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Friendship was magic.
It was something that her former mentor had mentioned to her many times, and had tried to force on her. At the time, she had not appreciated the lesson, and the differences between them had created a schism. She only regretted the separation insofar as missing her teacher, whom she had considered to be her mother. In everything else, she was thankful: if she had not run away, she would never have met her friends.
"Are you OK, Sunset Shimmer?"
Ah, good old Fluttershy. Sunset would proudly call her closest friends her genuine sisters, but Fluttershy was a step even that, as if the two had been two eggs growing together in utero and inseparable ever since. Even if Sunset forgot what Fluttershy's voice sounded like exactly, nobody could match the inherent gentleness behind it. "I'm alright, Fluttershy. Just…thinking, is all," Sunset admitted. In truth, the melancholy over past days she was feeling threatened to devour her whole, like the physical embodiment of her cutie mark in this realm would one day consume this planet. "I'm a little bit worried about pulling off my plan."
Fitting for the most empathetic being Sunset had ever known, Fluttershy pulled her in, the redhead making little effort to resist the hug. Within the moment, the anxiety that had seen her fingernails chewed to nubs more than once dissipated, like a nice, warm shower washing away an unseen taint. "You can always talk to us, Sunset. We're your friends, you know."
Of course. Friendship was magic. It was impossible for her to forget that. "I do, and I thank the heavens every day that you are." This realm had been so weird when she first entered it. Solely the domain of humans, there were no living goddesses that walked the planet. The Sun and the Moon rose and set on their own, not even really rising and setting but instead the rotation and revolution of the Earth around the Sun and the Moon around the Earth gave that impression. The humans, though only one species, had many origin stories, and she had taken to simply thanking 'the heavens'. That was good enough to indicate belief in a higher existence and conform to the majority of the population without singling her out for believing in something obscure.
Fluttershy hugged her in tighter. "Goodness, Sunset. I know you want to do this really bad, but you don't have to if you don't want to."
Sunset shook her head, "No, Fluttershy. I have to. You all taught me the importance of friendship, but it feels unfair that having it makes me special here."
"Oh, darling!" A purple-haired teenager came in, having overheard the last few sentences of the conversation, "Fluttershy is right! I would be thrilled if your plan worked, but you don't need to do it! We can do without."
Sunset smiled. Leave it to Rarity to always have a few inspiring words to pick her back up, "Thanks, Rares." She winced as the fashionista took out a set of headbands and furry tails, "Really?"
"I always did think they looked smashing," Rarity admitted, "And really, it was your idea in the first place!"
Sunset groaned, "I wish you hadn't reminded me of that." At the time, she had thought the idea cute. She blamed that on her human hormones surging up at the time and being out of control. Now, while they were still a raging fire as blinding as the sun some days, she was steady and composed, but the damage had been done.
"My sister and her friend adores them," Rarity whined back, as if that were going to convince the truly-oldest of them of their value as an item of status.
"Alright, alright," Sunset let Rarity have the conversation. She figured that protests or no, they would find their way back into the school. That was just how Rarity operated when she had an 'I-DE-A!' moment.
"W-will it h-hurt?" Fluttershy butted back into the conversation, having politely waited for the banter between Sunset and Rarity to lapse.
Sunset shifted gears easily as the topic changed. "I don't know," She admitted, "I'm not even one hundred percent certain this plan will work. Only ninety five percent. I'm one hundred percent certain there won't be any permanent negative effects, though," She added. Vice-Principal Luna had been very thorough on that before allowing this insane plan, a plan that would she would have thought even more crazy had not seen Sunset Shimmer use magic before.
"It's alright, Sunset," Rarity consoled her, startling the red-and-yellow-haired girl with her own empathy, rare to pop up but surprisingly deep when it did. "We'll understand if it doesn't work, too. But," She added, "It would be nice for you not to be the only one around here capable of using magic, wouldn't it?"
Sunset just nodded, her throat suddenly dry. It had only been a few months ago, just six moons before the portal was due to open, that she had been inspired with her theory. It had been a crazy idea, but all the arcane equations she had sketched and derived worked out.
She was going to bring magic to the realm of humanity, so that people other than herself would be capable of using it. It would be nice if it paid off. After all, friendship was magic.
When she had first entered this new world, it was confusing. The creatures here were nothing quite like she had seen before. They were bipedal, like minotaurs, and had multi-digited extensions of their limbs, hands, much like what the minotaurs again or the griffins had. Their society at once seemed like Equestria and yet vastly different.
Most importantly, however, she had no magic.
As she had burned her bridges, as the old pony saying went, she didn't turn back and go into Equestria the instant she realised this. The dark few days that followed made her regret that decision, however, as she went hungry. She stayed out of sight of these odd humans, observing their social norms, whether they were a society of vultures or actually might help their displaced young.
That had been even odder than her lack of magic, along with the nudity taboo. It had taken a few hours to figure that out, as she had no baseline to understand what would be considered a child in human terms, and what would be an adult. She had no idea why that had occurred to her on crossing the portal, but she would eventually be grateful for it. There was nothing like getting a second chance at life by starting over in the body of a young child, mentally complete with all the lessons a cynical young adult had learned.
It was learning that this society took care of its young that had caused her to expose herself, and be picked up by their police, and put with a foster home.
Her old life had died as she crossed the mirror portal, and three days later she had been reborn.
"But what is magic, exactly? Don't get me wrong, I understand what magic can do, and the idea of magic has been something humans have thought of for like, forever, but that doesn't explain what it is."
Sunset regarded Flash Sentry. Flash, though she called him Brad, was her closest male friend, and some would even call him her boyfriend. Although he seemed to be a jock on the outside, a typical athlete who also played guitar, he was good at math, and although unstudied in philosophy, could be surprisingly deep sometimes.
She wasn't quite sure how to answer his question, because as deep as it sounded, it was also very open to what he actually meant. Sunset tried her best, "Have you heard of Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle?" She asked. Great, she was a nerd.
Brad shrugged his shoulders, "I can give you the general gist, that the general position and speed of a particle can't be known at the same time, and the joke about Heisenberg being stopped by a police officer for speeding."
Sunset's eyes glazed over. Oh dear. "To some extent true, it's general position and momentum, but as momentum is the product of mass and velocity it's almost the same thing. But anyways, what Heisenberg says is that it is possible to know both the position and momentum of a particle, but they can't both be known at the same time to a precise degree. Trying to measure one with more precision loses precision in the other."
