Sparks Catch

by Tale Swapper

First published

Sunset Shimmer has emerged from the events of Anon-A-Miss with deeper bonds with her friends- and a proper home for the first time in a decade. The fires of friendship burn brightly within her. But Friendship is magic, and fire tends to catch...

Sunset Shimmer thought she was going to lose everything. Instead, she gained far more than she lost. With her new family, deeper bonds with her friends, and a firm understanding of the Magic of Friendship, Sunset is ready to face the new year.

However, she really didn't expect some of the problems which would arise from having a new home and better friendships. Sure, the curfew is bothersome, her new little sister tried to frame her for a crime she didn't commit, and her new Grandma wants her to learn to shoot a rifle, but these issues are manageable.

The fact that her new life seems to have reignited her magic- which she didn't even think was possible- is more worrisome. The fact that the new magic has attracted the attention of the smartest girl at Crystal Prep further complicates matters. However, the real issue is that the new magic seems to want to be used- and is continuing to spread.

Sunset's starting to wonder if she'll ever get a break...

Image credit to Girlsay on Deviantart. Used with permission.

Strike a Match

Crystal Prep Academy had multiple laboratories scattered throughout its corridors and basements. While most of those spaces were intended for use by any student during routine science classes, some of the labs tucked away in hidden corners were intended for the best and brightest of the student population. Once "awarded" to one of the high-performers, no staff member, student, or outsider was to be permitted without the express permission of the principal herself.

Now, this setup would have raised the eyebrows of any taxpayer or alumni to the school- most of whom would likewise have strong words to that selfsame principal about the harsh competitive spirit she'd foisted on the academy. Sadly, the school's test scores and college acceptance rates had never been higher, so no one thought to investigate the school's unorthodox teaching methods. And more importantly, none would think to investigate the recently occupied "Private Exotic Energy Observation Lab".

Although the dismissal bell had sounded an hour past, one person still occupied this hidden lab. That person, one Twilight Sparkle, was pouring over her notes and figures, when she heard the clack of the door opening behind her. Turning, she came face-to-face with none other than Principal Cinch herself.

"Mrs. Cinch! I wasn't expecting you- I mean, you have every right to be here, and I'm grateful that you're here, and I was just wrapping up-"

"Ms. Sparkle." Cinch could be amiable if she really put her mind to it, and she almost pulled it off here. Almost. "Do not worry. I was just checking to see how our brightest student was doing on that project of hers." Walking past Twilight and inspecting the odd tackboard placed up behind her, she suddenly frowned. "Although- correct me if I'm wrong- I thought you were working on observing some new form of energy, correct?"

"Yes ma'am." Twilight said brightly. "I mean, the interactions with the testing material are abnormal on-"

"Then why-" Cinch cut her off, raising one manicured hail to tap a photograph attached to the board "-is there a picture of Canterlot High School right here?"

Twilight looked puzzled for a moment, then let out a quiet "oh" and shrank in on herself a bit. "Um- well, early last month, I caught several sustained bursts of the new energy from midtown. I wasn't able to pin down exactly where, though, so I set up several more detectors off campus. I just retrieved the data from those sensors a few days ago, and they confirmed my suspicions. Although not all the energy is coming from the school, most of the larger spikes are centered on Canterlot High's main building."

Cinch's face contorted with disgust for a bare millisecond before she smoothed it back out. "So- Canterlot high is experimenting with this new energy?"

Twilight paused. "Well- no. Probably not. There's none of the hallmarks of experimentation- it's too random. I mean, I sensed a few spikes during the last weeks of their classes, when they would all be studying for finals. And other spikes have occurred father afield. In fact-"

Whatever she was going to say was cut off by a insistent beeping from her desktop computer. Twilight jerked towards it, then glanced back at Cinch, who gave an affirming nod. With a grateful smile, Twilight dove to the computer, quickly turning off the alarm. "Oh- another spike!"

"Dash, this song is takin' way too long to perfect." Applejack leaned back over a chair, idly strumming her base guitar as she sat in repose. "Ah know Ah said we had time for a quick practice session, but we've got some work to do back on the farm before it gets dark."

"Come on, AJ! I promise this'll be the last rewrite!" Rainbow Dash sat hunched over a desk, writing madly in a small notebook. Torn out sheets of paper littered the ground around her, and considering how hard she was bearing down on the paper, she was in danger of breaking her third pencil of the afternoon. "If I can just make this verse a little punchier, we'll rock the house at our next concert!"

Rarity leaned over, and regraded the notebook with curiosity. "Well, at least you've given Fluttershy and I proper parts this time. That last song had me as mere background."

"Hey, it's kinda hard to add a tambourine to a rock piece. I'm just glad Fluttershy picked up another instrument- works way better with the slower portions."

"Angel Bunny is much happier about he flute." Fluttershy gripped the metal instrument in both hands. "He says it doesn't hurt his ears as much as the clatter does."

Pinkie looked up from where she'd been tapping her drumsticks on the drum, making a M&M bounce. "Wait- since when can Angel talk?"

As Fluttershy stammered an explanation to her slip of the tongue, the last member of the Rainbooms hunched over her guitar, idly picking out a melody on the strings. Sunset Shimmer looked much better than she had in months- morning runs with Rainbow Dash and work with Applejack having given some tone to her arms, and a proper diet had filled out her formerly scrawny ribs. She would look the picture of health were it not for the slight bags under her eyes and the occasional wince as she sat alone.

Applejack, noting her sister's discomfort, disengaged from Rainbow Dash's (hopefully) final rewrite of their newest song and came to stand beside her. "Headaches again, sugarcube?"

"Yeah." Sunset stopped picking at her guitar strings and instead began to knead her forehead. "I don't know what's causing them, either. Kept me up late last night."

"I'm sorry to hear that, darling." Sunset looked up to see looks of concern from both Fluttershy and Rarity. Rarity continued "Is thee anything I can do? I suppose I might have some aspirin in my backpack, but I don't think I carry them around anymore."

Sunset shook her head, even as Pinkie finally bounced the chocolate off her drums and into her waiting mouth. "I don't think an aspirin would help this. It's- it's like there's something in my head, trying to get out. Not a normal headache."

Rainbow Dash put down her pencil, then spoke up. "Okay, yeah. No more practice today, then." Everyone turned to look at the normally determined athlete. Rainbow shrugged. "I'm not gonna ask her to play with a headache. That's stupid. Hell, she had a headache the last three times we played- maybe the noise is making it worse."

Sunset's face softened. "Thanks for that, Dash, but I think we can continue. Let me just get a drink of water," she said, motioning to the bottle behind her, then turning back to the group. "And we can keep going. I don't think the music is-" She blinked twice. The cessation of pain- and the surge of something familiar deep inside her- made her smile. "Hey, the headache's gone!"

Everyone else in the room stared at Sunset- or rather, she realized, stared past her. Blinking twice, Sunset was about to ask what was wrong when she felt something tap her shoulder. Looking behind her, she found her water bottle held in a red glow, floating a few feet above the ground. Speechless, she raised her hand to take the bottle, only to discover the same glow around her hand.

Many people, upon realization that they are succeeding in a task they thought extremely difficult, have a moment of giddiness which wrecks their concentration. Rookie surfers stop focusing for the briefest moments and wipe out, novice pianists find themselves missing notes in the midst of otherwise perfect performances, and gamers often lose their place as they complete impossibly challenging platformers. While all these things can lead to moderate failures, they're rarely dangerous missteps. After all, for most dangerous tasks, training is done in a safe environment, where possible failures are mitigated.

Equestrian mages have something similar. Young unicorns often have magical surges as they're halfway through their first created spells. Pegasus children will sometimes lock up for a brief moment as they learn to fly. Even earth ponies suffer from occasional misfires of magic due to youthful exuberance and shock, which have been responsible for the creation of timberwolves (Princess Luna, age 7), poison joke (Princess Celestia, age 9), and the Sap Monster of last Tuesday (Apple Bloom, age 12). Like human missteps, these are usually handled by nearby teachers- or, in the case of the Sap Monster, a politely irate Fluttershy and frantic Twilight Sparkle who were visiting Applejack for a picnic.

For Sunset Shimmer, her realization invoked similar effects- with slightly more dynamic results, as there was no one there to help contain her sudden flare of magic.

Sunset's yelp of surprise coincided with a massive burst of red light, quickly resolving itself into an aura of red flames surrounding her hands. Far more disconcertingly, the flames quickly reached outward, quickly brushing over objects scattered across the room. Though the flames didn't set anything alight, any object stuck by the swirling magical morass
was quickly dragged into the air, coming to spin around Sunset even as the glow of the red flames slowly grew in intensity.

Applejack staggered backwards as a loose drum missed her head by a few spare inches. Fluttershy quickly ducked under a desk- which would have been a prudent decision, save for the fact that seconds later, the desk itself rose into the air, depriving her of cover. Pinkie and Rainbow caught a fainting Rarity, gently lowering her towards the floor- until Sunset's magic grabbed her from their grasp, sending her to orbit their friend.

At first, Sunset merely shrieked helplessly, but her mind quickly reasserted itself. Remembering her old training, she tried to focus on her horn- only to belatedly remember that it wasn't there. Instead, she shifted her focus to her hands, and a few seconds later, managed to cut the flow of outward magic.

As objects crashed to the floor (Rarity coming down atop a dazed Applejack), Sunset discovered that although her hands were no longer projecting the force she'd harnessed, they were still burning with magic- and that burning was increasing with intensity. As seconds passed, the dull red flames surrounding each hand slowly grew in brightness, shifting through red to orange and into a brilliant gold.

Sunset gritted her teeth. She could tell she'd be unable to hold her magic much longer. In her desperation, she recalled a trick Celestia had taught her to use after her last magic surge- and dumped the entirety of her magic back into the magical field.

Moments later, she remembered that this world had no magical field.

There was a loud sound akin to the peal of a bell, meshed with the blast of a subwoofer. The energy gathered in Sunset's hands burst outward, reverberating through the room- and washing through the other five teens scattered across it. Some of the energy grounded out in each of the girls knocking each to the floor, while the rest slowly dispersed through the walls of the music room. Soon, nothing was left of the magical surge but a massive mess.

And six distinct glows surrounding each of the six girls.

Twilight Sparkle's jaw dropped. While initially the surge had seemed much like the ones which had occurred before, this one had grown to exponentially greater heights than any she'd observed over the last few months. Many of the instruments which had not been calibrated to sense the new energy source had detected something- even if, for most of them, there was no frame of reference for what they'd sensed.

Principal Cinch watched the data scrawl across the monitor in front of her. "I assume that your equipment detected another one of those spikes, Ms. Sparkle?"

Twilight nodded. Cinch continued, "What has you so shocked, Ms. Sparkle? And was this- particular event centered on Canterlot High?"

Twilight took a few seconds to respond. "Yes, ma'am to the second. And as to the first-" she looked at her readouts. "-this has been orders of magnitude greater than any surge I'd caught before."

"And what does that mean, Ms. Sparkle?"

Twilight glanced up at her principal. "I don't know. But I intend to find out."

Author's Notes:

Yes, the flute is a heavy metal instrument. If you disagree, please listen to "Thick as a Brick" all the way through. (I suggest using it as background music for an hour.)

In other news, interquel one! I'm planning on writing this story and another concurrently, and will be updating sporadically. Seriously- real life is picking up for me- I'll write when I have the time, but I would advise you not to expect the daily updates Myriad thoughts received.

Igniting Tinder

Sunset's mind was cloudy- but for the first time in days, lacked any sort of headache. Rolling over, she sighed. That feels so much better. I don't know why that headache lasted for so long, but I'm glad it's gone. Her brow furrowed for a moment. Hang on, this doesn't feel like my bed... or my sleeping pad back at the factory... what's going on-


Gasping, Sunset sat up. Her vague, half-formed hopes that the whole disaster of a few minutes ago had been some sort of hallucination was quickly dashed. The music room was in shambles, with instruments, backpacks, paperwork, and Rainbooms scattered like detritus after a storm. Even as Sunset choked back a startled yelp, Applejack groaned.

"Mah head- dammit, Ah ain't felt like this since that time Ah swiped a bottle of the medicinal-"

Rainbow Dash jerked aware, her yelp cutting off Applejack's words. "Agh! Head hurts..."

"Darling, could you please keep it down? A lady needs her beauty sleep-" Rarity's eyes jerked open, and with a short cry, she lept to her feet. "Although- perhaps not on the ground."

Fluttershy came to her hands and knees, one hand held to her forehead. "Oh dear, oh dear-"

Pinkie Pie was the last girl to awaken "Ooh- this feels like that one time I mixed Red Stallion, pop rocks, and syrup..."

As the girls staggered to their feet, Sunset started trying to recall what had happened. "Okay- is everyone all right? No one hurt?"

All the other girls responded with a surprising lack of injuries- save ferocious headaches from all sides. Rainbow Dash was the first to make the obvious inference. "Wait- Sunset, you described your headache like- something in your head trying to get out, right? 'Cause I think you spread it around."

Sunset drooped. "Sorry, girls. I think that was a magic surge. I hadn't had one of those for years back in Equestria, and there's no magic here, so-" Instinctively, Sunset reached out mentally to probe the non-existing magical field- only to get feedback as a shimmering web of magic resonated around her, invisible to the naked eye.

Or not. "Orrrr...." Sunset's eyes widened. "Girls? We might have a problem."

"Besides my guitar getting trashed?" Rainbow said grumpily, looking over the dents and busted strings of her red instrument.

"Yeah. A lot more important." Sunset decided to take a calculated risk. Looking down at her hands, she focused. At fist, nothing happened. Focusing outward, she began to see a slight glow resonate around her fingers.

Rainbow muttered, looking over her guitar, until she realized the others were all staring at something. "What- what is-" She looked down at Sunset's hands and spotted the bright red glow. "Oh shit, Sunset it's happening again-"

Pinkie slapped her hand over Rainbow's mouth. "Shh! Hold on, I think she's-"

Sunset watched as in the space between her fingers, a small, ornate shape of light wove into existence. With a push of will, she projected it outward- with immediate results.

Rainbow glanced down, eyes wide, as a red glow covered her guitar. Dents popped back out, strings reattached, and the bent neck straightened itself. With a dying hiss, the magic faded away, leaving her guitar whole again.

Rainbow looked up. "That... was... AWESOME!"

Rarity smiled. "Indeed, darling. I assume that was magic?" Sunset, still looking down at her hands, nodded. "Well, I'm impressed." Suddenly, her mouth formed a small "O", but before she could continue, Pinkie beat her to it.

"Wait! So, Sunset had her headache, and then she did a little magic, and then the big "Bwoosh" happened, and then she did more magic, but before that her headache went away- OOH! Doesthatmeanwehavemagictoo?"

Sunset looked up and met Pinkie's gaze. "I think... maybe? But, there wasn't a magical field here, I don't..."

Applejack put her hand on her sister's shoulder. "Sunset, hun, we can figure that part out later. Fer now, we gotta put the room back in order before anything else happens. Them we can figure out what's goin' on, okay?"

Sunset nodded, then turned to pick up a desk. Halfway bent over, she stopped, and blinked twice. "No. NO! This isn't something we can just wait about, Applejack!" Spinning around, she glared at her sister. "If you all just got- infected by magic, if you surge without warning, there could be worse consequences! We're all time bombs until we use our magic! Hell, I don't even know if this is the only time it'll happen to me or not!"

Applejack glared back. "Sugarcube, Ah know! But we gotta clean up a bit or else we won't have a place to talk-"

Sunset looked around at the mess. With a quick grunt of assertion, she looked around at her friends. "Stand back."

Fluttershy, who had been stepping forward to resolve to the fight, took a step back. Everyone else froze, watching as Sunset's hands began to glow, much brighter this time. With a wave of her hands, the detritus covering the floor became engulfed in her red aura. Within seconds, desks returned to their places, instruments perched atop desks, and trash was deposited in the waste basket.

Sunset collapsed into a chair, breathing heavily. After a few seconds of catching her breath, she sniffed, then stared down at her hands. They looked like they'd been badly sunburned- even as she noticed the burns, pain lanced though her fingers. "Okay- hands are not nearly as effective conductors as a horn- right. Magic is a lot harder to use here, it seems."

Within seconds, Fluttershy had crouched over her, examining the long fingers on Sunset's hands critically. "Oh dear- Sunset, are you alright? I may have something for these..." Moving quickly, Fluttershy went to her backpack and dug out a bottle of lotion. "This cream should help a bit. So, if you'll just hold still..."

"Thanks, Fluttershy." Looking at the confused, shocked, and, in one case, excited faces (Pinkie Pie was bouncing at 50RPM, and was only speeding up) Sunset started to explain what happened. "I think- the headaches over the last several days must have been magical suppression headaches. In Equestia, if someone is capable of performing their species' magic, but tries to prevent themselves from doing so, then they start getting antsy, and eventually start having phantom pains- or headaches, wingaches, hoofaches- whatever fits their magic."

Rarity frowned. "Darling, I thought you couldn't do magic in this world? We haven't seen anything like that before, you know."

"No magic? Rares, we've been gettin' pony ears for a few months now. Hell, Dash was fixin' her song 'cause she wasn't getting us to pony up. If that ain't magic..."

"It is." Sunset spoke up. "But- it's natural, harmony magic. It draws upon the power of Equestria, leaking out through the portal. This?" She nodded down at her hands, even as Fluttershy continued to fuss over them. "This is channeled magic- I'm creating a set pattern in my mind, and projecting it. That's not possible without a magical field to work with. But when I surged, it seems to have set up a web of magic." She glanced around. "As far as I can tell, it's pretty fragile- it might just dissipate on its own."

Sunset felt Fluttershy pause beneath her. "Your new headaches are possibly because you've been woven onto the magical field, but I'm not certain how. We're going to have to-" Sunset paused as a second distortion caused the still fragile web of magic around her to shiver. The pain in her hands vanished, and Fluttershy gave of a relieved sigh. Looking down, Sunset's eyes widened.

As Sunset spoke, Fluttershy rubbed her burn ointment into each of Sunset's fingers, absently tracing the strange whorls the magic had left in the burns. The headache was making it hard to think, but even through the throbbing pain, Fluttershy could tell that she would be fine, even if it persisted. Sunset, meanwhile, needed proper treatment. Burns on hands could cripple if left untreated, and Fluttershy's burn cream wasn't going to be enough. She needed to get help.

An edge of frustration cut through her headache. Sunset needs to be careful- this could have been bad. I just wish there was more i could do... Thinking back over what had happened a bare month ago, Fluttershy felt her frustration grow. We hurt each other badly, didn't we? And Sunset helped to heal me then. I wish I could do more to help her- but it's not like I can heal her that easily-

As Fluttershy's mind brushed through that thought, her headache spiked- then abruptly dissipated, leaving her a tad woozy. Her eyes widened, even as she saw lines of pink light run through Sunset's hands. The voices around her had cut out, but she didn't notice, intent and watching as the pink wiped away the burns, leaving behind raw but healed flesh. Her eyes narrowed as she watched two lines of pink move through Sunset's torso, burning out on twin points of damaged flesh on her friend's upper back.

Sunset's hands were fine, the burns washed away. A fading pink glow around them matched the pink glow which surrounded Fluttershy's hands. The healing magic, however, didn't stop at Fluttershy's hands- small flickers of pink light burned in her eyes. She carefully examined Sunset, then frowned. "Scars?..." she muttered softly.

Without preamble, the shy girl's magic suddenly winked out. Fluttershy blinked a couple of times, and then smiled softly. "My headache's gone..." She seemed then to realize what had happened to her- and that every eye in the room was upon her. She squeaked, hiding behind her hair.

"Fluttershy? What did you do?" Examining her fingers, Sunset noticed that every inch of the burns she'd accrued had been wiped away. "Impossible." she muttered. "Pegasai don't have healing magic." Sunset pulled in a deep breath.

"I mean- I had magic before. So me getting it back isn't to outlandish. But if you guys are getting magic just by being here, we're going to start seeing problems real fast."

"Really, darling, I can't see the issue." Rarity looked around. "I mean, it's not as though we would be irresponsible with any magic we might-" She suddenly paused, then turned to look at Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash. "-never mind."

Rainbow spoke next. "So- you've got your old magic back, and Shy's got some sorta healing magic. What do the rest of us have?" She glanced behind her, disappointed at the lack of wings. "I get that this new stuff is different from Ponying Up- but why?"

"Ah think that's what Sunset's gettin' at, Dash." Applejack massaged her head. "Dammit- this headache's gonna be a bear to deal with. Hey, Shy? How'd ya get this new magic workin'?"

Before the shy girl could emerge from behind her hair and respond, Sunset spoke up. "Are you crazy? My magic exploded, Applejack! If you try to use yours- if you even have any- it could be way worse-"

"Better to have it happen 'round you, so you can help me out." Applejack said firmly. She grimaced, rubbing her temple.

Sunset pulled in a breath, then let it out. "Alright. Yeah, that's- that's probably true. But not here. If we're going to experiment, I want to set up some place remote- and call in an expert." Looking around the room, Sunset's eyes narrowed. "Yeah, definitely not here. If I had to guess, our magic headaches will be worse, and magic easier here at school."

"So- we're done for the day, everyone?" Dash looked around at the group. Aside from Fluttershy, none of the girls looked well- each was wincing at the spikes of pain echoing through their skulls. "Okay- then let's get out of here. We can talk later- if leaving school behind gets rid of these headaches, I'm gonna head home."

Shining Armor massaged his temple. "Listen, Twilight," he said as he paced around the cubicles at work. "I know this is important to you, and that Mom and Dad are both busy, but don't you think you're being a little... obsessive?"

His colleagues on the fore watched as their youngest member paced in a circle, phone held tight to one ear. As the voice on the other end of the line petered out, he groaned. "Even if Cinch asked you to keep investigating, I have something I need to do tonight." The voice spoke up. "No it's not for work." More speech. "No, it's not an emergency. It's just, I'm going to..."

He trailed off as the voice spoke up one last time. "That's blackmail." The voice responded again. "Twiliey, could you call in that marker another time?" Listening, the young officer hung his head in defeat. "Alright, I'll drive you. But if you try to call in that fact again-"

The call ended. Shining Armor stared down at his phone, then let out a massive groan. How does Canterlot High have anything to do with her research?

Author's Notes:

Okay- let me take a gander as to why we've never seen healing magic in MLP proper. (Has anyone else noticed that? No healing?)

As a kids show, the last thing MLP wants to show kids is blood, (And other more mature topics) and showing a pony's broken legs (or wings, broken horn, etc.) fixed instantly might give kids the wrong idea about how medicine really works.

Seriously, Fluttershy should have healing magic. It fits her personality and drive to a T. Whenever possible, her magic should nurture, heal, and protect.


Flickering Flames

Apple Bloom looked up from her homework. The sound of crunching gravel drew her attention to the front door, and she gave a small smile, knowing full well who was approaching. Checking the clock, her smile slowly inverted to a small frown. Applejack and Sunset usually ain't done with band practice yet. Ah wonder what's goin' on?

As she turned back to her books, she heard the screen door open, then slam shut. Drifting words of an argument echoed up the stairs. "Ah tell you, Ah was fine!"

"Applejack, you almost ran that red light back two blocks from school. I'm glad your headache's better now, but I wasn't going to let you keep driving when you were that bad off."

Apple Bloom froze. Last I heard, it was Sunset who was sufferin' those headaches, not Applejack. Rising from her desk, she left her room, moving to the top of the stairs as the argument continued.

"And Ah was obviously out of mah mind, lettin' you drive, Sunset. You barely have your learners, much less a full lisence!"

"I've been driving for two years, Applejack."

"Ridin' that bike of yours is not drivin' sugarcube. You need more time behind the wheel before Ah let you drive in winter conditions. Ah don't know what Ah was thinkin'..."

"You just said you were out of your mind. Are you certain that wasn't the cause?"

A short silence stretched between the girls, until Applejack broke out chuckling. "Hehehe... you're as stubborn as the rest of the family, ain't ya, Sunset?"

Apple Bloom trotted down the stairs to find Applejack sitting in the downstairs family room. With her hands on her knees, she was alone in the room. That changed quickly as Sunset returned to her, carrying a tray with several glasses and a large bottle of cider. Granny and Mac followed a few paces behind her, moving towards separate chairs. Applejack looked askance at the three other members of her family. "Granny? What are you..."

"Sunset sent Mac a message. Said you'd had a spot of trouble, and that she needed to explain things here." Granny raised an eyebrow, and continued. "Somethin' havin' to do with magic." She turned her head as she eased herself into a rocking chair. "Bloom, come and sit down. This here's important."

Apple Bloom swallowed. "Does... does it have anything to do with that woman that showed up a couple of weeks ago? The one that looked like Principal Celestia?"

Sunset smiled, looking down into her cup of cider. "Yes, and no." She pulled in a deep breath. "Granny... how much do you know about the world on the other side of that portal? The one which I came through?"

Granny frowned. "Ah know there's people just like us on the other side- the Princess, another me, and suchlike. ah know you came from there. And Ah know it has magic- it's where that horse power comes from, right?"

"Yeah." Sunset ran her hands over the glass. "But... the people over there are ponies."

Silence filled the room. As Apple Bloom opened her mouth, Granny cut her off. "When you say ponies, you don't mean normal, ponies, do yah? You've mentioned magic and havin' a horn, and the other Celestia mentioned havin' wings."

"We only superficially resemble the ponies here." Sunset drew in a breath. "And all ponies have magic of one type or another. That's where the "horse magic" comes from- and the ears. That's why magic started showing up when I did- I brought magic with me from the oter side of the portal. But it's impossible to use over here."

There was a brief silence, until Applejack filled it in. "Until now."

"Yeah." As she looked across her family members, Sunset pulled in a deep breath. "While we were out at band practice, I accidentally had a magic surge." Summarizing the events of the last few hours, Sunset continued. "My headaches were probably caused by a magical buildup- but now Applejack and the other girls are showing symptoms. I don't know how long it will be until everyone else's magic manifests, but if it's anything like mine, there could be a lot of damage."

Apple Bloom, who was still parsing everything that was going on, came to a sudden realization. Her eyes stretched wide, and she headed off Granny's followup questions. "Hold on! Are you tellin' me you were a pony?"

Sunset nodded. "A unicorn, to be precise. Why do you..."

"And you had magic?"

"Well, yes-"

"And now you gave Applejack magic-"


"Does this mean Ah could have magic too?"

In another world, Princess Twilight Sparkle felt a shiver creep along her back. Looking up, she found her gaze meeting Applejack across the board game laid out over the map of Equestria.

"Did you feel that?"

Applejack nodded. "Eeyup. Like somepony walkin' over mah grave."

"What was it, do you think?"

Applejack shook her head, then looked back at the board. "Ah don't know, but Ah suspect- sibing's intution here- that it involves Apple Bloom." She paused. "But- not mah Apple Bloom, if that makes any sense."

There was a distinct pop, and Twilight looked up to see a banner appear above her head. Discord idly adjusted the left edge, allowing the words "Cutie Mark Crusaders Cross Dimensional Mages YAY!" to be easily seen by the ponies on the ground. He turned and looked down at an aghast Twilight. "It's like my birthday!" he crowed.

Twilight tried to work up the words to respond, but only one came to mind. She and Applejack opened their mouths at the same moment.


Sunset dropped onto her bed with a loud groan. After explaining (in detail) why she could not and would not help Apple Bloom gain magic, Sunset had then endured a few rounds of questions from Granny and Big Mac. Interestingly, Big Mac had been more interested in details about the other world's Twilight Sparkle, while Granny had been more inquisitive about the economic side of things in Equestria.

I think she might have just been disappointed that there wasn't a market for any of her product over there. The Apple family on the other side brews its own alcohol, and apparently doesn't even have to hide it, like Granny still does. Though I'm still not certain why...

Her thoughts were interrupted as her door opened, and a set of heavy footsteps crossed moved in. Grumbling slightly, Sunset spoke up. "Applejack, what is it?"

"It ain't Jackie, Sunset."

Sunset quickly turned over, and looked up at Big Mac's nervous face. Although a mere month ago she wouldn't have been able to interpret one emotion from another, by now she'd come to recognize his trademark tells. Clearing her throat, Sunset rolled over and sat up. "Mac? What are you doing in here?"

He scratched his head. "...Ah just got a text from... a friend." he said cryptically. "Said someone matchin' your description of the princess is snoopin' around Canterlot High. Ah think it might be this world's Twilight."

Sunset froze, and allowed those words to sink in. "Oh hell- why is she-"

"Ah don't know. But if you're gonna bring the princess in to help you deal with this magic stuff, you should probably do it out here. Not at school. Las thing we need is two Twilights runnin' into each other."

"True." Sunset rose and picked up her journal. Turning back to Big Mac, she smiled. "Thanks for the heads up. Tell your friend thank you for me." As Big Mac nodded and left the room, Sunset took out a pen, and started to write.

Shining Armor pulled up across the street from CHS. Shaking his head, he quickly sent a brief text apologizing to Big Mac and Cadance for missing that evening's date. Big Mac replied quickly.

Family issue? Something going on?

Shining's fingers drummed across his phone. Nothing much. Twilight wanted me to take her to study those weird readings at your sisters' school.

After a few moments, his phone buzzed again. Be careful, okay?

Shining frowned, but before he could respond, he heard an impatient rap on his window. Turning, he realized Twilight had been waiting outside for a few minutes. Putting away his phone, he unlocked the car door and stepped out. Without preamble, Twilight offloaded a large backpack into his hands. "Done chatting with your friends? Come on, Shiny, we've got science to do!"

As Twilight turned, already adjusting the handheld spectrograph held in her gloved hands, Shining's frown deepened. He hadn't really registered it before, but Twilight had gone from simply determined to a little obsessive about this new research. She never behaved like this before. Trundling along after his sister, his thoughts sharpened. I thought Crystal Prep would be best for Twilight- but this isn't a healthy attitude.

Twilight didn't seem to notice Shining's discomfort, instead looking down at the device in her hands. Pointing the device at the front of the school building, she gave a murmur of confirmation, and quickly move across the empty street.

Shining Armor moved to follow her, and as they approached the front of the building, he hazarded a question. "So... what exactly are we here for?"

Twilight waved her hand absently. "Oh, just trying to figure out the source of these energy signatures." She squinted at her device, a flash of irritation crossing her face. "They're much stronger now than they were this morning- and I'd like to know why. But, if I was reading the data from my main sensors right, there are now several sources scattered across the city. The strongest one's still here, though, so I thought we should investigate here first."

She walked up tot he front doors of the school, and without looking up from her device, pulled them open- or tried to. Instead of swinging open, the door clattered. "Huh?" Glancing up, Twilight was surprised to see the doors shut. "Oh- it's locked."

Shining Armor sighed. At least we'll be able to go home now-

Twilight stepped back, looking back and forth. "No open windows, no side doors- did I bring my lockpicks?"

Or not. "Twilight, are you seriously going to break into the school to get better readings?"

Twilight froze, then turned back to her brother. "Umm, I mean, I guess it might sound that way. But it's not like-" Her voice cut off as she noticed some data scrawling across her spectograph. "Wait, there's a second signal coming from-" She turned a little further- "That statue." Without finishing her earlier sentence, or looking at Shining, she moved towards the large statue of the rearing stallion in front of the school proper. "Different wavelengths then the source inside-"


"Maybe if I adjust the device a bit-"

"Twilight I really think you need to stop and think-"

Twilight spun to glare at her brother. "I'm on the cusp of something important, Shining! I can't give up now!"

"I'm not saying you have to give up, but-"

"Then don't distract me!" she yelled. Spinning back to the statue, she took one step closer.

In another time, in another place, Twilight Sparkle approached the portal to Equestria while it was open, with a device specifically attuned to recording the energy source she'd been studying for several months. That device had the capability to absorb the energy of the open portal, and caused a chain of events which would lead to the near-destruction of CHS and much of the Canterlot metropolitan area.

Circumstances were different here. Here, Twilight approached the statue with a hastily modified device clutched in her hands. Even more importantly, she approached not comprehending the still-fluctuating interaction between the magic on one side of the portal, and the new magical field coming into existence around the school behind her.

Stepping into the flux zone as a trained mage would have been uncomfortable. Stepping into it as an untrained mage would have been destabilizing.

For the modified spectograph, the resulting spike in energy caused a more violent reaction.

Twilight glanced down at her device, a broad grin spread on her face. "Wow- the readings here are-" She paused, watching as the lights on her sensor began to increase in intensity. With a brief shriek, she threw the handheld sensor into a nearby snowbank.

Not a moment too soon. The small crystal chip within the device exceeded it's frail capacity, even as it left her hands. By the time it landed in the snowbank, it had begun to hiss and spark. Seconds later, there as a loud crack as pieces of circuitry, mangled metal fragments and shards of plastic scattered through he snow.

As Twilight stared at the pieces of her sensor scattered in the snow, she felt a pair of arms wrap around her. “Twilight, are you alright?”

Twilight swallowed, then replied “I-I think so.” Looking at the ruined electronics, she muttered “Now what am I going to do?”

“WE are going to talk about this.” Shining Armor let her out of the hug, and then spun her to face him. “Twilight- do you realize how poorly you’ve been acting? What you’ve suggested tonight?”

“Shining, you don’t understand-“

“No, I don’t. But I want to.” His expression took on an edge of disappointment. “Twilight, you blackmailed me to come out here at seven o’clock at night, cut me off when I tried to talk to you, and treated me like a pack mule. I know you want to figure this out, but why are you being so aggressive with this?”

Twilight shook her head. “Shining I need to get proper data for my research-“

“You were discussing breaking into a school in front of a police officer.” Shining’s eyebrow rose as Twilight’s face slowly shifted from irritation to shock. “And your sensor just blew up in your hands. If you’d been inside the building when it happened, the cameras would have caught what you were doing. You’re a Crystal Prep student, Twiley- if that had happened inside, you would have been charged with vandalism at least.”

Twilight’s brain ticked over for a minute. She blinked twice then said in a small voice. “I just want to get away.”

