Going Home

A few hours after saving the Friendship Games, Sunset Shimmer and her good friend Twilight Sparkle are relaxing on the CHS lawn. The two are so close that Sunset finally feels like she can ask a question that's been on her mind for a while.
"Can I go home?"

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1. Oubliette

The sun slowly descended over the horizon, lighting up the grounds of Canterlot High School in glorious reds and oranges. Sunset Shimmer smiled as she leaned against the wall of the high school and let the breeze play through her hair, blowing a few strands over her face and against her nose. She giggled and swept them aside as she watched the riotous colors of the sunset. "I think evening's my favorite time of day," she told her companion.  "It's really nice here, isn't it?"

"Well, it does match your name." Twilight Sparkle laughed and scooted over so she was sitting next to Sunset. "And your outfit, and your hair," she added, curling a strand of Sunset's red locks around her fingers. "I guess it goes with your style in general."

Sunset grinned at her for a second before turning back to the school grounds. "That's not quite it," she said. "The sunsets here actually kind of remind me of Equestria. When I was little, I lived in this big house with my aunt, and whenever it was a really nice evening she'd mix me a tall glass of lemonade and we'd go out into the yard to watch Celestia lower the sun. Sometimes she'd tell me stories, and sometimes I'd show her what I could do with my magic. I even cast this little ball of light sometimes so I could move it around and pretend I was Princess Celestia. I loved it." Sunset shifted her position so her head was almost on Twilight's shoulder. "It looked almost exactly like this."

For a moment, neither of them spoke, and Twilight gave Sunset a curious look. But before she could do anything, Sunset hurriedly said, "Not that here's bad! Tomorrow evening I'm helping Applejack get set up for some kind of farm festival--you know, quilting and pie-eating and haycart rides. And the day after that I'm putting together a party with Pinkie and Fluttershy to celebrate Spike learning how to talk." She blinked. "Any ideas how that works?"

Twilight shook her head. "No, but it's a fascinating problem. When you think about how his mouth and throat must have changed to enable him to enunciate full words, not to mention how the language centers of his mind must have been altered, it's clear that he was hit with some very powerful magic. I might actually come back now and then to study him, if this world's Twilight doesn't mind."

"I think she'll be cool with it. She'll probably want to help, even." Sunset smiled again. "Anyways, after Pinkie and Fluttershy I'm teaming up with Rainbow Dash for a roller derby contest. She loves it; practices at least twice a week for as long as I can remember." She turned to look at Twilight. "Makes me think of this Wonderbolt I knew, Rapid Dart. He lived just down the street from us, and he was always training. Told me he didn't feel comfortable unless he was in the air. Once he let me ride on his back while he flew around town..."

She trailed off, and Twilight gave her another look. "Um, Sunset? Are you okay?"

Sunset started to nod, then hesitated. "Honestly," she said, "I've been feeling a little homesick lately. I mean, all my new friends are great, and I'm really glad I met them. But yeah, lately I've been thinking about home." She sighed. "Auntie's probably started knitting next season's quilts for the tourists by now. And my cousins... I'll bet Gadfly's gotten onto her school paper, and I know Cherry Sunday's working overtime for the school bake sale."

Twilight thought for several seconds. "When I go back," she said, "Why don't I check up on them? I can take some photos and send them to you through your book. I could even have them write you letters." She beamed. "How's that sound?"

Sunset said nothing for a very long moment. "Twilight?" she asked at last.

"Yes?"

"Can I go home?"

Twilight pushed herself off the wall as Sunset turned to look at her. "Just for a few weeks," she said. "I know I attacked you, and I technically committed treason in stealing the crown. And I'm really sorry. But you're a princess; if you just... I don't know, told them I've changed, maybe they could let me back into Equestria for a little bit. I really want to see my friends, and my aunt and cousins too. And there's other things; stuff I never noticed at the time, but now that I can't have, I really miss. Like the taste of fresh grass right after it rains. Or the feeling of galloping downhill during the first snowstorm, and leaving a big trail of hoofprints in the snow. Or watching the Wonderbolts flying through the sky. Or magic! I really miss magic."

