She’d seen it hundreds of times now, but Sunset never tired of the sheer majesty of Princess Celestia orchestrating the movement of heavenly bodies. The sun descended past the horizon, the sky blazing with red and gold and then shifting into lavender and purple. As the stars began to appear, Celestia’s horn glowed once more from the balcony where she hovered in her own magic. In a moment, the brilliant white moon lifted from the horizon, the Mare in the Moon clearly visible. Celestia sagged just a bit as the moon finally came into full view and she settled down.
The moon seemed to glow a bit brighter as Celestia walked up to the two enraptured unicorns. The Princess took a look behind her shoulder at the smaller celestial orb before gesturing for the two unicorns to head inside.
She does that every time. And every time I ask, she just gives me a faint mysterious smile.
The massive structure of the Royal Observatory was placed atop the highest tower of Canterlot Castle. Couches and cushions lined the walls, and a series of astronomical tomes sat on a set of bookshelves opposite them. An enormous telescope dominated the structure, but even more impressive was the night sky shining through the ceiling.
Twilight stared up at the stars and Sunset couldn’t help but chuckle. Mainly because she remembered having a very similar expression the first time Celestia had taken her up here.
“Enchantments,” Sunset murmured. “Designed to show whatever’s outside inside. You’re actually seeing the real night sky.”
“It’s beautiful.” Twilight murmured. “Almost as amazing as seeing the Princess lower the sun and raise the moon.”
“Thank you,” Celestia said with a tired smile. “On all counts.”
Twilight’s eyes darted to the Princess of the Sun, who seemed no less bright for now being lit only by moonlight and starlight.
“Well, I admit I did have some help for the ceiling,” Celestia said. “Starswirl did have a knack for anything related to the stars, after all.”
“Starswirl… as in Starswirl the Bearded?” Twilight gaped. “I’m standing in the same room Starswirl the Bearded once stood?”
“Indeed.” Celestia nodded and laughed a little. “Starswirl helped in the spellwork for most of Canterlot, the Castle included. In fact, the apartment in which Sunset now resides was his first home in the city. It’s been the traditional home of what was once called ‘The Royal Apprentice’ for centuries.”
Twilight turned to face Sunset. “Um… don’t take this the wrong way… but you think I could come over sometime?”
Sunset smiled. “I’m pretty sure we can work something out.”
“And that leads me to our final topic of conversation for this evening,” Celestia intoned, laying down on a rug in the middle of the floor. The stars glittered above their heads as Sunset and Twilight sat down together, facing the Princess.
Celestia’s horn glowed briefly and a familiar book appeared before them in a flash of golden magic.
“The Application of Unified Harmony Magics,” Celestia announced. “By Nightsong. I admit, when I sent you to recover this tome yesterday, Sunset, I did not expect you to experience this particular form of magic first hoof.”
“It’s my fault Your Majesty because I swear I didn’t know anything was going to happen when I just floated—”
Celestia raised a hoof to stop Twilight’s rant.
Twilight fell silent and stared at her hooves.
“You did nothing wrong, my little pony,” Celestia informed her. “Nor did you, Sunset. If anything, the spontaneous manifestation of this type of magic is something to be celebrated.”
“Princess?” Sunset frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I suspect you ended up reading at least some of this last night, did you not, Sunset?” Celestia levitated the book over to Sunset and placed it at her hooves.
“Well, yeah, about half of it… because I couldn’t sleep.” Another yawn hit Sunset out of the blue. Twilight followed up with a yawn of her own.
“Tell me, what was the origination of this type of magic?”
“You mean the first time it was witnessed?” Sunset didn’t have to think hard about this one. After all, Moon Dancer had been lecturing Minuette about it yesterday at lunch. “Hearth’s Warming Eve.”
“Indeed.” Celestia nodded. “While such magic had happened before that event, Hearth’s Warming Eve is the most well-known occurrence and the best example for our purposes tonight. Twilight? I take it you’re familiar with the theory behind unified harmony magics?”
It was Twilight’s turn to nod. “It’s a required course at your School, Princess.”
“So it is. Could you tell me how it applies to Hearth’s Warming Eve?”
What are you playing at, Princess? And what was with that comment about Twilight coming over to my apartment leading to this?
“Well, after the three tribal leaders were frozen…” Twilight frowned. “Private Pansy, Clover the Clever and Smart Cookie saw the windigos above them and, as the ice covered them, they confessed they didn’t hate each other. In fact, from Clover’s accounts, those words seemed to hurt the windigos, making them try to freeze the three faster.”
“The magic spontaneously manifested itself in what is now called the ‘The Fire of Friendship’ which burned away the windigos, and broke the curse they had put on the land. Of course, this led to the founding of Equestria.”
“I don’t understand, Princess,” Sunset said. “Everypony knows this story. We do pageants of it every year. What are you getting at?”
