Twilight, Sunset, and Spike were all walking side-by-side. Sunset was gently humming to herself, a bounce in her step.
Twilight was glad that Sunset was finally perking up. It was obvious that her past misdeeds were deeply bothering her and she was having trouble believing that she should or would be forgiven. She knew that Princess Celestia would be glad to bury the hatchet and embrace her former student as a friend, not banish her to the deepest dungeon in solitary confinement.
“Sunset,” said Twilight. “I told my friends to all be there in the morning to finish setting up things. I think that’ll make it better for you. I don’t have to do a million introductions.”
“This carnival is going to be up for about a week. I know you can’t stay that long, but I figure once you work things out with the princess you can help out here.”
“Hmmm. You know, I haven’t decided that yet.” Her pace slowed down a bit. “I didn’t tell you this yesterday, but when I was going to come back I tried to hide it from my friends because I wasn’t sure they’d let me go. More than that, I wasn’t sure whether I’d want to go back. I thought that maybe if I work things out with Celestia that maybe she’d want to take me on as her student again.”
Twilight’s eyes lit up. “REALLY? That sounds amazing! I can help teach you too.”
Sunset sighed. “The fact of the matter is… the portal is only open for three days. That’s it. Then there’s a long period where it can’t be opened again. I can’t just go back and forth between them whenever I want, and switching between two different worlds every few years is impractical. It would be hard to explain my absences.
“In the end I have to make a difficult choice. I have friends on both sides, so I’m not that afraid of not being liked. It’s more that I’m afraid of hurting the ones I don’t choose. That was the big reason I didn’t want to tell then I was leaving. They figured out what I was up to, though, and stopped me. They were kinda mad and upset, and they had every right to be. I was scared if I brought up the possibility of wanting to stay in my original world that they’d abandon me. However, they didn’t do that. They told me that a piece of them will always be with me, so we’re never truly apart, and that they’d accept it, whichever way I chose.”
“The best of friends know when to let go. Sometimes, even though it can be extremely difficult to be apart, a friend has a higher calling that they make a priority.”
Spike let out a sigh. “Just like when I had to give Peewee away.”
“Peewee?” asked Sunset.
“He was my pet phoenix.”
“Wow!” Sunset exclaimed, impressed. “Phoenix’s are extremely rare pets. I didn’t think anyone other than Celestia could earn their trust.”
“Well, I got him as a baby, before he’d learned not to trust others.”
“So what happened to him?”
“Well… he wasn’t mine to keep.”
Twilight spoke up. “A few years ago Spike was having a bit of an identity crisis. He was a dragon who had grown up among ponies. The differences between our races made him curious about his family and what it truly means to be a dragon, so he joined the dragon migration. Me, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash all followed in secret, just in case.”
“And I’m glad you did,” Spike said, smiling over at her. Turning to Sunset he continued, “The older dragons mostly just slept and watched over the younger ones. I hung out with the teenage dragons. After a few flops I managed to earn their respect, and they asked me to be the lookout for their escapades. They hobby was going up to phoenix nests and smashing their eggs.”
Sunset gasped, putting a hoof to her mouth. “That’s horrible! No wonder they have trust issues with other species.”
“In all the commotion I found an egg, and they ordered me to smash it. I refused. It made me think of my own beginnings. I was brought to Canterlot as a defenseless egg. I was hatched by Twilight and became her companion and assistant as she grew up. Someone could have smashed ME before that happened, and then I wouldn’t have gotten to experience all the joy of having friends and helping Twilight become her best self.”
“Don’t know what I’d do without you,” Twilight said, nuzzling his face.
Spike rubbed her back. “You know, off topic here, for another of our adventures was facing off against King Sombra, the unicorn king. He had a spell that made you see your worst fears, and mine was that Twilight would one day send me away because she didn’t need me anymore.” He wiped a tear from his eye. “It was one of the worst things ever, but I know Twilight would never abandon her friends.”
“That’s right, Spike. You’ve always been with me through thick and thin, and you’re always there for me when I need you.”
