• 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 5 - Kindling

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 5: Kindling

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The throne room of Canterlot Castle was empty, and the silence was so thick it was almost ironically loud. Usually the castle was abuzz with activity; soldiers conversing in the halls, or advisers reading aloud the day's itinerary. Certainly even the sounds of hooves against the soft carpets stretching through the halls would be easy to hear in a place as spacious as Canterlot Castle.

But today, nothing.

The thing is, it wasn't as though the castle were devoid of people. In truth, everything was perfectly normal. Guards were at their posts; servants were busy cleaning the halls; chefs were preparing lunch. All in all, it was a pretty average day at Canterlot Castle.

At least for most people who worked there. For Princess Celestia, on the other hoof, it was anything but.

The alabaster alicorn and one of Equestria's shining symbols of hope and comfort had been in a rather dour state since the previous day. She'd been wandering the halls of the castle absentmindedly since, too focused on the thoughts occupying her mind to pay attention to anything happening around her, or anything said to her. She felt as though she were alone in her home with only her persistent worries to accompany her.

Twilight Sparkle, her faithful student—or rather, former student—had made off with an ancient book she'd written long ago, despite her insistence otherwise. She had been hoping that guilt would eventually persuade Twilight to return the book to her, but it had been a day since Celestia had seen her. Perhaps her emotional outburst had frightened Twilight, and she was afraid to return for fear of punishment. Celestia couldn't really believe that, though. Twilight wasn't a child; she was mature enough to accept the repercussions of her actions. Still, she felt guilty herself that her most loyal subject and one of her closest friends had to see that side of her.

Princess Celestia had managed to find herself in the empty throne room of her castle, her aimless wanderings having apparently brought her there while lost in thought. She stood at the base of the platform where the two thrones were seated, gazing around at the expansive room as though it were her first time there. The marble pillars; the stained glass windows depicting significant events in Equestria's history; the elevated thrones where she and her dear sister sat to govern their kingdom. All of it was familiar, yet now alien at the same time. Seeing that book again for the first time in literal ages was bringing back a flood of old memories, reminding her of the days gone by when she lived at the Castle of the Two Sisters on the far edge of the Everfree Forest.

Not to mention the memories of somepony she held very dearly...

Celestia let out a long, forlorn sigh. She approached the carpeted ramp leading up to her throne with the intent of just sitting there for a bit and thinking quietly. However, she came to a halt when the silence was broken by a pop of magic. The princess turned around to investigate, but was shocked to see that she was no longer alone.

Much to Celestia's surprise, Twilight had returned. The lavender mare stood in the middle of the throne room quietly, as though waiting for Celestia to say something.

"Twilight?" Celestia fully turned to face her. She was conflicted by feelings of both relief to see her come back, but concern over exactly why.

Twilight didn't appear happy. In fact, she looked rather upset, scowling at her mentor with a furrowed brow and displeased grimace. Celestia was starting to feel a touch uneasy, the silence between the two alicorns as thick as soup. How much of the book had she read, Celestia wondered.

Finally mustering up the will to address her former student, Celestia spoke to her with as much compassion and concern as she could manage. "Are you... alright, Twilight?" she asked, still worried about her incensed expression.

Twilight ignored the question in favor of her own, her voice uncomfortably quiet, icy, and hurt. "Is that all I am to you? A replacement?!"

Celestia was taken aback by the unexpected accusation. "What? What are you talking about?"

"Don't act like you're oblivious to it!" the irate alicorn snapped. "A young filly who idolized you, had a surge of magic that unlocked their hidden potential and earned them their cutie mark, and then taking them on as your personal student. I'm just like Sunset Shimmer!"

Celestia was a bit shaken by the venom in Twilight's voice, but she wasn't really in a position to question a sudden outburst of anger. She breathed a long sigh of remorse. Not so much because Twilight had made that connection, but because she chose to see it that way. "Twilight, you can't compare yourself to Sunset Shimmer."

That statement only served to upset Twilight more, even feeling a sharp, emotional pain in her chest upon hearing it. "Because she was better than me?"

Celestia stepped forward defensively. "No, of course not! That's not what I'm—"

"You don't have to pretend..." Twilight looked away, her gaze falling to the side and her voice becoming more dejected. "She was repeatedly described as being naturally talented, whereas I could barely use magic at all until my entrance exam for your school... And she could even move the sun when she was just a filly apparently. I can't even do that now."

The ivory alicorn's ears folded back as she stared upon the self-pitying look on Twilight's face. Of all the reactions she'd expected her to have to the book, Celestia never expected her to fixate on how she compared to Sunset. It was unusual for Twilight to display feelings of inadequacy, though she'd never actually met another unicorn as talented or as powerful as she was. Was Twilight jealous of Sunset Shimmer?

Celestia took a deep breath, composing herself in an effort to help put Twilight's mind at ease. "Twilight, how much of the book have you read?"

"Enough..." she mumbled.

Celestia held out her hoof. "Then would mind returning it, please?"

Twilight's frown had once again shifted back to a scowl, raising an eyebrow and questioning her teacher's intent. "But I might as well finish it now that I've found out your 'big secret.'"

The sun princess lowered her hoof again. Twilight's uncharacteristically stinging tone hurt her deeply, but Celestia knew that she had brought this upon herself by not mentioning it to her. She only hoped that she could prevent any further pain. "Twilight, I'm sorry that I got upset with you yesterday. I acted irrationally because I was so shocked to see that book again. But I implore you, don't read any more. It's not worth it."

Twilight knit her brow tighter, surprised and even upset further by what she heard. "So there's more? What else are you hiding from me?!"

"I'm not 'hiding' anything from you, I'm protecting you!"

The lavender mare grit her teeth, fed up with Celestia's secrecy. "Protecting me from what?! You?! What's so bad in this book that you can't tell me about it?! I thought I could trust you, but now I know I'm just a living reminder of somepony else!"

"It's not that simple, Twilight!"

"Oh, yeah? Well, we'll see just how complicated it is, then! I know you're hiding more from me, and I'm gonna find out what!"

Twilight set her horn aglow with magic. Celestia stepped forward in a panic, reaching out to try and stop her. But as quickly as she had arrived, Twilight vanished again, her pink magic flashing brightly as she teleported out of the castle.

Celestia fell back onto her haunches in defeat, hanging her head in both regret and disappointment. "You know less than you think, Twilight..."

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

Twilight popped back into her bedroom back in Ponyville. No sooner than she had materialized there did she waste any time casting another spell. In an instant, her room was encompassed by a magical shield, preventing anypony—alicorn, or otherwise—from teleporting themselves inside. After that unpleasant conversation, Twilight fully expected Celestia to have had enough of this and come looking for the book, but she had no intention of returning it now. If she wanted it back badly enough, she was going to have to blast down that barrier to get it.

Twilight was still fuming. She felt her heart racing in her chest, her lungs were short of breath, and her face was flushed and hot with anger. But now that she was back within the solitude of her home, her anger began to cool; slowly, but steadily all the same. The problem with that was, with her temper subsiding, her mind was finally starting to clear, and she was beginning to contemplate the ramifications of all of this.

She was still upset, to be sure. How could Princess Celestia not tell her about Sunset Shimmer? There was no way she had simply forgotten about her; Celestia wrote an entire book about her, so she had obviously left a lasting impact on the princess. She had never felt so betrayed. To be so upset by something her idol had been keeping from her that she would tear into Celestia like she did, shouting and accusing. Twilight felt as though she'd become a totally different person, not unlike when she'd witnessed Celestia do much the same the previous day.

But it wasn't just about Celestia keeping secrets anymore.

Twilight's breaths started to become shaky, and she could already feel the moisture building in her eyes. She clenched her eyelids shut, wanting to focus on the anger rather than succumb to the pain she now felt in her heart. She had suspected that the contents of that book might affect how she saw the princess, but she hadn't expected it to make her look at herself differently.

Twilight didn't feel special anymore. She considered Princess Celestia to practically be a second mother to her, but, for some reason that she couldn't figure out, finding out that she was just filling the void that Sunset Shimmer had left made her begin questioning her own self-worth. It was like replacing a broken toy, but the new toy was just a cheap knockoff brand. And that's what Twilight felt like now: a cheap knockoff. She wasn't even as good as Sunset Shimmer. Sunset was just a filly and she could move the sun. How was Twilight supposed to compete with that?

