• Published 15th Nov 2018
  • 5,122 Views, 146 Comments

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun - Dee Pad



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

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Chapter 17 - Second Sun

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 17: Second Sun

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While most people viewed the new Canterlot Castle as a beacon of progress and prosperity, a symbol of the capitol's elegance and majesty, it's important to remember that it was also home to many trained soldiers. Said soldiers were skilled in the art of defense and combat, and, as such, needed a place to hone those skills.

The castle's barracks were located rather out of the way from the castle proper so as not to disturb the air of comfort that the marble structure was intended to bring to its citizens. A large, open space near the face of the mountain's peak had been cleared away of all obstructions, only now surrounded by a thick, grey, brick wall. Even though Canterlot Castle's occupants had only moved in a few weeks ago at this point, the grass that had originally been growing in the area within the barracks had all but vanished, save for near the walls. Having been frequently used by the royal guards nearly everyday, the once-green pasture had been thoroughly trampled, leaving naught but the dirt and the hundreds of hoofprints and weapon marks upon the ground.

Just around a month ago, the position of royal guard was seen as a rather leisurely job given the peaceful times Equestria had been experiencing since Discord's defeat. But, in the wake of... recent events, the soldiers' training had become a little more rigorous, not that too many of them were complaining; it at least broke up the monotony of their daily patrols.

Here, the soldiers practiced all sorts of fighting styles and with all manner of weapons, though spears were the favored arms of most of the guards. Training dummies made from burlap sacs stuffed with straw were the mock villains that the soldiers focused on, cutting and stabbing with practiced accuracy. Some of the burlier fighters enjoyed discarding their armor and engaging in hoof-to-hoof sparring matches with one another, others preferred to fight from a distance.

Scabbard was one of the latter. Floating in front of him, gripped in his aura of light blue magic, was a sturdy bow, string taut and arrow nocked. He stared down the shaft of the arrow, lining it up with the wooden target standing thirty feet away. The round slab of wood already had several arrows embedded into its painted surface, though, as of yet, none within the red bulls-eye. Scabbard intended to rectify that.

With just a few more adjustments, Scabbard had lined up his shot, preparing to loose the arrow.

A sudden pop of magic behind him elicited a surprised yelp from the unicorn guard, his readied arrow inadvertently firing off into the air with a twang. Thankfully, it harmlessly plinked off of the stone wall, though its shaft snapped in half as a result.

"Nice shot."

Scabbard spun around angrily, directing a stern and frustrated glower at the snickering, amber unicorn that had materialized behind him. "Sunset, you can't just teleport into the training grounds when we're in the middle of practice," he scolded. "What if you had popped in front of somepony's weapon?"

"You say that like I haven't been watching you work on your aim for the last few minutes," she responded with a smirk.

A slight blush brightened Scabbard's blue cheeks, embarrassed to know that she'd been observing his display of inaccuracy, but also a little annoyed knowing now that she had startled him on purpose. "It's dangerous to disturb an archer when they have an arrow ready. What if it had hit somepony?"

"But it didn't, did it?"

Scabbard simply narrowed his eyes. For as unusually confrontational as Sunset was being, she was wearing a rather playful grin. Apparently she was taking a page out of Lance's book on how to get under his skin.

Seeing the scowl she was receiving, Sunset rolled her eyes. "Alright, I'm sorry. I promise I won't do it again."

Scabbard waited for a potential punchline, but seeing the now genuine smile on the mare's face, he nodded. "Good."

With that out of the way, Scabbard went back to what he was doing, nocking another arrow and aiming at his target. After a few moments of calibration, he let the arrow fly, its tip embedding itself into the blue circle around the target's rim. Scabbard sighed in disappointment and frustration.

"Having trouble there?"

The stallion shot another annoyed glance at the intrusive, amber unicorn. He was expecting a mocking smirk, but she was instead observing rather curiously. "I haven't practiced much from this distance yet. I'm still getting a feel for it."

"Come on, it's not that hard."

Scabbard furrowed his brow at her condescending tone, but, seeing an opportunity, managed a smirk himself. "Is that right? Well, then, perhaps you'd like to demonstrate how easy it is." He offered his bow to her.

Sunset, rather than accept the bow, simply gave him a smug grin. Instead, she pulled an arrow from Scabbard's quiver, twirling it rapidly in the air with her cyan magic. "Don't mind if I do."

The arrow halted its spin on a dime, its head pointed directly at the target. With only a brief moment to adjust for the little wind that there was, a burst of cyan magic suddenly sent the arrow careening through the air with an audible whistle. With a loud thunk, the arrow had not only struck the dead center of the bulls-eye, but managed to embed its shaft halfway through the half-inch thick piece of wood, protruding out the other side.

Scabbard's jaw was slacked in awe, shocked, and frankly a touch humiliated. Not only had she managed to hit the bulls-eye, and not only did she hit it with more force than was even possible with a bow, but she lined up her shot in less than half the time that he had. "How did...?"

"Simple geometry and physics." She punctuated her nonchalant explanation by pulling out another arrow and firing it at the exact same speed and trajectory, striking the first arrow's shaft and splitting it down the middle until it hit the target.

Scabbard only continued to stare at the arrows lodged in the target, bewildered at the dexterity required to perform such a feat.

"Try to ease up a little, Sunset," said Lance as he sauntered over with a spear held in his wing. He cast an amused grin at his awestruck comrade. "I think he's starting to feel emasculated."

Scabbard was a little too busy being dumbfounded to acknowledge Lance's comment, managing to tear his eyes away from the target to look at Sunset. "That's incredibly impressive, Sunset." He complemented his statement with a grin. "With skill like that, you'd make for a good soldier."

"Yeah, but the armor is so gaudy," Sunset giggled.

"I mean, let's face facts here," said Lance, "given the power she has at her disposal and her training with Princess Celestia, she's probably more capable of handling herself in a fight than anypony here."

Sunset scratched her head, flattered by the compliment, but doubtful of its validity. "I don't know about that. I might have power, but I don't really know anything about combat strategy and things like that."

"Though that does beg the question," Scabbard said with a curious look. "Why are you out here?"

Sunset's smile widened ever so slightly. "Oh, I'm meeting Princess Celestia here for some training."

"Ah, looking to get into combat strategy, then," Lance surmised. "Broadening your horizons, eh?"

"You sure you can handle a weapon?" Scabbard asked with a touch of concern. "Firing an arrow is one thing, but wielding a sword or spear requires a great deal of discipline."

"Who said anything about weapons? The only weapon I need is right here," Sunset replied, tapping her horn.

"But I can't imagine you'd be doing your training out here if it wasn't combat oriented," Lance presumed.

"That's correct."

The eyes of the three ponies, as well as every other soldier on the grounds, turned up to see Princess Celestia gracefully fluttering down, landing beside them. Lance and Scabbard gave the alicorn respectful bows.

"Just strengthening her magic is not necessarily going to be enough to help people. She needs to know how to properly utilize her magic in a given situation." Celestia offered an apologetic smile to her student. "My apologies for my tardiness, Sunset. The meeting ran a little long."

