Make A Mistake With Me - Chapter 10: After Images - by MistakeAnon

>The drive back to Canterlot City was not as… eventful as the trip to Independence. >You did stop by Laramie to sleep at The Shack once again. >Of course, Little Strongheart grilled you for information about what happened. >As a compensation, you grilled her 50$ steaks as a compensation. >Nothing like an outdoor BBQ. Her bitter tears provided just enough salt for seasoning. >... Though in all honesty, it was rather embarrassing how proud she was of you. >Rara, of course, wasn’t around. She had gigs elsewhere. >She had left a message for you, though. >She promised to visit Canterlot City next week to catch up some more, and see your new apartment. >Strongheart somewhat implied she might catch a ride with her. >You’re not exactly sure whether to look forward to it, or dread the day. >In any case, it was nice to see the young bartender, as well as her father. >That hulking brute all smiles when he saw you. >Sonata later commented how hilarious it was to see someone who made you look tiny in comparison. >Well, we can’t all be made of muscle and steroids, can we? >Even if you wanted to. >Aria did not want you to. >Something about ‘already being too much for the eyes’, whatever that meant. >So the next morning you hopped back into your Buick and headed out west, meaning to reach Canterlot by nightfall. >The atmosphere in your car was… odd, to say the least. >The Dazzlings weren’t exactly quiet, but you could still feel some tension in the air. >Not to mention that touchy-feely as they had been lately. >Sonata practically jumped out of her skin when you patted her on the head at the gas station. >You had just wanted to tease her a bit! >Once you got back home, you’d get to the bottom of this. >... Huh. >It was rather weird to admit it but… yeah. >Canterlot had become a home to you during these odd few months. >You couldn’t wait to get back to see if snow had already settled in. >November 29th. How the time flew. >Just two days till December. >Then it be another 22 days and Winter Formal would be here. >22 days… >That was the time limit for your big plan. >You had your outsiders, Gilda and Lightning Dust. >You had rest of your crew. >You even had some Crystal Prep students in your corner. >Their excited talk and ribbing about the upcoming Friendship Games had given you some ideas. >You’d probably need to talk to Twilight to get a message sent to their teacher. >Principal Cinch, was it? >Few carefully selected words from their prized star-student should swing things in your way. >The games themselves would give you a perfect setting to execute your plan. >Take the games themselves off the table, stack the stakes with the Winter Formal, add in… wait. >Those games did have some sort of prize, did they? Like a cup or a trophy or something. >You make a note to yourself to research that. >Symbols were important. >If you were gonna pull off what you called “The Punk Maneuver” you’d need something with symbolic meaning and… to be honest, you weren’t exactly fit to wear Winter Formal Crown. >Then you’d need your inside man. Or a woman, most likely. >There were awful lot of girls in Canterlot High, after all. >You had an idea for that too, but such an authority figure would require some… persuasion. >Thankfully you had some ideas regarding that as well. >It had been bugging you since you visited the supermarket with Aria, but you think you could connect the pieces. >A little blackmail about street-illegal vehicles never hurt anyone. >But before all of this you’d need to… ugh, apologize to Baconswirl. >A thankless task set upon you by Principal Celestia. >Maybe now, after what happened at Independence, it wouldn’t be so awkward. Or so you hoped. “Looks like a busy month, yeah…” >Adagio cocks an eyebrow at your sudden comment. >”Did you say something, Anonymous?” “Nah. Nothing important.” >You drum the steering wheel with your fingers. >Checking your rear-view mirror, you can see Sonata curled up against Aria, both girls sleeping quietly. >Looks like the best of Phil Collins put them out like a couple of Miami thugs. >Right now it’s just you and Poof who are awake. >She’s staring at the dark shapes of Lassen National Park, the trees adorning the veil of the approaching night. >The headlights of other cars are reflected as glints in her expressionless eyes. >For a moment, you lose yourself in them. >That… honestly seems to happen more lately. >It’s another thing you should sort out. >What it is that you feel for these three… and the situation with Gilda. >You just hope this isn’t a powderkeg waiting to blow at the worst possible moment. >You rip your focus off of the copperhead and stare at the yellow lines of the road flowing under your vehicle. >So, to sum it up. >The battle plan so far is looking something like this: >Apologize to Baconswirl by Monday. >During the next week strike a deal with Principal Cinch, find your inside man and search for a fitting trophy. >On 10th, Monday, finally strike along with the outsiders. Plant seeds of rumors about the third man. >Give it a few days to let the rumor mill really get going, then bring out your ‘third man’. >Move swiftly so the Rainbooms start to panic. That should make sure they don’t see the ruse before it’s too late. >Once ‘she’ arrives because of their pleas, draw her and the Rainbooms into this new Friendship Games & Winter Formal. >Deal another blow with your inside man and divide the school as much as you can. >By the time the actual day of the battle comes, the battlelines should be drawn clearly. >On the games’ eve things should be ripe for ‘The Punk Maneuver’. It should weaken those loyal to the Rainbooms as well. They can’t be all mindless sheep, after all. >Drive them to a corner, and if all goes as planned, crush them. >Your friends deserve one victory after all they’ve been through. >And now that you’ve got ‘her’ here, see how she makes ‘It’ work. >Once you have that, you’re set. >After all ‘It’ is what you’re really after. >Not being a villain, not helping others grow through adversity, not even avenging your friends. >No. >You’re in this convoluted mess because you want to grant that one unspoken wish they all share, but which you can see in their eyes. >You glance at Adagio once more. >A small smile rises to your lips. >Her breathing has grown quiet and her eyes are closed. >So Ol’ Phil claimed another victim, huh? >Honestly you could gaze at that sleeping face, devoid of all the malice she usually exhibits, for a far longer time. >But… it’s best you focus on the road. >You need to get these three back home safely, after all. >You roll your shoulders and sigh contently. >It’s easy to lose yourself in the sight of the road rolling by. >Just an hour or two and you’d be back home. >You’d sleep as long as you wanted to. You’ve skipped a few days, one more ain’t gonna hurt you. >Seriously, it feels like this Kansas trip exhausted in so many ways. >Least of all not being what happened to you. >You scratch the top of your head, almost expecting to feel those fuzzy, feline-like ears. >This ‘ponying up’ business was more than you bargained for, seriously. >Twilight promised she’d look into it, but still… it was so freaky. >Your ears were in a completely wrong place and your hair was almost like a tail. >A very, very unkempt tail. >We’re talking about Cats Musical level of unkempt, like you had become Rum Tum Tugger or something. >Hideous. Absolutely hideous. >The teenage scientist hypothesized it had something to do with your emotions and the music, but you weren’t completely sure. >It had certainly not happened any time before, and you had done plenty of gigs. >Maybe it had something to do with Canterlot High? >That place was filled with magic, after all. >From what you understood, this ‘ponying up’ was something the Rainbooms were capable of, too. >The Dazzlings had had an experience as well, but theirs… didn’t go so well. >Plus there was something about wings. >You’re so glad you didn’t get wings. >Yes. Glad. Not jealous. >No matter what Aria crudely implied, you weren’t jealous that you didn’t get wings. >Not. One. Bit. “Bah. What am I even thinking?” >Perhaps it was because how morose things had gotten in Kansas, but right now, you felt oddly liberated. >All the baggage you had left behind had evaporated, leaving you with the things that were truly important. >The wishes and dreams you and your old friends had. >And the wishes and dreams you shared with your new friends. >Not to mention the wish you yourself had for the sake of these new friends. >If only you could get your heart in order before Winter Formal. >It’d be wise to talk things through with Gilda this weekend. >The moment you think that, your fingers feel slightly numb. >What were you even going to say to her? >After what she had shared with you that night at Laramie… >It’s not like you hated her. Far from it. >But was she truly what you were looking for? >And these conflicting emotions you were feeling… were they worth pursuing? >Especially now that you had achieved a balance with the Dazzlings? >Maybe you should call Shining Armor, go to a pub with an actual male friend. >He had a girlfriend, right? He might be able to help you. >God knows you had been out of the game for too long. >Thinking these things, you whittle away the hour and drive. >You thought you had things well thought out. >You really did. >Perhaps it’s just because of that it comes as a such a shock. >Some time after Palo Cedro, just after going under an old overpass, something odd enters your field of vision. >Something that freezes the blood in your veins. >Something that makes you hit the brakes violently, causing the tires to screech and jolting the car backwards with enough force to wake the three sirens. >”Ow! Roadie, what the heck!?” >Aria groans painfully, sprawled in a big pile with Sonata. >You don’t even answer her. >Instead you fly out of your car and flag the rest of the vehicles coming behind you to stop. >It’s then that you notice. >Apart from your Buick and the various vehicles the other girls have, there’s no one else on the road. >It’s… worrying. >Even if it’s late evening, there should still be other people on the road. >But no. >There’s no one. >Just you and your friends. >”Nonny! What’s the big idea!?” >Sonata is first to follow you out of the car, the other two following en suite. >”Why did you stop the…” >Sonata’s words die off. >She must’ve seen the agitated look on your face. >To be honest, you’re no longer in control of your facial muscles. >Ice cold sweat is creeping down your spine and it feels like every inch of your skin is shivering. >You can just stare at the sheer impossibility that looms in the distance, looking so massive it almost blends into the night sky. >”Anonymous? What’s going on?” >Adagio walks up to your, clearly sensing your distress. “Look. Look at Canterlot City.” >You point towards west, where the road leads. “W-what the hell… is that....?” >You almost have to force those words out. >Not because they’re hard to say, but because you can scarcely believe it either. >No. You don’t want to believe it. >It’s like something out of a nightmare. >Adagio looks to the direction you’re pointing and squints her eyes. >”What? I don’t see-” >Her jaw snaps shut and you can see her go rigid. >Her eyes bulge and for a moment she sways, like the vertigo just hit her. >”By the Abyss, what… what *is* that?” >Aria and Sonata say nothing. >They’re too shocked to say anything. >It’s not until the other girls exit their vehicles that you start hearing human sounds again. >Twilight is the first one to reach you. >”What are you three doing!? We nearly ran into you!” >You simply shake your head and continue pointing. “Hey, Twilight? You’re supposed to be a scientist, right?” >She snorts at you. >”Usually people add ‘mad’ to that title, but yes.” >You have no time for her