• Published 15th Nov 2018
  • 2,567 Views, 129 Comments

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun - Dee Pad



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

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Chapter 8 - Outshined

The Girl Who Orbited the Sun
By Dee Pad
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Chapter 8: Outshined

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"Go on. Give it another shot, Sunset."

The filly nodded, grinning eagerly as she once more focused magic into her horn. She closed her eyes, her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth as she concentrated.

True to their agreement, Sunset's magical training had been relegated to one day a week so that she didn't get overwhelmed by her own power. Instead, Princess Celestia had been focusing on teaching Sunset the more fundamental aspects of magic, as well as keeping her optimistic. That point was important; Sunset had frequently exhibited disappointment, frustration, and dejection whenever she would fail to accomplish something she'd been dead set on doing, and Princess Celestia wanted her to learn to accept that the things you want don't come easy.

Thankfully, that seemed to be going well. It had been two months now since Sunset and her father had moved to the Castle of the Two Sisters, and even though Sunset had spent more of that time studying rather than practicing, she had managed to maintain a positive attitude. Besides, it wasn't as though she wasn't getting any training in, it just wasn't specifically to strengthen her magic. Rather, Princess Celestia and even Starswirl were helping to teach her new spells. For as powerful as Sunset was for her age, her range of spells was still pretty much what one would expect from a young foal, just to a significantly higher degree. For example, while an average unicorn foal would likely be able to levitate nothing heavier than a stack of textbooks, Sunset had demonstrated enough power to lift one of the sculptures in the castle's statue garden—something not even most adult unicorns could claim.

So right now, Sunset was broadening her skill set. With the power at her disposal, as well as her sharp mind, her father and Princess Celestia felt she'd have little trouble learning some new spells. In addition, doing so would help her learn to better control her magic without risk of hurting herself, which, of course, would aid her in her long term goals. One such spell was what her father was currently helping her with: teleportation, a spell that Sunset had always wanted to learn. Starswirl was one of very few unicorns capable of performing the spell, so who better to teach her than her own father?

Once her cyan magic had been built up sufficiently, Sunset then focused her mind. She had been told how to perform the spell: the caster must picture the location to which they wish to travel, then focus their magic on themselves and direct it to that location. That was the explanation for short-range teleportation. The final step—directing the magic to the desired spot—was more complicated when it came to long distances, or locations not within view. But as Sunset was simply learning to perform the spell, that was a bridge she'd cross later.

Once she had the location pictured in her mind's eye, Sunset released her magic, creating a bright flash and a high-pitched pop. She immediately opened her eyes with an eager grin, but her mouth quickly curled down as she realized she hadn't moved an inch. Again. "Dang it..." she groaned in disappointment.

"Don't feel discouraged, sweetie," Starswirl said with a reassuring smile. "You have the right idea, but you seem to be having difficulty focusing your magic on your destination. You're concentrating your magic too much on yourself."

"I know teleporting isn't the easiest thing to do, but I thought I'd get the hang of it a little quicker," Sunset expressed.

Starswirl smirked at his daughter. "Well, you may not have noticed it, but you are actually performing the spell correctly."

Sunset blinked, both confused and hopeful. "I am?"

Her father nodded with a proud grin. "Yes. You've actually been teleporting successfully during your last few attempts. You just happen to teleport to the exact spot you already were."

Sunset beamed widely at that information, her enthusiasm returning to her in full force.

"Like I said, you're focusing too much of your magic on yourself, so you keep teleporting to yourself."

"Okay." Sunset had a look around. Her father had brought her out to the gardens of the castle, but to an area that was clear of obstructions. The area where they currently stood was intended to be an extension of the flower garden, but it had only recently been cleared away of trees and shrubbery, and as such it was just an empty plot of land. "I guess you were worried that my powerful magic might make me accidentally teleport inside something, huh?"

Starswirl laughed at her assumption. "I can see why you would think that. There are certainly myths telling of people who've performed teleportation spells, only to wind up fusing their bodies into walls or some such. But those are merely urban legends. In truth, matter cannot overlap with other matter, so if one were to even purposefully attempt to teleport themselves inside another solid object, the spell would simply fail. I suppose since there are so few people who can actually do it, such rumors wind up circulating. But you have nothing to fear, Sunset. I brought you out here because it will make it easier to visualize your destination. Simple as that."

Sunset breathed a relieved sigh. Admittedly, that had been a concern tickling at the back of her mind. She may have even been subconsciously holding herself back to prevent such a thing from happening, but now that she knew it wasn't possible, she was eager to give it another go.

Her father gave her another smirk. "Also, your 'powerful magic'? Sunset, I hope you're not getting a big ego about this."

Sunset puffed out her cheeks at the accusation. "You guys are the ones who keep saying I have a lot of latent potential. I was just saying it how you would say it."

Her father chuckled at her defensive reaction. "Alright, I was just making sure. I thought it sounded odd coming from you, that's all. Boasting never seemed to be your style."

"Princess Celestia doesn't brag, so I won't either," Sunset told him resolutely.

"Good to hear," Starswirl laughed.

With that said, Sunset immediately started charging her horn with magic again, a determined grin on her lips. "Okay, I got it this time. Check it out, Dad!" Without even giving her father a chance to interject, the filly's horn flashed with cyan light. When the light faded a split second later, Sunset opened her eyes, but noticed something was different. She was alone. She was still in the garden, but her father had disappeared. "Huh? Daddy? Where'd you go?"

"Behind you, sweetheart."

Sunset looked over her shoulder and was greeted by her father's grinning face, though the filly was confused.

"You turned yourself around, dear," her father explained with amusement. However, there was also a notable hint of pride in his voice. "Were you picturing a spot behind you?"

Sunset turned back around to face her dad, looking a tad disoriented. "Yeah."

"I think you were a little hasty that time, but you did manage to turn yourself in that direction. I'd say that's some progress, if only a little."

Sunset rubbed her temple firmly, groaning with discomfort. "I feel kinda dizzy..."

Starswirl chuckled knowingly. "Yes, teleportation will do that. Your brain gets a little confused by such an instant shift in your viewpoint. It's fine, but it's something you'll have to get used to. With enough practice, you'll hardly need to think about it." He demonstrated that point by suddenly vanishing in a flash of white light, reappearing behind his daughter and startling her by giving her a playful noogie. "Now, why don't we take a break and get something to eat, hm?"

Sunset swatted his hoof off of her head with a smirk, then took off ahead of him. "Race ya!"

"I can teleport, sweetie," he called out to her, but she was already too far ahead to have acknowledged him. The proud father shook his head with an amused grin. But, instead of following up on his warning, Starswirl casually followed. He wasn't one who used teleportation often, believing that overreliance on the spell would lead to laziness. Besides, there was nothing wrong with taking the scenic route and enjoying the view on such a beautiful day, even if it meant losing the race.

Once he had rounded the corner toward the front of the castle, Starswirl noticed that Sunset hadn't gone much further than that. It wasn't that she had abandoned the race, but she was certainly willing to put it on hold for Princess Celestia, who had apparently just come outside as they were returning. It looked as though even Lance and Scabbard had joined in whatever conversation they had started, the four ponies standing at the bottom of the stone steps leading up to the front doors.

"Good afternoon, Your Highness," Starswirl greeted cheerily. "Going out for a stroll?"

"Sort of. I was actually coming to see how you and Sunset were doing," Celestia answered.

"It's going well, I must say," the bearded stallion said with a hearty chuckle. "She's picking up on it rather quickly."

"Yeah, watch!" Sunset quickly flashed her horn to attempt a teleport, but only managed to instantly reappear in the exact same spot again. Lance and Scabbard both gave the filly quizzical looks, as it simply appeared to them that she didn't even disappear.

Celestia, on the other hoof, smiled widely at her student. "Wonderful! I see you aren't having any difficulty casting the spell."

"It's the relocation part she needs to work on," Starswirl elaborated. He placed a hoof proudly on his daughter's shoulder, earning a cute smile from the amber unicorn. "But I'm certain she'll have it down soon enough. She's a quick learner, this one."

"I can't help but notice that she's been even more peppy than usual lately, too," Lance pointed out.