Sunset dismissed her apology with a shake of her head. "Don't worry about it. I know you've got stuff to deal with."

"Two weeks later and people are still on your case about the Gala, huh?" Lance said.

The princess breathed an exasperated sigh. "Yes, even now people are approaching me to request an explanation or an apology for my behavior. I can't exactly say that I blame them. I know they're simply worried that, given the circumstances and the similarity, the same thing that happened to Luna may happen to me. But, admittedly, I was hoping we'd be past this by now. I suppose I'll just have to suffer through it a little longer."

"I wouldn't take any stock in what the people are gossiping about," Scabbard assured her. "They'll see in due time that their concerns are unfounded."

"Indeed," Celestia agreed with a grin. "And the best way to show them that is to simply allow things to get back to normal. Starting with my student here."

Sunset beamed widely, her tail swishing in anticipation.

"So, it's hero training, then," Lance said with a smile. "Our little Sunny's gonna be fighting bad guys and saving lives."

"Ideally, she wouldn't have to, but we never know when something might come up," Celestia clarified. "If she possesses the power to protect people, then she should be able to do it with confidence and efficiency. No sense letting talent like hers go to waste."

"Speaking of which," Sunset interjected eagerly, "can we get started?"

Celestia nodded. "Of course. I was thinking a little target practice to start us off."

"I don't feel like that's at all necessary," Scabbard noted with a chuckle, pointing to the target down the way. "Her aim's impeccable as it is."

Celestia eyed the target and the arrows piercing its center. She stroked her chin with a thoughtful hum, though didn't look as impressed by the sight as the soldiers figured she'd be. "Perhaps, but any foe she might face is not likely to remain perfectly still." She rolled her eyes, an old memory coming back to her. "Unless they're all as pompous as Discord was, but I don't think we can bank on that being the case. No, we'll just up the ante with some moving targets."

Celestia's horn began to glow and, after a few seconds, three shimmering, golden orbs the size of grapefruits appeared around her. She gave Sunset a challenging smirk. "Let's see you strike these three targets while they're in constant motion."

The orbs began to slowly and steadily float away from the princess, each in different directions. Once they had positioned themselves roughly a dozen feet away from her, forming a perfect triangle with Celestia at the center, they came to a stop. Then, suddenly, the orbs began to dart around quickly in the air, zipping up, down, and all around the training grounds. All of the soldiers were taken aback by the speed of the orbs, all of them backing off towards the wall to allow the princess and her magical targets more room.

Even Sunset was a little caught off guard by the seemingly erratic movements of the three orbs. She watched as they zoomed through the air, having some difficulty keeping up with their sheer velocity.

"Well?" Celestia said in an uncharacteristically goading tone, looking at Sunset with an expectant smirk. "We don't have all day."

Scabbard stood by silently as he watched to see what Sunset would do. It was evident that Celestia was attempting to make her feel rushed, perhaps trying to prompt her student to act without thinking—a reaction that would most certainly be answered with reprimanding. However, Sunset still hesitated. No, she wasn't hesitating. Scabbard could see the concentration on her face. She was taking longer to line up her shot than she had with the arrow, but she was still clearly analyzing the situation.

Sunset observed the orbs as they flew about the area. She was starting to notice something. While their movements seemed erratic, there was actually a pattern. One of the orbs flew in wide circles, another in quick zig-zag motions. Easily discernible paths that Sunset could predict and adjust for. With careful aim, she could lead her shots and accurately hit her targets.

The issue, however, came from the third orb, which did, in fact, appear to move in a completely random pattern, even stopping occasionally for indeterminate periods of time. No matter how long Sunset watched it, she could see no pattern to its movements whatsoever.

Sunset chanced a glance at the princess. Celestia was watching her, waiting for her to take action. Her gaze was unusually judgmental, as though she were waiting for Sunset to make a mistake.

Celestia did have a point: she didn't have all day. Sunset decided she needed to do something other than just stand there. So she lit up her horn and took aim at the circling orb, firing off a bolt of magic in its predicted path and striking it with pinpoint precision. The orb shattered with a small flash of light, the air around it sparkling as if to celebrate her success. Sunset then launched a second shot at the zig-zagging orb, hitting it as well and prompting the same glistening fanfare.

Now, for the third. Sunset hesitated, hoping that any extra time she took would help her recognize some sort of pattern, but no such luck. She was just going to have to take a chance and hope for the best. She watched the orb zip over to where some of the soldiers were standing, then over to Lance and Scabbard, then to the princess, then straight up into the air.

That's when Sunset took her shot. The cyan bolt of magic streaked upward toward the orb, but at the last second, it zipped out of the way, the shot continuing off into the blue sky yonder.

Sunset let the light of her horn fade, breathing a disappointed sigh. "Dang it..."

"Excellent work, Sunset."

The amber unicorn looked up at her teacher. Celestia was smiling quite proudly. "What? But I missed the last one."

The wily orb hovered back down to the princess before dissipating in the same sparkly light the others had. Celestia laughed quietly. "Sunset, it's naïve to think that you're going to land every shot you take, and in a more serious situation you certainly aren't going to give up when your first shot fails."

"I don't think anypony here would have even been able to hit those first two with just one shot," Lance assured her.

"Besides, I wasn't trying to test your aim," Celestia corrected.

Sunset tilted her head in confusion. "You weren't?"

The princess shook her head. "I was testing your situational awareness and your ability to perform under pressure."

"She was egging you on to see if you would strike prematurely without properly evaluating the scenario," Scabbard noted.

Celestia nodded. "Precisely. And an action made in haste here may very well have resulted in collateral damage." She looked around at the spectating soldiers.

"Uh, wait," Lance interrupted with a touch of concern, "so, what if Sunset just fired willy-nilly? She could have hurt somepony."

Celestia's smile only persisted. "But she didn't. Sunset, whether she was conscious of her decision or not, waited until the orb was in a position where even a miss wouldn't endanger anypony." She passed her proud smile to her student. "And I had faith that she'd succeed."

Sunset smiled back. Hearing the princess say she trusted her was the highest praise she wished to receive.

"She's definitely come a long way already from her hastiness with the timberwolves, even though it wasn't that long ago," Lance remarked.

Celestia breathed a sigh at the mention of the beasts, to which they've since given a name. "Yes, and speaking of which, that was also discussed at the meeting today. According to our patrols stationed at the fringe of the Everfree Forest, other monsters have been sighted within the wood."

"Yeah, I heard one of the other soldiers mention cockatrices," Lance said with a dour grimace.

"It seems the corrupted magic within the forest is not only spawning creatures of its own, but attracting them from elsewhere," Celestia postulated. "For cockatrices to migrate to this part of Equestria is unnatural and disconcerting." She shook her head, her smile returning. "But I digress. We're here to train, not discuss current affairs. Shall we try another exercise, Sunset?"

