With Sunset Comes the Night

by astrolatryy

He Who Guards His Way Protects His Life

"The Apple family used to live near the Canterlot ruins?" Twilight asks, her eyes wide. "I had no idea! That's fascinating—we lived in the same village, we could have crossed paths! When did you and your family live there?"

"Ah, it's nothin'," Applejack replies, scratching the back of her neck with a hoof awkwardly. "Scavengin' is just th' family business, y'know? Ever since Granny Apple was the first to venture into th' ruins and come back alive. There's really nothin' to it."

"Oh, Applejack, you don't have to be humble," Twilight says, leaning forward from where she's seated. "It's really an amazing thing, being able to explore the ruins. Even talented spellcasters couldn't deal with some of the monsters there! It took all six of us to venture down there and defeat Nightmare Moon when she came back."

Cadence's palace in the Crystal Empire feels just like home—after all, Twilight grew up under Celestia's wing, and her hoofsteps echo the same down the long, opulent halls whether those hallways are in celestial white or crystalline blue. But she can understand why some of her friends might not feel the same. Applejack looks positively out of place against the fancy fabrics and ornately carved pillars.

Twilight figured she'd be better off in this place with a distraction; something to remind her of home. So she'd asked—and that's how she learned Applejack grew up in the exact same village she did, right on the outskirts of the Canterlot ruins.

"I guess," Applejack says, rubbing at the back of her neck some more.

"Well, it's fascinating to me," Twilight insists, smiling kindly at her.

"Oh, you're just flatterin' me," Applejack replies, but Twilight gets something of a smile in kind, and that's enough for her.

"What was it like? You must have seen some incredible pieces of history down there—were you ever in the Palace of the Two Sisters before?"

"There's the history nerd I know," Applejack says, tilting her head teasingly to get a bit of laughter out of Twilight in response. "As a matter of fact, I have. Though Nightmare Moon really changed up the place—it looked totally different after she came back. She really made it a doozy to navigate even after we defeated her."

Oh, Twilight's practically vibrating now. She's got a witness to real history right in front of her. She has things to say—questions to ask! "I have a question for you, then, if you don't mind me asking."

"Lay it on me."

"So—there's this theory that ponies, scholars who have been studying the sisters all their lives, have been debating about for years. You know how Celestia has had the Inkwell line to serve her, for thousands and thousands of years, even before Luna was banished to the moon?"


"Well, some ponies think Princess Luna had a servant, too—a powerful one. And I was wondering if, y'know, you found any evidence or—"

Applejack holds up a hoof to stop her, seeming amused at her enthusiasm. "Y'know, if you really want to know, you could just ask Luna."

"Oh, I know," Twilight says, looking sheepish. "But I don't want to pry, you know? What if she's still sore about what happened before she was banished? Those must have been dark times for her—I don't want to bring up bad memories!"

Applejack huffs. "I'm sure she'd tell you if she was bothered by you askin', Twi, but fair enough.

"As for your question… I never saw anything pointing to somethin' like that myself, but I saw the second throne in the palace a few times. I asked Granny about it one day 'cause I was curious. At the time, I thought it was just some old mares' tale, but…"

A thousand years ago…

Lady Luna holds no court.

Lady Luna needs no court; Lady Luna does not spend her days consorting with idiot nobles and dignitaries who couldn't tell their faces from their rears—ponies who spend their days begging for every scrap of praise to nourish their fragile egos, who get offended if a wrinkle of one's cravat is out of place. So it is a surprise when Sunset Shimmer feels the magic of Lady Luna's call at the back of her mind, laced with the implication that somepony wants to see her.

Still, she is Luna's loyal servant, as always, and she will answer.

Her leathery wing reaches out to the shadows and twists with the power of her gifted magic. With a hoofstep and a breath, she's somewhere else; veiled in the darkness of Luna's throne, looking out at the royal blue fabrics of Canterlot's night palace. There on the carpet stretching the length of the throne room, from the foot of the throne to the base of the two huge double doors that permit entry, is a noblepony clad all in royal finery, overwrought cloak and all.

