• 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 6 - Waning Moon

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 6: Waning Moon

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"Are you ready, Sunset?"

The amber filly took a deep breath. Sunset was normally bouncy and enthusiastic, full of boundless energy and excitement, especially when spending time with her idol Princess Celestia. She'd been nothing but eager and willing since the princess had taken her on as her student, even more so now that her magic had recovered and she was able to finally practice strengthening and controlling the deep well of power within her.

However, at this moment she felt the twinge of trepidation. For the past two weeks since she'd began her tutelage under Princess Celestia, Sunset had exuded the utmost confidence in her ability to learn and adapt quickly to her teachings, but now that the big moment had arrived, she was nervous—afraid even.

Princess Celestia observed the hesitant look on the filly's face as she stared out at the distant horizon from the alicorn's balcony. The light of the morning sun was bathing the mountains and the surrounding countryside in its radiant, amber glow already, but Celestia had purposely only raised it slightly, setting the stage for her protégé to put her abilities to the test.

After a few moments of silent hesitation, Sunset glanced up at Celestia, her ears folded back in shame and worry. "I... I don't know..." she answered meekly.

Celestia closed her eyes, nodding her head slightly. She couldn't really blame Sunset for being scared. The first time she did this was rather harrowing for her, the thought that this sleeping power within her being the only reason she survived was a frightening thought. But Celestia gave her student a reassuring smile. "There are no solar flares today, Sunset. There probably won't be another one for ten years or so. It's perfectly safe."

Sunset straightened up a little, but still looked reluctant. "That's... not really the only reason I'm worried."

Celestia let out a quiet breath through her nose, bending down to lay beside the little unicorn and see eye to eye with her. Her comforting smile persisted as she asked, "What else is bothering you, my little pony?"

Sunset stared deep into Princess Celestia's vibrant, pink eyes. The soft and warming expression on the alicorn's face was always a deep comfort to the filly, especially during this strange time in her life. "What if I can't do it?"

Celestia simply chuckled quietly at her innocent concern. "Sunset, I'm sorry if this sounds a tad blunt, but I'm not expecting you to be able to do it just yet."

That statement merely made Sunset's expression drop further. "Last time you said that—"

"I will never do that to you again," Celestia interrupted resolutely. "I brought you up here this morning for a simple test to see how far you've come. It's only been two weeks, so I'm not expecting much. But I think it might make for a good gauge of your capabilities if we do this every couple of weeks or so to mark your progress. Like a height chart, but for magic. Does that make sense?"

Sunset raised an eyebrow. "But if I can't move it at all, how do we know if I'm making progress?"

Celestia blinked blankly at her inquiry. "Um... Well, maybe we should make it monthly." She stood up again, gesturing toward the sun. "I'd still like you to give it a shot."

The filly finally managed a smile, turning her attention toward the horizon. The task given to her was a monumental one, but at least she knew she didn't actually have to accomplish it, she merely needed to try.

It wasn't as though she hadn't been making improvements in just two short weeks. Just as the saying goes, "whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." Once Sunset had recovered from her burnout, she and her father did indeed notice that her magical output seemed to have increased slightly, likely as a result of her tapping that reserve of latent power. It was just a matter of steadily drawing that power out, like pouring out a drink; draw it out too quickly, and you risk overflowing. Sunset had experienced the feeling of her magic overflowing, and even though her memory of it was hazy, she remembered the initial pain that had ripped through her body. She wanted to avoid that from now on if at all possible.

So this would be the first time since that fateful morning that Sunset would pour out as much magic as she could in an effort to test herself. Obviously, her ultimate goal with these teachings was to be able to move the sun again. Once she did that, she would know for sure that her power was under control.

Sunset took a deep breath, staring out at the edge of the iridescent orb peeking up over the horizon. She still had a few butterflies in her belly, but she was feeling a little more assured now. Clenching her eyes shut, she focused her magic, her horn lighting up with a bright, cyan light.

Celestia watched as her student concentrated, briefly glancing out towards her sun every few seconds. Sunset was certainly showcasing an impressive amount of power for a filly her age, and the alicorn found herself with a small, proud grin on her face. She then began to notice the beads of sweat forming on the unicorn's forehead, and gently placed an ivory hoof on the filly's back.

"Alright, that's enough."

The aura surrounding Sunset's horn dissipated, and the filly let her muscles relax. "Did I... Did I do it?" she panted, wiping the drops of sweat off her head with a brush of her amber fetlock.

Celestia looked out at the sun once more. Unfortunately, it hadn't budged an inch. She gave Sunset a supportive smile. "Sorry, not this time."

Sunset's gaze lowered as she caught her breath, a somewhat dejected tone in her voice. "Oh..."

The princess gave her a reassuring pat on the back. "Like I said, I wasn't expecting it to happen right away."

Suddenly, Sunset straightened up confidently, looking more resolute than ever. "You stopped me too early. I can put more magic into it!"

Celestia's comforting smile shifted to a stern and reprimanding glare. "Sunset, I stopped you because I don't want you to overdo it. You don't want to burn yourself out again, do you?"

The filly turned away with a grumpy and disappointed pout, but reluctantly accepted. "No."

Celestia's smile returned, looking a little more playful. "Besides, if you managed to move the sun already, our lessons wouldn't be necessary anymore. Are you that eager to stop learning with me?"

Sunset's ears perked up, her eyes widening suddenly at Celestia's assumption. "What?! No! I wanna keep learning! You're a really good teacher!"

"Well, thank you," the princess responded with a giggle. "And you've been a really good student."

With a quick and effortless flourish of her magic, Celestia pulled the sun up the rest of the way over the horizon to start it on its daily journey. Seeing how easy it was for the alicorn made Sunset feel admittedly inadequate in comparison, but at the same time, it also provided motivation; she wanted to be able to do that some day herself, and she knew it was going to take a lot of time and practice. But for now, Celestia lead her student back inside, the pair making their way down the tower to return to the castle proper.

"I suppose that test didn't really give us a good idea of how much you've improved, did it?" Celestia said with a slightly embarrassed blush, knowing that the filly had sussed that out on her own already.

"Should I try another kind of test?" Sunset suggested eagerly.

"Perhaps another time. Like I said, I don't want you to overdo it. For now, why don't we have some breakfast?"

Sunset nodded, her peppy smile accompanied by a low grumbling in her tummy at the mention of food. "Are you going to have the cooks whip up something yummy for you?"

"They always do," Celestia responded. "But today, I was thinking we could make something together."

The amber unicorn was confused by the suggestion. "What? You're going to cook something?"

The princess glanced down with a look of mock offense. "What, you think I don't know how to cook? Need I remind you that Luna and I founded this kingdom in our later years; we didn't always have servants to do our cooking for us. I've sort of made it a fun, little hobby of mine." She leaned down to whisper secretively in Sunset's ear. "I actually have a cookbook of my own recipes that nopony else knows about."

Sunset's eyes widened with intrigue, the growling of her stomach growing louder. "Are they tasty?"

"You bet," Celestia said with a hearty chuckle.

"What kind of stuff do you make?!" Sunset asked enthusiastically, excited by the prospect of partaking in Princess Celestia's own home-cooked meals.

"Well, its mostly pastries; desserts and the like. But for breakfast, we can whip up some of my signature 'cumulo-cakes.'"

Sunset tilted her head, puzzled by the odd name. "'Cumulo-cakes'?"

"Their pancakes that are as fluffy as clouds," Celestia elaborated with a proud grin.

The filly snickered into her hoof. "That's a silly name for pancakes."

Celestia's grin faltered for a second at the quip, but she retaliated with a challenging smirk. "Then why don't you come up with something better?"

"I wanna try 'em first. Maybe that'll help me think of something."

"Alright. But how about we make it a little more interesting?"

Sunset stared at the playful and confident smirk on her mentor's face. "What do you mean?"

"A small competition. We'll both use my recipe, and whomever's pancakes are better will get to name the recipe. Think you're up for it?"

Sunset returned the princess's smirk with a determined one of her own. "You're on!" The filly then took off as though racing to the kitchen were part of the competition.

