Equestria at War: Solar Sacrifice

by White Comet

First published

This story takes place in the Equestria at War universe - When a certain thought to be dead Princess of the Night visits Sunrise Sparkle in her dreams, she begins to start doubting Daybreakers leadership. A decision that could decide her fate...

The following story takes place in the Equestria at War universe.

For some, the memory of the Great War against the Changelings was just that; a distant memory. But nopony can deny that, despite a victory, the repurcussions that followed have resulted in a dark time in the worlds history. God-Empress Daybreaker now rules across the Equestrian continent with an iron hoof, and has ruled uncontested for over two decades.

Even her protégé, Sunrise Sparkle, is starting to doubt her superiors' decisions. But given that nopony ever questions the God-Empress and lives to tell the tale, she simply kept her thoughts to herself. That is until a certain thought to be dead Princess of the Night visits her in a dream...

Cover art by Neither
Full size here

Chapter 1: Doubt

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The light of the amber setting sun refracted through the many crystals of the Crystal Castles throne room. The room itself resembled more of an office than a throne room nowadays. Along the back wall ran plenty of filing cabinets along with whiteboards with various notes written on them. Just beside the throne on the floor level was a large pristine crystal desk, in a semi-messy state with pieces of paper and books scattered around it.

Behind the desk sat a purple alicorn with a red streak through her mane and tail. Her cutie mark a yellow star with other smaller white stars hanging off the big central yellow star's tip. Her dark violet eyes concentrating intensely on the paperwork she was currently working on, a pen seamlessly working its way through the paper gripped in the red aura of her magic.

The large crystal door that was the entrance to the throne room squeaked open, although the alicorn paid no mind to the noise and the hesitant hoofsteps that followed it. “Everypony for your four O’clock is here, Grand Inquisitor,” A timid mare's voice hesitantly informed.

The alicorn gently lifted her head to look at the blue unicorn mare with a blonde mane standing a few feet away from her desk. "Thank you, Frost," She lifted herself out of the chair and to her hooves, levitating all the paperwork in her magic and collecting it up. "Walk with me."

Frost bowed her head in acknowledgement before taking her place alongside the purple alicorn. She took a few quick glances around the throne room, her eyes resting on the large portrait above the door. A picture of the alicorn dressed in the gold battle armour of the Solar Empire. Albeit with a few scuffs from battle marking its otherwise pristine gold. In the background of the portrait was the red flag of the Solar Empire, but extremely burnt and torn. At the bottom of the picture frame was a golden plaque with the alicorn's name engraved into it.

Grand Inquisitor Sunrise Sparkle, after defeating the Changelings at the battle of Crystal City - 22/03/1014

"Have you arranged for refreshments?" Sunrise asked her assistant as they walked through the hallways of the Crystal Palace.

"Yes, your Highness," Frost replied clearly.

"Good," Sunrise stopped at a door, holding her hoof out to it. "See to it they are comfortable, tell them I will be there in a moment."

"Right away, Grand Inquisitor Sparkle," Frost answered with a quick bow of her head before picking up speed again.

"And Frost?"

Her hooves squeaked to a stop at Sunrise's words, and she turned to face her.

Sunrise picked out a package at the bottom of her pile of papers and levitated it over to her assistant. "Please see that this makes it to Manehatten. Via the secure channels,” She specified, before levitating another small envelope on top of it. “And just make sure that one reaches Chief Marshal Sentry immediately.”

"Of course, your Highness," Frost acknowledged, taking the package in the yellow aura of her own magic and trotting away down the hallway.

Sunrise pushed through the door into her bathroom, locking the door behind her. She walked over the sink and used her magic to run the tap while at the same time looking at herself in the mirror. She spent a long time staring into her own purple eyes, trying to perfect her look. She wanted to look like she meant business. And she definitely looked it. She had had almost thirty years to practice, she definitely had it down.

But although she was looking the part, she definitely didn't feel it…

She slipped the shoe off her right forehoof and bought it up to her chest, seeing it shaking. She was trembling. Was she...nervous? In all the years she had served Daybreaker, she never once felt nervous.

Although she had a pretty good idea why. The latest demands of the Solar Empire would require more sacrifice from the Crystal Empire she was governing. She knew the industry leaders she was about to meet with would be furious about these ludicrous demands. But everypony knew that when Empress Daybreaker demands something, you have no choice but to accept or suffer the consequences…

Even knowing that she would easily win this debate either through negotiation or through force, she still had an uneasy feeling in her gut. Something wasn't right. She tried to hide the facts from herself, but deep down, she knew the demands from the Equestrian continent and the creatures living in it were unsustainable. But they really had no choice. The world had changed since the Great War with the Changelings that ended almost twenty-five years ago. Great superpowers had emerged on the continents, and the two biggest ones had insane supremacist dictators at their helm. Those being the Solar Empire, led by God-Empress Daybreaker, and the Griffonian Empire, led by Ferdinand Dawnclaw. The last bastion of harmony existed only in the far east with the united River Federation.

Sunrise levitated a flannel into the warm running water and wrung the majority of it out before giving her face a quick wash over with it. She quickly looked herself over, making sure all her regalia was in place. Her golden neckpiece hung nicely around her neck and rested on her chest, encrusted with the Solar Empire's emblem in rubies. On her head sat a golden crown also encrusted in a similar logo.

Sunrise smiled as she drew a comparison to the look of her portrait back in her throne room. Although she was a much younger mare when that portrait was made, now she was a full-grown alicorn. Her mane had also grown longer and had taken on a flowing motion to it, much like Daybreakers.

She sighed, knowing that she should stop delaying the talks any longer. She finished freshening herself up and then left her bathroom, continuing towards the meeting room where the Crystal Empire's industry representatives waited for her.

She could hear the conversations had already begun when she reached the door, but she didn't wait to enter. She flung the door open with power, immediately drawing all attention to herself. Several ponies were sitting around a large round crystal table—the natural light casting a shadow through the large windows.

"G-Grand Inquisitor Sparkle!" A stallion immediately got off his chair and lowered himself into a bow, causing everypony else to follow suit.

Sunrise paid no mind to it and simply took her place at the top of the table they were meeting around. She dropped her paperwork on the space in front of her and levitated a teapot and teacup that was waiting in the centre of the table, pouring herself a cup of tea before beginning. "The latest demands from the Empire have been negotiated, you will find your individual requirements in here," She started, levitating the folders full of paperwork to each respective pony it belonged to. "As you can see, the first issue I want to address is the request for extra staff, I will be making arrangements for the rotation of--"

"How much?!" A pegasus stallion interrupted, "We won't even have enough fuel reserves for our own citizens, and the price of fuel is already well beyond what most Crystal Empire residents can afford."

"I have to agree, these demands will require significant sacrifice," another mare joined in. "At this rate, we'll be pulling fillies and colts out of school to join in the Royal Army."

"That's actually something that's already going to be in place under the Solar Youth program expansion,” Sunrise informed, quickly flicking to the relevant page in her own papers to check its position then returning to the page she was on.

"Your majesty…" an elderly earth pony stallion spoke up, standing from his seat. "With all due respect, I think we need to ask the God-Empress to reconsider. I understand the need to keep the Empire safe from the Griffon menace across the sea, but the Solar Empire has ruled across the Equestrian continent unchallenged for over two decades. How long are we going to remain at this level of readiness."

"That's exactly what the Griffonian Empire is waiting for; us to let our guard down. The moment they do, they will attack us with all their might. We will not give them that chance." Sunrise enforced, punctuating her point by tapping on the table.

"Surely the Griffonia Empire is feeling the economic strain of this ridiculous arms race as well. Are we just going to continue this stupid staring contest until somepony blinks first and millions of lives are in ruins?" A pegasus mare added.

Sunrise turned her head to face her. "If that is what the Empress wishes," she answered, albeit feeling somewhat unsure of that answer herself. "And never forget that Ferdinand Dawnclaw murdered a four-year-old child in cold blood to secure his power. There is no negotiating with those barbaric griffons. This is our only option."

"A conspiracy theory yet to be proven even after all these years," The elderly stallion retorted.

Sunrise felt her eye twitch, but she otherwise kept the rest of her body under control. "...Fine." She slammed her book containing her paperwork shut with force, startling everypony. "I guess I'll just have to tell the Empress that her subjects considered her demands unacceptable," she stood to her hooves, lighting up her horn.

The elderly stallion gasped as he felt himself being lifted off the ground by the red aura of Sunrise's magic, being pulled through the air across the table far quicker than his old bones would have ever wanted. He was abruptly stopped when he met the alicorn at eye level; something that terrified him dearly as he wiggled his limbs, not liking the fact he was floating off the ground.

"And when I tell her that, she will simply replace you with somepony more capable…" Sunrise trailed off her sentence, believing that she had made her implications clear. Her violet eyes began to glow, striking fear into the old stallion. “So do we still have a problem?”

The stallion quickly shook his head in desperation.

“Good,” Sunrise replied calmly, the glow from her eyes slowly diminishing. She floated the stallion back over to his seat at a more leisurely pace.

Sunrise retook her seat and took a generous sip of tea, releasing a sigh as she regained her focus. “Now then, where were we?”

Her meeting concluded, Sunrise returned to her throne room and closed the door behind her. She wanted to breathe a sigh of relief now that was over, but something was stopping her from relaxing. She could still feel a slight tremble in her legs. She couldn’t understand why she was feeling so nervous about this. Part of her agreed with the Crystal Empires representatives, they were challenging demands to meet. But she knew it was the simple lay of the land that she followed the Empress’ will.

Instead of moving to her desk like she was planning to, she instead trotted up the steps and sat atop her throne, gazing out her windows. She saw the streets of the Crystal Empire being patrolled by the loyal guards. Most ponies were turning in for the night as the sky began to turn dark, the roads only illuminated by the evenly spaced street lights.

Sunrise sighed as she analysed her thoughts. She was nervous about something. But what? She had been to plenty of awkward meetings with the ponies of the Crystal Empire’s industries before, what made this one so different? She continued probing her mind for an answer...or rather, an alternative solution. She didn’t want to admit it, but…

She gritted her teeth at the thought. The simple truth of the matter was that she disagreed with the Empress’ latest policies, and she couldn’t get the doubt out of her mind. This arms race with the Griffonian continent was pushing Equestria to breaking point. Granted, the Griffonian Empire was in a similar situation, but which side would blink first? This wasn’t like the Great War with the Changelings, or the Solar Empire’s continued conquest of Equestria. The Griffonian Empire was a worthy opponent that was led by an equally insane dictator.

Sunrise’s ears folded back and she bit her lip. Insane? Had she really just used that word to describe her Empress? Good thing nopony could read her mind…

Of course, the most significant change had simply come with the passage of time. It had almost been a quarter of a century since the Great War had ended. Time had moved on. And with it, technology. New weapons had been invented, with new doctrines to go along with them—weapons of previously unforeseen destructive power. Sunrise had personally overseen the development of the Solar Empire’s missile-mounted warhead, aptly named the Star Collapser. The combination of magic, crystals and nuclear energy produced a devastating weapon of mass destruction. And there was still more power that could be extracted. Yet, on Sunrise’s request, they kept the payload limited to maintain their tactical advantage of being able to strike anywhere in Griffonia from any launch location east of Canterlot.

“Grand Inquisitor?”

A chime from the intercom mounted on the right foreleg rest of her throne fed through the voice of her assistant. Sunrise moved her right hoof to press the button to respond back. “Yes, Frost?”

“Chief Marshal Sentry is here as requested,” she informed.

“Escort him to the dining room and tell him I will be there shortly,” Sunrise replied, disconnecting the intercom and raising from her seat. She trotted away and out of the throne room, navigating the stairs and corridors until she made it to her living quarters.

She pushed through the door and stepped into her room. Using her magic, the flicked the light switch to turn on the beautiful crystal chandelier that hung from her ceiling, it’s light almost reflecting off the pristine crystal floor on which she walked. While she was at it, she drew the velvet curtains that draped alongside the stained glass windows that covered her balcony entrance.

She took a few steps towards the far side of the room and pulled an upholstered chair out from her dresser, sitting down to prepare herself. She felt a slight unease in her stomach as she came to rest. She was still having trouble shifting this feeling of doubt. It must be giving her some form of anxiety that was slowly building up.

...Or she was just hungry. She was about to go have dinner after all.

She did her best to ignore it and preoccupied her mind by getting ready to meet the most senior pony in her military. She used her magic to open her wardrobe, examining the array of dresses she had for every occasion. Her wardrobe had gone through a few alterations now that she was a fully grown alicorn, seeing as her old clothes no longer fit. But as she examined her clothes, she couldn’t shake some thoughts off her mind.

She sighed and stood up from her chair, taking a few steps to the side to look into a giant mirror she had hung on the wall that stretched from floor to ceiling. She had hung various pictures and newspaper clippings about her accomplishments alongside Daybreaker and the Solar Empire around it. They usually were inspiring for her, but for the conversation she was about to have, this was the wrong type of inspiration.

Breaking from her norm, she used her magic to remove all her regalia and levitated it over to a stand she had placed next to her bed for the sole purpose of storing it. She then looked back at herself in the mirror. No fancy gold shoes, necklace, crown or clothes...she looked completely different. But it was the difference she was going for. Flash Sentry was the only pony she trusted in her whole empire. She believed she could be completely one hundred percent truthful with and tell him her actual thoughts, feelings and emotions instead of the political mirage that was her role as Grand Inquisitor. She trusted him. And for that reason, she wanted to do something that inspired him to feel the same way. Instead of meeting him as Sunrise Sparkle, Grand Inquisitor of the Crystal Empire and all-powerful alicorn protégé of Daybreaker, she would simply meet him as Sunrise Sparkle, the pony.

She gave herself a quick washdown and freshened herself up before leaving her living quarters. She almost felt naked stepping out without her regalia on. Even some of her staff had to do a double-take as she walked through the hallways with no regalia on.

She made her way to the castle's main dining room, opening the door with her magic. Inside, she found a marigold orange pegasus stallion sitting at the end of the crystal dining table. His age was just about starting to show in the form of some faint grey streaks going through his otherwise brilliant royal blue brushed back mane. The room was nicely lit with candles and open flames, providing plenty of heat. An aesthetic choice by Daybreaker that Sunrise felt obliged to follow.

“Grand Inquisitor Sparkle!” Flash greeted, standing from his seat and bringing his hoof to his forehead in a salute. He wore the light purple uniform of the Crystal Empire, albeit with some new insignias and streaks of red and orange added to it ever since it came under Solar Empire occupation. His blazer was adorned with several rank insignias and medals.

“At ease, Chief Marshal Sentry,” Sunrise instructed with a bat of her hoof, trotting over to take her seat on the other side of the table. She used her magic to signal to the kitchen staff that they were ready to be served. “What’s the latest in the Crystal Army?” Sunrise asked.

“Still the same as it ever has been,” Flash replied, somewhat monotonously. “We train, we grow, we expand, we wait.”

“I thought as much,” Sunrise acknowledged, hearing the double-doors open behind her followed by the faint squeak of the wheels on a food cart. She twisted her head to see a silver unicorn stallion, dressed in the kitchen staff's white overalls. He did a quick bow before levitating the plates over to each one of them.

“Slow-cooked vegetable lasagna,” The stallion named the dish in an exotic accent, placing the plates and cutlery neatly in front of them. He then levitated two wine glasses over, along with a bottle of white wine resting neatly inside a bed of ice in a silver bucket. He lifted the bottle out and effortlessly popped the cork out with a corkscrew before pouring a glass for each of them. He left the wine in the middle of the table for them to help themselves to. “Enjoy,” he said with a smile before leaving them in peace.

“So what’s the situation with you?” Flash resumed, picking up the knife and fork in his hooves and tucking in. “Was there a meeting today?” He asked before taking a bite.

“There was,” Sunrise answered, taking her own cutlery in her magic. “It was...interesting…”

Flash swallowed, “I heard about the new quotas, I read the report briefly on the Solar Youth expansion, which I will probably be getting involved with.”

“Yes, you will,” Sunrise replied before taking a bite.

The two of them exchanged little tidbits of information between them, but Flash could tell something was up. He knew that Sunrise liked to keep her relationships professional, but he had known her for a very long time. Longer than anypony else in the Empire. He knew something was up. “Permission to speak freely, Ma’am?”

Sunrise...smiled? “I’m glad you asked, Flash.”

Flash raised an eyebrow. Sunrise rarely smiled this genuinely. Something was definitely up. “You seem to have something on your mind. Want to talk about it?”

Sunrise quietly sighed, feeling the anxiety she had earlier begin to drift away with Flash’s voice. “How long have we known each other now, Flash Sentry?” She asked curiously.

“I’m not sure,” Flash rubbed his chin with his hoof. He picked up on the variation in her tone, which implied that she was less formal. “Ever since before you…” he stopped himself and cleared his throat, “We’ve known each other ever since your ascension,” He corrected his words. He wasn’t sure if Sunrise’s past life was something she was in the mood to bring up. She was acting...odd. He couldn’t put his hoof on it, but she certainly wasn’t in Grand Inquisitor mode. If anything, he could almost sense a bit of Twilight Sparkle in her voice. They did virtually sound alike, albeit Sunrise’s voice was a tad deeper.

“Ah yes, my ascension,” Sunrise recalled the memory as she levitated the glass of wine to her lips. “The day that the God-Empress Daybreaker herself showed me the light. I’m glad you agreed that day we occupied the Crystal Empire; otherwise, I may have been forced to kill you.”

“It was clear that the way things were going, Equestria would not have otherwise won the war against the Changelings. Harmony wasn’t working, we had to be more aggressive,” Flash explained his stance. “And imagine if the Changelings won and then got the weapons we have today. I think they already would’ve taken a few potshots at the Griffonian Empire and millions would be dead. I think the choices we made back then is the reason we and millions of other ponies are here and alive right now.”

Sunrise smiled as she listened to his logic. “I’m glad you think so.”

Flash rested his cutlery down on his plate and picked up the glass of wine in his hooves. “But I get the feeling you didn’t ask me to come here on short notice only to reminisce. What’s the real reason I’m here,” He cut to the chase.

Sunrise sighed, knowing that this was coming. Flash didn’t beat around the bush, his experience had given him good senses. “Do you trust me, Flash?”

“Your will is my command, your Majest--”

“No, not like that,” Sunrise interrupted, batting her hoof, “I’m not talking about my role as Grand Inquisitor. I’m talking as me, Sunrise Sparkle, the pony. Do you trust me?”

Flash raised an eyebrow, thinking about what Sunrise was asking him. This was certainly different. But at the same time, he had known Sunrise for a very long time. Even when she was being unorthodox, there was always a reason for it. There was always a method in her madness. “Of course, Sunrise. I trust you with my life. But...why?”

Sunrise smiled back at him, “I’m glad,” Her horn lit up and began enveloping the room in the red aura of her magic.

Flash glanced around, “What are you doing?” He asked hesitantly.

“Soundproofing,” Sunrise replied, holding the spell for a few more seconds before her aura dissipated into the walls of the room. “Because I want to tell you how I honestly feel about this arms race we’ve been in for going on two decades.”

“It’s impossible, isn’t it?” Flash deduced.

Sunrise nodded, “The latest demands from the Solar Empire today...they’re getting more and more extreme. I’m not sure how much longer this continent can run under Daybreaker’s regime. We’re breaking apart families, and with the latest Solar Youth expansion, we’re going to be pulling fillies and colts out of high school to train them in the army.”

“Sounds all too familiar,” Flash replied, “Daybreaker likes to think that there’s going to be no more rebellions to her rule, but from the rumours I’ve heard, there’s been a storm brewing for a while. I think even SMILE has some double-agents in on it, given that it hasn’t been discovered yet.”

Sunrise smiled, resting back in her chair and sighing. “I’m so glad that we see eye to eye on this. Not that we can do anything, it just lifts a weight on my shoulders knowing that I’m not the only pony who's seeing things like this.”

The two remained silent for a few moments, finishing off the last of their dinner and getting through the wine.

“So what are we gonna do?” Flash spoke up.

“Huh?” Sunrise leant back into the table. “What do you mean?”

“How are you planning to confront Daybreaker? What do you plan to do?”

Sunrise felt her eyes widen, “Uhh…” she swallowed, “I don’t know. Nopony argues with the God-Empress and lives to tell the tale. I’ve got no idea what to do…”

Flash sighed, “Well, I hope you come up with something. Because if Equestria does go into civil war, something tells me Dawnclaw won’t hesitate to take advantage.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of…” Sunrise admitted.

Flash stood from his seat, “I will also let you know if I find any more information.”

“Thank you Flash,” Sunrise replied, smiling. “I...actually really enjoyed this. Would you like to do this more often?”

Flash smiled back at her, walking around the table. “I would like to get to know Sunrise Sparkle the pony some more. If you’re willing to, that is.”

“Of course,” Sunrise replied, also standing up. “But for now, we need to keep this between us until we’ve got a better idea of what to do.”

“I agree,” Flash nodded. “I’ll see what I can uncover discreetly,” He trotted over to the door. “I’ll probably see you tomorrow.”

Sunrise nodded, “Thank you Flash. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Flash nodded and smiled back at Sunrise before pushing through the door. Sunrise sat and reflected for a moment before taking the same route back out.

With somepony to share the burden with, Sunrise felt like the weight on her shoulders had been reduced. Flash Sentry was somepony she trusted with her life. She’d even dare to say that he was her one and only friend…

She returned to her living quarters, closing the door with a sigh. Just what was she getting herself into? Everything felt like it happened all at once today. She didn’t like it one bit. She needed to relax.

She went into her bathroom and ran herself a nice hot bath. The hot water instantly melted away her nervousness as she lowered herself into the large bathtub. A pony of her height needed it to be long after all. She was considering turning in early tonight, and seeing how relaxed she was now all but sealed that deal.

After her time in the bath, she got herself ready for bed. Flicking all the lights off with her magic and pulling the curtains shut. She pulled herself into her bed, pushing her head into her pillow to make herself comfortable. Her breathing gently slowed as she tried to drift off into sleep…

...but her eyes quickly reopened the moment she tried to. “Ugh, come on,” she muttered to herself, rolling over to the other side in the hope that she might be able to make herself more comfortable.

The shivers were returning to her. Her mind was thinking at a million miles per hour. Was she really planning on going ahead with this? Going behind Daybreakers back? Any failure would result in her death, and she had done exceptionally well with securing this position in the Solar Empire. Did she really have the drive to risk it all for this?

Sunrise laid on her back, gritting her teeth in mild annoyance. A hoof rested on her stomach under the duvet. She was beginning to feel slightly nauseous. All these thoughts and ideas really were screwing with her brain. She needed to get control. She used her magic to increase her room temperature, hoping that would help combat her trembling.

Her hoof still resting on her stomach, she could feel her heartbeat picking up speed. A feeling which only became more pronounced since her other senses weren’t being stimulated at the moment. She sat herself up, trying to do some breathing exercises to calm herself. Why was she so nervous about this? Of course, every part of her brain was telling that this was suicide. But those same parts were also telling her she was doing what was right. She was conflicted. Conflicted between her loyalty to Daybreaker and her duty to ensure Equestria had a prosperous future.

She could feel a lump rising in her stomach. Almost as if she was about to--


Sunrise glued a hoof to her mouth. She quickly climbed out of bed and flicked all the lights on using her magic. She shot towards the bathroom, still covering her mouth with a hoof. Galloping on three hooves was difficult.

She slid along the bathroom floor, reaching the toilet just in the nick of time as her stomach decided to release its contents. She simply closed her eyes and let nature take its course, allowing herself hurl as much as she needed to. Her eyes were squeezed shut as she pressed a hoof into her torso, trying to counter the pain her insides were currently feeling. She felt like she was going to implode. Every time she felt like she was done, the rancid stench of her vomit only reached her nostrils again and made her heave. Eventually, her stomach simply had nothing left to give, and she felt herself recovering, finally getting the opportunity to breathe in-between hurls.

Lifting a hoof off the floor, she rested it on the toilet flush to try and wash away the smell. She let her body go limp and allowed herself to roll away from the toilet, giving her somewhat fresher air to let herself catch her breath and let her mind catch up on what just happened. Did she just have an anxiety attack? Was the situation really affecting her that much?

She gingerly bought herself up to her hooves. She took some toilet paper in her magic and looked in her bathroom mirror to wipe away residual traces of vomit from her muzzle. She threw it in the toilet, flushing it again for good measure.

“What a mess…” Sunrise said to herself, rubbing her forehead with a hoof. She brushed her teeth again to remove the taste and smell of vomit from her mouth.

Feeling somewhat fresher, she walked back into her bedroom. She trotted up to her nightstand and pressed the buzzer button on the intercom she had placed on there.

“Your Majesty?” A stallion's voice answered on the other side.

“Have somepony bring a sleeping aid to my quarters,” Sunrise instructed sternly.

“Right away, your Majesty,” The stallion answered back, no questions asked.

Sunrise sat down on the end of her bed, resting her head in her forehooves. All she wanted to do right now was relax and forget about the day. Wake up fresh in the morning in a fresh mind which would maybe help think a little outside the box.

Her thoughts were quickly diverted to a knock at her door. “As requested, your Highness. I’ll leave it at the door,” A stallion's voice came from beyond her door. She heard the sound of something being set down and the slowly fading sound of hoofsteps trotting away.

Sunrise slowly walked over to the door and opened it with her hoof. She saw a black tray sitting at the base of her door frame with a white cup filled with a steaming tea-like liquid. She took the tray in her magic and bought it inside, closing the door behind her.

She set the tray to one side and propped herself up on her bed, resting her back against the headboard. She slowly brought the cup to her lips, testing its temperature first before committing to a full sip. The liquid simply tasted like a herbal tea, but it had a relaxing effect to it. Even simply inhaling the steam coming off it seemed to be clearing her sinuses.

She sunk herself lower into bed, pulling the covers over herself as she continued to sip out of the cup. As the temperature decreased, it became more tolerable to take larger swigs, and she eventually finished it.

She could already feel it taking its effects before it had entirely made its way through her system. She set the mug down on her nightstand and finally felt herself beginning to drift off. Her mind was still elsewhere, but right now, she didn’t care. All she wanted to do was rest…

Sunrise was running. She didn’t know why, she didn’t know where, all she knew was that she was running through a somewhat familiar hallway, although she couldn’t quite put her hoof on where it was. She felt strange, but it didn’t take her long to work out that she was dreaming. Although she had never had a dream this vivid before…

She burst through a set of double doors to see a large white alicorn standing at the back of the room, seemingly waiting for her. Her long flowing mane and tail were varying shades of turquoise, blue and pink. The alicorn was…

“Celestia?” Sunrise said out loud, confused. She raised an eyebrow at the figure standing in front of her as her pace slowed to a trot. She was immediately taken aback by the size of the alicorn. She was a tall alicorn herself, but this was way too tall. Unrealistically tall.

Looking around the room, Sunrise caught her reflection in a glass window. Well, that explained the height discrepancy. She looked like the young alicorn she was decades ago, no taller than your average pony. Although something else immediately caught her attention. The red streak in her mane and tail was replaced with a pink and violet streak. That could only mean that in this dream, she was…

“Twilight Sparkle!” Celestia’s voice boomed.

“What’s going on--”

“You failed!” Celestia cut her off, lowering her head down to her level. “Because of you, we are at war!”

Sunrise (Twilight?) took a step away, “Because of me?”

“Changeling soldiers have just marched into Acornage, and several ponies are dead. And it’s all YOUR fault!” Celestia pointed a hoof at her. “Ever since I sent you to Ponyville, I sent you on a mission to spread the magic of friendship. Now you’ve failed, and several ponies are dead Twilight.”

