Sunset of Time

by The Albinocorn


Chapter XIV: Crimson Onslaught

Chapter XIV: Crimson Onslaught

An iron curtain had fallen around the cavern, crushing even the turbulent clamor of the twister. Everyone’s attention shifted between Sunset Shimmer and the mare who looked just like her.

Fear bubbled in Sunset’s stomach, churning around to the point of nausea. Her throat constricted, her breath expelling in uncontrollably short puffs of air as she stared at her doppelganger. The resemblance was perfect—like looking into a mirror. Same eyes, same snout, same hair color and style. Sunset would even wager that underneath the black cloak, they had the same cutie mark. The only difference was the haughty smirk on the other Sunset’s face.

She tried to wrap her mind around what she beheld, but every thought just slipped out of her head. Sunset took a step back, her breathing becoming further labored. She wanted the world to stop—to freeze just long enough so she could piece everything together, answer the barrage of questions raiding her mind. How could there be two of her? Why did the mare they had been so desperately chasing after share her face? The memories and feelings Sunset had been experiencing: did they belong to her instead? Could she really be the other Sunset Shimmer from her dreams?

Deep within, she could feel her very soul trembling, quivering in abject horror yet radiating the sense of recollection that had led her this far. It was almost overbearing, clouding her senses and riddling her mind with indiscernible flashes of memories, both familiar and unknown to her. The corners of her lips twitched upwards, wanting to curl into the same dark grin plastered on Vesper Radiance’s face. Sunset wanted to hate… wanted to throw away the painful notions of love and just despise the world with her entire heart. She wanted to prove that she was strong—the strongest! That she was superior in every way conceivable! She wanted to be immortal!

She wanted to be loved…

No! Stop it! Sunset willed herself to pull out of the estranged feelings, dragging herself back to the present situation. Those weren’t hers—she didn’t hate anything, she didn’t want to be immortal, and she was already loved. Still, it was like being pulled in two directions, the essence of her being trying to split itself apart. With a heaving gasp, Sunset aimed her focus on the pony before her, forcing herself to look her in the eyes.

Those mad, hateful eyes...

Finally, Pinkie raised a hoof. “I’m confused! How can there be two Sunsets?”

The mare they knew as Vesper Radiance eyed all of them. “How indeed?” Her tone also differed from Sunset’s, carrying a more self-important tone. She began to pace the floor, focusing her gaze on Sunset. “I’ve been wondering that since I first saw you in Cloudsdale. You’re practically a perfect copy. But I hate copycats.” She stopped and leaned forward, her sinister smirk widening. “So what are you? A changeling? An automaton? Or did Celestia miss me so much that she made a clone of me?”

“Miss you?” Twilight cut in. “Why would Celestia miss you—who are you?”

Vesper threw her head back and laughed. Vastly different from Sunset’s own, it was cruel, full of arrogance and malice. “Of course she wouldn’t tell you anything about me. She never could admit when she had made a mistake.” Her eyes found Twilight’s and she said, “Perhaps I should fully introduce myself. I am Sunset Shimmer, former student of Princess Celestia and rightful inheritor of the Equestrian Throne!”

“Rightful inheritor….” Twilight shook her head. “What do you mean you’re Princess Celestia’s former student? She’s never mentioned you! Besides—” she placed a hoof on Sunset’s shoulder “—the real Sunset Shimmer is my student from the future.”

Sunset stood a little taller, her heart swelling with pride.

Vesper only laughed again, the acoustics of the cave seemingly multiplying her presence. “Is that the crap she told you? And you bought it? Well, either she’s a really good actress, or you’re just incredibly stupid, Princess.” She held a hoof to her head and sighed. “Oh, Celestia, once again you’ve picked a complete dunce. What could you possibly see in her that I lack?”

Rainbow Dash eased to her hooves, wiping off the blood that stained the fur around her head. “Keep insulting her and you’ll find out the hard way!”

“Hmph, you should really give your attack dog a muzzle and leash before she does something you’ll all regret,” Vesper said coolly.

“Why you!” Rainbow made to fly at Vesper again, but Applejack quickly caught her by the tail, filling her mouth with hair.

“Crful, R.D. Tis gurl aredy neled you onfe.”

“That’s right, be a good doggie and let the big ponies talk.” Vesper smirked at Rainbow’s look of pure apathy. “Though I suppose the pegasus has a point.” She smiled viciously at Twilight. “The truth of the matter is that I find you fascinating, Twilight Sparkle. You’ve done so much in such a short time. Vanquished Nightmare Moon, re-imprisoned Discord, defended Canterlot from an invasion and helped save an entire empire… all leading up to your crowning moment: becoming an alicorn and seating yourself amongst royalty… right next to Celestia,” she said bitterly. “Tell me, Princess, what’s it like knowing you’re so much better than everypony else?”

Twilight folded her ears. “I-I’m not better, I mean… I don’t think I’m better than anypony.”

“Really? You stand at the front of your friends, wield the Element of Magic, and trump them all with the title of ‘Princess of Equestria.’ You’re so humble to think you aren’t better than all of them?” Vesper asked with smug skepticism.

“I-I….” Twilight narrowed her eyes and stomped a hoof. “No! Wings and a title don’t mean anything around them! They’re my friends, and they’ll always be my equals! I wouldn’t have been able to do any of those things without them!”

Vesper held a hoof over her heart and gave a look of feigned empathy. “Aww, that’s so sweet, I think I want to puke.” Her face returned to a calm mask of neutrality. “But you’re right about one thing, Twilight Sparkle: you aren’t better. Compared to me, you are nothing! Nothing but a thief stealing what’s rightfully mine and a coward hiding behind her friends. Magical talent is wasted on you.”

“Oh yeah?” Spike shouted. “Twilight is the strongest unico—wait… third strongest alicorn in Equestria! Her magic could beat yours any day!”

“Perhaps you should muzzle him too,” Vesper said. “Very well, let’s see just what you’re capable of, Princess. Let’s see how great Twilight Sparkle’s magic truly is!” Both her horn and the Alicorn Amulet around her neck began glowing a deep shade of red. Sparks of electricity danced all around her while her eyes widened in maniacal glee.

“Come, show me why she favors you!” Vesper roared. A crimson beam of energy discharged from her horn, heading directly for Twilight.