Although the royal kitchen was someplace within the castle that Sunset hadn't really ever visited, that didn't mean she hadn't memorized its location, and she was making a beeline for it. She quickly arrived at the princesses' dining hall, barging straight through the door and not slowing down. She knew the kitchen was just beyond the dining hall, the doors on the opposite end leading to a short connecting hallway that would take her there. Once she had reached the other end of the hall, confident that she had "won" the impromptu race, she chanced a glance behind her to see how far Celestia was behind. Much to Sunset's satisfaction, the alicorn was not even in sight yet, so she simply sauntered casually into the connecting hall with a triumphant grin on her face.

A grin that would quickly fall when she noticed that Princess Celestia was already in the hall to the kitchen, standing at the entrance with a smirk of her own.

Celestia responded to the flabbergasted expression on Sunset's face with an amused grin. "Nice try, but I can teleport, remember?"

"That's cheating!" Sunset argued, though she couldn't keep the smile off her face as she attempted to scold her teacher.

"Why don't we save the competitiveness for the actual competition?" Celestia suggested, opening the door to the kitchen and gesturing for Sunset to follow her inside.

The castle's kitchen was an expansive space compared even to those of high-end restaurants. With the several large, brick ovens, one might mistake the place for a forge at first glance. However, the clean, white walls, smooth, granite counter tops, and, most of all, the delectable aromas wafting throughout were all clear indicators that this was a place for food preparation. And, as expected, the kitchen was occupied by several ponies dressed in aprons, oven mitts, and a few with chef's hats, busily working away in preparation for the day's meals, even so far as to get things ready for supper later.

But all work came to a brief halt when the doors had opened, all eyes falling upon the princess who had just graced the kitchen with her presence. One somewhat portly stallion, donning a tall chef's hat, greeted the princess with an amicable smile and a polite bow. "Your Highness, good morning. We were just getting ready to cook breakfast. Do you have any requests?"

"Actually, I'll be preparing my own breakfast this morning," she informed the kitchen staff.

She received a myriad of surprised looks, the cooks exchanging quiet murmurs. This was not an unheard of occurrence in the castle, but it still tended to catch the cooks off guard. The portly head chef stepped forward. "Oh, very well, then. Would you like any assistance?"

Celestia simply shook her head. "No, thank you. In fact, I would like to ask that you all vacate the kitchen until we're finished."

The head chef stammered in response to the bizarre request. "V-Vacate? But why?"

"That's an order, Chef," the alicorn stated, though the authority in her voice was belied by the still-friendly smile on her face.

The chef gulped nervously, concerned about the implications of the order, but not wanting to upset the princess, he commanded his subordinates to follow him reluctantly out of the kitchen, leaving Celestia and Sunset alone with the entire arsenal of cooking implements and ingredients at their disposal.

"Now then..." With a quick pop of golden magic, a book appeared before Princess Celestia, which she opened to a specific page and laid on the long prep table for Sunset to look at. "This is my recipe for '*name-pending* pancakes.' You can make whatever adjustments you'd like to fit your preferences, but don't stray too far from the recipe, or it'll just wind up being a different recipe altogether. Alright?"

Sunset scanned the recipe quickly with an eager grin on her face before looking up at the princess expectantly. "Where are the ingredients?"

"One moment."

With a series of magical pops and flashes, ingredients began to materialize onto the table in rapid succession. Celestia had teleported numerous cartons of milk and eggs, a dozen or so hefty bags of flour, and several bowls of strawberries, blueberries, chocolate chips, and whipped cream to use as toppings.

Sunset gawked silently at the sheer amount of ingredients they had to work with. "That seems like a bit much for pancakes, doesn't it?"

"We want to make sure they're perfect, right?" Celestia said with a playful smile. "Take as many attempts as you think you'll need." With another flourish of magic, she zapped away her golden regalia, replacing them with a chef's hat and an apron embroidered with the image of her cutie mark, then materialized a smaller set for her diminutive opponent in this competition. She then used her magic to pull out all of the utensils they'd need, dividing them between herself and Sunset. "Ready?"

Sunset hopped up onto a stool to get better access to the table, nodding with a confident smile.

"Go!"

Without wasting a second, Sunset immediately snatched up all of her ingredients for the batter with her cyan magic, dumping them into a bowl and mixing like a madmare. Celestia was admittedly a little flustered by Sunset's aggressive approach, but let the filly do things her own way. But instead of doing the same, Celestia first glanced over her shoulder to the metal skillets hanging on the wall, taking one down and placing it on one of the smaller, open-flame stoves. With her magic, Celestia ignited a spark in the stove, lighting a fire under her skillet, then turned her attention back to the table to mix her batter, carefully and patiently.

Sunset, meanwhile, had already whipped up a bowl of creamy batter. She hopped off her stool and moved it over to the stoves, grabbing a skillet of her own and taking ownership of the stove next to the one Celestia had lit. She poured some batter into the skillet and laid it upon the stove.

As she was absentmindedly mixing batter, Celestia watched Sunset seemingly attempting to cook her pancakes on an unlit stove, casting a rather haughty smirk at the filly. "Did you forget to preheat? That's quite a rookie mistake, Sunset."

Sunset's cocky grin hadn't budged. "I didn't forget anything!"

Sunset then closed her eyes tightly and pointed her horn at the skillet, her tongue sticking out of corner of her mouth as she concentrated. Her cyan magic covered the underside of the pan, but the gentle ebbing of the aura quickly grew more erratic and even started to shift color, becoming orange, then a searing white. Celestia watched in slight awe as her student heated the skillet with nothing but her raw magic, the metal pan even starting to glow from the sheer heat she was producing.

Celestia stepped over to her stove, pouring her own batter into her skillet, but never taking her eyes off of Sunset. "You may want to tone it down a little, otherwise you might burn it."

"I know what I'm doing!" Sunset argued with confidence, eyes still clenched in deep focus.

Celestia raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Oh, do you now? Then what's that?"

Sunset finally opened her eyes, only to see a plume of black smoke rising from her scorched batter. "Wuh-oh!" She quickly scooped the burning pancake from the skillet with her magic, dumping it in a nearby trashcan, then let the pan cool off. She cast an awkward, embarrassed grin at her teacher. "Whoops..."

Celestia chuckled quietly, giving the haphazard filly a forgiving smile. "You need to have patience, Sunset. This may be a competition, but if you do things too quickly, you're bound to be sloppy. Steady..." She lit a small flame in the stove underneath the skillet for Sunset. "Ease into it. Don't just let the fire rage; let it grow first to keep it under control."

Sunset stared up into Celestia's soft, pink eyes. She knew exactly what the princess was saying, and smiled knowingly. "This was never actually a competition, was it? You're using this to teach me a lesson, right?"

"Why, I have no idea to what you're talking about," the alicorn responded in playful denial, the halo practically visible above her head. "We're just making breakfast. But nopony said a competition can't help you learn. Speaking of which, it seems I've gotten ahead of you," she said as she flipped her pancake.

Sunset smirked as she poured more batter into her pan. "It's not a race," she teased, sticking her tongue out mockingly.

Celestia had to force herself not to burst out laughing at the filly's attempt at goading her, but she had to admit, Sunset was sparking her competitive spirit. And just to make things more interesting, she decided to play a little dirty...

As Sunset was finally focusing on her cooking again, she suddenly felt a wet splatter on her cheek. She wiped it with her hoof, seeing that she'd been splattered with batter, and Princess Celestia was giving her the most taunting smirk she'd ever seen. The filly returned the favor with a smirk of her own. "You're asking for it now!"

Sunset dipped her hoof into her bowl of batter, flinging a glob right at the princess and smearing it all over her normally-pristine, ivory muzzle.

Celestia licked a bit of the batter off her lips, which then in turn curled into an unnervingly sinister grin. "Oh, you know not what you've wrought this day, little missy."

Sunset's playful smile dropped rather quickly, her ears folding back under the intimidating gaze of the taller mare and swallowing a nervous gulp as she observed the devious glint in her teacher's pink eyes.

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

Princess Luna let out a long, sleepy yawn, something she would never do in the presence of others if she could help it. The moon had been tucked away for the day and the sun had taken its place in the sky as usual, bathing Equestria in its warm light. Luna was about ready to pack it in for the day, but she had a routine to which she wished to adhere.

