by Arad


“I know who and what you used to be, Sunny.”

Over the course of her long life, the strongest emotions that Sunny had felt were often negative. Anger and annoyance were the two largest contenders by far, followed by frustration and other darker things.

Since her time in the hidden village, she had experienced far more than she thought had been possible. Sunny had experienced the wonders of surprise from Lulu, gratitude from the other ponies for her work, satisfaction in a job well done… and the heart wrenching sympathy she felt towards Starswirl and his young grandchild. She had also been haunted by another emotion since the revelation of Lulu’s injuries, something that gnawed at her every waking moment. It was a feeling that she had no name for, and as uncomfortable as it was, deep down she felt that she might deserve the horrible feeling.

The emotion that gripped Sunny in the darkened common hall was something entirely new. It wasn’t the slow burning pain that she had been dealing with, or the spikes that prodded her whenever she thought of Lulu. A sense of urgency unlike anything she had ever felt overpowered everything else, until only one single thought ran through her mind.

They know. They know!

The part of Sunny’s mind that was still free from the chilling grip of that nameless emotion ran through a thousand probable outcomes of the situation she now found herself in. An ambush? Pointless. Even Starswirl could do little to harm me for long. Plus, any such combat would irreparably damage the village. No, if this were an ambush, he would have taken me elsewhere. So why confront me in the first place?

The two repeated words continued to repeat with increasing urgency for Sunny, but with the immediate threat apparently a figment of her imagination, she approached the problem from a different angle. Why confront me at all? It’s not as though they can help me-- The memory of Starswirl retelling the tale of his son’s death, Lulu’s terrified screaming as she fled from the rising sun, and the long-ago conversation about Smart Cookie and Clover’s relationship flashed into focus for her, and each scene was punctuated by those two words.

They would never help Solaria-- they would never help me after what I’ve done to them. Sunny realised, and her composure began to crack. They hate Solaria… and that means that they hate me. She gasped in a breath as the full ramifications of that thought struck her. They don’t mean to attack me. They want to cast me out. The disguised alicorn could almost see the comfortable little life that she had built here crumbling to dust around her. No more ‘harmony’ discussions with Starswirl. No more attempts at baking or sewing with Smart Cookie. No more reading and lessons with Lulu.

“Sunny, are you alright?”

Surely they wouldn’t do that! I’ve changed! They’ve helped me change! Surely they’ll see that I’m not the way I once was… right? Sunny pleaded internally, and she was accosted with a deluge of memories of ponies who had begged and pleaded for their lives in a similar manner over the centuries. Their groveling hadn’t helped them… and it won’t help me here, she realised, and she struggled to breathe as that terrible truth struck her.

“Sunny, just stay calm…”

Were it not for the sheer number of wards and protections that Sunny maintained and disguised around herself, she would have sworn that something had reached into her chest and crushed her heart. It’s gone… it’s all gone. This life… the pony called ‘Sunny Sky’, is dead. If I chose not to be Solaria, and I can’t be Sunny anymore… then what does that make me now? What am I without those names, those… identities? Nothing… nothing at all. Her legs threatened to give out from beneath her, and any attempt to speak failed due to that stabbing pain in her chest.

“Breathe, child. Just--” “Step back, you dusty old stick! You’re the reason she’s acting this way!”

I don’t want to go! I want to stay here, stay Sunny! Desperation overrode all other thoughts in Sunny’s mind as she searched for some way to delay the inevitable. Lulu… Lulu said that if I apologize and promise to do better, then everything will be alright? Right? That has to work, that has to work! She opened her mouth to speak, but the only sound that came forth was a pitiful series of sobs. Before Sunny could attempt the apology again, another pony pulled her into a gentle hug.

“There there, dear, it’s all right,” Smart Cookie said as she patted the stunned mare on the back, and she didn’t pull away as Sunny clung to her like a drowning foal to its parents. “It wasn’t Starswirl’s intent to give you such a shock, Sunny. He’s always had an eye on the bigger picture, and he tends to miss some of the more obvious concerns.” The earth pony’s tone was patient and caring, not at all what Sunny had been expecting.

“I like it here with everyone, with Lulu and all of you. I like it here more than anywhere I’ve ever been!” Sunny pleaded. She couldn’t bring herself to do more than bury her face in Cookie’s shoulder as she begged. “I’m sorry for everything, and I promise I’ll do better! Please don’t make me leave! Please!” Silence fell in the wake of her words, but Sunny couldn’t bring herself to pull herself from Cookie to judge the expressions.

