• Published 8th May 2016
  • 3,339 Views, 127 Comments

Substitute - RQK



Everything has a price. The smallest of actions, both good and bad, can place many into the grave. The roots run deep, after all, in any and all Equestrias.

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Epilogue

Sunset Shimmer jammed her hands into her pockets as she passed another empty classroom. The halls of Canterlot High, usually barren during classes anyhow, were equally so at the moment. But, she knew, today was a school day.

Sunset glanced up at a wall clock. Last period was almost over. Almost.

She continued down the hall, passing locker after locker. She peered through a door to find the classroom beyond it empty as well.

She reached the double doors that led into the gymnasium, and before she could go through, Sunset heard Principal Celestia’s unmistakable voice from the other side. The doors muffled the words, but she knew the telltale echo, like Celestia’s voice coming from several directions at once. A microphone. Suddenly, it clicked where everyone had gone.

Sunset pushed through the doors and stepped inside. The pulled-out bleachers immediately flanked her, bearing several students sitting and watching the auditorium-like stage. The same went for the bleachers on the opposite end of the room. Several occupied folding chairs sat in the middle of the room. She even saw some teachers within the crowd. It seemed like the whole school was there.

“I know that she would want us to be strong, in spite of these distressing events,” Principal Celestia said into the microphone. “She would want…” she trailed off as the rest of her breath left her.

Vice Principal Luna, who sat with some faculty members to the side, shot to her feet.

Sunset felt all eyes turn to her as a collective gasp washed over the gymnasium. Many stood up from their seats as whispers of her name crossed their lips. She walked into the open where the whole gymnasium could see.

Rainbow Dash knocked her folding chair over just from springing out of it. She raced over, plowing through several others. “Sunset! You’re… back!”

Rarity came running up. “Good heavens! Sunset! We’re so sorry.”

Rainbow Dash shivered. “Y-yeah. We couldn’t do it.”

Sunset remained quiet, nodding vacantly as she watched others step down the bleachers and off the stage to congregate around her.

“H-how’d it go?” Applejack said, her voice quivering with worry. “Did ya save ’em?”

“Yes, please, tell us the good news!” Rarity cried.

Sunset scanned the faces bearing several concerned frowns and fearful glints of the eyes. Pinkie Pie shook anxiously, Fluttershy held her balled fists defensively close to her face, and Micro Chips gripped his glasses. Celestia watched with an uncertain frown, while Luna stood by with her hands on her hips.

Flash Sentry, however, scowled. Sunset met eyes with him, and he solemnly shook his head in response.

Sunset sighed and kicked the floor in shame.

Rarity hid a sharp gasp behind both of her hands and turned white as a sheet. Fluttershy let out a short and subdued whimper. The sharp bang that reported Pinkie Pie’s hair deflating drowned out the murmurs that shot through the crowd.

Sunset folded her hands together and waited for everyone else to quiet down. She looked out at each of them, gauging their expressions. “Listen, I…” she said, speaking quietly, “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. To us… to them… All this has been…” She snorted and shook her head.

A few sniffles rose from within the crowd.

“Sunset…” Twilight Sparkle croaked, folding her hands together.

“I’m…” Sunset continued as her eyes welled up. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I…” Sunset sniffed, letting a tear go down her cheek.

Rarity sighed. “Oh, Sunset…” She surged forward, wrapping Sunset in a tight hug.

Sunset stood, catatonic to Rarity’s initial touch. When Pinkamena stumbled forward and joined them, she sighed and rested her head on their shoulders. Twilight approached from the back and became the fourth in the group hug. The rest of the students trickled in, gathered in silence around her.

For a good minute, Sunset stood there, wrapped by her fellow students. She let a few tears fall, but she made little sound aside from a few whimpers and sniffles. Finally, she pulled back.

“Look…” she began as she wiped her face, “I want you all to know that we did some things too. Good things. I know it doesn’t change this. This… I want you all to know that this was a pretty big loss… but it wasn’t a complete one.”

Everyone in the room perked up, with some wiping away their own tears.

The school’s bell rang, signaling the end of the day. No one paid it any mind.

“It’s a really long story,” Sunset said, licking her dry lips. “I’m… I’m not ready to tell it right now, but… I’m sure with everything that you’ve done for me… for them too, you all probably want to hear it.” She shook her head. “No, you all deserve to hear it, and…”

“Well,” Flash Sentry said, gripping the fringes of his jacket, “whenever you’re ready to talk about it, we’ll be here to listen,” he said, flaring a toothy smile.

