• Published 15th Nov 2018
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The Girl Who Orbited the Sun - Dee Pad



When a newly-crowned Twilight Sparkle finds an old book hidden away in the royal archives, she discovers a piece of her mentor's past she had never been told about. And the more she read, the more questions arose. Just who was Sunset Shimmer?

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Chapter 1 - Enlightened

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 1: Enlightened

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Twilight Sparkle let out an exasperated groan, the only sound that could be heard in the expansive halls of Canterlot Castle aside from her muffled hoofsteps on the plush, red carpets stretching the length of the corridors. Each step was heavy and labored as she trudged somewhat aimlessly through the castle, her body feeling drained both physically and mentally. Strands of stray hair hung from her mane and in front of her face, though the lavender mare made no attempt to brush them aside, or straighten them out.

What was more was the weight she felt upon her head. The golden crown that sat atop her scalp felt far heavier than it had any right to be given its manageable size, but in her current state of exhaustion, it may as well have been made of solid lead. But she knew that weight wasn't so much coming from the crown's materials as it was that which it represented.

After completing an unfinished spell started by one of her greatest inspirations, Starswirl the Bearded, her close friend and mentor, Princess Celestia, had deemed her worthy of being crowned as a new princess of Equestria. All manner of emotions had bombarded Twilight in that moment; gratitude; elation; shock; confusion; uncertainty... Twilight was overwhelmed, but more than anything, she trusted the judgment of her teacher and accepted the title graciously.

Or rather, former teacher. Her coronation had served a secondary purpose as her graduation from Celestia's tutelage, leaving Twilight wondering where she would go from here. Although, that path may have already been decided for her. She had just spent the better part of the last week or so in Canterlot, getting the run-down from Celestia, Princess Luna, and even her sister-in-law Princess Cadance on the duties and responsibilities that came with being a princess.

And there were a lot.

Twilight had practically grown up in Canterlot Castle, and Princess Celestia was almost like a second mother to her, so she thought she had a good idea of what went into being a princess. Boy, was she wrong. As it turned out, there was quite a lot that she didn't know about. She was only now beginning to realize just how much work Princess Celestia must have had to deal with when she wasn't teaching her. And now there was so much being thrust upon her all at once. She didn't even know what exactly she was the princess of yet, and she was already being inundated by the responsibilities and changes being introduced to her life.

Nevermind the two new, feathered appendages jutting out of her midsection. That was another beast entirely.

After several minutes of wandering, Twilight finally managed to muster up the energy to lift her head. She stared at the wall ahead of her, finding that she had wound up in front of the entrance to the royal archives. The tall, purple double doors would have towered over even Princess Celestia, but they were somehow inviting as opposed to intimidating. Twilight stood there and pondered how things worked out; it must have been her subconscious that lead her here. Having spent so much of her childhood in Canterlot Castle and being as introverted as she once was, Twilight had spent many an hour secluded within the royal archives. It was her preferred way to pass the time and escape from whatever trivial problems a child or teenager might think is the worst thing that could ever happen.

This was her sanctuary.

For what must have been the thousandth time, Twilight opened the grandiose doors, the creak of the hinges practically the archives way of greeting her at this point. Given that she had lived in Ponyville for a good while now, Twilight couldn't visit the royal archive as regularly anymore, so returning now, at such a stressful time for her, was like taking her medicine. The moment she set hoof inside, she felt her worries and insecurities already begin to melt away.

The room was enormous, the ceiling easily reaching several dozen feet, and the bookshelves reaching almost as high. Those shelves spanned the entire length of the spacious room, and one could barely see the ends of them looking down the long aisles between them. It was like something out of a dream. Any other person would describe the archive as having "countless" books and tomes, but Twilight, as intimately familiar as she was with this place, knew that there were exactly twenty-six thousand five hundred seventy-two books registered in the directory, ranging from classic epics from famous poets, to encyclopedias of all manner of topics, modern works of literature, and even research papers from renowned historians—Twilight's personal go-to reads. Books from all over the world adorned these shelves, and for every book written in a foreign language, there was a second version translated into Ponish.

And not a single tome within the library has not been introduced to Twilight Sparkle. As shocking as it may seem to somepony who doesn't know her personally, Twilight has read each and every book archived within Canterlot Castle—some multiple times. But as she wandered down one of the many aisles, sizing up the bookcases on either side of her, a latent curiosity awoke within her. As said, it had been some time since she was here, and as such it was certainly possible that some new additions have been made to the expansive collection. So, to take her mind off of her present stresses, Twilight decided to engage in a sort of "egg hunt" to see if she could possibly find something she hadn't read before. It would have been easier to simply use the directory, but where's the fun in that?

It didn't take long for Twilight to peruse the first few aisles. The books were sorted neatly on the shelves, and it appeared that none had been removed as far as she could tell. And every book was exactly where she remembered them being so far, indicating that there had been no reorganizing to accommodate new additions.

Equestria's newest princess let out a long sigh. As she systematically traveled down the aisles, she was beginning to accept the fact that there was nothing new to find. It was sort of depressing to her that even with over twenty thousand books, the archives no longer had any new knowledge to share with her.

Twilight's gait had become less and less enthused with each aisle, and now she had reached the last. She was headed down toward the back left corner of the royal archives, the more lonely sections of the library, as few patrons bothered to travel so far out of the way. It was just as well; this particular section was mostly old, outdated textbooks from years ago, the only relevant information they had to share being the evident differences between modern day and the days gone by. This section's neglected state was visible via the much more noticeable and thicker layers of dust that had collected on the shelves. Twilight had a mind to find whomever it was that was in charge of maintaining the archives and giving them a stern talking-to. Perhaps that could be her first order as a princess: proper care for these tomes that had taught her so much.

