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Bellosh

Profiles in Fellowship (Bellosh & SteelEagle)

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There were precious few things in Sunset Shimmer’s life she valued as much as the time she spent with her companions back in her Mirror World home. Just about the only item to make the shortlist was the unicorn mare’s version of what some young fillies would call “Twilight Time”. About once every three months, Sunset would return to Equestria to spend a weekend with her adorkable Pony Friend Forever, Twilight Sparkle. Considering the business of their schedules, these get-togethers were really the only opportunities for both mares to share face-to-face fun times together.


Usually, Twilight planned these occasions so that Sunset would get to enjoy aspects of pony culture that she had missed out on in the past. Considering Sunset’s rough foalhood and troubled studies under Princess Celestia, it was quite a shockingly long checklist, but that was no concern to an alicorn princess addicted to making long checklists. Last time around, Twi managed to rope Sunset into participating in one Iron Pony event... which somehow turned into chasing a mythical fox creature? Weird stuff happened in Equestria, sometimes.


But Twilight was really looking forward to this weekend’s excursion. Apparently, the Museum of Equestrian History over in Canterlot was putting on a special exhibit about the Old Pillars of Equestria who lived over a thousand years ago (and are bafflingly quite alive and well today, once again due to the marvels of Equestrian weirdness). But this wasn’t no ordinary special exhibit, because Princess Twilight served as an academic consultant! And Twi, she was always so eager to spread awareness of vital historical figures to ponies lacking knowledge of obscure history.


You know... ponies like Sunset Shimmer.


The Equestrian girl looked on the bright side of things: she could have just as easily been dragged off to a dusty Antique Shop, or to a dry lecture on Paleopony Pottery Symbology. Although the former magic student relished teasing Twi about her nerdy excesses, Sunset confessed to herself that the inquisitive scholar within her wanted greatly to learn more about some of Equestria’s very first heroes... especially Starswirl. And she’d get to have her kick-flank PFF by her side while doing so! <3 


As the pair of Celestia’s students approached the Museum’s front entrance, Sunset couldn’t have been in better spirits.....

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Twilight had a plan.
Twilight always had a plan, of course. She had plans revolving how to make plans and plans in the backup regarding failed plans. She loved to make them. It never hurt that she had a time and a place to prepare for and a mare t entertain, meaning that there were stakes involved! The blowback from a ruined plan and a bad time was immeasurable in this instance. So she had staked out the possibilities, researched the exhibits, looked over the time-table, and ensured that no matter what happened they would have a small chance of failure at the extreme. Some ponies may call her crazy but she knew she was simply...prepared. They didn't know what she knew!

Sunset Shimmer, after all, was on a timetable. She could make these trips back home, but only for a certain period of time. Then she would return to the Mirror World, and time would pass until she got to see her best human friend forever (BHFF for short). Every one of Sunset's trips would remain special to her until the time came in the far future when Sunset returned to Equestria for good, assuming she would. And so it fell on Twilight, with her time and power, to ensure that such trips were executed to the full breadth of their possibility. She owed it to Sunset Shimmer, no doubt. She had missed so much after she ran off into the Mirror World. Equestria had changed and would continue to change in her absence. She could easily have been in Twilight's hooves and deserved to see this new world for everything it was, eyes wide open. And what better way to explore the present than by taking in the past?

Luckily, the perfect event was taking place right now. The Museum of Equestrian History in Canterlot was hosting a Pillars of Equestria event this month. Relics, tomes, artifacts would be on exhibit and lectures about their history and importance would be taking place all month. Some weeks they would have guests- and, well, it didn't take a genius to understand that the guests would be the Pillars themselves. To see the historical record was one thing, but to speak with the living embodiments of it all? That fell beyond the scope of anything she could have hoped for. It was an easy choice for Twilight to make and she ensured through her communications that this visit would take place on the right day, so Sunset would have the best possible experience.

The arrival from the Mirror World went well. The breakfast she had prepared with Celestia and Luna went swimmingly. Of course, the two elder Alicorns (and Twilight's other friends) teased Twilight a little for her fixation on getting this specific set of plans right. Twilight didn't understand their complaints. She was the Princess of Friendship after all and her BHFF was...well, one of her best friends! No matter their slight teases, the day was going well and the two found themselves trotting up to the museum, Twilight levitating a guide between the two of them- she had been going over the exhibits and lectures and where they could meet the Pillars and-

-in the middle of a rambling sentence. Twilight bit the side of her cheek. Ow!
She rubbed it and laughed. “Okay, I guess I was talking too much. I think you're going to love it. So much to learn about the Pillars! What exhibit do you want to go to first?” Twilight asked, slowing herself down enough to allow Sunset some words in edgewise. She knew she could get quite excited about the academic nature of these things, so she had to be extra vigilant to not bore or trespass on her guest.
Besides, the plan had all sorts of allowances for inefficient decisions!

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Heh, Twilight was really bent on Sunset loving this trip. It was the fact the Royal Pony Sisters picked up on at the castle breakfast earlier this morning, which otherwise went smoothly. It was always nice to see the ole’ mentor again, though it was rather surreal hearing Celestia and Luna discuss retirement plans. The only thing bearable about the duo abdicating their thrones was how they intended Twilight to take their place.


Princess Twilight Sparkle: Ruler of Equestria, Wielder of Friendship, Protector of Harmony. Had a neato ring to it.


Other questions lingered in Sunset Shimmer’s mind. Will ponies and other nations give Princess Twilight the same level of deference as they did the Queen-in-All-But-Name Celestia? Would Twi’s friends pile even more commitments onto their backs by taking on royal advisory duties, or would they all end up having to restructure their close-knit fellowship into something... not as close-knit (which begged even more unpleasant questions about Sunset’s own post-graduation future)? Was Twi’s destiny to... sit on a throne all alone?


Sunset found that last question extremely disturbing for reasons she couldn’t quite articulate. Last time the unicorn visited Equestria, she found a new partner in Long Guo’s rising-star Imperial Watcher, who spoke of how its new empress struggled by herself to carry the burden of her Dragon Throne, least others judged Empress Yuè as unworthy of her crown. Twilight was about to land in that same boat as Yuè; if the Friendship Princess’s other pals can no longer be counted on to always be there for Twi, who will?


Which would make it a huge shame if nopony stepped up to fill those horseshoes. Twilight Sparkle was by far the very best friend anybody can have. No matter the situation (time loops notwithstanding), Twi would drop everything to help you. Everything the mare did, she gave 120%. She was amazing at magic, infected you with dorky enthusiasm, and heck — unlike other appearance-obsessed blowhards — always seemed to look pretty without ever having to try!