There is a simpering look on his face that makes Sunset want to sneer. "Princess," he says, and the nobleborn accent in his voice makes her hate him even more. "I simply think the tithes leveled upon the nobility by your sister are… ah, a little bit of an overreach. Of course we must all give for the Crown, and I am more than happy to give tribute to Her Majesty's noble sunlight, but… my lady, could you simply not put in a word or two for me? As her sister, you must have considerable sway at her side."

Lady Luna's expression is like ice; nearly unreadable. Her bright eyes regard the noble who is all but begging at the seat of her throne impassively. But Sunset is watching, and for a moment those eyes flick to her—and she can see, just for a moment, the shadow of a restrained grin in her the line of her mouth.

Ah. So she has been called to her Lady's side for noble reasons indeed. Sunset has been called to her Lady's side to show this arrogant fool what happens to those who waste Lady Luna's time.

Sunset would wear a grin of her own if the flash of her fangs wouldn't reveal her in the shadows. She makes do with a subtle uptick in the corner of her mouth and a narrowing of the eyes; watching both Lady Luna and this snivelling petitioner in turn, waiting for her moment.

"Do you think this request is an acceptable use of Our time?" her Lady asks, danger flashing in the curve of her mouth, of the tightening of her wings.

The noblepony huffs, tilting his head up as if he is somehow superior to this keeper of the night, the Lady of the Moon. "I simply think my words deserve to be heard, your Majesty. Shouldn't the Crown listen to everypony's problems?"

"Celestia is beholden to listen to the problems of the populace," Lady Luna says, staring him dead in the eyes. "You will find that We do not perform the same duties as Our sister."

"I hoped you would be more reasonable than her, your Majesty," the noblepony says—perhaps sensing her Lady's patience waning, choosing to try and grovel, now. "Surely you must not agree with everything she says?"

"Perhaps," Lady Luna says. "Perhaps you will also find that We are far less lenient in Our rulings than she may be."

"Your Majesty—"

"Silence!" her Lady cries. The Royal Canterlot Voice rattles the stained glass in its panes—forces the noblepony down to his knees in a vicious shockwave. "We have had enough of your impetuous presence. We hold no court. We are not bound to the petty cries of blubbering noblefolk, especially not those who would continue to waste Our precious time with bargains and demands. Our sister likely rejected you kindly, with gentle words and gaze. We will not offer you the same forbearance."

Lady Luna raises one dark wing, tilting her head back and closing her eyes; knowing Sunset will respond without having to look.

Sunset's expression splits in a full-face grin; she raises her blood-red wings ever so slightly to bolster her silhouette as she stalks out of the shadows. The noblepony visibly startles, scrabbling back with his hooves slipping on the royal carpet.

Lady Luna's voice echoes heavy through the throne room. "Leave Us."

Sunset flares her wings to full length in a heavy snap!; bares her fangs just a little more and hisses in the back of her throat, soft and low and deadly. The noblepony locks up, eyes wide and terrified and close to tears. Sunset stalks closer.

A few more steps, and the noblepony finds the resolve in him to move—he spins on his hooves and bolts, stopping only to shove open the double doors. He's long gone by the time the doors fall shut again.

For a moment, Sunset just stands there, wings still flared wide, bathing in her triumph; bathing in the sheer joy of terror.

There is a soft giggle from behind her.

She turns, and her Lady has a hoof to her mouth; a strangled expression writ upon her face, mouth pursed in a thin line, trying and almost failing to hold laughter back.

Sunset cants her head and smiles at her, folding her wings back at her sides. "Can I eat him if he comes back again?"

Her Lady's resolve breaks. Little giggles turn to full-fledged cackling as the dam bursts; Lady Luna leans back in her throne and lets loose, one hoof pounding at the throne's arm as the other braces herself against the throne to prevent herself from falling out entirely.

And Sunset?

Sunset's there with her, throwing her head back as she laughs too, a raucous sound that fills the throne room and echoes with Lady Luna's until it's all she can hear—just the two of them, laughing in the shared joy of being monstrous.

