"Oh, this will be so nice!" Starlight exclaimed. "The last time I was here was during the Crystalling."
"Yes, well, I hope that we can avoid any crazy events." Trixie replied, squirming around in her seat next to Starlight. "I'm hoping that we can have a nice, relaxing vacation in the romance capital of Equestria."
"Err, right." Starlight nervously chuckled.
She let their cabin fall into silence, leaning against the window as she watched the icy tundra fly by. She spied the Crystal Empire in the distance, its large bubble-like barrier protecting it from the harsh weather outside. The shield seemed to be slowly growing, as she saw new houses being built near the edges, along with some small farms that she didn't remember being there before. It seemed as though Flurry Heart's Crystalling was the thing that finally put the Empire on the map as ponies from all over Equestria traveled to see the newest addition to Equestrian royalty.
She was going for a different reason. Sunburst finally had a bit of a break from looking after Flurry Heart and he wanted to spend some time hanging out with Starlight. Time that didn't involve one of the nigh-apocalyptic events that seemed to follow Twilight's group of friends around like a cat and yarn. Or maybe more aptly, a love-struck magician and her friend.
Starlight wasn't blind. She wasn't deaf, either, as she heard Trixie slowly inching closer to her in their squeaky seat. Ever since her letter from Sunburst, Trixie's advances had become more obvious. That's not to say she didn't enjoy them, exactly. It had been a long while since anyone had shown her that kind of attention, and it made her feel... well, desirable.
She just didn't know what to do about it. Trixie wasn't some random stallion in the street. She was her friend, one of her closest. Could she risk something like that in the pursuit of something more? Twilight hadn't gotten to that part in any of her friendship lessons.
That was another reason she decided to take this trip. Starlight hoped that if anyone could help her out, it'd be the Princess of Love. Surely she would be able to help her out with these confusing feelings she'd been having.
She felt Trixie's fur touch hers in a brief invasion of personal space. It felt different than any of their hugs. Warmer. Did friends normally get this close?
She decided to let it be.
Starlight smiled at Trixie's exclamation. The city was certainly wondrous. Although the architecture was a bit dated, being a thousand years old and all, it was certainly a point of pride for its citizens. The Crystal Empire was a place like no other in Equestria, and that's exactly how they wanted it. Even the newer additions to the city were made to match the rest, being built out of large crystals that shimmered in the bright sun.
Starlight turned to her flabbergasted friend. "Trixie, I need to... do a few things while we're here."
"Oh, I'll go with you." She smiled back.
"Err, actually, they're boring. Like, super boring. I can do them myself. Plus, it'll give you time to look around and explore."
Trixie's face fell slightly before she hummed. "I suppose..." Her smile returned in an instant as a thought ran through her head. "Alright then! I'll be sure to ask around for all the best spots for us to visit. Landmarks, entertainment, nice dating spots--"
"--high-rating shops." She replied as quickly as Pinkie Pie. "Hmm, I wonder if they have any magic stores. Do you think ponies from a thousand years ago had travelling magic acts?" Trixie gasped with a realization. "I could be their first exposure to stage magic!"
"If they had a magic shop, wouldn't they know about--"
"No time, Starlight!" Trixie interrupted, a determined glare on her face. "This grievance cannot be allowed to continue!" With that, the blue magician galloped off further into the city.
Starlight sighed, somewhat happy to be alone. She liked Trixie, she really did, but she needed some time to think. She turned to look at the large spire looming over the city center. Maybe some time with Sunburst and Cadance would help her figure all this out.
Surprisingly, Cadance was the first one to greet her at the castle. "Hello there, Starlight!"
Starlight bowed. "And hello to you, Princess."
"Oh please, none of that!" Cadance laughed. "I take it you just arrived? How was your trip?"
"It was fine. Though, if you don't mind me asking, how did you know I was coming?" Starlight questioned.
Cadance giggled in reply. "Sunburst told me. He wanted some help with the letter he sent you."
Starlight's head tilted in confusion. Help? With the letter? "He did? Why would he need help with that?"
"Oh, I think you'll see why soon enough." Cadance replied cryptically. She waved a hoof in a "follow me" motion and proceeded down the maze-like halls with Starlight following close behind.
"O...kay? Oh! I needed to ask you something--"
"I'm sure whatever it is can wait." Cadance interrupted. "For now, I think you should enjoy your time with Sunburst. He seemed very eager to see you when he asked for my assistance." Cadance looked back at her with a big smile, one that gave her an odd vibe.