"Magic?" Twilight frowned. "But there's magic here, right? You used it to beat evil-me."

"It's not the same, though. We can't control when we pony up; it just happens. But back in Equestria, I could cast whenever I wanted." Some cheer returned to her face. "Did I ever tell you how I got my cutie mark? It was late at night during a big thunderstorm. I was sleeping over with a few other foals at Rosey Posey's house; she was the richest foal in town and she threw a lot of parties. But her parents had gone to bed, and we were all alone in her huge bedroom, shaking every time the thunder boomed or lighting struck near the house. And I thought--why not make a little light so we wouldn't be scared? I focused, just like my books said, and I made a bunch of lights appear in the room to calm everyone down. Then I looked at my flank and realized I'd earned my mark. It was such a good feeling, being able to solve problems by just using a little magic. But here it doesn't work like that. I can't cast anything except when my powers decide to activate."

When Twilight didn't respond, Sunset moved in front of her. "Please, Twilight. I'm so sorry for everything I did. If you just let me--"

"Sunset." Twilight shook her head. "I know you are. But you committed treason. If you go back home, now, I'll be obligated to arrest you and send you to Foalsome Prison. It's not possible."

"But you're the princess! Surely--"

"That doesn't mean I can make exceptions for my friends. It wouldn't be fair if you got a break somepony else didn't, right?" Twilight waited for Sunset to reluctantly nod, then stood. "I'm sorry. But I'll try to visit more often, okay?" She glanced at the sun and added, "I need to head back now--duty calls, you know?"

"Yeah." Sunset stood and slowly rose her head. "I understand. I'll try to have a good time with AJ tonight, and Pinkie and Flutters tomorrow, and Rainbow Dash after that."

"And the mall with Rarity the day after Dash, right?" chirped Twilight. "That's the spirit. I'm really glad you've found good friends, Sunset. Say hi to them for me, okay?"

She turned to go, but then Sunset reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. "Um, Twilight?" she said. "I didn't tell you when I was meeting Rarity, so how...?"

Twilight frowned at her. "That's Friday, right? You told me Rarity always takes you shopping on Friday nights. Why, is it different this week?"

"No." Sunset gave her a searching look, feeling a cold sensation creep over her. "But now that you mention it, isn't it kind of weird? Rarity's always up for shopping. Every week. You didn't even have to ask to know what she'd be doing. Isn't that unusual?"

"Unusual how?" asked Twilight. "The Rarity of my world likes shopping too."

"But not always. You told me how you've dropped by her house sometimes and she's at the spa, or doing something with her sister, or sulking about some bad review." Sunset hesitated. "Actually, all my friends are like that. Rainbow Dash is always up for a game--she's never tired, or sick, or bored, or anything. Pinkie's always ready to party. I know you told me your Pinkie got really stressed one time and locked herself in her room with a bag of flour and a rock dressed up as 'friends,' but the only time I've ever seen my Pinkie frown was when the sirens were draining her. Every other time I've met her, she's raring to go."

Another gust of wind blew over the campus, and this time Sunset shivered as a few tendrils of cool air slipped down her collar. She felt like she'd come to similar conclusions before, but she couldn't think of why, if that were the case, she couldn't remember them. Meanwhile, Twilight just smiled at her. "I think you've overreacting, Sunset. I've met your friends, and they're as real as mine. Sure, they're a little single minded sometimes, but that doesn't make them zombies or something."

"Not zombies. It's like they're copies," continued Sunset. "They've got different looks and one or two personality traits, but none of the little details that make your friends... you know. Feel alive. And the other students are even worse. Take Trixie: she's always arrogant. Always.You'd think there'd be a couple days where something bad happens to her or she just wakes up frazzled and she can't go through the day as cocky as usual, but no, every single day she's as smug as before."