"Well, since she isn't concentrating on raising the sun anymore—at least for the time being—she hasn't had to deal with the concern of not being able to do it every time she tries," Celestia explained. "I felt as though doing so would gradually eat away at her self-confidence."

"But won't that make it worse if she tries again later, only to find out she still can't do it?" Scabbard postulated rather bluntly.

Sunset's chipper grin fell slightly at the thought, but she felt her father's hoof gently rub her shoulder reassuringly.

"She's not strengthening her magic during this time, so it's not like she should expect to, right?" he told Scabbard in response. "This 'down time' isn't meant to have anything to do with her goal of raising the sun anyway."

Scabbard simply shrugged, his question having been answered. "Fair enough."

"Hey, check it out."

Everypony looked to where Lance was pointing. A figure could be seen flying over the Everfree Forest, heading in their direction. They all knew who it was, and all waited curiously.

Having spotted the group of ponies, including her sister, gathered at the castle entrance, Princess Luna came in for a landing. She touched down rather unceremoniously, breathing a deep sigh of exasperation, and walked up to the group of five ponies with a noticeable lack of her usual poise.

"Welcome back, Luna," Celestia greeted her sister. "Calling it quits early today?"

The blue alicorn groaned, looking rather dejected and defeated. "We are beginning to think that all of this has been an exercise in futility."

Celestia shook her head, disappointed in her sister. She had heard those words a few times since Princess Luna had started making an effort to connect with her subjects. Despite spending a great deal of time in Canterlot over the past two months, it seemed Luna was making little headway. Celestia had offered multiple times to accompany her to assess what she was doing wrong, but the moon princess would always decline, insisting that she can manage without her sister's interference.

"This sort of thing takes time, Luna," Celestia told her.

Luna gave the ivory alicorn a disgruntled glower. Just as Celestia had heard Luna moan in defeat many times, Luna had heard Celestia say that same line just as many times. "We are well aware of that, Sister, but We were at least expecting to make some progress in the interim."

Celestia gave her sister a more concerned and compassionate look, practically pleading with her. "Luna, can you at least give me an idea of how exactly things are going? What are the people doing or saying?"

Luna gave a long sigh, turning away slightly in self-pity. "At first, the people seemed uncomfortable and suspicious of Our presence. That We've come to accept is understandable given Our supposed reputation and the lack of Our presence prior. But now... Now We simply feel like We are being ignored... We greet Our subjects amicably, but they respond simply with halfhearted waves, not even slowing down as they pass right along."

The four other ponies exchanged uneasy glances. It wasn't uncommon to encounter Princess Luna in a grouchy mood, and she had a tendency to come off a bit prickly, but seeing her so sullen and dejected was admittedly concerning. It was clear that her self-esteem was suffering, but the worst part was that the people of Canterlot probably didn't even realize what they were doing to her.

"Do you suppose that the populace has simply become disenchanted with your presence?" Starswirl posited.

Luna raised an eyebrow. "How so?"

Sunset's ears perked up as she caught on to what her dad was insinuating. "Oh, I see. They weren't used to seeing you around, so they were all awkward and weird around you. But since you're up there pretty much everyday now, it's not really special anymore."

Luna's eyes widened at the revelation. "Art thou suggesting that a visit from the princess hast become... mundane?"

"Makes sense," Lance agreed with a shrug. "I mean, we've known you two for a good long while now, and we've gotten a lot more casual around you since then. Seeing a princess is normally a pretty big deal, but when you see one everyday, it's not really worth talking about anymore."

"Perhaps you need a break, Luna," Celestia suggested with a kind, warm smile. "Or maybe consider making your visits less frequent. It'll probably help make your appearances more noteworthy, and will also be less stressful for you."

"Yes. Sunset has lessened her own workload recently and has been better off for it," Starswirl added. "Taking it easy could very well do wonders for your mood."

Luna let out another long sigh. As reluctant as she was to admit it, they may have had a point. But she didn't want to simply abandon this endeavor of hers. She was determined to see this through and build a respectable reputation, just as her sister has. "We do worry that, if We were to do that, the people may be relieved that We are no longer around, only to be disappointed by Our inevitable return..."

Celestia and Starswirl shared worried looks. Now Luna was just sounding depressed, and they were starting to pity her pretty deeply.

However, contrary to the gloomy mood surrounding the area in front of the castle, Sunset interjected with a chipper grin. "I have an idea! What if I went with you one day to help you out?"

Luna gave the filly a corrective scowl. "While We appreciate the advice thou hath shared with Us in the past, We've made it abundantly clear that We wish to handle this on Our own from here on. We doth not need thee there to foalsit Us."

"Wait! I know the word-of-mouth thing didn't work out how we thought it would, but if somepony who actually knows you talks about you, maybe people will be willing to listen."

"Like a little salesfilly," Lance laughed. "She can give the pitch and get people interested in the product."

Luna hummed in thought at the suggestion. "While We do not enjoy being referred to as a 'product,' We suppose there is no harm in trying. Very well. If thou wish to accompany Us to Canterlot sometime, be Our guest. Now then, We are hungry. Is supper being prepared, Sister?"

"The cooks are on it right now. I'll go with you." Celestia turned back to the castle entrance, walking up the steps and through the doors, her sister following behind.

With the princesses gone, Lance gave Sunset a sly smirk. "You know, she'd never admit it, but I think Luna actually has a soft spot for you, kiddo. You sure you haven't taught her any spells that manipulate alicorns, Starswirl?"

"I most certainly haven't," the bearded stallion laughed. "I'd attribute that to her boundless charisma, as well as her irresistible cuteness."

"There's no spell more powerful than that," Scabbard remarked with a slight grin.

Lance gave his fellow soldier a somewhat astounded look. "I think that's the closest thing to a joke I've heard from you."

The armored unicorn scoffed. "What? I have a sense of humor, too, you know."

Starswirl nudged his daughter toward the castle. "Come along, dear. I believe we were heading in for supper, as well."

"Okay." Sunset bounded up the short steps, quickly turning around to wave to the two guards. "Bye, Lance! Bye, Scabbard!"

"Later, kid," Lance called back with a wave of his own as she headed inside. However, as Starswirl was passing by to follow his daughter, Lance stopped him, earning a curious look from the father. "Listen, Starswirl. Think you could convince Sunset to give Hal a holler when she goes to Canterlot with Luna? I just figure it might be a good chance for them to hang out."

Starswirl gave him a smile and a nod. "Sure, I'll mention it to her. But it's ultimately up to her."

"That's fine. Thanks a lot, Starswirl."

"Don't mention it. Sunset's got more free time nowadays, so spending it with a friend would be good for her."

With that, Starswirl headed inside. He was left wondering if Sunset would bother asking Halberd to join her, even if he suggested it to her. But he was also curious as to how well her plan would work out with Princess Luna. It was a long shot, to be sure, but it would certainly be nice if his daughter could help get Luna out of this emotional slump that she's been in lately.

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

Within the dining hall of the Castle of the Two Sisters, the fragrant aroma of freshly prepared food wafted throughout the spacious chamber. The table was lined with a number of delectable-looking dishes, from various pastas, to a multitude of sandwiches and soups, and, of course, sweet and sugary desserts. The chef's had a tendency to go overboard when preparing meals, especially considering they usually only cooked for the two princesses, but any excess never typically went to waste, as whatever remained untouched was usually delivered to the staff mess hall afterward for the employees to enjoy, like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna had dietitians keeping track of their caloric intake, as well, so the abundance of food was often a result of the chef's being overzealous in their jobs—not that anypony minded. It just meant that the princesses perhaps couldn't enjoy as much as they would like, but it was those dietitians that were responsible for the alicorns' trim figures. Without them, the princesses would likely have packed on a few extra pounds over the years.

Celestia slurped up a mouthful of spaghetti, rather loudly at that, and inadvertently flicking tomato sauce onto her pristine, white muzzle, as well as across the table toward her sister.

Luna was about to take a mouthful of her strawberry bisque, but a dollop of tomato sauce suddenly splashed into the bowl, creating a red splotch in the pink liquid. Luna gave the other alicorn a slight scowl from across the table as her sister noisily sucked down her pasta noodles, making a mess of her face in the process. "How hath thee not adopted any table manners in all these years?"

