• Published 15th Nov 2018
  • 2,577 Views, 129 Comments

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun - Dee Pad



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

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Chapter 2 - Starstruck

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 2: Starstruck

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One would expect libraries to be quiet, and such was the case with Ponyville's Golden Oaks Library. However, today the library seemed particularly quiet, and that was likely due to the fact that this library doubled as a home for two of the town's residents, and one of those residents—a certain lavender alicorn—was currently absent. The other—a small, purple dragon—remained there, making sure the place was tidy and orderly.

Spike stood at the top of a tall ladder, reorganizing the top shelf of one of the bookshelves carved into the walls of the giant, hollowed-out oak tree the library was built into. Under normal circumstances, the dragon wouldn't really want to spend his alone time cooped up inside doing chores, but considering Twilight had other, more pressing obligations at the moment, it had to be done. Spike had originally gone to Canterlot with Twilight to provide support with her new duties as a princess, but it was at her own request that he return to Ponyville, insisting that she could handle it. He knew exactly what that meant: it meant that she was going to get in over her head and likely suffer a stress-induced panic attack; he'd seen it time and time again. But she did have a point. She'd been gone for a week now, and if he'd stayed with her, the library would have been completely unattended. They might consider it their house, but it was still a public library which occasionally had patrons looking for books to check out, so it made sense for somepony to hold down the fort—or rather, somedragon.

Spike looked over his shoulder, viewing the library's foyer from his vantage point on the ladder. The whole room was cluttered with books, stacks of them piled up on the round, wooden table in the middle of the room, and even more still on the floor. It looked like he'd inadvertently constructed a castle made of tomes and textbooks with how many towering spires of leather backs and hard covers he'd stacked up. Spike had gotten used to Twilight's insistence about a monthly reorganization, but this was the first time he'd had to do it by himself. It made him realize just how little he actually contributed during those times, as Twilight could effortlessly manage it herself using her magic and her uncanny organizational skills and memory. Spike had to lug each book up and down the ladder two or three at a time to re-stack the top shelves. And he wasn't anywhere near done yet. He'd only just finished the first set of shelves by the front door, and they extended around the entire perimeter of the cylindrical room, even having a few shelves carved into the side of the staircase to the second floor.

Spike breathed a weary sigh. He knew he could have just waited until Twilight came home to do the monthly reorganization, but he figured, what with how busy she probably was herself, that he'd have a surprise waiting for her for when she got back. He was starting to regret that decision and was contemplating just asking some of his friends to help out. Regardless, he was determined to see this endeavor through to the end, but right now, he figured he'd take a little snack break.

Grabbing the sides of the ladder, Spike slid back down to the floor. But as he made his way to raid the pantry, there was a sudden flash of light in front of him, and he smacked straight into something that hadn't been there a moment ago, getting knocked backward onto his rear. Looking up at the obstruction, Spike was surprised to see Twilight suddenly standing before him.

The dragon gave Twilight a pleasant and cheery smile as he stood back up. "Hey, Twilight, you're finally home! Welcome back! Are you all done learning how to be a princess, or what?"

Twilight briefly looked down at the short reptile, but didn't return his amicable smile. Spike could tell that something was wrong. For one, she didn't usually make a habit of teleporting into the house. But her posture and her expression were unusual; her new wings were held out to the side, half limp—a pose Spike had come to recognize from knowing Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy as a sign of nervousness, or uneasiness. She was biting her lip, and her violet eyes were wide, but her pupils had narrowed to the size of pinpricks, looking as though she hadn't yet figured out where she was.

Looking at her with growing concern, Spike asked, "Uh, Twilight? You okay?"

Twilight's gaze shifted around the room rapidly before falling back on Spike. "I, uh... I might be in trouble."

The young dragon gulped. "Wh-What kind of trouble? What happened?"

With her pink, magical aura, the alicorn held a tattered, old book in front of her. "I... borrowed this book from Princess Celestia... Without permission."

Spike's muscles suddenly relaxed, and he let out a quiet groan. "You mean you stole it."

"I'm gonna give it back!" she argued defensively. Her eyes then shifted away. "Eventually..."

"You're so on edge because you took one of Princess Celestia's books? How's that a big deal? I'm sure she would've let you borrow it if you'd asked anyway."

A worried and guilty look appeared on Twilight's face, her ears flattening against her head. "No, she wouldn't have. In fact, she seemed pretty insistent that I not read it."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "And you took it anyway? Why?"

Twilight could understand why Spike would feel that she had made the wrong choice. As bookish as she was, she'd certainly put a request from Princess Celestia before her own hobbies under normal circumstances. But these were definitely not normal circumstances. "You should have seen her, Spike. When she saw me with this book, it was like she became a completely different person. I've never seen her like that before. She seemed... almost afraid. And furious when I hesitated."

That was just as surprising to Spike as it was to Twilight. "Really? That doesn't sound like Princess Celestia. What's so important about that book that she'd act like that?"

Twilight looked at the worn, blank cover of the ancient tome, her eyes staring with deep concern, but also curiosity. "That's what I want to find out."

"Whoa, whoa, hold up! You're not serious, are you?!" Spike said, throwing his claws up in disbelief. "You say she acted like that and you still decided to just take it?"

"Spike, you don't understand. Princess Celestia has never kept secrets from me. At least, I didn't think she did. I have to know what she's hiding."

Her draconic assistant knit his brow, giving the newly crowned princess a reprimanding glower. "What's gotten into you? Since when do you make a habit of invading people's privacy? You know, just because you're a princess now yourself doesn't give you the right to go snooping into other people's stuff. Everypony has things they don't want other people to know. It might just be something embarrassing that's she's worried might get out."

Twilight shook her head adamantly. "If you saw how she reacted, you'd know that there has to be more to it than that. I'm worried, Spike. I don't know what secrets this book holds, but after seeing Celestia like that, I'm... a little afraid. What if it's something sinister?"

Spike gave her a half-lidded, bemused glare. "Do you honestly believe that?" he deadpanned.

"But what if it is?! Princess Celestia is perhaps the most trusted person in all of Equestria. If anypony could get away with secretly being a villain, it's her!"

Spike's expression and tone didn't change at all. "Again, do you honestly believe that?"

Twilight blushed a little, breaking eye contact. "Well... No, not really."

The dragon breathed an exasperated sigh, running a claw down his face. "Look, maybe it's not too late. Just pop back over to Canterlot, apologize to Princess Celestia, and give her the book back. She knows how you are when you get your hooves on a new book. I'm sure she'll forgive you."

The alicorn lowered her head, breathing a sigh of her own. However, it was not a sigh of defeat in the face of Spike's level-headed suggestion, but one of remorseful insistence. "You don't get it, Spike," she muttered, her voice quiet and somber. "Even if I were to give the book back now, how am I supposed to look at her the same way again knowing that she's hiding something from me? This is obviously something far more serious than an embarrassing anecdote." Twilight stared at Spike, looking as though she were on the verge of tears. "For the first time in my life, I feel like I can't trust her. And that scares me. My heart already feels like it's being ripped in half. I'm not even sure I know her anymore."

Spike stayed quiet for a moment, giving the lavender mare a pitying and sympathetic look. "You know things are bad when I have to be the voice of reason..."

Twilight opened her eyes again, her violet irises pleading with her assistant. "I have to read this book. It's the only way I can have any peace of mind."

