• Published 30th Mar 2013
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Sunset of Time - The Albinocorn



Sunset Shimmer: Princess Twilight Sparkle's most faithful student. After bearing witness to the End of the World, she travels back in time to destroy the Dark Regalia and save her future. But a ghost from the past has other plans...

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Chapter XXIV: Hope Forged in the Flames of Doom

Chapter XXIV: Hope Forged in the Flames of Doom

Half of Celestia’s world was dark. Snow and wind blurred the other half. Still, Vesper never left her sight.

A ring of light burst from Celestia’s horn, then broke into ten separate balls of energy. They homed after Vesper, dogging her every flight pattern.

Vesper spiraled through the air, weaving and looping to stay ahead of Celestia’s light missiles. Vesper flipped over and returned fire, her black magic destroying three of the orbs. She turned over again, flew low to the ground, then skipped off it, sending columns of stone up behind her. Several orbs crashed into the columns, reducing them to dust.

Celestia flew through and launched a ball of fire to join her last three orbs. Vesper stayed low to the ground, rapidly drawing closer to the Frostlich’s corpse. She traced a hoof across the ground. Large chunks of rock ripped from the earth and launched themselves towards Celestia.

She ducked under one and blasted through another before clipping her wing on the third. She hit the ground and rolled, popping up with her horn lit. Vesper had used the last rock as a shield from Celestia’s projectiles. Now, she had a clear field.

Celestia teleported, reappearing in Vesper’s path. They slammed into each other, sailed over the Frostlich and the ponies gathered around it, and crashed into the hillside.

Vesper scrambled to her hooves first and made a lunge for the corpse, but Celestia released a golden chain from her horn, impaling Vesper in her rear leg.

The chain coiled itself up Vesper’s calf, then reeled her back to Celestia. When Vesper drew close, she twisted around and smashed a hoof against Celestia’s blind side.

The gold chain severed, and Celestia flew to the right. Blood filled the inside of her mouth as her jaw was dislocated. She snapped it back into place with a flash of magic and spat the blood into the snow. With a powerful leap, she recovered the distance between herself and Vesper, who was now fighting off Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow narrowly avoided a glob of magic and kicked Vesper in the face before darting away. Vesper aimed to shoot her down, but Spike sent a column of fire up her left leg.

Vesper shrieked, sounding more annoyed than in pain. She rounded on Spike, but Celestia intervened. She tackled Vesper again and teleported, arriving back near the mountain.

“You’re wasting your time, Mother!” Vesper said, throwing Celestia off. “I know where they are now! The Frostlich’s power is one teleport away!”

“You’re assuming I’ll give you the opportunity.” Another golden chain snaked from Celestia’s horn and wrapped itself around Vesper’s, linking them together. Celestia yanked and smashed her hoof into Vesper’s face. She spiraled out until the chain snapped taut and reeled her back in. Celestia swung again, but Vesper caught it with the back of her foreleg.

Vesper smiled, showcasing a mouth full of bloody teeth. “Getting physical with me, Mother? Why, I—”

Celestia kicked Vesper’s side, knocking the wind out of her. Vesper doubled over, unable to defend herself from Celestia’s follow-up punch. She landed two more hits before Vesper recovered enough to block. Celestia increased her speed and her spell’s grip on Vesper’s horn.

Vesper deftly blocked Celestia’s blows and began to throw her own. She took advantage of Celestia’s blind eye and consistently aimed for the left. Celestia’s well-honed instincts kept Vesper from landing more than a few scrapes.

Vesper yanked her head back, pulling on the chain and upsetting Celestia’s balance. As she stumbled through the air, Vesper uppercutted Celestia’s throat.

Celestia froze, hooves wrapped around her esophagus, begging it to let her breath again. All she could make were pitiful gasps while her eyes blurred with tears. Despite the pain, she kept her chain spell enforced.

Vesper looped around and pinned her from behind. She opened her mouth wide and sunk her fangs into Celestia’s neck. Celestia’s scream was silent, but her entire body thrashed while Vesper’s teeth dug deeper.

“Mother!” Vesper exclaimed, coming up for breath. “You taste absolutely—”

Celestia’s roar drowned out the rest of Vesper’s sentence. She channeled her anger into energy, and her celestial mane ignited into a wild blaze. Vesper screamed and let go, batting her wings to put out the fire spreading across her forelegs and chest.

While Vesper flailed, Celestia took shaky gasps of air, coughing up blood on every exhale. She recovered—winded, but still capable. Vesper put herself out, but blisters erupted across her front and her left leg was charred.

Vesper panted. “All right, Mother… as much as I love our intimacy… you’re really starting to get on my nerves!” She wildly flapped her wings, whipping up a gale that formed into another blizzard.

Celestia copied her, keeping the ice and snow away so she could keep her eyes on Vesper. The tempest funneled around them, growing increasingly violent. Stones and thick chunks of ice flew about, crossing through the eye of the storm.

