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Forbidden Knowledge · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
As I reached the top of the steps and proceeded in through the open door of the grand entryway of the Canterlot Royal Palace, I looked up at the carved white stone arch overhead and I was hit by a slight sense of vertigo. The height surprised me. After having lived here, I’d thought every detail was burned in forever, but I guess not. This building suddenly seemed bigger than I remembered, and a lot more intimidating.

But, then, years ago, I was a lot more jaded and prone to take my surroundings for granted.

For example, I never really paid attention back then to the way sunlight came through the stained glass windows in softly blending pastel colors to fill the huge vestibule with a sense of open, airy radiance that made me feel as if I could float down the hall like a feather on a breeze. It was beautiful and breathtaking, and to my shame I didn’t remember noticing.

Maybe I’d even forgotten that the palace itself belonged to she who brought the sun whose light filled it. All that had mattered to me at the time was that I lived there, and what glory I could garner from that. Such is the blindness of hubris.

I lowered my head just a bit, cringing in silent, solitary embarrassment, and proceeded inward.

Not all recollection of the palace had faded, I found. My hooves remembered the way over to the left wing, winding down the halls to the block of private offices I was headed for, and they remembered which one I needed to stop in front of. I kept a respectful distance back from the two guards who stood flanking the door.

The guards, with coats and manes of pure white like marble statues under mirror-finished golden armor, were a lot more imposing now. When I lived here, I would have just ignored them and gone in, and they would have let me.

Things were very different now.

“Hello,” I said, trying to sound as friendly as I could. “The Princess is expecting me.”

The guards looked thoroughly unimpressed and stared at me without expression until I dug a letter out of my saddlebag and presented it to them. After reading it, they glanced at each other curiously for a moment and nodded at me to approach the door.

I walked up to it and knocked.

“Enter,” a soft, clear voice spoke, emanating from inside.

There was no sound as the door swung open, the hinges as silky smooth as I remembered them always being. I walked in and the gentle scent hit me; tea and pastries, scrolls and ink and a bare hint of the waxy smoke from candles used for working at night, but long since snuffed out in the daytime. That scent hadn’t changed, nor had the furniture, or anything else in here. This room was timeless through all my memory, a fitting reflection of its occupant.

“Sunset Shimmer.” Princess Celestia stood with her back to me, gazing out of the bay window in the far wall. “You’ve come back to me at last.”

I swallowed. “I guess I have, Princess.”

She turned away from the window to face me. I stood frozen while she took a few slow steps and closed in, towering over me by more than a full head as she approached. We stood staring at each other for a moment, me up at her, and her down at me, until she reached out with a front leg and scooped me into a gentle hug. A sense of relief broke over me, and I leaned in and hugged her back.

“It’s good to see you again, my old student,” she said softly in my ear.

“Good to see you again, too.” I replied. “I missed you.”

We parted, and she smiled down warmly at me. “Can I offer you some refreshment? You must tell me all about the world you’ve been living in, and this ‘human’ form you’ve taken on. Twilight Sparkle tells me it’s quite unlike anything we know of here on Equus.”

“Actually, Princess, I thought I’d start by telling you something about myself, from before I left,” I said. “It’s something I’ve owed it to you to tell you for a long time, so I’d like to get it out of the way.”

“Oh. Is that why you came all the way back here in person?”

“It is.” I nodded.

“I suspected there might have been a specific reason.” Princess Celestia shrugged. “It’s much easier to communicate with Princess Twilight and have her to forward messages to me, after all.”

“You got me.” I smiled and nodded slightly. “This is something I didn’t really think was a good idea to send through Princess Twilight. I’m pretty sure you’ll understand why, when I tell you.”

“And what is it?”

I stared into her big rose colored eyes, locking with them as they gazed back at me. I braced, steeling myself. “I know.”

“Oh?” Celestia raised one eyebrow, seeming confused. “...What is it that you know?”

“Where I came from, and why,” I said. “I know that you... you made me.”