The dragon put his claws on his hips, a defeated groan escaping his scaly lips. It was obvious that no amount of arguing was going to change her mind. "Fine, whatever. But I'm washing my claws of this whole situation, got it? I'm not getting in trouble just because you got a little too nosy."

Twilight managed a small smile. She didn't feel great about what she had decided, but to her, this felt like the only real option. "I'll take full responsibility for the repercussions."

With that settled, Twilight headed for the stairs, making her way up to her bedroom. Spike didn't feel good about all this, but now that the conversation was over, he took another look around the room at all the books still piled up everywhere. He hastily extended a claw. "Wait! Can you help with the—" But Twilight had already shut the upstairs door behind her, leaving the little dragon to begrudgingly finish his chores alone. "This must be serious if she didn't even realize it was reorganization day."

Upstairs, Twilight hurried to the bedroom. When she closed the door behind her, she finally took a moment to let herself breathe. She fell back onto her haunches, leaning her head against the wooden door with a sigh. Her eyes drifted down to the book still within her magical grasp. She had been hoping that this book would help ease her stress, but now it was only serving to exacerbate it. What exactly had she stumbled upon, she wondered. Why was Princess Celestia so protective of this book? Could Spike have been on to something when he suggested that Celestia may have just been embarrassed? Apparently, she was the author of the book; perhaps she was simply self-conscious about somepony else reading it. But that still left many questions lingering in Twilight's mind. What reason would she have had to write about Starswirl the Bearded and the daughter Twilight never even knew he had? The princess had confirmed herself that it was a chronicle of true events—though perhaps in her flustered state she hadn't meant to—which only proved to arouse Twilight's curiosity further and suggest that there was something about her mentor that she'd been hiding for all these years. Yet if this book was the only evidence of such, why not simply destroy it instead of hiding it away? And why hide it in such a strange location? Then again, perhaps she had simply lost it, or, judging by its hiding place, was stolen and hidden away by somepony else, though Twilight couldn't think of any reason why a potential thief would do such a thing.

Twilight could sit there for hours questioning and speculating, but theories alone do not provide answers. Research provided answers, and since it was clear that she wouldn't get any answers from the book's author, she would have to consult the tome itself.

The alicorn slowly rose from the floor and pensively sauntered toward her bed, her eyes fixed on the book. She definitely felt conflicted about this. She knew this book held some sort of secret about one of the most respected and influential people in the world, and knowing that had fractured the unwavering trust Twilight had in her mentor. But conversely, by reading this book she'd be betraying Celestia's trust in her.

The lavender mare shook her head, climbing onto her neatly-made bed and laying the book on the sheets in front of her. No, she had to read it. She couldn't just think about this from her own perspective, and the relationship between herself and Celestia; Twilight needed to consider how the information in this book would affect Equestria as a whole. While she didn't believe with one hundred percent certainty that the book contained anything diabolical, the fact that the notion existed at all was cause for concern and warranted investigation.

At least, that's what Twilight had to tell herself in order to willingly put her relationship with Celestia in jeopardy...

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

"Daddy."

Starswirl rolled over to turn away from the whispering voice in his ear.

"Dad."

The stallion pulled the bed sheets over his head, groaning with displeasure.

"Dad! Wake up! It's almost time!"

The filly's excited voice was like a fly buzzing in his ear, but once she had foregone trying to be polite by softly whispering, it was more like having his eardrums shaken by the shriek of an ornery cockatrice. "Go back to bed, Sunset..." Starswirl grumbled sleepily, his own voice muffled slightly by the covers held tightly over his face.

"Come on! If you don't get up now, we're gonna miss it!" Sunset insisted, bouncing up and down on the mattress in a deliberate attempt to annoy her father into getting up.

Starswirl poked his head back out, turning to his hyperactive daughter with his brow knit in irritation. "Sunset, you've watched it every morning for the past week. You can go one day without seeing it."

Sunset curled her bottom lip outward in a grumpy pout. "Hmph. Fine. I'm gonna watch it by myself, then."

Once more, the stallion rolled over onto his side, satisfied that she'd at least given up on bothering him. "Good. But don't complain about being tired later."

In a huff, the little filly hopped off of her father's bed and hurried back to her own bedroom. Of late, Sunset's room had become a little more decorated. The normally blank, white walls now featured several pictures that she'd managed to find of Princess Celestia and pinned them to the walls, even having a Celestia-themed calendar next to her bed. It was safe to say, based on her bedroom alone, that she had become a fan of the princess. She even went so far as to start a ritual that she participated in every morning, which was why she had tried to wake her father.

Sunset hopped up onto her own bed and over to the window on the wall beside it. With a quick flourish of her cyan-colored magic, she pulled open the violet curtains, and peered intently into the darkness outside. It was still quite early in the morning, and the sky was still black and peppered with twinkling stars. Sunset glanced over her shoulder at the clock on her bedside table. She had originally set the clock's alarm to wake her at quarter to six, but found that her own excitement was an alarm all on its own, instinctively waking her at half past five. The time currently was five fifty-nine a.m. Sunset's grouchy pout was quickly overtaken by an eager grin, turning her sights back out into the night.

Less than a minute left...

The filly's gaze was transfixed, refusing to be distracted by anything for fear that she'd miss it. She kneaded her hooves into the soft bed sheets underneath her, too excited to remain still. She was counting the seconds in her head, though her own impatience resulting in her counting a little too fast, only causing her to become even more impatient when nothing had happened yet. She was tempted to glance back at the clock again to see how close the second hand was to the twelve.

But before she could, her eyes caught sight of something. The darkness of the night was disturbed, a soft, orange glow emanating from the distant horizon. The light steadily pushed away the black of the sky, and the stars began to go back into hiding.

"She's doing it..." Sunset muttered quietly to herself, a beaming smile reaching ear to ear.

Before long, the source of the warm light came into view: the curved edge of the iridescent orb began to emerge from between the hills in the distance past Canterlot Valley. The brilliant light filled the filly with endless wonder and amazement. A part of her almost wished it were a little dimmer so she didn't have to squint, but mentally reprimanded herself for thinking such a thing; that brightness was a part of its beauty, and to diminish it would be to take away from its sheer majesty.

Sunset's fiery tail swished happily as she watched the sun rise again. No matter how often she saw it, it never became less stimulating, even if she'd only started actively watching it at the beginning of that week. The sunrise never looked so glorious as it did now that she knew why it rose. She found it so mesmerizing, and was overcome by the thought that, just a relatively short distance away, Princess Celestia was lifting the sun at this very moment. Sunset practically trembled at the thought.

Her father, on the other hoof, didn't feel quite so enthused. Ever since Sunset learned who Princess Celestia was, she had insisted on getting up extra early in the morning in order to watch the sunrise. She was treating it like a once-in-a-lifetime event, but it happened every morning, and he was paying for it. He wasn't quite looking forward to having to rise early in order to prepare his daughter for school, but now he was forced to suffer waking even before the crack of dawn. If any good was coming from this, it was that Sunset's eagerness to rise early meant she also went to bed early.

But even though today was a quiet Saturday, that didn't mean Starswirl would get to sleep in. Even if Sunset had decided to not watch the sunrise for whatever reason, he was intending to wake up early anyway, though not quite this early.

Starswirl managed to get a couple more hours of rest out of the morning after Sunset's excitement had died down and she went back to bed herself. At the stroke of eight, the stallion finally rose from bed, briefly grooming his beard before heading out to the kitchen to fix himself and his daughter a quick breakfast of daisy and cucumber sandwiches with a glass of apple juice.

