Oncoming Storm: Surface Tension

by Chengar Qordath

Chapter 1: Ranges and Ribbings (Not like that, Kicker)

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Going out to a shooting range probably isn’t most people’s idea of a good way to impress a girl you like. Blame it on the fact that I’m a military brat.

Well, that wasn’t the only reason. I had also taken who I was hanging out with into account. “So what do you think, Dash? Pretty cool?”

Rainbow stared at the guns my parents were getting ready with open curiosity, but then tried to suppress her eager grin and play it cool. “Yeah, it’s alright. Thanks for the invite, Cloud.” Considering some of the movies she’d dragged me to in the past, it had seemed reasonable that she might like to see the real thing. Hopefully she wouldn’t be too disappointed by the lack of aliens to shoot and random explosions everywhere. Or, considering some of the crazy stuff she’d been involved with, the lack of magical rainbow lasers. I’m just not sure guns are as cool as weird friendship powers.

I really wasn’t sure what to make of the fact that weird magical monsters had started showing up at school, much less that Rainbow and her friends blasted them with their own magic. Which they now somehow had. I know high school is supposed to be weird, but I’d never thought it would be that weird.

Well, if Rainbow had the Magic of Friendship, I’d have to content myself with the magic of superior firepower. Once we had everything set up and safe, I took one of our bolt-action rifles and quickly knocked down several targets. Once I’d emptied the mag, I shot a look Rainbow’s way, hoping for a compliment while trying to avoid making it too obvious I was fishing for praise. Gah, things between us had been awkward ever since...

Rainbow nodded approvingly, but her feet shuffled across the ground. “That's pretty cool. I mean, being a straight shooter isn't easy. Shooting a gun I mean, and not being straight with people. Not that that isn't hard too but ... yeah ... straight.”

“I think I get it.” I had no idea what she was talking about. However, I definitely thought things were way weirder and more awkward than I’d planned. “So ... wanna give it a shot?”

Rainbow’s awkwardness fell away in an instant, and she reached out for the rifle with an eager grin. “Sure!” I was just about to pass it to her when she hesitated for a moment. “Er, as long as your folks are okay with that. No point bothering them with ... stuff. Or whatever.”

“Oh.” I shot a glance at Mom and Dad. “I don’t think they’d mind. I mean, the whole reason we brought you out here was to show you our guns and let you play around with them.” I grimaced and quickly corrected myself. “Well, not playing, because guns aren’t toys and you should never treat them like that. But ... uh...”

“I get it, Kicker,” Rainbow assured me. “Fun, but take the safety stuff seriously.”

“Exactly.” Dad cut in, walking over with an extra set of safety glasses and earplugs for Rainbow. “And since we’re taking safety seriously, let’s review the rules.”

I groaned and rolled my eyes. Parents. “I told Rainbow everything she needs to know before we got here, Dad. It was the first thing we talked about once she agreed to come.”

Rainbow nodded along, backing me up. “Yeah, s'cool Mr. Kicker. Don't point it at anything you don't want to shoot, don't be an idiot, don’t scr—er, mess around with them...”

Dad frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. “I'll ease up when you can recite the rules from memory.” He counted them off on his fingers. “One: treat every weapon like it's loaded, even when you know it isn't. Two: finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot. Three: safety on until you're ready to shoot. Four: point the barrel at the ground until you're ready to shoot. Five: Safety gear stays on until you're done shooting. Got it?”

Ugh. Why was he being such a hardass with Rainbow? I was trying to make this fun for her! Didn’t he get that? He was gonna mess up everything! “Daaad! She's got it!”

“Uh, yeah.” Rainbow agreed, her eyes on the ground and her tone far more subdued than her usual peppy confidence. “I got it, sir.” I don’t think I’d ever heard Rainbow call someone ‘sir’ before, but the way her eyes kept nervously darting between Dad and me almost certainly meant ... well, something. Probably something related to the whole ... us ... thing.

