The Worst of All Possible Worlds

by TheTimeSword

Arc 1: Chapter 3

The carts creaked and shook as they halted in the street. The wool had been shaved, stored, and carted by the three, and Sunset knew that was three more things that she didn’t have to do. It was her hope that this show of generosity would be enough. Not just to convince Rarity, but to also bring forth the Element from within her. After releasing themselves from the carts’ harnesses they went inside the sewing shop. Most of the mares that had been busily working themselves to the bone had gone home for the day, leaving Rarity and one other worker to tend to the fabrics.

As they entered, the bell rang out, catching Rarity and the other mare’s attention. The workshop had gone silent for a moment, but not before the white unicorn shouted, “Fluttershy!?” The look on Rarity’s face was a perfect match to the look Sunset had on the day she arrived to the strange timeline. Rarity trotted past the sewing machines and across the room, staring intently at the pegasus. Her eyes drifted down to the gold hemmed necklace that sat around Fluttershy’s neck. “I can’t believe it. Does this mean you’ve managed to convince her to send us the wool?” she asked Sunset.

“Yep, even prepped it and brought it over, it’s in the set of carts right outside,” Sunset answered and then paused. She waited for the light to shine through Rarity’s eyes, for the necklace to form, and for Rarity to realize she truly was the Element of Generosity. Unfortunately, Rarity’s eyes, while appreciative, didn’t change. “A-And she’s also committed to coming with us to find the other three up in The Crystal Empire,” Sunset continued, still waiting for the light show to begin.

Applejack gave an inquisitive look to Sunset who in turn tried her best to ignore the earth pony. There was something wrong, Sunset knew that, but she couldn’t understand what it was. They had done everything right and it was all for naught. “Why didn’t she receive an Element yet?” asked Fluttershy, who apparently had been wondering the same thing they had.

Both Sunset and Applejack gave a shrug, but it was Rarity who had the answer. “My Element? What exactly is my Element?”

“Generosity,” answered Applejack.

The unicorn’s eyelashes fluttered for a moment before closing. “And you expected me to see how generous you two were?” she asked, opening her eyes to reveal blue, diamond sharp pupils. “That would make sense except for the fact that you need me for something. Doing something for somepony else when you want something in return isn’t very generous.” Her eyes turned on Sunset. “We’re friends in your world, right? Yet you don’t know what real generosity is.”

Sunset chewed her lip as she listened to the fellow unicorn’s lecture. Well, she’s got me there. “We weren’t completely off, though! We did promise that you’d generously make coats for the sheep to wear in return for their wool. That has to count for something!”

“How is promising something that you don’t have count as generosity? Darling, that’s almost the opposite of generosity. That’s taking something and giving nothing in return,” Rarity claimed, rolling her eyes once she finished speaking. She didn’t hesitate to turn back to the other mare that had ceased sewing. “Suri, dear, fetch me my clipboard.”

The magenta furred mare gave a nod and returned at once with Rarity’s clipboard and a pen. Rarity was quick to sketch something up, to which she gave back to the other mare. “Here, this is the design for the sheep coats. I’m leaving it up to you to see this done, along with the charity.”

“Wait, you’re coming with us?” Sunset asked baffledly.

“You’re leaving us? You’re leaving me the workshop?” The mare Rarity called Suri held the clipboard close, her eyes began to water.

“Rename the charity if you’d like, it’s yours. If we go to The Crystal Empire and win, we won’t need this place anymore. And if we lose, well, either way, I probably won’t be returning to Manehattan for a long while. Be kind, Suri Polomare.” She wrapped a hoof around the mare before turning back to the three. “Oh! Before we go, I better get cleaned up.” Before Sunset could ask anything else, Rarity disappeared to the back room, eventually returning with a clean and proper mane. The amethyst colored outfit was gone and replaced with a pink scarf that wrapped around her neck twice. She wasn’t as radiant as Applejack or Fluttershy, but she was more than prepared to be. “Shall we?”

As they stepped out onto the stoop, Sunset was still in a state of disbelief. “You’re actually coming with us? Even though you don’t have an Element?”

“Fair’s fair. I keep my word,” Rarity replied as she looked over at the three carts. “You apparently do as well. So if this really isn’t a cult, then you’ve earned my trust. I may not have an Element as you call it, but I’m more than willing to put up with your request until I do. Or until you are proven wrong, at the very least.” A half smile crossed her lips.

