• 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 13 - Reignited

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 13: Reignited

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For the first time in what felt like millennia—and baring special events like the Summer Sun Celebration—Princess Celestia had raised the sun from somewhere that wasn't her balcony at the Castle of the Two Sisters. The experience of lifting her golden orb while looking out over her kingdom as opposed to up at it had been admittedly disorienting. Thousands of years of standing in the same place at the same time every morning ingrained the action into her muscle memory, so she hadn't expected a simple change such as elevation and direction to throw her off so much. It was as though a seed had been planted in her mind so many years ago, grown into an enormous tree, and had gotten so big that transplanting it was an inconceivable task. Celestia had almost raised the sun on the wrong side of the horizon before she realized she was now staring in the opposite direction from where she'd used to look. She hoped that nopony noticed the slight amount of morning light that poked up from the east before she caught her mistake, though she expected at least one particular person to have taken notice.

After raising the sun, Princess Celestia had made her way down to the throne room. As this had been her first night in the new castle, acclimating to the light of morning was proving to be difficult. Compared to the darker colors of her former home, Canterlot Castle's pristine, marble walls reflected the sun's light rather well—too well perhaps. Thankfully, the purple accents helped to offset some of the blinding light, though the gold accents weren't doing any favors. Hopefully, when all the banners and other decorations were hung in the halls, they would help mitigate some of the strain on people's eyes.

The throne room was just as majestic as she had always thought it looked. The grand columns of marble lining the chamber gave it that distinct look of importance, the plush carpet leading up to the throne platform she'd hoped would make visitors feel welcome as they followed it towards her, and the large, as-of-yet-empty windows would look amazing once the stained glass art had been installed.

Celestia walked up the ramp to her new throne, lowering herself onto the plush cushion upon its seat—a luxury that for some reason she'd never bothered investing in for her old throne, despite the occasional discomfort on its hard seat. She stared out at the empty throne room before her, deep in thought.

It didn't feel right.

This castle had been in the works for years now. Celestia had had plenty of time to come to terms with the fact that she would be leaving her old home behind. It was mutually agreed that this was for the best, even though she and her sister had spent so much time building the Castle of the Two Sisters themselves. Celestia expected there to be a bittersweet aftertaste following the move, but not for the reasons she felt now.

The princess glanced to her right. At the old castle, whenever she looked that way from her throne, she'd always see her sister's throne sitting there nearby. But that was no longer the case. Luna was gone now, and so, too, was her new throne. Celestia had debated whether or not to leave it there in her memory, but ultimately decided against it as the sight of it would only dredge up the guilt in her mind for the next one thousand years. So, for the first time in countless centuries, Celestia ruled alone. It was as though fate had timed all of these unfortunate occurrences perfectly to make her feel as terrible as possible.

"Your Majesty?"

Princess Celestia raised her head suddenly, snapped from her thoughts by the meek voice addressing her. Rosehip was standing near one of the side doors near the throne platform with a tea tray.

"Sorry, you looked like you were thinking about something," Rosehip apologized. "Is this a bad time?"

Celestia inhaled a deep breath through her nose, then shook her head with a small smile. "No, it's fine. Just... reminiscing. I'm sorry I didn't stop by the dining hall first. I'll take my tea here."

Rosehip grinned and trotted up the ramp to deliver the princess her tea.

"You can leave the tray, dear. I may have more than one cup," Celestia said.

Rosehip nodded respectfully, leaving the tray beside the throne. "Okay. If you need anything else, just let me know, Your Highness," she said before taking her leave.

Just as she was about to go through the door from which she'd entered, Rosehip happened to bump into Starswirl as he was coming in. Literally. The mare staggered backwards, nearly falling down, but managing to maintain her balance.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Rosehip," Starswirl apologized.

Rosehip shook off the collision, flashing a friendly smile. She noted that Starswirl was not alone, as Quill was accompanying him. "No problem. I should probably watch where I'm going better. Anyway, good morning!" she greeted with a chipper chirp. "Can I get you two anything? Tea?" She glanced somewhat awkwardly at Starswirl. "Or... coffee maybe?"

"Maybe when I have breakfast," Starswirl answered with an appreciative grin.

"I'm fine, thank you," added Quill.

Rosehip looked a touch disappointed, but nodded and smiled again. "Alright. Just holler when you need me," she insisted as she scooched past them through the doorway.

"Good morning, Starswirl, Quill," Princess Celestia greeted from her throne, taking a sip of her tea.

"And to you, Your Majesty," Starswirl greeted in turn.

"How are you feeling this morning, Your Grace?" asked Quill as he and Starswirl walked up to the base of the ramp.

Celestia took another sip of her tea as she contemplated her answer. She'd spent so much time lately talking about the emotional turmoil that Luna's fate had caused her. Though she knew nopony would likely say so out loud, she was probably starting to become a tad insufferable, and didn't want to keep harping on the subject. "I'm well," she answered rather simply.

Both Quill and Starswirl exchanged knowing looks. "Your Highness," Starswirl began, "I think we've both known you long enough to know when you're lying."

The princess stared regretfully at them. They'd seen through her so quickly. She let out a deep sigh, then rose from her throne and walked down the ramp to join them, leaving her tea on the tray. "I suppose I'm not a very good fibber. The only person whose ever believed my lies was Sunset Shimmer... And I regret that deeply to this day."

"But I take it this isn't about Sunset," Quill surmised. "You're still coping with the loss of your sister, we understand. And, without her, having to leave the home you two built together."

"I simply don't want to burden anypony else with my grieving," Celestia insisted. "Nopony else should have to put things on hold because I can't accept the consequences of my actions."

"Unfortunately, that's not exactly how things work, though, is it?" Starswirl reminded her sympathetically. "As a princess—and now sole ruler of Equestria—your mental well being impacts the kingdom as a whole."

