Sunset of Time
Chapter I: World on Fire
All of Canterlot rocked as the earth beneath it trembled once more. Cracks and fissures continued to rip open all across the city, swallowing ponies and entire buildings into a bottomless maw. With every quake, more of the once-proud capital fell into ruin. Tall marble and brass towers crumbled into dust while entire sections of the city collapsed and slid down the mountainside to the ravaged earth below it.
Whatever the earthquakes had not destroyed, the fire had seen fit to burn down. It fell from the sky like rain, igniting everything it touched and sending billowing clouds of smoke into the air. The dust and ash had already eclipsed the sun and left the sky looking a murderous shade of red. Roars of thunder could be heard from the turbulent storm clouds, circling above the city like starving vultures. The citizens ran for cover, desperately trying to get out of harm’s way. But as Canterlot fell to pieces around them, the populace knew deep within their hearts that this was the end.
The train station had been one of the first buildings destroyed when the fire began to fall from the sky, leaving all of them alone and isolated on their mountain perch. Many desperate souls had tried to run down the mountain or hide in the caverns beneath the city, but when the earthquakes struck, they met the same fate as those they left behind.
Their desperate flight would have proved useless in the long run, as all across the world, the very elements of nature turned against civilization and brought ruin upon the world’s denizens. Fires raged, the ground shook, the winds howled, the oceans swelled...
It was the End of the World.
Sunset Shimmer watched in horror from the ramparts of Canterlot Castle as another fireball fell from the sky and obliterated one of the gleaming buildings of her city. The noble colors of purple and gold were burned away by the torrent of fire. Anything recognizable was quickly buried by the ash and brimstone that fell like snow, swallowing buildings whole, defacing parks and museums, and choking the life out of the once-proud city.
The wind angrily pulled and snatched at her red and yellow mane as it blew in every direction at once. She had to squint to stop the heavy amounts of ash from blinding her. Around her muzzle was a neckerchief so she could breathe somewhat normally. The rest of her orange coat was stained with dust and grime.
She couldn’t believe this was happening. Yesterday had been another normal day, just like the day before it. The morning had started out normal as well. The sun had shone, birds had sung, and she had eaten breakfast, just like any other morning. Then, the clouds began to move in without pegasi supervision, and fire dropped out of the sky. From there, everything began to spiral out of control. It was all some sort of nightmare that Sunset couldn’t wake up from.
The earth moaned again, and Sunset threw herself against the rampart wall to stop herself from falling over. As the tremor continued, Sunset could hear a piece of the castle collapse behind her in a loud cacophony of noise. The sound of demolished stone and the screams of falling ponies rang in her ears; the images of them falling crept into her brain and burned their visage into her eyes. Pellets of stone rained down on her and opened small cuts across her back. Sunset yelped in pain, and quickly raised a teal shield around her, deflecting the rest of the falling rubble.
In front of her, some of the sidewalk reared up, tearing itself from the ground and creating another fissure. Another plume of dust shot into the air as a building collapsed in the distance. The tremor intensified, causing Sunset’s teeth to rattle violently. There was a loud, earth-splitting noise, and from her peripheral vision, Sunset saw a column of magma rocket into the sky, like a geyser, in the distance. She fully turned her head towards it and immediately regretted the decision, as she bore witness to a tidal wave of fire consuming Ponyville and all of the surrounding landscape, reducing it all to ashes in seconds.
Sunset slid down the wall, tears pouring from her eyes. Her entire world was collapsing in front of her and, there was nothing she could do. She had never felt so useless in her life. She raised her head and looked directly above the castle where the large dark sphere floated, pulsing with black magic and emitting an airy moan: the place Princess Twilight Sparkle had gone to hours ago. It had appeared just after the clouds had, and while it had not done anything directly, everypony had deduced that it was the source of their suffering. Princess Twilight had flown up and vanished into its embrace shortly after with her loyal dragon Spike close behind.
“Please, Twilight,” Sunset breathed, “please come back soon. Please put an end to this.”
Half of her prayer was answered. Not a second after she finished speaking, Princess Twilight came shooting out of the black sphere, rocketing straight for the castle courtyard. She hit the ground with a sickening crunch that made Sunset scream in terror.