Shining frowned. “Away from what? From me? From here? From-“

“Crystal Prep.” At Shining’s skeptical look, Twilight crossed her arms. “I’m- I’m not popular there like you were, Shining. Most of the school’s jealous of me. Cinch said that if I could publish a paper, get some recognition for the school and myself, she’ll let me take the placement tests a year early, and write me a letter of recommendation. Then I could get away from it all- the stares, the expectations- get into college.” She pulled in a breath. “But to publish, I need more precise data- and Cinch won’t give me time out of class or more resources unless I can prove my research has merit.”

“So you need hard data, and you need it soon.” Shining Armor’s voice softened. “Is it really that bad?”

Twilight cringed. “Everyone wants to be the best at Crystal Prep. And everyone knows I’m the best at academics.” She pulled in a deep breath, and hugged herself a little tighter. “No one I’d want to work with wants to work with me- they think they’ll get ignored, or people will attribute their work to me. And everyone’s trying to be better than me- or drag me down so they don’t have to.” She swallowed. “I just- I want to do something, figure this out- and then leave. It’s a little-“

“Toxic?” Shining’s word seemed to sum up Twilight’s situation. He rubbed his temple. “If it really means that much to you- we can find other ways of getting your data. Ways that don’t mean breaking the law.” He smiled. “Why don’t we ask Cinch and Cadance to set up a meeting with someone at the school? Maybe then-“

“This is about that Sunset Shimmer girl again, wasn’t it?” Twilight’s scowl softened, and she looked contemplative. “Still- having access during the day might be better than sneaking around at night…”

“That’s the right attitude.” Shining heaved the backpack a little further up his back, then looked at the fragments in the snow. “We should probably continue this discussion somewhere warm- after we clean up the mess.”

Twilight sighed, then pulled out a specimen bag. “Might as well see if I can salvage something from this…”

Author's Notes:

Okay- this will be the third chapter in as many days- but also marks the end of the reserve I'm comfortable publishing. This upcoming week is going to be busy for me- and I don't think I'll have much time to write. With that said, I will have another chapter up on Friday, and hopefully will continue to publish a chapter a day each weekend.

With that said, it's time to deepen our understanding of this world's Twilight Sparkle. I hope I managed to keep her in-character; but I thought a slight revision to her aspirations might be in order.

Burning Twigs

Morning at Sweet Apple Acres was always earlier than morning in the rest of the Canterlot area. However, early rising was much less necessary in the winter than summer months- provided you didn't need to drive ten miles to get to class at eight o'clock.

For Sunset, morning came before the dawn. Grumbling, she hauled herself out of bed, messy hair strewn about her face. As she turned on the lights, she flinched- only to remember the absence of her headache, as no bolt of agony lanced through her brain. However, as she listened, she heard muffled swears echoing from next door, as Applejack discovered the unfortunate side effects of her own magical headache.

Sunset turned, fully intending to get first dibs on the shower when she had the chance. However, she didn't even reach her door before Applejack opened it, stumbling towards her sister with a grimace on her face.

"Sunset- tell me that Twilight's gotten back to you- please." She groaned, clutching her head. "Ah feel like I swallowed halfa bottle of cousin Shine's special reserve."

Moving to her sister, Sunset placed her hand on Applejack's forehead. "Hmm- no fever, so the magic isn't causing any serious side effects. That's good, at least."

"You don't call this headache serious?" Applejack glared at her sister. "Ah feel like my skull's splitttin, Sunset."

"Yeah, but that's just a thaumobiological feedback response." Sunset explained. "You've seen a sudden expansion in your capacity to conduct mana without opening any of the natural receptacles or outlets for using it, and as a result your thaumic centers are-"

"Sunset, Ah swear if you don't start talkin' English, Ah'm gonna smack you so hard your grandkids gonna feel it."

Sunset blinked twice, realizing Applejack might not understand her magiobabble. "Oh. Umm- You have the ability to use magic, but you don't know how to let it out, and it's trying to escape the part of the brain that channels magic. If it was something which might actually hurt you, your body would fight it- sweating, fevers, that sort of thing."

"Alright. Has Twilight gotten back to you yet?"

Sunset turned, and picked up the journal from the pile of clothes she'd dropped it in after dinner. She grinned, and spun the front cover to face Applejack, who could see the distinct glow of the symbol in the leather. "Looks like she has. Care to take a look with me?"

Both girls sat down on the bed as Sunset opened the journal. Written in Twilight's neat script, the note made both girls sigh with relief.


First, I'm glad to hear that you're all okay. Magic surges can be serious business, especially if they happen without trained supervision. I'm still not sure why you had a surge- as well trained as you were, I would have expected even the sudden resurgence in your magic to be nevermind that- I'd forgotten how badly magic can go wrong when you're startled.

In any case, the fact that Fluttershy manifested magic- and actual healing magic, at that- is remarkable. There are no cases of Pegasi manifesting healing magic of any sort beyond the natural recovery magic they have to repair their wings- and that takes time and only helps the Pegasus who is hurt. If what you think about the headaches is true, all of the girls may soon be manifesting magic- and I have no idea what it would be fore each of them.

I'm happy to come and take a look over the developing magical field and help coach the other girls through their own magical releases- hopefully we can figure out what's going on. However, I'm unable to come to meet with you tonight- I need to help Rainbow Dash prepare for a legal hearing tomorrow. I can arrive sometime early tomorrow afternoon, and stay in the background until we confirm my counterpart isn't really running around the school. Maybe we should plan for another sleepover? It might take more than a few hours to explain magic to the other girls and conduct a few simple experiments.

Looking forward to seeing you soon,
Twilight Sparkle

Sunset turned to Applejack. "I think she might have the right idea. So, whose house should host the sleepover?"

Pinkie Pie stumbled out of bed, her hair at half-mast. It took time, energy, and sugar for Pinkie to become "Extra-Super-Ready for Action!" and at this point int he morning, she was lacking the last two. The pounding headache which throbbed within her skull didn't help matters.

Dragging herself upright, Pinkie began to get ready for the day. After feeding Gummy, checking her backpack was properly loaded with all her supplies (books, pencils, paper, cupcakes, streamers, and confetti), and reviewing her calendar, Pinkie prepared to leave her room.

As she stood in front of her chest of drawers, however, she froze. Something was happening- something she didn't quite understand. Last night, she'd heard remote snippets of conversation, brief lines from a script she couldn't read. Today, however, some of what she was hearing was becoming clear. Three words in particular, spoken in Sunset Shimmer's voice-

"... host the sleepover?"

Pinkie's hair immediatley poofed straight up. We only do sleepover parties these days when we want to talk about something, and that means we're gonna talk about magic, and that means TWILIGHT'S COMING! Pinkie began to bounce in place. Oooh! I need to help them plan, gotta help them plan- We gotta plan a PARTY!

Something inside Pinkie's head twisted at the last word, as a bright pink haze surrounded Pinkie's hands. Pinkie didn't even notice as her headache disappeared, her eyes narrowing. Well, they can't plan a party without me!

Bouncing over to her closet, Pinkie waited for a few moments. Out loud, she found herself muttering "Gotta wait for the scene-" even as she dove forward towards the racks of dresses before her.

Sunset's head jerked up, and Applejack fell off the bed as Sunset's closet burst open. "-transition!" Pinkie Pie yelled, rolling across the carpet before springing up and seizing Sunset by the shoulders. "Ohmygosh, Twilight's coming, and we get to have a "Yay we All have Magic Now" party, and we should have it here so that we can have plenty of room in case you go boom again or maybe if I go boom-"

"Pinkie?" Sunset's eyes were wide with shock. "How the hell did you get here?"

Pinkie's speech paused, and she cocked her head. "That's a good question!" She responded after a moment's thought. "I mean, I was at home, and then I heard you talking about having Twilight over, and I realized there was a party planning session going on, and then I-"

"Pinkie, slow down." Sunset frowned, then tapped Pinkie on the forehead. "Is your headache gone?" At Pinkie's nod, she continued. "Then you somehow used your magic to come over here. But I didn't see any teleportation signatures..."

"Silly, I just came through the door! Whenever you come into a friend's house, you always come through the door, right?"

Sunset found her headache come roaring back. "Pinkie, that's a closet door. How did you come in through my closet door?"

Pinkie shrugged. "I dunno!" she chirped.

Sunset stared at the grinning girl for a few more seconds, before Applejack finally spoke up. "As startled as Ah am by her arrival, Ah also got a question for Pinkie. Sugarcube- why ain't you wearin' a shirt?"

Pinkie and Sunset (who immediately blushed and looked away) looked down at Pinkie's exposed chest. "Oh. I was still changing when I realized you were planning a party. I must have left my shirt behind."

Applejack stood up, burying her head in her hands. "Well, can you go back and get it?"

"Yeah, just as soon as the proper moment comes up again."

"What proper moment?"

Twilight Sparkle watched the data surge across her computer monitor. Her failure the night before had left her irritable, and she'd left the house early, making her way to her lab long before dawn broke in the Eastern sky. The data she'd been on hand to observe was welcome- although she was curious how the energy readings she'd picked up twice now were coming from two locations at once. At least Shining Armor understands why I want to leave- even if her still thinks I'm pushing myself too hard. Still, everything is hard here- especially pleasing Principal Cinch.

As though the very though of her name had summoned her, Twilight heard the distinctive footsteps of the principal enter the lab behind her. Standing up, Twilight turned around, coming face to face with her patron's expressionless visage. Cinch spoke up, a cup of coffee clenched in one hand. "Ms. Sparkle. I received your email last night regarding your little field trip."

"Yes ma'am. Thank you for looking at it so early, I know it must be-"

"You do not need to thank me, Ms. Sparkle." Cinch's eyebrow rose, and her gaze sharpened slightly. "Although, I am confused- you mentioned needing to take tomorrow off for your research. Care to explain?"

Twilight nodded, then drew in a deep breath, then turned back to her tack board, which now had a small map showing a blueprint of Canterlot high school and it's surrounding grounds. "This shows my readings spread out across CHS, from what little data I could restore from the destroyed device I mentioned in the email. The issue is that the highest energy concentrations occur at the statue, here-" She motioned to one point on the map "-and somewhere within the CHS building. Although the statue has a distinct signal, it is relatively weak compared to the constant output located inside the central building. I need to get inside CHS and take readings to find the source, and figure out the full nature of the energy's source."

Twilight continued her discussion, explaining how she'd managed to triangulate the exact source of the energy signature. However, Cinch only half-listened, long practice in parent-teacher conferences and board meetings giving her an ear for details, even when her attention was focused elsewhere. While Twilight explained her methodology, Cinch pulled a small thumb drive out of one pocket, and carefully inserted into the back of Twilight's desktop. She then turned to face her student as she concluded with her discussion.

"Ms. Sparkle, though I understand your need to gain access to the CHS school building, I don't think it would be a good idea to go during the school day-" Cinch hazarded. "Wouldn't it be just as effective to go after school hours?" Inwardly, Cinch grinned. Ms. Sparkle should be able to steal their research if she goes after hours- and I know none of Celestia's brats won't be able to keep up with my- our resident genius.

However, her hopes were dashed as Twilight shook her head. "My brother, Shining Armor, said that should anything go wrong, I'll need to have an official escort. My last device malfunctioned when large amounts of the new energy blew out the internal energy buffers. If it had blown up while I was in the school, it could have caused serious damage."

Cinch allowed a tiny frown to grace her features. If one of my top students got arrested for vandalism... "Shining Armor is an alumni of the school, correct?" At Twilight's nod, she continued. "Then I suggest we follow his advice. I will arrange for you to have a day off tomorrow, and see to it that you have a guide at CHS." She turned, and walked back to the door, and, as an afterthought, turned back. "Good luck, Ms. Sparkle. I have every confidence that you will succeed in figuring this puzzle out."

As Cinch walked out, Twilight shuddered slightly. Cinch had left off two words from her last sentence, but Twilight had still heard them, clear as a bell.

Or else.

Sunset leaned against the statue plinth, looking across at the drive in front of the building. Applejack leaned up next to her, watching ht approach of Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. Rainbow was grumbling under her breath. As they approached, Rainbow turned a glare on Sunset. "Dammit, Sunset..."

Sunset blinked. "Look I'm sorry about the headache, Rainbow, but-"

"No, I know it's not your fault." Rainbow cut her off. "It's just- you absolutely shredded on your guitar at Tuesday night practice. You tried to play through this headache- and succeeded." She pulled in a ragged breath "How the hell did you do that? I can barely run, much less play!"

"...Don't know what to tell you, Dash. I've always had pretty good pain tolerance- helped me a lot when learning fire spells."

"Well, at least Shy was around to patch me off after I tried flying with this headache." Dash said nonchalantly, looking out over the school.

There was a brief pause as Sunset and Applejack stared at Rainbow Dash. Applejack was the first to speak up. "Dash- what the hell do you mean by flying?"

Rainbow looked back at her friends and gave a brief chuckle. "Well... ever since the Battle of the Bands we've been able to pony up by rocking out, right? So whenever I got bored, I'd shred a few riffs, transform, and go for a fly- to clear my head." She shook her head. "Only lasts for a few minutes- so you can't exercise or work out stress, but flying's awesome." She grinned, but the expression soon faded. "I thought- maybe if I ponied up and flew, I might make my magic work." She looked down at her hands. "But- no dice. I got maybe ten feet up before the headache got real bad, real fast. Fell like a brick."

"I've watched her fly a few times." Fluttershy added. "I went with her to make sure she got home safe." She looked down at her own hands- and Sunset could see the odd lines of old burns running across them. "Dash broke her ankle when she fell- and I patched her up."

Sunset took Fluttershy's hands in her own, and examined the small burns which tracked across them. "Fluttershy, you can't use your magic anymore, do you understand? I don't want you to hurt yourself."

Sunset heard no response from her shy friend. She looked up, intending to repeat herself, but instead found her staring into a set of composed blue eyes. This wasn't the stare, simply the look of someone so well-centered that no objection will deter them. Fluttershy spoke quietly "Sunset... I can't do that." She slowly pulled her hands from Sunset's. "If someone's hurt- I have to help them. I think- that may be why my powers are what they are- I can't help but help. You reminded me of that- remember? I can't stay silent- can't do nothing- when I can help."

"But- your hands-"

"I don't like it either. But it's a small price to pay." Fluttershy stepped back, then turned and leaned against the plinth beside her friends.

A sudden sniff drew The girls' gazes towards the white-clad girl standing nearby. Rarity looked a mess- bags were evident beneath her eyes, and her hair was more frazzled than usual. The tears streaming down her face, however, and the broad smile on her lips, told a different story. "Darling , that was wonderful!" Fluttershy hid behind her hair as Rarity scooped her into a hug. "Oooh, if only I could be as inspired with my work as you seem to be! Ooh!"

"Yeah! You go, Shyshy!" Pausing, all five girls looked up to see an obnoxiously cheerful Pinkie Pie hanging over the edge of the statue, looking down at her friends.

"...How did you get up there?" Applejack asked.

"I dunno."

'Was it like that thing you did this morning? Did you get home safe?"

"Yuperoonie! Or at least, I think so- see, as far as I can tell, as long as no one's looking, I can pull off all sorts of neat tricks!"

Rainbow Dash blinked. "So... you got your magic? And it lets you teleport if no one's looking?"

"Yeah, but I really don't think it's that simple." The pink girl stopped and cocked her head. "By the way, those are all good questions, but they're the wrong questions."

After a few perplexed seconds, Rainbow hazarded a response. "...What's the right question, then?"

"Is that the tardy bell?"

All five girls on the ground froze as the last bell before class began sounded. With hardly a word, all of them set off on a mad dash for the front of the school. All of them, with the exception of Pinkie, who instead waited a few moments, then said, "Okay, someone's still watching me. But there's no one around-"

Celestia massaged her temple as she stared at the phone in front of her. There were many types of conversations she tried to make as infrequent as possible, including discussions concerning her diet, parent-teacher conferences, and reviews from the local administrator. However, this particular conversation could not be put off. The person who reached out to her had friends in high and strange places, and she knew rejecting the call would have irritating and possibly dangerous consequences.

Steeling herself, Celestia pressed the speaker button. "Principal Cinch. What a pleasure to speak with you."

"Do not bother with pleasantries, Celestia." Cinch's cool tones rang from the speaker. "I know this is a bit of a bother to you, but I do need your attention for a bit." A tiny edge of scorn rang through Cinch's next sentence. "After all, I'm sure you need to keep a tight ship after that incident in December."

"Anon-A-Miss has been dealt with, Abacus. That particular problem has been resolved." Celsetia massaged her brow for a moment, knowing Cinch couldn't see her. "And if we are going to skip the pleasantries, we can save time by skipping the barbs as well, don't you think?"

"Agreed. Now then, to put it simply, one of my students has discovered a new energy source around Canterlot, focused on CHS."

Celestia froze. New energy? That- wait. Magic. One of Cinch's students has discovered the magic around CHS- oh sh-

Cinch continued, unaware of the cold sweat breaking out on Celestia's brow. "Now, according to my student, this energy is of a completely unknown type. She would like to get a more in-depth study of the energy at the source, but such a study required access to your school building."

Oh hell. Having a Crystal Prep student poking around the school will end-

"So, in the interest of scientific cooperation, I ask that you provide a guide to Ms. Twilight Sparkle and her brother so that they might further her research into the matter of this energy. Do you have any objections?"

Celestia's mind froze, then began spinning even faster. Twilight Sparkle? How could she be- wait. There was my counterpart who showed up a few weeks back- it would make sense that Twilight would have a counterpart on this side. I can't refuse her request, but I might be able to get her the answers she wants without causing a scene. Aloud, Celestia promptly responded. "That seems doable. However, we still need to work out an appropriate date and time..."

"I'm certain one of your students can take time out of their rigorous academic careers to guide my student around tomorrow." There was a brief pause, and Cinch continued. "After all, there's no reason to wait before this miraculous discovery has time to hide, don't you think?"

Implied threat, check. Paranoia, check. Does Cinch think I'm trying to spite Crystal Prep again? "I understand perfectly, Abacus. I'll have someone ready to escort your student to any public part of the school tomorrow."

"Good. I look forward to seeing you later this year, Celestia."

Looking forward to adding another trophy to Crystal Prep's hall, you mean. "And I as well." Liar. "Goodbye, Abacus."

As her phone conversation ended, Celestia quickly stood up and walked to Luna's door. Cracking it open, she spoke quickly to her sister. "Luna, we need to talk. And then, we're going to need to speak to Sunset Shimmer."

Apple Bloom looked across at her friends, huddled up at one of the outside picnic tables during lunch. Last year, the Crusaders had met in the cafeteria, but after the events of Anon-A-Miss, they knew they wouldn't be so easily welcome. Although none of the other students had gone out of her way to attack the girls (word of Principal Celestia's punishment to anyone who did deterred most would-be bullies) that didn't deter the harsh looks, casual snubs, and angry insults aimed at the three underclassmen. As such, whenever possible, the three girls took solace away from the other students. None of the other students had claimed picnic tables outside in the January chill, so the girls felt safe enough to eat outside.

Sweetie bell morosely picked at her salad. Although Rarity hadn't placed too much blame on Sweetie's shoulders, she'd wholeheartedly agreed with the punishments her parents had handed down. In addition to the loss of her cell phone, the littlest Crusader had lost her allowance, and wasn't allowed any sweets- leaving her with a simple salad, soup, and water for lunch. Apple Bloom's lunch hadn't changed- but unlike her sisters, she'd been expected to feed the pigs and cattle that morning, and the early hours took their toll on the redhead. Apple Bloom went to bed much earlier then usual, but after being up for six hours, she was already yawing a bit as she dug into her sandwich.

Scootaloo, however, had it the worst out of the three girls. Besides her punishments, which involved both physical training by her mom (a former army officer and physical therapist) and revocation of her allowance and phone, the purple-haired Crusader hadn't heard a word from Rainbow Dash in several weeks. Rainbow had studiously avoided Scootaloo- and Scoots had no idea how to break the silence between her and her idol. While Flash still supported his baby sister, Scootaloo was missing the presence of someone she thought of as another sibling- one whose absence drove home how stupid her revenge-driven actions had been.

Sweetie Belle finally gave up chewing her spinach, and set her food aside. "Hey, Apple Bloom?"

"Hmm?" Apple Bloom mumbled around a mouthful of bread. "Swallowing, she glanced at Sweetie." What's up?"

"Do you know what happened to Rarity last night? She was almost sick when she got back from practice with the Rainbooms."

Apple Bloom looked up, even as Scootaloo turned her attention back to her friends. "What- she didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"Apparently, Sunset accidentally gave them all magic yesterday."

There was a brief pause, and Apple Bloom went back to eating her sandwich. Scootaloo broke the silence. "Wait- she gave them magic? How? And what'd ya mean, accidentally? How does that work?"

Sweetie piped up. "And why did that make my sister sick?"

Between bites of her sandwich, Apple Bloom sketched out the events as Sunset had explained to her family the night before. Finishing her last bite, she wrapped up with "So, Sunset told me that she thinks anyone who got touched by magic before might be able to get it now- and that the headaches were signs that the magic was tryin' to get out. Rarity must not have used her magic yet- Sunset lost her headache, but mah sis- Ah mean, Applejack hasn't, so she's still nursin' one."

As Sweetie Belle pestered Apple Bloom for more details, Scootaloo found herself lost in thought. We've all been touched by magic, right? Everyone in the school, what with the sirens and Demon Sunset controlling everyone's mind. How easy will it be for someone not a Rainboom to get magic?

Her eyes widened. And what would happen if one of us got it?

Author's Notes:

Scootaloo has had a Bad IdeaTM. I wonder what will happen next.

Pinkie's magic is based off of her ability to bend space- but I've given her abilities a bit of a twist. Acceptable?

Next update will not be until Friday.

Up next- Rarity makes something magical.

Smoking Branches

Scootaloo wandered down the corridors of the school, moving with purpose towards a room she'd frequented many times before- and entered one last time at the end of last semester. With the rest of the school at lunch, (including the Rainbooms) the way to the music room was clear.

The open room was often used as a meeting point for various bands- or it had been, until the events of the Musical Showcase. After the "Battle of the Bands" as it had become known, other bands tended to avoid the room after school, unless it was known the Rainbooms were occupied elsewhere. As the unofficial meeting space for the band, the room was left open for the saviors of the school- with a few exceptions.

Opening the door, Scootaloo caught sight of the blank spot on the back wall- a spot which had once been occupied by a poster showing the full roster of the Rainbooms. After the events of Anon-A-Miss, the poster had been defaced by an angry student, and Rainbow had taken it down. They'd yet to replace the poster, but the empty space reminded Scootaloo about why she was visiting the room.

Rainbow Dash doesn't trust me anymore- and I know why. Staring up at the empty spot she felt her feelings twist morbidly. And she's not the only one. The whole school looks at us like they looked at Sunset five months ago- and we deserve it. But it's losing Rainbow's trust- and my parents, and Flash- that hurts the most.

I wonder if this is how Sunset felt? Before Applejack went back to her? I wonder who felt worse- her, for not deserving it, or me?

She pulled in a shuddering breath. Not why I'm here. If I could get magic- could show Rainbow Dash something new- a trick or something- maybe I can get her to talk to me again.

Looking around the room, though, Scootaloo felt her hopes sink. The room was- well, just a music room. There were no glowing runes or hovering objects, no mystical amulets or magical crown laying around. For the spot which had apparently been the sight of the largest magical surge since the Musical Showcase, the room was oddly normal.

Pulling in a deep breath, Scootaloo tried to focus, tried to reach outside herself- anything to draw magic to herself. Straining with all her will, she reached out for power, for a glimpse of the abilities she'd seen her sister figure and their friends use-

and came up empty.

Scootaloo groaned and collapsed into a chair. Nothing. I mean, I knew it was a long shot, but...

How can I face Rainbow after what I did? I thought this might help... but there's nothing here for me.

Aloud, she whispered to herself "I just want to make her proud again..." Alone, she allowed the guilt and sorrow, long held within, out in a long, choking groan.

The outpouring of emotion, however, served the purpose that her conscious efforts had not. Drawn to her unspoken invitation and desire to improve, the weave of magic probed Scootaloo as she steadied herself. Unknown to both Scootaloo and Sunset Shimmer, something had been wrong with the push of magic within each of the six girls which had been present at the first surge- something which was not present in Scootaloo's frame.

Magic reached for Scootaloo- and within moments, had flowed into her mind and soul, going dormant in mere moments. Within seconds, magic traced every vein, and centered itself within the Crusader. In doing so, learned how to truly link with simple human beings. Primal understanding flowed into the magical weave- a pattern which could open a channel within a person's mind, as opposed to thrusting itself into the flow of Equestrian magic.

Scootaloo, oblivious to the consequences of her actions, slowly stood up. She felt spent, the emotions and force of her dashed hopes enough to exhaust her emotional energy. As she gathered her wits, she heard the door open, and turned to face the worried faces of Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle.

"Scoots, are you alright? I heard something out in the hallway!" Apple Bloom said, hurrying to her friend's side.

"Yeah, I'm fine- I just thought, maybe if I got magic, Rainbow might..." Scootaloo stammered out.

"She'll talk to you again soon." Sweetie Belle promised. "Just... give her time."

Apple Bloom pulled her friend into a hug, soon joined by Sweetie Belle. "Don't worry, Scootaloo. We'll be with you until she forgives ya, right Sweetie?"

"Yeah!" Sweetie pulled her friends apart and held up her fist. "Crusaders forever!"

Apple Bloom put her fist next to her friend's, and after a few moments, Scootaloo did as well. The three girls tapped their fists together, binding themselves in friendship once again...

And, unbeknownst to them, binding magic to each of them.

Discord hummed gaily, moving back in forth in time to a music only he could hear. The janitor happily wore a smock over a tie-dyed t-shirt and a pair of mismatched pants, sweeping his mop across the floor with abandon. The back hallways of the school were abandoned, since the majority of students were either in the cafeteria or otherwise preoccupied with their lunchtime activities. Which meant it was the perfect time to mop the western corridor- the heating vents over on this side would dry the floors quickly, which meant he'd be able to get home a little sooner than usual.

And if anyone comes running down the corridor before I'm done- well! Watching Ms. Dash and her friends skidding all over the floor was an absolute treat! Such a lovely bit of chaos to brighten an otherwise dull day...

His grin turned into an introspective frown. As much as Discord appreciated disorder and confusion, he was much less amused by people getting hurt. The only reason he'd been able to laugh at that particular incident was because the girls involved had all been fine afterward. But...

That one time Ms. Fluttershy nearly sprained her ankle after slipping on one of my floors was much less amusing. Perhaps I should speed things up a bit. Speed up the Dance, as it were...

His thoughts fading away, Discord began to move his mop to the beat of the music echoing through his mind, alternatively clicking his tongue and whistling to outline the movements of the song echoing through his mind, speeding up as he did so. Barely noticeable at first, Discord's right hand lit up in a light green and his left in a bright yellow, and the magic slowly began to weave itself around the mop clutched in his grip. As he continued to move, Discord's movements slowly changed from mere mopping to a complicated pattern, dipping and weaving with the mop as his partner even as he scrubbed the floor clean.

Finally, with a flourish, Discord let go of the mop, acting as though it really was a dance partner, expecting it to return. Realizing what he'd done, Discord closed his eyes and winced, stopping- only to realize that the clatter of the mop hitting the floor wasn't present.

Opening his eyes, Discord found the mop standing upright, a sheen of yellow and green magic flowing across it. The mop remained still for a few moments as Discord watched, then began to twitch, almost- impatiently.

Frowning, Discord stared at the perplexing sight in front of him. After a few moments, he spoke aloud. "Hmm... I heard from Celly that magic might be spreading a bit... but I didn't think I'd end up ripping off Disney like this." As he watched the mop stand in place, Discord realized it seemed to be... waiting on something. Tapping his chin, he paused... then began to slowly whistle. As the thin strands of music coiled into the hallway, the mop began to move along with the reedy tune, slowly continuing its pattern dance across the floor. As Discord incresed the tempo of his whistle, the mop began to speed up, quickly exceeding Discord's normal mopping pace, even as it continued to cavort down the hall.

Discord grinned, clapping along to the reedy tune as he watched his creation go. Oh now- I think I might be able to have some fun with this...

Celestia looked up as she heard a knock on her office door. Classes had already let out for the day, and the principal knew there weren't any other individuals wanting to see her- which left one person. Waving her hand, he called out "Ms. Shimmer? Go ahead and come on in."

Sunset Shimmer cautiously entered the room, seemingly nervous. As she walked forward, Celestia noted the tense shoulders and wandering eyes on the red-haired student. Hmm. I wonder why she's nervous? She was quite confident last time I called her in here...

Giving a quick motion to the chair in front of her, Celestia watched as Sunset took a seat. Celestia waited a moment, then decided to take a gamble. "Sunset, do you know why you're here?"

Sunset frowned and shook her head. "Principal Celestia? If you want me to spill some secret- whatever you think I've done- that approach will do you no good. I mean, it'll probably work on Dash or Fluttershy, but I've been interrogated before. That's not going to work."

Celestia blinked, then shook her head. "My apologies- I forgot that you're not exactly a normal student." With a wry smile, she continued "And in truth, I don't know if you've done anything or not. However, I would appreciate if you could keep me informed on any magical... incidences or problems that might arise." Seeing Sunset freeze, she raised an eyebrow. "But that's not the reason I called you in here- or at least not the only reason."

Pulling in a deep breath, Celestia sighed. "What do you know about Crystal Prep?"

Sunset frowned. "Well... I know we've been rivals over the last... two decades, maybe? I know we've always lost against them when it came to athletics and academics. I also know that they're a private school, and that they're going to be our opponents in the upcoming Friendship Games- the fifth since our schools started to hold the games."

She looked down, and said softly "And that's where this world's Twilight Sparkle attends school."

"Indeed." Sunset and Celestia glanced up to find Luna standing before Celestia's coffeepot, pouring herself the entire contents of the pot into an oversized mug. Adding three packets of hot cocoa mix, she began to stir the head-sized coffee mug, glancing at Sunset all the while. "And it is about Ms. Sparkle- as opposed to Princess Sparkle." She took a long slurp from her mug. "Namely, that your actions- and those of the Dazzlings- may have drawn the attention of this world's Twilight."

Celestia took over from her sister. "Principal Cinch reports that one of her top students, Twilight Sparkle, has discovered a unique energy source located in Canterlot High. She... requested that her student be given access to campus to get a better read on the energy source in question."

Sunset's eyes widened. After blinking a few times, she spoke softly. "Let me guess- she's coming tomorrow, isn't she?"

Celestia paused. "We expect to see her tomorrow. What makes you think..."

Sunset slammed her head into Celestia's desk. As both the principal and the vice-principal watched, she lifted up her head, leaned back up, and glared at the ceiling. In a low voice, she muttered "Celestia's beard this is bad..."

Celestia froze, blinking a few times. Luna started snickering. "Oh? I assume the other version of my sister had a similar incident?"

Sunset looked at Luna skeptically. "What inci-"

Celestia hurriedly cut her off. "You are not sharing that story again, Luna. In any case, why are you so upset, Sunset?"

Sunset pulled in a deep breath. "Yesterday, I suffered a magical surge- one that seems to have spread magic to my friends. I don't have experience teaching new mages, and wanted an expert opinion on how to manage the new magic." She placed her head in her hands. "I asked Princess Twilight to come help teach the other Rainbooms a bit of control, and she arrives tomorrow."

Luna stared into her coffee mug. "So... tomorrow, Twilight Sparkle will come to our school, seeking a recently-accessed energy source currently imbued into six of our most popular students. Meanwhile, Princess Twilight Sparkle, who looks almost exactly like her counterpart, will be coming to help five new mages control their powers." She took a long draw from her mug, then spun towards the door to her office. "I'll go check to make certain our insurance still has that "act-of-god" clause..."

As Luna strode out of the room, Celestia stared at Sunset. "Ms. Shimmer, I thought I asked you to tell me if there were any more magical incidents." Sunset hung her head as the principal continued "I understand that the last two times I ended up being... less than helpful, but more information might allow Luna and I to prepare for the fallout of any more trouble." Celestia tapped her chin, then gave a small, wicked grin. "However, I believe I have the proper solution."

Sunset looked up, her look of confusion slowly dwindling as Celestia continued. "I think you'd be best qualified to lead Ms. Sparkle around tomorrow, correct? And maybe you can keep her from noticing the visiting royalty, magic, or other unusual features of CHS."

Sunset blanched. "You want me to try to control a Twilight's natural curiosity?"

Celestia's smile widened. "I have the utmost confidence in you, Sunset."

Sunset slammed her head into the desk again. "Great..."

Carousel Boutique was empty- the storefront shuttered and the doors closed. Inside, however, if one were to peer closely through the front windows, you could see a few dribbles of light coming from the studio in the back of the shop.

Rarity winced as she looked up at the overhead light. The boutique had been a little empty lately, as Rarity had fulfilled all her orders for the winter season several weeks ago. Even now, hours after class had ended, Rarity hadn't had anyone set up an appointment- perhaps for the best, as her headache was still pounding through her mind. Normally, she would have dragged Sunset or one of her friends in to act as models, but the revelation of her own blind spot towards her friend's needs had left her cautious about demanding her friends' time without considering their own wants.

Sunset appreciates a nice dress- but she wants something more... handsome, much of the time.

It was something she'd learned through observation. Much of Sunset's old clothing had been leftovers of her attempt to become the most popular girl in the school- short skirts and long boots among them. The only only concession to her practical side had been her leather jacket- and even there, she'd chosen a tiny one, hardly comparable to the longer coats she'd admired during Rarity's outings.

Still, that does leave me with a bit of a quandary, doesn't it?

After her revelation, Rarity had forgone simply making Sunset an apology outfit, instead focusing on getting to know the red-haired girl a little better. In the process, she'd noticed Sunset's preferences for long jackets and pants, which meant her original outfit was... less than appropriate.

Looking over the leather jacket she'd crafted, she felt a slight twinge of annoyance. Orange accents are all well and good,
but the jacket just doesn't work right considering who Sunset is. I caught a glimpse of what she is at her core yesterday- she's a Magus, a sorceress supreme. But I'm short on materials, and this jacket just isn't appropriate for someone as magical as Sunset. I mean...

