The cold was almost unbearable, and that meant King Sombra was close. Yet, even with the cold, there was warmth somewhere inside the camp. Sunset could feel heat radiating up and out as she stood next to the broken crystal dome. There was also something that caused her eyes to water, and when her snout began to tickle she knew it was smoke. As Maud and Pinkie cut their way through the remnants of the crystal dome’s wall, Sunset took a step back to see a fire rising within Celestia’s camp. The flames popped against the burgundy crystal, dancing in the moonlight.
The two sisters eventually caved in a section of the crystal, breaking a hole into the camp. As it fell, soldiers charged from the inside, their green slats for eyes glowing in the darkness. Pinkie and Maud tackled two of the soldiers, snapping off the helmets with ease. The other soldiers didn’t seem to notice or care, however, and they continued running away from the camp.
“Fire!” they heard someone yell as they crossed the crystal border into the camp. Guard ponies fought the armor-clad indoctrinated with all their might, wrecking tents and smashing against boxes during the chaos. Twilight tore off in one direction while Rainbow Dash and the Pie sisters headed for the fire. It was burning the tents to the southeast, a good distance from the tent Sunset had first met this world’s Princess Celestia. Though the fire was far enough away, the wind was causing it to spread quickly. “Where are we going?” Rarity called out, but that was answered once Twilight ducked into one of the larger tents.
Sunset followed suit, opening the crimson flap and entering the roomy tent. Shelves held scrolls upon scrolls, almost as if Princess Celestia had brought the entirety of the Canterlot Library with her. A plethora of scrolls of all shapes and sizes were being strung about by the purple unicorn. “Where is it?” they heard Twilight say as they came closer. “I know it’s here somewhere.”
“What are you looking for?” Sunset anxiously asked. “We need to go help Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Maud!”
Smacking her head against one of the shelves and knocking her crown to the ground, Twilight quickly turned to see the four of them. “Oh, it’s just you girls.” She levitated the crown back atop her head, rubbing the place she hit. “There’s a spell here – something that can conjure rain. The problem is I don’t remember the name, just how it’s cast. I’ve got to find it and get it to Prince Sunburst. He’ll be able to use it to put the fire out.”
“If yah know how to cast it then why don’t you do it?” wondered Applejack.
“Me? There’s no way,” Twilight hesitated, but then her face softened. Sunset was about to remind her of the cave and the teleportation spells, but the look the purple unicorn held told her she didn’t need to; she already knew. “I-I suppose, I could try,” Twilight finally said, a slight blush on her cheeks.
Sunset smiled. “We’ve really got to work on your enthusiasm. Come on.” She wrapped a hoof around the purple mare’s neck and pulled her out of the tent. The smell of smoke wafted over them, the fire growing nearer with every passing moment.
They trotted down a row and then cut through a patch of broken down tents, passing by guards and soldiers duking it out. The fire had already taken most of the southeast and was working northwest. Both the brainwashed and the free were running away from the flames, hoping to escape unscathed. Sunset felt her heart tighten as part of the crystal wall collapsed, sending fire shooting up into the air. As they came closer they found Rainbow Dash attempting to blow the fire back with her wings and getting bombarded with smoke, Pinkie Pie attempted to help by kicking snow into the air and onto the flames.
“Did you guys run into Prince Sunburst?” Dash yelled down at them once she saw they were there. “He went off in that direction just a few seconds ago. You shouldn’t have missed him.”
“Prince Sunburst!?” Twilight hollered back. Her head swiveled like a joystick attempting to look for him. “Which way?” she asked.
“There’s no time, Twilight!” Rarity nagged.
Sunset nodded in agreement. “Use the spell! It’s the only way to stop the fire. We’ll find Sunburst after it’s taken care of. I promise!”
Staring deep into Sunset’s eyes, Twilight drew her bottom lip between her teeth. She looks worried, Sunset thought, staring back at Twilight. Hoping to convince her, Sunset flashed a teeth-clenching smile. It must have worked as Twilight gave a nod and a smile of her own. Sunset took a step back to watch as the purple unicorn concentrated her magic into her horn, building up power for the spell Twilight could not name.
A sudden bolt of blue spewed out from the tip of the horn like dust, hitting the smoke that floated above the raging fire. The blue hit the black clouds, turning them grey and causing them to grow fluffier and larger. They grew and grew until they reached their max, releasing rain down onto the fire below. Pops and cracks rang out as water poured onto the inferno, turning the blaze into charred ash. Black liquid poured down into the snow, turning the area into a scarred mess, but it was no longer a threat to anypony’s safety.
