• Published 1st Oct 2020
  • 1,899 Views, 297 Comments

Equal Opportunity Ascension - Cast-Iron Caryatid



Twilight Sparkle is a bit underwhelmed with her ascension to alicornhood and, after a disastrous coronation ceremony, it becomes clear that something is missing. It'd be a shame if somepony else got to it before she did.

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Chapter 11

“So, it sounds like the train is finally going to start running again,” said a pegasus stallion to his unicorn marefriend as Sunset hoofed over a pair of franchise-standard units of coffee.

She refused to use their stupid names unless she absolutely had to, and the privacy of her own head remained her own.

Mostly.

The warmth of the Crystal Heart filling her did make working in customer service almost bearable.

“Just in time for the end of the summit, of course,” the mare said, rolling her eyes. “Doesn’t that seem a little fishy to you?”

“What, that the princesses would insist the train runs for them even if it means worse problems later?” the stallion asked rhetorically as the two of them retreated to a table. “Sounds like business as usual to me.”

Sunset hated jobs like this, but they were a necessity. Under normal circumstances, the opportunity to eavesdrop on ponies was only barely worth having to actually interact with them, but in her withdrawal from scrying Twilight every week, she’d needed something that would be able to hold her attention and keep her from just spending her nights feeding trash to a tiny sun in the abandoned house she was squatting in.

She still did that, of course, but the important part was that she only did it to relax after a long day at work. So long as it didn’t interfere with the rest of her life, nopony could say she had a problem.

“You really believe it’s just ‘mechanical problems’ like they say?” the mare asked, Sunset’s ear swiveling just enough to continue listening.

“Why wouldn't I?” the stallion asked, looking blankly at the mare as they sat down.

“It’s this mare they’re looking for,” she said. “It has to be. It’s too much of a coincidence.”

Unfortunately for the mare’s theory, all the stallion said was, “What mare?”

“Are you seriously telling me you haven’t been stopped in the past week and asked if you’ve seen a unicorn mare with red and gold hair and a two-tone sun cutie mark?”

“Yes?” the stallion stated as if it were obvious. “It can’t be important enough to stop the train over if I haven’t even heard of it. I mean, come on, how does that even make any sense?”

“W—well…” The mare was momentarily dumbstruck as she searched for an answer until finally she had an epiphany. “Obviously they’re trying to keep it quiet. Think about it; that description? She’s gotta be Princess Celestia’s illegitimate daughter—and she’s been foalnapped!”

The stallion nearly choked on his coffee. “W—what?!” he said, scrambling to contain spilled coffee with a hoofful of napkins. “How in Equestria did you get that out of it?!”

“It isn’t obvious?” the mare asked, looking honestly confused as she levitated a new napkin dispenser over from the next table.

“No!” the stallion insisted. “That sounds like the plot of some Pom Prancy novel.”

“A good one, though, right?” the mare asked, hopeful to at least have that.

“There are good ones?”

Sunset was cleaning up her own little accident with the milk foamer as the two went on to argue the comparative merits of several different authors.

Celestia’s illegitimate daughter? How could some random pony off the street come up with that? Sunset wasn’t any stranger to the inane things that people pulled from whole cloth inside their heads, but that was stretching believability.

Really, that ship had sailed a long time ago. If Celestia expected to have an emotional reunion with her where Sunset cried and called her ‘mom,’ it’d be proof that the princess was even more disconnected with reality now than when Sunset had still been her student.

The rest was very interesting, though. She needed to be on that train when it left, so right now she had to plan.

***

Baffled, Sunset sat quietly just a few seats down from Twilight and the rest of her group. All of her plans had been useless because she hadn’t needed them. She’d just bought her ticket, boarded the train and sat down as if it was just a normal trip.

Part of her was offended, part of her decided that this was to be expected, part of her was suspicious and part of her had a creeping feeling of unease that slowly grew as the train pulled away from the station and began its journey southwest out of the Crystal Empire.

Those last two were both vindicated when the train stopped a few hours into the trip and the princesses started thoroughly searching it, though the fact that both groups essentially skipped the car that they’d started in meant that the first two got their moment as well.

