Looking Glass

by Krickis


28 – Her Faithful Student

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Her Faithful Student

Despite all the time spent preparing, Sunset had still failed to plan for this part. Tangled up on the floor in clothes that no longer fit, all she could do was sigh.

If her clothes weren’t bad enough on their own, she was also covered in the cloak she’d used to sneak around the school. At least throwing that off proved easy, but she could hardly believe her eyes once she did.

It had been a few years since Sunset had been in Canterlot Castle, and it felt like a lifetime since she’d lived in it. It was reasonable to expect that she’d forgotten some of the seldom used rooms in that time. But not something like this. There was no way this could be Canterlot Castle, because there was no way Sunset could have forgotten a room like this one.

The floors and walls seemed to be made of smooth crystal, while pillars of jagged gemstones rose to the ceiling. As if the room itself wasn’t enough, it was richly decorated with paintings and fine ceramics as well. Not only was there nowhere in Canterlot like this, Sunset couldn’t think of anywhere in Equestria that would have such rich architecture.

‘Is it possible the mirror took me somewhere else?’

Sunset twisted onto her back so she could look in the mirror. She saw the ridiculous sight of a unicorn’s head popping out of a shirt meant for a human. Her new – or rather, old – body proportions meant nothing but her head could be seen under the tangled mess of clothing, but she was unmistakably a unicorn again.

A wave of euphoria washed over her, but she pushed it down. Last time she had returned to Equestria, she had let herself get carried away with wonder, and where had that gotten her? No, she needed to learn from her past mistake and stay focused. Celestia had already replaced her, and unless she could prove she was better than that purple unicorn, she had no hope of changing things.

Sunset fixed her silly reflection with a hard stare. How could she let something like this hold her back? After all, she was Celestia’s gifted student, the most powerful unicorn her age, entirely irreplaceable and unsurpassable. She was fire given solid form, and there was no way she was going to let a bunch of clothes stop her.

Her pants and boots came off easily with a few kicks, but the shirt and jacket proved more difficult. After trying unsuccessfully to wriggle out of them, she stopped and chided herself. Was this really how Equestria’s most gifted mage was going to solve her problems?

It had been a while, but there were some things that were just impossible to forget. Sunset took a deep breath and focused her willpower into her horn. She saw it light up teal in the mirror, and felt her whole body respond to the magical energy.

That was only the first step, something any unicorn filly could manage. Sunset pushed her magic out and willed it to grasp her jacket. It came off easily, but roughly; the strength of her magic was as good as ever, but her control was sorely lacking. “Do better,” Sunset told herself before trying the shirt. It came off much more smoothly than the jacket had, and she smiled at her success.

‘Yeah, great job. I’m sure Celestia will be impressed with that one.’

Sunset could do much better than that, she just needed a chance to warm up. She started by gathering her clothes neatly in a pile using only her magic. She could manage the fine movements easily enough, but that was something any adult unicorn could do. Baby steps weren’t going to get her very far, so it was time to push herself.

Tampering with the mirror in any way was the absolute last thing Sunset wanted to do, so she looked around for something else to practice on. There wasn’t much to work with; the only things in the room that could be moved were the decorations, so that’s what she used.

If anything went wrong and she damaged the undoubtedly expensive porcelain, Sunset would be making a mess of her grand return to Equestria. But she had never doubted herself before, and she wasn’t about to start now. She selected a vase at random and brought it closer to admire it.

Even after spending over a decade away from Equestria, Sunset could still recognize the obvious quality of the work. Add in the possibility that it could easily be incredibly old on top of that, and she could very well be looking at a priceless artifact. She flung it into the air.

While it was airborne, she quickly grabbed another vase and did the same thing. She caught the first one before it fell and flung it again, then did the same thing with a plate as she caught the other vase. The high ceilings gave her plenty of time before things fell, which just meant she had to add more objects.

Vases, plates, trophies, figurines, and even some of the paintings off of the wall were added to the fray. The fear of anything breaking forced her to push through the years of magical atrophying and kept her alert. Her magic was more than good enough to interact with multiple objects at once, but she limited herself. The goal wasn’t to control a dozen things, it was to quickly change targets between a dozen things.

Along with her magic, it was a test for her reaction time and perception. Magic was a tool that Sunset would use to her fullest if needed, but it wouldn’t help her if she was taken unaware. There was no telling what was going to happen when she left this room, but Sunset was going to be ready for it.