Twilight threw up a shield but visibly flinched under the sheer power Vesper was exerting. Coming fully out of her tranced state, Sunset reinforced the shield, teal and magenta overlapping each other. Twilight gave her a quick look of appreciation before lowering her layer of the shield and quickly preparing a counter spell. A subtle wink from her and Sunset dropped the shield, allowing Twilight to fire a beam of her own.

Two waves of energy crashed together, lighting the room up in shimmering waves of purple and red. The two powers were evenly matched, battling right at the center of the cavern.

“That’s it!” Vesper’s mask of neutrality vanished, replaced by arrant thrill, delirium dancing in her tiny pupils. “Show me everything! I want to know! I want to know why she loves you!

Sunset crouched next to Twilight, horn ignited. She prayed Twilight could handle this maniac on her own but was fully prepared to jump in at any time. My energy is still a little low, but I’ll spend every last drop if it means stopping her here.

Amidst the contest of magic, a streak of blue lightning ripped through the air and slammed into Vesper Radiance, prematurely ending the duel. She collided with the wall, suffering a quick, follow-up punch to the gut.

Vesper crumpled to the floor, coughing a few times before chuckling to herself. “You know, for the Elements of Harmony, that wasn’t very harmonious… blindsiding me like that.”

“You tried to kill my best friend,” Rainbow growled, darting back some distance. “All bets are off.”

“Heh, heh… Works for me.” Vesper pushed herself into a standing position and flicked a stray lock of hair from her face. “If you want to play rough, Rainbow Dash, then we’ll play rough!” A large piece of rock tore itself free of the ground and hurled itself at Rainbow.

Just as she was about to duck, the rock exploded into a shower of stone shrapnel, raining down on Rainbow and tearing fresh cuts into her skin. She put her hooves up to shield her face, but it did little against the burst of energy that followed and crashed into her.

The blast knocked her back across the cavern with an angry burn across her chest. She would have impacted against the wall if Pinkie hadn’t sprung into action and caught her in mid-flight.

Vesper danced back and forth on her hooves. “Oh, did that hurt? It hurt, right? Tell me it hurt!” she said hysterically.

Rainbow weakly sat up, holding a hoof to her newest wound. “M-monster,” she wheezed.

“Aw, is the attack dog all tuckered out?” Vesper pouted. “I thought you wanted to play some more.” Another sphere of energy swirled and gathered at the tip of her horn. “Here, let’s play catch!” With a swing of her head, the crimson orb flew forth, only to detonate against a wide purple shield.

Twilight cringed, her face contorting in pain when Vesper followed up her first attack with a hailstorm of fiery blasts, each one crashing against the barrier with the full extent of her fury.

“Ahahahaha! What’s the matter, Princess? Are you scared to face me now?” Vesper’s face morphed into unbridled rage, her lips pulling back into a snarl. “Come on out and fight me!”

Twilight grunted under the force of the oncoming blows. “You girls… need to get out of here. I’ll keep her busy,” she said in between breaths.

Sunset’s magic intermingled with Twilight’s, doubling the strength of the barrier. “There’s no way we’re leaving you alone with… with her!” She glared daggers in Vesper’s direction, watching her mirror image constantly toss her head back and forth as she threw magic at the shield.

The strain on Twilight’s faced eased with Sunset shouldering some of the burden. “I know you all want to help, but her magic… it’s too strong. She could kill any of you!”

“And if we leave you by yerself, she could kill you, too.” Applejack snorted in defiance. “You should know by now, Twilight: we’re with you through thick and thin. We’ll beat her if we work together!”

“How?” Twilight asked, a look of desperation in her eyes. “The second we put down the shield, she’ll destroy us!”

Sunset clicked her tongue in inspiration. “Twilight, your shield armor compression spell! You know it, don’t you?”

Twilight gave her a blank stare. “My what?”

“You haven’t invented it yet?” Sunset facehooved. “There goes that plan.”

“What plan? What haven’t I invented yet?”

Sunset staggered as a particularly powerful blast hit their shield. She grunted and said, “You make this really great spell that acts like the basic shield bubble, only it’s personal and more form fitting. Like a suit of armor.”

Twilight's eyes widened with intrigue. “I do?”

"Yeah. I've seen you use it a couple of times, but I only know the basic theory. If we had that spell now we could… hey…” Sunset looked away from Twilight, noticing the barrage of magic had stopped. Beyond the curtain of blue and purple, Vesper was galloping for the whirlwind. “She’s going for the Tempest Crown!”

“Oh no she ain’t,” Applejack said. “Let me outta this bubble and I’ll stall her.”

Twilight folded her ears. “But, Applejack…”

“Ah’ll be fine, sugarcube.” She pulled her coil of rope from beneath her hat. “Just get that spell ready if it’ll help us, all right?”

With a yielding sigh, Twilight dropped the shield with Sunset following suit. Applejack charged out, twirling her rope over her head as she closed in on Vesper.

Sunset brought the barrier back up, motioning for Twilight to stop when she was about to follow Sunset’s lead. “You need to learn how to cast this spell. Like I said, I only know the basic theory, so you’re going to have to put the pieces together yourself.”

Twilight nodded. “Let’s make this quick.”

Applejack tossed her lasso at Sunset—Vesper Radiance. Somepony really needs to explain what the hay is goin’ on. It flew over her head and came to rest securely around her shoulders. With a mighty tug, Applejack yanked Vesper away from the twister and dragged her through the shallow tide.

Vesper glared up at her and spat out a mouthful of water. “Great, the earth pony thinks she can keep up with me.”

Biting hard against the rope in her mouth, Applejack ignored the jab. “Ya two-faced snake. Who are you really?”

“I already told you who I am. It’s little wannabe over there who’s having a case of mistaken identity.” Vesper got to her hooves, still bound by Applejack’s rope. “Now, Applejack, do you really think you can defeat me?”

“Defeat ya? Eeynope.” Applejack tugged the rope again, bringing her hoof back as Vesper came forward. She struck out and collided with Vesper’s face, simultaneously letting go of the rope. “But that don’t mean Ah’m not gonna try and beat the tar outta ya.”

Vesper flew across the cavern and straight into the whirlwind, eagerly sucked in by its wild gale. She spun rapidly inside the funnel, rising up with the wind until it spat her out, and she crashed against the floor. Her mane now sat in disarray, and several cuts marked her face along with the bruise Applejack’s hoof left. She raised her head, murderous intent in her red eyes. As the rope around her disintegrated, Vesper unleashed a jet of fire from her horn.

Die, mud-pony!”

