• 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 11 - Impact

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 11: Impact

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Twilight Sparkle's eyes fluttered open slowly. It took a moment for her to remember where she was, but once she lifted her head from her pillow and rubbed her eyes, her senses quickly came back to her.

She glanced down beside her, an elongated breath escaping through her nostrils. Celestia's book was laying next to her, still open on the last page she'd read. She must have fallen asleep while she was reading it, which she thought was odd; she'd never fallen asleep reading a book before, although she hadn't slept very well the previous night, so she chalked it up to sheer exhaustion.

It was just a little unfortunate that Twilight had fallen asleep in the middle of the day, though not that she expected her sleep schedule to be regular with everything that was swirling around in her head lately. It appeared she had awoken on the cusp of nighttime, as the dusk sky was visible through her bedroom window.

However, the soft, amber light of the evening was somewhat offset by the pink glow of the magical barrier she'd cast around the room to isolate herself. Twilight let out a sigh. Spike must have been worried about her. She hadn't said a word to him since that morning, so he didn't even know about her little outburst toward Princess Celestia. Then she came back and immediately shut herself inside her room with a magic shield. It must have been a concerning discovery. She wondered if he'd been trying to get her attention this whole time, and if so, for how long? Then again, Spike was a smart dragon; he could probably deduce for himself that something was up and understand when she needed to be alone. In either case, Twilight wasn't about to bring the barrier down. As bad as she felt about Spike, she was a touch paranoid that maybe Princess Celestia was waiting out there for her, too.

Twilight wearily crawled off her bed, letting out a long yawn. She was honestly a little surprised that she'd slept as well as she did, all things considered. Even barring how distraught she'd been over this whole business with Celestia, she still wasn't entirely used to sleeping with her two new, feathery appendages. It may have just been a result of how tired she was, since her wings were a little uncomfortable; perhaps she'd slept weirdly. She furled and unfurled her wings a few times, and flapped them repeatedly to work out the soreness.

As she stretched her stiff muscles, Twilight's eyes were focused on the dusk sky outside. The sky was fading into darkness, the sun had set, and the moon had now emerged to take its place. As beautiful as the rising moon was, Twilight couldn't help but think about the last thing she'd read in the book. It seemed the more she read, the more pressing her questions about it became. Sunset Shimmer had been around for some of Equestria's most significant events. Not only was she the one responsible for the creation of the Summer Sun Celebration, but she was even around for the emergence of Nightmare Moon. It just made it all the more confusing as to why Twilight—or anypony else for that matter—had never heard of her before. She had never even known Starswirl the Bearded had a daughter, and as famous as he was, even any writings about him had never made mention of Sunset Shimmer. And the big problem was that the only person who could provide her with answers was the one person that Twilight didn't really want to confront right now.

But as Twilight watched the full moon ascend into the starlit sky, her eyes widened as the realization finally dawned on her. How had she not thought of this before? There was somepony else around who knew Sunset Shimmer.

With the idea in her head, Twilight picked up Princess Celestia's book with her magic to take with her, slipping a book mark between its pages so as not to lose her place. She was still a tad too paranoid to walk out the door. Instead, she created a small hole in her barrier and slipped out her window, shutting both behind her as she flapped off into the darkness.

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

Canterlot Castle was now bathed in moonlight, the marble walls practically glowing as the moon shone upon them. With another day gone and another night now in progress, Princess Luna was ready to get started on her nightly rituals; the lavenders throughout the castle halls needed replacing and the night guards' attendance needed to be taken. But aside from that, there wasn't much else to do, so she would have to decide what it was she wanted to do to pass the time tonight.

The midnight blue alicorn stepped back into her chambers, shutting the glass doors to her balcony behind her. But before she even had a chance to contemplate possible activities to occupy her time, she heard a gentle rapping on the balcony doors. Looking back, Luna was surprised to see Twilight Sparkle standing outside. Confused, yet curious, Luna turned around and opened the doors for her unexpected visitor.

"Twilight, what brings you here?" Luna asked. She couldn't help but notice an odd look on the purple alicorn's face; pensive and apologetic.

"Well, first of all," Twilight began, "I wanted to apologize for disappearing on you guys. You were putting a lot of effort into helping me learn the ins and outs of being a princess, but it was—"

"Overwhelming?"

Twilight nodded slowly.

Luna simply smiled. "Understandable. It's a lot to take in, I know. Being a princess is not easy. But it's okay to want to take a break. Just maybe tell somepony next time instead of sneaking off."

"Yeah, I will. Sorry."

Luna then raised an eyebrow curiously. "But you chose a bizarre time to return. It's getting late," she said, gesturing to the moon in the sky behind Twilight.

"Actually, I didn't really come here because of my princess duties. I want to talk to you about something."

Luna could sense a seriousness in her voice, and at no point thus far had Twilight shown even a smile or hint that everything was well. Something was clearly bothering her. Luna stepped aside hospitably. "I see. Come in."

Twilight accepted the offer graciously. It wasn't often she visited Luna's quarters. It was actually a little jarring how similar it was to how it had been described in Celestia's book, back at the Castle of the Two Sisters; dark colors all around that gave the room the illusion of being surrounded by the night sky; bookshelves lining the walls and offering reading material to pass the time; various astronomical instruments for monitoring the stars and the moon. The latter in particular was noteworthy as there didn't appear to be as many as described in the book. Perhaps some were lost to time, or were made obsolete.

"What was it you wished to talk to me about?"

Twilight paused for a moment before looking Luna dead in the eye. "Can you tell me about Sunset Shimmer?"

If the room hadn't been quiet before, it was like it had become a vacuum all of a sudden. Luna's eyes had widened, and her jaw dropped slightly as though she'd just seen a ghost. "Sunset... Shimmer? Why, I haven't heard that name in over a millennium. How do you know of Sunset Shimmer?"

"Your sister wrote a book about her." Twilight unfurled one of her wings, pulling out the tattered tome from beneath her feathers.

Luna raised an interested, yet skeptical eyebrow. "Really? This is the first I've heard of this. Why didn't she mention it?"

"Because I don't think she wants anypony to read this book. She got pretty upset when she found me reading it," Twilight explained, her ears folding back in remorse as she recalled the unpleasant sight of Celestia shouting at her.

Luna grimaced slightly as she discerned the implications of Twilight currently possessing the book. "And you did not return it? Twilight, I've not known you to disobey my sister."

"I know," Twilight said defensively. "But you don't understand, the fact that she didn't want me to read it meant that she was hiding something, and that scared me." Twilight hung her head in self-pity. "And now I know what..."