Sunset rolled her eyes, saying jokingly, “Okay there, sappy. So what happened with the phoenix?”
“Well, they weren’t happy with my refusal. They threatened to hurt me too. That’s when Twilight and the rest revealed themselves. Twilight teleported us all out of there and we returned home. Peewee hatched shortly after that.
“Thinking about my own origins I realized that compared to how I saw dragons act that I was just fine with acting like a pony, and I wanted to help teach Peewee about that too. However, after a few weeks… I started feeling really guilty.” Spike felt himself tearing up. “I had no idea who my parents were. Princess Celestia said she found my egg abandoned by a dragon nest. Whether that meant my parents meant to come back for me but weren’t able to or maybe they just didn’t want me… I had never got to know my parents. However, Peewee’s parents were still alive, and he deserved to know them. So, with a heavy heart, me and Twilight made the trip back to the nest to return their baby back to them.
“When they saw me they initially went on the attack, as they have good memories and didn’t forget I was part of the group that had caused them to lose the egg in the first place. Good old Peewee got them to stop. I apologized to them and told them I was only there to return their child to them. I don’t know if they really forgave me for what I did, but I could see that their joy at having their baby back was more important than their anger at me.”
Spike sighed. “I keep hoping that one day I’ll see him return to Ponyville, if only just to say hi. However, he’s never come. I hope he’s doing alright.”
Sunset gave him a quick nuzzle with her hoof. “Buck up, Spike. You did the right thing. His parents would have grieved their child for a long time if you hadn’t had the good sense to take him back where he belongs.”
Spike sighed again. “Yeah, I know it was the right thing to do. That doesn’t make it any easier. I wanted to help teach another about the magic of friendship too, y’know?”
“And what better way to do that than to sacrifice what you really want instead of holding onto him out of a selfish desire? I think you did teach him something important he’ll never forget, and you should be proud of yourself for it.”
Spike got an awkward smile on his face. “You… you really think so?”
“I know so.”
“I think Sunset’s right, Spike,” said Twilight. “Unlike you Peewee had a real family to go back to, and it would have been wrong to keep him simply because you wanted a pet. Letting him go took a lot of courage, and I think it was a wonderful demonstration of friendship. Peewee’s mother and father might have talked with him about living with you, and it would let them know that there are some dragons they can trust, and that not all species mean them harm. Such acts tend to expand far beyond their initial recipient. It could someday lead to phoenix’s becoming less reclusive in the future.”
Spike shrugged. “Well, I don’t think just that is going to lead the phoenix race to change.”
Twilight giggled. “Oh, Spike. After all we’ve done together are you still underestimating the power a simple good deed can do for others?”
“Hmm, I guess I am. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Addressing Sunset, Twilight said, “Your friends let you go because they understand your need to resolve the past. And they’re prepared for the possibility you might want to stay when you do. You were never a proper human to start with, and it’s understandable that you might decide to use what you learned from your time over there to help you over here. The portal doesn’t close indefinitely, you know? Even if you decide to stay here in Equestria you might decide you prefer your life over there. If that’s the case you can go back the next time around. A bit of a long time to wait, for sure, but we haven’t worked out the mechanics of the portal enough to alter its duration.
“Just like our friends in the human world I’ll accept your decision, whatever it may be.”
“Thank you, Twilight. And you, Spike. That story helped to put things in perspective.”
“So that makes two-nothing, Spike!” Spike said, laughing as he pumped his claw.
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Hey, don’t forget who taught you enough to help others, Spike.”
“Yep! Pinkie Pie. Friends with every pony in town-“ he began ticking off with his claws “-always doing her best to make everyone smile, knows every detail about every pony in Ponyville…”
Twilight saw his smug look, but she wasn’t going to rise to his bait. “Oh, Sunset!” she said brightly. “I have this lovely fire ruby I’ve been saving, and I think you’d be the best one to have it.”