Thoughts began to tumble through Rarity's mind. Wait... I know what I need to do! Her magic- scarlet red, moving through gold as she concentrates- flames rippling across the sleeves! Pulling out her sketchbook, Rarity began to draft a new coat to replace the offending garment in front of her, headache forgotten for a moment. Longer trail, maybe a flame pattern at the lower portion. Duster style? No- thigh length.

Rarity grinned as she looked over her new design, but her face fell as she glanced up at her current work. I could afford the materials out of pocket, but I'll need to sell this jacket to recoup my costs. Sometimes I hate having to be limited in what I can do with my resources. I know what I want to make. There are are always limits on what I can Create, I suppose...

Rarity blinked. Her headache seeped away, leaving her thoughts clear. Raising one hand before her eyes, Rarity watched the swirls of blue light whirl around her fingers. Eyes narrowing, she flicked her wrist outward, and watched as the hem of the leather jacket before her came undone, each string coming out perfectly, leaving unblemished leather behind.

Rarity reached forward, and traced her hands along the sleeves of the jacket, watching the orange stitching int he upper arms come loose, revealing dark leather beneath. Around her, leather scraps, heavy thread, and various dyes began to take to the air, held aloft in her magic. She grinned, her eyes glowing with blue light. Ideaaahh!!

Twilight grumbled as she watched her instruments twitch once again. Over the winter holidays, she'd run countless tests on the few energy readings she'd been able to take- and now that her enforced time of rest was over, she was getting new data practically faster than she could process it- and she still wasn't able to clean up the odd variations in the wave's pattern. Whatever this energy was, it wasn't a constantly generated source- nothing mechanical or static.

As she finished looking over the data, her eyes turned back to the small specimen bag sitting nearby. Absently, she picked up the bag and upended it near her scanners. Before I head to CHS tomorrow, I should probably figure out why my spectograph exploded. The last thing I need is for all of my equipment to detonate while I'm looking around.

Picking through the fragments of her destroyed device with a gloved hand, Twilight began taking notes on how each piece had failed. Capacitor wasn't even damaged- it wasn't an electrical surge. The battery, on the other hand, nearly ruptured. It's like the battery was changed somehow- and swelled. That compressed the heat sink, causing it-

Twilight paused. None of this makes sense. What caused the heat sink to overheat? How did the battery swell like that without causing the capacitor to kick in? Sifting through the parts, she noticed something. In the midst of the dangle of circuitry, she noticed a small crystal. That wasn't there before...

On closer examination, Twilight saw that the central electronics had fused into a small silicon crystal. Even more alarmingly, the tiny crystal was glowing slightly as she examined it in the darkened lab. Carefully extracting the crystal, Twilight hooked it to her finely tuned spectograph. Within seconds, a faint but familiar signal echoed from the crystal.

Twilight's eyes widened, and she turned on her nearby recorder. Speaking out loud, Twilight began to map her data. "The energy signature is... definitely the same as that coming from CHS. However, the signal is very faint, and lacks the variations seen in previous scans. Why the energy forced the silicon in the device into a crystalline shape- which by all rights, should act as an insulator- and was then absorbed is as of yet unknown." Reaching down, she carefully lifted the crystal in her gloved hand. Walking across her lab, Twilight examined her find closely. "This may further my research by an order of magnitude- with an active source on hand, I should be able to... ouch!"

With her attention focused solely on the shard of fused electronics in her hands, Twilight failed to notice her backpack sitting in the path of her foot. Jarred by the impact of her toe on the equipment she'd left inside the pack, Twilight's grip on the crystal slipped- and in her haste to catch it, reached up with her ungloved hand.

As soon as the crystal impacted Twilight's bare skin, everything stopped. Twilight blinked, then glanced around. The crystal sat suspended in midair- and her computer, the fan- everything was held deathly still.

Everything save the tiny, almost ethereal currents of light running across the room, bouncing through each device Twilight had tried to use to catalog the errant energy- and through Twilight herself, spinning outward from the point of impact from where the crystal had touched her skin.

As Twilight watched, the strands of colored light slowly ebbed away from her palm. Within seconds, the lines had pulled away, fading-

And behind her, she heard the tinkling as the tiny crystal shard shattered on the ground behind her.

Research Log 83: I received my clearest known data today- from what should have been an impossible source- myself. Direct contact by a minuscule source of the unknown energy appears to have had temporary, if dramatic effects on my body.

For a few seconds- I was moving so fast it seemed time had stopped. A brief physiological examination indicates that my muscles- particularly in my legs and lower back- suffered mild strain, as though they had been used in strenuous but manageable exercise repeatedly. The energy appears to have an empowering effect on biological matter- or at least, that's the best I can tell.

Unfortunately, the crystal containing this energy shattered after it fell to the floor, but examination of the crystal shows no signs of any of the previously seen energy signatures. In fact, all of the devices which had been attuned to the energy via exposure have lost their connections; I've had to reset each of them manually to pick up data. Before they gave out, however, they did catch what happened to me for a few moments; and I was able to cross correlate that data with the signals I've been picking up.

My exposure to the energy produced a... ripple in the output of energy we observed- ones that loosely correlate with the patterns one would read form an EEG. These patterns are also evident in most of the energy surges seen in the last two months.

I think I understand why the energy can't be measured properly with standard equipment- it needs a biological component to reach its full potential. I can only speculate on the effects it could have on a human being, but if my experience is any indication, it could allow for empowerment to tasks beyond normal human limits. I theorize that the energy reading have differed slightly because they've been filtered through the brains of those broadcasting them- which would also explain the mobility of the energy sources.

If I could see something fall stop in midair... what could those with greater access to this energy be capable of doing?

Principal Cinch glared at her computer monitor. She'd installed the spy drive on Twilight's computer to grant her access to her student's files; half-expecting to see proof of collaboration with, or plans to defect to CHS. Instead, all the girl had done on her encrypted desktop had been record of her research notes.

She'd been about to turn in for bed, confident of her control over her little scientist, when a new file had been added. The attached figures and analysis- as well as the blueprint of the "Mystery Energy Capture Device" Ms. Sparkle had designed- were beyond her casual comprehension- but the analysis and summary were much easier to read.

Celestia was attempting to empower her students- to shore up their weaknesses in time for the Friendship Games. If this analysis was true, then she'd only just begun her work, however- Cinch hadn't heard of any great successes at CHS, and if she were the one sitting on this great of a discovery, she would have published her findings already.

I can only hope Ms. Sparkle is able to discover the source of this energy. Cinch thought. If we're to secure my legacy-
and that of Crystal Prep- we will need to hold every advantage- and this might be the edge that could prove that our school,
and my methods, are the only one worth paying attention to.

As Cinch moved away from her laptop, she paused for one moment. Turning back to the screen, she reread the final line of the follow up questions Twilight had written, a small frown crossing her face.

Below a set of data, Twilight had written, After further analysis, the data shows that a single source- with matching brain patterns- has become the major focus of this energy- and left CHS for the first time. The question that arises is then- who, or what, is the focus of this energy?

And what will the effects of that amount of energy in one subject- be it object or person- be upon it and its environment?

Author's Notes:

Unlike Myriad thoughts, this story conforms more to the normal story conventions- problem, rising action, climax, and denouement. Still, I'm going to have fun with this...

Scootaloo has inadvertently released the potential of the magic Sunset created- and that will have far-reaching results. In the short run, expect some... interesting consequences.

Giving Discord the ability to animate objects seemed to fit his personality best- I can see massive pranking potential from that ability, and it ties back into one of the favorite tricks of his original. We'll see more of him before the end, don't you worry...

Finally, Twilight begins her own plans for this mysterious energy source- and begins to fix one purple-haired child (unknowingly) in her crosshairs. What will happen next?

Smoldering Logs

Dawn light was just peeking above the treeline as Applejack stepped out onto the front porch. Wincing at the dawn light streaming into her head, she slowly panned her gaze across the motionless orchard. The headache which had plagued her for the last two days was still throbbing in her skull, but she moved forward regardless. Granny had mentioned that she was going to make an early breakfast- but she'd need a fresh load of apples from the cellar. Big Mac had been out at movie night last night, which meant only Applejack could handle the straw-lined crates the winter apples had been packed in.

Applejack purposely pulled herself into her own thoughts for a moment, trying to drown out the headache which pounded behind her eyes. As she walked towards the barn, her thoughts turned to her own failings over the last couple of days. Turned in early last night- haven't been pullin' my weight over the last couple'a days. It don't matter if Ah'm in a bit of pain- there's work to be done. Stepping down into the cellar, she struggled to lift one of the large wooden boxes. Heaving it up, she laboriously clunked up the stairs. S'not like the others don't have their own problems- Sunset is gonna have to wrangle the other Twilight today, and Dash and Rarity are still fightin' their own headaches.

Applejack paused halfway to the house, amidst one of the smaller groves of apple trees. Her headache made her arms tremble for a few moments, and she set the box tdown to catch her breath. Dammit, Ah can't afford to be this weak. You've fought through pain before, Jackie. Come on, girl- Toughen up!

Applejack's headache receded in an instant- something she didn't fail to notice. Looking down at her hands, she wasn't surprised to see a slight glow around her palms and fingers- although the light green color wasn't expected. Even more oddly, the magic was slowly seeping into her arms- causing her skin to darken, taking on a harder, almost woody appearance. Glancing up, Applejack compared her own arms with the bark of a nearby tree- and was surprised to see the faintest trace of green energy within the trunk of each tree around her- the same color as the energy fading into her limbs.

Reaching down, Applejack tested the crate at her feet- and discovered it felt a lot lighter. Smiling, she braced herself to heave upward-

"Hey, Applejack!"

Startled by Apple Bloom's voice, Applejack jerked upward, unconscious of the sudden shift of her strength. The crate came up to the normal lift position on her torso- and then kept going. Apple Bloom watched, eyes wide, as the crate flew from her sister's grasp , spinning up into the air, cresting in height at about forty feet. Without thinking, Applejack backed up several paces, widening her arms for the catch. It was only as the previously airborne crate was about to slam home into her arms that she realized just how much of a bad idea that was.

However, as the box of apples slammed home, Applejack felt her leg and arm muscles strain, holding her steady even as the forty pound crate slammed into her torso. Rocking backwards, Applejack finally held steady, unharmed. The crate was battered, but the whole incident- which had only taken half a minute- had left her unscathed.

Reaching up one armed, Applejack pulled her hair back so she could fix her gaze on her sister. Scowling slightly at Apple Bloom, Applejack composed herself, then said. "Apple Bloom?"

Eyes wide, the red-haired girl finally shook her head. "Sorry for bothering you, sis. But Ah got somethin' real important I need to tall yah- and Sunset." Her eyes widened, and she grinned. "That was magic, right?"

"Yeah, it was magic. But seriously- is really so important that you had to catch me out here?" Applejack's deadpan expression booked no nonsense.

Apple Bloom drew in a deep breath, then explained. "Scootaloo went into the music room yesterday to try to get magic."

Applejack paused, then swore under her breath. "Yep. That's important." Hefting the crate of apples one handed, she turned towards the farmhouse. "Come on. Let's see if we can catch Sunset before anything else happens."

Sunset listened to Apple Bloom's explanation over a cup of coffee and Granny's apple pancakes. When her little sister was through talking, she thought for a moment, then gave a small shrug. "Okay. I should probably check to see if Scootaloo has magic this afternoon. As a matter of fact, probably would be a good idea to check out most of the-"

Applejack cut her off, eyes wide. "For heaven's sake, Sunset! Ah think this is a little more of a problem than you think? What if she has magic? What'd you think will happen?"

Sunset paused, then her mouth opened with a startled "oh." "Right. I should have remembered. Applejack, you have to understand- in Equestria, everyone gets magic. An adolescent unicorn trying his older brother's homework, a pegasus child jumping off a roof, an earth pony foal trying to haul a cart or grow a plant- those things are normal." She smiled. "I know magic seems scary, Applejack- but to me, not having it was weird. Someone trying to get magic- it's nothing to be afraid of."

Applejack frowned. "Ah thought you didn't want us to go experiemtin' without you near by? And what about..."

Sunset shook her head. "You've all touched- and used- magic before- but none of you have any control or formal training. I don't think it'll be possible for a new magic user to cause much damage."

Applejack arched an eyebrow. "Didn't you say that magic here behaves differently than in your home? You sure you know what's possible?"

Sunset opened her mouth to reply- and froze. She looked startled for a moment, then her face dropped. "Oh... Yeah. This might be bad."

Apple Bloom spoke up. "Would bein' angry or upset make things worse?" As both her older sisters turned to look at her, she continued. "Cause Scoots has been really upset about Rainbow ignorin' her. She's been trying to figure out a way to talk to her- and she thought magic might do the trick."

Sunset nodded. "High emotions tend to cause higher magical reactivity in individuals, especially adolescents. As a matter of fact, most magical surges come when young unicorns get excited, resulting in..."

Applejack tuned out Sunset's magiobabble, instead turning her thoughts to her younger sister's friend. Scootaloo was always a little bit of a hellion. Wonder what she might get up to with magic?

Sunset's eyebrow rose as she walked towards the front doors of the school. The group of four people standing on the front steps was... different than she'd expected. While she had expected her friends to be waiting for her, the absence of Pinkie Pie and Rarity was baffling. Flash Sentry's presence was much less expected.

For Vice-Principal Luna to be waiting for her was downright surprising. The tall woman stood awkwardly, holding herself back. As Sunset approached, she opened her mouth to speak to Luna, only to be cut off by a firm shake of the head. All eyes were on the tall woman as she spoke. "Sunset. When you are finished here, there is something I need to discuss with you. Please report to the office before the tardy bell." She turned and strode into the building.

After a few moments, Pinkie broke the silence. "Is it just me, or was she more abrupt then usual?" Everyone turned to look at the party girl, stunned looks on their faces. Looking around, she shrugged. "You weren't looking, so I took the chance to get to school." She rolled her eyes, one clockwise, one counterclockwise. "I was waiting for half an hour for there to be no one in front of the school."

Sunset blinked, opened her mouth, then closed it. "Right. New magic. We'll adjust.... I hope." Drawing in a deep breath, she looked around nervously. "Alright, did everyone get my texts last night?"

"Yeah." Rainbow led, still massaging her brow. "Both Twilights are coming today. So if we see her, make certain it's the right Twi before we start being friendly or mean." Rainbow crossed her arms. "I just can't believe the other Twi goes to Crystal Prep! I mean, that's seriously uncool- especially compared to our Twilight!"

"Umm, I think it makes sense." Fluttershy said. "I mean- Crystal Prep has a lot of smart people- and Twilight's really smart." She turned, her eyes widening. "Sunset, do you think your-"

Grimly, Sunset shook her head. "When I first came to this world, I looked for my counterpart, Shy. Apparently, she did what I did a few months before I came here- and ran away from home. There hasn't been any sign of her since." She pulled in a shaky breath, then turned to the last member of the little group, standing off to one side. "Flash? Sorry to exclude you from all this."

"No, it's fine." He scratched his head, then spoke sheepishly. "And honestly? I'm glad you guys gave me a heads up before I made a fool of myself with Twilight- either Twilight. After what you guys and Scoots told me about the other world..." He frowned his head. "I get why dating Twilight- the Princess, I mean- probably wouldn't work out. Still doesn't make it any easier."

Applejack snickered. "Gonna try your luck with this world's Twi, then?"

Flash glared at her for a moment, then shook his head. "I'm attracted to people, AJ, not just pretty faces. I don't even know this Twilight; I'd need to actually meet her before I made some decision like that."

"Really?" rasped out Rainbow. "You came onto Twilight pretty fast..."

"Yeah, but she basically came into the school and repaired months of emotional and social damage in an afternoon." Flash retorted. "I'd say that lays bare who you are pretty fast. I knew there was something special about her- and I decided to take a chance."

Sunset smiled. "I can... understand that, at least a little. She is pretty special." She looked down, lost in thought. "We'll soon get a chance to see if both of them are special, or just the one from the other side, I suppose." Looking up at Flash, she squared her shoulders. "But, there's something I need to talk to you about, Flash. You and Rainbow both. It's about Scootaloo..."

"Hey, freak. You ready for a bit of payback?"

Aria groaned, pivoting on one foot. Gilda stood behind her, angrily tapping one foot, the two girls alone in the empty back hall. Aria huffed, and flipped her ponytail back off her shoulder. Gilda- and most of the other bullies- had kept their distance form the three sirens after their first couple of days of class. All of them had their own means of defending themselves, and after one too many of various would-be bullies had been driven off by verbal put downs or counters to fists and feet, mos had decided the Dazzlings weren't worth picking on.

Today, however, Gilda could smell blood in the water. Sonata and Adagio had opted to stay home and nurse their headaches- leaving Aria without her usual backup. Worse, Aria herself was nursing the same headache- leaving her slower than usual.

And to the white-haired girl, that meant time to recoup some of her lost prestige. Gilda strode forward, until she was a few scant feet from the purple-haired siren. "Well, bitch? Got any smart-ass comments today?"

Aria gave an unsteady smile. "Yeah, a couple." Holding up three fingers, she started counting down. "First, if you really wanna make a name for yourself, high school is a terrible place to do it. No one's important here- and everyone's gone within four years, except maybe idiots like you." She lowered one finger. "Second, if you wanna try to get us alone, I'm a terrible choice. None of us are pushovers, but you're more likely to win a physical fight against Adagio or Sonata then me. You don't have the wits to match any of us, but at least you're not dumb enough to think you can out think us." She lowered the second finger, leaving one pointing straight up, and aimed it at Gilda. "And third-"

Gilda roared, and swung a haymaker at Aria's face. Even through her headache, Aria had enough presence of mind to take a fast step backwards, leaving the fist roaring through nothing but air. Shit- didn't think that would rile her up that much. Taking another step backwards, Aria barely dodged a follow up punch. Dammit- stupid headache! Stupid school! Maybe if I left...

That thought made her pause, long enough for Gilda to knock her with an outstretched palm. Slamming into a locker, she went to one knee- but the pain cleared her head for a moment. No. I chose this. I knew it'd be difficult- but I'm not leaving yet. Just watching them these last few weeks- her thoughts turned to the Rainbooms -makes it all the more clear that there's something there. Until I know- until I figure out what what kind of power they have- here's where I Stand. As I always have.

As she pulled herself to her feet, glaring up at Gilda's triumphant grin, Aria felt her thoughts clear- and her headache snuff itself out. Suddenly, the girl felt a touch of something she felt had been lost forever. Purple light stained her vision for a moment, and for a few second, her iron resolve was replaced by shock.Magic. But- it's not siren magic...

Gilda swore, taking a step back. "What the hell are those?"

Those? Looking down, Aria felt her eyes widen. Her forearms and fingers had been cover by a pair of softly glowing gauntlets- each adorned with a small green gem mounted on the back of her hands. As she watched, the gem began to glow, licks of green fire swirling off them.

Gilda scowled. "Those little toys won't stop me! I'll..." He tirade continued, but Aria barely noticed. As Gilda's anger grew, so did the flames on the back of her hands- and so did the strength Aria felt coming from the gems. Anger. The gauntlets respond to anger- just like I used to feed off it. Maybe if I- She felt a hand grab her shirt, and casually shoved Gilda away- sending the white-haired bully careening backward down the hallway. As Gilda's fear turned to panic, Aria felt the power in the gems wane. Seconds later, the gauntlets vanished- just as the tardy bell rang.

Grabbing her backpack, Aria trotted off towards her next class, a puzzled grin on her face. Whatever this is, it's not siren magic. I like it already- but I'm gonna need to learn more before I use it more. Gotta know the limits of what this can do before I get into more trouble. Turning the corner, she saw three figures moving towards the main office. Two she recognized at first glance- but as she watched, her eyes narrowed. Wait- is that?

Rarity grumbled as she dashed towards the school. Usually, she had her mornings planned to a minute, with each moment and activity planned to maximize her time to compose herself for another day at school. Breakfast was a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt with fresh fruit, a shower five minutes long, and half an hour of prep work made certain she was absolutely stunning.

Last night, however, had interrupted this morning's regimen in more ways then one. She'd spent three hours testing out her new magic, astounded at the veritable toolkit the new power had provided. After she'd finished Sunset's new jacket, she'd found herself inspired- creating a darling hoodie for Fluttershy, a new scarf for Rainbow Dash, and other garments out of old discards she'd tucked away. However, by the time her creative drive had puttered out, she'd exhausted her time and energy both, collapsing into be as soon as she'd got home. Far worse, her phone's battery had run out overnight, meaning there hadn't been an alarm to wake her in the morning. After a rushed shower and breakfast, she'd rushed out the door, only pausing to pick up the package she wanted to give Sunset and slap her phone on her portable charger.

Still, at least the school was in sight now. Even if she was a little late, she'd still-

Rarity froze. Two figures slowly approached the school, one trudging under the weight of a heavy-looking backpack, the other carefully examining some sort of wand attached to a clunky piece of electronics. And the smaller figure looked familiar. As Rarity watched, the girl swung her head around, looking at the other figure, revealing the face of-

"Twilight!" Rarity yelped, rushing in tot give the startled girl a massive hug. "Oooh darling, its so good to see... you..." Rarity trailed off. The girl she was currently hugging was a few inches shorter than the Twilight she knew, was wearing glasses, and was staring at her with a look of shock and dismay. With a yelp, Rarity released the girl, stumbling backwards. "Wait- you're not-"

"Who are you?" Twilight Sparkle said, seemingly winded. Reaching down, she retrieved the device currently sitting in the snow, sighing with relief as she noticed the lack of damage. As Rarity began to reorganize her train of thought, the lavender girl continued "And how do you know my name?"

As Rarity reached for a response, a loud chime rang from her backpack. Pausing, Rarity reached behind her, discovering that her phone had finally charged to maximum capacity. Turning it on (ignoring the glare from the Twilight standing in front of her and the confused expression on the face of the young man following her) she quickly read through her texts, the last of which had caused her phone to go off. The last text- ignored up until this point- resolved much of her confusion, but left a sense of embarrassment in its place. Blushing, she looked up at Twilight.

"Oh, I am mortified, darling. I'm sorry, it's just- you look just like the a friend of mine. And well- it's..." Rarity paused. "It's... complicated." She pulled herself up straight. "In any case, my name is Rarity. It's a pleasure to meet you, Twilight, and I do apologize for the rude greeting. It was most uncouth of me."

She turned back to the other figure- and froze for a moment. "Officer Armor? Why, I do believe you've met a friend of mine!"

Shining Armor cocked his head, then replied. "It's just Mr. Armor, or Shining when I'm off duty, ma'am. And which friend would that be?"

"I do believe you met Sunset Shimmer a few weeks ago. Was that right?"

Shining smiled. "As a matter of fact, I did." Looking over Rarity's shoulder, he caught sight of Twilight's impatient face. "However, we really do need to get into the building. We were here to meet a guide, as my sister is trying to-"

"Say no more!" Rarity beamed, turning towards the school. "I believe you two are on your way to the main office, yes? If so, let me escort you. It's the least I can do after my faux pas."

Twilight adjusted her glasses. "It would expedite measures significantly to have a guide. Very well, lead on." Rarity set off towards the front doors,

Rarity ascended the front steps a the tardy bell rang. Allowing the two visitors to catch up, she carefully broached a question. "So, Twilight. What brought you to our fine school this morning?"

"Research. There's some sort of energy here on your campus that defies normal analysis. I'm looking to gather more detailed-" Twilight paused as Rarity came to a dead stop, before quickly turning on her heels.

"Strange energy? Was there a... spike, sometime in the last couple of days?"

"Yes!" Twilight's eyes widened, and she closed the distance between herself and Rarity at blinding speeds. "Do you know anything about it? How does the energy interface with differing biologies? What is its source, do you have any-"

"Twilight!" Shining Armor cut his sister off. "As Twilight turned back to him, Shining made a quick motion with this arm. "Slow down. Ms. Rarity can't get a word in edgewise when you talk like that."

Rarity adjusted her dress, smiling. "Don't worry, Mr. Armor. After Pinkie Pie, that sort of intrusion is hardly unusual." looking back at Twilight's eager face, Rarity chose her words carefully. "While I may know of this... energy I'm hardly an expert. There is someone here who is, though. My friend, Sunset, should be able to answer your questions."

Twilight's face creased with annoyance. "Ugh- everyone wants me to meet this Sunset Shimmer. If I did't know any better, I'd say it was some conspiracy."

As Rarity opened her mouth to respond, she heard a familiar voice speak up. "Huh... the voice is right, and the skin tone..." Aria moved forward, looking Twilight up and down. "But not the attitude, or the face." Looking back at Rarity, Aria arched an eyebrow. "She the one from this side of the gate?"

Rarity nodded, even as Shining and Twilight watched, puzzled expressions crossing both their faces. Aria scowled. "Damn, and I was hoping she might be able to help me." Turning around, she called over her shoulder. "Listen, I gotta get to class, but if you happen to see Sunset or... the other Twilight, let them know I gotta talk to them."

Rarity nodded, then turned to her perplexed compatriots. "We should keep going- I'm fairly certain your guide is waiting for you." Turning, she moved down the hall.

Twilight moved briskly after the white haired girl, but Shining stood still for a few moments more. This is the second time these girls have mentioned another Twilight- and Big Mac mentioned he "knew of" Twilight- but not in the normal way. Is there a connection? Shaking his head, he strode froward. His sister was leagues smarter than he was- she'd figure out what was going on in this school.

And if anything tried to hurt his baby sister, they would live to regret it.

Author's Notes:

Sunset expected people to try to get magic- but never expected anything to come of it. Now she'd faced with the fact that ordinary humans are gaining magic- and her experience isn't going to solve every problem.

In other news, Applejack and Aria have both manifested their magic. Applejack's powers are going to be aligned more towards that of a "orchard guardian"- a druid warrior. I'm gonna enjoy seeing how her powers develop. Aria's powers... will be elaborated on later. She's gonna be fun to write, and I have... interesting plans for her.

I considered having a more... comprehensive and drawn out comedy of errors between Rainbow Dash and Twilight, then realized that the girls have learned a few lessons about communicating with one another. I then realized that an inspiration-mad Rarity would likely not notice her phone popping up with a text- or notice when it promptly died.

This was supposed to be the last chapter before the beginning of the climax- but I realized that it would also be much bigger than expected. So, I split two chapters into three.

Up next- Luna meets with Sunset, Twilight meets Sunset, Luna meets Shining Armor, and all hell breaks loose.

Burning Brands

Th tardy bell was just beginning to ring as Sunset stepped into the office. As soon as the door to the waiting room shut, Luna emerged from her office, quickly motioning Sunset to follow her. Without preamble, she ushered Sunset into her office, shutting the door behind them.

Sunset nervously held still for a few moments, before Luna spoke up. "Ms. Shimmer. Yesterday, you mentioned that you and your friends had gained access to magic." she pulled in a deep breath, then dropped her head into her hands. "Last evening, we confirmed that other members of the campus community are starting to gain their own powers."

Sunset froze, contemplating the consequences of some of the more dynamic students gaining magic. In a strangled voice, she said "Please tell me Trixie hasn't-"

"It was not Ms. Lulamoon." Luna cut her off. "Were it that simple. And before you ask," she said, heading off Sunset's follow up question, "the person in question has agreed to retrain their use- so long as we not reveal to anyone their identity or what their powers are- until they've, and I quote, "Made the entire school question their sanity." Without lifting her head form her hands, she spoke softly. "I know I'm already questioning mine."

Finally lifting her fact to Sunset's , she continued. "Magic is becoming more commonplace- and disruptive- with every passing day, Ms. Shimmer. Up until now I- and my sister- have been able to tolerate staying on the sidelines- magic was not common, and Principal Celestia decided it was best left to be managed by those who understood it. However, the events of the Battle of the Bands, and the new magic that seems to be spreading through he school leaves us with little choice. We either need to reject magic- and keep it from spreading- or find a way to manage it."

Sunset frowned. "I barely understand the magic here, ma'am. I have no idea how to get rid of it."

"I thought as much. And both Celestia and I refuse to allow you and your friends to be the only ones able to handle this... problem." Luna leaned forward. "So. Sunset Shimmer, I ask that you teach the both of us the secrets of magic."

Sunset's eyes widened. "Ms. Luna, I don't think I'm quite qualified to teach you magic." A sudden thought twisted through her mind, and she smiled. "But I think I know who might."

Flash Sentry rounded the corner, moving briskly. While normally he would be in advanced chemistry at this point (and making a mess- for all his dexterity, Flash tended to goof when it came to dealing with chemicals of any sort), today he had to see someone before things got out of hand. Fortunately, he knew exactly where his little sister was.

Moving to the door of classroom 201, he quietly knocked. Ms. Harshwhinney opened the door, and said brusquely, "Scootaloo already left my class, Mr. Sentry."

Flash opened his mouth for a moment, then closed it. Then he shook the confusion from his mind, and replied "What? Why did she- I just needed to talk with her for a second."

"She said she had a ferocious headache- and she was distinctly less energetic." Harshwhinney sniffed. If there was one thing people understood about Harshwhinney, it was that she could see through falsehood like nobody's business. If you lied to her, she'd call you out immediately, but on the other hand she could tell when one of her students really had a legitimate excuse. "She went to the nurse's office. Redheart is probably treating her now."

"Right. Thank you, ma'am." Flash turned and walked off, hearing the door slam behind him. As soon as he knew no one was looking, Flash took off running. Sunset mentioned her friends had headaches before their magic ignited- does that mean Scootaloo...

Twilight Sparkle was confused. Being ambushed by a person she didn't recognize was a familiar feeling to her- she'd often had similar instances in the halls of Crystal Prep. Being ambushed by a hug was a new feeling, and much more pleasant than the snide remarks or tidying she would have run into at her school. The second girl's approach had been similarly unusual- rather than talking down to or confronting Rarity, Aria had simply passed on a message for some third party... including the suspicious "other Twilight".

More baffling, her spectrograph was going crazy. The entire school had become saturated with the energy- and her guide had as strong a signature as she would have expected months ago.

But Rarity isn't showing any of the signs of being empowered by this energy. Even her hug was just a normal hug- she's got no special speed or strength. Either I'm getting false reading, or this energy may enhance more than just the physical.

Unless it's enhancing her looks... Twilight speculated as she watched Rarity approach the office. That would be a highly frivolous use of a poorly understood medium, but I've heard of much more dimwitted things done for the sake of fashion.

Entering the office, Twilight only had to wait for a few moments before one of the three doors within opened, revealing two women with dual-colored hair. The first was (probably) a student, while the second was almost certainly Vice-Principal Luna, whom Principal Cinch had informed her of. As the two entered, both froze for a second, before Luna shook her head. "Ah. You must be Ms. Sparkle, correct?" Luna smiled, offering a hand to the stunned Crystal Prep student. Hesitantly, Twiligth shook it. "It's good to meet you." Turning, she motioned to the yellow-and-red haired girl standing beside her. "My sister wishes to meet with you before she shows you around the school, but you might as well meet her first. This is Sunset Shimmer, your guide for the day."

As Sunset gave an awkward grin, Twilight's eyes narrowed. Something felt... off about this. As she was about to act, she caught Shining glaring at her out of the corner of her eye. Science after you meet with the principal, Twilight. Be polite. Twilight silently gathered herself, then extended her hand towards Sunset. "It's nice to meet you both."

As Twilight walked into Celestia's office, Sunset held her tongue. As soon as the door shut behind the girl, she turned to face Rarity, who was still standing in the office. "Celestia's beard, that was freaky. She really does look just like Twilight." Glancing at Rarity's face, she caught a flash of embarrassment. Looking more closely, she noticed that Rarity was only partly composed- makeup was missing and her hair had a few loose strands. "Rarity? What happened?"

"Well darling, it's a long story. To make it short-" She glanced at the closed door to the office, mindful of the time, then continued. "My magic awakened last night, and it was inspiring!" Rarity's eyes gleamed. "Apparently, my magic acts as a toolkit- I was able to unravel some of my old travesties and make something new from them! Cloth came apart and was rewoven at my fingertips!" She gave a giggle, a slightly maniacal edge to her voice. "I was even able to make one dress glow, darling! Oooh, my creative spark was given full reign last night!" The grin dropped from her face, and she shuddered. "Unfortunately, my magic left me drained, darling. I missed your text yesterday, and when I encountered Ms. Sparkle..."

"You thought she was... well, Princess Twilight." Sunset finished, then frowned. "Rarity, how mush magic did you use? You must have..." She trailed off, taking one of Rarity's hands. "...there's no burns," she muttered, her brow creased. "If you were using magic for hours, why is n't there any damage?"

Rarity frowned. "I have no idea, darling. Perhaps magic is changing a bit? Adjusting to help us." Taking her hand away from Sunset, she smiled. "However, darling, I'm glad I was able to catch you. I made something last night- a new jacket." She grinned, pulling a package out of her bag. "I can't wait to see what you think, darling!"

Sunset took the package, and glanced down at it. She then looked at Rarity's bag, then back at her package, then at the bag again. "Rarity... how did you fit this in your bag?"

Rarity opened her mouth, then glanced down at her pack. The backpack was the size of a bowling ball- maybe big enough to fit a couple of books. The package, meanwhile, was the size of a briefcase in its own right. "...you know, I have no idea..."

Shining Armor half-listened to the girls nearby, hearing once or twice the words "magic" and "enchantment". Frowning, he turned to look at the tall lady standing beside him. "They... they are talking about some sort of tabletop game, right?"

Luna looked back at Shining Armor, then pursed her lips. Finally, she shook her head. "I make it a policy never to lie, Mr. Armor. Let us simply say that the "energy" your sister is investigating is not native to this world, and is the reason we had to rebuild the front of the school several months ago."

Shining's eyes widened. "Are- that was a gas leak." He sounded almost desperate. "There's- there's no such thing as magic, right?" In the back of his head though, Shining Armor was slowly pulling together the pieces of a puzzle he'd never know existed. Various facts and shaky video footage began to line up in a way which caused him to break into a cold sweat.

