Sunset of Time

by The Albinocorn


Chapter X: Divine Decree

Chapter X: Divine Decree

Eyes flying open, Sunset Shimmer awoke, snapping her head up only to be greeted with a horrible dizziness that left her nauseous. She fell back down, hitting her head against a cold, hard surface. She moved a hoof around in a questioning manner, her eyes growing accustomed to the dim lighting.

Sunset rolled onto her stomach, examining the stone floor beneath her. “Where am I?” She immediately broke into a coughing fit, her throat and mouth horribly parched. Spotting a silver dish nearby, Sunset sprung forward, plunging her face into a small pool of water. She rejoiced at the cool, refreshing liquid soothing her throat, relieving her of its scratchiness.

She quickly drained the bowl and licked her lips, desperate to catch as much excess water as she could. Her throat felt considerably better, but Sunset could feel her stomach constrict at the absence of any food. She struggled to her hooves, and was startled by the rattling sound that accompanied her actions. Looking down, Sunset saw her front hooves had been locked in tight manacles with chains leading to the floor. This can’t be good.

Her previous dizziness returning, Sunset staggered and leaned herself against the wall. Exhaustion and weariness gripped her, making her thoughts and actions sluggish. “Okay,” she said in a tired voice, “don’t panic. Just analyze the situation. Stone walls and floors, a water dish, chains…” She reached up and wasn’t shocked to find a magic suppression ring locked around her horn. In front of her, the bars of her cell were now visible in the darkness. With all the evidence around her, Sunset could conclude one thing:

She was in prison. Again.

The next thing Sunset noticed was the hourglass that she had grown so used to having around her neck was missing, no doubt taken away upon her imprisonment. She groaned and slid down the wall, too tired to stand any longer. Fragments of thoughts and memories drifted into her head, but Sunset couldn’t find anything that could explain why she had woken up in a prison cell.

“If I’m here, then where are the others?” Sunset had passed out in the heat of the San Palomino Desert, next to her friends. Whoever had taken her must have taken Spike and the rest of the girls. She stood up again, trying to get as close to the bars as she could. The chains snapped taut, halting her progress about halfway across the cell.

“Hello?” Sunset called into the dim gloom. The corridor separating the cells from each other didn’t have any lighting, save for a faint glow down one end of the hall. Peering through the darkness, Sunset could just barely make out the cell across from her. “Twilight? Anypony?”

Silence greeted her. Straining her eyes, Sunset could not make out any defining shadows in the other hold. She was alone.

Slumping back down, and too tired to properly panic, Sunset resumed trying to piece together what could have happened between the time she passed out and her awakening in a dungeon. She assumed she was somewhere in Los Pegasus, it being the only civilization near her previous location in the desert. But Sunset couldn’t find an explanation as to why she was incarcerated, and the rest of her friends were… somewhere else.

“Vesper Radiance wanted us dead, so it doesn’t make much sense for her to foalnap me. And she wanted me dead specifically, so that gives her less of a reason….”

Sunset couldn’t draw any concrete conclusions; there were far too many unknowns. She would just have to wait for somepony to come down and check on her… and hopefully bring her something to eat.

Fortunately, she did not have to wait long. The sound of a creaking door moaned through the hallways, and the faint light grew brighter as a burly pegasus stallion wielding a torch stepped into view. He was dark grey with a black mane and bristly mustache. On his back, to Sunset’s relief, were a pitcher of water and a loaf of bread.

He picked out a key from the set he was wearing around his neck and unlocked the cell door. He said nothing as he set the food down within Sunset’s reach, and turned to go.

“Wait,” Sunset called. “Why am in here? Where are my friends?”

The guard closed the cell door, locking it tight before he regarded her. “Friends? What friends?” he asked in a gruff voice.

“There were other ponies with me. Twilight Sparkle and the other Bearers of Harmony. Where are they?  

The pegasus gave a short laugh. “Is that what you call your captives, ‘friends'? That’s pretty sick of you.”

Sunset reeled back, her face a mask of pure confusion. “‘Captives’? What are you talking about?”

“Playing dumb won’t get you very far,” the guard said, walking away, taking the light of torch with him.

“Wait a minute!” Sunset tried to get closer to the front of her cell, but was hindered by the manacles around her ankles. Instead, she tripped and landed very awkwardly on her face. Scrambling back to her hooves, she yelled, “Come back! You’re not making any sense! Why am I in here? Who told you to arrest me?”

Sunset heard the door open, and the guard responded, answering only her last question. “Princess Celestia,” was all he said before the door slammed shut again.

Twilight hugged the white linen sheets lying across her. They felt so comfortable and warm; she just wanted to lie there forever. Unfortunately, a sharp cry of surprise woke her from her peaceful slumber. Twilight opened her eyes, blinking several times to get adjusted to the sudden burst of light. Rolling onto her back, Twilight noted the florescent light fixtures in the ceiling, and the smell of antiseptic in the air. Attached to her foreleg was an IV, dripping clear fluid into her veins.