Of course, Sunset was eager to rise as usual. Even though she had no school today, there was something else on the agenda that she was excited about. True to her promise she had made to her father, Sunset had managed to concentrate on her school lessons and homework throughout the week after an unfortunate first day. Starswirl had had a small chat with Mrs. Honeysuckle and she confirmed that his daughter had been a model student all week, though had a tendency to derail lessons by frequently asking questions about Princess Celestia. Regardless, Starswirl was going to hold up his end of the bargain and bring Sunset along to the Castle of the Two Sisters when he went to conduct his interview with Princess Celestia.

And Sunset could hardly believe it. For every minute that passed as she ate her breakfast, brushed her teeth, and even after boarding the carriage that would bring them to the castle, Sunset had to mentally reaffirm that what was happening was real and not just a lucid dream. The excitable filly spent the whole ride staring out the window, gazing at the majestic castle in the distance as they traveled down the mountainside, across the rolling, green plains south of Canterlot, until the castle disappeared behind a curtain of thick treetops as they entered the beautiful forest that their destination was located within. But every now and then, Sunset would catch a glimpse of the towering, stone spires through the leafy canopy, getting closer every brief sighting she managed to get.

And before long, it was time. Approaching the end of the path at the edge of the far end of the forest, their carriage came to a stop, and Starswirl and Sunset exited the vehicle. The filly craned her neck skyward, her eyes widening in wonder and disbelief. From a distance, the castle looked rather unremarkable—at least, to the average pony—but now that she was seeing it up close, Sunset could observe and marvel at the beauty and detail in the masonry. While the stone walls were a rather bland grey, the outside of the castle was decorated with regal banners depicting the radiant sun and crescent moon. The tall towers stretching up from the building were capped with conical peaks painted a vibrant purple, and the entire castle was built perfectly symmetrical without a single brick out of place. Sunset likened the enormous structure against the blue of the morning sky to something from a fairy tale, still unsure if she was actually awake, even in the presence of its glorious shape.

Starswirl silently nudged his daughter along with a smile. It seemed like she'd been zoning out a lot lately, entranced by things she'd seen everyday, but now saw them in a new light. He was surprised her jaw hadn't been dislocated from how often it had dropped in awe and wonder over the past week.

Though they reached the edge of the forest, there was still a short distance to walk to the castle. The forest ended at the edge of a shallow ravine, and an elegant, stone bridge spanned its expanse, decorated in a similar manner as the castle. Trotting across the bridge felt like traveling through a portal to another world for Sunset. The grass literally looked greener on the other side, no doubt a result of the expert groundskeeping by the castle staff. In fact, a groundskeeper was currently busy watering the various colorful flowerbeds around the front of the castle, and stopped for a moment to give a cheery wave to the two visitors walking the dirt path to the castle entrance. The brief interaction alleviated the one concern that Sunset had about coming here; she was worried that the staff at the castle might be stuffy and stuck up, but the groundskeeper's genuine smile put that worry to rest pretty quickly.

Starswirl and Sunset approached the entrance of the castle, a short set of stairs leading up to the immense, purple double doors, the left door emblazoned with an image of a crescent moon, while the right depicted a bright sun, which Sunset had come to recognize as Princess Celestia's cutie mark. Seeing the giant gateway looming before her, Sunset had yet another moment of disbelief, an excited shiver running down her spine.

Two stallions stood stationed at the entryway, one a pegasus with a steel-grey coat and white mane with a golden streak, the other a unicorn with a blue coat and black mane. Both were outfitted in golden armor and held long spears with one hoof. The unicorn, posted on the right under the image of the sun on the door, stood even and unmoving, his spear held firmly and straight. In contrast, the pegasus, standing on the left, looked more relaxed. His front hooves were crossed and his spear rested against his shoulder.

Starswirl approached the two guards, offering a friendly smile and a nod to them. Only the pegasus smiled back, however, while the unicorn guard's expression remained stoic. Seeing the bearded stallion, the unicorn guard removed a scroll and quill that were strapped to his withers and unfurled the paper.

"Name?" he asked tersely.

"Starswirl. I have an interview scheduled with Princess Celestia," Starswirl responded.

After briefly scanning the parchment, the guard nodded and replaced the scroll. "Her Highness is expecting you."

With a flourish of his magic, the unicorn guard opened the doors slightly, gesturing for Starswirl to enter. Sunset eagerly followed behind her father, but was suddenly blocked when a spear extended in front of her, eliciting a startled yelp from the filly as she took a frightened step back.

"Halt." The unicorn guard commanded sternly. "Who are you?"

Sunset stared up at the guard, finding her legs quivering a little under his judgmental glower. Her father had mentioned that he wasn't sure if she'd be allowed in the castle, but the excitement over the prospect of meeting the princess had pushed that thought from her mind. Now that that exact situation had reared its ugly head, Sunset didn't know what to do. Was she just supposed to wait outside until her dad was finished his interview? Did this mean she wouldn't get to meet Princess Celestia after all?

The pegasus guard stepped over, pushing the unicorn's spear out of Sunset's way. "Geez, Scabbard, ease up. She's just a little girl."

The unicorn—evidently named Scabbard—gave his colleague a reprimanding glare. "We can't let anypony in without authorization. Everypony needs an appointment, those are the rules."

The pegasus rolled his eyes. "You really need to get that stick out of your butt, dude. She's an adorable, little filly. She wouldn't cause any trouble, would she?" he said, giving Sunset a reassuring grin.

The filly felt a little more comfortable having one of the guards defend her, prompting her to smile back.

"Lance, you've heard about Discord. Equestria's enemies could be capable of just about anything, even disguising themselves as seemingly harmless fillies," Scabbard argued.

Lance turned to the bearded stallion who had been watching the discussion take place. "This your daughter, Mr. Starswirl?"

Starswirl hurried over to Sunset's side, feeling guilty that he had made a promise he wasn't sure he could keep. "I'm terribly sorry, Sirs. It's just that she's become quite an enthusiast of Princess Celestia as of late. I thought I'd give her the chance to meet her new idol. I didn't want to cause any trouble."

Lance gave Starswirl a smile and a dismissive wave. "Nah, it's fine."

Scabbard continued to glare at his fellow soldier. "Lance, if she's not on the list, she doesn't get in."

The pegasus shook his head and breathed an exasperated sigh. He outstretched his wing, using the dexterous feathers to snatch the scroll off of Scabbard's belt. This elicited an even more irate look from the unicorn, but he retaliated with a defiant glance of his own. Lance unfurled the scroll, then grinned down at Sunset. "What's your name, pretty lady?"

"S-Sunset Shimmer," the filly stammered. Even though Lance's friendly tone helped put her at ease, she was still a little worried considering she knew it was just her father's name on the list.

Lance looked at the parchment, scanning it with a look of mock professionalism. "Sunset, Sunset... Hmm..." Then, with his other wing, he used the quill he'd taken to scribble something on the paper, smiling again when he was finished. "Well, would you look at that? Your name's here after all," he said in a triumphant voice, giving his coworker a sidelong smirk as he thrust the scroll and quill back to him. Lance then gave Sunset a respectful bow, stepping out of the way and gesturing to the entrance. "The princess is expecting you, m'lady."

