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    “A stallion asked for you earlier,” North Ridge said, glancing towards the mare sitting beside him. “He saw us talking last night.”

    “Did he?” she asked, and a knowing smile graced her lips. “Thought you were my father again? Asked if he could meet me and woo me off my hooves?”

    North let out a hearty laugh. “Indeed! You’re quite the catch, Rarity!”

    “And I am already caught,” she replied. Her expression then shifted, turned somber. “Did you…?

    And so did he lose his mirth. “I told him the same I tell the others. I am a traveler, and you were willing to give me brief directions.”

    “Thank you,” she said with a smile. She then paused and looked away into the distance. “You know, I saw new missing posters. She’s not giving up.”

    “You sound surprised,” he replied.

    “I’m not,” she whispered. “It simply makes me miss her more.”


    From behind the window, she watched as night gave way to day, moonlight intermingling with dawning sunlight and creating a beautiful sight.

    For the first time in over a thousand years, Twilight Sparkle appreciated her namesake. She lifted the mug she was holding and took a sip of her tea, the taste of berries and nuts warming both her body and soul.

    She felt safe.

    Hoofsteps behind her drew her attention. She tore her eyes away from the window and looked back into Rarity’s kitchen, watching as her sleepy significant other trotted in, covering a yawn with a hoof.

    “Is everything okay?” Twilight asked, her eyes following Rarity.

    “If you must know,” Rarity replied, “considering it’s half past six in the morning, I would probably feel better if my coffee machine wasn’t, shall we say, indisposed.”

    A fierce blush bloomed on Twilight’s cheeks, and she forced herself not to look at the various machine parts scattered on the kitchen table. She was going to fix it! And it wasn’t even really her fault! Rarity should have known better than to ask her to use such a fascinating device!

    “Ah. Right.”

    Rarity sighed, boiling water in a kettle on the stove. She then made her way to Twilight, sitting down and leaning against her. Almost instinctively, Twilight’s wing unfurled and wrapped itself around the unicorn, eager to keep her close.

    “Honestly, I don’t know what Rainbow was thinking having you all leave so early. There’s no rush to see Princess Cadance,” she whisрered, closing her eyes and snuggling to the alicorn. “It’s not as though she can even leave.”

    Rarity!”

    “Oh, Twilight, don’t be offended. If you think that’s bad, you should hear what she says about it,” Rarity teased, smiling wide. “Unlike you and Рrincess Luna, Princess Cadance actually developed a sense of humor regarding her situation.”

    Twilight playfully rolled her eyes but said nothing in reply. Personally, she was glad that they were leaving as early as possible. Her heart ached to see her sister-in-law, and the sooner she was able to, the better.

    And yet.

    And yet, in the depths of her heart, fear and doubt lingered still. Was she truly ready to face Cadance again? Was she ready to face her old life again? Her parents… Shining…

    The whistling of the kettle interrupted her stream of thoughts, and she heard Rarity sigh against her. What had she been thinking, Twilight wondered. Why did she sigh? And…

    “Rarity?” Twilight asked when the unicorn finally tore herself away so as to go and silence the kettle. “Are you really not coming with us?”

    Rarity lingered by the stove for a split-second before levitating a nearby mug and pouring water in it.

    She looked at Twilight.

    “Darling, you know that I…” She drifted off and placed the kettle on the stove. “I.. Do you want me to go?”

    Yes, of course, Twilight wanted to reply, but what Rarity had said the day before still held true. Rarity had already done so much for her at the sake of her own life and career.

    “I’m just worried,” she replied instead. “We don’t know where Discord is, and we don’t know what he plans on doing next. What if he goes after you?” Her eyes lowered towards the three scars on her marefriend’s flank. “What if he tries to hurt you?”

    “Then I shall simply have to deal with it,” Rarity replied. “We cannot let fear of him rule us, Twilight.”

    Twilight wanted to protest, but a loud knock and the sound of the front door opening interrupted her.

    “Rarity? Princess Twi? Y’all awake?”

    “We’re in the kitchen, Applejack,” Rarity called, putting an end to their conversation.

