Sunset floated in the white haze, nothing in sight for as far as she could see.
‘Wha.. Where… How did I get here?’ she thought. ‘Where am I?’
A diffuse hum surrounded her, so low it barely registered. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Just like the haze, there was no apparent source for it – it just was, it was just present.
Sunset looked down. She could see her hands and feet. ‘That’s funny,’ she thought. ‘They were red just a minute ago. Wait, what.. Red? Why red? What just happened?’
As her head cleared, she began to remember.
She was a demon. A powerful red demon. Everything she had ever hoped for, all the power, the crown, it was hers. She was going to crush everyone who stood in her way. No one could stop her from claiming what was rightfully hers. Time now to deal with the creature who had been foolish enough to try to stop her.
“Now step aside! Twilight has tried to interfere with my plans one too many times already! She needs to be dealt with!” cackled the demon.
Pulling the magic coursing through her into a bright flaming ball, she hurled the ball at Twilight, intending to put an end to her once and for all. But Twilight’s friends did not move aside. They surrounded her, holding her tightly, loyal to their friend to the end. And when the flames and magic cleared, they were still standing. And there was Twilight, unhurt, in their midst. Shocked, the demon shouted. “What!?”
“The magic contained in my Element was able to unite with those that helped create it!” proclaimed Twilight. “Honesty! Kindness! Laughter! Generosity! Loyalty! Magic! Together with a crown, they create a power beyond anything you could imagine, but it is a power you don't have the ability to control! The crown may be upon your head, Sunset Shimmer, but you cannot wield it, because you do not possess the most powerful magic of all – the magic of friendship!”
The demon shrieked. “No!” Confused, the demon looked at the friends. “What is happening?!” she shouted.
There was a bright light, then nothingness.
And then she was here.
The humming was growing louder.
Sunset noticed another sound. Faint at first, like the humming it slowly grew louder. She could barely make it out. It sounded sad, yet familiar. It was crying. She heard someone quietly crying. She put her hands to her face, then held them out. They were wet. She was crying. ‘Why am I crying?’ thought Sunset.
The white haze grew brighter, and with a flash, she was taken into her past.
She was a filly again. The sky was crystal clear, not a cloud in sight. Beautiful green rolling hills surrounded her. She could her birds calling out behind her, their songs filled with beauty and grace. The air smelled crisp and clean, like an autumn breeze after a refreshing rain. Before her the grass danced, slow waves moving with the passing gentle breeze. A butterfly flew from flower to flower over the grass, flitting from one fragrant bloom to the next.
Sunset turned, and saw a verdant forest extending off to distant majestic hills on the horizon. In the forest she could see birds flitting from branch to branch, their cheerful call what she had heard before.
Other fillies and colts were chasing one another through the grass, laughing, bouncing, singing, and calling out to one another as they played. Closer still to the woods, two mares placed blankets on the ground, on which they laid the makings of a picnic.
‘I remember this!’ gasped Sunset. ‘This was my first picnic! My magic kindergarten celebrated the last days of autumn.’ She looked at the fillies playing along the edge of the field, dancing and running with each other as they ran in circles from the other foals. ‘There are my friends!’ smiled Sunset. ‘I remember! We used to do everything together.’ She ran over to them, and joined in the dancing and running.
After several minutes of breathless frolicking fun, the fillies heard the mares call out. “Time to eat, everypony! Settle down now; come take your places for lunch! We have lots of delicious food for everypony.” With squeals of delight, the fillies ran over to the blankets and sat next to one another, waiting for their turn at the wonderful spread of food laid out before them.
‘Oh my Celestia! I had forgotten what fun I had when I was little playing with all my friends!’ thought Sunset. ‘I couldn’t wait for each new day to start so I could see them again.’ As the food was passed to her friends, the world around her faded, and she was once again back in the white haze.
“No! Wait! Can’t I stay longer! I miss them! We were having such fun!” begged Sunset, but the humming either did not hear, or was immune to her pleading. Sunset felt her tears flowing, and again was filled with sadness. ‘I miss my old friends,’ she thought.
After her gentle sobs settled to quiet sighs, the humming again grew, and the haze brightened. With a flash, Sunset was brought to another scene from her past.
She was at her home, a filly again, not much older than she was in her first flashback. Her parents were nowhere to be found, and her foal sitter was at the door speaking with one of the officers of the watch. The guardspony’s words were quiet, and the sitter and he kept glancing over to where little Sunset was playing quietly with her Princess Celestia doll. She could not hear what they were saying, but with a foal’s intuition, she knew that whatever they were talking about, it was about her, and was not good news. She was frightened, but did not want to show it. She wanted everypony to think she was big, and unafraid of things, like the grown-ups.
After some time, the guardspony thanked the foal sitter, then left. She shut the door and turned to Sunset. “Sunshine, your mommy and daddy won’t be coming home today. A friend is coming over soon and you will be going with her for the night. Go pack your things honey. I will help you get ready.” A single tear fell from her foal sitter’s eye, which she quickly wiped away, then smiled at the little filly. “It’s all right honey. It’s going to be all right.” She bustled the filly down the hall, and helped her pack her overnight saddlebag with everything she would need, as well as her favorite toys. Except of course the princess – the little filly would not let the doll out of her sight, holding her tightly in her magic.
