The Maker's Reject

by Albi

First published

Every pony has a destiny—a reason for being. Sunset Shimmer has no cutie mark, and struggles just to feel like she belongs in this reality. But the price to find her purpose might be one too high to pay.

The foggy feeling like you're wandering through a dream, disconnected from the world around you. Sunset Shimmer experiences that every day. Ponies struggle to remember her, she suffers from random bouts of exhaustion, and at eighteen, she still has no cutie mark.

Despite the claims her mother makes, Sunset knows she is broken in some way. It isn't until her nineteenth birthday that she discovers why.

When her perception of herself and the world around her shatters, Equestria will face the consequences of the villain... or the hero, it was never supposed to have.

1. Mirror Mirror

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“Tell me, Sunset, what do you see?”

Her voice, tender and warm, settled on my shoulders like a blanket. I held onto it as tightly as I could, and stepped up to the crystal clear mirror. It sat on a raised dais, the glass set in a purple frame embedded with gemstones. As I drew close, anxiety and trepidation began to eat at me. For no matter how close I got, my reflection never appeared on the other side.

Was it a trick? An optical illusion? Were only the worthy able to see within it? No, it couldn’t be the last one, for I could see the storage room behind me, and of course, Princess Celestia.

I looked over my shoulder. There she was, standing right behind me, smiling encouragingly. I looked down at my hoof. I was still here. But when I looked into the mirror… I wasn’t there. Shaking my mane, waving my hoof, no movement made me appear.

“I… I don’t…” I took a step back, starting to hyperventilate. “I don’t see anything. I don’t see myself.” I back-peddled into Celestia’s legs, which instantly wrapped around me. “What am I supposed to see?”

Celestia was warm. Of course, she was always warm. Not just her smile or her demeanor or her words, her body was always the perfect temperature. She craned her neck down and brushed her muzzle against my cheek. The simple physical contact: being held by her alabaster forelegs and nuzzled softly returned my heart to its normal speed. I was ashamed a stupid mirror had gotten me so worked up in the first place.

“It’s okay, Sunset, it’s fine.” She slipped one of her hooves free from its golden slipper and ran it through my mane. “The mirror is meant to show your heart’s desire, nothing more.”

“But I…” If it was meant to show my heart’s desire, why wasn’t I in it? I admit, I don’t have the highest opinion of myself sometimes, but I think I would want to be in my own heart’s desire. Or was it supposed to be a given? “I just saw you and the rest of the room.”

Celestia kissed me on the cheek. “Well, I love you, too.”

My cheeks burned. I knew she was trying to change the subject—there was something more to the mirror than what I saw, or rather, lack thereof. Still, something in the back of my head, a primordial fear, told me to leave it alone.

I looked at my own hoof again and agreed with it. I wanted—needed to get as far from this mirror as I could. Turning my face up to the radiant mare standing over me, I put on one of my better fake smiles. I had learned from the best after all. Well, it wasn’t like she ever faked it. Some smiles were just less genuine than others.

But every smile she had for me was real. It was one of the few real things I knew.

Celestia unwrapped me from her hug and gestured me out the door with her angelic wings. “Come, come, I think we can conclude this exercise. Let’s have breakfast, shall we?”

At the word ‘breakfast’ my stomach let out an eager rumble. “Okay, Mom.”

My name is Sunset Shimmer. I am the adopted daughter of Princess Celestia, ruler of Equestria. One could call my life something out of a fairy tale.

Sometimes, I think it really is.


After looking into that mirror, I checked my appearance in every surface I passed by. It must have seemed narcissistic to the guards and castle maids, but I needed that confirmation that I was still here.

Perhaps what scared me the most from not seeing my reflection was that it fueled my belief that something was wrong with me. Everyone has out-of-body experiences, like they’re floating in a vast void, untethered from the physical world, weightless and free. I experienced those more frequently, occasionally twice a day. Accompanying them were bouts of fatigue and lethargy, sometimes depression, but I think that’s on my end. You’d be depressed too if it felt like you were slipping out of existence.

I looked into the full body mirror that stood adjacent from my four-poster bed. There I was, crimson and gold mane that settled around my shoulders, save for a bang that liked to hang in front of my eyes, teal like the still ocean. My coat, a light amber and perfectly maintained with nary a scar or thin patch of fur… or a cutie mark.

Mother said I was just a late bloomer. Fourteen years old is pretty late. I tried not to think about it too much; it gave ponies a reason to look at me sometimes. A boon since they usually glossed over me. Even being the princess's daughter wasn’t enough to get ponies’ recognition. It took a long time for ponies to remember me. Teachers would forget my name or skip over me during roll call. Whenever I walked outside, ponies’ eyes would drift over me like I wasn’t there. If I interacted with them long enough, I finally stuck in their minds.

The lapse in memory still happened, but it took a shorter time for others to remember me thanks to my blank flank. I guess that was one advantage of not knowing my special talent yet.

I talked to Mom about this frequently. Not even she can come up with a good explanation for it. Maybe that’s why she spends extra time with me, or takes me with her whenever she goes out. Not that I mind.

I brushed my hair out, leaving the bang where it hung. I thought it suited me. I gave my reflection a smile, and she returned it.

“You are somepony,” I said, repeating what Mother always tells me. “You’re special, you’re loved, and you have a destiny.”

As cheesy as it was, I honestly think it helps sometimes, especially on the days where I truly feel like I don’t belong. Not in the typical outsider, weird kid way. Like, I wasn’t supposed to be here. In this life. It was kinda like having a permanent existential crisis.

The sun continued to rise, guided by Mother’s magic. It gave Canterlot an orange glow that reminded me of juice. Speaking of which, breakfast had to be nearly ready. Just as I turned away from the window, an explosion rattled it until it flew open. I stuck my head outside and gasped, eyes alight.

Above me, a wave of colors flew over the city, bathing everything in a rainbow aurora. I saw every color, each one tickling me and making me smile. Nothing like this had ever occurred over Canterlot before, and I wasn’t the only one taking notice. Below me, ponies stared up and pointed, awestruck.

But where did this wave of colors come from? What did it mean? Why—

I clutched my heart and stumbled backwards, falling onto the carpet. In one single moment, I could feel every piece of myself, every cell and molecule in every part of my body. In the next moment, I could feel each of them coming undone, being erased like I was nothing but a drawing.

It was nothing like how some ponies described dying. I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes. No sense of calm or acceptance came. I was completely paralyzed, my body spasming on the floor in some sort of futile effort to stay in this reality. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t feel. I stopped existing. For just a brief second, I floated in a black void, absent of anything, even myself. Nothingness, still and absolute. When I crashed back into my body, every part of twitched and jerked violently, and I still couldn’t breathe.

The paralysis lasted for another minute, and when I finally could breathe again, I screamed as loud as I could. I couldn’t close my eyes. Every time I blinked, I saw and felt the crushing nothingness that had almost taken me.

Two of my guards burst in as I laid on the floor, panting and staring at the wall. “Lady Sunset, are you all right?”

I shook my head. “Mother,” I whispered. “Please, bring me my mother.”

One of them rushed off while the other put me on his back and carried me to the infirmary. My spasms had stopped, leaving my body numb and weak, like falling out of existence had taken all the energy from me. I still refused to close my eyes. I couldn’t go back there.

My out-of-body experiences never escalated to that. Brief dizzy spells, momentary lapse in memory, fatigue. But never that. Was the rainbow to blame? Or did it have something to do with that damn mirror? Why had Mother really shown it to me? And what was I supposed to have seen?

The guard laid me on the soft infirmary bed, and Doctor Panacea took my vitals immediately. He was one of the few ponies who could remember me without trouble, being that I saw him three times a week.

“Sunset, what happened?” he asked.

I shook my head, not wanting to say anything until my mother came. I didn’t want to repeat myself more than I had to. Thankfully, she didn’t take long to arrive. She rushed into the room and dropped to my bedside, gently brushing a hoof against my cheek.

“Are you okay, Sunset?”

Again, I shook my head. My voice still shook when I spoke. “I had one of my experiences, but… it was worse than ever before.” My eyes stung from having not blinked in a whole minute and from remembering why I refused. They finally closed involuntarily, and I gasped and shuddered, seeing the darkness close around me. Celestia gently shushed me and continued to brush my cheek.

“I felt like I was gone,” I said, starting to cry. “I was just in nothing, fading away. And when I came back, I couldn’t move or breathe.”

Mother wrapped me up in her forelegs and draped her wings around me. Tears filled her eyes as she spoke. “My little Sunset, I am so sorry. It’s going to be okay, though. You’re safe. You’re here with me. Everything is fine now.”

Doctor Panacea walked over, clipboard hovering in front of his face. “Her heart level was twice its normal BPM, but her magic levels were drastically low, and she showed signs of extreme fatigue. She needs food and bed rest, preferably here so I can keep an eye on her.”

I looked up at Mother, still trying to fight back my sobs. “Mom, please tell me. What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing is wrong with you,” she said urgently, hugging me tighter. “You’re fine the way you are. You’re just a little unwell, that’s all.”

The way she held me prevented me from looking up at her eyes. But I knew she was lying. To spare my feelings perhaps, or maybe even she didn’t know what my diagnosis was. But this loss of self. This isolation from ponies not recognizing you. This feeling, like I was stuck in a lucid dream. And my absent reflection in that mirror. I was more than just ‘unwell.’

Something about me was broken.

2. A Foreboding Eve

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Life changed after the rainbow lit up the sky four years ago. I later came to know it as the legendary Sonic Rainboom. From time to time, I would experience those horrific moments of fading away to nothing, though they were brief and never reached the point they did the first time. Mother continued to shower me with affection, but still wouldn’t tell me what was wrong with me. She knew, I was certain of that now. But any time I pressed her, she would only assure me, ‘there is nothing wrong with you.’ Her exact words every time. I wanted to believe her, but no other pony goes through what I do. Normal, I was not.

Whenever I wasn’t by her side, I now had a personal escort. I didn’t mind too much. Mother had to use older guards who already knew my face, but most of them were a surly sort and didn’t converse much. Again, I didn’t mind; I wasn’t too interested in making friends anyway. It took too much time and too much effort.

One of the few constants that remained after that day was that I still had not obtained a cutie mark of any kind. Of course, Mother remained optimistic. I was beyond skeptical now. What eighteen—turning nineteen—year old pony didn’t have a cutie mark? When ponies did notice me, pointing and whispering usually followed. So, aside from my close circle of acquaintances, I kept to myself.

On the eve of the Summer Sun Celebration, I woke up a little light headed, but fine otherwise. I gave a loud yawn and stretched my limbs wide before rolling out of my large bed. The grandfather clock next to my desk told me it was a little before nine. I hastened to make myself look pretty so I wouldn’t be late for breakfast.

As I finished fixing my mane, one of the castle guards knocked on my door. “Lady Sunset, the princess requests your presence in the dining hall,” a deep, feminine voice said.

That’s all I was even after this many years. ‘Lady Sunset Shimmer.’ Despite being the princess’ daughter, I wasn’t a princess myself. It stung sometimes—became a full burn for a while when Cadence stepped into the picture—but I wouldn’t let it eat me alive as much as it tried. Celestia called me her daughter, loved me like she had given birth to me. Why should I complain?

“I’m on my way,” I called back. A quick brush of my hair made me presentable, and I stepped out of my tower room.

Platina waited for me outside, the oldest of my designated guard and the one I liked the most. It only took her two tries to remember my name. She had a chance to promote to a higher position but turned it down. When I asked her why, she only smiled and kept walking.

She didn’t say much.

Like the other guards, she wore gold plated armor, though her plume was red instead of blue or gray. The camouflage spell made her coat white, and I had never seen her without it.

“Good morning, Lady Sunset.” She spoke from her diaphragm, making her voice a deep tenor. Despite being a unicorn, she was built like an earth pony: large and broad shouldered. I wagered her body slams would hurt just as much as her magic.

“Morning, Platina,” I said. She led the way through the arching corridors, nodding at the other guards we passed.

“How are you feeling today?”

Aside from the usual lightheadedness I swam through as I woke up, fine. But there was no need to tell her something that was a daily occurrence. “I’m all right. How about you?”

“Good, My Lady. Lance surprised me with a date last night. A fancy restaurant on Bridal Boulevard.”

I grinned. Lance was her coltfriend for over two years now. She kept threatening to leave if he didn’t propose soon, but the way she looked at him, I knew it was a hollow threat. “Sounds romantic.”

“Not really. Waiter screwed up our orders, and we sat next to whiny foals.” She shrugged. “Can’t all be perfect.” We arrived at the dining hall, and Platina tapped the door twice with the butt of her spear before pushing it open with a flash of her purple aura.

Cadence and Celestia sat at the grand mahogany table, a spread of food laid out before them. I sat down on my mother’s right side, the plate in front of me already filled with whip cream topped pancakes, fried eggs, and hay bacon with a side of strawberries.

“Good morning, Sunset,” Mother said, reaching over to kiss my forehead.

“Good morning, Mom. Morning, Cadence,” I said civilly.

Cadence smiled warmly at me. Her arrival to the castle happened prior to the Rainboom, but it wasn’t until after it that I started opening up a little to her. I said that having a second alicorn/princess had burned, and it did. But it was hard to hate Cadence with her bright, cheery personality. We could probably be closer friends if I put more effort into it, but my ego prevented me from making us anything more than acquaintances that occasionally hung out. Besides, she ran in different circles than me. I.e., she was popular, I was not.

I mean, knowing her, she probably stopped anypony who talked about me behind my back (granted, if they remembered me that long), but it didn’t make them line up to get to know me. Not that I cared. Like I said, too much effort went into trying to make friends with ponies that hardly acknowledged you anyway. Sad to say, that meant my social circle included very few ponies: Celestia, Platina, the head chef, Doctor Panacea, the student I tutored, and Cadence somewhere on the edge.

There was a reason I became depressed from time to time.

Breakfast was its usual humdrum affair. We made some small talk about current events in Equestria and some of the neighboring lands. I wondered if normal families talked about these things at their dining tables. Perhaps, just without the perspective of the ruling monarch.

”Sunset,” my mother said after pushing away the remains of her fruit salad, “you still haven’t told me what you want to do for your birthday.”

“Oh, right, well…” Truth be told, I still didn’t know. My birthday fell on the day after the Summer Sun Celebration, already one of the biggest holidays of the year. I accompanied Mother every year to each city that hosted the main event, and that included parades and parties. I never saw the point in having another party right after that, especially when I had almost no one to invite.

“Just a family dinner would be fine,” I said, finishing my strawberries.

Cadence pouted. “Are you sure? Why not have a little party? Or invite your friends to go bowling? Do something fun this year.”

“Having dinner with you is fun,” I argued. By ‘you’ I generally meant Celestia, but Cadence didn’t make bad dinner company either.

“I think Cadence is right,” Mother said. “Why not have just a little party? I think it’ll be good for you.”

Since I was already outvoted, I didn’t press an argument. “Fine,” I said with a sigh. Maybe they were right. A party could be fun. And hey, more presents for me.

Bellies full, Cadence and I excused ourselves from the table so Mother could move on with her busy day. It being summer break, I didn’t have to much on my docket of activities. Maybe I would practice my magic or read a book. Then again, the beautiful day beckoned me to at least walk around outside a little. Celestia knows I could use the exercise.

As Cadence and I reached a split in the hall, I asked, “What are you up to today?”

Cadence waved a hoof and said aloofly, “Oh, you know. Just going to go out and spend some time with friends. Go shopping. Get ready for the festivities tonight.”

“Ogle at the new guard captain again?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I am not ogling him!” Cadence said, her face red. “I’m just… making sure he’s treating his stallions with respect and dignity.”

“Conveniently when his back is turned, and from a high balcony.”

“Oh, like you haven’t done it before!”

“Actually, I haven’t,” I said, my impish grin growing.

Ears now red, Cadence stuck her tongue out at me and turned away. I really don’t know why I didn’t hang out with her more. Embarrassing her was always fun.

Emerging from the castle, the sun against my fur reminded me I was alive. Warm and energizing, I liked to think sometimes Mother raised it just for me. I’m not narcissistic enough to actually believe it though.

Platina shadowed me from a distance, far enough to give me my personal freedom but close enough to help should I have an incident. Or if I just wanted to talk. She kept her sentences short but she was a great listener.

At the height of summer, the well manicured grass that surrounded the castle edged on turning yellow. While I enjoyed the sun, the air was dry enough to make my mouth prickle. Lemonade! I thought, skipping in delight. Some fresh lemonade from that café on the corner! Sure, I could ask the kitchen staff to make me one for free, but this gave me an excuse to keep walking around.

I cantered along the marble path leading out of the castle courtyard and across the moat to Canterlot proper. Tall trees provided shade for some of the wilting grass, keeping it greener in some places. Along the main road, Fountains bubbled and glittered in the sunlight, and ponies frolicked around, having picnics and flying kites. It brought a smile to my face.

My smile thinned a little when I saw a familiar pony walking down the path toward me, face hidden from the world behind a book. That actually made her more noticeable. Her purple bangs with a magenta streak brushed back and forth in time with her eyes as they scanned the page. She walked right by me like I was invisible. Normally, I wouldn’t take offense to this, but I knew she knew me. I cleared my throat.

She kept walking.


Twilight Sparkle turned around. Her eyes widened and a faint blush appeared on her snout. “Oh! Sorry, Sunset, I didn’t see you there.”

“So I noticed.” Again, I normally didn’t care; ponies tended to ignore me. But I had been tutoring Twilight for almost four years now. She didn’t notice because she always had her face in a book.

Twilight Sparkle: the prodigal student. The day of the Sonic Rainboom, she had taken her entrance exam for Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns and passed with flying colors thanks to having a magical outburst. Since then, Mother had taken to giving her special lessons to help her control her magic. But it wasn’t just her magic that was great; her aptitude for learning proved incredible as well. Hence her love for books.

Mother had assigned me to be her tutor. Though, we were more of study buddies at this point. While my magic fluctuated randomly (add that to the list of things wrong with me) I excelled at magical theorem. I could tell you point for point how a transmogrification spell worked, and maybe on a good day, I could cast it.

Twilight could do both.

You’d think a mare like that would be insanely popular. But whereas I don’t make friends because ponies forget I exist, she doesn’t make friends because she ignores everyone else. I think Mother put us together to try and balance it out.

Twilight rubbed the back of her head, still looking embarrassed. “What are you up to today?”

“Just off to get some lemonade. What about you?” A dumb question in hindsight. I knew exactly what she was doing.

Proving my point, she waved the book she had been reading in her telekinesis. “I’m doing some reading on legends and folktales. You know, in honor of the Summer Sun Celebration.”

I couldn’t help but sigh. “Don’t you want to go hangout with some of your friends instead?” Hypocritical of me perhaps, but I wasn’t an introvert by choice. Twilight could still be saved from loneliness.

She looked at me like I had something on my face. “This is my only chance to do some pleasure reading before I get started on next semester’s homework. I don’t have time to ‘hangout.’”

“Isn’t Moondancer having a party today though?”

Twilight blinked at me.

“Your friend? Moondancer? Hangs out with Lyra and Minuette? I’ve seen you go with them to Doughnut Joe’s”

That at least got a momentary look of realization. It quickly lapsed back into confusion. “She’s having a party?”

I facehoofed. That poor mare.

“Well, why don’t you go instead? I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.”

Oh, I think Moondancer would. “I wasn’t invited. Twilight, at the risk of sounding like Mo—er, Princess Celestia, I won’t tell you to go make friends. Just, go do something other than read today.”

She let out a grouchy sigh. “Fine, I’ll stargaze tonight instead, and I’ll find some little party to go to tomorrow. Happy?”

“Not really, but it’s a step in the right direction.” I turned to go. “If you’re going to go to a party, please go to Moondancer’s.” I don’t think the filly could handle it if you didn’t.

She didn’t respond. I didn’t need to look over my shoulder to know she had gone back to her book. I sighed again and made my way to the café on the corner of the first plaza the road opened up to.

Before I reached the door, my lightheadedness hit me full force. I stepped off into nothing, dropping into the abyss as everything around me vanished. Or maybe I was the one vanishing. I floated for a moment, swimming in a black sea before I fell back to Canterlot and into my trembling body.

“My Lady, are you okay?” Platina kneeled next to me, concern not just for her charge, but for a friend. She gently helped me to stand and let me lean against her while I caught my breath.

My thoughts were disconnected for a second while I tried to remember who I was. Sunset Shimmer. Princess Celestia’s daughter. Lives in Canterlot. I shook the rest of the fog away. “Yeah, I’m okay.”

“Would you like to go back to the castle?”

I looked at the door to Sarsaparilla's cafe. I had come this far already, why would I turn around now empty-hoofed? “Let me just get my drink.”

Sarsaparilla didn’t know my name despite me coming here once a week at least. You would think that would be enough to leave an impression. Whatever. She gave me my fresh squeezed lemonade and bid me a good day. As I walked out, she looked at the bits confused, like she couldn’t remember where she had just gotten them from.

Platina didn’t leave my side during my return trip to the castle. I let her have a sip of my drink. She puckered her cheeks and stuck her tongue out as she handed it back to me. “Too sour.”

“Suit yourself,” I said. It tasted just right to me. My incident had left me drowsy, but it was too soon to take a nap before the celebration. I decided to take a page out of Twilight’s book and… well, read a book. Practicing magic was a poor idea now. I could feel my mana reserves on low.

The castle stayed at the perfect temperature all year long. A refreshing cool breeze washed over us as we stepped across the threshold. I shuffled my way up the entrance hall steps and to the west corridor for the the library.

“Should I inform your mother about what happened?” Platina asked, slowly opening the gap between us.

I casually sipped my drink trying to look as nonchalant as possible. Was there a point in telling Mother? Not really. She would just fawn over me, make sure I was fine, insist I get some rest, then kiss me and told me she loved me. That last one wasn’t so bad.

But, to avoid repetition and interrupting her busy day for something so monotonous, I shook my head. “It’s fine. I’ll tell her at dinner.”

“Very well,” Platina said. Although the look in her eye said, ‘You know better than to wait on this.’ She fell further behind as we walked, becoming scarce as I entered the castle library.

Towers and walls of books rose up around me, stretching to the second floor. Stories and histories dating back to before Equestria came to be. A fountain of knowledge for me to drink from.

What to read today? I browsed the maze of shelves for something that caught my eye. Maybe a little folklore of my own. Nah, I didn’t want to copy Twilight verbatim. Perhaps—

I crashed to the floor with no warning, my drink rolling away. One second, my hoof brushed along the spines of books, the next, I tumbled through darkness, suffocating in the desolate vacuum. My eye snapped open and found the vaulted ceiling high above me. Limbs locked and throat constricted, I must have looked feeble, twitching there on the floor.

Platina appeared by my side again. Her mouth moved, but my ears failed to pick up her speech. I tried to wave her off, pretend everything was fine, but my legs would have none of it. My muscles merely spasmed again, prompting Platina to pick me up and lay me across her back. She used her magic to keep a light grip on me while she galloped down the corridors.

This scenario was all too familiar. How many times had it been now? Too many to count. My hearing returned. Thunderous hooves and Platina’s breath pounded in my ears. My muscles started to loosen and the numbness ebbed.

“Platina,” I croaked, “I’m fine.”

She stoutly ignored me. After two incidents, I couldn’t blame her. That hadn’t happened in years. They were usually spaced days, sometimes weeks apart. I wanted to write it off as just a bad day, but the fear digging into my chest, choking my heart, wouldn’t be ignored.

When I blinked and opened my eyes, I found myself in the infirmary once more. Platina vanished. In her place was Doctor Panacea, shining a light into my eye and checking my vitals with his magic. He smiled at me when he realized I was still coherent.

“Don’t worry, Sunset; it’s going to be all right.”

I sat up, but he eased a hoof and pushed me back onto the bed. I cleared my throat, urging my vocal cords to perform at regular capacity. “I’m fine.” It came out more snappish than I intended. “They didn’t last that long. Really, I’m okay.”

Celestia appeared in a brilliant flash of light, materializing by my bedside. Her violet eyes fell on me, full of motherly concern and… tears. Unfallen tears of guilt. “Sunset, are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine, honest,” I said, still sounding more annoyed than I intended. Perhaps it was the primordial fear that I kept pushing down. I sat up again and smiled to prove my point.

Doctor Panacea rubbed his hoof. “Platina tells me this makes two fainting spells in one day.” His eyes flickered to Mother. “That’s very worrisome. Perhaps it would be best if she rested for the remainder of the day.”

I would have argued, but I realized my day plan consisted of reading and napping until it was time for the festivities. So, I kept my mouth shut.

Mother nodded. “Yes, that’s for the best.” She looked at me, hiding her guilt with a smile. “In fact, why don’t you spend the rest of the day with me?”

A bittersweet scenario. On one hoof, any time with Mother was time well enjoyed. On the other, I would be spending said time presiding over the day court, a very dull affair more often than not.

Still, I think Mother meant it to be gentle demand rather than a request. She helped me out of bed and kept a wing around my withers as she led me out of the infirmary. I felt a flood of strength return to me in Mother’s presence. Like I could cast a transmogrification spell and not have it backfire. I always felt stronger when she was near.

Platina stood in the hall. She covered up her worried eyes with a stone faced salute when Celestia walked past her. Her eyes fell on me, and her lips curled up in a relieved smile.

The walk to the throne room was quiet. And… tense. Every time I looked up to catch Mother’s eyes, she kept her head forward.

“Sunset,” she said tenderly, “you know I love you, right?”

“Of course,” I said, trying to catch her eye again. She only said it everyday.

We neared the throne room; guards stood posted at every set of pillars. “Good,” she said. “Because it’s true. And that won’t ever change.”

I hesitated, slowing my steps. “Mom, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” She shook her head and looked down at last. “Everything is going to be fine.”

Boy, that was cryptic. We reached the doors before I could inquire any further, but if Mother was trying to hide something, she had lost her touch over the years.

I loved walking into the throne room. The massive open space decorated with stained glass portraits of sunlit fields and roaming clouds, the mirror polished surface of the floor, and the long red carpet rolling up to the throne itself. Fountains and flowers surrounded it, creating an air of tranquility.

Mother took her seat on the golden chair, summoning a pillow for me to sit on next to her. I got comfy and stared out across the room, already wishing I had a book to read.

Before Mother could call court back into session, a puff of emerald smoke swirled in front of her face and coalesced into a scroll. I immediately recognized it as a dragon message, Spike’s to be more specific. Lucky Twilight owned a young dragon assistant. Sometimes I wondered who took care of whom more.

Celestia caught the scroll in her magic. “A letter from Twilight?” She smiled in delight. “This is a surprise.”

“Not really,” I said, sighing. “It means she hasn’t taken my advice.”

“Hmmm. Oh dear,” Mother said, though she looked far from worried. “Twilight appears to think Nightmare Moon will be released from her prison tonight.”

I dropped my face into my pillow. You can’t be serious. I raised my head. “Well, a little more of a warning would have been nice.”

Mother laughed. “Quite. But Twilight sees this as a serious problem.”

“Tell her to stop reading those dusty old books.” I rested my head on my hooves and flicked my tail. “I told her to go out and have fun, not find a conspiracy theory about Armageddon.” My eyes drifted up to Mother. “Nightmare Moon is just a story, right?”

“Every story has some truth to it,” she said, already scribbling a reply letter. “But perhaps you’re right. Twilight needs to get out and see a little more of the world. I think having her help with the celebration in Ponyville will be good for her.”

She had dodged the bulk of my question. Now I was starting to wonder if Twilight was onto something. Still, Mother wouldn’t act so calm if there was a true threat to Equestria hours away. My thoughts turned to Moondancer just as Mother sent the letter off.

I hope that mare doesn’t take it too hard.

3. A Royal Welcome

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To absolutely no surprise, the Day Court proved to be incredibly dull. Mother gave her less than genuine smile and listened to ponies complain and argue with one another about trivial things that, with a little bit of brain power, they could have figured out by themselves. Maybe I was just grouchy from not having anything to read.

Boy, that Twilight really starts to rub off on you after a while.

Still, the entire time I felt real. I wasn’t lightheaded or tired or anything. The surge of strength I got after Celestia took me from the infirmary lasted the entire day. As much as I would have loved to fall asleep, I felt wired on caffeine through the whole session.

Court came to an end as Mother began to lower the sun. Vivid oranges and purples painted the sky, while streaks of gold broke through the windows and laid out a glittering path for us down the corridor. I skipped along at Mother’s side, happy to be free from court and to be taking a trip out of Canterlot. The city was great—nearly perfect! But it was nice to get away once in awhile. While I wouldn’t have picked Ponyville as a prime vacation spot, beggars can’t be choosers.

We came to a split in the hallway. Mother made to turn right, but regarded me first. “We’ll be leaving at midnight. That should give us plenty of time to get there and maybe sneak to a party or two.”

I playfully rolled my eyes.

She gently nudged me with a wing. “Go take a little nap. I don’t want you to miss anything.”

“Please, I’ve never missed a celebration. I’m not gonna start now.” I smiled as I turned away and walked back to my room. I wasn’t sure if I could take a nap; I still felt great! Maybe I would get to practice a little magic today.

The stars began to flicker to life as I entered my tower. The moon rose into the clear sky, the Mare in the Moon staring down upon the world. I stared back, remembering Twilight’s supposed proclamation of doom. Twilight was a sensible mare. Sure, she was prone to a few freak outs from time to time about organization and deadlines and study habits, but to suddenly say an ancient evil was about to resurface? That couldn’t have come out of the blue.

What exactly did she read that freaked her out so much? She had left for Ponyville several hours ago, so asking her would have to wait until morning. If we made it to then. I shook my head. Mother was calm, so I was calm.

Still, a little voice told me something was odd here. Maybe it was the paranoia flaring up, but the Mare in the Moon seemed menacing today. Her eye glared rather than gazed.

I still had energy to spare, and my curiosity got the better of me. I trotted over to my wall of literature and started browsing my immense collection of everything from fiction to practical science. Twilight had been reading folktales and legends. Maybe I couldn’t find the exact book Twilight read, but some general knowledge about Nightmare Moon might help me understand why Twilight was in a tizzy now of all times.

I found an old book, Predictions and Prophecies, one of three copies the castle library owned. I made sure to be gentle with it; the book was older than me, and it showed. A crooked spine, torn pages, and a musty smell that, admittedly, was quite pleasant. I turned to the page on Nightmare Moon.

“Let’s see. Blah, blah, blah, supposedly Celestia’s sister. Banished to the moon. ‘On the longest day of the thousandth year, the stars will aide in her escape, and she will bring about nighttime eternal.’” Well, the longest day clearly meant the summer solstice, which is what the Summer Sun Celebration… well, celebrated. But how was Twilight sure this was the thousandth year? And that’s still assuming the legend was real in the first place.

I don’t know why I never asked Mother about it. Maybe because I always thought it was just a story told around Nightmare Night to scare foals. Heh, imagine if she did have a sister. I’d have an aunt. That’d be pretty cool.

I snapped the book shut. Back to the matter at hoof, I had to find out how Twilight knew this year was the one thousandth since Nightmare Moon’s banishment. The story was old, yes. Old enough that a thousand years could have already come and gone.

I picked out a history book and flipped to the chronology page. History was broken into BE (before Equestria) and AoE (Age of Equestria). The book mentioned the two royal sisters’ defeat of Discord and becoming stewards of the heavens. A few hundred years later, around the fifth century AoE, it stopped referring to two princesses and focused solely on Celestia. Interesting enough to get my attention, but not enough to put me into a panic yet.

I turned to the detailed chapter on the fifth century. Scanning through the pages, I failed to find any concrete information on Nightmare Moon’s existence. The closest I could get was when the book stopped referring to the Royal Sisters, mentioning Celestia solely by name around the mid-century. With this year being 1560 AoE, I ran the math in my head. That left a window of about ten years. Either Twilight knew something I didn’t or she was hysterical.

I put the book away and gazed out at the moon again. The four stars surrounding it… had they always been that close?

Dizziness swept through me like a swift gale. All the strength I had felt at Celestia’s side drained away, bringing me to my knees.

Dammit! Why? I thought as I struggled to breath. Just as the void began crawling up my vision, it quickly receded, taking the nausea and lightheadedness with it. I even got a small surge of strength; enough to get back to my hooves like nothing happened.

I couldn’t just ignore this though. Three times in one day? Was I getting worse? The surge of strength acted like a shot of caffeine, and I knew I couldn’t take a nap now. I didn’t want to regardless; I didn’t even want to close my eyes. The nothingness would be there, waiting for me. I couldn’t go back, not after making three trips in a few hours.

My hooves led me in circles around my satin carpet while I tried to think of something to do for the next three and half hours. I passed the window and looked out to the moon again. Had the stars drawn closer to it? What if Twilight was right? What if some eldritch horror was about to be released tonight? But then Mother would know about it. She would do something. She wouldn’t be this calm. Then again, the only time I don’t see her calm is when she’s fretting over me.