As if to mock her sister, Celestia daintily dabbed her muzzle with a napkin to clean herself off, then cast an amused, but apologetic grin back at Luna. "I guess I never really think about it. I've been used to dining by myself before you started becoming active during the day. Sorry, I'll try not to make a mess from now on."

"Don't worry about it," Luna told her as she spooned out the offending sauce from her dish, discarding it onto an empty saucer. She managed a rare smile back. "It's actually been nice dining with thee again, Sister."

"It has, hasn't it? And how are you adjusting to this change overall, Luna? Do you miss your quiet nights?"

The blue alicorn shrugged as she swallowed a mouthful of bisque. "At times. As empty as these halls can be, even during the day, it's still notably noisier than the nights. Especially when thou-know-who is around," Luna remarked with a slight grimace, though not without a hint of playfulness in her voice.

"And what about the 'professional' aspect of it? Are you enjoying being more directly involved with our royal duties?" Celestia asked with a knowing smirk.

Just as the ivory alicorn predicted, Luna groaned and rolled her eyes at the question. "'Enjoy' is a strong word. We thought the solitary nights were dull and tedious, but those meetings art in a league of boring all of their own. Still though, it is refreshing to be more informed of the goings-on around the castle rather than receive a simple synopsis when We wake up."

"And it's been good getting your input on the new castle. I feel the plans are moving along quite smoothly. We may even be able to begin construction within the next couple of years."

With the topic of construction having been brought up, Luna cast an inquisitive look across the table. "Celestia, correct Us if We are wrong, but it is Our understanding that you've been discussing a second project to be built. May We inquire?"

"Mm," Celestia responded with a nod and a mouthful of spaghetti before gulping it down. "Yes, sorry, I've been meaning to tell you about it. While I haven't laid out anything concrete just yet, I was thinking about building a school in Canterlot, as well."

"A school?" Luna repeated with a raised eyebrow. "But Canterlot already hast schools of all appropriate levels. Why build another?"

A small, bashful smile creased Celestia's lips. "Well, I got the idea from teaching Sunset. I've just been enjoying my time as her teacher so much, that I kind of don't want to stop. I intend for it to be a school specifically for talented, young unicorns, like Sunset; a school where they can learn to harness and improve their magic. But Sunset is going to graduate from my teachings eventually, so why not pass down my knowledge to other potential students?"

Luna gave her a skeptical look. "Thou art going to teach an entire school of foals by thyself?"

"No, of course not. I intend to hire other teachers; ponies who also have vast knowledge that should be shared with the next generation. I've actually already asked if Starswirl would like to be on the faculty, and he's in agreement."

"We see. And were thee intending to extend the same offer to Us?"

Celestia blinked, hesitating for a moment. "O-Oh, well... You see, we're still in the very early planning stages as of yet, sooo..."

Luna narrowed her eyes slightly. "And yet thou already requested Starswirl's assistance."

"He's been a part of the planning, so of course I asked him right away."

"And why aren't We a part of the planning?"

Celestia could clearly see the look in her sister's eyes. She was doing her best to make acceptable excuses, but she knew that if she kept dodging, she would get cornered eventually. It was just as well to skip straight to the meat of the issue.

The sun princess sighed remorsefully. "I'm sorry, Luna. I didn't deliberately exclude you. You only just started to readjust to day life. I didn't want to drop all of this on you right away. Are you... interested in being a teacher at the school?" She had asked that question with perhaps a little more trepidation than she had intended.

Luna lolled her head with uncertainty. "We aren't sure. After all, We've already been told that Our teaching methods may not be ideal."

Celestia's ears folded back in response to her sister's quiet and dismissive tone. "Luna..."

The blue alicorn straightened up a little, her expression becoming more determined. "But in order to teach a class of foals, it would be imperative to improve Our rapport first." Luna smirked across at her sister. "Perhaps by the time thy school is built, We'll be ready."

Celestia smiled fondly back at her. It was a relief to see her sister in good spirits after how despondent she was earlier. It appeared that she may have been looking forward to having Sunset accompany her to Canterlot. With that in mind, she felt the need to ask Luna about it. "And do you think Sunset will be able to help you with that?"

Luna shrugged indifferently. "We will see. We cannot see how it would do any harm."

"And if you succeed? Will you continue your daily visits?"

The younger sister let out a resigned sigh. "Not likely. Starswirl had a valid point: if We show up there everyday, Our presence becomes less and less noteworthy. In fact, We may make another alteration to Our sleep schedule."

"You're not giving up, are you?"

Luna shook her head. "No, We are simply making a compromise. We think it would be better if We awoke in the afternoon rather than morning, remaining active throughout the evening and the late night, but heading to bed by early morning. That way, We can continue to monitor the night sky and still spend time with Our subjects without overstaying Our welcome."

Celestia nodded in understanding. "I see. If that's what you're more comfortable with, you'll hear no arguments from me." She then decided to return to the original topic. "And what if Sunset can't help you? What then?"

"We can't imagine We would do things any differently from what We just said. So the outcome will likely be the same regardless."

"The difference being the public's opinion of you," Celestia pointed out. "That's why you're doing this, remember?"

Luna waved her off dismissively. "Yes, yes, that aspect was implied."

Celestia gazed skeptically across the table. The nonchalant response to what was supposed to be the primary goal of Luna's mission made Celestia question her sister's intentions. Yes, she may have wanted to earn her subjects' respect, but she had to wonder whether or not that respect was mutual. Was Luna doing this for the right reasons? While she'd normally confront her sister about these suspicions, her downtrodden mood from earlier seemed to indicate that Celestia's skepticism may have been unfounded. Plus, she didn't want to continue arguing with her sister. She wanted to give Luna the benefit of the doubt, and if her suspicions held any water at all, then it would likely become evident if or when Luna succeeded in her mission. So Celestia kept her mouth shut on this occasion, choosing instead to let the conversation end there so that the two sisters could enjoy the rest of their supper together.

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

It was a peaceful day in Canterlot. Princess Celestia's sun basked its capitol in the warm embrace of its soothing rays, and there was nary a breeze of wind to disturb the grass and flowers. The mountain town was not typically busy on a Sunday afternoon, and this Sunday was not much different. However, given how beautiful it was outside, there were a number of citizens who just couldn't stand to waste their time indoors. Young foals frolicked through the streets, while adults went for casual strolls, stopping periodically to chat with their neighbors. All in all, a rather perfect day in Canterlot.

But all of that was disturbed by a bright flash of light in the town square. Nearby townsfolk had to shield their eyes from the sudden brightness, and when they opened them again, there were now two ponies standing near the fountain: a small, amber filly, and a midnight blue alicorn.

Suppressed groans could be heard from some of the passersby, doing their best to ensure that Princess Luna didn't pick up on it. They were all anticipating what was going to happen next; Luna was likely going to just pull random ponies aside and engage in inane chatter about nothing, accomplishing little other than making everypony involved uncomfortable. They've all learned over the past two months that Princess Luna was terrible at small talk, bringing up subjects that usually had nothing to do with anything relevant to the lives of the townspeople, and when she did bring up something pertinent, it was usually an offer to provide assistance out of the blue. Such offers would always be respectfully declined, partly so that they weren't imposing on the princess, and partly due to their worry that any mundane issue she attempted to resolve would only be made worse, her great zeal when inquiring instilling more worry than relief.

So lately, the citizens chose to simply continue on their way whenever Princess Luna showed up. They knew that if they happened to make even the slightest eye contact with the alicorn, she'd wind up locking onto them, and on average a half an hour of their lives would be flushed down the drain. However, some of them were admittedly curious about the filly accompanying Princess Luna today. She typically showed up alone, and always by flight. This was the first time she'd teleported to the town, which raised some concerns. But those concerns conflicted with their other concerns about not wanting to fall victim to Luna's horrendous attempts at socializing, and so they went about their business as usual, and hoped that they wouldn't be singled out.

Sunset Shimmer wobbled slightly after suddenly appearing in Canterlot's town square. She wouldn't even be able to tell that that's where she was until her vision adjusted. The disoriented filly shook her head vigorously, realigning her eyes in their sockets and squaring her legs to maintain her balance. "Ugh, that feels really weird..."

"Isn't thy father teaching thee to teleport?" Luna questioned, puzzled by the filly's difficulty to maintain her equilibrium. "Surely, he hast transported thee to another location with him before."

