• Published 16th May 2016
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A Shimmering New Year - EchoWing



Sunset Shimmer and her friends struggle to deal with recovering from Anon-A-Miss as they move forward. New friends and a doctor, thankfully, can help them along.

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Chapter Seven - Reach for the Light

Sunset struggled within her bonds, her vision obscured around her by a miasma of purple and black thicker than any fog she’d ever seen in the human world. “Let me go! Whatever you are…!”

“Hush, young one. I’ve no desire to harm you.” The voice was deep, but to call it soothing would be far more generous than it deserved. “Why, I’m here to help you.”

The tendrils faded away, and Sunset gently rubbed her neck. “And pulling me into whatever this is, and knocking away my friends, is supposed to be ‘helping’ me?”

“I was merely getting you away from those who hurt you. They admitted themselves to being horrible friends after all, to one another and especially to you. They gave you nothing but false hope and pain, reasons to fear your true self. I, however, can give you something far better.”

“What are you…?” Sunset paused as the fog cleared before her eyes, showing her a vision of familiar streets of a mountainside city, ponies making their way all around as they went about their business. “Equestria. Canterlot.”

“Your world. Your home. You have so much waiting for you there.” The vision shifted to show her back in the castle, surrounded by ponies she’d come to know since her brief return to her native Earth. They were cheering for her, Twilight in particular giving her a warm hug before Celestia did herself. “And so much awaiting you…”

The vision shifted again, and this time, it presented a massive crowd of ponies and other Equestrian natives, all watching in reverence as a familiar mare was led down to where the four princesses and their entourage stood. She was attired in an elegant white gown, her familiar crimson and yellow mane immaculately styled and doing nothing to conceal her horn, tears forming in her cyan eyes…and a pair of magnificent wings tucked at her sides.

“It can all be yours, young one. I can give it to you, the power you need to return to the world from whence you came, the power to claim all that awaits you. You only need but say the word, and it shall be yours. Just like that.”

“Just like Wiley…”

Sunset’s attention was turned from the vision of all her dreams fulfilled to that all-too-familiar voice, soft and sweet and full of kindness, but aching with so much pain.

-

“What can we do now?”

Rarity wished that she had an answer for her friend, especially one that would help their current situation. She idly reached out to the swirling mass, the terrible words and vision she’d gotten from it echoing in her mind. “I wasn’t the only one who saw that, was I?”

“You mean us all ganging up on Sunset and her turning into a demon before being pulled into something that looked a whole lot like a tear in the very Earth leading right down into the depths of Hell itself?” Pinkie frowned. “Yeah, I think we all saw that.”

Rainbow Dash ran a hand through her long prismatic hair nervously. “Jeez. And here I was stupid enough to suggest she could’ve done this. I knew she was feeling lousy, but I didn’t think…”

“Ah should’ve.” Applejack idly kicked her Stetson away.

Rarity sighed and retrieved the hat, then lightly dusted it off before returning it to the farmgirl’s head. “Perhaps we all should have, dear, but things aren’t over yet. We can figure out a way to help her, I’m certain.”

“How, Rarity?” Green eyes pleaded with her as Applejack asked, “You know somethin’ ‘bout all this magic stuff that the rest ‘a us don’t? We touch that thing, we’ll get a flash ‘a whatever that was all over again. Get reminded ‘a how badly we done hurt her again. Ah don’t wanna say it – none ‘a us do – but we’re in over our heads.” Applejack lowered her head and sorrowfully noted, “Now there’s a chance that we’ve done lost her for good.”

“Just like Wiley…” Fluttershy sobbed.

Heads turned towards the pink-haired animal lover, but only Rarity realized the significance of what she’d just heard. The fashionista approached her friend and knelt down beside her, then laid a comforting hand upon her shoulder. “That was the name of the older dog in your nightmare, wasn’t it?” At Fluttershy’s nod, she prodded, “Tell us about her. Please.”

Fluttershy turned to her, and as the rest of their friends closed in, she wiped her tears away with one hand and took a deep breath. “Wiley was a dog who came to the vet’s office attached to the shelter that I volunteer at. The one my family operates. She was a sweet dog, a big Alaskan malamute mix. According to her family, they called her Wiley because…”

“Because she looked kinda like a coyote?” Pinkie helpfully offered.

A nod. “But she was getting old, and her family had taken in another dog, younger and more aggressively playful than Wiley could handle. Her back legs were hurt pretty bad because of it. And then, just after Christmas…” A pained expression formed on her face, and she forced herself to say her next few words. “Wiley had a stroke. It was a small one, but it was enough to make it so she couldn’t move her back legs as well anymore. She could barely get up, let alone walk, so her family brought her to us to see what the options were. But they didn’t have a lot of money, and she was in a lot of pain, so…”

“So they chose ‘ta put ‘er to sleep.” Applejack inched closer and asked, “Darlin’, you didn’t…”

“No, I didn’t do it myself. All I did was try to give her some comfort until her time came, and help make her last few hours comfortable. Just like I do for all the puppies and kitties who end up having to be put to sleep, for whatever reason.” Fresh tears were welling up as she whimpered, “And there are so many…”

“Fluttershy, you did all that you could. At least you were there for them.”