Deep down, a part of her knew she was being irrational. As large a blow as her self-esteem had suffered, Twilight still knew she was smart, and that her emotions had likely gotten the better of her. But somehow, that didn't ease the pain of it. It probably wouldn't have been this bad on her if Celestia had just told her about Sunset Shimmer a long time ago. The fact that she had willingly kept that information away from her told her Celestia must have held Sunset in higher regard and wanted to spare her feelings.

Now feeling dejected beyond repair, Twilight wiped away the tears that had been welling up in her eyes and crawled onto her bed. She couldn't help but think about how damaged her relationship with Celestia was going to be after this, or if the two of them will even have a relationship at all anymore. The somber mare lay her head on her pillow, but her eyes caught sight of the book, still left open on the bed. Twilight grimaced slightly at the sight of it. She was starting to wish she'd never found that book. Twilight was never one who took stock in the saying, "Ignorance is bliss," but she was beginning to see the appeal. She probably would have been much happier not knowing about Sunset Shimmer.

Twilight contemplated what she should do now. That book had already caused her enough pain. Did she really want to keep reading it now? Her brief "talk" with Princess Celestia just now seemed to indicate that she had yet more secrets that she was hiding, but would Twilight be able to handle them? She was already emotionally drained from just one secret, and she feared how it might affect the rest of her life.

But her innate curiosity scratched at the back of her head. If she didn't finish it, she'd spend the rest of her life wondering. Her heart and mind were already in shambles anyway. What more could this dumb book do to her now?

So, with a long, listless sigh, Twilight propped herself up on her bed again, pulling the book over to her to pick up where she left off. At the very least, she was interested to see if Celestia's teaching methods were any different for Sunset...

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

Things were going to be a little different around the Castle of the Two Sisters from now on. News had spread throughout the staff of what had happened to Sunset Shimmer and what the young filly had accomplished. Needless to say they were more than a little flabbergasted to hear she had raised the sun—well, she moved the sun; even with as much power that had burst forth from her, she had only managed to push the sun up enough to see its very edge, but even that was more than what any other unicorn could claim. The servants and guards around the castle reacted mostly with disbelief, but many were quick to congratulate Sunset, knowing how much she aspired to be like Princess Celestia.

And there were none who took this more seriously than the princess herself. Having resolved to teach Sunset Shimmer how to utilize the power they now knew she possessed, Celestia had made Sunset's tutoring a priority. Some of her usual routines and duties had been postponed, or outright cancelled to make time in her day-to-day for Sunset, which was expected to cause a few headaches for her royal advisers and schedulers. But Celestia was determined to make sure Sunset knew how to control her inner magic, and was willing to make any adjustments and sacrifices necessary. After all, she strongly believed that her new pupil had the potential to do great things with that power of hers.

But, unfortunately, Sunset's surge of power caused by the solar flare had left her burnt out and unable to use magic for a few days, meaning that the actual practice of controlling her magic would have to wait until she had made a full recovery. On the bright side, however, it made for a good opportunity to teach Sunset about magic before she put it into practice, as a deeper understanding of different types of magic, the history of magic, and the many applications of magic would go a long way in helping Sunset understand her own magic. So, to that end, after giving Sunset a day to recuperate after her ordeal, Celestia had declared that she would be taking this Sunday off from her usual royal duties to direct one hundred percent of her focus on teaching her new protégé before she had to return to school the next day.

Of course, Sunset was ecstatic. Ever since she'd woken up that morning, she'd been following Princess Celestia around the castle as though she were the princess's pint-sized shadow. Even if she couldn't use her magic, Sunset never doubted that anything that Celestia taught her would be important and useful, and didn't want to miss anything.

"So, what are we gonna start with, Princess?" the filly asked eagerly as the two cantered casually through the castle halls. "Since I'm burnt out, can we try other magic, like runic magic? Or potions?"

"Not quite what I had in mind," Celestia laughed. "It would be pertinent to learn to master your own magic before attempting to use other kinds. No, today is primarily going to be informative. You like history lessons, don't you?"

Sunset nodded with a cute grin. "Like when you told me and my classmates about your battle with Discord. That was cool!"

Celestia chuckled bashfully at the compliment. "Oh, well, I'm certainly glad to hear that I'm 'cool.' Truth be told, I did enjoy it quite a bit myself. I've been thinking since then that it might be interesting to try my hoof at teaching. I have a lot to share, and it'd be a shame not to pass that knowledge onto younger generations."

"You could be a great teacher!" Sunset chirped. "Everypony already loves you, so you won't have any trouble getting them interested."

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Why don't we see how well our time together goes before you start putting ideas in my head, hm?"

Sunset smiled in agreement, still excited by all of this and physically unable to give her cheeks a rest.

Before long, Sunset had realized where they were going. At first she expected Princess Celestia to bring her to the royal archives to do some studying. However, they had just passed the archives, and Celestia didn't so much as glance at the door. Which meant that their destination could only be the throne room. Sunset looked up curiously at her new teacher, but remained quiet, letting it play out to see what Celestia had in store for her.

Sure enough, the two of them had wound up in the throne room, and there Celestia stopped, a short distance away from the base of the thrones' platform. As often as Sunset had been through this room, and as extravagant and awe-inspiring as it was, she never saw anything about it that might seem magical in nature, or could be used as teaching tools.

"What are we doing in the throne room?" Sunset asked the alicorn.

Celestia could sense the confusion and skepticism in the filly's voice, smiling reassuringly. "There's something I want to show you; something very important not just for the sake of teaching, but for Equestria itself.

Sunset's ears perked up and stood at attention. Now she was intrigued. What could be so important in here that it affected Equestria as a whole?

"Step back a little, Sunset."

The filly moved away from the stairs leading up to the thrones, standing beside Celestia and waiting patiently.

Celestia's horn lit up with golden light. Sunset then heard a noise. It sounded like it was coming from the floor, like large stones being moved. The rug on the floor in front of them suddenly began to shift and rise, and Celestia pulled it aside to reveal a huge, square slab of stone that had come loose underneath it. Lifting the slab up and moving it out of the way, Celestia had revealed a large hole in the floor leading to a dark chamber beneath. Sunset was about to step forward to peer inside, but Celestia held out her hoof to stop her.

The princess wasn't finished, and now the very floor of the throne room was trembling. Before long, something began to emerge from the gap that Celestia had opened. Sunset watched in silent awe as a stone pedestal rose up from the floor. A cylindrical column stood in the center of the pedestal, a large, perfectly-spherical stone balanced atop it. Despite being made of stone, the entire structure appeared to be somewhat mechanical, with five arms of varying elevation extending out from the central pillar and slowly rotating around it. And upon the ends of each arm hovered five colored gemstones; purple, pink, red, orange, and sky blue.

Sunset simply stared at it, her mouth hanging open. She was entranced, intrigued, and baffled all at the same time by what she was seeing, gazing at the ornate patterns chiseled into the stone pedestal and listening to the steady, mechanical clicks of the rotating apparatus. Without tearing her eyes away from it, she quietly asked Princess Celestia, "What is that?"

"Those are the Elements of Harmony," the alicorn stated.

While she was befuddled by the sight of them, Sunset instantly recognized the name. "You mean the things you used to beat Discord?"

Celestia nodded. "The very same. Actually, Luna and I have come to rely on the Elements whenever a large threat encroaches upon Equestria."

Sunset lifted an eyebrow in slight confusion. "But you're alicorns. Isn't your magic super powerful?"

"We are powerful, but we aren't all-powerful. There are limits to what even we can achieve. Luna and I can move the sun and moon, but Discord could alter the very fabric of reality. Our magic can't stand up to that. So that's where the Elements come in."

Sunset stared wide-eyed at the jewels slowly orbiting the pedestal. "They're even more powerful than you and Luna combined?"

"In a sense. You see, the Elements of Harmony, as their name implies, are designed to combat chaotic and disharmonious forces. For example, Discord is the spirit of chaos, thus the Elements' magic can subdue him. However, their power would not work if used against Luna or myself, unless we were corrupted by dark power, or if we suddenly decided to become villains for whatever reason."