Neither of the girls spoke for a few seconds. Finally, Sunset forced herself to say, "Um, Twilight? This is going to sound crazy, but I really need you to answer a question."

Twilight nodded.

"Is anyone here... real... besides you and me?" Sunset looked directly into Twilight's eyes with a pleading expression. "Anyone at all?"

She expected Twilight to laugh at her or reassure her, but instead the other girl looked puzzled. Sunset took a step forward, then paused, thinking back. She knew she had asked Twilight this before, more than once even. But if the other girl had given her an answer, she couldn't recall it.

Twilight finally spoke. "What else would they be?"

"I don't know! Some kind of simulation. Constructs that look alive and act kind of alive, but don't think or feel or learn or grow. They just do the same thing every week, like automatons." Sunset looked around before turning back to her friend. "Is anything in this world real, or am I in some kind of dream? Or prison spell?"

"What kind of prison spell has monster attacks?" asked Twilight. "Sunset, come on. Even if you think I'd do something like put you in a hallucination or enchanted dream, you know I wouldn't put monsters in it to kill you, right?"

"Yeah, but none of them killed me." Sunset bit her lip. "The first time I was the monster, when I thought I'd gotten away with stealing the crown. And I failed, and everyone hated me. Like it was a lesson. And the second time, with the sirens, we fought monsters like me--but we broke their gems and couldn't feed anymore, so they wasted away. Another lesson, of what would happen if I screwed up again. And that was back..." She frowned, unable to think of the date. "I don't remember. Back during the battle of the bands. But that was only..."

She fell silent, and her face slowly paled. Twilight stepped towards her. "Sunset," she said in a quiet voice. "What's wrong?" The other girl didn't answer, and Twilight took her shoulder. "Sunset?"

"I had a dog once," murmured Sunset at last. Twilight stared, but Sunset turned towards the horizon as the sun dipped lower. "Well, she wasn't really my dog--she was a stray. Wandered into town in really bad shape. Even with everything we could do, she only had a few months. My aunt didn't want me to take care of her, because she knew how sad I'd get if she died. I won the argument and got the dog, but even though I tried not to, I got attached anyway. She was always so excited to see me when I came home, and when I pet her she was the happiest dog in the world..."

Sunset trailed off and then shook her head. "Anyways, when she died, I was really upset. I couldn't think of her without crying. So after a few days, I learned not to think of her. Whenever she came to mind, I focused on other things. And then I wasn't as sad anymore."

"I don't follow," said Twilight. "I mean, I'm sorry about your dog, but what does this have to do with anything?"

"Because I've talked with you about all this before. I know I have. But I put it out of my mind, because I didn't like what I heard. And not just about whether anyone here is real." Sunset gestured back at the school. "This year we've had the fall formal, battle of the bands, and friendship games. That covers a few months, right? Twilight, when I said I couldn't remember a time when I wasn't rollerblading with Dash or shopping with Rarity, I meant it. Every week back for as long as I can remember. Years. Decades, even. Same friends, same activities, same everything!"

Twilight raised an eyebrow, but Sunset jumped forwards and grabbed her shoulder. Memories which she hadn't thought of in years were flooding back to her, and she spoke in a rush as if afraid that she'd lose her nerve before finishing her train of thought. "When I remembered last time, I began keeping track," she said. "I made a tally mark on my bedroom wall every day. Like they do in prisons, right? Just to count the days." She took a breath. "I got up to two thousand before I painted over them. I told myself I dreamt the whole thing, and I made myself forget about it, but I know it happened."

Tears began to fall from her eyes. Twilight grabbed her shoulders as Sunset's legs quavered. "Woah!" Twilight said. "Sunset, I want to help you, but I don't understand. Are you asking me if you're hallucinating? If you're in a dream?"