She continued adding more objects to her juggling exercise, until something caught her eye as she threw it up into the air – a gold crown with an ugly six-pointed star. Sunset went wide-eyed and hesitated as she saw it. It was only for a fraction of a second, but it was a fraction too much.

Suddenly unsure of where things were, Sunset flared her magic across the room, casting a stasis spell that kept everything exactly where it was. She calmly examined her surroundings. An earth pony figurine hovered just above the floor. If Sunset had paid more attention, that would have been the next thing she sent back into the air, and she could have continued her exercise.

But would have and could have got her nowhere. She casually walked around the room and counted the objects. Fourteen, including the crown. Not bad for a start, but she would need to do better in the future.

She levitated everything back into its rightful place, including setting the crown on her head. She hadn’t even noticed that she’d grabbed it. It must have fallen off when she fell through the portal, and she’d momentarily forgotten about it in the excitement of being a pony and practicing her magic again.

Which was, of course, another failure on her behalf. A small one, perhaps, but a failure all the same. Sunset needed to focus and not lose sight of details. She needed to be aware of what was going on around her. Sunset needed to be perfect, and she would be. She didn’t have a choice.

But being perfect in this room wouldn’t help her get anywhere, so it was time to leave and figure out where she was. She gathered her clothes into her saddle bag. She thought about throwing them back through the portal, but if someone saw them come out of the statue and started investigating, things could go bad very quickly. There was a little risk in carrying them with her – if anypony noticed the strange garments, she’d have to figure out an explanation – but leaving them unattended could put anypony who found them on alert for strange activity.

With everything secured, Sunset exited through the only door in the room. She found herself in a throne room, which only caused her more bafflement. It followed the theme of the other room, with everything – even the throne – being made of crystal. At this rate, Sunset half suspected that the tapestries hanging from the ceiling were some sort of crystal that just looked like cloth.

As she was examining her surroundings, a stallion noticed and approached her. “Who goes there?”

Sunset could hardly believe what she was seeing. He was a pale purple earth pony with a white mane, and his metal armor signified he was part of a royal guard. It wasn’t gold like the Celestial Guard, but that wasn’t surprising since Sunset had already deduced she wasn’t in Canterlot. What was surprising was that everything about him glistened.

‘Holy shit, even the horses are crystal.’ Sunset forced a smile. At least she didn’t have to pretend to look a little uncertain, as everything about his appearance baffled her. “Uh, hi. I know I’m probably not supposed to be here, but, well… I’m a little lost.”

He barely seemed to notice her, staring instead at the crown on her head. Why had she left that on? She hadn’t really thought anything of it since it didn’t look anything like Princess Celestia’s crown. Perhaps it was an odd accessory to wear, but she hadn’t thought it would attract attention like this.

Just when Sunset was wondering if she was going to have to make a fight or flight decision, he cracked a smile. “Say, that looks pretty good. Almost had me going for a minute there. Mind if I take a closer look?”

“Oh, uh, go for it.”

He leaned in closer to the crown as she held it out for him to see. What did he think it was? He chuckled as he backed away. “Well, I guess I know what brings you to the Crystal Castle then.”

“Oh?” Sunset adopted a knowing smirk as she put the crown back on. Although she now felt awkward wearing it, it would potentially draw more attention if she did anything else with it at this point. She’d shove it in her bag once she was rid of him. “And what might that be?”

He met her smirk with a grin of his own. Perfect, he thought they were just playfully dancing around a subject they both knew. “Oh, I don’t know. A certain royal visit, perhaps?”

A royal visit? Did that mean Celestia was here after all? She’d have to find out for sure, but a royal guard who found her wandering the throne room was not the pony to ask a bunch of strange sounding questions to, so she just kept playing along. “Well, what can I say? You got me.”

“You missed them by a few hours, though. The princess and her friends came through here, but they’ve gone back to their rooms by now.”

“Do, uh, do you know when I might get to see her?”

He chuckled and gave her an odd look. “Well, she’ll be at the Summit tomorrow, of course. Don’t know if you’ll get a chance to talk to her, but anypony is welcome to come see the princesses.”

Princesses, plural. Was Cadance here too? Or did this place have its own princess? “Right. Of course.”

