The incline was steep, uneven, and slick, but Sunset rushed up it with ease. She reached the top as Rarity touched down onto the snow with her new amulet pressing against her scarf. A brilliant purple diamond sat within the golden hem, matching the mare’s elegant mane. “I can’t believe it,” Twilight Sparkle quietly repeated those words. Fluttershy and Applejack crowded around the white unicorn to get a look at the latest Element to appear.
“What happened? How’d you get your Element?” Sunset inquisitively asked.
“I understand what the other two were talking about,” Rarity said, holding her head as she stumbled slightly. “It clicked. Like, I saw the way Applejack rushed down to help and it sent a spark through me. She didn’t have to do that, she knew the risk, and she did it anyway, selflessly.” Rarity shook her head. “I’ve never seen such bravery, such sacrifice…”
“Such generosity,” Twilight added. “So it is an Element of Harmony. They do exist!” She stepped closer and squeezed her head through the crowd, examining the necklace. “I can’t believe she was telling the truth.”
Sunset’s nostrils flared. “It’s a shame your Element isn’t honesty as well, we’d have four of six,” she mocked. The purple unicorn didn’t seem to hear her jab though. Sunset pulled back to allow the mare some more room to study the amulet, taking a moment to look out upon The Crystal Empire in the distance.
There was still a bit of distance till they would reach the city. Several obelisks made of crystal lined the empire and created an unbreakable wall, but several more had sprung up in various places around the war zone. Plum, rose, lavender – royal colors for objects made by a king. One of the crystal obelisks had fallen, however, and sat on its side a ways from the city. She wondered if that meant they were on the right path. That’s when she heard the voice of one of the guards.
“Captain, what are you doing out here?” the stallion had asked.
She looked down at the crater where the three guards stood, Shining Armor standing with them. Sunset slid back down the slope, treading in carefully next to him. “What’s the situation? Why are three of you out here alone? Were you separated from your battalion?” Shining Armor asserted his questions with superiority, to which the guards fell in line.
“Sorry sir, we are on a classified mission from Princess Celestia, and we cannot say more than that,” a mare said, stepping forward from the other two. A saddlebag sat on her back, she was the only one to have a bag, which Sunset found a bit peculiar.
“They’re the ones heading for Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie,” Sunset assumed. “Glad we stopped to save them, seeing as how their journey is now pointless.”
The female guard shot a stern glare at Sunset. “Sir, who are you out here with? Are these civilians?”
Shining Armor ignored her question. Instead, he levitated the contents out from the bag on the guard’s back, which was a single rolled up scroll. The other two guards stepped forward, ordering him to release it. “It seems there has been a change of plans,” Shining said, opening the decree. “Return to camp with a message to Princess Celestia. Let her know that we’ll need help to escape the city, and by the time help arrives we should have all the bearers of the Elements of Harmony.”
“You don’t have the authority to order us! We’re under direct orders from Princess Celestia herself. You need to give that back!” one of the stallions argued.
“And now I’m giving you different orders.” Shining Armor ripped the decree in half, then another half. “Return to camp now. That’s an order.”
The two guards stared at Shining with fire in their eyes. Sunset held her breath, wondering if another fight was about to be had and what Shining Armor would do if there was. As they stepped forward, the mare held them both back. “Understood, sir.” She then turned her head to the other two and commanded for them to move out. They did so hesitantly, shooting glares at Shining Armor, but followed her orders just the same.
After they were out of sight, Sunset asked, “Was that the right thing to do?”
“We’ll need all the help we can get.” Shining Armor looked up the ridge at the four Element bearers. “Getting the last two ponies you need won’t be the problem. It’s getting their Elements that will be troublesome. Just finding the two won’t be enough to defeat King Sombra. And then there’s getting into The Crystal Empire… I’d say having Celestia know what we’re up to is good enough for the time being, and reinforcements are always a boon.”
Sunset hadn’t formally met Shining Armor in the human world, it had only been recently that she had met the human Twilight Sparkle after all. She wondered if this is how the human version acted, or if the stallion in her timeline was as astute as this one. He was smart, brave, clever, and passionate. All the things she had seen within Princess Twilight. They’re definitely brother and sister, Sunset believed, a smile crossed her lips.
