last day had left a lot on her mind, and although she had tried to cover it up and seem brave, the issue of the nickname was bothering her. First off, who knew the nickname? The obvious suspects were her five friends, and her own family members. She ruled Pinkie, Fluttershy, Rarity, Rainbow Dash and Sunset out almost immediately. She trusted them, and as they hadn’t been using their phones at all yesterday, and furthermore had been asleep at the time the post went up and the account was created, that ruled them out.
That left her family. But her parents seemed unlikely to do such a thing. Besides, neither of them had MyStable accounts. That also applied to Granny Smith, who could barely use a word processor, and Big Mac, who rarely updated his account. That left...
Applejack’s face went pale at the thought of it. How could she think such a thing? Her own sister would never do something like that! And yet, it was the only plausible option she had left. After the slumber party, she planned to confront Apple Bloom and put a stop to this once and for all.
She was suddenly shaken from her thoughts by a loud horn, and a streetcar blasted through the snow and came to a halt, sparks flying off the wires and landing on the ground. Applejack climbed aboard once the doors had opened, and showed the driver her pass. The matter of Anon-a-Miss could wait. She had other things to do, such as spend time with her friends.
“Greetings AJ!” called Rarity, from a row of seats near the back of the very full streetcar. “We’re going slumber partying!”
Applejack sat down next to Rarity. “Thanks fer savin’ a seat Rarity,” she said.
“No problem, dear!” Rarity replied. “I’m so glad you were able to come!”
Applejack sighed. “Yeah,” she said, her face down. “It’s been rough. It’ll be good ta relax.”
“Oh dear,” Rarity answered. “Are people still making fun of you?”
“Oh, yeah. Ah get oinked at in every class.” Applejack’s face then shifted to one of determination. “Well, phooey to them! Ah don’t care about a buncha names! Let’s just get our party on!”
“Sounds good to me.” Suddenly, the bell for Songco Drive, where Rarity lived, went, and the streetcar came to a halt at the station. “Ah, here we are at last. I must say this streetcar journey was just long enough to allow us to discuss this important plot point. I must thank the driver.”
“Erm, what?” Applejack asked.
“Never mind,” Rarity replied, as they got up and walked off.
Rarity’s home was a fairly standard two-story affair, very much belonging to the Levittown era of American homes. The two girls walked through the door, shook the snow off their boots, and went up the stairs to Rarity’s bedroom, which currently hosted a set of mannequins, a large full-body mirror, and a four-poster bed. Dotted around were Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Sweetie Belle, who was currently on her phone showing Rainbow Dash something.
“So, you see, you need to avoid applying too much regulator in order to prevent wheelslip.”
“Oh!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed. “No wonder I was having so much trouble driving that engine.”
Rarity called out to them. “Hello girls!”
Fluttershy looked over. “Hello Rarity!” she said. “We were just talking with Sweetie Belle.”
Sweetie Belle beamed in that cheerful way she did, as Fluttershy continued. “She was just telling us what she and her friends have been up to. Did you know they restored a steam engine all by themselves?”
Rarity suddenly looked irritated. “Yes, well, she gets that from her father. It’s most unladylike.” She then pulled Sweetie Belle up and started to push her towards the door. “I’m certain you’ve been lovely Sweetie Belle, but isn’t it almost your bedtime?”
Just for reasons of clarity, it was about 5 or 6 in the afternoon, which Sweetie Belle reacted to almost immediately. “What? Hey, no it’s not!”
“Come along little sister,” Rarity said, in the patronising tone normally reserved for talking to pet animals or small children. “it’s time for your big sisterand her friends to spend time together!”
“Aw, c’mon!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed, as she was shoved out of the door. “I can be cool!”
But Rarity would not listen, and closed the door behind her.
Sweetie Belle stood outside the room, frustrated. “It’s not fair,” she said.
“What isn’t fair?” asked a voice. Sweetie Belle looked over to see Sunset looking at her, concerned.
“Rarity won’t let me spend time with you guys.”
Sunset sighed. “Rarity seems to see you as more of a nuisance, right?”
The younger girl nodded. “Yeah. And mom and dad aren’t gonna be back for a while. They’re doing something else, meaning I’ll be alone for a few hours.”
Sunset put her hand on the door. “I’ll talk to Rarity,” she said, as she went in.
Sweetie Belle sighed sadly. “I suppose I’ll just stay in my bedroom,” she moaned, and walked off.
Sunset looked at Rarity. “Mind if I ask why you treat your sister like a leper?” she asked.
“Whatever do you mean darling?” Rarity asked. “I only told her that this is time for us. No reason for her to throw a strop just because I won’t play with her.”
“That’s just it!” Sunset replied. “According to what she’s told me, you’ve been doing this for a while! It’s as if you don’t want her around. She looks up to you, and this is how you repay her?”
Rarity snorted. “Oh, really, Sunset. That girl’s quite the fool at times, spouting elaborate poppycock and putting on ridiculous fine airs that are simply absurd for a girl in her position.”
“Her position is that she is lonely,” Sunset answered.
“Can we discuss this later?”
“OK!” Pinkie cried, appearing from nowhere wearing a creepy hood. “Who’s ready for some ghost stories? I’ve got some creepy tales lined up.”
Sunset laughed. “You know, Pinkie, if you want to hear weird stories about beings in another world, I have the journal from Twilight on me.”
“Oh yeah!” Rainbow Dash commented. “I know that’s how you got the distress call to Twilight, but I never really understood how it works. How often do you use it?”
“I use it all the time. Twilight says hi, by the way.” Sunset paused, before starting her explanation. “It kinda works like texting does. When I write a message in the book, an exact duplicate of that message appears in a book in Twilight’s castle.”
“That journal really is something,” Fluttershy smiled. “It’s a perfect way of keeping in touch with other worlds!”
“Ah, the wonders of Equestrian Magic,” Sunset smiled, as she reminisced about the old days. “Funny thing is, such techniques are pretty commonplace over there, and our equivalent of cell phones is magical burping dragons!”
“Well,” Rarity smiled, “make sure to tell Twilight everything that has happened. In the meantime, let’s party!”
Just then, Rarity activated a CD player linked to a set of speakers, which began blasting out an old favourite of theirs. Each of them grabbed toothbrushes, glasses cases, and many other things that could double for microphones, and began to sing along.
“Hey, hey, everybody
We've got something to say;
We may seem as different,
As the night is from day!”
As they continued, Sunset took out her phone and began taking pictures and recording video.
“Are you recording them?” Rarity asked.
“I want to capture the memories!” Sunset replied, smiling as she did so.
“STAGE DIVE!” Pinkie suddenly cried, leaping off the bed.
“TAKE COVER!” Rainbow Dash shouted, jumping to one side.
“Oh, goodness!” Fluttershy exclaimed, as Pinkie flew through the air and smashed through a door.
Pinkie Pie looked sheepish. “I guess that works better when there’s a stage,” she admitted.
Fluttershy sighed. “I think this is the 6th door you’ve broken by dancing, Pinkie,” she said.
“Nope!” Sunset corrected. “Twelfth!”
“Rarity, what are all these clothes?” Pinkie Pie asked.
Rarity sighed. “Oh, this is just my closet of shame. It’s where I put the outfits that I make or buy that turn out to be horrible. I clean it out and donate everything to a clothing drive occasionally. I should probably do so again...”
Pinkie Pie was not convinced. “What are you talking about?” she asked, now in a blue suit with waistcoat and top hat. “This stuff is great! It’s the perfect material for outrageous selfies!”
Many, many more silly pictures were taken in the varying outfits, with the girls being quite impressed. “These are pretty funky clothes Rarity,” Sunset commented, currently dressed as a 1920s flapper.
“Yeah, check me out!” Rainbow Dash called, looking like Dracula.
Rarity laughed. “Well, feel free to try them on, I suppose.”
That night, Sunset took out her magic journal, and began to write in it.
Only my third slumber party with the girls, and I’m already feeling so much closer to everyone! I haven’t felt so loved, so accepted, in... well, ever! I feel like I finally have a family again. Without all of you to help and support me, I’d be-
Well, you know what I’d be!
Anyway, I should get some sleep. But I wanted to let you know, before I do...that I love you all.
And with that, Sunset put the book down and drifted off to the land of sleep.
Meanwhile, Sweetie Belle tossed and turned in her sleep, unable to rest properly from all the noise coming from the other room. “It’s not fair,” she moaned, reaching for her phone and slipping out of bed.
A few days later, Sunset came into school with a happy smile on her face, and rounded a bend, seeing her friends looking at her. Some had blank faces, and others looked angry, but none of them were smiling.
The night of the slumber party had passed without much incident, and in the morning the girls had all gone their separate ways, apart from a brief and rather strange moment where Sweetie Belle had somehow managed to reduce two slices of bread to a mysterious black liquid. Her inability to cook or even use a toaster was a family joke it seemed, with Rarity telling the girls of the time that her little sister had somehow caused an explosion when trying to use the microwave, much to Sweetie Belle’s clear and visible annoyance at the fact.
After breakfast, which was salmon and egg with a pinch of salt, they had headed off to school, and all had been fairly quiet for a few days. It seemed that everybody had forgotten the piggly-wiggly post from yesterday, and there was no oinking to be heard from anyone anywhere. However, Applejack did want to clean up a loose thread, and headed off to the cafeteria.
The cafeteria, as usual, was bustling on a morning, especially so in winter. Some students had especially busy parents on a morning, and as a result would get breakfast in school, which was usually cooked by Applejack’s own grandmother. That old lady certainly had a way with food, and the counter was arrayed with apple fritters, donuts, and the old favourites, the cooked items. These ranged from the traditional, such as sausage and bacon, alongside egg and beans, to the slightly less conventional, such as porridge, concluding with the downright bizarre, such as the much-discussed ‘Apple Family bacon and cheese breakfast burrito’. Apparently, these had become strangely popular, alongside tacos, a few weeks ago, but now were back to their usual status of a fascinating curio. Applejack, however, knew that sour cream and guacamole did not work well for her on a morning, and as a result the one time she had tried her grandmother’s breakfast burrito was also her last.
But none of this mattered now, and Applejack went over to the counter, to see Granny Smith putting some more fritters down on a tray, ready to be served. “Well, hello youngin’!” she called, with her trademark smile. “Ya here fer some food? We got plenty ta serve!”
“Thanks fer the offer Granny, but Ah’m not hungry right now,” Applejack replied.
“Well, Ah have heard that Cookie Crumbles’ breakfasts are really somethin’,” Granny Smith replied. “Ah really must try one someday.” She then looked into her granddaughter's eyes, and sensed something was wrong. “Now, what’s the matter Applejack? You look sicker than a mule!”
Despite the fact that this was deeply offensive to mules, Applejack chose not to question it, and instead answered the question. “Granny, have ya seen Apple Bloom anywhere?”
The old lady laughed. “Of course, Ah have! She was here a few minutes ago, grabbin’ breakfast with her friends! The poor thin’, her parents rushin’ off ta work so early. It’s a good thin’ Ah’m the cook here, or heaven knows what a state the caterin’ would be in!”
Applejack nodded. “Thanks, Granny.” She then turned away and headed toward the table where she could see her sister, as well as her friends Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, eating their breakfasts and chatting about something or other.
“No!” Apple Bloom said. “Ah don’t think we have the resources ta peform Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!”
“Oh, come on, Apple Bloom!” Scootaloo replied, a look of annoyance in her eyes. “All we need is three guitars, a drumkit, a piano, and a sampler.”
“Yeah, real simple,” the farm girl replied, putting another forkful of beans into her mouth.
“We do have the resources,” Sweetie Belle pointed out. “Rumble plays guitar, Button Mash plays drums, I play piano, Scootaloo also pays guitar, Pip plays bass, and of course Cozy Glow can operate the sampler!” She indicated to a girl in a green dress sitting with them.
“You’d want me to help you?” Cozy Glow asked them, her face aglow.
“Of course we would!” Scootaloo replied. “You’re our friend! Without you, we’d never have recovered Spirit of Everfree!”
“Excuse me!” Applejack asked, causing the four girls to look up at her in confusion.
“Whatch the problem, Applethack?” Apple Bloom asked, with her mouth still full.
“Sorry ta interrupt yer discussion, but can Ah talk with Apple Bloom fer a bit?” Appplejack asked. “When she’s finished her mouthful, of course.”
Apple Bloom quickly swallowed, and then got up, looking a little perplexed. The two siblings then exited the cafeteria.
“What do you think this is all about?” Sweetie Belle asked.
“I don’t know!” Scootaloo replied. “Don’t look at me!”
Apple Bloom and Applejack walked down one of the corridors, though where they were going was unclear.
“This classroom looks clear,” Applejack said, opening the door.
“Now look at this net, that I just found
When I say go, be ready to throw
A net suddenly flew through the air and into another classroom.
“Throw it on him, not me!”
“Let’s try somewhere else,” the older apple girl suggested, heading off toward another classroom door and opening it.
“Yar har, fiddle de dee
Being a pirate is alright to be
Do what you want 'cause a pirate is free
You are a pirate!”
Apple Bloom looked in through the door. “Hi, Pip!” she called.
Pipsqueak, currently dressed as a pirate, looked back. “Good morning, Apple Bloom!” he called. “Care to join us?”
“Sis wanna speak ta me, so Ah’m afraid Ah can’t.”
Pip looked sad. “Oh well. Weigh anchor!”
“Yar har, fiddle de dee
Being a pirate is alright with me!”
Applejack shut the door. “Enough of that,” she said, before walking on and trying another door.
“I am the Globglogabgalab,
“No!” Applejack cried, slamming the door shut again. “Looks like the corridor will have ta do fer now.”
“Have ta do fer what?” Apple Bloom asked, now even more confused. Applejack stepped closer to her, her expression looking angry.
“Ah want ya ta answer me honestly, sugarcube, and look me in the eye when Ah ask ya this next question.” Applejack hadn’t even noticed her hands had closed into fists.
Apple Bloom was looking pale. “Sis, y-yer scarin’ me!” she stammered, trying to back up further, only for her to crash into a locker.
There was a silence that seemed to last for all eternity, before Applejack asked her question. “Are ya Anon-a-Miss, yes or no?”
There was a deafening silence. Then Apple Bloom looked directly into her sisters’ eyes, and answered. “No.”
Applejack seemed less than convinced, if her facial expression was anything to go by. “If that’s the case, care to explain how Anon-a-Miss knows mah nickname?”
“It could be one of yer friends,” Apple Bloom pointed out. “But Ah can prove Ah didn’t upload that post.”
“And how is that?” Applejack asked.
“Ah was asleep at the time the account was created,” Apple Bloom replied. “We first spotted the secret on MyStable, as well as the account, at about 8:45 yesterday.” As she said this, she took out her phone, and showed the post. “We can also see that the post was created three hours before that, which is 5:45AM. Ah was asleep at that time, and mah phone wasn’t even turned on. So how could Ah have created the account and posted the message when Ah was asleep?”
Applejack backed off. “Good,” she said. “That cleans that one up. Sorry about that, sugarcube.”
Apple Bloom simply nodded. “Can Ah go back to mah breakfast? Ah’d like ta finish it before classes begin.”
Applejack nodded in return. “OK. See ya later!” And the two siblings headed in opposite directions, unaware of what was coming in the next few days.
Two more days had passed without much incident, and it seemed that Anon-a-Miss, on the whole, had been forgotten completely. But then they had posted again. And boy did it set their blood boiling.
The Rainbooms gathered at Sunset’s locker, waiting for her to arrive.
“Ah’m gonna kill her,” Applejack said, prompting looks of shock from the others.
“No, you’re not,” Rainbow Dash replied, looking her in the eye. Rainbow Dash was one of the few students capable of doing that, knowing that she would probably emerge on top in the unlikely event of a scuffle.
“There’s no proof it was her, darling,” Rarity chimed in, worried about the tone the conversation was taking.
“Oh yeah?” the farm girl replied, her eyes focused and her face red. “Who else could have got the pictures? It’s obviously her! No other explanation!”
Rainbow Dash sighed, shaking her head in exasperation. “AJ, remember the bake sale? You know, the one where I,” and here she adopted a mock country accent, “bailed intentionally to make you look a fool?”
That lowered the tension in the corridor noticeably. “Let’s just stay calm, and we can get out of this logically and rationally,” the athlete told her friends. “OK?”
“Here she is!” Pinkie Pie called. And right on cue, was Sunset Shimmer, walking to her locker.
“Hey girls!” she called. The smile on her face fell as she saw most of her friends had blank, even angry expressions. “What’s going...on?”
“Sunset?” Applejack asked, her face the angriest of the group. “Did you...have ya lost yer phone recently?”
Sunset looked confused at this question. “Erm...no. It’s right here. Why?”
“Then you need to explain this!” Applejack snapped, passing her phone over to Sunset.
The bacon haired girl gasped in shock when she saw the images that were on the screen. Each and every one of the images was one she had taken on her phone a few nights ago, along with all of the videos that had been recorded. And below the lot of them, was a caption which read ‘OMG...what a bunch of dorks! Hahaha!” It then became apparent to Sunset who had uploaded the pictures. Above them all was the name and profile picture of the mysterious account that had caused the hoo-hah only a few days ago.
“What?” Sunset exclaimed, her mouth falling open in horror as she struggled to comprehend what was going on. “How did she get our pictures?”
“They’re not our pictures, Sunset,” Applejack continued. “They’re yours. Each and every one of those pictures and videos were taken by you, as you were the only one recordin’ anythin’ that night.”
“Wait, what?” Sunset stammered, her heart pounding in her chest. “I’ve had my phone on me this whole time! How did she-?”
“Yeah, how did she?” Applejack asked, her voice dripping with a mixture of venom and sarcasm so thick that you could have cut it with a knife and spread it on toast (provided Sweetie Belle hadn’t melted it first). “How did she know about my nickname?” Her voice rose to a thunderous crescendo, the doors on the lockers rattling at the soundwaves being produced as the farmer leaned directly into Sunset’s face. “HOW DID SHE GET THE PICTURES FROM YER PHONE?”
Just then, Applejack slammed Sunset into a locker, her face contorted with rage. “It was you all along. YER ANON-A-MISS!”
Rainbow Dash flew into action, pulling Applejack off of Sunset. “That’s enough!” she shouted.
“AJ, you’re so full of what’s right you can’t see what’s good. Now shut your trap before I shut it for you.”
Applejack stepped back, her jaw hanging open.
“Now then,” Rainbow Dash started, looking at her friends. “Ask yourselves; what does Sunset Shimmer, the girl who is our friend, the girl who helped us save the goddamn school from the Dazzlings, have to gain from any of this?”
The other girls had no answer, so Rainbow Dash gave them one. “Nothing. Nothing at all. She’d simply be alone again, friendless, and she wouldn’t want that.”
There was another silence. Then Applejack spoke up. “Sorry, Sunset,” she replied. “Ah guess Ah let mah feelin’s get the better o’ me.”
Sunset, who was still shaking a little from the adrenaline coursing through her system, took a moment to respond. “O-ok,” she replied.
“But if not Sunset or any of us,” Pinkie Pie started.
“Then who?” Fluttershy finished.
“I think I know who,” Rainbow Dash answered. “I think we can rule out Trixie. There’s no way she could do anything this elaborate, so that leaves somebody outside the school. Somebody who would know of your nickname through their actions, AJ.”
“Who?” Rarity asked.
Canterlot was, by itself, a bustling city full of people and was reasonably prosperous. However, there was another side to the city that was, shall we say, not quite so nice. If you were to get off at the last streetcar stop, bisecting De Lancie Street and Oliver Avenue, the city would seem to end right there. But if you were to walk for just a few miles, or alternatively catch the bus, you would find yourself walking not through countryside, but through a mountain of slag heaps. These slag heaps were hints at the past of Canterlot.
During the early 1900s, and onwards until about 1960, Canterlot had been a steel town. Large quantities of steel had been produced in the suburb of Steelville, built separate from the main city to ensure that the production of steel didn’t generate a stench in Canterlot itself, and some would say more importantly, to ensure that the wealthy folk never had to mingle with the workers that lived and died in the steel mills and at the blast furnaces.
Alas, in 1960, the steel industry had fallen on hard times, and the mills in Canterlot district had all closed completely, most of the structures falling into disrepair or simply rotting away. By all means, the town was still there, but it was a shadow of its former glory, the mountains of waste product from metal smelting still piled all around as reminders of what had once been in this part of the world, and an echo of America’s former glory, now taken by rival nations that could produce steel so much more cheaply.
And the deeper you went into Steelville, the crummier it got. The place was full of crumbling buildings and pawn shops, all selling cheap tat and other odds and ends. Life here was on its last legs, the people poor, their haggard faces looking out upon life with a certain degree of cynicism and sadness. Truly were they the forgotten ones, the one that the other city didn’t seem to care about. And their very world was now falling apart all around them, and the snow did little to help.
As the Rainbooms proceeded into town on the bus, another roof collapsed under the weight of snow, the white stuff pouring onto the ground below and making a mess of the sidewalk. The bus continued to roll through the street, slowing down to avoid potholes and other such nuisances that would make it hard to navigate here.
Pinkie Pie looked around, amazed that such poverty existed a few miles from Canterlot’s relative wealth. “Now I know why people take the train south,” she said. “Because this road is really bumpy.”
Suddenly, the road surface became incredibly bumpy, and the passengers all bounced up and down in their seats.
“HeEeEy!” Pinkie said, laughing at the changes in the pitch of her voice. “ThIs MaKeS mY vOiCe SoUnD sIlIy!”
Sunset shook her head. “Honestly, Pinkie!” she said. “We’ve got bigger things to worry about! Like, you know, figuring out who Anon-a-Miss is!”