“That said, you really shouldn’t be in here. Where did you say you were trying to go again?”

Princess Celestia’s private room was probably the kind of answer that would sound pretty suspicious. But then where did she want to go? This was a throne room and he was a royal guard, so this was clearly a castle. Sunset got a perfect idea. “The library.”

The guard laughed. “A bit late for reading, isn’t it?”

Sunset willed her smile to stay in place and just hoped she hadn’t said anything too strange. “I just… really love books!”

For some reason, he looked at her crown and laughed again. “Yeah, I should’ve known. You’d have a better selection with the main library in town, but you’d never get there before it closed. The Crystal Castle does have a smaller library that’s open all hours which you’re welcome to use, though. Come on, I’ll show you the way.”

The Crystal Castle. Not the most clever of names, but it was certainly fitting, and at least she knew what this place was called. “Thank you so much.” Although she really needed him to bring her to the library, she hesitated to better sell herself as a lost tourist. “I mean, if it’s not too much trouble. I’m sure you must be busy.”

“You kidding? I’m glad you showed up, otherwise I’d be bored stiff.” He began walking, so Sunset followed him. “Nopony in their right mind is gonna try and do anything with all the princesses and their personal guards here. All us regular guys have to do is give ponies like you directions at the Princess Summit tomorrow and make sure nopony gets too rowdy.”

All the princesses. That meant Celestia had to be here, and that there were at least two others. Cadance was obvious, but who was the third? The princess of this castle? Had another pony ascended to be an alicorn while she was gone? Two alicorns ascending within a single lifetime would be astounding, but it may still be more likely than Blueblood actually finding someone willing to marry him.

Sunset had so many questions, and she could only hope that the library would fill her in. Although the guard kept talking along the way, he never gave her any information she could use – no names and nothing else about the location.

“And here we are,” the guard said as he opened a door for her.

What he had described as a ‘smaller library’ seemed quite large to Sunset. It was certainly bigger than the one she was used to at CHS, although it paled in comparison to the Canterlot Archives.

“Thanks, I don’t think I would’ve found my way here on my own,” Sunset said as she walked into the library.

“It was my pleasure, ma’am. Enjoy your stay in the Crystal Empire.”

Thankfully, the door closed before he could get a good look at the complete bewilderment on her face. The Crystal Empire? That was a legend, and nopony even knew how much of it was true. And now she was in it? Had so much really changed since she’d been gone, or did the mirror bring her to another world after all? Another mirror world, a version of Equestria where the Crystal Empire was real.

If there were answers, she would find them. But first, before even taking another step into the library, she took the chance to shove the crown into her saddle bag. There was no need to have a repeat of the situation with the guard.

As Sunset walked in, she was greeted by the librarian. “Oh, hello there. Can I help you find anything?” Like the guard, she was also a crystal pony. It was more than a little bizarre to see, but she didn’t seem to find Sunset being a regular pony to be odd.

Without knowing where to begin, Sunset decided to browse around. She’d be up all night for sure, so she had plenty of time to try and figure out her plans before the Princess Summit. “Thanks, but I think I’ll just take a look around for now.”

“Sure thing, but let me know if you need anything.”

Sunset began walking in a direction at random. Row after row of bookshelves, and any of them might have answers for her. Looking into the Crystal Empire itself would be a good starting point, but what she really wanted to know about was Celestia. Unfortunately, no book would tell her where the princess would be at this moment.

Sunset picked books almost arbitrarily. She levitated them along beside her, choosing ten or so before bringing them to a table in a small lounge area. But before she could so much as open one, she set them off to the side to be forgotten.

Near a couple of chairs, there was a small rack with magazines and newspapers. No book could tell her about things happening with the Summit, but a newspaper could.

Sure enough, the front page headline read ‘Princess Summit Predicted to Be a Sparkling Success’. Sunset took the paper and sat down eagerly.

She didn’t get to read one word of the article before everything fell apart. Once she unfolded the newspaper and saw the photograph for the article, everything else shut down.

There was a smiling pony on the front. She had a purple coat, with a darker purple mane. Sunset had seen her the last time she was in Equestria, and she had seen her countless times since, always hiding in mirrors and showing up in her nightmares. But she had always been a unicorn then.

“Oh, yes. I’m guessing you’re not from around here? I’m Twilight Sparkle, the princess’s personal student.”

