Canterlot always sparkled in the summer. The city's white towers and golden domes were brilliant all year long, but in summer they took on an especial radiance. It may have been because summer was Celestia's season, the season of the highest sunshine, the season of the Summer Sun Festival. She herself would admit that as the solstice grew closer she felt her sense of self rise higher. And Canterlot, however many princesses it housed these days, was her city. As Celestia went, so went Canterlot, and in summer, both gleamed.
Or this was at least Twilight Sparkle's estimation, peering down from the throne room of the Palace of the Sun. She sighed with nostalgia; while Ponyville was her home, she loved to pay the occasional visit to Canterlot, if only for the memories of her childhood. If she squinted, she could perhaps see the curve of the palace gardens where she would sometimes ambush Shining Armor. And there was the spot where she would teach Spike to read! And there-
“Twilight Sparkle, if you would?”
“Oh, sorry Princess,” Twilight said, turning back toward the throne room. Princess Celestia stood on the long red carpet, her aurora mane and tail fluttering in divine wind. “So you were saying?”
“I was saying that flight is a matter of confidence,” Celestia replied. She spread her wide white wings and gave a flap, bounding with her legs into the air. Another flap of her wings sent her soaring up toward the ceiling, long legs tucked under her lean torso. She curved around the throne room twice, then came around to Twilight and slowed to a hover, her mighty wings beating fast to keep her in place. “You've had your wings since you ascended to the level of princess. Thus, you possess the capacity for flight. All that's needed is for you to believe you can do it.”
“But I... I can do it, Princess,” Twilight said. “You know I can. I've even done it a few times.”
“Then what stops you, Twilight Sparkle?” Celestia said, bending her graceful neck and twisting her head to the side.
“I just...” Twilight kicked the marble floor with her hoof. “I didn't grow up with wings the way you did. This is all so strange to me. It doesn't feel... right.”
Sighing, Celestia landed gently. She trotted over to Twilight and draped a wing over her side. “Twilight Sparkle, I may have been created with wings, but that doesn't mean I was comfortable with them from the start.” She flashed a smile. “In fact, Luna learned to fly before I did.”
“Really?” Twilight gasped. “But Princess, you're so much older than her!”
“Not too much older,” said Celestia, “and for whatever reason, she took to the sky with greater ease than I. When we both lived in the Enclave, all those years ago, there was even some murmur that I would not be able to fly.” She smiled again. “Sound familiar?”
“I...” Twilight said. “I can't...”
“Can't what, Twilight Sparkle?”
“Lunch time!” Spike shouted, bursting the door to the throne room open. The little purple dragon bounded toward the two alicorns, and several ponies bearing trays of food followed in his wake. “I had the cooks whip up some summer salad for you two! And there are also BLTs- beet, lettuce and tomato sandwiches!”
“How considerate of you, Spike!” Celestia said brightly. “I confess, I wouldn't mind a bite to eat. First, though...” she glanced down at Twilight. “Twilight Sparkle, can you at least give me a hover?”
Twilight sucked in a breath. She was abruptly terrified; her hooves dug into the marble floor. Princess Celestia stared gently at her, while Spike was bouncing on his heels eagerly, grinning her way. He gave her a thumbs up. Twilight gave him a gentle smile and resisted the urge to curl into a ball. Just a hover, she told herself. She stretched out her wings. Just a hover. She beat them slowly, creakily, like it was the strangest thing in the world. She beat them again, and again, and again. Faster and faster, her wings began to blur. I can do this, Twilight said. It's not that hard. She was suddenly overwhelmed with a flurry of all the knowledge she'd gleaned about flying in the past year or so. Wind patterns and angles of attack and vectors of elevation flitted through her mind. She panicked- she flapped- she jumped-
Twilight landed sprawled on the floor. The serving ponies stifled chuckles. Celestia sighed. “We'll try again after lunch,” she said. Her eyes glinted as she saw the serving ponies, who quickly ceased their guffaws. They set the trays of food on a side buffet at a far end of the throne room, then trotted out.