But Rarity’s words were little comfort as Fluttershy sobbed, “But I should’ve been there for Sunset too…”

The animal lover’s sobs were softened as her friend wrapped her arms around her in a comforting hug. “At least you did some genuine good with the subject of your nightmare. All I have to show for mine is shame and betrayal.” Her friends looked at her in surprise, and she turned back to them and clarified, “Oh, just the shame on my part, darlings. The betrayal was all hers.”

“Her? Who her?”

Rarity’s voice was a low, very unladylike growl as she answered, “Suri Polomare.” She sighed, recovered herself, and recounted, “She and I were acquainted in grade school, long before I met all of you. We weren’t friends, or at least not close friends, but we did have a shared love of fashion and design. We even attended the same middle school briefly, but then her family came into unexpected wealth, and the redistricting happened, and we lost contact. I didn’t run into her again until last summer at Junior Fashion Week in the city, and we got caught up.” As if dreading the reaction to her next words, she sighed before continuing. “Much to my surprise, she’d gone on to attend Crystal Prep.”

Rainbow’s face contorted in disgust at those last two words. “That’s not winning her any points with me.”

The fashionista rolled her eyes at that predictable reaction. “Well this won’t either. She was very impressed with my designs, particularly a unique fabric that I’d used, and asked to borrow some for her own dresses. Naturally, I gave her a healthy sample, only for her to…” She whimpered, then wailed, “She copied all of my dresses perfectly! Every design, replicated within the span of twelve hours! How she managed it, I have no clue, but I was mortified!”

“Wait a sec, is this the same fashion show Sweetie Belle mentioned?” At Rarity’s nod, Applejack asked, “Land sakes, Rarity, why didn’t ya say anythin’ before now?”

“Can you blame me for being embarrassed? As far as I’d known, my generosity had already been rejected, and now, it had been abused! I was mortified!” Her volume eased as she admitted, “It was only after Twilight came along that I started to feel better about it.”

“Still, Ah wish you’d told us about it. And not just afterwards, neither.”

A sad smile crossed Rarity’s face as she admitted, “Well, I was going to tell all of you about it last spring, but by the time I’d hoped to, well, we all weren’t speaking to one another. At least, not as much. Besides, I doubt any of you would’ve been eager to come along to some silly fashion show.”

This time it was Fluttershy who gave her a gentle hug. “I would have.”

“And if it helps you feel better, your screw up isn’t nearly as bad as it could’ve been.” Rainbow Dash’s voice got low as she admitted, “Mine was, like, two hundred times worse.”

Applejack looked upon her friend with disbelief. “The heck could make you think somethin’ like that?”

Rainbow didn’t answer, until Fluttershy rose from beside Rarity, approached, and gently took her hand. “That funeral was for your mother, wasn’t it?”

The athlete bowed her head somberly. “Yeah.”

Applejack approached and gently asked, “Dash, your mom ain’t dead.”

“No, but…” A pained look crossed her face before she continued. “My mom’s awesome, y’know? More awesome than me, and when I say that, it means something. She’s why I wanted to fly for so long, why I was so excited about actually flying. But when she left to go back on deployment, just a week after getting back, I was so pissed off about it that…” Her eyes shut tight as she rasped, “…that I didn’t say goodbye when she left.”

“But hasn’t she at least called home?” Rarity stood up and continued, “After all, there is such a thing as Skype.”

“Yeah, she’s called home, but I never talked to her.” The shame in her voice gave them all the explanation they needed as to why. “And… and I’m scared. Scared that she’ll be pissed with me if I talk to her, and scared that she’ll die before I get the chance. And I don’t know which is scarier.”

Pinkie Pie immediately rushed over and hugged her tight. If Rainbow Dash had any resistance to this, she showed none. “I’m sorry, Dashie.”

“Me too.” Dash wrapped an arm around her and offered, “I guess you kinda know where I’m coming from, huh?”

“Yeah.” Pinkie looked among her friends and explained, “Maud’s exact words, after I told her about what happened with Anon-A-Miss?”

“You’ve disappointed me, Pinkie.”

Pinkie gestured towards the illusory version of her sister before she faded out of view. “I love my family. The idea of any of them being mad at me, or being disappointed in me? That’s my worst nightmare. And it’s even worse because I hurt someone else I care about in the process.”

“Someone you saw as family.” Applejack approached. “Ah can relate to that. Ah felt like…like Ah’d let ‘em down, like Ah’d abandoned them after Ah left. After…”

“After your parents passed.”

“Still think it’s a miracle that Granny an’ Big Mac welcomed me back. Same as it is that they ain’t given me grief over what Ah did to Sunset, even after the truth came to light. Ah feel like Ah deserve worse, though, considerin’…” She sighed and admitted, “Gals, that confession Ah was about to make? Before Sunset called us all out? It was about my magic. Ah ain’t been able to pony up again since that Christmas mornin’.”

“Seriously? But you cracked it!”

“And Ah ain’t been able to repeat it!” Applejack took a calming breath and explained, “And Ah know why, too. Guilt. Sunset’s a big part of why we’ve got magic, and Ah betrayed her, even after seein’ the best parts a’ her.” A sad smile crossed her face as she added, “You know she comes by the farm every once in a while, just to groom our horses? She talks to ‘em too, treat’s ‘em like people.” A small chuckle escaped her lips. “And where she came from, they are people.”

