• Published 15th Nov 2018
  • 2,573 Views, 129 Comments

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 10 - Eclipse

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 10: Eclipse

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The summer solstice was fast approaching, only being a day away now. Sunset Shimmer's plans for the big day had received proper approval and the citizens of Canterlot have been notified of what was being dubbed the Summer Sun Celebration. The people were at first a touch skeptical of the idea of the sunrise being delayed, but they quickly warmed up to the idea of what was basically a city-wide festival, so everypony was pretty excited overall. Preparations were already underway with Canterlot Square already featuring multiple stands for various goods and services that would be offered during the summer solstice. Though Quill had to put his hoof down on a couple of things for monetary reasons, most of what Sunset had suggested was given the go-ahead; the troupe of circus performers had to be nixed, unfortunately.

But while the folks in Canterlot were busy with the Summer Sun Celebration preparations within the city limits, some particular individuals were making preparations of their own back at the Castle of the Two Sisters. As the moonlight shone down from the night sky above, a pair of armored, pegasus stallions stood outside the entrance of the castle in waiting: one with a steel-grey coat, white mane with a golden streak, and a stern, yet somehow playful look on his face, while the other had a silver coat, dark grey mane, and somewhat nervous expression on his face. The two of them wielded spears, and the grey-coated one paced back and forth in front of the silver one as though to scrutinize him carefully.

The grey pegasus stopped pacing to look the other soldier straight in his hazel eyes, addressing him gruffly. "So... Ready for your first mission, rookie?"

The silver stallion swallowed pensively, but maintained his professional stance. Despite whatever doubts he may have had, he nodded resolutely. "Yes, Sir."

The other soldier analyzed his expression critically, but upon seeing the slight unsteadiness of his lips and eyes, he let out a sigh. His own expression softened suddenly, smiling reassuringly and giving the other pegasus a firm slap on the shoulder. "Come on, Hal, you gotta loosen up a little. You did great at boot camp, so why are you now suddenly so uneasy, huh? You're in the royal guard now. It's what you've always wanted to do, so smile a little."

Halberd let out a long breath as he let his muscles relax. "Sorry, Lance. But it's a different feeling knowing that I'm actually responsible for the princesses' well being, you know?"

Lance gave his little brother an understanding nod. "Yeah, I get it. But trust me, this job isn't as serious as it sounds. I mean, how many Scabbards do you see around here? You can easily pick out that sourpuss from the rest of the guards. You wanna wind up like him?"

"I think Scabbard's a nice guy," Halberd commented.

"Sure, he's nice when you get to know him, but he just takes his job a little too seriously. Being a guard is a lot more laid back than you might think. I mean, take tonight's mission for example. Look at who we're escorting: Sunset and Princess Luna. You really think if something ended up happening that those two couldn't do a better job of defending themselves than we could?"

Halberd gave his brother a deadpan look. "Then why are we doing this?"

Lance wrapped a foreleg around Halberd's shoulders, pulling his little brother closer and giving him a sly smirk. "You know exactly why we're doing this. You might've wanted to become a royal soldier to follow in my hoofsteps, but now that you're here, you have opportunities. We're gonna be escorting Sunset Shimmer through the Everfree Forest on a beautiful, moonlit night. Magic is gonna be in the air tonight, little bro. Literally. That forest is probably the most romantic place a guy can take a girl."

Halberd rolled his eyes with a slight blush in his cheeks. "Okay, assuming that's true and this goes how you expect it to, how romantic can it be when we have you and Princess Luna there with us?"

Lance waved off his question dismissively. "I can just distract Luna for a little bit. We don't need to stick together or anything."

"I also think you're giving me a little too much credit," Halberd claimed with a notable lack of self-confidence. "Sunset and I have known each other since we were kids, and she's never caught on to the fact that I like her. She's obviously not interested."

Lance groaned at his brother's defeatist attitude. "You clearly know nothing about women. Of course she's noticed; how could she not have? She's just waiting for you to make a move. You've just gotta man up and ask her out. That's all there is to it."

"And what if she says no?"

Lance prodded Halberd in the chest with his hoof. "Don't even think about that. Thinking 'what if' is what holds people back. Don't think about 'what if.' Just do it."

Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of the castle doors creaking open. As if on cue, their two charges emerged to join them, Princess Luna gracefully fluttering over to where they stood while Sunset happily trotted behind her. The two mares were equipped with saddlebags, the contents of which made clinking sounds as they moved.

"Alright, all set," Sunset chirped.

"Let us make this quick," Luna suggested. "We'd rather not stay up too late tonight if We have to be up early for the summer solstice tomorrow."

"Sure thing. Just stick with us, miladies," Lance said with a gentlemanly bow.

The two soldiers escorted Sunset and Luna across the stone bridge and into the Everfree Forest. The goal of this endeavor was to acquire glowflies, which would be used to illuminate Canterlot Square during the extended night before Celestia raised the sun. Luna and Sunset had brought along with them several glass jars to contain the glowflies and transport them back to the castle. Despite what one may think given her rather introverted lifestyle, it was actually Princess Luna that suggested this expedition. Her desire was to try and emphasize the beauty of the night while she had this opportunity before the inevitable sunrise.

The Everfree Forest itself was not like a run-of-the-mill forest. It was teeming with natural magic, leading to it being a cornucopia of exotic wildlife and unusual phenomenons. Starswirl had done much research on the forest over the years, taking notes of the many varieties of unique plant life that held great potential for medicines and potions. And true to what Lance had told Halberd, the forest was exquisitely beautiful. Even without sunlight, there were still flowers in full bloom in the middle of the night, displaying the radiant, cool colors of their petals, from blue to indigo to violet, like the lower half of a rainbow. And Luna and Sunset did not even have to use their magic for light within the forest. Though the thick canopy of leaves and branches above blocked most of the moonlight, the area was modestly lit by glowing mushrooms growing near the base of the surrounding trees, giving off an alien, yet soothing light in colors ranging from blue to green to yellow.

Having traipsed a reasonable distance into the forest, Lance discreetly nudged his little brother, giving him a sly wink. Halberd was a little puzzled at first, but then Lance stopped and turned around to address the two mares.

"So, what say we split up to cover more ground?" he suggested. "We could probably catch more of those glowfly things if we search in pairs, right?"

Luna nodded in agreement. "A novel idea. Very well, then. Halberd will come with me and—"

"A-Actually!" Lance jumped in hastily to interrupt, startling the alicorn slightly. "I'll go with you, Your Majesty."

Luna gave a slow, suspicious raise of her eyebrow at his sudden shift in behavior.

"See, no offense to my little bro of course, but it's probably safer to have a more experienced soldier by the princess's side, don't you think?"

Luna briefly glanced at Halberd. The younger pegasus was standing alongside a smiling Sunset with a slight tinge of red on his silver cheeks. The princess rolled her eyes slightly, breathing a sigh of reluctant acceptance. "Fine. Not that it really makes any difference anyway."

Lance beamed involuntarily, and was quick to begin escorting Luna deeper into the forest. He looked back over his shoulder to call back to his brother. "You take good care of Sunset, Hal," he said with a wink.

Halberd's only response was a nervous gulp as all of this happened so suddenly.

"Come on!"

Halberd looked to Sunset, who was staring at him eagerly with her usual cute smile.

"We're just wasting time standing around here! Let's go! Those glowflies aren't gonna catch themselves!" And she grabbed Halberd's hoof and dragged him off before he could say a word.

Lance watched the pair of youngsters disappear into the trees, satisfied that he'd done what he'd come out here to do. With Halberd and Sunset getting some long awaited alone time, he just had to have faith that his little brother would follow his advice. So, now all Lance needed to do was actually perform the duties expected of him and help Princess Luna obtain some glowflies.

"We know what thou art doing."

Lance was snapped back to his current whereabouts by the princess's voice. Luna was giving him a rather judgmental scowl. "What are you talking about?" he replied, trying to casually play off her suspicion as they traipsed deeper into the woods.

"Please. We may not be the most socially adept person in Equestria, but this ploy of thine is apparent even to Us. Thou hath been encouraging thy brother to woo Sunset Shimmer."