Sunrise took a few more steps back but felt her flank bump into something. The door. It was now locked. She couldn’t escape.

“I’m sorry, Twilight,” Celestia’s horn lit up, “But I can’t let you do any more damage.”

“No!” Sunrise realised what was happening. She tugged on the door with her own magic, but it wouldn’t budge. She quickly charged her horn and blasted against the door, but it didn’t budge. “Nonononono,” she turned and kicked the door with her hind legs, only to feel the impact vibrate every bone in her body. That door was rock solid, it wasn’t budging anytime soon.

Her attention was quickly diverted by the sound of Celestia’s magic, releasing a shot. Without even a second thought, she fired her own purple magic back at Celestia’s yellow beam. The two beams collided in midair and sent a loud explosive shockwave cascading outwards. “AAHHHH!” Sunrise screamed, covering her face at the impending blast.

She felt the shockwave pass over her and fade quickly. It became...cold? And the floor beneath her became squishy?

She took her hooves away from her face and opened her eyes. It was pitch black. She stared upwards to see a large full moon in the clear sky. The sky was probably clear because she was sitting on top of the cloud cover that seemingly stretched for miles in every direction. The only light being from the moon that shimmered off the velvety surface of the clouds.

Bringing herself to her hooves, Sunrise felt like she was back in her correct body. Or at least, she felt like the right height. She pulled her tail around with her magic to confirm that the red streak was back where it belonged.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this, Twilight Sparkle,” A familiar voice came from behind her.

Sunrise turned around to see a dark blue alicorn standing a few feet ahead of her, wings raised with a bold face. Her mane flowed with a similar dark blue colour, with added sparkles in it. She wore black regalia with a white moon symbol on the chest piece and crown.

“Luna?” Sunrise raised an eyebrow.

Luna simply nodded in response, keeping her face straight and her brow furrowed.

Sunrise scoffed, glancing away. “So the rumours are true. You are very much alive...” She pondered the implications for a moment before looking back at Luna, “But more to the point, what are you doing here? Why have you so foolishly come out of hiding?”

“I have been trying to reach you for several years now, Twilight Sparkle. Tonight I was finally successful,” Luna began to explain.

“My name is SUNRISE!” Sunrise insisted, slamming her hooves on the cloud, but Luna was unphased.

Luna simply raised an eyebrow. “For now,” she replied. “I am here to work on eradicating your parasitic hold on Twilight’s mind and body, so she can restore true harmony to Equestria.”

“Like hell you are,” Sunrise replied angrily, “This is MY body, and you’re gonna have to do much better than this to get rid of me.”

“On the contrary, you have already started,” Luna simply replied.

Sunrise tilted her head. “What do you mean?” She asked with more intrigue than anger.

“Daybreaker’s hold on you when she decided to turn Twilight into you has been absolute ever since that day. She sealed away unwanted memories and emotions she didn’t want you to have, making it difficult for me to access your dreams. I have been trying to find a way ever since that fateful day when she gave in to the same darkness I did over a thousand years ago, but you seemed to have helped me today.”

Sunrise withheld a groan, not liking where this was going. “Explain,” she demanded.

“You began to doubt Daybreaker and her decisions. This doubt was strong enough to weaken your hold on Twilight Sparkle’s mind. Just enough for me to slip in.”

Sunrise opened her mouth to reply...but she couldn’t find the words. She just sighed instead. “What do you want?” She spat, feeling defeated.

“Ultimately I want to vanquish you and Daybreaker from Twilight’s and my sisters' minds respectively, but I believe you, and I have something we can work together on,” Luna suggested.

“And what would that be?” Sunrise raised an eyebrow.

“We both know that if this arms race were to escalate and start the second Great War, the weapons of this era would cost millions if not billions of lives. I want to prevent that from happening by removing Daybreaker from power.”

Sunrise scoffed, seeing where this was going. “Okay, so we have the same goal, but that hardly means anything. You just said it yourself. Ultimately you want to kill me. Why should I follow you?”

“Because now I have access, I can now control your dreams,” Luna stated sternly. “I can make every sleeping moment for you a true nightmare. You only see what you see right now because this is what I’m telling your mind to see,” Luna cast her hoof over the clouds to punctuate her point. “And I have much more control over your sleeping body than you may think. What you just saw before this was simply one of Twilight’s nightmares. It only stopped because I stopped it.”

Sunrise shook her head. “You think you can intimidate me into your will? The Empress was able to show me the light and aid in my ascension. I’m sure she can vanquish you just as easy.”

“Perhaps,” Luna replied, almost smugly, “But do you know what happens when ponies claim they have seen Princess Luna in their dreams? Or show sympathies towards the old alicorn diarchy?”

Sunrise glanced away and muttered something in annoyance. Luna was right, anypony that admitted these things tended to get declared as having their minds 'poisoned’ and were...never heard from again…Sunrise had no intention of being added to that statistic.

“There’s also something else I will be capable of if Daybreaker attempts to enter your mind,” Luna added.

“Enough of this,” Sunrise looked back at Luna. “Where are you hiding?”

“Do you take me for a fool?” Luna retorted. “I will disclose that information if it is required.”

“Whatever,” Sunrise rolled her eyes, “I am not helping you. End of story.”

“And yet you already are,” Luna said cheerily, sarcastically smiling. “We have the same goal, so anything you do to work towards it will be helping me,” her smile retreated into a frown. “But since you are not being cordial, don’t expect any favours from me.” She spoke sternly, turning around to face away from Sunrise. “You will start experiencing Twilight’s emotions and their interpretations as nightmares. I was going to offer my assistance to you in dealing with these, but I think I’ll let you do it yourself for now.” Luna’s horn lit up, “See you later, Parasite. Enjoy your nightmares.”

Chapter 2: Thoughts

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“Your Majesty?”

“Hm?” Sunrise flicked her head around suddenly, the voice breaking her out of her trance. Blinking a few times, she realised that she was in her throne room, sitting on her throne, talking to somepony. Or rather, being spoken to by somepony...

“I just asked if you approved of this plan?” The pegasus stallion in uniform asked her, holding up some blueprints of a plan to join some existing rail lines together. “Governor Inkwell is chasing me for an answer today.”

Sunrise blinked as the memory flooded back to her… well, not so much a memory as she was only just told, but she only paid half an ear to the conversation. Her mind was elsewhere. “Tell her that if the Solar Empire can take up thirty percent of the slack, we can do the rest,” Sunrise instructed.

The stallion nodded, folding up the blueprints and tucking them under his wing before trotting away.

Sunrise just wanted to slam her face down on her desk and close her eyes. She learnt the hard way that Luna’s threat was not an empty one. But it would take more than a few school filly nightmares to break her, although she was feeling rough from running on nothing but caffeine.

“Your...next Abysinnian coffee, your Highness…” Sunrise’s assistant Frost spoke meekly, appearing in front of her desk, holding a tray with a white cup of coffee on it.

Sunrise simply took the new cup in her magic and replaced it with her previous cup. “Anything else on my schedule for today?” Sunrise asked.

“Nothing that I have seen, your Highness,” Frost answered.

“Good. Now leave, and see to it that I am not disturbed,” Sunrise commanded, pointing her hoof to the door.

“Yes, your Highness,” Frost sputtered, bowing as she did, then hastily trotting towards the door to leave immediately. Something told her Sunrise wasn’t in a good mood…

Sunrise rose from her desk seat, watching Frost as she left the room. When the door clicked shut, she used her magic to reach over and locked it. She turned to look at her throne, walking around her desk and trotting up the few steps to reach it, stopping just short of it. She quickly glanced over her shoulders just to make sure nopony else was there, then her horn lit up and shot out a beam of her red magic at the throne, engulfing it in its aura. The throne slowly sank down into the recess to reveal a hidden staircase.

Sunrise used her magic to grab her coffee before beginning the descent down the spiral staircase. The slight dusty scent on her nose reminded her that she would have to get around to doing some spring cleaning at some point. Normally her staff would do it, but since this was her secret room, it was entirely up to her. She used her magic to raise her throne back up to cover the entrance, blocking the natural light that came with it. Luckily her horn provided ample lighting for her to walk down the stairs.

At the bottom of the staircase, she used her magic to push through the old wooden door and flicked on the lights with her horn. Inside was pretty much a replica of what she had upstairs. Only this still resembled more of a war room, mainly because she hadn’t needed to touch it much ever since the end of the war. A giant map of the world still lay bare on the walls. Various equipment was scattered around the small room. At the back lay a large desk of equal size to her one upstairs. It still had notes and plans of a bygone era scattered around at the sides of it. A damp smell added onto the old dusty smell—something she would definitely have to address at some point.

Sunrise took her seat along with a sip of her coffee before setting the cup down on her desk. She leant back with a sigh. “Well… where do I start?” she said to herself, bringing up some lined paper and a pen from a drawer by the side of the desk.

She put her pen to the top of the paper… but nothing sprung to mind.

“Just plotting to overthrow the God-Empress of all Equestria,” Sunrise nervously chuckled, “No biggie, right?” Realising that she was talking to herself, she preoccupied her mouth with more coffee.

She released a heaved sigh, realising the mammoth task she had set herself. She looked over at the map, particularly eyeing up the continent of Griffonia. Since it hadn’t been updated since the days of the war, it still had all the old territories' borders marked out on it. She would have to correct that. “Ferdinand Dawnclaw…” Her hoof rubbed against her chin as she thought about the old griffon. She opened the metal drawers underneath her desk, making a metallic shunk as she opened them fully. She skimmed through the files until she pulled out a photo of the albino griffon, albeit an old one. He was a much older griffon now. His bright red eyes staring into the picture said a lot about the griffon, and they really stood out amongst his white feathers and fur. “You turned seventy years old this year. It must be time for your retirement soon…” Sunrise tried to think of a way she could use this to her advantage. “There must be other griffons keen on your throne...but who?” She levitated her pen up to the side of her head and started tapping it against her temple as she thought.

She levitated another marker pen up, pulling the lid off, and started laying down red ink on the map. “The old Republic probably still has some of their sympathisers left…” the pen lowered itself down to another piece of the map, “And Aquilia had a successful revolution until you crushed it…” she recalled, circling the country in red ink before lowering it down even further. “I’m sure New Mareland is eager to be back under pony rule too,” she mused, circling the country.

She dropped the marker on the desk in place and let out another sigh. “So many possibilities…” she rested her head on top of her forehooves on her desk. “But I wouldn’t know where to start…” she groaned as she rubbed her forehead. "And I'm talking to myself again," she identified, releasing a sigh. “I need help...but there’s nopony I trust other than Flash. And I can’t exactly go undercover…” She closed her eyes while resting her head on her forehooves, pondering the situation...

Sunrise blinked. She wasn't sure where she was, but it was a dark room. She could hear faint murmurs of conversation around them. She was about to light her horn up to find out where she was, but then it dawned on her. Soft lights in the ceiling. Rows upon rows of seats that got higher between each level, all facing towards a giant screen at the end of the room. She was standing in a movie theatre.

Glancing around, she saw a few ponies scattered about in the seats. The theatre was relatively empty, but it was clear several ponies were waiting for a movie to start. The way the ponies materialised out of thin air gave Sunrise the reassurance that she was dreaming.

What she felt strangely drawn to was a group of five ponies sitting on a row of seats only a few steps away from her. Sunrise had already clocked that she was dreaming, but these ponies still had what seemed like an unnatural level of light coming off them, as if something was telling her to talk to them.

She took a few steps and closed the distance between them. She recognised these ponies from somewhere, but she couldn't put her hoof on where. Nevertheless, something told her that she needed to speak to them.

As she neared them, she was met with an almost synchronised glare from all of them. Whatever it was, they didn't seem happy to see her. She found it a strangely pleasant change from the ponies that normally cowered in the sight of the Grand Inquisitor.

"Uhh, what's she doin' here?" An orange mare whispered to another, but loud enough for Sunrise to hear.

"I don't know…" Replied a blue pegasus with a mane that contained every shade of the rainbow.

"I must say you have some nerve to even attempt to speak to us," a white-coated unicorn with a curled purple mane replied elegantly but with force, then flicked her head to look away.

"I don't--"

"Don't wanna hear," the blue pegasus interrupted Sunrise, waving a hoof at her in a dismissive manner. "Get lost."

The pink mare sitting in the seat nearest the aisle suddenly raised her head, stretching her neck to meet Sunrise at eye level all the while still remaining in her chair. She resembled something more akin to a pink giraffe now. She simply glared into Sunrise’s eyes and shook her head menacingly.

Sunrise took a step back, trying her best to ignore the creepy (but strangely familiar) antics of the pink earth pony mare. She wasn’t exactly sure what to do next. Something was telling her that these five mares had something to do with her problem, but it sure sounded like they didn’t want to talk to her.


Sunrise twisted her head in the direction up the aisle and saw Luna sitting on one of the end seats right at the back. She was tapping her hoof on the free seat next to her.

Not getting any better ideas, Sunrise slowly began ascending the steps. She took a glance back at the mares as she did, but only got another stern look from the pink earth pony mare. Her hoof pointed at Sunrise then back at her face repeatedly.

Sunrise put it to the back of her mind and took her seat next to Luna. It probably made sense for them to sit at the end, seeing as the seating didn’t exactly have eight-foot-tall alicorns in mind. “What’s this all about?” She demanded.

“Shhh,” Luna hushed her, holding a hoof to her mouth.

Sunrise raised an eyebrow before switching her attention to the movie screen lighting up in front of her, beginning to start. She still had no idea why they were in a movie theatre. Hell, even just knowing what movie they were watching would be nice. Well, it looked like she was about to get an answer anyway.

The movie depicted a fictional scenario about King Grover the Sixth surviving Ferdinand Dawnclaw’s overthrow of the Griffonian Empire and returning in the future to reclaim it. The plot was terrible, the acting was sub-par, the special effects looked like a foal drew them with a crayon, and Sunrise could swear some of the griffon characters were ponies dressed up as griffons rather than merely finding griffon actors.

Sunrise hadn’t been to see one of these new-fangled movies for a while, and this wasn’t exactly blowing her mind with its quality. The film eventually faded to black with a predictable ending of Grover and his fiance living happily ever after.

“I should’ve taken you to the theatre reproduction instead,” Luna commented. “Or bought you the book.”

“Why are we here, anyway?” Sunrise insisted as the credits rolled.

“I was hoping it would inspire you,” Luna answered, then rolled her eyes, knowing how well that went. “Did your friends help you at all?”

“My…” Sunrise raised an eyebrow, “...friends? Oh,” She craned her neck forward to peer over the seats in front of her “You mean those five random ponies?”

“They were Twilight Sparkle’s best friends,” Luna informed forcefully, “And since you didn’t part on amicable terms, it sounds like they weren’t much help.”

Sunrise rested back down in her seat. “I broke a lot of ties in my service to the Empress.” She turned to face Luna, “Are you trying to tell me to get back in contact with these ponies?”

“Not yet,” Luna shook her head, then rubbed her chin. “This is going to take more work than I thought…”

Sunrise chuffed, “You think I even stand a chance of getting them to work with me after what I did? Besides, anypony who catches wind of what I'm trying to do will report me to SMILE in an instant.”

“You can cut down the tree of friendship, but removing its roots so it doesn’t grow back is much harder. Something you taught, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna winked, “Amici de cinrar.”

“Oh please don’t start talking in Old Ponish riddles,” Sunrise huffed, almost wanting to pull her own ears off her head. “You give me enough headaches as it is.”

“Then perhaps you best start doing some research,” Luna replied, “You used to love reading, Twilight Sparkle. I suggest you rekindle the hobby.”

Sunrise did her best to withhold a groan, but a little still escaped her lips. “But I am not Twilight,” She insisted as if she had stated this fact a million times before. Knowing that it seemed to be falling on deaf ears, she almost felt like she was wasting her time saying it.

“Not right now, you’re not,” Luna corrected. “But now that you are experiencing Twilight’s memories and emotions, you’re probably starting to understand… you need help. You need friends.”

Sunrise scoffed, flicking her head, “No I don’t need help,” She denied.

Luna simply glared and raised an eyebrow in response. “Are you sure about that?”

“Fine,” Sunrise huffed, glancing away. “I don’t need YOUR help,” she rephrased.

“Don’t need, or don’t want?” Luna pressed.

“ENOUGH!” Sunrise smacked her hoof on the chair in front of her. “Stop talking in riddles! I’m not helping you, so stop with these mind tricks you’re trying to play.”

“If that’s what you wish,” Luna agreed, nodding. “I know it won’t change your mind, but if you listened to me, I might actually consider stopping your nightmares… speaking of which,” Luna’s horn lit up in its blue aura. “Fair warning, this nightmare normally made Twilight scream when she woke up…”

Before Sunrise could even get a word in, the world around her faded away and began to transition into the next dream...or rather, nightmare…

“AHHH!” Sunrise screamed, her head shooting up. The nightmare was over. She took in her surroundings and tried to calm her heavy breathing at the same time. She was in her planning room, right where she…

“Ugh,” She cursed herself, realising that she fell asleep at her desk. She glanced over to the clock, feeling her muscles ache as she craned her body over. She didn’t fall asleep in a very healthy position, and now she was paying the price for it. The clock read four in the morning, but she wasn’t sure if that was accurate as it had been there since the Great War. No doubt it was out of sync, maybe even a flat battery.

The memories of the nightmare quickly came flooding back to her. Sunrise quickly extended her wings, feeling over them with a hoof. “Still there…” she shuddered and released a sigh. Her breathing was getting under control, but her heart was still racing. “That moon-butted bitch…” Sunrise muttered, “Thinking she can terrorise me into submission… I’ll show her...”

She took some pieces of information that she needed, along with her long-gone-cold cup of coffee, and slowly raised from her chair. She cringed as her muscles ached from the stupid sleeping position she had chosen, but she hoped a bit of movement would free them up. She began walking back up the spiral staircase, horn lighting the way. As she reached the top, she was about to use her horn to open up the cellar door hidden under her throne to return to her throne room. But as she reached it, she heard the sound of voices and hoofsteps in her throne room. “Oh no…” she was clearly down there a lot longer than she thought she was. Perhaps it was her staff ponies looking for her.

Lighting up her horn, she instead teleported directly to her quarters. She still had lots of information to digest, but it would have to wait...

Chapter 3: Truth or Taradiddle?

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Being the ruler of a country had its ups and downs. For Sunrise, now was definitely one of those downs. She had spent the entire day at an air force base in the most western parts of the Crystal Empire. A day where she was fed plenty of facts and statistics about an up and coming aircraft development. While she perfectly understood the lingo, she hardly found the visit a very efficient use of her time. But all in a day's work for the Grand Inquisitor. If anything, at least her visit would perhaps motivate a few of the ponies.

And now, here she was. Sitting in the cold, headphones across her head resting on her ears, looking up to the sky. At least this part was reasonably exciting. The culmination of the research she was inspecting; a new type of jet propulsion fitted to an aircraft.

Maybe she would be enjoying it more if her mind wasn’t elsewhere. A certain Princess of the Night had taken up residence in her head rent-free. And no matter what she tried, she couldn’t find a way to shift the thoughts. Luna wasn’t making it easier either. Her lack of sleep had made her irritable, and she found herself drinking enough coffee that would probably kill most mortal ponies. She was sure it wouldn’t be long before she took up other habits to curb her stress.

“Thirty seconds,” A stallion's voice called over her headset.

Sunrise focused her eyes on the clear sky above her, looking out into the distance. She knew the plane would be flying high and it would be small, so she was effectively looking for a speck of dust flying through the air at incredibly high speed.

She counted down the time in her head, all the while listening to the radio chatter going on from several ponies on the headset quoting various telemetry statistics. Into the final few seconds, she actually managed to spot the plane. But not because of its silhouette, but rather the bright purple flame shooting out the back of the aircraft. It was a small flame, but it burned brightly. The plane soared high above their heads.

And then came the shockwave.

Even with the headphones on, Sunrise felt the blast bounce through her eardrums. The vibrations rattled her bones. She may have jumped a little, but she remained calm. Much like everypony else working around.

“For a split second, we just about hit mach one point one on that run," a stallion's voice of one of the scientists involved with the project called over the headset. “Nice job, Eagle. Contact tower and bring her in to land.”

“Roger control,” Another voice of the pilot responded over the headset. His speech was incredibly garbled by static, but understandable. “I wouldn’t take ‘er any faster, ol’ girl was rattlin’ like crazy.”

“We weren’t planning on pushing the airframe any further, but your comments are noted, Eagle,” The scientist noted.

Believing that she had heard everything that needed to be heard, Sunrise removed her headset and stood from her seat. She trotted along to the large building by the side of the hangers, pushing through one of the doors and walking down the bleak hallway into a large room with loads of screens with various data readouts on them. The ponies operating the stations didn’t even notice her walk in. The mixed smell of the machines and coffee was a well-known sign of ponies at work.

At the back of the room on an elevated oak desk sat a middle-aged earth pony stallion, with faded red fur and an ever-thinning hairline of what was probably once a vibrant and full copper coloured mane. He trotted down the few steps from his elevated desk where he could see everything going on, towards Sunrise. “What do you think?” He asked.

“...I think it works,” Sunrise answered monotonously, looking over at the telemetry on the screens.

The stallion chuffed and nodded, “It works very well. And that isn’t anywhere near our limit. We reckon with even further refined crystals and the right magic, we could get an increase in yield of at least fifty percent. Our current drawback is the airframe. The Hunter simply wasn’t designed to go this fast. I hope the Solar Air Force is taking our designs into mind.”

“I assure you they are,” Sunrise replied, somewhat forcefully, looking back at the stallion. “I have been told their next-generation fighter will be capable of sustaining at least mach two.”

“W-wow,” The stallion’s eyes widened, “Well, we’ll be ready for that.”

“I expect you to be,” Sunrise replied, turning around. “We’re done here. Thank you, Calima,” She stated, trotting away.

“O-oh,” Calima stammered. “T-thank you, Your Highness. Did our inspection...go...well?” He trailed off, realising that Sunrise wasn’t hanging around to answer him.

Sunrise made her way through the base to find her guards waiting at its entrance. They escorted her out to a long black car with the flags of the Solar and Crystal Empire on either side above the headlights. One of her guards opened the door for Sunrise, where she climbed in and made herself comfortable in the plush beige interior. Good thing the car was designed with fully grown alicorns in mind, otherwise she might be poking her horn through the roof right now.

“Take me back to the Crystal Palace,” She informed her guards in the front.

“Right away, your Majesty,” The guard in the driver's seat answered, starting the engine.

Sunrise rolled her privacy filter up as the car began to pull away, blocking the sound and sight from the guards in the front. When it fully extended, she finally released a sigh, free to be alone with her thoughts. “Another day…” She rested her head back against the headrest of her seat. She actually found the subtle vibrations of the smooth ride somewhat relaxing. She almost felt like she could close her eyes and take a nap for the ride back.

But despite feeling tired, her mind showed no signs of slowing down. Luna’s words hung heavy on her mind. And as much as she was adamant she wasn’t going to help Luna, she was starting to run out of options. Luna was right, she needed more allies before she could even think about taking on Daybreaker. But how was she supposed to do that? Everypony saw her as the tyrant underling of the Empress. She wasn’t exactly going to garner support with her popularity among the Equestrian population.

Not to mention there was also something else Luna said last night that stuck in her mind.

“You used to love reading, Twilight Sparkle. I suggest you rekindle the hobby.”

Now that she had time to think it over… was this Luna trying to drop a hint? Sunrise’s natural instinct told her this was a trap. Luna’s ultimate goal was to kill her and Daybreaker after all, she said it herself. Why should she trust her?

On the other hoof, Sunrise was drawing a blank with any better ideas. Perhaps following Luna’s suggestion would be a good idea, at least to move her forward. Maybe she could even spot any traps the ex-Princess set before they sprung. Or better yet, convince Luna that she had fallen for them and manipulate Luna into helping her instead. A smirk crossed Sunrise’s face as she couldn’t help but admire the thought of Luna getting a taste of her own medicine.

She used her magic to slide the privacy filter back down. “I’ve changed my mind. Drop me off at the Crystal Empire Royal Library instead,” She instructed.

“As you wish, your Majesty,” The stallion answered with a nod.

Sunrise slid the privacy filter back up and rested her head against the window, staring off into the distance to pass the time.

After the long drive, Sunrise saw the Crystal Library through the tinted glass of the car. She lowered her privacy screen as the car stopped just outside the door. “Leave me here, I’ll walk back,” She instructed, opening the door with her magic.

“Understood, your Majesty,” One of the guard's ponies replied.

Sunrise closed the door behind her and heard the engine rev as the car pulled away. She trotted up the steps towards the library. Given how late it was, she wasn't surprised to see the closed sign on the door. Nevertheless, she pushed through with her magic into the library. The lights were on dimly, but just enough to illuminate the large long rows of shelves stacked with plenty of books right up to the ceiling. The fact that everything was made of crystal helped amplify the small amount of light, making even a dimly lit room seem bright.

An elderly mare stood behind a desk backed against the wall, packing a few things. "I'm sorry but we're now closed you have to come back tomoooo-ooh, Sunrise Sparkle your Highness!" The mare quickly realised who she was speaking to and stopped what she was doing to bow. "How can I be of service?"

Sunrise gracefully approached the desk, stopping right in front of it. "I need access to your restricted section immediately."

"O-oh, of course," The mare stammered, ducking her head under the desk. It sounded like she was shuffling a few items around looking for something before she popped back up with a key in her mouth, dropping it on the desk in front of her. "I know I don't need to remind you, but the restricted section should not be accessed without good reason as it contains material...that...may...not…" her sentence got stuck halfway out her throat when she saw the alicorn glaring at her, eyebrow raised, filling her body with fear as she began to tremble.

"Imjustdoingmyjob," the mare panicked as her legs buckled, sending her cowering on the floor with her hooves over her eyes. "Pleasedontkillme."

Sunrise craned her neck over the desk to look at the shivering mare, coiled up like a foal in the fetal position beneath her for a few seconds before taking the key in her magic and trotting off into the library.

She walked over to the back wall, where several long banners lined with the red and yellow colours of the Solar Empire hung from the ceiling and draped down to the floor. She stopped short of one of them and took a good look around the library. Of course, since it was closing, nopony was around, but she made sure to be careful. Confirming nopony could see her, she used her magic to pull back one of the banners to reveal a door. Dusty from decades of disuse, but still had a vibrant bronze colour since being covered up all the time kept it from fading.

She inserted the key into the lock and cast a spell onto the lock at the same time, causing the doorframe to light up in the red glow of her magic and it opened by itself, the red magic faded away.

Sunrise entered the pitch-black corridor, reapplying the banner and closing the door behind her to seal off the last piece of light. She lit her horn up to guide her way down the dusty old corridor, barely big enough for two ponies, let alone a fully grown alicorn. When she reached the other end, she pushed through another door.

Flicking a light switch revealed a large circular room at the other end of the corridor, with a big round table in the middle. The table still had the emblem of the old Crystal Empire before the Solar Empire took over. The room had no windows, the only thing lining it was a completely circular bookshelf that ran all along the wall, with stacks of books taller than most houses. Scattered around the floor were various piles of books where the Empire obviously gave up trying to organise what was essentially to them forbidden and confiscated material.

"Now where to start…" Sunrise said to herself sarcastically. None of these books had been organised since they were dumped in here. It was going to be a grind, but just staring at it wasn’t going to get the job done. She inhaled the stale air of old books and got started...