Rarity glanced at the others as the bus came to a stop. “So, how are we going to play this one? I don’t think they’ll exactly appreciate us being around them at any time, not least now.”
“We go in calm, and avoid resorting to threats,” Rainbow Dash answered, casting a glare at Applejack. The farm girl looked down at the ground, the brim of her hat covering her eyes. “I’m certain that they’ll be cordial enough if we are cordial to them.”
“Why are we drinking cordial?” Fluttershy asked.
“She didn’t mean cordial in that sense of the word,” Rarity answered. “She means in terms of being friendly, albeit formal and polite at the same time. Though I must say, a cordial would be most nice right now, as it is rather hot on this bus right now.”
“This looks to be an old model,” Sunset commented. “I imagine the bus budget mostly goes on the streetcars further north.”
“How is this relevant?” Rainbow Dash asked, as the bus ground to a halt.
“Allcroft road!” called the bus driver. The girls walked off the bus, and then thanked the driver. He closed the doors, and the old bus rattled away with a rumble and a roar, spewing smoke as it raced away from them.
“Yup,” Applejack coughed. “Manual gearbox. We got a similar one on one of our locos at the farm.”
Rainbow Dash looked around. “Alright then. Where did Micro Chips say he’d seen them living?”
“They were somewhere on Mitton Road, which is bisected by Miller Street and Brenner Avenue,” Pinkie Pie told them.
“How do you know that?” asked Rarity.
“I know everything!” Pinkie replied, a creepy smile on her face.
“OK then, when did I last wear a blue skirt?” Fluttershy asked.
“4th April, 2013,” Pinkie replied. Fluttershy’s jaw dropped open in response.
Applejack shook her head. “Can we at least get goin’? Ah’d rather not stay here any longer than Ah have to.”
The others nodded their heads, and headed off into the distance.
To say it was an easy journey would be a complete lie. Rainbow Dash looked at her map. “OK, right here!” she called, and away they went into the streets. But it didn’t look right at all, as they stopped at another intersection.
“Agreed,” Rarity sighed, holding her nose. “They look more like factories, or industrial structures.”
“Take a right!” called Pinkie, and away they went once more.
They went around and around for half an hour, until they arrived back where they were.
“OK then, we are completely lost,” Fluttershy whimpered, looking around her as if somebody might jump out of the darkness and attack her. Which, in a town like this, was entirely plausible, as this was a town down on its luck. Or, as comedian Rich Hall put it, ‘a one-horse town where they put the horse down’.
Rainbow Dash sighed. “Look, I took a wrong turn, alright?” She checked her map and the street names. “To the left!” she called, and away they went into the distance.
At long last they arrived at their destination, on Mitton Road, a boulevard consisting of old clapboard homes built long before the housing boom of the 1950s. Many of them wouldn’t look out of place in the Amityville films, such was their state of decay. At long last, they reached a mouldy, tumbledown mess of a building that barely even qualified as a house in even the loosest sense of the word. Split over two stories, the window was open, and the snow sat upon the roof and porch, making it least look somewhat festive despite the decay going on all around.
“Well,” Rarity sighed, “we are really in the hornet’s nest now.”
“Are you sure we want to do this?” Fluttershy asked, quivering as she did so, and holding onto Rainbow Dash as she did so to minimize her quivering.
Sunset sighed. “It’s the only chance we have to narrow down the culprit behind this mess,” she said, and stepped up to the door handle. Gripping the knocker, she pulled it back, and gave it a firm, hard knock, only for the knocker to come flying off in her hand and fall to the floor with a loud bang.
“What the?” she asked, as the door opened. Standing before her was a young woman, about their age, with yellow skin and orange and yellow hair that gathered around her shoulders. She had purple eyes and wore a purple hoodie, blue jeans, and white and purple sneakers.
This girl was Adagio Dazzle, the de facto leader of the Dazzlings, or the Sirens as they were otherwise known. They, as a group, had instigated the Battle of the Bands that had torn apart Canterlot High School with the intended goal of feeding off of Equestrian magic emanating off of the Rainbooms. Luckily, they had been stopped before their plan could come to fruition, but it would be no surprise that there was more than a little hostility between the two groups.
Hostility that was indicated by the manner in which Adagio was looking at the Rainbooms right now. “What do you want?” she asked. “We just settle down here and scrape a living, and now you come in and have the audacity to knock on my door!”
“We don’t mean any hostility,” Sunset said. “We just wanted to ask some questions, that’s all.”
There was a brief moment as the two girls stared at each other. Then a shout came from inside. “Aria! That was mine!”
“You can’t hog all the tacos Sonata!”
Adagio facepalmed. “Can you two idiots please be quiet and let me speak to our guests?”
Just then, another girl appeared, but she had light blue skin and hair, with some dark blue streaks running through the latter. Dressed in identical shoes and jeans to Adagio, the only different item of clothing was a violet hoodie. “Our guests?” her face then fell. “Oh, those guests.”
A third girl appeared, who had pink skin and purple and turquoise hair. Like the other two, she wore sneakers and jeans, but complemented them with a blue hoodie. She sighed. “Go back to sleep Sonata,” she groaned. “Honestly Dagi, why did you invite these lunatics here?”
“If I wanted your opinion, Aria,” Adagio snapped, “I would have asked for it. Now go back indoors!”
The two other girls vanished. “Excuse them,” Adagio continued, “they’re idiots. Now then, you wanted to discuss something?”
“Yes,” Rainbow Dash answered. “About the Anon-a-Miss case?”
Adagio’s face went blank. Then she smiled. “Come on in,” she said.
A few minutes later, they were all sat around a table with freshly prepared nachos and refried beans in the centre on a plate, as well as a random assortment of drinks and other items.
“So,” Adagio said, with a frown, “there’s a mysterious user of the MyStable app called ‘Anon-a-Miss' releasing secrets that relate to you, am I correct?”
There were nods and a chorus of agreement.
“And, furthermore, you have no idea who that is, as you have ruled out your siblings as well as your friends?”
“Yes,” Applejack answered. “However, there’s one other thin’ we were thinkin’.”
Aria suddenly came to life, looking at them with disdain. “If you’re thinking of accusing us of being Anon-a-Miss you can get out!” she snapped.
“Cool it Aria!” Sonata said loudly.
“I thought I told you to go to sleep,” Area retorted, equally loudly.
“It’s hard to sleep with so little nourishment,” Sonata groaned, before falling silent.
“Ah swear she demolished several tacos a few minutes ago,” Applejack said, confused.
Adagio facepalmed. “Honestly, you lot, you have to remind us of that. We’re not meant to consume human food. Our primary source of nourishment is Equestrian magic. But of course, when you blew up our pendants, we had no way of feeding on that. So, we survive on junk food.”
“Can’t you girls just find a job?” Rarity asked.
Aria laughed. “Seriously? Find a job here? Nobody will see our faces in Canterlot, and there’s no work to be found here in Shitville, USA. You’ve doomed us to effective misery here.”
Sunset looked shocked. “Hey,” she said. “If you help us find Anon-a-Miss, I’ll ask Princess Twilight to get you some replacement pendants, and I’ll help you find work.”
“What?” Pinkie Pie asked. “You’d help them?”
“How would you feel if you were in conditions like this?” Sunset asked. “I know, as I lived in a factory for years.”
Adagio smiled. “Consider it a deal. So, what do you want to know?”
“If I’ve understood correctly how your magic works, you had access to people’s thoughts and memories whilst controlling them,” Sunset observed.
“That’s correct,” Aria answered. “Why?”
“I was wondering if you could consult your memory and see if anybody knew of Applejack’s nickname.”
Adagio sighed. “We’re not much help there. We may have had access to everyone’s thoughts, but that wouldn’t help, as even if one of your family members used whatever Applejack’s nickname is, they wouldn’t remember hearing it after the spell stopped working.”
So, the lead had gone nowhere. Sunset sighed. “Thanks for the help, Adagio,” she said.
“No problem, even if we couldn’t be much help,” Adagio replied. “Best of luck with the investigation.”
That evening, Sunset couldn’t help but feel bad for the Sirens. It seemed as if they had ended up in a real mess because of them. And what sort of person did it makes the Rainbooms? What sort of person did it make her? This had to be corrected.
She took out her journal and began to write.
There's no use in Worrying when Things start going Wrong
Just as Sunset was about to start writing to Twilight, she stopped, and lifted her pen clear of the page, setting it aside for a moment. Should she drag Twilight into this? She doubted that, although Twilight was the Princess of Friendship, she would have much expertise in what amounted to internet gossip, even if the tone of what was being spread wasn’t hugely chivalrous. Indeed, Sunset could understand why Applejack found the secret of her nickname being posted so hurtful. It wasn’t only embarrassing, (although the farm girl had done a good job of masking how she really felt), it was hurtful, given the context.
And now everybody in the school knew. Although nothing nasty had happened yet, Sunset feared this was just the start, and things would only go downhill from here. And what of the Dazzlings? How could she trust them? They seemed as though they had genuinely reformed, but what if it was just a ruse to gain her trust? What if, the moment they got the pendants, they went out for revenge?
“Oh, stop dealing in what ifs!” Sunset thought “Work in concrete facts! They are all you can rely on.”
Having resolved as to the right course of action, Sunset put her pen to the page once more.
Dear Princess Twilight,
I’m sorry for writing to you so soon, so suddenly, and so often, but a potentially serious problem has come up. There’s a mysterious social media account that’s posting mean things about people, and we may need your help.
A few minutes later, the book lit up orange, and text began to appear on the facing page.
You wouldn’t mind elaborating on what this ‘social media’ is? That isn’t a concept in Equestria, I’m afraid. I’d also be happy to support from a distance, but unfortunately the portal has suffered some sort of mechanical fault and as a result cannot be used for a few days.
Sunset, relieved her friend could help but perturbed about the problems with the portal, began to write back.
Dear Princess Twilight,
Apologies. I had assumed that social media was a concept to you, having spent some time here a while back. I shall elaborate.
Social media is a means of quickly communicating between people. Often it is used for coordinating people, or spreading news, or alternatively just chatting with other people. Here, we often use a media platform called ‘MyStable’. Terrible name, I know, but it’s what the developers chose, and so we roll with it.
The problem is that such technology, whilst a wonderful tool for communication, can be misused for evil. This account, which is how people communicate on the site, is called ‘Anon-a-Miss', and is leaking secrets that belong to people, that are personal. The first person who got their information leaked was Applejack, who had a personal nickname leaked that was embarrassing. I won’t repeat it here as it would constitute a breach of trust, but safe to say it hurt her quite badly.
Then, only today, the account posted again, revealing another set of personal secrets, this time pictures taken at a slumber party I attended with the girls. Even more worrying, the pictures were taken from my phone. That would suggest somebody is good at stealing personal information, which would potentially tip this over into identity theft.
I await your reply,
The book glowed again, and another response appeared;
Your phone got hacked? By Celestia, are you OK? Who knows what else they could do if they can access this information?
Panic aside, this sounds very similar to something that happened in Ponyville a few years ago. For a few weeks, a column appeared in the Foal Free Press (going back a way, I know, but I digress) called ‘Gabby Gums’. This column spread gossip that had been picked up across town, such as Snips and Snails getting covered in gum, or even news about Celestia’s cake habits that continue to rumble on. When they ran out of private information, they started printing complete and utter lies, including ones about me and my friends that we did not take kindly too.
But it was the last people we expected. It was Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom, or the Cutie Mark Crusaders as they are collectively known. It turns out they desperately wanted to get their Cutie Marks in journalism, and tried a gossip column. They wanted to stop, but got egged on by Diamond Tiara, the editor. Eventually they confessed and were forgiven, but the damage was done, and some of the rumours are rumbling on today.
And if this person is intent on causing discord-
Suddenly, the text changed to a completely different colour and handwriting.
I don’t appreciate having my name being used badly, Twilight.
Then the text resumed in its original colour and handwriting.
Sorry Discord. As I was saying, if this person is intent on causing havoc, could it be a Wendigo?
I’ll get back to you,
Sunset smiled. It seemed their worlds were more similar than she thought, given they had a Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom too. In fact, they also had a Diamond Tiara, although she didn’t seem to be hostile toward the Crusaders. Even the acronym for their group matched up, the Canterlot Move Club. Cutie Mark Crusaders. CMC. That stunt she referred to even sounded like Snips and Snails. On that topic, she had to check how they were getting on.
Wait a second, that stunt...
Sunset was suddenly struck by a horrified thought. “Please no,” she whispered. If the other world’s CMC had been Gabby Gums, could the Crusaders be Anon-a-Miss? If so, it made no sense, as those three would gain nothing from dragging her name through the mud. Besides, they were friends with her! Why would they stab her in the back like this, if they even had done it?
She took out her pen and began writing back.
Dear Princess Twilight,
Don’t worry. Since the incident, I’ve changed the security settings on my phone, so whomever it is won’t be getting anything from me anytime soon. But I have no reason to suspect our world’s Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom. I’m on very good terms with them, and I’m actually their tutor for several subjects, such as math.
I doubt it would be a Wendigo. That seems unnecessarily complex. A mythical creature to spread disharmony is not necessary, as here you can do the same thing at just the touch of a button. It would be paradise for such a creature, true, but it isn’t needed.
I’ll keep you updated as time goes by.
With that, Sunset closed the book, and pulled her sheets over her, drifting off into an uneasy sleep.
As the week went by, the situation slowly got worse and worse. Anon-a-Miss wasn’t done. In fact, it was only getting started, and the secrets continued to stream out, the damage they caused being felt by all.
Sunset walked into school one morning with a concerned look, seeing the school starting to disintegrate due to the actions of this person.
Just then, a girl with cyan-emerald hair ran past her, crying.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Sunset called.
The girl stopped, and looked at her. “Have you seen what Anon-a-Miss has posted?” she asked.
“Admittedly, no,” Sunset replied, who pulled out her phone and checked the account.
What she saw stunned her. Anon-a-Miss had decided to upload a very personal image, showing the girl in front of her, whom Sunset now recognised as Vapour Trail, kissing Sky Stinger, one of the boys from the soccer team. There was also a caption attached to the picture:
Look at them! At least we know the truth now. Get into bed, you two!
Sunset stepped closer. “Oh my God. Anon-a-Miss has absolutely no respect for people’s privacy.”
Vapour continued to sob. “We were going to t-tell our parents in our own time. But now everyone knows. A-and my mom and dad won’t even speak to me about it!” And with that, the girl ran off into the corridor.
Sky brushed past a moment later, calling after her. “Vapour! Vapour! Can we discuss this, please?”
Sunset felt horrible. This mess had to be cleaned up, and fast, or else who knows what could happen.
Things took a nastier turn the next day. The post consisted of a picture of Applejack asleep in lessons, with another nasty caption below it;
Applejack sleeping on the job! So much for hard work!
This was followed almost immediately by another one about Pinkie Pie, which red;
Pinkie Pie; out of control party animal! Get her on Ritalin, you guys!
This only got worse and worse, as a steady stream of horrible posts and mean-spirited comments continued to flow from the factory-like production line that was the rumour and gossip mill that was Anon-a-Miss. First appeared Rainbow Dash’s bad test grade. They had been required to submit a project on buoyancy, but due to circumstances beyond her control had messed the paper up, a problem not helped by her inconsistent approach to spelling buoyancy, which was rendered as ‘buouyancee’ on the front cover. The harsh remark on the front cover, ‘VERY POOR, SEE ME’, written in red ink in Mrs. Harshvoice’s trademark handwriting, ensured Rainbow Dash’s humiliation was complete.
This was followed fairly promptly with a video of Fluttershy singing on her own in the animal shelter, admittedly not entirely in tune but trying her best nontheless. Alas, the footage of her singing, recorded on a security camera, was posted on Anon-a-Miss complete with markings to suggest where she had gone sharp or flat, complete with the caption;
Fluttershy singing fail!
To say the shy girl was upset would be an understatement, and Pinkie Pie did her best to comfort Fluttershy, who sobbed for several minutes over the embarrassment and humiliation she was suffering.
Even the older secrets weren’t forgotten, if the post-it notes that covered Applejack’s locker with ‘piggly-wiggly’ scrawled all over them were anything to go by. There were often messages left in permanent marker there as well, mostly consisting of profanity and accusations of the Apple family doing... ‘unsavoury’ or transgressive things with animals or each other. Applejack had tried for a few days to clean up the mess, but she had long since given up trying to remove the messages or wash the permanent marker off.
Even Rarity wasn’t spared. Pictures of some of her failed outfits had been leaked online, some of them truly hideous, and others looking like costumes out of a 1980s science fiction film. As a result of the leaks, Rarity had become somewhat allusive and withdrawn, wearing a hat that covered her face at all times, as well as a formal coat that wouldn’t look out of place on a 1930s detective.
If this seemed bad, then it was only just the start of the crisis. People were asking for blood, and got it. Fights began breaking out in the locker areas over secrets being posted, and many members of the school body had to be treated for injuries. They had to hire extra staff for the medical facility simply to keep up with demand. In addition, extra security staff were hired in from a Private Military Corporation in order to keep things under control.
It was truly horrible to see this happening, a school that had once been so united turning into a den of violence and destruction from which it seemed nobody would emerge unscathed. Everybody knew everyone, and many used the incident as a chance to settle old scores and destroy old rivals by pinning information leaks on them. Students turned on one another, and Canterlot High School descended into a warzone, worse than it had been during Sunset’s reign of terror during the last three years. And it was only going to get worse.
One morning, Sunset walked to her locker, as had been the usual every day, only to find that hers had been defaced as well. It was covered from top to bottom in paint, post-it notes, and other graffiti, as well as smeared in red paint and what, on closer inspection, turned out to be horse excrement. But that wasn’t what hurt the most, apart from the mess that Sunset would need to wash off it before it was usable.
All over the locker were profane messages, written in red ink. Most of them are too vile to repeat here, but I shall present a selection of the handful of those that can be repeated.
Burn in hell, Sunshit.
Do you enjoy causing others pain? ‘Cause I’ll enjoy causing pain to you.
Go back to that factory, before we tie you up there.
Leave our world and never return, monster.
Go away, She-Demon.
But the last of all of these messages was by far the worst of them all.
I hope you die, Anon-a-Miss.
So, this was what it had come to. The school thought she was the one behind it, and had fallen for the obvious con trick that was the account. Sunset felt her knees buckle beneath her as she collapsed onto the floor, tears rolling out of her eyes.
“No,” she whispered. “Why can’t I do anything right? No matter what I do, people always turn on me.”
“Because you can never change, She-Demon!” said a voice. Sunset looked around at the speaker, and saw to her horror who was speaking.
He was a giant of a student at 6 foot, and had muscles the size of skyscrapers. He stomped over, continuing his verbal assault.
“All you ever do is hurt others and split them up, secret stealer!” he spat. “You simply want to get back on top!”
“But I saved you from the Sirens, alongside my friends!” Sunset cried. “Why would I do that if I wasn’t truly redeemed!”
“To make us think you had reformed!” he answered, as he closed his fist. “Well, come on boys, time to teach Anon-a-Bitch a lesson!”
Suddenly, more and more students, flooding out of the woodwork and doors of various classrooms, appeared and congregated around Sunset, their blood boiling. All of them looked furious and all of them were chanting loudly. Rude names and verbal abuse flowed from their lips as they vented their rage. The pressure had been building for days now, and at last it now had a way to be vented. And the students didn’t care who they hurt.
“Eat this! LET HER HAVE IT!”
At that moment, objects began to fly through the air. Rotten apples bounced onto the ground and ricocheted of the locker, slamming into Sunset’s chest and knocking her off balance. Banana skins and half eaten peaches rained down like rotten missiles, making a further mess of Sunset’s locker and covering her body in filth. Finally, tomatoes flew through the sky and splattered all over her, turning Sunset’s normally orange/yellow skin to a shade of red, similar to that when she had been turned into that demon they so often referred to.
The mess and ruined food pulp, not to mention juices, intermingled with Sunset’s tears as she desperately tried to run, only to get jammed in amongst the huge crowds of students. It seemed as if there was no escape for the poor teenager, until somebody decided to intervene.
“WHAT IN THE NAME OF GOD IS GOING ON HERE?!” a furious voice boomed down the corridor. Most of the students turned around to see Vice-Principal Luna striding toward them, a look of unbridled fury on her face.
“She’s Anon-a-Miss!” a student shouted back. “We’re just giving her what she deserves!”
“And what proof have you that she is this Anon-a-Miss?” asked Luna, her face still angry.
“Well,” shouted another student, “she did this sort of thing in the past, so she must be doing it now?”
Luna sighed, before resuming her anger at this group of students. “Has it not occurred to you that because somebody commits one crime, they are not automatically guilty of another?” Before any of them had a chance to respond, she dropped in another rhetorical question. “Has it also not occurred to you that you are all hypocrites?”
“What hypocrites?” asked another, adding their voice to the ocean of discontent roiling about. “We’re the ones who are wronged!”
“And yet most of you have been submitting posts to the Anon-a-Miss page, are you not?” Luna answered.
There was no answer from the assembled students, who simply shuffled at the implication of Luna’s words.
“If I see any of this again, I will personally expel each and every one of you! DO I MAKE MYSELF QUITE CLEAR?” Luna boomed, her voice causing a localised earthquake due to the volume. Most of the students nodded meekly.
“Good. Now get to lessons!”
The hastily assembled crowd vanished off into the distance, and Luna came over to help Sunset up. “Are you alright, apart from the mess?” she asked, concerned.
“If you mean I have no physical injuries, then I’m fine,” Sunset replied. “But do you believe I am innocent?”