Sunset looked up at her father with an elated and expectant grin, and Starswirl simply replied with a grin of his own and an accepting shrug before leading his daughter inside the castle walls.

Scabbard let out a disgruntled moan as he closed the doors behind their visitors, giving the pegasus another disapproving glare. "Your nonchalant attitude is gonna get you in some hot water one of these days."

Lance shrugged indifferently, his smile persisting knowing that he'd done a favor for a sweet, little filly. "That doesn't sound like your problem. You need to learn how to relax a little."

With the doors shut behind them, the moment had finally arrived. Sunset was standing in the halls of the Castle of the Two Sisters, and, as expected, she was utterly awestruck. As a descriptor, "grand" was an understatement. The entry hall alone was larger than any residential home in Canterlot, stretching upwards one hundred feet and held up with many marble columns lined up on either side of the hall. The columns were all decorated with a banner like the ones on the exterior of the castle, the ones on the right side bearing the mark of the golden sun, while the ones of the left bearing the silver crescent moon, much like the doors. Though much like the dull grey of the exterior walls, the interior colors were not as regal as one would imagine, being a very subdued brown for the most part, although it did make the place feel like an ancient palace, which it very well may have been.

But as magnificent as the entry hall was in its vastness, it was rather empty, with only the aforementioned columns and banners being of any note, along with the plush, red carpet leading from the entrance to the far side of the hall. There was yet another pair of doors at the end of the room, their design similar to the first set they'd passed through, though somewhat smaller. As they approached the second set of doors, Starswirl stopped, looking his daughter in the eye with a stern expression.

"Now, Sunset, I know you're excited about this, but remember: this is the princess of all of Equestria we're talking about here. You need to be on your best behavior, understand? You were lucky to even get in here in the first place thanks to that nice guard—whom you did not thank, by the way. So, just try to be ladylike, do not say anything rude, do not ask questions out of turn, and use your indoor voice. Is that clear?"

Sunset was admittedly made a little nervous by the warning. It was taking all of her willpower just to contain herself now, so she had no idea if she'd be able to maintain even this level of composure in front of the princess. But just that thought going through her head had flipped a switch in her brain. This was it. She was just moments away from realizing her week-long dream.

The filly nodded to her father, and he smiled at her. Lighting up his horn with his white aura, Starswirl opened the doors. They swung open almost painfully slowly, accompanied by the low creaks of the hinges and clacking of the latch, and revealed the grandiose throne room of the castle. The walls were the same tone of brown as the entry hall, but light managed to stream in from the high windows on either side, and the walls were lined with currently unlit sconces used to illuminate the room during the night; useful, as there was a pair of doors—one left and one right—that lead into the throne room from somewhere else in the castle. A similar carpet as the one in the entry hall was present here as well, though much wider, reaching almost to the walls, and the center showed an image of the sun and moon much like the banners, but the sun was positioned within the crescent of the moon.

At the far end of the room were the centerpieces of the throne room, that obviously being the thrones. Two thrones sat elevated upon raised platforms with a set of approximately a dozen steps leading up to them. Following the theme set by the rest of the castle, the throne on the right was a radiant gold, while the left throne was a regal midnight blue. Peculiarly, there was a small, arched bridge adjoining the two platforms, and the railing was decorated with an etching of two alicorns. The entire back wall behind the thrones was adorned with a large, ornate tapestry; though its color was a similar brown to the walls, just slightly lighter, it featured dark purple trim, star shapes sewn into it, and was cut in a way that framed the two thrones elegantly. Finally, hanging above each throne was a matching banner, again, like all the other banners, depicting images of the sun and moon, but were much more brightly colored, matching the gold and blue of the thrones.

As amazing as the throne room would look to somepony seeing it for the first time, it was something else that had Sunset Shimmer entranced, her eyes wide with wonder and amazement, and her breath caught in her throat. She had had doubts ever since hearing about her a week ago, a lingering paranoia that everything she'd learned was some sort of elaborate prank that everypony in Canterlot was pulling on her. But now, finally, she knew it was real.

Three ponies stood conversing at the base of the thrones' platforms. Two of them appeared to simply be castle staff: The first was a unicorn stallion with a thin mustache, his tan-colored coat covered by a formal, black vest and his black mane tied in a ponytail. The second was a unicorn mare with a subdued, pink coat, most of which was adequately covered by a typical black maid's uniform with white trim, while her pale green mane was tied in a bun.

But it was the third that had really caught Sunset's eyes.

Towering over the other two ponies was a tall, lithe mare, her coat a more pristine white than a fresh blanket of snow. She had not only a horn that dwarfed that of any unicorn Sunset had ever seen, but a pair of grand, majestic, white wings with not a feather out of place. Her mane and tail may have been her most puzzling and intriguing feature: not only were they long and beautiful, but they appeared to gently wave and flow of their own accord, even without the aid of a breeze, and they were comprised of four layered colors of pink, cyan, light green, and purple. Upon the hooves at the ends of her long, slender legs were fancy, golden shoes, and around her neck and covering her chest was an ornate, gold plate with a bright, purple jewel embedded into it. Atop her head was her golden tiara, adorned with a similar purple jewel, and a sure symbol of her regal status. But if none of that was good enough, it was the mark upon her flank that sealed the deal. The shape of the iridescent sun could be seen all over the castle and was always used in any media that was associated with her. It was irrefutable proof of this mare's identity.

This was Princess Celestia.

There was no mistaking it. She was real. Sunset could now see her with her own eyes, and no crude crayon drawing or picture in a textbook could ever do justice to the sheer beauty and majesty of the mare that stood before her.

Hearing the throne room door open, the tall alicorn's attention was diverted from her conversation with the two well-dressed ponies. The princess briefly addressed the two standing beside her, though from across the room Sunset and Starswirl couldn't make out what she'd said. The mare nodded in response, then turned to exit the throne room through the door on the right wall, past the golden throne. The stallion remained by the alicorn's side.

Princess Celestia once more turned her attention to the stallion and filly who had just arrived, offering a welcoming smile from across the room. Starswirl took that as his cue to approach, making his way over until he and his daughter were mere feet away.

Sunset hadn't even realized that she just walked across the throne room and now stood in close proximity to the object of her recent obsession. Sunset's eyes were transfixed on the glorious alicorn. From this close up, the filly could gaze up into the princess's tender eyes, practically able to see her reflection in her beautiful pink irises.

"You must be Mr. Starswirl," Celestia inferred with a friendly smile, the melodious timbre of her voice giving Sunset Shimmer goosebumps.

Starswirl bowed courteously in the princess's presence. "That's right. It's an honor to finally meet you, Your Majesty."

It was then that Celestia's eyes fell onto the amber filly standing beside the bearded stallion. Sunset felt her heart skip a beat when their gazes met. The alicorn tilted her head, staring at the filly curiously. "And who is this?"

Starswirl straightened up again, gently placing his hoof upon Sunset's back and giving the princess a slightly apologetic look. "This is my daughter. I'm sorry I didn't ask in advance if she could come, but she was just so excited by the prospect of meeting you."

There was a moment in Sunset's mind where she worried that Princess Celestia would be upset with her father for bringing her along, but thankfully the alicorn instead flashed an amicable smile.

"Is that so?" Celestia said with a quiet giggle. "Well, I'm always open to meet my loyal subjects." She leaned her long, graceful neck down closer to the filly. "What's your name, my little pony?"