.....But Sunset was getting ahead of herself. Right now, she had a museum to attend.....


----------


“...So let your minds be amazed as these tales of hope, strength, beauty, bravery, healing, and sorcery are brought back to the future to inspire the ponies of today!

~A.K. Yearling”


Sunset was finishing reading out loud the celebrity-penned forward printed on her and Twi’s exhibit guide. “Yearling, huh,” she mumbled to herself as an aside; “I wonder if Daring Do is a thing in this world as well.” Miss Shimmer was clearly not well-acquainted with Equestrian non-fiction; prior to finding a new home in the Mirror World, the ambitious Sunset saw fit to label all mass-market drivel as wastes of time.


Anyway, to answer Twi’s question; “Let’s see, according to the guide’s order, it looks like Somnambula is first. I remember she invented Tempus Objectus and the Weather Abjuration spell, although I never imagined her to be a pegasus...” Sometimes, students of unicorn magic like Sunset found it hard to believe that non-unicorns could create spells too.....

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Twilight had to remind herself that so much of this was new to Sunset, even if it felt like it shouldn't have been. She spent so long on the other side that it felt like a whole lifetime had passed. And in some ways it had. Nightmare Moon to the Storm King, she had missed a veritable whose who of a filly's storybook returning to reality.In the midst of all that, how could she not be expecting that Daring Do was a thing in Equestria as well? Then again, it wasn't as if every Equestrian villain had a perfect analogue in the mirror world. She didn't want to think what a Chrysalis or Storm King would be like there, let alone a Tirek! What humans lacked in pure magic or special qualities they made up for with fingers. Fingers were interesting and she was sure made for fantastic scratching implements, which she could use right now because her ear was itching. "Yes! Daring Do is very much a thing. How many books have they released in your world? If there are any you don't have I can lend you the missing copies. Not the signed ones I have anyway, but- hey, a new book is coming out next month. Do you want a copy? I can reserve one. With all the species differences and magic and the lay of the land I'm sure it'll be a worthwhile read," She said replied excitedly. Even Rainbow was a fan, and Rainbow with a book had been a wonderful development for all.

 

The pair trotted into the exhibit, heading for the Somnambula portion- indeed, she was also the closest. Her exhibit shone with all the positivity, optimism, and hope she was known for. Paintings of her varied legends- the Riddle of the Sphinx and its associated myths, the Giant Snake and the Stone, the Griffonstone Trials, among others- as well as artifacts lined the walls, while her statues were seen far and wide. Being an advisor to an ancient Pharoah, she had been somewhat better preserved than the majority of the Pillars. Even some of her old writings, written as they were at the tail end of Old Ponish as it transitioned into the more commonly understood language of the day, were on display. "Oooh, look at this!" Twilight blurted out excitedly as she half galloped to an object hidden behind glass. It was, of course, a long stick. But the stick seemed to glow. "When Somnambula ventured into the belly of a giant snake- one large enough to eat her Prince and many ponies- she used this stick to help lead her way as she gave up bits and pieces of her glopaz. Then she found what made the snake so large, a cursed stone, and flung it out of the overlarge snake, saving everypony in the process. The stone is now lost, but the stick- this is the one. You can tell because of the magical agitation at the end with the tell-tale marks of the magic used to curse the stone!" Twilight spoke rapidly, excited beyond all measure.
 

"Indeed. You know so much, I wonder why I am here!" A voice said from behind. Twilight turned- of course it was Somnambula. The pillar smiled, and Twilight had to laigh a little.
"Well, you know how I can get...its so nice to see you!"
"And you too, Twilight. Who is your friend?" Somnambula asked as she stepped up to Sunset and extended a hoof.

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Oh brother: Sunset Shimmer should have known better than to mumble out loud about Daring Do in front of Twilight Sparkle. “Eh heh heh, that’s quite alright Twi,” Sunset awkwardly attempted to politely refuse her friend’s offer; “I’ve only watched the movie adaptations myself, and they’re only up to Marked Thief of Marapore, as I believe I’ve told you about before. And besides,” the unicorn slyly smirked; “I’m more of a..... Shadow Spade person, myself.”


It was only fitting then that the Somnambula section with its scores of displayed artifacts reminded Sunset Shimmer of a pyramid straight out of a Daring Do film. Of particular interest to the unicorn mare was a cracked emerald brooch and a recreation of a nightmare mummy wrapped in bandages. “Ah, this brings me back,” Sunset recollected; “I challenged one girl to a duel back at Magic School because she said to my face I was too mean or whatever to be Celestia’s pupil. .....That girl was completely right, but to this very day, I don’t understand how she got so happy when that shadowmorph mummy I summoned enveloped her in its arms. Some ponies are just that desperate for a free hug, I guess? Pfft, it was certainly the strangest magic duel I’ve ever won.....”


A displayed pole next to the cracked brooch caught Twi’s eye, who began gushing about it. She had been so loud about it to summon a living legend over to the pair. Somnambula in the flesh; Sunset hoped everybody else in this land was as excited to encounter a Pillar of Equestria as she was now! “My name’s Sunset Shimmer,” the girl kept her cool as she shook Somnambula’s hoof; “It’s an honor to meet you, Somnambula. And I can’t believe all of the other Pillars are also here today!”


Sunset’s gaze momentarily fell on Somnambula’s neckline; “Hey, you don’t happen to have the necklace Prince Hisan gave you handy, do you? Princess Celestia taught my class about the properties of glowpaz, but that gem is extremely rare these days, and she only had dust fragments on hand that day to show everyone.”

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Twilight wasn't taken aback by her friend's slight brushing aside of Daring Do. Her series wasn't for everypony. Danger and intrigue wrapped around the poles of history and myth. Sunset's greater love of the works involving Shadow Spade was equally intriguing, though in a different light. Shadow Spade mysteries were very much of the noir kind and, if she were being honest, a little more adult than the Daring Do stories. Of course, Daring Do was based on true stories as experienced by the author. Made her wonder if the Shadow Spade stories...she snapped out of it, though she couldn't help but talk about books. "Shadow Spade is also rather good. A bit too much emphasis on fashion for my taste but I love a good mystery. Did you know Rarity was in the running to play Shadow Spade in a projector show?" Twilight added excitedly. She didn't know what came of that project, but she always hoped to see it revived.
 