"So, basically, they only work on bad guys, right?" Sunset inferred.

Celestia shrugged with a smile. "That's the simplest way to look at it, but yes."

"What if somepony stole them?" the filly asked curiously. "Could they use them on anypony who was even a little bad?"

Celestia chuckled at the innocent-sounding question. "You probably don't have to worry about them being misused, if that's what you're getting at. The Elements cannot be used on their own. A powerful bond is required to activate their magic. The bond I share with my sister is how Luna and I are able to use them. That, and we were the ones who created them in the first place, so we have a special connection with the Elements. If others wished to utilize their power, six individuals each embodying the virtues represented by the Elements—honesty, loyalty, laughter, kindness, generosity, and magic—would be required."

"Can you use them without Luna?"

Celestia paused for a moment, humming in thought. "I could, but without our magic combined, the Elements would not be able to sustain themselves and would become drained of their power. We would have to reawaken them."

Sunset continued to gaze at the colorful crystals, deep in thought. As fascinating as this was, though, another question popped up in her head, and she looked up at the princess. "So, why are you showing me this?"

Celestia looked down to meet her gaze. She could tell from the expression on Sunset's face and the tone of her voice that she wasn't asking because she thought this was pointless, but because she knew there had to be a reason pertinent to her. The alicorn let out a sigh, gazing at Sunset as softly as she could to lessen the blow of her words. "Because I want you to understand that I am not perfect."

Sunset stayed silent. She hadn't been expecting that to be where this was going.

"I've had the pleasure of seeing the way you look at me, and knowing how highly you regard me. But you need to know that I cannot do everything." Celestia gestured toward the Elements of Harmony. "Without these relics, Equestria would have fallen to ruin ages ago. Any number of villains—not just Discord—could have taken over our world, or even destroyed it if not for the Elements, and Luna and I could have done nothing about it." She cast a solemn look down at her attentive pupil. "You won't always be able to rely on me. There may come a day where I may not be capable of protecting you, or any of my subjects." Celestia's expression suddenly became more determined and resolute. "And it's for this very reason that I want to teach you; so that you can protect yourself. So that you don't have to rely on me. You have the power within you to do great things, and I'm going to see to it that you can utilize that power to its fullest."

Sunset felt both moved and invigorated by her teacher's words. Knowing now how Celestia truly felt about herself and about her, Sunset was more determined than ever to master her inner strength, casting a reassuring and steadfast grin up at the alicorn. "So... Does this mean I can use the Elements against the next bad guy that shows up?"

A rather unladylike snort escaped Celestia's nose as she broke into boisterous laughter, having been caught off guard by the filly's surprisingly lighthearted response. "Oh-ho, we'll put that notion on the backburner for now. One thing at a time, alright? Now, why don't you run ahead to the royal archives while I put these dusty, old things away. I'll catch up in a few minutes."

Sunset nodded, her tail swishing eagerly at the idea of getting in some study time with her mentor. She wasted no time hurrying off back into the castle halls.

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

Sunset let out a long yawn, stretching her little legs out as she did. It certainly wasn't a yawn of boredom, she was just getting a little tired. She cursed that, of course. This had been a day she dreamed of; spending every waking hour she had today right alongside Princess Celestia while the alicorn taught her about magic. Sunset couldn't remember the last time she'd had this much fun, just chatting with somepony she cared about and learning a lot. It was perfect.

Too bad it had to come to an end at some point.

It felt like the daylight hours had come and gone in an instant, with the purple veil of twilight visible through the royal archives' window the only indication of the time. Even then, the alicorn and the filly never stopped their lessons, only taking short breaks for meals throughout the entire day. By now, the sky had faded to black, and Princess Luna had already brought out the moon for the night, yet Sunset didn't want the day to end. Even if she had asked Celestia to negotiate with her sister for a few more daylight hours, that wouldn't exactly prevent her from being tired.

But Sunset wasn't the only one who was sleepy. The filly looked to her left as she sat at one of the reading tables in the archives. Sunset might have been tired, but Princess Celestia had already conked out. It was a rather odd, yet somewhat amusing sight to see the princess of the sun with her head smack down on a table and snoozing away, her usual grace and elegance she exhibited during the day offset by her quiet snoring and the dribble of saliva drooling from the corner of her mouth and pooling onto the table. Even her mane and tail had lost some of their luster and the alicorn was using the silken locks like a makeshift pillow. Her hair still barely moved of its own accord, though, as not all of the magic had drained from it yet. Sunset knew that Princess Celestia had a rather strict sleep schedule, but she hadn't expected her to be physically unable to stay awake at this hour. It wasn't even that late, but the alicorn just must not have been used to it.

But it probably had to do with the day's events, as well. As much fun as Sunset had had today, Celestia seemed to have just as much. Similarly to when she had visited her school, the deeper Celestia got into her stories, the more animated and exuberant she started to get. Sunset was starting to see why she liked the idea of being a teacher; it really brought out her own inner child.

Once again, Sunset yawned. She was tired, sure, but she was pretty sure she could manage to stay up a bit longer if she wanted. But considering her teacher had already nodded off, she may as well turn in, too. After all, she had school in the morning. However, the issue now was what she was going to do about the slumbering alicorn. Sunset wasn't about to leave Princess Celestia to sleep in the royal archives with only a wooden table as a pillow, even if it didn't seem to bother her. Obviously she couldn't carry the much larger mare on her little back and all the way to her bedroom; climbing the tower would prove to be an insurmountable challenge alone. She could probably lift her with her magic, but she was still recovering from her burnout, and even if she was in any condition to use magic, it would probably be more than a little undignified for the sleeping princess to be lugged to her bedroom by a young filly.

With her options narrowed down, Sunset decided that she was going to have to ask for help. Her first instinct was to ask her father. He knew a teleportation spell, but she wasn't sure if he could teleport somepony else with him or not. Plus, she was already up past her bedtime. If her dad found out she wasn't in bed yet, she might get a lecture. Sunset wanted to avoid that if at all possible. The rest of the castle staff had probably already gone home or back to their quarters for the night. Everypony else was probably asleep at this hour anyway.

Well, everypony expect one...

Sunset hesitated at the thought, but figured it was her best course of action. Princess Luna's tower wasn't far from the royal archives anyway, and Sunset had never been there before, so she saw this as a kind of opportunity to sate a little bit of her curiosity. The filly quietly hopped off of her chair, trying not to disturb the sleeping alicorn still laying head down on the reading table, and made her way to Luna's tower.

Not surprisingly, the tower itself was practically identical to Celestia's, with its own connecting breezeway and a bland, spiral staircase leading to the top. But the door to her chambers, while also similar to that of the ivory alicorn's, was emblazoned with the image of a crescent moon, as expected.

Admittedly, Sunset was a little apprehensive about disturbing Princess Luna, expecting the moon princess to greet her uninvited visitor with an annoyed glower. But she remembered something Celestia had told her once, about how Luna was usually only cranky due to having been awake all night. Right now, she should be rested, so, theoretically, she was probably in a better mood currently. Or at the very least not as grouchy as usual. So Sunset worked up the nerve to finally knock on the ornate door.

There was no immediate, verbal answer, but Sunset heard the muffled sound of hooves on the carpeted floor approaching. The door opened, and Princess Luna peered out curiously, her gaze not level with her impromptu guest. Upon not meeting eye to eye with anypony right away as she was expecting to, Luna's gaze shifted down to the little filly, quirking an eyebrow in both curiosity and suspicion.

"Oh, it's thee. What art thee doing at Our door? Shouldn't thou be in bed?" Luna asked, slight annoyance in her voice.

Sunset swallowed nervously under the blue-eyed gaze of Princess Luna. She was already starting to regret this decision, but she did need help with her sleeping teacher, and she was here now anyway, so there was no point in not asking. "Um, Princess Celestia was tutoring me in the library, but she fell asleep. Can you help her back to her room, please?"

Luna's annoyed expression lifted upon hearing the explanation. "Oh, is that so?" She let out a quiet sigh, rolling her eyes with what appeared to be a small, somewhat amused smirk. "Some things never change, We suppose."