The princess of the night spread her wings, gliding down from her balcony gracefully and curving around the corner of the castle to touch down in front of the entrance. Because she spent so much time by herself during her waking hours, she usually opted to spend a short time during the early daylight to figure out the day's itinerary to get an idea of what was happening within the castle while she slept. In most cases, that involved speaking to either her sister or Quill, the royal adviser.

Luna gave a brief and halfhearted greeting to Scabbard and Lance as she entered the front doors, hoping to find Celestia in the throne room. With her sister in mind, Luna curled her mouth quizzically. Now that she thought about it, she had noticed something odd about the sunrise that morning; it only seemed to rise partway, just sitting there for several minutes before coming up the rest of the way. Certainly a strange occurrence and something she would need to ask her sister about.

Luna entered the throne room, but immediately took note of the fact that Celestia was not present. However, as luck would have it, Quill was waiting there, looking over a scroll and wearing a rather impatient expression himself. The alicorn approached him, stifling another tired yawn. "Quill, hath thou seen Our sister?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing," he answered with a sigh. "She's supposed to look over the plans for the new castle this morning, but I can't seem to find her."

"Hmm, unusual indeed. Could something be wrong with her?"

Quill looked at the princess with both curiosity and slight worry. "Why would you say that?"

"We noticed an abnormality with the sunrise this morning. Perhaps she's ill."

"She wasn't in her room, though. If she were sick, she'd probably still be in bed."

It was at that moment that the door left of the thrones opened, and Starswirl joined the two in the throne room. The bearded unicorn paused for a moment when he saw Luna and Quill there, but offered an amicable smile. "Oh, good morning, Quill. And to you as well, Your Highness."

"Good morning, Mr. Starswirl," Luna greeted, though with a slightly more pressing tone. "Thou wouldn't happen to hath seen Celestia this morning, hath thee?"

Starswirl stroked his white beard as he thought. "Princess Celestia? No, I haven't, sorry. Is there a problem?"

"That's what we're trying to figure out," Quill explained. "It seems nopony has seen her at all this morning, and she's not in her room."

Starswirl turned his eyes upward as he contemplated the situation. "Hmm... Come to think of it, I haven't seen Sunset at all this morning either, and she wasn't in the library when I checked just now."

"Curiouser and curiouser..." Luna pondered as she tapped her chin with a hoof.

"Well, I feel there is probably a correlation here," Starswirl posited with a confident smile. "The two of them are likely together for some early morning magic lessons."

"Ah, that makes sense," Quill said with a relieved sigh.

"Tch. Thou would think she'd hath the common courtesy to inform somepony, especially when she hast prior obligations," Luna chastised her sister in her absence.

Quill shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. "It's not that pressing, especially since we can have you look over the plans instead, Your Majesty."

Luna grimaced in displeasure at the suggestion. "Thou hath a lot of nerve to request such a thing so close to Our bedtime."

The mustachioed stallion shrunk back a bit with a nervous gulp. "Oh, uh, s-sorry. Just thought you'd want to add you own input. Maybe later, then?"

Luna nodded, her expression letting up. "Indeed."

"The question we have now is where Sunset and Princess Celestia wandered off to," Starswirl interjected to get the conversation back on track.

Suddenly, the door opposite from where Starswirl had entered burst open loudly, startling the three ponies present. The castle's head chef, still donning his hat and apron, had barged into the throne room in hysterics, stumbling over his own hooves as he hurried over to Princess Luna.

"Your Highness!" he gasped between panicked breaths. "Your... Your..."

Luna, worried that something horrible had happened, looked the chef dead in the eyes. "What is it?! Is something the matter?!"

"It's your sister!" the chef wheezed, the run across the castle having taken its toll on the chubby stallion.

Luna's eyes went wide with concern. "Celestia?! Is she alright?!"

The chef dropped to his haunches, too exhausted and short of breath to continue speaking properly. He simply pointed toward the door he'd come through. "The kitchen... Hurry..."

Luna cast a brief glance toward Starswirl and Quill, both of them equally worried about what had happened to Princess Celestia. Without a word, Luna quickly rushed out of the throne room, the two unicorns quickly following behind her in hopes that there was something they could do to help.

Once into the corridors of the castle, Luna took flight to get to the kitchen faster. She would have teleported there, but her current state of concern prevented her from properly focusing. It didn't take long to reach her destination anyway, and it also didn't take much observation to figure out that there was some sort of crisis in the kitchen. The entirety of the kitchen staff were gathered in the dining hall, murmuring and also in mild panic—even a few royal guards had apparently been called upon to help, though their presence in the dining hall suggested there was nothing they could do. What was even more disconcerting was the smell of smoke that permeated the door leading to the kitchen.

Luna's hooves hit the floor in a skid, her metal shoes practically lighting sparks on the stone. Without much hesitation, she placed a hoof on the shoulder of one of the cooks to get their attention. "What's wrong?! Is there a fire?! Is my sister in there?!"

Starswirl and Quill finally caught up, hurrying over to the princess's side.

The cook simply pointed to the kitchen, practically shaking. "Y-You have to do something, Your Majesty! Please!"

Seeing that the staff were too panicked to effectively explain the situation, Luna straightened up, steeled herself, and prepared to dive head first into whatever danger awaited her in order to save her sister. The alicorn used her deep blue magic to grab hold of all the staff ponies, separating them to create a clear line between her and the door, and threw it open with her magic, doing the same with the kitchen door at the end of the short, connecting hallway.

"Celestia! Art thou—"

Luna stopped short once she was in the kitchen, her own worry and panic subsiding to make way for shock and confusion. The smell of smoke was most certainly strong, but there was no evidence of actual fire. And rather than flames covering the walls and ovens, there was what appeared to be a sea of creamy batter coating the tables, the ovens, the walls, the counter tops, and even some on the ceiling. And where the batter hadn't properly mixed were stains of milk, flour, and eggs. The source of the smoke seemed to be the batter that had landed on the lit stoves and had burned significantly, though not enough to start a fire.

And within this sea of batter, eggs, milk, flour, and utter chaos, were two vaguely pony-shaped lumps—one taller than Luna herself, and one quite small—sticking up and staring back at her through a blanket of the creamy mix.

Luna's worry was quickly replaced by utter vexation as she witnessed the sticky horror within the kitchen, directing her attention to the pair of pink eyes looking back at her from the batter blanket. "What art thou doing?!"

"Making pancakes," Celestia answered calmly and matter-of-factly, as though it should've been obvious.

Luna's eye twitched at the asinine response from her barely-recognizable sister. "Making...?" Her brain seemed to fail to even process the situation as it was presented to her.

Starswirl then hurried in behind Luna, worried that his daughter may be embroiled in the crisis as well, but had much the same reaction as the princess did to the absolute devastation laid out in front of him. His eyes quickly fell onto the small, batter-slathered unicorn. "Sunset, what...?"

The filly shot her hoof out toward Princess Celestia in an accusatory fashion, inadvertently flicking wet batter into the air as she did so. "She started it!"

Luna simply elected to run a hoof down her face with a loud groan of annoyance, turning around and exiting the kitchen without another word. Starswirl, meanwhile, gave Sunset a stern glower, gesturing authoritatively for her to follow him out into the dining hall.

Celestia and Sunset exchanged glances for a moment, the filly looking a tad guilty. "I think we're in trouble."

Luna and Starswirl both returned to the dining hall looking thoroughly exasperated. The kitchen staff were all waiting for her to say something, but it was Quill who approached to assess the situation.

"Your Majesty? Is everything alright?" he asked with concern.

The alicorn straightened up, taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm her building ire at what she'd seen. "Celestia and Sunset Shimmer are fine. The kitchen, on the other hoof, hath seen better days."

The two ponies in question finally stepped out of the kitchen, having cleaned off most of the batter from themselves, but still in a rather messy state. But before Celestia could say a word, Luna turned back toward her, her annoyance and frustration piqued once more.

"What were thou thinking, Sister?!" Luna scolded, getting up in the other alicorn's face—though making sure not to get too close to avoid making a mess of her midnight blue coat. "What would prompt thee to cause such a catastrophe?!"