With her one good eye focused on Vesper, Celestia couldn’t follow the debris. A large rock struck her ear, breaking her concentration. Vesper tackled her and threw both of them into the swirling snowstorm. Celestia’s world lost all direction as she spun about uncontrollably. Every time she tried to right herself, something would strike her again, until, finally, her horn took a hit, and her magic died.

When the throbbing stopped, Celestia teleported, landing on her back when she reappeared by the Frostlich. She rolled onto her hooves, then paused at the sight in front of her.

Fluttershy floated in front of Vesper, eyes filled with an intensity Celestia wasn’t aware she possessed. Even more surprising was Vesper, who stood completely motionless, transfixed by Fluttershy’s stare.

“What is…?” Celestia started to ask.

Pinkie shouted, “Don’t question it! Just do something, quick!”

Celestia regained her composure and nodded. Her sword appeared by her side. She stepped up to Vesper. “Sun… Vesper Radiance, this is your end.”

“No…” Vesper growled between her teeth.

“For your crimes against Equestria, I hereby sentence you to death!”

“No!”

Celestia closed her eyes and raised her sword. “May you finally find peace.”

Vesper twitched, desperately struggling against Fluttershy’s Stare. “No, no, no!”

Celestia plunged the sword into Vesper’s heart, driving it deep. Her own heart screamed in agony, screamed that, no matter how good her intentions, she had committed the most atrocious of acts: murdering family.

Vesper staggered back, free from Fluttershy’s Stare, Celestia’s sword still in her chest. “...No.” Blood dribbled from the corners of her mouth. “I… I…” Her eyes grew unfocused.

“Please, Sunset,” Celestia said, fighting to keep her voice controlled just a little longer. “Go to sleep.”

No!” White light flooded Vesper’s eyes. A shockwave erupted from her horn, shoving Celestia and the others to the top of the hill.

Celestia jumped and threw herself back towards Vesper, but she was too late.

Vesper pressed her horn into the Frostlich’s skull and screamed as inky blackness flowed into her horn and coursed through her body. She lifted her head and screamed again as the black substance covered everything.

Celestia conjured a ball of pure light and threw it at Vesper. It found its target, leaving behind only a cloud of smoke and snow. Celestia threw two more into the haze, determined to believe she had stopped Vesper in time.

The smoke faded, and with it, Celestia’s hopes.

Vesper took a step forward, her left leg reduced to bare bones. The remainder of her coat was the color of dried blood, black in the places where she had been burned. A halo of feathers lay in the snow. Her wings were now draconic, sporting black webbing in between membranes of thick bone.

For a moment, Vesper had no mane or tail. She opened her eyelids, two balls of fire floating in her sockets, and her mane and tail exploded forth—passionate, wild pyres that turned the snow around them into vapor.

She wrapped a hoof around the sword and pulled it from her heart. Blood still dripping from it; Vesper lifted it to her mouth and licked some of it off. She smacked her lips, then tossed the sword back to Celestia, where it landed at her hooves.

Celestia looked at it, then at Vesper. “You…” Terror choked the rest of the words from her.

Vesper licked her lips again. “So, shall we continue our dance, Mother?”

“False.” Twilight’s voice rang throughout the demolished hall. “The first treaty between the zebras and minotaurs wasn’t signed until the forty-fifth year of Celestia and Luna’s rule.”

Vesper wore an impassive face. She lounged across her throne, resting her head against a hoof, eyes half-lidded. She said nothing, choosing to observe Twilight for several long seconds.

Or perhaps they were minutes. For all Twilight knew, it could have been hours. Time was immutable here. She and Vesper had thrown questions back and forth at each other for so long, she had forgotten when they had started this game. Neither one had failed so far, and they had covered every topic, from history to alchemy, at least once.

Twilight looked at Sunset’s shadow, which was motionless at the foot of the dais. Twilight could still feel something calling out to her—a conscience still clinging to life.

A last spark of hope.

She would not lose this game. No matter how long it took, no matter how many questions she had to answer, she wouldn’t lose! Twilight’s hardened stare intensified, challenging Vesper to tell her she was wrong.

Vesper eased into a smile.“Correct again, Twilight.”

Twilight breathed a small sigh of relief and unlocked her knees, unaware of how rigidly she had been standing. “My turn, then.”

Vesper stretched her legs out and giggled softly. “You know, Twilight, this is the most fun I’ve ever had.” Her smile revealed a row of sharp teeth. “Having you as an intellectual rival, why, I imagine this is almost what having a friend is like.” She raised a hoof to her lips. “You could just stay here forever, you know. You and I, battling it out until the end of time.” She broke into a bone-chilling laugh, one that didn’t sound right coming out of Sunset’s mouth.

Twilight waited for her to finish, then said, “I have more important things to do than boost your ego, Vesper.”

“Like what? Rescue those miserable friends of yours?” She waved a hoof. “Please, they’re all probably dead by now.”