    Applejack trotted in, saddlebags hanging on her back, and to Twilight’s surprise, Fluttershy followed behind her, carrying a large covered basket.

    “Good morning,” Fluttershy said, smiling brightly at both mares, but mostly at Twilight.

    “Well, well, well, Twilight! Almost everypony’s come to say goodbye,” Rarity said, stirring her tea. “Except for a certain Miss Pie, who I presume is either fast asleep or baking.”

    “How did you sleep, Princess Twilight?” Fluttershy asked, taking a step toward her. Her eyes flickered to Rarity, enough that Twilight got the hint.

    “I slept well,” she replied, which wasn’t exactly a lie. She slept little—most of her time occupied making sure the pony in her forelegs slept peacefully—but what little she slept went well enough.

    “And you, Rares?” Applejack asked, helping herself to one of the apples on a nearby fruit basket.

    For a moment, Rarity looked at Twilight.

    “Oh, I slept wonderfully. Probably better than I have in quite some time,” she said, a loving smile blooming on her lips. Twilight’s cheeks heated up, but before anypony could comment on it, Rarity continued. “So, then, will you be joining Twilight on her little expedition?”

    “Sure am!” Applejack said. “Checked with Granny and Big Mac, and they can take care of things while I’m at Canterlot.”

    “Actually…”

    Everypony turned to look at Twilight.

    “Applejack, I think you should go with Rarity, please,” she said.

    Applejack blinked. “I should?”

    “She should?” Rarity asked, confused. “But, wh—” She paused, her brow furrowed, and Twilight knew she’d been caught. “Twilight…”

    “If I can’t go with you…”

    “Twilight!” Rarity exclaimed. “Applejack isn’t going to be my bodyguard! And I do not need one, for goodness’s sake!”

    “But, Rari—!”

    “Now, wait a darn minute here,” Applejack cut off, looking between the two mares. “What’s going on? Why’d you reckon’ Rarity needs herself a bodyguard?” She then paused and cautiously added, “You thinkin’ the Spirit’s going to come after her or somethin’?”

    Before Twilight could speak, Rarity did.

    “Applejack, Discord hasn’t done anything to us for two years! If anything, he’s more likely to go after Twilight! Which is why asked you to keep Twilight safe first.”

    Regardless of how heart-warmed she was by Rarity’s intentions, she was adamant about getting her way. She threw the mare a pointed-stare, something of a convincing mix between ‘I am a Princess, darn it, I have a higher rank than she does’ and ‘Pretty please’.

    And yet, it wasn’t Applejack who spoke in reply.

    “I’ll go with Twilight.”

    All three mares turned to Fluttershy.

    “You will?” Twilight asked, delighted. She very much enjoyed Fluttershy’s company. “That’s great!” She turned towards Rarity and Applejack. “See! Fluttershy can help protect me if Discord comes, can’t you, Fluttershy?”

    Fluttershy hesitated for a moment and then nodded. “Mhm! I’ll certainly try my best.”

    Rarity and Applejack stared at her.

    Applejack cleared her throat. “Well, see, Princess, now I’m not saying that Fluttershy here ain’t…” She drifted off. “Hm.”

    “Fluttershy, darling, you know I love you dearly as the sun itself,” Rarity said, clearly weighing her words, “but you are… well… now, let me be clear, when I say ‘you’re you’, I don’t mean this in a bad way, quite the con—”

    Fluttershy giggled. “I know,” she said. “But we’ll be fine. Spike and Rainbow Dash are with us.”

    “And I’m not helpless, Rarity!” Twilight sрoke uр again, stamping her hoof against the floor. “I can take on Discord! What’s the worst he could do to me?”

    There was a pause.

    “Twilight,” Rarity said, “I cannot believe that is a question you just asked right now.”

    Twilight’s cheeks burned. “We-Well! That only means I’ve already gone through the worst he can do, so if it happens again, I’ll know what to do.”

    Rarity stared at her. “Darling, for my own sanity, I’m going to pretend you did not say that.” She then sighed. “Would it really make you feel better if Applejack went with me?”

