Ice Iris

by Albi

Chapter 1: Homecoming II

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Sunset Shimmer stepped out of the kaleidoscopic light show, still laughing at the astoundment on Twilight Sparkle’s face as she left the human world. Her yellow hooves touched the cold dais upon which sat the mirror portal linking the two worlds. The first step into Equestria always proved to be a doozy, and this time was no exception. Sunset’s knees wobbled in their readjustment to being connected to hooves instead of feet.

Fortunately, a purple hoof rested on Sunset’s shoulders and guided her down the steps; a second hoof joined the first as it wrapped Sunset into a hug.

Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Equestria, smooshed her cheek against Sunset’s. “It’s so good to see you again!”

“Twilight, you saw me a month ago,” the side of Sunset’s mouth that wasn’t being flattened said. At least, it had been a month on her end. Twilight had finally gotten Sunset’s messages about needing help during the Friendship Games and rushed over… only to meet her human counterpart in a very awkward and stilted conversation.

She finally released Sunset. “I know. I just meant, it’s nice to see you as a pony again. And, I don’t know—” Twilight blushed “—I get a little more sentimental around the holidays.”

Sunset looked up at the library in which the mirror portal resided. Decorative lights shining green, gold, red, and purple dangled from the higher shelves. Snow fell from the ceiling but never touched the ground, disappearing without a trace just over Sunset’s head. “More sentimental?” she said as she walked along the edge of the library. “I didn’t think that was possible for you.”

Twilight crossed the library in a single flap and lightly nudged Sunset’s shoulder. “Hush, you.” Both of them shared a giggle as Twilight pushed the doors open and led Sunset into the hall. Lights and holly coated the crystal pillars, and snow fell from the ceiling here as well. “I’m really glad you’re here though. There’s so many things I want to talk to you about, what with all the magic popping up in the human world—and those geodes you found at camp!” She sighed dreamily. “But I’m also really happy you’re going to spend Hearth’s Warming with your family.”

Sunset rubbed her cheek as a smile stretched over her face. As much as she would love to gush and speculate the possibilities of new magic with Twilight, Sunset wanted to catch the first train to Canterlot. After the Friendship Games and almost losing her access to Equestria, Sunset had rushed home to spend a day with them. Another month away, and Sunset could barely contain her excitement.

After years of being apart, her family was going to spend Hearth’s Warming all together in the house Sunset grew up in. Her parents still weren’t ‘together’ but Sunset held onto the foalish hope that the magic of the holidays might be the push they need to fully reconcile. She was fully prepared to meddle if she had to!

Twilight led Sunset into the great hall where a large Hearth’s Warming Tree stood proudly decorated in the center. Presents were already piled at its base. While Sunset looked forward to going home, she did feel bad about missing Twilight’s Hearth Warming party; half of Ponyville was due to attend.

Sunset’s ears twitched, and she looked about the hall, scanning the balcony. “Where’s Starlight? You’ve written so much about her, I was kinda hoping to say hi.”

Twilight frowned. “I don’t know. She’s been acting a little… distant recently. I’ll have to talk with her soon. I’d hate to see her sad at the party.”

As they approached the front door, Sunset lifted a crimson scarf from her saddlebag and wrapped it around her neck; Twilight pushed the door open, letting in a blast of cold air. Real snow fell from the sky, making it all the way to the ground and leaving a fine layer of white over the roads and fields. Sunset hopped down the steps and stuck her tongue out to catch snowflakes.

“I can tell you’re excited,” Twilight said with a giggle.

Sunset rolled her snow-coated tongue back in her mouth. “You would be, too, if you had a string of holidays like mine.” She involuntarily winced, remembering her last three Christmases in the human world. Two of her miserable experiences had been her own fault, while the last one had been brought about by three jealous girls. She prayed spending a holiday at home would break the cycle.

They strolled through town, admiring the giant candy canes set up in the square, and how the snow on the rooftops made Ponyville look like a collection of gingerbread houses. Sunset gave Twilight a detailed account of her trip to Camp Everfree and the magic that had taken place there. Twilight listened with giddy interest, providing a list of hypotheses when Sunset finished.

“My strongest idea is that maybe there’s some version of the Tree of Harmony in the human world that’s connected to ours. The tree sensed an increased frequency of danger and produced magic to help you combat it.”