Sunset's mouth opened, but no words came out, earning a raised eyebrow from her father and the princess. The filly's mind was overwhelmed in the presence of Princess Celestia, her voice caught in her throat.

Celestia lifted her head back again, raising a hoof to her mouth in mild concern, but chuckled softly. "Oh, dear. Seems somepony has a touch of stage fright."

"I'm terribly sorry, Princess," Starswirl apologized. "You'll have to excuse her manners. She's been very eager for this day, she doesn't seem to know how to process it now that it's here."

"No need to apologize," Celestia replied sweetly. "She's not the first pony to be rendered speechless in front of me. As much as I hate to say it, my status does occasionally intimidate people. Let's just give her a moment to compose herself. You're here about your application, are you not, Mr. Starswirl?"

The stallion nodded. "I am. And I must admit, I'm a touch nervous."

The princess offered another comforting smile. "You have no need to be nervous. But perhaps we should discuss this in private." Celestia gestured to a door to her left, the passage near the platform to her golden throne that the maid had gone through earlier, and began leading Starswirl towards it.

"S-Sunset Shimmer!"

Celestia halted in her tracks suddenly, caught off guard by the unexpected outburst from the formerly quiet filly. "Beg your pardon?" she addressed the filly in a surprised tone.

Sunset was visibly trembling, but now had a more determined look in her teal eyes, not wanting to miss the opportunity to talk to the princess of Equestria. "M-My name is Sunset Shimmer," she introduced shakily, though at a much more acceptable volume.

The alicorn turned back, giving the filly a friendly grin. "Well, then, it's very nice to meet you, Sunset Shimmer. And might I add that that is quite a lovely name."

The filly smiled widely, her tail swishing about happily at having received a compliment from Princess Celestia.

Seeing that the jitters his daughter had been experiencing had seemingly vanished, Starswirl smiled fondly at how happy Sunset looked to finally be meeting the princess. "She only just learned you existed earlier this week and she's been utterly enamored with you ever since."

Celestia raised an eyebrow in mock surprise, grinning behind her hoof. "Oh? But I'm just a boring princess. Surely she can't find me that interesting."

"No! You're amazing!" Sunset quickly and enthusiastically corrected. "And I have so many questions I wanna ask you!"

Her father leaned down to her, speaking quietly. "Now, Sunset, Princess Celestia is a busy mare. I'm sure she doesn't have time—"

"Oh, I can answer a few simple questions," Celestia said with a grin and a dismissive wave, earning a discreet eye roll from the stallion that had been standing by quietly. Seeing his reaction, the princess amended her claim slightly. "Although perhaps we should keep it brief. Your father and I need to have an important discussion, and I have other appointments scheduled for later. So, let's see how many of your questions I can answer."

Without wasting another moment, Sunset began blurting out her questionnaire. "So you really move the sun?"

"Yes."

"Did you really save Equestria from bad people?"

"On occasion, yes."

"Did you really found Canterlot?"

"Yes."

"Did you build this castle?"

"With some help, yes."

"Are you the most powerful pony in the world?"

"Hmm... You know, I'm not sure."

"Are you really thousands of years old?"

"Princess." The conversation was brought to a halt by the mustachioed stallion. He removed a pocket watch from his vest, more as a silent warning than anything else.

Celestia offered an apologetic smile to the filly. "I'm sorry, but it looks like we're out of time. I'd be happy to answer more of your questions another time, Sunset Shimmer. Mr. Starswirl, shall we?" she said, gesturing for the bearded stallion to follow her out of the throne room.

Starswirl nodded and started following behind her. However, he paused momentarily to look back at his daughter, who was just left standing there in the middle of the throne room next to the well-dressed unicorn.

Celestia, noticing her guest's plight, called back to her attendant. "Quill, keep Ms. Shimmer company in the meantime, will you?"

The mustachioed stallion—apparently named Quill, matching his cutie mark of a feather pen and piece of parchment—seemed taken aback by the impromptu request. "What? H-How would I do that exactly, Your Highness?"

Celestia simply gave a dismissive shrug and a grin. "Just show her around the castle or something. We won't be long."

"B-But—" However, he couldn't get any more than that out before she and Starswirl disappeared behind the wooden door. Quill let out a quiet breath through his nose, looking down at the little filly. She was beaming up at him excitedly, clearly titillated by the idea of exploring the castle. He admittedly felt a little bad about having to cut her conversation with the princess short, seeing as she seemed so eager to meet her. Not wanting to make a bad impression on the filly, Quill gave Sunset a small smile. "Very well. If you'll follow me, Ms. Shimmer..."

Quill then lead the excited filly to the door opposite of where Celestia and Starswirl had gone.

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

Princess Celestia had lead Starswirl down a couple of decadent hallways, giving the stallion a short tour of his own before guiding him to the location where they would conduct his interview. The room in question was actually rather homely, not quite the sort of space Starswirl had expected to find in a royal castle. It looked like a small, cozy sitting room, only a touch bigger than Starswirl's living room at home. There was a rather sizable, brick fireplace built into the wall, though it didn't seem as though it had been used lately as there was a notable absence of ashes, or even burn marks. Aside from that, there wasn't really anything too noteworthy in the room; there was a single, average-sized window on the wall opposite the fireplace that looked out towards the gardens surrounding the castle, and a round coffee table in the center of the room with a pair of plush cushions to sit upon.

Oddly, somepony was already present. It was the same unicorn mare in the maid's uniform that was briefly present when Starswirl and Sunset had entered the throne room. The closer proximity allowed for a small glimpse of the mare's cutie mark peeking out from underneath her black skirt: a porcelain saucer with a bundle of red berries upon it. Seeing that the princess had arrived with her guest, she flashed a cute smile and quietly turned to the coffee table. Upon the table was a silver platter holding a teapot, two teacups, a small pitcher of cream, and a bowl of sugar cubes. The mare promptly poured up two cups of tea, dropping two sugar cubes and a sizable serving of cream into one and giving it a brief stir with a small spoon, but left the other as is.

The alicorn gestured to the coffee table. "Have a seat, Mr. Starswirl."

Heeding her request, Starswirl sat down on one of the two cushions, while Celestia sat on the other, opposite the stallion. The alicorn, using her soft, golden aura, brought the teacup that the servant had prepared with sugar and cream to her mouth, taking a dainty sip.

"How would like your tea, sir?" the maid asked in a quiet, gentle voice.

"Oh, well, to be honest, I'm not much of a tea-drinker," Starswirl admitted awkwardly.

The comment seemed to concern the maid, who shrunk back slightly. "O-Oh! I-I'm terribly sorry. I can prepare some coffee if you'd prefer."

Starswirl gave a dismissive flick of his hoof, not wanting to put the poor mare out. "No, no, that's alright. A cup of tea will be fine, I just don't drink it often enough to have a preference over how it's prepared."

The mare breathed a discreet, relieved sigh before putting her sweet smile back on. "Then might I recommend the standard one cream, two sugars?"

"Sounds fine," Starswirl agreed with a nod.

The maid set to preparing his tea with a smile. Once she was done, she simply stood there, staring at Starswirl expectantly and making the stallion feel a touch awkward.

"That'll be all, Rosehip, thank you," said Celestia with a grin.

The unicorn mare seemed caught off guard by the princess's voice. "Huh? O-Oh, sorry. Um, enjoy your tea." With that, she gave Celestia and Starswirl a respectful bow, the princess acknowledging with a nod and a smile, before exiting the room.

