• Published 2nd May 2015
  • 4,182 Views, 324 Comments

Sunset Nanodrive - MythrilMoth



In a world where all living things are infected with nanomachines, only Sunset Shimmer has the power to cure the rampaging EVOs that threaten mankind. But what's in it for her?

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01. Start the Revolution

A haze hung over Canterlot, spreading heat and shadows over the city as the sun dipped ever nearer the horizon.

A teenage girl with copper-and-gold hair sailed through the air and slammed painfully into the wall of a high-rise apartment building. Grimacing, she stood, dusted off her black leather jacket, and squared off against the deadliest, most terrible foe she had ever faced.

Her entire life had been building to this moment. Teal eyes narrowed as she stared down her hated nemesis. "This. Ends. Now."

She charged forward, a scream of wordless fury tearing its way out of her throat as glowing golden lines raced down her arm into her right hand, which transformed into a giant purple-and-black mechanical fist. Pistons pounded and powerful motors whirred as the biomechanical impossibility slammed into her enemy, splaying it against the building on the other side of the street.

Her arm returned to normal as she stalked toward her foe, who was shaking its head to clear the dizziness. Beady red eyes narrowed and fixated on her, and it let out an unholy screech of menace.

She placed her hand on its chest; golden lines spread out across its body. With an audible, high-pitched burst of oscillating code transmission, nanoscopic machines interfaced, rapidly reprogramming and deactivating countless Nanites in the span of a few seconds.

The nightmarish monster rabbit that had menaced her all day shrank into a tiny white bunny, who glared up at her and twitched its ears irritably.

A girl with long cherry blossom pink hair ran up to her, clutching a bleeding wound on her shoulder. Her green skirt and white tank top were in ragged tatters, and she only wore one green boot; her other foot was bare. "Angel!" she cried. "You're alright!" She scooped up the little white rabbit and cradled him protectively to her chest, then smiled at the other girl. "Thank you, Sunset Shimmer. Thank you so much."

Sunset Shimmer flipped her hair and smirked. "You're lucky I didn't decide to make rabbit stew out of that little furball," she said. She tilted her head. "Umm, Fluttershy? You might...wanna find a new shirt." With a teasing grin, she added, "And...maybe start wearing a bra?"

Fluttershy looked down at herself and let out a petrified squeak, dropping Angel as she wrapped her arms around herself to cover her exposed breasts. Sunset shook her head, sighed, shrugged off her jacket, stripped off her own magenta shirt, and handed it to the mortified Fluttershy, who accepted it gratefully. Sunset put her jacket back on over her purple bra. "Need a ride home?"

"Oh...umm...no thank you," Fluttershy said. "I'll...I'll get your shirt back to you tomorrow, alright?"

"Whatever." Sunset's legs transformed into a huge purple-and-black motorcycle, which roared thunderously before speeding off into the city streets.

Fluttershy shuddered. "I don't think I'll ever get used to that..."

* * * * *

Sunset did her best to ignore the wolf-whistles from various troopers and researchers as she walked through the corridors of Crystal Prep, which had been repurposed as the de facto headquarters of HARMONY.

Halfway to her quarters, a door opened, and a woman with skin the color of granite, a blank, emotionless expression, and straight purple hair, wearing a blue-green suit with a skinny black tie, fell into step beside her. "You're late," she said.

"Had a little pest control problem."

"Queen wants you in the lab."

"You don't say."

"She's not happy."

"She never is."

"You should put a shirt on."

"I'll get right on that."

Sunset reached her quarters and paused, taking a deep breath before opening the door.

Inside, a purple creature roughly the size of a nine-year-old kid was lounging on a cot, reading a comic. The creature looked like an anthropomorphic cross between a dog and a dragon, with floppy green ears and a ridge of scaly green spines from the crown of its head to the tip of its tail. The creature leered at her with slit-pupiled green eyes. "How come nobody told me it's my birthday?" it said in a decidedly male—but young—voice.

"I can neuter you in a heartbeat, Spike," Sunset said as she shed her jacket, grabbed a shirt from her closet, and put it on. Shrugging her jacket back on, she looked around and frowned. "This room was clean when I left," she said.

Spike looked around at the empty ice cream buckets, crushed soda cans, and crinkled chip bags. "What?" he said in a nasally, "it-wasn't-me" tone.

Sunset massaged the bridge of her nose. "Clean this shit up," she said. Glaring at a particular mess in one corner, she scowled. "And ESPECIALLY clean that shit up. Or I'm telling Twilight about your pornos."

Spike paled. "Okay okay, sheesh..." Grumbling, he threw aside his comic, got off the bed, and started breathing plumes of green fire on the assorted trash and droppings, incinerating it. A ventilation fan in the corner clicked on, whirring as it sucked up the smoke. A device mounted on the opposite wall beeped and began releasing air fresheners.

Sunset shook her head and left the room, headed in the direction of the main lab.

As the double-sealed doors to the lab opened, she heard two voices arguing inside.

"—can't sanction her constantly going rogue! She must be brought to heel!"

"She's going out of her way to help us! We've learned more, helped more people, saved more lives since we found her!"

"She's dangerous."

Sunset cleared her throat. "She's standing right here, you know."

A girl her age was sitting in front of an array of computer monitors. She had light purple skin and soft purple eyes, long, straight violet hair with a pink stripe, and wore black-framed glasses and a white labcoat over a blue turtleneck dress. She turned to look at Sunset, adjusting her glasses. "Where were you?" she asked.

"Dealing with an EVO that was wreaking havoc at CHS," Sunset said. "Thanks for all the help, by the way," she added with a venomous glare at the other speaker.