“Did Clover the Clever intend to cast the spell?” Celestia asked Sunset with a tiny smile.
“Uh… no.” Sunset scratched the back of her head. “It was completely unintentional.”
“Could she have cast it on her own?”
“No, Princess,” Twilight injected. “Her memoirs clearly state she knew without a doubt the magic came from the three of them as friends, though they had not stated themselves to be friends at that time.”
“Precisely,” Celestia said. “Now, tell me, why am I having you focus on this?”
Twilight just shook her head, but Sunset’s mind was spinning, probably from lack of sleep. Another riddle, another puzzle. But she was coming up blank. She might have a little bit of an idea, but she didn’t want to voice it. It seemed… far-fetched to say the least.
“Allow me to help you along a little,” Celestia said. Once again, her horn blazed with light… and the last thing Sunset expected appeared in front of her.
Sunset fell over and tried to scramble away from the mirror, terrified of what she might see within. Twilight’s ears perked up and her eyes darted around in a panic.
“Be still, Sunset,” Celestia said gently. “This is an illusion, nothing more.”
Sunset’s racing heart began to settle.
“Twilight.” Celestia’s voice was quiet. “In that moment, you had told Sunset you saw her as an alicorn with other ponies around her. Aside from Sunset, how many were there?”
“Six?” Twilight offered, obviously still confused.
“Princess…” Sunset muttered, not wanting to look at the mirror, real or not. “Is this… is this necessary?”
“So there were a total seven ponies in the vision you had, correct?” Celestia hadn’t even looked at Sunset.
“Uh… yes?” Twilight answered.
“Take a closer look,” Celestia instructed.
The mirror faded, but Celestia’s magic held the reflection Sunset had refused to look at. It was a simple one. One that made the voice in the back of her head practically exalt in joy.
See? That’s what you should be. What you would be already, if you hadn’t decided to be cowed by that ancient mule of a Princess! A full alicorn! Wings! You would have wings. You’ll never see them until you finally give up this foolish game and take what is yours by right!
Twilight wasn’t staring at the reflection. She was staring at Sunset.
She’s nothing. She’ll only get in your way. You’ve seen the way that Celestia’s been looking at her. That interested, calculating gaze. Don’t you get it? She’s your replacement, Sunset! She’s Celestia’s backup plan if whatever insane scheme she’s come up for you fails.
Twilight got to her hooves and stepped toward Sunset.
Make sure she doesn’t get a chance. Find some way to disgrace her. Right here. Right now. Make sure Celestia knows that you and only you are suitable to be—
“Will you… um… this is your vision. Not mine. I don’t feel right about this unless you’re there.”
Sunset allowed herself to be guided by the hoof toward the reflection of ‘potential.’
The voice suddenly seemed a lot quieter.
“Sunset, tell me about the sixth pony,” Celestia said.
Sunset ripped her gaze from herself as an alicorn and to the pony-shaped shadow directly to her alicorn self’s right.
Three things stood out to her.
One: the shadow was closer to her than any other.
Two: the shadow had a horn.
Three: the shadow was… lavender.
Suddenly, Celestia was behind the two of them. Sunset first looked at Twilight. Twilight was a smart pony. She had already figured it out.
“There are many reasons why unified harmony magic spontaneously ignites,” Celestia said, her voice almost a whisper. “It can happen between family members, best of friends and even allies on a battlefield. It means the ponies in question have found harmony, not just between their minds, but between their spirits as well.”
“Why are you telling us this, Princess?” Sunset whispered, her eyes once again locked on what could only be a shadow of Twilight, years before they had ever properly met.
“I cannot tell you exactly why you experienced this last night,” Celestia admitted. “But my theory is that your spirits were in harmony, both reflecting a single thought: contrition.”
Sunset didn’t respond.
There has to be more to it. It couldn’t be that simple.
“And there is one other thing.” For the first time in a very long while, Celestia sounded… awkward. “I have seen many ponies in my time who have taken this spell the wrong way. It is popular among folk culture for such a spell to be considered a blessing by Harmony of a fated relationship.”
With that said, the illusion faded away.
“Please, look at me, my little ponies.”
Sunset didn’t look at Twilight as she turned. She was pretty sure Twilight wasn’t looking at her either. However, Sunset did manage to meet the eyes of Princess Celestia. They were narrowed, not in frustration or anger, but in concern.
“I have seen what could have been cherished friendships destroyed by this false belief. Sometimes unified harmony magics can mean something more can grow out of friendship. Sometimes it doesn’t. What I mean is you cannot allow this moment to control you. You cannot allow this to compel you to act in a certain way simply because you believe it is what must occur.”
“But… what we saw… what we felt…” Sunset protested weakly.