“I believe in them.”

Vesper stuck her tongue out. “Spare me your sentimentality, please. Just take your turn.”

Twilight paced along the carpet. Every question meant to stump Vesper had been answered with ease. She knew about obscure unicorn history, griffon culture, and zebra tribal rituals. There had to be something Vesper didn’t know—some fact or figure that would give Twilight some leverage.

“Tick-tock, Twilight,” Vesper sang. “Do I need to remind you whose life is at stake?”

Twilight bared her teeth, then turned away from the throne. Come on, Twilight, you can do this! Thinking is what you do best! Out-think her! Her ears pricked. She spun and pointed a hoof at Vesper.

“At the Battle of Vanhoover during the Elk War, what strategy did General Grey Wall use to recapture the city?”

Vesper sat up in her chair, looking impressed. “Oh, good question, Twilight. This is one I might have to actually put some thought into…”

Twilight allowed herself to smile.

“...If I didn’t already know it was a trick question.”

Twilight’s mouth fell open.

Vesper clapped her hooves and laughed. “That’s right. General Grey Wall didn’t come up with the winning strategy. He didn’t even want to be at the battle. He thought Vanhoover was a lost cause, so he had his lieutenant, Gingersnap, come up with the strategy. Gingersnap waited until high noon to attack, then had the pegasi fly out of the sun to attack the blockade on the north side. Meanwhile, the earth ponies attacked from the east, and the unicorns attacked their exposed south side. This later became known as the Equestrian Crescent Maneuver, and, of course, Grey Wall took all the credit.”

A piece of hair stuck up out of place on Twilight’s mane. She brushed it back down and took a very long, calming breath.

She then screamed internally.

“You’re not getting frustrated, are you, Twilight?” Vesper asked. “I mean, it’s okay if you want to admit that I’m superior to you. It’ll save us some time.”

Never!” Twilight roared.

Vesper shrugged. “Suit yourself. Just remember: I offered you the easy way out.” She stood tall on her throne. “How many enchanted items did Meadow Song have?”

Twilight bit her tongue. Nine? No, eight! Yes, definitely eight! “Eight!”

Vesper smirked. “Name them.”

Another piece of Twilight’s mane broke free. “I… I don’t… I can’t remember!”

“Too bad then.” Vesper’s horn took on a blinding crimson glow. Static popped and sizzled as the energy coalesced at the tip. Her smile turned feral. “I’ll make sure this hurts.”

Every instinct in Twilight’s body told her to block, dodge, do something to repel the attack coming toward her. But she obeyed the rules she had agreed to. She closed her eyes and braced herself.

Burning, searing pain ripped through her, stealing her breath away. She was up in the air, hearing her own screams claw against her ears. White-hot needles pressed themselves into every inch of her body, piercing through her muscles and even her bones.

It’s not real! Twilight tried to tell herself. It’s all just mental!

She hit the floor, gasping for breath like she had never tasted it before. If it wasn’t real, then why did it hurt so much? Her coughs dissolved into ragged wheezes, threatening to make her retch. She struggled to swallow down air between each one.

Her wheezing fit subsided, and she heard a soft clapping above her. It took all of her will, but Twilight lifted her head to see Vesper looming over her.

“Amazing. That was the most magnificent scream I’ve heard yet. And you’re still alive too! You really are full of surprises, aren’t you, Princess?” She turned and walked back to the base of the throne. “Well, that means I’ll have the pleasure of making you scream again. But to be fair, it’s your turn…. If you can talk, that is.”

Not done. Have to get up. Twilight wiggled a hoof. It was slow and heavy, like it didn’t belong on her body. She pressed on anyway, waving each hoof until the feeling came back. She slowly rose from the floor, falling several times before she could at least get herself into a sitting position.

Won’t let her win. I’ll save you, Sunset. You’re my friend. My student. Twilight’s head nodded to one side; her vision flickered. She bolted up, then gave a painful shake. Come on, you can do this! Think! What’s something you know that she doesn’t? You have to have something over her!

It hit Twilight harder than any spell. The answer had been right in front of her the entire time. She had touched upon it with her first question. Vesper may know what the virtues of friendship are, but she didn’t know about friendship!

“When…” Twilight slurred her speech. She ran her tongue across her teeth and tried again. “When a friend is being proud and stubborn, but desperately needs help, what do you do?”

For the first time, Vesper looked completely stunned. “What?”

“You heard me.” Twilight raised her head and smirked. “Your friend is proud and doesn’t want to accept help, even when she really needs it. What do you do?”

Vesper shook her head, her confusion turning to anger. “This is a hypothetical scenario! This doesn’t count!”

“You never said it didn’t. It’s a question. It has an answer. One that can be learned, just not from any book.” Twilight’s smirk grew into a full-blown smile.

“I-I don’t…” Vesper snorted. “Fine! I don’t know. Take your best shot! I doubt you’ll do any real damage.”