Twilight sighed. Her coat was a lavender color, and since her 'magical cure' had seemed exceptionally shiny in the sunlight. Her mane and tail were both deep purple, with a streak of hot pink running through each. Her eyes were violet, and they could not hide the sadness she felt at her failure. “Let's eat,” she said glumly, cantering toward the food.
“You'll get it, I know you will!” Spike said brightly when they were beside each other.
Twilight pulled him into a brief hug. “Thanks for your confidence, Spike,” she said. “I'm not sure it's warranted, though. I wish I didn't even have to learn to fly.”
“But you've done it before!” Spike said. “You did it at the Summer Sun Celebration last year! You were great!”
“Umm... yes, yes I did...” Twilight said with a too-wide smile. “Of course I did, that's right. I just... I need more confidence! The Princess is right, this will come to me.”
“You got it!” Spike said. “And hey, look at it this way: we're indoors right now. You're probably nervous from being in such a confined space. When we get back to Ponyville, you'll have the wide open skies to practice in!”
“I suppose...” Twilight said with a sigh. She picked up a sandwich and began to chew. “Ish jusht, Ish dosht-”
“Don't chew with your mouth open, Twilight Sparkle,” Celestia said, coming up beside her.
Twilight swallowed her bite and sighed. “Thank you for taking all this time to help me learn to fly, Princess,” she said. “I just wish I could reward your patience with some results.”
“It will come to you, Twilight Sparkle,” said Celestia. “Perhaps we'll even take a break beyond lunch. There are some new spells I've been meaning to show you.”
“What?!” Twilight's eyes nearly popped out of her head. “New... new spells? New magic? From you?”
“Not quite new,” said Celestia. “I've been pouring through some of the oldest books in the Royal Archives, and Luna's been helping me. We seem to have uncovered a volume of old deer magic that neither of us had paid much attention to before.”
Twilight nearly started flying then and there. Old deer magic! It was probably written in Laewtil and everything! She could put her skills as both a sorceress and a translator to work, a thought that made her giddy. “Princess, could I see it?” she asked.
“I intended you to see it,” said Celestia. “What I particularly want you to see are some of the spells concerning emotion, which-”
The clear ring of crystal shimmered through the air. Celestia broke her conversation at once, her ears swiveling to catch the sound. One ring meant a normal pony messenger. Would there be-
“Captain!” she called to one of the guard ponies at the door. “Captain, have all doors leading to the throne room opened!”
“It has already been done, my princess,” said the guard. The throne room doors were parting even as he spoke.
“The double chimes still mean what they used to mean, right?” Twilight asked.
“Indeed,” said Celestia. “They only ring twice when there's a-”
“Messenger from the Pronghorn Network!” said Spike. “I wonder what it is?”
“I wonder who it is,” said Celestia. “Audrey was the last of them to stop by here, about six months ago. Perhaps the Waystation in Gildedale has gotten a new-”
Suddenly the throne room shook. Not just the throne room- Twilight could tell that all the castle, even all of Canterlot had suddenly rocked in place. Her hooves slid in different directions from the force of the tremor. “What was that?” she cried.
Celestia tilted her head to the side. “I feel... something...”
The throne room rocked again, this time enough to send Spike sprawling. At the very same instant, a flash of lightning appeared through the great doors of the throne room. For an instant, Twilight seemed to stare into the sun- then with a burst of brilliance, the light faded. In its place, dashing toward them, was a long-legged creature with light brown and white fur. It vaguely resembled an antelope, but it was somewhat stockier, as well as being smaller. Two black horns rose off its head, and these branched apart at their ends into forked tines. Its eyes were dark. There was also something slightly threadbare about it, a clear mark of advanced age.
Celestia's face came alight. “Clive!” she cried, cantering to meet the pronghorn messenger. “Oh, it's good to see you again. You've been away too long!”
Clive Croeuxus, Jovus of the Pronghorns, bowed low on his long legs. “Hello, Celestia,” he said. “It's quite good to see you as well. I wish it were under less urgent circumstances.”
