Wednesday, March 18, 2020

False Accusations and Mistaken Identities, Ch1: Every word you've ever said, every thing you've ever done, and every choice you've ever made has led to this moment

Some notes and stuff:
On Sunday I wrote for five and a half hours straight.  I don't know the last time that happened.  This is the result.

I know that I say one shouldn't need prior knowledge of the source material a lot, but in this case it's especially true.  This is the story of Sunset Shimmer beginning to [start of plot] so you don't need to know anything about her in advance because you're about to read who she is.

That's not to say that prior knowledge wouldn't help.  It could prevent you from thinking things like, "Wait, what statue?" "I thought her name was Cadence, not Cadenza," "Why is this group called the 'Rainbooms'" or (right at the end) "Why does she know the names of these people she hasn't met before?"

It's just that the first three don't actually matter when it comes to understanding the story (nor do any other unexplained names, references, or objects), and the last one is a Chapter Two question, which will be answered therein.  (If it ever gets written.

So, with that said, I hope someone actually reads this, and (if any do) I hope they enjoy it.

~ * ⁂ * ~

Sunset's earliest memories were vague.  Fuzzy as fuck and hard to make out.  The one constant within them was a feeling.  She belonged.  She was loved.  She was part of a family.  Anything beyond that was either lost entirely or corrupted and fragmented to the point of being meaningless.

She had no idea what her parents had looked like.  No sense of what they sounded or smelled like.  No physical sensations; just emotion.  She also didn't have anything tangible to remind her of those days.  Just memories that faded more and more with each passing moon.

Sometimes she thought that she'd imagined it all.  That she'd always been alone, and family was just a pleasing fiction she'd invented to provide some comfort in her otherwise dreary life.  Lie to yourself often enough, and it stops being a lie.  It becomes something else, something stronger.  Just as false as a lie, but without the knowledge of that falsehood.  A delusion that, for you, has all the force of truth.

Other times she avoided thinking about it at all.  The difference between then and now hurt too much.

But when she did think about it, when she did believe it . . . well, there was a time when she would have done anything to get that feeling back.  Lie, cheat, steal?  Of course.  Dark magic?  No problem.  High treason?  Absolutely.  Other treason too, but who cared about that when it stood in the shadow of treason against the immortal ruler who could (and did) make the sun and moon move at her command?

Corrupting a magical artifact vital to the security of her homeland?  Tartarus, she would have corrupted all six, but only one was in position to be easily stolen. Raising an army of innocent schoolchildren so they could be used as literal human shields to keep her from getting swarmed, which happened to be the only tactic to ever defeat said-artifact, long enough to use that artifact to take over Equestria?  That was just her emergency backup plan for if she had hours instead of days with the Element.  Plans A through G were more involved.

All that and so much more.

~ * ⁂ * ~

The moment Celestia adopted Cadence as a long lost niece, Sunset had become obsessed with becoming an alicorn because, if a Pegasus who sprouted a horn merited adoption, then surely a unicorn who sprouted wings would as well.  Then the barrier between student and teacher could fall, and Celestia could be what Sunset had always wanted, but never had the courage to ask, her to be: Sunset's mother.

She devoted every waking moment to the project of sprouting those wings.  If she could have, she'd have devoted even more time to it, but she'd never gotten the hang of lucid dreaming.  When the mirror showed her wings, she thought she'd found the key.  Instead she became the youngest pony to ever be banished from Canterlot Castle.  Everypony else had waited till they were in double digits, Sunset had done it at nine and a half.

Celestia would have provided her with lodging, Sunset had no doubt, but they'd be even further apart.  Sunset would be physically comfortable, but she wouldn't belong.  She wanted to belong.  She wanted, so very hard, to belong.  It had been a split second decision.  The mirror was in the castle, if she let herself be taken out of the castle she might never see it again, and the mirror had shown her wings.

If she went to the other world, got those wings, and came back . . . well then Celestia would have to adopt her, and Sunset could finally belong again.

The mirror had already been near the end of its active phase.  For almost two days she'd considered going through anyway, but concluded that it wasn't worth the risk.  Not until she knew more.  Then her hoof had been forced.  Jump through unprepared, or risk never going at all.

Adrenaline and desperation had been enough to get her through, but that couldn't last forever, and when everything crashed back down her resolve shattered.  It didn't matter.  There was no going back; the portal was closed.

