• Published 5th Feb 2021
  • 1,820 Views, 87 Comments

Hostile History - Jest

Sunset Shimmer's is happy for the first time in a long time. She's accepted, has wonderful friends, and a life many would envy. Or is it all an illusion forced upon her by the very people she trusted? Only time will tell.

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Chapter 20

When Sunset Shimmer knew she’d be taking dinner with a lich version of Princess Platinum, she’d expected every terrible thing she could imagine. The drive out had only served to reinforce that expectation, with even Sonata seeming reluctant to get close to the place.

The rest of dinner however, did nothing to make her think anything strange was waiting for her in those strangely dark halls. Sunset Shimmer scarfed down some dessert, mostly because everyone wouldn’t stop watching her until she did so. But while Tempo produced a dusty bottle of strong-smelling liquid, Platinum gestured for Sunset to rise.

“You’re not old enough for that particular indulgence, pony. Dulling your senses would not serve the repair that we must perform,” Platinum stated.

Sunset looked pleading and desperate towards Tempo, but he offered no rescue. Only a polite nod, and assurances that- “the process is unpleasant, but entirely safe. The more cooperative you are with the premise, the fewer trips you will need to make to complete it successfully.”

Then Platinum led her from the dining hall and Sunset Shimmer got her first real look at the mansion she’d expected. Not just strange noises in the rooms and objects moving when she wasn’t looking—she felt real dark magic. The smell of mildew and decay was thick on the air, as she passed through a magical laboratory stranger than anything she’d seen in Equestria.

Vials were arranged along one wall, labeled in yellowed paper and covered in dust. But the machines arranged on the laboratory tables were brand new, right out of the B-roll of some bizarre supply store.

They passed a stainless-steel bench, with restraining straps slightly worn and damaged, and mysterious brown stains leading to a grate in the floor.

“Don’t worry,” Platinum assured her, urging her onward. “You are not here to have your potential wasted in some other way. This isn’t for you.”

But who is it for? Sunset thought, glancing back at a rack of polished knives. There was no dust on them, not a single fleck of rust. If anything, they looked recently used and recently maintained too.

“And you’re sure it’s safe?” Sunset Shimmer asked, her courage fading slightly during their trek through the doctor frankenstein’s laboratory.

They passed down another stairwell, taking them into a basement of rough stone and old concrete. It was so well-worn in places that she could see bits of the rebar emerging from the stone.

How long have you lived here? Sunset Shimmer wondered. The country she lived in, the one with some similarities to Equestria but far more differences—wasn’t anywhere near as old as the one she’d left behind.

The next chamber did very little to reassure her. An oversized tank, made of sturdy cement rose out of the floor. Dozens of little wires ran into it from both sides, occasionally darkening with little flickers of white.

“What the hell is that?” Sunset asked, staring down at the tank.

It was big, but not so big that it would be comfortable to be stuck inside. An ancient-looking computer sat beside it, the kind that had fist-sized vacuum tubes and racks of switches and wires. Instead of pleasantly cool like the rest of the house, Sunset felt the warmth of the tank beating against her.

“This is your treatment,” Platinum stated simply, marching straight over to the tank and pulling the heavy metal doors atop it open.

Inside was dark water, entirely black. At least there weren’t bodies floating down there, maybe with bits of bone and rotten clothing. If anything, it only smelled a little salty, though not quite like the ocean.

“I’ve been brainwashed by the Elements of Harmony,” Sunset stated. “And the cure is… a hot tub? How does this undo Equestrian magic?”

Platinum’s cold fingers tapped impatiently on the metal doors. “You are not just looking at a sensory deprivation tank, Sunset Shimmer. Those of us who have been trapped among humans for long enough have learned of their arts. You probably think they can’t do magic—that’s just not true. This is a kind of magic. The energy thrumming through that tank will wear away at the integrity of the spell on your mind, until it frays completely and frees the person underneath.”

Platinum walked past the tank, pulling out a little plastic cart. Folded towels rested inside, and there was a single rack with a hanger on one end.

“Remove everything you’re wearing and climb in. Within the hour, we’ll see significant progress. It would probably be done within the day, but Perfect insists the psychological damage that would cause doesn’t justify the urgency. We’ll only leave you there until it grows too uncomfortable, then I will let you out,” Platinum explained in an irritable tone.

Sunset almost turned and ran right there. An hour in a sensory deprivation tank, with electricity shocking her? “How much does it hurt?” Sunset Shimmer inquired, gesturing to the tank.