Just as they were finishing, there was a knock at the door. “Finish up here my little sunshine. I’ll get that and be right back,” said the foal sitter.
“Is it mommy?” asked Sunset hopefully.
The foal sitter choked back a sob, and put her hoof over her mouth. Taking a deep breath, she replied. “No dear. I will be right back.” She hurried down the hall to answer to door.
Sunset looked at her doll, then clutched her tightly and started to cry. “Princess, do you know where my mommy is?” she asked her favorite toy. “She always comes home at night to make me and daddy dinner. We talk about my day, and all my friends, and daddy gives me kisses and tucks me in.” Her tears ran down her nose, and onto the doll. “I want my mommy and daddy princess. Please can they come home now? Please?”
The doll did not answer, but only stared straight ahead, now wet with the tears of the sad little filly. Sunset climbed up onto her bed, and hugged her princess tight, eyes shut to block the flow of fearful tears. She didn't hear her foal sitter and the mare from the door enter her room, sadly looking down at the miserable and tearful filly.
“Sunshine, my friend is here to take you to stay with her for the night. Her name is Crystal Heart. She is going to watch you for a while. Please say hello to her dear, and show her your best manners,” said the foal sitter.
Sunset opened her eyes, and looked sorrowfully at the new mare. “Hello Miss Heart,” Sunset said, her voice barely above a whisper, so pitifully sad.
“Hello Sunset,” said Crystal Heart. “I’m here to take you with me tonight. Your mommy and daddy cannot be here now, so you will be staying with me for a little while. Are you packed and ready?”
“Yes Miss Heart,” said the little filly, voice still filled with sadness. Her foal sitter helped her put on her saddle bag, and gave the little filly a hug and a kiss on the nose. “Be good my little sunshine,” she said, and smiled at little Sunset.
With a nod in promise to be on her best behavior, Sunset turned and followed Crystal Heart from the room, down the hall, and out of the house to a waiting carriage. Her foal sitter waved good bye from the door, then as they started down the street, closed it behind them.
Sunset opened her eyes to the white haze, still crying. The memory was so painful; she had blocked it out long ago. That was the night her mother and father had died in a fateful crash that had claimed the lives of everyone on their train.
Sunset did not learn until the following day what really happened to her parents. Even then she didn’t really understand until she was older. Crystal Heart gently explained to the young foal what had happened, and why her parents would never be able to see her again. All she understood then was her parents were gone, and she could never go back home or see her friends from her old school again. She was an orphan, a ward of the state, and now had to live with Miss Heart in the cities orphanage with the other homeless children. Sadly, there were more than a few there who had arrived at the same time, and for the same reason. But rather than join together, like Sunset they withdrew into themselves, not really understanding, just suffering and knowing that everypony they loved had somehow left, and would never return.
Poor Sunset cried herself to sleep every night for about six months, before she was numb enough to stop feeling the horrible loss.
There was one young filly however that didn’t turn inward. Her name was Star Sapphire, and she lost her parents in the same accident that claimed Sunset’s mother and father. She didn't arrive at the orphanage at the same time as the others. She arrived a week later. She had a relative she stayed with briefly, though in the end the state decided her aunt was too old to take proper care of her. Because of that, she was made a ward of the state as well. Star had a remarkable talent for seeing the best in others and every circumstance, and took an immediate liking to Sunset. She would invite Sunset to play with her, eat with her, and generally talk her ear off every chance she got. For the first few months, Sunset moodily brushed her off, so lost in grief she did not even really notice Star. Eventually though, Sunset came out of her shell, at least when Star was around, and would play and talk with her most of the time. The two became best of friends, and were inseparable.
One day, about a year and a half later, Sunset woke to find Star was gone. She looked all over for her, but could not find her anywhere. After breakfast, she went to Miss Heart and asked where Star had gone.
“I’m so sorry Sunset. Star Sapphire is gone. She got very sick last night and had to go to the hospital. She won’t be able to come back,” Miss Heart told her. Sunset found out later from one of the older foals that Star had died that night from an unexpected brain aneurism. Apparently it was something she had been born with, but no one knew about it until it ruptured that night. They rushed her to the hospital, but there was nothing anyone could do. The poor little filly was gone before they even got there.
Sunset took the loss of her friend even harder than she had her parents. She withdrew again into herself, refusing to even play with the other foals. Instead she retreated into books. She would read fantastic stories, and imagine she was some great and powerful mage, or an exotic princess. In her imagination she would dream of ponies flocking in adoration to her, drawn by her power and intellect, or under her rule as her adoring subjects. As she grew older, she would study every subject she could, striving to learn every art and science that might give her more opportunities for power or fame.
Her teachers, misunderstanding her drive as a passion for learning instead of the desperate cry for help that it really was, encouraged her efforts, rewarding her for excelling in her learnings. Sunset spent less and less time with the other foals, eventually seeing them and even her teachers themselves only as tools to be used in her drive for more opportunities and power.
Sunset was not completely blind to her own emotional needs, but rather than accept them and embrace them as opportunities to grow and mature, she brutally repressed them as weakness. She used the insights she gained to craft her skills in manipulating others. She grew skilled in ruthlessly exploiting the needs, hopes, and fears of other ponies, manipulating them to her will.