jokes. >They sound shrill and unwelcome in this absurd atmosphere, this surreal horror that creeps from the direction of your hometown. “Then explain to me what *that* is.” >Twilight follows the direction of your finger and is about to answer… >... Only to shriek and fall to her rump out of shock. >The other girls react in quite the same way. >There’s cursing. >There’s words of astonishment. >There’s clear denial because what the lot of you are seeing just cannot be real. >No, it should *not* be real. >Laws of physics do not work that way. >Something that should not exist in this world of yours is staring you all in the face, laughing at your broken minds as you try to comprehend it. >If it was something smaller, it’d be easier to explain. >But in this magnitude the effect is instant and decisive. >”Is… is that a mountain?” >Twilight’s whisper echoes in each of your minds. >Yes. >That’s exactly what it is. >You realize it too, but your brain tries its damnedest to assure you it couldn’t possibly be one. >After all… >When have mountains been upside down? >Yes. >A mountain. >One that stretches from the blue of the sky, from somewhere above where you can’t see. >You can’t see the root of this mountain. >It lies somewhere above the curtain of clouds. >But that snow-covered spearlike top of it pierces that veil, plunges downwards and has buried itself deep into the soil of Canterlot City. >It’s a warped reflection of how a mountain should really be. >And that’s not all. >Even from so far away, you can see waterfalls on its slopes, rapidly coursing upwards. >Upwards from your perspective. Yes, waterfalls that go up. >Another impossibility. >Yet the most striking feature of that mountain is the city. >A metropolis of spiraling shapes and gentle colors, like something out of a fairy tale grimoire. >Purple, white and gold, all dimmed by the gown of evening light. >This city, jutting from the side of the mountain, is upside-down as well. >It hovers just above Canterlot City like it was some sort of eldritch reflection on the surface of a pool. >Pool that’s in the sky. >The highest tower of that city, one emerging from a grand castle, touches the ground gently. >It hits an area where you know CHS is. >Still, the mountain, the waterfalls, the city… none of those are surreal enough to cause this absolute feel of dread. >No, what makes fear grip your heart is the fact that there are no signs of destruction or panic. >It’s as if mountain coming from the sky was the most normal thing ever. >Lights are on in the buildings of Canterlot City, just as they are in the reflection above it. >No fires, no sirens. Not even a single scream. >Everything is silent. >It’s as if *nobody but you and your friends find this odd*. “G--ghkk!” >You grip the sides of your face. >The harder you grip, the more it feels like your world is breaking. >This… this is an ERROR. >This should NOT be. >It’s too EARLY isn’t it? >The mountain CANNOT be real. >Don’t let it BE real. >Deny IT. >Deny IT Anonymous, or you’ll lose whatever measly hold of reality you have. >It’s like a house of cards that comes tumbling down. >No matter how tight you squeeze the cards, they refuse to stay where they should be. >Curtain is pulled aside. >The trick is staring you RIGHT IN THE FACE. >That’s the PLACE you must never GO. >Don’t let it be. >Turn your gaze away. >Spit at it. Spit at it. Spit at it. >Somebody screams. >It’s your scream ANONYMOUS. >Your knees hit the asphalt and you howl towards the sky. >There the arbiter of the end, what you know is waiting for you, stares back. >That accursed mountain. >That impossibility. >That MONOLITH. >Deny it. Deny it. Deny it. >Denyitdenyitdenyitdenyitdenyitdenyit. >Please Anonymous deny it or everything ends right here and now. >If you let it be real the box will open and it all is revealed too soon. >DENY IT ANONYMOUS. “Ggg--GAAAAAAAHHHH!” >Your voice is the only thing that’s currently real. >The scream is what you repel the absurd sight with. You announce to this miserable reality that is about to fall apart that you will not accept this. >Go back. >Go back to what you were about to do. >Go back to the reality that you were waiting for. >Your phone rings. >Somehow, even without looking at it, you know the caller. >It’s that same string of numbers that bothered you while in Independence. >Why do you know this? >01010100 01001001 01010100 01001111 01010010. >If iT Isn’t the Same cALler then helL is gonnA foLlow In the footstEps of the white horse. >”_________! ____’_ _____!?” >You hear a buzzing sound. >Somebody is screaming your name. >You don’t want to know anymore. You just want to make it go away. >So you turn the switch in your brains. >Click. >And fade into the whiteness. >In here there’s nothing. >Just the aforementioned white. >Emptiness where you can rest as much as you want. >Hover in the void where nobody can hurt you. >But if you’re ‘here’, doesn’t that mean you’re still ‘somewhere’? >In that case where is this ‘somewhere’? >If it is a physical place, that means someone could get to you, right? >Why… why do your eyelids feel so heavy? >Why is your breathing so raspy? >Sheets? Why are you lying rigid under a bunch of sheets? >You draw breath. “... w-what…” >And hear another heavy *click*. >Light fills the emptiness that surrounds you. >You realize you really are ‘somewhere’. >Your eyes shoot open and you stare at your new surroundings. >No, wait. >There’s nothing new about these surroundings. >You recognize this bedroom. >In fact, you know this building. >A place with white ceiling and beige walls. >Not a single sharp corner anywhere and surprisingly clean and cold floors; sanitized, even. >Over there is a window from where you can see the clock tower. >The clock face is neatly bisected into two parts, black and white, and the time shown is 02:00. >Snow gently falls from the sky on these subdued hours of the night. >There’s nothing on your nightstand, as per usual. >You kept nothing there because you needed nothing. >”Well well. Awake now, are we? How good of you to join us, Anonymous.” >A deep yet almost lilting male voice calls out to you from the doorway. >The doctor you’ve become familiar with in recent years stands there, one finger on the light switch. >So he was the one who caused your rude awakening. “Ugh… what do you want, Dr. D? I was sleeping.” >”Yes you were, once again. It’s becoming quite a habit for you, isn’t it?” >Doctor D saunters over and you get another look at his garish fashion sense. >Mismatched clothes topped with an ugly Aloha shirt and a walking cane adorned with a grinning face of… something. >Under his arm is a clipboard and a thin stack of papers. >Doctor plops down to the stool next to your bed and begins leafing through said papers, giving you a scrutinizing glance over his half-moon glasses. “Uh, you know that everybody sleeps, right? Why do you sound so accusing?” >”Because it’s all you’ve been doing lately, really. For last month or two you’ve spent more time in bed than awake.” >As he speaks he fishes out a pack of Lucky Bastard cigarettes from his breast pocket and offers you one as well. >You both light your cigarettes up at the same time. >Since this isn’t exactly a hospital, nobody is there to yell at you. >Better get that ashtray from the drawer, though. “What can I say? I prefer dreams over this boredom any day.” >You vaguely gesture at the room and the door he walked through. >Through it you can hear faint sound of people conversing. >”Ah, yes. You’ve been experienced vividly realistic dreams lately, haven’t you? Was this yet another?” >For a moment you have to think. >What were you dreaming about again? >You’re pretty sure it had something to do with… fish? “I… I guess?” >”Hmm, so was it yet another continuation? Let’s see, what was it last time…” >Doctor D skims through his papers until he finds the handwritten report he was looking for. >”Ah, yes, here we go. Two weeks ago you dreamt that you were a hired bodyguard to a… heiress of a mudflap empire? Somewhere in Oregon, I believe? There was also something about competing against two mystery-solving siblings or some such nonsense.” >You’re drawing a complete blank, if you’re honest. >”And a week before that you dreamt that you allied yourself with two aliens made out of light with mass? There was a short green one and a large orange one. You fought with them against defenders of planet Earth, I believe?” >You have no idea what he’s talking about. >It feels like your memory’s become a sieve. >For a moment Doctor D stares at you with a flat expression. He then adjusts his glasses and continues reading in silence. >An uncomfortable moment passes as he rifles through the papers. >He spoke of dreams you have no memories of and honestly, there’s nothing weird about that. >Who remembers their dreams after a day or two? >So… so why does this make you feel so guilty? >”You seem very content with the role of a villain in these dreams.” >Doctor D suddenly speaks, causing you cough a few times. >Grumbling, you take a drag off your cigarette before answering. “They’re just dreams, Doc. It’s not like I control them.” >You twiddle the hem of your hospital gown. “So who cares?” >”I care. It’s my job to care. Well, it would be if anyone paid me, but that’s neither here nor there.” >He grins rather sardonically and taps his nose. >”Still, why do you think you are so enamored with the role of a villain? Any particular reason?” “I dunno. Aren’t villains always cooler than the heroes?” >”That may be correct in movies, but this is real life, Anonymous. Nobody really thinks of themselves as a villain.” >You do. >Wait. Why *do* you? >It almost feels as if… somebody said that you’d make a perfect villain. >But who was it? >”I believe the closest you got to being a ‘good guy’ in your dreams was when you… let’s see here…” >He switches to another report. >”When you dreamt of being an ally to an interdimensional female being who hopped between realities by tearing holes into thin air by using scissors, I believe? There was also something about Mexicans using karate.” >Doctor lowers the paper and gives you a long, hard look. >Those red eyes of his seem to bore into your core. >”This obsession with being a villain wouldn’t have anything to do with guilt of some sort, would it?” “N-no. Why would it?” >Why does it feel like such an obvious lie to say that? >Dr. D sighs and rubs his neck. >He glances at the door separating your room from the rest of the building. >”Can I ask you something, Anonymous?” “Go ahead, Doc.” >”When was the last time you talked with your friends? Other than a murmured greeting when getting food from the fridge?” >That makes you go silent. >Your eyes are drawn to the door as well. >You practically stare a hole through it, listening to the voices coming from the other side. >There are seven of them and they are… very, very familiar. >So many emotions run through your mind as you listen to them. >Dye of nostalgia clouds your mind momentarily. “What does it matter? We’ve been here for so long I can have a little break from them, can’t I?” >It’s clearly not the answer he was hoping for. >Shaking his head in disappointment, Dr. D rises from his stool and walks over to the door. >He puts his hand on the knob but doesn’t turn it. >For an awkward, silent moment he simply stares at the grey surface, as if deep in thought. >He most likely was. >Underneath that sarcastic demeanor lay a wickedly clever mind, after all. >”You know, Anonymous, some people say that dreams are the only place where we are not bound by rules of time.” “Huh?” >Doctor turns back to look at you, his face slightly apathetic. >”If we’re to believe those people, it could mean that what you’re dreaming about aren’t merely dreams. They could be just vision of the future.” >He makes a wavy gesture with his hand like it was rubber. >”But since future is not fixed, it’s always fluctuating. That’s how you could