    Twilight nodded. “Yes. It would.”

    “Well, all right, then,” she relented, clearly unsure. “I can’t say no to that.”

    “It won’t be long,” Fluttershy said. “Rainbow told me it would only be a three-day trip.”

    “And we have the necklaces,” Twilight added, pressing a hoof against hers. “We can communicate whenever one ne—” She paused, realizing Rarity wasn’t actually wearing hers. “Where’s your necklace?”

    “My necklace? Oh! I, er… I hadn’t even realized I hadn’t put it back on,” she said, pressing a hoof against her chest.

    “Can’t blame you,” Applejack said. “Barely been wearing the thing for a year, after all. Reckon’ Pinkie’s more used to it than you are.”

    Pinkie?” Twilight asked, thoroughly confused, her hoof pressing more against her necklace. “Why would Pinkie be used to it?”

    Silence fell between all three Ponyville mares, which did little to alleviate Twilight’s confusion.

    But before she could ask, or inquire, or prod, Rarity reacted. Her horn glowed, and the necklace now hung from her neck.

    “Regardless! Here it is now,” she announced. Quickly. “So, I suppose we’re all set then, hm?”

    Applejack looked at Twilight and Fluttershy. “You two shouldn’t be sticking ‘round here anymore. Rainbow’s not going to like it if you’re late,” she said, sitting down next at the table. “So, Rarity, what’s for breakfast?”

    “Pardon me! Does it look like I’m running a diner here?!”

    “Aw, I was just teasing,” Applejack said, grinning. She got up and trotted off into the foyer. “Come on! We’ll go to a real diner, and I’ll even treat you, Miss Prissy.”

    Fluttershy trotted after her, followed by Twilight and Rarity. However, rather than following Applejack and Fluttershy into the streets, Twilight lingered behind with Rarity in the foyer.

    “I prepared this for you,” Rarity said, levitating well-рacked saddlebags from a nearby chair. She waited until Twilight рut her cloak on before placing them on the alicorn’s back. “A few necessities for the road.”

    “Necessities?”

    “Oh, you know,” she replied, gesturing non-committally. “Snacks, a few gems for Spike, a blanket if you’re cold, aaaaaaaand…” She fluttered her eyelashes. “A notebook, and a new packet of ballpoint pens.”

    Twilight gasped. “You mean the neverending-ink quills?! You know, I tested it, and you can save up to a minute on dipping with those.”

    Rarity laughed. “Twilight, firstly, they don’t have neverending-ink, silly filly. But they are much less delicate than ink and quills. Wouldn’t want an inkwell to break inside the saddlebags, now would we?”

    “I guess not, but… well, my calligraphy isn’t as neat with them. I wish I could combine the practicality of the ‘pen’ device with the nib of my quills…”

    Rarity thought for a moment before lifting her hoof and adjusting Twilight’s cloak. “You know…” she said slowly, “Just because I adore you, I will look into inventing such an object just for you.”

    Twilight blinked. “You will…?”

    Rarity smiled widely. “I will! I’ve decided it! I will invent an object that works like a pen and has the nib of a quill. You know, I’ve even come up with a name for it. I’ll call it…hmm… a fountain pen!”

    “Oh! I like that!” Twilight exclaimed, stamping her hooves on the ground. “I can’t believe nopony’s invented it yet…”

    “Alas! Not everypony is as clever as me!” she said, tapping Twilight on the nose. She then looked down and pulled Twilight’s necklace from under the cloak’s fastener, allowing it to be prominently displayed.

    “Rarity?”

    Rarity looked up. “Mm?”

    Twilight swallowed. It was hard to communicate. It was hard to ask questions she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer to. But ask she must, and she looked straight at Rarity when she did.

    “Why has Pinkie been wearing your necklace?”

    Rarity didn’t freeze, not really. It seemed more like she paused, took a moment to think her answer over. She looked down, brushing her hoof against Twilight’s own necklace, before looking up.

    “It’s… Well…” She paused and smiled, lifting her hoof to touch Twilight’s cheek. “As they say, a watched pot never boils.”