Spike’s face instantly dropped. “Another one? You had another one? Oh, come on, Twilight! You can’t give it to her! Do you know how awesome and rare fire rubies are?”
Twilight patted his head. “I was kidding. I only had the one.”
Spike’s mouth dropped almost to the ground. “I don’t know whether to cry because there is no second fire ruby or because you were going to give it to Sunset.”
“Don’t cry, Spike. Here. Take this as an apology.” Her horn glowed and there was a flash before a big emerald appeared.
He looked up at it. “Mmm. It’s not as good as a fire ruby… but I’ll take it.” He jumped in the air, spinning as he grabbed it and landed back on his feet. He quickly scarfed down the jewel.
“Hmm? There it is!” Twilight said excitedly as they came to the top of a hill.
“Wooooow,” said Sunset. It was a lot bigger than she expected. She didn’t know where to look first. It looked like an actual amusement park. She could see a mechanical swing set, a roller-coaster, a log ride, and a few concession stands, among other things.
They were still a ways off, but just the preview was enough to get her excitement up. She took off, saying, “Come on! Let’s go, slowpokes.”
“Wait up, Sunset!” Twilight called after her, laughing as she ran.
“Why wait?” Spike said, hopping on top of her. “This is going to be so much fun!”
Twilight grunted slightly. “Ugh, you’re not as light as you used to be.”
“I know, but one day you’ll be the one riding on me. Until then, you be my steed.”
Twilight almost bucked him off, but then thought better of it.
When they reached the front entrance to the gate they all came to a stop. “I just realized,” said Sunset with a frown, looking up at a water ride. “I don’t have any money.”
Twilight put a hoof on Sunset. “Don’t worry about that. I’ll cover you. You can just owe me one.”
“I owe you more than one,” Sunset replied. “You saved my life and showed me the path to a better life.” She turned towards Twilight. “I don’t think I can ever repay that debt.”
Twilight returned her grin. “You already have, simply by embracing the light I shone upon you.”
“Twilight!” came a familiar voice. “Over here!”
The three of them turned and saw Rainbow Dash standing there. “Come on!” she called out, gesturing with her hoof. “We’re all waiting for you so we can get this bad boy started.”
Twilight, Spike, and Sunset followed Rainbow Dash a short distance away where Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Fluttershy were waiting.
“Ah, good, you’re here,” said Rarity. “I was wondering when you would-” She stopped suddenly, giving a quizzical look behind Twilight. The pony standing there looked vaguely familiar to her, but that wasn’t what was weirding her out. It was the fact that she was giving her such an intimate smile, like they had been friends for years. “Um, hello?” said Rarity in an excessively polite tone, an over-wide smile on her face, waving her hoof a little.
Rarity wasn’t the only one feeling odd. Each of them were sure they had never met this pony before, but there was something about her that just felt like they knew her somehow. Her eyes were so tender and joyous.
Sunset could see their strange expressions, but she just couldn’t help it. Even if they weren’t her same friends from the human world, just seeing their Equestrian counterparts filled her with happiness. Her heart felt so light it might just fly out into the atmosphere. Her meeting with Celestia the next day already felt more minor, knowing that she’d have all of them by her side when she went to meet her past.
“Hey, everyone,” said Twilight. “Are the girls here too?”
Applejack wrenched her eyes away from the new pony, saying distractedly, “Oh, yeah. They should be around here somewhere.”
“Well, I’d like to introduce a new friend, and I think it would make things easier if we took care of it all at once. She’s a little shy.”
Rainbow scoffed, seeing the stranger’s calm attitude. “Oh, yeah. Fluttershy number two, over here.”
“Yeah, Twilight!” said Pinkie Pie excitedly, hopping on her hooves like she was doing the Sunshine, Sunshine dance. “She doesn’t look shy.” She did a hoofstand. “She’d just love to be friends with the Pink-”she rolled forward, winding up right in front of Sunset “-ie Pie!”
Sunset giggled. “Oh, Pinkie. You never change.”
