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

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun - Dee Pad



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

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Chapter 3 - Dawn

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 3: Dawn

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As Sunset Shimmer sat at her desk, she found that she couldn't stop fidgeting, lightly swinging her hind legs and humming quietly as she did her schoolwork. She had skipped and hopped all the way to school that morning, almost bumping into several ponies on the street as though her mind was someplace else and not focused on the road. A big, goofy grin dimpled her amber cheeks from the moment she woke up, and persisted even now as they were approaching noon.

It had been two days since her trip to the Castle of the Two Sisters, but even now Sunset was still riding her high from finally meeting Princess Celestia in person. It had been all she ever dreamed it to be and more, even if her conversation with the glorious alicorn was brief. She had spent her Sunday unable to sit still at all, prancing about Canterlot's town square as her own house wasn't big enough to contain her enthusiasm.

But the promise she had made to her father was still in effect. Although Princess Celestia had granted her permission to visit the castle anytime, Starswirl wanted to make sure that his daughter didn't lose sight of what was important: her education. As such, she had to maintain good behavior and attentiveness in class, because even permission from the princess of Equestria didn't supersede her dad's. But it wasn't like Sunset could just up and go to the castle willy-nilly. She still had to spend most of her day in school, and then return home to do her homework. And if she wanted to continue insisting on watching the sunrise every morning, she needed to hit the sack early every night, leaving no time to visit the princess. That made the weekend the only reasonable time to go.

But an entire week may as well have been an eternity to an excited filly like her.

Still, though, as painful as the wait may have been, Sunset still couldn't keep the smile off her face, and she suspected it would only grow larger as the week went on and the weekend crept tantalizingly closer. It was only Monday yet, and her cheeks were already starting to hurt a little. But nothing could keep the grin away; she was just too happy, parading her exuberance around with her throughout the day as she did her math problems, and even into lunch time, carrying her smiling face outside along with her lunch box—Celestia-themed, of course—as she sat on a bench out in the schoolyard.

Sunset had deliberately chosen a bench that gave her the best view of the horizon, specifically the castle beyond the distant Everfree Forest. Although she would rather point herself towards Princess Celestia's incandescent star, it was currently hovering directly above her, as it was noon now, and as beautiful as it was, she wasn't about to injury her neck staring up at it. But she was satisfied by her chosen view. While the Castle of the Two Sisters didn't look like much from a distance—just stone spires jutting up from behind the sea of trees—knowing what it looked like up close and on the inside gave Sunset a newfound appreciation of the marvelous structure.

The unicorn filly popped open her lunch box, removing a daisy and cucumber sandwich wrapped in foil, and a small juice box of orange juice, sticking a straw into its top and taking a quick sip before unwrapping her sandwich.

"Hey."

Sunset had been about to take her first bite of her sandwich, but was interrupted by a quiet voice beside her. Her classmate, Halberd, had sat down next to her, a friendly, yet sheepish, grin on his face, and a sandwich and juice box of his own on the bench in front of him, though his was apple juice. Sunset had been so lost in her own thoughts that she hadn't even noticed him sit down, let alone unpack his lunch.

"Oh, hi," Sunset greeted, though her halfhearted tone belied the smile that had been on her face before he spoke up.

"My brother told me you got to meet Princess Celestia," Halberd said, striking up conversation.

As happy as she was to simply eat in peace and lost in thoughts, Halberd had said the magic word to grab Sunset's attention. "Your brother?"

"Yeah. Lance. He said you and your dad were at the castle on Saturday."

Sunset's smile returned at the mention of the name. "Oh, yeah, Lance! He was really nice. He's your brother?"

Halberd nodded proudly. "Yup. So your dad's working at the castle now, too, huh?"

Now it was Sunset's turn to nod proudly, though her expression was filled with much more restrained joy than Halberd's small grin, even with a mouthful of food as she took an enthusiastic bite of her sandwich. "Mm-hm," she mumbled through stuffed cheeks before swallowing. "Today's his first day of work. It was so cool to see a chariot show up at our door to take him to the castle! I can't wait to go visit the princess again!"

"Did you like her?"

Sunset stared at the pegasus colt as though the question was the most absurd thing she'd ever heard. "What do you mean? Of course I liked her! She's incredible! She's pretty, and friendly, and sophisticated, and just... so cool!"

Halberd laughed at her response. "Yeah, that's pretty much what my brother told me. I hope I get to meet her someday soon. Maybe I'll ask Lance to take me with him to work like your dad did for you."

Sunset giggled with an eager grin, bouncing slightly on her seat. "I can't wait to go back. Princess Celestia said I can visit the castle anytime I want."

"Wow, really?" Halberd responded with an impressed and ever-so-slightly jealous smile. "She must like you a lot."

Sunset blushed deeply at the thought of it, a silly, bashful grin spreading across her cheeks. "N-Nah, she probably treats all of her subjects like that. I'm not special or anything, I was just lucky to get to meet her."

The somewhat short conversation came to an end after that. The two foals needed to focus on eating their lunches before they had to return to class. It certainly didn't feel like it was very long until Mrs. Honeysuckle came outside to call her students back to the classroom, and they all hurried back inside with their empty lunchboxes and returned to their seats.

It always seemed to take a few extra minutes for the children to actually simmer down, still feeling a little playful and energetic from the time out on the playground, but the teacher was happy to let them take that time to wind down today, rather than try in vain to get them to focus their attention to the front of the room. Oddly, Mrs. Honeysuckle had drawn the curtains over the windows and was waiting by the door of the one-room schoolhouse with a rather excited grin on her face. The display certainly looked a bit odd, and Sunset Shimmer took notice of the teacher's bizarre behavior, quirking an eyebrow at her as she discreetly poked her head out the door repeatedly as if looking for something.

Any conversations that were still in progress between the students were suddenly brought to a jarring halt by the sound of the door slamming shut. The children all stared straight at Mrs. Honeysuckle, who blushed with an embarrassed grin, having shut the door a little harder than intended.

"Oops, sorry about that," she apologized as she briskly trotted in front of her desk.

There was no mistaking the excitement in both her voice and her expression. The students could tell that something was up, but they all waited silently for their teacher to reveal what it was.

"Alright, listen up, everypony. For today's history lesson, I have something very, very, very special in store for you all," Mrs. Honeysuckle announced gleefully. "We have a guest speaker visiting to talk some more about our fair town of Canterlot. And who better to teach about Canterlot than its very own founder?!"

Sunset's eyes shot wide open, making the connection in her head immediately and her heart rate suddenly skyrocketing.

The teacher gestured towards the door with a flourish of her hoof and an ecstatic smile. "Kids, it is my great honor to introduce to you all our kind and gentle ruler, Princess Celestia!"

The door opened, and just as promised, the graceful, slender form of the tall, ivory alicorn stepped into the room, having to lower her head slightly to avoid bumping her long horn on the door frame.

Sunset Shimmer shot up, standing on her seat with her front hooves on her desk and tail wagging excitedly. "Princess!" she shouted exuberantly, unable to contain her emotions for this very unexpected meeting.

While under normal circumstances the amber filly would have received some raised eyebrows from her classmates, many of them had similar reactions to seeing the princess enter their modest, little school, their voices speaking out again in pleasant surprise.

An amused and friendly smile spread across Celestia's muzzle as she took her place in front of the class with the teacher, tickled to see the litany of amazed smiles staring back at her. "Good afternoon, everypony," she greeted warmly, though having to increase the volume of her voice a smidge above its usual to ensure the raucous room of foals could hear her.

The whole class returned her greeting enthusiastically, but one filly's voice blatantly overpowered the rest.

"Hi, Princess!" Sunset bellowed, far louder than was necessary for a pony in the front row.

Mrs. Honeysuckle took a step forward, gesturing for the class to calm down. "Now, settle down, everypony. The princess can't talk if you're all talking over her," she instructed, though her suppressed excitement was still evident on her face. Eager to listen to the princess, the class did as they were told and went quiet. All except one filly, that is. "Sunset, take your seat please."

The amber filly finally managed to tear her eyes away from the alicorn in their presence and realized that she was still standing on her chair. With a slight blush, she quietly sat back down, turning her elated smile back on Princess Celestia.

"You certainly have a class full of well-behaved students, Mrs. Honeysuckle," Celestia commented.

"As if they'd risk being troublemakers in your presence, Your Highness," the teacher chuckled.

The alicorn looked out over the smiling faces of the students. "Now, then, where should we begin?"

"Well, I've taught them about Canterlot's purpose as Equestria's capitol and its history," the teacher informed her. "Why don't you talk to them about future plans for their home town?"

Celestia nodded. "That sounds good. Well, I'm sure they are all aware of the constant construction Canterlot has been undergoing for a long time, but I intend to have Canterlot expand well beyond the humble town it is now. My hope is that Canterlot will one day be a grand, beautiful city overlooking the countryside; a shining jewel that anypony in our fair kingdom can look up at and find comfort and ease. In fact, we have plans to eventually start construction on a second castle right here in Canterlot."

The students began to murmur again, clearly intrigued by the idea of the princesses living in their midst. But none were more excited by this news than Sunset Shimmer. "Does that mean you're gonna move here?!" the filly blurted out suddenly.