There was a bit of awkward silence as Rainbow got her safety gear and earplugs on, and then I silently passed the rifle over. Rainbow slowly settled it into position, which surprised me a bit until I noticed her eyes occasionally flicking back up to Dad. She was definitely making a conscious effort to follow every single one of the safety rules. It probably was a lot more work for her to remember all that—it was all second nature to me, but I’d been learning this stuff since before I met Rainbow in middle school.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, Rainbow squeezed off a shot. Considering it was her first time with a gun, she did pretty well. Solidly on-target. “Nice shooting, Rainbow.”

Rainbow shot me a cocky little grin. “Well yeah. What’d you expect?”

I chuckled and shook my head. Same old Rainbow. “Easy, hotshot, you’re not an expert sniper just ‘cause you hit the target on your first try. Let’s work on your stance a bit, recoil is gonna be throwing you off.” I stepped up to her and started helping her straighten her shoulders and get her legs a bit more solidly planted.

Then I remembered my parents were there. Watching. While I was touching Rainbow. I took a hasty step back from her, and I could feel my cheeks warming up. “Um ... that should be fine.”

Rainbow was blushing too, and her voice came out hard and snappish. “I—I got it Cloud!” She hastily brought the rifle back up and snapped off another shot without taking the time to aim properly. When the bullet didn’t even come close to hitting, Dash let out a frustrated grumble, staring down at the rifle as it it had betrayed her.

I flinched sympathetically, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Rainbow’s never exactly been graceful when it comes to ... well, anything less than being awesome. Any time she starts losing a game there’s a decent chance the power will mysteriously get cut off or the board will ‘accidentally’ get knocked over. Granted, the last time that kinda thing had happened was before ... er ... before.

Still, I was quite surprised when Rainbow did something she’d only done maybe twice in all the years I’d known her. “Kicker? Little help here?”

While I was a little tempted to tease her—it’s a rare day when Rainbow admits she needs help from anyone—I wisely put that urge aside. Rainbow’s usually pretty thick-skinned and can give as good as she gets, but her pride had just taken a hit, and that’s always been a bit of a sore point for her. “Right, try trying tucking the rear of the gun tighter against your shoulder. Like...” I started to reach out to help her, but froze when I remembered how weird it had gotten last time.

Rainbow frowned and adjusted her stance a bit. “Soooo you mean like this?”

I shook my head. “No move it a bit higher than that. No, not that high. Lower. No, now, it’s too low. And maybe a bit more to the side too?”

She let out a frustrated grumble. “Why don’t you just show me? It’s gonna take forever if you try to talk me through it.”

“Uh, right.” I tried to help her get the rifle in place without touching her too much. Which ... didn’t exactly work too well. When I took hold of her shoulder to help her get the rifle’s butt firmly in place she surprised me again, actually leaning into my touch. I managed to catch her eye for a moment, and we traded nervous smiles. After I got her settled my hands lingered on her for just a second longer than necessary. “So ... there you go.”

Rainbow grinned at me, then took the shot. She nailed the bullseye.

I beamed and slapped her on the back. “Nice one, Dash!” Now that she had a success under her belt, I figured it was safe to follow the praise up with, “Of course, that was probably just beginner’s luck. But still, nice shot. For a newbie.”

Rainbow answered me with a proud smirk. “Sounds like somebody’s jealous...” She snickered and poked me in the side. “I guess I can see that, when I’m just so much better than you are even though you’ve been practicing for years and this is my first time. Try not to take it too hard, Kicker. You’re good, but I'm the Captain of Everything.”

“Captain of Everything?” I repeated incredulously before grinning and playing along. “I thought you were just the Captain of Awesomeness.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “It's an all-inclusive title. Duh.”

I grinned and hip-bumped her. “Only everything that's awesome.” I tapped my chin thoughtfully. “Though really, who wants to be captain of things that aren't awesome? Being Captain of Everything means you’re the captain of lameness and uncoolness, too. Guess we could split the difference and say you’re the captain of everything that’s awesome.”

