• Published 9th Oct 2021
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The Once And Future Princess - Lets Do This



The return of magic has some unexpected consequences. So Sunny and her friends set out on a new quest: to find the fabled city of Canterlot...

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Beyond the Fields

Sunny Starscout looked round the living room of the rebuilt lighthouse with a smile. The rose-maned earth pony still found it mind-boggling. Her home looked almost good as new, thanks to her friends. Plus most of the ponies of Maretime Bay, pitching in. And the visiting pegasi and unicorns. And the return of magic, which meant a job that might have taken them weeks had been completed in under a day.

That was the most unbelievable part: earth ponies and unicorns and pegasi, working together willingly. Coordinating their skills and abilities and powers, as if it was all perfectly normal. That was a sight to see -- something that hadn't been seen for many, many moons...

And, after all that, Sunny thought, there's still a unicorn in my house.

Izzy Moonbow was sprawled on the floor, practicing drawing with crayons -- with her magic. The colorful wax sticks gleamed and sprang into action, then dropped again in a heartbeat, as the purple unicorn scribbled, then stared and pondered, then set to work again industriously, tongue in her teeth.

And, Sunny thought, I have pegasi in my belfry -- just like ponies sometimes said about me.

The pegasus siblings, Zipp Storm and Pipp Petals, were upstairs in the lighthouse's lamp room. The winged ponies were outfitting the room as a place for them to stay -- at least, until Queen Haven had managed to smooth things over, back home in the Heights.

And Sheriff Hitch, of course, was right back at work. The bright yellow stallion was down in the town, overseeing the removal of unicorn traps and splatterpults from Shore Street. Which reminded Sunny: she was going to have to check with Natural Flavors about the smoothie delivery job. And decide if it was still something she wanted to do, considering...

With an unsettled expression on her muzzle, Sunny turned back to the dining table. She'd been reviewing the notes she'd made in her journal, the brown leather one with Princess Twilight's double-star cutie mark on its cover. She flipped pages with her hoof, turning back to the map, the one showing the entire pony landscape, from Maretime Bay to Bridlewood to Zephyr Heights...

And she let out a shocked yelp.

"Oh! What is it, Sunny?" Izzy looked up eagerly. "Did you find out something about your magic?"

They'd all been discovering new things about their magic lately. About the three pony tribes' abilities, now that magic had returned in general. They'd spent an entire afternoon in fact, right after the repairs were completed, just experimenting and seeing what they could do.

Unicorns like Izzy had directed magic once more, and could cast spells with their horns. Though thankfully, not of the zappy laser or mind-reading kind. However, they'd still lost much of the knowledge of spellcraft that made it science rather than art, engineering rather than guesswork and practice.

But even so, Izzy had gotten the trick of levitation right away. As she explained it, you looked at something and imagined it having no weight at all. Then you wanted it to be a short distance away from where it was. Then you just led the levitated object around that way, like a moth chasing a candle flame, until it got to wherever you wanted to put it down again.

Izzy had also discovered, entirely by accident, that she could make her horn light up by smacking her forehooves together twice. She'd sat there for five straight minutes -- clop-clop, clop-clop -- her horn blinking on and off, seemingly entranced by what she admitted was really one of the most trivial of luminance spells. But that was Izzy, in a nutshell. To her anything new and interesting was a source of boundless, unashamed childlike joy.

Sunny had asked Izzy how she did the luminance spell, hoping it might be simple enough to try. "Hmmm, it's sort of like whistling?" Izzy had said. "Nopony can tell you what to do, exactly. You have to kinda figure it out yourself. But if we unicorns could learn spellcrafting again, then we could do magic the way we used to: think up a spell and write down exactly what to say or do to make it happen. Maybe I'll be a spellcrafter someday," she added cheerfully. "After all, I'm a whiz with macaroni art!"

Pegasi like Zipp and Pipp could walk on clouds again, and move them from place to place, just like Sunny had found in her notes on pony history. Zipp had been skeptical at first when Sunny pointed at a cloud and suggested she try bringing it down to where they were standing. Nevertheless the ivory-white pegasus had gamely bounced up from the ground, flown up, and grabbed hold of the cloud with her forehooves. And found she could indeed bring it with her, as she flapped down again.

"Huh, feels kind of sticky," she said, "like... I dunno, cotton candy?" Raising an eyebrow, she tried chomping a bite out of it. And immediately spat it out again. "Plah! More like wet cotton, really. Not gonna be snacking on these babies."