The young mare hurried off of the rampart just as another earthquake hit, taking out part of the wall she had been standing on moments before. Trying to ignore how close to death she had just come, Sunset hurried down the steps and sprinted to her mentor’s side.
The courtyard looked like the rest of the city: a cruel mockery of its former self. Fountains had been overturned, hedges and lawns had been burned away, the ground had splintered and fractured in several places, and part of the castle had fallen outward, covering much of the courtyard in debris.
Twilight had landed on a small pile of rubble close to what used to be the door to the entrance hall. She was covered in burn marks and open wounds that bled profusely. Some of them had already scarred over, evidence of her healing magic. Both her wings and two of her legs were bent at disturbing angles, and her mane and tail were a disheveled mess.
Sunset reached her broken form and sobbed, “Twilight! Twilight, please, get up! You have to get up!” She shook the purple alicorn’s body as gently as she could while still trying to invoke a reaction.
Sunset’s ears twitched as an odd whining sound echoed above her head. She looked up just in time to see another figure eject out of the sphere. It was long and slim with large, leathery wings and pointed scales. It spiraled out into the distance, away from the burning city. But even as it shrank smaller and smaller onto the horizon, Sunset could see something was terribly wrong with it.
It was missing a head.
Sunset wailed as the dragon vanished from view. Her whole body trembled at the loss of one of her closest friends. What kind of monster could do that to Spike, could do this to Twilight?
Her cries of agony stirred Twilight from her unconscious state. She opened an eye and asked, “He’s gone, isn’t he?”
Sunset jumped, surprised at her mentor’s sudden consciousness. She looked down at the princess and choked up, her voice failing. Unable to give Twilight an answer, she merely bit her lip and nodded.
Twilight closed her eyes, tears sliding down her grime-covered face, and mourned. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you... couldn’t protect any of you,” she said in a raspy voice.
Sunset wildly shook her fiery mane. “No, princess, you did everything you could. It’s not your fault.”
Twilight opened her eyes again and looked at Sunset with a knowing gaze. “Sunset Shimmer, my most faithful student, listen closely to what I’m about to say. You can still stop this; you can save this world.”
Sunset stared at the princess. Beneath her neckerchief, her mouth worked furiously, trying to form a sentence. “Me?” she asked with disbelief. “Why me? How? I-I’m just a magician in training! How do I stop this?” Behind her, another fireball crashed down upon the city, causing her to flinch with fear.
Twilight weakly reached a hoof out for Sunset to take. Their eyes met, and Twilight spoke in a low voice, “You are stronger than you realize. You can do this, Sunset, I believe in you.”
Sunset took her hoof, a small comfort amongst the chaos surrounding them, but a welcome one nonetheless. Her thoughts raced as fast as her beating heart, trying to come to grips with everything that was happening. Her world was ending, but now Twilight was saying that there was a way to save it. The only problem was that she, Sunset, had to do it.
The orange mare was drastically unsure if she could handle something like that. Sure, she was powerful—Twilight called her “one of the most powerful unicorns of our time” quite often. But saving the world was something entirely different.
In the distance, Sunset heard somepony scream in pain before quickly falling silent. Everypony will die that way, Sunset realized. If she didn’t act now, then the entire world would fall apart like this. She felt a resolve grow in her heart. She had to try! If the princess believed in her, then she had to do her best. Not just for her, but for the entire world!
She took a deep breath, suppressing her fears and doubts. “What do I need to do?”
Twilight gave her a warm, encouraging smile. “Inside the Starswirl the Bearded Wing of the library is the large hourglass. It’s been enchanted to allow time travel, but only to those worthy of doing it—those with a righteous cause.” She paused to let out a harsh, wet cough. Blood spilled out of the corner of her mouth. She ignored it and continued. “You have the heart to activate it and travel back fifty years. That’s when all of this really began. If we had worked harder, paid more attention… none of this would have happened.” Twilight gave Sunset a pleading look. “Follow the Alicorn Amulet, destroy the Dark Regalia….” She broke into a fit of coughs once more as a loud, rumbling noise filled the air. “And whatever happens, don’t blame yourself!” She tried to raise her voice over the growing din.
The rushing wind roared as it evolved into a full blown tempest, creating miniature dust storms and tornadoes as lightning began to spark and crackle from the now pitch black clouds overhead.