Sunset shook her head, but this time in response to the princess's inquiry. "No, Dad's never teleported me before. I don't know if he's ever teleported another person. Now I can see why. Bleugh..." the unicorn blanched, her stomach churning slightly from the sudden shift.

"Thou will get used to it. Now then, where to begin...?"

Luna began glancing around the immediate area. Upon seeing the alicorn's eyes scanning her surroundings, the townsfolk went on high alert, doing their best to look busy, or picking up their pace to get out of there as quickly as possible.

"Hang on," Sunset urged the princess. "I came with you to help, remember? Maybe I should do the talking and let people know you're a nice person."

"We've been acting as friendly as We can manage," Luna told her with doubt in her voice. "If they doth not think well of Us by now, doth thou think thou can convince them otherwise?"

"That's what we're here to try," the filly replied with a reassuring grin. "Give me a second."

Sunset suddenly bounded away like an eager puppy before Luna could even stop her. The amber unicorn hurried over to a stallion that was exiting a nearby corner store, and therefore had not been made privy to Princess Luna's presence. The stallion jerked to a stop when he nearly ran straight into the filly now standing in front of him.

"Excuse me, sir. Have you met Princess Luna?"

"Huh?" The stallion glanced toward the fountain, his eyes falling on a rather embarrassed-looking moon princess. He hesitated slightly now that he knew Luna was here. "Um... Y-Yeah, she shows up here everyday. She... said hello to me once. Why?"

"What do you think of her?"

The stallion raised an eyebrow at the filly. Conversely to pretty much everypony else in Canterlot, this little girl seemed oddly enthusiastic about Princess Luna. It seemed that at least somepony in town was excited to see her, and given that it was just a young filly, he didn't want to say anything to upset her. "She's, uh... nice," he said, forcing a grin while periodically glancing toward the princess. He also didn't want to offend the alicorn, considering she was within earshot.

Sunset tilted her head at the rather unimaginative response. "That's it? Don't you think it's cool that she can raise the moon?"

"Uh..." The stallion was starting to get quite uncomfortable, even sweating a little under this eager, little filly's interrogation. "S-Sure. Raising the moon is cool. I-If you don't mind, I have somewhere I need to be, soooo..." He carefully scooched by Sunset, trotting quickly down the street to escape the situation.

Luna walked over to Sunset with a sigh. "A valiant effort, but to no avail."

"What are you talking about? He said you were cool."

"We've been attempting to interact with these ponies for some time now. We've come to learn when they art being disingenuous. This plan of thine is obviously not going to work," Luna claimed, lowering her head in resignation.

Sunset puffed out her chest in determination. "That was just one guy. There's gotta be somepony who'll be willing to give you a chance."

"Nopony accomplished anything by giving up."

At the sound of the familiar voice, both Luna and Sunset turned to find a colt and a stallion heading their way. Sunset immediately recognized the silver pegasus colt as her classmate, Halberd. However, the stallion briefly baffled her, though his steel-gray coat and white mane with a golden streak looked vaguely familiar. But it was his voice, as well as the familiar grin on his face that flipped the switch in her brain.

"Lance, hi! I almost didn't recognize you without your armor," Sunset giggled, making note that, without it poking up through the slot in his helmet, Lance's mane was fairly wild.

Lance let out a laugh himself. "I guess we do only see each other when I'm at work." He cast a sidelong glance down at his brother, who was staring awkwardly at Princess Luna. He gave Halberd a firm nudge and cleared his throat.

Halberd, startled slightly by his big brother, quickly bowed to the princess. "H-Hello, Your Highness. It's good to see you again."

Luna sighed at the greeting, looking down at Sunset. "Doth thou see? Our subjects should not hath to be forced to greet Us. It should be an impulse. If they respected Us as they do Our sister, then they should be more than willing to speak with Us of their own volition."

Halberd shrunk back guiltily. "S-Sorry. I-I just forgot."

"Hal's not really a great gauge for that sort of thing. He's a pretty shy kid," Lance explained. "To be fair, he'd probably react the same way with Princess Celestia. He probably wouldn't have even left the house today if I didn't take him with me."

"What are you doing here, Lance?" Sunset asked curiously.

"It's my day off, why else? Oh, and did your dad mention my request?"

Sunset's eyes widened slightly and she briefly glanced at Halberd. "Oh, right. Sorry, I forgot."

Lance groaned quietly, rubbing the back of his neck with a hoof. "Can't say I'm surprised..." he mumbled under his breath. "Whatever. Not like it matters now anyway. I only asked because I wasn't expecting Princess Luna to take you along the very next day. Guess things just have a way of working out, huh?"

"For some ponies anyhow..."

Lance and the two foals watched as Luna's gaze slowly fell to the cobblestone street. Her mood certainly hadn't seemed to have lifted from the previous day.

"Well, if it means anything, me and Hal can tag along to help out, too," Lance suggested with a friendly smile. "Might make it easier if you have three ponies in your corner to vouch for you."

"As much as We appreciate the offer, We do not suspect that thy participation will hath much impact. Thou art Our employee, so thy opinions may be seen as biased. And given thy brother's nervous disposition, others may believe he is being disingenuous."

Lance sighed in exasperation, running a hoof through his mane. "Geez, pessimistic much? Why not just let us hang out for a while. Maybe the problem is that you're forcing the issue. Just act natural." He observed the blank stare Luna was giving him, making him rethink his choice of words. "Well, I guess 'natural' for you is a little different, but you get what I'm saying, right?"

"We... believe so," Luna responded, though still with some uncertainty in her voice.

"Look, why don't we just start by getting a bite to eat? Maybe if people see you spending some time with the locals, they'll warm up to you a little. Not everypony in this town knows who me and Hal are."

"But We ate before coming here."

"Then get something light, or a dessert, or something. There's a nice café right over there," Lance said, pointing over his shoulder to the opposite side of the town square.

"Hmm... What should We get?"

Lance groaned again, running a hoof down his face. "I don't know, get a bagel, or even just a cup of coffee. The food's not even the point right now. Just go with the flow, Your Highness."

Luna blinked, uncomprehending. "'Go with... the flow...'" She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before straightening her posture and looking more resolute. "Very well. Then We shall follow thy lead."

The stallion grinned at her positive shift in attitude. "There you go. Come with me."

The quartet of ponies made their way over to the café, as per Lance's suggestion. The entrance to the quaint establishment had a fenced area around the entrance where several tables were set up outside. The off-duty guard guided Sunset and the princess to one of the tables, pulling out their chairs for the ladies as a gentlecolt should. Lance gestured to a nearby waitress. However, upon seeing the moon princess seated at one of her tables, the waitress hesitated nervously. But, not wanting to upset the princess, she hurried over to take their order, forcing a wide smile. As per Lance's suggestion, Luna simply ordered a bagel with butter and a cup of tea, while Lance ordered himself a daffodil sandwich and a coffee. The two foals only requested a slice of apple pie each and glasses of milk.

After receiving their orders, Princess Luna took a bite of her bagel, raising an eyebrow at Lance. "We do not see how loitering is supposed to—"

Lance discreetly held his hoof up at the alicorn. "Shh."

Luna gawked, vexed and insulted. "Didst thou just shush Us?"

"Listen," he whispered.

Lance gestured with a slight tilt of his head toward a nearby table, but did not turn his eyes toward it. Luna, following his direction, glanced through the corner of her eye. There were two mares seated at the table in question—one pink and one lime green—and they were staring in Luna's direction.

"Looks like Princess Luna's back," the pink mare said to her companion, keeping her voice down in an attempt to keep their gossip to themselves. "Wonder what she's doing. Who are those ponies she's sitting with?"

"I don't know. I think I've seen them around before, but I don't know their names," the green one responded.

"You don't think Princess Luna has a secret family or anything, do you? Like, that guy's her forbidden lover and those are their illegitimate children?"

Luna's face flushed a deep red, and a part of her wanted to stand up and immediately dispel this rumor before it started to spread. Lance, on the other hoof, had to stifle an amused snicker.

"Yeah, right. Like Princess Luna gets out enough to have a secret family," the green mare quipped with a roll of her eyes.