Finding no useful information in it, Sunrise set the book aside in the ‘read’ pile… the ever-growing pile…

The room had no clocks or windows in it, but Sunrise could tell that it was late. She had been here for hours, mindlessly going through all these books. She disregarded a few by their titles, but she honestly had no idea what she was looking for. She was going off some cryptic clue given by a pony she considered her enemy. Sunrise always thought the enemy of her enemy was her friend, but Luna was starting to make her question that theory.

She grabbed the next book in the pile with her magic, but as she did, she felt a strange magical feedback through her horn. Fearing that it was a trap, she immediately cut off her magic. The book dropped to the ground, landing with a thump. She jumped to her hooves, landing on the table, wings spread and hooves spaced apart in a powerful stance, expecting whatever trap she triggered to spring…

...But nothing happened…

She remained cautious for a few more seconds, keeping her head on a swivel looking around the room. But it seemed that nothing was happening. She used her wings and hopped off the table, looking back at the book she just dropped. There was definitely some magic at play in that book, but nothing malicious presented itself. Perhaps in her tiredness, she misread the signals…

She used her hooves to pick up the book and examined it further, seeing the emblem of the Griffonian Empire at the top of its spine. Then she saw the title; Amici De Cinrar

“Friendship Reincarnate?” Sunrise spoke the Old Ponish translation, raising an eyebrow. She recalled Luna saying those words in her dream last night. Perhaps this was the hint that she was trying to drop.

Nevertheless, Sunrise was still cautious about Luna’s true intentions. For all she knew, that magic she felt could still be a trap yet to trigger. She cautiously picked the book up using her hooves and flicked through the pages, finding them all to be blank.

She had no idea what it meant yet, but she was confident she found what she was supposed to find. This was the only book that, after hours of search, gave her some magical feedback. She tucked the book under her left wing and returned out of the hidden section of the library. She headed back up to the reception desk where the mare that was working there had obviously gone home for the night. Sunrise simply helped herself to a canvas bag she found amongst the various items behind the desk to put her book in and left the library herself.

Being only a short walk, Sunrise opted to walk back to her castle. That and since it was late, nopony was around to bother her. The sun had all but set, and most ponies had already turned in for the evening. She encountered a few guards that felt graced by her presence, but otherwise, she had a quiet walk back.

She made her way through to her living quarters, going up to her bedroom and locking the door behind her. At least if she passed out from work this time, she would be in her own bedroom. She used her magic to rest the book on her desk then removed all her regalia before sitting down to examine the book further.

“Now what exactly are you…?” Sunrise’s horn lit up softly around the book. She wasn't trying to do anything, she was simply probing it to try and get some more information.

"This magic...I've seen it before…" Sunrise rubbed her chin, "But where?"

The more Sunrise tried to recall the memory, she found herself feeling more of a headache. She knew what it was, it was on the tip of her tongue. She just couldn't put her hoof on it.

She closed her eyes, trying harder to recall the memory. "I...remember…” She semi-lied to herself. She HAD seen this magic before, she just couldn’t remember where. It was as if the memory had been buried deep within her mind. But it was too familiar to ignore.

She cut off her magic, letting the book drop to the desk. "What are you hiding?" She said out loud, closing her eyes once again to help her imagine the process of the spell she was about to perform to reverse the Changeling magic.

The red aura of her magic engulfed the book, then a small circle of green fire flashed around it and disappeared almost as quickly as it came. The book once again dropped onto her desk, looking exactly the same, but this time with 'Tagebuch' written in gold letters along the top of the front cover.

"Herzlandish?" Sunrise raised an eyebrow, picking up the book and flicking to the first page.

What she found was that the pages were now populated with text, meaning her theory was correct. Someone had used Changeling magic to hide the true contents of the book. Sunrise didn't speak the Herzland language, but it helped narrow down some possibilities despite the language barrier. If it was Changeling magic concealing it, does this mean the book belonged to a Changeling? Was it his or her journal? Although the emblem of the Griffonian Empire was still there on the spine. Perhaps it was a gift from Griffonia meant for a Changeling? Or it belonged to a Griffon that had a Changeling perform this spell on it for them? The possibilities were endless.

But although she didn't speak the language, there was one name she spotted that she did recognise, printed at the top of the first page.

Grover VI.

"No…" Sunrise's eyes widened in disbelief, "It can't be?" She started flicking through the pages. Not reading, as she couldn't read the language anyway, but looking at the dates that were written in the top right corner of every page. Grover was only four years old when he was supposedly murdered in one thousand and seven, a conspiracy that Sunrise and the Solar Empire heavily bought into. But looking at this book, it seems they may have been wrong all this time. There were entries in this book that went into the ten-ten's and ten-twenties.

"You're alive?" Sunrise stood from her desk. "But that means…" her hoof rubbed her chin, she began to think about the implications. "This changes everything!" She slammed her hoof on the desk.

Igniting her horn, she immediately teleported herself and the book to her secret planning room hidden beneath her throne. Perhaps in excitement, or perhaps the result of excessive caffeine consumption that she needed to get out of her system. She fumbled around for a second before finding the light switch.

“If the rightful heir to the Griffonian Empire is alive, this might just be the spark I need to ignite a civil war on the continent,” Sunrise spoke to herself, staring at the map on her wall. “Now whereabouts are you hidi--...”

Her sentence stopped short and her gaze cast down to the book. She used her magic to rapidly flick through the pages, flicking all the way to the next blank page near the end of the book. “If this magic is what I think it is…” she bought out a pen with her magic. “Then I could just ask you…”

She lowered the pen onto the top page...and held it there. Almost close enough to touch.

“Ha...haha...hahaha…” She simply deactivated her magic, letting the pen fall in place. She flung herself backwards into her chair, letting her laughter run its course. “Oh, nice try Luna! You almost had me there, but this is obviously a trap!” She slammed the book shut.

Her right eye twitched as other ideas ran through her mind, “Or SMILE are onto me, and this is their idea to get evidence against me… Ugh!” She flung the book away in frustration, slamming it against the wall with a loud thud. “I don’t need this…” She lowered her head onto her forehooves resting on the desk. “Think, Sunrise, think…”

She twisted her head, looking over at the book lying on the floor, opened to a random page on impact. She raised an eyebrow, getting somewhat of an inspiration from the book.

“Assuming that book is correct…” Sunrise bought a blue marker pen over to her map, drawing a circle over Griffenheim. “If I were young Grover… Or I suppose it would’ve been his guardian at that point… What would I have done?” She pondered, bringing another red marker pen in with her magic. Luckily the map she was looking at still had all the old territories mapped out since it was from a date long before the Griffonian Empire took over the continent. “To the north was the Republic. You likely wouldn’t have gone that way, since the Republic wanted to overthrow the monarchy anyway…” She put a red cross over the southern border of the Republic, but then noticed something else on the map. “But also before that was the Strawberry Dutchy…” she leant in as she thought, “At the time, it was ruled by your aunt, Gabriella Eagleclaw. It would have made sense to your guardian to send you there for your safety,” Sunrise drew a blue arrow from Griffenheim point up towards The Dutchy’s capital of Readewetter.

“But from there…” Sunrise rubbed her chin with her hoof, trying to work out what would have happened next. At that point, she discovered the flaw in her reasoning. “All this territory eventually got absorbed into the Empire anyway. There’s no way you could have slipped under the radar…” Sunrise groaned, rubbing her forehead in frustration. “Okay…” she picked up a dusty old eraser at the end of her desk and wiped the map clean. “Let’s think about this a different way. Instead of trying to work out where he might have gone, let's rule out the places he couldn’t have gone.”

With that in mind, she lifted the red marker up again. “The Republic, obviously,” she put a red cross through it, then moved down the map. “And Aquileia also had a republican revolution, it’s unlikely he would’ve been welcomed there with open arms either.” She crossed out the general area of Aquileia. “Wingbardy’s relationship with the Empire would also make that a no-go for him too. Which would also block the way to New Mareland…” She struck through all the countries she noted, gritting her teeth and almost snapping the pen in her magic. She ended up just throwing it against the map in frustration. “And I’ve just crossed off half the map and boxed in the Empire. Great detective work, Sunrise!” She berated herself, slamming her head on the table, mostly ignoring the pain it caused.

She couldn’t think of any other way it could have played out. She believed that he died during Ferdinand Dawnclaw’s coup in the Griffonian Empire. If anything, this only proved she was right.

She levitated the book back over to herself and started flicking through the pages again. It was possible that he was killed at a later date, but the dates in the book go well into the ten-twenties and a few entries even in ten-thirty. If she was to trust this book, then he was most certainly still alive. But her faith in this book was still questionable at best.

She looked back at the map, looking around the Griffonian Empire and the sections she hadn’t crossed off. Which only led to one conclusion. “North-east,” Sunrise spoke, standing up. “You must have gone through the mountains of Bronzhill, maybe into Firtree. Or somewhere around there. Those places were so rural and isolated at the time, you probably kept a low profile easily enough. But they were absorbed into the River Federation during the mid ten-tens, which…”

Sunrise paused for a moment. What she was suggesting to herself was crazy. “You must be hiding in the River Federation. If they’re hiding you and you’re discovered, it could be enough to trigger an all-out war between them… Would you even be welcome there? Given the history between the Empire and the Federation…”

White it was all starting to make a little bit of sense in her head, there was still an elephant in the room. No matter how deeply she looked at the evidence, it all came back to the same question. She levitated the book back up to her eye level. “Do I trust this diary? Or is this a trap and I’m taking the bait?”

She closed the book with a sigh, not being able to answer that right now. She stood up, preparing to leave. She wanted to believe that she was right and the book was a trap, set up by Luna as a sort of red herring. But she was desperate for leads, and getting nowhere. She had to at least investigate the possibility that she wasn’t being tricked. A thought that she would have to sleep on…

Sunrise suddenly stood in a dimly lit room, the lights flickering above her head. She recognised this room… Or at least, sort of recognised it. Moving her legs, they had familiar shortness to them that she felt in one of her previous dreams. She was back in a younger Twilight Sparkle’s body. Of course, it was another dream. Her attention was drawn away by the vibrations she felt rattle through the room combined with the muffled sound of explosions outside. It suddenly dawned on her; this was the Canterlot war room.

She took a few steps forward, towards a large map on a rectangular table in the middle of the room. The flickering lights made it hard to make out the specifics on it, but she could clearly see the Changeling front lines closing in on central Equestria, almost within striking distance of Canterlot. The rumbles she felt beneath her hooves were no doubt bombs falling on the city.

“Do I…” Sunrise picked up a few of the little wooden pieces used to represent troop movements on the map with her magic. “Why am I here?”

“Good question.”

The voice startled Sunrise, causing her to drop the pieces in place. She whipped herself around to see five mares standing in front of her… The same five mares from one of her previous dreams.

“Who are you?” Sunrise demanded.

“Now that’s a question ya need t’ ask y’self!” The orange earth pony mare stepped forward. “Do ya even know who YOU are anymore, Twi?”

“AJ’s right, the Twilight we know would never side with a monster like Daybreaker!” The blue pegasus with a rainbow mane added, hovering in the air.

“Monster…” Sunrise’s voice quivered, stomping her hoof, “That ‘Monster’ is protecting you! You should feel grateful!” She defended, feeling the anger rising in her voice. She could feel her horn lighting involuntarily but ignored it.

“Tell that to all the Thestrals that have died because Daybreaker says they’ve been ‘tainted by the darkness’ ” The blue pegasus retorted, “They were ready to defend Equestria ‘till the very end like everypony else, and how were they repaid? By being burned alive. Some LOYAL friend you turned out to be!”

“It’s for the good of Equestria!” Sunrise defended, gritting her teeth. “If the Empress wasn’t here, we’d all be nothing but a pile of dust right now.”

“You’re wrong, Twilight,” The white unicorn spoke up. “Equestria was doing just as well, if not better before that pathetic excuse for a goddess took over Celestia.”

Sunrise felt her eyes twitch, knowing what was going on. “My. Name. Is. SUNRISE!” She shouted angrily.

The energy buildup in her horn finally decided to discharge. Sunrise closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, letting the full wrath of her magic cascade from her horn and strike against the five mares standing in front of her. Her ears folded at the eardrum-bursting noise, even more so than the explosions that were falling above them. She grunted as she passed the apex of her magical release, taking a moment to catch her breath. She opened her eyes, feeling the tingling sensation in her horn beginning to dissipate.

The five mares that were standing in front of her were now gone, and there was a perfectly circular hole in the far wall where she was pointing. What was strange, however, was where it led. It led onto a dark night sky, covered with clouds. Much like her first encounter with Luna.

Sunrise hesitantly trotted towards the hole in the wall, poking her head out to look around. All around was nothing but a bed of clouds illuminated by the moonlight, much like she expected it to be. She took a step out, feeling the cloud under her hoof. But another strange sensation struck her as he put her hoof through the barrier. It felt like it was extending. She walked a little further through, only to feel the same thing happen to the rest of her body, then return to her normal (or rather, Twilight’s normal) form as she stepped back. Obviously, she was being turned back into her normal body when she stepped over. She made some quick steps to compensate for the strange limb imbalance as she crossed over, wanting to get back into her body as quick as she could. After completely crossing over, she looked back at where she was walking from, paying particular attention to the way the circle she made breached in. She didn’t know how to describe it, but the rest of the building she was just standing in simply didn’t exist. All she could see in every direction was the bed of clouds. It was like her magic opened a portal to another dream.

She grabbed her long flowing mane and dragged it around into her vision to confirm that she was back in her correct body. She took the solid red stripe where Twilight’s pink and purple stripe would be as confirmation. A moment later, the ‘portal’ suddenly shrunk and disappeared with an almost comical pop. Behind it stood Luna, standing tall with her wings spread. She looked somewhat disappointed, but otherwise exactly how Sunrise expected her to be.

Sunrise simply shook her head at Luna. “You know, I don’t think these ponies you keep trying to introduce me to see eye to eye with me.”

“They wouldn’t,” Luna answered, “But you’re going to need them eventually. I just want you to be prepared.”

Sunrise scoffed, “And here we go again,” She rolled her eyes, turning away. “You talk about cooperating and working together, but you made a huge mistake. You told me your goal right at the beginning. Do you really think I will work with somepony whose ultimate goal is to kill me?”

Luna shook her head. “I don’t expect you to trust me, but it will benefit both of us if we work together.”

“And here’s the same old snagging point,” Sunrise threw her hoof out half-heartedly. She didn’t care what Luna had to say anymore, she was just fed up with the broken record. “You need my help, but I don’t trust you. We’re at an impasse, and there’s nothing we can do. So how long are we gonna keep doing this for?”

“All eternity if necessary,” Luna replied strongly.

“Pfft,” Sunrise chuffed, shaking her head. “Well, we are alicorns. So get comfy, because that might take a while,” Sunrise let herself fall backwards onto the cloud, putting her forehooves behind her head.

“I’m sorry you see it that way…” Luna glanced away, “We might have eternity, but does Equestria? Does the world?”

“Don’t you DARE try and guilt trip me into this!” Sunrise demanded.

Luna looked back and raised an eyebrow, taking a few steps closer to Sunrise. “You got one fact the wrong way around, however. It’s YOU that needs MY help.”

Sunrise chuckled, “Last time I checked, you’re the one in my brain right now trying to convince me to help you.”

“Only because it’s a more strategic advantage to work with you than fight you,” Luna replied. “No matter how… difficult you’re making it…”

“Well maybe if you weren’t constantly trying to trick me, I wouldn’t be so hesitant,” Sunrise spat, continuing to stare up into the black sky. “I know it was you that planted that book there. I know you have some sort of trap set with it. So I didn’t take the bait. If you think you can outsmart me like that so easily, think again!” Sunrise spoke defiantly, untucking her left-wing and folding in all her feathers aside from the main middle one.

Luna tilted her head at the gesture, ignoring it. “I merely made sure the book ended up back in Equestria. The fact you found it was half coincidence and half the fact you went actively looking for it.” Luna rubbed her chin with a hoof. “I suppose you could argue that I pointed you in its direction…”

Sunrise tilted her head to look at Luna standing beside her. “Back in Equestria? What is that book anyway? I worked out its Grovers journal, but what’s that got to do with anything? I believe that young Grover was killed by Ferdinand Dawnclaw during the coup, so what’s to say that you haven’t forged it?”

Luna smiled, “If you haven’t figured out what that book is, then you need to press deeper into the memories of Twilight Sparkle that Daybreaker locked away from you.” Luna’s horn lit up, “Perhaps, this will help…”

“Wait…” Sunrise called, but it was too late. Luna’s magic landed on her head. She winced and braced for the pain, but… none came. Instead, it was more of a pins and needles sensation in her head. She felt like she was exploring certain parts of her brain that she didn’t even know to exist. Luna’s magic acted like some sort of map, guiding her to memories that she didn’t even know she had. “Another pony… Who is that? Sunset Shimmer? She used the book before?”

Luna nodded, “Not that exact book, but the same magic,” She explained, withdrawing her magic.

“Magic? The replication magic? But… where does it go? Who’s reading the other book?” Sunrise pressed, feeling the sensation in her head fade away.

Luna frowned, “I suppose you’ll need to go deeper into Twilight’s memories to find out,” She replied assertively. “WITHOUT my help. That’s the way you wanted it anyway, isn’t it?”

Sunrise scoffed, “You mean you just want me to drill more holes through my last line of defence because it gives you an easier time killing me.”

“If I wanted you dead, you would already be dead,” Luna stated angrily. “As I said, it’s more advantageous for both of us for you to be alive and in control at the moment.”

“Pfft,” Sunrise batted her hoof, laughing. “All you can do is lecture me in my dreams. Your threats are meaningless.”

“Then perhaps you underestimate me,” Luna replied, her horn lighting up. A smile almost crept through onto her lips, but she managed to keep a straight face. “Perhaps a demonstration is in order…”

“AAH!” Sunrise’s forehooves shot up to her head, gripping it tightly as a throbbing migraine suddenly shot through her head. At the same time, she started seeing strange colours flowing through her vision. She clamped her eyes shut to stop it, but it didn’t stop the migraines. It felt like her brain was being torn apart. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” She screamed at Luna, feeling her muscles spasm in pain.

“As I told you, I can break your hold on Twilight Sparkle’s mind and body whenever I want to. This will, unfortunately, result in your death, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

“YOU’RE...BLUFFING…!” Sunrise growled through gritted teeth, rolling around on the floor with her forehooves clamped over her head.

“Am I?” Luna asked, the light of the blue aura around her horn becoming more intense.

Sunrise growled and gasped, feeling like she was being dragged out of her own skin. “NO...NO...STOP!” She tried to scream through gritted teeth.

As quickly as it started, Luna simply withdrew her magic. Her horn’s aura fading away into nothing. Sunrise opened her eyes, gasping several times to catch her breath before going limp on the floor. She rolled across to look at Luna.

Luna lowered her head to meet Sunrise’s tired, pained eyes with her own glare, face scowling. “I was enjoying that. You have no idea how much I wanted to go all the way and bring Twilight back right now. You’re just lucky you’re more useful to me alive at the moment,” Luna spat menacingly, placing her hoof under Sunrise’s chin and lifting her head up. “Are we clear on who's helping who now?”

Sunrise met Luna’s glare for several moments, trying to conjure a response. But she gritted her teeth trying to think of something without submitting to Luna’s pressure. But her brain was too busy recovering from what just happened to think of anything.

Luna removed her hoof from Sunrise’s chin, letting her head drop to the cloud. “Thankfully, I am a patient mare. I’ll give you some time to decide.” Luna took a few steps back as Sunrise bought herself up into a sitting position, giving the back of her head a rub as she was still recovering from the pain.

“But still, I have a piece of advice,” Luna’s horn lit up and she began turning dissolving into the ether from her hooves up, transitioning the dream. “Twilight Sparkle never did things on her own. She always had her friends to help her out. My advice to you would be the very same thing my sister and Twilight herself would say; make some friends.”

When Luna fully disappeared, Sunrise felt like she wanted to faceplant the floor again. “Easier said than done…” she said to herself. Luna had given her plenty to think about, and all she could do was sleep on it…

But for now, she simply sighed and face-planted the cloud, burying her head from the embarrassment that Luna just got the drop on her with her own speciality; magic… She would have to think of some pretty good excuses for this one...

Chapter 4: Discoveries

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Sunrise trotted onto the balcony from her bedroom, looking up at the clear night sky. It was still surprisingly warm for midnight, not that she was complaining. The palace grounds beneath her were pretty much deserted save for a few guards. She leant against the guardrail, taking in the view of the crystal city from her rooftop. The street lights lit up the streets in a uniform manner.

She groaned slightly and lifted a forehoof to her right temple, feeling a headache coming on. The medicine she took earlier must be wearing off. It was late anyway, she could pop another pill before bed. As she pulled her hoof back, she felt the trembling return, seeing her forehoof shaking in front of her.

She sighed again and used her magic to pop open a compartment of the regalia around her neck, bringing up a carton of cigarettes and a lighter. Every logical part of her mind told her that smoking wouldn’t help her situation, but she overheard one of her guards mention that smoking took the jitters off, and she couldn’t resist trying it.

“Stupid crescent-assed old hag…” Sunrise continued to rattle off several obscenities about Luna while fiddling around with the lighter in her magic, eventually managing to light the cigarette and take a draw of the warm smoke.

Her mind drifted back to Luna. It had been two weeks now since their last encounter. Sunrise was standing her ground, but if she was being honest, she wasn’t sure how much more she could take. She wasn’t getting any restful sleep, and she was turning to other substances to comfort her. Her daily consumption of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine was probably enough to kill a mortal pony, and she was on the verge of looking for other drugs to help. She was pretty sure she could hear whispers about her beginning to form behind her back. Her shortened temper and attention span were surely noticeable by now. She could recall several times today where she lashed out at somepony. Not an unusual sight in itself, but she took note of how it was happening more often.

She tried to focus on the job at hoof, but there was no subtle way of putting it; she was struggling. She needed help. But she had nopony to turn to. She had resorted to getting a Ponish to Herzlandish dictionary and attempting to translate the book that was Grover's journal word-for-word. A tedious and mind-numbing task. It was working, but it was taking time. Time she wasn’t sure she had. She hadn’t even got anything of use out of it yet. Hell, she didn’t even know if she trusted it. She still took it with a pinch of salt, convinced that this was something in Luna’s master plan.

It was progress, but at the rate it was going… It would take her years, if not decades. She hated to admit it, but Luna was right. She needed help. But where would she get it? She heard rumours of double-agents in SMILE, perhaps there was a good place to start.

...But not tonight. She threw the finished butt of her cigarette over the balcony and trotted back into her living quarters to get ready for bed. For yet another futile attempt at getting some rest...

Sunrise arrived in a familiar setting, but she wasn’t expecting to be there. She was standing on thick cloud cover as far as the eye could see, full moon shining bright and illuminating the silver fluff under her hooves.

“Long time no see,” Sunrise snapped half-angrily half-sarcastically. She spun around on the spot, seeing Luna standing beside a few steps behind her. She looked serious but didn’t put on the tall intimidating display she normally wore. Which only made Sunrise think… If she had interrupted her regularly scheduled nightmare, what was this about?

“I know I said I’m a patient mare, but an opportunity has arisen that I can’t ignore,” Luna explained. She placed a forehoof one step forward, taking a firm stance. “I need you to do something tomorrow.”

“Fuck off,” Sunrise bluntly refused, turning to face away from Luna. “My regular nightmare please, why don’t you throw in a dash of PTSD while you’re at it,” She snapped. She couldn’t believe she actually preferred that option.

Luna huffed, remaining silent for a long time before releasing an exasperated sigh. “I hate stooping so low as to resort to blackmail, but you are leaving me with no other choice,” She stated, stepping forward.

“Just try it,” Sunrise spat back, raising an eyebrow. “If you think you can beat me,” Her horn began to glow in the red aura of her magic.

“Do you really think you’re in control here?” Luna questioned, expending a lot of effort to not say that smugly. Her own horn lit up in the blue aura of her magic.

Sunrise suddenly felt a shock around her horn and instinctively lurched her head back. “What the--” Her magic slowly fizzled away into nothing.

“The dream is my domain. I can command it as effortlessly as if it were an extension of my own body. You are outmatched, Sunrise Sparkle,” Luna spoke menacingly.

“No matter,” Sunrise suddenly spun around to face Luna, quickly pouncing up with her hooves at the same time. “I can take you on with my bare hoo--” Sunrise grunted as she twirled face-first into a magical shield, falling to her side on the cloud.

“You were saying?” Luna raised an eyebrow. She couldn’t help but act a little bit smug at that one.

“Aaaaugh!” Sunrise growled, then twisted her head and spat up at Luna, only to have her saliva plucked mid-flight by Luna’s magic and redirected at her own face, wincing as it landed on her left cheek.

“So this is it then?” Sunrise pulled herself up onto her haunches, giving her cheek a quick rub. “You’re going to kill me and free Twilight Sparkle?”

Luna shook her head. “I stated many times in our last encounter that I need you alive for now.”

“Then what do you intend to do? Give me more scary nightmares?” Sunrise asked sarcastically.

“Worse,” Luna replied, “I don’t think you realise how much control I have over your body when you’re asleep and dreaming…”

“Pfft,” Sunrise rolled her eyes, “What can you do to my SLEEPING body?” She asked bluntly. What could Luna do with her when she was asleep?

“Hmmm…” Luna bought a hoof to her chin, glancing away from Sunrise as she thought. “There’s so much I could do…” She felt a smug creep onto her face at the thought. “How about not being able to wake up to audio cues?”

Sunrise chuffed, almost laughing. “Right, so I wake up a little later. Do you really plan on minor inconveniencing me to death?” She asked sarcastically.

“Well if you were late for something, something important, what would happen?” Luna asked, raising an eyebrow. “My old castle staff would most certainly come looking for me if I were late for a meeting. Would yours?”

“Well...I…” Sunrise suddenly felt a tingle down her spine as she began to imagine where this was leading. “I suppose they would…”

“Do you trust them, Sunrise?” Luna asked again.

“Trust them to do what?” Sunrise raised an eyebrow.

“To keep a secret,” Luna elaborated, “Even an extremely powerful one that would make front-page news.”

“Y--…” Sunrise wanted to say yes, but the logical part of her brain kicked in. As much as she wanted to believe, she knew the answer would be no. The Solar Empire has ruled through fear, power and intimidation ever since its inception. She had no doubt that there was a long list of ponies wanting to get their revenge, even if it was just for a petty media scandal.

“Thought not,” Luna continued, “So what do you think would happen when one of your servants comes to find you, their fearsome and powerful leader, overslept?”

Sunrise shrugged, “So I overslept. It happens. Do you really think that would tarnish my reputation enough?”

“Probably not,” Luna agreed, then a smirk crawled onto her face. “But what if it keeps happening? And what if one day, that servant comes to check on you and finds that you’ve wet the bed like a little filly?”

Sunrise chuckled, “Okay, I don’t think you can make me do that.”

“Want to test that theory?” Luna asked, her horn igniting.

Sunrise gritted her teeth, feeling her mouth cringe as she recalled what happened last time she tested one of Luna’s theories. “No need, I believe you,” She admitted, feeling like she wanted to pound her head through the clouds after that submission.

“I’m glad,” The magic around Luna’s horn dissipated. “I can also use my magic to make you believe that your nightmares are real. You’ll become delusional.”

“I think I’m already delusional,” Sunrise groaned, her eyelids flattening.

“And when Daybreaker hears that her most loyal and powerful Grand Inquisitor has started hallucinating and wetting the bed, what do you think would happen?”

Sunrise couldn’t hold back a cringe at the thought. She would most definitely get ‘replaced’. She groaned and laid herself down onto her belly, resting her chin on her forehooves.

