• Published 31st Jan 2018
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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 Eight: Behind the Velvet Shadows of Phaedra

Everything around her was a void of impossible blackness. Twilight couldn’t feel any features of the ground beneath her. She could tell she was pulling herself along some kind of flat plane, but to where, or at what possible incline, she could not guess. Meanwhile, crystalline images shifted around her without discernible pattern, each containing a different moving image.

Memories and dreams, old and suppressed. If she could have moved properly, Twilight might have been able to find her way among them. If Sunset had been a willing recipient, they might have discussed what they found together, worked towards mending the open wounds within her soul at last.

But Twilight Sparkle was doing well to be conscious. And, as she painstakingly inched her way through the dreamscape that was Sunset Shimmer’s past, she could feel the unicorn’s resentment at these sacred wounds having been torn open against her will. Sunset was hunting her, even as Twilight was searching for a way to both survive and help her enemy. Meanwhile, shards of memories played themselves out around her, as their rightful owner searched for her among them.

Some of the fragments seemed to take place in class. Teachers, unconsciously wincing away from her, even as her adoptive parents had years before. Reviling her, tormenting her. Or, sometimes, simply understanding nothing of what she saw or thought, and punishing her for their own ignorance.

“Look at me when I talk to you. No, look at me. Honestly, Sunset, I don’t think you’re even trying…!”

“Alright, class, who thinks they’ve written a nice title for this painting? Sunset? Alright, dear, let’s see what you have there… What? Is this supposed to be some kind of joke? ‘Skull Avenger?’ I bring a nice picture of a mare admiring herself in the mirror and this is all you can do, disrupt class? No, just go out into the hall. I can see we’ll be having another talk with the Princess…”

Other fragments showed foals shying away, never playing with her, whispering when they thought she could not hear.

“There she goes. She thinks she’s so much better than the rest of us.”

“What’s her name?”

“Who knows? I wouldn’t talk to her.”

“She’s always gettin’ in trouble…”

“It’s no wonder nopony wants her…”

Twilight’s progress through the maze of memories was getting marginally easier, now. How much of that was her will reasserting itself and helping her shift location in dream, and how much of it was her going into shock and not feeling the pain, she couldn’t be sure. Then again, the fragments themselves were also in motion. Everything was relative here.

Another smallish shard drifted past, this one with Celestia speaking to Sunset as a small filly.

“Sunset, you could have hurt him.”


Celestia, visibly taken aback, whispering, “I know you don’t mean that.”

“Yes! Yes, I do!” Sunset screaming, throwing her toys, sobbing, inconsolable. Celestia gathers her up and holds her close, completely at a loss.

The filly’s voice cracks as she cries, “I hate him! I HATE THEM ALL!”

Then, another fragment. Larger, clearer.

Sunset painting a portrait on Celestia’s chamber wall. Lovingly, painstakingly. It has to be better than the others. Yet, she must have it finished in time to dry, before Celestia comes in. Carefully, with a patience her ten years should not have granted, Sunset makes haste as slowly as she dares. She keeps coming back to the eyes. There is nothing about Celestia that is not achingly beautiful, but her eyes are her greatest glow.

Still not good enough. Again and again, the foal tries to capture the light she loves so well.

Finally, well hidden, Sunset hears her mentor enter. She hears Celestia’s delighted gasp when she sees the new artwork on the wall. Sunset takes the warmth in her heart and snuggles it close. Someday they’ll paint together. But for right now, she’s made her Celestia happy.

Then, another fragment, larger than any other thus far:

Sunset as an early teenager, reading in the library. The visibility spell is safer than a candle, illuminating the area for her eyes alone. She holds her breath when the guard comes by, keeping her eyes focused on nothing. Looking at someone can help them find you, after all. Then, he is gone, and her search continues.

There. The Papyrus. Something like it had to have existed. Now, to find out at last…

She reads the scroll over and over again. At first, not understanding. Then, not believing. And finally, as she rereads again and again, her breath becoming more jagged, the tears flowing more quickly.

