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Dreaming in Dawn's Light

by Novel-Idea

Chapter 1: Falling into Sunlight


Sunset Shimmer fell through the night. It lasted only moments before she landed on something soft. Of all the things she expected to see upon opening her eyes, hooves were not among them.

“What in Equestria…” She wiggled one of the appendages, but it was definitely hers. After a moment's thought, a tap on her forehead revealed her horn. And that was enough for her to try a surge of magic.

With but the merest of efforts, a mirror appeared before her. Sunset smiled at the amber unicorn in the reflection. The unicorn wasn’t wearing clothes… which was both liberating and odd at the same time. In fact, the only thing she wore was a small ruby pendant with her cutie mark around her neck, her ‘memento’ from Camp Everfree. Her smile widened. She’d forgotten to take it off after her control practice. It was still something she had to work on every night since the incident with the gem and Princess Celestia. The incident that had blasted her halfway across the Princess’s study.

But... I’ve only had this on once as a pony. That was when I visited Equestria after graduation. And that was months ago. So why would I have it on now?

Still, it was nice to see this amber mare again. It had been just over six months since Sunset had last seen her own muzzle. Even after all her time among humans, there was a piece of her that would always remain irrevocably a pony.

She wouldn’t have it any other way.

There was a catch though. Namely, she didn’t recall going through the portal. Last thing she remembered, she was cuddling with Twilight, watching some random movie on the couch…

She banished the mirror and looked around.

“Huh. It’s been a while since I’ve realized I was in a dream. Longer since I dreamt I was a pony for that matter.”

She had to be dreaming. Either that, or somepony was throwing around some serious magic. In every direction, waves of energy coursed through the aether in bands of purple, cobalt, indigo and gold. Brilliant bronze stars floated aimlessly in the odd space, while nigh-invisible stardust coated the ground. She could feel the magic in the air. It was a heady sensation, bringing back fond memories of her younger days when things were so much simpler. Back when she was the personal student of Princess Celestia.

Those were good days… but now that I have Twilight, not to mention my other friends, I wonder if they really were better

Those days had been on her mind a lot lately. Ever since finally seeing Celestia again. A lot of memories. A lot of smiles. Far too many ‘if onlys.’

As usual, hindsight remained twenty-twenty.

Sunset sighed, and shook herself from her thoughts. If she was in a dream… it wasn’t like any dream she’d remembered having. She wondered if she could—

You should not be here, an oddly familiar voice whispered from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. You should not bear witness to these events. She could not bear the shame of it. Not then. Not now.

“Who’s there?” Sunset demanded, whipping her head around to find the source of the ethereal voice. There was a strange sound to it, like desperation tinged with anger.

No, not anger. Rage? Shame?

“Who are you?” she called out, frowning.

A demented cackle washed over her, and every hair on Sunset’s coat stood on end. She flared her magic, looking for a target. All she could find were eerie waves of light.

It was a mistake to bring you—

A blast of fire in the far distance interrupted the voice. Sunset peered through the odd landscape. That magic looked familiar. It felt familiar. She knew it. But from where?

Another insane laugh swept over her. This time, a scream of pain echoed it a second later.

“No,” Sunset whispered. “It can’t be…”

No! You must turn away, Sunset Shimmer. Avert your gaze. She would be devastated if you saw this. It would destroy her, inside and out!

Sunset ignored the voice and charged forward at a full gallop in the direction of the flames. Another burst illuminated the threads of magic around her. A second cry of pain. From a voice that was all too familiar. A voice… an impossible voice.

She forgot about galloping, and just teleported as far as she could.

It wasn’t far enough. She could see the fire in the distance, but nothing else. She teleported again, gasping with the effort, but she could now smell burning fabric and melting metal in the air. Smoke plumes filled the sky. Everything ahead of her was ablaze. A world of fire, heat and ash.

You should not do this, Sunset Shimmer! You must turn back! Please!

She ignored both the pain in her horn and the voice in her head, and teleported a third time.

She nearly blacked out for a split second and then landed hard, sprawling on the smoldering remains of a red carpet. Groaning, she tried to collect herself. Everything was still in place. However, the air tasted wrong. Like scorched copper and ozone. Lifting her head, her blood ran cold despite the sweltering heat from the fire all around her.

Flames licked ornate marble pillars, each of them cracked. Broken masonry littered the floor. Smoke rolled through the air in great billowing waves. The heat was oppressive, sucking the moisture from the air and leaving her barely able to breathe. She had to fight to remain conscious.

All the while, there was a nagging sense that she knew this place.

“Well, well, well…” said a voice that couldn’t be who it sounded like. “Look what the brat dragged in. The little sun has come to play with the big girls. This must be one of your little tricks, my dear sister.”

There was a pulse of violent magic above her, and another cry of pain. Sunset barely had time to register how different the scream was before an indigo streak slammed into the ground. She froze as she stared into the bloodshot eyes of Princess Luna.

“Flee… she mustn’t find you…” Luna whispered.

A bolt of red magic lanced down through the smoke. The Princess of the Moon screamed once again, a sound that tore through Sunset like a jagged nail. With a final desperate look, she vanished in a flash of moon dust.

“Luna!” cried Celestia from somewhere near, Sunset wasn’t sure where. Sound wasn’t carrying right.

Sunset tried to call out to her, but she could only hack and cough as the smoke filled her lungs.

“Oh come on,” the other voice said, sounding positively bored. “I’ve battered her, beaten her down, and banished her from your dreams for months. And every time you cry out her name. What a pathetic excuse for a Princess you are, Celestia. Where’s your fire?” She giggled, a sound like razors shaking in a tin. “Oh, right. That’s me.”

“Leave her alone!” spat the ragged voice of Sunset’s former teacher. “Your conflict is with me!”