Sunset loves many things of the night. Of course she does; she's built for it. Sharp-slit eyes to pierce the darkness; leathery skin to blend in against the sky. Fangs and wings for monstrous emphasis, to truly drive home the point that she is built for when the sun falls and her Lady rises; to be by her side, to strike terror into Equestria's foes.

The one trait of the night that Sunset could never get used to, however, is the cold. The few other batponies she's interacted with don't seem to have this problem—or else, they have ways around it, cuddling up to each other in their caves and using companionship to ward away the chill.

Her coat makes it worse. Batponies don't have the same kind of fur the other tribes do; she is happy for her form, because being a lowly earth pony or pegasus sounds far worse than being a batpony does, but her fur is short and close to her skin and her wings are exposed entirely, meaning she relies only on her inner fire to warm her at Lady Luna's side.

Being in Princess Celestia's presence is a relief in this sense. Lady Luna is all cold chill and empty darkness, but Princess Celestia is the fiery warmth of a sun that has burned for a thousand years and will burn for thousands more still. She's bright, yes, and hard on the eyes in the early mornings where tiredness has begun to set in and Sunset longs for the blankets of her chambers, but she can't deny that there's a certain relief in the way the princess strides up to the breakfast table and her warmth washes over her.

Princess Celestia has just set the sun into motion for the day, but already she is in her royal finery, gold shimmering against a pure white coat. From her place at Lady Luna's side, Sunset sees the princess of the night raise her brows just slightly.

"Are We showing off at the dinner table, dear sister?" Lady Luna says, emphasizing the word sister, tone subtly sarcastic.

"I have a meeting with a noblepony in a few minutes," Princess Celestia says, her face warmly impassive. "He insisted on being seen at my earliest convenience."

"I was of the belief that convenience is supposed to be for you, sister," her Lady remarks.

The edge of her mouth quirks in a poorly-suppressed snort. "And yet. Tell me, Luna, have you spoken with any nobility recently?"

There is a glint in Princess Celestia's eyes. Sunset has a feeling she knows where this is going.

"You ask this like you don't already know the answer," Lady Luna replies.

"Then you can surely guess my point," the princess says. "As much as I give you free reign to deal with the populace your… own way, Luna, I would appreciate if you didn't do it in such a way that made my duties more difficult."

"And I have always wondered at your lenience for the nobles. We may be the protectors of these little ponies, but should that mean We have to tolerate every sniveling, arrogant fool who comes Our way? We have no Night Court for a reason. If one cannot look past their own nose for long enough to realize that, they deserve what happens to them."

"It is important to retain good relations with the nobles, Luna," Princess Celestia reminds her, patiently, like Lady Luna has not heard this before. It is not the first time the two sisters have had this debate over their attitudes towards the ponies they rule, if not with this exact framing.

Sunset has always taken Lady Luna's side in this regard, much to Princess Celestia's mild irritation. Princess Celestia is a valuable mentor; she's taught her as much as her Lady has about magic, and even more about how to interact with other ponies, the fine art of how to get a pony to do what one wants. One of her few flaws is her endless tolerance towards ponies that would stop bringing these problems up if Princess Celestia would simply make it clear that stupid questions and meetings to stroke the ego are not to be tolerated.

"It seems like that is the duty you've forced upon yourself, Celestia," Lady Luna retorts.

Princess Celestia sighs, shaking her head slightly. "We will continue this conversation later," she says, as if both of them don't know that Lady Luna will not allow herself to be found for such a thing. "For now, I must attend to my meeting."

With that, she stands. The princess is out of the room in just a few strides of her long legs; her food at the table is untouched.

Feeling impetuous, Sunset waits for the last of her flowing mane to leave the room, then darts across the table, snapping up the strawberries and cream that Princess Celestia left behind with a few bites of her teeth.

"Sunset Shimmer!" Lady Luna admonishes. Sunset turns to her and grins, showing off the frosting smeared all over her fangs like fluffy clouds.

Her Lady doesn't mean her words. She knows this because it only takes a few moments for Lady Luna to break composure and laugh at the sight, her eyes bright with mirth.