“Way to go Twilight!” Rainbow Dash cheered.
“Don’t have time for congratulations!” Twilight yelled her reply, already tearing off in the direction Prince Sunburst had been said to be.
Sunset followed, weaving through tents in order to keep up. Some were collapsed, their wooden stakes unhinged from the ground, leaving rough outlines of bedrolls and benches. Twilight hopped one of the obstacles, landing on the other side with surprising grace. Sunset went around, however, and lost sight of Twilight behind a tent. She eventually caught up to her as the purple unicorn stood talking to Maud. But before Sunset could reach them, Twilight tore off again, running down the back length of the burned tents near the edge of the broken dome.
She was almost out of breath, feeling the heavy cold on her lungs as snow and black char clung to her hooves, causing her to slow. She refused to lose sight of Twilight again, though the darkness brought on by the loss of fire was making it all the more difficult. For a moment, she thought she had lost the unicorn after she disappeared around a pile of cinder twice her size, but the magenta star atop Twilight’s crown bounced beyond the wreckage. When it finally stopped, Sunset was forced to continue and circle back, and when she finally found Twilight hunched over, Sunset’s heart skipped a beat. “Twilight?” Sunset called, steam pouring from her mouth with every syllable.
Tears and gentle moans radiated from the purple pony. Something’s wrong, there’s someone there. Sunset couldn’t tell what it was at first. When she saw the body, she let out a gasp that sounded more like a hiccup. It was Prince Sunburst. He was covered in ash and rain, his fur charred black and his glasses were missing. “Oh no!” Sunset hollered, throwing her hooves around Twilight. “What happened!? Is he…”
“I-I don’t know,” Twilight replied.
Suddenly, Sunset’s question was answered. The stallion hacked up phlegm from his throat and opened his eyes. “T-Twilight?” he hoarsely spoke. “Is that…?”
“Yes! It’s me! It’s me, Twilight! Stay with us!” Twilight held his hoof to her cheek.
“N-No, the crown.” He coughed some more before he continued, “That’s an Element of Harmony, isn’t i-it? I always knew you were special, Twilight.”
“Try not to move!” Sunset told him. “I’ll go get help!”
“Help?” he questioned, pushing himself up with one hoof.
Twilight held him down, however. “Sunburst, please, you’re injured!”
His right brow arched, and then he laughed a deep, sore laugh. “No I’m not. I’m just a fool,” he replied, pushing himself to a sitting position. “I was triple checking the burning tents, making sure I hadn’t left anypony in the fire. However, when I did my third barrier spell, I hadn’t noticed smoke had been contained within my bubble.” He coughed. “Smoke inhalation. Nothing too serious, though I’m going to need a few moments to breathe.”
“Are you certain you’re alright?” Twilight worriedly asked. Tears still fell from her eyes.
“I’m afraid I’ll be no use in fighting King Sombra – though it looks like I won’t have to.” His eyes seemed to draw from one Element to the next as each of the bearers came trotting up. “I’m surprised he’s still left standing. You all should’ve been able to defeat him by now with all the Elements of Harmony you’ve gathered,” Sunburst added in-between fits of coughs. He raised his head to the sky, staring up at the grey clouds. “Wait, something’s not right. Is Princess Celestia still dueling with King Sombra? She said she was going to fend him off and then raise the sun!”
Sunset realized it was still night. They had traveled across a war zone, rested in a secluded home, released the crystal ponies, broke into the castle of The Crystal Empire, and escaped through a magic portal to a hazardous tunnel and out onto a cliff. Yet it was still night. “How long have they been fighting?” Sunset asked, but an explosion so loud overshadowed her question.
A beam of magic cut through the camp with crystals following behind, smashing to the ground and shattering amongst tents, or what was left of the tents. Everyone looked to the sky, and in the lingering moonlight, they could see a pony of white falling to the ground. “Princess Celestia!” Sunburst yelled just as she landed on top of one surviving tent, collapsing it in with her. But she had not been the only one, for the dark king fell with her. King Sombra did not lose his consciousness though, having managed to save himself from plummeting into the charred tents. He was quick to flee, raising another crystal platform and charging north out of the camp. Smaller crystal platforms were left behind as if he was a snake leaving his tail.