"Is this meant to be a pep talk, Starswirl? Because it isn't working," Celestia groaned with a defeated grimace.

"I simply wish to do anything I can to speed up your recovery. While the state of the kingdom is very important, of course, I'm actually more worried for my dear friend."

Celestia managed a grateful smile in response to his kind words. "That's nice of you to say, Starswirl. However, I fear this is something that is just going to have to run its course. You two have assured me already that I can rely on you if I need you in these trying times, but I don't think expediting this process is going to be possible."

"Actually, it may well be," Quill stated with a eager smirk.

"How so?" the princess questioned, doubtful, yet curious.

"I have an idea that may help take your mind off of all this unpleasantness."

"Don't keep us in suspense, Quill," Starswirl urged him impatiently. "Out with it."

Quill flashed the princess an excited grin. "I suggest that we revive the Grand Galloping Gala."

Celestia's eyes widened slightly at the mention of the name. "The Gala?"

Starswirl stroked his beard in thought. "Hmm... I seem to recall hearing of such a thing before. Wasn't the Grand Galloping Gala a party you and your sister threw after establishing Canterlot's founding some decades ago?"

"It was," Celestia confirmed with a nod. "We invited the citizens of the new capitol to the Castle of the Two Sisters to celebrate the occasion."

"Well, Canterlot's grown quite a bit since then," Quill continued. "And with a new castle erected, I think what we need right now to lift everypony's spirits is a grand house-warming party."

Starswirl chuckled in amusement. "Why, Quill, I never knew you were such a party animal."

Quill cleared his throat with an embarrassed blush as he awkwardly adjusted the bow tie on his vest. "I'm not, believe me. Besides, the Grand Galloping Gala was a formal event, not a college frat party."

"But is now really the best time to be doing such a thing?" Celestia argued with a dour frown. "The last time we held a large scale celebration... Well..."

"Yes, to hold another such event so soon would likely only serve to make people think about it more rather than take their minds off of it," Starswirl added.

"I had considered that," Quill said. "However, I believe we should try it anyway. This may be a good way to relay to your subjects that you aren't letting this whole ordeal keep you down."

"But that would be an outright lie," the princess countered, turning away in shame.

"Hmm... I do think Quill has a point, though," Starswirl postulated. "Whether or not it's true isn't the point. The purpose of the Gala would be to bring peace of mind to the populace. After that, you can focus more on your own recovery in your own time. One thing at a time, right?"

Celestia paused to think about it for a few moments. "I... suppose. After all, as a princess, my duty first and foremost is to my subjects and my kingdom. My own well being is secondary." She finally put on another smile, one of eagerness and even excitement. "Very well. We will revive the Grand Galloping Gala; a show of confidence in the face of adversity. Quill, I trust you're ready to make the preparations?"

"Of course, Your Majesty. I would not have made the suggestion if I weren't."

"Excellent. But since this is about the kingdom as a whole, I want to extend this beyond just Canterlot. I wish for news of the Gala to be delivered to the neighboring towns. The first Gala may have been a formal occasion, but this time I think it would be best to make it more inclusive to fit its purpose."

Quill bowed to acknowledge the request. "Understood. I'll begin the preparations immediately. If there are any other requests you have to improve it, just let me know and I'll do my best to accommodate."

"Duly noted."

With that, Quill promptly—and uncharacteristically exuberantly—exited the throne room.

Starswirl chuckled, amused by this whole scenario. "Well, it seems the mood's been lifted somewhat already, hasn't it?"

"The Gala was a rather enjoyable event back in the day," Celestia said with a wistful smile. "Though since Canterlot had only just been founded, we didn't have many guests then."

Starswirl gave her a preemptive look of sympathy as he readied his next question, unsure if he should ask for fear of spoiling the mood. "Out of curiosity, how did Princess Luna enjoy the Gala?"

"Luna? Hmm... Well, the Gala took place during the twilight hours, so she was more than willing to attend," Celestia explained. "As far as I can remember, she did seem to enjoy herself, though I don't quite recall what she'd been doing the whole night—I was too preoccupied with conversation with our guests."

"I see."

Celestia stared at Starswirl's contemplative face knowingly. "You wonder if she were here now if the Gala would help her earn favor with our subjects."

"It's hard not to hypothesize given the significance of her transformation," the stallion said quietly.

The princess nodded in agreement, turning her eyes down to the floor in remorse. "Yes, that I understand all too well. I fear there will be many moments over the next millennium where I'll wonder, 'What if Luna were still here?'"

Starswirl shook his head with an apologetic expression. "I'm sorry for bringing it up. We should be looking forward to the Gala instead of harping on 'what if' scenarios. After all, we don't want Quill's noble intentions to be ignored."

"Quite true," Celestia agreed with a light giggle. "I've never seen that stallion quite so excited. I almost want this to go smoothly more for his sake than my own."

"I think everypony deserves some peace of mind right now," Starswirl stated. "Hopefully the Gala can accomplish just that."

"Speaking of 'peace of mind,' do you know where Sunset is?"

"Sunset? Ah, you must still be fretting over your argument."

"Not so much, honestly," the princess responded. "We had a brief chat yesterday, and I think I'm feeling better about the situation. Although, I still feel guilty that I haven't been able to devote as much time to her as I'd like. With the castle's construction, my occasional teachings at the new school, and most of all what happened to Luna, I'm beginning to sense that Sunset may be feeling neglected."

"She has been acting oddly, if you ask me," said Starswirl as he stroked his beard in thought. "Even though when we spoke yesterday she promised to apologize to you..."

"Which she did."

"I still can't shake the feeling that she's keeping something bottled up."

"You got that impression, as well? Then perhaps there's some credence to that. She sounded genuine when we spoke, but at the same time there was a certain... dismissiveness in her words."