“Is that so?” The other voice sounded so familiar, but Sunset refused to believe it could possibly be who it sounded like. “Luna’s gone again, just like every other night. But this time, she brought somepony new for us to play with. A new toy! And when she gets here, we’re going to have so much fun together! She sounded like she was speaking to a tiny filly about a cuddly bear. “I’m going to break her in front of you. Won’t that be fun, fillies? In fact, why don’t I show you our mystery guest right now!”

Sunset squawked as blood red magic yanked her up through the smoke. As she rose, there was an explosion of light and sound. The smoke thinned. The magic tightened around Sunset’s neck and she feebly kicked her hindlegs, trying to find purchase on anything.

That’s when Sunset realized where she was.

The air was still tainted with smoke and ash, but she finally got a glimpse at the entire room. Stained glass windows were shattered. Tapestries were aflame. Entire sections of the walls and roof of the throne room had been torn open to reveal a burning Canterlot outside.

“The throne room? But…”

Sunset let out another strangled scream as the red magic pulled her up again until she was muzzle-to-muzzle with something straight out of a nightmare.

“And here she is! Little sun, take a bow!”

“No…” Sunset shrieked as she shied away from the monster. “Get away from me!”

“Aw.” The monster sounded genuinely hurt. “But little sunny Sunset, don’t you know who I am?”

A wicked grin curled the thing’s muzzle, emphasizing the bone-white fangs in her mouth. A helm of fiery orange and red with a gem like a star of blood sat upon her head. Her mane was a mass of living fire. She even wore matching armor. But all of that paled in comparison to one very specific thing.

Her eyes.

They were fiery yellow upon dark red… and she had flames for irises. They seemed to bore into Sunset with a malicious glee. And they sent bolts of terror into Sunset’s very soul.

She had seen eyes like this before in her own nightmares… but they had always been set into her own twisted face.

But worse than that, despite everything she knew about her former teacher, Sunset knew the thing holding her couldn’t be anypony else but Celestia herself.

“Good,” the thing hissed, watching the recognition in her eyes. With every breath, a rush of heat washed over Sunset, making the ruins of the Canterlot throne room almost glow with heat. “Look at it twinkling in your eyes, little sun. You’ve already accepted that I am her. The better her. Isn’t the truth so freeing?”

“You… you aren’t Celestia…” Sunset lied. “You can’t be—”

“No…” cried a weak voice from below. Both the monster and Sunset looked down at the burnt and battered white alicorn curled in a smoking heap at the foot of the half-melted golden throne of Canterlot. The Princess was weeping openly, tears streaming down her soot-covered muzzle. Her left wing looked broken, as was at least one of her legs. Her mane and tail were limp and lifeless, their colors half-faded. She let out a whimper… a sound that Sunset had never believed the alicorn could make.

“You… Sunset, no, please… don’t be real…”

The thing that held Sunset looked from Celestia back up to Sunset. Her smile grew until it was positively demonic. Sunset felt a chilling sense of déjà vu creep up her body.

“Oh, of course!” She bopped herself under her horn with a scorching hot brass hoofshoe. “Why didn’t I think of that earlier? I should have made this connection eons ago. It’s so obvious why you banished her, Celestia! And it’s so sweet!

Those words froze Sunset’s blood. Her mouth hung open at the alicorn of fire floating above the devastation. The alicorn’s smile could have swallowed entire worlds.

“You thought she would turn into me.” The thing sighed maternally. “Just picture it, a little me running around, making you redundant in every way that matters.”

“No! You know nothing of my students, Daybreaker!” Celestia tried to stand, but screamed when her broken leg gave out from under her. Sunset’s heart clenched at the sight of her former teacher in agony. “And she’s not… she’s not really… she’s not here.”

“Be sensible. You already know it’s her, Celestia,” the thing called Daybreaker crooned. “You can feel it, just as I felt it when she arrived. After all, we’re the same pony, you and I! What you feel, I feel! Which means I know all about your pwecious widdle students, and how badly they’ve failed Mommy.”

“Sunset…” Celestia’s giant lavender eyes peered up at her. “Please… tell me that’s not you.”

“Oh, no. Somepony so wise and benevolent couldn’t hide from the truth. What sort of example would you be setting?” Her blazing mane flipped under Sunset’s muzzle and flicked her nose, leaving a blistered mark. “Tell her the truth, little sun,” Daybreaker said, giving Sunset a little shake in her magic.

Sunset licked her lips and tried to say something, but nothing came out.

“Tell her the truth!” Daybreaker thundered. Sunset screamed as the red magic turned blisteringly hot for just a second, enough to burn the tips of her ears, mane and tail. “Tell her, before I burn you to charcoal!”

“It’s—” Sunset choked back a sob. “It’s… it’s me, Princess.”

Celestia closed her eyes as a fresh wave of tears fell from her face. They evaporated before they hit the shattered tiles beneath her scorched hooves.

“Yes…” Daybreaker hissed. “Now the prodigal student sees the truth of who you really are, Celestia. A fake. A manipulating sham who can’t even save herself, who couldn’t see a cry for help when it slapped her in the face, not once but twice!

Celestia flinched with every word as if they were physical blows.

“Hey! Leave her alone!” Sunset shouted, struggling against Daybreaker’s strangling red magic.

“Aw! Listen, she wants to defend you! The one who you ran off! The one you threw away because she didn’t dance to your tune! The one who was originally supposed to save your precious sister! The one that you drove into exile with only hatred and bitterness in her heart… and tried to return as a demon leading an army!

Sunset still wasn’t entirely sure this was really happening. But at this point, it didn’t matter. Something inside her snapped at those words. She felt a warmth coming from the gem hanging around her neck. The fear burned away in a flash of righteous anger.

“Hey!” Sunset snapped back. “I’m right here, you know!”

Eyes of fire locked onto Sunset. “It’d be awfully boring if you weren’t, little sun.”

“Shut up! I’m not letting you throw my mistakes at somepony I care about just to hurt them!”