Starswirl gave the princess an unsure grin. "She seems... nice."

"She's new," Celestia stated bluntly. "She's still adjusting to things around here and tends to try a little too hard. She makes a wonderful cup of tea, though." She punctuated that by taking another sip from her cup.

"I mean no offense to her, but I would have thought the royal sisters would prefer their staff to exude professionalism."

The alicorn smiled with mild amusement. "You would think. However, I prefer that our staff be more... grounded. It makes our castle—and by extension, my sister and I—appear more welcoming if the people working here are just, you know, normal people. At least, that's my hope. I can't say one way or another if that's how our subjects actually view us considering we're all the way out here by ourselves, and we don't get to interact with them as often as we'd like. In any case, I hope adding you to our staff will aid in that goal."

"Assuming this interview goes well," Starswirl added with just a touch of pessimism.

Celestia gently laid her cup on its saucer, looking the unicorn straight in the eye. "Mr. Starswirl, I think you misunderstand. This 'interview' is merely a formality. If want this job, it is yours."

Starswirl's eyes widened in shock and surprise. "Are... Are you serious?"

The princess nodded with a grin. "Both Luna and I are avid readers, and we've stumbled upon some of your research papers. I arranged this meeting so that I could meet you and get to know you a little better. Admittedly, my motivation may have been self-serving; I'm quite a fan of your work, Mr. Starswirl."

A bashful blush tinged the stallion's grey muzzle. To hear such a thing from a princess was incredibly humbling, and he had difficulty devising the words to express himself. "I... I am honored you think so highly of my work, Your Majesty. Thank you."

"I must say, the work you've accomplished for a stallion in his twenties is rather impressive. Transfiguration; dimensional calibration; time travel. It's all very intriguing," Celestia complimented with eager enthusiasm.

"Bear in mind that much of that is merely theoretical as of right now," Starswirl argued modestly.

"For now..." the princess added with an optimistic smirk. "You're one of the few unicorns I've heard of to have successfully performed a teleportation spell. For a humble citizen such as yourself to make such strides in the field of magic is nothing short of astounding. Now, imagine how much progress you could make with the funds and resources we could offer you here at the castle."

Starswirl blinked, taking a few seconds to silently absorb the extremely generous offer. After a brief moment of contemplation, he managed a light chuckle. "I suppose most people would call me a fool if I were to decline an offer like that, especially after receiving such praise. Though I can't help but think that with all the power you princesses have at your disposal, you could make leaps and bounds in the field, as well, far quicker than any average unicorn."

Celestia shrugged her shoulders slightly, taking another sip of tea. "Perhaps. But we're far too busy with running a kingdom to indulge in research. Which is why we're looking to employ great minds such as yourself."

"Well then, I can't very well turn down an opportunity to make such advancements, can I?" Starswirl laughed. "We all have to do our part, after all."

"Then allow me to be the first to congratulate you. Welcome aboard, Mr. Starswirl," Celestia said with a chipper smile.

Starswirl bowed his head graciously. "I greatly appreciate it, Your Majesty. And I'm sure Sunset will be ecstatic to hear that her father will be working alongside her new hero."

The alicorn blushed and giggled at the title he'd given her. "'Hero'? That may be a bit much, don't you think?"

"Not at all. The way she talks about you, despite only having met you today, you'd think she'd been a fan of yours since she was born. It's been like discovering you has ignited a fire within her. I'm not sure I've ever seen her quite this excited about anything before."

"She must be quite a hoofful for you and her mother, I assume," Celestia chuckled.

A tense silence then fell over the room. The air felt as though it had suddenly become thicker. Celestia noticed how Starswirl's smile had fallen and he broke eye contact. The princess felt guilt starting to gnaw at the back of her mind, realizing that she must have brought up a touchy subject.

"Oh, dear... Don't tell me her mother's..."

"Not dead, no," Starswirl spoke up. "Sorry if my expression read that way. I didn't mean to worry you."

Celestia breathed a quiet sigh of relief. "Oh, I see. Divorced, then, I presume."

The stallion shook his head. "No, we were never married."

The princess was starting to feel more than a little uncomfortable with the sudden change of topic. Admittedly, she was curious, but obviously, for the sake of her new employee's privacy, didn't really want to pry. "I see... If it's a sensitive subject, we can drop it right now if you wish."

For a moment, Starswirl stared into Celestia's remorseful and sympathetic eyes. He considered listening to her and simply letting them both be on their way, but something about the compassionate way she stared back at him made him feel a little more at ease. "I suppose if I'm going to be working here at the castle, it's important that we get to know one another a little better, don't you agree?"

Celestia smiled amicably, yet awkwardly. "While I do like to socialize with my staff, I don't really try to dig into their personal lives."

Starswirl waved off her concern with a dismissive flick of his hoof, folding his forelegs on the coffee table. "I feel like this is a subject that'll wind up coming up some time or another, so I may as well divulge. Besides, if I can feel comfortable talking about this to anypony, it'd be you, Princess."

The alicorn grinned humbly. Again, she wanted to tell him that he didn't have to say anything, but at this point, they would just wind up going in considerate circles until one of them gave in. And given her curiosity, she figured she may as well be the one to cave and hear what he had to say. "If you so choose. But remember that you have the right to stop at any time."

Starswirl simply nodded in response, thinking about the best way to start. "Sunset's never met her mother. She was abandoned shortly after she was born."

Celestia's eyes widened in realization. "Oh. You adopted her?"

The stallion shook his head, but grinned proudly. "No, no, she is most certainly my daughter. Her mother was a mare by the name of Scarlet Nettle. We went to school in Manehattan together, though we did not know one another personally until our senior year of high school. We weren't exactly two people you would associate with one another. As you might imagine, I was a rather introverted bookworm in those days, always with my muzzle buried in my textbooks. Scarlet, on the other hoof, was a social butterfly, and as beautiful as one to boot. She was the object of every stallion's affection at our school, and the center of her 'clique.' All that is to say she was far out of my league."

"Unfortunately, she knew exactly how desirable she was, and was one who would take advantage of her good looks to get what she wanted. So when she discovered that her poor grades meant she was in danger of not graduating, she had to devise a way to fix that. But, of course, her first thought was not to simply buckle down and hit the books. That's when she approached me. I would have been happy to tutor her if that's what she wanted, but instead, she feigned romantic interest and began flirting and attempting to seduce me. And I'm... a little ashamed to admit that it worked."

Celestia hummed in thought as she stared at Starswirl. "I'm surprised a stallion as keen as yourself would fall for such obvious advances, no offense."

"Bear in mind I was a hormonal teenager at the time," Starswirl explained. "The most attractive and sought-after mare in school came up to a geeky bookworm like me and asked me out. I didn't question it, I just accepted. Of course, there was always a part of me that knew she was only using me to copy my schoolwork, and there were occasions where I had contemplated breaking it off with her. But she must have been very desperate to ensure that she graduated and went to some rather... extreme lengths to keep me around, let's say that." A slight tint of red tinged his cheeks and he coughed awkwardly into his hoof.

"Anyway, as expected, once final exams were over, I never heard from her again," Starswirl continued with a sigh. "She didn't so much as give me a thank you, a goodbye, or even the courtesy of a proper breakup. And then I went about my life, having learned my lesson about not letting people like her walk all over me, and moved on to university. That is, until approximately eleven months later..."