Celestia turned her eyes up with an embarrassed blush. "Well, I may have challenged Sunset to a little cooking competition. It... got heated, to say the least." She giggled awkwardly in an attempt to diffuse her sister's anger, though the firm, disapproving scowl on Luna's face showed little sign of changing.

Starswirl, as well, gave his messy daughter a reprimanding glare. "Sunset, you should know better than to engage in horseplay in the kitchen."

The filly lowered her head guiltily, shuffling her hooves in shame. "Sorry, Daddy..."

"I'll say you are, young lady. And, of course, you know you'll be helping to clean up."

Celestia stepped forward with a hoof to her chest. "Starswirl, you needn't punish her. I instigated this mess and I take full responsibility."

"Thou hath been doing that quite a bit as of late," Luna commented with a grimace.

The head chef finally caught up again, having taken his time getting back in an effort to catch his breath. Seeing that Celestia and Sunset had emerged from the disaster area, he approached the princesses. "My kitchen... Is my kitchen okay?"

Using her deep blue magic, Luna grabbed the chef by his apron strings and directed her annoyance at him next. "Thine kitchen is the least of thine concerns. Thou had Us thinking that Celestia was in dire distress! We were worried sick!"

Celestia managed a smile, touched by her sister's concern for her well being. "Luna, you were that worried about me?"

Realizing what she'd said, Luna released the chef and cleared her throat to subvert her embarrassment in front of the crowd of onlookers. "Well, yes, of course. Thou art Our sister. Why should We not be concerned for thee?"

Celestia leaned her tall neck down to give her sister a loving nuzzle, startling the moon princess and eliciting a deep red blush. Luna pulled away with a slightly annoyed pout and attempted to wipe away the smear of pancake batter Celestia had left on her cheek.

"I appreciate the concern, Sister," Celestia whispered softly.

"But... My kitchen..." the chef repeated, falling back onto his haunches as he stared dejectedly through the open hall to his ravaged domain.

"Oh, suck it up," Luna chided.

Celestia nodded to agree with her sister's sentiment. "Yes, it's really not that distressing. I can have that cleaned up in a matter of minutes." She briefly glanced down at her chest and legs, noting the mess still adhered to her normally-pristine, ivory coat. "But first, I think I should get cleaned up. I'll be back after a quick shower." And with that, she zapped herself away in a flash of golden magic.

Although Princess Celestia had elected to take on the responsibility of cleaning the kitchen, Sunset looked to her father, knowing that she wasn't getting off scot-free. Sure enough, he was giving her a rather stern look. "So... What do I have to do for punishment?" she asked with reluctant acceptance.

Starswirl thought it over for a moment, but let out a quiet groan. "I need some time to consider it. Go get cleaned up in the meantime."

Sunset nodded and trudged her way towards the staff quarters to take a shower, tracking batter along with her with each step.

Luna let out a sigh as she, too, headed for the door. "We need some air..." She glanced over her shoulder at the crowd of cooks and soldiers still standing around. "Well? What art thou all loitering here for? The show's over. Back to thine posts."

The soldiers simply shrugged and left the dining hall, though the cooks didn't really know what to do with themselves with the kitchen in the state it was, but Luna didn't really care any further than that and left as well. Starswirl and Quill followed behind her, both a little concerned about her current state of mind.

"Your Highness," Quill addressed her as he briskly trotted up alongside her.

"What?" was her reply, her familiar grouchy grimace being aimed at the royal adviser.

Quill flinched slightly at her rather terse and grumpy tone, but continued anyway. "Are you going to be alright? You seem very upset."

Luna's brow furrowed ever so slightly more. "It is a wonder thou hath not gotten a raise for such astute observations," she snipped sarcastically.

"But surely there's no reason to be this angry over something so harmless," Starswirl added, trotting up on her opposite side. "As you said, you or Princess Celestia could have such a mess cleaned in no time at all, and your sister will be doing just that."

"Although we will have to restock the kitchen's pantry..." Quill mumbled quietly, taking a mental note.

"By thine logic, thou should not be upset with thine daughter either," Luna retorted. "Yet thou seemed equally peeved."

"Because she's still a filly. I may boast that she's a very intelligent girl, but sometimes common sense escapes her. There's still a lot she needs to learn," Starswirl explained.

"Which is precisely why We are upset!" Luna bellowed in aggravation, causing the two stallions to recoil. "Celestia is a grown mare, yet her immaturity never fails to astound Us! One would never think by personality alone that she was the older sibling. And such antics from a princess no less. If the public heard of this sort of behavior, what would they think?"

"From what I've seen, Princess Celestia seems to want your subjects to view her on a more... grounded level," Starswirl said. "To show them that she's not so different from any other pony."

"That's not her job," Luna argued. "We are supposed to lead our subjects, not make friends with them."

Starswirl exchanged concerned looks with Quill before looking back to the princess. "Pardon me for saying, but perhaps that's why your sister is more popular amongst your citizens."

Luna stopped in her tracks, narrowing her eyes at him. "What didst thou say?" she growled.

Starswirl did his best to maintain his composure under the moon princess's threatening glare. "What I'm trying to say is that it wouldn't hurt for you to lighten up a little."

The alicorn continued to stare icily at him for a moment, but then closed her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose. "For the sake of argument, how wouldst thou suggest We do that?"

Starswirl smiled, finally finding the window he'd been looking for. "I think you've already taken that first step, Your Highness."

Luna quirked a puzzled eyebrow. "How so?"

"Did you not offer to aid Sunset with her magical studies? That seems like a good start. Maybe that could help."

Luna lifted a hoof to her chin as she contemplated. "Hmm... And thou think that this would aid Us in earning favor with Our subjects?"

Starswirl shrugged. "It may. I don't see how it could hurt."

Luna straightened up, taking up her more typical, authoritative posture. "Very well. We did make a promise to the young filly after all. Send her to my quarters this evening, and we will see if thine hunch holds merit." With that, Luna went on ahead, leaving Starswirl and Quill alone in the hall.

The adviser gave his colleague an impressed smile. "Wow. I'm not sure I've seen anypony diffuse Princess Luna so quickly before."

Starswirl tapped a hoof to his temple with a rather cocky smirk. "You simply have to play to a person's ego. As much as I hate to say it, Princess Luna's ego seems rather... fragile. So, as her employee, why not do what I can to help her?"

Quill gave him a knowing smirk of his own. "And this has nothing to do with finding a punishment for Sunset, does it? Forcing her to endure Princess Luna's company and take extra lessons?"

Starswirl simply laughed. "Two birds, Quill. Two birds."

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

Sunset Shimmer found herself staring at the crescent moon emblazoned on the door before her, hesitant to knock upon it. She hadn't seen Princess Luna since the "incident" that morning, and the moon princess certainly didn't seem too happy about it at the time. Sunset had already gotten chewed out by her father about making a mess of the kitchen, and now he tells her that she has to participate in magic lessons with Princess Luna.

While it was true that Luna had agreed to help Sunset with her magic, it had been a couple of weeks since then and Luna had yet to arrange any time for it. Sunset knew that Luna wasn't entirely fond of her, and assumed that her agreement to the request had more to do with shutting the filly up rather than actually helping her. That assumption was compounded by the fact that this visit to Luna's chambers tonight was intended to be a part of her punishment for her childish antics that morning, and considering how miffed the alicorn was, Sunset was expecting either another lecture to go along with the one she received from her dad, or a more grueling routine with the lessons than what she was used to with Celestia.

Sunset glanced at the saddlebags she wore on her back, lifting the flap to double-check their contents. Even though she felt like Luna was going to have her own regime in mind for tonight, Sunset had brought along a few books on topics she was particularly interested in, just in case Luna happened to be more flexible than she anticipated. Seeing that she hadn't forgotten anything, Sunset raised her hoof to the door, paused for a moment, still feeling a tad reluctant, then knocked cautiously and quietly.

There was a moment of silence after her knock, and a twinge of optimism sparked the hope that perhaps Luna hadn't heard her knock. Sunset wasn't exactly sure why that idea sounded relieving, considering if she didn't do this her father would probably be upset with her for ignoring her punishment.