Sunset hadn’t expected Rarity to be so perceptive. It was a rather curious trait that she wondered if her own Rarity shared. The Rarity who lived in Equestria owned and operated businesses, so surely this was another, more intelligent side that had never come up during her time in the human world. It was just another thing on Sunset’s list to ask about once she returned to her own time.

“Okay. So. How is this ragtag group of gals getting to The Crystal Empire? Some sort of teleporting device in these marvelous little amulets,” Rarity asked as she gently tapped Applejack’s Element.

“Boat,” answered Applejack. “It’s the only way north.”

“Well that’s rather disappointing,” Rarity grumbled.

Travel hadn’t been a thought on Sunset’s mind. It was one of those bridges they’d cross whenever they got to it, but getting around in Equestria was a lot harder than just jumping through a mirror. Travel was quite easy for unicorns who had the magical prowess and skill to do so. Unless you’re a unicorn who’s a bit rusty. Sunset had been gone for so long that she had become out of practice with most of her rudimentary spells. Levitation is like riding a bike, but teleportation, energy beams, and illumination were a bit more advanced. It wouldn’t hurt to brush up on my magic, she thought, but there’s really no need. I shouldn’t be here much longer. Of course, she hadn’t accounted for the day and a half it took them to reach the northernmost port.

It was the last surviving outpost besides the main base, which was within The Crystal Empire’s territory. The small snowy city had wooden palisades surrounding it, and was much, much smaller than Manehattan. They had traded skyscrapers of cement for hovels of dirt and stone. Cottages had been built at one point, or perhaps appropriated for the war’s use. It offered a much-needed shelter from the blizzardy winds that shrouded the horizon to the west, though the air here was less than a mild breeze. Most of the other ponies that had also traveled by boat set off to join their battalions or find their captain. Sunset and the Element’s received several odd looks on the boat, and now were being subject to even stranger, more intimidating stares.

The cold frost seemed to make everyone a bit jittery or mean, or both. Even the nurses grimaced as they passed the cottages. Applejack urged them not to stop, they needed to make haste if they were going to head across the snowy wasteland and reach Celestia’s encampment before nightfall. With the menacing looks they were given, the others heeded Applejack’s words. As they reached the single gate of the port, they were stopped by two guards who were decked out in plated gold armor. They were different from the other soldiers, even though everyone wore the same type of armor, but their helmets were different compared to the rest. These held blue plumes while the regular soldiers had white or brown. Sunset knew the colors well, the blue meant they were part of the royal guard. These two guarded someone or something relating to royalty, that was for certain.

“Four civilians coming to the north, not even here to help with the effort, and they’re just going to head straight for the gate?” a stallion’s voice called from behind them. They quickly turned to face him, and Sunset acknowledged he was a higher officer than the rest. The plume that sat atop the white stallion’s helmet was made from his own mane and tail, giving the brush his own set of colors. This signified he wasn’t just part of the royal guard, but he was the captain, as only the highest guard could hold a helmet displaying his own colors.

For a moment, Sunset thought she recognized him but could not discern from where. “Um, hello there,” she stepped forward between the other three. “We’re actually looking for a few of our friends. We believe they’re at the main encampment. So, we’ll just be on our way.”

“Not so fast,” the stallion commanded as he removed his helmet. “I cannot allow civilians to cross the storm. You may get captured by King Sombra’s forces and forced to join them if you have not already joined them.”

“What do you mean, already joined them? Have there been other ponies who just showed up outta the blue and helped that evil stallion?” Applejack curtly asked.

“No, but we’re not taking any chances.” The stallion’s brow pulled together. “You’re going to have to come with me.”

“Wait, please.” Sunset stared at the eyes of the stallion, the light blue in his iris matched the streak within his hair. On a hunch, she pleaded, “Please sir, we have to cross. My friend Twilight Sparkle is out there and I need to find her.”

The name made the captain falter and step back. “Twilight… How do you know my sister’s name?”

“Aha!” Sunset shouted and pointed at the stallion. “I knew it! You’re Shining Armor!”

The other two guards came forward and surrounded the four mares. “Now you’re really going to have to come with me,” Shining Armor demanded, sounding all the more serious.