One of Sunset’s teachers heard that Princess Celestia was accepting applications for her School for Gifted Unicorns. Thrilled that her charge showed such promise and potential, she immediately signed Sunset up for the admission process, to Sunset’s delight. She redoubled her efforts and studies in magic in preparation for the entrance exam. In truth, magic came easy to her, both because of her incredible drive and intellect, as well as her incredibly large reserves of inner magical power. Sunset was one of the most promising magic users her teachers had ever seen.
Sunset opened her eyes, returning from her thoughts and memories to the haze around her. She had forgotten about Star, about how much it hurt to lose her best friend, especially so close to her earlier loss of her family and friends. She sighed, smiling briefly at the memory of her dear friend. Closing her eyes, there was a flash and she was again back in her past, reliving the moments that led her to this place.
Sunset aced the entrance exam, scoring some of the highest marks her soon to be professors had ever seen. She excelled in her classes, getting noticed even by the Princess herself.
“My dear little pony,” stated the monarch, “Please walk with me.”
“Princess Celestia!” exclaimed Sunset, bowing immediately to the floor in surprise. “Of course your highness!” Rising slowly, Sunset happily followed her Princess as she led her through the school and into her private chambers.
“Please Sunset Shimmer, have a seat. Make yourself comfortable,” said the Princess. Sunset entered, found a cushion, then sat facing the princess, rapt with attention.
“I have been watching you Sunset, and have seen how diligent you are in your studies and practice of magic. You have impressed your professors with your remarkable skills and talents. And frankly, neither they nor I have seen many with your natural depth of magic.” The Princess smiled at Sunset, which caused Sunset to beam happily.
“I have been looking for a pony with your remarkable aptitude for magic to become my personal student. Sunset Shimmer, would you be interested in being my student? It will be hard work, even more intense than what you have already experienced, but I really believe that you are up to the challenge, or I would not be giving you this opportunity.”
Sunset could hardly contain herself she was so filled with excitement. “Yes!” shouted Sunset, bounding out of her seat. Realizing her mistake, she sat back down. “I mean, yes your highness,” she smiled, still grinning from ear to ear like a little filly on Hearthwarming Eve.
The next day, the Princess moved her into a private apartment in one of the towers, near to the Princess’s private chambers. She was given limited access to the Royal Archives, as well as access to Princess’s chambers and most of the castle itself. She had daily meetings and lessons with the Princess, as well as extensive self-study both in the Archives, and a laboratory for the practice of her Alchemical and magical lessons. She threw herself into her studies to the exclusion of nearly everything else, to the point the Princess had to remind her that little ponies, even when incredibly talented and driven, still needed sleep and occasional exercise to stay healthy.
Sunset, being ever the practical pony, wanted desperately to impress her Princess. So she took it upon herself to ‘gather two birds with one snare’ as the saying goes. She convinced the palace guards to allow her to train with the new recruits in the mornings. Each morning, she practiced and studied martial arts and magics with them, then returned to her own studies for the remainder of each day.
The Princess was extremely impressed by this, commending her student on her initiative and ingenuity. She was also hoping that her student would bond with her fellow trainees during their morning sessions, maybe even make some friends. But sadly Sunset held herself aloof there as well. At first the Princess feared it was from a sense of superiority. But watching Sunset closely she saw it was clearly due to the drive she applied to her entire life. To the Princess, she appeared so focused on her learning and pursuits she would not take the time to allow others into her life on any sort of personal level. She decided to speak with Sunset about this at the earliest opportunity.
To Sunset’s thinking, the more pleased the Princess was with her progress, the more she believed the Princess would really love her, take her under her wing, and perhaps even make her a princess someday. Alone in her room at night, she would dream of Princess Celestia coming to her, full of maternal pride, saying ‘Sunset, I am so proud of you! You are the daughter I always dreamed of having. I never want you to leave my side. I am making you a princess too, so we can be together forever.’ Then she would become a princess, and the two of them would rule side by side, together forever, and everyone would love them both.
It was a child’s beautiful dream. Just thinking about it drove Sunset to work even harder, cutting everything out of her life that could stand in the way of her winning the love of the one pony she always loved more than anything else, her beloved Princess. No time for friends, no time for relaxation, only for her relentless quest to win the love of the one perfect pony in her life.
One afternoon, deciding the time was right to speak to her prize pupil about her lack of friends, Princess Celestia broached the topic.
“Sunset, I see you spending all your time and energy with your studies and practice. While I admire your dedication, I am worried that you are not spending time with other ponies, and are spending too much time alone. I would really like you to make some friends Sunset. You have no idea how important it is to have others in your life who really care for you.”
“I have a friend, Princess Celestia.” Sunset smiled up at her Princess. “I have the best friend in the entire world.”
“And who might that be?” smile the Princess back at her. “Is it anypony I know?”
“I certainly hope so Princess Celestia. It’s you!” laughed Sunset.
Princess Celestia grinned. “My dear little pony! Yes, I will always be your friend. You will always be precious to me. But you need other friends. One friend, even a princess, is not enough.”
“But Princess, you’re the only friend I ever wanted,” replied Sunset, looking confused. “Why would I need other friends when I have the best friend I could ever hope for?”