“That’s one idea,” Sunset said hesitantly. “But now I’m just thinking, what could be coming that’s so bad, a tree had to give us superpowers? Well, it gave my friends superpowers—I can just feel emotions and see memories. Handy, but not exactly what I’d call ‘super.’”

Twilight gave her an encouraging smile. “Don’t underestimate yourself. You’re their leader. They look to you for guidance. That’s a pretty important power.”

Sunset blushed under the praise, her face warm against the cold wind. They arrived at the train station with the midday express to Canterlot set to arrive in a few minutes. With thick gray clouds overhead, it was hard to tell the time.

“I hope you have a good time with your family,” Twilight said, embracing Sunset.

“Thanks.” Sunset nuzzled her neck. “I hope you have a good party.”

“You know Pinkie. As long as she’s involved, any party is a good one.”

The whistle of an oncoming train drowned out their giggling. The Friendship Express pulled into the station with a hiss of steam as it came to a stop. Once the passengers got off, Sunset gave Twilight one last hug and jumped on. They waved at each other through the window until the train pulled out of the station.

Sunset climbed into her seat and spent five minutes trying to get comfortable. She could never figure out why sitting down as a pony always took so much effort after she’d been away so long. In the end she gave up and sat down like a human, leaning her back against the wall and closing her eyes. In the darkness she saw the faces of her friends back in the other world.

Ever since she had made amends with her family and Princess Celestia, Sunset struggled with a life altering decision: did she remain in the human world, or did she return to Equestria permanently?

She couldn’t keep jumping back and forth due to the time difference. Her friends were going to graduate soon and move on with their lives. Sunset thought that would make the decision easier. But now, with the discovery of the geodes and their new powers, maybe Sunset was supposed to stay in the other world and defend it.

“Urgh.” Sunset rubbed her eyes. “No more thinking about this. Vacation time.” She turned her thoughts to her mother’s wildberry crepes, and her father belting out holiday carols while she and Spitfire argued over who would get to put the star atop the tree this year. Her frustrated grimace melted into a smile.

The train pulled into Canterlot Station an hour later, and Sunset burst from the doors and onto the slippery platform, quickly casting a traction spell to stop herself from sliding into a pillar. Only after did she see the caution sign.

Canterlot in winter held an even greater air of regality compared to the other seasons. The normally proud and majestic city received an extra layer of extravagance when the snow fell and decorations went up. Green wreaths and red holly accented the usual purple and gold. Bells hung from lanterns, ribbons spiraling up every column, and a fully decorated tree sat on every corner.

Sunset meandered around the station for a few minutes, admiring the scenery and making sure she didn’t miss her mother or Spitfire. While she was glad her sister hadn’t been there to see her near collision, she had hoped somepony would be here to greet her. When it became evident no one would come, she started down the road. All the snow had been pushed to one side or the other, where foals had used it to build armies of snowponies.

Regular ponies trotted about, smiles in their eyes and songs on their lips. Store windows were lit up and filled with holiday dresses and toys. Bells jingled in the towers overhead, sending crystal chimes swirling down with the snowflakes. Every which way Sunset turned her head, the scene looked like a Hearth’s Warming greeting card.

She moved away from the bustling city center to the quiet suburbs on the eastern side closer to the mountain. Neat rows of houses rose up on either side of her, their well-maintained lawns covered in snow and hoofprints. The owners of those prints—colts and fillies freshly released from their schooling—pranced about the neighborhood, flinging snowballs at one another with their magic.

Sunset turned a corner and moved down to the third house on the block, a tan two-story building with a dark brown roof. An old porch swing rocked back and forth in the wind. Sunset frowned at the sight of her mother’s front garden, the flowers picked and their bushes dying in the winter cold. Such was nature. She walked up the steps, feeling a new sturdiness in them. Dad must have put some work in.


A cold, hard mass smacked against the back of her head and dripped into her scarf. She shuddered as the slush ran down her neck.

“All right!” She swung her head around, grabbing a wad of snow in her magic. “Which of you half-pints—”

Rancorous laughter came from just over Sunset’s head. She ran off the porch and looked onto the roof to see a fiery maned pegasus rolling on her back.

“Score one for the home team!”

Sunset lobbed her snowball, but the mare just deflected with her wing. “Come on, Spits, I haven’t even been home two seconds!”

