An eternity seemed to pass by for Rarity as she and the princess engaged in an impromptu staring contest, the little owl looking back and forth between the two mares.
“Are you the Book Bringer?” the princess asked, receiving no answer from the shocked unicorn.
Things were not going the way Rarity had imagined they would. Granted, she had never actually planned on meeting the spirit of an Equestrian princess, but she would have expected more… screaming and soul-banishing. At least she could relax a bit seeing that the princess’ stare was not one of hatred or anger.
It was more a look of curiosity and a smidge of… annoyance? It seemed to Rarity that the alicorn was assessing the situation, which, all things considered, was thus far much better than she’d previously envisioned it. Her soul could have been banished to the pits of Tartarus for trespassing, or she could have been turned into a specter herself, but so far so good.
The princess shook her head.
“No, you can’t be. You were in the cosmology section, and he would never be looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place,” the princess finally said, changing the topic of conversation in a matter-of-fact tone. She paused for a moment, as if waiting for a sign of Rarity’s understanding, but when the confused mare failed to offer such a sign, the princess elaborated: “You were searching for a book on geology in the cosmology section.”
Those were some of the first words the princess said to her, and to possibly anypony else, in several centuries. One might have thought she would have gone for “who are you?” or “what are you doing here?” or the ever-popular “how dare you intrude on my place of eternal slumber, foolish mortal?! Begone!”
Instead, she had opted for…
“—and the books on gemstones are in the geology section, which is the five-hundred-fifty-first class under the Star Swirl Decimal Classification, whereas cosmology is the one-hundred-thirteenth class.”
…a scolding lecture on the Star Swirl Decimal Classification, apparently.
Rarity wasn’t sure how exactly she was supposed to react, or what to say, or what to do. Thankfully, she didn’t have to think too much about it; just as the princess finished her speech, the owl flew over to Rarity, took its favorite spot atop her head, and curiously tapped her ear with its wing.
“Themis!” the princess exclaimed indignantly, floating down onto the bookcase and stomping her hoof against it. “You’re not supposed to get friendly with intruders until I’ve finished questioning them!” She turned to Rarity and asked again, “You aren’t the Book Bringer, are you?”
It took Rarity a bit to process that she was being addressed by the princess, especially when she was still processing everything else about the situation. “Th-the Book Bringer?”
When Rarity shook her head, the princess narrowed her eyes. “If you’re not him, then why have you come here?”
Rarity opened and closed her mouth several times. Wasn’t that the million-bit question? Why had she been compelled to go down into the tree and see whatever it contained? Curiosity had been a large part of it, yes, but there had been something else. The Legend of the Four Princesses had once been the bedtime story Rarity would fall asleep to every night as a filly. Perhaps it wasn’t so much curiosity as it was the little filly inside her, still wanting to rescue the princesses from her bedtime stories.
The princess furrowed her brow and lifted her hoof, as if to stamp it against the top of the bookcase again. “For me?!” she exclaimed in a deeply shocked and angered voice. But then, her anger faded and made way for a surprised expression. “…For me,” she repeated softly, lowering both her hoof and her ears. She sat down on her hind legs and blinked at Rarity. “Me?” she whispered, putting a forehoof on her muzzle and frowning. “Nopony’s ever come back for me… Except for Disc—”
Rarity never heard the end of the sentence; the princess quickly stood back up and flared her wings, gritting her teeth and glaring. “Why me?” she asked in a cold and defensive voice, her horn starting to glow. “What more do you want with me? How can you be back?! You were defeated!”
“B-be back?! D-defeated?” Rarity backed up several steps over the spilled contents of her saddlebag, levitating the magazine from the floor to use as a makeshift shield. She was too young and beautiful to be blown to smithereens by an angered spirit! “I-I’ve never in my life been here before! I was only looking for my younger sister in the Everfree Forest, and I stumbled into your library!”
“Liar!” the princess snapped, the glow of her magic intensifying. It was then that she looked down at the crown lying next to Rarity, and when she looked at the unicorn again, it was as if her fury had somehow tripled. “Where did you get that?! It is you!”
“No! I found it next to the tree!” Rarity pleaded, shaking her head. “I give you my word! I was just curious!” Her justification, however, went very much unheard and uncared for.