Twilight had to suppress a giggle when the subject of the duel came up. Celestia's school was rife with them, though usually the top students rarely had to. It was something the less powerful felt the need to do to prove themselves. The description of the fight struck a cord, though. Twilight tried to think of who Sunset had fought...
"Was that...was her name Sapphire Mark? I think her name is Sunny Ray now. Gosh, hard to imagine she'd ever want to duel anypony. She is...well, basically like Fluttershy, except as a Student-Teacher when I was in school. Super gentle and very...yeah, she liked hugs. Ha! Well, now I know why. I remember a few duels. I was a loner as a filly and other ponies thought I wasn't good enough especially after..." she let the implication of Sunset's betrayal die in her throat. It had been a bad time for another 'star pupil'. She always used to hold it against whoever else had that title before her because of it. How petty she was "Well, point is I got into more than a few. Though they did ban summoning. Now I know why, too!"
 

For her part, Somnambula was silent as the two spoke. They were clearly very close friends, yes? Sunset Shimmer, the fiery one, certainly knew a little. Even wanted to know about her glowpaz. She sighed, though she smiled at its memory. "A pleasure to meet you as well, Sunset Shimmer. As for my glowpaz- no, I am afraid not. I gave away or used the glowpaz ages ago, even before I went into the darkness with the other pillars. It is okay. I do not miss it- I cherish the memories and joy that came with it instead," Somnambula said as she began to walk. As she did so they passed other exhibits- much of her own writing.
 

"It is rather good that the offer came to us to come to this exhibit. We are all so busy, it is good to see them again. Especially Magnus. Do you think the same, Princess Sparkle?"

"Oh...what do you mean?"

"I see."

Somnambula smiled, and Twilight blushed in confusion.
 

"Here we are," the pillar said as they entered into a large room, tinged with her lighting and with words of hope and encouragement. Creatures of all ages seemed to be sitting in contemplation, using breathing exercises and in yoga poses.
"I come here to give the gift of unlocking yourself. Really, it is all hope. The hope that lives within each of us. Not only hope for yourself, but for family, for friends. However, hope only springs from doubt or an acknowledgement of risk. To know peril is to know the germination of hope inside of you, even if you cannot see it. Sunset, you know of peril, yes? When did you learn to hope?"

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“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Sunset responded to the knowledge that Twilight’s friend could have been a movie star in this world. Frankly, it wasn’t surprising that a fashionista with a flair for the debonair would have been considered for the role of Shadow Spade. But then again, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the mare behind Carousel Boutique had been later judged to be a better fit as a costume designer than an actress. Sunset might have continued this tangential discussion, except that she and her pal had a museum route to plan.


Sunset nodded to let Twilight know she got the name of that student right. “Eh,” she casually added; “Summoning was always banned. See, I didn’t care much for ‘lame’ things like rules and boundaries back in the day.” Suppressing the indignation over the idea that Twi wasn’t considered a good enough protege, Sunset saw fit to elbow the goody four shoes alicorn and poke some mischievous fun her way; “But I never took YOU for a duelist, Twi. A faithful student like yourself should have known that magic duels outside of Defense Against Dark Arts exams are sanctionable by detention or suspension according to Section 2 Rule 5 of the Gifted Unicorn Code of Conduct.”


A shifty-eyed expression came forth from Sunset; “.....I’d know. Princess Celestia once made me write an essay on how the Code of Conduct evolved throughout the school’s existence. It’s best you don’t ask why I got assigned it.”


It was kind of a bummer to hear Somnambula used up all her glowpaz ages ago. The pegasus’s lack of regret rather reminded Sunset of the exchange student at school who lead the Harmonious Path club — Jade Moon — who among other things preached about embracing the inherent impermanence of the Material World. Sunset wasn’t the type of girl who dwelled much on philosophical matters; she preferred the time-honored activity of teasing Twilight!


Flash Magnus, huh?” The Equestrian girl snickered in delight, knowing just enough about Flash to make a superficial connection between him and another stallion she and Twi knew of; “You know Twi, I’m starting to sense a pattern with the sorts of studs that make you blush, heh heh heh.”


Before she knew it, Sunset Shimmer had literally walked into one of Somnambula’s motivational seminars. Initially content to observe the Pillar of Hope in action from the sidelines, Sunset unexpectedly found herself in the spotlight! “When I learned to hope?” The unicorn levitated an unused cushion over to the front of the auditorium and sat down besides Somnambula. “Hmmm, well uhh, I suppose that depends on what you mean by hope? I mean sure, growing up, I hoped one day to be a great magician so that ponies would like me, I guess. Then later, after I had a falling out with my mentor, I hoped for nothing more than the chance to get back at her... but I’m pretty sure that’s not the sort of hope Somnambula is talking about, heh.”


Sunset took a moment to chuckle and rub the back of her neck. “See, what you guys and gals have to understand is that I come from a crummy old town. Which is sorta funny, because its name is Hope Hollow and it supposedly had this reputation one time of being one of those idyllic everybody-knows-your-name small towns, but all that stopped being true by the time I was born. The ponies I grew up around didn’t have any hope at all; hope that business will get better, hope that the neighbors will always have their backs, hope that their daughter will amount to something.....”


A glum sigh signaled Sunset Shimmer’s recollection of not-so-happy memories. She didn’t mean to ramble to this entire crowd, but the mare felt she’d be cheating everyone who came to understand Somnambula’s teachings by not offering a full picture of her backstory, however unpleasant it may be. “Anyway, even after I got accepted into Princess Celestia’s School and began my magical studies, there was always that little voice in my head telling me if I screwed up my apprenticeship, I’d have thrown my life away for nothing, just like how almost everyone back home predicted. Eventually, I DID screw it all up; in fact, I screwed up so badly that I betrayed my teacher and ended up trapping myself in a place where I couldn’t use Magic at all! Can anybody here imagine living in a world without Magic?”


The unicorn allowed a few moments for her listeners to let the horror of a magicless-land sink in. “That messed me up pretty good. Robbed of my hopes and dreams, I swore I’d never be happy again unless I crushed the hopes and dreams of everyone else I shared my new little world with. So I went ahead and made their lives miserable... but accomplishing THAT didn’t make me happy. Making it back to Equestria didn’t make me happy either..... nor did snatching the Element of Magic from Princess Twilight over there. That’s the thing about living only for yourself; whatever you succeed at, all that does is move the goal posts by always giving you something else to be miserable at. Believe me, there was always that something else to fill me with rage and resentment.”


“So of course I got my butt whooped like I deserved, and once again I felt like an utter failure who wouldn’t be missed by anyone…” It seemed that Sunset got herself lost in her memories for several seconds or so, only to burst out grinning; “.....But then something incredible happened! It was no other than Twilight — whom I stole a crown from only days before — who encouraged me to let the Magic of Friendship into my heart. And for the very first time in my life, I had faith that others would like me for who I was regardless of what I was skilled at, what grand destiny was in store for me... or what terrible things I’ve done in the past.....”


