His awkwardness and generally placid personality aside, Sunset found herself impressed—and challenged—by Flash Sentry's instruction. After the initial period of awkwardness and uncertainty between the two of them, Flash got around to asking Sunset what specificially she needed to learn. Her answer of "everything" seemed to confuse him at first, but it didn't take long for Flash to start to understand what he was working with. He approached Sunset's training with as detached and professional a demeanor as he could, and Sunset got the feeling he was drawing on memories of lessons he'd been learning since he was a small child.
Being taught the way a child would be taught irritated her, and from time to time she was impatient with Flash, even going so far as to snap at him, but he weathered her anger and irritation with nothing more than the occasional frown or mild rebuke. And, after one particularly heated exchange, a cracked sternum which put Sunset in the school's regeneration tank for an hour.
During school hours, Sunset attended her classes, generally keeping to herself and observing everyone around her. When other students attempted to engage her in conversation, she kept her answers even and neutral, neither encouraging nor discouraging the conversation. Rather than being antisocial, she maintained an aloof demeanor, while secretly researching things that came up in conversation and the people she talked to.
She'd also quietly asked around about some of the students she'd met early in her time on Planet Uma. In particular, she found out more about Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack. The latter two, she quickly discovered she would need to avoid, or at least be wary around, because they were two of the most combative girls at school and loved nothing more than to drop a challenge out of nowhere. Both of them had unusually high sentou-ryoku for their age group.
Pinkie Pie was exactly the kind of person she'd made her out to be at first: a gregarious extrovert who loved parties and fun. She had almost singlehandedly planned most of their junior high school's big social events and also had a major role in planning tournaments and judging formal challenges. There had been more than one picture online of a younger Pinkie Pie cheerfully selling popcorn on the sidelines while two or three other students squared off on a battle stage.
Fluttershy, apparently, was a very shy and quiet girl with few friends who preferred the company of animals to people. That fell in line with what Sunset knew of her. She'd also been surprised to learn that the bunheaded creep Luna had thrown at her in the pit was Fluttershy's brother.
Friday afternoon, Flash waited for Sunset at the skate park. For the second time since her arrival, Sunset had flown there under her own power, using her scouter to track him. Flying was an amazing experience, but long distance flights tired her out. As she landed and caught her breath, Flash favored her with a sympathetic smile. "It gets easier," he said. "Once you get used to it, you can fly clear across the city without even thinking about it. Just remember, you're using your ki to fly, not your muscles. Don't strain your body flying. Just ride your energy."
"Got it," Sunset said as she stood straight, breathing steadily. She settled into her ready stance. "Let's spar," she said. "I've got training with Luna tomorrow, I need to be ready because I'm pretty sure she's gonna try to kill me."
"I wouldn't doubt it," Flash said. "There's so much I wanna know about why you're taking private lessons with Vice-Principal Luna, but I get the feeling I'm not supposed to know, so...I won't ask."
"There's not much to tell," Sunset said with a shrug and a roll of her shoulders. "She just thinks I have potential."
Flash snorted. "Well, she might be right," he said. "For someone who didn't know the right way to throw a punch six days ago, you've learned fast." With that, he blurred, disappearing from view.
Sunset felt him behind her. She blurred, using her newfound speed to come at him from the side, hammering his left kidney with a quick snap kick, following with a flurry of punches to his upper torso which he spun around to block. He ducked low and swept; Sunset jumped, charging a small ki blast in her left hand and dropping it on his head. Before it had even exploded, Sunset blurred out of the way of a kick from above, grabbing Flash's other leg and spinning him around before hurling him into the other end of the skate park. She rushed after him in a blaze of ki-powered flight; he recovered in time to meet her charge, and they exchanged a blindingly fast volley of strikes and counters before backflipping away from each other and landing in wary stances.
They both looked up as one as Luna's ice-cold ki made itself known to them.
"Excellent," Luna said, her tail swishing as she lowered into view, arms folded. "You've made rather remarkable progress. I'm impressed." Smirking, she turned to Flash. "Now, show her how far she still has to go," she said calmly.
"What?" Flash asked, blinking.
"You heard me," Luna said. "She needs to see it. She needs to know what it means to be a Saiyan. She needs to feel it with her own broken bones."
Sunset felt a cold dread at that pronouncement. Flash, meanwhile, seemed taken aback. "You mean—"
"If you don't, you'll be fighting me," Luna said calmly.
