by Prane

Chapter 1

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“Why don’t you tell me more about your project? It is, in essence, a tea room?”

Sonata Dusk nodded. “You could say that, ma’am principal. We’ve figured out CHS lacks a place for students to just get together and relax. I mean, there’s a cafeteria serving really awesome foodstuffs every day, but it’s often loud and crowded during breaks.”

“Indeed. There seems to be no quiet alternative, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, ma’am principal.”

A smug smile came to Sunset Shimmer’s lips. It was probably the third or fourth time this semester she found herself in the principal’s office, yet none of these instances involved being punished or admonished for her misdeeds. Back in the days her visits would revolve around awful, stupid, often downright cruel things she used to do, but the Old She was gone now. Today, with her closest friend for whom she’d fought with all her zealotry, Sunset worked towards a noble cause, in the best interest of her peers. It definitely felt nice to be a good guy!

She let Sonata do the talking. The whole thing was her idea, and the disparity in her behavior was most amusing to watch. Sonata tended to be laid back in just about every situation, even careless to some extent, but she always acted so formal when Celestia happened to be around. She was in such awe of the principal she would stand on attention whenever she saw her approaching, and treated her with great reverence ever since she was allowed to stay at CHS almost five weeks ago.

A month! How time flies!

“Well, what do you two propose?”

“We’d like to set up a café here at school, ma’am,” Sonata replied. “We’ve mentioned tea, but coffee and other beverages aren’t out of question either. I’m particularly fond of juices of all kinds myself. If all goes well we could even add desserts to the offer, like pies and ice cream,” she said, evidently excited by the prospect of small eatables. “It’s all in our business plan. Sunset made a really great one.”

Celestia glanced to her desk, where amongst various attributes of her office a thin booklet lay open. She flipped through it back and forth, skimming the pages and murmuring appreciation.

“A hub for social interactions. A chance to make new friends. Yes, you seem to have put a lot of thought into it,” she said. “Your opinion, Vice Principal?”

The woman in question stood by the window, legs slightly astride and arms crossed on her back. As if she didn’t appear distant enough during classes, she now resembled a guard at the maximum security facility. She didn’t bother to look back at her sister or the two girls. Instead, she was silently watching the schoolyard, anticipating the students to break the rules.

“Though the winter is long gone, I wouldn’t mind a cup of warming, black as night coffee every now and then,” Luna replied. “The task is ambitious, but requires adult supervision, first and foremost. A proper place, as well.”

“Indeed. Since you’re aiming at placidity with this one, I think the empty classroom in the basement will suffice. The one at the end of the northern wing,” Celestia said. “It used to be a chemistry lab. It’s reasonably spacious, has a proper water installation and adjacent storage room where you could keep your supplies. Our dear janitor will help you refurnish, of course,” she assured. “As for a supervisor, I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head right now.”

“We’ve kind of mentioned the idea to our biology teacher,” Sonata said. “She said she’ll help us, so we asked her to meet us here. She should be coming any minute now.”

“Very well,” Celestia said. “I’m curious, why did you choose to call it the Icebreaker?”

That was the cue for Sunset. Last time Sonata tried to get a grasp on the meaning of the name she failed miserably, insisting that broken ice is just water and it’s pointless to overcomplicate things. There was something to that, but the name “Watered Watermaker” wasn’t quite as appealing.

“This was my idea,” Sunset said. “It’s obviously based on the expression which means attempting to befriend somebody, or start a social interaction. We’d like to create the opportunity for “breaking the ice” between students. Therefore, the Icebreaker.”

“You may find interesting that the same word is commonly used in psychology. It’s a method of working with a group which allows them to relieve inhibition or tension,” Celestia said. “Admittedly, there has been some tension among us lately.”

Sunset caught a glimpse of Sonata’s stare collapsing to the floor. Poor girl had not yet forgiven herself the Showcase fiasco, which was one of the reasons she was so passionate about their project. Despite her silly absent-mindedness, she knew very well what kind of reputation she had garnered, and she was working really hard to change it.

“I didn’t know you had interest in psychology,” Sunset said to steer the conversation away from Sonata. “I would’ve rather imagined you as a law student, or someone in that fashion.”

“I’ve studied both fields, actually. Among others.”

Luna threw a quizzical glance at her sister, whose presence was unstirred as usual, then shook her head, took out a small notepad and went back to overseeing the yard.

Sunset wondered how old Principal Celestia really was. She learned that humans had a lifespan of about seventy to eighty years, much like the ponies of Equestria, but while this world had the equivalent of Princess Celestia, the alicorn was over one thousand years old. Surely the woman in front of her couldn’t have lived that long? She looked way too good for that, and there was no sub-species of humans Sunset was aware of which could reach such venerability. On the other hand, there was something mysterious about the principal, something Sunset remembered from being in the presence of her old mentor back home…

Celestia tapped a paragraph of the business plan. “I see you’ve also put a section on the costs.”