Fluttershy smiled. “I remember her coming by the shelter and helping out sometimes, playing with the puppies and kittens. How sweet she can be.”

“I remember that surprise party she organized for me with all of you.” Pinkie giggled as she added, “And the party we threw for her when she moved into her new place. It was fun.”

“Not to mention the look on her face when I presented her with her restored jacket.” Rarity’s smile was both proud and sad. “I hardly thought of it at the time, but after seeing that nightmare…it meant so much to her.”

“Just like being able to stay with all of us did.” Rainbow bowed her head. “Just one screw up after another with all of us, huh?”

“No kiddin’.” Applejack turned her gaze upon the mass of energy. “You think she can hear us in there?”

“Well, if she can, then perhaps she knows how terrible we feel.” As the rest of her friends did likewise, Rarity turned towards the swirling mass and declared, “I only hope that she recognizes it. As terrible as she was to us before the Fall Formal, I can’t see our lives being any better without her.”

Fluttershy smiled. “Neither can I.”

-

“What about them?” Her arm outstretched in the direction that she’d heard Fluttershy’s voice, Sunset’s eyes narrowed as she asked, “What will happen to them, if I accept your offer?”

A beat went before the voice answered. “Why should you worry about them? They betrayed you! They tossed you aside, cast you out, rejected you! They do not deserve your concern, nor a thought from you! And you are so much more than they, so much greater! You have no need for them anymore!”

Sunset’s eyes closed, and her open hands clenched into fists. “You’re right.”

-

Fluttershy let out a small gasp as the miasma pulled back, and she and her friends watched it as a familiar form dropped from the cloud and landed on the ground a fair distance away, wings stretched out as if to slow her fall. Her head was bowed, and her eyes shut tight, but enough of her face was visible that it was clear Sunset’s teeth were clenched hard, as if in rage.

Fluttershy could see the worried expressions upon her friends’ faces, could feel one forming upon her own. But the anxiety soon left her face as she stood straight, head held high and gaze firm upon her friend. She’d made the mistake of losing faith in Sunset before, and she wasn’t going to repeat it.

At her left, she felt a hand wrap around her own, slight calluses suggesting Rainbow Dash as the owner. At her right, she felt another hand, the manicure suggesting Rarity. A quick glance towards either side confirmed her thoughts, Applejack and Pinkie Pie having taken similar positions beside them as Sunset started to slowly make her way towards them, and Fluttershy silently hoped that she was making the right decision as with every step, familiar words escaped Sunset’s mouth. They were low and quiet, but as she got closer, they became clearer.

“Hush now, quiet now,

It’s time to lay your sleepy head.

Hush now, quiet now…”

At this point, Sunset was within inches of the five girls, and her slow march ceased as she stretched out her arms and wings to her sides and finished.

“…It’s time to go to bed.”

And then Sunset raised her head, and opened her eyes. And the five girls gasped as two words escaped her mouth.

“Hold tight.”

“NOOO!” the miasmic cloud wailed in anger.

As one, the girls released one another’s hands and rushed towards Sunset, Fluttershy wrapping her arms about her while the other girls took her into as tight an embrace as they could. Sunset, in turn, embraced them back, locking her chin against Fluttershy’s neck and holding the rest close with her arms and wings. A shimmering opal dome formed around them as the cloud lashed out with tendrils of eldritch energies, and each attack uselessly banged against the barrier.

The embrace loosened on her, and Rarity let out a relieved sigh. “Oh Sunset, you had us worried!”

“More scared than a cat at a dog show, that’s fer sure,” Applejack chimed in.

“Sorry girls, but I didn’t want to tip my hand too early.” She turned her attention to the pink-haired girl softly crying into her shoulder and gently pleaded, “Hey, Fluttershy, come on. Don’t cry. I hate seeing you cry.”

“I know, but…” Fluttershy stepped back and wiped away her tears. “I’m just so sorry about what happened.”

Sunset gently cupped the girl’s face in her hands and looked at her with reassuring eyes, those of the girl they’d come to know since the Fall Formal and not the demon from that horrible night, and assured her, “I know.” She then gave her friend a soft kiss upon the forehead and continued, “I heard what you said, what all of you said. Now it’s your turn to listen to me – you are not a monster.” A smile formed upon her face as she added, “We are not monsters.” Another anguished scream caught her attention, and she turned to face the monster responsible for her current predicament. “But that thing is another matter.”

“You chose them over me?!” The cloud’s voice had changed slightly, having taken on more of a ghostly echo as it wailed at Sunset. “They hurt you! They left you! They betrayed you!”

“Yeah, and they hate themselves for it.” The image of the Crystal Mirror formed once again beneath the swirling mass, but Sunset kept her gaze upon the latter as her shield came down. “I could feel it then, and I feel it just as much now, and I didn’t have any trouble recognizing it. Their guilt. And even if I couldn’t feel it, I wouldn’t want them hurt, or dead, because of what they did to me. But if I’d accepted your offer, that’s what would’ve happened, wouldn’t it?”

“You have no way of knowing…!”