"Still, it's kind of surprising that she actually managed to find some people who were willing to sit down and talk to her. And those two kids seem to be enjoying themselves."

Both Lance and Luna quickly glanced at Halberd and Sunset. Sure enough, the two were all smiles as they enjoyed their apple pie, too distracted by their own conversation to pay attention to what the two mares were saying. It warmed Lance's heart to see his little brother speaking so openly with somepony.

The lime green mare squinted, focusing on the amber unicorn. "Come to think of it, that filly looks familiar. I think that's Starswirl's daughter, Sunset Shimmer."

"Huh, now that you mention it, I think you're right. I don't think I've seen Starswirl around much lately."

"What, you didn't hear? He got a job at the Castle of the Two Sisters a couple months ago. He and his daughter are even living there now."

"Really? Wow. Talk about a dream come true. When I was a filly, all I ever wanted was to live in a castle and be a princess." She glanced back over at the table, specifically at Luna. "I guess it's nice of Princess Luna to take time out of her day to entertain the filly. Maybe she's not as bad as she seems."

Lance gave Luna a reassuring smirk, to which Luna responded with a somewhat involuntary smile of her own. While the mare's choice of words could have been a little more tactful, she wasn't aware that the princess was actually eavesdropping. Either way, the plan seemed to be working regardless.

The green mare leaned closer to her friend. "You know, my daughter goes to school with Sunset Shimmer, and apparently that filly claimed that she moved the sun once."

The pink mare rolled her eyes with a grin. "You don't actually believe that, do you?"

"Well, get this: I heard from a friend of mine who works at the castle say the same thing. In fact, I heard that Princess Celestia has even taken that girl on as a student."

"Are you serious? So, wait, you don't think she actually moved the sun?"

The green mare shrugged. "I'm just saying there might be some kind of correlation. Starswirl's daughter is said to be a talented young filly."

"And if she is being tutored by Princess Celestia herself, then she must be talented. Do you think she's looking for a successor?"

"Maybe. It's not like Princess Celestia has shown any interest in looking for a husband, or starting a family of her own. She might have just been waiting for a particularly powerful filly to come along to pass the torch to."

"Mmm, I don't know if I'm ready for Princess Celestia to step down from the throne yet. She's always done such a good job running this kingdom. It'd be a shame for her to retire now."

"Yeah, but look at that filly. You can't say that she wouldn't fit perfectly as the new sun princess. Even her cutie mark is a sun."

"That's true," the pink one agreed with a giggle.

Luna let out a sigh, whispering to Lance. "It appears any interest they had in Us has waned. Perhaps we should move on."

Lance nodded in agreement, though reluctantly. "Yeah, sure." He got up from his chair, gesturing to the two foals. "Come on you two."

"Just a sec!" Sunset chirped. She scooped the last big bite of apple pie into her mouth, stuffing her cheeks like an amber chipmunk. "Ogay! Weady!" she exclaimed, spewing errant crumbs of pie crust from her lips.

The two kids went on ahead, back out toward the fountain in the square. Lance extended one of his wings, revealing a pouch of bits underneath it that he'd been carrying with him. However, before he could even open it, Luna held out her hoof to stop him.

"Allow Us. It is the least We can do to repay you for aiding Us," Luna offered.

Lance was a little conflicted about letting a lady pay for a meal, but there was a prideful look on Luna's face that told him that she was not going to accept no for an answer. So, he gave her a gracious smile. "Uh, thanks. But just so you know, you don't have to do that."

Luna nodded to respectfully acknowledge his statement. "It is Our pleasure." With that, Luna materialized a pile of twelve golden bits onto the table, and she and Lance made to rejoin Sunset and Halberd.

The waitress that had served them cautiously approached the table now that Princess Luna had left. She grimaced slightly as she counted, noting that Luna had left only the exact amount for the orders. "What, a princess can't afford a tip?" she grumbled under her breath.

Luna's ear swiveled backwards, and she glared harshly over her shoulder. The waitress flinched, a sudden dread coming over her as she realized the princess had heard her.

"Beg thy pardon?" Luna snipped as she stomped back over to the table.

The waitress cowered, trembling, under the icy glare of the incensed alicorn. "I-I'm sorry! I d-didn't mean... I was just—"

Lance hurried over to Luna's side, trying to lead her away before she did something she might regret. "Whoa, whoa, calm down, Your Highness. Just let it go, alright?"

Despite her anger, Luna did as he requested, casting one more venomous glower at the mare before turning her back on her and leaving the café area. The waitress breathed a shaky sigh of relief, feeling as though she had just had a brush with death.

Luna let out a disgruntled huff. "Honestly. Canst thou believe the nerve? Our presence should be reward enough."

"Princess, you can't go around snapping at people like that. It's kinda counterproductive to what you're trying to achieve here," Lance warned her.

Luna took a breath to steady herself. "Our apologies. We just cannot believe that somepony would be so ungrateful. And if that's the attitude she wishes to cop, We art glad We didn't leave a tip."

"Just forget about it and let's keep trying. Don't let one person throw you off."

"We will try. What doth thou suggest we do now, then?"

As the two adults discussed their next move, Halberd stared down into the clear water of the fountain. However, he glanced up toward Luna with a little worry. "She seemed pretty mad, huh?"

Sunset didn't respond. She was staring up at the statue of the mare standing upon a column in the middle of the fountain, listening to the peaceful trickle of water as it poured from the urn the statue was holding.

"Sunset?"

The filly's ears perked up, and she turned to Halberd. "Hm?"

"Princess Luna. Do you think this is gonna work out for her?"

Sunset simply smiled optimistically. "Sure. I don't see why not."

Halberd stared at her, uncertain if he agreed. "I don't know, she just seems kinda—"

"Excuse me."

The pair of foals were distracted from their conversation by a pair of mares that were heading toward them. They were the same pink and lime green mares from the café, though Sunset and Halberd wouldn't have recognized them due to being engrossed in their own conversation at the time.

"You're Sunset Shimmer, right?" asked the green mare with a friendly smile.

"Uh-huh," the filly replied with a nod.

"Could you settle something for us?" the pink one requested.

Sunset tilted her head, curious. "What is it?"

"Well, we heard a rumor that Princess Celestia took you on as a student. Is that true?"

The amber unicorn nodded with an enthusiastic grin. "Yup! She's been teaching me all kinds of stuff about magic."

"So I guess you are a talented little unicorn if even the princess has taken an interest in you," the pink mare remarked.

"Sooo... Does that mean what my daughter told me is true, too? Did you really move the sun?" the green mare asked, leaning in excitedly.

Sunset beamed at the question. She hadn't really been spreading it around that she had moved the sun. She mentioned it to her classmates back when she had only thought she had done it, and while she was met with only a little skepticism, she knew it was unlikely that everypony would be willing to believe that without proof. But it wasn't as though she was bragging; Sunset was simply so incredibly excited that she couldn't contain it. As her father had noted in the past, she wasn't one to boast. Still, it was somehow elating for her to hear that there were people who believed it—and adults, no less.

Sunset tried to suppress her pride and maintain a level tone, though she couldn't hold back her smile entirely. "Yeah, I did."

"Can you show us?"

"Huh?" Sunset was caught off guard by the request. But the eager grins on the mares' faces told her that it wasn't because they wanted proof, but was more similar to Sunset's own face when she waited for the sunrise in the morning. However, Sunset knew she couldn't grant the request, and she frowned apologetically. "Um, sorry, I can't. Moving the sun is Princess Celestia's duty. And even if I wanted to, I only did it the first time because of a surge of magic. I haven't been able to do it since."

The two mare's seemed a little disappointed, but also sympathetic. "Oh, that's too bad," the green one said. "But still, even moving the sun a little one time is a pretty big deal for just a little filly."

"And a surge of magic? That sounds pretty rough," the pink mare commented. "You must be a strong and brave little girl to handle something so harrowing."

"And under Princess Celestia's wing, I'm sure you'll grow up to be an amazing mare," the green one added. "You're pretty lucky to have her as a teacher."

"Excuse Us."

The two mares turned to find Princess Luna staring in their direction, the look in her eyes none too pleasant as she approached them, holding her head up high and looking down her nose at the mares. She had clearly been listening in on the conversation and seemed none too pleased by what she was hearing.