“Huh? Oh, right, we have,” Sunset replied, mentally back in the office. “We believe the average student will be able to afford tea or coffee at these prices. We do not seek profit, only a way of self-sustainment.”

“Your reasoning is sound, and I think your project is relevant to our school’s policies,” Celestia said. “In fact, your timing is great. We’ll be hosting a government representative whose task will be to determine whether CHS provides space for personal development of its students. That includes your own initiatives. Based on his opinion we may acquire additional financial endorsement for the next semester, which could mean further support for our afterschool programs, your café included.”

Still at the window, Luna scribbled something in her notepad, without a doubt the names of several unfortunate souls soon to be put in detention or otherwise punished. “Since we didn’t raise much money during the Musical Showcase we could use a funding from the government.”

Celestia brought a big binder to her desk and added the booklet on the Icebreaker to the growing pile of more or less successful CHS initiatives. “I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to impress the inspector. There’s a couple of clubs and groups around school I intend to show him, but yours could be a real deal.” She checked the calendar. “He’ll be here next Wednesday. Do you think you could get your café ready by then?”

“I think so,” Sunset replied, glancing at the other girl. “You?”

Sonata exclaimed with unbeatable cheer. “We can do it, ma’am principal!”

There was a knock on the door, and Celestia went back to her seated place of power.


The visitor was a slim, dark-skinned woman of exotic looks, with strands of her grayscale hair bringing to mind everything from snow through ash to dark asphalt. She was wearing a pair of decorative golden bracelets composed of several rings which jingled with her every move, only strengthening the feeling of entrancement she brought into the office. Her white shirt had a striped barcode picture in front, only that it was shaped to resemble a zebra.

Indeed, Mrs. Zecora was by far the most remarkable biology teacher they ever had.

She put on a wide smile, and spoke with a heavy accent of her faraway homeland. “Forgive my delay, caused not by me, but by a student’s indecision,” she said. “Now, I heard there’s a café in need of my supervision?”

* * *

If there was one school subject Sonata felt good at, it was biology. Not just any biology, of course. Learning about carnivorous plants and photosynthetic animals was one thing, but getting to know human species was infinitely more absorbing. More importantly, it allowed her to cope with the changes she had been through. She still happened to yearn her unbound siren form once and again, but at the same time she grew fascinated with her new anatomy. It was no longer just a temporary disguise, but a new form she had become and learned to accept. Arms, legs, fingers, nails, they were all so interesting!

While Sonata was on her way to becoming a biology savant, she was less than able to solve equations with unknown factors, memorize the date of some long-forgotten conflict, or tell who was this world’s current leader. Hint: it was not Principal Celestia as she had originally assumed. Fortunately, she could rely on her roommate regarding the matters she couldn’t handle herself, as Sunset was by far a better student and was helping her a great deal to prepare for quizzes and class tests.

It was safe to say that they were friends now. It was a different kind of bond Sonata used to share with Dagie and Ari. A better kind, even. She was really glad Sunset found her in the gymnasium back then, and listened to her. She never told her, but she had some pretty dark thoughts that day.

They still haunted her whenever she walked by the giant horse statue towering over the schoolyard.

Zecora’s peaceful voice put a stop to her train of thoughts. “Welcome to where the finest tea blends reside,” the teacher said. “Grab a basket, and we’ll get your café well supplied!”

Three of the four walls of a small store held colorful teas locked in bulky glass jars. Like books on the shelves of the library, the blends were categorized by their type, ranging from classic blacks and greens to more unusual red and whites, all to satisfy even the most demanding of palates. Under each jar, on every second shelf small packages were placed neatly in the line, each properly named, described, and ready to be purchased.

Sonata sauntered along the display. “Thanks for coming along, Mrs. Zee,” she said. “We really want to get the Icebreaker up and running, and with the inspector coming in just two days we’re going to need all the help we can get.”

“So far you’re doing well, and deserve a congratulation. I’m curious though, how do you feel, after your first month of school adaptation?”

“I’m alright. I think CHS is growing on me,” Sonata replied. “I don’t even mind waking up in the morning, because there’s just so much stuff to do every day. Classes, brunch break, more classes, lunch break, talking to other people, learning new things. Life of a high school student is great!”

Zecora chuckled. “You’ll be saying otherwise once your finals have begun,” she said. “Was your last school not quite as fun?”

“Well, not really.”

Sonata’s status at CHS was clear. Officially, she was a student from overseas, much like Sunset, so no one asked too many questions about it. The running version was that she originated from a country so small it couldn’t be placed on a map, and only a handful of trusted people knew that she was actually from the magical land of Equestria. While Zecora wasn’t amongst them, she chose not to pursue the topic, much to Sonata’s relief.