Sunset rushed to Princess Celestia’s aid with everyone else who had seen the terrible fall. To her relief, the white-furred princess had struck the tent where Sunset and her friends had lounged on pillows, the outlines of a couch and table still visible beneath the crimson fabric. “Princess Celestia!” Sunset cried, staring down at the dazed alicorn.
It seemed as though the princess had heard her name as her eyes drew slowly open, fluttering like butterfly wings. Celestia groaned and whimpered, stiffening her foreleg and rubbing her temple. “Ah!” she softly bemoaned. “Sunset Shimmer,” she said after the pain looked to pass, her pupils focusing. “I see you’ve returned – and with more bearers than Elements.”
“We’re still down one,” Sunset said, “but we won’t be for long! Are you alright? Can you get up?”
Princess Celestia put one hoof to the ground, attempting to stand. “I will try to hold King Sombra off for as long as I can while you attempt to get the final-” Her voice cried out as she slumped forward, her body refusing to rise.
“Princess! You can’t stand. Please, allow me to go in your stead. I’ll hold him off,” pleaded Prince Sunburst, but his coughing betrayed his words.
“No.” The white-furred alicorn stubbornly attempted to push herself once more. “He has refused to meet me on the battlefield every time before today, and now I owe him payback for that tricky maneuver of his. He is too powerful for you to face alone.”
“Then it’ll have to be us. These six can handle it even if we don’t have the final Element of Harmony,” Sunset answered. “I believe in them.”
“There’s seven?” Prince Sunburst replied, pointing at the grey-furred pony.
A scream came from the back. “This is my sister Maud!” Pinkie yelled, bouncing around the grey pony. “She’s not an Element of Harmony, though,” she added as she popped up behind Sunburst, startling the stallion.
“Well, regardless,” Sunburst started to say as he attempted to regain his composure. “Can you really defeat King Sombra without all the Elements?”
Sunset snorted. “Oh please. We’ve got the Element of Loyalty. She’s standing right there. Just because she doesn’t have the necklace doesn’t mean diddly-squat. You’ve got to have a little faith, Sunburst.” Sunset pushed past him, giving a sly smile. “Take care of Princess Celestia while we’re gone.” Her eyes turned to Twilight who stared wistfully back at her, and she knew she needed to say something more. Turning back to Sunburst, she said, “Celestia will need your powerful magic, Sunburst. Make sure she gets fixed up.” Her words seemed to bring Twilight some peace as the purple unicorn held her head up, smiling.
Sunburst eventually gave an approving nod, and when Princess Celestia did not offer a rebuke, Sunset led the Elements and Maud north through the entrance they had made – whether they were prepared or not. Sombra’s trail of crystal were easy to follow, and the whistling wind of cold air trailed along wherever Sombra seemed to go. Sunset could almost smell the sweat that the evil stallion emitted; falling from the sky would leave anyone disheveled and scared. There would be no escape this time. They were a pack of bloodhounds while he was a comely fox, and this fox had struck against their alpha – something no fox should do.
Perhaps he thought himself safe atop his crystal pillar, staring down into the battleground between him and the sealed city. He was anything but safe.
Pinkie ran clockwise while Maud ran counter-clockwise, both creating gashes at the bottom of his pillar. As the sisters met, Rainbow Dash dove from above and sent a back-kick against the pillar, causing it to slide off-kilter. The pillar fell forward and the evil king with it, both hitting the snow and causing an eruption of white to soar into the air. Before he could rise, Twilight unleashed a magical bubble around them and the king, locking them in together.
“Give up,” Sunset commanded the king. “You’re not going anywhere but Tartarus.”
“Forget that! Let’s clobber him some. It’s the least we could do to avenge all the lives he’s ruined!” Rainbow Dash disagreed, slamming her hooves together.
For a moment, it looked as if Sombra was going to speak. His strong jaw clenched as his face soured, but then a smile started to form. The white teeth seemed to glow, and everyone could feel the intensity the stallion emitted. Anger. The word filtered into Sunset’s mind, called out by a deep, dark voice. It was Sombra’s voice. Anger, it said. It burned her brain like fried eggs in a pan. The others seemed to feel it too. Angrier, it said. Who is the angriest?
As the words pained their minds, no one seemed to notice Sombra’s horn sparking with magic until it was too late. Anger, it screamed. The tip of the red horn burst with dark purple and green energy, hitting Rainbow Dash head on. While she fell to her knees, another blast popped Twilight’s barrier like a bubble and the stallion lurched from the center. Another pillar formed up around him as he rode off south, leaving another trail.