“Consider it a homecoming gift.” Spitfire grinned mischievously at her. She jumped off the roof, a duffel bag in one hoof, and landed next to Sunset. “Sup, dodo?”

Sunset eyed the bag. “Are you just getting in now?”

Spitfire nodded. “Yeah. We had our last show before our holiday break. I was actually on my way to see if you were at the station yet, and lo and behold, I saw you making your way here. So I followed and decided to plan a little sneak attack.” She got into a crouch and gave a predatory wiggle of her butt.

All Sunset could do was roll her eyes. “So happy to see you, too.”

Spitfire wrapped a hoof around Sunset’s neck and pulled her into a hug; Sunset was only grateful she didn’t get a noogie. “Of course I’m happy to see my baby sister. You keep having these crazy adventures in another dimension; I wanna hear more about them!”

Sunset extricated herself from Spitfire’s chokehold. “Sure, I’ll give you the details while I put the star on the tree.” She skipped up the steps to the front door.

“Oh that’s so cute how you think just because you’ve been gone a few years, it’s your turn.” Spitfire pulled the house key out her bag. “You could have been gone a century, and I’d still fight you hoof and wing for that star.”

“Both of which pale in comparison to my magic,” Sunset said proudly.

Spitfire stuck her tongue out as the door swung open. “Mom, your favorite daughter is home! And Sunset’s here too!”

Sunset punched her on the shoulder. Stepping inside, her eyes gravitated to the bare tree next to the fireplace, devoid of stockings. None of the garland or holiday ornaments had been set up, and thanks to Spitfire’s snowball attack, Sunset only just noticed there hadn’t been a wreath hanging on the door. The only holiday cheer the house sported was the red and gold patterned linen on the table.

“Helloooo?” Sunset called. “Mom?”

“Maybe she went out to get baking supplies?” Spitfire suggested, dumping her things on the couch.

From the second floor descended a short-maned pegasus, his once vibrant red mane turning gray. His muscles sagged a little from disuse, and he wore a short beard on his face. He smiled wearily at the mares before him. “There’s my girls.”

“Dad!” they both shouted, rushing to meet him.

“Shhhh!” He held a hoof to his lips. “Keep your voices down. Your mother… isn’t feeling so hot right now.”

Spitfire fumbled in the air, trying to halt her momentum before she crashed into him. “What? Is she all right?”

Zephyr Spark grimaced, and that was all the answer Sunset needed. Her blood chilled in her veins, and her mind conjured up the worst-case scenarios. It wasn’t fair. They had just been reunited; she couldn’t die now! Sunset still had so much time to make up for!

Her father placed a hoof on her shoulder, urging Sunset to meet his eyes. “Don’t panic,” he said firmly. “I’m sure this is the worst of it. Once she gets some rest and medicine, she’ll be fine. I called for a doctor not too long ago—he should be here soon.”

Though his words held a wealth of conviction, Sunset could see the fear and doubt in his eyes. It spread to her, and she was sure Spitfire had caught it as well. Any words she might have said died in her throat. All she could do was nod in agreement to her father’s attempt at placating their fears.

“Can we see her?” Spitfire asked, her voice scratchier than usual.

Zephyr nodded and led them upstairs to the master bedroom. The lights were off, blinds drawn, leaving just a sliver of winter light to peek through the gap. Dawn Glider lay in bed, the covers drawn up to her neck. A cloth sat upon her forehead, soaking up the sweat running down her colorless face. Despite the thick blankets, she shook like an autumn leaf. Scattered about the floor were mottled feathers.

Sunset approached the bedside, trembling with every step. Her mother’s cheeks were sunken, and puffy bags sat under her eyes. She had never looked so frail. “Mom?” Sunset croaked.

Dawn stirred and squinted her eyes, bloodshot and watery. Her mouth slowly stretched into a pained smile. “Sunset, Spitfire…” She broke into a vicious cough that shook her entire body, broken only by desperate wheezing.

Sunset bit hard on her lip, trying to detract from the pain in her heart. When her mother’s fit finally calmed, Zephyr hurried a glass of water to her mouth. She drank only a quarter of it before shaking her head.

Dawn smiled at them like nothing had happened. “It’s so nice to see my girls together,” she rasped. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “Don’t worry. Mommy just has a bad cold. I’ll be fine in a little bit…” Her light, rhythmic breathing told them she had drifted to sleep.