Celestia took a moment to nuzzle him in the side of the neck, eliciting looks of surprise from both Spike and Twilight. “Whatever do you mean?”
BOOM- the throne room shook once more. Actually, as Twilight focused on the vibrations, she could tell that the entire Drackenridge Mountain Range was shaking with each loud and heavy burst.
“I bring a message from Lady Falalauria of the Shimmerwood,” said Clive. “It's a magical one, and I think you'll want to see it right now.” Without another word, his horns shimmered. The space between them started to fizz and crackle, filling up with gray static.
Twilight and Spike exchanged a glance. They knew about Falalauria, of course- learning about her had been part of a very strange and wondrous chapter in both of their lives- but they had never seen her before. Celestia was transfixed on the message appearing between Clive's horns, so she scarcely noticed as Spike and Twilight crept near for a better look. By the time they were close, the static had given way to an image of a deep wood, and a dais of carefully assembled logs. Two trees- one gold, one silver- were planted on either side of a great crush of pansies, and in this stood a large, graceful deer. She looked almost as big as Princess Celestia, and her coat was nearly golden save for the white of her belly. Her large, white antlers branched away on either side of her head, and white silk was woven between their tines. What struck them most about the great deer was her eyes: they seemed black, but there was something odd about them, something the smallness of the image did not permit them to determine.
"Hello, Tia!” the deer in the image said. There was a boom and the image shook. “I know this comes at the last minute, but I've already Seen ahead to when you receive this message, and I know you won't be busy. I need you, Tia. I need you to come to the Archback Mountains, to the great vale between the southern and northern ranges where the leyline is nearly exposed. Please bring Luna also. In fact-” the image shook once more with a boom-
The quaking of the castle and the city and the mountains threw all of them off, but Clive held his concentration, and as the shaking subsided both outside and inside the image, Falalauria continued.
“In fact, please bring as many powerful magic wielders as you can find on short notice. This is serious. Oh, and Tia?” The image shook again with another boom. “Hurry.”
The image winked out with a flicker of magic. Celestia's pink eyes were wide. “Well, that means what I'm feeling isn't normal,” she said.
“You feel it too?” Clive asked. “It's like... something's tumbling down, like a rockslide or an avalanche or-”
“Or the collapse of the firmament,” Celestia said. Her face grew sad. “Clive, dearest, I know you're not under any obligation to follow my wishes. So when I ask you now, I-”
“Save your pleading, Princess,” said Clive. “You want me to come with you, right?”
“Lala never rushes things,” said Celestia. “With her Long Sight, she's very patient by nature. For her to ask me to hurry-”
“Something is terribly wrong. We have to leave at once.”
“Understood,” said Clive. “You seem to know the place she's talking about, so I'll follow you.”
“Let me come!” Twilight cried.
“No, Twilight Sparkle,” Celestia said. “Princess though you are, I suspect this issue is beyond your current strengths.”
“But Lady Falalauria said she needed you to bring all the magic users you knew!” said Twilight. “That includes me, even if I'm not as powerful as you and Sir Clive!”
“You're simply not powerful enough yet, Twilight,” said Celestia. “Stay here and wait for my return.” Her horn shimmered golden, and she touched it to one of Clive's horns. “I've sent the message to Luna's dreams; she should wake at once. She'll need to batten down the castle a little, but she'll be fast behind us all the same. Come on, Clive!”
Her wings beat heavily, sending Celestia airborne. She flapped out of the throne room, Clive hurrying after her with all his tremendous leg speed. Twilight followed them, but she couldn't keep up. She was far behind them when they emerged out onto the great balcony. Celestia flew over the side, and Clive jumped off the edge. As he fell, a bolt of lightning burst between his legs, and he was suddenly a speck on the streak of power, the power that shot down to the plains far below and curved to follow Celestia as she wheeled over Canterlot, her mighty wings flapping. The princess and the pronghorn headed into the Drackenridge Mountains, passing through and over them in a moment and vanishing from sight.