“Horseshit!” Her reflection shimmered into view in the mirror, that of the grinning demon she’d turned herself into, as Sunset continued. “I know a deal with a devil when I hear one! Only difference then was that I was the one making the offers!” Her attention turned from the cloud to the mirror, her eyes locked with the demonic image in it and its monstrous eyes, eyes that she knew weren’t her own. “And I’ve spent the last few months regretting everything I did when I was that devil, all the pain and hurt that I’ve caused, blaming myself, hating myself.” She raised a hand, and her reflection did likewise, the grin fading as it took on a confused look before turning fearful at her next words.

“And I’m sick of it.”

With one swift motion, Sunset grabbed hold of her demonic face and ripped it away like a cheap rubber mask. Her reflection did the same and left nothing but a gaping empty void beneath, but Sunset was another matter as she continued on, the demon’s face falling from her hand and burning away before it hit the ground.

“Because that isn’t who I am anymore.”

Both hands reached up to the dress she wore and tore it away like a cheap Halloween costume, soft flames going at the ends as she stepped forward, head held high and eyes filled with purpose and determination. “I’m not who I was that night, and I have them to thank for it. Yeah, they messed up bad, and hurt me in the process. That hurt hasn’t gone away, but it’d be even worse if I lost even one of them.” The flames reached down one arm, and Sunset tore off the demonic hand as though she were wearing a glove, something very different coming up underneath. “I still care about them, monster, and all that anger they had? All that guilt they’re feeling now? That shows they care about me.” She finally stepped out of the boots and dropped to all fours as she finished, “And I’m better because of them.” At last, she took hold of the remaining demonic hand with her teeth and pulled it off, then spit the thing out as it burned away at last. “They’re my friends, and I’m theirs.”

Cheers of triumph shouted out from behind her even as the miasma threatened, “You think that you can stand against me, foal?! Have you no idea what you face?!”

“Yeah, a Nightmare.” A grin formed upon her muzzle as Sunset countered, “But you don’t know a thing about me.” All four hooves planted firmly upon the ground, her mane and tail swaying softly, the mare looked up at the monster before her and declared, “I am Sunset Shimmer, and I am done being afraid of nightmares.” Her horn glowed as she barked, “Now get the buck out of my head.”

The swirling energy cloud roared and surged towards her, only to be pushed back with a howl of pain by a beam of opal magic. More beams followed in rapid succession, even as tendrils lanced back towards her in reply. Whichever ones Sunset didn’t shield herself from, she nimbly dodged and avoided, until a dozen struck in rapid succession and knocked her to the ground.

-

A pained grunt escaped Sunset’s mouth as her head moved to one side, her eyes shut tight as the dream continued. At either side of her, the two Celestias closed in as much as space could allow them and gently placed a hand and hoof upon her shoulders, providing what little comfort they could.

-

“Sunset!” her friends cried out in unison.

Sunset groaned and raised her head to face her opponent as the Nightmare closed in. “You are a fool, pony. I could have granted you everything you wanted, the power you deserved! Now, you shall have nothing!”

“Hey you big jerk, didn’t you hear her?!” Before the mass could react, it found itself being pulled away from Sunset, sucked instead towards one of her friends as Pinkie pulled it into a massive vacuum cleaner strapped to her back. As the last of it was trapped inside, she laughed and grinned proudly as her hair extended and pony ears popped up out of the top of her head. “No means no!”

The rest of her friends rushed to her side and Fluttershy helped her up as Sunset looked upon the party girl with surprise. “Pinkie? How did…?”

“Well duh! Beat a smoke monster by sucking it up with a vacuum!” Pinkie grinned as she waved the vacuum nozzle about and explained, “Seriously, I don’t get why people don’t think of this stuff. I mean, if I’d been a character on that show ‘Lost’, it wouldn’t have lasted one season, let alone six.” The bag shook, but it went unnoticed by her as she continued, “Speaking of, what was up with that ending? I mean seriously, they were all in purgatory?”

Rarity, however, had noticed the shaking bag and cried out, “Pinkie!”

“Right, sorry, spoiler alert, but still…”

“No, Pinkie, the vacuum thing!” Sunset pleaded. “Toss it!”

Finally noticing that her captive was about to escape, Pinkie did as she was told and threw her weapon aside. The vacuum exploded, and the Nightmare was released from its prison with an enraged roar, to which Pinkie responded with a shrug. “Eh. Worth a shot.”

“Pathetic apes! You think you can stand against my power?! I have seen countless centuries, taken so very many hosts, faced beings with magic greater than yours, and survived every time to come again! You are but pale imitations of those who have defeated me before, eager to squabble amongst yourselves like children!” A cruel laugh sounded as the cloud took on an equine shape and declared, “But you lack what they had to defeat me! You stand before me alone, and you shall all die al–!”

The Nightmare screamed in pain as bolts of magic lanced upon it. The source of the attack flew around and landed between it and the six, then flapped her wings as she fired off another beam of magic and drove back her foe. A determined fire was in her eyes as Princess Luna declared, “They are not alone, monster, but you are.”

Before it could react, another beam struck the Nightmare and trapped it within a spherical forcefield of yellow magic. A second alicorn took up position beside Luna, the bright glow of her horn making clear her determined gaze. As the Nightmare struggled to escape her hold, it screamed, “You?! What are you?!”