Daybreaker’s eyes flared and Sunset forced herself not to back down.

“Yeah, you have fire, but we already knew that, didn’t we? But we’re not here for you, much as that might bruise your little ego. You’re not worth my time,” Daybreaker growled. “You are in the presence of a queen. A Goddess!”

“You’re no goddess!” Celestia spat from below. “And… as I told you time and again… you will never exist!”

Sunset glanced down and smiled when she saw the golden magic wrap around Celestia’s horn.

“You keep saying that… But wasn’t Luna supposed to keep me out of your dreams by mastering dreamwalking? And Twilight, wasn’t she supposed to silence me forever by unlocking the mysteries of friendship? And let’s not forget this little sun here.”

She tittered again. “Oopsie.”

Celestia unleashed a bolt of sunfire right at Daybreaker. The flame-wreathed alicorn laughed and casually tossed Sunset into the path of the blast before the unicorn could react.

“No!”

The pain was blinding. Unlike anything she’d ever felt.

Except once.

“What is happening…?”

Rainbow light was everywhere. Somehow, that wretched Twilight and her friends had unleashed the full might of Harmony upon her in a blast of freakin’ rainbows! It was impossible! She was the one with the Element! She was the one with the destiny! She was the one with—

Sunset Shimmer fell. She barely registered the laughing alicorn growing more distant every second.

She felt things within her break when she landed against the shattered marble of what had once been the greatest place of power in Canterlot. Somewhere, she heard Celestia’s weeping become the sound of scrabbling hooves and grunting. Sunset’s vision swam. Then, something white and gray moved over her. Sunset looked up into a face that was still regal and kind even when it was stained by soot.

“I’m so sorry, Sunset. You shouldn’t be here…” Celestia murmured down at her. “You shouldn’t have to see this.”

“Is this… real?” Sunset asked, staring past Celestia’s face at the demonic grin of the alicorn of fire.

Celestia’s gaze never left Sunset. “Yes, my dear pony.”

By Harmony… I can see it in her eyes. But this is a dream. A nightmare! But… it’s real?

Sunset’s heart nearly seized. If Luna was here… it could be both a dream and real. But the Celestia I know was never frightened by anything…

“What… what is she?”

“What could be...” Celestia whispered, “if I lost control.”

What could be if you took control!” Daybreaker roared down at them. “You, of all ponies, should understand what I am, Sunset Shimmer! Celestia knows every moment of what happened when you claimed the Element of Magic. She knows what you became. And what she knows, I know! You embraced your power, all of it, and became a goddess in that other world. One mistake cost you everything, but that’s alright, sweetie. You can have it again. I can give you more power than you ever dreamed. Forget that cheap trinket Twilight buried in that stupid tree, wait until you claim the sun.

Sunset struggled to get to her hooves. Celestia tried to stop her, but it was a halfhearted effort at most. Sunset looked into Celestia’s eyes and saw little more than resignation.

She’s given up? Resigned herself? To what? This thing? No. That’s impossible. Nothing can defeat Celestia.

Somewhere in the back of her head, several pages of recent events in Equestria from Twilight told her that wasn’t strictly true. She ignored them.

Finally, Sunset glared up at the abomination. “I don’t want it. You leave her alone.”

“Sunset, you can’t stop her,” Celestia said through ragged breaths. “Even Luna can’t destroy her… and she has more experience with nightmares… and memories… and guilt… than anypony in all the world.”

“Don’t care,” Sunset growled, still staring at Daybreaker. She shifted her weight and winced. “She’s not hurting you anymore. Even if this is just a dream, nopony screws with my family.”

“Sunset…” Celestia began, a little catch in her voice.

“Is that a challenge, little sun?” Daybreaker seemed to glow with eager glee at the idea. “I offer you power, and purpose, and justice, and you are moronic enough to threaten me?”

Sunset’s eyes narrowed and she steadied herself on her hooves. “Well, now I know you’re not Celestia. Celestia’s not that dense. What do you think it is, you overgrown matchstick?”

“Oh, I knew what you meant, little sun,” Daybreaker purred. “I just wanted to make sure you knew. After all, the last test you failed cost you everything. I know you’ve always been curious just what Celestia could do. Well, pop quiz! Let’s see if you’ve studied!”

Daybreaker rose higher against the burning sky and grinned. Her eyes blazed with magic. Her hooves lifted into the air. Her fangs glinted in the firelight.

The very sun swelled into existence around her. Sunset gaped as the ball of flame engulfed more of the throne room every second, swallowing ancient masonry and shards of stained glass.

Instinctually, Sunset threw up her most powerful shield spell. Celestia’s muzzle was twisted into a grimace, but she channeled her magic into another shield encompassing Sunset’s. Her golden magic was already flickering.

“I don’t think this will hold, Sunset....”

She was right. The moment Daybreaker’s sun struck their shields, Celestia cried out from the feedback and collapsed in a smoking heap. Her shield vanished like a soap bubble. An instant later, the roiling ball of plasma hit Sunset’s.

Sunset groaned as the level of magic required to maintain hers increased exponentially. She ignored the cackle of the insane alicorn, and put every ounce of her will into the spell protecting them from… well, she didn’t know what would happen if Daybreaker’s sun broke through, but she wasn’t going to find out.

“You… you can’t… you can’t stop her, Sunset…” Celestia moaned from the ground. Sunset’s hooves slipped as she dug into the broken marble floor. “You need to save yourself…”

“I’m not leaving you!” Sunset shouted over the roar of the flame and Daybreaker’s laughter. “I finally work up the nerve to patch things up with you, I’m not going to lose you now! Especially not to some… fire-happy lunatic!

Celestia chuckled. “You never did know when to quit.”

Sunset almost lost her concentration. “Thanks?”

