• Published 6th Sep 2018
  • 878 Views, 134 Comments

The Sunset Campaign - Starscribe

Sunset Shimmer dreamed of bringing her knowledge back to Equestria, but not as an invader. If she wants Equestria to survive, she's going to have to help the humans save it—without helping them become its new rulers.

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So the war went on, with Jackie forced to watch from the sidelines. She did her best to help as the great dragons attacked, running supplies along underground tunnels and giving what support she could to the terrified ponies there.

But the Father of Dragons was an enemy beyond her power, or any other human for that matter. She watched from hidden cameras along with the rest of the Crystal Empire, as the combined power of the Alicorns banished a creature ripped right out of hell’s worst dreams.

Then the war was over, at least that was what everypony seemed to think. Jackie could think what she wanted about ponies, but they sure knew how to throw a party. Jackie celebrated right along with them, ignoring whatever awkwardness might come from the influx of Tower and Federation humans alike. None of them gave her a second glance, letting her keep to the shadows. She’d become a minor celebrity in the Crystal Empire, and so there was always a friendly face to welcome her at any given hearth or bar.

But there were some responsibilities she didn’t run away from, even while she did her best to fade into the background and wait for all the pomp and circumstance to end. One in particular.

Bree didn’t have the same interest in public intoxication and celebration, so she hadn’t seen her at any of the various events around the Empire. But she knew where to find her all the same, in one of the Federation’s many refugee tents. Her companions didn’t seem to know she’d once been one of the enemies—and Jackie got deep personal satisfaction imagining what it must be like for Bree to overhear them talking about the Tower.

But they weren’t around today—she’d watched the tent for almost an hour now. Jackie adjusted her saddlebags a little on her back, then strode forward onto the row of refugee tents.

“Sorry, it’s humans only this way,” said a voice, in translated Equestrian. “Unless you’re one of us, we’ll have to ask you to leave.”

“I am,” she answered, in Federation Standard, lowering her hood a little. Apparently she wasn’t the first who had tried sneaking in. The guards—wearing Federation hats and rifles, but nothing else, looked aside, gesturing her through the barricade without another word.

Jackie wasn’t interrupted the rest of the way in, and she was able to make it safely to the tent.

It was a large affair, with open sides about an inch above the ground and six identical cots inside, with a small box at the foot of each for personal belongings. Or that was how it was supposed to look. Brigid had made herself a nice fort with the cots, and covered them with scribbled writing. They looked like some kind of blueprint, though Jackie couldn’t have said what it was for. Something motorized and metallic.

“Hey, Bree.” She sat down on her haunches near the door, grinning. “Not fraternizing with the enemy, are you?”

Bree looked up from her work, settling the well-chewed pencil in her mouth back onto the table in front of her. “I have no idea what you’re implying, but no. I’ve got this tent all to myself now. But I’m glad you’re here! There was, uh… something I wanted to ask you about.”

“I’ve got something too! How about we take turns. I’ll go first…” She rose, circling over to the bed and removing something from her saddlebags. “I wanted to talk to you about this. I would’ve told you sooner, but you’re not wired right now, so I didn’t have any easy way of showing you. Took a few days, but I finally got it flashed. Now you can… well, you’ll see! Turn it on.”

Bree did. The screen filled with certificates, along with the summary of what they contained in plaintext. There was a picture of the authority that had signed them—the king’s portrait.

“Brigid Curie is hereby and henceforth pardoned for all indiscretions committed in the course of her mission to Equestria. The Steel Tower will take no action to protect her from the justice of the nation she wronged. Likewise, it will take no action to enforce their justice on their behalf.”

She whimpered, tears streaming from her eyes. She reached sideways, pulling Jackie into a tight hug. But it only lasted for a moment. “I’m not going to jail?”

Jackie shrugged, though she didn’t try to pull away. The pony might be young, but she’d apparently been through a lot. “I think It says it’s up to Equestria. But if they don’t want to send you, then… no. You aren’t. Good thing, too, because I just got a message that Frostline will be on the next flight up from the south, and I don’t think your mom wants to see you in jail.”