one day be bodyguard to a child heiress and an alien invader on another. Well, it’s mere theory anyhow.” >What is he trying to say? >That the dreams you’re so fond of aren’t actually just dreams? >But something more real? >That sounds ludicrous yet at the same time so right. >”But even if that were the case, is it still alright?” >He points his thumb towards the door. >”There’s already a reality here. Even if you keep chasing after a future that might be real, you’ll be abandoning something that is most definitely real. Real as it can be.” >The air grows heavy with melancholy. >”Can you really justify leaving your friends behind?” >Your attention is once more drawn to the voices on the other side of the door. >Laughter and quiet conversation. >It would be so easy to leave your bed and go join them. >”Go through that door and be part of this reality you already have. Or stay in that bed and dream of a future that might possibly be true. It’s your right to make that choice, but… I still worry.” >Doctor’s shoulders slump and for a moment, he seems much older than he really is. >”We all worry, Anonymous. It’s been so long since we lost the valley, yet you… Well. You continue to do nothing but sleep.” >For some reason you feel a sudden wave of exhaustion wash over you. >Like you had been on a long, long journey for a very, very long time. “Sorry Doc, but… I’m just tired. Tired of this place, tired of being stuck in these rooms.” >”You know why we’re in this institute, Anonymous.” “Yeah, yeah! That doesn’t magically make it better.” >”So? What will you do? Go back to sleep? Or finally get out of that bed?” >Your mouth answers before you can even think. “Sorry. They need me.” >”Who do?” >You grasp for the names, squint your eyes and try to wrack your brain. >Suddenly, three names come out. >Names you’ve never heard before. “A-Adagio. Aria and… Sonata.” >”I see.” >The light switch goes *click* once more, and blessed darkness returns. >Doc opens the door and slips through it. >His parting words remain. >”I hope they’re worth it.” >As your head hits the pillow, only one thought runs through it. >They are. >You don’t know why but… they are. >The night falls once more. >That night, you saw a dream. >In that dream there was a landscape which you had never before witnessed. >A strikingly blue sky above, straight lanes of clouds cutting across it. >Innumerable spears holding aloft banners of myriad colors and heraldries. >They quietly wave back and forth in the wind that you cannot feel. >So many weapons marring this vivid grassland, these infinite rolling hills of green. >Had a war, long ago, happened upon this landscape? >A crisp breeze courses through this forest of banners. >It brings with it the fragrance of a land long lost to the legends. >Yes… this land. These hilltops of spears and lances. >They continue to the horizon, and each of them carries an unique coat of arms. >Truly, you cannot even begin to count them. >Ten, twenty, one hundred… it does not matter how many you single out. >Without a doubt, there are infinite. >Yet, even though they stand here, well-forgotten by time and men, none of the banners are frayed; none of the polearms are rusted. >For this Sea of Blazonries refuses to bow down. >Even though you… think it looks more like a battlefield run over by years. >And at the center of this landscape of parting colors, on top of a hill much higher than yours, stands a figure. >You shield your eyes from the sun and glare up at him. >It’s a creature unlike any you’ve seen before. >A four-legged being clad in red armor. >His blue, tattered cloak billows in the gentle wind as he quietly gazes into the horizon. >Framed by the polearms rising from the ground, he is like a knight. >No, he is a knight. >You know it for sure. >And as you gaze him you feel his emotion caught by the same wind. >It carries them to you. >For a moment, a brief blink of an eye, the soul of that equine knight lays bare before you. >His is a sad fate. >There was no one to understand him. Not his motives, not his wishes, not even what drove him forward in his struggles. >But who can blame others? It’s not as if this knight ever spoke of what lay in his heart. >For others he was just what he appeared to be: mysterious and quiet. >Aloof to a fault, to the point of being misunderstood. >When he drew his weapon, his eyes were merciless. >Yet when he spoke of peace, his countenance was gentle. >Juxtaposed, his ways of behavior were too extreme. >There seemed to be no rhyme or reason in the eyes of a common person. >Mayhaps that was why he was feared? >It is ironic but there is no denying he was shunned by almost everyone. >Not once did he attempt to explain himself. Even when it was demanded of him he stayed quiet, offering no justification. >He did what he saw best, expecting others to naturally come to the same conclusions as he did. >Even after he was knighted, made protector of the realm, he was no better. >Nay, that new title just made him even more alien to the masses. >And thus did resentment and worry grow in those who watched his actions. >He had his uses but they were not as many as his faults. >Slowly but surely even those he saved turned away from him in suspicion. >Why would someone like him help anyone? >Was he not as bad as the evil he opposed? >Surely he must be, thought the commoner. >It would not make sense otherwise. >If the knight did not embody the values the society around him so cherished, what reason would he have to uphold them? >His foreign nature beget uneasiness in the crowds and few were those who followed in his footsteps. >Common sense yearns for easy answers, yet this knight had none of offer. >He had no answer to give were someone to ask him the simple question of why. >Uneasiness turns to distrust, and eventually, distrust turns to betrayal. >But, this foolish knight paid it no mind. >He cared not if he was betrayed. >What sort of person accepts betrayal as a matter of course? >It would have been better were he to rage against that injustice, demand retribution or even fly into rage. >But he did none of that. >He bore it all with that gentle, stoic smile of his. >Even when his world fell apart, when the ruins were dyed red and his weapons were broken, he kept that smile of his. >It would have even been better to cry. >But that knight knew not how. >He had never learned to cry. >That was why he let it all happen, no matter how much it hurt him. >The only thing that anyone taught to him was how to protect others. >In any way he could he protected others, especially those he had sworn his oath to. >It was blind faith in his way of life yet… it was all it took to satisfy him. >You want to smack him on the head, yell at him that no one could be happy living life the way he did. >The simple unfairness of it all makes your blood boil. >Like a child that knight believed in his duty. >It was all he had, which makes you even angrier. >After all, as the years went by, his life took its toll on him. >He had his duty. >But he no longer knew why he had it. >He no longer remembered the reason why he saw that duty as important. >Like a machine he performed it until the bitter end. >Despite the world spitting him in the eye he never got lost on that path of his. >Such stubbornness can only make you angry. >Thus this is where he had his final battle. >On these hills of banners. >The knight that lost it all can only find peace here, at the end of everything. >It’s frustrating. >So frustrating. >Which is why you’re glad when Ms. Cheerilee wakes you up in the class by throwing an eraser at your sleeping head. >And you wake up to another day at CHS. “Anyways, you and the others are coming by in a week? You sure about this Liz?” >As you walk down the corridors of CHS, you talk quietly to your smartphone. >Mostly because you don’t want the students around you to hear you. >Flow of rumors was one thing difficult to control in a high school, and you didn’t want to tip your hand too early. >”Yah doan hafta keep asking. Me and tuh gals all took few weeks off. What bettah way to spend it than getting rowdy with yah lot?” >Some was because you didn’t want others to overhear Chrysalis’ incomprehensible Bostonian accent. >The last thing you need is someone reporting you for talking with Gibbering Mouthers. >Of course, Liz didn’t pick up the subtle clues in your voice as she kept blabbing on as loud as she could. >”If yah want, I could invite whole gang with me to back yah up. Put little feah of ‘Tuh Queen’ in them, yah know?” “Pass. Leave your minions behind, please. We don’t need some One-Percenter-wannabes mucking about.” >Liz’s evil laugh makes you wince. >She was fun to be around, sure, but sometimes she could be more wicked than even Adagio. “What I meant was… well… Are you sure it’s okay? Things ain’t exactly gonna end up pretty over here, so you guys might want to protect your reputation.” >”What’s that? Yah think I have any rep left? No mattah wheah I go, it’s always ‘damn tossah!’ and ‘bloody sked!’ and whatevah. If anything, my rep’s gonna get bettah from this!” “I didn’t mean you! I was talking about Strongheart and Rara!” >You massage your temples in frustration. >As always, she had no consideration for anyone other than herself. >Reminded you of the person you saw every time you looked in the mirror, come to think of it. >”Hah! They’ll be fine, Anon. Those gals ah moah clevah than they look. They can look out for themselves.” >She had a point here. >Both Coloratura and Strongheart were grown girls already. They knew what they were doing. >And if they really wanted to come spend some time with you and the gang, could you really say no? >You knew they’d become fast friends back in Laramie. “Alright, fine. Just gimme a call when you’re heading this way. I think I can arrange some place for you guys to sleep in.” >”What? We ain’t gonna sheah a bunk like old times?” “Not happening!” >Liz’s perverted laugh still ringing in your ears, you end the call and heave a heavy sigh. >It’s not even lunch hour yet, and you’re already feeling like heading home. >This whole Friday had been… odd, to say the least. >Tiring was another word for it. >Scratching your head, you lean against the windowsill of the corridor and stare outside. >Thin blanket of snow covered the ground like a veil. >Heavy, grey clouds sat atop the sky like giant gunships. >From what you heard, it was unusual to get snow this early in Canterlot, but not unheard of. >Looks like it’s gonna be a White Christmas after all. >Better get your Crosby LP out of the shed. >You weren’t even kidding. If you had time after all that was going to happen at the Winter Formal, you might arrange some sort of Christmas get-together for the gang. >Well, those who’d still be around. >If things went as you planned… ”Gah!” >You’re shaken out of your thoughts by the buzzing of your phone, still in your hand. >You peek at the caller ID, only to see it’s Strangelove. >Quickly you check around to see if anyone’s eavesdropping and see but a few students here and there. >Oddly enough, when you got back from Kansas the looks thrown at you by your fellow students had changed ever so slightly. >Instead of fear and loathing, some showed a hint of respect or understanding. >You weren’t sure if it was your new jacket, your catharsis from the events of the past, or if the girls had started to spread some rumors, but whatever it was, it was a welcome change. >You knew something like the latter had happened. >Just this morning, when you arrived to school, you saw Limestone arguing with her sister in a loud voice. “Wait, the call, right…” >You slap your forehead and answer the phone, keeping your eyes on the scenery behind the window. >The serenity of the snow-covered soccer field is broken by a familiar, nasally voice. ”Strangelove? What’s up?” >”Why hello there, Anovulant!” “Wait, what the hell did you just call me!?” >Immediately you