~ * ⁂ * ~

She'd always known that ascension was no small task.  It would take time.  She'd been ready to commit thirty moons to study while she waited for the next active phase.  She had been in it for the long haul.  That did nothing to lessen the fact she was completely unprepared for thirty moons as a human.

Surrounded by strange creatures, in a body not her own, with no one to help her, and no magic to protect her, Sunset Shimmer was terrified and broken.  Many nights she cried herself to sleep.  Whenever possible, she only moved at night, slinking from shadow to shadow on mostly deserted streets.

Slowly, though, she remembered who she was.  She was Sunset Shimmer.  She hadn't always lived in a castle; she'd grown up on the streets.  Princess Celestia had taken Sunset in after seeing her use advanced magic, far beyond what other ponies her age struggled with, to steal bits from a noble's enchanted saddlebag.

Without her magic Sunset had felt helpless, but it didn't take too long to realize that no one else had magic either.  In a world of creatures who ate terrestrial meat, Sunset had felt horrified, but that just meant she could be assured of her moral superiority.  She didn't have shelter?  So what?  No one was taking care of her?  She didn't need anyone to.

And so she turned things around.  She was Sunset Shimmer, she was unstoppable, and the human world would never know what hit it.

~ * ⁂ * ~ 

Begging could work well when one was a cute child and it could work even better when one was with a cute child; Sunset had known this.  Her earliest clear memories were of going out with this or that adult pretending to be their foal in exchange for a cut of the earnings.  Stealing took more work.  Fingers were not magic.  Learning guitar was her version of intensive self-directed physical therapy.  Originally, actually, she'd played ukulele.

It had been surprisingly easy to get someone to teach her.  Busking got you more money than begging, and therefore saying, "Help me feed my daughter who is playing her heart out for you right now," got better returns than, "Help me feed my daughter who is standing there looking cute and destitute."  After all, she was cute and destitute either way.

None of those relationships involved any kind of belonging.  It was business.  They used her to increase their take, Sunset used them to get a take (without risking a run in with Child Protective.)  Homelessness was neither abuse nor neglect, so as long as people thought she had a parent, she was safe.  She had learned that in a public library, which was where she spent most of her non-working daylight hours.

At night . . . well, the humans threw out a lot of food.  Dumpsters beckoned.  Sunset answered the call.

That was life.  That was life for a good long while.  Sunset didn't just survive; she thrived.
It was never meant to be forever, though.  After enough moons had passed, there was a sense of anticipation that grew and grew.  By the 29th moon, she spent most of her days euphoric; she was going home.

Then she got sick.  It was a disgusting thing.  Her memories were of pain, snot, fever dreams, vomit, and waking experiences so disjointed and surreal that they blended with the dreams.  Mostly snot.

The portal was open for three days.  She'd been out of it for five.  It had been all she could do to eat, drink, and move to a different corner of the room when she needed to relieve herself.  She hadn't left the building.  There was no going home.

~ * ⁂ * ~

When the sickness finally broke, she woke up surrounded by the scattered remains of her entire stockpile of food and drink.  It hadn't been enough, not really.  She felt like she was starving, and the dehydration hurt in that way only a distinct lack of water could.  Stacking an undernourishment headache on top of a dehydration headache didn't make thinking the easiest thing in the world, and the lingering effects of the sickness itself didn't help either.

It took her a while to even remember that she should be thinking about the portal.

When she did, she ran outside, looked at the sky, and refused to accept what it told her.  She sprinted to the portal, and pounded on it.  She begged it to open between ragged gasps for air.  The sprint had taken almost all of her energy; it wasn't long before she collapsed to the ground.  She kept on pounding; she kept on begging.

The worst part wasn't even that she'd missed the opening.  The worst part was that she'd missed it by less than an hour.  Two at most.

She reached the point where she didn't have the energy to hit it anymore.  She kept begging.
She said she was sorry.  She begged to come home.  She promised to be a good pony.

Exhaustion must have taken full hold of her at some point because Sunset's memory skipped from begging Princess Celestia to let her come home to being woken by predawn light.  Her hands were bloodied, something she hadn't noticed before.  So was the statue.

She was an eleven year old with no guardian who'd been sleeping in a public place.

She ran.

Her birthday was about a moon and a half away.  All she had wanted for it was to be in Equestria.  Anywhere in Equestria.  Princess Celestia wasn't prone to sticking ponies in dungeons, but Sunset gladly would have occupied one if it meant she could be home.  Magic in the air, horn on her head, an actual snout on her face . . . hooves.  She had just wanted to go home.