"Yeah!" the amber mare affirmed with gusto. "Fire off those orbs again. I want another crack at 'em. And I won't miss this time."

Celestia smirked, but appreciated her student's enthusiasm. "Don't make promises you can't keep."

However, before Celestia could even set her horn alight, Sunset was distracted by a figure flying toward the training grounds. A giant grin spread across her face the moment she recognized who it was. "Hal!" she beckoned, waving her hoof to the incoming pegasus.

Halberd flapped down to the grounds, donning the same golden armor as the other soldiers. Before all four of his hooves had even touched the dirt, he was beset upon by Sunset, her amber lips pressing eagerly against his in a quick, yet passionate kiss.

Scabbard gave the young couple a roll of his eyes. "Is this really an appropriate place for that?"

Lance shoved Scabbard aside as he approached his little brother. "Don't listen to him, he's just jealous," he joked, earning a disgruntled glower from the armored unicorn. Lance looked over his brother proudly, giving him a pat on the shoulder. "Welcome back to the team, Hal."

"Yeah, the armor looks good on you," Sunset cooed with half-lidded eyes, nuzzling her nose against Halberd's.

"I thought you said it looked gaudy," Scabbard quipped.

"On me. But Hal makes it look good," she corrected, giving her boyfriend another quick kiss.

A blush was starting to form on Halberd's cheeks as he looked around at the other soldiers. Most of them were snickering like schoolchildren and mocking the two of them with kissy faces. "Alright, Sunset, maybe let up a little. You're kinda embarrassing me in front of the other guys."

Sunset giggled cutely, not at all off-put by their prying eyes. "Sorry. I'll save some for later."

"It's good to have you back, Halberd," Celestia greeted with a grin.

"Good to be back. Hopefully I can go more than a week without another injury this time," he laughed.

"Well, you've got a pretty badass scar to show for it at least," Sunset commented with another giggle, pointing out the visible scar just below his cutie mark left by the timberwolf.

Lance had to stifle his own laughter. "I don't know if a scar on your butt counts as badass. Unless you're talking literally."

"First of all, it's not on my butt, it's on my flank; there's a difference," Halberd retorted defensively. "Second, if Sunset thinks it cool, that's all I need to hear." Despite his previous protestations, he gave his girlfriend another nose nuzzle.

Lance rolled his eyes, blanching at the sight of their sickly affection, but unable to suppress his grin. "Ugh, I'm starting to regret helping you with her."

"Are you well enough for combat training, Halberd?" Princess Celestia inquired with some concern, though was also secretly hoping to shift the subject.

Halberd stomped his right hind leg on the ground firmly, kicking up a small dust cloud. "Right as rain, Your Highness." The moment he said that, Lance brusquely passed him a spear.

"Then hop to it, rookie," Lance commanded with a smirk. "We're gonna work you to the bone to make up for your little vacation."

"Hey, don't rough him up too bad, okay?" Sunset requested playfully. "We've got a date later."

"Sunset, would you like to take our lessons elsewhere?" asked the princess. "It may be a touch more crowded here than I anticipated. Plus, I wouldn't want you getting..." She glanced at Halberd with a coy grin. "...distracted."

Sunset blushed with embarrassment, a goofy grin on her face. "Heh, yeah, that's probably a good idea." She leaned over to Halberd one more time, planting a kiss on his silver cheek. "I'll see you tonight, alright?"

"Looking forward to it," he said back, returning her smile.

Halberd watched as Sunset left with the princess, staring with a blissful smile at his amber girlfriend until she vanished past the gate. But he was snapped from his revelry when Lance tapped the side of his helmet with the shaft of his spear.

"Head out of the clouds, rookie. We've got sparring to do."

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

As Celestia and Sunset walked the halls of Canterlot Castle, the princess couldn't help but smile. She glanced down at her student happily trotting alongside her, a chipper grin on her amber face and a cheery sparkle in her teal eyes. To Celestia, it had felt like it had been a long time since things were like this, just the two of them together with nothing but the anticipation of their time together. In reality, it was simply recent events that had made it feel like an eternity, and if anypony knew what eternity felt like, it was Celestia.

But that was behind them now. While the guilt surrounding her sister's fate still lingered, Celestia still had something that encouraged her to keep smiling, and she had made a promise to her long ago that she intended to keep.

Although, Celestia knew that Sunset had more than one reason to be smiling as widely as she was.

"I take it things are going well with Halberd," Celestia said, breaking the brief silence.

Sunset blushed bashfully. "Sorry, I know that might have been a little much back there."

"No, no, it's quite alright," the princess giggled. "It's actually quite refreshing to see the two of you so happy. I feel like this has been a long time coming."

"I know. I just wish I'd have found out about how he felt sooner, but I can't say I'm disappointed. Being with Hal has just been... great. I almost feel more alive, you know? It's one thing to have him as my best friend, but, strangely enough, it feels even better to have him as my boyfriend."

Celestia cast a coy grin down to her student. "I feel inclined to ask... Do you love him?"

Sunset's smile faded a little, lolling her head awkwardly. "Um, it might be a little soon to be throwing around the L-word—we've only been dating for two weeks. I know Hal's been interested in me a lot longer than that, so I can't really speak for him, but if things keep going the way they are, then I don't see any reason to doubt our relationship. I might just need a little more time, that's all."

Celestia closed her eyes in thought, smiling inwardly. "You've been growing so much lately, Sunset."

"Hm?"

"Just a few weeks ago, whenever I'd look into your eyes, I would see that rambunctious little filly I met all those years ago, always rushing headlong into whatever it was that had caught her attention." Celestia gazed fondly at her student. "But now, I see a grown mare, taking her time to prepare herself for life's challenges. That isn't to say I don't still see a glimmer of that little filly in you, but that's mostly for my own nostalgia. You've become a mature and responsible adult, Sunset, even if you've been acting like a goofy, love-struck teenager lately," she said with a chuckle.

Sunset could only continue smiling in response to the princess's words. It meant so much to her to hear her say that. But one word in particular triggered something in her mind:

Responsible...

Sunset stopped walking, prompting Celestia to do the same. Her smile was replaced by a look of confidence and determination as she stared into her teacher's eyes, an unwavering resolve present in her posture and expression. "Princess. I want to try raising the sun again."

Celestia stared back, attempting to perceive any amount of jest in Sunset's face, but could find none. She hesitated of course; it had been a long time since Sunset had even attempted to move the sun. Her gaze became somewhat more authoritative, choosing to treat this situation with the gravitas it deserved. "I see... Sunset, I just praised you for the patience you've developed. Have I been reading you wrong?"

Sunset simply shook her head. "I think I can do it. It's been a while since I tried, and I've come a long way since then. I even tapped into a portion of my latent power. You said yourself that my magic was attuned to the sun."

"Yes, but even back then, when the full extent of your power was sparked by the solar flare, you only managed to move it slightly."

"I might not have the same level of power, but I have more control. What's the harm in letting me try? There was a solar flare recently, so we know there won't be another one for a while."