“I would be perfectly willing to open the school up for an hour or two during the weekend,” Celestia chimed in, “if you need it.”

Sunset thought about it. She considered the sea of faces around her, all trying to put on smiles of their own. She chuckled, shaking her head in disbelief. “I… uh… sure? This time Saturday, maybe?”

Various affirmations rose up from the student body. The faculty nodded in approval.

“You’re all sure?” Sunset asked.

“We’re with ya, Sunset,” Applejack said, nodding affirmatively. “One hundred percent.”

Sunset felt like her feet had left the floor, and she blushed. “T-thank you. Thank you, everyone.”

With some last smiles in response, most of the students and faculty meandered toward the exit doors. Many threw goodbyes in Sunset’s direction and she waved back as they passed by. All who passed through the doors remained in reflective silence. Some faces remained wet, but they took deep breaths to try and shake the feelings out.

And that left Sunset alone with seven friends.

Sunset swallowed. “I’m sorry that I did this to all of you.”

Twilight adjusted her glasses. “W-well… we all knew the risks from the start. We knew, Sunset. I mean, sure, it was still shocking, but, you know…”

“We didn’t have to deal with it like you did,” Rainbow Dash said, stepping forward. “It must have sucked big time.”

Rarity shook her head. “We had to spend some time getting over it ourselves… but we thought about what you would do in our shoes, and we all thought that you were still at it.”

“And if you can be strong through all that,” Rainbow Dash said, pumping her fist, “then we can be too.”

The others, including Pinkamena, nodded affirmatively.

“That said,” Celestia said, crossing her arms, “if you do need to stay home tomorrow to recuperate, then by all means. We won’t hold it against you.”

Sunset chuckled. “It’s a tempting offer. But… I think I’ll be okay.”

Celestia nodded. “Very well. Take care of yourself,” she said, turning toward the door.

“See you later, Principal Celestia,” Sunset replied, watching as Celestia disappeared through the double doors.

Rainbow Dash cracked her neck. “Welp, I best be heading off to practice.”

“Ah hear ya,” Applejack said. “Ah gotta head out too; Ah’m takin’ Apple Bloom to see that Transformers movie that just came out.”

Rarity turned. “Call us if you need anything, Sunset,” she said.

“Will do,” Sunset replied. “See you all later!”

Together, the other six stepped toward the door, waving behind them as they went. Sunset waved back, even past the point where they too disappeared through the double doors.

Sunset turned to face the rest of the empty gymnasium. Distant sounds of locker slams faded out, replaced by voices and shouts outside the building. Nevertheless, Sunset sighed and stumbled toward the stage, taking a seat on its edge.

Her thoughts drifted to everyone else. She thought about Rainbow Dash, joining her team in the locker room. She thought of Twilight, probably checking her list of what to study for the next few hours. She thought of Fluttershy, likely on her way to the animal shelter. Images of ponies in Equestria—the very same ponies she had passed in Ponyville, going about their days—flashed through her mind.

Something bad had, indeed, happened. Sunset nodded to herself. But life goes on, doesn’t it?

It stung, as Sunset knew it would. But there, on that stage, Sunset closed her eyes, content.

For it was not okay at that exact moment, certainly. But, Sunset knew, it would be. Eventually.

Author's Note:

And with this, Substitute draws to a close.

I hope you enjoyed this story! You have my sincerest thanks for making it to this point and I hope that it was well, well worth it.

Until next time~

- RQK

For a post-script, see this blog post

Comments ( 27 )

Ending this in a downer note, to contrast with the almost "Happy Ever After" of the first one, was certainly a bold choice. Thanks for writing this fic, it was certainly a ride!

A story that doesn't have a "happy" ending, but an... "okay" ending. I like it. It feels a bit more realistic. You can't win them all.

It was a privilege to help you bring this brilliant story to fruition. I find it brilliant that you chose to end the emotional roller-coaster that was Substitute in this manner. I'm not surprised the show hasn't tackled the topic of insurmountable tasks yet, considering its target market, but you pulled it off splendidly.

Wow! This story and the previous one were amazingly good. Is there any plans for a third one? I was getting a Starwars trilogy vibe with how they both ended (empire being the kinda sad ending that it has). Even if you don't, thank you for writing these stories.

RQK

8170176 Glad to hear that you enjoyed them!:twilightsmile:

I'm not currently working on a third story, but I do see it having a significant probability of happening in the future. We will see!

Just finished reading this...and dang it was bittersweet. Yes, a lot of good was done, and yes, a lot of wonderful secondary goals were accomplished and things are better overall, but they failed at their main goal. But they still gave it their best shot, and that counts for a great deal. Better to fail at doing a great thing, then succeed at doing nothing.