Twilight rose to her hooves. That’s where you’re wrong. Magic coursed through her veins, soothing the blistering pain before gathering at the tip of her horn. Her aura bathed the world around her in brilliant lavender light. She aimed her horn at Vesper and took pleasure at the look of fear in her wide eyes.

Twilight recoiled from the force of her spell, landing on her flank again. Vesper’s scream tore through the throne room; Twilight looked up in time to see her smash into her ornamented chair, cracking it in half, and continue on into the wall.

Vesper collapsed to the floor, where she remained motionless for several seconds. She twitched, her moans of pain growing into loud growls. She rose and climbed back over the dais, her face decorated with a hateful scowl and narrowed eyes.

“Okay, Princess. Playtime is officially over. I’m going to bring this game to a close and erase your very soul,” she said quietly. “You and Replica can enjoy oblivion together.” She brushed her disheveled mane from in front of her face. “Name all the requirements for a proper necromancy ceremony.”

Twilight paled. “I’ve never even studied dark magic!”

Vesper smiled. “I thought so.” She charged her horn and fired.

The blast hit Twilight’s chest, sending her across the room, skipping against the floor. The white-hot needles returned, stabbing her entire being. Her vision blacked out. For a moment, she forgot who she was, where she was, and why she was here in the first place.

Then there was the voice again, urging her not to give up. Twilight’s vision returned, as did her memory, though her body’s response time was still slow. It took her over a minute just to get into a sitting position again.

Oddly enough, she found she wasn’t bleeding. She wasn’t even bruised. Her feathers were out of place and her mane was a mess, but she didn’t show any signs of being blasted twice by concussive magic.

Maybe Vesper is right. This is just an avatar for my soul. So if she hits me hard enough… Twilight shook her head. It was her turn now. Vesper would get the answer wrong, and Twilight would pour everything into this last shot.

“How do you convince your friends not to judge somepony just on how they look?”

“I don’t know!” Vesper snapped. “Tell them to stop being stupid!”

“Wrong!” Twilight planted herself firmly against the floor. Her horn glowed brighter than before, her eyes disappearing within pools of magic. The energy roared in her ears, demanding to be unleashed, and Twilight obliged, hurling her spell at Vesper.

The explosion rocked the room, destroying the entire back wall and sending out a wave of dust. Twilight lay on her stomach, too weak to attempt to wave it away. She gagged on the thick clouds, spitting out pieces of rubble and carpet.

When it cleared, Twilight was relieved to see Sunset’s shadow was still unharmed. A hoof twitched, giving Twilight enough hope to stand up again. With wobbly and uneven hoofsteps, she crossed the room.

“Sunset. Sunset! Can you hear me?”

“I can hear you just fine!”

Twilight froze halfway to the dais. From the mountain of rubble behind it, a hoof rose into the air. The rest of Vesper quickly followed behind it. She climbed to the top of the rubble, heaving for air, her eyes wide but her pupils almost nonexistent. Perhaps it was the light from the bloody sun, but for a few seconds, Vesper looked incorporeal.

“You will not best me again, Twilight Sparkle! I will not allow it!” Her pupils completely vanished behind a veil of magic, her horn glowing a sinister crimson. “Who wrote the first book on black magic?”

Twilight swallowed, bracing herself again. “Obsidian—”

Wrong!” Vesper fired.

The pain was indescribable. Twilight couldn’t even hear herself scream over the ear-shattering din. She knew her existence was being ripped apart, and it took every shred of willpower she had remaining not to give up. She hit the wall and crumpled to the floor, struggling to breathe.

Won’t give up. Won’t lose.

Vesper closed the gap between them, limping every other step. “You’ve got five seconds to ask me a question, Princess!

Twilight tried to work her mouth, but no sound came out. She wasn’t sure if she still had a mouth. All she could do was glare defiantly at Vesper.

“Time’s up!” Vesper charged her horn again. “When is Celestia’s real birthday?” she growled.

Twilight involuntarily whined. She had never asked Celestia; she had assumed the holiday named after her was it.

“Three… two… one!” Vesper unleashed her spell at point-blank range, burying Twilight into the floor.

The scream ripped through Twilight, as strong as the burning magic. She rolled onto her back, vision completely gone, thoughts fading away.

Why did she pick you over me?” Vesper shot Twilight again, keeping her pinned to the floor.

Twilight struggled for breath. “I-I don’t…”

Why did she make you a princess?”

Twilight screamed, the dark magic tearing her apart piece by piece.

Why doesn’t she love me?”

Both she and Vesper panted. Smoke curled off Vesper’s horn and intertwined with the smoke rising off Twilight’s body.

“Why won’t you fade away?” Vesper yelled. She threw her head back, magic charged again.

No. Can’t lose… Can’t give up. Twilight clung to the light in front of her. Vesper would not break her.

Vesper screamed somewhere over her. Twilight still couldn’t see, but she heard a familiar voice, faint and trembling, but full of conviction.