"Perhaps she simply wasn't feeling well," Starswirl postulated. "I went to her tower to see her before coming here, but when I knocked on her bedroom door, she said she wanted to sleep a little longer."

Celestia raised an eyebrow. "That's unlike her. Perhaps she's not used to her new living situation yet and didn't get much sleep. Admittedly, my sleep was a tad restless last night as well."

"Well, she did mention that she didn't sleep well, but she claimed it was because she had a bad headache in the middle of the night."

Celestia paused in silence for a moment, her eyes widening slightly in surprise and mild shock. "A... A headache? She said that? You're sure?"

Starswirl raised a puzzled eyebrow at the princess's sudden tone of disbelief. "Er, yes, that's what she told me. Why, is that strange for some reason?"

The princess turned away from Starswirl, as if she immediately forgot that he was there and began to pace in front of the throne platform, deep in thought and looking as though she were on the verge of panic. "This... I..."

Starswirl stepped forward, trying to snap her out of it. "Your Highness? Are you alright? What's the big deal about a little headache? Do you know something I don't?"

"I..." Celestia hesitated to answer, or rather, her mind was too busy to formulate a proper response. Instead she gave Starswirl a quick, apologetic look. "I'm sorry, I have to talk to Sunset immediately."

Princess Celestia said nothing more than that before hastily leaving the throne room. She hurried quickly through the halls towards Sunset's tower, her mind racing with the implications of this news. If what Starswirl said was true, and if this wasn't merely a coincidence, then this was a matter of utmost importance.

She entered the tower and ascended the staircase, taking a cursory glance around the living space. Sunset had not yet properly arranged her furniture, but that was of little concern. Seeing that Sunset was not present, nor on the balcony, Celestia called out to her. "Sunset?"

Her student's voice responded from her bedroom. "Princess?"

"Sunset, I have something I need to discuss with you," Celestia informed her. Though she attempted to remain calm, she couldn't keep the urgency out of her voice.

"Oh, uh, okay. Give me a minute."

Celestia could hear a bit of rummaging coming from the bedroom, but it only took a matter of moments for Sunset to come out to meet her.

The amber unicorn looked up at her teacher with concern in her eyes. "What's wrong? You sound kinda distressed."

The princess took a breath to steady herself; she didn't want to alarm Sunset, but this was a significant matter. Still, she decided it wise to be tactful with how she approached the issue. "Sunset, your father tells me you were suffering from a bad headache last night."

A look of relief suddenly came over Sunset's face, her lips curling into a small grin. "Oh, is that what this is about? Okay, yeah, I missed the sunrise this morning because I didn't get much sleep. Sorry. I know it's weird for me to miss it, and I feel bad everytime I do, but I thought you didn't care whether or not I missed it."

"This isn't about the sunrise."

Sunset observed her teacher's face. There was a surprisingly strong seriousness in Celestia's expression. "It's not?"

Celestia shook her head. She slowly walked over to the balcony doors, opening them to allow the fresh morning air inside. The princess stared up at her golden sun, speaking to, but not looking at Sunset. "There was a solar flare last night."

Sunset's eyes widened in surprise. "A-A solar flare?" She found herself trembling slightly, the mention of it dredging up her memories of that fateful day and the intense pain she'd experienced. "Wait, you're not accusing me of trying to raise the sun without permission, are you? Is that why you think I had a headache?"

"No," Celestia assured her, though her tone was not the least bit apologetic. "I don't believe you'd take such a risk after what happened last time. Besides, the flare was last night, not this morning. It had passed by the time I'd woken up, so I had no reason to delay the sunrise this time."

"So... what does this have to do with me having a headache, then?"

"Sunset," Celestia started, turning around to face her again. "When I first created the sun—my sun—I suffered headaches as well, even when not applying my magic to it."

Sunset gulped nervously.

"Over time, as my magic grew stronger, I built up a tolerance to it. However, even now, I still feel a slight pain on occasion, and that pain is what tells me when there is a solar flare."

Sunset almost instinctively took a step back from her teacher. Celestia was gazing at her with an uncharacteristic intensity.

"Sunset. You've been hiding something from me, haven't you?"

A bead of nervous sweat rolled down Sunset's forehead. She wanted to make an argument for herself, but under Celestia's critical eyes, the words were kept down.

"When did you tap into your latent power?"

"Huh?" Sunset was caught off guard by the question. "Wh-What do you mean?"

"There's no point in concealing it any longer. I know now that you've accessed at least a portion of the dormant magic within you. You must have realized it yourself, haven't you?"

Again, a slight wave of relief washed over Sunset, but she still hung her head remorsefully. "Uh, yeah, kinda..."

"When did this happen?"

"I think it was... right after our argument," Sunset admitted regretfully.

Celestia wasn't sure how to feel about that. Given the circumstances, it seemed that there may have been credence to Luna's "teachings" all those years ago, though Celestia didn't want to admit to that being a good thing. "Show me."

"Huh?"

"I want to see this power for myself. Show me as much as you can without hurting yourself."

Sunset didn't say anything in response and just did as she was told. Her horn lit up with cyan energy, but as she poured more into it, it shifted to a deep red, the gentle undulations of her aura beginning to flicker erratically like fire. But Celestia said to put as much into it as possible, so she kept going. Sunset's aura expanded, the "flame" growing until its magical hum sounded almost like a roaring fire.

Celestia watched in slight awe and disbelief. The color, the appearance, the heat; it was just like the flames that had engulfed her balcony when Sunset had been struck by the solar flare as a filly. Even if it still wasn't as intense as it was back then, that could merely have been a result of Sunset's improved control over her own power now.

