• Published 31st Jan 2018
  • 2,042 Views, 77 Comments

Equestria Mares: The Secret Apprentice of Princess Celestia - Coyote de La Mancha

Twilight is full of apprehension as she approaches the first Princess Summit. But no one expects that she will soon be fighting for her life and her people, beneath the falling sky of an alien world...

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Chapter Three: Not All That Cuts is Silvered Glass

“Rarity, I’m fine, honest!”

“And I’m glad you are. But that was still very reckless of you,” Rarity chided. “That fire was plainly magical. You couldn’t know for certain you wouldn’t get burned. Why, you scared me half to death!”

“Well, okay, maybe I didn’t know,” Spike admitted. “But the odds were still good, right?”

Rarity’s look did not waver.

Spike looked down.

“Aw, lay off the lil guy, willya?” Applejack nudged her gently. “He prob’ly saved all our hides. Besides, there wasn’t time ta think. If he had, like as not we’d’a been fried up.”

“Yeah. Pretty gutsy move there, Spike,” Rainbow Dash winked.

Still looking down, Spike scratched the back of his neck.

“Ohhhh, here,” Rarity walked to the young dragon and gathered him up into a hug. “My poor little Spike. I’m sorry I was so sharp with you, really I am. I was just scared for you, that’s all.”

She looked him over. “Are you quite sure you’re alright?”

Relieved, he gave a quick hug back. “Yeah. I’m good.”

“Um, excuse me,” Fluttershy interposed, “but, Rarity, When did you learn how to do that?”

“Do what?”

“When you shot that ice out from your horn!” Pinkie Pie chimed in. “That was so neat!”

“What, that? Oh, heavens, darling, I haven’t even tried anything like that since I was in school.”

Spike hopped down as Rarity went on, “My talent’s always been in location and precision, you know, not in power. The detail that embroidery demands, for instance. It’s something that most hooves just can’t manage.”

Then she spared the dragon a fond glance. “But I guess seeing our little Spike in danger brought out my wild side.”

Applejack cocked an eyebrow. “Your… ‘wild side?’”

“Well,” Rarity conceded, “all things being relative, of course.”


Pinkie Pie bounced up. “So, does that mean you can do ice sculptures? ‘Cuz I’ve got this party coming up and you wouldn’t believe how hard it can be to drum up an ice sculpture around here on no notice and I guess I could see that if we were someplace warmer than here like back in Ponyville when it’s spring or summer anyway but not finding anypony who can do an ice sculpture here is really weird in a way because you’d think with all the snow nearby it would be really easy to just get some ice and cut it into whatever but noooooooooooo so I was thinking if you could make the ice then all I would need would be to find a sculptor but even better maybe if you could just make the ice into—”

Rarity, suddenly at a loss, scarcely had time to open her mouth before the immense doors to the throne room opened. Four royal guards of the Crystal Empire exited, solemnly carrying the massive mirror between them, face up. After them came the four princesses.

“Huh,” blinked Applejack. “That was quick.”

Giving her friend an exasperated look, Rarity stepped forward. “Your pardon, Your Highnesses. It’s just that we were expecting you to be in a private conference for quite some time over this. And it’s only been a few minutes.”

“Under different circumstances, we might have,” Princess Cadence nodded. “But at this time, it was felt that would not be appropriate.”

“Besides, it’s not like I wouldn’t tell you guys as soon as I got out anyway,” Twilight pointed out. “I mean, unless it was somehow Super Top Secret or something.”

“So, that being the case,” Cadence went on, “would you all please accompany us to my sanctum? There’s apparently a great deal to be explained in dealing with this, and Princess Celestia would prefer to tell all of us at once.”

When they saw the door, the Mane Six were a bit nonplussed. It was made, not from wood, but from the same flawless crystal as the walls. It also matched the wall in its curve towards them. It was as though a giant crystal tube had been stood on its end, and a section of palace had been built around it. The door had no handle, nor purchase of any kind. But it glowed deep blue as the palace’s mistress willed the door open, and the ponies filed into her sanctum sanctorum.