Princess Celestia smiled down at Sunset, and gently nuzzled her. “Friendship is like magic Sunset. If you try to hoard it, you will never find out how wonderful it is. You have to use it, share it, and give it everything you have to get anything from it. Open yourself up to it. Let it take you where you need to go.”
Sunset promised she would make some friends.
Sunset blinked and opened her eyes. She was again back in the white haze. Those were some of the happiest days of her life. Her Princess loved her, and she loved her Princess. She was going to make her so proud, and they were going to spend the rest of their lives together.
Then overnight, everything changed. Another princess arrived, the princess of love. And she was everything that Sunset was not. Sunset worked and manipulated others to get their respect, or fear and cooperation, it was all the same to her. But Cadence effortlessly got everything she asked for from everypony. She was always pleasant, and took time to help others even when she had nothing to gain. And others would go out of their way to help Cadence with anything she asked, even if they got nothing in return. Sunset tried to understand, but no matter how hard she tried, it never worked. If she tried to be nice to somepony, they assumed she wanted something. And whenever she asked for anything, everypony always expected her to do something for them as well. And the more she tried, the more frustrated she became.
To make matters worse, Princess Celestia had to cut down on the time she spent with her prize pupil, as she needed to spend time with Cadence now too. While she was a princess, Cadence was young, and still had much to learn, about magic, about life as a princess, and about life in general. It took time. And that time was time away from Sunset, time that Sunset could not spend with her Princess, earning her love and respect. And every day it grew worse, until Sunset could barely stand it. She couldn’t even stand to be in the same room as Cadence, who had everything she ever wanted without even trying, and now was taking away the one pony she ever wanted to love her.
The more Sunset thought about it, the more she realized she had to become a princess too, or she was going to lose Princess Celestia forever. If this Cadence could become a princess, then certainly she could too. She started sneaking into the forbidden sections of the Archives, reading the tomes on Dark and Forbidden magics, looking for anything that might help her become a princess before she lost everything she ever dreamed of.
Princess Celestia noticed the change in her prized student. Gone was her cheerful disposition; she was moody, resentful, and sullen. When she wasn’t brooding, she was almost neurotically clinging to the Princess, as if she were afraid to let Celestia out of her sight. Princess Celestia spoke with Cadence about it, asking if she could try to befriend her beloved pupil. She hoped Cadence, with her natural gifts of love, could snap poor Sunset out of whatever dark broodings had captured her heart sending her into this downward spiral. But no matter what Cadence tried, it only seemed to drive Sunset further away from them both.
Princess Celestia decided it was time to try something more direct. Perhaps, she thought, if she could give her beloved student a glimpse into her own heart, she would see what everyone else saw in her, and would be able to put aside whatever was driving her to this dark despair. Princess Celestia had a magic mirror from the time of Starswirl the Bearded. The mirror was enchanted to show anypony who looked into it their deepest truest selves. She would show the mirror to her pupil and let her see for herself what Celestia saw in her every time she saw her.
The mirror was kept locked away in the archives. Princess Celestia had it brought out and placed in a room near her own, with a locked door to keep out anypony who did not belong. Then, she summoned Sunset, and brought her into the room with the mirror.
The haze brightened, and with a flash, Sunset was again back with her memories
“Sunset,” began the Princess. “You have been distant lately, and seem to have lost your way. Every time Princess Cadence reaches out to you, you drive her away. And my sweet prized pupil is now sour in my company – no matter what I say or do, you don’t believe me that I will always believe in you.
“Sunset, I do believe in you. I want you to see what I see in you every time I see you.” She pointed to the enchanted mirror on the other side of the room. “This mirror is enchanted. Anypony who looks into it will see their deepest, truest selves. It will show you what I see in you. When you are ready, I want you to go over to it, and look deeply into it.”
Princess Celestia stepped back, and gestured to Sunset to approach the mirror. Sunset slowly walked forward, and looked into the mirror's depths.
Sunset let out a gasp, and a tear formed then slowly dropped down her cheek, then another. Sunset cried quietly, never looking away from the mirror. She smiled, then laughed, still crying the whole time. “Thank you Princess!” she cried out.
Looking away finally, she ran to her Princess, and hugged her tightly. Celestia, surprised, hugged her back, and gently nuzzled her. “Now do you believe I will always believe in you Sunset?” asked the Princess.
“Yes! Yes, yes, yes! I love you Princess Celestia! Thank you!” said Sunset, still wrapped around her teacher’s neck.
“Sunset, I am going to leave this mirror in here for a while, as a reminder to you of who you really are, and what I really see in you. You will be able to come in here whenever you need to remind yourself who you really are to me.”
“Thank you Princess!” softly exclaimed Sunset, face buried in her teacher’s mane, still wet from the tears of joy she was gently crying.
Princess Celestia escorted Sunset out, and took Sunset to her room to be alone for a while and reflect on what she had seen. When she left, Sunset laid down on her bed, and still smiling, thought of the beautiful, majestic Alicorn Princess she had seen in the mirror.
That vision changed Sunset. From then on she was going to be a princess. She had seen it! And her Princess had even told her that was how she saw her too! She could not wait! She was going to be a princess, and then, she would be with her Princess forever, and no one would ever be able to take her Princess away from her.