Rainbow grinned and playfully punched me in the shoulder. “Well, that goes without saying, dummy.”

She actually hadn’t hit hard at all, but I decided to be a drama queen about it, groaning in pain and grasping my shoulder. “So violent and abusive...”

“So whiny and wimpy,” Rainbow countered without missing a beat.

I probably would’ve tackled her and tried for a headlock or something if not for the fact that the shooting range really isn’t an appropriate place for horseplay. Not to mention that the last time we’d started wrestling was in the locker room after practice, and that had ended up with us kinda ... uh ... yeah.

Dad chuckled at our antics. “That’s good shooting, Rainbow. Think you’ve got enough of a handle on the basics to move up to something bigger?”

“Bring it on!” I knew what Rainbow’s answer would be before she had actually said it. Dad had worded the question too much like a challenge, and implying Rainbow couldn’t do something was just about guaranteed to make her try to do it.

Dad looked Rainbow over, then nodded to himself and opened up another rifle case. “Alright then, let’s move on. This one’s a classic—my father actually used a rifle just like this one while he was in the service. Smaller sights and more kick, but you did want to try out something a bit heavier.”

“Whoa...” Rainbow carefully accepted the new rifle, staring down at it. “I’ve seen these before! This is the rifle they used in Cyborg Zombie Werewolf VII!”

Dad stared at her, either trying to process how there could be a Cyborg Zombie Werewolf movie or baffled by the fact that there had been at least seven of them. Eight, actually. I would know, since Rainbow made me watch all of them. Cyborg Zombie Werewolf VIII involved the title character going to the moon and fighting alien lizard-men.

I decided to change the subject before Rainbow could start gushing about the movies. “Dad must like you if he's letting you use his M-1. It’s kind of a family heirloom. Though the real test would be if Mom lets you use her .45.”

Mom let out a short bark of laughter that made her opinion on the odds of that ever happening quite clear. I’d say Mom loves her pistol as if it were one of her children, but I think that would be overstating how much she cares about her children.

“I bet I could win her over,” Rainbow announced with a confident grin. “You like me, don’t you Mrs. Kicker?”

“Of course.” Mom slapped a mag into her favorite gun. “Small, fast-moving targets are far more rewarding to hit.”

Rainbow chuckled one hand nervously rubbing the back of her head. “That’s a joke, right? You’re just messing with me?”

“Feel free to keep thinking that,” Mom muttered, offering her a disarming smile before taking aim and emptying her gun into her target. Every shot was within half an inch of the bullseye.

Rainbow’s eyes darted over to me. “Uh, Cloud? Was your mom always this scar—er ... I mean, intense? Or is this a new thing?”

“This is kinda new,” I murmured.

Dad cleared his throat and shot a look Mom’s way. “I’m sure Nim likes you just fine, Rainbow. You and Cloud have been friends for a long time, after all.”

“Yup, that’s me and Cloud.” Rainbow took half a step closer to me. “We’ve been good old gal-pals since forever. We’re friends. Friendly friendly friends. Of friendship.” She took another step, practically pressing up against my side. “So ... er ... yeah. I’m cool, she’s cool, everything and everyone’s cool here. Right? Awesome.”

She glanced over at me, and a bit of her usual confidence came back. “‘Course, I’m way cooler than Cloud, but it’s not really fair to compare us.” I shot a playful frown her way and she quickly amended. “I was joking. It’s totally fair to compare us.” She smirked and hip-bumped me.

I chuckled, one arm easily settling around her back. “Yeah, 'course you are. Just be careful, or I might joke right back. I could always let you use that one shotgun Dad added the pistol grip to. Remember, Dad? The one Aunt Wind used that kicked so hard...”

Dad snickered and nodded. “I would’ve warned her about it, but then I remembered when she stole one of my G.I. Joes way back when we were kids. By the time I managed to get him back she’d ruined his kung fu grip. I loved that toy. Not to mention she kept calling it a doll instead of an action figure. So ... I forgot to warn her just how hard that gun kicked, and it wound up knocking her right off her feet.”

