• Published 29th Dec 2013
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Unicorn x Unicorn - Typewrittensoul



An alternate Equestria that must be saved by three unlikely heroines.

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Chapter 2

In the rear courtyard of the palace, Sunset Shimmer grimaced as she watched Twilight dance about with a stream of water in her magic’s grasp. It glowed in the unicorn's characteristically violet magic, flowing wherever and however Twilight willed it at a rhythmic pace, entrancing Shimmer as she watched it flow through the air.

Sunset, by comparison, was glaring up at the bulging mass of water she held up before herself and sweating. Hers was moving about like a fish tossed onto the shore, flapping and splashing about erratically. It remained lopsided and consistently dripped onto the marble floor while made to imitate Twilight’s movements in a not-really-similar way. Soon enough, there was hardly any left to manipulate and Sunset released the water that remained from her grasp in a show of reluctant defeat.

There was nothing more frustrating than having to deal with something she couldn't immediately master. She was quite literally out of her element when it came to manipulating water. It lacked the raw, fierce energy that fire exuded; it did as it pleased in a very lackadaisical way, unlike fire’s harsh fight for control whenever it had a chance.

It required an entirely different frame of mind than how Sunset carried herself. An analytical mind; one that was always thinking and able to figure out how to bend the water’s wishes to her own. The moment she realized this, it quickly dawned just how well suited Twilight’s personality was to it.

Sunset was reminded ever more just how suited she was to the fire element. Fire was straightforward. It didn’t need to be persuaded by anything other than a show of strength and determination. It would never submit or be tamed, but made instead into a powerful ally should the mage calling for its power be deemed strong.

She thought back to the events of Neighagra Falls a few days ago, her first real mission. It was nothing like how it was in training. Of course, Sunset knew that would be the case, but she didn’t even have words to describe how she felt about the sheer gulf of difference. There were no practice dummies, no referees or judges to determine “correct” nonlethal attacks. It was all real; actual life or death fighting took place. And under such dire circumstances, Sunset was able to take on the opponents that stood before her. It turned out, much to Sunset’s disappointment, that those few invaders that were real soldiers, those that aimed to cause havoc and destruction, were no tougher than the practice dummies she had tossed aside time and time again.

That enemy mage was on an entirely different level, though. While she was able to distract the illusionist mage long enough for Trixie to stop the illusions, that had been the extent of her abilities to fight in a real battle. The mage was nowhere close to the princess, but much more skilled than any of the students. The young mare that seemed to know Trixie would likely even give a few professors and Royal Guards a run for their money.

Thoughts such as those haunted her since they returned to Canterlot. Sunset realized just how unprepared she was. How naive and too self assured in her skills she was. She realized that she needed more power. She couldn’t be taken off guard like that again. She wouldn’t be helpless to stop anyone that would harm her friends.

Sunset sighed, then ran a hoof across the puddle of water she had left before her. Her reflection was left distorted as the water rippled behind her hoof.

"Sunset, are you ready to try again?" Twilight said. Sunset watched her approach. “You seemed a bit distracted that time. Maybe, I thought, well…you wanted to do it a third time? Or did you want to take a break? I’m not saying that you should, or anything, but I’d suppose.…”

“Twilight,” Sunset interrupted her classmate before the worried pony got caught into an endless loop of social acrobatics. “Here’s an idea: why don’t we start back with your explanation of the water element. It still feels like I’m…missing something.” She waved her hoof around in a meaningless gesture.

“Oh,” Twilight’s eyes widened, then she gave Sunset a timid smile. “Well, sure. A little review could give us a bit of perspective on the matter.” Despite her words, one corner of her mouth arced up as she thought for a moment where to start. “Well, we can start with a few of water’s characteristics.” Sunset nodded and Twilight continued. “Water is a very deliberate element...It’s often mistaken for being...well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s lazy, but...it’s more like, water will always seek out the path of least resistance. If something seems too difficult, water would rather be patient and wait for a better opportunity rather than rush in and force things in its favor...”

While she didn’t fully understand what Twilight was trying to get at, Sunset huffed at the underlying principle of what was said. She found it much easier to just overpower or tear through an obstacle. She knew well enough not to try biting more than she could chew, but no one besides the princess had proved much of a challenge to deal with until the Crystal Empire mage.