“A hospital? Why would I be—”

“What’s going on? Where am I? What happened?” A familiar voice reached Twilight’s ears, appearing to come from just beyond a pale curtain that divided the room.

“Please, calm down, Ms. Dash, everything is fine!” a nurse said. Twilight could see her shadow trying to gently restrain a struggling Rainbow Dash.

“No it isn’t! My friends are in trouble! I was supposed to go get help—”

“Relax, all your friends are fine. See?” The nurse drew back the curtain and jumped a little when she saw Twilight staring at her with curious eyes. “Oh, you’re awake! See, Ms. Dash, everything is fine.”

Rainbow promptly ignored her. “Twilight, are you okay?”

Twilight sat up in her bed, resting against the soft pillows. She felt hungry and light-headed, most likely due from not eating, but otherwise she was fine. “Don’t worry, I’m okay. But, what happened? The last thing I remember was trying to cast a water spell, and then everything goes blank.”

Looking visibly relieved, Rainbow said, “You passed out. Applejack says it was because you were trying to do magic while overheated. Me and Spike flew the rest of the way to Los Pegasus… but I guess I was dehydrated too, because I don’t remember much after getting to the city limit.”

The nurse had moved over to Twilight’s bedside, checking the blinking monitors and changing Twilight’s IV bag. “I’m afraid you passed out too, dear. But that little dragon friend of yours got some help. He ran into one the desert patrol teams and got them to bring the rest of your friends to the hospital.”

Twilight felt herself grin, sinking further into her comfy bed. “Good job, Spike.”

Nodding, the nurse continued. “Poor thing though. That awful Sunset Shimmer must have done something to him and your two other friends. He actually tried to stop the guard from taking her off to jail.”

What?” Both Twilight and Rainbow’s expressions had jumped from relief to horror, and both were sitting upright with wings flared out.  

The nurse took two steps back, a look of apprehension on her own face. “Oh, no, they’re all fine, I assure you. They were probably just suffering from that horrible mare’s mind control spell.”

Rainbow stared at her slack-jawed, unable to form a sentence. Twilight was feeling the same level of confusion she was, and took a moment to gather herself before speaking. “Okay,” she said slowly, “back up a moment please. What is this about Sunset Shimmer and mind control spells?”

“Oh dear, well, you see—”

The door swung open, and a handsome, beige pony wearing a white coat and stethoscope stuck his head in. “Oh good, you’re awake, Princess. Right this way, Mr. Spike. Don’t worry, Nurse Tender Hoof, he won’t be a problem.” The doctor ushered in a baby dragon who made a beeline for Twilight’s bedside. “I’ll go check on the rest of the patients and be right back.”

The door shut behind the doctor, and Spike looked up at Twilight with doleful eyes. “Are you okay, Twi?”

“Just fine, you?”

Spike gave her a confident smile. “Never better.” His smile quickly faded. “But I think Sunset is in serious trouble! They took her off to jail, and everyone keeps saying she's evil. Just look at this!” He handed Twilight a rolled up piece of parchment that he had been hanging onto. “I’m pretty sure these are posted all over town.”

Twilight took the scroll and unrolled it with her magic, then gasped at what she saw. It was a rather unflattering picture of Sunset that had to have been taken during Twilight’s impromptu interview in Cloudsdale. The camera had caught Sunset standing in front of the library, looking like she was about to sneeze, though to anyone who didn’t know any better, it came off as an ugly sneer. Below the picture read:

By Royal Decree of Princess Celestia 

Wanted:

Sunset Shimmer

For the crimes of abducting Princess Twilight Sparkle and the Bearers of Harmony, and the destruction of the First Library of Cloudsdale.

If seen do NOT approach on your own. She is highly dangerous and is adept at casting powerful influencing magic. Report any sightings to the local guard immediately.

Twilight read and reread the paper in front of her, her eyes getting stuck on ‘Princess Celestia’ each time. Her brain did not seem to want to accept the fact that Princess Celestia, of all ponies, would frame Sunset for crimes she didn’t commit. Unless the Princess knew something Twilight didn’t. But even then, Twilight had been there at the scene of the crime; she had given an eyewitness account to Celestia herself. They all had.

‘Powerful influencing magic’... Was that it? Did Celestia suddenly have it in her head that Sunset had brainwashed them all?

“Twilight give it here, I can’t see it!”

Rainbow’s complaint snapped Twilight out of her thoughts. She levitated the scroll over to Rainbow who let out another cry of, “What!”

Spike nodded his head sagely. “It’s totally crazy, I know.” He pointed a claw at Nurse Tender Hoof who was looking suddenly unsure of everything around her. “She even tried to get me magically scanned for curses and stuff.”