Anyway, well done.

May I adapt this into an audio drama?

RQK

8605020
By all means! I’ll look forward to seeing what you come up with!

8605274
ohhhhh that makes sense. I might gun for the first one then lol

Many Celestias reunited, Many Sunsets reunited, Many Adamantines united... Yet the Twilights and Discord did not reunite.

A great story, this and the prequel were very good even if with the multiverse and time theories it was a little hard to follow

RQK

9170782
I'm glad that you enjoyed the stories! I hope that the latter parts of Feedback, in particular, resolved those worries about plot holes that you had (although perhaps the favorite says it all)~

RQK

9343449
I'm so thrilled to hear that!
Yes, indeed, this story (and its prequel Feedback) came before Reflections did. In a way, Reflections is a stealth sequel to this story, but only because of the Sunset from that story being the one from this story and no other reason.
Well, here's hoping you enjoy what you read!

9344060
Welp, just finished this one. And thats a lot of plot holes I had that are filled.
Thank you sir for this great stories. May the Great sUn be with you.

That was quite the journey. I can't say I expected the sad ending, but I also can't say it was surprising. It was definitely fitting.


I'm really looking forward to #3.

RQK

9368189
I find it amusing that there’s an inverse relationship between how hard a chapter hits you in the chest and how long your comment on it is. It looks like I did my job. :twistnerd:

9368343
Yeah, that's probably about right :rainbowlaugh:

I’m still curious about what the Nameless would have done if it had escaped. It can’t be what happened to the Wasteland Timeline, since if the Nameless escaped in that timeline, there wouldn’t have been any Nameless for Twilight to kill in the Prime Timeline.

Unless when the Nameless escapes in a timeline, only a small portion is released, keeping the rest of its energy or essence behind.

Will the mysteries of the Nameless be solved in the third story?

This has been on my "read later" list for quite some time, but I finally was in the right modd and had the time tockale it. I have rather binged this one (reading the last couple of chapters when I really ought to be doing CAD work), which sort of speaks for itself, doesn't it?

Points for the novelty of actually not having a last-minute "we can fix this" revelation, for novelty, at least.



I would also like to re-iterate, at this juncture, that, my personal pet theory that the Wasteland was the Angel Bunny Timeline... (And nothing in this story contradicts that yet...!)

I will no doubt get to Divergence at some point down the line as well.

*tips helmet*

finally got around to reading this
Just... ouch
3 years late to have this answered but: if Twilight is made of the unpony soul stones and they died causing the stones to become inert, wouldn't Twilight also wither away?

RQK

10116968
No. The stones serve more than one purpose; all that is happened is their function of sustaining an unpony body has stopped. The stone itself, and thus Twilight, who has a completely whole and functional body (even if it is made out of stone matter), and so she is safe.

I can't remember what chapter it's in, but while explaining the first fic, it's stated that the world that finally figured it out had to pretend to have nothing to close the cycle and just... holy shit, I want to read that fic. It's just one sentence but god, can you imagine how wrenching that must have been? Here they have all the answers to save Twilight, but they have to send her to die alone to preserve the loop. They know it'll be fine, but she doesn't. Her last thoughts were/are/will be that she failed.

RQK

10145793
Oh, yes. There's so much room for exploration on that front. You could write a side story that explores just that. It would be quite the niche side-story and would require reading Feedback first, obviously, although that's doable. But, in lieu of that, we have a very nice template for what might happen given the events of Feedback.

We do see that Divergence does elaborate on this a little, laying out somewhat how that played out, but we don't see those heart-wrenching moments.

10394196
Oh, Oh lordy it has been in my Read Later bookshelf for so long that you wrote a sequel to it. I'm not going to have a lot of free time these next few days am I?

Either way, it was an absolutely spectacular read, and I cannot wait to finish the Trilogy. I should have read this years ago when I first finished Feedback.

Wow, what a bumpy ride. Not a happy ending but a so-so ending. You win some and you lose some. But that's ok.
Even if we didn't get to hear it (and why would we? We know it already) it was nice to have Celestia and Sunset have a conversation on the ride back to Ponyville in Feedback and it was nice for them to talk here.
Somehow I think Sunset's story is gonna be even longer in the school this time than in the cafe the last time
Onto Divergence!

I liked the story a lot, it didn't have that clean intricately thought out vibe like the first one did but it was still an enjoyable read. I'm excited to see where the sequel goes.

That was a great story.

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