• Published 6th Mar 2024
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The Crying of the Sun - InkStone

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Morning Glories

The sun rose over the forests to the east of the city, the soft morning rays spilling over the sprawling green sea of Whitebark pine and Douglas fir, Sierra Juniper and Nootka Cypress, like a spotlight directed by some cosmic stagehand highlighting the beauty of the Everfree Forest and reminding the inhabitants of the fertile world that lie just beyond their doorstep. Downtown Canterlot, a jungle of metal and concrete, shined a dappled silver and glass as the morning dew caught the light of the sun like a thousand tiny diamonds. Cars hummed to life as their bleary-eyed owners grumbled about work, the arteries of the city becoming gradually more congested as people left their anchorite suburban existences for the hustle and bustle of the workday. Canterlot was reborn after the quiet of the night, revived as though by some holy miracle, ready to face another turn of the wheel. There were few things that Celestia found more beautiful.

It was 6:33 a.m. and Celestia Sol was gingerly nursing a steaming cup of coffee in the chiaroscuro light of the living room, spread across her favorite couch like some ethereal, delicate beauty in a Baroque painting, an effect only enhanced by the diaphanous white robe she wore over her pajamas that brought to mind a fairy queen, some fabled princess of a faraway land. This mythical princess, a goddess out of legend, stared out the window at the interstitial lands beyond with unseeing eyes that betrayed a mind that was far, far away, staring at a different sun whose waning light had captured in time a moment that would be ingrained in her mind now and forevermore.

Sleep had not come easily last night. She laid awake in her bed for hours, her mind buzzing incessantly like mosquitos surrounding a blood-swelled arm, following one thread of thought before losing it and gripping wildly for another, all the while never finding the clue that would lead her to the heart of this maze. When she had finally dozed off into a fitful sleep, her dreams were haunted by two eyes of apatite rimmed with crystal tears staring down at her in confused recognition.

Celestia idly stirred her coffee, swirling forth recent memories. The girl - Sunset Shimmer - hadn't interacted with her after the call had been put into emergency services, too focused on flexing the digits of her hands and feet as though she had never seen herself before. When she caught a glimpse of herself in the polished surface of the Wondercolt statue, she had turned white as a ghost, bringing balled hands to her face and feeling it as though she had to assure herself that everything was where it was supposed to be. Celestia caught some muttering about 'ponies', 'princesses', 'Equestria', and much more, each nonsense word deepening the pit of worry in Celestia's stomach. She was no child psychologist, but she did have to take classes on child development in college, and she vividly remembered a lecture in which the professor - an old, gray-bearded sentinel of the psychology department - had gone on about young children's tendency to create elaborate fantasy worlds. Healthy in moderation, but it could also be used as a form of escapism for children who had endured terrible, traumatic things. As Celestia's eardrums rung from the sonic assault of the girl screaming at a pitch that would put Aguiari to shame, she couldn't help but wonder what horrific, unimaginable terrors Sunset Shimmer had been put through.

She tried to comfort her, she so desperately wanted to, but every time she got close, whispering gentle words of comfort and tentatively reaching out a soft hand, Sunset would throw herself backward, crying wildly about imposters and tricksters, evil spirits and demons. After a few tries, Celestia gave her a wide berth and waited for emergency services to arrive.

It was a storm after that, a maelstrom of paramedics and police officers asking questions she couldn't hope to answer: who is this girl? How did she get here? Why is she injured? How the hell would she know any of that? She was just as much in the dark as all of them were, but no one seemed satisfied with that. After a tense few minutes that felt like a miniature eternity, the officers huffed in annoyance and clicked their pens shut, handing her two basic-looking business cards with their extensions on them and parting with a request to call the station if she remembered any relevant information. She refrained from rolling her eyes as they walked away, choosing instead to look over at Sunset and the paramedics. The child had been settled onto a stretcher, curled in on herself like a frightened animal but otherwise calm.

"Is she alright?" Celestia had the vague realization that she was picking the cuticles of her thumb with her index finger, a nervous tic she had kicked years ago. There was a nervous energy crackling under her skin, an electric current that caused goose pimples to pop up all over her arms and the back of her neck to crawl like an insect scuttering for cover.

The paramedics glanced at each other in silent conversation. It occurred to Celestia that they likely couldn't tell her if there was anything wrong with Sunset due to patient privacy laws. After a few seconds of ocular debate, one of the medics faced her.

"Did you notice anything odd about her earlier?" The medic asked in a tense voice. It was an odd way to respond to her, a question for a question, but there was a look in his eyes, a pleading expression like he wanted her to understand something. Ah, that was it!

"I noticed she was having trouble walking earlier." It was a sneaky way to get around regulations; he wouldn't answer her question, but gently guide her to the conclusion—plausible deniability at its finest.

"Unfortunately, we can't confirm nor deny that, ma'am," the other paramedic butt in. With a click, everything was locked into place, and they started to wheel Sunset towards the ambulance. "Have a nice day, Miss Sol. If the police need anything else, they'll call you."

She watched them go, and that was the end. She had said her lines, she had done her part, and now she could exit stage left and go on with her life. That was the natural way of the world: you came across people, you brushed the canvas of their existence, sometimes adding more, sometimes less, and then, satisfied with your work, you left it ready for the next artist. That's what she had done with Sunset, and now the girl would move on and find other people, people who would paint more significant vistas on her life until she blossomed into the portrait of a fine young woman.