Applejack rolled to the side and narrowly avoided having her coat scorched. She ducked as the fire trailed overhead, then broke into a run in the opposite direction, ducking again as Vesper dragged the fire back her way. The heat of the flames died down, and Applejack looked over her shoulder, only to see an empty cavern.

When Applejack looked ahead again, she found Vesper charging at her, horn crackling with static energy. Acting on quick instincts, Applejack sprung into the air, right over Vesper’s lightning, and landed firmly on the ground behind her. With one swift motion, Applejack snapped her hind legs out and delivered a powerful kick to Vesper’s backside, sending her flying across the cave.  

Vesper rolled across the floor, getting tangled in her black cloak. A red light enveloped her mid-tumble, and she vanished in a cloud of dust.

Applejack crouched and scanned the entire perimeter, but Vesper was nowhere to be seen. She was just about to ease up her guard when she heard Pinkie shout.

“Applejack, above you!”

With a quick leap backwards, Applejack deftly avoided being impaled by a shaft of crimson energy, only to have it detonate a second later. Applejack sailed across the cavern, her body skipping across the rough stone floor. The entire world became a dizzy, disjointed mess as she rolled over herself, feeling sharp rocks cut across her back. She came to rest with her muzzle in a pocket of water, choking as she inhaled a mouthful. When she tried to lift her head, a hoof came down and smashed it to the floor.

“Be thankful,” Vesper said in a soft whisper. “I’m going to make this quick.”

Applejack squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the end. Her mind was reeling too fast for her to organize any last thoughts. One did manage to surface to the front of the chaos: What does death feel like?

Oddly enough, it didn’t hurt as much as Applejack imagined it would. In fact, it felt like a doctor was trying to stick a particularly large needle into her back. It was more irritating than painful.

“What the…?”

Hearing Vesper’s unexpected confusion, Applejack took advantage of the situation by prying one of her front legs out from beneath herself and elbowing Vesper in the face.

Vesper staggered off, clutching her muzzle. Applejack raised her head, taking a large breath of air and coughing up excess water. When she finished refilling her lungs, she noticed a bright, purple outline around her body. She looked over to Twilight and Sunset, who wore triumphant smiles. Twilight’s horn burned with powerful magic.

“Ah owe ya one, sugarcube,” Applejack called. She was immediately blasted by another burst of magic but found that it was notably less painful than before, like someone had simply run into her at full force. She bounced back to her hooves, and faced an oncoming Vesper Radiance, another ball of energy forming on her horn.

She didn’t get very far before Rainbow blindsided her again, using all her weight to throw Vesper into the back wall. Like Applejack, Rainbow was coated in a purple aura.

Applejack fixed her gaze on Rainbow’s wound. “Are you sure you should be up this soon?”

Rainbow waved her off. “I’m fine. Besides, we’ve got, like, magic armor now!”

“So, this is your gambit, Twilight Sparkle?” Vesper picked herself off the ground. “Having your friends fight your battles for you like pawns on a chessboard?”

“You’re one to talk!” Sunset yelled, joining Applejack and Rainbow with Pinkie trailing close behind, both of them covered in Twilight’s new spell. “Who was it that sent her griffon mercenaries after us? I forget.”

“Mind your tongue, bug!” The air around Vesper began to ripple and distort as four bright lights manifested above her. “I’ve had enough of this constant meddling! Patet, virtus de quatuor dicetur!” The four lights shaped themselves into four floating sigils, each inscribed with identical designs and markings. At the center of each one was an eight-rayed sun split in two halves.

“If you want your deaths to be less painful, I suggest you step aside and let me deal with the Princess,” Vesper said with a low growl.

“Not gonna happen,” Applejack said, standing her ground.

“Then say goodbye to your pathetic existence. Impetus!” The sigils burned red, and each one fired a ray of magic at the four ponies.

Sunset reacted first, crafting a widespread barrier that encompassed her three friends as well. All four shots bounced off the teal screen and flew to the ceiling, blasting out large chunks of granite.

“Scatter!” Sunset shouted, diving for safe ground. She rolled out of the way of a large boulder and was subsequently blasted in the shoulder by another laser. She marveled at the full power of Twilight’s spell. What should have been a brutal attack felt like nothing more than a small first-degree burn.

Lunging forward, Sunset prepared a bolt of magic, sidestepping two more of Vesper’s lasers before unleashing it.

An ethereal, red chain struck out of Vesper’s horn, shearing the spell in half before wrapping around Sunset’s neck. Vesper hoisted her into the air and threw her against Rainbow, who had been closing in from above.

Rainbow reacted a second too late. She and Sunset crashed to the ground, a tangled mess of feathers and limbs. “Ughh.” Rainbow looked over to Twilight, standing guard over Spike, Rarity, and Fluttershy, her horn still blazing. “Hey, Twi, mind joining us anytime soon?”

Twilight shook her head. “I can’t. I’m trying to keep your shields maintained. I can’t do anything else.”

Sunset pulled herself out from underneath Rainbow and shook herself out. “There’s still four of us. We can take her.” With her horn aglow, she charged back towards Vesper, now dueling with Applejack and Pinkie.

The floating sigils continued to fire pulses of magic every few seconds, keeping the two earth ponies on the tips of their hooves. Combined with Vesper’s own attacks, it was impossible for them to get into striking range. It was a heavily one-sided fight, with Vesper giggling like an excited filly.

Applejack dodged another sickle of burning energy and ducked under the constant fire of the sigils, drawing Vesper into close quarters. She struck out with a front hoof, but Vesper evaded and positioned her horn against Applejack’s chest.

With a mighty boom, Applejack was tossed back to the mouth of the cave, landing next to Rarity who shrieked in horror.

“Applejack!” Rainbow cried, turning around mid-flight to aid her.

Pinkie filled the gap Applejack had left and rapidly struck Vesper with her hooves. “You big meanie!” Her screams of fury turned to cries of pain when the sigils turned and fired, striking her multiple times in the back. In a flash of blue light, Pinkie vanished, an enraged Sunset replacing her and rushing at Vesper, a stream of fire blazing out of her horn.

The flames curved around Vesper, striking the walls of the cavern. She merely continued to sneer, the glow of the Alicorn Amulet casting her face in a sinister light. She bowed her head and unleashed a more intense inferno.

Sunset diverted it upwards, feeling the searing heat breathe against her coat. The armor was powerful, but she was in no mood to see if it made her fireproof. The deluge of fire came to an end, and Sunset was about to counter until another boulder dropped from the ceiling. She leapt to the side—avoiding a few more—and watched as streams of water began to pour from the gaps in the ceiling.

