• Published 28th Apr 2018
  • 1,189 Views, 51 Comments

Light and Magic - Allenator05

Sunset Shimmer has made mistakes in her past that she's trying to move on and learn from. What happens when she meets an iron-willed Guardian with a similar past?

  • ...

A Long Awaited Meeting

Sunset Shimmer found herself standing before a set of familiar looking doors. They weren't very big or heavy, but she knew what awaited on the other side and it made her feel about two inches tall. She was tempted to just run away, but that was what started her down the path of her current journey. Sunset grimaced and tried to hold her tears in check as she remembered that fateful day when she left the palace, seemingly for good. She was angry and said a lot of hurtful things to the one pony she admired and looked up to, almost like a mother figure.

Sunset sniffed and shook her head, trying to push those thoughts aside. She had made mistakes, she had tried to atone for those mistakes, she tried to make things right. Sunset had learned much and used her experiences to grow and become a better person, er, pony. She looked up at the ornately carved wooden doors, inlaid with gold and silver. She often wondered what this moment would be like, if or when she came back to Equestria. Would Celestia welcome her back? Would she be angry? Would there be tears of happiness or tears of anger?

Sunset chuckled to herself. If Hildr were here, she would berate the young unicorn for wasting time and thinking about unnecessary things. Her mind finally made up, Sunset lifted her head up high, and with trembling hooves, pushed the doors open to meet her fate.

The throne room was different than she remembered. The biggest change was there were more stained glass windows depicting important events in Equestra's history. Sunset tried to keep her skylarking to a minimum as she walked down the red carpet to the throne. Was it her, or did the throne room seem a lot longer than she remembered? As Sunset drew closer to the throne, her fragile confidence slowly leaked away until she stopped at the base of the stairs. Sunset focused her attention on the throne itself, and there she was.

Princess Celestia.

Co-ruler of Equestria and sovereign of the sun.

Headmistress of the School of Gifted Unicorns.

Personal teacher of Princess Twilight Sparkle.

Sunset's brain became stuck in a loop over Celestia's many other titles and accomplishments. She shook her head and tried to focus. Celestia was sitting on her throne, looking as regal as ever. To her right, was a small table with a large stack of papers. She would pick one up, look it over, sign it, and put it in a basket on the floor next to the throne. Sunset watched for a moment as she tried to gather her thoughts.

"What do you want?" Celestia asked, startling Sunset from her thoughts.

"I…uh…" Sunset stammered.

"Speak up!" Celestia barked, causing Sunset to jump back. "If you have nothing to say, leave me be. As you can see, I am quite busy," she added.

Sunset was stunned. In all her imaginings of this scenario, she never thought it would be like this. Sunset finally found her voice and spoke up. "Princess Celestia? It's me, Sunset Shimmer."

"I know who you are," Celestia replied coldly. "I recognized your potential, took you in to teach you personally, and how did you repay me?"

Sunset winced at the harsh words. "I admit it's true. I was a terrible and foolish pony back then. I let my pride and ambition blind me to what was really important." Sunset sighed and swallowed the lump forming in her throat. "I am not that pony anymore. I've become a better pony."

Celestia said nothing and continued to sign her papers. As the minutes passed, Sunset's remorse was slowly replaced with annoyance. "Don't you have anything to say to me?" she asked.

"What is there to say?" Celestia replied, still refusing to even look in Sunset's direction. "I gave you everything, yet you threw it all in my face and betrayed me. I do not wish to look upon you anymore. Be gone!"

Sunset was crushed. Her worst fears had come true. Celestia no longer wanted her or even acknowledged her. Her best efforts were for nothing. Sunset choked back a sob and tried to keep her legs from buckling from under her.

"Why are you still here?" Celestia asked. "I told you to leave! If you will not, then you will be made too."

A burning fire was lit Sunset's belly and her sorrow melted into anger. "I don't care if you hate me now or not, but I've come here for a reason and it involves both this Equestria and the Human one."

Celestia snorted. "What do I care about the Human world?"

"Because the problems of the Human world are because of us!" Sunset growled. Celestia said nothing and continued to ignore her. Sunset's anger was starting to boil over. "Look at me when I'm talking to you!" she shouted and stamped her hoof on the ground.

"YOU DARE TO COMMAND ME?" Celestia shouted in her Canterlot Voice. Sunset winced and braced herself against the power of the words. "I AM PRINCESS CELESTIA, RULER OF EQUESTRIA! WHO ARE YOU TO SPEAK TO ME IN SUCH A MANNER?"

"I am Sunset Shimmer, and I refuse to be cowed by a bully like you!" Sunset shouted back.

"INSOLENCE! I WILL ERASE YOU FROM THE HISTORY BOOKS! NONE SHALL KNOW YOUR NAME!" Celestia called out. She rose up from her throne, wings spread wide and forelegs raised over her head. Her horn began to glow as she glared down at Sunset Shimmer.

How did things get this far? Sunset lamented to herself. Wind pulled at her mane as Celestia gathered her magic. Sunset closed her eyes and braced for her demise. I'm sorry everyone. I guess it was all worthless in the end. A single tear escaped from her eye and rolled down her cheek.

After a few moments, Sunset realized she wasn't dead and everything had grown quiet. She opened her eyes and saw she was still in the throne room. Celestia still towered over her and looked down at her with distain, however she wasn't moving. Sunset looked around the throne room and saw everything was frozen in place. "What…"

A small tear appeared in the air that opened into a portal and a pony with a midnight blue coat stepped out. "I believe that is enough of that for now," Princess Luna said.