As she continued speaking, Sunset used her magic to telekinetically drag Twilight by her side, whereupon the fiery unicorn interlocked her hoof with the alicorn’s. “I still had a hard time climbing out of the pit I dug for myself, make no mistake, but there was now a new voice telling me that as long as I worked at fixing my mistakes, things were gonna’ get better in the end. There were many times where I thought my attempts at atonement would lead nowhere... but I also had a new fire in my heart giving me the strength to persevere; the comfort of knowing that even if I ultimately failed, I would have still been happy with who I was. That I was worthy of friendship and love.”


“Sooooooo..... Yeah. That’s my long story of how I found True Hope... and you can thank this friend of mine for it!” Squeezing Twilight’s hoof, Sunset couldn’t help but give her PFF’s cheek an affectionate head nuzzle.....

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Twilight blushed. Yeah, she had known better. She got into trouble for it, too. But it had been so relentless at first. Sunset's incident had been fresh in their memories and unlike Sunset, who seemed self-confident and aggressive in her defense, Twilight hadn't been. All of that anger at the betrayal was redirected at her when she was young. Ponies closed themselves off to her. They teased her. The bolder ones, the ones with ambition, outright bullied her. Eventually, they challenged her. She never hurt anypony...long term...but she never lost. It took quite a number of duels for ponies to leave her alone. She guessed that was why she didn't really try to reach out to other ponies. By the time they came around on her and started to give her a fair shake, she was withdrawn. "Oh, I knew. Had to do it anyway though. I wish I could say I regret them now, but I don't. Probably because she didn't make me write essays on the code of conduct," she responded playfully. What she didn't say was that being told that Celestia was disappointed in her felt worse than any other punishment she could have imagined would have felt. She was happy to have the topic change. 
Or thought she would be much to her immediate chagrin and regret.


And what a topic it was. 
Sunset thought Twilight's blush and confusion were over Flash Magnus? Or, knowing her blindingly important history, a Flash Sentry? Somnambula would keep her thoughts to herself. However, it was once said that this inside of the eye of a hurricane may sometimes be blind to the tempest around them. Only when the fierceness of its passion came upon them would they know the truth. Twilight for her part was too confused to respond. "Ahh, do not worry Sunset. I am sure Flash Magnus can embrace me as we always have, even with the temptations of one Princess Twilight Sparkle dangled in front of him," she responded playfully, Twilight not much appreciating it though she didn't know why. She coughed, and Somnambula responded. "A gentle tease, my Princess. No harm meant."


Twilight would let it go as both she and the Pillar of Hope listened to Sunset really take the proverbial podium and run with it. Sombra was pleasantly surprised. Twilight was not surprised at all. Sunset had come so far that it had to feel good to share the story, even with its peaks and valleys. Success tasted best after failure and all of that. She didn't skimp on the details, earning some gasps from the crowd when the idea of a world without magic was brought up. Two unicorns even fainted, caught by Twilight in her own magic and held up until they regained consciousness. She had just ensured their safety when she was tugged into contact with Sunset. Twilight felt immediately warm and her blush returned, though it was fought back down again. And then when she was nuzzled Twilight felt like she was going to...

 

Saved by the Somnambulan bell!


"Thank you for sharing, Sunset Shimmer. Your journey illustrates something important: Hope is born from fault and issue," she started as she walked amongst them, travelling and spreading her optimism from pony to pony as she did so. "All of you here today have committed crimes and deeds most unkind. Yet you feel it warmly in your breast, as do I: The hope that you can find your success, your joy, your True Hope. Your journeys are perilous but within you is a guiding light to help lead you through the rocky waters to the safe harbor of friendship and harmony that awaits everypony who seeks it. And then you can be a friendly light for those around you. You are the foundation of your hope, your future, and you are capable of making the decisions that will lead you into the bright light you deserve," Somnambula said to a large grouping of cheers from, what could be plainly seen now by small tags on their ears, inmates from a nearby prison. Somnambula looked at the clock and sighed. "And with that, our time has come to a close," she said as a few guards entered. They started gently escorting the prisoners out. "The letters you have written have been most kind, and I will respond to them soon. I hope you have a beautiful day."

 

Somnambula stepped down. As some were being escorted out, new ponies were trotting in, alongside the regular crowd. Somnambula smiled.
"It is very good to help find the lost, is it not, Princess?"
"I don't look at it that way, but yes. I haven't found it to be anything less than perfect yet."
Sombambula smiled.
"Well, I have a few minutes before I will start with the next group. That should provide us time to walk towards Flash Magnus' section, no?"

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Sunset Shimmer supposed it was nice to know that dodging punitive essays was yet one more skill of Twilight’s. And for now, she would also get to dodge insinuations concerning any attraction to Flash Mangus as Somnambula chose to elaborate a little more on her relationship with the warrior. Quite curious to think there was something going on between the two legendary pegasi.....


Who would have known that only several minutes into a museum events, Sunset Shimmer was going to an inspirational speech to convicts? Yet somehow, the unicorn pulled off that spur-of-the-moment accomplishment without much difficulty. Then again, it wasn’t all that different from some other situations Miss Shimmer had been in before... sans the out-of-control troubled souls unwittingly threatening to unleash magic upon hapless bystanders. Everybody could make do with less incidents like those.


The time now came for the next exhibit. “Huh,” Sunset gave the Pillar of Hope a teasingly suspicious glance; “So YOUR section is right next to Flash Magnus’s. Seems terribly convenient, doesn’t it Somnambula.....?”

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Somnambula smiled, otherwise she seemed rather nonplussed by the implications. Mostly because they had gone far beyond such implications. While ponies of this age seemed to reticent to admit their emotions, as evidenced by Twilight today, ponies of mythic times did not share such devotion towards guarding their heart against sorrows. "No coincidence is it that Magnus and I have our exhibits close to one another. He matters greatly to me and I to him. If only we had not chosen to head into the abyss, the plans we could have made- alas, such is the whimsy of the past. I am just happy to spend what time I can with him now," she replied with just the barest hint of a sigh as she briefly remembered what could have been. Their time together before they had stepped into the abyss had been all too brief yet filled with hope and promise for the future. She was pleased with the future she lived in, though there were some elements of the past that would be forever lost to the sands of time as a result. Just a brief remembrance, then the longing was gone.
 