"That I understand," Brad said, and it was true, his talent at math helping him understand physics better when explained purely in terms of math.
"Well, it's rather interesting, really, because when an electron emits a photon, you can't know with precision the direction and time the photon will emit. Instead, scientists sum up the average direction and timeframe of photons being emitted with extremely large amounts of electrons using statistical mechanics instead for their work, eeps!" She covered her mouth, blushing as she realised how off-track she had gotten. "A-Anyways, from what I understand of this world, a lot of scientists got upset at uncertainty because it was always expected that you could understand the outcome of a system as long as you knew the starting point of that system – like if you put two ping pong balls into a closed box with no friction and gave them an initial bump, you could calculate when they'll bounce off a wall, at what angle, when they'll eventually hit one another, and their momentum after that, for time eternal."
It was amazing how capable Brad was at deadpanning at her without even speaking a word, his flat gaze all that was required.
"Er, c-carrying on!" She stuttered in a manner others often found cute, "Magic is almost, but not quite the thing that re-establishes certainty. It's an outside power that science can only define how it works, through the forces it exerts and the cause-and-effect it induces, to how the three equine tribes and other races could each manipulate magic. However, the researchers back home never understood where magic came from."
Brad smirked, "Well, I may not be the smartest nut in the barrel," (Sunset twitched at his butchering of the common saying) he paused, "But I know you're up there. You and some of the others will have to figure it out, eh?"
She thought about it. "Well, there was one thing." Seeing his curious look of inquiry, she explained, "My old magical teacher back home always told me one thing that confounded me for the longest time. Honestly, it made me angry, even. We never parted on the best of terms, but I'm beginning to understand what she said more and more now. She said, friendship was magic."
The first year or so in this strange new world, she had been an absolute brat. In retrospect, she was fortunate not to have done anything truly illegal or self-destructive, but she had been snotty, selfish, and stuck-up. Her foster parents had been absolute saints to put up with her during that year, and it was only her continuing inability to use magic that had seen her finally mellow out to a point of peaceful coexistence with them and her foster siblings. They weren't her true biological parents, left behind in Equestria, but she would gladly call them Mother and Father. As time passed, it became less a manipulation and more a true sentiment.
She may have been somehow turned young again by the portal, but she still had the memories of a young adult, and the ambition and thirst for power that had been instilled in her by the prestige of being Celestia's student and faux daughter. If she couldn't use magic, then she would throw herself into studying the accumulated knowledge of humanity. And what a fount of knowledge that it was. Never mind the dozens of religions, hundreds of languages and thousands of cultures, as interesting as they all were: lacking in magic, humans had refined their observation of the physical universe to understand existence on both a cosmic and a microscopic scale.
Many noticed her drive and intellect, and it was what had gotten her put into the School for Gifted Children. While she would take time to understand the customs of this odd world, she was already one step ahead. Math, science, history, geography, and the arts…she would master all of it!
It was in a music class that she met the first of her best friends. She was an easy-going girl, who showed poise and grace with the piano, even with all her wacky antics that had seen her nearly removed from the class multiple times. The pianist had the biggest heart she had ever seen, able to accept anyone and everyone and make friends of them all. Her eternal cheer was reflected in her hyper manner and the rapid way she spoke
"Hi! My name's Pinkie Pie! What's yours? Sunset Shimmer? Teeheehee! That's a nice name, it suits you!"
"Once again, you're sure this will work?"
Principal Celestia may have been derided by the student base as a slacker with Vice-Principal Luna as the power behind the figurative throne, but she was still concerned about all her students. Sunset at times wondered if maybe there hadn't been more oddities coming through the portals before she had arrived, this inuring the Principal to the last few wacky years.
"No," Sunset flatly stated, surveying the pictures hanging on the office's side wall of her winning the last three Fall Formals, each of them showing her with happy expressions. She truly had managed to find a peace of sort in this dimension, one she didn't think would have been possible in Equestria. "But I can guarantee there won't be any backlash or anything of the sort that will harm anybody. Earth is dead to magic, and so while there is a small chance magic cannot be reawakened, so long as it is dead no harm would come from failed attempts."
"I see," Celestia flatly responded, pursing her lips as she clasped her hands together. "And what about you, Sunset? What are the chances you might get hurt?"
Sunset flinched, visibly taken aback by the question. "Hurt?" She asked, strongly desiring not to be honest, but her farmer friend's influence rubbing off on her as she visibly struggled to answer the question. "If I get caught, I won't get caught, but I would be imprisoned. If I do succeed, there's a small chance I may suffer from backlash of the spell, which could range anywhere from a small sting to," She swallowed, her Adam's Apple showing visibly at how deep she gulped, "Possible complete loss of my magic."
The Principal pressed her with a stare, and Sunset felt herself losing inches as she cowered under the fortitude Celestia of either world rarely brought out to bear. "It is my duty to protect all students at this school, Sunset Shimmer, and that includes you." She sighed, sweeping her gaze across the three pictures of Sunset Shimmer winning the title of Fall Formal Princess. "As long as you can guarantee me the only possible harm is what may come to you, and of the magical variety, which officially does not exist, I will allow it."
Sunset found herself touched. She knew Principal Celestia had cared about everyone, just like Princess Celestia had. However, when push came to shove, the Principal would be open with her motives and willing to let her take a chance, whereas the Princess had stripped her of her position as her student, then banned her from the castle grounds.
Then again, Sunset in this case was doing it for the sake of all her friends, the students of Canterlot High School. Perhaps that was the difference? After all, friendship was magic.
The idea of volunteering was strange to her, having never done such a thing in her life before. However, her parents had pushed her into doing something to break up her constant studying. With a savviness that had taken her by surprise, the two had cajoled her into finding a hobby, and then conned her into helping the community by means of her hobby.
As she had found she liked cats, helping at an animal shelter had only seemed logical. Being so young still, she was given only the minor, easier tasks, such as playing with the animals for a period of time each day. That had been rather fortunate, as she was sure she would have been turned off from the whole idea of volunteering if she had had to clean out the kennels every day.
One day, when she relapsed into an existentialist fit about how all the animals in this world were as dumb as a mule while nearly all animals in her world showed at least moderate amounts of sapience, she met another one of her dearest friends. The poor girl was very shy, and would take years to become even slightly more outgoing, but around animals she stopped being a recluse and displayed great empathy. Yellow-skinned, her hair wasn't quite as bright pink as Pinkie Pie's, being a few shades lighter in tone. She had introduced herself to the fledging animal-keeper.
