• Published 15th Nov 2018
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The Girl Who Orbited the Sun - Dee Pad



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

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Chapter 20 - Supernova

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 20: Supernova

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Halberd stirred in his slumber, but not because he was uncomfortable—just the opposite actually; he was completely comfortable. A part of him didn't want to risk opening his eyes and just remain where he was, even though he was conscious now.

The pegasus felt a weight on his chest, but not a metaphorical weight. Finally, Halberd opened his eyes, a small smile creasing his silver muzzle when he laid eyes on the sleeping face of the amber mare whose head rested on his chest.

He must have dozed off at some point after he'd been sent to Sunset's tower, having been appointed her personal guard for a while. He hadn't actually gotten much sleep in a while, so he wasn't exactly surprised that he'd conked out without realizing it—it had happened a few times on the job recently. But it was heartwarming to see that Sunset had decided to stay by his side rather than head for her more comfortable bed. The two young lovers lay upon the couch in Sunset's living room, bathed in the darkness of the night. Halberd wasn't entirely sure when he'd fallen asleep, but it was definitely late now, though he couldn't determine how late.

Now that his somnolence was starting to wear off, Halberd's thoughts were starting to become more clear, and his memories of the previous day were coming back to him. He glanced at his snoozing girlfriend again, slight worry in his eyes. She seemed to be comfortable enough. He turned his head, finding the bottle of magic suppressing medicine on the coffee table. It was about half empty; Sunset must have taken another dose before joining him in dream land. Her magic had been pretty unstable apparently, and without that stuff there was no way she could keep it contained in her sleep.

But that brought up another concern. Sunset had told him the solar flare should only last a few hours, but he didn't remember if he was awake long enough for that. And with the suppressant in effect, he couldn't tell if Sunset's magic had leveled out on its own either. He contemplated jostling her awake so he could get an answer. And if she thought she could convince him to hold off on telling the princess about her second sun for a little longer if the flare was still active, she was sorely mistaken. Halberd felt bad for believing that she'd deliberately not tell him if it was still a problem just to put off telling Celestia longer, but she'd unfortunately created a precedent for that kind of thing.

Sunset moaned softly in her sleep, nestling her head more comfortably into the fine, silver fur of Halberd's chest. Despite the concerns in his mind, the stallion couldn't help but smile. Just a month or so ago, he would have only been able to dream about being in this position with his best friend, so he managed to work up the willpower to push back those worries for a few more hours and chose to believe for the time being that everything was fine.

Still, he wished he knew exactly what time it was so he'd know when he could actually talk to her about this again and get a proper answer. Sunset could determine the time simply by the position of the sun or moon in the sky, so she didn't keep a clock in her living room. Halberd figured he could give it a shot himself, trying his best to peer out the balcony doors to see if he could spot the moon.

But it wasn't the moon he saw. In essence, it was the opposite. Standing on the balcony, her back to the door and staring out into the distance, appeared to be Princess Celestia, the glow of her aurora-like mane and tail unmistakable in the darkness.

Halberd blinked, unsure if he actually was awake right now or if this was actually some kind of weird dream.

As if she sensed the eyes against the back of her head, Celestia happened to look over her shoulder, spotting a reclined Halberd staring at her, befuddled and with a somewhat embarrassed blush on his cheeks. Celestia, too, felt a little awkward, her own face reddening. She simply offered an apologetic smile, attempting to act nonchalant despite how weird this whole situation was.

Halberd didn't know what to do. Was he supposed to invite her in? He was curious as to what she was doing here, and was admittedly a little creeped out when he thought about how long she might have been standing there—not a thought he'd ever imagined he'd have about Princess Celestia. But she seemed to be equally unsure of where to go from here. Obviously she was there for a reason, but it appeared that neither one of them wanted to make a move. And the reason was likely the still-slumbering unicorn laying atop Halberd. Neither of them had the heart to wake her up, and whatever it was that the princess wanted couldn't be terribly urgent if she was willing to stand there and wait. More than likely she just wanted to assess Sunset's condition and couldn't wait until the sunrise to check.

At that moment, Sunset let out a long, sleepy yawn, lifting her head from Halberd's chest. She didn't even open her eyes or give so much as a "Good morning," instead just sleepily climbing off of Halberd and the couch and instinctively making for the balcony. Rubbing her eyes, Sunset finally woke up properly to make sure she didn't trip over anything on her way to the balcony.

And her gaze was met by the affable, pink eyes and wide, toothy grin of her teacher staring back at her through the glass doors.

"Gah!"

Sunset stumbled backward in shock, losing her balance and falling over onto her back. Halberd quickly hopped off the couch himself and Celestia opened the balcony doors to finally step inside, both of them approaching the prone mare to make sure she was okay.

"Are you alright, Sunset?" Celestia asked with concern, but couldn't keep the slightly amused smirk off her face.

Sunset let her body relax as she lay on the floor, a long breath escaping her lungs and her heart starting to beat again. "Geez, you scared the horseapples outta me, Princess."

"My apologies," she said with a touch of awkwardness, but snickering quietly. "I suppose it must have been an odd sight to see upon waking up."

"What are you doing here so early, Your Majesty?" Halberd asked. "Or... is it even early yet? What time is it anyway?"

"It's ten minutes to six," Celestia answered matter-of-factly.

"Oh, so it's almost dawn, then. But that still doesn't clear up why you're here. Shouldn't you be getting ready for the sunrise?"

"That's precisely what I'm doing."

Sunset got up off the floor, raising an eyebrow at the princess. "What, you looking to change things up by coming over here to do it?"

"In a sense..." Celestia answered coyly. There was no lack of excitement and hopefulness in her voice and expression. She leaned down to Sunset, giving her a soft and motherly smile. "Sunset, how would you like to perform the sunrise this morning?"

Sunset's eyes widened with wonder, a twinkle of hope in her teal irises as she felt a flutter in her heart. "What? Really?"

"I mean, if you think you're up for it," Celestia added with more compassion. "Are you feeling better this morning? Is your magic stable yet?"

"Um..." Sunset hesitated, though mostly due to simply being flabbergasted by the offer. She lifted a hoof to her horn. "Well, it still tingles, and I don't know if the medicine is still in effect or not."

"Even if you took a dose before bed, it should be worn off by now I'd think."

Sunset took a chance and lit up her horn, illuminating the otherwise dark room. She'd barely put much effort into it and her aura glowed brightly enough for one to mistakenly believe the sun was already up. Sunset felt a slight twinge in her horn, taking that as a sign to stop.

Celestia took notice of the effort it took for Sunset to reign her magic back in. Even then, Sunset's horn crackled with energy for a moment, causing her to flinch. "Is it still difficult to control?"

"It... kinda feels like when I use a lot of magic, it tries to, I don't know, get away from me. Like, my magic is trying to get out of its own accord. It's not as bad as it was yesterday, though. I'm not having to physically hold it back now. It's just pulling it back in once its loose."

Celestia nodded, breathing an internal sigh of relief. "Then it likely was just a spike, then. That's good. As long as you think it's manageable."

"And you still have your medicine if you need it," Halberd reminded her.

"Still want me to try?" Sunset asked the princess, a touch of doubt in her voice.

Celestia smiled compassionately. "Like I said, if you feel up to it. I simply felt bad that we couldn't properly celebrate the accomplishment yesterday, so I want to give you the chance to revel in the moment."

Sunset glanced back at Halberd. He seemed a bit concerned, but didn't outright object to the notion. Sunset looked back at Celestia, her expression resolute. "I'll give it my best shot."

The alicorn stepped aside, gesturing to the balcony. Sunset stepped out into the cool, early morning air. This was the third time in such a short period of time that she'd been afforded the opportunity to attempt raising the sun, but this was the first time where everypony present actually expected her to succeed. The only concern was whether or not it would have any adverse effects on her.

Sunset took a deep breath, focusing her attention to the horizon where the sun normally emerged in the morning. Her horn began to glow, from cyan to red as she upped the intensity. The power flowed forth quickly—quicker than she anticipated—but she managed to keep it under control. It felt like she was trying to plug a leaky faucet with just her hooves. She was starting to have doubts as to whether or not she could maintain control and still raise the sun at the same time, but she persevered regardless.

Celestia and Halberd watched silently, a mix of emotions going through both their minds. They were hopeful that she would succeed, but worried that she may hurt herself. The exertion on her face was hard to decipher; was she struggling to control her magic, or having difficulty moving the sun? Either way, the fire of her aura raged brightly, the heat it generated offsetting the coolness of the outside air.