She had been so focused on keeping the surface of her shield up consistently, she didn’t see the lance of fire until it was too late. Her shield hadn’t been designed to protect against such a precise attack. The beam tore through Sunset’s shield… and then tore into her. She shrieked as she was thrown backward by the spell’s sheer force. A wall stopped her flight through the air. Crashing to the ground, she managed to beat out the flames on her coat before collapsing again.

“Leave her alone!” Celestia cried as the sun vanished.

“Ugh, not this again,” Daybreaker sighed. “You’d think after all this time, you’d learn that there’s nothing you can do to stop me! Your precious darling sister can’t even get me out of your head, and you can’t hope to resist me. I am everything you should be. While our little sun here has a lovely color scheme, what in Equestria could she do to me? You know the score, Princess. I break her, you let me out, everything’s just hunky-dory. You don’t, and I’ll have to get downright unfriendly!”

Another rush of flame plummeted towards Celestia’s prone form.

Instinct overrode exhaustion, and Sunset teleported in front of Celestia, shield already up. She was hurting in ways she hadn’t thought possible, and part of her coat was burned away, but she was still Sunset Shimmer. Sunset grunted as her shield took the brunt of the blast of fire, but it held.

“Gold star! I’m impressed, little sun. I’m sure your replacement would have given up by now.”

“Twilight’s made of stronger stuff than you!” Sunset snarled as she pushed herself to her hooves again. “And so am I!”

“You just don’t seem to get it!” Daybreaker laughed, clapping her hooves together with demented glee. “You’re just a filly playing make-believe. You think your pretty precious pony princess is still perfect. Look around you. I’ve taken everything from her. Her throne, her sister, her dignity… Even better? You know I’m Celestia. And since you know I am Celestia… you don’t have a prayer. Well, you could pray to me. That’d be delicious. Might earn my lesser half a reprieve.”

“Save it. I’ve stopped things worse than you before.”

“Oh, please!” Daybreaker cackled as if Sunset had just told the funniest joke in the universe. “You defeated three singing fish, a teenage magic addict and a hippy! And not once did you win alone! Don’t you get it, little sun? There is no last-minute save by your friends! There’s nothing for you here. I know everything she knows. Which means I know just how much your ruin will hurt her.” She cackled, like water on hot iron. “I wish you could be here to see it. I keep thinking about just how pretty she’ll be when she gives in to me!”

Sunset glanced back at Celestia. Celestia didn’t respond with any words. She just looked at Daybreaker with pain clouding her eyes.

Impossible… this is Princess Celestia. I know nothing can defeat her…

…But could she defeat herself?

That moment of doubt was apparently what Daybreaker was waiting for. In a corona of fire, she rushed at Sunset, slamming her to the ground with a single buck of her hooves. Sunset’s shield evaporated again.

“I know it goes against the Princess Code, or whatever, but there is something to be said for getting one’s hooves dirty once in a while. It’s so exhilarating! You should try it.” Daybreaker looked down at the prone unicorn and the broken alicorn. “In fact, I think that’s what I’ll do. First, I’ll destroy Sunset here. Then, my dear… me, we’ll see what happens when I conjure up your precious Twilight… then Cadance… then Luna againthen maybe Twilight’s friends. Maybe even that firebird of yours. Watching me crush them one by one. Ooh! And then we’ll do them all over again! A never-ending parade of your failures until—”

“Don’t you ever shut up?” Sunset shouted and fired a magic missile at Daybreaker’s gloating face.

Daybreaker stepped aside casually and watched the missile fly by. “Wow. And here you’re supposed to be good at this sort of thing,” she sneered.

She walked forward and backhoofed Sunset, sending her sprawling once more.

“The star pupil can’t even aim.” She tsked. “How sad. You’re just like her now. All you believe in is ‘friendship’ and ‘harmony.’ ‘Let’s all just smile, hold hooves, and sing a dumb song about forgiveness! That’ll make the big scary monster see the error of her ways!’” Daybreaker spat. It sizzled on the tiles. “You might have once actually posed a threat to me, little sun, but now? Now you’ve got friends and you fell in love with that pathetic imitation of Twilight Sparkle! All that ambition… all that desire… all that scheming and drive and power ended up circling the drain.”

“She’s become who she was meant to be,” Celestia hissed. “Somepony I’m proud of. She put aside all of that to—”

“Boring!” A bolt of fire knocked Celestia back a few yards. She landed with a dull thud against the ruins of the throne. Daybreaker perched atop the crumbled backrest, and leered down at her prey. “Stop being so boring, Tia!”

Sunset just stared at her former teacher.

She said she was proud of me. Yeah… she said that months ago. But… she said it despite everything I’ve done. Everything I’d been. Everything I became…

Sunset’s eyes slid to Daybreaker.

“You don’t know me, monster.” Sunset tried to get up, but her legs wouldn’t support her. So much for a dramatic defiant last stand. “Celestia knows me… but she wasn’t there. She knows what Twilight told her. What I told her. But I never told her everything. I never told her what I wanted.”

“Oh yeah, that’s hard to guess,” Daybreaker dismissed with a wave of a hoof. “You wanted Equestria, like every other two-bit villain around. Twilight was very dramatic when she told that part of the story.”

“You’re right. I wanted the throne. But there was a time when I didn’t want just the throne. I wanted revenge. I wanted more. I wanted her!” Sunset stabbed a hoof at Celestia, who had dragged herself into a sitting position. “Now? Now, I know that nothing can defeat Celestia in the real world.”

Daybreaker snorted. “Uh, hello? Chrysalis nailed her with the help of Twilight’s big, stupid brother. And let’s not even start on Tirek… A lot of things defeat Celestia. Just no one with quite my level of style.”

Sunset tried to struggle to her hooves again and finally succeeded. “Yeah, maybe. In the real world, where she can decide to hold back. Where the balefire options are off the table. But you know something? This isn’t the real world.”

“Sunset…” Sunset could feel Celestia’s worried eyes on her. “What are you doing?”