Replaced quickly by a wide smile as she saw Magnus hob-knobbing with several Royal Guardsponies. She quickly trotted up to him and pulled him in for a hug. He reciprocated and gave her a kiss before looking up with a smile at the two unicorn mares who had been escorting Somnambula. No trace of shyness or embarrassment, just self-confidence and devilish good looks.
"Nice to see you again, Princess. And who might you be?" Magnus asked, extending a wing for a shake. He always liked meeting new ponies and anypony who was hanging around the Princess of Friendship was a pony that intrigued this warrior-savior. 
"Flash, I need to speak with you," Somnambula cut in with a smile, gently tugging on his cloak and jerking her head to a room nearby marked 'Employee Entrance'.  Magnus nodded and looked back at the two unicorns.
"Alright. Hey you two, feel free to look around. My exhibit may not be as popular as Somnambula's but it is pretty awesome if I say so myself. And I do," he said with a laugh as both he and Somnmabula trotted into the darkened entryway, oddly lit by some candles and the wafting scent of some very earthy food.

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“Pfft, don’t get me started on regret,” Sunset Shimmer commented on Somnambula’s lament; it was not uncommon during times of gloomy reflection for the unicorn to wonder what could have been had she completed her training to Princess Celestia’s satisfaction. “Take it from somebody who was dumb enough once to throw her destiny away,” Sunset shared an encouraging smile and a comforting one-legged hug with the Pillar of Hope; “You and Flash Magnus still have plenty of time to make new plans.....”


Speak of that warrior-pony, there he was! Although Sunset Shimmer’s earlier jest about Twilight and stallions named Flash was not meant to be serious, Magnus DID strike the unicorn mare as reminiscent of an older, less flashy, and more rugged version of pony Flash Sentry. Maybe the two stallions were related by ancestry, somehow? “I’m Sunset Shimmer,” the unicorn shook his wing; “Nice to meet you!”


That was all Sunset got to say before Somnambula whisked her stallion away, leaving the unicorn alone with Twilight. “Welp..... you heard him Twi,” Miss Shimmer gently tugged her partner in the direction of the Flash Magnus exhibit; “Let’s get busy ourselves and check out this next stop.....”

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Twilight gave them their privacy, and followed along with Sunset as they went deeper into the exhibit. It had a very different character than Somnambula's exhibit. The colors were bolder and there were a lot more artifacts. A lot of it was only tangentially related to Magnus himself, instead opting in large to promote an understanding of the times he lived in. They were foreign to the ponies of today. Large military conflict, brave soldiers and tales of extreme hardship and woe. The collection interred here spoke to all that and more. Histories written in blood, sweat, and tears, of victories furnished by the efforts of ancient Equestrians and defeats echoing with the sorrow of lives long past. 

 

Take, for example, a simple scroll. It was ancient, the pages yellowed beyond reason yet held readable by modern magic. It was an ancient scroll written by a very young Flash Magnus and it didn't have anything profound on it. Instead, it spoke to his earnest desire to join the Royal Legion of Cloudsdale and fight the enemies of his young nation. It was riddled with pathos and words foreign to the soul of a modern Equestrian. "Flash wanted this one preserved and placed here. It isn't anything too grand but that's the point according to him. This was his mindset, his thoughts as he grew up, no different from many others in Cloudsdale. He said we needed to understand his time and those who lived in it before we could truly understand the relics they left behind," she said as she turned to a row of shields and spears, armor and helm. Descriptions of their use were written poetically by the unknowably intelligence Magnus and they read as a hymn to the mighty sung in sparkling notes of burnished rows of alabaster and steel.
 

Then there was a painting made at the time of the first friendly contact between Cloudsdale and the griffons, with Flash Magnus as an enlarged figure with a bright sun behind him. It was a gift, the plaque said, from an ancient descendant of the Razorclaws to the Royal Legion after they helped save their village from a terrible storm at Flash's urging. It was a chasm shrunk down by Magnus himself, where claw and wing could meet without the sharp retort of steel and screeches. It was sitting alongside a menagerie of weapons he used during the many conflicts of the time. "The Spear of the Sun! It was said to be able to direct the full fury of solar power at a target, and it cowed an entire caribou war party into submission. Quitius, the axe that sundered clouds and stopped storms not even a pegasi could stop! And, of course-"

 

"Netitus." 
A shield whose ancient life was borne proudly on its surface. Scars of claw and sword, axe and the dents of hammers. Ice bristled along the edges under close inspection but the clearer marks of being used around lava overwhelmed it. Yet for all of the damage it remained whole, defiant of all that had stood abreast of it with intent to harm. It shone as bright and clear as the day it was forged, resplendent despite all of its harsh history. It was a symbol of Flash Magnus of course but it spoke to her more clearly of Equestria. Battered but never broken and raging with optimism and life despite the thieving tendrils of disharmony that sought to fracture it.
"This is still legally his property, after the dissolution of the RLC. It was so generous of him to give it to this museum!"

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Hmmm..." Sunset Shimmer casually remarked in a low voice; You sure don’t learn history like this in school..... Either here or in the Mirror World. Celestia’s ex-pupil had been exposed to an inkling of Equestria’s dark past in her advanced magical studies, but only sanitized tidbits. After all, knowing about the conflicts of old usually wasn’t necessary for a budding sorceress to learn the intricacies of spellcasting, which Sunset once saw as her only goal in life.


Amongst the implements of war on display was the legendary shield of Flash Magnus, Netitus, looking very much worse for wear. Regardless, Sunset Shimmer was in awe of the piece of armor and all the abuse heaped on it. She gave a slow, contemplative whistle; “That’s definitely some old-school armor right there. The last time I used a modern suit of barding for target practice, the whole thing fell apart within several magic blasts. What does it say Netitus is forged out of, Twilight?”

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Twilight was excited about the prospect of detailing the historical origins of ancient artifacts. It was easy to see, because her face lit up and she made an audible squee. "Oh! It was forged in one of the last active Cloudforges of the Hasufel Mountains, when the Royal Legion of Cloudsdale maintained an alliance with the Forgemares of that range. The materials involved were..." she thought long and hard about it, "bronze, mythril, most importantly one of the last remaining supplies of Regalite Maxinimium. It gets dinged and scratched up but never truly damaged. It can survive everything, from magical attacks to full body blows from the strongest of enemies. See that nick right there? It is where the Axe of the High King struck the Commander of the Royal Legion. The axe was the size of a stallion and the High King was the largest caribou yet recorded. Look at it- just a scratch, where others shattered. Truly a wonder!" She said with a heavy sigh. So much history written in the surface of something so base and simple as a shield. Yet it retained its luster and function after all these years!
 

Something she hoped Sunset would be able to follow up on.