The furious princess stamped her hoof on the top of the bookcase. “Stop lying to me!” she demanded, picking Rarity up with her magic and slamming her into the nearest bookcase as if the unicorn were nothing more than a ragdoll. The bookcase groaned and swayed with the impact, and if Rarity hitting the bookcase full-force and face-first wasn’t enough, the impact loosened a hail of volumes atop her.
Her landing came with a loud thud, dust poofing out from in between the books, and she coughed and wheezed as the dust settled around her. Trying to move her left foreleg brought with it shooting pain, suddenly and sharply enough to cause her eyes to tear up.
At the sound of the princess’ voice, Rarity’s eyes flew open and she held her breath, her thoughts running at a thousand miles a minute as she tried to think of a way out, away from the incensed alicorn spirit. She could run to the exit and possibly provoke another attack, or she could remain motionless and hope for the princess’ rage to subside. Neither option sounded particularly appealing, but before she could make her decision, the voice came again.
“Why aren’t you defending yourself? Is this another trick?”
Despite her fear, Rarity finally—and painfully—turned around to look at the princess. The mare stared back at Rarity, her ears and wings strong and flared, but with a hint of hesitation in her eyes.
“W-what?” was all Rarity managed—dared—to get out.
“Why are you here?!” the princess asked. Her voice made it clear that she brooked no argument, but the murderous rage had faded from her posture. “Who are you?”
“R-Rarity!” Rarity blurted out. “I’m not this Discord pony you keep accusing me of being!”
The princess took a step back on the bookcase, wings slowly lowering. “You’re not Dis—? I-I…”
Rarity glanced from the princess to the exit, wondering if she could make it before the alicorn figured out what was going on. Considering her currently distracted look, it seemed that this would be the only chance Rarity would get if she wanted to get out alive. And though having a twisted ankle wasn’t ideal for running away—not to mention her now throbbing headache—fear outweighed the pain, and she decided she’d rather risk another attack than stay in the library for another second. She got up and, biting down a gasp at the pain in her foreleg, made a dash for the exit.
Four steps from the tunnel out, the princess’ voice caught up with her, followed in short order by the rest of her, which teleported in front of the exit. Rarity’s path to freedom was blocked, but she wouldn’t give up that easily. Taking a deep breath, she summoned what magical strength she had; likely it wouldn’t do much to a spirit princess, but it could at least give her the opening she needed. Barely cognizant of the fact that she stepped over her discarded items, Rarity focused her magic into a concussive blast that hit the princess square in the face.
As expected, the spell did little more than distract the alicorn slightly. That, however, was enough. Rarity inhaled a deep breath of air, heart beating thunderously in her chest, and rushed not past, but through the princess. She trotted toward the stairs as fast as her injured hoof would allow, but just a few yards away from the stairs, the princess’ voice reached her.
“Wait! Please don’t go!”
Rarity stopped dead in her tracks. Unable to help herself, she looked back and saw the princess standing on the other end of the tunnel. The princess raised her hoof, almost as if to try to step through the tunnel, but when she did, a translucent pink barrier crackled into existence and forced her to step back, her ears falling.
“Please. I’m sorry. Please don’t go,” the princess said to her—pleaded with her—voice cracking.
Rather than respond, however, Rarity turned away. She climbed the stairs two steps at a time and soon enough saw the light of day… freedom.
She let out a long breath of air as soon as she jumped out of the hole in the ground. She had no idea what she had done to provoke the ghost into attacking her, or who this Discord pony was, but she didn’t care. Her wits and strength had been enough.
Knowing she would never again have to go through any of that was more than enough to make up for the pain in her leg. I’ll be safe at home in less than twenty minutes, she thought, trotting toward Ponyville and already visualizing the comfort of Carousel Boutique. And the princess can attack whomever else she so likes, and stay in that library alone for… the rest of eternity…
Despite her best efforts to forget the entire affair, she couldn’t stop picturing the forlorn princess, nor could she stop hearing her pleas to not be left alone. She came to a halt and looked back to the trapdoor, ears pressed against her head and biting her lip.
It… didn’t make sense, did it?
If the princess had wanted to kill her, wouldn’t she have done so the moment she saw Rarity? Moreover, why would the princess have saved her from the towers of falling books? There had been enough encyclopedias to knock Rarity out, and it would have been much easier to get rid of her when she was helpless to defend herself.
