Sunset expected it to hurt, when the beam hit. The Element's of Harmony were a weapon, after all. It should have burned as if she were bathing in Celestia's own sun. and yet, the unicorn-turned-human-turned-she-demon felt not pain, but warmth as the warm rainbow glow surrounded her, caressing her corrupted form like a mother's embrace. For a long moment Sunset wondered if she had feared for naught. had the ramshackle burst of magic that foolish Twilight gathered failed? Or had the true Element resting upon Sunset's brow protected her from its brilliant wrath. Before she could wonder further, however, the true power of the elements struck, and Sunset understood just why they were such a potent weapon.

The beam did not harm her. Oh no, Harmony, of the sort wielded by the Elements, was a far subtler knife than that, and one which cut all the deeper for it. Instead, she saw visions. Sunset witnessed, with an almost frightening clarity, the moment she turned her back on Celestia's guidance, fleeing to the human world and leaving her mentor a distraught mess as she struggled to follow in the wake of Sunset's anger and feelings of betrayal. She witnessed the slow but methodical fracturing of the group of friends who had once shone so brightly with their love and companionship, step by step as her own past self tore them to shreds. She saw the lies, the bribery and manipulation as Sunset sought to gain control of the school, and gather some petty amount of power. And as Sunset watched, she was given the chance to see something that her anger, her pain, and her petty jealousness had blinded the young teen to; The cost of her actions, and the sorrow they brought.

Guilt struck Sunset like a hammer blow. Had she really done all these things? Had she truly destroyed lives and been so cruel out of some vain, misguided attempt to prove herself worthy of the power Celestia had barred her from? She could no longer deny it. Sunset had, in her anger and hubris, become the very monster Celestia tried to prevent, and it was entirely her fault.

She hardy noticed when the Elements ' power finally receded, their work done. Sunset's monstrous form had been blown away like smoke on the wind, leaving her in her plain human body, a cold comfort after the startling and terrible realizations she had come to. Instead, Sunset sat where she was, staring out at the walls of the crater she had landed in with an utterly blank look, even as tears threatened at her eyes. So consumed by guilt was she that Sunset couldn't even allow herself to cry.

Finally, after a long moment, Sunset's reverie was broken by the sound of shifting feet, and she glanced up. Twilight was there, the girl with whom this whole mess had started and ended. In that moment, Sunset knew fear. She had stolen the Princess's Element, mocked and humiliated her, and threatened to invade her home country with an army of teenage zombies. Even were she feeling merciful there was no way Sunset could ever make up for the crimes she had committed.

For just a moment, their eyes met. Twilight's were warm, a light violet color that would have been beautiful if Sunset couldn't see the anger in it. When the princess opened her mouth to speak, she was even tempted to let her. Maybe, just maybe, Twilight Sparkle would forgive her crimes. Maybe she would offer a hand of redemption, and give Sunset a chance to learn the magic of friendship. And in any other universe, sunset would take it. She would accept the hand, and allow it to pull her out of the far-too-symbolic crater. She would pay the price for her crimes, and in time, earn the trust and respect she had once taken by force. In any other universe, Sunset would become a good student, a good friend, and even somewhat of a hero. But then her eyes drifted to the five forms behind the princess. They were there, smiling as they reveled in their victory. Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash. Five friends who she had very nearly torn apart forever, and then tried to burn to a crisp in her Element-induced madness. Even if they could forgive her crimes, Sunset couldn't. She didn't deserve forgiveness, didn't deserve a second chance. She just needed to go away. She needed to… leave.

For a single moment, Twilight saw the look on Sunset's face. She saw the hint of desperation, the flash of hope—and then the crushing guilt and despair. She watched as, almost as if in slow motion, Sunset Shimmer turned away from the Princess, and the flash of light that burst into life. And when the light died, and Twilight could see again, she was witness to the fact that Sunset had disappeared without a trace, as if she had never been there in the first place.

XXX

Sunset Shimmer had no idea where she was. Granted, that wasn't entirely surprising considering she was in a forest, and had never been in a forest before, but the problem was not so much where she was, but how she got there. She had been standing in a crater, looking up at Twilight Sparkle and her allies, and then…

Cold. Cold and darkness and the buffeting winds that tore at her form, scratching, devouring… and then she was here. In a forest, with dark pine sentinels stretching up all around and one horizon guarded by the towering forms of mountains. The sudden, brutal shift had Sunset frozen in place, fear flooding her entire body as she stared at her surroundings like a deer caught in the headlights.

It was a long time until Sunset was finally shaken free from her reverie by a sudden shout. Even as she jumped, her head whipping about to search for the source, there came another, and then another. Before Sunset could fully register what was happening, the air was filled with shouts, and she had set off in their direction, running as fast as she could. Honestly, sunset didn't know why exactly she was running towards the shouts. From the sound of steel crashing on steel, she wasn't about to walk into a group of nice campers who would hare their fire and food, but still she ran. Finally, Sunset reached the edge of a large clearing, lit brightly by dozens of men waving torches and

Sunset stopped just short of stepping into the open, staring at the men as they fought. There were a surprising amount of them, dozens of men garbed in medieval armor of cloth, leather and steel, clashing with a vicious ferocity that stole her breath away. Two forces seemed evident in the battle, though both were scattered throughout the clearing in a haphazard mess of flesh and steel and blood. One, the more professional looking of the two, wore plain suits of armor made out of hard leather or gleaming steel, and fought with machinelike precision as they acted together. The other side, garbed in a riot of colored cloth, silk, and fur, was more resembling a frenzied mob, but what they lacked in coordination they more than made up for in ferocity and personal skill. At first glance, Sunset thought they were equally matched, even as the two forces tore each other to shreds. After just a moment, however, the truth revealed itself. Slowly but surely the coordination and superior numbers of the professional soldiers were winning out against the less cohesive force, carefully picking out small groups and silencing their resistance with overwhelming force.

For a moment, there looked to be a turning point. Out of the fur-bound mob rose a man who seemed almost to burn with fury and might. Draped in a dark blue cloak bearing the standard all his fellows had somewhere on their armor, h stood out from the crowd like a shark among minnows. With the wrath of a thousand storms he struck out into his enemies' ranks, slaying men low left and right with every swing of his axe. Watching him fight, even Sunset felt her heart start to rise in her chest although she knew not his name nor purpose. There was something… heroic about the man, a weight and presence to him that not even Celestia could match, if only because she was divine where he stood as a mere mortal. And for that moment, it seemed like he would win. All around him, his kinsmen rallied, and they began to push back the enemy… until a stray arrow loosed from one of the soldiers who had been hiding in a tree, struck the man about the temple. Sunset watched, as did a dozen others, as the man crumpled, slow horror dawning in her heart. It wasn't profound. She didn't know the man, nor even why he fought. But there was something powerful in the way he had stood, and the cries of his fellows as they saw him strike the ground. Even moments later, almost the entire force of men in cloth and furs had collapsed to their knees, surrendering without a fight. For a long moment Sunset looked out on that field from her hiding pace, and felt she had just witnessed something important. The next, pain exploded in her skull, and she knew only darkness.