”If she’s not worried, I’m not worried.” I wanted to believe it was as simple as that, but something kept nipping me in the back of my mind. I pulled a book at random from the shelf and got comfy on my bed, urging the clock to move faster.

The hours dragged on, and time seemed to freeze whenever I looked up. Eventually, I put the book aside and just stared into space, following any and every train of thought that passed by. I played out my favorite fantasy: becoming a powerful mage that didn’t suffer from fainting spells. The kingdom adored me. Mother sang my praises. I even had friends who remembered my name.

I rested my chin between my hooves and sighed. A fun dream to have every once in awhile, but I tried not to entertain it for too long. I rolled onto my back and stared at the top of my canopy. Did I dare look at the clock? Last time I had, only ten minutes had gone by since my previous peek.

“My Lady,” Platina said, knocking on my door. “Princess Celestia—”

I rushed to the door and threw it open before Platina could finish. She started at me with a mixture of surprise and bemusement.

“—requests your presence in the chariot hanger. She says it’s time to depart.” She smirked. “Bored?”

“Me? Pffft, nah. I always have something to do.” I stepped by her, sticking my tongue out while she continued to regard me with a smug grin. We made our way to the lower part of the castle and exited to the back, where Mother and a large chariot were waiting for us.

It was especially bright out tonight, and I couldn’t help but look up at the full moon overhead. I swear the stars had moved closer again. The temptation to question mother about the Mare in the Moon was strong but, looking into her loving eyes as I drew close, I didn’t want to show her I had any doubts.

“Are you ready for our exciting night?” She asked as I climbed into the chariot next to her. Platina and two elite guards sat behind us.

“Depends on what you mean by ‘exciting’. I don’t know if these small town ponies know how to party.” The pegasi pulling the chariot broke into a gallop before leaping and taking flight, pulling us up into the air.

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Celestia said with a chuckle.

We made a lap around the castle to gain altitude. At night, the light of the moon illuminated the marble and royal purple and gold colors that made up Canterlot, making it glow on the mountainside. Accented by the thousands of smaller lights in the city, it was one of my favorite things to witness.

Mother wrapped a wing over my shoulder and tucked me close. It would have been easy to fall asleep just like that. She nuzzled me on the head before saying softly, “You know I love you, right?”

“Of course.”

“Good. No matter what happens, don’t ever forget that. You are my daughter, Sunset Shimmer, and I love you with all of my heart.”

It was sincere and genuine, but there was something else in her voice, something that made me tremble. Uncertainty? Fear?

“Mother, is everything okay?”

Celestia lifted her head up and stared out ahead of us. “Everything is going to be just fine. I’m sure of it.”

A vague and cryptic answer. Not sure what else I was expecting. I kept quiet though, knowing I stood little chance if I pushed the subject any further.

Ponyville, a tiny hamlet born at the start of the century, sat in a green valley south of the mountain Canterlot proudly perched on. A prime location, save for one serious flaw. While beautiful hills and rivers surrounded it on most sides, encroaching from the southeast was the infamous Everfree Forest. Dark, mysterious, and wild, no sane pony ventured there. Magic ran free, as did the animals and weather, refusing to bow to the call of an earth pony, or the touch of a pegasus.

I gave credit where credit was due. The denizens of Ponyville had to be some kind of brave to live this close to the dark forest.

The chariot swooped around the village, drawing closer to the thatched roofs and wooden windmills. Even in the midnight moonlight, Ponyville was kinda cute. We flew over the town square, where streamers and balloons had already been placed. Town hall sported banners with my mother’s cutie mark on it.

We landed on the west outskirts, as not to make too big of a scene before the sun raising. A small welcome group met us as we stepped out of the chariot. At its front was a beige pony with a gray mane. She wore a ruffled green tie and half-moon glasses.

After a respectful bow, she said, “Good evening, Princess Celestia, let me be the first to welcome you to Ponyville for the Summer Sun Celebration!”

“Good evening, Mayor Mare. It’s wonderful to be here tonight,” Mother said with an earnest smile. She brushed a wing over my head. “This is my daughter, Sunset Shimmer.”

Mayor Mare’s eyes went unfocused as she tried to look at me. I had to wonder, what did ponies see when they saw me? Was I like a ghost? A trick of the light? Or was I simply not there? And of course, there was the question of why they had such a hard time seeing me. I waved, hoping it would speed up the introduction.

Sure enough, Mayor Mare’s eyes unglazed, and she smiled warmly at me, like I had been there all along. “Welcome, Lady Shimmer, it’s a pleasure to meet you! If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask me or any of my aides,” she said, motioning to the three ponies behind her.

“Thank you,” I said, but she had already turned her head back to my mother.

“Your stage at town hall is all set up, and we have our deluxe sweet ready in our finest inn. I know it’s a little rustic, but we’re still working on improving our tourism industry.”

Mother laughed, a delightful chime that put church bells to shame. “It’s fine, Mayor. A little rustic charm sounds lovely.”

“Oh, wonderful!” the mayor said with a sigh of relief.

I never understood why ponies got so nervous in my mother’s presence. You could literally spray tea over her and she’d apologize like it was her fault. Yet so many ponies think the smallest infraction will get them banished or something.

We followed Mayor Mare and her assistants down the main road to the town proper. It was mostly deserted, though we could hear several different parties happening in homes and shops. The few ponies that did step outside stopped and bowed deeply as my mother passed.

“So, Sunset,” she said as we neared the center of town, “where should we go to spend our time?” Her eyes darted toward a large tree a block away from us. It had been hollowed out and turned into a rather nice looking house complete with a balcony hidden in the boughs. Flashing lights poured out the windows, and I can almost feel the thump of the music from here.

“Sounds like there’s a pretty big party over there,” I said.

Mayor Mare cleared her throat. “Yes, that’s our library. Usually. I believe your student is staying there, Your Highness? But our resident party planner, Pinkie Pie, dedicated today to throwing her a large welcome party. I just wish she had picked a more… appropriate venue.”

“Twilight’s attending a party?” Mother said, voicing my own surprise. She chuckled. “Well then, let’s not interfere. I hope she’s making plenty of friends.”

“That, or she’s huddled in the nearest corner, clinging to a book,” I said. Making friends was probably the only assignment you could give Twilight and she wouldn’t know how to complete it.

We moved along to the Ponyville inn, the Sleepy Hay Bale. While it certainly wasn’t on the level of the blowout happening in the library, it was packed with parting ponies. Kegs of cider were out, large platters of hay fries were passed around, and laughter filled the air.

It all stopped when Mother and I stepped in. Every eye fell onto the Princess of the Sun, and many tried to hide the large tankard of cider they were drinking from.

“My little ponies,” Mother said with her best winning smile, “are you all having a wonderful time?”

The pause lingered for another moment. Then, the room burst into loud cheers and laughter again. Of course, they all bowed as Celestia passed them and moved to the counter, but everypony went back to their chatter and their drinks, even more jubilant now that their princess was here.

A mug of cider landed on the counter before my mother even sat down. She smiled at the bartender. “Thank you. Could I get one for my daughter as well?”

The bartender, a gray earth pony with an impressive curly mustache squinted at me before hopping back startled, like I had just appeared from thin air. “Of course! Right away, Your Majesty.”

A second later, a mug of cold, refreshing apple cider sat in my hoof. I toasted with my mother and took a frothy sip. I wasn’t sure who made this cider, but it might have been the best I had ever tasted.

My mother loves parties. And not the stuffy ones like the Grand Galloping Gala, where the nobles stand around with their noses turned up and talk about their money for three hours. No, she likes a good, messy, bass thumping bonanza. Of course, she never actually partakes in any of the activities done at said parties. It would ruin her image as the dignified and collected demi-goddess Equestria had come to know her as. But if she just got to spectate and talk to the interesting ponies that were part of the action, she always went home with a smile on her face.

Here, in this little bar in Ponyville, Princess Celestia made her rounds around the room, a mug of cider floating behind her. She laughed loudly with the tipsy ponies, listened intently to the one heavily inebriated, danced with me in the corner as the music was turned up, and when one pony tied a bedsheet to the second floor railing and jumped off, screaming like a wild pony, she silently cheered with the rest of the crowd.

She managed to do all this while looking like the definition of grace and poise.

Whenever we weren’t dancing together, I was at a small table with Platina and the other guards, still working on my first cider. I wanted to be fully conscious for the actual celebration. Still, a pesky yawn found a way to jump from my mouth.

Platina grinned. “Tired?”

“Not even close. I’ve pulled double all-nighters before.” Another yawn rose up just to spite me.

By the time 4 A.M. rolled around, many ponies in the bar had fallen asleep. Yet, many more were starting to file out and head for the town hall.

Mother joined us at the table, her smile reminiscent of mine when I was even younger. “I love getting to just connect with the locals. They forget that I’m their princess and just talk to me. It’s nice, even if it lasts just a moment.”

She looked at the ceiling, but it was in such a wistful and longing way, I swore she was looking through it. “I try to be aware of everything that goes on in my kingdom. To some degree at least. I want to know if my ponies are truly happy. If I’m doing enough for them.”

“Mom, you work day in and day out for them. You’re the most selfless pony I know. If somepony says you’re not doing enough, they can fight me!”

She looked back at me, and I felt another surge of strength, giving me my second wind. “Sunset… you are one of my greatest blessings. Thank you.”

My cheeks burned, practically lighting on fire when she kissed them.

“Come now,” she said, standing up. “I have to go get ready. You should head off to the hall.”

We rose and left the inn, the bartender waving us out enthusiastically. The fact the Princess Celestia had been at his bar on the eve of the Summer Sun Celebration was sure to bring in a lot more customers.

At the steps of the town hall, we paused to go our separate ways. Mother would be taking her two guards to the staging area in the back, leaving me in Platina’s care. I knew it was only for a little while, and we had done this plenty of times. But as I faced my mother, her face aglow in the pale moonlight, something about this meeting seemed… final.

My heart trembled for an entirely different reason than usual. I fully felt here. But I felt… no, I knew something was about to change.

Mother stooped her neck down and nuzzled me lovingly before giving me one last kiss. “Stay out of trouble, okay? I will… I will see you soon.”

She hesitated. She never hesitated.


“I love you.” She rose and turned, the guards following on her heels.

Her hesitation had stunned me. When she was halfway around the corner, I finally came to and ran after her. “Mom! Your sister… Nightmare Moon… they’re just stories, right?”

She looked back at me, a cryptic smile on her face. “Yes, Sunset. They are stories.”

I watched her walk away. My eyes slowly drew toward the moon. I knew it wasn’t my imagination anymore. The four stars that kept the Mare in the Moon company were nearly touching the silver orb’s surface.

I had to find Twilight.

With a fire in my heart, I rushed past Platina and scrambled up the stairs, throwing the doors to the hall open.

“My Lady, slow down!” She stomped after me.

Ponies already packed town hall. Banners with the sun and moon on them, blue streamers and ribbons, and bright white and yellow flowers covered the walls and banisters. A balcony across from the entrance had a red curtain draped in front of it.

I slipped around ponies, most of them not even realizing I was brushing up against them. Platina was not so lucky. She was constantly slowed by having to maneuver around large throngs of ponies, being extra careful not to trip on the foals.

“Twilight!” I yelled. “Twilight, where are you!”


Up near the front, Twilight stood with Spike sitting on her back. Her eyes were a little red, her mane a little frazzled, and her ears, very twitchy. Somehow, I knew she didn’t have a good time at that party.

She ran up to me, dancing frantically on her hooves. “I can’t believe you’re here! Actually, I can—of course you would be here! But, where’s Princess Celestia? Is she going to do anything about Nightmare Moon?”

“You’re still talking about that?” Spike asked. He looked pleading at me. “Sunset, please tell her it’s just an old pony’s tale.”

I bit my lip. “I mean… when we got your letter earlier today, I thought so, too. But I did a little research… and Mom has been acting more cryptic than usual… and those stars…”

“See?” Twilight hissed triumphantly at Spike. “I knew I was onto something.” She quickly paled. “Oh no… but that means… oh, of all the times I wish I had been wrong!”

“Hold on,” I said, putting a hoof up. “Even if this legend is true, Princess Celestia beat Nightmare Moon before. We know how much flank Celestia kicks. This Nightmare doesn’t stand a chance.”

The muscles in Twilight’s shoulders relaxed. “You’re right. The Princess can beat her. We’ll be fine.” She didn’t sound one-hundred percent convinced, but at least I had managed to prevent a total meltdown.

Platina finally caught up to me and gave a stern glare. “Please don’t do that.”

I rubbed a hoof against the back of my head, a sheepish grin on my face. “Right. Sorry.”

A spotlight shone on the balcony, and Mayor Mare stepped forward. “Fillies and gentlecolts, welcome to this year’s Summer Sun Celebration!”

An emphatic roar rose from the crowd, complemented by stomping hooves. Turning around, I found even more ponies had crammed their way inside, and a large crowd gathered just out the door.

“We are just moments away from the main event, where we will witness the magic of the sun rise that heralds the longest day of the year!”

While Mayor Mare waited for the cheers to die down again, I felt a sharp elbow in my ribs. I looked to Twilight, who pointed up to the moon. The four stars finally made contact, and before I could blink, the face that had decorated the moon for so long, vanished.

“That’s not good,” I whispered.

“And now, it is my great honor to present to you, the ruler of our great nation, the pony who brings us the sun and moon every day, the kind, the wise, the loving, our wonderful Princess Celestia!”

A chorus of birds let out a melodic whistle as the curtains parted. They were almost drowned out by the loudest cheer the crowd had produced yet.

Only, nopony appeared on the balcony.

The cheers quickly dissolved into confused murmurs, as questioning glances were exchanged. Twilight and I exchanged one ourselves, only our looks were more out of speculative fear than confusion.

“Remain calm, everypony,” the mayor said. “I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for this.”

“Oh, oh! Maybe she’s hiding!” a very pink pony on Twilight’s other side said.

A white pony with a beautiful purple mane came from the staging area, eyes wide. “She’s… just gone!”

“Oooh, she’s good.”

At that, the confused murmurs grew into full blown panic and outrage.

“What do you mean she’s gone?”

“Is this some kind of joke?”

“Is she okay?”

“What about the sunrise?”

Amidst the swelling panic, a sharp lightheadedness overtook me. It wasn’t quite like my earlier spells that left me floating in that terrible void. It was as if someone had sucked all the extra energy out of me, leaving me with just enough to stay conscious. Either way, it brought me to my knees, the roar of the crowd fading into a dull whisper.

“My Lady?”


Their voices sounded distant, and their faces flickered in and out before my vision corrected itself. Platina helped me back to my hooves and allowed me to lean on her while my strength slowly came back. I still felt like I was here, but I was ready to take a long nap.

“What’s that!” somepony shouted.

The crowd fell deathly silent as every eye turned back to the balcony. Mayor Mare and the white unicorn quickly stepped away, as pale blue smoke poured in from the window and coalesced on the spot where Celestia should have been standing. It formed into the outline of a tall mare before solidifying into what could only be described as a nightmare.

Her coat was as black as pitch, adorned with midnight blue armor. Her spiral horned ended with a lethal point, and her black wings fanned out at her sides, increasing her already imposing size. Her pupils were slitted like a dragon’s, and when she smiled, I saw a row of sharp fangs. Most haunting of all was her spectral mane. It reminded me of Celestia’s, ethereal and ever moving. This, however, was composed of a wispy nebula, and snapped fervently, like it wanted to strangle something.

For a moment, she didn’t speak. She just observed the crowd with her hungry smile.

“My, my, my,” she finally said, her voice low and haughty, accented with a sultry growl. “Look at all the ponies here to celebrate my homecoming. How I’ve yearned to see your sun-loving faces.”

“What did you do with our princess?” a sharp voice called from the back of the crowd. I swiveled my head around in time to see a rainbow maned pegasus get pulled back by an orange earth pony.

The dark alicorn narrowed her eyes, though her smile never left. “Such impudence. Am I not royal enough for you?”

“Wh-who are you?” the white unicorn asked, trembling.

At this, the alicorn’s smile fell, replaced with an affronted frown. “You mean you don’t know who I am?” She looked out at what I could assume to be confused and frightened stares. “None of you remember me?”

She snapped her head toward Mayor Mare. “Do you not know your history?” Her mane whisked over and flicked Rarity’s chin. “Did you not read the signs?”

Still, none of us answered. I didn’t have enough strength for my voice to reach her.

For a moment, I saw a hurt look flash through her eyes. Unbridled fury replaced it a second later, and she smashed a horseshoe into the balcony. “Did Celestia scrub my very presence from this land? Have I truly been forgotten?”

“I know who you are!” Twilight took a step forward, but I could see her legs trembling. “You’re the Mare in the Moon—Nightmare Moon!”

Nightmare Moon gave her a sharp smile. “At last. Somepony who remembers me. Then you also know why I’m here.”

Twilight flattened her ears against her head. “You’re… you’re…”

“Mmmhmmhmmhahahahah! Remember this day, my little ponies, for it was your last.” Nightmare Moon’s mane billowed and spiraled up to the ceiling. A frigid gale whipped up, shattering the windows, and lighting crackled over our heads.

“From this moment forth, the night will last forever!

4. The Longest Night

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What followed Nightmare Moon’s proclamation was a panic of epic proportions.

Platina threw herself over me to block the stampede of frenzied hooves, scrambling to get anywhere that wasn’t here. Adults cried, foals screamed, and Nightmare Moon cackled all the while.

“Seize her!” Mayor Mare shouted. “Only she knows where the princess is!”

“Stand back, foals!”

I heard the crack of lightning, and two pained cries, followed by dull thuds against the ground. More shouting, a rush of cold wind, then, the room fell silent. Platina pulled herself from me, and I found most of the hall empty. The snack table had been overturned, banners torn from the walls, and glass shards littered the floor. A group of ponies tended to two guards laying off to the side.

“My Lady,” Platina said urgently, “I must get you somewhere safe. Let us get to the inn.”

“But…” My strength was still low, giving me little resistance to fight against Platina’s gentle push toward the door. We stepped outside in time to see most other ponies retreat into their houses.

The night air felt different from only an hour ago. Maybe because some instinctual part of me knew it was supposed to be day now. Instead, the world remained under a thick blanket of night. Even the moon, it’s face now blank and smooth, seemed to give less light than before.

The cold, foreboding air made the fur on the back of my neck stand on end. That my thoughts kept circling back to my mother didn’t help either. She vanished, and Nightmare Moon appeared in her place. What had happened to her? Was she hurt? I had to find her!

“Can you walk, My Lady?”

I nodded absently, still in my own thoughts. However, when I brought myself back to the present and moved forward, I was still stuck in a mental fog. My body felt disconnected from thoughts, creating a delay in each of my movements. A constant lightheadedness followed me as I teetered down the stairs. Moving down was easy enough, but when the world leveled out, lifting my hooves took more energy than it should have.

“Are you you’re all right, Lady Sunset.”

“Y-yeah, I’m fine.” I took a deep breath and redoubled my focus. Just then, a familiar purple unicorn appeared in the corner of my eye. She was headed for the dark eaves of the Everfree Forest. Five figures were hot on her tail. “Twilight!”

I tried to run after her, but it felt more like an uneven hobble. Still, I managed to catch up while she was in a discussion with her cohorts. She turned and faced me, looking a little relieved.

“Sunset, you’re okay!”

I looked at her, to the five ponies around her, then to the path vanishing into the forest. “What are you doing?”

Twilight wiped a thin line of sweat from her brow. “I’m, uhh… well, I’m going into the forest. There are relics called the Elements of Harmony. They’re the only things that can stop Nightmare Moon.”

“Umm, Twilight,” the orange earth pony said, “who is this?”

“This is Sunset Shimmer. She’s my… uhh… study buddy.”

I won’t lie, the fact that she didn’t say ‘friend’ stung a little.

The pink one tilted her head quizzically at me. “Have I seen you before?”

“She’s Princess Celestia’s daughter,” Twilight said pointedly.

“Princess Celestia has a daughter?” the white unicorn said, scandalized.

I sighed and ignored them. “Are you sure these element things are in there?”

Twilight nodded. “Their last known resting place is in the old castle.”

“Great, then I’m going with you.”

A strong hoof rested firmly on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, My Lady, but I can’t allow that,” Platina said sternly. “It’s far too dangerous for you to go.”

I tried to wiggle free from her grip, but it was fruitless. “I can’t just wait here though! Besides, Twilight’s going!”

“I’m not in charge of Miss Sparkle, I’m in charge of you. My duty is to keep you safe.” She turned her eyes down to Twilight. “Though I strongly discourage any civilians going into the Everfree.”

“With all due respect, Miss Platina, someone has to go in there and stop Nightmare Moon,” Twilight said, standing tall.

“Besides,” the rainbow pegasus said, pounding a hoof against her chest, “she’ll have us to back her up! We’re not gonna let some snooty fake princess take away our daytime!”

Twilight looked less confident, but the others firmly nodded their heads, save for the yellow pegasus hiding near the back.

I wanted to protest, but knew it would only serve to waste more time. If there was anypony I would trust for a job like this, it would be Twilight. She was a prodigy after all.

“Okay,” I said, unable to hide some of my bitterness. “Just be careful. She’s an alicorn, Twilight; who knows what she’s capable of.”

Twilight nodded. “Don’t worry. I… we’ll find the elements and put everything the way it should be. Stay here and look after the town.” She gave me a small smile, and a shot of energy flowed through me, pushing away some of the mind fog.

When I blinked, Twilight and her posse we’re disappearing into the unnatural darkness that shrouded the forest. I turned back and faced the town, my mind already set on my next task.

“Lady Sunset, where are you going?” Platina asked as I walked by her.

“I’m going to look for Mom,” I said firmly. There had to at least be clues to what Nightmare Moon did to her. I figured the best place to start was the scene of the crime.

Platina didn’t object, but kept herself pinned to my side the entire time. As touching a gesture it was, I liked it better when she shadowed me from afar.

Ponyville was eerily silent now. Doors were barred, and windows shut. I found it impressive how quickly the mood of a town could shift. What was once a quaint, if quiet hamlet was now a ghost town.

Platina and I made our way around to the back of town hall, where Mother had gone when we parted ways. As I approached the unassuming door, Platina held a hoof out.

“I’ll go first.” Horn alight, she stepped in front of me and pushed the door open.

Nothing but inky darkness greeted us inside. I lit my horn as well, though the simple act brought back some of the fog. The room was nondescript, looking closer to a tidy storage area than a place to make an alicorn wait. I then saw the stairs, and pointed Platina toward them.

The backroom at the top was a little more decorated. Red drapes flanked the open window, and moonlight spilled onto the pink carpet. A large velvet pillow sat tucked in the corner.

I scanned the room meticulously. It didn’t look like there had been a struggle. In fact, if there hadn’t been a depression in the pillow, I would have thought nopony had entered the room at all.

I ran a hoof against the pillow. Maybe it was just my imagination, but it still felt warm. “Mom…”

“I’m sorry, My Lady,” Platina said softly. “I don’t think there’s anything here.”

She was half right. I could feel a thrum of magic in the air. But who it belonged to and what it had accomplished… those details were beyond me. I scooted past Platina and walked onto the balcony where Nightmare Moon had stood. Town hall was deserted, but the mess remained.


Platina’s armor made a hard smack against the floor. Whirling around, I found her twitching on the carpet, drowning in the black shadow Nightmare Moon cast. Her draconic eyes fell on me, and her nebulous mane gave a sharp snap.

“Leave her alone!” I fired a bolt of magic from my horn, but Nightmare Moon batted it away with a hoof like it was a pesky fly.

Her own horn crackled with electric malevolence. “It’s been one nosy foal after another tonight.” She shared a viscous smile, and I backed into the balcony railing, wondering if I could survive the fall.

Then, her eyes narrowed, not in anger or disgust, but curiosity. The magic coursing up and down her horn diminished to simple sparks. She tipped her head to one side.

“Who are you?” Her haughty growl was gone.

I ran my tongue along my dry mouth. “S-Sunset Shimmer.” The longer I spoke, the longer I got to live.

“Sunset Shimmer?” Nightmare Moon’s eyes pierced me, but I couldn’t tell if she was looking at me or through me.

“I… I’m Princess Celestia’s daughter.” In hindsight, telling the evil alicorn I was the daughter of the princess she just disposed of probably wasn’t a good idea.

But Nightmare Moon’s expression didn’t change. “Celestia… does not have a daughter.”

“I’m adopted.” Once again, I couldn’t help sounding a little bitter. Still, I raised my head with pride. “But she treats me like I’m her flesh and blood.”

Her head tilted to the other side, her eyes were wide now with interest. She stared like she had never seen anything like me before. “What are you?”

Confusion began to erode the overwhelming fear clogging my chest. “What?”

“You’re…” Nightmare Moon’s horn started crackling again. Yet, it wasn’t vicious and terrifying like before. It reminded me of Twilight, whenever she was about to conduct an experiment. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

“What?” I repeated. At that moment, more of my strength was siphoned away, like a vampire fruit bat had mistaken me for a meal. I dropped to one knee, vision flickering wildly. Nightmare Moon was stepping closer. I tried to draw up enough magic to at least make a shield, but the harder I tired, the further my powers seemed to get.

“Yes,” she said softly, as if entranced, “I see it now. You’re—gah!

Platina rose from behind and shot another pulsing bolt, striking Nightmare Moon in the ribs as she turned around. The alicorn let out a snarl as her magic turned a hauntingly dark blue, almost black. Her beam ripped across the room and struck Platina just as she raised her shield. While typical magic cast a glow when released, Nightmare Moon’s sucked all the surrounding light away. It even sounded different; more like a hiss than a thrum.

The overcharged beam engulfed Platina and her shield. I let out a strangled scream as the blast ripped through the back wall and carried out over the town. When Nightmare Moon finally let up, Platina was nowhere to be seen.

With a dark chuckle, she turned to face me again. “Now, back to far more interesting matters. Where did you come from, little interloper?”

My eyes, wet with tears, were still fixed on the spot Platina had been standing. I heard Nightmare Moon, but didn’t know how to answer her. Even if I did, I refused to.

Nightmare Moon’s ears stood at attention, and she jerked her head back toward the hole in the wall. “What? They got past the manticore?” She gnashed her teeth together, then, without a second glance toward me, she dissolved into purple smoke and sped away.

I stumbled back onto my hooves and leaned against the rail, vertigo and tears making it hard to process anything in front of me. The dizzying spell vanished a moment later, like the vampire fruit bat had returned and given me my strength. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough for me to run down the stairs and burst through the doors.

Platina!” I yelled, my voice echoing through the streets. “Platina!”


From around a corner she came, golden armor singed and a dent in her helmet, but otherwise, fine. She rushed toward me and scooped me into a tight hug. I felt another burst of strength wrapped in her hooves. Today was officially the strangest in my life. My energy levels were fluctuating so hard now, I felt I might be sick.

“Are you okay, Sunset? How did you get away?”

“I should be asking you that,” I said into her shoulder. She let me go, and I dried my eyes. “She said something about a manticore and just bolted. Twilight must be close.”

Platina looked in the direction of the forest. “I hope that filly can handle herself.”

A piercing scream made us both jump. Platina charged her horn and looked wildly around for the source of the noise. I pointed toward the fountain across the bridge, where a unicorn mother was carrying her foal in her magic as she ran from three prowling figures.

I let out a gasp as they stepped out of the shadow of the building. They were nature given animated forms. Rough pieces of wood of various shapes and sizes cobbled together by the wild magic of the forest into beastly shapes. Thorns made up their snarling mouths, finding a way to salivate as they cornered their prey. Their eyes were bright and yellow like the sun, but no warmth existed within them. Their wooden limbs creaked with every step they made.

The lead one jumped and pinned the green unicorn down, raking its claws down her leg in the process. Her filly dropped out of her magic and landed hard against the ground a few feet away.

“Timberwolves,” Platina breathed. She gave me a sharp glare, telling me to stay put, then ran across the bridge, blasting concussive spells at the wolves.

Were Timberwolves usually this brave? Or was this a side-effect of the endless night? I edged closer to the bridge as I watched Platina blast one into the fountain before pulling her spear off her back and impaling one in the snout. The mother was now crawling toward her child, a deep gash in her leg.

Keeping my head low, I snuck across the bridge and ran to her side. Unfortunately, my tendency to be overlooked by ponies worked against me. As I pressed against her to help her up, she let out a short but noticeable scream.

The Timberwolf climbing out of the fountain growled at us, snapping its wooden fangs.

Platina looked over her shoulder, her fierce blue eyes trained on me. “I told you to stay put!”

Technically, she didn’t tell me anything, just glared really hard. But now wasn’t a good time to split hairs. The wolf with its face impaled was trying desperately to get the spear out, while its friend lunged at Platina, pinning her to the ground. This only resulted with it getting a face full of magic.

It flew back and rolled across the ground, leaving pulp and wood chips behind. When it got up, it raised its head to the moon and howled. At least a dozen hair-raising howls responded, all of them sounding dangerously close to Ponyville’s edge.

Meanwhile, the soggy Timberwolf was advancing on me as I stood defensively in front of the wounded mare. I could feel my magic flowing through me, but I knew it wasn’t enough to beat back a fully formed Timberwolf. I readied a shield spell, hoping I could just fend it off until Platina finished it.

As the wolf leaned back to pounce, Platina charged shoulder first into it, slamming it into the side of the stone fountain. Several large pieces of wood chipped off, but it remained in tact, and growled in fury. A pearl of light appeared at the tip of Platina’s horn, but both of the remaining wolves tackled her at once, their claws making horrendous screeches against her armor as she went down.

“No!” I cried. Looking up, I could see more yellow eyes appearing in the shadows. “No, no, no!”

Mother had said everything was going to be all right. This was far from all right! I clenched my teeth and drew up every ounce of magic I could, I didn’t care how winded it left me. I wasn’t going to lose Platina!

A swirling pillar of rainbow light exploded up from deep within the forest, stretching high into the starry sky. At once, I felt the greatest surge of magic I had experienced all day, and it burst forth like a damn. My vision became white, and my body grew blazing hot, like someone had shoved me into an oven for a minute.

Ponies screamed.

Timberwolves whimpered.

The heat died down.

When I could see again, Platina was getting to her hooves, a ring of charred wood around her. The fountain had dried up, and even the stream looked lower than before.

She rushed over to me and put a hoof against my forehead. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I said, out of breath. “I’m fine.” It was surprisingly true. Usually, after a release of magic like that, I felt bone tired. I turned around to check on the ponies I had been protecting, and my blood ran cold.

They were no longer curled behind me on the ground. Instead, they were both lying several feet away, in front of a house whose thatched roof had caught fire. I could hear the ponies inside screaming for help.

As Platina ran inside to save them, I hurried over to the unconscious pair, my heart constricting at the sight of them. Their manes had been terribly singed, and their coats were charred as well. They were both breathing, but their faces were twisted into pained grimaces.

Platina hurried back out with three ponies on her back. She dropped them off next to the fountain just as more ponies arrived on the scene, their expressions curious and fearful, similar to when Nightmare Moon first arrived. They looked at the house, then to me, then two the ponies I was crouched over.

“What did she do?” one of them cried.

“Who is she?”

“Is she working for that evil pony?”

Angry mutterings buzzed into my ears. The collective face of the crowd became more and more hostile. I stepped away from the injured family and waved a placating hoof.

“No, it’s not like that! I was trying to help, honest!”

Platina stood in front of me, no doubt ready to fight them all off if she had to. But the mob quieted down as someone in the back gasped and pointed to the tops of the trees lining the town.

A soft pink glow rose up. The sky transitioned from black, to dark blue, to the teal of a new day. A beam of light broke through the trees, and just like that, the ponies of Ponyville gave a collective cheer. The long night was over.

She did it, I thought, dazed. She actually did it.

I didn’t get to enjoy the jubilation with everyone for very long. While a majority of the town emerged from their homes to welcome the dawn, the core mob that had first appeared after my magical outburst returned their attention to me. Several pushed past Platina and I to tend to the family. The rest eyed me with disdain.

Oddly enough, under their cold expressions, I felt back to normal. The fog and fatigue had dissipated completely, and my magic gave a happy thrum within my horn. My stomach, on the other hoof, gave a guilty lurch.

“Lady Sunset is not to blame for these events,” Platina said sternly. “She was only trying to help.”

“Look at what she did!” a stallion yelled. “She burned two ponies and set a house ablaze! Who was she helping?

Fire ponies had arrived on scene and were working to control the blaze. Smoke billowed out of the second story windows, ruining the otherwise picturesque dawn.

Ignoring the nauseating squirm my insides made, I stepped around Platina and faced the crowd. “I’m so sorry about what happened. I wasn’t trying to hurt anypony—I was trying to protect them. My magic acted up and—”

I was hurled back into the void of nothing. No warning, no dizzy spell, no fatigue. I was simply gone. Just like that day four years ago, I felt every molecule in my body at the same time, then felt them all come apart. I could do nothing but wait for the end to finally come and rid me of this suffering. I thought I was alone in the void, disintegrating with nobody to mourn me. But for a brief moment, I saw the back of a pony. Quick as a flash, but in the brief glimpse I got, I felt a magnitude of awe so powerful, it would have left me breathless if I could breathe.