Luna glanced back at him, then said softly, "You used the word, not I. We know no one will believe us- not right now. But what has happened here has no better term for how it could be possible- and our resident expert-" she motioned to Sunset as she spoke "uses it as well."

Shining was silent for a long moment, then let out a breath. "I... one of my friends told me that there was something... strange going on here. He asked me to be careful- to keep an eye on my sister." His face hardened. "I know I can't deter my sister from trying to figure this out. But- I have to ask- is this safe? Is there anything I can do?"

Luna glanced back at him, then shook her head. "Stand by your sister, Mr. Armor. She may need your support soon."

Scootaloo groaned as she staggered through the halls. She'd felt fine this morning- but ever since she'd come to school, she'd felt terrible. I had started out as a mild headache, but now it was an erratically pounding thrum which echoed through her body. Or rather, two pulses- each slightly different, clashing against each other. Oddly enough, though the pulses went through her entire frame, they only seemed to cause pain in the front of her head.

Far worse then the headache was the... tug upon her mind. It seemed as though whatever was causing this was pulling her towards the front of the school.

Scootaloo had felt pain before- and even through this disorienting feeling, she still had enough presence of mind to think. The front of the school- that's where the statue is. And the portal. I think- I think I might have gotten magic after all.

And the magic- it wants me there. At the statue.

As she continued down the hall, she couldn't help but think But how do I know that?

Apple Bloom fidgeted in her seat. There was something wrong about the air- something which sent some instinct insider her jangling. What was worse was that the instincts were focused- somehow, Apple Bloom knew who was in trouble.


Apple Bloom raised her hand, signalling her need to leave the classroom. She didn't know how, and she didn't know why, but she needed to go to her friend. Ah can tell- this has somethin' to do with magic. Scoots- Ah hope you're okay.

Across the school, Sweetie Belle slipped out of her classroom, her thoughts running exactly the same way.

Rainbow Dash cursed as she left the classroom. Her headache was getting worse, pounding in her head as she moved towards the front office. Before, it was manageable- but it's only gotten worse over the last hour. What is going on?

Rounding the corner, she nearly crashed into Flash Sentry. Flash's hair was more frazzle dthan usual, and his eyes were darting back and forth. As soon as he realized who had bumped into him, he grabbed Rainbow by the shoulders. "Rainbow? Have you seen Scoots?"

Rainbow's head snapped up, and she shook her head. Cursing, Flash moved past her. "She came down with a headache, like you guys had, and left class to go to the nurses' office, but she never showed up there. I'm getting worried."

Rainbow fell in step behind Flash as they continued down the hall. For all that she was still upset at the little Crusader, she wasn't going to leave one of her friends hanging.

Twilight Sparkle emerged from Celestia's office, the Principal herself in tow. Glancing around the room, her eyes finally settled on Sunset Shimmer. Walking forward, she glared at Sunset, adjusting the small gadget she held in one hand.

Silence stretched between them for a few moments, until Sunset finally spoke up. "So... what do you want to see first?"

Twilight glanced up at Sunset, then back down at her device. "Look, Principal Celestia told me- just like all your friends- that you're the one who understands this energy source the best." Looking into Sunset's eyes, Sunset could see a mixture of confusion and anger in Twilight's face. "And yet, when I requested access to your lab, she told me that you don't have one. She also said that I may not be able to get all the information I need- even from you." She shook her head. "none of which makes sense. From what I've found, this energy anchors itself in biological organisms- and I can tell that you've been augmenting yourself with it extensively-"

Sunset tried to cut her off "Erm, Twilight-"

"And yet, she told me point blank that you had not data. No models, no experimental records, nothing. Is that true?"

"Well, yes. But there's-"

"Then in that case, I just need you to conduct me to the source of this energy, since I don't think you'll be able to help me otherwise..." Twilight's voice trailed off, as she glared at the device. Sweeping it around, her eyes widened as she saw something. "And now the primary source is leaving school grounds!" Taking off running, Twilight exited the room, following the signal from her spectrograph.

As she exited, Sunset's eyes widened. "Wait- the magic's leaving? Why..." She followed Twilight, tracing her steps as she headed towards the front of the school- and the portal. "Oh no."

Behind Sunset, Shining Armor fell into running alongside her. Twilight's got the sent of whatever the secret of this 'magic' is. But now that she'd this close...

Celsetia and Luna watched the three figures leave the office. Pausing only a moment, Rarity gave them both a small push out the door. "Excuse me, ma'ams. We should probably follow them." As they turned to watch her, Rarity gave a quick shake of her head. "I have a feeling something terrible is about to happen, and we should probably all be at hand- at the very least, to keep the other students safe." Moving past them , she broke into an unladylike trot, followed by both of her principals.

As Twilight approached the main doors, she heard a voice calling her back. "Wait! Sunset Shimmer ran forward, skidding to a halt a few feet away from the Crystal prep student. "You need to hear me out before you go poking your nose into-"

"So your discovery can go hide?" Twilight shot back. At Sunset's agape expression, Twilight continued. "I've seen it before, you know. Someone finds something, or invents something incredible- and hides it, uses their discoveries to block others from going further in that field. Science can't advance if you don't catalog- and share- your work." She turned away from Sunset, then stepped towards the front doors. "We can talk after I find out just what this energy is- and just how you were planning to use it. I won't let the greatest discovery of the century slip through my fingers!"

Sunset dashed forward, intent on stopping Twilight- only to see the girl open the front doors, revealing a strange tableau. Scootaloo stood, swaying before the statue, clutching her forehead. As Sunset watched, Twilight strode forward, aiming her improved spectrograph at the statue and girl. "Hmm... energy readings are fluctuating... Two sources, beginning to sync up- these readings are perfect!" Stepping forward, oblivious to Sunset's horror, she continued. "Soon, I'll have what I need to-" Her voice cut off as she noticed the 'containment' light begin blinking. "Oh no, not again-"

Scootaloo stood in front of the statue, swaying back and forth. The pulses were at there worst here- but far stranger, the longer she stood here, in the middle of the maelstrom of pain, the more distinct, and closer together, the two alternating pulses within her had become. Something was fighting for control, here in front of the gateway to Equestria, and Scootaloo could feel the power she'd somehow gained slowly gaining ground.

Then behind her, she heard the crunch of boots in the snow. Turning slightly, she saw a girl who looked a lot like Princess Twilight holding some sort of gadget at her, glancing at it with a look of delight. Behind her, Sunset Shimmer shoved the doors open, allowing her to dash out into the snow, closely followed by a blue haired man, Rarity, and the principals. As she opened her mouth to speak, the not-Twilight took a step closer...

Sunset Shimmer, hit the closing doors at a run, barely overcoming the pneumatic closing systems which automatically shut the doors. Shoving them open, she emerged into the snow, and gasped.

Scootaloo stood a the center of a storm of magic, invisible to the naked eyes. The swirling, red-tinged-white of the magic was slowly turning back and merging with the traces of magic flowing out of the closed portal, slowly unraveling the snarl of magic which had formed in the space between the school and the portal. The new magic- it's been fighting Equestrian magic, trying to asset itself. That's why I had my headache, that's why the girls have had issues- and why Dash's flight and her new magic aren't compatible. But that discord is starting to fade. The magical field must be using Scootaloo as a conduit, to finish settling the conflict between the two. It's got to be a delicate process, but if we leave her be-

Then she saw Twilight take a step closer, and everything went wrong.

Before, Twilight's device had drawn energy from a static, unthinking source- draining from a well of magic which was open for the taking. Twilight's device had not been aligned to take in raw magic, but the magical conflict swarming around the statue had been absorbed by it regardless, leading to the spectacular containment failure of its battery.

Twilight's new device was designed to focus on the strongest source of magic, geared to only take from the strongest source. Even through the wild magic buzzing in the air, Scootaloo's connection to the new magic was far stronger, even if she couldn't yet consciously use it. And Twilight's new spectrograph latched on to that connection, already strained by the flux of wild magic in the air around her, began to take from her.

Needless to say, this would not be a pleasant sensation even if done under the best of circumstances. Under the conditions which hung over the tableau in front of the school, the sensation was downright agonizing.

Scootaloo hunched over, as a visible stream of purple light began to stream from her head towards Twilight's device. She began to scream, even as Twilight recoiled in horror. Desperately, Scootaloo began to beg in her own mind, asking for something, anything to stop the girl before her from hurting her.

Then Scootaloo's scream cut off, as the magic within her responded. Echoing across the links between her and her two friends, it quickly stooped the outward flow of magic; and took control of Scootaloo, intent on stopping the being which had torn out a piece of it from its host.

There was a deafening sound, the peal of a massive bell which echoed through each of the magic users in the school.

From her class, Aria burst from her seat, leaving her desk, moving- as she always had- towards the source of the problem.

Discord jerked from his work, where he'd been carefully tuning a long-necked instrument.

Rainbow Dash staggered, drawing a concerned glance from Flash Sentry.

Pinkie leapt into a closet, before emerging into the courtyard from behind a bush.

Applejack emerged from her classroom, intent on finding her sisters, knowing full well something had gone terribly wrong.

Fluttershy's eyes widened, and she nearly tumbled from her desk- a feeling of pain echoing from three sources scattered across the school.

And three girls rose from their prone forms, each with their eyes blazing with white light.

Author's Notes:

Are you certain you want to overwrite MidnightSparkle.exe?
File overwritten. Installing Scootaloo_SoulofMagic.exe...
Installation complete.
Run program?

Celestia and Luna are tired of sitting on the sidelines (or being mind controlled) whenever something paranormal targets their students. Granted, getting magic is probably more difficult than Luna thinks it will be- but even a theoretical understanding of how it works will greatly help the sisters make the right decisions in regards to powers.

Twilight's seen other people hide their discoveries- either in history, or in the annals of her own school experience. Worse, she's absorbed some of Cinch's paranoia- and is trying, desperately, to avoid being trapped in Crystal Prep for another year. When she found out she couldn't just collaborate on Sunset's work, she got really anxious- and allowed her frustration and curiosity to lead her by the nose.

Up next- Twilight Sparkle sees magic in action.


Twilight stared up, eyes wide, mouth gaping. The girl she'd approached in front of the statue had spun, cutting the threads of purple off with her bare hands, which were surrounded by an interplay of red and purple light. Her hair had become streaked through with red highlights, while her eyes had gone completely white, burning like small suns. As Twilight watched, the small girl silently rose from the ground, streamers of red light arching like wings from her shoulders. She raised one hand, red and purple blending into a flaming orb, which she drew back to pitch-

Seconds later, Twilight's vision was obscured by a red barrier, a dome of light which intercepted the fireball as it arched towards her. Falling on her butt, Twilight watched as the figure launched a second orb, only for it to also burst off the shield, causing to shudder ominously. Scrambling to her feet, Twilight spun, only to see Sunset Shimmer, both hands covered in red light, concentrating on the barrier.

Sunset glared at Twilight. "And this is why I wanted to talk to you before you rushed off, Twilight!" She winced as another fireball smashed into her shield. "Now we've gotta deal with this again!"

Twilight glared back at the floating girl, who was rubbing her hands together, obviously warming up another shot. "What- how- what the hell is going on?"

"Magic." Sunset said. As Twilight's eyes widened incredulously, Sunset glared back. "And that's why I never bothered to record any of this. Would you have believed me if I'd told you that?"

Twilight turned, looking up at the small girl floating above them. Already frightened, Twilight swallowed as the figure summoned another fireball- this one stretching nearly a foot in diameter. "Umm-"

"I didn't think so." This time, Sunset twisted her wrists, causing the shield to pulse as the fireball impacted, dispersing the blaze. "We should be okay as long as she's just throwing fireballs- a good shield blocks those easily."

"Okay... Twilight gulped, and took a step back. "...if you don't mind me asking, who'd this happen to last time?"



"Look, it's a long story, but I'll explain-" Sunset jerked her head up as Scootaloo parted her hands, allowing a bolt of purple lightning to arc between them. "Oh horesapples-"

Applejack rounded the corner at a dead run, nearly running into a much smaller form heading down the hallway. "Hey, watch where you're goin'- Apple Bloom?" Applejack was surprised as her younger sister moved past her, intent on moving to the front of the school. "Apple Bloom, what're you doing?" Applejack said, reaching out to grab her sister's shoulder.

As soon as her hand clamped on Apple Bloom, the small figure whirled around. Applejack took a step back. Apple Bloom's eyes were wide, with white light pouring from between the lids, obscuring everything about the younger Apple's eyes. As Applejack watched, lines of red and yellow light began to gather around Apple Bloom's hands, and the younger girl hurled forward, coming up with a powerful punch.

Applejack yelped, dodging to one side. As soon as she passed, Apple Bloom pivoted on one foot, sending a viscious right cross directly at Applejack's stomach. Applejack dodged a second time, only to be sent flying backward as Apple Bloom's foot smashed into her hip.

Groaning, Applejack slammed into the wall, her sister approaching with slow, measured steps. Applejack hissed- then focused inward. This ain't Apple Bloom- she'd never attack me like this. Somethin's wrong- and it looks like Ah'm gonna need a little leverage. Standing up, she felt the energy coursing through her harden her skin and reinforce her muscles. "Alright, last chance to get outta my sister's head," Applejack growled, limbering up. Apple Bloom stood stock still, unresponseive. Applejack slammed one hand into the palm on the other. "Alright, then. Are you ready for a whuppin?"

Apple Bloom took a step back, then threw herself forward. With a roar, Applejack rose to meet her-

Only to blow past her as a second form slid between the two sisters, throwing Apple Bloom to one side as she passed. Applejack stumbled, her quarry missing, and turned to see-

"Aria? What the hell are you-"

Aria snorted, dropping into a fighting stance of her own. A pair of lavender gauntlets adorned her hands, each emblazoned with a small green stone. "Applejack, right?" The former siren looked over at her one-time enemy, then turned back to the Crusader, who was picking herself up off the floor. "I can tell- whatever's making her hit like a brick hasn't made her much tougher. You hit her- you might break her."

Applejack frowned, then noticed that her sister had gotten back to her feet- but wasn't attacking anymore. Narrowing her gaze, she watched the younger girl intently. "Alright. Ah might- MIGHT- buy that. But why isn't she attackin' us?"

Aria frowned, then studied the girl in front of her. "I- I don' think she's aggressive." The former siren mused.

"Really? She came after me like a load of hornets!"

"Look, I don't think she's angry." Aria continued. "See that stance? It's defensive- whatever's controlling her feels afraid. It might have responded to you trying to stop her by retaliating- but since I haven't attacked it, it's backed off. We may be able to calm it down without hurting her."

"Really?" Applejack spat. "And how do you know that?"

Applejack's anger caused the gems on the back of Aria's gauntlets to spark and burn a tad brighter- and for a brief instant, she could feel Applejack's rage- jut a touch. Raising an open hand, Aria spoke quietly, seeing the possessed Apple Bloom pause as her opponents stopped. "Hold on a moment. Let me try something."

Aria closed her eyes and focused, reaching outward through her gauntlets- like she had once before, to spark and drain strife and hatred from others. Feeling forward, she glanced off Applejack's anger, before directing herself towards the girl in front of her. Apple Bloom's own emotions were there- though muted- primarily fear and desperation, as well as rising feelings towards the thing which wore her body. The raw intelligence which dominated Apple Bloom's form, however, felt merely fear- and a wild desire to survive.

Unbeknownst to Aria, as she focused outward, the armor on her hands began to shift, small pinpricks of lavender light drifting upwards to land on her forehead and temples. As Applejack watched, Aria's head slowly vanished as the light spread, forming a helm the same color as her gauntlets, adorned with a pair of metal fins like the ones she'd worn as a siren, her long hair protruding from behind each fin like tails.

Aria's voice echoed out of the helmet. "She's still in there- but she's not in control. Whatever's posessing her, it's feeling barely any anger, and no hate whatsoever."

"Alright." Applejack's temper cooled. "Wait- you said she's scared?"

"Whatever's controlling her's scared. It's not really thinking- just frightened. More like an animal than anything else." Aria reached up and knocked on her helmet. "Huh. That's new..."

"Like an animal, huh?" Applejack thought for a second, then moved forward, lowering her arms in the process. "Aria, I got an idea. Can you restrain her- without hurtin' her?"

Aria glanced at Applejack. "Really? And why can't you do it?"

"Cause Ah don't think Ah have enough control to pull it off." She glanced over at the purple girl. "And you seem like you've done this before."

Aria snorted. "More than you know. What's the plan?"

Fluttershy ran as she moved towards the nearest of the spikes of pain she'd sensed. Since her powers had come in, touching someone was enough to reveal their aches and pains- although she hadn't been able to treat any bu the most obvious wounds thus far. But something had shifted- she felt a connection to multiple people, several of them having just experienced a massive shock to their systems. Even now, small pains lanced through the closest of the individuals she could trace through her magic.

Rounding the corner, Fluttershy finally identified the figure whose pain she felt. Sweetie Belle was advancing down the hallway, a glow of red and green rippling around her hands, her eyes completely white. As Fluttershy moved in the way of her advance the little girl stopped, motionless. The green lights around her hands began to spark and hiss, darting outward and diving into loose objects - scattered across the hallway. With a flick of her wrist, Sweetie sent the detritus at Fluttershy kicking up a wind of loose papers, scattered coins, and lost pencils.

With a quick cry, Fluttershy ducked, quickly avoiding the worst of the projectiles heading towards her. Regaining her footing, she saw Sweetie Belle stand stock still, her stock of ammuniton spent. Taking a step forward, Fluttershy began to speak. "Sweetie Belle- what are you doing? You could seriously hurt someone, doing something like that." Fluttershy frowned, reaching out with her pain sense. Withing the girl before her was a second figure- one desperately trying to gain traction on the mind before her, suffering small pains as it did so. Something clicked home within Fluttershy's mind. "Wait- you're not Sweetie Belle-"

As she spoke, she noticed Sweetie Belle'd face tighten, tiny wrinkles appearing at the corner of each eye. Sweetie Belle's body reached up with both hands, and twisted her wrists. Green light surround the dials of a dozen lockers, and within seconds, each locker had swung open from the touch of magic. This time, the green lights touched textbooks, pencil pouches, and water bottles- lifting them to orbit Sweetie Belle.

Fluttershy took a step back as Sweetie advanced, the spinning aura surrounding her lashing out with far more force than her earlier attack. However, as the little Crusader advanced, a strange tune began to carry down the hallway.


From behind her, a familiar voice bounced into Fluttershy's ears. "Well, well, Miss Shy. What seems to be the problem here?"

Discord stepped up beside her, strumming out a tune on an acoustic guitar. Starting off soft, he causally caused the first few object floating towards the himself and Fluttershy to spin back, rejoining the crowd of objects flowing around Sweetie Belle. Fluttershy glanced at the janitor. "Mr. Discord? How did you-"

"Oh, this little trick?" He said softly, speeding up the pace of his playing as Sweetie came to a halt. "I found out I could do this yesterday." He frowned slightly. "I was honestly hoping to keep this quiet long enough to play some tricks- but one can't have everything, you know. As for how I can do this-" He turned a wry grin Fluttershy's way. "- I have no idea!" Looking back at Sweetie Belle, he frowned. "Now, listen, I'm all for working out your problems, but this seems a bit excessive. What exactly did you do to upset her this much?"

"Nothing- I mean I- oh, right." Fluttershy tumbled over her words. "She's not in control of herself- I don't know what's making her do this, but I don't think Sweeties would want this." She paused, the said softly "I really hope we don't have to hurt her to stop her-"

Discord played for a moment longer, before letting out a massive grin. "I already know I can't make anyone who resists dance with my little lady-" He tapped his guitar lovingly- "But perhaps..." His smile turned viscous. "If she's not in control of herself- we can change the tune she's dancing to, no?"

Twilight watched in horror as the girl above the barrier rose higher, a bolt of red lightning caught in one hand. Sunset grunted, and began to reinforce her shield, red light streaming from each hand. "Listen, when the bolt hits, start running. I don't think I can hold the barrier after she hits us once- and she can follow up with a fireball as soon as the shield drops. Can you do that-"

Twilight stood, frozen, even as the small girl raised her hand to throw. Sunset choked back a curse. "Twilight, listen to me, there's nothing you can do! As soon as the shield drops, run!" Twilight, her gaze caught by her impending demise, barely moved. Sunset cursed again, then turned her gaze to the figure above them. Maybe if I pulse the shield, then hit her with something, I can hold her off long enough for Twilight to-


Sunset watched as Pinkie Pie rammed into Scootaloo from above, both feet thudding into the small girl's shoulders, before spring-boarding off and landing atop Sunset's shield in a perfect three point landing. Scootaloo was sent flying to the ground behind the statue, her lighting bold discharging harmlessly off the statue. -Or, Pinkie will pop in and give us a hand. How the hell did she get up there?

Sunset let the shield drop, a smile on her face- before quickly glancing up and moving two steps forward, catching a plummeting Pinkie Pie. Pinkie bounced from Sunset's arms, a massive grin on her face. "Ooh! That was fun! We should do that again some time, Sunny!"

Twilight's jaw hung slack, before she rapidly composed herself. "Wait- you just knocked someone back forty feet, slamming them into the ground! You just killed someone, and you're making jokes like-"

Pinkie dodged towards Twilight, sweeping her into a massive hug. "Ooh, it's so good to meet you, new Twilight! And don't worry about Scoots, she's fine. In fact," she continued, pulling Twilight into a quick bridal carry "We should probably move. Like, right now."

Without further ado, Pinkie ran back towards the school. Twilight glanced around nervously, seeing Sunset running alongside the pink girl with casual ease. Twilight blinked. "Wait, how did she- why aren't you-"

Sunset shook her head as the three girls arrived at the front steps of the school. "It's Pinkie Pie. Don't question it."

Twilight found herself set on her feet- and immediately swept into another hug, as Shining Armor embraced his sister. "Twilight- I though I was going to-"

Sunset cut off his dialogue with a quick cough. "Touching moment later, magical superbeing now." As the group watched, Scootlaloo rose into the air, a swirling vortex of purple and red light beginning to gather aroud her. "Right. Pinkie, can you do that jumping attack again?"

Pinkie shook her head. "Nah. Everyone's paying attention to me now. I can't make the jump I'd need to pull it off." Reaching into her hair, Pinkie rummaged around for a minute before withdrawing a few round objects. "Still, I've got a few tricks up my-"


Everyone flinched at those words, before turning to see a pissed off Flash Sentry watching his possessed sibling approach the group, a wide eyed Rainbow Dash following on his heels. Flash stared at his sister, before turning his gaze to Sunset. "What is going on? How did this-"

"No time to explain. Pinkie, you and I are on defense- protect the school. Mr. Armor, could you please call the police?" Sunset glared at Shining, not noticing the approach of the flying girl behind her. Pinkie, however, did- pegging Scootaloo in the chest with one of the beanbags she'd grabbed, knocking the girl off course, and the fireball out of her hands.

"Already tried. I can't get through on the line." Shining said quickly.

Sunset swore, then turned to see Scootaloo dive bombing them again- only for Pinkie's second beanbag to slam into her face, knocking the newest pair of fireballs loose from her grasp. Seconds later, the fire balls were swatted back at the Crusader by a scarf wrapped in blue magic. Rarity stepped forward, cracking her removed neck-warmer like a whip. "That should hold her for a moment. darlings." Glancing at Sunset, she frowned. "You think we're going to need the rainbow, dear?"

Sunset nodded. "With any luck, Applejack and Fluttershy will get here soon. I don't understand what's happened to Scootaloo- but it's obvious she's not in control. We should be able to snap her back to normal with the elements- I hope." Turning back to the form of the Crusader as she rose, Sunset gulped and rained her hands. "Until then, we've just gotta hold out."

Behind her, Rainbow Dash rubbed her head. Dammit! The one time I need the magic, and I've still got this headache! It's even worse here than it was in the building, but I can't leave now! Her jaw clenched. Scootaloo wanted me to talk to her again, that was all. Whatever took the chance to grab her like this, I'm gonna pound their face in!

Author's Notes:

I'm not great at writing fight scenes yet- but I hope I've described what's going on well enough. I also thought one chapter would be enough to cover everything concerning the possessed Scootaloo and her friends- but that hasn't happened.

The fight will end by the end of the next chapter- but that means another few days of writing. The next chapter's not going to be out for a while, though- sorry about that, but I've got real life stuff that's getting in the way.

In other news- of course I'm making use of Discord and Aria's new powers! I have plans for Aria, and Discord is going to be a fun character to use in the upcoming chapters.

Next chapter: Twilight owns up and freaks out.

Burnt Offering

Discord grinned as Sweetie Belle approached. Picking up the pace, he began to strum his guitar with increased urgency, quickly sweeping aside the first few textbooks and water bottles the small girl swung his way. A few seconds later, he let out a loud twang, causing every object in Sweetie's magical aura to hit the ground in one swoop.

Breathing heavily, Discord glanced over a Fluttershy. "See? If you just do a little bit of a different tempo, it's quite easy to throw them off." Glancing back at the small Crusader, his grin faded as the girl waved her hands, pulling the objects from the ground back into the air. "...huh. Thought it'd take her longer to come around-" Discord found himself playing even more frantically, the swarm of detritus only increasing as he sped up the tempo of his music.

Fluttershy watched the two dueling mages, a whimper escaping her throat. Oh no- Sweeties is really trying to hurt Mr. Discord- but he seemed so confident earlier. Watching the sweat bead upon the janitor's brow, she came to a quick realization. He thought he could end this quickly- and he can't keep this up. But what was he-

Fluttershy gasped, then spoke urgently. "Mr. Discord- you thought you could control her, just like you're moving everything else, right?" As Discord glanced at her, giving a sharp nod, she shook her head. "That won't work. You're scaring.... whatever it is controlling Sweetie Belle, and you're scaring Sweetie too. She's cornered, Discord - and you don't try to fight someone scared."

Discord grunted, his finger thrumming over the strings of his guitar. "Maybe you're right - but I don't know how to calm someone down, and I doubt you're going to be able to get close enough for her to hear you or get within hugging range, my dear. So what should we do, hmm?" He snarled as a harsh barrage of detritus swung towards them, arcing form below and above, forcing him to strain to keep playing. "And whatever we're going to do- we need to do it soon. My fingers are starting to throb - I don't think I can keep this up much longer."

Fluttershy smiled softly. "I think we need to slow things down a bit - not speed things up." She sung her bag off her back, lowering it to the ground.

Discord's eyes widened. "Fluttershy- if I slow down, Miss Belle is going to smash us to bits! We can't just-"

Fluttershy cut him off. "You don't need to do anything to start." Rummaging through her bag, she withdrew a long, slender piece of metal. "Just let me lead- then make it a duet." She glanced up at Discord, and lifted her flute to her lips. "Just watch, okay?"

Fluttershy lifted the flute to her lips, and began to play, a soft melody over the harsh impact of books and the furious strumming of the guitar. At first, the change tin the music seemed to have no effects - but as Discord watched, some of the objects moving around the young crusader began to slow, matching Fluttershy's pace - before speeding up again, maching Discord's furious strumming.

The janitor winced. Fluttershy's right - my style of music isn't doing any good here. But- if she's wrong - if this doesn't work - we'll be wide open for her to attack.

I need to trust her. I need to trust her methods. If she's brave enough o face the storm - then its only right that I face it with her.


Glancing over at the flute player, Discord hesitated - then slowly began to strum a little slower. At first the objects moved at nearly the same speed- and Discord watched as Fluttershy calmly stepped forward, ducking around several flying water bottles, and allowing a small paperback to glance off her side, barely wincing as she played on. Slowly, as he reduced his tempo to merely picking at the strings, the swirling mass of green energy faded and the maelstrom of objects slowly settled to the floor. As they finished their duet, Fluttershy crouched, setting her flute on the ground, then braced herself, as Sweetie Belle's unconscious form settled into her arms. As she lifted the smaller girl into her arms, a pair of yellow wings and horse's ears appeared.

Discord gazed at the pink-haired girl, whose form had just shifted into that of a guardian angel. "...Miss Fluttershy?" Discord hazarded. "What should we do now?"

Fluttershy looked up at Discord, then gently positioned the girl in her arms. As she came to her feet, she said in a low voice, "There are others who're in pain - like she was. We'll need to go to them." Starting suddenly, she nervously glanced at the janitor. "Umm... could you please bring my flute and my backpack? I think we're going to need them."

Discord nodded mutely, bent over to retrieve the flute. As Fluttershy passed him, he turned to watch her move down the hallway. If I were ten years younger... Then he paused and sighed. Make that twenty.

Applejack hit the ground with a crack, her head ringing slightly, before she pulled herself to her feet. Glaring at Aria, who was desperately trying to pull the still-struggling Apple Bloom into a choke hold, she gave a massive groan. "Ah thought you said you could grab her!"

Aria glared back over the headlock she'd managed to get the smaller girl in, wincing slightly as Apple Bloom's fists glanced off the armor which now covered her upper arms and torso. "Normally, I could. But I didn't expect her to start using those kinetic bursts. I mean, I though she was just a- whoa!" Apple Bloom had pulled her arm free of Aria's left arm, and then slammed her own left elbow into Aria's breastplate. As Aria's grip loosened, Apple Bloom's right arm swung around and discharged a blast of yellow light, sending Aria sprawling onto the floor. "...ow."

Applejack cursed under her breath. Apple Bloom had never fought so hard in any of their little sibling spats. She'd assumed her sister had been given a bit of a boost by whatever it was which was possessing her, but she hadn't expected such a surge in strength. Ah mean, Ah know Ah'm pretty strong- but Apple Bloom seems to be hittin' harder than Ah can. She frowned as she noticed the dark patches on Apple Bloom's elbows and hands. Doesn't seem to make her much tougher,

She frowned, noting the way Apple Bloom positioned her body. With a jolt, she recognized the tilt of Bloom's head. She ain't tryin' to beat us- she's tryin' to break past us. But- why? What in the front of the school's so important?

One more question to ask this thing aster we get my sister calmed down, Ah guess.

Applejack moved to Aria's side, making sure to hold herself in the path of the small girls, escape. Leaning towards her fighting partner, Applejack gave an annoyed snort. "She's just waiting for us to slip up so she can get past us, far as I can figure. Ah don;t think this is working - we gotta be more indirect."

Aria hesitated, then shook her head. "If we had any of your friends except the rainbow wonder, I'd we might be able to pull it off. But neither of us are very good at subtle." She glared at Apple Bloom, who had taken up a fresh fighting stance. "Especially you."

Applejack seethed. "Hey- are you callin' me stupid?"

Aria glanced at her, the gem on her helmet glowing softly green, licks of flame rising from her gauntlets. "No- just commenting that you've got all the nuance and subtly of a brick to the face-"

Applejack snarled. "Yah sure are aggravating for someone who's supposed to be helpin' me."

Applejack couldn't see through Aria's visor, but by the taunting tone of her voice, she could tell the former siren had a big grin. "Helping you? Eh, I just figured I could get a chance to beat your sister, and do it without-"

Applejack's face twisted, her scoel growing by the second. "Aria, Ah swear if you hurt mah sister, I'll-"

Aria nodded, suddenly cutting the older Apple sister off. "Yeah, I hear you." Spinning on her foot, she raised a single gauntlet- whose flames now surrounded her entire wrist. "Hey- could you hold onto your anger for a second? That should do it."

Applejack blinked. "..what?"

Aria turned, charged towards Apple Bloom- who met the charging ex-siren with a charge of her own. This time, instead of being swatted aside, as the two collided, Aria held her own, locking her hands into her opponents' own. Apple Bloom began to press Aria back, until the lavender knight braced her sabatons against the ground. As she pushed, she growled out "Now! Whatever you wanted to do, do it now!"

Applejack stood stunned for a few seconds- then quickly shook off her shock. Without a word, she sprinted past Aria, and quickly spun, exposing her sister's back to her for the first time. Applejack wrapped both her arms around Apple Bloom's torso, and pulled her into the air.

Apple Bllom immediately spun her arms around, attempting to grab Applejack in both hands- only to stop still as Applejack gently tapped one hand on Apple Bloom's temple. "Tag out, Bloom. Wrasslin' time's over."

Apple Bloom seemed to tense for a brief moment- before going limp in her older sister's arms, light fading from around her fingers. Applejack grinned at Aria over her sister's bow. " This ain't the first time Bloom an' Ah've gone hammer an' tongs. We've got a system in our family- when someone's all set up for a knockout blow, we tap-em on the noggin. Let's em' know the fight's over." She smiled and roughed her younger sister's hair. "Looks like even through the mind control, that little fact stuck."

Aria paused, then let out a long sigh. "Looks like it." Moving forward, she slowly lifted her hand to Apple Bloom's face. "I wonder if she's back in control, or if we just-"

As her armored fingers brushed Apple Bloom's face, the small girl's eyes opened wide, orange irises once again back in their proper place. Drawing in a deep breath, she gave a startled gasp, then screamed "Scootaloo!"

Applejack released her younger sister, who immediately fell to her knees. Coming to her feet, the Crusader gasped out a few strangled words "Scootaloo- someone hurt her, and she told the magic to make it stop- but, but it doesn't understand how fragile people are yet- it's gonna kill her!"

As Apple Bloom took off running, Applejack and Aria fell in behind her. Applejack was still trying to process what her younger sister was saying, but Aria caught every word. "Wait- the magic will kill Scootaloo, or whoever hurt her?"

Apple Bloom gasped, turning the corner. "If we don't stop em'- probably both."

Sunset dodged to one side, narrowly avoiding the bolt of ice Scootaloo had lobbed at her. Since Pinkie and Rarity had gotten involved, the fight had devolved into a game of keep-away, each of the three girls working to keep Scootaloo occupied long enough for the others to catch their breath and maneuver. Pinkie had run out of beanbags, and had switched to a rather familiar sledgehammer she'd pulled out of her hair, quickly gathering drifts of ice and using the bludgeon
to smash them into Scootaloo's torso at a distance. Rarity had added a second scarf in her left hand, alternately cracking them in Scootaloo's face and using them to turn aside fireballs and lighting bolts.