“Somepony who’s faced her fair share of Nightmares.” She smirked as Luna added her magic to the efforts to contain the Nightmare. “And trust me, a few of them won’t feel too bad about me helping to put your sorry flank down.”

“Girls!” Before Sunset or her friends could question what was going on, Twilight landed before them with a relieved smile. “Am I glad to see all of you!”

Sunset’s eyes lit up as she smiled and got back to her hooves. “Twilight!” She was the first of her friends to reach the small alicorn and take her into a warm embrace. “The feeling’s mutual!”

“No kidding!” Rainbow Dash was the first to break from the hug as she turned her attention to the unfamiliar alicorn. “But who’s she?”

Applejack took a different approach to the newcomer. “She’s helpin’, Dash! That’s enough fer me!”

The athlete shrugged. “Okay, fine, I’ll give you that, but what did she mean by Nightmare? I thought that thing was dead!”

“And believe me, I wish that I was wrong!” The new alicorn’s brow furrowed as she explained, “The fragments left when it was ripped away from Luna were collected and locked away, but not outright destroyed!”

“And it would seem that my sister and Spell Nexus missed one!” Luna glared upon the Nightmare and declared, “Regardless, I will not allow the Nightmare to harm another of my subjects!”

“Ain’t questionin’ that, Highness, but how’d it get in our world, and why go after all’a us if it was after Sunset as a new host? That don’t make sense!”

A malevolent chuckle issued forth from the Nightmare. “Do you wish to illuminate them, your Highness?” A wispier form, colored and shaded differently from the rest, came into focus upon its spectral chest as it taunted, “Or shall I?”

The Princess of the Night’s eyes widened in shock, and the Nightmare took advantage of it to counterattack with more tendrils of energy. The shield around it buckled, and that was enough for it to break free. Tendrils of energy shot out only to be quickly blocked by Luna and her newfound ally as the former realized, “That’s why it was weaker the last time! A piece of it was taken!”

Twilight quickly reached the same conclusion as Luna and gasped, “The Tantabus.”

“That thing Princess Luna made to give herself nightmares? What’s that got to do with this?”

“The Nightmare fragment must’ve been terribly weak, even after a year of being defeated and restoring itself within the castle.” The younger princess looked to Rainbow Dash and explained, “It must’ve sensed the Tantabus in Luna, and took a fragment of it for itself to try and increase its power and speed its recovery.”

“But that thing’s fueled by guilt, ain’t…” Applejack scowled as the realization dawned upon her. “That explains why it was after us, strong guilt! Especially outta Sunset! But that still don’t explain how it got inta our world!”

Sunset’s scowl quickly matched that of her farmgirl friend. “My message journal. It must’ve piggy-backed on a message Twilight sent from her copy.”

“There’s no way you could have known, Twilight. This isn’t your fault.” The unnamed alicorn smiled. “Still, I love it when ponies can figure things out for themselves. If it happened more often, my job would be so much easier.”

Luna gave her an annoyed look even as she strengthened her shields. “Did you know about this for certain, or did you merely suspect?” Another lash against them, and she gritted her teeth and strengthened her shields. “Never mind, it matters not how we’ve reached this point! Only that it be ended once and for all!”

The Nightmare laughed and launched a powerful burst of magic upon the alicorns’ shields. While Luna’s barrier cracked, it was swiftly reinforced by her new ally, but this did little to deter their foe. “End me? All you have done is given me the tools I need to become even stronger than before! Guilt is so plentiful, so strong, it can sustain me forever! And I wouldn’t have the means to use it if not for you and your ever-constant weakness, Princess Luna!”

Luna glared at the monster as she readied another attack, only for a familiar voice to speak up instead.

“How dare you.” Heads turned towards Fluttershy as she stepped in front of the alicorn with her gaze fixed upon the Nightmare. “How dare you! We’ve all made mistakes – me, Sunset, Princess Luna, all of us! We all know that we’ve caused one another pain, or said or done something terrible that we regret, that we’d all love to undo but can’t! But if Sunset and Princess Luna can get past their bad mistakes, then so can the rest of us, including me!” A flash of light, and the shy girl ponied up and fluttered into the air as the monster flinched back. “And I won’t stand for you pressing anymore of our buttons, you horrible cloud monster! Like Sunset said, get the buck out of her head!”

“I second that motion!” Pinkie tore away the clothing she wore, revealing in its place a deep pink jumpsuit and a proton pack upon her back. She pulled the attached wand-like gun free and turned it on, thus sending sizzling beams of energy right at the Nightmare and causing it to cry out in pain. “I ain’t afraid of no Nightmares either!”

“None of us are!” As Rarity stepped forward to enter the fray, her clothing shifted and changed into attire that wouldn’t look out of place in a film adaptation of “The Three Musketeers”, albeit a masculine design tailored for the feminine form. As a rapier formed in her right hand, she charged and declared, “Have at thee, demon!”

As the fashionista made several swift strokes with her sword, the Nightmare seemed more annoyed at her attacks than anything. “Foolish mortal, you truly think –?!” A shotgun blast interrupted it, with several more following in quick succession. “Who dares?!”