Rainbow grinned and nodded. “Ah. So that's where the brattiness in the family comes from.”

I grinned and slugged her in the arm. “You calling me a brat? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I can kick your butt if you don’t take that back.” My eyes flicked to my parents, and I prudently amended, “After we leave the gun range, of course.”

Rainbow answered me with a confident smirk. “Bring it on, Cloud. But lemme show you just how awesome I am...” She slipped away from me and picked up the rifle, setting it against her shoulder and settling into a pretty good shooting stance. When she fired, she hit less than an inch away from the bullseye.

I gave her a brief round of applause. “Looks like you're a natural. Better watch out, or Mom and Dad might try recruiting you.”

“Pass,” Rainbow answered. “No offense, s’awesome what you guys do, but I’ve seen what Cloud has to handle in the Junior Cadets. The exercise is no big, but the rest of the package is ... thanks, but no thanks.” She grinned and carefully set the rifle aside. “But as far as my badass skills go ... well yeah, I tend to get what I aim for.” While the confident smile remained firmly in place on her face, I noticed her slowly rolling her shoulder, then trying to sneak a hand up to rub it without anyone noticing.

I stepped over to her and casually put an arm across her back, which just happened to leave my hand in a good position to rub her sore shoulder. “You okay?”

“No problem,” Rainbow answered, lightly shrugging off my arm and letting a little pride seep into her voice. “I bet I could shoot that gun a dozen times without breaking a sweat.”

Fortunately, I had plenty of experience with knowing how to help Rainbow out while leaving her pride intact. “Yeah, it’s no big deal. Though one little trick I’ve used whenever the recoil really gets to me is to...” I leaned over her back, helping her get the rifle settled into place.

“Like this?” She leaned back just a bit, pressing against my chest as I helped her get the gun set against her shoulder. “And am I holding it right, or...?”

I took her hands and shifted them just a bit to give her a slightly more secure hold on it. “Yeah, just like that.” When I started to pull my hands away her thumb shifted up to gently hold me in place. I certainly wasn’t going to argue the point. Her hands felt ... well, a lot nicer than I would’ve expected Rainbow’s hands to feel.

I stayed right there with her until she fired again. Another perfect shot. “Looks like we make a good team, Dash. Nice shooting.”

Rainbow turned her head to face me, grinning. It made me realize that our current position had our faces resting pretty close to each other. “Thanks for the help, Cloud.”

I locked eyes with her, only to be interrupted by my mother loudly clearing her throat. “Cloud. No distracting the shooter.”

“Huh?” I blinked, and it suddenly dawned on me that Rainbow and I had been getting rather ... cozy with each other. Right in front of my parents. I quickly pulled away from her, my cheeks burning. “Er ... right. Of course. I was just trying to help her with her aim. And—well—it obviously worked. Because she was shooting well.”

“Yeah!” Rainbow agreed, her own cheeks bright red. “So, er, that’s...”

“I think she’s gotten the hang of it,” Mom snipped. “If she needs any more pointers, I’m sure Tor can handle it.” Her hand settled on my back and firmly directed me away from Rainbow. “We’re going to go work on your marksmanship. Last time we were out here, you failed to qualify as an expert on two of the twelve runs we did. Qualifying as a sharpshooter isn’t enough—I expect you to get an expert badge.”

I sighed, already resigned to my fate as she dragged me away from Rainbow. “Yes, Mom.”

In the aftermath of our trip to the shooting range, it was almost a relief to get back to the normal school routine. At least my teachers never gave me a hard time about only getting 39 out of 40 questions right on a test.

After suffering through my morning classes it was lunchtime. Despite the fact that I had a bag lunch from home, I headed for the cafeteria so I could eat with my friends.