Sunset let the magical fire die down again, looking up at her mentor and awaiting a reaction. She almost expected congratulations for achieving this milestone, but neither one of them were wearing a proud smile. Sunset had a feeling that Celestia didn't come here to celebrate the accomplishment.

"Sunset, I want to apologize."

The unicorn, again, was surprised by the princess's words. "What? Why?"

"Again, for our argument. You've made much more progress than I had imagined, and perhaps it was premature of me to say you weren't ready."

There was a hopeful look in Sunset's eyes.

"It's clear to me now that your magic has become attuned to the sun. Of course, you moved it once long ago, but the fact that you felt the solar flare is a significant indication of your progress. Luna went through much the same thing when we were learning to control each other's celestial bodies."

"So, what does this mean, then?" Sunset asked, her voice practically quivering in anticipation.

Celestia breathed a shameful and apologetic sigh. "It means that I'm the one who's been irresponsible. I made it my solemn duty to prepare you for everything that you wanted to achieve, but I will admit, I've been... neglectful. That fact has become painfully clear by the fact that you hid this from me."

Sunset suddenly felt her chest tighten.

Celestia's expression shifted back to its former seriousness, staring down at Sunset again with authority. "But my mistakes do not excuse yours. I've warned you time and time again that your power is dangerous, yet even when you finally gain some control over it, you chose not to tell me."

Sunset tried to stand firm. She didn't like this argument and wished it were over, but Celestia continued to harp on it. Sunset felt the need to justify her actions. "I just wanted to prove to you that I had what it takes to be your protégé. If I can learn to tap into and control my power on my own, then that would—"

"And what if you couldn't?!"

Sunset flinched.

"What if you had run off somewhere to practice and your magic had suddenly spiked and overwhelmed you? Who would be there to help?! If I hadn't been there when you were a filly, you might have died! You may be stronger now than you were back then, but that's no guarantee of your safety." Celestia's voice finally lowered in tone. She was still upset, but she was more concerned than angry. "I don't want to see you hurt yourself, Sunset, but that doesn't mean I don't trust you. Try to put yourself in my position as you've been aspiring to do since you were a filly. Would you do any different for somepony you cared about as much as I care about you?"

Sunset's ears drooped and she broke eye contact with the princess.

"Under normal circumstances I'd be ecstatic to learn of such a breakthrough in your progress. Had you told me immediately. I may have even taken back what I said about you not being ready, but this has clearly shown me that I was right from the start. You're still too irresponsible. I've never said this to you before, Sunset, and I wish I never had to, but... I'm disappointed in you."

Sunset shut her eyes tight, a piercing pain striking her chest. After all the effort she'd put in, to hear Celestia say that didn't just upset her, it hurt her. She felt like she wanted to cry.

"I feel like I've said this a thousand times at this point, but I can't hammer it home hard enough: everything I'm doing, I'm doing for your sake, Sunset. I'm not going to just stand by and watch you get yourself killed due to your own recklessness. But as I said, I'm not entirely exempt from blame in this matter. I accepted the responsibility of teaching and nurturing you when you were a child, and I intend to see that through. So, I will uphold my responsibility to ensuring that you are responsible enough to wield your power intelligently and, of course, responsibly." Celestia fell silent for a few moments. Sunset appeared to be on the verge of tears, but there was still a rather indignant look in her eyes. She obviously wanted to fight back, but couldn't muster the words. It hurt Celestia to have to keep attacking this issue, but sometimes the best treatment for a wound could sting the worse. "Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

The glower Sunset cast up at the princess was harsh, yet pained, evident by the sparkle of moisture in the corners of her eyes. Sunset refused to back down in this argument, but her silence was more than evidence enough to show Celestia that she knew her teacher was right. Sunset just didn't want to admit it.

"I will make good on my promise to continue aiding you in your training," Celestia continued, her tone uncharacteristically detached. "But you're going to have to have a little more patience. You've built this whole argument between us on the idea that I don't trust you, but I think it's about time that you trust me."

"I've trusted you from the moment I met you. More than anypony else," Sunset said quietly.

"Then show me you trust me," Celestia pleaded. "You blatantly disregarded my warnings. I know you may be feeling neglected right now, but stomping off in a huff isn't going to solve any problems. If anything, it creates more problems. Just ask Luna."

Sunset felt a twinge of anger. "I'm not going to become Princess Luna. Surely you have more faith in me than that."

"At this point, I'm not sure," Celestia stated bluntly, even surprising herself a little at how willing she was to admit that. "But if you keep acting the way you have, you may be inadvertently following in her hoofsteps. Remember that."

Unprompted, Celestia bent down and gave Sunset an unexpected hug. However, for what felt like the first time in the years the two had known each other, Sunset did not hug her back.

"I do trust you, Sunset. And it's because I trust you that this has been hurting me so much." Celestia released her student and stood up again, her gaze just as authoritative as before. "But we can't make any progress on this until you learn to straighten up. Am I understood?"

Sunset let out a reluctant huff through her nostrils. "Yeah..."

Though not exactly the most confidence-inspiring response, Celestia nodded in acknowledgement. "Good. Now, I suppose I should let you know that we'll be bringing back the Grand Galloping Gala in an effort to help everypony take their minds off of all of the recent unpleasantness. If you want to help with the planning, you're welcome to pitch in."

There was a slight look of curiosity on Sunset's face, but she said nothing. This conversation was taking up too much of her immediate attention to formulate any sort of response to it.

And with that, Celestia descended the staircase and left the tower without another word. Sunset let out a long sigh, and sauntered back to her bedroom. She walked over to her closet, opening the door. Her dark bedroom was then illuminated by a soft, amber light. Sunset sat down and picked up the glass jar she'd hidden in the closet, holding it in front of her face with her magic. Up until now, every time she had looked at the shimmering fireball within, her heart would swell with pride. But now, something felt different.