My eyes snapped open, and I took in a heaving breath. I could feel the ground beneath me, and see Platina kneeling by my side, her face pale and eyes wet. I turned my stiff neck, looking at the crowd who stared back at me with varying levels of concern, though the stallion who had yelled at me raised an eyebrow.

“Is she okay?” he asked, like there was a possibility I was faking whatever had just happened.

“She’s faking it!” another shouted.

“Are you kidding? Look how pale she is!”

“Who is she?”

“Sunset,” Platina asked, running a hoof through my mane, “are you okay?”

As she spoke, another revitalizing surge hit me, coursing through my veins like electricity. My body had the strength to jump up and do cartwheels, maybe even put out the blaze behind me.

I, however, was drained in every sense of the word.

The fluctuations had finally taken their toll on me. Up and down, up and down, I couldn’t handle the inconsistency of it all. I gave a short shake of my head to Platina.

Then, I blacked out.

5. The Summer Sun Celebration

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As the darkness receded, I could hear music, muffled, but distinctly cheery and festive. With a tired groan, I opened my eyes to a wooden ceiling above me. My head laid against a plush pillow, and my body tucked beneath a warm blanket. Too warm, actually. The late morning summer sun, while blocked by the curtains drawn across the windows, still left the room toasty.

I threw the blankets off and rose to a sitting position. On the stand next to me was a tall glass of water, from which I drank deeply.

A small snort made me spit some of it out. I jerked my head toward the door, finding Platina standing by it, her head bowed. She made a light snore, then snorted again and jerked her head up. She blinked wearily at me, then broke into a wide smile.

“My Lady, you’re okay! We were all worried about you. How do you feel?”

I finished my water and smacked my lips, assessing my current state of being. Surprisingly enough, after everything I went through today—or rather, yesterday… the last twenty-four hours—I felt fine. A little groggy, but no worse for ware.

“I think I’m good,” I said, climbing out of bed. “How about you?” I could see the bandages under her armor.

She noticed my eyes and gave a wave of her hoof. “I’m fine. Just a few scratches and some burns…”

“Oh… sorry about that.”

“I’ve been hit with a lot worse,” she said proudly, though I could see a guilty glint in her eye. “But, come. If you’re feeling better, your mother wants to see you.”

My heart skipped. “She’s okay? Where is she? And what happened to Twilight? What happened to Nightmare Moon?”

Platina raised a hoof. “Easy there. Yes, the Princess is fine. So is Twilight Sparkle and her little friends. As for Nightmare Moon… I think it would be easier to just come see for yourself.”

That certainly piqued my curiosity. I followed her out the door, realizing we were in the inn from last night. I waved to the bartender, who gave a confused wave in return. Outside, the music was loud and jubilant. Lamp posts and trees were adorned streamers and ribbons. Confetti laid scattered all over the ground, and balloons wandered through the air. All around me, ponies were dancing and singing and laughing in the afternoon sun. I knew I had been out for hours, but the fact that the whole town had been decorated in my short absence blew me away.

Platina led me back to the center of town, where floral wreaths hung from balconies, and golden bells had been set up on the roof of town hall.

What, is someone getting married?

We moved through the sea of ponies, Platina using her size and status to part the crowd. Eventually, we made it through to the front steps, where I could see Twilight, Spike, her friends, and—


She looked away from Twilight, and smiled her radiant smile, tears in the corners of her eyes. She looked absolutely perfect, like Nightmare Moon hadn’t touched one hair or feather on her.

I sprinted toward her and threw myself into her forelegs. “You’re okay!”

She bent her neck down and nuzzled me warmly. “Yes, my little sun. I’m fine. And so are you.”

“The princess has a daughter?” a scratchy voice asked.

“Rainbow, you met her earlier this morning. We were talking about her an hour ago,” Twilight said.

“We were? Pretty sure I’d remember something like that. Wait… no, it’s gone.”

Twilight made a frustrated groan.

I pulled myself out of my mother’s embrace and looked at Twilight and her colorful entourage, now sporting golden necklaces with gems resembling their cutie marks. Twilight herself wore a tiara.

“So…” I looked from her to my mother. “What happened to Nightmare Moon?”

They exchanged such a variety of odd looks that I had no idea what to make of the situation. I thought they were mostly happy, but there was a little trepidation in some of their eyes. Mother then prompted me to her other side, where sat a pony I had complete overlooked until now.

She was only a little bigger than me, with a blue coat and a light blue mane. A black splotch sat on her hindquarters, and her cutie mark was a bright crescent moon. She appeared to be making herself as small as possible, standing close to Celestia, and keeping her head bowed low.

“Hello,” she said softly.

“Sunset,” Mother said, putting a hoof on the mare’s back. “This is Princess Luna. My sister… and your aunt.” More tears fell from her eyes.

It was then I noticed the wings accompanying her horn. Another alicorn in the family. Something in my heart gave a rather violent twitch, but I stoutly ignored it, focusing my attention back onto my mother.

“You said… you said it was just a story.”

She nodded all sage-like. “I did. It was a story. It also happened to be a true story.”

My eyebrow climbed higher.

She at least had the decency to look a little abashed. “Forgive me, my little sunspot. For this to work, I had to… withhold some of the details. If I told Twilight the whole story, she would see this as just a mission from me and lose sight of the bigger picture. That’s why I told her to oversee the celebration and make some friends along the way—so that she could use the Elements to their full potential. And if I told you, you would have told her.”

I glanced at Twilight, whose face was beet red. I could concede some of the points Mother had made. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a little hurt at the secrecy. And the fact that she assumed Twilight was the only mare for the job.

Okay, so I probably couldn’t do it with the whole ‘ponies can’t focus on me for longer than ten seconds’ deal, but it would have been nice to be considered!

Mother placed a hoof under my chin, and raised my head to meet her eyes. “I am sorry, Sunset. Believe me, I understand the risks this brought. But, it was all to save my family.” Her wing extended and pulled Princess Luna in closer.

Luna gave me a nervous smile. “It is… nice to meet you.”

I think the word you’re looking for is ‘awkward.’ Still, I smiled as well. “Nice to meet you, too.”

“... Seriously, the princess has a daughter?

“Hush, Rainbow, you’re ruining the reunion!” the white unicorn said, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

I looked back at Mother. “I don’t agree one-hundred percent with your plan. But, I’m glad you’re okay.”

She kissed me on the forehead. “And I, you.”

“So, what happens now?”

Celestia gestured to the rest of the town with her long leg. “We have much to celebrate, do we not? Let us enjoy ourselves out here a bit longer.” She looked at Luna. “Unless you would like to go home? How are you feeling?”

Luna shook her head and gave a weak smile. “No, that is a fine idea. I would like to enjoy the fresh air a little longer.”

Before Mother could smile approvingly, her eyes fell on the crowd in front of us. Pushing his way to the front, anger still flickering in his eyes, was the brown stallion from earlier. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and gave a respectful bow.

“You’re Majesty,” he said, his voice tight. “I’m afraid I have a grievance with your… ‘daughter’.” He eyed me disdainfully.

Meanwhile, I was just shocked he still knew who I was. Ponies never came looking for me, especially after having met me only once.

“You remember me?”

“Of course I do!” he said heatedly. “Princess, thanks to this mare, one of my good friends and her daughter have severe burns! She set one of our houses on fire!”

I stomped a hoof against the floor. “I told you, it was an accident! I was trying to help!”

Mother moved up to my side. “Mr…”

“Stone Skipper, Your Majesty.”

“My dear Stone Skipper, you have my sincerest condolences for your friends. I will personally make sure any damages are covered. I only ask that you don’t turn your anger on Sunset. I am certain she was only trying to help.”

Stone Skipper set his mouth in a hard line. “Your generosity is appreciated, Your Majesty, but I feel there should be more reparations than just that! She could have killed somepony! For that matter, your so-called sister could have as well!” He thrusted a hoof at Luna.

Luna flinched and retreated behind Celestia. At that, Mother’s eyes narrowed dangerously.

“I respect your right to be upset, Mr. Stone Skipper,” she said, her voice light, yet infused with the strength of a thousand-year old monarch. “But I will not punish my daughter for an accident, especially when I know she only had the best of intentions. And my sister has already been punished enough. I will make sure your friends recover and the home is paid for.”

Stone Skipper flinched back under Mother’s withering gaze, but the fire in his eyes said he still wanted to protest. He must have decided the Princess’ offer wasn’t worth risking and instead, turned on his hooves, kicking up a cloud of dirt. As retreated back into the crowd, he gave me one last spiteful look.

And oddly enough, I felt… stronger.

Mother looked down at me, concerned. “Platina told me there had been an incident with Timberwolves.”

I heaved a sigh. “Yeah. I don’t know what happened. My magic kinda just exploded. I was trying to save them, honest.”

“Of course I believe you, sweetie.”

A few tense minutes passed before the celebrating spirit returned to us. Despite Stone Skipper’s attitude, Luna still wanted to see the rest of Ponyville.

I followed Mother around, watching her talk to the townsfolk and introduce her sister. For the pony who had been Nightmare Moon this morning, most took to her pretty well. Luna herself looked awkward in the presence of so many ponies, like it was taking all her strength not to flee. Whenever we moved from area to area and had less of a crowd, her shoulders relaxed.

Mother tried to show me off as well, my name and face drawing some recognition from the crowds. Otherwise, it was business as usual. I looked at Luna, receiving another floral necklace from a group of earth ponies.

One day home, and you’re already more popular than me. Must be nice. I brushed away the shadow of jealousy. She had been locked in the moon for star’s sake! She needed this.

The sun had begun its descent when we approached the chariot taking us home. While the crowd had thinned, a large number of ponies had still followed to bid farewell to their princesses.

As I neared our ride, I paused and looked back at the crowd. “Wait, where’s Twilight?”

Mother let out a dreamy sigh. “Twilight has decided to remain here so she can study the magic of friendship.”

My heart sank. “So… she’s not coming back to Canterlot?”

“Not right now, I’m afraid. This will be a good experience for her.” Celestia opened her mouth to say more, but hesitated again. “If you wanted to—”


I swung around, finding Twilight and all of her friends rushing toward me. Truth be told, I had never seen Twilight with as wide a smile outside of our lessons.

“I’m glad I caught you,” she said. “I would have felt terrible if I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

My heart rose a little. I could see it in her eyes. Twilight did consider me a friend. “I’m gonna miss you, Sparky. Who else is gonna keep up with me in class?”

“There’s plenty of smart students there. And I’m not too far away.” She held a foreleg out, and I jumped forward and pulled her into a hug. When I pulled away, my eyes were starting to sting. Something ponies never tell you about making friends: it’s hard to say goodbye to them.

Just as I turned back to the chariot, the ‘duh’ switch in my brain flipped on. “Twilight!” I said quickly, “I’m… having a birthday party tomorrow. I know it’s short notice but… maybe you could come? You could bring your new friends with you.”

Twilight beamed at me. “I would love to.”

Canterlot!” the white one, who I had recently learned was named Rarity, squealed. “We get to go to Canterlot for a royal birthday! Pinch me, I must be dreaming! Ow! Pinkie!”

“What? You said pinch you!”

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

Twilight caught my eye and patted me on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. They’ll grow on you really fast.”

We said our goodbyes, Mayor Mare apologizing profusely for the celebration despite my mother assuring her that it had gone better than anypony could have hoped. Then, we were up in the air, Ponyville growing smaller as we returned home with a new family member.

Luna looked much more relaxed now. A giant smile sat on her face as she stuck her head over the side, ogling the Unicorn Range below.

“Equestria! How I have missed you!” She beamed at Celestia. “It all looks so lush and alive and wonderful!”

Mother smiled. “It wasn’t always easy. But I had a reason to keep going.” She kissed Luna on the cheek.

I couldn’t help but smile too.


Cadence fretted over Mother and I upon our return. Her hugs were strong enough that several pops came from my spine. She hesitated a little upon her introduction to Luna, and gave her a warm hoofshake instead. From my current impression of Luna, I think it was for the best.

We told her of our exciting tale in Ponyville. She made a good audience of one, gasping in all the right places. When I asked her what she had done, she said she had been escorted to safety by the royal guard captain. She deliberately avoided making eye contact with me.

Celestia departed with Luna. I imagined they had a lot to talk about. That left Cadence and I alone in the dining room, with Platina hiding in one of the corners.

Cadence regarded me with a thoughtful expression. “Are you okay?”

I tilted my head. “Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“No reason,” she said quickly. She scuffed a hoof against the rug. “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t feel… left out or anything.”

“Left out?” The words clicked together in my brain. “Oh. Relax, Cadence, I’ll be fine. So I’m not an alicorn, big deal. Celestia still calls me her daughter—no pony can change that.”

Cadence smiled, and I could see a spark of relief in her eyes. “You’re absolutely right. You’ve got something no other pony can lay claim to. Still…” She looked at the door Mother and Luna had exited. “I’m curious to see how things will change.”

“Yeah. We just got an aunt who was locked in the moon for a millennium. Not something that happens every day.” I had also lost the pony closest to me in age and intellect. Given that Mother would end up diverting a lot of her time to making sure Luna was okay, and Luna’s hesitation around other ponies… this did not seem like an equivalent exchange. Maybe Cadence had a right to be worried about me.

The sun was still setting, but I bid Cadence a good night and headed for my tower. The marble halls glowed a vibrant orange that reminded me of my own coat. Narcissistic probably. I stopped in front of a set of large bay windows that overlooked the gardens. Stone statues and their long shadows stood guard in front of the hedge maze. The evening gardeners were making their last rounds, watering the ring of flowers surrounding a statue of Star Swirl the Bearded.

It all looked picturesque and serene, as it always did. At least some things never changed. Even while my whole world turned upside down. Tomorrow, I would turn nineteen, and nothing about me will have changed. I’ll still be in this castle, waiting for school to start again. Twilight gets to study in Ponyville, Cadence starts her official royal training, and Mother has her sister back.

I shouldn’t be complaining. Aside from my fainting spells, life has been mostly kind to me. I’m the Princess’ daughter! Even if ponies could barely remember that face.

But, watching the sun set beyond the horizon filled me with a melancholy I couldn't shake. I wanted to be happy for everypony moving on in their lives. My heart just wasn’t in it though.

“Platina,” I said softly.

She was by my side in an instant. “Yes, My lady?”

I continued to watch the sun. “You could have been a guard captain. Why did you turn it down?”

Platina turned her gaze to the sun as well. “Well… guard captain isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. Besides…” She smiled. “I found I had more important things to take care of.”

My heart made a small flutter. “Thanks, Platina.”

“Of course, Lady Sunset.”

She escorted me to my door, then bade me goodnight. My room was exactly how I left it; a brush on the vanity, and Predictions and Prophecies on my bed. Outside my window, the stars popped to life above, while the lights of the city flickered on below.

Even with my nap, I was worn and ready for bed. Besides, I had another party to attend to in the morning. I closed the curtains, but as I turned for bed, I swooned and stumbled. I braced myself against one of the bedposts while I waited for the dizziness to pass. It wasn’t as bad as any of my incidents yesterday. The void never tried to claim me.

Still, I growled in agitation when it dispersed. I wondered what a life without experiencing this was like. A life where ponies remembered your name, and I had more than one friend that wasn’t part of the castle staff.

I climbed into bed and got comfy before turning the lights off with a flick of my horn.

If I couldn’t live an ordinary life, I at least wish I knew why this happened to me.

6. The Answer

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“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, my dear Sunset. Happy birthday to you.”

My mother’s voice, sweet like birdsong, danced into my ears and roused me from my slumber. I rolled over and opened my eyes, finding her standing next to my bed, a plate of pancakes decorated with strawberries and whip cream that made a smiley face floating in her golden telekinesis.

I sat up against my pillows and took the plate in my magical grasp. “Thanks, Mom,” I said, stifling a yawn. “These look delicious.”

She placed a kiss on my forehead. “If you think those look good, wait until you see your birthday cake.”

Will I see my birthday cake?” I gave her a cheeky grin. My mother’s weakness for sweets and pastries was a common secret in the castle.

Her red cheeks gave me a warm satisfaction. “Of course you will! However, I do claim the second slice after we cut it. And it will be a large slice.”

“I have no doubt it will be.”

“You’re only getting away with this sass because it’s your birthday, young lady. Now, eat your pancakes and get ready. Your friends should be here by two.”

Twilight’s friends, really. I nodded my head, my mouth full of pancakes.

Mother stepped out and closed the door behind her, leaving me to finish my breakfast. Nineteen years old today. A miracle, all things considered. I speared a piece of pancake on my fork and raised it like a toast.

“Here’s to another year of staying alive.”

As I climbed out of bed, I realized I had woken up with a clear head today. Everything about me felt right. The simple fact that the world wasn’t spinning around put me in a fantastic mood. I sang in the shower, I smiled at my reflection as I brushed my hair, I even stopped and danced with myself for a few songs.

When I emerged from my room, I was light as a balloon, with a smile stretching from ear-to-ear. Maybe the fact that I had stared an eldritch villain in the face and lived to tell the tale was finally catching up to me.

Platina greeted me down the hall. She smirked at my overly-enthused smile and said, “Happy birthday, My Lady. You appear to be in good spirits today.”

“Well, after everything that happened yesterday, I guess I’m just happy I got to live this long.” I walked by her side as we made our way toward the dining hall. As we walked, I noticed a faint blush creep across her muzzle.

She caught my suspicious eye and coughed. “I hope you don’t mind, My Lady. I won’t technically be on duty when your party starts, but I wanted to come as your friend.”

My own cheeks heated up. “Platina…”

“I, err, also invited Lance.”

I laughed and punched her leg, since her shoulders were covered with metal pads. “So I finally get to meet the coltfriend? I was starting to think you were making him up.”

Platina gave me a smirk that said, ‘if I wasn’t a professional, I’d punch you right back.’

To my disappointment, the dining hall looked remarkably the same from yesterday. The only difference being the table linen was red and gold like my mane. There was also an extra guest today.

Cadence sat very close to a unicorn guard decorated in purple and gold armor. She quickly scooted her chair away upon my entrance, her face bright red. “S-Sunset! Happy birthday! I-I didn’t think you’d be out of your room so soon.”

I couldn’t contain my raunchy grin. “Oh, is this the guard you’ve been ogling from your balcony? You’re right, he’s kinda cute.”

Like Platina, the stallion’s muzzle turned red. He stood and saluted. “P-pardon me, Lady Sunset. I should, err, be inspecting… the thing outside.” He hurried out the other door, tail between his legs.

Cadence, for her part, looked ready to melt into the rug. She was more red than pink now. I strutted over to the table, sat down, rested my cheeks against my hooves, and gave her my best shit-eating grin.

“So what’s his name?”

“Shining Armor…” she mumbled, looking down at her smiling pancakes, one of the eyes eaten.

“Is he the one who ‘escorted’ you last night.”


Seriously, why didn’t I hang out with her more? This was a riot!

She looked up at me, her eyes narrowed like she was trying to be mad. I knew her enough to know anger was an emotion she barely felt. “Don’t you have a party to get ready for?”

“I thought the party was in here. I was half right.”

“It’s in the back garden!” she half shouted.

With one last grin, I got up and headed out the door Shining Armor had left through, Platina behind me.

“Should I expect the same level of embarrassment?” she asked.

“I dunno. Do you turn the same shade of red?”

Wisely, she didn’t answer.

Coming around to the back garden, I found a sight much more befitting for a birthday celebration. Flags of red and gold hung off the balconies overlooking the garden, and streamers ran down the banisters and pillars. A large buffet table had been set up, and across from it, a DJ table stood at the ready. A large banner in the center read ‘Happy Birthday Sunset Shimmer!’

Nopony had arrived yet. Only a few castle staff members wandered about, setting up a few more streamers or balloons. A sobering thought hit me: what if nopony showed up? Twilight might remember me, but her friends? Would they think she was crazy for wanting to go to Canterlot to a birthday party they couldn’t remember promising to attend? Would they pressure her to stay in Ponyville?

What’s it to you? Then it’ll just be like any other birthday. Just you, Mom, and Cadence. Except Luna was also here now. And Twilight had said she would come. The idea that she would go back on her word…

Platina cleared her throat, and I snapped my attention to her. “I should go and get ready so I’m not late.” She smiled at me. “Don’t worry. Your friends will be here. I’ll see you soon.”

I smiled hesitantly. “Yeah. See you in a bit.” I waved as she walked away. I knew a few of my other guards were hiding in the shadows, watching me, but it wasn’t the same without Platina. It felt empty. I turned and craned my neck up to the rest of the castle. Mother was somewhere up there, probably with Luna.

My heart twitched with what I knew was jealousy, but I buried the thought as far down as I could. I would not be jealous of a pony who had spent one-thousand years in orbit. That didn’t stop me from wondering how her presence would affect Mother’s attendance to my party.

With nothing to do until somepony showed up, I sat down on the top step leading down to the gardens. The sky above was a brilliant blue with not a cloud in it. The sun seemed extra bright today, yet the temperature was perfectly moderate. It was the small things that told me how much Mother loved me. Every birthday had been on a day like this. It was enough to put a smile on my face.

I lost track of time, staring at the multitude of colorful flowers blooming across the garden. In one corner were marigolds and lilies. In another were roses and tulips. Pollen and cut grass tickled my nose and drew up memories of yesteryear.

Mom had taken me into the garden, where we settled down under an old tree, lounging in the shade while she read me a story. She then wrestled me into the grass and tickled me into submission. We had both been really itchy afterward, but I think it was worth it.

I was so into my memories, I almost didn’t hear the soft hoofsteps coming up behind me. I turned my head and found a blue alicorn gazing at the garden.

“Oh, hi… Aunt Luna?” I really had no idea if she was comfortable with me calling her that. I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable with it.

“Hello, Sunset Shimmer,” she said softly. “Happy birthday to you.”

“Thanks.” I hesitated. “Um, so, how was your first night home?”

Luna turned her head to me. Despite looking like a young mare, her eyes held a century’s worth of wisdom. They were also red and lined with bags. I wondered if she had gotten any sleep last night. She continued to regard me without speaking a word. The way her eyes held me reminded me nervously of Nightmare Moon. I couldn’t tell if she was looking at me, or through me.

“It was enjoyable,” she said at last. “I… I am just happy to be home and free. A thousand years of a twofold imprisonment makes you appreciate everything you have.”

She lifted her head and inhaled deeply. A few tears gathered at the corners of her eyes. “Even the summer air feels like a heavenly boon.” She shook her head. “Forgive me, Sunset Shimmer. I did not mean create a somber atmosphere. I just wanted to see the garden again. I shall not interfere with your party.”

“No, it’s fine, really!” I said quickly. “You’re more than welcome to stay. There won’t be a lot on ponies here anyway.”

Luna smiled faintly. “That is most appreciated. Perhaps I might join at a later hour. For now, I just want to walk and see how much the castle has changed in my absence.” She waved a wing at me and walked away, stopping once to look back at me with that analyzing look. I wanted to ask her what she was looking at, but she was gone before I found the courage.

Thirty minutes later, Cadence had come out to join me. I was tempted to taunt her some more, but I had grown tired of sitting alone and didn’t want to drive her away. We watched the kitchen staff bring out platters of food: assorted fresh salads, hay fries, veggie kabobs, three-cheese lasagna, stir-fry, cookies, cakes, and a large punch bowl.

“I’m glad you decided to have a party,” Cadence said. “This’ll be a lot of fun.”

“That’s if anypony shows up.”

Because the universe operated on verbal cues, the castle doors opened up, and out walked Twilight, Spike, and all their new friends. Twilight and Spike both carried a present with them.

“Happy birthday, Sunset!” Spike said.

Twilight opened her mouth, no doubt to parrot him, but her eyes fell on Cadence, and she made a squeal of delight. “Cady!” She ran forward and threw her hooves around Cadence’s neck.

“Hi, lady bug,” Cadence said with a laugh. “It’s been awhile.”

“I didn’t know you were going to be here! It’s so good to see you! There’s so much I have to tell you! Oh!” Twilight looked back at me, cheeks red. “I can wait though. Happy birthday, Sunset! Sorry if we’re a little late.”

I shook my head. “Nah. I’m just happy you’re here.” Turning to look at the others, I found one Rainbow Dash very close to my face, her eyes narrowed. “Uhhh….”

“Twilight keeps saying we met you yesterday… but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen you before. So, I’m gonna make sure I don’t forget your face.”

“That’s… nice?”

Pinkie Pie tapped her chin. “I think I remember seeing her yesterday, but I don’t remember promising to go to a party.” A grin split her face. “But I never say no to a party, especially a birthday! So, happy birthday, pony-I’m-pretty-sure-I-met-before-but-can-barely-remember-right-now!”

“Thanks… I guess.” I can’t say I was surprised by any of these reactions. At least they had shown up. Twilight gave me a hapless shrug that said, ‘I tried my best.’

I led them down to the buffet tables and allowed them to start making plates. Pinkie Pie went straight for the desserts, making me glad the birthday cake wasn’t out yet. Twilight engaged Cadence in conversation, speaking a mile a minute. Spike guided Fluttershy around the gardens. That left everyone else within close proximity of me.

It was thanks to that closeness they could actually focus on me.

“So, are your really the Princess’ daughter?” Rainbow asked, hovering beside me with a plate of food in her hooves.

“By adoption. But she took me in when I was just a baby.”

Rarity looked at me with stars in her eyes. “I can’t imagine what it must be like to be raised by Princess Celestia herself. Oh, oh!” She sidled up closer to me and smiled conspiringly. “That means you know Prince Blueblood, right?”

I snorted. “Prince Blueblood? Only he’s conceited enough to call himself a prince. Yeah, I know him. Spoiled, narcissistic, and a complete wimp. But he’s another honorary adoptee by Mom.”

Rarity looked defeated. I guessed, like many other deluded mares, she had a crush on Blueblood. Better she find out now rather than later.

While Rarity tried to cope, Applejack examined me with a raised eyebrow. She was pretty good at the scrutinizing look. “Now, Ah don’t mean no disrespect, but if you’re the Princess’ kin, why haven’t we heard of you? You ain’t like Nightmare Moon.”

“I guess I’m just not very memorable,” I said, nibbling on a carrot. I wish I had a better answer. Heck, I’d make that my birthday wish: knowing why ponies couldn’t remember me. Judging by Applejack’s still raised brow, my answer hadn’t been all that satisfactory. But what else could I say?

Pinkie swallowed a whole slice of angel food cake, then smiled like it was no big deal. “So, what do you like to do for fun?”

I blinked, wondering what had happened to the two other piles of food she had had on her plate minutes ago. “I liked to read, practice magic—”

“Oh, so you’re an egghead like Twilight,” Rainbow said.

“Hey!” Twilight shouted.

“That’s Lady Egghead to you,” a deep voice said. Walking down the steps was a well-built silver unicorn, with her golden mane pulled into a ponytail. By her side was a pegasus, blue as the midday sky, with a short mint green mane. The unicorn smiled at me, and it snapped into place.

“Platina!” I ran up to her and who I could only presume was Lance. “You look great without your armor on.”

Platina’s cheeks turned a faint pink. Amusing, but not as good as Cadence. “Sunset, this is Lance.”

He gave a short bow. “It’s nice to meet you. Platina talks about you a lot.”

I smiled. So, he knew who I was without ever meeting me. Platina must have said a lot. “She talks about you a lot, too. So, when’s the big wedding?” I couldn’t have resisted if I wanted to.

Platina’s cheeks turned redder, quickly approaching Cadence levels. Lance also turned a delightful shade of pink. They both coughed and looked away from each other, their faces stuck between mortified and excited.

Soon, then, I decided.

Despite being a fair deal older, Platina and Lance mingled well with the rest of us. Rainbow got on especially well when she learned Platina was a royal guard.

“How heavy is your armor? How many weapons do you know how to use? How many monsters have you beat up?”

Platina took a moment to think. “Thirty pounds altogether. Sword, spear, and of course, a variety of magic. Lost count around forty.”

“So awesome!”

Meanwhile, Lance was nice enough to strike up a conversation with me.

“So, what’s it like living in a castle?”

I shrugged. “It’s pretty nice. It’s the only life I’ve ever known, so I don’t have much to compare it too. The food is definitely great though.” I gestured to the buffet table, where Pinkie was helping herself to the chocolate fondue fountain that had been brought out.

Lance laughed. “Yeah, hard to beat getting five star dining everyday. You should hear the way Platina complains about the food they serve at the guard camp.”

I made a mental note to share some of my meals with Platina. “So, what do you do?”

He pointed skyward. “I’m on Canterlot’s weather team.”

“Really? That’s pretty cool.” Tall and lean, he certainly looked the part for it.

A steady thump surrounded us, followed by synth noises and scratching records. A spiky blue maned unicorn had appeared at the DJ table, a pair of purple shades over her eyes. She bobbed her head to the beat, using her magic to command the turntables.

“Whoohoo! Now it’s a party!” Pinkie shouted, chocolate staining her mouth. She flew to the clearing between the two tables and began to dance, doing an impressive spin on her tail.

One-by-one, the girls moved onto the dance floor and grooved to the beat, save for Fluttershy, who found a chair near the buffet table and sat down to watch. I hadn’t spoken a word to her yet, so I supposed now would be the best time.

“Hey, Fluttershy,” I said casually.

“Eeeep!” She nearly jumped out of her skin, like I had snuck up behind her with a chainsaw. “O-oh! I, umm… s-sorry, I didn’t s-see you.”

“Of course you didn’t,” I muttered. In a friendlier voice, I said, “How are you?”

She hid an eye behind her long pink bang. “I’m fine,” she whispered.

“Enjoying the party?”


“...So, what do you do in Ponyville?”

I know she said something, but it was at a decibel so low, not even a dog could hear it. She had shrunk so far into her chair, I was convinced it was trying to eat her.

“Right. Good talk.” I now knew where the ‘shy’ in her name came from. Well, that was one friend I wouldn’t be making. I joined the others on the dance floor, casually moving my hips and shoulders.

Twilight put her whole body into it, poking her tongue out while erratically moving and kicking her legs. It might have been cute if it didn’t leave me terrified of getting hit.

The music played on, and we danced on. In pairs, or in a clustered group, we moved and flailed and laughed. I had never partied like this before, mostly because I never had anypony to party with. Was this what it felt like to truly live? To really have friends that liked you? I tried not to think about tomorrow, whether or not these few hours of interaction would be enough to ingrain me in the memory of Twilight’s friends. For now, it was fun just to be apart of the moment.

I had taken a break from dancing to grab some punch, when my mother descended the stairs. Behind her came two unicorn chefs, carrying a three-layered cake between them. The first and third layers were red with gold frosting, while the middle was an inversion. Firebird Dahlias were dispersed around the edges, and at the very top was a number 19 candle, already lit.

While the chefs set the cake up, Mother trotted over to me and smiled. “You look like you’re having a good time.”

I couldn’t help but smile too. “This might be my best birthday yet.”

“Surprising words coming from miss ‘I-don’t-want-to-have-a-party’.”

“You know, I’m pretty sure you’re where I get my sass from.”

Mom laughed and pushed me toward the cake, where the rest of my… I didn’t want to call them friends yet. My guests had gathered. Mom leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Don’t eat the flowers. They’re just for decoration, trust me.”


In a joyous chorus, everyone sang Happy Birthday to me, and I blew out my candles, changing my birthday wish. I wanted ponies to see me. I wanted them to remember me. I made the same wish every year, but this time… this time, I had this warmth in my heart that turned it into a desperate plea.

With the candle blown out, the cake was cut up and served. True to her word, once I got mine, Mother gave herself a large slice. The inside of the cake was a rich strawberries and cream flavor that had me salivating before it even touched my tongue.

Pinkie wolfed down her slice of cake, then quickly got up for a second one. Her new piece had a dahlia on it. She tipped it back into her mouth, chewed for a moment, then twisted her face into one of absolute revulsion. Lips puckered and eyes narrowed and watering, she forced herself to swallow and gagged.

I tried my hardest not to laugh and choke on my own piece. At least that insured she wouldn’t go back for any more. I wanted my cake to last a few days.

The DJ turned the music down, and we sat and conversed in the waning afternoon sun. Twilight talked to Celestia about her magical studies, and what she hoped to learn while she was in Ponyville. Despite the revelation about Blueblood I dropped on Rarity, she was keen to talk to me about Canterlot culture. I was about to explain what the Day Court was like, when Pinkie leapt at me from across the garden.

“Hey, Sunset! Can we play in the maze?” she pointed over to the hedge maze off to the right.

She had shoved her face so close to mine, I could count the crumbs in her teeth. Her dentist must make a fortune. “Umm, I don’t see why not?”

“Hey, yeah!” Rainbow said, springing into the air. “A good ol’ fashion game of hide-n-seek!”