snap and feel your cheeks flush slightly. >”Did I call you something?” “I’m pretty sure you just called me a…! Wait! Are you trying to imply something about my man-parts and what they do down there!? You are, aren’t you!” >”Are *you* implying you’re a successful way to suppress ovulation?” “I knew it! You just straight up insulted me again!” >You’re pretty sure you can hear Twilight blow a raspberry at the other end of the line. >”And you call me Strainlube, so what’s the difference?” >At some point, the calm atmosphere you were enjoying just flew right out of the window and ended up face-down, ass-up in the snow. >Wonder when that was? “I’m pretty sure I’ve never called you such an erotic term! And never say that again, especially after we talk about my man-parts and anovulant! It’s creepy! You’re creepy!” >”And tush here be large.” “Wait, it was your tush!? Don’t tell me that was what needed the strainlube!” >”Rear with scars? “It was!” >Feeling an odd and utter sense of defeat, you fall to your knees, head in hands. >You stare at the linoleum floor, wondering idly if it could give you any advice. >Unfortunately, there was no response. >It’s just a linoleum floor. >”Well, all joking aside, Anonymous…” >Your heart breaks a little when she calls the torment you just experienced ‘joking’. >”I did call you for a reason. Are you alone right now?” “Uh… yeah, I guess?” >You climb back to your feet, hoping no one saw or heard your slightly insane episode of telephone mad libs with government-sponsored evil scientist. >Luckily the only witness was a beanie-headed student outside, who slowly backs away from the window. >Yeah, you better run. >You don’t want to be a part of this, hippie. Not in any shape or form. >”Good. There were few matters I wished to discuss with you, actually.” >You immediately adopt a more serious expression. >You could hear from her voice that this had something to do with coming weeks. >”I managed to secure Principal Cinch’s cooperation with your plan.” >Wait, already? That was fast. >In a way, that had been one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when it came to your plan. “How? I mean, she’s basically postponing this year’s Friendship Games because of us.” >You hear Twilight giggle, and it’s downright evil. >”Well, it just so happens that thanks to my participation, Everton has been sponsoring Crystal Prep with quite large ‘donations’. It’s basically my rent, since I’m still technically enrolled in Crystal Prep. So, I just dangled the possibility of closing that money faucet above her head, and she became very compliant.” >Ouch. Twilight went straight for their money. >That had to hurt. >”Not to mention that I also implied a chance of greater humiliation for CHS than what Friendship Games could ever bring. She became quite enthusiastic after that.” >Man. Sounds like that there was another can of worms you didn’t want to touch. >Whatever there was between these two schools, you’re just glad it worked to your advantage. >”In other words, we can loan their students for your plan, and Principal Cinch’s agreement guarantees that the competition will be ‘legal’ now. So if you win, it comes with all the perks.” “Including… what was it again… Friendship Cup?” >”Yeah, as far as I can tell.” >That made you sigh in relief. >Honestly, there weren’t many objects of great value when it came to CHS. Some trophies and such, of course, but none of them had any great historical significance. >Not one except for Friendship Cup. >Apparently it had once been awarded to every year’s winner of the Friendship Games, but since CHS’s losing streak, it had been all but forgotten. >However, according to Trixie’s investigation, the first Friendship Games had involved Principal Celestia herself, and she had handed the trophy to Crystal Prep students. >So, if anything, it had emotional value to the current head of the school, and by medium, the rest of CHS. >Putting that on the line was sure to raise the stakes. “Alright. That’s one less thing to worry about when it comes to Winter Formal.” >”Yep. Though I guess it’s going to be more of a ‘Friendship Winter Games’ now, isn’t it?” >Twilight giggled again, and you couldn’t help but to chuckle. >Good news and stupid puns were just what you needed right now. “So? Was there anything else?” >”Yes, actually. And it’s rather important, Anonymous.” >That made you raise an eyebrow. >Something even more important than the deal with Cinch? >”I have it in good authority that tonight, you’ll have a chance to steal a book from one Sunset Shimmer. Do it, and deliver that book to me.” >That made you pause. >A book? What did that have to do with anything? “Wait, what? Why would I steal a book from Baconswirl? You make it sound like it’s not just a random tome.” >”Right on the money. After coming back from Kansas, I’ve been doing some digging into this whole ‘ponying up’ business, and according to Adagio, the Rainbooms should know something.” >You shudder slightly and touch the top of your head. >No fluffy ears in sight. >Good. >”At least they’ve done it before, to defeat both them *and* Sunset Shimmer in the past. The Dazzlings have also sensed that the journal Sunset Shimmer keeps has slight fragrance of Equestrian magic about it. In other words…” “... It’s possible that she’s written about Ponying Up and what it means into that journal, gotcha.” >Honestly, you would have been fine without all of this magic mumbo-jumbo. >It just made your plans even more complicated. >But after coming this far, you had to play with the cards you’d been dealt with. So if magic was gonna be a part of all this, so be it. >Still, there is something bothering you. “Okay, I get what you mean. If I steal that book from her, we might learn something new about what happened to me. But how do you know that I’ll have a chance to steal it? I haven’t seen a hide nor greasy hair of her all day.” >There is a pregnant pause at the other end of the line. >Almost like Twilight had realized she’d made some sort of mistake. >This put all sorts of warning bells ringing in your ears, first and foremost being… “Strangelove? Are you… are you calling from the future again?” >Your question is met with a loud crash, almost as if Twilight fell from her chair. >”Wa-wahahaha! What are you t-talking about, Anonymous? As if that was possible!” >Her words are so full of feigned ignorance one could have used them as battering rams. >But if that wasn’t enough, the final nail in Twilight’s coffin came when you heard someone else’s voice from the other end of the line, and the scientist’s hasty answer of: >”No, I was talking to him, not you! And a human can’t physically crack their rear!” >Another awkward silence. >Then, with a gentle cough, you began to talk again. “You… you did already explain how your phone worked, Strangelove. And I’ve heard you make calls to the past before.” >The slapping sound must have come from one purple palm meeting a purple forehead. >”Ugh… fine. I’m using my E-phone to make this call from after you met up with Sunset Shimmer to make sure the book ends up in my hands.” >The whole concept makes your head spin a little, but honestly, it’s not even in Top 5 of the weirdest stuff you’ve experienced so far. >Wait, actually. >If Twilight made that phone call immediately after learning about the book, did that mean… “Twilight? Am I there right now?” >You were pretty sure the girl you were talking with just straight up froze. >It was pretty much all the confirmation you needed. “Can I talk with myself!?” >Eerie echo from the other end of the line repeated your question, with a voice you were pretty sure you recognized. >Unfortunately, your enthusiasm was shut down with iron hammer. >”No! The last thing we need is you causing a temporal paradox!” “Which one of us are you talking to?” >”Both of you! Now quit it! This is hard enough without the ultra-stereo sound of you two!” >You grumble a bit, but let the matter drop. >Twilight usually knew what she was talking about. >... Even if it would have been absolutely bonkers to talk with your future self. “Fine, fine. What I just don’t get is why you use these calls so sparingly. You could’ve saved us a lot of trouble with your phone.” >You can practically hear the scientist roll her eyes on the other end. >”It’s not that easy, Anonymous. I can’t just make a call whenever I want, I’m not omniscient.” >Well there’s a scary thought. >Omniscient Twilight might have just become your new nightmare #1. >“If I want to make a call to the past, I need to consciously think and plan of doing one based on the evidence and information I’ve gathered in my present, and… ugh, you know what? I’ll explain to you later.” “Later?” >”Later as in the time where I am right now. I don’t want to give the same lecture twice.” >You were pretty sure some part of your parietal lobe was turning to mush trying to wrap your head around this. >”Suffice to say for now, I’m not some sort of hypothetical Laplace’s Demon. I have my limits.” >Wait, you had actually heard that term. >Laplace’s Demon was a term that had to do with determinism, wasn’t it? “Alright, no need to get so angry. I’ll just get this book, and then we’ll talk later, right? How do I recognize it anyway?” >You hear Twilight sigh heavily, mostly out of frustration. >”It has this symbol of sun on the front. It’s practically impossible to miss, though. Just look for a book that screams of ‘magical grimoire’.” “Gotcha. Anything else?” >You pick up sounds of fingers tapping on keyboard. >Most likely she’s going through some files or something. Perhaps she’s keeping a track of all the information you’ve given her about today? >”Oh, actually.” >Twilight suddenly speaks up, sounding somewhat surprised. >”Has anything felt weird today to you? As in if you’ve been oddly restless, or listless, or even just forgetting things…” >Her question causes an odd pang in your mind. >Something you’ve forgotten? >You stare out into the snowy scenery, the school yard and the city beyond it. >The horizon is a line between white and grey; snow and ash. >Now that she mentions it… you’ve had this odd feeling the whole day. >You remember coming back home yesterday, saying goodbye to your friends, and then heading to school this morning… >But that’s the exact problem. You only ‘remember it’. >It’s as if you were watching the memories of someone else. >You didn’t remember actually doing it, you just remember it happening. >Like it was a randomly generated backstory for today. >Then… then there was this dream. A dream of a knight. >Something that didn’t fit. >No wonder you felt tired the whole day. “... No. Nothing out of the ordinary, really.” >But, in the end, what rolls from your lips is a lie. >Why? >For a moment, you’re not sure yourself. >But eventually you have to admit it. >Twilight’s already done so much for you. The problem with Cinch, this whole deal with Equestrian magic, even being the ‘third man’ in your plan… >You didn’t want to give her more things to stress about. >Maybe later, when things have calmed down, you could talk about what you felt today. >But for now, she should keep her head in things that really mattered. >”... Okay then. Still, if anything comes up, just call me.” “Sure. I’ll let you know if something happens, and when I get the book. Talk to you later, Strangelove.” >She giggles, but this time, there’s actual humor in her voice. >”I know you will. Bye, Anonymous.” >And with that, you end the call. >Once again, you’re left into your own solitude. >The corridor is empty, mostly because the lessons are about to start again. >You’d need to hurry if you wanted to make it. >But for some reason, your feet walk slowly as you make your way towards the lockers. >You’d like to pretend that the reason is a complex one, but it really isn’t. >It has to do with Twilight’s request. >Stealing that book from Baconswirl. >In other words, you’d have to make contact with her