"Watch your tone," a voice said from a large monitor on the wall. On the monitor, a severe woman with coal black skin and limp, stringy kelp-green hair was glowering at Sunset through smoked green glasses.

"Bite me, Queenie," Sunset said. "Hey Twilight, your mutt shit all over my room again."

Dr. Twilight Sparkle, the lead scientist of HARMONY and youngest Ph.D. in history, groaned. "I'm so sorry about that, Sunset," she said. "I'll have a talk with him. Again. But right now, we have more important things to discuss." She turned to her keyboard and began typing rapidly. One of her monitors showed a satellite view of the frozen northern wastes. "We're getting strange Nanite readings out of the north," she said. "Our surveillance network picked up something very interesting."

Another image appeared: a massive, jagged black crystal structure, shooting up out of the ice like a cancerous growth. "It looks like some kind of castle," Sunset said. Like something out of Equestria, she didn't add.

"We don't know where it came from," Twilight said, pushing up her glasses. "The Nanite activity levels in that area are unlike anything we've detected since the Event. And there's something...not quite right about the readings."

"We're sending in a team to investigate," the woman on the screen said. "You're going with them. As backup only. You're not authorized to do anything but stay on the drop jet and wait unless Rock tells you otherwise."

"And me without a parka," Sunset quipped.

"Do you understand your orders?" the coal-skinned woman asked sharply.

Sunset rolled her eyes, "Yeah, Queen, I got it."

"Good. The team leaves at 0600. Don't be late." The image winked out.

"Bitch," Sunset muttered.

"Sunset," Twilight said tiredly, "could you at least try to—"

"No, Twilight," Sunset said. "I'm sick of that bitch and her contempt for me. If I wanted to be talked down to and treated like a disease, I'd have stayed in Equestria. I didn't put up with that shit off Princess Celestia, I am NOT putting up with it off Black Queen."

Twilight sighed. "Go get some rest," she said. "You've got an early flight to catch."

* * * * *

Sunset lay awake in bed, thinking. She'd kicked Spike out for the night so she could be alone with her thoughts (and not have to smell him).

Not for the first time, nor the last, she thought back to that fateful night, twenty-five moons ago...

* * * * *

"Sunset Shimmer, your studies end here. I'm afraid I can no longer tolerate your attitude and your willful disobedience. You showed such promise...it saddens me that you have left me no recourse. You are welcome to stay in Canterlot, but you are no longer welcome in this castle."

Sunset Shimmer glared at the ruler of Equestria. "You've been keeping things from me...things I deserve to know! You know I could be your equal! You know I could be—"

"The only thing you can be, Sunset Shimmer, is escorted from the castle by the guards." Princess Celestia turned her back on her. "Get her out of my sight."

Two pegasus guards flanked Sunset Shimmer. "This is the biggest mistake you'll make in your entire life, Celestia!" she spat. The guards kicked her sharply in the sides, forcing her to march between them. She marched sullenly down the long corridor, past the room with the mirror...

...the mirror!

Sunset released a burst of magic from her horn, blinding the guards. They reared in panic; she kicked each guard right in the throat, stunning them, then teleported directly in front of the mirror. She looked back into the castle, a savage grin on her face. "So long, Canterlot," she said. Laughing, she stepped through the mirror...

...a blinding cyclone of colors surrounded her...and her body stretched...

She fell through the other side, landing painfully on the ground. Her body felt strange. She looked down at her hooves...only to find her arms ended in slender, five-fingered hands, which stung from contact with a paved surface. She rearranged herself into an awkward sitting position and examined her body with her eyes and hands. Her hind legs were longer and encased in tall black-and-purple boots; her knees were scraped and stung much like her hands. She was wearing unfamiliar clothing, her muzzle had become flat, and her horn was missing.

"Well...this is certainly an interesting development," she mused.

She looked around. Streetlights illuminated the darkness, revealing rows of buildings arranged along a paved road; it reminded her of Manehattan. Behind her stood a tall statue of a rearing horse; before her stood an enormous, palatial edifice that could possibly be a castle. Overhead, the moon shed pale light through wispy clouds.

"So...where am I?" she wondered.

And then a blinding white fireball swallowed the sky.

"What the—?!"

Suddenly, Sunset felt a searing agony, as though millions of burning hot ants were crawling around inside her body. She writhed on the ground and screamed. Her eyes had been seared by the fire in the sky; she squeezed them shut, fighting not to blink against the spots in her vision. She screamed as the strange crawling, burning sensation tore through her entire being.

A million horrifying thoughts raced through her mind.

Was this some side-effect of crossing through the portal?

Had this world somehow been alerted of her transgression? Was this an attack designed to drive her back into Equestria to face judgment?

Was some sort of war going on, and that fireball in the sky some terrible weapon?

After an eternity of agony, Sunset felt her mind slip away, and she blacked out.

When next she awoke, it was morning. The sun was shining down, a gentle breeze was rustling through the leaves of trees, and aside from a terrible headache, she felt completely normal. Her scraped hands and knees had healed overnight. She stood, brushed off her skirt, and looked around.

The streets seemed to be deserted. She studied the huge building that loomed ahead of her, then strode up to the front entrance; her bipedal gait caused her only brief moments of disorientation as she adjusted to the way her new body moved.

To her dismay, the front doors were locked.

Sighing, she looked out into the city, then made her way back down the steps, walking toward the street with steadier and steadier steps. The city was eerily quiet, but the breeze carried a noise to her ears. She followed it and found a barricade erected in the middle of a street, with a black and white metal carriage of some sort parked beside it. Two men in dark blue uniforms were milling around, drinking from paper cups. She headed in their direction. "Excuse me," she called once she was within earshot.