Applejack bit Rainbow’s tail and pulled her to the ground. “It’s only old fashioned if you can’t fly,” she said with a smug grin.

“Pssh, like I need these babies to beat you.” Rainbow ruffled her wings. “But that means no magic either!”

Rarity turned her nose up. “The very accusation that we would play unfairly in any manner is offensive.”

Pinkie slid a hoof around Rarity’s neck. “I’m glad you feel that way, ‘cause…” She leaned in close to Rarity’s ear while her other hoof poked Rarity’s horn.

“You’re it.”

The rest of us, Fluttershy included, broke into a mad dash for the maze while the older ponies just laughed and watched.

“You’re first, Pinkie Pie!” Rarity shouted.

With how much Pinkie was laughing, it wouldn’t be too hard to find her. The first split in the maze was a three way branch. Rainbow, Twilight, and I broke right, following the path until it split again. Having traversed the maze dozens of times before, I knew where I was going, but I stayed behind Rainbow and let her lead until I knew a dead end was coming up. For her part, Rainbow made an impressive string of good choices.

Her luck finally ran out when she turned left at a fork. I made a right, watching Twilight follow along with Rainbow. That path would go on for a bit before they would be forced to turn around. I eased my run to a steady gait and forged ahead, keeping my ears perked for any sign of Rarity.

If I kept on this path, I would eventually reach the center of the maze. Three other roads also lead to the center, making it an easy place to get tagged. I decided to keep to the halls and stay on the outer edges. I grinned, remembering the countless times Mother and I had played hide-n-seek in here.

I heard a panicked yell from Applejack, and knew Rarity had found her first victim. That gave me pause. Did that mean Applejack was it? Or did I have to run from both Rarity and Applejack?

I stepped forward and swooned, my head become light as a feather. Another step forward, and I was back to normal. I froze, my mind tuning out the world around me. Even today, on my birthday, I felt like this? Why? I had woken up feeling great—the entire day had been going great! Yes, the spell had only been for a brief second, but it still happened. I felt like I didn’t belong to this world.

What are you?

A single question voiced by my deeper subconscious rose up to the front of my mind. Not ‘who’ but ‘what.’ What was I? I was a pony, wasn’t I?

Are you sure? The voice asked. Is that what you know, or what you believe?

I never considered the difference until now. I believed I was equine. I believed Celestia had adopted me after my parents had not wanted me and left me in front of the castle. I believed those things. But what did I know? My head tilted to one side. What did I know?

I bet Celestia knows the truth.

The truth… but that implied that Mother had lied to me. While she sometimes wasn’t as forthcoming as I’d like her to be, she would never lie to me… would she?

Would she?

My hooves turned me around and carried me toward the entrance of the maze while thoughts swirled in my head and heart. I stopped and tilted my head to the other side. What about this one, tiny incident had set off this string of thoughts?

You want it to end.

That was true. I didn’t want to feel like I was being erased. I didn’t want to stumble and fall anymore. I didn’t want to be forgotten. I nodded, like the new voice in my heart could see me, and continued down the path. Enough was enough—I wanted an answer.

I reached the beginning without running into anypony else, though I heard Pinkie shriek in delight. Part of me wondered if they even remembered I was playing. I moved through the garden toward the castle, sneaking past Platina and Lance as they slow danced to a song.

They paced back and forth, resting their heads on the other’s shoulder, eyes closed, and warm smiles on their faces. It was almost enough to get me to stop my march to Celestia.

I retreated into the castle and made my way toward the royal suites. I didn’t know how I knew, but I was sure Mother was with Luna right now. Granted, it was an obvious assumption all things considered, but I was dead certain about it.

To the untrained eye, many of the hallways might have looked the same. But I knew what tapestries and paintings to look for, and which guards were on duty. They might not know me to well, but I remember all of them. I passed under the banner with the phases of the moon and turned the corner, finding Long Sword and Riot Shield standing guard. I gave them a stiff wave as I passed by, which they acknowledged but didn’t return.

The corridor beyond them was empty and silent, save for a hush of voices. At the end of the hall, a large blue door with a crescent moon was open just a crack. I crept forward and positioned myself against it, trying to see through the tiny opening.

Shadows clung tightly to the room. I could barely make out a vanity against the wall, but the rest of the room was completely lost to me. I could, however, hear the whispers much more clearly.

“...nice mares, Luna. They would love to see you again,” my mother said gently.

My heart gave a jealous twitch. Was this where Mother had spent most of my birthday? I was caught between my desire to march in and speak to her, and to stay put and listen in on the conversation.

“I am fine, Sister,” Luna said with tired appreciation. “I am just taking time to appreciate the small things and recover. Besides, I do not want to impose on young Sunset.”

“I’m sure she would enjoy having you down there.”

I scrunched my nose. Would I? If it got Mother to come down too, then sure. Luna herself? Meh.

“She… reminds me of you, in many ways,” Mother continued.

Luna fell silent for a while. Then, in an even quieter voice that forced me to strain my ears, she asked, “Who is she, Celestia?”

A pregnant pause. In it, my pulse slowed to a crawl.

“She’s my daughter.”

I allowed myself a tiny breath of relief.

“That’s not what I meant, Sister,” Luna said tersely. “When I was still… not myself, I saw her. Or rather, I saw something that shouldn’t be here—”

“She has every right to be here!” my mother shouted, making me jump. I clapped a hoof to my mouth and became still as stone, hoping neither of them had heard me.

Mother took a calm breath. “I’m sorry, Luna. It’s… complicated.”

“Tia… please.”

I held my breath again. This time, my heart rate quadrupled, crashing against my chest until it ached.

Celestia remained silent for another minute. I could hear the shifting of blankets and feathers. She was stalling for time. After an eternity of waiting, she spoke.

“I… don’t know where she came from. She just appeared one day. This frail and sick foal, flickering like she was a trick of the light. I took her in. Something in my heart told me I needed to. I put her in the infirmary, asked the doctors to look after her. But when I came back the next day, they couldn’t even remember that I had dropped off a foal. I rushed in to find her, so thankful that she was still there. I berated the doctors for being so negligible… but I found out in time, it wasn’t their fault. No one could seem to recollect Sunset if she left their vicinity.

“It was… curious… and frustrating. I didn’t know what to do. I kept thinking about her, and showed up three times a day to check up on her. And soon, she wasn’t as frail. She stopped flickering and fading. And in a few weeks, she smiled and giggled at my approach,” Mother said fondly.

“Then, I left on a short embassy to Manehattan. I was gone for almost a week, and was so busy… my thoughts strayed from Sunset. When I got back, she was struggling to stay… here. If the doctors hadn’t begun to remember her…”

If I leaned forward anymore, I ran the risk of moving the door. Yet, I was pressed up as close as I could, drinking in Celestia’s words. I needed her to keep talking. But a quivering part of my heart told me to turn and walk away right now.

No! The voice from before shouted. Stay. You have every right to know.

“It sounds like her existence is tied to you,” Luna said with dawning comprehension. “Actually, it sounds like… Celestia, have you talked to Mother?”

“I… I tired. So many times. Mother refuses to even talk about her—refuses to Acknowledge Sunset’s existence.” Mom had never sounded so bitter before.

“So,” Luna began in a grim voice, “Mother did not create her.”

“...No. She has foreseen every possibility the world could take. Sunset… Sunset does not exist in any of them. I don’t know where she came from, but according to Mother…” Celestia’s voice cracked like fragile glass. “My Sunset was never supposed to exist. And because she doesn’t exist, Mother refuses to Acknowledge her.”

Somewhere during Celestia’s speech, my legs had given out. I laid against the carpet, eyes impossibly wide. My heart had stopped functioning, and my lungs refused to take in air. I wanted to move as far away from this conversation as possible. But my limbs refused to respond. Everything had gone numb, or at least tried to. A blistering pain began to sprout from my chest.

Luna spoke. “I had my suspicions. When I looked at her, I knew something was not as it should be. She’s a true anomaly to the universe.”

“And because of that, it wants to get rid of her,” Celestia said, her voice quivering.

“And you’re using your divine powers to Acknowledge her in place of Mother?”

Another pregnant pause. “I have to. If I stop thinking about her for too long, she runs the risk of disappearing. Other ponies acknowledging her helps, but… I am her strongest anchor to this world. And I love her. I can’t bear to lose her.”

They fell silent. We were all silent. The whole world was silent.

I pulled away from the door. I don’t know how. My legs were jelly. My insides were knotted together. My heart sat in splinters. I moved down the hall with agonizing slowness.

“Sunset was never supposed to exist.”

I staggered against the wall and gasped. I hadn’t breathed in minutes. My brain floated in fog. The numbness started to fade. I was cold—freezing from the inside out. It was worse than being erased. That pain eventually ended. This would haunt me...

I wasn’t…

Brain couldn’t process the truth. It refused to focus on it. I concentrated on moving my legs. I couldn’t go back to the party. I needed to lie down. Maybe forever.

I wasn’t supposed to…

An electrical jolt shot through my brain. I had a strange urge to laugh. It was absurd. Who got to dictate who could exist and who couldn’t?

Apparently, Celestia’s mother. The Maker.

And she hadn’t made me. She didn’t even want to entertain the notion. She ignored me.

Another jolt shot through me. The absurd humor morphed into an unbearable sadness. I wanted to cry. I wanted to wail. I didn’t. I couldn’t. What had I done to spurn the Maker’s favor? If she hadn’t made me, where did I come from?

I wasn’t supposed to exist.

I was nothing. The thought took full shape in the center of my mind, draining away the despair and humor and even the pain, leaving me empty. Hollow. Null. It was almost like falling into the void.

Everything was disconnected. I couldn’t feel emotions anymore, but something had my heart in a vice grip. My hooves trudged along, instinctively following the path to my room. I failed to register anything around me though. I took another sharp breath, having forgotten to breathe again.

“Lady Sunset?”

Turning a corner, I found Platina strolling toward me. Her stoic face dissolved into an anxious frown. “What’s wrong?”

I looked up at her, positive my eyes were haunted and cheeks sunken. What was wrong? Everything was wrong. Nothing was wrong.

“Nothing is wrong with you.”

My head jerked to the left. Had she thought herself clever? Was that her justification for lying to me? That she had technically told me the truth?

A spark, short and fleeting, burned through me, driving back the cold void for but a moment. It returned to swallow the spark up, but I could feel it flickering and lingering deep within the darkness. I had never felt anything like that toward Mother before.


My eyes took in Platina again. A worried crease in her brow joined her frown.

“I don’t feel good,” I croaked.

Her eyes shone with a motherly concern that I should have appreciated. She acknowledged me. She was one of the reasons I was still here. But it only reminded me of Celestia, and kindled the faint spark sitting in the void.

Platina moved behind me and shepherded me forward. “You don’t look too good either. Come, bedtime for you.”

With her prodding me forward, I shuffled faster. I was still off-kilter, teetering from time-to-time, but Platina didn’t comment. When we reached my door, she pushed it open and nudged me inside.

“I’ll inform your friends you’ve retired for the night.”

“Thank you,” I croaked again, keeping my eyes on the setting sun.

“Feel better, My Lady.” When I didn’t respond, Platina stepped out and closed the door.

I stood in the center of my room, staring out at nothing. Nothing. Nothing.


The urge to scream hit me full force, but if I did, I knew Platina would come running back. I didn’t trust myself to cast a silence barrier. But the tightness in my chest mounted to a crushing pressure. I started to hyperventilate, falling to the floor and curling into a ball.

I wished for this, hadn’t I? I had wanted to know the truth. How was I to know the truth would be so painful? How was I to know Mother withheld so much? Another wave of anger washed over me. The truth was terrible, but she had no right to keep something like this from me for so long! I asked her what was wrong with me and she lied! She told me she didn’t know!

My life—my very existence was held by a thread she controlled. I could die—fade away at any moment. The realization locked every muscle in body. I could go at any moment. Even in my sleep. All she had to do was forget. And it had already happened before. Every fainting spell, every time the void tried to pull me in, she had forgotten for a moment.

A broken sob sputtered out of me. I was nothing. I came from nothing. When I died, I would go back to nothing. The Maker wanted nothing to do with me. Of all the countless creations in the universe, I was the only one she hadn’t created.

The only pony neither made nor wanted.

The Maker’s reject.

7. Nihility

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I didn’t get out of bed the next day. Mother came up to check in on me and drop off my presents. Buried in my blankets, I kept my back to her and told her I didn’t feel well.

Her muzzle pressed against the blankets as she searched for a way in. I had developed a tight cocoon though, and she gave up after a few tries.

“Would you like me to bring you anything? Some soup?”


I could feel her gaze on me. Part of me wanted to crawl out and beg for her embrace. A larger part of me still seethed at her. How could she keep that from me? How could she have come so close to forgetting me and letting me fade away?

It was irrational. I knew it was irrational. She had chosen to love me. She was the reason I still existed in the first place.

So why was I mad?

I closed my eyes, feeling the dried tears rimmed along the edges. When I opened them again, I could feel the onset of night. Hardly any light penetrated my cocoon, but the shadows I could see had shifted. I blinked again, and when I opened my eyes this time, I could hear birds singing outside.

Lethargically, and with the speed of molasses in the winter, I worked my way out of my blankets, poking my head free. I squinted my eyes at the light pouring from the bay window. Why hadn’t I closed it? My entire body felt stiff, and moving reawakened my stomach, empty and clamoring for sustenance. Looking around, I saw a silver tray sitting on my desk.

I tried to decide which would take less energy, levitating it to me, or getting up and walking over. After trying to concentrate on my magic and getting only sparks, I decided to fully unwrap myself and crawl over to the food.

I practically fell onto the carpet, face buried in the soft down. After a few seconds of rest, I dragged myself forward and used the chair to pull myself up. I nudged the silver lid off the tray, finding a plate of pancakes ringed with whip cream and strawberries. Inside the lid was a note.

Feel better soon. Love, Mom.

Despite the fact that my tear ducts were empty and my throat was raw, I broke into a fresh fit of sobs. My stomach roared with hunger, but my appetite was gone. Never before had two emotions clashed together so violently within me. I wanted to run up to Mother and hit her in the face, then throw myself into her embrace and stay there forever; a place where she could never forget me.

If she really loved you, she would have found a way to save you from this miserable limbo, a cynical voice said.

But what else could Celestia have done? She had pleaded to the very creator of the universe and been stoutly ignored. Still, the irrational anger sat like a thorn in my heart, nettling me every time I thought about her. Maybe it wasn’t the fact that she hadn’t told me—it was that she had lied to me. I asked her what was wrong, and she said nothing. It was either a lie or a very cruel joke on her part.

I shoved the lid back over the pancakes and dropped my head into my hooves. What did I do with this revelation? How does one walk through life knowing you weren’t supposed to exist? I supposed there was many a pony who had been conceived from a drunken stupor and a fit passion rather than being planned out, but if Mother was to be believed, even they fit somewhere into the Maker’s grand scheme.

I had not been part of the plan. I was more than an accident, I was, as Nightmare Moon had put it, an anomaly. It was almost flattering.

My head dropped against the desk, next to the container. I could smell the pancakes on the other side, and my stomach gave another roar. My heart told me it would be better to starve.

Then, a new thought struck me. What would happen when I died? Even if I managed to live a full life, it would all be rendered pointless at the end. I would fade into that horrifying abyss while everyone got to go to the Summerlands. Would anyone remember me when I died? Or would everything just reset completely? If they no longer had a reason to think of me, soon, they would forget completely.

I then thought of Twilight in Ponyville. If she no longer had contact with me, would she forget soon too? My face lay in a puddle of tears, but I didn’t move. A different abyss threatened to swallow me, one of absolute despair. It spread out from my heart and devoured what little strength I had.

No matter how I looked at it, I was doomed. Destined to fade into nothingness. What did it matter what happened now? Die here. Live out my life. Either way...

The abyss ate everything inside me, and I felt hollow and brittle, like a mere touch would shatter me. I trembled furiously, sobs pouring out of me. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to fall back into the abyss! But I couldn’t stop this. Mother couldn’t stop this. Celestia, who could move the sun and the moon, who could stare down fifty foot tall dragons without blinking, who could rule an entire nation, dealing with petty politics and border disputes and economics, yet still found time to read me a bedtime story…. She couldn’t stop this.

There is one way to stop yourself from fading away, the cynical voice said. All you have to do is become immortal.

I let out a mirthless laugh. Was that all? Then I was as good as saved. I lifted my head up, face matted with tears. How the heck did I become immortal? Did I want to be immortal? I didn’t want to die but… what would I even do if I could live forever?

It’s better than not existing.

That was a fair argument. Maybe I would ask Mother next time I saw her. I pressed my face into the puddle of tears, now dripping over the side. What was I going to say next time I saw her? Would I see her again?

The fact that I could go at any moment paralyzed me with fear again. It subsided, allowing me to breathe. The rational part of my brain reminded me in a meek voice that Mother had not forgotten me yet. Sure, there were close calls, but I always came back.

The irrational part screamed in response. There never should have been close calls in the first place! Did she know when she almost stopped thinking about me? Did she know when I teetered on the edge of oblivion? I should have been on her mind at all times!

What was I going to say to her next time I saw her? Did I tell her that I knew? That I was scared? That I was furious? I didn’t know if I had it in me to keep it a secret. Right now, I didn’t have much in me.

How did I live this knowledge? Nevermind telling my mother, how did I go on with this weight on my back? How did I go on knowing any day, any hour, any second could be my last? So few ponies would remember me, if any.

My brain shut off for a moment, and I floated in the nightmarish abyss, all of my will and conviction gone. Just give up, a new voice said. There’s no point in living like this.

But dying would be worse. It would be far worse. Over and over, this circled in my noisy brain. Living in constant anticipation of a sudden death. The stark emptiness and all-consuming terror death would bring. What did I do? What could I do besides just exist?


I barely existed.

I wasn’t supposed to exist.

My eyes shot open. My head snapped up. I was breathing very fast and erratically. Everything crashed down again at once, a tsunami of emotions and pain. Brittle existence, cold death, lies upon lies, cruel jokes, pointlessness and futility. Everything was pointless! Nothing I did mattered in the end! So what if I existed? Other ponies would live on in some way! I was condemned to be erased and forgotten.


My erratic breathing stopped. I couldn’t take in air anymore. Instead, I pressed my hooves against my head until they felt like clamps, then, I screamed.

I didn’t want to. I knew I would be heard. But I couldn’t hold it anymore. It tore itself from my throat, desperate to be released. I obliged, closing my eyes and hearing my own scream echo through the room.

It did nothing to relieve the pain.

The door burst open, and Platina and two additional guards charged in, spears at the ready. “My Lady, are you okay?”

Releasing the scream allowed me to breathe again. I took a large gulp of air, then turned from my desk, a wide smile plastered on my face. “Hi, Platina,” I said pleasantly. “Yes, I’m fine.”

Naturally, she gave me the greatest look of skepticism possible. “You were screaming.” She eyed the pool of tears. “And you’ve been crying.”

I made a short chirp of laughter. “Oh, it was nothing. Just had a brief moment. Early midlife crisis. Thought too hard!” I laughed again. It came out cracked this time.

Platina stared with a mixture of scrutiny and concern. “Would you like me to go get the Princess?” she asked slowly.

“That won’t be necessary,” I said in clipped tones. “No, no, no need for that. I’m just going to lay down for a little bit.”

“You’ve been in your room for a while, Lady Sunset. Are you sure you’re fine?”

I felt the smile slide off my face. Whatever replaced it was enough to make Platina wince. “Perfectly fine, Platina. You’re dismissed.” My voice was high, tight, and sounded nothing like me.

Platina stood her ground for a moment, bowed, then retreated, the other guards hot on her tail. I stared at the door after she closed it, long and hard, like I could burn holes with my eyes.

She’s going to tell Mother.

That was fine. The conversation was unavoidable. Inevitable. Destined to happen. All things that are fated to happen shall happen, whether you want them to or not. I only had one fate. To fade to nothing.

The sadness, the anger, the hysteria; it all drained out of me, leaving me empty once again. I dropped my head and stared at the carpet. It lunged toward me, smacking me in the side of the face.

I laid sprawled on the carpet, devoid of energy or reason to get up. It was rather soft, all things considered. I would just lay there until Mother arrived.

But the afternoon came and went, and the sunlight drifted across the room, spreading over me like a warm blanket before climbing up the walls. Mother never knocked on my door. Nopony did.

Night fell, and my stomach painfully cramped up from the lack of food. My head swam as I raised it. Whether I wanted to or not, I had to eat now. I climbed back into my chair and tossed the lid off the pancakes. They smiled. I frowned.

After several hours under a tin cover, they were cold. Still delicious though. Consuming them, however, only made me notice how hungry I truly was. As much as I abhorred the idea of leaving my room, I needed more sustenance. Even if I was just existing at that point, I wanted to exist with a full stomach.

With reluctance, I left my chair, actually standing up for the first time in over a day. My knees wobbled, but I got ahold of myself and opened the door. Two guards were stationed outside, but Platina was nowhere to be seen. I trudged past the pair, my eyes daring them to ask questions. But they merely saluted and kept their gazes straight.

I had no idea how late it was. Most of the braziers were out, leaving me to guess it was close to midnight. Soft moonlight came in through the windows and gathered in patches against the carpet. I stopped and looked up at the moon. It was odd, seeing it without the ominous face that had decorated it for centuries.

I made my way down to the first floor, passing a few of the night maids on the way. They and most of the other guards on duty paid me no mind. I didn’t care. Tonight was definitely a night where I loathed to talk to anyone.

I was almost to the kitchens when a figure rounded the corner in front of me. It was Princess Luna. She seemed a little taller from when I last saw her. Not by much, but still noticeable.

“Sunset Shimmer,” she said softly, a smile pulling at her lips. “Coming down for a midnight snack as well?”

“Yeah, I, er, forgot to eat today.”

Luna regarded me, her smile fading. “You seem greatly troubled.”

“It’s nothing,” I said shortly. “Just hungry.”

She did it again; that piercing stare, like she was examining my very essence, or lack of one. The longer she looked, the hotter my face got.

“Stop it!” I shouted.

Her ears flattened against the sides of her head. “My apologies, Sunset. I did not mean to make you uncomfortable.”

She sounded sincere. Maybe she didn’t realize what she was doing. I still wanted to keep shouting at her. What would it gain me, though? At least she could see me.

I made an irritated huff and moved to pass her, but she extended a wing. “Please, Sunset. I know we are not close, but… I would like to help you if I can.”

“I sincerely doubt there’s anything you can do for me,” I said darkly. I tried to move forward again, but Luna stood firm.

“You know, don’t you?” Her voice was barely higher than a whisper.

A jagged smile broke across my face, and my head twisted to look at Luna. “Know what, dear aunt?” I asked in an overly-pleasant voice that startled even me. “That I’m not even a speck in the Maker’s eye? That my existence is tied to how many ponies can remember who I am?”

I took a step toward her very apprehensive face, gaining a thrill when she took a step back. “Do I know that I’m only alive by Celestia’s grace? Do I know that my existence is ultimately pointless, and that no matter what, I’m going to fade into nothingness? Do I know that I was never supposed to be here? If that’s what you’re referring to, Aunt Luna, then yes, I know.”

To my satisfaction, Luna lowered her wing. She had nothing to say, she could only stare at me with trepidation and pity. I wanted to punch the pity off her face, and a loud voice in my head screamed to follow through. I chose to restrain myself and continue to the kitchens, giving Luna one last broad smile.

This wasn’t me. Then again, I didn’t really know who or what I was. Sunset Shimmer was the name I was given. What did it really mean though?

There were only two chefs in the kitchen. They seemed happy to have something to do when I asked them to make me a sandwich. Lavender, honeysuckle, and tomato on a sweet roll. That’s all I needed to hold me until morning.

When I left the kitchens, Luna had vanished. I didn’t particularly care, but if Platina hadn’t reported my incident with her, Luna most certainly would speak to Celestia.

I climbed back upstairs, wolfing down my sandwich. My stomach’s roar quieted into a whimper. Still hungry, but at least it wasn’t causing me anymore pain.

The halls were quiet. The silence spread to my mind and heart, quieting the raging storm. I stopped and breathed through my nose, appreciating the quiet atmosphere.

“What now?” Without my thoughts spiraling around, I felt like I could perhaps come up with a plan. But nothing came. Did I just accept my fate and make the most of my life until it was over? Knowing that I would not carry any feelings or memories with me when I died? Knowing that the world would forget me?

You deserve more than that pitiful existence.

I did. I deserved to be remembered like anypony else. The question was how?

Become powerful. Ponies notice those with power. Become an alicorn. Become immortal.

My hooves started leading me down the hall again. That was all easier said than done. Though I supposed if Cadence could become an alicorn, I could too. How though?

She knows.

Of course Celestia knew. Would she tell me a secret like that though? She seemed to like keeping life altering information from me.

If she loved you—if she wanted you to stay alive, she would tell you.

I stopped, an old wooden door on my left. There was something familiar about it. It wasn’t a bedroom, in fact, it looked more like a storage door. I gave it a nudge, only to find it locked. A flash of my horn fixed that, and I pushed it open.

Oh… right.

On the other side of the room, raised on a crystal dais, was the mirror. I remembered staring into its reflection four years ago, unable to see myself. Mother said it showed your heart’s desire. I had always been skeptical.

The fear that had gripped me when I first looked into it returned as I drew closer. My mind told me to turn and walk away, but I had to see. If it really did show my heart’s desire, I would see myself this time. I wanted nothing more than to fully exist in this world.

I stepped up onto the dais, aligning myself to the glass. But just like before, no matter how close I got, no matter how many times I waved my hoof, my reflection never appeared. I stared at the room behind me, dark and full of old crates.

“What are you?” I growled at the mirror. Mother had lied again. Did the mirror show the truth? Did it show someone’s hidden nature? Did it only work for real ponies? I wanted to smash it to pieces. “Worthless piece of junk!”

My horn lit up as I considered the best way to destroy it. A simple spell? Or did I fling a box into it?

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a calm but sad voice said. “That’s seven years bad luck.”

I watched Celestia step into the reflection, standing behind where I should have been. She had none of her regalia on, and her whole body seemed to hunch, like she was carrying something heavy.

I kept my horn lit and stared at the mirror. “I’m guessing Luna came running to you?”

“She did,” Celestia said with a slow nod. “She seemed greatly concerned over your mental well-being.”

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not, Sunset. I know you’re not.”

“Of course you know,” I said bitterly. “You know everything. You just never want to share. Or you downright lie about it!” I wheeled around, tears pouring out of my eyes again. “‘What’s wrong with me?' I would ask! And every time, ‘nothing, Sunset. Nothing is wrong!’ What, did you think you were being clever?”

Celestia at least had the decency to look ashamed. “No, of course not. What did you want me to say, Sunset? I couldn’t burden you with knowledge like this. Nopony should ever have to deal with this.”

“Well I’m the pony that does!” I yelled. “You don’t know! You don’t know what it’s like to be robbed of all your strength and sense of self! To fall into an endless void that slowly eats away at you! It could happen anywhere, at any time! And it’s all determined by one pony!”

“I’m trying my best!” Celestia shouted desperately, tears in her eyes now. “I think about you all the time. You’re always on my mind. I want other ponies to remember you, too. If they did, you wouldn’t be tethered to just me. Sunset, I’m so sorry for what you have to go through, I truly am.”

And she meant it. She was inches away from breaking down and crying, I could see it on her face. It wasn’t her fault. None of it was. But I needed someone to be mad at—someone physical since I couldn’t shout at the Maker.

“Do you know when you’ve forgotten about me?” I asked.

“Sometimes,” she said quietly. “I know when I’ve become too distracted and that you may have slipped my mind for a few seconds. I think about you extra hard then, hoping it will counter it.”

I grunted and turned to the mirror again. The perfectly polished glass taunted me. “What does this really do?” I saw Celestia look away, biting her lower lip. “Well?”

“It… it shows the viewer’s full potential. What their destiny could be if they applied themselves the right way. I—”

“So you showed me this knowing what I was and what I would probably see?” I asked, seething again.

“I was hoping I would be wrong!” The tears were falling now. “I hoped you would see yourself doing something, anything! It would prove the Maker wrong! That you did belong here, that you had a destiny!”

“Well, guess what, Mom, there’s still nothing there!” I spun around again, snarling. “There’s nothing there because I’m nothing! That’s all my potential is! To die and fade away!”

My heart shattered again, and the next thing I knew, I was lying against the cold dais, crying my eyes out. Mother scooped me up and cradled me against her, wrapping her wide, alabaster wings around me.

“You’re not nothing!” she sobbed. “You’re my daughter! I don’t care what the entire universe says, you’re mine and I love you!”

There was so much I wanted to say, so many ways I could refute her words. The cynical voice in my head whispered so many things into my ear. But I ignored it all. I was still angry and terrified, but I set it all aside. It would all come back later, and I would address it then.

Right then, the only thing I wanted was my mother. She held me, and I hugged her, and we cried well into the night.

8. All or Nothing

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I rose from my bed, bleary eyes hidden behind a tangled mess of a mane. Mother must have tucked me in while I was asleep, though I couldn’t remember dozing off.

If I said I felt any better, I’d be lying. I felt a little calmer though. Who knew how long it would last. As last night had proven, my emotions were as volatile as a newborn unicorn’s magic.

And beneath the calm was still the soul-crushing emptiness and question of ‘what now?’ Did I walk through life with a smile on my face, pretending everything was perfectly fine, ignoring the inevitability of nothing after death?

I climbed out of bed, feeling oddly light. The sun winked at me from behind the fluttering window curtains. I needed to find Mother. Our conversation wasn’t over yet. I no longer had the urge to scream at her, but she still had to answer some of my questions.

I brushed out my wild hair, finding the repetitive motion rather soothing. When I was presentable, I stepped out of my room, finding Platina was still absent. The two guards on duty paid me no mind, not even bothering to salute me as I closed the door. It was going to be one of those days.

The castle felt quieter than normal. It wasn’t the kind of silence that came with the absence of ponies; it was almost as if someone had pressed large earmuffs over me. Everything sounded muffled; my hoofsteps across the carpet were nonexistent.

The castle staff paid me no mind, as usual. But there was something different in the way they did it. I couldn’t put my horn on what though. Maybe it was the way their eyes went over me. It wasn’t the usual glossy stare, where they knew I was there, it just took a while to register. It was as if they couldn’t see me at all.

Or perhaps I was just being extra paranoid now. The odd silence didn’t help either.

With how high the sun was, I guessed Mother would be getting ready for the Day Court. I hoped to catch her before she got to the throne, otherwise, I’d have to wait until evening to speak. I hurried up to her room in the eastern tower. The world seemed to get quieter as I ascended the steps and made my way down the hall.

I waved at the guards standing before Mother’s door. Their eyes remained resolutely forward. “Umm, I’d like to see my mother. Can I get through?”

They didn’t acknowledge me in the slightest.

Something started to gnaw at me from within my stomach. I spoke louder, hoping I was just having a really off day. “Can I see Celestia, please?”

Neither one so much as blinked at me.

My heart hammered. I looked down at my hoof. I could see and hear myself, so why couldn’t they? Then again, if they couldn’t see me, they couldn’t stop me. I was about to enter Mother’s room when the door opened for me.

She stepped out, dressed in her regalia, her rainbow mane blowing in the breeze. She smiled at her two guards and said something in a quiet voice I couldn’t make out. The guard must have been using an equally quiet tone, because I couldn’t hear him either. Celestia turned her head and looked at me.

No, not at me. Through me. She couldn’t see me either.

“Mom?” I asked, my voice trembling. But she took no notice. She strode forward, and as if I was nothing more than wind, walked right through me.

I didn’t feel it. It was as if I wasn’t there at all. I stood, shaking, then turned around and ran after her, shouting the whole time, tears falling again.

No! No, this can’t be happening!

She would stop and greet other guards and castle staff. But I couldn’t hear a word they were saying, no matter how close I got. I threw myself against Mother’s forelegs, but I tumbled right through.

“No!” I screamed. “Stop it! Stop it! I’m right here!”

I hounded after my Mother to see if she would go down to my room to see me. Did she know I was gone? Did she care? Had she already forgotten about me? Was this death? Was I to wander around like a ghost, unable to communicate with anyone?

But Celestia did not go down to my room. She went straight to the throne room and took a seat on her large pillow. I stood right in front of her, desperately waving my hoof.

“You really can’t see me, can you?” I choked back another sob. Her mouth moved, but it was like someone had muted the whole world around me.

They couldn’t see me, and I couldn’t hear them. I was perfectly cut off.

But I can still walk, and breathe, and see everything. The optimism was still there, small and fleeting, but alive.

It didn’t last long.

I started feeling lighter, both physically and mentally. The world was starting to grow more hazy. I looked down and screamed as loud as I could. Before my eyes, my hooves were disappearing, fading away like I was blending into the room around me.

“No…” I said, more stunned than scared. “No, please! I don’t want to go! No!”

But the erasure spread. Soon, my hooves were completely gone. It spread up my barrel, then moved up my neck. Even my falling tears vanished. I looked desperately at my mother, who merely looked beyond me, completely unaware of my plight.


