• Published 23rd Nov 2022
  • 1,256 Views, 15 Comments

With Sunset Comes the Night - astrolatryy

The most loyal of Luna's servants goes by the name Sunset Shimmer.

  • ...

Pride Goeth Before Destruction

It was Cerberus who was the key to it all, in the end.

Of course, a terrible prison built to hold Equestria's worst enemies would need an equally terrible and vicious guard. She never learned where, exactly, the Princesses found the beast, nor how they managed to tame it, but in the end she saw firsthand its raw might when the Princesses returned to Tartarus once more to lead it down below.

They had made a bridge this time, a gate connecting Tartarus and the surface she yearned for. It was a rickety-seeming thing, a thin piece of stone barely held together by crumbling pillars, but it hadn't collapsed into the lava yet, and none of her kind's efforts had been able to make it crumble entirely. Perhaps it was more solid than it looked.

Either way, the Princesses rarely used it, favoring their wings; it seemed to be symbolic, perhaps an anchor for the magic that was keeping the entrance between Tartarus and the rest of the world open.

She lurked in her favorite place in the deep magma and watched the Princesses' descent. This time they carried something else between their shared magic—a huge creature built like a hellhound, covered in short brown fur and spouting three heads, each bearing fangs sharp and long enough to pierce through her like a falling stalactite.

When the Princesses settled it down and let go of their magic, the beast seemed disoriented for a moment, getting used to its new surroundings; tilting its heads this way and that, uneasy on its paws. The solar princess actually reached out and patted it with her hoof, of all things!

Then the princesses retreated, leaving with none of the fanfare they usually did, just soaring away until they were but pinpricks against the red cave roof of Tartarus.

The demon settled in to watch.

For a while, there was nothing, as her kind had finally learned that whatever came with the Princesses was more often than not going to throw them back across Tartarus or else cause immeasurable pain to their very being. But eventually a larger demon in bat shape with far too much courage got too close, perhaps eying up the Cerberus as a valuable meal, and—snap!

The beast moved too fast for her to even see. At first it looked like just a particularly stupid hellhound, pacing and panting and eying the spot where the sisters had disappeared. The bat-demon hovered a little behind one of its heads, looking for a weak spot to strike at much as she had done with opponents before. Its wings buzzed behind it and it darted this way and that, searching, repositioning, and with just a tiny readjustment it got too close for the beast's liking.

If nothing else, it was quite funny to see the dog shake the demon in its jaws around like a chew toy before spitting it out, sending the demon flying into the lava once more.

But she knew now: the dog was a guard. A viciously efficient one at that, if it was the only guard the Princesses had brought down to Tartarus. Six pairs of eyes meant there was no way she would be able to sneak past it and up to the surface.


She learned that Cerberus was a sacred figure to the diamond dogs. The biggest, most powerful dog in the pack, ruling over Tartarus all by himself? Of course the dogs would flock to appease a figure like that, bringing offerings in the hope that the beast would grant them some kind of favor.

She learned that every year, like clockwork, the Day Guard would escort a select delegation of diamond dogs down into Tartarus so that they could make their offerings.

This year, she decided, would be the year she made her move.

She wouldn't say that it was easy, but she wouldn't say that it was hard. It was certainly a challenge to sneak onto the bridge without being seen. There were far more ponies in Tartarus than there would be any other time of year, and the diamond dogs weren't dim, either. They had sharp eyes and sharper noses; they would certainly detect her if she flew too close.

But Tartarus' native smell of brimstone was one thing, and the incense they brought along on their pilgrimage was another, and they did a handy job of distracting her biggest worry, Cerberus. A demon would have no hope of sneaking past him; he was the perfect guard dog. Sneaking past a group of diamond dogs and the guards assigned to escort them, when the two groups were paying more attention to each other than her, however…

A thrill shot through her the first time her talons touched the stone leading to the surface. She couldn't look back; any hesitation could cost her. Just one glance over one of their shoulders…

But with that thrill came focus—the sharp knowledge that this was it, her only chance. If she was caught this time, next time it would be far harder to do this again. The Princesses would take precautions, perhaps even deciding to stand guard over the delegation themselves.

So she was quiet, but she was also fast, moving as quickly as she could, taking care to not let her talons click on the stone too much. She was quiet, and she was quick, and then she was out.

The surface air felt so much cooler compared to the brimstone heat of Tartarus. There was green, green grass, and green trees, and green plants, and a trail made out of soft dirt instead of the harsh stone or harsher magma she was accustomed to. When she craned her head up, the sky was blue—she could hear something chirping gently behind her, and when she snapped her head to look it was no monster bearing down on her but instead a little bird, feathered in yellow.

So this was the surface.

She didn't come here for its beauty, but she had to admit… it was beautiful.

Of course, that all came crashing down in the end.

Demons are not kind by nature. She never was, not even under Princess Luna's wing. She did not come to the surface for beauty, or for freedom. She came here for a better life, yes, but that better life was not going to be spent hiding herself away in some distant corner of Equestria.

No: she came here for power. She came here to rule. She would be the queen of her own domain, and her domain, she decided, would start with a rural, out-of-the-way town located in the desert.

Right on the edge of the Badlands, just far enough away to be considered a frontier but not so far out to be considered uninhabitable, was a little village with just as much of a name as the demon herself. It had to have only a few hundred ponies, maximum, and it was there that she touched down after flying all through the night, using the shadows of the clouds to conceal her distinctly winged form.

The night sky was stunning. Perhaps even more stunning than the pure blue of the day. She had her eyes up for a moment, and then she brought them back down; back down to the little village she lingered at the edges of, containing sleeping villagers ignorant to her lurking presence.

The little houses had thin, flimsy little wooden walls. She didn't even need to breathe fire to get into them; a swipe or two of her claws and the walls gave before her, opening up to reveal the tiny little ponies nestled within.

A flare of her magic, and their souls were bound easily enough. Their eyes filmed over to her cyan aura, and then their minds were hers, too.

She took over the village, and then she sent them marching to the next, laughing all the while. How easy it was for a demon like her to prey on Equestria! These little ponies were weak, soft; no wonder they needed two alicorns to protect them! All these years she'd spent sharpening her claws and cunning on other demons who sought to take her down, sought to prove they were better than her. Now she was free, and now she was the best.

Who knew that the Princesses would investigate the missing townfolk of those little villages? Who knew they would care about a part of their domain that was little more than sand and rock?

Her army swelled around her, a phalanx of little ponies who marched at her command, did her will, did not complain or try to fight back or even think of deserting. She was above them all, stretched across three of their backs, being carried in a living throne across the desert as she searched for the next village to take apart one by one.

Princess Celestia appeared in a flash of flaming magic, brilliant as her dawn. The demon’s wings flared in shock—and then her teeth bared in a snarl, as she remembered that same dawn light burning at the other demons who dared to approach too close.

"Celestia," she growled, rising from her makeshift throne. "How nice of you to visit. Where's your sister? Is she sleeping in?"

Ice washed over her as another alicorn's magic flared behind her. She turned, but it was too late—chains as dark as night had already snapped into place around her forearms, forcing her to the ground.

"Behind you," Princess Luna replied. She stiffened, a brief moment spent thinking of her next move.