Sunset hated to do it, but she ignored her mentor. “And there’s one thing you obviously don’t know. And that is you don’t ever threaten my friends. You think you can hurt Celestia? You think you can hurt Twilight? I know what hurt them the most.”

“Me.”

“Don’t, Sunset… don’t do this… it’s not worth the price…”

Nopony screws with the ones I love.

Nopony.

Sunset closed her eyes, and reached into the deepest part of herself. It took a moment, but she found what she was looking for. A small cage, covered in shadow… with a pair of glowing black eyes with teal irises peering from the depths.

Sunset’s horn flared again, but this time her magic wasn’t teal. It was black as midnight in the crystal caverns below Canterlot. Sunset screamed in agony as she shattered the prison of shadows. From within, something emerged.

Sunset slumped to the ground as something with horrid red skin, wicked claws, a grin of fangs, a twisted face and tattered bat-like wings rose before Daybreaker.

If she looked hard enough, Sunset could see through her demon’s eyes. She didn’t. She shrank away from it. More than anything, she shied away from the creature she had once been. She didn’t want to think like that. She didn’t want to be stained by that.

“Ahhhh…” Daybreaker made a little appreciative noise. “I hoped you still had her in you, buried under all that ‘friendship and love’ nonsense. I was right. You could have it all, Sunset Shimmer. Help me destroy Celestia… and I’ll give you everything you ever wanted.”

“Who do you think I am? I’m not some scared little student you can sweet-talk, you idiot!” the demonic Sunset roared. “Celestia doesn’t share power until you’ve jumped through all her hoops. All you want is another pet. Another toy!”

“Is that so?” Daybreaker sounded amused.

“So what, you think you’re better than Celestia? Well, I was always better than her. And now that you were dumb enough to get Sunny there to release me, I’m going to prove I should have been the one with the power. I’m gonna make her hurt, I’m gonna make her bleed, and I’m doing it for me!”

The demon turned its gaze toward the fallen princess.

“Oh, this should be simply delightful…” Daybreaker squeed.

Oh, no you—I don’t, Sunset thought groggily. She forced herself to pull on what magic she could. She knew that there should be more since this was a dream, but she was so exhausted.

Still, she found enough for one final teleport in front of Celestia’s fallen form.

She didn’t bother with a shield this time. She knew it wouldn’t protect against a summer breeze.

“No,” Sunset snarled as she yanked on the few mental chains she still held on her demon. “You want to show just how powerful you are? Show Celestia what you can do against that one!”

Black eyes with teal irises glared at Sunset from above. “Now why would I do something stupid like that?”

Look at her! You’re not proving anything by beating her now!

Her demon snarled.

“No! If you want to show Celestia up, destroy the thing that did this to her! The thing she couldn’t beat!”

Her demon flexed her claws. “You can’t bind me forever, Sunset.”

“So what?” Sunset shot back. “Do it!”

She felt the thing buck and writhe at the command, but she didn’t let up. She was exhausted, but she wasn’t going to let anypony hurt Celestia. Not even herself. Not anymore.

“She’s next, you know,” the demon growled.

“You can try,” Sunset muttered.

The demon turned back to Daybreaker.

“Aww… I bet that leash chafes something awful. You poor thing.” Daybreaker laughed.

“Sunset still thinks that Celestia can’t be defeated,” the demon said. “I know better. However, she’s right about one thing. Right now, Celestia is hardly a challenge. She’s not even worthy of my attention. You… on the other hoof…”

“You want to fight fire with fire, hm?” Daybreaker replied. “You want a chance to prove yourself against Celestia’s better half? Won’t this be fun?” She spread an armored ivory wing, and preened a little. “Well, I promise to take you as seriously as I can. I’ve always wondered about the big, bad Sunset Shimmer, even if I am going to turn your pretty crimson skin into an even prettier charcoal.”

“You’d better have more for me than just hot air, you arrogant firebug,” the demon snarled.

“Aw, she thinks she's got a sharp tongue. How cute!”

“Cute? I’ll show you cute!” the demon snarled.

They both struck at the same time. Sunset shielded her eyes from the blast of fire. A column exploded, sending jagged chunks of marble raining down on their heads… only to be deflected by a golden shield.

Celestia shuffled up to Sunset, and they watched her demon go at it with Daybreaker. Fireballs. Bolts of lightning. Shields of sunfire. Concussion shockwaves. Telekinetic knives. Every dirty trick the demon could come up with, Daybreaker matched.

“Why?” Celestia murmured beside Sunset.

Sunset didn’t look at Celestia. She couldn’t bear to see her teacher’s face.

“Because… back then, when I… when I became that…” Sunset licked her dry and cracked lips. “I really thought I could defeat you. The teachers and students… they were to be cannon fodder. Distracting everypony else while I took you out.”

“Not your best plan, Sunset.”

Sunset chuckled. “Don’t I know it. Still… even after everything… that was the only point in my life where I knew I could beat you. And since Daybreaker is you…

She felt more than saw Celestia’s nod. “A sound strategy. If she’s strong enough.”

“She believes she is,” Sunset replied as Celestia’s shield protected them from a nova of blood-colored flame. “Here? I think that’s all that matters. What do you think?”

Celestia wrapped a singed wing around Sunset. “There is nothing that makes a teacher prouder than when the student surpasses them. I’ve always believed you could do great things, Sunset.”

“Even after Twilight?” The words just slipped out. She didn’t mean to say them. She wished she could take them back.

Still, Celestia didn’t seem to be bothered.

“You went from being that,” Celestia nodded toward the demon, currently grappling with Daybreaker in mid-air hoof-to-claw combat, “to being accepted by Harmony… to becoming—from everything I have heard—an angel.”

Sunset flushed a deeper scarlet than the next bolt of Daybreaker’s magic.