Sunset could only gape in surprise. She had never met the Moon Princess, but had heard all the stories about how she became Nightmare Moon, was banished for one thousand years, returned to seek her vengeance, and was purified by the Elements of Harmony. "P-P-Princess!" Sunset stammered and fell to the floor.

"Please stand up," Luna replied and held out a hoof.

Sunset rose and looked uncertainly at Luna. "Why are you here?" she asked.

"The night is my dominion and as such, it is my duty to enter the dreams of ponies and help them with their troubles and nightmares," Luna said.

Sunset slowly mulled this over in her mind. "I guess that makes sense."

Luna looked around the room and frowned. "Hmm. I heard that Twilight Sparkle had a similar experience," she said. Luna looked to Celestia's frozen form and snorted with disgust. "I believe a change of venue is in order." Luna's horn flashed briefly and Sunset found they were standing in a meadow under the light of a full moon.

"I'm sorry you had to see Princess Celestia in my dream like that," she said and bowed her head sadly.

"Believe me, that was not the worst nightmare I have ever seen," Luna said and placed a comforting hoof on Sunset's shoulder. "Please cheer up Sunset Shimmer. I have wanted to meet with you for some time, and I am glad I have the chance to do so."

Sunset looked up in surprise. "You wanted to meet me? Why?"

Luna sat next to Sunset and said, "I have heard a lot about you from my sister and her pupil, Twilight Sparkle. Your story is rather interesting, a pony who fled to the human world to plot a takeover, only to have a change of heart."

Sunset looked at Luna and tried not to stare. There was no breeze, but her ethereal mane waved gently in the air. Luna herself didn't appear to be very old, and she was only a little bigger than Sunset physically. However, when Sunset looked into Luna's eyes, she saw the emotional burden and deep wisdom that was buried inside. Sunset's mind was suddenly filled with questions about the things Luna had seen and experienced, but she kept those thoughts to herself.

Luna seemed to notice the weight on Sunset's shoulders and asked, "What troubles you, Sunset Shimmer?"

"Well, it's like you say," Sunset replied. "The prodigal student has finally returned to face the master."

"Are you worried about what my sister might say or do?" Luna asked. Sunset lowered her head and gave a barely perceptible nod. "Why does this bother you?"

"I've tried to make up for all the things I have done in the past, but no matter how hard I try, there's always this little voice in the back of my mind that says nothing is ever good enough. All the good deeds will never make up for the pain and suffering I've caused," Sunset said. "That I don't deserve to be happy, that I haven't suffered enough for my sins."

Luna raised her head and stared at the moon. "I once thought as you do," she said quietly.

"Really?" Sunset asked.

Luna nodded. "Indeed. It is not my proudest moment, but after I returned from my banishment, Celestia and the others were quick to forgive me. But how could they? Surely they held some sort of resentment against me for my actions as Nightmare Moon. If others would not punish me for my crimes, then I took it upon myself to do so. So I created a creature to give me the same nightmare every night."

Sunset was stunned. Luna's revelation shattered whatever idea Sunset had about the lunar princess. Sunset had always figured there had been consequences for Luna's actions, but never would have guessed that Luna would resort to such a drastic measure. At the same time, it put the princess in a new light in Sunset's eyes. "So what happened?" she asked.

At first, Luna said nothing and Sunset thought she had upset or offended the princess in some way. "The creature escaped my dream and threatened all of Ponyville. Twilight Sparkle helped me realize that the creature was feeding off of my guilt and that the only person who hadn't forgiven me was myself."

Sunset lay down and rested her head on her hooves. "To be honest, I'm surprised you would share your story with me. We have nothing in common, other than we are reformed villains of sorts."

Luna nodded in agreement. "We do share that trait, but I believe we have more in common than you think."

Sunset perked up at this and asked, "Really? In what way?"

"Our status as 'reformed villains' as you say, gives us better insight on the plight of others," Luna said. "My sister is indeed great and powerful, and certainly deserves the respect our subjects give her, but such adoration is a double-edged sword. The ponies of this kingdom hold my sister in such high regard, that she is almost deified in their minds. They believe that she is perfect and therefore, unattainable to the lowly masses." Luna turned toward Sunset and added, "I assure you, my sister is not infallible."

Sunset nodded slowly. "I think I see what you mean. Everypony has this idea of what Princess Celestia is or should be, and that she shouldn't be bothered with the problems ponies face on a daily basis."

"But you and I have walked down the path of darkness and returned to the light. We have experienced hardship and as such, we can relate better to others," Luna said. "I myself am not held in such high esteem and that is why I enjoy helping ponies with their problems."

A small smile spread across Sunset's face. "I guess that's true. And having an Empathy Touch is almost cheating in that regard."

Luna gave Sunset a puzzled look. "What do you mean?" Sunset then briefly retold the story of Camp Everfree and the new powers she and her friends had received. "I see. That is quite interesting," Luna said.

"Tell me about it," Sunset huffed.

After a moment, Luna said, "I understand you have a new companion."

Sunset sighed. "Yeah. About that."

"I think I would like to meet her as well," Luna said. "Twilight Sparkle has been keeping my sister up to date with what is happening in the human world and I have formed my own opinions on the matter."

Sunset winced. "No disrespect Princess, but I don't think now would be the best time to pop over and say hello."

"And why not?" Luna asked. Sunset then briefly recounted what had happened between Hildr and Twilight. "Hildr is a very private person and wouldn't be very happy about having her dreams invaded by a magical princess," Sunset added with a grin.

Luna narrowed her eyes, then smiled as well. "Very well. Our introduction can wait until you arrive at the castle. However, it is still my duty to help my subjects with their dreams."

Sunset quickly jumped up. "I don't think that's a good idea either," she said uncertainly.