~ * ⁂ * ~

Interdimensional portals don't respond to spoken pleas, and even Princess Celestia couldn't hear things said in one world from her place in another.  Sunset had known that.  In times of extreme emotion one does stupid things.

Once she'd put herself back together, once she'd gotten food in her belly and, more importantly, gotten hydrated, she had to face an unalterable fact: she was there.  She was in the human world and that wouldn't change for a good many moons.

She was rapidly aging out of the status of "adorable waif" and moving towards "Unruly kids these days; always up to no good," and that meant she needed to change tack.  She needed to exist as something other than another untouchable poor person to be avoided and ignored.  She needed, in short, to be respectable.

So she still ate out of dumpsters, and she still picked pockets, but she stopped begging and busking because when she made her appearance in polite society one, "Aren't you the filthy girl who plays guitar in the park for spare change?" could ruin everything.

Inventing a life took time, but she was Sunset Shimmer.  She could do anything.  Human paperwork would come to fear her power.

~ * ⁂ * ~

Not a lot of people tried to fraudulently enroll in middle school, so her documentation for that wouldn't be subject to any great scrutiny, but the best times to slip into the school system unnoticed were the switch from elementary school to middle school, which she'd missed, and the switch from middle school to high school, which she wasn't quite ready for.

At those points there would be a sea of new faces, so her sudden appearance in the school system would go largely unnoticed.  The only people who would know were those who needed to know, if such people even existed.  Whether they existed or not depended a great deal on precisely how Sunset ultimately decided to sneak into the system.  Regardless of how she did it, the switch from middle school to high school was definitely an opportunity worth waiting for.

So she took her time.

Even though she'd laid enough of the groundwork to enroll by the time the next school year started, she stayed out and worked on perfecting her human identity.  She also studied at the library a great deal, because she didn't want anyone realizing she hadn't attended grades one through eight.  She worked out the kinks, she perfected her mannerisms, she did many and varied illegal things involving records, identification, and other documentary evidence that a person, legally speaking, existed.

A year after she'd missed the portal, she felt her identity was well and truly ready, but she still had a summer vacation to wait out before she could go through with it.  So she ingratiated herself with local kids her age.  By the time she actually set foot in Canterlot High School, many of them were already looking forward to her company there.

School took up a lot of her time, obviously, but it wasn't nearly as much of a drain on her as she'd initially anticipated.  While she had studied to make up for eight years grades of not being in the system, she learned that the more advanced forms of mathematics had a great deal in common with magical theory, as did several types of science.  It came easily to her.  Also, she'd apparently studied a bit too much in her attempt to catch up.  She'd been aiming for "unremarkable", instead she was quickly switched into advanced classes.

With "unremarkable" off the table, she decided to actually try, and see what she could do.  She excelled.  She also felt something familiar.  It wasn't belonging.  (She'd almost forgotten about belonging.)  It was more than being alone, though.  It was like Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns: However pointless, she was a part of something.

~ * ⁂ * ~

Being part of CSGU had been pointless.  She was the Princess' personal student, the others were nothing.  Any time spent there was time that wasn't spent with the Princess herself.  But no matter how aloof she'd been, it was impossible to miss that time spent there was time spent as part of a larger whole.

Things were different in high school.   She wasn't so full of herself anymore.  Everyone else was there because they hadn't foolishly run away, they hadn't thrown themselves through a stupid mirror, and they hadn't missed their one three day opening in thirty moons.  That didn't mean she had a particularly lofty opinion of them, but her opinion of herself was low enough that she'd mix with the unwashed masses.  She'd spent thirty moons excessively unwashed before deciding to give school a try, after all.

Because she was in advanced classes, Sunset had a fair amount of contact with upperclassmen, which apparently conferred a degree of "coolness" upon her with those in her own grade.  Because Sunset was legitimately terrible at judging human ages and because Canterlot High School was adjoined to a middle school so closely that the vague and amorphous distinction between one and the other was largely ignored, Sunset had a fair amount of contact with younger kids, who thought she was "incredibly awesomely cool" simply because she was willing to speak to them as, more or less, equals.

She became popular without even trying.

She might have found belonging there, if she'd been willing to look.  While she'd almost forgotten what it was like to belong, hearing other students talk about their families made her remember.  She stifled the resentment she felt; it wasn't useful.  She also reached a conclusion that was, at best, shaky and ill informed.  She thought that one had to be home, which, to her, meant Equestria, to belong, and therefore she could never belong in the human world.