“Not only that… but you reached out and saved the other world’s Twilight Sparkle from your very own fate. Twice, if I recall correctly. One to herself and once to something far more insidious: her own fear of losing control. Something that, as you can see, I understand all too well.”

Celestia’s eyes fell on Daybreaker again. Sunset sniffled. Celestia’s shield went up yet again to save them from a blast of pure magical force.

“I told you the last time we met, Sunset.” Celestia’s wing, even burned, wrapped around her in something Sunset had missed for so many years. “I’m so very proud of who you’ve become. You didn’t walk the same path as I had hoped. That one… Twilight ended up walking. You walked your own, and though it was a rocky one at first, you did it so very well.”

Sunset finally glanced at Celestia out of the corner of her eye. They were both silent as tears fell from their faces. The fiery fury of the battle above reflected in Celestia’s enormous eyes.

“But to answer your question… yes,” Celestia replied. “I’ve always believed you—and Twilight—had the potential to be greater than I am.”

Daybreaker crashed to the ground, scattering ash and soot everywhere. The demon landed in a crouch before her prey, smiling like a hungry jungle cat.

“You don’t have to do this!” Daybreaker cried as she tried to crawl away. “We’re the same! I can give you everything you’ve ever wanted!”

“You? You don’t even matter. All I’ve ever wanted is to show Celestia that I deserve this!” the demon snarled. “To prove to her that she made the wrong choice! She should have granted me Ascension before that moronic Cadance!

Sunset winced.

“Still have some unresolved feelings toward Cadance?” Celestia asked.

“Maybe a little?” Sunset replied sheepishly. “I’ve… I’ve been meaning to talk to her?”

“Of course you have, my dear Sunset.”

Sunset chuckled just a little as the demon stalked toward the fallen alicorn.

“But I can fix that!” Daybreaker shouted. “We’re both the better halves! We can destroy them together!”

“Sure. And then one of us will stab the other in the back,” the demon snarled. “Thank you, but I think I’ll take out the most dangerous enemy first.”

The demon lifted a claw. Flames tainted with eldritch magic boiled into existence.

Daybreaker unleashed a blast of blood-red magic at the demon. The demon matched it with a blast of her own. Cackling filled the world. Sunset and Celestia just watched as their battle of wills went back and forth for a short time… until Daybreaker started to lose ground.

Quickly.

“No! I can help you! I know things! I am—”

The demon’s magic engulfed Daybreaker. With a final cry of protest, the alicorn vanished in a puff of ash.

“Now… I believe it’s your turn, Celestia,” the demon growled, her horrible eyes focusing on the princess.

Sunset shrugged off Celestia’s wing and forced herself to her hooves. She never realized just how tall the two-legged demon was compared to Sunset’s pony form.

“No.”

“You know I could defeat her. And you. Easily.”

“No,” Sunset shook her head. “I don’t believe that. I can take you. And you know it.”

Strength returned to her body. Her wounds healed. Her coat became whole once more. Her magic returned to her in full. Sunset took a deep breath and felt no pain.

“You will not hurt a single hair on her coat,” Sunset said. “Because you aren’t who I am anymore.”

“I am everything—

“Like we haven’t been hearing that kind of horseapples for hours!” Sunset snapped as she stalked toward her past self. “We just heard Daybreaker go on and on about how she was the true Celestia, and she was more powerful, and she could blah blah blah! I don’t care. I don’t want to hear it.”

“But she’s weak!” the demon pointed a claw at Celestia. “You’ve seen her! She’s a hypocrite! She’s just like us! Just like you! She has monsters in her just like you do!

Sunset glanced back at Celestia. She couldn’t remember when the princess had last looked so proud of her.

“And that’s what helps us not make those kinds of mistakes,” Sunset said with a smile at the demon. “Because we know the cost. And we’ve found a better way.”

“I won’t let you throw—

“Oh just shut up!” Sunset shouted. Her magic flared and a prison of teal power crashed into place around the demon. “I have had enough of Daybreaker and I have definitely had enough of you!”

Sunset reared back and slammed her hooves to the ground. It wasn’t strictly necessary to rebind the demon into its prison, but it felt good.

When the magic had faded, the demon, the destruction, and the fire were gone. Instead, they stood in a pristine version of Canterlot’s throne room. The carpets and tapestries were perfect. Once more, the pillars and stained glass windows were intact, though Sunset noticed a new one she hadn’t seen before.

Celestia chuckled as Sunset approached it. The rising sun shone through the glass, casting out a prismatic spray of colored light across the enormous throne room. In the picture, stylized versions of Daybreaker and Sunset’s demon fought overhead while a white alicorn wrapped an amber unicorn in a winghug.

“Nice touch,” Sunset commented.

“Thank you,” Celestia replied behind her. “I probably won’t have it installed here. Somewhere a little more secluded, perhaps my private study?”

When Sunset turned, she found Celestia once more whole and uninjured, though she didn’t wear any of her regalia. It was strange to see the princess without the trappings of her station. It also spoke volumes of the kind of pony Celestia wanted to portray right now.

“You are probably curious what happened,” Celestia commented idly as she flexed a wing over Sunset yet again.

“I wasn’t going to pry.”

Celestia sighed and glanced up at the stained glass window.

“I assume Princess Twilight told you about Starlight Glimmer’s ‘mission’ several months ago?”

Sunset gritted her teeth a little. “You mean the whole ‘it’s a good idea to mess with the innate powers of the two most powerful alicorns in Equestria’ thing?”

“Yes. That.” Celestia chuckled in a sad sort of way.

“Yeah, she told me.” Sunset stared at her hooves. “But wasn’t that before I finally came to see you?”

“I was far too delighted to see you again to mention it at the time.” Celestia’s smile was like a second sun. “And, I admit, it wasn’t all bad. My sister and I may have needed a little bit of a push to understand one another.”

“Sounds like it was more than a little.”