"Pardon Us for overhearing, but it may interest thee to know that the only reason Sunset Shimmer became Celestia's student to begin with is because Our sister lied to her. The magical surge that Sunset experienced as a result nearly killed her."

Lance placed a hoof firmly on Luna's shoulder to try and diffuse her. "Your Highness, what did we just—"

Luna swatted his hoof away, baring her teeth at the pegasus. "Be silent!"

Lance backed off. He didn't want to let up, but given the look in the princess's eyes, his instinct told him it was a bad idea to continue arguing with her.

"We are tired of hearing people blindly praising Our sister for her negligence! And thee!" She glared down at Sunset, causing the filly to flinch. "Thou art not innocent in all of this either! Thou just sit there and soak up the admiration just as Celestia does!" The incensed alicorn turned her ire back on the two mares. "Thou should not be applauding Celestia for her negligence, nor this filly for her recklessness and poor judgment! And why act so impressed that she only managed to move the sun slightly?! We can move the sun as well! We move the moon effortlessly every night! And do We receive such praise?! No!"

At this point, a large crowd had gathered around the town square, watching as Princess Luna vented her anger. Lance wanted to intervene, knowing that everything she had been hoping to accomplish here was going to fall apart if this kept up, and likely make matters worse for her. But at this point, any attempt at interjecting would likely only result in ticking the princess off further, so he was forced to hold his tongue.

A touch of hurt started to well in Luna's voice as she continued. "All We've been trying to do is connect with Our subjects! Yet all of thee stare at Us as though We art some kind of monster! We hath done nothing to deserve such treatment and hath been making an effort to fix it, yet still We art shunned and ignored! We grow exhausted and frustrated with trying to figure out how to please you people! Just tell me what you want me to do!"

In her frustration, Luna stomped a hoof against the cobblestone street of the town square, the impact cracking the stone, shaking the ground, and causing everypony to take a step back in shock and fear. Unnoticed by the spectators, who were too focused on the enraged and indignant alicorn, the base of the fountain statue had cracked as well, and was beginning to crumble where the stone mare stood. The statue's balance was thrown off, and it began to lilt to one side. Lance noticed the movement out of the corner of his eye, seeing as the statue started to tip. His eyes went wide in panic when he saw where it was going to fall: right where his brother was standing.

"Hal!"

At the sound of his brother's voice, Halberd turned quickly enough to see the statue falling towards him. But instead of running away, the colt became frozen in fear, unable to move his legs. All his brain would allow him to do was stare at the collapsing sculpture as it fell.

Suddenly, Halberd felt something strike him from the side, though he had no time to figure out what. In the next instant, there was a bright flash of cyan magic, followed by the crashing of the statue against edge of the fountain. The statue crumbled to pieces from the impact, and water began to leak from the pool through the cracks and breakages to the fountain's edge. Water spewed up from where the statue had once stood, and the head of the broken, stone mare lay where Halberd was standing.

Key word: was.

What felt like minutes had, in reality, been merely a couple of seconds. After the first flash of magic, another occurred next to Lance, and the pegasus looked down to see both Sunset and Halberd laying on the ground, seemingly unharmed. Sunset had been the one who had tackled Halberd, then had quickly and expertly teleported the two of them out of harm's way. The two foals slowly rose back to their hooves, Halberd looking a little shaken and confused.

Lance practically began to tear up with relief, grabbing his brother and hugging him tightly, much to the colt's surprise. "Hal! Thank the sun, you're okay!"

Once released from the embrace, Halberd stared up at his brother, bewildered and slightly dizzy. He glanced over to where the remains of the statue lay—where he was supposed to be. "Wha...? What happened?"

Lance turned to Sunset with the most grateful smile he'd ever expressed. "Sunset just saved your life."

Halberd stared incredulously at the filly. "Sh-She did?" he stammered, still unsure of what exactly had happened.

"Sunset," Lance started, leaning down to look her in the eye, his own barely glistening with grateful tears. "I owe you big time for this. If there's anything I can ever do to repay you, you name it."

"Um... Okay," Sunset said with a small nod, clearly a little shaken herself.

"That was amazing!" a mare from the surrounding crowd called out.

"She just jumped in to save that boy without a second thought," an impressed stallion added.

"I've never seen a little filly perform a teleportation spell so easily before," a unicorn mare remarked.

"She is Starswirl's daughter and Princess Celestia's pupil," the green mare that had been talking to Sunset before chimed in.

Her pink companion agreed with a nod. "Yeah, no wonder the princess has taken a shine to her. She's something else."

Sunset shied away with a bashful blush. She wasn't used to receiving praise from such a large crowd, and she found it a little embarrassing. But at the same time, she found herself smiling like when Princess Celestia would pay her a compliment.

The crowd continued with their awestruck murmurs.

"That little girl really is talented."

"Can you imagine what might've happened if she hadn't been here?"

"I mean, I'm sure Princess Luna could've saved him if she hadn't, right?"

"Wait, wasn't Princess Luna the one who knocked the statue over?"

Luna's eyes widened as the crowd made the realization for her. Suddenly, the area went quiet and all eyes turned on the alicorn. Luna felt her heart start to beat faster as the truth of what had just happened dawned on her.

"You're right," one person in the crowd said in a hushed tone.

"I'm sure she didn't do it on purpose, but still..."

"The kid could've been seriously hurt, or worse..."

The worried stares and judgmental mutterings of the crowd bombarded Luna the same as if they were shouting and assaulting her. Her mind swirled with panic, knowing that it was her fault that Halberd was nearly killed. Even Lance, one of the only people who was willing to help her, was staring at her as though he didn't even know who she was. Luna wanted desperately to call out and defend herself, to assuage their fears and concerns, but the words were lost in the sea of panic that was her mind, and nothing came out of her mouth as it hung agape. As if their trust in her couldn't have diminished further, here they stood, blaming her for nearly bringing harm to one of her own subjects.

With no words forming to argue in her defense, and no other ideas coalescing in her hurricane of thought, Princess Luna resorted to her first instinct: she clenched her eyes shut, her horn glowing for just a brief moment, and, with a bright flash and a magical pop, she was gone.

While the crowd was confused, their murmurs continued. But before long, they started to disperse, leaving only Lance, Halberd, and Sunset standing near the broken fountain in the town square.

Sunset looked up to Lance with a worried look in her eyes. "Is she gonna be okay?"

Lance breathed a regrettable sigh. "I don't know," was all he could say, his tone somber. He then leaned down, gesturing for Sunset to climb onto his back. "Come on, I'll give you a lift home."

Sunset nodded gratefully, crawling on top of the stallion. Lance stood up again, spreading his wings in preparation to take flight. But first, he glanced down at his little brother.

"Hal."

"Huh?" The colt's head jerked up as if snapped from a trance.

Lance gave Halberd a concerned, but understanding look. He was still visibly shaken and likely was still trying to comprehend what had just happened. "You coming?" Lance asked his little brother, giving him a grin in an effort make him feel more at ease with the situation.

Halberd hesitated for a moment, a little confused by the invitation, but nodded absentmindedly. "Uh, sure."

Needing nothing else, Lance took off into the air with Sunset on his back, and Halberd followed close behind as the three of them made their way to the Castle of the Two Sisters.

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

The afternoon sun was continuing its daily journey across Equestria's sky, the bright blue horizon gradually fading to an incandescent orange as the day began to reach its end. Though normally a gorgeous sight, the atmosphere was thick with melancholy, the shift in color feeling now more somber as opposed to calming and inspiring.

This was primarily true for the group of ponies waiting outside the entrance to the Castle of the Two Sisters. Sunset Shimmer, Lance, and Halberd had all arrived from Canterlot a short while ago, and the amber filly had promptly retrieved her father who was now standing outside with them. In addition, Quill had felt the need to join them as well, and, while not directly engaging with the rest of the group, Scabbard stood at his post at the castle's entrance nearby, listening intently to the details of the situation as Lance and Sunset described them.

After some time, they were rejoined by the only member of the group remaining. Princess Celestia fluttered down from above the castle, touching down with the others with a rather disheartened sigh. "She won't talk to me. She won't even open her door."

"This must have hit her pretty hard," Starswirl commented quietly with a slow stroke of his beard.