With no other choices, Sunset complied and they were taken to Shining Armor’s temporary quarters. It was in that cozy little cottage that Sunset explained everything. Her time travel, her human world, her reuniting of the Elements of Harmony. Applejack and Fluttershy backed up her story, showing off the Elements that hung around their throats. Shining Armor listened to their tale, hearing of the roles they filled and of Sunset’s timeline. For a moment, it appeared that Shining Armor would believe them, that is until he gave his answer. “I’ll escort you across myself. Princess Celestia can decide whether or not you’re telling the truth or if you’re simply out of your minds.”

Princess Celestia. It was a name Sunset dreaded to hear, the guilt she had still waning on her conscience. She much preferred the name Principal Celestia. She had no past confrontations with that Celestia, and she could only hope that the altered timeline had left none with this Celestia. If not, then she could only imagine what the alicorn would have to say to her. Would she accept her return, even if she was not from this timeline? Would she have her jailed, never able to return to her own time or world? It was only a matter of distance before she would find out.

They wasted no time. It was only her, the three Elements, Shining Armor, and the two royal guards that were making the trek through the snow storm. Shining Armor had said that The Crystal Empire was like an eye within the storm, creating a plentiful battleground that Celestia has held through strife and attrition. “Without Celestia and her army, I’d imagine most of Equestria would be covered in crystals,” he commented, attempting to speak over the gusts of wind. The palisade that surrounded the port were no longer visible once they had entered the storm. There was no turning back as far as Sunset was concerned.

The blizzard was loud and blinding, but Shining Armor had created a barrier around them, preventing the ice from freezing them solid as they walked. Still, the sounds it made covered the noise of Sunset’s hooves crinkling in the snow as they walked. She attempted to yell a response, but her voice could not overpower the wind. It was as if a thousand train whistles went off at the same time, striking against their eardrums worse than the snow that struck the barrier. Sunset wondered if the blizzard could keep King Sombra’s forces at bay as well, or if the storm was brought on by the evil unicorn.

Sunset pondered what King Sombra was truly like. She wasn’t there for his defeat and only heard of tale that was told afterward. Twilight’s assistant, Spike the Dragon, was the hero of the empire. After King Sombra’s defeat, it was Princess Cadance and her husband, Shining Armor, who ruled over the crystal city. What had become of the king after his defeat? She made a mental note to write down her unanswered questions, hoping to get answers once she returned to her own time. Now there’s a thought. Once we defeat him, Twilight can say she too defeated King Sombra. I wonder what Spike will think of that. She half smiled at the thought.

With a final push, they made their way out into a snowy clearing where light reflected off the untouched snow. If it had not been for the dark crystals and bellowing smoke, it would have been a peaceful sight. But the thousands of dark red tents in the distance and the crystals that jutted up in the north painted a very different picture for Sunset. As they continued toward the crimson tents and smoke, Sunset asked, “So, will Princess Twilight Sparkle be there? I need to talk to her as soon as possible.”

Princess Twilight Sparkle?” Shining Armor repeated with a mocking laugh. “My sister, a princess? Now there’s a riot. She’d turn down the position, even if she wasn’t a student under the prince.” He gave another laugh and shook his head. A glance at his eyes reflected a memory he was having, most likely of his baby sister, Sunset assumed.

“Prince? What prince? There’s another prince besides you?” Sunset questioned.

“Me? I’m not a prince. Well, not yet,” he said, “No thanks to The Crystal Empire popping up, nor the changeling invasion. Why? Am I already married in your world? Do you know my fiancée?” He stopped and everyone stopped with him.

She gave a nod. “Not that I was actually there, but that is ringing a few alarms in my head. So who’s the prince then? And how was the changeling invasion defeated?”

Shining Armor continued and so did the rest. “I’ll let you meet the prince yourself. He’s never far from Princess Celestia’s side. He was actually the one who managed to defeat the changelings by breaking through the changeling queen’s disguise. It was a lucky thing that I had become friends with him, otherwise, he might not have realized something was wrong. Princess Celestia awarded him after that. A keen eye, she claimed, and the power of friendship.” He gave a hoarse laugh and a cough followed.

The thought of a different prince soured Sunset’s mood. It would be more difficult to pull things back into place if there was a large enough difference between the two timelines. An unmarried Princess Cadance, no Princess Twilight, a war with King Sombra, and an unknown prince. It would curdle anyone’s mood to have so much be so different, yet familiar enough. But there was one thing that was the same, that much Sunset could see. It stood around her, traveling with her. Regardless how they came to be or what had changed them, she knew she could rely on them. Her friends.

