Sunset Shimmer took one last glimpse around the block, crouching behind the low wall on someone’s front lawn and watching Canterlot High with sharp eyes. There was a single security guard in the building, but he kept a regular route, circling around the entire perimeter every hour or so. According to her watch, he should be on the far side within the next thirty seconds. The screen glowed faintly in the darkness, illuminating the little moon-phase tracker at the top.
If you were ever right about anything, Sunset, time to be right now. There would be no going back after what she’d done. The heavy bag slung over one shoulder would definitely land her in juvie for a few years, if she was caught. Assuming they didn’t try her as an adult. But that wouldn’t matter anymore.
When I come back, you’ll all wish you took me seriously. I would’ve shared the magic with you. She could hear their laughter in her ears even now. Her fellow students, her parents—no one took her seriously. Magic could change the world, it could solve every one of mankind’s problems if only it was understood. But they refused to admit that it existed.
Sunset Shimmer knew, knew it in her bones just the same as she knew pain was bad and joy was good. Canterlot was the perfect town for an aspiring wizard to grow up, with its rich history of mythical monsters and ancient attacks. Of course it was just legend now, nothing anyone believed. But Sunset believed, and she studied.
She had a little magic with her now, protection charms she’d made herself in her bracelet, garlic around her neck, a container of salt where she could get it. There was so much conflicting information out there that the only way to be sure was to try it all.
Of course, she wouldn’t have to cast any of her own spells tonight, just make it across a street and up to a statue. Sunset tightened the backpack, wincing at the loud metallic clanking from inside. Her watch beeped a second later, and she ran.
A semi-truck chose that moment to round the corner, far faster than was probably legal. Sunset screamed, rolled, and landed on the pavement inches away from turning into an orange and red smear on the road. The driver hadn’t even slowed down. “Damn you,” Sunset hissed, scrambling to her feet and hurrying forward. “Damn all of you. See if I share any of my magic powers when I get back.”
But her screaming had attracted attention after all—the wide beam of a flashlight shone from inside the building. She could see Night Watch’s outline on the other side of the glass, as he fumbled with a lock. It wouldn’t take him long.
This is crazy, Sunset thought, ignoring the shock and pain as she approached the statue. Nothing would matter so long as she could get inside. Nothing she’d done, nothing she’d failed to do—she would have magic when this was over. They’d all see just how wrong they were.
“Stop!” called Night Watch, from the stairs. He had a large flashlight in one hand, and a mop in the other. “I see you there! If you’ve done anything to vandalize school property…”
It just looked like glass—a polished mirror, a little strange to find in such a public place. Every story agreed, this statue was everything. It was the opening, but only for a short period every few years.
Sunset ignored the shouting, stopping an inch in front of the glass, her hand poised over its surface. She didn’t dare touch it, for fear that the “magic” might be as real as so many of her other attempts. But if it wasn’t… Once I do this, I’ll be gone for years. My parents might think I’m dead. Night Watch kept shouting as he got close, his flashlight harsh in the reflected light. Her hands were bleeding, and there was stolen property in her bag.
“Cya,” Sunset called, then pushed forward against the glass.
There was no glass. Elation melded with the rush of surprise and fear as she jerked forward. Her head swam, and she found herself falling forward instead of down. She saw strange things reflected towards her—a starry sky she didn’t recognize, cities built of carved marble into slabs of crystal, her own strange reflection blazing past the other direction. She screamed, but the words twisted in her mouth, contorting until there was nothing left of them but more confusion.
“That’s why nobody knows about this!” she screamed to herself, clutching the bag tight against her chest. “It’s fatal! Nobody ever comes back!” She had gone beyond time and space—become a cautionary tale that would survive in school rumors. The weird kid who vanished one night. Probably they’d get the details wrong and say the horse statue ate her.
Then she landed. There was an unceremonious thump, and Sunset’s rear end was above her. Long strands of red and yellow dangled down into her face, like her hair but somehow attached to…
Sunset tried to stand, and only managed to flop uselessly to one side. Her hands weren’t shredded from the pavement anymore—she could only feel numbness now. Numbness, and a universal, pervading wrongness. “What happened?” she moaned, but of course there was no answer. There was a stone floor up against her face, with little grains and speckles, not the even gray of concrete. She didn’t feel the cool night air—instead the temperature was thick and oppressive, yet somehow blasting all the way up her pants like she was wearing a skirt without any underclothes…
Sunset winced, opening one eye and glancing down her body. As it turned out, she wasn’t wearing underclothes. She wasn’t wearing anything at all. “This can’t be…” she lifted one arm, and one of the legs moved in response. She moved it up to her face, searching for the fingers. There were none, just thick tissue in a rim around a softer pad of skin in the middle, recessed.
Oh god. I know what this is. She tried to sit up, and somehow managed to get the lower half of her body under her, enough that she could see in front of her.
