How Sunset Rose

by Oroboro

Chapter 1: A Rose With Any Other Metaphor Would Still Just Be A Flower

“Hmm. I’m kind of partial to tulips, myself.”

“Roses are clearly the best. There’s a reason they put them in all the stories, you know.”

“Ooh, what about lilacs? They’re really pretty and smell nice—and they’re super tasty too! Oh, hey Sunset. How about you? What’s your favorite flower?”

Sunset Shimmer winced, freezing in her tracks. The pair of obnoxious fillies were blocking the hallway with their inane chatter, and she had been hoping to squeeze past them without attracting any attention to herself. It didn’t look like she’d be able to avoid this, so she spun, drawing herself up and steeling herself for the inevitable confrontation.

“The best flower,” Sunset began, giving a snort for emphasis, “isn’t anything you’re going to find at your local florist or at a restaurant. I doubt either of you have ever even heard of it.”

Lily White scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Uh, hello? In case you hadn’t forgotten, my cutie mark is a flower. I think I’d know a lot about flowers. I don’t see a flower on your butt. Or, you know. Anything.”

Sunset resisted the urge to grind her teeth. “It’s called a Sunburst Rose. It’s an incredibly rare flower that grows in remote regions and only blooms during the few minutes when the sun is touching the horizon.”

“Wow!” Sandy Art said, her eyes wide and sparkling. “That sounds like something straight from a fairy tale!”

“Of course it does," Lily White snapped, stomping a hoof. "That’s because she made it up. There’s no such thing.”

Sandy Art lowered her head, biting her lip. “Aww, really?”

It was a pretty typical response. Ponies were always predictable, even here at the academy. They didn't deserve to actually see it.

“Not real, huh? Just like your results on the unicorn history test?”

The flicker in Lily's eyes was all the confirmation Sunset needed to keep pressing. “Yeah, that’s right. I know you cheated and got your uncle to give you all the answers. Sure hope none of the other teachers find out.”

Lily White growled, taking a step forward. “Why, you little—”

“That’s not true!” Sandy Art shouted. “Lily’s real smart and she studied super hard for that test. I watched her! We studied together.”

Sunset threw back her head and laughed. “Sure thing. Great testimony coming from a filly who still wets the bed.”

Sandy Art stiffened, and her eyes began to fill with tears. “How do you…”

The vein in Lily White’s forehead looked like it was about to burst, but she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Come on, Sandy. Let’s get going. There’s nothing I have left to say to this blank flank loser anyway.”

“...Okay.” Sandy sniffed, then turned to Sunset, eying her flank, eyes still watery. “Maybe your special talent is being a jerk, Sunset Shimmer!” she yelled before turning and running down the hall after her friend.

Sunset watched until the two had rounded the corner and she was alone in the hallway again.

Good. It was exactly the outcome she had been hoping for.

If there was one thing she had learned since coming to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, it was that ponies here were the same as they were anywhere else. She had painstakingly dug up dirt on her classmates so she could defend herself when they inevitably tried to mess with her. Now that Lily and Sandy knew what she was capable of, they’d stay away, especially if they thought she knew even more. And if they told anypony else, the rumors would probably help head off even further trouble.

Sunset galloped back to her dorm and slammed the door behind her. She hoped her little showdown hadn’t delayed her too long. Scrambling onto her desk, she nosed open the window and poked her head through the curtains to look out on the garden below.

She had gotten pretty lucky when she’d been assigned a dorm room that overlooked the academy garden, and even luckier when her roommate had dropped out within the first week; it left her with a double all to herself, at least for the semester.

And in another stroke of luck, she had made it on time today.

Princess Celestia was down in the gardens below. She visited on a regular basis, and Sunset always tried to be there to watch her.

She didn’t know what brought the princess here. From all she’d heard, the gardens at the royal palace were far more lush and extravagant. But once a week, at the same time, Princess Celestia would come and make her way through this dinky but well-kept garden.

She watched the princess walk the paths and give personal attention to each and every plant: watering, trimming, and sometimes, Sunset suspected, just talking to them. It seemed as if each flower was something special to Celestia, something that she would devote at least a portion of her care and devotion to, and the flowers were better for it.

Except for one plant.

There was a gnarled little shrub in the corner covered in small buds that the princess didn’t even seem to know existed. The regular gardener still watered it, but it almost seemed like an afterthought to them. Why should they care about such an unimportant and worthless plant?

