• Published 2nd Nov 2017
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What Happens at Clipper's, Stays at Clipper's - SunnyDays



Various one-shots set in the universe of "Empty Skies"

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Three Suns and a Dawning Heart (Part 2)

Sunset Shimmer had never felt more wanted in her life. Cadence was pressed firmly to her side, her pink wing draping over her back in almost a protective gesture as the two approached the entrance to the Crystal Empire Palace.

“This is my sister,” Cadence announced as curious and tightly-lipped guards began to crowd around them. “The Duchess of the Crystal Empire. You will treat her with the same respect that you treat Princess Twilight, or you’ll be hearing about it from me.”

Those that had looked suspicious before eased a little, making a way for their Empress and Duchess to pass through their barrier. Sunset smirked, lifting her chin high as she passed them all. There was nothing like the feeling of smirking at the guards she had so easily slipped by on her first night here when she had stolen Twilight’s crown. From the look of one of the crystal guards, in particular, Sunset mused that she had crushed his precious little ego with her escapades that night.

Duchess. The title made her stomach flutter. Duchess of the Crystal Empire. It wasn't the title itself that threw Sunset for a loop, but the idea of being of the Crystal Empire. She had found somewhere that was hers; she was wanted somewhere, by someone. It was a feeling that Sunset thought, once upon a time, that she'd get by becoming a Princess of Equestria. And somehow, Sunset figured being the Empire's Duchess felt more wholesome than becoming a Princess ever would have.

“So! Looks way different in the light, doesn’t it?” Cadence teased her as if reading her thoughts.

Sunset did have to admit that the Crystal Palace was a lot prettier in the daylight, not that she’d seen the outside. She remembered her confusion when she went through the portal for the first time in four years and came through in a place that wasn’t the restricted section of Canterlot Castle. It hadn’t taken long to rewrite her entire plan - it helped that the portal had moved, in fact - but she hadn’t gotten the chance to really tour around. Though, looking back, Sunset was upset at herself for not looking past her ambition long enough to see her sister earlier. Maybe a lot of things could’ve been stopped if she had just been embraced by Cadence again.

“It does.” Sunset agreed, not acknowledging the teasing as she looked over the bright, glossy castle. It shone brightly in the sunlight and almost made you forget that it was entirely surrounded by winter blizzard clouds of death. “So… You lived here as a child?”

“I was born here.” Cadence nodded in return, leading her to the very bottom of the castle. There, the Crystal Heart stood between two pedestals that held it in position as it spun, radiating warmth and an aura that Sunset could feel. “Before the Empire fell, that is.”

“Right.” Sunset nodded to show that she was still listening as she crept up closer to the Crystal Heart, “Clover the Clever’s greatest enchanted artifact…” Sunset muttered softly to herself, taking a moment to appreciate the sheer power pumping from the giant artifact.

“Don’t get too close,” Cadence warned as Sunset inched closer and closer to the Heart. Cadence dragged her away from it with her magic, and Sunset huffed behind her shoulder as she was pulled away like a foal.

“Sorry Sunset.” Cadence walked up, chuckling as she stood at Sunset’s side, “I didn’t tell you; the Crystal Heart’s magic can be… unpredictable.”

“Like any other artifact.” Sunset rolled her eyes, teasingly brushing their shoulders together, “I know that.”

“Well, you’ve never been blasted by it before.” Cadence replied, “Come on, let’s get you settled in for the night.”

...Blasted by it? Sunset followed her, musing to herself. “Are you saying that you’ve been blasted by it before? ...Doesn’t that just mean that you become all sparkly and fancy?” She quirked her eyebrow in amusement, imagining herself all decked out in sparkles.

“Well, most times, yes.” Cadence said as they climbed the stairs, “So, does Auntie know that you’re home?” She asked, changing the subject.

“...No.” Sunset said cautiously, “At least, as far as I know. Twilight might’ve told her.”

“I doubt she’ll tell her without your knowledge,” Cadence assured, the two heading into the main lounge to relax and talk. “But… have you thought about trying to patch things up with her?”

Sunset hesitated as Cadence plopped down onto the couch, taking up the whole thing with her body in a very unladylike fashion as they finally had all eyes off of them.

“...thought about it?” She paused, debating whether or not to lie to her older sister for her own grief’s sake. But for her own sanity, she decided to come out with it. “A little.” She admitted, “Before… everything in my life went downhill.”

Cadence’s ears perked up and she pulled herself into a normal sitting position, “What do you mean…?”