“This piece of trash is saying Sunset foalnapped us, and then brainwashed us!” Rainbow said, outraged, holding the paper as far away from her face as she could, like it was ridden with some disease. “And Princess Celestia ordered her to be arrested! Something isn’t right here!”

“You’re right, Rainbow. Something is fishy, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it. But first, we have to get Sunset out of jail before they cart her off to Canterlot.” Twilight carefully removed the IV, wincing slightly at the unnatural feel of it sliding from her vein, and got out of bed, much to Nurse Tender Hoof’s chagrin.

“Please, Your Highness, I-I think you might still be confused about the whole situation.”

“I am not confused, Sunset is our friend, not some mind controlling witch. Come on, Rainbow, let’s go.”

Rainbow undid her own IV with less caution and scrambled out of bed as Nurse Tender Hoof feebly tried to block the door. “Even so, I think you still need rest. You were really dehydrated when you were brought in, and you still haven’t eaten anything.”

“Thank you for your concern and care,” Twilight said diplomatically. “We appreciate it, and I promise you, we’ll have a large meal later. But right now, if you could point me to the rest of my friends, we’ll be checking out.”

Nurse Tender Hoof jumped forward, nearly knocking into Twilight, as the door opened up behind her, letting in the doctor. He noted the two ponies out of their beds. “Is there a problem, Your Highness?”

Twilight shook her head. “No, sir. I just believe it is time for us to get going, I have… very important… princess things to do. Just tell me my friends are okay to go.”

The doctor gave her a stern look. “Well, your friends are awake and stable, but I highly suggest that you rest for the remainder of the night, Princess. I’m sure whatever it is you have to do can wait until morning.”

Twilight hadn’t even considered the time of day. The blinds had been drawn around the windows, blocking any view of the outside world. She held her gaze against the doctor’s disapproving look. “I’m sorry.” The image of Sunset alone in a prison filled Twilight’s thoughts. “But I don’t think it can.”

With a relenting sigh, the doctor stepped back into the hall, and out of Twilight’s way. “Very well, Your Highness. Right this way.”

Rainbow gave Twilight an approving grin before following the doctor out the door and down the hallway. They were led a few rooms down, coming to a stop at two doors labeled ‘Room 229’ and ‘Room 230.’

“Your friends only suffered minor cuts and bruises along with their dehydration,” the doctor said, “so they’re free to check out. Still, I would feel more comfortable if you—”

“Thank you, doctor, for all your hard work,” Twilight cut in. “We really appreciate it.” Twilight gave him a sincere smile before entering the first room, with Rainbow and Spike in tow.

Applejack and Rarity sat inside the sterile room, resting on their respective beds. A table with a large pitcher of water and a bowl of apples sat in between them. The small conversation between them immediately stopped upon the entry of their friends. Applejack stood up first, rushing to pull everyone into a hug.

“Thank goodness you two are alright,” she said, addressing Twilight and Rainbow. “We got real worried when Spike came back without you, Dash.”

“Heh, yeah,” Rainbow laughed awkwardly. “Guess I pushed myself too hard again.”

“Still,” Rarity said, making her way across the room, “if it weren’t for you and Spike, who knows what would have happened.” She joined in on the group hug before leaning down until she was eye level with Spike. “You’ve helped save the day again, Spikey-Wikey.” She leaned forward and pecked him on the cheek, leaving Spike in a very dazed state as he numbly reached up and held the spot Rarity’s lips had graced him.

“Alright, girls, we have to get Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie, and get out of here,” Twilight said, breaking away from Applejack and Rainbow. “You girls were awake when they took Sunset away, right?”

Applejack scoffed. “‘Course we were. Them desert patrol ponies found us and started helping us back to the city, goin’ on about how we were lucky to be alive and such. Then the one carryin’ Sunset turns down the other road! Me, Rares, and Spike start askin’ where he was takin’ her, and they all start spoutin’ some nonsense about her bein’ evil and how we must still be under her spell or somethin’.”

Rarity shook her head. “We tried to put up a fight, but they all insisted we just needed bed rest and magical examination for curses and whatnot. Though I would think the proof is in the pudding, as they all came back blank. Yet according to all the wanted posters, this whole city is under the delusion that Sunset is a wanted criminal.”

“Why would the princess do somethin’ like this, Twilight?” Applejack asked, picking her hat up from the bedside table.

Twilight took another look at the poster. “That’s just it. I don’t think she did.”

“What, you think someone forged this to set Sunset up?” Rainbow asked.

“I think it’s a very strong possibility. But first, let’s check on Pinkie and Fluttershy. I want to make sure they’re okay.”

The ponies filed out of the room, save for Spike who had become immobile. He continued to stand with his hand on his cheek and a lovestruck expression on his face.

Unable to resist a chuckle, Twilight lifted him onto her back. “Come on, Casanova.”