“Depends on the spell,” Platinum replied. “For a physical transformation, it would be physically painful. But your change was mental, so its erosion will be… mental as well. I don’t know the specifics. If I used it myself, I would decompose. That’s an inconvenience I would rather not experience today.”

Sunset nodded weakly, then reached up and slid her shirt and underclothes down to her legs. The rest followed, and she hung everything up where instructed. “What do I do, just climb inside?”

Platinum nodded. She watched Sunset with strangely blank eyes. “That I’m surprised you wouldn’t ask me to leave only reinforces how long I’ve been trapped in this… backwards plane of existence.”

Platinum strode to the machines, flicking a few more switches. The water lit up with little flashes of light, so weak they were like fairy lights submerged beneath the black water.

“Lay down, don’t move,” Platinum commanded. “Oh, and don’t use any magic while you’re in there. It erodes the newest magic first, so it will start with any active spells. When those are done, it will work on the older injuries.”

Sunset flung one leg over the edge, settling it into the water. It wasn’t cold, and the ground wasn’t slimy. Actually, the temperature was more pleasant than the outside air. “What if I want to come out earlier?”

Platinum shrugged. “The chamber is no longer locked. But understand that my time is precious. The more of my time you waste with repeated trips, the less gentle I will become. Remain until the sensation is no longer bearable, then exit. I’ll call your car while you dress.”

Nothing bit her in the dark, nor did Sunset feel anything swimming between her toes. She shivered once in the warm air, feeling some distant memory reminding her of when being naked hadn’t been so strange. Then she dropped into the water.

It wasn’t deep, maybe knee height. The salty smell was much stronger here, and she made sure not to open her mouth too wide. It probably wouldn’t be a pleasant taste if she made that mistake.

With the container closed overhead, the sound of the computer humming went abruptly silent. Sunset didn’t even need to fight to stay afloat, she just closed her eyes and let herself drift.

The dark surrounded her, all she felt. For long enough that she might’ve drifted off to sleep, or at least something close to sleep.

She couldn’t have said if she opened her eyes, or maybe she was dreaming. Suddenly Celestia was before her, watching with condemnation visible on her face.

Sunset felt the shame well in her chest at the memory, the mere image akin to salting a freshly open wound despite the age of this particular injury. This was the moment she’d learned the princess had lied. She wasn’t going to share the secrets of Alicorn magic with Sunset Shimmer not then, and not ever.

The darkness coalesced around her, and suddenly Sunset Shimmer was somewhere else. Fleeing through the mirror portal, to where she could escape the lies Celestia had made the material of her whole life.

Shouts rang in the distance—Royal Guards, looking to find her in the castle. She was to be tried for her disobedience and betrayal, she was sure of it. Maybe the princess would even make an example of her, and turn her to stone with the other evils of Equestria’s distant past.

But they didn’t catch her. Sunset passed through the portal, and her world faded again. Now she was at Canterlot High, trapped and humiliated by the rules of a new country she barely understood. She was supposed to be ruling, but instead she was forced to confront the powerlessness of her age in another world.

The shame of it grew each day, along with the mockery she increasingly believed she must deserve.

But then she’d taken control. There was a way out, if she waited long enough. Equestria could feel the wrath of the injustices it had done to her, if only she could bring a little magic with her.

A demon looked back at her, a demon of magic twisted by her rage and indignation. She wouldn’t be a slave to Celestia’s oppression any longer. She’d overthrow the tyrant herself if neccessary.

The demon grinned back at her, teeth wicked sharp and glittering.

“No,” Sunset Shimmer stated, shoving back, kicking and splashing in the water. “You’re not me. You hurt people, used people. You’re no better than her!”

The demon grinned back, and spoke with Sunset’s voice. “A revolution requires a little pain. Soldiers fall on both sides, but in the end the world we build is better for everyone. You always knew that. How much longer are you going to pretend that Equestria is something good?”

Her head throbbed, splitting headache summoning flashes of light that obscured all that she saw and made her stomach twist. But she didn’t puke—maybe part of the magic, or maybe the saltwater all around her.

As she felt herself rising from the depths of the saltwater basin her vision suddenly blurred and she was transported back in time.

The cold water and the grimy depths were gone, though the icy stone walls remained. They were joined by the chilly addition of steel binding her hooves together. Sunset felt her head turn to her right where another unicorn sat only a few feet away, her own forelimbs bound in a similar manner.

Her overall appearance was as unkempt and chaotic as her light teal mane which stuck out at random angles. Her slightly darker blue fur was signed in some places and her violet eyes stared unblinking at the stone floor of their cell. A quick glance at her cutie mark revealed a star tipped wand and a flourish of sparkling magic.