"Sunset Shimmer? My..my name's Fl…Fl…it's Fluttershy…Fluttershy! There, I said it…"
"Within three hours, the magic portal will open," Sunset explained to the small group of observers who had turned out to wait her through her mission. "Our two worlds are not chronologically lined up perfectly, as it will already be just shy of midnight in Equestria by that time, but the portal here opens at sunset and will close just past midnight of the third night." Pacing back and forth as a method to steady her nerves, she continued lecturing, "Upon verifying that the Princesses have gone to sleep, I will enter the portal, and proceed to swap out the Element of Magic for the fake." Said fake crown was held firmly in Pinkie Pie's hands. While it was not a perfect duplicate, it would pass for the real thing in the dark were Twilight Sparkle to awaken in that time.
"Upon coming back, I will use the Element of Magic right away to activate the magic of this world, conferring upon you all the status of the first native magic-users of this world. Whether that makes you the first magic-users in all of history, period, or whether it was a gift that died out many years ago and lived on in folklore, I still do not know."
Seeing some eyerolling at how she was getting off-topic, Sunset found herself talking quicker, "Once I have used the Element of Magic, I will enter the portal again, swap the fake Element out for the real one, and nobody in Equestria should be all the wiser for it."
"Question," Rainbow Dash asked, arms crossed and occasionally kicking a pebble as she too was antsy over the waiting, "How do you know all this stuff? The Princesses of your magic pony land all gathering together, and this whole Earth Mint thingie?"
Sunset rolled her eyes, "Element of Harmony, Dash. But a good question." With a small amount of mental visualisation ahead of time to make sure she would not inadvertently eavesdrop on an intimate scene, she created a viewing portal in the air that displayed a tall, pink-furred winged unicorn. "Meet Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, the Princess of Love. I was many things when I was younger, ambitious being one of them, and I too wanted the power she received through ascension. Obviously that never happened," She shrugged her shoulders, "But Cadance, as she is informally known, was a Pegasus before ascending, and knew very little magic."
Sunset smirked. "I developed an eternally-lasting scrying spell that fed off a tiny part of the victim's own magic, and in the case of an alicorn, that is a very tiny part. I was unable to use it for the longest time, but when I regained use of my magic, I was able to follow her through the scrying spell, even across dimensions." It was that, along with the same spell on the realm's only Prince, that had allowed her to keep track of developments.
Many of the people in the audience marvelled. For most of them, this was the first time they had actually seen one of the sentient magical equines from another world. Certainly, they had believed Sunset Shimmer about her past life – after all, when somebody is already capable of feats of magic, something that wasn't supposed to exist, you tend to believe some of the other things she says, no matter how outlandish they were.
Besides, to a person, Sunset had done the seemingly impossible, making a friend out of every single person in the school, student and staff. Her continuing decoration as the Fall Formal Princess was proof. Really, the only reason she wasn't proclaimed the winner of the princess role for the other pageants throughout the year was because she never entered those. Humble, too, but Fall was her season, as the sun plotted to cast its spell upon the trees every fall, lighting up the rich golds and reds of the leaves as they lost their original green colour. The sheer beauty of it always reminded Sunset of her own home, the home of her biological parents before she had left to come to train with the Princess.
She talked some more, but found her gaze wandering more and more to the sun slowly dipping down the horizon. Two more years at this school, two more Fall Formals. She had no doubt she would be proclaimed Fall Formal, as no other student would bother to challenge her for the role again this year. It was a guilty pleasure, but she always liked it when she was coronated, feeling like she was being made a true Princess.
At last, the bottom of the flat yellow disc they called the sun disappeared over, and she steeled herself as the portal shimmered, indicating it was active once more.
"Take care of yourself, ya hear, Sunset? Don't go letting yourself get caught, or else we'd never forgive ourselves," Applejack verbally accosted her as she handed over a cloak and the fake Element that she had been looking over.
"Ee-yup!" Her stalwart brother echoed the sentiment in far fewer words.
Putting on her cloak, Sunset sniffled. "Thanks you guys. Come here, give me a hug," She declared, deciding she wanted one last show of her friends' support for the road before she left, and getting it from the many students there. Most important to her was the one she had with her five closest friends. She shed a few tears of happiness after, waving to them as she clenched the fake crown in her teeth, already preparing for her hand-less form as she entered the portal.
It was important to have one last farewell with her friends just in case. After all, friendship was magic.
One day, she did something that was rare for her: she took a break. All work and no play makes a stallion a poor lay, as the raunchy saying went, although it applied to mares as much as stallions. It was stepping back and relaxing for even a little that let her survey her life, and she decided she wanted to do something more than just reading, reading, and reading.
Although her parents only started sending her to martial arts class with great trepidation, the way she took to it like a fish in water got them over their initial reluctance. The same drive that saw her determined to succeed in this brave new world helped her to become the dojo's latest prodigy. It also saw her butt heads with the reigning star student on the block.
It thrilled her in a way she hadn't felt in years. Here was a girl even more hotheaded than her, with the same fiery spirit to improve and get stronger, quicker, and more skillful every day, training as if her body's limits were merely an extension of her willpower. Nopony, nobody had ever quite put her through the ringer like this girl of multi-coloured hair did.
"So you're Sunset Shimmer, the new star student, huh? I'm Rainbow Dash! You won't beat me, because there's no way you can be as cool and awesome as me!"
She cursed to herself as she exited the portal, angry that she had let the object she went to retrieve get away from her.
Fluttershy, dearest to her heart, held the Element of Magic in its tiara form in her hands. "Um, is this-"
"The Element of Magic," Sunset confirmed, hastily holding her hands out and getting the Element passed over. Putting it on, she quickly pulled at the magic that constituted part of her very being, and channeled. The Element, recognising someone powerful and of strong heart, responded, and she felt a surge of strength shoot through her soul. It was intoxicating.
No. She would not let it overpower her. Quickly, she went through the arcane spell she had developed over many long nights, waking up early in the morning with an epiphany that she would take time to scratch out, or simply not going to sleep at all. Gritting her teeth, tendrils of incorporeal magic extended from her very self, first latching onto her closet friends.
"Oh my," Fluttershy shyly said, as her hair morphed into a faux pony mane, a tail erupted from her backside, and she sprouted wings.
"Whee!" Pinkie Pie hopped all over the place, "This is the best. Night. EVER! We're having an 'Everyone has Magic Now Hurray' party afterwards!'