Sunset soon realized that during her musings, Twilight was continuing her quick review, oblivious to her classmate’s wandering thoughts. Sunset didn’t have the heart to ask Twilight to repeat herself and simply tried to follow along based on context clues. “..and so obviously, it’s not very practical to carry water around with me all the time. Though it’s possible to use any water I find in the environment around me, or even summon a source of water using a spell, that’s an additional chunk of my mana being used up that I may need in a desperate situation in a fight. So, instead of literally relying on water in my elemental casting, I often use the principles of efficient magic to supplement my spellcraft.”

Sunset couldn’t argue with that sort of logic: the idea of applying magic as a style just as much a particular method of channeling one’s mana. It was ingenious in its simplicity. “It’s important to calibrate just enough energy for the corresponding goal you want to achieve. In order to do that, a great deal of study is needed to familiarize oneself with the properties of a great deal of subjects. So in fact, as I’ve come to greatly enjoy, water plays just as important a function in magic as it does in the rest of nature.” Twilight’s face lit up in a bright smile, helping to finally ease Sunset’s apprehensions toward the water element.

That was when she heard Twilight ask, “Have you made any of your own spells, Sunset? I can only imagine what sorts of ideas you have given how good you are with fire. I’ve found that making a few of my own spells helped transitioning to other elements that much easier. There are a few water-based spells that I’m really proud of. Some that Spike says I should work on, so they aren’t really ‘ready’ just yet. I’ve only started a little bit on air and next I plan on fire. Mostly theoretical so far, but I was hoping that you could help me with your insights on the element. Oh! Let me show you my notes on elemental spells!” Twilight produced a notebook with notes scrawled all over the page, in some places compressed in the margins.

It was nearly impossible to hold back a groan from seeing formulas and equations actually written down to be applied for all of the spells they went over. Sunset always got the feel of a spell. A unicorn needed to understand the magic not from a technical standpoint, but an instinct that was developed from being immersed.

“I think...we could get back to doing some practicing, Twilight,” Sunset said in hopes of changing the topic.

“Really?” Twilight asked with a tilt of her head. “Does that mean you figured out what you were missing?”

“...yeah, sure…” was Sunset’s reply. Twilight took the response at face value and happily smiled, of course, but worry flashed on her face when a clock tower chimed in the near distance. She jumped in place, as though the chimes sent a jolt of electricity from the crown of her head down to her hooves. “Is it nine o’clock, already? I’m sorry, Sunset, but I have some tutoring to do in about two hours and I want to review my planner to make sure that I have everything ready for the lesson. Let’s continue this later, alright? At one?”

“Alright,” Sunset said with a tiny nod. “One o’clock it is.”

Twilight flashed a smile that blended her unique brand of relief and worry as she added a new item to her mental checklist. “Until then, keep practicing!”

Sunset watched her classmate leave before she began heading off toward the main academic building to look for a certain pony.

---

Sunset prowled down the central hallway of the Academy’s main building, cautious and wary of the ponies she passed by.

Twilight was completely right. She needed a new fire spell, something that would help her transition into learning the water element, and Sunset knew the pony that would teach it to her. Around the corner she found her target and strode up to her silver-maned classmate, who was walking in the opposite direction. "Lulamoon. I want you to teach me how you did that Phoenix Fire spell the other day," Sunset declared.

Stopping in her tracks, Trixie cocked her head as she wore a bemused expression. "I don't believe it. The proud and mighty Sunset Shimmer is asking me to teach her a spell!" After a short fit of gleeful laughter, Trixie paused and realized, "Hey, that's not half bad. 'The Proud and Mighty Trixie'...hmm."

Sunset was far too focused on her objective to be derailed by Trixie’s initial response. "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. Or would you rather I tell Shining Armor that a certain pony has a schoolfilly crush on him?"

"I don't have a clue what you're talking about," Trixie replied, relying on her pride as a magician to hide her surprise.

"Fine. Be that way. I’ll just have to tell Shining Armor for real if you don’t give me what I want."

The haughty expression on Trixie’s face quickly melted away. "You can't be serious."

"Oh I am serious, Lulamoon. Just as serious as that creepy shrine you have in your clos-"

"Fine!” Trixie exclaimed. Jumping in place, she immediately searched about to determine if anyone had heard what was just nearly said, then she aimed a seething leer at Sunset for a quiet moment before resigning herself to defeat this time. “Fine. I'll help you." Her eye made a subtle twitch as she began walking forward. “Follow me. We’ll go to where I practice some of my tricks.”