“My sister and I believe your innocence,” Luna replied, as she helped Sunset onto her feet. “And we are working with all deliberate speed to uncover the heinous monster who has reduced this place to a lunatic asylum.” Then a tone of doubt entered her voice. “But I had no idea you were being attacked. How long has this been going on for?”
“That was the first time,” Sunset answered. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to go and wash this all off.”
The students took Luna’s words all too literally. From now on, they only attacked her off of school property, usually when she was on her way home from school. To see the change in Sunset was awful. She shifted from the relative confidence she had held since the end of the Battle of the Bands to being an emotional wreck. She began to avoid the cafeteria, fearing being beaten up or otherwise abused there, bringing food in from home in order to be able to eat, as her lunch money was stolen on far too many occasions. Eventually, she considered not coming into school altogether, or going back to Equestria. But she rejected that last option on the grounds she was probably regarded as a war criminal there, and would face trial for her actions.
One sad winter afternoon, as the rain fell hard on the town and the roads turned to slush, due to the rain washing away the snow from the streets, and the clouds thundered overhead, a group of friends, namely Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Rarity, sat sadly in Sugarcube Corner. Nobody felt at all festive, with Anon-a-Miss wreaking havoc upon the school and ruining everybody’s lives. Whoever Anon-a-Miss was had turned their attention on people outside the school, targeting Mr and Mrs Cake by alleging their two children were not theirs. An especially horrible post had targeted Dr. Turner, a local scientist, and his two daughters, Ditzy and Dinky. This one had claimed (whilst providing no evidence) that Dinky was actually the child of Ditzy, which seemed implausible given there was only an age gap of three years, but nonetheless it had destroyed their reputation overnight.
Fluttershy sighed as she nursed her coffee. “Some Christmas this is turning out to be,” she sighed.
Rarity looked around, her face still hidden by her coat. “I wonder where Sunset is,” she sighed, not in the mood for talk. Income from her fashion business had taken a nosedive recently, and although her parents generated the bulk of the family income, it had still affected Rarity’s self-confidence. Reportedly, she hadn’t made an item of clothing in weeks.
“Probably snaking on us,” Pinkie Pie replied.
“What?” Rainbow Dash asked. “What did you just say?”
“She said that Sunset is probably snakin’ on us,” Applejack replied. “There’s no other answer. All the evidence now points to Sunset bein’ Anon-a-Miss.”
Rainbow Dash facepalmed. “You cannot be serious, AJ!” she exclaimed. “After all she has done for us, you would throw her to the wolves like this?”
“She brought it upon herself,” Pinkie Pie answered, getting up. “There is no other person with the skills to extract our personal secrets and post them online for everyone to see.”
“Probably usin’ her backmail tools ta get the info,” Applejack added, putting her hat on as if getting ready to leave.
“Really darling, this is preposterous!” Rarity answered, looking amazed at Applejack’s assertion. “After all Sunset has done for us, would she really want to go back to being the most hated person in Canterlot?”
“Well, you’re delusional!” Pinkie shouted. “As sure as a cupcake comes from a machine, so does Anon-a-Miss come from Sunset!”
“That made no sense,” Fluttershy answered, her face full of worry.
“I honestly cannot believe that you think Sunset’s Anon-a-Miss!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed. “Are you crazy, AJ?”
“Yer loyalty, generosity and kindness is blindin’ ya!” the farm girl answered defiantly, a look of anger on her face. “Only Ah have the honesty ta accept the truth!”
“I take it then Pinkie that the only laughing you are doing is behind Sunset’s back?” Rarity shot back, her face the image of irritation.
Pinkie sighed. “Come on Applejack,” she said. “There’s no convincing some people.” And the two of them walked out, exchanging angry glares with the other three.
Rainbow Dash sighed. “Great. We’re split in two, and still no closer to figuring out who Anon-a-Miss is!”
“Wait!” Rarity cried. “The first post was Applejack’s nickname, right?”
“We’ve already been through this, Rarity,” Fluttershy replied. “Apple Bloom was asleep at the time the post went up.”
“MyStable has a queuing function,” Rarity answered. “She could have set the post to go up at a specific time, and then gone to sleep.”
“Shaky, that,” Rainbow Dash answered. “Bit of a shot in the dark. And that wouldn’t explain how Anon-a-Miss got Sunset’s pictures.”
“What if Anon-a-Miss isn’t one person?” Fluttershy suggested.
Rarity’s jaw fell open. “You cannot be serious!”
A few hours later, Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle were sat around the computer in Scootaloo’s bedroom.
“Well?” Apple Bloom asked.
“We got two of them away,” Scootaloo replied.
“That’s less than half!” Sweetie Belle answered. “I wouldn’t exactly call that a smashing success, Scootaloo!”
“OK, OK!” Scootaloo replied. “I’m working on it, OK? We need a new strategy if we’re going to get the other three!”
“That’s gonna be a lot of work,” Apple Bloom answered. “Like sluggin’ up a steep hill.”
Scootaloo grinned. “This ought to do it,” she said, and reached toward her keyboard, starting to press down some keys.
The next morning, Cheerilee walked into her office, having dropped Scootaloo off at the gates and left her to go join her friends. These last few days had been depressing, as Anon-a-Miss had somehow got their hands on some pictures of her when she was at college. Cheerilee didn’t deny she’d been a bit of a party animal back then, but since then she had straightened up noticeably. But now some of the embarrassing outfits she thought were hip and trendy when she was in her late teens and early twenties were on the internet for all eternity.
She sat down, after having locked the door, and took out the tests she would be handing back that day. The performance had not been amazing, mostly Bs and Cs, but this was to be expected of 7th graders, after all. They were fairly new to the whole enterprise, after all, and this would be about the standard she would have expected.
Just then, her phone beeped with the news that Anon-a-Miss had posted again, if the distinctive beep of MyStable was anything to go by. Who’s life were they going to ruin this time?
Cheerilee opened her phone, swiped across, and put in her code. When the app loaded, and she saw the message, her face was the image of horror.
When the school bell goes in the early morning before lessons begin, you know it's never good news. That, at least, was the situation that was presented that morning when the students began to gather for lessons.
The Rainbooms, having split over the issue of Sunset Shimmer being Anon-a-Miss or not, were seated at opposite ends of the cafeteria, with Applejack and Pinkie Pie being as far away from the door as possible, with their chairs against the wall and sad looks on their faces. This was mostly due to the sundering of their friendship, as it saddened them their former friends wouldn't see sense, and another key factor being the animosity they felt toward a lot of the other students, who had mocked and jeered at them for a week now, and it seemed looked down on them.
At the other end of the cafeteria, next to the doors, or as close as they could get to the doors without being physically in them and being hit by flying debris and other such objects, were Fluttershy, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash. They were equally sad. Not only over the bullying they had received, but because of the loss of their friends. This was partly why they were seated at opposite ends of the cafeteria, as otherwise an argument would break out over who was the biggest group of fools; either Rainbow Dash, Rarity, or Fluttershy, for failing to see the obvious (as Applejack perceived it to be the case) or alternatively that Applejack and Pinkie Pie were complete morons for believing Sunset was Anon-a-Miss. Still, it seemed that Applejack partly had a point, given that the person in question (Sunset) wasn't even around, presumably having her breakfast elsewhere on site, or alternatively not even on school grounds at all. Sugarcube Corner had supported her through the dark times despite the secrets released about Mr and Mrs Cake, even throwing out a group of students bullying her (although this had led to the establishment being slanderised online by another anonymous official). Alas, the mood was one of tension in the cafeteria, as nobody knew who's secrets would get leaked next.
Rainbow Dash sighed, nursing a coffee. She had no appetite to eat anything anymore. The days were just too depressing, and she was worried about Sunset. She had checked in with her a few days back, and she seemed sad and broken. "This is such a mess," she sighed, expecting her phone to start beeping any minute now, as the Anon-a-Miss posts usually appeared around this time in the morning.
"Well, I must say darling," Rarity answered, "Sunset may not be behind it, but by isolating herself from the school, she's not exactly doing herself any favours."
"I can understand why she doesn't want to be here, around the other students," Fluttershy whispered, picking at her salad with great disinterest. "I wouldn't want to get beaten up."
As if on cue, shouting and screaming started up from the neighbouring corridor, as (presumably) another student got his or her secrets spilled. But then a loud crashing and banging started up, followed by another beep, which none of the girls bothered to check as it was Anon-a-Miss again. But a few moments later, the entire population of the cafeteria turned around and began looking at them. Particularly, their gaze was focused on Rainbow Dash, Rarity and Applejack.
"Is there something going on?" Rainbow Dash asked, visibly confused.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," a student said coldly, before looking the other way.
"Ashamed for what?" Rarity asked. "Ashamed for standing up for a poor, innocent girl whom you so believe is guilty?"
There was no reply, as another sound started up. It sounded like somebody had taken the noises of an old petrol engine, a strangled cat scratching its claws down a blackboard, and a traction engine starting up, then thrown them into a blender and tried to mix them together into a coherent noise. This was, of course, the sound of the school intercom starting up, the noise being due to years of maintenance, or should I say the lack thereof.
"Can Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Rarity, and Miss Cheerilee please report to the Principal's Office?" came the message down the intercom, the voice crackling more than an old WW2 radio.
"What could they want with us?" Rarity asked, as she got up and pulled on her coat. Rainbow Dash got up a few moments later, pushing her chair under as she did so.
"Maybe Sunset's finally confessin', the darn snake," Applejack smiled, knocking her fists together.
"When will you get it into your thick skull that Sunset's innocent?" Rainbow Dash snapped. "You aren't half stubborn all the time!"
As they walked down the corridor, they stepped into the aftermath of a massacre, or what seemed like it. The lockers were covered in white substances, presumably leftover paint and eggs, and some traces of fruit juice pooled on the floor. In addition, there were also many, many burst tomatoes lying around, and one of the lockers had a freshman sized dent in it. The carnage could be seen everywhere, and paper lay all around. There was also milk scattered on the floor, and a trail of a red substance that nobody could discern what it was. When they rounded the bend, they saw Cheerilee walking toward them, her face white with shock.
"So, they called you too?" she asked. "Did you see the post?"
"No," Rainbow Dash replied. "We've stopped looking at the page because it's too unpleasant." This was true for the last few days, as Rainbow Dash and her friends had almost totally withdrawn from social media. They had also stopped holding the slumber parties. Nobody was in the mood for them anymore.
"Well, I hope to get this nonsense cleaned up as soon as I can," Cheerilee replied.
"As do Ah," Applejack answered. "Sunset'd better-"
"Can somebody PLEASE turn her off?" Rarity asked.
Applejack went up to the door, and knocked. "Come in," said the voice of Principal Celestia. She sounded angry.
With that, Applejack opened the door. The four of them stepped into the room, to come across a scene that shocked them to their very cores.
Celestia looked at them, her eyes like daggers and her normal smile replaced by a look of anger. Luna, on the other hand, had absolutely no control. It seemed as though she had just delivered a verbal roasting, such was her expression of barely suppressed rage, her face burning with absolute fury and her eyes like claymores.
That wasn't what was most shocking. Before them, in three chairs, were sat three freshmen. And they all looked a mess.
Apple Bloom had an ice pack over her left eye, covering a bruise next to her eyebrow which had been administered by an angry student, it seemed. Sweetie Belle's clothes were covered in food stains, and her jacket, which seemed at a long range to be pink with white dots, on closer inspection was actually covered in milk and egg white. Furthermore, her shirt was ruined, a gigantic fruit juice stain dribbling down the front in a nondescript blob. But Scootaloo was easily in the worst shape. She had her arms over her chests, and was breathing heavily from having been winded several times. In addition, her hair was torn in places, there were tears running up and down her slacks, and a bruise on her knee and forehead. All three of them were not speaking, but it seemed there had been a furious argument going earlier, judging from Luna's face.
"All the evidence points to you!" she boomed, her voice rolling around as a tital wave of noise. "So why won't you end this nonsense and confess to your crimes?"
"It wasn't us!" Scootaloo answered.
"SHUT UP!" Luna roared, which sent the freshman recoiling in her seat. "I will hear no more of your lies." She then turned her attention to the four who had just entered. "Good morning," she said. "Though I daresay it will not seem like a good morning for much longer, given the disgraceful revelations we just had."
"What are you talking about?" Rainbow Dash asked. "Why do these three look like they've been dragged through bushes backward?"
Rarity bent down to look at her sister, who had tears in her eyes from being yelled at. "What's going on?" she asked. "I must say, your clothes look a mess; that'll need correcting pretty promptly."
"Yeah," Applejack added. "Why is mah little sis' here? Fer that matter, why are all three of the Crusaders here?"
Celestia sighed, as she observed Cheerilee's interaction with Scootaloo, the mother trying to comfort her obviously terrified daughter. That'll end soon, she thought. "Undoubtedly, you are aware of the Anon-a-Miss scandal that has swept the school in the last week or so."
"Yep!" Applejack said. "Did Sunset finally confess ta her crimes?"
"Sunset Shimmer is not Anon-a-Miss," Celestia responded. There was a long pause, before she continued. "It was these three. Your. Own. SISTERS!"
Another silence settled upon the room, as Sweetie Belle began sobbing. "We didn't do it," she whispered, through the twin waterfalls running down her face.
"Oh don't try the crocodile tears on us," Luna snorted. "It won't work, and neither will lying."
"You don't seriously think that Sweetie Belle was somehow wrapped up in all this?" Rarity asked. "Because I know for a fact that my sister would never do anything so horrible!"
"We don't think these three did it. We know these three did it." Celestia's words were clear as day.
Cheerilee stood up. "You're going to need some very strong proof to convince me that Scootaloo would do something so utterly stupid."
Celestia turned her monitor around. "How's this for proof?" she asked, with a victorious smirk.
The image was the most recent MyStable post from Anon-a-Miss, the one Cheerilee had seen. It showed all three Crusaders sat at a computer, with the caption below reading it was us.
Rarity's jaw fell open. "Oh God," she said. "I'm clearly not the judge of character I thought I was!"
"I'm not convinced," Rainbow Dash said. "Anybody could easily just take a picture of them and put a caption on it."
"Then care to explain how they were caught logging into the account this morning? Or how none of the secrets released by the account were about them?" Luna replied. She adjusted her monitor, which was a shot from a security camera in the library. On it, the three girls girls could be seen sitting at one of the computers, the Anon-a-Miss page clearly visible.
Rainbow Dash suddenly felt weak, and staggered backwards. "No," she whispered. "Not my Scoots...not my little sister..."
Celestia then continued. "We also found past secrets and ones yet to be posted, but had been submitted to the account, on their phones. Do you need anymore proof?"
"Somebody could have planted that information," Applejack pointed out. Apple Bloom had gone white with fear. This was their last chance to avoid punishment.
And it went pretty promptly. Celestia spoke once more. "We have an audio recording proving it was them, submitted by an anonymous student." Nobody dared laugh at the irony. "I shall play it now."
“We got two of them away.”
“That’s less than half! I wouldn’t exactly call that a smashing success, Scootaloo!"
“OK, OK! I’m working on it, OK? We need a new strategy if we’re going to get the other three!"
“That’s gonna be a lot of work. Like sluggin’ up a steep hill.”
“This ought to do it”.
Once the recording stopped, there was nothing else to say. Scootaloo tried to say something. "That had-"
"I believe I told you to be silent!" Luna boomed. The freshman simply began crying softly, water trailing into her hoodie and soaking it.
There was a long silence before anbody spoke again. "So, how are you going to punish them?" Cheerilee ventured nervously. "Please go easy on them, they're only kids."
"Kids who broke a hell of a lot of laws, Mrs Collins," Luna growled. "They're lucky I don't call the police this instant and have them clapped in irons."
Celestia took up the conversation. "Firstly, they will be receiving after-school, lunchtime and saturday detention for the rest of the term, and after-school and lunchtime detention for the remainder of their school career here. In addition, they are immediately removed from any clubs they were part of, and are prohibited from joining any clubs for the remainder of their time here at Canterlot High. Furthermore, they are prohibited from attending any school events for the rest of their lives. In matters not relating to these three, all students who have targeted Sunset will be receiving an indefinite suspension, effective after school ends today."
"Getting back onto these three, would that ban on school events include the town barbeque?" Rarity ventured.
"Any school events," Celestia repeated. Apple Bloom simply hid her face in her hands.
"That seems excessive," Cheerilee commented, still trying to dry her daughter's eyes.
"I was only just getting started," Celestia replied coldly, the anger she felt clear. "In addition to what they have already been assigned, they are being assigned to the school cleaning unit, starting tomorrow. Finally, there shall be an assembly later today where these three shall admit their guilt to the entire school. I wouldn't be surprised if there are attempted reprisals."
Scootaloo stood up, and leaned directly into Celestia's face. "You can't make us confess to something we didn't do!" she said defiantly.
"I take it you want to be expelled then?" Celestia answered.
This was simply too much for Scootaloo, who lost her rag. "WHAT SORT OF A PRINCIPAL ARE YOU?" she screamed. "YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO CARE FOR YOUR STUDENTS, BUT WON'T LET US GET A FUCKING WORD IN! I HATE YOU!" She collapsed back into her seat, now crying uncontrollably, as Cheerilee tried to shield her.
Celestia sighed. "I take it you will be administering your own punishments?" she said.
"We will," Rarity said darkly. "I shall beat this uncouth and indelicate manner out of this here ruffian!" With that, she grabbed Sweetie Belle's wrist, and dragged her through the door, ignoring her sister's desperate protests as she did so.
"There will also be beatin's at mah end," Applejack said. "Literally." With that, she shot forward, and tore the bow straight out of Apple Bloom's hair. "You've lost the right ta wear this. Frankly, y'all be lucky if ma and pa don't disown ya fer this."
"Some element of honesty you are!" Apple Bloom shot back. It was a mistake, as Applejack's fist cut across her face.
"This way!" Applejack roared, more in the manner of a drill sergeant than a sibling. With that, she grabbed Apple Bloom by the ear and dragged her off, the younger girl's protests echoing alongside Sweetie Belle's in a cacophanous mess.
Rainbow Dash simply walked away. "It'll be a long time before you earn my trust again, squirt," she said sadly, her voice vanishing into the distance.
That just left Cheerilee and Scootaloo. "Scootaloo," Cheerilee said, calmly and slowly. "I'm very disappointed in you. We shall discuss this with your father later."
The younger girl put up no resistance. She was spent, and simply nodded. With that, they left the room, and Celestia and Luna were left in the darkness.
When Sunset came into the corridors for lessons beginning, she was expecting another hail of abuse, food, and other such instruments of humiliation. But what actually happened surprised her somewhat.
Several students had gathered in the corridor, looking frightfully sorry for themselves and their actions. At the head of them was Trixie Lulamoon, who to her credit had not done anything against Sunset, and the boy who had thrown stuff at her several days ago.
"Hello?" Sunset asked. "What's going on?"
Trixie was the first to speak. "The Great and Powerful Trixie wishes to offer a Great and Powerful apology for the actions of her classmates which were simply disgraceful."
"Wow," Sunset said quietly. "I have no idea if that is genuine or sarcastic. So I'll take it as the former."
"Put simply," the boy spoke up, his eyes looking at the floor. "We're sorry for what we did, Sunset. I'm sorry."
Sunset sighed. "I'm not sure I can forgive you right now. But I'll try." There was a pause. "So, who was behind it?"
Just then, three freshmen boys, whom Sunset identified as Pipsqueak, Button Mash and Rumble (or, the boyfriends of Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo) pushed through the crowd to speak to her.
"According to the assembly earlier, it was the Crusaders," Pip started, looking very worried.
Sunset took a step back. "Is this some sort of joke?" she asked.
"It seems not," Rumble said. "It doesn't mean we have to believe it though. Anon-a-Miss has been spreading lies the entire week. Why shouldn't this be another one?"
Sunset took out her phone, went to the MyStable app, and checked her post. One from this morning was Anon-a-Miss, showing a shot of the Crusaders, with the caption 'It was us'.
Sunset laughed at the post. "Honestly, this is fucking amateurish. Thanks for raising this to my attention boys. It needs dealing with, and as quickly as we can."
Later that day, the tone of tension that had existed in the school seemed to have dissipated. The Crusaders, somewhat wisely, had chosen not to show their faces and were having lunch elsewhere. The cafeteria itself was a place of jubiliation, students playing horns and vuvuzelas (which got incredibly irritating), loud cheering booming off the walls and windows, and students enthusiastically partying, as Pinkie Pie had somehow whipped up cakes and other myriad deserts for an impromptu 'Sorry for thinking you were Anon-a-Miss Sunset' party. Sunset Shimmer walked through the crowds, her face still a frown, as she collected her lunch and sat down at a table with the Rainbooms, whom she was a little apprehensive of, and waited for the conversation to star. It didn't take long for the platitudes and apologies to start rolling out of their mouths, and it went on and on and on.
"First off Sunset," Applejack said, her hat over her face, "Ah'm sorry fer thinkin' ya were Anon-a-Miss. Turns out the truth were right under mah nose the whole time and Ah couldn't see it."
"Likewise Sunset," Pinkie added, her face sad and her hair, rather than being poofed up as usual, was drooped around her. "I was a real jerk and party pooper to you, I know."
"Thanks guys," Sunset replied in a disinterested tone, taking a bite out of her burger. Whilst many were surprised that Sunset ate meat, this was a side-effect of her now-human biology, which was something she couldn't stop at least whilst she was on Earth. "So, this Anon-a-Miss business."
"Good God," Rainbow Dash sighed. "Who'd have thought it? Scootaloo leaking our secrets! I won't be going anywhere near her anytime soon." With that, the rainbow haired girl took a swig of her drink, only to start coughing moments later, requiring a pat on the back from Fluttershy.