"Well, darn tootin', I never knew the very earth was so beautiful," Applejack said as she felt the grass beneath her with her friends, the individual blades singing a song that was undescribably beautiful.
Rainbow Dash shivered with energy as she flapped her wings wildly, taking off a few feet from the ground. "This is so AWESOME!" She declared, "This is at least, like, TWENTY PERCENT COOLER than I was expecting!"
"I-DE-A!" Rarity declared as she saw the manes and tails all her friends were sprouting, along with the wings some of them had.
"As much as I wish I could teach you all right now the very basics," Sunset interjected, cutting off the cheers from the others, "That will have to wait. Princess Twilight Sparkle caught me sneaking off with the crown." She left out the part about her tripping over an iguana's trial.
"Wait, what?" Applejack asked as her head snapped around to look at Sunset, "But you didn't get captured, right?"
"Yeah!" Rainbow Dash added, "Can't you just throw the crown back through the portal and smash it?" She was quick to offer a solution.
Sunset bit her lip. That would be the best solution, but she had her doubts, "It is a nice idea, but I don't know if the Princesses have an alternate method of accessing this world other than that portal." She peeked over her shoulder at the portal at the base of the horse figurine that guarded Canterlot High. Breaking the portal would be so easy, but she couldn't do it. She just couldn't preclude the option of Celestia or Luna knowing a spell that would allow them to move across dimensions.
"Honestly, I'm surprised nobody has barged out already. Maybe the new Princess is exercising restraint and is talking to the Solar Princess right now." She had been very careful not to give out Princess Celestia's actual name all this time. There was talking about an alternate realm full of magical talking ponies, and then there was saying there was a counterpart of the Principal who was a Princess with the power to raise the sun.
She continued, "But someone will come through, sooner or later, to retrieve the crown. Until that portal closes three moons from now, I'm sorry, but I simply cannot show any of you how to use magic until then. I don't want to risk whomever is sent discovering somebody here can use magic, and then that the average human thinks magic doesn't exist."
Pinkie Pie hopped up and down, raising her hand, "Oh, me, me! I know! Why don't we trap whoever they send!"
Sunset flinched. It scared her, but that was the first thing she had thought of. Even more, she had discarded it not because she was morally against the idea, but because it was too risky given the possibility Princess Celestia might have another method of accessing the realm. Shaking her head, she shot down Pinkie's idea, "Sorry Pinkie, but I can't do that. Again, they may have another way to come to this realm." Chewing on her lip, she thought, "But the portal closes in three days. As long as they get the crown back, and go back through the portal without suspecting anything else, we will be good for another thirty moons." The inklings of an idea were beginning to embryo in her head. However, it would require sacrifices and careful acting not to end up treading on broken shells.
It was Rarity who clued in on Sunset's plans even before it even had the chance to fully hatch. "You're thinking of sacrificing yourself, aren't you Sunny?" The named girl's eyes widened as Rarity saw through her so easily. "You're intending to do something stupid to throw all suspicion directly onto you. We'll be all dumb bystanders who don't have a clue about who you really are, right?" Gathering herself, she stood up straight, her regal posture for once in the time Sunset had known her seeming intimidating. "I won't let you do that. We won't let you do that."
She panicked as she saw Fluttershy nod, and launch into a heartfelt speech about their friendship that just about brought her to tears. All the students and staff started to get into it to, as Sunset's lack of denials supported Rarity's theories. She had led and inspired them for years, and they had given back. They would not deny their joint friendship now.
With a solemn gaze, Sunset stealthily cast a second spell while the Element of Magic was still on her head, making absolutely certain that her magical aura didn't show when she did. The Element didn't like what she was doing, and the liquid fire that was her blood seared at her. She bit her lip to keep from crying out as the set-up for her plan was complete. Rarity's words soothed the open wounds that might have otherwise festered, but she still wouldn't allow her friends to get caught up in whatever response Princess Celestia might have.
Quickly, she took the tiara off, and put it back in Fluttershy's hands. "Hand this over to Principal Celestia, please." Ignoring the invisible burns the Element had left on her palms, she turned over to Rarity, "Rarity, you're right."
The girl in question narrowed her eyes, "So you were planning on doing something foolish, weren't you?"
"Yes, I was," Sunset said, hoping she could bluff her way through as long as possible. Every second she could delay activating her second spell was a second longer her soul could be at peace. "I don't know who will come through that portal, and when, but I know somebody will. Do you trust me, girls?"
"Trust you?" Applejack chuckled, "Sunset, you're the best friend we've ever had! You're like the campus queen every school seems to have, except in all this time I've barely known you to have a mean bone in you!"
There were murmurs from all around, not just coming from Sunset's closest friends, but from the other students and staff who were gathered around, having waited for her to return to Canterlot High from Equestria.
"You guys…" Sunset held back the tears of joy that threatened to drop down her cheeks, lest they turn into a flood. Composing herself, she stood up, and focused on the partymaniac of her close group. "Pinkie."
"Yes Sunset?!" Pinkie Pie bounced to attention with a military salute as she was singled out by the one who bound their group together, the focal point of both her close friends and the school at large.
"Do you still have those old pictures of me at the last couple of Fall Formals?" Sunset asked, before clarifying, "The one where you got me to put on the best mean look I could? Could you get picture print-outs for me if you have them still?"
Pinkie was on it right away, whipping out her cell phone and searching through her older pictures. As she did this, Sunset turned to the rest of her closest friends, "I do have a plan, girls. You're going to have to start trading emails and texts with one another, and remove the timestamps."
She cringed as she detailed exactly what her idea was: to pretend to be a mortal enemy to the five of them, and a supreme bitch of the high school. The others fought her hard on her plan, and the only respite she got was when she asked for quiet as she focused her attention on her scrying spell, finding out through her spell on Princess Mi Amore Cadenza that nobody was to go through the portal just yet, waiting until the Equestrian morning. Sunset Shimmer would crash hard after the amount of sleep she would have to go without while preparing for the inevitable appearance of at least one pony, but it would be worth it.
"Snips, Snails," She at last spoke, calling her two younger brothers over.
"What's up, sissy?" Snails said as he came over, accompanied by his stubbier sibling Snips. "You gonna teach us how to use magic now? Oh, oh! Maybe you can show us that scrying spell you were showing off earlier!"
"Yeah right," Sunset deadpanned, "And I'm sure you wouldn't use it to be peeping on girls at all."
"Darn," Snips responded, shaking his fist in dismay, prompting a slap on the back of the head by his taller foster brother at how easily he gave up the game.