It made perfect sense at the time.  Those hazy memories of the time she did belong --when she was loved-- took place in Equestria; failing to return to Equestria had emotionally crushed her; when the other kids talked about time spent with their families, it was usually time spent at home and always time spent in their own world.

So, for all that she was surrounded by people who liked her, she never let herself really connect.  If she would be going back to Equestria, what was the point?  She had friendly acquaintances, but not friends.  The kind of people you could enjoy spending a year with, but wouldn't feel bad about never seeing again after that year ended.

The school provided a good place to crash; it was heated year round and uninhabited at night.  Being so close to the portal was a nice bonus.  So her new routine was born.  During the school day she was a popular and promising student, outside of school hours and during off days she was spending time with classmates (she joined the fencing club), enjoying herself alone, or ironing out the few remaining wrinkles in her human identity, and at night she grabbed food from dumpsters then slept in the school.

She wouldn't be here for that long, but why not enjoy the wait?

That was how it went, and the time flew by.

~ * ⁂ * ~

This time she didn't miss the portal.  She headed straight through ready to face whatever Celestia decided to do to her, come what may.  The first surprise was that the portal had been moved to a more public, and thus more dangerous, place.  It was in the throne room.  Sunset guessed that Celestia hoped to intercept Sunset herself, which made the second surprise larger.

Canterlot Castle was abandoned.

When she ventured out into Canterlot proper, Sunset was able to piece together what had happened.  As foretold long ago, Nightmare Moon returned.  Celestia had the castle evacuated to avoid collateral damage when Nightmare Moon came for her.  The cover story Celestia used was that everyone was being given the night and following morning off as a sort of special treat for the Thousandth Summer Sun Celebration; it didn't look like Celestia had actually told anyone that she knew Nightmare Moon would be coming back.

Given the lack of damage to the castle, Celestia had clearly tossed the fight.  The reason why . . . Sunset had been broken before.  She'd been broken several times, in fact.  The reason why broke Sunset in a new and different way.

Celestia's faithful student had activated the Elements of Harmony in the Everfree then used them to defeat Nightmare Moon and restore Celestia, which had clearly been the plan all along.

When Sunset left Equestria, she was the only personal student Celestia had taken on in living memory.  Sunset was special.  Celestia saw something of value in her.  Sunset wasn't just the street trash everypony saw when they looked at her, she mattered.  Or so Sunset had thought.

Celestia had apparently replaced her so quickly that a mere sixty moons later that replacement was ready for field work.  The replacement was ready to be sent into the field to battle against Eldritch foes.

How much training would it take for a pony to reach that point?  Certainly more than thirty moons worth.  Forty?  Fifty? What if it were sixty?

After banishing Sunset, did Celestia get a replacement the same day, or did she wait a whole week out of respect for the departed?

Sunset fumed.  Her replacement probably got everything Sunset ever wanted.  She probably belonged since she was born and had living loving parents still.  She probably belonged with Celestia, and received the love Sunset had been denied.  Had she ever had to eat out of a dumpster?  Had she ever had to rely on her wits to stay alive?  Had she ever lived through anything Sunset had suffered?

For the first time, Sunset's yearning for belonging was fueled by pure, unadulterated rage.

The Elements of Harmony were in play?  Fine.  She'd use that.  She knew things about the Elements that a faithful student, one who never went behind Celestia's back, would never learn.

She'd become an alicorn, she'd make Celestia acknowledge her as a daughter, she'd banish Cadenza to the farthest reaches, and most of all she'd deal with her replacement.  She would take back everything that should have been hers.  Everything that her replacement had.

She was Sunset Shimmer, she could do anything, and all of Equestria would quake in fear and beg for her forgiveness when she came back.

She slipped back into the castle and back through the portal.  She had thirty moons to plan.

~ * ⁂ * ~

And so she planned.  That, however, wasn't all she did, which was why those thirty moons were the part of her life that Sunset hated most.

Rage and a sense of entitlement only ever really worked if three things were true.  First, you had to actually be entitled to whatever it was you felt you were entitled to.  Second, the rage had to be justifiable.  Third, you had to have enough control to direct that emotion in a way that actually brought you closer to your goal.  For Sunset, none of those things were true.

Everyone around her noticed the change.  The friendly acquaintances started to distance themselves.  Bitterness infused every interaction Sunset had with anyone, and most people didn't consider that a particularly attractive trait for a conversational partner to have.