Flash swallowed heavily, looking between them. His face was pale and sickly. "I...I'm sorry about this," he said to Sunset. He held his arms at his sides and bent forward slightly. Sunset felt a tingling heat and watched air, dust, and debris displace around his feet.
Flash let out a tremendous, throat-ripping scream and threw his head back. His cobalt blue hair turned a bright, shining gold, and his eyes blazed bright green with power. A blazing golden aura whooshed to life around him, crackling with power. Sunset felt her entire body pushed back by the tremendous force of the power Flash was generating. She brought up her guard, squinting her eyes. It hurt to look at him...
She knew what this was. She'd researched it. But she'd yet to see it in person.
And suddenly, Flash was gone. Sunset didn't have time to feel his massive ki behind her before she was eating concrete. Then she was lifted off the ground and kicked into the air. She spun, listless and out of control, as blow after blow hammered into her, cracking bones, bruising muscles, making her spit blood. All she could do was curl in on herself as Flash used her as a punching bag before driving her into the cold, hard concrete with a kick.
* * * * *
The cool blue wash of light in the regeneration tank room greeted Sunset. She ached all over and her eyes were bleary. The oxygen mask was clammy against her face.
The tank fluid drained out. With a hiss of steam, the tank opened, and Sunset stumbled out. She immediately felt cold and clammy as she reached up and pulled the mask off. She was naked and slimy with regeneration fluids. Luna leaned against the door, arms folded, that damnable cold smirk of amusement fixed firmly on her face.
"Good morning," Luna purred. "Are you ready to begin your training?"
Sunset glared at her. "You—"
Luna wagged a finger at her. "Did you think learning to fight wouldn't come with some pain?" she asked. "I admit what happened yesterday wasn't nice, but sometimes, an important lesson has to come with a heavy price. Makes sure it sticks." She tilted her head. "Now you know what Saiyans are capable of. What you'll be capable of, once you reach your potential." She flicked her tail in the direction of a small blue door. "Take a shower. I've left a training suit out for you. Once you're clean and dressed, we'll have breakfast, and then..." She chuckled darkly. "I'll put you to work in the Garden."
* * * * *
After breakfast, Sunset followed Luna to a broad, sunken valley a short distance from Harmony High. A massive translucent dome covered the entire valley, filled with thin airslits and reinforced with a steel frame. There were two entrance hatches, both plastered with various warning stickers. Through the dome, Sunset could see row after row of trees, bushes, and crops. Large swaths of the vegetation showed signs of recent upheaval. "So...this is the Garden?"
"That's right," Luna said mildly.
Sunset scratched her head. "So what, you want me to replant trees or harvest crops or something all day?"
Luna laughed. It was not a pleasant laugh. "Oh, you should be so lucky," she said. "The crops and trees you see down there are present for two reasons: camouflage and irony." Her eyes lit up with dark mirth. "Your training, Sunset Shimmer, is simple: I will lock you in, and in six hours, I will unlock the gate on the opposite side. Your objective for today: survive." With that, she unlocked the hatch and punted Sunset through, then locked it behind her.
Sunset landed in the top of a tree, rubbing her sore bottom. "One of these days," she muttered. She frowned, adjusting her scouter. "Still, this place seems peaceful enough. What did she mean by—"
It came from all around her. High-pitched, gurgling laughter. Her scouter beeped insistently and started going nuts, scrolling power level readings and directional vectors all over the place. Eyes widening, Sunset scrambled lower into the branches, scratching up her face and bare biceps. She was thankful for the stretchy, breathable black fabric of the training suit that covered most of her body, along with the thick white boots and gloves she wore, as well as the light vest of body armor she'd been supplied.
Especially once she got a look at what she'd been locked in with.
Swarms of short, squat green creatures walked and flew around the Garden. They had dark green torsos and bright, veiny green heads that were huge and bulbous. Their eyes glowed red above mouths full of needle-sharp teeth. Their hands and feet ended in thick, sharp claws.
Sunset's scouter beeped with an incoming call. //What you're seeing right now are called Saibamen,// Luna's voice said into her ear. //A little gift from Universe 7. The Saiyans there used to use them as living weapons. Later, they were repurposed into a sort of live training dummy. That's essentially how we use them here. The Garden is a place where Saibamen are allowed to grow wild and feral. They will attack anyone that enters their territory. You are now their prey. Good luck!//
Sunset snarled out a curse as she looked around. At least a dozen Saibamen had her surrounded.
Sunset slowly turned around. A grinning Saibaman was right behind her.