The dark orb floating in the sky began to pulse faster, and a malevolent laugh issued from within it. Twilight’s eyes widened in panic and she released Sunset’s hoof. “You have to go now!” she urged before coughing up another pool of blood.
“But, princess—” Sunset was cut off by the maniacal laughter coming from the sphere of energy.
“YOU’RE MINE, TWILIGHT SPARKLE!”
A single, pointed, black whip shot down towards the two mares. Before Sunset could realize what was happening, the whip hooked into Twilight’s chest and dragged her up towards the black ball. “Go, Sunset, before it’s too late!” she cried as the tendril hoisted her up further into the sky. Her face contorted in pain as the whip twisted inside her chest, causing her to cry out in agony. She gave one last look to her student and, against the pain, mouthed, “Forgive me.”
“Princess!” Sunset screamed as the darkness swallowed the alicorn up. Laughter pealed through the air as the ground gave its most violent shake yet. The mountain face cracked and a gust of hot air issued forth, practically singeing Sunset’s mane. Realizing she had no time to mourn, Sunset took off into the crumbling castle, leaping over the piles of rubble and debris.
She galloped through the entrance hall, trying to only focus on getting to the hourglass. Twilight’s scream and Spike’s headless body kept flashing through her head, breaking her concentration.
She felt the earth shake as she ran up the stairs and leaned on the banister for support. It groaned loudly under her weight and snapped off, almost taking Sunset with it. She scrambled back away from the edge and forced herself to keep walking despite the shaking.
She heard a loud splintering noise and looked up in time to see a piece of the ceiling break away and fall towards her. She yelped and jumped forward, reaching the top of the stairs, narrowly avoiding being crushed. The piece of stone crashed into the stairs and reduced it to an ugly heap of carpet, wood and stone. Knowing things could only get worse, Sunset doubled her pace and continued onwards.
The trembling continued as Sunset ran through the eastern section of the castle. Cracks formed in the checkered marble tile beneath her. The stained glass windows had long since shattered, and pellets of fire were raining in, lighting the carpet and setting the hallways ablaze. The flames licked at Sunset’s coat, eager to wrap their incinerating tongues around her and add her to the inferno. With the intensity of the heat, water spells were all but impossible. The only drops of moisture to be found were the beads of sweat on Sunset’s face. The further she pushed into the castle, the more it felt like the inside of an active volcano.
She swung around a corner and continued her voyage into the inferno. The entire corridor shone in angry colors of orange and red. The heat caused the skin under Sunset’s coat to prickle intensely, as if she were being bitten by a colony of fire ants. Around her, the walls continued to crack and crumble as the fire wore away at its stability. One of the adjoining corridors had collapsed completely. Sunset thought she had seen a hoof sticking out from the ruins, but she had not stuck around to investigate.
She kept her head down, but even with her neckerchief on, Sunset was still swallowing lungfuls of hot, foul air. The clouds of ash obscured her eyes and clogged her throat, causing her to wheeze and gag. The world smelled of burning wood and charred plaster. It was nearly impossible to breathe; Sunset merely choked in what scraps of air she could and spat out excesses of smoke and dust.
She leapt over a burning rafter that had fallen down before charging up the spiral staircase that led to the higher floors of the castle, and closer to the library. Up there, the air wasn’t much better, but the hallways weren’t on fire yet.
Sunset charged through the corridors filled with so much smoke it was nearly impossible to see, forcing her to navigate by memory. She could feel the carpet beneath her and used it as a guide to help her maneuver through the smog. After stumbling around through the dark for what seemed like forever, Sunset found the wooden door she had been looking for. She broke into a run and threw her weight into the door, expecting it to open with ease. Instead Sunset rebounded off the door and fell onto her side, a dull ache in her shoulder.
She jumped up and fumbled with the door handle, shaking it violently in an attempt to pry it open. “Locked!” she said with disbelief. “Why is it locked?” She began to dance on her hooves in a tizzy, a sense of panic washing over her. “How else am I so supposed to get to the library when everything downstairs is on fire? Come on, Sunset, think, think!” She tapped a hoof against her forehead, blinked, then facehoofed. “Right, magic, duh.”
A bright teal glow enveloped her horn before surrounding the door in front of her. Sunset could hear a few small clicks before the sound of a large bolt sliding out of place echoed through the hall. She threw the door open and was met with a blast of scorching hot air.