"Anyways, I'm going to need your help over the next few days," Sunset hastened to explain. "Do you think you can do that for me?"
There was some grumbling, but she quickly got acquiescence from the two as they verified their schedules were mostly open with no obligations before the Fall Formal event.
Events continued on like this for several hours, Sunset directing students to go do this and that as the physical evidence that Sunset was the paragon of virtue was slowly covered up. Pictures in Princess Celestia's office were replaced, showing her glee at winning the Fall Formal slowly getting more mean-looking every year. Plaques touting her as an outstanding volunteer were removed from the trophy cabinet. Copies of yearbooks were removed from the library, with only the most recent one remaining (she had taken the picture of her friends that year, and thankfully there was no mention of who the photographer was in the yearbook's acknowledgements).
It saddened her to see how the life she had built up here in this other world could so easily be erased, but it had to be done.
"Alright, Sunset! You owe me an explanation. What's going on here?"
The red-and-yellow-haired girl jumped slightly, turning to face the other multicolour-haired member of her close circle, "Ah, Rainbow Dash, how are you?" She asked nervously, fidgeting in place under the glare the athlete was giving her.
"You're up to something," Rainbow Dash accused her. "I've thought it over, and it doesn't make sense. You want us to pretend to be enemies, fine, that's why we made up all this proof that we were never even friends. But how do you expect every student here to put on a perfect act for two days?!" She waggled her finger, pointing over at Applejack, standing off to the side chatting with Fluttershy. "Do you think AJ will be able to lie with an honest face if whatever pansy pony that comes through asks her straight-up about you? You know she can't tell a lie!"
Sunset internally cursed. The universe had a weird sense of humour. She had made friends with these five girls, and many years later, upon scrying on Cadence and Blueblood, learned that five of the six Elements of Harmony appeared to be perfect counterparts of her friends. Rainbow Dash's pony counterpart was the Element of Loyalty, which her own Dash certainly personified as well, but they both seemed to have a tendency to buck the status quo and call out things that didn't add up. And she had been so close without anybody confronting her.
"Give me a minute please, Dash," She pleaded, "I need to make another check on Equestria." The girl in question let out a hmph and crossed her arms, tapping her foot impatiently. Sunset decided that the excuse she had used to beggar off for time wasn't a bad idea in itself. Activating the passive spying magic, she peaked in on Cadence.
All four Princesses, along with the rest of the bearers of the Elements of Harmony and their iguana, were gathered around the mirror.
"I'm so sorry, Rainbow," Sunset said, and for once she let her tears flow free at the act she was about to commit.
"What are you talking abo-" Rainbow Dash's eyebrows were scrunched in confusion, but she never had the chance to complete her question, as her body froze mid-sentence, along with all the other students and staff in the courtyard. Across the school, reaching across all of Canterlot town to touch upon all its residents, Sunset touched the minds of every human within city limits.
In the students and teachers of Canterlot High, she activated the brainwashing spell she had implanted earlier using the magnified power of the Element of Magic. It had burned her before merely setting the accursed black magick up. She shuddered to think of what it would do to her, as she rewrote every person's memories to remember her as a tyrant that it was better to appease than to oppose. To the regular citizens of Canterlot town, she planted passive seeds of thought, nudging those closer to her to also think of her as somebody not to be crossed. She had to absolutely leave no trail of evidence for what she could now see would be Princess Twilight Sparkle to latch onto and break through the illusion she was casting.
As the spell finished casting, and the raw magic that had physically manifested itself in the world through sheer concentration of power dissipated, Sunset found herself panting, the world swaying before her. Kneeling down for a few seconds to gather her breath, she staggered up onto her feet again.
She smirked. Let the princess that had stolen her rightful title come forth. Sunset Shimmer played for keeps, and Sunset Shimmer would win this game.
Sunset could only hope that her friends would forgive her after this. She felt as if she had committed the ultimate betrayal of their relationships. What she had done was black, and as sure as she had tainted her magic, she felt she had stained her friendships.
Although her parents had been alright with her dressing casually while she was young, her father brought his foot down hard upon her winning a very prestigious academic award in her first year at the massive six-grades-inclusive Canterlot High. There was simply no way she was going to show up in jeans and a t-shirt, he had said, so it was off to the dress store she went with her mother.
She absolutely despised the ordeal of sitting around and waiting for the seamstress to go over every last inch of her torso and limbs, taking measurements so that the dress she had chosen could be tailored to fit her to a t. She had balked at her parents purchasing the dress outright, renting it instead, figuring she would outgrow it within a year.
The whole hassle of fitting had been compounded by finding the perfect dress among the racks and racks of outfits in the store. After an hour had been wasted, she had been about ready to call it quits, when she met another girl who had been waiting on the seamstress. The girl, who kept her purple hair well-groomed, seemed to have an eye for colour and design, and within minutes the girl had found her a dress she absolutely adored. Orange with trimmings of red and yellow, it reminded her of her Cutie Mark she had once had on her back thighs. Thankful, she had asked, and found out the girl was going to the same school as she was, just in a different class.
"Oh, don't worry about it, Sunset! I have an eye for these things, and what kind of person would I be if I didn't try to help? Oh, how could I have forgotten to introduce myself?! My name's Rarity…"
Sunset wept that night.
The day had been a nightmare.
She had thought Princess Celestia throwing her out of the castle was the worst a pony could ever hurt. Alas, Celestia was only one pony, one relationship.
To see the five friends whom she had shared a relationship as close and profound with Celestia, with each of them as an individual on a group level, all give her the cold shoulder when they saw her? To overhear them speak of her as a mean-hearted individual, something to be avoided like the plague? The daggers that pierced her body leaked the acid laced in the words spoken of her, boiling her blood with hurt.
Compounding the pain was how she had to act in turn. She thought casting the brainwashing spell before had been a low moment in her life, but watching as Fluttershy cringed every time Sunset lashed out at her with nasty words brought her even lower, as if she had fallen into the ocean depths and even kick of her feet saw her sink deeper still.
Even as she struggled to clear the dark abyss that threatened to crush her under its unrelenting pressure, the sunlight she desperately grasped for seemed to get farther and farther away. Her parents had taken her in despite her lack of identity. With only a meager stipend from the state, it was their big hearts that hosted her, and she had paid them back by stealing the will of their two foster sons, her own brothers in all but blood. Snips and Snails had been reduced to mere minions that jumped at her slightest whim like trained dogs.