Being a princess is reserved for a select few. Sunset had expected that. But now she knows it has nothing to do with intelligence, or magic, or even love.

Charity. Compassion. Leadership. Devotion. Optimism.

The qualities of a princess.

None of her studies matter, she realizes. None of their time together matters. Sunset just isn’t social enough. She has never belonged, no matter what. The others would never let her into their little cliques. And, so, she is out.

Tears fall, spattering against the enchanted document as Sunset slowly realizes that, in her own ancient heart, Celestia had already decided she was unworthy. Probably years ago. The bitterness of it all rises up and chokes her.

“Enjoying the show, Princess?”

Twilight let a little gasp, but was otherwise silent. She could sense that Sunset was closer, but not what direction. She could be anywhere.

“You know, most ponies have their own lives flash before their eyes when they’re about to die. You’re the only pony I’ve ever heard of who opted for someone else’s.”

She doesn’t know where I am, Twilight thought. She’s trying to egg me on, get me to reveal my location.

“I gotta say, I’m surprised. I never took you for the invasive type.”

Inwardly, Twilight sighed, and shrugged a little. Oh, well. If she was going to die anyway, it might as well be while trying to help somepony.

“You know that’s not why I cast that spell,” she said. “Sunset, please. Let me help you.”

“Help me?” Sunset demanded. “How? By invading my mind? By torturing me with my past?”


“I don’t need that kind of help, Princess.”

Nearby, an image of Sunset as a filly turned to scowl at Twilight. Other fragments also began to turn towards her, to grow into adulthood, to stare at Twilight with loathing. Spell or no spell, Sunset was taking control. Twilight could feel the unicorn’s mind seeking her out within the pseudo-dream.

“I don’t your help!” the Sunsets said as one.


“No!” they raged. “I don’t need you! I don’t need anypony!”

“Yes, you do,” Twilight coughed. “We all do, that’s what makes us—”

Suddenly, every dream shard near Twilight was filled with Sunset’s face, surrounding Twilight with malice and rage.


Twilight cowered from the onslaught of a hundred roaring Sunsets.


Helpless, Twilight curled tighter in on herself, covering herself with her wings.

Then, something soothing. A dark blue wind blew through the area, dissolving the fragments and their malice into thousands of flakes of light and shadow, blowing them around Twilight like snow. Comforting as a breeze on a hot summer day, the azure shadow surrounded her, lifting her up, easing her pain. The void around her seemed to shift. Sunset seemed farther away now, though no less enraged. Meanwhile, Twilight’s breathing had become easier, the grinding sensations had ceased. Yet the pain was still there, dull, all-encompassing.

**It’s alright, my friend.** the wind said. **I am here now.**

“Luna!” As the wind set Twilight down, she winced and allowed it to settle her into a prone position. “I’m so glad to see you, how—”

Luna coalesced into her equine form again.

“Do not try to move,” Luna said. “I cannot heal your wounds, I can but ease the idea of them.”

Twilight frowned. “I don’t…”

“I have aligned you body as it knows it should be,” Luna explained, “and over time your alicorn healing should take care of the rest. But do not strain yourself. Such a change is fragile and easily undone.”


“Shhhh.” Luna said, smoothing out the younger alicorn’s mane. “Be at ease. This burden should never have been yours. Let me take it from you.”

“Luna, you have to know.” Twilight’s voice sounded weak, even to her. “She isn’t evil. Please. She’s not a villain.”

“I know that, dear one. I am not the one who needs convincing.”

Luna looked out into the void with ancient eyes. “You have done well, better than anypony had any right to hope. But now, rest. This is become my burden, not yours.”


“Hush,” Luna said gently. “It is already done.”

**Sunset Shimmer.**

The voice seemed to come from everywhere, yet nowhere. It came from the shadows, and the gentle lights that cast them. It came from Sunset’s own mind. Above all, it came from within her heart.

Sunset frowned. There was no way Twilight Sparkle would be up to this. And with the whole planet in upheaval, anyone else finding her should have been impossible even without Twilight’s dream spell.

“Who’s there?” she demanded. “How did you find me?”