"I suppose if my dear sister wasn't going to eat it…" she says, and Sunset snorts, licking the last of the frosting off her fangs.

Strictly speaking, Sunset does not have to be at her Lady's side her every waking moment. Indeed, she isn't: she's her loyal servant, not a bodyguard. Often she is out doing her Lady's dirty work; dealing with ponies in Lady Luna's stead, or slipping through the shadows for spywork, using her talents to dig up their enemies' dirty laundry. Princess Celestia is the flaming sword and shield of the realm, the glowing knight to strike down evil when it stands against Equestria; Lady Luna lives in her shadow, the cloak and dagger that digs up evil where it hides.

Equestria is a hard-fought realm, its safety won through battle after battle, fighting back the darkness that looms at the realm's edges. The griffons may rebel and the dragons may pillage; other, nameless evils may infiltrate seeking to destroy; but as long as the Diarchs still stand, Equestria will not fall.

Much of Sunset's life these days is occupied with these things, but in her free time—or simply when her Lady wills it—she acts as Lady Luna's shadow.

Technically, she is no bodyguard, (that role falling to Lady Luna's Night Guard), but Sunset knows she has the skills to act as one should her Lady require it. And besides, they both enjoy the company.

Lady Luna is perhaps one of the few ponies whose presence Sunset will tolerate for an extended length of time. Princess Celestia is up there, too, as Sunset does enjoy talking to her—but Princess Celestia seems constantly weighed down by her obsession with social niceties and appeasing even the ponies she does not need to. Perhaps she is used to being loved in the way her and Lady Luna aren't.

In either case, although she enjoys her time in Princess Celestia's presence, inevitably if they're forced to talk too long or about the wrong things, the princess will often set upon instilling things such as the value of a good reputation or the morality of not going behind ponies' backs, and that often gets Sunset to sniping at her and getting irritated when Princess Celestia shrugs all her remarks off with the endlessly warm, patient facade she's so skilled at putting on.

Lady Luna, on the other hoof, speaks her mind. She does not hide behind facades or waste her time trying to appease ponies who would be better off with their teeth knocked down their gullets. Lady Luna knows what has to be done, and does it, and that—that is why Sunset likes her so much.

She knows this is why Lady Luna likes her in kind.

Lady Luna sleeps in one of the highest towers of the Canterlot palace; better to raise her moon from when she wakes at the end of the day, and better to see the stars before she delves into ponies' dreams for the night. Sunset's chambers are situated just below hers—best to stay close to her Lady, should she require anything as she rises.

They walk together through the gold-accented halls of the daytime palace, quiet, simply enjoying each other's presence. It is only when they reach the one part of the palace that is still colored with Lady Luna's accents, shrouded in darkness even as her sister's sun burns above them, that her Lady speaks.

"It has almost been a decade since you first arrived in this palace, did you know?" Lady Luna says.

Sunset blinks, stopping in her tracks. "Is it nearly my anniversary?" she asks, eyes narrowing as she tries to count the moons in her head. "I never thought time on the surface would pass me by so fast. I…"

She laughs softly to herself. "You know, I feel like I've been serving you for forever. I know I spent longer down there than I have up here, but it's like I have more of a life up here. Something actually worth remembering."

She turns a smug smile onto Lady Luna. "I guess breaking out did get me a better life, after all."

Lady Luna laughs in kind, spreading a wing to draw her closer. Her Lady's coat is as cold as her moon, but Sunset doesn't mind; she's never minded. A little chill has always been worth the friendship of the mare she serves.

"Imagine, the mare I knew in those dungeons seeing you now," her Lady says. "How often do you think of your past, I wonder?"

"Sometimes," Sunset admits with a shrug of her shoulders. With the chill of Lady Luna's aura wrapped around her, the part of her that lingers darkly deep inside remembers…

A little more than a thousand years ago…

…remembers the brimstone heat of Tartarus, and the smell of sulfur rushing down her throat with every breath.