“What… do you do… when you have a choice… of destiny? To pick either saving yourself… or saving the world. Which do you choose?”

“Save myself, of course!” Vesper shouted.

“Wrong!” A blast of magic. Another scream. “I choose my friends!”

The darkness crawled away from Twilight’s eyes. Vesper had her back to Twilight and was holding herself up with only one leg. Across from her was Sunset, more than just a shadow. She was flickering in and out like a ghost, but all of her details were there. Her teal eyes shone with resolve.

“Why?” Vesper breathed. “Why are you still standing?” She looked back at Twilight. “Why are both of you still here?”

Sunset took a step forward. “Because Twilight refused to give up on me.”

Twilight stood up, her soul filling with light. “And because Sunset refused to give up on me.”

Vesper looked between them, mouth slightly ajar, eyes flooded with defeat. She dropped her gaze to the floor. “Why?”

Sunset charged her horn. “Because…”

Twilight followed suit. Blue and purple collided against Vesper from both sides and bathed the throne room in a magnificent aurora.

Friendship is magic!”

It was quiet.

Not outside. Outside, Sunset could hear Twilight’s soft breathing next to her and the rumble and howling winds from a battle above. No, it was quiet inside her mind. Inside her soul.

She’s gone.

Sunset opened her eyes, Twilight’s sleeping face greeting her. Sunset smiled, tears running down her face. She couldn’t think of a better way to wake up.

Twilight stirred, fluttering her eyes open. “Sunset?”

Sunset nodded. “Yeah, it’s me.” She rolled onto her back and closed her eyes. “Just me.” She welcomed the blissful silence, reveled in the emotions that belonged solely to her.

Twilight got up and held a hoof out to Sunset. She took it and was pulled into a tight hug, wincing as Twilight squeezed a sore spot on her back.

“Sorry,” Twilight said, hearing Sunset hiss in discomfort.

“No, it’s okay.” Sunset leaned into the hug and rested her head on Twilight’s shoulder. “If anything, I should be apologizing to you.”

“You don’t have to—”

“No. I do.” Sunset pulled away and looked Twilight in the eye. “I should never have said that… that I hated you. I was just mad and scared and… I just wanted somepony to blame.” Sunset shook her head. “But you never meant to do this me. You never had any ill will. You were my friend the entire time. I should never have doubted that. If I hadn’t, I never would have lost control.”

She stepped back and bowed. “I’m sorry, Princess. Can you forgive me?”

Twilight brushed her tears away. “No, Sunset, I can’t.”

Sunset stiffened.

Twilight placed a hoof under Sunset’s chin. “I told you already: I was never mad. I can’t forgive you, because you have nothing to apologize for.”

Tears spilled from her eyes as Sunset fought to keep her voice even. “I heard you. While you were fighting for me, I could hear you. I was floating in darkness, drowning in it. But I could hear your voice. You were the reason I chose not to give up. You were my hope, Twilight.”

Twilight gave her a watery smile. It quickly broke, and Twilight flung her arms around Sunset, her entire body quivering. “Are… are you still going to… to disappear? Please tell me you aren’t!”

“I don’t know,” Sunset whispered. She ran a hoof through Twilight’s mane. “She’s not in here anymore. I can’t feel her presence at all. But… I’m still a product of circumstance. I was still made because of what happened to Vesper. If that changes…”

“I don’t want you to go!” Twilight sobbed. “I already lost you once! I can’t do it again! I… I can’t lose any of you!”

Sunset’s heart twisted in her chest. “I don’t want to go either, Twilight. But I’m not afraid anymore. I’ve seen what you’re going to do—how you and the girls and Spike are going to make the world a better place. And if my destiny is to make sure that you all get there safely… then I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”

She let go of Twilight and stood up. “You know…” She looked at the eight-rayed sun on her flank. “I used to think this just meant that my special talent was harnessing the power of the sun. But it’s more than that. It’s not just the power, but what I do with it.”

Twilight wiped her eyes. “What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s kinda like fire. Fire can drive away the darkness, or make the shadows look larger than they really are. It gives us warmth and protection, or burns everything around it to ash.” The red and gold dualities of her cutie mark clashed against one another.

Sunset continued, “My special talent is similar. I could use it to increase my magic to dangerous levels.” Her eyes moved to Twilight. “To attack in hatred or defend in love. You already saw what Vesper wants to do with all the power she has. She wants to be a sword and strike the entire world down.” Sunset straightened her back and raised her head.

“Well, if she wants to be a sword, then I’ll be a shield. I choose to use my powers to keep everyone safe. She won’t break me again. She won’t get past me.”

Twilight joined Sunset. “She won’t get past us. All of us together. We’ll win, and then…” She gave Sunset one more pleading look.

Sunset smiled. “We’ll see.” She placed a hoof over Twilight’s heart. “But whatever happens, just remember—I’ll be right here. Always. No matter what, your friends will always be there. You taught me that.”