But that slight hopefulness would be hampered by the turning of the doorknob, the crested double doors opening to the face of the blue alicorn.

Luna's expression was expectant, yet with a touch of reluctance herself. "Punctual. A good start." She stepped aside, gesturing for Sunset to enter. "Come in."

Although her greeting was not inherently rude, her tone was rather terse and apathetic. Sunset had originally been looking forward to learning from Luna to see what she could offer that perhaps her sister could not, but her bedside manner thus far was less than encouraging. But Sunset had witnessed what Princess Luna was like in an agreeable mood; it may have simply been that the day's events had left the princess in one of her usual foul moods. For the time being, Sunset decided that it might be best not to say anything about Princess Luna's attitude in the hopes that she'll soften up over time. With that in mind, the filly stepped beyond the threshold and entered the moon princess's domain.

A far cry from Princess Celestia's room, Luna's bedroom featured much darker colors. The walls were painted a deep violet color, resembling the sky at twilight. To further that, the ceiling was speckled with many white dots of varying size; if Sunset didn't know any better, she'd have thought she was outside looking up at the evening sky, although the actual stars weren't connected with lines, clearly displaying the constellations they represented.

Luna's bed was positioned straight across from the door, just like her sister's, and while the blankets were the same royal purple, the awning over it was a midnight blue, like the owner's coat. Interestingly, Luna's room seemed more decorated than Celestia's. While she still had the same vanity, wardrobe, and desk, she had a few extra bookshelves lined along the walls, presumably to quell the boredom during the quiet nights. The writing desk had several open scrolls of parchment upon it, and while it was difficult to discern exactly what was on them from the door, Sunset noticed images of constellations, perhaps suggesting they were star charts of some kind.

On another table was what appeared to be a crystal ball. Sunset was curious about that, wondering if it was simply decorative, or if Luna actually had an interest in fortune telling. But another interesting feature still was the several dream catchers hanging in various locations around the room, including a couple from the awning of the bed. They were all designed differently and appeared to be hoofmade from sticks and feathers. Combined with the crystal ball, Sunset had to wonder if Princess Luna was somewhat superstitious, or had an interest in occult and tribal magic. That thought was interesting to the filly; maybe she'd ask about that at some point.

But that wasn't even the end of it. Luna's writing desk wasn't the only table in the room, as practically the entire circumference of the round chamber was lined with wooden tables, and some just sitting in the middle of the room. As spacious as Princess Celestia's bedroom was, there was barely room to move about freely in Luna's quarters without risk of bumping into something. What was fascinating was the plethora of astronomical equipment that sat upon these tables. In addition to a telescope standing near the balcony doors, there was an armillary sphere, an astrarium, a celestial sphere, and so many other instruments that looked completely alien to Sunset. Luna didn't even have a normal clock; instead, an astronomical clock hung on the wall, though the filly had no idea how one would discern the time from it.

Sunset slowly spun around, her jaw slacked in awe and her eyes wide with wonder. "Whoa, what is all this weird stuff?" Her rump suddenly collided with the celestial sphere sitting on its own in the middle of the room, jostling her from her state of amazement.

Luna calmly placed a hoof on the sphere's stand to halt its wobbling, though cast a somewhat stern look at the distracted unicorn. "'Weird' is a matter of perspective. These are all instruments that We use to monitor the moon, stars, and many other celestial bodies. And We would appreciate it if thou wouldst be careful and not fiddle with any of them; they are specifically calibrated and We would rather not hath to realign them."

Sunset stared at the celestial sphere for a moment, thinking about how cool it looked, but also wondering how it worked. "I thought you were always bored during the nights. How could you be bored with all this cool stuff?"

The alicorn breathed a slightly exasperated sigh. "Because when one hast been monitoring the night sky every night for hundreds and hundreds of years, it tends to become a little mundane. Nevertheless, it is Our job, and We do it gladly."

Sunset looked up at the princess expectantly, her fiery tail swaying eagerly. "Are you gonna teach me how to use them?"

A small grimace creased Luna's lips at the question. "No. These instruments have nothing to do with magic, which is the reason thou art here."

Sunset quickly hopped over to the stand holding the crystal ball. "Then what about this? Is this magic? Can it show the future?"

Luna was silent for a moment, prompting the filly to look back at her curiously. The alicorn was hesitant to answer the question, but figured it may be a good place to start. "No, it cannot perceive the future. That is a dream orb."

Sunset quirked an eyebrow, confused, but intrigued. "What's a dream orb?"

Luna pointed to the crystal ball. "As We said, that is a dream orb."

The filly rolled her eyes. "I mean what does it do?"

Luna approached the orb, running a hoof gently over the orb's glassy surface. "It allows Us to peer into the realm of dreams and see what others are dreaming of."

Sunset stared up at her incredulously. "You can see people's dreams with this?!"

The princess nodded. "We can. You may think Our only duty is to raise the moon, but while Our sister takes care of our subjects during the day, We watch over them at night. And this orb is one way We do that."

"'One way'?"

Again, Luna nodded. "Indeed. If need be, We can physically enter the realm of dreams to more directly interact with Our subjects."

"What?!" Sunset bellowed practically loud enough to wake everypony in the castle. "But if you can do that, then why don't more people talk about you?! That's amazing!"

Luna gave the loud unicorn a corrective glare. "Because people do not have control over their dreams. They are constructs of one's subconscious, and therefore may depict the dreamer's deepest desires, secrets, or fears. We do not make a habit of invading Our subjects' privacy unless absolutely necessary. And do not even suggest that We teach thee such magic."

Sunset lowered her head in mild disappointment, but understood that doing something like that could have severe repercussions and decided to let it go. Still it was interesting and impressive to learn that Princess Luna could do such a thing. To think that she had dominion of the realm of dreams was something that Sunset had not expected to learn tonight.

But it was time for her to focus on what she did come to learn. The filly flashed an eager smile up at the blue alicorn. "So, what are you going to teach me?"

Luna mulled it over for a moment, humming quietly to herself. Admittedly, even though she had agreed to do this two weeks ago, she hadn't thought much about what exactly she would teach the filly. "Well... What hast Celestia taught thee thus far?"

"You want me to tell you everything she's taught me?"

"Give Us the gist."

Sunset curled her lips and tapped her chin in thought, trying to remember as much as she could. "It's mostly just been practicing using my magic. She taught me about all sorts of different kinds of magic, but she didn't actually teach me how to use them."

Luna nodded. "Understandable. Thou should learn first how to properly utilize thine own magic before attempting to learn new ones."

There was a hint of disappointment on Sunset's face as she put together what that probably meant. "So, does that mean this is just going to be more training to strengthen my magic? You're not actually going to teach me anything new?"

The alicorn contemplated the question. If Celestia was going to focus primarily on teaching Sunset to harness her power, then she thought perhaps it would be beneficial to expand the filly's knowledge. So, for the first time since Sunset had entered her chambers, Luna smiled. "How about this: ask Us questions to which thou seek answers, and We will do Our best to provide." Sunset was about to open her mouth, but Luna quickly and sternly added an addendum. "That does not pertain to the realm of dreams."

The amber unicorn took another moment to think it over, deliberating in her mind where she wanted to start. "Um... The moon."

Luna quirked an eyebrow at the vague response. "The moon? What about it?"

"Is it easier to raise the moon than the sun?"

All things considered, it was a rather innocent question. Luna was simply a little surprised that she hadn't asked such a thing much earlier, though the filly never seemed to show much interest in anything that didn't have to do with Celestia or the sun.

Luna glanced toward the balcony doors, then back at Sunset. "Come," she beckoned with a tilt of her head, leading the unicorn toward the balcony.

Sunset silently and curiously followed behind her. Unlike in Princess Celestia's room, where the curtains in front of the balcony doors were a transparent white, Luna had blackout curtains in front of her balcony to keep the sunlight out when she slept during the day. However, they were drawn at the moment, allowing for the soft light of the moon and stars to bathe the room.

The two of them stepped out onto the stone balcony, and it reminded Sunset of the first time Celestia had invited her to watch her raise the sun. Though, of course, that wasn't happening tonight; Luna had already raised the moon for the night, but it did make Sunset wonder for a brief moment if watching her do so would have the same impact on her as it had with Celestia.