The men looked at her. One of them frowned. "Miss, you shouldn't be out in the streets this morning," he said. "You should go home."

"I, uh...I'm kind of a long way from home," she said. "I'm not from...around here."

"Oh," the man said. He grimaced. "Are you travelling alone?"

"That's right."

"You should call your family or something, then," he said. "Let them know you're alright..."

"I'll do that as soon as I can," she said. "What happened here? Last thing I remember was a fireball in the sky..."

The men exchanged glances. "You don't know?" the second man asked.

"I blacked out right after," she said. "I just woke up a few minutes ago, about a block back that way."

"Hmm..." The first man who had spoken scratched his chin. "The truth is, we're not entirely sure what happened yet," he said. "All we know at the moment is there was some kind of lab accident last night. There was a huge explosion, and..." He shrugged. "Something must've gotten out, because some government people are setting up testing areas and safety shelters..."

"The biggest concern is that some kind of disease was released," the second man said. "Everyone felt...something after the explosion."

Sunset grimaced. "Yeah...that, I remember."

"What was your name, miss?" the first man asked.

"Sunset Shimmer," she said.

The street exploded on the other side of the barricade, and an enormous, twisted grey monster with half a dozen purple eyes in an asymmetric line across its torso erupted into the air, screeching as it rained hundreds of bony needles down around them.

"Holy SHIT!" the second, younger man said, pulling a gun from a holster at his side and firing repeatedly at the monster. His shots had no effect.

"What IS that?" Sunset cried, backing away.

"I don't know!" the first man said, eyes wide. He squeezed the radio on his shoulder. "Officers requesting backup! There's a...a THING! A thing, it just came out of the street! We're under attack!"

The monster flailed out with a ropy tentacle, which wound around the first man's throat. He grasped at it ineffectually, trying to pry it off, but the monster squeezed tightly and lifted him into the air, then slammed him back to the ground. Sunset heard bones snapping. With another unholy screech, the monster flung the man high into the air.

"Get out of here!" the second man said, a quaver in his voice. "I'll...I'll hold it off!"

"With WHAT?" Sunset demanded. She stared at the creature. If only she could use her magic...

Her horn was gone, though...

She tried to call forth the great magical power that had brought her to this point, but to no avail. She felt a strange buzzing in her mind...

The man who had been thrown into the air landed on the top of the carriage with enough force to crumple the metal and shatter the glass windows. Blood ran down the sides of the carriage from his lifeless body. The monster grabbed the second man and began strangling him. Two of its monstrous purple eyes locked on Sunset, and a slanted mouth full of jagged teeth opened, spraying acidic spittle all over the ruined street.

Sunset tried to run, but her legs were rooted in place. The buzzing in her mind grew more intense, more frantic...

No...not buzzing. It was a high-pitched, oscillating whine, like nothing she had ever heard. It sounded artificial...

It sounded important.

The monster finished choking the life out of the second man, then tossed his limp body aside. It crashed through the barricade, bearing down on her, screeching in unholy fury...

An image formed in Sunset's mind. An image of a giant machine, elegant yet powerful, all pistons and motors and might. Nothing like it existed in Equestria. She had no frame of reference for it. And yet...

Golden lines of power traced down the lengths of her arms, which were suddenly encased in intertwined ropes of silver metal. More metal expanded, coming from seemingly nowhere, until Sunset's arms were replaced with enormous, sleek purple and black mechanical hands. As the monster reached her, she yelled in rage and drew back her arm, slapping the foul thing into the side of a building. Mortar dust and crumbled bricks rained down as it slammed into the wall. It pulled itself out of the rubble, shook itself, and turned to face her again, unleashing another torrent of bone needles. She raised her new metal arms to protect her face, then charged forward, landing a piston-driven haymaker right into one of its many eyes. It screamed; she pummeled it, motors whining and pistons pounding as her mechanical arms reduced the monster to a pulpy, bloody mess.

Sunset stood, breathing heavily, staring down at the dead monster, at her own arms. "What...?"

The metal fists shattered of their own volition, breaking away into scraps of metal and machine, and her own slim, unfamiliar hands greeted her as if the whole bizarre thing had never happened.

She heard sirens approaching in the distance. She ran.

* * * * *

Over the next few days, as she wandered from one part of town to another, Sunset—along with the rest of the world—began to piece together what had happened.

A laboratory on the northeast side of Canterlot—heh, there's a Canterlot here, imagine that—had experienced some sort of catastrophic accident, releasing billions of microscopic machines called Nanites into the atmosphere. The Nanites had spread across the world, infecting every living thing—plant, animal, human, even the soil. Most of the Nanites were inert, but all Nanites carried the potential of activating at any given time.

Activated Nanites produced random, unpredictable changes in the genetic makeup and cellular structure of anything they infected, resulting in sudden, extreme mutations. Any creature or plant that fell victim to one of these mutations was called an EVO. Most EVOs, like the monster Sunset had fought the morning after the Event, were out-of-control, mindless monsters. Some EVOs, such as Sunset herself, had control over their Nanites and over themselves, remaining relatively sane and gaining unnatural abilities.

As Sunset roamed Canterlot, she witnessed the devastation and confusion wrought by the Event. She also frequently found herself fighting rampaging EVOs, even as she struggled to gain control over her new abilities: the power to spontaneously produce a variety of large, powerful machines from inside her own body—machines as alien to her as most everything else in this world. Somehow, the Nanites had implanted within her mind the information needed to visualize and create these machines. She also found she had some limited control over other machines, which she had already abused to steal large sums of cash from machines that dispensed money.