"Sunset, raise your hoof if you have a question," Mrs. Honeysuckle quickly corrected.

Celestia, however, was unfazed by the interruption and happily answered the question. "At some point, yes. My sister and I agreed that it would make sense to rule our kingdom from its capitol rather than from a dusty, old castle out in the middle of nowhere," she informed. "We want to be closer with our beloved subjects, so this is the conclusion we've reached to achieve that. However, that won't be for a number of years yet; we're still making the plans for now, but construction is expected to start sometime within the next couple of years. Until then, Canterlot is going to continue to expand and we're going to make sure it's a place that people from all over the world will want to visit."

"Anypony would wanna visit if you were here, Princess," Sunset complimented with a cute smile.

"Oh, well, that's very kind of you, Sunset Shimmer," Celestia responded with a grateful smile.

Sitting next to Sunset, Halberd was distracted by the sound of stifled snickers. Glancing back he noticed the two foals seated behind himself and Sunset quietly giggling and pointing at the unicorn filly behind her back, though Sunset hadn't seemed to take heed. One of them even appeared to be discreetly doodling something on a piece of paper, though Halberd didn't want to interrupt the princess by tattling on them and decided to let it go for now, turning his attention forward once more.

Celestia continued from there. "Now, you're probably all going to notice your town changing a lot over the years, but just know that it's all for the better. Luna and I are thinking of all of you, and only want to make life more convenient, more comfortable, and even more fun for all of you." She paused for a moment, her smile finally fading as she looked somewhat uncertain. "Um..." She grinned awkwardly. "Well, I'm not exactly sure what else to say. That's our plans for the future of your town, but I think we need to fill more time here. Is there anything any of you would like to hear about?"

One colt raised his hoof, but didn't wait for permission to speak. "Tell us about how you beat Discord!"

The request spurred a flurry of supportive voices, all just as eager to hear about it.

Celestia was a little caught off guard by the enthusiastic request. "Oh, well, I don't know if that's on subject..." She looked to Mrs. Honeysuckle for approval.

The teacher gave the princess a smile. Her expression was almost indiscernible from the children's. "I mean, it is part of your history."

The alabaster alicorn shrugged and smiled. "Well, in that case, I suppose I can oblige."

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

After class had wrapped up and Mrs. Honeysuckle dismissed her students for the day, Sunset Shimmer was quick to throw on her schoolbags and eager to get back home. There was always a chorus of loud and energetic students hurrying down the streets of Canterlot in the afternoon as they returned home from school, but today the adult passersby noticed a particular energy within them, all bounding around and play fighting as if acting out some sort of choreographed show. Of course, hearing the tale of how Princess Celestia and Princess Luna defeated the spirit of chaos Discord had gotten all the students quite riled up and were playfully reenacting the battle as they had heard it described, though throwing in their own brand of childish whimsy.

Though Sunset didn't frolic and play with the other children—wanting to get home and tell her father all about her day and the astounding surprise she had received—she was still quite charged herself, having to physically hold herself back from skipping and hopping all the way home. One of her saddlebags was looking rather stuffed, but not with books. It was something she wanted to take great care of before getting home as it was rather fragile. She had been hoping to gift it to Princess Celestia, but unfortunately the princess couldn't stick around for the remainder of the day and had to leave to attend other business after giving her "history lesson."

Even though Sunset was disappointed that her reunion with the princess was brief, she still greatly enjoyed it. Her "lesson" clearly hadn't gone how she intended and it simply devolved into storytelling, not that any of the students minded, of course, least of all Sunset Shimmer. But Celestia herself seemed to have fun simply regaling stories of her past to a room of attentive foals. By the time she had reached the climax of her story, she was physically reenacting specific scenes and actions, and appeared to be having a ball while doing it, which only served to bolster the class's already overactive imaginations. But really, Sunset just enjoyed seeing how down-to-earth her idol actually was, practically acting like a child herself once she really started getting into it.

Sunset had a lot to tell her father about, and she was just now approaching the front door of her house. She didn't even wait to reach it before she starting calling out to her dad from outside. "Daddy! I'm home!" she shouted through the door, fumbling to properly turn the knob in her excitement. "You'll never guess who showed up at school today!"

The door finally managed to open and the filly skidded inside toward the dining room, but she went no further. The peppy grin on her face vanished when her jaw dropped open in shock at who she saw sitting at their dinner table. Of course, there was her father, casually sipping from a cup of hot coffee, but sitting across from him was the smiling face of the same alicorn she had been privileged enough to see earlier.

"How many guesses do I get?" Starswirl joked with a chuckle.

"Princess..." the filly uttered in quiet disbelief.

"Hello again, Sunset Shimmer," the alicorn greeted curtly.

"P-Princess Celestia is in my house." A wide grin spread across Sunset's amber cheeks and she let out a suppressed squeal of excitement. "This is so amazing!"

"I'm sorry I couldn't speak to you and your classmates longer, but I had actually come to Canterlot to speak to your father," Celestia explained.

"About what?" asked the young filly curiously.

"Mostly just work related stuff. It's all rather boring, I assure you," the princess told her.

"Sunset, why don't you go put your things in your room and join the princess and I, hm?" Starswirl suggested.

The suggestion made Sunset remember something, and she removed her schoolbags. "Oh, I almost forgot! I made something for you, Princess."

"Oh?" Celestia's ears perked up and she tilted her head curiously, watching as the small unicorn opened one of her bags that had looked stuffed to bursting.

Carefully, Sunset removed a round object. It appeared to be a paper-mâché sphere painted bright orange and yellow, with little triangles of construction paper glued around the circumference. The glue and paint still looked to be a touch wet, staining the little filly's hooves as she held it up for Princess Celestia, though the mess didn't seem to bother her, smiling proudly at the princess as she presented her creation.

"What is this?" Celestia asked, intrigued by the object.

"It's the sun!" Sunset chirped. "I made it for you after you left, and I wanted to give it to you."

The alicorn held a hoof to her chest, touched by the child's generosity and creativity. She gently took hold of the gift with her golden magic, observing it more closely. Though the paint job was a little erratic and messy, and several globs of white glue stuck out on its surface, she smiled graciously at the filly's display of thoughtfulness. "Oh, my, it's just lovely, Sunset. Thank you so much."

Starswirl, on the other hoof, was a little less impressed when he saw the mess that the paper-mâché sun had made of his daughter's schoolbags. "You could have carried it home with your magic instead of putting it in your bag, Sunset. Look at the mess you've made."

Sunset ignored her father, her attention focused entirely on the grateful face of the princess.

"I'll treasure this always, I promise," Celestia assured the filly. The crafted sun then vanished in a small flash of gold magic.

"What did you do with it?" Sunset asked, wondering where her gift had gone.

"I sent it back to my chambers in the castle. It's safe, don't worry. I'll take good care of it."

A satisfied grin graced the filly's lips, her tail swishing happily at the thought of her gift having made Princess Celestia happy.

The mood was somewhat interrupted by the sound of an exasperated sigh coming from the lone stallion in the room. "Yes, it's a very sweet gift, but now you have to clean your bags, Sunset. Empty them out and leave them in the bathroom. We can wash them later."

Finally heeding her father's words, Sunset nodded. "Okay." She started making her way to her room, but had already begun removing items from the bags as she walked. However, before she had even made it out of the dining room, she paused, raising a confused eyebrow as she stared into her bag. "Huh?"

"Something wrong, dear?" her father inquired.

Sunset placed her bags down again, removing a piece of paper from the bag that her paper-mâché sun had not been stored in and thus was clean.

Celestia leaned forward slightly to see what it was, noticing that something appeared to be drawn on it. "Is that something you drew, Sunset?"

The filly shook her head. "No, this isn't mine."

Sunset placed the paper on the kitchen table, allowing Starswirl and Celestia to look at it. It appeared to be a rather simple crayon drawing of a small, amber unicorn, and a tall, white alicorn with a colorful mane. The words "Princesses pet" were written at the top.

"Well, that's not very nice," Starswirl said with a slight scowl. "One of the other students must have snuck that into your bags."

"She was quite involved during my talk with the class," Celestia said with a sympathetic frown. "The other students must have thought she was trying to suck up to me. I'm sorry, Sunset."

"Why?"

The two adults stared quizzically at the filly. Sunset was grinning back at the them like there was no problem at all. Starswirl raised an eyebrow. "Well, they obviously made it to make fun of you."

"I like it," Sunset chirped with a smile.

Celestia and Starswirl looked at the drawing again. It was true that there was nothing inherently offensive about it aside from the words, but even that was more tame than it could have been. While the drawing was basic, the images of Sunset and Celestia on the paper weren't insulting.

"I'm gonna put it in my room," Sunset proclaimed. But first, she retrieved a pencil from her bags with her cyan aura and scratched out the second "e" in "Princesses," replacing it with an apostrophe to correct the grammar. She then hurried off to her room with the drawing and the rest of her things.

Starswirl and Celestia shared silent glances, the former shrugging, while the latter giggled quietly at his unusual daughter.