Sunset had been busy, sending concussive bolts and shields to keep the orange crusader occupied. But she knew the holding pattern the four girls had built for themselves couldn't hold. Scootaloo's reserves seemed endless, but Sunset was already feeling the strain of her spell casting, small burns growing across her palms. Pinkie had ceased dancing and leaping, instead conserving her energy to hit back fireballs and ground out lightning bursts. Rarity's movements had lost their desperate haste- she moved more slowly, and her scarves dragged on the ground in between sorties.

It was during one of these sorties that the end came. Rarity had maneuvered near the statue, obviously planning on using the devastated snow drifts as ammunition to draw Scootaloo's gaze away from Sunset. As she moved, however, one of her high-heeled boots sank too deep in the trampled dirt- and as she dragged it free, the fashionista managed to face-plant in the snow. As Rarity struggled to her feet, Scootaloo spun to face her, raising a fireball in one hand. Sunset quickly raised her hand - only to wince as pain coursed through her fingers. The moment's heistation was enough for the fireball to leave Scootaloo's hand, arching towards Rarity, as the music built to a crescendo-

Sunset blinked. Where'd the guitar music come from?

As Sunset watched, mouth gaping, the horse standing above Rarity leapt from its plinth, stone turning aside the fireball at the last moment. Eyes glowing yellow and green, the animated statue danced to the strums of a guitar, carrying over the otherwise silent battlefield.

Sunset turned, taking in the sight of janitor Discord, standing on the steps of the school, working away at his guitar, frantic tempo stirring the air around him. Discord grinned, walking out into the snow. "Miss Shimmer! Lovely day for a dance, wouldn't you say?"

Sunser was about to respond when a shriek from behind her caused her to spin. Sunset was nearly bowled over as Rarity dashed past, scarves abandoned as she moved to the unconscious form of her sister. "Sweetie! Oh dear, Fluttershy, is she alright, what's-"

Fluttershy placed a hand on Rarity's shoulder as she set Sweetie down on the front steps. "She's fine, Rarity. Though I don't know why she-"

"Ah do." Apple Bloom stood at the top of the steps, gasping for air. "Ah had the same thing in mah head as Scoots still does." She glanced up at her friend, who was currently dodging the leaping statue, bolts of ice and fire deflecting harmlessly off the animated stone. "It's tryin' to protect itself- and it got us to help it, too. It can't think properly without bein' in someone- but it needed a person so it could fix the... confusion between our side of the portal and the other side."

Sunset approached, frowning. "Wait- are you telling me that what's happened to Scootaloo is just the magic trying to protect her?"

Apple Bloom nodded. "Pretty much. With me an' Sweetie calmed down, should be a little easier, but..." Looking up at the orange figure slowly rising above the prancing statue, Apple Bloom sucked in a breath. "But we gotta get to her without getting roasted."

Discord grunted as the six girls huddled up, the remaining audience gathering behind them. Looking back over the group, he jerked his head. "Whatever you're going to do, you need to do it now- I can't play much longer, and Scootaloo is starting to get out of range of my leaps."

Sunset frowned, reaching for her magic- only to have Fluttershy seize her hands. The pink-haired girl glanced over the small burns, and shook her head. "Sunset, hold on a moment." For a moment, Fluttershy frowned, her wings beating softly against her back. She slowly smile,d pulled in a deep breath- and breathed, sending a fine pink mist from her mouth, which slowly surrounded and healed Sunset's wounds. As Sunset looked up at her in disbelief, the shy girl shrugged. "Um- I knew I couldn't use my hands- but I knew I could still heal, somehow."

Sunset shook her head. Figure that out later. Looking around, Sunset realized a problem with her original plan. "Girls- does anyone here have their instruments besides Fluttershy?"

At the round of incredulous looks- (and in Pinkie's case, excited confirmation, as she pulled a bongo drum out from her shadow) Sunset groaned, placing her head in one hand. "I don't know how to transform into our Equestrian forms without music- and even then, I don't know if we can use the elements without the Princess here. Girls, we need a plan- and fast."

Everyone nodded- except for Rainbow Dash, whose eyes were fixed on someone moving from the group behind them. "Uh- girls? I think we might have less time than we thought."

Twilight Sparkle watched the fight between the stone statue and the little girl with mounting awe- which was quickly being undercut by streams of guilt. I just wanted to know the truth- I didn't think anyone would get hurt. But that girl, Rarity, she nearly died, trying to keep that flying girl from hurting me. So did Sunset - and now more people are fighting because of my mistake.

Twilight looked over at the small girl wearing the bow, who was trying to rouse a pink-and-purple haired girl laying on the steps. Nearby, Shining Armor was trying to talk to the school's principals, who were desperately trying to get through on cell phones to get help. Shining was right- I went too far. If I'd bothered to listen, if I'd stopped to think- none of this would have happened.

Her eyes narrowed, and she looked at the moving statue still trying to hold Scootaloo's attention. Magic. I've stumbled into a world of magic- and managed to aggro something far above my level. If it weren't for those girls fighting for me, I'd be dead- and maybe rightfully so.

Twilight stared down at the device still clutched in her hands. This was supposed to trap and record energy fluctuations-
and instead it became a weapon. I hurt someone with this, no matter how unwittingly. I got all the data I could ever want- both from my initial readings, and everything it's picked up since. Was it worth this?

Looking back at the girl floating above them all, finally freezing the statue to the ground, Twilight allowed one last thought through her mind. No. No it's not.

Stepping forward, Twilight walked towards the monster she'd made. She knew what she had to do.

Scootaloo watched through her eyes as the thing which had taken control of her finished freezing he statue in place. The pain had ended as the presence within her mind had seized control, but she'd been forced to feel as alien impressions and movements puppeted her own body. Worse, she'd watched as the thing had tried to protect her- by killing each of the classmates who had stood between her and the one who'd hurt her.

She'd seen how spent each had become as the battle had dragged on. How first Rarity, then Pinkie and Sunset, had started to flag- and how Rarity had nearly met her end by a fireball thrown by her own fist.

No one was dead yet- but Scootaloo could feel the flow of energy through her body heating up. She was shielded from the pain, but if the fight went on much longer, her body would begin to burn. Whatever this thing inside her was, it really didn't quite understand how humans worked yet- and it was using her as a testing ground. Or had been, until she'd been attacked.

As Scootaloo's body turned, she felt her eyes widen. The girl who'd hurt her- Twilight Sparkle -was stepping towards her, cradling her device in one hand. What is she doing?

The girl came to a halt, and slowly began to speak. "I- I never meant for any of this to happen. I never meant to... well, hurt anyone. I just..." Sh hung her head. "I'm sorry."

Scootaloo felt... hesitation from the creature puppeting her. Capitalizing on it, she urged it to hold still- to listen, rather than lash out. It obeyed- but sill raised one hand, red and purple light spinning around her open digits.

Twilight continued, "I heard your friends speak, Scootaloo- about how I'd hurt you. How what I did led to this." Sh lifted her gaze, then looked down at the device in her hand. "How this stole something from you. How it hurt you." She looked up, tears in her eyes. "I wanted to understand- but not like this. Not if it means hurting others. I saw far too much of that where I come from."

Behind her, Scootaloo could see Fluttershy grab Sunset's shoulder, keeping her from advancing. A man with blue hair struggled against a girl in lavender armor, who kept him from interfering. As Twilight lifted her device again, Scootaloo felt a white-hot fireball condense in her raised hand.

Twilight lifted her device- and then let it go. As it touched the ground, her boot rose, then fell, shattering plastic, crystal, and components alike. Streams of red and purple ran from the fragments, drifting up towards Scootaloo. As the energy was reabsorbed into her, she felt something relax within her.

Twilight Sparkle spoke. "I- I wanted to understand- but please- don't hurt anyone else. I'm-" she swallowed audibly. "I'm sorry."

Scootaloo pushed a little further- The threat is done. I'm safe now.- and felt the fireball die away in her hands. The force within her turned its attention to the maelstrom of magic which still surrounded the portal below- and to the damage felt by Scootaloo's own body. Scootaloo could feel the force within her recognize the damages, and quickly heal the wounds the magic had wrought.

It was over in a moment. The force within her saw no further threats- none moved against he one who had wished for protection. Sinking in for a moment longer, it left behind something within Scootaloo- then left, returning to the now-healed web of magic which surrounded the school.

Leaving Scootaloo hanging thirty feet in the air. Without magic keepins her aloft, gravity quickly took over.

Oh hell, not again. Scootaloo though as she began to fall, her thoughts going black.

Sunset wasn't sure how to take this turn of events. One moment, she'd been readying herself to fight a losing battle against the spirit of magic itself. Then Twilight Sparkle had moved forward, smashed her device, and finally calmed down the raging spirit- leaving Scootaloo falling out of the air. She reached forward, intent on channeling her magic, no matter how bad of an idea it would be, only to be sideswiped as a blue blur shot past her.

Rainbow was sure of one thing- this new Twilight was twice as nerdy as the old one, and that was saying something. Other than that, she didn't know how to feel about he new Twilight yet- on the one hand she'd hurt Scootaloo, but on the other, she'd just brought her back from being controlled by- whatever that was.

Still, at least her headache had vanished at the right moment. As soon as Scootaloo had stopped attacking everyone, Rainbow had felt something- unbend in her mind. Even more importantly, as soon as Scootaloo has started falling, Rainbow's thoughts had cleared for the first time in days. She'd been moving before her thoughts had caught up, but that didn't matter much. Scootaloo's back to normal, but falling to her death. No time to gawk- I've gotta Run.

Rainbow felt her body push to its limit, felt her wings spread behind her, felt a cone echo around her as she moved faster than she ever had in her life. Scootaloo was halfway to the ground as Dash rose to catch her, grabbing her unconscious form before falling to land on the empty statue plinth.

Rainbow turned as the world spun back up to normal, the adrenaline rush petering out in moments. Every eye was on her, and she quickly realized how she must look. I'm standing on a pedestal, wings spread, cradling a girl who was about to die in my arms. Glancing down, she took int he network of blue lines running across her body. And I've got some kick-ass magical tattoos.

Please tell me someone has a camera- I've gotta look AWESOME!

Author's Notes:

This chapter... it took so long to write. I had to get all the emotions, every scene, just right. I must have drafted a dozen confrontations in my mind, before I sat down to write. Still, I'm pleased how this went.

Twilight and Scootaloo both will be paying personally for the events of today- but they need not pay any weregild. For all the chaos sown, no one's been seriously hurt, nor any property destroyed- although Celestia is going to have words with Discord concerning the state of the statue out front.

Next chapter- Twilight finally gets some answers- from herself. Kinda.


To any casual observer, the front of Canterlot High School would seem to be an example of a picturesque winter photo. The school building was blanketed in white, lights gleaming cheerfully in the windows, with a group of students gathered on the front steps.

To to anyone who actually bothered to approach the school, it would become obvious that the scene was far less picturesque. Melted patches of snow and deep footprints thrusting through steaming slush revealed the battle which had recently concluded. Any listener would also fail to hear any sounds of winter cheer over the exasperated voice of the school's principal- and the scattered giggles from the small group gathered in front of the statue.

Celestia groaned, planting her hand in her face. "Discord, I am not disparaging the help you gave us today. Nor am I objecting tot he use of your new magic to aid our students, rather than torment them." She raised her gaze to fix on the widely grinning face of her most obnoxious, if effective, janitor. "However, I have to strongly object to the... modifications you made to the statue."

Discord rolled his eyes. "Oh come now- I put it back, just as you requested, didn't I?" His grin grew even wider as her turned to study the formerly animated statue. "Besides, I made certain it was standing on it's hind legs, same as before. What's the problem."

As Celestia opened her mouth, Luna cut her off with a frown. "One, I'm concerned people will question how a stone statue had its position changed without extensive construction work. Two, I believe Celestia is confused about where you got the stone sunglasses." Peering up at the statue, she frowned. "And third, Gangnam style is horribly outdated. It seems a bit beneath you to make such an... overused reference."

Discord looked up at the posed statue and frowned. "Hmm... you may be right." Glancing back at the sisters, he grinned at Luna. "What do you think I should do, then? Maybe something appropriately retro? Disco, perhaps?"

Luna frowned at Discord, then shook her head. Glancing at her sister, she frowned. "Honestly, Tia. If you're going to drag Discord into an argument, at least wait until we've resolved this crisis. I think these considerations could wait until later. I believe Ms. Scootaloo is waking up- and this world's Twilight Sparkle appears to have had a major adrenaline crash."

Across the battered yard, Scootaloo slowly stirred to life in her brother's arms. For a few moments, she merely luxuriated in the lack of splitting headache- before the memories of what had happened-

Scootaloo screamed, springing to her feet. No, no, no- Glancing across the grass, she quickly took a headcount. Sunset, Rarity, Pinkie, Mr. Discord, other Twilight... before nearly collapsing, falling to her knees. Her brother was on her in a matter of seconds.

"Scootaloo, are you-" Flash began, before the little girl beneath her began to shake. Kneeling down, Flash found himself facing his sister's trembling face.

Scootaloo's voice shook. "Is- is everyone okay?"

Flash glanced around. "No one's injured, I think." looking back at his sister, he frowned. "Scoots- what happened? I'd heard you tried to get magic, but..." His voice trailed off as Scootaloo whimpered, curling up into a ball on the ground.

"I did. I did get magic- but..." A small head shook back and forth. "I didn't have any control, it was like something was driving me forward. And-" she swallowed "There's something there, thoughts that aren't mine. Whatever it was that did it- it's not gone."

Footsteps crunched through half-melted snow, and Flash glanced over to see Sunset's boots standing a few feet away. Sunset knelt down, looking into Scootaloo's eyes. Narrowing her gaze, she seemed to focus for a moment, then a red glow appeared around her hand. Scootaloo recoiled from the glow, but Flash held her firmly. As the red light passed over Scootaloo, Sunset's frown deepened. Sighing, she let the magic drop. "It looks as though there's still a touch of magic in you; most likely the manifestation of your own power. I can't tell what type of magic, but it's there. Whatever possessed you, it seems to have left something behind."

"Magic?" Sunset stood, turning to look at the source of the familiar voice. This Twilight Sparkle, however, was mouthing the word with unfamiliar hesitation. Other differences stood out in Sunset's mind: tapping feet and drifting eyes gave away the anxiety this Twilight wore openly, something her counterpart had slowly brought under control. Twilight swallowed. "I mean- I'm not sure I should be the one to contest it, but isn't that a little unprofessional? It's just some branch of physics we don't understand, so calling it magic..."

Twilight stopped, glancing around. Everyone except Shining Armor was looking at her with a mixture of disbelief and exasperation- or in the case of some of the girls, open amusement. She turned back to Sunset as the red-haired girl began to speak. "Twilight, there's a reason I never bothered to document magic, or tried to publish any research on it." She gestured at the base of the statue. "I may have the most training in what magic is in this world, but magic, and those that really understand it, come from another. That's why I haven't done any research; up until the last few days, what you think is something new was something I studied for years."

Twilight stared at her, blinking a few times. "So when Ms. Celestia told me that you weren't going to publish your findings, she meant they weren't yours to begin with. But, wait, but if you're not, then who was I supposed to..."

"Oh, I am the most qualified to explain magic. In this world, at least. But I called in an expert- someone with more recent and complete understanding of magic- to come and help me figure out what's been happening recently." Sunset looked back at the statue plinth, which was starting to glow with a familiar magenta light. Inside, Sunset felt her tense anxiety vanish. Things were stabilizing, and even better, help was finally arriving. Then a cheeky thought wandered into her mind. "Still, I didn't want you to meet her. It would be a little weird. No help for it now, though."

Twilight hesitated, ignoring Discord clapping a hand over Shining Armor's surprised exclamation, and the looks of relief and amusement which appeared on the faces of the gathered Rainbooms and CHS staff. As a familiar figure approached Twilight from behind, Twilight spoke. "Weird? Why would meeting some fantastical magical expert be weird?"

"If I had to guess, it's because it would raise a lot of questions." Twilight Sparkle froze, then slowly turned- coming face to face with a very familiar visage. Princess Twilight Sparkle smiled at her. "Hello, Twilight Sparkle. I'm Twilight Sparkle. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Twilight Sparkle opened her mouth, staring at the princess for a few moments. Closing her eyes, she shook her head. "Who- wait, what?"

Sunset sighed, then spoke up. "The portal leads to an alternate dimension, where individuals from one side are reflected across to the other. In the other world, Twilight Sparkle is the foremost researcher into Interpersonal Bond Magic-"

"Colloquially known as the magic of Friendship." The Princess was looking around, a slight glow absently gathering around her hands. "What happened here, anyway? It feels like right after a magic surge; there's a lot of raw magic still floating around."

Twilight swayed on her feet. "Parallel dimensions? I mean-"

Shining Armor put his hand on Twilight's shoulder. "It would fit with the sightings of your doppelganger we've gotten in the force." Shining glanced at his sister, whose eyes were wide open. "We've been keeping an eye on the activity here, Twiley. There've been three major incidences here since the beginning of the school year, and a girl matching your description showed up during the first two. It's only because I knew you had an alibi that we haven't tried to track down the one unregistered person from the whole affair."

Princess Twilight glanced up, then smiled. "I'm glad to hear that you're as competent as my brother, Captain Armor."

"Thank you, miss. But um, I'm not a captain."

"Really? That's interesting." The princess glanced at Shining, then frowned. "I wonder what else is different? Are you dating Cadance in this world, by any chance?"

Twilight laughed. "My brother, dating the dean? That would be crazy, right?" She looked up at her brother. "After all he would have told me, wouldn't he?" Shining's look of dismay only grew. "Shiney?!"

As the younger Sparkle began to harass her brother, Pinkie Pie glanced around. She put her hand to her lips and gave an ear-splitting whistle. "Alrighty gang, everyone's here! So, we should probably go ahead and saddle up. I've got refreshments waiting at Sugarcube corner. Let's go!"

Everyone stared at Pinkie for a moment. Finally, Rainbow Dash spoke up. "Wait- what?"

Pinkie glanced around, then muttered under her breath "Nuts. I was hoping for an easy scene transition this time." Clearing her throat, she explained. "Last night, I got a shaky in my left foot, right hip, and spine, which means prepare for extra gauests, so I reserved Sugrcube Corner instead of just expecting our table to be clear for Twilight. So, instead of talking about he highly important, kinda-secret, maybe-magical stuff in front of the school, I figure we can all go over to the corner, get some snacks, and warm up. Sound good?"

A round of affirmations rose form the group, save from Vice-Principal Luna. "Ms. Pie, I'm sorry, but Celestia and I can;t just leave the school behind-"

Celestia shook her head. "Luna, I already put our out-of-office on. We've got a one hour break before we need to be back in class- and I, for one, am not going to pass up a chance to get some immediate answers for once. We're going."

Shining was about to speak up, when he felt a small hand grab his elbow. His sister sighed. "Shining, I need to go. This- I went to far, but I still need answers." She paused, then glared up at him. "And I want to find out how my brother started dating my favorite teacher behind my back."

Shining groaned. This was going to be along car ride...

Shining Armor staggered in through the front door of Sugarcube Corner, a haunted expression gracing his face. Looking around, he wasn't surprised to see most of the restaurant empty, save for the slowly growing group of people gathered in the back. Even more surprising was the array of sweets and snacks laid out across the counter, the mulling station located in the back of the room, and the grinning face of Pinkie Pie bouncing out of the kitchen.

As Shining watched, Pinkie bounced over to the gathering crowd, setting down a tray of sandwiches. "Eat up, guys! Magic makes you hungry, or so Twilight told me, so I guess it might be different here than in the other world. Oh, hey Twilight!" Bouncing over to the entering twins, she began to bounce in place. "Or, hey Twilights? I mean, I know one, who's the princess, but the other's new and not-a-princess, but calling one Princess all the time would get really weird, and I can't just call you both Twilight. Calling one old-Twilight or not-Twilight seems wrong, but-" Pinkie's voice was cut off as one of the Twilights slapped their hand across her mouth.

Twilight Sparkle (Princess) glanced at Pinkie for amoment, opened her mouth to speak, then hesitated. She looked around the room att he gathering crowd of her friends. "You know, Pinkie does have a point. How should we differentiate between the two of us? Verbally, I mean." Glancing over her counterpart, she frowned. "Why do you wear glasses?"

The human twilight glanced back at her counterpart, and frowned. "I... I think the better question would be, why wouldn't you?" She paused, then said "I mean- I know the energy-"

Sunset cut her off. "You mean magic, right?"

Twilight flinched. "...well, yes. But, please, this is strange enough already. Whenever you call... whatever it is you do magic, it makes the scientist in me scream." She adjusted her glasses. "Anyway, I know... magic," she said, barely choking out the word, "has a reinforcing effect on the body. So, maybe it repaired your vision as a matter of course?"

Princess Twilight blinked. "I didn't think of that. Still, my friends- Rainbow and Pinkie, mostly- call me Twi. Do you think that would work as a proper nickname?"

There were murmurs of assent from the entire group. Twi took a moment to look around, quickly taking in the decor, the food, and the people gathered. Besides the Rainbooms, Shining Armor, and the Crusaders, several unexpected additions had joined the proceedings. Flash Sentry sat next to his sister, occasionally shooting her a glance which hovered somewhere between relief and anger. Principal Celestia and her sister were sitting in the corner, watching the proceedings. Celestia looked tired, while Luna simply looked exasperated. Discord had already helped himself to two cheese danishes and was layering slices of cheddar between them to make an impromptu sandwich, ignoring the normal sandwiches sitting in front of him. Aria, meanwhile, was not, her half-eaten ham and Swiss clenched in one hand, a mug of hot cider in the other.

As Twi was about to open her mouth to speak, she heard the bell over the door jingle. Turning, she saw a familiar face enter. Big Mac pulled a hat off his sandy hair, quickly moving past the two Twilights. Within seconds he'd crossed the distance to the Crusaders, and lifted Apple Bloom away from her friends, glancing over her. He carefully positioned her in his grip, then dragged her into a hug, careful to avoid her bruises. As he let her go, he spoke in a soft voice. "...heard you were in the thick of things this time, Bloom. Glad you'e okay."

Applejack glanced at Sunset- then frowned. "Sunset? Did you let Mac know what happened?"

Sunset shook her head. "No. And I know Celestia and Luna didn't have the chance either." Pausing, she glanced at her big brother. "But I think that question can wait. We've got bigger issues to deal with."

Coming to her feet, Sunset cleared her throat. As she watched, the small conversations that had begun to rise up slowly settled down. "Alright- now, I'm sure you all have a lot of questions-"

She paused, then glanced back and forth. "...I'm suprised." She said after a beat. "I expected you all to dump every question on me at once."

Flash spoke up first. "I trust you, Sunset." He looked down at his little sister. "And besides, I saw what happened to Scoots- all I want to know is why."

There was a nervous gulp from two tables down. Twilight looked down at the cup clenched in her hands, the cocoa held within barely touched. "I- I have a lot of questions. But- I-" She shook her head. "Wanting to know about this caused a lot of damage. If you don't want to tell me..."

Sunset opened her mouth, but was cut off as Shining Armor spoke up. "Twilight, I told you before that you were being too reckless. But I also know how much this means to you." He reached over and tilted up his sister's chin. "You didn't listen earlier. But this- it seems big. You're already involved, and you need to learn more. Still, I think we need to lead with an apology."

"Apologies." All eyes gravitated towards the small purple-haired girl sitting next to her brother. "I didn't know," Scootaloo said softly, "What would happen when I tried to get magic on my own. I didn't mean anyone to get hurt. But-" She shook slightly. "There was something alive there. Something which wanted out. When I was hurt- it took over. To protect me, and itself. But I- I let it in. And I'm sorry."

Twilight nodded. "I should have known better than to stick my nose into this, to not even listen to someone with practical experience, if nothing else. I wanted hard data, something i could submit to a paper, but that doesn't excuse me barging in." She hung her head. "Scootaloo, you got hurt because of me. And a lot of you guys fought for us, even though I'm the one who caused this."

Applejack spoke up. "Ah get that both of you wanted somethin'. Neither of you coulda predicted what would happen, but you were both damn fools for rushin' in. Scootaloo, this is the second time you've run headlong into somthin' stupid; the only reason Ah ain't more upset is because this time, you only thought it could hurt you, not anyone else. Twilight, you took a bigger jump then Scoots did, but you didn't mean no harm either."

"Well said, darling." Rarity glanced up over her tea. "Do we all concur?" Murmured assent came from across the room. "We will have more to discuss with each of you; I know Flash is going to want to have words with you, Scoots. However, I admit to still being enthralled by this notion of living magic. Do we have more details?"

Sunset cleared her throat. "I suspect that the new magic isn't really alive, as such. It didn't really think when we were fighting it." Looking over at Twi, she gave a small shrug. "I haven't run into sentient magic before, but I think you mentioned magic that had a will before. Like the elements, or that Inspiration Manifestation, right?"

Twi nodded. "Yes; magic is heavily influenced by emotions, and the will of those that create magic can influence the caster. However, I'm not certain that magic could take on a mind of its own. It seems-"

"Hmph. I guess that's something you guys forgot." All eyes turned towards Aria as she took a bite out of her sandwich. Swallowing, she continued. "I've only seen it a few times before, but in Equestria, the first Windigo was born of a magic spell gone wrong. Some idiotic Unicorn spellcaster tried to create a self-sustaining weapon fueled by his hatred for Pegasai, and the spell got away from him. Happened a few times after, whenever a Unicorn tried to cast spells in hatred; the Windigos would eat the spell, then use it to make a new member of the herd." She took another bite, then swallowed. "Still, I don't know how it happened. Just that it did, and within a century there were enough Windigos to really threaten the tribes."

Twi's mouth opened and closed. "Wait, what? Windigos were-"

"Something that needs the emotions of sapients to propagate would need to come after the development of intelligence." Sunset mused. Then her eyes widened. "Wait- so does that mean-"

"Yeah. Changelings were an attempt to make a counter-weapon to Earth Pony hearth magic. Something that ate love was a perfect weapon against a tribe whose tight-knit communities were their main strength. And of course, some Earth Pony ritualist bound Seapony captives to create a weapon capable of turning Pegasai against each other, leading to the first Sirens." She looked down at her sandwich, then took another bite.

Twi shook her head, glancing at the confused looks at those around her. "Okay- back on track. So, self-directing magic can create intelligence. I guess the original magic surge had strong enough survival instincts to "imprint" on Scootaloo."

"Seems 'bout right." Apple Bloom spoke up. "When that thing was in my head, it didn't wanna hurt no one- it jus' wanted ta get to Scoots, make sure she was safe." Bloom frowned. "Still, why didn't this happen before? After the formal, or the Battle for the Bands?"

Twi looked around. "Do we know if the magic here's been increasing? I have a couple of theories, but without data-"

Twilight spoke up "I've been tracking the relative and absolute levels of- magic," she nearly choked on the word, "Over the last three months, the levels surrounding the school have increased, and it's starting to spread. Is that going to cause trouble?"

"Short answer? Yes." Twi glanced at Sunset. "Magical surges can have complex and long-lasting effects; if it weren't for Princess- I mean, my tutor, my parents might have remained houseplants for a while." Shining Armor looked a little green. "But, I have a theory why Sunset was able to use magic now, and not before. Sunset, could you stand up for a moment?"

Puzzled, Sunset complied. Twi stood up, and looked Sunset up and down. "As I thought- you've filled out a bit. You were a little on the scrawny side last time I saw you."

"That's what granny keeps sayin'." Rumbled Big Mac as his adopted sister blushed.

"I thought so. Sunset, do you remember the Kalorie-Whistle connection?"

Sunset thought a moment, her embarrassment overcome by her urge to know more. "Well- wasn't that the conservation theorem, where ponies under bodily stress would be unable to use their magic?" As Twi nodded, Sunset figured it out. "You think that my malnutrition kept me from using magic when it was more difficult, then when I was healed there was a stronger magical field in place?"

"Exactly. It was suddenly much easier for you to use your magic, resulting in the magic surge you expressed. Still, it doesn't explain why magic works so differently here."

"Maybe cause it's a different race?" Everyone turned to look at Pinkie Pie. "I mean, you told me that your magic over there was shaped by the Tree of Harmony and Cutie Marks, and the Solar-Lunar Convergence Array, and Ley Lines, and all that. But we don't have that here! So why wouldn't it be different?"

"That's true." Sunset muttered. She pulled in a deep breath. "Scootaloo's rider stabilized the magical connection between this world and Equestria, so there shouldn't be any more headaches. And it seems as though magic has stopped bonding to everyone it meets."

"So, things go back to normal?" Celestia said hopefully.

"No." Twi looked pensive. "The magic stabilized itself. It's survival instincts won't force it to seek out new people, but it's still present, and the flames of magic are now here to stay. This world is slowly getting magic- and I have no idea what that will do."

Author's Notes:

3 Months. I'm sorry, but classes were hectic, my muse abandoned me, and Breath of the Wild stole my time.

Still, my muse came back. Expect less frequent updates, but the show will go on!

This chapter originally had a lot more involved; I planned on having Cadance, Adagio and Sonatra show up before the end. However, that was one of the reasons my muse abandoned me; I tried to force too much into one chapter, and paid the price.

Still, we now know a little more about how the magic is sinking into this world. Everything from here on out is going to be different, simply because Sunset's been a little better fed. I told you something I said back at the end of Myriad Thoughts was important!

The next chapter will probably be out in a week or so. Sci-Twi and Scootaloo have some more explaining to do; but so does Aria, Big Mac, and Discord. Get ready for more world-building, more deep talking, and more Pinkie madness, because-

We're having a slumber party!

Oh hell no- get back in my story!

Hearth Fire

The silence was broken by a short bark from Aria. "So? You're acting like that's a bad thing." Everyone turned to face the ex-siren, who smirked. "Look, Twi- if you understood everything about magic, you wouldn't have embarrassed yourself during your first round against us. And Pinks said it right. This is a different world; if magic worked the same way here, we'd probably all be turning into ponies again." She shrugged. "Things change. You have to adapt and learn. There's nothing else for it."

Discord grinned. "I think I like you, girly."

Aria glared back at the janitor. "I can't say the same. I met your counterpart, Discord; you might be just a kooky troll on this side of the portal, but I saw what your reflection called fun." Glancing at Twi, she scowled. "I heard that you're trying to reform him on the other side. Good luck with that- I'm not going back to Equestria until he's locked up or tamed."

Twi frowned. "He's learning, Aria..."

As the ex-siren and the princess started arguing, Sunset turned to the rest of the group. "Aria does have a point. We're moving into unknown territory, but we have a chance to experiment and practice with the new magic before the next crisis."

The Rainbooms glanced at one another before Rarity spoke up. "That's... a refreshing change, anyway."

Pinkie grinned. "Oooh! Last time, we had to go fight the Dazzlings without much prep work, and that... didn't go well." Her smile dropped for a moment. "If we hadn't had you there, Sunny, it could have gone really bad."

Sunset smiled. "Thanks, Pinkie." She turned to look at Twi. As she studied the animated princess, whose discussion seemed to fascinate both Discord and Twilight, she felt something give out a little. Twilight beat me, but she didn't do nearly as well against the Dazzlings. As other pieces of her mental picture of the princess fell into place, she frowned. I think I need to talk to Twi. There's something I need to know.

Her contemplation was cut short as Applejack stood up. "As much as I appreciate Pinkie giving us a place to regroup, Ah can't keep takin' up space here. And, if we really wanna practice, we need to head somewhere with a bit'a privacy." She held up her cell phone. "Granny's offerin' to let us continue our meetin' at Sweet Apple Acres."

Twilight glanced around, then stood up. "Okay. So, I mean-" She quailed as Applejack glared at her.

"And if you try to duck out, Ah'm gonna hog-tie you. You went too far lookin' for answers we have, and you've got info mah sister's gonna need. So you're comin' with us."

Shinig Armor frowned, then paused, Big Mac's hand on his shoulder. The big man spoke quietly. "Your sister deserves to know the whole truth. None of the girls will hurt her none, Ah promise." A little louder, he addressed the whole room. "That offer ain't just for the kids. Anyone here is welcome to come to our home."

Rainbow grinned. "So what are we waitin' for?"

Twi stood at the door of Sweet Apple Acres as Sunset watched the sun descend towards the horizon. After the end of the gathering at Sugarcube Corner, Celestia had allowed the girls from her school to take a day off; Sunset, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie were drained after their fight, and the other Rainbooms were unwilling to leave their friends behind.

The Crusaders joined Big Mac in his truck, all three exhausted by their ordeal. While Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom were just tired, Scootaloo had passed out halfway to the farm. Big Mac took the sleeping girl up to the guest room, while Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom hunkered down in the youngest Apple's room.

Celestia had not joined the caravan heading to the farm. Despite her desire to get the full lowdown on the new magic, she and Luna needed to return to CHS. They'd dragged a protesting Discord along with them, but not before Celestia had tasked Sunset with a full report on the events of the day and the impact of the new magic. In her own words, it was "Time to stop sitting on the sidelines."

Besides the staff of CHS, the rest of the party had made their way to the farm in record time. Rainbow Dash had immediately put the isolation to use, using Applejack's base to manifest her wings and taking to the air with obvious glee, lines of power across her skin sending her to new heights of speed. Fluttershy's newfound confidence gave her enough will to take off and join her friend in a more sedate flight- and after Rainbow's inevitable crash into one of Applejack's favorite trees, had revealed a new manifestation of her power.

Twi slowly spoke up. "I didn't really believe it, you know." Sunset turned, frowning. "When you said Fluttershy had healing powers, I assumed you had mistaken something else- maybe pain negation- for true healing." She shook her head. "But-"

When Rainbow had crashed, Fluttershy had landed within seconds, moving to inspect her fallen friend. Rainbow's new abilities didn't make her impervious to harm, and he's managed to dislocate her shoulder. As Twi had watched, Fluttershy, still in her winged pony-form, had breathed in a long breath, then exhaled a pink mist which settled over her friend's dislocated shoulder and fractured ribs, restoring them to full health. The pink-haired girl had nearly fallen unconcious afterwards, but what should have been a month of recovery for Rainbow Dash had been over in seconds.