Hitch grinned. "I guess pegasi don't eat clouds after all, huh?"

Zipp eyed him aloofly. "No muck on your hooves either, I see."

"Uh, right..." Hitch looked uneasy. "No offense."

"Oh, none taken," Zipp replied. And then shoved the cloud over his head and gave it a sharp kick, drenching him.

Hitch wiped his eyes, nodding. "Yep. I guess I deserved that."

"Oh... wow!" gasped Pipp. The pink pegasus had snared her own cloud and flopped down on it, with every indication of sybaritic comfort. "It's like the finest down beds back home! I'm definitely sleeping on one of these tonight. If I can manage to cram it through the window without flooding the house. Or I'll just leave it outside," she added. "And try camping out, au naturale as it were."

"But what if the magic suddenly went away again?" Sunny asked. "And you fell right through?"

Zipp shrugged, flourishing her wings. "We still have these. We can just glide down like we did before. But I don't think the magic's going anywhere, Sunny. Do you?"

Earth ponies, it seemed, had increased strength. Hitch already had his hooves full chasing after the younger fillies and colts, who were gleefully chucking heavy rocks at signs -- and less invulnerable targets -- just for fun. "And we seem to have an increased affinity for the soil," he said, "and with growing things. I don't think the farm ponies will have much to worry about come harvest time. Plants just sorta spring up out of the ground like anything."

"Speaking of which..." Pipp said, pointing at his hooves.

Hitch looked down and saw that even as he'd been talking, small bluebell-like flowers had sprouted up around them.

"Ack," he said, inching back. "Wish they wouldn't do that."

"Aww..." Zipp feigned sympathy. "Big strong Sheriff doesn't like pretty flowers?"

Hitch snorted. "Big strong Sheriff is totally okay with flowers. Just... not underhoof, ya know? Makes it hard for ponies to take me seriously. I do have a reputation to uphold around here."

Sunny, to her surprise, apparently shared all their abilities to some extent. She could fly, and with some practice she'd even managed a few brief bursts of levitation, for small objects. And too, she felt connected to things in a way she never had before. To the earth underhoof, and to the air, and to the ethereal fields of magic itself, which apparently pervaded everything. When she shut her eyes, she could sense that, a web of forces and interactions invisibly underlying and influencing the entire world...

Yet it still wasn't quite clear to her what her own powers were. Apart from the glowing, translucent wings and horn. Those appeared readily enough whenever she willed them to, and seemed to glow brightest when her friends were near. Yet what they meant, and why she had them, she still hadn't figured out yet.

But that wasn't why she'd shouted -- not at all.

She was staring at the map in her journal. The map which, ever since Dad had given the book to her, had shown only the three pony cities and a bit of coastline.

It was showing quite a bit more now.

The three cities were still there, and the coastline. But these had shifted to one side of the map and gotten smaller. To the left there stretched a broad, open area, dotted with rivers and forests and hills and mountains. On the far side of the map, there was one peak in particular. By the scale it was immensely tall. It made even the coastal range on which Zephyr Heights stood look like a minor hilltop by comparison.

"Wow!" Izzy breathed, peering over Sunny's shoulder. "It's all different." She gently prodded the map with her hoof. "Maybe the paper's magic? Maybe it's got a spell on it that makes it show the land as it is, so you don't have to redraw it? That's helpful." She grinned at Sunny. "So... what do you think it means?"

"I think... it means we should go get the others."

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

Izzy's call up to the lamp room brought Zipp and Pipp winging down through the open lift hatch. And once the pegasi had been filled in, Zipp took off like a shot, straight across the bay toward the town. She returned in record time with Hitch, galloping up the seacoast road behind her. And together they all stared at the altered map, in particular at the tall, unmarked peak to the left.

"I think," Sunny said, "based on what I've read, and some of the old maps Dad had, this might be Mount Canterlot itself."

"Canterlot?" asked Zipp.

"The capitol of old Equestria," Sunny went on. "A grand city, built onto the peak of a very tall mountain, in the heart of the lands of Equestria. It was where Princess Twilight Sparkle ruled from."

"And..." Hitch asked cautiously, "you're sure the map didn't look like this before?"

"Positive." Sunny nodded. "I got this journal from Dad. It had lots of his own notes in it already, plus this map. But I think the journal itself might have originally belonged to Princess Twilight. It's why her mark is on the cover. So... maybe she put the map in here herself? And these changes in the map, maybe they're Twilight's way of giving us a hint, a nudge in the right direction?"

