Chapter 9: The Return of Sunset Shimmer

Sunset moaned and opened her eyes, her entire body aching. She squinted at the sunlight shining in her eyes and looked around to see that she was in a tent made out of plants.

"Where am I?" she moaned.

"Well, well," A voice to her right said scathingly, "Look who finally came back to us."

Sunset turned to see a gray pegasus with a shiny silver mane and deep blue eyes leering at her.

"Silver?" Sunset asked, recognizing him instantly.

"Silver Storm." Silver spat, "You lost the right to call me anything else a long time ago. Or has living in that mirror world made you forget everything you left behind when you ran away?"

Sunset took a deep breath and said, "I never forgot, Silver Storm. I'm so sorry for everything I said and did to you."

"Well, that's the first time in a long time I've heard you say that. Maybe there is a little warmth left in that block of ice you call a heart." Silver snarled.

Sunset looked away, biting her lip to keep from crying.

"Why are you here, Sunset?" Silver asked harshly, "What made you finally decide to come home?"

"Princess Twilight begged me for help. I had to protect my friends and home." Sunset said weakly.

"You have friends?! Ha! I don't believe you for a second! The only pony you care about is yourself! You probably came back to try and fight for glory so you can be made a princess and take over Equestria!" Silver sneered.

"I'm not the same pony I was the last time we saw each other! Princess Twilight turned me around, and I've become better! I have friends now, here and in the other world! Please, Silver! I really am sorry! Please forgive me!" Sunset pleaded.

"What's going on in here?" a new voice asked.

Sunset turned to see a green unicorn with a black mane and green eyes entering the tent.

"Oh, you're awake." he said, walking over to Sunset, "How do you feel?"

"Really sore." Sunset said, trying not to look at Silver.

"I bet. Winter Gust told us what happened. You were really brave, trying to battle all those monsters to protect the other ponies aboard the train. Wouldn't be surprised if they were some of Deadly Sin's minions." the unicorn said while examining her.

"Winter Gust's here? Can I see him?" Silver asked.

"You still need to rest, Silver. The lake water's doing wonders healing you, but you still need a bit more downtime before you can leave the healing tent and begin training to regain your strength." the green unicorn said.

"Why don't you try chatting with Sunset Shimmer here and get to know each other?" he suggested, making Sunset facepalm and Silver glare at her again.

"We've already met. Which reminds me, can I switch to a new tent or can she be moved?" Silver asked coldly.

The green unicorn frowned and asked, "Do you two have history?"

"It's a long story I'd rather not talk about." Sunset said sadly.

"At least on that, we can agree." Silver said.

"Well, Silver, I'm afraid that Sunset's too fragile to be moved in her current state, so I can't remove her. You'll only need to be in here for a few more days, if you keep drinking the lake water. I'm sorry if that upsets you." the unicorn said matter-of-factly.

"Well then, I'm leaving!" Silver cried, rising to his hooves.

"No, you are not! Lay back down!" the unicorn said calmly, running over to him.

"I feel fine, and I'm dying of boredom being stuck in this stupid tent all day! Not to mention, I'm now stuck in here with the pony who took my heart and trust and smashed it to dust!" Silver barked.

"You are not to leave this tent until I tell you to. Doctor's orders." the unicorn said firmly.

"Evergreen-!" Silver tried to protest.

"Doctor's. Orders. Lay back down." Evergreen said tensely.

Silver huffed but obeyed, glaring at him.

"Evergreen, is it?" Sunset asked him.

"Yes. How can I help you?" Evergreen asked, walking over to her.

"Can you get Princess Twilight and her friends? I want to see them." Sunset requested.

"Of course! But while I'm gone, no fighting. Don't even talk to each other if the only thing you're going to do is bicker, okay?" Evergreen asked.

Sunset and Silver agreed, and Evergreen stepped out.

A little while later, Princess Twilight burst through the tent, looking around frantically for Sunset Shimmer.

"Twilight!" Sunset called weakly.

"Oh! Sunset!" Twilight cried, her facing lighting up.

She ran and hugged her friend as all of Princess Twilight's friends cried, "Sunset!" and hugged her too.

"OWW!" she cried, her body aching and eyes watering from pain, "GET OFF!"

"Oh, gosh! We're so sorry, Sunset!" Twilight cried, leaping off of her.

"It's okay." she wheezed, drying her eyes.

"We're glad you're awake! We were all so worried about you!" Starlight Glimmer said.

"You were so awesome, fighting those monsters to protect the others ponies! That's like, way cool!" Rainbow Dash said.