“Perhaps,” Celestia admitted with a wry grin. “But while that aspect may have turned out beneficial, what Starlight’s own fears released was another thing entirely. After Starlight’s vision of Daybreaker, I started having nightmares of her. I still don’t know how Starlight pulled her image from my mind.” She hesitated. “Or maybe I conjured her myself based on Starlight’s own fears.”

Sunset blinked at her mentor, unable to think of what to say.

Celestia sighed. “I admit, when you returned and we finally reconnected, Daybreaker’s attacks became more and more frequent. I have had them every night for the last month and a half. Sadly, Luna could do nothing for me.”

“Why?” Sunset stared up at Celestia. “I thought Luna held total domain over the dream realm.”

“I suspect for the same reason Daybreaker could only be defeated by your own shadow. As I had defeated her when she became Nightmare Moon, she feared herself incapable of overcoming Daybreaker. While I managed to defeat her in Starlight’s dream… that was because it was Starlight’s version of her, not mine.”

“So, Luna did pull me into your dream? I didn’t know she could do that across worlds. But… if that’s the case, why would she tell me to turn back? She was pretty insistent on it. ”

“I think… Sunset, I don’t think she did,” Celestia admitted. “In fact, I think it had more to do with the gem around your neck rather than true dreamwalking, Sunset.”

Sunset glanced down at the crystal she had recovered from Camp Everfree and tapped it with a hoof. She scrunched her muzzle at their memory their first attempt at controlling her newfound empathic magic. She wasn’t eager to relive that disaster. It had left her out cold for the better part of a day.

Yeah, imagine that. Trying to use empathic magic on an alicorn with over a millennium’s worth of experience, wisdom and knowledge? Not a good call.

“You went from an expert at driving ponies—and people—apart to wielding some of the most powerful magic I have ever witnessed. You saved your Twilight from herself when she needed you. You encouraged her when she was at her weakest. You’ve touched those around you, and helped them understand themselves. Perhaps it was a result of our experiment, but when I needed somepony’s help, you came. You heard me, even across the divide of worlds.”

“What?” Sunset shook her head. “You told me to leave, too! You begged me not to be here.”

“At first, my little pony, I was praying you were one of her illusions. Beyond that, I don’t think I called you consciously. It was more instinct. And I suspect… you answered much the same.”

“If some part of you knew I came specifically to help, why would you want me to leave?”

Celestia hesitated before sighing. “I never wanted you to see that piece of me, Sunset. That’s a part of myself I locked away a long time ago. Because… Daybreaker was right. When we… parted ways?” Celestia’s wings ruffled slightly, her face twisting in pain. “I was harsher than I should have been with you, because I heard her voice coming from you. I was afraid. Afraid that I had, in my eagerness—or perhaps desperation—to prepare you for what I believed to be your destiny…”

Celestia trailed off, unable to meet Sunset’s eyes.

“Princess, please… tell me.”

“I was afraid that I had pushed you onto the path of becoming another Daybreaker. And from what your subconscious unleashed, I wasn’t far off.”

Sunset stared at her teacher, trying to process what she had seen. Knowing that that piece of Celestia was locked somewhere as deep as her own inner demon, it changed everything. Every interaction she had with the princess before her idiotic tantrum… it took on a whole new meaning.

“I…” Sunset licked her lips. “I don’t know, Princess. I don’t know if you did that or not. I can tell you, though, it wasn’t all you. I’ve learned to own up to who I was. I didn’t like that pony. I still don’t. But having her there… it reminds me of how much I lost when I pursued power for power’s sake. And how much I gained when I looked beyond that. So… either way… I think it turned out okay. So, thanks. And, for what it’s worth, she’s not your fault. I’m not letting her out, not again.”

Celestia smiled sadly. “Even demons have their purpose, Sunset. As long as you never let them control you. Daybreaker, your demon will always be a part of us. It’s what we do with that knowledge that defines us.”

“That’s something I think everypony around me has learned… a few times.”

Celestia chuckled and hugged Sunset tighter with her wing.

“Have I told you today how proud I am of you, Sunset?”

“Yes, Princess. You did.”

“Well, then I hope you’ll indulge me by allowing me to say it again.” Celestia squeezed Sunset like she was a little filly again. “I am so very proud of who you’ve become. I am as proud of you as I am of Twilight. I confess… maybe a little more, because you had a harder road, and came out better because of it.”

Sunset flushed, and ducked her head while surreptitiously trying to wipe the tears from her eyes.

“I… I think you know how much that means to me, Princess.” Sunset murmured.

“Perhaps,” Celestia’s hoof came around to Sunset’s chest. “But I know you still question yourself from time to time. Maybe if I showed you, that would help.”

“I don’t understand.”

Celestia tapped the gem around Sunset’s neck. Sunset gaped at the princess.

“Princess, the last time we tried this, it blew me halfway across the room.”

“As we’ve seen… what we believe in our dreams is reality. If I say I believe you can handle it, what do you think?”

Sunset paused for a few seconds, then took a deep breath.

“Then I believe you.”

Celestia gently reached out and pressed her hoof against the gem. Finally, Sunset let down the barriers that kept her empathic magic at bay. She gasped as warmth flooded every one of her senses. The dream throne room of Canterlot Castle washed away in wave of glorious white, like the rising of the dawn upon a brand new day.

And just like that… even in that strange space between the world of dreams and the world of wakefulness, even across the distance of whole dimensions, even for somepony who spent much of their time walking around on two legs, even for somepony who had fallen in love with a doppelgänger of the pony Sunset might have been in another life…

Sunset really knew she was forgiven.

She'd felt it before, but never seen the true depth of it. She's experienced the magic of friendship and the magic of love. And forgiveness was intricately linked with all of those and more.

Sunset Shimmer fell. She fell into the love, comfort and—most of all—acceptance of her mentor, Princess Celestia. She fell, knowing that Celestia fell just like her in that same moment.