But as time went on, Sunset became impatient. Whenever she tried to broach the subject, Princess Celestia kindly told her she was not ready yet, but when the time came, she would know. Sunset had no idea what further she needed to do to be ready. Princess Cadence hadn’t had to do much to be ready. She was just the right mare at the right time, did the right thing, and now she was a princess. Couldn’t Sunset just be a princess now too? Maybe she was missing something. So she started sneaking off again to the forbidden Archives, trying to find something that might help her speed up the process of becoming what she now knew she was destined to be.
Princess Celestia noticed Sunset was markedly nicer to everypony since being shown her truest self in the mirror, even to Cadence, whom she no longer snubbed. She still did not seem to get the whole friendship thing, never really letting anyone get too close, but at least she was pleasant to be with and tried to be cheerful to everypony. Sunset spent her few spare moments with the mirror, looking into it and smiling. It seemed to be one of the high points of her day, stopping by to gaze for a few moments into it, then returning to her work and studies.
One day, while Sunset was gazing at the mirror, it flashed, and the image changed. Instead of seeing the beautiful Alicorn princess she would one day become, she now saw another world. There was a castle, with white steps, and these curious creatures moving all about going in and out of it. She could see no ponies in site, instead everywhere were these odd creatures. Curious, Sunset put a hoof out to touch the mirror, but instead, her hoof passed right through, into the world of these creatures. Even more oddly, her hoof had transformed. She looked at it in the mirror, and saw it was one of the odd appendages the creatures had. Startled, Sunset pulled her hoof back, quickly checking to see if there was any lasting damage, but it was once again her hoof, none the worse for whatever transformations that had been worked on it.
She studied the images in the mirror for a while, then returned to her room to reflect on what she had seen.
The next day, after her morning lessons with the guards, she stole away to the forbidden Archives to continue her reading. While she was there, she found an old tome detailing the transformation that occurred called Ascending, where a pony could become an Alicorn princess. According to the text, it could occur naturally when a pony’s magic and nature warranted the change. Or, it could be triggered by the magic of another Alicorn, if the pony were willing and the Alicorn allowed it. Sunset almost dropped the book in shock. Her head reeled. This was saying that Princess Celestia could have made her a princess any time she wanted. Any time. But she hadn’t. But why?! Her Princess already as much as told her she sees her as a princess already. Why was she making her wait? What was she waiting for? Had Sunset not shown her by everything she had done how much she loved her, how worthy she was? Was she not the best student she had ever had? Didn’t she do everything she was asked, going out of her way to make the Princess happy? Why did she still act like Sunset was not worthy? Why? Was she lying to her? Was the Princess just leading her on, playing on her emotions like Sunset did to others when she wanted something from them?
The more she thought about it, the angrier she became. What did Cadence have that she didn’t? Cadence couldn’t even do magic as well as her, and she was already a princess for pity’s sake. What in the world did the Princess stand to gain by making her wait? She was lying to her, clearly. She never even mentioned to her that the mirror was also a portal to another world. What else was she keeping from her? And why?
‘Doesn’t she trust me!?’ thought Sunset. With a slam, she closed the book and stormed out of the Archive.
As she ran down the hall to confront her teacher, her anger cooled a bit, and her mind had time to catch up. ‘Wait,’ thought Sunset. ‘If she is hiding things from me, she might not react well when I confront her. I need a backup plan in case things don’t go as I hoped.’ She thought for a bit, then remembered the world in the portal, and how she had changed when she placed her hoof through the mirror. A plan formed in her mind.
‘That’s what I will do,’ she thought. ‘If Princess Celestia reacts badly when I confront her, I will go through the portal and hide for a while. I can sneak back later to see if things have died down. And because I will change when I go through, she won’t be able to find me. I will be one of those different creatures I saw. She could look right at me and never know it was me. I just need to sneak through and set up some things, get a feel for the place. Then I will confront her.’
So Sunset went to her room, packed up a ‘survival kit’ with gold bits and gems, enchantments, books and some food. Then putting it all into her saddle bags, she snuck out of her room and into the room with the mirror, being careful that nopony saw her entering with the supplies. Cautiously testing the portal again, she saw it was still working, and stepped through.
Over the next two days, Sunset cached gems, bits, and supplies in the other world, and explored the castle next to the portal. She went over during the night times of that world, so the creatures would not see her coming and going. She wasn’t sure they were used to others visiting there world, and her plan depending on them not freaking out on her showing up among them.
She found the castle had a library within it, and started reading through the books it held. She quickly learned a great deal about the portals world (Earth, they called it) and adjusted her plans accordingly. While there were many similarities to her world, there were also some differences that she could exploit to her advantage while there, such as the portal worlds apparent shortage of many gems, causing them to have even greater value there.
Finally, she felt she was ready, so on the afternoon of the third day, she approached Princess Celestia with what she had found.
“Princess, is it true that as a Princess, you can make a pony an Alicorn any time you wanted?” asked Sunset sweetly.
“Where did you hear that?” asked the Princess, still looking at the notes for the afternoon’s lessons. “That seems an oddly specific question.”
“Just something I read,” answered Sunset.
That got the Princess’s full attention. “Really?” she said, looking concerned. “And would you happen to recall the book or scroll you read it in?” she asked.
“Not really sure,” lied Sunset, still trying to seem sweet and innocent. “Just something in the Archives.”
“The Archives. Hmm.” The Princess looked Sunset straight in the eyes. “Sunset, is there something you are not telling me?”