"I'll have to get you some nice barding after I'm done working on the barding for the Twilight Guard," Twilight said as she sized Sunset up, her face and voice more focused and lowering as it went along, trailing the end of the sentence even as she did her eye's work. Then did some more, because she needed measurements. Yes, that's it.
Then her eyes caught something behind her BBFF (Best Bipedal Friend Forever), and the old spark returned.
"Ooh, they did get permission to show this!" She said as she fluttered over Sunset to land in front of a painting depicting Magnus helping a crowd of defenseless ponies to escape from a terrifying dragon, shielding them quite literally, before flying up to engage the dangerous beast himself. "This painting was a work done by the famous painter, Grand Canvas. It depicts the last recorded image of Fash Magnus before he vanished along with the other pillars. The detail is stupendous. It is said that if you stare too long at his works though, you might fall victim to the magic that helps make the painting seem so alive!" She said with a nervous chuckle, though she had to admit that such magic...technically did exist, though it was unlikely Grand knew it.

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Sunset Shimmer attentively nodded as Twilight Sparkle prattled on about Netitus. Ah, so Regalite Maxinimium was the secret ingredient, eh? That sounded about right. Although she had never seen it for herself, Sunset learned a fair amount about it back in her magical studies, as it had been a desired stone to forge magical relics out of. “Yeah...” the unicorn grimly commented; “Too bad all the Regalite Maxinimium mines in Equestria ran dry centuries ago, though.....”


Unexpectedly being turned into the focus of Twilight’s gaze made Sunset feel self-conscious about herself. Barding? The blushing unicorn asked incredulously; “That’s... sweet of you Twi, but really, what would I need armor for? It’s not like I’ll become a princess who leads troops into battle anytime s-.”


Before Sunset’s inquiry could be answered, Twilight got distracted by an old artwork, Flash Magnus and the Dragon, which Sunset Shimmer’s eyes dissected in discerning detail. “For surely being one of the oldest surviving pieces of oil painting,” the unicorn’s inner amateur artist awakened inside of her; “It IS quite detailed. And quite experimental too; assuming art history ‘over there’ progressed similarly to here in Equestria, then oil on painting wouldn’t have caught on for another several centuries.”


Sunset rested a hoof on her chin as she scanned the artwork further; “Not quite sure about the painting coming alive bit, but I suppose it’s theoretically possible if Grand Canvas was using enchanted pigments? Then again, how could you tell the difference between sorcery at work and your imagination playing tricks? Maybe with.....” Obliviously rambling to herself, the unicorn clearly fell victim to, uhhhh... something?

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Twilight scoffed, though playfully. "You may not need to lead ponies into battle, but you are well aware that we lead very interesting lives. Why not be prepared? Form and function may sometimes conflict but I think I can make it work," she laughed. Rarity had taught her well in certain ways. Ages ago she would have been content with armor that did the job and nothing more, but she had come to understand that the appearance projected by her Guards spoke to the state of Equestria as well. It was important she get both aspects right. "Human armor would be tougher. Do humans wear armor on their hands? You still need to give me that big batch of books on human history, by the way," she teased, though there was an air of truth to it. She knew a little about the mirror world but there was so much more to consume An entire world, to be exact.
 

She always wished to know more, to learn more. She used such knowledge to help her run a country, soon enough. Artists were very much the same, though she appreciated their work more than she used to. To capture a world, a moment, a thought, an emotion? Music and art alone did this perfectly. "Oil painting has a very odd history over here. It was first used back in ancient Maretonia, when the Earth pony tribes needed ways to try and outdo the pegasi cloud artists and the Kastroti unicorn artisans. Once they migrated here the art was lost since there was no need for it to outdo one another. It came back several times- Grand Canvas was one of the luminaries of the practice- but the practice died out around four hundred years ago. It was only fifty or so years ago that it started to make a comeback," Twilight excitedly rambled, then realized it came out of nowhere. A laugh borne out of necessity followed.

"Sorry. The School of Magic had a course on Art Appreciation, since it was believed that an appreciation of the details of art could help you betteer appreciate the smaller details of spells. I took it to get away from ponies," she said, her voice growing softer as she spoke. "I guess you could say I lacked the courage to face ponies back then."

 

"Yeah, well, you have that courage now."
Flash Magnus trotted in behind the pair, his uniform a little less tidy and his mane messed slightly. He wore a pretty pleased expression, though he spoke with earnestness amongst the two mares.
"You understand everything you've done, right? I didn't face a tenth of that. I've heard a little bit about your exploits as well Sunset- from Twilight here," he said with a wink, Twilight turning away. "It takes a lot of guts to face down what you've faced down. Ponies sometimes say that the brave don't fear but that isn't true. I was terrified when I went against my superior to save the griffons, when I used Netitus and distracted the dragons, when I went into the abyss. But bravery isn't about the lack of fear, it is about being afraid and still doing what needs to be done, no matter. What do you think, ma'am?"

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“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Sunset Shimmer groaned; “I’ll drop off those history books when I come in to work next week. But first, you’ll need to have that last batch of stuff I let you borrow ready for return. The school library won’t lend me any more books otherwise, and its borrowing limit is generous enough as it is.” Who knew that book depository intended for ordinary adolescents could hold so much knowledge about the Mirror World? When you added computers into the mix.....


As for armor; “I’d have to read up on armor again back home, but honestly, the only people I’ve ever seen wearing it are those LARP kids who meet up in the park every Saturday. And well..." Sunset awkwardly smiled; “There’s only so much you can do with cardboard, eh heh.” Perhaps Miss Shimmer’s fashion-conscious friend was starting to rub off on her.


It turned out Twilight herself knew a thing or two about Equestrian art history, but also knowing the circumstances behind her knowledge of it was somewhat disheartening. It was a good thing then that Flash Magnus timely swooped in with encouraging words to Twi. “He’s right,” Sunset chimed in, having bashfully blushed a moment ago knowing that the Pillars knew of her deeds, as she planted a supportive arm on the alicorn’s shoulder; “There’s no shame in having been afraid once. I pretty much spent most of my early foalhood hiding in the library because I didn’t want to deal with the jerks in my crummy old hometown. Life’s too short to always be spending energy on ponies who’ll give you a hard time! What matters is that when push comes to shove, you choose to stand up for someone else who's in need of a friend.”


Sunset smirked as she jabbed Twi’s elbow; “.....You know, like our shy friend I raged at because she inadvertently snatched your stolen crown out from my grasp. Remember how you defended her when nobody else did?”