The room was massive, easily the size of the entire Ponyville library, and with its door closed it formed a perfect, almost seamless circle. The ceiling was high and domed, assembled from a massive array of stained crystal shards. Most places of royal or state purpose had such windows, of course, often depicting scenes of great historical significance. But this one was almost an abstract, consisting of a series of mystical symbols. Every sigil, symbol and rune portrayed was secure in its own power and significance. Yet none of them stood alone, or needed to, for all of them were precisely intertwined in design and meaning. Rays of evening light shone down into the entire room, flooding it with a scintillating array of color and design, magical images made of light dancing along the gemlike interior.

The four crystal ponies reverently placed the mirror against the wall opposing the doorway, bowed, and closed the door behind them.

Spike glanced around. Rarity was looking everywhere, marveling at the gemlike beauty of the chamber. That figured. But everypony else was looking at Princess Celestia, and she was looking at the floor. Apparently, she wasn’t thrilled about whatever was coming next… yeah, this was going to take a while.

“Excuse me, please.”

He opened the door and slipped through, closing it behind him.

Hesitant, Twilight approached her teacher. “Celestia?” she ventured. “You okay?”

The princess shook her multicolored mane. “It doesn’t matter if I am or not.”

Reaching out to move a stray lock out from Twilight’s face, she sighed, “The time for such concerns is obviously past. I know what I need to tell you... I’m just not sure how to begin.”

“Uh, Yer Highness, y’all know we’re all friends here, right?” Applejack said. “I mean, the rest of us ain’t princesses or anythin’ like that, but if ya got somethin’ ya need ta talk about, we’re here for ya.”

“We all are,” Cadence added.

Celestia gave a sad smile. “I know you are. And I treasure all of you.”

Her smile faded as she went on, “But I also know I have failed you so many times over already. For most of you, I did so before we even met… even before you were born.”

Twilight cocked her head, frowning. “I find that highly unlikely.”

“Look, Princess, you don’t need to make with all the details if you don’t want to,” Rainbow observed as she circled the dome above. “You recognized the thief who stole Twilight’s crown, right? So, okay. Just tell us about her. We go in, get the crown, come back. No problem!”

But Celestia only shook her head again. “That is part of the very reason I must explain the situation to you all. You can’t all go to retrieve Twilight’s coronet. She must go alone.”

“What? Why?”

“Because for all of you to go would upset the mystical balance of the dimension to which she has fled. Such an imbalance would cause the destruction of that realm from within, and therefore your own deaths.”

The other ponies stared, frozen.

“Oh,” Rainbow managed. “That’s, um, a good reason I guess.”

The light in the room shifted and that same strange, alien power was felt again. Rolling her eyes good-naturedly, Princess Luna reached out with her magic and gently pulled Pinkie Pie’s hoof away from the mirror’s surface. For her part, Pinkie continued to stare at the rippling surface, plainly delighted.

“Oooooo, sparkly…”

As she might for a child, a bemused Luna slowly guided Pinkie away from the interdimensional artifact. After a few attempts at restraint, giggles began throughout the room, turning ultimately into laughter. As Spike returned bearing a huge stack of boxes and cushions, Luna stole a glance at her sister, and saw that she was smiling again.

Ten thousand dancing stars bless you and your gifts, Pinkamena Pie, Luna thought.

Once the laughter had subsided, Celestia took a breath, let it go. “Very well. Years ago, Twilight asked me about a magical mirror that I always sought to keep nearby. One of my many mistakes was in not answering her. She had a right to know then, as you all have a right to know now.”

She nodded towards the massive looking glass. “That mirror is the Mirror of Phaedra, so named for the realm to which it leads. It is a portal created by Starswirl the Bearded himself. Phaedra is a mystical dimension, an entire universe the size of a solar system. Magic is extremely potent there, but also wild, overpowering, difficult to control.

“Additionally, the realm itself is unstable. Even time does not function properly there. Time always runs significantly more slowly on the other side, but the difference is unpredictable. For example, the gate only opens once every thirty moons on this side, though the exact time and duration is unpredictable. In Phaedra the time elapsed might be twenty-nine moons, or only a few minutes.

“To compound matters, if there is a great deal of magic brought to Phaedra, time becomes even more unstable… as does the realm itself. Which also means that, once she leaves, it might be weeks, months or even years before Twilight returns.”

The Mane Six stared at her, exclaiming in unison, “Years?!?”