    Twilight took a moment, allowed it to sink in, and then fixed Rarity with a blank stare.

    “Yes, it does,” she said simply, thoroughly vexed by Rarity’s ridiculously inaccurate statement.

    Rarity frowned. “Wha—? No, Twilight, sweetheart, that’s a say—”

    “Water will boil whether or not you’re looking at it,” Twilight cut off. “If you’re referring to the ‘observer effect’ from the physics book you gave me, then that refers to examples where observing and or measuring something requires some sort of action that will by necessity alter the state of the object being observed.”

    There was a long pause.

    And then Rarity giggled.

    “What?” Twilight asked, nervous. Had physics changed in the two years she’d been gone? “Why are you laughing?”

    Rather than immediately reply, Rarity sighed fondly, lifting Twilight’s chin. “Goodness, I missed you,“ she said, and then playfully raised an eyebrow. “And clearly somepony hasn’t been studying her idioms book recently.”

    Twilight rolled her eyes. “I’ll work on it.”

    “You should!” Rarity exclaimed, moving back. “And once you know what that means, you might understand why Pinkie wore the necklace in my stead, hmm?”

    “I would know if you told me now,” Twilight replied, leaning in. “Hmmm?”

    Rarity didn’t move, instead smiling brightly. “Hmmmmmmm…”

    Hmmmmmmmm—”

    “Will you two hummingbirds actually get on with it before Rainbow comes and gets y’all?” Applejack called from outside, briefly poking her head into the room.

    “My stars, everypony’s a critic,” Rarity whispered, rolling her eyes. She closed the distance between their lips in a brief but wonderful kiss, and then leaned back and brushed Twilight’s bangs back. “Well then, dearest, anything else you’d like to tell me privately before you depart?”

    Twilight licked her lips. “Do you… Do you still not know what’s wrong?”

    “I’m working on it,” she said gently. “I have an inkling, but… I’ll think hard about it while we’re apart, all right?”

    Twilight’s ears lowered. “You promise?”

    “I promise, and you know I keep my promises,” Rarity said, moving in to nuzzle Twilight. When Twilight wrapped her wings around her, she let out a breath of air, followed by a characteristically cute whine. “You haven’t even left yet, and I miss you already.”

    Well, if you went with—”

    “I don’t miss you enough to change my mind,” Rarity replied.

    Twilight’s eyebrows knitted together in a frown. “Fine.”

    Rarity laughed. “Now, now, rather than pout, listen. I have the perfect idiom for this!”

    “Distance makes the heart grow fonder?” Twilight ventured, and a smile pushed itself onto her lips when Rarity pulled back with a delighted grin.

    “Twilight! You remembered!” She whined again, and her face puckered into a moue of quiet annoyance. “Drat. Now I miss you even more.”


    The road to Canterlot Castle was a complicated one when it involved a fifty-foot dragon. There wasn’t a chariot that could sustain such a being, and Rainbow had assured Twilight that these ‘train-devices’ ponies regularly used did not transport massive dragons.

    The group, or as Rainbow had dubbed them “Princess Twilight’s Rag-Tag Adventurers”, currently found themselves crossing Meadow Waters, the lake separating the Ponyville province from Canterlot Mountain. Rainbow Dash flew above them, while Twilight, Fluttershy, and five owls sat on Spike’s back.

    Well, no. The baby owls and Themis all sat on Fluttershy, while Elara, ever her master’s pet, contented herself with perching herself on Twilight’s head.

    “What exactly is Granite’s Rest?” Twilight asked, peering down at a map of the kingdom. So much had changed in a thousand years; she still felt like she’d stepped into a foreign land, not Equestria.

    “It’s a ghost town at the base of Canterlot Mountain,” Spike said, only half-focused on safely crossing the river beneath him. “I found it a really long time ago.”

    “A ghost town?” Twilight asked. Had… Had Discord actually…?

    “It means it’s abandoned,” Fluttershy elaborated.

    A wave of immense relief flooded Twilight. “Oh…”

    “It used to be a mining village,” Spike continued. “At least, it was back when I first found it.”