Lance let out a defeated groan. He wasn't expecting Luna to be so keen on matters like that. He'd been sussed out, so Lance figured it was probably best to not lie to the princess any further. "Alright, you got me. But I'm just trying to help Hal out, you know?"

"We find it highly irregular—not to mention inappropriate—for thee to try and fix him up with Our sister's protégé," Luna scolded. "If this is the only reason Halberd enlisted in our royal guard, then we may need to reconsider his employment."

Lance wasn't fazed by the threat; he knew better than that. "You don't have to worry about that. Hal's always looked up to me, and the whole reason he wanted to be a royal guard was because of me. Trust me, if I wasn't here to encourage him, he'd never make a move on Sunset."

Luna narrowed her eyes at the stallion. "Then perhaps it is thy employment we should reconsider."

"Hey, I'm just trying to help him do something he's been wanting to do for a long time. He's kinda had a crush on Sunset since they were kids, but never had the courage to tell her. The two have been pretty close for a long time, though, so even you have to see that there's something there, right?"

"We've never known Sunset to seek out romance," Luna commented.

"Just because she's not looking for it doesn't mean it isn't there. And what's the harm? They both find out they have feelings for each other and are happier for it? You wanna stand in the way of that?"

Luna turned her eyes forward, thinking on it for a moment in silence. "We weren't saying it was a bad thing. We just believe thy involvement is a touch inappropriate. Thou should not be encouraging thy younger brother to pursue a relationship for frivolous purposes."

"Whoa, I didn't say anything about that," Lance responded defensively. "I just want my little brother to be happy, and I know being with Sunset would do just that. You know what that's like, right? Hasn't Princess Celestia ever done anything like that for you?"

Surprisingly, a slight blush appeared on Luna's cheeks, and the alicorn turned her nose up dismissively. "Our personal lives art not the subject here."

Lance smirked slightly, but at the same time felt a little pity for the princess as he deduced the source of her embarrassment. "You've never been in a relationship before, have you?"

Luna's blush deepened and she breathed a disgruntled huff through her nostrils, but could come up with nothing to say to defend herself that wouldn't dig the hole deeper.

The pegasus sighed. "I guess you wouldn't know what I'm talking about then. Look, you're just going to have to trust me that I'm doing this for his sake. I think both of them will be happier if Halberd can get his feelings out in the open."

Luna cleared her throat awkwardly, her more stoic poise returning. "Again, We didn't say We had anything against it. And for the record," she continued, the redness returning for a brief moment. "It isn't as though Celestia didn't try. We—er, I—wasn't receptive of her advice. That's all."

Lance simply grinned. It seemed Luna's relationship with her sister did indeed mirror his relationship with his brother in some aspects. That made him wonder, despite their differences, how much Luna actually looked up to her sister. Did she see her the same way that Halberd looked at him?

"A-Anyway," Luna segued, eager to change the subject and get back on track. "There should be a good spot for glowflies up ahead."

"Right," Lance said with a quiet chuckle. "But can we take our time? I wanna give the two lovebirds some time alone."

Luna simply gave a roll of her eyes, but did not reject the request.

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

Sunset and Halberd walked side by side through the Everfree Forest, the former completely oblivious to the latter's nervous blush as she kept her eyes peeled for their quarry. Were they any other couple venturing out into such a place in the middle of the night, romantic sparks would likely fly, but they weren't exactly a "couple."

Halberd wasn't even sure why he was so apprehensive about this. They've been friends since they were kids, and didn't drift apart throughout high school, like some friendships tended to do. It was only the last couple of months that they hadn't seen much of one another, since Halberd had to attend boot camp. Sunset had even been there to witness him getting his cutie mark—two of his namesake pole arms crossed over a winged shield. Yet still, whenever he thought about telling her how he felt, he'd get butterflies in his stomach. She was basically his best friend, so why was it so difficult?

As Halberd absentmindedly mulled over his conundrum, Sunset had dashed ahead suddenly, calling back to him and snapping him from his thoughts.

"Hey, Halberd! Over here!"

The pegasus picked up the pace, hurrying over to where the excited mare was waiting for him. She had lead him to a clearing in the forest, a spot where the moon wasn't obscured by the trees, allowing it to bathe the area in soft, white light. A small pond decorated with lily pads sat in the center of the clearing, the ribbits of frogs accompanied by the chirping of crickets creating a calm chorus of white noise. And floating all about the clearing were orbs of incandescent light, gently drifting here and there and shifting between all the colors of the rainbow as they pulsed.

"Found 'em," Sunset stated eagerly.

She set down her saddlebags and removed the many glass jars she'd packed for this occasion. Using her magic, she popped the lid off of one and carefully guided the jar over to one of the floating orbs, scooping is inside and sealing it shut before holding it up against the moonlight.

"Pretty cool, huh? Ever see a glowfly before?"

Halberd stared at its admittedly mesmerizing glow. "Uh, no. I usually just fly over the forest if I need to go to the castle. And even then it's during the day."

"Oh, glowflies are around during the day, too. They're just easier to spot at night," Sunset explained. "Actually, contrary to their name, glowflies aren't actually insects; they're not even living creatures at all. They're concentrated clusters of the Everfree Forest's natural magic. That's why we don't need to put holes in the lids."

Halberd looked closer at the glowfly in the jar. Sure enough, he couldn't seem to spot anything resembling a body through the light. "Huh. That's neat."

"There are all sorts of magical phenomenons around here. It's what makes this place so interesting to explore. Here." Sunset passed a jar to Halberd. "Try and catch one."

"O-Okay." Halberd took the jar and fluttered out over the pond where the most glowflies seemed to be situated. Without much effort, he scooped one up and clamped the lid on. "Well, that was easy."

"Like I said, they're not living creatures, so they aren't exactly gonna try and avoid you." Sunset picked up another couple of jars. "Alright, let's fill these up."

The two of them spent the next few minutes catching more glowflies. Sunset had brought along about a dozen jars, so that's about as many as they could catch, barring what Luna and Lance were going to get. Even so, a couple dozen glowflies would be more than enough to provide Canterlot Square with light and give the place some atmosphere.

Even when they were finished catching glowflies, there were still quite a few remaining, the light within the clearing having faded little from the absence of just a dozen of them. But even with their job done, it seemed the two ponies weren't exactly in a rush to get back to the castle. Halberd packed all of the jars back in Sunset's saddlebags, but he noticed that Sunset herself had wandered over to the pond's edge.

Halberd stared quietly. The moonlight shone down from above, reflecting off of the water's surface and silhouetting Sunset's body. The effervescent light of the remaining glowflies lit her up from all angles. Sunset was simply taking a moment to enjoy the beauty of their surroundings, but Halberd was more focused on the beauty sitting by the pond.

This was it, he thought. If there were ever a moment to make his move, now was the time.

Halberd swallowed pensively, but knew that he couldn't let this opportunity escape him. It was too perfect. Maybe Lance was right; she was just sitting there quietly, as though she were waiting for something—waiting for him. He had to do it now. He was going to follow his brother's advice and just say it.

Still with some underlying apprehension, Halberd cautiously approached Sunset, not saying anything yet. Once he was beside her, he took notice of the soft smile on her face as she continued to stare up at the night sky. Halberd inhaled a deep breath quietly, taking a seat next to Sunset.

"It is beautiful, isn't it?"

Halberd's words suddenly caught in his throat when Sunset spoke first, hesitating further as he didn't want to interrupt her.

"Princess Luna has a point: the night is pretty breathtaking," Sunset said, her voice barely above a whisper. "Maybe the Summer Sun Celebration will help everypony realize that, too."

Despite what she was saying, Halberd never once removed his eyes from her. At this moment, all he could think about was what came before the night: Sunset.

And that was it. With just one thought, all of his nervousness melted away. In this spot, at this time, under these circumstances, Halberd couldn't think of a more perfect moment to speak his mind and make his feelings known.

"Sunset, I—"

"Ah, there thou art."

Halberd nearly had a heart attack when the voice of Princess Luna pierced through the silence out of nowhere. And just like that, his nerve was gone as both the princess and his brother entered the clearing as well, shattering the moment in its entirety.

Sunset, however, was unfazed, simply standing up with a smile to greet the other two ponies. "Oh, hey, Princess. Did you get your glowflies?"