That was how it started, but it didn't stay that subtle and low key.  There were the times she just went off.  All of that rage had nowhere to go, the portal was closed again, but it had to go somewhere, so when an opportunity presented itself, it would be directed at whichever poor unfortunate soul had created that opportunity.

The popularity (and the attendant power) that had come naturally to Sunset started to slip away.  She wouldn't have that.  She had spent so long among these lesser beings that she'd forgotten who she was.  What she was.  She was above all of these dull creatures.  She was someone who deserved to be a princess of Equestria and have powers the ignorant humans couldn't possibly comprehend.

While Sunset had starved, these people had been throwing perfectly good food in the trash.  While she had shivered in the freezing cold lying on flattened cardboard boxes, not knowing if she would survive to see the next morning, they had been warm in their beds.  When she had to beg or steal to be able to clothe herself, they'd decide that their, higher quality, clothes were out of style, toss them in the back of a closet, and leave them there to do no one any good.

She was better than them, but they had it better than her.  Something was broken.  It was time for change.

Any who dared to think themselves her equal were torn down and made example of.  The students she vented her rage on were so terrified they'd give her anything she asked of them and, in some cases, would stuff themselves in lockers rather than face her when she was in a bad mood.

Those who threatened her power indirectly, and against whom she had no personal grudge, were treated more gently.  She used manipulation to break their friendships and erode their power base, but they never knew her wrath and they never felt terror.

The administration saw none of this.  To them she was a model student.  The object of praise and validation.

One girl couldn't control an entire school, especially not in a way that was deniable, so she got underlings.  She had to pick them carefully, lest they be able to turn her own tactics against her.  Snips and Snails proved perfect.  They had no real ambition beyond being associated with a high status individual, they were eager to please, and she had no fears of them deposing her.

Thirty moons of anger, of hate, of manipulation.  Thirty moons of intimidation.  Thirty moons of bullying.  Thirty moons of becoming the kind of person who deserved to end up in a smoking crater.

Far and away, this was the part of Sunset's life that she hated the most.

It also made her feel downright stupid in retrospect.  You can't force someone to love you; the entire premise was flawed.

~ * ⁂ * ~

Then came Princess Twilight Sparkle, the faithful student whose name Sunset had never bothered to learn, now sporting wings and a crown.The plan was off from the beginning.  The mirror was supposed to be in Canterlot.  That the Element of Magic was with the mirror in the Crystal Empire, which Sunset had thought was still in the midst of its existence failure, was pure luck.  She tripped over the tail of a baby dragon, which Sunset thought was supposed to be in the care of older dragons, and the entire replacement idea went out the window.

Out the window, off a cliff, into a moat, and finally up in smoke.  (The moat was filled with oil, obviously.)

She got the Element of Magic into the right world, but not in her possession.  That's about when Sunset started coughing on the smoke that the replacement plan went up in.  Without the replacement to compare it to, the human Celestia and Luna assumed that the Element was the replacement.  Since said-replacement was the Fall Formal crown, which belonged to the school until handed out, and since it had obviously been stolen once already, they locked it up.

In her wisdom, Princess Twilight Sparkle decided to attempt to win the crown rather than return the actual Fall Formal crown, explain there had been a mix up, and get hers back in that way, which likely would have taken under an hour.

This was the part where clearing the field turned against Sunset.  Running unopposed was nice; running with a single opponent was not.  Instead of being divided between multiple other students, the not-Sunset vote was completely consolidated behind one not-student: Twilight Sparkle.

In point of fact, this was the part where everything turned against Sunset.  If Sunset hadn't torn them apart, it would not have been possible for Twilight to reunite the future-Rainbooms, and without that they wouldn't be in Twilight's debt.  Likewise, if she hadn't ordered Snips and Snails to trash the gym to frame Twilight, Twilight wouldn't have been able to unite the student body by cleaning up the gym.

Sunset laid the groundwork for her own defeat, and kept on building toward that defeat right up until she was hit by a rainbow, which rendered future construction irrelevant.

There isn't a word for the pain Sunset experienced inside that rainbow.  Someone nails you to a cross and leaves you out die of exposure, over a period that can last up to three days, as a form of execution by torture?  There's a word for that pain: excruciating.

To have all your sins remembered, to see them and not be able to turn away --not be able to blink-- to hear them and not be able to drown out the sound.  To experience everything, the sum total of your life, and not be able to make excuses or rationalize or do anything but realize, bone deep, "This is me.  This is who I am," is something for which there is no word.  It's not even supposed to be possible.