But, finally, their patience was rewarded. The blackness of the sky began to brighten, and so, too, did Celestia's expression. The alicorn watched with pride and amazement as the sky shifted from black to orange, and the curvature of her sun emerged from beyond the horizon. Both she and Halberd could only stare in wonder as it rose up higher into the sky until finally coming to a stop.

Sunset didn't feel comfortable doing this any longer, forcefully keeping hold of her rebelling magic and sucking it back in. She panted, her legs a little shaky, but aside from another brief twinge and crackle, she was okay. She lifted her head and opened her eyes, which then widened further when she noticed it was no longer dark outside. The sun was beaming brightly down upon Equestria, and Sunset was no worse for wear. She honestly didn't know how to react, a part of her believing that this wasn't real.

"I... I did it?" Sunset turned around for confirmation. "Princess, I—"

Before she could even finish her thought, a pair of hooves wrapped around her, pulling her in for a tight embrace. Sunset was still a little dazed by all of this, but had the wherewithal to hug the princess back.

Celestia pulled back, her smile barely contained and her eyes on the verge of joyous tears. "Sunset, I am so proud of you," she said shakily. "You've not only done what you set out to do when you were a child, but you vastly exceeded my expectations. Congratulations. You did it."

Sunset still wasn't sure how to respond. She was still a little dumbfounded. She glanced past Celestia to Halberd. He was smiling proudly back at her, but gave a silent gesture toward the princess. She knew exactly what he was trying to say, and, all things considered, now was probably the best time to finally tell her.

With no lack of reluctance, Sunset stared into Celestia's pride-filled eyes. "Um... Princess, listen..."

Celestia held up her hoof, her smile still holding strong. "I know exactly what you're going to say."

Sunset doubted that very much, but was still a little confused. "You do?"

The princess stood up again, an eager look on her face. "You want to make sure that you have your power fully under control. The storm of power that you possess needs to be properly quelled, but I have full confidence that we can manage that if we put our all into it."

Sunset paused for a moment. She never thought Celestia's smile would hurt her so much, but something told her to just go with it. She forced a smile herself. "Uh, yeah. That's exactly what I was getting at."

Halberd grimaced with disappointment.

Celestia practically hopped in place, her giddiness unrestrained. "Excellent! Sunset, I'm going to focus as much of my time as you need to master your newfound power. Nothing, save for some sort of kingdom-threatening crisis, will take higher priority than you until then."

The grateful smile on Sunset's face was almost more difficult to control than her magic was. "Awesome! Thank you, Princess!"

"We should get a jump on it as soon as possible. Meet me in the throne room when you're ready and we'll discuss a curriculum for your new training."

"Sure. Be down in a bit," Sunset agreed with a nod.

Celestia trotted up to the balcony's railing with an eager spring in her step. She took a brief moment to admire the sun in the sky—the evidence of her student's progress—before taking flight to head to the throne room.

Sunset, too, couldn't contain her enthusiasm, turning back to her room to prepare herself for her training with the princess. However, she was immediately met by a reprimanding glower from her boyfriend. She already knew what that meant, her ears folding back in shame and apology.

"I thought you said you were going to tell her when she trusted you," he reminded her sternly.

"You heard what she said," Sunset argued defensively. "I still need to get things under control first."

"Sunset—"

"Hal, listen to me," Sunset interrupted firmly, a resolute look in her eyes. "I'm almost there. It's even calmed down a bit from yesterday. I don't even need the medicine anymore. I don't have any doubts that I'll have this under control in no time."

Halberd continued to glare with as much authority as he could muster. They had an arrangement, and before he could afford her this extra leeway, he needed to confirm whether or not she was required to uphold her end of the deal. "How's your sun? Is the solar flare over?"

"Well, I don't feel anything more than a tingle in my horn, but that's probably because of my magic. "I'm pretty sure it's fine."

Halberd raised an eyebrow at her. "'Pretty sure'? That's not good enough, Sunset."

"Do you wanna go check on it?" she offered confidently. "We can pop over there right now if you want."

He almost felt like she was bluffing, but decided to call her on it. "Alright, let's go."

"Great. Brace yourself."

She didn't really give him enough time to mentally prepare himself before she flashed her horn and the two of them were suddenly in the Castle of the Two Sisters. Halberd staggered a bit, feeling rather disoriented and his stomach even churning a bit. After taking a moment to regain his equilibrium, Halberd looked up at the glowing sphere in the castle's entrance hall. It was noticeably bigger than the last time he'd seen it, but otherwise seemed to be no different than usual.

"See?" Sunset said as she gestured to her sun triumphantly. "Everything's fine. It was just a flash in the pan, but one that helped me speed things up significantly."

Halberd let out a long sigh, allowing his emotions to level out. "Alright, fine. I'm sorry.

Sunset gave him a hug as an apology. "I know you've been worrying yourself over this, and I'm sorry that I had to drag you into this. But we're at the home stretch now, I promise."

"I guess I just don't get why you would want to put yourself through all this stress."

She raised a quizzical eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, if you're so concerned about Princess Celestia finding out about this, then why not just get rid of it?"

Sunset felt her heart sink. Of course, she'd never actually told him why she couldn't just 'get rid of it.' She'd deliberately kept that particular piece of information from him because she knew there was no way he would be willing to keep this a secret if he knew the truth. But now, maybe it wouldn't be so bad to finally reveal the hard truth now that they'd hit this turning point.

She hesitated at first, not looking Halberd in the eye. "I can't just get rid of it."

"Why not?"

Sunset breathed a regretful sigh. "Because... the life of a celestial body is tied to the one who created it."

Halberd blinked, remaining quiet.

"If I die, so does this sun. And... vice versa..."

Halberd's legs became weak, and he suddenly felt like he was going to pass out. "Wh-What?!"

Sunset could only gaze at him apologetically.

"So, you're saying that if something did happen to this sun, you would die?! You knew that and you still made it?! Why would you do something so... self-destructive?!"

"Look, I told you back when I first showed it to you that if I could go back and stop myself, I would," she reminded him. "I understand that it was a reckless thing to do, and that's why I've been so determined to make sure I can properly handle this."

"Why didn't you tell me about that?!"

"Because I knew this is how you'd react!" she argued back. She took a moment to calm herself down, speaking more steadily and with a smile once more. "But it's fine now. The solar flare passed, the sun is stable again, and I've got access to all of my latent magic. We're basically in the clear at this point."

That didn't reassure Halberd in the slightest. "We're telling Princess Celestia about this. Right now. I'm not going to let you kill yourself just because of your desperate need for approval." He turned for the door, fully prepared to make a beeline for Canterlot Castle and tell the princess about this.

"Hal, just listen!" Sunset called out, grabbing him by the fetlock to stop him. "Me and the princess are gonna put all of our time into my training, and I've already got this mostly under control. Remember: our deal was that you would tell her if the solar flare was still active. But it's not, right?"

"That was before I knew what the true implications of an unstable sun were."

"One week!"

Halberd quirked a vexed eyebrow. "What?"

"Give me one week, regardless of whether or not I have my magic fully under control, and I promise we can tell her."

Halberd glared at her, making sure she knew full well that he disapproved of all of this. He was mentally chastising himself for even giving her desperate pleas any consideration. He'd given her more than enough leniency already. By all rights, he shouldn't listen to another word she said.

But he sighed. He couldn't bring himself to say no, and he wasn't sure anymore if that was a good thing or a bad thing. As painful as it was to make this realization, he found himself in yet another situation where having such strong feelings for this mare may have been doing more harm than good.

But this time, she'd given him a hard deadline. No more stipulations, no more variables. At the end of the week, Princess Celestia would be told about this second sun, and there was nothing Sunset could say or do to prevent that at this point.

"Fine..." he reluctantly agreed. "But no more bargaining. She needs to know."

Sunset nodded, hugging him tightly. "I know. I'm sorry, Hal. Please don't be mad."

The two of them simply sat in silence for a few minutes in one another's embrace. Sunset nuzzled apologetically into his neck, but Halberd found himself staring up the sun looming over them. He couldn't help but find its mere existence unsettling now that he knew this thing held Sunset's very life in the balance. It almost felt like a giant eye staring vigilantly down at them, waiting for its moment to strike.