“Rainbow Dash!?” Applejack yelled as she came to the aid of the pegasus, having stood closest to her. “Are you alright? What’d he do to you? Did you hear him speak to you too?”
Everyone crowded around but were blown back by the pegasus’s wind. Rainbow Dash lost control of herself, snarling and growling. Her eyes had become green and were covered in purple mist. “He’s coming around again!” Pinkie pointed out while the others attempted to hold Rainbow Dash down. Sombra was in the process of making a U-turn, leaving crystal pillars behind as he strode towards them.
“Fight it Rainbow Dash!” pleaded Rarity while Applejack, Sunset, and Maud attempted to keep her from flying. “Whatever you’re seeing – it’s not real. We’re your friends! We’re here for you!”
“Angry!” Rainbow Dash screamed as she squirmed and fought.
“Rarity’s right, Rainbow Dash!” Fluttershy stood face to face, staring at the raging pegasus. Snot and drool fell from Rainbow Dash’s muzzle, brought on by whatever she was seeing. “Please, Dash! You’ve got to snap out of it!”
Before they could break whatever afflicted Rainbow Dash, King Sombra bowled through them, freeing Rainbow from their hold. A line of crystals left by the stallion separated them, cutting them off from each other. Rainbow Dash flew up into the air and turned, ready to dive-bomb the other Elements. “Maud, get these crystals down! Pinkie, Applejack, with me!” Sunset commanded as she rushed toward Rainbow Dash.
The blue pegasus swooped down, attempting to strike Sunset. With a teleporting dodge, Sunset grabbed the rainbow tail and swung the pegasus to her rump. Applejack and Pinkie hopped onto Rainbow’s back, putting all their weight into keeping her down. “He’s coming again! Another attack!” she heard Rarity yell from the other side of the wall. “I’ll meet him head on!” Twilight also yelled.
“Keep her down until I get back!” Sunset commanded Pinkie and Applejack before teleporting past the crystal. She reappeared next to Fluttershy who quickly pointed in the direction of the purple unicorn. Twilight was already charging headlong into battle, but she was slow enough for Sunset to catch with a few key teleports.
“How about a magical pincer maneuver, like Maud and Pinkie?” Twilight asked once Sunset pulled in beside her. Sunset hadn’t yet tried magical blasts but felt confident enough at that moment. She gave a nod, and they unleashed dual beams, striking the evil stallion’s pedestal as it came their way. While Sunset's magic was not nearly as strong as she would of liked, barely cutting a few inches into the crystal, it still did the damage she wanted. But King Sombra was not as dumb as they assumed, for as they drew around the sides, he turned left into the previous crystal path he had made, trapping Twilight between the two trails.
Sunset couldn’t believe her eyes, but then the realization struck and she called out, “Twilight! Twilight! Are you alright!?”
She had assumed Twilight had been squished, but a sudden spark of light appeared and so did the purple unicorn. “You really think the Element of Magic can be kept down by a simple wall!?” Twilight yelled in defiance.
Sunset gave a sigh of relief, only for another problem to arise. “Twilight! Sunset! She got loose!” Applejack and Pinkie yelled unison. Fluttershy and Rarity had met up with the two earth ponies and they all were running away from the angry blue pegasus.
A part of Sombra’s crystal trail suddenly caved next to Sunset and Twilight, and Maud appeared from the other side. “This way,” the grey-furred pony said, beckoning Sunset and Twilight along with the others. They poured through past the two trails and out into an open field, but Rainbow Dash flew over. The pegasus skidded to a stop in front of them, kicking snow into the air. In the distance, over her shoulder, Sunset could see the dark king circling around for another strike.
The grimace on Rainbow’s face was beyond words. Tears had formed in her mystified eyes, and her anger seemed to boil out of control. “I’m about to lose it too!” Sunset growled, stomping her hooves. “Rainbow Dash!” she yelled at the pegasus. “The reason you’re mad is right behind you! The reason I’m mad, why we’re all mad, is right behind you! We are angry, upset, frustrated, and most importantly, friends! We are your angry friends. Let’s be angry together!” She clapped her hooves together like Rainbow Dash always did.
“Darling, I think your way with words has left you. There’s no way that will calm her down,” Rarity denied. However, Rainbow Dash let out a snarl and roar, turning in an instant to face the oncoming stallion. “But, if there’s ever a time to be wrong, now would be it, I suppose.”