Sunset made a smirk and followed her, only to become steadily more surprised as she realized that they went to the same courtyard that she had just practiced with Twilight. She looked toward the now-dry spot where she had so much difficulty with the water element. Sunset quickly shook that memory out of her mind, confident in being able to learn something more akin to her preferred fire magic.

“Phoenix Fire isn’t an offensive magic to say the least,” Trixie began with a flourish. She spun on the tips of her hooves as though she was at a performance and the spot where she stood was a stage. “ Phoenixes use it purely for the sake of defense and escape from enemies and predators.”

With a noticeable glance Sunset pondered if the stage magician was contemplating a “live demonstration” for such a purpose. It didn’t really matter if Trixie stayed to give a detailed explanation or not. Sunset was sure she could at the very least learn the mechanics from watching a simple example. It wouldn’t be the first time for such a thing, after all. One only had to ask a few of the Academy’s professors who were confident that a filly was incapable of understanding the magicks that they had spent most of their careers studying and mastering.

Sunset decided to go with coaxing Trixie if she wasn’t feeling particularly cooperative. "You could have fooled me. I’ve seen your shows once or twice and I always thought you were using fireworks or something."

Trixie wasn’t exactly sure how to take that mixed compliment. "Who do you take me for, Shimmer? Besides...fireworks are expensive." After a slight pause she continued. "Point is, Shimmer, you need to have an imagination. Which, I should explain, is different from your delusions of grandeur."

“The only deluded one here is you,” Sunset immediately countered.

Rather than retort in kind, a sour expression appeared on the showmare’s face. “Are you done being condescending, Shimmer?” Trixie huffed out in frustration.

Sunset was surprised by the change in demeanor. Unsure if this was simply a new tactic to catch her off guard, she stayed the course with the expectation that her equally sharp-minded classmate would go back to her usual self. “It’s not my fault that you’ve been acting defensive this whole time. In any case, don’t forget that I could always tell Shining.”

“Let’s just get on with it already, ok?” Trixie huffed out with a roll of her eyes.

“I’m waiting,” Sunset said.

“Fine,” Trixie said and took a deep breath. “After dealing with that loathsome Philomena, I decided to do some research. As it turns out, the average phoenix has about a hundred year-long lifespan. Over the course of its life, a phoenix grows in both size and power by accumulating large amounts of prana from its environment and converting that energy into its own mana.” The more she continued, Sunset noticed, the more passionate Trixie seemed to get. “Even more extraordinary, phoenixes have the ability to renew themselves by bursting into flames and rising from the ashes left behind, effectively starting a new ‘life’ . Which means that they’re pretty much immortal!” So even if I could get my hooves on that deranged bird…

“That’s all well and good, but how exactly does that help me learn how to cast Phoenix Fire?” Sunset asked, earning a smirk from the other pony.

“All in good time, Shimmer. It’s very important that I give you as much background as possible for you to fully appreciate the spell!” Vindictive sarcasm oozed out of Trixie’s voice as she visibly relished going on and on about the results of her research.

Regret would have swallowed Sunset for underestimating just how determined Trixie was to make her suffer if it weren’t for sheer dumb luck when she glanced behind the pony that continued to drone on and on about phoenix nesting habits. “Oh Shining Armor, what an unexpected surprise!” Sunset called out, managing to immediately halt Trixie’s lecture.

Though surprised at first, Trixie’s more confident demeanor reasserted itself. “Tch, like I’m going to fall for something that basi-...oh-my-gosh-it’s-actually-you!” Trixie froze on the spot the moment she saw Shining Armor stride up right beside her.

“Hey, Trixie. Sunset,” he greeted each of them in a casual way. He even smiled, which made Trixie return a goofy one of her own before she hid her face under the wide brim of her hat to regain control of her expression. “Have either of you seen my sis?”

Of course he’s looking for Twilight,’ Sunset thought, unsurprised. It didn’t take much to notice the stiff demeanor of the young mare in front of her before she wiped the goofy grin from her face. A wicked smile of her own appeared when Sunset got an idea. “Say, Shining Armor,” She began in a sly tone, “You’re not going to believe who has the cutest crush on you…”

“A crush on me?” He chuckled at the thought, scratching his chin with his hoof. “Nah, I doubt it.”