Zipp looked puzzled. "Uh, you lost me there, Sunny. How can a legendary Equestrian Princess be giving us hints today?"

Sunny gritted her teeth. She'd been dreading this. "I need to level with all of you. The night that magic came back, while all of you were down in the town, getting help to rebuild this place? I met Princess Twilight. She kind of appeared, out of the magic itself. She was sitting out there on the lawn, just as real as any of us. I think when the magic came back, so did she... sort of..."

She looked around at them all uncomfortably.

"You... don't believe a word of this, do you?"

Pipp blinked, surprised. "Are you kidding, Sunny? Of course we do!"

The others nodded, even Hitch. Sunny looked around at them all, amazed.

"Really? But..."

"We're used to crazy stuff happening around you." Zipp shrugged. "Just let me know when there's something I shouldn't believe, huh?"

Sunny smiled. "Thanks, everypony."

"So, what happened?" Izzy demanded. "What did Twilight say?"

"We talked a bit. About what happened before the magic went away, and what we should do now. I wrote it all down in here, so I wouldn't forget. And one thing Twilight said in particular was that it's up to us now. The magic has returned, and maybe Equestria is coming back too. And we made it happen. So it's on us to keep an eye on things, to decide what to do about it. And Canterlot..."

Sunny stared at the map, recalling all the wonderful things she'd read.

"If it's anything like it was in the stories, it may be the best place to do that from. It'll have books about history and magic. And maybe ponies who understand magic, way better than any of us. And it's smack in the middle of Equestria. So if the other lands of Equestria show up too, it'll be easy to get to them from there."

"All roads lead to Canterlot..." Pipp whispered, nodding.

"Huh?"

She shrugged. "Just something our history tutor used to say. I never really got it until now."

"So what do you all think?" Sunny asked. "About going there, I mean?" She tapped the mountain on the map with her hoof. "Seeing if this really is Canterlot?"

"That's a long ways," Zipp said. She didn't sound concerned, she was just stating it, as information. "Several days journey at least, there and back again. And we don't even know if it is Canterlot. It might be just some big mountain. We might trek all that way for nothing."

Pipp nodded in agreement. Izzy looked from her to Sunny -- and beamed. "You know me," Izzy said. "I'm always up for another cool adventure with my new friends. Where you go, I'll go. I just wish we could be sure first. Like, maybe if we wait, the name will appear on the map too. That'd prove it for sure, right?"

Hitch eyed Sunny carefully. He was used to how she thought and didn't want to sound overcautious. Because that would likely just send her haring off again. "It might be a good idea," he said, "not to rush off into the unknown just yet. We could let things settle here a bit first, until we know more. After all, Equestria has been gone such a long time. What's a day or two, more or less?"

Sunny stared at the map wistfully. Then she nodded.

"You're right. We'll wait a bit, see if the map changes again and tells us anything more. After all, there really isn't any hurry, is there?"

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

Next morning, Sunny's alarm clock went off too early. Or at least, it seemed to. It was still dark out as she sleepily got out of bed and stared at herself in the mirror.

Her mane, as usual, was a Gorgonesque fright.

"Huh... looks like the return of magic hasn't cured all problems -- especially not bed-mane."

Summoning her ethereal horn and wings, she tried using magic to pick up her brush and mane-clips. Then she gave it up, and did it the old-fashioned way. Time enough for that, she decided, after I've had a few more lessons on 'kinesis with Izzy.

Trotting downstairs to the ground floor Sunny headed for the kitchen area, to rustle up some breakfast. It was strange, having semi-permanent house guests to cook for now. Before, she'd generally just grab something quick, then slap on her inlines and roll out the door. But Sunny didn't mind. She enjoyed it actually, taking the time to make something nice for herself and her friends.

Yet she got only a few steps in that direction when there was a loud, anxious pounding at the door.

"Sunny! Sunny, wake up! This is an emergency!"

Trotting over to the door, she swung it open. And found Hitch, leaning against the door-frame and gasping for breath, like he'd run all the way here.

"What's going on?" she asked.

Behind her, she could hear the trotting of Izzy's hooves as she came out of the downstairs room she was using. And the wingbeats of Zipp and Pipp, as they flapped down from the lamp room overhead.

"It's the sun," Hitch said. "It hasn't come up yet. And yeah, I do know how crazy that sounds." He stumbled into the room, found a chair and collapsed in it. "I'm guessing it has something to do with the return of magic. But that's only because I have no idea what else to blame it on."