With a yell, she grabbed it by the face and shot a pulse of ki through her arm, blasting its hideous green visage as she spun around and threw it as hard as she could. It spun wildly through the air, clawing at its smoking face and screaming. The Saibamen all around them chittered and laughed in that horrible, high-pitched gibbering way, then turned in unison to her, eyes glowing brightly.
Sunset shot up out of the tree and flew along the surface of the dome, a dozen Saibamen hot on her tail. In a blur, three of them shot ahead of her, gibbering wildly as they became whirling green blurs of deadly claws aimed right at her face. She dropped, blurred behind them, and slammed two of them to the ground with a quick double spin kick before bringing an elbow down on the third, then punching it into the crowd behind her, scattering them.
She didn't have five seconds to collect herself before the Saibamen were on her again. Grimly, keeping Flash's lessons firmly in mind, Sunset ran through every kata Flash had taught her, letting her newly-developed battle instincts guide the deviations from the forms as the Saibamen darted and weaved between her strikes and lashed out with their own. She took a number of hits that rent gashes in her battlesuit and drew blood, but for every hit the Saibamen landed on her, she sent three of them crashing to the ground.
//You're hesitating,// Luna said into her ear. //You're pulling your punches.//
"I'm...fighting...for my life here..." Sunset panted, taking advantage of a momentary lull as the Saibamen surrounded her warily.
//I'll give you one bit of advice for today,// Luna said. //There are two kinds of fights in this universe. Fights where you aren't trying to kill your opponent, and fights where you are. Which kind of fight do you think this is?//
Sunset frowned at that. "Kill...?" She shook her head. "I...I don't know if I can..."
//If you don't, I guarantee I'll be dragging your corpse out of there,// Luna said. //The Saibamen aren't sparring with you. They're dead set on ripping you to shreds. If you want to live through this day, you're going to have to kill them.//
Sunset swallowed heavily. "I..."
A Saibaman suddenly lunged at her, its claws glowing with ki. It flung dozens of ki blasts at her; she crossed her arms and braced herself against the onslaught. After several seconds, claws bit into her skin. Sunset blurred behind the Saibaman and grabbed its head, flying up and slamming it into the dome. It wobbled in the air, shaking its head and slapping itself.
Sunset saw the others watching her. Testing her.
Learning her weaknesses.
Her jaw tightened.
Before her opponent recovered, she let out a yell and slammed a vicious kick into its chest, then blurred behind it and hammered punches into its head and back. An axe kick dropped it to the ground. She shot down through the trees, gathering her ki. The Saibaman groggily picked itself up, glaring up at her.
She roared with fury and unleashed her ki at the Saibaman. Its eyes widened in terror as a blazing yellow column of energy ripped through it, shredding its body. Bits of smoking green flesh and splatters of thin green blood rained down.
Sunset panted, staring at what remained of the Saibaman she'd just killed. Her stomach flipped over.
She dropped into the nearest bush and threw up.
She stood up, wiping her mouth, and looked around.
A dozen Saibamen surrounded her, sadistic fury on their ugly little green faces.
* * * * *
When Luna opened the hatch, Sunset limply floated through it. Her right shoulder was dislocated, her training suit had massive gashes in it, caked blood covered ugly scratches, her left eye was swollen shut, and she was drenched in Saibaman blood.
"Congratulations," Luna said mildly. "You completed today's lesson satisfactorily."
"You..." Sunset panted, "...are a monster."
Luna smiled coldly. "I'm glad you finally realize that," she said. "I suggest you learn what you can from other students in between our lessons, because I promise you, it's only going to get worse from here. I will be all your worst nightmares and more, Sunset Shimmer."
Sunset's piercing, infuriated gaze met Luna's cold, amused eyes.
"What's the endgame here?" Sunset asked, doing her best to look intimidating despite her severe injuries.
Luna shrugged. "What do you want it to be?" she asked. "I am giving you the chance to have power—not just the power to survive until you can run away, but real power. What you do with that power is, in the end, your business. If you have the strength to obtain that power." She folded her arms. "Do you?"
Sunset looked down at the ground below. Looked at the dried green fluids crusting over her arms and legs.
"I don't know," she said.
Luna hummed thoughtfully. "Well...think on it," she said. "But don't slack off on your training. Not for a day, not for a minute." She turned away, hands clasped behind her back, tail twitching laconically. "Until next time, then." With that, she took off, leaving a tired, weary Sunset to make her own way home.