Second Sunset

by Starscribe

Chapter 3: Value

Sunset Shimmer had known full well that there might be civilization on the other side of the portal. American fiat currency would be worth less than the paper it was printed on, but she might need money to get things done.

There hadn’t been a transcendental instant waiting beyond the mirror, stripping away the illusion of substance from reality and giving her a single experience that would empower her with magic forever.

She would have to work, have to read, and have to study. That’s fine. I knew it might happen. There was no chance to study magic on Earth, because no one took it seriously. But here everypony did. Here it was so routine that her question about it had seemed strange.

Mocha had directed her down a long main road, so densely packed with ponies that she didn’t feel like she stood out anymore. Unlike the calm, dignified processions of the upper city, these ponies moved more like she was used to—they rushed, they swore, they packed in tight and darted across streets at inopportune times. Granted, without automobiles there was far less chance of an accident. At worst, they’d just be running into each other.

The Gilded Stirrups shop was tucked away in the end of a narrow side-road, where the houses above packed in so close that the street was in perpetual shadow. The glass was covered in a layer of grime, and a bell chimed her entrance in an off-tune jingle. Sunset winced as it shut behind her, taking in the shop at a glance.

In some ways, she was amazed it even existed. For all that this place was an alien world governed by magical laws she didn’t understand yet, the culture was so similar. Mocha had known instantly what a pawn shop was, and even knew about this one. Now that she was here, the contents of the shelves didn’t surprise her in the least.

Lots of art, strange objects, family heirlooms, some behind glass and some just sitting out on the shelves. There were some useful objects too, though Sunset couldn’t have said what any of them did. Accessories for pony bodies, with lots of straps and elastic and few buttons or fasteners.

“Well look what we’ve got,” said a voice from behind the counter—exactly the sort of voice Sunset expected to hear in a shop like this. As she came out from around a shelf, she found exactly the sort of pony she’d been expecting too. Somehow dumpy, with an unshorn shadow on his face and beady eyes. He had a horn too, and seemed to be watching Sunset carefully. “Castoff from a noble house, I know that look. You’re selling.”

“I am,” Sunset admitted, stopping in front of the counter. Here were the shop’s most valuable items—mostly jewelry. Strangely the simple gold was under glass, while objects covered in precious stones were piled up on the shelves. Maybe they just have a way to make really convincing fakes.

“Alright,” the pony said. “We keep this simple. You don’t threaten me, you don’t wave your family name around like it’s your horn. I don’t care about the story, I don’t care about how long you’ve had it. I tell you what it’s worth, and you take it or leave it.”

“Sure,” Sunset said. Then she pulled off the robe. Her ears flattened in embarrassment as she did it, tail tucking between her legs. But she hadn’t seen anything like this on the street, and she had seen plenty of ponies not wearing anything at all. It’s fine, it’s just animal parts. It’s not really me.

She settled the robe on the counter in front of him. “How much for this?”

“Hmm…” The pony glanced to one side, and something shot across the room towards him. Sunset squealed in surprise, retreating a step and staring in horror. A jeweler’s glass seemed to have come to life, glowing faintly as it settled in front of the pony’s eye. At least until he saw.

It seemed almost as though the pony were holding it with an invisible hand. The glass moved out of the way, and his eyes narrowed. “You okay, miss? I don’t give discounts for crazy. Or drunk. You don’t feel well, you shouldn’t sell. Simple as that.”

“Shouldn’t…” Sunset couldn’t take her eyes from the glass. I can ask when it’s over, it’s fine. Don’t make him think you’re crazy now. “I’m fine, sorry. I thought for a minute I had… forgotten something! That I wanted to sell… in the upper city. I thought I was going to have to go back for it.”

“Riiiiight.” He looked away from her, back at the cloak on the counter. “Intricate stitching… double crossweave… this is silver thread. How’d it get so dirty?”

“Trip over,” Sunset muttered. “Didn’t go… quite the way I planned.”

“Restoration is expensive… I’d have to pay for it on a piece like this. How about… five hundred bits?”

“I…” Sunset hesitated. What the hell was a “bit”? In retrospect I probably should’ve asked Mocha about their money. “I’m not sure. I could get twice that in the upper city. Maybe I should take it up there.”

“A thousand!” Maybe this pony thought he was being sly, but she knew the sound of desperation anywhere. The number was meaningless to her, but the need wasn’t.

“Fifteen hundred.”

“Fine!” He snatched it off the glass, before Sunset could so much as open her mouth. “Deal. Fifteen hundred. Is that it?”

“No, uh… no. Hold on.”

Sunset couldn’t actually reach into the saddlebags. While settling them on her back that way made them feel almost weightless, they were also quite inconvenient. Sunset winced, gritted her teeth, and wiggled the saddlebags forward until they came off on the ground in front of her.

“You’re, uh… not just going to give me what you have? You don’t have to… whatever.”