"Indeed," Luna said with a nod. "This should suffice for the celebration tomorrow. Let us retire back to the castle and get these glowflies into proper containers."

"Right." Sunset skipped ahead to join Luna as they made their way to exit the forest.

As Halberd's heart rate gradually returned to normal, he breathed a heavy sigh and hung his head in shame. Lance immediately picked up on his brother's dejected body language, placing a sympathetic hoof on his shoulder.

"Sorry, Hal. I tried to distract the princess as long as I could. Looks like we got here at the exact wrong time."

"No kidding..." Halberd moaned in self pity.

Lance, not wanting his brother to call it quits just like that, gave him an encouraging smile. "Well, hey, it's not the end of the world, right? I mean, as romantic as this setting is, the Summer Sun Celebration might also be a good place to have a date, you know? I mean, we're all gonna be there to provide security, so what's the big deal if you wanna ask your lady friend to have a dance or something?"

Halberd lifted his head, taking in a deep breath through his nostrils and wearing a more resolute expression. "You're right. Why should I let this get me down? I was gonna do it if you and Luna hadn't showed up, so what's to stop me from trying again?"

"That's the spirit!" Lance cheered, giving his brother a playful jab in the shoulder. "But we still have a job to do, then our shift is over for the night. Let's catch up to the ladies, hey?"

Halberd nodded with a grin. Despite how things had worked out tonight, he wasn't about to let it put a damper on things. His brother was right: the Summer Sun Celebration was tomorrow, and what better moment to confess his feelings than when the whole city of Canterlot was watching the sunrise together? At the very least, he knew Sunset well enough to know she'd appreciate that. So, with renewed vigor, Halberd and Lance left to catch up with their charges before calling it a night. Tomorrow was going to be a big day, in more ways than one.

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

The day had finally arrived. The preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration had been almost completed, and only a few things here and there needed to be tended to still. Canterlot Square was decorated to the nines with banners and balloons, many businesses in and around the center of the city had opened their doors early for the many ponies who had come out to witness the sunrise, and for those businesses further away, they had temporary stalls set up in the square to peddle their merchandise and services.

For many, it was a little jarring to have their alarms go off only to find it was still dark out. Though the entire city was informed of the celebration, it still caught them off guard to see the moon in the sky at eight o' clock. Nevertheless, the reception to the idea was overwhelmingly positive, particularly among those who owned businesses as any public occasion such as this was a great opportunity to make money. For others, school and some work places had been delayed to offer everypony the chance to experience this, and not many of them were going to argue with it.

It was rare to see Canterlot Square this bustling at this hour of the day. While this was a time when most people would be making their commute to work, or students heading to school, the area was rarely this packed. And despite the relatively early hour, energy was high. The square was filled with the sounds of conversing adults and playing children, all illuminated by the light of the moon and the glowflies hanging from paper lanterns strung up between the buildings.

Perhaps the most noteworthy addition to the square was the presence of a large stage on the southern end. The stage itself was rather simple in design, merely there to serve the purpose of giving Princess Celestia a place to stand out—not that it would be difficult to pick her out of a crowd. Rather, its location was of importance here. It was positioned near the edge of the cliff side overlooking Canterlot Valley; beyond that was the Everfree Forest and the Castle of the Two Sisters. Normally, Celestia would raise the sun further in the west, using the mountains to frame its ascent. However, at the suggestion of Sunset Shimmer, it was decided that directly south would be a more optimal location for the sunrise, as it gave the clearest view from Canterlot Square. Celestia would stand upon the stage, and the sun would rise behind her.

Speaking of whom, Princess Celestia herself was standing behind the stage, along with her sister and Sunset. The ivory alicorn peered out at the sizable crowd of people gathered in the square, a rare touch of apprehension on her face.

"I have to be honest, this is a little intimidating," Celestia admitted. "I've never raised the sun in front of an audience before."

"People watch the sunrise everyday," Sunset told her with a reassuring grin. "I'm not the only one who gets up that early, you know."

"Yes, but you're probably one of the only ones who wakes up so early for the express purpose of watching the sunrise," Celestia said as she hid behind the stage once more. "And it's an entirely different feeling to have so many ponies staring at you while you do it. I'm afraid I may be developing performance anxiety."

"Thou'rt the last person We would hath thought to suffer from stage fright, Sister," Luna commented, a slight, amused smirk on her muzzle. "Normally thou seem to enjoy basking in thy subjects' praise."

Celestia took a deep breath in an attempt to steady her nerves. "I think I just need a little time to mentally prepare myself."

"Take all the time thou need. If it means letting Our moon stay out longer, We will not object."

"Maybe you should mingle with the crowd for a bit," Sunset suggested. "Just striking up casual conversation might help put your mind at ease."

Luna rolled her eyes with a quiet groan. "Says thou..."

"Well, I suppose we do have some time to kill before noon," Celestia muttered as she considered it.

Sunset walked past her, gesturing for Celestia to follow her out into the square. "Come on. You're fretting too much about this. It's still a festival. Just because you're the main attraction here doesn't mean you can't enjoy the amenities like everypony else."

Celestia let out a short breath, opting to follow Sunset. "Alright. I am a little hungry anyway."

The three mares made their way into the crowd, the presence of Princess Celestia inciting cheerful waves from the townspeople, eager to watch her raise the sun.

While it wasn't particularly rare to see Princess Celestia within the city limits due to her frequent visits to the new castle, Princess Luna was quite the stranger. Many people still vividly remembered that particular incident, even though it was over a decade ago at this point. As such, Luna still received some awkward and hesitant stares. Thankfully, today's occasion did much to alleviate the attention she was afraid she might get, and for once in her life, she was relieved that her sister was the center of attention. Still, Luna hoped that this event would improve the people's opinion of the night and, by extension, her.

And as the three of them walked through Canterlot Square, it appeared that everypony was liking what they were seeing thus far. Ponies stared in whimsical awe at the sight of the colorful glowflies illuminating the area, and there were several positive comments heard in regards to the stars that twinkled in the night sky. So far, so good. Luna was surprisingly pleased with what she had seen and heard throughout the morning.

While Sunset had suggested that they chat up the civilians, Celestia was more interested in following her stomach. Her eyes passed between the many food stalls set up around the square. It was like a carnival had come to town and the proprietors were filling the streets with the aroma of sugary sweets and the sound of sizzling oil as they cooked up tasty, yet clearly very fattening treats. The allure of a deep fried candy apple was tempting for Princess Celestia, but she knew both her teeth and her hips would likely suffer if she were to indulge too much. It was also easy to forget that it was still morning, and while it was unusual to partake in what were normally viewed as snacks and desserts at such an hour, the absence of the sun appeared to lower everypony's inhibitions as they snacked on all manner of sugary and greasy delights. And seeing such a sight made it a tad too difficult to resist.

Celestia wandered over to a pastry stall, from where the fragrance of chocolate was calling her. The stall in question looked like a mobile bakery counter, with all sorts of delectable, bite-sized treats. Celestia eyed up the plate of cookies, so freshly baked that the chocolate chips were still gooey.

Celestia smiled pleasantly—and a little desperately—at the unicorn mare running the stall. "Excuse me, how much for one of those cookies?"

The mare grinned from ear to ear, elated that Princess Celestia herself wished to sample her wares. "Oh, no charge for you, Your Highness! I couldn't take your money."

While Celestia was flattered by the offer, she wasn't about to let her do that. "Oh, no, a business can't thrive if you give things away for free. I insist."

Though reluctant, the mare smiled sheepishly and nodded. "A-Alright. Just one bit." She quickly picked up a cookie with her magic, wrapped it in a napkin, and passed it to the princess.

Celestia blinked a single gold bit onto the counter with her magic, then wasted no time taking a big, eager bite of the treat, moaning in delight as the melted chocolate coated her tongue. "Mmm, thish ish sho tasty!" she exclaimed with a mouthful of still soft dough and chocolate before gulping it down. "Luna, you should try something."

"Very well." Luna perused the selection for a moment, looking over cupcakes, brownies, donuts, and an assortment of other confections. "Hmm... Doth thou hath any moon pies?"