They climbed back up the slope when Applejack asked, “Are we headin’ in the right direction to find the other two Elements? What if Princess Celestia already has them back at camp?”
“They’re not,” Sunset replied. The Element bearers turned their focus to her, their worried faces had been contagious. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
“Well, some of us were getting cold hooves. Literally and figuratively,” Rarity answered with a gentle, but nervous smile. “It just occurred to a few of us that finding the last two bearers, convincing them to join us, and then convincing them that they’re bearers of the Elements of Harmony might be a tad bit hard to do in the middle of a war zone.”
“Hey, we just got you your Element in the middle of a war zone,” Sunset pointed out. “We don’t really need to convince them that they’re a bearer of the Elements of Harmony. Them realizing their Element will be enough. We just need to get them to stick with us for however long that takes. And now we know that we’re going in the right direction.”
“We do? How?” Twilight asked, astonished.
The three guards had been heading north along the eastern side, same as them. “The guards we saved, they had the decree to bring Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie back. It’s not hard to figure out where they were going from here. We’ve just got to find out how far north they’ve gone,” Sunset answered.
As if on cue, a loud crashing rang out followed by the sound of glass scrapping. Light suddenly flooded onto them and the entire eastern gorge, breaking the night’s ever growing darkness. To the north, Sunset saw what had fallen. One of the smaller crystal that formed the wall of the empire had come collapsing down to earth, leaving an open gash within The Crystal Empire. She couldn’t see how far down it had been broken due to the crystal that had already fallen on its side, though it was now obvious what had brought on that one’s collapse. Something or someone was breaking into The Crystal Empire, and she could only make two guesses on who they were.
“What in tarnation?” Applejack hollered, holding her hoof to her eyes as she stared at the blinding light.
“The Crystal Empire is open!” yelled Shining Armor. As if a burst of adrenaline shot through him, Shining Armor tore off towards The Crystal Empire.
“We can’t let him go alone! Come on!” Sunset led the four after the stallion, following along the paths, taking care not to fall or slow where she could. The paths varied in size from where craters had been made, making it difficult to gauge where to place her hooves.
She kept her eye on Shining Armor, refusing to focus on anything else for fear of losing him. She could see the single fallen crystal coming closer and closer, the light of the broken wall slowly becoming more hidden behind it. Shining Armor was quicker than they were, having almost reached the crippled obelisk. The craters were growing smaller and smaller in diameter, but deeper and steeper. The pathways were also becoming thinner in size, restraining their ability to run.
In the distance, near the fallen crystal obelisk, she could see that the snowy ground had been made flat. “Hey! Wait up at the crystal!” Sunset yelled, hoping Shining Armor could hear her. It looked like he had as his muzzle leaned into his shoulder. Satisfied, she looked back at the Elements, making sure each had the steam to follow and not get left behind. Though they all appeared haggard, Twilight was the only one that seemed the worst off. When she looked back at Shining Armor she saw the stallion had reached the toppled crystal, only to be challenged by three of Sombra’s soldiers.
Before she could yell out to the others, Sunset was slammed into, pushing her down into one of the craters. She rolled down the embankment with the brainwashed pony that had pushed her, jockeying for position the entire way. With a stroke of luck, as they hit the bottom the soldier’s helmet flung off and the pony became unconscious. On her back, Sunset wiped the snow from her eyes and rolled to one side. As she opened them she became face to face with the soldier’s helmet, to which she screamed and threw herself in the opposite direction.
“Sunset! Are you alright?” Applejack yelled from atop the slope.
“Ye-yeah! Go help Shining Armor!” she yelled back as she stood to her hooves. “I’ll be right behind you,” she added. Reluctantly, the four disappeared beyond the edge of the crater. Her eyes peered back to the helm and comatose pony one last time before she attempted to tread after her new friends.
The slope was a lot slicker than that of the last crater, and more slanted as well. It didn’t help that nightfall had come to the north and that the light from The Crystal Empire wasn’t reaching inside the pit. Had the snow not been white, Sunset assumed it would have been pitch black. That didn’t stop her from sliding back down and tripping over the unconscious body of the soldier, landing face first into the snow. As she picked herself off the ground once more she looked at the steepness of the surrounding pit. A few heartbeats passed before she saw a dozen more of Sombra’s soldiers charging in the direction of the Elements and Shining Armor, passing by the crater unaware of her presence.