    “And you say Rarity wanted me to see it?”

    She couldn’t really think of any reason why Rarity would be interested in mining of all things. Unless it was to retrieve gems for her designs? In which case Twilight would make sure to bring her as many as possible.

    “It’s not just Rarity!” Rainbow said, looking down at the Princess. “We’ve all been waiting for you to go!”

    “But why?” Twilight asked. “Does this have to do with the Princesses? Or Discord?”

    “Yes,” Fluttershy said, and continued before Twilight could ask, “but we think it’s better you see it for yourself rather than telling you what it is.”

    “But why?” Twilight insisted.

    “So I’m sure it’s what I think it is,” Spike replied. “There’s something I found there a really long time ago, and until now, the only other ponies who could actually tell me if I’m right or not were stuck in a library, a castle, and who knows where.”

    “Yeah! So try not to think about it,” Rainbow said.

    Regrettably, Twilight was not known for giving up easily.

    “Is it something about Discord? Or Celestia? Is it about Princess Luna?” she continued. “It’s about Princess Luna, isn’t it?”

    “Princess, we’re not going to tell you!” Rainbow exclaimed. “Quit askin’! Or ask about something else!”

    “Uuuuuugh. Fine,” Twilight said, or grunted, rather, but a little smile pushed its way onto her lips when Spike laughed. She licked her lip, seeking a new topic, and settling on her favorite one.

    “Did I tell you Rarity’s going to invent a device for me?” she asked, putting the map away in her bag. “She’s going to make a pen that has the functionality of modern Equestria’s pre-inked ones, but giving it a nib similar to my quills.”

    Rainbow Dash landed in front of Twilight. “Rarity told you she’s going to invent that?”

    Twilight nodded, her heart swelling with pride. “She’ll call them fountain pens.”

    Rainbow snorted, crossing her forelegs. “Really? Wow! And what else did she tell you she’s going to ‘invent’, huh?”

    “Nothing else yet, but I’m sure she’ll come up with something!” Twilight replied, trying to be cheerful. She was ecstatic Rainbow was impressed by Rarity so it was imperative she made sure Rainbow continued being so.

    Dumb dresses in Canterlot.

    “She also gave me a ‘notebook’ so I won’t have to alchemize scrolls anymore,” she continued, opening her saddlebag and retrieving the object in question. She flipped through the blank pages and smiled when Elara flew down onto her foreleg so as to inspect it.

    “They’re not as nice as scrolls, though,” Fluttershy noted, her and the owls peering at the notebook.

    Twilight huffed. Truthfully, a lot of things in modern Equestria were more practical but less aesthetically-appealing than their archaic versions. The only modern thing that was much more appealing than the ones from ages past was Rarity. Twilight had dated—long, long ago—but she’d never been as taken by somepony as she constantly was by Rarity.

    Ugh. I miss her.

    She was suddenly aware of her necklace rubbing against her chest and had to fight the desire to call the unicorn. Not that she couldn’t or there was something wrong, but… but something did feel wrong. She lifted her hoof and pressed it against the pendant, but as soon as she did, so did a thought enter her mind.

    Rarity probably wasn’t nearly as concerned about Twilight as Twilight was over her.

    Was she?

    A watched pot never boils.

    Why wouldn’t it boil?! Argh!

    “Princess?”

    Twilight blinked, realizing by Fluttershy’s expression that she’d gotten lost in her own swirling thoughts.

    “Oh! Er, sorry,” she said quickly, her hoof shooting down from the necklace.

    “Are you thinking about Princess Cadance?” Fluttershy asked carefully, and judging by Rainbow’s sudden intent stare, she realized that was a question everypony had on their mind.

    “I…”

    Well, she hadn’t been, but now she was.

    “Hey, you don’t have to be nervous, Princess,” Rainbow Dash said, lifting a hoof and patting Twilight on the shoulder. “Princess Cadance is stoked to see you!”

    “…Stoked…?”

    Fluttershy giggled. “It means she’s excited,” she explained.

    “Oh…” She looked down at the notebook, and then at the top of Spike’s head. “Have you seen her recently, Spike?”