Sunset’s shoulders sagged as she told Cadence everything, right from the beginning. She had been putting off telling her big sister about all the terrible things she’d done in the human world because of the big happy reunion that they’d unexpectedly shared this weekend. She didn’t spare a detail, going over what she had done in her first few years at CHS, her fight with Twilight as a she-demon, the Battle of the Bands and her struggle with her own redemption, the Anon-a-Miss incident, and everything else leading up to her new job and group of friends.

As her story went along, she saw Cadence’s lips purse harder and harder, and her eyebrows furrow. She had gone from concern to anger by the time Anon-a-Miss came around, and her purple eyes lit with a fiery determination. By the time Sunset had finished, defeated by her own story, Cadence’s lips had drawn back in a near snarl.

“...And that’s why Celestia’s been the last thing in my mind.” Sunset sighed, “Maybe, after the Battle, I would’ve thought about coming to her. Her triumphant student, having saved her school from sirens… But that’s not who I am now.” Her body sagged into Cadence’s couch.

Cadence didn’t respond from a moment, and Sunset let herself take a few calming breaths. She didn’t realize how much that story had taken out of her, emotionally. Cadence didn’t seem to be taking it well, either.

Finally, Cadence’s voice boomed with anger,“How could Twilight not have told me about this?!” Cadence clenched her teeth. She looked right at Sunset, and Sunset suddenly realized how great it felt that Cadence wasn’t mad at her for any reason.

“Twilight didn’t know we were so close,” She replied with a sigh, “She might’ve thought that I’d be embarrassed if anyone else knew.”

“And what about Celestia?” Cadence asked with a huff, “Does she know how you’ve been treated there?”

“No idea.” Sunset replied flatly, “Maybe? Not like you guys could really do anything about it.”

Cadence seemed taken aback by that, “Are you kidding, Sunset? Yes, we could’ve! We could’ve ordered Twilight to bring you home! We could’ve stayed with you in the human world for a while!” Sunset flinched slightly at the idea of the two alicorns floundering around in the human world as she and Twilight had the first time they had set foot in the strange land. It was admittedly a little funny, but it wouldn’t have been any help to her situation. Cadence continued despite the faces her sister was making, “We could’ve spoken to someone about this! We could’ve done something, which is much better than nothing!” She stood, frowning.

Sunset stood with her, “Please don’t take this out on Twilight.” She pleaded softly, “I asked her to avoid bringing up Celestia around me, and she might’ve taken that as the other way as well. Because of our last meeting-”

Cadence cut her off, “-Celestia can’t admit that she made a mistake.”

“...pardon?” Sunset blinked.

“Celestia can’t admit that she tried to motivate you in the wrong way, or that she denied to properly teach you about why the things you wanted were out of reach,” Cadence said, glancing down at her. “I knew you then, Sunset. I knew you while you were her student. You were ambitious, and she saw that as a threat. She treated you as a threat, and you pushed each other away.” Her face softened, “But I never saw that side of you. I listened to you, to your ideas, to your dreams and ambitions, and you never shied away from me. Why should that have been any different from your relationship with her? She was your mentor, for Lumensia’s sake!”

When Sunset’s voice came back, it was hoarse, “...I was terrible to her too, though.” She was so used to others - even Twilight - telling her that she had left Celestia’s side because she was just too ambitious to be something more. But having someone stick up for her was different, and Sunset almost wasn’t able to respond to it through the tight sadness, relief, and joy that came swelling to her chest all at once. It was a hard feeling to describe, and it hit her so suddenly that she could barely stand it.

“That was in return for Celestia showing you the mirror.” Cadence pointed out.

Sunset gasped for breath, fighting back tears, “But Cadence! I went behind her back, I snuck into the restricted section of the library! I told her all these terrible things! I’ve done…” Tears began to fall, dripping from her chin and onto the hard floor beneath them, “I’ve done so many terrible things…” She blurted out everything that she’d done, letting her tears flow and form a small, reflective puddle on the ground before her. Cadence didn’t see what a horrible embarrassment she was, and it hurt trying to explain it to her.

She saw Cadence’s hoof appear on the ground before her, and she felt her mane being brushed softly out of her face. “Yes,” Sunset let out a choking noise as Cadence began, but she continued, “But you’ve fought your way back into their trust. And now, something bad has happened to you, right as you felt comfortable enough to let your guard down. I’m sure there have been others that made you believe that you deserve it, too.” Cadence said softly, slowly scooping Sunset into a hug.