Celestia contemplated the request in silence. Her eyes shifted to the windows in the hall, through which her sun could be seen in the sky. Given the strides that Sunset had made over the years since her last attempt, Celestia was admittedly curious herself. The princess walked over to the window, gesturing toward the sun with utmost seriousness. "Then let's see it."

Sunset was actually a little surprised to hear her mentor agree so quickly. "Really?"

Celestia nodded. "Are you confident that you'll be able to move it?"

Sunset's determined eyes returned, and she nodded resolutely. "I am. But... shouldn't we wait until tomorrow morning?"

"You only wish to prove you can move it, yes? Then all you need do is budge it just a little."

Sunset walked to the window, purpose in every step. She set her sights on Celestia's golden orb. Given the things she'd accomplished in recent weeks, there was little doubt in her mind that she could move the sun now. She just needed to show the princess. She needed her approval.

Sunset's horn lit up with her cyan magic, but within seconds, shifted to a blood red shade. Her aura flickered like fire, growing in both size and intensity as she poured out more and more magic. She clenched her eyes shut, focusing power into her horn until it began to physically hurt. She was half-expecting Celestia to stop her, but she received no protests. Sweat began to form on her forehead, both from the heat of her magic, and the strain she was putting on herself.

After a full minute of this, Sunset finally relented, staggering slightly as her aura died down and panting in exhaustion. She chanced a glance up at Celestia, who was staring expectantly out the window. Her expression hadn't changed at all. "Anything?"

Celestia looked down at her sympathetically, shaking her head. "Afraid not."

Sunset let herself fall back onto her haunches as she caught her breath. There was a distinct look of disappointment on her face. "Come on..." she said quietly, more to herself than anything. "I was sure I could do it this time."

While there was a modicum of hope in Celestia's mind that Sunset might succeed, she had been fairly certain that her student's confidence was unfounded. That made her feel a touch guilty. She didn't like to doubt Sunset, especially after their argument a few weeks back. "Sunset, I know we've had this conversation on multiple occasions over the years, but this sort of thing is going to take time. You've been making impressive progress, especially recently. But as much as I do not wish to discourage you, it's going to take more time still."

Sunset let out a long sigh, hanging her head.

Celestia reached a hoof under Sunset's chin, turning her gently to face her. The princess gave her a soft expression of motherly compassion so as to relay that she felt no disappointment herself. "Do not fret, my little pony. You possess boundless potential, and I promised long ago that I'd help you achieve everything you wanted to achieve, no matter how long it takes. But I wish to reiterate a point: do not let your failures weigh you down. Reacting with frustration is what causes one to make irrational and haphazard decisions. You mustn't rush these things."

Sunset's ears flattened against her head. She knew the princess was right, but not even Celestia knew exactly how right she was. "I don't get it. I was positive I could move the sun. It just doesn't make sense. By all rights I should be able to move it, because I—"

Sunset stopped herself. She almost spoke without thinking. With a slight tinge of worry, she looked back at Celestia who was eyeing her quizzically.

"Because you what?"

"Because I-I..." Sunset stammered, desperately scrambling to cover her tracks. "Because I did it when I was a kid."

Celestia nodded sympathetically. "I understand why you would feel that way. I believe you've been told before that it took Luna and I almost one hundred years before we were able to move the sun and moon. For alicorns, that was the equivalent of being preteens, while you moved the sun when you were only five years old."

"Did you guys have a surge of power like I did?"

"No. As alicorns our magic was naturally stronger than that of the average unicorn. In addition, our parents had created the sun and moon before us, so our connection to them was likely hardwired into our genes. It took us a long time before were able to even move their celestial bodies, let alone gain the confidence to make our own."

Sunset simply stared out the window at the sun again, only feeling more confused by this turnout. There were too many questions on her mind for her to reveal what she'd done just yet, but maybe she could get at least a few answers without giving too much away.

Sunset stood up again, looking at her teacher with cautious curiosity. "Can I ask you some questions about when you were young? And about your sun?"

Celestia quirked an eyebrow, though was admittedly intrigued by what Sunset hoped to learn from this. At the very least, she didn't appear to be too defeated by her failure to move the sun, so she figured it best not to push the issue any further and risk frustrating her student. "I suppose so," she answered, gesturing for them to continue their walk through the castle together. "But I can't promise that I'll be able to answer with certainty; I've mentioned before that my memories of my past are hazy in places."

Sunset pondered for a second as to what she wanted to ask first. "Um... How big was your sun when you created it?"

Celestia stared silently at her student. That wasn't exactly a question she'd expected, but she agreed to sate her curiosity. "How big? Hmm... Why, only the size of a plum I would say."

"So, it took time to grow, then?"

"Yes. Like us, the sun and moon needed proper nurturing to grow."

"And how long did it take to reach the size they are now? They're not still growing, are they?"

Celestia shook her head. "No, they reached their full size ages ago. I believe it took approximately... two or so years to reach this size, if I recall."

Sunset gulped nervously. "Two years?"

The alicorn nodded. "Although, the sun grew a little faster than the moon. It's more unstable magic resulted in a few growth spurts, but, thankfully, I was able to keep it under control."

"Okay..."

Celestia glanced at Sunset from the corner of her eye. She seemed to be mulling this information over rather seriously. "Any more questions?"

"Huh?" Sunset was snapped from her thoughts. The princess was eyeing her rather curiously. She did have more questions, but wasn't sure if she wanted to ask them for fear that prolonged time on this subject may raise suspicion. Still, she felt this information was important, so she decided to try and misdirect any suspicion with something a little different. "Um... Who... Who taught you how to make your own sun? Or did you learn to do it on your own?"

Celestia smiled fondly as she recalled as best she could. "Our mother did. She was the one in charge of the sun back then, while our father handled the moon, though, like Luna and myself, they could move either. As you'd imagine, the majority of my teachings came from my mother, but..." She closed her eyes, wracking her brain for the right memories. "As for whether or not she taught me how to create it, I'm having difficulty remembering. She'd taught me so much over the years, and I'm ashamed to say that much of it has escaped me over time." She suddenly looked a lot more sullen. "Had I remembered everything she and father told us, Luna may still be here..."

Sunset's ears folded back, feeling guilty that her question had inadvertently lead back to Luna's banishment. Given how far Celestia had come in putting it behind her, Sunset figured this was probably a good place to cease her questioning. "Don't worry about it, Princess," she said to her with a warm smile. "I don't expect you to be able to remember everything about your past. I was just interested since I wanna be able to follow in your hoofsteps, that's all."

"Well, it certainly would be nice if you could raise the sun in my place. That way I'd actually be able to sleep in occasionally," Celestia joked with a laugh.

Sunset leaned up with a hopeful grin. "All the more reason to pass your knowledge down to me, right?"

Celestia's ears perked up. "Oh, yes, that's what we were supposed to be doing, wasn't it? What say we take this to the gardens?"

"Great! Meet you there!"