It didn't take long for the giddy filly to rush back to the kitchen to join her father and their illustrious guest, quickly hopping onto a chair and grinning up at the princess. It was only now that Sunset noticed a distinct lack of anything on the table, and gave her father a flabbergasted look. "Dad, how come there's no snacks for the princess?"

"I offered some to her, but she politely declined," the bearded stallion answered.

Sunset looked back up at the alicorn. "Are you sure, Princess? I could get you something, if you want."

Even though Celestia had turned down the offer from the filly's father, she couldn't help but notice the pleading look in Sunset's teal eyes and couldn't bring herself to say no. "Well, since you're offering, Sunset, I suppose I can't refuse."

Sunset immediately hopped off of her chair and hurried over to the refrigerator. She didn't take long to pick something out and return to the table, obviously having something specific in mind when she made the offer. Sunset placed a small plate on the dinner table, upon it was a single slice of cheesecake slathered in blueberry jam. "I was gonna save this for my dessert after supper today, but I want you to have it, Princess."

Celestia was taken aback slightly by the selfless offering. She had been expecting biscuits, or muffins, not a delectable slice of cheesecake. "Really? Oh, I don't think I could take a nice, young filly's dessert away from her."

Sunset pushed the plate closer to the alicorn with a smile. "It's okay, I don't mind. It's my way of saying thank you for letting me see the castle the other day."

The princess smiled fondly down at the happy unicorn. She really was unlike anypony she'd met before. "Still, I'd feel bad. So how about this?" Using her golden aura, Celestia fashioned a knife with her magic, cutting the slice of cake perfectly down the middle. "Now we can share it."

Sunset's grin widened at the idea of sharing her dessert with the princess. She quickly retrieved a pair of forks and offered one to the princess.

"Although, it is close to suppertime," Celestia pointed out. "Perhaps your father wouldn't want you to spoil your meal by eating dessert first."

Sunset looked expectantly at her father for approval. Oddly, Starswirl noticed a similar look on Celestia's face. He let out a sigh, but smiled softly. "It's fine, go ahead."

Without another second wasted, Sunset dug in eagerly, taking an enthusiastic bite. Celestia did much the same, taking a rather large mouthful of cheesecake, the generous serving of blueberries staining her ivory lips purple. The alicorn moaned with satisfaction as she chewed, savoring the texture and flavor before swallowing. "Oh, my, that is heavenly. Did you make this, Starswirl?"

"Me? Oh, no, I can't really bake," the stallion replied with an awkward grin. "I bought this from the bakery down the street."

Celestia enjoyed another tasty bite. "Mmm... I'll have to pay them a visit sometime. You know, with all the expansions being made to Canterlot, I'm hoping to have an entire street lined with an assortment of restaurants with similarly delicious food. I wonder if I can convince their chef to work at the castle..."

It didn't take long for the princess to finish off her cake. Sunset, as well as her father, were a little mesmerized by just how voraciously Celestia ate her snack. For a mare that carried herself and spoke with the utmost poise and sophistication, her table manners were shockingly lacking. Seeing the mess of purple blueberry jam smeared on the princess's muzzle, Starswirl discreetly placed some napkins on the table, which Celestia accepted without shame, cleaning the mess in a much more dainty fashion than she had made it.

The alicorn breathed a satisfied sigh. "Ahh, that was divine. Thank you very much for sharing it with me, Sunset."

"You're welcome," the filly chirped cheerily.

Celestia cleared her throat, her expression shifting to become a little more professional. "It seems we got a little off topic. My apologies, Mr. Starswirl."

The stallion waved it off with a grin. "No worries. But was there something else we needed to discuss?"

"Actually, yes. I wanted to make a suggestion."

Starswirl leaned forward onto the table, listening closely. "And what might that be?"

"Our castle has a wing specifically to house our staff, and there's plenty of space available. I'd like to offer you one of the rooms in the staff quarters to make your own."

The stallion's eyes widened a little. "Princess, are you asking me to move to the castle?"

Sunset's ears twitched and she sat up straight in her chair suddenly, but she didn't say anything, simply wanting to let the conversation play out to make sure they were reading the situation correctly.

"Not necessarily, but you may if you wish," Celestia elaborated. "As I said, we have plenty of room to accommodate you, and several members of our staff have made a permanent home there. I've just noticed that academic types such as yourself have a tendency to pull all-nighters, and I know I would sleep better at night knowing that you had a bed to sleep in in case you got caught up in your research and lost track of time."

Starswirl closed his eyes, humming in thought. Sunset was practically trembling in her impatience, waiting for her father to give the answer she wanted to hear.

"That is a very generous offer, but I'm not sure if I want to go through all the trouble," he responded.

Sunset's ears drooped, but again, said nothing.

Celestia nodded. "I understand, but I'd like to urge you to reconsider, or at least take some time to think about it. The royal archives would be available to you around the clock, and you wouldn't need to rely on my soldiers when you commute to and from work."

"That's not entirely the issue," Starswirl said quietly, his eyes shifting to his daughter who had been staring at him expectantly.

Sunset felt her heart sink a little at her father's implication that she was the reason they couldn't move to the castle. "Me? Did I do something wrong?"

The heartbroken look on his daughter's face caused Starswirl to jump to her defense quickly. "No, no, of course not, sweetie. It's just that you have to attend school. It would be much more convenient if you could just walk to school and back rather than relying on a chariot to bring you."

Sunset stood up on her chair, looking almost desperate. "I don't mind! It doesn't take long!"

"And what about your classmates? Wouldn't you rather spend your after school time playing with them rather than being way out there in the castle?"

Sunset blinked uncomprehendingly. "I... I haven't really spent any time playing with my classmates at all. I always come straight home after school."

Starswirl paused a moment. How had he not realized that before? Was she not making any friends at school?

"If I might make another suggestion..."

The stallion turned his attention back to the princess.

"I very much wish for you to accept my offer. But, ultimately, the decision is yours. I just want you to know that I want to help you with your research whenever I can, but I can't do that if you aren't there. I want to be a part of your amazing work, Mr. Starswirl, and I want to witness any discoveries you make first hoof. I know my reasoning sounds selfish, but I simply feel that we can all benefit from this in some way, and if need be, I would even hire a private tutor for Sunset. To that end, I'd like to suggest that you and your daughter spend this weekend at our castle as a sort of trial run, and we'll see how it goes from there. How does that sound?"

Sunset stared at her father with hopeful optimism in her wide eyes.

Starswirl hummed in thought once more, but reluctantly relented. "I suppose we can do that much. But I make no promises."

The answer, as uncertain as it may have sounded, made Sunset beam widely, smiling ecstatically at Celestia. "I get to stay at the castle! It'll be like a royal slumber party!"

Celestia giggled with amusement. "Let's not go overboard. I can't really party like I used to anymore." She then stood up, preparing to take her leave of the house. "In any case, thank you for your consideration, Mr. Starswirl. And we can still discuss this further during your stay to try and work this out in a way that makes everypony happy. I'll be heading home now."

Sunset hopped down from her chair and rushed over to the door, opening it for the princess. "Thank you for visiting, Princess. It was really nice to see you again."

The alicorn smiled amicably. "And thank you for having me. And for the gift. And for sharing your cake. You're a very generous little filly. I look forward to seeing you again this weekend."

"Me, too!" Sunset practically squealed.

Celestia looked over her shoulder to Starswirl. "I'll see you tomorrow morning, Mr. Starswirl."

The bearded unicorn nodded and smiled. "Have a nice day, Your Majesty."

Celestia stepped outside, shutting the door behind her.

The moment the door latch clicked, Sunset let out a long, elated squeal, hopping in place in her excitement. "I'm gonna stay at the castle! This is so cool!"

"Don't get your hopes up too high, Sunset," her father warned as he got up from the table. "We're just testing the waters for Princess Celestia's sake. Your education is first and foremost to me, and where we are right now is the best place for that."

Sunset's excitement died down quickly. "But the princess said she could hire a tutor."

"The princess shouldn't need to do anything she doesn't have to. But more importantly, I'm a little concerned; Sunset, are you making any friends at school?"

"Um... Well, there's this boy I talk to sometimes."

Starswirl raised an eyebrow, curious, but skeptical. "A boy?"

Sunset nodded, grinning a little. "Uh-huh. He's Lance's little brother. Remember? The guard at the castle?"

Starswirl was pleasantly surprised to hear that, any concern he had quieting down a little. "Is that right? Well, that's a nice, little coincidence. Alright, I'll try to be a little more open minded for your sake. I just needed to make sure you were doing alright at school." He then turned toward the pantry in then kitchen. "Now then, why don't we get started on supper. That is, assuming you didn't ruin your appetite by eating dessert first," he said with a sly smirk.

Sunset shook her head with a cute grin. "Nope, I'm starving!"

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

As if one week of agonizing impatience weren't enough for Sunset Shimmer, now she had had to endure two. First having to wait out the days until her first visit to the Castle of the Two Sisters and her first meeting with Princess Celestia, and now having to do the same again for her second visit. Thankfully, Starswirl was saved his daughter's overwhelming exuberance this time since the wonder and awe she felt the first time had been somewhat placated. The filly still grinned widely as they crossed the bridge to the castle, for her excitement now was due to the knowledge that they would be spending the entire weekend there.