Tartarus was never a civilized place, but before the sisters' interference, there was nothing there but lava and hellfire. Lava and hellfire and the demons, of course. They were there before the alicorns even stepped hoof on the planet's soil, before they lashed their magic to the sun and moon to move it as they willed, and they would be there after.

How many ways could a creature die? Blade and fang and fire; things that destroyed the outside, things that killed from the inside. One of these far too common fates was a magical accident—a scholar having their own project backfire upon them, a hapless witness who got in too deep.

Such accidents, with enough power behind them, could sunder the soul in such a way that it did not pass on properly; those shards, charged with raw energy, descended through the world until they reached the hellfire burning below it, and it was this terrible unchained power that made Tartarus burn.

Sunset Shimmer was not her name at the time. She had no name—she needed none. She was a hellfire representation of the raw violence of Tartarus, bound into two-legged shape; two legs, and two hands, torn-up leathery wings, fangs and hunger for flesh.

But while the rest of her kind looked down towards the flames, fighting among each other and searching for the remnants of souls that had not yet burned up in the lava, she looked up, towards the surface, towards the place where the souls came from.

The rest of her kind burned with fury, but she burned with ambition, and that was what led her to be one of the demons who witnessed the Diarchs' descent into Tartarus.

The Diarchs, you see, tended to frown on murder. Even Princess Luna, who in those days got her hooves far dirtier than most, would hesitate at the ending of a life. It was a taboo both of them tried never to cross; and then there was the fact that some of their enemies were simply too dangerous, too powerful to be able to kill. Twice-damned creatures of darkness who could only be killed under a certain alignment of stars, or with a certain magical item, or at the fulfillment of a certain prophecy; those creatures were easier to banish somewhere dark and terrible than to end their lives. Thus, Tartarus.

It was an event indeed when the Diarchs sought to march down to those pits of hell. Princess Celestia shone with a light that had never been seen beneath the rock; holy sunlight that protected rather than destroyed, that nurtured and grew rather than burned to ashes. Demons flinched away at its very touch, the lighting of her horn enough to blind—and for those demons that sought a way to slip past, or were powerful and rage-filled enough to withstand the pain that the solar princess' magic brought upon them, Princess Luna was there, using her dark magic to extinguish the power of demons that got too close, like candles in a windstorm.

She was smart enough to keep her distance. It was evident immediately that the Princess' power was too much for the demons to touch, and they had to have come here for a reason. Were they there to burn out Tartarus entirely, to conquer it for their own?

No. As Princess Celestia took guard, she watched as Princess Luna directed her own magic not outwards but downwards, towards the great, endless pool of magma itself. It bubbled and boiled but as her ice-cold magic touched it, it began to settle into a standstill. Its vicious glow dimmed as it was overwhelmed by Luna's night; steam rolled off of it in great, billowing clouds, and when the princess was done the magma had become great sheets of thick rock, strong enough that even a demon's claws would struggle to rent it.

The princesses focused their magic further. Those great sheets of rock that Princess Luna had frozen into shape was caught by both their brilliant gold and sapphire auras, and then it began to rise. From the once endless plains of hellfire, the stone rose into huge pillars; sole islands in the magmatic fury that surrounded the two Princesses. Even the demons that had been attacking them receded in awe. From below they seemed like monoliths to the demon who had been watching; their great shadows fell upon her, and for the first time in her long, unnamable existence she knew what darkness was.

The Princesses would build their great prison upon that stone, using their magic to further refine what had been built and bringing down cages of cold iron from the surface, cages that burned a demon at the very touch.

It was then that she, the demon that had watched all of this without acting, just lurking and thinking, wondered what else was on that surface the Princesses had come from. There was a great light, more brilliant than even hellfire; there was a great darkness, enough to pierce deep into burning magma and extinguish it entirely. There was metal of cold fire that could repel a demon just by its mere existence—and above all, there was power. For all her kind's arrogance, it was clear that the surface world held more power than anything one demon could muster.

It was then that the demon without a name made a choice: she would figure out a way to the surface. She would be the one who rose; she would claw her way to that world the sisters came from and become more powerful than any of her kind could ever know.