The mare's smile faded for a moment in mild embarrassment, offering Luna an apologetic frown. "Oh, um, no, sorry, Your Highness. I didn't really think they matched the theme of the event, you know? It's the Summer Sun Celebration after all, not the—" She paused, noticing the blue alicorn's quirked eyebrow. The mare forced an awkward grin. "Heh, uh, nevermind."

Luna simply shrugged. "Fine, then We'll hath one of those cupcakes."

The mare passed a cupcake to Luna with a smile. "Great! That'll be three bits."

Luna blinked at the mare as though confused by the transaction. "Why doth thou not grant Us the same offer as Our sister?"

The mare was caught off guard by the question. "Huh?"

Celestia leaned down close to her sister. "Luna, you can't just ask for free stuff because you're a princess."

"We were not asking for free stuff," Luna snipped with a slight, grumpy pout at the accusation. "We simply find it odd that she would offer thee a discount, but not Us."

The mare fidgeted awkwardly, now quite embarrassed by this whole situation. "I-I just thought you'd say the same thing that Princess Celestia did and turn the offer down out of politeness. Y-You can have it for free if you want, a-as an apology."

Luna spotted a rather judgmental scowl coming from her sister out of the corner of her eye. It was evident that Celestia was expecting her to take the offer, but Luna wasn't about to give her the satisfaction of being the bigger mare—so to speak. "No, we must keep the wheel of commerce turning." Luna teleported three bits onto the one bit that her sister had paid. "Thank thee." And with that, Luna promptly took a big bite of her cupcake, giving Celestia a haughty flick of her tail as she turned to leave.

Celestia, too, took her leave as she took another bite of her cookie, leaving just Sunset standing there awkwardly.

"Uh, sorry about that," Sunset apologized in the princesses' stead. "I'm sure Luna's not upset, if that's what you're worried about. So, uh... Can I get a cookie, too, please?"

As Celestia and Luna traipsed through the crowd, the older sister spoke tersely to the younger alicorn, though kept her voice low to avoid drawing too much attention to themselves. "Luna, I would prefer it if you didn't make a scene today."

"Hmph. We weren't 'making a scene.' It was a genuine question."

"All you did was make her feel uncomfortable. You know, you don't have to voice every objection or curiosity that comes to mind. I'm sure I don't have to remind you of the debacle with young Halberd."

Luna let out a long, remorseful sigh. She was surprised that her sister would open an old wound like that, suddenly making her feel despondent. "Yes, of course. Apologies, Sister. We'll try and keep Our mouth shut. We don't want to ruin thy big day..."

Celestia quickly felt a little guilty upon seeing Luna's expression become more sullen. "Don't say it like that, Luna, you know that's not what I mean. I'm just asking that you think about what you're going to say before you say it."

Luna nodded, looking her sister in the eye. "Yes, We understand. Forgive Us, Celestia, We art not trying to be passive-aggressive; We genuinely want this event to go well."

The ivory princess smiled fondly at her little sister. "I'm glad to hear that. And if we work together, we can make sure that happens."

Luna returned her sister's smile, taking an enthusiastic bite of her cupcake. "Indeed. And with that in mind, shall we see how our subjects are enjoying the celebration thus far?"

"I believe we shall."

The pair of alicorns finished their confections and began to simply wander around to hear what everypony had to say about the event.

From a respectful distance, Sunset watched the two princesses disappear into the crowd—or as well as they could given their stature. The amber unicorn decided to leave them to their own devices for the time being. Even though Sunset had been the head planner for these festivities, she wanted to partake in the amenities just as much as everypony else.

"Uh, hey, Sunset."

Sunset glanced over her shoulder with a friendly smile. If his voice hadn't been enough to recognize him, the light clattering of armor would help to discern who it was. Halberd sauntered over to her, though with a touch of reluctance. "Hey, Hal. How's guard duty?"

"Mundane," he chuckled. A slight blush tinged his silver cheeks. "Kinda wish I could join you and just... enjoy all of the hard work you put into this."

Sunset shrugged, casting an apologetic grin. "Yeah, well, Princess Luna insisted all the guards contribute to security. But I'm sure once the sun is up and everything starts winding down you'll get a chance to do something."

Halberd nodded, liking the idea of that. "Yeah, hopefully. But I guess you're pretty busy, too, huh? I mean, you're practically running this whole thing."

Sunset took a bite of the cookie she'd bought. "Not really," she replied, spraying a few crumbs out of her mouth before swallowing. "I've basically just been running things over with Princess Celestia. Quill's been doing most of the behind-the-scenes work, so I've got some time to waste. I was just gonna wander around with the princesses for a bit." Bringing up the two alicorns, Sunset turned back to the crowd. She could clearly see their heads poking out above the crowd on the other side of the square.

"Oh, well, I suppose you wanna get back to it then," Halberd said with a hint of dejection in his voice.

The pegasus suddenly felt a hoof wrap around his shoulder rather aggressively, jerking him to the side until his armor clanked against another set of golden mail. He didn't even need to look to know who it was.

"Why the long face, Hal? Not having fun on security duty?" Lance laughed.

"Are you?" Halberd retorted bemusedly.

"Sure!" he answered enthusiastically. Lance then gave his brother a sly smirk. "I was chatting up a couple of cuties earlier. I think they might have a thing for me."

"That... doesn't sound appropriate," Sunset commented, though couldn't hide her amusement at Lance's confidence.

"You're right. It doesn't."

Lance rolled his eyes, looking over his shoulder to find Scabbard walking up behind him with a stern and reprimanding look on his face.

"We're supposed to be maintaining a perimeter here, yet you two are out here goofing off," Scabbard chided. He turned his attention specifically to Halberd. "Not a good look for a new recruit. How are these people going to know they can rely on us to protect them if we're getting distracted by casual conversation?"

"Personally, I think a bunch of armored ponies standing around like trained guard dogs would make me a bit uncomfortable," Lance argued. "What better way to show them that everything's under control than to relax a little?"

Scabbard let out a sigh. As usual, he knew he'd never get through Lance's thick skull, so there wasn't much point in banging his head against a brick wall. "I'm just trying to make sure we do what we came here to do, Lance."

"Right. And as long as nothing happens, we've done our job. So loosen up a little."

"I'd prefer to just keep up my watch. At the very least you should keep an eye on the crowd; with so many people here, we need to be on the lookout for hoodlums."

Lance didn't know whether to laugh or groan at that statement. "'Hoodlums'? Do you even hear yourself? You sound like a jaded, old man."

"I'm six months younger than you."

"My point exactly!"

Halberd and Sunset exchanged awkward glances, both of them silently regretting that they had to bear witness to these two butting heads yet again. Halberd discreetly whispered to Sunset, "You wanna... go somewhere else?"

"Anywhere's better than here," she agreed with an uncomfortable laugh.

Amidst their argument, Scabbard noticed the two youngsters trying to sneak off into the crowd, reaching out a hoof to stop them. "Hey! Where do you think you're—"

He was suddenly cut off by Lance moving in his way, using his own hoof to lower Scabbard's back to the ground. Scabbard was taken aback slightly by how serious Lance looked all of a sudden.

"Look, you can chew me out all you want, but tonight, I am not letting you get between those two. Capiche?"

Scabbard was silent for a moment, casting a disapproving scowl at his fellow soldier. He knew exactly what Lance was trying to do, and while he didn't exactly agree that this was an appropriate time or place for that sort of thing, he decided to back off. "Fine. But don't go getting upset if he gets himself into hot water for shirking his duties."

Lance forcefully draped a hoof over Scabbard's shoulder, leading him in the opposite direction from Halberd and Sunset to ensure he didn't try and interrupt them. "I'm not worried. Come on, let's get back to our posts."

Meanwhile, on the other end of Canterlot Square, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna were still attempting to mingle amongst their subjects, though "blending in" wasn't exactly in the cards. Though this event placed Celestia in the spotlight, many people were still a little starstruck to see the princesses out and about. Celestia in particular had made frequent visits to Canterlot as of late to check up on the new castle's construction, but didn't make much time to actually visit the town proper, so this occasion was still a prime moment for the citizens of Equestria's capitol to meet and greet their princesses.

"We appear to be turning heads, Sister," Luna commented, noting the number of eyes looking in their direction.