Sunset had just been released from school not an hour ago, and now she and her father were already at the castle within the Friday afternoon. They had brought supplies with them this time, however, with a couple of suitcases containing anything they felt they needed. Sunset had mostly her schoolbooks, as she still had to do her homework while staying at the castle. Starswirl had much the same, along with a healthy supply of parchment and ink for which to record his research.

It didn't matter if it was her second time seeing it, the castle still looked majestic to Sunset, perhaps even more so now. Having met Princess Celestia and seen what a kindhearted person she was, the castle felt much more inviting. And to compound that, the father and daughter saw a couple of familiar faces as they approached the large double doors of the entrance.

Seeing who had arrived, the pegasus on the left flashed a friendly smile. "Hey, look who it is. Little miss V.I.P.," Lance greeted with a hearty chuckle. "Welcome back, kiddo."

Sunset eagerly hopped up the short set of stairs to the door, smiling up at the pegasus. "Hi!" As peppy as she was to see the friendly guard again, her attention quickly shifted to her right, where the other guard was standing by quietly. Sunset's smile faded slightly. "Um, hello," she greeted him somewhat meekly.

Lance cast a warning gaze at his coworker, and Scabbard let out a sigh. He stared down at Sunset with an apologetic look in his eyes. "Hi. Look, I want to apologize for the way I acted last time we met. I didn't mean to scare you or anything, I was just trying to do my job. You understand, right?"

Hearing Scabbard's heartfelt apology caused Sunset's grin to return, and she gave him a nod. "That's okay. You guys gotta protect the princess from bad people."

Lance laughed at the filly. "I'm pretty sure the princesses can take care of themselves if the past is any indication. We're basically here just to stop trespassers, thieves, and vandalism. So, I hear Princess Celestia has invited you to spend the weekend at the castle. Must be exciting for a big fan like you, huh, little lady?"

"She hasn't stopped talking about it all week," Starswirl told him with a slight sigh of exasperation.

"I wanna stay at the castle forever!" Sunset exclaimed with a beaming smile. Her lips then curled into a grumpy pout. "But Daddy says it's not very convenient."

"Well, when you're a pegasus like me, it's not such a big deal," Lance said with a shrug.

"Do you live here at the castle, then?" asked Starswirl.

Lance shook his head. "Nah. I've got family in Canterlot, and I don't wanna be away from them too long." He tilted his head to the armored unicorn next to him. "Scabbard lives here, though."

Sunset looked up at the unicorn curiously. "You do? What's it like?"

Scabbard simply shrugged. "If I'm being perfectly honest, it's a little boring. But my family lives in Manehattan, so it's a bit more out of the way for me to visit them."

"Do you have anything you do to pass the time?" inquired Starswirl.

"Combat practice in the barracks mostly, though I can't imagine I'll ever need to make practical use of those skills."

"That's it? You just practice with your spear all day?" Sunset said.

Scabbard's blue cheeks turned a slight hint of red and he broke eye contact awkwardly. "Well, no. I have... hobbies..."

Sunset leaned forward. "Like what?"

"He whittles."

Scabbard gave Lance an icy glare, but that didn't deter the amused smirk on the face of the armored pegasus.

Sunset tilted her head in confusion. "What's that?"

"He carves little sculptures out of pieces of wood. His room's full of 'em," Lance elaborated, his smirk growing wider as he relished his comrade's embarrassment.

The amber filly smiled up at him, too, but bearing no hint of derision. "Really? That's cool! I like arts and crafts! I made a paper-mâché sun for Princess Celestia. Can you show me your sculptures sometime?"

Scabbard's embarrassed blush only grew deeper despite Sunset's supposed interest. It was mostly Lance's stifled snickering that had gotten to him. "I believe the princess is waiting for you," he interrupted defensively. "You should be on your way before she wonders where you are." The unicorn guard promptly opened the doors, more so to just bring the conversation to an end than anything.

Starswirl and Sunset started inside, the stallion giving the two soldiers his regards, while Sunset gave an enthusiastic goodbye as the doors closed behind them. The filly wasted no time hurrying ahead of her father through the entry hall, so eager to see Princess Celestia again that she left her suitcase behind. She practically bust down the doors to the throne room as she skipped across the plush, red carpet on the floor.

"Princess! We're here!" she shouted excitedly, her voice echoing throughout the spacious throne room.

However, Sunset's beaming smile dropped almost immediately. Contrary to her assumptions, Princess Celestia was not present. Instead, her sister Princess Luna was standing at the base of the two thrones, alongside Quill. The blue alicorn had turned in the filly's direction with a rather displeased grimace in response to her inappropriate shouting.

Starswirl caught up to his daughter with both of their suitcases in tow, and guided the somewhat stunned filly the rest of the way down the throne room, whispering quietly to her. "Sunset, I know you're excited, but this is the princesses' castle; you need to behave yourself."

Sunset's ears drooped a little, but mostly because Princess Luna was still scowling slightly at her. She shied away when she and her father stopped in front of the princess, almost tempted to hide away behind her dad to escape Luna's judgmental gaze.

"I apologize for her behavior, Your Highness," Starswirl said to the princess with a small bow. "She's just very excited. You know how children are."

Luna closed her eyes as she let out a long, tired sigh, the scowl leaving her face. "Not as well as We should, perhaps, but We understand. We, too, must apologize if We seem out of sorts. It is far past Our bedtime."

"I was going to ask about that," Starswirl said inquisitively. "What are you doing up at this hour, Your Majesty? Shouldn't you be resting?"

Luna raised a hoof to her mouth, seemingly stifling a sleepy yawn, but not wanting her company to witness such an undignified act. "Our sister wished for Us to greet our two guests before turning in for the day. We suppose she hath no problem if the moon were to rise later than usual tonight as a result," she muttered.

"Where's Princess Celestia, then?" Sunset asked.

"Ensuring thy quarters are in order and adequately prepared for thy stay," the moon princess answered. "She will be joining us shortly."

Starswirl couldn't help but notice how Luna's eyelids had been slowly drifting shut as she spoke, only to jerk open again. "You don't have to wait here for our sake, Princess. You should head to bed."

Luna nodded as though she had been waiting for him to say as such. "Then We will not argue. Quill, inform Our sister that We've taken to Our chambers for the day." She gave a curt nod to Starswirl. "Good afternoon, Mr. Starswirl." She then glanced down at the little filly beside him. "Do try to keep the noise down whilst thou art here, if thou wouldst. Otherwise, enjoy thy stay."

"Um, goodnight. Er, good afternoon, I mean," Sunset bid the princess as she turned to leave through the door left of the thrones.

However, just before Luna reached the door, it opened for her, making way for her sister as the taller alicorn finally arrived. The midnight blue princess stared up at Celestia with tired, half-lidded eyes. "Ah, thou'rt here. Good."

Celestia looked past her sister to see that Starswirl and Sunset had arrived already, the filly waving frantically with a toothy smile. The sun princess leaned down slightly, speaking quietly to her sister. "Luna, you weren't about to just leave them here, were you? I asked you to keep them company until I got here."

Luna furrowed her weary brow, insulted by her sister's assumption. "Of course not. Starswirl insisted We get Our much deserved rest, so We art obliging. And perhaps next time thou shouldst leave the preparations to the staff so that thou need not keep Us awake at such an hour."

Celestia breathed a small, apologetic sigh. "You're right, I'm sorry. If you want, I can raise the moon for you tonight so you can get some extra rest."

Luna turned her nose up at the offer with a huff. "Thou wouldst like that, wouldn'st thou? No, We can handle it Ourselves, thank thee very much."

With that, Luna pushed past her sister and disappeared into the hall beyond the door, leaving Celestia to simply shake her head. The ivory alicorn then looked back over to her two guests. Starswirl and Sunset were looking in her direction rather curiously. She hoped they hadn't heard the two sisters' brief, but uncomfortable conversation. Celestia put on a welcoming smile, walking over to greet her guests as warmly as she could.

"Welcome. I'm sorry if my sister was in a foul mood. It may have been a mistake to keep her up this long," Celestia said, her pink eyes looking a little regretful despite her smile.

Starswirl waved off her apology. "It's no problem. She needs her rest as much as anypony."

"Do you talk to Princess Luna when you're at work, Dad?" Sunset asked her father.

"Not really, but I do occasionally bump into her when I arrive in the morning as she's on her way to bed. We usually do nothing more than exchange greetings in the hall."

"I've said this before, but she doesn't get to talk to people very often," Celestia reiterated. "She hasn't even had much of a chance to learn the names of all of our employees." She glanced down at Sunset, giving the filly a grin. "I know she hasn't really made a great first impression for you, Sunset, so if you run into her during your stay here, why not make an effort to talk to her a little? It might help her come out of her shell."

Although the notion of speaking one on one with the grumpy alicorn wasn't all too appealing to the amber filly, Sunset couldn't bring herself to refuse a request from Princess Celestia. She gave the princess an enthusiastic smile. "Okay."

"Now then..." Celestia continued, clearing her throat. "Let's get back on topic; we've finished preparing your chambers for the weekend. If you'll come with me..."