“Oh, Sunset...” Celestia laughed, a brief, clear, soft sound. “Surely you’re well aware of where foals come from. I think you know perfectly well that your parents are the ones who made you.”

“I don’t mean literally.” I shook my head. “I mean, you’ve been steering certain unicorns together for generations, trying to get tailor-made foals, and then maneuvering those foals into other matches when they grow up to get even more refined foals. You made my parents, and their parents before them, and who knows how many branches back in my family tree.”

“Well, I have sometimes arranged certain fortuitous meetings and encouraged particular romances, I suppose.” Princess Celestia nodded. “But mating has always been a personal decision my little ponies make for themselves. It’s always been their choice, not mine, to actually start families and produce foals.”

“I’m not saying it wasn’t their choice.” I shook my head. “And I’m not making any accusations that influencing things was wrong. I don’t think I can judge one way or another. It’s not my place. I’m just trying to explain, I know you’ve been doing a lot of the steering behind the scenes in some family lines. You’ve been doing it for a very, very long time, and I know that I’m one of the results.”

“You know this how?” she asked.

“I found your genealogical records and their notes,” I said.

“The private genealogical papers, you mean?” Princess Celestia stared at me.

“Yes, those.” I nodded.

She narrowed her eyes.

“I know, I know, it was in a part of the archives you told me not to go in, and they were locked up, but... well... I did, and I’m sorry, and it was wrong of me and et cetera, but all that’s not the point right now. The point is, there’s something I need to explain about it.”

Princess Celestia walked over to one of the large cushions scattered around the floor of the room and laid down on her belly, getting more comfortable, and motioned for me to do the same. “Explain, then.”

I chose a cushion nearby and joined her on the floor. “It’s why I became the rotten, entitled pony I did,” I said. “I found those records, and all the notes about ponies being selected for further potential, and promising crosses, and all that. My name was at the end of the list, with ‘success’ written next to it circled and exclamation marked, so I kinda got it in my head that this was all just some centuries-long engineering project and I was the end result. That was the day I started to think I was above everypony else. I thought I was more deserving of everything I wanted because I’d literally been designed and made to be better than anypony else ever had been before.”

“I see.”

“Thinking you’re the best kinda goes to your head a little bit,” I continued. “But at the same time, I was also afraid of it. That was why I ran away.”

“You were afraid of believing you were the best?” Princess Celestia looked at me questioningly.

“I was afraid of why I was made to be the best,” I said. “I mean, it wasn’t hard to figure out from your notes what you were working to create. The records started almost exactly a thousand years ago, and some of them were about which ponies you thought might have a connection to the Element of Magic. Putting two and two together was easy. You were creating a pony that could deal with Nightmare Moon.”

“I was looking for ponies who could save my sister,” she corrected me. “But it’s close enough, you have the general idea. If you had told me, I would have been unhappy that you’d been in the archives without permission, but I would have been even more proud of you. Being able to deduce this puzzle only proves that I was right to label you a success in that regard. You could have been the one.”

“But I wasn’t,” I whispered, hanging my head.

“Let’s leave aside what you were or were not, for the moment,” Princess Celestia said gently. “I’m more interested to know why you say that this potential frightened you.”

“Because I was just a little filly who didn’t have any friends when I found out, and I didn’t understand that I could have any other value,” I said. “And I started thinking, if I was engineered for a purpose, then I’m just a tool. And what happens when you’re done using a tool? You put it away and forget about it until next time you need it. But my job was a one-shot thing, and when it was done there wouldn’t be a next time. If I faced Nightmare Moon, then I might lose against her, and that would be it for me. I’d just be a failure after all. But on the other hoof, there was a good chance I’d win, which almost seemed worse: if I did, then my only job was finished, so why would you keep me around? What’s the value? I guess I kind of assumed you’d be like, ‘thanks, here’s your medal, but I don’t need you as a student anymore, have a nice life, bye.’”

“You... really think I would do such a thing?” Princess Celestia’s face took on a look of blank surprise.