Spike, meanwhile, was already setting up pillows for everyone near the mirror, completely at ease. “Yeah, we can wait.”

Luna picked up the narrative. “Starswirl crafted the mirror in an early attempt to study other dimensions,” she said. “What he found was Phaedra. Soon afterwards, he realized that any spell he cast there would not only hasten the tiny dimension’s destruction, but also overpower itself dangerously. The least powerful unicorns who entered would find their magic unleashed like a torrent with every enchantment, endangering themselves and anyone around them. Even an earth pony would find that they suddenly possessed uncontrollable magic powers that surged according to their emotional state, and pegasi would have those same surges plus flight that would be so enhanced as to be almost impossible to direct.

“All of these uncontrolled magical acts would also destabilize the dimension further, bringing it ever closer to self-destruction. Powerful magicians were even worse off, being a destabilizing influence by their mere presence. Thus, Starswirl abandoned Phaedra, turning his attention to other realms.”

Rainbow Dash landed on the mirror’s frame, ignoring Rarity’s withering stare to crane over and peer at its surface upside-down. “I bet I could handle it.”

“In matters of flight, I’m sure you could,” Celestia replied. “But that is why Twilight must go alone. Granted, her presence there would be causing Phaedra to slowly compress in on itself. But she is only beginning to unlock her potential as an alicorn. She will therefore have more time than Luna or I would, as her comparatively low power level will cause a more gradual collapse. Additionally, Twilight has both an encyclopedic knowledge of magic and an incredible intellect and skill at adaptation, which allows her to adjust to new magical challenges quickly.”

She sighed. “All of which brings me to Sunset.”

“Sunset,” Twilight repeated. “You said that when you saw the thief. Is that her name?”

Celestia nodded. “Sunset Shimmer is far more dangerous than any mere thief. She was my first apprentice. And my last – though of course I have mentored students now and again – until you came to me so many years later.”

“Forgive me, Your Highness, but that’s something I don’t quite understand,” Rarity said. “If this Sunset person is a dangerous enemy, and being a former student of yours I imagine she would be quite formidable, why has nopony heard about her before?”

“That’s true,” Cadence pointed out. “Twilight and I never encountered mention of her in the archives. And you never spoke of her before, to either of us.”

“Yeah,” Rainbow chimed in. “It may have been a long time ago, but it’s not like everypony didn’t hear plenty about Nightmare Moon—” She broke off, looking at Princess Luna.

“Um, no offense,” she added.

The Night Princess’ expression was unreadable. “None taken.”

“I moved all records pertaining to her to my private library,” Celestia admitted. “What I did not hide, I destroyed.”

Cadence stared. “What? Why?

“Because I had seen what folk lore had done to my sister’s memory, despite my best efforts. Even after I was able to stop the worst of the songs and the stories, the burnings in effigy… all her good deeds were lost to common knowledge. All that remained were stories told to terrify children. So I made Equestria forget my sister as much as I could, rather than have her remembered as a monster.”

Celestia looked down as she added, “And still, some traditions lingered, indestructible because I had waited too long. The Mare in the Moon. Nightmare Night.”

Princess Luna shrugged contentedly where she sat. She was thinking of caramel apples, and shrieking, giggling foals on the run. Nightmare Night wasn’t so bad.

Celestia went on, “Sunset Shimmer might not have been so well-known when she left. But there were so many rumors about her already, threatening to become legends in their own right. When she returned, I did not want her immediately treated like an outsider— or worse, like an enemy. Therefore, I made her easily forgotten. It was because I did not want her hated or feared when she returned.

“And, because… I was ashamed.”

Twilight cocked an eyebrow. “Well, I guess she does seem pretty… disappointing…”

But the Princess of Day shook her head. “No, Twilight. I was ashamed, not of my pupil, but of my own failures.”

She looked at them all again, incredibly sad, and Twilight felt her own heart sink.

“I have lived a long time, my little ponies,” Celestia said, “and time passes no more quickly for me than it does for you. And somehow, whatever my successes have been, my failures always seem to overshadow them.”

She looked up at the kaleidoscopic ceiling as she went on, “I can safeguard Equestria, lead my subjects into an age of peace. I can create strategies to defeat our enemies, and secure a kingdom for a thousand years or more.