Why hadn’t she attacked sooner?
“So you met the princess, did you?”
She turned back to the hatch and found a stallion standing nearby. He wore a dark cloak with a cowl that covered most of his face, revealing only a warm, yet weary smile. What little she could see of his coat was more grey than the ocher yellow it must have been in his youth. Combined with the long luxurious beard, it seemed like he was far past his prime, but still light on his feet, given how far the nearest home was.
Rarity took a fearful step back, prompting the old stallion to raise his hoof. “Don’t be afraid, please! I mean no harm. I often take walks through this forest, and I was merely curious about your presence considering not many ponies dare wander near here.”
“W-who are you?” Rarity asked, taking another step back. What was it with the Everfree Forest and ponies that seemed to have been plucked straight out of fairy tales—literally? Something about the stallion made her think of the princess’ question. “Are you the Book Bringer?”
The stallion laughed. “Is that what she calls me?” He stroked his beard, smiling softly. “How delightfully fitting! My ancestors and I must have brought her thousands of books already! And if these old bones don’t give up on me yet, I may still bring hundreds more!”
Hundreds of books? That meant the Book Bringer—and apparently his entire family—must have been coming for centuries already, yet… “How is it possible she’s never seen you? It was no fewer than ten minutes before she was following me around.”
The Book Bringer tilted his head. “Ah, but you touched her books, didn’t you? You could have wandered around inside the library for weeks, and she wouldn’t have noticed your presence until you disturbed her books.” He looked past Rarity and to the trapdoor. “I’m not surprised, however! Living in that library for centuries and centuries with nothing but those books to keep her company? They are as much a part of her as she is a part of them.
He glanced at Rarity’s hoof when she hissed upon stepping forward. He shook his head and sighed. “Tsk, tsk. Still so quick to judge, aren’t we, Princess Twilight? I suppose that’s another reason I’ve delayed meeting her. I daresay I would have much more than an injured hoof if she thought I was him.”
“Him?” Rarity asked, curiosity about who the princess had mistaken her for piqued now that she was out of harm’s way.
The Book Bringer blinked at her. “Haven’t you figured it out yet?” He stroked his beard again and furrowed his brow. “Now, how did that section go?” Eyes widening, he smiled victoriously. “Ah-hah!” He straightened himself up, cleared his throat and recited: “‘The youngest princess hid in a secret library of her own design, buried underneath a growing oak tree. However, mere days before she left on her quest, a nearby villager revealed her location to the Spirit, who had been disguised as a traveling pony.’”
Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of the Spirit? Rarity asked herself. All of the princess’ accusations and reactions made sense now.
“What a terrible fate to be met with,” he went on. “Trapped in a library alone for the rest of eternity? No way out, and no one to talk with but two owls who can’t answer back? Is that any different from talking to oneself, I wonder? And now the poor filly’s fears have scared off yet another pony.” He sighed again, shaking his head. “What a lonely existence.”
The more the stallion spoke, the more Rarity felt sorry for… Princess Twilight. Could she be blamed for acting so harshly when she thought Rarity was the Spirit? And after that, how contrite she had looked over attacking her.
“Yet you’re still here!”
The Book Bringer’s sorrowful expression had vanished, replaced with an amused one. “Delightful, aren’t they, life’s coincidences? For you to have met Princess Twilight on Seeking Night of all nights? It almost feels like a fairy tale!” His smile grew. “Your very own fairy tale!”
Goodness, that did sound enticing, didn’t it? Her own personal adventure, right out of a novel. Rarity bit her lip and glanced toward the tree. “But…” She looked back to the Book Bringer. “The fairy tale… It doesn’t say a thing about how to free them—the princesses.”
“‘What the Spirit did not know, however,’” the old stallion began to recite, “‘was that, when the lost heirlooms of the Princess of Magic were returned to their rightful place in the depths of the library tree, the spell keeping the princess trapped would be broken, and peace would be restored to the land.’”
Rarity frowned, opening and closing her mouth several times. “B-but… I’ve never heard that part before,” she murmured. “That can’t be right!”