“Guess I’m a better teacher than I thought.”

“The best.”

“And you’re the best student I could ask for, Sunset.”

They both bowed their heads, the tips of their horns touching. Warm magic flowed across Sunset, the warmest she had ever felt. The world twisted around them, and they vanished from the hall.

Sunset was ready. Ready for whatever would come next. She would stare oblivion in the face if she had to.

And she would not flinch.

Celestia was afraid.

More than that, she was horrified. The monster in front of her laughed at pain—reveled in it. Celestia hit Vesper with her strongest magical attacks. Vesper took them, then asked for more. She bled, but didn’t care. Her bones broke, but she snapped them back together like nothing had happened. Her skin tore, and the only reason she healed it, Celestia thought, was to keep some dignified appearance.

Celestia had dragged Vesper away from the Element Bearers—an easier act than she had feared thanks to Vesper’s obsession with her. The two alicorns now floated over the churning sea of clouds, illuminated by the setting sun. Celestia’s augmented sun powers had proven to be of little help.

She doubled over, the toll of her dramatic outpouring of magic taking its effect. Immortal princess or not, she could not deny the fact that she was getting along in years and was a little rusty at fighting.

Aw, what’s the matter, Mommy? You’re not tired, are you?” Vesper’s distorted voice rose above the wind.

Celestia straightened up and hid behind her most determined expression. How do I beat something that cannot die? I know of the future that exists using the Elements of Harmony, but if she cannot die or be imprisoned, how else can I beat her?

There had to be a solution. There was always a solution. Celestia looked at the sun hovering behind Vesper. The warm light embraced Celestia as she charged her horn. Vesper was immortal, not invincible! Bathed in a golden aura, Celestia charged.

Vesper flew to meet her, only to pass through a misty image. Celestia released a vaporizing ray from behind, blasting another hole in Vesper’s wing. She hissed and lost altitude, skimming the clouds as she regained balance. Celestia jerked her head. Icy thorns sprouted from the black clouds.

Vesper dodged and rolled, grazed by many of the thorns before teleporting. Celestia was ready when Vesper reappeared. Three sickles of hot magic flew from her horn and attacked Vesper from three sides, only to pass through an illusion.

Metal clashed against Celestia’s skull, and her vision petered in-and-out while she fell. The rush of the cold, moist clouds snapped her from her daze, and she loosed a barrage of light spells from beneath her cover.

Emerging from the veil, Celestia located Vesper and bombarded her with a wave of scarlet heat. Vesper opened her mouth and roared, emitting a flamethrower of her own. The two fires collided, releasing a ripple of blistering heat.

Sweat poured down Celestia’s face. Her being burned with the intensity of the sun. This is it. I’ll turn her to ash, plain and simple. There will be no recovery from that. The fire’s intensity increased, forming blisters across Celestia skin.

Above her, Vesper spewed hellfire, burning brighter than the fire in her sockets. Neither refused to give in. The sky bloomed crimson from the stream of fire.

A black sphere formed at the tip of Vesper’s horn. Celestia’s eyes widened; she watched it rocket toward her down the column of fire. She wrapped herself in her shield, in time for both the spell and the fire to collide. The explosion broke her shield, catapulting her down into the storm.

Static energy rubbed against her coat. The temperature around her dramatically spiked. Celestia tried to right herself, but could not out-move the lightning.

It hit her from every side, electrifying every inch of her body. It only lasted a second, but it was the longest second in Celestia’s life. After the initial, all-encompassing burning sensation, Celestia was numb. She fell to the earth, unable to move, unable to save herself.

She landed on her foreleg. Though she was still numb, she knew she had broken it in at least three different places.

Shadowy tendrils rose from the ground and wrapped around her, lifting her up into the air as Vesper descended. She landed in front of Celestia at eye level to her.

So…” Vesper leaned in and planted a tender kiss upon Celestia’s lips. “This is the end, Mother. Any final requests?”

Celestia wheezed, struggling to draw air. “P-please, sp-spare them…” Her good eye flickered to the horizon. “Spare… their lives. Throw… all your hate… at me.”

Vesper stared, then broke into laughter. “Hahahahahahahahahahahaha! Even in your final moments, you try to defend someone else!” She nuzzled Celestia’s neck. “That’s why I love you, Mother! You’re so perfect! But, I’m afraid I must deny your request. They’ve been thorns in my side for far too long!”

Her crimson sword appeared, and she leveled it at Celestia’s breast. “Haha! Now you’ll be mine forever!” She drew back. “Goodbye, Mother!”

A pink, poofy object crashed into Vesper’s side, quickly followed by a rainbow and several large rocks. Vesper flew to the ground, losing her concentration and leaving Celestia to fall into the snow.

Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity all gathered in front of her, facing Vesper with rigid determination.

Celestia’s attempts to move only resulted in a brief spasm. “G-girls, please… you must leave.”

“No way!” Rainbow shook her head. “We’re not leaving you behind, Princess. Equestria still needs you.”