Celestia, as well as Quill, started heading toward the door that Celestia had come through, entering the inner halls of the castle. Starswirl was already fairly familiar with the castle's layout after working there for a week now, but given the expansiveness of the building, there were some areas even he had not seen yet. And even though Sunset had only visited the castle once, she had committed everything she'd seen to memory, already knowing what was through each door they passed in the halls.

However, neither one of them knew much about the staff quarters, as they had no reason to go there before now. Celestia and Quill had lead the two guests toward the west rear wing of the castle, though it looked no different than the other halls they'd been walking through. There were a series of hallways lined up parallel with one another, with several rooms situated on both sides of each hall. Presumably, each room was the living quarters of one of the castle's staff—or potential living quarters, as it was obvious that not all of the rooms had an occupant. All in all, with the exception of the tall, decadent hallways, the staff wing of the castle was reminiscent of a simple apartment building.

Celestia guided Starswirl and Sunset down one of the several halls, directing them to a pair of rooms adjacent to one another. "These will be your rooms. Make yourselves at home, and if there's anything you need, just inform one of the attendants, like Quill."

Sunset eagerly opened the door they were currently in front of, dragging her suitcase in behind her as though she were fully prepared to make this space her own. The room was rather spacious, as was perhaps expected given the rest of the castle. The most noteworthy feature of the room was the rather large, queen-sized bed, far bigger than was necessary for one person, especially for a small filly like Sunset Shimmer. But even looking at it she could tell it was incredibly comfy, and the thick, dark purple blankets looked like they'd provide ample warmth during the night. To test her theory, Sunset immediately hopped up onto the bed and practically sank into the soft, cushy blankets and the plush mattress. She imagined this must have been what it was like for pegasi when they stood on clouds.

Aside from the bed, the room was pretty typical for a bedroom one would find in an average citizen's home. There was a modestly sized writing desk at the right side of the room, and a vanity and wardrobe on the left for the occupants to store their belongings. There were lanterns on the walls for illuminating the room, as the close proximity of the many rooms didn't allow for windows.

Overall, Sunset felt pretty cozy in the room already, and hopped off of the bed to beam up at Princess Celestia gratefully. "This is great! Thank you, Princess!"

"You're very welcome," Celestia responded with a smile of her own.

"I presume all the rooms look much the same," Starswirl inferred.

Celestia nodded. "Yes, though those who make their homes here have personalized their chambers a little, and you're free to do the same if you wish. If there's anything you don't really like, you can feel free to rearrange or make any additions you feel are necessary to make your room feel more like home."

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Starswirl interjected. "I'd like to discuss this more before we start treating this place like home."

"Even so, I only want you to be comfortable during your stay." Once she said that, Celestia noticed an odd look of uncertainty on Sunset's face as the filly continued to look around the room. "Is something wrong, Sunset?"

"There's no windows..." she said simply with a hint of disappointment. She looked up at the princess again. "I like to get up early and look out my bedroom window to watch the sunrise."

The alicorn felt a little bad for the filly, though also looked at her somewhat curiously. "Do you really get up early every morning just to watch as I raise the sun?"

Sunset nodded with a cute grin.

Celestia smiled fondly at the amber unicorn's devotion to what was to the princess a simple morning routine. "My, I'm not sure I've ever met a subject quite so loyal. I knew my subjects always thought the sunrise was beautiful, but to actually go out of your way to watch it every morning? I'm flattered."

Sunset's tail swished about happily. It sounded a little strange to her that more people didn't show that level of appreciation to such an amazing pony, but knowing that she had made the princess feel good was a satisfying feeling for herself.

A thoughtful look appeared on the alicorn's face, humming to herself as she contemplated something. "You know, I feel bad that you won't be able to partake in your morning routine. How about this: tomorrow morning, before dawn, why don't you come to my chambers and you can watch me raise the sun in person?"

Sunset's teal eyes widened considerably, twinkling in wonder at the mere thought of it. She had had dreams of this very scenario, so it was difficult to determine whether or not she was actually awake at this moment. "R-Really?"

Starswirl let out a quiet groan. "Your Highness, you don't have to do that. She can go one weekend without watching the sunrise."

"I want her stay here to be memorable," Celestia argued. "Plus, I did say I want you two to be comfortable, so you shouldn't have to make sacrifices you don't need to. Quill, once Sunset gets settled in, why don't you show her the way to my chambers so she can find her way there tomorrow morning?"

Quill bowed in response. "Of course."

"Now then, I need to be off for the moment," the alicorn informed them. "Once you both get situated, you can feel free to visit the dining hall. The chef's are preparing supper as we speak."

"We'll do that. Thank you," Starswirl said with a nod before heading to his room next door to his daughter's.

"Thank you, Princess!" chirped Sunset as the princess made her way back down the hall.

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

With their things unpacked and their rooms prepared, Sunset and Starswirl were ready for their weekend at the castle. However, it was evident that both of their views on their stay there were very different. Starswirl had seen that his daughter was fully ready to move into the castle, not that he was surprised; she was still a child and as smart as she was, it was still difficult for her to view things in the long term. While living at the castle sounded extravagant, they would be giving up a lot in order to do that. Starswirl was viewing their stay more like a weekend at a five-star hotel, with servants prepared to meet their every whim, despite the fact that these people were in fact the bearded unicorn's coworkers. Celestia appeared to be going out of her way to influence Starswirl's decision, and he fully intended to address that when he and the princess sat down to further discuss the matter. He had briefly contemplated bringing it up during supper, but decided it wouldn't be the best time to do so.

Normally, the dining hall was only used by the princesses themselves, despite its enormous size, the long table easily capable of seating upwards to thirty ponies. Its size was meant to accommodate diplomatic meetings between Equestria's princesses and foreign representatives of other kingdoms and countries, and the castle staff didn't normally eat there, instead having their own less fancy mess hall close to the staff quarters wing of the castle.

But today, Starswirl was not at the castle as an employee, but as a guest—at least, that's how Princess Celestia was playing it off. This further exemplified Starswirl's speculation that she was attempting to sway his decision, as the entire purpose of this stay was to convince him to move to the castle as an employee who would be on hoof at all times. So it wasn't as though eating in the illustrious dining hall would be a regular occurrence even if Starswirl had decided to live there.

So, as expected, the spacious dining hall was rather empty. Even as far as decorations went, the only real noteworthy piece was the large, golden chandelier hanging above the table, and the several windows along the right wall, allowing the sunlight to stream through during the day and giving a picturesque view of the statue garden outside. But aside from that, the people present were Princess Celestia, Starswirl, and Sunset—even Quill had left to have his supper in the mess hall with the rest of the staff.

And it was Sunset that was the reason why Starswirl chose not to discuss things at the moment. This topic was one he wished to talk about in private with the princess, as it was obvious what Sunset's opinion was on the matter.

So, for the time being, they sat and enjoyed their supper, occupying only the seats at the end of the table, Celestia at the head, while Starswirl and Sunset sat beside one another on her left. The castle's chefs had prepared a meal that was, for all intents and purposes, rather mundane by royal standards; various types of salads and sandwiches, with a few options for soups. However, the dessert lineup was notably more fanciful, with cakes, brownies, pudding, and pies all laid out before them. Starswirl had heard through the grapevine that Princess Celestia had a bit of a sweet tooth, and he was all but certain of that now. And he couldn't help but notice that the first thing that the princess offered to Sunset for dessert was cheesecake.

The amber filly must have eaten her weight in food during the meal, with Princess Celestia finding her appetite quite entertaining. But eventually, Sunset had reached the limit of what her little tummy could hold, sitting back in her chair and rubbing her full belly with a satisfied sigh.

"That was all so tasty," Sunset remarked with a grin. "Do you eat stuff like this everyday, Princess?"

"No, not everyday," Celestia chuckled. "My dietitian would never let me indulge this much all the time. Otherwise, I'd be a lot pudgier. But given that I have some special guests today, I figured it'd be nice to schedule a cheat day," she said with a wink.

"Oh, that's probably a good thing," Sunset said with an exhausted moan. "I don't think I could eat like this all the time. I can barely move."

Starswirl turned to his daughter, seeing an opportunity. "Then why don't you try going for a walk around the castle to help it digest?"

Sunset let out a labored groan as she practically rolled off of her chair. "'Kay."

"Just ask Quill to accompany you so you don't get lost, alright?" suggested Celestia.

Sunset flashed a cute smile up at the princess and nodded. "Mm-hm. Thank you for the food, Princess." And with that, the filly waddled her way out of the dining room, leaving Starswirl and Celestia alone.

With the filly out of the room, Celestia cleaned her mouth with a napkin and let out a quiet sigh. She looked in Starswirl's direction, her friendly smile having faded. He was staring back at her with a somewhat serious expression on his face. "I suppose you'd prefer to talk about this now rather than later."

"I'm sorry, Your Highness, but I think we need to get this out of the way before things go too far."

Celestia quirked an eyebrow. "Too far? Whatever do you mean?"

Starswirl gestured to what remained of their sizable supper spread on the table. "The veritable cornucopia of delicious desserts, inviting Sunset to watch you raise the sun... Pardon me for assuming, Your Majesty, but if I didn't know any better, I'd think you were trying to turn my own daughter against me."