Luna looked at Sunset, then turned her attention to the air in front of her. "Just a peek then. Perhaps it will give some insight as to her character." Her horn glowed and large window appeared out of thin air. Luna looked into the window and frowned. "This is most interesting," she said.

Sunset walked over to see what Luna was looking at, but only saw darkness. "So? I don't see anything," she said.

"That is why it is interesting," Luna said. "Either your friend Hildr has formidable mental defenses, or she simply does not dream."

Sunset began to grow apprehensive and said, "I think that's enough for now Princess." Reluctantly, Luna closed the window. She turned to Sunset and said, "This was most enjoyable. I would like to continue this conversation face to face."

"Yeah. Same here," Sunset replied with a smile. "So are you off to see other ponies?"

Luna smiled and replied, "Sadly no. My time is at an end and my sister will raise the sun soon. Farewell, Sunset Shimmer." Luna nodded to Sunset and her horn flashed, creating a new portal and she stepped through.

Sunset sat down and watched her leave. "Wow. Princess Luna. Who would have thought?" Left to her own thoughts, Sunset didn't notice her surroundings were slowly fading to white.

Sunset opened her eyes and blinked. She found herself not in a meadow under the moon, but rather in a makeshift bed in Zecora's hut. It took a few moments for her sleep addled brain to catch up, but Sunset remembered what had happened the night before. She sat up and groaned, her body stiff and sore from the excitement. Sunset shook out her mane and stepped out into the main living area of the hut where she found Zecora and Hildr talking over steaming cups of tea. Zecora noticed her and smiled. "Good day, young pony. Would you care for tea and honey?"

"Yes. Thank you," Sunset replied and sat next to HIldr. Zecora stood up and started to make an extra cup. "I see you and Zecora have hit it off pretty well," Sunset said.

Hildr nodded. "I wanted to ask about her remedy for the Poison Joke and if she had any other natural cures."

"Is this about the medicine thing?" Sunset asked and Hildr nodded. "Nature is the best healer after all. Even the best modern medicines and cures can be traced back to natural roots."

Sunset nodded and looked down at her hooves. Snippets of her conversation with Princess Luna played in her mind. "Listen Hildr, I wanted to apologize for what happened yesterday."

"Why? Nothing that happened was your fault," Hildr said.

Sunset winced. "I know, but I still feel responsible for what happened with Twilight. I tried to warn her, but once she sets her sights on a project, there's no stopping her. She can be a little tactless and clueless at times."

"So I've noticed," Hildr replied with a snort.

"Please don't be mad at Twilight," Sunset pleaded.

Hildr stared down at the amber colored unicorn. "I am not mad at her. Annoyed yes, but not mad," she said.

Sunset sighed with relief. At that time, Zecora gently placed a steaming cup in front of Sunset. She took a careful sip and the burning liquid pooled on her tongue before sliding down into her belly. "Ah. Thank you Zecora," she said.

Hildr watched with interest. "If fire is your special talent, does that provide you with a resistance to heat?"

Sunset smiled sheepishly. "A little I guess. Otherwise I might have suffered numerous burns as a filly." Zecora and Hildr continued their conversation with Sunset listening quietly. She found it interesting that the normally quiet and private Hildr was opening up to a stranger. Sunset surmised that it was due to their shared interest in medicine and healing.

Discord appeared wearing a night shirt and long night cap and yawned loudly. "I say, as interesting as this conversation has been, I do believe the weather is right for a bit of mischief, wouldn't you say?" A pot of coffee and a mug appeared in front of him and he dropped the mug into the pot, stirred it with a spoon, and downed the contents in one gulp. "Ah! Truly the best part of waking up," Discored sighed with content.

Hildr watched with a raised eyebrow. "And what magic to you possess?" she asked.

Discord crossed his hands over his heart and a look of pure bliss appeared on his face. "Why I thought you would never ask my dear!" He then bowed with a flourish and proclaimed, "I am Discord, former ruler of Equestria, spirit of Disharmony, and harbinger of Chaos Magic!" He then tossed his head back and threw his arms out. Confetti appeared and rained down and a banner unfurled behind him, displaying DISCORD! and a picture of his smiling face.

The two ponies and zebra sat in stunned silence over Discord's theatrics. He looked down at them and saw they weren't cheering or showering him with praise. "Was it too much?" he asked.

"Maybe just a little," Sunset replied. She still wasn't too sure about Discord, no matter how much he seemed to have changed.

"Um, Discord? Don't you think it's a bit early to be making a whole bunch of noise? You might wake up some of the animals outside," Fluttershy said quietly.

Discord quickly turned his attention to the little pegasus. "Of course my dear. I was merely trying to entertain our new friends."

Twilight appeared and the mood in the room quickly cooled. Sunset looked nervously from Hildr to Twilight and hoped things would remain civil. Twilight looked around the room and suppressed a shudder when she saw Hildr. She took a deep breath and walked up to the ponyfied Guardian, who looked down on her with disinterest. "Hildr, I want to apologize for what happened yesterday. I let my excitement get the best of me and I never took your feelings into consideration."

At first, HIldr said nothing and Sunset wondered if she needed prodding for a reaction. However, Hildr spoke up, saying, "Clearly I am not from here and therefore, and I am unfamiliar with your customs and courtesies. At the same time, I have been told I can be rather curt and straight-forward with my answers." At this, she shifted her gaze to Sunset Shimmer, who grinned sheepishly. "I accept your apology and in return, I am sorry for the way I spoke to you." This seemed to lift Twilight's spirits and she let out a smile. "However, I stand by what I said," Hildr added. "If Friendship is your calling, I would think that you would be able to understand the thoughts and feelings of others better." She turned to Sunset and said, "Or is that only something you can do?"