Disappointed that she had found nothing of interest, Twilight was prepared to turn around and simply look for an old favorite or something to distract her until the other princesses inevitably found her to force-feed her more responsibility.

However, before she turned back, Twilight noticed something amiss. In the very back corner of the aisle where the leftmost shelf met the back wall, she saw the panel on the bottom of the bookcase appeared to be slightly loose. Not so much that it warranted immediate repair, but enough to arouse suspicion from the analytical mare. Out of curiosity, Twilight leaned down to inspect the misaligned board. It did not appear as though the weight of the bookshelf had caused a deformity, nor was the board rotten or damaged. Rather, it appeared as though the panel had at some point been removed and replaced, but whoever did so didn't do so properly.

And, of course, Twilight could not in all good conscious leave without righting this asymmetrical wrong. If she didn't straighten this out, it would gnaw at the back of her mind until it was fixed. She didn't exactly fancy herself a handymare, but how hard could it be to simply remove a couple of nails? She was pretty skilled with magic, to put it mildly, so it shouldn't prove too difficult to use her magic in place of a hammer.

With gentle application, Twilight grabbed hold of one of the nails holding the panel against the leg of the bookshelf, slowly and carefully drawing it out of its hole. The last thing she wanted was to haphazardly jerk the thing out and potentially cause the whole bookshelf to collapse and domino the rest of the shelves—that would be another headache she didn't need right now. When the first nail popped out, Twilight took a moment to make sure the structural integrity of the shelf was okay. Satisfied that the bookshelf was holding its own weight just fine, she turned her eyes on the nail held within her pink aura. Curiously, the nail was quite rusty, indicating that they were quite old, especially for ones used indoors and in a place as immaculate as Canterlot Castle. If the panel had indeed been removed, it must have been done so a very long time ago—decades, maybe centuries. And it was now that Twilight realized that if she was going to fix this problem, she'd probably have to get some new nails, but she'd come this far already, so she may as well just remove the panel while she was there.

Doing the same as she did the first nail, Twilight removed the remaining ones and plucked the board loose. The wood was also rather old, which was more noticeable now that she could see the back of it. It was likely that Celestia and Luna had people to touch up the finish on the shelves every so often to maintain their clean outward appearance, but the inside seemed like it had been wearing down gradually over the years. She might have to bring it up with the princesses to see about having entirely new bookshelves built for the archives at some point.

But now that the board had been removed, Twilight noticed the empty space behind it. Not at all out of the ordinary for a piece of furniture like this, but it almost looked like it could have been a secret compartment of some sort. Of course, she knew otherwise, it was simply her imagination that spawned such a whimsical thought, but it was that same child-like whimsy that prompted her to peek into the space beneath the shelf anyway.

And it was a good thing she did.

As it turned out, the space was not, in fact, empty. Although extremely dusty and riddled with cobwebs, by the pink light of her horn Twilight spotted something within: a book. Her heart skipped a beat. Was it possible that this book had gone lost and forgotten for who knows how many years? Was it possible that there was actually a book in this library that she hadn't yet read? Lost research; the magnum opus of a famous writer; a guide to translating long-forgotten languages? Twilight's mind began to race with the limitless possibilities of what this old tome might contain.

Wasting no more time theorizing, Twilight grabbed the book with her magic and freed it from its wooden prison, bathing it in light once more after an indeterminate number of years. It had collected so much dust that the cover wasn't even visible. Twilight blew at the obscuring dust, though immediately regretted it as she began to cough and hack when the dust cloud enveloped her head and invaded her mouth and nostrils.

After waving away the free-floating dust, Twilight began to look the mysterious book over. It was most definitely old, and, unsurprisingly, in rather poor shape. Some pages were loose and were sticking out slightly, and the leather cover had deteriorated greatly, though not enough to make the cover unreadable.

Or rather, it would have been readable, were there anything to read upon it. Curiously, the cover was blank, the faded, black leather showing no signs of ever having a title or art drawn into it, deepening the mystery of its contents.

Which meant there was only one way to find out what it was...

Twilight's legs moved faster than she was perhaps even expecting herself, nearly tripping over her own hooves has she excitedly hurried back down the aisle and back to the front of the room, picking one of the reading tables near the entrance of the royal archives, and planting her posterior onto a chair. She lay the book on the table, but hesitated to open it, simply staring at it for several moments. Twilight was almost more intrigued by the mystery around this unknown book than its actual contents, but she knew she was going to open it anyway; her natural curiosity wouldn't be held back. But it almost felt wrong to not set the mood perfectly. She contemplated getting a cup of tea and a snack, or setting a candle for a more atmospheric experience.

And now Twilight was beginning to realize she was thinking about this book the way somepony would think about a person they were going on a date with, prompting the lavender alicorn to blush slightly and instinctively glance around to make sure there was nopony else in the empty library to witness the eager drops of sweat on her brow.

Taking a deep breath to compose herself, Twilight shifted her attitude to be more pragmatic as opposed to indulgent. It was important to learn what this book contained, for the sake of whatever subject to which it pertained. To that end, Twilight finally opened the book, her goal at the moment to identify the subject matter within.

Strangely, the inside cover showed no signs of a title either, or even an author. It was both frustrating and exciting to Twilight, as the lack of information could lead to deeper study and research to discover the origins of this book, but that would have to wait for the time being. Flipping through several pages, Twilight did a quick scan of the book. Her eyes widened slightly as she browsed, her interest and intrigue growing still. It appeared to be a novel of some sort. Admittedly, Twilight was a touch disappointed by that, as she was secretly hoping to have stumbled upon long lost knowledge that could change the way they saw... something; her imagination hadn't quite had a chance to fill that blank. But, on the bright side, this meant that this could potentially be a nice little book to curl up with in bed or something, and Twilight was looking forward to learning what story it had to tell.