The cool, evening breeze flowed through their manes, though it was difficult to tell if it had any effect on Luna's ever-flowing mane. The alicorn stared up at the giant, white pearl hanging above them and contrasting the darkness of the sky. Sunset, however, was looking at Luna, noticing a rather forlorn expression on her face.

Luna tore her eyes away from the moon to look back down at the filly. "Thou asked if it was easier to raise the moon than the sun. Now, why wouldst thou ask that?"

Sunset hesitated to answer, wanting to make sure she phrased her response in a way that didn't offend the princess. "Um... Because I know that the sun is magic in nature, but isn't the moon just like a... really big rock?"

Luna grimaced slightly at the filly, but chose not to chastise her ignorance. "Is it really the case that, as much as thou study Our sister and the sun, thou hath not learned anything of the moon?"

Sunset pouted grumpily at the alicorn's judgmental tone. "It's not like the moon does anything. The sun gives us warmth, and it helps plants grow, and all sorts of stuff. The moon just kinda... sits there."

The princess of the night felt a twinge of anger in her mind, but inhaled a deep breath to calm herself; she was here to teach this ignorant filly, and correcting such notions was something she sought to do. Luna pointed to the full moon above them. "Dost thou see the glow of the moon?"

Sunset looked towards the sphere, then back to Luna with a quizzical expression.

"The light of the moon is the same as that of the sun. The moon's pristine surface reflects the light of the sun while it is beyond the horizon so that Equestria and its inhabitants can always see that we are watching over them."

"Then why not just have the sun up all the time?"

Luna rubbed her temple with a sigh. It was like Sunset was deliberately trying to irritate her. How could one filly be so stubborn? "Hast thou ever heard the phrase, 'too much of a good thing'? Thou hast experienced the harm that the sun can cause firsthoof. Overexposure to the sun's light can cause damage to the lives that it provides for. We must eat to survive, correct? But what happens when we eat too much?"

Sunset blinked. "Uh... We get sick?"

"Precisely. It is much the same concept. Even the trees and flowers need a break from the sun every now and then."

The unicorn hummed in quiet contemplation. She'd never thought about it like that before. She'd been looking at the sun as a life-giving presence, but Princess Luna had a point. The solar flares were a sign of instability, and Celestia had said that if it weren't for the power hidden within her, she would have died. But that also raised a question...

"Does the moon have solar flares?"

"Hm? Oh, well, no. As thou said, it is but 'a really big rock.' The sun is an ever-burning ball of fire. So, while the moon is also magic in nature, it is considerably more stable."

"Sooo... Does that mean it is easier to raise it?"

Luna furrowed her brow slightly, the filly's insistence on getting an answer to that question grinding on the princess's nerves. "It means it is safer. Just because the moon doesn't do quite as much for the world as the sun, doesn't mean it takes less effort to move it."

"Oh."

The alicorn raised a suspicious eyebrow. She knew Sunset was trying to glean something from this, but the question was: what? "Why dost this matter so much to thee? Dost it make any difference which is easier?"

"Well..."

Luna saw a slightly dejected look in Sunset's teal eyes, and she wondered if perhaps she'd said something to upset her.

The amber unicorn shifted her hooves against the stone balcony. "Princess Celestia wanted me to try moving the sun again this morning."

Luna's eyes widened in surprise. After what had happened last time, she was shocked that her sister would take such a risk again, even without a solar flare. "She did?"

Sunset nodded somberly.

The moon princess wore an understanding frown. "No luck, We presume."

The filly shook her head with a disappointed sigh. "I was kinda hoping you'd tell me it was easier to raise the moon so I could try it myself. I thought maybe if I wasn't good enough to raise the sun yet, then maybe I could see if I'm making any progress at all if I can move the moon."

While Luna was a little annoyed by the way Sunset just assumed she'd let her do such a thing, the downtrodden expression on the filly's face made her feel a twinge of pity. After all, she only wished to see where her lessons and training had got her thus far. It seemed fair to want to view one's progress. And at least she now had an answer as to why the sunrise was so irregular that morning.

Luna glanced back up at the moon, then back to Sunset. "Then let's see, shall we?"

Sunset's head shot up, her mood lifting in an instant. "Really?! I can try?!"

Even though Luna was graciously giving her this opportunity, her expression was still somewhat stoic, expectant even, feeling as though she already knew what the outcome was going to be and not wanting the filly to get her hopes up too high. "Go ahead," she said with a flourish of her hoof.

The unicorn grinned with excitement and performed a small, eager hop in place. But when she gazed out at the night sky, the wind was suddenly taken out of her sails. As she stared up at the moon, she felt intimidated. It felt like a giant eye staring at her, a doubtful gaze that matched the one Luna was casting down on her from the corner of her eye. Sunset had failed to move the sun that morning, and that had caused a minor blow to her self-confidence. So what if she couldn't even move the moon? How would that make her feel? Luna had assured her that it wasn't any easier, but for some reason Sunset didn't quite believe that.

"Well?"

Sunset flinched as Luna's voice penetrated the thick silence, looking back up at her. Oddly, Luna's tone as well as her expression showed no impatience towards the filly's hesitance, though her face was still hard to read. Sunset's conversation with Princess Celestia that morning played through her mind again. She had been reluctant to try then, fearing failure, but her teacher had outright told her that she likely wouldn't be able to do it, yet encouraged her to try regardless. And while Luna's demeanor wasn't quite as warm and inviting as Celestia's, she was likely thinking the same thing.

Sunset straightened up, her expression becoming more determined. She was a little split, though; a part of her just wanted to do it to prove to herself and the princesses that she wasn't afraid of failure, but at the same time, she was hoping to actually pull it off, if only to see the look on Luna's face. But she tried to push those thoughts from her mind. Right now, she didn't want to be distracted by the reasons why she wanted to succeed. She just needed to concentrate on trying.

A cyan light emanated from Sunset's horn, the filly clenching her eyes shut as she went right into it and focused as much of her magic as she could toward the moon.

Luna watched with interest as the glowing aura around the unicorn's horn grew steadily, the expanding output of power admittedly impressing the princess. Sunset was clearly pouring everything she had into this, sweat beginning to form on her forehead and cyan sparks flickering off her horn.

But almost as quickly as her power had built, it suddenly died down, Sunset's aura shrinking to a weak glow and the filly wobbling slightly in exhaustion. Her teal eyes opened again, peering up toward the moon. "It didn't move, did it?"

Luna glanced up briefly to assess, but shook her head. "No."

Sunset took a deep breath to steady herself, her horn still tingling slightly. As worn out as she was, she flashed a small smile at Princess Luna. "But that's okay, right? I shouldn't let it get to me."

Luna raised a skeptical eyebrow at the filly's sudden, optimistic attitude. Despite the grin, the alicorn spotted a small glimmer in Sunset's eyes, and a tiny, almost unnoticeable quiver in her lips. "Is that what thou believe?"

The amber unicorn's smile faded.

"Perhaps We may not be an exceptional judge of character, but even We can see the falsity in thine resolve. Thou'rt only trying to fool thyself."

That glimmer in Sunset's eyes grew more apparent after Luna's rather blunt and scathing words. Sunset's ears folded back, and she scowled at the moon princess as moisture formed in her teal eyes. "Why are you being mean? Teachers are supposed to be supportive."

Luna didn't let the filly's frustration phase her, but her expression did soften slightly. "Because We wish for thee to be honest with thyself. It is clear thou feel disappointed by thine failure, but thou put up this facade to hide it from thyself. It is okay to feel disappointed. What's important is to use that disappointment as motivation to improve. If thou fear failure, then it will become more difficult to perform to the best of thine ability, and wearing a false smile dost not alleviate that. Frustration and disappointment art evidence of thine dedication, and We respect that."

Sunset let out a sigh, not bothering to hide her emotions anymore as she wiped the tears from her eyes. "Why can't I do it? I've been practicing a lot, and I know my magic is stronger now from when I started. But I still can't do it..."

"Perhaps thou art not interpreting thine situation correctly."

Sunset was confused by the statement. "What do you mean?"

"Thou seem to be under the impression that the solar flare granted thee access to thine hidden power, but that is not likely the case."