Sunset tilted her head in confusion. "What?"

Luna smiled at the filly, but as opposed to a condescending or haughty smirk, it looked to Sunset like a genuine, heartfelt smile. "Celestia would often doze off during our studies when we were younger, though not because she found it dull. Quite the opposite, in fact. She'd study so long into the night that she would tire herself out and drift off. We would frequently have to escort 'Her Sleepiness' to her chambers."

Sunset smiled, both in relief that Luna seemed willing to help, and in mild amusement to find out that this was once a regular occurrence.

"However," Luna continued, her grin dropping. "We hardly see need of this now. Why not just wake her up thyself?"

Sunset shifted her hooves slightly. "I didn't want to disturb her. She seemed so peaceful, even if she was snoring kinda loud."

Luna stifled a chuckle, a rare sight for Sunset to see. "Yes, her grace doth fall by the wayside when sleep takes hold of her so suddenly. Fine, We'll assist thee."

With that, Luna sauntered down her tower at a leisurely pace, Sunset following behind her. The filly was admittedly starting to feel a little more comfortable around the blue alicorn. Princess Celestia apparently wasn't kidding when she said her sister was more agreeable at night. She figured it would take more convincing than that, although she thought perhaps Luna was simply looking for something to do to pass the time; Sunset imagined it was pretty boring staying awake all night by oneself, so even a quick and simple task like this might have looked at least somewhat entertaining for the lonely moon princess.

Having arrived back at the royal archives, Luna and Sunset found Princess Celestia still sawing logs, having not budged since Sunset left. Luna smirked in both amusement and a little wistfulness.

"Just like old times indeed," the alicorn giggled as she approached her slumbering sister.

"You're not gonna wake her up, are you?" asked Sunset quietly.

Luna shook her head. "No. Celestia hast clearly hath a long day. We will let her sleep. Give Us a moment."

Luna's horn lit up with bright blue magic, and with a flash of light, she and her sister had suddenly disappeared. Sunset had witnessed teleportation before, her father being one of very few unicorns capable of utilizing the spell, but it was still always impressive to see a pony just vanish into thin air like that. Starswirl hadn't quite mastered the spell just yet, so he tended to use it sparingly, and he's never attempted to teleport two ponies at once for fear of the risk involved. So to see Luna do it so effortlessly and nonchalantly was admittedly inspiring. It was one of the spells that Sunset hoped to perfect someday herself.

After a minute of waiting, another flash filled the library, and Luna was standing before Sunset again. "There. Our sister hast been tucked snugly into bed. Now, We suggest you do the same, little one." Luna walked past Sunset on her way to the door.

"Wait."

The alicorn glanced over her shoulder with a raised eyebrow to see Sunset slowly approaching her. "Yes? Didst thou need something else?"

Sunset shifted awkwardly, hesitant to speak what was on her mind as she didn't want to annoy Luna too much when she seemed to be in such a good mood, relatively speaking. "Um... I-I'm sorry I yelled at you..."

Luna's eyes widened a little in surprise, the apology catching her off guard. "Oh. Er, yes, well... Hopefully thou understand now that one must take everything with a grain of salt. A smart pony questions everything instead of accepting it at face value. And hopefully Celestia hast learned her lesson as well. We would hate to see such a thing happen again." Luna expected the little unicorn to thank her for her help and forgiveness, but instead Sunset just stood there staring at her with an expectant look on her face. "What?"

"Aren't you going to apologize?" Sunset asked as though that were the logical course of the conversation.

Luna inferred that she was referring to the way she had adamantly argued with the filly about Celestia's lie, so she stuck her nose up at the question. "Why? We hath nothing to apologize for. We were right. The fact that thou didst move the sun afterward was merely happenstance and does not change the fact that Celestia tricked thee."

Sunset pursed her lips in a slight pout. She wasn't satisfied by that response, but Luna did have a point.

Luna could see the conflicted look on Sunset's face. It was evident that, while the filly was quick to forgive Celestia, at least a part of her was still a little hurt that she was lied to. So, Luna opted to try and ease her mind a bit by changing the subject. "Hast Our sister been rectifying her mistake well?"

Sunset was a touch confused by the question, tilting her head slightly at the alicorn. "Huh?"

"Is she a good teacher?" Luna clarified. "Art thou learning much from her?"

The inquiry elicited a cheery grin from Sunset, quickly replacing any doubt or frustration in her mind. "Yeah!" she chirped. "It's only been one day, but I've already learned a lot!"

"But We suppose there is only so much thou can learn while unable to use thy magic. What hath thou learned?"

"Princess Celestia showed me the Elements of Harmony," Sunset answered excitedly.

Luna was surprised to hear that. "Really? So soon?"

Sunset was a touch concerned by her tone. "Why? Was she not supposed to? Are the Elements a secret?"

"Well, no, not per se," the alicorn responded, her voice sounding somewhat uncertain. "But they are valuable artifacts. We are just surprised that she'd trust thee with their hiding place so quickly."

"I can keep a secret," Sunset assured her with a confident grin.

"We would hope so. But, We suppose it is of little consequence. They art important to our history, so it would make sense to teach thee more about them."

"Um..."

Luna took note of the curious look that Sunset was giving her, yet she seemed apprehensive as well. "What is it?"

Sunset shied away slightly, rubbing her leg nervously. "Well... I know you and Princess Celestia can both raise the sun, so..." She looked pleadingly at the alicorn. "Maybe you can teach me, too."

Luna practically felt her heart skip a beat, unable to form a response right away. She hadn't expected such a request, especially from somepony who revered her sister so highly. She felt flattered by the request, but at the same time, it was rather presumptuous of the filly to ask such a thing of her. Luna cleared her throat awkwardly, attempting to maintain a detached demeanor, but unable to completely suppress the slight tinge of red in her cheeks. "Of course We could. However, that is not Our prerogative. Celestia is the one who hast taken it upon herself to teach thee in an effort to atone for putting thy life in danger. Besides, We hath little time to tutor a young foal, especially one who hast school in the morning," she told her in a reprimanding tone.

Sunset hung her head slightly. "Sorry. Just thought I'd ask. I just wanna learn as much as I can."

Luna looked upon the dejected expression on the filly's face. When she had first met the little unicorn, she found her loud and bothersome—and she still did, to be totally honest. But she never thought that she'd find herself feeling bad for her. But in light of the sudden and unexpected request, Luna suddenly found herself with the urge to reassure her and offer at least something. "But..."

Sunset glanced up with a hopeful glint in her eye.

Luna met her gaze while still trying to hold an air of apathy. "If thou truly seek Our tutelage, and Celestia hast exhausted herself, and thou dost not hath school the next day... Then perhaps We will indulge thee."

Sunset gave the moon princess a grateful smile. "Really? Thanks, Princess Luna!"

Luna cleared her throat again, turning away and trying to hide the blush on her face. "Yes, well... Thou art welcome. Now, hurry to bed."

Sunset nodded, hurrying out of the royal archives and back to her room while hoping that her dad didn't realize she had been up past her bedtime.

Luna watched the filly trot quickly down the hall, letting out an exasperated sigh once she disappeared around the corner. She wasn't quite sure how to feel about all this. She admittedly felt a little frustrated with herself for letting that incessant filly persuade her so effortlessly, but she saw no reason to believe that anything her sister could teach her, she couldn't as well. And the sooner that Sunset learned to control the dangerous power within her, the better. Luna thought that if she contributed to that, it would be for the best.

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

"That's all for today, everypony. I'll see you tomorrow. Have a good day!"

With Mrs. Honeysuckle's dismissal, her students packed their school supplies in their bags and made for the door, ready to return home or get in some playtime before supper.

Sunset Shimmer was eager to get going, stuffing her books into her saddlebags with reckless abandon in an attempt to get out faster. While she normally enjoyed her classes at school, there were more exciting teachings on the horizon for when she returned to the Castle of the Two Sisters. Her studies were going to extend the whole day now that she had things she needed to learn both in and out of school, and she had absolutely no complaints about that.

After tossing her bags onto her back, Sunset hurried outside to find her ride back to the castle. As usual, Lance was waiting for her across the small bridge outside the schoolyard, their golden chariot sitting nearby. However, her escort wasn't alone, his little brother there conversing with him as he, too, was on his way home.