**It no longer matters what enchantments you wield, nor what power you might claim as your own. Your name has been spoken to me, by one who has watched over you in your sleep. I hold it in my hooves. I hold it in my mind. There is no hiding from me now.**

Sunset’s eyes narrowed. “I see. You must be Nightmare Moon. Or should I call you Princess Luna now?”

**I am Luna.**

“Oh, and you’re going to try to stop me too?” She lowered her head, horn flaring. “Yeah. Bring it. Bring it all.”

**As you wish. But I do not come as your enemy, Sunset Shimmer.**

“Oh, right. You two just want to be friends.” Sunset cast about for any sign of her new foe, but there was only darkness. She couldn’t sense Sparkle, either. No matter. Her world, and now her dreams. Luna was underestimating her, just like everypony else. She would beat this new foe. She would find them both. And then--

**No.** The moon princess interrupted her thoughts. **I am not Twilight Sparkle. I make no such claim. I am only Luna. I am Dream, even as I am Nightmare. Yet, I will confess some sorrow for what is to come.**

“Oh, really. And why is that?”

**Because if ignorance is truly bliss, then I what I offer you is nothing but pain.**

When Sunset had stepped through the mirror, so many years ago, there had still been places in Equestria where mothers warned their foals that, if they weren’t good, Nightmare Moon would gobble them up in their dreams. In such places she was called simply the Huntress. Naughty colts and fillies were considered her rightful prey.

But that was only a pale remnant of how long her shadow had once been. There were so many names, dating back to the ancient days of a more superstitious Equestria. And as the dreamscape reshaped itself anew, titles once used in awe and fear came to Sunset’s and Twilight’s minds unbidden.

Silver Mistress. Mare of the Moon. Fantasia. Whisperer of Unspeakable Truths. Lady of Horror and Revelation. Mistress of Impossible Secrets. Eater of Hearts.

Before, fragments of memories had been scattered across the void, their meaning incomplete, their contexts lost. Now, Sunset’s dreams and memories were simply conjured forth for Luna’s inspection. And as the unicorn’s deepest fears and fantasies were almost casually examined under Luna’s unseen auspices, Sunset and Twilight shared a chilling realization.

This, they thought. This is why Luna was reviled by Equestria, so long ago. Rumors were still whispered that even Celestia had feared her sister, just a little bit. And that, perhaps, she was even right to do so.

Enraged, Sunset pulled again upon the life force of Phaedra, seeking to overpower and break the enchantment that surrounded her.

But there was no longer any spell. There was only Luna. To dispel what Luna was doing would be to dissipate Luna herself. And every attempt Sunset made was like attacking smoke with a sword, or fighting against an ocean with her hooves.

Then, Sunset sought to shroud her memories in darkness, hiding them even from herself. There were things she did not want to remember.

Almost casually, Luna tore the dark away from the images she sought, like a blanket off a frightened child.

That left Sunset with only one option remaining: to flee deeper into her own mind, or into the dream realm that this place had become. To seek escape from this terrible foe, to hide, to cower before the one who thought herself Sunset’s better. And that she would never do.

So, ultimately, Sunset simply stood. Head upraised. Waiting for the interloper who dared not confront her face to face.

Damn you, she thought. Damn you to very Tartarus. Do what you will and be damned for it, I will still burn you in the end. I am stronger than my nightmares. I am stronger than you. I am Sunset Shimmer. I am no pony’s prey.

Her eyes narrowed. Hunt me, Princess, and die.

But even as Sunset sought so desperately to wrest control of her dreams back from Luna, Twilight’s heart ached. She had always quietly considered Celestia more comforting, wiser, and above all more powerful than her younger sister. And in some ways, she was. But in the arena of the mind and heart, Twilight saw that Luna was by far the mightier of the two.

And if there is any truth to those rumors, Twilight realized sadly, if Celestia does fear her sister, even in the deepest recesses of her mind… poor Luna.

Then again, she sighed inwardly, I’ll bet she knows a lot more about the rest of us than she ever wanted to. For there was no personal fantasy, no private fear, no forgotten memory or hurtful thought that could hide from Luna’s sight.