Twilight shook her head. "No, you are correct. I shouldn't let my passion and excitement for learning distract me from understanding others."

Hildr stood up and towered over Twilight. "I can tell you are still young and inexperienced, but that should not be held against you. I have known many people like you, passionate and driven to succeed. However, do not let that consume your life or you may find yourself in a dark place." Hildr glanced around the room. "I can tell you have a support unit and that is good. They will pick you up when you are down and help keep you in check. Do not forget what is most important to you."

Twilight was taken aback by Hildr's words. "Th-thank you. I won't forget it." Hildr gave a curt nod in reply.

"Oh boo hoo!" Discord cried, then summoned a bucket and threw up. "There's only so much lovey-dovey I can take in one day."

"Be nice Discord," Fluttershy chastised him. Discord rolled his eyes and his bucket disappeared in a puff of smoke.

"Ahem," Twilight cleared her throat. "Thank you Zecora for taking us in last night. Now that we're all together, we should get back to Ponyville so we can take the train to Canterlot."

Zecora showed them the way out of Everfree forest and back to Ponyville. The group made it in time to catch the next train. Sunset and Twilight bid Fluttershy, Discord and Zecora farewell and jumped onboard. As the train lurched away from the station, Sunset found Hildr sitting by the window and staring out at the passing scenery. "So. What do you think about Equestria so far?" she asked.

Hildr shrugged. "I can say it's probably the nicest place I've ever visited."

Sunset gave Hildr a questioning look, then realization lit in her eyes. "Oh. Futuristic killer robots, end of civilization, blah, blah, blah. Right."

Hildr glared at Sunset, then turned her attention back to the window. Twilight sat across from the two of them and watched quietly. Spike sat next to Twilight, engrossed in his comic book.

Twilight frowned as she looked over her notes. She really wanted to ask Hildr a few questions, but was afraid to have a repeat of what happened earlier. She shook her head and made up her mind. "Excuse me Hildr, but if you don't mind, may I ask you a few questions?" Hildr turned to Twilight and nodded. "I have what Sunset wrote in the journal, but how did you come to the conclusion that Princess Celestia is somehow involved with these Vex robots?" Twilight asked.

"Based on what I have learned about the mirror portal and magic from Sunset Shimmer, we concluded that the most likely cause was one or more unicorns cast a powerful magic that stopped the Vex and shut down all Vex technology. We also surmised that this powerful spell is the reason the human Equestria has no natural magic of its own," Hildr said.

Twilight frowned and tapped her pen against her chin. "I have studied magic for many years and learned many powerful spells, but even I have never heard of such a thing. My initial response would be to say that your theory is wrong."

Hildr nodded. "That may be true, but it's the only theory I have at the moment." She shifted in her seat to properly face Twilight. "You see, the Vex is a highly advanced artificial intelligence, capable of simulating infinite possibilities to find the right chain of events that will lead to the integration of the Vex into the fabric of the universe."

Twilight sat back in shock. "How…How is that even possible?" she stammered.

Hildr shrugged. "We know very little about the Vex, but what we do know is they operate with precision and focus. The Vex can't be reasoned with or persuaded. The Vex only have one goal, and anything that gets in the way is either integrated or destroyed."

"How long have you been fighting the Vex?" Twilight asked.

Hildr shook her head. "I don't know. As long as I've been alive. Longer even."

Deciding to press her luck, Twilight asked, "And how long have you been alive?"

Hildr let out a small chuckle. "The first or second time?"

Now Twilight was confused. "What do you mean?"

"Where I come from, there are those who have been gifted with incredible powers and abilities. These people are known as Guardians, since we are the only defense humanity has against the Vex and our other enemies like them," Hildr explained. "The majority of the Guardians were once living people who died and were brought back to life."

Twilight's eyes were the size of dinner plates and Sunset was also taken aback. She had never heard this part from Hildr. "You were brought back from the dead? How is that even possible?" Twilight squeaked.

Hildr shrugged. "From what I know, Guardians are chosen due to their compatibility with their Ghost and potential for harnessing the Light."

Twilight quickly consulted her notes. "Light? Is that your Magic?"

"I suppose you could put it that way," Hildr said. She sighed and added, "I understand you have many questions, but to keep from repeating myself over and over, I suggest you wait until we meet with your Princess Celestia."

"Oh. I guess that makes sense," Twilight said and her ears dropped in disappointment. She then started to read over her notes and made extra notations here and there.

Sunset watched with mild curiosity. She wondered if Hildr was mellowing out some. Could it be the natural magic of Equestria had some kind of calming influence on people? Sunset briefly wondered about this and decided against it. If that were the case, then certain energetic individuals wouldn't be so vivacious. Or maybe that particular pony is simply an exception?

Or maybe it was something else? Hildr had said she had been alone for a very long time. Perhaps just being around and interacting with others was having a more positive effect? Sunset considered these thoughts as the countryside rolled by.

For the thousandth time, Hildr wondered what she had gotten herself into. As a Warlock Guardian, she had seen some terrible and amazing things, but nothing in her experience could match what she was going through right now. To her, the goal was simple: Use the Vex portal network to travel back, get the SIVA kill codes, return to her time, and prevent the SIVA outbreak. It sounded easy enough, so why did she find herself turned into a pony and riding on a train through a bright, pastel colored world to meet a magical princess of the sun? Lady Skorri wouldn't know where to begin with any of that.