The Book Bringer chuckled. “Ponies, I’m afraid, are rather forgetful creatures, and it has been perhaps more than a thousand years since the events of the tale took place. Things become lost with time, amongst them the truth of what truly happened so long ago. I might venture to say that there must be more than fifty different versions of the tale, if not hundreds more!”
“But then which one is the right one?” Rarity asked, taking a step toward the stallion.
He merely laughed in return. “Why ask me? I wasn’t alive when it happened! I realize I don’t look very young, but I can assure you I’m not that old, filly!” he replied. “However, I luckily happen to know a regretful princess who could tell you what really happened!” He smiled and pointed down at the ground below Rarity. “I doubt she’s forgotten what led to her imprisonment, do you?”
He cleared his throat and adjusted his cape. “I must be off now, however. It’s getting late, and the missus has a ghastly temper when I stay out too late! I often worry she’d like nothing more than to blast the living daylights out of me!” he added with a wink. He cleared his throat again and turned around. “Well, then! Farew—”
“B-but wait!” Rarity called out. “If you know all this, why haven’t you tried looking for these lost heirlooms?”
The Book Bringer laughed. “Oh, I’ve tried! Without much luck, unfortunately. But you…” He smiled and stroked his beard. “I have a tingly feeling you might succeed where I failed, my little pony.”
“But how do you know all this? Why haven’t you eve—”
“Now, now, there’ll be time for that later!” he interrupted, nodding toward the tree. “So long as you continue coming here, then I promise we will see each other again! If not, then I suppose Princess Twilight will simply have to wait for another to help her, won’t she?”
With that, he trotted off, leaving Rarity alone with her thoughts and his parting words. She could leave now and go home to Ponyville, but… she wasn’t so sure she wanted to leave anymore. Could she even leave now, knowing what she knew? She turned toward the trapdoor and stared at it.
“Please don’t go.”
She couldn’t stop hearing it. What if… What if Princess Twilight was still sitting there, waiting for her to come back? Finally, sighing and sure that she must have lost her mind, Rarity used her magic to open the trapdoor and stepped inside.
Crazy is what I am, she thought, going down the stairs as fast as her injured hoof would permit. Delirious, she continued, trotting toward the light at the end of the tunnel. She tried not to think too much of what that expression usually implied.
When she reached the end of the tunnel, she waved her hoof near the entrance and, once no barrier appeared, carefully peeked inside. She found Princess Twilight sitting next to a table in the distance, the owl—Themis, was it?—hopping around and looking at the magazine with interest. All of Rarity’s other items had been picked up and put on the table, as well.
Princess Twilight sighed and levitated Rarity’s magazine, squinting at the cover. “What do you think a ‘Manehattan’ is?” she asked aloud, putting the magazine down to look at Themis, who simply hooted in reply. The princess stared at him for a moment before she picked the magazine back up and, without warning, flung it toward the wall with a frustrated breath.
But just as it was about to land against a bookcase, Princess Twilight stopped it and slowly brought it back to the table, bowing her head and sighing at the same time. Rarity almost felt offended that a magazine was receiving better treatment than she had—but then again, it had cost twenty-five bits, and maybe she was actually grateful Princess Twilight hadn’t damaged it.
“It’s a city,” Rarity said, surprising both the princess and herself with the statement. “Manehattan, it’s a city.”
The princess and Themis both turned and stared at Rarity as if she were the ghost in the room. “You’re… still here?” the princess asked, standing and walking toward Rarity. She opened and closed her mouth several times, apparently at a loss for words.
Rarity cleared her throat. “Ah, yes…” She took a tentative step inside the room, wincing as she stepped on her injured hoof. She noticed Princess Twilight winced as well—hopefully feeling some regret for what she’d done. “I… It’s not every night one meets a… princess!” Rarity continued, hoping her laugh didn’t sound as nervous to Princess Twilight as it did to her.
Princess Twilight merely stared at her with a blank expression.
Deciding to ignore the princess’ apparent shock, Rarity pointed toward her issue of Manehattanite Style: Fashion Week Collection resting on the table. “A ‘Manehattanite’ is somepony who lives in the city of Manehattan,” she elaborated, taking a step back when the alicorn took one toward her. The action did not go unnoticed by the alicorn, who quickly backtracked. After a moment, Rarity continued, “That’s the city’s bi-monthly fashion magazine.”