Sure enough, as soon as I claimed a table Rainbow smoothly settled into the seat next to me, setting down her tray and and licking her lips while unabashedly admiring my ... lunch. Considering the cafeteria seemed to be offering their classic menu of brown glop, yellow goop, and green goo, I couldn’t blame her.

Rainbow continued staring as I pulled out my sandwich, a small bag of chips, an orange, a can of diet soda, and a cookie. I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Got anything worth trading?”

Rainbow looked down at her tray. “Jello?” She paused and poked the green goo. “At least, I think it’s jello. It wiggles when I poke it.”

“Maybe half a cookie,” I answered skeptically. “And I'm only giving you that much ‘cause I feel sorry for you.”

“Yeah, I feel sorry for me, too.” She poked at the contents of her tray a bit more. “I'll toss in half an apple and a brownie.”

I frowned in thought. The cafeteria apples were usually pretty decent since Applejack’s family farm provided most of them. The brownies... “Is it one of the good brownies, a stale one that'll break your teeth, or undercooked goopy one?”

The most ringing endorsement Rainbow could bring herself to offer was, “It's ... edible. Maybe a little goopy. But I figured you'd like goopy.”

Before I could ask just why Rainbow thought I’d like an undercooked gooey brownie, Blossomforth settled into the seat across from me. “Hello Cloud Kicker, Rainbow Dash. What's this about goop?”

“Oh heya Blossom,” Rainbow casually waved to her. “Just trading for food.”

“Well, I'm trading food,” I countered. “Rainbow's trading ... vaguely food-like substances. Reconstituted food byproducts.”

“Ooh, gotcha.” She set down a tray that was covered with goop that looked even worse than what Rainbow was eating. “Well, um, anything worth trading here?”

Rainbow frowned down at her tray, and after great deliberation pointed at a bowl of something that I think was supposed to be pudding. “I could use that stuff to spackle my walls. Maybe patch holes in my bike’s tires.”

I shivered sympathetically. “Yeah. Look, Blossom, you’re my buddy and I like you, but you're on your own with that.”

Blossom stared skeptically down at the contents of her tray and experimentally jabbed at her ‘food’ with a fork, only to have the tines break off. Sure, it was a cheap plastic fork, but still... “This is supposed to be nutritional?”

“I think it's supposed to be cheap,” Rainbow countered.

I nodded along. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure the cafeteria’s food comes out of bags labeled ‘Use only for livestock and students.’”

Rainbow shook her head. “Nah, Applejack tried to feed this stuff to her pigs once. They wouldn’t touch it. Even the goats wouldn’t, and they’re ... well, they’re goats. Kinda says it all.”

“For what it’s worth, you two have my sympathies.” I unwrapped half of my sandwich and took a moment to appreciate the fact that, for all her unpleasable hardass-ness, at least Mom didn’t make me eat cafeteria food.

Rainbow’s eyes flicked down the remaining half of my sandwich, still wrapped up and untouched. It wasn’t hard to see the gears turning in her head, trying to figure out the best way to get my food.

Blossom looked up from poking her own ‘food,’ her eyes also lingering on the other half of my sandwich. “That looks really good. What is it?”

With both of them staring, I just couldn’t help rubbing it in a bit. I slowly took another bite of it, then softly moaned in pleasure. “Mmm, so good! This turkey is so moist, and the swiss cheese is just a perfect complement to it. And ... yes, Mom put bacon on it too! And all on honey-wheat bread ... oh this is best sandwich ever!”

Blossom cocked her head to the side. “Turkey, bacon, and swiss cheese?”

“Cloud...” Dash whimpered, staring at me with wide, sad eyes. “Have I ever told you what an awesome, kind, and generous friend you are?” While Blossom didn’t say anything, the tray full of cafeteria goop sitting in front of her was a fine testament to just how terrible her circumstances were.

With both of them teaming up on me, there was only one way it could end: I let out a token grumble as I unwrapped the other half of my sandwich and tore it in two. Rainbow got the larger of the two portions, because ... well, because. “Evil women taking advantage of my soft heart...” I muttered. “I hope you’re happy when I starve to death.”