"Defend me, you idiots!" she cried out at the ponies surrounding her.

Like little ponies were going to stop a princess. Her army surged around her, splitting into two groups to do as she commanded; but Luna was gone in a whisper of shadow before her ponies could even get their hooves on her, and from Celestia's horn poured a shield that glowed with raw power as the ponies attempted to attack her, keeping them at bay.

But the Princesses wouldn't dare to actually hurt their little ponies, would they? And more to the point, it gave her the chance to distract them—

—for just enough time to break Luna's chains, fire surging around her forearms as she called on her own magic to burn the princess' darkness away.

Fools. The point of her army wasn't to have warriors; the point of her army was to bind the power of their souls to her, to increase her own abilities. Demons are nearly soulless creatures, and they have always felt that deep hunger within them; she just knew it would be more convenient to leave the bodies around the souls alive, and look how it paid off.

"You will not defeat me!" she shrieked, rising into the air with two great flaps of her wings. Her claws glinted sharply in Celestia's burning light as she raised her hand, calling fire through the earth to answer her call. Cyan flames surged all around her, rising to obscure her form. "I have more power than you will ever know! I am ascendant!"

And she was going to get out of here. No demon could take on one of the sisters on their own, let alone two of them. She would have to re-evaluate her plan—this would be a setback, but not a loss, as long as she could escape.

She poured just a little more power into her fire, willing the circle of flames higher, higher; her army remained clustered around Celestia's shield, immune to her own fire, and meanwhile, she bolted.

In hindsight, this was a mistake.

She never knew just how fast the Princesses could fly.

Certainly, she'd thought—certainly, the heat of her fire beneath her wings would be enough of an updraft to give her a boost, and then from there she'd point herself downwards and dive to get enough speed, relying both on innate magic and the raw power of her leathery wings cutting through the air to get free—by the time the Princesses managed to extricate themselves from her makeshift army, she'd be several dozen souls down, but out of their sight.

Instead, what happened went something like this:

She bolted out of her makeshift ring of fire, and then felt the magic twist—the few wisps of cyan flame still coming off of her arms turned golden, and a sharp gust of heated air threw her off course, turbulence sending her into a tailspin.

Princess Celestia was on her before she could even blink; she'd begun to turn to defend herself and then she was on the ground, hooves still warm with the radiance of the sun pinning her without warning.

Princess Luna was there almost as fast, her dark wings strangely silent in the air—like an owl—and as she settled down she saw her horn light sapphire.

The lunar princess' magic arced to her, and she felt something in her form collapse in on itself. The magic which had just been running wild in her system, fueled by the souls bound to her, sparked and burnt out—the demon cried out, kicking against the ground, grasping at a hoof that would not let her free.

Luna's magic swirled, coalesced. Her magic was not creating chains; her magic was worse than chains. Her magic was in her skin—under it—changing it, shoving her true nature down under the depths of something dark. Her magic was twisting her into something new, something more like them; lesser than them, of course.

More like the ponies that just a few minutes ago she was enslaving without a second thought. Two arms and two legs became four legs, tipped with sharp hooves—her face shifted forwards, out—her ears pinned back in a way they shouldn't and her wings changed too, became smaller but also more dextrous, built for practical use, a form meant to hang from caves and ceilings in the darkness. The form of Luna's favored, the spell meant as a gift twisted to be used as a prison.

Of course, she didn't know any of that at the time. All she knew was the sensation of her magic slipping cruelly away from her, the enchantment on the ponies' souls lifting as her whole form could no longer make use of the power that came from them. All she knew was the feeling of once having been in power, feeling on top of the world, feeling superior; and all that slipping away as she was reminded that she was not superior. She was not the best, not even close. The Princesses were gods of their realm, and she was a fool to draw their ire.

She knew warmth slipping away, replaced by the cold of a short-furred body with too little inner fire. She knew pain, anguished cries as she registered everything that had happened to her.

She knew the magic of the spell overwhelming her, such a drastic change too intense to leave her conscious through it.

She knew darkness.

For a while, she languished. Not in the hellish brimstone of Tartarus, where she expected she'd be banished back to after the Princesses were done with her; apparently, they were worried about things like her safety back in the depths, now that her powers were sealed. How ironic.

And even with sealed powers, it seemed they worried that if she was capable of escaping from Tartarus once, she could do it again. That did bring her some amusement; the idea that the Princesses thought her so cunning that even in the lowly shape of a batpony she could find some way to slip past Cerberus again was flattering.

Of course, if they truly respected her, they wouldn't have sealed her in pony form in the first place. Ugh.

So there she was, trapped behind iron bars. Iron bars that she would have easily seared away in demon form, reduced to molten metal, were it not for the terrible fact of her form—and the equally terrible fact that even in batpony form, cold iron still burned. Not as much as it would have in her true form, she was pleased to note, but it still did nothing to change the fact that she was trapped below the Canterlot palace in a pathetic mortal prison.

The Princesses visited her regularly, of course. To ward off anything she might have attempted with the member of the Night Guard posted to watch her; though she wouldn't have gotten far with them if she tried. She did not quite look like a natural batpony, it turned out, what with the carmine coat and all, and something about her naturally unsettled the other batponies. Also, she suspected they were under orders to not make conversation with her; who knew what a demon's tongue could accomplish?

About as much as the rest of her while in that prison. It grated at her. Even in Tartarus she was not helpless; she could wait, she could watch, she could plan, she could fight other demons for their power and steal it for her own. Here, trapped in a mortal shell, she was just a pawn of the same things every mortal pony would. She even had to eat instead of sustaining herself on the energy of the souls chained to her. How dare. This was no fate for a demon like her.

But there seemed to be nothing she could do. All she could do was languish in that cell, count her hoofsteps as she paced between sparse amenities, adjust to her cursed new form, and talk with the princesses.

It was Celestia who visited her first. At first, the princess sat outside her cell, gazing in, wearing an expression of warm patience that she doubted was real. That's all she would do: day after day, relieving the guard with a gentle wave of her wing, sitting there, existing. It was so regular that she began to mark the passage of time with Celestia's appearance.

Eventually, she finally broke.

"What do you think you're doing, sitting outside my cell every day? This is worthless. If you want to taunt me, get on with it. Otherwise, leave."

She was in no space to make those kinds of demands, and she was sure they both knew it. But instead of rising to those angry words in any way, Celestia just tilted her head and looked at her, her eyes going soft with… concern?

"You must be terribly uncomfortable in that sparse cell. Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?"

She stared.

Celestia looked back, expression still as warm as ever.

She stared some more.

Then she began to laugh; a cackling, rough sound that almost brought her to her knees, trying to process the sheer incredulousness of the princess of the sun—the princess whose ponies she'd enslaved, the princess whose ponies she'd forced to attack her—asking her, the demon forced into mortal shape, if she was comfortable.

It sounded like a joke. It should have been a joke. She was willing to give the idea that Princess Celestia had a great sense of humor—a twisted sense of humor, but hey, was the demon supposed to judge?

But when she looked back into Celestia's eyes, all she saw was raw, shining earnesty.

"As if I'd let you anywhere near me again," she spat, sitting back on her haunches. Demons didn't need comfort, anyway. Demons were used to endless fire and brimstone, searing heat, and just being outside of that space was a damned luxury. "Go away."