Still, for what might have been the first time since she had come back to Equestria, Sunset was properly nervous. She didn't normally do ‘nervous,’ but she also didn't normally have to sit still and do nothing, hoping that nopony would notice her. There was something else that she couldn’t put her hoof on bothering her, too—enough that when everypony came back disappointed and the train started running again, she didn’t feel nearly as relieved and triumphant as she should have.

Embarrassingly, it took her another few hours to pinpoint where that feeling was actually coming from.

It was her connection to the Crystal Heart, which she had purposefully forged to be wide and shallow and was now peeling away from her the further she got from the borders of the Crystal Empire.

She needed to get out.

She needed to get out right now.

She didn’t make it. Just as she was stepping out into the center path of the passenger car, the train crossed out of the Crystal Mountains and the last small scrap of magic supporting Sunset’s connection to the Crystal Heart vanished.

When that connection then ripped itself free from her heart, Sunset felt like she’d been gutted and a sense of overwhelming loss consumed her, leaving her cold and shaking on the carpeted floor. Through it all, Sunset tried to hold on to any scraps of the Crystal Heart’s magic that she could find, but it was a lost cause. The magic was simply gone and she could already feel her crystal form unraveling.

Not, a small part of her argued, that it mattered because she had already garnered the attention of everypony in the entire passenger car, including Celestia.

“…Sunset?”

Yep. She was boned. Images of magic suppressors and ‘very disappointed’ talks were running through her head when it finally happened—Sunset's crystal body began to crack, crumble and finally shatter with a blinding flash of light, all in the space of a second.

She saw her chance.

While everypony was blinded by the flash of her transformation back into a fleshy unicorn, she powered through the surge of feelings and sensations to follow it up with another flash—a flash of teleportation.

It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that the modern teleportation spell had been made as boring as possible. Sunset’s time in the human world had given her ideas about all the things you could do with conservation of momentum, but unfortunately it didn’t actually work like that. Moving or not, a teleporting pony was always matched to the context of their destination and the difference was added to the effort it took to power the spell.

This was fortunate for Sunset since it meant that all she had to do was teleport fifteen feet to her left and the train was gone in seconds.

It was also unfortunate for Sunset since she really didn’t have it in her to make up that surcharge and having the last of her magic drawn away on top of everything else left her feeling completely hollow. She wasn’t even shaking from the cold that losing her connection to the Crystal Heart had left her with anymore; she just didn’t have it in her to do even that much. If she could just lay there in the dirt beside the train tracks for a while, that would be great.

She couldn’t, though. It simply wasn’t an option. As soon as the princesses realized what she had done, they would stop the train and backtrack. Celestia wouldn’t even bother stopping the train.

Still, they would have a mile or so of track to search. If she could just hide, they probably wouldn't find her and would just assume that she had continued to teleport away.

As she struggled to look around, what was left of her heart sank.

There really wasn't much just beyond the hoofhills of the Crystal Empire where a brightly-colored pony could hide.

***

Somehow, curled up and nestled in the middle of a thin, sparse and thorny bush Sunset Shimmer had managed to escape discovery by the princesses and their ponies—or so she assumed by the time the sun began to set.

Even hours later, she was still feeling tender, brittle and lost in more than just the practical ways. She also felt oddly squishy. She’d never gotten entirely used to being made of crystal, but the sudden change back was just as jarring—far more than the changes she’d undergone from traveling through the mirror.

Of course, part of it was that she had nothing to do but lay there in a bush focusing on the gurgling of her stomach while trying to drown out all the other things she was feeling, because immersing herself in the warmth of the Crystal Heart for a week and then having it ripped away from her like that had left her feeling anything but whole.

“Thank god Celestia isn't here to see this,” she grumbled to herself as she wiped the crust out of her eyes with her hoof. “She might think I had regrets or something.”

No, her heart might be raw and oversensitive from injury and she was no doubt suffering from some form of magical withdrawal, but she would heal and get over it.

And then, once she was feeling like herself again, she would find her way south to the Everfree forest and claim what was hers.

Well, okay, no—she wasn’t actually that delusional. She knew perfectly well what she was doing.

She would find her way south to the Everfree forest and claim what was Twilight’s.