"Thanks. Oh my gosh, that's right! Where's Thunderhoof and the other ponies who were on the train? Are they here yet?" Sunset asked frantically.

"Thunderhoof and the other ponies from the train made it here at dawn. They're all safe and sound." Twilight said reassuringly.

"Good." Sunset said, breathing a sigh of relief.

She then noticed a red pegasus with a darker red mane, a light blue unicorn with a white mane, a brown earth pony with a yellow mane, a pink pegasus with a curly dark pink mane, and a purple unicorn with a brown mane standing in the back awkwardly.

"Oh, hi!" she called to them, "Who are you?"

The other turned to them, and Starlight asked, "Guys, why are you just standing there? Come over and say hi."

"We, uh, didn't know if it was appropriate to interrupt you guys because we don't know her." the red pegasus said.

"Anytime's a good time to make a new friend." Princess Twilight said, "Come on, you'll love Sunset Shimmer."

The light blue unicorn, red and pink pegasi, and the brown earth pony stepped forward, but the purple unicorn stood back, tensing.

"I...I'm not sure." she said, looking anxious.

"Laurel, what's wrong?" Evergreen asked.

Laurel leaned into his ear and whispered something, making Evergreen's face fall as he listened.

"Laurel, I'm sure that won't happen. Sunset seems like a nice pony. She'll accept you." Evergreen said.

"I wouldn't say that. Just because somepony seems nice doesn't mean they are. And nice doesn't always mean good." Silver said coldly.

Sunset felt a pang in her heart as everypony looked at him, confused.

"Silver, what are you talking about?" the light blue unicorn asked.

"You want to tell them, or should I?" Silver asked Sunset scathingly.

"I'll tell them." Sunset said sadly, "Silver-!"

"Silver Storm." Silver interrupted.

"Silver Storm and I were best friends when we were younger." Sunset continued, "He entered the Royal Guard Academy at about the same time I began studying under Princess Celestia, so we saw each other a lot. We quickly grew close. Everyday, after we both got out of school for the day, we'd meet up at the park and hang out with each other- we'd both talk about the things we'd learned, I'd show him all my new spells, and he'd show me the new combat moves we'd learned. We'd play all kinds of games on the playground, and then at the end of the day, we'd walk home together."

"What happened?" Starlight asked.

Sunset took a deep breath and said, "I changed for the worst. I felt that since I'd been studying so hard and become such a good pupil to Princess Celestia, she should've made me an alicorn princess. But Celestia felt I wasn't ready, that I'd been spending too much time focusing on my magical studies and not enough time learning how to lead and be a good princess. I tried my hardest to do what she said, but it wasn't enough for her. I slowly became angry at everyone, and my ego inflated to the point where I thought I was better than anyone, even Celestia herself. I became cruel, dishonest, deceitful, power-hungry, and just plain horrible. Silver tried to stop me and help me see that what I was doing was wrong, but I never listened. I was so focused on my ambition and forcing other ponies to bow before me that I was blinded to everything else. Slowly, I began seeing Silver as less of a friend and more of a nuisance. And then, one day, he tried lecturing me again about how I was becoming a horrible pony, and I snapped. I...I said some horrible things to him."

"She said that I was nothing but a stupid little orphan that had no business being with an esteemed pony like her, that I was a useless embarrassment who would achieve nothing in life, and that I should've just died with the rest of my town the day of that attack." Silver said angrily, tears in his eyes.

"I never forgot the last thing Silver said to me. He looked at me broken-heartedly and said, 'Who are you and what have you done to my best friend? I loved you, Sunset Shimmer'. He ran away crying after that, and we never saw each other again." Sunset hiccupped, tears running down her face.

"What happened afterwards?" Laurel asked, looking equally depressed and intrigued.

Sunset told them of how she had finally lost all her patience with Princess Celestia and abandoned Equestria for a new world that was only accessible through a magical mirror. She explained how she had bullied everyone in her new home into accepting her as their leader, but how she still wasn't satisfied, so she returned to swipe Twilight's Element of Harmony crown, but had gotten caught and how her crown had wound up in her world. Sunset then mentioned how Twilight had followed her into her mirror world to get her crown back, rallied the whole school around her, all the sabotage Sunset had committed, and the events of the Fall Formal dance. She recalled the threats she made to try to force Twilight to give up her crown, and how the princess had bravely defied her, and then how she'd stolen Twilight's crown anyway, how she'd transformed into a she-demon and hypnotized everyone in the school to be her mindless army and take over Equestria, and how Princess Twilight and her friends in the mirror world had defeated her using the power of the elements inside them, making Sunset finally learn the lesson that Princess Celestia and Silver Storm had failed to teach her.