And still, Twilight thought, Luna calls us ‘friend.’

At length, the memories that came into all their views were no longer mere images and fragments. They had become a shifting panorama of Sunset’s past, with Luna in control of it all. And with the rogue unicorn’s illusions stripped away like abandoned spider webs in a disused home, it was Sunset’s own voice which involuntarily supplied the narrative.

“Always reviled, always avoided. I was never Sunset, even to my peers. I was always The Princess’ Foal, The Strange One, alone even in a crowded hall. There was no place for me among them. Never accepted. Never even picked on, really. Just… shunned.

“School? Please. You can keep your stupid books. I could have taught those courses by the time I was done. The classes were useless anyway. Well, except for the exams. Just a way to make Celestia proud of me.

“The galas? She made me go to them. I hated them even more than school. Even the adults avoided eye contact, whispered about me when they thought I couldn’t hear. Not that surprising, really. Even my parents had thrown me away.

“In the end, I had a choice: I could hate the world that had shut me out, or I could hate myself.

“So, I learned to despise them. All of them. I learned to revel in my strangeness. They exiled me even before the mirror. They drove me to this!”


“They. The ponies.” Sunset’s eyes blazed with contempt. “The world.”

**And Celestia?**

“In the end…” Sunset looked away in pain, eyes closed, her voice reduced to a whisper.

“In the end, she was one of them.”

Found at last, the ancient papyrus was held between a young Sunset’s two hooves. And with its revelation, a truth that could no longer be denied. The slow, aching realization that, in her heart, Celestia had already decided Sunset was unworthy… probably from the very beginning.

And the final agony, the memory that Sunset had spent so long trying to forget: the sleepless and tear-filled night when she’d understood at last, as a young mare of fourteen, that Celestia simply did not love her.

Did not, and never would.

**But you loved her.**

Sunset’s voice cried out into the void. “Yes! More than anything! All I ever wanted was to be with her! I even tried to raise the sun for her, just so she wouldn’t always have to be so alone, always so tired and so sad…”

Sunset looked away, eye screwed shut. “But I failed!”

**She still speaks of that day. She was astounded that you came so close. And very proud.**

Sunset scoffed. “I’ll bet. The sun almost rising, my almost succeeding. Not to mention my cutie mark. I got it then, too. Did she mention that? An incomplete sunrise, always tumbling out of control. The ultimate sign of my own weakness as a foal. The perfect, permanent reminder of my failure.”

**So it was then that you began your search in earnest, for the power you desired. An alicorn’s power.**


**The power to be with her.**

“I was blind,” she spat. “A child. I’ve grown up since then.”

**My sister loved you.**

Before them all, the image of Sunset’s crying 14-year-old self faded slowly back into darkness. She turned away from it.


**And you loved her,** Luna insisted. **Surely such love is not forgotten so quickly.**

“No, of course not. Emotion is an energy source. You can’t just destroy energy.”

Sunset’s voice turned cold as she went on, “But you can change it. Turn it into something you can actually use.”

The images shifted again to those of the morning following Sunset’s discovery, the final confrontation between student and master. The papyrus. The accusations. The demands. Words which, once spoken, could never be unsaid.

Celestia’s last words to her, before her banishment, her eyes blazing with anger.

“Doesn’t anything matter to you besides magical power? Even your own life? Careless, short-sighted, arrogant child! How could I have thought you would be the one?!?”

Heartbroken, young Sunset could barely speak. “I—”

“NO!” Celestia reared up before her, wings splayed. “I will hear no more! Get out of my sight! And do not return until you are worthy of my teachings!”

For a heartbeat, Sunset stared at her mentor through her tears. Then, she turned and ran as fast as she could.

Scarcely heard, even in memory, Celestia’s voice in the background, “Sunset, wait…!”

Again, the images faded into the void.

**Celestia has made many mistakes in her life. We can both attest to that.**

Sunset snorted.

**Yet, shall you truly condemn yourself to a life in cold armour and wrath, as I did? You are well learned, surely my story is known to you. And I say to you, you stand upon the precipice even as I did, so long ago.**

“So… you’re asking me to give up.”