Rainbow’s eyes lit up as I passed the food over to her. “Thanks Cloud, you rock!” She immediately tore into it, grinning around a mouthful of sandwichy goodness.

I chuckled and took the apple off her tray as payment. “Welcome, Dash.”

Meanwhile, Blossom had opened up my sandwich to have a look, presumably to make sure there wasn’t anything in there she didn’t like. Apparently my food passed muster, because she took an experimental little bite, blinked, then shoved the rest of it into her mouth with a single gulp. After some chewing that was so noisy and messy that even Rainbow was taken aback by her table manners, she wiped her mouth and grinned broadly at us. “That was fantastic! This one would love to know where you got it from!”

“Er...” Well somebody had taken their weird pills today. “It's the same sandwich I bring every day? From home?”

Blossom settled back into her seat. “Um ... right, I knew that.” She smiled disarmingly “What I meant was that I really liked it. Turkey and cheese and bacon and bread! And all of it made with love and care!”

I traded a look with Rainbow, who shrugged and took another bite out of my sandwich. “I ... guess, yeah?”

Before the conversation could get any stranger, a new voice cut in. “Love, care, and if Mom’s been handloading again, trace amounts of gunpowder. All part of our daily regimen of nutrients and minerals.” My little sister flopped down into the seat next to Blossom. “Hey, Cloud, Rainbow, Blossom. ‘Sup?”

“Hey, Sparks.” I grinned as she pulled her own lunchbag out. “I better warn you ahead of time, these two harpies are gonna do everything they can to beg, borrow, or steal away some of your food. I can’t blame them considering what the cafeteria serves, but still...”

“Too bad for them,” Sparkler commented as she pulled out her own sandwich. “I’m not a soft touch like you. If they want half my sandwich, they can pay me a 200% markup for it.”

“Bah.” Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Why isn’t Sparkler as awesome as you, Cloud?”

“She’s adopted,” I deadpanned.

“Ouch,” Sparkler snarked right back, dramatically putting a hand over her chest. “I feel that, Cloud. You got me right in the heart.”

“Nah, I think that’s just you having a heart attack from how fat your butt is,” Rainbow cut in. “You know, ‘cause you’re greedy and not sharing your food.” She paused a moment then turned and jabbed me in the side. “And hey, what was with that ‘harpies’ comment anyway? Just for that, you lose the cool points I was gonna give you for sharing.”

I rolled my eyes and poked her right back “It was a joke. Relax, Dash, you know I lo—” The rest of the joke died in my throat. After recent events, it suddenly didn’t seem nearly as funny as it had been ... well, before.

Rainbow let out a loud and awkward cough, then hastily shoved the rest of my sandwich into her mouth so she’d have an excuse to not say anything for a while.

Sparkler blinked and frowned, staring confusedly between the two of us. “Okay, did I miss something? ‘Cause it looks like everyone’s going nuts.”

“Nothing!” I hastily snapped out. “Nothing weird’s going on at all. Nope. Totally normal here.” I decided to follow Rainbow’s example, and cracked open my soda and started chugging it down. Hopefully that would give me time to compose myself.

Blossomforth looked back and forth between Rainbow and me, a smile slowly forming on her lips. “Ohhh, look at all that unresolved romantic tension. When did you two hook up?”

Rainbow’s eyes bugged out and she started choking on my sandwich, while I barely managed to avoid spraying soda all over Blossom’s face. Which, admittedly, would’ve been no less than she deserved after dropping that bombshell on us.

Sparkler wasn’t anywhere near as freaked out, but she’d still let out a weird sound halfway between a grunt and a wheeze. She shook her head and groaned. “Blossomforth!!! Come on! I love a good smartass line as much as anyone, but geeze!”

“What?” Blossom asked, her face the very picture of innocent confusion. “Isn’t it obvious? You can practically taste the love coming off of them.”