“Who else?!” Applejack’s attire had shifted so that her winter attire had been augmented by a deep brown longcoat and a bandolier about her chest, the garment packed with extra shells as she sent off further rounds. “Anyone gonna give me some support?! Ah’m gonna need ta’ reload eventually!”

The three alicorns and Sunset fired off beams of magic with their horns as Applejack paused to reload her weapon, which lead the unicorn to remark, “You imagined a shotgun with the limitations of a real one?!”

“Honesty’s a double-edged sword, sugarcube, and Ah know a thing or two ‘bout firearms!” The farmgirl looked about and asked, “Hey, where’d Rainbow Dash get to? She ain’t the sort to run from a fight!”

The sounds of heavy metal reached each of their ears as Sunset asked, “And why am I hearing AC/DC?”

Both questions were answered as Dash’s voice called through slight electronic distortion, “Sorry guys – had to get my power suit!” A multicolored, human-sized mecha shot overhead, slowed to a halt with the jets mounted into the soles of its boots and the pack upon its back, and started unleashing beams of energy upon their opponent with the jets in its palms as the athlete cackled, “Oh yeah! Always wanted to do this in real life!”

“But I thought War Machine was the Air Force guy?” Pinkie asked.

“Meh.” An impressively-sized mini-gun appeared on Dash’s shoulder and increased her firepower against the Nightmare. “Details.”

“Girls, not that I don’t appreciate this, but…!”

“Sunset, it ain’t like we’ve got anywhere else to go!” Applejack paused in her attacks to better speak with her friend and continued, “Besides, we left ya in the lurch once. We ain’t doin’ that again.”

“And don’t you dare try to bring up the fact that we could die, darling!” Rarity didn’t even look back from her sword strikes as she continued, “That’s an urban myth!”

“Yeah, about that…”

Before the new alicorn could finish her statement, the Nightmare launched a wave of energy against all of them. The ponies among them threw up shields in time to weather the blow, but Twilight was still pushed back alongside the five human teenagers, with Pinkie and Fluttershy suffering the least. “This is no normal dream! And as brave as you are, your attacks are worthless against me! And when even one of you falls, oh, the delicious guilt from those left!”

The alicorn scowled. “What it said.”

Rainbow chucked the helmet to her armor away as she got to her feet and declared, “You ain’t touching anyone else, you jerk!”

A malevolent chuckle answered her. “Oh, I shall do far more than ‘touch’ them, ape. While the unicorn would be my ideal host in your world, anyone would do.”

Horrified looks crossed the five girls’ faces at that implication, leading each of them to pause and for the magic to flicker on Pinkie and Fluttershy, until Sunset fired off another beam of magic and pushed the Nightmare back. “But that won’t happen! So can the guilt trips and…” Her eyes went wide with realization as a light seemed to shine from within. “That’s it. Princesses, cover us!” As the princesses wordlessly complied, Sunset looked to her friends and explained, “That’s it! That’s why this thing isn’t going down! Guilt!”

Rarity brushed herself off as she got to her feet. “I’m not sure I’m following, darling.”

“Spot the differences, Rarity.” Sunset tipped her head towards Pinkie and Fluttershy. “What do they have that you and the others don’t?”

Pinkie reached up to her ears and answered in Rarity’s place. “We Ponied Up! Or whatever we’re going to call it!”

Applejack shrugged. “Works well enough for me, but how’d they manage it?”

“Absolution.” Sunset turned to them and asked, “You let go of the guilt, didn’t you?”

The party girl smiled and explained, “Well, yeah! Seeing you smile again was enough to let me know that everything was gonna be okay between us.”

“And I just couldn’t sit back and let that thing hurt us with our past mistakes, especially after knowing you still thought of me as a friend.” Fluttershy blushed and added, “At least, that’s what I assume the kiss was for. Not that there’s anything wrong with it being meant for anything else, of course, but…”

Sunset gently laid a hoof upon her friend’s side and assured her, “Easy, Fluttershy. I know we’re both into guys.” She then turned to the rest of her friends and explained, “But the point stands. Pinkie, Fluttershy, Luna, me, we’ve all let go of our guilt over everything that’s happened. Now you need to do the same, so we can starve the Nightmare and take it down once and for all.”

Rarity lowered her gaze and remarked, “I’m afraid that’s easier said than done, dear. Even ignoring what we did to you, our failings run rather deep.”

“All the more reason to dry out that well.” The unnamed alicorn among them briefly sent a piercing blow against the Nightmare, then turned to Sunset and assured her with a smile. “You’re on the right track, Sunset. You’ve got this. We’ll give you the time you need.”

Sunset nodded and then turned her attention to the fashionista. “Rarity, your generous spirit is one of the best things about you. I mean, yeah, it didn’t turn out too well, but you offered me a room without giving it a second thought. And that’s ignoring you repairing my jacket.” She stepped forward and smiled in reassurance. “Yes, you were taken advantage of. Once. But you didn’t stop being generous.” She nodded her head towards the young alicorn with them and asked, “And you didn’t hesitate for one second to help Twilight, did you?”