That day, when she had confronted Twilight Sparkle, she had attempted to place a scrying spell on the girl, fully confident that the princess would be deaf to any magic being cast. To Sunset's surprise, she couldn't even get her magic to form. In a panic, she had attempted to spy on the two ponies she had existing spells on, and was unable to get any feedback. Other, more harmless spells fizzled out right away. The only thing she seemed to be able to control was the mass mind-controlling spell still active, and the large knots it was composed of largely resisted being tied up further, as if the only way available to her was to untie what Sunset was sure she had made her own personal Gordian knot.
She gasped for air in a brief break from her tears, attempting to break the surface but never quite clearing it. Sunset at once cursed and praised Princess Celestia, for even as she now understood how right the solar deity had been to encourage her to make friends, Sunset also knew how much it hurt to be alone.
One more day. She would have to get as much sleep as she can, and make it through one more day before Twilight Sparkle had to return to Equestria, and Sunset was determined to make sure it was with crown in hand, and thinking that everything was nicely tied up and Sunset wasn't a threat anymore.
Sunset didn't get to sleep that night.
As she grew older, Sunset's parents declared that if she wanted spending money any longer, she would have to get a job.
Although she had had a fit of teenage rebellion, it only lasted for a few days, this being her second time around at that phase of life. With a sigh, she had started to go through the classifieds of their local newspaper.
After a few weeks and disappointment at all the jobs appropriate for her assumed age being retail and fast-food, Sunset had struck gold through her network. One of Snail's friends worked on a family apple orchard, and they were looking for some extra temporary help. After briefly talking with Apple Bloom, Sunset had found herself being led to Sweet Apple Acres.
It turned out that she had little penchant for apple trees. That was alright, because the Apple family had a ranch as well, and it was there she found a calling she hadn't realised she had ever missed from her life. The equines of this world may not have been sapient, but they were still sentient, and something of her former self seemed to get through to them. To outside observers, it was as if she were a natural with them, capable of calming down mad mares and rampaging stallions with a simple whispering of words into a horse's ears or a brushing of the mane.
While her talent diminished when going from horses to other animals such as cows, her sheer capacity to understand the former sold Apple Bloom's parents on hiring her. A good word from the red-head's grandmother, who worked as a cook at Canterlot High as her aging body rendered her incapable of the hard farm work she once performed with gusto helped cement Sunset's new part-time job.
It was here that she met the last of her closest friends.
"So you're the new gal, huh? Nice ta meetcha, name's Applejack, you can call me AJ for short."
Sunset managed a peeved face, but was secretly relieved, "What!? Equestria! Your friends! Lost to you forever! Don't you see what I'm about to do to the portal?!" Hoisting the hammer in her hands, she did her level best to look like she was serious, challenging Twilight Sparkle to a test of wills.
Twilight Sparkle gave a long speech, declaring the values of friendship and truth and love, and Sunset nearly groaned at how corny the whole thing was. Friendship was something she had learned to appreciate and practice, but the pony princess was never going to win converts with a delivery as hammy as that.
Once Twilight had finished speaking, Sunset sighed, setting down the hammer. "Fine, you win," She declared. It was over. The princess would return to Equestria through the portal, the portal would close, and she would be able to cast the counterspell to dispel the mind-control she had used on all the students and staff of Canterlot High. She had done it. Sunset was glad Twilight had called her bluff.
After all, she really wanted to be able to return to Equestria someday herself.
"It's no wonder you're a real live princess!"
Sunset froze. A real live princess? A real live princess. The words repeated over and over in her head, blending together so quick until they faded out, only leaving the sentiment behind. That sentiment was jealousy, something she hadn't even realised had possessed her, buried so deeply under the storm of emotions she had suffered from the past few days.
The lost girl tried to stop the anger that was feeding off the jealousy, but it was like stopping the waves. It was a primal force fueled by something cosmically bigger than her, and her attempt to vanquish the sudden rage were both futile and naïve.
She was supposed to have been a princess, dedicating herself to her studies every day, adoring the Princess so. The mirror had only shown Sunset her destiny, and then Princess Celestia had spurned her for following up on it, disowning her and tossing her out. Then the Princess had taken another student, who would herself become a Princess! Twilight Sparkle had followed her here, and in the illusion Sunset Shimmer had cast to deceive her, stole her closest friends, and even her title as Fall Formal Princess, the one thing she had really allowed herself to take pride in the last few years.
In one last grap, she tried to skitter back up the wall fencing her goody two-shoes personality from the resentment she had held for all those years, never realising how much she was tottering over the cliff like the eggpony from the classic foal's tale, only for her hands, paws to encounter solid stone. She fell, and her hatred swallowed her whole.
Twilight Sparkle would pay.
"Oh yes, she's so very special!" Sunset sarcastically commented, horrified at how easily the arrogance became her, like an old dress she thought she had outgrown, only to find to her terror it was more form-fitting than ever.
It was as if the person Sunset thought she was had sat in the backseat, allowing the person who she thought she had left behind in the past to ride her body. She had thought that arrogance was behind her, but it had been an illusion, a shimmer of a truth. The pony who had become a human found her actions came to her so easily, as she dashed forward and jumped at Twilight Sparkle, grabbing for the Element of Magic that was no longer necessary to her plans.
What followed was a slapstick brawl, as her and her two helpers assisted in trying to outmatch her brainwashed friends and the self-righteous Princess, ending up with the Princess' regalia in her hands. Despite the ludicrousness of what had just occurred, her mind was only focused on the power she could attain by putting the crown back on.
This was her last chance to turn back.
She refused it, putting the crown on.
At once, pain surged through her being. Out came the hidden dark side she thought she had overcome but merely repressed, the twisted personality hiding in the shadows of the sunset she had cast everywhere she went. Sunset Shimmer attempted to stop it, but the mass brainwashing spell she had cast, even for the noblest of reasons, had warped her soul, and the Element of Magic responded to it, magnifying every part of the self she had attempted to scrub clean.
As the transformation the Element had forced on her passed, the black magic dissipating into the night with its job complete, Sunset surveyed herself. She felt good, the best she had felt ever since crossing the portal. This was the power that Princess Celestia had rejected and cast out from the castle? Well, she would prove the Solar Deity wrong by defeating her precious student, the one she had ended up making a Princess.
Her first act after her warm-up speech was to transform her younger brothers. The next was to turn on the students that had stumbled out to the front entrance where the skirmish between good and evil had taken place. With a simple focusing of her hands above her forehead, the brainwashing she had earlier introduced had been modified to give her total control over them. Screw this world, she was going to return to Equestria with an army and take it over!