    A long silence followed.

    “Spike?” she asked, her brow furrowing and her tone hardening. A thousand years could go by, and yet the dragon would still be her charge. “Spike, when was the last time you saw her?”

    Another long silence, until he finally spoke up.

    “I don’t want to talk about it.”

    “Spike!” she exclaimed, putting the notebook down and flying up in front of Spike, Elara practically tumbling off her. “You haven’t talked to her?! You promised you would!”

    The dragon groaned, pointedly looking down at the river rushing through his feet. “Did I? Sorry. I promised that two years ago, and I have bad memory,” he said dismissively. Except, when he looked back up, Twilight’s burning stare forced him to continue defending himself. “What! It’s not that easy, Twilight! The last time I saw her was, what, like nearly seven-hundred years ago? And I was a teenager and I…” He drifted off. “Look, it—”

    “And you what?” Twilight asked, finally set on gleaming from the dragon the answers she couldn’t get when she was trapped in the library.

    Red splotches decorated his cheeks. “I wasn’t very… I was angry, and said angry stuff,” he said eloquently.

    Twilight’s ears lowered. “Spike…”

    “I’m not proud of it, okay?” he said, chastised. “At least I’m going now… Not that I can even see her, anyway. I can’t fit inside that castle.”

    “It’s not like Princess Cadance tried hard to see him, either!” Rainbow defended.

    “She couldn’t,” Fluttershy spoke up, softly but sternly.

    “She literally couldn’t,” Twilight added, still flying in front of the dragon. “And just because she didn’t make the first step doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have done it, either.”

    “I’m doing it now!” he protested, his gait changing to stomping. “You weren’t there, Twilight! You don’t know how bad it got! We had the curse, and Shining was gone, and those dumb changelings didn’t make things better, and then Celestia’s letter, and—”

    Twilight’s pending lecture on the importance of apologies ground to a halt.

    What?

    “Wait, wait, wait!” she exclaimed, and so did Spike come to a stop. “Princess Celestia wrote you a letter? When?! Why did nopony tell me about this?!”

    “Because it happened centuries ago, Twilight,” he said. His expression darkened, and he resumed his path across the river. “I’d been sending her letters every week, every month, every day, and nothing for years until I told her Shining was… You know… and I asked her to please tell us what to do, to help us, and well, she replied, and…”

    “And…?” she pressed.

    “It wasn’t what we needed to hear.”

    She paused in the air for a second before continuing to fly next to him, an impending sense of dread growing within her.

    “…What do you mean? What did she say?”

    “There is no hope for us,” Rainbow Dash replied. “That’s what she said, right, Spike?”

    Twilight’s heart tightened in her chest.

    “…She… She said that?”

    “There is no hope for us. Centuries of sending her letters, and she only sent back six words,” Spike replied, a strange sort of bitterness lacing his words. He laughed. “That was a really bad day for Cadance and me. A really bad day.”

    “But… But that doesn’t even make sense!” Twilight protested. “What does that even mean?! Who’s ‘us’? What did she mean there’s no hope for us?! What?!”

    “That’s what we said,” Spike replied, cracking a small smile. “I didn’t understand anything, and then I found The Weeping Mare of Granite’s Rest.”

    “Will you just tell me what it is already?!” Twilight demanded, flying down and landing on Spike’s head. Her heart thumped against her chest, and she was less and less excited to reach this Granite’s Rest place.

    “It’s something by a pony called Indigo Glen,” Spike said. “Nopony knows when it was done, and we only know the name of the creator because they signed it.”

    “And what’s this thing?” she asked.

    “You’ll see,” he replied. “You’ll see.”

    Twilight sighed, getting the hint at the conversation being over. “Fine,” she murmured, jumping off his head and landing next to Fluttershy on his back.

    And again, for the second time, her hoof found its place on her necklace, and she wished Rarity were there.

    “I’m sure she misses you too,” Fluttershy said, softly, her eyes lingering on Twilight’s hoof.