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

Starswirl looked over his notes thoroughly as he wandered through the halls of the castle. There was a satisfied smile behind his curly beard. It was still hard for him to believe that not long ago he'd made no progress whatsoever on the magic of friendship, yet here he was now with a sizable stack of papers he'd written on the subject. He was already making plans to have a book published. Granted, he hadn't quite gathered enough information on that one topic for a book in and of itself, but he figured he'd compile a compendium of various research and spells he'd worked on or devised for future generations to use as a guide, or even to continue where he left off.

And as though he couldn't be proud enough, he'd heard that his daughter had even managed to bring forth the reservoir of power buried within her and move the sun again. Apparently, this morning's sunrise was entirely Sunset's doing, and was done without a hitch. Though Starswirl was of course concerned when he'd heard about her power surge the previous day, it appeared that that issue had blown over rather quickly, and now she had unrestricted access to all of her latent magic reserves. As a father, he'd never been so proud of her.

Starswirl slipped his stack of notes back into his bags, finally looking up to see where he'd wound up in his aimless wanderings. Turns out, he'd arrived at the throne room, though Princess Celestia's golden throne was currently unoccupied. However, there was still somepony present. Quill was pacing back and forth in front of the ramp to the throne platform, busily looking over a long scroll that hung almost to the floor and writing things down or crossing things out, all the while mumbling incoherently to himself.

"Everything alright, Quill?" Starswirl inquired with a smirk. "You look a tad frazzled."

Quill didn't even look up from the scroll, raising a hoof to Starswirl as he concentrated on the scroll. He crossed off one more item with his feather pen, jotted something else down, then let out a long, disgruntled groan. Finally, he looked his colleague in the eye. "Apologies, Starswirl, but I'm rather busy at the moment."

"I can see that," said the bearded unicorn, noting the sweat on Quill's brow brought on by his apparent anxiety. "What's got you so wound up exactly?"

Quill removed a handkerchief from his vest pocket, dabbing his forehead with a sigh. "Her Majesty has just completely thrown her schedule out the proverbial window. She was supposed to give the mayor of Manehattan a tour of the new castle, but that's had to be rescheduled. She was supposed to perform the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new rec center in Canterlot, but that's been cancelled outright. And, if that weren't bad enough, she's even postponed her meeting with the ambassador of the Griffon Empire. Equestria's relationship with the griffons is rocky enough as it is! How can she just so nonchalantly put it off like it's no big deal?!"

Starswirl chuckled knowingly. "Well, she's got somepony else she needs to focus on right now."

Quill ran a hoof down his face in exasperation. "Yes, and while helping Sunset with her magic is an admirable endeavor, is it worth putting her reputation and our foreign relations at risk?"

Starswirl gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, his smile persisting. "You're not a parent, Quill. You wouldn't quite understand."

Quill raised an eyebrow at the statement. "I don't see how that—"

He was cut off when a bright flash of light penetrated the stained-glass windows of the throne room, creating an entire spectrum of colored rays that bathed the walls of the throne room. The flash was accompanied by the sound of a loud burst of magic, and the two stallions could practically feel the floor shaking beneath them.

Without a word, Starswirl and Quill hurried toward the entrance, knowing that that light came from the gardens. Oddly, no guards were stationed at the front door, but that would soon be explained when they approached the gardens. A small group of armored soldiers were gathered at the entrance of the garden, seemingly watching from a safe distance. Starswirl and Quill pushed their way through the small crowd until they found Lance and Scabbard. However, instead of inquiring about what was happening, they followed their gazes into the garden.

Standing opposite one another in the garden, each staring the other down, were Sunset and Princess Celestia, horns aglow as they stood in combat stances.

"Wh-What in Equestria is going on?!" Quill stammered in panic.

Lance simply gave him a smirk. "Keep watching and you'll see."

The glow of Sunset's horn suddenly intensified, flashing red before her aura converged back into one point at the tip of her horn. The next instant, a large beam shot forth from her horn, aimed directly at the princess. Celestia erected a golden barrier around herself, protecting herself from the assault, though the force of Sunset's beam managed to push her back as sparks of red and gold magic sprayed everywhere.

After about fifteen seconds of maintaining the beam, Sunset relented. Her aura flared a bit, and she seemed to struggle for a moment to keep it under control, but she eventually held it back enough for her aura to die down, smoke billowing from her horn as she panted with exhaustion and an exhilarated grin on her face. Celestia, too, staggered slightly once she dropped her barrier, a similar smirk on her face, as well.

"What... are they doing?" Starswirl inquired incredulously.

"Sparring," stated Scabbard matter-of-factly.

"'Sparring'?!" Quill echoed frantically. "They're going to ruin the gardens!"

"Relax, would ya?" Lance told him calmly. He pointed to the beds of flowers. "Check it out."

It was only now that Starswirl and Quill noticed the glow of magic surrounding all of the flower beds, erected to protect them from any collateral damage. And they also now noticed that none of the statues were even present right now, patches of dirt left in the vibrant, green grass indicating where they once stood.

"They really wanna go all out," Lance said with a chuckle. "And let me tell you, they're putting on quite a show. Some of us even have bets going on who they think'll win." He leaned over to whisper to Starswirl. "My money's on Sunset. That filly's been on the offensive the whole time."

"While I don't approve of the other soldiers gambling on this, I doubt Sunset will be much of a match for Princess Celestia," Scabbard added. "Even with her newfound power, she's expending a lot of energy. The princess is letting her wear herself out, and I have a feeling that she's been holding back this whole time."

"I don't know, Scabbard, the princess seems a little winded, too," Lance pointed out, indicating how the alicorn was panting just as much as her student.

The group of soldiers, plus Starswirl and Quill, kept their eyes on the two mares. They were continuing to stare each other down, and everypony wondered who would make the next move. Would Sunset push the offensive and prevent the princess from catching her breath, or would Celestia take advantage of Sunset's exhaustion to put her student in her place?

After a few tense moments of waiting, Celestia straightened up, a long puff of air escaping her lips. "Whew, that really got my old blood pumping," she exclaimed, materializing a towel to wipe away the sweat on her face and neck. "I haven't had a workout like that in ages."

Receiving the indication that their battle was over, Sunset let herself fall back onto her haunches, throwing her head back as her lungs desperately sucked down as much oxygen as possible in loud gasps. Despite how worn out she was, her energetic smile held fast. Celestia sauntered over to her, offering a hoof to help her up, which Sunset accepted.

The soldiers all breathed a collective sigh of disappointment to see the battle end without a proper conclusion, meaning any bets made were ultimately pointless. Still, they were thoroughly entertained, and made sure to relay how impressed they were with exuberant, almost child-like excitement, giving the pair of mares some encouraging whoops and whistles.

Celestia chuckled with a slight blush as she and Sunset walked over to the spectators. "Well, I certainly wasn't expecting to have an audience, but I'm glad you all enjoyed the show."

"Hey, Dad," Sunset greeted her father between breaths, popping her own towel to her to wipe herself off.

Starswirl gave her a proud smile; he suspected he'd look at her much the same every time he saw her for awhile. "Good afternoon, sweetheart. I see the princess has you hard at work."

"Tell me about it," Sunset said with a quick puff of air. "I. Am. Pooped."

Her father gave her a slightly concerned look, noting that her horn still had a faint glow to it and was emitting a thin trail of magical smoke—at least, he hoped it was magical. "Are you feeling alright, dear?"

Sunset grinned nonchalantly. "Yeah, fine." Her horn suddenly crackled with an electricity-like spark, causing her to twitch and eliciting a worried look from her father. But she continued to smile despite the pain. "I'm just not quite used to handling this much power yet. But that's exactly what we're doing this for. Right, Princess?"

Celestia nodded. "Precisely. And she's already doing a wonderful job. Perhaps her current lack of control is causing her to output more power than she intends when casting, but she's at least keeping it from bursting out of its own accord. With that in mind, it may be wise for us to take future sparring sessions to a more remote location," she said with an awkward grin, glancing back at their battleground to teleport all the statues back to their places. However, she expected the gouges left in the dirt from their battle would give the groundskeeper a conniption.

"Hey, Princess. Settle something for us, would ya?" Lance requested, prompting a curious look from the alicorn. "Some of us kinda had some wagers placed on this, so if you and Sunset had to duke it out until one of you gave in, who do you think would've won?"

Sunset laughed at the notion. "Are you kidding? I don't care how much power I have at my disposal, I'm nowhere near the princess's level, in regards to both discipline and sheer, raw power."

"I don't know, Sunset. The gap may be smaller than you think," Celestia told her.