Sunset pressed her face into Cadence’s neck, letting all of her emotions go as she wailed in the safety of her big sister’s embrace. The only family she’d ever really known. The first, and for a while, the only mare she had ever really trusted. The mare who had always listened and advised her without judgment. She was still here, right by her side, and Sunset couldn’t possibly voice how thankful she was for that.

For a few moments, the sisters sat in silence as Cadence let Sunset cry.

Then, she continued, softer than before, “You don’t deserve that, Sunset. No one does. But… This is about your well-being now. Not about this grudge between you and Celestia. If it weren’t about your safety, I’d let you confront her alone and at your own pace. But now… We can’t let Twilight keep information from reaching either of us. Celestia and I need to know. We need to be able to help you if anything goes wrong.”

Sunset pushed away, “But what do I tell her, Cadence?” She sniffled loudly, her voice rising, “That she was wrong? That I was wrong? Do I apologize? Do I tell her everything?”

Cadence smiled softly, “You tell her everything. Hold nothing back, and apologize after. I’ll be there at your side, standing up for you and holding her accountable for how she hurt you in return.” She brushed Sunset’s mane aside again, “And we’ll work this out. Trust me.”

“O-Okay.” Despite the shaky response, Sunset was feeling uplifted by Cadence’s assurances. She couldn’t have asked for a better way to face her old mentor than side-by-side with her sister.

“I love you, Sunset.”

“L-Love you too, Sis.”

Tears came anew as Sunset looked up at Cadence again, and hugged her tightly in return. Warmth and love returned to Sunset in a way that she hadn’t felt in years, and it filled her body up to the brim. The warmth and fire from Cadence dried most of Sunset’s tears, and a thought returned that she hadn’t recalled in years.

One of the true reasons Sunset had wanted power all of those years ago, and what was possibly both the least and most selfish reason of all:

She had always, desperately wanted to be her sister’s equal.

---

As promised, two days later, Cadence led the charge through the Empire and towards the train station. With guards swarming around Cadence for the moment, Sunset was left to her own thoughts as she trotted after.

To say that meeting with Celestia after all these years was going to be difficult was an understatement. Twilight told her about only one time that she had mentioned Sunset to their mentor, and that Celestia had been “more than happy” to hear that Sunset was doing alright on her own. Other than that, though, Sunset had been told very little about Celestia’s reactions were about her other escapades if Celestia was even told about them. Considering Sunset’s own unenthusiastic response to Twilight telling her this, she didn’t think it was that big of a stretch for Twilight to have taken it as: “Let’s not tell either of them what’s going on unless we really had to”. Then again, that made her feel a little bitter towards Twilight for thinking that way.

Cadence shooed her guards ahead, slowing to match Sunset’s pace, “You worried?”

“A little?” She admitted, “What did you even tell her in that letter?”

Cadence glanced at her, “Only that you and I requested a meeting with her at that specific time.”

“...Well, that’s surprisingly formal.” Sunset noted, “...Wait. You told her that I was coming with you?!”

“Of course I did.” Cadence nodded, “She has to know you’re here. If circumstances were better, I’d let it be a surprise. ...But she has to be mentally and emotionally prepared for this.”

She paused and put out her hoof, the two narrowly avoiding being slammed into by an orange unicorn with his head in a book.

“HEY!” Sunset shouted at him, and he jumped. The books he was balancing on his back fell to the ground as he did so. “Watch where you’re going.” She said to him, her voice even now, “You nearly ran us down.” She pulled the books into her aura, setting them back down on his back as they were before.

The stallion blushed heavily, and stuttered, “O-Oh! Oh dear, sorry, your highness! That’s t-totally my fault!” He apologized, bowing to Cadence quickly and pushing up the glasses on his face. He retreated quickly, and Sunset watched his cape flutter in the wind behind him with mild interest.

“...Any idea who that is?” She asked Cadence, raising an eyebrow, “He had a cape on.”

Cadence shrugged as the stallion disappeared into the crowd of crystalline ponies, “Nope. Just a civilian, I guess.”

“And he wasn’t a crystal pony,” Sunset added.

Cadence flashed her a smile, “Well, sure. There are plenty of Equestrians who have decided to live here after the Empire came back. That’s not new.” They continued walking, the guards closing in a circle around both of them this time as they trotted over to the train station, “My guess is that he’s studying the Empire’s history and culture.”

“Yeah,” Sunset replied, only to acknowledge that she was listening still. “Anyways, are you sure that’s a good idea?” She asked again, a little nervous now that Celestia knew that she was coming.

Cadence nodded, “As I said, she needs the time to consider what she’ll say, just as you have. Besides, the less tension in that room, the better.” She muttered, motioning Sunset on as they climbed aboard their train.