A magician of some kind. Sunset Shimmer thought to herself. She hasn't said anything since she got here though. I wonder what she did to earn the princesses’ ire.

“So,” Sunset Shimmer began. “What are you in for?”

“The great and…” the mare coughed. “Trixie does not know why she is here. I am sure this is all just a misunderstanding though for she has done nothing wrong.”

“You don't end up in the Canterlot dungeon over a misunderstanding,” Sunset Shimmer retorted.

Trixie waved her hooves dismissively. “Preposterous. Trixie has broken no laws, and done nothing wrong. This must all be a rather cruel joke of some kind.”

Sunset Shimmer found herself chuckling bitterly. “You really believe that don't you? If your down here you’ve already been judged and they don't lock up innocent people.”

“But Trixie did nothing,” murmured the mare, turning to Sunset. “Surely the princess wouldn't lock her up for no reason.”

“I asked one too many uncomfortable questions and look where it got me,” Sunset Shimmer replied, waving her cuffed forehooves in emphasis.

The unicorn wilted, her shoulders pulling inwards. “While they were dragging Trixie away they told her she was too powerful. That her illusions could beguile good ponies into doing wrong.”

“And now your here, awaiting the mare who will neuter you because she fears your abilities,” Sunset Shimmer finished, leaning against the frigid stone wall. “I hope you enjoy mediocrity.”

“B-but-” Trixie sputtered only for a hoof to emerge and bang on the heavy iron bars.

“Quiet in there!” Shouted a male voice.

The vision quickly slipped away, and Sunset Shimmer was scrambling to emerge from the salt water tank once more. As she fumbled blindly in the dark the memory faded, until all that was left was a vague feeling of resentment.

Instead of considering this strange development she reached up with one arm, searching desperately for a way to escape. She found the heavy lid and pushed, then stood. Her legs gave out beneath her and she splashed to her knees, arms hanging out the opening and head still pounding.

The world came suddenly back into focus. Her headache, but the lights began to fade. “That took longer than I expected,” Platinum remarked, eyes narrowing. “I didn’t think a pony like you would have the strength.”

“Me neither,” Sunset croaked.

Strange visions still flashed before her mind, half-seen images of Equestria and the demon that lurked inside her.

I don’t need the Element of Magic to have that power. It’s in me now, if I gather it the way he showed me. Sunset Shimmer reminded herself.

“Well, take some time to collect yourself. Your driver should be waiting upstairs by the time you’ve recovered,” Platinum turned, marching back through the strange lab and up into the house.

“Wait, I don’t know the way out!” Sunset Shimmer called, her voice turning suddenly desperate. “How do I get to the exit?”

“Believe me, the house won’t make it hard to leave when I don’t want you here,” Platinum replied, not even turning around to watch Sunset struggle out of the water. “We’ll speak again when you’ve recovered. The Elements’ corruption is still on you.”

Sunset watched her go, making a mental note of the directions she took. But then Platinum vanished up a set of distant stairs, and Sunset Shimmer was on her own.

Sunset dried and dressed alone in that dark place, with the sound of humming computers and dripping water to keep her company. She shied away from the polished metal of a support, fearful that she’d see a face that wasn’t quite her own reflected back.

But when she reluctantly looked, there was no face but her own, nor did any monsters come for her.

The trip back up was certainly not a pleasant one, all things considered. Without Tempo or even Platinum there beside her, Sunset felt as though the ire of an unseen thing was only a few steps behind her. She broke into a jog for no reason she could explain, dodging between twisting corridors and old dust filled rooms. Nothing in here looked like it was still lived in for centuries, or served any real purpose. It was the wreckage of another life, one Platinum had probably ended with contempt.

Then Sunset Shimmer had exited some side entrance she hadn't noticed, and she took her first breath of cool air. She tore her jeans slogging through a bit of thorny underbrush, until she made it to the gravel path.

Sonata was there, parked under the awning. She didn’t drive to catch up with Sunset, or offer to open the door for her. Instead Sunset gestured, and it levitated open without apparent effort. She clambered inside, and it shut again just as easily.

“Back to civilization,” Sunset Shimmer whispered, out of breath. “Fast as you can.”

“Oh, you’re wet,” Sonata announced, sniffing the air. “I like it. You should go swimming more often.”

They set off, nowhere near fast enough for Sunset’s taste.

Just wait until the girls hear about this. Sunset Shimmer thought.

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