Uh-oh. That’s not good. She looked down to the already ankle-high water, then back to Vesper—

Sunset’s vision was filled with a bright, ruby light as she flew backwards, splashing across the floor. She could feel her cheek swelling as she lay in the water. In fact, she was certain she had been hit in the same spot Vesper had kicked her last time.

“You all right over there, little wannabe?” Vesper called as Sunset stood up again. “If you’re going to pretend to be me, the least you could do is put up a fight!” She released a silver orb that increased in size as it traveled across the cavern. What had started out as a mere apple shape was now the size of an overgrown watermelon.

Once again, Sunset covered herself with a shield, bracing herself. Only, the orb never made contact with her. With hardly a foot to go, the silver sphere expanded around her into a bright halo and exploded forth, throwing all of her friends up the tunnel they had come from. They cried out in surprise and pain as they all crashed against one another.

As Sunset turned to check on them, another chain wrapped around her neck and yanked her forward. She found herself staring into a pair of red eyes. A second chain snaked out of Vesper’s horn and wrapped around Sunset’s, squeezing tight.

“Now,” Vesper said in a thin whisper, watching Sunset squirm. “Tell me who you really are. The faster you tell me, the more merciful I’ll be.”

Sunset flailed her hooves, trying to score a hit against her captor, but it was all in vain. “I’m… Sunset Shimmer,” she choked out. She didn’t even have time to scream as Vesper pummeled her into the floor, face first.

Stop lying!” She lifted Sunset to eye-level again. “Who. Are. You?”

“Sun...set… Shimmer.” Sunset choked on her own words, her airway completely restricted. Tears formed at her eyes, and her vision began to grow dim, a sensation that was becoming too familiar.

Vesper slammed her against the floor again, retracting her chains. Before Sunset could draw breath, a hoof crashed down against the side of her face, burying her in the shoals. “I’ve had everything stolen from me! But you will not take this! I am the one, true Sunset Shimmer!”

The first blow to the head barely registered to Sunset. Same with the second and third. By the fourth, however, she could feel sharp pain nailing into her skull. They came faster and faster, growing in intensity. Sunset could feel hot blood traveling down her face. Even Twilight’s shield could only hold off Vesper’s wrath for so long.

“Die! Die! Die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die!” Vesper chanted, her voice raising an octave with each hammer to Sunset’s head.

“Back off!”

The onslaught finally came to an end. Sunset rolled onto her back, wheezing and clutching her skull. She turned her head, using the eye that was unobstructed by blood to see Rainbow pinning Vesper to the floor, ignoring the sigils as their magic scorched across her back.

Rainbow raised a hoof and brought it across Vesper’s face. “That’s for Cloudsdale!” She punched Vesper two more times. “That’s for Fluttershy!” Another two. “That’s for Sunset!”

As Rainbow drew back for another hit, Vesper sank into the shadows, melting away beneath the stone floor with a choleric look. Her sigils vanished with her.

Somepony lifted Sunset into a sitting position, an act which caused her head to scream in protest. She looked into Applejack’s eyes, fear and concern written within them.

“Oh no… Sugarcube, we need to get you outta here.”

“N-no!” Sunset shouted. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the rampant pain. “I have to stay… I have to fight her!”

“Sunset, yer a bleedin’ mess!” Applejack said hotly. “You and Fluttershy need medical attention, stat!”

“No, I don’t!” Sunset pushed Applejack away, forcing herself to stand up. The world lurched forward, gravity working with her own debilitation to drag her back to the ground. She grunted and pushed against the splitting migraine. Wiping the blood from her eye, she gave Applejack a forced smile and said, “See? It’s not too bad.” She winced as a fresh wave of pain ran through her head.

“Sunset—”

The ground beneath them trembled and began to sizzle like hot coals, burning the bottoms of the ponies’ hooves. The water bubbled from the high temperature, and a light shone from below.

Without thinking, Sunset tackled Applejack and dragged her out of range just as a geyser of white-hot magic erupted from the ground. Before either of them could get their footing, the phenomenon began to repeat itself right where they were standing. This time, it was Applejack who yanked Sunset out of the way of the exploding magic.

Sunset regained her stance and hurried after Applejack, both of them trying to make it back across the room for safety. Another geyser erupted in front of them, forcing them to change direction while they waded through the rising water, trying to stay ahead of the rampaging magic.

Ahahahahaha!” a cold laugh echoed above them. Sunset looked up and found Vesper on the ceiling, having turned gravity into her plaything. “Dance, ponies, dance!

Keeping pace with each other, Applejack and Sunset navigated their way through the field of erratic spouts of magic. Every few seconds, Sunset could feel the ground heat up, and she’d beat the jet by a hair’s breadth. Luck finally ran out when Applejack misstepped and lost her footing in a short crater. Sunset heard her scream and skidded to a stop, watching in dismay as she sailed through the air and smashed against the ground, smoke curling from her body.

Sunset rushed over to her body and lifted her up. “Applejack! Say something!”

Above them, Rainbow had taken to the air, streamlining for Vesper with a hoof outstretched. She outmaneuvered the bolts Vesper fired at her and rapidly closed in. With a snarl, she made her first and only swing at Vesper, who deflected it with her own hoof. Rainbow didn’t see the static sputtering on the dome above her until it discharged, catching her in its blast. Like Applejack, she rocketed to the ground, impacting with a horrible crunch.

Sunset ceased in her attempt to drag Applejack to safety, even as Pinkie returned to lend a hoof. As she turned towards Rainbow, something red appeared in the top of her vision. She lifted her head to find a bright ring encompassing all four ponies standing in the clearing. Vesper remained on the ceiling, black flames clinging to her eyes.

“Checkmate.” The ring pulsated red like a dying star, dimming everything around it. A white light filled its center. “Interitus!”

As much as she wanted to look away, Sunset couldn’t. She stared at the oncoming fire, feeling utterly helpless.

Something gripped her entire body, and Sunset was yanked backwards, feeling compressed for a brief second before landing on her side. The light of destruction went off in front of her, a silhouetted figure obstructing part of the view. Next to her, Applejack, Rainbow, and Pinkie wore equally surprised expressions.

When the light faded, Sunset found Twilight standing up front with her back to all of them and her head bowed.

“No… more,” she panted. “No more.”

Upon further examination, Sunset noticed the purple sheen that had encased her was now gone. “Twilight…?”