"As you wish," Celestia said with a gentle incline of her head, earning a confused blink on her part. But when she craned her neck to try and see if she could spot any sign of a crack in what should be a facade, the princess was already on her hooves and halfway down the hall.

Celestia was back the next day, of course. She had no idea what the princess wanted to accomplish with this whole 'playing nice' approach, but, hey, if she wanted to waste her time, that was her problem. She was more than happy to stare blankly at her in response to her questions about her comfort and if there was anything she wanted; or else tell her to piss off and be surprised every time when the princess actually complied. The idea that one of the Diarchs of Equestria would listen to her about anything, even if it was just part of the nice pony act, still gave her whiplash.

It wasn't that the cell was particularly uncomfortable. Far from it. It wasn't luxurious, of course, but she didn't particularly have an idea of luxury, anyway, her only experience with the pony world besides being locked up beneath Canterlot being a couple shabby hick towns out in the desert. But it wasn't raw stone and cold iron chains; the bed was soft, there was actually a carpet on the floor, and the water from the sink ran clear. The air was fresh and clean and did not smell of mildew; the walls were in pristine condition and had no moss or mold to speak of growing on them.

It wasn't like she was used to mortal amenities, anyway. She could have slept on a raw bedframe and been fine with it as long as it wasn't cold iron. She didn't need these things. The only reason she had them was because of that damn cursed form.

The one problem with it, really—and it was stupid to even think of it as a problem, really, damn Celestia for bringing the question up in the first place—was that it was cold down there.

It's simply—as a demon, she's certain she could deal with any temperature. Her body burned from the inside, magma-hot. Temperature was a mortal need like many others, and she had been exempt from that.

But as a batpony—as a batpony, her inner fire was still there. She could feel it burning against her heart, deep, deep inside her mortal prison. But it was weak, muted. With the short-cropped coat and a body that she was unfamiliar with, hadn't been living with all her life, had it forced upon her without warning; the cold was a terrible thing.

It wasn't enough to force her to shiver—thankfully, Tartarus forbid she show any sign of weakness in front of the princess—but it was a constant presence in the back of her mind, irritating as a fly, making itself aware in the moments where she wasn’t distracted by anything else. Which was often, because it wasn't like there was much to do down there in her little cell, was there?

Another thing that would be nice; another thing she refused to bring herself low enough to ask for. She did not trust Celestia to come through on her promises, anyhow. Or if she did, it would be held over her head—a debt to be repaid.

This must have been Celestia's plan. To play nice, to trick her into asking for something, only to use that as leverage for later. A demon like her, a demon with her cunning, must be useful for many things, even trapped in batpony form.

Of course. Why else would anypony show a demon kindness?

Not to forget about Princess Luna. While Celestia was a constant irritation in her life, only useful in reminding her of the passage of time, when Luna showed up, she got right to the point.

"Demon," Luna called, and said demon glanced up to find her sitting right in front of the bars to her cell. Unlike Celestia, she did not dismiss the batpony standing guard; unlike Celestia, she dared to call her first. "Have you a name?"

"No," she replied, in a why-would-you-think-I-have-one tone of voice. How little did the princess know about demons? Surely they would know better than to think a demon would have a name—demons didn't need one. They weren't going to address each other. At least not for long enough to need a name; truces ended in backstabbing more often than they didn't.

"Hm," Luna said, and the demon dared to circle closer to the bars; not within reach, because those things burned like ice and she had no need to earn a bar-shaped brand upon her coat, but closer.

"Why are you here? I thought Celestia had irritating me covered."

"Celestia thinks she can redeem you," Luna answered, earning a moment of stunned silence out of her. Both for the fact that Luna admitted that so readily, and for the fact that Celestia apparently thought that she could…?

What? Turn her good? Civilize her, so that she could walk among the populace like any other pony?

Forget it. Walking among the mortals in the same cursed shape as them sounded worse than going back to Tartarus. At least there the hellfire might have the courtesy of unbinding her.

She snorted. "I hadn't been aware your sister was that hopelessly naive."

"Not naive," Luna said, steel in her voice. "She has turned worse than you to our side in the past."

"Does she think she can trust me?" She laughed. "Does she think she'll ever be able to trust me? She's being ridiculous. Throw me back to Tartarus already."

"No," Luna said, as expected. Worth a shot. "Even if your form was fit for those depths, We prefer keeping you down here. You could be useful to Us."

Now that—that grabbed her attention. A princess seeking to redeem her out of the kindness of her heart? She supposed she could believe it when coming from the other sister's mouth. Princess Luna seemed the colder of the two; harsher, but more honest. Princess Celestia had been dancing around the topic, trying to butter her up with requests such as comfort. Princess Luna, on the other hoof, came right out and said what she suspected all along.

She liked that. That meant Princess Luna was less likely to play mind games with her. She could manipulate and dance circles around others as good as any demon could, of course, but the fact that Luna simply cut to the chase meant that at worst, she would at least waste less of her time.

Not that she didn't have plenty of it down here in these blasted depths, but it was the principle of the matter.

"You say I can be useful to you. How?" she asked, wondering if she would get a proper answer this time, too.

"You are clearly gifted in the arts of demonic magic," Luna said. Her gaze felt like it pierced straight through her, into her soul. She held eye contact regardless. She would not show weakness. "Who else under Our command could enslave dozens of ponies as easily as breathing? Who else under Our command could break Our chains, even if for a few moments?"

The demon paused, mulling over her words. To reveal this information could be dangerous—then again, she was already trapped in a weakened form. What else did she have to lose? "You know that was because I had so many souls under my command, right? I could never have overwhelmed your magic normally."

"You hardly had those souls beneath your command when you escaped from Tartarus," Luna said. "Which neither We nor Our sister have learned how you did, by the by. And when you escaped, you did not immediately charge to the center of Our power—as most might have—but instead chose to attack the lesser-known reaches of Our realm, giving you much time to amass the power you did. Even with your powers sealed in this form, you display a level of cunning that I value in my servants. You would be a worthy ally indeed should you choose to join Our side."

Well, call her flattered. She listened to this with sharply narrowed eyes, wings shifting automatically at her side as she processed everything that Luna brought up. All of these things were true, and a Tartarus of a compliment at that. It wasn't quite an offer, but it was a whisper of one; an acknowledgement that she would be useful, that she could be wanted at the sisters' sides.

Her first thought, of course, was What's in it for me? There had to be something. The Princesses could hardly expect her to work for them out of the goodness of her own heart. But to actually ask that would be tantamount to admitting interest in this deal—something she hardly wanted to admit just yet.

She needed to play this slow and steady, figure out what little leverage she had in this mess. It wasn't that she was totally repulsed by the offer, despite everything. This could be her only chance to go out and do something in the world without earning the sisters' ire once more. They'd foiled her once, and she would be a fool to think that they couldn't do it again.

But part of her still balked at the thought of working with the ponies who trapped her like this. This accursed form that she still hadn't gotten used to—too cold, and too finicky, and too mortal. Damn them.

She needed more information. "What makes you think you can trust me?"

Luna laughed, then, a cold and low thing that sent a shiver down her spine. "That is the crux of the matter, is it not? To do Our bidding would put you in a lofty position indeed; endorsed by the very rulers of the realm. We both know you could use that against Us.