When Sunset was done, everypony except Twilight was looking at her in shock, and Laurel's eyes were wide and shiny.

"You are like me…" she breathed.

"What do you mean?" Sunset asked.

Laurel told the story of how she had tried to become Princess Celestia's student, but how Twilight had upstaged her, and she was kicked out in disgrace for trying to undermine Twilight, making her hate Twilight and become angry at Celestia. Afterwards, she'd been bullied by her parents and classmates, destroying every confidence she had in herself. Later, she and her friends had moved to Ponyville, where she'd once again run into her old rival and said scathing things to her. Laurel's friends had tried to cheer her up, but to no avail. Laurel eventually found the Disharmony element of Dark Magic, and had become a powerful dark sorcerer by the name of Midnight Eclipse. She'd petrified Twilight's friends and was about to turn Twilight herself into stone when Laurel's friends had saved her, and broken through to Laurel, then using the Elements of Harmony free Laurel from Midnight Eclipse. Finally, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna had showed up, decided not to punish Laurel, made Laurel Luna's students, and had finally gotten together with her best friend and true love, Evergreen.

Sunset stared at her, her jaw dropped and eyes wide.

"Yeah...I was pretty horrible, wasn't I?" Laurel asked sheepishly.

"You and me both." Sunset said sadly, smiling tiredly.

"So, how did you learn to move on?" Laurel asked, coming up to her.

"It was hard," Sunset admitted, "Especially since no one in my school let me forget what I'd done or how mean I was. That is, everyone except my friends. I guess I just focused looking forward to good things in my future rather than lamenting over what happened in my past, and paid more attention to making myself better than who I once was, instead of everyone reminding me of who I used to be. I think that the most important part is learning how to forgive yourself and let your good side rule you rather when your demons. Because if you don't, you'll be right back at square one."

"She's right, Laurel." Starlight said gently, "You have to stop worrying about what other ponies think of you, and love yourself for who you are."

"But how can I pay more attention to becoming a better pony if the ponies that make me feel love to come up to me the second I set hoof in Canterlot?" Laurel asked.

"Stand up to them, then. As confidently as possible. Let them know that nothing they say is going to break you." Sunset said boldly.

"Except everything does. I just...want to make everypony proud of me. But I never will. It's like my parents and all those other ponies always tell me. I'm nothing but a failure." Laurel whispered, sitting, tears running down her face.

Laurel's friends gathered around her, hugging her, and Sunset put one of her hoofs on Laurel's.

"My mom always used to tell Winter Gust and I 'You're never a failure until you give up on yourself'." the blue unicorn said.

"Really?" Laurel asked, looking at her through her tears.

She nodded, and said, "So, don't give up yourself. You proved that you're a phenomenal magician in the Siege of Canterlot, using transfiguration, petrification, the shrinking spell, and you can do so much more! So please, Laurel, stop doubting yourself and learn to see how awesome you are!"

Laurel smiled weakly and said, "Thanks. You're a great friend, Snowflake Swirl."

"You are, too, Laurel Wreath." Snowflake said.

"So, Snowflake Swirl, Laurel Wreath, and Evergreen, huh?" Sunset asked, "Those are nice names. What are yours?"

"Oh, I'm Scarlet Streak." the red pegasus said.

She pointed to the brown earth pony and pink pegasus and said, "And these two are Funny Bone and Cupid's Arrow."

"Most of us go by our first names, though. So you can call us Cupid, Evergreen, Laurel, Snowflake, and Scarlet. Funny Bone doesn't like nicknames, though." Cupid's Arrow added.

"Ah. It's a pleasure to meet you all." Sunset said kindly.

Laurel suddenly cried out in pain and began shuddering violently, gritting her teeth and her eyes watering.

"Laurel, what's wrong?!" Evergreen cried, running over.

"My...my magic!" she stammered, "Something's going wrong!"

Laurel's irises suddenly started turning red, her mane and coat darkened, her teeth became pointed, and she grew.

Everypony gasped, and Sunset asked, "What's going on?!"

"It's Midnight Eclipse!" Evergreen cried.

Midnight Eclipse laughed and said, "Right you are, little ponies! How kind of you to remember me!"

"How are you here?" Twilight asked, "Laurel's not wearing the Dark Magic Disharmony Element!"

"This is merely a small manifestation of myself that I was able to conjure because of all the dark magic freely flowing through the land thanks to my master." Midnight Eclipse snarled.