“Not really. Hmm? But how did you know that?” Her eyebrow went up as she scratched her chin, before her face lit up. “I got it!” She leaned backwards towards her friends and said in a loud whisper, “She’s psychic!”
Twilight let out a light sigh, remembering the Pinkie Pie from the other world saying the same thing about HER when she knew Pinkie’s name before she introduced herself. “Here or there, you’re right. Pinkie is always the same.”
“Well, I’d never say no ta a new friend,” said Applejack. “Hold on a second.” Putting a hoof to the side of her mouth she yelled out, “APPLE BLOOM! Come over here!”
It took a few seconds before the response came. “COMIN’!”
Apple Bloom came running over, closely followed by Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. The three of them had grown with the years, but were still a head shorter than their sisters, and about the same size as Spike. Each of them had their cutie marks: Apple Bloom's was an apple tree, Scootaloo’s a scooter, and Sweetie Belle’s several musical notes.
“What’s up, Sis?”
“Twilight’s got a new friend for us to meet.”
“There you are,” said Sunset, giving them the same warm smiles as the others ones. “Now the gang’s all here.”
Apple Bloom had no sense of déjà vu, so she found it even stranger that a pony she had never seen before was giving her such a loving look.
“Um, Twilight?” said Fluttershy. “You said you wanted to introduce us to a new friend, but it seems like she knows all of us already.”
“Well, in a sense that’s true,” Twilight responded. “She’s already good friends with all of you… just not in this world.”
“Pardon?” said Rarity.
“Come again?” said Applejack.
Twilight put a hoof on Sunset, saying, “Everyone, this is Sunset Shimmer. Of course you’ve never met her properly, but she-”
“Wait a second!” interrupted Rainbow Dash, her confusion turning to anger. “Wasn’t she the no-good thief who swiped your Element of Harmony, abandoned Celestia, and tried to kill you and return here a conqueror? What’s SHE doing here?”
Sunset’s happy demeanor faded instantly, her face scrunching up and her body tensing. All of them were giving her the look, that same ugly, hateful look everyone had given her after the Fall Formal. Applejack and Rarity both pushed their sisters behind them as if she was suddenly going to abduct them.
Scootaloo began to feel off. Sunset’s expression, her demeanor, looked so familiar.
“HEY!” said Spike sharply. “She’s here because Twilight wants her here, Rainbow Dash! She’s your princess, is she not? Do you trust her or not?”
“Spike…” Sunset looked over at him, feeling touched.
“OOOOOHHHHHHH!” Pinkie said, her bright demeanor returning. “I remember now! She came through the portal and took the Element and took it to the human world and you and Spike followed her and tried to get it back and then she managed to get the Element and she became a horrible demon-”
Sunset flinched again, before Pinkie rushed behind her and she gasped as Pinkie pulled her onto her hind legs and lifted her front hooves, moving them around like a ghost.
“-RAAAH-I hate friendship! SHOOM!”
She rushed back with the rest, grabbing them all into a tight group. “No! Friendship rules! FROOOM!”
She zoomed back to Sunset, grabbing onto her again. “NOOO! I’ve been defeated.” She fell back with Sunset, before going back to her friends. “Friendship?”
She pulled Sunset up, working her mouth. “Friendship, yes!” Taking Sunset’s hooves she began waving them back and forth. “Yay, friendship! WOOHOOO!
“And then we all became friends in another world!” Grabbing a drink she took a long sip from a straw, slurping away before holding it out and saying, “True story!”
Pinkie gave a big, open-mouthed grin as she finished. All of them gave her strange looks like she was from another planet.
Sunset began to laugh. She couldn’t help it. The sheer ridiculousness of Pinkie Pie never ceased to amaze her. Pinkie sat down next to her, putting a hoof around her as she began to laugh too. Sunset returned the gesture.
The tension broke, and all of them began to join in until tears were coming down their eyes.
“P-P-Personal space, Pinkie,” said Applejack, wiping her eyes. “Learn it.”