Sunset shook her head and looked into Twilight's eyes. "Am I dead, Twilight?" she asked.

"...what?"

"Is this my punishment?" asked Sunset. "To be stuck here forever, unable to move on or ever do anything real again, because I tried to take your crown?"

The other girl said nothing for a moment, and then burst into laughter. "Dead?" she managed as Sunset stared at her. "Of course not! You're not dead, and you will someday get back to Equestria, I swear." She embraced Sunset in a big hug. "You should have just asked me that straight out. Then I could have told you and saved you all that worrying."

A relieved smile spread over Sunset's face as she hugged Twilight. "Thank you," she whispered.

"You're in an Oubliette spell!" continued Twilight. "And once you truly understand friendship, whether that takes another decade or another thousand years, you'll be freed from it."

Sunset froze. 'Oubliette spell' sounded familiar; she knew Twilight had told her of this before, but whatever she had said had so horrified Sunset that she had blocked it from her mind. "What's that?" she managed.

"Just what it sounds like. It's a world that you can't get out of--until you learn to make some friends, that is!" Twilight grinned. "You're just here to become better at friendship. Once you do, I can take you home."

Sunset took a long breath as she tried to understand. "How long have I been here?"

Twilight looked at her, and Sunset thought she saw a glimmer of compassion in her eyes, but it vanished quickly. "Sunset. The last time you asked me that and I told you, you drank enough of AJ's special adult cider to black out just so you could forget it."

Sunset's mouth dropped. Now that she thought about it, she dimly remembered Twilight telling her a very large number and getting drunk immediately thereafter "Wait!" she said as Twilight again began to turn. "What happens now?"

"The same thing as always," said Twilight. "In a few days you'll realize there's nothing you can do about it, and you'll make yourself forget this as you always do so you stay sane. You'll be having fun with your friends again in two weeks. And in a few years, when you start to notice how nothing changes here, I guess we'll have this same conversation again."

She began to walk towards the portal. Sunset hesitated, torn between screaming out a question and keeping silent just so she wouldn't know the answer.  But when she saw Twilight raise her hand towards the portal, she broke and ran for her. "STOP!" she screamed, jumping towards her and grabbing at her ankles as she fell into the mud. "How long do I have left?"

"Until you--"

"No! I'm a great friend now! Really!" Sunset stared at her friend and saw a pitiless expression in her eyes. "Twilight, please! I haven't seen my family in years, decades--I don't even know if they're alive--Twilight, please let me go home!" The girl only shook her head. "Then tell me what I have to do!" Sunset screamed, realizing she was crying again. "Just tell me!"

Twilight paused, as if deliberating. "You have come a long way," she said at last, kneeling down and laying a hand on Sunset's head. "Alright. I'll tell you."

Sunset nodded, aware of how pathetic she had to look but not caring. "Please," she whispered. "Just let me know how to get home."

"You have to learn the importance of friendship," murmured Twilight. "You tried to take my kingdom. My crown. Which I earned, and you didn't. That's not very friendly, is it? Until you really, truly understand how badly you need friends, I can't release you."

She began to stroke Sunset's hair, and Sunset realized she was leaning into it. How long had it been, she wondered, since a real human--or pony, rather, since humans were only an illusion Twilight had manufactured--touched her? "Here's what needs to happen," said Twilight. "I'll leave, and you'll repress this as you always do. You'll go meet with your friends, and a few months or years later you'll again notice they're a bit one-dimensional. When you realize what's going on, I'll come. I'll be as friendly to you as I always am when I see you here. And we'll talk."

"Like now?" whispered Sunset.

"Almost. You're not ready, yet. But eventually, you'll be so lonely and so desperate to be with a real pony that you'll ask me to stay here even once you know what I did to you. You'll tell me how awful you are and how you'll do anything just so I remain for a few minutes. And when that happens," Twilight brushed a strand of hair off Sunset's face with an almost loving gesture, "I'll know you're ready. That you're good enough at friendship to know that nobody here's a real friend--and that you want a real friend, any real friend, so badly that you'll try to make me one of them, even though I stuck you in here. That will tell me that you finally understand how important friendship is. And, of course, that you're so... humbled... that you'll never raise a hoof to me again."