My eyes briefly darted to Rainbow, just in time to catch her looking at me. I hastily turned my head, and I could feel my cheeks warming up again. Rainbow’s face was pretty red too, but that might just have been because some of my sandwich had gone down the wrong way.

Evidently Sparkler had decided that Blossom was on to something, or at least that she was close enough to make for some good teasing fodder for a bratty little sister. “Cloudy and Rainbow underneath a tree, B-A-N-G-I-N-G ... First comes lust, then the sex drive—then comes Mom with her .45.” She smirked at both of us nibbled away at her sandwich.

Rainbow grabbed what was left of my soda and chugged it down, then let out a loud cough followed by a pained wheeze. I forgot all about the awkwardness and my sister being a massive brat, my attention fully on Rainbow. I gave her a quick slap on the back to try and help her out. “You okay?”

“I’m good...” She weakly tried to wave me away. “Just, y’know, a little food went down the wrong pipe. S’no big deal.” She grimaced and shook her head. “Gah, what the heck was that, Blossom? Don't ever do that again!”

“You sure you’re okay?” My hand stayed on her back, gently rubbing it in reassuring circles. “I don’t have to do the Heimlich on you or something, do I?”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “I said I'm fine. Stop making a fuss, Cloud. S’no big deal.” She finished off my soda, then glanced down at it and seemed to remember it wasn’t hers. “Uh, I’ll buy you another one of those.” She paused, then amended. “Well, I’ll buy one and split it with you. I didn’t drink the whole thing, after all.”

“Sounds good to me.” I eased away from her, slowly removing my hand from her back. “So ... moving on from that bit of awkwardness...”

“Uh ... yeah.” Blossom shifted awkwardly in her seat. “Um, I think I should go.”

I certainly wasn’t gonna argue with her after the minor disaster she’d just caused. That was a couple steps beyond a faux pas. “Right, so long, Blossom.”

As Blossom got up and left, Sparkler worried at her lower lip, then leaned in a bit and murmured “Um, sorry ... didn't mean to get you guys quite that bad.”

“S'fine...” Rainbow waved her apology off, then her eyes narrowed and she grinned. “I'll just have to get you back is all. Blossom, too.”

I snickered and smirked at my sister. “Oooh, you're in for it now, Sparks. When Rainbow decides to get payback, the pranks get ... creative.” Not that her normal pranks were dull, by any means. Though she still needed to work on her exit strategies—at least I’d gotten her to be a bit more subtle than that time back in middle school where she’d carved her name into the school lawn in twenty foot tall letters.

Sparkler tried to play it cool, shrugging and affecting an air of nonchalance. “Nah, I don't think so. After all, I just found her kryptonite, and I’ll ruthlessly exploit it if she messes with me too much.”

“That only worked because Blossomforth surprised me,” Rainbow countered. “Seriously, who just says something like that in middle of lunch? S’not gonna work if I know it’s coming.” She smirked and leveled an accusing finger at my little sister. “So, how do you plan to avert my wrath? You better have a good plan, or you’re gonna get it...”

“Especially since I’ll probably be helping her,” I chimed in.

Sparkler grinned mischievously at us. “Maybe Blossom was onto something—look at you two doing stuff together and acting all ... couple-y.”

“Blossom’s a butthead,” Rainbow responded with her usual eloquence. Her eyes narrowed and she grabbed her spoon, then used it as an improvised catapult to blat something that was allegedly applesauce onto my sister’s nose.

I snickered softly. “I see you’re starting off with the classics, Dash. Good old goop on the face.”

Rainbow shrugged immodestly. “A bit basic, but that’s just a warm-up. Gotta do a few basic pranks before I’m ready to bring my A-game.”

“Classy,” Sparkler deadpanned, grabbing a napkin and wiping her nose. Her eyes flicked to the side, and when I followed them I saw Blossom leaving the cafeteria. Sparkler looked over her shoulder, then leaned in close and dropped her voice. “Hey, seriously though ... she seem kinda weird to you?” She paused a moment, then helpfully clarified. “Blossomforth, I mean—Cloud's always weird.”