Hey, a girl's gotta eat.

Unfortunately, she'd also been seen using her powers by quite a few people, and was forced to flee from angry, frightened mobs—even those whose lives she had in all likelihood saved by slaughtering deadly, psychotic monsters. Her only solace was that unlike most EVOs, she retained a normal human appearance—in fact, during her brief time studying this world so far, she'd learned that she was unusually attractive by human standards, which was probably something she could exploit—so unless she was forced to openly use her powers, she could blend in with everybody else.

Seven moons passed as Sunset wandered Canterlot, never staying in one part of the city more than a few days at a time, sleeping in abandoned or wrecked housing, buying food with stolen money, and generally struggling to stay alive, stay informed, and learn more about her new powers and the world she had landed in.

During those seven moons, word began to spread of an organization which was fighting and disposing of rogue EVOs. The organization called itself HARMONY, and it had resources at its disposal which seemed to alarm some of the local humans.

One day, Sunset happened upon a battle between an EVO the size of an eighteen-wheeler with a dozen stubby legs and a screaming, tooth-filled maw, a squad of soldiers who wore glossy black armor over green bodysuits with black helmets that sported green, goggle-like visors, and a grey-skinned, purple-haired woman in a blue-green suit. While the soldiers were using some sort of heavy projectile weapons, the woman in the suit was using a pair of swords that gleamed brilliantly in the sunlight.

"DON'T HURT HIM!" a woman on the edge of the sidewalk screamed. She was being restrained by two of the troopers.

Sunset walked over to her, eyes never leaving the woman with the gleaming swords or the massive EVO. "What's going on here?" she asked.

"Evacuate the area, miss," one of the troopers said. "This is HARMONY business."

"HARMONY, huh?" Sunset asked. "Yeah, I've heard of you. The EVO hunters, right?"

"Please!" the woman screamed, tears pouring from her eyes. "That's my baby! He's only two years old!"

"Ma'am, I'm sorry, but your baby is an EVO now," the trooper holding her said. "There's nothing that can be done."

Sunset studied the young mother and felt something. Something she rarely felt.

Sympathy for another living being.

This woman was suffering. She'd done nothing to deserve this. She was just worried about her child. And even though her child had turned into a gigantic monster, well...

Sunset wasn't entirely sure what made her do it, but she charged into the fray, brow furrowed as she summoned forth a pair of large metal wings with VTL turbines and flew up to the top of the mutated toddler. As she landed on its back, she shed her lift wings and generated the massive metal hands which were her most effective defense against most EVOs. "You need a spanking," she said as she began pummeling the EVO. "Bad baby!"

The woman in the suit landed behind her. "You're an EVO," she said in a flat, emotionless voice.

"That's right," Sunset said. "Except I can control my powers."

"Still an EVO," the woman said. "Still dangerous."

"Just...stay back, okay? I don't know exactly what I'm—"

She drove a fist right into the base of the EVO's skull; it dropped to the ground with a mighty crash.

"—doing here!" She jumped down off its back, landing next to its head. She shed her robot hands and laid her palms against its side.

The Nanites inside her stirred and began spreading out into the EVO. She closed her eyes...

She felt her Nanites talking to the Nanites in the EVO. She could see, somehow, the programming that drove them.

She could talk to them.

Shut down, she silently commanded. Please...let this child return to normal.

The high-pitched oscillation of Nanite communication filled the air...

The EVO began to shrink in on itself. Within seconds, a sleeping toddler, healthy and perfectly human, lay in its place.

The HARMONY troopers took a step back, clearly confused.

The woman in the suit landed beside Sunset. "What did you do?" she asked softly.

"I...I cured it," Sunset said. "Don't ask me how. I just..." She picked up the baby and walked over to his mother, handing him over. "Here," she said.

The woman's eyes were wide with disbelief as she accepted her child from Sunset. "Thank you," she whispered. She sniffled loudly, then repeated, "Thank you..."

Sunset felt a hand on her shoulder. "You need to come with us," the woman in the suit said.

Sunset turned to face her. "And if I refuse?"

The woman frowned almost imperceptibly. "Don't," she advised.

They stood staring at one another for a long moment.

The woman cleaned her swords and sheathed them. "My name is Rock."

Sunset relaxed. "Sunset Shimmer."

"Will you come with us?" Rock asked. "Dr. Sparkle needs to meet you."

Sunset sighed. "Yeah, okay."

* * * * *

Rock and her troopers had taken Sunset Shimmer to Crystal Prep, formerly a private high school, now the headquarters of HARMONY. There, she had met Dr. Twilight Sparkle, HARMONY's head researcher and expert on Nanite behavior, and Black Queen, the paranoid, mistrustful, downright impossible to get along with leader of HARMONY.

Although Black Queen didn't trust Sunset, she allowed her to join HARMONY as a secret weapon. As far as Sunset was concerned, Black Queen was a bigger bitch than Celestia and could go eat a pile of Spike's shit, but HARMONY's resources were very useful to Sunset.

Having a place to call home didn't hurt either.

Over the next eighteen moons, Sunset Shimmer had worked with HARMONY, fighting and curing EVOs far and wide. She'd also enrolled in Canterlot High School so she could keep an eye on the portal back to Equestria. She'd struggled to build a reputation, endeavoring to become a dominant force at the school.

Then the student body had found out she was an EVO, and suddenly she was an outcast. Only two people trusted her, accepted her, believed in her.