“Sunny, why would you ever think that we would make you leave?” Cookie asked, confusion entering her tone. “Even if Starswirl’s suspicions are true, nopony blames you. You were in no position to stop Solaria from doing any of the terrible things she’s done, any more than the rest of us here.”

Wait, what? Sunny thought, her panic morphing into bewilderment at the comment. She pulled away from Cookie’s shoulder to glance at the mare and saw nothing but sympathy there. What… what is she talking about? She isn’t making any sense!

Starswirl spoke next, hesitation clearly apparent in his voice. “I must apologize again, Sunny. Had I known that this conversation would have such an effect on you, I would have been gentler. I had suspected your true nature since our first meeting out in the wilderness, and I suppose this is proof enough that I was right not to confront you there.” Sorrow could be heard in the stallion’s voice, and he looked away when Sunny glanced at him. An undercurrent of anger colored his words as he continued, “We all have reasons to hate Solaria for what she’s taken from us, but I want you to know that nopony here considers you culpable for her crimes in any way. In all honesty, she’s probably taken the most from you, as it was rather obvious that Solaria took you at so young an age that you lack some of the basic knowledge that everypony's taught.”

The tidal wave of fear and loss that had threatened to drown Sunny broke against the nonsensical explanation that Starswirl was providing.

It was Clover who spoke next, and the suspicion that seemed to be his median mood was nowhere to be found. In its place was an uncharacteristic hesitant and regretful tone. “When we first met during the long winter, I admit that I was rather harsh on you, Sunny. I want you to know right now that I’m glad that you’ve proven me wrong. You’ve earned your place here, and nopony will think less of you for refusing to help us--”

Starswirl cleared his throat suddenly, and the younger stallion stopped mid sentence. “We’ll get to how you may help in just a moment, but I think an explanation is required.” His horn flared and several lights began to fill the darkened common hall. Only one remained stationary, while the others slowly orbited around it. The overhead lighting hid the elder stallion’s face under the shadowed darkness of his hat as he spoke. “One might argue that the greatest threat to our survival is Solaria, and I would be inclined to agree but for one thing. The fact that she controls our solar system means that, were she to be removed from the equation, we would all die as our sun is flung from the planet. This is an absolute certainty.”

Sunny’s eyes watched the light representing the sun do just that, but she didn’t have to use much of her imagination to realise what would happen next. The long winter would be nothing compared to what would follow! she thought, and a second pang of guilt stabbed into her. Why did I arrange for the orbit to be this way in the first place? Or was it always this way? A flurry of questions arose from the display, but none took precedence over the largest question of all: Why is Starswirl telling me this? He’s all but admitted to planning to usurp Sola-- me…

“I have several plans in place to neutralize Solaria’s influence over this world, or at least convince her that it isn’t in her best interest to continue to interfere here. I doubt she can ever truly be killed, as I suspect that she is far more than she appears to be,” Starswirl continued, oblivious to the effect his words were having on Sunny. “Those plans are not our concern for the moment. What is our concern is how to regain control of our star to prevent our own extinction. I have been working on a spell that will solve that problem with the help of several crystals that Clover found--”

“You WHAT!?” Clover screamed, and he planted one hoof onto the floorboards with enough force to splinter the wood. “You have no idea how dangerous Arcanite is, or what it’s capable of! It’s not just some magical supercharger like I first thought! There’s something evil behind it… something that pulls--”

“I am well aware of what you speak, Clover, and I believe I have found a solution,” Starswirl explained, and he retrieved a small locked chest from the corner of the room. He set the box down and produced a small key, and his hooves briefly fumbled with the small item before it clicked and began to open. The elder stallion stood back and looked down at the box with a small smile. “Shortly after we founded this little village, I retrieved these shards and buried them around the perimeter. Since then, they’ve had years to bask in the positive emotions of the ponies here. Honesty, loyalty, laughter, generosity, kindness… when combined, they all have a magic of their own and they’ve driven out whatever dark forces that resided in the Arcanite.”

Clover’s outrage took on a betrayed tone as he began to rant about experiments, consent, and the danger that Starswirl had put them all in, but Sunny’s eyes were locked squarely on the box itself. Six crystal shards rested at the bottom of the box in a rough pentagon shape, with the last resting in the center. Each was a different color, and while her eyes continued to stare at them, Sunny’s mind was elsewhere.

Crystalline structures cut into the landscape as far as the eye could see, sharp and ordered lines standing in stark contrast to the the disorganized chaos that occurred without the guidance of the Architects. Quadrupedal creatures walked in neat lines at an equal pace, mindless in their duties.