I can’t just sit here, she lamented as she tried to climb the snow. Her hooves slid against the ice, sending her back down with every attempt. I can’t just sit here, she repeated, staring up at the edge. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, centering herself. I must try. Her horn exploded with magic, and when she opened her eyes she found herself atop the crater, staring down at the other side. There was no time to celebrate, however, as her friends were surely in trouble. She could see the silhouetted fighting between the soldiers and her companions, uncertain of who was winning.
From behind her, another two soldiers had reared their ugly helmets. “Come on then!” Sunset yelled as she skidded to a stop, turning to face the two. She gritted her teeth in a grimace, drawing air in-between the gaps, waiting for just the right moment to strike. Before they could get any closer, a pegasus came from the sky and knocked the two down into a crater. Sunset looked up to see who it was but could not tell what was the color of armor they bore – they had been but a blur of speed.
After the pegasus had taken care of the aggressors, Sunset rushed to help her friends. By the time she reached the fallen crystal the soldiers had already been detained. “You need to turn back now!” she heard one of the pegasi say as she came closer. This guard wasn’t decked out in golden armor. Instead, they wore a blue, nylon uniform with dark blue helmets that held a light yellow thunderbolt on both sides. A visor was strapped atop the helmet, which Sunset thought a bit odd. She then noticed that only pegasi were wearing these outfits. “This is no place for civilians, we’re in the middle of an operation here!” another pegasus said.
“What’s going on here?” Sunset asked as she walked through the pegasi to get to her friends.
“Another civilian?” The loudest of the pegasi pulled her helmet off, revealing bright orange hair atop her yellow face. “I may only be a commander, but I don’t care if you’re the captain of the guard,” she said, turning to Shining Armor. “You brought civilians out onto the battlefield, and we don’t have time to foalsit you all.”
“You don’t have to. We’re heading for the empire. Is it accessible through the breach in the wall?” he said, confidently.
“You’re going inside?” the pegasus asked, though it was obvious she knew the reason why.
The fighting going on around them drew in more soldiers and guards, and now they were wasting time arguing. “We’re heading in on orders from Princess Celestia in search of two ponies,” Sunset lied. “We’re looking for Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie. They are very important and we need to get them as soon as possible.”
The commander’s jaw dropped. “Rainbow Dash?” she repeated, questioning the name. Before saying anything more, she reached into her suit’s collar and pulled out a whistle that hung around her neck. She blew into it as hard as she could, forcing everyone to cover their ears. As soon as she finished whistling a pegasus came flying back, followed by another, and then another. “Rainbow Dash! Front and center!”
It was the third pegasus that had arrived that stepped forward. Sunset smiled at first, but as soon as she saw the metal wing her smile evaporated. The pegasus pushed her visor up and said, “Commander?”
“Princess Celestia has ordered Captain Shining Armor and this group of civvies to find you. Any particular reason why that might be happening?”
Rainbow Dash undid the strap on her jaw and pulled off the helmet. Sunset grimaced in shock of the half-mohawk she bore and the scarred ear. “Not that I can think of, ma’am. Unless they’re awarding me for my superior agility and overwhelming defense,” she smugly answered.
The commander turned back to Shining and Sunset. “Well, there you have it. Princess Celestia can wait. We’re in the middle of defending the opening we just made and every soldier in King Sombra’s control is on their way here to aid in taking it back. We do not have the resources to spread ourselves thin. I suggest you make for the wall or help us, but don’t get in our way.”
Sunset knew it would be pointless to try and convince the commander to relinquish Rainbow Dash, and if she knew Rainbow Dash at all she knew it would be pointless to try and persuade her from breaking rank. Loyalty. The word resounded within her head. “I’ve got this,” she whispered to Shining Armor before stepping forward. “Are you disobeying direct orders from Princess Celestia?” she asked as she levitated open her backpack. “Because I’ve got a decree right here with her signature on it stating that you need to resign command of Rainbow Dash, giving authority over to me.” She pulled out a rolled up piece of paper and levitated it over to the commander.
“A decree from Princess Celestia?” The orange haired pegasus attempted to swipe the decree out of the air, but Sunset held it back.