A blitz and blur of color streaked toward the stallion, striking the king off his pillar and sending him to the snow. In an instant, they could see Rainbow Dash landing on top of him, only to be struck by a rising crystal. The hit sent her backward into the snow, and the others rushed to help her. Before they could reach her, Sombra had regained his poise and set off on his magic crystals once more. This time he did not turn back, disappearing beyond the hills of snow. “Rainbow Dash, are you alright?” Twilight yelled and repeated once they had gotten close to the downed mare.
“My head feels like that time I dropped a watermelon from Cloudsdale,” Rainbow Dash replied as she opened her eyes, the clouded mist gone and her pupils resumed their natural reddish-pink. “I still ate it, though. The juice had soaked into the grass and there was an angry dude yelling at me.”
“Th-That’s nice Rainbow Dash,” Twilight choked her reply.
“Hey, what’s with the waterworks?” Rainbow Dash pushed a hoof to Twilight’s cheek, pressing a few tears into the fur.
The unicorn was quick to wipe the rest from her eyes. “You’re stubborn. I barely know you but I can tell you’re stubborn. I-I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“Rainbow Dash always picked fights back in Flight School,” Fluttershy commented. “She wanted to defend anyone who was being bullied. She wouldn’t back down.”
“I do have to admit, she is very gung-ho about fighting. Stubbornly so it would seem,” Rarity added her thoughts.
Rainbow Dash rolled to her side and then stood up, shaking the snow off her back. “Gee, thanks you guys. If my Element was stubbornness we’d have, like, three necklaces by now.”
“Don’t you see it Dash?” Twilight asked. “Loyalty is a form of stubbornness, in a way.”
“You lost me there,” Rainbow replied.
“Yeah, even you got me beat on how that would work,” Sunset added, and the others chorused their agreement.
“Loyal to a fault is a phrase my mother used to call Shining Armor. It’s not something bad, specifically. Loyalty is a faithful commitment, something that you adhere to regardless the consequence or temptations. It’s a stubbornness to what you believe in.” A smile crinkled on Twilight’s mouth. “I’m stubborn too. Stubborn to my friends, my family.” Her eyes met Sunset’s. “Stubborn to my prince and princess, sometimes.”
“Alright, I get it. You want my Element of Harmony,” Rainbow scoffed. “Whatever you’re doing, it’s not working.”
Sunset tapped her chin and wondered aloud, “Is she too stubborn for it not to click?”
“Like a seatbelt!” screamed Pinkie Pie, causing a few other Elements to giggle and hoot.
“What are you guys talking about? I’m not that stubborn. It’s not like I can think really hard and it’ll all of a sudden become clear to me. And I’m not trying to force it away or anything either! I want to help, I want to defeat that rotten old King Sombra, but it’s just not working. You can’t blame me for not getting my Element when you guys don’t even know how it works either!”
Sunset let out a hearty laugh. “That’s actually pretty ironic. You’re loyal to your friends, you want to help them, but you’re only hurting them by being so loyal,” she put bluntly.
“That’s pretty harsh, Sunset,” Applejack noted, honestly.
“The truth can be harsh, but that’s not my point.” Sunset half-smiled at Rainbow Dash. “If we fail, if Sombra beats us, I can’t find it in myself to blame Rainbow Dash. She’s my friend, after all. I’m just as stubbornly loyal to all of you as Dash is to us. Even though we fight or argue, I’ll still be there for you just as I know you all will be there for me,” Sunset said. “That’s loyalty.”
Twilight nodded. “I know I can be stubbornly loyal, especially to Prince Sunburst. And I guess sometimes that leads to arguments with friends.” She gave a coy smile to Sunset.
“Pinkie is stubbornly loyal to me,” Maud mentioned. “She refused to leave my side when I joined the war effort. Does that count?”
“That super-duper counts!” Pinkie wrapped her sister in a hug.
“And I know I’m loyal to all of you. You all were the first things I thought about when I came to this world – even though I didn’t know you. I couldn’t put my trust and loyalty into any pony better than you six,” Sunset said.
“I’ve always been loyal, but I’ve never had somepony so loyal to me before.” Rainbow scratched the back of her head. “Aw geez, you guys are gonna make me tear up, then it’s gonna freeze and I’ll have ice stuck to my eyes… Alright, that does it. Group hug!” She reached her forelegs out, but before everyone could surround her, her eyes turned a white so bright it marveled the snow. Gasps rang at the sight as a golden hemmed necklace strung itself upon her collar. A bright red lightning bolt formed and sat against the blue of her uniform.
Everyone cheered as Rainbow Dash came to. “Rainbow Dash! You did it! What clicked?” Sunset asked.