“Oh come now,” Sunset continued, going so far as to send a mischievous glance toward her now panicking classmate. She looked once more to Shining before he noticed. “I’ll give you up to three hints if you play along and try to guess.” A barely concealed squeal escaped from Trixie’s throat as Shining seriously considered the offer. “Fine. I’ll give you a free hint: She always wants to be the center of attention, but becomes a wallflower the moment you look her way…”

Unable to stand the indirect teasing anymore, Trixie suddenly screamed out, “Shining Armor, I think I know where your sister is let me help!” Her outburst immediately shifted attention toward the now uncharacteristically stage-frightened pony.

“Really?” Shining asked, taking a step closer toward her. “Where is she?”

“Just...ahead…” Trixie answered, nervously taking a step backward. “But could you meet me at the palace gates? In public? Where others will see us? I can lead the way from there!”

Shining Armor blinked and nodded in half understanding. “Uh...sure.” The moment he turned to leave, Trixie shot a murderous leer at an ever-smirking Sunset.

You’ll pay for this dearly, Shimmer! Trixie mouthed silently before galloping away, muttering to herself in excitement the whole time.

Distracted by how entertaining the whole event was, Sunset realized too late that she was just ditched. “Hey! What happened to teaching me that spell? Don’t you care that you’re risking complete embarrassment?”

“Fine. Whatever. I don’t care anymore!” Trixie shouted out, concerned more with catching up with the stallion of her dreams. Once she disappeared around the corner, nearly bowling over an unsuspecting gardener in the process, Sunset sighed and looked skyward, wondering what it would take for her to learn how to just shut up sometimes.

"Oh? Are you already done studying with Trixie?"

Sunset froze and turned to face Princess Celestia. “Princess! I...uh…” She stammered out and looked around, unsure of what else to say. “Yes I am. Quite done, in fact. Totally free with my time, now.” She hoped against all hopes that she didn’t ask how things turned out, unable to decide whether to lie outright or to mumble some sort of half-truth.

“Ah, that’s good. If that’s the case, shall we have a practice match?” Celestia asked.

Sunset gulped, suddenly unsure if she was ready. She was confident in her abilities, of course. When it came to her “matches” against the alicorn, she was unable to hold back her thoughts. “You’re just going to go easy on me, princess.”

“Well, that goes without saying,” she teased, bringing out a surprised guffaw from Sunset. For the slightest moment she forgot her doldrums and a part of her figured that that was the princess’ aim.

“Don’t try to find some hidden lesson or consider this a test. In the academic sense, at least. Approach this as a challenge to overcome, Sunset. What do you say?”

She smiled upon hearing this, able to see just how well the princess understood her. Her mood lightened a bit more. “Well...ok, Princess. That’s something I can definitely do.”

Celestia flashed a happy smile of her own. “If you could lead the way, please.”

Taking the lead as prompted, Sunset wordlessly began to walk over to the gardens, particularly the maze that from a pegasus’ point of view, was an intricate, breathtaking piece of landscaping. They entered the hedgerows of the maze, making their way toward the center. It was a mostly secluded spot where park benches were arranged in a more-or-less circular fashion in view of a set of flower beds displaying various colors. It made for a tranquil place to rest and relax while remaining close to the castle. In the middle of this clearing, where four pathways met, Celestia cast a spell that opened up into a large opaque sphere, much like a soap bubble. Sunset recognized the soap bubble as a partition: a kind of barrier that interfered with the magic flowing around it, which made it a perfect instrument for mages of all levels to meditate.

They stepped into the partition and entered a space that was magically expanded beyond the confines of the hedgerow garden. The serene interior was off putting at first, but it provided the perfect environment for Sunset and her classmates to delve deep into themselves to discover their primary elemental affiliation. If they wanted to grow as mages, Celestia had told them, they would have to become familiar with and eventually master the other basic elements.

Sunset remembered how hours would pass in the blink of an eye while contemplating even the simplest questions about which element would best suit her. When she became more accustomed with being inside the partition, what felt like a total of a few hours to realize her affiliation with fire actually took a month’s worth of meditation and then practice.