“Need I say more?” Luna taunted.

Sunrise huffed, flicking her head to look away as she thought about it. Not a single part of her trusted Luna. But at the same time, they were sort of working towards the same goal. Would Luna really be doing this if there wasn’t another way? It was clear that any progress she made wouldn’t come fast enough. And Luna wasn’t giving her much of a choice…

“...State your business…” Sunrise grumbled, looking up at Luna and bringing herself back up onto her haunches.

Luna smiled, “I’m glad you’re coming around,” She began, taking a step back. “I’ve been informed by other ponies I’ve been in contact with that a project is scheduled to commence tomorrow.”

“What kind of project?” Sunrise questioned.

“Daybreaker has ordered that the Castle of the Two Sisters is to be searched and gutted for any magical texts or artefacts in the name of the Empire. I doubt she will find anything of use, but we can still use this to our advantage…”

“So what do you want me to do?” Sunrise asked.

Luna turned to look at Sunrise. “The project begins tomorrow morning. Her own chief Marshal, Sunset Shimmer, is scheduled to be in charge. But I believe I can manipulate her dreams to make sure she is in no mental or physical state to work. Daybreaker will then call you as a backup.”

Sunrise nodded, raising an eyebrow. “So what do you want me to do exactly while I’m there?”

Luna smirked, “That part is simple. Daybreaker will give you very specific instructions. All you have to do is disobey her.”

“...Huh?” Sunrise raised her head back, looking very confused.

“It will make more sense once you get there,” Luna added, sitting down in front of Sunrise.

Sunrise felt her right eye twitch. “So after this whole song and dance I finally agree, but you still talk in riddles?!" She snapped angrily.

"Of course," Luna replied, rubbing her chin with her hoof. "I wouldn't want to give you too much information. Otherwise, you might try and use it against me."

Sunrise quietly huffed under her breath. That was EXACTLY what she was planning. But she couldn't deny she wasn't expecting such tactics from Luna. Being over a millennia old, she had no doubt that Luna had seen such tricks before.

Luna stood to her hooves. "Since I need you in peak condition tomorrow, I suppose I should let you get a good night's rest…" she turned and quickly flicked her head around to look away from Sunrise.

Sunrise tilted her neck over to catch a glimpse at the cheeky grin on Luna's face. It almost looked like she was trying to suppress laughter. "And how exactly do you plan on doing that?"

Luna kept as straight a face as she could and looked back at Sunrise. "Let's just say this was one of Twilight Sparkle's FAVOURITE dreams," she emphasized with a cheeky wink. Her horn began to glow and the dream began to fade. Luna started turning into a mirage. "Sweet dreams, Sunrise Sparkle…"

Sunrise wanted to protest before she realised that she was also fading, transitioning into whatever Luna had planned for her…

Sunrise felt pressure on her left side. She was...lying down? A soft fabric surface. Was she in bed?

She slowly opened her eyes and blinked a few times, still feeling a little disoriented from the sudden dream transition. If anything, at least she was still in the Crystal Castle. All the crystal decor proved that. But it wasn’t her room. At least that was proof that it was a dream.

She twitched her limbs a little, once again readjusting to their shortness compared to what she was used to. Luna did say that this was one of Twilight Sparkle’s favourite dreams, so it only made sense that she was in Twilight’s body. Or rather, her own body when she was younger.

“Hmm…” she hummed quietly, bringing her forehoof to rub her eyes. As she did, she felt something odd on her foreleg. As she rubbed her eyes, she felt some form of fabric under her hoof.

After rubbing her eyes, she pulled her hoof away to see what it was. She was wearing a sock. A white sock, travelling all the way up her leg and becoming translucent about an inch near the top, with a little blue bow tied around the top.

“Huh?” Sunrise rolled over, realising that while she was lying in bed, she wasn’t under the covers. She was wearing four of these socks on each of her legs. Coupled with a translucent nightgown of the same colour.

She went to push herself up, but her left forehoof failed to find a surface to push from. Glancing to her left, she realised that she was on the far side of the bed. Why would she be there? The only she could think of was if there was somepony…

“Hey, Twily…”

Sunrise turned her head to her right. Laying beside her was… her Chief Marshal. Except not him. Well, not the same one that she knew anyway. He was much younger, corresponding with Twilight’s approximate age at the rough time of the body Sunrise was currently in.

Younger and… attractive? Flash’s mane and tail were a full blue, gone of the grey streaks that otherwise plagued it in the real world. His face unscared, wrinkle-free and well-shaven. And his body…

Sunrise gasped, feeling her ears fold back instinctively. She suddenly copped why she was wearing the lingerie and realised what this dream was about. “Oh…”

Flash emitted a low chuckle. “I think somepony likes what she sees…” He rolled onto his back and threw out his left-wing, expertly tucking it under Sunrise.

Sunrise released an uncharacteristic eep as she was lifted by Flash’s powerful wing muscles and rolled on top of flash. Her hooves instinctively took her weight, but perhaps that wasn’t for the best. She ended up on top of Flash, their noses almost touching. She gazed into his lidded light blue eyes, feeling her own getting increasingly smaller as she felt a blush begin to form across her nose.

“Somepony’s oddly tense…” Flash spoke slow and confidently, lifting his right forehoof and pressing into Sunrise’s chest. “Wanna talk about it?” He asked as he began massaging her body with his hooves.

Sunrise looked down at his hoof on her chest, feeling her heartbeat racing against the pressure of his hoof. No doubt he could feel it too. Her eyes trailed off, taking in the eye candy that was Flash’s toned torso. She bit her lip as conflicting thoughts went through her head. It was clearly one of THOSE dreams, not what she was expecting from Luna. But at the same time, she couldn’t deny the sight in front of her was very therapeutic…

“Or we could let our actions do the talking,” Flash continued, suddenly craning his neck upwards and quickly planting hips square on Sunrise’s.

“Mmmph!--” Sunrise felt her body tense up, her wings quickly extended to their maximum length with a loud pomf. She couldn’t help but fixate her gaze on Flash’s now-closed eyes. Her own eyes were stuck wide open in the shock of what was happening. She felt the heat rising exponentially in her cheeks (amongst other places…) The shock was still catching up with her, but she wasn’t hating it…

Flash suddenly wrapped his forelegs around her barrel and used his body weight to twist Sunrise around in a roll. Without even breaking the kiss, he seamlessly switched positions with Sunrise. She was now laying on her back with him standing over her. He slowly lowered himself down, eventually letting his weight partially rest on her as he pressed his body into hers.

Sunrise felt his tongue make itself known on her lips, but she kept her mouth shut to prevent it from entering. Was this really happening? Was he really going for it? She could feel his forehooves exploring parts of her body that should really earn him a swift slap around the face. But as much as it made Sunrise cringe to admit, she hadn’t been this intimate with somepony in… well, ever. Even once all the wars were over and the resistance had been mostly silenced, things still never really stopped in the Solar Empire. Slowed down maybe, but Sunrise was always busy. She was never given a chance to humour the idea of a relationship. But had it been a possibility, she couldn’t deny that Flash Sentry was one fine example of the stallion. He even aged gracefully from what she had seen back in the real world. But to actually do it…

...Oh to hell with it. It had been ages, and she deserved to fantasize every once in a while.

Sunrise felt her throat involuntarily release a small moan as she opened her mouth, allowing access to Flash’s tongue which she greeted with her own. Their tongues danced around each other to a symphony of heavy breathing and occasional moans escaping their throats almost in perfect harmony.

Their lips eventually parted with a heavy breath, a string of saliva dangling between the two of them. Sunrise looked up to meet his eyes, but Flash was already moving on, lowering his head and placing his lips on Sunrise’s neck. Her eyes widened initially, then slowly lidded as she felt the soothing sensation of Flash’s teeth gently massaging her skin. He really wasn’t hanging around.

Sunrise hated to admit it, but… she liked it. She loved it. She wanted more. Lots more. She let her head fall backwards, her face bright red like a tomato. She felt herself smiling like an over-excited schoolfilly, but she didn’t care. “Fuck you, Luna,” She whispered up at the ceiling before igniting her horn. She could sense that Flash was having difficulty with a certain activity. A little magical guidance wouldn’t go amiss…

“Your majesty?”

Sunrise exhaled, blinking a few times to get her bearings. She was back in her own bedroom, the sunlight just beginning to creep through her curtains.

“Your majesty?” The voice said again.

Sunrise quickly realised it was coming from her intercom. She tried to roll over but felt something blocking her from doing so. Her own wing. It was fully extended and didn’t want to retract. Sunrise bit her lower lip as she recalled the subject of her dream, feeling the heat returning to her cheeks at the memories.

She shimmied along her bed until she was perched on the edge, giving her better access to her nightstand. She reached across with her hoof to the device and pressed the button. “What is it?” She asked.

“I’ve got Empress Daybreaker on the line for you.”

Sunrise’s eyes widened, immediately recalling the plan Luna spoke of. So far it was all going how Luna predicted. “Put her through,” Sunrise ordered.

The speaker made a short crackle at Sunrise’s command. “My loyal Inquisitor. Did I wake you early?” A normal-pitched but still slightly maniacal voice sounded at the other end.

“No, your majesty,” Sunrise promptly responded. “How can I serve you?”

“It’s short notice, but I need you to fill in for an assignment in Ponyville. Please leave immediately, and stop in Canterlot on your way through.”

“Right away, your Majesty,” Sunrise acknowledged. A crackle from the device indicated that the line had just been cut.

Sunrise quickly pressed a button on the intercom. “Yes, your highness?” The timid voice of her assistant answered.

“Have my train ready within the hour, Frost. Stops are Canterlot then Ponyville.”

“Of course, your Highness,” Frost acknowledged, followed by the crackling of the line disconnecting.

Sunrise rolled off the end of her bed onto her hooves, quickly trotting towards her bathroom to get ready for this assignment, all the while keeping Luna’s cryptic plan in mind. She still had no idea what she was looking for, but Luna said that it would be obvious when she saw it. Despite being hesitant at first, she was pleasantly surprised that Luna kept her end of the deal. She hadn’t slept that well in weeks, and she was feeling very refreshed and energized.

She opened her bathroom door only to get stopped by her wings bumping the doorway. Of course, they were still fully spread… At least she gave herself plenty of time to scratch that itch…

As her train screeched to a stop in the Canterlot main station, Sunrise was greeted by a detachment of guard ponies who opened her carriage doors. They saluted sharply as she gracefully departed the train onto the platform, the shoes she wore on her hooves making a slight metallic clink as she stepped across the platform.

The guards quickly escorted her from the station towards Canterlot castle. Sunrise glanced over her shoulder briefly to make sure the train was obeying her orders and staying put. Despite knowing the route like the back of her hoof, Sunrise was escorted through the castle by a couple of guard ponies. At least they were keeping up a reasonable pace. It wasn’t like Sunrise had any new decor to admire, it had hardly changed ever since the Solar Empire ascended. The tall walls were lined with red banners adorning the emblem of the Solar Empire. Several guards ponies made their way on various errands throughout the castle's hallways alongside several more civilian staff. It felt pretty much like her own castle back in the Crystal Empire, just without all the crystal.

As she approached the large golden door leading into Daybreakers throne room, she was halted by another guard standing by the door. He operated a wall-mounted intercom system briefly before nodding at Sunrise, giving her the go-ahead to enter.

Using her magic, Daybreaker entered the throne room. She could almost feel the temperature radiating out of the room. Mostly from the pyrotechnic features leading up to Daybreakers throne. Pillars of flame rising up to the ceiling laid in a perfect row leading up to the throne. The ambient crackling of the fire was all Sunrise could otherwise hear. She trotted gently but assertively across the orange carpet leading up to the throne. She could see Daybreaker sitting atop her throne, eyes down in some paperwork. Her regalia matched very similarly to Sunrise’s. It was a deep orange all over from the shoes she was wearing on her hooves up to her chest piece, that extended along her back to encompass the top of her wings. Her crown not only encircled the top of her head but also wrapped around her ears with the centre-piece being a bright red ruby.

Sunrise decided to simply keep walking until she caught Daybreakers attention, her head turning to view Sunrise approaching. Sunrise stopped as her own eyes met the glowing amber iris of Daybreakers eyes. She stopped in her tracks and prepared to bow. “Your Majesty--”

“Sunrise!” Daybreaker responded in an oddly cheerful voice. Sunrise blinked as she watched Daybreaker prance off her throne, dropping whatever she was working on using her wings to glide through the air. Her mane left graceful trails of flames as she slid through the air.

Her hooves tapped down on the floor mere inches away from Sunrise, the metallic bottom of her dark orange shoes making a clunk as they landed. “It’s always a pleasure to see my most competent and loyal grand inquisitor.”

Sunrise half-smiled, feeling slightly awkward at Daybreakers description of her. Competent, definitely. But loyal… She was about to test that.

Daybreakers horn suddenly lit up. “You’re just in time for tea!” Out of one of the flaming pillars, a pristine white teapot with matching teacups flew out in the red aura of Daybreakers magic. “Come sit down,” Daybreaker suddenly turned and began walking to a small coffee table with a few chairs dotted around it, the teapot and teacups following her.

Sunrise followed Daybreaker and took a seat on the plush dining chairs adorned with orange velvet. Daybreaker poured tea into the two teacups she carried in her magic before setting the teapot down on a red heat resistant mat on top of the dark oak wood coffee table.

Sunrise carefully levitated the teacup up to her lips, feeling the heat radiating from it even though it was still inches from her face. Luckily she had been familiar with how Daybreaker liked her tea for some time and knew a spell to cool it down while it was held in her magic.

“It’s been far too long since we’ve been able to catch up like this,” Daybreaker rambled, levitating her own teacup to her lips. “We should schedule a proper afternoon tea some time to have a real catch up.”

“Absolutely,” Sunrise feigned interested, “But I believe I’m here for your instructions.”

“Oh of course,” Daybreaker acknowledged, taking a generous slurp of her tea. Despite having seen her drink it like this for years, it still made Sunrise cringe internally. She could still see the liquid breaking into bubbles on the surface from it boiling. While it should be normal by now, she had been secretly questioning Daybreakers sanity for a while. She noticed that she seemed to be hoofing towards the edge and it seemed that she was on the verge of going off the deep end.

“So, the assignment I need you to take over is in Ponyville. It’s pretty mundane work, but somepony’s gotta do it. I’d do it myself, but I’ve already got something booked in…”

Sunrise watched the corners of Daybreakers lips slowly creep upwards before it slowly parted her lips into a grin. Eventually, she couldn’t help but start laughing. “Sorry, sorry,” She set the teacup down. “I’ve recently been told about something quite entertaining. Another misguided group of foolish ponies that want to see my power taken from me. But the way those delusional ponies are trying to do it is with some sort of ritual to the sun and moon.” Daybreaker couldn’t help but cackle at the ridiculousness of the idea. “And I’ve been bored recently, so I’ve decided I’m gonna watch their silly little song and dance from the shadows before I let my holy fire judge them for their crimes.”

At the last part of that sentence, Sunrise swore she could see small specks of fire spitting from Daybreakers mouth. Her amber eyes temporarily glowed more intensely for a brief moment before settling back down.

“Anyway, where was I?... Oh right,” Daybreaker leant back against her chair, picking up her teacup and collecting from where she left off. “The task is quite simple. The old Castle of the Two Sisters. We’re tearing it down. I’m quite certain that everything of value has already been taken from that place, but we just need to be absolutely certain before we level it. So the Solar Youth will be combing it out.”

Daybreaker very much predicted the flat expression Sunrise was returning to her. “I know, I know, I dragged you all the way from the Crystal Empire to foalsit. I originally had Sunset Shimmer doing it, but she’s...not well…”

Just like Luna said. “Is Sunset alright?” Sunrise asked with genuine concern.

“Pffft,” Daybreaker rolled her eyes, “Sounds like she’s just making excuses to get out of foalsitting duty if you ask me. When she called me she could barely speak, babbling like a little foal. Something about a nightmare and her worst fears come true, waaaah, WAAAAAH!” Daybreaker imitated the foalish cries while slamming her hoof on the coffee table.

Sunrise’s eyes widened, she almost flinched backwards at Daybreakers outburst. Despite being sarcastic, she could still be terrifying. She saw a crack in the wood of the coffee table from where Daybreakers hoof landed.

“Either way, I have just as much faith in you, Sunrise. You might even inspire them, make them even more dedicated to our cause! You never know with these kids, you might inspire the next great field marshal or admiral,” Daybreaker rattled on, rolling her hoof with her words.

Now there’s a thought. The gears in Sunrise’s head began turning, drawing inspiration for another plan in her mind. Although she still had some things to iron out, it might work as a backup plan. “I’ll depart immediately, they must be waiting,” Sunrise acknowledged, quickly finishing her tea before setting the mug back down and standing to her hooves.

“Of course,” Daybreaker agreed, also standing with Sunrise.

Sunrise bowed quickly before turning to make her leave.

“Oh, and Sunrise?”

Sunrise stopped in her tracks, turning on the spot to face back to Daybreaker. “Yes, my Empress?”

“I forgot to mention there’s this other magical artefact there that I need you to be careful of,” Daybreaker explained. Her tone sounded a lot more serious than before.

“Another artefact?” Sunrise raised an eyebrow.

Daybreaker nodded, “It’s quite dangerous, and I haven’t figured out how to control it yet. Once we do, we’ll decide what to do with it. But for now, I’ve had it sealed off. I just need you to make sure that you keep the kids safe, the last thing we want is parents up in arms about their little brats being injured or killed.”

“I understand perfectly,” Sunrise acknowledged, nodding. “I’ll make sure we stay safe.”

“I knew you would,” Daybreaker smiled, “Now carry on, I’ll catch up with you later.”

Sunrise resumed her journey out of the castle and back to her train. It didn’t take a genius to cross-reference Luna’s and Daybreaker’s words. Luna was obviously after whatever this artefact was. But if even Daybreaker wouldn’t step near it… just how dangerous was this thing? How was Luna expecting Sunrise to get it? Given the amount of time that place had spent abandoned, Sunrise found it surprising that it was still there. Perhaps it was so dangerous that it killed anypony that tried to take it…

Whatever it was, Sunrise would soon find out…

As her train doors opened on the platform in Ponyville, Sunrise stepped onto it and immediately found herself being greeted by a middle-aged earth pony stallion with a rust-coat and a dark blonde mane. He wore a grey shirt with an orange and yellow striped neckerchief around his neck. The trademark uniform of the Solar Youth.

“Your Majesty,” The stallion bowed on the platform, “The names’ Sandwood, I’m the leader of the Ponyville Solar Youth,” he introduced himself.

“At ease,” Sunrise replied. The stallion responded by bringing himself back up onto his hooves. “We’re running late, we should get moving.”

“Oh, y-yeah,” Sandwood quickly turned, walking down the platform with Sunrise flanking him. “Ya’ll have no idea how much it means for ya to come on such short notice, your Highness. I’ve been lookin’ for somepony that could give the students a proper teachin’ about magic. Seein’ that I’m an Earth Pony and all, I would have struggled with that. I’m glad ya stepped in.”

“It’s for the benefit of the nation,” Sunrise chimed off generically, her mind occupied elsewhere.

She was led to an area by the side of the train station where all the students were waiting, all dressed in the same grey uniform with the orange and yellow striped neckerchiefs. Of course, they were all very excited to see her. They all carried backpacks full of gear and camping equipment, along with some wagons full of other equipment. Some of the wagons were empty, obviously intending to bring back whatever they might find.

“My students, I’m pleased to present to ya’ll, Grand Inquisitor Sunrise Sparkle!” Sandwood extended a hoof to point at Sunrise. The students proceeded to bow towards Sunrise. “Since most of the things we're likely to find will be all ‘bout magic, she’s here to provide some much-needed expertise into it all. Ya won’t find anypony better on the continent.”

“I believe we’re behind schedule, Sandwood?” Sunrise reminded him, raising an eyebrow. As much as she loved hearing her praises being sung, she was very keen to get started.

“O-oh!” Sandwood bought out a pocket watch to check the time. “Ya right!” He looked back up at his students. “Now quickly, find yerselves a partner and buddy up two-by-two. The Everfree Forest can be a mighty dangerous place at times, so keep each other safe.”

While he sounded timid, Sunrise observed his students appeared to follow his instructions well. They couldn’t be any older than teenagers, a mix of middle and high schoolers. She walked around the lined formation of the young ponies with Sandwood.

“Now follow me!” Sandwood instructed, walking forward with Sunrise beside him. A symphony of hoofsteps followed behind them.

“Your students are well-disciplined,” Sunrise commented.

“Only the best this side of Canterlot if I do say so myself,” Sandwood replied with a wink.

Sunrise took in the sight as she walked the streets of Ponyville. Technology was still yet to fully catch up with this backwater little town. The locals seemed to have a mixed reaction to her visit. Some seemed delighted, while others scolded as she walked past. Something she really should have addressed, but she had way too much on her mind to care about such petty things right now. Off on the borders of town stood a tall structure made out of varying shades of blue crystal. A castle gifted to Sunset Shimmer, thanking her for her service at the end of the Great War. The castle had red banners with the emblem of the Solar Empire adorned under its windows, along with the Solar Empire flag flying atop its star-shaped spire. Two guard ponies in Solar Empire uniforms stood outside the main door. Sunrise was tempted to go see Sunset, but now wasn’t the time… maybe if she found time…

The group continued to march on to the Everfree Forest. Thankfully a sunny day shone through what would otherwise be a very dark forest, the light flickering through the leaves on tree branches. Aside from their melodic beat of their hoofsteps, Sunrise could hear the wildlife all around them. Various bugs creaking and birds chirping away. Fairly unthreatening, but she had been warned of the wildlife here before being unnatural and aggressive. She kept her wits about her.

The walk was long but uneventful, and soon enough the old Castle of the Two Sisters was in sight. For a building that was to be demolished, it hardly looked like it needed a demolition team at all. It looked like somepony could knock it down with their bare hooves. The roof was almost completely nonexistent save for a few areas, and the walls had more holes than windows. The dilapidated brickwork had let nature overrun it and it was probably creeping into the castle's interior by now. She could feel a headache coming on, another sign that a memory she wasn’t meant to have was trying to surface. But she clenched her jaw and did her best to ignore it.

Off to her right, Sunrise’s eyes were caught by something that stood out like a sore hoof. A no entry cross sign stuck on a post next to some stone stairs carved into the face of a cliff, leading down to a large open area. Underneath the no entry sign on the same pole was a yellow danger triangle. “What’s down there?” Sunrise asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Uhh… Wish I could tell ya myself your Highness, but that place has been closed off for years. Probably a dangerous animal or something… I dunno, all I know is that the Solar Guard were pretty quick to seal it off after the Great War started going in Equestria’s favour. And I ain’t the type of pony to question it.”

“I see,” Sunrise watched where she was going up to the castle, a bridge crossing over one of the ravines leading up to its main entrance. Something told her that whatever she was looking for was down the stairs in that clearing. But there was no way for her to sneak into it like this. Not without the risk of being seen by somepony. Plus she had no doubt that ponies would be looking for her throughout the day. She would have to wait until night…

She mentally sighed, preparing herself for a day of foalsitting. Maybe she wouldn’t have minded it so much if it weren’t for the bigger problems she had clouding her mind…

Sunrise slugged another book into the ever-growing pile of items that would be sent back to the Empire for further study. At least her visit wasn’t entirely wasteful. There was plenty of publications here from a time before the Solar Empire. Such blasphemous texts had no place in the Empire, so she had to make sure they made their way back to the right ponies in SMILE to ensure they were either correctly censored or destroyed. Luckily these teenagers weren’t even born back then, so Sunrise had no problem convincing them that they were simply myths and legends of an ancient time.

She took in her surroundings, the old building really showing its age. It’s a wonder that nopony was injured by falling brickwork during this visit. The night was setting in and given the building's age, none of the old-fashioned oil-fired lights worked. Sunrise was using her horn to light the way. The only natural light she got was in the uncovered sections of the castle, where the light from the moon shone brightly.

She made her way through the ancient hallways towards the exit, turning her horn off as she stepped out to not catch anyponys attention. Off in the distance, she could see the tents the students had made illuminated by the gentle orange glow of a campfire. Several ponies sat around it roasting marshmallows and conversing, but too far in the distance for Sunrise to hear what they were talking about.

Satisfied that there was nopony nearby to spot her, Sunrise trotted off at a reasonable pace back along the route they walked earlier. She wasn’t hanging around, but she also made sure not to run too fast in case somepony heard her hoofsteps and wondered why she was running.

Arriving at the clearing, Sunrise extended her wings and jumped off the edge, letting gravity pull her down into the ravine. She fluttered her wings just before touching down to take the weight off her landing, dampening the clack sound her hooves made when they touched down.

She looked around the area. A pretty bland clearing of dust and dirt. Nothing too special. Rocks of all shapes and sizes scattered around the edge. Just what was down here that warranted that sign?

Sunrise began walking forward, keeping her wits about her. Maybe Sandwood was right and a dangerous animal was living down here that she was about to disturb. She hoped that wasn’t the case, partly for her own safety, but mostly because that would mean a massive waste of her time. Not to mention a day worrying over nothing.

But as she walked forward, nothing obvious presented itself. She was half-tempted to ignite her horn to give herself more light but didn’t want to draw attention to herself. She just did her best using the natural light provided by the moon.

As she walked along towards the end of the ravine, she spotted a large oval opening on the side of the cliff. It wasn’t unusual to spot a cave in a place like this, but what she couldn’t ignore was the plastic strip curtain around it. Somepony didn’t want this to be found. Or it served as a warning to keep out.

Sunrise trotted towards it, stopping just short of the entrance. She double and triple checked all her surroundings to make sure nopony was watching her. She took a deep breath of the humid Everfree Forest air and turned back towards the entrance covered by the curtain. Her horn ignited in the red aura of her magic and she began gently caressing her magic over the curtain. Knowing that it could be a booby trap, she thoroughly probed the gate to make sure that she wasn’t going to trigger any spells. Luckily it all checked out. She wasn’t going to trigger any alarms or traps by going through. It seemed safe… But that sign definitely had a warning on it. Perhaps it was just a deterrent to stop somepony from finding it?

Feeling confident, Sunrise used her magic to create a divide in the solid black plastic curtains and stepped through, dropping her magic and hearing the plastic tap against itself as it fell back into place. But she wasn’t concentrating on that. She was more focused on the sight in front of her.

“A...tree?” Sunrise whispered to herself, raising an eyebrow. She was standing only a few meters away from what appeared to be a tree made out of crystal. The crystal was a similar shade of blue to the castle not too far away in Ponyville. Perhaps the two were connected somehow? It had grown very tall, at least thirty feet by Sunrise’s guess.

Sunrise groaned, feeling a headache coming on. But it was the familiar kind of headache. If what Luna told her was true, it was the feeling of Twilight Sparkle’s memories being suppressed. Daybreaker clearly didn’t want her to know about this.

“Did Luna really expect me to carry this thing to her?” Sunrise asked herself sarcastically. The logistics of that were well beyond a single pony. At a push, Sunrise might have been able to teleport it somewhere. But to get it any kind of distance intact would require several hops. It wasn’t something she could do discreetly.

But then again, if Luna knew it was a tree, she must have also known that trees were semi-permanent wherever they were planted. She wouldn’t expect Sunrise to move this by herself, surely?

Maybe she didn’t need to. Perhaps there was more to this than met the eye. Looking at the branches that extended out, they each housed a gem. Sunrise dismissed this when she first saw it, thinking it was part of the tree's design. But looking at it closer, she saw that it was holding the gems rather than housing them. Perhaps the gems were what Luna was after.