Without any warning, Sunset suddenly vanished with a flash of magic, leaving Celestia by herself in the hall with a baffled look on her face. The princess rolled her eyes with a smirk. "Yup. Still the same little filly."

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

"Got everything?"

With a flash of magic, Sunset produced a wicker picnic basket covered with a checkered cloth. "Yup," she confirmed to Halberd with a chipper grin.

"Great. Then let's go," Halberd said as he led the way, escorting his date on the path up the mountain.

Ever since Sunset and Halberd had started dating, they'd been practically inseparable. It had almost felt like Halberd spent more time at the castle when he was off duty than on. Most of their time spent out of the castle was during their many dates. Despite having only been in this relationship for two short weeks, they went on dates almost everyday since. Sunset practically felt obligated to do so given how guilty she felt and wanted to make it up to him by spending as much time with him as possible. It was odd to her at first that she felt that way, especially considering that she had also started up her lessons with the princess again at the same time, something she'd been working to arrange for a while now, but Celestia didn't seem to mind sharing her, and Sunset wasn't as bothered by it as she'd expected. Dividing her attention between her mentor and her new boyfriend wasn't as much of a burden as she had assumed it'd be. If anything, it filled her with even more vigor.

But Sunset was particularly looking forward to this date. This had been Halberd's first day back on the job after recovering from his injury, and, as such, he had to spend his time actually working while he was at the castle instead of just hanging out with Sunset. They'd shared looks and fond smiles throughout the day whenever they'd pass one another, but both of them had things they'd needed to do. This was really the first day since they started dating that they'd spent such little time together, so now that Halberd was off duty for the day, they wanted to make the most of what daylight they had left.

So, for their date today, they'd decided to have a picnic. The chosen locale for their rendezvous was a small, grassy plateau further up the mountain, even higher than the castle. They'd discovered this spot when just wandering around on one of their dates early on, and it's since become a favorite spot for the young couple. It was a bit of an arduous trek given the steep path leading up there, and Sunset and Halberd could both get there faster by teleporting and flying respectively, but the view of the countryside against the amber sky of the setting sun as they walked up the mountain was too romantic to pass up.

Thankfully, the walk was relatively short. As the two ponies reached the end of the trail, the path straightened out into a flat area of land. The clifftop was picturesque even without the sunset in the background; grass gently blowing in the breeze, patches of white daisies dotting the otherwise green locale, and a few trees to provide shade if need be. Had they arrived earlier in the day, they'd likely even enjoy the company of singing birds and foraging squirrels, but all the animals were likely packing it in for the day.

Sunset let out a puff of air, catching her breath after the climb. As much as she'd been honing her magic over the years, her physical endurance was still a tad lacking. Obviously, Halberd had no such issues, being an avid flyer on top of his guard training. If anything, these frequent walks up the mountain might help Sunset improve her stamina.

Sunset laid out the red and white blanket on the grass, dropping the basket and giving her legs a rest by flopping onto her stomach with a relaxed sigh.

Halberd sat down beside her, close enough that he could comfortably wrap his wing over Sunset's back if he so desired. With the basket's covering removed, the breeze carried the scent of food across the plateau. Halberd stared at the basket, his stomach rumbling in response to the alluring aroma. "So, what are we having?"

Sunset began to remove the packed items from the basket, laying the spread out before them as she listed them off. "We've got a loaf of bread and all the fixings for sandwiches, a couple of bottles of freshly-squeezed orange juice, some chocolate chip muffins, and, for dessert, a sponge cake."

Halberd blinked, staring at the amount of food laid out in front of them. "Uh, were you expecting company? I'm not sure the two of us can put away all this by ourselves."

Sunset chuckled in mild embarrassment. "Heh, yeah, I might have gone a bit overboard. I practically commandeered the whole kitchen for myself."

The pegasus stared incredulously at her. "Wait, you made all this yourself?!"

Sunset nuzzled into his neck with a smile. "Of course. Well, Princess Celestia helped. Figured I'd brush up on my cooking and baking skills. I haven't been able to spend much time in the kitchen lately due to my training with the princess. But for you, I was willing to cut my lessons short."

Halberd grinned gratefully. "Well, then, my compliments to the chef."

"You're supposed to wait until you've tried it before saying that."

"I'm sure it's great." Halberd grabbed a muffin and took a hearty bite, letting out a satisfied moan as he savored the buttery moistness and the still-gooey chocolate chips. "Yup. That's good stuff."

Sunset was pleased by the compliment, smiling with a slight blush as she began to assemble a sandwich for herself. She slapped some cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise between two slices of bread and took a hearty bite of one of the corners. "Sho, how wash training today?" she asked with a full mouth, bread crumbs peppering the picnic blanket.

Her unsightly eating habits didn't bother Halberd, and he grinned in response to her inquiry. "Well, Lance wasn't kidding, I'll say that much," he told her as he put together his own sandwich. "He did not go easy on me."

Halberd lifted his left wing, revealing a minor bruise on his midsection.

Sunset grimaced, both a little worried for Halberd and a touch miffed at Lance. "Geez, he could've took it easy on you. You just got over a pretty serious injury. Is he trying to keep you from doing your job?"

Halberd just laughed softly. "It's fine, it's doesn't hurt that bad." He smiled fondly at his date. "But it's nice to know you care so much."

"I would've cared even if we weren't dating. You're still my best friend."

Her comment brought up a question, one that had come up before, but one that Halberd felt he still needed clarification on. "You still think this is weird?"

Sunset grinned cutely, nuzzling his neck. "Not really. I think I'm over that. Honestly, if I'd known kissing your best friend was so enjoyable, I might have tried to make a move on you sooner," she said, punctuating her point with a tender kiss on Halberd's silver lips.

"Except you weren't the one who made the move in the first place."

"Eh, details." Sunset took another bite of her sandwich, washing it down with a swig of orange juice. "Your leg wasn't holding you back at all today, was it?"

"Nah, it's fine. Honestly, I want to work extra hard to catch up. I'm still a rookie and least experienced of all the soldiers. And I'm not exactly the most confrontational person in the world, I'll be the first to admit that."

"Well, I saw with my own eyes that you can be pretty intimidating when you need to step up," Sunset reminded him with gratitude in her eyes. "And you've been a lot more... peppy since we started going out. Like, going out has made you more outgoing. Fancy that."

"Maybe you're rubbing off on me better than I'd hoped," he chuckled.

"Then if that's the case..." Sunset nestled up against his side.

Halberd rolled his eyes, but couldn't keep the smirk off his face. "You're hilarious," he quipped sarcastically, though he certainly wasn't going to complain about the attention he was getting from her.

The two of them continued to enjoy their picnic and each other's company. They both finished off their sandwiches, and while there were plenty of ingredients left to make more, they wanted to save room for the muffins and cake that Sunset had so lovingly made. As they savored the sweet flavor and fluffy texture of the sponge cake, they watched in silence as Celestia began to coax the sun beyond the horizon for the night and bring out the moon.