“What do you mean, Princess?” asked Sunset, growing worried. “Why would you think I am hiding anything?”
“Well for one thing, there is only one book in the Archives that would even mention that sort of Alicorn magic, and as far as I know, it isn’t anywhere in the Archives where you are supposed to be. It is in the forbidden section. Do you know why we have a forbidden section in the Archives Sunset?”
Sunset was starting to tremble now. In her mind, she hadn’t pictured this going sideways quite so quickly. She tried to recover by taking the offensive.
“So you admit then that you could have made me an Alicorn anytime you wanted! Why? Why are you making me wait then? Haven’t I done everything you asked? Didn’t you say that is how you saw me already? Why wait? Please Princess! Make me a princess now!? Please don’t make me wait! I want to be with you forever! Please!” Sunset begged.
Princess Celestia sighed. “Oh Sunset. What have you done?” She shook her head, and looked away from her pupil. “I had such hope for you. I wanted so much for you. And then you do this. You really don’t get it, do you?”
“Princess, what do you mean?” Sunset was rushed to the Princess, standing before her. “I love you. I would do anything for you. I have done everything you asked. Please! What do you mean you had hope? Why can’t you make me a princess?”
“Sunset,” said Celestia. “You have to be ready. And if you really don’t understand what I have been trying to teach you, you may never be ready.” Celestia bowed her head and turned away. “Maybe you need to leave. If I can’t help you then maybe you just need to go.”
“Princess, no!” screamed Sunset. “Are you sending me away? Please don’t send me away! Please?! I thought you believed in me?”
“But do you believe in you Sunset? Do you believe in yourself? Do you believe in anypony?” Shaking her head again, Celestia continued. “You can’t stay here. You’re done here. Your time here is over. Please pack your things and leave.”
Sunset dropped to the floor is shock. “You’re sending me away?” she asked, voice small and frightened. “Just like that, you’re sending me away?”
“Please go Sunset. Just go,” said Celestia. Sunset got up, and quietly walked out the door.
That had not gone at all like she had hoped. Where would she go? She had nowhere to go in Equestria. She had no friends, no family. She would be better off in the portal world. At least there, she had set aside enough treasure she would not starve. She would go there, and plan. Somehow, she would make Princess Celestia see. She would get her to make her a princess.
Sunset went to her room, and packed the last of her things. She reached out for the journal Princess Celestia had given her, so they could share thoughts with each other even when the Princess was away from the castle on Royal business. She almost considered leaving it, but then at the last moment threw it into the bag as well. Shutting the door behind her, she walked down the hall, and into the mirror room. Holding her head high, she stepped through, and into the next chapter of her life.
Sunset was back in the white haze again. She opened her eyes and rubbed her head. What horrible memories. She had lost everything there. All because of the one lesson she couldn’t seem to learn. That one horrible lesson – she still had no idea what it was she was supposed to know. But, where that enraged her before, now she only felt sad and disappointed.
After passing through the portal, Sunset went to the apartment she had previously secured with her cache of jewels and bits. She had also purchased something she had seen in the library of the place she had thought a castle by the portal. It was called a computer, and was connected to someplace called the internet, that held a vast amount of knowledge she would use to learn about the world she was now in. Sunset had asked to salesperson to show her how it all worked and how to set it up to work in her home. She had also purchased something called a cell phone with a ‘data plan’ that allowed her computer to work on the internet without putting anything extra into her apartment. She had seen the creatures in the portal using these cell phones, and according to the salesperson (how weird it seemed to Sunset not to say sales pony – but she would have to get used to these things) everyone used these all the time to stay in touch with one another, and find out what was happening in the world around them.
Sunset had also found to her surprise that the building she thought was a castle was in fact a school, called Canterlot High School. The creatures she had seen walking to and from the building were students, people (yes, that is what they called themselves) who went to that school to learn.
After changing into clothes she had purchased while setting up the apartment, some jeans, boots, a white blouse, and a leather jacket, she returned to the portal to check on the princess. By the time she arrived back at the portal, it was after midnight in the world she was in.
Sunset was shocked to find the portal was closed. Try as she might, she could not find any sign of it. Her latent sense of magic could tell there was still some lingering sense the portal was still here, but it was blocked, essentially closed. Nothing could get through, and she could see nothing but the marble of the base.
Filled with frustration, Sunset sat at the base of the portal statue and swore. “Dammit Celestia! You had to trap me here didn’t you! It wasn’t enough to drive me away, no. You had to track me here, and then not even bother to try to find me, you just locked the door.”
Placing her head in her hands, Sunset sighed. This was not at all going according to plan. Now what would she do?
‘Fine!’ she thought. ‘If that’s how it’s going to be, two can play that game. I’ll be watching Princess. And when you do open this portal again, I will be ready. I’m coming for you – if you won’t give me what we both know I deserve, I will take it from you. And nothing you can do will stop me.’
Sunset got up and retuned home – to her new home, her apartment, in her new life, as a ‘human’.
Sunset arranged to become a student at the school, figuring it was the best way to be sure she was near the portal when it opened again. She used her skills at manipulation to set herself up as the ‘queen’ of the school. She learned how to use the internet, finding things about others they never wanted anyone to know, and used that against them to bend them to her will. Even the teachers could not touch her.