Twilight looked back at them. Grief was painted on her face, but her eyes had taken on an unflinching hardness. “I can’t keep you protected forever. And I refuse to watch as you fight this battle for me… and almost die as a result.” She closed her eyes and took a slow breath. “I will never order you girls to do anything, even as a princess… so I’m begging you as a friend: leave now and let me handle this.”

Sunset was immediately up on her hooves. “No! Twilight, you can’t expect us to just walk away without you!”

“I know it’s hard, but just look at yourselves! Even with this new spell, she’s tearing you girls apart!” Twilight looked away and shuddered. “I could never forgive myself if something happened to you on my account.”

“And we’ll never forgive ourselves if something happened to you!” Sunset argued. She felt a hoof on her shoulder and twisted back to see Applejack with a grim expression.

“Sunset, I hate to admit it, but this ain’t our show anymore. If we stay, we’re as good as gone. We just need to trust Twilight can handle this.”

“But… but…” Sunset’s meek protest went ignored. She could see in everyone else’s eyes that they had succumbed to the painful idea.

“Pinkie, do you remember the way out?” Twilight asked.

Pinkie solemnly nodded her head.

“Good, then you’ll lead the way. Get back to the surface and head to Los Pegasus. Get everyone treated and send a letter to the princesses. Rarity, do you think you can take control of the boat?”

Rarity looked uncertain but nodded anyway. “I can certainly try.”

“All right, then. Good luck. I’ll try to join you as soon as I can.”

There was a moment of hesitation on everyone’s part before Pinkie trudged up the tunnel, followed by Rarity who carried Fluttershy on her back. Spike gave Twilight a tight hug and ran after them, hurrying alongside Applejack. Only Sunset and Rainbow remained.

“Twi, I know you’re strong, but this still feels like a bad idea,” Rainbow said.

“I know.” Affliction laced Twilight’s heavy tone. “But, I’m out of ideas.”

Rainbow bit her lip. “Just… come back safe, okay?”

Sunset took a rebellious step forward. “I’m not leaving you, Twilight. Not now.”

Twilight sighed. “Sunset, I know this is the hardest for you, but you need to go, too.”

“No! I will not—hey! Rainbow, put me down!”

Rainbow wrapped her forelegs around Sunset and dragged her into the air, carrying her back into the maze. “It sucks, yeah. But face it, Sunset—we’re out of our league right now!”

Sunset continued to struggle, trying everything without resorting to magic, but Rainbow was too strong. “No! Put me down! Twilight, please!” She watched Twilight stride out of the tunnel and back into the flooded maw, her head held high.

Just like before. Just like at the End of the World.

Princess!”

Twilight waded through the knee-high water, watching waterfalls pour down from wide gashes left in the ceiling. Across from her, Vesper Radiance stood firmly rooted, her horn sheathed in a red glow. She faced the whirlwind, head jerking back as she tugged at an unseen object.

Her ears perked up as her magic died down, and she turned to face Twilight, smirking vaingloriously. “So, the introvert has finally come out to play. Did you grow tired of watching me bludgeon your friends? I must admit, I was certainly getting bored with it.” She wiped a hoof across her face, frowning at the sight of the red stains. “They did manage to get a few hits in. I’ll have to make sure to repay them later.”

Twilight’s jaw went rigid at the barbs against her friends. Whether Vesper was being malicious or just trying to goad her, Twilight wasn’t going to fall for it. She looked briefly at the Alicorn Amulet, recalling when Trixie had returned to Ponyville with it and harassed her friends. It seemed like such a long time ago—an event under completely different circumstances. Twilight looked back into Vesper’s eyes, which had rescinded to cerulean for the moment. The mare was clearly out for revenge, yes. But the lengths she was willing to go to get it... Out of all the things Trixie did, at least she had never injured someone.

“What drove you to this?” Twilight blurted out. She didn’t know if she could feel any sympathy for the villain, but she needed to know why. Why all the destruction and death? There had to be more than just wanting to become an alicorn.

Vesper’s smile slid off her face and a hollow look filled her eyes. “Do you know what it’s like, Twilight Sparkle? To have everything promised to you? To have the sole attention of the one pony you ever loved? To follow in their hoofsteps knowing you were destined for greatness?” She let out a mirthless chuckle. “And then, to try so hard to please her that she resents you? To have fools and bleeding-hearted idiots come and eclipse the bond you shared?” Her voice grew louder, filling the cave with her shouts of rage. “To come so close to your destiny only to have it pulled out from beneath you for one mistake? To be replaced and forgotten, shoved aside like yesterday’s model in place of a new, shinier one? To have your heart broken into a thousand pieces?”

She thrusted a hoof in Twilight’s direction. “You! This is all your fault—yours and Cadance’s! You two stole away my life—my destiny! I was supposed to ascend and stand by Celestia’s side until she named me ruler of Equestria! But then Cadance came along—I tried so hard, just to prove myself, just to hear those words—and then she dismissed me…” She broke into an emphatic laugh, holding a hoof to her face.

“And now I know why! She saw you coming! She saw you coming the whole time! She just needed an excuse to throw me out! She never loved me! Lies, lies, every word was a lie!

Twilight took a step back. Seeing Sunset’s face take on those angry expressions… and that hysterical giggle… it was unsettling to the extreme. No. This isn’t Sunset. This is… this is… It’s not Sunset Shimmer! 

Vesper took a few deep breaths, suppressing her laughter. “Does that answer your question, Twilight Sparkle? Are you satisfied now?”

Undeterred, Twilight stood her ground. “If you were really Princess Celestia’s student, you would know she loves everypony unconditionally.”

“Hah! There is no such thing as unconditional love! You only have it until you displease her or until you’ve served your purpose!” Her horn flared again and the Alicorn Amulet came to life. “Q-and-A is over now, Twilight Sparkle. You’ve wasted enough of my time. The funny thing is I was going to kill Celestia first and show you her mangled body. Your cries of agony would have been music to my ears.” Her head tilted to one side, her grin become feral. “But now I see killing you first would be much more poetic. No, no, no! I won’t kill you! I’ll break you—watch as you scream for Celestia to come to your rescue and laugh as the hope dies from your eyes when she never appears!”

Twilight’s own magic roared to life, fueled by her anger and disgust. Both of them fired at the same time, and their energies clashed once more. Twilight pushed with all her might. She would not let this… this monster win. That was the only thing Twilight had to describe her. None of her adversaries thus far had made her despise them with this much fervor. Even Discord with his talk of chaos had never intended to maim and torture anypony. And while Sombra had once enslaved an empire, thanks to the combined efforts of her friends, she had made sure he never got a chance to re-enact whatever cruelty he was capable of.