Scabbard's eyes widened slightly. "Really? You think she has that much power?"

"I do. While I was holding back, I was still quite caught off guard by just how much force I needed to defend myself."

Quill tensed up upon hearing that. "Your Majesty, you really shouldn't be putting yourself in harm's way like that. What if you were hurt?"

Sunset gave her teacher a similarly worried and remorseful look.

Celestia simply smiled. "These are necessary risks if I want Sunset to acclimate to her power as quickly as possible. But I can put a little more effort into it now that I have an idea of what I'm up against."

"So, what you're saying is that you definitely could've won that if you kept going," Lance said with a disappointed sigh. He then shrugged indifferently. "Ah, well. At least a draw means I get to keep my bits."

Scabbard turned to his fellow soldiers with a commanding look. "Alright, show's over. Back to your posts, everypony."

The guards began to disperse, though the conversations about the battle they'd witnessed went with them. Scabbard took his leave, as well, but Lance stayed behind a moment longer.

"I think I need a shower after all of that," Celestia stated with a giggle. She looked to Sunset with a bright smile. "I'll have the cooks prepare us an afternoon snack to replenish our energy for when we're cleaned up."

Sunset nodded eagerly, and Celestia went on ahead.

Before he went on his way, as well, Starswirl took notice of something he found strange. "Where's Halberd? I figured he'd have been watching, too. Isn't he supposed to be by your side until you've learned to manage your magic?"

Sunset shrugged. "He doesn't really have to stay with me as long as somepony else is around, like Princess Celestia."

"So what's he up to right now, then?" asked Lance.

The amber mare breathed an internal sigh, looking a little remorseful. "He's probably waiting in my room for me to get back. I think he's just been..."

Her quiet tone and apologetic expression didn't go unnoticed by the three stallions.

"He's been a little worried about me since yesterday."

Starswirl nodded, stroking his beard. "That's understandable. We were all quite concerned, I'm sure."

"I suppose he's just afraid that it may happen again as long as your magic is still somewhat unstable," Quill surmised.

"I've been trying to tell him that everything's fine, but..." Sunset trailed off, finding it difficult to fight the guilt pervading her mind.

Lance scratched his ear with a sigh. "Hal's always been a bit of a worrywart, so I'm not surprised to see him get hung up on something like this. Especially considering it's you."

"I know..." Sunset sighed, hanging her head. "After I get cleaned up and get something to eat, I'll probably just spend the rest of the day with him. I know Princess Celestia wanted me to train with her all day, but I think Hal needs me by his side right now. Admittedly, I think I need him, too." She felt a firm slap on her back, jostling her from her state of shame and remorse.

Lance was passing her a reassuring grin. "Then you better get going. Don't you leave my little brother hanging."

Sunset managed a weak smile of her own before following his suggestion and hurrying off to go take a shower.

Starswirl watched until she disappeared around the corner of the castle, a touch of concern behind his beard. "I hope everything is alright with those two."

Quill raised an eyebrow. "Why? You think their relationship might be getting rocky?"

"You've noticed it, too, Starswirl?" Lance inferred.

The bearded unicorn nodded, giving his facial hair a thoughtful stroke. "The late nights, the stress, the unnecessary risks like wandering into the Everfree Forest... They're certainly taking an unorthodox approach to their relationship."

"Maybe we're reading too much into it. Sunset's always been a pretty weird kid," Lance chuckled. His mirth died down quickly. "Though Hal could stand to say no to her once in awhile."

"Hopefully, whatever it is they're going through—if there is indeed anything—they can resolve before either of them gets hurt," Starswirl said quietly.

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

Cleaned up and with a full stomach from her afternoon meal with the princess, Sunset Shimmer had returned to her tower. She climbed the stairs quietly, as though she were trying to avoid being caught doing something wrong. She poked her head up to peer discreetly into her room. She figured Halberd would be waiting there for her, as it was his designated post for the time being, but he wasn't anywhere in the living room. Only his armor lay on the couch.

However, she felt a slight breeze blowing in from the open balcony doors. Finally entering the room proper, Sunset found Halberd leaning on the railing of the balcony, staring off into the distance. She had a feeling she knew exactly what it was he was looking at.

"Hey, Hal," Sunset spoke up, though her voice was quiet.

He didn't turn to look at her, only giving a halfhearted, "Hey," himself.

Sunset's ears folded back at the lack of any positivity in his voice. She walked out alongside him, sidling up against him in an effort to hopefully lift his mood. "You look kinda down. Wanna talk?"

"I've already said my piece."

Sunset's guilt was growing by the second, and every disheartened word from Halberd's mouth was like another needle digging into her skin. She followed his gaze out toward the horizon. As she figured, he seemed to be staring straight at the Castle of the Two Sisters. Sunset turned away, feeling ashamed of herself. "You're mad at me, aren't you?"

"I get why you thought you couldn't tell me, and you're right; I would've been entirely against this and told Princess Celestia about your sun."

"I mean, it's not like she could really do anything about it even if you did, so what would be the point?"

Halberd finally looked her in the eye, but the stern glare he gave her was unnerving. "The point is she could have helped you learn how to properly take care of it. Obviously she knows the huge risk involved with making a sun, so she'd want to do everything in her power to make sure yours was stable and healthy. Being worried that she'll be mad at you for a little while is not a good enough excuse to put your life at risk like this."

"But you already saw for yourself that there's nothing to be worried about. The solar flare passed, the sun's stable again, everything's fine."

It didn't go unnoticed by Halberd when Sunset's horn sparked slightly at that moment, causing the mare to wince. "If 'everything's fine,' then tell her."

Sunset shrunk back, biting her lip. "I-I can't yet..."

Halberd narrowed his eyes at her.

"Once I get my magic under—"

"Why are you more concerned about disappointing her than you are about your own safety? If you told her, yes, she would be mad—how could she not be? But don't you think she'd be even more willing to help you if she knew about it? What kind of teacher would she be if she just up and abandoned you when you needed her the most? I'm sure the last thing she wants right now is to be another Scarlet Nettle."

Sunset lowered her head as she leaned on the railing, her lip trembling.

Halberd stared at her from the corner of his eye. He may have hit the heart of the issue. It had become increasingly clear over the past couple of months that Sunset had some "mommy issues." And even beyond just recently, Sunset had always sought Princess Celestia's praise and approval. Just like how everything the princess did, she did for Sunset, the reverse was also true. Nothing scared Sunset more than disappointing or upsetting the princess, not even the prospect of death.

"I just want one week..." she sighed weakly. "I promise it's the last extension I'll ask for."

Almost every instinct in Halberd's mind and body told him that he shouldn't listen to her, that he should just head to the throne room right now and tell Celestia, regardless of what she wanted. It would be for her own good, and, quite frankly, a good chewing out from the princess might be just what she needs to straighten up and get her act together.

The problem was, there was one part of Halberd's mind that wouldn't let him do that. It was a part of him that's dictated a lot of who he was and the things he did, and it overpowered what the rest of his brain was telling him. In that way, he could empathize with Sunset, and it may have been the only reason he was still going along with this. Every time he wanted to tell Princess Celestia about all this, he would look Sunset in the eyes and be reminded of why he was standing beside her at all.

Besides, it was just a week. Surely he could put his protestations aside for one week.

Sunset felt the soft feathers of Halberd's wing wrap around her midsection, pulling her against him gently. She finally managed a small smile, nuzzling her cheek against his. She was honestly just happy that she hadn't inadvertently pushed him away with all this; the guilt was starting to get a little unbearable. It might have been high time to show her appreciation for his loyalty.

"Want to hit the town for awhile?" she asked softly.

Halberd raised an eyebrow. "You're still in the mood for a date after this?"

Sunset rubbed her nose against his. "I just think we need something to take our minds off of it, that's all. And I wanna thank you for sticking by me through all this."

Halberd finally managed a smile of his own. "You know what? I could probably use a distraction. Sure, let's go."

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

The city of Canterlot was just as bustling as usual. Classes were over for the day, so schoolchildren were out and about, playing and roughhousing. Adults were out doing some shopping, or heading home after a day of work to prepare supper. Some young couples were taking advantage of the picturesque day by going for a stroll down the city's streets.

It was funny to think that none of them were even aware that it was not Princess Celestia that had raised the sun that morning. In fact, the one actually responsible for the sunlight they all enjoyed today was walking among them, and they were none the wiser.