Sunset trotted briskly across the bridge, giving Lance a cheery and impatient grin. "Okay, I'm all set, Lance. Let's go!"

"You sound like you're in an awful rush, little missy," Lance remarked with a chuckle. "Can't a guy have a few minutes to chat with his little bro?"

Sunset gave the adult pegasus a grumpy pout. "Aren't you supposed to be my ride? What if I told Princess Celestia you were goofing off?"

Lance's smirk dropped, a little shaken by the filly's unexpected threat. "Whoa, chill out, Sunset. Did somepony pour salt in your cereal this morning, or something? What's with the attitude?"

Sunset's pout shifted to an apologetic frown. "Sorry, I'm just in a hurry to get home." Her impatience was punctuated by her restlessness as she fidgeted in place, unable to keep her hooves still.

"Oh..."

The unicorn looked to Halberd. He appeared to suddenly look a little dejected. "What's wrong?"

The silver colt shook his head dismissively. "N-No, it's nothing. I was just, um..."

Lance gave his little brother a discreet nudge and a smile to encourage him.

Halberd cleared his throat, looking Sunset in the eye, though continuing to speak sheepishly. "I was going to ask if you wanted to... hang out for a bit?"

Lance waited for the filly's response with an expectant grin.

Taking no time to contemplate an answer, Sunset simply shook her head, though with a friendly and oblivious smile. "No thanks. I really want to get back to the castle."

Halberd's ears folded back slightly, and he turned his hazel eyes down toward the ground. "Oh, o-okay..."

Seeing how his brother was taking the rejection, Lance quickly stepped in to mediate. "Now, hold on. What's the big rush, Sunset? I know you're eager to get back to your lessons with the princess and all, but you're still burnt out, remember? How much can you learn without your magic?"

Sunset shrunk back. "But I—"

"Huh? She can't use her magic?" Halberd interrupted with a puzzled expression. "Why not?"

"Because she burned herself out moving the sun the other day," the older pegasus explained. "She's not supposed to use magic for a while, probably until tomorrow."

Halberd quirked an eyebrow. "Really? But she raised it so effortlessly the first time, didn't she?"

Lance gave Sunset a sympathetic look. The filly had lowered her head in embarrassment. She had already told all of her classmates about how she raised the sun, but that was when she thought she had. Any credibility she had might have cracked if she then told them that she didn't raise the sun that time, but then actually moved it recently. Considering that she ended up moving it for real anyway, Sunset didn't really see any point in clarifying the situation since it would only serve to make it less believable, not to mention she didn't want to spread rumors that Princess Celestia made a habit of lying to her subjects.

"I... guess you never told him the truth," Sunset quietly inferred.

"I don't need to share everything that happens at work with my family," Lance told her. "This is more your personal business. It's not my place to go around telling people stuff like that."

This conversation was only serving to confuse Halberd more and more, glancing back and forth between the two of them. "What are you talking about?"

Lance let out an exasperated sigh. "The long and short of it is that she thought she did, but then she actually did, but it had an effect on her magic, so now she's recovering from that. I can tell you more about it when I'm off duty later, but that's why she only just now got her cutie mark, in case you were wondering."

The colt was still a little puzzled, but decided to dismiss it for now. "Uh, okay. But what was that about 'lessons with the princess'?"

The change in topic managed to quickly perk up the amber unicorn, her cute and excited grin returning. "Princess Celestia is taking me on as her personal student so she can teach me to control my 'latent potential,' as she called it."

Halberd smiled in amazement. "Wow, really?! That's so cool!"

Sunset nodded proudly and with a bashful blush. "Mm-hm. So I'm super eager to get back and start my lessons with her today."

Again, Lance jumped in at this point. "But like I said, you still can't use your magic yet. If it's all going to be book learning, then why not give yourself a break? You just got out of school here, and now you're just going to head back and bury your nose in another book? Why not unwind a little first? Tell you what: there's an ice cream place down the street. Why don't I treat you two to a couple of cones, huh?"

Halberd waited with an expectant smile and a slight tinge of red in his cheeks.

Although Sunset took a little more time to consider the offer this time, she still ultimately shook her head. "That's nice of you, but I think I'd rather head back. I want to learn as much as I can. I don't need a break."

Lance breathed a defeated sigh. "Alright, fine... Come on, then..." He lead Sunset toward the chariot, and as she was boarding, he glanced back to his brother with an apologetic frown. "Sorry, Hal. Can't say I didn't try."

Halberd let out a disappointed sigh of his own, his silver wings drooping at his sides. "It's okay. I'll see you later, Lance."

The older pegasus gave his little brother a sympathetic pat on the back before hitching himself up to the chariot. With a running start down the center of Canterlot's streets, he took off into the air with his charge in tow to reluctantly carry her home.

As they flew, Sunset stood up against the safety guard in front to gaze ahead toward their destination: the Castle of the Two Sisters. A big, beaming smile spread across her face in anticipation of the lessons in magic that awaited her.

Meanwhile, Lance cast a discreet look over his shoulder with a slight grimace on his face. He wasn't necessarily upset with her, but he still felt a need to try and talk to her. "Listen, Sunset, I know the idea of being taught about magic stuff from Princess Celestia is exciting and all, and you really enjoy learning new things, but it wouldn't kill you to just hang out and play like other foals your age from time to time."

"But Princess Celestia is expecting me," Sunset argued. "I can't keep her waiting."

"I believe you were also told at one point that you can spend time in Canterlot after school if you want," the armored pegasus reminded her. "I'm sure the princess wouldn't mind if you wanted to take a little time to hang out with your friends."

"Mmm..."

Lance looked back at the filly. There was rather unsure look on her face, and he was pretty sure he knew what her hesitation meant. "Have you even put much effort into making friends?"

"Uh, y-yeah, of course I have," she answered in a less-than-convincing tone.

"Uh-huh. Then name two that aren't Hal."

"Um... Princess Ce—"

"Nice try. I meant at school."

Sunset cast an irritated scowl at the back of the stallion's head. "Why are you getting on my case about this? You're not my dad, you know."

"I'm doing it for Hal," Lance replied.

Sunset blinked uncomprehendingly. "For Halberd?"

"Exactly. I don't know if you've noticed, but he's not exactly the most outgoing colt. So when we heard he'd made a friend on his first day of kindergarten, we were all happy for him. Honestly, I've never seen him so open and talkative as when he's talking to you."

Sunset frowned with a touch of shame. "Really?"

Lance nodded. "Yeah. But I've noticed something: you're practically the exact opposite. You're energetic, optimistic, curious, and pretty chatty when you get going. A filly like you shouldn't have any problem making friends, but you always want to go straight back to the castle after school."

"So? Daddy always focused on his studies when he was young, and now he's working for Princess Celestia."

Lance gave her a shrug. "Yeah, and that's all well and good and everything, but like I said, I'm thinking about my little brother here. And from what he's told me, he can usually only get you to talk when the subject is on you and the princess. No offence, but it comes off as kinda self-centered."

"I'm not selfish!" Sunset blurted defensively.

"Then why not take some time out of your day to make somepony else happy? Hal really wants to spend some time with you."

"Oh! Why don't you bring him to the castle some time?"

Lance groaned with a roll of his eyes, getting a little frustrated by the filly's apparent reluctance. "I believe I told you once before that you and your dad were a special case. I can't just invite my family to visit the castle when it suits me."

By now, the two had finally arrived at the Castle of the Two Sisters. Lance touched down and came to a gentle, rolling stop in front of the castle. Sunset hopped off of the chariot, and Lance unhitched himself. The filly was getting ready to hurry inside to find Princess Celestia, but Lance gave her one last pleading look before she left.

"Listen, I'm not trying to tell you what to do. I'm just asking you to think about it, that's all."

Sunset glanced down and did just that for a moment, silently considering the soldier's request.

"Welcome home, Sunset."

The filly's head jerked up at the sound of the voice, her ears perking up and her tail swishing cheerily on reaction. Princess Celestia had just come around the outside corner of the castle, and Sunset's father was walking alongside her.

Sunset hopped over to greet the two with an enthusiastic smile. "Hi! Were you out for a walk with the princess, Daddy?"