Sunset stepped onto the skywalk bridging one part of the castle to the other, the howling tempest threatening to throw her off and down to the erupting earth beneath her. Above her, lightning danced across the black clouds, constantly blasting powerful arcs of electricity upon the surface below. Sunset took heavy steps across the high walkway, keeping an even pace as she went, slowed by the force of the wind. She was halfway to the library tower when a particularly strong gale threw her off balance. She brought a hoof down on thin air and slipped off the side of the skyway, grabbing hold of the edge before she could fall to her death.
Hanging for her life, Sunset’s mind was filled to the brim with fear as she struggled to pull herself up to safety. I’m going to die! I’m going to die! I can’t believe I’m going to die! The thought circled through her head, fueling her fear and weakening her grip. The wind decided then to tear her neckerchief off and toss it down to the burning streets. Sunset watched as it drifted down and out of sight, believing she would be next. She moved her gaze out to the city in front of her, watching as ponies continued fleeing in vain while the mountain bled magma, devastating the remainder of the city.
Looking up, Sunset saw the black sphere pulsing with red energy, giggling to itself. Her eyes narrowed and surge of anger rushed through her.
“You think this is funny?” she said with venom. “This is all just some joke to you?” Her panic and fear quickly fled, replaced by fury and adrenaline. With a mighty heave, Sunset pulled herself up back onto the skyway and glared up at dark object with a newfound resolve. There was no way she would let it have the last laugh.
She turned to continue to the library wing when a bright light exploded behind her and rocked the path. She swung around in time to see large cracks spiderweb from a central blast mark. A roar of thunder drowned out Sunset’s curse as she ran toward the tower. Pieces of concrete started to fall, first in small pieces, then large chunks as the bridge collapsed.
The cracks reached Sunset as she neared the door; the bridge was giving way faster than she could run. The stone spilled from underneath her and, she fell with it, dropping to the world below. A feeling of weightlessness settled into her stomach, and she let out a small shriek of terror, watching the ground rush up to meet her.
Don’t panic, just think! her mind scolded her. Pushing her fear aside, Sunset turned her head and saw a large piece of stone falling next to her. An idea struck her and she threw herself at the stone slab while lighting her horn. The rock slowed its descent and came to rest in the air with Sunset on top of it. With another burst of magic, her makeshift elevator began to sail upwards, bringing Sunset back to the tower door. She blasted it open and jumped through, landing on the carpet while releasing the rock from her magical grip, letting it fall once more.
She took a moment to calm her nerves before resuming her run to the hourglass. She carried on through a few unmarred corridors, ignoring the now constant vibrations from the ground. This section of the castle was eerily quiet. Even the howling wind was nothing more than a whisper to Sunset. On any other day, she would have found it peaceful; right now, it was only unnerving.
Turning a corner, Sunset finally found the barred doors to the Starswirl the Bearded Wing. Beyond the steel bars, she could see the hourglass with its golden handles and decorations, and the rows of books and scrolls. Other than the clouds of smoke, the room looked completely untouched.
She let out a sigh of relief at finally making it to her destination mostly unharmed. She closed her eyes and allowed her blue aura to envelop her entire body before she vanished with a flash and a pop, reappearing on the other side of the door.
Sunset gazed at the old hourglass, the beads of sand trickling down through the narrow tube, keeping time like nothing was wrong. How could it know it was ticking down the last remaining hours of the world? She put a hoof on the glass, and a thought struck her. Princess Twilight never told me how to work the hourglass! She felt a twinge of panic as she stared dumbfounded at the object looming over her. She knew a righteous heart would make it work, but how?
As she stood there thinking, a loud whistling sound screamed through the air. There was a flash of light followed by an explosion of noise, and Sunset found herself thrown backwards, slamming into one of the bookshelves. The heat intensified, and from beneath her eyelids, Sunset could see only shades of red. She opened her eyes and saw only bright spots, while her ears rang, drowning out the rest of the noise.
In front of her, a large gaping hole had been torn in the wall of the room. Flames ate at the books and scrolls, quickly fueling the raging fire. Sunset blinked until her vision returned before she scrambled to her hooves and pressed herself against the hourglass which was still unharmed. “How do I work this thing? Somepony, please, help me!” she cried, pressing her face against the glass.