Still, We have faith you do not wish to be trapped in this prison for eternity. We will be back on the morrow to continue this discussion."

And just like that, Luna left, her starlight mane trailing behind her as she trotted back down the hall.

She sat there for a while, thinking about the offer Luna had all but left in her lap; thinking about Celestia's irritating tendency to wait outside her cell, putting kindness on offer the same way Luna had the idea of being something useful to them.

Tartarus, but she had really gotten herself in deep, hadn't she?

And worst of all: she was thinking about it. A life beneath the sisters' wing. Shouldn't that feel like the same kind of stifling thing that had driven her to escape that pit of hell in the first place? She would be under someone else's command; like Cerberus, a lapdog to be used.

But what other choices did she have?

Luna's visit also brought something else to her mind, though it took a good while to dig its way to the forefront.

Luna was back as previously promised, but the two of them hardly got anywhere with their conversation. She was not yet willing to budge on her opinions towards the princesses, and then there was the matter that even if she was eager to work beneath the princesses' command as Luna suggested, it wasn't like they could trust her. It would be an easy ploy to talk her way out of the cell and then bolt at the first sign of freedom. Equestria was a large realm, and then there were the places beyond Equestria—places that even the princesses did not rule. Perhaps they could track her down even then—they certainly had the wings to do it—but would it be worth it? Some demon causing trouble in a backwater country would hardly be their concern.

Except, she could easily see it becoming their concern. With enough souls, she could easily pose a threat to even a duo of alicorns. Perhaps they could see her becoming obsessed with revenge, sending an army to knock down the doors of the Canterlot palace. It wasn't completely out of the question. She could see herself trying to take her pound of flesh from the ponies who locked her in this abhorrent mortal form in the first place.

…but, not as much as she could before. They weren't the worst jailers, she supposed. And a direct attack on the princesses would, of course, be monumentally stupid—Equestria hadn't lasted this long as a nation for nothing.

And then there was the thought that perhaps the princesses would track her down out of the genuine want to save the pour little souls that she'd inevitably put under her control if she escaped. Certainly they seemed to care about the ponies underneath their rule; something that felt so very foreign to her compared to the harsh landscapes of Tartarus. Not like there was anything much to rule in Tartarus other than lava and the sisters' prison (and they all knew that was under Cerberus' rule), but demons loved to subjugate, even—especially—lesser demons. The one with the most power ruled because they enjoyed watching others serve them, and because they enjoyed the power that brought to them in kind.

Why did the princesses rule? It was a question she never sought to ask herself in the past, but now…

Now, the princesses capturing her and then daring to interact with her after the fact instead of consigning her to this dark hole to rot—well, it stoked her curiosity. She had questions, whether she wanted to or not. Somehow, the princesses had wormed themselves into the back of her mind. She supposed it was only inevitable. What else was she supposed to think about, the constant rotation of batpony guards outside the cold iron bars of her cell when the princesses weren't around? The stone surrounding her on all sides? The bed she slept on?


There was one thought in particular that followed her from Luna's visit; a thought she finally posed one day (at least, she assumed it was day) as Celestia sat outside her cell.

"How am I supposed to trust you?"

"Mm?" Celestia asked, turning to face her.

"How in Tartarus am I supposed to trust you?" she repeated. "You've been acting all nice to me, keeping me company outside my cell and asking if there's anything I want, but how do I know you'll follow through? How do I know you're not doing this just because you want something to hold over my head? You're one of the reasons why I'm in this damn form to begin with."

She hadn't meant to let her anger seep into that last sentence, but she was right. She was right to be angry, when the princesses stripped all her fiery brilliance away from her and left her in this. It's not like they could do anything else—it would be stupid to leave her in her true form, when it granted her so much power—but she still seethed at it every time she flared her wings and felt them fold open far differently than they should. They've got fingers now, and she can grab things with them, theoretically even hang from the ceiling with their talons, and while that's a marked improvement from the way her wings were in her true form it doesn't mean she has to like it.

"An excellent question," Celestia replied, "And one I unfortunately have no answer for. You think you cannot trust me; well, how could you trust any of the answers I were to give you? I could tell you the things my sister told you—that you could help us, and that I want you alive and comfortable for that reason. I could tell you it would be to show you that you do not have to hold us as your enemy. I certainly do not see you as an enemy myself."

"It could even be—" she continued, and was that a twinkle in her eye? "—out of the goodness of my heart. A demon's life cannot be easy. What luxury could there be for you to find down in Tartarus? You seem different from the rest of your kind. Perhaps I simply think that I could convince you to do better than this. Instead of consigning yourself to the edges of society, preying upon the weak, you could live a life where you no longer have to see the whole world as your enemy. You do not have to fight. You do not have to see an enemy around every corner. You could be better than this, and the world would reward you in kind."

"You are naive," the demon replied. She hadn't meant to phrase it quite that way—hadn't meant to insult the princess to her face—but what else could she say? What else could she say to a speech like that, so full of idealism and righteousness? The idea that she could be redeemed is—it was rubbish. Yes, she could do good for the sisters. She could help them, and she supposed that would put her on the side of good.

But this idea that she would ever be accepted among others, that the ponies the princesses ruled would ever stop seeing her as a threat? Hah. "There is nothing like that out there for me. The only good I can have in my life is whatever I can take for myself. You can say a few pretty words about doing good, doing better, but all I'm hearing is empty air."

Celestia didn't seem insulted by her tirade, at least, which was nice. The last thing she wanted was to offend the solar princess and be reduced to ashes. It was a miracle the sisters decided to capture her alive in the first place, now that she thought about it. It's a good thing she apparently seemed so useful to them.

"You say the only good you can have in your life is whatever you can fight for," Celestia said. "What if I told you there wasn't—that you could have that which makes you happy without having to earn it?"

"...I'd say that sounds like a load of bullshit," she said, hesitantly. That tone of voice that Celestia was using suggested that she was about to sucker her into some moral trap.

"Then I shall prove otherwise to you. Tell me—is there anything you want in your cell that could make you more comfortable?"

Ah. This again. This again. She could see now; by Celestia proving that she could be trusted to provide nice things to her, she would be forced to concede at least part of her moral argument.

"Yeah, okay," she said. "What's the catch."

"None. You have my word that you will not owe me anything for this," Celestia said. "I only wish to make the creatures under my care content."

That was an odd way to word it. It sounded like Celestia was including her in that.

Fancy words. They meant nothing to her. Celestia's word meant nothing to her. She could keep her promises to the commonfolk all she wanted, she could believe that, but nopony would know if Celestia broke those promises to a poor little demon locked up in the depths of the palace.

Still… she supposed refusing this request would be akin to backing out of the argument entirely. Celestia was trying to make a point here by making this offer. If she told her to piss off, well, that would break down her argument, too. It wouldn't be that she couldn't have anything good in her life without fighting it; it would be that she would be actively pushing away the good in her life, rejecting an offer dangling beneath her nose because she didn't like the pony offering it very much.

She wondered if that was what Celestia was going for all along.

"If I finally answer your question, will you leave me alone?" she asked.

"Yes, for today," Celestia said, and she supposed that was the best she would be able to get about this annoying princess of the sun who wouldn't take the hint and leave her alone.