Of course, there was one thing that worried her more than King Sombra’s rise, a new prince, or the changed events. That one thing was soon to be face to face with her.

As they drew closer to the camp, the crimson of the tents mixed with the snow, turning it purple – as if to give a bright opposite to the plum colored crystals of The Crystal Empire. Sunset was mesmerized by the gentle winds kicking up the purple snow and dragging it into the air. It was as if the breeze here didn’t even care about the blizzard or the war between good and evil. She envied it for a moment. At least it belonged in this world.

A short jog up an incline and they were inside the camp. Sunset also noted how much smaller the tents were than she had anticipated, but there was certainly a lot of them. She tried to count but gave up once she realized there were far more than a hundred, and that was just what she could see. Each tent seemed to hold two to three soldiers and was held up by metal rods and rope. Some of the soldiers looked at them as they passed, while others kept their chins buried in their chests. Everyone had remained silent once they had reached the camp, and Sunset knew this was the first time the three Elements had truly seen the war taking its toll. The sounds of horseshoes colliding as the soldiers trained echoed out, only interrupted by the occasional shouting. It was almost an unnatural sound.

There was a large tent that they were coming upon, followed by even larger tents. Blue plumes sat atop the helmets of those soldiers who stood around these tents. As they walked further, Sunset noticed how many of the blue there was and wondered if Celestia had brought the entirety of the royal guard with her. Was there even a single guard left in Canterlot? It wasn’t too long before she would be able to voice her thought, as the thing that worried her most stood only a few yards away.

They stopped at a rather large rectangle canopy. In it held a sprawled out crimson carpet, a table, nine chairs, six chests, a collection of books and tomes, a map of the north, pleasant food, and a single white alicorn that stared through a telescope with a frown that would make Principle Cinch jealous. The last one was what Sunset feared the most. The giant white wings and sharp horn were much more threatening when they were atop a pony who may or may not harvest resentment toward you. Shining Armor trotted ahead to greet the princess who seemed more focused on whatever was on the other side of that lens. As they stepped beneath the canopy and stood to the right of the table, Sunset heard her name. Shining Armor had said it, followed by Twilight’s name.

Neither of the names had drawn Celestia away from the telescope. Sunset assumed that meant she had never met the princess in this timeline. That or Celestia wanted nothing to do with her failed student. When Shining Armor motioned for Sunset, she trotted up closer but still maintained her distance. “H-Hello,” she said, her tone was anxious, but not completely lack of confidence. “I’m Sunset Shimmer. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

The ears of the alicorn perked up at the name as if they had not heard Shining Armor say it at all. Removing her eye from the scope, Celestia tilted her head ever so slightly to peer at the unicorn, like a bird turning its neck to get a better look at its prey. But unlike a bird’s eye, Celestia’s were sharp and restless, not beady or lidded. Though her movement was like that of an avian, her ears moved more like a cat – twitching in one direction, then another, listening for every sudden sound. “Acquaintance? I suppose that’s all we are anymore,” she finally spoke with her deep, overbearing voice. The same voice Sunset had heard right before she ceased her apprenticeship.

It was not a drastically different timeline after all. There was one semblance of Sunset’s life, the single piece of her past that she wished wasn’t. Her second greatest failure. “O-Oh. I-I’m sorry, I didn’t know if you knew me in this timeline or not. Things here are a bit different than what I’m used to,” Sunset apologized, keeping her head low but still maintaining eye contact. Any confidence she had flew out of her like a plastic bag being carried by the wind.

The ears stopped, the eyes widened, and the mouth twitched with a flinch just for a moment. If Sunset’s words were the answers to a test, Celestia would have gotten an F. Out of all the things Sunset could have said, there was no way she would have expected sorry. “Timeline?” Celestia repeated the word and stepped toward the unicorn, facing her large, white body at the mare.

“Oh,” Sunset replied, a sparkle returned to her eye. “Yes. Yes! Out of all the ponies who have thought I was crazy, I have to believe you’d be willing to hear me out and know that I was telling the truth, without having to convince you!”

“Go on then,” acknowledged the alicorn.