Rainbow shook her head. “Clicked? I didn’t feel any clicking.” She gave a shrug. “The last thing I thought about was how cool it was to have some friends who would be there for me no matter what. It’s how I always imagined the Wonderbolts would be – the old Wonderbolts. To have ponies you could rely on no matter what.” Her eyes then shifted and rolled as though something did finally click. “Wait, is that what you guys meant? Now I get it! Why didn’t you say that before!?”
Twilight held a hoof to her mouth and giggled. “I’m pretty sure we did.”
“And it took you just long enough to get it,” Applejack sassed and motioned towards The Crystal Empire. “We’re cuttin’ it close, though. Looks like King Sombra’s makin’ good on another attack.”
The Element of Honesty had been right, for the evil king was aiming another attack at them. This time not alone. A few dozen helmeted soldiers were trailing along beside the king’s protruding crystal platform. It was a remnant of what was left outside The Crystal Empire's walls, the rest had most likely been inside when the Crystal Heart had restored balance to the city. Still, the remaining brainwashed vastly outnumbered their measly number of eight, and it was only made worse by the king who had brought down Princess Celestia.
“It sure was nice of him to give us enough time to get Dash’s Element,” Pinkie Pie noted with a giggle and a snort.
Sunset pushed forward to be in front, staring down at the oncoming battle. “Maud and I will target the soldiers and hold Sombra off long enough for you six to figure out how to use the Elements of Harmony.” She looked back at her friends, their worried faces giving little in confidence.
“That’s a very nice plan, Sunset, but we’re past the point of needing help,” Twilight said as she stepped beside the fellow unicorn, placing a hoof on Sunset’s shoulder.
Sunset was startled by the words. “What do you mean?” she asked.
A smile stayed on Twilight’s lips as she spoke. “You’ve gotten us this far and taught us just as much as we’ve taught you. Now it’s time for us to do what we were always meant to do.” She paused, her eyes turned back to the other Elements. “I’ve always lacked confidence, I’ve never really believed in myself. Friends have always been hard to come by, but you five inspired me to be brave. I believe in us, and myself. And I know that with that newly inspired confidence we can do anything we set our hearts to, because we’ve got the magic of friendship guiding us!”
Shouts from the other Elements rang out, and then light suddenly burst from Twilight’s crown, forcing Sunset to recoil and cover her eyes. The light grew brighter as it connected to the other Elements and created a circle of color that blew the snow around them. Rising up in all their harmonic glory, a rainbow whirlwind shot up into the air.
As soon as the evil king saw the tornado of friendship he halted his moving crystal, staring up with mouth agape at the beacon of light within the darkened battle-scarred landscape. In an instant, the wide-mouthed king held that same reaction that so many brainwashed ponies once had before their emotions were stripped away. But instead of holding it for a few short seconds like those ponies had, he would be holding that reaction for a millennia. Forever immortalized in stone.
But as luck would have it, stone would not be his prison for that millennia. The city he had once claimed rule over required its own set of vengeance.
The menacing king’s power was brought down by the Elements of Harmony, and so too were the strength of his crystals. The columns that had risen behind wherever he trailed was the first to crumble into tiny pebbles, followed by what remained of the crystal that surrounded the remnants of Celestia’s encampment. Then it was The Crystal Empire’s turn. The dome of obelisks erupted all at once, creating dust and releasing the wave of energy brought on by the Crystal Heart. The blast rushed the land, striking free the leftovers of the brainwashed ponies and destroying any residual crystals. But King Sombra was not lucky enough to crumble like his crystals.
Instead, the Heart saw fit as to coat him in crystal, turning his stony body into a brilliant blue and cyan crystalline statue – forever preserved in the thing that was dearest to him, crystals.
The king’s shiny new form began to glimmer and shine with light. That’s when Sunset noticed the clouds had departed, the blizzardy wall vanished, and the first ray of sunlight had struck the newly freed city. Dawn had never appeared more beautiful in Sunset’s eyes, her trial had finally come to an end. She assumed the rainbow mass would soon turn to her, sending her back to her own time, but it did not. Instead, the bearers of the Elements of Harmony returned to stand in front of the crystalline statue, their Elements no longer glowing.
“You guys did it!” Sunset yelled, greeting the six as they stumbled and reoriented their bearings. “You defeated Sombra!”
Twilight glanced at Sunset, then the statue. “The war… it’s… it’s over?”
