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/ The Smell of Death / Story: The Demon of Mars / by morion87 /-/

Princess Celestia was not having a good day. Something that was very rare for the Solar Princess. But today was proving the exception. And it all had to to with her student, Sunset Shimmer.

The two of them had finally come to blows over Sunset's demands to be made an alicorn and a Princess of Equestria. Celestia, as she had before, had, of course, refused to do so. Sunset was not yet ready, nor did she deserve it at this time.

But something had changed now. Sunset's demands were the same, but her anger had grown from a mere temper tantrum to outright threats, and when Celestia had once more refused to do so, Sunset had attacked her.

The attack had no effect of course. Even at her worst, it would take a lot more than a unicorn with delusions of goddesshood to hurt Princess Celestia. But the beam of magic had another effect.

Never before, even when she and Sunset had dueled each other with magic, had Sunset done this. Her attack had meant to put Celestia out for some time, or outright kill her.

When the smoke had cleared, and she had seen her magic had no effect, Sunset had stormed off, the Royal Guard too stunned at what had just happened, to stop her.

Celestia had let her go and had given orders that Sunset was to be left alone. Her heart had broken at the sight. The mare who had once looked up to her with awe, who she almost considered her daughter, had attacked her. Not for play, but in anger.

Celestia had wept long into the night, wondering again why those close to her always pushed her away. First Luna, and now Sunset.

She had barely had the energy to raise the sun this morning, but she could not let her own anguish fall on those who didn't deserve it. And then, just as she was about to head down for breakfast, had come the news she didn't want to hear.

Sunset Shimmer was gone. Not only from the castle but also seemingly from Canterlot as well. No guards had seen her leave the main gates, nor even one of the side entrances and nopony matching Sunset had boarded a train leaving the city.

As much as Celestia wanted to deny it, that left only one possible place Sunset could've fled to. The World Mirror had become active the day before, and she knew Sunset knew that as well. Why she would flea through it was beyond her at the moment.

Right now, all that mattered was that they find her, and try to bring her home. Who knew what waited on the other side of the mirror? Celestia herself didn't, but it was possible Sunset did.

At the moment though, her current mood was even sourer as her Seneschal Kibitz once again tried to get her to move on to the day's agenda.

"If you stop this nonsense now, you will still have time to be ready for the Morning Session of Day Court. The Royal Kitchens have been alerted to the change of schedule for the day. I do not see why you waste your-"

A white wing blocked his path, and the heat of the corridor went up several degrees as Princess Celestia turned to look at him. Her eyes narrowed as she stood in front of him and lowered her head to his level.

"Kibitz. I suggest you think about how you plan to finish that sentence. I have put up with your obsession with a strict schedule with no thought of ever-changing it at the last minute because you have done exemplary work for so long," she said in a low voice, on that brokered no argument. "But I suggest you remember who you are speaking too. I am putting my hoof down on this, and I will not be argued with. Understood?"

Kibitz, for the first time in a very long time, nodded meekly. Even he knew that when the princess was like this, there was literally nothing anypony could say that would change her mind.

Celestia nodded as she looked at the door they had stopped at. Opening it with a burst of magic, the group entered what looked like nothing more than a storage room, one with only one item, a large mirror against the far wall.

Only a few knew that this wasn't an ordinary mirror, but a portal to another world. As the group looked it over, Celestia sent a pulse of magic around the room, one that confirmed her worst fears.

Sunset had indeed come through hear earlier that morning. Her magic trail leads right through the mirror. Celestia bowed her head. This was her worst fears confirmed. Sunset Shimmer had abandoned Equestria for whatever world lay on the other side of the mirror.

Kibitz looked at the mirror with some interest, while the Royal Guard showed no sign they even cared at all. "Where did this even come from?" Kibitz finally asked. He knew of the mirror only in passing, but it was still something.

Celestia smiled fondly at a long-ago memory. "Starswirl and I found it not long before the Pillars were formed. We only know for sure that it opens to another world, and that remains open for three days, before closing for another thirty moons."

"And Sunset Shimmer went through it?" One of the guards asked.

Celestia nodded. "Yes. But why she would flee to the other world, I do not know. I myself do not know much about it, and I fear what may happen if I follow her."

"So what is to be done now?" Kibitz asked.

Before Celestia had a chance to reply, a hot wind blew outward from the portal, blowing all of their manes wildly. On the breeze came another thing as well. A stench that made everypony cough and wretch at the sheer unpleasantness of it. Not even the guards could hide their sick looks. Celestia knew what it was, though it had been a long time since she had smelled it.

It was the smell of burning flesh.

"What. What is that?" One pony finally asked.

Celestia shook her head. "Death. The smell of death."

She bowed her head, as her tears flowed now. "Oh, Sunset. Please. Be careful. Come home. Please."

Sunset's ears were still ringing by the time Applejack ran back to her, her expression one of pure panic. "We gotta go. Now!" She yelled, pulling Sunset to her feet and dragging her to the back of the building.

As they came to the back room, Sunset finally pulled herself together and pulled herself out of Applejack's grip. "I can walk on my own, thank you. What was that back there?"