Sunset nervously chewed her lip before centering herself. It was all or nothing. “I’m from another world, another time, where there’s no war with King Sombra. It’s a land of peace and was saved countless times by my friends. One of those friends even saved me from turning just as evil as King Sombra. But something happened recently, something relating to a map they use to help others. Now I’m stuck in this world, trying to get back to mine, and it’s not even the same one I live in!”

The alicorn glared over the unicorn, giving a suspicious eye as she listened to every word.

“And then I’m supposed to help this world even though I don’t know how other than uniting the Elements of Harmony. Supposedly that will get me home too, but I don’t even have confirmation for that! And it’s been so long that I’ve had to talk to you, even though I know it’s not the you that I actually know but it still makes me feel awkward and I know I’m startling to ramble but I just can’t help it…” Sunset poured her words out as quickly as she thought of them, eventually running out of breath. She forced herself to take a moment, panting like a dog.

“The Elements of Harmony…” Princess Celestia seemed to soften. Her shoulders rolled as she leaned her head back, though still staring down at Sunset, who stared back. “They’re all but gone. Trapped in stone and left in a place nopony can get to, part from me. Though not even I can bring them back from their rock prison.”

“Oh, I wasn’t talking about those. I was talking about these Elements.” Sunset extended a hoof and pointed at the three mares who stood off to the side, guarded by Shining Armor.

She could tell Celestia didn’t understand. For once, it was a surprise to see the teacher hold so little information. Whether it was a principal or princess, Celestia always seemed to know a little bit about everything – though not everything she knew was under her control. “They’re the Element bearers,” Sunset continued. “Rarity, the Element of Generosity, has not yet gained her Element. The other two have, however.” She pointed to the necklaces on Applejack and Fluttershy. “Applejack, the Element of Honesty, and Fluttershy, the Element of Kindness.”

Celestia stared down her muzzle at the trio. “Kindness and generosity. I know those Elements well.”

“What about honesty?” Sunset asked.

“That belonged to… someone else,” replied the alicorn as she turned her head to the battlefield.

Sunset was unsure what that had meant, though many things were different within this timeline. Something in her gut told her not to press the powerful alicorn for answers, especially when she required answers for different questions. “There’s actually six of them. Loyalty, laughter, and magic.”

“And what is your Element?”

Everyone seemed to expect an Element of Sunset, though she did not know why. Regardless of how much she had changed, the path she had originally trailed was not one that the Elements had a part of. At most, she was an action by the Elements, given friendship and support in its place. But in this world, every pony that she spoke to seemed to believe she was worthy. And every time she had to correct them, she felt like a liar or deceiver, giving them false hope without even being what she claimed to bring. “I-I’m not an Element,” she replied, lowering her head. “I’m just friends with them.”

“Friends? Sunset Shimmer has friends?”

“A few. One or two in my timeline, a few more in the human world I live in. It’s a work in progress.”

A smile creaked onto Celestia’s lips. “That sounds awfully different from the attitude you had when you left my apprenticeship.”

“Well, when the Princess of Friendship shows up in your world and beats the darkness out of you, you kind of start to listen after that. People tend to forgive you if you’re legitimately sorry.” Sunset shrugged.

“The princess of what?” Celestia asked, curiously.

“Oh, right. Well, Twilight Sparkle’s the unicorn who succeeded where I failed in my world. She also convinced me that the path I had been down wasn’t worth it. Twilight’s the Princess of Friendship, the Element of Magic, and she’s a good friend.” Either Celestia’s smile was contagious, or the mere thought of Twilight was enough for a smile to appear on Sunset.

“Did you just say Twilight Sparkle?” a stallion asked from behind her. “What do you want with my student?”

Sunset’s eyes almost popped out of her skull after she turned to the voice. A stallion stood by her three friends, light orange in fur and darker in mane. A long, dark orange beard strung from his chin, tied in the middle with a blue gem. Glasses sat on his muzzle, almost hiding the white stripe that went from between his eyes down to the nostrils. It wasn’t what he looked like or who he was that disturbed Sunset. It was that two perfect wings sat upon his back, while a book was levitated in front of him, kept up by his horn.

“I-I can’t believe it.” Sunset turned back to Celestia. “You made Sunburst your pupil instead of Twilight? Sun ‘I can’t tell the difference between an enlarging and shrinking spell’ burst?! Are you kidding me?” She threw her face to the air and shouted, “This is the worst possible timeline!”