But Sunset knew better. Every night as the sun touched the horizon, the little buds would bloom. Every flower on the bush was a unique shade of red, of purple, of gold, of orange. It painted a picture across its petals to reflect and match the beauty of the most glorious sunsets. When she was younger, her father had read her stories that featured such a flower prominently, and they were always the end goal of some epic quest or grand legend. She knew in her heart that there was no other flower in Equestria that could match its splendor.

It wasn’t fair. Why should such an amazing flower go overlooked and unnoticed, despite its clear superiority? Why didn’t the princess care for it like she did every other flower? She always left long before sunset. And, because she was back in her palace when she lowered the sun and raised the moon, she would likely never see this small and hidden wonder of Equestria.

Sunset watched Celestia make the rest of her rounds that afternoon, but even after the princess had left, Sunset found herself still staring out over the garden until the sun began to lower. She had already completed all of her homework assignments, easy as they were, and found herself lost in thought and anticipation.

The flowers bloomed again, and, for what must have been the hundredth time, she was the only pony there to witness their splendor.

It wasn’t fair. They deserved better.

This time, Sunset decided as the sun vanished from sight and the buds began to shrink once more, she was going to do something about it.

Sunset jolted awake, then shook her head to try and clear her mind. She was getting so close and she needed to stay focused.

Groaning, she stood up from her cushion and stretched, rubbing at her eyes. The library desk in front of her was covered with open books, covering everything from old myths and legends about the flower, guidebooks for advanced botany and plant magic, books on the manipulation of heat and light, and even Starswirl's own Advanced Spell Matrices and Spell Modification.

Suppressing a yawn, Sunset took a sip of water from her glass, then sat back down to examine her work. The equations, alterations, and corrections spanned several pages at this point, but she was still missing something: a key that would lock it all into place.

She heard the creak of a door somewhere in the the library, followed by soft hoofsteps approaching her position.

“Um, hi, Sunset…” Sandy Art said, slinking out from behind a nearby bookshelf.

Sunset grit her teeth so hard she nearly tore her quill in two with her magic. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with this right now.

“Go away, Sandy,” Sunset snapped. “I’m busy.”

Sandy Art flinched then fidgeted, kicking her hoof against the carpet. “It’s, um, really late, Sunset. You should be in bed.”

Sunset rolled her eyes, then shifted slightly so Sandy was no longer in her field of vision. “What part of ‘I’m busy’ didn’t you understand? Why do you care, anyway?”

“Um, I…” Sandy took in a deep breath, and then circled around so she was across from Sunset’s desk, facing her. “Ponies are worried about you, Sunset. You’ve been missing a lot of classes and sleeping through the others. There’s a lot of rumors going around, and the teachers are starting to get antsy about it.”

“What a load,” Sunset said, snorting. “Look, this is my business, and mine alone. The project I’m working on is way more advanced than anything we do in class anyway. It’s not my fault the teachers didn’t want to help. Just leave me be.”


“I said, leave!” Sunset snarled, baring her teeth.

Sandy Art wilted, but before she turned to go, her horn glowed with a soft red light, and she set a small object down on the table. “I, uh, made that for you,” she mumbled before disappearing around a corner.

Sunset let out a long sigh once the other filly was gone. The distraction had completely shattered her line of thought. There was no way she was going to accomplish anything else tonight.

Grumbling, she levitated the object Sandy had left with her, holding it up to the light. It was a small vial of sand, laced with flecks of color.

“Ridiculous,” Sunset muttered. “What kind of stupid cutie mark is making sand art anyway? How did she even get into this school?”

Her tired eyes followed the complicated swirls of red and gold sand, and she twisted it about to follow the pattern. It was really quite intricately done, with articulation down to individual grains. Rather than random chaos, it was all meticulously placed, in a manner reminiscent of…

Reminiscent of…

It clicked. Sunset’s eyes widened, her horn nearly sparking with the excitement. She could finally visualize how the underlying structure of the spell was supposed to work!

Sunset grabbed her quill and began furiously scribbling.

She had always known she had what it took.

Sunset crouched under a bush and waited for the right moment.

Princess Celestia sure was walking a meandering path today. It was taking her forever to make her way over to where Sunset was hiding. Of course the crick in her neck, the cramping in her legs, and the bugs crawling up her flank weren’t making it any easier to sit and wait.

When Celestia finally passed by her hiding spot, near the forgotten bush of Sunburst Roses, Sunset took a deep breath and jumped out behind her.


Celestia blinked, then turned to regard her with a raised eyebrow, trying and failing to hold back a smile.

This was it. This was the moment all her studying and practicing was for. All of her calculations were perfect. The tests she had run had all worked, at least on a smaller scale. The theory was sound, and she knew she had the ability.