Celestia's ears drooped slightly, her mouth curling into a sympathetic frown. Starswirl looked as though he was reminiscing quite deeply, almost as if he had forgotten that he was in the princess's presence.

"One morning, there was a knock on the door of my loft, and when I went to answer it, there was nopony there... Just a small basket with a tiny, infant filly sleeping soundly inside of it."

"That's horrible," Celestia commented. "How could a mother simply abandon her child like that?"

"I like to think that it was for the best," the stallion said. "Scarlet was not exactly a person I would consider responsible, or a good role model. Leaving the foal with me may have been the right thing for her to do."

"Seeing how little Sunset turned out, I think you're right," the alicorn agreed, though with a slight scowl as she thought about the filly's mother.

"Perhaps this is simply me being optimistic, but I also like to think that this was not a malicious or selfish act. I believe Scarlet was thinking of her baby's well being, and simply felt as though the responsibility was too much for her to handle and she wasn't ready to raise a foal. I might take grievance with being taken advantage of, but I certainly don't hate Scarlet for leaving her child with me." Starswirl smiled fondly. "It may have been unexpected, and it did take some time to adjust to being a parent, but Sunset is the most important thing in the world to me. I honestly can't imagine my life without her. In that way, I wish I could thank Scarlet for bestowing such a joyous gift upon me."

Celestia gave a pleased smile, as well, but there was a question on her mind. "How exactly do you know that she's Scarlet's daughter? What if another parent simply left their child on a random doorstep?"

Starswirl chuckled at the question. "Truthfully, I asked myself that question, too. But the timing lined up, being eleven months later, and there were more convenient places to leave her than a second story loft." His voice suddenly became quieter, though his smile didn't completely fade. "On top of that, I could tell just by looking at her. Sunset is the spitting image of her mother."

With that answered, it begged another question, though this one may have been a touch more sensitive. "Forgive me for asking this, but based on how you described her, do you know if Scarlet wasn't seeing other men behind your back? Is it possible that you may not be Sunset's biological father?"

Starswirl shrugged, but looked as though he'd expected the question. "While I've always suspected she was unfaithful, I can't prove it one way or the other. That being said, I have consulted a doctor and had the necessary tests done. Sunset is my daughter. There is no doubt about that."

Celestia gave the stallion a concerned look. "Does Sunset know about all of this? About her mother?"

The unicorn simply nodded. "She does. Of course a young filly raised by her single father is going to wonder where her mother is. She's a smart, little girl, so I gave it to her straight, though leaving out the more adult-oriented details."

"And how did she take it?"

"Surprisingly well. She seemed pretty disappointed to hear that her mother wasn't a good person, but that just seemed to make her appreciate me even more. I remember her telling me that she didn't need a mom as long she had me."

Celestia grinned at him, holding a hoof to her chest. "Aww, what a little sweetheart." The alicorn went to take a sip from her teacup, but pulled it away and winced slightly as soon as the liquid hit her lips. "Oh, it's gone cold."

Starswirl rose from his cushion with an embarrassed blush. "Oh, my, seems my story went on a little long. I didn't even get to taste my tea," he said, though with no hint of disappointment.

Celestia stood up as well, making her way toward the door. "Yes, I suppose we should wrap this up and find your daughter so you two can return home."

"Thank you for your time, Your Majesty. I'm honored to be at your service," Starswirl said with a grateful and respectful bow.

"And thank you for sharing such an intimate part of your life. You didn't have to tell me all of that, but I have even stronger respect for you now knowing the difficulties you've had to endure."

The stallion smiled bashfully. "That's very kind of you to say." To be gentlemanly, he opened the door for the princess, who graciously accepted his kindness and stepped back out into the halls of the castle, Starswirl following behind her as they started back to the throne room.

Celestia looked down at Starswirl once more. "Oh, and if we run into Rosehip, just tell her you enjoyed your tea. I have a feeling she wants to hear that."

Starswirl laughed light-heartedly at the request. "Will do."

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

Sunset was practically over the moon with joy, bouncing and skipping through the castle's corridors. Though all of the halls looked basically the same, the stopping points along her tour were particularly exciting for the filly. Just knowing that she was inside the home of Princess Celestia was enough for a persistent, toothy grin to plaster her face. The princess's attendant, Quill, had kindly guided her around, attempting to maintain a hospitable smile during his difficulty keeping up with the rambunctious filly. He had shown her only a few notable rooms in the castle so far, and speculated that they'd have no time to see everything before Starswirl was finished with his interview. So far, Sunset had only seen the fancy kitchen, spacious and decadent dining hall, and a brief glimpse of the statue garden outside, though they did not enter the garden proper. Sunset had requested to see Princess Celestia's personal chambers, but, of course, Quill had to respectfully deny the request, only mentioning that they were located at the top of the tower of the castle's right wing, matching the building's motif of sun-themed decorations being to the right in most rooms.

At this time, they had seen almost everything there was to see on the ground floor of the castle, and Quill had no intention on bringing the filly to the upper floors. However, there was still one room they were about to stop by on their way back to the throne room. Sunset had already come to a stop in front of it, waiting for Quill to catch up.

The mustachioed unicorn, using his sea green magic, removed a handkerchief from his vest's breast pocket, wiping a few beads of sweat from his forehead. "I must say, you're giving me quite a workout, young lady. Even the princesses don't run me this ragged," he said with a hearty chuckle.

"I wanna see everything I can before I have to go home!" the filly exclaimed impatiently. "So, what's in here?"

Replacing the handkerchief back into his pocket, Quill grasped the doorknobs of the double doors with his magic. "This..." he started, pausing for dramatic effect as he swung the door open. "...is the royal archives."

Sunset's teal eyes lit up in wonder. The circular room was packed to the brim with books, with shelves curving around the perimeter, a second floor walkway giving access to the higher shelves, and even a large statue of a sun and crescent moon erected in the center of the circular room.

"Woooow..." the amazed filly breathed. Her previous energy having been placated by her desire to simply take it all in. "There's gotta hundreds of books in here."

"Thousands, actually," Quill corrected with a smirk. "And ever-growing. If there's ever a book that takes the princesses' fancy, chances are a copy will find itself on one of these shelves."

Sunset looked up at the stallion with an eager and hopeful grin. "Can I read one? Pretty please?"

As much as it broke his heart to say no to such an enthusiastic face, Quill lightly shook his head. "Unfortunately, I don't think we have time to read anything. In fact, I think we should head back to the throne room now. I suspect Princess Celestia and your father will be done with their interview by now."

Sunset's ears folded back in slight disappointment, but she understood. She was happy to have simply seen such a wondrous room, on top of all the other things Quill had so kindly shown her.

The two stepped back out into the hall to make their way back to the throne room. However, Quill immediately halted in his tracks as he stared down the hallway. Sunset followed his gaze, spotting exactly what he was looking at. The filly's eyes widened in surprise and curiosity.

Walking towards them from the other end of the hall was a mare, but not like any mare Sunset had ever seen. She was taller than even the average stallion, though not nearly as tall as Celestia. However, she appeared to be an alicorn herself, sporting a long horn and a pair of wings that were currently folded against her sides. In stark contrast to Princess Celestia, this alicorn had a deep midnight blue coat and the metal regalia she wore was pitch black with a crescent moon on it, though her fancy shoes were silver. Most notably, however, was her mane and tail, which, like Celestia, ebbed and flowed of its own accord, but was a brilliant blue in color with a light purple fringe, resembling the sky at dusk.