Zephyr herded them out and swung the door, leaving it open just a crack. He ran a hoof down his face, and Sunset could see he had acquired bags of his own.

“How long has she been like this?” Spitfire asked.

“About a week. I came to visit her and she was coughing and losing some of her feathers. A few days later, she was like this.” He put on another brave face. “But she’ll be fine. I’m sure it’s just a winter bug.”

“Dad, she’s lost most of her feathers,” Sunset said pointedly. “This isn’t just some bug.”

A sharp knock on the door cut off Zephyr’s response. He zipped over and threw it open, ushering in a red unicorn stallion with a dark brown mane dusted with snow. He shook himself and his medical bag off over the welcome mat as best as he could. “Rambunctious kids got me with a snowball. The youth today…” He sniffed and pulled his coat around himself. “I’m Doctor Pulse. Judging by your relatively healthy faces, I’m guessing the patient is elsewhere?” He smirked at his own dry humor.

Sunset and Spitfire shared identical side-glances, assuring the other they also wanted to toss him back into the snow. If their father shared the sentiment, he did a good job at hiding it, leading the doctor upstairs with a hospitable smile.

“Come on.” Spitfire waved a hoof toward the closet under the stairs. “Let’s finish decorating the house. You know how much Mom loves to go all out for Hearth’s Warming.”

“Yeah. It’ll help her feel better once she gets up.” Sunset spared one more look up the stairs before helping Spitfire pull the decoration boxes out from the closet. They set them up in the living room, four boxes side by side. Sunset opened one up, waving away the must collected over a year of storage. She levitated out the holiday quilt that her mother always draped over the couch. “Hey, Spits, how about a race?”

Spitfire looked through the door wreath in her hooves. “You want to race me?

“We each take a box.” Sunset pointed to the outer two. The inner ones were everything that would go on the tree. “Whoever finishes with theirs first gets to put the star on the tree.”

“Oho, you’re so on. No complaining when you lose though, ‘kay?”

“Funny, I was gonna say the same thing.” Sunset lifted a platoon of porcelain pegasi to accompany her quilt. “Ready? Go!”

Spitfire jetted to the front door, threw it open, and tossed the wreath up before zipping back to gather the porch lights. Sunset set the quilt over the sofa, then arranged the angelic looking pegasi on the mantle, setting them in between the family pictures. She grabbed the four stockings and pinned them above the fireplace.

A gust of cold air hit her as Spitfire came back inside and went to work on setting the dining room table, pulling out the cinnamon-scented candles and plastic pine cones. Her nimble hooves grabbed another roll of garland and ran it along the tops of the cabinets, the mirror in the living room, and along the stair banister.

With two flicks of her horn, Sunset replaced the curtains on the kitchen window with white ones stitched with blue snowflakes. She set up the mini light-up Hearth’s Warming tree on the hall table, then rushed over and placed the red and green rug under the tree. As she poked her head up, she called, “Finished!” the exact same moment Spitfire did.

She twisted around and pointed a hoof at her hovering sister. “Are you sure you got everything?”

Spitfire swooped down, grabbed her box, and flipped it onto Sunset’s head. “I dunno, did I?”

Sunset tossed it off. “I blame being rusty at magic. I totally could have done that faster if I had an extra day to practice.”

“Excuses, excuses. I’m willing to concede we tied. So, how are we gonna settle this?”

“Samurai swords to the death?”

Spitfire tapped her chin. “Tempting…” Her ears flicked, and she turned toward the stairs.

Dr. Pulse descended, the lines on his gaunt face hardening as he spotted the mares. The layer of frost lining Sunset’s stomach bit deep. “Well, I already tried to beat around the bush with your father, but there’s no nicer way of saying it.” He paused like he was still considering a way but shrugged. “Your mother has Pegasitis. It’s—”

“Extremely rare and always fatal,” Sunset said, her voice getting softer with every word.

The doctor looked at her with a mix of astoundment and annoyance. “Well, someone in this house is well read. Or morbidly curious. Yes, all the symptoms check out. She’s hung on surprisingly well so far, but this disease is known to move fast.”

“Hang on!” Spitfire landed and tossed her head back and forth between Sunset and Doctor Pulse. “Somepony explain to me what this is?”

