An important note before reading:
At the time of writing the ending of Enchanted Library, there wasn’t supposed to be an actual separation between TEL and its sequel TEK. Both would be in the same story file on Fimfiction, therefore the chapter before this wasn’t “really” the ending of TEL.
This interlude (and its tone) was written with that in mind, something to bridge the gap between Part 1 and Part 2 (now known as TEL and TEK), and to set up a lot of the themes of TEK/Part 2.
Carousel Boutique had never looked emptier and, in fact, it had never been emptier. Most of her things had already been carted away, taken to the train that would lead her to a new life away from Ponyville. Away from her family. Away from the Everfree Forest, and away from… her.
“Rarity… I don’t want you to go…”
Trotting out of Carousel Boutique, Rarity stopped and embraced the little filly trailing behind her, whose hot tears stained her elder sister’s coat. Pinkie Pie was outside already, suitcases littered beside her, containing the rest of Rarity’s entire life.
Well. Not her entire life. The most important part of it was still in the Everfree Forest, but…
“Aww, it’s okay, Sweetie,” Pinkie said sympathetically, her ears lowering. “Rarity will still visit lots! And we’re coming back next Friday to do all the drawings for Princess Twilight, remember?! We’ll fill the tunnel with so many of them, she’ll have to come out!”
Sweetie Belle sniffled, burying her face in Rarity’s coat. “I don’t care.”
“Sweetheart, you know I must. Princess Luna needs help,” Rarity murmured, finally, every word weighing down on her heart. She held the filly closer and rubbed her back in soothing motions. “And Pinkie’s right! I shan’t be away for too long! What would I do without my precious baby sister?”
“What if…” Sweetie sniffled, clutching her sister with as much strength as she could. “What if you… What if you don’t come back, like Princess Twilight?”
Rarity’s answer caught in her throat, and heavens, she thought she was over it, but there were the tears, stinging at her eyes. Six months now, six months of not allowing herself to think of Princess Twilight Sparkle, and still her heart cracked with a simple sentence.
“I’m not leaving forever, Sweetie,” she whispered, picking up her little sister and nuzzling her because oh, she wished somepony had been there to nuzzle her as she sat by a black barrier months ago. “You have my word on that.”
After a minute, she put the filly down and let out a long sigh, looking over her suitcases. “I believe this is all, isn’t it?” she thought aloud, running through her mental checklist of things to take to Hollow Shades.
“Yep! I got aaaaaall your suitcases from aaaaaall your rooms,” Pinkie said, getting up and hopping in place. “We can take them to the train station now, though, and wait there until everypony comes to say goodbye!”
Rarity swallowed. Goodbye.
A word she’d come to loathe. A word that wounded her constantly. A word she never got to say to…
“Splendid!” she said, cutting off her poisonous thoughts and forcing a smile. She couldn’t allow herself to fall back. She’d held strong for six months now, and she had to continue now more than ever.
She looked up, and a warm smile spread across her lips at the sight of a black owl flying toward her and landing on her outstretched hoof.
“Well, well, if it isn’t Themis! I was wondering where you were, you silly thing!” she exclaimed, raising an eyebrow at the bird. After everything was said and done, he was her pet as much as he was… She cleared her throat and continued, “I’d have been quite sad to leave without saying goodbye!”
The owl hooted, adjusting his wings against his body.
“Though, I notice somepony else is missing,” she said, looking around, toward the top of the boutique and the nearby trees. “Wherever is Elara? I’d like to say goodbye to her, too.”
“You know where she is,” Sweetie Belle murmured, sniffling and pawing at the ground. “She’s always there.”
Again, Rarity’s heart fell.
“Ah, yes,” she said, and after she’d coaxed Themis into the air, her hoof landed on the necklace hanging on her chest. A silly pink necklace that had not glowed brightly for a long, long time. “I…” She paused, licking her lips and looking toward the distant forest. “I… I should go and say goodbye, then.”
“To both of them, right?” Pinkie asked with a sad smile, and it felt to Rarity as if the wounds in her heart had been opened anew.