again. >And that brought up another request made of you days ago. >Namely, Principal Celestia’s demand. >Apologize to her. >Your visit to Kansas had left you feeling more free than you ever had before. >The past that you had been carrying with you for so long no longer felt like this suffocating collar around your neck. >As Aria had put it, your eyes were no longer dead. >But that didn’t mean things magically got better back in Canterlot. >Especially your relationship with Baconswirl... >How were you supposed to act around her now? >She was a constant reminder of what you lost, and even if you had come to terms with that loss, she still remained. >It was like someone you didn’t know wearing the face of your loved one. >But try as you might, you couldn’t deny some things were… the same. >Her laughter, her expressions… those were identical to what your Sunset Shimmer did. >So now that you didn’t have this crushing guilt to turn into anger, how were you supposed to act around her? >You still didn’t like her, not in the least. >But you couldn’t exactly hate her either. >It was so easy to hate people, but you were trying to change that. >But when your earlier relationship was based on nothing but that hate, what could you replace it with? >This question was swirling in your mind with enough force that you could almost see Baconswirl right now. >No. >Wait. >You actually did see her. >She was standing right there, by the lockers. >Her face was pale, and her cerulean eyes were widened in shock. >Perhaps the reason was the person standing before her, or what she had said. >That person with a lustrous copper hair, eyes blazing with grudge, and arms folded across her chest. >Your breath was caught in your throat. >For whatever reason, you had happened upon the unlikeliest of pairs, apparently in a middle of a serious conversation. >Baconswirl and Adagio. >Like a tiger and a dragon confronting each other. >One with shock, one with fury. >”Anonymous.” >Adagio’s voice pierces the silence that seems to have taken a hold of you. >The conversation between her and Baconswirl has died down, and both are now staring at you. >Adagio’s face betrays no emotion, but the girl beside her seems… anxious. >Perhaps even slightly hesitant. >Like she didn’t know how she should react. >You can sympathize, because that’s exactly how you’re feeling right now. “Well… uh. This is an unexpected combo. What’s up?” >You try to play it off, mask your confusion with your usual bravado. >In a way, you’re not even sure you want to know. >Baconswirl’s eyes dart from you to the siren, and especially the jacket she’s wearing. >Your old jacket. >Because of the size difference, a normal pilot jacket looks like a long coat on Adagio. >As usual, it fits her surprisingly well. >But at the same time, it’s a little worrisome. >Has she been wearing that thing the whole day? >People must’ve recognized your old duds. >Hopefully no strange rumors have started floating around. >”Not much. I was just talking to Sunset Shimmer here.” >Adagio glares at the redhead. >”I figured it was a high time someone made her realize she’s not the center of the universe. Give a little perspective to her moral grandstanding, so to speak.” >You practically feel your heart stop, then and there. “Adagio. What did you tell her?” >For one, horrible second you’re afraid that your very own can of worms was ripped open in front of the redhead. >But, to your relief, Adagio shakes her head. >”Nothing you should worry about. I just figured I should finally speak my mind, make it clear she’s not in the right all the time.” >The siren throws another sideways glance at the other girl. >”Isn’t that right?” >Baconswirl swallows hard, and knits her brow into a frown. >”Yeah. You made it pretty clear what you think of me, Adagio.” >A familiar shiver runs through you as you hear her voice. >”Just so you know, I never claimed I was perfect.” >”Then stop acting like you are.” >It almost feels like the two of them are ready to start throwing punches. >And while there might be some small, sadistic part of your brain that wouldn’t mind seeing Adagio beat up Baconswirl, you’re glad that things don’t escalate any further. >”I… I made a mistake, I understand that.” >The redhead scratches her arm awkwardly, turning her gaze aside first. >”And since you’re so vehement about it, I can see that I was in the wrong. Trust me, I never meant for any of this to happen. B-besides, that’s why I asked you where Anonymous was, right?” >The strength in her tone falters a bit. >”I wanted to apologize, after all.” >Ah. So that’s it. >Baconswirl was agonizing over the very same thing you were. >Principal Celestia had put both of you on the same task, to apologize to each other. >It seemed like an eternity ago when you had visited that stern woman in her office. >It’s… sorta funny. >The anger that you had felt back then was all gone. >There was nothing but this awkward lump in your stomach. >And looking at her face, the situation is the same for her. >”Well, here he is. All yours to admit your mistakes to.” >Adagio flashes a smug smile towards the other girl. >”And since you seem to understand that you don’t have any moral high ground here, I guess I can leave you two to it.” >Adagio takes a step away from Baconswirl and walks past you, patting you on the shoulder. >She might be putting on her best bully-face, but through that touch, you can tell she’s encouraging you. >Whatever Adagio really said to the redhead, she did it for you. >But, even if it was meant as a stealthy, familiar gesture, Baconswirl’s eyes catch it. >They take in the look you and Adagio shared and then bounce at the jacket she is wearing. >”A-Adagio?” >Her voice is unsure, yet oddly determined. >”Are you and Anonymous-” >That was as far as she got. >The look Adagio shoots at her is pure murder. >”None of your business, nor will it ever be.” >Leaving those cold words behind, Adagio storms off. >The warmth she shared with you is gone as well. >Just ten seconds, and you’re alone at the lockers, facing the girl whose face is a dead ringer of your former girlfriend.. >Baconswirl tries to laugh, but the sound comes off as forced. >”Well, thanks for making this even more awkward…” >Her words are meant to for the siren that just left the scene, but you find yourself grinning ever so slightly.. “She… knows how to do that.” >Your answer is but a grunt. “Most of the time it’s on purpose. She loves making people squirm and all that.” >”Yeah, I noticed. The way she was grilling me earlier… and here I thought I had seen scorn back when I lost the Fall Formal.” >You cock an eyebrow at her, and she just shrugs nonchalantly. “I heard some murmurs about that. ‘Raging she-demon’, was the term of choice, I think?” >Baconswirl’s shoulders slump and she grumbles under her breath. >”Not you too. And here I thought students here were getting over it…” “In this school? Yeah, good luck with that.” >Both of you chuckle a bit at that. >And when you realize you’re sharing this sort of atmosphere with this redheaded girl, you nearly choke. >Just what the hell was going on? >Were the two of you… getting along? >”Um…” >Baconswirl must’ve noticed it as well, as she scratches her head and looks at you, confusion written all over her expression. >”If you don’t mind me asking, Anonymous… did something happen while you guys were ditching school? The last time we ‘talked’, I’m pretty sure you wanted to punch me through the wall.” >She then makes a vague gesture towards you. >”And now you’re… civil. Don’t take this the wrong way, this is much nicer, but… I remember you saying you didn’t like me.” >Yeah, you remember it clearly. >You had, in no vague terms, told this girl just how much you loathed her and her idea of ‘friendship’. >That sappy, self-serving idea she had about camaraderie. >And though you still didn’t agree with it, you did notice that red-hot burn from the pit of your stomach was gone. “Just because I’m civil don’t mean I’ve changed my mind.” >You say this sternly, letting your face grow serious. “My opinion of you, about you, hasn’t changed. Make no mistake about that.” >For a moment, you try to find the right words. >Things that make sense in your head are sometimes hard to convey. >And when those things are muddled even in your own mind, it becomes even worse. “Still… it’s just too easy to hate people. I’ve noticed that now. And I no longer want to cut corners in this life. I owe it to them.” >You don’t specify who. >Something tells you don’t need to. >So, instead, you motion Baconswirl to follow you and begin walking outside. >A short hop from the lockers to the front door, and you’re out in the snow-capped field of CHS. “So while we might not see eye to eye, while we might disagree on a lot of things, it serves no purpose if I just keep hating you. I might not like you, but that doesn’t mean I have to hate you. That’s the way I see it, at least.” >You light up a cigarette despite Baconswirl’s admonishing stare. >A single drag and exhale, smoke billowing towards the grey sky. >”You actually hated me?” >Baconswirl looks slightly shocked, her calm demeanor showing a crack. >You nod tentatively. “I guess so. When I got here I was carrying a lot of awful things in my heart. Guess I took it out on people I didn’t like, you included.” >Of course, there was a specific reason. >But she didn’t have to know that. >If you had your way, she’d never find out. The last thing you needed was… whatever she would feel from it. >Pity would be the worst possible outcome. “The thing is though, when I got here, I had no reason to care about what I did or who I hated. I just lived from one day to another. The strangest thing is, it didn’t take long until I suddenly found myself thinking ahead, preparing for the future. Planning things.” >You flick some of the ash into the snow. >Baconswirl’s eyes are now glued to you. You can feel their burn in your cheek. >Week or so ago, you would have ran from that. >Not this time. >This time you look straight back at her, gazing into those cerulean eyes. >So familiar, yet utterly alien at the same time. “You can probably guess who I got to blame for that.” >You smile without humor, and the redhead before you nods. >”The Dazzlings.” “Yeah. So I got plans but no motivation. A bad combination because it made me even more frustrated. Yet, somehow, me and the girls took a little trip to the east. I laid some skeletons to rest, got a little perspective for myself.” >You stretch and feel your shoulder popping faintly. >No longer are they slumped from a heavy burden. “And now that I’m back, I’ve made a promise to myself. From now on, I’m going to give a damn. I’m going to try. In other words, this time, I’ll put some effort into what I’m doing instead of just doing what is easiest.” >The taste of cheap tobacco fills your mouth. >It strengthens your will. “So, I won’t hate you anymore. I refuse to let that hate control me anymore, because I know how it ravages one from the inside. Instead, I’ll man up and do what needs to be done. In other words...” >You bow your head. Just an inch. >But enough to be noticed. “I’m sorry about what happened.” >For a moment, Baconswirl can just stare at you, mouth open. >In the meantime, smoke from your cigarette floats towards the snowy sky. >Seconds pass in the chilly silence. >But when she finally speaks again, she does so with a smile. >”You know, I’m not sure what I should be most surprised about.” >That was an odd response. “Huh?” >”I mean, I didn’t expect things to go down like this at all. Instead of another hostile confrontation, you’re being frank with me. It’s like you’ve become a completely another person in just a week.” >The redhead gestures towards the school and the lockers where you came from. >”And even before that, Adagio comes up to me and chews me out in a way I’d never imagined. Even I could see she didn’t do it because of how she felt about