Then, I was gone.


I screamed as I woke up, thrashing and gasping for air. Two warm forelegs wrapped around me and held me tight while a voice spoke in my ear.

“Shh, it’s all right, Sunset. You’re okay. You’re fine.”

But I couldn't relax. It had felt too real. It had been a premonition, not a dream. Wings spread over me to strengthen the embrace, and while I ceased thrashing, I continued to hyperventilate and wail, clutching onto Mother tightly.

“I have you, Sunset. You’re safe,” she said, her voice as soft and warm as her feathers.

“I was being erased!” I cried into her chest. “No one could see me!”

“I can see you. You’re here, with me.”

“I was dying!”

“You’re safe. You’re fine.”

“I didn’t want to go! Don’t let me go!”

“I won’t.”

“Don’t let me go.”

“I promise.”

I stayed wrapped in her embrace for what felt like hours. Finally, I composed myself enough to pull myself away slowly. I peeked out over her feathers, finding that we were still in the storage room. It was dim, the only sources of light coming from the lone window, and Celestia’s ethereal mane.

She produced a handkerchief from midair and wiped up my face, just as she had when I was a filly. I felt like one again with all of my crying and huddling into Mother’s hooves. Not that it wasn’t deserved if I was being honest with myself.

“Breakfast,” she said, speaking as if one syllable too loud or harsh would break me again. “Come now. You need to eat.”

I followed along with nary a word. My throat was raw from crying. Upon exiting the storage room, Raven, Mother’s personal secretary, ran up to her, looking frantic.

“Your Majesty! I was looking all over for you! Then I heard you in the storage room, but I didn’t feel like it was my place to enter! But, the Day Court was supposed to begin an hour ago! And you have three afternoon meetings with—”

“Cancel the day court and all of my meetings today, Raven,” Mother said kindly, her eyes still forward as she walked down the hall. “I am going to be spending all of today with my daughter. And if anypony asks, tell them exactly that.”

Raven, hurrying to keep up with my mother’s long strides, looked curiously at me, then back at Celestia. “Y-yes, Your Majesty. Right away.” She fell back, scribbling on her clipboard.

My spirits lifted marginally. A whole day with my mother sounded lovely in theory. But there was a wall between us now, even if she wouldn't acknowledge it. Yes, I had broken down and sobbed into her chest, twice now in the last twelve hours. But there was still a twinge of resentment buried within me, like a deep splinter.

And the wall didn’t just separate us. It seperated me from the rest of the world. They had all been made and acknowledged by the Maker. They were loved by a supposedly benevolent goddess. I was not.

So there was a second splinter of resentment. One held for everypony else around me who got to enjoy life. Whether or not they believed in the Maker on high, whether or not they knew there was something waiting for them after death, they could walk through life knowing they had a place somewhere in the grand scheme, no matter how small.

They had a destiny. They would not fade away. They would not be forgotten by the world.

And that left in me a third piece of resentment. It wasn't a splinter—it was a knife, wedged deep into my heart. It twisted every time I thought about The End, my doomed existence.

And I realized, this burning in my heart wasn't resentment. It was full blown hatred. Hatred for the goddess benevolent to all but me.

Perhaps Mother could sense my darkening cloud, for she draped a wing over my back. Normally, this would have dissipated all of my fears, but, with that splinter of resentment toward her nestled within me, her wing only dulled the pain and confusion. It would return soon.

She led me to the dining hall and ordered breakfast for us, telling the staff we were not to be disturbed. Neither of us spoke while we waited for our food. I stared down at the white linen and perfectly set tableware, unable to look at Mother for more than a few seconds. I could only fathom what was going through her head at the moment.

She’s probably weaving a new lie, the cynical voice whispered. Trying to think of the best way to placate you—to stop you from asking too many questions.

I frowned. What else could Celestia say or do at this point to stop my inquisition? What possible information could she be withholding that would make my situation worse? I pushed the voice out. No, we had already hit rock bottom. And while I didn’t see a way for this to get better, I knew it couldn’t get any worse.

Our food came: plates of waffles, eggs, toast, and fruit, accompanied by tea and juice. The servants bowed and quietly left. Staring at the dishes before me, my stomach gave a pleading growl, but like the previous day, I had no desire to eat.

“You need food,” Mother said softly.

I looked up at her. She was looking down at her tea, absently stirring it with a spoon.

“I’m not hungry.”

She looked up at me, the infinite wisdom in her eyes clouded with emotion. “Yes, you are, Sunset,” she said, reminding me painfully of last night.

I didn’t flare up this time. I lifted a hoof full of grapes onto my plate and ate them one at a time. My stomach rumbled, pleased that I was finally eating, eager for more. It became a subconscious effort, refilling my plate with more fruit, then guiding small pieces to my mouth.

All the while, Mother stirred and sipped her tea, occasionally taking a small bite of toast. She was stalling. In truth, I couldn’t blame her. Where did we go from here? I had a few ideas, a few desperate questions. But, now that there was food in me, I was a little more calm, a little more willing to yield to patience and let Mother make the first move.

Just as I graduated from fruit to eggs, she finally spoke. Her voice was weak and uncertain, two traits I never expected to hear from her.

“It is rare when I find myself truly at a loss for words.” She kept her eyes on me, holding back another wave of tears. “I know there are no words I can offer to make you feel any better. As for actions…”

She left that word hanging on purpose. It was an invitation.

Seize it! She’s offering it on a silver platter! Seize it!

But did I want it?

What choice do you have? Do you want to die? To be forgotten?

I set my knife and fork down, thinking hard. Last night, thoughts of immortality and alicorns had strayed through my mind; lofty and ridiculous means to avoid oblivion. But what if, what if it was possible? If I could obtain eternal life, most of my problems would be solved. Living forever seemed daunting, but it was far better than the alternative. And I would have my mother there with me.

Power. Immortality. Remembrance.

I took in a shaky breath. “How do I…” I backtracked, and started from a different angle. “Are alicorns immortal?”

Mother raised her hooves and pressed them together in front of her mouth in thought. “Luna and I are born from the Maker. We, in full truth, are demigods, and are immortal until we choose not to be. But that only means we can walk amongst you for as long as we desire. We can still fall ill, we can still be wounded and killed. Death… death comes for us all, eventually,” she finished somberly.

Not for her. She gets to choose her end. How nice it must be, getting to decide when to leave the mortal coil.

I blinked slowly, pushing the voice out again while I chose my next words. “And what about Cadence? She wasn’t born an alicorn; she became one. You said she ascended by doing something nopony else had done. She… understood the deepest element of love.”

Mother nodded slowly. “Cadence is… new. We’re not sure what to expect from her. Her alicorn status was granted by Harmony, and has never occurred in recorded history. Whether she is mortal, long lived, or immortal is something we will have to wait and see.”

The flicker of hope inside of me dwindled into a dying ember. So even becoming an alicorn gave me no guarantee.

Lies. Why else would she be bestowed with great power if not to become something more than a mere mortal? She shall live a long life! She will be remembered!

I nodded, mostly to myself. Even if it was just a chance, it was one I had to take, wasn’t it? If the Maker just expected me to roll over and accept my fate, she had another thing coming.

“But, I still don’t understand,” I said, my voice stronger than it had been in days, “how exactly did Cadence become an alicorn?”

“She stood against somepony who had no concept of love,” Mother said, her eyes drifting toward the window. Outside, the the tips of the northern mountains could be seen, hazy in the distance. “When faced with the dark magic the witch wielded, Cadence was able to take it and reverse it, breaking the witch’s spell. She understood love on such a level that jealousy and hatred couldn’t harm her.”

“And she became an alicorn for it.”


I blinked again. It felt like I was missing a step. I decided to stop beating around the question and cut straight to it. “How does one become an alicorn?”

She didn’t answer right away. She turned her head up to the ceiling, her rainbow mane rippling down her back like a celestial waterfall. “I can only give you theories based on what I have witnessed with Cadence. Ascension appears to become possible when somepony has gained a deep understanding of one of the world’s elements, and demonstrated the power to wield it fully.”

“A deep understanding of a world element…” I gazed intently at my plate. Cadence had become an alicorn by understanding and wielding the power of love. Did that mean if I learned to harness something like the wind or the very earth, I would have enough power to ascend? How much power and understanding would be enough? And would those elements suffice? Did I need something more abstract, like love?

Magic, the voice whispered seductively into my ear.

Of course. Studying and learning magic was already a passion of mine. I was taught by Princess Celestia, the most powerful mage in all of history. I knew and understood many of its secrets. Still, I hesitated. Theories I could crack with ease, but the practical applications of it? I was not strong enough to cast many of the spells I new and understood. If Mother was right, and ascension required understanding and the capacity to wield magic, would just knowing how every spell worked be enough?

But again, I had to at least try. If anything, it gave me purpose. I couldn’t sit in my room and dread my doom; I needed to act. I would shape my own destiny. I would not be discarded by the world.

I raised my head, the blazing determination on my face reflected in my Mother’s eyes. “I’ll do it, Mom. I’m going to become an alicorn."

9. Alicorns

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Mother stared back at me, unblinking, unreadable. I could see my own steadfast eyes reflected in hers, abating and becoming more uncertain as the silence stretched on.

I looked away. “What?” I asked bitterly. “Do you not want that?”

“Nothing would make me happier, Sunset,” Mother said quietly. “But, there are so many unknowns to this plan. I told you: we don’t know if ascended alicorns are immortal. And to purposefully seek out ascension…”

“You’re saying it’s impossible.”

“I’m saying, we should tread carefully and not raise our hopes too high.” She stood from her seat and walked around the table to me. Running a hoof through my hair, she said, “I will do everything I can to help you, but I also have to be honest with you: I don’t know how possible this endeavor will be.”

Trying to sow the seeds of doubt before you even begin. How much help is she going to be, truly?

She’s trying to temper both our expectations! I shook my head to clear the thoughts away, but that had the unintentional side-effect of cueing Mom to stop brushing me. “I have to do this.”

“I know. What element are you going to use to try and ascend?”


Mother raised her head to the ceiling. “Of course. My daughter, the Princess of Magic.”

Sunset Shimmer, Princess of Magic. It had a nice ring to it. Would becoming a princess make the rest of Equestria notice me? Alicornhood would protect me from a mortal death, but if ponies still forgot about me…

Mother gave me a gentle scritch behind the ear. “While you’re studying magic, perhaps we could work on your public image as well.”

“How?” I leaned into her hoof to make up for my accidental rebuke earlier.

“Hmm. I’ll have to give it some thought.” She knelt down, bringing herself eye level to me. “I cannot promise you this road will end with you becoming an alicorn, but know I will do everything in my power to keep you safe. I don't know where you came from, Sunset, but as far as I’m concerned, you are my flesh and blood.”

I fought off the sting of tears in my eyes and wrapped my hooves around her. “Thank you, Mom. I love you.”

“I love you, too, little sun.”


I got to work immediately, grabbing as many books from the library as I could carry in my magic. As much as I wanted to jump ahead, I figured a quick refresher on everything I had learned so far wouldn't hurt. After all, I need to understand every facet of magic.

I spent the following week mostly in my room. A fire stirred within my heart now, driving me forward. My life was dedicated to the arcane arts. Truth be told, it wasn’t too much of a shift—I was already very studious. Now, I just did it with a fervor—ceaseless. I supposed Mother had redoubled her efforts to keep me in her thoughts at all times, because I had not had a fainting spell since my birthday.

Six days into my studies found my room piled high with books and scrolls. Papers, quills and open ink bottles took up almost inch of my desk. Dusk settled, casting an orange glow across the tome laid out in front of me.

I turned a page, soaking in what Search Light had written about detection and security spells. I had been reading all day, like every day previous, stopping only to eat, sleep, and use the bathroom. I hadn’t found the spells that would remove those needs yet.

Mother brought most of my meals as part of her routine to check up on me. With the oncoming night, she would be here soon. Every time she visited, she asked me how I was doing, offered me words of encouragement. But, I always saw the smallest spark of hesitation in her eyes.

She’s scared. Understanding all the secrets of magic could make you more powerful than her.

I lifted my head from the tiny, cramped writing and closed my eyes, scoffing at my own ridiculous thoughts. Mother couldn’t be beaten. Nightmare Moon had only won because Mother planned it. And I wasn't in this for power; no, I just wanted to survive.

My eyes opened of their own accord, telling me they were finished resting. I resumed my reading, memorizing every word and taking careful notes. Some of the spells I had learned so far proved easy to cast, requiring more focus than raw magic. Still, several needed both, and raw magic was something I still lacked despite my returning strength.

That remained my biggest concern. If I knew and understood every spell but couldn't cast them, would that be enough to ascend? There were still so many questions about ascension that I needed answered, but Mother could only speculate. Maybe Cadence could help me?

Knock, knock, knock.

“Enter,” I said, my eyes still on the page.

The door opened with a soft creak and in stepped not my mother, but Luna. She had gained a few more inches since I last saw her, putting her a head taller than me. Her mane was longer and appeared to be turning a darker shade of blue. I couldn't fathom what was happening to her. It was like some sort of accelerated puberty. The wisdom in her eyes never changed though. Today, however, there was something else in them as well. Something haunted.

She walked in, carrying a silver tray in her magic. She found a clear spot on my nightstand to place it, then turned to face me.

“Good evening, Sunset Shimmer,” she said cordially. Her voice was a little deeper, sounding more regal than before. “I hope you are doing well.”

I gave her a searching look while trying not to glare. She was hesitant, just like Mother. “I’m doing okay. Very busy.”

“Yes, so I have heard.” She looked around at the books I had amassed. “You have covered an impressive wealth of knowledge in such a short span of time.”

“Thank you,” I said, perhaps a little too coldly.

My guilt quickly vanished when she gave me that examining look again. “I am not my sister,” she said abruptly. “I never learned the nuances of interacting with ponies, the way she can read them and guide them to answers they themselves did not know they were seeking. So, I will be blunt with you, Sunset. I know you are trying to become an alicorn.”

I decided to be blunt in return. “Yes. It’s the only way to ensure my survival.”

Luna flicked an ear. “I wish I could say that is not true, but…” She looked at my open book. “Sunset, I was not here when Cadence ascended, so I cannot pretend to know what this path entails.”

She looked back at me, the haunted look in her eye taking center stage. “But I know what it is like to chase after power.” She pressed a silver horseshoe to her chest. “I wanted to be remembered. I wanted to shine brighter than my sister. I grew envious and resentful and eventually, desperate. I heard whispers in the shadows, and I listened to them—allowed them to lead me into darkness.”

She took a deep breath. “The price I paid was not worth it, and no, I am not referring to just my banishment.” Tears slid down her cheeks. “I hurt my sister. My only family. I left her to fight and rule and mourn for a thousand years. I do not wish to see her hurt like that again, nor do I wish to see anything befall you.”

I had looked away when her tears fell. They felt private, and I felt rude for being in Luna’s presence while she let them fall. I also felt a little annoyed with her. The warning was appreciated, but I wasn’t doing this for power or to prove something. I wanted to survive. I had half a mind to scream this at her, to tell her that I wasn’t the petty, jealous brat she had been.

The cynical voice urged me on, but I resisted the temptation. It was out of order. “I appreciate you telling me this, Princess, really. But, I’m just doing this so ponies will remember me. And so that I… I never have to face what comes after death.”

Luna looked at me with pitying eyes. “Death comes for us all, Sunset. Even alicorns.”

I scoffed, my temper starting to rise. “You sound like Mother. I’m going to live forever, one way or another.”

The look of pity turned into an apprehensive gaze. “I merely urge you to be careful, Sunset. Whatever your reasons are for seeking power, darkness will tempt you to take more than you bargained for. If, for even a brief moment, you believe the dark is calling to you, I urge you to come find me. I can help.”

Stray thoughts gathered at the fringes of my mind. What exactly could she do even if dark ideas began to surface? Once again, irritation welled up. I wasn’t doing this for selfish gain. Unless self-preservation now counted as selfish.

I pushed it all down and brought a grateful smile to my lips. “Thank you, Princess Luna. I’ll be careful and keep your offer in mind.”

Luna wiped her tears away and smiled, a weight seemingly off her shoulders. “Thank you, Sunset, that is all I ask. Truly, I do hope you succeed. And know that you are now in my thoughts as well. I am not nearly as strong as my sister when it comes to our divine magic, but I am trying as well.”

That actually left me at a brief loss for words. “Th-thank you, Princess… Aunt Luna.”

She smiled again, then excused herself from my room.

Perhaps that was part of the reason why I felt so normal. With Celestia and Luna both Acknowledging my existence, I had a slightly stronger tether to the world. It was comforting, yet still served as a reminder of how fragile my existence was. Yes, the two immortal princess remembered me, but as Mom had shown before, I could slip her mind. And if Luna wasn’t as strong as Celestia, there was still a chance for the void to come back and claim me.

No, I needed not only to become immortal, but I needed the world to remember who I was. The more ponies who remembered me, the more anchors I had.

I ate my dinner and pressed on into my studies, reading and practicing spells until well past midnight. When my eyes strained to keep the words on the page clear, I knew it was time for a proper rest. An upside to studying so hard, I didn’t have existential nightmares anymore. My brain was too tired to conjure up those hellish scenarios, allowing me a dreamless sleep.

My alarm woke me up at eight. Groggy and bleary eyed, sleep tried to take me again as I slowly attempted to get out of bed. I rolled over and fell onto the floor, half-covered in my blanket. Not the best way to start a morning, but I had work to do.

A growl from my stomach reminded me I was still mortal and thus, still needed food.

Huh. Does Mom actually have to eat? Can she still starve, just not die from it?

A hoof knocked three times on my door. “Lady Sunset, Princess Celestia would like your attendance in the dining hall at your earliest convenience,” Platina said.

I untangled myself from the blankets. “Right, be down a few minutes.” Perhaps Mom got tired of bringing my meals up. I showered and ran a brush through my mane before exiting my chamber.

Platina and one of my other guards waited on the other side. It struck me that I hadn’t talked to Platina since the night of my breakdown. I rubbed my forelegs together, unsure of what to say to her. Actually, part of me wanted to hug her, but felt that would be unprofessional outside of life-and-death circumstances.

“It’s good to see you’re feeling better, My Lady.” I could hear the genuine relief beneath her professional stoicism.

“Thanks. Sorry if I made you worry. I just… well, I…”

She held a hoof up. “I don’t need an explanation. As long as you’re okay now, that’s all that matters. And if you need anything, know that I am always here for you.”

That deserved a hug. Platina’s armor made it uncomfortable, but I squeezed her as best a possible. She gave me a tender pat on the head before scooting me down the hall.

“Come now, I know you were up half the night studying. You’re probably starving.”

My stomach growled, eliciting a groan from me and a smirk from Platina.

Mom, Cadence, and, to my surprise, Luna were all seated at the dining table by the time I arrived. The usual lavish spread of food waited for me as well, though there appeared to be a little more than normal. Perhaps because there was an extra mouth to feed.

“Good morning, Sunset,” Mother said, piling my plate with pancakes and strawberries. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Great, thank you.” I took my seat next to Cadence, opposite Mom and Luna. My plate landed in front of me, and I tore into it with as much ferocity as royal table manners would allow.

Mother took a break halfway through her plate and dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “I have a little announcement to make. To celebrate having our family whole and together, I have commissioned an artist to make a royal painting of us all.”

“Oooh,” Cadence said with a gasp. “I’ve never had a painting done of me!”

Luna look at Celestia curiously. “That sounds nice, but why have someone take one of those ‘pho-to-graphs’ you have been showing me?”

Mother chuckled. “Call me old fashioned, but the idea of a royal family portrait sounded better than just a photograph.”

“Wait…” I looked at her intently. “Does this mean we’re going to have to stand in one position for hours?”

“Yes, it does.”

Cadence and I groaned.

“It’ll help teach both of you the art of patience. True art takes time.”

“Sure, when you're the one making it,” I said, slumping in my chair. “We’re just standing there doing nothing.”

But, Mother would have no arguments. She kept her eyes on me all the while, almost like she was trying to tell me something. It hit me as I got up from the table. Having a picture of me hung up somewhere might help ponies remember me. It would at least help the castle staff, since they still forgot from time to time.

As breakfast concluded, Cadence and Luna went their separate ways, I followed after Mother, an idea in my head. “Mom?”

She looked at me as she walked. “Yes, little sun?”

“I was wondering… after the portrait… do you think we could make individual photos of me and put them around the city?”

She smiled and nodded. “I think that is a good direction to take.”

It was an optimistic one at least. I had a feeling it couldn't be that easy though. If ponies had a hard time seeing me, why would a picture be different? Yet, I couldn't help but feel that a constant sight of me, even just a fleeting glance, might help solidify my presence in ponies minds.

And ease them into the idea of their soon-to-be newest princess.

10. The Royal Family

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Dear Twilight,

It’s Sunset, your study buddy from Canterlot in case you forgot. I hope things are going well for you in Ponyville. Things have been okay here. Princess Luna is starting to adjust to modern life. She looks a little different now, like she’s growing up at an accelerated rate. It probably has something to do with being locked in the moon for a thousand years.

I’m all right. I’ve started a new project that’s taking a lot of my time. It… would take a little explanation, some of it a little unbelievable. But… you’re my closest friend, and I trust you. If you aren’t busy and want to hear more, write back.

Of course, if you don’t remember me, this all sounds like nonsense, so disregard the whole letter if it does.

Miss you and hope you’re well,

Sunset Shimmer

I tucked the letter into an envelope, sealed it, and stamped it. Setting it on the nightstand, I hopped into the bathroom to give myself a thorough cleaning. Coat washed, teeth brushed, and mane and tail combed so meticulously that not a single hair was out of place, I stepped out into the bedroom and slipped on the golden horseshoes and chest guard Mother had laid out for me.

Dressed in my regalia, I looked at my reflection in the mirror. Groomed, dressed and head held high, I looked very regal. All I was missing was a pair of wings.

Soon, I thought. I took the letter from my nightstand and pushed open my room door. As usual, Platina waited for me on the other side.

“You look very lovely today.”

I brushed a lock of hair from in front of my face. “Thank you.” I held the letter out. “Can you bring this to the mailroom for me?”

Platina took it in her magic and saluted. “At once, My Lady. Your family is waiting for you in the entrance hall.”

Family? I followed her to a split in the hall. She went left while I continued straight, accompanied by another guard.

I had considered Princess Celestia as my mother for as long as I could remember. And I was slowly adjusting to calling Princess Luna my aunt. And since Cadence had been unofficially adopted by Celestia as her niece, that made her my cousin in some weird way.

But I had never used the word ‘family’ before to describe them. My previous perception of the idea consisted of only one pony. Luna hadn't existed in my life until a week ago, and Cadence was just there.

And now, you have to share Celestia with both of them. How much time will Celestia have left for you?

True, Mother had a country to run, Cadence to teach, and Luna to welcome home, but if last week had proven anything, I was still a top priority to her. And maybe it was time I got to know the rest of my family more. I was going to share eternity with them, after all.

Said family was gathered at the bottom steps of the entrance hall, decorated in their finest regalia. Cadence and Mom were both wearing gold, while Luna wore silver.

Setting up an easel a few paces away was old beige unicorn with a long wiry beard. His cutie mark was a paintbrush dripping with primary colors. He glanced up at us, squinting his eyes.

“Your Majesty, I thought you said there were four of you in the picture.”

“There are.” Mom gestured to me as I came down the steps. “My daughter Sunset has just arrived.”

He squinted harder at my position, then his eyes shot open. “Oh, there she is! Almost didn't see her. Well, good, good, we can get started.”

“Are you sure he’ll put me in the painting?” I asked Mom in a hushed voice.

“Have faith, Sunset.”

The painter, Soft Brush, took to arranging us, trying to find our ‘natural composition’ as he put it. He put us in pairs of two first, lining Cadence and I one step below Mom and Luna. He shook his head and rearranged us in single file going down the steps, me at the bottom.

He shook his head again. “You're all beautiful, Your Majesties, but the color coordination…”

I could see what he meant. We were an amalgamation of colors with no consistent theme. Individually, we could all serve as a compliment to Mom’s white coat and rainbow mane. All together, we were a kaleidoscopic catastrophe.

Soft Brush found a position he thought was ‘good enough’. We were arranged in a diamond, Mom at the top with her wings spread around Cadence and Luna who sat one step lower, and myself in between them a step below.

“Now,” Soft Brush said, setting up his canvas, “be comfortable, be natural! Find what works for you—what shows me who you are!”

There wasn't a whole lot I could do without breaking our arrangement. So, I settled for straightening up as best as I could and smiling. Nothing strenuous since I would have to hold it for several hours. Just a curl of my lips.

“Yes, good!” Soft brush cried. “You all look so natural! Now, let me etch your posture into my mind, and then, onto my canvas!”

I was by no means a fidgety pony, but now that I was told to sit still, every part of my body had the urge to twitch.

“Loose, young pony! Be loose! You are a pony, not a statue!”

It took a second to realize he was talking to me. Using my name would have been nice, but at least I knew he could see me. I allowed myself to fidget in order to relax. Now that Soft Brush had pointed it out, I could feel my shoulders were stiff and my spine was too straight. I wished I could have been in Luna’s or Cadence’s spot, with my mother’s wings around me.

They get to be embraced in her love while you're down here alone. And this is going to be immortalized for all time.

My head started to turn toward Luna, but I fought the urge and kept staring straight ahead. My conscience had a point: why was I down here by myself? Sure, Luna was Celestia's sister, but she had been gone for a millennium, and Cadence had only been adopted. I mean, so had I, but as far as Mom was concerned, I was her blood daughter. So why did they get to be enveloped in her wings?

Two things stopped me from speaking up. One, Soft Brush was already dancing his brush across his canvas. There was such a passion in his eyes, I hated to interrupt and have him start all over. And two, despite the thorny loneliness nettling me, I realized how petty my grievance sounded. Just because I wasn't sitting next to my mom in one picture didn't mean the end of the world. There would be other pictures.

“This takes me back,” Luna said fondly. “I remember when Starswirl had us pose for the first time after our coronation.”

“And the painter stormed off because you couldn't sit still for more than a minute,” Mother chuckled.

“I had a lot of energy when I was young.”

“How many times have you done this?” Cadence asked.

“Far too many to count,” Mom said.

“I’m surprised these artists can capture your flowing mane,” I said, trying not to move my mouth too much.

“Only the best artist have been able to accurately represent the heavenly majesty of our manes!” Luna said.

“Please, no moving, Your Highness!” Soft Brush cried. I could only assume Luna had punctuated her boast with grandiose gestures.

We made small talk for the next few hours, or at least, my family did. I mostly listened. It was hard to engage in a conversation happening behind you. Instead, my mind drifted in and out of focus, jumping between thoughts while I made sure my posture didn't change.

My legs began to cramp up, and I had an itch on my withers. And this was only the first session. I didn't think I could do both this and an individual portrait. My stomach gave an empty gurgle to solidify my point.

Soft Brush put down his paint supplies and covered his canvas with a tarp. “There we are, Your Majesties, our first session is over. One or two more until I am finished! Same time tomorrow?”

Cadence and I collapsed with dramatic groans while Mother chuckled and said, “Yes, that works perfectly.”

Flopping down one step, Cadence found eye-level with me and asked, “Do you wanna get something to eat?”

“Yes, please.”

Luna straightened up and stretched out her wings. “And some call me dramatic. Stand up, now. It wasn’t that bad.”

You were immobile for a thousand years, of course it wasn’t. I stayed my tongue and stood, shaking my legs out. Once Cadence finished stretching, we set out, deciding to dine somewhere in the city.

At the height of summer, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Feeling the sun on my fur, I realized I had cooped myself up in the castle for quite some time. And after my existential breakdown, the fresh air tasted sweeter. The air, the sun, the grass, I appreciated it all a little more.

But the ponies around me….

They continued to ignore me. They bowed and greeted Cadence, stepped aside to make room for her. They walked about Canterlot without a care in the world, noses tipped up like the elite snobs they thought they were. None of them would know my pain. None of them would care.

I was supposed to get them to remember me, yet that splinter of resentment dug deep. They were all perfectly loved by the Maker. Why was I singled out?

“Bit for your thoughts?” Cadence asked.

I shook my head. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“Maybe not, but I could at least try and empathize.”

She was too nice for her own good sometimes. I really didn’t feel like explaining my entire dilemma to Cadence knowing I would have to explain it again to Twilight, if she responded. But, Cadence was ‘family’ and an alicorn. Perhaps she could help me in some way? The worst that could happen would be Cadence thinking I was crazy. It would be good practice for if I talked to Twilight.

“Okay,” I said taking a deep breath. “How much do you know about the Maker?”

“Armonía?” Cadence tilted her head. “Not much, just what Celestia has told me in passing. In a world of darkness, she appeared as light and shaped life as we know it.”

I turned away from her bright demeanor. “She’s not as great as you think.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, she shapes each and every pony to her design. She foresees every outcome they could take. This world is her playground, and if you don’t fit into it, she gets rid of you.”

“Sunset, I’m not sure I follow.” There was a note of apprehension in her voice.

“I wasn’t supposed to exist. The Maker created you, Twilight, those ponies over there, everyone, except me. And because she didn’t create me, she refuses to acknowledge I exist. And because she refuses to acknowledge me, the universe tries to get rid of me.”

I was glad I chose to look away. Tears were starting to burn my eyes again. Even though the bandage was ripped off days ago, the truth still stung.

Cadence stopped walking. I could feel her eyes on me. “Wait, does that explain your… your seizures? Why you get so sick sometimes?”

I nodded. “And why ponies have a hard time remembering me. Mom is using her divine powers to keep me anchored to the world. But, if she stops thinking about me for even a second, I start to fade away.”

“That’s…” Cadence fell silent. I still couldn’t bring myself to look at her.

Her hooves wrapped around me in a powerful hug. I froze up, caught completely off guard. “Cadence?”

“I’m so, so sorry, Sunset!” She sounded like she was on the verge of tears. “I can’t imagine what that must feel like!”

“No, you can’t,” I said, more scathing than had been necessary. But once those words had come out, the rest tumbled after. “You have no idea how it feels to fall away from the world—to drown in nothingness. To lose control of everything, feel yourself come undone bit by bit and just beg for it to end. It’s…”

Cadence squeezed tighter. “It’s horrible.”

“Yeah, it is.”

She let go and walked around to face me. There was a loving and determined light in her eye. “What can I do to help?”

When I was sure tears weren’t going to slip out of my eyes, I looked up at her. “Keep me in your thoughts. Mom is my strongest link to existence, but the more ponies that know who I am and remember me, the stronger my presence is.”

Cadence smiled. “That’s easy then. I could never forget you, Sunset. I know we don’t spend a lot of time together, but, we’re… we’re family, right?”


We were an odd family to say the least. Celestia’s banished sister, her ascended ‘niece’, and the ‘daughter’ no one remembered.

But, we were a family.

“Yes,” I said with a smile. “Thank you, Cadence.”

“Anytime. Come on, let’s get some food. I think we could both use something tasty and unhealthy.”

Doughnuts were tasty, unhealthy, and supplied in bulk by a generous Pony Joe at his doughnut shop. Cadence and her friends were regular customers, and she had built up a nice rapport with him. In addition to our orders of glazed, sprinkled, and custard-filled pastries, Pony Joe gave us a free bowl of doughnut holes.

“So, what’s the occasion,” he asked, setting another tray into the oven. “Bad break up?”

“No, nothing like that,” Cadence said, lifting a pink sprinkle doughnut. “Just some family bonding.”

Pony Joe looked around before spotting me, eyes wide like this was his first time seeing me. “I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“Actually, we’re more like cousins,” she said. “Sunset is Princess Celestia’s daughter.”

He looked really confused now. “I didn’t know the Princess had a daughter. ‘Course, I didn’t know she had a sister either until last week.”

Cadence looked perturbed, but I waved it off. “It’s fine. I deal with that on a daily basis.”

“Sunset, it’s not fine. Everypony deserves to be remembered.”

“I know. Mom and I are working on it. We’re going to put pictures of me all over the city.” I paused. “In any other situation, that would be the pinnacle of narcissism.”

Cadence’s peeved pout broke and she snorted. “I guess I'm glad it doesn't bother you, but now that I know what's going on, it worries me.”

Her heart was way too big. I began to understand why she was made the Princess of Love. “I’m glad you care, really. But like I said, we’re working on it. Once I become an alicorn, everyone will know who I am.”

Concerned flashed across Cadence’s face, but she quickly covered it up with a mask of confusion. “An alicorn? I thought… I mean, you said you were fine the way you were. You’re Celestia’s daughter.”

“I said that before I knew what was wrong with me. I’m the daughter nopony remembers. But, if i become an alicorn, they’ll have to notice me. And even it they don’t, alicorns are immortal. I don’t want to die, Cadence. I can’t die.”

Cadence poked at her doughnut in silence. It was hard to tell what she was thinking with her head bowed.