"I can proudly and affirmatively confirm that Sweetie Belle will be properly and comprehensively chastised," Rarity added, seemingly determined to ensure that her words would alliterate effectively. "A lady should be demure and decent, not to mention really useful. And those three have caused nothing but confusion and delay!"
Sunset looked in confusion. "Rarity, I have no idea what you just said. How can I grasp what you are exigent if you are simply selecting contention from the lexicon?"
"That honestly made little sense, darling," Rarity answered, taking a bite out of her sandwich.
"That's the entire point!" Rainbow Dash exclaimed, facepalming.
"Anywhoo," Applejack said, with a satisfied look on her face, "Ah'll see ta it that Apple Bloom gets a spankin'. What she did was wrong, and punishment should be an obvious solution."
Sunset looked horrified. "That's barbaric!"
"In Equestria, all forms of physical chastisement were outlawed as forms of abuse. Where I'm from, we try to rehabilitate the offender and get them back into society. I think you're more interested in getting revenge then ensuring your siblings get anything productive out of this."
"I have no idea what Cheerilee has planned for Scootaloo, but it had better be good," Rainbow Dash sighed. "She needs a clear warning not to spill secrets."
What happened next shocked them all. Sunset looked at them. "I don't think they did it."
Applejack spat out her food. "Have Ah got apple sauce in mah ears, or did she just say she doesn't think they did it?"
"Yes, I did," Sunset replied, her face serious.
"But the evidence-!" Rarity began, before being shushed.
"Think about it," Sunset said, making sure she had their full and undivided attention. "Some mysterious user starts posting our secrets, then suddenly the Crusaders appear, with the evidence loaded on their phones, attempt to log into the account in school on a public server, and then an audio recording appears of them? It's far too convenient."
"They're the only ones who could have got that information," Fluttershy said quietly. "Apple Bloom knew Applejack's nickname, Sweetie Belle was in the same house as us when the slumber party was going on, and Scootaloo would have access to her mother's photos. So I don't see how it couldn't have been them."
"Firstly," Sunset answered, "remember that all the student body, bar us, were under the Dazzling's control during the Battle of the Bands, and this meant that secrets would have been spilled when they were competing with one another."
"But we know nobody remembers anything from that time!" Rainbow Dash countered.
"Do we?" Sunset asked rhetorically. "Or are we simply assuming it to be a fact? It is entirely within reason somebody could have remembered the nickname from when Apple Bloom blurted it out at some point. Furthermore, there are plenty of people who are good with technology. They could have hacked my phone and taken the pictures and videos off then! If you need proof, check Sweetie Belle's computer for photographs."
"There's no need for that," Rarity said darkly. "We've sold it off, alongside all of Sweetie Belle's other possesions. If she can't be trusted with the internet, why should she be trusted with anything?"
Sunset's mouth was open in shock. "That's just cruel!" she exclaimed.
"Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind," Pinkie Pie answered, helping herself to a cupcake.
"Finally, let's consider the nature of how they were uncovered. Why, would a person who was previously untracable and impossible to locate, suddenly and out of all reason and logic load their information for the account onto their phones, take it into school with them, and then attempt to log into the account on a public connection? It simply makes no sense. It's sloppy. Not to mention those three have nothing against me anyway." Sunset sat back in her chair, waiting for a reply.
"What if they were pretendin' ta like ya, so they could stab ya in the back?" Applejack asked.
"You have serious trust issues, don't you?" Sunset asked. "No wonder you believed Rainbow Dash had skipped your bake sale on purpose so easily." Applejack had no counter to this, and fell silent.
Sunset continued. "Think of all the fun we've had together, the times I helped them with work and their social lives. Heck, I helped Sweetie Belle open up to Button Mash! Not to mention all the times they helped protect me from attacks, or defended my name, and reputation."
"Darling, there really-"
"Don't fucking give me that, Rarity," Sunset snapped. "You always saw your sister as a niusance. Now you're finding a way to be mean to her."
"Yer mad ta think that they're innocent," Applejack said with finality. "The evidence points to them and them alone. Now move on and we can get on with our lives."
That was the last straw. Sunset stood up and kicked her chair under the table. "Fine! If that's how you want to play it, go ahead. Be obstinate dicks and fail to see what should be right in front of your eyes!"
"Sunset, are you saying that?" Fluttershy asked.
"Yes, I am," the bacon haired girl snapped. "You can forget about being my friend whilst you keep this up." And with that, she walked off and went to another table.
Morning came bitterly cold that day. The snow howled through the air and the skies were grey. The white stuff continued to blanket the land around Canterlot, which would have made a beautiful scene were it not for the sky. The general air of sadness continued to hang over the town itself, a tone of sadness that would not dissipate irrespective of what anybody tried to do to cheer anybody up. Anon-a-Miss had caused so much carnage, and nobody was in the mood to celebrate. At least not at the moment.
Up at Sweet Apple Acres, the normal jovial tone was gone, replaced with anger and fury. Inside the house, most of the folk were in their rooms, wrapped up warm, or trying to cheer themselves up. Not one person though.
Out in the fog and the snow, Apple Bloom trudged through the thick clouds of snow. Trudged is actually the wrong way to describe it; she looked as if she had just got off a boat after many months at sea, and wandered toward the equipment shed where the farm's railway locomotives were kept. It was hard going, and every step was a reminder of the pain. Every step was agony. But no matter what she did, she couldn't talk anyone into seeing her side of the story. Nobody would listen. Everybody was so intent on getting a quick solution to the crisis of Anon-a-Miss they had been unwilling to listen. Not that it would've mattered, as nobody trusted her anymore. Not her parents. Nor her grandparents. Nor her siblings.
Her mind flashed back to that day, which felt like decades ago, which had decided her current fate, the one that left her in this state of blinding agony, the one that completely destroyed her respect for Applejack.
The living room of the house had more of the feeling of an interrogation room to it than a home. Big Mac patrolled up and down like a prison guard at a Gulag, whilst Pear Butter and Grand Pear kept close eyes on Apple Bloom, who was seated on the couch, her eyes darting around to try and find a glimmer of compassion, whilst a loud furious argument was going on next door.
"Ah hope yer proud of the mess ya made," Big Mac said angrily. "Thanks ta ya, Sugar Belle won't see me no more."
"It weren't me," Apple Bloom replied weakly. She had already used up most of her strength, arguing her innocence until she had no breath left. But it hadn't worked, as her family members were incredibly stubborn. Besides, all the evidence they had been given pointed to her anyway.
"Save yer breath," Grand Pear, his tone nastier than usual. "The evidence all points to you. So suck it up and take responsibility for yer action."
Pear looked over to her father. "There's no need fer the tone, but Ah do agree. Ah thought Ah'd raised ya better than this, Apple Bloom."
The younger girl just didn't care anymore, as more shouting could be heard next door. Finally, it stopped, and Granny Smith walked in, with Bright Mac stepping in behind her.
"We have decided," the matriarch of the Apple Family announced, as if reading out a death sentence, "that a spankin' ain't productive in this circumstance."
Apple Bloom let out a breath she didn't even know she'd been holding.
"But do not think you are gettin' out of this easily," Granny Smith continued, her voice full of anger. "As of tommora mornin', you will be doin' everybody's chores, and not permitted any help whilst doin' them. Furthermore, you are not allowed ta use either yer phone or yer computer. Applejack's movin' that ta the basement. Finally, yer grounded indefinitely and not allowed to see either of those troublemaker friend of yers, Scootaloo or Sweetie Belle."
"H-how lon' will this last fer?" Apple Bloom asked nervously.
"Until we can trust you again," her father said vaguely. "Now get ta yer room. Ah'm sick of seein' yer face."
The girl complied, leaving the room and walking up the stairs, closing her door behind her after she had crossed the threshold of her room. She sat down on her bed, and looked out of the window absent-mindedly.
"What did Ah do ta deserve this?" she asked. "Can't they see we ain't capable of spreadin' that sorta stuff?"
Her door suddenly crashed open, and there was Applejack, her face red with fury. "Why can't ya just take yer lumps like a woman, Apple Bloom?" the older girl asked.
"Why can't ya see yer believin' a lie?" Apple Bloom retorted. "If ya truly were the Element of Honesty, as Twilight said ya were, you'd be able ta see Ah've been framed!"
This was not the smartest of moves, as it seemed to make Applejack enraged. She charged at her little sister, grabbing her and pinning her against the wall. "You watch yer tongue, ya piece of shit!" she snarled. "Or else ya may lose it!"
"Ah have taken mah lumps," Apple Bloom replied. "Ah've been given mah punishment."
"Ah heard," Applejack replied. "Granny Smith ain't gonna spank ya."
There was a moment's silence. "Ah will."
"What?" Apple Bloom asked, before being flipped over and pinned over the chair that sat next to her desk. "Sis, don't! Yer makin' a terrible mistake!"
Applejack sighed as she pulled Apple Bloom's jeans down, exposing her rear. "The only mistake made around here was that you were born," she said, and raised her hand to strike.
Apple Bloom had no idea how many times she had been hit, or even how hard. It had all blurred together into a hurricane of pain and anger. What she did know for certain was that she had been hit incredibly hard, if the fact her ass was still burning like a forest fire was anything to go by. This made doing work even harder, not least the fact that Applejack kept extending the list of chores every few minutes out of spite. The others were enjoying this, she knew it, and all for something she didn't do.
At this point in time, she had just finished moving the cider boxes from the barn ready to be loaded onto passing trains going along the main line. Apple Bloom could clearly hear and see the trains flying up and down the main line, steam flying from chimneys and cylinders and whistles sounding well into the night. It only went further to embody what she had lost; her freedom.
That wasn't the only thing she had lost. She felt naked without her bow, but Applejack had summarily taken it away from her and wouldn't give it back until she had been 'fully punished'. The fact that there was no defined period of punishment said a lot, as it could either end tomorrow, or endure to the end of her life. But still, there was no way out. Not even school was an escape, as their lockers had been defaced and attacked, and they had been assaulted several times by students. They hadn't bothered raising it with the school staff, as they probably wouldn't believe them anyway. After all, they had turned a blind eye to Sunset's actions during her reign of terror, so why should they do anything now? Her thoughts turned to Sunset. Where was she now? Hopefully she was having a nicer time than Apple Bloom was, stuck here in a miasma of snow and freezing cold.
She turned her attention to the snow. That was her next job. The snow needed sweeping off of the pathways that led to the main drive of Sweet Apple Acres, though the place was somewhat sour at the moment. Using a shovel would mean it would take at least an hour, at which point Applejack would just shout at her to hurry up. It was then she had an idea. She opened the door to the barn, and stepped inside for a brief respite from the cold. Before her were the engines she and her friends had recovered from the Everfree hills a few months back. They had been restoring a railroad there, but had not progressed far when this mess started. Now nobody wanted to work on it at all, as that meant association with the Crusaders. That was what hurt most. This mess had tarnished their names forever. Now nobody would want to know them, ever again.
She took the opportunity to light the fire of one of the engines, as this was part of the plan. In truth, the engine was already up to temperature thanks to pre-heating equipment she had turned on earlier in the day, but it never hurt. She opened up the door to let the engine out, only for Big Mac to stride through the door.
"What are ya doin'?" he snapped, his face red with anger.
"Lightin' up the engine ta clear the snow faster," Apple Bloom replied, matter of factly. "Steam from the cylinders can be used ta melt the snow faster."
Her older brother blinked. Then his face softened. "Good thinkin'," he said. "The sooner that snow is cleared, the better." Then, as he turned to leave, another individual walked in through the door, and Mac's face went back into angry mode. "What're ya doin' here, Pip!" he snarled.
"Helping Apple Bloom," the boy replied bravely. "The way you are treating her is simply monstrous, and as a good citizen I simply cannot let that stand."
Mac's hand closed into a fist. Pip more than took the hint and backed up. He had heard tales of Big Mac's terrifying strength, and although Mac was not a violent person, Pip would rather not take the risk. "Get off mah property, or Ah'm reportin' ya to the Police fer trespassin'!"
"Apart from the fact that trespass is a Civil matter, not a criminal one, I see the truth now. Your stubborness is blinding you from seeing the truth."
"All the evidence points to Apple Bloom and her 'friends'," with Big Mac putting especial emphasis on the word 'friends', "havin' done this. How else could they have known Applejack's nickname?"
"Somebody overhearing it?" Pip answered. "Besides, what did they stand to gain for doing it? Nothing at all! It makes no sense!"
"Ah reccomend ya scram," Big Mac answered. "Unless ya plan to set the house on fire like ya British did ta Washington."
Pip looked around. "I'm wasting my time here," he said. "But one day you will come to regret your actions." And with that, he dissappeared off into nothingness. Big Mac turned around to face his sister.
"Get that snow cleared," he said coldly, as he walked out of the barn. Apple Bloom nodded nervously, but her eyes stung with tears as she opened the regulator on Stuart the Brave. How could they hate her so much?
"Hold still darling, I need to put one last adjustment pin in."
Rarity intentionally took as long as she could over the process, as she tested yet another horrible and lurid outfit on Sweetie Belle. This had been the case since the day that the principals had seemed so convinced that she and her friends had done it. Her parents had sanctioned it. And that was how it was to remain for now.
Sweetie Belle had stopped counting how many different items Rarity had tested on her. Ill fitting jumpers, dresses in horrifying colours with equally horrible patterns and awkward stitching, intentionally designed to make her skin itch, shirts that were several sizes too small intentionally-Sweetie Belle was convinced her sister was doing it on purpose. Not that her parents would listen. She had always been a little closer to her father than her mother, but even he wouldn't listen to her, instead locking her out of the basement where the model railroad, which she had poured so much time and love into, was situated. Only he went in there every now and then, and it had been a long time since Sweetie Belle had heard it being used. Not that she had much left.
As part of her punishment, she had been prohibited from using any electronics of any description, and banned from leaving the home in any way, shape, or form. Then, to add insult to injury, her parents had sold off each and every one of her personal possessions. This included her PC, her phone, but even personal items that were valuable to her, such as a fragment of the Talyllyn Railway she had received from a friend in Wales, several certificates, including one confirming her as an engineer on the California Coast Railroad, and even her toys, including Jupiter. She had begged them not to get rid Jupiter, as that toy train was the oldest item in her collection, and had been the very first toy she had ever received when she was born. But her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. Her parents had claimed that someone who was as callous and cruel as her, spreading dirty laundry around, didn't deserve to own anything. That, and it was allegedly to make up for the income lost from the fact that people were no longer buying Rarity's clothes because of the Anon-a-Miss incident, but Sweetie Belle knew full well her parent's incomes more than covered that loss. This was done out of spite, pure and simple.
But if that had seemed bad, then the worst was yet to come. Her parents had also cut her diet, rationing her to water and soup. She was often sent away from the table first before she had even finished, leaving her hungry most days, as soup isn't especially nourishing. She had already lost some weight, and with no end to the punishment in sight, she would try to get a proper meal at school every day. That is, assuming Granny Smith didn't randomly decide not to serve her or her friends. That seemed to be a problem some days, and this often resulted in Scootaloo or Cozy sharing their packed lunches. Sweetie Belle felt awful taking food away from other people, but it was that or starve.
And now was the morning modelling session. This was pretty horrible, but Sweetie Belle simply had to grit and endure it as she was put into whatever monstrosity Rarity had come up with.
Her older sister stepped back to survey her work."Quite marvellous," she said. "But then again, it could do with a slight addition of burgundy."
"Hasn't it already got burgundy on it?"
"No no, darling, that's purple. The only connection they have is the same colour family." Rarity sighed as she tweaked some fabric, one of the pins moving.
"Ow!! Rarity, that hurt!"
"Well, at least you know how everybody you leaked secrets on feels," Rarity replied, completely without any care or affection, as if she was talking to a robot. "But then again, given this was just another of your tantrums, I doubt you'd care."
"Well, isn't that rich, coming from you," Sweetie Belle replied. "You never cared about me, and you never have."
"I do not pay you to talk to me!" Rarity snapped, as she tweaked another part of the outfit.
"You don't pay me anything," Sweetie Belle said quietly. "I'm effectively your slave."
"This dramatically decreases operating costs," Rarity said in response.
"It's not as if you'd listen to a word I'd say anyway," Sweetie Belle grumbled.
"Sorry, what was that?" Suddenly, a pin broke, and it was left in Rarity's hand. "My goodness!" she exclaimed. "I must go and get some more. Stay right there, I'll be back in a minute or two." Just then, the fashionista dissappeared out of the room, in search of fresh pins.
"Proves my point," she sighed. Just then, she heard a knock on the window, and saw who was there. Standing on the other side of the window, was Button Mash, a smile on his face. Her heart turned to mush the second she saw him.
"Open the window!" the boy called. Sweetie Belle walked over to the window and pushed it open.
"How are you, Button?" she asked. Button was one of the few people in the world who believed she and her friends were innocent, but those people were few, and their enemies many. Safe to say, those who believed the Crusaders hadn't done it were liable to being chased out of establishments and harrassed in other ways.
"Things have been boring without you," he said, his face morose. "We need to set things right and find out who really did this."
"But how?" Sweetie Belle asked in despair. "How can we prove it when the evidence is set up the way it is?"
Just then, the door reopened, and Rarity appeared with not only her box of pins, but a tray with two cups and a teapot. Her face turned to anger when she saw Button Mash, and she stormed over, yanking Sweetie Belle back by the hair.
"If I see your pathetic face around here again, I'll refuse to sell your family any clothing!" she snapped.
"Good!" Button shot back. "Cause we're boycotting anyway. The way you treat a member of your own family is disgusting. You think you're a lady, but you're just pathetic." He turned around and walked off.
Rarity wiped her mouth. "Honestly, somebody needs to go and wash that rogue's mouth out with soap." She passed the first of the two cups over. "Water for you," she said. Then she poured some tea from the teapot. "And a warm cup of tea for me!"
"Button's right, you know," Sweetie Belle said, a defiant streak in her voice. "You seem to think your all aristocratic, with your ridiculous 'darling' this and 'lady' that, but you know what? You're just a bully!"
"Oh, isn't this ironic!" Rarity snapped. "It is not ladylike to share people's secrets around!"
"It's not ladylike to believe lies!" Sweetie Belle snapped back. "But it's not as if you ever gave a damn about the truth anyway."
Rarity knocked her cup over, the hot tea spilling all over her sister, who yelped in shock. "Language, you treasonous fiend!" she shouted. "For that, I'm extending this session by another three hours!"
There was no doubt in Sweetie Belle's mind this was Hell. And she would have to bear it alone.
Scootaloo sat in her room, looking out of the window at the world going by. People walking past gave rude gestures as they went by, and this was the mildest treatment she had received. Even so, she suspected she had fared a lot better than her friends. Her mind flashed back to the day she had been accused and 'found guilty' of being Anon-a-Miss, and the aftermath.
Scootaloo and Cheerilee walked down the corridor, neither saying a word. The look of disappointment was still on Cheerilee's face, and Scootaloo's tears still rolled down her face as they proceeded along.
"Mom, I-" Scootaloo began.
"Save it," Cheerilee snapped. "My office, now."
"I really fucked up," Scootaloo thought desperately. "Somebody up there must hate me." As they entered the music department, Cheerilee opened the door to her office, and indicated to a seat.
"Sit," was all she said, her voice indicative of her mood. Scootaloo walked in and sat down, trembling all the while. She had heard her mother could have a frightful temper, which she did not want to incur the wrath of. The door was closed behind them, and Cheerilee turned around to face Scootaloo. It was then the teacher's face softened noticably, and there seemed to be tears in her eyes.
"What's been going on?" she asked, her voice now with a tone of worry.
"I didn't do it," Scootaloo whispered. "None of us did."
Cheerilee came closer, and wrapped Scootaloo in a hug. "Don't worry," she said soothingly. "I believe you."
"What?" Scootaloo said, audibly confused. "You seemed so angry in the office."
"You've forgotten how good an actor I can be," Cheerilee smiled. "I know you wouldn't do something like this, as you simply don't have it in you to do something like this."
"Thanks for believing me, mom," Scootaloo replied. "But why are you so certain?"
"Because I can tell when you are lying, Scootaloo," Cheerilee told her. "And the state you're currently in suggests you are telling the truth. If you hadn't been wrongly accused, would you be crying?" With that, she handed her daughter a tissue to wipe her eyes.
"But who?" Scootaloo asked. "Who would want to frame us?"
Cheerilee sighed. "I don't know. But in order to avoid attracting suspicion I'll need to pretend to punish you."
Scootaloo sighed. "There are worse things than being confined to the house."
"You'll also need to write a letter of apology to Celestia," Cheerilee added. "I know you were upset, but to speak like that to her was unnacceptable." Cheerilee certainly knew her daughter well, having had to deal with her tantrums several times. It seemed this incident had simply set another one of those off.
"Wait, you're not going to make me confess to something I didn't do, right?" Scootaloo asked, audibly panicked.
Cheerilee put her head in her hands. "I don't think there's any way out of this. I'm so sorry, Scootaloo."
After school that day, Cheerilee led her daughter to the streetcar stop, trying to shield her. The assembly had been absolute uproar, with things being thrown at the girls, for a crime they were innocent of. Suddenly, a snowball flew through the air and landed on Scootaloo's cheek. She screamed in pain at the gash it left.
"Scootaloo!" Cheerilee cried, looking at her daughter's face. Her right cheek had a gash in it from the impact, caused by a giant rock that now lay on the ground.
"Take that, Anon-a-Bitch!" a student shouted, before running off.
Scootaloo was crying openly from the pain, blood running down her face, and Cheerilee rushed her over to the streetcar that was waiting. It was the most tense run home they had ever had, and when they got in, Cheerilee had to disinfect the wound. It became too painful after a while, and both mother and daughter sobbed in each other's arms for what felt like hours.