“But because of my mistakes as a leader, all the ponies of the Crystal Empire were lost for centuries. And Cadence herself, last survivor of her family, was lost for almost as long... and then nearly lost again. Additionally, even after I had thought him vanquished, Sombra would have taken the crystal ponies back into a new dark age of slavery were it not for all of you.

“Similarly, I had failed Sunset Shimmer as a teacher and as a guardian, even as I had failed Luna as a sister centuries before.”

Beside her, unseen by her sister, Luna’s expression was one of silent anguish.

Celestia concluded, “So, it was not a tale I was eager to share. But it is one you need to hear today.”

Twilight glanced at the mirror. “Do we have the time? We’ve been talking a while already.”

“With the time difference, I think we do. In any event, you will need to know about Sunset if you are to pursue her. I would rather you have little time but more knowledge than the other way around.”

“Yay!” Pinkie Pie jumped up again, a pillow-grabbing blur of pink energy. In an instant, the Mane Six and Spike found themselves on cushions in a half-circle around the older princesses with snacks in their hooves, blinking and bewildered.

Pinkie happily tossed a hoofful of popcorn into her mouth. “Story time!”

Cadence, Celestia and Luna all looked at one another, smiling again despite themselves. Then, Princess Celestia began her tale.

“Sunset became my apprentice just over a hundred years ago,” Celestia said. “She’d been found and adopted by a well-meaning couple who lived on a farm outside of Ponyville. But though she was just a weanling, her power was uncontrolled and terribly dangerous. At first merely at a loss, within a few weeks her foster parents had been completely overwhelmed. They had sent a message to Canterlot, begging for a tutor who could handle the child.

“After several master magicians had examined her, and themselves been both surprised and dismayed at their own helplessness in dealing with her, I saw no other recourse. I took Sunset in myself. She became my apprentice in the mystic arts. And, to her foster parents’ relief, my ward.

“Sunset was a truly gifted student, though not in the same sense as Twilight. She didn’t have the same love of knowledge, for example, nor the creativity with magic. But though her rote learning was certainly wanting, anything shown to her hooves-on was learned instantly. Anything seen and examined was understood. It didn’t matter much what the subject was. She learned best by doing, and at an amazing rate. And she forgot nothing.

“At first, Sunset attended school with other foals at Canterlot. But she had no interest in the company of others, and only succeeded in alienating her fellow students. As she grew older, any ideas regarding friendship that I tried to impart…”

Celestia shook her mane sadly. “Sunset had nothing but contempt for such things. Her focus always seemed on impressing her other teachers, finding new challenges and surmounting them. And most of all, upon gaining greater magical power.”

Twilight cocked an eyebrow. “Soooo, is that why you were so worried about me having no close friends growing up?”

Princess Celestia started. “What? No, of course not. I was concerned for your happiness, but never that you might become like Sunset.

“Sunset… had her own troubles. And it wasn’t just that she had no close friends. She had no friends, even as a small filly. No friends, no study partners, no playmates… nothing.”

Celestia’s eyes took on a faraway look, casting back across time. “At first, the other foals avoided her. Then, over time, they grew afraid of her. When I pressed her on the subject, she claimed she didn’t want friends, that she was better off without them. Meanwhile, her problems in school grew, along with her outbursts. Eventually, I withdrew Sunset from school and became her sole teacher.

“It seemed a natural move. After all, I was already her teacher in magic. And, at first, it really seemed to help. Sunset had been a limited student, struggling in most every class with regards to books and written reports. So I incorporated my duties into her lessons, and encouraged her to explore through field trips, experimentation, and direct experience.

“And suddenly, Sunset thrived. Where she had struggled before, now she excelled in almost all of her subjects: art, history, music, architecture, biology… and somehow even more in magic than ever before. But most of all, best of all, she seemed happy.”

Celestia sighed. “For a while, I thought we had finally won. I thought I had finally found what she needed to grow into the mare I knew she could become. To build the life for herself she deserved.

“But over time, as her power grew, so did Sunset’s arrogance. The rift between herself and other ponies became more and more impossible to bridge. She was still a foal, but at the Grand Galloping Galas, even the adults would give her a wide berth. She became sullen and angry again, her outbursts more and more frequent. It seemed like we argued constantly; we could scarcely speak without shouting at each other. And then, one day...”