Sunset Shimmer took an odd sense of satisfaction from knowing that she was the one to provide light to the world this morning. This must have been how Princess Celestia felt everyday, yet Sunset sought no praise for her accomplishment; just the happy smiles on everypony's faces was enough for her. But she was realizing just how close she had gotten to emulating her idol, and that notion put a smile on her own face.

And it wasn't as though her date hadn't noticed that. As the two of them sat at an outdoor table of one of their favorite restaurants, Halberd caught sight of the way Sunset was cheerily looking at the passersby, the look in her eyes reminiscent of the way Princess Celestia herself looked at her subjects. Honestly, for as much as he'd been guilt-tripping Sunset lately, he was starting to feel a little guilty himself.

"Hey, Sunset?"

His date looked across at him finally, chomping into a crispy fry. "What's up?"

Halberd gazed at her remorsefully, his silver ears folding back. "I wanna apologize."

"For what?"

"For getting mad at you. I've just been a big pessimist this whole time, worrying about what could happen instead of trying to be supportive."

Sunset gave him a soft smile. "Hal, come on, I get it. You don't have to beat yourself up about it. I know I kinda deserve to be chastised for my recklessness, and I'm glad I have you here to give me the kick in the flank I need. Believe me, I feel bad for having to put you through all this. I should've been up front about it from the start. I'm sorry, Hal."

Despite the fact that both of them were feeling a little crestfallen, Halberd managed a small grin. "I guess the horseshoe's on the other hoof now, huh?"

Sunset tilted her head in confusion. "What?"

Halberd gestured to the restaurant at which they were dining. "It's kinda like our first date. We were eating at this place and I was being down on myself for not telling you how I felt about you, while you were feeling bad about not knowing about it. Except now, the roles are reversed. I shouldn't make the same mistake you did and think about what should've been different. I should be more supportive. I've never seen Princess Celestia so proud of you before, but I was so fixated on the worst case scenario that I haven't even properly congratulated you." He grinned proudly at her. "You accomplished your dream, Sunset, and I'm happy for you."

Sunset felt her heart fluttering in her chest, her face growing hot. She couldn't help but smile fondly across at him. "You're amazing, you know that, Hal?"

Now, it was Halberd's turn to be confused. "Huh?"

"It always seems like you know exactly what to say to cheer me up, even when, by all rights, you're the one who should need to be cheered up after having to put up with me and my stubbornness. That role hasn't been reversed at all. You've been so patient with me, and all I've done is introduce more and more stress into your life." Sunset broke eye contact, looking away in shame and self-loathing. "I don't deserve somepony like you... You've invested so much time in chasing after me and I've done nothing to make it worth the effort for you."

Halberd leaned forward, placing his hoof on hers tenderly. "Don't think like that. Any stress I've had to deal with is self-inflicted. I didn't have to focus on what could happen; I just can't help it, it's the way I am. I should've had more faith in you—for both our sake." He grinned reassuringly, his face now matching his words. "And besides, like you said: everything's fine now, right? You just need a week to get things under control and we can finally have some proper peace of mind."

Sunset's heart never stopped beating frantically. Every word he said to her only made her feel more and more lucky to have a friend and special somepony like him. And the stronger that feeling got, the more she realized that she couldn't keep hurting him. She smiled at him, both affectionately and apologetically. "You know what? Forget that."

Halberd blinked, puzzled.

"I'll tell her when we get back. Let's face it, I'm only putting it off because of my own insecurity. I may as well rip the bandage off and get it over with."

Halberd let out a long sigh, leaning back as he let his body relax. "You have no idea how relieved I am to hear you say that. I know I said that I should have more faith in you, but I doubt I'd have been able to put this out of my mind completely for the whole week."

"Yeah, sorry about that," Sunset apologized with a quiet chuckle. "I've been pretty unfair to you this whole time. For as important as your voice has been for me, I've been ignoring it when I really need to listen. It's about time I remedy that."

Halberd smiled rather lackadaisically, giving an unexpectedly dismissive flick of his hoof. "Well, if that's the case, then no sense rushing things. We can probably enjoy the rest of our date."

Sunset managed a more chipper grin. While she wasn't looking forward to Princess Celestia's reaction, she had to admit that Halberd was right: the princess knowing about the second sun would only help speed things along. But seeing how happy and relieved Halberd was took some of the pressure off. Somehow, the idea of him being satisfied with her decision overpowered her worry about what Celestia was going to say to her about it. With that in mind, Sunset was intent on having some dessert.

With their minds and worries put at ease, Sunset and Halberd were able to properly enjoy the rest of their date. With the way things had now mellowed out, it was starting to feel more like when they first started dating, after the first date jitters had blown over. They spent the rest of the evening walking aimlessly through Canterlot, side by side and not afraid to show one another some sickeningly sweet affection despite the awkward or mocking looks the other citizens were giving them.

The young couple made a couple of additional stops during their date. Sunset was insistent that they stop by a local bookstore, hoping to find something to contribute to the growing catalog in the royal archives, but also as an attempt to soften the blow when she ultimately revealed the news to Celestia. Halberd wasn't much of a reader, but he'd enjoyed simply sitting by Sunset's side and fondly observing her as she read a book, watching as her expression would shift ever-so-slightly to match the tone of the scene she was on currently.

After purchasing a book she thought the princess might like and teleporting it back to her room, they moved on. Sunset happened to catch sight of an ice cream stand and demanded that they get a cone, despite having had a filling supper, plus dessert, but sometimes it seemed like Sunset's appetite was never truly satisfied. Halberd had simply asked for a single scoop of vanilla on a waffle cone, whereas Sunset opted for something more flavorful: a small, plastic cup of cookie dough ice cream with chunks of white chocolate.

With cold ice cream to snack on on a warm summer day, Sunset and Halberd found a bench to sit on, overlooking Canterlot Valley. Perhaps it was an unconscious decision, but it was the same bench they'd sat on during their first date; it was as though fate were guiding them.

Sunset scooped a spoonful of ice cream into her mouth, crunching into a piece of chilled chocolate before letting it melt on her tongue. Halberd just absentmindedly licked his own ice cream as he gazed out into the distance. He wasn't sure if less than two months could constitute something feeling nostalgic, but he couldn't help but reminisce about their first date. Halberd had poured his heart out to Sunset that night under the glow of the moon, but both of them had been feeling down on themselves for their own reasons. Today, as the sun gradually began to set, he almost felt as though he needed to recreate the emotions of that night, if only for the sake of the sentiment.

Halberd chanced a glance at Sunset, who was still munching away on chucks of chocolate, her amber lips smeared with melting ice cream. He wore a soft smile as she happily licked her chops like an overzealous puppy. There were times when her child-like innocence had caused him grief, as it resulted in her being oblivious to his feelings for a long time, but now that they were together, it was just cute. As long as she was smiling, so was he. And he honestly didn't want to forcibly shift the lighthearted vibe that had developed towards something more romantic; that wasn't exactly what this date was about. He was fine with just enjoying a casual evening out with his girlfriend.

Still, though, that didn't mean he didn't want to just sit and chat about whatever came to mind.

"So, how exactly do you feel about this?"

Sunset wiped the ice cream from her muzzle, tilting her head in confusion. "About what?"

Halberd gestured toward the setting sun. "That." He glanced over his shoulder, making sure nopony else was within earshot. "You were the one who raised it this morning. This was your first day properly raising the sun. What's going through your head right now?"

Sunset giggled quietly with a bashful blush. "Honestly, I think I'm still a little in shock, like it hasn't quite sunken in yet."

"I can see that. It must be a pretty surreal experience to accomplish something everypony thought only the princesses could do."

"Well, it's not like I never thought I would—I've been telling Princess Celestia I'd do it since I was a kid. It's just... I dunno, maybe there's always been a part of me that doubted it. Or maybe, now that I've done it, I don't really have any goals to chase after anymore."

"You still want to help people, right? You said you wanted to be a hero like the princess."

Sunset smiled softly as she stared out into the distance. "Yeah, of course. But it's not really about having the power to do that right now. I have more than enough power to take on pretty much any challenge." She twitched, her horn crackling again for a moment. "There's still that, too, but that'll probably stop with a little more training. It's more so about my mindset now. I kind of have a history of acting without thinking..." she muttered ashamedly.

"But once you've got a handle on that, you'll really start making a name for yourself."

Sunset stared at Halberd. The confidence in his eyes was comforting and reassuring, eliciting a cute, modest grin from her. "You think I'll be able to do that so easily?"