The alicorn blushed slightly with an embarrassed smile. "Am I that transparent? I'm very sorry, Mr. Starswirl, but I truly want to do anything in my power to convince you that staying here is best for everypony involved. Admittedly, I feel a little guilty about 'weaponizing' your daughter to that end, but I just find it so difficult to say no to the precious, little thing. Seeing her smile is such a warming feeling."

Starswirl nodded, a fond grin on his face. "Yes, I know that feeling well."

"You have to understand that Sunset is in much the same position that I am, as well."

"Hm? How's that?" the stallion asked in confusion.

"Just as she is a fan of mine, I, too, am a fan of yours," Celestia reminded him. "As I've said, I've read all of your research papers and theses with great interest. I consider myself somewhat of an enthusiast on the subject of magic studies. In fact, were I not a princess and had I the time, I'd probably pursue the same career as you."

Once more, Starswirl felt humbled by the princess's words. "Well, you can probably do better things for Equestria as its princess, so you shouldn't feel as though you're missing out."

"Whether or not things would be 'better' isn't the point. The things I can do for my kingdom as its ruler are not the same as those I could do as a scholar, like you. Can you imagine how much Equestria—no, the whole world could change if your theories were to bear fruit? We could travel between dimensions and through time; stuff we've only ever seen in stories!"

"Even so, I've merely laid the ground work for such research," Starswirl argued modestly. "I doubt I'll live long enough to see my theories develop to such a degree."

"Which is why I want you here," Celestia continued, her demeanor becoming more and more fervent. "To make these advances as soon as possible. And I want to be a part of it. Like I said, I don't have time to fully devote myself to research, but if you're here, I can help you whenever I do get a little bit of free time. I have knowledge of ancient magicks and spells that could be a great boon to you and your studies."

Starswirl could see the enthusiasm in Celestia's bright, pink eyes. She was right when she had said that she and Sunset were similar; at the moment, she looked much the same as his daughter did whenever she talked about Celestia.

Which lead to his next counterpoint...

Starswirl let out a sigh. "That's all well and good, but remember: I also had another reason to decline."

Celestia leaned forward with a determined expression. "Mr. Starswirl, Sunset does not need to make any sacrifices. I've already thought this over since we last spoke, and I talked to my soldiers. Sunset would have a vehicle to and from Canterlot whenever she might need it. I've had several of my guards come forward who are willing to help her, and even act as an escort when her school closes for the day so that she may remain in Canterlot and play with her friends for as long as she pleases before returning to the castle."

The stallion sat in silence for a few long moments, closing his eyes in contemplation and leaving the princess to wait with bated breath for his response. Finally, he exhaled deeply from his nostrils, opening his eyes once more as he looked at Celestia, grateful, but still clearly uncertain. "Your Highness, the lengths you are willing to go for Sunset and I are commendable, but with all due respect, she is my daughter, not yours. And, ultimately, I will decide what I think is best for her. Perhaps if she were a little older, I'd be more inclined to accept your generous offer, but alas..."

Celestia's ears folded back. Starswirl hadn't known the princess long, but he'd never seen such a dejected look on her face before. It was quite clear how strongly she felt about all this. He felt guilty about having to refuse a request from Princess Celestia, one of the highest authorities in the entire world, but he had to think about this from his standpoint as a parent. Still, seeing such an expression on her normally unblemished face made him feel as though he should say something to at least lift her spirits.

"That being said..."

The alicorn's ears perked up again, looking to Starswirl with a glimmer of hopeful optimism in her eyes.

"We've only just arrived here, really. You still have the whole weekend to change my mind."

Celestia managed a smile. Seeing the slight smirk on Starswirl's lips, she felt that what she'd said had had some kind of impact, and he was at least still somewhat open to the idea. It was just a matter of figuring out what she had to do to sweeten the deal. However, for the time being she decided it best to not push the issue. The discussion felt as though it had come to a natural conclusion—or rather, a metaphorical pin had been put in it for the time being. Rather than continue to harass Starswirl about the subject, Celestia figured it best to return to her task as his host, and continue to make him feel welcome and comfortable, and, in time, perhaps she could finally sway him.

"I suppose you'll want to locate Sunset now," Celestia inferred.

Starswirl rose from his chair, sighing, but with a smile. "Yes, no doubt she's providing trouble for Quill, or one of the guards. Best to reign her in now before she gets too out of control. Oh, and Princess?" He gestured to the food on the table once more. "You don't need to do all of this anymore. You shouldn't give Sunset and I special treatment. But thank you regardless."

Celestia grinned. "Duly noted. And you're very welcome."

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

With how expansive and spacious the Castle of the Two Sisters was, it was no surprise that the place was very quiet most of the time. Its vastness far exceeded what was necessary given the number of ponies who worked or lived there. Even during the day, when everypony was busy with their work, it was rare to actually bump into anypony in the halls. That being said, if there were to be any noise in the grand corridors of the castle, those sounds would carry throughout the whole room like an echo chamber. It was a little intimidating to first time visitors, but it also gave those who walked the castle's halls a sense of just how grand the structure was, its size proportional to its importance.

But during the night, it was an entirely different feeling altogether.

With the halls no longer illuminated by the bright light of the sun through the windows, the dark corridors looked like endless voids into the unknown abyss. Every hoofstep, even upon the soft, velvety carpets, seemed to boom no matter how lightly one stepped. Every hall had sconces built into the walls, but not every hall's sconces had been lit to penetrate the darkness. Anything could be hiding behind the veil of blackness, ready to pounce on any unsuspecting pony that was carelessly wandering at night.

This was what was going through the head of little Sunset Shimmer tonight. Princess Celestia had invited her to witness the sunrise, and the anxious filly was eager and intent on doing so. Quill had kindly shown her the way to Celestia's chambers the day before, but the path there felt even longer now that she had to walk there in the dark, her only source of vision being the magical, cyan glow of her horn. She had been offered an escort to her destination, but Sunset had declined, having quickly committed the path to the princess's room to memory and confident that she could get there by herself. But now that she was on her way, that confidence had wavered under the curtain of night. With no sunlight to guide her, she had to rely on her own willpower and bravery to see her to her destination.

Still, she knew where she was going. Princess Celestia's chambers were located at the very top of the spire on the castle's east wing, and if Sunset was recalling the path there correctly, she should be approaching the spire soon. Quill had not actually taken her up the spire, but since there was nowhere else to go from there, there wasn't really any point; once she made it to the spire, all she had to do was climb the staircase to the top.

Sunset had made it to where Quill's guidance had come to an end. In front of her was an archway leading into a breezeway towards the spire. The short, enclosed hall had a few windows, allowing for Sunset to peer outside into the night sky. The stars were pretty bright tonight, and the full moon glowed with an otherworldly light. Sunset knew that Princess Luna was awake. It was her understanding that Luna often simply wandered the halls of the castle at night, but Sunset had not encountered her. Perhaps she didn't often traipse through the castle's east wing, or, more likely, the sheer size of the castle made it improbable that they would happen to bump into one another.

Taking her eyes away from the moon, Sunset approached the door at the end of the short, connecting breezeway and stepped through into Celestia's spire. It certainly wasn't anything fancy; just a spiral staircase going up the perimeter of the tower. There were no decorations, or anything like that. Sunset had expected there to be at least an image of Celestia's cutie mark, like with everything else belonging to her, but then again, what use did the alicorn princess have for stairs when she could simply fly to her chambers whenever she wanted, or even just teleport herself there? There was likely no need to doll up the stairway.

Even so, the inside of the tower was well lit, the sconces in the structure flickering with gentle flames, unlike the halls of the castle proper. Celestia was expecting company after all. And with an actual source of light that wasn't her own, Sunset managed a small grin, hurrying up the spiral staircase to the top. It was a longer trek than she had anticipated. She knew the tower looked tall from the outside, but having to actually climb it made it feel twice as big. By the time the filly had reached the top, her eager pace had slowed, and she had to stop and catch her breath.

But once she had reached her destination, she was happy to take a moment to enjoy it. Unlike the unimpressive stairway, at the top was an extravagant, purple doorway bearing the mark of the sun that the amber unicorn had seen emblazoned all over the castle, with white accents that resembled swirling clouds. Sunset felt as though she were about to step into the gateway to paradise; a land of pure bliss and happiness where stress and worry were nonexistent.

That being said, that didn't stop Sunset from feeling stressed. These were the personal chambers of Princess Celestia. She was about to be privy to something that very few ponies could ever dream of witnessing. She was understandably nervous.

But Sunset swallowed her apprehension, and slowly and carefully pushed the door open. She did not enter the room beyond, but merely poked her head in.

Despite it still being night, the room was illuminated somewhat by the soft glow of the moon through a pair of glass doors on the left side of the room. Straight ahead of Sunset, opposite the entrance, was a bed, covered in dark purple sheets and a similarly colored awning hanging above. However, the bed was far bigger than even the queen size beds in the rooms of the staff quarters, but that was to be expected; Celestia was certainly taller than the average pony, so it made sense that she'd have a larger bed to accommodate her larger size. The thing is, it was even bigger than it reasonably needed to be, easily capable of fitting three Celestias, with room to spare.