Perhaps it was guilt that pervaded Sunset's mind. Her actions had clearly hurt Princess Celestia, and she had no reason to believe that Celestia was willfully neglecting her. Maybe she knew, deep down, that everything Celestia had said was true.

But if that was the case, why was she holding this little fireball? Sunset had the proof she needed right there. The progress she'd made recently—her latent power coming to the fore and the creation sitting in front of her—was done without Celestia's help. Of course, she knew that showing this now would only result in another chewing out, as it only furthered Celestia's argument about Sunset being haphazard in her actions. But, still, there it was.

No, now was not the time. For as much progress as she had made in the past several days, Sunset knew that there was more that she could only learn from the princess. Celestia would eventually return to aiding with her training, presumably after the Grand Galloping Gala, and when her power and control over her magic had advanced enough to garner her teacher's approval, then she could confidently present her creation.

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

As puzzled and concerned as Starswirl was about Princess Celestia's odd behavior, he had decided to let her do whatever it was she had gone off to do. He had no idea what it was about a simple headache that would cause the princess such distress, but he assumed the answer would come soon enough.

Perhaps sooner than he thought even.

While moving through the halls of the new castle on his way to acquire his morning cup of coffee, Starswirl spotted Princess Celestia herself in the empty corridor ahead of him. However, she was not going anywhere. She was sat on the floor, leaning back against the marble wall and staring up at the ceiling, lost in thought.

"Your Highness? Are you alright?" Starswirl inquired with concern as he approached the ruminating alicorn.

Celestia didn't remove her gaze from the ceiling. "I just don't know if I'm handling this the right way."

Starswirl raised an eyebrow. "Beg your pardon?"

"Sunset's been hiding the fact that she's tapped into her well of power, and has been trying to strengthen her magic by herself."

"Is that right? She did say she was doing some solo training, but I had no idea she'd made such progress on her own in such little time," Starswirl responded in quiet surprise. "Is that what had you so worried before?"

Celestia simply nodded. "I... I tried to express my displeasure with her decision to conceal it. I'm worried that I may have been too harsh with my words and especially my tone. I don't want her to think that I believe helping her is a chore."

"Well, sometimes children need a little tough love," Starswirl stated as he stroked his beard. "Coddling them too much can cause problems on its own. A parent has to decide when to use what approach. Admittedly, Sunset may not be as mature as she should be at her age, at least in some aspects anyway."

"But that's just it," Celestia said, finally looking Starswirl in the eye. "Sunset is not a child, and I'm not her mother. I don't have the right to speak to her the way I did. I need to stop treating her like a child. Otherwise, she may end up just like..."

As Celestia trailed off, Starswirl interjected to try and quell that particular concern. "The difference is how they both saw you. While they both care about you greatly, Luna is your sister, but Sunset sees you as a—"

"But you don't know that for certain." Celestia's gaze fell to the floor, and she sighed deeply. "If she truly saw me as a mother, then why would she hide such things from me? Why can't she just understand what it is I'm trying to do for her? Am I supposed to punish her? Do I have that right? Would that even solve the problem, or would it just widen the gap between us?"

Starswirl smiled compassionately. "And those questions right there are exactly why you could consider yourself Sunset's mother. You think I haven't asked myself the same questions over the years? Being a parent is not about knowing what to do with your child, it's about figuring it out along the way. It might just be a little more complicated in our case since perhaps Sunset doesn't even realize that she sees you that way."

"I can't believe that..." Celestia quietly said with a shake of her head. "I'm just her teacher and her role model, not her mother."

"But that's exactly what a parent is, Your Highness. Whether she realizes or not, and whether you choose to accept it or not, makes no difference in my eyes. I honestly can't say that I'd do much differently were I in your place. It's just a matter of getting the both of you to mutually accept it. And you know what I think?"

Celestia gazed into Starswirl's blue eyes expectantly, the stallion casting to her a reassuring and confident grin.

"I think the Gala may be just to place to do that. After all, the very theme of the event is putting things behind you. Whatever hurdle is standing between you two, you can overcome it there. Together."

The princess thought it over in silence for a few moments. "I suppose... But I'm still a little concerned that my words haven't gotten through to her. What if she continues to disobey me out of spite?"

"Then perhaps you should just do what she's been asking you to do and trust her. You do trust her, don't you?"

There was a slight moment of hesitation, and that moment caused Celestia to feel a stabbing pain in her chest, as though she had just had a knife plunged into her ribs, but by her own hooves. There was a tiny kernel of doubt in her mind, and it terrified her. Had she really lost her trust in Sunset?

Starswirl picked up on the worry that invaded Celestia's mind. Her silence spoke volumes. "Well, then, I suppose the most important thing at this juncture is for the two of you to work this out. Maybe you should talk to Sunset again, though I'd give it a little time to simmer first—a conversation like that should be done with a cool head."

Princess Celestia stood up, taking a long breath through her nostrils. "I'll try. But, can I ask that you keep an eye on her until then? I want to make sure that she isn't too hurt by what I said."

"I'll do what I can. After all, a mother and father should work together to raise their child," he said with a chuckle.

A red hue tinged Celestia's alabaster cheeks at the joke, and she cleared her throat awkwardly.

Starswirl picked up on her discomfort and quickly backpedaled, feeling a little embarrassed. "Er, sorry. Perhaps not an appropriate comment to make to a princess. I hadn't intended to imply anything."

"It's fine. Anyway, I was thinking I should aid Quill with the plans for the Gala," Celestia said, changing the subject. "Would you care to join us?"

"Once I've gotten my morning coffee, sure," Starswirl said with an amicable grin.

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

Sunset Shimmer stretched her legs and back as she stepped out of her bedroom, letting out a tired yawn as she heading for the stairs. It had been a long time since she'd stayed in bed this late, though it wasn't like she'd actually gotten the rest she was hoping for. The headache she'd suffered during the night—apparently the result of another solar flare—wasn't the only thing keeping her awake.