"Fine," she said. A huff. "I guess… I guess I'm uncomfortable because it's fucking cold down here," she said, shifting one leg a little as if to cross her arms before remembering herself. Unfortunately, it would probably be too much to ask for Celestia to unbind her already.

"As you wish," Celestia said, with such joy in her voice that she almost wanted to rescind the entire thing altogether. Of course it'd make the batty old mare so damn happy for her to answer the question she'd been asking her this entire time. Just getting the sentence out made her feel uncomfortably vulnerable. Not like she wasn't vulnerable around the princesses the entire time in the first place, but…

Celestia's horn lit up, and her thoughts trailed off in favor of watching her magic warily. A warm wisp of golden light trailed off of Celestia's horn and through the bars—she felt a hint of envy, seeing her magic float through so easily—and just behind her. As she turned her head to watch, it coalesced in the middle of the room; lighting up like a miniature sun, bathing the cell in radiance.

The heat coming off the wisp was hardly enough to burn, nowhere near the searing heat of Tartarus, but it chased the cold away immediately, filling the room with a radiant warmth that made her breathe a sigh of relief without realizing. Finally, there was heat in her bones; finally, she didn't feel like she had to pull her wings tight against her body to preserve any scrap of warmth; finally, she didn't feel close to shivering.

Celestia was still sitting there beyond the bars, of course, looking at her expectantly.

"What?" she said, sitting down near the firelight with a huff. "You said you would leave after I answered your question."

"That I did," she said, standing and stretching her wings with a flutter. "I will be back tomorrow, of course, to see how you are doing."

"Of course," she huffed. "Can't go a day without you."

She waited until Celestia was out of sight before curling closer to the firelight, ending up laid underneath it with her back legs tucked up behind her in an arrangement that she thought made sense for her body. It was hard to tell, working with four legs instead of two.

It wasn't that she was enjoying this, of course. She was just taking every bit of enjoyment she could from this miserable life before it was inevitably snatched away again. After all; how could the sisters be kind to her for any length of time? How could this last?

"I see you and Our sister are getting along," were Luna's first words as she trotted up to the cell in the evening.

The demon watched her with wary eyes as she approached, not bothering to get up from underneath the firelight wisp still floating in the center of her cell. She hoped Luna couldn't tell that she'd been napping.

"She said she'd fuck off if I finally answered her question," she replied, searching Luna's expression for any hint of teasing or mirth. But there was none; the only expression she could find on Luna's face was curiosity.

"And what question would that be?" Luna asked.

"She asked if there was anything she could do to make me comfortable."

"Ah," Luna said. "And you took her up on this?"

"Again," she said. "Told me she'd leave me alone if I finally did it."

"For how long?"

A sigh. "Just until tomorrow. Is she always this persistent with you?"

It was meant as an offhand remark, but it surprised her to see actual amusement on Luna's face at the words.

"My sister is a patient mare. As the sun shall rise each day, so she knows that she shall always have tomorrow to enact her goals. Even if those goals are, say, pushing me to finally interact with the few petitioners that truly require my time," Luna said.

"And you?" she asked, curious.

If anything, Luna seemed only more amused at her prying. "I prefer to strike when the proper moment is near. The night is fleeting; darkness only serves its purpose as long as the one wielding it is still hidden. A proper ambush is swift as well as silent."

Having planned and executed several ambushes on rival demons in the past, she could see the appeal. Maybe her and Luna were more similar than she thought.

…ugh, she really just thought that. All this proximity to the princesses was going to make her soft.

"Have you been mulling over our offer?" Luna said. She lifted her head a little.

"It's hardly an offer," she said. "As I see it, neither of you can trust me enough to let me out of this cell in the first place."

"I believe we are getting there," Luna said.

She barked out a laugh. "Really? I'm flattered."

"My question still stands."

"Sure, whatever. I guess I could see myself serving under you. It isn't like I have a choice. It's either stay locked up here or go back to Tartarus."

Luna frowned. "You truly think yourself so trapped?"

"You two will just hunt me down again if I leave. Either you get so fed up with always watching over me that you unbind me and lock me back in Tartarus, or you find some way to prevent me from sabotaging anything important and use me as your servant."

"I see."

She didn't see, actually, what Luna seemed so concerned about—which concerned her in turn. In her eyes, those were the only two options. What third option would Luna have in mind that would made her react like that? She would say the worst option would be to throw her back in Tartarus, (even locked in a batpony form, at least she would have some measure of freedom underneath the sisters' wings) but the strange expression on Luna's face made her fear for an even worse option. Perhaps they would figure out a way to use her as a servant and restrict her freedom at the same time. What horrible magics could they use upon her?

She watched Luna leave the cell with a building sense of disquiet and dread.

"Luna mentioned something interesting to me the other night," Celestia opened her conversation with, and oh, Tartarus, here they went again. The dread she'd managed to put in the back of her mind renewed itself in full force.

"Which was?" she asked, readjusting herself under the firelight, keeping her expression neutral. She would not show weakness.

"Do you truly think your only options in life are to serve in this palace or to go back to Tartarus?"

"If you have any other brilliant ideas, Princess," she said, already irritated by the constant discussion of a topic that should have been settled and closed yesterday— "I would love to hear them."

"Perhaps we cannot let you free for the moment," Celestia said. "But there are certainly ways to let you live a proper life. I do not mean to make you feel trapped."

Celestia paused for a moment to let the irony sink in. The demon herself would laugh if she simply wasn't waiting for the Princess to get on with it.

"Current circumstances aside," Celestia continued. "This imprisonment does not have to be for the rest of your life. That would be a terribly long time, as we both know. Perhaps you must stay here for now for the safety of my ponies, but that does not mean you have to be trapped down here forever. You are different from the rest of your kind, demon. I have faith you can prove yourself to be better than this."

And it was the strangest thing, listening to Celestia's little speech. All this fluffy goodness about how she could be different aside, there was something about the way the princess said the word 'demon' that struck her as odd. She did not spit it out as an insult, or say it with an undertone of terror under her breath as most creatures would. Celestia said it like a name. Like a matter of fact, something she was instead of some distant epithet, to set the monster apart from the pony.

She heard it, and she was struck almost with the urge to say that's not my name. But what was her name, then? She had no name. She was a demon—she had no name.

Why was that suddenly an issue for her, now? Truly she had been spending too much time around ponies. Truly, she had been spending too much time around precious alicorns who thought the magic of good and friendship was a real thing. Truly, she had been spending too much time around mares who believed she could be redeemed.

"Go on, then," she huffed. "What other life do you envision for me?"

"Perhaps after you prove yourself to be trustworthy, you could live in the palace as some other role," she said. "You would still require royal oversight, of course, but I do not wish to consign you to a servant's life where your only will would be ours. You would be a worthy guard, or—" She laughed slightly. "—if it strikes your fancy, a chef, or a painter, or an architect. The Crown requires the effort of many ponies to function as it does, and I am grateful for them all."

"Or perhaps," Celestia continued. "Perhaps with enough time, we could let you out of the palace altogether. It would take a little while, but for a creature like you, the time it would take to fully deem you as trustworthy would not be so long after all. We could send you out to one of our frontier towns; our first castle near the White Tail Woods has been gathering dust for quite some time, it's quite a lovely place. Or if you prefer deserts, there's plenty of space in the mesas for a new settlement to grow.