Luna raised an eyebrow. "That being...?"

"That I'm almost exactly the same as Sunset Shimmer," Twilight said with slight hint of anger in her purple eyes.

The moon princess took a moment to think that over. "Hmm... I didn't take you for the jealous type, Twilight."

"I just need to know why," Twilight declared almost desperately. "Why wouldn't Princess Celestia tell me about her? Am I just supposed to be a replacement? Somepony to fill a void? Is that all I am to her?"

Luna lifted a hoof to Twilight's shoulder soothingly. "Calm down, Twilight. My sister doesn't do things without reason."

Twilight took a deep breath to steady herself before she let her emotions get the better of her. She didn't want to go down this path of anger and frustration again. She looked up to Luna once more, more calmly. "I was just wondering if you could help me shed some light on things. You knew Sunset Shimmer, too, right?"

Luna nodded, though her face was still full of disbelief. "I did. But truth be told, I haven't so much as thought about her in ages. It's curious that Celestia would make no mention of her after my return."

"You forgot about her?"

"Bear in mind, Twilight, that I spent one thousand years banished inside the moon, stewing in anger, hatred, and jealousy towards my sister. Everything else couldn't have been further from my mind—or perhaps I should say Nightmare Moon's mind. I was practically a different person during that time."

"But she seemed like she was such an important person in your lives. How could nopony even know she existed?"

Luna closed her eyes, thinking on that for a few moments. "Well, even my transformation into Nightmare Moon became little more than a myth over the past one thousand years; an old mare's tale passed down through the generations. I suppose it's possible that Sunset Shimmer's existence similarly may have faded into obscurity over the ages."

"But her father was Starswirl the Bearded, a famed scholar whose contributions to the field of magic have impacted our very way of life."

Luna shook her head with a sigh. "I don't know what to tell you, Twilight. How much of Sunset's life is described in that book exactly?"

Twilight glanced at the book in her magical grasp. She looked where she had placed the bookmark, noting that she seemed to be about halfway through the book at this point. "I'm not sure, I haven't finished it yet. And it's already jumped from her childhood straight to her young adulthood, so I'm not sure if there'll be any more time jumps."

"Then how far have you read?"

Twilight's ears drooped a little as she readied her answer. "Um... I just got to the part where you... became Nightmare Moon..."

Luna nodded with an apologetic look on her face. "Then I'm afraid I know no more than you do. I was banished just after that, so I know nothing of what happened to Sunset Shimmer following those events. It would appear that your only options at this point are to either finish the book, or ask my sister." She took notice of Twilight's reluctant expression when she suggested that. The pieces were beginning to fit together. "I see. I take it this whole situation is the reason why Celestia has been so standoffish these past couple of days."

"I can't talk to her yet," Twilight admitted quietly. "I'm afraid she'll just tell me what I want to hear instead of telling me the truth."

A frown curled Luna's muzzle. It was distressing to hear that Twilight had seemed to have lost faith in the mare who had been her mentor since she was a child. "I wish I could help more, Twilight, but I'm afraid I have nothing I can offer. All I can say is that I know my sister better than anypony. But how she views you in comparison to Sunset Shimmer, I can't say."

Twilight hung her head in dejection. She'd been hoping to get something from Luna to help ease her mind; if nothing else, a reason not to continue reading the book and return it to Celestia with an apology. But it appeared that, if she wanted answers, she'd have to continue on her course and finish it.

That being said, Luna never did answer her question.

"Princess Luna, I asked if you could tell me about Sunset Shimmer. Could I still get your input, please?"

Luna sighed regretfully. "If you've read the book as far as you say, then—"

"But this book was written by your sister, and while you were banished to the moon. So isn't it possible that some things may not be entirely accurate? Your thoughts, even if they are written as though from your perspective in the book, were still written by Princess Celestia. It's possible there may be some bias in the way she'd written it."

Luna mulled that over. "Hmm... I suppose you have a point. Without me around to ask for reference, she may have had to resort to approximations on some matters. May I see the book?"

Twilight hesitated. She pulled the book closer to herself instinctively, casting a silent, apologetic frown at the moon princess.

Luna rolled her eyes, having an idea of what was going through her mind. "This is not a ploy to make you relinquish the book so I can return it to my sister. Quite frankly, this whole kerfuffle between you and Celestia is none of my business, and you two should work it out for yourselves. Right now, I'm only humoring this conversation out of sheer curiosity."

Twilight was still visibly reluctant, but sensed no dishonesty in Luna's voice or expression. In fact, now she felt a little bad about getting Princess Luna roped into this argument between her and Celestia. Though her apprehension hadn't been entirely abated, her own curiosity lead to her handing over the book to Luna.

Luna received the worn tome, looking it over for a moment with mild disgust. "For something supposedly so important to her, Celestia hasn't kept very good care of it."

"I found it hidden away under one of the shelves in the royal archives. I speculate that she had either lost it, or it was stolen and stored somewhere without her knowledge, though both of those scenarios have some holes in their logic."

"Yet something else you'll need to hear straight from her mouth." Luna opened the book, flipping quickly through its pages.

"Um, be careful," Twilight warned. "Some of those pages a pretty loose. If they were to fall out, I'm not sure if I'd be able to find where they belonged again. Also, can you not look at anything past the bookmark? I don't want any spoilers," she requested with an awkward grin and a slight blush.

"I'm admittedly curious as to what became of Sunset, but I'll oblige." Luna began to flip more slowly, skimming over a select few pages. A sudden, amused smile creased her lips. "Oh, yes, the pancake incident. How could I have forgotten that? I was furious," she chuckled.

Twilight stepped closer as Luna continued to look over several other scenes. "Any... discrepancies? Does it match up to how you remember everything?"

Luna's brow suddenly knit tighter. She was scrutinizing a particular page quite thoroughly. "This scene where I'm giving young Sunset lessons... I don't recall it playing out quite like this."

Twilight leaned in with vested interest, intrigued by anything that Luna might be able to clarify. "What's different?"

"Well..." Luna skipped ahead slightly. "Apparently Sunset told Celestia that I instructed her to use her negativity to motivate her. I don't remember saying it like that."

"I see. Well, that's a scene that Celestia wasn't there for. She pretty much had to go off of what Sunset told her. Do you think Sunset misinterpreted what you said?"

Luna let out a long breath through her nose. "Perhaps not. This was during a time in my life where I felt the world was against me. My memory of this time may be slightly skewed."