The pony smiling at her from the picture wasn’t a unicorn. She had the horn, but she also had wings. She was an alicorn. Twilight Sparkle, Sunset’s replacement, had become an alicorn princess.

There were no words for what Sunset felt. Hate? Not strong enough. She wanted to destroy Twilight Sparkle. Not to kill her, no, nothing so kind. She wanted to take everything Twilight had, everything she cared about. She didn’t even want it for herself. Sunset would take everything that Twilight had, and then she’d burn it all to the ground. Leave her nothing but ashes and memories of a life that had once been worth living.

And when she had nothing left, Sunset wanted her to lose more. Twilight was Celestia’s darling pupil? Well, it was only fair that she learned the same lessons. That there was always something more to lose. She would learn that, just as Sunset had learned it.

Sunset stared at Twilight’s smiling face so intently that she almost didn’t notice the other familiar thing in the picture. But once she did, it finally snapped her out of her trance. Twilight Sparkle was a princess, and just like any princess, she wore a crown. But Sunset had seen that crown before.

Her hoof moved to her saddle bag, where her crown was stowed away. It was Sunset’s crown, but Twilight was clearly wearing it in the picture. It was almost too fitting. It seemed that all Twilight did was take things that rightfully belonged to Sunset.

Sunset stood up. If Twilight Sparkle was going to be her enemy, Sunset would need to find out anything she could about her. Fortunately, becoming a princess meant her life should be an open book, and Sunset was in the perfect place for that.

“Excuse me, ma’am?” Sunset said as she approached the librarian. “I was wondering if you have any books on Twilight Sparkle?”

The librarian smiled. “Of course, she’s quite popular these days. Nopony’s written a book about her since she became a princess, but we do have a book from before then. Should be right over here.”

After everything else, it was hard to believe that something else could still surprise her, but Sunset still found herself momentarily dumbfounded. There was a book about Twilight Sparkle before she became an alicorn?

She shook her head to clear it, then followed after the librarian. They walked to a display that had clearly been set up for the summit; it had books and magazines relating to all the princesses. It turned out that there were four, with Princess Luna also being a new addition since Sunset left.

“Hmm, looks like someone must be using the book, but we’ve got plenty of other material here.”

It was hard, but Sunset summoned all her willpower to form a pleasant smile. “This is perfect, thank you.”

“No problem, and do let me know if you need anything else.”

“Right. Will do.”

The librarian left Sunset to herself, and she looked over the covers. It was painful to see Princess Celestia, even in photograph. Sunset pushed that aside; she could sort things out with Celestia later. Princess Luna would be more interesting in other circumstances, especially after going to a school with Vice Principal Luna, but she was hardly a concern right now. And frankly, Sunset would sooner start reading a dictionary than look at one page of the books or magazines with Cadance and the stallion she was often pictured with.

In the end, she chose a magazine that was labeled as being a special commemorative issue for the Princess Summit, aptly titled “Who Is Twilight Sparkle?” and returned to the seat near the newspapers.

It wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t look so damn happy in all the photographs. But why shouldn’t she be happy? She only got everything anypony could ever want. The wish to stop seeing that smiling face was a good reason to finally flip open the cover.

After a three page intro written by someone who probably had never met Twilight, the magazine began with a brief look at her early life. Twilight came from a loving family, with two parents that were highly successful in their own fields, yet still provided a loving household for their precious angel of a daughter and her two brothers. Oh, and one of them was a dragon, because apparently they were just the kind of ponies who adopted less fortunate dragons. Even before any of the stuff that mattered, Twilight’s family was already beating out Sunset’s shitty parents.

Skimming ahead, Sunset found out that Twilight became Celestia’s pupil on the day she got her cutie mark. She was ten at the time, which made Sunset feel a little better. Sunset had impressed Celestia enough when she was nine, and she hadn’t needed a cutie mark to do it. But that wasn’t much of a victory, considering the things that came after.

When Twilight was eighteen, she had been sent to Ponyville. Where she met –

Sunset blinked and stared at the page in disbelief. Twilight Sparkle was in the center of five ponies that Sunset had never seen, but who were eerily familiar. Sunset closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths, but when she opened them again, Applejack was still standing right beside Twilight.

Everything. Twilight had somehow managed to get everything Sunset had ever wanted, even someone who shouldn’t even exist in this world.