“Not anymore, I don’t.” I shook my head. “I was just confused at the time. It... it was very depersonalizing to think I was designed as just a little part of some plan. I felt like a machine. Like I had no control over my own future because it had been decided for me by generations of selective breeding. With the thousandth year closing in, my time was running out. I was going to end up not even out of my teens and already either defeated or washed up and useless because my only reason for existing had come and gone.”

“It makes sense, from that perspective.” Princess Celestia sighed. “I suppose I would have run, too. The portal would have seemed like an ideal escape, wouldn’t it?”

“It was my chance to go somewhere I wouldn’t have to face Nightmare Moon, and where I didn’t feel like my reason for existing had already been decided. That felt like my only way to have real choices. I wanted that real life of my own.”

“And have you found one?”

I thought for a moment, then I smiled and nodded. “I think I have,” I said. “It took a while, and it was rough at first, but... I guess things aren’t too bad now.”

“Then I’m glad.” Princess Celestia smiled. “And I’m sorry things didn’t work here.”

“In honesty, I don’t think I really gave them the chance to,” I said. “I thought I knew everything. I thought striking off before I could get hurt was the only thing I could do.”

Princess Celestia’s smile faded. “I’m sorry if what I did hurt you,” she said. “I’ll admit, I gave perhaps too little thought to the ethical questions of how eugenically breeding special lines might impact ponies. I was guilty of making my own assumptions: that what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them, and that the good done by such powerful unicorns would outweigh the drawbacks. It’s easy to be too optimistic about these things when you’re desperate for a solution, as I was. I hope you can forgive me.”

“I’m not mad at you, Princess,” I said, shaking my head. “...Alright, I was at first, for a while, but not anymore. Especially not since Twilight told me what happened when she took on Nightmare Moon.”

“Oh? What made the difference as far as that was concerned?” Princess Celestia asked, shifting on her cushion.

“It was that she didn’t just defeat Nightmare Moon,” I said. “It was that you got your sister back again. When I heard that, I realized what it was really about. So I put myself in your horseshoes, and I asked myself, what would I have done to get my sister back? The answer is, I would have done almost anything. A thousand years of sleight-of-hoof to arrange for some students with good genepools would have hardly even registered on my moral compass, compared to what else it could have taken, so I guess I can hardly blame anypony else for reaching the same conclusion and doing the same thing.”

“I’m glad you’ve come to be so understanding,” Princess Celestia said. “But even so, I do wonder if it was ever right of me to have kept this a secret. Especially now, hearing your story, I have to seriously consider if I should tell all the others affected by this.”

“I... I don’t know.” I sighed. “I’d have no idea how to even start, with something like that. I can tell you there was a reason I never told Twilight, though. I could have. Her family tree is in those papers, just like mine. Actually, our trees both split off sort of recently from a common ancestor you thought had a lot of potential. It makes me and Twilight something like fourth cousins, I think. Anyway, the point is I knew that she was one of your hedged bets in case I didn’t work out. Which, considering what happened, I guess I have to say was a smart move.”

“Why didn’t you tell her, then?” Princess Celestia asked.

“It was half selfish and half... something else,” I said. “It was selfish because, I figured, better her than me, right? I’d already escaped, so what did I care whether she won or lost when Nightmare Moon returned?” I shrugged. “Or at least that was what I told myself. But I think there was another reason, too. Some part of me knew I was making a big mistake by running away, and I didn’t want her to make one just like it.”

The princess stood up and paced around, slowly, stopping again at the bay window and staring out of it in silence for a while.

“Would you object to a walk outside in the gardens?” she asked. “The day is too beautiful to be wasting in here.”

“I wouldn’t mind that at all, Princess,” I agreed.

Her horn flashed, the brilliant white-gold of sunlight, and we were teleported out to the rose garden the window had just overlooked. Sprawling well-manicured beds of thorny bushes surrounded us, all of them flush with blooms. Celestia bent down slightly to put her muzzle up to a spectacularly large white flower, and slowly breathed in, closing her eyes and smiling slightly while she soaked in the scent.