"In a sense," Starswirl answered with a lighthearted chuckle.

"Your father and I were taking a stroll through the gardens while we were discussing his work," Celestia added. "And it's timely that we should run into each other. I thought perhaps you and I could do the same for your lessons today. How would you like that?"

"That sounds fun!" Sunset squeaked eagerly. "Can we go now?"

Celestia nodded and giggled at the filly's exuberance. "Certainly."

Sunset wasted no time pulling off her saddlebags and thrusting them upon her father. "Can you bring my bags to my room, Daddy? Thanks!"

Starswirl staggered slightly as the bags were forced into his possession. "Sweetie, I'm sure the princess wouldn't mind if you took an extra minute or two to—"

"She's already gone, Starswirl," Celestia interjected.

The bearded unicorn glanced over his shoulder only quickly enough to see his daughter's fiery tail disappear around the corner of the castle. He let out a long sigh of exasperation. "Honestly, that child... You don't know what you've gotten yourself into, Your Highness."

Celestia laughed off the warning. "Maybe not, but I'm just as excited to pass down my knowledge as she is to learn it. Now then, I should catch up to her before she wanders into the hedge maze and gets lost." She gave Starswirl a friendly wave before casually sauntering back toward the gardens.

Starswirl turned toward the castle's short steps to head back inside and continue his research solo—after reluctantly dropping off his daughter's schoolbags in her room. However, he was stopped when Lance beckoned to him.

"Hey, Starswirl. Wait up a minute," the soldier requested, trotting up to the unicorn.

"There something you need, Lance?"

"Yeah, uh, listen," the pegasus began a little awkwardly. "I know it's probably not my place, but I was wondering if I could talk to you about Sunset."

Starswirl groaned in anticipation. "What did she do?"

"Uh, no, no, nothing like that. I was just wondering if you'd know whether or not she's making friends at school."

Starswirl raised an eyebrow, confused as to why Lance would inquire about such a thing, but curious to find out. "Oh, well, she did mention a young colt..."

"Yeah, that's probably my little brother Halberd," Lance inferred. "But is that it?"

Starswirl stroked his beard as he pondered. "Can't say I'm certain, but she does always tend to come back to the castle right after school."

Lance nodded, already knowing as much. "I've noticed that, too."

Finally, Starswirl decided to get to the crux of the issue, giving Lance an inquisitive look. "So why are you asking about this?"

Lance turned his gaze up slightly, breaking eye contact and scratching his cheek with his hoof. "Well, like I said, it might not be my place to say, but I think my brother might have a little crush on Sunset."

"Is that right?" the unicorn said with mild surprise in his voice. "So, then, you were hoping that she might reciprocate his feelings?"

"Whoa, let's not move too fast here," Lance said with an awkward chuckle. "They're probably still a little too young for romantic stuff. I just think it might be good for both of them to spend some time together and get to know each other a little better. You know, as friends first. 'Cuz I'm not even sure if Sunset considers Hal a friend or not. I'm just trying to have my little bro's back, you know?"

Starswirl lifted a hoof, gesturing gently to help subdue the slight defensiveness in Lance's tone. "Yes, I understand. Truth be told, as Sunset's father, I share your concern. I'd like her to make some friends as well, but right now, I do think it may be more important for her to focus on her lessons with Princess Celestia. She needs to get her magic under control as quickly as possible."

Lance sighed with a somewhat disappointed grimace. "I was afraid you'd say that, but I get it. You're her dad, so I'm not gonna argue with you."

Starswirl offered a sympathetic look to the pegasus. "I don't mean to dissuade your brother, or anything like that. And I do hope they grow closer—as friends, I mean—but that's ultimately up to Sunset."

Lance simply nodded in reluctant acceptance. "Right. Anyway, I've gotta go put this chariot away. Sorry for holding you up."

With that, Lance hitched himself back up to the chariot, flying off to park it where it belongs, and Starswirl gave a wave farewell as he headed back inside the castle.

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

Sunset leaned down over a perfectly-arranged bed of yellow flowers, taking a moment to literally stop and smell them. The scent of the castle's gardens could be detected almost anywhere around the castle—and even in it if one were near open windows—but the fragrance was so much more delightful when one had the chance to not only smell them up close, but also take in the sight of them. Although the abundance of pollen did tickle the filly's nose, forcing a cute sneeze out of her, but she made sure to turn her head so as not to disturb the pretty flowers.

Sunset hadn't really spent much time out in the castle's garden, usually preferring to remain indoors and study, so the sight of all the colorful and beautiful plant life was still quite something for her to behold. The groundskeepers that Princess Celestia had hired must have been masters of their craft to arrange the flower beds so perfectly and elegantly, with specifically chosen species and variations all sorted by color and planted side by side to create mesmerizing gradients of color stretching along the paths of the gardens like ground-based rainbows.

And it was a sanctuary for the fauna as well. During the day, the garden was awash with the chorus of birds singing and splashing in the majestic, stone fountains, and squirrels chattering as they frolicked. And if one were roaming the halls of the castle at night, they may hear the hoots of owls in the trees, and the croaking of frogs as they swam about the ponds of water lilies. It seemed like a perfect place for a picnic, or an overnight camping trip, despite its immediate proximity to the castle; the natural white noise of the gardens could soothe anypony to sleep effortlessly. One could easily see somepony setting up a hammock within the decadent, stone gazebo that stood within the middle of the garden to take a nap.

"Enjoying the view, Sunset?"

The filly snapped out of her thoughts, having found herself seemingly entranced by the beauty surrounding her, and turned around to find Princess Celestia casually walking toward her with a smile on her muzzle.

Celestia cast her gaze over the flowers with a fond grin. "I sometimes enjoy coming out here when I have some free time. The soothing aromas and pleasant and vibrant colors help me feel at ease after I've been busy with my royal duties. Though, I still don't manage to find time for that as often as I'd like." She glanced along the many beds of different kinds of flowers. "Which ones are your favorite?"

"Oh, um..." Sunset took a moment to look over the variety of flowers in front of her, having been a little caught off guard by the question. She gave it a good moment of consideration, slowly walking down the path as she analyzed the colors and petals of each she passed. Finally, she stopped next to a bed of bright pink flowers with many small petals, leaning down to get a closer look. "These are pretty."

Celestia leaned down slightly herself to get a closer look. "I'm not an expert on botany, or anything like that, but I believe these are zinnias. And yes, they are quite beautiful, aren't they?"

Sunset watched as a golden aura gently wrapped itself around one of the zinnias, carefully plucking it from its bed. Celestia slipped the stem of the flower into Sunset's hair over her right ear, giving the filly a new accessory and eliciting a cute smile from the little unicorn.

"Does it look nice?" Sunset asked curiously.

Celestia let out a quiet chuckle. "It looks lovely."

"What's your favorite, Princess?" Sunset asked eagerly.

The alicorn could already sense what the filly's intention was and gave her a smile. "Well, I don't like to pick favorites, so why don't you pick one out that you think would suit me?"

Sunset nodded with a giddy bounce, turning her attention back to the flower beds. She eventually stopped next to some purple flowers, their petals larger but fewer in number than that of the zinnia. She pointed to them confidently. "I think this one would look good on you."

Celestia giggled, satisfied by the choice. "Ah, an iris. My, you do have impeccable taste, don't you?"

"Can I put it in your mane for you?" Sunset asked eagerly.

"Of course, but you can't use your magic, remember?"

Sunset simply smiled, opening her mouth and grabbing one of the irises by the stem with her teeth. She plucked it out and Princess Celestia bent her long neck down to allow the filly to affix it to her mane as she had done with the zinnia.

"Well? Do you like your choice, or should we find something else?" Celestia asked.

Sunset immediately shook her head. "Nope, it looks perfect. It's beautiful, just like you, Princess."

The alicorn blushed with a bashful grin. "Sunset, if you keep slathering me with such compliments, I may wind up with a big head."

"But then you could fit more flowers in your mane!"

Celestia had to stifle an amused snort at the filly's comment. "Good point. But I think we should get to your lessons before we get sidetracked any further. Come with me."