"Um... sure then. Where is Sunburst anyway?"
"He's likely in his new room." Cadance answered, looking forward again as they turned a corner for what seemed like the fifth time. Starlight began to question how every hall in his place looked exactly the same. "Since he's the Royal Crystaller now, we felt it was better to move him into the castle so he could more easily teach Flurry when the time comes. We made sure to give him the largest room we had." She tittered. "He certainly needed it. I'm sure you saw inside of his old home?"
Starlight laughed. "Of course. The little bookworm has a personal library almost rivaling Twilight's. And so messy, too!" She looked up and sighed, remembering a past memory. She remembered when they were foals and she visited his home for the first time. He was so nervous about letting her play in his room because he didn't want her to see how much of a 'geek' he was. Even back then, he had stacks of book towers all over the place, leaving himself just enough room to move from his bed to the door.
When they stopped in front of a pair of doors, she saw Cadance looking back at her with a warm smile and a slightly-glowing horn. "Here we are. I hope you enjoy your stay, Starlight."
"I will, Princess." With that, Cadance left her in front of the double doors.
She sighed. She was hoping she could talk with the Princess about Trixie, but like she said, it could wait a little longer. For now, she had another friend to catch up with.
She knocked on the doors to make sure he was there. "Sunburst? It's me, Starlight."
She heard something fall over. She remembered that sound, one of his towers of books falling over. "Oh, Starlight! Hold on, just... gimme a moment!"
A few seconds later, the room opened up to reveal the orange unicorn himself. She smiled and playfully swatted at his goatee. "I see you still have this thing."
Sunburst blushed, his eyes crossed as he tried to look down at his chin. "Err, yea. Do you, um... not like it?"
"It's fine. I mean, you wouldn't exactly be a great wizard without some amazing facial hair, right?" She joked.
He laughed. "Right, right." They fell into a moment of silence as he looked at her, his face seeming to light up. "So, are you ready to have some fun? I've been looking into stuff we can do around the city." He floated a checklist out of nowhere, reminiscient of Twilight's. "I didn't know what you'd enjoy doing, so I kinda just made a list of everything I thought would be fun."
"That sounds great!" Starlight smiled. "Maybe we'll run into Trixie."
He looked at her quizzically. "Who?"
"Oh, right." Starlight realized she hadn't told him about her yet. "I brought one of my Ponyville friends along with me. I think she could use this just as much as I do."
"O-Oh." His face seemed to deflate a bit. "I thought it'd just be us. Alone."
Starlight sensed his change in mood. Should she have told him sooner? Was that rude of her? "W-Well, she's still out doing her own thing, checking out the shops. We can still hang out with just each other for a bit. Besides, I think you'd like her! She's an amazingly talented traveling magician. I'm sure you two would have a lot to talk about. Y'know, with magic and stuff."
Sunburst stood in silence, thinking. After a few seconds, a smile returned to his face. "Okay, sure. Besides, if she's a friend of yours, she's got to be a great pony."
Starlight laughed. "You would know, wouldn't you? So, where do you wanna go first?"
"Well, the park is superb this time of year..."
The two foalhood friends sat on a bench, tossing some feed to the birds that had started to gather. Sunburst had been right, of course. The park was as amazing as the rest of the city. In fact, it was one of the few places in the city that had become somewhat modernized. Sure, the trees and wildlife were natural, but they had also incorporated playground equipment like slides, jungle gyms, a few sandboxes, and even a baseball diamond. Foals of all ages were running around and having the times of their lives.
Starlight was so distracted by the nearby baseball game that she almost missed a familiar warmth press against her. She looked to the side to see that Sunburst had scooted closer to her, his eyes nervously looking off somewhere else.
'Almost like Trixie...'
Starlight shook her head. What was she thinking? Sunburst didn't see her like that... did he? No, she was just overthinking it. He was probably just cold, or got distracted like she was. That's all it was. She really needed something to distract her now, though. "So... Sunburst."
After hearing her voice, he seemed to almost jump away from her back to his original spot. "Y-Yes, Starlight?"
"What's it like being the Royal Crystaller?"
"Well... right now, I kinda feel like a glorified babysitter," he admitted, "but that's mostly because Flurry isn't old enough to be taught how to properly control her magic. Shining and Cadance still don't know if they want to put her into a public school or hire a ton of private tutors, but either way, I'll be the one to teach her about magic as a whole. I'll be responsible for overlooking her magic growth until she's officially a Princess herself."