Halberd grabbed her hoof with enthusiastic vigor. "Of course I do. You always have so much confidence in the things you set your mind to, and look at what you've accomplished because of it." He pointed toward the sun again. "You did that this morning. And not only did you do that, but you made one of those. How many people can claim that?"

Sunset couldn't keep the goofy smile off her face. Even if he didn't mean to, Halberd had a tendency to say things in the heat of the moment that just made her heart flutter.

"And, sure, Princess Celestia is gonna be upset when she finds out, but how impressed do you think she'll be regardless?"

"I hope she's as supportive as you've been," Sunset cooed as she leaned into him.

"And, who knows? Maybe you'll be a princess yourself one day."

Sunset felt her chest tighten all of a sudden, a touch of anxiety hitting her. "I-I don't know if I'm ready for that kind of spotlight. I just wanna follow in Princess Celestia's hoofsteps, not take over for her."

"But having two ponies for raising the sun and moon seems like it'd be better, right? Isn't that something you wanted, too? To take some of the responsibility off of the princess's shoulders?"

"Yeah, but it's not like I need a crown to do that. She might be my teacher, but I don't really know much about politics and foreign relations and junk like that. I don't think I could run a kingdom, even splitting it with Princess Celestia."

"Just something else for her to teach you once you have the time."

Sunset stared into Halberd's hazel eyes. She didn't say anything in response to his assuring words, but he had managed to inspire some confidence in herself. She really didn't have much interest in actually being royalty; it was pretty much just the act of raising the sun and helping people in need that she had been aiming for when she resolved to emulate Celestia. Still, Halberd's words were not falling on deaf ears. Even if she didn't necessarily intend to prove to him whether or not she could be a good leader, Sunset appreciated his support and confidence regardless.

Without another word, she tenderly turned his face toward hers, planting a soft kiss on his lips, which he happily leaned into.

They sat there in comfortable silence for a few more minutes, Sunset nestling her head into the crook of Halberd's neck and he enjoying the touch of her silky-smooth mane against his face. The soft amber of the sunset sky gradually shifted to a dusky violet as the sun began to disappear beyond the horizon, finally ending the first day Sunset had ushered in. But as the moon began to come out to take the sun's place, they were reminded that they had something they needed to do.

"Hey, we should probably head back before Princess Celestia hits the sack for the night," Sunset suggested quietly.

Halberd smiled proudly, simply happy that she'd finally decided to see things his way and tell the princess about her sun. "Sure."

The couple rose from the bench to make their way back to the castle, continuing to eat their ice creams along the way as they were starting to melt.

As they walked along the city streets toward the castle, Halberd chanced a glance at Sunset. She held a spoonful of half-melted ice cream in front of her face, but wasn't eating it. She appeared to be lost in thought. Halberd grinned knowingly. "Feeling a little nervous about this?"

Sunset looked up, shaken from her thoughts by his voice. "Hm? Oh, no. Well, I mean, kinda, but that's not what I'm thinking about right now."

Halberd tilted his head curiously. "Then what's on your mind? It's gotta be serious if it's enough to distract you from an inevitable scolding from the princess."

"It's just... We were talking about how I want to help people, but I have no interest in being royalty. But... it's gonna be hard to do that from here, right?"

Halberd's eyes widened slightly as he caught on to what she was getting at. However, he stayed silent; it seemed like her thought wasn't finished yet.

"Princess Celestia and Princess Luna did a lot of good for Equestria long before they became princesses. They hadn't established a kingdom yet, so people couldn't actually seek their help. They'd've had to go out and look for people who needed their help."

"Sunset... are you saying you want to leave Canterlot?"

"It's not that I want to, but if I want to follow the same path that Princess Celestia did, I may have to."

Halberd could see the conflicted look on her face. Canterlot was her home. In her eighteen years of existence, she'd never left Equestria's capitol, the farthest she'd gone being the pastures and forest leading to the Castle of the Two Sisters. But she clearly had a strong resolve to help people in need, and the number of people she could help would be limited if she were to stay in Canterlot.

And it wasn't like he didn't have feelings of his own about the idea.

"If that's what you think you need to do, then... maybe you should."

Sunset stared at him somewhat incredulously. "You'd be okay with that?"

He simply smiled at her, though it was a tad forced. "If it meant achieving the goals you set for yourself, yeah."

Sunset's cheeks flushed red in response to the supportive smile her boyfriend was giving her, but she wasn't entirely sure how to feel about it. She could tell he was conflicted, but was putting on a brave face for her sake. He'd put so much time and emotion toward winning her over, so the idea that she might leave must have been tough for him. Yet he was encouraging her regardless.

"I... No, I don't think I could do that..."

Halberd gazed at her with concern. "What? Why? You'd really be willing to just abandon your goal because you're afraid of leaving Canterlot?"

"I'm not afraid of leaving Canterlot..." She stared into his hazel eyes, the pain in her own evident. "I'm afraid of leaving you."

Halberd only continued to stare, his heart rate climbing, but also suddenly feeling guilty. "Me?"

"Yeah, I mean..." Sunset took a long breath as she tried to find the words. "It wouldn't be fair to you. I feel like I still owe you more to make up for all the lost time and everything you've done for me. I wouldn't feel right just leaving to do my own thing, you know?"

While Halberd certainly understood why she would feel that way, he also didn't like the implication that he was holding her back. It wasn't as though he was upset with her—he strongly believed that she hadn't realized that herself—but it didn't make it any less painful for him to know that. But he also didn't want to make this a sticking point in the conversation. He didn't want his own guilt to end up guilting her into doing something she wasn't comfortable with.

Which meant there was only one course of action that could make both of them happy.

Halberd stopped walking, prompting Sunset to do the same. The outer gate of Canterlot Castle was just ahead, but their impending conversation with Princess Celestia couldn't be further from their minds right now.

Halberd had a resolute and determined look in his eyes, standing firmly and loyally. "Then I'll just go with you."

Once again, Sunset could only stare in disbelief, her face growing hot. "What?"

Halberd smiled confidently. "If I'm really the only thing keeping you here, then if I go, too, you'll have no regrets, right?"

"Hal... You don't have to say that just to make me feel better."

"I'm not, I'm being serious. I would consider it my duty as not just a royal guard, but as your special somepony to see that no harm comes to you."

"You'd really be willing to leave your life here behind... just for me?" Sunset asked, the pitter-patter in her chest audible in her ears.

He simply smirked. "You seemed like you were ready to do the same if it weren't for me."

Sunset took a moment to let the notion simmer. "Wow... So, you and me travelling the countryside helping people, huh?"

"Just like the princesses did."

Sunset managed a smile, the idea now suddenly exciting her. "Then, maybe... we'll do it. Yeah. I don't know if I'd really enjoy it if I were by myself, but having somepony who's kindhearted, supportive, and can keep me in line might make it... kinda fun."

Halberd smiled widely. As scary as the idea of just leaving his life in Canterlot behind was, he was still pretty enthusiastic about it, mostly because he'd have Sunset by his side. "So, when do we start making plans?"

Sunset had to force back her laughter. "What, are you crazy? You think we're just gonna run off now? There's still a lot of stuff I need to take care of here before we do something as drastic as that. Giving Princess Celestia time to digest the news and—" She winced as her horn crackled once more, a little more painfully this time. Still, she smiled through it. "And getting my magic fully under control and honing it to a point where I can really make use of its full potential. I don't want to leave Canterlot without knowing if I have the power to do everything I can to help people. So that's probably a few years off yet."

Halberd blushed with an embarrassed chuckle. "Right, right. Guess I'm getting a little ahead of myself."

"But I do want to ask one more time," Sunset said with quiet compassion. "Are you sure that's something you want to do? It's a big sacrifice. You'd be leaving everything you love behind, and there would be no guarantee of our safety."

Her words did nothing to affect his resolve, his smile persisting adamantly. "I'm sure. As long as I'm with you, I know it'll be worth it, because I would—quite literally in this case—go to the ends of Equestria for you. Because..." The words left his lips before he had even had a chance to think about saying them. "Because I love you."

Sunset felt her heart swell, staring into his eyes with joy. She always knew how strongly he felt about her. He didn't really need to say it out loud for her to understand that. Still, hearing it sent a tingle through her body, and her cheeks dimpled with an unrestrained smile. Sunset had wanted to make up for all the torment Halberd had had to put up with, and hearing him say those words gave her the perfect place to start.

Sunset stared at him with a grateful and caring smile. She knew he was waiting for her to reciprocate—he'd been waiting for years—so she wasn't going to keep him waiting any longer.