My friends… Seeing Vesper fling them around the room in her mind’s eye spurred her onwards. She hated being separated from them, but it killed her to see them in pain while all she could do was stand there and watch. No, this was her fight now! She was going to win, and Vesper would pay for her actions!

She took a step forward, driving her convictions into her spell. Purple began to swallow up crimson, pushing Vesper back.

No! I shall not fall to the likes of you!” Vesper’s eyes burned with black smoke, and her beam turned an even darker shade of red, tendrils of darkness interweaving into it. With a single push, she had regained her ground.

Twilight continued to strain under the pressure, still tired from maintaining four separate shields. Sweat clung to her brow and trickled down her face. She fell back against the new wave of momentum Vesper was exhibiting.

Don’t give up! a voice in her head cheered. Twilight snapped her eyes open. “Wait…”

A blue light shot past her and merged with her ray of magic, putting it back on par with Vesper’s. Twilight shifted her eyes, unsure of whether she should be furious or overjoyed. “I told you to go with the others!” she shouted over the thrum of energy. “What are you doing here?”

Sunset stood at her side, her eyes squeezed shut in concentration. “I couldn’t… I couldn’t let you fight her alone. You walked away to fight her once, and you lost! I watched you die in front of me! But not again! I won’t stand by and do nothing this time!”

The fur on the back of Twilight’s neck stood up at the thought of her own death in Sunset’s future. Yet, a warm smile found its way onto her face as she marveled at Sunset’s will. And while Twilight was unsure if Sunset should have been pushing herself so hard, she was glad she didn’t have to stand alone.

Vesper waned under their combined power, stepping back until she was inches away from the whirlwind. Try as she might, she couldn’t avoid being sucked in by the vacuum. Her back hoof extended too far, and in an instant, she had vanished into the wind. Twilight and Sunset’s leftover energy merely dispelled against it.

Twilight watched for the second time as Vesper spiraled up the funnel before being spat out and landing in the water with a loud splash. Only, she wasn’t the only thing to come out of the whirlwind. Clutched against her chest was a black and grey crown, wings folded on each side and a red jewel in the center.

“It’s mine…” Vesper stood up, holding the Tempest Crown above her in triumph. “It’s finally mine!”

“Give us the crown, Vesper! You don’t know what you’re doing!” Sunset shouted.

“My name is not Vesper! And I know damn well what I’m doing!” She grinned, twirling the crown on her hoof. “Besides, you know the old saying: finders keepers, losers die!” She unleashed a jet of flames, splitting the two up as they each dived to one side.

Twilight jumped into the air. With a single flap of her wings, she boosted forward and tackled Vesper just before she could put the crown on. It flew into the air and landed in the water, disappearing into the murky depths with Sunset diving after it.

Vesper hissed and swiped a hoof across Twilight’s face, knocking her down while she lunged after the crown. Twilight hurried after her, ignoring the blood leaking out of her nose. Her telekinesis grabbed Vesper by the tail and pulled her back, allowing Twilight to jump over her. Vesper played the same trick while Twilight was in midair and slammed her against the ground, stomping on her back for added measure.

Sunset’s head surfaced above the water, the crown clenched between her teeth. Her eyes widened at Vesper barreling towards her, and she took off across the cave, practically swimming in the now shoulder-high tide.

Twilight gave a quick flick of her horn and watched the water around Vesper jump up and stick to her legs, transforming into a thick, jelly substance. She tried to move forward, only to fall onto her face.

“All right,” Twilight said as she reunited with Sunset. “We’ve got the Crown. Let’s get—”

Her words were literally drowned out as gallons of water crashed on top of her head. She fumbled and fell backwards, tasting the salty tang of the ocean as it flooded her senses. She swam to the top, breaking the surface and gasping for air. Sunset followed not a moment later, her mouth empty.

“Where’s the Tempest Crown?” Twilight asked.

“Good question.” Sunset’s eyes glowed red, and Twilight narrowly avoided being struck in the face by a crimson bolt by diving back under.

She found Sunset—and she was sure it was Sunset this time by the absence of a cloak and amulet—scooping the crown off the cave floor. A streak of red spiraled through the water and struck Sunset in the side. Streams of bubbles escaped her lips as she cried out in muted pain. Vesper swam past Twilight, quick as a shark, and snatched the crown Sunset had dropped.

Twilight propelled herself forward and blasted Vesper with a quick barrage of spells, pummeling her from behind. She refused to let go, however, holding on like it was a life preserver. Twilight wrapped her aura around the crown, pulling with all her might, only succeeding in dragging Vesper towards her and consequently receiving a blast to the chest.

It was like a rock had been smashed into her. Twilight sucked in a sharp breath, only to choke on the ocean. She made a mad paddle for the surface, gasping for breath upon reaching it. With a few powerful coughs, she expelled a lungful of water. There was a loud crack overhead, and Twilight watched as another part of the ceiling broke apart, unleashing a spout of water. She couldn’t believe the room was almost halfway filled.

A bubble of air appeared around Twilight’s head, and she dove under once more. Towards the bottom, Sunset had Vesper in a headlock while Vesper fired off random spells in an attempt to displace Sunset. Twilight took the crown in her aura, successfully ripping it from Vesper’s hooves. Before it could fall into her possession, however, a red aura overlapped hers and tried to tug it away.

The Tempest Crown floated between the two mares, jerking left and right as each one battled for ownership. She could see Sunset wrapping a tighter hoof around Vesper’s throat, choking her into submission. Despite Vesper elbowing Sunset repeatedly, Sunset refused to let go.

Vesper’s grip on the Crown weakened, and with a final pull, Twilight managed to break it free and deliver it into her own hooves. She watched Vesper’s eyes slide shut and Sunset released her, letting her drift to the floor.

A moment later, Twilight and Sunset resurfaced, Twilight cancelling her bubble charm and Sunset desperately heaving for air. Twilight swam over and wrapped a hoof around her. “Are you okay?”

Sunset nodded. “Let’s just leave now before something else goes wrong.”

“Agreed.” Twilight closed her eyes and imagined the deck of the boat they had come in on. The familiar pull of teleportation came over her, and she landed against something hard, followed quickly by the smothering of something warm and soft.

“Twilight, Sunset—you’re okay!” Pinkie cried.