As they entered the next room, their eyes were met with a colorful flotilla of assorted balloons shaped into various animals and figures. Pinkie lay on her bed, twisting her newest balloon into a giraffe figure, while a party hat sat on her head.

Fluttershy, in the meanwhile, sat upright in her own bed, sipping on a bottle of water and politely minding her business. 

Pinkie accidentally let go of her unfinished balloon at the sight of her friends entering, allowing it to fly around the room, squealing as it deflated.

“Oh goodie, goodie, you’re all here! Fluttershy and I were just talking about you guys! I wanted to have a little party celebrating us getting out of that hot desert, then I thought, ‘hey, desert sounds like dessert,’ so I wanted to have a ‘hot desert dessert party’ with hot cakes, and hot fudge sundaes and créme brule! But Fluttershy said the nurses probably wouldn’t let us have all that in here, so I made balloon animals instead!” The deflated giraffe took Pinkie’s momentary pause to land on her snout. “Hey, wait a minute! Eeny, meeny, miny, moe—where’s Sunny?”

“Jail,” Rainbow said flatly.

Pinkie looked over to Fluttershy. “Wow, how long were we asleep?”

“Here,” Applejack handed the paper over to Pinkie, “this might explain a few things.”

Pinkie scanned over the paper and let out a gasp, eyes bugging out of her head. “Hey, this is slander! Lies and slander!” Pinkie shouted, waving the paper around. “Fluttershy, do you remember being kidnapped?”

“Um, no.”

“Exactly! I smell a conspiracy, and it doesn’t smell like the good kind!” Pinkie somersaulted out of bed, landing on her back hooves before wobbling and falling on her face. She got up, acting like nothing happened and pointed to the door. “Come on, girls, we have to go break Sunset out of jail, and I know just how to do it! We’re going to need grappling hooks, an air horn, two shovels, and some spy suits!”

Twilight put a hoof on her shoulder. “Uhh, how about we try to solve this diplomatically before we jump to drastic measures.”

“Aww, but I like drastic measures…”

Much like Canterlot, Los Pegasus was abuzz with activity even at night. So many buildings were lit up that it was hard to see the stars overhead. Chariots raced back and forth across the main roads, carrying late night tourists and well-to-do ponies, while on the sidewalk, drunken ponies staggered around, stumbling into the lamp posts that lined the streets.

Unlike Canterlot, trash and other discarded filth littered the streets in abundance, lining the gutters and cluttering the storm drains. Old gum decorated the cement sidewalks, giving it a black polka-dotted appearance. Twilight grimaced when she stepped on a rather fresh wad of gum, quickly scraping her hoof on the curb.

“I knew Los Pegasus wasn’t known for being the cleanest city in Equestria, but is it too much to ask for ponies to put their gum in the trash?” Twilight asked with disgust.

A passing stallion handed Rarity a flyer before taking off down the road. With a single glance, Rarity made a horrified, gagging expression and dropped it to the floor, like she was expecting the paper to catch on fire. “And their taste in entertainment is… questionable.”

Twilight and the others looked down at the paper and made similar expressions. On it was a scantily clad pegasus in a very inviting position with several muscular earth ponies around her.

“Yeah, L.P. isn’t exactly the most family friendly city,” Rainbow said from her overhead perch.

Applejack quickly averted her eyes. “That’s one way of puttin’ it.”

The group continued their wandering down the city streets, now on guard for any shady ponies lurking just outside the lights of the streets lamps, wary to anything else that might be advertised to them.

Twilight couldn’t help but feel dwarfed by the size of the buildings around her. Each one had to be at least six stories tall, with dozens of them extending far beyond that, scraping against the very night sky. Most of them were blocky, giving them appearances of radiant dominoes.

Every so often, a pony would come up and bow to Twilight, offering praise or congratulatory words, which Twilight found more flattering than awkward, seeing as she did not know any of these ponies personally. Some of them even offered condolences for the recent “ordeal” she had just gone through, and Twilight got tired of explaining it was all a misunderstanding after the fourth one. But then there were several who outright ignored Twilight as she passed by, which Twilight wouldn’t have minded if it weren’t for the evil eye some of them seemed to be giving her. It finally became apparent to Twilight that not everypony was excited to have a new princess when a raggedy earth pony walked up and spat in her face.

Quicker than lightning, Rainbow smashed the stallion to the ground, placing him in a tight choke hold. “Apologize! Apologize right now!” she screeched, fuming.

“Yeah, just like a princess, sending somepony to do the work for you while you reap the benefits,” he said between wheezes. “Are you going to banish me because I won’t kiss your gold horseshoes?”

Rainbow visibly increased the pressure of grip. “Quit talking, or you’ll be lucky to get banished.”

“Let him go, Rainbow.”