“Y-yeah.” Sunset gulped, “Tension.” She looked out the window as the two sisters went quiet, and Sunset prepared exactly what she’d need to bring up to her mentor when they were once again face-to-face.

---

It was strange being back in the castle again, this time as a guest and not a resident. Sunset had lived out her entire foalhood here, playing with Cadence in the gardens and studying alongside Celestia until it all ground to a halt. A part of her was eager to walk the grounds again, maybe boss around a few of the maids and cooks for nostalgia's sake. But, that wasn’t for now.

Now, she and Cadence were facing down the doors to Celestia’s grand throne room. Glancing at her sister for reassurance, Sunset saw that fiery determination had returned to them, and Cadence drew herself up to the most formal Sunset had ever seen her. Even angry as she was, Cadence was still the picture of grace in public, as she had been taught to by her Auntie. A picture that Sunset knew would disappear the moment those doors had closed behind them. This was family business.

As if on cue, the guards opened the throne room doors.

“Announcing Empress Mi Amore Cadenza of the Crystal Empire, and Duchess Sunset Shimmer of the Crystal Empire.” The guard announced, and the two strode inside. Normally, hearing her new title would flip Sunset’s stomach for a loop and give her a little flutter of happiness, but she was too focused on the white alicorn sitting at the end of the room to notice. Celestia’s eyes were right on her.

She almost faltered in step, but Cadence’s side so close to her helped to keep her balance.

Celestia stood from her throne, coming down to meet them at the foot of it, “...Sunset Shimmer.” She said in slight awe, beginning to approach her ex-student.

“Yes. And you have some grievances to answer for, Auntie.” Cadence said bluntly, her earlier facade broken away to scowl up at her taller aunt.

Celestia did a stutter-step in shock at Cadence’s tone. “Grievances?” She asked, her large wings fluttering as if agitated.

“Yes.” Cadence puffed herself up, “When Sunset came back from the human world this weekend, she told me about a few incidents that you may or may not know about that are heavily concerning to me. I was never told about them, and if you don’t know about them either; it’s because of this stupid hesitance you two have toward each other. So, for Sunset’s safety, you two need to start working toward dropping your grudges and moving on.” She looked up at Celestia, “Which means you have to admit that you didn’t treat her right as your student.”

Sunset’s breath caught in her throat. She wasn’t scared of Celestia like Twilight was, but she had never really seen her mad, either. With the bluntness and insistence that Cadence showed toward her aunt, Sunset was sure that she’d see it today from the old ruler. She bit her lip, glancing between the two alicorns uneasily as they stared at one another.

Celestia puffed up defensively, her brows furrowing like Cadence’s for a moment.

“You’re right.” She said at last, letting out a breath and relaxing her face. “There were many ways that I failed you, Sunset. I lost my temper with you when I shouldn’t have, and I baited you with what you weren’t ready for. I’m sorry.”

As she approached, Sunset let out her breath in surprise. “You… are?” She hadn’t expected it to be this easy if she were honest with herself.

“Yes,” Celestia dipped her head respectfully, “I can’t - and shouldn’t - blame you for everything that happened before our fight. I’m not perfect, and pretending to only make the others around me hurt.” Her eyes drifted over to Cadence, who seemed to relax at this admission. “I could’ve talked things out with you when I found you in the restricted section of the library, I could’ve listened and explained instead of keeping secrets. I knew you were untrusting and reactionary, but I didn’t think about it long enough without my emotions getting in the way.” She sighed, “So, yes… I am sorry.”

“...I’m sorry too.” The apology seemed more natural to Sunset now, and she smiled softly, “I was younger and reckless, and I didn’t think of anything other than proving you wrong.” She sighed, looking down at her hooves, “And I hurt you both with my dumb decision to run away. I’m so sorry.”

She was met with an embrace. Large, white wings wrapped around her and Cadence and Sunset couldn’t help but laugh a little. Just as she remembered, Celestia was a huge softie. The three held an embrace for some time before splitting away, Sunset smiling up at her mentor.

“Let’s get some tea, and you can tell me about everything that’s been going on.” Celestia said, stretching a little, “I’ve been wanting to get off of that throne today anyways.”

“‘Everything that’s been going on’ isn’t good news, though.” Cadence reminded her, having mellowed out at the least.

Celestia sighed, shaking her head, “I know… Let’s just talk things out between the three of us. You two can even stay in your own rooms. It’ll be fun.” Celestia’s smile soothed Sunset a little as they were all corralled into the more casual of Celestia’s rooms.