The room was dark, but a crack of white light from the open door illuminated the mirror enough for her to see.
A horse looked back into her eyes, a horse with her same cyan eyes, her same yellow and red hair. Actually the horse had twice as much, since she also had a tail in a similar color and style.
The room around her looked like a warehouse, if the warehouse had been retrofitted into an ancient building—European, maybe? There were shelves on either side, and leaning in front of her was the otherworldly equivalent of the portal. This one was a single mirror, with an intricately worked metal rim encrusted with gemstones. To add insult to injury, whoever had crafted this ancient relic had made it in the shape of a horseshoe. I get it, you cursed me. Sunset hesitated, one hoof near the edge of the portal. She could return right now, albeit without clothes since those apparently couldn’t pass through the portal intact. She could do that, or…
Through Elysium's gate,
A great herd roams.
It’s ancient secrets kept unknown.
But through the lockless door they watch,
After thirty moons to enter and catch.
What once was given now returned.
Arcane secrets never learned.
I came here looking for magical secrets. Even cursed, I might still be able to learn them. Besides, going back might not take the curse away. Maybe whoever made this wanted to force anyone who came through it to return to them to get changed back.
But before she could do that, Sunset would have to stand up. Staring into the face of her reflection—small, yellow, adorable—gave her everything she needed to understand why she couldn’t walk the way she wanted to. Her body couldn’t stand up on two legs anymore. So she tried something else, rolling sideways so that her legs were under her. She smacked into an oversized bag as she did so—wait, no. Her bag had transformed. Instead of an athletic bag with Canterlot High’s sports logo emblazoned on the side, it had been… divided. It was still made of sturdy vinyl and canvas, but now there were two bags, connected by a strap with an opening in the middle.
It took Sunset a few seconds to understand. Oh my god. Those are saddlebags. Saddlebags that still had the Wondercolts “C” on either side, with a look of embroidery instead of heat transfer.
Sunset had no idea how to “wear” saddlebags, any more than she knew how to stand up. But she gritted her teeth, and pushed her head through the opening. The straps proved remarkably flexible. By bracing her hind legs on the ground and the saddlebags up against a metal shelf, she could slide it down her back until it settled into somewhere comfortable. Instead of buckles or buttons, the saddlebags used some kind of elastic. They were still just as full, making the same metallic clanking sounds as she finally rose to her feet—well, her hooves.
“I look ridiculous,” Sunset told the mirror. The mirror agreed—if anything, the face reflected there wanted her to use more extreme language. She wasn’t just an impossibly-colored horse, but she was a unicorn at that, with a sharp point protruding right through her hair. Those eyes were ridiculous, so oversized that she could easily see the moisture collecting near the bottom. And was she just completely losing her mind, or was there a gigantic tattoo on either side of her butt?
No, Sunset! You aren’t going to cry! You’re going to get out of here and discover the secrets of the universe. You’ve just traveled to another world. Maybe that involved a horse curse, so what? You can do this.
She needed to be rational. Sunset took a deep breath, then turned to inspect her surroundings.
The storage room had no windows, no exits at all except the door that was also its only light source. There were no lights on the ceiling, but there were empty metal brackets along the wall. Like they were waiting for candles that weren’t there.
The storage room had other strange objects, though just about everything had been wrapped up somehow. Even the portal had been covered with cloth before the dense layers and rope had been ripped away. Apparently the force of Sunset’s arrival had been strong enough to cut clean through the rope in a few places, and throw the wrapping across the room.
The portal itself looked like it had been propped haphazardly against the wall. I hope wherever this is doesn’t get earthquakes.
Sunset wanted to move the thing back down, maybe lay it flat so that it couldn’t fall. But she put one hoof up against the side of the mirror and realized the stupidity of that plan. Holy crap, how am I supposed to do anything? Without hands, she wouldn’t be able to use half of the things she’d brought.
I was so prepared for this, and now here I am. A stupid farm animal.
So she left the mirror where it was, hobbling towards the only exit she had. Walking proved to be a difficult task, though not so much if she didn’t watch what she was doing. So long as she kept moving, she could walk without tripping over herself. I’m probably not supposed to move like this. How do horses do it? Now she wished she’d given the Equestrian club a little more attention. As it was she just tried not to fall, and mostly she succeeded.
The first thing she needed was something to wear—just because she looked like an animal didn’t mean she was going to start acting like one. Putting on clothes might make her seem like someone’s cute pet, or maybe it would let them realize she was really a person. Either way, Sunset needed something.
Fortunately for her, this storage room contained a few useful objects. Against one wall was an old wardrobe, made of dark stone and covered with bluish gemstones. Someone built this thing pretty small. I can almost reach the handle. Someone’s kid must’ve owned this.