Zecora took a package from under a jar of deep pinkish contents and put it in their basket. According to its label, Gossip Bridler was a herbal tea composed of hibiscus and rose hip, with a slight touch of cranberry. Sonata knew its smell well from sitting in the front row in biology classes.

Other than that, however, she was pretty much clueless when it came to tea processing and classification, and knew only a tad more about blending and additives. She decided to just keep reading the labels in search of these most alluring ones, keeping in mind what she and Sunset had learned about their friends’ tastes the other day.

Rarity, for example, was as much into the exquisiteness as she was into fashion. The act of drinking tea was almost a mystical experience for her, the one which she only savored under the proper conditions of taste, sweetness and temperature. Such ritualistic approach demanded a perfect vessel, naturally, most often a superior porcelain cup with hand-painted periwinkles. Only then would Rarity take pleasure in the beverage while working on another fabulous design.

Sonata searched the shelves for something to go along the vision. All things considered, a classical black blend flavored with bergamot oil named Sweet Elitist should appeal to the up-and-coming designer.

For Fluttershy, brewing tea was a chance to relax. She would sit down after a stressful day at school and wait for the different subtleties and delicate flavors to be released. She enjoyed the warm vapor and fragrance as much as the liquid, but she preferred a steady mug which wouldn’t shatter if she had accidentally dropped it. Perhaps she’d like this combination of lemongrass and spearmint?

Not everyone at CHS lived a quiet and peaceful life, though. Athletes and thrill seekers such as Rainbow Dash didn’t have time or patience for their tea to release all of its tasty excellence. They sought quick bursts of energy in their drinks, so a refreshing mix of lime leaf, ginger, and some herb Sonata couldn’t even pronounce properly would be a way of convincing them to the Icebreaker.

That’s it, both Daring Doer and Morning Breezie added to the basket.

Sonata did a double take, piercing the deceptive package with her undeniable perspicacity. The label clearly said “Breezie”, but she was pretty sure it should have been “Breeze” instead. The Breezies were a race of tiny, funny speaking creatures native to Equestria, and to Sonata’s knowledge they weren’t considered a tea blend, probably. What a weird, weird typo.

She should ask Sunset how exactly were the two worlds connected, and why did such similarities even occur. Ever since she had landed here a year, maybe a year and a half ago Sonata had been struggling to preserve her magical abilities, and didn’t put much thought into understanding the laws of the universe. Not that she ever would, even if she had all the time in the world. She was never good at researching such stuff.

After another quarter of an hour spent on smelling teas and reading labels, Sonata weighted her basket, now filled with small packages. She turned to her teacher. “Sunset said a choice of dozen will be enough for starters.”

“Let us get a couple more, for good measure,” Zecora said, snatching a cinnamon Winter Wrapper and apple flavored Cider Speeder off the shelves. “After all, we’re not the ones paying for this pleasure.”

Zecora reached to her outworn bag and presented a plastic rectangle with a picture of the sun to the cashier. A credit card, Sonata had to remind herself. This world was filled to the brim with things the Equestrians had never dreamed of, both impressive and terrifying alike. This particular one kept large amounts of bits inside, but Sonata couldn’t understand how did one make a pile of gold fit in there. Sunset once made an attempt of explaining it to her, along with how the air conditioning worked and what was the point of radio waves, but it was all in vain. In the end, it’s not like the air had to keep a good condition for sports – duh! – and radios simply did not enjoy being dipped in the waves. Of that, and many other things, Sonata was certain.

A mirthful ringtone resounded as Zecora was putting a biodegradable bag of tea shopping in the trunk of her car. Sonata blamed her consciousness for not letting her know they had left the store, and reached to her pocket. Her mobile was yet another human invention she couldn’t fully understand, but she didn’t need to ace the sciences to talk through it, send messages, or play games about birds whamming into makeshift castles.

“Oh! Oh, this is bad stuff,” she said to herself.

[Sunny S.]>Emergency! I just talked to Princelly!
[Sunny S.]>The inspector is coming today in about 1h!
[Sunny S.]>You and Mrs. Zee get here quick!
[Me]>today? for realzies?
[Me]>and btw that’s Principal Celestia you know
[Sunny S.]>GET. HERE. NOW!

“Uhm, Mrs. Zee?” Sonata asked as she got in the car’s back seat.

Zecora glanced in the rear-view mirror. “Yes, Sonata Dusk? Is there something you wish to ask?”

“I’ve just got a message from Sunset. She says the inspector is coming today,” she explained. “How fast can you get us back to school?”

There would be no rhymed answer to the question. Instead, a devious grin appeared on the teacher’s face as she switched on the ignition and put a hand on the gear knob. Sonata reached to her seatbelt, aware that she was up for another ride in one of these metal soap dishes the humans called cars.

The engine roared a thunderous roar as Zecora stepped on the accelerator.

Next Chapter: Chapter 2 Estimated time remaining: 19 Minutes
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