Halberd glanced at the mare leaning against him. As the sun was setting, he noticed she looked to be lost in thought, her gaze locked onto the sun until it disappeared. Her smile had vanished for the first time since they climbed the mountain. Halberd had a guess as to what exactly was on her mind.

"How did your lessons with the princess go today?"

Sunset's head jerked up, as though she'd forgotten where she was until she heard Halberd's voice again. "Huh? Oh, pretty good, I guess."

That wasn't quite the answer he'd expected. Given how passionate she was about her training with Celestia and how eager she was to get back to it a couple of weeks ago, an "I guess" didn't sound very genuine. "Something wrong?"

Sunset stared into Halberd's hazel eyes, letting out a sigh. There wasn't much point in trying to hide it, so she may as well confide in him. "She let me try moving the sun again today."

Halberd's eyes widened for a moment, surprised to hear that the princess would go back to that. But, given the sullen look on Sunset's face, he could infer the result. "No dice?"

She simply shook her head.

Halberd didn't want to see her so crestfallen. It was this disappointment that had caused some of her grief in recent times. He didn't want things to come full circle. "Try not to beat yourself up over it. You've still got untapped potential in there somewhere, right?"

His words didn't seem to do much to cheer her up, but she actually looked more confused than frustrated. "Yeah... But I definitely feel like I should be able to do it now."

Sunset felt the soft feathers of Halberd's wing gently drape over her back. She turned to him, his smile compassionate and understanding.

"You'll get there, Sunset. I know you will, because you're amazing and when you put your mind to something, you see it through to the end. I have full confidence that whatever you want in life, you'll be able to get it."

Sunset gently nudged him with her body, unable to keep the bashful grin off her face. "Stop it. You're making me blush, you dope." She stared into his eyes. "Do you think I'm taking it too seriously?"

"Probably. If you think you can do it, then you will. Why fret about it?"

Sunset had to stifle a snicker at his advice. "That's rich coming from the guy who took thirteen years to ask me out and was torturing himself over it the whole time."

Her remark didn't affect the fond and faithful smile on his face. "But I did it, didn't I? Regardless of how long it took, I did it. And I couldn't be happier now." He nuzzled sweetly into her fiery mane.

Sunset rolled her eyes with a smirk. "I thought I told you to stop that." She gave him a playful jab in the side, but that elicited a sharp, pained inhale from the stallion, and Sunset immediately hastened to correct her mistake. "Oops! Sorry! Forgot about your bruise. You okay?"

Halberd forced a smile through clenched teeth. "I'm fine. I guess I kinda deserved that."

Sunset let herself lean against Halberd comfortably, partly as a way to apologize, but also because she was grateful he was there to keep her from letting her mind wander to places she might regret going. Sunset was beginning to realize that Halberd was like her safety net, coming to her rescue when she was about to do something stupid. He was the voice in her head that was supposed to tell her what was a good idea and what wasn't. Sunset noticed now that she didn't have that voice herself, or if she did, she never listened to it. It just made her all the more grateful that he was a part of her life, and even more so now that they were this close. He was the part of her she didn't realize was missing.

The two of them simply laid there, continuing to stare off into the velvety violet of the twilight sky as the stars began to twinkle into view. The rest of their food went untouched, as they were simply too comfortable to move even the slightest right now. But it wasn't getting so late that they felt their date should come to an end.

As they stared off into the distance, Sunset's eyes were trained on the ruins of the old castle beyond the Everfree Forest. She contemplated something, and cast a discreet glance at Halberd. He was smiling blissfully as he enjoyed the view, his mind obviously more clear than her own. She certainly felt like she owed him something for just being there for her. And there was something she'd been wanting to share for a while now, and she felt she could trust him.

"Hal."

The pegasus turned his smile to her. She was smiling back rather eagerly. "Yeah?"

"I just thought of a way to make this date extra special," she told him slyly.

Halberd suddenly felt his face become hot. "Uh... Really?"

Sunset rolled her eyes with an amused grin upon seeing the blush on his cheeks. "Mind out of the gutter, casa nova. There's just something I want to show you." She stood up, packing all of their supplies back into the basket and teleporting it away.

Halberd got up and started following her back down the mountain trail. "I'm guessing this is one of those things that you're not gonna tell me until we get there."

"Bingo."

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

Sunset hadn't just led Halberd down the mountaintop and back to the castle, she'd led him through the quiet, deserted streets of Canterlot. And even then, they kept going.

Halberd stayed quiet, knowing he wasn't going to get any information from her. The further they walked, the more curious and suspicious Halberd became, frequently glancing at Sunset through the corner of his eye. She had been smiling rather enthusiastically the whole way, but never took her eyes off the path. They were now descending the mountain beyond the outskirts of the city, and Halberd was starting to have an idea of where Sunset was leading him. If he was right, then he was pretty sure that it wasn't a good idea.

It took some time, but the young couple eventually made it to the bottom of the mountain, and after another half an hour or so of walking, Sunset finally stopped.

Halberd stared forward. It was just as he'd suspected. The path beneath them stretched forward into the darkness, but not the darkness of the night; rather, the darkness of the forest canopy. They stood before the entrance to the Everfree Forest.

Halberd looked worriedly at Sunset. "You're not serious, are you?"

Sunset simply gave him a rather nonchalant shrug. "If you wanna see it, then we have to go through."

He gave her a serious stare. "Then I'm not sure I want to see it."

Sunset gave him a playful jab in the shoulder. "Come on, don't be a baby. It's not that bad in there. I've been through here a few times over the past week and haven't had any difficulty."

"What?!" Halberd balked in shock. "Why?! What would possess you to go in there knowing the dangers that are lurking around?!"

"Like I said, it's not that bad." She gave him a sympathetic smile, compassionately placing a hoof on his shoulder. "I know your little experience might've been a bit traumatizing, but I actually haven't seen a single timberwolf in there all week."

While it was true that even the patrols stationed around the forest rarely reported any timberwolf sightings, that didn't mean they weren't there. As such, Halberd remained adamant in his reluctance. "Sunset, whatever's in there, whether it's some romantic grove or interesting landmark, is not worth us risking our lives."

"It's actually not in the forest at all. It's on the other side, at the old castle."

Halberd raised an eyebrow. "The castle? What could be there that wasn't moved to Canterlot Castle?"

"I told you you'll just have to wait and see," she responded with a coy smirk.

Sunset was about to begin the trek into the forest, but was abruptly pulled back. Halberd had grabbed her foreleg, his grip forceful. His eyes were full of concern and disapproval.

"I'm putting my hoof down on this, Sunset. We are not going in there. And you are not going to be sneaking off to the Castle of the Two Sisters anymore."

Sunset was admittedly a little unnerved by his intense tone and expression, but furrowed her brow, wrenching her leg from his grasp. "I know you might not understand this, but I have to go. I... can't explain why until you see it yourself, that's why I want you to come with me."

"Why can't you just tell me?"

"As I said, because you wouldn't understand." Sunset held his hooves tenderly, gazing into his eyes pleadingly. "Hal, this is something very important. Not even Princess Celestia knows about this, but I'm trusting you with this because I know I can trust you."