Magic. To some, Light was probably magic in its own right. No one really understood what it was on a fundamental basis. Certainly there were theories and arguments for and against the competing ideas, but at the end of the day, everyone agreed that Light came from the Traveler and was bestowed upon those deemed worthy to wield it.

So what was Magic then? From what she had learned from Sunset and Twilight, all ponies possessed some form of Magic and the land itself had its own Magic. And then there was the cutie mark thing. Apparently, when a pony discovered their talent or ability, the cutie mark appeared and whatever Magic the pony possessed was geared toward that talent. But what if your talent had nothing to do with what your goals or aspirations were? What then? Did one just ignore their cutie mark for the sake of their dreams? Or was that not the case? Hildr surmised that maybe that was the biggest difference between ponies and humans. Humans held many dreams and goals that were constantly changing. The thought of being tied down to one particular job or talent for the rest of your life set Hildr on edge a little. It made her think that one's destiny was out of their hands and they had no agency. If the ponies had gods, did they look down and determine a pony's path in life before birth? Did that mean ponies didn't have free will?

Maybe she was looking at this all wrong. Perhaps for a pony, earning one's cutie mark was simply their way of choosing what career they wanted when they grew up. If that was the case, what is the catalyst that causes one to earn a cutie mark? Twilight sneezed, breaking into Hildr's thoughts and she realized she had two ponies she could just ask. "If I may, I have a question for the both of you," she said.

Twilight looked up from her notebook and Sunset turned around in surprise. "Really? What is it?" Twilight asked.

"I was considering the nature of Magic and was wondering how you obtained your cutie mark," Hildr said. "Since it is tied to your special talent, how did you figure out what your talent was?"

Twilight and Sunset shared a look. "Well, when I was still a filly, I wanted very badly to attend Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. It's like an advanced prep school where unicorns go to study magic."

"Sounds quite prestigious," Hildr said and Twilight nodded. "For the entrance exam, I was tasked with using magic to hatch a dragon's egg. I tried with all my might, but I couldn't get any of my spells to work." As Twilight recounted the memory, she sagged a little in her seat and her face became downcast. "I was devastated. Getting into the school was all I ever wanted. Magic fascinated me and I wanted to learn all I could and become a great unicorn like Starswirl the Bearded or even Clover the Clever. But right when I was about to give up, there was a loud explosion of light and colors. It scared me so bad, my magic went haywire and made a big mess. Because of that, I earned my cutie mark and realized my special talent WAS magic. Another side effect was the dragon egg hatched. Princess Celestia saw what happened and she recognized my potential in magic. She took me in as her personal student. And as they say, the rest is history."

Hildr looked to Spike and said, "I assume the dragon that hatched was Spike?" Twilight grinned and rubbed his head with her hoof. "Yep! My Best and Number One Assistant!"

"Aw gee, Twilight," Spike huffed, earning a chuckle from Sunset and Twilight. Hildr turned her attention to the fire-maned unicorn. "And? What about you?"

Sunset's face fell. "My story isn't as interesting as Twilight's," she said. "I too was seen as a gifted magical prodigy and accepted into the School for Gifted Unicorns. Everypony kept telling me how 'special' I was, how much 'talent' I had. It was quite the ego boost and I let it go to my head. I threw myself into my studies, mostly to prove to myself that all the praise people put on me was truly deserved. Magic came easy to me, especially fire magic. Celestia took notice and made me her pupil." Sunset smiled sadly and shook her head. "If I wasn't full of myself before, being taken in my Princess Celestia sent my ego past the moon and into outer space. I learned a lot, but I failed to learn the one lesson that Celestia was trying to teach me the most."

Hildr nodded and thought to herself and asked, "How did you know that fire magic was your talent?"

Sunset looked down at her cutie mark. "It was an accident really, and it wasn't even my fault. We were in the classroom learning about fire, the properties of heat, and how it related to magic. Well one of the students, I forget his name, was working on a spell and accidently set the room on fire. As it turns out, he had created starfire. Since it was imbued with magic, the flames burned in different colors and couldn't be put out with water. All I remember was being fascinated by the fire and I had this urge to just…reach out…and touch it." To illustrate her point, Sunset reached out with her hoof. "Fortunately I didn't get anywhere close to touching them, but as I stared into the flames, I felt something stir inside me. The colored flames danced in hypnotic patterns and drew me in. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Eventually, the fire was put out, but the imprint was already made on my soul. I wanted recreate the starfire. I wanted to see those impossible colors and feel the heat on my face."

"You sound like quite the pyromaniac," Twilight chuckled.

"Shut up Twinkle-butt. Don't interrupt my story," Sunset glowered, but she didn't mean it. "Starfire is a very advanced fire spell, extremely dangerous and hard to create, so the spell was kept locked away. Since I didn't have it, I had to figure it out on my own. I spent many sleepless nights trying to recreate what I had seen and I racked my brain figuring what that student had done to make it. As such, my other studies started to fall behind, but I didn't care. I was obsessed and I was going to figure it out, even if I was expelled from school.

"I finally realized why I was having such a hard time. Fire itself is a chemical reaction that creates heat and light, but it can have different properties. You see, fire by nature doesn't want to be controlled. Fire is a monster, looking for the tiniest chance to escape. You don't control fire, you harness it. So I stopped trying to control it. I thought of the flames I had seen and I poured not only my magic, but my heart and soul into it. I wanted it to succeed, I willed it to life. And at some point, it just clicked. I knew what I had to do. I cast the spell and I brought starfire to life. I fed it, fostered it, allowed it to grow and it was beautiful. However, my starfire was different. Whereas the one that nearly burned the school down was a vast rainbow of color, mine was bright red and deep gold. It swirled around on itself, mixing the colors together in intricate patterns.