Unlike the last few times, though, Cadence didn’t relax after the doors shut, or kick off her regalia. That cold formalness of a dignitary and ruler stayed firmly in place, and Sunset mused idly why. She’d thought things had gone well.

“Go ahead, Sunset.” Cadence softened her demeanor when Sunset was addressed, nodding toward Celestia. Celestia, too, seemed concerned by her niece's formality. “If you could start from the beginning.”

With another heavy sigh at the emotional exhaustion that normally came with repeating this story, Sunset repeated the full story again. But this time, she found that it was easier to tell it, as if the more she communicated it, the less power it had over her. Instead of defeating her, as it had done earlier, this time anger fueled her telling of the Anon-a-Miss incident. Cadence had been right; everything that had happened had been infuriating. And the more she thought of it, instead of pushing it out of her mind as she had done earlier, the more rage filled her. Tears stung at her eyes, and she tried to fight against them.

She realized as she came to the end, that Celestia had been staring at her in muted horror. Her shoulders slumped again, but she felt more freedom from those memories than ever before.

“Oh by Mother…” Celestia choked out after a moment, “I can’t believe… Twilight said that you were safe with those girls…”

“Clearly not,” Cadence said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Celestia drew herself up with a frown, “You’re absolutely right. We can’t just sit by and let things like this go on any longer.”

Both relief and a small hint of satisfaction washed over Sunset as Celestia said this, pointing up her snout.

“I don’t know about you, Cadence, but I see an obvious conclusion to this mess. That portal will be closed for good, and Sunset will be staying in Equestria with us.”

Sunset froze, her eyes widening. Even after she had run away, Celestia was still her legal guardian here, and she had all right to decide where Sunset could live. That meant that if she wanted to keep Sunset here, she very well could.

“W-Wait!” Sunset stammered, “Don’t you think that’s a bit of a hasty conclusion?” She asked, looking over at Cadence in a panic.

“No, not really.” Cadence admitted, “We should’ve never let you go there by yourself in the first place.”

“But my friends-!” She argued.

“You can visit them and the human world, of course.” Cadence soothed, “But it’s for your own safety, Sunset. I’m sorry; I agree with Auntie here.” She perked, “Besides… You can live with me instead! Wouldn’t that be great?” She asked.

Sunset’s breath caught in her throat; she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“It’s settled then.” Celestia nodded, “Since Twilight’s fixed the portal to be opened at all times now, we’ll have it closed for some time after Sunset returns with her belongings.”

Sunset stood shakily, swallowing hard. “I’ll… I’ll be right back.” She dashed out of the room, eyes wild.

How was she going to do this? How would she have the heart to look her new friends in the eye, and tell them she’d be leaving them right away? What about CHS?

She had to try to change her sister and mentor’s minds, and she knew just how to do it.

Celestia and Cadence both gave her a worried glance as she came into the room again, taking a breath before starting to speak, “That world isn’t as dangerous as you might think.”

“I know you like being with your friends, Sunset, but without good support around you, it could get worse.” Cadence said.

“But I did fine by myself for over four years!”

Cadence grimaced, “But you were homeless then.”

Sunset flinched slightly, “But I was fine, and you two didn’t support me then!” A hurt look flashed in Cadence’s eyes. “I-I don’t say that to blame you!” Sunset backpedaled quickly, “I know I wouldn’t have listened if you did…” She scratched the back of her neck, “...Besides, I have a support group now,”

“The soccer team?” Celestia raised an eyebrow.

Sunset gave a weary smile, “They’re not perfect, but they’ll have my back.”

The two alicorns didn’t seem entirely convinced.

“Well… I’ll show you.” Sunset said, “Maybe Cadence should come to the human world for a few days and scope it out. And if it’s not safe… I’ll come back to Equestria, no questions asked.”

“No.” Celestia spoke firmly, “Cadence has an Empire to run; I’ll go with you. It’s my fault that you’re there in the first place, so I’ll look over your conditions and write to Cadence about what I find. We’ll decide from there.” She looked over to see how her niece felt about that.

“Alright.” Cadence let out a sigh, “But you’re visiting me on weekends no matter what.” She pouted playfully at Sunset.

Sunset chuckled, “Deal.”

“Then it’s done.” Celestia nodded, “We’ll rest for tonight, and then travel tomorrow.”

Sunset bowed respectfully, “Thank you, Princess.”

Celestia will do, Sunset, and I look forward to seeing your world.” She replied with a warm smile.

Sunset had a good feeling that everything was going to be alright.