But before she could attempt taking them, Sunrise found herself distracted by the gem she spotted in the middle. A purple star-shaped gem. The spitting image of her cutie mark. Sunrise had to do a double-take, looking back and forth at her flank then back at the tree. Aside from the star on her cutie mark being yellow instead of purple, it was pretty much an exact copy. “What is this place?” Sunrise asked herself. She knew what it was, it was on the tip of her tongue. But the constant thumping headache whenever she tried to recall the memory stopped it from surfacing.

Not that it mattered. If she had to re-learn about this place, she would. It couldn’t be hard to do something she must have done before, right? Sunrise ignited her horn and wrapped her magic around the purple star gem in the middle.

The tree suddenly flashed white, startling Sunrise and causing her to jump back. Before she even had time to take in what just happened, she saw that the gems had all turned black and were releasing white contrails of magic.

“Oh no…” Sunrise’s eyes widened. Had she just triggered some kind of inbuilt security system?

She concentrated and fired off a magic beam at the tree, but it simply deflected off and slammed into the wall. Before she got a second chance, one of the white contrails grabbed her around her forelegs and pulled her into the air.

Sunrise gasped but quickly responded by forming a beam with her magic and attempted to slice through the contrails. Only to have her magic pass through them as if they were nothing. The remaining contrails began to wrap around her limbs and torso. “Nonononono…” Sunrise gritted her teeth. She was right all along. This must be a trap set by Luna. And she fell for it.

Her magic having no effect, she closed her eyes and concentrated. She could teleport away. Somewhere far enough away. The only place that immediately sprung to mind was inside the old castle. She concentrated hard, imagining one of the rooms and initiated the spell.

“AHH!” Sunrise screamed as she felt a shock on the back of her neck the same time she initiated the spell. She felt the teleportation complete as she stumbled to her hooves, but she felt a burning sensation on the back of her neck as if she had just been electrocuted. And the sensation wasn’t going away. The tree must have hit her with something just before she teleported away.

She opened her eyes while she caught her breath, feeling the stone floor beneath her hooves and seeing the dilapidated building that she was standing in earlier. She made it.

But the pain didn’t stop. She felt it spreading, a numbness slowly creeping through her body. “No…” she stumbled forward, “No, no NO!” She ran forward. She didn’t have a clue what she was doing, but instinct told her that she had to keep moving.

But she only made it a few steps before she began to stumble. Whatever the tree did to her, she could feel a numbness spreading through her body. It was currently travelling along her spine and making its way through her limbs.

With no sensory feedback, Sunrise found running very difficult and she soon tripped, falling onto the cold stone floor and sliding a few feet along it. “Augh, no!” She moaned, gasping for breath. She could feel a tightness in her chest, making it hard to breathe.

She twisted her neck around, looking down her body. She raised her left foreleg up as she felt the numbness creeping along it, keeping her wide eyes locked on it. “No…” Her eyes only grew wider and her pupils shrank as the stark reality of her situation began to dawn on her. Was she...dying?

“No no no…” She panicked, watching her foreleg drop to the floor as the numbness caught up with it. That was it. She couldn’t feel her body.

Out of options, Sunrise rested her head on the floor and concentrated, her horn ignited as she attempted another teleportation spell. This time her intended destination was the Canterlot Royal Hospital. But the distance between here and there was extremely far even under the best circumstances, and her magic was extremely stressed as it was. She thought about launching the spell half-baked but decided not to. She could end up anywhere between here and there if she screwed it up.

Out of options, and with nopony coming to rescue her anytime soon… Was this it? End of the line? Now that she was using what she believed were her dying moments, Sunrise had a moment to reflect. Luna had said plenty of times that she needed Sunrise alive. There’s no way she would have let Sunrise wander into something that might have killed her. So surely that’s not what's happening… right? Whatever it was, it was terrifying Sunrise. It was certainly what she imagined death to feel like.

She closed her eyes as the numbness began to creep into her head. Her horn fizzled out as her magic ceased functioning. Whatever was going on, she was about to find out on the other side…

Chapter 5: The Shadow of Twilight Sparkle

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Sunrise groaned as she felt the sound of voices vibrate in her eardrums, followed up by some cries of joy. She was lying on something soft and pillowy, no doubt she was lying on top of a cloud-like in Luna’s dream of choice whenever she wanted to speak to her.

“I thought you were dead…”

“I thought I would never see you again…”

One of those voices was oddly familiar to Sunrise. It was as if she was hearing… herself…

Feeling her awareness returning, she gave her eyes a quick rub with her forehoof before opening them, blinking a few times as they adjusted. She was indeed laying on a bed of clouds illuminated by a full moon. She groaned again as she picked herself up into a sitting position. “Luna…” She winced, giving her forehead a rub, “...What the hell was that?”

Her vision finally decided to start focusing, giving her a crisper view of what was going on. Not getting a response from Luna, she lifted her head to look straight forward. Not far in front of her, she saw Luna hugging… herself? But she was here? Unless…

“No…” Sunrise’s eyes widened when she noticed the difference in the purple alicorn Luna was hugging. Specifically the purple and pink streak in her mane and tail where there should be red. “No no no…”

Luna’s ears twisted at Sunrise’s voice. “I see somepony has finally regained consciousness,” She stated, withdrawing the hug from the other purple alicorn. “I must say, this is certainly an unexpected turn of event--”

“BULLSHIT!” Sunrise butted in, jumping up and shooting off a beam of red magic from her horn. She shot just past Luna’s shoulder, but Luna remained unphased at the action, almost as if she knew Sunrise deliberately missed. A warning shot.

Sunrise took a quick glance at her doppelgänger before looking back at Luna. “This was your plan all along!” She accused, pointing her hoof at the other alicorn.

Luna looked blankly at Sunrise for a few moments before her lip quivered. “I…” She glanced down and away.

Sunrise was taken aback at the action, lifting her head and letting her jaw part slightly. It was almost as if Luna felt regretful.

“I wasn’t expecting this so soon…” Luna admitted, looking back up at Sunrise with deep eyes.

“I knew it,” Sunrise wasn’t buying any of Luna’s remorse. “You just set the wheels in motion and now you’re panicking because the wheels have been derailed.”

“Not at all,” Luna shook her head, “I just wasn’t expecting this.”

“Spare me your lies,” Sunrise rolled her eyes before locking them back onto her duplicate. “You just tried to kill me so SHE can take over my body.”

“Actually it’s MY body!” The other purple alicorn finally spoke up, standing tall with a wide stance and spreading her wings.

Sunrise chuffed and looked her in the eye. A strange sensation to say the least. It was like staring into a mirror. “Princess Twilight Sparkle,” Sunrise finally addressed. “Or should I say, Ex-Princess?” She taunted, a slight smile creeping onto her face. “Last time I checked, you two are just mirages in my imagination. And now I’ve seen your trick, what makes you think I’ll fall for it again?”

“I promise I wasn’t trying to trick you,” Luna once again stated before turning to Twilight. “Twilight, can you explain what happened to Sunrise?”

“I don’t want to hear your excuses, but something tells me I’m not getting much choice in this lecture,” Sunrise grumbled, sitting down in front of them. “Well go on then, enlighten me,” She mocked, rolled her hoof in circular motions.

“Sunrise, that tree you approached? Well, it wasn’t just a regular old tree,” Twilight began to explain.

“I gathered as much given that it was made from glowing crystals,” Sunrise butted in, raising an eyebrow.

“That tree was known as the Tree of Harmony. It’s the source of the Elements of Harmony.”

“Wait,” Sunrise blinked, “Elements of Harmony?”

“Yes,” Twilight nodded. “And… Well it’s hard to explain, but the tree has some degree of sentience to it. When you approached it and started using your magic, it must have sensed my body but not my conscious. It thought I was in danger, which is why it attacked you. It was using its magic to return me to my body, but you teleported out of its range halfway through. Which is the reason I’m here now…”

“Convenient…” Sunrise looked back at Luna. “So you’re saying that the only reason I’m still alive is because of my own actions? If I sat there and let that thing do its work, I’d be gone and she’d take my place?” Sunrise asked Luna, pointing at Twilight.

“Sunrise, as I’ve to you many times now, I need you alive. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t knowingly put you in a situation where your life will be threatened without warning you.” Luna stated, then sighed. “But I must confess; I knew that your presence would provoke a reaction of some sort to the tree. I just didn’t know to what degree,” Luna admitted, feeling her ears fold back. “For that I am sorry,” She bowed her head.

“Sorry, but I’m struggling to believe you,” Sunrise still rejected her apology, furrowing her brow. “I still think you’re hiding something from me.”

“And you aren’t hiding anything from us?” Luna raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been extremely uncooperative the entire time I’ve known you. I know you must be planning to stab me in the back at some point, so forgive me for taking precautions.”

“Well, you still haven’t told me what your plan is. How are you gonna deal with Daybreaker? When are you gonna show your face in the real world? Why are you--”

“I know what must be done!” Luna yelled quickly, flaring out her wings and shutting up Sunrise. “I’ve been plagued with the same parasite that currently poisons my sister's mind. I know how it works, and I know how to defeat that nightmare.”

“You…” Sunrise’s ears perked up, “Know…” Something in Luna’s words triggered a thought process in her head.

The Nightmare… Nightmare Moon… Defeated by…

“The Elements of Harmony…” Sunrise whispered to herself, looking back up at Luna. “You plan to use the Elements of Harmony against Daybreaker?”

Luna slowly nodded. “It seems you’re starting to understand…” She released a sigh, opening her eyes. “Which as I’m sure you’ve worked out would mean…” Her words stopped abruptly. Her eyes glanced upwards at her own horn, then back at Sunrise. “We’re out of time, you’re being awoken. Twilight will have to fill you in,” Luna’s horn ignited with the blue aura of her magic.

“Wait,” Sunrise said, standing to her hooves, but already seeing Luna and Twilight in front of her beginning to dissipate like dust in the wind. “What do I… do… next…?” She spoke hopelessly, knowing that she was already too late.

“Sunrise Sparkle?” A young-sounding voice spoke.

Sunrise felt a hoof on her side, causing her to quickly blink.

“G-Grand Inquisitor?” The voice asked again, sounding increasingly nervous.

Sunrise groaned as she felt the cold stone against her fur. She blinked several more times as she craned her neck up, examining the situation. She remembered passing out on the floor in the old Castle of the Two Sisters, and it appeared that was where she stayed. Judging from the sunlight now shining through the broken roof, she had stayed there all night.

She looked around, seeing a young colt in his Solar Youth uniform standing right next to her. Far behind him, a small group of a dozen or so other young ponies stood as far away as they could. He was obviously the only pony brave enough to step anywhere near her. Sunrise thought about commending him on it.

That was, if she could even think straight. She could feel her brain pounding inside her skull with every heartbeat. It was strange because she was getting a similar feeling that she was getting when trying to recall what she felt like was a repressed memory of Twilight Sparkle. Except she wasn’t even trying to do that at the moment. And the feeling was slightly different. It felt like her own thoughts but intertwined with different emotions that didn’t match hers.

She moved her hooves, causing the young colt to take a step back as she placed her hooves square against the floor. She groaned slightly as she pushed herself up, her muscles and joints punishing her for sleeping on the cold hard stone floor. Although it wasn’t really her choice.

“A-are you okay, M-Miss Inquisitor?” The little colt asked nervously.

Sunrise looked down at the young colt, he was very small and obviously young. Maybe eleven or twelve years old. The majority of ponies cowering against the back wall all seemed bigger and older than him. Yet he still seemed to show more courage than them… Or maybe he just picked the short straw when it came to deciding to wake her up.

“I’m fine,” Sunrise stated, stretching her limbs. “I, uhh… just got carried away and must have fallen asleep on the job,” She poorly explained with an uncharacteristic nervous laugh. She almost wanted to clamp a hoof around her muzzle after that. When in the world did she act like that?

The young mares and colts looking at her seemed to accept it though. Or at least, didn’t object. They just stared blankly while Sunrise stretched and adjusted her mane. As she did, she noticed her crown resting on the floor. No doubt it fell off her head when she was running through the castle last night. She used her magic and floated it back up onto her head.

Her brief check over her body showed no signs of any physical injuries. No bruising, and she assumed that her muscle pain was just the result of falling asleep in a bad posture on a bed made of stone.

In fact, she only noticed one typical biological need that she would need to take care of immediately. “I should probably get some fresh air,” she spoke nonchalantly, raising an eyebrow as she still didn’t sound like herself. She glanced back down at the young colt and cleared her throat to try and refocus herself. “Do we have any… facilities?”

“...Oh,” The colt quickly gathered that she meant bathrooms. “W-Well, we are camping… in n-n-nature…”

“I thought as much,” Sunrise retorted before starting to walk back through the castle.

“W-w-watch out for Timber Wolves,” The young colt called to her as she walked off.

“Dude, it’s Sunrise freakin’ Sparkle, she could beat an army of Timber Wolves,” One of the older colts responded to him in a hushed tone, obviously not meant to Sunrise to hear… but she didn’t mind, she even found it… funny…

Sunrise suppressed a chuckle as she walked out of the castles main entrance (or rather, what was left of it.) She shook her head, trying to get to grips with what she was feeling. This wasn’t like her at all… what was going on? What did the tree do?

The morning sun filtered through the trees of the Everfree Forest, lighting the way as she walked through the grass. But a sudden purple glow on an adjacent dirt path made Sunrise stop in her track, readying herself to respond in case it was one of the strange animals that lived in this forest.

But as the glow revealed itself… it appeared to be the silhouette of a unicorn. The facial features and any other distinguishing features were missing, it was just like watching a glowing purple phenomenon in the shape of a pony. Behind it walked another pony of the same design, this one glowing white. Then an orange, a yellow, and a pink silhouette following in a perfect line. Another cyan silhouette of a pegasus behind was flying around, but still following the group.

“And once Pinkie and Rarity were safe, whoosh!” The silhouette of the blue pegasus flew through the air. Sunrise noticed that when she spoke, the voice had an extreme echo to it. Almost like talking in a confined tunnel.

But Sunrise didn’t have much time to think about that. She flinched as the blue silhouette came barreling towards her, only for it to pass straight through her like a ghost.

“Me and Fluttershy looped-a-loop around and wham!” The pegasus touched down on the ground next to the purple silhouette. “Caught ya right in the nick of time.”

“Yes Rainbow, I was there, and I’m very grateful…” The purple silhouette replied, again very echoey. But Sunrise noticed that the voice didn’t sound too dissimilar to herself if a fair bit younger.

...Was she experiencing a memory?

She groaned as she suddenly felt a headache coming on, closing her eyes and giving the right side of her head a rub with a forehoof to try and dull the pain. When it faded to a tolerable level, she opened her eyes to find the silhouettes had disappeared.

“That’s a new one…” Sunrise said to herself. She glanced backwards over her shoulder, seeing that she wasn’t now pretty far away from the castle. Far enough that nopony would bother her. Satisfied with the distance, she broke from her path and took a few steps into the densely packed trees and shrubbery. She took one last look around to make sure nopony had followed her before she lowered her flank and began relieving herself against the base of a tree.

While she was doing so, she felt her hooves begin to tingle. She lifted her right forehoof off the ground and looked down at it, seeing it begin to shake. Almost instinctively, before she had even thought about it, her hoof moved to tap one of the hidden compartments on her regalia to reveal her carton of cigarettes and lighter. She fiddled about with them in her magic, drawing one of the paper sticks out and clicking the lighter a few times before it finally ignited and burnt the end of the cigarette. She slowly lifted it to her lips and took a deep inhale, her senses immediately feeling calmed by the--


“AHH!” Sunrise lept a foot or two into the air, startled by the bellow that just erupted next to her. She cringed as she felt a squelch under her hind left hoof, knowing what it just landed in. But that was the least of her concern right now.

Standing next to her… Was Twilight Sparkle. Or rather, a mirage of her. Her outline had a slight purple aura glowing around it, while the majority of her body was translucent like a ghost… And she did not look happy.

“Just what in Equestria do you think you’re doing?!” Twilight demanded.

“W-Well, I was taking a--”

“Do you know how bad smoking is for you?!”

Sunrise reared her head back and raised an eyebrow. “...What?” She asked, confused. Of the many confusing things going on right now… Of the many questions that needed answers… Twilight was concerned with THAT?

“Alicorns are immortal, but not invulnerable. Stop that right now,” Twilight continued to lay down her demands, furrowing her brow.

“Well, what…” Sunrise shook her head rapidly, starting to overcome the shock factor. “Ugh, forget it. What are you doing here? How are you even here?"

Twilight closed her eyes and concentrated briefly, only for a few purple sparks to fizzle out of her horn before she released a gasp. “Dammit, still no magic…”

“What’s going on?” Sunrise reaffirmed her position, taking a taller posture.

Twilight tilted her head. “It seems that while the Tree of Harmony wasn’t able to do enough to rid my body of you, it was enough to awaken my consciousness...” She deduced, rubbing her forehoof on her chin.

“Great,” Sunrise replied flatly, rolling her eyes. “So now you can stalk me when I’m awake as well as when I’m asleep.”

“Forgive me for wanting to take care of MY body,” Twilight replied, sounding more irritated.

“Whatever,” Sunrise shook her head, “Do you really think I’d give up on this so easily? I know your game. You’re gonna use me in your plot to kill Daybreaker then kill me off once I’ve served my purpose. But I promise you I won’t go down without a fight.”

Twilight could only stare at the passion Sunrise spoke to her with. Her mouth opened to respond, but no words came out. She hung her mouth ajar for a few seconds before releasing a sigh. “Sunrise…” She took a gentle trot, one hoof at a time, examining the surroundings. “You don’t fully understand, do you?”

“Understand what? Use the Elements of Harmony to kill Daybreaker, then stab me in the back when it’s next convenient. That’s your plan in a nutshell,” Sunrise snapped back.

“No…” Twilight shook her head. “You don’t understand. The Elements only work in harmony with each other. All six have to be present for them to work…” She turned back to face Sunrise. “And only I can wield the Element of Magic.”

Sunrise furrowed her brow and tilted her head. She had a feeling she knew where this was going.

“If you try to wield it yourself… It will have the same reaction the Tree of Harmony had to you. It will kill you.”

“Lies,” Sunrise snarled, flicking her head away. “I’ll find a way.”

“Sunrise, there is no other--”


Twilight flinched at Sunrise’s outburst, her mouth slightly ajar. “Fine,” She quickly regained composure. “You want to try something different? Go right ahead. But as of now, you’re also in a race against time.”

Sunrise lifted her head and raised an eyebrow, picking up on the different approach Twilight was taking. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Now that my consciousness has been awakened, my mind and magic will slowly begin to recognise my presence. It’s triggered a response against you. Over time, it will try to remove you from my body and let me take back control, like an immune system responding to an illness.” Twilight closed her eyes and tried to use her horn again, only to get purple holographic sparks falling limply from the tip of her horn. “My magic is still gathering its strength, but it’s only a matter of time.” Now it was Twilight’s turn to be intimidating as she glared harshly at Sunrise. “I will take back the body that is rightfully mine and make you atone for your crimes against the citizens of Equestria.”

Sunrise scoffed, “We’ll see about that,” She spat back. “For all I know, you could be full of shit. So I think I’ll take my chances with--”

Her sentence was interrupted by the sound of a colt clearing his throat. Sunrise turned her head to see a teenage colt standing on the other side of the bush. “Are you… okay, your Highness?” The colt asked curiously, raising an eyebrow.

“Y-Yes, I was just...talking…” She turned back to Twilight, “To…” She quickly remembered that since Twilight was in her head (quite literally,) the colt probably couldn’t see her. She turned her head back to the colt. “Myself. I just… had something on my mind…”

“...Oo...kay…” The colt cleared his throat again, “I’ll just… keep walking…” The colt spoke awkwardly before hastily taking off down the path.

“I’m only in your head, you know. You don’t need to speak out loud to talk to me,” Twilight explained to Sunrise.

“Thanks for the heads up,” Sunrise tested it out, thinking it back to Twilight as she turned on the spot. “Now where did I drop my…” Sunrise’s sentence trailed off as she located where her lighter and cigarette carton landed but cringed when she saw what they landed in. “...Nevermind...” Sunrise huffed then twisted and began walking away from behind the shrubbery, giving her left hind leg a quick scrub along the grass to try and dry it off. At least she was wearing hoof shoes.

Despite keeping her distance by walking around the outermost edge of Ponyville, Sunrise still got pounding headaches whenever she looked at the town. All she had to do was blink and she started seeing ghosts of memories long gone, from the blue pegasus clearing the clouds to a yellow pegasus caring for some animals. Luckily her memories came with their own tour guide in the form of Twilight herself, even if she was annoying.

“Y-Your Highness, it’s quicker to go across the bridge than through the town,” A teenage colt behind her suggested.

“No,” Sunrise glanced back at the colt pulling a wooden wagon with all their findings in it. Various texts and other artefacts were neatly arranged inside the wagon. “I want to walk this way,” She stated before looking back at where she was walking.

“What are you avoiding?” Twilight asked, standing in place alongside Sunrise but her ghost form still floated at the same speed Sunrise was walking.

“These damn headaches,” Sunrise thought back, still getting used to the technique of ‘thinking’ to Twilight instead of talking to her.

“That will happen when two ponies’ emotions and memories try to merge into one. I feel the same way…” Twilight explained, then glanced away. “You know what you need to do to stop it though…”

“I’m not doing it,” Sunrise persisted, knowing what Twilight meant, then glanced up at the crystal castle she was approaching. The Castle of Friendship. Once the home of Twilight Sparkle. Now the residence of Sunset Shimmer, gifted to her by Daybreaker after her service in the Great War. Its design remained relatively unchanged, it was still the same purple crystal structure it always was. The only new thing was the red banners of the Solar Empire that hung from its balconies, along with the Solar Empire flag flying atop its spire.

Sunrise approached the two guards wearing the black and orange uniforms of the Solar Empire standing just in front of the stairs ascending to the castle’s front door. Sunrise waited for the wagon the colt was pulling to come to a halt before turning her head to speak to him. “Thank you, you may leave now.”

“Of course, your Highness,” The Colt unhinged himself from the wagon before taking his leave, trotting off back towards Ponyville.

Sunrise turned her head back to the closest guard. “I would like to speak to Sunset Shimmer,” Sunrise instructed.

“One moment, your Highness,” The guard turned around and trotted up the stairs then began operating an intercom beside the door.

Sunrise turned to look at the other guard. “See to it that this is secure,” She motioned with her head to the wagon.

The stallion nodded in response, then looked at the wagon.

The other guard trotted back down from the entrance. “You may enter,” He informed before stepping aside.

Sunrise gracefully trotted up the stairs and pushed the heavy doors with her magic, heading a faint creak at the hinge as the thick doors were pushed back into the hallway. She stepped into the well-lit entrance, stepping onto the purple carpet that ran above the crystal tiles that made up the floor. The crystal walls were lined with golden sconces that provided the light down the hallways. Sunrise closed the door behind her with her magic as she trotted in. “Home sweet home…” Twilight mused alongside Sunrise.

“Good afternoon, Sunrise,” Sunset greeted in a raised voice from atop the main stairs at the very back of the hallway as she began trotting down. “This was unexpected…”

Sunrise began trotting towards the staircase, keeping an eye on Sunset as she descended. “I’ve just come to tell you that I completed your task,” Sunrise began.

Sunset sighed in relief, “You’re a lifesaver, Sunrise,” She said with a smile, reaching the bottom of the staircase and stopping short of Sunrise. “I’m so grateful you could come on short notice.”

Twilight could only smile at the sight of Sunset standing in front of her. “Good to see you again, Sunset…” She mused out loud, despite knowing that Sunset couldn’t hear her.

“It’s not a problem,” Sunrise replied, ignoring whatever Twilight was doing. “How are you feeling?” She asked, noticing the bags under Sunset’s eyes. No doubt she was still tired if her own experiences were anything to go by.

“Ehh…” Sunset glanced away, flicking her yellow and red mane that she had tied back in a ponytail to the side. “Better, I guess…”

Sunrise tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. “Want to talk about it?”

Sunset huffed, “It’s… nothing…” She glanced back up at Sunrise. “Was… Daybreaker angry?”

“No more than usual,” Sunrise answered, cocking a half-smile. “I was just curious what was wrong with you. You know how she can be when it comes to getting a straight answer.”

“I just… didn’t get much rest, that’s all,” Sunset admitted with a sigh. “I had some terrible nightmares. I’ve never seen them that vivid before.”

Sunrise glanced to her left as Twilight’s ghost approached Sunset with a smile. She lowered her head down to Sunset’s level, but obviously, Sunset couldn’t see her. “It’s been a very long time… but you still seem like the same pony I’ve always known…”

“So can I trust her?” Sunrise asked Twilight.

Twilight looked back at Sunrise, “I would say so…" she tilted her head away, "But… don't expect her to not be curious…"

“Is there anything else you wanted from me, Sunrise?” Sunset asked.

“...Actually, yes,” Sunrise glanced over her shoulders before looking back at Sunset. “Do you have somewhere private we can talk?”

Sunrise shrugged, “Well, I’m the only one here, so let's go to the library,” She declared, walking around Sunrise to lead the way.

Sunrise followed Sunset through the halls, taking in the various portraits Sunset had adorned her walls with. Most of it was from Sunset’s taste in art, but occasionally she would pass a certain frame which contained something like a news article from the Great War or her standing with significant figures or important moments in history. Occasionally the frames would trigger something in Sunrise’s mind, causing them to change to a portrait from a previous time, such as Twilight posing with her friends. But a few blinks and suppression of the accompanying headache usually made them go away.

Sunrise pushed the double doors open to the library, revealing the circular room with a bookcase extending all the way around the outer edge, matching the contours of the wall. Dotted around the middle of the room were several tables with matching chairs next to them.

Sunset walked over to the nearest table and pulled out a chair with her magic. “Well, how can I help?” Sunset asked, taking a seat.

Twilight checked the double doors were closed before she walked to the other side of the table, taking a seat. “I’m hoping you can help with something I think you’ve encountered in the past,” She began explaining, watching Twilight’s mirage sit beside her.

“What is it?” Sunset asked.

“A book,” Sunrise answered. “I believe you used a similar book in the past that allows for two way communication. Whatever is written in one book appears in the other.”

Sunset smiled, “Now there’s a blast from the past I wasn’t expecting today,” She chuckled, shaking her head. “Yeah, me and Celesti--...I mean, Daybreaker, before she ascended, used to use them to keep in contact. I’m pretty familiar with them.”

Sunrise nodded. “If I had one book in my possession, would it be possible to track down the location of the other?”

“I’m afraid not,” Sunrise shook her head, “You could theoretically send a spell through it that triggers it to glow, but there’s no way of telling where the other book would be.”

Sunrise sighed, “I thought so,” She replied, glancing away. “I just wanted to be sure.”

“...Or…” Sunrise raised an eyebrow, “You could just write in it and see who replies…”

“That’s what I was considering…” Sunrise looked back at Sunset, “But I’m leaving it to SMILE to investigate,” She bought herself to her hooves. “Thanks anyway, Sunset.”

“You’re welcome,” Sunset replied, “But I must ask… What’s this all about? If you can tell me...”

“Oh,” Sunrise chuffed, “It’s nothing. I just found a strange book the other day, it had a magical reaction when I picked it up. I recalled that you had seen them before, so thought you might know something I don’t. Evidently not…”

Sunset tilted her head, a slight smirk forming on her mouth. "Sounds like you're up to something…" she joked slyly.

"Told you," Twilight chimed to Sunrise with a smile. "Do you want my advice?"

"No." Sunrise put bluntly, but knew she would get it anyway.