After a thorough talking to from Princess Celestia, Sunset had a lot on her mind. She'd been hoping that their conversation the previous day had put their problems to rest, but it seemed the princess insisted on hounding her about her choices and "responsibility." But it wasn't like words alone were going to stop her. Sunset was confident that she knew what she was doing. If her magic was going to spike and go out of control, it would have already. That's what she told herself. It was just a matter of getting to the point where Celestia could see for herself that Sunset had total control over her power.

Sunset let out a spiteful huff as she descended her tower, fully intent on continuing her solo training without the princess. But she'd probably have to find somewhere more out of the way, or risk another lecture if she were caught. The statue garden—even if it was more expansive than it had been at the old castle—was not an ideal location. She'd probably have to go outside the city limits entirely...

Sunset headed for the castle's entrance, going outside and making for the outer gate, which was still under construction.

"Where are you headed at this hour?"

Sunset looked over her shoulder after having passed through the front doors of the castle. Lance was standing guard there, giving her a rather judgmental stare. Sunset could've mistaken him for Scabbard with that look on his face, lacking his usual lackadaisical smile.

"Why? Is there a problem?" Sunset replied, perhaps in a snippier tone than she'd intended.

"It's almost lunch time. Not exactly the time you usually see people heading out to run errands."

"Maybe I'm going to a restaurant."

"Are you going to a restaurant?"

Sunset narrowed her eyes at Lance. "What are you trying to do? You think I'm acting suspiciously or something?"

Lance let out a sigh, tilting his head to his left. "Your tower's not far from here, and your balcony doors were open earlier."

Sunset scowled at him. "What, you were eavesdropping? Kind of an inappropriate thing for a guard to do, don't you think?"

"Hey, I was just standing here at my post, doing my job," Lance defended with a dismissive shrug. "It's not my fault that Princess Celestia's voice carries when she's upset."

The agitated unicorn stared right through Lance. "I'm not in the mood for more lectures. I've had my fill for the day."

"I'm not planning on giving any lectures. But after what I accidentally overheard, if I suspect that you're going off to do something that might be against the princess's wishes, it'd be my duty to report it. If that means I get chewed out for eavesdropping, then, well, them's the breaks."

Sunset rolled her eyes with an annoyed sigh. "Alright, what do you want?"

Lance sneered at her insinuation. "You think I want a bribe? I thought you'd know me better than that by now, Sunny. What kind of royal guard would I be if I did something underhoofed like that?"

"Then what's this about?!" Sunset snapped, her patience reaching its limit. "Just get to the point already!"

Lance continued to stare at her sternly, her rise in tone not fazing him. However, his expression softened suddenly as he stared at the irate mare, her nostrils flared and her brow furrowed. He let out a defeated sigh. "What happened to you, Sunset?"

"Huh?"

"You used to listen to everything Princess Celestia said like they were the rules you lived your life by. But lately you two have been at each other's throats. To be honest, I don't like seeing you like this—either of you."

Sunset turned away with a defensive snort. "It's none of your business," she mumbled under her breath.

"Maybe not, but that's not gonna stop me from sticking my nose into it. See, when people I care about are having a hard time, I don't like to just sit by and watch it happen. Now, I heard the princess say how she didn't like the idea of you running off and practicing your magic on your own, but if I had to take a guess, that's exactly what you were about to do, wasn't it?"

"And what if it was?" Sunset grumbled quietly.

"Why?"

"'Why' what?"

"Why, after everything that Princess Celestia said to you earlier, is the first thing you do the exact thing she got upset with you for in the first place? The old Sunny I know would have apologized and hugged it out with the princess and then maybe went and got something to eat together. But this Sunset storms off in a huff intent on disobeying a direct request from Her Majesty."

"Because she doesn't get it," Sunset answered indignantly. "Everything I did recently to improve myself, I did by myself. I didn't need her. I was happy to apologize for my behavior the other day and put things behind us, but she insists on keeping me on a leash. How am I supposed to learn to control this power I have if she doesn't let me use it?"

"That's something you'll have to work out with her. I'm more concerned with the interpersonal aspect of the whole thing." Lance stared at her with a pleading frown. "This isn't you, Sunset. You're supposed to be cheery and optimistic, not spiteful and rebellious."

"You're one to talk," Sunset countered with a glower. "You haven't exactly been the same since Princess Luna was banished either."

Lance glared back. "The difference there being that my attitude shift is warranted. Maybe if I'd been a little more serious about my job, I could have done something to prevent that from happening. I don't actually know if that's true or not, but my point is that I'm not dragging anypony down."

"Tell that to Scabbard."

Lance blinked uncomprehendingly. "What?"

"Scabbard said pretty much the same thing about you as you just did about me. He thinks you're not yourself and he's worried about you."

The soldier's ears drooped slightly. "He said that? But... I mean, come on, he's been telling me for years to be more proactive about my job. I figured he, of all people, would be happy to see me take things more seriously."

"Yeah, but it's not 'you,' right?" Sunset quipped. throwing his words back at him.

Lance's stern glare came back, directed straight back at Sunset. "Hey, at least what I'm doing I'm doing to protect people."

"And how's that going?"

The pegasus raised an eyebrow at the question, but his eyes suddenly widened as the realization hit him. "Oh, crap. Hal..." He fell back onto his haunches as the guilt quickly hit him like a ton of bricks. "That was my fault, wasn't it? If I hadn't insisted on running drills in the Everfree Forest, Hal wouldn't've gotten hurt. He could've been killed—we all could've been killed. Because of me..."