Rainbow looked dumbfounded. “But Twilight he—”

“I know,” Twilight said, wiping the spit off her cheek. “But please, let him go.”

Giving the stallion one last repulsed look before letting his head drop to floor, Rainbow got up and took a defensive stance in front of Twilight.

Watching the earth pony stand up and regain his breath, Twilight said, “I’m sorry you feel that way, sir. Is there anything I can do to change how you feel?”

“You can drop off the face of the earth!” he snarled, before stomping away.

“That’s it!” Rainbow made to lunge after him, but Twilight’s magic grabbed her by the tail and held her in midair.

“No, Rainbow, it’s fine. Some ponies just don’t like change, and that’s okay. I realized that I don’t need to have everypony like me; I have all of you guys, and my family, and Ponyville. That’s more than enough.” She turned and smiled at the rest of them. “Your opinions are the only ones I care about.”

“Well, sugarcube, ya handled that a lot better than Ah would have,” Applejack said warmly. “Ah’m mighty proud of ya.”

“As am I.” Rarity put a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “I told you you’d make a good princess.”

Rainbow crossed her hooves, looking disgruntled. “He still shouldn’t have spat on you.”

Twilight shuddered. “I’ll admit, that was uncalled for, but we can’t beat him up over it.”

“Says you.” Rainbow saw Twilight’s disapproving look and gave a relenting sigh. “Fine, fine. Let’s just go before somepony does something I’ll make them regret.”

Twilight, warmed by Rainbow’s devotion, continued to lead them down the streets of Los Pegasus, going off the directions to the jailhouse the receptionist at the hospital’s front desk had given them. Along the way, Twilight spotted several more of the wanted posters for Sunset Shimmer decorating the sides of buildings and light posts.

Refusing to believe that Celestia had ordered for Sunset’s arrest, Twilight silently tried to piece together her own conclusions.

The only pony I can think of who would do this is Vesper Radiance, but she sent griffons after us in the desert with the intention of killing most of us, Sunset included. This must be a backup plan. But why single out Sunset? How does Vesper even know who she is? Technically, Sunset doesn’t exist yet.

Twilight continued her ponderings until they arrived at the jailhouse, a comparatively small, grey building compared to the towering buildings around it.

Stepping inside onto the checkerboard patterned floor, Twilight took in the bland waiting area. The walls inside were almost as grey as the walls outside. There were a few chairs around a small table with a potted plant, the room’s only decorative feature other than the desk at the back of the room, where a grey pegasus sat reading the evening paper.

“Excuse me, sir,” Twilight said, approaching the counter. She eyed the name plate and quickly identified him as Officer Cold Steel.

“Oh, Princess Twilight!” He put the paper down. “It’s good to see you’re alright. What can I do for you today, Your Highness?”

“Do you have Sunset Shimmer in your custody?” Twilight cut to the chase.

Cold Steel nodded. “Don’t worry, Princess, that mare can’t hurt you anymore. In fact, I just got a letter from the mayor saying there’ll be someone to pick her up and take her to Canterlot within the hour.”

“That’s just it. Sunset hasn’t hurt anyone; she’s innocent.”

“Yeah,” Pinkie jumped in, “Sunny never foalnapped us, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t set the library on fire, but I’m not entirely sure since I wasn’t there, but I don’t know why she would, she looks like she likes reading as much as Twilight does. And she definitely didn’t brainwash us, ‘cause I would know if somepony washed my brain.”

“Forgive me, Your Highness, but I can’t let her go. She’s been deemed a Level One Threat and I have strict orders not to release her until the appropriate party comes.”

Twilight could feel herself starting to grow impatient. “But I told you, Sunset isn’t a threat, she’s being framed.”

With a slight roll of his eyes, Cold Steel said, “Well, unless you have some proof, I’m afraid Shimmer is staying here.”

“Proof?” Rainbow said with an indignant tone. “How about the fact that we, the ones who were supposedly ‘foalnapped,’ are saying she’s innocent; is that proof enough for you?”

“Listen,” Cold Steel was now visibly becoming annoyed, “Sunset Shimmer is a wanted criminal, put on alert by Princess Celestia herself, I—”

“I order you,” Twilight said softly.

Cold Steel blinked. “Pardon?”

Raising her voice and bringing herself to her full height, Twilight said, “As Princess of Equestria, I, Twilight Sparkle, order you to release the ‘criminal’ Sunset Shimmer into my custody.”

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Cold Steel could only fidget nervously as he weighed his options. In the end, he sighed deeply and pulled out a form from under his desk. “Just fill this out, please, Your Highness,” he asked before walking through the door behind him.

“Wow, Twilight, way to show him!” Rainbow cheered. “That’s how you put someone in their place.”