Here, Celestia fell silent. After a moment longer to compose herself, the monarch said with closed eyes, “She found the Alicorn Papyrus.”

“The what?” Twilight asked.

“An ancient text, written by Celestia and myself,” Luna explained. “We were trying to understand what had happened to us in our own Becoming, and why. It details the transformation process from mortal pony to alicorn, and its most likely causes. At least, so far as we were able to ascertain.”

Twilight stared.

Luna and Cadence shared a glance, then Luna addressed her sister. “You did not tell her of this?”

“I was going to give it to her tonight, after she’d rested. Our own first weeks were certainly too filled with adjusting to our new forms to do much else…”

Twilight looked dubious, but said nothing.

Celestia chuckled at her expression. “Fair enough, dear one. I stand corrected, though I would frankly like to read your own assessment before you read ours. In any event, somehow Sunset had stumbled upon the papyrus, and had determined that the power it described was hers by right.”

Again, her face grew dark. “She accused me of holding her back, of being jealous of her ability. Of… many things. At length, she flung the scroll in my face and demanded the Element of Magic. I denied her. That very day, Sunset fled through the mirror, and it sealed shut behind her.”

She sighed, looking down. “And I have been keeping it near me ever since.”

The room was quiet for a few moments before Celestia said, “And if you will allow me one final confession, it was my experience with Sunset Shimmer that prompted me to put such an impossible requirement for finding another apprentice as I did. I never thought there would be a foal capable of hatching a dragon’s egg. Not in a hundred thousand years.”

She looked lovingly at Twilight, adding, “Nor could I have ever guessed on that fateful day that having you enter my life would bring me such joy.”

As Celestia and Twilight embraced, Rainbow Dash soared up again with a wink and a grin. “…Aaaand you’re welcome!”

Rarity gave an indignant sound. “Oh, really!”

Rainbow circled the dome overhead. “What? It was only me being awesome with my sonic rainboom that made her hatching out Spike possible—”

“And my discovering parties and colors and parties and bouncing and parties—”

…and which benefited all of you in different ways,” Celestia gracefully broke in over Pinkie’s interruption and Twilight’s giggling. “Which in retrospect was only fitting. After all, friendship is both Twilight’s greatest strength and how she has chosen to manifest the Element of Magic as a princess. And Rainbow Dash is nothing if not a loyal and stalwart friend.”

As Rainbow landed again, she rolled her eyes, saying, “Yeah, even though you’re not letting us help her out on this one, right?”

“Honestly!” Rarity exclaimed, “Am I the only pony here who remembers we’re in the presence of royalty?”

“It’s probably just that everypony is so worried,” Fluttershy murmured. “I know I am.”

Then she sighed, glancing back at the mirror. “Poor Sunset Shimmer.”

“I beg your pardon, darling?”

Rainbow stared. “You can’t be serious.”

“The hay you talkin’ about, girl?” Applejack frowned.

Fluttershy opened her mouth and closed it again, feeling the full barrage of disbelieving stares aimed at her.

“Well, I mean,” she said to the floor at last, “I know she’s very dangerous. But it sounds like she was still very young when she ran away. She must have felt awful, to just leave like that. And then she finished growing up in some horrible place, without any family or friends. And now… she’s stealing.”

She shook her head, her voice becoming even quieter as she added, “She just sounds so sad.”

Luna nodded. “Yet again, your perception does you credit, Fluttershy. I can attest to the conflict within her, though for the moment that changes little.”

She looked to Twilight. “It remains that Sunset Shimmer has stolen the Element of Magic for her own uses, and taken it back to Phaedra. She is a threat to herself and to all of Equestria.”

Twilight nodded, considering this. Then she turned back to the Princess of the Sun. “So… how old was Sunset when she ran away?”

“Not yet fifteen.”


Eventually, Applejack spoke up. “Okay… so… how come Sunset Shimmer hasn’t blown the place up already, or whatever it’s gonna do? Y’know, what with her bein’ so powerful an’ all?”

She gestured towards her marefriend. “An’ if she kin do it, why not Twilight? I reckon she could just whomp up a spell to keep us from settin’ it off.”