"I don't know if she can recover from this," Lance stated bluntly.

"I'd rather we didn't think like that," Celestia responded, refusing to accept that fact.

"I watched it happen, Your Highness. The way everypony was looking at her... Heck, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking at her the same way. And I hate to say it, but their reactions are understandable. I feel bad for Princess Luna, sure, but she did almost get my brother killed because she couldn't control her temper."

"And I apologize in her stead," the princess said with a respectful and regretful bow of her head. "I agree that this should not have happened, and I will do anything in my power to rectify it."

Lance grimaced slightly. "No offense, but it doesn't exactly mean much unless it comes from her."

Celestia frowned at Lance's refusal to forgive her sister. If he was an indication of how the public was now viewing Luna, the situation did appear to be dire. Everything that Luna had been working towards had crumbled in an instant, and Celestia worried how that would affect her sister mentally and emotionally. "I'll keep trying to get through to her, and I'll see if I can convince her to make a public apology."

Lance breathed an exasperated sigh. While no amount of promises could really fix what happened, he didn't want to continue arguing with Princess Celestia and disparaging her sister. "I appreciate the effort, Princess. Thanks."

Princess Celestia finally managed a smile, though it was somewhat forced. "While I sympathize with your personal involvement in this situation, Lance, I would rather we move away from this negativity. Instead, let us be thankful that your brother is okay."

Lance draped a hoof over Halberd's shoulder, pulling the colt against his side lovingly. "Trust me, I am."

Celestia then turned her attention to Sunset, a proud grin on the alicorn's lips. "And let's not forget why he's okay. Sunset, you did an amazing thing today. Saving a life is a very commendable achievement."

"Not to mention she successfully teleported, and not just herself, but another person as well," Starswirl added, placing a hoof on his daughter's shoulder proudly.

Sunset's eyes widened slightly as the realization finally hit her. "Oh, yeah, I did. Huh, I guess I didn't really think about it. I saw that Halberd was in trouble and just kinda... did it."

"I told you it'd become second nature eventually," her father said, patting her on the back. "Though I certainly wasn't expecting it to be so soon, I guess I shouldn't be surprised."

"You should be proud of yourself, Sunset," Celestia told her. "Putting yourself in harm's way for the sake of protecting others is the mark of a hero."

Sunset's teal eyes sparkled at the compliment, staring up at the princess with wonder. "A hero?"

"Don't make a habit of it, please," Starswirl interjected firmly. "You have people who care about you, too. And there are safer ways to help people than throwing yourself into danger. Your poor father is going to lose years off his life if you keep doing things like that."

Sunset nodded in understanding, giving her father a cute smile. "Okay, Daddy."

"Guess we should be heading home," Lance informed them. "I'll see you guys tomorrow. Come on, Hal."

"Just a sec..."

Halberd turned to Sunset, the filly tilting her head in puzzlement at the bashful look on his face. He slowly approached her, dragging his hooves pensively with a big blush on his silver cheeks. He hesitated for a moment, finding it difficult to maintain eye contact without feeling awkward. But before he could second guess himself, he gave Sunset a quick hug, maybe a little tighter than he had intended, then backed off.

"Um... Thanks," the colt said gratefully.

Sunset blushed a little herself, still a tad confused by Halberd's odd behavior. "Oh, uh, you're welcome."

Halberd then started hurrying over to his brother, but stopped halfway to give Princess Celestia a quick, respectful bow. "I-It was an honor to meet you, Your Majesty," he hastily said to her before joining Lance. The older pegasus gave his brother a proud pat on the back himself, and the two then took to the sky to return home to Canterlot.

"So, what do you suggest we do about Princess Luna, Your Majesty?" Quill asked the white alicorn.

Celestia closed her eyes as she breathed a long sigh through her nose. She glanced over her shoulder and up at Luna's spire where she knew her sister was wallowing in her self-pity. "Perhaps it would be best to let her ruminate for the night. Hopefully she'll be more agreeable after she gets some sleep."

Starswirl nodded in agreement. "Yes, it's not likely she'll be willing to listen while she's so emotional."

"We should just go about the rest of our day and leave her be for now," Celestia decided, though she did so reluctantly.

With that said, Celestia, Starswirl, Quill, and Sunset made to return to the castle, the former three heading inside. However, Sunset lagged behind slightly, and as the three adults went inside, she still stood at the base of the entrance steps. She stared up at Luna's tower, her hesitance earning a curious look from Scabbard as he silently stood at the doors, though he chose not to question her.

Despite Princess Celestia's decision to leave Luna alone for the night, Sunset couldn't find it in her to just let this go. She knew it was a long shot, but she felt the need to at least try and talk to her. But first thing was first: she had to get up there. Sunset knew it was unlikely that Luna would bother answering her bedroom door if somepony were to simply come knocking, but maybe a different approach would work. Plus, this might also be a good opportunity to test something...

Sunset closed her eyes and cleared her mind. She painted an image in her head: Luna's balcony. She imagined the stone perch, the ornate railing, the glass doors; as many details as she could recall, even the landscape visible from the balcony. With the picture posted in her mind's eye, Sunset focused her magic—quickly, but not hastily, as she did not want to risk losing her concentration on the image she had painted—and once she was ready, released it with a magical pop.

Sunset opened her eyes again, and they widened even further when she noticed where she was. Instead of staring up at the tower, she was now staring out over the Everfree Forest from an elevated vantage point. The dirt beneath her hooves had been replaced by smooth stone, and a gentle breeze blew through her fiery mane. Sunset turned around to confirm her location, finding the pair of glass double doors she'd envisioned, though she could not see past them due to the blackout curtains on the other side. But at the very least, those curtains meant she had actually reached her destination, and not accidentally teleported to Princess Celestia's balcony.

But more importantly, she had done it. She successfully teleported, and not like when she saved Halberd. While that was based on instinct, this time she'd followed what her father had taught her and finally managed it on her own. Although opening her eyes to see a completely different environment than when she had closed them made her a little dizzy and her legs were a touch wobbly, she was still elated regardless.

However, the celebrations would have to be put on hold. She had come here for a reason.

Sunset stared somewhat apprehensively at the glass doors. If Princess Celestia's words earlier were not evidence enough, the blackout curtains concealing the interior of the room were a clear indication that Princess Luna was not in a talking mood. Regardless, Sunset felt that she'd be unable to get to sleep tonight if she didn't at least try. So, without hesitating further, the filly gently rapped on the glass.

Much to her surprise, it didn't take long to hear the sound of hoofsteps approaching. One curtain was abruptly pulled aside, and the scowling face of the moon princess revealed itself. But what Sunset wasn't expecting to see was the presence of tears in Luna's eyes, the midnight blue of her coat around her eyes and cheeks having been darkened even more by the moisture that had run down her face.

"I told you to leave me alo—" Luna paused suddenly, realizing that she was staring up at somepony who wasn't there. Her gaze then lowered to find Sunset standing on the other side of the doors. "Oh... It's thee..." She quickly wiped the tears from her eyes as best she could, not wanting the filly to witness her in a vulnerable state. "What doth thou want?" Luna snipped with a glower in an effort to scare off the unwanted visitor.

"I wanted to know if you were okay," Sunset told her sympathetically.

Luna scoffed at her in response. "If We would turn away Our own sister, then what makes thou think We'll talk to thee?"

Sunset shrunk back slightly. "I just wanted to try..."

The princess flicked her nose up at the filly. "Hmph. A commendable notion, but for naught. Leave Us be." With that, Luna closed the curtains again, blocking out both the evening sunset, and the Sunset on her balcony.

"Are you mad at me?"

There was a long moment of silence as Sunset's question lingered in the air. But after several seconds of hesitation, the curtains opened again.

While Luna was trying to maintain an air of indifference so that Sunset would leave her alone, there was a small hint of concern in her still-glistening eyes. "Why wouldst We be mad at thee?"

"Because those ladies were talking about me when the reason we went to Canterlot was to help you."

Luna was quiet for a moment. This filly continued to surprise her at every turn with how perceptive and compassionate she could be despite her childish naïveté. And she had snapped at Sunset briefly during her outburst, so the question was understandable. The alicorn let out a regretful sigh. "No, We are not mad at thee."

"Then what's wrong?"