Twilight lay Sunset's head down and rose. "Are you ready now? Just ask me to stay. Tell me that, even though you know I've kept you here so long that you literally can't remember when this began, you want to be my friend." She offered her hand to Sunset. "You'll be out in minutes, and we'll be friends forever."

Sunset didn't move. She desperately wanted to take Twilight's hand, but she couldn't. Not knowing what Twilight had done to her. "Monster," she managed.

"Monster?!" Twilight's face flushed. "You stole my crown! You tried to steal my kingdom and my title! Princess Celestia gave it to me, because I am her favored student! Not you, me!" She slammed a foot into the earth, and the whole world trembled. "I earned it! It's mine by right! You have no right to--to--"

She stopped talking, and Sunset looked up to see Twilight extending her arm in some kind of breathing exercise. "I'm sorry," she said, and for a moment she did look it, but that faded in seconds. "Anyways, if you're not ready, you're not ready. I'm sure you'll get it soon, though. After all, I made copies of the five best friends I know for you to learn from." She smiled. "You're welcome."

Sunset said nothing.

Twilight pushed an arm into the portal, then paused. "Oh! By the way, AJ's coming by in a minute," she said in a cheery voice. "And if she sees you looking all sad, that'll make her sad too. But a real friend doesn't make her friends sad, does she? I'd think about washing up." And she stepped into the portal and was gone.

Sunset told herself she wouldn't move, but inside of five minutes she found herself sitting up and wiping her eyes on her sleeve. Her eyes were red, but she could attribute that to an allergic reaction of some kind, and her muddy jeans she'd blame on a puddle. She had to, she told herself. Twilight had total control over the spell. If Sunset didn't play along, she could wake up the next day to find the world worse than when Discord had run roughshod over Equestria.

"Hey, Sunset!" She turned to see Applejack running up. "We're all gettin' together for the weekly bowlin' game. Ya comin', ain't'cha?"

Sunset lowered her head. She could fight Twilight, she thought. Remember what had happened, bide her time, and find some way to fight back or escape. No spell was perfect; surely this one had some weakness, and she just had to look for it. Well, that and wait for years or decades, trapped in a city in which nothing was real, nothing mattered, and there was nothing to do but break a little more every day and wait for Twilight to save her in exchange for what remained of her soul.

But she couldn't do it. Not when part of her was already yearning for Twilight to come back and mock her, insult her, humiliate her, just so she could talk to someone real.

"Sure," she murmured. "Sounds good, Applejack. But first, could we stop by your cellar? I mean, we had a big day with stopping evil Twilight and Cinch and all. I think we need to celebrate." A few tears fell from her eyes, but she made herself continue. "Like maybe with a few sips of the adult cider."

Applejack shrugged and nodded and began to lead the way. Sunset followed, trying to think of nothing but the fact that she would be blissfully ignorant in just a few short hours.

Until she remembered again, anyways.

 

#

 

Twilight Sparkle walked away from the glowing orb in the center of her workshop. Spike trotted after her. "Do you really think Celestia will make that Oubie-gooby spell the new form of justice in Equestria?"

"Oubliette, Spike," said Twilight. "And yes, I do. Now we can reform bad ponies instead of just throwing them in jail. Just look at Sunset: she's been in the spell for a few decades from her perspective, but just a few months in realtime, and she's almost reformed. Give her two or three more iterations, and she'll never want to betray me or Equestria again. And then we can let her out half a year after her crime, instead of the decades it would take to reform her normally."