"So what do you remember about Sunset Shimmer? I'd like to hear it directly from you rather than getting your sister's interpretation of what you felt."

Luna closed her eyes for a moment, allowing the memories that long lay dormant in the back of her mind come flooding back. "When I first met Sunset, when she was just a little filly, I likened her to an incessant, little mosquito, dead set on buzzing around my ear and irritating me to no end."

Twilight smirked a little. "Yeah, I think Princess Celestia got that impression, too, based on what's written in there."

"She was naïve, but curious. Studious and a quick learner, yet oblivious to things around her. Charismatic and optimistic, yet somehow isolated, like her world was confined to a tiny bubble."

Twilight's expression fell, speaking her mind quietly. "Sounds familiar..."

"Sunset was a very talented person, intelligent and powerful, I will not deny that. But I think what stood out the most to me was that she was one of the few people who gave me the time of day."

"Yeah, after reading about what happened at the first Summer Sun Celebration, I can kind of see where you were coming from."

Luna's face became full of remorse as she thought about that fateful day. "If I had told Sunset to harness her anger and frustration, then I wish I could apologize. I lost control of my emotions and look what happened."

Seeing the look on Luna's face, Twilight wanted to shift the subject back on track quickly for her sake. "So, you think I should take what's written in this book with a grain of salt, then? If it's not accurate to how you remember..."

Luna shook her head. "That was just that one scene, and it may have been influenced by what Celestia had heard from Sunset. Obviously I'd need more time to confirm the overall accuracy of the events written here, but based on a cursory glance, it all seems more or less correct. Celestia may have exaggerated here and there, but I cannot necessarily refute what's depicted in these pages. Whether or not that helps you, I do not know."

Luna returned the book to Twilight, and the lavender alicorn let out a somewhat disappointed sigh. "It was worth a shot, I guess. Thanks anyway, Princess."

As Twilight sauntered slowly back toward the balcony, Luna reached out once more. "Twilight. I know better than anypony that its dangerous to live your life in somepony else's shadow. I know not what happened to Sunset after my banishment, so I can't say for certain that your path is the same as hers. But at the very least, don't walk the same path that my past self once did. You are not Sunset, nor should you strive to be. You are your own person."

Twilight straightened up a little and managed a small smile. "I understand. Thank you, Princess Luna. But you understand that I still have to finish this book, right?"

"Truth be told, I would likely say the same if I were in thy place."

Twilight quirked an eyebrow. "Did you say 'thy'?"

Luna blinked blankly. "Did I? Apologies, all this reminiscing about days of old must have Us falling back on old habits. I mean 'me.' Dang it."

Twilight couldn't help but snicker at the embarrassed blush on Luna's dark blue cheeks. "Don't worry about it." She was about to take off from the balcony, but turned back to Luna for another moment. "Oh, and can you not mention we had this conversation to your sister, please?" Twilight requested with an awkward grin.

Luna waved off the request dismissively. "As I said, this is not my business. Settle it between yourselves. That being said, if you do reconcile, I would like to perhaps give that book a read. I do wonder what became of Sunset."

"Well, you'll have to ask your sister if she'd be willing to lend it to you. Anyway, thanks again for your time, Princess."

"Goodnight, Twilight. And thank you for visiting," Luna responded in gratitude.

And with that, Twilight took off from Luna's balcony, hurrying back home to immediately pick up where she left off.

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

Never had the atmosphere within the Castle of the Two Sisters felt so bleak. The castle itself was is a state of disarray, to put it lightly. The battle that had taken place there had done significant damage, though thankfully it was mostly contained to the throne room. A few of the surrounding towers had suffered collateral damage during the battle, and while Princess Celestia's tower suffered little damage, Princess Luna's tower wasn't so lucky. However, a preliminary search revealed that Luna herself was fortunately not within the tower when it collapsed. But the worrying part about that was that nopony actually knew where Princess Luna was currently, and soldiers were searching the castle and the surrounding area tirelessly for any sign of her.

For that matter, nopony could see hide nor hair of the entity that Princess Celestia had been doing battle with either. Presumably, Celestia had won, as she was still present while her opponent had vanished, but somehow that knowledge didn't ease anypony's minds. Until they could get some answers, nopony was going to feel at ease, and the only person who could provide those answers was currently receiving medical attention.

In the meantime, all anypony could do was wait in the ruined throne room for Princess Celestia to return, or at least hear word of her condition. She hadn't even had time to raise the sun once more, the night sky still hanging above them even in the middle of the afternoon. What was unsettling was the mysterious face staring down on them from the surface of the moon. One could only imagine what must be going through the minds of Equestria's populace. A few pegasus soldiers had returned to Canterlot to help keep the citizens under control, but those still at the castle had to imagine the capitol was in a state of near panic over all of this.

Sunset Shimmer, Starswirl, Quill, and several soldiers remained in the throne room, as precarious as it was; though the roof had been almost completely destroyed in the struggle, there was always the possibility that the instability could cause more debris to come down in time. As such, everypony was staying away from the walls.

Still, it was distressing to see the throne room in such a state. For many of them, this was their home. Sunset and her father had been living there for over a decade at this point, and even though they were anticipating the move to Canterlot Castle, to see their current home falling apart was disheartening.

Barely a word had been said since Princess Celestia was carried away for medical treatment, leaving everypony to theorize about what exactly had happened. Sunset in particular was focusing her attention on the pedestal that normally held the Elements of Harmony, which sat out in the open instead of being concealed under the floor of the throne room like usual. It was evident that Princess Celestia had used them, but even the Elements were nowhere to be found. Sunset couldn't concentrate any further on the matter than that, as she was too worried about Princess Celestia's well being. She wanted to rush up to her chambers to check on her, but the paramedics urged her to remain where she was.

The flapping of wings managed to distract those in the throne room from their morbid thoughts for a moment. Lance, Halberd, and several other armored pegasi flew in through the open roof to touch down inside. Sunset hurried over to them with deep concern.

"Anything?"

Lance shook his head in defeat. "Nothing. We can't find Princess Luna anywhere."

"This is very concerning," Starswirl stated with a weary sigh. "We all saw Princess Luna fly back to the castle after she left Canterlot. Could she have fled somewhere else?"

"If she did, it would have to be pretty far away," said Halberd. "We've set up a wide perimeter, and we've even got a ground team searching the Everfree Forest."

Lance stomped a hoof in frustration. "Augh, this is our fault! We shouldn't have let the princesses return to the castle alone! It was stupid of us to send all of our soldiers to Canterlot instead of leaving some to watch the castle."