It was silent for a moment, and then an explosion of joy rolled over the six. Sunset stood with Maud, watching and smiling as the Element’s hugged and cried. Pinkie made another sudden outburst and dragged them both closer, wrapping her sister in a hug first. “We couldn’t have done it without you, Sunset!” Pinkie claimed as she also hugged Sunset.
“That is the truth,” a voice agreed, and everyone stopped their celebration. The white alicorn stood towering over them, though she stood a yard away. Prince Sunburst was at her side. “I am certain you were not happy about being thrust into this world, Sunset, but I hope that has changed. Without you, none of this would be possible. Without you, we might have lost everything. I am also glad your rebellious nature has stayed, otherwise we’d still be sitting in camp.”
“You don’t mean what I think you mean, d-do you?” Sunset puzzled. “Didn’t you want us to go to The Crystal Empire?” She stepped toward the alicorn. “Surely it was one of those psychological stunts you loved to pull – like when I was your apprentice and you would order me not to study.”
“But I didn’t want you to leave. Nor did I want you to study. I wanted you to go and make some friends, which you refused to do.” Celestia’s voice was stern, as if she was reliving that moment all over again. But she gave a sudden sigh and smiled. “In the end, it does seem like you’ve made some friends.”
Turning her head, Sunset gazed back at the group she’d grown fond of. Their bright smiles and warm eyes staring back at her. “Not just any friends. Best friends.” She then turned back to the princess. “What are we to do now? What am I to do now?”
The princess’s eyes seemed to glisten as if she was about to cry. She stared at the statue of the frozen king for a moment, then the city behind him. “There’s a few things we must do; that we must have. A wedding, rebuilding of a city, and a celebration most of all,” she answered, and then stared down her muzzle at Sunset. “If you don’t mind, I would appreciate it if you stuck around for the latter, at the least. We’ll be celebrating you and the Elements, after all.”
There was no choice in the matter, though Sunset knew what she would choose if there had been. “Well, the Elements of Harmony didn’t send me home, so it’s not like I’m going anywhere.” Sunset trotted back to the Elements and Maud. “Not that I mind. It’ll be nice to see the world for what it is,” she added, giving a wink to Twilight.
And that was the truth. She didn’t mind for the first few days after the war had finished. But as the days dragged on and The Crystal Empire celebrated, the thoughts of her friends in the human world resurfaced. As she became closer to this world’s versions she realized how much she missed her own. There had been subtle differences between the two versions, but now it was more noticeable than ever before. Pinkie still became quiet from time to time, Twilight was still a klutz, and Rarity fussed less over her makeup, or lack thereof.
Still, Sunset held her tongue. There were others trying to find a way for her to return to her own time, and she knew she was in good hooves. I’ve already missed the picnic, she knew. I’ll have quite an adventure to tell everyone, at least.
But when time finally came when an answer was believed to be discovered, Sunset felt sad. “Are you certain you would not like to stay for the wedding?” Princess Celestia had asked her as they traveled through the decrepit Ponyville.
“No, my friends are probably losing their minds, worried where I’ve gone,” Sunset responded as they walked, rolling her shoulders and feeling the straps of her backpack. She wanted to stay for the wedding, she wanted more time with these six, but she knew she couldn’t. “Will this really get me home? Do you really think so?”
Celestia’s head held high as she glanced to Prince Sunburst, Princess Cadance, and Shining Armor. “I’ve had my best and brightest attempting to find a resolution for your time traveling problem, but it was Twilight Sparkle who I believe figured it out. You are not the only thing not of this time and world, and so you must both go back at the same time. At least, that is what she believes, and I’m inclined to believe the Element of Magic.”
That made enough sense to Sunset, and Celestia was rarely wrong. Still, it couldn’t be that easy, could it?
The white, dilapidated chairs still sat on the hill overlooking a lake, the table remaining undisturbed in the middle. “This certainly wasn’t here the last time I was in Ponyville,” Rarity commented, touching the edge with her hoof.
“What a peculiar thing it is. And you say this sits in a castle in your timeline?” Prince Sunburst asked.
Though she had not cared to speak to the prince originally, her time after Sombra’s defeat had helped in easing her attitude towards him. The awkward colt she had known now bantered with the best of them, and knew more than she had ever expected of him. He had been disheartened to hear he was not a prince in her timeline, but she had reassured him that he must’ve become something just as great. She made a note to herself to seek him out once she returned, to hash out the past just like she planned to do with her own Princess Celestia.