Sunset only watched in silence as the regret set in. Admittedly, she felt sorry for him, and a little bad herself. She was just trying to make a counter-argument; she hadn't meant to do this to him. "Well... it's not like you knew those creatures would be there, right?" she said, trying to fix what she'd done.

"But after what happened to Luna, I should've been more cautious," Lance mumbled in self-pity. "I was so dead set on taking my job more seriously that I didn't even consider the consequences." He stood up again, looking Sunset in the eye once more. "I guess that's what you call 'irony.' Well, if anything, I can use this realization to help."

"Help who?" Sunset asked, puzzled by the statement.

"You."

Sunset blinked, vexed by the answer. "Me? What does that have to do with me?"

"You can use my experience as a cautionary tale," he told her firmly. "Kids your age like to think, 'It'll never happen to me,' going around thinking you're invincible. Maybe nothing's happened yet, but who's to say nothing will."

"I'm not a kid anymore, I can handle things myself," Sunset spat, becoming increasingly frustrated.

Lance leaned closer with a snide look. "Oh, yeah? Well, to use your own words: 'How's that going?'"

Sunset scowled at his insinuation. "What're you getting at?"

"I seem to recall you saying 'I can handle it' pretty recently. You remember when that was?"

She did, but she didn't respond. However, she did shrink back ever-so-slightly.

"You may have kept everypony safe by destroying the bridge to the castle, but you admitted yourself that you only did so out of panic. If that's how you're going to handle crisis situations in the future, then it's no wonder the princess doesn't trust you."

"Shut up!" Sunset shouted, her face contorted in anger, though Lance didn't so much as flinch at her outburst. "Princess Celestia said it was the right thing to do! I didn't have any other choice!"

"But if Hal hadn't said anything, you would've burned the whole forest down."

"That's—" She hesitated. Sunset tried to justify her thought process but came up with nothing. She turned away from Lance, to hide her remorse.

"You know, I do care about you, Sunset. I've known you since you were an adorable, little filly, so it's hard not to care about you. But the real reason I'm having this conversation with you is because of Hal."

Sunset stared at him, confused. "Hal?"

"For as much as I care about you, he cares about you more," Lance told her, his voice quiet and compassionate. "You've known each other since you were kids. You're his best friend. Hal always comes to me when he wants to talk about you, but you wanna know what he's been saying about you lately?"

She waited quietly and with a nervous lump in her throat.

"He's scared."

"Scared?" Sunset echoed in surprise and confusion. "Of what?"

"What else? Losing the best—and only—friend he has."

Sunset's expression fell, but she still maintained a somewhat confrontational look, intent on defending herself. "But I'm not going anywhere."

"Emotionally. Just like this rift that's started to appear between you and Princess Celestia, Halberd's worried that you're going to drift further away from him, too."

Sunset's gaze fell to the ground. "But, I'm not trying to—"

"You're not trying to fix it either. Do you care about Hal?"

"Well... Yeah, of course."

"And what about Princess Celestia?"

Sunset went quiet. Maybe she didn't notice it herself, but Lance certainly saw the twinkle of moisture in her eyes. If she really didn't feel like she needed the princess, then why did it hurt so much to hear her say she was disappointed in her?

Lance gave Sunset a look of empathy. "Everypony makes mistakes, Sunset, and sometimes it takes a shock to the system to make them realize it. I got lucky, since Hal was only hurt and not killed. And if you recall, Princess Luna made that same mistake. I think it'd be for the best if you stopped this now before anypony gets hurt."

"I... I don't want Princess Celestia to hate me..."

Lance finally managed a soft smile. "Honestly, I don't think she ever could. But maybe you should talk to her again."

Sunset let out a remorseful and defeated sigh. She hadn't been considering Princess Celestia's feelings as much as she should have. If she really cared about her as much as she'd been telling herself she had her whole life, then she wouldn't have let the princess torment herself by having to scold her. Sunset still had that chip on her shoulder, but if she could earn Princess Celestia's favor back, maybe that could make the process of proving herself go a little more smoothly. After all, she had dedicated her entire life to being just like her idol, so it stood to reason that she should show the same compassion that Celestia showed her. "Yeah... Thanks, Lance." She gave the pegasus a quick, grateful hug, then readjusted her course to head back inside.

Lance inhaled deeply, letting out a self-satisfied breath. "And that's how you be a big brother. Speaking of which, I probably owe Hal an apology... And Scabbard for that matter..."

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

"There's this restaurant back in Manehattan I used to frequent in my college days," Starswirl suggested as he took a sip of his coffee. "Delectable food, and the cooks are a friendly bunch."

Quill tapped his chin as he mulled over his colleague's recommendation. "I was thinking it'd be better for the caterer's to be local. As a celebration of Canterlot, the people here should be able to take pride in their work, cuisine included, and share their creations with visitors. It could also help build business relationships."

Starswirl chuckled. "Always the professional, eh, Quill? Trust you to see the economic and business opportunities in a party."

"It's my job," the mustachioed stallion stated pridefully. "As the princesses' adviser, I have to have the kingdom and it's people in mind, just as they do."

"I'm just saying, nopony would judge you if you wanted to cut loose a little during the Gala. Right, Your Highness?"

Celestia lifted her head from her hoof, glancing up at Starswirl with an uncomprehending blink. "Hm?"

Starswirl's jubilant grin suddenly vanished when he saw the absentminded look on the princess's face. The toasted bread of her breakfast sandwich was starting to lose its crisp, and the pulp had all settled at the bottom of her glass of orange juice. Since the three of them had come to the dining hall to both have breakfast and plan the Grand Galloping Gala, it was quite evident that Celestia had not fully shown up yet, proven by the untouched state of her meal while Starswirl and Quill were quite nearly finished theirs.