The filly listened intently to Luna's explanation, hoping that it would shed some light on the problem.

"The shock thou received from the solar flare simply drew out thine latent magic, it did not 'unlock' it. It made us aware of its existence, but did not necessarily grant thee free access to it. Thine own power almost killed thee, so even if thou could utilize it freely, thou run the risk of seriously injuring thyself. It is as Celestia said in the first place: thou need to strengthen thine magic and learn to control it before thou can truly make use of it. Thine disappointment and frustration is a direct result of thine impatience. If thou can address that issue, then this whole process will run more smoothly. Remember: it took Celestia and I nearly a hundred years to perfect the art of moving the sun and moon. Two weeks is nothing. Thou may learn to do so eventually, but be aware that it could potentially take most of thine life to accomplish it."

Sunset groaned quietly. "That's not very encouraging..."

Luna leaned down with a taunting glare. "If thou hath not the resolve, then perhaps thou should give up now, hm?" the midnight blue alicorn chided.

Sunset, not wanting to give Luna the satisfaction of seeing her quit, challenged her glare with one of her own. "I'm not gonna quit! I'm gonna raise the sun one day, and I don't care how long it takes!"

Luna straightened up again, staring down her snout at the defiant filly with a self-satisfied smirk. "Then perhaps we should truly start thine lessons."

The unicorn smiled confidently with a resolute nod, her determined, teal eyes burning as fiery as her mane.

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

Starswirl sized himself up in the mirror on the vanity of his room, tilting his head to the left, then to the right. A dissatisfied hum escaped his throat and he brought up a small comb with his white magic. With a few gentle strokes, he ran its teeth through his short beard, realigning any stragglers with the rest of his well-groomed facial hair, and giving the tip a fine curl. He analyzed his condition one more time, this time giving his beard a firm stroke with his hoof. The hairs immediately bounced back to their original position once he let go, the ends curling up again and bringing forth a grin of proud satisfaction.

Done with his morning grooming, Starswirl was prepared to begin his work for the day. He scooped up a few books that he had taken from the library and tucked them neatly into his saddlebags. He wasn't quite finished with them, but found that the royal archives made for a better atmosphere for study. Plus, there were other books he intended to peruse. Needing nothing more, Starswirl opened the door and stepped out into the castle's halls.

The halls were already illuminated by the morning sun, which reminded Starswirl that he wanted to ask Princess Celestia if she wished to join him in his work today. However, he knew that she'd likely decline. Ever since the incident with the solar flare, Celestia has devoted most of her free time to Sunset, and since today was Sunday, that was probably going to be the case today as well.

Though now that he thought about it, something seemed off. The sun had risen not long ago, and while Starswirl wasn't quite as early a riser as his daughter, he typically heard her exit her room to watch the sunrise from the windows in the hall. Yet he had heard nothing from the room next door this morning. Curious, Starswirl approached Sunset's room, tapping gently on the wooden door.

"Sunset?" he beckoned through the entrance.

He received no response. It was certainly entirely possible that he simply hadn't heard her that morning, but the filly was never usually light-hoofed, especially when laser-focused on watching the sunrise. But a lack of response probably meant that she was elsewhere, as she rarely returned to her room once she knew Princess Celestia was awake. Still, just to sate his own curiosity, Starswirl opened the door to check anyway.

And to his surprise, his daughter was indeed present, tucked snugly under her plush bed covers and sound asleep. Starswirl was astonished by the sight. This was the first time he'd seen her sleep in since she became enamored with Princess Celestia. At first, his disbelief lead him to think that perhaps she had simply returned to bed after watching the sunrise, but even that was uncharacteristic of her. Like the flowers blooming in the morning, the sunrise was practically what energized Sunset each day. There was no way she'd still be relaxed enough to go right back to sleep after watching it.

"Sunset? Are you alright?" he asked with concern, wondering if perhaps she may have been ill.

The sleepy filly let out a disgruntled moan, pulling her sheets tighter to her neck. "Five more minutes, Daddy..."

Again, Starswirl was flabbergasted by his somnolent daughter. He was beginning to wonder if she actually was his daughter. "Sweetie... You know the sun is up already, right?"

The filly's eyes shot open in an instant. "What?!" She kicked the covers from underneath in a panic, her desperate flailing only serving to get her tangled up until she wound up rolling off the bed and dragging the sheets down into a pile with her. Her head managed to wiggle its way free from the pile, giving her father a distressed look. "Y-You're joking, right?! This is just a trick!"

Starswirl stepped aside with a sympathetic smile, showing that the hallway was, in fact, bathed in sunlight.

Sunset's ears drooped, and her mouth fell open in disbelief. "I missed it...?"

"Looks like it."

The amber filly finally freed herself from her cozy prison and briskly trotted out into the hall to confirm it with her own eyes. Sure enough, the glow of the morning sun flooded the castle as it did every morning. But never had the sunrise made her feel so bad. "I actually missed it..."

Starswirl placed a comforting hoof on his daughter's back. "It's not a big deal, Sunset. What difference does it make if you miss one sunrise? I'm sure Princess Celestia won't mind."

Sunset frowned deeply, her gaze falling to the floor. "I mind..."

Her father lifted her chin up again, giving her a knowing grin. "Well, it's not like you don't have a good reason. You were up pretty late last night studying with Princess Luna."

Rather than feeling reassured about it, Sunset instead scowled at her father. "Then it's your fault, Dad! You made me take lessons with her as punishment, remember?"

The stallion retaliated with a reprimanding glower of his own. "It was my understanding that you and Princess Luna agreed to do this a couple of weeks ago. And nopony said you had to stay up that late."

Sunset simply turned away from her father with a pout.

"Did you not enjoy your time with Princess Luna?"

Sunset was hesitant to answer, as though an admission of enjoyment would put all the blame on herself. "Mmm... No, I did..."

"Then surely it was worth missing one sunrise. There'll be plenty more in the future."

"I guess..."

That was enough for Starswirl. He knew Sunset was going to wallow over this for a while, but he was sure she'd get over it eventually, especially once Celestia confirmed how insignificant the issue was. "Alright, now get cleaned up and go have something for breakfast," he urged her with a gentle nudge down the hall.

Sunset begrudgingly did as she was told, returning to her room briefly to remedy her current case of bedhead while Starswirl went on his way to the royal archives. Once sufficiently groomed, Sunset headed out as well, but rather than making her way to the mess hall for breakfast as her father had suggested, she turned in the opposite direction, toward the throne room.

Once there, Sunset poked her head through the door on the throne room's left side, nearest to Luna's throne. It appeared that nopony was present yet, and the spacious chamber was completely empty and silent. But Sunset knew Princess Celestia would show up there eventually, so she entered and waited.

It wasn't often she found herself alone in the throne room, so to pass the time while she waited, she glanced around at the elegant tapestries hanging from the walls. Really, aside from their size, there wasn't anything especially noteworthy about them compared to all of the other tapestries strung up throughout the castle, but she did like the one that hung behind the thrones, framing the two seats quite nicely.

Now that her attention had been drawn in that direction, curiosity overcame the filly. She glanced around discreetly to ensure that she was alone, then briskly ascended the short set of stairs up to Celestia's golden throne. She placed a hoof on the seat, hesitating slightly and wondering if she should actually be doing this. But she couldn't help herself. With a playful smile, Sunset hopped up onto the throne and planted her rump upon it. From her new vantage point, she stared out over the empty throne room. Even though the view wasn't much different, her perspective was. This was where one of the governing diarchs presided over her kingdom. This is where she sat when making an address, or meeting with foreign dignitaries. But as great as the importance of this seat was, all Sunset could do was giggle to herself as she pretended to be a princess, even if the throne was way too big for the diminutive filly.

The playful unicorn was suddenly startled by the sound of the door nearest to the golden throne opening, and much to her surprise, embarrassment, and worry, it happened to be the throne's owner.

Upon entering the throne room, Princess Celestia's pink eyes immediately landed upon the little unicorn occupying her throne, a deep, crimson blush on the filly's amber cheeks. The princess raised a hoof to her mouth with a reaction of mock surprise. "Oh, dear. I didn't realize I'd been usurped."