That being said, as she continued to glance over the early pages of the book, she saw that it appeared to not be a work of fiction, as a couple of names she recognized came up frequently, the most notable of which being the renowned unicorn wizard and one of Twilight's biggest inspirations, Starswirl the Bearded, as well as her own mentor, Princess Celestia. Was this perhaps some sort of biography? Twilight was prepared to lose her mind if this book contained some unknown chapter of the lives of her two idols.

What was even more curious is that the story seemed to focus not so much on Starswirl or Princess Celestia—although they appeared to be pivotal characters—but on a young, unicorn filly.

Twilight raised a curious eyebrow at the name of this filly, uttering it to herself quietly. "'Sunset Shimmer'?"

She had never heard that name before, but she seemed to have some connection with both Starswirl and Princess Celestia. It almost sounded like this story might have been some sort of self-insert work of fan fiction written by somepony who idolized the two as much as Twilight did.

Nevertheless, Twilight's interest was piqued. She probably didn't have a lot of time before the other alicorn princesses found her, but perhaps she could get a chapter or two read before then. She shifted in her seat to make sure she was comfortable and flipped back to the story's first page. She still wished she had a cup of tea to enjoy along with it, but alas...

And with that, Twilight began reading...

~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~

The morning sun had begun to rise over Canterlot, signaling to the town's inhabitants that it was time to remove themselves from their beds and prepare for the day ahead. Mornings in Canterlot had a tendency to be somewhat hectic and noisy, as the people who lived there were always busy with something or other. Whether it was to go to their jobs, or simply the desire to socialize with the other early birds, conversation came second after the sun, the air within the posh town full of warmth and gossip.

But for one pony, there was another goal entirely. A unicorn stallion sat within his abode located near Canterlot's town square—a rather unfortunate location for somepony like he, who enjoyed studying quietly. Fortunately, it was not his studies that had him awake this morning.

The stallion finished his cup of coffee, sighing as he savored the last of the dark roast and giving his short, white beard and slow stroke with his hoof. He looked to the empty chair beside him at the kitchen table. The seat had been pushed out abruptly and not properly pushed back, and a plate was left at its spot with nothing but crumbs and half-eaten toast crust upon it, alongside an empty glass with only a few drops of orange juice pooled on the bottom.

The stallion grinned, and rose from his seat, the white aura of his magic enveloping the plate, glass, and his coffee mug, as well as the other chair to push it back in. He dumped the leftovers on the plate into the trash can by the counter, and lay the dishes in the sink, rinsing them off briefly—he would wash them properly later, as he would be a little busy for the moment.

The unicorn stallion took a moment to stare out the window over the kitchen sink, gazing through his light blue eyes in the direction of the rising sun. The rays felt warm against his grey coat, like a gentle caress from his muzzle to his cutie mark: a five-pointed star flanked by two smaller stars. Just seeing that bright beacon of light was always enough to raise anypony's spirits. Not that his spirits needed raising, but it was still always comforting to look at. Besides, he foresaw some potentially stressful mornings ahead of him, especially considering he wasn't used to getting up so early. And starting today, early mornings were going to have to become routine.

The stallion was about to exit the kitchen and make for the bathroom, but hesitated when he heard the pitter-patter of tiny hooves hurrying down the hall. Turning the corner to enter the kitchen was a small, unicorn filly, her coat a soft amber color like the evening sunset, and her wavy mane and tail like passionate flames with their red and yellow streaks. Though she lacked a cutie mark, it was her cute, energetic smile that lit up the room, her bright, teal eyes staring enthusiastically up at the adult.

"All ready, Sunset?" the stallion asked with a grin, his low voice belying his young age.

The filly nodded fervently, the smile never leaving her face. "Uh-huh. I brushed my teeth, combed my mane, and washed my face." She then skipped eagerly over to the front door of the house, trotting in place impatiently. "Come on, Dad, let's go!"

The stallion raised an eyebrow with a smirk. "Is there something we're forgetting, young lady?"

Sunset paused for a moment. Her father discreetly pointed to his own back. Though there was nothing upon his back, the filly's eyes widened as she caught his meaning. As quickly as her little legs could carry her, she galloped to her bedroom and returned in a flash, a pair of filly-sized saddlebags held in her mouth.

The stallion chuckled at her exuberance as he neatly secured the bags on his daughter's back. And as he watched her once more race for the door, he couldn't help but reminisce about when he was her age, doing exactly as she was preparing to do. "Alright, then. Let's go."

The father and daughter duo stepped outside into the warm embrace of the sun's rays. They were immediately inundated by the chatter and clacking of hooves on the stone streets as the residents of Canterlot were making their daily commute. On top of that, the town always seemed like it was under some sort of construction, with new buildings seemingly popping up overnight. Sunset's father claims that Canterlot has grown at least twice as large since she was born.

Regardless, the commotion did nothing to deter the excitable filly as she bounded through the circular town square, not weighed down in the slightest by the contents of her saddlebags. She took a moment to stop at the water fountain in the middle of the square, the stone statue of a nondescript mare pouring a steady stream of crystal-clear water from a jar into the shallow pool below. Sunset gazed into the water while waiting for her father to catch up, seeing a few stray, golden bits that residents had thrown into it, but she was more preoccupied by the toothy grin of her reflection staring back at her.

"Come now, Sunset. We shouldn't dawdle," the filly's father said to urge her back onto the road as he caught up.

Sunset hurried over to his side as he passed the fountain, flashing a silly grin up at him. "I should be saying that to you, slowpoke."