“I only saw it for a little bit on my arrival to Equestria, but the castle was elegant and majestic – and larger than I had expected for Princess Twilight,” Sunset answered. “Though her version was not as crumbled as this.”
Twilight had levitated a portion of the broken crystal chair that sat in the grass. “This is my cutie mark,” she noted, attempting to put together the pieces regardless of how chipped they were. “Perhaps my idea will work after all. Shall we give it a try?”
It was a simple idea, though it came to Twilight in the most unnatural of ways. After Sunset explained the details to her, Twilight went to work attempting to find some spell that might return time to its natural state. But nothing was all she could find. Until one night when she awoke, blabbering and disturbing everyone’s slumber within the castle at The Crystal Empire. She had fallen asleep during her search and awoke with a plan come to her in a dream. The Element bearers of this world needed to visit the map. I assumed we might have had to visit the Tree of Harmony, but I would never have thought of coming back to the map, Sunset thought.
“How do we know which seat is ours?” Applejack asked, peering at each chair.
“I don’t think it actually matters,” Twilight replied as she took her seat.
Rainbow Dash quickly took the seat next to Twilight. Her metal wing clanged against the table as she attempted to activate the map, but to no avail. Rarity took her seat opposite Twilight while Fluttershy sat between her and Rainbow Dash. Applejack sat next to Rarity, her flowing hair in a bun. Rarity had offered to trim it, along with anyone else’s, but everyone aside from Pinkie Pie had refused. The party mare had her poufy hair once more, though much shorter and cleaner. With Pinkie Pie last in her seat, everyone seemed to expect something to happen.
Sunset held her breath, waiting with sweat dripping down her face. Her stomach tied itself in knots like a pretzel. Princess Celestia stood next to her while Prince Sunburst and the soon to be married couple stood on the opposite side. “Was something supposed to happen?” Princess Cadance asked. She looked a lot healthier than the day they had found her in the crystal castle.
“Didn’t you say the table glowed when you touched it, Sunset?” Sunburst tapped the edge with his hoof.
“Yes. It popped up with a map of Equestria, detailing where the Element bearers’ cutie marks were. Why isn’t it showing?” Sunset lifted her hooves up and placed them on the crystal table, revealing the answer to her question. The holographic map burst forth, the six cutie marks atop one another and the tree not too far off. “Aha!” Sunset exclaimed.
The map was no longer filled with the crystalline horrors brought on by the evil king. And just as the map was fixed, so too were the chairs. The cutie marks that sat atop the map flickered and waved above the table, and then writhed against the crystal chairs. The broken bits of rubble levitated from the ground as if time was being reversed, restoring the cracks and ruins. The cutie marks on the back of the chairs pulsated after they were fixed, and the ground seemed to shake at the same moment.
It was then and there that everyone’s mouths fell agape at the sight of a green whirlwind opening above the table, followed by blackness at the center. Thunderous claps echoed loudly with clocks ticking in their ears. Winds burst forth, but only for a moment, and then they pulled back into the green portal.
But these winds did not even seem strong enough to pull a single strand of hair or fur atop any of the Elements’ bodies. Nor did it seem to affect Princess Celestia, Prince Sunburst, Princess Cadance, or Shining Armor. None of them were fazed by the opening portal, simply sitting or standing and gawping at the sight.
None of them – aside for the one pony who did not belong.
Sunset held onto the rim of the table with all her might, her back legs fully in the air and her backpack pulling with all its weight. “Thank you, Twilight! Thank you all!” she yelled before she was forced to let go. If they had said anything she had not been able to hear them before the portal swallowed her whole. A pain suddenly struck through her body and the backpack she wore felt heavier than ever. I’m going home, she thought as tears flowed from her eyes. The air seemed to be sucked right out of her lungs, and she didn’t feel warm or cold, or anything really.
A voice seemed to surround her as she closed her eyes, fearing what she might see. “Couldn’t convince her to do the impossible?” it said. “That’s too bad.”
And then the pain stopped and she felt the air return to her, smacking her in the face. I’m home, she believed, popping her eyes open. The air wasn’t the only thing to smack her face however, as she landed head first into a bush. She rolled onto her back and stared up past the leaves, quickly pulling herself out. But it was too late. By the time she looked to see where she was, the portal had reopened and the Princess Twilight Sparkle she knew from her world was heading through, Spike the purple dragon clinging to her with all his might. The portal closed behind them, leaving Sunset to gawk at the dozen floating black beasts that seemed to have been chasing her friend.