“Well? What’s it going to be? Are you loyal or not?”
The commander groaned and turned to Rainbow Dash. “You heard them, Dash. If Princess Celestia sent them here to find you and head through the wall, then it is probably the same reason we were sent here to tear it down in the first place. Make us proud.”
“Ma’am.” Rainbow Dash saluted the senior officer and then watched as her team took off, flying in different directions. Her head snapped back to look at the Elements. “What are your orders?” she asked as her eyes met Sunset’s. If she had some misgivings about Sunset, it was not shown by her voice or stance.
“We’re searching for the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, and you’re one of them. We’re looking for one more, an earth pony named Pinkie Pie. For now, stick with us – we’re heading into The Crystal Empire,” Sunset replied and then commanded everyone else to move out. Rainbow Dash didn’t even give a strange side-look to the explanation as she and the other Elements headed around the fallen crystal. As Sunset trotted behind Shining Armor stopped her.
“Where’d you get the decree?” he asked. “I tore it up!”
“Decree? Oh, you mean this thing,” Sunset smugly said, unravelling the piece of paper to show a crudely drawn map of Equestria.
He wiped his forehead with the back of his hoof. “Huh. I’m going to have to be more careful around you. You’re a lot cleverer than I first expected,” he complimented, though Sunset wasn’t sure if that truly was what it was.
As they stepped out from the shadow of the fallen crystal, Sunset saw the shine of The Crystal Empire within the opening. The crystal that had been part of the wall had collapsed forward creating a nice ramp into the city. Unfortunately, many battles raged between them and the broken wall. Sunset’s eyes watered from the wind as she stared out across the wounded landscape.
“May I speak freely, ma’am?” Rainbow Dash asked, to which Sunset gave a silent nod. “You’re all a bit slower than I am, so I suggest we wait for an opening and then try to book it.”
Sunset and the others agreed to the plan without hesitation. Once it was clear, the group rushed for the crystal ramp. The walls of the empire towered above with the burning light putting them on display for all the world to see. This almost feels like one of the late night football games, Sunset thought as she wiped her running nose. It’s late, it’s cold, and I’m surrounded by people who have more of a stake in what’s going on than I do. At least Pinkie Pie isn’t here to scream in my ear, though I certainly wouldn’t mind it compared to this.
The crystal hummed as they galloped up it, Rainbow Dash leading the way. Sunset could feel her face was red from all the running, her breathing becoming heavier with every step. She eyed past Rainbow Dash, staring at the two Sombra soldiers that stood in their path. Before the soldiers could do anything they were tossed off by some other pegasus. The group neared the unhindered opening, getting closer and closer with every step. As Rainbow Dash reached the apex another soldier appeared, to which she tackled and went over the other side into The Crystal Empire. “Rainbow Dash!” Sunset cried her name as they clambered to the edge of the crystal ramp. As she looked down her worry vanished, Rainbow Dash was already up and fighting another two soldiers.
While the Elements and Shining Armor hopped down to help the athletic pegasus, Sunset took a glimpse at The Crystal Empire. In front of them sat a few cul-de-sacs of houses which looked to be untouched by the war. In fact, most of the houses she could see were unused. It made sense. Brainwashed ponies don’t need to eat, sleep, or have comfort. There was little need for such things. In the distance, past the castle, she could see smoke clouds rising. The castle itself remained tall and untouched, except for the obvious evil crystals that Sombra loved to decorate with. She assumed everything else was the same. I never stepped outside the castle, only the interior. And that was only to steal a crown, she remembered.
The castle wasn’t the only place where crystals had sprung up. Smaller clusters had sprouted out within the city streets, infecting it like a plague. That’s got to be from Sombra’s first attack. Shining Armor said Celestia was pushed back over time, so there’s no way they could have gotten within the empire until today. It’s easy to see why Shining Armor was forced to flee. She hopped down onto the broken shard of the crystal wall and then hopped down again to the city’s floor. As she hit the ground a chill engulfed her, sending the fur on her neck straight up. “It’s freezing!” she complained. “Worse than out in the snow. How is this possible?”