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Twilight blushed. "Yes, yes. Well, I mean- I got caught up reading about electricity and the history of it. And the engineering and scientific method behind it. And the historical importance of it. And then..." she shook her head. "Ahahaha, okay. Yes. I'll have the last batch ready and waiting by the portal before you leave. Any spoilers about what you're sending me next?" Twilight asked, knowing it was a lost cause. Sunset never did give her the full details on just what she was bringing over All Twi knew was that it would be fascinating in its own way and guaranteed. 

 

Of course, she could trust on her fascinating friends to push her from the flowing low she brought herself in. She had a habit of being self-deprecating but occasionally she bought too much into it. She always tried to remain humble. As future ruler she had to ensure that she didn't place herself above others, above the citizens of this nation- her subjects. Yet she also knew, as she was reminded by both Flash Magnus and Sunset Shimmer, that she was special in many ways. Within Equestria and in the mirror world. Within her heart and when she shared it. She would be a good ruler not just by reminding herself of her fallibility but by earning the public's belief in her infallibility. 

 

"You're both right. I need to stop being so hard on myself. Thank you!" Twilight said as she leaned on her friend. Magnus arched an eyebrow. Then he smiled.

 

"That reminds me of something, this talk of libraries and small towns. I heard a strange report about some place called...Hope Hollow, that you were at recently? You went missing for a bit. I wanted to talk to you about Royal Guard operations regarding looking for a missing monarch since you plan on being so active!" He said with a laugh, wing around the Princess as he went to steer her to a more private area.


"Ha! Yeah, that's a story. I'll be back soon, Sunset," Twilight said as she and Magnus filtered off into the darkness.

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Sunset Shimmer raised an eyebrow at the mention of Hope Hollow. But that was all she got to do until Flash Magnus led Twilight off somewhere. That left Sunset all alone to her thoughts; on one hand, she was shocked against all expectations that after many long years, somepony in Equestria actually mentioned her hometown by name. Seriously, despite how everything back in Hope Hollow was purportedly well-know, nopony in the real world ever uttered a peep about that town.


And yeah, sure, Sunset Shimmer still carried that childhood grudge against her hometown, but she also couldn’t ignore the strange report. Although the unicorn believed Hope Hollow more than earned every self-inflicted misfortune it had coming to it, strange happenings could be caused by any manner of things that were of no fault of the community’s, and Sunset’s inner conscience couldn’t abide that, even if said place was a dumpheap.


One minute of deliberation later, and Miss Shimmer made up her mind. Instead of idling by, she would do... something! At the very least, the unicorn could find out from Twi what was going on! Off-limits zones were of no concern; without bothering to look around for museum staff first, Sunset waltzed into the darkened private area. The mare learned ago how surprisingly easy it was to snoop around anywhere if she acted like she owned the place.


Several seconds of trespassing later, Sunset heard the voices she sought. Her old eavesdropping instincts kicking in, the ex-apprentice tip-toed at crawling speed, mindful not to get noticed as she snuck towards a corner, around which were surely Twi and Flash. Sunset had a hard time making out their conversation; Twi was speaking all hush-hush like, but the eavesdropper picked up enough to know... Twi and Flash weren’t talking about Hope Hollow at all.


"...true...yourself, Princess."


"I...the way I feel is..."


"I under...make me feel...make you feel?"


"...special, yet comfortable..."


"....love, Princess?"


"You...heart, Flash."


"...love...Twilight?"


"I....do."


Sunset gasped in the heat of the moment, perhaps louder than she would have liked. She covered her mouth, but the damage was already done.


Was Twilight... making a love confession... to FLASH MAGNUS?

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Twilight sighed. It was a hard talk to have with Magnus. He was shockingly insightful n matter the subject, as he only ever spoke up when he thought it as needed. Certainly made Twilight take his words and opinions a little more seriously than others. The conversation they had was deservedly private and she felt his insistence boring into her, stripping away the pretenses and defenses that surrounded them. Even she wasn't sure how to take it all. She did know that at the very least she appreciated that he was concerned, or at least interested, enough to pull her aside and ask her some pertinent questions. It wasn't always the most comfortable thing to happen but it was necessary in its own way, and she appreciated his concern for her well-being. Most of all she appreciated the fact that it was all happening in private.

And then she heard a sound. She turned around, covered by the protective instincts of her Guard who flashed a wing over her and looked around. After a moment it was clear that there was no trheat, even if it was making her feel a little alarmed. She gave a nervous chuckle. "Nerves?" She asked expectantly. Flash Magnus laughed and shook his head. "I guess. I best not keep you too long, lest your *friend* starts to miss you. And I better make some appearances of my own. Have a wonderful day, Princess," the heroic pegasus signed off with a wing salute, which was given in turn by Twilight. "Yeah, you're right. See you later, Flash," she ended with a smile and the two departed in good time, exiting out of different parts of the private spot they had inhabited. Twilight soon started to look for Sunset.

Where was she? Twilight's mind pondered this as she looked around the exhibit, looking for the bacon-maned mare who moseyed through dimensions like Rarity through a closet. Yet for all of her boldness she was able to slip into a crowd like nopony's business! At least that is what it looked like as Twilight fruitlessly searched for her. "Sunset, where are you?" She asked nopony in particular as she walked around like a lost foal, head turning every which where to find her friend. Hopefully she hadn't gotten hit in the head and thought she was in the mirror world and was having a psychotic episode because that sounded like an awful time, and not something at all that Twilight had gone through once or twice. Or never. Yeah, never.

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Like any good eavesdropper, Sunset Shimmer knew when to covertly scram, like when a conversation suddenly fell silent after a faint but audible gasp. By the time Twilight farewelled Flash Mangus and rounded the corner, Sunset would have been nowhere to be seen. In fact, the amber unicorn was currently approaching the entrance to the Mage Meadowbrook exhibit, although the Pillar of Healing was the furthest thing on Sunset’s mind.


The more Miss Shimmer dwelt on the words she believed she heard, the more she sensed that a whole lot of pieces weren’t lining up. For one thing, since when did Twi develop a thing for Magnus out of the blue? Sunset took great pride in her ability to read the Friendship Princess like a book, so there would have been obvious signs of a legit infatuation on Twi’s part. At the very least, Twi should have uncomfortably squirmed back when Magnus and Somnambula were doing their PDA-thing. And yet she didn’t


Removing that theory as an impossibility left Sunset with perhaps an even grimmer scenario; that Twilight had a different secret crush which she elected NOT to tell Sunset about, but rather to some random nopony. Okay, Magnus wasn’t exactly a nobody, but the point still stood. After everything Sunset and Twi had been through; after all of their journal-to-journal correspondences (which necessitated a replacement journal, for pony’s sake!) and all those interdimensional get-togethers, Sunset believed she could confide to Twilight about anything, and that Twi reciprocated those same feelings of intimate trust.