Since then, Scootaloo had spent her time in the house when she wasn't in school. She wasn't prohibited use of electronics, but had to keep the curtains closed in order to avoid exposing what was really going on. Like her friends, whom she wasn't permitted to see outside of school, she had been attacked on school property and had needed to have her clothes mended a few times from the tears and cuts. It had got so bad, Cheerilee had considered pulling her out of school, but that would likely anger the Principals, whom Scootaloo had heard her mother describe as 'fucking useless'. She wouldn't repeat that though, as such a report would likely cost Cheerilee her job, and Scootaloo would never want that. She was close to her mom, and not entirely unreasonably, as she was the parent she had seen the most whilst growing up. She just hoped she was OK out in town shopping...
Cheerilee trudged through the snow, protected by her thick coat. It had been a few days from Hell. Not only had her daughter been accused of a crime she hadn't committed, she was being punished for it by the school and the students who had decided to use her as a punchbag. She had reported the abuse over and over again, but for some reason the school would do nothing. The cheer was gone from the town, no doubt about that. Cheerilee's face was set in a permanent frown over proceedings, and the fact she was being forced to lie. Not only to the outside world, but to herself, by pretending to punish Scootaloo. It felt so wrong, but she had to go along with it. This shopping run hadn't been hugely successful anyway. She had gone into the local butchers to purchase some chicken for tonight's dinner. She was cooking roast chicken and fries, which was Scootaloo's favourite dinner, in an effort to cheer her daughter up. But for some reason, the owner had refused to sell it to her, only repeating his mantra that he had the right to refuse service without giving a valid reason for not selling. Oh well. Hopefully she could buy some tuna and make a tuna sandwich for lunch today, which Scootaloo would take to like a duck to water.
As she walked along, she walked past Sugarcube Corner, and decided to pop in to get a hot drink. A hot chocolate was precisely what she needed in the cold weather, and she had happy memories of coming here with Scootaloo in the old days after school, usually getting a strawberry milkshake. Maybe they should do it again. As she pushed open the door, the place was pretty busy. Cheerilee dropped her hood and walked over to the counter. As she did so, the place suddenly fell silent, and Cheerilee was suddenly aware of everybody in the establishment looking at her. Undeterred, she rang the store bell, and Mrs Cake came through.
"Hello! What can I-" Mrs Cake's smile faded and her voice trailed off when she saw who it was. "Oh. You."
Cheerilee found this a bit odd, but continued undeterred. "A hot chocolate with cream please."
"I'm afraid I cannot do that," came the response.
Cheerilee was shocked. "Excuse me?" she asked.
Mrs Cake crossed her arms. "The management reserves the right to refuse service to customers."
"On what grounds?" Cheerilee retorted.
"Are you trying to make me call the cops?" Mr Cake added, emerging from the back of the store.
"On what charge? Asking to be served in a cafe?"
Just then the people in the cafe looked over. "Hey, look, it's Anon-a-Miss' mom!" one of them shouted.
Cheerilee groaned. "So that's what this is about," she thought. "Look, my daughter-"
"Ruined my life!" shouted one.
"Cost me my job!" shouted another.
"Doesn't deserve your love!" shouted yet another.
And then it happened. Out of nowhere, food items began flying through the air, being thrown by patrons. They landed all over the place, ice cream and milkshake splattering all over Cheerilee and landing on the floor all around her. A large muffin soared through the air and hit her in the face, causing her to stagger back and slip on spilled drink, landing on her back. She looked a mess and everybody knew it. Several people closed in as she tried to get away, but the floor was too slippery by this point.
"Maybe you should've smothered your child in the cradle, given the monster she turned out to be," said one nastily.
Cheerilee burst into tears almost immediately. Just then, another voice called out.
Cheerilee looked over and saw Rumble, a boy she taught in the 7th Grade, not to mention Scootaloo's boyfriend, stepping forward. "You should be ashamed of yourselves!" he bellowed. "And you, and you, and you!" He continued stepping forward, and reached to take Cheerilee's hand, helping her to her feet.
"What did she do to deserve this?" Rumble thundered. "Not only are you all jumping to conclusions, you are all hypocrites! You blame Anon-a-Miss for your problems, yet you submitted secrets to her! YOU are all Anon-a-Miss!"
Mr Cake looked over furious. "That's enough," he said. "Both of you, get out, NOW."
"Fine," Rumble growled, as he and Cheerilee prepared to leave. "Until you get your head out of your ass, I won't be stopping here anyway."
As both of them left, Cheerilee looked to Rumble. "Thanks," she said.
"No problem," the boy replied. "I don't think the Crusaders were Anon-a-Miss anyway, but how they treated you is just plain unnaceptable."
Cheerilee sighed. At least somebody was on the same page as her. "Would you like to see Scootaloo? She could do with someone to cheer her up."
The detention room in Canterlot High School was the most hated and feared room in the entire school. It was an old classroom that had fallen out of use a few years back, and had been refitted to be a place to specifically punish students for any wrongdoing that merited a detention. This reputation alone earned it the nickname of 'Room 101', as it was where the deepest and darkest fears of students came true. Or so ran the rumour, as students were prone to hyperbole, but still is was not a place you wanted to go. Whilst there, you would be set work created with the sole function of wasting your time, answering ridiculous questions such as 'why is grass green', or having to write out positive and optimistic quotes such as “The sinister, the terrible never deceive: the state in which they leave us is always one of enlightenment. And only this condition of vicious insight allows us a full grasp of the world, all things considered, just as a frigid melancholy grants us full possession of ourselves. We may hide from horror only in the heart of horror" (Thomas Ligotti). Not entirely surprisingly, the comparisons made to the works of George Orwell were many and regular, with the place often being compared to a Soviet era re-education camp.
It is in one of those sessions that we find ourselves now, and Mr Cranky Doodle was busy setting up the room for its next group of victims. Sorry, I meant 'delinquent students'. He set the board up, and wrote the names of the students who were in today, shaking his head as he wrote down the names of the Crusaders. Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle had always been such delightful students; hard working, friendly, resourceful, even if they could get a little too excitable and noisy for his taste.
"Those girls have had all that society and money can give them," he sighed, as he continued pacing about the room with his face in a permanent scowl of disappointment. "But it clearly wasn't enough. Those three felt it needed to turn the entire place upside down, only because their sisters wouldn't play with them."
There was a loud buzzer, indicating that he was to let the students in. He walked over to the door, and opened it. The usual suspects like Dumbbell and Score wandered through, and several other students for whom it was clearly their first time, judging from the looks on their faces. Then came in the Crusaders, all of whom looked completely depressed. Apple Bloom's face was long, and she looked odd without her bow. Sweetie Belle was dressed differently to normal, wearing a pair of pants, and a blue shirt with a green hoodie, presumably another of her sister's creations. Her face was equally morose, and her eyes were devoid of any expression. Scootaloo's clothes were torn, but this wasn't a surprise. Most of the staff knew they were being attacked, but without visual evidence of it happening there was little that could be done. Besides, if the word around the staffroom was anything to go by, those three deserved it. And this was exactly how Cranky Doodle felt.
As the students sat down, none of them saying a word and placing their bags next to their desks, Cranky walked over to the front board and pointed to a clock. "You have one hour to complete the work in front of you. There is to be no talking when you are here, or when you leave the room, or else I'll hold you back another hour. Begin."
Sweetie Belle looked down at the paper before her. Today, there was a quote to analyse, namely "the only thing neccesary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." The irony of the remark was not lost on the freshman, who rubbed her eyes at the fresh tears. The evil being inflicted upon her and her friends was only possible because good people in the school did nothing. But that wasn't going to change any time soon. Their names were tarnished for the rest of their lives, and this would only change with them going to their graves.
She had thought that God cared, and she had prayed night and day for someone from up high to intervene and end their pain. But she suspected the man upstairs had simply forgotten about her, and that she was stuck in this state of hell for eternity. Not to mention these itchy clothes were making almost impossible to think straight, but Rarity had, for some inexplicable reason, prevented her from wearing her usual outfit today. Maybe it was a punishment, to have to wear the most uncomfortable clothing on the planet in order to remind her every moment of her alleged sins. But enough. She had to start analysing this quote, as she would have to for years from now on. And her friends would have to do so as well. It may be hell, but at least she wasn't going through detention class on her own. Far from it.
In that moment, she thought briefly she could hear Apple Bloom crying. She turned her head to see her friend with tears in her eyes, and when she saw the quote she had been given she could see why.
"Whatever you do they will love you; even if they don't love you they are connected to you till you die. You can be boring and tedious with sisters, whereas you have to put on a good face with friends."
Applejack hadn't loved Apple Bloom, irrespective of what she had done. Indeed, she almost treated her like the spawn of Satan it seemed. It was equally true for Sweetie Belle, with Rarity going out of her way to be nasty, and Rainbow Dash had refused to talk to Scootaloo, which had crippled her self-confidence. Oh well. They had to grit it and bear it.
Then suddenly, there was a knock at the door.
"Come in!" boomed Cranky Doodle.
The door opened, and in stepped... Cheerilee? What was she doing here? Scootaloo noticed this, and looked over in surprise, not saying a word.
"Cheerilee?" Cranky asked in surprise. "What're you doing here?"
"That's Mrs Collins to you," Cheerilee replied coldly. "Instructions from Principal Celestia; Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle are to be transferred to the library, effective immediately, to see out the rest of the detention period. They are to bring all items with them, including pens and work."
Cranky looked surprised, but nodded his head. "Very well. Get's these three ruffians out of my hair anyways." He indicated to them. "You heard her; go!"
Desperate to escape this room, the Crusaders gathered their personal belongings and got up, heading out of the door as fast as they could before it closed behind them. Cranky Doodle sighed. "Well, that makes my evening a little more enjoyable," he said, before noticing the looks on the faces of the other students. "What are YOU looking at? Get back to work!"
In the corridor, Cheerilee led Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle toward the library, but stopped when Sunset arrived down another corridor.
"I see phase one of the plan succeeded?" Sunset asked.
"Yes," Cheerilee replied. "Now to get to the back of the school."
"What's going on?" Scootaloo asked, confused. "I thought you were taking us to the library."
Cheerilee looked back at them with a smile. "Detention is off, girls," she replied. "You three are going somewhere else." And they set off again through the corridors toward the back of the school.
Around the back of the school, near the streetcar stop, is the school car park (or the faculty lot, as Luna insisted on calling it). This had once been used by teachers quite extensively, but following a series of parking violations mostly involving lorries dropping off school yearbooks, the car park had been closed off for most uses, and it was now only for emergency access which needed a special permit. Outside, in the car park, sat a small blue car, with working lights and a boot.
"Is that your car, Miss Cheerilee?" Sweetie Belle asked.
"Indeed girls!" Cheerilee replied. "And I'm acting as your getaway driver."
Sunset stepped over to the passenger side, and waited while Cheerilee unlocked the doors.
"Nice car," Apple Bloom commented, as she looked around inside the well-maintained interior and at the unscratched paintwork. "We only have a beat up old Chevrolet two-tonner back at the farm."
"Oh?" Cheerilee asked. "Which year?"
"1955 or 1956, we ain't sure," Apple Bloom replied. "Now Ah know precisely what they invented the term 'jalopy'* for..."
The girls got in, with Sunset riding shotgun at the front, the Crusaders on the back seat, and Cheerilee in the driving seat. Not many of the students had driving skills, as the public transport in the town more or less made the need for a car redundant. Cheerilee started the engine, and they set off down the road and took a left. They drove for a few minutes, the homes and businesses rolling past them in a small blur, until they pulled up on the drive of Scootaloo's home. The garage door rolled open automatically, and Cheerilee drove in, the door rolling shut behind them automatically.
"Nice to see this old Hatchback's still got it," she smiled, as she turned the engine off and got out. Opening the door for the Crusaders, they walked in through the door after Cheerilee unlocked it, and they went into the kitchen, which it linked onto. "Can I get you girls anything to drink?" she asked. "Feel free to go in the living room if you want!"
A few minutes later, Cheerilee, Sunset, Scootaloo, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle were all sitting in the living room with drinks. Cheerilee and Sunset had taken coffee, whereas the Crusaders had opted for soft drinks. Sweetie Belle in particular seemed to be valuing her drink very much, which baffled Sunset somewhat.
"I don't mean to sound ungrateful," Sweetie Belle asked, "but why are you being nice to us?"
"Well, three girls who have been framed deserve some kindness, don't they?" Cheerilee replied.
"So, ya think we didn't do it?" Apple Bloom asked, somewhat stating the obvious as was her custom.
"We don't think you didn't do it," Sunset answered them, her voice full of conviction. "We know you didn't do it."
The three girls looked at one another in confusion. Then it dawned on them.
"Somebody believes us," Sweetie Belle whispered. Before anybody knew what was happening, she flew across the room and hugged Sunset tightly. "Thank you! You have no idea how much this means to us!"
"Believe me, I know," Sunset replied. "Whoever is behind this mess is hell bent on destroying not only my life, but yours as well, and even all we have tried to build at Canterlot High. This has to be stopped, and it has to be stopped now."
"If only Applejack had the sense ta see the light," Apple Bloom said quietly, before shifting in her seat and shouting out. "Ow!"
"Are you alright?" Cheerilee asked.
"It's just mah butt, never mind," Apple Bloom replied.
Sunset looked seriously at them. "This mess is an extremely serious one, and if it goes on it could lead to more heartbreak, or somebody doing something they'll regret for the rest of their lives. I know whoever is doing this is an old enemy of mine in the school, but that doesn't particularly narrow it down. But nobody at the school had the politeness to ask you your side of the story, not least the Principals whom, I have to say, I have a very low opinion of at the moment. So tell me girls, what happened that day when you logged onto your account in the library?"
Scootaloo nodded. "It all began when we tried logging on in the morning..."
Scootaloo and her friends walked through the corridors that morning, heading towards the library.
"I can't wait to see if we've got any replies on yesterday's post!" Sweetie Belle said excitedly.
"Yeah!" Apple Bloom added. "Ah bet folks found it a real hoot!"
"Let's just be careful where we log on," Scootaloo told them. "To be honest, some teachers don't like students using social media in the library."
They walked into the library, and headed over to one of computers. Sweetie Belle sat down. "Shall I do the honours?" she asked.
"If you want," Scootaloo replied. Sweetie Belle logged into her school account, and brought up MyStable. She clicked over to the login page, and typed in their user name; Canterlot Movie Club.
She then clicked down onto a lower panel, where the password text box was located, and typed in the password; We'llMakeOurMark. She then hit 'log in'.
What happened next would shock them greatly.
When the page came up, it was not their own. It was Anon-a-Miss!
"What in the?" Apple Bloom asked. How had this happened? Their page had been fine the previous day! Had somebody hacked their account? Their horror was compounded when the page posted a message, which popped up on screen showing a picture of them with the following message below it; It Was Us.
A moment later, an audio file began playing;
“We got two of them away.”
“That’s less than half! I wouldn’t exactly call that a smashing success, Scootaloo!"
“OK, OK! I’m working on it, OK? We need a new strategy if we’re going to get the other three!"
“That’s gonna be a lot of work. Like sluggin’ up a steep hill.”
“This ought to do it”.
As people began reacting to what was on their phones, they looked over at the Crusaders. Scootaloo's face had gone totally white with shock, and the other two girls had terrified expressions on their faces.
"So it was you!" a large, muscular student boomed. "You pieces of shit! We'll hammer you for this!"
Sweetie Belle simply screamed, and ran for her life out of the library and into the corridor, her friends tearing after her a moment later. But other students were waiting for them, as they ran into the corridor on which Principal Celestia's office was located. There were several students waiting for them.
"Time to suffer for what you did, you bastards!" roared one of them, a girl whom Scootaloo quickly identified as High Winds, one of the athletes. She grabbed Scootaloo and slammed her into a locker, leaving a sizable dent in it.
"No!" Scootaloo cried out in pain, as this student ripped some of her hair out. "You don't understand! We-"
"Decided to wreck the school for no fucking reason!" High Winds retaliated, before punching Scootaloo repeatedly in the gut.
Meanwhile, another student had pinned Apple Bloom, and raised his fist ready to strike. "Hey, Apple Bitch!" he snapped. "Here's something to blog about!" The impact slammed into her forehead, right next to her eyebrow.
"Get offa me!" the farm girl cried in desperation.
Elsewhere, students were throwing milk, eggs, and paint at Sweetie Belle, which splashed all over her clothes, leaving her jacket, shirt and skirt an indescribable mess of colours. Her jacket, in particular, looked as though it had gained polka dots, which was not the intention.
"Not so fun when it's you, eh?" a student laughed.
Sweetie Belle had never felt so humiliated in her life, and simply collapsed sobbing, repeating "it wasn't us," over and over.
"What in God's name is going on?" boomed the voice of Celestia. She looked furious.
"These three did it!" another student shouted.
"Get off to classes now," the Principal roared, "and get some icepacks from Nurse Redheart." She then looked at the Crusaders, who had by now accumulated a variety of injuries, ranging from bruises to winding. "You three have a LOT of explaining to do."
Sunset simply looked in shock. "Animals," she said. "And I'm the horse here. It's no wonder they're so easy to manipulate; the slightest hint of betrayal and they are all at each other's throats."
Cheerilee looked at the Crusaders. "I believe we know what happened next; they found some older secrets on your phones as well as some others that were yet to go up."
"They weren't there the previous day!" Apple Bloom exclaimed. "Ah don't know where they came from!"
"But instead of questioning the situation, the Principals simply took the path of least resistance," Sunset sighed. "Seriously, why would an experienced, clandestine cyberbully suddenly and for no logical reason log on to a public computer and bring their planned uploads with them on a phone? It makes no sense."
"And now our sisters and parents don't even trust us," Sweetie Belle said sadly. "All over something we didn't do."
"Don't worry, I believe you," Sunset replied. "The thing is, Cheerilee and I want to hunt Anon-a-Miss down. Would you want to join us in that effort?"
Scootaloo looked determined, putting her drink down. "That bastard not only ruined my life, but the lives of my friends and my mom. Count me in."
"If it uncovers the truth, Ah'm in," Apple Bloom added.
"I can help find the source," Sweetie Belle said. "I'm good with computers. Such a shame I no longer have my own, or any of my things, for that matter."
"Ah, yes," Sunset said with a wry smile. "They sold them all off to an anonymous buyer."
"Is that funny?" Sweetie Belle asked.
Sunset reached behind her, and held up a miniature 4-4-0 with tender attached. "I believe this belongs to you," she said.
"JUPITER!" Sweetie Belle exclaimed, running over and hugging Sunset. "Thank you so, so much!"
"We've got your PC set up in the spare room," Cheerilee said. "Whenever you're ready, we can get cracking."
A few hours later, Sweetie Belle had got changed into her usual clothes, as she felt most comfortable doing work in those. Sitting at her PC, she was working her way through the code on the Anon-a-Miss page. Sunset had her laptop open and was working her way through the same files.
"Er, Sweetie Belle, do you mind if I ask you a question?" Sunset asked.
"Sure, go ahead. We won't be able to access the old account for a minute or two yet."
"Do you always wear the same jacket, shirt and skirt?"
The younger girl looked over. "I have a few duplicate copies. Rarity made several pairs as a test of her sewing machine's settings lock, and it seems to have worked. Besides, I like them. Probably why Rarity has locked them away in her wardrobe."
Sunset wasn't entirely surprised. "So, she punishes you by not letting you wear the clothes you like? Seems rather petty to me."
"I was basically a slave in my own home," Sweetie Belle replied sadly, glancing back at the lines of code on the screen. "Still not finished yet. Anyways, I needed to be on-call for modelling work at all times, as well as the sessions dragging on for hours."
"Sounds like Rarity can be pretty pensourious when she wants to be," Sunset sighed.
"Opposite of generous," Sunset replied. "Sorry, but I grew up in the Canterlot Royal Court, where we used archaic language all the time." She paused for a moment. "Did she also subject you to 'etiquette lessons'?"
"Yep!" Sweetie Belle answered, her voice sounding annoyed. "You would not believe the sheer number of tea parties she hosted, all with long, boring lectures about 'how to act like a lady' and other crap like that. Frankly, she's a complete hypocrite, as the way she acts towards those she dislikes is pretty much the opposite of what she preaches."
"Aren't we all a bit hypocritical in some ways?" Sunset asked. "I try my best to be a good person, but I'm terrified of slipping back to being the old bully."
"You're not that anymore, Sunset," Sweetie Belle replied, with a smile on her face. "Thanks to you, Button Mash opened up about his feelings to me, and furthermore you helped us with all that schoolwork. I'd say you're one of the best people in the school at the moment."
"Thanks Sweetie Belle," Sunset smiled. "You've moved the heart of old bacon hair here."
"No problem," Sweetie Belle answered. "But I haven't even told you the funniest bit yet. When Rarity ran out of tea one time, she sent me to get another teapot. So I went away, and when I arrived in her room I dropped it."
"By accident," Sunset said wryly.
Sweetie Belle nodded. "The look on her face was worth it, not to mention it ruined one of her silly dresses." There was suddenly rumbling. "Well, I'll go ask for something to eat."
In another room, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom sat around Scootaloo's model railroad. Truth be told, it was actually a collaborative project between Scootaloo and her father, who wasn't around at the moment. As a result, she usually had it to herself. Today, they were engaging in a shunting challenge to move the most rolling stock.
"That's it!" Scootaloo said, as Apple Bloom gingerly moved the austerity tank engine forward. "Just buffer it up to the trucks slowly. That'll engage the couplings and let you move the trucks into an adjacent siding."