The others had crowded behind the backside of a pink house. Though the area was mostly filled with housing cul-de-sacs, they sat behind those houses where it was more open to being seen. The soldiers weren’t smart enough to figure that out, however. The soldiers continued to press through the small gaps in houses, coming from the center of the cul-de-sacs. If the soldiers had followed the wall they would have easily seen Sunset and the group. “What’s going on?” Sunset asked as she came closer, attempting to keep her voice down. The three unconscious soldiers were still being sidled up to the house by Shining Armor.
“Soldiers. They don’t know we’re here, but there’s a group of unicorns cowering down behind the next set of houses. We’ve got to get to them and find out where the rockers are at,” Rainbow Dash answered. She didn’t even look back at Sunset, keeping both eyes on the gap between homes.
“Rockers?” Sunset inquired.
“Oh, they’re slang for our earth pony division,” Twilight responded for Rainbow Dash. “They’re used to take down crystals and rocks on the battlefield.” She then gloated, “Prince Sunburst was the one who saw the need for them and put together the task force.”
“Who’s the egghead?” asked Rainbow Dash, her head finally swiveling back to look at them.
“Enough,” Shining Armor said over his shoulder. The stallion had crept up to be beside Rainbow Dash. “They aren’t looking. Head for the next houses.” Past the gap and out into the open, they did as they were instructed. Keeping their heads low and their hooves quiet, they reached the next set of homes without incident. “What’s the situation?” he asked the guards as everyone pushed against the cyan home, hiding beneath the shadow of the eave.
“Captain Shining Armor?” the unicorn breathed, surprised. “Sir! As soon as we chipped the wall open the earth pony team rang barreling into the city. We lost sight of them as they headed for the castle. We attempted to chase, but you can see how well that turned out,” explained the guard.
“My guess is that’s Pinkie Pie,” Rainbow Dash said.
“Really? Are you certain?” Sunset asked, perplexed.
“Of course. I was part of the team sent up here to cut into The Crystal Empire, just like her. Wouldn’t be able to put a face to the name. But if we’re looking for an earth pony, my guess is she’s part of the group that ran off to the castle. It’s not like them to break formation, though.”
“Enough chatter,” Shining Armor interjected. “With the wall down there should be a huge herd coming in from the northwest to aid in defending their wall.” He pulled his head back in from the left corner of the house, the cyan crystal reflecting his coat of white. “We need a forward command base set up pronto. Any idea which of these houses would best suit establishing our needs?” he asked one of the unicorn guards.
“All the houses are abandoned, but maintaining a line to bring through more troops will be difficult if we stray too far from the wall. Any of the houses around will do, sir,” the guard promptly answered, motioning to the houses that sat around them.
Shining Armor nodded and then picked a house seemingly at random, shooting a bolt of magic at a window and smashing its glass. “Everyone through the window before more soldiers show up,” he commanded, leading the charge. He jumped through the narrow hole, wriggling his way inside with the unicorn guards following suit. Twilight, Rarity, and Applejack were next to go. Each made it through the hole but were followed by a loud crash, though not loud enough to alert any soldiers.
As Fluttershy and Sunset started to move Rainbow Dash pulled them back. “Soldiers, they’re staring this way. If we stay low they’ll pass over us,” she said, glancing between the gaps in the houses. She then turned her head and looked at the two, her bangs partially covering one eye. “We’ll have to be quick to not get… spotted…” Her speech had slowed as she became slack-jawed, staring intently at the yellow pegasus. “F-F-Fluttershy!?” she shouted, to which Sunset slammed a hoof to her mouth, trying to keep her quiet.
“You’re going to get us caught!” Sunset whisper-yelled. “I guess you two know each other? Save the reunion for once we’re inside!” She leaned past Rainbow Dash, pushing her body closer to the wall as she peered around the corner.
“What are you guys waiting for?” Twilight called out from the window as quietly as she could, the top of her forehead barely visible.
Sunset gave a nod and then motioned for the two pegasi to move. Darting through the opening, Rainbow Dash was first with Fluttershy flapping gently behind. Sunset squinted her eyes and wrinkled her nose, aiming for the opening and landing in darkness. The room was dark and became even darker after Shining Armor levitated a bookcase over to the window, blocking the opening. “Everyone okay?” she asked as she looked around the room while her eyes adjusted. The unicorn guards stood at the door, peering out through the curtains while Rainbow Dash sat whispering with Fluttershy on the only couch. Twilight and Rarity were crowded around Applejack. Nobody seemed to acknowledge her question. “Alright then.”