The alicorn gestured for Sunset to follow her further into the garden. They approached a tall wall of expertly-trimmed hedges that bordered the gardens. Cut into the hedge was an archway lined with lattice and decorated with white flowers, and the two of them passed through into a deeper section of the gardens.

Sunset knew where they were, but, much like the flower gardens, she had never been out here before now. They had entered the castle's statue garden, a less flowery area of the gardens—both figuratively and literally—but no less beautiful. The statue garden was more flat and empty than the flower garden, and some might even say bland in its overall design, even if the layout of the statues and pathways were arranged efficiently. But the flower garden was designed to comfort and soothe, specifically laid out and arranged to look breathtaking, while the statue garden was more like an art gallery; minimalistic in its appearance so as not to distract from the works of art on display.

Many marble sculptures decorated the expansive space of land behind the castle, the majority of them depicting ponies of different sizes and shapes. Sunset assumed that they were likely significant historical figures, though she noted that there was a distinct lack of descriptive plates on any of them, perhaps indicating otherwise and that they were merely meant to inspire thought and discussion, or were actually just meant to be decorations.

Sunset separated from Princess Celestia to have a look around. The alicorn simply watched the filly and waited to see if she had any questions.

Sunset stopped in front of one statue of a mare holding a flag. Unlike the other sculptures, the flag was real and not made of stone, and it sparked curiosity in the unicorn. She turned back to Celestia with an inquisitive smile. "Are these all real people?"

"Some of them are," the princess answered as she walked up alongside her. She stared up at the statue of the mare with the flag. "This one is not, unfortunately."

Sunset was a little disappointed to hear that. "Aww, but she looks so cool."

"Well, I meant that she isn't based on any one particular pony. This statue is actually a memorial for the lives lost in the war against the tyrant King Sombra when he conquered the Crystal Empire."

Sunset quirked an eyebrow. Even though she had done much research about Celestia's past, those names didn't sound familiar to her. "Who's King Sombra?"

Celestia breathed a long, remorseful sigh as she remembered the events of her past. "Another enemy that Luna and I vanquished some time ago. However, before we could banish him, he cast a curse that caused the Crystal Empire and all of its inhabitants to vanish with him. Sombra did that because he sought a powerful artifact within the Crystal Empire known as the Crystal Heart, and wanted to keep it for himself, even if it meant sealing it and his entire conquered empire with him until he returns. But even without the Crystal Heart, the magic he already possessed was incredibly powerful, even though he was just a unicorn."

Sunset's eyes widened in worry. "Really? Like... Like mine?"

The princess gave her student a soft, reassuring smile. "No, not quite. Sombra used a dark form of magic, unfamiliar to Luna and I. Though that being said, King Sombra should be used as a cautionary tale; great power grants great possibilities, but one must not let that power cloud their judgment. Such power can corrupt those who are weak of heart, so it's important to remember that you must use your power for the betterment of pony-kind, lest you wind up like Sombra: an enemy of Equestria."

"I don't wanna be a bad guy," Sunset said with a resolute shake of her head.

Celestia gave the filly a proud grin. "Good to hear. And this is one of the reasons why I invited you out here today. If there are any other statues here that interest you, don't hesitate to ask about them."

Sunset gave the princess an enthusiastic nod before searching out other sculptures that took her fancy. But with such a wide variety of designs and concepts that would pique one's curiosity, it was difficult to decide where to go next. She hadn't been expecting to learn about an enemy that she had never heard of before by asking about a simple statue of a mare with a flag, so Sunset was intrigued to find out what other surprises these stone ponies could reveal.

However, it was not a pony statue that had suddenly grabbed her attention. One sculpture in particular seemed to stand out from all the rest, one depicting... Well, she wasn't quite sure. The statue in question, located off on its own, isolated near the corner of the garden, appeared to be a slender, almost serpentine creature singing, or perhaps laughing jubilantly. But the most peculiar part was its limbs, which seemed like they were a random mishmash of other creatures body parts. One arm looked like an eagle's talon, but the other was a lion's paw; one leg was that of a lizard, while the other was a goat's. The bizarre creature looked like something out of a story about a mad scientist's experiments.

Celestia had seen the filly gravitate toward the odd statue, the mere sight of the stone creature eliciting an instinctive grimace of displeasure from the alicorn. Knowing there was no way Sunset wouldn't have questions about such a strange statue, Celestia walked over to see what she thought about it.

"This one looks pretty weird," Sunset commented, looking a touch off-put by the statue.

"A more apt description than you realize," Celestia sneered as she glowered at the sculpture. "That is Discord."

Sunset's ears perked up. Now that was a name she recognized. "That's Discord? What...? What is he?"

"A draconequus; a creature comprised of parts of other animals. As far as I'm aware, he's the only one in existence."

"How did all those parts get mixed together like that?"

"The simple answer is that he's the spirit of chaos. Nothing about him is supposed to make sense. As I told you and your classmates, he possesses a chaotic magic capable of bending the very laws of reality. In actuality, Luna and I aren't even sure if this is his true form, or if it's simply a form he prefers to take. He may not even have a true form for all we know."

It wasn't hard for Sunset to hear the disdain in her teacher's voice, and the glare she was casting at the statue was the iciest glare she'd ever seen from the princess. "If you hate him so much, why do you have a statue of him?"

Celestia shook her head. "You misunderstand, Sunset. This is not merely a statue of Discord; this statue is Discord."

Sunset stared back at the stone sculpture again incredulously. "Really?! Like, the same Discord you and Luna beat?! Right here in front of us?!"

The alicorn nodded, taking a deep breath to level out her ire. "Discord's chaotic magic was far too much for Luna and I to contest. Every spell we cast on him, he could simply snap his claw and counteract it. He could very well have done away with my sister and I if he had the mind to. Thankfully, on top of possessing incredibly powerful magic, he also possessed an enormous ego, and all of his boasting and toying with us would give us a window through which to defeat him." Her stern expression dropping finally, Celestia gave Sunset an expectant smirk. "Pop quiz: what's the opposite of chaos?"

Sunset grinned confidently, answering the question with aplomb. "Harmony!"

"Precisely," the princess affirmed, giving the filly a playful tap on her little, amber nose. "The only force that could counteract Discord's chaotic magic was the harmonious magic of the Elements of Harmony, which encased him within this stone prison."

"Why don't you just smash the statue, then?"

Celestia was surprised by the uncharacteristically violent suggestion. "Sunset, we may not like him, but were aren't cruel. Although, I'd be lying if I said the thought hadn't crossed our minds at some point. Additionally, we don't know what would happen. Smashing the statue may simply break the spell containing him, and I wouldn't put it past Discord to be able to reconstitute himself, even if broken into thousands of pieces. So we decided to just put him here so we can keep an eye on him. He makes for a rather ugly decoration, but at least he can be a good place for the birds to do their business."

"So, bad guys like Discord are the reason you need the Elements of Harmony, right?" Sunset inferred, recalling their lesson the day prior when Celestia had shown her the Elements.

"Indeed," the princess answered with a nod. "Brute force can only get you so far. Luna and I defeated King Sombra without the Elements, but for more unpredictable magic like Discord's, it's better to err on the side of caution and break out the heavy weaponry." Celestia glared at the statue for a few silent moments before breathing an exasperated huff. "Frankly, I don't really want to stare at his mug any longer than I have to. What say we head inside and prepare for supper?"

Sunset nodded eagerly. "Okay!"

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

Princess Luna had finished her duty of raising the moon, and for yet another night she was heading out to roam the castle's halls by her lonesome. However, it was a little earlier for her than she would normally take leave of her chambers. Most nights she would usually wait until her sister and the castle staff had all turned in for the night so that she could wander uninterrupted and focus on her inner thoughts. However, tonight something compelled her to make a change. She was in an unexpectedly good mood, so much so that even she was surprised at herself, though she couldn't place exactly why she felt this way. And Luna was almost hoping to run into somepony in the hall, maybe even strike up a conversation.

But she saw no one at first, although she had only just left her tower and walked down one corridor. Still, she expected to see at least one person, or perhaps it was just wishful thinking on her part. The sconces on the walls were lit, indicating that there were indeed other ponies still awake and busy with one thing or another.