The stallion stepped forward and took his place next to Celestia. “If there was anyone who would still hold a grudge about mixing up size spells, it’d be the traitorous Sunset Shimmer.” His eyes gleamed over her through his glasses that sat halfway down his muzzle. “And that’s Prince Sunburst to you. Not that I’d be as resentful as you, but I do like the irony here.” His smirk tilted the glasses slightly.

“This doesn’t make any sense. Even if I left, Twilight still should have become Celestia’s pupil. You were dropping out when I quit. How’d you become her student, let alone an alicorn!?”

“So you did say her name.” Sunburst pushed up his glasses. “Twilight Sparkle failed to prove her magical abilities in school, but I returned after you fled to try again. I made an impression when the others did not. She didn’t give up though, and after I ascended to prince status, it made sense to take her on as my pupil. Of course, a dear close friend was also very convincing, so it made sense to take his sister under my wings,” explained the prince.

Sunset grimaced at the thought of Sunburst ascending a throne. Shining Armor had backed up the truth in his words, however. He must have been the one to save Princess Cadance and Shining Armor’s wedding, she put two and two together. If that’s true, then I wonder how powerful he’s become.

A thunderous clop against the ground silenced the duo. “Enough,” Celestia demanded. “Guards, find a large enough tent and take our three guests so that they may get some comfort.” She motioned for the Elements to leave before turning her head to Sunburst. “Sunburst, please find your apprentice. She is of great use to us if Sunset Shimmer is to be believed. I also require some privacy to find that out for myself.”

The guards took Fluttershy, Rarity, and Applejack away while Sunburst nodded, taking his leave as well.

They were alone.

“Sunset, tell me of this alternate universe that you live in,” Celestia requested, returning to her telescope.

“It’s a lot like this one, except there’s no King Sombra. A few minor role changes here and there. Most importantly, my friends don’t know each other in this timeline. Something happened. Something changed so that they wouldn’t meet or become friends; so that they would never be the Elements of Harmony,” Sunset explained her knowledge of the situation. “But I saw my version of Princess Twilight leave with her assistant.”


“Where? You mean where did they go? I don’t know. But they went through the same type of portal I went through, except theirs was atop a table in a castle. Well, there is no castle in this timeline, but the map, the chairs, they’re still there. That’s how I knew where to look for the Elements. Whenever I place my hooves atop the table I can see the Tree of Harmony and their cutie marks.”

For a moment, Celestia didn’t flinch or speak. Whatever sat on the other side of the telescope was more interesting than Sunset or the Elements, or at least, that’s what Sunset assumed. A slight hum echoed from Celestia as she removed eye from the lens. She then lowered its height and took another look. “Come over here. Have a look at this.”

Sunset did as she was told without hesitation as if she were back in her apprentice days. Celestia leaned back to allow her some room, though she kept her neck outstretched above Sunset’s head. Sunset could feel Celestia’s breath hitting the top of her head as she pushed an eye to the glass. What she saw wasn’t what she had expected.

Purple crystals of various shades were popping up around the western walls of the city. As each one rose, a stallion of black hair and red cloak seemed to be the cause. Sunset had never seen the stallion before, but could only assume that the royal regalia and crystal creation meant it was none other than King Sombra. Around him stood soldiers with black helmets and armor to boot, a dark army for a dark king. She pushed her eye closer, zooming in slightly to get a better look at the evil stallion’s face. As it focused, the king turned his head toward her and smiled, almost as though he could see her. She quickly pulled herself away, startled by the sight.

“Six chairs, I assume,” Celestia said, “For six Elements of Harmony, correct?”

Rubbing her head, Sunset tried to understand what she had just seen. “What? Oh, uh, yes. Six Elements,” she replied, the memory of the stallion’s red eyes staring back at her stayed with her for a moment.

“I would say your instincts are right. Bring the Elements together and have them unite around the map. An alicorn with great magic could take someone from this world and be placed in another, but an outsider would require a power much greater. The Elements of Harmony could be that great power.” Celestia slid herself back down to the telescope. “Was there anything else you’ve come across?”

Sunset wondered if Celestia wanted her to see the terrible, dark stallion. Perhaps it was crude payback for how she had left her teacher, or perhaps it was a simple warning. “Yes. The Tree of Harmony had the words, help time. Or time help. Whichever,” Sunset answered truthfully.