That seemed to be enough to snap the alicorn out of her trance. Her ears perked up almost immediately at this piece of new information. “Magazine?” She looked down at the booklet and opened it, leafing through the pages with interest. As she did so, Rarity stood around awkwardly for a minute or so until Princess Twilight started speaking again.
“I’ve never seen a book like this one! Where does the word magazine come from? And these illustrations are so vivid. Do your artists use magic to replicate life so well? Is it very advanced magic?” She picked up the magazine and tapped the cover. “What kind of parchment is this made with?” Suddenly, she teleported next to Rarity, nearly scaring her half to death, and opened the magazine again. She showed Rarity a picture of a model posing and pointed at the camera hanging from the model’s neck. “What is this?”
“Er, that’s a photographic camera,” Rarity stammered, suddenly vividly aware of the fact that it had gotten very cold with the princess next to her. “Those ‘illustrations’ are photographs taken with the camera.” She couldn’t help throwing sideways glances at the inquisitive pony, admittedly still not completely used to Princess Twilight’s sudden and drastic change in attitude. Perhaps drastic mood swings were something that came included with the whole ghost-princess package.
Does she still count as a princess if she’s been… dead for centuries? Does being transformed into a spirit count as dying? Princess Twilight certainly didn’t look dead. Weren’t ghosts supposed to be more… transparent, as well as deathly pale?
Princess Twilight nodded slowly. “Photographic camera.” She teleported back to her previous spot next to the table, sat down and then looked back toward the rows and rows of bookcases. “Elara, please bring me fresh parchment!” she called out before returning to the magazine, a large book appearing next to her on the table.
Before Rarity could even ask herself who this “Elara” pony was, her answer came in the form of a loud hoot. Another small owl—a white one, this time—flew up the staircase spiraling up from the floor below, carrying in her claws a worn-out bag with branches sticking out its opening. How in the heavens was that supposed to be fresh parchment?
Once Elara was close enough, Princess Twilight levitated the branches out of the bag, and with a spark of her horn, turned them into three sheets of parchment. She leafed through the pages of Rarity’s magazine and took notes, every once in a while opening her own book to apparently get a reference. She was completely lost in her own world and only occasionally made some comments to Themis and Elara. The latter had landed on the table and now busied herself with taking loose sheets in her beak and piling them together in a neat bunch.
With Princess Twilight completely ignoring her, Rarity took the time to properly look around now that the library was well lit. She was curious about the floor below and wondered just how deep the library actually went. How many floors filled with books and secrets lay buried beneath the ground?
And yet, she felt it would be wrong to explore the library without Princess Twilight’s consent. It was, for all intents and purposes, the princess’ home, and snooping around somepony’s home without their permission was generally considered a rude thing to do.
“Princess Twilight?” she called, trying to rouse the pony from her expedition into the world of modern fashion. Her attempt was to no avail as the princess was too busy writing down something she had read in the magazine. After a minute passed with Rarity receiving no answer or sign of having been heard, she raised her voice a bit and called again, “Er, Princess Twilight?”
Like something out of a horror story, Princess Twilight and her two owls turned to look at her with completely blank expressions. Immediately regretting having interrupted them and fighting the urge to leave right that moment, Rarity tried to clear her throat and asked: “I was wondering if I may take a look around? I’ll be sure not to move anything.”
Princess Twilight looked at the library and then to Rarity. “I… You may,” she replied finally, putting down the quill she had been writing with.
“Then, please don’t let me bother you further,” Rarity quickly said.
The princess had been pretty enraptured in whatever she had been writing, and Rarity didn’t want to be an annoyance that could be swiftly thrown against a bookcase again. She felt some modicum of relief when the princess turned back to the table and picked up the quill, but the relief quickly vanished when the princess looked at her again, apparently at a loss of what to do.
“Enjoy the magazine,” Rarity continued, hoping that would be enough to solve Princess Twilight’s dilemma.
She looked around and caught a glimpse of the staircases at the end of the row of bookcases. That was the place she wanted to look at first. Her curiosity piqued, she trotted off—or would have, if she hadn’t been reminded of her injured hoof. The second she moved, a sharp pain raced up her foreleg, and she let out a surprised, pained gasp.