She whimpered and sobbed, holding onto Jackie for a few more minutes. “And… here I thought… I’d be going to get myself arrested. Turning myself in to a Knight of the Realm. But it was the right thing to do.”

“What are you talking about?”

Bree stood up, ignoring her. She left her sketches behind, not even grabbing her cap as she slipped out into the crisp air of the empire. “There’s someone I have to meet,” she said, once they were moving between the rows. “You should be there. He’s a friend of mine from a long time ago.”

“A knight,” Jackie supplied. “You’re friends with a knight? I always thought there was… friction there. Between the Order and the king. Or was it one of the lesser lords?”

“No, it was the king.” Bree hesitated, frowning as she glanced between the rows, finally choosing one and speeding up again. “But we went back. He, uh… saved me. A long time ago. Turns out he’s here.”

“In the… transformed refugee camp?” Jackie raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know what a knight would be doing here. They’re… synthetics, like me. Couldn’t be here.”

Bree rolled her eyes. “You mean like I couldn’t be here? Equestria doesn’t care what we think the rules should be.”

Jackie had no real argument for that, and how should she? Bree had a point. The world wasn’t what they thought. Everything they’d been positive about was only shadow and myth. It’s all open to explore now, both worlds. We can use the best of each one.

But Jackie wouldn’t be the one exploring. There was somepony in the Federation she wanted to see again, but she wouldn’t find her on the ground.

Bree wandered for a little longer, until she saw something she hadn’t expected. A pegasus stallion, taller than she was and muscled like an Olympic sprinter.

He stood at the front of a small group of winged ponies, gathered in the circle created by several tents all arranged together. He was teaching them how to fly.

Bree didn’t interrupt him, just stood to the side and watched. Whoever he was, Jackie could see no sign of him being a knight. Those feathers were real, along with everything else about him. Organic.

“Which one was he?” Jackie asked, her voice a whisper. “I have the trading cards, from when I was younger. For each of the knights.” She summoned them into the air in front of her, or at least their false images. Of course, Bree wouldn’t be able to see the deck as it floated there. The amplifications to their reality required full immersion into their digital world, which she obviously didn’t have.

“Sir Charles Gray,” she whispered back—apparently too loud, because the pony looked up from his lesson, straight at the two of them.

Gray. Jackie winced, ears flattening. She knew that knight well—youngest of the king’s house. Also the most naive, trusting, and gullible. She’d borrowed his sword.

“One moment,” the stallion said. “Keep up the exercises, everyone. You can’t get into the air without strong wings.” He left the center of the group, walking over to them at the edge of the circle, and lowering his head politely. He seemed to have eyes mostly for Jackie. “I’m sorry, miss. But you’re too late to take this class. There’s another in circle 18-C in an hour if you’d like to enroll.”

Jackie shrugged. “Thanks, but no thanks. I just got a program for mine. Which is much better than the one you wrote, Bree. Not that I don’t appreciate the effort.”

“Bree…” His eyes widened. “Say something.” He wasn’t looking at Jackie anymore. “I need to hear your voice. It can’t be, but…”

“So you can hear me bloody accent, is that it?”

That was apparently not the reaction that Gray was expecting, because his mouth just hung open, staring at Bree. The mare just smiled smugly at him, waiting patiently for him to recover. “You’re alive,” he finally said. “You’re a pony too. After all these years. King Richard said you were probably dead. You’d died in some accident. Some… hostile native creature or something.”

Bree shook her head sadly. “The only hostile one was me. But I’m alive, and that’s what matters. Guess we both had to leave Neverland.”

What on earth was she talking about? Jackie couldn’t tell, but maybe it didn’t matter. This wasn’t her reunion. She stepped away, letting the two of them slip into one of the isolated European languages. She could’ve looked up a program, but she didn’t need to. Let them have their fun.

Besides, there was… what was that?