"What could we have even done if we were here?" Halberd argued. "Princess Celestia is barely standing after that. What chance did we have?"

"That's not the point!" Lance snapped, clearly more frustrated with himself than anypony else. "What's the purpose of having us around if we can't do anything! Whether or not we could've done anything isn't what matters! Our job is to protect the princesses and we have to do that to the best of our ability regardless of the circumstances!" Lance's expression suddenly fell as he slipped off his helmet to run a hoof through his mane. "And we failed..."

A hush fell over the throne room once more. The somber air in the castle was difficult to suppress, and it affected everypony present. Sunset and Starswirl wished they could have said something to lift everypony's spirits, but it was clear that nothing either of them could say would help under the current circumstances.

As if to break the silence, the creak of an opening door caught everypony's attention. To the right of where the throne platforms were, the door leading to the castle's east wing opened, and through it came Princess Celestia, slowly making her way towards the people who had been anxiously awaiting her return, accompanied by a doctor and nurse.

Sunset was about to rush to her side, but was quickly stopped when Lance extended a hoof in front of her to hold her back. Sunset didn't fight against it. Lance had the right of it; the last thing Celestia needed right now was to be surrounded on all sides and bombarded with questions. But it was still painful for her to watch her teacher limp her way into the room.

Celestia's normally pristine, white coat was adhered with bandages and patches of gauze in several places to dress the wounds she'd received. More concerning was the wrappings around her right hind leg, which she was avoiding putting any pressure on—hence her impaired gait—and the sling supporting her left wing. But perhaps the most disconcerting blemish upon her figure was the dour and distant expression on her face. Her eyes were listless, staring at nothing in particular as she made her way to the center of the room, and her lip was practically trembling.

The princess stopped in front of the alter of the Elements of Harmony, and it was only now that she seemed to acknowledge the presence of her staff, all staring at her quietly and worriedly.

Of course, it was Sunset who was first to speak. "Princess...? Are you alright?"

Perhaps a pointless question to ask, all things considered, but one to which everypony present wanted an answer first and foremost.

Celestia took her time answering the question, not even making eye contact with Sunset. When she finally did speak, she did so very quietly, her voice barely above a whisper. "Physically, I'm fine. Some scrapes, bruises, minor magic burns, a sprained leg, and a small fracture in my wing. Nothing that won't heal in time."

A collective sigh of relief was released from the group of ponies, as though all of them had been holding their breath.

It was then that Celestia's expression somehow fell even more, her gaze drifting to the floor. "Emotionally... That's another story entirely..."

"What exactly happened here?" Starswirl finally asked.

"And do you know where Princess Luna is?" Lance added.

Celestia tensed up, as though the mention of the name had caused her physical pain. "Luna is..."

Sunset was worried. She'd never seen Princess Celestia so broken before. Her composure was gone, and it seemed as though she was doing everything in her power to prevent herself from crying again.

"Luna's gone..."

Silence pervaded the throne room. Everypony felt their hearts skip a beat, matching the hitch in Celestia's voice as she'd said that.

"Wh-What do you mean 'gone'?" Quill asked for clarification.

Celestia lifted a hoof to her face, wiping away any tears before they had a chance to dampen her coat. "She's not dead, if that's what you're worried about." Once again, her eyes shifted away. "Though, to all of you, she may as well be..."

The entire group shared concerned and confused glances.

Upon seeing how clearly bothered by all this her subjects were, Celestia finally mustered up the strength to straighten herself up, her usual poise and authoritative posture returning to her as best it could in her physical condition. "I suppose I should explain from the beginning. Upon following my sister back to the castle, I confronted her here in the throne room. You all witnessed her outburst earlier, but you may or may not have noticed the effect it was having on her. Luna had allowed her emotions to take control of her. Her anger, her jealousy, her hatred; it all came to a head. By relinquishing control of those emotions and letting go of her inhibitions, her magic became corrupted, transforming her into something else—somepony else—and calling herself 'Nightmare Moon.'"

Somehow, the name caused a shiver to run down Sunset's spine. "'Nightmare Moon'? Then, is that who you were fighting?"

Celestia nodded. "But regardless of what she called herself, she was still my sister, and I couldn't bring myself to harm her, even if she was willing to take my life."

Starswirl glanced past the princess and to the exposed alter behind her. "So, you used the Elements of Harmony," he inferred.

"Yes. And with their power, I was able to defeat Nightmare Moon, imprisoning her inside the moon."

All eyes turned skyward. That would explain the face that was now visible on its surface; the profile of this "Nightmare Moon."

Now that attention had been drawn to it, Celestia thought now may be a good time set things straight. It was with a heavy heart that Princess Celestia lowered the moon once more, bringing the sun out and allowing its rays to light up the otherwise dreary atmosphere in the castle. It was her hope at the moment that bringing the sun back out would quell any worry that her subjects outside the castle may have, but she herself took no solace in having to move the moon in her sister's stead.

"So, Luna's stuck inside the moon now?" Sunset surmised dismally. "How long is she going to be banished for?"

Celestia let out a long, shaky sigh at the question, a tear rolling down her cheek as she said the words out loud, to herself just as much as everypony else. "One thousand years..."

Everypony was taken aback by the answer, a series of shocked gasps escaping their lungs.

"A thousand years?!" Sunset echoed, her voice the loudest thing to have been heard in the throne room since the battle.

"Your Highness, don't you think that's a bit excessive?" Quill expressed.

"It was not my choice to make!" Celestia snapped.

Although her response caused Quill to wince, it was clear from the pain on her face that she was more frustrated with herself than anything else.

Celestia held a hoof to her chest in an effort to steady her nerves before elaborating. "A strong bond is required to properly control the Elements of Harmony. That's why Luna and I have always used them together. But this time, I was forced to use them alone, and as such, I had no control over the duration of her banishment. On top of that, with that bond now... broken..." She took a moment to take a breath as that thought sunk in. "The Elements have lost their power entirely."

Starswirl walked over to the alter, examining the spherical stones that lay around it. "Then, these are the Elements, I take it?"

The princess simply nodded solemnly. "And if I can't find a way to restore their power within the next one thousand years, I'll be virtually powerless to defeat Nightmare Moon again when she does eventually return."

"So Princess Luna's gone, and we don't have the Elements anymore?" Halberd summarized. "What are we supposed to do if another big threat like Discord shows up?"

Lance placed a hoof on his brother's shoulder, a resolute and determined look on his face. "That's what we're here for. We might not have been able to save Princess Luna, but I'll be damned if we let something like this happen again."