Spike said nothing, and Twilight turned to him with an annoyed look in her eyes. "She took my crown!" she said. "Celestia trusted me with the title of Princess of Friendship. If I'd let Sunset take it, I'd have failed the princess, and that's not an option! Spike, I know you understand how important it is to me that I live up to her expectations. She chose me as her prize student; I can't just let anypony with a few spells beat me."

"Is that what you're going to tell Princess Celestia when she asks why you want her to cast these things all over Equestria?"

"Of course not. When Sunset finally reforms, I'll hold a press conference and tell everyone what happened. They'll see that I took a pony who hated me and tried to take Celestia's gift away from me, and I turned her into a model citizen. Not to mention a friend." Twilight beamed. "The Princess will be so proud of me. When I moved to Ponyville, I didn't know the first thing about friendship. But now I know how to take a thief who resents me and turn them into a pony who I just know is going to be one of my best friends." Twilight rubbed her forehooves together. "We'll have sleepovers, and discuss magic, and perform all kinds of research... oh! If she still wants to run things, I can appoint her regent for when I'm busy! She'll never betray me after this, so there's no risk!"

Spike stared at her. Meanwhile, the orb pulsed softly, and Twilight smiled at it. "Celestia will be proud of me," she said. "I made a friend, I stopped a traitor, and I invented a spell which can reform ponies in a fraction of the time as before. It's perfect."

"Not exactly." Spike frowned. "What about the other you? The one that almost broke it?"

Twilight sighed. "I don't know. I didn't put her in there when I cast the spell. All I can think of is that, since everypony in there is copied from memories I have of my friends in Ponyville and Canterlot, a couple memories of myself might have gotten mixed in."

"Yeah." Spike's gaze grew hard. "There's a piece of you in there. A piece that wants to break that thing." When Twilight said nothing, he ran forwards and tugged at her legs. "I'm serious! It's like the part of you that actually cares about Sunset is in there, and all that's left out here is--"

"Spike, that is absurd. I did not divide myself into two. The 'other me' began to unmake the spell because it was an anomaly that didn't belong, not because it was consciously trying to destroy anything. I'll look at the spell over the next few days and find a way to extricate it, and that'll be that." Twilight grinned. "Although, I think it's a good sign that Sunset stopped her from unmaking the Oubliette. Maybe on a subconscious level she knows she deserves to be in that world, and won't let herself leave until she's ready."

"Or maybe she just thought it was going to kill everyone and--"

"Spike!" Twilight put a hoof to her head. "I know you don't like this, but it's my decision. Now come along. Applejack asked me to help her look at some strange magic plants in her east orchard, and I want you to bring some of my botany books with us."

She trotted to the door. Spike began to follow, then hesitated and darted back to the orb. He took the magical lens hanging above it and looked through it until he saw Sunset, who was slumped in her house with an unopened bottle of cider. She was crying, and through the lens he could see her tears spattering against the wooden floor of her bedroom.

Then something moved outside the house. He turned the lens and saw the other Twilight, wearing her hoodie, glancing around and then starting to climb up the drainpipe with a determined look on her face. It was like, Spike thought, she wanted to save Sunset.

"Good luck, Twi," he murmured, before putting down the lens and running to join the real Twilight.

 

#

 

Sunset popped the cork from her bottle of wine and giggled as it bounced into a corner. "Happy ten thousandth birthday!" she cheered, wiping the tears from her eyes. "Here's to another hundred thousand more. And when I'm her good little pet and can't think for myself--"

Someone grabbed the bottle from her hand. She turned just in time to see Twilight, the one from Crystal High Prep who had attacked the Friendship Games earlier, tuck it into her backpack and look at her.

"Or," Twilight said, "We could fight her."

Author's Note:

Read enough Tyrant!lestia. Felt like writing a Tyrant!Sparkle.

Inspiration was when I thought it seemed weird that, with Sunset and Twilight on such good terms, Sunset hasn't asked for any kind of parole to see her friends or family. Or just to be a unicorn again. So I wondered what might happen if she did.

 
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