"I was so concerned with keeping the flames contained, I didn't notice I had a visitor. When Princess Celestia spoke, it startled me and I nearly lost control. With the princess's help, I was able to prevent another accident and ended the spell. Needless to say, Princess Celestia was impressed I was able to create starfire on my own. And that's when I got my cutie mark."

Hildr was quite impressed with Sunset's story. "Wow Sunset. That's amazing!" Twilight gushed.

"Princess Celestia also told me that what I did was foolish and dangerous and I could have burned down the whole school, so I was given detention for a month," Sunset added. "But that was when she made me her student, so it wasn't all bad."

"So you've always been quite the troublemaker. I should have guessed," Twilight teased.

Sunset playfully pushed the alicorn princess. "You're one to talk, Almighty Princess of Friendship. Who was it again that cast a Want It, Need It spell on the whole town?" Sunset asked slyly.

"Hehehehehe, I don't know what you are talking about," Twilight forced a smile and a bead of sweat dripped down her face. She quickly leaned forward and hissed, "How do you know about that?"

"I wonder," Sunset replied mysteriously. Twilight began to sputter and Sunset laughed.

Before long, the train arrived at Canterlot station and they disembarked. Twilight and Spike walked ahead while Sunset lagged behind with Hildr. If Hildr thought the rest of Equestria was over the top, Canterlot itself and the castle were grandiose. Ponies crowded together, bringing a certain hustle and bustle familiar to most large cities. The thing that stuck out the most to Hildr was how bright and clean everything was. Perhaps it was because this was a main street through the city, but Hildr suspected this was true of the rest of the city. As they walked, HIldr was surprised to find the city was much bigger than she initially thought. "How many ponies live here?" she asked.

Sunset shrugged. "Hard to say, but it's certainly quite a few. There are other cities that are even bigger than Canterlot, like Manehattan, Fillydelphia, or Las Pegasus."

Another thing that Hildr noticed and found slightly uncomfortable was the fact that she towered above the rest of the ponies. Most ignored her, but a few spared a glance at the strange newcomer wearing interesting clothes. Hildr soon became annoyed by the stares and Sunset began to notice. "I wonder where Twilight went?" she said.

Hildr raised her head as high as she could and looked out at the sea of ponies. A short ways in the distance, she saw an archway that led to a wooden bridge. "If I had to guess, that way is the castle, so she is likely in that direction," Hildr said and pointed with her horn. Due to her size, HIldr easily forged a path in the crowd and Sunset followed close behind. By now the crowd was starting to thin out and Hildr noticed ponies wearing golden armor. "Guard ponies?" she asked and Sunset nodded.

Up ahead, a familiar lavender alicorn and baby dragon waited. "Hey! What took you so long?" Spike called out.

"Oh I don't know, somepony just up and left us to fend for ourselves," Sunset grumped.

"Sorry about that," Twilight said sheepishly. "I thought you were right behind us." Reunited, they walked across the bridge to gates of the castle proper.

The castle itself was ivory white with towers of gold, silver and onyx that shone brightly in the sun. It was cut into the side of the mountain and Hildr briefly wondered what was keeping it from falling to the valley floor below. The mountain itself towered above even the castle, as if to show that nature itself was the true ruler of Equestria.

They reached the main gate and the guard ponies took note of Twilight and let her through, however they gave a stern expression to HIldr, who promptly ignored them. Twilight led them through the courtyard and up to the main castle doors.

With every step she took, Sunset's anxiety grew more and more. How many people remembered her? Would the guards recognize her? Would they arrest her and throw her out? She was so caught up in her worries, she didn't hear Twilight's guided tour of the palace. Hildr merely took it all in. "And this here is the throne room where Princess Celestia holds court with the nobles," Twilight said and stopped before a large set of ornate wooden doors. To her surprise, Princess Luna was waiting for them. "Hello Princess Twilight Sparkle," she greeted.

"Princess Luna!" Twilight gasped and hurriedly bowed her head. Sunset and Spike did the same, while Hildr gave a short nod.

Luna was quite surprised to find herself looking Hildr in the eye. "Interesting. Most ponies are not quite as tall as myself or my sister."

"No disrespect Your Highness, but I am not like other ponies," Hildr said evenly.

"Indeed," Luna replied, getting over her initial shock. She then looked at Hildr's armor and said, "I hear that you are quite the warrior where you come from."

"Perhaps, but I am more known for my healing powers," HIldr said.

At this, Luna perked up. "Is that so?" She then bowed and placed her hoof to her chest. "Please forgive my rudeness. I am Princess Luna, co-ruler of Equestria and guardian of the Night."

Hildr returned the greeting, saying, "Please just call me Hildr. I have no fancy titles or accolades to my name."

Luna nodded in reply. "Very well Hildr. I have heard much about you and wanted to meet you for some time. However, there are things that need to be addressed first." She turned to Sunset and smiled. "Hello Sunset Shimmer. Let me be the first to welcome you back to the castle."

Even as her knees started to wobble like jelly from her nerves, a warm feeling spread in Sunset's chest. "Thank you very much Princess," she managed to say.

Luna took a step toward Sunset and leaned forward. "Before we discuss the reason for your visit, I was asked to inform you that my sister wishes to speak to you privately, Sunset Shimmer."

Luna's words sent a bolt of electricity through Sunset's body and her coat stood on end. "R-really? She actually wants to see me?" Sunset squeaked.

"Yes Sunset Shimmer," Luna replied and placed a hoof on Sunset's shoulder. "Do not be afraid. Hold your head up and face your trepidation without fear." She then whispered in Sunset's ear, "I think my sister is just as nervous as you are." This elicited a chuckle from Sunset.