But that was of little concern to Sunset. What did matter was the form underneath the blankets.

Having heard the door creak open, the long, graceful neck of Princess Celestia lifted her head from her pillow, glancing sleepily toward the entrance of her room to see a tiny, unicorn filly peeking from her doorway. Sunset was caught off guard by the alicorn's appearance. Her colorful aurora of a mane that normally flowed gently and smoothly was hanging limp around her face and neck, the colors looking a little duller than usual, and not just because of the lack of light in the room.

Regardless of the somnolent look in her pink eyes, Celestia managed a warm smile upon seeing the filly. "Oh, Sunset, good morning." She glanced to her bedside table at the sun-shaped clock; it was still only half past five. "You're a little early, but come in."

Sunset did as she was told, quietly closing the door behind her. She didn't say anything, as her slight nervousness was still present, especially now that she realized that she had awoken the princess prematurely. On top of that, she had to watch Celestia rise from her bed. Not only was it unusual to see her mane and tail in such an unceremonious state, but this was also the first time Sunset had seen Celestia without her golden regalia. It almost felt indecent for her to witness the princess looking like this.

However, such feelings were quickly laid to rest. Celestia had climbed out of bed and fixed the sheets, then proceeded to stretch her long legs and majestic wings. Then, with the golden aura of her horn, Celestia's mane and tail suddenly began to glow and shimmer with light, restoring them to their normal, effervescent beauty as they flowed in the absence of wind. Seeing her return to this more recognizable state, Sunset finally managed a smile again, staring up fondly at the princess.

Celestia lit her horn up once more, and the glass lamps on the walls of her bedroom began to glow with light, giving Sunset a full view of the now illuminated chamber.

The walls were blindingly white, something that was easy to see even without the light, but much more apparent with it. The floor was entirely covered with light purple carpet, and felt even softer than the ones in the castle's halls, and, like almost everything else Celestia-related, was emblazoned with a large image of a sun in the center. Overall, the room was laid out similarly to the rooms in the staff quarters. To the left of the entrance was a vanity and a large wardrobe, the latter of which was notably bigger than those of the staff quarters; Sunset imagined that it was packed with many elegant and fancy dresses for formal occasions. Over on the right wall was a writing desk, larger, of course, to accommodate Celestia's taller stature. But beside it was a bookshelf filled with tomes. Sunset had to wonder if these were merely copies of Celestia's favorite books from the royal archives, or if they were books that the princess had squirreled away for herself. And to the left of those fixtures was another door. Sunset could only assume that it was Princess Celestia's private bathroom. Although she was curious to see it, out of respect for the alicorn's privacy, she said nothing about it.

One interesting aspect of the room were the shelves along the back wall, flanking Celestia's bed. They contained all sorts of strange items that Sunset could only presume were souvenirs from foreign lands. But what caught her eye most was the paper-mâché sun that Sunset had gifted to the princess earlier that week. The filly's smile widened slightly upon seeing it up there with all of Celestia's other treasures, even if the paint and glue had stained the shelf it was on a little.

Finally, Sunset's gaze was directed toward where the source of the moonlight was coming from: the glass doors on the left side wall. A set of transparent, white curtains hung in front of them, but the view outside was visible regardless, with the starry sky hovering over the stone balcony outside.

Celestia walked over to the glass doors, pulling the curtains aside with her magic and opening the doors to the balcony. The two ponies were immediately caressed by the cool, early morning breeze wafting into the bed chambers. The alicorn turned back to Sunset, and with a slight tilt of her head, gestured for the filly to follow her outside.

Sunset did as instructed and stepped out onto the balcony with the princess. She approached the railing and stood on her hind legs to lean against it, looking out into the dark of the night. Even with the soft light of the moon overhead, it was still difficult to see much within the darkness. Sunset could barely see the edge of the Everfree Forest below them, but from this vantage point she could imagine how beautiful the countryside must look.

"We've still got some time before I need to raise the sun," Celestia pointed out, breaking the calm silence. She glanced down at the young unicorn. "I believe I promised to answer any remaining questions you had about me. Would you like to pick up where we left off, Sunset?"

Sunset stared up at the princess, hopping back down on all fours. It was odd to not see the filly smiling at Celestia in her presence, but there was a curious look on her face. "Have you been raising the sun forever?"

Celestia couldn't help but chuckle quietly at the question. She figured this would be where Sunset wanted to start. "Forever is a long time, my little pony. But, no, not forever. Believe it or not, there were ponies who raised the sun and moon long before Luna and I."

Sunset's eyes widened slightly, her curiosity growing. "Really? How come I've never heard of them?"

Celestia stared wistfully out into the starry horizon. "Because that was a very, very, very long time ago. So long in fact that history has all but forgotten about them."

"Who were they?"

Celestia grinned down at Sunset with a giggle. "Why, our parents, of course."

Sunset smiled back with intrigue. She had to admit that it made sense, but that also immediately dispelled any theories about Celestia and Luna being as old as time itself. "What were they like?"

Celestia closed her eyes. While the alicorn still smiled softly, it was a forlorn smile. "They were wonderful people, kind and strong. They were role models for my sister and I."

"And probably for their subjects, too, right?"

Celestia shook her head, but continued smiling. "They had no subjects."

Sunset tilted her head in confusion.

"They were not rulers. In fact, there was not even a kingdom to speak of back then. The kingdom of Equestria was established by Luna and I long after our parents passed away."

Sunset's ears folded back sympathetically. Though she was sad to hear that they were gone, it wasn't as though she expected differently; if they were still around, they'd certainly be well known. "So you and your sister took over moving the sun and moon after they were gone?"

"Well, our mom and dad trained us how to do it long in advance. As long as the lifespan of an alicorn is, we are not immortal, and our lives will one day come to an end like any other. Our parents prepared us for that. Our mother taught us about the sun, and our father taught us about the moon."

Sunset stared up at the full moon in the sky. "Who was around to move the sun and moon before your parents?"

"Nopony."

The filly whipped her head up to stare at Celestia incredulously.

"Our parents created the sun and moon. However, the two celestial orbs you see everyday and every night are not the same sun and moon they created."

That only served to baffle Sunset further.

"Our parents didn't just teach us how to move the sun and moon, but also how to create our own. You see, our lives our tied to them by our magic; when their creator dies, so, too, does the celestial body they created. Therefore, it was necessary for Luna and I to learn to create our own, because the ones that existed would disappear when our parents passed away. And one day, we will need to find ourselves successors, as well, though I suspect I still have a good number of years left in me yet; I don't plan on going anywhere any time soon."

Sunset stared in amazement at Celestia. As if she didn't already have all the respect in the world for her, now she learns that Celestia actually created the sun she watched every morning. But that in and of itself raised another question. "Could I create my own sun, too?"

Celestia chuckled at the notion, giving the filly a regretful smile. "Let's not get in over our heads. It takes an incredible amount of magic to create a celestial body, not to mention years of training. No ordinary unicorn could manage such a thing, even if they trained their entire life."

That was a little disappointing for Sunset to hear, but it didn't bother her too much. If it were that easy to make a sun, Celestia wouldn't be such a noteworthy individual. It only served to make the princess more incredible. "Do you think I could at least move the sun someday?"

The alicorn again gave Sunset a soft smile. "I'm sorry, but I don't think that's likely either."

"But what if something happens and you can't raise the sun one morning?"

"Well, there have been occasions where I was feeling under the weather and couldn't muster the strength to do it. But in those cases I just call upon Luna to do it in my stead, and I could do the same with her and move the moon if need be."

"So you don't have to be the creator to move them, then?"

Celestia could hear the hopeful optimism in the filly's voice. "It still takes an immense amount of magical power to accomplish such a task. Even the world's most talented unicorns, like your father, wouldn't be strong enough to even budge the sun. But I'll tell you what: the next time I'm unable to raise the sun, due to sickness, or whatever ill may befall me, I'll ask for your help. How does that sound?"

Sunset beamed up at the princess, her fiery tail swishing eagerly. She never thought she'd find herself wishing for the princess to catch a cold. "You'll let me raise the sun?!"

"You can try," Celestia specified. "But try not to get your hopes up too high. The only people who I've ever known to be capable of moving the sun and moon are Luna and myself, and our parents, of course."

The unicorn suppressed an elated squeal. But as exciting as the prospect was, she had another question on her mind. "Do you miss your parents?" Sunset asked.

Celestia nodded, but her smile faded, a remorseful frown blemishing her otherwise perfect face. "Of course I do. But it was such a long time ago that I scarcely even remember what they looked like. But I do hear their voices in my dreams sometimes, clear as day. I am afraid that one day, as my age starts to take its toll, my memory of them will end up leaving me entirely. I wish I had had the forethought to write down everything I knew about them before the details started slipping my mind, so I'd always have someway to remember them."

Sunset remained quiet. It was evident that Celestia was reminiscing about her parents—or at least trying—and Sunset didn't want to interrupt her.

However, that would wind up out of her control when the peaceful silence surrounding the balcony was shattered by the noisy chimes of Celestia's alarm clock inside her bedroom. With a quick flourish of her magic, Celestia shut the alarm off and grinned once more down at the filly beside her. "Won't be long now. I think you have time for one more quick question."