“I’m afraid I realize I’ve created a situation I’m not sure how to handle, Sunset,” she said, turning slowly to face me again. “When I find myself in such a position, this is a place I go to find solace while I think about what I’ve done. The roses, at least, never have a harsh word to say.”

“I’m not sure what to tell you, Princess.” I looked around. It was a beautiful day, like she’d said. The sun was warm, with not a cloud in the endless blue sky. The sea of roses all around us swayed gently in a soft breeze, and I stared at them, thinking quietly for a while as we stood next to each other.

“I only hope you understand that a tool is not all you ever were to me,” Princess Celestia said, still looking lost in studying a rose blossom. “Whatever I had hoped you might help me with, I always believed that there was more to you than just the means to an end. I believe that about all ponies, however highly pedigreed or not they might be. They are all a worthy end in themselves.”

She paced down the edge of a flowerbed, and I followed her. She stopped abruptly and stared at a rose, an intense burgundy-red like the color of blood, watching a bee hard at work climbing among its petals.

“I can make plans, and I can work magic, but there’s a difference between magic and miracles,” she continued softly. “And life, all life, is a miracle, Sunset Shimmer. You no less than this rose bush.”

The bee finished collecting whatever it was after and flew off.

She hooked a forehoof around the flower’s stem and pulled it a little closer, examining it. “I would never think all the value it has rests in just one flower, and that after the single bloom fades, there is no further purpose for it to be in the garden. I know that the rose bush blooms many times, year after year, and nopony can ever say that it will not offer more and better yet to come.”

She put her wing around me and pulled me close, next to her. “I always looked forward to seeing what flowers you would blossom with in the course of time,” she said sadly, “and it hurt, for years, to think that I never would.”

My eyes started watering. I sniffed heavily, trying to swallow down sudden tears. “I’m sorry I ran away,” I said weakly. “I should have just told you I knew. I should have let you explain.”

She gently nuzzled the side of my head. “No. I’m the one who should not have failed you. If I had been more clear that I cared about who you are as a pony, and not as a tool, it would have been better for you. But perhaps there was also nothing either of us could have done. Perhaps you just needed to be on your own path for a time.”

I couldn’t say anything. She just held me next to her for a while, until I began to calm down and the hitching in my chest slowed.

“We can still become friends again, though, can’t we?” I asked, blinking and wiping my cheeks dry.

“Well, perhaps.” She rolled her eyes in thought. “There’s just one thing we need to clear up and lay to rest.”

I looked up at her. “What is it, Princess?”

“There’s still the matter that you stole Equestrian crown property,” she said, stepping around from the side to stand in front of me. “You were never officially taken to trial for it, since you’ve never been back inside Equestrian jurisdiction long enough to put on trial. It demands a resolution.”

“You don’t mean—”

Princess Celestia stomped the ground lightly with one forehoof, standing stiffly with her head held high in a formal pose. “Sunset Shimmer, on the count of grand larceny, how do you plead?”

I stood motionless, my heart beating quickly and my throat suddenly feeling too dry to speak. Princess Celestia’s stern façade cracked, however, as she smiled kindly and winked at me.

It was a comforting gesture, and I found myself trusting her. Besides, I thought, I was already here to face the music. I might as well just face it all and get it over with. There was only one honest thing to say. “Uhh... guilty, your Highness?” I finally managed, smiling back sheepishly.

“Very well.” Princess Celestia nodded. “I accept the entering of a guilty plea. And I sentence you...”

My stomach felt like it dropped from under me.

“...To banishment from Equestria, for a period of no less and no longer than one day. Credit is granted for time already served beyond the portal. With the sentence having been completed, I hereby further declare that any records of this conviction are expunged, on the grounds of being a youthful error in judgment and the demonstration of much improved character. I also don’t feel like ruining a nice afternoon with paperwork writing any of this down, so if it’s alright with you, we can just skip that part, shall we?” She waved a hoof lazily.

“I think I’m okay with that,” I laughed, with great relief. “So it’s over, like it never happened? I’m clear to come back to Equestria any time I want?”

“Of course.” Princess Celestia nodded. “And I hope you will, frequently.”