"Well, we should be doing more," Celestia noted pensively. "Sunset suggested that we talk to people, but I'm finding it difficult to know where to start."

Luna couldn't help but smirk in amusement at her sister's unusually passive demeanor. "We thought We were supposed to be the anti-social one. Who'd hath thought thou, of all people, would hath trouble talking to thine own subjects."

"It's not exactly easy to just walk up to somepony and ask 'Hey, what do you think of me?' That would sound a tad self-important, don't you think?"

Luna grimaced slightly at the remark. "Now thou know how We feel."

"Good morning, Princesses."

Celestia and Luna watched as Starswirl weaved through the crowd of ponies to make his way over to them, flashing an amicable grin.

"Or would it still be evening since the sunrise is delayed? Or late night even," he said with a chuckle.

"Going by the hour, it would still be morning," Luna replied.

"Yes, Luna, he was just making a small joke," Celestia said with a roll of her eyes.

"All ready for the big moment, I take it," Starswirl presumed. "Everypony seems to be looking forward to it. Perhaps Sunset was really onto something."

Celestia let out an apprehensive sigh. "Yes, but I'm feeling a touch nervous. I'm hoping my head will be clear when the time comes."

Starswirl waved off her worry. "Oh, don't let it get to you. You've done this thousands of time. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands even."

"Yes, we get it, we're old," Luna interrupted with a disgruntled groan.

"I know, I know," Celestia responded with another sigh. "But for some reason, having an audience this big is weighing on my nerves. Perhaps I just need to take my mind off of it for the time being. Oh! How are things going with your time travel spell, Starswirl? Any luck?"

Starswirl moaned in disappointment, slowly running a hoof over his curly beard. "Mmm, unfortunately, no. Neither Sunset nor I have been able to cast the spell again since."

"Should we have a crack at it?" Celestia suggested.

"No!"

His defensive reaction caused the two alicorns to recoil slightly in surprise.

Starswirl cleared his throat, regaining his composure. "I wouldn't if I were you. I've come to the conclusion that I made a grave miscalculation in my research and application of the spell. As it stands, the spell appears to have a limit of one use per person, though I haven't been able to discern exactly why, and I fear I never will. Without being able to perform the spell again, I cannot accurately research it. As such, I've decided, with great reluctance, to shelf my study of time travel indefinitely."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Celestia said sympathetically.

"Perhaps somepony else will be willing to pick up where I left off in the future, but for now, I would suggest that the two of you refrain from casting the spell until it can be improved. You may want to use it for something at some point, and you shouldn't waste your one chance on something frivolous in case you don't get another."

"As princesses, We do not believe it would be wise for us to be messing around with time travel," Luna stated.

"I agree," Celestia said with a nod. "I know we should be doing everything within our power to help our kingdom and its people, but the implications of changing history might be a little too risky."

Starswirl simply shrugged. "That's your prerogative, I suppose."

"Um, e-excuse me..."

The three of them now noticed that a young, teenage mare wearing a pair of saddlebags had approached them, looking quite nervous and sheepish.

"Oh, yes? Can we help you?" Celestia responded curiously.

"Y-You're Princess Celestia, right?" the mare asked, though the answer to that should have been obvious.

Celestia offered a warm, friendly smile in response. "Yes, I am."

The mare smiled back, some of her hesitance lifting as her cheeks dimpled eagerly. "I-It's such an honor to meet you. And I-I know you're probably busy getting ready for the sunrise and everything, b-but..." She reached into her bags and pulled out a pencil and piece of paper, offering them to Princess Celestia. "Can I have your autograph?"

Celestia was caught off guard by the request. "Autograph?"

The princess's confused reaction caused the mare to backpedal slightly, sudden concern coming over her face. "O-Oh, I'm sorry! Is that not appropriate? I-I just heard you were really nice a-and... stuff, soooo..."

As unorthodox as this was, Celestia couldn't help but admire this mare's bravery to do something she was clearly apprehensive about. With a soft smile, Celestia gently took the pencil and paper from the mare with her golden aura. "I'd be glad to."

The mare watched in wonder as the princess neatly signed her name on the paper. Meanwhile, Luna was silently watching with a raised eyebrow as her sister obliged a random request from this stranger.

"There you are," Celestia said as she kindly passed the pencil and paper back.

The mare stared at the paper for a moment, admiring the princess's elegant writing and wondering if this was actually real. She beamed up at the ivory alicorn again. "Thank you so much, Your Highness! I'm gonna get this framed!" And with that she hurried back into the crowd and disappeared.

Celestia giggled quietly. "Well, that was certainly interesting. I don't think anypony's ever asked me for an autograph before."

"She never asked for Our autograph..." Luna grumbled with a pout.

"Don't take it personally, Your Majesty," Starswirl told Luna. "After all, Princess Celestia is meant to be the center of attention today."

That comment didn't do much to reassure her. If anything, it only upgraded Luna's pout to a grimace. "Thou say that as if that is not the norm..."

"Green is not a good color for you, Luna."

The midnight blue alicorn scowled up at her sister. "And what is that supposed to mean?"

"I'm simply trying to tell you that you've no need to be jealous. I'm not trying to hog attention."

"Then thou did not have to say it so smugly," Luna huffed. "And since when hath thou ever needed to try?"

"Ahem," Starswirl brusquely interrupted before this argument could escalate. "Anyhow, I believe it should soon be time for the sunrise. Do you think you're prepared, Princess? We could always delay a little longer if you need some more time to compose yourself."

Celestia smiled, a newfound confidence brimming within her. "I don't think there'll be need for that. I'm feeling... inspired all of a sudden. Luna, are you coming?"

Luna waved a hoof rather passive-aggressively as she lifted her nose at the question. "No, this is thy day. Wouldn't want to get in thy hair. We'll just observe from the crowd."

Celestia wasn't entirely fond of her sister's tone, and was admittedly a little concerned; Luna had been in a rather perky mood when the event started, but now she sounded a tad spiteful. "Are you sure? You could lower the moon for me to start things off."

"We're sure thou can handle it thyself."

That was even more worrying. Luna didn't often allow Celestia to move the moon without some convincing first, or without just cause. But Celestia decided to give Luna the benefit of the doubt here and assume she was just a bit sore about not being asked for an autograph. Luna was being testy, but at least she didn't seem outright frustrated. "Alright. Then enjoy the rest of the celebration, Luna."

"We shall."

With that, Starswirl offered a wave farewell as he accompanied Princess Celestia toward the stage, leaving Luna by her lonesome. While Starswirl was correct about the time, there was still enough for Luna to mingle a while longer before the sunrise, though she wondered how much more difficult that would be without her sister beside her.

From nearby, Luna heard the sound of somepony shivering, her eyes discreetly glancing in their direction. A couple stood nearby, staring out over the landscape. Despite the view on this moonlit night, the stallion looked a touch irritated.

"Brr," he shuddered, rubbing his hooves together. "Man, I'm freezing my flank off out here. Who thought it was a good idea to keep it nighttime all morning?"

"Come on, you're overreacting," the mare with him chided. "It's not that cold."

"Try taking off your coat and saying that."

The mare only pulled her soft, thick, down jacket closer to her neck, moaning blissfully into the collar to purposely aggravate him further. "Mmm, no. You should've just worn your own."

"What, like it's my fault? You were the one who dragged me out here for this so early, and now I've gotta sit out here in the darkness and catch a cold. I wish Princess Celestia would just raise the sun already and get it over with."

Luna let out a quiet sigh. As much as the people gathered in the square seemed to be enjoying themselves, it appeared there were still those who failed to appreciate the beauty of the night. She didn't really want to hear anymore of this, so the princess chose to leave the couple alone before their comments started getting under her skin.

"I'm so tired..." another nearby voice said with a loud yawn.

Two mares sat on a nearby bench with cups of coffee to fight off the sleepiness. Against Luna's better judgment, she stopped to listen.

"Finally get a day off work after a hectic week, and now we gotta sit through this," she complained somnolently.

"Tell me about it," the other mare agreed, her friend's contagious yawn spreading to her as well. "I just wanted to sleep in today. Would've actually been easy with the sunrise being later. But I can't get a wink with all this ruckus going on."