Lance's motivational words inspired the soldiers to stand at attention and salute their princess in unison. However, their will and determination did little to assuage the turmoil in Celestia's heart.

"Your devotion is admirable and appreciated," the princess said, though her quiet and somber tone did not reflect her words of gratitude.

Quill stepped forward somewhat apprehensively. "Your Majesty... I know now may not be the most appropriate time to discuss this given all you've been through, but..." He gestured to the rubble and debris surrounding them. "What of the castle? What are we going to do about this?"

Celestia frowned apologetically at her staff. "I'm sorry I allowed this to happen. Many of you call this place your home just as I do. Do we know the extent of the damage?"

"From what the guards have told me, it appears the throne room took the brunt of it," Quill informed. "Though Princess Luna's tower has fallen, unfortunately. But the staff quarters, the kitchen, your tower, and even the royal archives are intact."

"I see. Then at the very least, the castle is still livable, though it may be pointless to bother with repairs," Celestia figured. "It won't be terribly long before construction on Canterlot Castle is complete. We'll simply have to tough it out here until then. That being said, if there are any of you who do not feel safe staying here any longer, I will do what I can to accommodate you with lodgings in Canterlot at my expense."

"For what it's worth, Princess, I'll stay here with you as long as you need," Sunset assured her.

Her student's words finally encouraged a small smile from Celestia, something she desperately needed right now. As a show of her gratitude, the alicorn bent down to give her an appreciative nuzzle. "Thank you, Sunset."

The display of affection was interrupted by Quill clearing his throat awkwardly. "If I may, Your Highness? And I know this may be a touchy subject at the moment, but what about the moon?"

Celestia felt a twinge of guilt in her heart. The pain was clear in her eyes, but she nodded in acknowledgement. "I suppose I have no other choice but to take over my sister's responsibilities in her absence. It pains me to say that given what triggered this change in her, but this is the only option we have."

Sunset stared up at Celestia silently. There was a hint of disappointment in her teal eyes.

Quill seemed none too satisfied by the answer either, knowing that all of this was going to result in some pretty drastic changes in the princess's life. "Right. Well... Is there anything else, Your Highness?"

Celestia let out one more long sigh through her nose. Even if there were any other matters that needed discussing, she was too exhausted to think about it right now. "No... You may all return to... whatever it is you wish to do."

The group of ponies all shared worried glances at the princess's sullen and defeated attitude, but chose not to say anything. Right now, the best thing they could do was give her some space and time to reflect on these recent events.

"I'm... gonna head up to Canterlot to let the other guards know what happened here," Lance said.

"We should probably let the citizens know as well," Starswirl added. "We only have one princess now, after all."

With that, the soldiers all made their way back to the capitol to spread the word of Luna's fate and the changes that came with it. Meanwhile, Starswirl and Quill remained at the castle to assess the interior damage caused by the battle, and the doctors that had tended to the princess returned to her chambers to await her return and further examine her injuries when she was ready.

And that left just Sunset Shimmer and Princess Celestia in the ruined throne room together.

The princess silently looked over her shoulder toward the two thrones. The bridge between them had been destroyed, and Luna's royal blue throne had been broken into pieces. For the first time since the two sisters had taken on the title of princess so many years ago, Celestia would have to rule alone.

"You don't have to do this, you know."

Celestia turned back to Sunset. The amber unicorn was staring back at her with a confident and determined expression meant to comfort the downtrodden princess. "Do what?"

"Take on all of your sister's duties. Don't you think you're putting a little too much pressure on yourself?"

The alicorn sighed with mild exasperation. "As I said, I don't have any other options. With Luna gone—"

"But you do. You have me."

Celestia paused, caught off guard for a moment, but quite vexed by what Sunset was implying. "Sunset, what are you trying to say exactly?"

"I'm not saying I want to be a princess or anything, but I can help take some of the weight off your shoulders."

"I appreciate your concern, Sunset, but that's unnecessary."

"But isn't this kind of what you've been training me for?"

Celestia stared at Sunset, her brow knitting into a slight scowl as she figured out exactly to what Sunset was referring. "Excuse me?"

"We already know that I have the power to raise the sun. So with Luna gone, why don't you focus on the moon, and let me handle the sun for you from now on?"

The alicorn glowered authoritatively at her presumptuous student. "Sunset, need I remind you that you still haven't fully tapped into the power that allowed you to do that. And even if you could, there's no need for you to do so. I can handle it just fine myself."

"But isn't that exactly why you made me you're student in the first place? To be your successor?"

"I took you on as my pupil to help you control the dangerous power within you," Celestia reminded her, her voice rising as her frustration grew. "And as much as you've improved over the years, you still haven't quite gotten to that point yet, so raising the sun is absolutely out of the question."

Sunset glared at her, starting to become upset herself. "Maybe I would be by now if you hadn't cut back on my lessons when I was a kid."

Celestia felt her temple throb as her anger started to boil at Sunset's immature attitude, but she managed to keep her tone from rising any higher. "Sunset, I am in no mood to have this conversation again."

"You told me I could raise the sun one day, but you've been putting off actually teaching me for years now! Don't you have faith in me anymore?!"

"Of course I do!" the princess snapped, her efforts at suppressing her frustration having now failed at Sunset's continued badgering. "If I didn't, I wouldn't have made you my student to begin with!"

"Then why can't you just teach me to raise the sun?! I'm trying to help you!"

"Because you're not ready for that kind of responsibility!"

"And if you're not going to put your full trust in me, then when will I be ready?!"

"When you stop acting like a child!"

The room suddenly went quiet, the only sound the echo of Celestia's final word throughout the empty throne room. Celestia's expression had suddenly changed. The anger had vanished in an instant, her eyes widened as though she had shocked herself by what she'd said.

This conversation was starting to sound familiar...

Celestia turned away from Sunset, still upset, but clearly disheartened. When she spoke again, her voice was quiet, but forceful. "This discussion is over..." And that was all she said before taking her leave of the throne room, not even giving Sunset a second glance as she slammed the door to the east wing behind her.

As upset as Princess Celestia was, Sunset felt much the same, but for different reasons. She knew that her teacher had a lot on her mind right now, but to outright tell her that she wasn't ready to handle the responsibility of the very thing she'd been training for infuriated her. She'd previously made peace with the idea that raising the sun would take time, but now that they were in a situation where it would be pertinent to expedite her progress, she was being denied.