One was Principal Celestia, this world's version of the alicorn Sunset hated more than any other living being.

The other was a timid, mousy doormat of a girl named Fluttershy, who somehow, despite all odds, had become the closest thing Sunset Shimmer had ever had to a real friend.

Two years in this world had done some strange things to Sunset Shimmer...but she still had her ambition, she still had her desire to claim her destiny. To take back what Celestia had stolen from her.

Sunset sighed as she stared up at the ceiling.

Five more moons...

She studied her own hands, envisioning the tens of thousands of Nanites swimming in her veins.

Five more moons...the portal will open, and I can take this power back to Equestria...

I can force Celestia to bow to me...

But first, she had a job to do.

* * * * *

One thing that both impressed and alarmed Sunset Shimmer was how well equipped HARMONY was. The military and scientific technology at their disposal was advanced well beyond anything the private sector or the National Defense Forces had. One example was the drop jets used as air-to-air short range transport in and out of hot zones. Armored, armed, and ready to fly seconds after being dropped out of an airship, HARMONY's drop jets surpassed the military's V/STOL aircraft in every regard.

More impressive even than that was the Rook, HARMONY's mobile tactical base of operations. The Rook was an airship that used cutting edge propulsion technology to remain in the air for weeks at a time without needing to land. Most fuel and supply transfers to the Rook were done in-flight using VTL cargo lifts and drop jets.

Then there was the fact that the Rook was able to make the trip from Canterlot to the frozen northern wastes in eight hours.

"Approaching the structure," the captain said. On monitor screens all around the Rook, the imposing mass of black crystals stood in stark contrast against the bleak blue-white landscape. For miles around the crystal tower, chunks of black crystal jutted out of the tundra at odd angles.

"All troops to drop jets," the captain ordered.

Rock placed her hand on Sunset's shoulder. "You heard Queen's orders," she said. "Stay in your drop jet unless I call you."

"You get to have all the fun," Sunset said wryly. Rock arched an eyebrow, then shook her head and headed for her own drop jet, which she shared with six faceless HARMONY troopers.

Five miles out from the structure, four drop jets descended from the Rook. Three angled low to allow the HARMONY team to jump down; the fourth hung back, closer to the Rook. Sunset was aboard this fourth jet.

"Active Nanite readings are at record levels here," a voice said over the jet's radio.

"Stay alert," Rock's passionless voice said. "Be ready for EVO activity."

Sunset began to feel uneasy. Something about this place was calling to her...

No...calling to her Nanites...

She unstrapped herself from her seat, forced open the drop hatch, and jumped out of the jet, building up her VTL wings to fly down and join the team.

Rock looked up at her. "You're disobeying orders," she said.

"Something about this place is wrong," Sunset said. "You need me here."

A large, flat-topped chunk of black crystal suddenly rose out of the ground several feet ahead of the group. The front of it slid open with a horrible grinding noise, and a massive blue minotaur stomped out. He wore ragged black trousers and heavy iron boots, with bits and pieces of metallic girding and reinforced cables crisscrossing his bare torso. His arms rippled with muscles, and his long, black horns were curved, sharp, and deadly. He snorted steam and pawed the ground, flexing his muscles at them. "INTRUDERS!" he bellowed. "IF YOU DON'T GO AWAY, THERE'LL BE HELL TO PAY!"

"Now now, Iron Will. There's no need for that," a rich, cultured baritone voice said. A tall, broad-shouldered man stepped out of the black crystal and strode boldly forward. He had dark grey skin and long, wavy black hair. He wore burnished silver armor over a black bodysuit, with a blood red cape streaming behind him. His eyes were like dark rubies; he wore a silver crown upon his brow with a large, curved red horn in the center.

He threw his arms wide, sweeping aside his cape. "Welcome, my friends! Welcome to my Crystal Empire! My name is Sombra."

Rock took a step forward. "We came here to investigate a Nanite anomaly," she said.

"Ah, yes," Sombra said. "I've been...collecting, you might say, followers. EVOs who have been shunned by society, who only wish to live peaceful lives free from the judgment of...well..." He chuckled. "Not to put too fine a point on it, but people such as yourselves."

Rock frowned. "Our readings are inconsistent with a simple gathering of EVOs," she said. "Also, the crystal structures themselves are giving off Nanite energy signatures. Crystals are non-organic. It isn't possible for them to be infected."

"Ah, yes," Sombra said. "That is easily explained." He raised his left hand; a black crystal gauntlet formed on his arm, with slender, sharp crystal talons on each fingertip. "I possess the ability to create crystals. The crystals resonate with my Nanites."

Rock raised an eyebrow.

Sombra swept a hand at the doorway behind him. "Would you care for a tour of my Empire?" he asked.

Rock nodded. "Yes."

"Then follow me." Sombra turned, sweeping his cape behind him, and proceeded toward the crystal entrance. Iron Will fell into step behind him; the HARMONY troopers took the lead, with Rock and Sunset in the rear.

Sunset leaned close to Rock and whispered, "This place is giving me the creeps. Don't let your guard down."

"I never do."

The group proceeded down a long crystal staircase, through a broad tunnel beneath the tundra which was shored up with crystal columns and branches, then up again, ascending a spiral staircase around the inside of the central crystal tower. The inside of the crystal glowed with an eerie light all its own. Halfway up, they were joined by a female EVO wearing nothing but a loincloth and a suede jacket; her body was covered in tan and cream fur, her legs ended in massive lion paws, and her arms were covered in coarse white feathers from the shoulder to the elbow. From the elbow down, they were yellow, scaly, and ended in curved talons. She had a crest of white feathers atop her head, frosted lavender at the tips; her eyes were golden and predatory, and instead of a nose and mouth, she had a sharp, cruel beak. Broad wings held her aloft, and a lion tail twitched behind her.