This was enough for the alicorn to put down her quill. She teleported over to Rarity and was too busy looking at the injured hoof to notice the fear that flashed briefly across the unicorn’s eyes. “Does it hurt much?” Princess Twilight asked, looking up at Rarity with an expression almost bordering on concerned.
“Not at all!” Rarity lied, betrayed by involuntary winces when she trotted in circles to demonstrate how definitely not painful it was. When she stopped, she turned to the princess and laughed nervously as Princess Twilight raised her eyebrow, unimpressed by Rarity’s acting skills.
A book appeared next to Princess Twilight and she used her magic to quickly leaf through the pages. “There’s a healing spell here that should eliminate the pain,” she explained. She finally stopped at a page and squinted her eyes to read the fine print. “Please stay still.” She turned to look at Rarity and her horn started glowing.
Rarity wanted to stop herself, but the second she saw Princess Twilight’s horn light up, she was helpless to keep from closing her eyes and desperately crossing her forelegs in front of herself. “No, no, no! Please, no! I’m fine, please, don’t use your magic, please!” she exclaimed, backtracking despite the pain of doing so.
When she finally looked again, regret washed over her. Whereas Rarity had tried to hide her pain moments ago, Princess Twilight was unable to do so. Her ears were pressed against her skull, and more than outrage or confusion at Rarity’s reaction, there was hurt.
“P-Princess Twilight, I… I didn’t…”
Just like that, every ounce of emotion vanished from her face. “I apologize,” she continued, the floating book closing instantly and disappearing. Without another word, she teleported back to the table, took the quill and started writing. Or started pretending to write, at least, considering she hadn’t dipped the quill in ink even once during the minutes that passed afterward.
Rarity felt absolutely awful. The princess had only tried to help, and what had she done? Recoiled like a terrified filly. If she left right now, Princess Twilight probably wouldn’t even try to stop her.
“Princess Twilight?” she finally called out. She swallowed hard when the alicorn suddenly stopped writing but continued to stare at her parchment. “I didn’t mean to act that way, especially when you were kind enough to offer that healing spell.”
“It was my fault.”
That was the answer the princess finally gave, and Rarity only felt worse. The idea that she was now defending the action of the princess slamming her against a bookcase was a bit ridiculous, but she felt compelled to do so. “Princess, please, I rea—”
“It was my fault.” The princess was still looking down at her parchment and the quill was still floating in the air. “It was my fault,” she repeated again, giving Rarity the distinct impression that Princess Twilight was not only talking to herself, but that she was no longer referring to what she’d done to Rarity. Once more, the four words were repeated in a whisper, again and again, and again.
Rarity couldn’t bear it.
“No,” she said, loudly and clearly enough that she broke the princess from whatever trance she was trapped in. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Princess Twilight turned to look at her and asked in a curiously quiet voice: “Wasn’t it?” She turned back to the parchment and was quiet for about a minute until she finally put down the quill. “A trade,” she said.
Princess Twilight looked at her. “You… were looking for a book on gemstones.” She turned back to the magazine. “Wait here.”
She teleported away, and Rarity could hear noises coming from the other side of the room. In the meantime, the two owls flew over to her and each perched themselves on her head on either side of her horn. Since when was her head all the rage with owls? Before she could answer her own question, the princess reappeared a few feet away. A single thick book floated next to her, which she promptly placed beside Rarity.
“That is the only copy available of The Complete Encyclopedia of Precious Rocks. It is the best book on gemstones I have,” she explained. Her horn glowed and a small wooden box filled with cards appeared on the floor.
Upon closer inspection, Rarity noticed the cards were filled with all kinds of information on books. Books that had been borrowed centuries ago, boasting names of ponies, addresses, borrow dates, but not a single one had a return date marked down. Does that mean those books are still out there? She suddenly remembered what the Book Bringer had said.
“What the Spirit did not know, however, was that, when the lost heirlooms of the Princess of Magic were returned to their rightful place in the depths of the library tree, the spell keeping the princess trapped would be broken, and peace would be restored to the land.”
Were… Were those books the lost heirlooms that held the key to the princess’ release?
“The library doesn’t lend books anymore. I used to let ponies take them, but I don’t think they’ll ever bring them back, and my books are the only thi—” She paused. “They’re important to me. But,” she looked at the book she’d left beside Rarity, “I can let you borrow that one, and I will borrow your bo— ‘magazine.’”