"Did they have to throw a party for this kind of thing? I mean, we could've just sat at home and watched the sunrise through our windows like normal people."

"Guess we could've just stayed home, but I kinda wanted to see what all the fuss was about." She looked around, her eyes briefly turning up towards the night sky, but there was no hint of enjoyment or wonder. "I'm not getting it. It's dark, and cold. Not really my scene. Only real night owls enjoy this kind of atmosphere."

Once again, Luna fought the urge to eavesdrop further. At this point, she had to wonder if these people were doing this on purpose. Surely they should have noticed that she'd been standing nearby, yet did nothing to lessen the blows. Luna figured it might be a good idea to move on once more. For once in her life, she found herself wishing that Celestia would raise the sun sooner.

With those comments leaving a sour taste in Luna's mouth, the alicorn decided it might help to balance it out with a little sweetness. Celestia often turned to sugary confections when she needed comfort, so Luna thought she'd give it a try; maybe that might make her feel a little better. With that in mind, Luna weaved her way through the crowd again to find that pastry stand she and her sister had stopped by early. The cupcake she'd had was rather delicious, so another one sounded pretty good right about now.

However, as Luna approached the stall, she quickly noticed a distinct lack of wares on display, with mostly just crumbs and smears of chocolate left on the plates. In fact, the mare operating the stand looked like she was packing everything away. Luna hurried over to see if she could stop her.

"Excuse Us, but doth thee hath any cupcakes left?" Luna asked with a hint of desperation in her voice.

The mare, startled slightly by the princess suddenly running over to her, gave the alicorn an apologetic and regretful look. "Oh, I-I'm sorry, no. I'm sold out of cupcakes."

Luna's expression almost seemed to become panicked at the news. "Then what about cookies? Brownies? Anything?"

The mare shook her head slowly, worried about the repercussions of her answer given the princess's behavior. "N-No, nothing. I'm completely cleaned out. Everything sold pretty quickly after you and Princess Celestia came by. I'm so sorry. I-If you want, I can hurry over to my bakery and see if there are any day-olds lying around, if that'll be good enough."

Luna lowered her head in disappointment. "No, there will be no need for that. Thank thee anyway."

The princess planted her flank on the ground right there, leaving the mare to awkwardly clean up as the sullen alicorn just sat there in silence.

"I wonder how much this is gonna set me back."

Luna cracked an eye open at the sound of the voice. The voice had come from an older stallion who was operating another stand nearby. He was speaking with yet another stallion about the same age who had a stall of his own. They both appeared to be selling a variety of vegetables. Luna didn't know why she was still doing this. She knew no good was going to come from listening in on other people's conversations, but her own morbid curiosity had managed to drown out all other noise around her to force her to listen to these two curmudgeons complain about whatever was on their minds.

"Holding off on the sunrise for so long is gonna hurt my crops," one stallion griped. "The summer solstice is usually all well and good when we get an extra hour of sunlight, but with all this hullabaloo they ain't gettin' all the nutrients they need."

"Supposedly, they're gonna keep the sun up longer tonight to compensate," the other stallion mentioned.

"Yeah, which means my sleep schedule's gonna be outta whack, not to mention fertilizin', waterin', the whole kit and caboodle."

"All this darkness ain't doing us no favors, I'll say that much."

Luna was starting to feel it again; that voice at the back of her mind. She hadn't felt that in quite a long time, but she knew what was going to happen if she let it get to her. She had to shut it out. It was the very reason she'd secluded herself so deeply for the past thirteen years. A part of her just wanted to leave, knowing that what she'd hoped to get out of this event was not going how she'd expected. She just wanted people to witness the glory that was the night sky, the beauty that could be hidden within the darkness. The moon was supposed to be a beacon in the dark, not a symbol of spite and disdain as these ponies seemed to see it. Why couldn't they understand that? Why couldn't they see past the veil and learn to appreciate the night—her night?

Luna held her hooves to her temples, trying to fight off the voice as it chewed away at her subconscious. What happened to all the positivity she'd heard at the start of the day? Why now could she only hear the negative comments and complaints? Why were they festering in her mind while anything good she'd heard was being involuntarily disregarded?

"You okay, Princess Luna?"

The alicorn snapped out of her thoughts, glancing over her shoulder to find Sunset and Halberd approaching her, the former looking somewhat concerned; she'd clearly picked up on Luna's crestfallen expression.

Luna breathed a deep sigh. "Yes, fine."

Sunset raised a worried brow. "Really? You look like something's bothering y—"

"I said I'm fine."

Sunset took a small step back. She wasn't prepared for Luna to snap at her like that, the princess's dour expression having quickly shifted to aggravation. Sunset didn't know what was on her mind, but whatever it was, she clearly wasn't in a mood to talk about it. So the next logical option was to try and take her mind off of it. "Uh, okay. If you say so. So, uh... Your sister's about to raise the sun in a few minutes. Wanna watch with us?"

Luna hesitated for a few moments. Briefly, a part of her wanted to say no, and she wasn't entirely sure why. But if that's what that voice was telling her to do, then it may be for the best if she did the opposite. "Alright."

The princess stood up, taking a quiet breath as she joined Sunset and Halberd. The three of them made their way through the crowd. Given that the big moment was upon them, everypony was starting to gather around the stage near the cliff. Luna, Sunset, and Halberd made their way to the front, to which nopony was going to complain given who they were.

Celestia hadn't yet taken to the stage, but she was clearly visible, her long, graceful neck poking up from behind it. Sunset was relieved to see that she was smiling, considering that she had been so nervous earlier. She must have gotten over her stage fright pretty quickly, though she was still pacing back and forth slowly and taking a few deep breaths.

Starswirl emerged from around the stage, walking over to where his daughter stood. He didn't say anything, but Sunset could tell from the grin on his face that he'd been busy running through the process with the princess again. But now that the time was approaching, he was just going to be another spectator like the rest of them.

One more time, Luna looked around, casting a discreet glance over her shoulder at the crowd assembled behind them. What she saw were mostly eager smiles, but for some reason, that irked her. With all the negativity she'd been focusing on in the past ten minutes or so, why now was there no hint of displeasure from these people, now that the sun was about to rise?

Finally, Princess Celestia took to the stage, her elevated presence within the square bringing all the murmurs of the crowd to a halt. Standing center stage, her wings spread majestically, Celestia looked out at her audience. There was a brief moment of hesitation when she saw hundreds of eyes staring back at her, but the smiles that accompanied them helped put her mind at ease. With a comforting smile of her own, Celestia spoke, her voice carrying loudly and clearly across the silent square.

"Fillies and gentlecolts, welcome to the first hopefully-annual Summer Sun Celebration. I know you all came here to witness me raise the sun this morning, and I would like to thank you for your patience. However, before I begin, I would like to first give credit to those who have made this event possible. First of all, our royal adviser Quill, and our head of magical studies Starswirl for their aid in planning and preparation. Secondly—but no less important..." Celestia smiled fondly down at Sunset, to which the amber mare responded with a proud grin of her own. "My faithful student, Sunset Shimmer, without whom this event wouldn't have even occurred. The Summer Sun Celebration was her idea, with the hopes that all of you could experience the same level of inspiration that she feels when watching the sunrise in the morning."

The crowd clomped their hooves against the cobblestone street in applause, praising the named ponies for their contributions. Sunset blushed bashfully; while she was well known around Canterlot for being Princess Celestia's protégé, it wasn't often she received this level of admiration.

Conversely, a slight frown creased Princess Luna's muzzle. She couldn't help but notice that her name had been omitted entirely, despite the fact that she had helped out as well, perhaps even more than Starswirl had.

"So, without further ado..." Celestia continued once the applause had quieted. She cleared her throat, her voice catching for a moment as she tried to improvise an inspiring phrase to kick things off. "Let the day begin."

With that, Celestia's horn lit up with golden light. In the sky behind her, the full moon that had been hanging above the Castle of the Two Sisters began to descend back down into the horizon. The brief lack of moonlight made the landscape in the fields and valleys around Canterlot pitch black; from a distance, the city may have looked like a floating island in an empty void, now being the only source of light for miles around. But that imagery didn't last long. A few moments later, Celestia's horn began to glow brighter, and the sky did much the same. An iridescent, amber light started to expand from the edge of the world, pushing back the darkness and making way for the morning as the stars began to fade away.