When she felt ready, her matches with the princess began. Bit by bit, classroom theory was put into practice. It took some time for Sunset to adjust to sparring in the partition’s environment, where the magical flow of Canterlot was cut off. Sunset likened it to the thin atmosphere that existed at high altitudes. But before long, it wasn’t as difficult to “breathe” while casting spells. While she couldn’t conjure as well as she did outside of the partition, her mana reserves had definitely increased since she began the training.

Before she knew it they had already taken their starting positions. Sunset looked ahead about fifty feet where Celestia always stood. “You may begin,” Celestia announced in a neutral tone and hard to read expression on her face.

Sunset gave a simple nod in reply. Although prepared, she stood in place, unable to shake off the tension that occurred the moment her teacher said those words. Even though she knew she was in no danger whatsoever, the memory of every past fight had been ingrained into her body. Made her stronger. Faster. More aware. Every stumble and fall, bruise and injury; each and every one of them was a lesson.

Sunset sent off a volley of magical blasts to start the match. Celestia batted them away easily enough with a basic arced shield, which only formed in the critical spots where the attack targeted, much like the paint trail following the stroke of a brush. Not at all surprised by the use of a fundamental defense spell, Sunset readied her next set of attacks by gathering the necessary mana at the tip of her horn.

Remembering from previous matches, Sunset knew she’d have to set up for her true attack from the get go. It took precise timing and a great amount of mana held in reserve, but from her research she figured out a combination that would let her earn her first point against the princess: a barrage of time delayed fireballs, five in total linked together by a thin, nearly imperceptible thread of magic; followed by a roaring carpet of flames that sprouted into a tower of fire that whirled toward Celestia.

She immediately attacked with the first two fireballs, watching them get within inches of the princess before exploding. Before the smoke cleared, the spiraling, roaring fire tower closed in. Sunset smiled from ear to ear but returned her focus to what still needed to be done. Each attack was to be stacked upon the next, in order to consume the air and fill the space of the partition in a blinding light. She knew for sure that just that wasn’t enough.

As the third linked fireball crashed and exploded into its target in the center of the partition floor, Sunset took advantage of the illumination of the encroaching fire tower by forming a barrier above them, one that spanned the entirety of the partition. A fourth explosion rang out, alerting Sunset that it was time for the last part of her combination. She took control of the remaining fireball with her magic and threw it toward the still spinning fire tower. The magic thread was caught on the tower, making the fireball it was connected to spin faster and faster. A simple use of telekinesis magic was all that was needed to redirect the spin to an upward trajectory. The fireball slammed against the barrier, causing it to shatter. Jagged pieces of dense energy rained down no differently than heavy broken glass, showering everything with a multitude of lethal force.

When the smoke finally cleared, Sunset balked and stumbled back in disbelief. “No…” she said when pearl white wings came into view. Every single spell. “No...way…” Had failed.

“No!” Sunset yelled in frustration. Celestia was completely unscathed. The alicorn didn’t even move from her spot. Sunset quickly jumped back, reacting to feeling the slightest shift in magic in the air.’ Her back started to tingle and hooves became itchy.

Her instincts were warning her, and Sunset immediately rushed rightward the instant a movement restriction spell activated where she was just standing. A net of chains sprang out from the ground to grasp for prey that just barely escaped. Just when she thought she could make her counter attack, the chains began to form into a bulb-like shape until they became a single huge, metallic venus fly trap.

It snapped at Sunset and writhed about to take chase every time she dodged its attack. The ground rumbled every time it moved and shook whenever its maw crashed harmlessly after missing its prey. Every so often she shot an opportunistic fire ball, only managing to singe it a bit. Anything stronger she could throw at it took too long before it had a chance to strike.

Thinking she would be able to keep maneuvering around the lumbering beast until she could position herself for a counter attack, Sunset gasped when she heard metallic clanging from behind her. Before she could react the chain beast’s tail whipped about to entangle her from her hind legs up to her torso and lifted up. Sunset screamed in surprise when the chains wrapped tightly around her, not only restricting her movement but squeezing tighter as though seriously trying to harm her. Sunset craned her neck toward her teacher only to see the neutral eyes of an opponent looking back.

Sunset grunted in effort, struggling to wiggle out and escape. Having failed that, she began instead on focusing as much of her mana to the surface as possible. She twisted and turned violently to shake the chain around her body loose for even just a moment before taking a deep breath in. “Let…GO!” She roared, releasing a torrent of flame that engulfed the chain beast.