Rarity nodded, even though she had barely paid attention to a word the princess had said. There are at least thirty cards in there! Thirty books scattered around Equestria, or even beyond that! How am I expected to fi—
Since when had she even decided she’d go looking for them?
“Good,” Princess Twilight continued. “You still need to fill out a library card, just to make it official.” A new blank card appeared, as well as a quill. She looked down at the card and started to write. “Your name is Rarity, correct?” There was a moment of silence until she looked up from the card and found Rarity still staring quite intently at the contents of the wooden box.
The unicorn had been devoid of thought for a moment, but a peck from one of the owls quickly brought her back to reality. “Reality” meaning “engaged in conversation with a spirit princess.”
“Oh! Uhm, yes,” she replied, watching as the mare nodded curtly and got back to writing.
“Rarity,” she slowly repeated as she wrote. “Residence?”
Another peck to the head screeched Rarity’s train of thoughts to a halt. “P-pardon?”
“Residence,” the princess repeated tonelessly, raising an eyebrow at Rarity.
The princess’ expression hardened. “Real residence, please.”
“Th-that is my rea—”
“Ponyville was destroyed a long time ago and several kind families were left without a home, or, considering that none ever came back for me, I assume worse,” the princess interrupted, an edge to her voice that was sharp enough to make Rarity take a step back. The princess seemed to notice this, and her expression softened a bit. She sighed and scribbled something down on the card. “What lunar month and celestial year is it?”
“‘Lunar month’ and ‘celestial year’?” Rarity asked. Which calendar was that? Rarity tried thinking back and remembered learning in school once that the Equestrian calendar had gone by a different name over a thousand years ago or so. “We… only have months and… Equestrian years,” she corrected nervously.
“You… changed that? Why would… Oh.” The princess went silent, staring down at the quill and card. Without looking up, she quietly said: “What happened to Prin—” She stopped and shook her head.
“What happened to who?” Rarity prompted nevertheless.
Princess Twilight looked up. “Who raises the sun and the moon every day?”
“Raise the sun and moon?”
What did that have to do with— Rarity’s train of thoughts came to a halt yet again as she remembered the fairy tale of olden times.
The eldest princesses, sisters as beautiful and immortal as the sun and moon which they raised, ruled the kingdom in unison.
Rarity realized then that Princess Twilight probably had no idea what had happened after her imprisonment. She didn’t know the Spirit had fled the land, nor that the other princesses were… trapped somewhere in Equestria. All she had to go on were whatever books the Book Bringer had brought.
What did Princess Twilight know? What else didn’t she know? And, perhaps most importantly, why hadn’t she asked about the outside already?
“Does somepony raise the sun and moon?” Princess Twilight asked, snapping Rarity out of her thoughts.
“Princess Denza,” Rarity replied, hoping the princess’ next question had to do with what happened centuries ago. “She raises both the moon and the sun.”
The princess looked surprised by this revelation. “Princess Denza?”
Rarity nodded slowly. “Princess Cadenza Armor X. She and the rest of the Armor family have been our monarchs for centuries, and they’ve raised the moon and sun with each generation,” she elaborated. It was tradition that the new ruling princess would lower the sun and raise the moon for the first time during her coronation.
Princess Cadenza Armor the Ninth had died around twenty years ago, and it was then that Princess Cadenza the Tenth—or Princess Denza, as she preferred—became the ruling princess. Rarity had been only a filly when it happened, so to her great regret, she had not been able to attend the event.
“…Cadenza Armor?” the princess repeated slowly. “So Cadance and Shining Armor did manage to…” Her ears fell, and there was something in her expression…
Sadness and pain unlike Rarity had ever imagined somepony could hold in their gaze—more so even than when she had refused the princess’ healing spell. In that moment, Rarity’s curiosity over the fairy tale was washed away and forgotten. The princess’ gaze had become lost, unfocused, distant, but to Rarity, it was clear. Her eyes were windows leading to the soul of a pony forgotten by the ages, and Rarity could only watch and let herself be overwhelmed by an inexplicable and suffocating desire to comfort the alicorn.
But she couldn’t.