The stallion chuckled quietly, but didn't argue with her. He knew she was excited. She'd been looking forward to this day for the past few months, getting more and more impatient with each passing day; he was surprised she even managed to get any sleep last night.

Thankfully it wouldn't take long to reach their destination. Sunset knew exactly where they were supposed to go and had committed the path there to memory in preparation for this day. The two crossed a small, stone bridge arching over a stream that flowed down the tall cliff side that Canterlot was built upon. On the other side of that bridge was the grounds of a local schoolhouse. It wasn't a particularly large building, and only had one floor, but the deep purple color of its exterior in conjunction with the many beds of colorful flowers planted outside made the area look very vibrant, especially in comparison to the other buildings in Canterlot, which were mostly white with some gold or purple trim. The schoolhouse was positioned in a quaint little nook on the mountain side, a sheer, stone wall both behind and on the left side, while the right side was open and overlooked Canterlot Valley, making for a rather breathtaking view. A playground was set up on the left side by the cliff face, with swings, slides, and a tetherball pole for the students to use during recess.

Sunset stood beaming upon the small bridge to the schoolhouse. As said, she was intimately familiar with the location, having walked the path there numerous times over the recent weeks, but it was still a little hard to believe that the day had finally come. And that disbelief was assuaged by the presence of many other ponies gathered in front of the schoolhouse. She was far from the only foal there, and many other fillies and colts were loitering and playing around the garden with their parents.

"Well? Are you coming?"

The sound of her father's voice snapped Sunset out of her trance, not having realized that he was already halfway across the school's garden. She rushed to catch up with him, eager to begin her first day of kindergarten.

Sunset's father lead her toward the entrance of the schoolhouse, which was rather crowded by conversing adults. Brushing past several ponies, Sunset and her father managed to find their way to the front where a bespectacled, middle-aged, unicorn mare with a soft yellow coat and a dull brown mane tied in a bun was standing with a sheet of paper. She took one look at the stallion and filly and offered a gentle smile.

"Hello, Mr. Starswirl. And you, too, little Sunset Shimmer," the mare greeted kindly. She noted the big, goofy smile on the little one's face. "Excited for your first day of school, are we?"

Sunset simply answered with rapid nods.

"It'll be a relief for you to take her off my hooves for a while, Mrs. Honeysuckle," Starswirl joked, giving his daughter a playful rub on the head.

Mrs. Honeysuckle waved the remark off with a giggle. "Oh, I can't imagine she's that much trouble. She was such a peach when we last met." She held up the paper in her magical grasp and used a quill to check Sunset's name on the attendance sheet, then smiled down at the filly. "We're just about ready to start class, so if want to go inside, go right ahead."

Sunset looked up at her father expectantly, and he responded by tenderly placing a hoof on her shoulder. "Now, you be a good filly for Mrs. Honeysuckle, alright? I don't want to hear later that you've been a troublemaker."

The filly grinned. She knew her father didn't really expect her to make trouble, so she saw no need to defend herself. She stood up on her hind legs to wrap her little hooves around her dad's neck for a hug. "I won't. I'll be a good student."

Starswirl returned the hug, trying to fight back a bittersweet tear. Sunset had always been a smart filly, but as a father, he still couldn't help but worry about her now that she was off to school. He just had to trust her. Breaking off the hug, he gazed straight into her bright, teal eyes. "Have fun, dear. I'll see you later this afternoon."

The stallion slowly started on his way back home, looking over his shoulder to see his little girl waving to him.

"Bye, Daddy!" she called out with a smile.

He smiled back, giving a wave of his own as he left her in the care of her new teacher.

Mrs. Honeysuckle gently ushered Sunset into the schoolhouse. "Alright, find a seat, Sunset. I have to round up the rest of the students before we can start."

Sunset nodded and stepped inside the modestly-sized schoolhouse. There was only one classroom in the building, but it was rather spacious and heavily decorated. There were enough desks and chairs to seat twenty-five foals, though judging by the amount of fillies and colts both inside and outside the school, some seats would go unoccupied. The teacher's desk was located on the far right from the entrance, the large blackboard behind it taking up almost the entire right wall. The other walls were plastered with a hodgepodge of friendly and colorful posters, as well as various arts and crafts made by past students. Crude crayon drawings made up the bulk of the art, but there were several wooden crafts made out of sticks and decorated with cotton balls and fabric arranged on tables on the left side of the room, mostly in the barely discernible shapes of ponies or other animals. Not exactly what one would call "inspired," but certainly not terrible for kindergartners, and Mrs. Honeysuckle must have liked them quite a bit to keep them on display.

After having a quick look at her surroundings, Sunset finally decided to find a seat. She was rather pleased to find that, in the five rows of five seats, the middle seat in the front row was empty. The eager filly wasted no time dropping her saddlebags next to her desk and planting her blank flank front and center, giving herself the optimal view of both the blackboard and the teacher when she was ready to start.

While she was waiting for that, however, Sunset glanced over her shoulder at the other students that had also already found seats. Most of them were sitting further back, leaving the first and second rows of desks totally vacant, with the exception of Sunset. That was a little confusing to the young filly; wouldn't it be easier to see the blackboard and hear the teacher if they were sitting closer to them?

Sunset's attention then turned to the door, where Mrs. Honeysuckle was now standing, guiding the rest of the foals into the building while their parents waved goodbye from outside. The remaining students all took their seats, and Sunset's eyes were drawn to the seat on her right by the sound of a loud thump. A pegasus colt with a silver coat and short, dark grey mane had clumsily dropped his saddlebags, spilling its contents onto the floor. A couple of the other students giggled at his accident while Mrs. Honeysuckle came over to help him clean up his belongings. He then took his seat, only casting a brief, side-long glance at the amber-coated filly sitting to his left. Sunset hadn't laughed at him, but the clearly-nervous colt still blushed with embarrassment anyway and quickly looked away.