With a bit of impromptu showmanship, Celestia flapped her wings, lifting herself in the air above the stage. She pointed her horn skyward, it's golden light shining even more fiercely as though it were the sun itself.

In the crowd, Princess Luna raised an eyebrow at the odd display. "What is she doing?" she whispered to herself.

Sunset, hearing Luna's quiet, begrudging murmur, looked at her curiously.

"All this pomp and circumstance is completely unnecessary."

Sunset didn't say anything in response, hoping that it was just an offhoofed comment from the alicorn, and returned her focus to Princess Celestia.

With one more flourish, spreading her front hooves out as her horn flashed ever brighter, Celestia made the final push. All eyes were diverted to the horizon, where the sun princess's golden orb was finally awakening from its slumber.

To the average person, the sunrise wasn't an event worth celebrating. It happened every morning, so what was the big deal? But at this moment, such thoughts were absent. Even if any of these people had seen the sunrise dozens, even hundreds of times before, somehow, today's sunrise was special, and nopony could touch on why, not that they cared. Canterlot Square was inundated with the "Ooo's" and "Ahh's" of an impressed crowd of ponies as they watched their princess usher in the morning right in front of them. Despite the brightness of not just the sun, but Celestia as well, all eyes were focused on the horizon, wide with wonder and accompanied by hundreds of beaming smiles.

Sunset Shimmer couldn't help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment as she watched the reactions of the people around her. This must have been what she looked like the first time she watched the sunrise after learning about Princess Celestia.

As the sun rose, the sky faded from black, to purple, to orange and yellow, and finally to its distinctive blue as the celestial sphere took its place high above the land and its people. And with that, the glow of Celestia's horn dimmed, and the princess gracefully fluttered back down, alighting gently on the stage again. She barely had time to breathe a sigh of relief now that it was over before she was startled by the roarous applause and cheers from the crowd. Hooves clomped so loudly and enthusiastically that they threatened to break away the cliff side the city was built upon, and the sound of their delighted cheering and whistling drowned out the songs of the birds as they were waking up.

If she hadn't known any better, Celestia would have thought she just saved Equestria from some great disaster. She'd never received such praise for simply raising the sun before, except from Sunset Shimmer. Admittedly, she was a little embarrassed, a deep blush tinging her ivory cheeks as she smiled involuntarily.

But as the crowd continued their raucous hollering, Princess Luna had the opposite reaction. After all of that, all of the whining and complaining she'd heard, it was the sunrise that quieted it. To see people so enthused about having her beautiful night pushed away like it was a disease that had been plaguing the kingdom, and to applaud something as simple as the sunrise—a daily occurrence that any of them could watch on any day of the week...

Luna watched in bewildered silence as the people cheered her sister and celebrating the rays of the sun shining down upon them. Meanwhile, Celestia stood upon the stage with the most self-satisfied smile Luna had ever seen on her. Luna felt her teeth grit in her mouth. Her muscles tensed up, and her face began to burn hotter than the sun itself.

And then, the voice spoke.

"What are you all doing?!"

The crowd went silent almost instantly. Luna had spun around to face the crowd, her face contorted with seething rage.

"Why are you so impressed by this?! All she did was raise the sun, and you act as though this is something to be lauded?! She does this every. Single. Day! I can raise the sun, too! Look!" Luna demonstrated by lighting up her horn and shifting and circling the sun in the sky erratically and recklessly. "See?! It's not that complicated! She's not special! Yet you applaud her for something that takes her literally no effort, while my moon is shunned and ignored!"

Celestia was shocked to see her sister suddenly start acting out this way, but was intent to stop her before this went any further. She stepped forth on the stage authoritatively, glaring sternly down at her younger sister. "Luna, that is eno—"

"Don't you dare!" Luna spat, pointing a threatening hoof at Celestia. "You don't get to play the big sister card this time! My job is just as important as yours, yet my efforts go unnoticed and unappreciated! All these people care about is their precious sun, without so much as even sparing more than an hour or two of their time to enjoy the majesty of my night! And what have you done to remedy that?! Nothing! All you do is treat me like a child and expect me to just let things be! Meanwhile, you get to sit upon your sun-spotted behind and soak up all of the undue praise from these mindless simpletons who worship you just for existing!"

"Luna, please, stop this before—"

"Shut up!"

Celestia was taken aback and effectively silenced. The incensed fury in Luna's eyes was unlike anything she'd ever seen from her sister before. Celestia had expected to find a hint of sadness, a twinkle of tears in Luna's eyes, like when she'd had similar outbursts in the past, but this time she saw none.

"It's not enough to have everypony watch the sunrise, is it?! You have to go and turn it into a circus sideshow to make yourself look even better! Well, I'm tired of having to settle within your fat shadow, and I'm tired of putting effort into trying to get these ungrateful ingrates to respect me!"

Luna turned her ire back on the crowd. The citizens all took a step back in fear. Magic was sparking in the furious alicorn's horn, but it wasn't her usual blue aura. It crackled around her horn like electricity, but it was jet black, and the dark glow was only growing more fierce as Luna's tirade continued.

"What does it take to please you people?! I've tried being friendly, I've tried offering to help, I've tried being more involved in your lives, yet what have I received in return?! Say one nice thing about me! Anything!"

The crowd was silent, not so much as a peep to crack the tension in the air. They were all too afraid to speak up, fearful that anything they said would only anger her further.

Luna's expression suddenly let up a bit, though the glower she cast upon the crowd was still as dark as the night. When she spoke again, her voice was much quieter, but oozing with venom. "That's what I thought. Fine. You know what? I'm done. I'm done trying to earn your respect. If this is how you're all going to treat me, then perhaps I should respond in kind. Enjoy the rest of your 'Summer Sun Celebration.'"

With that, Luna spread her wings, performing one mighty flap and bolting into the air. Her liftoff kicked up a powerful gust of wind over Canterlot Square, forcing the people to shield their eyes, and knocking over several of the hanging glowfly lanterns in the process.

The crowd watched in stunned silence as Luna flew off toward the Castle of the Two Sisters. The square was dead silent for what felt like minutes before anypony had the courage to say anything, quiet murmurs starting up once everypony felt safe from Luna's wrath.

Sunset climbed up onto the stage with Princess Celestia. The ivory alicorn was still staring off toward the castle, a look of deep concern in her pink eyes. "Geez, that was rough," Sunset commented. "I didn't expect her to fly off the handle like that today. And the 'fat' comment was a bit uncalled for." She looked up at the princess. "How long do you think she'll be moping around about this one?"

Celestia didn't respond right away, and that only started to worry Sunset as well. "No, this was different. Something about this felt... wrong."

Sunset didn't like the sound of that. "What do you mean?"

"That wasn't just a childish temper tantrum. It was unrestrained, indignant rage. I've never seen Luna like this before." Celestia finally managed to tear her eyes away from the castle to look down at Sunset. The worry in her eyes was unnerving. "Sunset, I'm going to go talk to her. Try to keep things under control up here for me while I'm gone."

Sunset blinked, but nodded. "Oh, uh, okay. Good luck, I guess."

Without another word, Celestia took to the air to chase after her sister.

With a sigh, Sunset hopped back down from the stage, rejoining her father and Halberd, as well as Lance and Scabbard, who had come over to investigate before the princesses left.

"I certainly wasn't expecting this development," said Starswirl, uncomfortably scratching his bushy beard.

Lance grimaced slightly. "And why not? It's not like this sort of behavior from Princess Luna is unprecedented or anything."

"But Luna was looking forward to this almost as much as the rest of us," Sunset reminded him. "She was actually in a good mood when the event started."

"Princess Luna's ego is rather fragile," Starswirl remarked. "And it's evident that she also suffers from an inferiority complex. Combine those factors in a scenario that she was eagerly anticipating but where her sister is the center of attention and her emotions simply... exploded."

"You think Princess Celestia will be able to calm her down?" Halberd asked, though with some pessimism in his voice.

"Princess Luna has a tendency to stew over things like this for a long time," Scabbard pointed out. "She's been a recluse for the past thirteen years since..." He glanced at Halberd. "Well..."