"Thanks fer the tip," Apple Bloom replied, as the engine rolled smoothly into the trucks and stopped, the couplings engaging as it did so. "So, yer ma believed you were innocent from the very start?" she asked, as she reset the direction control on the iPad used to operate the layout.
"Yes she did," Scootaloo replied. "She knew us doing something like this would be out of character, and saw straight through the conversation that was posted as fake evidence."
"Yeah," Apple Bloom sighed. "Who'da known that they'd use a conversation about a Train Sim custom scenario, of all things?"
"If only Celestia and Luna had listened," Scootaloo replied sadly. "Speaking of which, how did your folks take it."
Apple Bloom suddenly looked panicked. "Ah don't wanna talk about it," she said suddenly. Just then Cheerilee entered.
"Hello girls!" she said with a smile. "Sweetie Belle just came in asking for something to eat. Shall I put dinner on? I've got some pizza in the freezer."
"Sounds good!" Scootaloo replied.
"Thanks fer bein' so nice ta us, Miss Cheerilee," Apple Bloom replied, before suddenly losing her balance and falling flat on her bottom. "Ow!" she cried.
Cheerilee rushed over. "Apple Bloom, are you quite OK?" she asked.
"Ah'm fine, honest!" the younger girl replied.
Cheerilee's face hardened. "Apple Bloom, you're a terrible liar. Something is clearly bothering you, so can I please take a look?"
Apple Bloom stood up, and dropped her jeans and underwear so Cheerilee could clearly see. The older woman gasped in shock, as the girl's rear was covered in bruises and scars.
"Where the hell did you get these?" Cheerilee asked, horrified.
"Applejack spanked me," Apple Bloom said quickly.
"How many times?" When there was no response, she asked again. "HOW MANY TIMES?"
Apple Bloom shuddered slightly from the volume. "Ah don't know. Ah stopped countin' after 10. She was so insistent Ah needed one, as if mah punishent weren't already enough."
"That's simply barbaric," Cheerilee said, disgusted. "Nobody should ever hit a child, least of all a sibling. Stay there, I'm going to get you an ice pack to sit on." She exited the room, and came back a moment later, putting it down on a cushion.
"Can Ah at least get some of mah dignity back?" Apple Bloom asked. "Ah'd rather not stand here half-naked."
Cheerilee nodded, and Apple Bloom covered up the injuries again, before taking a seat.
Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity walked down the corridor, their heads down. The last few weeks had not been kind to them, not least the bullying that had been going on, nor the apparent revelation that it had been their own siblings. That had been an effective slap in the face to them, and the fact the Crusaders had denied it vehemently and loudly simply proceeded to make it hurt even more to them. And here they were now, going to pick them up from detention with Mr Cranky Doodle. It wasn't a fun task, and they would be doing it until they graduated from Canterlot High School.
Rainbow Dash spoke up to the others. "You know, I'm not too sure about it anymore."
"Seriously, Rainbow Dash?" Rarity asked. "How can you not be certain it was them? The evidence on their phones and the account information proves it was those three detestable swine!"
Applejack sighed. "Ah still can't believe it were mah own family. Mah own flesh and blood betrayed me."
"Do you think that because you think it's the truth, or because it's the easiest thing to believe?"
Rarity looked confused at her prismatic haired friend. "What do you mean?"
"Remember what Sunset said!" Rainbow Dash began, looking into the eyes of her friends as best she could. "This cyerbully has been impossible to trace for days, then all of a sudden those three try to log onto the account in the school library and take secrets in on their phones! That's sloppy!"
"Well, clearly, they were just being careless," Rarity replied.
"Furthermore," Rainbow Dash continued, "I'm pretty certain that if Sweetie Belle had snuck into your room, taken Sunset's phone, and then uploaded the pictures onto her PC, then onto the account, wouldn't we have heard her?"
"We were all asleep," Applejack sighed. "We wouldn't have heard a thin'."
"Also, look at them the past few days!" Rainbow Dash exclaimed. "They all look depressed and miserable, not to mention malnourished. They've been attacked, apparently, and they are not in great shape at all! Would a hardened cyberbully who had just been exposed really be like this during their day to day life?"
"Ah think ya just don't want ta accept that Scoots is a traitor," Applejack snarled.
"Indeed," Rarity sighed. "Look, I get you were close to Scootaloo, but now may be the time to just accept the truth and move on with your life, Rainbow Dash."
Rainbow Dash shrugged her shoulders. "AJ, maybe they should just call you the 'Element of jumping to conclusions'."
"What da ya mean?" The farm girl looked over, an angry glint in her eyes.
"Remember the bake sale? Where you assumed I'd intentionally chosen to leave you in the lurch? You never bothered to ask for my side of the story, and admittedly I failed to ask for yours, but it still stands that we seem to go at each other's throats far too easily."
"Honestly, Rainbow Dash," Rarity sighed. "Just accept the situation as it is and let it go. Besides, we are here, and I have so many wonderful and lovely outfits to try on my dear modelling assistant!"
They knocked on the door. "Come in!" came the gruff voice of Cranky Doodle. Rainbow Dash pushed the door open to see the session concluding and the students inside prepping to be let out.
"Beggin' yer pardon, sir," Applejack asked, "but we're here ta pick up Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle."
"Then you're looking in the wrong place, I'm afraid," Cranky replied. "Miss Cheerilee took them to the library. I'd advise heading there and seeing if Miss Cheerilee's still around at this hour."
"Thank ya sir," Applejack said, and shut the door behind her. "C'mon, y'all! Time ta go!"
They headed off through the corridors, taking a number of different twists and turns, before finally arriving at the library door to find the janitor outside with his mop and bucket, already brushing the floor with water to ensure it was properly cleaned for tomorrow.
"Excuse me," Rarity asked, "but is the library open, good sir?"
"I'm afraid not," the Janitor replied. "Miss Cheerilee locked the place up right after the end of school, I'm afraid, and headed for home."
This realisation dawned on the three girls. "Then where are our sisters?" Applejack asked, her eyes full of concern that had previously been lacking.
"Oh, you mean Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle?" the janitor asked in return, answering a question with a question.
"That's them," Rainbow Dash answered.
"Oh, I last saw them with Miss Cheerilee and Sunset Shimmer, headed for the staff car park," the janitor replied, taking his mop out again and getting to work once more. "Now, if you ladies could please excuse me, I need to continue mopping the floor. It needs to be ready for tomorrow, and it won't be cleaning itself, unless the magic in this school somehow brings all the mops to life like in that Disney film." He headed off down the corridor, the mop continuing to slap into the floor and spread water everywhere.
Rarity's jaw dropped on. "But if Sweetie Belle isn't in the library, then where in the world is she?"
A mounting look of horror built on Applejack's face. "Oh, no, no, no..." she whispered. "Please no, it cannot be true!"
"The only conclusion I can come to is that they ran away from home to avoid us," Rainbow Dash said sadly. "I knew something wasn't right!"
"What kind of siblings have we been?" Rarity asked. "Oh, poor Sweetie Belle, out there in the snow on her own with naught to keep her warm!"
"Mah own sis hates me," Applejack said. "Yer right Dash, Ah was too pigheaded ta see it. There's somethin' else goin' on here, and we need ta establish exactly what is goin' on."
"What are we waiting for?" Rainbow Dash called, her voice full of urgency. "Let's get to the streetcar stop and to Cheerilee's house!"
Meanwhile, at Cheerilee's home, dinner had just concluded, the girls having had their fill. Actually, that is something of an understatement, as Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle were clearly glad to see something filling. It never ceased to amaze Cheerilee how much young kids could eat, but then again it probably had something to due with their age. Kids on the cusp of puberty usually had heavy appetites, if Scootaloo was anything to go by, but it was clear the trio had appreciated the food they had been given, if the looks on their faces were anything to go by.
"Thanks fer the meal, Miss Cheerilee," Apple Bloom said, whiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
"The pizza was delicious," Sweetie Belle added. "Not to mention it made for a welcome change from nonstop soup and bread."
"I'd like to second that," Sunset added. "Your cooking is excellent. I usually survive on ready meals or stuff I can throw together quickly in the morning or evening."
"Thank you," Cheerilee replied. "I'm glad to hear you all enjoyed it. Is anybody up for desert?"
"Oh no," Scootaloo groaned. "I don't think I could eat any more!"
"They'd be bouncing off the ceiling if we weren't careful," Sunset added. "So it's probably not advisable to do so."
There were two groans of disappointment, which were hastily hushed by Sunset, who then resumed speaking. "Besides, haven't we got some stuff to do with regards to the account?"
Sweetie Belle immediately forgot to be disappointed. "Of course!" she exclaimed. "Let's go!" And she was out of her seat and flying down the corridor toward the spare room before anybody could say 'Harry picked a dozen hands of pickled pepper bullseyes'. Which made little to no sense, but anyway, that wasn't the point. Sunset jumped up after her and headed into the room as well, which left Cheerilee, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom in the kitchen, the two girls around the kitchen table and the adult over by the sink.
"So, back to the layout?" Scootaloo asked.
Apple Bloom nodded. "Sounds good ta me."
Meanwhile, in the spare room, Sweetie Belle was pearing over the long lines of code on the screen before her. "So, how do you think we should go about this?" she asked Sunset.
"Back in the old days, I found a good way of blackmailing somebody was to create a security hack to allow me to access the account behind a page," Sunset admitted. "Not exactly legal, but then again I never got caught."
"Would it reveal the account behind the original Anon-a-Miss?" Sweetie Belle asked, her face growing more determined.
"It would allow us to access it, yes," Sunset said. "First things first, we need to navigate to the very first post, namely 'piggly-wiggly'.
Sweetie Belle did some typing, and flicked over to a section of information that gave the code for the very first post. "Here we are. The very first post, uploaded about two weeks ago."
"Excellent," Sunset said, popping her knuckles. "Now then, we need to use my old trick. The fake login."
The code dissolved, and the page shifted back in, revealing the original Anon-a-Miss page. The one that had caused so much havoc in the first place, and left Canterlot High a warzone. Sunset had already built a fake account to attract them (SunShim@GMail.om), so this next stage of the operation would be easy. Sweetie Belle moved the mouse, and clicked on the 'friend request' button.
A ping came back a moment later.
Anon-a-Miss: Hi there! Got some dirt you need uploading? Well, that's what I'm here for!
Sunset smiled. Now for the difficult part. "Send message 2-7," she said.
Sweetie Belle hit the send button on message 2-7, and the following appeared on the screen.
Anon-a-Miss: Thanks for that! Time to go claim it!
Sweetie Belle looked in confusion. "Either this guy knows nothing about scams on the internet, or this is some sort of trap we're walking into."
It seemed the latter was the case, as suddenly a stream of new code appeared, going to a login page. Some details were already inputted in the display, presumably the host account for the Anon-a-Miss account.
Username: Halford.email@example.com Password: Locker
Sunset blinked. "Who's this Halford guy? I've never heard of them. It could be a boy or a girl, for all we know."
Sweetie Belle looked concerned. "Should we log into their account? I don't feel too good about this now."
Sunset looked at her. "Hey, if we bring this person down, the one who tried to wreck not only my life, but yours, our actions will be more than justified. Are you ready to go?"
Sweetie Belle nodded. "Well, here goes nothing." She pressed the login button, and almost immediately they were brought onto a MyStable page of somebody Sunset didn't even know, but some of the secret information clearly showed their opinion.
Private log: I hate Sunset Shimmer. That bitch ruined my life and terrorised the school for years! She bullied, tormented, and abused us, and all she gets is a slap on the wrist? Fucking ridiculous!
Well, this sheep isn't going to lie down with the wolf. That she-demon deserves to go down. Everybody seems to think that she's changed, but I know she hasn't! She has everybody fooled, but I know the truth! She's still the abusive monster she always was, and will one day rise again to take control!
Not on my watch. Sunset is going down, and Anon-a-Miss is more than the tool I need. The entire world shall see the truth. Sunset isn't getting away with her crimes, not on my watch. Once I am done, I shall shift the blame onto those idiot Crusaders, who do nothing but make our school a living annoyance factory!
Sweetie Belle covered her mouth in shock. "Who is this person? And why do they hate us so much?"
Later that evening, Cheerilee was on the phone to the police.
"Yes sir. We have information on Anon-a-Miss and who they may be. Yes, we can assist. Sorry? You'll send an officer round to see us? Got it. Thank you, sir. Of course sir. Goodbye!"
She put the phone down. "The police are sending an officer over to liason with us, and help us bring this Anon-a-Miss down," she told the others.
"What do we know about this guy?" Apple Bloom asked.
"Apart from the fact that he really hates us and wants to drag me down, we know next to nothing," Sunset admitted. "It could be anyone, guy or girl."
"But at least we can contact them now, and bring them down!" Scootaloo said, pumping her fist.
"Are you OK, Scootaloo?" Sweetie Belle asked. "Remember this person must be a nasty piece of work to be able to do this."
"They ruined our lives, so I figured as much," Sunset butted in. "Hopefully we can do this without it turning into too much of a mess."
Just then, there was a knock at the door. Cheerilee got up to answer it, and opened the door. When she did open the door, a policeman was standing on the other side of the door, wearing a coat appropriate for the weather, and a fedorah hat favoured by detectives.
"May I come in?" he asked.
"Yes sir, you may," Cheerilee replied, nervously stepping back upon seeing the gun on his belt, a revolver of some sort. Her husband had given her some basic weapon training and marksmanship, but guns still unnerved her nontheless. "Would you like a drink of something?"
"No thank you, I'm on duty," the policeman replied, stepping in and hanging up his coat. Cheerilee shut the door behind him as he stepped into the living room to see Sunset and the Crusaders sitting on one of the chairs and the sofa. They couldn't all be sitting on a chair, it would be far too squashed and awkward for that to be possible.
He stepped over to the wall with the fireplace, and addressed the four of them. "Good evening, you four. My name is Trick Shot, inspector and marksman for the CCPD. It has been brought to my attention that you have actionable intel on the Anon-a-Miss case, is that correct?"
"Yes sir, it is," Scootaloo replied.
"And you are, ma'am?" Trick Shot asked.
"Scootaloo Collins, sir. The woman's my mom."
He nodded, and took a seat. "Well then, let me run you down the case so far. Correct me if anything I say is wrong."
There was a pause, before he continued. "Two weeks ago or so, a mysterious page appears on the MyStable website called 'Anon-a-Miss'. It posts a message about a Canterlot High School studen, the contents of which are clearly personal to the user. The account continues to post rumours and personal information of a hurtful nature for a week or so, until a message appears that looks like a confession. A confession from you three," he said, pointing to the Crusaders.
"If ya'll were seein' this," Apple Bloom asked, "why didn't ya do somethin' about it."
"That's strictly classified," Trick Shot replied. "What I can tell you is that this case has moved beyond cyberbullying, itself a hurtful and vile crime that hurts people and destroys lives, not to mention carries extremely severe penalties. This case has turned into identity theft. That's where somebody steals somebody else's identity in order to commit crime and pin it on somebody else. It's not only rude, it's illegal and carries serious consequences. I'm talking the $10,000 fine and three years behind bars kind of serious."
Cheerilee walked in, and sat down on the sofa alongside the Crusaders, all of whom looked distressed. "This person as dragged our names thoroughly through the mud, no doubt about that," Sunset sighed.
"I'm certain the police can handle it from here," Cheerilee said reassuringly.
"That's partly why I came around," Trick Shot said to them, his expression unmoving. "We have a plan for a SWAT team to bring him down. However, we need to lure him into a trap in order to get him. And this is where you come in."
"What do you want us to do, sir?" asked Sweetie Belle, who looked a little nervous.
"You are all in the right age range to lure this person in. You will contact them and say you have new secrets to give to them to be uploaded onto the account. Then, we shall meet at a suitable location that will allow us to swoop in and arrest them the second we identify them. You know who the account is linked to, so you can send the message."
"I know just the place for a suitable ambush," Sunset said. "Sweetie Belle, can you send off the message whilst I run the officer over the location?"
"Sure thing," Sweetie Belle replied, getting up and heading into the other room. Whilst in there, she went onto the account and began typing.
SunShim@GMail.om: Hello Anon-a-Miss. I have some information for you that will be extremely useful in your bid to bring down Sunset Shimmer.
Anon-a-Miss: Excellent! Where shall we meet to affect the handover of materials?
There was a pause, which seemed to last for all eternity as Sweetie Belle went back to ask Sunset the ambush location.
"The old carriage shops to the north of town," the bacon haired girl replied.
Sweetie Belle went back through to the other room, and resumed typing.
SunShim@GMail.om: The old California Coast Railroad carriage shops. Nobody's been in the place for years, so it's the perfect place for a handover.
Anon-a-Miss: Excellent. I look forward to seeing you there. May Sunset Shimmer suffer for her crimes!
Sweetie Belle typed a quick response, and then logged off from the bogus account. She felt that, somewhere, something was deeply wrong somehow.
When the California Coast Railroad had begun operations in the Canterlot region back at the dawn of the 20th Century, it had needed a location to service the colossal numbers of carriages and wagons it had on its stockbooks. As a result, it had established its carriage and wagon works on the north end of the city, on the left hand side of what would eventually become the main north-south highway. This facility had serviced the rolling stock for approximately 70 years, before it was moved south to be next to the main roundhouse and therefore more convenient for locomotive maintenance crews. Now the old building, which for some reason had never been demolished, was in a state of decay, the structure slowly collapsing around the old coaches and trucks that had been abandoned inside it. This was also a perfect place to hide, and it was in here, next to the offices, control tower, and a flight of stairs, next to the remains of a decaying P70 coach, that Sunset Shimmer, Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom stood, with Cheerilee not too far away.
"So, how do you know this place?" Scootaloo asked Sunset.
"When I first came to the human world," Sunset replied, "I had nowhere to live. As a result, I found this abandoned factory and lived here for three whole years."
"Ya lived here?" Apple Bloom said, in shock. "Ya shoulda asked us! We'd have happily taken ya in!"
"Yep," Sunset answered, her voice emotionless. "And I don't think that Applejack would have wanted to be associated with me back then. I was the one who broke friendships and generally made people's lives awful. It all changed for me after Celestia discovered my circumstances following the Fall Formal. Although she was obviously very upset at my actions, she took pity nontheless, and gave me an apartment to live in. She would pay rent and upkeep in return for me securing a job, which as you know I got on the railroad as a conductor."
That made the other girls look sad. "The California Coast Railroad fired us over Anon-a-Miss," Sweetie Belle said sadly. "I loved working there."
"Ah were told Ah'd never drive a train again," Apple Bloom sighed. "At least not on their line."
"Hopefully we can put this right," Scootaloo added. "But I've always found places with worn out and abandoned rolling stock and engines disturbing."
"Same here," Sweetie Belle noted. "I once had a nightmare about Newport scrapyard."
"Ah ain't suprised," Apple Bloom commented. "That place was an effective train graveyard."
"Pipe down!" said the voice of Trick Shot over the radio. "Potential target is approaching."
Approaching them was a young man, about 15, with tan skin and brown hair, wearing grey sneakers and pants, as well as a striped white and green shirt and red jacket. He walked toward them, and spoke up. "Hey! You there?"
Scootaloo stepped around the back of the carriage, followed by her friends. "Ready for secret transfer," she said, holding a piece of paper in her hand.
"You know, you've got a lot of confidence meeting me out here," he said. "At least this helps me bring down Sunset, after that time she trapped me in a locker on campus."
Sunset gasped. So it was that guy. Now she remembered! After she had argued with Twilight in the corridor shortly before the Fall Formal, she had shut a boy her age in the locker on her way to another part of the school. She then remembered his name, and it all made sense.
"Norman Halford. Halford.n. Of course."
The police radioed Scootaloo through her ear mike. "Keep him talking, over."
"Yeah, seems she was a real mean bitch back then," Scootaloo said, trying to sustain the conversation.
"And now she'll pay," Norman smiled. "Well, thanks for that, I'd best be on my way."
"Sunset, is that the target?" the radio asked, or rather the voice of Trick Shot on the other end of the radio asked.
"Yes," Sunset replied. "That is the target. Norman Halford."
"All teams, we are go on ambush."
Just then, a set of floodlights came up on Halford, blinding him. And then the SWAT team moved in.
"HALT!" shouted the lead officer, his voice echoing and reverberating around the building. "THIS IS THE POLICE! YOU ARE UNDER ARREST FOR CYBERBULLING AND IDENTITY THEFT! COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP!"
Halford looked around him. "You bastard!" he snarled. "You sold me out!" He then began to run across the railroad tracks, pulling a pistol out of his pocket and firing upon the SWAT team, who responded in kind with rubber bullets. Halford sprinted over to a waiting steam engine, which was somehow in steam, released the brakes, and opened up the regulator. The engine pulled away, smashing through an open door as bullets bounced off the ceiling and through parts of the wheels and tender. The loud puffing could be heard as the train roared away into the night.
"Shit!" Trick Shot exclaimed. "He got away! Do we have any means of pursuing?"
"No locos in the area are available," Sunset growled in frustration. "Cars couldn't easily pursue either. Look at the size of that thing!"
"It's a Great Western Railway King Class 4-6-0," Sweetie Belle explained. "Top speed of 100 miles an hour. There's very little that could actually keep up with that engine, let alone bring it to a stop."
"I'll get some helicopters to keep an eye on it," Trick Shot said. "Swift Order isn't gonna like this one bit. We've got a crook and a stolen engine rolling into Canterlot on the streetcar lines, which'll cause havoc with existing traffic."
Cheerilee came forward. "Is there really nothing that can chase?" she asked.
"We have something that may help," said a female voice. Walking toward them were three teenage girls, with hoods up and varying skin colours. The Dazzlings.
"She's outside," Adagio Dazzle told them. "I think you'll like it very much."