Time passed. An hour. A day. A month. A year. A lifetime. It didn’t matter. She didn’t mind.

When the falling stopped, the only thing remaining was the stained glass window, now shining proudly in the wall of Celestia’s private study. Sunset’s heart thumped in her chest as she looked at the place where they’d spent so many hours when she had been just a filly. When Celestia had filled her whole world. During those simpler times.

And just like those times, Celestia was settled on a large cushion. Sunset hesitated. When she’d grown older, she’d been forced to move to a cushion of her own. But she missed those days when she could snuggle up under Celestia’s wing.

As if in response, the cushion grew just big enough to accommodate them both. Celestia beamed at her. Sunset didn’t need any further invitation. She leapt atop the soft fabric and settled down beside her old teacher.

A book appeared before them. They shared a look. Sunset smiled at her mentor. A cage rattled in the depths of her mind. She ignored it. A glint in Celestia’s eye told Sunset she wasn’t alone. That was all she needed to know.

Celestia opened the book and they started reading.

Though her physical body was still with Twilight in their apartment… in this place and this time...

It was as if Sunset had never left.

Author's Notes:

Theme for Dreaming in Dawn's Light

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BEhiWL1Pl0

I do hope you enjoyed Dreaming in Dawn's Light, a glimpse into the true nature of two of my favorite ponies to write.

When "A Royal Problem," first aired on the Treehouse Network in Canada, I couldn't wait to watch it. We finally got the Royal Sisters episode we've been begging for so very long. It was everything we could have hoped for and more (putting aside that Starlight is still crazy OP #nerfstarlight2017).

But upon the revelation of Daybreaker, everything changed. Within thirty seconds of the end of the episode, I had four new story ideas just involving Celestia and Sunset Shimmer. This is one of them and the one that drove it's way to the top when I first considered writing something for the episode's US airing.

However, I didn't want to write a reunion story. First of all, dozens (if not more) have been written already. I'm fairly sure every aspect of that interaction has been covered and all I would be doing is adding a slightly different spin on a well-established tale. Anyway, I think, considering Celestia's character, we all know how Celestia's reunion with Sunset would/will go. There will be a lot of tears on both sides and a lot of apologies on both sides. These two ponies did hurt one another. Mistakes were made. And there is no doubt in my mind that they would reconcile with little trouble.

We're just waiting for that special moment.

Celestia and Sunset share a very special bond. Remember the first question Celestia asked after Twilight came back through the mirror in the first Equestria Girls? "Sunset Shimmer, is she alright?" Celestia truly cares about Sunset, but I think she wants Sunset to come back on her own terms. Celestia respects Sunset enough to not force the issue.

So, the first thing I decided upon telling Dreaming was simple: Sunset had already reconnected with Celestia. In fact, it was because of that reconnection that this story happened. First, the part of Celestia who was Daybreaker was jostled by Sunset's appearance, for the reasons Celestia describes to Sunset at the end. Second, because of the gemstone around Sunset's neck from Camp Everfree, which (for lack of a better term), I'm calling the Element of Empathy. Yes, I know, other names have been given and we're curious why there's not one in Equestria. I have my own theories on that, but that's not for this story. I'm going with Empathy because it's what the EqG Director said it was on Twitter some time ago. But if Celestia was trying to teach Sunset how to control that magic... well, can you imagine what it would like to get a telepathic link to someone as powerful and ancient as Celestia?

There's a reason she was blasted halfway across the room and knocked out for the better part of a day. :twilightoops:

When I saw Daybreaker, it redefined Sunset Shimmer in an instant. And I realized why Celestia's reaction to Sunset's power play (and childish temper tantrum) was so strong. Because she was hearing her own inner demon's words coming out of her beloved student's muzzle. That's why Sunset was dismissed. That's why Celestia immediately reflects upon Nightmare Moon in the next scene of "The Fall of Sunset Shimmer."

I'm fairly sure that Celestia would have brought Sunset back. Probably within a day. But Sunset made a mistake... and that mistake trapped her in another world for thirty moons.

Then, years pass... and Starlight, in her own fear, brings out Daybreaker. It shakes things up and loosens the bonds of Daybreaker in Celestia's mind. And when Celestia finally reconnects with Sunset, the Princess of the Sun is both too delighted--and too ashamed--to bring up her demon again. But at this point... the demon is loose.

And in the end, Luna can't do anything. There's only one creature who truly believes she could defeat Princess Celestia... the monster that Sunset became upon wearing the Element of Magic. Now, Sunset's called to battle, to save one she loves.

It's amazing what sort of bonding one can do over one's demons, isn't it?

Now, that being said, anyone surprised I snuck SunLight into here? No? I didn't think so. In fact, I had an adorable scene of Sunset knocking SciTwi off the couch when she woke up... but it broke the flow of the story and I had to cut it. Don't worry. I'm pretty sure I can work that scene into another story at some point.

So, I think that about covers things. I didn't really feel up to a full blog, so hopefully this does the trick.

As usual, special thanks go out to the Wavelengths Editing Team!
Ebon Quill - You have him to thank for "catty" Daybreaker. Seriously. This guy is scary good at villians. And also him to thank for last-second redlining of the story and working way past the time he should have been asleep to make this story as awesome as possible.
Little Tinker - For tinkering with things. :trollestia:
Beltorn & Cursori: Finding time for Dreaming even in the middle of Enchanted Library finishing its first volume.
Painted Heart: She's my wife. I'm legally required to thank her. Under pain of pain.

Finally, if you enjoyed seeing Sunset Shimmer reconnect with Princess Celestia again, make sure to check out the Wavelengths Timeline, my ongoing series of stories that explore an Equestria where Sunset remained Celestia's student. Also, you might want to read And a Sky Full of Stars if you want to just see Sunset kick some serious flank in a radically different alternate universe!

Until next time, this has been Novel Idea! Have fun out there!

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