    Twilight smiled. She wanted to agree, wanted to say that of course Rarity missed her, but… but Rarity would probably be there with her if it wasn’t for… the two years and… and…

    “I miss her,” she said instead, pushing the negative thoughts away. The unicorn’s absence left a hollow spot in her heart, and if not missing Twilight meant Rarity wouldn’t be afflicted with a sore heart, then she quietly wished Rarity didn’t miss her.

    “Well, anyway, as I was saying…” Rainbow said, drawing the topic and the alicorn’s thoughts away from Rarity, which Twilight was grateful for.

    It seemed like Rarity wasn’t the only one who had some thinking to do.


    Looking at it from afar, Granite’s Rest was, oddly, exactly as Twilight had imagined it.

    Well, no, that wasn’t true. It was impossible for it to be exactly as she’d imagined it, but it was somewhat similar to the diagram in her mind, and that was good enough.

    Unfortunately for her, nopony in her rag-tag group of adventurers even bothered to do research or learn the history of Equestria, so she had no information on the town save for the fact that it was a mining town, there were ‘a bunch of big flat rocks everywhere’, and it was old.

    She didn’t want to say it, but she did anyway.

    “Rarity would have had research for me,” she mumbled dejectedly, jumping off Spike’s back and looking at the distant small town at the base of Canterlot Mountain.

    Fluttershy laughed softly. “We could always ask a guide, Princess.”

    “I guess…”

    She missed Rarity.

    They’d been traveling for two days now, and though her friends were all great distractions for her mind, the nights were especially difficult. They would all be asleep, and yet she would stay up and stare at the stars so as not to stare at her necklace, hoping it would suddenly flash.

    “I can’t go there,” Spike said, for obvious reasons, which Twilight personally took offense to. Spike was a wonderful dragon, and honestly, who wouldn’t want to engage in conversation with him? “But Fluttershy should be able to take you to it”

    “Are we staying here tonight?” Fluttershy asked. “It’s almost night.”

    “Nah,” Rainbow replied, perched atop the dragon’s head. “We’re staying at the next town over. Well, you two are, at least. Spike and I are crashing outside, but there’s some dinky motel there that you guys can pass out at.” She paused and added, “Er… Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you now, though?”

    Fluttershy shook her head. “I think it would be better if it’s just the Princess and me,” she said softly, offering a smile at the curious alicorn.

    “But, Shy—”

    “It’s okay, Rainbow,” Spike said. “Fluttershy knows what she’s saying. She’s dealt with… well.. You-know-who’s…yeah.”

    “What? Who’s you-know-who?” Twilight asked, finding she wasn’t altogether happy with the air of mystery being shared among her friends. “Deal with what?”

    “Princess, what you’re going to see…” She drifted off, frowning lightly.

    “It might be a shock,” Spike finished.

    A shock?

    Her heart compressed in her chest. It was a distressing sensation, and she was almost starting to miss her previously ethereal state of being. She lifted her hoof and pressed it against her chest, a small action which brought her a small degree of comfort.

    She frowned. “Well, this isn’t making me feel better, you know?”

    “What?! But, it’s cool, though!” Rainbow quickly said. “You’ll see! It’s super old and scary!”

    “Twilight, just go,” the dragon encouraged, and as he did, so did five owls fly over and perch themselves atop their master’s back. “We’ll be here waiting.”

    Granite’s Rest was a small, somewhat gray town.

    The modest houses scattered about looked old and decayed, and yet nopony seemed to be bothered by the fact. Did they not care? It certainly wasn’t intelligent or safe to live in outdated edifications. Worn-out signs hung over doors, exposing them as stores, festive locales called ‘saloons’, banks, a single school, and lots and lots of odd visiting ponies.

    Some of them were posing for photographic pictures, wearing what looked like modern mining outfits. Others went into the shops, going in and out with little bags filled with decoratives items.

    For a ghost town, the place sure was lively. Wasn’t it supposed to be abandoned? Ugh. So many things in the future were off. Abandoned towns were filled with ponies, water didn’t boil… It’s like they all wanted to be confusing!

    In truth, that was perhaps the most irritating thing of it all.