Sunny's eyes went wide. "Woah. This is bad." She darted across the room for her blue carryall. She pulled out the journal, and quickly found the page she was looking for. "Omigosh. Here it is. One of the Princess's duties was to use her affinity with the firmament of the heavens to raise and lower the Sun and Moon, since their movements were no longer simple evocations of physical law..."

"So you're saying," Pipp asked, "Princess Twilight had to move the Sun herself? With her magic?"

"Hey, no pressure, right?" Zipp looked uneasy. "And here I thought taking over from Mother was going to be a challenge."

"It's not clear from this." Sunny was paging through the journal, hoping for any other clues. "It might be she just needed to give it a push, to start the day. And another, to put it away at night."

"Well, whatever the explanation," Hitch said, "we need to do something now. It won't be long before ponies notice and start freaking out."

"Let's have a look," Sunny said. "Maybe, well... maybe there's something I can do." Shoving the journal back in her carryall she slung it over her shoulder, then trotted out through the open front door into the darkness, the others close behind her.

There was a hint of auroral glow in the sky, but aside from that it still felt like very early pre-dawn, with the purple, star-filled sky just barely beginning to lighten. Looking to the East, Sunny could see nothing but stars. Looking behind her, to the West, she could see the Moon, low in the sky over the treetops across the road.

Taking a breath, Sunny summoned her ethereal wings and horn, in hopes the heightened affinity with the sky might give her some kind of a clue. But nothing stood out to her.

"I'm not sure how to do this. I'm not even sure I can do it."

"Maybe it's like 'kinesis?" Izzy offered, trotting up beside her. "You have to focus on the thing you want to move first. You need to find the Sun."

"But how can she do that?" objected Hitch. "We can't even see it yet."

Izzy shook her head reprovingly. "Doesn't mean it's not still there. See if you can find it, Sunny."

Sunny stared out at the eastern horizon, far out across the ocean. Then she deliberately lowered her gaze, hunting around below it, in the direction she thought the Sun would be.

And she found it. She could feel the immense glowing orb, poised just below the rim of the world. Almost as if it was waiting for its cue...

... from her.

Sunny pointed a hoof. "There -- it's down there!"

"Okay..." Izzy nodded. "Now remember what I said: picture it moving, just a tiny bit at a time, the way you want it to go."

Sunny tried, fretfully. "It's not working!" She could sense the Sun, could feel her unusual magic grasping it. But it remained stubbornly immobile.

Izzy stared at Sunny, worried. Then looked over her own shoulder.

And smacked her forehead with a hoof.

"Duh! Of course, the Moon's in the way! We need to lower it first. Or maybe we need to do both at the same time?"

"Huh?" Zipp and Pipp looked up at the Moon, lurking over the treeline. "Seriously?" Zipp said. "We only need to make an impossible problem twice as hard?"

"It's like a see-saw," Izzy replied. "To raise one end, you lower the other. Here, lemme give ya a hoof." Izzy rested a forehoof on Sunny's withers, then pointed the other forehoof upwards, in the direction of the Moon. She squinted along it, one eye shut like a sharpshooter, her horn softly glowing.

"Okay, Sunny, on three. One, two, three..."

Straining with the effort, Sunny now felt the Sun shift ever so slightly, under her influence. Then it begin to move, slowly but surely.

"Yeah! Izzy, It's working!"

"Cool! Stay focused though, don't lose it," Izzy warned. "Uh huh. That's it. Don't look at the Moon, Sunny, I got my eye on it."

Sunny gently lifted her forehoof, as quickly as she dared. In response, she saw the sky over the bay lighten, then glow, then blaze alight. And then the Sun appeared, neat as you please, creeping upwards to stand just above the horizon, as in very early morning.

And there it stuck. Nothing Sunny tried could move it any further.

"It's no use," she finally said. "I can't lift it into the sky where it's supposed to be by now."

"Well..." Izzy said cheerfully, "you did make the Sun rise, at least. I'd say that's pretty darn good for a first attempt."

"No kidding..." Hitch breathed. "If I had the words, I'd be speechless."

"Way to go, Sunny!" Pipp cried.

"Couldn't have done it without you, Izzy. Thanks."

"Oh, I did nothing." Izzy waved a hoof. "That was all you!"

"But..."