She took a deep breath and moved toward the doors. She looked back and saw Twilgiht smiling excitedly, while Luna looked on with interest. Hildr glared down at her, as if to say, Well? Stop wasting time and get on with it. With confidence she didn't quite feel, Sunset pushed the doors open and entered the throne room.

As she walked down the red carpet, Sunset had an odd sense of déjà vu. Unlike her dream, Sunset took the time to admire the stained glass windows that depicted important events in the history of Equestria. Most were familiar and the newest ones she recognized from stories Twilight had told. So much had changed since she left. However, one thing remained the same, and that was Princess Celestia.

Unlike her dream, Celestia sat on her throne and waited patiently for Sunset to approach. Her gaze was neither accusatory nor overly familiar, but stately neutral, as one would expect from a ruler of a country. Sunset reached the foot of the stairs and bowed low to the ground. She tried to keep her voice from cracking as she said, "Princess Celestia, I have come as requested."

"Hello Sunset Shimmer," Princess Celestia replied. "Please raise your head."

Sunset looked up at the sun princess uncertainly. So far, Princess Celestia had given no indication as to her current mood. This certainly wasn't what Sunset had expected. "So, what did you want to see me about?" Sunset asked. As soon as the words left her mouth, she cringed inwardly. Really? THAT was the first thing you thought of to say?

Princess Celestia stood up from her throne, causing Sunset to flinch. Celestia frowned at the reaction, and her face quickly returned to neutral. She walked down the stairs to the left of the throne where a door was hidden behind a column. "Come. Take a walk with me," Celestia said and motioned to the door.

Sunset stayed rooted where she was for a second, then quickly ran to catch up. Celestia walked with even, steady strides while Sunset had to trot quickly just to keep up. Celestia led Sunset through a long hallway with illumination provided by sunlight streaming through tiny windows. Sunset racked her brain, trying to remember where Celestia might be leading her.

The hallway opened up onto a balcony that overlooked a large garden. Sunset sucked in a breath in awe. She remembered this place, Celestia's private garden. Celestia looked down and gave a faint smile at the recollection on Sunset's face. She led Sunset down the stairs and through the garden to a small gazebo. Celestia sat on a pillow and indicated for Sunset to do the same. She smiled and tried not to laugh at Sunset's nervousness and stiff movements. "I can see that telling you to relax isn't likely to help," she said.

"Probably not," Sunset admitted.

"Now then," Celestia said, getting to business. "Tell me, my dear student, what have you learned from living in the human world?"

"Huh?" Sunset was stunned. The whole surreal feeling of this experience had turned Sunset's brain into mush and she had a hard time focusing. "Can…can you repeat that?" she asked uncertainly.

"I asked, what have you learned from living in the human world?" Celestia asked patiently.

Sunset breathed a shaky sigh and tried to focus her thoughts, but she was having trouble. "I'm confused," she managed to say.

"By what?" Celestia asked.

"All of this!" Sunset said, a little louder than she intended and winced.

"What would you have me do? Become overly emotional and raise my voice, or collapse into tears of happiness?" Celestia asked.

"I…I don't know," Sunset replied and looked away. She nervously rubbed her forelegs together. "I used to wonder what would happen if I ever came back here," she said. Celestia said nothing and let her former student continue at her own pace. "I mean, after everything that happened when I stole Twilight's crown, I wanted to come back, but I didn't think you would want me anymore. I didn't think I would have a place to come back too." Sunset looked down and took a keen interest in her hooves. "As time went on, I started to think that maybe it was too late. I mean, you even took a new student after I left. The thought that I had been replaced so easily made me bitter and want to prove myself even more to you."

Sunset sniffed and looked out at the flowers. She recognized a particular plant and a faint smile appeared on her face. "You asked me what I learned from living in the human world? Forgiveness is hard. Trying to make up for past mistakes is hard. Earning back people's trust is hard. I know Twilight told the Elements of my world to take me in and teach me about friendship, but even so, they didn't trust me at first. At first I wondered, what more did I have to do to prove to everyone that I was trying to become a better person? But I realized that it wasn't others I had to convince, it was myself."

Sunset looked around the gazebo, everywhere but at Princess Celestia. "Because I'm such a stubborn and willful pony, I refused to let anything get me down. I learned that mistakes happen and you have to keep moving forward, no matter how hard it might seem. Someone told me that the reason we have eyes in the front of our head is to look where we are going, not where we have been."

Celestia nodded and Sunset kept talking. "I learned that relationships are messy and require a lot of time and effort. Despite this, some people will simply ignore or refuse you, so you can't take it personally and keep moving onward. People are not perfect and because of that, there will always be conflict. Sometimes, it can put your closest bonds to the test, but when you come out the other side, the bonds you share with others will become even stronger."

Celestia looked down at Sunset Shimmer. She was very proud of her student, although she wished Sunset didn't have to run away to learn such valuable lessons. She reached out and gently touched Sunset on the shoulder, causing her to flinch. "Sunset Shimmer, please look at me."

Reluctantly, Sunset turned to face her mentor. Looking up into Celestia's gentle smile was like basking in the glow of the summer sun, so dazzling and bright.

"I am proud of you," Celestia said. Those words nearly sent Sunset Shimmer over the edge to an emotional slobbering mess. How long had it been since she heard those words? Ever since she was just a little filly, that was all Sunset wanted to hear, that her mentor was proud of her, that she had been worthy to earn praise. At the same time, it sent another torrent of guilt crashing through Sunset's body. "I don't deserve it," she whispered. "I hurt you. I yelled at you. I said things that should never be said. How can you still be proud of me after that?"