"Hal... I lo—"

Sunset winced, her ice cream dropping to the ground. A sudden, intense pain that was far worse than the frequent twitches she'd had throughout the day shot through her horn and quickly spread throughout her body. A loud pop of magic burst forth involuntarily, her fiery aura flaring up in an instant and causing Halberd to take a step back from her in surprise. Sunset yelped in pain and collapsed to the ground, holding her head in her hooves. Her strained grunts through clenched teeth did little to help her endure the immense agony she was in. It felt as though an unseen force was trying to snap off her horn.

Halberd was in shock, unable to properly assess what was happening. "Sunset?! Are you okay?!" He went to lean down to help her up, dropping his own ice cream, but her horn sparked again, inadvertently loosing a blast of magic that struck him in the chest and knocked him backward. "Agh!" He held a hoof to his chest, a dark burn left in his singed fur, but whatever pain he was in as a result was nothing compared to what Sunset must have been going through.

Sunset was writhing on the ground, her aura pulsing and flashing like an erratic heartbeat. Any words she tried to form in order to talk to Halberd were only forced back down her throat and replaced by agonized grunts and groans. And the pain was only building. Soon her grunts transitioned to barely restrained screams. This pain eclipsed anything she'd ever felt before.

And her aura continued to grow outward like a raging fire, the heat quickly becoming so intense that their dropped ice creams began to not only melt, but evaporate, and a few blades of green grass sprouting from the dirt path where Sunset lay had ignited and burned.

Halberd got back to his hooves, but was kept from getting any closer to Sunset by the magical flames lashing from her horn. "Sunset! Talk to me! What's happening?!" He could barely hear himself over the loud humming and crackling of Sunset's magic.

Yet from her prone position on the ground, Sunset's teal eyes managed to look up toward him, full of panic and pain, her pupils so small they were barely visible. She wanted to say something to him, to assure him that she heard him. She wanted to ask him for help; she wanted to simply say his name; she even wanted to finish saying what she was saying. But she couldn't. Her entire body felt like it was on fire, which, at this point, may have been true. She could barely see Halberd through the fire of her aura, the heatwaves it produced, and the tears in her eyes brought on by the pain.

Why was this happening? Why had her magic suddenly gone out of control? She had had little issue keeping it in check all day. And there was a solar flare just yesterday. There couldn't possibly be another one, and even if there was, this was leagues more painful than a solar flare.

Sunset's mind was suddenly filled with dread. A notion occurred to her, one that instilled untold fear in her heart. She wanted to say something to Halberd, but, once again, found herself unable to form words. But she had to do something. She just had to hope that he could get the hint.

Halberd watched in stunned silence as Sunset stared up at him pleadingly. The desperation in her eyes made it evident that she wanted to tell him something, and he had a feeling he knew what it was, but he was afraid to leave her side.

Sunset saw Halberd glancing back and forth between her and the castle frantically. He had picked up on what she was trying to tell him. But she couldn't just lay there and wait for him. She needed to try and do something about this now. She only wished she could speak to Halberd one more time, but if her hunch was correct and her fears were realized, then she couldn't waste another second.

With how wildly her magic was running out of control, it took all of half a second for Sunset to cast the teleportation spell. The unrestrained power behind the casting created a forceful shock wave, pushing Halberd back and sending a wave of heat over the area. Halberd staggered back to his hooves, looking back to where Sunset had been. However, all that was left was a burn mark in the dirt with a plume of smoke rising from it, and a few charred blades of grass.

"Sunset!"

Halberd knew where she must have gone, but as worried as he was about her, he knew he had something more important he needed to do. Sunset had told him with her eyes what it was, and he wasted no more time taking flight toward Canterlot Castle.

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

Princess Celestia sat on her throne with a satisfied smile. She had just come back from setting the sun, and it wasn't often that she returned to the throne room after the night had been ushered in. Typically, the darkened sky was the indication that her duties were done for the day and she would see to no other business until the next morning. However, she wasn't quite ready to turn in for the night.

Even hours later, after getting her energy back and taking a relaxing shower, Celestia was still riding a slight adrenaline high from her sparring session with Sunset earlier that day. It had been decades since she had expended so much magic. Even their battle with Discord wasn't quite so intensive as she and Luna had both known that he could easily nullify anything they threw at him save for the Elements of Harmony. It may have actually been their war against King Sombra that she'd last fought so hard. And she had even underestimated Sunset's power somewhat. Celestia was beginning to wonder if perhaps she was losing her edge, but that just made her all the more excited to continue these sessions with her student; it could benefit both of them if she had somepony even close to her level to train with.

And that was perhaps what surprised her the most. Sunset's power, for just a unicorn, was astounding. She had gotten a glimpse of it back when her student was just a filly, but now that she could actually apply that power, Celestia was beginning to understand just how powerful she was. She had always known that Sunset had the capability to do great things, and now she was even more sure of that. Now it was just a matter of preparing her for that.

Celestia's heart swelled with pride just thinking about it. Today was the first day in centuries that she had not raised the sun herself. Sunset had claimed not long ago that she wished to be her successor, and while Celestia felt there were other things that Sunset could do with her power besides raising the sun, she couldn't help but smile at the idea. She had watched Sunset grow from a precocious little filly to a strong and confident young mare. Celestia knew now that Starswirl was right all along: Sunset saw her as more than just a teacher, and Sunset was more to her than just a student.

The princess had no idea how she was going to get to sleep tonight. She was simply too wound up by all the excitement of what Sunset had accomplished and thinking about the time they would be spending together to help her hone her newfound power. Celestia knew her sudden and drastic change to her schedule was putting Quill on edge, though, but he was just going to have to suck it up. She strongly believed that any repercussions that came as a result would be worth it once Sunset had her power fully under control and could do so much good with it.

"Princess!"

Celestia was jarred from her thoughts by Halberd's voice as he burst through the throne room's doors. He quickly flew over to the throne, landing hastily and clumsily. The princess, taking note of the distress in his voice, expression, and body language, stood from her throne. She also noticed the burn mark on Halberd's chest, and hurried down the ramp to meet him. "Halberd, are you alright?! What happened?!"

He stared up at her. Celestia was taken aback by the sheer panic in his narrowed pupils; he looked to be on the verge of tears.

"It's Sunset! You have to help her!"

Dread overcame the princess, her heart rate rising. "What?! Wh-What happened to her?! Is she okay?!"

"There's no time to explain! You have to get to the old castle! Now!"

For a moment, Celestia thought to ask what Sunset was doing at the Castle of the Two Sisters, thinking perhaps that she had been once again beset upon by a cockatrice. But the panic in Halberd's eyes and words seemed to suggest that this was something far more serious, and given what Sunset was going through right now, that frightened her.

Celestia said nothing else to Halberd, now far too concerned about Sunset to focus. She set her horn aglow, vanishing in a flash of golden light.

The princess reappeared in front of the old castle. There was a brief moment of hesitation as she hadn't been back here since the move, but there was no time to reminisce. Sunset may have been in danger, so she had to hurry. Celestia galloped up the short steps and flung the front doors open. She was immediately forced to take a step back when she was struck by an intense wave of heat and a blinding light. Celestia shielded her eyes from the two-pronged assault until her eyes were able to adjust to the bright light.

And when they did, Celestia nearly collapsed from the shock of what she was looking at.

Floating in the middle of the entrance hall was an enormous ball of fire the size of a two-story house. But what was even more concerning than its size or even its mere existence were the flames spurting forth from its surface like miniature volcanoes. The sheer heat it produced had ignited the banners hanging from the walls, and many black scorch marks stained the brick surfaces of the chamber.

But while it had already caused some damage, the flames being jettisoned from the orb were currently being contained by a magical, red barrier encompassing the entire thing, the fire lashing at the inside of the shield as though it were a captured creature trying to escape its prison.

And standing in the middle of the room, her horn glowing with a fiery intensity almost as fierce as the burning sphere, was Sunset Shimmer.

"Sunset?!" Celestia called out in shock and worry. "What's going on?! Where did—"

Sunset glanced over her shoulder at the princess. Celestia felt like her heart was going to stop. The pain in Sunset's face was evident, both the physical and emotional. The teal of her irises and the black of her pupils weren't visible, her eyes glowing a bright white. This all felt too familiar, but at the same time, even more frightening. Sunset was clearly crying, but her tears didn't even have a chance to run down her cheeks before the heat evaporated them, causing thin trails of steam to rise from the corners of her glowing eyes.