Twilight raised her eyebrows, amused. “Um, AJ? I don’t just ‘whomp up’ spells.”

“Aw, you know what I mean, Twi.”

“Because it’s not a question of having the right spells, but of direct personal control,” Celestia replied. “Sunset Shimmer had already gained an unheard-of degree of mastery over her magical energy. She had to, in a sense, because of the degree of power she possessed. By the time she ran away, she could confine her aura to the surface of her skin whenever she wished, becoming all but undetectable by magical means even without concealment spells. So even in an environment like Phaedra, Sunset would likely have near-perfect control over her magic. But having a spell over you, any spell, would just be one more thing to hasten Phaedra’s destruction. And no spell grants self-control.”

“Well, heck.” She glanced at Twilight. “Sorry, hon. I tried.”

Spike swallowed the mouthful of gem he’d been chewing on. “Well, okay, so what do we know about her besides that? I mean, the way she is now?”

“I had never met this Sunset Shimmer,” Luna answered, “nor was her name spoken to me, until this day. During the time she dwelt in this realm, even her dreams were all but completely closed to me, her identity unknown. So for now, I can only tell you she is a pony with powerful shielding around her mind. From what little I could see as she slept, her heart is at war with itself, in a great confusion of love entangled with hate.”

She looked at Twilight. “I hope that helps you.”

Twilight rubbed her mane. “Me too. Not sure how it will, though.”

“Nor I.”


Princess Cadence held up a hoof. “With Sunset Shimmer having stolen the coronet and returned to Phaedra, I think her plan is clear. We all know that the Elements have transformative powers. Plainly, Sunset hopes to draw upon the energies of Phaedra, using Twilight’s coronet in an attempt to take for herself the power she had demanded years ago.”

“I agree,” Celestia affirmed. “But that is a twisting of the Element of Magic’s true purpose, and even with Sunset Shimmer’s abilities, the risks to her body and mind are immense.”

Fluttershy stared. “You mean she might…?”

Luna nodded. “She may well perish, overwhelmed by the energies she seeks to harness. Or she might simply become a monster, mutated and twisted by the strange instabilities there. So, too, she might run mad from the strain of flooding such power through her body and her mind.”

She considered. “Or any of these.” Then, nodding, she added, “Or all of them.”

“And no matter what the result, there is the question of what she intends when she returns to our world,” Cadence added.

She looked at her aunt, who was appearing more stricken by the moment. “Forgive me for saying, but in light of her recent actions I think we must assume the worst.”

Reluctantly, Celestia nodded. “Agreed.”

“Huh. So how come you don’t go in after her yourself, if she’s such bad news? Y’all seem plenty self-mastered.”

“Applejack!” Rarity stared, completely aghast. Honestly, as if Rainbow Dash hadn’t been bad enough!

But Luna was looking at her sister, frowning slightly “No, that is a fair question.”

“And it deserves an answer,” Celestia said. “Specifically, that no one here can control their aura in the way that Sunset can. However controlled I might seem, I would not be able to prevent a dimensional collapse. In addition, it remains that Sunset left in a state of rage and hate, especially regarding me. Twilight is the most likely among us to find a way past that hatred.”

“Huh. Still sounds awful risky.”

While Rarity glared at Applejack, Celestia went on, “It is. But it also remains that we are needed here. When Sunset first fled, I was alone. Now, though my sister and I again maintain the order of day and night, we can hardly leave Equestria for so long. Even for Sunset’s sake.”

Spike looked up. “What? I thought this was about Twilight’s crown.”

“There’s more at stake here than the coronet,” Twilight said.

“Much more,” Celestia affirmed. “The Elements of Harmony are certainly vital to Equestria’s defense, that’s true. But there are many ways to defend a kingdom. And before Sunset became who she is today, she was a foal in my care.”

Celestia looked to Twilight. “I have no doubt that you can retrieve the coronet. But my truest hope is that you can save Sunset. And if you can only save one...”

“Don’t worry, Celestia,” Twilight said. “I’ll bring them both back.”

Twilight walked towards the mirror, then looked back again. There were no spoken farewells, only looks of love and well-wishing between devoted friends. Then, she turned and entered the Mirror of Phaedra.

There was a moment of cosmic tension and blinding light, and she was gone.