**No, I am beseeching you to not repeat my error!** No longer was this the voice of an impassive guide, but of an elder imploring the young.

**I know what you are feeling, Sunset Shimmer! Well have I known the scorn of others. I, also, once made myself a prisoner of hate! But even as a child, you knew that pain had to be borne, risks had to be taken, challenges faced. And I say to you now, what you plan is not a battle worthy of you! It is only a surrender to despair. It has been ever since you fled through Starswirl’s mirror.**

Sunset stared into the abyss. “Is that all you have for me? After everything you’ve seen? That… that this is running away? That I’m making the same mistake you did? You want me to just to go back to Equestria and be a punching bag? Be a reject again? To live in the shadow of others, just settle for what everypony else sees in me?”


Sunset shook her head violently. “But you do! You want to trick me, to keep me from my Becoming!”

**And what is it you think you are becoming, Sunset Shimmer?**

“What I always should have been! What you are! What she is! A goddess! And you know that!”

**You are wrong, Sunset Shimmer. If indeed there are gods within our world, we are not they.**

“Liar! You just want to stop me because you’re scared of what I can do!”

Sunset’s breathing was faster now, her teeth bared. “You and Celestia, you’re all just afraid I’ll be more powerful than you. And I will be! I’ll be better than all of you!”

**And is that truly what you want? To be alone in your power?**

“It’s all I’ve got left!”

**Again, you are wrong. Celestia loves you. And there are others who will as well, if you let them.**


**Is that truly what it will take, for you to see yourself at last?**

Slowly, majestically, the void itself parted like mists. Luna appeared before Sunset, the Monarch of all Dream deliberately stepping down from her throne. She appraised the younger mare before her without scorn, fear, or regret.

“Then strike me down, Sunset Shimmer,” she said. “Show us all what kind of goddess you shall be.”

Sunset levitated the coronet onto her brow. Her eyes and it blazed with white light as she roared, "I’LL SHOW YOU WHAT KIND OF GODDESS I’LL BE!”

“No!” Luna cried, one hoof outstretched. “Sunset, wait!”

But the coronet was already aglow, Sunset already surrounded by the power of her world. Luna watched in anguish as the unicorn began to change.

Sunset’s transformation was not a painless one, but she had not expected nor wanted it to be. For a moment, she was lifted up by her power, bathed in fire the colors of blood and gold. As she cried out, her back and her sides shifted and stretched. New limbs formed, new joints and muscle groups forced into being as old ones were shaped and severed, then remade. Her silhouette blossomed as these new limbs were pulled and sculpted from her own living flesh and bone, even as the realm groaned in pain.

Then, she landed on her hooves again, gasping, triumphant. New appendages shifting to either side of her in an awkward dance as newborn nerves adjusted to their appointed task. Her legs shook. But Sunset willed herself to remain standing. She refused to fall in this, her moment of triumph.

At long last, Sunset had her wings. Yet, as she inspected her craftsmanship, she saw that these were not the wings of an alicorn. They were the wings of a dragon: sweeping, powerful, membranous and barbed.

Sunset smiled. In a way, she realized, this was better than being an alicorn. This way, she was what she had chosen to become, what she had seized by her own might and determination.

Flush with victory, Sunset gave a wing-assisted leap upwards. It was awkward, and she careened wildly to one side. Still, she landed on an overhead shelf of stone without too much difficulty. Sunset nodded to herself, satisfied. The physical transformation had been simple enough. Now, all that remained was to complete Phaedra’s destruction, and absorb the realm’s magic into herself.

Well, almost all. There was the matter of the other mages still on the field.

Sunset looked down at Luna. She could see Twilight Sparkle nearby, as well. How tiny they seemed from this vantage point. How insignificant, like insects.

This part would be easy.

Luna, unflinching, looked back up at Sunset. “Even now,” she said, “it is not too late.”

Then Sunset struck, adding Phaedra’s might to her own in a burst of writhing cosmic flame.

Princess Luna screamed.