When the laughter finally died down Sunset stood up, facing them. “Listen, everyone. I know I’ve done some horrible things in the past. I don’t deny any of it. That’s the reason I’m here today. I came back through the portal so I can meet Celestia and make peace with her.” She sighed, averting her eyes. “I’m just kinda nervous. It’s been so long since I’ve seen her, so I just wanted the support of some friends with me before I have to face her.”
“Hey, girls,” said Sweetie Belle. “Doesn’t she look familiar?”
“Ya getting’ that feelin’ too, Sweetie Belle?” said Apple Bloom.
“So I’m not the only one?” said Scootaloo.
A strong breeze came through the area. As it flowed behind Sunset, blowing her tail towards her body Apple Bloom’s eyes lit up. “OH! That’s it.”
“You got it?”
“Yer cousin?” said Applejack.
“Yeah! That’s that expression she always wore when she’d be worried about not havin’ a cutie mark. She’d always cover her blank flank with her tail.”
Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo both gave Sunset a hard look. “Yeah, you’re right!” said Scootaloo. “I see it now.”
“Me too!” said Sweetie Belle.
Apple Bloom turned to her sister. “Come on, Applejack. She says she’s sorry for what she did. Babs did a lot of crummy things to us, but we forgave her when she realized how nasty she was bein’ and apologized.”
“Well, shoot,” said Applejack. “After sharing such a good laugh together I guess I don’t got much choice, do I?”
“Great! Let’s all be friends!”
There was a murmur of agreement among the rest of the ponies.
Rainbow Dash looked mollified, but she added in, “I’ll give you a shot because Twilight vouched for you, but I’ve got my eye on you. If you do ANYTHING to endanger my friends you’ll be sorry.”
“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight said anxiously, giving a quick glance at Sunset. Knowing how nervous Sunset was she didn’t want her to get all upset again.
Sunset nodded grimly, barely fazed. “I understand. It’s okay, Twilight. It’s nothing less than I would expect from the Element of Loyalty.”
“Well… okay, then,” Twilight replied cautiously.
“Come on, everyone. We still have to do one last walk around the park to make sure everything is ready. There’s only another hour before opening. We can chat on the way.”
As all of them began walking Sunset hung back slightly, going slower than the rest. She looked at all of them, tears blurring her vision. She thought she had finally escaped the LOOK, that LOOK of distrust and anger, like she was the scum of the world.
‘All of them,’ she thought, the tears starting to come down, ‘Twilight, Spike, Applejack… every one of them gave me that same expression when they saw me. And if all of them are acting that way then how is Celestia going to react?’
Her head went down as she continued her slow plod, staring at the grass. ‘Huh?’ she thought, seeing the grass she was walking on suddenly turning red before realizing it wasn’t grass at all. It was a carpet.
“What are YOU doing here?” came a sharp voice from ahead.
Sunset gasped, her eyes going wide. Her head shot up, and she saw Celestia standing there, sitting on her throne. Celestia was giving her a deadly glare that made her blood turn cold.
“Traitors cannot be abided!” She began walking toward her, and Sunset began to back up, shivering. “You ran away, tried to murder my precious student, stole a priceless Equestrian artifact, and endangered everyone for your own selfish ambitions. You are unforgivable scum!”
“N-n-no!” Sunset replied in a rush. “I’m n-n-not that same pony anymore!”
“ENOUGH!” Celestia replied in the Royal Canterlot Voice. Her horn began to glow so bright it became white, a sphere of magic around her as her eyes glowed pure-white as well. “With my sister back there’s now room for one on the moon. You will never endanger my subjects again.”
“NO! NO! NO!” Sunset pleaded, too scared to move. “Please! My friends!”
“Sunset!” said Celestia, but out of her mouth came Twilight’s voice. “Sunset! Hey!”
She felt herself being shaken, and Celestia’s throne room melted away until she saw Twilight and the rest all standing in front of her, worry and concern on their faces. She looked around, her heart racing and her eyes so small they were almost invisible. Her breathing was short and shallow. ‘It wasn’t real,’ she thought, in a near-panic. ‘It wasn’t real. It wasn’t… real.’
