• Published 1st Oct 2020
  • 1,851 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.

  • ...
10
 297
 1,851

Chapter 9

Sunset Shimmer let out a sigh of relief as she watched Princess Luna levitate Twilight Sparkle back into the Crystal Castle. The sigh was of course for herself and the fact that she wasn't being chased anymore, not for any concern over Twilight Sparkle’s safety, because seriously, what kind of alicorn couldn’t even fly? It was just proof that Twilight Sparkle hadn’t been strong enough to fully ascend into an alicorn, and with Sunset now in on the secret, she never would. She would feel sorry for the mare, but it was Celestia that had gotten her hopes up in the first place, so it was hardly her fault, was it?

No, she had no regrets—not that there was anything to regret. Not being able to scry Twilight and the princesses would be a wrench, but it would pale in comparison to what she would gain.

Besides, having regrets would imply that she had had any choice in the matter to begin with, and in hindsight there had been none. Sure, technically she had decided to spy on the princesses in person instead of going back through the portal, but that decision hadn’t actually mattered one bit in the end. The princesses had been heading for the mirror portal before Sunset had even stolen the Element of Magic. Maybe there was a chance that she could have made it back to the portal in time if she’d rushed, but she wouldn’t have been rushing. Just the opposite; if she hadn't been in a hurry to spy on the princesses, then she would have been taking things slowly and carefully and wouldn't have had any chance at beating them to the mirror portal at all, nor would she have had the chance to witness such a cathartic event. She might have even missed this latest bit of information that would make it all worthwhile.

No. It was clear that this was what she was meant to do. She had mixed feelings about the Equestrian idea of destiny these days and far preferred to make her own, but if harmony had conspired to bring her here for this, then who was she to argue? All she needed to do was find a way out of this city and head to the Everfree forest.

She was just about to get on that, when Twilight, Celestia and Luna appeared at the base of the Crystal Castle.

Oh, and Cadance was there, too. Huh. She hadn't even noticed. That was cute, but there's no way that it was comfortable. Not even for a pegasus-slash-alicorn.

She forgot about that, though, focusing instead on listening in on the princesses’ plans, cursing at the mention of stopping the trains and almost giving herself away with a snort of laughter at Celestia's insistence that everything would be fine if the two of them could just talk this out.

It wasn't long before three out of the four princesses were gone and the fourth was left sleeping on top of the Crystal Heart. Sunset didn’t move from her position across the courtyard, which was a good thing, because Twilight soon returned with a blanket for Cadance.

It would have been adorable if Cadance wasn't close to twice her age now.

Once Twilight was well and gone for good, though, Sunset got to thinking through what she was going to do from here on out. She was distracted, however, by Cadance and the Crystal Heart.

There was no denying that the Crystal Heart was a powerful artifact but she had no interest in it. Just like she had no interest in the Element of Magic so long as she was staying in Equestria. What she wanted was power—not some wishy-washy do-gooder rock with a moral compass. No, she had no interest in something like that.

It, however, definitely had an interest in her. Considering her… well, her alignment for lack of a better word, that was probably a bad thing. She very much did not want to get smote on her first night back in Equestria, so she deftly turned the magic aside and waited to see what it would do. To her surprise it did nothing. It seemed curious and hopeful, in a way, but what did you expect from an artifact powered by love?

Now curious herself, Sunset shifted her attention to how the Crystal Heart was interacting with Cadance, because whatever it was doing, it was a lot more lively about it than the tentative olive branch that it had been directing at Sunset.

No, this was interesting, so instead of searching for someplace in the city to hide, she laid herself down in the cold crystal alleyway and settled in to watch Cadance sleep, which was a completely normal thing to do.

***

“Worth it,” Sunset Shimmer said with a triumphant, crusty-eyed grin.

By the time ponies were beginning to be seen up and about starting their day, Cadance was looking very sparkly indeed in the early morning sun. Sunset was going to have to get going herself before anypony saw her, but before that, she had an idea.

Standing up and stretching in the small alleyway from which she’d been watching Cadance sleep, Sunset reached out with her magic to the now familiar warmth of the Crystal Heart and forged her own connection to it—‘forged’ in the larcenous sense being the key word in this situation. The Crystal Heart could be said to have emotions in that it was, to an extent, made out of them, but it wasn’t actually intelligent in any way, shape or form. So, while it would absolutely and completely reject anything that was opposed to it, anypony who didn’t fall into that category would be welcomed with open arms and had a lot more leeway. In fact, the depth of the connection a pony had to it was almost entirely up to the pony and it would take a significant amount of soul-searching for the average stallion or mare to accept the warmth of the Crystal Heart into them.

Sunset Shimmer was not an ordinary pony. To begin with, she’d always been good with magic, and that had continued to be true during her tenure as Princess Celestia’s personal protégé. She was no generalist, though, and had always focused on big, impressive and obscure pieces of magic.

Especially when those magics involved burning things. She could do an impressive sun spell.

Yes, that sun. Well, close enough for government work, anyway. Literally. It was the exact same spell that Celestia practiced with, which was no simple thing. Sunset's wasn’t terribly large, but the fact that she could do it at all was a source of pride.

That had all ended with her exile into the human world. At first, she’d felt like she’d been tricked into it. The mirror had shown her as an alicorn, but the actual world that it had sent her to was all but devoid of magic, and what it did have was stiff and brittle. Doing anything with it was like attempting underwater basket weaving with dry spaghetti.

It was a nightmare and she’d been furious.

She’d gotten used to it, though. That simple sentence belied the blood, sweat and tears that she had shed to do it, but she’d done it and that was all that mattered.

Ever since then, she’d spent her time in the human world practicing the subtlest of magics and using them to scry through the ineffable chaos between worlds and watch ponies make friends.