Sunset looked at Twi, then shook her head. "Twi- Aria was right. We're moving into unknown territory. We have to let go old assumptions. Everything we know about magic is suspect, now."

Twi nodded. "Yeah. We should work to experiment with the girls, figure out the ways the elements can manifest. I mean, it may be a new form of magic, but it's going to have commonalities with normal magic, so we should-" She stopped as Sunset hesitated, biting her lip. "Um, Sunset? What's wrong?"

"Twi, do you remember back at the Battle of the Bands? How our first attempt at using the elements failed?"

Twi flinched. Sunset had used "our", but Twilight couldn't forget her own failing to understand how to bring out magic- any magic- during the first part of the battle. "It wasn't a very good plan. Coming together and expecting the elements to manifest wasn't enough."

"But it would have been enough, back in Equestria." Sunset leaned back against the railing. "I've been talking to the girls about the differences between ponies and humans, and I don't like what I'm seeing." She looked away. "I'm not really a pony anymore, Twilight. I've spent five years here, and I've seen the differences between the two worlds." She sucked in a breath. "The new magic works on a person-by-person basis. It's like cutie mark magic taken to an extreme. None of the girls got magic which corresponds with their counterpart's tribe. They got magic which belongs to them- what they focus on."

"And that fits with cutie mark magic. But there still has to be an underlying system of-"

"I'm not certain there does." Sunset cut Twi off. "Pinkie doesn't have the enhanced strength of earth ponies, Rarity doesn't have unicorn telekinesis or spellcraft, and even when ponied up Rainbow doesn't have any weather control. But what's really damming is Aria's magic. She was a siren, Twilight- her whole magical signature was devoted to controlling others and then harnessing their emotions. Instead, she's manifested a physical ability."

Twi opened her mouth, then slowly closed it. When she finally spoke, she seemed almost hesitant. "Why are you so certain magic is different here?"

"Twilight told us that the only signs of magic she could detect focus on people, Twi. There's no natural earth magic, no weather magic at work, and no harmony magic. The only time magic has expressed itself here was through equestrian artifacts, or through people." She looked up as the sun dipped below the horizon. "Magic works on an individual basis here. It focuses on what someone wants and matches it with what they're capable of. I think it works that way because humans are more individualistic then ponies."

Twi considered for a moment. "Well, I suppose that's true." Then her face brightened. "And that would explain why music is the key to invoking Equestrian magic- music works when different instruments and playing styles come together in a whole- a literal harmony."

Sunset nodded. "Yeah." Then her frown shifted. "Twi- I think we need to talk about today a bit. Just the two of us."

Twi froze, then glanced at Sunset. "Sunset, I wasn't here today. I can't give you more insight then you've already figured out about what happened today."

"Yeah- but this isn't about magic. You actually hit the nail on the head- you weren't here today." Sunset didn't hesitate as Twi flinched. "Twi- I don't blame you for having other responsibilities, your own problems in Equestria. But if anything, today's events proved that I can't afford to wait for help. If some new magical crisis pops up, you probably won't hear about it from me until it's over."

"I- I don't think I understand." Twi shook her head. "Are you saying you want me to leave? That I "

"No. Never, Twi. You're my friend, and nothing will change that. But if I'd been a little more confident, a little more certain of myself, a little more proactive in handling magic on my own- without you- we might have been able to avoid Scootaloo's meltdown. My first instinct was to call on you for direction- but there might not be time for that next time. And Anon-A-Miss solidified my bonds with my friends. They looked to me for answers; I need to know how to find them on my own." She pulled in a breath. "I learned how to manipulate people a long time ago. I learned to think like a human over the past five years. I learned to be a friend over the last six months." She looked at the princess square in the face. "Now- now I need to learn to Lead."

Aria Blaze looked over the bare apple trees covering the hillsides south of the farmhouse. When the meeting at Sugarcube corner had broken up, she'd expected nothing less than a return to the old status quo. Despite Sunset's willingness to let the former sirens back into the school, Aria noticed a reluctance among the rest of the school body (including most of the Rainbooms) to live and let live. Unlike ponies, this seemed to be more of a reasonable fear and distrust of former predators than fear of the unknown, but it still made forming connections difficult. Aria had fully expected a quiet walk home and an evening spent without contact with anyone but her sisters.

Instead, upon emerging from the sweet shop, Applejack had busily herded Aria into her van alongside Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy. Applejack seemed to believe that Aria would be joining the other girls at Sweet Apple Acres, and the ex-siren hadn't voiced any complaints to the notion. Honestly, she'd been too surprised to protest at first, but as the van had left city limits she'd settled in to see what happened next.

As if echoing her thoughts, Applejack's voice cut the silence from behind her. "Ah'm suprised by a lot of what's happened today." Moving to stand beside Aria on the porch, the farmer pulled in a short breath, then let it out, condensation misting the air near her mouth. As the sun sank in the sky, she turned to glance at the ex-siren. "But- Ah gotta start with mah thanks."

Aria glanced at Applejack. "I suppose for saving your sister?"

"Not just savin' her, if ya wanna hear the truth. It coulda ended with me on the ground, and if it had-" Applejack shuddered. "Sunset told me what it was like, tanglin' with Scootaloo. If mah sister had gotten in there, started trippin' em' up, Ah don't know what woulda happened." She smiled. "Aria, you mighta saved some of mah family today; and Ah owe you for that. But-"

Aria sighed. "You don't want me around because I'm danger-"

"Let me finish." Applejack cut her off. "That ain't true in the slightest. No, the but was because of me. Somethin' you said tonight, about the world changin'. What did you mean by that?"

"Exactly what I said." Glancing at Applejack, she sighed. "After Starswirl banished us here, we spent over two millenia moving around, trying to find places where we could gather enough power to keep ourselves going. It was always the same; move into a new area, worm our way into influence and power, hold onto it as long as we could, gather up more strength- then run, once people in power caught onto our mind control, or whomever we allied with died or wised up. We had to change- learn new languages, new customs, new ways of doing things." She paused. "I was the foreunner, you know? Always the first to pack up when things went south, first to go to find something new. Sonata always kept sight of what we really wanted, and Adagio was always really good at playing the game once she knew what was going on, but I was the one who dragged us out of the collapse of whatever empire Adagio was trying to build, who helped Sonata pickup the pieces of what she'd managed to get for herself. So I'm used to being first into the fight, always. First to fight, first to change, first to adapt."

"Hmm." Applejack stayed quiet. Then she spoke softly. "And why you're the one who's been tryin' to work with us. Celestia told us you were the one to ride herd on Sonata and Adagio when you were meetin' with her."


"Again, thanks for that. But, as Ah was sayin', I heard your little speech." Applejack looked uncomfortable for a moment, then pulled in a deep breath. "Ah need your help- or perspective, or lessons, or somethin'." As Aria turned to stare at her, Applejack continued. "Ah'm not one to change much, but things are getting dangerous. Sunset's gonna need help, and Ah cain't afford to be stuck in the past when she's plowin' ahead." She looked the ex-siren in the eyes. "You just told be you'd adapted over time. Ah don't know how to pay yah back, but I'd like you to teach me."

Aria blinked. "Me? I was your enemy-"

"So was Sunset."

"...you know, I never heard the whole story about that." Aria raised her hand to cut off Applejack's explanation. "Not right now." Studying Applejack for a moment, she nodded. "Alright. I don't know if I can teach you to be more mentally flexible, but I'm willing to help you out." She gave a viscous grin. "In return, I want you to keep me in the loop about everything your group figures out about magic." As she was about to continue, Applejack scowled.

"Ah'm gonna keep you in the know anyway, Aria. You ain't thinkin' straight; it ain't "mah group" anymore. It's "our group." You've fought beside us, saved mah sisters. You're one of us, if yah wanna be."

Aria froze. "Wait, what? Are you..." She searched Applejack's expression. "You're serious." Applejack watched as a smile- not a smirk, a grin, or a leer- formed on Aria's face. "Huh. I didn't expect this."

"Ah figured as much. Still, since Ah can't pay you with info, what should Ah pay you with?"

"If it's between friends, Ah shouldn't''t have to pay you." Aria saw Applejack's expression, then grinned. "But- if you really wanna pay me back, then I could use a sparring partner. I do want to practice with my new magic."

"...sparrin'. With a girl who's as strong as me, with two thousand years of experience." Applejack gulped, steeled herself, then extended a hand. "Ah get the feelin' this is gonna be painful, but it's a deal."

Aria reached out and shook Applejack's hand. Never expected one of the Rainbooms to claim me as one of their own. Gotta say, this girl's got fire and iron- she's committed to succeeding, and willing to do what it takes.

As Applejack disengaged from the handshake and turned to reenter the house, Aria glanced over Applejack's form. Solid muscles, no body fat, still pretty flexible. Good. Sparring with weaklings is never fun. Then she found herself glancing at the other aspects of Applejack's form. She shook her head as Applejack entered the house. She's asking for help, not a girlfriend, Aria.

Still, gotta admire that determination. She's might even make a challenge when we spar- Aria found herself blushing as she imagined grappling with the tall farmer. Well. This could get awkward quickly. I'm really glad Sonata isn't here to see this.

Twilight Sparkle glanced across the four teens gathered before her. After watching Rainbow Dash casually violate multiple natural laws, Fluttershy's healing capabilities, and Rarity's self-made bag of holding, she'd discarded her stubborn refusal to believe in magic fairly quickly. (She was ignoring Pinkie's abilities. While on a rational level she acknowledged they existed, Twi had informed her that trying to figure it out might break her, and she wanted all her faculties intact.) The girls had promised to tall her everything they could, after swearing her to secrecy on the particulars. They'd gathered in front of the fireplace in the living room, nursing drinks and munching sweets.

As Rainbow vanished to "take care of her ribs" (despite Fluttershy's healing, they still seemed to be tender) and Fluttershy nursed a mulled mug of cider, the four remaining Wondercolts related the events of the last two years- Sunset's arrival and eventual control of CHS, the Fall Formal, the Battle of the Bands, and Anon-A-Miss. As the complicated web of social interaction, magic, and shenanigans was laid out before her, Twilight was able to correlate major events against her sensor data. By the time the girls and Flash had finished, the sun had dipped below the horizon. Twilight regarded her notes, then slowly set down her files.

"This- all of this is amazing. You've managed to tap into something no other humans in history are able to do." She shook her head. "But- this secret- a lot of people will get hurt if it comes out, won't they?"

Pinkie grinned. "Comes out? Nah, none of us have really hidden magic, have we? Just- no one believes in it."

Fluttershy nodded. "You saw it and still questioned calling it magic. Most people- even my parents- think we're making stuff up." Her smile grew more pensive. "But, I mean, we really have been lucky no one important has paid us any attention."

Twilight shook her head. "And publishing anything would throw away any secrecy. All of you would be hounded, and the gate might get closed." She looked down at her lap. "My reasons for doing this seem pretty petty now."

Rarity waited for Twilight to continue, then glanced up from her sketchbook when no more was forthcoming. "That sounded like the lead-in to an explanation, darling. I don't mean to pry, but-"

"But you want to know." Twilight looked up, face pinched, mouth drooping. "I suppose you guys know Crystal Prep, right?"

Flash grunted, glaring into his cup. "Know is the wrong word. I think our sports teams know the bottoms of their boots pretty well, but beyond that all I know is that you guys have about triple our tech budget. Micro Chips was complaining about it."

Twilight pulled in a deep breath. "Yeah. Crystal Prep has to have the best of everything, and has to win everything. It's a very competitive environment." Her voice shook slightly as she continued. "I'm... anxious. A lot of the time. I've never really been able to work well with people without getting to know them- but Crystal Prep's all about winning. No one is willing to help anyone else without something in it for them." She paused. "I skipped two years of middle school, before my parents enrolled me in Crystal Prep."

"Principal Cinch assured my parents that she could challenge me intellectually, and she was right. The curriculum and resources are top-notch; it's the students who are the problem. For the first year at CP, I managed to keep my head down, but during my freshman finals, I aced half the exams. And Cinch publishes the top twenty names from each class after the finals. I went from unknown to every eye on me. The people who wanted a leg up started hounding me, and the people who wanted to be the best tried to sabotage me." Twilight shuddered. "After the third time someone tried to plant drugs in my locker, I had an anxiety attack. But Cinch convinced me to keep quiet about it."

"She told me that I'd need to be prepared, that when I got into the real world people would do the same or worse. She offered to take "special care" to keep the bullies off my back, so long as I signed up for several of the academic clubs. My sophomore year, I was the "top" member of the academic bowl, chess club, and reading bowl. After the first semester, I was starting to get worn down, and tried to apply to an advanced placement program. I was hoping to get into the Everton Independent study group, or take some classes at Canterlot Tech, but..."

As Twilight trailed off, Flash connected the dots. "You were carrying three academic teams, and from the sound of it, Cinch wanted you to keep it up. She wasn't going to write a letter of recommendation and have you leave Crystal Prep."

Twilight nodded. "She... hasn't said that to my face. But she didn't complete any of the letters in time for applications at the end of last year." She pulled in a deep breath. "I had started looking into ways to get recommendations from other sources when I first detected the energy signatures around CHS last semester. Cinch tied to block my research at first, until I convinced her I was trying to publish a research article. She knows that if I can publish something groundbreaking while at Crystal Prep, it would do a lot more for the school's reputation then having me as a student. When my research took off at the end of last year, she gave me my own lab and extra resources "To further your pursuit of the truth."."

"Which led you to us." Rarity set down her sketchbook. "So. You can't defy Cinch without having everyone paint a target on you, and she won't let you move ahead so long as she's able to use your experience. Am I right?"

Twilight nodded, near tears. "Yeah. And now I don't know what to do. I can't continue my research like this, and I need some way to get out of there. I-" She swallowed, her breaths coming more rapidly. "I can't stand it much more. Cinch keeps the bullies away, but she's isolated me from- from everyone. I've got nobody I can trust, my parents think everything's fine, and-"

Twilight stopped as firm arms circled her. "Shh. If no one else, at least we can listen." Fluttershy murmured, pulling Twilight into a hug. For a few seconds, Twilight struggled, before limply falling against the shy girl. Closing her eyes, Twilight slowly felt her panicked breathing slow, syncing with Fluttershy's even breaths. Normally, Twilight would have been disturbed by contact with another, but the gentile calm which radiated off the pink-haired girl slowly bled off her anxiety.

Rarity cleared her throat. "Fluttershy's right, Twilight. You're not alone, you know- Shining Armor came with you today, and I think he'd be willing to listen if you spoke to him. And failing that, you have us." Her voice gained a hard edge. "I've been the target of manipulation before, darling. I've always found a bit of perspective useful in those situations."

Pinkie grinned. "Uh-huh! If there's any way we can cheer you up, just ask!"

As Fluttershy disentangled herself from Twilight, the purple girl looked accross at the three girls before her. "Thank you. I- I can't really say how much that means to me." Looing at Flash, she frowned. "And, you-"

"I can understand why you're hurting, Twilight." Flash's gaze was stoic. "and I don;t like how you've been treated. If my sister come out of this fine, you've got one more person in your corner." He glanced up at the ceiling. "But- you'll need to apologize to her, first. You may have been hurt and threatened- but you're not he only one who may have lost a chance today."

Scootaloo raised her hand, a ball of fire forming in the outstretched palm. Raising it above her head, she sighed down at the threat below her, striking her target with cold, methodical precision. Turning in midair, she sighted her second opponent, ignoring the burned body with rainbow hair, even as the voice inside her screamed-

Scootaloo jerked upright, chest heaving as the nightmare ended. Whimpering, she looked down at her hands, seeing for a moment the red flames which enveloped Rainbow Dash.

As if summoned by the thought, a raspy voice carried to her ears. "Awake, squirt?"

Scootaloo glanced up to see a familiar pair of red eyes fixed on her own. At first, relief rushed through her- Rainbow's Alive!- but he thought stuttered to a halt as she recalled her last meeting with the athlete. "...Dash? What are you doing here?"

"Looking out for a friend's little sister." Rainbow said. The look on the athlete's face was hard to read. "And- trying to figure out what happened to my honorary little sister."

Scootaloo looked down at her hands. "Rainnbow, I'm sorry." She felt tears well up in her eyes. "I shouldn;t have tried to get magic, shouldn't have-"

"Hey." Looking up, Scootaloo caught Rainbow's gaze. She shook her head. "Scoots- you did it again. You acted without thinking, and this time, things went worse a lot quicker. And I do need to talk to you about that. But that's not why I'm here." Leaning forward to lock eyes with the smaller girl, Rainbow spoke slowly. "Am I really that scary?"

"Scary?" Scootaloo yelped. "What are you-"

"Apple Bloom told us that you were trying to get my attention. Scoots- why didn't you come to me? Were you really that afraid? Did you really think you needed magic to try to talk to me?"

"...after we confessed. After everything, you seemed so mad. Mom and Dad, Flash- they were upset. You- you were furious." Scootaloo swallowed. "I'm not like Rarity or Applejack. We don't have family to hold us together. I got scared- scared you'd never talk to me again. I messed up big time with Anon-A-Miss. I didn't mean-"

"To drive me away." Rainbow Dash's voice was bitter. "Scoots- look at me." As Scootaloo looked up, Rainbow continued. "Do you think I'm stupid?"

The question threw Scootaloo for a second. "What? No way!"

"Then why did Anon-A-Miss work?" Rainbow's voice hardened. "For all that things turned out okay, we really screwed up with Anon-A-Miss; but it wouldn't have worked if we'd just trusted Sunset. It was stupid of me to believe, even for a minute, that Sunset would pull something so ham-handed- but I did. When I figured out the truth, I thought whomever designed the page was counting on my idiocy." She turned a smoldering look on Scootaloo. "I may have been- or still am- mad at you, Scoots- but I was furious with myself." She stood up and walked to the window.

"Oh." Scoots was silent for a moment, then drew in a deep breath. "And today? Are you mad about-"

"Yesterday you did the same thing I did a lot- jump to conclusions, run headlong into trouble. You messed up, but at least this time you didn't mean anything malicious by it." Rainbow Dash turned back to the younger girl. "No one's hurt, nothing's damaged, and both Twilight and Sunset were blindsided by what happened. You were stupid, but unlike Anon-A-Miss no one could have known how bad things would get."

"But this has to stop." Rainbow walked forward, stopping at Scootaloo's bedside. "You need to stop running into things like this. So Flash and I are gonna teach you."

As Scootaloo's eyes brightened, Dash cut her off. "This isn't going to be fun, Scoots. Mom had a training plan she used to break me of my stupid when I was a kid. It's military-style learning, which means no room for screw-ups, and physical effort. But trust me- when we're done, you'll be trained to think twice before you act." She shook her head. "It means listening to your gut when it protests, learning from your mistakes. It's what saved me when I doubted Sunset." Reaching down, she ruffled Scootaloo's hair. "You're gonna hate your big sister by the time she's done, but if you want to make it up to me, that's what it's gonna take."

Scootaloo looked up at Dash, fear in her eyes- for a moment. Then her gaze steadied. "Alright, Dash. I'll do it."

"Attagirl, squirt." As she walked to the door, Rainbow paused. "I'm going to go get your brother, and then we can get something to eat. And who knows? Maybe we can get a handle on your magic as part of your training."

If Rainbow had looked back as she left the room, she would have seen Scootaloo's enthusiasm vanish as the last words were spoken. Looking down at her hands, the little girl's thoughts turned to her nightmare-

Burned and broken body lying on the ground, Sunset engulfed in flames-
Rarity dying, bolt of lightning tearing around upraised scarf-
Rainbow Dash's look of horror as Pinkie burned-

-and desperately drove her nails into her palms, trying to stop the shaking, as her mind rebelled from the thought of crimson flames.

Author's Notes:

...this turned out longer than expected.

I have no idea what will happen next, in all honesty. I know how the story ends, and I know a few scenes, but my plans have been far expanded from the original.

Still, the next chapter will investigate Susnet's new magic, touch on the mating habits of Apple men, and delve Twilight deeper into the weave of Equestria. Looking forward to it!

Oh, and as an aside- I'm -planning on releasing a new story soon- a collection of side stories and ideas that flesh out the thoughts, backstories, and ideas behind the Myriadverse. I'll put up a bog post when I publish the first couple of parts.

Banked Coals

As the sun rose over Sweet Apple Acres, a compact car rolled between the hills. With a quiet hum, the responsible hybrid car rolled into an empty parking space between Big Mac's truck and Shining Armor's sedan, sliding smoothly into place, almost as if to not disturb the silence surrounding the house.

A few seconds later, the doors opened, and raucous laughter filled the air. Discord flipped out of the car, coming to a three-point landing, barely evading Luna's grabbing fingers. From within the vehicle, a stream of curses and threats echoed from the nearly-incoherent, underecaffeinated vice-principal. With a snarl, Luna pulled herself out of her car, and stalked around to glare at the laughing janitor.

"Discord, we could have crashed because of you," she hissed. "It may seem amusing but-"

"Oh come now, Luna. I did you a favor. One day of drinking decaf isn't going to kill you-"

"Discord I swear-"

Their argument was interrupted by the rumble of an approaching vehicle. Turning, Discord's jaw dropped as Luna rolled her eyes.

A customized chopper leapt up the drive, softly skidding to a halt not five yards from the two CHS staff with a roar from the engine and a squeal of tires. The tall figure which dismounted the bike smacked the kickstand into place with one leather boot, and strode past them both, reaching up to pull off her helmet.

With a silent whisper, Celestia's long rainbow locks cascaded out of her helmet, obscuring the script on the back of her jacket. Combing a hand through her hair, she spun to face Luna, her wide grin failing to fall at the sight of Luna's exasperated face. "How was the ride, Luna?"

Switching her disapproving visage to Discord, Luna growled. "It would have been far better if you'd helped me corral this miscreant- or hadn't forgotten to make coffee this morning." Looking back at Celestia's unabashed smile, she continued. "One of these days, you'll have to give up that deathtrap, you know. You can barely use it anyway, considering your desire to remain professional."

"You're right that I barely get to use her. It's been far too long since I go the chance to ride Philomena, and I wasn't going to pass it up to ride with the two of you." Looking back at Discord, she frowned, and brought her hand up to close his mouth.

Behind her, she heard a startled gasp. Celestia took one step to the side as a red-and-gold blur sped past, slush and gravel kicked up as Sunset skidded to a halt besides the cooling motorcycle. "Is that an Indian Chief?"

Celestia's grin widened. "It is. She's an old friend of mine, and we've had some stories together." Coming to stand beside her student, she rested a hand on the bike. "I bought her half-scrapped when I was nineteen, and worked with some friends of mine to get her into shape. It took a lot of elbow grease and two years, but I've kept up with her ever since."

"...wow." Sunset shook her head. "I can't see you as a biker, Principal Celestia." Her principal looked at her with a reproachful grin.

"First, we're out of school right now, Sunset. You can call me Celestia. Second, I think you of all people should know that we often have pasts which are far different than our present circumstances." She allowed a few puzzled lines to cross her face as she continued. "Third, I'm a little surprised you're awake at eight o'clock on a Saturday. I'd have expected you to sleep until noon after yesterday."

Sunset scowled. "I- well it's complicated." She rubbed the back of her neck. "I thought that having my old magic- my equestrian magic- meant I wouldn't get one of the powers like my friends got. But I was wrong." She took in a deep breath. "I got... something. It's complicated, and it tired me out. I didn't last much later than ten o'clock last night, even with Twi to talk to. We figured out a lot, talking together, and interviewing Scootaloo, but I wasn't able to stay up with the rest of the gang."

Discord finally spoke. "While I'm happy you all figured some things out, I would appreciate talking about it inside." He pulled on the collar of his tattered brown jacket, multiple patches scattered along its back. "I was not expecting to stay so long out in the cold."

Luna nodded. "And they might have coffee inside. REAL coffee." She turned and ascended the steps to the front porch, stopping only long enough to glance back at the two leather-clad figures still standing beside the bike. "Well? What are you waiting for?"

Sunset slurped on her own coffee mug as she watched Luna. The vice-principal's caffeine consumption was legendary, and Sunset had expected Luna to grab a mug as soon as she'd come in.

She hadn't expected the woman to pour the entire pot into a mixing bowl, add cocoa and sugar, then brew a fresh pot while slurping down the first. As she watched, Luna finished her bowl, then glanced up at Sunset. "What?"

"...how do you not vibrate like Pinkie Pie?"

"Tolerance. Besides, that's not really how caffeine works."

Granny Smith looked up from the stove. "Girl, that much black gunk is gonna rot your insides." She snorted. "And considerin' what you drink elsewhere, Ah know you've already killed your poor taste buds."

Luna scowled. "And you haven't? I tried your "Grade A Apple Shine" once, Miss Smith. That stuff strips paint."

"A little shine reinforces the backbone and strengthens tha' heart. As long as yah don't drink too much, it's medicinal." Granny snorted. "You drink your poison by the gallon, and follow up with energy shots made in a lab."

As the two women began to argue over the damage inflicted by caffeine versus alcohol, a low groan sounded from the door. Applejack shuffled in from outside, rubbing a bruise spreading across her face. "Aria, Ah think we got different ideas about "reasonable sparrin'". It's way too early for this."

The ex-siren walked in behind her, rolling her neck. "I thought you all kept farmer's hours?" She sat down at the table, reaching for the ever-present cider pitcher. Pouring herself a mug, she continued. "And when you're groggy is a perfectly valid time to spar. Your enemies aren't going to only attack you when you're fresh, and neither will I."

Sunset watched the two bicker, allowing a small smile to cross her lips. Last evening, she'd heard Applejack let the family know about the new sparring partner, and Apple Bloom had been willing to back up her big sister. Looks like that gamble paid off, at least...

As the morning wore on, more people trickled in from the various rooms throughout the house. Finally, as ten o'clock approached, Sunset heard the last sets of footsteps thump down the hallway. Rainbow Dash and Flash staggered in through the doors, the first barely conscious and the second helping support his friend, while Scootaloo watched anxiously.

Once everyone had gathered in the kitchen (and Rainbow had acquired the last of Granny's pancakes for her breakfast), Sunset spoke up. "Alright. A bit of research last night confirmed a few facts. First, Twi and myself have finally nailed down what happened to Scootaloo."

Sunset pulled in a breath. "Magic has always adapted to the lands where it settles. In Equestria, and the rest of Equus, that means a pervasive magical field which incorporates all physical objects; here, it appears to have settled in the minds of its users instead. From what I can tell, the magic of this world has already developed a rudimentary consciousness from that interaction; when someone accesses magic for the first time, their innate talents and predilections alter what powers they receive, filtered through the "lens" of the raw magical consciousness. For an instant, magic's mind melds with the mind of the user, and that in turn shapes what forms the person's magic can take."

Twi nodded. "I talked to Scootaloo last night. She told me that she wanted to stop the pain- protect herself. As far as I can tell, the magic's desire was to protect itself, and it was driving Scootaloo to act as a channel. The similarities of their desires created a gestalt consciousness which overpowered Scootaloo's own." She let out a sigh. "Scootaloo told me that she... offered herself to magic when she went to the band room. Magic took that as an opportunity to imprint on Scootaloo's psyche. When it needed to stabilize the connection between Equestria and Earth, Scootaloo was the easiest tool."

"Wait." Flash spoke. "If that mind took over Scootaloo once, could it do it again?"

"No, since that mind no longer exists. Magic created a mind that was based off Scootaloo's own, but with an overarching purpose; namely to keep her safe." Sunset summarized. "I guess you could say that the reason it lashed out at Twilight and the rest of us is because they saw us as threats. Think of the magic-made mind as a program, of sorts. It doesn't have morality, or reason- just a task and a set of ways to deal with impediments. Once its task was fulfilled, it was unmade, and Scootaloo regained control."

Scootaloo whimpered under her breath. It might not come back... but there's still a chance. If it happens again...

Oblivious to his younger sister's fears, Flash pressed on. "So, magic's fixed, right? So there's no reason for magic to want another host. Does that mean no one else can get magic?"

"No." Everyone turned, brows raising, to look at Sweetie Belle. She continued, only quailing slightly at the gazes turned to her. "Sunset said that magic wants to be used, right? Well, when I was... possessed, I guess, I got some flashes about what it wants. It's going to seek out new people to use magic- probably nearest to the source."

Twilight spoke up, her voice quiet. "From what you've told me, the other world, where Sunset and the other me come from, is saturated with magic. The portal is going to leak more through, so Canterlot High is most likely to be the first place the get higher magic levels."

"Which means more of out students are going to get their hands on disruptive magical powers." Luna took another slug of coffee. "Sunset- have put any thought into my request?"

Ignoring the confused looks from nearby, Sunset nodded. "Yeah, and reached out to a couple of people who can help you."

"Good." Celestia sipped her tea. "Beyond that, we need to make a decision, about how to progress from here. Do we let the whole school know on Monday about the events of yesterday? We cannot keep this quiet for long, and the resources I levied to keep things under wraps until now will not be able to handle dozens of students."

"Wait-" Shining Armor interjected. "You're why I hadn't heard about any of this? From what I understand, she-" He pointed at Sunset. "committed theft, attempted murder, and major property damage." Looking at Sunset's guilty face and the glares directed at him by by the Rainbooms, he didn't hesitate to continue. "I know there were extenuating circumstances, but that sort of stuff requires a police report. The worst I saw in the incident report was that one of her experiments got loose to cause a gas main break."

Celestia frowned. "Lieutenant, I did make a full report. It is, however, covered under act R-134-"

"The Department of Reform." Shining said softly. "Yeah, that would make sense. Unknown phenomenon would fall under their purview, wouldn't it?" He shot up, eyes wide. "Wait, does that mean Bl-"

"Yes, your girlfriend's brother handled the case." Luna said. "If you want the uncensored report, you could talk to him."

"Yeah, but talking to an ex is all sort of awkward." he groaned. He then tensed as every eye in the room turned to him. "Did I say that out loud?"

"Yeah." Everyone looked over at Big Mac, who was watching him calmly. "Ah didn't know you dated Cady's brother once."

"It was before he came out-" Shining began, before he was cut off by his little sister.

Twilight came to her feet. "Stop!" Spinning to her brother, she glared at him. "You refused to give me a straight answer yesterday. But I think you need to come clean. Are. You Dating. My. Dean?"

Shining gulped as he stared into his sister's gaze. "Yes."

Twilight's mouth became a thin line for a few moments. "Okay. Moving on-" she turned to Big Mac. "And how do you know my Dean?"

Big Mac looked nonchalant across the room, every eye upon him. He shrugged. "Ah'm datin' them both." He took another sip of his coffee.

The room was silent for a moment. Then everyone heard a quiet thump, as Fluttershy fell off her chair. Rainbow, eyes wide, wordlessly reached over and hauled the fainting girl to her feet, quickly removing a tissue from a box behind her to staunch the shy girl's nosebleed.

Rainbow's actions seemed to shatter the frozen moment. As the room broke out in questions aimed at the red-faced Shining Armor (desperately trying to hide behind his hands), laughter from Discord and Pinkie, and wolf whistles from Aria, Sunset reached over to grab Rarity and Sweetie Belle. Glaring at them both, she said softly. "I want your phones. Now."

"Sunset, I'd never share-" Blinking, Rarity glanced down at her hands, which were already clutching her smartphone. "Oh. Perhaps that would be for the best." She handed over her phone, an apologetic look on her face. Sunset glanced down to find several searches for "Crystal Prep Dean Dating" scrawled into the search bar, and immediately locked the device.

Sweetie huffed as Sunset turned her gaze. "I still haven't gotten mine back after Anon-A-Miss. And I think I've learned my lesson about spreading stories."

Twi tapped Sunset on the shoulder as Sunset released the two pale-skinned girls. She murmured in Sunset's ear, "You know, I wonder if something similar is happening in my world. Considering the number of mares Big Mac studiously ignores, it would make a strange sort of sense."

Sunset gave a wry smile. "Yeah, but do you want to give Princess Cadance ideas if it's not?"

"Point taken. When do you think we can resume our discussion?"

Watching Rainbow try to revive Fluttershy and Pinkie yank out a "Happy Triad" banner, Sunset shook her head. "I give it a few hours. We should probably split the group up a bit before we continue; I don't want anyone but the Rainbooms present when I reveal how my magic's manifested here."

"Alright." As they watched Big Mac ignore Apple Bloom's probing questions, Twi grinned. "Well, at least if there's a marriage Chrysalis won't be able to pretend to be both bride and groom."

"You know, you never really told me that whole story..."

The Rainbooms gathered in Sunset's room just after lunch, each girl taking up a place in the room. Rarity was still grasping for her cell phone (despite agreeing to keep the newly revealed relationship under wraps, Sunset was going to hold on to it until she was certain Rarity could control herself), but otherwise the girls were relatively calm. As it turned out, Fluttershy's healing capabilities extended to herself; something Twi found absolutely fascinating.

"Most healers can't focus on their own injuries well enough to repair them, but your abilities automatically kick in when you focus. I wonder to what extent you could heal yourself..." Muttering under her breath, she peered up Fluttershy's nose, only to catch sight of Rainbow and Sunset's unamused stares.

"Twi, calm down. Twilight nearly got us all killed 'cause she went all "mad scientist" on us." Dash snarked. Turning to Sunset, she continued. "So, what's up Sunset? You called us all in here."

"Yeah." Sunset closed her eyes. "Twi and I have figured out... one more thing." She opened her eyes. "The natural abilities you've gotten are the first stage of magic development. We don't know if everyone can get those powers or not, but some people can push past that, and learn to imitate or copy other people's powers." She hesitated. "And some may be able to develop new powers."

Rarity started. "Sunset- you've been using spells from your home. Does that mean you-"

"I think I'm the second type. I haven't been able to develop anything new yet, but I have been able to make use of all the old spells I studied. And... I got my own personal power last night."

Sunset pulled in a shaky breath. "When I look at someone- I can catch a glimpse of what they're capable of, what they're thinking and feeling. I can't quite read minds, but it lets me get a feel for what a person can do, and what they need." She raised a hand to forestall questions. "But- last night, Twi agreed to work with me to figure out the new magic, and that sense jumped. As long as she was working with me, I Knew exactly what she needed, was able to catch a glimpse of her frustrations, skills; even mimic some of what she could do. I've always had a knack for manipulating others, but this magic seems to be geared to lead them."