"I'm sorry..." whimpered Sunset, her voice barely audible over the hissing of fire and loud hum of magic pervading the room. "I... I should've told you sooner. I-I thought I had it under control. I don't know what to do."

Celestia could only stare in disbelief, unsure how to respond.

It was all starting to make sense now. All the questions she'd been asking about the sun; the late nights; why she'd gone to the Everfree Forest with Halberd; her power spike yesterday. It was all because of this. She'd created her own sun. Celestia didn't know how she'd managed to accomplish this on her own, nor did she know how to feel about it. A torrent of emotions crashed through her mind like the waves on the rocks in a raging storm. Perhaps if the circumstances were different, she'd feel proud of her student for achieving such a feat, or perhaps she'd be furious that she'd do so without telling her. But given the current situation and the implications of the sun's behavior, fear was what gripped Celestia.

"Sunset... Why?" Celestia breathed, unable to raise her voice higher in her shock.

"Because I wanted to prove to you that I was responsible enough to handle it..." Sunset sobbed. "But I realized later that it was the most irresponsible thing I could have done. Things just started going so well recently. I've never been so happy as I was these past few weeks. I just wanted to learn to control it and my power before I told you so we didn't have to ruin all of that. I wanted to make sure my life was in order before dropping something like this on you. I..." She clenched her teeth, the irony hitting her like a ton of bricks. "I was just on my way to tell you before this happened."

Again, Celestia could only stand there and attempt to process all of this. She'd never witnessed something like this before. This was more than just a run-of-the-mill solar flare. The sun's magic was running rampant, growing far too quickly for it to properly endure the excessive growth spurts. If this kept up, the sun would collapse under the strength of its own power, and if that happened...

But what made this all the more unbelievable was the fact that Sunset was managing to contain it. Celestia's own horn felt like it was going to crack under the pressure of its unrestrained magic just by being near it. Yet Sunset had the whole thing encased in a magic barrier. How she was able to apply her magic to the sun when it was out of control like this was unfathomable to the princess. A normal solar flare was enough to incapacitate even Celestia, but Sunset was clearly putting her all into her barrier and still standing. However, even still, Sunset was clearly in intense pain, and the fact that she was still conscious was likely a result of her sheer desperation and will power. But there was only so much she'd be able to endure before she wouldn't be able to take anymore.

"Wh-What do I do?" Sunset stammered in panic. "I-I don't know how to stop it."

Celestia said nothing. She didn't know what to say. She had no idea if there even was a way to stop this; she'd never had to deal with something like this before. She was certain even her own mother before her wouldn't have known what to do in this situation.

But that didn't mean she wasn't going to try.

Celestia's eyes filled with desperate determination. She set her own horn alight, joining it with Sunset's in an effort to strengthen the barrier. The moment she did so, an excruciating pain surged through her body like hundreds of thousands of volts of electricity. It had been centuries—perhaps millennia—since she'd felt that sort of pain. Celestia let out an agonized shriek as the pain tore through her.

"Princess!" Sunset bellowed in fright to see her teacher double over in pain.

Despite how unbearable it felt, Celestia managed to keep her footing, trembling and barely able to keep an eye open. She pushed through the pain and kept her magic focused on the unstable sun. She wasn't even sure if what she was doing was helping, or just delaying the inevitable, but she wouldn't be able to forgive herself if she just stood by and did nothing.

Sunset stared at Celestia in awe and remorse. It was her fault that her teacher was having to go through this pain. Celestia didn't deserve this. She didn't deserve to have this piled onto all of the turmoil she'd had to endure in these last couple of months. She didn't deserve having to clean up after Sunset's messes. She didn't deserve to have such an irresponsible mare as her student. Celestia was right all along.

She wasn't ready.

"I'm so sorry..."

Celestia managed to take her eyes off of the sun to look at Sunset. The physical pain on the amber unicorn's face was overpowered by the emotional distress of watching her teacher futilely torturing herself. Only sadness and regret were visible in Sunset's featureless eyes.

"I... I should've listened... Frustration and disappointment could only lead to pain. I wasn't thinking. I was so tunnel-visioned on proving myself to you that I didn't even consider the consequences. And then I stupidly tried to conceal it because I was afraid you'd be mad at me. You deserve better than me. Hopefully..." Sunset's voice caught in her throat, the reality of what was going to happen suddenly setting in, and she was strangely accepting of it. "Hopefully, at some point in the future, you'll find another student more responsible than me to teach."

Celestia's panic heightened when she witnessed whatever resolve Sunset had left suddenly drop away. She wanted to say something to reassure her, to keep her hopes up and not give up. But the pain wracking her body prevented her from saying anything.

But despite the fear, despite the regret, despite the sadness, somehow, Sunset managed to smile.

"I owe you so much, and I accomplished so much more in my life than I—or anypony—could have hoped for. I just wish I hadn't squandered it like this. I wish I could have been the mare you wanted me to be, and I wish I could have shown you the proper appreciation for everything you've done for me. I—"

The sun suddenly flashed, expanding further in an instant and the flames becoming more violent. Both Sunset and Celestia staggered from the sharp pain that hit them in that instant, but they both stood strong.

Sunset looked back at Celestia again, the steam of her evaporating tears growing thicker as she worked up the wherewithal to finish her thought. "I love you. A-and tell Hal and my dad... that I'm sorry and I love them, too. And... say hi to Princess Luna for me when you see her again."

"S-Sun... -set..." was all Celestia could manage, tears streaming down her cheeks.

But she didn't even get a chance to say anything else before the sun flared again. The sheer force of the increase in power felt like a shock wave hitting Celestia, knocking her backward, out the doors and into the dirt outside the castle. The princess attempted to stand, but could barely lift her head off the ground. The pain was too much. Her magic fizzled out, her vision blurred, and her ears rang.

The last thing she heard before she completely lost consciousness was the sound of Sunset's blood-curdling scream.

----- ----- -----

The book struck the far wall forcefully and fell to the floor. Loose, tattered pages flew free and fluttered down to litter the ground around the tome.

Twilight Sparkle lay on her bed, her muscles tense, her chest heaving, and a cold sweat running down her face. She had tossed the book away as a knee-jerk reaction to what she'd just read.

She could hear Sunset Shimmer's bone-chilling scream in her mind, as though she'd been right there. It rang in her ears, haunting her. She couldn't bring herself to move from her bed. She felt like she'd just shot up from a lucid nightmare and was struck by sleep paralysis, unable to determine if the scream ingrained in her subconscious had actually been Sunset's or her own. Twilight could only stare at the ragged book as it lay unceremoniously on the floor.

Twilight remained still for several minutes before her senses had reconstituted enough for her to make a decision. She rose slowly from her bed, taking a few cautious steps toward the discarded tome. As horrified as she was, her own morbid curiosity kept her going.

This was it. This was finally it. This had to be the reason why Princess Celestia didn't want her to read the book. But even if that was the case, Twilight knew she couldn't stop now. She couldn't start something and not finish it. She needed to know what happened next. There were still pages left to read, and she needed to know how the story ended, regardless of how terrified she was.

Twilight took a deep breath, holding onto the hope that something had happened after that that would subvert her fears. She picked up the book once more, a touch of guilt in the back of her mind that she had inadvertently damaged it. She pensively flipped back to the page she had been on, bracing herself for what may come, and turned the page. Her apprehensiveness was quickly replaced by confusion.

The page was blank.

Twilight cocked a vexed eyebrow. There was nothing on the page, or the next page. Or the next. Or the next. The rest of the book was nothing but empty pages.

"No... That can't be how it ends..."

Twilight turned her attention to the pages scattered on the floor, picking them up and rifling through them in the hopes that they contained the missing epilogue she was looking for. Unfortunately, they were all scenes she'd already read.

She fell back onto her haunches. She couldn't believe this. The story just ended there. This was wrong, and it didn't sit right with her. This book was a retelling of true events, so there had to be more. Even the presence of all the blank pages suggested that there should have been more. There was no way Twilight was going to be able to focus on anything with this eating at her brain. She needed to know what happened to Sunset, even if the answer was not the one she wanted.

Twilight gulped nervously. The book had no more answers for her. And that meant that there was only one place she could go to find out what happened. She glanced toward her bedroom window. The sun was rising. She'd been awake all night reading, and now the light of the sun was starting to shine through the window. Which meant that she was awake now, too.

It was time; finally time to confront her and put this whole thing to rest.