I decided to be the mature big sister and ignore her needling. “Blossom?” I thought back over the conversation. “She was acting a bit odd, yeah.”

Rainbow nodded along. “Yeah, even before she said that weird stuff about me and Cloud she was acting kinda strange. She got a fever or something?”

Sparkler let out a long sigh, her shoulders slumping. “Okay, it's not just me then.”

I thought back to how she freaked out over getting part of my sandwich. It was like she’d never gotten food off of me before. “She been acting like that all day?”

“Longer'n that, really,” Sparkler confirmed. “At least since Monday. I just wrote that off as Monday at first, but...”

“Huh.” Everyone has a weird day, but if she’d been like that all week... “What's up with her?”

Sparkler shrugged helplessly. “Hell if I know. I asked Star about it, and she showed me this thing on her phone that showed her where Blossom's phone was. And things were weird.”

Rainbow blinked and stared at her. “Okay, first of all, what?”

“Star. My cousin. Likes flannel, uses her computer a lot?” Sparkler ‘helpfully’ explained.

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “I haven’t forgotten about Cloud’s cousin, smartass. But what were you talking about with her phone?”

Sparkler sighed. “She, um ... well, it's ... oh, just shut up and look.” She pulled out her phone and turned on an app. After a couple seconds it loaded up a map of the school, then a line of movements with timestamps and Blossom’s name on them. “Look at this! She's been all over the school!”

Rainbow cocked her head to the side. “Uh, Sparkler? Right now I’m kinda more worried about the fact that Star has an app on her phone that she can use to track Blossomforth all over the school. Am I the only one who thinks that’s really creepy?”

“Yeah, I think I need to have a talk with Aunt Wind about that. Star’s always been a bit weird, but this is a whole new level of...” I trailed off as I looked over the data. “Okay, why's Blossom spending hours at a time down in the school's basement?”

“Right?! Thank you!” Sparkler sighed and turned to Rainbow. “Look, we can talk about Star's digital shadowing later—right now, let's focus on the creep factor of Blossom going into the basement. Of the school. According to Star’s data she’s even hanging out there late at night after school’s closed. Like, do I even need to sound off on the horror movies that paint that as a warning sign?!”

Rainbow frowned in thought. “Doesn’t mean anything too weird going on. Plenty of kids would sneak into the basement to draw graffiti, sneak out of classes, or make out 'n stuff.” Her eyes briefly flicked to me when she mentioned the last point.

I frowned and crossed my arms over my chest. “Rainbow, does Blossom seem like the kinda gal who would do any of those things? She never cuts class, usually freaks out and starts blushing if you even mention making out, and graffiti ... do I even need to say anything about how not Blossom that is?”

Rainbow sighed and her shoulders slumped. “Okay, fine, you’re right.”

That led to the next logical step in the process. “Wanna go check it out?”

Rainbow thought it over, then shrugged and nodded. “Yeah, might as well.”

Sparkler groaned and facepalmed. “Have either of you two ever seen a horror movie? I mean, seriously? I bet as soon as you guys go down there you’re gonna split up, too.” She rolled her eyes in disgust and shook her head.

I rolled my eyes. “Yes, we’ve seen horror movies.” They were Rainbow’s second favorite genre after cheesy action movies with lots of explosions. “We’re just gonna go check it out. If we see anything weird we'll get out and call for backup.”

“You'd better.” She reached across the table to poke me. “I don’t want you ending up as one of the pod people, getting an alien brain bug controlling you, or anything else weird. Got it?”

Rainbow scoffed and waved her concerns away. “You’ve been watching way too many movies.” She flicked a bit of imaginary dirt off her shoulders. “Besides, I've taken on two crazy evil demon girls and the Sirens. I'm sure Cloud and I can handle whatever’s going on in the spoooky school basement.”

Next Chapter: Into the Depths (Mind out of the gutter, Kicker) Estimated time remaining: 30 Minutes
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