Pinkie's eyes widened. "Ooh, so if you're working with someone, your empathy becomes mind reading?" As Sunset nodded, Pinkie grinned. "Ooh! I wanna help you figure out how it works! Do me, do me!"

Sunset's eyes went wide, and she leaned forward, groaning. "Pinkie- do your thoughts ever slow down?"


As Sunset tried to pull her mind back together, Applejack frowned. "Sunset? Earlier you mentioned a request from the Principal. What's up with that?"

Sunset straightened up. "Just- Celestia wants to get some magic she controls besides Discord, so she can keep the school safe. I'm arranging to have them meet with a couple of experts."

Fluttershy let out a quiet noise. As the room turned to her, she spoke softly. "Um, but why couldn't Twi handle that? I mean, she is the Princess of Magic..."

Twi looked down. "Yes. I am. And that means I've got responsibilities on the other side of the portal." She let out a heavy sigh. "I wish I could handle this- and in fact, I probably could. But-" she shook her head. "Sunset brought up a good point last night. I can't be here for every disaster- I wasn't here for this one." She looked back up at the faces of her friends. "You may have to handle the next problem without me."

Applejack was the first to break the resulting silence. "Shoot. Ah knew this would happen eventually." All faces turned to look at the farmer as she rubbed her forehead. "When you first told me you were a princess, Twi- well, I thought of fairy tales. But Sunset told me about what y'all get up to on the other side. You've got other friends, political responsibilities, and even your own monsters to fight." She tweaked an eyebrow. "Though some of the stuff you gotta handle sounds a mite weird. Jes' outta curiosity- you had to help the other Dash with a court case?"

"Yeah, apparently being an element bearer doesn't excuse damaging the weather factory. Especially when said damage was caused trying to prevent winter from coming." Twi groaned. "Let's just say I had to talk them down to community service to prevent it from killing her chances of joining the Wonderbolts, and leave it at that." She muttered under her breath. "I swear, getting so bent out of shape over a tortoise..."

"Right." Applejack decided she really didn't wanna know. "So, we're gonna have to handle the next shebang ourselves? Huh."

"You might." Twi hedged. "I mean, Sunset has magic, as do you all, but..."

"You might be busy." Applejack finished. "And you think we can handle things." She grinned. "Thanks for trusting us, sugarcube."

"No problem." Twi looked at back and forth through the group. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright. "Wait-"

Every girl tensed as a sudden, fierce sensation of wiggling scurried up their backs. Rarity shrieked. "Oh dear! What on earth was that?"

Twi bolted upright and headed for the door, even as two identical strands of laughter began to permeate the house- although one had a much deeper, maniacal air. "That? That's chaos magic." From below, the girls could hear Aria roaring, even as the laughter got even more intense. "I suspect my Discord has come to meet his counterpart."

Sunset fell in step behind the princess. "How screwed are we?" She glanced out the window as the snowman Rarity had built yesterday began to thump across the ground, turning a different color with every bounce.

"Not very. But we may have a mess to clean up before all's said and done..."

Author's Notes:

Yes, Celestia's the biker in this family. Luna is a gamer (as usual), but her college days were spent learning the ins and outs of the digital world. Celestia, however, joined the Motorsports team, as a chance to get her hands dirty for a change. Luna also learned to pick locks, which came in handy that one time Chrysalis got them locked in a toy factory on a dare. It's a long story. (And one which may never get written down.)

In other news, Shining and Big Mac have revealed their relationship. Fluttershy may be the only one who fainted, but Rainbow, Rarity, and Aria are going to have some saucy dreams tonight as well. (Which will also never get written down. I'm not that kind of writer.)

A lot of people questioned what possessed Scootaloo, and if it might return. So here's the answer- Scootaloo kind of possessed herself, aided by magic, and it won't happen again. Well, not anytime soon, anyway.

I never intended to turn this chapter into 50% funny or fluffy moments. However, I'm almost out of expose and plot, so the diversion is a good one. There's going to be one more "full" chapter, which will set up the events of the next story, then three short epilogues.

Oh yeah, and I think this is a good extension of Sunset's "canon" powerset. Thoughts?

Flaring Cinders

As Twi descended the stairs, she heard the laughter slowly cease, quickly followed by the sound of clapping from a pair of mismatched hands. Rounding the corner, her gaze landed on the two figures watching the snowman outside construct a second snowman. As it finished, it bowed to its new partner, and started a waltz.

One of the two Discords was still dressed in a ratty overcoat , whistling cheerfully, but the other was dressed in a patched suit, paired with a golden gauntlet on one hand and a fuzzy glove on the other. More striking, however, was that the suited Discord was-

"Discord. Why are you a girl?" Twi found herself saying.

Discord spun, turning a pair of laughing eyes (not literally, thank goodness) towards Twilight. "Well, there's a few reasons, of course. First, it makes me much more distinct from my brother, here." She motioned with one hand towards the human Discord, who turned, grinning. "Second, I've always enjoyed thumbing my nose in the face of authority. In Equestria, all the really important leaders are female, so I'm male in opposition. Here, the opposite is true, thus-" she motioned to her beardless chin and subtle curves. "-I am female in opposition."

"That... almost made sense." Twi said. "...but you need to complete the third statement." As Discord tilted her head, Twi continued. "People never use first and second without using third."

"Now, now, Twilight. Don't ever use the "n" word around me. "Never", just like "impossible" is a challenge, not a fact. But if you insist on asking for a third reason..." Discord leaned forward. In a low whisper, she continued. "I've heard rumors of your... preferences for a mate. I wanted to see if I could fluster you." She reached up and patted Twi's rosy cheeks. "And in that-"

Twi jerked back. "You could have asked!"

"But where's the fun in that?" the chaos goddess crowed. Spinning about, she looked back out the window, where the snowmen were breakdancing. "By the way- call me Bedlam, as long as I'm here."

Sunset, watching from the doorway, raised an eyebrow. "Not "Eris?"

"Hmph." Bedlam grunted. "I considered it, but she asked me not to steal her name."

"Wait, what-"

"So! Sunset!" Bedlam crowed, cutting the former unicorn off. "I've heard you've also had a taste of the firehose of friendship, hmm?" Popping out of existence for a moment, Bedlam reappeared beside Sunset, now wearing a shirt emblazoned with "I was turned to stone by a rainbow cannon, and all I got was this t-shirt." "We're much the same, you know. Made mistakes, betrayals, failings- but reformed now! What do you say- wanna be reform buddies together?"

Sunset glared at Bedlam, then quirked an eyebrow. "Maybe. But I've got questions first. If you want to be any sort of buddy, you can start by explaining why you're here."

Discord coughed, the interruption in his music causing the boxing snowmen to pause just as one was hit by a right hook. "Bedlam told me she was curious about my powers. She told me she's been to this dimension before, and wanted to take another look."

Bedlam grinned. "I keep forgetting that you all love change much more than ponies ever have. In a millenia, Ponies went from farms to small cities. Humans, in the same time period, left their world behind." Her grin widened until the edges crept off her face. "And then there's the internet! Oh, Twilight!" Bedlam swooned "Just a few minutes browsing the great wide web and I've already come up with loads of new tricks!"

Twi blinked, then glanced at the horrified expression crossing her friends' faces. "Um, I saw the internet last time I was here. Isn't it just a means of sharing information? I mean, just how bad-"

Applejack cut her off, face haunted. "Sugarcube, don't go there. Really, just- don't."

Sunset nodded. "I'll explain later." Rounding on Bedlam, she cocked an eyebrow. "Have you learned anything important? Anything useful?"

"Just that my counterpart has quite the fun magic- but that it's not Chaos magic." Bedlam sighed. "Which only makes sense; after all, he's constrained by the silly notion of what's possible, while I am not. You need to be quite mad to use the powers I wield. Pity; I would have liked to meet another dracoequus."

Discord looked askance at the chaos goddess. "Really? I thought you said you were all-powerful. Couldn't you just make another?"

Bedlam frowned. "No. Life- and any sort of normal mind- is incredibly difficult to create. I was born of chaos, and as a result, I can't order my magic enough to create life that's stable, or a mind not irrevocably broken. I can copy myself, but it's just a copy, not a unique individual. I'm a fluke, a once-in-a-million creation, and those sort of chances usually only happen once."

Discord gave a small grin. "So... you happen to be one in a million?"


Twi sighed, running her hand through her hair. "Alright..." Glancing around, she frowned. "You know, I could have sworn I heard Aria yelling..."

Bedlam smirked. "She was." She pointed up, to where the purple girl was adhered to the ceiling, her mouth covered in sticky cloth. "I asked her to hang out for a bit."

Twi proved that her ability to yell at chaos dieties was not at all impeded by Bedlam's new gender. "BEDLAM!"

Shining Armor glanced up as he head another round of yelling echoing from the front rooms of the house. "Huh. You know, this is very weird."

Twilight glanced up from the notes she'd been pouring over. "How so?"

"Well, you're here. I know that you're here, and that the voice I'm hearing isn't yours." He shook his head. "But for the life of me, I can't help but start whenever I hear the Princess' voice. I have to resist bolting up and going to find out what's wrong."

"Hmm. Apparently her brother is the same way." Twilight looked back down at her papers. However, as she looked down a the spell circle on the paper, she slowly raised her gaze. "Shiny? Is- is it okay if I feel- overwhelmed?"

Shining Armor looked up at his sister. "By the magic? I mean-"

"Not the magic." Twilight's shoulders fell. "By the people. I mean..." Twilight's voice got quiet. "I knew that I was going to discover something amazing about the world when I started my research. I was delving into a new world of energy and interaction between fundamental forces." She curled forward, resting her chin on the table. "And I assumed- no, I was certain- that I would need to hide every step from my peers at Crystal Prep."

Shining connected the dots. "And you assumed that Sunset, or anyone that you met, would be the same. That explains your... aggression when you confronted her the first time."

"Yeah." Twilight looked up at her brother. "I mean- I knew, intellectually, that Crystal Prep might be an outlier. That other organizations, other schools might be different. But after two years of being there..." She trailed off, starting at her hands, her chin still resting on her desk. "I assumed the worst of them. Of all of them." She shuddered. "And then I met Sunset. I- I was horrible to her, and she forgave me. All of them are willing to work with me; she's even shared her thoughts, her old spellbooks- how broken am I, to assume that everyone's looking out only for themselves? To automatically assume the worst of someone I've never met?"

Shining was silent for a few moments, then sighed. "You know, as a police officer, I normally see the worst of people." His sister looked up as he continued. "Everyone we interact with is on guard; we meet people who have lost something, or are guilty of something, and all of them want leniency, or for us to make an exception to solve their problems. When I tell them I have to follow the rules, or can't help them immediately, I get yelled at." Shining sighed. "The issue is that, I've met some of them in other situations. They're usually reasonable, normal people. People's disposition, their attitude- it changes based on the situation."

Shining grimaced. "Cinch wasn't nearly as bad as she seems to have become since I left school, but she always cultivated a strong sense of competition. By the sound of things, Crystal Prep has become toxic- and you've spent most of the last two years there. You're not broken, Twilight; you're just carrying the expectations of the situation you've been in for two years."

From behind the siblings, a new voice spoke up. "Eeyup." A sandy-haired figure sat down beside Twilight, placing a glass of cider in front of her. Big Mac smiled at the girl, gesturing to the cup.

Twilight sat up, taking the glass in both hands. As she took a long pull, Big Mac leaned back. "There's another thing too. One thing you and mah partners oft' forget." He looked at Shining, and raised a hand. "Hold on, Shiny."

Looking down at her, he lifted his hand to tap the paper in front of them. "The others may be busy, but here y'are, workin' away. Lemmie ask, Twilight; when was the last time you took a break?"

Twilight blinked. "Well-"

"Ah don't mean sleepin', or eatin' with your folks, or even takin' a few hours to read. What ah mean is, when was the last time you got away from your research, your work, your problems- if only for a little bit?"

Twilight opened her mouth- then hesitated. As she sat, she slowly closed her jaw, brow furrowing.

Mac snorted. "Not over break, right? Shining told me you were tryin' to get back to yer lab as much as possible. An' from the sounda things, Cady's boss has been runnin' you ragged at school." He reached forward, and slid the papers out from under Twilight's hands. "These girls here- mah sisters and their friends- they work hard, but hey know when to quit. Ah had to teach AJ that lesson a while back. You? You haven't had anyone to tell you to slow down, and it shows."

Mac stood. "I'll give these here papers back to you tomorrow. AJ and the others should be done with Mr. Discord soon- and when they are, ah've asked Sunset to help you take some time off. Until then-" He turned, walking towards the living room room. "Rest your mind a bit. No one expects anything of you here."

Twilight and Shining watched Mac leave. As he departed, Twilight blinked. "Shiny?"


"Is he always like that?"

"Insightful? Quiet? Able to get his way all the time?" Shining nodded. "It's why Cadance befriended him, actually. He's one of the few people who can calm her down when she gets into one of her excited fits." He smiled. "Cadance and I work really well together, but he's a stabilizing influence. When we start feeding each others' mania, he's the one to center us."

Twilight smiled. "...I wasn't sure what to think about him, but he seems like a nice guy." As Shining smiled, she turned back to him and continued. "He'll make a great brother-in-law, I think."

Twilight grinned as Shining's face contorted into shock, then began sputtering. There we go. Still got it...

Sunset sighed as she walked out of the living room. Twi needs to learn to unwind a little bit. I mean, I don;t like what Bedlam did, but Aria's not hurt, and hearing her yelling I can understand the urge to shut her up. Sunset shook her head. Poor impulse control on Bedlam's part, I suppose. Then again, I was no better, once upon a time-


The girl in question turned on her heel. "Oh. Hey, Rarity. What's up?"

Rarity bit her lip. "Sunset, I know this might not be the best of times, but did you ever open that package I gave you yesterday? I know Twilight is planning on staying until tomorrow, but I need to meet with a couple of clients tomorrow at the boutique. I can't stay the night, and If there are any alterations I need to do..."

"Package?" Sunset blinked, then searched her memories. "Oh, the one you gave me in the principals' office. No, I haven't had a chance to open it yet." Walking over to the pile of bags near the front door, she quickly seized her own backpack. Wrestling it open, she removed the wrapped bundle from the bag.

Tearing open the wrapping, Sunset's gaze widened. Long, dark leather hung from her grasp. With a slight tremble, she pulled on the overcoat.

The leather coat stopped just past her knees, unbroken leather hanging perfectly to frame her form. Soft red cloth lining the upper half the coat matched the dark red etchings like curling flames rising from the cuffs and up each arm. Similar etchings ringed the bottom edge of the coat, while her cutie mark was carefully integrated into the breast pocket. Bronze clasps and a long zipper allowed the coat to be either left half- open as a fashion statement, or closed up entirely to turn away the elements.

Sunset swallowed. "It's- wow." Looking down at the coat, she frowned. "I love it, but- Rarity? I know the leather has to be kind of expensive..."

"It was. But- I had to do it." Sunset frowned, then glanced back up at her friend. As her gaze caught Rarity's, she was shocked at the welling tears in Rarity's eyes. "It shouldn't have taken this long, you know."

Sunset reached forward, guiding Rarity to a seat. "Are you okay? And what do you mean, it shouldn't have-"

"Yes, I'm fine, darling. Mostly, anyway." Rarity sniffed. "It's just- I started this jacket before Anon-A-Miss. When- in those few days I thought you might have caused it, I started to seek out new buyers. Yes, leather is expensive, and I thought I would need to recoup costs." She shook her head. "When we talked- in here, a month ago- I realized how little I'd bothered to get to know you. This coat was a sign of that." She pulled in a shaky breath. "When I took you shopping, I watched. When I started the coat, I meant it to accompany a skirt and blouse." She shook her head. "Not entirely to your tastes, as I discovered. You didn't just want an accessory; you wanted something useful."

"Oh." Sunset let a note of confusion come though her voice- then focused her magic on Rarity. From the fashionista, she felt shame, regret- and a growing sense of pride.

Rarity looked at Sunset, and smiled. "My magic let me fix that jacket, but I should have given it to you as a Christmas gift. If I hadn't doubted you, if I gotten to know you better before Anon-A-Miss, you would have received this far sooner. Afterwards, I could no more bribe you with something not your style than I could wish away my actions." She sighed. "We may have fixed things, Sunset, but I still realize just how much I failed you. That jacket- there's a lot of feelings mixed up in it."

As Rarity opened her mouth to explain, Sunset raised her hand. "I can feel your emotions, Rarity. And I think I know what each means." She held up a finger. "Regret- that you ever doubted me, that you ever felt like selling something which should have been a gift." She held up a second finger. "Shame- that you only sought my opinion on what I would want after giving me so much." She raised a third finger "Pride- that you were able to fix your mistakes and finish the coat." She looked down at her hand. "Still wondering why you feel that you need to apologize, though. I mean- oh." She glanced up. "Rarity- I've forgiven you, You just need to forgive yourself."

Rarity smiled. "I already have, mostly."

Sunset smiled, then glanced down. "I love it, I really do. I'm just- kind of wondering about the design choice, though. You usually don't go for the understated look."

"On Wednesday, I saw a side of you for the first time, I think." Rarity smiled. "Not Sunset the bully, or Sunset the student- I saw Sunset the Sorceress, darling. And any good sorceress need the proper attire."

Sunset looked down at her arms, and let a glow of red magic ignite around her fingertips. As she watched, the red etchings in the sleeves began to glow, tracing a pattering of red flames up her arms. As the magic spread, the lower edge of the coat also came to light, causing the coat to billow in an unseen wind. "...yeah. I think we do." She smiled. "Are you going to make one for yourself?"

"Perhaps- though I think I'm more an enchantress than a proper mage, dear." Rarity grinned. "You've inspired me, Sunset. I more ways than I thought possible. And with this magic-" A blue glow formed around her own fingertips. "-anything is possible."

Sunset grinned back, then looked back at the pile of bags in the corner. "... speaking of possible, did you ever figure out how you fit this coat in your backpack?"

"I seem to have enchanted it to hold more than it should be able to. Unfortunately, trying to replicate the spell has been... difficult."

"Oh. Is that why that sleeping bag sack disappeared? What happened to it anyway?"

"It ate itself. And I'm not entirely certain how..."

Granny looked up at the two women sharing the den with her. "Celestia, ah cain't thank you enough for getting that paperwork to me. We haven't had a chance to talk yet, but if you hadn't gotten that paperwork to me..."

Celestia glanced down at the letter sitting on the table. "I'm actually surprised that people are already making inquiries into your family." Peering down at the typed script, her face darkened. "Steyn. I thought that he knew better than to try stuff like this."

Luna scowled. "Why should he know better? It's never been his head on the chopping block when his schemes backfired. Even this-" motioning to the letter "-is just asking for confirmation that things were handled by the book. If anything untoward happened, it wouldn't be his fault- or at least, that's how he'd spin it."

Celestia read through the letter again. "The wording here, though; "unusual circumstances," "specific needs," "impressive abilities;" I get the sense that he's trying to provoke a reaction." She glanced up from the paperwork.

Granny nodded. "I've seen letters like that before, though most of them were a little more threatenin'. If we didn't have the paperwork filed, it mighta spooked Sunset. As it is, she doesn't even know this letter exists."

Luna frowned. "We will have to tell her, the sooner the better. He obviously doesn't know where she comes from or what she's really capable of, but considering his connections, it's plain that he's figure out we're hiding something."

Celestia frowned. "We did have to do a rush job on the damage Sunset did last year. Some videos or pictures probably slipped through the cracks, even with Chrysalis' help." Celestia closed her eyes. "We can't afford a second occurrence of that, either. Chrysalis' aid doesn't come cheap, and I've run through the last of the favors I owe her."

Luna's brow furrowed, then she grinned. "We may be out of favors, Tia, but I think we might be able to get her assistance. Chryssie hasn't really believed anything that's been going on, but she's never questioned her old tutor."

Granny looked back and forth between the sisters. "Do Ah wanna know what yah mean?"

Celestia's brow furrowed. Then she grinned. "Agatha. Do you think she'd agree to Blueblood's request?"

Luna's smile grew viscous. "A chance to stick it to Stayn? A chance to put her real skills to use? She'll agree. And if she backs up Blueblood's request..."

"Chrysalis will at least extend her own investigations." Celestia nodded.

Granny's confused look vanished. "You're gonna sic Harshwhinny on this bastard?" As Celestia and Luna both nodded, Granny burst into cackling laughter. As it trailed off, she crowed, "Oh, this'll be fun! She'll tear him a new one!"

Bedlam ducked out of the front door, moving to rest her arms on the railing of the front porch. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the girls begin to scatter, Applejack and Apple Bloom dragging Aria away from the front door. Turning back to the snow-covered field, she absently let her magic fade, causing the snowmen to collapse as physics reasserted itself.

Glaring down at her gloved hand, Bedlam frowned. Magic is so much more difficult here. Sure, I 'm epochs ahead of what Shimmy can do, and even Twilight won't have power near mine without a lot of work. Sighing, she glared at the horizon. With an absent wave, she pulled a little extra energy to observe the creation of the new magical field. Shimmy dumped Equestrian magic into an artificial field- then Scootaloo gave it a proper imprint to finalize its shape. Bedlam watched the development, and a wide grin spread across her face. Raising one hand, she snickered. "So, dump a little magic, see an expansion. Well, what would a lot of magic do?"

Feeling her energy gathering, she prepared to snap her fingers, and invest her energy into the new field. Oh, this is going to be so great-

Her thoughts were cut off as something wrapped around her hand, untangling her magic and stopping her mid-snap. Oh, and here's sparklebutt again. Turning, she readied her response to her normal spoilsport. "Twilight, I must say, this isn't a-" She stopped, confused as her gaze met her own yellow eyes.

"Do you never think through your actions, sister?" Discord snapped, yanking the gauntleted hand down with his scarf. Unwrapping it with a quick whistle, he coiled it around his neck.

Bedlam paused, then spoke softly. "Never had a reason to, before recently." She turned to look out over the snow again. "...why did you stop me?"

Discord raised an eyebrow, then stepped up to the edge of the porch. "Sunset's trying to get a grasp on magic now, before things get out of hand. We can't stop it, but we can be ready for when it starts spreading." He shook his head. "Supercharging it? Spreading it across everything? A lot of people would get hurt in the process."

Bedlam blinked, then turned to look back at the horizon. "...oh."

Discord stared at her a moment, then walked up to lean next to his dimensional counterpart. "You know, there's a television show- you can probably find it online, if you're of a mind- in which a group of bold explorers ventured into the great unknown. They ran into a lot of strange adventures, and often came into contact with someone with great cosmic power." He grinned. "I actually relate a lot with one of them." His grin faded. "But- a lot of those powers were little more than children, mucking around with people because they didn't think of them as people." He spat into the snow.

Bedlam glanced at Discord, then hung her head. "That sounds... a lot like what I am. Or what I was, until very recently."

"Yeah." Discord looked down. "Aria described you as such. You never intentionally broke anyone- but if someone got hurt? Who cares, always more where they came from." He shook his head. "I love pranks. Love upsetting people. But- if someone gets hurt-"

"You can't fix it. I can." Bedlam looked up. "But I'm starting to learn that some things are difficult to fix. If someone's hurt, I can wish away the wound. But the mind, friendships- so easy to break, so difficult to fix." She stared into the snow. "You're right. I didn't think through releasing my magic. If someone foul-" She shuddered. "I- I did this just recently, you know. I let someone who shouldn't get power gain far too much. In the name of fun and games. It nearly ended- everything."

Discord glanced at her. "Everything?"

"He- he got strong enough that as soon as I objected to what he was doing, he was able to steal my power." She shook slightly. "I don't want Twilight to think too hard on that one. If he'd ever tried to use his power as anything more than a club, my power would likely have started wrecking the world."


"Yes, oh. I nearly ruined the world. And then, I nearly ruined this one." Bedlam continued to stare out at the snow. "What happens if there's no one who can stop me next time?"

Discord cocked his head. "Twi would claim that the power of friendship would stop you before you went that far, but you and I know better. I think- you don't just need a friend, you need someone you can bounce ideas off of., check your actions against. Someone who understands your drives without being ensnared by them." He turned to look through the bay windows into the living room. "Twilight is getting one in the form of Sunset. Who might serve as yours?"

Bedlam paused, then gave a small grin. "Well, Luna might work... but considering our conversation, I think I know of two." She turned to point at Discord. "You're one. The other, lives in my world, named Schadenfreude."

Discord blinked at the finger pointing at his chest, then started at the second name. "Wait, Schady's counterpart is still- well, him? I would have thought being a pastel pony would have cost him his spark."

"Nope, if by "spark" you mean excellent sense of humor." Bedlam chuckled. Growing serious, she frowned. "If I can't talk to you-"

"Do what I do." Discord motioned through the window. Bedlam turned, watching as Sunset and her friends set up a large board game, both Twilights gathering around. The glasses-wearing girl smiled as Rainbow gave her a nudge, handing her a pair of dice. "Remind yourself of this- is what I would do interrupt this moment permanently? Would I ruin something fun with my actions? If so, can it wait? Is there a better time?" He turned back to his sister, who watched the interactions of the girls with thoughtful eyes. "Keep that in mind whenever you act. Just ask yourself the question- what could happen?"

Bedlam frowned, eyes watching the figure start the game. "I'll keep that in mind," she murmured, then turned to gaze over the empty snow. Her eyes suddenly narrowed. "Wait, how did you stop me from acting, earlier?"

Discord grinned. "I may be no chaos mage, but I've got a few more tricks than I showed the girls. After all, what kind of prankster would I be if I showed all my cards at once?"

Author's Notes:

I'm not going to have a whole spiel on partner preferences for each of the girls, but suffice to say that I'm a firm believe in the Kinsey Scale. (Look it up sometime) Princess Twi would rate at about a 4. Discord/Bedlam rates themselves on the scale as "Orange, with slight teal shades" so their sexuality is a mystery. I think they were just messing with Twilight.


I didn't even realize that I was going to create a secondary antagonist until I wrote the scene with Celestia, Luna, and Granny. Whyte Steyn is an old nemesis of Celestia's family. We'll see more of him in one of the epilogue chapters.

The last full chapter in this story will be released soonish. Up next: Twilight goes back to school.

Leaping Spark

Sundays were quiet for CHS. While some staff and students would visit, for varying reasons, the school was usually abandoned on early Sunday mornings. With that in mind, the figures gathered in front of the statue were making no effort to be discreet.

Rainbow back flipped off the statue, even as it's head followed her motions. "I dunno, Discord. I think having it do a handstand would look pretty cool, but it was pretty awesome before." Pulling up and hovering, lines glowing across her skin even as her wings billowing behind her, she watched the statue reposition itself. "Maybe if it looked like it was boxing?"

Celestia stared at Bedlam, who was watching the proceedings with a massive grin. "Did you put your counterpart up to this, Ms. Bedlam?"

"Do you really think he needs my help?"

After a moment of thought, Celestia sighed. "No. Not really. But it would be nice to pretend things would calm down once you left."

Pinkie and Discord turned from where they were watching the statue, starting first at Celestia, then at one another. As one, the two burst out into demented laughter. Pinkie was the first to recover. "Oh man- it's never going to calm down, is it?"

Princess Twilight sighed as she approached, Sunset walking up beside her. "Unlikely. I've never gone more than a week or two without some problem popping up. I doubt it's going to be any easier over here, what with magic becoming common."

Sunset groaned. "Every Tuesday, right?"

"It might be Thursday here." Twilight mused, looking up at the gray skies. "Both Anon-A-Miss and Scootaloo's magic got started on a Thursday, so that pattern seems to be set. My arrival both times we had a joint disaster here happened on a Thursday." looking thoughtful, she frowned. "I wonder if magic has a thing for patterns..."

Bedlam shook her head. "No, Twilight. Not this magic, anyway." She spat to one side. "Equestian magic loves patterns and order- that's one of the reasons I was considered a demon in the first place."

Aria glared at Bedlam and growled "Yeah, and you embraced it."

"Never said I didn't, girlie."

Applejack approached the group, favoring her left leg. "I swear, Aria, you use a lotta cheap shots."

"You may be the paragon of honesty, but I figure it's better to be a live liar than a dead paragon." Aria responded. "You don't have to use my dirty tricks, but you need to know how to recognize them, and there's nothing like a little pain to remind you to watch my offhand."

"Yeah, yeah." Applejack grumbled. Turning to look over the rest of the group, she smiled. "Twilight, it was great of you to come by, even if it was for a round'a trouble. Sorry you haveta leave so soon, but Granny rules the roost at home, and Ah ain't gonna go against her decision."

Twilight smiled. "No, she's right. You all have school tomorrow, and having me around would be a big distraction." Looking at the woman waving cheekily from beside her counterpart, her smile dropped. "And I suspect that having Bedlam here any longer than necessary would result in far more shenanigans than would be healthy."

Sunset responded with a smile. "Still, it's always sad to see you go, Twilight. I wish the other Twilight was here to see you off, though. I know she wanted to see how the portal worked."

Rarity spoke up from nearby. "Do you know why she left, Sunset?"

Sunset frowned. "She mentioned wanting to visit her lab and get her data recorded." Her thoughts turned to their new friend. I'm not certain why she needed to do it today, though. Why did she seem so adamant about getting this done now?

Twilight glanced up from her notes as Shining Armor pulled up the drive of Crystal Prep. Packing away her paperwork, she pulled herself out of the car, glancing back and forth across the abandoned parking lot, the only signs of anyone present at the school evident in the few parked cars in the faculty positions.

As she looked up at the imposing edifice, Twilight felt a hand settle onto her shoulder. "Twilight, are you certain we should be here? I mean, I know you want to talk to get into your lab, but-"

"But nothing, Shining." Twilight adjusted her glasses, then paused. Sighing, she turned back to her brother. "Yes, I know you wanted to go home and talk to mom and dad, but I really want to get the record data from the long range scanners. Sunset was really curious about it, and I-" Twilight hesitated. "I'd like to pay her and the other girls back for what I put them through. Sunset's been a huge help with my research, after all."

Shining smiled softly, but it soon turned to a frown. "Twilight, I'm glad you're starting to make friends. But, it seems like publishing your findings like you've planned..."

"I know, Shining." Twilight looked back at the school, a bitter edge to her voice. "Revealing magic to the world as it is now would destroy any sense of privacy Sunset has, and likely cause all of them trouble." She shook her head. "I'm trying to figure out a way to get everyone what they want..." She hesitated, then continued. "I might need to do something drastic." She steadied herself. "Shining- I may need your support if things go wrong. Can I-"

Shining cut her off, drawing her into a tight hug. "Always, Twily." Letting her go, he grinned. "So long as you're my LSBFF, I'm with you."

His grin warped. "As long as you stop blackmailing me about dating Blueblood, that is."

Twilight grinned sheepishly. "Okay, okay..."

Turning, she walked towards the front of the school, then paused. Turning back, she noticed Shining simply leaning back against his car. "Wait- why aren't you leaving?"

"I'm not going until you get back, Twily."

Twilight's smile widened. "Really? Thank you." Turning, she trotted towards the front steps of the school.

As Twilight departed, Shining slumped back, then pulled out his phone. Browsing through the contacts, he quickly tapped a familiar name. "Hey, Cady? ...yeah, love you too. Sorry for missing Thursday night, but I've been helping my little sister. Hey, listen, Twilight just went to her lab. Could you keep an eye on her?" He paused. "No, I don't think she's doing anything wrong. But, remember about those... discrepancies you mentioned with other students? Turns out Twilight's been manipulated by Cinch as well." At a loud yell from the phone, Shining pulled it away from his ear."No, not as badly, but- please, I think she might clash with Cinch soon. Just- keep an eye on her, please?"

As he ended the call, Shining glanced up at the school. I've done what I can, Twilight. It's up to you and Cady, now. Thinking back to what he'd seen over the last few days, he closed his eyes. I know the Princess isn't you, but- I saw her strength. You could do that too, sis. Please, whatever you choose- don't lose sight of that strength.

Abacus Cinch glanced up from her desk, noting a small alarm going off. With a flick of the wrist, she deployed her monitor from below the desk and rolled her keyboard out. Accessing her monitors, she quickly looked over the school's electronic lock system. Front door access given to a student account- nothing wrong there. Access to the labs? She paused. Twilight Sparkle.

Looking over the monitor, Cinch frowned. Ms. Sparkle had not contacted Cinch after her school visit- which was not unusual as such. If the girl had made a significant discovery, then it would make sense for the child to lose herself in her research. But- if her star pupil had discovered something so interesting as to bring her to school on the weekends, she would have expected her to stop by on Friday, or perhaps Saturday, if she was worn out after her examinations at that third-rate institution.

Instead, she'd come in today, and while that in and of itself was not suspicious, it seemed odd that she could wait as long as she had, but could not wait until classes resumed Monday.

She might just be trying to conceal her research from the other students... but it pays to be certain.

Pulling up the data tap she'd planted, Cinch accessed Sparkle's computer. The first notice to pop up informed her that the file upload Twilight had begun once she'd gained access to her lab was complete. All of her monitoring data had been uploaded to an external hard drive, along with most of her blueprints and observations.

Cinch frowned, then noticed the other task Twilight had set to- updating her personal research journal.

Cinch raised an eyebrow, then switched to look at the new notes.

Observations inconclusive from a scientific standpoint, but input from colleagues at CHS have given a definitive "natural observation" edge to my research. All indicators show that there's something truly remarkable going on at that school, and through further collaboration with Sunset should-

Cinch froze on one of the words. "Twilight is collaborating with-"

Twilight bustled around her lab, having finished her personal notes- without any mention of magic. Downloading her findings hadn't taken long, and soon she'd have everything she needed to figure out the secrets of the new magic.

Well, some of them. It is magic, after all, and I'll be very surprised if I can figure all of it out.

As she finished her preparations for her next experiment, the intercom beeped above her. A terse voice echoed into the labs. "Ms. Sparkle, ,could you please report to my office, please? I would like to speak with you regarding your expedition on Friday."