It melted away from the sheer heat and ferocity of Sunset’s magic, barely able to let out a whimper in its death throes. ’The princess isn’t holding back, this time,’ Sunset thought. ’I can’t, either. But what if she summons something like that again? What if she does something else I’ve never seen before?’ She readied a variety of spells as insurance before she landed on her hooves but then canceled the enchantments when a sense of vertigo suddenly washed over her. It felt like the magic within her had a mind of its own and it wanted to surge out beyond her control. She would even go so far as to say that it wanted to envelop and possibly even consume her. The uneasiness made her head spin while she fought the urge to retch. The best way to describe it was a sort of hunger.

’Need. More...’, her mind raced with this thought. Her breathing became shallow and rapid like the air around her thinned. ’I can’t...I need more…power! At that moment, Sunset’s eyes glazed over. She became entirely focused on defeating the opponent before her. She needed to be faster. Stronger. Waves of heat radiated outward from body, turning the enclosed space into a sauna almost instantly.

Celestia sensed the change in her daughter and adjusted her footing, angling herself to a more aggressive stance. Sunset charged forward, effortlessly closing the distance then following up with a slam of her front hooves downward at the halt. The ground cracked and bubbled from the intense and immediate transfer of heat which surged out from the epicenter.

The princess evaded with ease, gliding to the left and out of the area affected by the attack. She motioned toward Sunset’s blind spot while never turning her back on her opponent. Sunset’s eyes followed Celestia’s movements effortlessly. She waited for the right moment to strike, tensing up her hind legs. Just as the princess moved to the edge of her vision, Sunset bucked her hooves, lobbing a blast of fire where she expected Celestia to be.

Wasting no time Sunset spun around while her weight was on her front hooves, using the inertia of her attack to do so. Not even a moment after her hind hooves touched the ground, Sunset charged once more, weaving through the sudden spate of attacks sent her way while she galloped at top speed. The cooler air around them crashed inward after being torn through by her movement, causing violent concussions and deafening thunder claps.

Celestia held her ground against the phenomena and unfurled her wings, answering with a single flap to counter the gale that surged towards her. This also stopped Sunset in her tracks, who had been riding the wave of the sonic boom, causing her to stumble. The moment her student managed to halt herself, Celestia flapped her wings a second time and dashed forward.

Sunset balked at the sudden turnaround. She strained her eyes to follow the princess but was forced to roll out of the way of whatever sort of spell that was shot at her. Several more attempts were made but she barely managed to escape each time. It was a much more aggressive tactic than Sunset was used to dealing with from the princess, but she nonetheless made sure not to underestimate her teacher. She looked around as quickly as she could, forced to only react to whatever Celestia’s next move was.

“Ooh, so close!” she heard Celestia call out. The taunt succeeded in drawing Sunset’s attention behind her. By the time she looked back over her shoulder, all she heard was “Gotcha!” before everything went black.

With her sleep spell in effect, Celestia caught her now-unconscious daughter in the crux of her left wing. She gingerly lowered her to the ground then took this opportunity to lay down beside the smaller pony. A short moment passed where it was only the quiet sound of breathing that cut through the silence. Celestia brushed back her daughter’s mane with her hoof after taking off a royal ornamental horseshoe. She was in awe of just how much stronger Sunset managed to become. Surely by leaps and bounds compared to the last time the she had to quell Sunset’s latent abilities. The attacks that the still growing pony displayed were a splendid sight to behold. With that in mind, she glanced up to see deep cracks where light from Canterlot managed to seep through. It was a wonder how the barrier managed to hold on just long enough. Things would most definitely have turned out differently if Sunset used more than just ability enhancement, Celestia thought to herself.

It wouldn’t be too long before getting the young mare to vent her growing powers became more difficult, but Celestia had hopes that Sunset was able to control herself before that happened. She wouldn’t even entertain what would happen otherwise.

“Sunset,” Celestia cooed to her daughter. “My little Sunset, it’s time to wake up.”

“Hmmm? Wha?” Sunset sat up, resting on her haunches. “...I...lost?” she asked, still trying to find her bearings.

“It seems that way,” Celestia said with a fond smile.

Hearing that, Sunset seemed a bit disappointed but not at all upset. “You’re steadily improving, Sunset. All thanks to your hard work, study and practice.” Celestia brushed the pony’s mane, earning a happy nicker from her. “You know, I’m feeling a bit peckish after all of that activity.”