"The point of all this is that you have options. You do not have to rot away in this little cell, and you do not have to go back to Tartarus. You can live, demon. Far better than you could before all this."

To her surprise, the emotion that welled up inside her at listening to all of this was not anger at being pitied, nor disbelief. It was confusion. Confusion at the thought that Celestia simply had all these ideas up on offer in the first place. Confusion that Celestia would waste so much of her time sitting here day after day when her sister could do the duty of checking up on their prisoner just as well; or, better, to just leave her alone in the company of guards that would never do so much as glance at her.

Confusion that Celestia would treat a demon like somepony to be rehabilitated, not somepony to be destroyed.

Could this be a trick? Some way to maneuver her into a more vulnerable position? She thought of it for a moment, but quickly discarded the idea. If Celestia was going to trick her, she would have done it long ago. She would have done it with the firelight hovering in her cell; the warmth still radiating pleasantly through her bones.

She did her a favor. She did this to prove a point. She did this to prove the point that she could have nice things.

"...why?" she asked, and Celestia tilted her head in a question. "Why do all this? What's the damn point? You've wasted so much of your time sitting here outside of my cell, trying to get me to open up. Well, you've done it. I answered your question. I've listened to you ramble about 'goodness' or whatever. You should be done with me by now. You've proven whatever point you wanted to make. Go home."

"Why?" Celestia replied. "Why, I thought that should be obvious. I will admit to not knowing the first thing about a demon's life, but it seems to me that life in Tartarus must not be a particularly pleasant life at all, if you believe such things as 'good things can only come to me if I take them'. You hesitate so terribly at the thought of mere warmth, thinking of it some trick or deceit. I want to show you that there is a better way. That there can be more for you, if only you realize that life is not all destruction and brimstone.

"Perhaps if I ask a question to you in kind, it may help. Why, upon escaping Tartarus, was your first action to attack my ponies and enslave their souls?"

It was a miracle that Celestia managed to say that last sentence perfectly evenly; without any anger and resentment at all, despite the fact that she must have some. They were enemies. They had to be, because she attacked Celestia's subjects. They were hers, and she stole what was hers, and for any other demon that would be a crime worth hunting her down for the rest of their lives.

It was this thought that made her hesitate at answering the question. Even if she seemed perfectly even now, surely that was a facade? Answering the question seemed like a great way to stoke Celestia's anger further. Perhaps then she might give up on this foolish quest entirely; to leave her all alone in the depths of these dungeons, and to command her sister to do the same.

(Why was that a bad thing, now? She refused to answer the thought.)

But they were having a debate, and it would be a very poor debate indeed if she bowed out at the question now.

So she said, "Power. Why else? I take their souls, I gain the magic from them, I rule over everypony else. There was nothing down in Tartarus for me. Petty infighting with other demons and watching those idiots get flung back into the lava by your little guard dog would never have gotten me anywhere. Up here I could do anything. Up here I could carve out a niche for myself, and rule supreme."

"I see," Celestia said, with just the same evenness in her tone that made her think that something else was coming. "And why were you amassing that power? What would taking over a part of Equestria have gotten you?"

"Why was I collecting power? Are you serious? Where would I be without power? What would I do without the ability to blast apart anyone who gets in my way? If I just sat there and let other demons take it from me, I'd have been dead long before you two came down to Tartarus and made it your personal dungeon. I'm not an idiot."

"What would you have done with that power, then, when you had it? What would you have gotten from ruling over Equestria?"

"You're asking an awful lot of questions," she said.

Celestia just looked at her with that unending patience of hers in reply.

"Fine. I would have… used that as a jumping off point to take over more of Equestria, I guess. Or expand back out into the Badlands, depends on how much I thought you would have taken offense to me taking more ponies closer into the border. I never expected the two of you to care about those backwater towns, that's why I went out there. A few ponies go missing on the frontier, nopony's supposed to care. It takes too much effort to get out there. Not their problem. So…" She frowned in thought, the question sending the tactician's part of her brain into gear. "So I guess, I set up some kind of power base in the Badlands. Start snatching more ponies. Get more power. Push further in… I guess I would have pissed you two off eventually, I didn't plan for that. Hm."

Celestia had started to look bemused. It took her a moment or two to notice the change in expression on her face; she huffed, looking her in the eyes. "Was there a point to all this?"

"Say your goals were finally achieved. Say, somehow… you managed to defeat us. You would have taken over Equestria entirely, or at least part of it. What would you have done with your subjects? At the end of all your goals, what would you have done with that power?"

"Me? Defeat you?" She huffed. Celestia stayed silent again, and she rolled her eyes, continuing on with her answer. "Okay, I guess if I somehow managed to pull that off…"

She was quiet for a little, thinking. "Well, I'd have an empire in Equestria, wouldn't I? I guess I would have ended up a little like you. Ruling over my own nation of enslaved ponies, making them work to survive… using them as servants… living in luxury. Being free. Being powerful.

She frowned. "Of course, the remaining native Equestrians would have posed a threat. And Equestria's neighboring nations—I suppose I could have bought off the griffons and the diamond dogs with enough wealth. Maybe the dragons depending on their Fire Lord. But I would have had enemies, of course I would have. Not many ponies would be okay with my nation of slaves, and I doubt other nations would be, either. I would be fighting constantly, either to overthrow them or to be… overthrown in kind.

What were the odds that, eventually, even with the princesses out of the picture, somepony would manage to storm the gates of her great fiery palace and cast her down? It would be a constant life of planning, organizing, lying in wait to strike her enemies down before they got the chance to strike her down. She would always have to be on her guard.

Just like in Tartarus.

"What was the point of all this?" she bit out, but she already knew. Celestia wanted her to think through her goals, the things she had wanted to do—think them through to the very end and see what would come of them.

And she had. Before, this realization would not have disturbed her; before, she would have rationalized it away as being 'better than Tartarus'. And the idea of ruling over her own chunk of Equestria was better than Tartarus, at least; at least there she would have traded living in a pit of lava for living in a palace, having her servants attend to her every whim while she spent her time tearing down her enemies.

But Celestia has been going on and on about how she had options. How there was another way, even for a demon like her. She found that hard to believe. Take her offer of letting her move to the White Tail Woods, to whatever that settlement that was being built was. Who would want a demon in their settlement? Who would want a demon living among them, even in mortal shape? Even if she was in batpony form—well, even the other batponies steered away from a pony like her. It was clear that she was fundamentally wrong somehow; even suppressed as it was, her inner magic shone through.

She made it clear she had options. Did she? Was there a better life for her? Would there ever be a life free of strife for a pony like her?

"What do you think?" Celestia replied, and her gentle tone made her blood boil.

"Leave me alone. Let me—let me think about it," she spat out, and regretted the words immediately. Regretted giving Celestia a sign that she might actually be considering her ridiculous, grandiose ideas. Naive, naive, naive. Despite all her years and despite how much age the solar princess had on her, somehow, she believed in the stupid foalhood dreams a demon like her had never had.