Sunset read on. The more she read, the more in awe she was. Twilight and her friends had found the Elements of Harmony, which were lost so long ago that nopony even knew what the sixth Element was. They used them to stop Nightmare Moon, a monster that came straight from folklore, and returned Princess Luna in the process.

But that wasn’t enough. Discord, the once tyrannical ruler of Equestria, had returned. By all accounts, he was supposed to be an unstoppable force of magic, the likes of which nopony could hope to stand against. Nopony but Twilight Sparkle, of course. Along with her friends, she managed to turn him back to stone.

Canterlot was invaded by changelings, and even Princess Celestia had been taken out. But not Twilight Sparkle! Even when everyone else was incapacitated, Twilight Sparkle still managed to swoop in and save, of all ponies, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza. Oh god, and then Cadance married Twilight’s fucking brother. The two worst ponies in all of Equestria, and now they’re related!

And when Cadance was given reign of the Crystal Empire – wait, Cadance ruled her own god damn empire!? Oh no wait, she co-ruled it, alongside Twilight Sparkle’s brother! The useless bitch couldn’t manage to save her own people though, they had to send in Sparkle for that. It was Twilight’s other brother, the dragon, that did the job in the end, proving that everyone in this family was some sort of living legend.

And then, only after more feats of wonder than anypony had the right to claim, then Twilight went and became an alicorn. She had taken a spell that even the legendary Star Swirl the Bearded had been unable to complete, and she fixed it. Just like that. A spell beyond the ability of the single greatest mage in all of Equestrian history, and Twilight Sparkle had managed it when she was twenty-one years old.

It wasn’t fair. All of it was supposed to be Sunset’s. And what had Sunset done? Her biggest accomplishment had been becoming Celestia’s student, and that was practically a footnote in Twilight Sparkle’s list. Maybe the worst part of all of it was the fact that Twilight hadn’t accomplished any of her heroic deeds the last time Sunset had been in Equestria. If she had stayed, if she had just proven that she was worth a second chance, then she might be the one attending her first Princess Summit now.

“Miss?”

What made Twilight so much more deserving? Why hadn’t Sunset been afforded the chance to prove herself like Twilight Sparkle had?

“Excuse me, miss?”

A hoof tapped her shoulder, jerking Sunset out of her thought. She turned to tell whoever was disturbing her to fuck off, but stopped when she noticed he was a member of the Celestial Guard. Instead, she forced her composure as she asked, “Uh, what can I do for you?”

“The librarian said you might be waiting to read this.” He held out a book that had a purple six-pointed star on the cover. The title read ‘Twilight Sparkle: Element of Magic’.

“I think I got everything I needed from this,” Sunset said as she stood up. Only once she was back on her hooves did she realize she had no idea how long she’d been sitting there. All she was aware of was the blinding rage she felt towards Twilight Sparkle. Without another word, Sunset began walking out of the library.

“That Princess Twilight sure is something, huh?” the guard asked as he walked out beside her. “She’s a real inspiration to everypony these days.”

Sunset didn’t bother to look at him. “She’s something alright.” They left the library together and wound up walking side by side. Since she didn’t know the layout of the caste, she couldn’t even guess whether he was specifically following her or if it was a complete coincidence.

“You know, I actually knew her back before she was a princess.”

The realization hit her that she still needed a plan if she was going to do something to Twilight. And if he had any information, that just might prove useful. “Really?”

“Sure! Well, I didn’t really know her, but I saw her around the castle a lot.”

Oh, never mind. He was a useless idiot after all. “You don’t say.” He might have some sort of information, but messing around with the Celestial Guard was dangerous, even if he didn’t seem to recognize her.

“Yeah, it’s hard to believe it. Little Twilight Sparkle, always running around with her nose in a book.” As they turned a corner, he pulled out a map. “Now she’s got me and a bunch of the other guards in the Crystal Empire for extra security. Still don’t know where anything is in this place…”

Sunset had to smirk at that. Cadance couldn’t do anything right, it seemed. “The local guards can’t protect their own castle?”

“It’s nothing like that. Just that Princess Celestia’s worried about her.” As the guard made another turn, and with no other leads, Sunset followed him. “You know, no matter what else happens, I think she’ll always see Princess Twilight as her faithful student.”