"So, you are in league with Deadly Sin!" Evergreen said bravely, "I knew it!"

"Yes, I am. And why wouldn't I be? We both want the same thing-to watch Equestria burn to ashes, so that a glorious new empire may be born! And when it does, I will rule alongside my master and love as his empress. You merely delay your inevitable demise. Surrender to me, and Lord Sin will grant you a quick, merciful death. Your friend, Laurel Wreath, however, will be spared so that she may be my permanent host." Midnight boasted.

"Never! We'll find a way to defeat you and Deadly Sin, and Laurel will never fall to you!" Scarlet cried.

"And how exactly do you plan on doing that? Two of your leaders are in our custody, and everyday we grow in strength. We just succeeded in taking Maneami, and now that we know where you are, Fillydelphia is next! As for Laurel here, she's weak and already broken, easy prey for someone like me. I will catch her, and when I do, I will never release her again. It's the end for all of you!" Midnight Eclipse bragged, then laughed maniacally.

Evergreen shot a magical laser at Midnight Eclipse, making her start to dissolve where she was struck.

"Tell Laurel I'll be waiting for her at the end of the war, if not sooner!" Midnight Eclipse cried as she rapidly disintegrated until all that was left was an unconscious Laurel and the echo of Midnight Eclipse's laughter.

Laurel stirred and looked around, confused at the horrified look on everypony's faces.

"What happened?" Laurel asked, looking concerned.

"Midnight Eclipse took you over with a small manifestation of herself and said that she's in league with Deadly Sin. She told us that they succeeded in taking over Maneami and now they're coming here to try and stop us, and that Midnight Eclipse is planning to have you become her permanent host so she can stay forever!" Starlight cried.

Laurel paled and quickly got to her hooves.

"We need to evacuate! We're not strong enough face Deadly Sin yet. If we stay, you'll all die, and I'll lose myself forever." Laurel cried.

"Where can we go, then?" Sunset asked, "We'd have to find somewhere that Deadly Sin isn't able to find us! And since Midnight Eclipse was able to find us here, we could be found anywhere!"

"We'll have to go abroad, then. I remember the legend now. Part of Deadly Sin's curse is that he can't leave Equestria or he'll turn to dust, that's why the legend that he fled the land after his defeat in the first Great Pony War wasn't true. We'll be safe in Romaneia with Moon Jewel." Laurel announced.

"What about the other ponies in the other towns and cities, then? They'd be left with no one to defend them!" Rainbow Dash asked.

"We'll try to return as soon as we can. Romaneia's the only place where we'll be able to plan for how to win the war without constantly having to worry about being attacked." Laurel pleaded.

"I guess we don't have a choice then. We're going to have to leave or risk death and the fall of Equestria. Let everypony know so we can evacuate quickly, and set the guards on high alert in case Deadly Sin attacks sooner than we anticipate." Twilight ordered.

Everypony ran out of the tent except for Silver, Sunset, Twilight, and Laurel after Twilight said, "Wait, Laurel. I need you to stay with me for a bit."

"Uh, okay. What's up?" Laurel asked.

"I admire the way you took command like that and created a solution quickly. That was well done." Twilight started.

"Thank you." Laurel said, beaming.

"However," Twilight continued, "There is something else I'm concerned about."

"What?" Laurel asked.

"I'm worried about you. You were overtaken by a small, weak version of Midnight Eclipse so easily because of all the darkness that's still lurking inside you. If she's able to consume you without much effort in her weakest form, then what's going to happen to you when we face the Disharmony Element of Dark Magic? What if you completely lose yourself and we can't get you back?" Twilight asked.

Laurel bit her lip and looked at the ground, looking equally terrified and ashamed.

"I'm sorry, Laurel." Twilight said after noticing her facial expression, "I'm not trying to degrade you, I'm just worried about you because you're my friend."

"Starlight and I can work with her," Sunset offered, "We'll coach her to make sure that doesn't happen."

"Really?" Laurel asked, perking up a bit.

Sunset nodded and said, "We understand you, Laurel. If it's anypony who can help you through this, it's Starlight Glimmer and I."

"Th...thank you." Laurel said, "That's really kind of you."

Sunset nodded and said, "You two should probably help everypony prepare to evacuate."

Twilight and Laurel dashed out of the tent, running like monsters were on their heels.

Sunset risked a glance at Silver Storm to find him still glaring at her suspiciously, but he now had a spark of curiosity in his eyes.

Please let Moon Jewel and her troops make it here in time. Sunset prayed.