A light began to shine from the bottom plate of the sandglass. Sunset pulled her head back and watched as words etched themselves into the golden rim.
User, if your intentions are good,
You won’t be misunderstood,
And time will lend a hand.
Just say the years,
Release your fears,
And flip the shifting sands.
Sunset quickly re-read it before the words vanished, leaving the decoration bare once more. The instructions had sounded simple enough until the last line. Sunset stared up at the tall hourglass before her and scowled in frustration. “How do I flip something this big?”
The fire had spread throughout most of the room now, creating a ring of flames around Sunset. Her skin was prickling madly from the heat, and the fumes were beginning to leave her dizzy.
She shook her head, trying to clear some of the fog in her brain. “Think, Sunset, what would Twilight do? Something amazing. I’ve got to do something amazing, but what? Come on, concentrate, I can do this!" Sunset closed her eyes, thinking back to her lessons with Twilight. She had to turn the hourglass over, but it was too large to levitate, what else could she do? Sunset's eyes snapped open as a lesson came back to her. "Aha!”
Struck by brilliance, Sunset backed up and lit her horn, shooting a beautiful ray of blue light at the hourglass. Wrapped in her aura, it began to shrink down from its original size. Everything compressed and miniaturized until it sat on the ground, no bigger than a book. Sunset scooped it up with a triumphant, “Ha-ha!”
The ongoing trembling gave way to a violent lurch, causing Sunset to tumble and lose her grip on her portable hourglass. She jumped after it, pinning it down with a hoof to stop it from rolling any further. The world lurched again, the earth seeming to moan in pain. Sunset felt everything begin to tilt as large fracturing sounds split the air. The tower leaned forward, causing Sunset to tumble head-over-hooves toward the hole in the wall as the room collapsed behind her.
The unicorn had nowhere to go as the room fell apart. She dragged a hoof across the floor as she slid down, catching herself on the ledge. In her other hoof was the hourglass, hanging over the fiery maw. A hailstorm of books dropped from above and pelted Sunset in an attempt to knock her down to the world below. One of the thicker tomes partially succeeded, as it managed to hit the hoof holding the hourglass, sending the timepiece spiraling out of her grip. Sunset gasped as she watched it fall off the mountainside. Her gasp turned into a yelp as the tower completely collapsed, throwing Sunset from her ledge.
She fell into the open air, screaming as the wind rushed past her, the ash stinging her eyes. Through her watery vision, she took in the unfolding scene around her. Not only had the tower collapsed, but the entire castle had been cast off of the mountain, falling into the abyss of fire below. Above her, the crack in the mountain face had widened, and lava spilled forth, incinerating the rest of Canterlot. The orb of darkness still hung in the air, distorted laughter coming from its depths.
Get the hourglass! A single thought urged. Get the hourglass and fix this! Sunset flipped over and faced the approaching sea of fire. To her far left, another column of magma broke through the earth, sending bits of flaming rock everywhere, yet Sunset phased it out. The adrenaline was roaring in her ears. She placed her forehooves at her side and pulled into a nosedive to increase her speed. Chunks of debris flew passed her as she searched for her only salvation. She spotted it a few yards ahead of her, falling next to the book that had knocked it from her grasp. She reached out for it with her magic just as a rock shot up and struck her on her horn, breaking her concentration and sending stars into her eyes.
Her horn throbbed violently, causing her to wince every time the pain pulsed. It was nearly impossible to cast magic now; she would have to catch the hourglass the hard way.
Blinking away the stars and tears, Sunset kept her eyes on her target, inching closer with each passing second. She maneuvered around a large oncoming boulder in time to see the ground far below her begin to crack, and lava begin to bubble up. Her eyes widened in realization of what was about to happen. She reached a hoof out for the hourglass that was just beyond her reach.
“Come on,” she said, urging herself to reach just a little farther. Sparks of lava began spitting out from the forming geyser below. “Come on, just a little bit more….” She gritted her teeth. Her hoof floated just above one of the handles. Her eyes darted from the hourglass to the pool of lava beneath her.
With a final thrust, Sunset snatched the timepiece out of the air and pulled it against her chest, shouting, “Fifty years! Please, take me back fifty years, so I can stop this from happening!” Praying to Celestia that it would heed her request, she flipped the hourglass over and waited on bated breath as the magma hissed beneath her, ready to erupt.