"My other bodyguard, Gilda," Sombra said. "She keeps a close watch on the skies for me."

"'Sup," Gilda grunted. She locked gazes with Sunset and narrowed her eyes.

All along the staircase, openings in the walls lead to various rooms arranged up and down the spire. EVOs of all shapes and sizes filled these rooms. Most of them were minding their own business—reading or sleeping or eating or talking. Some looked to be engaged in more sensitive, questionable acts—and whenever one of the HARMONY group peeked through such a door, it would close instantly.

"Sir, this is the largest concentration of EVOs known to exist in a single place," the lieutenant said to Rock.

"I noticed," Rock replied dispassionately. "Mr. Sombra, how have you managed to conceal this from HARMONY for so long?"

"Why, I have no idea what you mean!" Sombra replied. "Our humble Empire simply is what it is. It is no fault of mine that your organization has failed to notice us. Although, I must admit...it is rather convenient for our purposes."

"A bit too convenient," Sunset muttered.

"I beg your pardon?" Sombra asked.

"This big crystal castle..." Sunset gestured expansively. "It just appeared out of nowhere! I don't understand all the tech stuff we use, but I do know something like this should've shown up on the satellites a long time ago."

"She's right," Rock said with a very slight frown.

Sombra turned and looked down at his guests. He sighed. "Well...I suppose this is as good a time as any to show you the main feature of our little tour." His eyes glowed, and he snapped his fingers.

With a cacophony of cracking, splintering sounds, the stairs crumbled away, and the HARMONY group plummeted into the black depths of the crystal spire.

"It was a trap," Rock said. In a flash, she unsheathed her swords and buried them halfway to the hilt in the crystal walls. They screeched and skidded as they dug through the crystal, leaving deep furrows as she descended another ten feet before friction caught up. She hung from the wall, staring up at Sombra.

Sunset deployed her VTL wings and swooped low, catching two of the troops before rising back up. The remainder of the troops pulled grapple launchers from their belts and fired them up the shaft. They clattered ineffectually against the black crystal.

"Damn!" Sunset spat. "Guys, we're gonna have to do something really stupid here!" With that, she dove down the shaft again, still holding onto the two troops. They grabbed on tightly as her arms transformed into their giant mechanical forms; she began to descend more rapidly. They caught up with some of the falling troops, who rappelled off the walls and wrapped themselves around Sunset's arms and legs.

"None of you better look up my skirt," Sunset grunted as she angled toward one of the open holes in the wall and flung the troops in. Three EVOs sat inside; the troops wasted no time in dogpiling on them.

Sunset flew back out into the shaft, staring down with a frown. Three of the troops had fallen too far and too fast for her to catch up to. She sighed. "Sorry guys."

"Worry about yourself!" Gilda yelled from above. With a piercing avian shriek, she dove down at Sunset, talons extended.

"Oh, you do NOT wanna go there, bird-girl," Sunset said. As Gilda came within range, Sunset lashed out with a wide swipe of her mechanical hand, smashing Gilda against the wall. As Gilda began to slide down the wall, Sunset flew up to where Rock hung. Rock had just extracted one of her swords from the wall, and was well on her way to tugging the other free.

"Need a hand?" Sunset asked.

"No, but I could use a lift," Rock said as her sword came free. She kicked off from the wall, launching herself at Sunset; Sunset shed her mechanical arms and caught Rock, then flew down into the room where she'd left the other troops. She found them standing around a pile of unconscious EVOs.

"Situation secure, sir," the lieutenant said.

"Good job," Rock replied.

"Okay guys...it's time for an evacuation drill!" Sunset shed her VTL wings. Her arm transformed into a massive drill. It blurred and whirred as she slammed it into the crystal, cracking it; chips and chunks of black crystal flew away from the drill bit as she bored through the wall. Rock and the troops took cover around the edges of the room as more and more crystal shrapnel flew from the wall. With one final loud, sharp crack, a huge section of the wall gave way; sunlight bled in from outside. Sunset's drill transformed into a giant purple-and-black fist, and she drove a powerful punch into the crack, creating a gaping hole.

"Good work," Rock said. "Let's move." She headed for the hole; the troops followed behind her.

"You guys go on ahead," Sunset said. "I think I'm gonna go say goodbye to our host." She ran back into the shaft, building up her VTL wings and taking off.

Rock sighed, shook her head, and pulled out her comm. "Drop jet, requesting pickup on the west face of the spire," she said. "Prepare to re-drop one at the summit."

* * * * *

Sunset ascended to the top of the spire, which spread out into a broad circular landing. Four broad arches stood at the top, each leading to a set of crystal doors.

"Okay, you bastard, where are you?"

One set of doors opened, spilling sunlight into the spire. "Right this way, Sunset Shimmer," Sombra called.

Frowning, Sunset landed in front of the doors, shed her wings, and strode through into a garden full of perverse crystal statues which depicted humans being tortured and killed in a variety of inventive, brutal ways. "Love the decor," she quipped.

Sombra stood before a wide balcony, arms folded behind his back. "I suppose you weren't very impressed with my tour," he said.

"Honestly? It sucked." Sunset walked through the rows of grotesque statues. "You just killed some people I actually didn't hate. And tried to kill one person I kinda respect. Plus, you tried to kill me." Her right arm transformed into a broad black sword almost twice as long as her torso; a barbed purple chain threaded itself into place along the edges of the blade. "I'm taking you apart." The chainsword roared deafeningly to life as Sunset charged Sombra.