“It… needs you more than I.”

Rarity levitated another rock toward Vesper. “Sorry, Your Majesty, but our minds are made up.”

That’s hilarious.” Vesper looked between all of them. “You think you can save her? You worthless, lesser beings?”

Rainbow flared her wings. “We’ll die trying.”

Okay!” Vesper conjured a sphere of fire.

Warm tears ran down Celestia’s cheeks. Forgive me, Twilight. I have failed your friends. And forgive me, Luna. We must be separated yet again. The heat grew intense, the ball of fire large enough to swallow them all. Celestia refused to look away. After millennia of living, she did not fear her death.

The fire collided against a purple and teal shield, straining against it before being pushed back. Vesper screeched in indignation, while Rarity, Rainbow, and Pinkie cheered. Straining her neck, Celestia looked beyond Vesper to the two approaching ponies.

“Leave our friends alone!”

The sun’s warmth blossomed inside Sunset, and she fired a spell that hit Vesper right between the eyes.

Vesper howled and retreated to the air. “Replica! You filthy, lying brat! How dare you side with them!”

Sunset looked up with a proud smile. “I’m not your replica, Vesper Radiance! I will no longer live in your shadow! I am Sunset Shimmer, faithful student to Princess Twilight Sparkle! That is my past, present… and future.” She caught Twilight’s eye and her smile broadened.

Miserable creature. Your future is death!”

“Then that’s the choice that I will make.”

Vesper roared, loud and primal. “If you want to die, then I’ll be happy to assist you! Hahahahaha! I’ll help all of you to your deaths! I’m the only one that gets to live! Ha!” She dived for Sunset and Twilight, spewing fire from her mouth.

Both girls rolled out of the way. Sunset returned fire, while Twilight yelled to Rainbow and the others, “Take the princess away from here, quick!”

“But Twilight, we want to help!” Pinkie protested.

Sunset cast a wide shield as Vesper veered around and fired again. “Live to see tomorrow! That’d be a big help!”

Rainbow looked ready to protest, but the explosion against Sunset’s shield wiped the rebellion from her face. She hugged Celestia around the middle and flew off with her, Pinkie and Rarity in tow.

Vesper jumped over Sunset’s shield and aimed at them. “You’re not escaping that easily!”

A purple net snagged Vesper and pinned her to the ground. The more she thrashed about, the more the net shrank.

Twilight and Sunset unleashed a barrage of magic against her. Neither let up until there was a cloud of smoke in Vesper’s place. Sunset paused to catch her breath until she realized she didn’t need to breathe anymore.

Twilight straightened up and took a few short pants. “Do you think we—”

A fiery whip sprang wide from the smoke. Twilight pushed herself into the air, while Sunset ducked as low as she could, her mane grazed by the fire.

Vesper rushed forth, bruised, battered, but far from beaten. She threw a black sickle at Twilight, who teleported just before it cut through her. Vesper turned to Sunset and yelled, releasing a shower of black energy.

Sunset covered herself with her shield and withstood the blasts until Vesper appeared before her and kicked her sky-high, shield and all. At the peak of her flight, Vesper appeared again and smashed Sunset down, breaking her shield.

While Sunset fell, Vesper threw several more beams at her. Streams of purple flew past her and collided with the black magic, nullifying them.

Twilight sprung into the air and caught Sunset. Her wings beat hard and fast trying to support their combined weight. They finally gave out, and the two crashed into the snow.

The ground quaked. A spear of stone burst forth an inch from Twilight’s head. She rolled over as another one sprung up, then leapt to her hooves and shot at Vesper.

Vesper retaliated, her black energy overpowering Twilight’s, pushing it back to her horn.

Sunset tapped into the sun and hurled a massive fireball at Vesper, striking her side. The attack was enough to disrupt Vesper’s attack, allowing Twilight to finish hers. The damage was minimal, but Vesper bellowed with rage, her mane violently billowing around her.

You can’t beat me! I am superior! I’m an alicorn! I’m immortal!” Black electricity ran up her horn, and she blasted the ground in front of them. Despite Twilight’s shield, both she and Sunset flew into the air.

Vesper tackled Sunset and threw her to the ground. She slid across the snow before she was greeted with an explosion of magic across her back, catapulting her through the air again. She landed hard, instinctively gasping for breath.

“Okay, undead or not, pain is still a factor,” Sunset said as she rose. She turned at the sound of wingbeats; Vesper touched down a hundred feet behind her.

I hate all of them. Truly I do. But as I look at you, I realize: I hate you the most.”

“I’m honored.”

Vesper bared her fangs. “Why would you forsake your birthright for… for them?”

Sunset laughed softly. “Because I love them.”

Love will win you nothing in the end!”

“We’ll see.” Sunset leaned forward, running a hoof through the snow.

Vesper raised an eyebrow. “You’re kidding. You’re kidding, right?”