"Do you need another cup of tea, Your Majesty?" Rosehip offered, having been standing by diligently in case anypony wanted anything else brought from the kitchen. "Maybe with a little sugar? You seem kinda out of it this morning. Uh, n-no offense."

Celestia let out a weary sigh. "No, thank you. I'm just a little..."

"Distracted?"

She stared at the knowing look on Starswirl's face, but didn't continue her thought.

"You seemed quite eager about the Gala earlier," Quill pointed out with a quirked eyebrow. "What's troubling you, Your Highness?"

Celestia hesitated to explain. She'd gone over her feelings and concerns multiple times that day already—to Sunset and Starswirl—so she didn't really want to have to shove her personal problems onto anypony else if she didn't need to. The alicorn straightened up in her seat, taking a deep, steadying breath and putting on a more resolute face. "It's nothing. My apologies. We all came here to discuss the Gala, and that's exactly what we're going to do."

Starswirl and Quill exchanged skeptical and concerned looks. Quill spoke up first. "Your Highness, your problems are our problems. If there's anything we can—"

"No." Celestia firmly tapped her hoof onto the table. "There are some things I need to tackle myself. You have other things to focus your attention on right now, Quill. Whatever I'm dealing with can wait until later. The Gala is important, and I can't afford not to give it my full consideration. So..." she declared, forcing a steadfast smirk. "Let's get the gears turning." She punctuated her attempt to appear eager by taking an enthusiastic bite of her sandwich, only to pause and grimace as the unexpected texture of the soggy toast coated the inside of her mouth. She reluctantly swallowed the bite, then turned to Rosehip. "Could you have the chef's make another sandwich for me? Oh, and I will have that cup of tea."

Rosehip smiled widely, giving a courteous bow before excitedly hurrying off to the kitchen.

"Now then..." Celestia started, clearing her throat. However, even though she seemed to be preparing to make suggestions and comments on the Gala plans, she hesitated with an awkward smile, her ivory cheeks blushing. "Er, remind me what you've worked out so far. I haven't really been paying attention."

With an obliging nod, Quill looked over the notes he'd taken during the conversation. "Well, so far it's mostly been about catering and entertainment. We have a group of classical musicians in mind to provide elegant ambiance for the event. Decorators will need to be hired, as the castle is not yet in a state that I would personally consider 'presentable' to the public. Speaking of which, while we will extend invitations to the citizens of neighboring towns, I would recommend we limit the number of guests. After all, the castle is still under construction and likely won't be finished before the Gala comes around. And given the proposed purpose of the Gala, I don't think we should postpone it; the sooner the better."

Celestia nodded. "Agreed. Though some time will be necessary to spread the news. Perhaps a screening process will also be required to ensure no unseemly sorts are in attendance, though that would likely take some more time."

"We could send soldiers to each town to assess the reputation of those who wish to attend," Starswirl suggested.

Celestia mulled that over with some uncertainty. "Mmm, it was my desire to make the Gala inclusive, though it probably can't be helped. We only have so much space here, and we can't afford to have our guards watching for pickpockets and vandals all night; they'll make the guests uncomfortable. Very well. Preliminary background checks may be necessary."

Quill made a note of that on his scroll. At the same time, Rosehip returned with the princess's sandwich and tea, placing it before her on the table.

"So where does that put us currently?" the princess inquired, taking a sip of her tea.

"We were just about to discuss catering," answered Quill. "My recommendation was—"

Just then, the discussion was interrupted by the sound of the door opening. The three ponies at the table all turned their heads in unison to spot the sheepish face of Sunset Shimmer poking in. Celestia suddenly felt her stomach sink slightly, wondering what was going through her student's head right now. Sunset pensively entered the dining hall, her eyes locked onto Princess Celestia, though, to the alicorn's surprise, there appeared to be no hint of ire in her teal irises.

Maintaining a respectful distance, Sunset finally spoke up, her voice quiet and apologetic. "Um... Are you guys talking about the Grand Galloping Gala?"

Starswirl discreetly glanced at Celestia, though the princess never took her eyes off of Sunset. He cleared his throat and answered his daughter's question with an unassuming smile. "Indeed we are."

There was a brief moment of silence as Sunset and Celestia stared at one another, each one wondering what the other was thinking. Sunset didn't know if Celestia was still mad or not, but she decided to take a chance. A small smile creased her amber lips. "Can I join you?"

Celestia felt her breath come back to her, as though she'd been holding it from the moment Sunset walked in. Seeing the apologetic and genuine smile on her student's face filled her with relief.

"Of course, the more the merrier," Quill declared enthusiastically.

Sunset took a seat next to her father, but her attention remained focused on the princess. She didn't say anything to her, but instead let her smile do the talking for her. And Celestia responded in kind. Nothing needed to be said between them.

Rosehip eagerly approached the new pony at the table. "Something for breakfast, Lady Sunset?"

"Um..." Sunset glanced at the sandwich in front of her teacher. "I'll have what she's having."

Rosehip was about to run off, but was interrupted by the princess.

"That's alright, Rosehip. She can have this one." Celestia passed the plate with the fresh sandwich on it over to Sunset, then took up the one she'd let go cold for herself. "I don't really need two."

Sunset graciously took a bite of the sandwich, the sound of the toast crunching between her teeth more satisfying to Celestia than if she had eaten it herself.

"Sho..." Sunset mumbled with a full mouth, spraying toast crumbs onto the table. "Where are we right now?"

"Catering," Quill informed her.

"Aweshome," Sunset exclaimed, finally swallowing her mouthful. "Cuz I know a great place here in Canterlot that has the best pastries."

As the discussion continued, Celestia once again found herself distracted. However, this time was a little different. She couldn't stop herself from smiling as she absentmindedly watched her student happily engage in the discussion as though nothing had even happened that morning. Perhaps she was better at this whole "mothering" thing than she gave herself credit for.