"Is everypony seated?" Mrs. Honeysuckle asked, looking around the room to make sure all students were present and paying attention. Satisfied that she had their eyes, she smiled and continued. "Very good. Welcome to your first day of kindergarten, children. I am your teacher, Mrs. Honeysuckle." Taking a piece of white chalk with her magic, she wrote her name on the blackboard. "Now, I know that some of you may have heard older kids calling school 'lame' or 'boring,' but I want to prove to all of you that school can be fun, as well as informative."

Sunset couldn't help but grin at the teacher's declaration. She was somepony who found learning fun all on its own, so the idea that somepony could make it more fun was exciting to her.

"Now then..." Mrs. Honeysuckle walked behind her large desk at the head of the room, looking over some papers she had laid out. "I have several different subjects for us to go over on our first day, as well as some fun activities to help flex our creative muscles. We're going to start with a little history lesson—" She was interrupted by a chorus of groans from several unenthused students, but was undeterred. "—followed by outdoor activities that focus on teamwork and friendship."

The notion of getting to play outside seemed to quell some of the concerns in the room, the disapproving grimaces being replaced by interested grins. Sunset, however, was actually more intrigued by the history lesson than the activities. She'd always been good with reading and fundamental mathematics, and her father often boasted about how smart she was for a filly her age, but she wasn't quite at a level yet where she was reading history books.

"Why don't we start with the founding of our fair, little town, hm? Does anypony know how Canterlot was founded?"

Mrs. Honeysuckle waited for a few moments to see if any of the children had a response, or even a guess. Sunset listened intently for the answer; as learned as she was, even she hadn't heard about the history of her hometown.

Not receiving any replies, Mrs. Honeysuckle continued. "Well, I'm sure you all know that our humble home was built to be Equestria's capitol city. As such, it's always expanding, and new buildings are always under construction. The formation of this town was first suggested by Princess Celestia almost one hundred years ago, and it was her desire to make Canterlot a shining beacon that overlooked all of Equestria. Which is why it was built high up on this mountainside. In fact, at some point—" Mrs. Honeysuckle stopped herself short, noticing that the amber filly in the front row had raised her hoof. "Yes, Sunset? Do you have a question?"

Lowering her hoof again, Sunset asked her question with curiosity. "Who's Princess Celestia?"

The entire schoolhouse fell silent. Sunset suddenly felt as though she had asked something taboo, and several of the other children were staring at her like she had something on her face. Even Mrs. Honeysuckle seemed to be taken aback by the question.

"You don't know who Princess Celestia is?" the teacher inferred, a little puzzled by this. Sunset shrunk down in her seat, feeling a little ashamed now. Seeing the filly's reaction, Mrs. Honeysuckle put on a smile again to help ease her discomfort, as well as seeing an opportunity. "Is there anypony else who doesn't know about Princess Celestia? It's okay, you can tell me if you don't. It's not a problem."

Sunset took a discreet peek over her shoulder. Though hesitantly, three other students raised their hooves, making Sunset feel a little better knowing she wasn't alone; she was just the only one who hadn't been ashamed enough to ask.

The teacher grinned widely. "I see. Change of plans, then. We'll put the history of Canterlot on the shelf for now, and instead learn a little more about Princess Celestia. How does that sound?"

There were many voices of agreement from the students, and even those who supposedly knew about her already appeared to be interested as well. This was exciting for Sunset, since if even the students who seemed so disinterested before were eager to hear about Princess Celestia, then this must be an especially fascinating subject.

Mrs. Honeysuckle began by walking over to the wall where several of the crayon drawings were adhered to the wall. She pointed to one drawing in particular that seemed to depict a tall unicorn with pegasus wings, and a mane and tail colored with a mixture of pink, cyan, light green, and purple. And now that her attention was drawn to it, Sunset noticed that that same pony seemed to be the subject of many of these drawings.

"Princess Celestia is one of the rulers of Equestria, along with her younger sister Princess Luna. Celestia is what is known as an alicorn, which is like an earth pony, a pegasus, and a unicorn all rolled into one. As such, her magic is very powerful, and she and her sister have protected our kingdom from villains and disasters for countless years, even before there was a kingdom to speak of," the teacher explained.

One colt in the second row raised his hoof. "How old is she, then?"

The teacher chuckled with amusement. "You should know it's impolite to ask a lady's age. But truth be told, nopony truly knows how old she is. Most people believe she's around a thousand years old, while others say she's even older. Some even believe she's as old as time itself."

Sunset's eyes widened in wonderment, becoming more and more fascinated with every word.

"Yet even so, Princess Celestia is the picture of beauty and grace, and as powerful as she is, her heart is the purest in all the land. Everypony knows of her boundless kindness and gentle-hearted demeanor, which is one of the many reasons why she's so respected, and why she's been our princess for... well, pretty much ever."

Having mentioned the princess's power a couple of times already, Sunset's curiosity was piqued and she raised her hoof to ask a question. "How powerful is her magic?"

Mrs. Honeysuckle smiled. She was wondering when somepony would ask that. To answer, she walked across the room to the window near the entrance, pointing outside at the glowing, golden orb hovering above the horizon. "See the sun out there? Have you ever wondered what causes the sun to rise each morning? Well, that's Princess Celestia's doing."

Sunset felt her chest tighten, her eyes widening even further. Her heart practically stopped when she heard that. Sunset had been told a few times in the past that she was a gifted unicorn, being more skilled with her magic than other foals her age, but she knew that she was nowhere near the level of her father, who was a well respected pony in the field of magic. But to hear that there was somepony out there who was so powerful as to be able to move the sun itself was astonishing and unbelievable to her.