me…” >She scratches her cheek with a warm smirk on her lips. >”...But because she was worried about someone important to her. She practically threatened me to do right by you.” >You’re both surprised and you’re not. >You had gotten a lot closer to the girls during the Kansas trip, especially Adagio. >For her to do something like that for you… it was far cry from the girl you met so long ago. >Still, it was humbling to hear it put into words. >”But I guess what surprised me the most was, well… you’re looking me in the eyes, Anonymous. For the first time, I think.” >This makes your eyebrows rise. >You had heard these words once before. >From Principal Celestia, no less. >Back then it was because you had finally started to respect her. >Then, was that unconscious quirk of yours acting again because…? “Yeah, well, I told you why. Don’t read too much into it.” >You gruffly rebuke your own thoughts with your answer, causing Baconswirl to giggle. >”I won’t. Still, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry as well. I know I got a bit too emotional last time, and it ended badly for all of us.” “You and me both.” >Then, suddenly, a slight cackle escapes from your throat. “But I think it ended worst for that boy I put through a locker.” >Baconswirl looks like she wants to oh-so-much to tell you there’s nothing funny about it, but succumbs to a laugh of her own just as quickly. >”Oh man, poor Flash. He’s a good guy but he has the worst luck.” >It’s strange, but the two of you end up laughing at the expense of the one guy who was definitely innocent in what happened. >And while you do, you can’t shake this odd feeling in the back of your mind. >Now that you talked with her instead of snarling and driving her off, being with Baconswirl like this… >... It felt alarmingly familiar. >Right, even. >Like those days were getting a sequel you never asked for. >But instead of Ghostbusters II, it was Godfather II. >And that, suddenly, made you afraid. >Not enough for it to show, but enough for your heart to jolt. “He was Flash Sentry, right? I take it this ain’t the first time he’s gotten involved in something like this.” >Baconswirl shakes her head mirthfully. >”Not even close. I don’t know how, but he has a habit of waltzing straight into trouble whenever he can.” >As you finish up your cigarette, Baconswirl amuses you by telling of the various escapades Flash Sentry has gotten himself into. >All from being an ex of a raging she-demon to falling head over heels for ‘fake transfer student’. >The redhead tries to avoid subjects like magic and such, but you can read between the lines. >Plus the Dazzlings had recounted these events from another perspective. >One that did not feature Flash at all. >Alas, such was the lot of minor characters. >As you and she talk, you find yourself getting slightly lost into a strange sense of nostalgia. >Gone are the thoughts of the mission Strangelove gave you. >You’re not even thinking of keeping a careful distance from Baconswirl. >Instead you find yourself falling into a natural rhythm of a conversation. >Almost as if you were talking with one of your friends. >But she was not one of them. >She wasn’t your friend. >She wasn’t supposed to be. >And this was why your mind was almost ready to rip itself in two when Baconswirl suddenly asked you a strange question out of the blue. >”Hey, Anonymous?” >Baconswirl fidgets with her fingers a little. “Yeah?” >You feel the atmosphere tense a bit and flick away the stump of your cigarette. >”You like cars, right?” “I guess you could say that. I mean, you’ve seen what I use to get to school every day.” >You give a sarcastic nod towards the parking lot, where your trusty Buick waits. >”Can I ask why? I mean, you do look the part, but what specifically got you interested in cars to begin with?” >You could have given her a long answer about how it started with motorcycles, and then grew into an all-encompassing love for all things gasoline. >But no. >Instead, there’s a litany of odd poetry falling from your lips. “Ever been to Bonneville Salt Flats?” >”Can’t say that I have.” “Drove once across it on I-80. Loneliest drive I’ve ever had. But it was during that drive that I noticed something. At some point I forgot that I was sitting in a car.” >You cast your mind back to that lonely night. >Nothing there to keep your mind occupied but the road. Even the radio was busted. >Flat yellow lines, one after another, upon black. “Instead it was me, gliding across the blacktop some 80 miles per hour. My heart was a Big-Block 455, pumping gasoline in my veins. V8 roared in the night, drowning out all other noise in my body. Everything else melted away, leaving just the night above and the asphalt below. For a moment, just a moment, I lost myself completely. I was no longer a man and a car.” >You can practically hear the hum of the engine once again. “I was the road, plain and simple.” >Baconswirl stares at you quietly after your speech, mouth slightly agape. >Her eyes seem to take in the whole of you. >Then, almost timidly, a smile spread across the face. >”... And you’ve been chasing that feeling ever since?” >You shrug. “I guess you could say that. It never left my mind, at the very least.” >She nods, and to your surprise, you can see in her eyes that she understands what you’re saying. >To some point at least. >”I’ve never felt something to that effect, but I think I get you. Sometimes I just hop in my car to drive around, out of Canterlot. It helps me get my mind off of things.” “It’s a great way to reset yourself, think of nothing but what’s in front of you for an hour or two.” >She nods again, staring off into the distance. >You can see that the cold air’s getting to her, as she shivers slightly. >Girl should get another jacket, seriously. >”Yeah. Even I need that sometimes, believe me.” “I think we all need that sometimes.” >She lets out an agreeing hum, before glancing sideways at you. >”Anyways, since you do seem to know a thing or two about cars…” >Baconswirl bites her lip momentarily before continuing. >”Are you free tonight? I might have something I need your help with.” >Your mind blanks for a moment, completely. >Did she just ask you what you think she did? >Then, Strangelove’s words hit you like a bag of bricks. >This was what she was talking about, the chance to steal Baconswirl’s book. >She didn’t carry it around in a place where you could see it, not at school at least. >So the easiest way to get your hands on it would be at her home. >The place where she had just, most likely, invited you to. You mean… car trouble?” >”Yeah. To be honest, I can’t make heads or tails what’s wrong with my car, so if you’re not busy…” >She rocks from one foot to another, looking nervous all of a sudden. >You pretend to think for a moment. “Alright. I guess I can help you out. I said I’d make an effort, didn’t I?” >”You will? Thanks, Anon! Wait. Sorry, was that weird? Can I call you Anon?” >She stops her celebration short, looking unsure of herself. >You chuckle at her awkwardness, which makes her cheeks flush slightly. “I guess it’s alright. It’s shorter anyhow.” >A wide smile spreads to Baconswirl’s face, and for a moment, she doesn’t seem to know what to do with her hands. >In the end she just clasps them together in front of her. >Did it really mean this much to her that you were willing to help out? >Somehow you got the idea that this wasn’t just about car trouble. >Perhaps she was trying to ‘build bridges’ as it were. >You almost felt bad about the fact that you were lying to her face. >If Strangelove hadn’t prepped you about the book beforehand, there was no way you would have agreed to help her. >Not a chance. You weren’t that nice. >In other words, you were just using this as an convenient excuse, right? >Right. >”Soooo, uh… Should we head to my place right after school?” “Sounds fine to me. Should I know anythi-” >Your words die on your lips as you glance towards the lobby of the school. >There, through the glass door, you see a retreating shape of someone. >Someone with blue hair on a ponytail. >Someone with a betrayed expression. “Sonata?” >All of a sudden, a horrible feeling of guilt washes over you and you don’t know why. >You stand there, rooted in place, as Baconswirl sucks in air through her teeth. >”Oh, shoot.” >She whispers under her breath, before turning to look at you sternly. >”Anon. Go after her, now.” >She doesn’t have to tell you twice. >It doesn't take long for you to catch up to Sonata. >Just a few minutes. >But for some reason, that moment when you hasten your steps and reach her running form in the hallway seems to stretch for hours. >All the way until you grasp her by the wrist, stopping her dead in her tracks. "Sonata, wait." >You say that firmly, but try to speak as softly as you can. >You can pretty much guess what caused her reaction. >Of course you can. You weren't stupid. >There could only be one reason. >You can feel that Sonata's bare arm is on goosebumps, and it isn't because of the cold outside. >Her hand is shivering, slightly. "Just... just hold on a moment." >You try to catch her with your words just like you did with your fingers. >For a moment, she stays silent. >It's somewhat strange, to have Sonata be so near yet so silent. >Usually when she's with you it's almost hard to get her to shut up. >But now... she doesn't even look you in the eye. >Instead she stares into the snow-topped landscape outside, showing you nothing but the back of her head. >"Sorry, Nonny. I d-didn't mean to run..." >Her voice is nothing but a whisper. "Then why did you?" >You know why. >But you have to put that question in words. >It's not your place to make assumptions, she has to say it herself. >Otherwise it'd be... not rude, but overstepping your bounds. >"It's just that, when I saw you talking with Sunset, I felt bad. It stung, for realsies. I dunno why, but... it just did." >Hearing those words, you ease your grip on Sonata. >You move your hand from her wrist to her shoulder, trying to make your touch as comforting as you can. >In this empty hallway, there's nobody to see your small gesture of affection. >You're pretty sure you heard to bell ring during your run after her. >The classes must be on right now, that's why you two are alone. "Don't worry Sonata. I'm not going soft." >You put on your best cocky grin. "I'm just putting on a show. See, Strangelove called me earlier and told me to-" >"Are you really?" >Those words come with such intensity, such strength, that they silence you immediately. >Sonata turns around, staring you straight in the eyes. >That mulberry color fills your vision. >"Nonny, I saw you smile. I saw you laugh. And I might be a bit dumb, but even I know you weren't faking it." >Tentatively, almost like she was scared, Sonata puts her hand upon yours that's resting on her shoulder. >Her fingers are warm to the touch. >"You really liked talking with her. It was... it was like you were talking with us." >Something ice cold slips down your spine. >It feels wrong. So, so wrong. >But at the same time some tiny part of your brain can't deny it. >Talking with Baconswirl... now that you thought back to it, had you put up the usual barriers? >Had you been on guard like you usually were? >You hadn't, right? >Instead, you went and acted like it was some continuation that should have been natural despite it all being just a repetition of what once was. >A memory continued, a dream that didn't end. >You feel sick. >You were so focused in your mission to steal Baconswirl's book from her that you didn't even realize how you were acting. >But the worst of all was the way Sonata put it. >'Like you were talking with us.' >That girl didn't deserve such privilege. >She wasn't worth it. >Sunset was nowhere near the Dazzlings. "---!" >You nearly bite your tongue. >BACONSWIRL was nowhere near the Dazzlings. "Like I... like I said. It was just an act. I need something