"You don't think you could trust the princess?" Halberd questioned, confused.

"It's not about whether I trust her, but if she would trust me. This is something I'm not ready to share with her yet. So, now I have to ask you: do you trust me?"

Halberd knew what she wanted to hear. Trust had been a hot button issue with her, and he wasn't entirely sure if she was just using that to guilt him into agreeing, or as a test of his feelings for her. Or, maybe, this was actually something of significant importance. Whatever this was, for her to be willing to brave the dangers of the Everfree Forest, it must have been something worth the trouble. He felt bad for hesitating to answer her; her expression was falling the longer he silently contemplated.

"One condition."

Sunset's ears perked up hopefully.

"If you really need to come out here every so often, then let me bring you by chariot from now on so we can just fly over. Okay?"

Sunset smiled appreciatively, nodding with enthusiasm. "Sure. And, look, I'm sorry if you're worried, but I promise you'll understand when we get there."

Halberd turned his gaze back to the forest, still looking apprehensive. "So, what if we do run into something in there. Apparently, it's not just timberwolves anymore. They say there're cockatrices now, too."

Sunset tapped her chest confidently with her hoof. "Don't worry, if some beastie sets its sights on you, I'll be your knight in shining armor."

Halberd raised a cautious eyebrow. "You're not gonna burn down the forest, are you?"

Sunset huffed, giving him an insulted jab in the shoulder. "No, obviously not. All you gotta do is stay close, alright?"

With that, Sunset's horn glowed, a dome of cyan magic encompassing the two of them.

Halberd analyzed the barrier she'd erected to protect them. "Is this strong enough to hold off a timberwolf?"

"Pfft. Look who you're talking to," Sunset scoffed with a roll of her eyes. "I could hold off a whole pack of 'em with this."

"Why not just teleport us there, though?"

Sunset's confidence faltered slightly, turning her eyes down in shame. "Oh... Well, it's too far from here. For as strong as my magic is, the distance is still too much for me. Once we make it about halfway, I'd probably be close enough to do it, but then there's still you. It's a lot harder and riskier to teleport somepony else, let alone two or more ponies at the same time over such a distance."

"I'm guessing you haven't tried that since we were kids."

"And even then, it was only a few feet. As confident as I am in my abilities otherwise, I'd don't think that's something I can manage just yet."

Halberd nodded in understanding. "Right. I guess if you could, you wouldn't willingly put yourself in danger like this."

Sunset could still see the worry in his eyes. Whether that was for himself, thinking about his past encounter with timberwolves, or for her, knowing now that she'd been going in there without telling anypony, she wasn't sure; likely a combination of both. "Um, maybe I'll start practicing teleportation more. You know, see if I can improve it to make the trip safer. That way, we won't have to sneak a chariot out every time I need to go out there."

"Just to be clear, Sunset," Halberd said, staring into her eyes sternly, "if I don't think this is as important as you say it is, you're going to put a stop to these little excursions. Understand?"

Sunset chuckled at how serious he was being. "Believe me, it's important." She pressed her chest up against his, catching him off guard with a sultry stare. "But I do like it when you get all 'alpha' like that," she purred, giving him a light kiss.

Halberd cleared his throat awkwardly, his face beginning to grow hot. "Uh, l-let's just go, okay? It's getting late. If we're gone much longer, people'll start wondering where we are."

"Alright, follow me."

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

It was still hard to believe how much the Everfree Forest had changed in the past few weeks. While it was once a mystifying and awe-inspiring locale full of exotic and beautiful flora and fauna, it has since garnered a more sinister reputation. Very few ponies were brave enough to venture into the woods now, with only royal patrols monitoring the entrances a few times a day. The mere knowledge of the presence of creatures like the timberwolves was enough to dissuade anypony from going near the place, though that apparently hadn't deterred Sunset Shimmer.

As Sunset and Halberd navigated the forest, the pegasus took the time to look around since he hadn't set hoof into the place since he was wounded by the wolves. While mostly he was simply keeping a watchful eye out for danger from within the safety of Sunset's magic shield, he was also taking note of how different the atmosphere felt. He had once spent some time in the forest alongside Sunset a few weeks ago, prior to Princess Luna's corruption. Back then, the forest almost seemed to glow with an ethereal energy, various plants and fungi illuminating the path with their soft luminescence. But now, the only light available was the cyan glow coming from Sunset's barrier; there weren't even any glowflies to be seen anymore. Even the trees, which had been there for presumably decades, had already started to become gnarled and imposing under the influence of Nightmare Moon's corrupted magic. It felt like a completely different place now, and it was still difficult to comprehend that all this had happened in the span of just a few weeks.

"How much further?" Halberd asked uneasily.

Sunset glanced at him. He really looked uncomfortable; afraid even. Sunset was starting to feel a little guilty about dragging him out here. He'd been making light of his own injury as of late, so she thought he may have gotten over it, but seeing the way he was keeping his head down and how shaky his legs were, that obviously wasn't entirely true. She didn't realize just how traumatizing the whole thing must have been for him, which made her promise to master teleportation all the more pertinent.

"Yeah, just hang in there for a few more minutes, hun," she said sympathetically, pressing gently up against him in an effort to soothe his fear.

Just as she said, after a few more minutes of walking, the canopy of the forest thinned out enough to allow the light of the moon to shine through, no longer requiring the light of Sunset's magic to see, though she kept the barrier up anyway just in case. Thankfully, they had seen no sign of timberwolves or cockatrices the whole way, just like she'd told him; perhaps there actually weren't as many around as they initially believed.

But now they had made it out. Sunset and Halberd stood at the ridge of the ravine where the stone bridge used to be and Sunset let her shield dissipate. Halberd let out a sigh, relieved to finally be out of the woods, though he didn't want to let his guard down. He took a moment to sit down and regain his composure, but felt a hoof on his shoulder.

"You okay?" Sunset asked, flashing a compassionate smile.

Halberd nodded, standing back up again. "I'll feel a little better once we go across."

Without wasting any more time, Halberd spread his wings and flew across the gorge. Sunset still beat him across by warping herself to the other side, waiting considerately for him to catch up.

Halberd stared up at the stone structure before him. It had honestly felt like ages since he'd last been here, when in reality it had only been a few weeks. With the silhouette of Nightmare Moon gazing down upon them from the dark, night sky, it made the castle look much more foreboding.

While he was occupied taking in the more imposing air the old castle now exuded, Sunset had already trotted up to the door without hesitation.

"Come on. I thought you wanted to know why I brought you out here," she teased with an eager grin.

Halberd hurried over to her side, waiting for her to reveal whatever secret was hidden out here that nopony else would know about.

Sunset's smile persisted as she held the door in her aura. "You ready for this?" Without waiting for a response, she pulled the large double doors open.