“Her…” Sunset stopped in place. She couldn’t believe her ears. There was just no way.

“Oh yeah, that’s what Princess Celestia always used to call her. Think she still does sometimes.”

Sunset didn’t hear anything else he said. Twilight Sparkle was Celestia’s faithful student. The one who stayed. Sure, Sunset was gifted. That was obvious, anyone could see that. But what good was gifted when the pony in question wasn’t there?

What did Twilight have on Sunset? Nothing. Just that she’d stayed while Sunset left. Celestia’s darling little pet, one that would never run away, never question her, never expect more. Hadn’t Sunset proven she was more talented by becoming Celestia’s student when she was younger? Sunset was better than Twilight, Sunset was the gifted one. But Twilight had been faithful, and that’s why Twilight was a princess.

“How dare she,” Sunset muttered.

“Uh… what was that?”

Sunset’s head jerked toward the guard. Sure, she could try and get some information out of him, but he already had something that she needed, and he wasn’t just going to give it to her.

“So if it came down to it, do you think you’d be ready to protect Princess Twilight?”

He looked momentarily taken aback at the odd question, but then he shrugged it off. “Sure. But I don’t think we’ll have anything to worry about. Who’d want to hurt Princess Twilight, of all ponies?”

“Well… I would.”

“What?”

It was pathetic. Sunset even gave him the chance to react, but all he did was stare at her like an idiot. A teal light from her horn briefly lit up the dark hallway before a beam of magic struck the guard in the chest, sending him flying into the wall.

He tried to scramble to his hooves, but another blast of magic knocked him back down. Sunset took a few steps closer, looming over him. He finally remembered his own magic and shot a beam of his own, which Sunset deflected easily.

She held his hooves down with her magic, forcing him onto his back, and placed a hoof on his throat. When he tried to cast a spell of his own again, Sunset pressed down, cutting off his ability to breath and as well as his concentration. All that came from his horn were sparks.

“This is so disappointing,” Sunset told him. “My first real chance to let loose, and it was wasted on someone as weak as you. Not that anypony could’ve ever stopped me, but you know. Some challenge would be nice.”

His eyes were wide in terror and he gasped short shallow breaths. He could pass out any moment, so Sunset had better get to the point. “My name is Sunset Shimmer. When you see Celestia, I want you to tell her that.”

Since he couldn’t very well answer her, Sunset just had to hope he’d remember. One more beam from her horn, and he was out cold.

Sunset moved his body up against the wall. He’d live, that was one of the good things about magic; physically apply enough force to knock someone out and they might die, but a powerful enough stunning spell would just keep someone down for a few hours. Sunset didn’t know what she was going to do, but she’d do it by then.

She did know she’d need his map, so she took that. It showed the layout of the castle and the location of some important ponies’ rooms. Celestia and Twilight were among them, which gave Sunset a choice. She could stick to her original plan and find Celestia, or she could go straight for Twilight.

‘Her faithful student.’ The title burned its way into Sunset’s mind. It hadn’t been enough to replace her. Even the name Celestia had chosen was a testament to the failure that was Sunset Shimmer.

Well, Celestia made her choice. She had chosen Twilight Sparkle, and Sunset would follow in her mentor’s hoofsteps and make the same decision.

But first, there was something she wanted to do. One little way that she could make herself feel better, at least somewhat. She turned around, walking back around the corner towards the library.

“Oh, hello again, miss,” the librarian said as she entered.

“Hi there.” Sunset wore a friendly smile and spoke as if she was just making polite conversation. “Bet you don’t get many ponies in here this late.”

“Not usually, no.” She chuckled. “Well, not unless there are exams, then we’ll have students here all night.”

“Guess that makes it a pretty relaxing job.” Sunset looked around casually. “I’m probably the only one in here now, huh?”

“Yes. It was just you and the guard, but if he left for the night then it’s just you.”

“Perfect.”

Sunset shot a stunning spell at her, knocking her out just like the guard. It wasn’t nearly so enjoyable; knocking around the Celestial Guard was one thing, but there was no joy in fighting untrained civilians. Still, Sunset needed to get her out of the way, and this would do it safely and effectively.

She teleported to the librarian, then teleported them both out to the hallway. With no one in sight, Sunset left her and walked back into the library, where she made straight for the display with books about the princesses.