Rarity’s eyes briefly darted towards hers, though the small smile that came with them stayed. “Well, no, but…”

“But nothing.” Sunset gently raised a hoof to one of the girl’s hands and said, “You messed up. It happens. And compared to what I did, your case was small potatoes. But that didn’t stop you from being who you are, and that’s something to be proud of. If anyone was going to rise above something like that, it’s you.” She then grinned and said, “And the next time you go up against that bitch Suri, and there will be a next time, you’ll win. Because I’ll have your back, and a bitch like me knows how to beat a bitch like her.”

The smile grew as Rarity knelt down and hugged the mare. “Thank you darling.” She pulled back and added, “But you are not a bitch. You’re a mare, and a rather adorable one at that. And a dear friend.” A flash, and familiar pony ears and a long ponytail appeared, leaving the fashionista to laugh, “Ooh! That feels much better!”

Sunset laughed. “Looks better too.” She then turned to Rainbow Dash. “Next?”

The athlete turned nervous. “Really can’t do Applejack first, can you?” Faced with raised eyebrows from the farmgirl and the unicorn, she let out a small moan. “Sunset, I don’t see anything you say here really helping.”

Sunset smiled at the apparent challenge and softly approached her friend. “Dash, your mom loves you, right?”

A shocked look crossed Rainbow Dash’s face. “Wha… of course she loves me! And I love her! She’s the most awesome mom in the history of parenting! How could I not love her?!”

“Then what are you so scared of?” Cerise eyes met her cyan ones as Sunset explained, “Dash, she’s your mom. I bet she gets why you were angry about her leaving, and why you’re having so much trouble talking to her now. But all of that won’t stop her from being happy to see you again.” Her smile grew with confidence as she added, “And you will see her again. She’s got two damn good reasons for wanting to come home, and I’m looking at one of them right now.”

Dash smiled and did her best to hide a tear as she admitted, “You deserved a lot better than me, y’know?”

“Maybe. But I’m happy with the awesome that I got. And you are awesome, Dash.”

“So are you, Sunset.” A laugh, and her ears, wings and ponytail grew in as the suit’s jetpack was jettisoned. “Okay, maybe there’s something to all this mushy stuff after all.”

Sunset laughed in reply as Applejack strode up beside her. “Ah guess that just leaves me, don’t it?” She sighed and knelt down beside the mare and admitted, “Trouble is, Ah don’t know what you can say that’ll help. Ah let you down, and Ah let my family down. All over again.”

“You figured it out a lot sooner than I did, though.” Sunset hugged her and sadly admitted, “And you got the chance to come home a lot sooner, too. The family I left behind is an entire world away.”

“And the family you found here went and threw you away,” the farmgirl mournfully admitted.

Sunset held her tight and countered, “And then you came back for me.” As Applejack pulled back in surprise, she explained, “It takes a lot to admit to making a mistake, AJ. I know that better than most. Takes even more to avoid repeating that mistake.”

A small chuckle escaped the farmgirl’s lips. “You’re doin’ better at that than I am, sugarcube.”

“Really?” Sunset smiled gently. “It wasn’t hypocrisy that had you avoid repeating with Apple Bloom the mistake you made with me. I’m not saying that you didn’t screw up, or that you didn’t have the right to be angry with her or her friends, but you did what you could to avoid making it worse.”

“Don’t change what happened, though.”

“No, but it doesn’t change this, either. Your family loves you, AJ. Your parents and me included. We’ll never toss you away, and that’s the honest truth.”

Applejack’s eyes closed as she smiled softly. “And Ah ain’t tossin’ you away neither.” A flash of light, and she ponied up at last and stood at her feet, shotgun at the ready. “Now let’s try this again.”

Sunset grinned and turned to face the Nightmare as it struggled to get past the alicorns’ defenses. “All together now.”

Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy both took flight, the latter Staring the Nightmare down as the former resumed her attacks, supported by fire from Pinkie, Applejack and Sunset’s respective forms of attack. Rarity, meanwhile, had swapped her rapier for a musket and let out a round of her own.

The Nightmare seemed to recoil, only to resurge a second later and force everyone back. “A valiant effort, but it isn’t enough!” it laughed in apparent triumph. “Your efforts are pitiful, foals! You expect to defeat the darkest of magic with none of your own?!”

“Ah don’t get it!” Applejack looked to Sunset and asked, “We’re ponied up, magic’s kicked in, what’s missin’?!

The Nightmare shot out multiple tendrils, each one either blocked or destroyed by Luna in retaliation as she offered, “It still has guilt to feed upon! That is the only explanation for it to continue like this!” She looked to the newcomer among them. “You…?”

“No, Princess Luna.” Her own counterattacks tore through the Nightmare’s tendrils like buzzsaws and prompted screams as the alicorn countered, “As many problems as I have, addressing my guilt isn’t among them.”

“Then where’s it coming…from…?” Sunset’s voice trailed off as she looked to the only option left. “Twilight?”

Twilight’s magic gave out, and the Nightmare pressed its attack only to be swiftly repelled by the other two alicorns as one called to the other, “And this is why you needed my help! Now hold it back!”

Luna struggled alongside the newcomer and retorted, “As if I was attempting to do otherwise?!”

The young princess’s head hung low, her eyes closed and shame clear as day upon her face. “I’m sorry, Sunset. All of this, it’s my fault.”