Sunset hastily jumped down from the throne, brushing it off for the princess before scampering down the steps with a mildly panicked and remorseful look. "Sorry! I-I was just waiting for you, a-and I just wanted to see what it was like! Please don't be mad!"

Celestia responded to the filly's hysterics with a soft giggle and a gentle pat on the filly's head. "It's fine, Sunset, calm down. It's just a chair."

The unicorn breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the princess wasn't upset with her.

"So, why were you waiting for me? Looking to start your lessons before breakfast this morning as well?"

Sunset shied away, her remorseful expression returning. "No, I... I want to apologize..."

Celestia raised a concerned eyebrow. She assumed this wasn't still about the throne. "For what?"

Sunset stared straight up into the alicorn's eyes apologetically. "I... I missed the sunrise this morning. I'm sorry..."

Celestia was a touch confused at first, but quickly gave her a forgiving smile. "Is that all? Sunset, that's nothing you need to apologize for."

The filly's teal eyes widened to hear she wasn't upset about it. "Really? You don't mind?"

"Of course not. Sunset, I'm flattered that you respect me so much that you'd devote yourself to watching the sunrise every morning, but a smart, hard-working filly like you deserves to sleep in from time to time."

"But I like watching the sunrise," Sunset argued, still feeling a little guilty.

"And that's fine, but you don't need to go out of your way to do it just for my sake. I mean, it's not like it's anything special; I do it every morning. Missing it once is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things."

A small smile managed its way onto the unicorn's muzzle. "I guess. But I'm still gonna try to watch it whenever I can."

"Well, thank you. I appreciate your dedication. Just remember that I said it's not necessary, alright?"

Sunset nodded.

"But since we're on the topic," Celestia said wearing a curious expression. "Was there a particular reason you missed it? You're usually pretty diligent about it, and you've always been rather punctual with these sorts of things. Did you forget to set your alarm?"

"Oh, I don't usually use my alarm," Sunset answered. "I always—er, almost always—wake up before sunrise anyway. It's probably because I was up so late last night. I was pretty sleepy by the time I went to bed, and didn't think to set my alarm just in case."

Celestia smiled fondly at her. "Up all night studying, were you?"

Sunset nodded with a grin. "Mm-hm. Princess Luna was giving me lessons."

Suddenly, Celestia's smile dropped, surprised and confused. "What? Luna?"

Sunset hopped in place. "Yeah! And it was fun! She taught me a lot about the moon, and astrology—oh! And her dream magic! That sounded cool!" As excited as she was to regale Luna's teaching's, the filly's grin faltered upon seeing the expression on her teacher's face. Celestia looked almost... hurt. "Princess? What's wrong?"

The alicorn didn't respond. Her eyes shifted around as though lost in thought. She was only jarred from her trance upon hearing the filly address her. "Hm? Oh, um, sorry. E-Excuse me, I have to take care of something."

Before Sunset could even inquire as to what she was talking about, Celestia vanished on the spot with a bright flash of magic. The unicorn glanced around the once again empty throne room, wondering what the hay had just happened.

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

Princess Luna stared out into the amber horizon as her sister's sun illuminated the mountains. Seeing the sunrise always reminded the blue alicorn of how long she'd been awake and elicited a tired yawn. With another night come and gone, in was time for Luna to hit the sack for the day. While normally she'd like to get an idea of what the day's plans were before heading to bed, this morning she felt like just dropping onto her cozy mattress and dozing off.

Luna stepped back off of the balcony to return to her chambers, shutting the glass doors behind her. She started making her way toward her private bathroom to brush her teeth and do her "business" before curling up in bed, but she had only made it halfway across her room before she was distracted by a knock at her door. The forcefulness and rapidity of the knocks sounded distressful, making her wonder if perhaps there was some sort of emergency, so she quickly trotted over to the door to investigate. To her surprise, it was her own sister that stood there, though Luna presumed by the somewhat pained look on her face that this wasn't a casual visit to say hi.

"Sister, what brings thee here?" Luna asked with concern.

"Luna, I need to talk to you about something."

The shorter princess could sense a hint of urgency in Celestia's voice, stepping aside to let her sister in. "Is something wrong?"

Celestia looked her younger sister in the eye, a rather serious and almost hurt look in her pink eyes. "Sunset told me that you were giving her magic lessons last night."

Luna quirked an eyebrow, confused as to what exactly she was getting at. "Yes, so what's the issue?"

Celestia placed a hoof upon her chest, looking at Luna pleadingly. "Luna, tutoring Sunset was supposed to be my responsibility."

Luna gawked slightly, vexed by the declaration. "Beg thine pardon?"

"I'm the one who put Sunset into her current situation, so the job of teaching her and guiding her should be on me. There's no need for you to get involved."

"Why art thou making a big deal of this? Thou hath requested many times that We become more involved with our subjects, but now that We have, thou wish for Us to stop?" Luna responded defensively.

"Like I said, Luna, this happened because of me. This was supposed to be my way of atoning, remember?"

Luna simply stared at her sister, bewildered by what she was hearing. Even though she had said something similar to Sunset herself, that had mostly been an effort to appear dismissive. "What, so this is just about atonement? What happened to protecting her from her own power? We thought that was the priority here."

Celestia faltered slightly, but continued her argument. "I-It is, but this should be my burden to bear, and mine alone. I don't want to thrust that responsibility onto you, too."

"And did it occur to thee that We do not mind supporting some of that burden? We wish for that filly to master her power as well. We are more than willing to aid her in this endeavor."

"But this has nothing to do with you, Luna."

Luna went silent, her pupils narrowing. Celestia's words roiled her emotions, and something inside her snapped. "No, of course not! It's about you! It's always been about you! Heavens forbid that the spotlight not shine down upon your majesty at all times!"

Witnessing her sister's emotions getting the better of her, Celestia attempted to interject. "Luna, I didn't mean—"

"Shut up!"

Celestia flinched and took a step back as she was assaulted by Luna's incensed outburst, her words striking at her like daggers.

Though she continued to seethe with anger, through the raging fire in her eyes a hint of concealed sadness could be seen in Luna's deep blue irises. "Ever since we were kids you've always tried to one-up me; if I got something, you had to have something better."

"Luna, you know that's not true," Celestia argued in a desperate attempt to talk her sister down.

"How can you say that?! Just look outside!"

With some trepidation, not really wanting to take her eyes off of her livid sister, Celestia followed Luna's pointing hoof to the sunrise outside, but was confused as to what exactly she was referring.

"Is the sun not proof enough that you always get the larger slice of cake?! And yet now, even with everything you have, you can't share even one of those things with me?! Does this have nothing to do with that filly's safety and the safety of those around her?! Does this not have anything to do with bettering our kingdom?! Has this just been about you getting credit for it all?!"

"I-I—"

It was at this point that Luna's eyes began to water, though her sadness and dejection was still rivaled by the anger and loathing in her furious expression. "Your subjects have nothing but respect for you, yet they have no idea how selfish you really are! They rarely ever even see me, yet I'm practically a social pariah! How is that fair?!"

"Luna... I..."

Luna turned away from her sister, clenching her eyes shut to hold back the tears that had inadvertently welled up during her outburst. "If you don't want me teaching Sunset, then fine! Enjoy all of 'your' responsibility. Now, get out!"

Before Celestia could even mutter another word, Luna let out a forceful shock wave of magic that pushed the older sister back out the door, and even knocked over a few of her astronomy instruments in the process before belligerently slamming the doors in Celestia's face. The furious alicorn stomped over to the balcony doors, glaring disdainfully at the sun in the distance for a moment. Then with a indignant, "Hmph!" she drew the blackout curtains violently with her magic, threatening to tear them down entirely.

Meanwhile, Celestia stood outside her sister's chambers in silence, simply staring at the image of the crescent moon on the doors. She'd seen her sister upset before, but never quite like this. She hadn't expected what she said to set her off like that. But as much as Celestia wished to talk this out with her sister, it was clear that Luna was not in a reasonable mood anymore. Hopefully, given time, her head would cool enough that they could discuss this more calmly. But as she started making her way back down the tower with her head hung low, Celestia couldn't help but think that she may have pushed Luna a tad too far this time...

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