Sunset narrowed her eyes and stared at Twilight Sparkle’s smiling face, which adorned the cover of a quarter of the selection. They’d given her equal space to all the other princesses, even Celestia, which was an insult in itself.

Sunset stared at one magazine and thought of all the accomplishments that were written about inside it.

Of all the friends that Twilight had made while Sunset had been left alone.

Of the loving family that cared about her and helped her along the way.

Of Princess Celestia mentoring her, guiding her along the path she needed to be on.

And of Princess Celestia, replacing Sunset with a better student. This one won’t leave. This one will be faithful.

The magazine started glowing orange and Sunset finally found she enjoyed watching Twilight’s face. The pages started burning from the inside but quickly spread to the cover. As the flames spread across that perfect smiling face, it warped and twisted before it was consumed entirely.

The fire soon spread to a second magazine, and then a third. There was another thing Twilight seemed to be good at; she burned very nicely. It hardly took any time at all before it spread to Cadance and Luna as well, all the while Sunset continued to watch. They could burn too for all she cared.

When the flame first reached a book about Celestia, Sunset pulled it out of the way. She levitated it in front of her face and turned so the fire could better illuminate it. The stark contrast from the fire’s light and the room being otherwise in shadow suited Celestia perfectly. Ever the pony of light, until you found the darkness.

Sunset tossed the book onto the fire and walked away. She got as far as the door before she stopped and looked back. The fire was beautiful. She loved the way the flames flickered, the way the shadows danced around the room, the way the heat made it feel all the more real.

As she watched the fire, one question danced through her mind. What was left for her? Twilight Sparkle had gotten everything Sunset had ever wanted. Princess Celestia had replaced her and insulted her memory with her new student’s pet name. She wasn’t going back to living a dull life as a human, but there was nothing for her in Equestria.

Nothing, so long as Twilight Sparkle was around. Nothing, unless she carved out a future for herself.

“Nothing except revenge.”

A body formed from within the fire. Two wings of flame spread wide and carried a demonic visage of Sunset Shimmer across the library. “You already know what to do. What happens when you take an Element of Harmony into an alternate world?”

Sunset grinned at the idea. “I think it’s time we find out.”

Without turning away from the fire, Sunset opened her saddle bag. She pulled out the cloak and covered herself with it. The loose fit meant that it still covered her, even as a pony. Sunset’s coat was not going to blend in at night, but with this, she’d be a fire concealed in shadows.

But the fire in front of her? That one would be left open, Sunset’s mark on the Crystal Empire. And just to be sure, Sunset lit her horn. A beam of light connected from her horn to the flame, and her magic became a fire itself. Sunset jerked her head to the side, her magic becoming a whip that ignited everything it touched.

And Sunset made sure it would all burn. By the time she was done, she was surrounded by it. The roar of the flame was surely noticeable to someone by now. Hopefully for their sake, the guards were better at stopping fires than they were at stopping invaders.

Sunset wouldn’t be around to find out. She took one last look at the flames, then she lit her horn and vanished into the darkness.

According to the map, Twilight Sparkle’s room wasn’t terribly far from the room with the mirror. She’d gone a little ways in the other direction but once she knew where she was going, it wasn’t too hard to navigate. Along the way, she heard ponies running towards the library. Nopony came across her, however, and Sunset just smiled at the thought of their panic.

Sunset reached a door and paused to check the map. It seemed the wing of the castle where Twilight slept was just on the other side. Sunset made sure she knew where Twilight’s room was and tucked the map into her saddle bag.

The door was closed and locked, but that hardly mattered. Locks were nothing but a mechanism of moving parts, and magic could move them as well as any key could. With little more than a flash of light, Sunset was able to cautiously push the door open. She saw a royal guard on the other side, but thankfully, he was walking away and didn’t seem to have noticed her.

As quietly as she could, Sunset crept behind him. Another of the Celestial Guard; he must have been assigned to watch over the sleeping princess by Celestia herself. Sunset considered taking him out, but causing a commotion was too big of a risk. She was certain it wouldn’t be any more difficult than the last guard, but she could be in trouble if she woke the ponies in the nearby rooms, especially Twilight Sparkle herself.

While there was no chance that Celestia had found someone more impressive than Sunset, Twilight Sparkle was still Celestia’s personal student and an alicorn. Meanwhile, Sunset herself was out of practice, even if the past few hours had proved she had retained most of her skills. But that was no reason to get overconfident, and Twilight wasn’t alone; her replacement was a threat that could not be disregarded, especially if it wasn’t one-on-one.