Getting it open was its own disaster—but Sunset found a bit of metal, and she could wedge that into the bottom of one of the doors. A little patience, and the door popped open. A cloud of dust exploded out into the air around her, and she looked away, hacking and coughing.
Her search was rewarded—there were clothes inside. Sunset selected the lumpiest, most misshapen thing she could find—like someone’s blue and silver Halloween cape. Someone had sewn little star and moon patterns into the cloth, which felt like silk against her coat.
But would someone’s dusty old Halloween costume fit a horse-thing?
Yes, as it turned out. She squirmed into it the same way she had got the saddlebags on, headfirst. It was more of a cloak than a cape, though the whole thing was a little tight with the saddlebags.
That’s lucky. I wouldn’t expect it to fit me so well. Maybe her luck was turning around.
She made it to the door, and was able to lean forward, peeking out into the passage. An even white light shone from up ahead, illuminating the black stone of an empty hallway. This at least seemed even and electric, though she couldn’t make out the fixture from this angle.
She pushed the door open in a single nervous motion, forcefully enough that it banged loudly against the stone wall. The sound rang out in the empty hallway, echoing painfully. Was it her imagination, or did she hear an answering sound through the floor and the walls? There were voices for sure—someone had heard her.
It was time to move.
Sunset couldn’t go fast, not without falling on her face and straining the fancy cape-thing she was wearing. She pulled the hood up as high as it would go, and hurried down the hallway. The footsteps seemed to be coming from one direction, so Sunset chose the other, walking as quickly as she could.
All her practice when it came to breaking the rules would do her no good here. She couldn’t look like she belonged when she’d been cursed to look like a farm animal. The cloak might make her blend into the dark, but it would not let her pass for a person.
There was a rickety-looking wooden barricade at the end of the hall placed just at the height that made it inconvenient for her. The other side looked open, but… obviously this was the way she needed to go.
“You, stop! Don’t move!” the shout came from the other end of the hall, probably several hundred feet away. Sunset didn’t so much as turn around—she ran.
Well, ran was generous. Sunset stumbled, tripped, and flopped her way forward, rolling under the barricade and pausing momentarily at an ancient spiral staircase of rickety metal and slabs of rock. There were two directions. No windows, stone everywhere. I’m underground. She chose the “up” direction, and started climbing. The stairs creaked and strained under each step, rumbling a little the faster she went. She watched as bits of rock splintered out of their rusty metal brackets on the layers above her, praying to all the gods she didn’t believe in that they wouldn’t collapse under her.
Obviously her pursuers had reached the stairs, because she heard their voices echoing up from below. “What do we do?”
“We can’t go into the east wing… double back and go around. There’s only one way she could’ve gone. We’ll cut her off at the garden.”
Thanks for telling me, idiots. Sunset didn’t let herself slow down just because she knew what the ones chasing her would do. As their strange-sounding footsteps hurried off, she only climbed faster.
Her hoof hit the stone above her, and the rusty metal casing around it gave way with a crash. Sunset squealed in surprise, but was able to catch herself with the other three legs, her forth hanging out over open air.
The stone kept going. It struck the stairs below with another crash, and the whole staircase began to wobble. Oh god.
Sunset leapt over the missing step, running now. What kept her from tripping over her own hooves, she might never know, but she didn’t have time to think. There was light from somewhere ahead, the dim light of dawn. Sunset ran, even as huge sections of the stairs below her started to give way. What had begun as a single step was becoming a total collapse.
Sunset reached the edge of the floor above, and sprang with all her might. She landed on her belly, back legs dangling over a cliff as the stairs crashed into the basement. Good thing those police didn’t follow me up those.
Sunset was slipping. Her stupid saddlebags, filled with clanking metal and supplies, were dragging her down towards the opening. She screamed again, scrambling for purchase against tiles. The floor underneath was so dirty that it lubricated her motion, making her start to slip faster and faster.
There, on the wall beside her, a bright blue wall-hanging! It was out of reach, but if she strained… Sunset grasped for it desperately, opening her mouth to catch it in her teeth.
Then the wall-hanging moved. She couldn’t say what pulled it, maybe an errant breeze, maybe just dumb luck. There was a faint glow of blue, and the old cloth was in her mouth. Sunset yanked, and pulled herself up over the edge, rolling until she was well away from the opening.
“Holy… crap…” For at least a minute she just lay there on her back, breathing heavily. She wanted to stay there—to curl up in the corner and sleep. But she couldn’t, not with the knowledge that there were police here. Or… whatever this world had for police. I have to get out.
Sunset stood up, easier than she had the first time. Her ears were moving, her tail wouldn’t stay still, and for a few more seconds she just froze, trying to make them stop. But no—there was distant shouting coming through a nearby wall. She needed to keep moving. You’ll get out of here, Sunset. You can do this.