“No, it isn’t.” Sunset rushed to her and spoke with gentle reassurance. “You had no way of knowing about the Nightmare…”

“No, not this,” Twilight bitterly countered. “What led to this, you being in a position where…” She opened her eyes and forced herself to look upon the unicorn as tears began to well in her eyes. “I failed you, Sunset. You’re my student, and my friend, and I left you in a place where you could get hurt. And you did.”

“But that wasn’t your fault, Twilight!” Dash approached with the rest of her friends and countered, “You left her with us! We screwed up, not you!”

“But I could have brought Sunset back to Equestria with me after the Fall Formal! We could have avoided all of this! She could be with her family again!” She screwed her eyes shut and wept. “What kind of princess am I if I can’t find three of my subjects?! What kind of friend am I if I can’t keep someone I care about from being attacked!”

“A better kind of friend than the five of us.” Applejack knelt beside her and gently ran a hand down her neck. “When all that crap went down with Anon-A-Miss, you did what none a’ us did and stuck with her. You saved her, Twilight. Just like you saved our friendships.”

“And my soul.” Sunset raised a hoof to wipe away Twilight’s tears. “We both know that if you tried to force me to go back, I wouldn’t have done so. I was too afraid, especially after the Fall Formal. So you did the next best thing.”

“Did I?” Twilight opened her eyes to the girls. “I thought that you all could help her learn how to be a better friend, just like your counterparts all helped me.”

“Well, don’t they make mistakes sometimes?” Rarity offered. “Perhaps not as terrible as the one we made, but still. Besides, I think they learned a thing or two from you as well.”

“And you could have just forgotten all about Sunset, and about us, after the Fall Formal. But you didn’t.” Fluttershy gently stroked her neck and assured her, “You’ve been there for her, and for us. Being here proves it.”

“It’s why we love you, silly!”

Sunset giggled at Pinkie’s remark before turning to Twilight and saying, “Twilight, having them with me gave me the strength to keep going in their world. Having you? That’s reminded me that there’s still a place for me back in Equestria, and ponies who love me waiting for me to come home.” She then hugged the princess and added, “Including ones you haven’t met yet.” The hug ended as she added, “And you will find Sunrunner. I know you will, one way or another, no matter how long it takes.”

“But the Chest, and…”

“Twilight, you saved Princess Luna. You stopped Discord. You exposed and defeated Queen Chrysalis, twice. You helped save the Crystal Empire. You did what Celestia couldn’t and saved Rarity from being a puppet to the Nightmare. You finished Star Swirl’s ascension spell, and that was all before you met me. The Chest will be easy street compared to that, and finding my cousin even easier.” Sunset held out a hoof and offered, “Because of a lesson you taught me without me even realizing it. You weren’t alone, and you won’t be alone. And I’m not alone, thanks to you.”

Twilight’s eyes were fixed upon Sunset’s as those words sunk in, until a smile formed upon her face. “You’re right, Sunset. I’m not alone.”

The Nightmare suddenly ceased its attacks with a pained cry, and its opposition pressed their advantage even as the next words they heard did them proud.

“And I will find her. Because I made a promise to my friend. And I keep my promises.”

“NOOOO!” The Nightmare screamed and convulsed as the Tantabus fragment within it tore free and streamed its way back and forth. “You cannot…!”

“They can.” The Tantabus fragment reunited with Luna as she explained, “There are powers stronger than you, Nightmare. Magic far beyond your comprehension. It’s why I was freed, and why Sunset didn’t fall.”

“Because we know we’re not alone.” Sunset rose into the air as a magical aura formed around her. Similar ones, each a unique color, did the same around her friends, and she and the five human girls formed a circle around Twilight, one hoof held by Applejack and the other by Fluttershy as familiar energies swirled and circled around them. “And I’m not sorry about what’s coming next, but it’s time you got a reminder of why you lost.”

“Because of something you’ll never understand.” A confident smile was upon her muzzle as Twilight uttered the all too familiar words. “Friendship is magic.”

And for the first time, and hopefully not the last, Sunset saw what it was like to be on the other end of an attack from the Elements of Harmony as the Nightmare was engulfed in light of every color of the rainbow, screaming in defiance all the way until it could scream no more…

Author's Note:

Whew. I was hoping to get this whole story finished before the end of the year, but it appears I'll have to make do with getting this chapter done. My apologies if it seems a little weak in places - even I'm wondering if I did things right here - but in general, I'm satisfied.

For those wondering why I went with "Thunderstruck" over "Shoot To Thrill", well, I feel like the former song is more fitting for the situation than the latter. Plus I like it better, and I feel like it's a shame it was never used in the MCU. Also, no, I haven't read Tatsurou's "The Technological Technicolor Technomare" - I just figured an Iron Man suit would be Rainbow Dash's weapon of choice in a situation like this.

Anyway, well done to both jacen and namar13766 for being the ones to call the antagonist here, sort of. Or at least the ones who publicly aired their speculations. I like it when people see where the story's going, at least in part.

EDIT ON 10/3/2017 - More tweaks, same reason as the previous chapter.

EDIT ON 10/11/2017 - Further editing, for the same reason as the previous chapter.

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