“Yeah, same here,” Sunset admitted.

“Hmm, how about we…” Celestia stopped, however, when she took notice of the pony waiting just outside the barrier’s edge. Sunset sensed her distraction and looked in the same direction her mother did. Wordlessly they stepped out of the partition and Sunset braced herself for the surge of energy that was normally filling Canterlot. While a bit woozy, less so than when she was a filly at least, she saw a dark grey stallion in an attendant’s suit standing by.

“Pardon my interruption,” the stallion called out. “But the delegates have arrived, your highness.”

After acknowledging his message, Celestia turned back to her student, looking no worse for wear. “I’m sorry, Sunset. We’ll have to continue after my meeting.”

“Not a problem, princess. I understand. I’ll clear away the partition, as well.”

“That is most appreciated, Sunset,” Celestia said. She stopped for a moment to nuzzle the pony affectionately then returned to walking alongside the attendant back toward the palace.

The student remained in place for a full minute with a smile on her face before it was dropped. It hardly took a thought for the partition to dissipate behind her as she followed along as best she could after the princess and the attendant. The moment they entered the palace, Sunset rushed out from behind a set of hedges and snuck in as well.

Once she got through the doors, she hurried over to the first pillar on the other side of the hallway. She made sure to only step over the thick ornate rugs so her hooves didn’t strike against the bare floor. While it wasn’t completely unheard of for the princess to make use of the servant access hallways to travel the palace grounds without being seen by visiting delegations and well wishers, the princess’ gait was much faster than usual. Not only that, but for a supposed delegation that had gathered for a meeting important enough for Celestia’s presence, there was a complete lack of activity by royal workers bringing glasses, cutlery, hors d'oeuvres, etc. to and fro from wherever the meeting was taking place—likely because it was an unplanned or even unannounced meeting, Sunset supposed. An emergency session, perhaps? The only reason she could think of related to the Neighagara Falls attack. Regardless, Sunset would have no way of knowing if she didn’t make it into the conference room.

Never one to try some elaborate alternate route, Sunset decided on going in through the main door. She had only watched Trixie do this a few times, but Sunset warped the light around herself and rendered herself invisible. It felt like she was wearing a cloak that would fly away the moment she let her concentration slip. Once she was satisfied with her work, Sunset resumed following after them. Getting past the increased guard presence was easy enough to manage. She paused for the unicorn guards to pass by and cautiously moved ahead as the pegasi stallions neared. However to be safe she remained as far back as possible

Unicorns could passively catch the subtle trails of magic much like how a pegasus can feel for the wind to carry themselves aloft. However the sensitivity to such trails depended on a number of factors such as the breadth of one’s magical knowledge or the development of their magical circuits to sense the magic around them.

She only chanced a peek at first, moving the door slightly ajar to look into the room. Dozens of voices could be heard. When she was sure there was a clear path, she stepped inside, closing the door behind her, and made her way over to the other end where a series of pillars offered additional cover in case the cloaking spell was broken or to mask as unintended movement of hers. From her vantage point toward the back of the downward sloping room, Sunset took note that while a few of the hundred-or-so seats were taken by representatives and diplomats of their respective kingdoms and races, spots at the table in the front of the room were occupied by projections of leaders themselves, namely: the First Prince Garland of the Northeastern Mountains, Lord Bristlecone of the Western Forest, and Madame Pele of the Southern Isles.

The three of them created a heavy atmosphere to the gathering, yet Princess Celestia’s presence alone managed to prevent the air from getting stifling. “I’d like to welcome you all to the humble kingdom of Equestria. I am especially thankful of your attendance given the extreme short-notice of the event.

“We are glad to see you well after news of the dastardly attack on your citizens, your Highness,” Garland began to say. His greeting prompted the other dignitaries to engage with their own comments, which Sunset saw managed to elicit a polite smile from the princess. After waiting for the gathering to quiet down, the imposing-looking griffon continued. “In fact, you have but to send word and our warriors will join you on your counter-attack.”

“I seem to have been mistaken,” Celestia said almost immediately, in a calm and even tone. “While your intent brings great warmth to my heart, young Garland, there will be no such counter-attack. I would rather settle this with words and diplomacy, not violence. Patience will be key, not the determination to use force.”