The demon formerly known as Sunset Shimmer cast a spell at the remaining six that defied her, but it would end up being of no use as a magic barrier repelled her attack. With growing horror, the pony Princess and the five friends she had made ended up transforming, turning their own combined magic upon her.
As the swirling rainbow struck her, the pain that had faded into the background behind the overwhelming lust for more power returned, this time many-fold what she had felt when initially transforming, like the tiny momentary prick of a needle next to the burning sting of a fire ant. The reactivated Element of Magic, combined with the makeshift power of the five girls who were the counterparts of Equestria's remaining five Element bearers, bathed her in an eternity of blinding white light. As if she were in an endless ocean with naught but for water on all sides, she thought she would never see again.
Just as sudden, through the sea of white, she saw the sunset, and reached out.
Coming to, she heard the Princess go through what sounded like a rehearsed speech about friendship.
She gave the best performance of her life right there. It helped that she truly felt the redemption the Element of Magic had given her, both for her past and the last forty-eight hours.
She was astonished. Even though Canterlot High accommodated six years' worth of students, she had won the Fall Formal Celebration in only her second year, in what had been purportedly a near unanimous secret vote. She had finally taken her former mentor's words to heart and decided to follow that maxim, now that she lacked the magic that she had spent so long training in under the Princess. The human who had once been a pony never thought it would have resulted in this.
"Congratulations, Sunset Shimmer," Principal Celestia announced to the auditorium through the microphone, "You are our year's Fall Formal Princess. What do you have to say?"
Having prepared her speech beforehand, she thought she would have been able to restrain her emotions. It wasn't to be so, as tears of joy ran free, "Thank you, everybody. It's, you know, a real honour to be up here today."
"When I first entered elementary school, I found myself without a friend, not having been born here in town. Over the years, I got to know many of you, younger and older than me, and it has been the most fulfilling experience. Every one of you means the world to me."
With a sweeping glance out at the audience, she took in the many students in attendance. There was 'Big' Macintosh, the eldest of the three Apple siblings at the school, whom she had enjoyed many quiet conversations with while helping out at their orchard. That was the self-declared Great and Powerful Trixie, along with her two close friends Fuchsia Blush and Lavender Lace. The trio could be a rowdy one, almost as much as the Crusaders, but they meant well and were a joy to be around in their tamer moments.
Octavia Melody, renowned statewide for her cello playing but really wanted nothing more than to lead her own orchestra, stood next to Vinyl Scratch, a girl of very few words who was into new-age music. Cheerilee the librarian sat on a chair next to her nephew, Flash Sentry, who was a jock with some talent in the guitar and an interest in math.
All this Sunset knew, because she had interacted with each one of them, and had gotten to know them. In some cases, their relationship was only skin-deep, but to a person, she would enjoy spending more time with each of them.
Slowly, her gaze turned to her five closest friends, and she spoke again, "Some more than others, it's true," Sunset chuckled, "But friends nonetheless. You know, it's funny. Someone I knew in a past life once told me, 'Friendship is magic'. I'm only now beginning to realise how right she was. I truly am glad that I know each and every one of you, and that I can call all of you friends."
At once, she felt odd, a warmth inside her that seemed strangely familiar, like a power that beckoned out to her, long dormant. A flash of light started radiating from somewhere. It took her many moments to realise it was her own body that was shimmering.
Pinkie Pie attempted to run through the portal at the base of Canterlot High's entrance statue, only to rebound off a solid wall. "Oh bummer," She said, shaking her fist in disappointment.
Sunset Shimmer stopped rebuilding the front entrance, leaving Snips and Snails to the task as she walked out the shattered door to greet her oldest friends. Not that they knew that at the moment. "Don't worry, Pinkie," She spoke quietly, the trauma of the devil form that had overtaken her leaving her shaken. "She's gone now, and midnight has passed. We did it."
Applejack frowned. While they had promised to Twilight Sparkle to help Sunset Shimmer redeem herself, it would take a long time before she truly felt comfortable with the she-witch. "What are you talking about, Sunset Shimmer?" She asked, barely managing to hold back the malice she still felt in her soul towards the fallen angel.
Sunset smiled, and the five girls whom had banded around Twilight Sparkle found themselves taken aback. They had never seen Sunset Shimmer smile a genuine smile like that. "Like this, AJ," She said, raising her hand up to the sky.
Applejack was about to bite out a comment against not using nicknames just yet, but startled as a ball of pure white light appeared in Sunset's hands, "What the hay?"
"What the hay indeed," Sunset repeated back at her, as the light divided into hundreds of individual rays, each one tracking down one of the students or staff members that had been brainwashed by her in order to present to Twilight Sparkle her grand deception.
"Wh-what the!" was one of the many cries that came out of the students as they, to a person, staggered, some even being brought to their knees, as the memories of ages past returned, replacing the false ones that Sunset's spell had installed.
Violating a person's memories was never a pleasant process, and having done it once, the Element of Magic had purged her of her sin for it through an equivalent agony to what she had inflicted, finally expelling it from her body as thoroughly as if she had vomited out something that had made her sick. And she was doing it again, this time to set things right. Through it all, Sunset wept.
Friendship was magic, after all. However, that same friendship meant you suffered when your friends suffered, both literally and metaphorically. Sunset had come to accept this as a simple fact of life, as necessary as eating and breathing.
"Are-are you OK, Sunset?" Fluttershy asked, always the most empathetic one of the group. Really, Element of Empathy would have been a better name for what she and her counterpart represented.
"Not quite," Sunset choked out through her tears, dropping down onto one knee to stabilise herself. "I did the most awful thing possible. I told myself I did it to protect all of us, but I think it was really just to protect myself."
"Hey," A voice came through the fog, and Sunset found her head being tilted up, pale green meeting forest green. Applejack spoke, piercing the haze that had settled upon Sunset, "That's what you think. But what was really running your head when you did whatever it was you exactly did? I still have weird memories that don't make sense." As if to enunciate the point, the farmer girl lightly slapped her own head with her remaining free hand.
"Most of it will go away," Sunset said, though she wasn't even sure at this point. "The last two days won't, though."