"It was your magic, Sunny. You did all the heavy lifting. I just gave you an extra horn and set of eyes backing you up. With practice, I bet you could do it all by yourself."

"You mean..." Sunny said, aghast, "I'm going to have to do this every morning? And every evening, too?"

Pipp smiled sympathetically. "Noblesse oblige! Though I hear you, no question. I still get nerves going onstage, even for my favorite songs. I can't imagine what moving the Sun and Moon is like."

"You know we'd help you," Zipp added, "if we could. But this is kinda your department, Sunny. At least, that's how it seems."

"Aw, she'll do fine! You watch." Izzy gently punched Sunny's shoulder with a hoof. "You just need practice, that's all."

"Izzy..." Sunny asked, staring at her, "how did you know we needed to lower the Moon first?"

"Eh." The unicorn shrugged. "Isadora Moonbow. With a name like that, I gotta know something about the Moon, right? It's just family tradition. I'm what we unicorns call a Moon daughter."

"Huh. More like a moonchild, sometimes," Zipp smirked.

Izzy smiled back, unoffended. "Mom did sometimes call me Moon Pie, actually."

"O-kay..." Hitch said. "Well, that at least gets us out of the dark. But we're not out of the woods yet, are we?"

Sunny shook her head. "We need to find out what it takes to keep the Sun moving, the way it ought to." She glanced around uneasily. "Looks like we may have to go see if that mountain is Canterlot, after all, huh?"

The others exchanged uneasy glances. Except for Izzy, who tossed her forehooves gleefully in the air.

"Woo! Magic-hunting road trip! I am so in!"

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

In a surprisingly short time, they were ready.

"... and that's where things stand," Hitch said, addressing the nervous townsponies. They were all gathered in the circle outside the Sheriff's office, under the strange, semi-dawn light. "We just need to go find this fabled pony city, and learn how to move the Sun... by magic. Instead of the usual way, where we didn't have to do anything at all. Ehem. No big deal, right? A few days, we'll have it sorted out. So everypony, stay calm, keep the home fires burning, that kind of thing. And we'll... be back in a few days."

"And try not to worry," Sunny added. "This is all so strange, I know. But strange is kinda the new normal. And we can handle this, all of us, I know we can. My friends and I will do everything possible -- I promise! Just stay safe, stay calm, and we'll be back as quick as we can."

Hitch nodded, impressed. With half as many words she'd calmed the entire crowd noticeably.

The glowing wings and horn seemed to be making an impression as well.

Then Hitch turned to his deputy. "Sprout. I'm leaving you in charge... what do you say?"

"Aw, c'mon, Hitch! Not in front of everypony."

"Sprout..." Hitch insisted. "I need to hear you say it."

The red, straw-maned stallion sighed, resignedly. And put up a hoof.

"I solemnly swear to serve and protect all ponies here in Maretime Bay."

"And...?"

"And not turn into a power-mad, authoritarian, tribalist, neofascistic dictator while you're gone." Sprout gave Hitch a pleading look. "Okay?"

Hitch patted him on the shoulder.

"Just keep thinking that way, bud. You'll get there."

As the group moved away from the Sheriff's office and headed through the crowd, up Main Street towards the Canterlogic campus, Zipp glanced back doubtfully at the dejected-looking deputy.

"You really think this is such a great idea?"

Hitch shrugged. "If you never trust somepony ever again, when they've made a big mistake, they'll never be able to learn from it, right?"

Sunny smiled at him.

"You don't have to come with us this time, Hitch. You could stay here, help to keep things calm."

He shook his head. "Like it or not, I'm part of this thing now. And like you said, it's up to us to keep an eye on things. Which... is a Sheriff's job, after all. And besides..." He shrugged. "I was your friend since before I became Sheriff. I want to make sure you get there and back safely."

"Thanks, Hitch."

"Yep! He's a keeper, all right!" Izzy said. And then she skipped on ahead of them, humming merrily to herself.

They left the town cross-country, first trotting over Canterlogic Hill and down its far side, then passing through the farming district. The fields of corn and wheat rippled gently in the semi-dawn light, peaceful and calming.

And then they passed the last farmhouses, and stood nervously on the western border. Of pretty much everything they knew. Up to now, there had been nowhere to go from here. And no reason to go there, either.

"Hey!" Izzy said. "Cheer up, everypony! Here there be dragons, right?"

She looked around at them, honestly puzzled by their uncomfortable reactions.

"What? Isn't that what they always put on maps to fill in those big spaces where you don't know what's there yet?"