“We’ll set up here for a moment,” Shining Armor whispered to everyone. “Catch your breath, get some rest.”
The room was dark enough to taste the shadows on her tongue, but it didn’t last long. Twilight and Rarity maintained a dim light emanating from their horns. As Sunset came closer she saw their reasoning. “At least I’m not the only klutzy one around here,” Twilight said, causing Rarity to giggle. Applejack had jumped through the window and landed on a piece of the broken frame that Shining Armor had blown in. It slipped out from under her as she landed and forced her hoof forward.
“I’ll be alright,” Applejack told Sunset, though it sounded like it was meant to reassure herself. “I’ll be a little slower, but I won’t let that stop me.”
“Just so long as you don’t try to play the hero and tell us to leave you behind,” Rarity joked as she wrapped the leg with torn cloth. Rarity had used her own scarf to mend the earth pony’s wound.
“We’ve got some time before we head off so try to stay off it in the meantime,” Sunset suggested, seeing that Rarity and Twilight had everything under control. “Can I get you anything? Water maybe?”
Applejack shook her head, her blonde bountiful mane shifting with every shake. “No, I’m alright. I appreciate it though. I’ll be mighty sore in the morn, that’s for sure.”
Sunset raised a questioning eyebrow before nodding. Applejack was in good hooves, Sunset knew, and this gave her time to look around the rest of the home. Much of the others had remained in shadow. The guards had moved a table around and brought out maps and such, hoping to devise a battle plan and allow others to move into the empire. She could barely make out the couch Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash sat on, much less their faces. It was a relatively small home, the kitchen and living room open to each other while a simple set of stairs led up to a bedroom. The entry way was smaller and grew outward into the rest of the home. The floor held a single rug which covered the cold, crystal floor. Had it not been so dark, Sunset could have seen her own breath. Instead, she took a look out the curtained windows that sat beside the front door. The soldiers had all vanished, presumably still searching for them by the broken wall. Many other houses blocked her line of sight, but she could still see the castle towering in the distance over the crystalline roofs.
Grass and flowers also seemed to have dried up, possibly by the lack of pony attention. However, many of the buildings seemed unfazed by the war. There won’t be much of a reconstruction process, though I hopefully won’t be around to see it if there is, Sunset speculated. It still wasn’t clear whether her presence made the world exist or if this truly was an alternate universe, much like the human world. I should have focused on asking Celestia what she thought about it. She tapped her hoof against her forehead, angry with herself.
A few wheezes caused her to turn back to the rest of the room. Shining Armor had apparently pulled open a cupboard to get some dishes for something, but they had come flying down. Twilight and a guard had been there to prevent them from hitting the ground. She stepped back to the table and looked over what had been strung about it, though she could not tell what was written in the low light. The whispers of the two pegasus finally peaked her curiosity. She did not want to intrude, however. Her ears flicked as she eavesdropped. “Sheep huh?” she heard Rainbow Dash say in a low voice.
“Oh yes,” Fluttershy responded quietly, “But enough about me, what has happened to you? Your hair, your ear, and your wing. So much of you has changed…”
The wing. Sunset’s brain sparked as she heard the word. Her head tilted to have the two in her peripheral, glancing at the metal piece that was shouldered by the athletic pegasus. She had noticed it before but never thought to question it, assuming it to be another one of the failures brought on by this forsaken world. “The hair just sort of happened, long hair doesn’t really fit in the helmet and these darn bangs keep getting into my visor. But Commander Spitfire said I looked cool the first day I came in with the style. So, I just kept it ever since.” Rainbow Dash shrugged. “As for the ear-” She rubbed a hoof against the outside of her ear “-That actually happened during the changeling invasion.”
“Oh my!” gasped Fluttershy, placing her hooves to her mouth. “Were you there during the attack?”
“Nah, I wish,” she replied, giving a laugh and snort. “Was practicing for joining up with the Wonderbolts, trying to perform a trick that I haven’t been able to do since I was a kid. Ended up in a tree with still no trick. You remember the one, right? My never patented sonic rainboom?”
Fluttershy giggled. “I remember. I also remember you fighting against those mean old bullies that were picking on me. I never got to thank you for standing up for me.”