Sunset charged, horn glowing bright and the sun burning in her chest. Vesper barreled towards her, black smoke clinging to the corners of her eyes.

Ten feet from Vesper, Sunset teleported. Vesper skidded to a stop, while Sunset reappeared behind her, summoning an ethereal bow. The burning arrow flew as Vesper turned around. It pierced the hole in her heart, tearing it open further. She howled in pain and kneeled over.

Sunset knelt as well, feeling the fire burn her insides. As she coughed up smoke, an idea came to her—desperate and crazy and potentially gambling with the fate of the entire world. But if it worked, Vesper and the Dark Regalia would be gone for good.

Vesper stood up, then was knocked back down by a purple energy sphere. Twilight hit her again before landing by Sunset’s side.

“I think everyone should be safe as long as we keep her over here.”

Sunset nodded. “Great. Where are they?”

“South, about a few hills over.”

“Perfect.” Sunset held onto Twilight and teleported, reappearing in front of a startled Fluttershy.

“Twilight!” She gasped. “Sunset, you’re okay!”

“Sunset,” Twilight said with an edge of concern, “why did you take us back here?”

“I have a plan.” She looked around at everyone, all looking worse for wear. “But I need you all to trust me.”

A short tremor cut short their responses. Vesper loomed from the top of the hill, grinning broadly. “Oh good, you’re all here, hahahahahahaha! Now, I can kill you all at once!

“Every opportunity you had to kill us, you’ve failed!” Sunset shouted. “Face it—even with all your magic, we’ve still got something stronger!”

“Are you on about friendship again?”

“It’s the one magic you never understood! The one reason you never reached your full potential!”

Vesper stomped the ground. “I don’t need friends! They all abandon you in the end! Everypony abandons you in the end! Even my mother! But my magic will make you all love me! You’ll all kneel before me!”

Sunset shook her head. “You’ll never force us to bow.”

Vesper floated into the air. “We’ll see.” Over her head, a dark sphere with a red core appeared, steadily growing bigger.

Twilight gasped and took aim, but Sunset held a hoof out. “No matter how much magic you put into that attack, it won’t be enough,” Sunset called.

I control the sun!”

“Prove it!”

Rainbow jabbed Sunset in the shoulder. “What are you doing? Stop egging her on!”

Sunset looked at her calmly. “Please, just trust me. And stay close.”

They all exchanged looks of apprehension and unease. Twilight moved first, putting a hoof on Sunset’s shoulder. “I trust you.”

Celestia hobbled forward, limping on her three good legs. She smiled down at Sunset. “As do I.”

They all gathered close, pressing against one another. Rainbow still looked unsure, but she settled right above Sunset. “If we die, this is all your fault.”

Sunset laughed. “Duly noted.”

Vesper screeched, the black smoke around her eyes turning white. “Are you mocking me? How dare you mock me! I am your queen!”

“You’re a spoiled child demanding attention!” Sunset yelled. “Celestia loved you, but that was never enough! You wanted a crown to go with it, like it would prove how much she loved you! Now, you have neither her love, nor a crown! The one you wear is false! As is your magic!”

Vesper’s scream shook the entire mountain range. Rocks rose from the ground and floated up into the sphere of darkness. Smoke poured out of all the open wounds on Vesper’s body.

Damn you, Replica!”

The sphere grew larger.

Damn you, Twilight Sparkle!”

It doubled in size.

“Damn you, Mother!”

The sphere pulsed.

“Damn all of you to Tartarus!” Vesper yelled over the howling wind. The ground beneath her cracked. Red lightning flashed across the black sky.

Sunset felt the heat radiating from Vesper, stronger than the desert sun. She powered her own horn. You’re forgetting the first rule of our special talent, Vesper.

Loud cracks broke over the din as red light poured out of every jewel in the Dark Regalia. Jagged lines ran down their centers, splintering out until they resembled a spider web. The light intensified, and the jewels exploded in a shower of ruby shrapnel.

The trembling stopped. The winds dulled. The thunder and lightning died away. Vesper hovered lifelessly underneath her black ball. The only sounds she made were small choking noises. Patches of fur burst into flame, spreading across her entire body.

Vesper extended a hoof down to Celestia. The hoof guard fell off, revealing crumbling ash. Her mouth opened, pouring out a column of smoke. With her last breath, she uttered a single word.

M… Mother…”

The fire consumed the rest of Vesper Radiance’s body, turning it to ash and scattering it on the wind. The broken Regalia fell to the earth, cold and inert. The black sphere trembled and whined, pulsing with uneven rhythms.

Sunset closed her eyes. She reached for the sun one last time, letting the light spread through her. A white shield spread over her and all her friends. She felt them all hug tightly against her, their hearts beating in sync as the sphere exploded outward.

“Everyone… thank you.”

Author's Note:

Extra special thanks to Bad_Seed_72 for looking over the last pieces of this story. You rock!

And this is for everyone else for sticking with Sunset until the very end.

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