A presence entered her mind, both overpowering and unfathomable. There was no resistance to the domination; she was made to be a conduit for their will.

MAINTAIN ORDER, they demanded, and she complied to the best of her ability until she received further orders.

Those orders would never come.

Sunny was jarred out of the memory as Starswirl snapped the box shut, and it slipped from her memory like a dream when she noticed the elder stallion’s gaze was fixed squarely upon her.

“I apologize for the distraction, Sunny,” Starswirl said, and he cast a sharp look at Clover, who returned it with a scathing glare of his own. “Do you recall our discussion during the mark party? I know you had some time to survey all of the work I had spread out, and you might recall this one specifically.” He produced a rolled scroll as he continued, “It is designed to transform a unicorn into a form that can properly channel the amount of force needed to move our star, if necessary.”

Sunny nodded on reflex, though the meaning behind Starswirl’s words didn’t immediately register with her. What’s going on? A-am I going to be allowed to stay? That can’t be, they hate Sol- they hate me. They aren’t making any sense at all! And what was that I saw earlier? Crystal lines and mindless creatures… and just a single command given… Her mind struggled to recall the scene that she had seen, but it was quickly lost in the flood of other worries that were more immediate.

Apparently ignorant of what was going on in Sunny’s mind, Starswirl continued. “I had originally intended to cast this on myself, but two problems arose. I didn’t want to risk the spell falling into the wrong hooves, so I’ve taken steps that ensue only those worthy of it may benefit. The lions share of the spell is also in my head, so there's no danger of it being abused in the future. The other problem is that I fear I’m too old to survive the process. The only other alternative with the magical potential and capacity was… my granddaughter, Lulu. She’s young enough to grow into--”

“What!?” Smart Cookie and Clover shouted simultaneously, and the earth pony mare released Sunny to stomp over to the elder stallion. “She’s your family, and you’re all she has!” Cookie shouted, and Starswirl’s gaze lowered beneath the brim of his hat. “She trusts you more than anypony in the world, though it seems she does so at her own peril! Was this your plan all along, you manipulative spider? To use--”

“Do you think I came to this decision lightly? Do you think I am such a monster that I would use her for my own convenience?” Starswirl roared back, and he matched Cookie’s glare with one of his own. “I chose not to share the entirety of my plan with either you or Clover because I was looking for any alternative that was possible! If no other way could be found, then I would have to use Lulu to save every living creature on this world.” The fire in his eyes gave way, and Starswirl seemed to age visibly. “Thankfully… it seems that we may be blessed with an alternative.”

Starswirl looked past Cookie, and eventually the earth pony mare and Clover followed his gaze. Sunny withered under the stares of all three, and she held her breath.

“Sunny Skies,” Starswirl said as he drew himself up. “I’ve long suspected that you were Solaria’s student prior to the war. Given the sheer scope of your magical capacity, I suspect that she was using the nobles for centuries to produce a unicorn with the amount of magical potential necessary to succeed her. Your flank mark, the sun itself, only adds evidence to this. I suspect that her heavy-hooved punishment of my son and his family was to eliminate a bloodline that might threaten her… and you, but that’s beside the point and not your fault in any way.

“Sunny, we can finally be rid of the tyrant Solaria and the threat of extinction with your help, but only if you are willing. I would understand if you had some lingering loyalty to her, but I ask you to weigh that against the lives of everypony you’ve met here and all of the innocents that have suffered beneath her. I will not order you to help us, nor will I threaten your place in this community if you decline. The spell to empower you enough to control the sun will change you… permanently, so you must choose of your own free will to have it cast upon you.” The elder stallion seemed to struggle with his words before asking in a whisper, “Sunny, will you volunteer to become an alicorn?”

The avalanche in process in Sunny’s mind came to a screeching halt at Starswirl’s question. They… they don’t want to banish me, not because I’m Solaria but because they think I’m my own student? That’s ridiculous! And Starswirl has a spell that can turn somepony into an alicorn!? I must have missed some critical detail… I’m forgetting something important, aren’t I? What is it… am I misunderstanding something... Sunny wracked her mind for the elusive key detail that would make sense of this nonsensical situation, but her concentration faltered and the world turned sideways.

What… oh, I forgot to breathe, didn’t I? she thought as the floor rushed up to meet her. I’ll have to remember to keep doing that. Hopefully when I wake up everything will make sense. Yes, clearly I’m misunderstanding everything, or this is one of Lulu’s elaborate pranks. Oh, I’ll get her for this… Any further plotting was halted as Sunny hit the floor in a dead faint.