He raised an expectant eyebrow at Sunset. When she didn’t answer, he said, “Pegasitis used to be a common disease long, long ago when Equestria was still divided into three tribes. The muscles experience rapid atrophy, which in turn dries up the oil in pegasi feathers, leading to molting.” He heaved a sigh. “Eventually, it attacks the lungs, creating a fluid that fills them until the patient suffocates.” His voice took on a dry tone again. “Some pegasi thought it was a curse from the unicorns. Over the years, it simply stopped happening. This is the first case I’ve seen in my career, and none of my older colleagues have seen it either.”

Spitfire pushed into his personal space, her wings flaring up. “Well, is there a cure?” Her voice bordered on hysterical.

“There is,” he said slowly, taking a step back. “The Ice Iris flower contains the necessary herbal properties to make a cure.”

“Then give her some!”

Doctor Pulse closed his eyes and pressed his ears back. “We don’t have any.”

Spitfire’s wings drooped toward the floor. When she spoke, her words had a wintery bite to them. “What do you mean you don’t have any?

“I mean we don’t have a cure on hoof. The Ice Iris flower itself is extremely sensitive, growing only in its natural habitat: the Crystal Mountains. Even replications of the habitat can’t get it to grow properly. Most of its byproducts are the same way. So no, we don’t have stocks of medicine for a disease that rarely happens, from a flower that won’t grow.”

“And what’s stopping you from going up to the mountains and finding the flower there?”

“Blizzards, dangerous creatures, and its overall rarity,” he said, flicking his tail in agitation. “Even if we started an expedition now, I couldn’t guarantee you would see any sort of results until the start of next year.”

The bite left Spitfire’s voice, leaving just powdery snow. “So that’s it? Mom’s just going to…”

He looked at them with eyes that had gone through this experience too many times, yet were sorry all the same. “She should make it through Hearth’s Warming Day but… I don’t think she’ll see the new year. Truly, I’m sorry.” Picking up his medical bag, he gave a bow of his head, and excused himself out the door.

The soft click of the lock sounded miles off to Sunset. Sometime during the conversation, she had fallen onto her haunches, and now couldn’t find the strength to stand up again. She felt like she had been left out in the snow too long. Fragments of thoughts littered the empty landscape of her mind.

Mom’s sick. No cure. Won’t see the new year. This would be the last holiday she would spend with her mother. With her family as a whole, unbroken unit.

“Spitfire.” Her voice creaked like the wood on the front porch.

Spitfire turned her head, showing off a gaze hot enough to melt the frozen north. “I’m going up there. I’m going to find this plant, get a cure, and save Mom.”

Her sister’s heated glare was enough to jumpstart her body again. Sunset stood at attention, ears following suit. “Hold on, you can’t go up there alone.”

“I’ll be quick. Get up there, nab the flower, come back.”

Sunset furrowed her brow. “You don’t even know what an Ice Iris looks like. Dr. Pulse is right, that flower is rare, plus it blends in extremely well with the snow. And you wouldn’t even know where to start looking.”

Spitfire marched toward her, a challenge in her step. “So what, you think you can find it fast enough?”

“No, but—and here’s a crazy idea—let’s work together and find it!”

Spitfire stopped her advance and blinked, like she was coming out of a daze. “Right. Yeah. It’s just, I can fly and you can’t. Getting there is going to take forever by train. You can’t just draw me a map and a picture?”

Sunset shook her head obstinately. “Even if I could, I wouldn’t. You heard what he said. Blizzards and monsters; this is too dangerous for you to go alone. Plus, this is our mother. We should be doing this together.” Sunset held her hoof out.

Spitfire looked down at it, her expression unreadable. For a moment, Sunset thought she was going to say ‘no.’ Then, a begrudging smirk pulled across her lips. “Always gotta be sentimental now, don’t you? But you’re right. It might not be as fast, but it will be safer. Just try not to slow me down too much, okay?” She bumped her hoof against Sunset’s.

“Funny, I was gonna say the same to you.” Sunset looked toward the stairs. “Now we just have to tell Dad.”

Author's Notes:

Set in Season 6, in a slightly different canon where the events of "Rarity Investigates!" played out a little differently. Mainly, there was no mention of Ice Iris or their mother being sick.

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