“I… I…” Princess Twilight took another step back, blinking quickly.
Blinking back tears, perhaps?
The cards and quill were teleported away and landed on a far-off table, while the princess kept taking steps back. “I… I have to leave,” she stammered, closing her eyes and taking deep breaths. “The return date is in seven days.”
For the first time that night, Rarity wasn’t happy to see the princess back away from her. “Yes, but, Prince—”
“Will you come back?” she interrupted, opening her eyes to look at Rarity. Like before, she seemed to be pleading.
Rarity paused for a moment. “I, I promise, but—”
But the princess was gone, having teleported away the moment she had Rarity’s response, taking with her all the answers Rarity sought. Gone before Rarity could even ask what was wrong, or try and make sense of things.
The two owls flew away and into the depths of the library, no doubt going after their master. Seconds after they left, the magic chandelier floating above flickered and everything around Rarity turned dark. She watched as the lone candelabra hovered down to the floor, illuminating the book Princess Twilight had left. She lifted it with her magic and trotted toward the door, the candelabra floating beside her and lighting her way.
She stopped, turned and headed for the table where Princess Twilight had left the library cards. The candelabra illuminated the table, allowing her to take the cards and go through them, reading through the names. She finally landed on a card about a book on weather patterns borrowed by a certain Bitterwind Cinder who lived in the… eastern port town? Her memories of school geography were admittedly not very good, but wasn’t the area surrounding Fillydelphia once considered one of Equestria’s major ports several centuries ago?
And hadn’t Snowy Cinder, this year’s Seeking Night’s Princess Selene, moved from Fillydelphia to Ponyville several years ago?
She put the book down, took a blank card, and wrote down the information on it. It wasn’t until she had a perfect copy of the library card that she stopped to think a bit about what she had done and what it meant. Was she really ready to find those books? Could they even be found? And, most importantly, did she even want to find them?
“So long as you continue coming here, then I promise we will see each other again! If not, then I suppose Princess Twilight will simply have to wait for another to help her, won’t she?”
What if no pony ever came to help Princess Twilight? It was these doubts that ultimately forced Rarity to take her new library card and put it in her saddlebag, along with the rest of its contents save for her magazine and the crown. Those, she left on the desk for the alicorn. She instead levitated her newly borrowed book and finally trotted off toward the exit tunnel again, the candelabra following behind.
She stepped into the tunnel and made her way through it until several thuds and the sudden absence of light made her come to a stop. She looked around and saw the candelabra floating on the other side of the entrance. It made a move to go to her, but to her shock, the same barrier that had stopped the princess appeared and did the same to the candelabra. She watched as the candelabra tried again, and again, and again to leave the library only for the barrier to stop it again, and again, and again.
Why hadn’t the barrier stopped her, too?
She felt rather sorry for the poor thing, watching as it tried to follow her out. However, there was not much to be done about it, it seemed, and she finally turned away, lighting up her horn and trotting off until the thuds in the distance stopped. She went up the spiral staircase and out of the tree, closing the trapdoor behind her. It felt to her like she spent at least five minutes staring at the trapdoor before looking up at the plaque hammered on the tree.
Donated by Princess Twilight Sparkle
She lifted her right forehoof and brushed it against the name of the princess, but her thoughts were interrupted and her ears perked up as she heard somepony calling her name in the distance. Hoof still on the plaque, she looked back toward the general direction of the sound. How long had she been gone?
How long until she was back?
Would she even be back?
She let her hoof fall to the ground and turned away from the tree, trotting toward the edge of the hole and climbing out with some difficulty. She cantered toward the direction of the distant calling of her name, ignoring the inner voice that told her to go back to the tree, down the stairs, and into the lost library with its lonely princess.
Memories of the princess kept floating around in her mind. From how she saved Rarity, to how she pleaded for her to stay, to the offer of the trade, and to that last expression that betrayed not only centuries and centuries of sadness, but also a loneliness the likes of which Rarity had never seen before.
A loneliness that would haunt her thoughts when she’d go back home with Fluttershy and Diamond Dusk. A loneliness that would haunt her dreams that night, beckoning her to return to the library. A loneliness that would haunt her to the very core and would take the shape of a promise to return and a single name she’d never again be able to forget.
The Princess in the Library.