"She's very similar to the Sunset Shimmer I knew,” Twilight began regardless, “I don't know what her reputation is like now, but she acts the same. I think you can trust her." Twilight gave out her advice anyway. It's not like Sunrise could shut her up.

"It's nothing…" Sunrise tried to deflect the subject, batting a hoof at Sunset.

"Oh come on," Sunrise jested with a chuckle. "I could use some excitement around this place, and it's not every day you drop by."

"Don't you have the Eagle’s Nest training exercise to plan?" Sunrise raised an eyebrow.

"Pffft," Sunset rolled her eyes, "That's all I ever do these days. Plan some training, sign some papers, show my face for recruitment days," Sunset rolled her hooves around, mimicking the actions, all while keeping a flat expression that slowly sunk into unamusement. Finally, she let out a long sigh. "Don't get me wrong, the fact that there hasn’t been a war in decades is a good thing, but…” she lowered her head to the table and rested her chin down, “It sure is boring here…”

Sunrise glanced over at Twilight’s mirage, their eyes locking briefly as if they were both thinking the same thing, then she looked back at Sunset. “Why don’t you ask Daybreaker?”

“Ugh, don’t get me started on her,” Sunrise groaned, her horn igniting in the turquoise colour of her magic.

Sunrise didn’t react, she simply let whatever Sunset was trying to do happen. A beam of turquoise magic slowly extended up a few feet from her horn then a translucent bubble began to take shape, slowly enveloping them and forming a translucent dome around them. She knew exactly what it was, a soundproofing spell. She had used a similar one not long ago.

“Sorry if that caught you off guard, but I don’t like to take any chances when it comes to…” Sunset trailed off, glancing away.

“Criticising the Empress?” Sunrise finished for her with a slight smirk.

Sunset almost gasped as she looked back at Sunrise, seeing the expression on her face. She never thought she would hear those words spoken in that context from Sunrise’s mouth, but she felt a lot more comfortable now that she was certain that they were on the same page. “She’s just been so demanding and self-centred recently. No matter what concerns I raise to her, she just seems to brush them off.” Sunrise scoffed, “Probably too busy being adored by all her ‘loving subjects’,” She raised her hoof in air quotes. “She’s working Equestria to the bone and she doesn’t even see it happening because she’s too busy laying her lazy ass on that throne getting tongue-bathed by her servants.”

Sunrise puffed out her lips and closed her eyes for a moment to try and shift that disturbing image out of her mind before responding. “So… you wouldn’t object to her… removal?”

Sunset grinned from ear to ear, “Now this sounds exciting, sure beats sitting around here,” She shimmied her chair slightly closer to Sunrise, raising an eyebrow. “So what’s the plan?”

“Well…” Sunrise chuffed, “Nothing yet… But it’s good to know you’d be on my side,”

“Well that’s less exciting,” Sunrise replied, her eyelids flattening. “But… I have to ask,” She raised an eyebrow, “What brought this on? You’d be the last pony I’d expect to organise a rebellion against the Empress. Daybreaker treats you like her own daughter.”

“Pfft,” Sunrise almost laughed, “I wouldn’t go that far. But…” She sighed, looking away. “I’ve always been a supporter for her policies, ever since the beginning. But that was way back in ten eleven. It’s been over twenty years since then and the world has changed. The Solar Empire rules across the Equestrian continent unchallenged. Our closest rival is separated by an ocean. The world is at peace, but that peace is balanced on a knife-edge. But with the new technologies we have available in this day and age, that balance could collapse at a moment's notice.”

“Yeah, I wonder what brilliant mare is responsible for all these technological advances,” Sunset hinted with a grin, winking at Sunrise.

“Oh it wasn’t ALL me,” Sunrise batted a hoof back at Sunset.

“Yeah right,” Sunset continued sarcastically. “You only developed the warhead for the Star Collapser ICBM… and the Starswirl magi-nuclear reactor that powers the Solar Navy’s submarines… not to mention the crystal-enhanced next-generation jet engine you’re currently working on for the Air Force.” Sunset wiggled her eyebrow, “Need I go on?”

“Heheh,” Sunrise felt uncharacteristically bashful, feeling the heat rising in her cheeks. She couldn’t help but shoot a glance at Twilight sitting beside them. It was obviously her emotions mixing with hers. “Alright, I guess I did a lot…” She cleared her throat then looked back at Sunset. “But my point is, think about what would happen if those weapons were actually used. I think the whole world would be wiped out in the blink of an eye. We would all die. I think somepony needs to stop this stupid arms race and defuse the situation. Something Daybreaker isn’t willing to do. I want to take her place and open a new line of dialogue with Dawnclaw and the Griffonian Empire.”

Sunset nodded, listening intently to what Sunrise was suggesting. “I see what you’re saying, and I generally agree. But what makes you think the Griffonian Empire will be on the same page as us?”

“That’s… what I’m still trying to figure out,” Sunrise briefly explained. She was about to spill her whole plan, but decided that she should maybe hold some cards closer to her chest. She was certain that she could trust Sunset, but at the same time, she didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.

“Hmm…” Sunset rubbed her chin, then released a sigh. “Well... if you find anything out, let me know… I might be interested,” She hinted before the magic aura around her horn phased out and slowly dissipated.

Sunrise raised an eyebrow, watching the bubble dissipate. “...Of course…” She stood up, “Well, I’ve got a train waiting for me. I best report back to the Empress.”

Sunset nodded, “It’s been great to see you again, Sunrise. We should do this more often,” She smiled.

“I’ll write to you when I get back,” Sunrise replied, smiling. She then turned towards the library doors. “Goodbye for now, Sunset,” She said as she started trotting towards the door.

“Bye, Sunrise,” Sunset called, watching Sunrise leave the library.

Sunrise walked through the castle's hallway, keeping her head down while she was alone with her thoughts. She used her magic to push through the main door and trotted down the golden steps. She paid no mind to the guards on either side of her, she just kept her head straight and continued walking.

“You seem tense,” Twilight sensed, trotting alongside Sunrise. “Do you not trust Sunset?”

“Something isn’t right,” Sunrise thought back, glancing a quick look over at Twilight before looking back at where she was walking. “Are you sure we can trust her?”

“I do,” Twilight answered, raising an eyebrow. “You don’t?”

“I don’t know…” Sunrise sighed, “I just… Something seemed off. She ended the conversation abruptly, as if she suddenly became disinterested.”

“Well probably because she doesn’t know any more than what you’re telling her. You were kind of vague with the details, you didn’t give her much to work with.”

“I know, but I wanted to keep certain details to myself in case the wrong pony heard about them,” Sunrise explained. "I deliberately omitted the part about you and Luna."

"Sunrise…" Twilight sighed, "You must know we can't do this on our own. Sooner or later you're going to have to trust somepony…"

"When the time is right, I will," Sunrise replied, walking back towards the train station. “But if she really wanted to help, I would’ve expected an officer of her calibre to throw in her own suggestions. But she just left it and walked away. And that doesn’t sit well with me.”

Sunrise walked her familiar route from Canterlot train station through to Canterlot Castle and up towards Daybreakers throne room. Although the constant headaches were making her vision hazy. Every few steps she would be hit by what she could only describe as a brief flashback of what the castle used to look like before Daybreaker.

“Ugh, can you stop that?” Sunrise demanded at Twilight.

“Even if I wanted to, I can’t,” Twilight replied, trotting beside Sunrise. “This is part of the resonance reaction my presence is having on your mind. I can’t do anything about it.”

Sunrise rolled her eyes and just kept walking, trying her best to simply keep her eyes straight to avoid distractions.

Arriving at the main door to the throne room, she motioned to the guard to let her through. He simply nodded and pushed the door open, letting Sunrise walk in.

She tried her best to ignore all the funny colours caused by her merging memories as she entered the throne room. She felt as if she had taken some sort of hallucinogenic drug. In another scenario, she may have even found it amusing. But she kept her focus, keeping her eyes forward as she concentrated on Daybreaker. She seemed to be amusing herself with half a dozen ponies captured in chains wrapped around their hooves and necks, standing in two columns of three, and with two solar guards in front of them.

“Oh perfect timing Sunrise,” Daybreaker greeted her, looking back at Sunrise with a wide smile. “I just finished…” She looked over at her guards, a more serious look returning to her face. “Escort these traitors to the dungeon. I’ll deal with them later.”

The guards nodded and one of them quickly gave one of the prisoners at the front a shove. “Move it,” he spoke harshly. The chains clacked as the captive ponies dragged their hooves along the floor.

“Wait,” Daybreaker spoke abruptly, making the guards stop in their tracks. She slowly stepped forward, one hoof at a time, being sure to make every step sound loud and intimidating as she approached a pegasus stallion with a canary yellow coat and a faded red short cut mane. She craned her neck down towards him and placed her tongue on his back. It immediately made a sizzling sound upon contact with his fur and he hissed through gritted teeth. It even made Sunrise wince slightly.

Daybreaker slowly ran her tongue along his back up to the base of his neck before she mercifully withdrew her tongue, leaving a singed mark on his coat. “This one’s cute,” she glanced up at her guards. “Take him to MY dungeon,” She looked back down at the stallion with a smile, who was only looking back at her with eyes filled with fear. “We’ll continue this later,” She said with a wink, holding her right forehoof up to her chin. “Mwah,” Daybreaker made a smoochy kiss sound while breathing some fire and used her magic to form it into the shape of a heart. She gave it a gentle blow where it floated through the air and landed on the stallion’s flank, where it immediately singed its shape just above his cutie mark. The stallion yelped on impact but otherwise kept quiet as he was escorted out of the throne room.

“She’s in a good mood,” Twilight commented with a low growl, looking at Daybreaker. No words could describe the way she wanted to march right up to the Empress and give her a piece of her mind. And while it was possible for her to do that right here and now, she decided to save her energy, given that Daybreaker couldn’t even see or respond to her.

“It would appear so…” Sunrise thought back to Twilight, watching the prisoners get walked out of the main doors of the throne room. The guards closed the doors with their magic as they left.

“So,” Daybreaker began, trotting towards Sunrise, “I take it everything went as planned?” She asked, holding her head up and looking down at Sunrise as she spoke.

“Yes," Sunrise replied, nodding. "And I have left the material of value we found with Sunset."

“Good…” Daybreaker acknowledged, stopping just short of Sunrise. “Anything else to report?” She asked, her tone sounding sharper.

“S-Sunrise,” Twilight stammered, looking over at Sunrise, “We gotta get out of here. Now!”

“What?!” Sunrise did her best not to look over at Twilight, keeping her eyes locked with Daybreakers. “No, nothing else,” Sunrise spoke back to Daybreaker.

“If any part of Celestia’s personality is left in this monster, she’s onto us,” Twilight began to panic. “We need to get away.”

Sunrise felt her hind legs begin to tremble. “Get it together, your emotions are clouding mine again!” She complained back at Twilight.

“So you discovered the artefact?” Daybreaker raised an eyebrow. “And didn’t approach it?”

Sunrise quickly shook her head involuntarily, as if her muscles suddenly got a mind of their own. “N-No,” She stammered, blinking. She briefly gritted her teeth and cleared her throat. “I only kept an eye on it to make sure nopony went through the shutter,” Sunrise quickly explained, but that didn’t even sound convincing to herself. “If you want to live, keep a lid on it, Twilight!”

Daybreaker raised her head and glared right at Sunrise. Sunrise held her nerve, doing her best to look confident.

“Excellent...” Daybreaker’s lips slowly curled into a smile. She turned her head and slowly began to trot back towards her throne. “But you seem tense. Did anything else happen?”

“Sunrise, the charade is up! Teleport out of here while we still can!” Twilight pleaded, her eyes quickly darting between Daybreaker and Sunrise. If she was capable of sweating in this form, she would be standing in a puddle.

“I’m fine,” Sunrise replied back to Daybreaker, ignoring Twilight. “I just… Well, I wasn’t expecting camping. I had a rough night,” She feigned.

“Oh?” Daybreaker tilted her head back to Sunrise as she continued at her leisurely pace.

“Well, not exactly camping,” Sunrise chuckled, “I kind of… got caught up in my work and ended up falling asleep in the old castle…”

Daybreaker couldn’t help but laugh back. “Oh, Sunrise. All these years and you never change,” She stopped walking and turned back to face Sunrise. “I’d love to stay and chat, but you seem tired and I’ve got a prisoner to attend to,” her voice trailed off as she finished her sentence with a lick of her lips. She flicked her mane and continued walking back towards her throne. "Do get some rest when you get back to the Crystal Empire…"

Sunrise blinked, "Thank you, Your Majesty," She craned her neck down into a bow. "I'll take my leave. Enjoy your… interrogation…" Sunrise put it in friendly terms before turning to walk back towards the door.

She walked out of the door holding her breath, continuously trotting down the hallway. As soon as she heard the click of the doors shutting, she released a sharp exhale and took several quick deep breaths.

“That was WAY too close…” Twilight commented, walking alongside Sunrise.

“What the hell was that?!” Sunrise barked angrily at Twilight. Or at least, as best as she could emulate it with her thoughts.

“Daybreaker knew you were up to something. I was trying to save you,” Twilight retorted stubbornly.

“She doesn’t suspect a thing, so stop worrying. Your emotions imprint onto mine. So when you get nervous, I get nervous. You made me look nervous in front of her, which in turn, made me look suspicious. It was your fault.” Sunrise explained.

Twilight suddenly teleported in the blink of an eye to appear in front of Sunrise, causing Sunrise to screech to a stop as she dragged her hooves along the floor. “Sunrise, I’ve known Celestia for a long time. And if Daybreaker took any of her old habits with her when she took over Celestia’s body, then I know that she was suspicious of something.”

Sunrise scoffed, flicking her head to her left. “In case you forgot, you’ve been dead for over twenty years. I’ve known Daybreaker for all that time, and I’ve gotten to know her hints and habits just as well as you learned Celestia’s.” She turned her head to look back at Twilight in the eyes. “And I’m telling you, she doesn’t suspect a thing.” She spoke bluntly and clearly before marching angrily through Twilight’s ghost, passing through it as if she weren’t even there.

“You’re wrong,” Twilight continued to try and reason with Sunrise, walking alongside her out of the castle back towards the train station. “This is one of her tricks. She’ll act like she doesn’t suspect a thing, but will keep a close eye on you to assess the situation, then act accordingly. And given that the situation is a threat to her own life, I think she would seek to eliminate that threat swiftly.”

Sunrise snorted through her nostrils, “Fine, I’ll bite,” she stopped dead in her tracks just outside the courtyard. Twilight turned to face her eye to eye. “Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re right, and somepony from SMILE is gonna slit my throat in my sleep tonight. If it satisfies you, I’ll be extra cautious and make sure I have suitable security in place.”

Twilight blinked and pulled her head back, “What are you--”

“BUT,” Sunrise gritted her teeth, her sudden interruption making Twilight jump. “When that time comes, I’ll stand corrected. But until then, remember that you’re in MY body, I’M in control, and I’M calling the shots.” She pushed her head forward, keeping her eyes locked with Twilights. “Got it?”

Twilight kept her eyes locked with Sunrise for some time. Her mouth hung slightly ajar as if she wanted to say something but had no idea what to say. Sunrise was right, there was nothing she could do but watch for now. She huffed and glanced away from Sunrise.

Sunrise snorted again and just kept walking, once again stepping through Twilight’s mirage. She was starting to think that coexisting with her might be more trouble than she first thought. Although she didn’t really have any choice in the matter. All she could do was try to manage it the best she can.

But she couldn’t deny considering Twilight’s concerns… Did Daybreaker really know what was going on? Sunrise could only take comfort in knowing that if she did, she’d be dead already...

Chapter 6: Impasse

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A loud buzzing noise pierced through Sunrise’s ears, startling her awake. The sound still made her jump in bed, despite being used to it by now. She raised her forehoof high before she bought it crashing down on the infernal alarm clock on her nightstand making the noise, silencing it.

She groaned slightly as she shifted over in bed, taking in a moment to remember… the dream…

The fact that she had her first good nights sleep in a while was a strange feeling. She felt good. Better than good even. But she still couldn’t help but think about the substitute for the nightmares she had been having recently.

Thinking about the dream even took precedence over the comfort of her mattress and duvet. She lifted herself up with ease and moved into a perched position on the side of her bed as she thought. It must have been another one of Twilight Sparkle’s memories. Back when the Crystal Empire had first returned to Equestria. She had been tasked by Celestia to retrieve the Crystal Heart.

“You look troubled.”

Sunrise turned her head to look at Twilight’s mirage standing in her bedroom. The morning sunlight that pierced through the gaps in her curtains and glistened nicely through Twilight’s translucent body.

“I… Had a dream,” Sunrise admitted, bringing herself to her hooves. She quickly ran a hoof through her mane to get it out of her face while at the same time using her magic to draw the curtains back, letting the morning light fully illuminate her room.

“So did I,” Twilight replied, slowly walking through Sunrise’s bedroom and glancing at all the furniture and trinkets.

“You did?” Sunrise raised an eyebrow, thinking about it. If she had one of Twilight’s memories in her dream… then that meant…

“I had one of your memories,” Twilight stopped her casual trot and looked back at Sunrise. “I was by a river, we had just crossed a bridge…” She glanced away and to the floor, “Then some Changeling infiltrators got the drop on us. They got so close we ended up fighting hoof to hoof…” She looked back up at Sunrise, “Ring any bells?”

Sunrise chuckled and nodded. “That scar never did go away completely,” She reminisced, then lifted her right hind leg up slightly. Using her magic, she gently parted some fur on the inside of her thigh to reveal a faint pink line that was otherwise invisible until Sunrise pointed it out.

Twilight hissed and winced slightly, “Did it hurt?”

Sunrise gave a single nod. “But I think it hurt him more when he was dismembered by my magic,” She answered flatly, beginning to trot towards the bathroom.

“...Right…” Twilight replied, remembering the more gruesome parts of the dream, causing her to cringe…

Sunrise trotted into the bathroom, closing the door behind her and clicking the lock shut with her magic. She used her magic to turn the shower on, the sound of the water cascading onto the base of the shower filling the room. Sunrise waited a few seconds before the water to get up to temperature before she finally stepped under the water, gently sighing as the refreshing warmth flowed over her. She felt her mane grow heavy and droop down around her neck and face as it absorbed the water.

Using her magic, she levitated a bottle of soap over and squeezed a generous amount onto her back between her wings. Her magic was also useful when it came to lathering it into her fur. She gave herself a little massage all around her body as she continued to wash herself down.

“You missed a spot.”

“AH!” Sunrise yelped at Twilight’s voice, her hooves skitting across the soaked porcelain floor of her shower before she found some grip to stop herself from falling. Through her wet mane drooping over her face, she glared at Twilight standing in the middle of her bathroom. “Would you stop doing that?!” She said out loud.

“Sorry,” Twilight replied flatly, lidding her eyes. It sounded like she didn’t care much for Sunrise’s request.

Sunrise huffed and looked away, back at the tiled shower wall. “Can’t you just leave me to shower in peace? It feels weird with you watching me…”

“How so?” Twilight raised an eyebrow, “I’m you. And you’re me. It’s not like you’ve got anything to hide, it’s my own body.”

Sunrise gritted her teeth, trying not to let that repeated statement get under her skin. “I don’t usually have an audience…”

Twilight chuckled, “Well, I would offer to help, but my magic still isn’t there yet.” She closed her eyes and tried to use her magic, but all she got was the familiar purple holographic embers that fell limply from her horn. “But it’s only a matter of time…”

Sunrise just ignored her and continued showering, trying her best not to let her spectator distract her. Twilight’s unexpected presence made her work more quickly than usual when it came to washing herself.

“How was your dream anyway?” Twilight asked.

Sunrise rinsed her face free of any shampoo before wiping her eyes with a hoof and looking at Twilight. “What?”

“I told you what I saw inside your head. Now, why don’t you tell me what you saw inside mine?” Twilight mused.

Sunrise finished washing the remainder of the shampoo out of her coat then switched the shower off, casting a silence throughout the bathroom save for the dripping water. “I was here actually…” She stepped out of her shower onto a bathmat, using her magic to wrap several towels around her head and body. “I was you as a unicorn. I was at the top of the palace, looking at the Crystal Heart…” She worked the towels around her body to dry herself.

“Oh, that day,” Twilight picked up, glancing around as she recalled the memory. “The Crystal Empire returned. And with it, so did King Sombra. I was tasked with returning the Crystal Heart…”

Sunrise took the towel off from around her head and hung it back on the shiny chrome towel rail. “I woke up before I saw the conclusion…” She used her magic to form a bubble on her large bathroom mirror, using it to clear away the fog that has accumulated on it during her shower. “It looks like you failed, but if that were the case, then we wouldn’t be here…” She picked up a comb in her magic and began brushing her mane.

Twilight nodded, “You’re right, I failed…” Twilight tried her best to keep a straight face. She could sense a lesson coming on. “Or I would have failed had I not put aside my own goals for the sake of the crystal ponies. When it was obvious that I wasn’t going to win, I made sure to delegate the task to my assistant, Spike. I may have failed my test assigned to me by Princess Celestia, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make to save the Crystal Empire.”

“...Spike?” Sunrise recalled her memories as she finished brushing her mane, setting her mane brush down on the bathroom counter. “The dragon?”

“That’s right,” Twilight nodded, then tilted her head to the side. “...Do you… know what happened to him?”

Sunrise shook her head. “The last time I saw him… Well, I was still you,” She huffed, “My best guess would be he’s hiding in the Crystal Mountains or the Dragon Lands. Other than that, the last thing in my memory is when you were captured by Daybreaker, who then ascended you into me…”

“...Right…” Twilight hung her head, releasing a quiet sigh. “All these years… I hope he’s alright…”

Sunrise raised an eyebrow, “The guards have had rumours of a dragon living in the caves of the Crystal Mountains before...”

“Really?!” Twilight beamed, her ears flicking up. “Is it Spike?”

“I don’t know,” Sunrise shook her head, “I’ve sent patrols to try and find it several times, but all they ever find is a crazy old unicorn living in the caves by himself.”

“A crazy old unicorn?” Twilight raised an eyebrow.

Sunrise nodded, “And we can never make heads or tails out of what he’s saying. Poor stallion probably lost his mind living in isolation all these years…” Using her magic, she levitated up her toothbrush and toothpaste and began brushing her teeth.

Twilight chuckled, “Kind of useful that we can still talk even with your mouthful, isn’t it?”

“No,” Sunrise put bluntly, rolling her eyes before looking back in the mirror. The fact that she couldn’t see Twilight in her mirror was still jarring to her. It really was as if Twilight was just a figment of her imagination…

Twilight grimaced at Sunrise’s blunt response before releasing a long sigh and glancing away. “Well… I suppose I’ll talk to you when you’re ready…” She turned and began walking away towards the bathroom door, simply continuing in her stride when she reached it and morphing through the door as if it weren’t there.

Sunrise finished brushing her teeth and made the final finishing touches, freshening herself up. Satisfied with her appearance, she finished what she had to do in the bathroom and trotted out the door, where she found Twilight looking out the window down at the Crystal City.

“I know I decided to give you some privacy, but… you do know I can still see, hear, smell, taste and feel everything you are, right? We’re essentially two consciousnesses sharing the same mind.”

“Don’t remind me,” Sunrise gritted her teeth as she levitated her regalia over with her magic and started getting herself dressed.

“Well, I don’t quite have access to all your memories and experiences yet. So far I can only see them through dreams it seems…” Twilight pulled herself away from the window to look at Sunrise.

Sunrise raised an eyebrow as she thought about what Twilight said for a moment before returning to fitting her hoof shoes. She could help but smirk a little bit as she thought about the prospects of experiencing more of Twilight’s dreams.

“What’s so funny?” Twilight suddenly asked, raising an eyebrow herself.

“Nothing, nothing…” Sunrise chuffed, “I was just thinking about what other dreams of yours I might experience…” She looked over at Twilight, lidding her eyes and flattening her eyebrows. “Luna gave me a sneak peek of what your dreams might look like.”

Twilight blinked and tilted her head. “Okay… what was the dream about?”

Sunrise smiled, “Well… Flash Sentry was in it…” She bought a hoof to her mouth to try and suppress a giggle, feeling a small blush forming across her nose.

“Oh…” Twilight awkwardly smiled, glancing away. “Well, Flash was somepony I saw quite frequently. The brain functions in mysterious ways, I’m sure he was only there because he was fresh in my memory and my brain was drawing parallels--”

“Be straight up with me here, Twilight,” Sunrise cut off Twilight’s attempt at a diversion and she enthusiastically hopped towards Twilight’s ghost, landing just right so they were almost nose to nose. “Is he really that… endowed? Because I swear he almost split me in half!”

A short sharp whine escaped Twilight’s throat and she folded her ears flat. The head of her translucent ghostly form was quickly becoming more opaque as a red colour rushed into it.

“Pffft--” Sunrise suddenly wheezed loudly, thrusting her head down. “BAHAHAHAHHA!” She threw herself to the side, landing onto her bed in a fit of laughter.

Twilight simply stood there feeling like an idiot while she watched Sunrise having a hearty laughing fit at her expense. She puffed out her glowing red cheeks and pouted, flattening her eyelids as she waited for Sunrise to finish.

As Sunrise began to calm down, she slowly bought herself back up into a sitting position, perching on the end of her bed while still giggling away to herself. All she could see was Twilight’s unamused expression glaring at her, which in a way made it even funnier.

“Oh, Twilight…” Sunrise huffed, catching her breath, “I can’t remember the last time I laughed like that…”

Twilight’s ears perked back up and she half-smiled. “Well, Pinkie Pie always said laughter was the best medicine…” She slowly trotted towards Sunrise, stopping just next to her. She glanced around the room as if she was making sure the coast was clear. Sunrise raised an eyebrow, as she thought that since Twilight was in her head, discretion was a pointless exercise for her.

Twilight extended her neck to move her lips closer to Twilight’s ear. “But to answer your question…” A smirk formed across her lips, “Yes… Well...” Twilight looked away, running a forehoof through her mane. “I think he is…”

Sunrise turned her head to look Twilight in the eye. “So… you two were an item?”

“Not quite,” Twilight shook her head. “At best, we went on a few dates before the Great War…” She looked away from Sunrise.

“And you fell head over hooves in love him,” Sunrise bluntly filled in the blanks that she could sense Twilight was deliberately leaving out.

“N-No,” Twilight glanced at Sunrise then glanced away again, “No I didn’t…”

“Twilight, we can partially sense each other’s emotions remember?” Sunrise raised an eyebrow, “I can tell when you’re lying…”

Twilight slightly turned her head with a twitched, but not all the way towards Sunrise. She pouted and felt the heat returning to her cheeks.

Sunrise chuffed, “And your little fantasy I had the pleasure of experiencing proves it. He hammered you raw until you were practically begging him to--”

“Be quiet, you!” Twilight tried to give Sunrise a slap with her wing, but obviously, it just passed through her body like it wasn’t there. “When we next see Luna, she and I are gonna have a little talk…”

Sunrise chuckled a little. “Well, for what it’s worth, Twilight…” Sunrise scratched the back of her head, feeling a little blush appearing on her cheeks. “I liked it… a lot…”

“I’m glad,” Twilight answered sarcastically before puffing her cheeks out. She turned to look at Sunrise. “Who is the lucky stallion of Grand Inquisitor Sunrise Sparkle anyway?”

Now it was Sunrise’s turn to pout. “Nopony…” She muttered through gritted teeth. “And… That’s probably why I liked it so much…”

“Pfft,” Twilight smirked, “Been a while, has it?”