Once they were in front of her, Sunset could open the flaps with her mouth, and look inside. She scooped the contents up onto the counter one at a time.

It was jewelry—several thousand dollars’ worth. Sunset had brought the most valuable stuff she could grab, covered with precious stones. Curiously, the metal seemed to have changed just as much as she had. The necklaces had widened enough that she could probably slide them down over her pony head. The rings looked like they were made for hooves now, or maybe with a slightly conical shape for a horn.

Sunset settled it all onto the counter between them. If a stupid cloak was worth fifteen hundred, all this must be.

“Hmm. I’ll give you… five hundred for the lot. Rubies, diamonds… this is barely worth the effort to flip.”

“What?” Sunset’s mouth hung open. “You just gave me fifteen hundred for a cloak. This is…”

“You’re new at this,” he said. “Look, I don’t care about the sentimental value. This is mostly gemstones by weight. There can’t be more than… a hundred grams of gold. I’ll be generous, seven hundred. Take it, before I change my mind.”

Where before he had sounded desperate, now the pony was stern. Sunset could hear no deeper undertones—either he’d suddenly started caring about hiding it from her, or he just didn’t care about the jewelry. Maybe I should’ve robbed a thrift store. Not that it mattered either way. They wouldn’t be finding her in here.

“Alright,” Sunset said. “Fine. Deal.”

The pony swept it all into a bin, then walked over to a safe. He fumbled with it for a moment, then the second miracle of the day. A little pouch flew through the air all on its own, landing on the glass counter right in front of Sunset. A pair of heavy-looking coins slid inside. “Two thousand…”

Then came a much larger pouch, landing on the counter in front of her with a metallic thump. “Two hundred. Now get out, before I change my mind.”

“How did you…” There was no mistaking it—this pony was moving objects with his mind! “How are you doing that?”

“Doing what?” The safe smacked closed all on its own, and he turned to glare down at her again. “If you’re setting up some kind of insanity thing, forget it. All sales final.”

Sunset tucked the money away in her saddlebags, which were now far emptier than they were before. Just a few basic survival supplies in there now, and a hard plastic box on one side. I can’t believe I didn’t think to bring a change of clothes.

“Nothing like that…” Sunset slid the saddlebags back on again, going a little faster on her second time. She could barely even feel the weight of them now. “The way you’re moving things… how are you… how did you do that?”

“You’re trying an insanity thing.” The pony lifted a hoof, pointing at the door. It opened of its own accord, bell ringing. “I paid you good bits, filly. Now, leave.”

She left.

Sunset didn’t have to go far after her first stop. With significantly lighter bags and significantly heavier conscience after what she’d done before leaving Earth, she went out on the first stop to conceal her identity: a hair salon. Yes, the magical pony country had them—and in this part of the city, they were staffed by the sort of person who did their job without paying much attention. Sunset never would’ve dreamed of patronizing a store like this on Earth, or else emerge with split ends and hair wrong in every way.

But just now, she needed it to be as unrecognizable as possible. “Can you do color?” she asked. The first store she tried couldn’t, but they happily pointed her towards one that could, soon as she left a few bits on the counter to loosen their memories.  A brief trip down a few more shady alleys, avoiding anything that even sounded like the clink of that metallic guard armor, and she found a salon. She cut her mane short, in something a human might call a boyish pixie cut, dyed midnight blue with a little stripe. It felt unnatural, maybe unfaithful—but that didn’t matter now.

It’s okay, it’ll grow back. I can’t let them catch me. If they did, Sunset somehow knew what would happen next. They would lock her up in prison until the portal opened again in a few years, then banish her. She couldn’t take that risk—Sunset couldn’t return to Earth until she had taken every power this world had to offer for herself.

That bit of disguise helped, but there was nothing she could do about the mark on her flank. The salon had laughed at the suggestion that she could color her whole coat, and seemed genuinely disgusted with her when she suggested covering up the thing they called a “cutie mark.” So she abandoned that plan, found a store that sold clothing, and searched for anything she could use to conceal her identity.

Even Sunset’s embarrassment at now having a much shorter tail, revealing everything about her body to anyone who wanted to look—was secondary to her survival instinct. But when the adrenaline finally ran out…

But for all they could make a city beautiful, these ponies had never heard of jeans, and what little clothing they did have rarely did anything for either her modesty or stealth. But eventually she found something—a skirt in similar shade to her new hair, that would cover up the mark on her flank. It wouldn’t do much if someone was standing right behind her, but… priorities. She could worry about that once she found her way out of Canterlot.

Sunset about had a heart attack on her way out of the used clothing store, as a squad of burly-looking guards in gold armor passed right in front of her. Sunset watched them with horror, frozen and unable to move, not daring to try and run. They glanced once at her, but no eyes lingered.