If you Don't Concentrate on the Thing that you're Doing
Rainbow Dash, Applejack and Rarity proceeded out of the front door of Canterlot High School and headed off into the streets, turning to the left as they did so. All the way along, they started calling out and looking as hard as they could.
"Sugarcube!" Applejack called. "Sugarcube! Apple Bloom! Where are ya?"
"Darling Sweetie Belle!" Rarity cried out, the tone of talking to a small child or a pet dog fully in force, "where are you? WHERE ARE YOU?"
"Squirt!" Dash called out, her voice echoing around the buildings and passing terrain. "Are ya there?"
They went on, along the street, repeating the procedure as they walked through the streets looking for their sisters. As they also went along, they began asking questions.
Rarity poked her head in through the door of Sugarcube Corner and walked over to the counter.
"Hello Rarity!" Mr Cake greeted them. He usually worked the night shift as his wife, Mrs Cake, was usually engaged in looking after their two twins at this point in the day.
"Good evening Mr Cake," Rarity greeted cordially. "I was wondering if you had seen Sweetie Belle anywhere?"
"Shouldn't she be at school?" Mr Cake replied, starting to rub down the bar as he did so. After all, closing time was approaching and the place needed to be ready for another load of customers tomorrow. Those inside were just finishing off their drinks in order to ready themselves for the bitter cold of another Canterlot winter night. Rarity sighed as she continued her enquiry.
"Well, yes, she should. But when Rainbow Dash, myself, and Applejack went to collect her, alongside Apple Bloom and Scootaloo, they were nowhere to be seen. Not even the janitor had seen them! Therefore, we concluded that they had headed off into town and run away. Did you see her pass this way by any chance?"
Mr Cake sighed. "No, I didn't. And you should know she's not welcome here. I've had enough trouble as it is rejuvenating custom with all the lies those three spread. I'm afraid that serving times are over here, and we're about to close up, so I would advise you leave."
Rarity stepped out through the door, when somebody shouted over to her. "All those fashion disasters she posted of yours, and yet you still look out for her? Not hugely generous to her victims, I have to say."
"Seriously, why weren't they expelled?" said another.
"Please keep your opinions on Miss Belle and her friends to yourself," Mr Cake told them.
Rarity stepped out into the bitter snow, her face carrying an expression of shock. She had no idea that her darling baby sister had been encountering so much hostility. And if she had failed to spot that, what did that make her as an elder sibling?
Applejack rang the door of a house on Rabson Road, a place she had known in the old days. The door opened, and behind it stood a man with dark skin and white hair, as well as an impressive white moustache that sat atop his upper lip like somebody had welded a ferret to it.
"How can I help you Applejack?" he asked kindly.
"Hi Uncle Oak," Applejack replied. "Ah wanted ta ask ya somethin'."
"By all means," Burnt Oak replied, bringing a mug of coffee to bear and drinking some of it. "What's on your mind?"
"Have ya seen Apple Bloom around anywhere?" the girl asked, looking a little worried.
"Oh heck, I don't think I have," Burnt Oak replied, putting a hand to his chin. "Wouldn't she be at the farm? That's where I'd look first."
"Ah'm afraid not," Applejack answered in response. "Ya see, we found she and her friends had done some sorta social media thingy of postin' personal stuff on the internet. The school gave them detention, but when we went ta pick them up today, they weren't there and the janitor hadn't seem them either. So Ah was wonderin' if you had seen them anywhere, that's all."
Burnt Oak shook his head. "I'm very sorry, Applejack," he said sadly. "I haven't seen Apple Bloom at all. And I don't know what her friends look like, so I can't help you there." He gently closed the door.
Applejack walked into the snow, her face increasingly showing signs of discomfort. "What kind of sister am Ah?" she thought. "If the way Ah treated her led ta this, maybe Ah don't deserve the title." Her hand went to her pocket. The bow that Apple Bloom used to wear was still in her pocket, still there from the day she removed it. She sighed and walked on, her eyes starting to mist up.
Rainbow Dash went into the music store, to see Vinyl Scratch, a girl with yellow skin and two-tone blue hair, wave to her. "Hey Dash! What brings you in here?"
"Have you seen Scootaloo anywhere?" Rainbow Dash asked.
Vinyl Scratch shook her head. "I haven't see her go by, and I wouldn't let her in here after that stunt she pulled. It cost me my relationship with Octavia, and Lyra's still down in the dumps about that post regarding her interest in unicorns."
Rainbow Dash sighed. "Thanks for the help Vinyl," she said, and stepped outside into the bitter snow.
The three girls met near the centre of town, and none of them looked to happy.
"There's no trace of Sweetie Belle anywhere!" Rarity cried.
"Apple Bloom hasn't been seen, not even by Burnt Oak," Applejack whispered.
"Squirt ain't around either," Rainbow Dash sighed. "What kind of siblings are we?"
"The ones who don't deserve ta hold the title," Applejack answered. "Ah wouldn't be surprised if those three hate us forever."
Just before Rarity was about to speak, an engine shot past, painted blue and pouring smoke and steam from its funnel.
"What was that?" Rarity exclaimed. Just then, another engine and coaches rolled past. Onboard Rainbow Dash could clearly see Scootaloo with her head out of the window.
"They're not Anon-a-Miss," she said with finality.
7015 Carn Brea Castle thundered along the streetcar lines, continuing to gain speed as the four cylinders dug into the rails, power radiating from the boiler and barely suppressed energy contained within the thoroughbread of an engine. On the footplate were Cheerilee and Sunset. The former was at the controls, adjusting the regulator and cutoff to get the best possible performance out of the locomotive, whilst Sunset lugged another load of coal into the firebox and adjusted the injectors to get the best water flow from the tender.
Cheerilee took out the cab radio. "Girls, can you keep me posted on the location of 6003 King George IV?"
"Roger that," a voice replied on the radio. Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle were all riding in the support coach behind the engine, and had access to a laptop which was tracking the streetcar lines track circuit system. These went off whenever a rail vehicle passed over them, which was very often as the machinery was being triggered by each and every wheel that was passing over them, of which there were several.
"To be honest, it's a miracle this track can even take this engine's weight!" the voice of Sweetie Belle added. She had a fair point, as the rails were groaning under the weight of the engine and coach, not to mention the tender.
"Let's keep focused, people!" Sunset called. "We either stop this guy and that engine, or this nightmare will start all over again!"
Just then, they saw the other engine ahead, which seemed to be slowing down for some reason. Their chance had come! Cheerilee opened the regulator, and the engine obediantly began to pick up speed to close the gap between them and the train in front, and this gap was narrowing by the second.
Scootaloo stuck her head out, only to see Rainbow Dash, Applejack and Rarity standing on the sidewalk watching the train thunder past. "Not often you see mainline trains on this track!" she said.
Only then did it become clear whey the engine up ahead had slowed down. This was the portion of the line where the streetcar tracks linked onto the mainline on the California Coast. The pointwork was extremely tight, and going any faster than 20 miles an hour would result in a derailment. The King gingerly negotiated the curves, safety valves lifting as it rolled forward, steam pouring from the chimney and cylinders into the cold air as it cleared the power lines.
"Here we go!" Cheerilee called, as the engine rolled into the bends, the pointwork creaking and protesting as the lead bogie and driving wheels rolled into them. It was clear they hadn't taken this much punishment in years as the 79-ton engine rolled into them, followed by the tender and single Collett 'Sunshine' coach. After successfully negotiating the pointwork, they rolled onto the mainline, facing toward Crystal City. Already they could hear the King opening up ahead, flying into the night.
"We need to catch that thing!" Sunset shouted. "Apple Bloom! What's the top speed on a King class engine?"
"At least 100 miles an hour," the farm girl replied, as the coach behind her wobbled and shook on the shoddily maintained track. "We need ta step on it if we're gonna stop them."
"That we will," Cheerilee announced grimly. "Sunset, overcharge the boiler!" As she said this, she opened up the regulator, and wound the reverser back to 30%. Steam shot into the air and loud puffing boomed through the night as the Great Western Railway locomotive flew forward, Sunset shovelling coal into the firebox double time. They thundered along, the noise comparable to the glory days of the Great Western, of a powerful engine on the Cheltenham Spa Express or Torbay Limited. At last, they came closer to catching the offending locomotive, the two engines competing in terms of the noise they were producing. It was hard fought, the old machines fighting hard for supremacy, but at long last, through superb driving and firing, the Castle class engine drew level with the King.
"What?" Halford exclaimed. "This engine has far more tractive effort than yours!"
"But we're the better crew," Sunset replied. "Now surrender, before things get messy for you."
"You're mad if you think I'd do that," Halford replied, before a loud bang rocked the engine. Sunset was sucked out and flew along the side of the carriage, before a hand grabbed her and held her in place.
"We've got you!" the Crusaders shouted collectively, slowly swinging open the door and pulling her inside the carriage.
"You saved me!" Sunset exclaimed, before she suddenly noticed something was amiss. She herself was surrounded by an orange glow, but the Crusaders each had one of their own. Apple Bloom's was yellow, Sweetie Belle's was white, and Scootaloo's was orange. "You three are going to love the next bit!"
Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle both gained extensions to their hair, as did Scootaloo, which ran down to their backs, but Scootaloo also gained a pair of wings, which folded up alongside her shoulders, and all three of them gained pony ears on the tops of their skulls. Sunset likewise gained the same, but her hair was longer and she lacked wings.
"Something seriously weird is going on," said Cheerilee's voice, "as my ears are on top of my skull and my hair is ridiculously long."
"Don't worry, nothing to be concerned about," Sunset smiled. She threw open the door, and the collective group stepped forward, floating into the air as they did so.
"I'll keep this short Norman," Sunset told him. "You tried to break us apart. You tried to ruin our friendships. But we have a power you will always lack, no matter many secrets you spill. The Magic of Friendship!"
Then, a beam shot from the collective group, crashing into not only Norman but the engine as well. The lead bogie came off the rails, and the engine fell over onto its side, a large explosion of green energy coming from the tender. Norman staggered out once the wreck had stopped moving, only to come face to face with the police.
"You, sir," said the lead policeman, "are under arrest."
Meanwhile, further down the line, back in Canterlot, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Applejack all stood slack jawed in astonishment.
"So," Applejack said finally, after a moment of recovering her senses, "if Scootaloo, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle-"
"You can just call them the Crusaders," Rarity interrupted. "We know who you are talking about."
"If the Crusaders were chasin' after that engine, which is also bein pursued by the police it seems, judgin' from the wailin' sirens and other such noise goin' on, Ah think we can safely conclude that our sisters are not Anon-a-Miss. Are we agreed on that?"
"I think we are," Rainbow Dash added. "But given they are locked out of the depot, how on earth did they get the Caslte class engine, not to mention the coach they had coupled to the back?"
"Heaven knows," Rarity replied. "But surely-"
"Neither of us is called Shirley, so please don't call us that!" Applejack snapped.
"But anyway," Rarity continued, looking slightly chastised, her eyes darting around in alarm as if she had just heard a bomb go off, "if those three are going after the ruffian responsible for ruining our relationships, ruminating on the revelation will not resolve the riddle."
"Oh kay," Rainbow Dash said slowly. "How could I have been such an idiot? Squirt was innocent the entire time, and yet I let myself be fooled by that bastard!"
"At least ya were skeptical and beginnin' ta rethink yer opinion, Dash," Applejack replied. "Mah sis were tellin' the truth the entire time. The truth was in her eyes, and yet Ah saw straight past it for the easiest solution. What sorta siblin' am Ah? Some element of Honesty Ah am," she said, upset, kicking a rock that had got lodged in the sidewalk.
"So much for generosity on my part," Rarity added sadly. "I wasn't even generous enough to give my own sister the benefit of the doubt when it came to the evidence. Far from being a charitable and tolerant person, let alone a lady, I was cruel, vindictive, narcissitic, and self centred. I saw her as nothing more than an easy source of free labour." Her tears began to cause her makeup to run, making her face resemble warpaint an Indian would wear. "Oh, will she ever forgive me?!" she cried.
"Never mind standing around and debating the point!" Rainbow Dash shouted, pointing over to the depot. "Last I saw, they had the Railmotor in for servicing. If we're lucky, they'll have completed maintenance work on the engine. That way, we can get out there and after them, to ensure they are OK."
Just then, a loud crash could be heard in the distance. "C'mon then!" Applejack called. "Scoot yer boots! We've got sisters ta save!" And off they sprinted, to reach their intended location and help their neglected loved ones.
Elsewhere, Norman had been handcuffed by the police, and Sunset strode towards him, accompanied by the Crusaders and Cheerilee, who by this point had de-ponied up, much to their disappointment. Sunset pointed at him.
"First off, before they take you away Norman," she said. "I want you to answer some questions. Why did you create Anon-a-Miss?"
Norman struggled with the bindings that had been placed on his wrists. "When you ruled the school and made the lives of everybody hell, I was powerless to act. You held everyone in the palms of your hands, and could destroy anybody you wanted. I saw it all; I knew what you were doing. And taking that crown was the final part of your plan. I still haven't forgotten how you shut me in a locker. Did you think for a moment I could have died in there? Suffocated?"
Sunset's face had all the sympathy of an angry rhinoceros. "Interesting, but that still doesn't answer my question. "WHY. DID. YOU. DO. IT?"
Norman flinched slightly from the agression in Sunset's voice. "Most of the school thought you had reformed after that Twilight girl and her mates blasted you, but I knew the truth. You hadn't changed at all. The world had, and you simply needed to adapt by playing mrs nice girl for a bit. You were just waiting for the chance to strike again."
"Did my actions at the Battle of the Bands not convince you?" Sunset asked. "Why, for Celestia's sake, did you not see that I had changed?"
"It was just a diversion, to throw us off the scent. You were just waiting for a chance to reassert control over us once again. Besides, what else would you do? Try to be nice? I had to reveal the evil that you truly were and remove the threat that you are before you struck again. And what better way than to imitate your old habit of secret stealing and sharing, to humiliate the entire school? It clearly worked, given how easily the entire student body fell for it." Norman seemed almost pleased with his crazy plan, which shocked Sunset to no end.
She sighed. "Look, I can understand why you'd want revenge against me. I did do a lot of bad things, I will admit, and I did hurt a lot of people." She then indicated to Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle. "But why drag their names through the mud as well? Revenge against me is one thing, but those three were completely innocent in all this!"
Norman smiled. "You see, those three were the bane of my life."
"What?" Apple Bloom asked. "What did we do ta you?"
"Generally be a nuisance?" Norman retorted, his Cheshire cat grin still plastered across his face. "Those three had been running around the campus more or less out of control for years now with their stupid 'Crusading', railroad restoring, videos about steam trains and other boring shit constantly clogging up my inbox and rendering me unable to think. Remember that time they blasted 'It's Great to be an Engine' through the library speakers non-stop that time after school?"
"In fairness, that was for a school project," Cheerilee interjected.
"And why did you do what you did?" Scootaloo asked. "You chose to ruin the lives of my friends, my family and my fellow students because you don't like our taste in music?"
"But you three being such prolific bloggers made you the natural choice for spreading this sort of stuff," Norman replied, the tone in his voice and his refusal to even look at the Crusaders more than indicating his very low opinion of the three girls. "Think about it; with so many followers, of course they could get secrets sent in and leaked through the account!"
"But we don't have anything against Sunset!" Sweetie Belle exclaimed.
"Oh really?" Norman snorted. "Says you lot." He then switched to a terrible impression of Apple Bloom's country accent. "No thanks, we're good. No wonder everybody thinks you're inbred. But I knew that their families, and the townsfolk would come to their senses eventually and stop giving them their punishment. That's what the generator was for; it was loaded with Equestrian Magic in order to ensure the townsfolk kept fighting each other."
Apple Bloom shook with rage, but Sunset stepped in before anybody did anything rash. "Norman," she said, "in case you have forgotten, you turned the students against one another, made the entire world topsy turvy, flipped our school upside down, revealed hurtful information that will NEVER go away, and then dragged my name and the names of my friends through the mud. All for the sake of some petty revenge over things you didn't like. You DIDN'T have to follow their page, and you DIDN'T have to post all that muck online. Normally I would, but this crime is too severe. I can never forgive you." There was a pause that seemed to last for hours. "And I don't think the school body will either."
"Fine," Norman snorted. "I wouldn't want to be anyway. The entire school was brought down by just a social media account. How do you think you'll cope the next time a magical creature comes along through the portal? Can you rally support? Or will you just get turned on again?"
Sunset shook her head. "Whatever," she snorted. "I've had quite enough of talking to you anyway. Take him away." The police officers nearby nodded their heads, and escorted Norman over to a waiting police cruiser. The door was closed, the sirens turned on, and the vehicles headed away into the night.
Moments later, a breakdown train arrived, and the lead mechanic hopped off the train. "We heard a train had derailed around here," he said, looking at Sunset. "Did you see what happened?"
"Yes sir," Sunset replied. "Lead bogie jumped the rails and caused the engine to derail. The driver's already been taken away and treated for his injuries. He'll pull through."
"That's a relief," the foreman sighed. "Come on, boys! Let's get this engine lifted!"
As the heavy cranes got into position, a Railmotor pulled up next to the cranes, and Rainbow Dash, Applejack and Rarity hopped off and ran over to the assembled group.
"Are y'all OK?" Applejack asked.
"We're fine," Sunset replied. "Anon-a-Miss has been dealt with. You'd never guess who it was. Norman Halford, a student who I shut in a locker once and hated the Crusaders' MyStable page."
"Never heard of him," Rarity said. "Look, can we speak to our siblings, please? We've got a lot to say."
"You can try," Sunset told her. "But I can't guarantee any results." She indicated over to them, the three girls chatting excitedly about something or other, quite out of tone with what had just passed.
"Excuse me?" Rainbow Dash asked. This halted the conversation, and the three girls looked over, somewhat apprehensive. "Scootaloo, can we talk for a moment?"
"Sure," Scootaloo replied, the girl's violet hair visible clearly in the reflection from the Railmotor's paint. "What do you want to talk about?"
Rainbow Dash sighed. "Look, I know; I fucked up. I was too pigheaded to listen, and when I started to have my doubts, it was far too late to do anything about it. I let them make your life hell for no reason, and it's my fault and nobody else's. I completely understand if you never want to talk to me again." She hung her head in shame, expecting either a punch in the face or a verbal rejection.
What she got instead was a hand extended to her. Scootaloo's hand. "Hey," the younger girl said. "It's OK. I forgive you. Siblings fight and screw up all the time, so why should we be any different. I don't want our bond to die. If anything, I hope it can be stronger than ever before. Willing to shake on it?"
Rainbow Dash extended her own hand, and shook Scootaloo's, before reaching her arms out. "Hug, or no hug? Too soppy?"
Scootaloo laughed, and returned Rainbow Dash's hug offer with a tackle one of her own.
"Hey, easy squirt!" Rainbow Dash laughed. "You don't want to knock me over!"
Meanwhile, Applejack lowered the brim of her hat, and held in her hand Apple Bloom's bow. "Ah'm sorry, sis," she said sadly. "Ah've been a hopeless element of honesty. Mah own stubborness prevented me from seein' that ya were tellin' me the truth the entire time. Yer better at it then me, truthfully, and this belongs to you." She felt Apple Bloom take the bow, and raised her eyes to see Apple Bloom lace the bow back into her hair, clipping it up at the end of the process. "This may seem hollow, but Ah'm so, so sorry. Do ya fergive me?"
There was a moment's silence. "Applejack," Apple Bloom said. "You said yerself that ya failed to see the honesty in mah words and eyes. Ah won't make the same mistake." The two siblings embraced, and Applejack laughed.
"Maybe Ah'm the one who needs the spankin'," she snorted.
"Don't give Apple Bloom ideas!" Scootaloo called.
"Ah wouldn't wish that on mah worst enemy," Apple Bloom replied. "Ah hold nothin' against ya."
Rarity walked over to Sweetie Belle. "The way I treated you recently is simply abhorrent," she said. "I have neglected you for far too long, treated you as an annoyance, and used you as a slave when you are my sister. If there is any way that I can repair our relationship, please do tell me. But please know that I am frightfully sorry for all that happened."
Rarity looked down, only to suddenly get tackle hugged by Sweetie Belle. "All is forgiven," she said. "But I want those hideous dresses you tested on me burning, OK?"
"Y-yes ma'am! Right away, ma'am!" Rarity stammered.
Sunset laughed. "It seems all is in order. Now to get Celestia on the horn..."
The school hall was once again buzzing with activity. A day had passed since the chase of and arrest of Anon-a-Miss, and Principal Celestia had been informed of the new developments. Now, she had called another assembly in order to explain what else had happened, and as the students crowded into the hall, sitting down on the bleachers at the back next to the windows, as well as in chairs that had been set down on the floor which was usually reserved for basketball games, the Fall Formal, or impromptu music competitions caused by interdimensional invaders capable of controlling others through song, and nontheless the students were rather confused by what it could be this time.
They looked up as Celestia stepped forward, a microphone in her hands. A computer had been set up, which in turn had been linked to a projector attached to the ceiling. This currently had a blank slide showing. "Good morning students," she said, a smile on her face. "Undoubtedly you are aware of the Anon-a-Miss incident that has been sweeping the school these last few days."
"Who is it this time?" a student called out. "I swear that the identity of Anon-a-Miss seems to change every hour or so!"
"As with most things surrounding this school," Celestia answered, "there is more to this case than it seems. About a week ago, apparently incontrovertible evidence emerged to suggest that the perpetrators behind this crisis were the group colloquially referred to as the 'Crusaders'."
"Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle," said another voice. "We know. We still haven't cleaned up the mess from when they ran railroad lines through the hall and drove a narrow gauge engine around inside."