A creature was passing through camp, unlike anything she’d seen before. She turned away from Bree, lowering her body a little to the ground on instinct.

It looked a little like a pony, if a pony had been examined by a race of hyper-intelligent insects that had eventually decided to create one of their own in the ponies’ image.

It had a smooth black coat, with bright blue frills down her back and brilliant mane in a similar shade. And those hips, they just went on for days.

Jackie crossed over as quickly as her hooves could get her, slipping through the creature’s escort by dodging between a few tents. Suddenly she was walking beside her, feeling only a little small by comparison. But she could live with being the shorter one in a relationship.

“Hey there, sweetheart,” Jackie said, grinning at the creature. “You get to the cloud district very often?”

There it was—the twitch of recognition she was looking for. This creature was human.

But maybe not, because when she turned, her eyes went up in surprise and recognition. “Horsefeathers, it’s you. Uh… Jackie? The mechanical bat.” Curiously she didn’t answer in system standard, but in Equestrian. Perfectly fluent Equestrian, though there was a strange, reverberating quality to her voice.

Also not a rejection. She’d turned just slightly to face Jackie—a sign that maybe she’d attracted some interest.

“In the flesh,” she answered, spreading her wings slightly to catch the light. That would show the mechanical superstructure underneath, and reveal how obviously artificial they were. “Well… you know what I mean. I’ve got a body anyway, and let me tell you I know how to use it. I’ve got some upgrades scheduled, and once they’re in you won’t be able to tell the difference unless you need some numbers crunched.”

The creature stared at her a long time. Then she changed. Several of the watching ponies—human refugees all—gasped and stared, but none seemed frightened. None of them were ponies, after all, what did they have to be afraid of.

But Jackie gasped. She knew this pony. It was the captain of the guard. “Uh… shouldn’t you be back in Normandy? You weren’t a…” She’d made a pretty attractive pegasus, too. It was a good thing Jackie didn’t care that she noticed anymore.

“I was.” Amber Sands changed back as swiftly as she had performed her little demonstration in the first place. Quick flash of light, and she was the towering, elegant insect all over again. “I just hadn’t gone public yet. But now I’m the queen of all the changelings in Equestria, so… guess there’s no point in hiding.”

Jackie slid up against her, grinning slyly. “Well, queen of all the changelings in Equestria. Want a drink? I’m a folk hero in this little town—we can pick anywhere we want, and we’ll get all the free food and drinks you could want.”

Amber’s insect eyes narrowed. “I don’t eat… the same things you do,” she said.

“Well, perfect! I don’t eat either. It’s a date.”

The Reclamator roared in the background, its massive teeth devouring stones, ice, trees, and anything else that got in its way. Had there been any ponies living nearby, Sunset Shimmer knew they would’ve attracted more than a little anger, eating a small mountain with a metal dragon. But they’d chosen somewhere so far north that even the Crystal Empire had never claimed it, where the ice never melted and blue glaciers carved huge troths through the landscape.

Mechanical ponies apparently had a bit of a bad reputation down in Equestria, and more reminders about their history would be politically unwise. But sending the Reclamator up here—who was there to complain?

It wasn’t just the dragon—the digger was certainly the most important part of their little world, but that was only by size. The Reclamator was actually a complex network of robotics, run by dozens of digital minds that were all skilled in their respective crafts. That many of those digital minds now thought of themselves as ponies was incidental to their ability to run the operation.

Sunset walked briskly down the path formed of recycled slag concrete, its surface textured to keep it rough enough to walk even during the fiercest snowstorms.

The body Sunset was currently controlling was a pony too, and she wasn’t alone. A unicorn followed close behind her, though like everypony else in town she had no way to make use of her magic. Yet. We’re close. During Sunset’s battle for the Crystal Empire, she had seen the proof that magic need not be restricted to the ponies alone. A mechanical creature like her had been able to use it, as well as former humans like Sir Bradley. Her ponies would get their magic in time.