So Sunset continued to stay in the shadows behind the guard. She got her chance when he didn’t do more than look toward Twilight Sparkle’s room, content to see nothing out of place, then continued along. Sunset quickly darted past him, going left where he had gone right, and left him none the wiser to her presence.

A momentary pause outside of the bedroom, just to steady her nerves. There were still so many ways this could go wrong. The room could be someone else’s, or Twilight could be awake. But she was sure she’d read the map correctly, and it had to be almost dawn. Unless she was staying up all night, she was surely asleep by now.

Sunset pushed aside her concerns and opened the door. The creaking of the hinges and a sliver of light entering the bedroom from the hall sent chills down her spine – there was no chance she wouldn’t be noticed if Twilight Sparkle was awake. But the light shone just enough to illuminate the sleeping face of a purple pony. The wings were covered, but that face was burned into Sunset’s mind.

Any doubt that Sunset had was gone. She crept forward with a single-minded determination to make Twilight pay, barely noticing the snoring dragon in the way. Thoughts of taking her revenge out on Twilight herself while she slept danced through Sunset’s head, but that wouldn’t be nearly enough. First, she needed to take everything from her. How much would Celestia care about her precious little pet once she was no longer the perfect princess?

The crown was right there in the open, just next to the bed. It was nearly identical to Sunset’s Fall Formal crown, although even in the dark there was no comparing the quality.

In her haste to reclaim what should have been hers to begin with, Sunset bumped it against a lamp. Her chest tightened as she saw the lamp fall, but she caught it just before it crashed into the floor. She quickly checked both of the room’s inhabitants and was relieved to find they were still asleep, then returned the lamp to the table.

Sunset held her cloak aside and levitated the crown safely into her saddle bag. For the final touch, Sunset floated the Fall Formal crown onto the table. Let Twilight play pretend with that for a while.

She turned back to the door, and was careful to walk in front of the small bed that Twilight’s brother was sleeping on. It didn’t matter; he turned and Sunset tripped over his tail.

She watched as the floor came up to meet her, but she couldn’t react in time to do anything about it. She hit the ground with a grunt, and immediately heard a boy’s voice behind her.

“Huh? What?”

She’d have to teleport both herself and the dragon elsewhere and figure out –

“My crown! She's got my crown!”

Or things could go the worst possible way. Giving up all pretense for stealth, Sunset broke into a run. She had a headstart, but Twilight was right behind her. Sunset barely managed to cross the first hallway by the time she heard calls of “Stop! Thief!”

As she ran through the segment of the hall, she heard doors opening. “She’s stolen my crown!” Twilight called to ponies that Sunset didn’t take the time to look at. She had a feeling who they would be, however.

Sunset kept running, even when Twilight Sparkle appeared in front of her. “Stop!” Twilight demanded, as if it was ever going to be that simple.

As she ran, Sunset charged her horn. She ran directly towards Twilight, teleporting herself and her saddlebags at the last possible moment, but letting her cloak continue on. When she reappeared behind Twilight, Sunset allowed herself the small pleasure of looking back to see the idiot tangled up in the cloth before running again.

A look back confirmed what Sunset expected. Twilight Sparkle’s friends had joined her in the pursuit. It was disconcerting to see ponies that so strongly resembled Applejack and her friends, but Sunset couldn’t think about that now. Besides, this was good. Her friends would be there to see her fall.

They were right in front of the mirror room. All Sunset had to do was make it there, and she’d finally be able to get everything she deserved. Sunset was ready to throw a shield spell on the door the moment she was through it, but she never got the chance.

As they approached the door, Sunset looked back in time to see someone collide into her. She fell on the floor with Twilight Sparkle on top of her and the crown flew out of her bag. They both watched in stunned silence as it bounced around the room, but only Sunset was left smiling when it flew right into the mirror.

“What did you do with my crown?”

“Sorry it had to be this way,” Sunset said, then teleported to the mirror, “Princess.” She mocked a salute and grinned as Twilight and her friends all stared in dumbfounded confusion.

When she turned to go back through the mirror, she could see her own demonic form waiting for her. Sunset walked right into her own open arms, and the world around her faded away.