“I remember that too,” Rainbow Dash groaned, sulking at the mention. “I remember losing. I dropped out of flight school because of that day.”
“I-I’m sorry. I d-didn’t know you quit because of me.”
“I didn’t quit because of you. Sure, when you didn’t return I kind of thought… y’know, I had failed you. But I quit because I couldn’t handle being worse than those two awful bullies, I couldn’t even stick up for a friend.” Fluttershy remained quiet in response, but Dash was the first to break the silence. “H-Hey. Don’t think of me as a downer though. I still got into the Wonderbolts after all, even if it is for the war. Bet those colts are back in Cloudsdale workin’ janitorial at the academy.” She nudged an elbow into Fluttershy. “Serves them right!”
Sunset couldn’t bear to listen anymore. She was too curious for her own good. “N-Not to interrupt or tell that I was eavesdropping,” she began, “but I am a bit curious about your wing. Sorry if it’s a sore subject.”
“Eavesdropping?” Rainbow Dash repeated. “This house is so small I doubt any of us could prevent themselves from listening to each other’s conversations.” She patted the couch on her right side, Fluttershy moved further left. “C’mon, it’s a really gruesome story. Commander Spitfire hates when I tell it, but she isn’t here now is she?”
The thought of the story being gruesome turned Sunset’s stomach. “O-On second thought, perhaps I’ll leave it up to the imagination. Though I suppose some things never change, regardless of parallel universes.” The Rainbow Dash in the human world won’t stop sending me links to grim stories and pictures, she remembered. A scary image Rainbow Dash had sent of a video game glitching a man’s face still sent shivers down her spine.
“Suit yourself,” Rainbow Dash said, shrugging. “How about you ‘Shy? You wanna hear it?” Fluttershy shook her head and mumbled. “Well then somebody’s gotta tell me about this human world. I’m not a whole lot into science or alternate dimensions, but another me sounds really awesome.” She leaned back, placing her forelegs behind her head and crossing her back legs.
“I think a few of us would be interested in hearing more of this human world,” Twilight intruded, taking Sunset’s place on the couch next to Rainbow Dash.
“Hm. I suppose I could talk about it,” Sunset affirmed. “This gives me a chance to fill Rainbow Dash in on her place in all of this.” Sunset looked around at the unicorn guards and Shining Armor. The guards were getting some rest, though Shining still burned the candle at both ends, looking more fatigued than ever. “What would you like to know?” she asked as she turned back to the couch.
“Start from the beginning. Like, including your name,” Rainbow Dash answered.
“Oh, right.” Sunset gave an awkward smile, though no one could really see it in the darkness. “My name’s Sunset Shimmer. I come from an alternate timeline where the war isn’t going on and Equestria is at peace. There have been many monsters that have come to ruin that peace, but six ponies have maintained harmony. That’s you five, and six including Pinkie Pie. You six are the Elements of Harmony.”
As Sunset continued to explain her past, her present, and her purpose here, Rarity and Applejack joined in listening to the tale. Though they mostly listened to Sunset, Rainbow Dash interrupted several times with questions. Things like: “What are humans like?” and “What am I like in your world?” Sunset answered to the best of her abilities, but one question Rainbow Dash asked left her stumped. “If there are Elements of Harmony in our world and in your world, are there Elements in the human world you live in?”
That was an odd question to hear. They had ‘ponied-up’ before, but that had been without the Elements of Harmony. It hadn’t even been a thought to cross her mind, even when she herself ponied-up. “And what’s your Element, anyways?” Rainbow Dash asked, the question that was becoming all too familiar.
“I-I don’t really have an answer for that human world question. I’ll have to look into that. As for my Element – I don’t have one,” Sunset answered.
“She was apparently a demon,” Twilight added, nonchalantly.
“A demon? Cool!” Rainbow Dash sat forward and hopped off the couch. “Well, I’m not entirely sure I buy into this whole Elements of Harmony thing or me being part of it.” She extended her wings. “However, you’ve got Princess Celestia, Captain Shining Armor, and even Fluttershy convinced. That’s more than enough to get me to help you with your mission.” She smacked her hooves together. “So if you aren’t just a storyteller, how do we go about getting my Element?”