But there was something else in there.  Something that ached in an entirely different way.  Sunset could almost see their faces.  Sunset could almost hear their voices.  When it came to the emotion, there was no "almost".  Sunset remembered, in full, what it was like to be loved.  What it was like to belong.  Why she'd started this whole execrable ordeal.  What she was further from than she'd ever been before.

And Sunset saw and felt all of the times that feeling had almost blossomed again, only to be crushed because it hadn't come in the form Sunset had wanted.  All of the times that she could have belonged again that she threw away either because she was so focused on the idea that having wings was the way to get there, or because she was so furious with a pony that, back then, she'd never even met.

And she cried.  She cried in a way that she hadn't in sixty moons, give or take several hours.  She was an eleven year old, almost twelve, who had just missed the portal.  She was a nine year old, who exiled herself to a strange world.  She was the architect of her own suffering, and it hurt.

~ * ⁂ * ~

Then the world changed, and things got better. The portal was closed again.  Another thirty moons.  By the time it was scheduled to reopen again Sunset would have spent more time as a human than a unicorn.  She didn't mind.  Not this time.

She had work to do.  She'd caused a lot of pain and done a lot of damage, and she knew she could never make up for it or fix it, but that was no excuse.  She had to try.

No one liked her.  The Rainbooms, though they weren't called that at first, tolerated her.  She did whatever they told her.  She cheered them on.  She tried to learn the Magic of Friendship.  She tried to help those she'd harmed.  She tried to ignore the fact that, deserved or not, being the most hated person in school hurt.

The results she got were . . . less than ideal.  While everyone was preparing posters for the musical showcase, she offered to help Rainbow Dash's biggest fan and the little sisters of Applejack and Rarity --the three students in the entire school, outside of the Rainbooms themselves, most likely to give her a chance-- she was not given a chance.

Her hopes of having new students get to know not-evil her before they heard about how she used to be were killed off pretty quickly when it turned out they were evil monsters from Equestria's past drawn in by the display of magic she had instigated.  Her attempt at a warning failed; Luna thought she was trying to deflect unwanted attention and escape her past.  Then she sent a message to her Celestia.  Celestia didn't answer.  Twilight did, though, and that went . . . well, it wasn't the worst thing ever.

Utter failure, a chance at success, and getting slapped right back down again was what it took for anyone to ask for Sunset's help.

That changed everything.  For one thing, the Rainbooms started being her actual friends.  She even joined the band.  For another, even though no one forgot what she had done, people finally gave her a second chance.

~ * ⁂ * ~

And that's when Sunset started feeling it again.  Looking back now, she wished she hadn't.  She was a Rainboom.  She was a friend.  She was loved.  She belonged.  She wrote to Twilight, now her magical pen pal, that she felt like she was part of a family again.She had everything she'd ever wanted.

The Monday after she wrote that, her new family disowned her.  Any illusions Sunset had about newfound emotional stability were shattered when all it took to leave her crying on the floor was a few harsh words.

So much for family.

Maybe it was poetic justice.  Sunset had accused a lot of people of things they hadn't done.  Only fair that she be brought down by being framed.

Her only lead evaporated when Trixie proved to be entirely innocent.  All Sunset got out of that was the guilt of having made a false accusation herself.

Twilight said that Sunset had to find her family, and she'd tried.  She tried.  She went to the Rainbooms, a group that didn't include her anymore, and planned to let them know how much she cared about them in hopes that they'd remember how much they, she wanted to believe, cared about her.

She didn't get a word in.

Before she was through the door, Rainbow Dash shouted, "Hey! Get out!"

Applejack followed up with, "Yer not welcome here, Sunset."

Sunset gave up.  She turned around, walked right back out the door, tried to hold her tears in while she stood there in the snow, and finally ran in a random direction when the tears came anyway.

~ * ⁂ * ~

What hurt the most was that, no matter what the others said now, it had been real.  She had, at long last, belonged.  She was loved, for however brief a time.  Now it was over.  And she didn't know if she could endure that.  It had been one thing to be chasing after a half-remembered feeling from her childhood, this was something else entirely.

She'd had it, she'd lived it.  Not in a memory that might not even be accurate; it was so, so recent this time.  It had been, she thought, the new normal.  Instead it was gone.

She couldn't go back to how she'd been before.  She couldn't bear it.  But she didn't know what she could do.  So she ran.