Then she saw those eyes, eyes that struck her to the very core of her being, that made something radiate in every cell and atom of her body, and she knew this wouldn't be the end. Those eyes were with her still, hours later in the soft morning glow of the living room.

"There she sees a damsel bright/ Drest in a silken robe of white." Celestia need not turn around to recognize the dulcet tones of her younger sister. She was more surprised that Luna, the infamous night owl, was up this early in the morning. Dawn light and Luna were completely and utterly anathema to each other like a heretic is to the church.

"Hello, Dr. Sol. What has you up on this fine morning?" Celestia quirked a quizzical eyebrow that curved like the head of a question mark.

"Sister, I can practically hear you thinking from my bedroom," Luna scoffed, meandering tiredly over to the counter to pour her own cup of coffee. "And you need not call me Doctor."

"Ah, but you worked so hard for that PhD, Lulu. After all that time and money, I would be screaming it from the rooftops."

"And that is the difference between you and I, Tia." Luna punctuated her statement with a loud slurp.

Luna, despite her boisterous personality, was actually rather humble. She preferred not to talk about her accomplishments and would become agitated if Celestia brought them up. It was hard not to though; both sisters were intelligent, but Luna was a bonafide genius with so many incredible achievements under her belt that it was hard to talk about her without mentioning something. She had won so many literature and poetry contests in high school that she could have made a dress out of all the ribbons; she graduated top of their class with a perfect grade point average; she applied to Harvard early decision and got in to the surprise of no one; she left Harvard with summa cum laude and a Rhodes Scholarship that quickly extended from a Masters to a PhD; she obtained her PhD from Oxford with a dissertation on Romantic Era poetry that was the ultimate culmination of numerous other well-received papers, all signs of a promising academic career that had her fielding employment offers from her old alma mater and every other prestigious school in the country. Despite all of that, despite getting letters promising salaries and research budgets that others would drool over, Luna rejected all of them. She returned to her hometown of Canterlot and applied for a job at the local public high school her sister worked at, filling the rest of her time as an adjunct at the local branch of the state university system, because at the end of the day Luna did not care about the prestige or the money, the anodyne complexities of academia or the petty administration, but only about two things: learning and spreading knowledge. For some reason, she found those two goals more achievable in a high school than in a college.

"Something on your mind, Tia?" Luna queried after a few moments of peaceful quiet.

"Just... thinking." She continued staring out the window, letting the gentle sound of birdsong fill her ears.

"Mmhmm," Luna hummed, coming to sit in an armchair across from her sister. "And do those thoughts happen to involve flame-haired children?"

An amused huff left Celestia's nose. "I suppose it's not that hard to figure it out."

"One certainly wouldn't need to be a Rhodes Scholar to do so."

She was back to looking out the window, searching, sifting, trying to find some sort of answer, some sort of sign from a higher power, something that she knew wasn't out there because it was lying somewhere else, somewhere interior to herself. "I just... something about her stuck with me. I've dealt with so many students over the years, and yet this little girl has wormed her way into my head. It's ridiculous."

"Not really," Luna countered. "You encountered a hurt, scared child outside your place of work who knew your name. It's not surprising that you'd find such a mystery captivating."

"I know what you're saying," she turned her gaze to her sister, an odd look in her eye, "but... it's not like that, Lulu. I'm not really concerned with how she knew my name. Well, okay, I am, but I find myself more concerned about... her."

"Aren't we all concerned for our fellow man?"

"Yes, but," she pursed her lips, her eyes rolling up like she was attempting to look into her own mind, to better understand the thoughts rolling around within, "this feels... deeper, and I'm not sure why."

Ring Ring Ring

Celestia lifted herself from the sofa, grabbing the landline on the wall of the kitchen and answering with a practiced greeting that was the pinnacle of professionalism. Luna watched as her sister communicated with someone on the other end - a voice that she could only vaguely make out as a feminine murmur - going from confused, to surprised, back to confused once again as she answered with one-word phrases or simple statements such as 'I see' or 'I understand' that, naturally, mean the exact opposite of what they state. She couldn't quite glean what was going on from Celestia's end of the conversation, but she could make a guess after her sister gave an unsure 'I'll be there soon' and hung up the phone, her fingers lingering on it for a moment like it was a beloved old relative.

"Speak of the devil," Celestia's tone was filled with confusion and questioning."That was the hospital. Apparently, Sunset has been asking for me all night. Her social worker thinks it would be beneficial for her to see me."

"Interesting. The plot thickens," Luna waggled her eyebrows. "Will you go, sister?"

It took a moment, but Celestia nodded, slowly but surely. "Yes. I don't think I'll be able to sleep well if I don't."

"Guilt truly is stronger than caffeine."

"Quite," Celestia marched off to her room to get ready. "Will you be able to hold down the fort while I'm gone?"

"I'm not a teenager anymore!" Luna shouted back indignantly, though considering the distinct sound of a closing door, she wasn't sure how much Celestia heard. Settling herself into the armchair, Luna thought over the whole situation and could not help but chuckle. She remembered a passage she had read many years ago, in the olden days of high school. It was one of those lines that had stuck with her for her entire life so far.

"I couldn’t bring myself to admit that life might end up resembling bad literature so much."

Author's Note:

I like it, but I feel like it's missing something. A certain 'oomph!' that will push it in the right direction. But we don't necessarily need perfection, do we? It's a useless endeavor. But I'll promise you all something: every chapter, I'll try to improve. I want each chapter to be better than the last, each one striving closer and closer to that limit of perfection even if it can never truly achieve it. Only then will my love affair with this story be consummated to its fullest degree.