Sunrise glanced away, gazing off into the distance while her face scrunched up. Now it was her turn to be embarrassed.

“I’ll take your silence as a yes,” Twilight chuckled, then bought her hoof to her chin while raising an eyebrow. “But I’m just curious. If you had the same reaction I did to that dream…” Twilight’s eyes bounced left and right before moving her hoof to scratch the back of her head. “Well… how did you explain it to your cleaners?”

Sunrise couldn’t help but smile awkwardly, feeling the heat in her cheeks increasing ever further. “I, uh… did my own laundry yesterday…”

“You mean you incinerated your bedding?” Twilight said with a laugh.

Sunrise couldn’t help but laugh along with Twilight. “I was THAT close to it,” She answered through her laughs.

Sunrise and Twilight shared their laugh for a few moments before Twilight finished with a sigh. “I guess we’re not so different, you and I…”

Any sense of comfort in the room suddenly vanished into thin air. Sunrise’s face slowly formed a straight expression. “We’re more different than you think…” Sunrise stood up, taking a trot towards her large window. “Don’t think you can butter me up just because we can agree on something and have a laugh now and again.”

“Of course,” Twilight replied in a serious tone, shadowing Sunrise’s movements. “That’s what I was going to go over with you next… The plan.”

“What plan?” Sunrise replied, twisting her neck to look at Twilight standing to her left and slightly behind her. “You said it yourself, I can’t wield the elements. And I have no intention to die.”

“You’re right, you can’t wield the elements…” Twilight looked up to look Sunrise in the eyes. “But I can.”

Sunrise turned herself to stand directly at Twilight. “What do you mean? You’re not making any sense.”

“Not right now I can’t,” Twilight explained, “But over time, as my body slowly forces you out, I’ll get better control over my magic. Right now I can’t do any more than make a few twinkly lights,” Twilight demonstrated by closing her eyes and trying to ignite her horn. But it only resulted in the usual holographic embers that fell limply to the ground. “But eventually, if my theory is correct… I will be able to channel my own magic through your horn.”

Sunrise raised her eyebrows as if she was starting to understand what Twilight meant. “So…”

“If the Tree of Harmony detects my own magic instead of yours, it will allow me to proceed without the reaction you provoked from it last time. You will be able to come into contact with the elements without causing your death.”

“So… I could wield the Element of Magic?” Sunrise tilted her head.

“No,” Twilight shook her head, “The Elements don’t work like that… but it will allow us to secure the Elements.”

“Secure them?” Sunrise scoffed, “So you can use them when I’ve outlived my purpose, right?”

“Actually, I was just trying to protect the Elements,” Twilight replied flatly, lidding her eyes. “I’m not trying to stab you in the back with everything I do, you know…”

“Yeah right…” Sunrise glanced away, staring off at a wall.

“We need to secure the Elements because once Daybreaker realises what’s going on, that’s the first thing she will try to do,” Twilight explained.

Sunrise gritted her teeth. Despite her protests… Twilight did have a point. “But… to use the Elements…” She looked at Twilight. “All six have to be present… right?”

“And that’s the next task,” Twilight answered, glancing off at Sunrise’s desk and wishing that she had her magic back so she could start taking notes. “We need to get the Elements to their bearers…” Twilight lowered her head, staring down at the floor. “My friends…”

“Yeah… YOUR friends…” Sunrise glanced away. “I think Luna tried to get me to talk to them through a dream a couple of times, but obviously I’m the last thing they ever want to see.”

“I know it will be tough, but we need to do this,” Twilight explained, looking back up at Sunrise. “If the Elements are already with them, it will be easier to use them in the heat of the moment.”

Sunrise rolled her eyes. “Okay, let’s assume we go through with this. I go through with your plan and it comes down to the point where we need to use the Elements of Harmony to defeat Daybreaker. What makes you think I’ll just submit and let myself be killed like that?”

“...I…” Twilight sighed, glancing away. “I just hope that if it comes to that, you’ll be ready to make that sacrifice…” Twilight bought her head back up, staring back into Sunrise’s eyes with a determined glare. “But I promise you, I won’t do anything to stop you trying things your way first. I promise I will only intervene as a very last resort.”

Sunrise held her gaze down for a moment before shaking her head. “Empty promises…”

“...Maybe so…” Twilight admitted with a sigh, folding her ears flat. “I guess I can’t blame you for not trusting me…” She thought for a moment, raising an eyebrow. “But… What did you have in mind?”

“...Something just as impossible,” Sunrise confessed, cringing slightly. The more she talked about it, the more impossible it seemed. “I know the support is out there, but the politics are balanced on a knife-edge. Any attempt to overthrow Daybreaker and the Griffonian Empire will swoop in to take any advantage they can. I need to orchestrate some sort of distraction for Dawnclaw to stop him from doing that…” Sunrise sighed, “But there’s no way I can do that on my own. I don’t have the contacts, and there’s no way I can do it discreetly being an Alicorn.”

“Hmm…” Twilight thought about Sunrise’s explanation, rubbing her chin with a hoof.

Sunrise could sense through their emotional link that Twilight was pondering something. She looked over at Twilight, who she could tell was pondering something just from the look on her face. “What is it?” Sunrise asked.

Twilight smiled, “I think I’ve just thought of a way to prove my trust to you, Sunrise,” She stated proudly with a smile, lowering her hoof. “I have contacts…” Her ears slowly folded down, “I don’t know if they’re even still alive, but we can try…”

“Even in the Griffonian Empire?” Sunrise raised an eyebrow.

“Uhh…” Twilight’s eyes glanced up and to the left as if she was trying to recall something. “No, I don’t… The River Republic maybe though…”

“It’s called the River Federation now, it’s a single united government,” Sunrise corrected Twilight, trying to keep a straight a face as possible. But the reality was that the sentence Twilight just spoke (thought?) to her proved exactly how long she had been gone.

“Oh, that finally happened?” Twilight replied, rubbing her chin with her hoof. But she quickly saw the doubt forming on Sunrise’s face. “Alright, I get it. I’ve been gone a long time, quit rubbing it in,” Twilight complained, rolling her eyes before quickly relocking them with Sunrise’s. “But it’s the last idea I’ve got, and we have to try. Do you have anypony you can trust?”

Sunrise chuckled, “Well, funnily enough, we were just talking about him,” She answered with a wiggle of her eyebrows.

Twilight’s eyes beamed, “Flash is alive?!” The corners of her mouth quickly stretched from ear to ear on her face.

“And just as handsome as you remember him,” Sunrise winked back at Twilight. “I spoke to him a few days ago… He seemed to have the same opinion as me about Daybreaker…”

“...But?” Twilight could sense the unease in Sunrise’s voice.

“Well…” Sunrise glanced away, “Talking about it is one thing, but actively planning a rebellion is another. I don’t think he’d rat me out, but I’m not convinced he’ll play along.”

“Well, you never know until you ask… but at the same time, we don’t want him to become a liability if he refuses. It’s a difficult one…” Twilight rubbed her chin.

“All I know is that we won’t make any progress if we sit here talking about it all day,” Sunrise turned and slowly trotted towards her door, using her magic to levitate her crown onto her forehead as she walked.

“You’re right,” Twilight replied, rather optimistically, as she walked alongside Sunrise. “I suppose we haven’t got much left we can talk about in here. My magic is still trying to regenerate, and you need to speak to Flash. In the meantime, I’d like to get to see more of what’s changed in Equestria since I’ve been gone.”

“Prepare to be disappointed then,” Sunrise replied semi-sarcastically.

“I already am,” Twilight replied flatly. “But most of all, there are a few things I need closure on. I hope you can help me with them…”

Sunrise withheld a groan as she had a pretty good idea of what was coming. And the feelings of sorrow she was getting through her emotional link with Twilight was anything to go by, she was right. “I’m not sure what answers you’re expecting, but I’ll do my best…” Sunrise gripped the handle on the door out of her room and gently pushed it open.

She managed to get a single hoof out the door before Twilight teleported in a flash to stand directly in front of her, looking straight in Sunrise’s eye. “I know you’re keeping secrets from me Sunrise. Which only means I’m probably not going to like what I hear.” Twilight craned her neck forward, getting her face closer to Sunrise’s. “Do you have anything to say for yourself now?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sunrise answered flatly, then casually walked through Twilight’s ghost, closing the door behind her with her magic.

Twilight turned and watched Sunrise slowly trotting down the hallway. “Remember earlier when you told me you could sense when I was lying through our emotional link? That works both ways you know.”

Sunrise bought her stride to a halt in her own time. “I don’t know what you’re insinuating, but…” Sunrise paused. Even she couldn’t speak past that lie. A lie that Twilight could surely feel. She mulled over the thought for several seconds, but in the end, she released a frustrated sigh and continued her pace. “It’s too early for this shit… And I need some coffee.”

Twilight furrowed her brow. "Then let me ask you straight," She once again teleported right into Sunrise's path, her eyes locked with Sunrise's and their noses only inches away from each other. "Princess Cadence, Flurry Heart, Shining Armor… What happened to them?"

Sunrise blinked. She felt her lungs suddenly tense up at the mere mention of those names. She felt like her brain was being twisted in multiple directions as the memories came back to haunt her.

But she quickly regained her composure, slowly releasing her breath to calm herself and glanced away from Twilight. “Long story short, I don’t know,” She bought her head back up to look at Twilight, who was only returning a disapproving but expected scowl at Sunrise. “The Crystal Empire didn’t accept Daybreaker’s rule when it was first demanded, so they put up some resistance. It was ultimately pointless as their armies couldn’t hope to withstand the might of the Solar Empire…” Sunrise slowly began walking again, once again walking through Twilight’s mirage. Twilight stepped to the side and walked alongside Sunrise. “The last time the old royal family were seen was here in this castle, right before a big battle to take control of the capital. The battle was obviously won by the Solar Empire, but there was no trace of the royal family. No bodies were found. We tried to trace them, but we had no luck. They just… vanished... “ Sunrise tilted her head and raised an eyebrow, “Have you tried asking Luna? She was also considered dead until she started appearing in my dreams. She might know something more.”

Twilight scoffed, “You’re trying to dodge the question, I can still sense you lying,” She stated back. “Stop lying and tell me straight,” she ordered.

“I’m not lying,” Sunrise shook her head, “If you don’t believe me, that’s your problem.”

Twilight stopped walking, letting Sunrise continue in her path. Sunrise took a few more lazy steps before eventually stopping herself. She twisted her head around to look at Twilight behind her. “And don’t give me that excuse of using our emotion link as a lie detector. I don’t care what your magic’s telling you, that’s my version of events, and I’m sticking by it.”

“You might not be DIRECTLY lying…” Twilight huffed through gritted teeth, glaring at Sunrise. “But I can tell you’re deliberately omitting certain parts of that story. And I won’t rest until I get the full version of events.”

“Believe whatever you want,” Sunrise spat, resuming her walk. “I’m done with this conversation. As a matter of fact, I was done with it a long time ago.”

Twilight once again teleported in front of Sunrise. Sunrise wasn’t even surprised this time, she just came to a stop.

“Do you really think that I--”

“Do you want to actually do anything today, or do you want to stand here arguing all day?!” Sunrise barked at Twilight, skidding her hooves to a stop.

Twilight stopped just behind Sunrise, simply rolling her eyes in response. This conversation was going nowhere. Perhaps Sunrise was right, maybe it was just best to leave it for now. Sunrise’s attitude towards it heavily implied that it wasn’t good news anyway, so maybe she was only delaying the inevitable.


Sunrise’s ears twisted in the direction of the new voice, then turned her head to see one of her maids cleaning one of the stained glass windows. “S-Sorry your Highness, were you talking to me… or…”

Sunrise’s ears folded flat when she realised that in her frustration, she ended up speaking out loud to Twilight instead of ‘thinking’ to her. And since there was nopony else around, that mare must have presumed she was talking to her…

Sunrise quickly cleared her throat, standing up straight. “Nevermind,” She replied, picking up her walk again. “Carry on,” she ordered, increasing her pace. She walked down the hallway a little before turning a corner and slowly coming to a stop, where she released a frustrated sigh.

“I’m REALLY not going to like what I discover, am I?” Twilight said with a slight growl in her throat while glaring daggers at Sunrise.

Sunrise met Twilight’s glare, opening her mouth to speak… But found no words to answer her. She wanted to end this conversation like she had been trying to, but couldn’t think of a way to do it. And she couldn’t exactly just walk off.

Sunrise just flicked her head away and continued her speedy walk through the hallway. There was only so much she could say. And Twilight was right, she probably would be less than thrilled by what she discovered… How long could she keep up the charade?

Chapter 7: Progress and Discovery

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As Luna once told Sunrise, Twilight loved reading. So it didn’t come to her surprise that Twilight managed to coerce her into a library. Sunrise had taken several books from the crystal castle’s library back to her quarters for Twilight to study. It was getting late, and the two of them were simply sat at her desk reading through the books, bathed by the spot light above their heads. Much to the boredom of Sunrise, as she had already lived through all this so-called ‘history’. If she didn’t have to be there to turn the pages for Twilight, she would have otherwise left her to it.

“So the Griffonian Empire just marched into New Mareland?” Twilight asked, her eyes still focused down on the book in front of her.

“It wasn’t exactly unexpected, but it did catch us off guard,” Sunrise remarked, her right cheek resting in her forehoof. She glanced over at the window, seeing that the sun was just about to fall below the horizon. “Unfortunately, we weren’t ready to escalate the issue into a full-scale war yet. We weren’t prepared, and neither was New Mareland. So we had no choice but to let Dawnclaw take the territories. Fortunately, the Griffonian Empire wasn’t prepared to chase us across the ocean either, our navy outmatches theirs. We’ve been in an arms race ever since.”

Twilight lifted her head up to look at Sunrise. “And this…” she shrugged from shoulder to shoulder, racking her brain searching for the right word, “...Stalemate has been here ever since?”

Sunrise gave a half-hearted nod. “The Griffonian Empire is pinched between us and the River Federation. We both consider them the enemy. If they were to attack one of us, the other would be quick to take advantage…” Sunrise felt like she had recounted this history to Twilight several times now. Which was even more impressive considering their access to each others memories grew day by day…

“And then… the weapons…” Twilight flattened her ears as she thought about the direction history had taken in her absence.

Sunrise nodded again, “We were the first, but it was only a matter of time before the Empire and the Federation developed nuclear weapons and rockets to launch them on their own. But if the intel from SMILE is accurate, we are currently the only ones possessing magic-enhanced warheads.”

“Which means that any conflict using those weapons…” Twilight lifted her forehooves into the air and held them up in front of her face, slowly moving them past each other. “The missiles would just past each other in midair…” her crossed hooves continued on their paths downwards and slammed onto the desk… or at least they would have if it wasn’t for her ghost form stopping the sound.

“We call that MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction,” Sunrise concluded.

Twilight chuffed, “Well the name is accurate. It’s ludicrous,” She replied. Her natural instinct took over as she tried to use her horn to close the book.

Sunrise suddenly shot upright, feeling an unnatural feeling in her horn. As if it had a mind of its own. “What did you do?” She asked, glancing up at her horn, her ears instinctively folding back.

“Did you feel that?” Twilight asked, smiling. “It means my body is starting to recognise my presence. I can start to feel my magic again,” she said excitedly, once again trying to use her horn to grasp the book. But the holographic aura around her horn just flickered on and off. “Still nothing yet though…”

“Great,” Sunrise replied with deadpan sarcasm, knowing that what Twilight had said before about her body trying to expel her presence must be true, or at least partially. She gathered that Twilight was done with the book and trying to close it. Sunrise ignited her horn of her own accord and closed the book, moving it over to a neatly stacked pile of books on her right… the pile that Twilight had already read… “Come on Twilight, you’re accomplishing nothing by sitting here reading books. There’s nothing in these that I haven’t already told you.”

“And like I said, I don’t believe what you’re telling me is true. I won’t stop until I find out what happened to my brother!” Twilight demanded, narrowing her glare at Sunrise. “And since you keep avoiding the question, I’ll just do it myself.”

“Not avoiding…” Sunrise muttered, glancing away from Sunrise. She wasn’t going to get into that argument again… but a thought did cross her mind. She released a sigh, “Alright,” She stood up, turning towards the door. She released a sigh as she stretched her limbs after being said down for so long. “Come with me,” She instructed, walking forward. Seeing as she was trapped inside Sunrise’s mind, Twilight had no choice but to follow Sunrise.

Sunrise opened her door, stepping out into the hallway. The light coming from the perfectly aligned chandeliers that were placed evenly along the ceiling of the hallway lit the evening. "Where are we going?" Twilight asked inquisitively, following Sunrise.

“Somewhere you’ll probably want to see…” Sunrise answered vaguely, slowly walking through the hallways. She kept looking around her surroundings, making sure that nopony was watching where she was going. Her hooves clacked against the crystal stairs as she descended down them.

“Oh, there you are, your Highness!” The familiar voice of Sunrise’s assistant called from down the end of the large open room that the stairs descended into. As she stepped down onto the landing, she shifted her gaze over to meet the blue unicorn mare, who was walking quickly towards her. “I thought you had retired for the night.”

“Technically I have…” Sunrise muttered, “But what is it, Frost?”

“Chief Marshal Sentry is here to see you,” Frost stated, slightly grimacing. As if she was expecting a poor response from Sunrise. “He apologised for the short notice but mentioned that you would be expecting him…”

As much as Sunrise hated distractions… this wasn’t a particularly bad one. If anything, it gave her some time to think about something else rather than answering Twilight’s questions. And judging by the feelings of excitement she was getting through her emotional link with Twilight, she also wanted to see him.

“Is he in the main entrance?” Sunrise asked.

“Yes, your Highness,” Frost answered with a nod.

“I’ll be right there,” Sunrise stated, glancing towards the next door she needed to go through. “Thank you, Frost.”

“Your Majesty,” Frost answered with a smile, bowing her head before turning to go up the staircase Sunrise just came down.

Before Sunrise had even begun moving, she could already see Twilight’s mirage heading towards the door. Sunrise couldn’t help but chuckle as she walked the same path. “You’re the only pony I know who gets excited about seeing her ex-boyfriend.”

“...N-No…” Twilight’s pace gradually slowed to a crawl. It’s not like she could open the door without Sunrise’s help anyway. “No I’m not…”

Sunrise walked past Twilight, catching the shade of red growing across her cheeks. “Could’ve fooled me,” Sunrise chimed sarcastically before picking up her pace.

Walking through the hallways, she wasn’t surprised that most of her staff had retired for the evening. With only a small amount of ponies left behind to clean along with her normal detachment of guards.

When she finally made it to the main entrance, Flash Sentry was the only pony standing in there. Given that he was still wearing his light purple uniform, she gathered that he came straight from work. Their gazes immediately locked the moment Sunrise entered the room. “I was wondering when you would show…” Sunrise greeted, trotting towards him.

“Sorry it’s so late, but I didn’t want to keep you waiting any longer…” Flash explained. “...Shall I start?”

Flash only saw Sunrise’s horn ignite briefly before the magic engulfed him and he felt his body go light. He reappeared a moment later standing in the same position in front of her, but they were now in a dining room, right at the back.

“Sorry if the teleportation caught you off guard,” Sunrise chimed, using her magic to flick on the lights on the chandelier above their heads.

“It’s okay,” Flash replied, chuckling. “You have no idea how much I have to watch mage recruits puking their guts up on a daily basis while they learn rapid teleportation.”

Sunrise smirked. “Always finding ways to have your fun…” her eyes drifted over to Twilight’s mirage gently walking towards Flash. Twilight’s eyes were a mix of shock and relaxation. Her mouth was ajar, but her eyes slowly became more lidded.

“Hello, handsome…” Twilight said out loud, knowing that Flash couldn’t hear her.

Sunrise felt Twilight’s emotions stirring inside her. “Stop oogling him, Twilight. Remember your emotions get projected onto me, and I don’t want him to think I’m into him…” Sunrise ordered, trying her best to keep her own thoughts and emotions at the forefront of her mind.

“Is that a bad thing?” Twilight shot a quick glance at Sunrise before looking back at Flash, walking alongside him.

“So… any news from your side?” Sunrise asked, trying to pre-occupy her mind away from… whatever Twilight was doing… She could already feel a tint trying to force its way onto her cheeks...

“Deeper than I thought,” Flash glanced away, stepping off to the side. He actually stepped through Twilight’s mirage, but he obviously had no clue that she was there. He lifted his right wing and perched himself against a rectangular dining table. “I think SMILE has some double-agents among their ranks. I stumbled onto a few cover-ups, but I couldn’t properly investigate them without getting caught.”

“Keeping your cover,” Sunrise nodded, “Smart.”

“Did you expect any less?” Flash asked back with a smile. “I’m not a young stallion anymore, Sunrise. I know a thing or two.”

Twilight chuckled, “I’m sure you do…” She craned her neck down to meet him at eye level, but he obviously had no idea she was standing right next to him as he continued his conversation with Sunrise. “There’s no ring on him, I take it he’s still single?”

“How would I know?” Sunrise snapped back at Twilight. Twilight only glanced back at Sunrise, shooting a smirk and raising an eyebrow at her.

“...F-Fine, he is,” Sunrise admitted, glancing away to give her mane a flick. She hoped that she could hide the heat rising in her cheeks behind it. She turned away to further conceal her face and took a few steps forward towards the wall, craning her neck to look out the window overlooking the palace gardens. “Anything else?” she asked Flash, trying to distract herself from Twilight.

“My contacts in Daybreaker’s Royal Guard did mention something,” Flash continued, lifting himself from the table and standing straight, in order to shift himself from a casual to a more serious posture. “They said things are… different… as if Daybreaker knows somethings going on…”

Sunrise’s ears folded flat. “What?” She turned to face Flash.

“Told you,” Twilight smugly remarked, but Sunrise paid no attention to her.

“It’s nothing major, but there’s been subtle changes to the way they operate. And couple that with the rumours I’ve heard through the grapevine at SMILE… They all say the same thing. Daybreaker knows that something’s going on, but is being subtle about the way she’s investigating it. Sounds like she doesn’t want the perp to know she’s onto them…”

Sunrise tilted her head and lowered it down at the same time, lifting a forehoof to place on her chin. Her thought patterns were flying at a million miles an hour trying to think of a solution. She wasn’t expecting this to come about so quickly.

“Something IS going on…” Flash took a step to the side and craned his head across to try and place him in Sunrise’s field of view. “Isn’t it Sunrise?”

“...I…” She met Flash’s gaze, her brow furrowing. A plan was quickly formulating in her head on the fly. “When is your next performance review with me?”

“Next week,” Flash answered, raising an eyebrow. “But what does that have to do with--”

“Move it to ASAP, but no sooner than forty-eight hours from this date. Clear whatever space in your calendar you need.” Sunrise clearly instructed.

“...Got it,” Flash nodded, taking a moment to process Sunrise’s instructions. They were odd, but he trusted her. She clearly had something in mind. “But…”

Sunrise sighed, “I’m sorry it’s vague, Flash,” Sunrise stood up straight. “But I’ve got some planning of my own to do. This is all happening so much sooner than I expected.”

“I understand,” Flash nodded, matching her posture and meeting her gaze. “We’re working towards the same goal, and I trust your judgement, Sunrise. Is there anything else I should know?”

Sunrise shook her head, staring down at the floor. “I just need some time,” She explained, lifting her head back up. “But I might need you to do some travelling for me…”

“Travelling?” Flash raised an eyebrow.

Sunrise nodded, “I would stand out like a sore hoof if I did it myself. I’ll explain some more once I’ve got things figured out…” She took a few steps to her side to once again gaze out the window. “You may leave, Flash… Thank you for trusting me with this…”

“I understand,” Flash nodded, lifting his hoof into a salute. “I’ll see you soon, Sunrise…” He waited a moment to see if Sunrise would turn to look at him, but she didn’t. So he turned to leave.

Sunrise’s ears twisted in the direction of his hoofsteps, listening to him slowly walk towards the door. There was a brief pause in his steps as he opened the door, then trotted out. Once Sunrise heard the sound of the door closing again, she released a long sigh. Using her magic, she pulled one of the lounge chairs back from the table and took a seat. She rested her forehooves on the table, then rested her chin on top of them. She watched Twilight taking a casual trot around the room examining the walls and the decorations.

“Running short on time seems to be a recurring theme with you,” Twilight noted as she walked.

“Like you were much help,” Sunrise remarked back, lifting her head up. “You were more interested in his physique.”

Twilight turned to look back at Sunrise from the other end of the room and shrugged. “I can’t talk to him, what did you expect me to do?” She answered back, then slowly crept a smile onto her face. “Besides, it was entertaining to watch you squirm and fluster trying to suppress my thoughts.”

Sunrise simply raised an eyebrow back at Twilight. Twilight chuckled a little at Sunrise before slowly trotting back towards her.

“I think I have a plan…” Sunrise stated, leaning back in her seat. “And I’m gonna need your contacts that you mentioned.”

“I know what you’re doing,” Twilight acknowledged. “You’re going to get Flash to coordinate the ‘distraction’ aren’t you?”

Sunrise nodded, “Then while he’s doing that, I… We can work on the Elements of Harmony…” Sunrise felt a smile trying to creep onto her face. Finally, she was starting to get a plan… but her joy only lasted for a second. Her ears folded down and her face drooped as a thought crossed her mind. “But I still don’t know what to do about Griffonia… I am genuinely scared of turning this cold war hot…”

The moment she said that to Twilight, she felt a twinge through their telepathic connection. A feeling of nervousness from Twilight. She lifted her head to look at Twilight, but Twilight immediately glanced away from her. “Is something wrong, Twilight?” Sunrise asked, narrowing her gaze inquisitively and raising an eyebrow.

“I’m just… thinking…” Twilight stalled.

“Well, you’re thinking so loud I can hear it,” Sunrise replied harshly to get her point across.

“Okay, okay,” Twilight shook her head then looked back at Sunrise. “I guess… you trust me, I trust you, right?”

“Of course, best friend,” Sunrise answered as sarcastically as she could, holding a deadpan expression on her face while resting her cheek in her forehoof.

“Alright, alright,” Twilight waved a hoof at her, sighing. “What I mean is, I want answers, you want answers... I want answers, TRUTHFUL answers, about my brother, my sister in law, and my niece.”

Sunrise rolled her eyes, “Change the damn record already, Twil--”

Twilight tried to slam her hoof on the table, but her ethereal form meant it didn’t produce any sound. “If I tell you the truth about Luna and what she has planned, will you tell me the truth about what happened to them?”

Sunrise’s ears flicked up to their tallest position. That caught her attention. “Maybe…” Sunrise thought for a moment before sitting upright. “But I have nothing to offer you apart from the explanation I already gave you,” She almost wanted to say that smugly, but she had her own plan in mind. She had to remain cordial.

“...REALLY?” Twilight’s eyes twitched. “I offer you extremely valuable information, yet you can’t do something as simple as tell the fucking truth?” Twilight gritted her teeth angrily, snorting out her nose.

“You’re right, it is valuable to me,” Sunrise continued calmly, her calm tone projecting authority through Twilight’s anger. “But I personally have nothing more to say on your request. The only other thing we might get is where we were going… until we got distracted…” Now it was her time to smile. “But now you’ve put that on the table, I’m not going there without learning what you’ve got to say first…”

Twilight’s eyes slowly grew wide as it didn’t take her long to process Sunrise’s words. “I… URGH!” If she was in a physical body, she would be slamming her head onto something hard multiple times right now. “I walked right into that… didn’t I?”

“Don’t be mad, Twilight,” Sunrise answered coyly. “You’re practically ancient history at this point. Meanwhile, I’ve been running a country for over two decades. Did you really think you could out-negotiate me?” Sunrise couldn’t help but grin.