Celestia looked nonplus, but spoke again. "Yesterday, however, new evidence emerged which threw this summary into doubt. Today, I can conclusively confirm that Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle are not Anon-a-Miss. And they are here to speak to you."
Celestia stepped to one side, as the three girls stepped forward, a more confident expression on their faces than last time. "Hi y'all!" Apple Bloom greeted the packed hall. Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Rarity nodded. The rest of the student body was in for a shock.
"What are you three doing here?" another voice asked from the crowd. "Hadn't you been expelled?"
Sweetie Belle took up the microphone. "We're here to tell you we didn't do it, and that the real suspect has been caught. I believe this film footage, as well as computer logs recovered from his computer, will more than establish the truth."
She pressed a button, and suddenly a stream of code flew across the screen. Images began to appear, showing a student, whom we know is Norman Halford, hacking the phones of the Crusaders and planting false evidence. Then a line of text began to appear on the screen;
I hate Sunset Shimmer. That bitch ruined my life and terrorised the school for years! She bullied, tormented, and abused us, and all she gets is a slap on the wrist? Fucking ridiculous!
Well, this sheep isn't going to lie down with the wolf. That she-demon deserves to go down. Everybody seems to think that she's changed, but I know she hasn't! She has everybody fooled, but I know the truth! She's still the abusive monster she always was, and will one day rise again to take control!
Not on my watch. Sunset is going down, and Anon-a-Miss is more than the tool I need. The entire world shall see the truth. Sunset isn't getting away with her crimes, not on my watch. Once I am done, I shall shift the blame onto those idiot Crusaders, who do nothing but make our school a living annoyance factory!
A student spoke up. "Who's this Halford guy anyway? And how do we know that this isn't fake text and photos to throw us off the scent?"
Scootaloo spoke next. "I think this Police footage will convince you." She navigated over to a video file, and hit play.
The footage that played was from the sting operation, namely recorded on a hidden camera Scootaloo had been wearing. Halford was clearly visible.
"You know, you've got a lot of confidence meeting me out here. At least this helps me bring down Sunset, after that time she trapped me in a locker on campus."
"Yeah, seems she was a real mean bitch back then."
"And now she'll pay. Well, thanks for that, I'd best be on my way."
"And then there's this," Apple Bloom added, starting another video file. This time it was the effective confession that Halford recorded after his arrest by the police.
"First off, before they take you away Norman, I want you to answer some questions. Why did you create Anon-a-Miss?"
"When you ruled the school and made the lives of everybody hell, I was powerless to act. You held everyone in the palms of your hands, and could destroy anybody you wanted. I saw it all; I knew what you were doing. And taking that crown was the final part of your plan. I still haven't forgotten how you shut me in a locker. Did you think for a moment I could have died in there? Suffocated?"
"Interesting, but that still doesn't answer my question. "WHY. DID. YOU. DO. IT?"
"Most of the school thought you had reformed after that Twilight girl and her mates blasted you, but I knew the truth. You hadn't changed at all. The world had, and you simply needed to adapt by playing mrs nice girl for a bit. You were just waiting for the chance to strike again."
"Did my actions at the Battle of the Bands not convince you? Why, for Celestia's sake, did you not see that I had changed?"
"It was just a diversion, to throw us off the scent. You were just waiting for a chance to reassert control over us once again. Besides, what else would you do? Try to be nice? I had to reveal the evil that you truly were and remove the threat that you are before you struck again. And what better way than to imitate your old habit of secret stealing and sharing, to humiliate the entire school? It clearly worked, given how easily the entire student body fell for it."
"Look, I can understand why you'd want revenge against me. I did do a lot of bad things, I will admit, and I did hurt a lot of people. But why drag their names through the mud as well? Revenge against me is one thing, but those three were completely innocent in all this!"
"You see, those three were the bane of my life."
"What?" What did we do ta you?"
"Generally be a nuisance? Those three had been running around the campus more or less out of control for years now with their stupid 'Crusading', railroad restoring, videos about steam trains and other boring shit constantly clogging up my inbox and rendering me unable to think. Remember that time they blasted 'It's Great to be an Engine' through the library speakers non-stop that time after school?"
"In fairness, that was for a school project."
"And why did you do what you did? You chose to ruin the lives of my friends, my family and my fellow students because you don't like our taste in music?"
"But you three being such prolific bloggers made you the natural choice for spreading this sort of stuff. Think about it; with so many followers, of course they could get secrets sent in and leaked through the account!"
"But we don't have anything against Sunset!"
"Oh really? Says you lot. No thanks, we're good. No wonder everybody thinks you're inbred. But I knew that their families, and the townsfolk would come to their senses eventually and stop giving them their punishment. That's what the generator was for; it was loaded with Equestrian Magic in order to ensure the townsfolk kept fighting each other."
"Norman, in case you have forgotten, you turned the students against one another, made the entire world topsy turvy, flipped our school upside down, revealed hurtful information that will NEVER go away, and then dragged my name and the names of my friends through the mud. All for the sake of some petty revenge over things you didn't like. You DIDN'T have to follow their page, and you DIDN'T have to post all that muck online. Normally I would, but this crime is too severe. I can never forgive you. And I don't think the school body will either."
"Fine. I wouldn't want to be anyway. The entire school was brought down by just a social media account. How do you think you'll cope the next time a magical creature comes along through the portal? Can you rally support? Or will you just get turned on again?"
There were a series of gasps running through the school hall. The evidence proved it all. The Crusaders, the three girls standing before them, were innocent.
"Wait!" Trixie called. "The Great and Powerful and Dreadfully Sorry Trixie has a question to ask."
"Fire away," Sweetie Belle replied, wondering what this question could possibly be.
"If it wasn't you three, then what was that audio recording they posted all about?"
Scootaloo smiled. "Apple Bloom, if you wouldn't mind, maybe we should show the clip in its original context."
"Good idea!" Apple Bloom replied. "Ah know how dangerous stuff like that taken outta context can be now." She pressed play on another video.
Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle were sat around the computer in Scootaloo’s bedroom. Scootaloo hit some buttons on the keyboard, and the locomotive on the screen rolled towards some trucks. The maneuvre was clearly meant to move five trucks into a hump siding, but for some reason the first three coupled to the engine whilst the other two rolled away down the hill with a bang, clanging into the buffers below the trucks.
“Well?” Apple Bloom asked.
“We got two of them away,” Scootaloo replied, glancing back after applying the brakes on her engine.
“That’s less than half!” Sweetie Belle answered. “I wouldn’t exactly call that a smashing success, Scootaloo!”
“OK, OK!” Scootaloo replied. “I’m working on it, OK? We need a new strategy if we’re going to get the other three!” She made some adjustments, and moved the engine backwards to an easier position, in order to pick up enough speed to hit the trucks hard.
“That’s gonna be a lot of work,” Apple Bloom answered. “Like sluggin’ up a steep hill.”
Scootaloo grinned. “This ought to do it,” she said, and reached toward her keyboard, starting to press down some keys. The engine accelerated quickly, smashing into the wagons which began rolling forward and over the hump, rumbling into the siding quickly and smoothly.
The entire student body felt very silly. It was them commenting on a scenario they were playing in Train Simulator, as a video for their YouTube channel. Celestia then took up the microphone.
"We already know the names and identities of the students who attacked the Crusaders," she said, "and safe to say they will receive detention, and suspension for the more severe cases we saw. But I think that we all owe them, and Sunset Shimmer, a very big apology." She indicated to the assembled students.
"Sorry, everyone," they said, in that manner a massed crowd does. Celestia then turned to the Crusaders.
"I apologise for not listening and punishing you unfairly," she said to them.
"Don't worry," Sweetie Belle replied. "We forgive you."
"Pa always taught me ta forgive and forget," Apple Bloom chimed in. "Ya don't do it because ya think they deserve it, ya do it ta be the bigger person."
Celestia then spoke once more. "In addition, all charged against these three girls have been lifted, their punishments have been lifted, and their academic records have been cleared of any wrongdoing."
Sunset came forward next, and took the microphone. "I know it's been a tough few weeks, and I think we all need to loosen up a bit. Who's up for a party?"
"A party?" exclaimed Pinkie Pie, popping up behind Sunset. "You planned a party and didn't tell me? CRAZY!"
It was Christmas Eve, and snow was once more falling. People were racing around, trying to complete their last bits of Christmas shopping, and the streetcars rumbled up and down, sparks flying through the air and hitting the ground, contrasting with the lights that were shining off of buildings and competing with the stars for brightness. Christmas carols echoed through the air, and the air of sadness that had hung over the town due to Anon-a-Miss had mostly faded. People had remembered that it was Christmas, and as a result the mood had improved massively.
Sunset Shimmer looked out of the window of her apartment, holding a cup of hot chocolate in her hand. This had been a rough Christmas, she had to admit, rougher than the last two she had spent here. But still, it hadn't ended in tragedy. The offender had been caught, the innocent pardoned, and this meant that Christmas could proceed as it was meant to, as the Most Wonderful Time of the YearTM, patent pending. Sunset sat down at her desk, and opened up her journal. She hadn't written much in it over the last few days, as she had simply been too busy to do anything. Still, she took a pen, and decided to keep Twilight filled in on what had happened. The nib touched the paper, and the words flowed out of the pen like water from a fountain or a burst pipe.
Dear Princess Twilight,
I know I haven't written to you in a while, as things have been pretty hectic the last few weeks or so. I think I'll tell you all that has happened since we last wrote to one another.
When I last wrote, Anon-a-Miss had only just got going, with a few personal secrets. It was only after that she really began ramping up her campaign, with personal information and hurtful posts going up by the bucketload. They then began to target me. It was hurtful, I can safely say, and what was worse was that I withdrew from my friends. No wonder Applejack and Pinkie Pie turned on me. Looking back on it, it certainly did look suspicious.
But then, we got a bombshell a few days later that made it seem like our worlds were mirroring once more. I came into school to find out that the perpetrators had been caught. And you'll never geuss who they thought it was.
That's right, Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom. They had 'apparently' been caught logging into the Anon-a-Miss account, and not only that they had been caught with past secrets and ones that were yet to be posted on their phones. Safe to say, the school punished them and made them confess in front of the school to the crime, as did their families.
However, I smelled a rat. Those three are good friends of mine, so for them to suddenly try to make me look stupid and like I had gone back to my old ways would simply make no sense at all. Sadly, there was no convincing their families, except for Miss Cheerilee. I don't know what it's like back in Equestria, but here she's Scootaloo's mom. One day, we made a plan to break them out of the detentions they'd been put into, and put our computing skills to work to catch the offender behind Anon-a-Miss.
You'll never believe who it was. Remember that guy I shoved into a locker after meeting you for the first time? It was him, Norman Halford. He wanted revenge not only on me, for what I did, and although his actions were reprehensible, I can understand why he wanted revenge. What shocked me more was that he tried to pin it on the Crusaders, which came out of nowhere given they were completely innocent in all this, but apparently he had a vendetta against them too. An utterly stupid vendetta if you ask me, but it seemed he wasn't going to be convinced. At least he's behind bars now, for at least three years. Not only that, the fine his family had to pay will go to good use, helping to fund anti-cyberbullying operations.
The school officially forgave the Crusaders for accusing them of being Anon-a-Miss, as well as how they treated them afterwards, at another assembly. There was a party hosted afterwards, organised by Pinkie Pie, with one of her classically clunky titles. Not only that, there was much playing of vuvuzelas, which got extremely irritating after a while. Oh well, gotta take the good with the bad!
The families did forgive one another (eventually). Bright Mac (Apple Bloom's father) had wanted to punish Applejack for extrajudicially spanking Apple Bloom by making her do Apple Bloom's chores as well as her own, but, to her credit, Apple Bloom talked him out of it. It seems like she wants to put this whole thing behind her, and move on. However, they did compromise on Applejack being grounded for the rest of the year and having to do Big Mac's work in addition to her own, a punishment Applejack accepted and felt she deserved.
Rarity did burn all of the dresses she'd had Sweetie Belle model, as she had promised, and in addition had to act as Sweetie Belle's model. As well as this, Hondo and Cookie gave Sweetie Belle back all the things they had confiscated from her. In addition, they promised to get her whatever she wanted for Christmas (the jury's still out on that one).
Scootaloo had never really been punished, as her mother believed her from the off, so there wasn't much to change apart from repair her relationship with Rainbow Dash. Turns out those two are now closer than ever. The three of them also got discounts from Sugarcube Corner for the next few months, as a way of saying sorry.
However, just because they forgave one another does not mean the siblings trust them. Apple Bloom reportedly insists on being with two other people at all possible times to prevent a repeat of the spanking incident, and Sweetie Belle often eats on her own, simply to guarantee she can actually finish a meal.
On a more positive note, the Apple Christmas Party was an absolute blast. The food was great, but it was fantastic just to talk to everyone, all of whom wanted to know how either I or you were doing. Tomorrow is Christmas Day, and we're all coming together at the Town Hall for Christmas Lunch.
If anything else has been happening in Equestria over Hearth's Warming, I'd love to know what has been going on.
Have a happy Hearth's Warming, and send my best wishes to Sunburst.
Your student no, your friend forever,
Christmas Day arrived in a quiet way. The birds were singing, the bands were playing up and down the streets, and the streetcars and trains were all in bed. Christmas Day was a statute holiday, which meant that employees had the day off. For that matter, they had most of the week off. It was eerily quiet, with the sun shining over the land, the snow settling all around, and general silence all around.
In her bed, Scootaloo stirred, and hopped out of the bed onto the floor, pulling her slippers onto her feet, before heading into the kitchen. She laughed when she got a brief view of her reflection. She looked a mess. She would definitely need to clean that up before she went out today, when suddenly she heard her mother come in through the door.
"Merry Christmas Scootaloo," Cheerilee smiled, giving her daughter a hug.
"Hey Mom," Scootaloo replied, returning the hug in kind. "It sure has been a hectic one."
"It could have been better, I will admit," Cheerilee answered.
Scootaloo laughed. "Mom, that's the understatement of the century!" After a short pause, she spoke again. "Two pieces of toast or one?"
"One for me," Cheerilee replied, with a smile. "While you put those on, there's something for you in the living room."
Scootaloo popped the pieces of toast in (one for her, one for Cheerilee, which was entirely sensible as there were only two slots for toast), and then followed her mother into the living room. The lights glowed on the tree, which was covered in tinsel and baubels, as well as boxes surrounding the bottom of the tree, alongside several boxes flanking the model railway running around the bottom of the tree. But that wasn't what Scootaloo noticed the most.
Standing before the tree was a man in his early to mid 30s, with brown hair cut in a short, military fashion. He also had blue eyes, neatly cut facial hair, and dressed in a grey shirt, blue jeans and black military boots. He had a smile on his face.
"Hi there Scoots," he said, with warmth and affection.
Scootaloo's face broke out into a grin, and she ran into his arms, hugging him tightly. "Dad!" she cried, as happy as she could ever be. "You made it in time for Christmas!"
This was William Collins, Captain in the 86th Airlift Wing and husband of Cheerilee, and by logical extension Scootaloo's father. He had been assigned to Ramstein, Germany, until recently, but he was, as of now, based out of Canterlot airbase. "I heard what had been going on in the town, and I'm sorry I wasn't here to help you through a very tough time," he said sadly.
"It's OK," Scootaloo said warmly, by this point having broken from the embrace. "At least you got to experience a German Christmas."
CAST-IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE Ashleigh Ball-Applejack, Rainbow Dash Rebecca Shoichet-Sunset Shimmer Nicole Oliver-Cheerilee, Principal Celestia Andrea Libman-Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy Tabitha St. Germain-Rarity, Granny Smith, Vice-Principal Luna, Mrs Cake Michelle Creber-Apple Bloom, High Winds Claire Corlett-Sweetie Belle Madeleine Peters-Scootaloo Shannon Chan-Kent-Female voices Sunni Westbrook-Cozy Glow James Kirk-Male voices, Trick Shot, Norman Halford Graham Verchere-Pipsqueak Tony Halstead-The Globglogabgalab Kazumi Evans-Adagio Dazzle Maryke Hendrykkse-Sonata Dusk Diana Kaarina-Aria Blaze Rhona Rhees-Vapour Trail Emmett Hall-Sky Stinger Kathleen Barr-Trixie Lulamoon Vincent Tong-Rumble Peter New-Big MacIntosh William Shatner-Grand Pear Felicia Day-Pear Butter Bill Newton-Bright Mac Blake Swift-Button Mash Brian Drummond-Mr Cake, breakdown gang crew Richard Newman-Cranky Doodle Bill Mondy-Burnt Oak Jessi Nowack-Vinyl Scratch Brad Pitt-William Collins
Friends Together: Apple Bloom's dialogue in the last paragraph references Through the Eyes of Anon-a-Miss.
Even when it Rains: Apple Bloom meeting with her friends, shortly before the flashback, is a callback to Through the Eyes of Anon-a-Miss. Rarity's 4th wall breaking is a reference to Not Another Anon-a-Miss Story, as is Sweetie Belle's actions and dialogue at the end of the chapter. Rarity also briefly references An Inspector Calls.
Arguing will Get you Nowhere Fast: Applejack's dialogue with her grandmother is a reference to Diamonds are for Apples. The various scenes in the corridor reference We are Number One, You are a Pirate, and the Globglogabgalab. The confrontation in front of the locker combines elements of Reverse, Anon-a-Miss: Confrontation, and Hell and High Water, with Applejack and Rainbow Dash's roles reversed, as well as a quote from the play The Rainmaker. On the bus journey, Pinkie references Applebuck Season, and the sequence of the characters getting lost is a reference to Battle School, an episode of Dad's Army. The scene with the Dazzlings references their debut in Rainbow Rocks.
Thre's no use in Worrying when Things start going Wrong: The journal conversation between Twilight and Sunset references several episodes of MLP, such as Ponyville Confidential, as well as alluding to the Celestia cake meme. There is also a reference to the Season 2 episode Hearth's Warming Eve. Vapour Trail and Sky Stinger both allude to the events of Top Bolt, and the secrets posted by the account reference Ponyville Confidential. The notes on Sunset's locker reference multiple different Anon-a-Miss stories, most notably Dainn's Anon-a-Miss, whilst the fight scene, and subsequent intervention by Luna is a callback to both Firebird's Nest and Through the eyes of Anon-a-Miss. The scene in Sugarcube Corner is a reworking of that from the original comic, with more secrets released referencing Through the eyes of Anon-a-Miss. The scene in Scootaloo's bedroom references Hell and High Water.
You Really Should be Doing as You're Told: The references to Sugarcube Corner reference Anon-a-Miss: That's Enough, whilst the entire scene with the Principals references several Anon-a-Miss stories, presented here in no particular order; The Forsaken, Blamed, Through the eyes of Anon-a-Miss, Bitter Tears, Myriad Thoughts, and Solar Eclipse. The punishments proposed by the siblings allude to similar ones given in Confession. Sunset's conversation with Pipsqueak, Button Mash and Rumble is modelled on a similar one in How Anon-a-Miss mucked up. The layout of the scene in the cafeteria, as well as much of the dialogue, is based on Not Very Anon-a-Miss, with Sunset's comment to Rarity near the end a reference to a similar conversation between Rarity and Sweetie Belle in It Takes a While, whereas the last two lines of dialogue reference Reverse, with Rainbow Dash and Rarity's positions in the conversation reversed.
Happy or Sad We'll Stick by Your Side: The overall structure of the chapter is modelled on Consequences, the seventh chapter of Bitter Tears, with the flashback being a darker version of a discussion at the beginning of Somepony to Watch over Me. There are a few callbacks to earlier stories, such as Railway Adventure. Sweetie Belle's punishment is a hybrid of that seen in Myriad Thoughts and Bitter Tears, and the dialogue is loosely modelled on a conversation in the story Sweetie Belle's Big Adventure, as well as a nod to I'm Sorry, Sis: Sweetie Belle. A joke in The Adventures of Tintin is also referenced. Scootaloo having a rock thrown at her references Failure of Friendship. The treatment that Cheerilee receives at Sugarcube Corner, as well as Rumble's reaction, is a callback to Anon-a-Miss: That's Enough, with Rumble taking the place of Mr and Mrs Cake.
Whenever you Need a Hand: Cranky Doodle's comments reference the Judge's speech from the film The Violent Years, whilst a few George Orwell references are made. The escape references Bloom Filter. The flashback sequence references The Shadow Knows!, Anon-a-Miss with a Twist, Hell and High Water, Bitter Tears, and Through the Eyes of Anon-a-Miss.
Don't Judge a Book by its Cover: The scene of Sunset and Sweetie Belle hacking the account alludes to Not Very Anon-a-Miss, whilst the speech given by Trick Shot is based on that given by Swift Order in Dainn's Anon-a-Miss. The confrontation in the carriage shops is based on Achilles Veil, a level of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
If you Don't Concentrate on the Thing that you're Doing: Rarity's conversation with Mrs Cake is based on one heard in Anon-a-Miss: That's Enough. When Rainbow Dash, Applejack and Rarity realise the CMC are not Anon-a-Miss, the conversation references Not Another Anon-a-Miss Story, Airplane!, and Wherever you Find Love. The scene of the siblings making up with one another is based on one in Sadness, with the relative roles of the characters reversed.
Winter Wonderland: The assembly scene is modelled on the version shown in When you Hit a Road Block, with the positions of the characters switched around. The journal letter is based on the ones at the end of Rainbow Rocks and the beginning of Friendship Games. Finally, Will, Cheerilee, and Scootaloo paraphrase the scene in Bob Cratchitt's home in A Christmas Carol.
Chapter titles: Each chapter title is a line from a different Thomas & Friends song.