As the blue alicorn approached, Sunset noted the lack of a smile on her face as she had seen on Princess Celestia. Something about this mare's expression made the filly feel uneasy, and she instinctively backed up to hide behind Quill until she got a feel for this mysterious alicorn, first noticing her unusual cutie mark; as opposed to a deep blue like the rest of her coat, her flanks were covered with a pitch black splotch with an image of a crescent moon upon them. Sunset couldn't tell if the coloration was a part of the cutie mark, or if the color was natural.

Once the mare was before the two, Quill bowed his head respectfully. "Your Highness," was all he said in greeting.

The mare nodded to acknowledge him, though her neutral expression did not change. "Quill." It didn't take long for her gaze to fall upon the amber filly attempting to hide behind Quill's hind legs. "Who is this?"

Sunset practically flinched at the alicorn's voice. Her question was more inquisitive than curious, and she even narrowed her eyes slightly as she stared down her muzzle at the filly.

Quill looked back, only now noticing that Sunset had been trying to conceal herself. "Oh, this is Sunset Shimmer. I was just showing her around the castle."

The alicorn lifted her nose slightly, looking somewhat displeased. "Oh? Are we giving tours now? Our castle is not a museum, Quill."

"It was at your sister's request, M'lady," Quill explained. "The filly's father is the one who applied for the research position, and I'm simply occupying her while Princess Celestia conducts the interview."

The explanation seemed to do nothing to quell the mare's displeasure, grimacing a little. "And he thought it appropriate to bring his daughter to a job interview? Doth he think we hath a daycare on the premises?"

"He said that she wished to meet Princess Celestia. Apparently she's been quite an enthusiast of your sister as of late."

The mare rolled her blue eyes. "And her fan club doth grow larger still..." she grumbled under her breath.

Having not quite heard her, Sunset finally emerged from behind the stallion. "What?"

The alicorn shook her head. "Nothing," she dismissed, but a small smile finally managed to appear on her face. "But We suppose if thou came to meet Celestia, then thou shouldst be equally eager to meet Us."

Sunset raised an eyebrow, tilting her head in confusion. "Um... Who are you?"

The mare's smile vanished in an instant, her mouth dropping open as though insulted by the question. "Who...? Dost thou not know who We are?"

The filly shook her head, that uneasy feeling falling over her again as she shrunk back slightly.

The alicorn scowled at Sunset's ignorance, leaning in toward the small unicorn. "Thou claimest to be an enthusiast of Our sister, but hath no knowledge of Us?" With every word, the mare seemed to grow more agitated and insulted, causing Sunset to draw back. "Then listen, and listen well, little one..." She straightened up again, spreading her large, blue wings outward, and holding her head high with a stern and indignant look upon her face. "We are Princess Luna, ruler of the night," she proclaimed, her voice strong and echoed through the hall. "And thou wouldst do well to remember that name, young filly."

And that was all she said before being on her way, brushing past the two unicorns with her grand, velvety wings still outstretched.

Now that she had introduced herself, Sunset did find the name familiar. She knew that Princess Celestia had a sister, and thinking back on it, the name "Princess Luna" sounded familiar to her, likely having come up in the filly's research of Princess Celestia.

Once the alicorn was out of sight and out of earshot, Sunset voiced her opinion of this new alicorn. "She's kinda scary."

"Don't take it personally," Quill said with a grin. "She's not much of a morning person. In fact, it's a little unusual to see her up and about at this hour. She's probably just a little tired and is heading to bed after a long night." He ushered Sunset along with a hoof to take her mind off of Luna and back on track. "Come along. Your father's probably waiting for you."

Sunset listened to the stallion, turning herself back on track toward the throne room. However, the whole walk back, she couldn't help but think about Princess Luna. That was Princess Celestia's sister? Though they were both alicorns and both possessed radiant beauty, in terms of demeanor they may as well have been worlds apart. The phrase "Like day and night" came to mind, aptly enough, and Sunset found herself wondering how well the two sisters got along.

Before long, they had made it back to the throne room, and just as Quill had said, both Sunset's father and Princess Celestia were already there waiting.

Once Starswirl saw his daughter again, he flashed her a cheery grin as she hurried over to his side. "Ah, there you are," he said with a hearty laugh. "We were beginning to wonder if you'd run ahead of Mr. Quill and gotten yourself lost."

Sunset puffed out her cheeks and pouted sourly, insulted by her father's lack of faith in her. "Of course not. Princess Celestia said to go with Mr. Quill, so I did. I'm a good girl," she insisted, looking more at Celestia than her father.

Starswirl chuckled, giving the filly's red and yellow mane a playful tousle and putting a smile back on her face. "Yes, you are."

"Apologies for our lateness," Quill said, bowing slightly. "We had a brief run-in with your sister, Your Highness, that's all."

"Oh, is that so?" Celestia responded with a somewhat awkward grin and a quiet giggle. "Well, then, allow me to apologize in her stead. I take she was her 'usual self' this morning."

She received a nod and a slight shrug from Quill.

"She's always a little grouchy in the morning," Celestia explained. "She's typically up all night wandering the halls by herself, so her people skills might be a little... lacking. Don't think less of her for it. If you were to meet her at night, she's actually a very calm and thoughtful person, trust me."

Hearing that from Princess Celestia was all Sunset needed to have her concerns quelled. If she said Princess Luna was a nice person, then Sunset believed her.

But the filly's eyes turned back to her father, interested and hopeful about the smile on his bearded face. "So? Did you talk to Princess Celestia, Daddy?"

He nodded in response. "I did indeed. We had a lovely chat, and I hope to get to speak with her more in the future."

Sunset's eyes widened, her face beaming. "Does that mean...?!"

Starswirl chuckled inwardly. "I start work on Monday."

The filly leapt into the air with an exuberant squeal. "Eeee! My Daddy's gonna work with Princess Celestia! This is the best day of my life!"

Celestia stifled an amused giggle as she watched the energetic filly bound around her father. "Of course, you're welcome to visit anytime you wish, as well, my little pony."

Sunset came to an immediate stop, staring up into the princess's comforting, pink eyes. "I am?"

The alicorn nodded with a smile. "I'll make sure your name is permanently added to our appointment list. After all, our little interview had to be cut short."

The filly squealed again, though this time refrained from joyously bouncing around out of respect for the princess.

Starswirl placed a hoof gently on his daughter's back, urging her with him as he prepared to leave. "Alright, I think we've taken up enough of the princess's time, Sunset. Let's head home."

Although a little disappointed that their trip had been so brief, Sunset still smiled back at Celestia, happy simply to have met the pony that she was almost convinced was just a myth until about half an hour ago. "Thank you, Princess!" she shouted from across the throne room as she and her father approached the door. "I'll come back soon! I've got a lot of questions I wanna ask you!"

"And I'll be happy to answer them," the alicorn replied.

"Oh, and thank you for showing me the castle, Mr. Quill!"

Quill was a little caught off guard by the filly's politeness, sans the yelling. "Oh, well, you're quite welcome."

With that, Starswirl and his daughter disappeared as the door shut behind them.

Quill once more removed the handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his forehead, letting out a slightly exhausted breath. "Well, there's certainly no end to her energy. She's quite an interesting, little filly."

Celestia nodded quietly, staring in the young unicorn's general direction. "Yes, she certainly is."

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