Sunset grit her teeth behind her lips. Needing to vent her frustration, she focused her magic in her horn. However, while it started in its usual shade of cyan, it quickly shifted to red, and the gentle ebb and flow of her aura suddenly flickered sharply and erratically like a flame for a moment.

"Rrrragh!"

Sunset stomped her hooves in frustration, the added force of her magic shaking the floor, causing another loose piece of the ceiling to fall away in the far corner. She inhaled deeply through her nose, closing her eyes in an attempt to calm herself to a reasonable level as her magic died down, leaving a thin trail of smoke rising from the tip of her horn.

If Princess Celestia wasn't willing to trust her, then she would have to prove to her that she was ready.

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

Just as the soldiers had informed, the remainder of the castle was mostly intact. There were cracks and small holes here and there from errant blasts of magic, but nothing that would compromise the structural integrity of the castle. Still, even with the guards' word, Starswirl and Quill wanted to verify the castle's condition with their own eyes. They were relieved to find that there was little to worry about safety-wise in terms of damage, though the halls were going to be subject to slight breezes when the wind blew in the right direction.

Above all else, Starswirl was glad to see that the royal archives were entirely untouched, with only a few books having slipped off the shelves from the intensity of the struggle. Even though Starswirl kept his research papers in his personal chamber in the staff quarters, the books in the library were just as important to his work; were they destroyed in the conflict, he may very well be out of a job.

Quill was more concerned about the castle's more significant facilities. The staff quarters and mess hall did take some hits, but were mostly fine. The only noteworthy damage was a single, small hole in the ceiling of the mess hall, but it was off in the corner where nopony would be seated anyway. Even though Princess Celestia said there was no point in repairing the damage to the castle, it was likely the hole in the mess hall was going to be patched anyway, if only with a few planks of wood to keep out the rain.

The kitchen and dining hall were located near the castle's center, so they escaped any collateral damage altogether. Somepony in the dining hall wouldn't have even realized that anything had happened, save for the shaking and the noise. It was lucky that the large chandelier in the dining hall hadn't come loose; they could only imagine the hazardous mess and damages it would have caused had it fallen and smashed through the dining table.

After a thorough examination of the castle's state following the carnage, Starswirl and Quill were certainly relieved to see that it could've been far worse, all things considered. Still, though, there was more to be worried about than just the castle...

"I never expected I'd have to be around for such a tragedy," Starswirl remarked with a shake of his head.

"At least we can take solace in the knowledge that Princess Luna is still alive," Quill reminded him, though his own expression fell as the thought continued. "Though we'll never see her again, unfortunately. I don't suppose it would be too much to hope that somepony could use that time travel spell to go back and prevent this, would it?"

"As it stands, I don't think the spell is lenient enough to allow a change as drastic as that."

"I figured as much," Quill said with a sigh. "I think I'm going to go check up on Princess Celestia."

"Is that wise? She seemed like she'd rather be left alone."

"Given what happened, I think the princess needs companionship right now, whether she believes that or not."

Starswirl nodded in agreement. "That's true. She lost the one person who's been by her side for her entire life, so she's certainly going to feel like she has nothing left."

"So we should remind her that there are still people here who care about her," Quill stated with an optimistic smile.

"Indeed. In that case, I'd like to accompany you. Besides, there are still some questions I'd like to ask about all of this."

"Just try not to overwhelm her. We're going to comfort her, not interrogate her."

Starswirl simply nodded, and the two unicorns headed for Celestia's tower. With the tower mostly unscathed and the sun shining brightly upon it once more, it was hard to tell that something so harrowing had happened only a few hours ago. Once they'd made it to their destination, Quill gently knocked on the sun-emblazoned door. There was a moment of pause before a voice called weakly from within.

"Come in."

Starswirl and Quill hesitated slightly, sharing concerned looks. The brief pause seemed to indicate that the princess contemplated whether or not to allow entry, making the two stallions feel a touch guilty about disturbing her. Nevertheless, they had been given permission, so they took it.

Cautiously opening the door, the pair stepped inside. The doctor and nurse were still present, examining Princess Celestia as she lay on her stomach on her roomy bed. Some of her bandages had been removed, revealing the extent of some of her injuries. There were a few small cuts here and there, nothing that would leave a scar. However, there were a couple of patches where her skin could be seen through her coat, a result of the magic burns she'd received. They weren't terribly noticeable, but it was likely they would be covered up for when the princess went out in public until the fur grew back.

"Did you need something?" The princess's voice was unnervingly distant and dismissive; she had barely even turned to acknowledge the identity of her visitors.

Starswirl was reluctant to say anything given Celestia's mood, but felt it best to try and lighten the atmosphere with conversation. "Well, we would ask how you're feeling, but I gather that's a question you'd rather not bother answering."

Celestia was quiet for a few seconds, but looked him in the eye with more of her usual gentleness. "I'm sorry. I know I've been fixating on my sister, but meanwhile you've all been worrying about me. If there's anything you'd like to ask, go ahead. We need to get this out in the open at some point."

Quill was the first to ask. "I'd like to address the immediate concerns first. Namely, your well being. Her injuries are not too worrisome, are they, Doctor?"

The doctor—a white unicorn stallion—shook his head reassuringly. "Just as she told you in the throne room, nothing severe. Her wing and leg are the worst cases, but even those will heal just fine. She should be able to fly again within the next couple of weeks."

"It's not exactly comfortable, though," Celestia complained, shifting awkwardly on the bed. "Even laying here like this is hurting my leg, and I can't imagine it'll be easy for me to sleep like this."

"You're strong, Your Majesty. I'm sure you can tough this out," Starswirl reassured her with a confident grin.

"It's not exactly the most concerning thing on my mind right now."

And just like that, the mood shifted again, and the room went quiet. It appeared that the topic was inescapable. Neither Quill nor Starswirl wanted this whole ordeal to hold Celestia down, so it was decided that they would have to address it outright.

Starswirl stepped forward. "Your Highness, I know it must feel devastating to lose your sister like this, but it's important for you to remember that you are not alone."

"We're all saddened by this loss," Quill added. "But you still have a kingdom that is looking to you for guidance in trying times."

"And while the workload—both physical and emotional—is going to feel immense, just know that you have people who are still here who are willing to help you with whatever you need," Starswirl assured her. "You needn't bear the burden alone."

Celestia was silent for a moment as she looked between her two trusted employees and friends. There was a moment where Starswirl and Quill were worried that their words had not reached her, but while she was quiet, she didn't appear depressed. In fact, she was staring at Starswirl, deep in thought.