"Thou shouldst know that full well. Thou hadst to save the child whose life I accidentally endangered."

"Princess Celestia says you should make a public apology."

Luna's eyes turned downward sullenly, her voice becoming equally as solemn. "Perhaps that is what We should do, but it is not what We are going to do."

Sunset tilted her head, confused and, admittedly, somewhat shocked. "What? Why not?"

"An apology would make little difference. Everypony would still see Us as the one who nearly got an innocent colt killed. It would cross their minds everytime they see Us."

"But it wouldn't hurt. You should probably still do it anyway."

"There is no point. Especially since they won't have to see Us anymore."

Sunset's ears folded back and her mouth hung open slightly at the princess's implication. "You're not going to visit Canterlot anymore?"

Luna stared quietly at Sunset, and she sighed with defeat and acceptance in her listless eyes. "Celestia once told me that we, as princesses, art here to serve our people. In other words, we do what we must to keep them safe and happy. Today, I could do neither of those things. Tell me, Sunset: Did any of them look happy?"

Sunset remained silent. She knew what the answer was, but didn't want to say it out loud. Of course, Luna knew that as well; the question was obviously rhetorical.

"It may be best if things just went back to the way they were. Celestia can govern our subjects during the day, and I can go back to watching over the night. In solitude. Everypony was happier that way..."

"They just have to get used to you, that's all..."

"Art thou not listening?"

Sunset flinched slightly at the slight annoyance in Luna's voice, the alicorn finally raising her voice above a despondent murmur.

"They have no intention nor interest in 'getting used to' me. I've done nothing but be amicable towards them for these past two months, and yet they continue to stare at me and avoid me as though I were diseased."

"Do you think there's anything you could do to fix that, though?" Sunset asked desperately.

Luna lowered her gaze once more, her ears falling flat. "At this point, no, I do not."

Sunset's expression became much the same as the princess's. As much as she wanted to help, how much help could she be if Luna wasn't willing to try anymore?

Luna observed that her own defeated attitude had been passed onto the filly, and she admittedly felt guilty about it. But the truth was harsh sometimes, and Luna knew that now more than ever. However, she straightened up slightly, looking to the filly with more compassion in her eyes, though it did not overpower the dejected look of acceptance.

"Celestia may hath forbade me from teaching thee further, but allow me to impart one more lesson unto thee."

Sunset listened intently, though the tone in Luna's voice alone told her that this lesson wasn't necessarily going to inspire confidence.

"Light and darkness are two sides of the same coin. This is a lesson I learned long ago. Yet while people revel in the light, they fear the darkness, for it conceals what is within. But just as darkness cannot exist without light, light cannot exist without darkness." Luna's expression fell again, once more full of acceptance and self-pity. "And that appears to be the extent of my purpose: to exist, simply to balance out my sister's light."

"You can do more than that..." Sunset claimed, though her voice held little comfort or confidence at this point.

"Can I? If the night were just as important as the day, then why doth everypony choose to ignore it—to ignore me? They all frolic and rejoice under my sister's sun, but my radiant stars, my glorious moon, the beauty of my night go totally unappreciated. They would choose to sleep through it instead and pretend the darkness has simply stopped existing when the moon crosses the horizon." Luna let out another long sigh. "But as Celestia said, we art here to serve them. If they art happy living that way, then let them live their lives in blissful ignorance. I'll just continue to watch from the shadows..."

Luna glanced back at the filly who had been quietly listening to her vent her emotions and thoughts. If anything, seeing the filly here at all was somewhat of a minor comfort. Of all the people Luna had tried to please, the only one who showed her anything in return was this filly; a filly that she herself had once considered a nuisance.

"Thou art somepony special, Sunset Shimmer."

Sunset's ears perked up slightly at the unexpected compliment.

"Though I treated thee like a bothersome, buzzing mosquito in the past, thou art the only one who hast shown me any sort of compassion. So I thank thee. At least I can rest well knowing that at least one of my subjects has shown me any respect."

"Oh, um... Y-You're welcome," Sunset said in response, though neither the thanks nor Sunset's reply seemed to do much to lift the dreary mood.

"Celestia hast found a good pony to be her protégé. Do not disappoint her."

"I won't."

Luna nodded at the filly's resolute response. "That's enough. I tire of this conversation. Now, leave me be."

Sunset took a step back. "Oh, o-okay." Though this resolution wasn't as satisfying as she had hoped it'd be, Sunset didn't want to risk overstaying her welcome. She had managed to get Princess Luna to talk to her, and that was what she had set out to do. So, with the conversation effectively ended, Sunset focused her magic in her horn, preparing to teleport back down to the castle entrance. But after a moment and a flash of magic, she found herself still standing on Luna's balcony, much to the alicorn's confusion. Sunset grinned awkwardly. "Um, guess I still don't quite have the hang of it. Can you...?"

Luna rolled her eyes with an exasperated sigh and opened the balcony doors to let the filly in so she could head back down into the castle proper.

"Thanks. Goodnight, Princess Luna," Sunset bid her as she hurried out the door and down the tower.

Luna breathed another long, listless sigh as she sauntered over to her bed. "Goodnight..."

As Sunset reached the bottom of the tower, her hurried pace slowed. She stepped out into the connecting breezeway, looking out the window at the amber sky. Given everything that Luna had just told her, Sunset had to wonder if the princess would be able to muster up the willpower to raise the moon tonight. But she put it out of her mind; if Luna wasn't up to it, then Princess Celestia would handle it anyway.

Sunset exited the breezeway, finally entering the castle proper, but stopped in her tracks suddenly. Puzzled and surprised, Sunset looked up to see Princess Celestia staring back at her. The alabaster alicorn had a rather worried look on her face, and she seemed as though she was waiting for something. She also didn't seem surprised to see Sunset emerge from Luna's tower.

"Princess? Are you going to try and talk to Princess Luna again?" Sunset inquired.

Celestia shook her head. "No. I know she won't talk to me, no matter how much I try. But I had a feeling you wouldn't be able to just ignore this, and maybe, just maybe, she'd be willing to open up to you. So..." She leaned forward expectantly, her pink eyes full of concern. "Did she say anything?"

Sunset frowned, feeling bad that she didn't have any good news to report. "She said that she thinks things should just go back to the way they were."

Celestia sighed remorsefully. "I see. That's disappointing, but I understand. This incident may have been almost as traumatizing for her as it was for that young colt. I wish she could have stuck it out a little longer, but at the very least I'm proud of her for trying. And all things considered, it could have been worse. Going back to square one is better than having a totally despondent sister." She gave Sunset a small, grateful smile. "Thank you for taking the time to talk to her, Sunset. Even if she didn't express it, I'm sure she appreciates it."

Sunset smiled back. Despite Celestia's assumption, Luna had indeed told her as much. But there was something else that Luna said that lit a spark of determination in the filly. "Princess?"

Celestia observed the sudden look of resolve in Sunset's teal eyes. "Hm?"

"I wanna get better. I wanna get stronger. I wanna learn more spells. And I wanna help people."

The princess smiled knowingly. "It feels good to help people, doesn't it?"

Sunset nodded with a blush, a little embarrassed that her teacher could so easily read her. "I liked it when you called me a hero. And I want to be a hero like you!"

Celestia laughed in amusement at the filly's vigor. "Well, I think you're a ways off from fighting villains and monsters just yet, but I can certainly help you be on your way." She leaned down to look her student in the eye. "Sunset, is this what you want to do with the power within you?"

The filly nodded with confidence. "Mm-hm."

"Wonderful. Having such a noble goal rather than simply doing it for the sake of raising the sun will likely make mastering your power much simpler. If you know what you want to do with your power, and you devote yourself to that cause, you can overcome any hurdle in front of you. And you can trust me to help you accomplish that goal."

Sunset grinned widely, then suddenly tackled the princess's leg to give her a big hug. Celestia giggled softly at her pupil's gratitude, gently brushing a hoof over her fiery mane. While the progress she'd made since the solar flare had been minute in comparison to how far she had yet to go, after watching this rambunctious filly accomplish what she had at her young age, Celestia was no longer concerned that Sunset's power would hurt her. If she progressed as well as she has been up until now, this filly could indeed achieve every goal she had set for herself.

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