“That might not last long if you choke me, Pinkie.”

Pinkie squeezed even tighter for a brief second before letting go. Without a wall of pink fur in the way, Twilight beheld the full deck. All of her friends beamed down at her, including Fluttershy, whose front legs had been bandaged. There was a bruise on the side of her face, and she looked paler than usual.

“How are you doing, Fluttershy?” Twilight asked.

She put on a brave smile. “I’ll be fine, thanks to all of you.”

Rainbow floated over to Sunset. “And how about you?”

Sunset managed a weak grin. “I think I’m okay.”

“Good.” Rainbow swatted her across the shoulder.

“Ow! What was that for?”

“‘Put me down, Rainbow. I promise, I’ll follow along,’” Rainbow said in a very poor imitation of Sunset’s voice. “I can’t believe I fell for that one! Don’t go off and do stupid things like that; that’s my job!”

“All right, I’m sorry.” Sunset rubbed her shoulder. “I just couldn’t leave Twilight down there by herself. Not with that…”

“Maniac?” Rainbow tried.

“Psychopath?” Rarity offered.

“Girl who looks just like you?” Pinkie said. She flinched under everyone’s glare. “What? She does!”

Sunset sighed. “Yeah… her.”

Twilight embraced her. “Don’t worry, we know who you are. No matter what she says, you’re still Sunset Shimmer.” She heard Sunset murmur a quick thank you and took that as her cue to let go. Standing up, she could see the ocean surrounding them on all sides, the island now a small dot on the horizon. The ship was coated in a light blue aura, steering itself across the polished waves.

Spike came out of the cabin with blankets, wrapping them around Sunset and Twilight. He paused to give Twilight a hug and pointed at the black object lying on the deck. “So… is that really it?”

Everyone crowded around it, staring with adamant curiosity. Twilight nodded. “Yes, we finally have one of the Dark Regalia. One more and we can make certain no pony can ever become an alicorn through their use.”

“Yeah, but how are we going to get rid of them?” Rainbow asked. “You heard Celestia and Luna: these things are indestructible. Unless we can get the Elements to banish an inanimate object to the moon, I’m out of ideas.”

Pinkie waved an erratic hoof. “Oh, oh, I have an idea! Let’s throw them in a volcano!”

Fluttershy let out an ear-splitting shriek.

“Fine, sheesh. All you had to say was no.”

“P-Pinkie P-Pie, I d-don’t think that’s why she was screaming.” Spike pointed behind her. “Look!”

Rapidly approaching in the distance was a small figure, leaving an impressive wave behind her. She tore across the water on a board made of ice, her cloak and mane billowing in the wind. Even from their distance, everyone could see the insurmountable rage on her face.

Give me the Tempest Crown!” Vesper bellowed.

“My, she’s persistent,” Rarity said.

“Yeah, persistently annoying!” Sunset spat.  

The blue sky turned a fiery shade of red as a hailstorm of flares arched through the air. They blasted into the ocean around them and rocked the boat with wild waves.

The ship lurched to the right, throwing everyone in the opposite direction while they tumbled on top of each other. It then lurched to the left, avoiding a ball of burning energy and sending everyone careening to the right.

“Rarity!” Twilight shouted.

“I’m sorry, dear, but this thing doesn’t exactly turn on a bit!” Rarity jerked the ship again, but the maneuver came too late. The ship rocked as the missile slammed into the back corner, blackening the deck and melting the steel railing.

Twilight bounced against the deck and spread her wings in an attempt to regain her balance. She planted her hooves firmly on the floor and returned fire against Vesper Radiance.

She easily outmaneuvered all of Twilight’s spells, slinging her own all the while. “Die already!” An inferno exploded from her horn and roared across the water.

Twilight cast a shield around the back end of the boat, watching the flames spit out on either side of her. “Rarity, I hate to put pressure on you, but can you please make this thing go faster!”

“I’m trying as hard as I can, Twilight,” Rarity said in a surly tone.

Sunset stood up next to Twilight. Her eyes shone white with power, and steam curled off her coat. Before Twilight could ask what she was doing, Sunset’s horn released a gold light that spiraled high into the air. When it reached its apex, it exploded into a shower of shimmering arrows, hailing down upon Vesper.

Her fire spell ended as she tried to evade the raining light. She weaved through them with nimble grace, riding the waves up and down. Swerving sharply to the right, an arrow caught the tip of her board, catapulting her into the air, where another shaft struck her in the shoulder.

Before Vesper hit the water, Sunset let loose one more spell. Twilight watched it zip across the water and strike Vesper in the chest. A thick layer of ice formed around her body, encasing her from head to tail until she looked like an ice sculpture. She landed with a splash and slowly sank beneath the rippling waves.

Twilight stared at the spot where Vesper had sank, her mouth set in a thin line. All was quiet for a few long, tense minutes. When nothing happened, Twilight breathed a sigh of relief and fell back on her flank.

“She’s not gone,” Twilight said grimly, “but hopefully that should keep her at bay for a little while. Thank you, Sunset, you really—” Twilight looked at Sunset, curled up on the ground with her eyes lidded and smoke still clinging to her form. “Sunset!”

“No,” Sunset said hoarsely, “I… am not.. okay.”

Twilight pulled Sunset up into a sitting position with Sunset slumping against her. Her breathing came out in ragged gasps, and her head continuously drooped only to snap back up a second later.

“Stay awake, Sunset,” Twilight urged, “we’re almost back to port. We’ll get some help.” Twilight looked over the side and squinted at the distant skyline of Los Pegasus, feeling her stomach drop. She motioned for Applejack to come over and leaned Sunset against her. Twilight trotted over to the bow of the ship and tapped Rarity on the shoulder. “Mind if I take over?”

Rarity released her magic, lines of fatigue under her eyes. “Be my guest, dear. That took more out of me than I thought it would.”

Twilight took the ship in her own aura, urging it onward at a faster pace. “I think we could all use a break now.”

Sunset couldn’t remember much after using her magic to attack Vesper Radiance. Just bits and pieces that came back distorted and blurry when she tried to think about them. She did remember feeling like she had spent too much time next to an open fire and was being slowly cooked from the inside and out.

When she had regained full consciousness, she found herself in a very soft bed with blankets tucked tightly around her. She managed to pull a hoof out and felt around her forehead, finding a binding of bandages wrapped just below her horn. Pulling the blanket back, she found more replacing the linen she had wrapped around her shoulder.