Forming a wide, but shallow bridge between herself and the Crystal Heart? That was foal’s play, and as the connection was made she was filled with warmth, like there was a fire burning in her heart.

She could get used to this.

***

By the time Sunset Shimmer had made up for her lost sleep the night before, it was sunset and she was shimmering.

“Cool,” she said, holding her crystalline hoof out in front of her where it broke a beam of ruddy sunlight into dozens of spots across the floor of the abandoned house.

Well, the hopefully abandoned house. Sure, there was a dusty crib slowly disintegrating in the corner, but as she’d learned in the human world, you couldn’t assume anything. Some people had no self respect and just lived like that. Heck, maybe the family had lost a foal or had to give it up, so they'd walled of the room and cast a spell on it to make everyone forget that the foal had existed at all and there was a whole family living normally on the other side of the walls who would all be coming running to the room and the foal that they'd forgotten after she’d broken the seal by sleeping in it.

It could happen. It never hurt to be careful—entirely ignoring the situation that had resulted in her being trapped back in this world, anyway. That was not going to happen again. Probably.

Fortunately, the rest of the small house on the outskirts of the city did appear to be abandoned. Unfortunately, that meant that there was no food in the house for her to steal while secretly living in the closet and only coming out when no one was around.

In hindsight, the human world had been very strange and she probably shouldn’t use too many of her experiences there as a basis for her decisions.

Enough distractions, though. Sunset Shimmer shook her head and took a deep breath. She needed to focus on what she was going to do going forward , not weird stories from another world.

It was surprisingly easy. The moment she decided to calm down the warmth in her heart flared up and a feeling of contentment and belonging spread throughout her.

“Woah.”

That was…

“Woah.”

She began to giggle as she basked in the everpresent comfort and warmth of the Crystal Heart—and that warmth wasn’t just metaphorical, either. One would think that she’d have been miserable and cold sleeping in an abandoned building made entirely of crystal, but while the room was dark and the crystal cold to the touch, she very much wasn’t, and even the shadows seemed to diminish as she tapped into the Crystal Heart’s freely-offered power.

The sky was darkening into evening by the time Sunset remembered that she had more to do than test the limits of the power that she could draw from the Crystal Heart. It might have been even longer if not for the fact that her stomach had begun to growl at her.

Her stomach had good reason to growl at her; it had been nearly twenty-four hours since she’d last eaten. That wasn't unusual for her in the grand scheme of things, considering that she had spent a lot of her time on the other side of the mirror subsisting on rice and eggs and shoplifting multivitamins from the grocery store. She was used to going hungry and could stick it out if she had to.

She didn't yet know if she would have to. It will depend on just how extensive the search for her was. Celestia had told them not to turn this situation into a mare hunt, but surely they would at least have guards out in the streets looking for her, right?

Not as such.

After improvising a crystal scrunchie out of an old necklace she’d found in another room of the abandoned house and using it to tie her mane back, Sunset Shimmer had carefully made her way out into the city, checking every corner and expecting the worst.

She did, eventually spot a few patrolls of guards searching for her, but they were really, really bad at it. That wasn’t even her own inflated sense of self-worth being bolstered by the crystal heart, either. They were seriously bad at it to the point that she wondered if there was some sort of misdirection going on.

Where were the posters, the checkpoints, the guards stationed in the high-traffic areas? All they seemed to be doing was sending a few ponies out in groups to look for her and ask the odd pony on the street if they’d seen her.

That couldn't be all, could it?

After an hour of sneaking around, she eventually decided that, yes, that was all they were actually doing and decided to actually see if she could scrounge up some food when it happened.

She’d been momentarily distracted by the simultaneously hard and crystalline yet pliable form that her body had taken and thus, forgot the one thing that her time as a not-very-good-person in the human world hadn’t taught her, which was to look up.

A pegasus guard landed right in front of her, catching her completely off-guard.

“Have you seen this unicorn mare, ma’am?” the guard asked, holding out an old photo of her a few years younger, not long before she’d gone through the mirror. “She’d be an adult now.”

Sunset was dumbstruck. Now, that is. Not in the photo. She just stood there, shocked, her mouth hanging open.

The guard nodded, as if that was the response that he’d expected from a crystal pony. “Alright. Thanks for giving me a moment of your time. If you do see her, we would appreciate it if you would let the guard know. Princess Celestia would like to have a word with her. She isn’t a criminal, but we wouldn’t recommend confronting her all the same. Have a good evening,” he said and flew off.

She continued to stare into the blank space that the guard had just vacated for a moment. “...Did that just happen?” she asked herself, then rushed off to the end of the alley she’d been in to make sure that the guard hadn’t flown straight off to get Celestia, but no, he was giving the exact same speech to another crystal pony, a practiced smile on his face.

Sunset blinked and watched him fly from pony to pony, as if he hadn’t just asked her if she’d seen herself.

Shining Armor must be really good in bed.

Seriously, poor Cadance. What was even the point of becoming a princess if you still had the same incompetent ponies working for you?

Wait, no. That had been a pegasus, not a crystal pony, meaning that guard would have had to have been one of Celestia's. Poor Celestia? Ehh, nah. Didn’t work. That one was entirely on her. It wasn’t as if she hadn't had a thousand-plus years to get it right.

Suddenly, Sunset really missed being able to engage in her voyeuristic hobby of scrying Twilight and the others, because she really wanted to know what the hell they were thinking. There had to be an explanation for this that she was missing, right? Sure, she’d done the minimum to blend in with the crystal ponies and changed her profile by tying her mane back, but there were limits to what she could believe.

If they were this incompetent, maybe she could get a job in the castle as a maid.

No. Best not to press her luck. They couldn’t be that incompetent, right?