"Is there something else you would like to say?" Celestia asked gently.

Sunset blinked slowly and nodded. She lay on the floor before Celestia and looked away in shame. "I…I'm...I'm sorry. I'm sorry for leaving. I'm sorry for disrespecting you. I'm sorry I tried to take Princess Twilight's crown. I'm sorry for not believing in you." And so it went, Sunset apologizing for seemingly everything she had ever done.

"Sunset, please get up," Celestia gently directed. Sunset sat up and looked guiltily up at Celestia. "I forgive you," Celestia said. "And I too wish to apologize."

Sunset was taken aback. What did Celestia have to apologize for? "Why? What did you do?"

Celestia sighed. "While I was greatly impressed by your talent and potential, I feel that if I had been more attentive, I might have seen the signs earlier and helped keep your ambition in check."

Sunset jumped to her feet and quickly shook her head. "No Princess, that's not your fault at all. My pride and ego wouldn't have let you help me anyway. As much as I hate to say it, I was so focused on my studies, I don't see how things could have turned out differently."

"Perhaps," Celestia mused. "I felt that if I showed you the mirror, you would realize the path you were walking was a dangerous one, but that only made things worse I'm afraid."

Again, Sunset vehemently disagreed. "I would have learned about the mirror eventually." Sunset sat back down and gazed intently up at Celestia. "This was my fault. I am to blame. You did nothing wrong."

"I am flattered you would think that about me," Celestia smiled sadly. "After you left, I always hoped you would return, even after all these years." She sighed and stared out into the sky. "Sunset, how many pupils do you think I have had over the years?"

"Um, I don't know. Lots I guess?" Sunset offered.

Celestia smiled. "That's one way to put it. I have personally trained many students who went on to become great and successful ponies. Do you think I care any less for them?"

"No?" Sunset guessed.

"I can see why you would think that I had replaced you with Twilight Sparkle, but do you really think so little of me? Is not Twilight Sparkle, or any other gifted student, not worthy of my attention?" Celestia asked.

Sunset bowed her head in shame. "No.

Celestia leaned forward and gently touched her horn to Sunset's. "Twilight Sparkle does carry a special place in my heart, but there is also a Sunset Shimmer-sized hole that only you can fill," she said.

Sunset refused to look to Celestia out of shame and only nodded her head. "Sunset, if given the chance, would you like to come back to Equestria and continue your studies?" Celestia asked.

Sunset slowly looked up in awe. "Really? You would do that?" she asked.

Celestia nodded. "Of course. All you have to do is give the word."

Sunset was overwhelmed. Celestia would let her come back? And to be her student again no less! Isn't that what she wanted the most in the world? Everything could go back to the way it was, Sunset learning at the feet of the most powerful alicorn in all Equestria.

Sunset's sudden excitement was quickly dashed. But what of her friends? It's true that her friends had pony counterparts in this world, but they weren't her friends. As badly as she wanted it, Sunset didn't belong here anymore. She had made a new life for herself as a human, with her human friends. After all they had been through together, could she really turn her back on them? Sunset was sure they'd understand, but she felt like she would be betraying their friendship. As much as it pained her otherwise, Sunset had made up her mind long ago. "Princess? I am humbled and honored that you would want me to come back, but I think I am going to refuse. I have a new life, responsibilities, and friends who are waiting for me. I wouldn't feel right leaving them behind, just so I can relive my past. I am truly grateful for everything you've given me and done for me. I hope I can repay you in kind someday," Sunset said.

Celestia looked carefully at her former student. "Are you sure this is what you want?" she asked.

Sunset steeled her will and nodded with certainty. "Yes. Besides, I can always come back to visit," she said.

"Yes you certainly can," Celestia agreed with a smile. She stood up and stretched her wings. "I suppose we should be getting back. Twilight Sparkle is probably having fits by now." Sunset giggled and also stretched. It felt like a large weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She took a deep breath and sighed contentedly. Celestia walked up next to her and embraced the unicorn with her wing. "I am truly glad you came back," she said.

Sunset closed her eyes and leaned into the princess. "Me too. I think now was the right time. I don't think I was ready before." Together, they walked back to the throne room where everyone awaited them.

Dear Twilight,

I can't even begin to tell you how I feel right now. At first I was nervous about meeting Princess Celestia after all this time, but everything was okay. She didn't show it, but I think the princess felt similar to how I did. We talked about a lot of things and said some things that needed to be said. I feel like a burden has been lifted from me that I didn't know I had. I feel lighter, and so much better now.

I need to apologize to you Twilight. For the longest time, I resented you. Even though I was no longer Princess Celestia's pupil, I hated you for taking my place. I hated Celestia for replacing me so easily. I realize now that was my own pride and anger festering inside me. It was wrong of me to think that and I am sorry. Princess Celestia helped me realize that there have been many before us, and will probably be many after us.

I also have something else to tell you. Princess Celestia asked me if I wanted to come back and resume my studies at her side. She said she would take me back.

I said no.

Now before you pick your jaw up off the floor and come yelling at me, please hear me out. I've been gone from Equestria for a long time. I've made a new life for myself in the human world. I have responsibilities and friends to go back to. I realize that they are probably the same as your friends here, but it's not the same. These are the friends that I bullied, made up with, laughed, cried and shared amazing adventures with. How can you ask me to turn my back on that? If you were in my place, you would do the same.

I don't think I could have come back before now. I wasn't ready. I wasn't mature enough. I needed time to grow and become the pony I want to be. I promised Celestia I would come back and visit. I would like that.

I have a lot to think about and I need some time to sort it all out, so I'll talk to you later.

Always yours,

Sunset Shimmer