Twilight looked up, frowning. Cinch's voice had sounded... strained, almost as though she was holding back anger. I know Ms. Celestia didn't send anything to Cinch, so why is she-

She grimaced. It didn't matter; she was absolutely certain that Cinch would not be happy to hear that she was slowing down her research. Far worse, she suspected that Cinch would be disapproving of much of Twilight's plans. And if she was right about how far Cinch was willing to go to bring fame to Crystal Prep...

Walking over to her desktop, she quickly loaded contingency I-9 onto her desktop. Let's hope it's not necessary.

Twilight opened the door to Cinch's office, slowly walking to stand before the principal's desk. Looking at the back of the tall chair before her, she paused, about to open her mouth- then stopped.

After a few long moments, Principal Cinch spun her chair. "Ms. Sparkle. It is good to see that you're resuming work on your project. Was the field trip to Canterlot High successful?"

Twilight caught the restrained note in Cinch's voice. She's upset. Very upset. Nodding, Twilight responded. "Yes ma'am. I was able to gather some crucial data on the energy phenomenon, including some esoteric errata regarding its effect on physical matter and individuals." Keep it oblique.

"I see." Cinch leaned back in her chair, with a carefully guarded expression. "And your observations of this data came from first-hand sources, or from your experiments?"

Twilight hesitated, starting to understand which way this conversation was going. "Neither, ma'am. Well, first hand for my observed errata, but my equipment failed and cost me the quantitative data on the energy itself."

Cinch looked triumphant for a brief moment, then continued. "I assume that the equipment failed due the interference of the students at CHS?" She shook her head. "That will reflect poorly on their-"

"Actually," Twilight cut her off "I caused the equipment failure, ma'am. I took the device used to record the data into an adverse environment, and nearly caused a catastrophic meltdown. " Of a person, not equipment, but she doesn't need to know that.

Cinch frowned, brow creasing. "Ms. Sparkle, it seems unlikely that anything you built would fail in such a way. Tell me exactly who destroyed your equipment, and I will ensure CHS stops their experiments."

"No one destroyed it but me." Twilight responded. "I- wait, are you trying to stop their research? What-"

"Ms. Sparkle." A note of annoyance crept into Cinch's voice. "CHS obviously is trying to sabotage our successes in research. I do not know why you are protecting whoever is hindering you, but we must pursue a means of countering their resistance."

"Sabotage?" Twilight spat. "You know, I said something similar to my guide when I arrived at Canterlot High. I assumed they were hiding something when she hadn't done any research." She scowled. "Turns out they weren't working with it because it was far more dangerous than I understood, and they were waiting on an expert to come observe. I was so obsessed with figuring out the truth that I blundered into something which nearly did a lot of damage." Twilight shook her head. "And once they fixed the problem, they shared what they knew."

"So you worked with them?" Cinch's voice grew hard. "Did you share any of your research?"

"No. Not yet, at least." Twilight tensed as she noticed Cinch grip the sides of her chair for a brief instance. "They've gone much farther than I ever have on this."

"And you received data from them regardless?" Cinch waited until Twilight nodded, then continued. "Then they have given us what we need. That should be sufficient to continue your research without further contact, I presume?"

Twilight blinked. "Without further contact? I'm planning on meeting them soon to share what I've discovered." Watching Cinch, she saw the tightness return to her principal's face.

"If CHS finishes their research first, then Crystal Prep loses face, Ms. Sparkle. Any help you give them will make it more difficult for you succeed. There will be no further contact with CHS." Spinning her chair around, Cinch waved at Twilight. "You may-"


Cinch turned. "I- what?"

"No." Twilight set her feet. "I received a lot of help from the students of CHS, even after I nearly caused-" She cut herself off, shaking her head. "They gave me all the information I could have asked for, and cooperating with them may be the only way for me to safely figure this out. I don't understand why you're against me working with them."

Cinch nearly snarled in response. "Ms. Sparkle, to succeed, to leave a legacy, requires making certain others do not share in your successes. Those who only assist the leaders of projects are forgotten, as Crystal Prep will be if CHS is the first to reveal their discoveries." She leaned forward. "Crystal Prep succeeds by being first in everything we do. That is a lesson every student knows."

"The lesson it teaches, maybe." Twilight said quietly. She held her head cocked for a moment, eyes sweeping the floor. "I assume that, if I fail to publish before CHS- or continue to work with them- my application to Everton or the advanced placement programs will continue to get... lost, correct?"

Cinch gave an almost-smile, then responded. "I am a very busy woman, Twilight. Staying within my good graces might be a good way to remind me to send them off a little sooner this year."

Twilight scowled at the floor. "You know... you told me once that you can;t get ahead without making certain no one can drag you down." She looked up, sharp eyes visible behind her heavy glasses. "But I'm starting to think that there's such a thing as doing too much to win." Twilight shook her head, then set her shoulders. "Principal Cinch- thank you for the use of Crystal Prep's resources. I will be certain to let the world know where I got my start on my research."

Cinch paused, eyes widening. "Where you got your start-"

"I believe, however, that the school environment is no longer conductive to my research. As such, I will be withdrawing from Crystal Prep, effective immediately." Her eyes narrowed. "Shining Armor seemed concerned when I described my experiences here, especially when I described my anxiety attack last year. I believe that my parents will listen to him, as well." She turned and began to walk from the room.

Cinch surged to her feet. "I will not allow this, Ms. Sparkle. Where do you think you will go? You will not be allowed to take any resources or credits from Crystal Prep. Your research will be stonewalled if you leave."

Twilight paused at the door, then spoke slowly. "Not if I go to the source." Without further conversation, she left the room, feeling lighter than she had in a long time.

As Twilight exited, Cinch felt her blood boil. The source. She's going to Celestia. Cinch immediately deployed her monitor, fixed on salvaging something from this disaster. First, lock Twilight out of the labs. That will prevent her from downloading any more data off the servers. Alright, that's done- now-

Cinch's focus on the task before her was absolute, tot he point where she failed to hear the opening and closing of the door before her. As she stopped in the middle of glancing over Ms. Sparkle's school transcripts, she heard a quiet cough sound from before her desk. Glancing up, she caught the violet gaze of her Dean of Students.

Cadence stood silently for a moment, then sighed. "I overheard your conversation with Twilight, ma'am." She gave a small frown. "Her transfer to CHS-"

"Will not happen." Cinch snarled, her composure broken. "I can't trust her with her research for now, but losing her to CHS will be devastating for our edge in academics. Her parents may be convinced that she is simply throwing a tantrum, and if that fails, I can make certain she is sent to another academy with a bit of work- not CHS."

"And how will you do that?" Cadence's voice was hard. "Use your connections to stop her applications from going to the right place?"

Cinch blinked, then forced her wrath down. "What connections are you talking about, Cadence?"

"The ones you get the off-the-books funding from." Cadence replied. "The ones whose contributions are dependent on keeping the criminal history and extracurricular activities of their students off the books. Mr. Sombra and Senator Penny Pincher would be very upset if they found out you did anything to make the authorities take a closer look at Crystal Prep's funding."

Cinch frowned. "Allowing Clipped Bit and Obsidian entrance despite their behavioral issue has proven beneficial to Crystal Prep. I don't think there's any laws against getting anonymous funding."

"True." Cadence's look grew viscous. "But the very fact you feel the need to keep those funding sources anonymous is indicative of just how disliked those individuals are. Add that to the fact that the bullying by their sons was one of the reasons Twilight Sparkle had her nervous breakdown last year-" she shrugged "well, PR nightmare hardly covers it, doesn't it?"

Cinch scowled. "Perhaps."

Cadence continued. "The only reason Twilight was talked into keeping quiet about her breakdown was because she didn't want her parents to know about her "failure." The sarcasm in Cadence's voice broke the affable tone she normally carried. "If you try to stop her from transferring, especially now that she's worked up the courage to leave, I don't think you'll be able to keep her quiet any longer. And, if her parents start demanding answers as to why her transfers have been stonewalled, there's a lot of dirty laundry for my cousin and brother to find." She gave a smile with a hard edge. "And of course, I would do anything in my power to help any student- even a former student."

Cinch froze, then took an appraising look at Cadence. "...I always considered you the soft one in your family, Ms. Amore. I should have known you had some steel in you."

"I have no idea what you mean." Cadence allowed her voice to slip back into her normal tones. "I'm simply pointing out the probable chain of events if you obstruct Twilight's transfer." She turned on her heel, and began to leave the office.

"You know, I'm surprised. If you're correct about the effect revealing this... information could have, why haven't you used it already?" Cinch mused out loud. "After all, you're the one who stands to take my place."

Cadence stopped, then swiveled to look at Cinch. "I don't want your job, Ms. Cinch. It seems too cold to me, too distant from the student body." she turned back to the door. "And just so you know- I'm nice. Not soft. There's a very key difference there."

Cadence allowed the door to clunk shut behind her. Cinch glanced down at the email she'd been composing, then moved over to her data tap. The words "Files Deleted" appeared on her screen.

Cinch frowned, then moved her cursor over to her downloads. Comparing the data she'd already gotten to the files missing, she couldn't help but feel impressed. Ms. Sparkle has learned something here- she covered her tracks and gathered allied without me noticing. Her frown morphing into a scowl, she deftly removed one file from what her data tap had kept. Unfortunately, there's nothing more I can do to her- for now. In the meantime- Selecting one incomplete blueprint from the list, she brought up the schematic, and carefully deleted the name. I'll need to steal a march on her. For all that she might be at the source of this phenomenon, Twilight will be working with far less resources, and far more oversight. Crystal Prep will beat CHS; there's not contest there.

I'll just need to find a replacement for Ms. Sparkle...

Author's Notes:

Cinch tried to stomp on the flames of Friendship, and the sparks leapt to leave her behind. Cinch isn't giving up without a fight, of course...

That particular round of confrontations- Cinch vs. Twilight, then Cinch vs. Cadance was one of the scenes I planned from the very beginning. I meant it to be a bit of a reversal from the first interaction between Twilight and Cinch in Friendship Games; to showcase just how different the games are going to be. In fact, this whole story has turned the dynamics of the games on their heads; Midnight Sparkle will not exist in this world.

I do feel like there's something missing from this chapter. Does anyone have any questions? I can address any plot holes in the epilogue if they exist.

Now for story notes! (As opposed to setting notes.)

You know, from a work that was meant to simply be a bridge between the events of Anon-A-Miss and the Friendship Games, this one turned out much longer than expected. I meant this work to be 20k words, maybe 25k at most. Instead, it turned out far longer than Myriad Thoughts. Maybe that's because the first 10K words or so of Myriad Thoughts happened off screen as the canon events of the comic. (plus, I could use a whole lot of in-jokes and references in the first story without explanations.)

I'm not going to following up on the sequel anytime soon. My personal life is heating up, and trying to write another multi-chapter adventure will be beyond me for the next two months. However, I do want to continue writing in Stray Thoughts and Small Fires, my companion piece for these works. Expect a blog post about my plans for that compilation work soon.

In the meantime, I'm planning to release three epilogues, each with their own prospective from the supporting characters to this work. (and their own cliffhangers, since this last story chapter lacked them.) They're titled Prometheus, Hotspots, and Smoke Signals respectively. Look forward to seeing those soon.

Epilogue: Prometheus

Cinch stalked towards the doors at the end of the hallway. The lab was basically untouched from when she'd checked it after her former brightest student had left, but even with the data taken from Twilight's research, the machines yielded no knowledge to the Principal of Crystal Prep.

Cinch stared at one of the devices, whose design had been laid out in one of Twilight's meticulously arranged blueprints. She recognized the name, the design, even the controls; but she had no idea how it functioned.

Fortunately, Cinch thought to herself, as she heard the door open behind her, I don't have to. After all, Crystal Prep recruits the best- and even if Canterlot High has stolen my best student, they've only taken one of many.

Turning, Cinch looked through the thick panes of glass which nearly covered the poor girl's face. Stepping towards her student, Cinch spoke. "Ms. Moondancer. Thank you for joining me here today."

Moondancer gave a tiny smile and ducked her head. "It- it's no trouble, ma'am. Um, but, I do have a question..." As Cinch continued to look at her, she pulled in a breath. "This was Twilight's lab, correct?"

"Yes. Ms. Sparkle has... abandoned Crystal Prep, and the lab equipment which she assembled using our resources. She was, however, thoughtful enough to leave behind some of her notes concerning her experiments and observations."

"I-I thought she'd left to pursue her research further, ma'am. Why would s-she leave her notes behind?"

Cinch felt her eyes tighten, and bit back a rising scowl. There was no reason to believe that the girl meant any accusation, but the thought could not be allowed to linger. "Ms. Sparkle's work was backed up in multiple places, Moondancer. She did not wipe them clean, obviously intending someone to continue her research here at Crystal Prep."

"I- I see." Moondancer hesitated, her eyes widening as she considered the implications. "Um, ma'am? Do you want me to continue her research?"

Cinch forced a small smile onto her face. "Yes. You have earned the right to continue her work, both from your academics and your understanding of the... preview I released to find a suitable successor." Finding Moondancer had been simple. Cinch had released the summary of Twilight's discoveries and the unfinished blueprints of the prototype "Sparkle Energy Spectograph Mk. 1" to the student body. Within hours of discovering the blueprints, Moondancer had come forward with a corrected set of the plans, as well as a rough prototype of the device assembled in one of the fabrication shops. Cinch had drafted her to fill Twilight's place at once.

"Thank you, ma'am." Moondancer glanced at the devices scattered throughout the lab space, then turned her attention to her principal. "Should I contact Twi- I mean, Ms. Sparkle to collaborate? She'd probably be happy I managed to complete her -"

Cinch's snarl caught in her throat, but her words held a hard edge despite her control. "No. Ms. Sparkle is now a student of CHS, and is not to be contacted. The discoveries here will be attributed to the efforts of Crystal Prep students, no one else. Do we understand each other?" Moondancer nodded. "Excellent. I look forward to seeing your progress. Especially considering the practical applications of the work we are doing here."

Without a word, Cinch turned towards the door. As she opened it, she looked back over her shoulder. "I will make certain to include your efforts her on your next scholarship report, Ms. Moondancer. Do well here, and you have no need to fear losing your place here at Crystal Prep." The door closed behind her with a soft hiss.

Moondancer gulped as Principal Cinch strode out of the lab. Glancing at the desktop beside her, she watched the program embedded in the computer complete the next round of analysis. Cinch told me that whatever Twilight was working on was revolutionary; and though I could understand her being open to collaboration, it doesn't make sense that she'd just abandon all her notes. Or, if she erased some of the backups, she wouldn't think to wipe them all.

Moondancer stared at the devices scattered across the room. Walking over to the pegboard in the corner, she stared at the map of readings and the picture of CHS held in the middle of a web of papers and strings. Twilight found something out; something having to do with her research and CHS. Something so important that she left behind everything to pursue it.

But Principal Cinch wants her research pursued. And not just for the sake of research- what she said about "practical applications" seemed rather pointed.

Looking at the data, and devices surrounding her, she swallowed. Turning on a nearby printer, she began to print the technical documents included with each device. According to these notes, and the spectrograph blueprints, crystalline structures tend to capture the energy signatures she was tracking best. If I want to study this, I'll need a way to trap this energy for study.

And I need to find a way. If I don't- Looking up at the clock, she shuddered. Twilight could afford to escape from here. I'm not nearly so lucky...

Cinch frowned as she sank into her chair, deploying a computer monitor from beneath her desk. With a few keystrokes, she began to bring up the electronic locking mechanism for the Exotic Energy Lab, changing the primary student registry from Sparkle to Moondancer.

As she finished her work, she heard a ring come from her messaging system. Glancing coolly at the caller ID, she scowled and punched down on the green button.

"Ah, Principal Cinch. So good of you to take my call."

"I'm more impressed that you decided to call yourself, rather than letting one of your remaining staff handle it." Cinch replied. "Mr. Stayn, you may be an alumnus of this school, but you are one which no longer provides any prestige for us. I am accepting your call only because of the device you provided me recently, which will contribute to the success and legacy of this school."

"That data tap proved useful?" Stayn's voice oozed through the speakers. "You do realize that by admitting it-"

"Please, Stayn, don't assume that you are speaking to an amateur. One of my former student designed a very effective scrambler to prevent recording my conversations. Now, get to the point."

There was a long pause. "Fine." Stayn nearly spat. "Celestia's hiding something, and I suspect your... former student found out about it." After letting his silence confirm his suspicions, he continued. "You and I both know that whatever Celestia found is revolutionary, but she's sitting on her students' discoveries like a mother hen, and putting her connections to work to keep it under wraps."

"And you want that discovery for yourself." Cinch said.

"And you for your school. I don't care who gets the credit for figuring this stuff out, but my attempts to get my hands on the prodigy responsible, a girl called Sunset Shimmer, have been stonewalled by the Bureau of Reform."

Cinch scowled, recalling her encounter with Candace. "Faust's pet project."

"Yes. If they're given enough time, the possible applications for this discovery could be compromised." Stayn hissed. "I had a lot of friends before Everfree dragged me down, and one of my former colleagues is looking to put this new energy in use before anyone else has a chance to create legal barriers against its use."

"And if we find out how to use it first, I'm to send the first copies of our research to you." Cinch summarized. "And in return-"

"I'll make certain Crystal Prep gets tier A-1 funding for their contribution, and gets national recognition." Stayn followed.

"But we have to deal with Everfree's legacy- both parts."

"Her obstructive organization and her deviant get, yes." Stayn snarled.

"Language like that is why you lost your senate seat." Cinch replied. "Still, I concur, with one caveat. I think one more thing is in order, if you can get the leverage to do so much for Crystal Prep."

Stayn's response was measured. "What is it?"

"Blueblood and Celestia make an effective team, both in the legal and semi-legal realms. I've recently learned that Cadance has been accumulating certain... uncomfortable facts about my school, obviously on her cousin's behalf to sabotage us. Cadance can't act on them for now, but as long as Blueblood's in office, she has a path to cause a PR nightmare. If you can push so hard to get me funding, you should be able to remove him from his current position."

Stayn laughed. "Evict him from office? The pansy? Gladly. And I'll see to it that his replacement comes down on Celestia." His voice dropped dangerously. "But none of this will happen if we can't get the facts on Celestia's discovery. Do you think we can?"

Cinch glanced down at the paperwork on her desk, then slowly reached for a file. Flipping it open, she stared at the announcement for the most recent Friendship Games. "I already have someone working on it. And, if that fails...' she trailed off as she looked a the next page, describing Crystal Prep's team. "I'm going to have a chance to get to the source of it all very soon."

Author's Notes:


Epilogue: Smoke Signals

The blond man looked up from his papers, frowning as a set of uneven footsteps approached his door. To an uniformed listener, the footsteps seemed like the result of an old injury, and would be able to suppress their discomfort at the tiny dragging sound one shoe would make against the floor. They'd tell themselves that the man's gait wasn't his fault, and that the aggravation of his walk shouldn't both them.

Blueblood, meanwhile, would simply shake his head, jam in his earbuds, and listen to music until his erstwhile assistant tired of this game. Looking up, the district educational supervisor watched as his assistant stepped through, a brilliant grin stretched across his face. Schadenfreude was a wonderful office worker- and a horrible, horrible person, much of the time.

Then again, I used to be far worse than he is. Blueblood cleared his throat. "So... new shoes? I just love the squeaking sound the right one makes against the floor."

"Aww, you noticed! I thought you wouldn't." Schadenfreude's happy grin only widened as he sat down, casually adjusting the chair to cause the springs in the seat to creak slightly. "I've almost made Margie in accounting deck me. The betting pool has her snapping sometime next week, but if I can get her to blow her top by Friday..."

Blueblood sighed. "Margarine Spread may be a little uptight, but she's also one of the best bean-counters in the Bureau of Reforms." He shook his head. "If she blows up in a way that forces me to fire her, or suffers a psychotic break-"

"That only happened twice. To people we don't like."

Blueblood continued, as though his assistant hadn't said anything at all "-you'll have to handle her work while I find a suitable replacement." He looked down at the forms in his hands, allowing the thought to creep across his mind. He'll either handle her work, or have a replacement in by the next day. Either way works for me, should she actually snap at him. Looking back up, he brought the conversation back to more serious matters. "While I have no doubt you would come in here just to annoy me, I get the sense there's something else."

Schadenfreude's grin shrunk, then died. With a sigh, he pulled out one of the files from under his arm. "Your sister sent over the data she's been accumulating for us. She regrets to tell you, however, that the data has already been compromised, and if we want to find something to get to Cinch's sponsors, we'll have to try a new angle."

Blueblood sat up, blinking. "What was so important that she had to compromise six months of data collection?"

"Apparently, something related to the Merlin Files." Schadenfreude looked nervous for the first time Blueblood could remember. "Boss, can I be serious for a minute? Because I really think this whole... magic thing is starting to get to be a problem." He grimaced. "When it was just one girl, I figured we could keep it under wraps. When it became six girls and three former monsters who were keeping their heads down, I figured we could just muddy the waters. Now? There's no hope of us keeping this from outside agencies."

Blueblood sat back. "I agree. Events this weekend have shown that it is entirely out of hand. Hell, we may never have had a grip on it in the first place." Sighing, he leafed through the file Schadenfreude had handed him, then noticed a letter tucked into the folder. Withdrawing it, he studied the professional, heavy handwriting for a moment, then smiled. "I assume this showed up today?"

Schadenfreude nodded. "Yeah. Delivered via courier, as a matter of fact." He paused. "You seem pleased."

"Oh, I am." Opening the letter, he scanned the contents. "Good. The last of those we've reached out to has responded." Blueblood grinned. "The last of our little team is on board. We may not have control of magic, but at the very least we're going to be ready for it."

Schadenfreude frowned. "What does that mean? I thought we were going to be getting a team together to hide magic from the rest of the government?" His grin returned. "I've always loved tweaking those stooges."

"We aren't going to hide it, Schadenfreude." Blueblood finished leafing though the Merlin Files, then put them down on the desk. "There are three elements to the charter of the Bureau. First, identify means in which the government is failing or has become ensnared in corruption, and work to set things right." He nodded to his assistant, signalling for him to continue.

Schadenfreude smiled. "Second, identify social programs which have the greatest positive impact on society, and see to it that those programs are supported, not opposed. I know the charter." Then his smile faded. "Wait-"

"It's the third that concerns this file." Blueblood tapped the paperwork before him. "Third, in the event of extreme circumstances or alterations to society, recommend the creation of new government branches, and the disbandment of old ones." Blueblood leaned back. "You're wrong, Schadenfreude. We're not going to hide magic- that seems impossible. The ultimate goal of the team we're assembling is to create the laws that will protect and bind it."

Blueblood spun the file back to Schadenfreude. "And according to this letter, the last member of our team is on-board." He grinned. "Chrysalis has agreed to join our little group."

Schadenfreude grinned. "Ooh, Chryssie? That'll be fun. I'm starting to look forward to this."

Blueblood sank back into his chair with a shudder. "Your enthusiasm, as usual, is more than a little disconcerting." He looked up at his assistant. "So long as you turn it on our opponents, however, I only have one thing to say;"

Leaning forward, Blueblood grinned. "Make them suffer."

Schadenfreude's grin grew wider as he left the room. "Always will, boss."

Epilogue: Hotspots

Adagio stared at her sister. Sonata glanced at Adagio, then carefully posed herself in the same position beside her, before opening her mouth the to mirror the girl beside her.

As one, the two girls said "Huh?"

Aria turned her hand over, inspecting he gauntlet she'd formed over her fist. "Yeah, I know. I'm just as surprised as you guys, but at least I've got some magic back." Looking up, she grinned at her sisters. "And, since you had headaches too, I'm guessing you have your own powers waiting to come out."

Adagio glanced at the fading gauntlet. "But it's not our siren powers back. Or at least, you didn't get them back."

"Nope." She shrugged. "Sunset said we'll likely get powers which match what we want to do- so for all I know, you might get something like your siren powers. But, I kind of doubt it."

Adagio sighed and rubbed her head. "I suppose, then" she slowly said "that your plans to work with the Rainbooms haven't changed."

Sonata stared at Aria, and before she could respond, cut her off. "You spent the night with them, twice, right?" As Aria hesitantly nodded, the blue girl continued. "So... Rainbow or Applejack?"

As Adagio blinked, Aria's eyes widened. "What are you talking about-"

Sonata grinned. "You mentioned helping someone with fighting, but your posture shifted, and you actually had to bite back a grin. You found a new sparring partner, right? And that means someone athletic, so-"

"Applejack." Aria said, looking spooked. "Nata, the way you read people's body language..."

"Yeah, it's saved out butts a bunch of times." Sonata grinned. "So- is she just a sparring partner, or is she a sparring-"

Aria's eyes bulged. "NATA!"

As Sonata started cackling and Aria started yelling, Adagio looked down at her hands. Aria was always standing up to adversity; for herself or for us. Getting a suit of armor, especially one which gets stronger the more people's anger focuses on her, matches her really well. Sonata and I, though what will our magic do for us?

Adagio let a small frown form on her face. And how will I use it?

Celestia Everfree, principal of Canterlot High School, looked up from the paperwork on her desk. While she'd expected quite a few heated letters between herself and parents over the new forces bubbling up in her school, she had not expected the transfer request sitting on her desk. She'd originally thought it a joke, but a call to the Velvet-Light residence had confirmed the request.

Twilight Sparkle transferring to this school could be a blessing in disguise- or a curse of the worst sort. If she can help Sunset without disrupting too much, she may help our resident expert get a grip on magic faster. Considering her disruption last Friday, however, she may do more damage before the situation stabilizes.

Celestia sighed. She had no intention to turn the girl away; despite the pointed email Cinch sent. Cinch didn't make any pointed threats, or even veiled accusations. Her hands are tied- and I suspect Cadence had a hand in that. Twilight Velvet had made it abundantly clear that her daughter's story was both believed and detested, and that the news of both intellectual equals and friendships at CHS had been more than enough to sway the woman's mind.

Still, that paperwork would have to be set aside for now. Looking up, Celestia walked to the door and looked out at the four figures waiting in her lobby. As she opened the door, she beckoned in Sunset Shimmer, who immediately removed a notebook at clipboard from her pack. "Sunset, thank you for coming. If you'll go ahead and set up in my office, we can get started." Turning back to the remaining figures, she cleared her throat. "Ms. Lulamoon, come in."

As Trixie entered, she crossed her arms with a humph. "Trixie does not know why she is here- what occurred was a complete accident!" Trixie turned to the other figure. "And Trixie also does not know why the- why Shimmer is here."

Celestia nodded as she sat down. "I believe you are correct. However, we still need to discuss what happened." Nodding to Sunset, she continued. "Sunset also has the greatest knowledge concerning magic of any here at CHS. She may be able to help you stabilize yours."

Trixie's scowl deepened. "Trixie has control over herself in every way! She does not need the help of a-"

Sunset cut her off. "So you meant your new homemade smoke bomb to cover the entire cafeteria in smoke? You meant your new sparklers to blind three students?" Sunset shook her head. "You haven't hurt anyone yet, but those sort of unrestrained alchemical reactions are a sign of excess mana infusion."

Trixie's scowl held for a moment, then faded. "All I wanted to do was to Create wonder, not overwhelm the audience." She frowned. "And from what Pinkie Pie said of the other Trixie, should I not have illusion magic?"

Sunset opened her mouth, then closed it. "I'll have to ask Pinkie how she knows that, but I suspect I won't like the answer. However, we've already seen some deviations from what magics a person and their counterpart gain. The other Trixie wants to pretend to be the greatest mage who ever lived- you just want to have the greatest show ever. Different goals, different methods, different magics."

As Celestia listened to the banter back and forth, her phone buzzed in her pocket. Looking down at the message, she smiled. Standing, she spoke. "Sunset, I need to greet a visitor outside. Can you handle the three new mages while I'm away?"

Sunset blinked. "I think so. I mean, I can;t hand out punishments, but I can record what they're capable of-"

"None of these three need to be punished." Celestia grinned. "All of them simply suffered accidents."

Sunset nodded. "Thank you for trusting me, ma'am." Then a look of realization crossed over her face. 'Wait, is it-"

"Luna informed me that our new tutor is arriving from the other side." Celestia nodded, ignoring Trixie's puzzled expression. "I'm going to go meet him now."

As Celestia left her office, she passed Flash Sentry and Sweetie Belle, each slouched in separate chairs. Sweetie's idle humming and Flash's darting eyes stilled as Celestia passed, but she paid them no mind.. Moving out into the hallway, she quickly made her way to the front of the building.

Luna stood next to the statue (thankfully restored to its old position- although the horse was now sticking out its tongue) beside a stocky man in a long-sleeved, buttoned shirt and cargo pants. As Celestia approached, he hesitantly centered himself on his feet, then pulled himself into a rough salute. As Celestia came up next to him, he allowed himself to relax, allowing Celestia to get a better look at him. Blue-gray hair with a dull gray streak framed a dark-skinned face, and his schooled expression and natural parade rest stance showed his bearing.

Celestia extended a hand. "Hello there, Mr.-"

For a moment, the man examined Celestia's extended hand, then hesitantly brought up his own to match her shake. "Apologies, ma'am. You remind me much of Princess Celestia." He nodded. "Lieutenant Idol Hooves, Canterlot Royal Guard, at your service."

Celestia nodded. "Thank you. I assume you'll be our tutor with the new magic?" As Idol nodded, Celestia continued "If you don't mind me asking, why were you assigned to this task? I assumed we'd be getting a tutor or theorist to assist us."

Idol nodded. "The princess believed I would make a good instructor due to my passing familiarity to multiple types of magic, nonstandard magical applications skills, and high adaptability as is common to my race." He then frowned slightly. "The princess was planning on coming here to explain this in person, but upon our arrival in Ponyville, she was forced to attend to an urgent matter of emerging royalty. She left me to introduce myself alone, as she was uncertain when she might be available again."

Luna blinked. "Emerging royalty" is a strange euphemism for a birth, Mr. Hooves."

Idol blinked. "I am not speaking about live birth, ma'am. Apparently, Twilight Sparkle shared some information with her friends, which led to an unexpected ascension."


Celestia Solaris, princess of Equestria, had possibly the best understanding of the normal pony psyche of any in Equestria. Those few who could possibly match her understanding (whose numbers included professional psychologists, a few lawyers, and Pinkie Pie) usually recognized her supremacy regardless, as her ability to plan events well in advance was legendary among scholars and feared by the nobility. More than one noble house had fallen in their dreams of conquest or carefully planned coups when they discovered that the solar diarch had planned circles around them.

Still, even Celestia could be surprised on occasion. For all her contingency planning, there were still random elements to the world, and Celestia had long learned that sometime,s you had to scrap your plans and start over. When the cosmic twang she'd heard twice before had echoed through her head, she'd been absolutely flabbergasted.

Somepony managed to ascend. But- As Celestia rose into the air, she frowned. It's too close to me for it to be Shining Armor, so it must be a Ponyville native. I suppose Rarity could have recalled Inspiration Manifestation and managed to control the power, or Rainbow Dash shatter the laws of physics. Or PInkie, for that matter. Shifting her perceptions, she pulled herself into the ethereal plane. Whichever of them it is, I'd best tamp down their enthusiasm- after all, being a princess is-

She blinked as she saw the huddled yellow-and-pink form sitting in the center of the endless white plain. Or, it could be Fluttershy.

As Celestia approached, Fluttershy raised her head. "Princess? Is that you? Where am I?"

Celestia knelt down next to Fluttershy. "We are on the ethereal plane, where all that is and could be may form." Tilting her head, she frowned. "I did not expect to find you here, Fluttershy. If you don't mind me asking, what were you doing before you arrived here?"

Fluttershy looked down at her hooves. "It was Rainbow Dash. She was trying out a new trick, trying out something Twilight mentioned, trying to accelerate to a running leap from a standing start. But she missed an opening in the trees and crashed right into a branch, at her fastest speed." She shuddered. "Dash's wing was broken, and I- I went to her, and-"

"She healed Dash." Twilight approached, her own wings fanned behind her. "I'd told her about her counterpart, and she- she channeled her Pegasus magic to heal Rainbow Dash. It nearly killed her- but then she vanished." Twilight glanced up. "Celestia- does this mean-"

Fluttershy squeaked. 'Wait- no, no no!" As the two alicorns watched ,Fluttershy was pulled into he air, squeaking softly before vanishing in a pink blaze.

As the princesses watched, Celestia sighed. "This may be a joyous day, but I fear for the headache this will cause."

Twilight's face twisted into a massive smile. "Yeah, but my friends can handle it." She shook her head. "When I told her about what her counterpart was capable of, I didn't expect her to replicate it! If Fluttershy can ascend- why not Pinkie? Or Applejack? Could all of us-"

"You might all ascend some day, I suppose." Celestia murmured. "But, I was not talking about her headache- Twilight- I was talking about mine. The nobles are going to throw a fit- again."

Without another word, Celestia fell back into normal space, shaking her head. All my plans, and I never accounted for something like this.

Still, she thought as she winged towards the Everfree forest, and the heartbeat of the newest Equestrian Alicorn, It seems to me that the changes which come will make the world far brighter than it was.

I may not know what comes next- but I think I'm looking forward to it regardless.

Author's Notes:

New magics seem to be popping out of the woodwork, aren't they? Celestia and Luna are starting to come seek out their own magic, the sirens are coming to grips with what might be possible, and Trixie is- well, acting like Trixie.

Yes, I gave human Trixie Alchemy powers instead of illusions. I wanted her power set o be unique, and show that a single talent word- such as Create- can have different effects and permutations.

Oh, and Fluttershy's an alicorn now. Don't worry, it's not going to affect the plot that much, but it seemed... appropriate to show that the events in the human world are having widespread consequences.

Idol Hooves is not my character, and I have little plans to use him in any further stories. If you want to see more of him, please read The Changeling of the Guard by vdrake77. However, I think that a changeling would make a pretty good general magic tutor- they have to know how three different forms of pony magic and their own changeling magic work.

Nothing more to be said here...

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