Halberd sighed in slight exasperation. "Guys, I'm not a traumatized kid. You don't have to talk about it in hushed tones around me."

"You know, Luna never did apologize for that," Lance stated with a furrowed brow. "What makes you think she'll do so after this?"

Sunset turned her attention to the crowd. While there was still a lot of whispering and cautious glances in the direction of the castle, most of the attendees were going back to their business as though nothing had even happened. She wasn't entirely sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing given everything that Luna had said. "Maybe we shouldn't be talking about her behind her back. Princess Celestia seemed pretty worried about her this time. We should just have faith that she can get through to her."

Starswirl nodded. "Agreed. Now then, I think I'm going to try and locate Quill. We need to figure out what we're going to do from here. Oh, and I'm sorry this had to happen, Sunset. I know how much effort you put into this."

In spite of everything, Sunset smiled softly. "It's fine. At the very least, the crowd had the reaction I was hoping for. You know, until the end there."

Her father smiled back, admiring his daughter's optimism before he took his leave back into the crowd.

"Lance, we should probably help the other soldiers keep the crowd in check," Scabbard suggested.

"Sure. Come on, Hal."

Halberd hesitated for a moment, eliciting a puzzled look from his brother. Lance spotted Halberd staring at Sunset as the mare wandered over to the edge of the square overlooking Canterlot Valley, a conflicted look on his face.

After a few quiet moments, Halberd looked back at his brother. "Give me a minute."

Lance grinned, knowing full well what that meant. He didn't say anything else, and headed off with Scabbard to leave his little brother to his devices.

Having received silent approval, Halberd hurried to catch up to Sunset. She was staring out over the short, stone railing at the cliff's edge, gazing toward the Castle of the Two Sisters. It was obvious that she was worried about Princess Luna, but there must have been more on her mind than just that. Even so, Halberd had something on his mind, too, and even if this wasn't the most appropriate time, he had to get this monkey off his back one way or another.

Halberd took a deep breath, steadying his nerves. "Sunset? Can we talk?"

The amber mare turned around curiously. "Hm? Uh, sure. What's up?"

"There's something I need to tell you, and this might not be the best time, but I just need to get this off my chest. I—What the...?"

Sunset raised an eyebrow when Halberd suddenly cut himself short. He was now staring past her, and she noticed that he wasn't the only one. A growing number of people in the square were turning their eyes out toward the horizon. Sunset turned around to see what everypony was looking at.

Despite the fact that the sun was sitting high in the sky right now, the moon had suddenly returned, and was steadily rising back out from its hiding spot beyond the horizon.

The awestruck people of Canterlot were beginning to gather behind where Sunset and Halberd were standing, baffled by what was happening. Starswirl, Quill, Lance, and Scabbard pushed their way back through the mass of ponies to join Sunset, equally troubled by this unusual occurrence.

"What's going on? Is Princess Luna doing this?" Starswirl wondered worriedly.

As the moon rose higher, the sky began to darken. Soon, it had encroached upon the sun's location, passing in front of it and obscuring its light until only the sun's corona continued to shine through. Even then, just a moment later, the light faded entirely, and the sky reverted to the black of night.

The crowd was a low roar of concerned whispers as they witnessed an unprecedented event. The sun had been completely eclipsed as though it hadn't been raised at all.

"What's happening?" Sunset uttered quietly, too stunned to say anything more.

Suddenly, a beam of blue light shot out of the Castle of the Two Sisters, sweeping across the sky. The crowd gasped in unison, startled and shocked. Then there was another blast, followed by another, and another. The sky was being assaulted by blasts of blue magic coming from inside the castle.

Without anymore hesitation, Lance made the call to action. "Get the chariots! Now!"

The pegasus soldiers scrambled to hitch up their chariots, while the earth ponies and unicorns boarded the vehicles to prepare to make a beeline for the castle.

Lance quickly looked to Scabbard. "Scabbard, can you run crowd control here?"

The unicorn simply nodded, getting straight to it as he focused on the bystanders. "Everypony, remain calm! Clear some space for the soldiers to get through, and then return to your homes!"

Following his orders, Canterlot Square was quickly evacuated, giving the pegasi ample room for takeoff.

Halberd hurried to his chariot, hooking it to his armor and getting ready to take off. However, before he could begin his running start, Sunset ran over to him and hopped in the chariot.

"I'm going with you!"

There wasn't really any time to argue with her, and her magical prowess might prove helpful. Without another word, Halberd took off with Sunset in tow, and the other pegasi did likewise, with Lance carrying Starswirl and Quill in his chariot.

As the squadron of soldiers streaked through the air, all eyes were locked on the castle. Whatever struggle was unfolding there was still under way, with beams of light being fired every which way. They could see even from this distance that the castle was taking collateral damage from the attack. In fact, the source of the blasts seemed to have shifted to the airspace around the castle. Two objects appeared to be flying around the castle, and it wasn't difficult to discern that one of them was Princess Celestia. The other one, however, was harder to identify. They were difficult to pick out as they blended into the darkness of the sky. The only thing Sunset could tell was that it didn't look like Princess Luna.

By the time the platoon of chariots had nearly made it to the other side of the Everfree Forest, the firefight of magic lasers had suddenly ceased, and the two combatants appeared to have vanished, presumably back into the castle. They swooped down to the front of the castle, landing roughly and hastily unhitching their chariots. Wasting no more time, everypony present rushed toward the castle's entrance, with Sunset leading the charge, having jumped out of her vehicle before it had even touched the ground.

But a sudden flash of light from the roof of the castle halted everypony in their tracks. A loud hum of magic pervaded the air, steadily increasing in intensity. A voice could be heard crying out in agony, though in the midst of this chaos they couldn't determine whose it was. Then, the group of ponies were startled once more, taking a cautious step back as an enormous beam of rainbow-colored light blasted up from the castle, tearing straight up into the sky. Nopony could even begin to guess what could cause such a thing. Was Princess Celestia even capable of such power?

While everypony was frozen in stunned silence, Sunset quickly regained her senses, charging forward and rushing through the doors, down the entry hall, and throwing the doors of the throne room open forcefully. She skid to a halt once she saw the devastation. The throne room was in ruins. The ceiling had been completely torn away, leaving the chamber exposed to the sky above. Rubble and debris littered the throne room, from dust and peebles, to large slabs of stone that could easily crush a pony. The banners on the walls were charred by magic burns, and the bridge connecting the two throne platforms had been broken in half. But while Princess Celestia's throne was still intact, Luna's throne had been shattered to pieces.

On top of that, Sunset noticed that the pedestal housing the Elements of Harmony had been raised, but the Elements themselves were nowhere to be seen. There were, however, five stones laying on the floor around the pedestal, too spherical to be natural debris.

But the Elements were the least of Sunset's concerns. Her heart nearly stopped when she saw Princess Celestia slowly making her way toward her. The princess hobbled weakly, one of her hind legs dragging slightly, and her left wing hanging limply at her side. Her normally-flawless, ivory coat was marred with cuts, bruises, and burn marks.

"Princess!"

Sunset hurried over to help Celestia, barely reaching her in time as the alicorn's strength gave out and she collapsed, her student catching her. Sunset looked Celestia in the eye, fearful for her health. The princess was worn down, both physically and emotionally. The look in her pink eyes was full of regret and pain.

"Princess, are you alright?" Sunset asked worriedly.

Celestia clenched her teeth in pain, her eyes squeezing shut as moisture began to accumulate within them. "Sunset... I..."

And that was all she could manage before she broke down into tears, crying loudly and openly as she lay her head against her student's back.

By this time, Starswirl, Quill, and the soldiers had caught up, trying to wrap their heads around what had happened. The throne room was in shambles, and the princess was much the same.

Sunset said nothing as Celestia's tears soaked into her amber fur, only wrapping a hoof around the princess's neck in comfort. She was confused and concerned by all of this, but Celestia was clearly in no condition to talk. In addition, there was no sign of Princess Luna anywhere. With nowhere else to turn, Sunset shifted her gaze upward, staring up at the moon through the demolished roof.

And from its alabaster surface was the dark silhouette of a mare staring back at her.

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