“With the south tower, we’ve added housing for another three thousand residents,” Twilight Sparkle said, her voice as proud as it was confident. “Polymer production in the first processing facility is meeting demand for microfab, and we’ve added an additional ten percent of output for furniture and other luxuries.”

They reached the end of the trail, where the large hill that was Camelot could be seen all in one view. It was made of smaller buildings, only a dozen stories or so compared to the typical human propensity for building tall. There were no tubes or shelters connecting them, just as the towers themselves went unheated. There was no need for heating when almost everypony who lived here was mechanical. Just as there wasn’t water in most of the buildings, and they had no farms to grow food. It was in many ways what Sunset might’ve imagined running a village of undead might be like, right down to the Reclamator devouring an entire mountain and everything that lived on it.

But if she was undead, she could live with that. Her secret magic had come back with her from Earth, and that was the important thing. The Builders’ great powers would be shared with Equestria after all.

She could see them down there—several hundred of those most intact of the conversion casualties. But they weren’t casualties anymore—they were alive. She could hear happy voices raised in song, ponies and humans mixed with one another in haphazard randomness. “The last generation—what did they choose?

“Sixty percent pony, forty percent human. Sixty-five percent prefer not to be instanced in a body and will be coexisting digitally. That’s another… three-eighty-seven in total.”

“That many?” Sunset reached sideways, touching against her. “Impressive work, Twilight.”

“Of course,” the unicorn agreed, beaming. “When isn’t it?”

“Never.” But Sunset’s attention was drifting. She had another body somewhere else—and just now it was demanding a little more of her control. Across vast distance and a transmitter passing entirely between Earth and Equestria, there was a little deadly.

“Hold on minute,” she said, looking down. “Brad and I are almost there. I’m pretty sure we found her.”

“You mean Flash,” Twilight corrected, sounding a little annoyed. “I’ll make sure you don’t bump into any walls.”

Sunset concentrated, and her attention shifted somewhere else. Now she was on two legs again, in the familiar body that had survived so much hardship in Equestria. She’d cut her hair a little differently, and adapted the half-cutie-mark style the Empire had sewn for her into an outfit that accentuated her former pony colors. That way her subjects would recognize her, no matter which way she dressed.

But she had no subjects in the Alajuela work camp. Here thousands of ponies labored to undo the damage humans had done to their planet. So far, this was the place they’d been most successful.

The jungle was healthy here, the sky blue instead of gray. The songs of transplanted Equestrian birds filled the early morning air.

Sir Bradley landed beside her, gesturing ahead along the path. “She’s there, all right. Think she noticed me, because I swear she was waving.”

Sunset grinned and sped up, along an ancient paved road through the jungle. The darkness didn’t bother her, but Brad had to trot along touching every moment, so that he didn’t bumble into something. Soon the sun would come up and his eyes would be working perfectly, but that moment hadn’t come quite yet.

Sunset Shimmer felt it before she saw it—a tree like only one other in all of existence. A spell so densely woven that it seemed to bend the space around it. But where Equestria had hidden theirs away, the human version was surrounded with a cement stadium, with rows of plaques depicting scenes from the war, or moments that had led to the creation of this spell.

There were plenty of advanced human security devices—which Sunset had tricked and manipulated into ignoring them. There were plenty of security guards, but they wouldn’t be flown in because of her.

“That’s some smooth datamancy,” said a girl, swinging from one of the tree’s lower branches. She was dressed like one of the natives, in worn overalls and dirty socks, but her skin was pale instead of the olive common to this part of the world.

She landed on the ground in front of the railing, and her hood fell off her face. Sunset gaped at her hair—half of it was transparent, with light dancing from underneath. It didn’t remind her of any of the Infinite Realm’s gaudy displays—it reminded her of Celestia.

“She doesn’t like how young we are,” said another voice—male this time, from the stone benches. She turned and saw a boy dressed in almost exactly the same clothes, except that he was clutching an old toy in his hands, playing some game on its ancient plastic surface. “She expected a throne. Or maybe a court. Way the Equestrians do it.”