For the first time, Sunset’s words perked Celestia’s interests away from the scope. “You actually went to the Tree of Harmony? It communicated with you?” Sunset nodded in response. “That’s a bit of a shock,” Celestia said, tilting her head back to look at the sky. “Usually the Tree of Harmony only communicates with those who believe in harmony.” Her eyes drifted back down to Sunset. “Perhaps… perhaps you have changed from the days that I knew you as an impatient student.”

They were unkind words, but Celestia had never acknowledged anything she did was wrong. At least not to Sunset. And that fact alone made a teeth-bearing grin appear on Sunset’s face. Her cheeks swelled, her eyes glittered. Her reaction must have triggered something in Celestia, as the old teacher leaned down and rubbed her neck against Sunset’s. It had been so long but Sunset remembered the feeling well. The satisfaction she always felt whenever she made Celestia proud. It was a fleeting feeling, however.

“Ahem,” a loud, deliberate cough rang.

The prince had returned and with him his apprentice. Sunset was embarrassed for a moment, but that embarrassment soon transferred to another as the apprentice took a step forward and tripped over the only indentation within the rug. The purple muzzle of the apprentice scuffed hard, but she pulled herself up with a quick jolt. “I’ve brought Twilight Sparkle,” Sunburst introduced, ignoring the clumsiness of his student. There was no need for the introduction, however. Sunset knew who she was, and was more than eager to speak to her.

But something was different about this Twilight. The one she knew as a princess was confident, friendly, and eager to learn. The one she had met recently in the human world was less confident, still friendly, and even more eager to learn. This one had no confidence. Her hair was tied in a bun atop her head, her posture leaned closer to the ground, and she stood slightly behind Sunburst. When Sunset greeted her, she mumbled and bobbed her head. But worst of all, when Sunset asked of Spike the Dragon she received no answer. Whatever had changed, whatever had happened, there was no assistant to the purple unicorn.

In the human world, Twilight had a friend in Spike the Dog long before she became friends with the girls of Canterlot High School. Would this Twilight even be the same person without a Spike? Without any friends other than a prince and her family? Was the prince even her friend, or just a friend to her brother?

“Well, I’m Sunset Shimmer,” she introduced herself, unwilling to waste more time. “I know this sounds a bit odd, but I’m actually your friend in two alternate universes. Strange, I know, but you and five of our friends are really important to Equestria. I hope you won’t mind if we take a moment to talk.”

Twilight nodded, still hidden behind the prince. “Before I give you your leave to speak to Prince Sunburst’s apprentice,” Celestia interjected, “I have something to ask of you, Sunset Shimmer.”

Sunset lifted her head, pushing it until Celestia was in view, though upside down. “Uhm, what is it?”

“You seek a very powerful, very unique set of artifacts. These artifacts could potentially end our war with King Sombra, bringing peace to the land of Equestria once and for all. I know for certain they cannot be used for an evil intent, but I must ask, will you use them to win this war? Can I entrust you to do so?”

It was a bit off-putting to Sunset to hear such a demand, especially from an alicorn that had seemingly forgiven her just moments ago. It’s not like I can get them their Elements then whisk them away from The Crystal Empire with ease. I’ve got no other choice but to help out, she concluded. “I’ve brought two of the six north to the war. It’d be senseless for you to not trust me.”

Celestia grimaced once Sunset finished her words. A smile eventually came, along with the words, “So be it.” Sunset watched as the princess’s eyes sharpened and stared at the stallion. “Prince Sunburst, I must relieve your apprentice from her status as your helper. She is supposedly the Element of Magic. From now until this war is over, she will be in the care of Sunset Shimmer.”

“Princess Celestia! You can’t be serious,” Sunburst spouted, though not angrily. His voice was high, but he seemed more hurt than upset. “To trust a pony who deliberately left your side to seek a higher form of magic for her own selfish needs would be impractical, illogical even! Whatever you think she is, it’s probably just an act so that she may steal whatever magic comes of this!”

Sunset couldn’t help but laugh. The thought of Canterlot High’s students and teachers being turned into thoughtless cretins raced through her head. She had controlled them, but there were six others who opposed her, who knew power through magic wasn’t the way. “Oh trust me,” she spoke up. “I found a powerful magic. Turns out, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. There’s something more powerful than the most powerful magic in any of these worlds.”

“And what’s that?” Sunburst asked, scoffing.