Sunset took a second to ponder her options before settling on one that was plaguing her since this conversation started. "How old are you?"

Celestia couldn't help but laugh boisterously at the rather childish question, casting a sly smirk down at the unicorn. "I can't tell you that. I have to maintain some level of mystery, don't I?"

Sunset smiled in amusement at the look on the princess's face. "You don't even know, do you?"

The alicorn snickered, blushing with slight embarrassment. "You start to lose count after the first few thousand years." Celestia then turned her gaze out toward the dark horizon. "It's time. Are you ready?"

Sunset's excitement came back in full force as she leaned against the balcony railing once more, waiting for the grand event to take place. Starswirl had voiced his opinion to her the night before, admitting that he didn't quite understand why she was getting so worked up about something that Princess Celestia does literally every single morning. It shouldn't have been anything special. But Sunset knew better. After learning everything she has about Princess Celestia and her relationship with the sun, Sunset knew there was nothing more important to Equestria as a whole than the sunrise. The sun bestowed life to the land, and by extension, so did Celestia. To even the princess herself, this may have felt like a simple morning routine, but in reality, it was a gift that she shared with the world everyday.

And today, Sunset would receive that gift in person.

Sunset watched as Princess Celestia's horn lit up with its golden aura, prompting the filly to follow her gaze out into the distant sky. She immediately noticed that the moon had suddenly vanished, and assumed that Princess Luna must have moved it while they were conversing to make way for the sunrise. The wait felt excruciating, even more so than when she usually watched the sunrise by herself. Her little legs were trembling, and her heart rate jumped up in anticipation.

And then, it happened.

A soft, amber light began to penetrate the darkness on the horizon, steadily spreading outwards and upwards, pushing back the veil and forcing the stars back into hiding for the day. The light began to illuminate the verdant landscape, silhouetting the tall mountains around Canterlot Valley and casting its warm and comforting light upon Sunset's hometown jutting out of the mountainside some distance away. The Everfree Forest below them began to come to life, the green canopy shimmering with the morning dew and a chorus of birds singing as they were awoken by the light.

Sunset managed to tear her teal eyes away from the stunning view to take another look at the majestic alicorn standing beside her. It felt like a dream; Celestia standing right next to her as she performed the morning sunrise, glorious wings outstretched and horn alight with glimmering, golden magic. She felt as though she were in the presence of an otherworldly being, one with the power to quell all fear and doubt and provide warmth and security to those around her.

The amber filly turned toward the horizon once more, and her eyes widened with wonder. The light had grown brighter, and the curved edge of Celestia's incandescent creation began to emerge from its slumber to grace the world with its glow. Sunset's heart raced faster, her eyes transfixed and unblinking despite the bright light of the sun beaming at her. Her hind legs suddenly felt weak, and her vision began to become unfocused.

Celestia smiled softly as she stared out at her sun. It was an odd feeling to have an audience to witness her raising the sun, but was somehow gratifying to know there were those who had such respect for what was to her a simple morning ritual. The sun had made it most of the way above the horizon now, far enough that it didn't really need her help anymore beyond this point. Celestia let her magic dissipate, letting a short, satisfied breath out through her nostrils.

Suddenly, Celestia was startled by the soft sound of something dropping onto the balcony. She quickly glanced down to find the young filly beside her collapsed onto her side, unconscious, and Celestia went into a frightened panic.

"Sunset!"

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

The little filly moaned quietly as her eyelids cracked open slowly. She stirred slightly, as if not yet fully awake, her brain still trying to turn back on. She felt warm. Something heavy, yet comfortable, lay on top of her, and she felt cozy where she was. A part of her wanted to shut her eyes and get some more sleep.

"Sunset? Are you alright, sweetie?"

Upon hearing the voice, the filly made another effort to open her eyes, rubbing them with her amber hooves. "Daddy?"

Finally, her tired, teal eyes adjusted, and she turned slightly to her left. The blurry shape of a unicorn's head came into focus, revealing her bearded father watching over her from the bedside.

However, despite her somnolent state, Sunset was quick to realize that she was not laying in her own bed, nor the one she had slept in last night; it was far bigger, inordinately so for a little filly of her size, and the blankets upon her were much thicker and heavier.

Starswirl managed a relieved smile to see his daughter seemed to be okay. "Time to get up, sleepyhead. It's morning."

Sunset instinctively pulled the covers closer to herself, groaning in displeasure, something Starswirl had not seen the little early bird do for a couple of weeks now. But it didn't take long for Sunset to catch on to that thought herself and she shot upright suddenly. However, she wobbled slightly, still feeling a touch lightheaded, which wasn't helped by her jerky movement. "D-Did I miss it?" she said with worry in her voice.

"No, of course not."

Sunset turned to her right at the sound of the second familiar voice. The angelic form of an alicorn stood beside the bed, silhouetted by the sunlight streaming in through the balcony's glass doors. It was finally coming back to her. She had been watching Princess Celestia raise the sun. She saw the sun come up over the horizon, but then things got fuzzy, and then she woke up in bed; Princess Celestia's bed, as she was now realizing.

"What happened?" the confused filly asked.

"The doctor said you got a little overstimulated and fainted," her father answered. "Nothing serious."

"I have to apologize, Mr. Starswirl," Celestia said with a remorseful frown. "I didn't know she would have such an extreme reaction."

"I wouldn't expect you to," the stallion said with a dismissive grin. "Sunset got a bit too excited for her own good."

"I really fainted from watching the sunrise?" Sunset repeated, finding it hard to believe herself.

Celestia nodded. "You did. I must say, I know my subjects revere me highly, but I've never heard of any of them being so excited by a simple sunrise that they pass out."

Sunset put on a big smile as she looked up at the princess. "But that's just how amazing you are, Princess! That's why I watch it every morning, 'cause I know how important it is, and how important you are!"

The alicorn's ivory cheeks were tinted pink by a bashful blush. "That's very kind of you to say, Sunset. But you really don't have to put yourself out just to watch the sunrise every morning. There's no harm in sleeping in every once in a while."

Sunset tilted her head slightly, confused by her logic. "There is if you sleep in."

Celestia was a little caught off guard by that response.

"You can't sleep in because then the sun won't rise. That's your responsibility. So if you have to get up early every morning, then I wanna get up early every morning. Because I wanna be just like you."

Princess Celestia stood speechless for a few moments, her mouth hanging open slightly as if she wanted to say something but couldn't find the words. While she was used to receiving praise from her subjects, foals as young as Sunset didn't often think about the bigger picture in such a way and often took things for granted. And as she stared into Sunset's determined, teal eyes, she could tell there was something different about this filly; something special.

From the other side of the bed, Starswirl observed as his devoted, little girl spoke to the princess. Time and again he'd told Sunset to mind her manners around the princess and not speak out of turn. But here she was, talking to Celestia as though she'd known the alicorn her whole life, yet he couldn't bring himself to reprimand her. His daughter spoke with purpose. It was clear to him now that she had a dream and was determined to see it through, for better or worse. And, as her father, it was his job to support her when she needed it, and also reign her in if she got in over her head.

And to that end, he made a decision on the spot.

"Alright, Sunset, it's time to go," the bearded stallion said calmly.

The filly stared at her father, puzzled by the statement. "Huh? Go where?"

"Back to Canterlot."

Sunset felt her chest tighten worriedly. She threw the princess's bed sheets off of herself and hurried to catch up to her father before he made it to the door, cutting him off. "Why?! We were supposed to stay for the weekend! We still have one more night!"

Starswirl smirked down at the panicked child, not feeling much remorse since he had already anticipated her next response. "We'll have more time than that. We're going home to pack up our things."

Sunset's narrowed pupils widened again, her ears perking up as she pieced the meaning of his words together.

Celestia took a step over toward the pair. "Are you sure you don't need more time to think about this, Mr. Starswirl? This is a big decision," she asked, though her relieved smile belied her considerate tone.

"As I said, Your Highness, my daughter is the most important thing to me," Starswirl reiterated. "And you are the most important thing to her."

Celestia took a moment to observe the look on Starswirl's face. Though he was reluctant to accept her offer initially, he now suddenly seemed satisfied with his decision, his proud smile strong and unwavering. She smiled herself. Celestia couldn't help but envy him. To put his own wants and needs to the wayside in favor of his child's must have been truly rewarding to make sacrifices like this. She was starting to wish she had some way to attain that level of satisfaction.

Sunset started eagerly tugging on her father's foreleg, a big grin plastered on her face. "Come on! We gotta get home! I've got a lot of stuff I need to pack!"

"Alright, alright, I'm coming," Starswirl laughed as he was dragged out the door.

Princess Celestia, now left to herself within her quiet bed chambers, let out a soft sigh. She turned towards her balcony, stepping outside into the cool, morning air. The alicorn stared off into the horizon where her sun was comfortably sitting as it started its journey across the sky for the day. She rarely saw the sunrise as anything worth noting in her day-to-day, but something about today felt special, and she was pretty sure she knew what it was.

Perhaps the satisfaction she coveted wasn't so out of reach after all.