Sunset could see the sneer on the pegasus’s face even in the darkness. Whether it was the excitement of being part of something big or just feeding into her own egotism, Sunset knew Rainbow Dash was on board. “I don’t have an answer for that either. Once we get Pinkie Pie I’ll concern myself more with making sure each of you have your Element. So far, they’ve all just shown up on their own. It’s funny, this is actually how Princess Twilight defeated Tirek and gained her castle.” She unzipped the backpack and pulled her journal from the contents. Her horn sparked to light up, brightening up the entire house before she gained control and dimmed it low. She was quick to flip through the pages, turning it to face the five. “This journal was written into by Princess Twilight and myself, she spoke of the day she became princess along with the obtaining of her castle. She went through a lot of work to get to where she is.”
“Could we learn about our future with this thing?” Twilight asked, levitating the book closer to them.
“What’s a book going to tell us that Sunset hasn’t?” Rainbow Dash pushed her bangs from her eyes, giving an audible scoff. “We’re clearly the most awesome ponies in all of Equestria, and we’re going to go kick King Sombra’s butt! I’ve been dreaming of taking down that pompous crystal breather, and we’ll actually get the chance to do it!” She clopped her hooves together again.
Applejack chuckled. “I’ve got to agree with you, Rainbow Dash. Before his return, I was just a simple farm girl workin’ all day and lovin’ life. He’s ruined so many ponies lives, I almost feel a little giddy to be part of takin’ him down. Shoot, if I had known all this ahead of time, I would’ve been trainin’ more. It’s been a few years since anypony lived in Ponyville, and even more since somepony challenged me to an Iron Pony competition.” She lifted her foreleg, looking down at her stiff ankle.
“When this is all over, I’ll challenge you,” promised Dash.
“Oh my… I won’t know who to root for,” Fluttershy added.
There was a sense of pride in Sunset’s heart knowing she had helped these five become friends. She wondered what would become of this world once she was gone, and the fear of this world disappearing all together came striking once more. If I leave, will this world remain? I surely can’t stay, she contemplated. All this work to bring them together, to befriend them, and then I just leave? I suppose Twilight did that when she came to the human world. She left our friends, returning for her own. This world, what happens to it doesn’t really matter. When we defeat Sombra my work here will be done. Right?
It was a curious thought, but she did not have the luxury of weighing the pros and cons. “Alright. If everypony has rested up, we’ve devised a route and plan for The Crystal Empire,” Shining Armor spoke up. The Elements and Sunset crowded around the table as Shining Armor lit the room with his horn. “We’ve got a basic chart right here.” He pointed at a map with a few street names and descriptions of buildings, mostly detailing the east side of the city. “What we’re going to do is head through the alleyways and back sides of these houses until we reach the outer ring of what used to be businesses. We’ll have to make a break for it, maybe fight our way through to get to the castle.” He then pointed to the three guards. “These three are staying here to protect the rear. After we leave, they’ll give us five minutes till they shoot off a flare. The flare should be green, which means-”
“A safe house!” Rainbow Dash interrupted. “Green means that enemies are around but the ground is owned by Celestia’s Guard. All of the ones outside will be rushing in, just like we did during the Battle of the Dusk Gate!”
“Correct. All of King Sombra’s soldiers who are stationed in the city will come rushing and will be met with our own troops coming in for safety. We’re hoping that means we’ll get the chance to reach the castle without running too heavily into enemy forces,” Shining Armor explained. “There will still be some at the castle, I guarantee, but it won’t be nearly as bad.”
“And it also gives us an exit strategy should things get worse,” Twilight noted. “I think that’s a splendid idea. Perhaps Prince Sunburst has been rubbing off on you, big brother?” She ruffled his cheek and he smiled, but Sunset could only stick out her tongue in disgust.
“Everyone understand? We’re breaking off now,” Shining Armor said, direct and to the point.
Sunset quickly shoved her journal back into her backpack and zipped it up tight. The others gathered by the door, and once they all were there Shining Armor opened it and stepped outside. Sunset closed the door behind them and looked up to the sky. The castle’s blue hue stood like a beacon for the lit up city, but could not break the clouds that hovered overhead. There was no way of telling whether it was night or day, other than the exhaustion she felt. The others headed across the cul-de-sac, to the north, and she quickly followed.