She’s thinking up how to persuade you against this idea. Just like Luna, she thinks you’re in it for power and other selfish reasons. Despite her talk of ‘love’ and ‘family’, she doesn’t trust you.

I looked down at my own doughnut and frowned. Why was everyone against me becoming an alicorn? Were they so scared of having a fourth one? Or were they just scared of me?

“Promise me you’ll be careful, Sunset.”

I snapped my head up. “What?”

Cadence smiled at me again, smaller this time, restrained, but still filled with love. “Promise me you’ll be careful doing this. I… I kinda just stumbled into becoming an alicorn. I know you’re doing this for the right reasons, but please, don’t do anything dangerous.”

She sounded a lot like Luna, yet without the hypocrisy to stain her words. If she could stumble into it, then it couldn’t be that dangerous. Still, I graced her with a smile and said, “I promise.”


The hard part about breaking up our portrait modeling into separate sessions was settling back into our positions the next day. Soft Brush was very particular on recapturing our poses from yesterday, to the point where we spent fifteen minutes getting into place.

From there, it was another two hours of sitting and fidgeting. We spoke out of the corners of our mouths, me listening more than talking again. I was glad there wasn't a clock nearby to mock me. The passage of time felt slow enough without me watching it.

Just as my stomach started obnoxiously rumbling, Soft Brush covered the canvas again. “One more day, and I shall be finished! Thank you, Your Majesties!”

I hopped down the stairs and flopped onto my stomach, which growled loudly out of both protest and hunger.

Mom chuckled at my antics. “Why don't we all have lunch together?”

With a groan most unfitting of a future princess, I dragged myself to my hooves and followed her into the dining hall. Mother must have had a psychic link to the kitchens, for we weren't sitting longer than a minute when the dishes came out.

I stuffed my mouth with daffodil salad and vegetable stew. Of course, I retained as much dignity as I could while eating, but I was starving.

Mother allowed us to eat in peace for a time before lightly clearing her throat: a simple action that drew our attention to her immediately. It was amazing how she could do that and make it look effortless.

“Sunset, Cadence, as I’m sure you’re aware, the Grand Galloping Gala is six months away. Luna, the Grand Galloping Gala is a party we hold every New Year’s Eve to celebrate the completion of Canterlot.”

Luna nodded and looked into her soup with a melancholy expression. “I remember when they began construction on it. They were almost done when I…”

“You’ll enjoy it, Auntie Luna,” Cadence said, giving her brightest smile. “A relaxing evening with music and dancing and lights all over the city!”

“Yes, ponies come from all over to take part.” Mother poked gently at the remains of her salad. She had confided in me once that she really didn’t enjoy the Gala very much. It mostly consisted of nobles showing off how much money they had earned that year while they gossiped and talked about ‘the lower class’. Meanwhile, Mom had to stand on ceremony and welcome literally everypony who stepped through the door.

I spent half the night standing by her side trying to say hi to the ponies she greeted. Of course, they would ignore me most of the time. When I got sick of that, I sulked at the buffet table, then retired to the gardens to see the exotic animals on display.

In the morning, we’d laugh at the dismal time we both had.

Mother took a bite of dressing drenched lettuce before speaking again. “Normally, I tend to the oversight of the preparations that go into it, but I propose a change this year.” Mother looked at me.

“Sunset, I would like you to be in charge of preparing the Gala this year.”

My fork nearly slipped out of my magic field. “Me? Seriously?”

She smiled. “Seriously.”

Planning the Gala on top of my studies and school? Wasn’t that asking a lot? Of course, Mother had to run a country on top of planning one dumb dance. She must have had confidence I could do it. And the more I thought about it, the more appealing the idea became. If I could make it a rousing success, pull off one of the best Gala’s in history, ponies would praise me! If they knew I was the one behind one of the best nights of their lives, they would have something to associate me with! I wouldn’t just be a face in the crowd!

I knew I was on the right mental track when Mother nodded.

“All right,” I said, “I’ll do it! I’ll make the best Gala ever!”

Cadence clapped her hooves. “Oh, that’s so exciting! I know you’ll do a good job, Sunny! And if you need any help, just say the word!”

Luna nodded, looking a little more enthused. She had at least stopped staring into her bowl. “I look forward to seeing this gala.”

“As do I,” Mom said. “I’ve compiled a list of resources for you to use, so you won’t be working from scratch. And as Cadence said, you can always ask for help.”

All of them beamed at me, acknowledging my existence. I felt a surge of strength flow through me, energizing my soul. But with that strength came pressure. The Gala was the premier event of not just Canterlot, but all of Equestria. I had to make it memorable and not screw it up.

I took a deep breath. That was for later. I had six months to plan and organize. Right then, I just wanted to enjoy lunch with my family.


“And… it is done!” With one last flourish, Soft Brush put down his tools and stepped back from the canvas. He gave an emphatic wave, signaling we were allowed to move again. We all gave a powerful stretch before gathering around his canvas. I approached with trepidation, heart pounding at what I would find. He had included me, right? No one had been allowed to look at the work in progress.

I stepped around Luna to get a better view. The good news was, I was there. Well… I was at least painted there.

Mother stood over all of us, wings spread to embrace her family, her matriarchal smile gracing her face. Luna stood below her to the left. Soft Brush had managed to capture her mysterious aura with the dark shading of her coat. She seemed to have an extra layer of shadows around herself alone. She smiled just enough to let the viewer know she was at least content. Cadence smiled wide and jubilant, a loving light in her eyes. Her bright coat stood in contrast to Luna’s darkness, evening the painting out.

Then there was me at the bottom. I wasn’t smiling. There was no light in my eyes. Even my colors seemed muted. My chestplate shone brighter than I did, though not by much. I was just there. An afterthought.

I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t stop staring at the thin line that was my mouth or my empty teal eyes. Was that what ponies saw when they looked at me? Was this my inner essence? A washed-out, sad looking mare?

Look at how they think of you. Left out and barely acknowledged. I finally looked away, grinding my teeth.

“Oh, it’s…” Mother chose her words carefully, keeping a wing over my shoulder. “It’s beautiful, Soft Brush. You did an amazing job. But, perhaps we could—”

“It’s fine,” I said brusquely. A lump in my throat made my voice hoarse. “I’m in the picture, so it’s fine.” I ducked under Mom’s wing and walked away, taking the closest corridor, unsure of where I was even headed.

Of course, Mother caught up to me not a minute later. “It’s not fine. I know it’s not.”

I stopped and breathed, fighting the lump down. I was tired of crying. “It’s the best I’m going to get. I don’t know what I was expecting.”

“Sunset, I’m sure we can do something to fix it.”

I shook my head. “Mom, when you look at me… what do you see?”


“And don’t say ‘my daughter’!” I snapped, far harsher than I intended.

She walked around to my front, removed a hoof from her horseshoe, and lifted my chin up. “I see a bright, beautiful, determined mare.” Her words were slow and clear, ensuring that I heard each one of them.

She raised her hoof to my cheek. “That’s what I see. And I know that’s what you see when you look in the mirror. A pony who has every right to exist. That’s what I want everyone else to see, too.”

Once again, her warm words melted me like butter, and I leaned into her hoof, the snide voice in my head distant and small. “Thank you, Mom.”

“Always.” She kissed my forehead. “Now, I’m sure we can talk to Soft Brush about touching the painting up.”

“No, really, it doesn’t matter,” I said without the harshness. “I’m in the portrait; that’s all I need. Besides, we’ll have to paint another one when I become an alicorn, right?”

Mother chuckled. “Yes, that’s right.”

It may have been my imagination, but her smile looked just a little forced.

11. Fuel for the Fires

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The Royal Family Portrait hung in the entrance hall, set at the top of the main stairs. Admittedly, I averted my eyes every time I walked past it. I hated seeing my empty expression.

The photo shoot went much better. Thirty minutes of me sitting up straight and smiling while the photographer caught me from every angle. He showed me the photographs later; unlike the portrait, I looked alive and vibrant.

The picture selected for the posters was a three quarter headshot. I had a pleasant smile on my face, and the way my ears poked out of my mane was admittedly very cute.

The narcissism of putting posters of myself around the city reared its head as I left the shooting room. Was this a bit desperate? Of course, I was desperate. But walking around outside and seeing myself everywhere seemed strange. Would it even work? Would any of my plans work? I was trying to defy the Maker and her machinations of reality.

But isn't it worth trying? You deserve to be remembered. Sometimes you have to be forceful to get what you want.

My brow furrowed. I had to at least try. If Armonía was so determined to ignore me, then I would do everything to make sure the world noticed me. If my face was going up on every street corner, I would just have to own it.

With my photoshoot over, I made my way to the throne room. Mom and I were scheduled to go over the resources she had compiled for the Grand Galloping Gala. Because it was an ‘official' audience with her, I had to wait my turn in the antechamber.

Just as large and opulent as the throne room, the long waiting hall boasted stained glass windows of famous ponies and tall marble columns painted with stars and spirals. Long couches were placed in between them, along with small tables set with magazines.

I sat as close to the door as I could get, third in line. The newest issue of Magic Monthly was out, so I decided to take a peak. Unsurprisingly, they had already gotten out a full length article on Nightmare Moon and Luna, detailing what had happened in Ponyville. Also included was speculation on the Elements of Harmony, how the banishing spell on Luna worked, and a gossip column about what Nightmare Moon did on the moon.

I seriously doubted she chucked rocks at Celestia from orbit, funny as it sounded.

In front of me was a well-dressed stallion with a stack of papers floating next to him, and two earth ponies who looked like farmers having a heated discussion under theirs breaths. I only caught a hooffull of words like, “your fault” and “you started it.”

The throne doors opened, and two nobles walked out, noses in the air as they passed us waiting in line. The dapper pony with the papers walked in after they left, and the doors swung shut again. If not for the arguing pair in front of me, the hall would have been quiet. Despite their murmuring, their voices carried and bounced around the room. I buried my snout into my magazine to drown them out.

You’re a liar and you know it!” one of them bellowed.

I held back an agitated sigh and lowered my magazine. If I was going to be a princess, diplomacy was a skill I needed to work on. Plus, maybe if I helped them sort this out, they would remember me for doing a good deed for them.

The two stallions grew louder trying to talk over one another and didn’t bat an eye as I drew close to them. One was red with a messy brown mane, and the other purple with a short green cut. I cleared my throat, but of course, they didn’t look.

“Excuse me!” I said loudly. That got them to turn their heads.

“Who are you?” the green one asked tersely.

I straightened up to my full height and did my best to look proud. “Hi. Sunset Shimmer, daughter of Princess Celestia, nice to meet you.”

The two shared a brief confused look before focusing on me again. “The Princess has a daughter?”

“I couldn’t help but overhear your little dispute,” I said, staunchly ignoring what would likely become a frequently asked question. “Since my mother is currently busy, perhaps I could provide some council?”

The red one snorted. “We’re supposed to take advice from some filly claiming to be Her Majesty’s daughter? Please.”

“She’s probably here so someone can check her for delusions of grandeur,” the green one said. They both broke out into loud laughter while my cheeks began to burn. I really wished I had one of my posters to shove into their faces.

“I’m just trying to help!” I shouted, their laughter subsiding.

“We don’t need help from you, kid,” the red one said. “We’re here to see Princess Celestia, not… whatever you said your name was.”

It’s Sunset Shimmer!” I bellowed. “And I swear, someday, you will remember who I am!”

They didn’t flinch at my outburst, in fact, they looked ready to laugh again. I was fully ready to blast them if they did. Before they could, the doors opened once more, and the dapper pony walked out, looking pleased. The guards called the pair next, leaving me to steam.

Offer compassion only to be rewarded with scorn. How disgusting.

My tail gave an agitated flick. Royalty or not, they could have at least heard me out. Truly, the only way to be respected was to be an alicorn. All of this was just more fuel for the fire. They would remember me, they would respect me, and I would live forever.

Half an hour later, the two stallions exited, neither sparing a glance at me as they passed.

“Would the next guest please step forward.”

A pony behind me made to stand, but I moved quickly past the threshold and into the throne room. The guard closed the door behind me, and my lips curled into a satisfactory smirk.

“Ah, there you are, Sunset,” Mother said, her voice carrying across the hall. With a flash of her horn, a large, worn binder appeared.

As I neared, she opened her mouth to speak, paused, then frowned. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing!” I said quickly. I guess the dismal from earlier was still etched somewhere on my face.

Mother stood and walked down the ramp to meet me at the base of the dais, her soft eyes searching over me. They settled onto my own eyes, and I knew she could read every emotion in them.

I turned my head away. “I tried to help those two ponies who were here before me and they laughed in my face.”

“Oh, Sunset, I’m so sorry.”

One of my bangs fell over my eye and I blew it back into place. “If they don’t want my help, then fine, I won’t give it to them,” I said with far more pout than intended.

A soft hoof touched my shoulder. “I love that you were willing to try, Sunset. You have a big heart. And I promise, in time, ponies will flock to you for your wisdom. And hopefully, this will be the first step.” The binder floated in front of me.

“Right. Yeah.” I took hold of the binder and opened it, releasing a light layer of dust.

Mom blew it away. “Sorry, I haven’t had to take this out in a while. I’ve organized the Gala so many times, I can do it by heart.”

“Well this year, you get to take a break,” I said, perking up. “I’ll handle everything and make it the most memorable gala ever.”

She smiled. “I’m certainly looking forward to it. Try to add a little flair to it this year. The celebration has grown a bit stale over time. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, just different.”

I flipped through the binder and found a blank piece of paper. “Different but not dramatic, got it.” I jotted it down and flipped back to the first page: a detailed guest list.

“Oh, that reminds me,” Mom said, “I should send Twilight a few tickets in case she wants to bring a friend. I’m sure Miss Rarity would love to come.”

We sat down and started preliminary discussions of decorations, catering, and music. During my birthday, I learned that Pinkie planned parties for a living. I didn’t think much of it but as it turned out, planning a gala took more thought than I expected. It was mostly due to me making sure it would live up to the standards of Canterlot’s noble elite.

I could see why Mother found the Gala growing stale. She had used the same catering and decoration theme for the last five years. They were both the best Canterlot had to offer, and we both knew the nobles wouldn't accept anything but the best.

“What about a sort of cosmic theme? You know, to kinda tie into Equestria having both its sun and moon princesses back?”

“Hmmm. I like the idea. What would the execution look like?”

I tapped a pencil against my horn. “Well, we could enchant the ceiling and make it look like outer space. Fill it with stars and planets and comets! Maybe we could make the carpet look like clouds, so everyone’s standing between the sky and the heavens!”

“Oh, that certainly is something!”

By the end of our session, I had several idea down that all sounded promising. Canterlot nobles were so ingrained in tradition, you could have mistaken them for earth ponies; but even one of these ideas had to tickle their fancy. I would have to run these ideas by the Entertainment Board first before I could carry through with anything though. That’s where my first test would be.

I left the throne room as Mother prepared a letter to Twilight. She still hadn’t responded to mine yet. Had she already forgotten me?

A sigh built in my throat, but I kept it down. What had I even planned to accomplish by telling Twilight of my predicament and subsequent attempt to correct it? What could she even do? I suppose I had just wanted somepony to confide in, but Cadence kind of filled that role now.

Still, Twilight was smart and analytical. It would have been nice to hear her theories on existentialism and my lack thereof.

Waiting for me in front of my bedroom door was Platina, stalwart as ever. She gave a salute and a smile as I neared. “Good afternoon, My Lady.”

“Good afternoon, Platina. How are you?”

“Very well, thank you for asking.” Her horn lit up, and a letter slipped out from her breastplate. “The Royal Courier asked that I gave this to you.”

“Twilight responded?” I dropped the binder and hastily grabbed the letter, seeing Twilight’s tidy horn writing on the front. “Twilight responded!”

Platina smartly stepped aside as I charged into my room and jumped onto the bed. I tore the letter open and unfolded it, heart racing.

Dear Sunset,

Of course I remember you, why wouldn’t I? Thank you for writing to me though. I like my new friends, but it’s nice to hear from a more familiar face.

Spike and I are still adjusting to Ponyville; it’s so different from the capitol. But, we get to live in the town library! There’s so many books here I haven’t read yet! They need to be re-alphabetized first, so that’s going to take a few days of work. I’m so excited!

Anyways, I would love to hear more about this project of yours. I admit, I’ll be a little busy with my new duties as the town librarian (can you believe it? Me, a librarian!) and spending time with my new friends, but I promise I’ll make time for you, too!

Write back soon! I can’t wait to hear from you again!

Your friend,

Twilight Sparkle

I rolled onto my back and hugged the letter to my chest. She hadn’t forgotten about me! She wanted to help! I lifted the letter and read through it again and again. Twilight’s words fueled my heart with indescribable hope. I knew Celestia was my anchor to the world, but this felt like proof. Proof that friendship could overcome time and distance. All my interactions had indeed left a strong implant on Twilight’s mind. Of course she remembered me!

Grinning from ear to ear, I jumped off my bed and ran to my desk, grabbing a fresh sheet of paper, a quill, and some ink.

Dear Twilight,

I paused. How could I explain all of this succinctly? I had done it outloud with Cadence, but I felt like I needed to be more detailed with Twilight. She would no doubt have several questions, and I wanted to answer them all so we could move on to making hypotheses and solutions.

Of course, there were only so many solutions I could think of to solve this existential denial from a goddess of creation. One solution did involve punching her in the face. Repeatedly. But, Twilight was one of the smartest ponies I knew. If anyone could think of a solution to this, it would be her.

And it gave me an excuse to keep correspondence with her. She was one of my only friends, and that was something I didn’t want to lose.

So, for the next few hours, I drafted a few responses, finding the best way to summarize my situation. The Maker Armonía wasn’t something ponies regularly talked about. Ponies would sometimes pray to her, give thanks for the land we knew and loved, but she was often thought of as more of a concept than an actual being.

And when you had Celestia, beauty and grace incarnate who moved the heavens everyday, you tend not to look for higher deities. Telling Twilight that Armonía did in fact exist and she apparently hated my very existence would no doubt be a bombshell.

In the end, I had two long pages rolled up and ready to go. Twilight would still probably have questions, but I could answer them as they came. When I finally lifted my head from my desk, the sun had nearly set. My stomach caught up to the time and rumbled like a late alarm clock.

Picking up my letter, I stepped out into the corridor. Platina was still standing guard, stalwart as ever. I floated the letter over to her.

“Mailroom?” she asked.

“Yes, please.”

She tucked into her breastplate and followed after me to the dining hall. “I was about to knock and ask if you were hungry. Thought you were on another study binge and had forgotten about food.”

It had been a few days since my last hardcore study session. The portrait painting had demanded I get plenty of sleep to look my best. And I still hadn’t found the spells to remove the need for eating and sleeping.

“Yeah, guess I was a little hyper focused on my letter. But, that’s why I have you, Platina.”

“Glad to be of service,” she said with a wry smile.

She turned down the hall toward the mail room while I pressed on into the dining room. The first stars of the evening decorated the arched windows. I watched as they glittered over the Unicorn Range like fireflies. Framed by satin curtains, you could have mistaken the scene for a detailed portrait.

The room was empty tonight, save for a single servant pony standing by the door to the kitchen. I took my seat on the right side of the head of the table and cleared my throat.

The pony didn’t move.

Why do I bother? I know what the outcome is! I stood up and moved in front of his face, waving a hoof.

He jumped, breaking his professional stoicism for just a moment. “Oh, Lady Sunset! What would you like for dinner?”

Repressing a disgruntled sigh, I said, “Vegetable medley over rice, please. And cheesecake for dessert.”

He bowed and backed into the kitchen. “Right away, ma’am.”

I returned to my seat and dropped my cheek into my hoof. Before I had time to sulk, Mother trotted in, a tired smile on her face.

“Oh hello, little sun! How was the rest of your day?” The second she sat down, the servant pony materialized by her shoulder.

I eased off my cheek and forced myself to smile while she placed her order. “It was fine. I spent most of it drafting a letter to Twilight. How was yours?”

“The same as always. But redundancy means the country is running fine.” She opened her mouth to say more, but a scroll popped into existence next to her head.

She caught and unfurled it, watching two golden tickets unstick themselves from the inside and drift down.

As they settled on the table, I said, “Aren’t those tickets to the Gala?”

“Indeed they are,” Mother said with a jovial smile. Her eyes scanned the letter and she let out a mirthful laugh. “Oh dear. It seems Twilight had a little incident today regarding the tickets. All of her friends wanted to go and gave her a rather trying time in deciding who would come. She decided if they all couldn’t go then none of them would.”

“How very altruistic,” I said with just a hint of sardonicism. She had known these girls, what, two weeks? Yet she was acting like they were lifelong friends who had to do everything together.

Then again, it was the Gala, Equestria’s premier event. Any pony would be a little envious knowing their friends were going without them. Still, this was a display of saccharine sweetness I would never have expected from Twilight.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect anyone other than Rarity to be interested,” Mother continued. She now smiled like she knew the punchline of some unspoken joke. “Would you object if I gave out a few more tickets?”

I shook my head. Twilight’s new friends seemed like good ponies. I still had reservations about Pinkie Pie, but the rest were fine.

Mother poofed a scroll and four extra tickets from midair, rolled them up, and sent them on their way. “There, now everypony should be happy.”

“Did you remember Spike?”

She blinked then chuckled. “Goodness, you’re right. If Twilight is going, he’ll certainly want to come too.”

I couldn’t help but smile as well. With everyone coming to the Gala, it was sure to be a night to remember.

12. Dragon Quest

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A week had elapsed since I sent my response to Twilight. Her return letter arrived one afternoon during another of my study binges. Pulling the letter out of the envelope, I found four pages of her hornwork waiting for me.

‘Dear Sunset,

‘Gosh, I don’t even know where to begin! Your whole situation sounds fascinating! And terrible, mostly terrible! Sorry, it’s hard wrapping my head around all of this. So, if I understand it correctly, not only is Armonía real (that alone is going to keep me up for a few nights), she doesn’t perceive you as real and that’s causing you to fade from existence? I guess I have no excuse to have an existential crisis ever again.

‘That was a joke.

‘So, all we have to do is make the Maker notice you. Probably much easier said than done. I don’t know anything about how ascension works, but if you think it’s your best bet, I’ll try to help however I can! I’ve already started to comb through my library’s books (I’m still so excited I get to call it my library!) and I think I’m onto a few leads, plus potential backup plans. Reading mythology and theology leads to some real interesting and heavy topics. I’ll try to keep it all clear and succinct.’

It wasn’t.

What followed were long tangents of spiritual ideas, physics equations, excited speculation, and a promise to do even more research. I couldn’t say much of it sounded promising, but the fact that Twilight was trying made my heart swell.

‘I’ll always try to keep you in my thoughts, Sunset! It’s the least I can do for you! I’ll write back as soon as I find something that might help!

‘Your friend,

‘Twilight Sparkle’

Overall, she took the whole situation in stride. Of course, I wasn’t there to see whatever potential freakout she might have had before composing the letter.

Over the next few days, I would reopen it just to read the last paragraph. It became downright therapeutic whenever I woke from a nightmare. They were infrequent, but my dreaming mind would have me revisit the castle where I was invisible to everyone, even Mom. It always ended with me falling before slamming into my own body and forcing me awake. Twilight’s letters served as a comfort before I went to my mother seeking a hug in the early hours of the morning.

I still wasn’t sure what would actually come of Twilight’s help, if anything could. Becoming an alicorn—becoming immortal still looked like my best shot of saving myself. Having a contingency plan couldn’t hurt though. And just having Twilight know felt nice.

My studies progressed slowly but surely. I was out of the remedial material and on to learning more advanced spells. At least, the theory of them. I still had trouble producing enough magic to pull many of them off. Currently, I was trying to master one of the hallmarks of true unicorn power: teleportation.

Two hoops sat on the floor of my room, one near the door and the other beside my bed. I stood in the bedside one, sweat pouring down my face as I stared at the opposing ring. My horn thrummed with power, wavering between a dull hum and an energetic rumble.

“You can do this. You can totally do this.” I closed my eyes, the hoop burned into my focus. All I needed to do was move my entire existence from one place to another. You would think it’d be easy since I barely existed. Again, I had the theoretical part down: folding spacetime around yourself and moving between the folds.

Now, it was time to put theory into practice.

Location visualized. Now, feel yourself being pushed forward. Let your body go. Feel the magic build up, and…I loosed the spell, praying at the very least it didn’t explode.

In hindsight, I wished it had.

The magic wrapped around me like a cocoon, and I felt yanked into the space between space. A black void, nothing. Devoid of sound, light, everything.

Then, I unraveled. Every part of me tried to come undone. Molecule by molecule, I broke apart, unable to do anything, not even scream. I had gone a whole month without even feeling lightheaded. Now, nihility had come to claim what it was owed. I wanted to fight, to give some last will of defiance before parting, but I had zero control.

It was only a second, two at most. But it dragged on for eternity. I felt every part of myself erased… then I slammed onto the floor, my gasping breath thundering in my ears. I shook like a leaf but couldn’t move any of my limbs. My shaking grew into sporadic jerks as feeling slowly returned to me. First, it felt like pins and needles were being pushed into my nerves. The prickling pain receded and my violent twitching died down. I stayed against the floor until my breathing was under control, then slowly lifted myself to my hooves.

I turned my head and heaved onto the carpet.

Sweat matted my forehead and my knees trembled. I coughed and spluttered out the last of my sick before stumbling backward, tripping on the hoop and falling onto my haunches. It was a paltry consolation, but my teleport had been successful.

My mind was the last thing to knit itself back together. Thoughts slowly crept in one by one, the first being that I had almost faded again. I pushed that one away in favor of doing something about the lunch I had just expunged.

With a shaky breath to compose my nerves, I cast a cleansing spell to wipe away the vomit. There was still a slight stain in the carpet, but I would deal with that later.

I stood up and made my way to the bathroom, running the tap on cold until the sink was filled. I then dunked my whole head in and stayed submerged until the freezing sting left my face numb. I pulled my face free and breathed, enjoying the sweet taste of oxygen—of life in general. I was still alive!

Levitating a towel over, I buried my face into it, enjoying its fluffy comfort and inhaling my strawberry shampoo lingering from last night. Even after I was dry, I kept my face buried.

Still here. Still Sunset Shimmer. I’m fine. I’m fine.

I lowered the towel and examined myself in the mirror, double-checking I had all of my parts. Everything seemed accounted for. The mare in the mirror looked terrified though.

I put the towel away and walked back to the bedroom. There was a small singe mark where I had teleported from, the only evidence from the spell cast. I looked from it to the window; another crystal clear afternoon.

Why? I finally allowed the thought to creep into my head. Why did that happen now? I was doing fine for so long! Did something go wrong during my teleport? Or maybe it was the teleportation.

You’re supposed to fold space around yourself to move between it like a shortcut. But even the exact methods of the actual movement through space are still hazy to arcanists. While moving did I… stop being part of this world? Do you stop existing for a brief second while teleporting?

Either way, it didn’t matter. Teleporting was off-limits from now on. I had proven I could do it. That would be enough, wouldn’t it?

I pulled a long scroll from one of my desk drawers and crossed ‘teleportation’ off the list of necessary spells I needed to know in order to ascend. A Princess of Magic had to know how to teleport. She didn’t have to rely on it.

Setting the scroll away, I set off for the dining hall. An early dinner, then an early bed time. I had enough magic for one day.


The wispy scent of smoke was not what I expected to wake up to.

My head jerked from my pillow as I looked for the source of the fire. As my morning grogginess cleared, I realized the scent was too light to be anywhere close. And if the castle was on fire, Mother or Platina would be pounding on my door right now.

I rolled out of bed and looked out the window. Instead of clear skies, a haze hung over Canterlot, giving the sun an angry orange tint. Something was on fire.

After a quick wash-up, I threw my door open and scanned the halls. I could already tell there were fewer sentries posted, and Platina was not waiting outside. Instead, a lesser guard stood at attention, one who was more familiar with me and competent in his own right but still, not Platina.

He saluted. “Good morning, Lady Sunset.”

“Morning, Saber Shine. What’s going on outside?”

Saber Shine pinned his ears back. “Unfortunately, I’m not sure. I’ve been posted here since five A.M. Apparently, the haze didn’t start until around six.”

“I see.” Well, there was only one pony to see then. “Do you know where my mother is?”

“Last I heard, she was on the west tower balcony.”

I booked down the hall, leaving him in my wake. “Thank you!”

“Wait, My Lady—”

But I was out of his shouting range before I could hear the end of his sentence. Using my perfect sense of the castle’s layout, I was at the west tower in minutes. Sure enough, Mother stood at the top balcony, observing something through a telescope.

Oddly enough, I couldn’t smell the smoke up here. The haze continued to surround us, and a great plume of smoke curled up from a distant mountain range. Yet the air at the top of the balcony was fresh and clean. I chalked it up to Mother’s magic.

“What’s happening?” I asked, approaching the ramparts.

“Good morning, my little sun,” Mother said calmly. “It appears an elder dragon has taken up residence in a nearby mountain and is beginning to hibernate.”

“A dragon?” Little, harmless Spike was the first image to pop into my head. But, my deeper knowledge quickly replaced his small stature and rounded scales with something much larger, sharper, and fierier. “But, the dragon migration isn’t until next year. And this is nowhere near the dragon lands!”

“Indeed.” Mother straightened up, a contemplative look on her face. “There are detractors from the main herd. This one does not seem concerned with migration patterns or hibernation areas.”

I took a second look at the billowing clouds of black smoke. “Wait, if it’s sleeping, what’s with the smoke and ash?”

Mother took to slowly pacing in front of the telescope. “Elder dragons are rather large. They’re also prone to snoring. This one seems to have a particular penchant for protruding smoke when it does.”

“Great, so Equestria is going to drown in smog because of a sleeping dragon with a sinus problem. Don’t they hibernate for a hundred years?”

“Unfortunately, that is correct. We need to rectify this situation before it goes too deep into its sleep and can’t be roused. It only arrived a few hours ago, so we still have time.”

I copied her pacing, alternating sides with her as I thought. “Well, if it’s a detractor, couldn’t you send the Royal Guard to get rid of it?”

She shook her head. “Detractor or not, I wouldn’t risk causing an international incident with the current Dragon Lord. And it would take more than the Royal Guard to subdue an elder dragon in the first place. No, we need a more diplomatic solution.”

The cogs in my brain whirred. “You need someone to go over there and convince the dragon to leave?”

Mother didn’t notice the excited tone in my voice. She tapped a hoof against her lower lip. “Correct. I wonder—”

“I’ll do it!”

She snapped her gaze to me. “Pardon?”

“I’ll go talk to this dragon! Think about it: if I convince it to leave and all the smoke goes away, ponies will have a reason to talk about me! ‘Sunset Shimmer, the pony who stoped the eternal smog!’” I waved a hoof through the air.

Mother pinned her ears back. “That would certainly work for your benefit… but, it’s a dragon, Sunset. It’s dangerous.”

My excited pulse slowed. “You don’t think I can do it?”

She winced. “No, I never said that. I’m just worried. Ponies have a hard time recognizing you as it stands. And if it does notice you, it’s still a dragon.”

I couldn’t deny her first point. But she was sorely mistaken if she thought a dragon scared me. I had already stared Nightmare Moon in the face; what could be worse?

“Mom, please, let me at least try! You need a diplomat, I have diplomatic skills! I learned everything from watching you! I can do this!”

She bit her lip and turned her head southward. It was hard to tell, but it looked like she was staring at Ponyville. At last, she looked back at me and said, “All right. I will trust this to you on two conditions.”

“Sure, name them!” I couldn’t stop my tail from swishing.

“First, take Cadence and Platina with you.”

My tail fanned a little slower. I supposed going by myself would be foolhardy. And Cadence needed diplomatic experience too. As long as she didn’t take the credit for this.

“Second, you come back home immediately if things get dangerous. I’d rather have a hundred years of smoke than lose you.”

I sharply turned my head away, feeling tears spring to the corners of my eyes. Once I was sure I was composed, I threw myself into her embrace. “Don’t worry, Mom. I got this.”

She nuzzled the top of my head. “I know you do, little sun.”


“We have to what?”

I didn’t think Cadence’s eyes could get so big. They looked ready to hop off her face and run away.

“Go up a mountain and tell the snoring dragon to leave,” I said again, slower and calmer.

Cadence took a few short breaths, fanning herself. “Yeah, that’s what I was afraid you said.” She paced in front of her bed, ears flicking up and down. “Okay, okay. Talking to a dragon. Why do I have to talk to a dragon?”

You don’t have to do anything,” I said pointedly. “Mom just said I had to take you with me. I’ll handle talking to the dragon.”

I sat at her desk, idling looking around her room. It was a lot like mine in terms of design. A large, circular bedchamber with an enormous four-poster bed. What differentiated our rooms was our choice of decorations. I had left the carpet and window curtains alone, retaining the standard purple and gold color scheme. My bookshelf was filled with arcane tomes and historical texts, and I kept and collection of odd souvenirs from the places Mom had taken me.