“But no one on our planet knows what we are,” the girl continued, her voice perfectly timed. Sunset couldn’t feel it, but she recognized it—these two were sympathetically linked. Or maybe just using radio.

“I do,” Sunset said.

“Because you’re not from here,” the girl said. She circled around her, watching Brad with narrowed eyes. “Your friend is, though. Or he was.”

“A few countries north,” Brad answered, using English instead of Equestrian. Like the children were doing. “Is that a problem?” He switched to private radio—something that required some visual twitching from him. The implants in his brain were far less capable than anything Sunset had installed, though they were one of the few changes he’d made. “Now will you tell me why we came here?”

To Sunset’s surprise, the girl spoke before she could. Over the same private radio channel as Sunset and Bradley. “She should tell all of us. We’re very curious.”

“I would look into her memories,” the boy added. “But that wouldn’t be polite.”

Sunset Shimmer dropped onto one knee in front of the girl. They were now almost perfectly at eye level. “I was wondering… if you could use an apprentice, Princess Chance.”

Author's Note:

And that's the end.

I never imagined I would ever get the chance to write this story. It's an obscure part of my universe, connecting various bits of canon that I didn't think many people would care about. Lots of loose ends to tie up, old characters who get to finish the stories.

Thanks to Bitera for sponsoring this story. I never would've had the chance to write it without his help. And to each of you who came along for the ride. Probably the last of the My Little Apprentice stories. But it sure was fun to be back in this world for a bit. I'll miss it.

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Comments ( 11 )

Giving Chance her own apprentice is a pretty neat way to wrap up the whole series.

'Bout time Jackie found herself a changeling :rainbowlaugh:

Also, so was Sunset asking to be Chance's apprentice, or for Brad to be? Or was there something else I'm missing :twilightsheepish:

If there's one multiuniversal constant, it's that Jackie likes changeling ladies.
I'd love to see a story that explains why every universe has a Jackie in it.

As for this story, a great tale. Loved the ending.

I was disappointed by just how Anti-Clamatic the last battle with the Dragons were. Seemed pretty rush. HOWEVER, I enjoyed the rest of it and there was definitely some fun stuff in here. Though I AM rather sad to see this story go...I have really enjoyed this fanfic quite a bit ^^

The battle itself is described in detail in Harmony Defended. It didn't make sense to rewrite those sections here because these characters weren't really that important in that fight--the princesses were.

Very nice: it takes a lot of effort to finish a story this ambitious. Thank you for perceiving, I really enjoyed it : ).

Gits is a great anime, but it also had a bad tendency to include techno babble. I think most sci fi writing has at least some included. SG1 was ok mostly because they had 10 seasons to explain everything. John Ringos books are usually pretty good; but he focuses on dumb military hardware wanking a lot. Mass effect was pretty good with explaining the science, but is was all locked behind dry codex entries.

So which story comes after Sunset campaign in your cannon?

Yeah, I think the translation butchered a lot of the technical terms. So much of the English dub of the anime was straight up empty air.

Steel Solstice is the direct sequel for Sunset, but it jumps many years ahead in the canon. My Little Apprentice, my very first story (winces) comes before Steel Solstice. Technically the order is...

Sunset Campaign
My Little Apprentice
Can you hear me now?
MLA: Apogee
MLA: Perihelion
Harmony Defended
Steel Solstice
Pax Humana

Though that's only in this series of stories. All my other stuff is unrelated.

Did you write the order bottom to top? Doesn't Campaign clearly come *after* Solstice in the time line?

No, the order is right, but Star accidentally swapped the names of both Sunset stories. Steel Solstice is the prequel, Sunset Campaign is the sequel.

Wow! What a conclusion! Awesome and yet tying together threads from all sorts of stories. I love the fact that Sunset Shimmer has such a different adventure but still had her epic moments of mind controlling a horde of teenage zombies and out singing the Sirens!

Thank you! That was awesome!

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