Garland let out a low growl then asked with increasing intensity, “Why do you hesitate so? Drop this pretext of kindness and respond in kind! We must show the Empire that we are not weak, lest others suffer the same fate but with much more dire consequences. Unlike Equestria, we smaller nations of the coalition can neither shrug off the damage and embarrassment of a willful intrusion on our lands, nor muster the power to repel any invaders!”

“Are you implying that my Federation is unable or dare I say it, too incompetent to come to your aid in a time of need, dear friend?” Chancellor Tapioca asked, not with any malice in his tone, but mischievous curiosity as his lips curled into a sly grin.

“This is exactly why the scholarship program should be expanded so more of our own can be prepared!” one of the diplomats in the middle of the congregation called out, taking the opportunity to voice her suggestion of a solution. “The coalition benefits when all of its members can take part in its defense, which begins with training and education. The future of our children depends on it!”

She was all but ignored as Garland squawked back defensively, “Casting aspersions does your entire nation a disservice, Chancellor!”

“My, my, Your Highness, no need to be so wound up,” Tapioca gave a wry assurance to the flustered-looking griffon. It didn’t take much more than that to set the rest of the room off. Sunset watched with amazement at how the dignitaries around her were quick to bicker and gripe about every little thing.

“We were just about to come to Neighagara Falls’ rescue!”

“There needs to be some sort of action, taken!”

“Won’t somebody please think of the children?!”

“It pains me to sound like a broken record, but patience is key,” Celestia stated calmly and rationally. To that single sentence, silence swept over the whole room like a fog, catching everyone’s attention and directing it toward the princess. The thin veil of politeness that Sunset recognized in the princess’ tone made the student instinctively gulp. The open arguing amongst the diplomats and dignitaries turned into hushed whispers and mutterings.

“An easy thing for you to say, don’t you think?” Garland muttered under his breath. “Able to both use magic and fly, not to mention tha-…” It took only the quickest of glances from Celestia to make him sputter in surprise mid-complaint.

The other representatives turned silent as tension settled onto the meeting. “Very well,” The princess’ voice finally sounded out amidst a light sigh. A dignified smile returned to her expression as she continued. “A full convention must be held before any further discussions are to be made. I shall leave the finer details regarding scheduling in your very capable hooves.” She aimed a kind glance to her diplomats who all bowed at the attention.

“Yes, Your Highness,” the mare that led Equestria’s five pony diplomatic corps responded.

In that very instant the fog lifted and a more animated discourse filled the air about the logistics and planning required to see Princess Celestia’s “suggestion” through. The projections of Garland, Bristlecone and Pele disappeared after a quick and quiet word with the princess. After some formalities, the room began to clear out.

Sunset was amazed by Celestia’s deft management of the political battlefield. Not just a moment ago trepidation and anxiety of some sort could be seen among all of the representatives. By the end of the meeting, a number of agreements were made on all matters of things. Least of which was a greater gathering to discuss the Crystal Empire issue.

When the last of the Equestrian diplomats left the room, Celestia looked over in her direction. Sunset froze, unsure what it meant. “You did that quite well” Celestia finally said. “However, I’d ask Trixie how to cover up your shadow, next time. ” Dumbfounded, Sunset looked to the floor and saw that her shadow was still visible. She cursed her failure in missing that little detail. She couldn’t imagine what would have happened if she had tried to use the spell for the first time in a situation with real danger. Regardless of her personal frustrations, Sunset stepped out of the cloaking spell since she was caught.

Celestia didn’t seem at all angry or upset as Sunset became visible once more. Rather, she seemed expectant to hear from her student. With this thought Sunset asked the first thing that came to mind. “So is it true...about the Crystal Empire?”

Celestia said immediately, “You’re to keep quiet of what you’ve seen and heard during the meeting and continue your lessons. Nothing more, Sunset.”

“Well of course I will, princess,” Sunset said in an excited manner. “It’s just that…”

“Am I clear on that, young lady?”

Sunset halted when she took notice of Celestia’s tone and lowered her head until she made a proper, formal bow. “Yes, your Highness.” Without needing further instruction, the young mare showed herself out of the meeting room.

As she walked down the hall back to her room, Sunset felt her back and hooves tingle as the trails of magic around her felt more prominent than usual.

Author's Note:

Maybe next chap will be out sooner than 3 months...who knows?