Twilight let a slight growl escape her lips while she thought for several moments. Eventually, she released a sigh and folded her ears back. “I guess…” She reopened her eyes, locking directly with Sunrise’s. “You win. I’ll tell you what you want, on the grounds you show me what you were going to.”

“You have my word,” Sunrise held her hoof up and nodded. “Now spill,” She commanded, sitting upright with her ears primed in Twilight’s direction. Even if they didn’t need to be as Twilight was in her head anyway, it just felt more natural to her to do that when she wanted to listen intently.

Twilight took a seat beside Sunrise. “Your plan will work. Flash can work on organising the resistance while we work on the Elements of Harmony. As for Griffonia…” Twilight glanced away briefly. She still wasn’t sure whether she should spill the beans… but she couldn’t exactly back out of it now. “Luna is handling the situation in Griffonia. Probably as we speak.”

“Handling it how?” Sunrise raised an eyebrow.

“Remember Grover the Sixth? Who you thought was dead?” Twilight asked.

Sunrise gave a single nod in return, then tilted her head inquisitively.

“Well… he’s alive,” Twilight continued, “And Luna has managed to make contact with him through dreams. She told me it took her years to learn the nuances of dream-walking into griffons’ dreams, but she managed to do it.”

Sunrise shook her head, “Why can’t you dead ponies and griffons just stay dead?”

“Because you obviously didn’t do a very good job of killing us in the first place,” Twilight retorted bluntly, her eyes lidding. “Anyway, Luna is trying to do the same thing we are. Coordinate a simultaneous rebellion in both Equestria and Griffonia. That’s something you two will have to figure out together. Luna can link your dreams together so you can communicate.”

This was all very interesting news to Sunrise… but it wasn’t without it’s questions. “Then… What’s with the delay?” Sunrise raised an eyebrow. “Why was Luna keeping this from me?”

Twilight sighed, looking away and down at the floor. “Luna doesn’t trust you… at all. She’s been trying to test you to see where your loyalties lie. She thinks you’ve been trying to come up with a way to stab her in the back, which is why she’s only giving you tiny bits of information at a time. I’ve tried to convince her otherwise, but she won’t believe it…” Twilight looked back up again, looking Sunrise in the eyes. “But I trust you, Sunrise.”

Sunrise chuffed, shaking her head. “Genuinely, or out of necessity?” She chimed.

“Both,” Twilight doubled-down, holding her gaze.

Sunrise simply raised an eyebrow back at her.

Twilight could only hold her gaze for a moment before her ears folded back and she glanced away, “Okay, maybe necessity,” She reluctantly admitted, looking back at Sunrise with a slightly awkward smile. “But from all the info we’ve got over the last few days, it all points to the fact that we’re running out of time. Daybreaker knows that somethings going on, and it won’t be long before she catches up to us. I’m sure she won’t hesitate to kill you if she has to, which will also kill me.”

“And then you’ll kill me eventually anyway, either with the Elements of Harmony or simply through time as your conscious takes over my body,” Sunrise promptly added.

Twilight slowly exhaled remaining calm. At this point, she knew that Sunrise only referred to it as her body to deliberately get under her skin. “Maybe… but from the looks of it, it’s either the frying pan or the fire for you… or should I say the sun?”

Sunrise bought her forehooves up and rested her chin on top of them, thinking long and hard about the road ahead. “It’s like I’m stuck in a narrow corridor, and I can only go forward or backwards. Daybreaker is behind me, you’re in front of me. If I stay where I am, Daybreaker will eventually catch me. If I keep running forward, I’ll eventually run into you…” Sunrise released a long sigh, closing her eyes and folding her ears down. “I’ve always been completely open about saying I’ll try and find another way to avoid the latter happening. That hasn’t changed…” She lifted her head back up and gazed back at Twilight. “But I also understand that we need to keep moving forward…” Sunrise nodded. “So what do we do?”

Twilight half-smiled. “I can make contact with Luna the next time you go to sleep. She can explain it all there. She probably won’t be happy with what I’ve told you, but it was my only way to make this exchange…” Twilight’s ears suddenly popped up. “Speaking of which…” She raised an eyebrow at Sunrise, letting the trailing off in her voice do the work.

Sunrise nodded, understanding what she was implying. She pushed the chair back and bought herself to her hooves. “I’m a mare of my word,” She stated, igniting her horn. She had wasted enough time on this already, she didn’t want to waste anymore. So she opted to teleport to the location.

They arrived in a dark empty hallway. Even at the peak of the day, this area of the castle was sparsely populated. All the lights had been shut off, and there were no windows. The only illumination came from Sunrise’s horn.

“Where are we?” Twilight asked, trying to look around, but it was too dark to see anything.

Sunrise intensified her magic and shone a bright light down to the end of the hallway behind them, where it squared off and turned a corner. “Just an old storage area. It’s pretty much the castle’s basement. It doesn’t get much use nowadays since we control all of Equestria,” Sunrise explained. “And there’s nopony around to see us,” She dimmed her horn again, turning her head and pointing her left ear down the hallway. “...Silence. We are alone.”

Sunrise turned and illuminated down the hallway with her horn once again, this time down the other direction. As it turned out, they were standing only a few steps short of what seemed like a dead-end, save for a few single doors further back down the other end of the hallway splitting off into other rooms.

But Twilight could tell immediately something was off with that wall. It had a shiny sheen to it, as if it had been freshly cleaned. But the rest of the area was slightly dusty and lacked a certain shine. Under the light of Sunrise’s horn, it stood out like a sore hoof. “This wall is fake, isn’t it?”

“Took you long enough,” Sunrise chimed sarcastically, stepping towards the wall.

Twilight furrowed her brow and opened her mouth to respond to Sunrise’s witty remark… but seeing as she was finally doing something she wanted her to do, Twilight thought twice about pissing her off...

Sunrise stopped short of the wall and slowly lowered her head. She gently tapped the tip of her horn against the wall, causing it to flicker. Her horn glowed quickly for a split second before the wall vanished, revealing a large golden door. It had a golden star shape in the middle growing around a circular hole.

“Oh, I’ve seen one of these before,” Twilight chimed, recognising it.

As she did, Sunrise was suddenly overwhelmed by the memory. A headache began throbbing its way into her mind as her vision suddenly shifted into a hallucination of the similar door in the old Canterlot castle. Where Celestia once kept the Elements of Harmony.

Sunrise rubbed her eyes for several seconds until her vision returned to the real world. “Thanks for the reminder. Quite literally…” Sunrise huffed out loud before lowering her head and pushing her horn into the hole in the wall. She ignited her magic and the door instantly began to glow in the red aura of her magic. Sunrise pulled her horn out and lifted her head up again. The red aura slowly travelled up to the tips of the star before it reached outwards to the edge of the door and then connected around the perimeter of the triangle. The doors then slowly began to part, groaning and scraping their way open.

“So what’s so secret that it’s behind all this?” Twilight questioned.

Sunrise didn’t answer. She simply waited until the door had opened wide enough for her to step through. She was immediately greeted by the scent of dust and stale air, further reiterating that it had been a while since this room had been accessed. Firmly in the room, she turned and used her magic to stop the door from opening any further. It was clear that they were in a significant lack of maintenance. Most likely due to their lack of use. She cast a quick spell that reestablished the fake wall in front of the door for the time being.

“What is this place?” Twilight asked, looking around, but not being able to see much in the pitch-black other than the light coming off Sunrise’s horn.

Sunrise fumbled around the wall, using her horn for light. It didn’t take her long to find what she was looking for. A lever on the wall. Giving it a firm shove with her hoof, it made a small electrical crack before several strip lights along the ceiling suddenly illuminated the room they were standing in.

“This is a secret storeroom that we use to hold important items. Most importantly, the reason we’re here. All the belongings of the old royal family left behind were locked away in here.”

Twilight’s eyes widened at Sunrise’s words. She immediately saw things she recognised, like old family portraits and other possessions. “This is…”

“I don’t think anything down here will give you the answers you’re looking for. But I hope it will help to see what’s in here…” Sunrise slowly walked towards the middle of the room. It was a fairly small-sized room. The old velvet carpet was showing its age, but its colour was barely visible behind the dust anyway. The stone walls had several more shelving units pushed up against them, all looking very curvy. It was clear that this room wasn’t given much attention to detail. It looked more like a dumping ground of organised chaos. “Take as long as you like,” Sunrise walked alongside Twilight.

Much to Sunrise’s relief, Twilight, for once, was speechless. Her lips were slightly parted and her ears folded back. Her eyes locked on what was in front of her. She was looking at an old family portrait from Hearth’s Warming. In the photo, she was standing alongside Shining Armor and Cadence, with Flurry Heart sitting atop Cadence’s head. It really hit home about how long she had been away. To her, that was only last Hearth’s Warming. But to Sunrise, it was ancient history. “I remember this…”

“And thanks to you, I do too,” Sunrise groaned, rubbing her forehead as she got a photographic recall of that particular Hearths Warming sent into her eyes.

Twilight furrowed her brow, remembering that the memories that must be flooding into Sunrise’s brain at the moment must be painful for her. Twilight knew that she wouldn’t willingly sit through all that, and if she wanted to, she could just walk out and Twilight would be powerless to stop her. Which reinforced her belief that Sunrise was doing it out of sincerity. Perhaps she was genuinely on her side…

Twilight trotted further down the aisles until her eyes rested on a figure, causing her to pick up the pace towards it at the end of the shelves that made up this aisle. At the end was a mannequin dressed in a familiar purple armour. She had no doubt in her mind when she recognised the shield shape on the front with a lighter purple star on it. “Shining…” She reached out her hoof, gently placing her hoof onto the front of the armour and feeling the metallic texture. “This was my brothers…”

Sunrise could sense the feelings of sorrow coming from Twilight. And it was beginning to impact her. “As I said, I don’t expect to find anything groundbreaking down here… but is it helping?” She asked. Mainly to keep herself talking so she didn’t accidentally say the wrong thing…

Twilight gave a single nod. “Thank you for doing this, Sunrise. I know it’s probably hard with the way my memories give you headaches when they get triggered. Your head must feel like it’s about to explode.”

“No kidding,” Sunrise sarcastically chimed back. She used her magic to levitate her crown off her head, setting it to the side to try and relieve the pressure on her head the best she could.

Twilight craned her head around, examining all aspects of the armour. It still had burn marks along the front, as well as red stains trailing down the edges. “This is… how it was found?” Twilight asked.

“As I’m told,” Sunrise replied, “I wasn’t the one who found it.”

Twilight slowly lowered her hoof back down to the ground. All she could do was grimace as she thought about the injuries that would have caused those stains.

Sunrise took a few more steps forward into the many rows upon rows of objects stacked onto shelves, or in some cases, on top of each other. “Where do we start?” She asked softly.

Twilight looked around, raising an eyebrow. “This is… everything?”

Sunrise nodded, “Everything that they left behind. It was kept just in case there was anything in here that would be useful during the war. Nowadays it’s simply a room lost to time…” Sunrise folded her ears down. “Although Daybreaker would still incinerate me where I stood if she caught me down here reminiscing…”

Twilight nodded, stopping by one of the shelves. “To her, it’s probably nothing more than junk…” She mused, trying to pick up the mirror with her magic.

Sunrise exhaled sharply and her head shot up as she felt a sudden jolt through her horn.

“Oh,” Twilight immediately realised what she was doing and stopped. “Sorry, force of habit I guess…” She smiled sheepishly.

Sunrise rolled her eyes and trotted over next to Twilight, “This mirror?” Sunrise asked, levitating it up from its flat position to look into it.

Twilight nodded, “This might just seem like some old furniture… but to me, this was my Mom and Dads wedding present to my brother and Cadence…” Twilight sighed, looking at the beautiful flowing gold patterns surrounding the reflective surface of the rectangular mirror. She couldn’t even see herself in the mirror. Only Sunrise’s reflection appeared.

Sunrise set it back down, “I recall there being some photo albums this way,” She said, walking further down the row. She lifted her hoof up to give her nose a quick scratch as she walked. All the dust that had been undisturbed for years was now alive and ready to attack her airwaves.

Twilight followed Sunrise up the aisle, casting her had back and forth at the various pieces of furniture and other trinkets left behind by her brother and Cadence. But all it did was further fuel her thoughts about their fate. And made her start to question what would have been different if she had been around to stop it…

Sunrise came to a stop just at the end of the aisle, using her magic to pull out a large cardboard box underneath a shelf. She pulled it to the base of her hooves, then immediately stopped. Furrowing her brow, she examined the spot on the shelf where it came from.

“Something wrong?” Twilight asked, picking up on the change in Sunrise’s behaviour. She craned her head over to look try and look at whatever Sunrise was caught up with and raised an eyebrow.

“There’s no dust on this box at all, it’s been wiped clean.” Sunrise brushed her hoof against the top cover to confirm that no dust transferred onto the bottom of her hoof shoe. “Somepony was here recently,” She stated, looking back at the lid of the box. Aside from its obvious signs of ageing, it was absolutely pristine, which made it stand out among the other items in the room covers in decades of dust.

Twilight’s pupils shrunk at the news. If Sunrise was right, then only two ponies knew about this room... “A-Are you sure it’s just… you and Daybreaker that knows about this?”

“As far as I know,” Sunrise rubbed her chin, “But this isn’t very typical of Daybreaker. She’s more direct with her problems, and if she knew we were gonna be down here, I would’ve been fried long before now…”

“But why would somepony be down here? And why this box specifically?” Twilight asked.

“Anything in here would probably sell for several lifetimes worth of bits, but this isn’t exactly the type of place your average thief can just break into. That and I’m not sure why this box exactly either…” Sunrise raised a hoof and flipped the lid off the cardboard box. “It’s just a photo album, a few books, and a couple of kids toys,” She explained, revealing a large book covering the entire perimeter of the box it was sitting in. Using her magic, Sunrise levitated it out, revealing the toys and other miscellaneous items underneath.

Twilight instinctively tried to use her magic to open the book, but of course, she was stopped short at the top of her (Sunrise’s?) horn.

“Alright, alright,” Sunrise snapped back, feeling the pressure building in her horn. She opened the book up to the first page, being careful not to further damage the already well-worn spine of the book. At the front was a picture from Canterlot Castle. Shining Armor and Princess Cadence were front and centre, dressed in fancy clothes and holding hooves while looking into the camera. It didn’t take much to trigger the almost photographic memory of their wedding in Sunrise’s mind. The headaches it gave her were intense, but at this point, she simply expected the pain and learnt to deal with it. She wasn’t getting rid of it anytime soon anyway.

She looked over at Twilight, but she looked even worse than when they started. She had her eyes locked on the photo. If she could make tears in her ethereal form, Sunrise was sure they’d be streaming down her face. With their emotions being intertwined, she almost felt like doing the same herself.

“Too much?” Sunrise asked softly.

Twilight shook her head, not taking her eyes off the photo. “Not enough,” She answered back. “Keep going.”

Sunrise looked back at the book and immediately flipped it all the way to the end using her magic. Unsurprisingly, the end pages were empty. The photo album had plenty of spaces left in it for more photos to be taken and memories to be made. She slowly flicked back through the pages until she got to around the halfway mark of the album. There, she found the last photo.

Shining Armour, in his full army uniform, held their foal Flurry Heart in his left foreleg, standing next to Cadence. Alongside them were Shining’s and Twilight’s parents, Twilight Velvet and Dusk Shine. In the front row was Twilight herself, sitting with five other ponies. The bearers of the Elements of Harmony. Rainbow Dash sat alongside Twilight wearing her Equestrian Royal Air Force uniform. Forming the rest of the row was Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rarity and Fluttershy. Sitting just beside Twilight down by her foreleg was a small green and purple dragon, Spike.

“Just in case…” Twilight spoke softly, causing Sunrise to look over at her. “I wanted to have this photo just in case the worse happened during the war…”

Sunrise carefully slid the photo out of the album to examine it closer, looking on the back, but found nothing. “If you were trying drop a hint, leave a clue, set a trap, or anything else for us to find in this box, where would you start?” Sunrise asked, setting the photo and the album down to the side.

Twilight took a few more moments to look at the photo before turning her attention back to the task at hoof. “What’s even in he--” a quick peek inside answered her question before she got it out. “Flurry’s toys?” Twilight raised an eyebrow.

“The foal?” Sunrise twisted her head to look inside the box at a different angle. “Why would somepony be in here for that?”

“Not a thief, that’s for sure…” Twilight rubbed her chin, “Is this the only place that looks like it’s been disturbed?”

Sunrise twisted her head around to look around the aisle they were standing in, quickly glancing over the other shelves around them. “From where we’re standing, yes. But it’s not a huge room to search…” She turned her head back to the box, raising an eyebrow. “I think somepony did this deliberately.” She grasped the box in her magic and tilted it over, tipping its contents onto the floor around them. “What stands out to you the most?”

“I don’t know, they’re all just Flurry’s old toys…” Twilight lowered her head to the floor, looking over the toys slowly until her head stopped at one in particular. “But if I had to pick one, it would have to be Whammy,” She pointed at the green snail toy.

“Pfft, Whammy?” Sunrise almost smirked, levitating it up in her magic.

“Flurry named it,” Twilight answered with a smile. “It was her favourite.”

Sunrise levitated it up to her eye level and tilted it in her magic until its beady black eyes looked at her. “...cute, for a snail…” Sunrise spoke flatly, continuing to examine it from several angles, twisting it in her magic. “Is it old, or just had a lot of love?” She said, noticing the condition of the toy.

“Well, I suppose it is old by today's standards…” Twilight thought, “Why do you ask?”

“I just noticed the repair along this seam,” Sunrise tilted it towards Twilight. “Not the cleanest needlework I’ve ever seen.”

Twilight suddenly leaned forward, ears twisting up to full attention. “Then Rarity can’t have done it,” She muttered to herself. “She’s the only pony my family would have used to get it fixed, and she would never do such a bad job…” Twilight looked back at Sunrise. “Can you unravel the stitch? I think we’ve just found our clue.”

Sunrise looked back at the toy held in her magic. She bought it in closer to look at the rough stitch around where the green shell joined the tanned beige fabric of the snail. Using her magic, she found a loose thread with ease and pulled. Slowly, the shell began to peel away from the body and tilt off to the side, revealing the white cotton stuffing inside. And once it fell away enough, it revealed… “A note,” Sunrise said out loud, immediately grasping the crumpled paper with her magic and pulling it out through the stuffing. She set the toy to the side and immediately unravelled it to begin reading.

Took you long enough to find this, Aunt Twilight. But if you’re reading this, that means you must have broken free of that monster that was controlling you. And you’re also discovering that I’m still alive! I’ve got so much I want to tell you, but most of it will have to wait until we meet (that and I haven’t got much room on this piece of paper.)

You’ll be happy to hear that I’ve been safe and well over all these years. Decades even. I was just a little filly the last time we met. This must be very weird… anyway, we need to meet. But I can’t just say where I’m hiding, in case that monster is reading this instead of you (Sunrise Sparkle or whatever you call yourself.)

I can’t tell you where or how to find me, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out. You’re the smartest pony in all of Equestria, and I can’t wait to reunite with you.

Your niece,
Princess Flurry Heart, rightful ruler of the Crystal Empire.

If Sunrise is reading this instead of Twilight, I look forward to meeting you too, but for entirely different reasons. You better be ready for the fight of your life, because I will make you pay for what you’ve done.

Both Sunrise’s and Twilight’s jaw hung ajar as they finished reading the letter.

“Flurry’s alive…” Twilight whispered softly, her voice trembling.

“W-Well…” Even Sunrise was lost for words. “This is...is…”

“FLURRY’S ALIVE!” Twilight lept forward, going for a dive-hug on Sunrise, but quickly remembered she would just float right through her and backed out of it.

Sunrise felt Twilight’s happiness projecting through her mind. She could feel a smile creeping onto her face, and there was nothing she could do about it. “This changes a lot of things,” Sunrise understated.

“I know,” Twilight regained her composure, looking back at Sunrise, but still had a big smile on her face from ear to ear. “I’m just so happy… and after everything else, a little bit surprised that she’s still alive. I thought Daybreaker might have wanted to… secure your power…”

“If she did that, that would make her no better than Dawnclaw. It wouldn’t make for great PR,” Sunrise answered back, looking back at the note. She noticed the rough tear along the side of the paper. “Where did this even come from?” She tilted the note to look at the back of the paper, revealing some printed text on the back. “This note came out a book, a story by the look of it,” She analysed, skimming through the text. “But it’s not something I recognise,” She levitated it over to Twilight. “How about you?”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed as she skimmed through the text herself, “Mmmm… Oh, I know this one,” Twilight chuckled, “I think I know what Flurry’s saying,” She looked back at Sunrise, “This is a children’s storybook about a colt looking for his lost sister. He has to find clues to work out where to go next. I think Flurry is telling us to look for clues.”

Sunrise’s eyes flattened, “I can almost feel us being dragged back to square one…”

“It can’t be that complicated,” Twilight said with invigored enthusiasm. “All the clues must be in here.”

“But where?” Sunrise asked, levitating up a teddy bear. “I don’t think playing doctor all day with her old toys was something Flurry would have in mind…” She rotated the teddy around in her magic to see if there were any signs of bodged stitching like on the snail, but there wasn’t.

Twilight rubbed her chin with her forehoof, “If she was going to target the clues at me…” she muttered, looking over the assortment of items Sunrise had tipped on the floor. Not being able to physically examine them was frustrating for her, but her eyes were good enough. She looked at the biggest item from the box; a Daring Do boxset containing the entire saga of books. “I remember buying this for Flurry…” Twilight pointed at it. “She wasn’t really old enough for all of them at the time, but I thought it would be nice to get them when she was ready to read them.”

Sunrise levitated the boxset up with her magic. The boxset had cover art on the side of it with Daring Do swinging through the jungle on a vine. “I never did read any of these…” Sunrise tilted it around to look at the books neatly slotted into the box, primed and ready to be picked out for reading.

Twilight raised an eyebrow as she noticed something while looking at the books. “These books aren’t in the right… order…” she trailed off, her mind putting it together…

“Brainwave?” Sunrise asked, feeling the sense of an idea coming through her mind via the link she had with Twilight.

“Pull the first book out,” Twilight continued. “Flurry would have known I would spot that, this must be the clue.”

Sunrise pulled out the first book at the left side beginning of the box and opened it up. “Any idea what I’m looking for?”

“No,” Twilight shook her head, “But flick through the pages first, see if there’s anything obvious.”

Sunrise began rapidly flicking through all the pages. The lack of dust coming off the book heavily implied that it had been opened recently. Although she was skimming through it quickly, she was keeping her eyes peeled to see if there were any visual changes.

“Stop!” Twilight suddenly called, causing Sunrise to halt mid-page turn, “Go back, to the start of the chapter.”

Sunrise slowly turned the pages back, eventually landing on the beginning of the chapter. She noticed that the page had been earmarked in the corner.

“This must be it,” Twilight rubbed her chin again, “But what does it mean? Guess we’ll have to read.”

Sunrise’s ears suddenly shot straight up as an idea soared through her head. “Or maybe not,” She extended her magic to pick up the note that Flurry had left behind and also grabbed one of the several pens that came out of the box. She scratched the pen against the paper a few times to prime it and get the ink flowing out. Sunrise rolled her eyes as she discovered the pen was full of bright pink glittery gel ink, but it was better than nothing. She wrote down the chapter number of the book, then put it down and moved on to the next book in the line. The book had the same thing, earmarked at the start of a chapter. “I think I get it,” Sunrise noted down the chapter number then moved on to do the same thing with the next book in line.

After Sunrise repeated the process a few times, Twilight began to understand what she was doing. Sunrise eventually finished going through the case of books and they were left with a long string of numbers.

Sunrise and Twilight both spoke at the same time.

“And not far from here either, that’s somewhere in the Crystal Mountains,” Sunrise guessed the rough location. It had been a while since she had to locate something on a map using coordinates.

“Well, when are we going?” Twilight asked eagerly, smiling.

Sunrise sighed and lowered her head, “I know how badly you must want to see her, Twilight…” She looked over at Twilight, “But remember it won’t be you she’ll be seeing, it’ll be me. And if her note was anything to go by, she won’t take kindly to seeing me. Remember that we’re trying to keep a low profile, and two alicorns duelling with magic will attract too much attention.”

Twilight badly wanted to counter Sunrise’s argument, to disprove her theory… but she couldn’t deny Sunrise’s logic. She remained silent for several moments before releasing a sigh, “I guess you’re right…” She conceived, her ears flattening. “...I guess I’ve got what I came here for… you can go if you want…”

Sunrise used her magic and quickly tidied up the mess she made tipping everything out of the box, hastily but carefully throwing everything back in. She didn’t have to make it look neat as she was certain nopony would be looking down here, but she didn’t want to damage anything more that she might regret further down the line. “I’m sorry it didn’t provide the exact answers you were looking for…” Sunrise stated, putting the lid back on the box and placing it back on the shelf as if it never left. She thought about adding a snarky remark akin to ‘I told you so’, but she had other things on her mind.

“It’s okay,” Twilight replied, “Learning that Flurry is alive is better than what I was expecting to find. I still want to find out what happened to my brother and Cadence though, even if it is just for closure…”

Double-checking where they were standing to make sure everything was in order, Sunrise took one final look around. “Anything else you want to see while we’re down here?”

“No,” Twilight shook her head, “I think I’ve seen everything I need to see.”

“Alright,” Sunrise collected Flurry’s note and stored it in a compartment on her peytral. She began trotting back towards the door, collecting her crown from where she left it and placed it back on her head. “I hope you’re not done reminiscing though. We’ve got some work to do tonight.”

“Oh?” Twilight raised an eyebrow, smiling.

“I’ve got some writing to do,” Sunrise returned her smile. “I’m going to need your contacts and where to find them.”

“And you’re going to give the instructions to Flash?” Twilight deduced from their earlier conversation.

“Exactly,” Sunrise echoed, using her magic to lower the magical barrier disguised as a wall beyond the door. She stepped through it before once again using her magic to close the ancient door behind them and re-raise the wall. “Flash will be able to keep a relatively low profile compared to me in order to get some ‘distractions’ organized. Then we can focus on the Elements of Harmony…” Sunrise trailed off, knowing what that could potentially result in…

“Have you put anymore thought into that?” Twilight asked.

Sunrise shook her head, “All I know is that once Daybreaker figures out what we’re trying to do, she will try to do whatever it takes to prevent the Elements of Harmony from being used on her. If she can’t secure them, she will kill the bearers to prevent them from being used. We… I need to speak to your friends to make sure they’re ready…” She looked over and locked eyes with Twilight, “But before that, I need to speak to Luna tonight.”

Twilight nodded in agreement, “I can do that… Luna showed me the magic…” She trailed off, glancing away. “She’s not going to be happy though…”

“Why not?” Sunrise inquired, raising an eyebrow.

“I… might have given away more than she wanted me to…” Twilight admitted, smiling back awkwardly, “She wanted to be the one to give you the context, but I traded the information for you to show me what we saw down there. Which when you think about it, if we never did that, we would have never learnt that Flurry was still alive, so…” Twilight shrugged, “I think I did the right thing…”

“...Interesting…” Sunrise lidded her eyes, “So you can connect our dreams tonight?”

“I will,” Twilight acknowledged with a nod.

“Good…” Sunrise smiled while looking away, only keeping an eye on where she was walking. From what Twilight was saying, it sounded like she still had plenty of answers that she needed from Luna. Not to mention the revelation that Flurry Heart was alive. Things were finally moving along, but hopefully not too quickly…