They were putting up posters. Sunset waited until they had turned the corner, before approaching the one they’d pasted to a dirty brick wall.


For crimes against the Crown

Court Wizard, Sunset Shimmer
Reward for information that
leads to capture: 10,000 bits

There in the center of the poster was a near-perfect image of her head in profile, along with her “cutie mark” beside it. Both were perfect in every detail, or at least they would’ve been before she changed her hair.

I don’t understand—they know my name? Had she been watched somehow? Maybe the room she’d arrived in had been full of cameras. Or worse, maybe this place had agents on the other side. Maybe they’d known about her desire to explore beyond the portal, and had been waiting for her this entire time.

It doesn’t make sense. I didn’t do that much! She had broken an old stairwell, and stolen a piece of clothes. Was that really worth putting up wanted posters and filling the city with soldiers? Soldiers that… weren’t even competent enough to tell she was the same person, once she dressed a little differently and changed her hair.

I shouldn’t get overconfident. I need to get out of here. The ponies didn’t seem to have some of the basics of modern life. No one she’d asked knew what a “phone” was, and they seemed to think that it was normal for light to flicker. Maybe if she got far enough from this city, they wouldn’t have heard of her. I need a new name to go with this new face. And maybe a tattoo artist for the cutie mark.

Sunset checked to see if anyone was looking, then ripped the poster off the wall with her mouth. She tucked it away quickly, into the ample extra space left by the jewelry she wouldn’t be carrying around anymore.

But now she had another problem: how to escape the city? Canterlot in this world was a cliffside settlement, with no connection to the valley below that she could see.

Sunset found her way to the railing on the lower level, where she hoped she might get a better view. Maybe there would be more gondolas, all the way to the valley floor below.

Sunset stared off the stone railing, admiring the view. The sheer stone side of the mountain stretched away into the blue, so far that she began to feel light-headed. There was no ramp down the mountain, no switchback road. Yet when she looked to one side, there she saw something. There was a bridge there, and thin metal tracks running along either side. Even as she watched, a little railcar came churning down, leaving a trail of white smoke as it went and whistling faintly.

My god, that’s adorable. There’s little hearts on the side.

Sunset could only get a general idea of where the train was—but she could walk that way, see what she found.

She didn’t run, that would only draw attention to herself. She hurried through the city, weaving between charming little shops and overcrowded tenement buildings. Here in the lower city there were street-vendors, and she bought lunch from one—something called “hay fries.” They were just what her stomach was craving—something greasy and delicious. She didn’t ask questions about the “hay.”

But as much as it was probably the smart thing, Sunset couldn’t just march right out of the city and never look back. She had come through the portal for a reason, and reminders of that reason were hard to ignore.

“Two Bit Books,” said the sign, an old-fashioned wooden one with faded lettering. Inside was exactly the sort of place Sunset imagined would sell spellbooks, with rickety shelves leaning overhead and lots of tomes that looked painful to lift.

A little bell chimed as she walked in, and Sunset found herself surrounded by the charming feeling of a used book store. There were a few ponies reading in comfortable chairs, or perusing the shelves.

Sunset ignored all of them, searching for someone who looked like they worked there. “Excuse me…” she muttered, to a mousey little mare putting books on the shelf from a metal cart. “Can you help me find something?”

“Oh, uh… sure.” She blushed, adjusting her glasses and looking up at Sunset. She seemed barely old enough to be working here—but what did Sunset know about child labor laws in horse land? I don’t know she’s a kid. I’m projecting. “What can I help you with?”

“I’m looking for… magic,” Sunset said. “I don’t know what you’d call it… maybe… opening the chakras, taking the oath, pacts with the Vanir… a spellbook?”

The pony’s eyes widened, and she took a step back. “That’s, uh… that’s a bit broad. Every book in here is about magic. We have lots of spellbooks. I don’t know what that other stuff means.”

“Hmm… maybe… the fundamentals? What’s the first spellbook that a wizard would study? And the second, and the third…”

“Like… in magical kindergarten? Are you looking for textbooks?”

“Sure! Magical kindergarten. That sounds about right.” She could feel the pony’s uncomfortable eyes on her, and she added, “For my, uh… little sister.”

“Oh, okay. We have used textbooks, over there.” She pointed. “Look for the bound volume. Starswirl’s Spellcasting Basics. It’s cheaper when you get the whole set.”

Sunset found the indicated books, and her eyebrows went up as she examined the image on the cover. The books were printed with oversized lettering on thick paper, with exaggerated images of ponies on the cover engaged in incredible feats. They moved objects around, juggled, or blasted beams of light from their horns. The pages were well worn from between the covers, as though many children had passed the books between them. Sunset selected another book from the bargain bin, paid, then slipped back out onto the street before any of the ponies could realize just how strangely she was acting.  

It’s somewhere to get started. Now I’ll be able to study on the train.

She didn’t make it to the train.