Finally, Celestia managed a smile. "Yes, I know that. But it's certainly helpful to be reminded. Thank you for your kind words."

The two stallions smiled back, relieved to see their princess's spirits lifted, if only a little.

"Would you like some privacy so the doctors can finish their work?" Quill asked courteously.

"I'm willing to field more questions, if that's what you came here for," Celestia answered kindly.

While that was indeed what Starswirl had come for, at this juncture he didn't want to risk spoiling Celestia's mood now that she was smiling again. "I think we'd best be on our way. There's plenty of work that has to be done around here. Be well, Princess."

"Starswirl, wait."

The two unicorns paused as they turned to leave, looking back at the princess curiously.

"I have a request."

Starswirl raised an eyebrow. "What is it?"

"Since your efforts toward time travel have hit a dead end, I presume you are looking into a new field to which to focus your studies."

Starswirl was admittedly intrigued by where this was going. "I am. Did you have anything in particular you wanted me to look into."

"I want you to learn as much as you can about the magic of friendship."

Starswirl blinked blankly, tilting his head slightly in confusion. "Um... Are you certain you didn't receive a concussion during your altercation, Your Highness?"

"I know we said that we'll do everything in our power to support you," Quill repeated. "But I don't think friendship is something you can really study in books."

Celestia continued to stare at Starswirl with the utmost seriousness in her eyes. "I know how it sounds, but friendship is a tangible force. Remember how I said that it was my bond with Luna that allowed us to utilize the Elements of Harmony. Love; friendship; compassion; determination; these are all sources of great magic. The tricky part is harnessing it. As unicorns, you two should both know that emotions can have a powerful impact on our magic. But combining one's emotions with those of others can amplify that magic and make it exponentially stronger."

Starswirl gazed at the princess skeptically, but maintained a curious interest. "Is that so? I suppose that would explain a lot about how the Elements are more powerful than even you and your sister combined."

"Precisely. Though it pains me to admit that perhaps those bonds had weakened over the years. You saw yourself how Luna's emotions caused her magic to alter her so drastically. And without her by my side, the Elements are now useless."

"So, are you suggesting that friendship is what will restore power to the Elements?" Starswirl inferred.

Celestia nodded. "I believe so. The Elements of Harmony represent the six virtues of friendship: honesty, loyalty, generosity, kindness, laughter, and magic."

"Magic?" Quill echoed in confusion. "How is magic itself a virtue?"

"Because friendship is magic," the alicorn assured him. "It is the glue that holds their bonds together. Ideally we would have six individuals who best represent these virtues wield the Elements separately, but it is possible to utilize them with fewer people who represent multiple virtues, as Luna and I did. But even so, the two of us only had the power to seal away disharmonious forces, not dispel them. If I hope to one day return my sister back to her old self, I may need to entrust the Elements to somepony who can use their power to their fullest. That is, assuming we can restore their power."

Starswirl stroked his beard in thought. "I see... Be aware, Your Highness, that this is not exactly a subject I've ever heard tell of over the years. Finding any preexisting texts on the 'magic of friendship' may prove challenging, and delving into the topic myself may be an arduous undertaking."

"I understand that, so I'm not asking that you devote one hundred percent of your attention to it—after all, we have a thousand years before Nightmare Moon returns. Like with your time travel spell, somepony may need to continue your work in the future, but any progress you make will be helpful in the long run, so I only ask that you make it a priority. Do whatever you can. Can I trust you with that?"

Starswirl took a moment to contemplate the request, but grinned reassuringly through his beard. "Of course. I'll see what I can come up with. Though, admittedly, I have no idea where to start."

"I'll help you wherever I can if need be," Celestia told him. "It would probably be conducive to the field to have a friend by your side."

"Indeed," Starswirl agreed with a chuckle. "Well, if that's all, I suppose we'll give you some space. Perhaps I'll even see if I can get a head start on this new project."

"Let us know when you are feeling better, Your Majesty," Quill requested as he followed Starswirl out of the tower.

With the conversation concluded, the doctor and nurse were able to finish up their work, reapplying new bandages before taking their leave to allow Princess Celestia to rest. Now that she was alone, she was able to focus her thoughts on yet another pressing matter that was nipping at her mind. A certain mare had gotten a little testy recently, and such behavior was unusual for her. With Luna now gone and Celestia's faithful student throwing a fit, the princess still had a lot she needed to work out emotionally.

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

Halberd breathed a weary sigh as he flew over the Everfree Forest. He and the other guards were on their way back from Canterlot after relaying the recent news to the townsfolk. The whole scene as it had been viewed from the capitol had many of the citizens on edge, worried for their safety. Thankfully, the royal guard were able to do a fine job of calming the populace down, but it still took quite a bit of effort to spread the word around the whole city. Halberd had to wonder how the neighboring towns were going to react to this news.

Halberd glanced around at the other soldiers. Spirits weren't exactly high, and even his usually laid back brother had a pretty serious expression on his face. Lance seemed to be taking this whole thing harder than anypony. Even Scabbard, who didn't know what had happened exactly until they returned to Canterlot on this task, was caught off guard by Lance's shift in attitude.

The squad of soldiers touched down outside the Castle of the Two Sisters, unhitching their chariots and preparing to head inside. Lance took off his helmet, laying it on one of the chariots as he let out a long sigh and ran a hoof through his wild, though sweat-soaked mane.

"So, what now?" Halberd asked his brother.

"I don't know," Lance answered quietly. "I wanna find out how the princess is doing, but after that, who knows? I think I'm gonna take a breather once I ask about Princess Celestia. You coming with?"

"Yeah, I'm just gonna put my chariot away first. I'll catch up."

Lance simply nodded as he and the other soldiers headed inside.

Halberd was the only one who had bothered to stay behind to deal with his chariot. The others were likely more concerned about the princess to want to bother with it just yet. And it wasn't as though Halberd wasn't worried, he just figured with everypony all going at once, he shouldn't pile on when the princess was probably so stressed out. So, hitching up his chariot again, Halberd went around the side of the castle toward the storage area near the gardens.

He was actually kind of surprised at how early it still was; this day felt pretty long already. Granted, it was the summer solstice, but the sun had only been up since noon, and even then Nightmare Moon had interrupted it. It was hard to tell exactly what time it actually was if it weren't for the clocks around the Canterlot streets. It was hard to believe that just this morning they were all having a good time at the Summer Sun Celebration that Sunset had planned. Thinking about that, Halberd had to wonder how Sunset was feeling.