"Of course. Take all the time you need," Celestia said, standing. For a ridiculous moment, she almost wanted to interrogate her further. But there was nothing to interrogate her for, and she feared that the larger part of her that just wanted the mare out of her sight would do something rash the longer she stayed, like scream at her, or break down completely.

Damn the princess. Damn her to Tartarus.

In the quiet between Celestia's visit and Luna's, she thought.

It wasn't like she had much better to do, locked away in this cell she could not escape, but Celestia's words had set gears spinning in her mind.

Power. It all came down to power in the end. How she obsessed over it before her escape from Tartarus. And after, in those few brief weeks of freedom before the princesses descended upon her to end it all.

She could flee them. Celestia thought she was making progress. It would be easier, now, to put on a facade. To pretend that she was following along with the princess' perfect program, to make her believe that she was truly redeemed, that she had truly changed her ways. Just long enough for the princesses to let her out of this cell. Just long enough that their gazes would slip from her, just for a short amount of time—just long enough for her to flee into the wilderness, and never come back.

She didn't care about this cursed mortal form anymore. She missed her old body, her true form, her magic; but the longer she stayed in this form and the longer she adjusted to it, the more she began to realize how much of a hidden gift it was. She still had her wings, and she could still see sharper in the dark than any of the other pony tribes could. She could fly under cover of night, catch the air and flee before Luna and Celestia knew what was going on. By the time they realized that their little prisoner had left, she would already be halfway to the Badlands.

Her demon form was useful for taking souls, amassing power, casting spells she couldn't in this mortal form. But in this form she could walk among other mortals; she would look strange, and off, but she doubted they would attack her on sight. She would be an idle curiosity; something to gawk at, but not something to hunt down and destroy. Her plan—her plan for power, glory, servants and luxury—Celestia had made her see how useless it was. But freedom: freedom was a thing easily found with enough cunning, and she was willing to fight for that.

She could run. She could run from Equestria, let the whole world spread out beneath her wings. Perhaps instead of fleeing past the Badlands she could flee to the dragonlands, or across the ocean, to the zebras. She would have anywhere in the world once she was outside of this damned palace and she doubted the princesses would hunt her down past their borders, not when there were more important things for them to tend to. Not when her form was still sealed, and she was unlikely to pose the same threat to Equestria she did before.

She could run, but what would she have then? Like Celestia's question before, she traced the path of this goal through as well, wondering what that would give her. A life constantly spent on the run, looking over her shoulder for the chance that the princesses might actually think coming after her is worthwhile? Wondering all her life if ponies will finally recognize her for the demon she was?

It all kept coming down to this form of hers. Whatever form she was in—mortal or otherwise—there wasn't a single one that didn't leave her wondering what enemies it would make simply by its inherent nature. Batpony or demon, either way, who would tolerate someone like her in their presence? Even the princesses spoke to her from behind cold iron bars.

She paced around Celestia's firelight, and she wondered, and she paced some more, and she only looked up from the floor when she heard the now-familiar click-click of hoofsteps coming down the hallway.

"Luna," she greeted, and the princess inclined her head in acknowledgement, settling down at the front of her cell to watch.

"I have a question for you," she said, impulsively. It was one of the princesses who got her mind into this tangle in the first place; how could she think the other would help solve it? But there was a difference between the two—while Celestia ruled the day, and was presumably well-liked and used to being that way, Luna wasn't. Luna was all shadows and radiating cold, she could tell from just seeing her, and her gaze pierced deep. To the common pony, her mere presence must be terrifying.

To her, it only reminded her of home.

"Really?" Luna said, with raised brows. "Tell me, then. What is the question you seek to ask me?"

"You…" She hesitated for a moment, thinking through her words. "Celestia has been talking to me about the kind of life I could lead outside this cell. She spoke to me about serving in the castle as one of the staff, instead of a personal servant under your wing. Or else, going farther, serving in one of the frontier settlements under the eye of the royal guard."

She paused, and Luna inclined her head, silently telling her to continue.

"The thing is," she said, "—the thing is, I think that sounds ridiculous. Sure, maybe I'll come around to working with the two of you or whatever. Maybe I'll get tired of lying around in this cell. But even if I did do those things, it's not like anypony would want me around. I'm a demon, and even in this damned mortal form it shows. Nopony is ever going to want a creature like me around in their settlement, or working alongside them as a guard or whatever. It's just—"

She huffed out a sigh. By the end of her tirade, she couldn't help but wonder if there was even a point to asking Luna about this in the first place. "I could never see a life out there, living among the mortals. Not because I'm too good to live with them, but because they would never have me. Celestia says that I can live a life that isn't constantly fighting other creatures and grappling for power. But what else is there? Even if I somehow redeem my ways, who will listen?"

A solemn look had fallen over Luna's face by the time she had finished with her rant. She looked up at the princess expectantly, wondering if it was even worth it to divulge this much information in the first place.

"The problem you are struggling with is the idea that nopony will ever appreciate you, yes?" Luna began.


"I, too, feel this way. You ask who in the world out there will accept, no, even tolerate a creature such as you. It is a question I have grappled with for many moons. It is a question… a question I have not yet found an answer to. The ponies love my sister's day, but so many of them fear my night. So many of them fear me in kind."

Luna fixed her gaze on her once more—but instead of seeming to pierce through her, it instead seemed to resonate, her eyes full of the kind of struggle that she had spent so long trying to work through for herself.

"Yes, I have no answer to the problem you seek. Some nights, I wonder if there is one. But the solution I have found is this: even in a world full of pain and hatred, there are always those stars in the dark. Those who would love you for who you are even in a crowd of naysayers. There are those out there who do not fear the night the same way my sister's subjects do."

Luna's eyes cast to the batpony stood silent and obedient outside her cell door, and she wondered.

Then the princess' attention slipped back to her. "I believe—no, I know there are ponies out there who will see you not with hatred and with fear, but with respect. I know there are ponies out there who believe you can change; believe you are not the monster other ponies will think you are."

"Who?" she asked. She thought she already knew the answer, but—she had to hear it.

"Celestia is one," Luna said. "And I am another.

"My sister and I have watched you all this time in this cell, from the very moment of your capture. We have seen the way your rage turned to resignment. The way you reached out, even if you did not want to—who can blame you? Who can blame you for resenting the ponies who have trapped you in a form that is not your own?

"Still, you persisted. Still, we have persisted in kind. You think my sister's efforts are in vain, and still, you ask if there is another way. You ask if there can be a better life for you, even while believing there is none.

"Perhaps you will always be seen by the greater masses as a monstrous thing fit only to enslave and burn. I cannot know for certain if there will come the night where either of us finally cast off the shackles of our hate. Perhaps that night will never come.

"But I see you, demon. You have been listening. Whether you realize it or not, you have been making an effort to change. You have been making an effort to ask yourself whether you can have a better life; a life free from strife and pain.

"I cannot promise you love. I cannot promise you a thing so rare for even myself."

Luna shifted to her knees; leaned down almost bowing, so that the princess' eyes and hers were aligned. Cyan on cyan. "But I can promise you that within these walls, while we may reign, you will never be hunted again."

She opened her mouth to reply, only to find that her breath had apparently left her. What was there to say? How could she put words to the feelings that were welling up inside her at Luna's speech; a speech that she had been totally prepared to reject as useless, if it weren't for one simple detail.