If anything, witnessing the evidence to the contrary was a far bigger blow to Sunset’s psyche than learning that Twilight had an anonymous secret crush. Twi could be a silly filly dabbling in the dating game all she liked and Sunset could have cared less (although she would have definitely watched Twi’s dating prospects like a protective mother Ursa Major, rejecting any and all suitors who betrayed even the vaguest hint of inadequacy). However, Sunset hoped her bookworm friend would have considered letting her in on whatever this matter of the heart was, instead of you know, Twi leaning on some ancient gigolo she barely knew?


Sunset pretended to take great interest in the cauldron of Mage Meadowbrook’s that was on display in the center of her exhibit, but a closer read of the unicorn's facial expressions indicated a forlorn pony.....

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You would think finding a mare who blazed as bright as Sunset would be easy, but you'd be wrong. After embarrassing herself for a while in the exhibit of Flash Magnus she came to the conclusion that her friend likely didn't inhabit its halls of weapons and vaunted stories of honor and bravery. Which was just as well, since a large group of foals entered it and started being quite loud. She knew when to make her exit- before they saw her and got a two for one deal on what she assumed was a field trip. “Come because of the most popular member of the ancient Pillars of Equestria, stay to see the Princess of Friendship!” two for one deals were shockingly common when Twilight was around museums. Made her think there was something to that conspiracy theory... 

 

She slinked her way into the Mage Meadowbrook exhibit, likely the quietest of the various exhibits. Unlike the others, Mage Meadowbrook didn't have a legion of legends and folktales told about her. Many of her feats were respected and well known, practiced in modern medicine as well as being the foundation of many first aid techniques. Her more mystical aspects over time had been dulled away, but her re-emergence had done wonders to showcase the talents, abilities, and skills of Meadowbrook to the modern era. She was an excellent mare to boot and one the Pillars that was the easiest to talk to, so much so it was like talking to just about any pony from the modern era. She had given Twilight some excellent advice in times of trouble, and was certainly worth her growing appreciation.


After some meandering in this exhibit Twilight finally found Sunset, who looked lost in thought as she looked at Meadowbrook's wondrous cauldron. "There you are Sunset!" She said as she bounded up, giving her Best Human Friend Forever a bump on the rump as she sidled up close. "Thought I had lost you. Enjoy that cauldron? They say..." Twilight started speaking at length about the cauldron, her nervousness transitioning easily into friendly banter as she was pleased to finally be next to her HFF this quick after having lost her. And dealing with that sneak, whoever it was!

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An unexpected bump to the flank jolted Sunset Shimmer back to reality, only to see Twilight back... and apparently without a care in the world. Mind you, this was the same mare who only minutes ago was awkwardly stammering a confession over in a back room, and before that was led away under the premise that a topic of paramount importance needed to be discussed. Sunset paid barely any attention to what her friend had to say about the Cauldron of Mage Meadowbrook; what she really wanted to do was get to the bottom of this mystery!


The amber unicorn waited for a pause in Twilight’s lecture, and then Sunset ambushed Twi with an innocent-enough question. “Sooo.....” she asked evasively; “What about this Hope Hollow business that Flash Magnus needed to tell you about?” Sunset reflexively looked away from the alicorn, hastily pouting a grumpy preemptive declaration of how OBVIOUSLY she was emotionally detached concerning that place; “N-not like I care about that dung heap, or anything.....”

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Twilight smiled at the mention of Hope Hollow. It had turned out to be a nice enough village, though Twilight was also well aware of Sunset's less than optimal memories of the place. Still, this was a good story to share regardless of anything else, and some good news to spread. "Well," she started as she leaned next to her friend, "it started off simply enough. Rainbow Dash was invited as the guest of honor for the town's Rainbow Festival. We all went on my balloon. I suppose it was an easy enough trip until we...crashed into the town's rainbow sign. You know, I think that place should be world famous for the size of its advertisements more than its festivals!" She laughed, wiping tears from her eyes with her wings. She laid one reassuringly on her friend.

 

"We were all okay, but as we entered the town we discovered that all of the color had vanished. The ground, the flowers, the buildings, the ponies- everything!" She shook her head and sighed, still remembering how dreary it all looked. The lack of color seemed to sap everything that made an Equestrian and Equestrian away as well. Thank Celestia they had solved the problem. That town, its inhabitants, and her memory all deserved better than the gloomy doom it had been prescribed.
"It turned out a while ago the town, which had prided itself on being close and friendly, grew distant and darkened. I'm...sure you're familiar. Well, the Mayor anted to change that. He tinkered with the rainbow generator. Something went wrong and he unleashed Hopeless Magic- and with it, the color from Hope Hollow. We helped them get the Hope back in Hope Hollow, and then the color. It is a very happy small town now," She ended on a peppy note, always happy to talk about a job well down. 

She turned to Sunset, her smile starting to die a little. By the time she spoke again it was weak- if still present.
 

"It's...a nice place, now. Have you ever considered...?"

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Never underestimate the power of ragging on her hometown’s giant rainbow billboard to make a glum Sunset Shimmer cheer up, if only by just a little. They weren’t deep guffaws, but the unicorn mare’s modest chuckles were quite real. However, what Twilight Sparkle would say next would rip the laughter right out of the amber unicorn’s soul.


.....................


.....Sunset Shimmer had a lot of information to process. Hope Hollow — the hometown she happily abandoned all those years ago — ended up sinking even lower than the mare could have possibly imagined. No matter how much ill will Sunset previously wished upon that town and everypony who lived there, not even they deserved the ghastly fate that was Perpetual Gloom. Although the sorceress supposed she still counted herself lucky for getting the heck out of dodge, already the what-ifs were bombarding her…


“-N-nah,” Sunset, who sounded as if gravel was caught in her throat, quickly cut off Twilight before she could finish her question; “...I-I-I’m sure nopony there would remember me, anyway. Still though...,” the amber unicorn mustered the courage to look Twilight in the eye, squeezing the other mare’s hoof as she did so; “Thank you for everything you and your friends did to help bring hope back to that place. It- it really means a lot.....”


Quickly moving to cusp Twilight’s head, Sunset further expressed her sincere gratitude by giving the alicorn a quick, chaste peck to the forehead. It was all over in an instant; the amber unicorn swiftly disengaged from Twi and proceeded to head off towards where Mage Meadowbrook’s characteristic healer’s mask was displayed. Assured that her buddy momentarily couldn’t see her face, Sunset felt secure enough to let out a depressed sigh, mulling over the unspoken ramifications of all those in her hometown she once knew rediscovering true happiness for themselves.....

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