Sunset wanted to learn more. She needed to learn more.

"She raises the sun every morning?!"

Mrs. Honeysuckle nodded. "That's right."

Sunset raised her hoof again. "What time does she raise it?"

"Well, at approximately six a.m. Though it differs depending on the season."

Sunset kept her hoof in the air. "Has there ever been a day where she didn't raise the sun?"

"Not to my knowledge, no."

"What would happen if she didn't raise the sun?"

"Oh, um... I suppose it would just stay night until she did, that's all."

"Does she—"

"Okay! Er, I think that's enough history for now," Mrs. Honeysuckle told the class with an unsteady smile, clearly feeling a tad exasperated with the onslaught of questions. She took a short moment to discreetly compose herself, addressing the class in a voice more appropriate for indoors. "Why don't we move on to our first activity of the day, hm? Everypony head outside and I'll be out in a minute to explain what we're doing."

All of the students hopped out of their chairs enthusiastically, eager to spend some time outdoors. However, Sunset was a little disappointed. It felt like the lesson had been cut short, and she was looking forward to learning more about this Princess Celestia, but it looked like she'd have to wait until another time.

The amber unicorn followed the other children outside. The other foals were quick to hurry to the playground amenities, trying to get in as much playtime as they could before Mrs. Honeysuckle caught up. Sunset, however, had no interest in horseplay at the moment. After their unfortunately brief first lesson, Sunset only had one thing on her mind.

Instead of joining the other foals, Sunset wandered over toward the cliff side overlooking Canterlot Valley. A short fence had been built half a dozen feet away from the sheer edge to keep the children safe, and Sunset approached it, standing on her hind legs and leaning on the wooden fence. As full of wonder and intrigue as her bright, teal eyes were, she couldn't quite keep them as wide as her body wanted. Her attention was directed at the rising sun as it gradually lifted higher above the horizon. For the entirety of her comparatively short life, she'd never viewed the sun the way she did now, knowing now that it wasn't just a simple daily occurrence. There was somepony responsible for raising the sun: Princess Celestia. Just thinking of her name sent a shiver down her little spine. The thought that there existed a pony who was not only centuries old, but powerful enough to move the very sun itself was unfathomable. What she wouldn't give to meet her...

"Um, hi."

At the sound of the pensive voice, Sunset glanced over her shoulder to find a colt standing behind her. It was the same silver pegasus that was sitting next to her in class.

"My name's Halberd," he said, a smile managing to work its way through his nervous expression.

"Oh, hi," Sunset greeted halfheartedly before turning her gaze back to the horizon.

The colt looked a bit discouraged by her dismissive tone, but was also confused considering she seemed pretty talkative in class. "Um... What's your name?"

"Hm?" The unicorn filly glanced back again, somehow surprised that the colt was still there. "Oh, it's Sunset."

And again, she looked out over the valley.

Halberd could definitely tell that the girl's mind was elsewhere, so he tried not to take offense to her attitude. However, he had approached her for a reason. "M-Mrs. Honeysuckle says we're all supposed to find a partner, soooo... Do you wanna be partners?"

Prompted by the request, Sunset turned toward the other children. Mrs. Honeysuckle had come outside and was watching all the students as they frolicked around the garden. The other foals seemed to all be hanging out in pairs now, apparently having found their partners, so it was no wonder that this colt had come to her; they were the only two left without a buddy. The filly shrugged indifferently. "I guess..."

Halberd expected her to hop off of the fence she was leaning on and join him, but once more, she shifted her attention back toward the distance. He noted how she was squinting, her eyes even starting to water a little. "You know you're not supposed to stare directly at the sun, right? It could hurt your eyes."

With the topic of discussion shifted, Halberd now had Sunset's attention, a wide grin spreading across her lips. "I can't help it," she said enthusiastically. "I never knew somepony like Princess Celestia existed. She can move the sun! Don't you think that's incredible?!"

Halberd hopped up against the fence alongside her, looking in the sun's general direction, but taking his own advice and not straight at it. "I guess I never really thought about it. I've known about Princess Celestia for as long as I can remember. We've got pictures of her in our house. But now that I think about it, it is pretty awesome, controlling a big ball of fire like that."

"Can somepony like that really be real?" Sunset wondered whimsically.

"Sure she's real," the colt reassured. "She even lives pretty close to here."

Sunset's ears perked up and her eyes widened drastically, giving Halberd an incredulous stare. "What?"

"Yeah, look."

The pegasus pointed out to the distance, to the left of where they were staring at the sun. Down the mountainside and far past Canterlot Valley there was a lush, green forest. From the far edge of that forest, Sunset saw several stone towers jutting up above the treetops. Sunset had seen that structure many times in the past, but never really paid it much heed.

"That's her castle over there."

The filly was stunned silent, gazing with her mouth agape at the distant structure. She was starting to mentally kick herself for never asking her father about the building before. So many opportunities she could have had to learn about the existence of such an amazing pony wasted. "Sh-She lives right there?"

Halberd nodded. "Mm-hm. Actually, my big brother works there as a royal guard, and when I grow up, I'm gonna be a royal guard, too."

Sunset grabbed the colt by the shoulders, the hysterical look in her eyes scaring him a little. "Have you met her?!"

"M-Me? N-No, but my brother has since he, uh, you know, works there... Like I said..."

Sunset leaned back on the fence, taking a long breath to steady herself and staring at the castle. "A pony like that lives so close to us? I... I wanna meet her."

"Sunset! Halberd!"

The two foals turned around at the beckoning voice of their teacher.

"Come along now, you two! We're about to start!" Mrs. Honeysuckle called to them, gesturing them over.