She also learned that among the similarities this world had with Equestria, there were people here that were in many ways the doubles of ponies she knew. Chief among these was her former Princess, Celestia. Here, Celestia was the principle of her high school, and to her frustration, the one person she could not find any leverage on. Just like her Alicorn version, this Celestia never seemed to do anything she wanted or needed to stay hidden, and did not seem to have any fears that could be worked or used against her. So Sunset decided her best course of action with this Celestia was to stay as far from her as possible, staying on her good side and only interacting with her when she had to.
Unlike the Alicorn though, this Celestia had a sister, and she did have things in her past. However, when Sunset tried to intimidate her with what she had found, she discovered that Luna was not so driven by her fears that she would become one of Sunset’s tools. Instead, she found herself in Luna’s cross hairs – Luna told her now that she knew Sunset’s true colors, she would be watching her closely, and at the first sign of any trouble, she would turn her over to the authorities and let them deal with her. From that point on, Sunset steered clear of Luna as well, and was especially careful not to let either of the sisters know of any of her less than savory activities.
Eventually, the portal reopened, and Sunset was able to steal back through to find what had happened in her absence.
What she found shocked her, and wounded her pride deeply.
While she was gone, her beloved Princess had replaced her with a new student. This student, a bookish purple unicorn mare, had apparently mastered a type of magic that had made her and her ‘friends’ the Elements of Harmony. These Elements wore magical artifacts that gave them great powers, to the point where they had defeated Nightmare Moon. Sunset was shocked at this – Nightmare Moon was REAL? And she was Luna? The Princess had a sister, and never told her or anypony? What else did she hide from me she wondered?
Sneaking into the Archives again, Sunset dug through everything she could find on the Elements of Harmony. A plan was forming in her head. She would steal the Element of Magic from the purple one, the little pretender who had replaced her, and use its power to return to Equestria, force the Princess to her will, and become the Alicorn Princess she first saw in the portal mirror. It was her destiny, and nopony was going to keep her from it.
After 3 days, the portal closed again, and Sunset began to suspect that it wasn’t her Princess that had closed it the first time. She charted the days since she had first arrived, and found that the portal apparently opened every 30 moons for 3 days, then at midnight on the 3rd day closed again, until another 30 moons had passed. Biding her time, Sunset began to plot – when that portal opened again, she was going to return, and with the Element of Magic, master an army she would take back into Equestria and force the Princess to make her into an Alicorn. She would be ready.
The 30 moons passed, and Sunset was ready. Sneaking into Equestria, she found that the mirror was now in the Crystal Empire with Princess Cadence, who had been appointed regent of this kingdom with her husband Shining Armor, who was the purple pretender’s older brother. She also found that the purple one would be coming the next day with her Element, which she now wore as a crown since she was now the Alicorn princess that Sunset was supposed to have become. This angered Sunset to no end, and further fueled her desire to make her former Princess and the purple pretender suffer when she returned. She found where the new princess was going to be staying, and plotted her return for the following night.
Sunset was frustrated. Nothing went according to plan. She had snuck back into the palace, and had taken the crown with no problems. Then she tripped over that stupid dragon’s tail, waking up him and the purple pretender, then the other elements, and had to race back to the mirror to make her escape. And in the process of that, she had dropped the crown, accidentally sending it through the portal before her, so that the timid counterpart of one of the elements could find it and turn it into the Principles before Sunset could get her hands back on it.
Sunset growled in frustration. The two people in the world that she couldn’t bend to her will, and they had the one thing she needed more than anything.
Fortune smiled on her though. Because they were remarkably similar, they thought it was the crown used for the princess of the formal dances at the school, they were going to use it to crown whomever was named Princess of the Fall Formal at the next school dance, which happened to be on the last night the portal was opened. Not the best option, as sunset had to rethink her ‘army’ given that she would only have a few hours to get them together now after she had claimed the crown and the magic the artifact contained.
And claim the crown she would – she was confident of that. Thanks to her blackmail and intimidation, no one was running against her for the title. She had won every crown since coming to the school when she first passed through the portal. She would win again, and then she would get the revenge against her former Princess, the purple pretender, and anyone who had ever stood in her way.
She was a bit surprised when she realized that the purple one had actually passed through the portal to reclaim her crown. Honestly she never expected the bookish pony to have it in her. She was not really worried though. Without her magic, what could she really do? She was a lost girl, in a world she didn’t even understand, up against the established ‘queen’ of Canterlot High. Sunset would crush her, just as she had everyone else who had stood in her way.
From there, everything had unraveled. The purple pretender had managed to reunite the human counterparts to her element bearing friends, despite all the work Sunset had put into getting them to despise each other. Then, against all odds, she had managed to get the entire student body on her side, to the point where she had a clear chance of defeating Sunset for the Princess of the Fall Formal title. And when she tried to frame her for trashing the setup for the Fall Formal, even that backfired, and she ended up using it to unite the school even more firmly behind her. Everything Sunset tried was turning against her. It was like fate itself had it in for her.
She had one last gambit to play, and damned if she was going to lose after all she had done to get here. She had her little friends Snips and Snails grab the purple pretender’s dog while she was on the stage and bring him to her by the portal. And there, at last it had worked! She had the crown, and all the power and magic it contained! She was transformed, and ready to crush everyone who had ever wronged her, starting with the pathetic little pretender before her.