Luna, it seemed, knew what it was like to be seen as a monster, too.

And until then, she didn't think it was getting to her all that much. Sure, she was a monster. Sure, she would always be a monster, even locked in a mortal form. But there was nothing she could do to change that; what was the point of getting upset over it?

Damn Celestia. It traced back to her in the end. Celestia, who waited so patiently outside her cell instead of spitting and raging or threatening her, trying to figure out some way to leverage whatever valuable information she might have after her. Celestia, who waited as long as it would take for her to finally open up and answer her stupid, simple question. Celestia, who asked her what the point was of going conquering when it would earn her the same life of hatred and hostility in the end.

Celestia, who made her realize that there was no life out among the mortals for her. Ironic—the princess tried to claim that. But Celestia would never understand what it was like to live a life marked by hatred and fear. She still had faith in the mortals. She was so used to being loved that she believed it was easy for other ponies to be loved, too. How ridiculous.

How ridiculous it was that those words still had a point. How ridiculous that those words still made her think.

And in the end it brought her to the one pony who truly understood—who understood her problem before even she did. Was Luna's life before ruling Equestria, too, marked by bloodshed? By fighting for power, fighting for freedom, fighting for one more day alive in a world that wanted her dead as ashes?

Or perhaps she had been simply used to being ignored, the same way the batpony outside her cell ignored her.

Luna may have been in the shape of a beautiful pony, with stars in her mane that glittered like diamonds, but she could see the ice of the night in her eyes. It wasn't the same as her inner fire, not even close—but she couldn't help but feel kinship, anyway.

You will never be hunted again. Did she trust those words?

As Luna met her gaze, she realized she did.

"...thank you," she said. What else could she say? What words could encompass the depth of the emotion Luna had shown to her; what words could encompass the depth of the very problem that Luna had bared, nestled in her soul? "I think… I think that helps."

It was difficult for her to admit. She had spent all her time down here raging quietly in her cell; raging against the truth of her cursed form, raging against the cold iron bars that kept her locked in, raging against the guard that never looked her way. It felt like a betrayal of herself to admit in any way that the princesses had helped. She had not escaped Tartarus to bow to her enemies.

Were they really her enemies anymore? She searched herself, and realized she did not have as certain of an answer anymore. They had locked her away in two senses, yes, but did she blame them for that? They were only defending what was theirs. She would have done far worse to anypony who tried to steal her chosen souls away. If they were not alicorns, spellcasters of the highest caliber, what would she have done to them in retaliation?

Fair was fair, and her retribution was done. She had stolen their ponies' souls, and they had locked her away for it. Was there anything to go on from there? It wasn't like they had hurt her further. It wasn't like she had hurt them further.

But could she really do it? Could she accept anything as absurd as a truce?

It was then that she made a choice.

It was surprisingly warm up there at the top of one of the Canterlot palace's highest towers, even though the sun hovered at the edge of the horizon, waiting to fall beneath it at the lighting of a horn. Perhaps she was simply used to the dungeons, to huddling around Princess Celestia's casted firelight to ward off the chill. Perhaps it was something about the princess herself. She looked over to where the solar princess was stood, her eyes far in the distance as she stood and watched the horizon from over the balcony.

There was a breeze running through her coat. It was an odd sensation. The breeze ran through her hair—no, her mane, now, played with it as it had done in the past. But there was also a tail at her back she was distinctly aware of with the wind, and then there was the fine forest of hairs covering her entire body in that coat of hers.

Shame it was so short. She would have loved some decent protection against the breeze; even free from the dungeons, her new body was still not used to the temperature of the surface world.

"Whenever you are ready, Celestia," Princess Luna said, standing opposite to her sister. Her eyes glanced to the other pony with them. "And you? How are you faring?"

She shifted her wings against her body awkwardly. In the past she would have replied to such a question with arrogance; tilted her head up and said something about being just fine, thank you.

Then again, in the past, there would have been nopony to ask her the question at all.

"I'm alright," she said as she gave a gentle nod to Princess Luna. "I think I'm finally getting used to this body."

Wasn't that a thought. Her finally getting adjusted to this body some day, even as stark a change as the mortal form was.

But she had so many years to get used to it still. All the years of her immortal life, laid out before her. What a future life it was. No more fighting. No more grappling for power. No more looking over her shoulder for enemies at every turn.

Just her, the princesses, and this: Celestia, who looked at her and smiled at her response. "I am glad. It was a shame seeing you down there in that cell. The open air suits you much better."

Something about those words, the casual kindness that both the princesses gave her, made something dark and crumbling within her go a little more soft.

Was she becoming less of a demon, consorting with ponies like this? Ha. Probably.

But those demons down in Tartarus would never have what she had, and they would never know the simple joy of finally being able to trust somepony else to watch her back.

"Are you ready, Luna?" Celestia asked.

"I have been, yes," Luna said, teasing but affectionate.

"Then let us usher in the night." In unison, the sisters' horns began to glow, and the sun began to set.

Logically, she knew that the princesses controlled the day and night. But it was one thing to know that Princess Celestia set the sun with her magic and her magic alone, and another thing to see it; she could taste the ozone in the air, the celestial heat of her power as her mane blew behind her in a breeze and the sky began to shade from sundown red to night-sky blue.

Princess Luna lit her horn, and she turned to see the first few stars flickering back into existence.

She had always thought the night sky beautiful, from the very first time she saw them as she was fleeing Tartarus. The novelty had not worn off; she didn't think the novelty would ever wear off. Princess Celestia's aura of warmth began to ebb, the taste of ozone on her tongue fading, and Princess Luna's cold began to wash over her instead, eliciting a full-body shiver.

Princess Celestia laughed softly, with good nature, and her magic lit a familiar light at her side.

She rolled her eyes, but shifted closer, and watched from the comfort of a celestial firelight as Princess Luna brought the moon to its place in the sky. Around her as she channeled her magic into her moon, all the world seemed to dim; even the crickets chirping in her ears fell to silence. Pure, comfortable quiet, as the night rose all around them and the sky began to glitter again.

In the end, her choices had been few: go back to Tartarus, flee Equestria, or take a place at the princess' side. She had not spent all this time escaping from Tartarus just to end up back there again, and a life spent in exile and fear sounded like no life at all. With the princesses, she would always be bound to serve them, tied by their every word.

But was that such a terrible thing: living a life always with the two ponies who seemed to care about her the most? Who trusted she could change, despite everything? They saw a demon in bat's skin and talked to her anyway. They had seen her true form in all its terrible glory, and they wondered if, perhaps, she would stay.

That wasn't so bad, in the end. Once she had gotten used to the princesses and the strange thought that they weren't her enemies after all, it wasn't a bad choice to make.

Princess Celestia trusted in her and showed her a better way. Princess Luna knew full well what she was and replied, Look, I am like you, too.

Perhaps even if she had the option of true freedom, the option of walking among the ponies as truly one of their own, with no hate and no pain and no fear, she would still have chosen to work under the princesses. They knew her, after all.

And she hoped she would get to know them.

She watched the moon rise into the sky, putting the sun to sleep for the night, and she thought of something.

"Princesses?" she asked.


"Could I… could you call me… Sunset?"