She ran until she couldn't run any more.  Then she walked.  As the cold sank in and her energy drained away, her walking deteriorated.  She'd stumble, or go crooked for a few steps, she even bumped into a "No Parking" sign once.  She didn't care.  She barely noticed.

She kept walking.

Then there was light and motion and noise.  So much.  Too much.  Nothing touched her, but the disorientation dropped her.  The snow was dirty; it stung against her face.  She didn't feel like getting up.

~ * ⁂ * ~

There were sounds (doors maybe?) then voices.

"What the Hell were you thinking, walking--" Sunset didn't do anything to interrupt, she didn't know why the person stopped talking.

The silence was broken when a second voice said, "We didn't hit her, right?  If we hit her, we would have felt it, and I didn't feel it, so we didn't hit her.  Right?"

"We didn't hit her," the first voice said, "but that's entirely because of my driving instead of--"

"Not the time," a third voice said.  Come to think of it, these voices sounded vaguely familiar.

Sunset was pulled off the ground, whoever did it turned her as they lifted, and the end result was almost like she was sitting.

"Are you ok?" the third voice asked. Sunset tried to look at the person talking, but her eyes stung and her vision was clouded by . . . tears?  Snow?  She didn't know which.  All she saw was an indistinct blob.  Sunset was being held by an indistinct blob with a familiar sounding voice.

As for the question . . . Sunset wasn't really prepared to answer that question.  Not that week.  Not that day.   Not that hour.  Certainly not that moment.  Still, she tried.

"I'm alive," she said.

"Well obviously," the second voice said, Sunset looked in their direction, but what she saw was just another blob, "we can see that.  Unless . . ." there was a gasp.  "Are you a zombie‽"

It definitely wasn't Pinkie Pie's voice, but part of Sunset was crying out that she was dealing with Pinkie Pie as a result of that.

"You're the worst," the first voice said.  Sunset didn't bother trying to look.

"No y--" the second voice said.

"Not the time!" the third voice shouted.

There were a couple murmurs of what might have been, "Sorry," from voices one and two.

"Look," the third voice said, "you're obviously not alright, and you shouldn't be out in this weather.  Let us give you a ride home." Sunset didn't argue.

~ * ⁂ * ~

Sunset ended up in the backseat of a car with voice three on her left and voice two on her right.  She closed her eyes and tried to will the world away.  Voice two wasn't having that.  Voice one was on the same page.

"Are you from Canterlot?" voice two asked.

"Of course she is," voice one said from the front seat.  "This is Canterlot."

"Well, we're in Canterlot."

"I just said that!"

"And we're not from Canterlot."

The owner of voice one made an "ugh" sound.  Voice three remained silent.

"So she could be like us," voice two continued.  "Oh!  Are you a second semester transfer to CHS like us?"

"You.  Are.  The.  Worst," voice one said.

"No, you are!" voice two shouted back.

You'll have to excuse them, voice three said from Sunset's memories.  They're idiots.  Suddenly everything clicked.

Sunset opened her eyes, blinked the last water from them, and looked around.  She saw exactly what she expected to see: Adagio Dazzle was on her left, long suffering look on her face, Sonata Dusk was pouting on Sunset's right, and Aria Blaze was driving.

This, Sunset realized, was going to go very, very badly.

~
~ * ~
~ * ⁂ * ~
~ * ~ * ~ * ~

As noted, this came from writing for five and a half hours straight, which is not a common occurrence.  It also came from another place.

Adagio Dazzle, Aria Blaze, and Sonata Dusk are the villains of the second Equestria Girls movie.  They're originally from Equestria (pony-world) but were banished to the human world a long time ago.  (The reasoning was basically, "The lack of magic in that world will probably neutralize them as a thread, and if it doesn't . . . who cares?  It's not our world.)  The in fandom three of them are collectively known as "The Dazzlings", as that was their band name.

The human and pony worlds are the sort of parallel world pair where individuals from one world have pseudo-identical counterparts in the other.  (Once you adjust for species, which the trip from one world to the other does on its own, and fashion sense, if there's any difference, an individual and their counterpart are virtually indistinguishable.)

Since the Dazzlings are originally from pony-world, if they have counterparts those counterparts would be ordinary humans in the human world.

So, a while back, someone wrote a story in which the human counterparts of the Dazzlings transfer into CHS, the high school in which Equestria Girls is set, and that works out about as well as you'd expect.