Applejack shook her head as the two of them came to the back. "Pluma. Darn varmint machines. One of them shows up, and you're in trouble. Run ahead of them mobile armors they do, and the momma machine ain't far behind usually. And there's never just one. One of them shows up in your town, ain't nothing living ever comes out of it."

Sunset tried to make sense of that, but even then, she could hear the distant sounds of further explosions and people screaming. "So, what then? We run? I've never run from a fight in my life Applejack."

Applejack chuckled. "I hear ya. Unless ya got some superweapon in that jacket of yours, running is all we got now."

That shut Sunset up. She didn't have anything tucked away like that. If this was Equestria, she'd march out there and teach that Pluma a thing or two herself. But this wasn't Equestria, and her magic might as well have been on the moon for all she could use it now.

But that didn't mean she had to like it, as Applejack pushed open the door and lead her out into an alley that ran behind the building. The stench of garbage was overshadowed by the smell of smoke and destroyed buildings, and something else. Something that made Sunset want to vomit right then and there.

The stench of burning flesh.

She swallowed, trying to keep her lunch where it belonged, but it was easier said than done. "So where are supposed to go then?" She asked as she steadied herself on a nearby wall.

Applejack shook her head. "I still have friends in the city. We all agreed to meet behind the restaurant. I ain't leaving without them or my family."

"Where is your family?" Sunset asked.

"Don't rightly know myself. Granny had knitting with some of her friends, and who knows where Applebloom ran off too," Applejack grumbled. "Darn kid gets into more trouble than she's worth."

"What about your parents?" Sunset asked.

Applejack shook her head. "Died a long time ago now. They were lucky I think. Didn't have to live through any of this."

Sunset bowed her head. "I'm sorry."

Applejack chuckled. "Nah. Don't be Sunset. Sure I miss em, but I ain't gonna waste time wishing for something that ain't gonna happen. I got my life, and I plan to live it. Not living in the past."

That got a smile out of Sunset. That was a way of thinking she could respect. Her own family was something she tried not to think about. She hadn't seen her parents in a long time, and that didn't seem to be something that would change any time soon.

Applejack gave her a look. "Ya got family Sunset?"

Sunset shrugged. "I'm an only child, and I haven't seen my parents in years. We didn't exactly get along the last time we met either. They all but disowned me after our last fight, and I never looked back."

Applejack looked appalled at the very thought, but a sound from down the alley stopped whatever she was going to say. Pulling Sunset down with her, the two of them hid behind a dumpster as something stomped by their hiding place.

Very carefully, Sunset stuck her head out and looked down both ways. She felt her breath hitch as what looked like a huge mechanical animal moved past the alley. To her horror though, the machine stopped, as if it sensed something was watching it. Slowly, it turned its head around and began to move their way.

Sunset pulled her back as fast as she could as the machine's head pushed its way into the alley. A red light shown from looked like an eye as it scanned the entire area.

Sunset and Applejack held their breaths as the light fell around their hiding place. For a moment, it held over them, before moving on. After a moment, the light winked off. A mechanical growl echoed off the walls as the machine pulled its head out of the alley and continued on.

The two of them sat there, holding their breaths for a moment more, hoping it didn't come back before they let out a collective sigh of relief. Sunset turned toward Applejack. "What was that?"

Applejack shook her head. "That's a Pluma. Luckily it didn't see us. Don't think this dumpster would've done us a lick of good against it. Except maybe to make it mad."

Sunset couldn't argue that as the two of them stood up. Both ends of the alley were clear now, but off in the distance, the sounds of screaming went on as before. They seemed to be getting louder as well.

Sunset looked back to where the Pluma had stuck its head in the alley. "I say we don't go that way."

Applejack nodded. "Good idea. Come on," she said, as she ran off in the opposite direction, Sunset soon right on her heels. Coming to the end, they looked in both directions. Nothing was in sight but for a few left behind pieces of luggage, people had dropped in their flight. Smoke still rose in the distance from burning buildings, and the stench of burning flesh was overpowering now, so much so that Sunset had to steady herself again the wall for a moment.

Applejack too looked green in the face, but she was able to keep a stoic expression. "Yeah. I don't blame ya. That's a smell I never wanna smell again."

Sunset couldn't agree more as she swallowed heavily. After a moment, her stomach settled as much as it ever could and she pushed herself from the wall. "So now what do we do? I don't think we can avoid those things forever."

Applejack nodded as the two walked onto the main street. "I reckon we just gotta avoid them till we get out of the city. Come on. Rarity's place is-"

The building behind them exploded, masonry and debris flying everywhere. Yet somehow, none of it hit the two of them, though the building behind them was torn to pieces by the rubble. But that would've been a mercy compared to what loomed out of the smoke.

The mobile armor seemed to look down directly at the two of them. There was pure malice in its gaze as its beak opened, and its mono eye glowed brightly as it gathered its power.

Sunset watched the attack that would end her life, as a million thoughts ran through her brain In that last moment though, one thought was clearer than the others, as she clenched her eyes shut and felt her tears fall.

"Princess. I'm so sorry."