She looked toward a nearby suitcase and levitated the folded cloak resting on it.
“To both of them.”
She knew the forest like the back of her hoof now, if only because she travelled it every three days. Or had, at least. She wouldn’t anymore.
She knew every path, every corner, every trail that led to a place—or pony—she once thought of as home. She’d once heard or read, she didn’t quite remember, that ponies went through certain stages of grief after the death of a loved one.
And that was, essentially, what she’d gone through, hadn’t she?
And now she had to face the last stage.
The tree appeared in the distance, a symbol that had once stood for hope and love but now stood for… for the mistake she’d made. Six months seemed short in the grand scheme of things, but six months was long enough for a pony to think, and think, and think, and think.
What she could have said.
What she should have said.
All the things she could have done that might have prevented the attack.
All the things she could have said that might have saved Twilight from… from whatever fate she was currently experiencing.
Was she in pain? Was she hurting? Was she still alive? The necklace was still glowing, but that last thought consumed Rarity. Clawed away at her sanity until she’d forced herself to block it out lest she fall into the same pitch-black depression she’d had to fight off when she was cursed.
She understood, now, what it was to blame oneself for something.
She made her way toward the trapdoor, lighting up her horn, and when she descended, her heart shrank at the distant tapping sound. Oh, Elara, she thought, and so too did her ears fall when she found a small white owl pecking away at the barrier, several inkwells beside her.
Elara turned around, blinking at Rarity before helplessly hooting twice and looking back and forth between Rarity and the barrier. She walked to one of the nearby inkwells and pushed it with her wings, trying to make it go through the barrier.
Goodness, it was hard.
“Elara, dearest, she’s go…” She faltered, because it hurt. It hurt to say it, to think it, to accept it, but accept it she must. Was that not the last stage of grief? “Waiting here isn’t good for you,” she continued, and in the back of her mind, she knew the owl wasn’t the only one who needed to hear that.
But Elara protested, hooting loudly and pressing the inkwell against the barrier again.
Tears burned at Rarity’s eyes, and so she stepped forward, watching as the owl moved away and gave her a clear path to the barrier. It was like a wall, black and crackling, and to think that Twilight was on the other side… So close, so painfully close, and as far away as she’d ever be, but now…
Now, Rarity could wait no longer. She needed to help the others. She needed to help, or her own thoughts would consume her like they did Princess Twilight Sparkle.
After putting the cloak on the floor, she pressed her forehead against the barrier, and though it crackled at her touch, it did not reject her. She breathed, in and out, in and out, and with all the pain in the world, spoke up.
“Twilight?” she said, defeated, pleading. “Twilight, darling, I don’t know if you can hear me, but…” A pain shot through her. “I’m leaving. I can’t stay here anymore.”
She kept talking, and as she spoke, as she tried to justify her departure, she wondered if her actions were having any consequence or effect, because now it felt like she’d only made things worse. Now, standing there, a part of her echoed Twilight’s words in a reluctant whisper.
Maybe it would have been better if they never met.
When she finished talking, she held her breath and swallowed, tears streaming down her face. One day, she hoped, they would stop. Her horn lit up, and the necklace brightened, but when no pony replied, she breathed out and spoke up.
“Goodbye, my darling.” Another pause. “I miss you.”
And then, finally, she leaned back, getting up and stepping away from the barrier. She took the cloak and neatly placed it next to the inkwells, brushing her hoof over the note pinned to it. She would never wear it again.
After a moment, she took a deep breath, trying to steady her thoughts, and looked down at Elara, who now sat by the barrier.
“Elara? Will you come with me?” she asked.
Though the owl hooted softly, she did not move.
A tired smile swept across Rarity’s face. “Are you sure?” she asked, and when the owl hooted again, held in place, she took another deep breath. “You know…” She looked toward the stairs in the distance. “My train isn’t due to leave for a few hours yet.”
She moved back toward the barrier and sat opposite the owl.
“Would you mind if I wait with you for a while?”