He spun, raised an eyebrow, and extended his right hand. An equally massive black crystal halberd formed there, its thick, curved blade running most of the length of the half. Sunset swung wide at Sombra; he parried with his halberd, skidding back a half-step. Sparks and chunks of black crystal flew as the chain of Sunset's weapon bit into the blade. Sombra heaved against her with his full weight, knocking her off balance, then lunged forward in a low chopping sweep. Sunset lowered her chainsword just in time to protect her legs, but ended up falling backwards and landing on her butt.

Sombra reached down and grabbed her by the face with his gauntlet-covered left hand, hauling her up and holding her above his head. Sunset cried out as the needle-sharp talons on his gauntlet dug into her face. A sizzling whip-crack of static lanced through her skull as she felt Sombra's Nanites invade her body, attacking her own. "Your form is sloppy," he said. "You're overconfident. A pity...I had thought you more a challenge."

"Challenge THIS!" Sunset's left arm transformed into a short, flared cannon barrel with a broad dish of reflective panels at the back. A white flare of reflected sunlight glinted off the dish as golden lines of light pulsed along the length of the cannon. A sphere of golden-white energy built up at the muzzle of the cannon with a high-pitched whine, before Sunset unleashed a point-blank laser blast in Sombra's face. He roared in agony as his head disintegrated; his grip on Sunset broke as his body staggered back and toppled to the floor.

Sunset stumbled, then caught herself. With a sigh of relief, she shed her sword and cannon. "Bastard better not have scarred my face," she spat. "Well, guess I'd better—"

A black crystal hand shot up out of the floor, seizing her around the ankle and jerking hard, sending her crashing face-first to the floor. "What the hell?!"

The smoking body of Sombra that lay before her dissolved into a pile of black crystal dust.

A column of rough black crystal rose up out of the floor, attached to the hand that had seized Sunset's leg. She flailed in its grasp.

Shards of crystal exploded away from the column, revealing a whole, very much alive, Sombra, whose eyes glowed as a pair of gnarled crystal hands erupted out of the floor, locking around Sunset's wrists. She thrashed around as Sombra planted a booted foot on her stomach, pinning her to the floor.

"Get OFF me, you psycho!" Sunset snarled.

"I'll let you in on a little secret, Sunset Shimmer," Sombra said in a sinister tone, sneering at her. "I deliberately attracted the attention of HARMONY because I wished to meet you."

"Wow, you're really hard up for a date, aren't you?" Sunset grunted.

Sombra chuckled. "My dear...you misunderstand. My agents have been keeping track of you. Your unique abilities are quite fascinating. You and I...we're opposite sides of the same coin." He narrowed his cold red eyes. "The same Equestrian coin."

Sunset gasped, eyes wide in shock. "You...?"

"That's right, Sunset Shimmer," Sombra said. "I wasn't entirely certain until I interfaced with your Nanites...but now I know." He folded his arms. "You see...I too am from Equestria."

Distant memories of books she'd lifted from Celestia's restricted library stirred in Sunset's mind. "Sombra...? As in...the Unicorn King Sombra?"

"So you have heard of me."

"But that's...! That's impossible! You disappeared over a thousand years ago!"

"Disappeared, yes. And exactly where did you think I disappeared to?"

"But...!" Sunset shook her head. "That's insane! You couldn't be...!"

"Oh, but I am!" Sombra said, spreading his arms wide and flourishing his cape. "I crossed time and space, escaping to this inane world with its insipid humans and its utter lack of magic, waiting for the right moment to reclaim what is rightfully mine.

"And then, twenty-five moons ago, the Nanite Event happened, and I, like all life on this misbegotten planet, was infected. Such power these scientific marvels possess!" Sombra stared at his hand, curling his fingers inward. "While I am certainly nowhere near as powerful as I was at the height of my reign, this power is unlike anything I wielded in Equestria...I have the power to corrupt life itself. The power to build an army, subservient to me alone...an army of powerful EVOs!"

Sunset's eyes widened. "You...you can create EVOs?"

"That's right!" Sombra grinned savagely. "Just as you have the power to cure EVOs, I have the power to activate the dormant Nanites within any lifeform on this wretched ball of rock. And with this power, I will avenge myself upon the descendants of my betrayer...and I will destroy the alicorns. I will stand atop their corpses as Canterlot itself burns around me!

"There is but one thing standing in my way: I lack the means to return to Equestria." He peered down at Sunset. "And yet...here you are, another of my kind, from that world. I would very much like to know exactly how you arrived here."

Sunset stared at him, lips pressed into a tight line.

Sombra held out his hand to Sunset. "Join me, Sunset Shimmer," he said. "Stand at my side as my faithful lieutenant. Reveal to me the means by which I may return to Equestria. Revel in the glory of my reign." He narrowed his eyes. "Or oppose me and suffer a slow, painful death as I torture the information out of you."

Sunset felt her skin crawl. "You're insane," she said. "I hate Celestia, but...I'll deal with her in my own way, on my own terms." She clenched her fists and snarled at Sombra. "You'll never set foot in Equestria again! I won't help you! I want nothing to do with you!"

Sombra scowled. "Then...we are fated to be enemies." His crystal halberd materialized again.

Two gleaming flashes split the air between them, and the crystal hands holding Sunset down shattered. A blue-green blur slammed into Sombra, knocking him off balance.