At first, she feared that nothing had happened, that Twilight had been wrong, and she had not been worthy to use the device after all. Then, all of the sand shot to the top bulb before fifty beads dropped down to the lower one. Sunset felt the world slow down around her. The wind dulled until not even a breeze was present. All of the sound had died away, leaving Sunset’s ears ringing with silence. Around her, everything had turned black and white before freezing in place. Sunset floated there, suspended in midair, the only drop of color amongst the monochrome landscape. Bricks and stones were all frozen in place, the fire and smoke stood immobile, all halted by the stoppage of time. She looked down and saw the spout of magma just a few yards away from her hooves.
Sunset listened to her steady heartbeat, the only source of noise in the silent realm. She was then aware that she hadn’t breathed in some time. She inhaled loudly, breathing in clean air for the first time in hours. Her breath of life seemed to set everything back into motion. Around her, a ticking noise—like that of a clock winding backwards—began to sound. All of the remains of the castle began falling in reverse, traveling back to their origin point. Sunset followed along with it, her body flying upwards as if propelled by the wind.
Time spun backwards, working faster and faster with each passing breath. Sunset blinked and found herself standing back in the Starswirl the Bearded Wing of the archives. The fire regressed, spitting out books and rolls of parchment before the hole in the wall repaired itself. The unicorn watched as her past self walked backwards from the hourglass and teleported into the hallway.
The reversal of time sped up. Sunset saw unicorns coming and going in and out of the archives. Many times she saw Princess Twilight walk in to grab a book or study some of the ancient tomes. From the skylight above, the sun rapidly blinked in and out of sight, its shadows dancing across the floor: proof that time was skipping backwards.
After what seemed like only a few seconds, everything began to slow down again. Color returned to the world, followed by sound. Outside, Sunset could hear blue jays singing mating calls. Her brain swam as she tried to adjust from her rapid time travel. Feeling her legs, she shakily walked over to the window and looked out onto the glorious world around her. The sun shone with a warm radiance as a fragrant wind blew across a crisp cerulean sky. Below her, she could see foals playing in one of the castle gardens. She took a deep breath and smelled the tantalizing aroma of Canterlot’s many eateries, inviting her down for a snack.
There was a knot of feelings balled up in her stomach as she took in everything. She had just come back from the End of the World. She had seen ponies die and her world catch on fire. Yet, here everything was safe and sound and unmolested. It hadn’t happened yet. Nopony here knew what awaited them fifty years down the road. Watching birds fly past the window, Sunset could hardly believe it herself, and she had just seen it.
Out of the knot in her stomach, a feeling of jubilation rose up through her. A silly grin spread over her face. “I did it.” She burst into a fit of laughter. “I did it! I traveled back in time!” She did a small victory dance, soaking in her accomplishment. Nopony had done what she just did. The farthest anyone had ever gone was a week, but she had gone back fifty whole years!
She stopped dancing and took a calming breath. “Okay, Sunset, you made it to the past, now you have to save the future.” She gave a nervous laugh. “Shouldn’t be too hard right? All I have to do is… what was it? ‘Find the Alicorn Amulet and destroy the Dark Regalia.’”
She paused. She had heard of the Alicorn Amulet before, but only in passing. As for the Dark Regalia, she had never heard of that before in her life. “Don’t panic, Sunset, you can do this. Just have to think.” She looked around at the collection of knowledge gathered about her. “I bet one of these scrolls can tell me about it.”
She never got the chance to search. As she stepped away from the window, a voice shouted, “Hey! What are you doing in there?”
She froze in place as a palace guard unlocked the door and marched inside looking upset, his patrol partner following close behind.
“Well? I asked you a question!” he barked. He stopped in front of Sunset and scanned her over, noting the dust blanketing her and the hourglass in her hoof. “So, breaking and entering, defacing property, and stealing; you’re in a lot of trouble, miss.”
Sunset gaped at him, her voice having departed in fear. Traveling fifty years into the past meant no one knew her. She was an outsider, and she had been found in one of the most important rooms in the castle. She swallowed a nervous lump in her throat as the guards reached for her. Yes, I’m in a lot of trouble.