Not wanting to get in trouble on their first day of school, Sunset and Halberd began making their way over to join the other students. The filly, however, paused for a moment, casting one more brief glance through the fence toward the distance castle spires, having to tear her eyes away from it so she could get back to her schoolwork. But she wondered how she was going to be able to focus on school knowing what she now knew.

***** ***** *****

Starswirl sat at the kitchen table, enjoying a light afternoon snack of coffee and oatmeal biscuits. He was browsing through the day's mail that he had retrieved when he returned home after dropping his daughter off at school. It was mostly bills and notices, as was the usual. However, there was one piece of mail of interest, and was currently what he was mulling over. Not that there was much to mull over; he was quite happy and a little excited to have received it, which was why he kept coming back to it since he'd first opened it that morning.

But he wouldn't be able to fixate on it much longer. The sound of hoofsteps on the stone steps outside diverted his attention, and the front door suddenly flew open, making way for a smiling and bouncing young filly.

"Hi, Daddy~!" Sunset greeted in a chipper, singsong tone.

Starswirl grinned fondly at his daughter, turning in his chair to face her. "Welcome home, sweetheart. Did you enjoy your first day of school?"

Though seemingly impossible, the question elicited an even bigger smile from the filly. "It was awesome! Mrs. Honeysuckle taught us about Princess Celestia! She's an... an ali-... Um..."

"Alicorn."

"Yeah, an alicorn! And she rules all of Equestria! And she's protected Equestria from all kinds of bad people! And she's powerful enough to move the sun! She's raises the sun every. Single. Morning! She's so cool! And she's just lives in that castle over there! How come you never told me about her?!"

Starswirl quirked an eyebrow. "Have I never? Hm... I suppose I thought it was common enough knowledge that you'd stumble upon books about her yourself, or at the very least heard about her through word of mouth."

Sunset puffed out her little, amber cheeks in frustration. "No, I never heard of her before today."

The stallion chuckled quietly. "And I suppose you enjoyed learning about her, then?"

The filly's pout vanished in an instant, replaced once more by a big, toothy grin. "Of course I did! How could I not enjoy learning about such an amazing pony?!"

"Too true. She is quite an astonishing person," Starswirl agreed with a nod. "So, what else did you learn at school today?"

Sunset eagerly opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated, her teal eyes drifting to the floor as she thought. "Um... I-I... don't remember..."

Starswirl's eyes widened, surprised and confused. He'd never known his daughter to be inattentive or disinterested in learning. "You don't remember? Sunset, I've raised you better than that. I don't want to have to talk with your teacher about you not paying attention in class."

"I couldn't help it!" Sunset blurted defensively. "Mrs. Honeysuckle taught us about Princess Celestia first thing! After that, I couldn't think about anything else!" She stared up at her father, her bright eyes giving him that guilt-ridden and ashamed look, like a puppy who knew they were in trouble. "I'm sorry, Daddy. I promise I'll pay better attention tomorrow."

Her father stared back into her shimmering eyes, sensing the genuine disappointment she felt in herself. He gave her a reassuring smile and a pat on the head. "Alright. I trust you. But I can't say I blame you. Princess Celestia is the object of many a person's fascination, and you seem to be quite smitten yourself."

Sunset nodded enthusiastically. "Have you ever met her, Dad?"

Starswirl shook his head. "Unfortunately, no, I haven't."

The filly's ears drooped a little, a touch of disappointment and longing in her crestfallen expression. "Mm... I really wanna meet her."

Seeing the dejected look in his daughter's eyes, Starswirl turned to the letter that he'd been repeatedly looking over throughout the day. While there was a moment of hesitation, a small smile eventually creased his lips. "Well, just because I haven't met her yet doesn't mean I can't at some point."

Sunset's mood immediately shifted, a twinkling sparkle of hope in her bright, teal eyes. "What? What do you mean?"

"You know I've been sending applications to many different institutes in the field of magical studies and research, right?"

"Mm-hm."

Her father lifted the letter with his white aura. "Well, this is one of the responses I've gotten. It's from the royal castle."

Sunset's ear twitched. "You applied to work at the castle?"

He nodded. "I did. And I got this response in the mail this morning. Princess Celestia herself wants to speak to me about the job."

The filly's mouth dropped open, her eyes widening dramatically. "Y-You're gonna meet Princess Celestia?"

Starswirl couldn't keep the smile off his own face seeing the wonderment in his daughter's expression. "That's right." He could tell by her expression that there was a question she wanted to ask, but wasn't voicing it because she was worried it wasn't appropriate. Instead, her father spoke her mind for her. "Did you want to go with me, Sunset?"

The filly practically exploded with excitement. "Yes!" she exclaimed, her short, little legs propelling her several feet into the air and began bouncing around the house like a rubber ball.

"Now, hold on, young lady."

Sunset came to an abrupt stop, her chest tightening with a twinge of worry that there was some caveat to the offer.

"A trip to the castle is a very big privilege," he explained more tersely. "I'm not even entirely certain if I'm allowed to take you with me. So if want to come with me and meet the princess, you have to promise to be on your best behavior. Understand?"

Sunset nodded fervently, willing to accept any and all responsibility for a chance to meet Princess Celestia.

"And you have to pay attention in class from now on. My interview is in a week, and if I hear from Mrs. Honeysuckle that you've been daydreaming when you should be learning, no castle."

"Uh-huh, I promise."

Starswirl grinned at her enthusiasm. Even though he'd never needed to actually convince his daughter to learn before, he couldn't exactly say he blamed her. He was pretty excited himself. "Alright, then. Now, why don't you go get cleaned up and I'll start on dinner."

Without another word, Sunset bounded off to her bedroom to drop off her bags and wash up in the bathroom. Even though she made that promise to her father, she could only imagine how much harder it was going to be to concentrate in class thinking about how she was going to meet the princess.