A half-dozen HARMONY troops burst into the garden, heavy rifles trained on Sombra.

"Looks like we got here just in time," Rock said, shifting the sword in her right hand to her left hand and reaching down to help Sunset up.

Sunset grinned and stood, building up her mechanical hands. "Yeah. Just in time to break this nutjob into itty-bitty pieces."

Sombra shifted into a defensive stance. "Hmm." His lips thinned into a tight, flat line. "It would seem the odds are not in my favor." He smiled. "Very well, Sunset Shimmer. We can postpone our battle until another day." His halberd disappeared, and he bowed mockingly. "Until we meet again." He sank into the floor.

The entire tower began to rumble.

The roof above them split open.

"Uhh...guys? We'd...probably better get outta—"

The floor lurched violently upward, propelling them all into the open sky. The crystal spire beneath them sealed up tight.

A dome of black crystal snapped into place around Sombra's castle.

Sunset built up her VTL wings and grabbed Rock. The HARMONY troops pulled out their skyhooks and aimed for the waiting drop jets. Within minutes, the surviving members of the scouting party were safely aboard the Rook, which reversed course and began speeding over the frozen landscape, headed back to Canterlot.

* * * * *

Sunset grimaced as Rock cleaned the puncture wounds on her face with alcohol. "Shit," she hissed. "Are those gonna scar?"

"Probably not," Rock said. "We'll have Dr. Sparkle give you a checkup when we get back to HQ."

Sunset sighed, rubbing her arms vigorously. "Queen's gonna throw a fit," she said.

"Probably." Rock set aside the gauze wipe she held and began applying small round bandages to Sunset's face.

"Sombra...he's from Equestria, like me," Sunset said.

"That's interesting."

"I know who he is," Sunset said. She cast her eyes to the side. "Back home, he...he was terrible. Cruel. He enslaved an entire empire."

"That sounds about right."

"Here, he has the power to create EVOs." Sunset sighed, looking at her own hands.

Rock raised an eyebrow. "That's very interesting. Get some rest. You have school tomorrow."

Sunset was silent the rest of the way home, lost in thought.

* * * * *

"Next time you're given an order, I expect you to obey it," Queen snapped.

"Our men would be dead if she hadn't been there," Rock said. "She made a judgment call. It was a good one."

Queen ground her teeth. "I'm warning you, Sunset Shimmer. Step out of line and I won't hesitate to end you."

Sunset flipped her off. "Come say that to my face." She hissed as Twilight prodded her stomach. "Gah! Take it easy! That bastard Sombra nearly stomped my guts out!"

"Sorry," Twilight said, adjusting her glasses. "I'll need to run a scan. I need to make sure none of this Sombra character's Nanites are still inside you."

Sunset sighed. "I hope not," she muttered. "What do you think it means, Twilight? That Sombra and I are both from Equestria and he has the exact opposite of my powers?"

Twilight frowned. "You know I still don't believe in this Equestria of yours," she said. "However...if, if, such a thing actually exists..." She absently fiddled with a stylus. "There could in fact be a connection between your powers and his."

"One thing's for certain," Rock said. "Sombra is preparing for war. We need to be ready for anything."

* * * * *

"Goodness," Fluttershy said as she met up with Sunset a block away from Canterlot High. "What happened to you?"

Sunset reached up and touched the strip of gauze wound around her forehead, which matched the two patches of gauze taped to her chin and cheek. "Got grabbed by the face," she said. "I don't recommend it."

Fluttershy reached into her backpack and pulled out a folded magenta shirt. "Here. I washed it for you."

"Thanks," Sunset said, accepting the shirt and taking a moment to tuck it into her own backpack.

As they headed up the front walk to the school entrance, Sunset cast a glance back at the giant horse statue.

*Equestria...*

*Sombra can never know about this portal. Ever.*

Author's Note:

TECHNICAL DOSSIER: SUNSET SHIMMER'S BUILDS

The EVO known as Sunset Shimmer possesses the ability to spontaneously generate complicated, powerful machinery from her body. Where the mass and materials for these "Builds" comes from is unknown at this time, as is how she is able to create Builds without destroying her clothing.

At this time, Sunset Shimmer is known to be capable of creating the following Builds:

"Smack Hands": Mechanical hands capable of delivering punches and slaps of tremendous force. Sunset can also use these to protect herself from inbound attacks.

"Lift Wings": Fixed wing flight apparatus utilizing VTL turbines for lift. Sunset has demonstrated a remarkable range of flight utilizing this Build, having flown as far as 940km in a single trip.

"The Bike": Sunset is capable of transforming her legs and a portion of her lower torso into a powerful motorcycle capable of the same speeds as any high-performance road bike. The effects of this Build on her reproductive anatomy are best left undiscovered, if for no other reason than to preserve this researcher's sanity.

"Chain Sword": Sunset is capable of creating a large mechanical apparatus which appears to be a hybrid of a bastard sword and a chainsaw. It appears capable of cutting anything short of high-carbon steel.

"Drill Arm": Sunset is capable of creating a powerful drill. Testing shows the drill is capable of piercing through seventeen feet of solid concrete before breaking down.

"Solar Cannon": Sunset is capable of creating an energy weapon which collects sunlight and focuses it into a destructive beam. During testing, she obliterated a tank with one shot on a clear day. The only obvious drawback to this weapon is overcast weather and its inability to function at night.

It is unknown at this time if Sunset Shimmer is capable of generating further Builds. Technical data on testing of all known Builds follows on pages 11B-247A of this report.

Dr. Twilight Sparkle, Ph.D.
HARMONY Head of Research and Development