"They won't?!" Rarity spoke up, incredulous. "I feel so awful, Sunset. I remember being your friend for many years, but then the last two days, I remember feeling complete hatred towards you. You're saying this won't ever go away? No, don't answer that! I told you not to go through with it without even knowing what you wanted to do, but you did it anyways." She was crying, too, but not as bad as Sunset was. "We treated you like an outcast during that time, and you lost the Fall Formal. Forget us, are you OK?" Generosity was definitely, though. Even as the shock of what Sunset had done was working its way through her system, she still thought of Sunset over herself.
"You're thinking we hate you now, Sunny?" Sunset felt a strong grasp around her wrist, pulling her back up onto both feet, and she latched an arm around Rainbow Dash to support herself. Her other arm was pulled up as well, Pinkie Pie propping it around her own shoulder. "Don't worry. I don't like what you did, but you did it and it's over with. Twi's gone. She became our friend, but you're our friend too. We'll get over this."
A fresh burst of tears came running out. "Girls…" Sunset sniffled, and wanted to say how she didn't deserve them. She squashed that sentiment, knowing how corny it sounded. "Thank you, you truly are the best friends a gal could ask for."
The sun was dipping below the mountaintop in the horizon, bathing the skyline in pinks and oranges. Turning to the assembled students, many who appeared to not have a lick of sleep in the last three days after the Fall Formal upon realising their awoken magical potential, she spoke.
"Everyone! Few of you know my history, beyond that I come from an alternate world and was capable of using magic! My past is not today, but let me tell you this: magic is not a toy to abuse. It is something I learned the hard way. I used a spell to make you temporarily forget all your memories of me being a friend, and turned all of you against me, all in order to deceive observers from the other world. That was what we call dark magic, magic that requires you foul your soul in order to use. Upon using the Element of Magic again, it sensed the darkness within me, and it amplified it to the point that I became what you saw!"
Those last few words seemed to get the point across to them, and Sunset was happy. She would fight with every ounce of her being to make sure there would be nobody here turning bad. "My mentor in the other world once told me that friendship was the ultimate form of magic. You know what? She was right! This world doesn't have natural magic, and even I was incapable of using it in this world until I forged bonds with my closest friends, as many of you witnessed at the Fall Formal three years ago. Do no evil, and always try to stay friends with one another, even through hard times. Magic is a gift to this world, not a privilege!"
She meant for those last few words to be her parting words. However, as the sun continued to set, she felt something strange within her, a surging warmth that she had only felt when in total unity with her friends…just like she was now.
"S-Sunset!" Fluttershy stuttered.
Sunset Shimmer needed no words. The light that was emitting from her, as it had once three years ago, was a part of her. Removing her coat, she tossed it aside, feeling like it needed to be off.
The light of a cleansing fire danced around her body, raising her off the ground. She let it flow freely, as it made her whole, filling a piece of her that had been missing her whole life. As if she was in the view of a third-party observer, she could see her hair lengthen and spike upwards, and equine ears sprout from her head, all as a shimmering tail and pair of long, bright wings sprouted from her back, the open wingspan even beyond her mentor's.
It was glorious. It felt right, and she was at home. A pair of tears dripped from her eyes as she realised with sadness that within the year, the top grade of this school would be leaving, and then the year after that, her own class would be gone, dispersed to the seven winds. But it would be alright. Friends could stray apart, friendships could be broken, but they could always reunite, and there would always be new friends. At last, Sunset Shimmer understood Celestia's golden words.
Friendship is Magic.
I'm kind of so-so on Equestria Girls, not really in the love it or hate it crowd, just the meh crowd. However, Sunset Shimmer steals the show IMO. I'm not ponysexual, but as far as colour schemes of manes and coats go, Sunset's pony form is one of three that I find hot (Octavia and Vinyl Scratch are the other two, then to a lesser extent Lyra Heartstrings' and Trixie's). She's set up as a smart, clever villain, nearly getting away scotfree in the beginning if it weren't for Spike's tail, and ruthlessly ruled Canterlot High. Which makes it all the more disappointing that THAT was her master plan! Given that, I started thinking about if there was a way to make her master plan actually make some iota of sense. I had two separate ideas that I combined, one being "What if her big plan is a feint for something else," and then "What if when she mind controlled all the teens, it gave them all magic?" In the interim, I changed it so she gave them all magic earlier, but then has to brainwash them so they don't actually give up the secret.
As you can see, this fanfiction heavily deviates from the whole canon premise of Equestria Girls, with Sunset actually making friends and everything early on. I took artistic license with a few things, such as making Snips and Snails foster siblings to Sunset, or Flash Sentry Cheerilee's nephew. I do give actual reasons to some things EG leaves unanswered, such as how Sunset apparently knows what to expect when going through the mirror portal. Other issues can be put away due to her 'master plan' being hastily thought up since she didn't expect Twilight to discover her, and her spell may not be perfect either. Then there are probably a few chronological errors I missed.
The one thing that really disappoint me in writing this was that I wanted to make Sunset's plan some sort of twist halfway through the story. I couldn't conceivably work out a way to do this without a ton of fluff and filler that would drag the fic as a whole down, and so instead it's revealed right off the bat, and I think that poorly affected the plot and pacing as a whole. Once I did that, the idea to alternate scenes between past and present was established early on. Sunset losing her temper at the end to initiate the final showdown was always planned. Unfortunately, my motivation really petered out near the end when tying up a few of the scenes, which were written out of order. The scene after Sunset returns from the portal was the main one that suffered for this, as well as the debrainwashing scene, and it shows.
Now, saying that, there's a lot of symbolism in this story. Some of it was intentional. Some of it was not. It was only after I was halfway through the story (having written most of the flashback scenes and the ending first) that I even realised how many allegories I had inadvertently put in. Read into it what you will (and post your thoughts!), but I won't confirm or deny if something was deliberate.
Something I've tried implying in the story, but which I think I may have made too subtle, is that Sunset doesn't need to worry about a student going out of control and using magic to evil ends. Magic in the human world literally relies on friendship, which acts as a control. If you go evil or even selfish and start using your friends, you can't cast magic as effectively. The whole scene where Sunset's magic fails her is supposed to demonstrate this, since even though it was to protect everyone, her brainwashing the entire school is still a very twisted way of achieving it. Basically the only thing she would have been capable of would be to unbrainwash everyone, as it would be something quite pure of motive. Only the Element of Magic, being a powerful magic artifact, could actually be used to evil ends.
As is obvious from the story text, people at Canterlot High know that Sunset came from another world, and that she has magic. I very deliberately don't reveal exactly how that all unfolded, so it's more of a reader imagination to fill in how events might have occurred for that to all come out.