Then, just when she thought she was going to finally live all her dreams, the unthinkable happened. The element turned against her. And the little purple princess wasn’t destroyed, but instead reclaimed all her power, transforming her human friends with her. Together they blasted Sunset with the power of the Elements. And now, here she was, wherever this place was.
As she hung there, suspended in the white haze, Sunset realized she never had a chance against the Princesses. She was the pretender. As she looked back on all that led her here, she realized that if she were honest with herself, all of her manipulations, lies, and deceits were never going to get her what she wanted most. Friendship. Love. Compassion. The very core of her life, what she had hidden away so long ago to hide the pain she felt so deeply with her losses, was the very thing she needed most. And it wasn’t something she could force others to give her. She had to be willing to let them give it, to be open to letting others feel with her and for her, and to feel for them as well. She had to open herself to them, to risk them hurting her, to get to the point she could allow them to help her. It was what her Princess had been trying to show her all along. But in her pain and fear, she had denied it, and refused to see what was right in front of her the entire time.
She looked back on her life, on all that she had done to hurt and twist others, human and pony, to her will and control. She saw all the lost moments when she had a chance to show Generosity and Kindness to others, and instead had shown cruelty and callousness. She saw how she had passed by moments where Loyalty to her friends would have saved her from further wretchedness, but instead she had assumed the worst, and betrayed them before they could possibly betray her. She saw moments where she could have shared Laughter, but instead gave shame and sorrow, driving away the very ones who needed her most in those moments.
As she hung there, seeing all the sorrow, all the sadness, and the pain, anger and despair she had brought to everyone she had manipulated and hurt, she was filled with sorrow and remorse for everything she had done. She cried out, gut wrenching sobs shaking and wracking her body as she realized the depths she had gone to in trying to twist and force others to her will. Then, at her very lowest point, in the deep pit of her sorrow and remorse, there was a flash, and she was taken again to a point in her past.
This was different. Sunset recognized where she was, but she knew this was not a memory. She was seeing something that happened, something she had not known before, but was ready to see now. She was back in the portal mirror room, back in the Princess's Castle in Canterlot. It was just as she remembered it, but she was nowhere to be found. Princess Celestia was there, head hung between her hooves, lying in front of the mirror. She was barely moving, and soft sobs could be heard from her. Her eyes were shut, and cheeks were wet with tears. Softly she spoke, and Sunset had to strain to hear the words.
“Sunset. My beloved little pony. Please don’t be lost to me. Please come back someday. I still believe in you. I miss you.” Celestia breathed a gentle sigh, then was silent, tears still flowing slowly down her cheeks and onto her hooves.
There was a knock at the door. “Princess Celestia, are you in there? Are you okay?” Sunset recognized the voice. It was the little purple unicorn. “I’ll be right there Twilight. One moment,” answered the Princess. She slowly got up, and turned for the door. Before leaving, she looked back around at the mirror one more time. “Be safe Sunset. I love you, and I know one day you will return to me, and know just how much I miss you.” Then she turned, opened the door, and left the room.
“Princess, why are you so sad?” asked Twilight. “Is everything okay?”
“I am sad because I miss someone Twilight. I just hope they are alright, and wish I could see them again,” answered the Princess.
“Don’t worry Princess,” comforted the young unicorn. “Anyone you care about that much must be really special. I am sure wherever they are they are missing you too and can’t wait to get back to see you.”
The Princess smiled down at the unicorn, and gently nuzzled her. “I am sure you are right, my dear student. I am sure you are right. Someday.” She smiled, and the two moved off.
The castle faded, and Sunset was back in the white haze again. She was shocked and amazed by what she had just seen.
‘I was wrong about everything,’ thought Sunset. ‘She really did love me. I was just too blinded by my hurt to see it.’
‘I never want to be that wretched soul again,’ thought Sunset. ‘Never again! I will never let myself go there again. I will let others into my life, my feelings, and my soul!’
Hanging suspended in the light, Sunset lifted her head. Raising her head, and throwing her hands wide, she shouted to the very heavens!
“I choose Friendship!”
A bright flash again took her, but this time, she was lying in the bottom of a crater. She realized she was free! Where ever it was the Elements had taken her, they had let her go. She was back, back in the world of the portal! Gratitude filled her heart, competing with remorse as the remembered every horrible thing she had done to everyone. Crawling to the edge of the crater, tears in her eyes, she looked up, and saw Twilight looking down at her.
“You will never rule in Equestria. Any power you may have had in this world is gone. Tonight, you’ve shown everyone who you really are. You’ve shown them what is in your heart,” Twilight said.
“I.. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know there was another way,” softly cried Sunset.
“The magic of friendship doesn’t just exist in Equestria. It’s everywhere. You can seek it out, or you can forever be alone. The choice is yours,” Twilight continued.
“But… but all I’ve ever done since being here is drive everyone apart. I don’t know the first thing about friendship,” said Sunset.
Pulling Sunset from the crater, Twilight pointed to her friends. “I bet they can teach you.”
Sunset looked over to the girls. They all smiled. Sunset’s heart skipped a beat with joy. She had friends.
She knew she had a long and hard journey ahead of her, but with her friends by her side, everything was going to be fine after all.