As Halberd was about to reach the storeroom, a flash of light caught his eye. He paused, staring off in the direction of the statue garden. He could have sworn he'd seen something giving off an orange light just now. But just when he thought it was his imagination, he saw it again. The difference this time was the presence of a trail of smoke.

Slight panic hit Halberd as he hastily unhitched his chariot, galloping off toward the sculpture garden. Had a fire broken out? He took to the air to quickly fly over the tall hedges, swooping down over the statue garden. However, he halted in midair over the entrance arch.

There didn't appear to be a fire. In fact their didn't appear to be any damage whatsoever. But still, the garden wasn't empty. Oddly, he saw the figure of an amber mare standing in the garden by herself.

Halberd landed cautiously and curiously, approaching her from behind. "Sunset?"

The unicorn glanced over her shoulder. "Huh? Oh, hey, Hal. You guys are back already?"

Halberd didn't really respond to her question. He was a little too distracted by the smoke rising from Sunset's horn. "Uh..." was all he uttered, along with a point of his hoof.

Sunset turned her eyes up. "Oh." She curled her lip to blow up at her horn, causing the smoke to dissipate.

"What are you doing out here?" Halberd asked out of both curiosity and concern. "I thought you'd be inside trying to comfort Princess Celestia."

Sunset turned away in a huff. "Yeah, well, we had a little disagreement. I'm just trying to blow off some steam."

It was two short sentences, but both of them sounded puzzling coming from Sunset.

"Uh, alright... I was a little worried that a fire had broken out over here."

"Oh, yeah. That was me." Sunset demonstrated by lighting up her horn, but the normal teal glow was instead a deep red and not unlike a flame itself. Suddenly, a small flash of fire appeared in the air before quickly fizzling out.

Halberd stared in slight awe at the display. "Fire spells? I didn't know you practiced that kind of thing."

"It's not really a fire spell per se. I'm just concentrating my magic in one place, building up enough to generate heat and thus cause spontaneous combustion of the oxygen in the air," Sunset corrected.

Halberd raised an eyebrow, the explanation only raising more concerns. "So, that's what you meant by 'blowing off steam'? Causing literal explosions? In a place that's kind of flammable?"

Sunset scowled at what he was implying. "I know what I'm doing, alright? What, you don't trust me either?"

Halberd backed off, holding up a hoof defensively. "Whoa, I didn't say that. I'm just being a little cautious. Geez, whatever you and Princess Celestia were arguing about must've been pretty serious. I don't think I've ever seen you so... disgruntled."

The unicorn groaned, breaking eye contact again. "All I did was offer to help her out. With Princess Luna gone, she's gonna have a lot on her plate, and I'm just trying to take some of that stress off of her."

"That's kind of you and all, but don't you think it's a little soon to be talking about that?" said Halberd. "She probably needs some time to let this settle."

"Yeah, I know, but I just thought it was important to have the conversation now rather than put it off. And then she goes and tells me that I'm not 'responsible' enough to handle raising the sun," Sunset grumbled.

Halberd's eyes widened in surprise. "Wait, that's what we're talking about? You asked if you could take over raising the sun? But you haven't been able to since that day when you were a filly."

"And whose fault is that?!" Sunset snapped, causing Halberd to flinch at her sudden increase in volume. "Who knows how far along I'd be if Princess Celestia had just let me keep trying?"

"I mean, even if you did, aren't the sun and moon tuned to the princesses' magic? They're the ones who are meant to move them."

"But you just said yourself that I did it once, too, so we all know I have the capability. It's even how I got my cutie mark, for crying out loud! It's obviously what I was meant to do, but Princess Celestia is denying me my destiny!"

The increasing intensity of Sunset's tone and attitude was starting to become a little worrisome to Halberd. "That's putting it a bit harshly, don't you think? You make it sound like the princess is holding you back."

"That's exactly what I'm saying!"

Halberd was really starting to become uneasy about where this whole conversation was headed, and thought it best to try and diffuse Sunset before she went any further. "Okay, I think you need to cool your head a bit, Sunset. You're not acting like yourself here. Remember, this is pretty much what happened to Princess Luna before she turned into Nightmare Moon."

Sunset glared at him, insulted. "So, what, you think I'm gonna turn into a monster, too?"

Halberd felt backed into a corner, like any attempt to put out this fire was only going to fan the flames. "W-Well, no. I-I just don't want to see you go down the same path, that's all."

"That's exactly what I asked. And speaking of which, it was Luna herself that said that moving the sun wasn't all that difficult. After all, it's just a big ball of fire. I can handle a big fireball." Sunset demonstrated once more her ability to create a flame in thin air, but this time, manipulating it and swirling the fire around in a figure-eight pattern. "Control isn't a problem. I just need to strengthen my magic, that's all."

"I feel like there's probably more to it than that."

"And yet she won't show me! If she wants me to be responsible, then she should show me how! But you know what? This is an opportunity. I can show her myself that I'm ready. I'll prove without a shadow of a doubt that I can handle it, with or without her help!"

The mare suddenly felt a hoof press firmly on her shoulder. Halberd turned her toward him, forcing her to look him in his hazel eyes.

"Sunset, listen, I'm worried about you. I've known you for a long time, and I've never seen you act like this. I get that you're upset, but Princess Luna is not exactly the person you should be emulating right now. All I ask is that you take the time to think about what you're doing before you do anything you might regret."

Sunset turned away, still clearly frustrated, but with a hint of dejection in her eyes. "I just want to help Princess Celestia..."

"And the best way you can help her right now is to be there for her during this rough time in her life. You say she doesn't trust you, but I know she trusts you more than anypony else. Go talk to her. Apologize. I don't like seeing you like this."

Sunset stared into his eyes again. It was puzzling to her that everypony else was talking about how worried they were about Princess Celestia, meanwhile Halberd seemed like he was more concerned about her. However, she brushed his hooves off of her gently, letting out a regretful sigh. "You don't get it, Hal. I get that she's going through a hard time right now, but now more than ever she should know she can rely on me. But she still refuses to accept my help. I'm determined to show her that I can handle the responsibility, even if she's not willing to help me, because I'm tired of waiting. You don't know what it's like to chase after something your whole life—to have a goal that you dedicate everything toward—and constantly having it evade you."

And with that last somber statement, Sunset walked past him, heading back for the castle with an unreadable look in her teal eyes.

Halberd simply stood there, alone, in the statue garden as he watched her disappear through the archway. He hung his head, breathing a long, disheartened sigh. "Believe me, I know exactly how it feels..."

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