Her eyes searched the room, taking note of its overall blandness. A small table sat by her bedside with a pitcher of water, a window view of the city, and a curtain pulled back to reveal Twilight, sitting in a chair by the corner reading a medical book.

“Twilight?” Sunset raised her voice knowing how Twilight could get lost in a book.

Twilight looked up and shut the book, smiling warmly at Sunset. “You’re fully awake. You kept slipping in and out of consciousness, even when the doctor stuck the IV in you.”

Sunset glanced at her other foreleg, watching light-green fluid drip down from the bag and into her body.

“Herbal medicines to help replenish your magic,” Twilight explained, seeing the curious look on Sunset’s face. She walked around to the table and poured a cup of water, levitating it to Sunset who took it with shaky hooves.

“Thanks.” Sunset tossed it back, relishing the feeling of ice-cold water slipping down her throat. She leaned back against her pillow, sinking into it, and looked out the window. She could see the edge of the water and the dock ponies scuttling around like ants. “How long was I ‘out’?”

“Not too long. Just a couple of hours. It’s actually still pretty early.”

“Where’s everyone else?”

Twilight walked back around and pulled her chair closer to Sunset’s bedside. “Rainbow is with Fluttershy. She had to get some stitches for the cuts on her arm.” She pointed at the bandages around Sunset. “You had to get a few, too. Everyone else is getting something to eat downstairs.”

Sunset closed her eyes and nodded. “And… the Tempest Crown?”

She heard the faint hum of magic and peeked an eye open to see Twilight pull a pair of saddlebags out from under the bed. “I put your hourglass in here too for safe keeping.”

Sunset’s hoof involuntarily moved to the base of her neck, noticing for the first time the absence of her odd necklace. She exhaled deeply. “Thank you, Twilight.”

Twilight tucked the saddlebag back under the bed. “Actually, I should be the one thanking you. If you hadn’t come back after me… if you hadn’t cast those spells… I’m not sure what would have happened,” she said softly, looking down at the checkered floor.

“I told you, I wasn’t going to let you face her alone. That day… the last day... you walked off, you and Spike. The next time I saw either of you…” Sunset’s throat tightened and she blinked back rogue tears. “I couldn’t let that happen again.”

The melancholy hung in the air between them with neither one sure how to advance. Twilight opened her mouth a few times, but no sound ever came out. When she finally came close to making a sentence, Sunset held a hoof up to stop her.

“You don’t have to say anything. I don’t want to talk about it right now anyway. Besides, it’s in the past… figuratively speaking.” She smiled weakly, and Twilight gave a weak chuckle. “What matters now is what we’re going to do next. We have the Crown, so where do we go from here?”

Twilight folded her ears back, avoiding Sunset’s gaze. “Yeah… about that…”

Sunset sat up. “What is it? It’s okay if you don’t have a plan right now. I’m sure we can come up with something together.”

“That’s not it, Sunset. I have a plan… it’s just…” Twilight took a deep breath and said with slow affliction, “You’re all going back to Canterlot, Sunset. I’m going to go on alone, but the rest of you… are going home.”

The still ocean began to ripple and bubble up. A geyser of water burst forth, and with it, Sunset Shimmer, roaring in rage. She landed on a small square of ice, trembling, barely able to hold in her disdain. She collapsed to one knee, holding the burning wound on her shoulder. Her eye violently twitched at the images floating through her head, each one featuring her.

“She dares… she dares to use my special talent against me?” Her eyes blazed white, and fire coursed through her body, filling all of her senses with an ecstasy of pure magic. The tear in her shoulder knitted itself back together, muscle and skin reforming and joining as one until it was good as new. 

Her eyes reverted to normal, and she stretched out her leg, testing the effects of her healing spell. “That… that thing knows nothing of the true extent of my abilities.” Anger burned through her, hotter than the magic she had just used. She wanted to track down the simpering doppelganger and kill her in the most excruciating way she could imagine. But no, there would be time for that later. She would need a plan to deal with all of them.

“No, no… I’ll let them have their little reprieve. Let them lower their guard. It isn’t like they can run very far anyway.” Sunset grinded her teeth. “No, first… I have other business that needs to be addressed.”  

The world twisted around her; in a flash, she stood no longer in the middle of the ocean but on a deck made from black wood. All activity stopped at her appearance, a hush falling over the thin crowd gathered. Conveniently for her, they were all here.

A chain whipped out of her horn and found Razor, who had been perched near the back end of the ship. It wrapped around his neck and dragged him forward, bringing him to rest at Sunset’s hooves.

He coughed. “‘Ello, Yer Majesty.”

“Hello, Razor,” Sunset said sweetly. “How are you? Lovely morning, isn’t it? Tell me, how was your day so far? Did anything interesting happen? Because I’d love to know why Twilight Sparkle and her stupid friends managed to follow me all the way to the Tempest Crown!”

Razor flinched and kneeled before her, the rest of the griffons following his lead. “Those ponies are tougher than they look. They managed to subdue all of us, so—”

“So you ran and hid with your tails between your legs like the pathetic dogs you are!” Sunset didn’t know what to do with herself. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been this angry. It ran rampant inside her and strangled her senses. I almost had it! If these idiots had just done their job! Punishment! There needs to be punishment!

She looked over the seven griffons in front of her. “Where is Carrow?”

“He’s dead,” Eliza said bluntly.

“Well he’s lucky!” Sunset stomped a hoof against the deck. “How could you all screw up this badly? You’ve let them escape, not once, but twice!

“You let them escape too.”

It had been quiet. So softly spoken and drowned out by the wind, he probably thought he could get away with it. But Sunset heard it. She could hear all. And now, she had an excuse to vent a little anger.

She swung around to face Axel, savoring the look of horror that came across his face. Sunset’s horn bubbled with a black miasma as she gave him a savage grin.

Axel screamed as a dark bubble encased him and began to shrink. The darkness swirled about, eating away at him while he grew smaller and smaller. With one last, terrified yell, the bubble vanished completely, leaving nothing left.

Sunset turned to the remaining six. “Would anyone else like to comment?”

No one dared to so much as breathe.

“Good.” She made for the front of the deck, tossing Vin from his spot at the wheel. She looked out over the sky, listening to the propellers of the airship as they spun like clockwork. Closing her eyes, she let the wind comb through her mane, feeling at peace again.

“So, little wannabe. You want to play games with me? Very well.” Sunset opened her eyes. “I’ll show you what happens when you play with fire!”