“What you saw was the truth,” Celestia said firmly. “Both of you caught a glimpse into one another’s soul, but that is all it was: a glimpse. A glimpse cannot reveal the full pony within. Even a lifetime of glimpses often cannot do that. But what you feel…”
The Princess’s wings drooped a little. “I would ask that neither of you act rashly on what you think you may feel at the moment. Both of you are just learning to be friends. Do not complicate matters. Such magic tends to magnify emotional states. What you feel at present may not be the truth.”
“Why…” Twilight licked her lips and Sunset immediately returned her gaze to the Princess. “Why are you telling us this, Your Majesty?”
“Because I do believe that sixth pony is you, Twilight Sparkle. I believe you have the potential to do something great alongside Sunset Shimmer. However, that great something may not be the something you’re feeling it should be right now. I’ve seen the way you two have been glancing at one another. Your blushes are quite telling.”
Another blush flared to life on Sunset’s cheeks. “I… ah… don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The Princess raised an eyebrow. Sunset couldn’t meet her eyes. Twilight just let out a strangled squeak.
“All I ask,” Celestia said. “Is that at present, you focus on being friends. Do not allow yourselves to fall into the trap many other ponies have fallen prey to. This may be difficult. However, Sunset, you have a fair amount of experience with friendship. I’d like you to teach Twilight a little of what you know.”
“You want… you want me… to teach somepony about friendship?”
The Princess nodded. “Indeed. Perhaps it will help you settle your own undeserved feelings of guilt regarding the events of the past.”
“Princess, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Sunset burst out. “You can’t possibly believe I can teach anypony about friendship! I screw things up all the time! I’m barely worthy of the friends I have!”
“I’m okay with it.”
Sunset turned to face Twilight, her eyes wide and her jaw hanging open. “You’re kidding. You’re kidding right?”
Twilight shook her head. Her bangs flitted about and whacked her on the muzzle. “The only real friend I have is Jade Singer. The rest… they’re really more of... acquaintances. I’m… I’m pretty clueless when it comes to anything about friendship.”
“But… there are a million other ponies more qualified!” Sunset shouted.
“Perhaps,” the Princess said. “But you are the one who is here. Just as Twilight was the one who was there for Jade.”
“But… that’s…” Sunset spluttered. “Oh… this… you two planned this, didn’t you?”
“Twilight is completely innocent.” Celestia smirked. “But as for me planning this? I think that would be obvious.”
I have got to be out of my mind.
“Fine!” Sunset whirled on Celestia. “On one condition!”
Celestia raised an eyebrow.
“Therapy bills are paid by the crown!”
This one did get a laugh out of the Princess. “Done.”
She took one more desperate shot.
“This is a really bad idea, Twilight.”
Twilight glanced at where the illusions had stood a few minutes ago. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
“Okay, first rule of friendship!” Sunset snapped. “No arguing with Moon Dancer about library rules!”
“Now wait just a minute—” Twilight protested, but was cut off by the Princess.
“Actually, before the lessons begin—which I will expect regular reports on—there is one other matter.”
Sunset and Twilight looked up at the smirking Princess. The twinkle was back. The Trollestia one.
“Sunset, if you don’t have any objections, I’d like to offer Twilight here a position as my second personal student. It’s been quite some time since I’ve had two apprentices, but unified harmony magics are rather telling when it comes to compatibility between two ponies. Besides, anypony who can sort through the mess Jade Singer makes of the South Archives in a night has quite the talent indeed.”
SEE? WHAT DID—
“I don’t see any problem with that,” Sunset said. “At least that way, if Twilight’s completely damaged by you making me teach her about friendship, it’ll be even more your fault.”
Celestia laughed and turned to Twilight. “What do you think, Twilight Sparkle? Would you like to learn more about magic alongside Sunset here?”
Twilight’s magic lifted a book out of one of her saddlebags and she started to flip pages in a blur. “That can’t be right! According to Princess Celestia: A Brief History, you’ve never had more than one student at a time!”
“You shouldn’t believe everything you read, Twilight,” Celestia commented. “Now, what do you think of my offer? Are you interested?”
Apparently the first time hadn’t really sunken in because Twilight’s eyes began to defocus and the book dropped onto the rug. A few seconds later, Twilight’s eyes were tiny pinpricks. Her ears were twitching. Her tail was twitching. Her whole body was twitching.
“I-I-I-I-I,” Twilight managed to sputter before a tiny, mouse-like voice managed to push out a simple “Yes…”
And there she goes…
With a flash of magic, Sunset made sure a pillow was where it needed to be.
“Oh dear.” Celestia blinked. “She fainted.”
Sunset couldn’t hold it in anymore. It started out as just an erratic snorting.
But then, it simply refused to be contained any longer and exploded out of her.
She laughed. She laughed until the tears came.
Sunset just laughed and laughed and laughed until she rolling on the floor in front of the smirking ruler of all of Equestria, her personal mentor, the Princess of the Sun and a dozen other things while Twilight twitched slightly on the pillow Sunset had placed beneath her.