There was also a chest under my bed where I kept my old toys, but nopony needed to know about that.

Cadence had a more personal color scheme for her room. The carpet swirled with two tones of pink, matching the long, flowing curtains. Her bookshelf was filled with romance novels, though there was the odd textbook here or there. Photos covered her desk; ones of her family, Celestia, Twilight. There was even one of her and that guard captain Shining Armor.

I found myself in only one of them; a picture we had taken the first week Cadence had arrived. Her hair was still done up in a ponytail, and both of us wore those anxious smiles used when you still weren’t quite used to someone.

I should take more pictures, I thought absently. I only had pictures of me and Mom on my desk.

Cadence finished pacing and took a deep breath. “Okay.” She exhaled and forced a smile. “Okay. I’m okay.”

“You sure?”

“For now. Ask me again when we’re standing in front of the dragon.” She took another breath. “But, let’s look on the bright side. We get to do some quality bonding! We haven’t spent time together in a while.”

“You’re right. We can save Equestria while you tell me all about your big stallion friend.”

Cadence’s cheeks turned a cute shade of red. “I mean, there isn’t really much to tell.”

“Oh, I highly doubt that.”

Knock knock knock.

Cadence ran to the door and threw it open. “Miss Platina, hi! You’re just in time!”

“She won’t save you from me!” I said, the wickedest grin plastered on my face.

Platina raised an eyebrow but didn’t question anything. “I’m ready to depart whenever you are, Your Graces.”

“Right. Let me get a saddlebag together.” Cadence made it two steps before pressing a golden horseshoe to her forehead. “What am I supposed to bring for this?”

“Just pack a few essentials and get some food from the kitchens. I’ve already got the books and the map.” I got up from the desk and levitated my saddlebags on. “We’ll wait for you in the front hall.”

Cadence nodded distractedly, meandering around her room.

Platina and I left her to her devices and walked down the corridor. “Sorry for dragging you into this.”

“It’s fine,” Platina said with a shake of her head. “I would rather being ensuring your safety than lounging at home. Lance had to go into work anyway to help mitigate the smoke damage.”

“Well, with any luck, I’ll have the dragon gone by sundown.”

Platina smiled. “I have the utmost faith in you.”

Her and Mother both. It was all the more imperative that I didn’t fail. I’d be lying if I said my nerves weren’t getting a little shaky. There were three outcomes from this mission. Either I succeed and the dragon leaves, it ignores me completely and I disappoint Mom and Platina, or I royally mess up and start a war with the Dragon Lands.

Well, my very existence defies the odds, so maybe I’m a natural-born miracle worker.

Cadence joined us in the entrance hall, looking a little less nervous. I was glad Platina had nerves of steel to compensate for the two of us.

We walked out the front doors and into the gathering haze. The black clouds hadn’t reached the city yet, but the smell of soot was much stronger than it was an hour ago. Guards were posted all throughout the city, shepherding ponies back inside or using their magic to create pockets of clean air. The weather team flew overhead, keeping the bulk of the smoke at bay.

Mom had directed us to the Sky Marina where we would catch a hot air balloon to the mountain range. None of us said much. Platina kept the air around us clean while Cadence and I surveyed the city.

We passed by several of my posters hung up around town. I smiled pleasantly at the world while the caption beneath me read: ‘Sunset Shimmer, daughter of Her Majesty Princess Celestia and head of the Grand Galloping Gala Planning Committee. Say hello!’

It occurred to me, ponies would have a hard time saying hi if I stayed locked in my room most of the time. I would need to find time to walk around town if I didn’t get us all burned to the ground.


Cadence kept a wing in front of her mouth as we moved through the hazy city. “It looks like the scene from some apocalypse story,” she said somberly. With the orange glow and black clouds on the horizon, I could see her point.

Also morbid.

The balloon was prepped and waiting for us upon our arrival to the marina. It looked tiny compared to the airships docked off the side of the mountain face. We climbed in and Platina set us loose. I was sure the air would be more polluted the higher we got, but Platina’s air bubble kept us from having to discover first-hoof.

“Sunset, what’s our plan, if I may ask?” Cadence said. Her eyes were fixed on the approaching mountain.

“Well, the first step is to get it to notice me. Then, I have a variety of techniques to convince the dragon to leave. We’ll start out gentle, then, if we don’t make any progress, we remind it that our princess is a millennia-old demigoddess who could wipe it off the face of the planet if she really wanted to.”

Cadence and Platina both looked at me with wide eyes.

“I’m joking!” I said, laughing as relief swept across their faces. At least, I was half joking. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that, but seriously, Mom could blast this dragon to smithereens. And if it really wasn’t part of the main pack, then the Dragon Lord wouldn’t miss it.

Of course, that brought up the question: why didn’t Mom go handle it herself? I mean, sure, I volunteered, but she could have gone and dealt with this before I even woke up.

Seems lazy of her, really.

I shook my head. Mom had plenty of things to do already. She didn’t need a dragon added to her plate.

An hour later, we touched down at the base of the mountains, the closest we could get due to the thickness of the smog. It looked like a storm cloud, dropping ash instead of rain. Even with Platina’s air bubble, the smell of sulfur was strong, and I could feel sweat gathering at the nape of my neck.

Cadence stepped out of the balloon and took a deep breath. “Okay. We can do this.”

“Of course we can,” I said, stepping out behind her. “It’s just a dragon.” I’m not sure if I was reassuring her or myself.

Once our balloon was secured, we began our climb. A tall cliff face was our first challenge, nearly vertical and with few good hoof holdings. I gave Cadence a lidded glare from the corner of my eye as she examined the rock, no doubt trying to think of a way up for us wingless species.

Being an alicorn would be really handy right now.

I didn’t have wings, but I did have magic. I took a series of quick breaths and danced on my hooves to prep myself. Even on a good day, mid-caliber magic could be difficult to cast and leave me drained afterward. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

My horn ignited, and the entire rockface glowed in the same teal light. The wonderful sound of rocks scraping against one another raked our ears. Dirt and dust rained down on our heads as I pulled chunks of earth from the wall.

It should be said that trying to move and reshape stone is not an easy feat. It was like trying to stick claws I didn’t have into the rock and pull pieces out with my bare strength. There was also an art to it. I popped pieces of the wall out one by one, as a headache pounded the front of my skull. I endured, ignoring the worried shout Cadence gave me. If I could teleport then I could do this.

With a loud grunt, I pulled the last stone out and flopped onto my belly. I didn’t move, my everything was too exhausted to try. Interestingly, it felt like the moment right before I had a major existential attack. I could feel every part of my being: my heart racing, my head pounding, my horn overheated, my muscles aching. Perhaps that hadn’t been the brightest idea.

Cadence and Platina knelt down on either side of me. A canteen of water floated up to my lips and I took a deep drink.

“Are you okay?” Cadence asked.

I nodded my head, the only action I could do while I waited for my body to recover.

“My Lady, while I commend your magical prowess and inventive thinking, that was foolhardy, using so much magic when we’ve barely started,” Platina admonished. She silenced any protest I might have had by pushing the canteen against my lips.

After a few minutes, my horn and head cooled down, and I climbed back to my hooves. I could fully appreciate my hard work now. Jutting from the cliff face were small, rocky steps that zigzagged their way up to a high ledge. It was crude, truth be told, but effective.

A loud rumbling noise made us all jump. The mountain itself seemed to be inhaling. Then, it exhaled a thick plume of smoke from near the summit.

“How is one dragon causing all of this?” Cadence asked, a hitch in her voice.

“Mom said it was an elder dragon. I’m guessing that means they’re supposed to be bigger.”

Cadence smiled with all of her teeth, straining her cheeks. “Greeeaaat.”

“Come on, you’re not scared of one dragon, are you?”

“Terrified.” Her smile dropped. “How can I not be? One second, everything’s fine and the next, there’s a dragon on Equestrian soil and we have to go tell it to leave! Do princesses have to do this all the time? What if we cause an international incident? How do we explain that to Celestia? I don’t want to be responsible for starting a war with dragons! I haven’t even signed a law yet! The most princess-y thing I’ve done is comforted one of the new guards when Nightmare Moon came back! What if this is a test from Celestia to see if I’m even worthy of being a princess?”

She was breathing hard now, eyes wide and pupils tiny. I knew she had been nervous, but that was a lot to dump in one breath.

Five years of training and she’s still scared of her princess duties. She always seems so self-assured though.

It’s pathetic. Tell her to grow a spine, my cynical voice said. I pushed it aside to make room for words of encouragement.

I put a hoof on her shoulder, startling her out of the spiral her mind was still conjuring. “Listen, I know it seems a little daunting, but we’re just asking a dragon to leave. I’ll even do most of the talking!”

“But, I want to help! I don’t want ponies to think I’m just the pretty princess that doesn’t actually do anything! I don’t want Celestia thinking me becoming an alicorn was a mistake! I don’t want to think becoming an alicorn was a mistake, but I’m totally thinking this was a mistake!”

She took great gulps of air, her chest heaving in and out. Her eyes were dilated, and I could only imagine how far she had spiraled on the inside. This had clearly been building for some time, and I really did sympathize with her, but we were on a bit of a time crunch so her having a breakdown was a little inconvenient.

I chewed my bottom lip, thinking of something reassuring to say. I also tried not to think about how this was practice for handling the dragon.

“Okay, Cadence, I want you to breathe with me.”

“Sunset, I can’t,” she said, hyperventilating.

I placed one hoof over hers. “Yes, you can. It’s an easy technique Mom taught me. Just breathe in and bring a hoof to your chest.”

Cadence made a little whimper but complied, taking a shaky breath and bringing her free hoof in.

“Good. Now, breathe out and push it away. Yeah, just like that. Do it again, breathe in good, positive thoughts and push out the fear and negativity.”

Mom had taught me this trick a few years back whenever I was having a particularly hard day. It had proven effective at calming me down when I was lamenting how no one ever noticed or remembered me.

And she had known the entire time why but neglected to tell you.

I breathed in some positive energy of my own and pushed out my bad thoughts. Once Cadence had repeated the process a few times and her eyes were no longer dilated, I moved a hoof to her shoulder.

“Feeling better?”

“A little.”

“Good. Cadence, I’ll admit, when you first strolled into the palace with wings and a horn, I wasn’t thrilled. But, you’re one of the most sincere and compassionate ponies I know. I’m sure you were made a princess for some other reason than your looks. Maybe you’ll find it up here, or maybe it’s something you have to piece together in time, but you’ll find it.”

Cadence’s pupils had done a complete reversal and were so wide, I could see a complete reflection of myself. I also couldn’t help but feel a little incredulous. She looked at me like she couldn’t believe I was giving a motivational speech.

Another rumbling snore came from on high. It didn’t ruin the tender moment, but it did remind us we didn’t have time for it.

Cadence wrapped her hooves around me and squeezed tight. I still wasn’t used to her hugs, but I was glad she was at least feeling better. “Thank you, Sunset. That really means a lot. You’re going to make a great princess too someday.”

“Count on it,” I said, barely able to pass the words through my squashed lungs. She released me and I took a relieved breath, grateful to still be in Platina’s air bubble.

Speaking of Platina, she gave a firm cough and pointed to the top of the mountain. “Not to rush either of you, but we do have a dragon to evict.”

“Right.” I took to the path again, glancing over my shoulder to make sure Cadence hadn’t relapsed. She still didn’t sport the most confident look, but she was a far cry from the whimpering state she had been in.

We continued our trek unimpeded, though it was slow going at times. The dragon’s snoring threatened to bring a rockslide down on us at one point if Platina hadn’t cast a noise dampening spell.

Our surroundings grew hazier as we ascended into the actual cloud of smoke. I could see the smog fanning out to every corner of Equestria with little sunshine in sight. Even through the air bubble, I could smell the ash and sulfur.

Cadence gagged and fanned her wings. “Elder or not, I can’t believe one dragon is doing all of this.”

“Mom says it has a sinus problem.” I wrinkled my nose as the stench grew stronger. It made it harder for me to formulate my strategy for getting rid of the dragon. I had a few general ideas, but still hadn’t put together a full-proof plan past talking to it. But, hey, maybe it was reasonable.

The jagged slope curved around a bend, and we arrived at the mouth of the cavern playing host to our fiery friend. Smoke plumed out like an active chimney, and I could feel the heat prickling my skin.

“All right, this is it.” I did some meditative breathing of my own, bringing in good thoughts and pushing out doubt. It was marred slightly by the noxious air. “I just gotta go in there and tell the dragon to leave.”

Platina cleared her throat. “I hope you weren’t planning to go in there alone.”

Truth be told, I was. At least for my initial peace talk. It was completely selfish, but if I did manage to convince the dragon to leave, I wanted it to be irrefutable that I was the one who did it.

“Don’t worry, Platina. My magic’s back, so if worse comes to worst, I think I can make a quick escape.”

“I’m going to worry anyway,” she said flatly.

I gave her a bold smile and strode forward, savoring the clean air before leaving the safety of Platina’s bubble. Acrid smoke burned my nostrils and made me gag before I could make a small pocket of clean air for myself. In that brief instance, a light layer of ash had fallen into my hair. I shook it out and pressed on into the cave.

Sweat gathered on my brow the further in I walked. The cave wasn’t particularly large, and turning a corner, I found myself face-to-snout with my query.

Large, scaly, red. Very red. His main body was a deep, molten hue, set aglow by the enormous pile of gold he sat upon. The pointed spines running down his back were a brighter red, almost pink. It didn’t detracted from their lethal pointiness. He opened his mouth to let out a short yawn, showing off his equally pointy teeth: two rows of knife-long canines.

I gagged and waved away the putrid smell of his breath. Even my bubble couldn’t do much against an odor that foul. I just had to grit my teeth and press on. The sooner I got him to leave, the sooner we all could breath clean air again.

I loudly cleared my throat. “Excuse me!”

The dragon gave a snort, smacked its lips, and fidgeted a little, sending a shower of gold coins tumbling down the hoard he slept on. I didn’t expect him to wake up with one shout, but the tiny optimist in me had to try.

My horn lit up and vibrated, sending a tingling sensation into my forehead. A second later, an obnoxious ringing noise filled the cavern, bouncing off the walls. High and shrill with enough volume to wake the dead, it went on and on until the dragon’s eyes snapped open. They were bright orange, like fire, with narrow black slits for pupils.

I put an end to my alarm spell and waved a hoof. “Hi there, sorry for the rude awakening.”

The dragon gave a threatening growl.

“My name is Sunset Shimmer, and I am here on behalf of the ponies of Equestria. I must inform you that you are on our sovereign territory and polluting our skies with your snoring. I kindly ask that you leave at once or we will be forced to take more drastic precautions,” I said, holding my head high and speaking in my best diplomatic voice.

The dragon’s eyes had become unfocused halfway through my speech. By the time I finished, he gave a loud snort and nestled down again.

“Did you hear anything I just said?” I deadpanned.

A soft snore answered me.

My blood boiled and I ground my teeth together. Keep cool, Sunset, you knew this would happen. It didn’t stop it from stinging though. I refrained from blasting him in the eye and used my alarm spell again.

Once again, the dragon’s eyes snapped open and narrowed at the sight of me.

“You are on Equestrian soil! Please leave!” Short, sweet, and to the point.

The dragon inhaled, and I threw up my shield in preparation for a wave of fire, praying it would be enough. He pursed his lips, but instead of fire, a sharp gust of wind blew me out of the cave and tumbling in the dirt until I came to a stop right in front of Cadence and Platina.

I opened my eyes and stared at the clouds above. “Well, I’m not dead. So that’s a win.”

Cadence helped me to my hooves, and Platina dusted me off. “What do we do now?” Cadence asked.

“Maybe he just needs help noticing me,” I said, facing the cave once more. “This time, we’ll all go.”

Cadence took several short breaths and tried practicing the technique I taught her. “Right. Right. We can do it. We can do this! It’s just a dragon! A fire-breathing, sharp-toothed, one-hundred foot long dragon!”

Platina straightened her back. “I won’t let anything happen to you, Princess.”

A nervous chuckle was Cadence’s only response.

We marched back into the cave, braving the heat and the smoke. This time, the dragon open an eye upon our approach. His pupil flitted between Cadence and Platina, but once in a while would hover over me for a brief second. I decided to try my spiel again.

“Hi. We’re emissaries of Princess Celestia, here to inform you that you are on Equestrian territory, and that your snoring is proving detrimental to the ponies of this land. Please take your gold and relocate somewhere else.”

He blinked slowly. “And if I say no?” he rumbled in a deep voice.

I stood my ground. “Then you will face the full force of Equestria’s military might. Or, we can skip that and you can face Princess Celestia herself. You know, the pony who moves the sun?

If the dragon was intimidated, he didn’t show it. He raised his neck and leered down at us, opening his mouth just enough to show a glimpse of his teeth. “And what if you never make it back to tell her?”

“Are you threatening us?” Platina asked, pulling her spear from her back.

“Not if you leave me be.” He rested his head down again. “I will only be here a short while. You can manage until then.”

“You can’t sleep here, you’re trespassing!” I yelled.

“And you’re trespassing in my cave! I fear no pony princess. If she wants me gone, tell her to come talk to me herself. I don’t take orders from errand girls” He shut his eyes, a satisfied smirk on his face.

Indignation burned my face worse than any sunburn. Ignored, mocked, and disrespected. Part of me wanted to go back to my mom and tell her what had transpired just to see her come and incinerate this overgrown lizard off the face of the planet. But I was nopony’s errand girl, and I refused to go home a failure.

Cadence nudged my side and nodded her head toward the exit. I gave the dragon one more scathing look before retreating. The air outside was still smoggy, but at least the heat was more manageable.

Platina made for the slope down the mountain. “We tried, but that dragon is unreasonable. If he wants to challenge the princess, then I say we grant him his last request.”

“Hang on,” I said sharply, my anger spilling over. “I’m not done yet.”

“Sunset, you can’t reason with him,” Cadence said.

“You’re right, I can’t.” An inspired grin tugged at my lips. “But maybe I can speak his language instead.”

Cadence leaned back, raising a suspicious eyebrow. “I don’t like that look in your eye. Why can’t we just report back to Celestia?”

I turned and marched back into the cave. “Because Sunset Shimmer doesn’t quit!”

The dragon was softly snoozing already. I was tempted to forgo the alarm spell and just blast him in the eye, but curbed my temper and rang my horn instead. His eyes snapped open and he let out a genuine roar this time, shaking dust from the roof of the cave and sending a wave of gold coins toppling over one another as they slid to the ground. My mane flew back and my eyes watered at the heat of his breath.

He peered down at me, a growl in his throat. “Great, another one. What do you want?”

“I want you to get out of this cave and stop polluting our air with your smoking sinuses!”

He snorted. “Like I told those other ponies, I’m only here for a short century nap. I’ll be gone before you know it.”

“It doesn’t work like that!” I closed my eyes and held a hoof to my chest, then pushed it away. I chose not to breathe deep—the smoke was already making me lightheaded. “How about this. I know you dragons like a challenge, right?”

His scaley eyebrow rose. “Oh, were you going to challenge me, tiny pony?”

I puffed my chest out. “As a matter of fact, I am. If I win, you have to leave Equestria and stop polluting our lands. If you win, you can stay here as long as you want.” Was it a gamble? Completely. Was my pride getting the better of me? Most definitely. Was I about to be ridiculed by a dragon and sent home to tell my mother I had failed with the mission she had trusted to me?

Absolutely not.

The dragon shifted, stretching his arms and wings and extending his neck. He stood as tall as he could in the cramped cave and licked his teeth. “And what sort of challenge did the tiny pony have in mind?”

“A race. First one to the bottom of the mountain wins.”

He blinked. Then, a rumble reverberated from his throat. He opened his mouth and let out a thunderous laugh. If I wasn’t standing in front of him, I would have thought there was an avalanche. “Are there any stipulations to this race?”

“Nope. Anything goes.” I met his eyes and made sure not to smile.

He took a step forward. “Very well, I accept your little challenge. But when I win, I expect not to be disturbed until my nap is done.” He brought his head down until his snout was inches from my face.

“And the next pony who does wake me will become my midnight snack.”

“Understood,” I said, unfazed. I turned on my tail and marched out the cave. The ground-shaking thumps told me my opponent was right on my heels.

Platina ran up to me upon my exit. “My Lady, what’s going on?”

“Mr. Dragon and I are going to have a little race to the bottom of the mountain. If I win, he leaves.”

What?” Cadence yelled. She flew over, eyes the size of dinner plates again. “Sunset, you can’t outrun him! He’s a dragon!

“You should listen to your friends,” he said, emerging from his cavern. If I wasn’t so resolute on putting him in his place, his size might have been intimidating. He was far larger than his curled appearance in the cave suggested. Wings stretched wide, he was at least four carriages wide and five long.

“Let’s get this over with,” he growled.


Cadence buzzed next to my ear. “Please tell me you have a plan?” she whispered.

I gave her a subtle wink. “Would you be our starter?”

Cadence sighed and rubbed her temples. “I have a bad feeling about this.” She waited for me and the dragon to line up at the crest of the hill. He beat his wings, forcing me to stumble from the gale.

“All right, on your marks,” Cadence said glumly. “Get set…”

I bent my knees. The dragon stood with his wings blocking what light struggled to break through the clouds.


With a single beat, the dragon took to the air, the backdraft shoving me back several feet. He circled the peak of the mountain once, then dove down.

“My Lady, what were you—”

“Sshhh.” I held a hoof up. The first part of my plan had worked, now I had to pray I could pull off the second. I closed my eye, trembling as I drew upon my powers. A day ago, I had sworn off ever teleporting again. Now, I had to use it to save Equestria. I pictured our balloon waiting at the mountain base and wrapped magic around myself. The anger and adrenaline coursing through me gave surprising clarity. Despite heaving boulders earlier, I felt I had enough magic to pull this off and not die.


Come on, come on. You’ve got about ten seconds to get there.

My knees shook and my stomach churned, anticipating the horrible experience coming. The black void yanked me in and held me in its tight embrace, crushing me in its infinite darkness. I feebly squirmed as my body unraveled, nothing more than yarn with no spindle to hold it together.

Stay alive! Stay together! Come back!

The second of suspended animation lasted forever. Then, I shot forward and hit the dirt hard, bile rising in my throat. My muscles burned and spots danced in front of my eyes. The world spun below me, and something roared high above, breaking through the sharp ringing in my ears. The earth shook, rocking my already sensitive stomach. I sucked in a quick breath, fighting with all my strength to keep from throwing up.

You cheated!” a voice boomed just over my head.

With a pained grunt, I rolled over to find a red snout and burning eyes glaring down at me. “Didn’t… cheat…” I choked out. “Said anything goes.”

He roared again, slamming his tail against the ground. “Filthy pony, I will not acknowledge your little stunt!” His jaws opened wide, and a bright orange glow grew in his throat.

Not how I was hoping this would end. A few sparks spilled off my horn, but I had no energy left for any spell, defensive or otherwise. So much for my brilliant plan.

Hold it right there!” a voice screeched.

The flames of retribution died on the dragon’s lips, and he turned his head to see Cadence descending from the sky. She flew up to the dragon’s snout, making him go cross-eyed. Gone was her fear, there was only anger left.

“The deal was a race to the bottom of the mountain, anything goes! You had your wings, she had her magic! She beat you! Now you have to fulfill your end of the deal!”

“And who’s going to make me?”

Cadence’s horn brightened to a blinding blue shine. “I am Princess Mi Amore Cadenza! I stand in line for the throne of Equestria! By my authority, I order you to abide by the conditions of the challenge and yield to Sunset Shimmer’s request! If not, you will face the wrath of the Equestrian Military, and I will report you to Dragon Lord Torch!”

The red dragon, in all his might and size, actually flinched at Cadence’s authoritative voice, and ducked when she mentioned Torch. “Ahem, I… suppose… I could take my nap somewhere else. There’s no need to involve the Dragon Lord in this.”

“That’s what I thought,” Cadence, said, her horn dimming. “Now apologize for the trouble you’ve caused.”

He rolled his eyes. “You ponies are all the same.”

Cadence growled.

“Ahem, I’m sorry.” The dragon took off back to the summit to gather his gold. With his snoring gone, the smoke had already started to clear away, revealing patches of soft blue skies.

Cadence landed beside me and helped me into a sitting position. “Are you okay?”

That was a loaded question. Physically, I wasn’t dead, and I was starting to get feeling back in my hooves. Emotionally? I’d have to come back to that. “I’m fine. More importantly, what was that?

She blushed. “You were in trouble. And no creature hurts my family and gets away with it.”

“Well, I’m glad it took me being in mortal danger for you to find your courage.” I smiled weakly.

The ledge above us shifted, and Platina jumped down, kicking up dirt as she landed. “My Lady, are you all right?”

“Don’t worry, Platina, I’m fine.” I got to my hooves, knees shaking. “See?”

She grunted and shook her head. “Once again, that was foolhardy at best and reckless at worst! You could have died!”

I could stop existing at any moment; death might be a mercy. “I’m sorry, Platina. I promise to not be so reckless in the future.”

“Forgive me if I have doubts, My Lady,” she said dryly.

A shadow flew over us. With gold and jewels in hand, the dragon soared overhead, letting out a final roar as it sailed toward the horizon. More of the smog cleared away, and the late afternoon sun greeted us.

Platina walked toward the balloon. “Come. Our work is done.”

Cadence helped me into the basket, and Platina set us free. With the smoke cleared, we could actually enjoy the hot air ride and take in the scenery of the world free from shadow. Well, they could anyway. My eyes looked down at the world but took in none of it.

I had defeated the dragon, but Cadence was the one who got him to actually leave. The specific outcome I had tried to avoid had happened. This was her victory, not mine.

How dare she steal your thunder! She probably played up the scared act to make herself look better in the end!

Somehow, that didn’t seem like something Cadence would do. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t upset. What was I supposed to tell Mom? More importantly, how was the public going to interpret the story? Odds were, they were only going to talk about what truly mattered: who talked the dragon into leaving in the end.

Platina led the balloon down to the marina, where, to my surprise and joy, Mom waited for us. I jumped out the basket before it finished docking and ran into her embrace. She kissed me on the forehead and nuzzled my mane.

“You did it, little sun. I’m so proud of you. Of all three of you.” She took Cadence into a warm embrace and nuzzled her cheek.

Platina saluted. “Just doing my job, Your Majesty.”

Celestia smiled, then ushered Cadence and me toward the castle. “Come, I want to hear all about your adventure.”

I looked at the pavement. “Well—”

“Sunset was amazing!” Cadence gushed. “We couldn’t get the dragon to leave, so she tricked him into a race and won, and forced him to leave!”

I gave her a wide-eyed stare, but she just smiled and winked at me.

“Sunset, that’s incredible! Wait until the ponies hear about this. You’ll be the talk of Equestria.”

“Y-yeah.” A knot formed in my stomach. “I can’t wait.”

13. Pride and Prestige

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A firefly was brave enough to land on my tea saucer. It blinked its thorax at me while scuttling the rim, probably trying to sip up the bits of sugar dropped from my spoon. Crickets chirped off in the hedges, a serene compliment to the fountain bubbling to my left.

I wanted to take a sip of my tea but felt bad disturbing the firefly. Instead, I cast my gaze skyward to the stars. With all the smoke cleared, it was a beautiful, clear night, perfect for ruminating. The morning newspaper sat on the garden table next to the tea, my own face looking up at me.

‘Canterlot Noble Chases Off Dragon!’

I had a hoof raised to wave at the camera and a nervous smile on my face. The full article went into detail on how I had bravely led the charge to get rid of yesterday’s snoring dragon and tricked it into a race. Cadence wasn’t in the picture, but gave her first-hoof account of how I had ordered it to leave after it had been a sore loser.

All day, I had received congratulations and thank yous from the castle staff. I didn’t know what effect this article had had on the wider populace—I hadn’t left the castle all day.

I should be happy. I should be ecstatic. I was starting to get recognition on a wider scale. I could feel my strength growing from ponies finally knowing my name. Yet, here I sat, secluded in the castle garden, moping over a cup of sweet cinnamon tea. Saber Shine lurked behind a nearby bush. He wasn’t nearly as subtle as Platina.

I wanted to be happy. But I hadn’t earned this. Not completely. Cadence had to intervene and save my flank. Then she gave me the credit. Out of pity? Out of kindness? Was there a difference? A bitter thorn nettling my heart kept me from seeing what it obviously was: a gesture of love from one family member to another.

But that thorn oozed pride that ran through my veins. I hadn’t won that fight decisively. I hadn’t convinced the dragon to leave. Sure, I was the catalyst, but Cadence got the final word. I hadn’t earned this recognition—it had been dropped into my lap. I wasn’t going to become an alicorn if ponies just handed me things!

But what was I supposed to do now? The damage had been done. Ponies were talking about me. That’s what I wanted. Yet all I felt was empty inside, like I had cheated.

The firefly finally floated away, satisfied with the sweets it had sucked up. With fall closing in quickly, it would probably be the last firefly I saw until next summer. I finally lifted my cup and took a sip of my tea, frowning as the cold liquid washed against my tongue.

I should just accept the praise. Cadence did it because she cares.

But it was done out of pity for you. She just feels sorry for your sad state of existence.

Pity or not, it helped. I sighed and lowered the cup. In the end, there was nothing to be done. At the very least, I owed Cadence a favor.

Tea cold and firefly gone, I decided to turn in for the night. I had an important day tomorrow anyway: my meeting with the Entertainment Board.

I left my pot and cup on the table for the night staff to pick up. Saber Shine kept twenty paces behind me as I walked back into the castle and up toward my room.

“Good evening, Lady Sunset!” one of the maids said as she passed.

“Oh, uh, good evening.” Admittedly, I wasn’t used to receiving random greetings in the halls. It felt odd being acknowledged so regularly. The night guards stood up straighter as I passed and some even saluted.

I was halfway down my wing of the castle when I ran into Cadence. She beamed at me and said jokingly, “Hello, hero. How are you this evening?”

“I’m fine.” I sighed and shook my head, my resolve breaking in seconds. “Cadence, I feel like I’m lying to everyone. I appreciate what you did, but it feels… wrong. I didn’t earn this.”

She frowned, but there was a sympathetic light in her eyes. “Sunset, you did earn it. You beat the dragon, he was just too stubborn to leave. I had to use imperial threat to get him to listen. You did all the real work.”

I pressed a hoof to my forehead. “I know, but it doesn’t feel like I did. I know you were trying to help, but I just feel… frustrated.”

“Please don’t. Ponies are talking about you! You were in the morning paper! Isn’t this what you wanted?”

“It is!” How did I tell her she had made it better and worse at the same time without being a jerk? The snide voice in my head told me to just blurt it out. Instead, I said, “Thank you, Cadence. Just, next time… don’t give me the credit for something you did. I want… I need to stand on my own merits.”

Exasperation muddled the sympathy in her eyes. “Sunset, it’s okay to ask for help.”

My eyes rolled of their own accord. “I know that, but I didn’t ask for that. You just did it.”

Cadence stiffened, exasperation and sympathy replaced with annoyance. “I’m sorry,” she said in clipped tones, “I knew if you got all of the credit, ponies might remember you better. I just wanted what was best for you.”

“Don’t assume to know what’s best for me. Mom thought hiding the whole thing about my existence from me for nineteen years was a good idea, and I strongly beg to differ.”

“Fine!” Cadence bristled and turned, nearly smacking me with her tail. “I’m sorry I tried to help you. Next time, I’ll keep your pride in mind.”

I watched her storm off, already regretting every word I said. Why was I being so prideful about this? I had told Cadence about my situation so she could help me. Her, Twilight, Mom… maybe Luna. And now I was mad at her for giving me the credit? For helping me survive?

Because you didn’t do it. Ascension won’t come to a pony who gets things out of pity.

True enough. I appreciated Cadence’s help, but like I said, I needed to stand on my own merits. Still, I had wanted to tell her without being a jerk. I would have to apologize later. In the meantime, I had to get some sleep for tomorrow. Hopefully, my name in the paper would help the board notice and listen to me.


“Sunset Shimmer… Sunset Shimmer… Hmmm, I don’t see anypony by that name.”

I gave the secretary a lidded stare, not that she noticed with her face pressed against her registry book. She was a beige, mousy thing with horn-rimmed glasses and a brown mane pulled up into a bun. I’m sure if you looked up ‘secretary’ in the dictionary, her face would be the example.

“Are you sure? I sent three scrolls two weeks ago,” I said, trying my hardest to keep my voice warm.

“Ummm…” She flipped back to the first page. “It’s not spelled with a ‘C’, right?”


“And what was the nature of your appointment?”

I held up my binder full of documents and filing papers. “To get approval for this year’s Grand Galloping Gala. I’m the head planner.”

She looked up and beamed at me. “Oh, then I’m sure the Board is expecting you! Just give me your name so I can sign you in.”

My eye twitched. “Sunset Shimmer.”

She looked down and flipped through the book again. “Hmm… odd, I don’t see you written down here.”

