The Principal's Project

by QueenMoriarty

Chapter 1: 1 - A Polite Awakening

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Sunset Shimmer had always been a heavy sleeper. While her body was very rarely pushed to the kind of limits that made her tired, her mind had been constantly challenged ever since she was ten years old. Questions of reality, the universe and endless permutations of various magical spells taxed her brain from glorious sunrise to bittersweet sunset, and even while asleep there was some part of her that would stubbornly refuse to stop calculating. She had woken up to a room covered in half-legible scribbles about the Farmy-Drying Rack distribution function more times than she could count, and only the reassuring but firm nudges of Princess Celestia could ever be counted on to get her up at a reasonable hour.

"Come now, my dear. It's time to wake up."

Sunset whimpered and flailed weakly. "Five more minutes..." she mumbled. She shifted away from the nudge, expecting to feel the softness of her bed and the warmth of her covers. Instead, she felt a wall. Which she was resting against... vertically? That made no sense. Wait, what was up with her bone structure? What in the—

Yesterday came rushing back. The argument. The rebuttal. The... threat. She couldn't call it an attack, not when it had done so little. And then, when she saw those eyes fill with tears, she had...

Run. Run for all she was worth, abandoning scrolls and spells and all common sense as she threw herself through the one door that Celestia dared not follow her through.

The new form had been confusing at first, but she'd been too distraught to really process the existential crisis. She'd learned to walk just so that she could keep running. She'd tried to get into the building, but she had no magic, and the glass was too thick for her soft little paws, and all she could do was, slump against the door and cry and cry and cry. She'd fallen asleep there, weeping at the unfairness of it all.

But now she was awake. And there was Celestia, standing over her.

The transformation had done nothing to make the Princess of Equestria any less beautiful. The light from the rising sun still made her mane shimmer like the cascading waterfalls in the Rocinante Cliffs. Her violet eyes still had that warm intensity that told you that it didn't matter if you had just killed your way through her entire army to make this second of eye contact, she forgave you and would welcome you home. She still had that smile, the coy little teasing one that hinted at some delicious prank hidden under your seat. The legs, the claws, the suit, those couldn't hide the fact that this was Princess Celestia.

"You're here," Sunset whispered, her mind torn over whether to be horrified or relieved.

"Of course I am. I work here."

It was like someone had seen a switch labelled 'Aura of Godliness and Perfection' and flicked it off without a second thought. The birds stopped chirping, the roses stopped blooming and the sun got a little less bright as Sunset tried to process what she had just heard. "Pardon me?"

The creature she thought was Celestia looked at Sunset, then at the building she was leaning against, then back to Sunset. "I'm the principal at this school," she said, indicating the building with an extended claw. "Have you been here all night?"

Celestia or not, there was such genuine concern in those words that Sunset couldn't help but feel bad for worrying her. "Well, not all night..."

"What's your name, child?" The creature was extending its paw down towards her, in a gesture that was probably meant to signal that it wanted to help rather than tear her throat out. Sunset reached out with her own paw, and gave herself an imaginary hoofbump when the soft paw closed over her own and pulled, lifting her to her shaky feet.

"My name is Sunset Shimmer," she said, feeling a little bit of confidence come back into her system.

"Sunset Shimmer, are you a vagrant?"

Sunset ripped her paw away from the creature, baring her teeth and trying to cast a death-by-fire spell without any of the necessary glands. "I most certainly am not! What in Tartarus would make you think that?"

"The part where you're here, sleeping against the door of a government building in the middle of the night." To her credit, the Celestia-thing didn't seem too offended by Sunset's outburst. To her detriment, she was not currently on fire.

"A government building? I thought you said this was a school."

It was Celestia's turn to look confused and startled. "What else would a school be, if not a government building?"

Sunset Shimmer's mind was racing. How much was different in this world? "Isn't a school an institution privately established and financed by wealthy po— by the aristocracy as a cheaper means of tutoring their progeny in matters that they themselves were never able to comprehend?"

With almost every single word, the venom in Sunset's voice grew, until she was practically spitting liquid contempt with her weird new tongue. Celestia just stared, her bemused smile falling into a worried frown and the faintest suggestion of a tear in one corner of her eye.

"No. It isn't." That voice... it felt so wrong, to hear that voice coming out of a different creature. It was the only voice that could make a guilty verdict sound like an invitation to milk and cookies. "The education system is run by the government, financed by a combination of funds derived from taxpayer dollars and contributions from the families of those wishing to be educated, and mostly exists to create a baseline level of technical skill and basic memorization capabilities." Celesti— this thing gave Sunset a look, a look that combined disbelief and pity in such an effective package that Sunset had to look away.

"Oh." That was all she could think to say. That was all there was to say. It was finally sinking in. She was alone on an alien world, a world that was strange and new to her not just in its biology but in its politics and its social structure. She had no magic, no cutie mark, not even her hooves.

The night before, Sunset had thought that the worst thing that could happen would be Celestia following her through the portal and punishing her. Now, she was beginning to realize that it was much worse to know that nopony had come. To know that, if Celestia hadn't followed hot on her heels, she probably never would.

"Sunset... you're an awfully long way from home, aren't you?"

There was nothing to do except cry.

Next Chapter: 2 - In the Office Estimated time remaining: 43 Minutes
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