Twilight blushed, taking a quill and filling out the release paper. “It was nothing; I’d do the same thing for any of you.” Still, Twilight couldn’t ignore the small sense of pride she had for herself. I just gave my first royal decree…

Calling Sunset furious would be an understatement. She was livid. It was a rage that she could only take out on her bread as she tore off large chunks of it and chewed as angrily as she could.

“I don’t understand,” she muttered between mouthfuls. “Why would Celestia want me arrested!”

I told you she would double-cross you. You’ve displeased her.

“Oh great, you’re back! This just keeps getting better!” Sunset slumped against the wall, shoving the last piece of bread into her mouth before washing it down with a long draught of water from the steel pitcher. She tossed it aside when she had drained it empty, allowing it to clang loudly against the hard floor.

Sunset had tried to ignore her hatred for Celestia. She had reasoned with it, analyzed it, listed every reason why she shouldn’t hate her. But now, the hatred that burned in her heart was justified. It was as if a piece of Sunset had finally been set free and was now celebrating a victory. Celestia had thrown Sunset in jail for no reason. Now Sunset could hate her without needing an explanation.

But maybe it’s a mistake, part of her still tried to reason. Maybe the guard was lying. Celestia wouldn’t throw me in jail without a reason.

She’s scared of you. Scared of your true power and what it could truly mean. A cutie mark shaped like a sun? She’s afraid you’ll overpower her and take the throne.

That’s ridiculous! Celestia isn’t some paranoid conspiracy theorist! Besides, why would I want the throne?

Because, it’s rightfully yours.

Sunset slammed the back of her head against the wall. “Okay, no more conversations with myself. I’m starting to freak me out.” She quickly raised a hoof and grabbed the back of her head. “Ow, ow, ow, bad idea!”

As Sunset sat there waiting for the pain to subside, she heard the door open again, and watched as the guard who had dropped off her food return and unlock her cell door.

“Well, looks like you’re free to go,” he said dismissively, unlocking the manacles around her hooves.

“Really?” Ha, I knew it was a mistake! Sunset then raised an eyebrow in suspicion. “Wait, why?”

“Because Princess Twilight ordered you into her custody, even though the mayor told me to wait until the specially assigned unit arrived. But I’m pretty sure Princess beats mayor.”

Sunset smiled from ear to ear. “I knew Twilight would bail me out!” Sunset jumped up, feeling the freedom of not having her hooves locked down. “Hey, aren’t you going to take this off too?” She pointed to the inhibitor ring still around her horn.

“I’ll remove it out front,” he said curtly.

“Why, afraid I’ll hex you or something?”

“Just walk before I keep you in here for contempt.”

Sunset held her tongue and trotted as quickly as she could down the dim corridor and pushed the door open, stinging her eyes with the bright light of the front room.

“Sunny!” Sunset’s vision was suddenly filled with something very pink, and she found the wind squeezed out of her lungs.

“It’s okay, Sunset! You don’t have feel isolated, we’re here for you! We’ll help you get readjusted to life outside.”

“Pinkie, I was only in there for a few hours… I think.”

Pinkie released Sunset from her ironclad grip, allowing Sunset to breathe once more. “Oh yeah. Still, it’s so good to see you!”

“Finished!” Sunset heard a voice call, and turned her in time to see Twilight slap a quill down against the front desk and slide a piece of paper forward.

The guard took the paper and read through it at, what Sunset felt, was a snail’s pace.

“Alright,” he said, putting the paper down and pulling out a set of metal tongs. “Let me remove the ring, and you’re free to go.”

Sunset stood perfectly still as Cold Steel clamped the tongs around the inhibitor ring and slid it off her horn. She instantly felt a surge of power flow through her, like someone had just given her the kiss of life. Magic crackled at the tip of her horn, making Cold Steel jump back in fright.

Giving a slight smirk at his distress, Sunset held out her hoof and said, “You also have my hourglass. I want it back, if you don’t mind.” There was no way she could leave without her only ticket home.

Grumbling, Cold Steel retreated back to his desk and pulled the golden hourglass out from underneath. Sunset yanked it from his grasp with her magic, ignoring the small jump he gave at the sudden intrusion.

“Thank you for your services,” Sunset said, draping the timepiece back around her neck where it belonged. “Have a nice night.” With that, she turned on her hooves and marched out of the building surrounded by her friends who pulled her into a warm group hug the second the doors had shut behind them.

“Goodness, darling, you had us worried for a moment. I thought the next time we might see you, it would be across prison bars,” Rarity said.

“Yeah, I was pretty worried myself,” Sunset agreed. “But, I never doubted you guys would come for me.”

“Yeah, you should have seen it!” Rainbow circled overhead, flaring her wings. “Twilight totally went full princess power to get you out!”

Sunset broke away from the others and looked at Twilight. “Really? You did that for me?”

“Well, yes,” Twilight said demurely. “You are my friend after all. Besides, I couldn’t have you go to prison for something you didn’t do.”