Sunset began channeling magic into her horn. Slowly at first, then a little more. Then a lot more. Cutie mark or no, she was still a magical prodigy. Her horn shone with the brightness of the sun as she tapped into every scrap of power she could muster. The air above the garden began to shimmer and crackle.

She squeezed her eyes shut, sweat streaming down her face as she furiously poured through the formulas in her head. She had the right time of day. She was accounting for the season. She had made sure the weather was clear and sunny before doing this. It was working. It had to work.

Princess Celestia gasped. “Oh, my…”

Sunset opened her eyes, panting heavily. The air around them had a tinge of an orange haze to it. The Sunburst Roses were in full bloom; she had bent the light and the magic of the sun itself in order to trick the flowers into thinking it was the same wavelength as an actual sunset.

It wasn’t an effect she could keep going for very long, but it had the desired effect nonetheless.

“There,” Sunset said, wheezing as her magic drained away from her horn. “I did it.” She wasn’t really sure what else she was supposed to say.

Princess Celestia stepped forward, eyes distant, and reached up a hoof to tenderly run it along the length of one of the flowers. “Did you do all this just for me, little filly?” She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then turned to look down at Sunset, smiling. “What is your name?”

“Sunset Shimmer,” she gasped, taking in several short breaths. Her chest ached, and her legs threatened to give out on her. She felt like she had just run a marathon with no warmup. “I… you never got to see these flowers bloom. I’ve watched you day after day as you passed them by, deeming them unworthy of your attention. They deserve better.”

“Ah. I see.” Princess Celestia stepped forward, looming over Sunset before kneeling down to the same level and reaching out a hoof towards her.

Sunset flinched, but the princess merely tweaked her nose, smiling.

“I do actually know of the Sunburst Rose, Sunset Shimmer. It is a hardy plant that requires little care. As for its blooms...” She paused, her eyes growing somewhat misty, and her smile fading to the barest whisper. “I find they’re best enjoyed with the company of another pony.”

Sunset’s heart fell out of her chest. She collapsed to the ground. “You… you already knew? You mean I did all of that for nothing?”

Princess Celestia shook her head, chuckling wryly. “Not at all. It’s been far too long since I’ve seen a Sunburst Bloom, and I got to see them together with you, after all. Plus, it seems these roses aren’t the only flower that has bloomed today.”

“Huh?” Sunset cocked her head to the side. She followed where the princess’s hoof was pointing; right at her flank. Right at…

Her cutie mark!

She finally had her cutie mark!

Renewed vigor and excitement washed away her fatigue, and she found herself bouncing up and down in circles around the princess. “Cutie mark! Cutie mark! I’ve got my cutie mark!”

While Sunset giggled and shouted, Princess Celestia laughed too, the sound rich and hearty. Her ethereal mane flapped in the light breeze as she wiped a tear from her eye. “I will never tire of such moments.”

Sunset finally calmed down enough to actually stop and look at what it was. “It’s… a sun? Kind of like you! Amazing… but what does it mean? Is my special talent being really good at light magic and stuff?”

“I’m sure that’s a significant part of it,” Celestia said, rising to her hooves. With a sly glance towards Sunset, she chomped down on one of the flowers, pulling it off of the bush with her mouth and chewing heartily. “Mmm, and they really are delicious, too.”

“But—!” Sunset stared in abject horror for several moments as she watched her grand presentation be devoured; when Celestia started to giggle, however, the sight was too ridiculous to stay offended at for very long. Sunset soon joined her in laughter.

Celestia let out a long breath, then reached a hoof down to ruffle Sunset’s mane. “You’ve demonstrated an incredible amount of magical talent and ingenuity, especially for somepony so young. Even here at this school for the best and brightest, you would be hard-pressed to find any unicorn who could pull off what you just did.”

Sunset puffed her chest out, her heart swelling with pride. Finally. She knew she was good, and she had finally been able to prove it. Not just good, but the best.

Princess Celestia placed a hoof on her shoulder. “But there’s more to it than that, I think. You bent light to show things in a different perspective, and shined a spotlight on something that rarely gets the chance to showcase itself. You have a lot of potential, and you should take this to heart. Consider this your first lesson.”

Of course. It all made sense; it was Sunset Shimmer’s time to bloom and shine in the glorious light of the sun.

“Wait. What do you mean, first lesson?”

Princess Celestia grinned.

Author's Notes:

Thanks to Kalan and Cerulean Voice for editing, and thanks to all the wonderful folks in the Writeoff that reviewed the first draft of this story and gave great feedback.

Cover art used with permission by Redquoza.

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