from her for our plan to succeed. For now, I need to play my part the best I can." >You try to explain it, somehow. >However, even to your own ears, your excuses feel hollow. "It might look like I'm being friendly with her, but I'm not. Make no mistake about it. It's all just smoke and mirrors." >Who are these words even for? >Sonata? >Or yourself? >And why do they feel as transient and feeble as the snow melting outside? "She's just another pawn I need to use to make the plan work. That's all. Even comparing her to you guys is an insult to you, and to me. I mean, she's... she's..." >... The living ghost of your girlfriend. >Even now you can't really speak those words aloud. >But judging from Sonata's eyes, she understands what's left unsaid. >Though her expression still remains hurt from what she witnessed, it's now tinted with something akin to sorrow felt towards you. >Not pity. >But sorrow. >Unlike Adagio and Aria, whom you sometimes had trouble finding the right words with, Sonata always seemed to get you. >Even if the conversation was clumsy from both you, she read the emotions between the lines. >Just like now. >She called herself dumb just now, and you had berated her similarly in the past. >But that wasn't it. >Her mind just thought things differently. In terms simpler but much more powerful. >"I know, Nonny. I know." >Taking a step closer, Sonata invades your personal space. >However, instead of alarming, it feels natural. >She, just like the other two, had the right. >With a quiet thud, Sonata's forehead comes to rest against your chest. >The warmth of her body transmits to you. >It might be grey and white in the empty hallway around you, filled with nothing but silent echoes of your conversation. >However, it doesn't feel lonely. >Instead, it feels very comfortable. >It hasn't really occurred to you before, or rather, you haven't thought about it that way, but... >... Sonata's touch really seems to calm you down. >It had done so many times before, and it continues to do so now. >Just when had she cast this sort of spell over you? >"I hate it. I hate this life." >Her words are a surprise, their tone nothing but whisper. >"Why's this life so unfair to you? You didn't do anything wrong. They were just mistakes, mistakes anyone could've done." >Sonata's expression becomes hard to read, almost like she was holding something back. >"You deserve better, Nonny... for realsies." >Through your hand on her shoulder, you can feel her whole body quivering. >You want it to stop. >She shouldn't have to feel this way. >With your free hand, you move a loose strand of Sonata's hair behind her ear, wearing a troubled expression of your own. "It's fine. I pay for the mistakes I've done, like everyone else. It might be unfair, but... that's life. And it all led me here, didn't it?" >It might sound sappy, but... >... Sappy might be just what Sonata needs right now. "I wouldn't have met you guys without it all, right? So I'm glad." >Sonata presses even closer to your having heard those words. >Her heart is pounding fast. >Like it was beating an echo to yours. "Hey, Sonata?" >She answers your question with a murmur against your chest. >The vibration tickles you a bit, and you finally crack a smile yourself. "We're already late for class, so... Wanna go to the band room?" >That causes another bout of stir. >Sonata removes her face from your chest and looks up to you. >The question in her eyes is clear. "There's a song I wanna play with you. Something that just came to mind." >For one moment, everything silent. >Like a pair of hands, wondering if intertwining their fingers was okay. >Then, just like the metaphor, everything melts into warmth. >"... Sure!" >Sonata beams you a radiant, and relieved, smile. >The band room's dusty smell was a welcome change to the cold of the world outside. >Gone were the empty hallways of CHS, abandoned by students who were attending classes. >Instead there was an odd sense of familiarity permeating the place. >It takes you a moment to put your finger on why you suddenly feel so at ease. >It’s the smell. >This place smells of Dazzlings. >Well, of course it does. It just makes sense. >Those three were living here, bunking here every night because they had no other place to go. >That realization made you stop and think for a moment. >It wasn’t exactly right to let them live in such a place. >Though you couldn’t exactly magic them up a new apartment, there was always another option. >One that you put in words the moment you thought of it. “Hey, uh… Sonata?” >”Hmh?” >Sonata’s quizzical eyes turn to look at you. >She was in the process of tuning her old acoustic guitar, a Loar LH-200 that was in surprisingly good condition for being something found in school. >Maybe it was someone’s old baby they had left in the care of CHS? >Well, no ‘maybe’ about it. >The small carving of: “To L. From C.” spoke volumes of the instrument’s history. “You know, I just got to thinking…” >You banish these random thoughts and observations from your mind. >Instead, you fill it with ways to phrase what you wanted to say without coming across as patronizing. >You know the trio hated charity. >You’d have to be clever this time. “Since we’ll be neck-deep in our villainous plans very soon, and since I know I’m gonna need to discuss all the little details with you three whenever I can…” >You scratch the back of your head. “And since, honestly, waltzing over here whenever that happens is gonna be hella inconvenient, I just thought that, well…” >Your scratching intensifies. >”Uhm, what? Spit it out, Nonny.” >Your scratching reaches NASCAR levels. “Well, I just thought that maybe you three should come live with me for time being. I mean, it’s gonna be a little cramped, but it’d be more convenient. Yeah. Convenient.” >Why did you repeat yourself? >And why is Sonata just staring at you, looking so dumbfounded? >Almost like you just hit her in the head with a mallet? >”L-live with you, Nonny? Uhm, well…” >To your absolute surprise, Sonata suddenly looks meekly at her feet and blush flares on her cheeks. >Meanwhile, you become the Andy Green of scratching. >”... That’d be super swell. For realsies.” >Oof. >The answer is like a sucker-punch straight below your belt. >Said with that tone and with that expression, it feels less like sneakily trying to improve your friends’ living conditions, and more like asking one of them out. >It was unfair. >Unfair beyond belief. “O-oh, well. Great.” >You plop your ass down on a nearby amp and busy your hands with inspecting a random bass guitar you find. >Man, this Ibanez SR400 looks so beaten up! You practically glue your eyes to its surface. >Must’ve been used to punish unsuspecting, lazy roadies, this one! >Wait. >... Was that the reason why Aria liked playing this thing in the first place!? >”I’ll… I’ll talk about it with Aria and Adagio tonight!” >Sonata beams an oddly giddy smile towards you. >”I mean, there’s super lot we need to talk about and I guess this might help us decide what the heck to do since none of us has been keeping to that whole ‘truce’ thing we talked about and it’s been bothering us all for realsies and-” “Goof. Breathe. For realsies.” >You interject Sonata’s hypersonic speech and she giggles, embarrassed. >”Sorry. But yeah, I’ll talk to the girls about it. But I don’t think they’ll say no. Especially Aria.” >Wait, really? >You would have thought Aria be the one to object strongest. >After all, the whole talk you and her had at Laramie hadn’t exactly left your mind. >Those mysterious words of hers still stinged you. >”Anyways!” >Sonata lifts her guitar and strums a chipper E4 at you. >”Didn’t we come here to play something?” >For a moment you stare at her, confused at the sudden change in topic. >But, for now, you feel it best to drop the subject of Aria. >If you’re gonna dig deeper, you’d ask it from Deep Purple herself. >She deserved it. “Yeah. Sorry. Got distracted. Anyways…” >You take a moment to turn around and plug the nearby ¼ inch cable to your bass. >The other head goes to the front end of the amp. >After turning the whole thing on, you let your fingers practice for a moment. >It’s been a while since you’ve played a bass, after all. >Thus, you open up your fingers by going through the scales in A major, playing in thirds. >Sonata giggles at your momentary refresher. >After all, this was something you had put her and the other sirens through during their musical training. >It must’ve been weird seeing you do the same. >But, eventually, you were ready to start. >”So, what’re we gonna play, Nonny?” >Sonata sounds excited at the prospect of getting to play with you. >Well, it’s been a while since you’ve had one-on-one session with her. >The last time time was… God. >It was back when the blue goofball was only one you knew in CHS. >You let your fingers rest on the neck, clicking your tongue like a metronome for a moment. >Then you grin back at her. >Strange. >Playing with just the two of you was getting you somewhat excited, too. “You should know this one.” >Sonata tilts her head adorably, mulberry eyes full of questions. >She’s right to be confused. >It wasn’t the type of song you usually played. >But considering how your encounter with Baconswirl had affected her… >... She needed this. >Somewhere far away, probably in the cafeteria, a faint sound of radio gives some background noise. >That’s enough to for you let out a melodic hum. [Embed: Kenny Loggins & Stevie Nicks - Whenever I Call You Friend] >Sonata momentarily does a double-take at the sound you make. >At the same time, your fingers start you from the G chord. “Whenever I call you friend, I begin to think I understand.” >As you start to sing, you let your fingers weave their magic on the face of the bass guitar. “Anything we are, you and I have always been… ever and ever.” >Sonata’s surprise melts into something quiet and peaceful, and she joins your singing. >”I see myself within your eyes, and that’s all I need to show me why.” >She leans in closer from where she’s sitting, quietly closing the distance between you two. >”Everything I do, always takes me home to you. Ever and ever~!” >As the beat drummed by your foot changes, you jump up all of a sudden. “Now I know my life has given me more than memories, day by day!” >You hop on one leg to the rhythm, causing the note Sonata was holding to devolve into a giggle. “We can see!” >She follows your example and jumps up while her fingers strum the chords of her guitar. >”In every moment there’s a reason to carry on~!” >Your eyes widen in a momentary surprise. >Was it just you, or had Sonata improved as a singer in one sudden leap? “Sweet love showin’ us a heavenly light!” >Together you move to the music, almost swinging your instruments to and fro. >”I’ve never seen such a beautiful sight!” >It’s nothing rehearsed. >Just pure joy of music, two wannabe-amateurs going at it in their school’s band room. “Sweet love flowin’ almost every night!” >Just what could be simpler than that? >Nothing you could think up. >”I know forever we’ll be doin’ it!” >And neither does Sonata, judging from the grin spreading to her face. >”Sweet love showin’ us a heavenly light!” >Her ponytail bobs again and again as she undulates to the melody. “I’ve never seen such a beautiful sight!” >In a way you could sing those lyrics from the bottom of your heart. >In other words, they were no lie. >”Sweet love flowin’ almost every night!” >After all, Sonata had yet to break her eye-contact with you. >And you were in no hurry to do so. “I know forever we’ll be doing it right!” >As the song calms down again, Sonata starts walking around in a circle. >She instinctively avoids the clutter in the room, making it almost a dance. >”Whenever I call you friend, I believe I’ve come to understand.” >That vibrato in her voice sounds honest as well. >Maybe she was singing no lies either? >”Everywhere we are, you and I were meant