“Oh yeah, can someone fill me in on what exactly I didn’t not do?” All Sunset still knew was that Princess Celestia had wanted her arrested.

Spike handed her the rolled up parchment from atop Twilight’s back. “We think it was a setup. Princess Celestia wouldn’t do something like this.”

Hearing Celestia’s name caused Sunset to snatch the paper with more force than she meant to. She unrolled the paper and read the notice, stopping to examine the crude picture taken of her. Now that Sunset thought about, if Celestia really wanted her, she would have just come and taken her herself.

“Well, Sunset, what do you think?” Twilight asked.

The sound of a growling stomach beat Sunset to the punch. “Heh, I think I’m still hungry.”

“Best answer Ah’ve heard all night.” Applejack grinned. “C’mon, let’s get some grub.”

“Pardon, Applejack, but you seem to be forgetting that we don’t have any money,” Rarity intervened, sounding dejected all the same.

“Don’t worry, girls,” Twilight said, leading them down the street once more. “I think I can bend a few rules, just this once.”

Spiked grabbed his rumbling stomach. “Thank goodness, ‘cause I’m starving.”

“So.” Pinkie bounced along next to Sunset. “Do you have any cool prison stories? Ooh, ooh, did you get any tattoos?”

“Pinkie, I was only in there for a few hours,” Sunset said, crumpling up the wanted poster and tossing it into a nearby trash can.

“Oh yeah.”

Letting out a content sigh, Sunset reclined in her chair, an act mimicked by everyone around the table. Empty dishes were piled all around, practically licked clean of all food. It was especially true in the case of Pinkie, who seemed determine to sop up every last bit.

After asking around, Twilight had led them to the fanciest hotel in the city, The Promenade, where, after a small display of princess persuasion and a promise to be repaid by the royal treasury, everyone was treated to an outstanding gourmet dinner.

Their table sat out on the terrace of the hotel’s restaurant, overlooking the Los Pegasus Strip. Shining like a brilliant star, the Strip could be mistaken for its own city, when, in actuality, it was Los Pegasus’ largest attraction other than Applewood, which sat on the opposite hill. Assorted buildings of vibrant colors and fantastic shapes clustered together to make the Strip, making the rest of the city look dull by comparison.

Sunset tore her eyes away, growing too tired to dream of the amount of fun that could be had down in one of the various theme hotels and casinos. Instead she let her eyes wander a bit closer to home, though, other than the large koi fish pond nearby, there wasn’t much else to look at. It being so late, there was only one other couple out on the terrace with them, no doubt just returning from a gambling exposition. Sunset watched as they finished paying the check and got up to depart, leaving behind the day’s paper. Sunset was just about to turn away when something in the paper caught her eye.

She levitated the page over and fully examined the header, reading:

Unicorn Couple Missing from Hollow Shades. Police Suspect Murder.

Late last night, the sleepy community of Hollow Shades received a terrifying wakeup call when several reports of screaming were filed to the police office, finally ending with a missing ponies report. At approximately five-thirty in the morning, ponies Morning Glory and Midnight were announced missing.

“My cat was yowling at me to let her outside, so I got up to open the door when I started to hear a mare scream,” says Shades resident, Thorny Rose. “I was so terrified; I didn’t know what to do.”

“I lived across the street from the old couple,” neighbor Wind Whistler reports. “They were nice enough, mostly kept to themselves. I don’t know who would want to hurt them.”

Detectives arrived on scene to find no evidence of breaking and entering, however, there were several traces of blood from both ponies, though no physical weapon was found.

Investigator Wide Lens says, “There’s a possibility that the assaulter took the weapon with them, but we have a high suspicion that this was done by a unicorn. Sadly, we aren’t too confident that they are alive.”

With no suspect, Hollow Shades is in a state of panic.

“We acknowledge that this is a worrying situation, but we encourage everypony to remain calm and try to go about their usual lives, albeit with a little more caution.”

“What is that, Sunset?”

Sunset snapped her head up, catching Twilight examining the back of the newspaper. Luckily, everyone else seemed to be in their own worlds, their eyes glazed over from their meals. “It’s nothing right now,” Sunset said, folding the paper up and putting it back on the other table. “I’ll tell you later.”

Twilight shrugged and resumed sipping her fruit punch, leaving Sunset with a moment to herself. Morning Glory and Midnight. The two names almost sounded familiar, like Sunset had known them from somewhere. Did they do something important? Maybe they’re names in my history books. She yawned, her brain beginning to grow fuzzy. She could dwell on it later.

Rainbow shifted in her seat, patting her full stomach. “That was the best idea ever.”

“Well, don’t get used to it,” Twilight warned. “Part of me still doesn’t feel comfortable doing this, but this was an emergency.”

“Then we should totally get lost in the desert more often. What, I’m joking!” she quickly added, seeing everyone’s expression.