The trek to the castle had been full of darkness, with the night sky above, and the pitch blackness of the Everfree Forest. So when Halberd was suddenly assaulted by a blinding light, he had to shield his eyes with his hoof. On top of that, the cool, night air was suddenly blown away by a wave of heat rushing to escape the entrance hall of the castle the moment Sunset had opened the door. Halberd attempted to see what it was that was emitting such an intense light. His eyes gradually adjusted to the visual onslaught until he was able to see clearly without too much trouble.

And what he saw was the last thing he expected.

Floating in the middle of the entrance hall was a ball of fire slightly larger than himself, glowing brightly and slowly rotating in the air. Small, thin trails of flame arced across its surface as the fire crackled and burned. The heat that it was giving off was not unbearable, but nullified the otherwise cool air of the night completely.

Halberd stood there with his mouth agape, unsure if what he was seeing was real.

Sunset wandered over toward it, though kept a safe distance to tolerate the heat better. "Well? How about that, huh?"

Halberd never tore his eyes away from the fireball, even though it was somewhat painful. "Is that... what I think it is?"

Sunset beamed proudly, looking at the burning ball of flame herself. "Yup. My very own sun."

Silence befell the castle, the only sound the hiss of fire emitted by the miniature star. Halberd stared, flabbergasted. After taking a few moments to let this sink in, he finally managed to remove his gaze from the bright sphere, looking at Sunset. "This is... incredible. When did...? How did...? What?"

Sunset giggled at his reaction; it was pretty much what she'd expected. "Pretty cool, right? Now you can't say this wasn't important."

As awestruck as Halberd was, there were so many questions he needed to ask. It was just a matter of composing himself enough for his mouth to form the words before they fumbled across his tongue. "How did you do this?"

"Hello?" Sunset chided, giving him a light tap on the head. "You forgetting something here?" She pointed to the image of the red and yellow sun that was her cutie mark. "I got this for moving the sun when I was just a kid, remember? Is it so hard to believe that I could make one myself?"

Halberd gave her a skeptical look. "There's no way Princess Celestia taught you how to make a sun."

"Obviously not. But I've spent almost every day of my life watching her raise hers."

"So you just... figured it out?"

"It actually wasn't that complicated. Princess Celestia told me herself that my magic was attuned to the sun, so it probably has more to do with my own magic specifically—even another unicorn who's as powerful as me probably couldn't create a sun without specializing in that area."

Halberd looked back at the glowing orb. "Well, I guess if there's any doubt that you deserve to be her protégé... But... how long has this been here?"

"Not long, really. I actually created it a couple of days after the Nightmare Moon incident—when I first started to unlock my latent power. I've been hiding it in my room until about a week ago, but, as you can see, it's, uh... gotten a little too big to keep it at home," she chuckled awkwardly. "So if I wanted to keep it a secret, I had to move it somewhere nopony would find it."

Halberd was beginning to get the idea. "And with the old castle abandoned and a forest inhabited by dangerous monsters in the way, this was an ideal location to keep it hidden while also being close enough to keep an eye on it."

Sunset had a hard time keeping the proud smile off her face. "You got it. And there's nothing left here that would be worth anypony making the trip."

Halberd looked at Sunset with cautious curiosity. "You said Princess Celestia doesn't know about this, right?"

Sunset's smile faltered and she shook her head. "No. You're the only person who knows."

"And you mentioned that you don't think she trusts you enough to share this with her."

Halberd's tone was getting a tad more reprimanding, eliciting a remorseful sigh from Sunset. "The problem is that I made this after our little altercation, right after she banished Nightmare Moon. I wasn't exactly in a stable headspace at the time, and she'd already chewed me out for being irresponsible. I kinda... made it to prove her wrong. If I could go back and stop myself, I would. But what's done is done."

"So what are you going to do with it then?"

Sunset shrugged. "Just keep it here for now, I guess. My thought is that, when I can fully control my power, when the full extent of my potential comes to the surface, then I'll tell the princess. Because I know if she found out about this, she'd be pretty upset. Furious even. I just need to prove to her that this is something I can handle so that she doesn't get too mad at me."

"And how long do you think that's going to take?"

Sunset sighed. "Can't really say for certain." Her smile returned, but it was a little forced. "But I've been making steady progress, and as long and me and the princess stick to our lessons, it shouldn't take a terribly long time." She glanced back at the small sun, a twinge of doubt in her eyes. "I hope."

Halberd stared at Sunset quietly for a moment. Despite her pride in this accomplishment, there was still a distinct look of confusion and concern in her expression. Their conversation during their picnic was starting to make a lot more sense. "I think I get it."

Sunset gave a quirk of her eyebrow. "Get what?"

"You were confused about why you couldn't move the sun, even though you actually made your own."

Sunset scratched her head, puzzled and agitated by the thought. "Yeah, it's weird, right? You'd think if I could make one, I'd be able to at least move Princess Celestia's."

"Could have to do with the size," Halberd postulated. "Hers is a lot bigger than this one. Or maybe it has to do with what you said before, about being 'attuned.' Maybe since the sun—uh, the regular sun—was made by the princess, she's just more attuned to it than you."

Sunset tilted her head in thought. "Hmm... Maybe."

Halberd looked back at the fireball. He found himself having to wipe the sweat from his forehead, the heat it was producing making the room more than a little toasty. "So, uh... I guess the only question left is, is this safe?"

Sunset waved the concern off dismissively. "Yeah, of course!" she answered, her tone perhaps a little more defensive than she'd intended. "Like I said, I've been taking care of it for a few weeks now and haven't had any problems. I even managed to discreetly get some info out of Princess Celestia today that was helpful, and, uh... Well, maybe it's growing a little faster than I anticipated, but at the very least it's stable. I've been checking up on it regularly and haven't seen any issues so far. And besides, even if..."

Halberd watched her closely. Sunset's voice went quiet for a moment as she trailed off, looking as though she were contemplating something kind of serious.

"Even if something does happen, it's at least far enough away that it won't... hurt anypony..."

"And you're sure it's fine?"

Sunset managed a smile again. "Yeah. I know I've been kinda overconfident about some things recently, but I mean it this time when I say I've got this under control."

Halberd scrutinized the assurance in her eyes, letting out a breath through his nose. "Alright, if you say so. But can you at least promise that if something—anything—seems wrong, you'll tell Princess Celestia?"

Sunset nodded. "Sure." She turned back and started walking toward the door. "Wanna head home?"

Halberd made to follow behind her, bracing himself for the trek back through the forest.

"Oh, and, Hal? Can you please not mention this to anypony? I promise I'll tell the princess eventually, but I have to wait until the time is right. You understand, right?"

Halberd gazed into her pleading, teal eyes. There was a part of him that wanted to say he couldn't make a promise like that, that, despite how sure she was that it was under control, there was no telling what could happen. But trust was something that Sunset sought more than anything else. He couldn't bring himself to take that away from her.

Halberd didn't say anything. He only nodded in response, to which Sunset reacted with a peppy grin.

As they stepped back out into the cool, night air, Halberd cast one more glance behind him at the shimmering ball of flame before its light was blocked out by the doors as they closed.