"Wow... so no pressure, huh?" Starlight joked.
"Heh, yeah." He let out a weak laugh. "A weak wizard like me teaching an alicorn how to use magic. Imagine that."
"Are you still on about that nonsense?" Starlight groaned. When was he going to gain some self-confidence? "Whether you want to admit it or not, your knowledge of magic helped restore the Crystal Heart and the Empire! So what if you couldn't do it all yourself? Without your help, we'd all be stuck under tons of snow." She reached out and grabbed his hoof in support. "You're a great wizard, and I know you'll be a great teacher to Flurry."
He smiled warmly at her. "Thanks, Lighter."
She blushed at her old nickname from when they were foals. She'd practically forgotten all about it. "You're welcome, Sunny."
They laughed at each other's antics before falling into silence once again. They sat there staring at each other for a while, to the point where they weren't sure if it had been seconds, minutes, or even hours. Eventually, Starlight realized that she'd still been holding his hoof and pulled it back with a nervous laugh. He looked down at his own hoof for a moment, his face shifting into one that she'd known meant he was thinking about something. "Starlight, I wanted to ask--"
A loud series of pops went off behind them, swiftly followed by applause. The two unicorns looked back in surprise, wondering what had broken the silence. "Wait, I know that voice..." Starlight grabbed Sunburst's hoof and dragged him off toward the noise.
It didn't take them long to find a crude stage with a small crowd gathered around it. On it stood a familiar azure unicorn who smiled as her audience enjoyed her work. "For Trixie's next trick, she will require a volunteer." Plenty of hooves shot up, mostly the young colts and fillies near the front. Trixie looked over the crowd until she saw Starlight near the back with an orange unicorn. "Ah, Trixie's beautiful assistant has arrived! Would you mind coming to the stage, Starlight?"
Starlight grinned sheepishly at Sunburst before teleporting up to the stage.
"Assistant?" Sunburst whispered to himself. "...beautiful?"
Starlight suddenly popped back into existence next to Trixie. "Ah, there she is. Is Trixie's audience ready for her next trick?" The foals cheered while the parents and other adults stood by clapping and smiling. "Dear assistant, if you wouldn't mind?" Trixie led Starlight into a box on wheels. She opened it up horizontally, allowing Starlight to lie down inside. A number of holes allowed her head and limbs to stick out when Trixie closed the box again. "For this trick, Trixie will cut her assistant in half! But do not worry, the Great and Powerful Trixie will put her back together afterwards."
Starlight grinned as she remembered this trick. Normally, the magician doing this trick would just have dummy legs in the bottom-half to make it seem real.
Trixie didn't like that.
Starlight felt the glimmer of magic across her midsection as Trixie's horn lit up. Before the audience could even think she was casting a spell, she levitated a paper wand out of nowhere and tapped it on the middle of the box. "One."
Another tap. "Two."
And a third. "Three!"
She grabbed both halves of the box and split them apart. The foals gasped and looked a little worried. Upon seeing their faces, Starlight shook her hind-legs to show the young ones that she was still alive and well. With the knowledge that she was okay, their expressions lit back up and they cheered. "Trixie! Trixie!"
Trixie smiled at them. "Thank you, thank you, loyal fans! Now, Trixie believes her assistant would like her other half back." She pushed the two halves back together and Starlight felt the magic around her finally disappear. Trixie tapped her wand on the box a few more times before opening it back up, allowing Starlight to exit the box.
"That is the end of the show, but do not worry, little ones. Trixie shall return tomorrow!" With that, her crowd finally started to disperse as she cleaned up her stage.
"That was quite a show you put on," said Sunburst who had walked around 'backstage'. He looked around at the simple magician's equipment. There were a few paper wands, the sawing box, a black top hat, and a couple boxes of bang snaps.
"Why thank you." She gave a small curtsy. "If I'm correct, you must be Sunburst?"
He seemed surprised. "W-Why yes, I am. How did you--?"
"Trixie has heard Starlight talk about you. Also, she heard your letter to Starlight."
"W-What?!" He looked over to Starlight in surprise.
"I didn't mean to! I was reading it out loud and she... kinda overheard." Starlight rubbed her forehooves together.
"No matter," Trixie said, swiftly changing the subject. "That show left me feeling famished. Would you two like to join me for some lunch?"
The three sat in the booth of a local restaurant, sipping tea. They had finished their lunch half-an-hour ago, but had gotten so distracted with their conversation that they decided to stick around for a while longer. The place had been somewhat empty and the owner hadn't come out to yell at them to leave, so they figured that they were fine.