“Well, I don’t know about all of you, but I am going to take a nice, long bath and go to sleep,” Rarity said, her smile getting wider at the very prospect of being clean again.

Fluttershy let out a dreamy sigh. “A bath sounds wonderful right now. Thank you so much for giving us separate rooms, Twilight.”

“Well, I figured you’d all want to clean up after what we just went through. This way, no pony has to wait in line.” She yawned and stretched her forelegs. “I plan on doing the same thing after I write a letter to Princess Celestia.”

Applejack found a leftover cherry lying on her plate and popped it into her mouth. “Yeah, Ah reckon a letter to the Princess about everything that’s happened is probably a good idea.”

With all of their evening plans decided, everypony got up from the table, with Twilight having to carry a sleeping Spike on her back. They exited the terrace and headed for the main lift, crowding inside and waiting as it slowly crawled up to the tenth floor. A long carpeted, corridor greeted them upon arrival, with brightly polished wooden doors on either side.

One by one, the ponies found their rooms, bidding each other goodnight in a quick but earnest fashion, each wanting to get to the shower as soon as possible. Soon, there was only Sunset and Twilight left standing across from each other at the entrance to their respective rooms.

“So, are you going to tell me what you were reading?” Twilight asked politely.

Sunset shook her head. “I’ll tell you in the morning. It’s kinda depressing. But, let’s just say I know what Vesper Radiance was up to while we were in the desert. I just don’t know why.”

“Oh. Well, if you think it could wait….”

“Trust me, you’ll sleep better.”

There was long drawn pause between the two ponies, with both of them absentmindedly looking up and down the corridor trying to find something to say. Their silence was only broken by Spike’s light snoring.

Twilight pawed at the ground and said, “Well, I guess we should head to bed. It’s been a long day—oof!”

Sunset had flung her forelegs around Twilight, pulling her into a tight embrace. “I never really got the chance to say thank you. What you did means a lot to me. I know you aren’t used to the princess role yet, so…”

“Actually, I have a little more confidence now after all of this, so I guess I should be thanking you.” Twilight chuckled, returning the hug. “Um, not that I want you to get arrested again or anything,” she added.

Sunset laughed and let go, brushing a stray piece of hair out of her eyes. “Yeah, let’s hope that doesn’t happen again. Twice is more than enough for me.”

“Twice?”

“I’ll tell you later.” Sunset pushed open her room door, flashing Twilight one last smile. “Goodnight… Princess.”

Twilight gave a playful smirk in return. “Goodnight, my faithful student.”

Closing the door, Sunset leaned against the doorframe for a moment, savoring those last words. “She called me her faithful student.” It had felt like an eternity since Sunset had heard those words, and the last time she had heard them, they were part of Twilight’s dying breath. It was a wonderful feeling, hearing them again, sending a jolt of pride through Sunset’s heart. She would always be faithful to Twilight, and now she knew Twilight, without a doubt, would do anything for her too.

Razor grabbed Cold Steel by the throat and flung him across the room, watching as he upended the table, falling into a crumpled heap amongst the splintered remains. The potted plant that had previously made its home there came crashing back down on top of the stallion’s head.

“What do you mean she’s not here?” Razor roared.

“T-The Princess came and took her,” Cold Steel slurred, massaging the large bump on his head.

Still fuming, Razor marched over and pinned Cold Steel against the wall, holding a dagger to his throat. “Where did they go?” he asked his voice dangerously low.

“I-I don’t know, I swear!”

“Wrong answer!” Razor jerked the dagger in his hand, silencing the pegasus and ending his struggle to escape. Letting the body slide down the wall, Razor turned back to his waiting crew. Seven griffons looked back at him with uncertain looks.

Eliza raked her claws across the wooden desk. “This job was supposed to be easy; we had her in the palm of our hands.”

“Yeah,” another agreed. “What are we supposed to tell the boss now?”

“Carrow, you idiot, we aren’t going to tell her anything!” Razor snapped. “You saw what she did to Jasper.”

All of the griffons shuddered at the memory of what had happened to their half-winged crew member.

“No,” Razor said, shaking his head. “No, we don’t tell her anything. If she finds out we let her set up go to waste, she’ll tan all our hides. We just gotta find those ponies tonight and slaughter them in their sleep.”

Carrow raised a claw. “But, Captain, they could be anywhere in this city. Where do we start looking?”

Razor stroked his scarred face, contemplating the numerous locations a pony could hide. He snapped his claws as an idea came to him. “That purple one’s a princess ain’t she? Royalty gets all kinds of special treatment. We just have to find the ritziest hotel in this joint, and I bet we’ll find the whole lot of them.”

The rest of them nodded in agreement. It was sound logic, and the only plan they had. Razor pushed past them, heading out the door and taking off into the night sky.

“And then, I’m going to murder that little runt. No one makes a fool outta me.”