Despite her good mood, though, Luna found herself almost frustrated with herself for feeling this way with no discernible reason, or at least none that she could suss out. Why was she so open to the idea of chatting with somepony all of a sudden when she would barely say a word to anypony she passed in the hall on any normal night?

Luna's internal contemplation was interrupted for a moment when she approached the entrance to the royal archives. A light shone through from under the double doors, so somepony must have been making use of their extensive library. For a moment, Luna considered that it may be Sunset Shimmer continuing her studies into the night with Celestia, and for some reason that notion made Luna want to check in on them.

The moon princess quietly approached the door, a part of her not wanting her sister to see the curiosity in her eyes. Luna discreetly cracked open the door, peeking inside. However, it was not Celestia and Sunset occupying the room, but rather the amber filly's father. Starswirl sat at one of the reading tables, studying a book and making notes of his own on a scroll of parchment by candlelight. But he wasn't focused on his work at the moment, for he wasn't alone. Rosehip was present as well, busily preparing a cup of tea for the bearded stallion.

No longer feeling the same self-consciousness she had when she believed it was her sister and her student, Luna straightened up and entered the royal archives proper, admittedly interested to see what Starswirl was busy working on.

Upon hearing somepony come in, Starswirl and Rosehip's conversation was interrupted and the two greeted the princess with amicable grins, though they were also somewhat surprised to see her.

"Oh, Princess Luna, good evening," Rosehip greeted with a courteous bow. The unicorn mare gestured to the tea tray. "Would you like a cup of tea?"

"No, thank you," Luna answered politely.

"Okay." Using her magic, Rosehip lifted the tea tray and gave the princess and Starswirl a friendly grin. "Then I guess I'll clock out for the night. Goodnight, Your Highness. And you, too, Starswirl."

The stallion gave her a nod. "Goodnight."

"Sleep well," Luna bid her as well.

Rosehip politely exited the library, closing the door behind her and leaving Starswirl and Luna alone.

The bearded unicorn cast a curious smile to the alicorn. "I wasn't expecting to see you out and about so early, Your Majesty."

"Yes, well, We feel more energetic tonight." Luna glanced at the steaming cup of tea that Rosehip had prepared for Starswirl, noticing that he had yet to taste it. "Art thou going to try thy tea?"

"Hm?" Starswirl looked down at the cup himself as though he'd already forgotten it was there. "Oh, right. Well, the thing is, I'm not really fond of tea."

Luna quirked an eyebrow. "Then why didst thou not ask for coffee instead?"

Starswirl let out a somewhat remorseful groan. "Because I once told Rosehip that I enjoyed the tea she prepared for me to spare her feelings, and I must have done so with a tad too much enthusiasm since now she seems to be under the impression that I prefer her tea. She seemed so proud of herself, so I haven't the heart to correct her, and at this point I feel I'm in too deep to tell her now; it would just be too awkward."

Luna couldn't keep a slight smirk of amusement off her muzzle. "Thou remind Us of Our sister."

Starswirl chuckled quietly at the insinuation. "Perhaps, but I doubt this will lead to Rosehip raising the sun."

The royal mare actually giggled at the stallion's joke, and Starswirl practically felt honored to have Princess Luna of all people laugh at a little quip he'd made. Luna then stepped closer to the table, pointing to the teacup with her hoof. "May We?"

Starswirl was a little puzzled by her request, but obliged anyway, gesturing for her to take the cup. "Be my guest, but I thought you didn't want any."

Luna simply shrugged as she took the cup with her velvety, blue aura. "If thou dost not want it, then no sense letting it go to waste." She took a dainty sip, taking a moment to scrutinize the taste. "Hmm, We would prefer a little more sugar, but this is still fine."

"I suppose I just find caffeine to be more effective than sugar," Starswirl said.

"That could be so, but We never enjoyed the bitter taste of coffee," Luna responded with a slight grimace at the thought of it.

"To be fair, there are many different blends to suit one's preferences. I'm sure there's a blend out there that you would enjoy."

"The same could be said of tea, yet here we are."

The two shared mutual smiles, both finding the conversation oddly enjoyable despite its inane nature. But still, Starswirl found this to be rather strange regardless.

"Pardon me for saying, Your Highness, but you're being unusually chatty this evening."

Luna took a seat across the table from Starswirl. "Yes, We're in a rather good mood tonight, though We can't quite place why," she told the stallion, though her tone expressed mild frustration despite what she'd said.

"Really?" Curiosity taking hold of him, Starswirl brushed aside the book and parchment to focus on the princess, intrigued by this sudden difference in attitude. "Has anything happened recently that may have brought this on?"

Luna mulled it over for a moment, humming to herself as she thought. While normally she may chide somepony for prying, she was admittedly interested in getting to the bottom of this as well. "Nothing in particular comes to mind."

"Does it perhaps have anything to do with Sunset?"

The mention of the name caused Luna's ears to perk up slightly, though she was a tad confused by the question. "Why wouldst thou say that?"

"Well, much like me, you seemed to disapprove of your sister tricking my daughter. And I know that you've seen Sunset as a bit of a bother since you've met her, so it simply seems to me as though you do care about her."

Luna wore a slight scowl in response. "Do not mistake annoyance for lack of caring, Mr. Starswirl. Regardless of how loud and obnoxious thy daughter can be at times, she is still our subject. We merely take umbrage with the fact that Celestia would take advantage of her unwavering trust in her. We were quite relieved to see she was not hurt after the solar flare as a result."

"I'm glad to hear that," Starswirl said with a soft smile. "I was beginning to think you didn't like her."

Luna turned her nose up slightly in an attempt to appear aloof. "She could stand to turn the volume down, and perhaps learn how to properly speak to royalty, but one cannot fault her unending optimism and desire to learn. Celestia and I were much the same in our younger years. In fact, the filly approached Us last night and requested that We aid her in her magical studies."

Starswirl's eyes widened in surprise. "What? Really? She never mentioned that to me."

"It was only last night. She probably hasn't found the opportunity to bring it up."

"Speaking of which, when exactly would you find the time to teach her?" the grey stallion inquired curiously and a little sternly.

Luna smirked confidently, knowing she had the answer to quell his concern. "Fear not, for We made it clear that We would offer Our tutelage only on weekends, or on any night where she wouldn't otherwise hath school the next morning."

Starswirl nodded in acceptance, finding that answer satisfactory. "That sounds swell. Though I'd like it if you didn't keep her up too late; she's an early riser, so I imagine it may be difficult to keep her awake for as long as you may need."

Luna shrugged indifferently. "That suits Us fine. We don't intend to foalsit her all night anyway."

Starswirl squinted as he analyzed the expression on Luna's face. For as much as she appeared to be attempting to remain stoic, he couldn't help but notice a small smile on the blue alicorn's muzzle. He smirked knowingly at her. "Well, I think we may have gotten to the root of the problem."

The moon princess quirked an eyebrow, puzzled by the statement. "Hm? What problem?"

"Not a problem per se, but why you seem to be in such a good mood. I think you're actually looking forward to being her teacher."

Luna looked caught off guard by the assumption, a small blush filling her normally-blue cheeks. She turned her head with a pouty huff. "Don't be preposterous. We are merely making an effort to help her control her power. And We hath more than enough time during the night to schedule such things, and it will help Us alleviate the tedium and boredom."

Starswirl nodded with a chuckle. "Yes, whatever you need to tell yourself, Your Majesty."

The princess stood up, practically looking offended at his insinuation, which only made it funnier for the stallion, especially with the red in her cheeks deepening the more defensive she became. "We do not need to sit here and listen to thy wild assumptions. We hath better things to do." She turned to take her leave of the library.

"Yes, I'm sure you're busy with your 'tedium and boredom,'" Starswirl laughed.

Luna groaned in mild annoyance. "Now We see where she gets it from..." she grumbled under her breath.

"Don't forget your tea."

The princess hastily snatched the teacup off the table with her magic, almost spilling it, before exiting with a disgruntled, "Hmph."

Starswirl simply chuckled at Luna's childish behavior. He hadn't really intended to tease her like that, but he had a feeling she wasn't actually upset with him. Starswirl was just happy to know that Luna was giving Sunset a chance, and was admittedly curious as to how well she could teach his daughter.

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