“... I saved Canterlot from the dragon.”

Her head snapped up again, and she looked at me with an ‘o’ expression. “I read about you in the paper yesterday. I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize you before! Umm, well, I still can’t find your name, but I’ll go see if the Board is ready.” She got up from her desk and hurried away.

I let out a tired sigh and mentally thanked Cadence, feeling even worse for what I had said to her last night. Being famed for negotiating with a dragon was already paying off. Yet, that guilty feeling twisted my insides. I shoved it away as the secretary came back.

“They’re ready to see you, Miss Shimmer!”

I walked around the desk and onto the smooth purple carpet. “Thank you,” I said, barely keeping the sarcasm out of my voice.

Canterlot City Hall was a small, out-of-the-way building despite being Canterlot’s city hall. But, when you had the nation’s seat of power on the other side of the city, it seemed a little redundant. But, Mom didn’t like to micromanage, so the offices here handled more of the day-to-day workings of Canterlot.

The meeting room for the Entertainment Board was just down the hall, and surprisingly plain for a group dedicated toward entertainment. Then again, I was dealing with Canterlot nobles; what else was I expecting?

I took a seat at the end of a long, mahogany table. The three members of the board sat at the other end: two mares and a stallion, all of them unicorns, and all of them ancient. They talked in hushed tones, unaware I had sat down.

“Hello, I’m Sunset Shimmer.” I let my binder drop against the table, startling them.

One of the mares, gray and withering with a large, powdery wig, squinted at me through her pince-nez glasses. “Oh, hello, dearie. We didn’t hear you come in.”

“I get that a lot.”

“Not to be rude,’ the blue stallion said, pulling out a pocket watch. “But we’re due to hear from the Grand Galloping Gala head planner in a few minutes.”

“That’s me,” I said flatly.

His eyes widened. “Oh, oh, pardon me. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss… er…”

“Sunset Shimmer,” I said again, finding it harder to hold back my agitation.

“Yes, of course!” he said, trying to save face with a giant smile. “My name is Soiree. This is Starry Sequins and Sweet Surprise.” He gestured to the mares on either side of him.

A lot of ‘S’ names in this room, I thought drolly. “Nice to meet you all.”

“Yes, if everyone is ready, let us begin,” Starry Sequins said, settling into her chair.

Sweet Surprise nodded. She was wispy and pink with a short curly mane that reminded me a little of Pinkie Pie. “Do share with us your ideas, Miss Shimmer.”

I swallowed the nervous lump in my throat. “Right, okay. The Grand Galloping Gala was inaugurated to celebrate the completion of Canterlot. It is steeped in a thousand years of culture and tradition, something I respect and admire deeply. What I offer is a blend of our traditions and new, refreshing ideas to make this the most memorable gala ever.”

My horn lit up, and I pulled the first picture from the binder and pushed it across the table. “First, the theme and atmosphere. To honor our celestial heritage, I envision a space-themed ballroom! Stars and nebulae above us with clouds below, showing that we stand in the heavens.”

Starry Sequins squinted again. “An… interesting proposal. But it leans toward pegasi influences, doesn’t it?”

Over a thousand years of unity and there was still racial bias. I had to play into their stupid unicorn ideologies if I wanted to get approval. “Pegasi own the sky. We have control of the sun and stars! And let’s not forget, the Gala is for everypony.”

“Of course, of course,” Soiree said. “The atmosphere sounds nice, but can you carry the theme for other aspects of the Gala? What about music and catering?”

“I believe classical jazz would set a great mood for the party without losing any sense of elegance or poise.” I pulled out the list of catering companies. “And I believe any of the usual selections can accommodate to make celestial-themed hors d'oeuvre.”

Sweet Surprise smiled earnestly. “This all sounds exciting. I think the Gala could use a little change.”

“But not too much change,” Starry said. “This is Canterlot’s premier event—we have a reputation to think of.”

“I understand your concerns,” I said before they could tear into me too much. “But as I’ve said, while the theme is different, the atmosphere won’t change. It’s the same gala, just with a few modern touches. We don’t want it to get stale, do we?”

“A thousand years of tradition and hardly anyone has complained yet,” Soiree said with a sniff.

Keyword being ‘yet’. “I think we can do better than just following traditions. We can be trendsetters, innovators. You can say you backed the best gala Canterlot has seen in generations!”

“Or the worst.”

“Oh, stop being so negative, Soiree,” Sweet said. “This young mare was endorsed by the princess herself; we should give her a chance.”

Starry pressed her hooves together. “Her Majesty has said the Gala could be a little more exciting.”

Soiree rolled his eyes and let out a small huff. “Very well. But, let’s hear the rest of your ideas before we decide one way or the other.”

Two out of three was still a win. I just had to keep the momentum. So, I ran through the rest of the ideas I had discussed with Mom: which band would be the best fit, decoration specifics, which of the castle ballrooms to host it in, and a rundown of the schedule. There were no real objections; Soiree seemed to just like to needle me and stick to old the ways.

I ended with one last sketch of the concept art for the ballroom. “So, what do you all think?”

Sweet clapped her hooves. “I think it all sounds splendid!”

“It sounds costly,” Starry said. “With no guarantee we’ll make back the money.”

“It’s the Gala,” I emphasized. “Ponies will flock to it no matter what just to say they were there.”

Soiree chewed the inside of his cheek before speaking. “You’re asking a lot, young lady. If this came from a pony with more experience, I would be willing to go along with it. Backing from Her Majesty aside, why should we trust you?”

A layer of sweat covered my brow. Mother’s endorsement was kinda the only thing I had to ride on. If that wasn’t good enough for them, what would get me into their graces?

“Frankly speaking,” Starry said, “I’ve never even heard your name until today. It would be poor taste to leave the Gala to somepony with no reputation.”

I puffed my cheeks out indignantly. “I just saved Equestria from a dragon two days ago!”

All three of them blinked at me before realization dawned on their faces. Starry adjusted her glasses again and cleared her throat, cheeks red. “Oh my, forgive me for not recognizing you sooner!”

“You’re the Princess’s adopted daughter!” Soiree straightened up and said in a more flattering tone, “My, you’re a mare of many talents, aren’t you?”

“We’d be honored if you hosted this year’s gala!” Sweet said.

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes in their presence. Besides, I was too busy wrestling with my inner guilt. Even if Cadence had given me the accomplishment, I loathed to lord it around to get what I wanted. At the same time, ponies were beginning to recognize me as Princess Celestia’s daughter. But that meant things would come easier now: ponies would suck up to me left and right if it meant getting a royal favor. Bittersweetness at its finest.

Still, my gala plans were approved and the check was written. This was what I was going to be known for! All I had to do was make sure no one else contributed to this project. At least, in any meaningful way; I’d be dumb to try and do everything on my own.

The Entertainment Board waved me out, wishing me good luck and looking forward to the night of the gala. My only concern as I walked out the door was if they would remember this whole conversation later on.


“I’m glad your meeting went over well, Sunset.”

I sat curled against Mom’s side as we shared a pillow in front of her room’s fireplace. It was lit but didn’t emit any heat. Purely ambiance. Empty plates sat off to the side, replaced by bowls of strawberry ice cream. Mom was halfway done with hers while mine slowly melted, barely touched.

“Yeah,” I said half-heartedly. “I’m gland I got the approval for my ideas.”

Mom nibbled on her spoon. “I sense there’s a ‘but’ coming.”

I said nothing. Most of me wanted to come clean about everything I felt in the last two days. But then I remembered how proud she had looked when she heard I had beat the dragon. Of course, she’d still be proud but it wouldn’t be the same. I had to say something though; she was already reading me like a book. Not that I had made it particularly difficult.

“Come now, little sun, you know you can talk to me.”

I stalled a little longer with a bit of ice cream, then said, “I had to use my new clout to get them to agree to fund me. Otherwise, I was just some nopony to them.”

“Hmm, I see. Well, you did earn your clout by getting rid of that dragon—”

“Except I didn’t get rid of it!” I sat up and shouted. “I beat it in a race, then it tried to roast me alive! Cadence was the one who convinced it to leave!”

Mom looked at me, thankfully with more confusion than disappointment, but it was still there. “But she gave you the credit?”

I slumped back down in front of my ice cream. “She said she wanted to help. She gave me all the credit because she knew ponies would talk about the pony who actually got rid of the dragon.”

“I see. And you feel guilty for using that to influence ponies to get what you wanted?” Mom asked thoughtfully.

She got it in one. I could only nod my head.

Her feathers stroked my back. “What she did was a sweet gesture. But I can see how it would be upsetting to you. Though I disagree with the thought that is probably running through your head: you do deserve equal credit for the part you played.”

Sometimes, I was seriously convinced she could read minds.

“You and Cadence worked together to save Equestria. I’m sure she could not have done her part if you did not do yours.”

“Still, I wanted it to be my own accomplishment—but it wasn’t—but Cadence gave it to me—but I feel guilty about it and even worse for using it to my advantage when I didn’t earn it…” I took a deep breath and groaned.

Mom craned her neck down and kissed my forehead. “That is a lot to handle at once.”

“Tell me about it.”

She nuzzled me some more. “I’m glad you’re aware of the dangerous allure of flaunting your status. In this case, however, I think you can go a little easy on yourself. The Entertainment Board is hard to deal with and you were doing it with good intentions.”

“But I still didn’t earn it.”

“I disagree. Yes, the media will focus on the end result, but from what I understand, even if Cadence was the one to tell the dragon off, you were the one to stand up to it. Multiple times in fact. You challenged him and you outsmarted him.”

I was quiet for a moment. “Cadence did say me being in trouble was the reason she finally sprung into action.”

“See? You inspired her to act. You gave her courage. She returned the favor by giving you the credit.” She smiled proudly. “Both qualities of great future leaders.”

While the guilt of taking the credit melted at my mother’s words, the guilt from how I had treated Cadence returned in full force. I pushed it down with the intention that I would apologize before bed. In the meantime, I tried to just enjoy the victory I had gotten today. In a few months, Canterlot was going to see the greatest Grand Galloping Gala ever!

I took a sip of my melted ice cream, still tasty even as a lukewarm soup. “Thanks, Mom.”

“Of course, little sun.”

There was a knock on the door before Raven let herself in, a clipboard floating in front of her face.

“Your Highness, there seems to be a slight hiccup with the Entertainment Board. They say they have signatures from Sunset regarding the budget and planning for the Gala, but they don’t remember meeting with her.”

I dropped my head against my pillow to muffle my long groan.


After Mom wrote a letter vouching for my meeting with the board, I gave her a kiss good night and took my leave, detouring from my usual path to my room.

I stopped in front of Cadence’s door, took a deep breath, and knocked.

“Just a second!” she called.

I tapped my hoof against the carpet as I waited, more from anxiousness than impatience. I couldn’t think of anything to say beyond ‘sorry for being a jerk’.

Cadence opened the door, her welcoming smile faltering at my sight. “Oh, uh, hi, Sunset.”

“Hi, Cadence.”

I scuffed my hoof against the carpet and looked at the purple spiral pattern running up one of the pillars. “Listen, I… I just came to say…” This shouldn’t have been this hard, but try as I might, I couldn’t fish up the right words. I let out a short whinny of frustration before trying to start over.

An odd, throaty noise came from Cadence, and I snapped my eyes toward her to see she was stifling a laugh. “It’s okay, Sunset. I think I know what you’re trying to say.”

I shook my head. “No, let me actually say it. You were right: I… I was being prideful for some dumb and inane reason. You just wanted to help. And you did. So... I’m sorry for snapping at you.”

Cadence swept me up into a powerful hug. “Apology accepted! I’m sorry too. I could have at least asked you ahead of time.”

I flailed my hooves, caught off guard by her show of affection. “It’s cool. All water under the bridge.” Either she didn’t notice my feeble attempts to escape or she didn’t care. When she finally set me down, the fur along my back was all mussed up.

Cadence finally noticed and gave a sheepish smile. “Sorry. I have some brushes in my room if you want to fix it. And maybe, if you’re not too tired, we could hang out for a little bit?”

Prior to my birthday, I would have said no. Not out of sheer dislike (though I still wasn’t fond of her back then) but because hanging out just wasn’t something I did. Even now, something in my mind told me to turn her down, return to my room, and study for the rest of the night.

But the thing was, I actually liked Cadence now. The state of my existence left me truly isolated from everypony else. Twilight always preferred the company of books, so our status was strictly studies buddies or student and tutor until she discovered the Elements. The idea that I actually had friends now was still new, but very welcome. If Cadence wanted to hang out, I could oblige for at least a little while.

She’s only friends with you because she pities you.

That might have been true. Yet, oddly enough, I was fine with it this time. I beamed and nodded my head, and Cadence stood aside to let me into her room.

Pity or no pity, I still had a friend.

14. Back in Session

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Summer wound down quickly. The Canterlot Weather Team transitioned the weather from hot and dry to a more mild climate, adding in some blustery winds for effect. The days began to shorten, Mom lowering the sun a minute earlier with each passing day.

I spent my last few weeks of vacation studying or spending time with Cadence. Around the city, stores touted back-to-school sales while students tried to cram in as much last-minute fun as they could. I had mixed emotions about returning to the university. On the one hoof, it would give me potential projects and practical applications to what I had been studying. On the other hoof, with the amount of independent studying I had done over the summer, I wondered if I had jumped too far ahead of what most classes could offer. Would I just be spending half of my day doing rudimentary review? Even with me choosing all advanced classes, I felt some of the lessons might now be… beneath me.

Then again, my magic was still hesitant to fully cooperate with me on some of the higher-level spells. So, maybe some review would be good for me.

On the night before school resumed, we had a family dinner in the great hall. Luna had continued to grow through the summer and was now only a head shorter than Mom. Her mane was also… wavier than before. Flecks of white lights would occasionally flicker through her locks. It looked like it was trying to imitate Mom’s flowing astral mane. I constantly wanted to bring it up, but held my tongue out of fear of rudeness.

“Excited to be returning to school, Sunset?” Mom asked as she cut a piece of her lasagna.

“‘Excited’ might be a bit of a stretch,” I said, rolling my hoof. “I guess I’ll be glad I have something to do, rather than staying in my room most of the day.”

Cadence smirked. “Yes, instead you’ll spend most of the day in a classroom. Much better.”

I stuck my tongue out at her.

Luna smiled idly. “The educational system was not nearly as organized in my time as it is now. Nor could most ponies even obtain said education. We merely had tutors, not entire faculties dedicated to the teaching arts.”

“Of course, we did have the best tutor possible,” Mom said fondly.

Luna playfully stuck her tongue out. “If you consider fussy and nagging the definition of ‘best.’”

“Who taught you, Aunt Luna?” Cadence asked.

“Starswirl the Bearded of course.”

This wasn’t news to me. Mom had mentioned Starswirl’s lessons a number of times. Yet, it always filled me with foal-like wonder and amazement how they could just casually toss out his name like that. They got to learn under the greatest sorcerer of all time.

Greatest until me.

“What was he like?” Cadence asked.

“Critical, nagging, bossy, always had to be right,” Luna listed, tapping her hoof against the table.

Mom clicked her tongue. “He wasn’t that bad. He cared deeply for both of us. And he did have his playful side. Remember when he enchanted the topiary in the garden to change patterns every day?”

Luna let out a gale of laughter. “Indeed! The groundskeeper was so befuddled and furious!”

“What happened to him?” I asked. It was the one thing the history books agreed that they had no knowledge about.

Luna’s laughter ceased and she bowed her head. Mom followed suit. “We don’t know. He left on an important mission and never returned,” Luna said.

Celestia sighed. “There were plenty of days where I wished he had been around to give counsel.”

The mood was decisively somber now, and I couldn’t help but blame myself for bringing up the question. I swallowed the last piece of my food and stood from my chair. “I should go get ready for tomorrow.”

Mom perked up a little. “Yes, off to bed. You don’t want to be sleepy on your first day of school.”

“I’m not a foal, Mom,” I remarked, turning my nose up as I headed for the door.

“You’re also not a morning pony. And no more sass from you, young lady!”

I stuck my tongue out at Mom this time as I headed for the door. Cadence stood up and followed after me, bidding her aunts good night. The guards saluted us as we passed through the halls and headed up to our towers.

“Remember, you’re more than welcome to spend time with my friends and I after you’re done with classes,” Cadence said as we came to a crossroads in the corridors.

“I’ll think about it. I’m going to do my annual ritual of trying and failing to make new friends on the first day of school, so if that bombs, I’d be happy to join.”

Cadence gave a good-natured giggle. “Well, I certainly wish you the best of luck!”

We bade each other good night and parted ways. I was reminded of my previous attempts to make friends at school. Introductions, asking questions, promising to hang out during break. Then, after being skipped over in roll call and an hour of instruction, the confused stare of a pony who had never met me.

Group projects weren’t much better. The group in question would forget to invite me to the meetup or attribute any contribution I made to someone else. One time I decided to be a total nag and send them constant reminders and feedback. They remembered me alright, as the mare who wouldn’t shut up.

With my plan of hosting the gala, it didn’t really matter if I made friends this semester. I would come out on top in the end. Still, a school companion of some sort would be nice; someone to fill the void Twilight left.

I returned to my room, more unorganized than I usually kept it. My desk was littered with papers and folders for the gala, leaving no room for my study books, forcing me to leave them on the floor. I cleared a few more from my bed as I finished getting ready for sleep. My saddlebags hung by the door, already prepped for tomorrow.

I snuggled under the sheets and flicked off the lights. No matter how old I got there was always a flutter of nervousness before a new school year. I stared up at my bed canopy decorated with changing constellations. My mind named each of them as they formed, even as my eyes grew heavy.

No sooner had I closed them did my alarm spell go off. I let out a loud groan over Bethooven’s fifth and pulled a pillow over my face.

Knock knock knock.

“Lady Sunset, Her Majesty asks you to get up in a timely manner for your classes.” Platina’s deep voice penetrated the door. “She also told me to tell you she, quote, ‘told you so’.”

I groaned again. Why did sleep have to be so fleeting? And why did I pick early classes? I turned the alarm spell off and forced myself up. The wall clock across from read 8:32. Outside, the last blushes of dawn were fading into the morning blue.

With a jaw-popping yawn, I rolled out of bed and dragged myself to the shower. The hot water burned away my remaining lethargy so by the time I stepped out, I was wide awake. I made quick work of my teeth and mane and stepped back into my room just as the clock struck nine. I had one hour before my first class, just enough time to squeeze in breakfast.

“Okay,” I said, hopping up and down on the carpet, “new school year, new you. You got this!”

Go show those underachievers who’s boss.

“Yeah! I’m the smartest mare at Canterlot University!” With that affirmation filling my ego, I grabbed my saddlebags and opened the door. Platina waited on the other side, still as a statue like always. She saluted as I crossed the threshold and fell two steps behind me.

“Good morning, My Lady. Excited for your first day of class?”

“As excited as one can be for ‘Advanced Runeology.’”

The dining hall was empty this morning, leaving me to eat in silence. Mother had left a note on top of my pancakes urging me to have a nice day and not to push myself too hard.

It’s just school. She shouldn’t be coddling me like a filly.

I shook my head. She was just concerned. And it was nice to be coddled sometimes.

Once I scarfed down my breakfast, I made my way to the chariot hold of the castle. The university wasn’t too far, but I didn’t want to risk being late on my first day. I approached one of the earth ponies and cleared my throat.

“I would like a ride to the university, please.”

He twisted his head about, looking right past me to see where the voice came from. His eyes finally met mine and jumped a foot into the air.

“Oh! Lady Shimmer, my apologies! I didn’t see you.”

“That’s all right,” I said, wearing my fake smile. “I would like a ride to the university, if you would be so kind.”

“Of course! Right away, Lady Shimmer!” He hooked himself up to the front of the cart while Platina and I seated ourselves. Though it had been a while since I had had an incident, Mom insisted I still have a guard nearby at all times. I couldn’t disagree, and Platina always made good company.

The Royal Chariot Runners were fast and knew every shortcut in the city. Despite the heavy hoof-traffic, we were at the front of the school within minutes. I thanked our Runner and melded into the throng of students stepping onto campus.

Canterlot was better known for Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns; the elite, magic-only academy that honed a young unicorn’s magic and set them on the path for greatness. Still, one’s time was limited to just four years of magical learning before graduation day came and you were set loose on the world. With the education CSGU provided, it was more than enough for most unicorns.

However, while not quite as lustrous or grand as Celestia’s personal school, Canterlot University offered a higher level of academia for not just unicorns, but for pegasi and earth ponies as well.

The pearly white school buildings backed themselves against the mountain, fanned out around an expansive quad strewn with cobblestone paths cutting across large green lawns. Tables and booths with colorful banners promoting the on-campus clubs lined the roads, and ponies of all colors and races roamed about, signing up for activities or meeting with old friends.

Platina and I stepped into one of the older buildings on campus, though the way they were maintained, you wouldn’t have been able to tell without looking at the dedication plaque. My first class, Arcane Special Topics, was on the third floor and started in fifteen minutes. I always thought a seat at the front would help me stand out to the teachers a little bit more. It didn’t.

As we approached my classroom, Platina slowed and took a post by a window. “I’ll be right outside if you need anything, My Lady.”

“Thank you,” I said, stepping inside.

To my surprise, there was another pony already sitting in the front row. She was a light cream color with a red mane boasting purple highlights and tied into an untidy top knot. She had her sweater vest pulled up to her chin, giving the appearance it was trying to eat her. Her muzzle was so far into a book, her thick-rimmed glasses were almost pressed against her eyes.

After staring for a few seconds, the recognition hit me. I had seen her several times at CSGU and around the university. That was Moondancer. She called herself Twilight’s friend, though the way Twilight acted in the past, I didn’t think the sentiment went both ways. Of course, Twilight was all about friendship now, so perhaps the two found even ground.

I took a seat next to Moondancer. Her eyes moved back and forth across the pages of her book, sparing me not even the briefest of glances. Part of me wanted to wave or say hi, but I recognized that mental focus. Whenever Twilight was in one of her reading frenzies, it took forever to get her to notice me. And that was with her being aware of my existence.

Other students steadily filed in and took their seats, replacing the silence with buzzing chatter. Moondancer didn’t look up once. I envied her, wishing I had brought along some leisurely reading material. I stared at the clock, watching the minutes slowly tick away until the bell chimed. The professor trotted in, a beige coat around his dark blue fur and a horn poking out from his wavy black mane.

“Good morning, pupils,” he said jovially. He levitated a piece of chalk and began scribbling on the blackboard. “I am Professor Cosmos, and I’ll be your instructor this semester. Well, less of an instructor, more of a guidance coach.”

He paused to finish writing a list of topics then turned to face us. “If you read the syllabus already, you’ll know that the majority of this class consists of you pioneering your own projects. In class, we’ll discuss some of the more obscure, outdated, or less researched aspects of magic. The deeper, technical levels of how teleportation works, for example, or why self-levitation isn’t more widely used. You will then drum up a hypothesis on a particular field or idea that really grabs at your interest and spend the remainder of the semester pouring research into it to prove said hypothesis. Fun, yes?”

As he beamed at the class, I couldn’t help but take a quick glance over my shoulder. Judging by the looks on most of my peers' faces, ‘fun’ wasn’t the first word they would use. I thought it sounded interesting at least.

Professor Cosmos waved a hoof. “Now, now, don’t look so glum. You won’t be doing all the work alone. This is partner-based research!” There were a few muffled groans that he clearly chose to ignore. “Fortunately, we have an even number of students, so we’ll have perfect pairs of two! Today, we’ll spend all of class mingling and getting to know one another. By the end, you and your partner will come up and write your names down on the roster.”

That certainly killed any enthusiasm I had. Group projects were bad, paired projects were even worse. My past partners either acted like I didn’t exist and they had to do the project alone, or they remembered me but not any of my contributions and claimed I was a horrible partner. Unlike the rest of the class though, I held in my sigh of disappointment.

The professor had us rearrange our desks into a wide circle so we could all see each other. Moondancer sat to my left, her thick eyebrows furrowed in annoyance.

Cosmos clapped his hooves. “Alright, let’s start! Just give your name, something you love, and just some fun fact about you!”

“Asinine.” My ears just barely picked up Moondancer’s harsh mutter.

We started with some random student across from me and moved clockwise. They gave generic statements about their significant others and their favorite foods or vacation memories., all of them delivered with the underlying tone of ‘I can’t believe we’re doing this’. It was, as Moondancer aptly put, asinine. Though, I suspected it would give us a great talking point for after class.

As the pony on my right wrapped up, I watched Professor Cosmos’ eyes pass over me and jump to Moondancer. I immediately put my hoof up and waved it around.

“Alright, looks like you’re next—”

“Excuse me, professor, you skipped me,” I said loudly.

His ears twitched and he looked in my direction. “Oh! Did I? Forgive me; you’re next then.”

I gave him a small nod of thanks. As asinine as this ritual was, I’d rather be a part of it than ignored. “My name is Sunset Shimmer. I love studying and practicing magic. Fun fact about me: I’m the one who stopped that dragon last month.”

That didn’t get quite the reaction I was looking for. A few ears pricked up, and two students whispered behind their hooves, but the rest of the class seemed unimpressed. I huffed and sank into my chair.

Professor Cosmos clapped. “Oh my, that is quite impressive! Glad to have you in my class, Miss Shimmer. All right, who’s next?”

The praise made me feel slightly better. I shifted my eyes to Moondancer and caught her staring at me curiously. She cleared her throat and looked out over the rest of the class.

“My name is Moondancer. I enjoy reading and studying. I suppose a fun fact about me is I graduated CSGU with the highest written test scores in my class,” she said in monotone. She didn’t even try to hide her disinterest.

We rounded off with the remaining students before Cosmos took the floor again. “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Now that we’ve gotten to know each other a little, let’s get up and mingle! Have some deeper conversations with each other—use those fun facts as ice breakers!” He lit up his horn, and a tray of snacks and lemonade floated in from a door in the back.

With more hushed grumbles, we got out of our seats and moved around, with most of the class forming a snack queue. I hung out near the back, sizing up who I thought might make a good project partner.

Someone tapped my shoulder, and I turned to find Moondancer. “Um, hi,” she said, staring at her hooves.


She shuffled in place, then pushed her glasses up her muzzle. “Um, are you really the one who stopped the dragon?” She was far less monotone now, sounding soft and reserved instead.

“Yep, that was me.”

She raised her head and looked me in the eye. “How?”

I smirked. “Challenged him to a race.”

Moondancer’s eyes widened. “You beat a dragon in a race?”

“Well, I teleported. But I never said how the race had to be won.”

Her eyes widened further. “You can teleport?”


“That’s still impressive.” She scuffed the floor. “I’ve memorized the theory, but I can’t muster enough power to pull it off.”

I rolled my shoulders. “You’re not missing much, trust me.”

“I beg to differ. Teleportation has a multitude of functional applications, especially if a safe technique for mass teleportation could be found and implemented.” She had fallen back into her professional monotone that reminded me of Twilight’s lecture voice.

“True enough. I suppose I just don’t have the stomach for it.”

“Oh, that’s actually common for those who can teleport. Some researchers call it ‘quantum queasiness.’ Since your stomach is one of the most sensitive parts of the body, it…” Her cheeks turned red and she looked at the floor. “Sorry. Um… I’ll just go now.”

“Woah there!” I put a hoof on her shoulder as she turned to leave. “I like arcane babble. You don’t have to leave.”

She gave me a shy smile and adjusted her glasses again. “Thanks. Um, I’m Moondancer by the way. But, I guess you already knew that.”

“Sunset Shimmer.” I moved my hoof from her shoulder and held it out. She gave it a gentle tap. “So, you wanna be partners?”

Moondancer looked around at the other students laughing and engrossed in deep conversations. “I don’t think anypony else is going to give either of us the time of day, so yes, I gladly accept your partnership.”

“Cool, now we just need a project idea.”

“We could explore the applications of mass teleportation like I mentioned before,” she offered. I could hear the eagerness in her voice.

“No thank you,” I said with a shake of my head. “I’m trying to stay as far away from teleportation as I can now.”

Her ears folded for a second. “Understandable. Perhaps we can discuss more ideas after classes? I’m done around two today.”

“So am I. We can meet up in the quad and go get lunch.”

We sealed the deal with another hoof bump and signed our names onto the project register. As class time ran down, we quietly discussed the cliché nature of the sharing circle we had just endured, reveling in each other’s discontent.

“Though, to be fair,” Moondancer said, yielding a sigh, “I might not have approached you otherwise. I’m surprised you didn’t have a line of students begging to be your partner.”

“I’m a little surprised too. Two weeks ago, I was the talk of the town. Now, ponies act like the dragon never even happened.”

Moondancer shrugged. “That’s Canterlot. The nobles will devour the latest trend, but the second it becomes old news, they toss it aside.”

My stomach turned. Would hosting the Grand Galloping Gala be enough to cement myself in the eyes of Canterlot? It had to be right? What was bigger than the gala?

Becoming an alicorn.

Right. That was the real goal; the gala was just a step on the way there. Still, I had no idea how long that would take, and after already pouring a month of work in, I was growing attached to the idea of being known as the best gala host.

The bell finally dismissed us, and Moondancer and I said our goodbyes. Platina waited outside the classroom for me, looking like she hadn’t moved an inch from her spot.

“How was your first class, My Lady?” she asked.

“It was fine. Just introductions and all that. I might have made a new friend.”

“Lovely.” She took point ahead of me; her large frame forced other students to move out of the way, giving me a wide berth. Some of the students gave me interested looks, but most of them just stared at Platina in confusion.

My next class was Advanced Runeology, across campus and on the top floor of the northeast tower. If I wasn’t so accustomed to climbing up and down the castle, I would have been winded like most of the other students when I got to the top. Another unicorn was desperately chugging a bottle of water, and I then understood Moondancer’s interest in accessible teleportation.

Platina stood guard again while I attended class. It was much the standard fare as my first lesson was: introductions, looking at the syllabus, and giving an overview of the class. We at least got to start on the origins of glyphs and how unicorns of old would perform magic with them.

The bell rang, and our professor assigned us our first readings before letting us go. I found Platina in the exact same spot I had left her.

“What do you do while I’m in class?” I asked as we headed down the tower.

“The same thing I do anywhere else: stay on guard.”

I shook my head. “This can’t be fun for you.”

“Actually, this is more fun than standing at the castle. I get to hear the gossip students say when they think I’m not listening.” She gave a rare smirk. “Did you know Honeysuckle is dating Bronze Coat and Clipper at the same time?”

I gasped in faux shock and pushed a hoof against my cheek. “Shut up!”

“You didn’t hear it from me.”

It was just after two, so I figured Moondancer had to be getting out of her class soon if she wasn’t already. I led Platina back to the quad and sat on one of the stone benches near the center. More club booths had popped up since I had been in class. Two earth ponies were dueling in front of the Fencing Club stand, and there were mats laid out in the grass for yoga. Somepony from the Illusion Club conjured a hazy manticore and sicced it on the Frisbee Club.

I was so enraptured by the display, I almost missed Moondancer walking right past me.

“Moondancer, wait!” I hopped off the bench and waved a hoof.

Her ears flicked as she came to a stop and looked over her shoulder. My stomach dropped as her eyes went right through me before she looked from side to side, trying to find whoever had called her name.

“No, Moondancer, right here!” I scrambled over and tapped the back of her shoulder.

“Ahh!” She jumped a foot in the air and spun around. “Who are you? Why are you sneaking up on me?”

Please, no. I took a controlled breath. “I’m Sunset Shimmer. Remember, from your Arcane Special Topics class? We’re project partners?”

She squinted her eyes, and I could see the gears turning. “That was this morning…” She rubbed a hoof against her temple. “That sounds familiar but I can barely remember it. To be more accurate, I can barely remember you.

I gave a mirthless laugh. “Yeah, happens a lot.”

Moondancer gave me a curious look. “Other ponies have trouble remembering you?”

“Let’s just say I have a… presence that’s easy to forget.”

Moondancer huffed and turned her head away. “I wish I could forget about other ponies as easily as I forgot about you.” Her pupils dilated and her cheeks turned red. “Uh, not that I wanted to forget you! I just… did…”

I waved a hoof. “Relax. I’m used to it. Mostly.”

“Right.” Moondancer pushed her glasses up. “Still, forgive me for my lapse in memory. I believe we have to decide on a project, correct?”

“Yep. You wanna discuss it over some doughnuts at Pony Joe’s?”

Moondancer made a sour expression and she scraped a hoof against the ground. “I would… prefer to go anywhere else but there.”

“Oh. Uh, sure.” Given the number of times I had seen her and her group of friends in the store, I thought it had been a favorite choice. “We can go to the Lemon Grass Café instead.”

Her expression softened. “Yes, that sounds much more preferable.”

“Cool.” I turned and led the way, Platina now shadowing from a distance. My thoughts turned to Cadence as I passed under the arches of the school’s main gate.

Huh. I made a friend. Sorry, Cadence, guess I won’t be joining you after all.