“It’s a sure thing, Princess,” I said with a nod. “And.... no more secrets. Not anymore.”

“No, Sunset.” She reached out with one wing and rubbed my withers comfortingly. “No more secrets. We’ll leave them behind, so that we can heal, instead of hide.”

In that moment I felt like a splinter of glass had been pulled from my heart, and, for the first time in as long as I could remember, there was finally relief from that old familiar jagged pain.

I hugged Celestia, and she hugged me, and I was happy.
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#1 · 2
Sweet, heartwarming and over all okay. Just a solid and craftsman like pony story.

Bland and safe though.
#2 ·
Overall, I like this. It's got its focus, and it doesn't deviate from the objective, that being Sunset talking to Celestia about why she left. Writing's solid, too, and bonus points for the parallel with the roses (however heavy-handed it might be).

My main gripe with this story is less in the execution and more the believability of Sunset's motives in aligning with those shown in Equestria Girls. I could see it working perfectly well as an AU or if EqG was never a thing, but given Sunset's clear intentions in the movie, her desires for otherworldly domination aren't handwaved enough here, in my opinion.

Celestia comes off a little succinct in her dialogue early on, but that might just be more of a blinder caused by 5+ years of fandom interpretation than anything else.
#3 ·
Nicely done, very sweet, well paced. an enjoyable read. I can't comment on the conformance to canon when it comes to Sunset Shimmer, as I'm not a fan of EG, but the overall idea of Celestia embarking on a multi-generational exercise to "encourage certain traits to develop among her little ponies" is one I've use in fiction before to explain the amplitude of Twilight's and Shining's magical powers.
#4 ·
After a few other stories, this was a nice palate cleanser.

It was a solid plot with a solid execution. The idea of Celestia pulling the strings from behind the scenes is always an appealing concept. I feel there's not much to say, given the self-contained nature of this story. I wish there was more to it, though I couldn't even begin to find a way to do it.

That's the issue, I believe. This is a nice SoL one-shot, and that's about it. It's a very well done SoL one-shot, but that's really it, there's not much substance to it once its conflict was resolved, and for a story like this, that's a good thing.
#5 ·
Definitely agreeing with the others. Good idea, good execution, and it fits why she went power mad and eventually sorta-kinda-crazy.

I mean when you're told, hey, you are the Kwisatz Haderach, that's kinda a lot of pressure.
#6 ·
Well, that was a solid, heartwarming story. It didn't really jump up bite me on the nose, but it did all it set out to do and did it well. The plot makes sense, and everyone seems to be in character, acting reasonably and believably. Though I'll admit, I find it a bit selfish of Sunset to run off like that. Understandable, but selfish. After all, an apocalypse might well be descending on Equestria, and she's been raised to stand against it... Cutting out because she's worried about the aftermath, and thus leaving the whole world in danger seems a bit cowardly. At least she knew Celestia had replacements in the winds...

All in all, pretty good story. I enjoyed it!
#7 ·
I liked it. It's a story that knows what it wants to be and do, and it does it well. I always appreciate a story like that.
Nice characterizations for both Sunset and Princess Celestia. Their exchange felt natural and managed to avoid feeling like talking-heads.
I enjoyed the rose blossom bit. Very heartwarming.
Not much else to say, I'm afraid. It's good, I enjoyed it, and it demonstrates your talent for writing.
Nicely done.
#8 ·
I'm afraid I have to agree with Obscure, here. Bland and safe.

It was well written, though, and I smiled at it. I'm a sucker for redemption stories. I like to think that people can redeem themselves of past mistakes.

But, yeah, there's no ambition here. There doesn't need to be for a story to be enjoyable – but it's what I look for when I'm ranking a story as a work of art.
#9 ·
I guess 9th place is...

Meh. Whatever. I guess I could have done worse, considering I had less than twelve hours in which to write, so that's something.

I'm afraid to respond much further right now, because I'm dealing with a lot of stuff that's causing me a lot of irritation and anxiety and I'm going to end up carelessly spouting off and sounding like a dick if I don't watch it.