Someone I know on Discord said this about that story:
Holy haybiscuits, you guys all need to read this story. It's everything you'd wish from an Anon-a-miss story, but with the Dazzlings and it's just an absolutely amazing read so far.
Anon-a-Miss stories are those based off of (usually theoretically better versions of) The Equestria Girls Holiday Special.  I've got eleventy billion of them.*  The core of the plot is that Sunset Shimmer is framed for leaking embarrassing secrets online (which would have been a huge breach of trust if true) and is denounced and abandoned by her friends.  (Because her friends did this in a public place, and because of Sunset's less than stellar history, she ends up with, more or less, the entire school against her.)

It's pretty easy to see the connection between that and the concept with the human counterparts of the Dazzlings.  Everyone blames Sunset for something she didn't do because she was framed.  Everyone blames human-Dazzlings for something they didn't do because their exact doppelgangers did do it.

Much more recently, someone (unknowingly) suggested crossing those two streams.  Their suggestion was very short, and boiled down to Sunset linking up with the human counterparts of the Dazzlings during Anon-a-Miss.  There wasn't any detail beyond that, but I was thinking about all of the above as soon as I read the description.

After three hours of it marinating in my head, I wrote this.

~ ~ ~

I meant what I said at the start about not needing to know things.  Sunset's feelings are what matter in this chapter, not the details of who and what and where.  That said, if anyone wants to know more . . .

Princess Celestia is the immortal ruler of Equestria and has taken on two personal students that we know of in canon.  The first was Sunset Shimmer, and I've given you an in depth story on that.  The second was Twilight Sparkle, and the entire of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is about that.

Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, who prefers to be called Cadence (technically "Cadance" but that's just a way to keep the search results focused on her instead of cadences, and nothing more, so I spell it with one "a") was a Pegasus who grew a horn after doing impressive stuff and was adopted by Celestia as a niece.

According to a deuterocanonical comic, Sunset Shimmer had a vision of herself with wings (and still having a horn) in the magic mirror that happens to be the pony-side of the portal between worlds.  She became obsessed with it, and things did not go well.  The human side of the portal is one side of a presumably marble pedestal for a horse statue that stands in front of Canterlot High School (their sports teams are named "Wondercolts".)  Under regular conditions it only opens for one three day period every thirty moons.

Given that it's the position of the moon among the stars I've calculated that time using sidereal moons instead of the much more common and traditional synodic month.  (I did the same thing in the only other recent story here.)  It only occurred to me after doing all of that math that I was missing something obvious.  The most reasonable way to combine "When people say 'moons', they mean 'synodic moons'" and "the position with respect to the stars matters" is to have an approximate calculation based on thirty synodic moons and then refine it to an exact date using sidereal moons.

So either 32 sidereal moons (which is less than thirty synodic moons) or 33 sidereal moons (which is more than 30 synodic moons.)  Instead I did 30, so . . . yeah.

I said "under regular conditions" when talking about how the portal opened.  In the second movie Princess Twilight Sparkle built a machine that piggybacked the portal's operations off of a signal linking two magical books.  Anything written in one appeared in the other and Sunset and Princess Celestia used them for communication before their falling out.  With one book in each world, the magic connecting them provided a way to open a portal even when the two worlds weren't in their easily navigated "three days every thirty moons" alignment.

As such, by the time of this story it's possible to travel between worlds at well.

"The Rainbooms" are a band that, at the present tense of this story, includes: Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Applejack.  These five also happen to be Sunset's former friends.  With the exception of certain bits of very meta fandom shorthand, "the Rainbooms" is the most concise way to refer to this group.

Human Celestia and Luna are the principal and vice principal of Canterlot High School respectively.  Pony Celestia and Luna are the rulers of Equestria who move the sun and moon respectively, but when Sunset left Equestria Luna had allowed her resentment to transform her into Nightmare Moon and had been banished to the moon.  In Luna's absence, Celestia controlled both the sun and moon.

The worlds, and emphasis, attributed to Rainbow Dash and Applejack in this come directly from the source material.  In the Holiday Special comic Sunset convinced them to listen to her.  In this . . . well, you read it (presumably.)

That may or may not cover all of the things that make more sense with knowledge of the source material.

~ ~ ~

In Latinthat feeling when you realize that the novels you've been reading are secretly non-fiction memoirsstaying closer to source materialwhen Sunset Shimmer's human counterpart comes to towna sequel to someone else's story, and many, many more that haven't been posted here.)

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