Sunset took a few shuddering breaths before she fell onto Twilight, squeezing her tightly, and said in a scared voice,. “H-h-help me! I-I-I don’t wanna be banished! I do-do-don’t want to-to-to lose my friends!”
“Sunset!” Twilight said soothingly, rubbing her back. “Just relax. What happened?”
“I… I had a vision. I was standing in front of Celestia…” She wiped her face as she shuddered, the memory making her innards feel like ice again. “…she said she was going to send me to the moon for what I did. She looked so angry.
“Why should I expect anything different?” She let go of Twilight, walking away a few steps. “After all, none of you really trust me. Every single one of you gave me the same glare when you found out who I was. Even you, Twilight. None of you think that I really changed.
“I’ve tried!” she said, her voice cracking as she spun around, swinging her hoof. “I’ve worked so HARD to change myself from who I was. I’ve done everything I could to embrace friendship and distance myself as much as possible from that horrible being I used to be.” Tears poured down her eyes. “I had to endure so much! I’ve had to deal with the cold hateful eyes of those I stepped on on my path to power. I had to deal with the ridicule and the put-downs and the insults and those that wanted revenge. I endured it all, knowing it was no less than I deserved.”
She turned around again, sinking to the ground. “So many times I felt like giving up. It would have been so easy to let it get to me, to return to what I used to be and lose myself in revenge to escape it all, but five things stopped me every time from wanting to go down that path: Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie. When life got me down and felt unbearable they all shared my pain, offering me kindness and support until the weight stopped being so crushing.
“And now, a few years later, after doing my best to make up for my horrible past, people’s opinions about me have slowly shifted. They can see I’ve become a better person, and have stopped treating me so coldly. It was enough for them, but not for everyone. It wasn’t enough for me. I may have repaid my debt in that world, but I still have one to repay in this one. That’s why I returned.
“But I guess none of it matters. My name is still mud here.” Her head slumped onto her front hooves. “All I wanted was to make peace with Celestia, but I guess that’s just going to end as a dream.” She forced herself up to her hooves, slowly plodding away as she continued emotionlessly, “In this world I don’t have any power to do anything, because I have no friends here. All I was looking for was a little support, to give me the strength I needed to do the right thing, but if all of you hate me why should I expect Celestia to feel any different?”
For a few seconds none of them could respond. Turned away from them Sunset couldn’t even see that most of them were crying, touched by her plight.
Rainbow Dash felt the last of her reservations fade away. She could now see the new Sunset for herself. Flapping her wings she zoomed forward, landing in front of Sunset. “And just where do you think you’re going?”
Sunset looked up, an inscrutable expression on her face, but didn’t respond.
“Twilight called you her friend, and just like in the other world she brought you to us because she knew we could help. We just got off on the wrong hoof. I can see you were speaking from your heart just now. That much is clear to me.”
Applejack jogged up until she was next to Rainbow. “I’m powerful sorry for treatin’ ya like that. We all know what Twilight said after she returned from the portal, but the only time we actually saw ya was when ya came to swipe the crown, and first impressions can play a big part. We shoulda known you were someone to be trusted from the way ya was lookin’ at all of us when ya saw us.
“Can ya ever forgive us… friend?” Applejack gave her a comforting smile before putting her hoof out.
“Don’t bother asking,” said Rainbow, a mischievous grin on her face. “She’s going to, whether she wants to or not. HUG DOGPILE!”
Giggles abounded as they all swarmed her, hugging Sunset like their life depended on it.
Sunset at first showed no reaction, still with a dead look on her face. She looked around at the group, each of them circled around her, and her iron mask began to crack. She was reminded of her friends from the human world, who would do the same thing for her when she was down. Her apathy slowly faded as she felt the outpouring of love surrounding her, a tear coming down her cheek
She closed her eyes, a serene smile upon her face. Maybe it wasn’t hopeless. Maybe she did have some friends in Equestria after all. Maybe… she would give it one more try.