Sunset didn’t get much time to ponder her choice of action. From the Accords’ portal marched out a line of officers, Aeon being one of them. At the rear of the procession came Stella, dressed in a grey gown and missing her mechanical halo. Away from her desk, she stood an impressive seven feet tall.
The officers fanned out around Sunset and Twilight, boxing them in until the only way forward was toward home. Stella waved her hand, and the portal they had come through compressed down into a small ring—her halo—and returned over her head.
She folded her arms behind her back. “Well, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed. Though you two do have a tendency to beat the odds.” She gave a modest dip of her head. “Congratulations.”
Sunset opened her mouth to say ‘thank you’ but couldn’t. Twilight had won that fight. Sunset had just survived, though against Tirek, she supposed that counted for something. She slowly sank to her knees and rested Twilight’s head on her lap. Even after everything she had gone through, Twilight slept with a look of peace, her lips curved in the slightest hint of a smile. Sunset stroked a stray hair from in front of her face, then looked back up at the Accord officers surrounding them. “Tirek’s back in Tartarus,” she said.
Stella nodded. “And you’re both still alive. Happy miracles all around.” Her voice had not lost its dispassionate tone. Sunset wondered what it took for her to actually smile. Stella stepped to the side and gestured to the last portal remaining. “Now, there was one more stipulation to our deal.”
Go home and cut us off from every other universe. Including Canterlot High. Sunset looked back at Twilight. Yes, she would choose Equestria, and Sunset would go with her. But Sunset couldn’t just let go of the other world—her second home, the place where she had been given a second chance, where she had learned to be a better person. Where her best friends resided.
Sunset squared her shoulders. Not without a fight at least.
“Don’t push your luck, Miss Shimmer,” Stella said, gesturing to her enforcers with her other hand. “You beat Tirek by the skin of your teeth; don’t think you can run from us again. We had a deal. I expect you to have enough sense to honor it.”
Sunset clenched a fist. “This isn’t fair.”
“Oh?” Stella raised her chin. “Please explain how me allowing you to go home instead of executing you is unfair? Would you rather have me go back on our bargain?”
“We beat Tirek! Something you guys couldn’t do on your own!”
“After you set him free to wreak havoc on countless dimensions!” Stella took a measured breath and returned to her controlled voice. “This is why we exist, Sunset Shimmer. To ensure children like you don’t go teleporting off to places they don’t belong in. You put all of existence at risk and I’m letting you go home with a slap on the wrist. I suggest you take my generosity before it expires.”
Sunset remained quiet and kept her focus on Twilight, feeling that if she looked up, she might say or do something regretful. You’re a lot better at diplomacy than me. Her eyes found Twilight’s burnt hand again. I wish I had taken that for you. I should be the one lying unconscious. Sunset let out a soft laugh. Fine, leave me with the hard work.
“Well, Miss Shimmer? What is your answer?”
Sunset laughed. “You’re all stupid.”
Stella narrowed her eyes. “Excuse you?”
“Your organization. Your job. It’s all pointless.” Sunset cast her gaze around the circle, looking at the various weapons each of the officers had. Maybe she shouldn’t have led with calling them all stupid. Oh well, in too deep now. “You even said it yourself: we’ve been in your office one-hundred and seventy times. What is cutting off one pair going to do for you in the long run? Two, three, five, ten more will take our place. And then what?” she asked, cutting Stella off. “You send more officers after us, saying we broke laws we had no idea existed? And that’s just the two of us. What about anyone else who learns how to travel through dimensions? You spend your entire life trying to control something that can’t be controlled.”
“Someone has to do it!” Stella said, her calm mask finally cracking. “There must be some order in the multiverse, otherwise, problems like this arise! Can we stop beings from Voyaging altogether? No. But we can reduce the probability of one of them doing something that destroys the universe.”
“By punishing them for their curiosity? The universe is infinite; there’s always going to be something threatening it, whether from someone going somewhere dangerous or some random megalomaniac getting too much power.” Sunset softened her voice, not wanting to disturb Twilight. “But there’s so much beauty out there. So many mysteries, so many possibilities. I’ve learned so much from this journey. Yeah, maybe we screwed up once or twice, but we learned from those mistakes.” She recalled what Twilight had muttered to herself, no doubt talking to Voyager Sparkle. “People will stumble where they don’t belong. Monsters will rampage. And people like you will try to control an uncontrollable system. But they’ll all keep voyaging, no matter what you do. They’ll see the worst and best the universe has to offer.”
She set her eyes on Stella, feeling the fire within them. “And you have no right to take that away. From anyone.”
A soft wind blew over the field in the silence that followed. Every head turned toward Stella, lips pressed tight, eyes narrowed. She moved forward, gliding across the grass until her shadow fell over Twilight and Sunset. For a moment, Sunset thought she might have pushed too far, and that her and Twilight’s journey would end in death after all. Instead, Stella stooped over and whispered, “And what would you have me do instead? Turn my back and ignore everything? I am a being of Order, Miss Shimmer. This chaotic universe must have balance.”
Sunset looked down to see Twilight’s eyes fluttering open. Her weak smile grew as she looked up into Sunset’s beaming face. Sunset ran a hand along her cheek. “Hey, Sparky.”
Twilight sat up, wincing as she moved her singed hand to get comfortable by Sunset’s side. “Instead of punishing them, teach them. Show them how dangerous dimension hopping can be, where they shouldn’t go. Then trust they’ll make the right decisions.”
“Trust?” Stella said, affronted. “You simply want me to hope and trust these naive children won’t go to forbidden dimensions or meddle in the affairs of another civilization?”
“Yes.” Twilight yawned and slumped against Sunset. “Not everyone will listen of course. But if you show them trust, if you come to them as friends instead of enemies… they’ll reciprocate that.”
Stella stepped back, moving her shadow off the pair. She pressed a hand to her temple. “Idealistic simpletons.” The world was quiet again, this time for several long minutes. Some of the officers fidgeted uncomfortably, looking from their leader to the defiant girls kneeling in the grass. Finally, Stella reached up and tapped her halo. It floated out in front of her and expanded, then generated a portal back to the Accords’ Hall.
She folded her arms behind her back. “Your proposal will be considered. If only so I never have to see you universal constants again,” she spat. She stalked toward the portal. “Go home. And may we never cross paths after this.”
“Wait,” Twilight called before Stella could step through. “You gave us our Talisman back, but told Sunset it was one of yours. Why?”
“I did give Sunset a modified teleporter. So I don’t…” Stella tipped her head toward Aeon. “Is this your doing?”
Aeon looked away. “They saved my life. I was just returning the favor: a balance of karma. I switched the training one for their original when I found her without her memories.”
Stella scoffed and stepped through the portal, pointing to Aeon. “This is going on your record.” She looked back at Sunset. “And for the love of all, get a haircut.”
Sunset ran a hand through her hair, feeling the need to grow it further out of spite. She smiled and dipped her head to Aeon. Despite the hell she had put them through, Sunset couldn’t ignore a genuine gesture. “Thank you.”
Aeon nodded perfunctorily, then followed Stella through the portal. One by one, the officers marched through until only Twilight and Sunset remained. The halo compacted on itself once more, then blinked out of existence.
Just one portal remained. Sunset climbed to her feet and held a hand down to Twilight. “Come on. Let’s go home.”