to be… Forever and ever~!” >Your mind flashes back to that quiet evening that the two of you had met. >In this very room. >However, instead of pure white outside, it had been dyed in the golden colors of autumn evening. “I think about the times to come, knowin’ I will be the lucky one!” >Yes. The future would be a troubled one. >But with this girl there with you, you knew you could do it. “Even our love will last. I always want to call you friend~!” >Not just her. Every single one of the girls you had met after you moved to Canterlot. >But Sonata… she was where it all started. >She had been the key in the ignition. >”Sweet love showin’ us a heavenly light!” >Therefore this song was something of an ode to her. >You putting your appreciation of her existence in the only way you knew how. “I’ve never seen such a beautiful sight!” >Call it saccharine, call it sappy. >You didn’t care. >”Sweet love flowin’ almost every night!” >The fact that you could even feel something like that was thanks to her. >So, right this moment, you’d play your heart out with her. “I know forever we’ll be doin’ it!” >Without a warning Sonata lunges towards the table and snatches a harmonica from it. >She descends into a frantic solo with said harmonica, weaving a web of reeds that rises to a crescendo. >Originally, there’d be saxophone in this part of the song. >But like always, you and your friends made do with what you had at hand. >You didn’t follow the rules, not any of you, but you got the job done, damn it! >”Now I know my life has given me more than memories!” >The harmonica flies back to the table as Sonata grips her guitar once more. “Day, by, day~! We, can, see~!” >She turns around, and suddenly you find yourself back to back with the blue siren. >Both of you doing your best recreate the odd friendship of Kenny and Melissa with your instruments. >”In every moment there’s a reason to carry on!” >Rubbing your bodies together, static friction of imaginary nature crackling in the air. >Even sun seems to peek through the grey carpet of clouds outside. >”Sweet love showin’ us a heavenly light!” >It’s a back that you can trust your own with, and through that touch you realize she feels the same. “I’ve never seen such a beautiful sight!” >Adagio once said she thought of you as family. >Now Sonata, without direct words, does the same. >“Sweet love flowin’ almost every night!” >The distance between the two of you is non-existent. >And you’ve never felt more comfortable. ”I know forever we’ll be doin’ it! Doin’ it!” >Just playing like this, singing like this, dancing like this… >... Goofing off like this. ”Sweet love showin’ us a heavenly light!” >It just felt so very natural. >The type of emotional connection you had been starving for so long. >“I’ve never seen such a beautiful sight!” >For a moment, you forgot all about your grand plans. >Your convoluted scheme. >“Sweet love flowin’ almost every night! I know forever we’ll be doin’ it! Doin’ it! Doin’ it!” >Instead you let yourself succumb to this moment of pure bliss. >Glued together with Sonata, your back against hers. >Close as you two always were. >Close enough that you could have kissed her. >Close enough that you didn’t even feel weird that you had thought of that. “You’re the glowin’ light in my life! Source of pride in my li-” >Close enough that Sonata, by standing on her tiptoes, manages to peck you on the cheek. >You stop playing. >But somehow you can still hear the music? >No, that’s not it. Instead, something in your head is rushing like a cascading waterfall. >Your eyebrows reaching for your hairline, you end up staring at Sonata with no words. >She has none to offer either. >Instead she has face of a deer in the headlights of a semi. >Slowly, her hands let go of the guitar and it falls to the linoleum floor with a loud clang. >That makes her whole body jolt and she takes a few steps back. >”N-Nonny, sorry, I just…!” >She hastily searches for something, anything to say. >”I j-just got so into the music that…” “S-Sonata, it’s okay. I mean, I was kinda surprised, but it happens.” >You knew the power of music. >Still, why did it feel like something was roaring with joy in your mind? >”No, but I wasn’t meant to, it’s too early, we hadn’t even… Nonny, this is---” >Then. >Without a warning. >Sonata’s whole face goes red and she bolts out of the room faster than you can stop her. >”SORRY!” >You’re left standing there, wondering what the hell just happened. >And especially… why your heart is beating so fast? >And just like that the school day was over. >Despite all the confusing thoughts that ran in your head, time didn't stop it's march. >Instead it just kept on going, no matter what had happened. >Thoughts still in the sudden show of affection that Sonata had thrown your way, you found yourself standing just outside the doors of CHS. >Absent-mindedly you light up a cigarette. >Your old, worn-out zippo does its job. >Soon enough you're watching the smoke of your cigarette slowly rising towards the sky far, far above. >It's just as aimless as you are right now. >What were you supposed to even think? >Of course, this wasn't the first time you had been kissed by one of the Dazzlings. >However, something about what Sonata had done had felt... different. >It wasn't a familial showcase of emotions. >Instead there was something almost... romantic about it. >And it was that clear, deep affection that now made you confused. >It was what made your thoughts run 300 miles per second. >Even though you should've been concentrating on other things. >Case-in-point... >"Oh, there you are, Anon!" >Sunse- Baconswirl's voice catches you off-guard. >You turn around to meet her, only to find yourself accosted by a cavalcade of suspicious eyes. >She hadn't come alone. >Instead, she had come with an entourage. >The Rainbooms were staring at you and her with disbelief clear on their faces. >Baconswirl had separated herself from their group and skipped over to you, the guy standing dumbfounded at the stone steps of the school. >Before you can even say anything, Baconswirl snatches away the cigarette on your lips. >"You know, you really shouldn't smoke around here. You're bound to get in trouble." "I know that." >You catch her arm by the wrist and take back your cigarette. >For a moment your skin touches hers. >And though you don't want it... it feels familiar. >Jesus. >She even uses the same perfume. "Besides, what do you care?" >"A lot! I mean... you can do what you want, but I don't want you to get suspended over it." >God damn it. >Why did she have to frame it that way? >You would have been fine if she had been all self-righteous about it. >But saying that she just didn't want you to get in trouble for it... >That was unfair. >Acting like she understood you. >She must've prepared for this. >Even if this whole thing was so that you could steal some book from her, she must've prepared. >After all, why else would she have been so considerate? >So friendly? "Whatever. So, we going or what?" >You try to mask the turmoil within you by acting indifferent. >Baconswirl doesn't even seem to notice. >Instead, she waves to her friends. >"Sure. Girls, just go ahead! I'll be going home with Anon today." >Why did she have to say it that way? >You two barely knew each other, right? >The last time you had met, you had ended up in a fight that had gotten Principal Celestia involved. >There was no reason to act like any of this was normal. >The looks thrown your way by the Rainbooms were justified. >Or, well, most of them. >The way that rainbow-headed jock looked at you... >... Why did it seem like she wanted to say something, yet decided to shut her mouth? >Maybe it was because their fashionista-reject whispered something to her ear. >Whatever it was, their group eventually agreed to separate from Baconswirl and went their way after saying goodbye to her. >That left you alone with the redhead. >"Um, Anon? Are you alright? You seem a bit tense." "I'm fine!" >Why did you say it so loud? >Almost like talking with her was an ordeal of some kind. "Let's just get going. You're gonna get a bad rep if they see you hanging out with me." >You start your way out of the school, Baconswirl walking by your side. >Still, despite your words, she wears a content smile. >Why does she look so happy? >Shouldn't she feel awkward, just like you? >"That's fine. They can think what they want." >Her answer is as surprising as the smile she flashes in your direction. >"I mean, I'm no stranger to whole school hating me." >A clear sign of irony flashes on Baconswirl's face. >"If that's what it takes to get to know you a little better, so be it. I can live with that." >She shouldn't be okay with that. >Weren't you the hated juvenile delinquent of CHS? >Associating with you was a one-way-ticket to unpopular-ville. >Population: You and the Dazzlings. "Just don't come crying to me when they think you'd choose the local jackass over your own power-clique." >Baconswirl rolls her eyes and grins at you. >"Like I said, I can live with that. Besides, the students at CHS aren't that gullible. They'll want to know the whole truth before they judge. Usually." >You had a hard time believing that. >But more importantly. >You had a hard time ignoring the fact that the girl walking beside you had suddenly closed in the respectable distance between you. >Placing the two of you awkwardly close to each other. >Jacket-touching-jacket, like it had been normal. >Too normal. >Too... mundane. >After all, you caught yourself almost wrapping your left arm around her. >Just like you had done with the girl whose face she wore like an insult thrown at you. >You stop yourself at the last possible moment and instead, you leave your arm dangling awkwardly in the air. >"Anon? What's wrong?" >There's a clear worry on Baconswirl's face. >You brush it off with fervor. "Nothing. Let's just go." >This didn't go nearly as you planned. >There was too much familiar in this whole set-up. >Just one slip and you'd fall back in the old routine. >You couldn't do it. >Not with Baconswirl. >She wasn't /her/. >No matter how she looked like her. >No matter how she acted like her. >No matter how she sounded like her. >The way you had thought, this should've been an easy job. Just get the book and get out. >Just follow Strangelove's instructions, take advantage of the sudden show of goodwill you were given and then flee. >Instead you were left fighting your memories. >Memories and a girl who brazenly acted like the one you had loved more than anyone. >What gave her the right to be this way? >You understood the basics of how two people from these different dimensions could be alike. >But wasn't this ridiculous? >From what you had gathered, the resemblance should've been only skin-deep. >But instead... >The resemblance was almost too much. >Remember Anon. >She's not her. >She's Baconswirl. >A cheap copy, an imitation of the one you had called Sunset Shimmer. >She's not the real Sunset Shimmer, she'll never be. >No matter how much your brain tells you that you had found her again. >You had already made your peace on that grave in Kansas. >You didn't need to be trapped in this spiral of days-gone-by once again. >"... Anon? Are you really alright?" >Her tone of voice is grating. >It's too genuine. >It's too worried. >Like she was actually, honestly concerned about the expression on your face. >An expression you try to hide by taking a long, deep drag off your cigarette. >It doesn't really work. >You click your tongue. "Yeah. Like I said, it's nothing. Really." >You walk forward to the snow-topped streets of Canterlot. >Concentrating on the winterland scenery of the city around you. >Trying to keep out of your mind how much the girl beside you made remember the past and what had been. >However, the only thing that could really serve as a distraction... >... Was the sensation of the kiss that Sonata had left on your left cheek.