Starlight quietly sat in the middle of the three as Sunburst and Trixie talked about magic or some other thing. Honestly, she hadn't been paying very much attention. A lot had been going through her mind.
She knew about Trixie. That was part of the reason she came here. But now she had the same problem with Sunburst. It was little things throughout the day. Their talk in his room, the park, and the glances and little things he said as they walked to this restaurant. Hay, they had been friends since foalhood, and from what she could tell, his only friend. It seemed to make sense the more and more she thought about it.
Still, she wasn't sure. And that just made her want to talk to the Princess even more.
She missed the brief minute of silence that fell between them, but felt the familiar warmth she had already felt twice today. Only this time, it was from both sides. She could hear their whispers in both of her ears.
"So, when's the other pony leaving so we can be alone?"
With a blush and a yelp, Starlight teleported herself away. Anywhere but here.
Starlight suddenly found herself back in Sunburst's room. She needed a place to think, and this was the last place they'd look for her.
...well, probably the first, but the most obvious choice was always the least obvious, right?
"Well, I didn't expect to see you here."
She turned around to the voice behind her, only to see Princess Cadance herself. She appeared to be in the middle of reading one of Sunburst's books before Starlight's sudden teleportation. "Princess! What are you doing in here?"
"Am I not allowed in my own castle?" Cadance playfully replied, levitating the book back into one of the many spires of knowledge around the room.
Starlight groaned. "You know what I mean. Why are you specifically in Sunburst's room?"
"I could ask you the same." Cadance jokingly taunted, but continued at another groan from Starlight. "Truthfully, I was waiting for my Royal Crystaller to return from his date."
"Date?" Starlight questioned. "What da..." Of course! That's why he seemed so disheartened about Trixie. He was trying to bring her on a date.
"So, how did it go? Did he treat you well?"
Starlight stared blankly at her. "Did you..."
"Of course." Cadance replied with a dramatic hoof placed upon her chest. "I am the Princess of Love, after all. It was not hard to see my Royal Crystaller's affections. I decided to give him a... helping hoof, so to speak."
"Ugh, why me?" Starlight stared up at the ceiling.
Cadance's head tilted in confusion. "Hmm?"
Starlight looked back at her tiredly. "Both of them then? My two best friends... What do I do?"
Cadance looked confused. "I'm afraid I don't understand."
"I wanted to talk to you earlier about something. My friend, Trixie. I think she's in love with me."
The two sat in silence. Starlight was hoping that Cadance would say something, anything to help her with her problem. Maybe she had been wrong? Was it too much to ask the Princess of Love to help her with such a complicated issue?
Cadance cleared her throat, gaining Starlight's attention. "How do you feel about them?"
Starlight thought about her two friends. "Well, Trixie's great. We were both pretty awful ponies that eventually became better. She's great at magic, especially her stage magic, and it's always fun to watch her shows. She's really understanding and I never really feel like I have to hide anything when I'm around her. Well, except for this.
"With Sunburst... well, he's my foalhood friend. He was my first friend ever, and even though we fell apart, we eventually grew together again. I know hard he is on himself, but I also know that he's one of the most brilliant unicorns I've ever met. He's smart, he's funny, a bit of a dork... and cute. Hay, they both are."
Cadance hummed to herself. "Well, it seems to me that you love them both."
"I know! But what am I supposed to do? Pick one and hurt the other? Pick neither and hurt both of them?"
"You could pick both."
"What?!" Starlight exclaimed.
"Well, love doesn't exactly have to be between two beings." Cadance explained. "Does a foal only love one parent?"
"Well, not exactly, but that's familial love."
"Love is love." Cadance said with a sense of finality. "It is a personal connection you have with other ponies, ponies that you wouldn't want to live without. They may be different kinds of love, but it's still love all the same. Still, I may have reached a little too much." She straightened herself into a more authoritative stance. "My best advice to you would be to simply sit them down and talk this out. There might be some crying or some yelling, choices may have to be made, but in the end, it will be better than not addressing the problem and hoping it solves itself. Who knows? You may end up with a herd on your hooves."
Starlight blushed. "I don't know about that. I mean, they barely know each other..."
"They can always learn. That's how friendships begin."
Starlight looked down in thought. She was still completely unsure of this whole thing, but Cadance was right. It wouldn't do her any good to sit around and hope it all fixed itself. "Thank you, Princess. I have some friends to find."
"You're welcome, Starlight."