~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~

"There you are, Twilight."

The lavender alicorn's head jerked up suddenly, as though she'd just been awoken from a dream. Twilight Sparkle quickly glanced around, gradually remembering where she was and what she was doing. It was a common occurrence for her to zone out whenever she found herself lost in a book, but something about this time felt... different.

Following the sound of the voice that had snapped her from her trance, she found Princess Celestia standing between the large, double doors of the library's entryway, the majestic, alabaster alicorn wearing a rather amused smirk.

"I should have known to look here first," Celestia said with a quiet giggle as she walked over to the table Twilight sat at, her glorious, multi-colored mane and tail swaying gently behind her. "This always was your safe haven whenever you needed to cool off."

Twilight instinctively rose from her chair, her cheeks flushing red with embarrassment as though she were a child who'd just been caught with her hoof in the cookie jar. "P-Princess, I... I'm sorry I ran off like that. It... probably doesn't fill you with confidence to see the new princess you appointed duck out so suddenly, huh?"

Celestia gave her a sympathetic smile. "It's entirely understandable. Perhaps we did drop a lot on your plate all at once. But you can't say this isn't partially your fault. You do have a tendency to push yourself a little too hard. If you needed a break so badly, all you had to do was ask."

Twilight's blush deepened, but was accompanied by a small smile of her own. "You're probably right."

With that addressed, Celestia let her curiosity take over, looking to the rather tattered tome open on the table. "What are you reading? I thought you'd have read every book in here more than once already."

"Oh, well, actually I think this book may have been lost a long time ago. I found it hidden away underneath one of the bookshelves. There's no sign of a title, or even an author." She glanced up at Celestia. "Can I ask you a question?"

Celestia quirked an eyebrow. "Of course. What is it?"

Twilight looked straight into the soft, pink eyes of her mentor with an expression of morbid curiosity. "Who's Sunset Shimmer?"

At the mention of the name, the room somehow managed to fall into a void of silence deeper than it was already. Celestia's jaw hung open slightly, her pupils narrowing, and, if it were possible, her pristine, white face would have become even paler. She looked as though she'd seen a ghost.

"Wh-... Where did you hear that name?" Celestia asked shakily, her voice barely above a whisper.

Twilight's curiosity rose further, overshadowing her notice of the change in her mentor's expression. She held the book up with her magic. "This book seems to be about her. Do you know who she is?"

Celestia's eyes shifted down at the book, staring at it like it was something that shouldn't be here. "Y-Yes, I do, but—"

"You do? So then, do you know who wrote this book?"

The taller alicorn hesitated briefly, and without her mind's say-so, her mouth answered. "I... I wrote it..."

Twilight's eyes widened with wonder and amazement. "You wrote it?! Wow, I had no idea you were a writer, Princess!"

"I-I..." Celestia tried to compose herself, swallowing nervously before asking a question of her own. "How much have you read?"

"Not much yet, but I'm quite interested. Are the events of the story true? Did Starswirl the Bearded actually have a daughter?"

"Yes, it's true, but—"

"How come I've never heard of her?"

"W-Well, I—"

"Did you know her personally?"

"I—"

"Can you tell me more about her? I mean, after I finish reading—"

"Twilight!"

Twilight was startled by Celestia's sudden outburst. There was an almost panicked look in the ivory alicorn's eyes.

Celestia slowly held out her hoof, speaking quietly in an effort to steady her nerves, though her extended hoof was shaking slightly. "Twilight, you must give me that book."

The studious mare raised an eyebrow. Under normal circumstances, Twilight would have been more than happy to oblige the request, but Celestia's expression and her uncharacteristically terse tone of voice suggested to Twilight that something was wrong. "Wh-Why?"

Celestia's panic only increased further when Twilight questioned her, fearful that her trusted protégé was actually going to disobey her. "Just... please do as I say and give me the book."

Again, Twilight hesitated. She glanced at the book, then back to Celestia. She didn't know what was going on, but it was obvious that there was something in this book that Celestia didn't want her to see. "Princess, what's wrong? Whatever it is, you can tell me."

Celestia bit her lip, tearing her eyes away from Twilight for a moment. "No, I can't... Twilight, you can't read that book."

"But why n—"

Celestia stomped her hoof on the floor, the soft carpet doing little to absorb the force of the impact as the bookshelves shuddered around them. "Twilight! Do as I say and give me that book! That is an order!"

Twilight took a step back. She had seen Celestia upset before, but never enough for her to raise her voice so high. The furious expression on her face made her look alien, unrecognizable. Celestia had never "ordered" Twilight to do anything before. And now, she was scared. Not scared of Celestia, but of what she was hiding. For her to so adamantly insist she relinquish the book must have meant that there was something very important within its pages. Perhaps something dark... Twilight had trusted, respected, and idolized Princess Celestia unconditionally her whole life, but knowing that she might have some deep, dark secret tucked away in the ragged pages of this tome put a crack in that trust. What could be so bad that she would speak this way to her most faithful student?

And that was a question to which Twilight needed an answer.

In an instant, Twilight's horn lit up, letting loose a blinding flash of light. Princess Celestia instinctively turned away, shielding her eyes with her hoof. But when she opened them again, Twilight was nowhere to be seen, and neither was the book. Celestia simply stood there, motionless, frightened and confused by the situation. Twilight had never disobeyed her before, and she didn't know how to deal with it. She hung her head in defeat, letting out a somber and disappointed sigh. It was obvious that Twilight had simply teleported home, book in tow, but there was no point in pursuing her; she clearly had no intention of giving up the book. She could only hope now that Twilight's conscious would catch up with her and change her mind.

"Oh, Twilight... Please don't do this to yourself..."

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