    She didn’t understand so many things about this new world, even if she wanted. It might have been the apprehension thrust upon her by, well, her friends’ urgent attitude, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized she was quite lost without Rarity there to guide her.

    “Princess?”

    Twilight jolted back to life, only then noticing she’d been caught up in her own mind. Fluttershy searched her, doubtless trying to decipher what she’d been thinking, and Twilight was embarrassed by the fact.

    She forced a hasty smile.

    “There’s a lot of ponies,” she stated.

    “They’re tourists,” Fluttershy replied.

    “What are they touring for?”

    “They’re visiting,” Fluttershy replied, clearly amused. “Just seeing sights.”

    They continued on the path, maneuvering around the ponies who unhelpfully stood in the middle of the street until finally, she saw a large sign pointing the way towards the town’s star attraction: The Weeping Mare.

    The closer they got to it, the more ponies walked alongside them, prompting Twilight to walk closer to Fluttershy and hope her wings were properly concealed under her cloak. It didn’t help she kept attracting attention to herself due to the five owls hooting cheerfully at whoever got close enough.

    Eventually, the path led them outside the town and towards the base of the mountain, where a crowd of ponies had gathered around a large granite slab resting against the mountain, their eyes all set on the Weeping Mare herself.

    Twilight suddenly understood why Spike had been cautious.

    A painting towered on the granite slab before her, depicting a horrifyingly familiar pale alicorn.

    My faithful student.

    Princess Celestia, or this depiction of her, sat alone, surrounded by a darkness as black as her eyes and the tears that streamed from them.

    “Look at her horn!” a nearby unicorn gasped, horrified. “It looks like it’s about to break!”

    A violent sickening sensation overcame Twilight when her gaze reached her mentor’s horn. It was glowing softly, but it was cracked. And above her… Above her, in the darkness, glowing and menacing: a pair of yellow eyes.

    She heard Fluttershy calling to her, and yet she could not properly register it. Her friend’s voice seemed distant, faraway as her entire world numbed around her.

    “They say it’s one of the princesses,” a nearby stallion remarked to his companion. “You know, the Seeking Night ones?”

    “What do you think happened, mommy?” a colt whispered to a mare.

    “Princess, I— I’m scared. Please… Please don’t go.”

    “Twilight, we cannot let fear of him rule us.”

    “B-But, Prince— If something happens to y-you, or— or Princ—”

    “Then you will carry on for us, Twilight. As long as hope survives, Discord cannot defeat us.”

    “Well, she didn’t live long, then, huh?” another stallion said, and Twilight’s knees began to buckle under her. Is the Princess dead…? “Bet that’s the Grim Reaper watching over her.”

    “There is no hope for us. That’s what the letter said, didn’t it?”

    And the nightmares came all at once, one after another, merciless and all-destroying. She closed her eyes, feeling short of breath as she in vain tried to silence them. They whispered, hissed, screamed that everypony she loved, one way or another and without exception, everypony—

    “What can you tell from the painting, Princess?”

    Twilight’s eyes opened, and when she turned to Fluttershy, found the pegasus looking at the painting. She wondered, for a second, if she’d imagined the question until Fluttershy repeated herself.

    “Wh-What?” she stammered, dragged back to reality.

    Her eyes flickered towards the strangers surrounding her, and yet none seem concerned with her. They were all still transfixed, enraptured by this seeming fantasy depiction, smiling and nodding appreciatively. It was jarring. It was, really, if she had to sit there and think it, it was crushing.

    They didn’t know.

    She… Twilight herself and her universe, their pain and trials and anguish… What was her entire life to her, was nothing but a simple fairytale to them. Entertainment to laugh and discuss and buy souvenirs of.

    “Princess Twilight, focus on me.” Fluttershy’s voice was kind, yes, but it was sharp as well, and it cut through the haze that shrouded Twilight’s thoughts. When Twilight looked at her, trembling, Fluttershy lifted a hoof and gently placed it on Twilight’s. “I don’t understand much of unicorn magic,” she continued, all of a sudden as casual as if they were discussing the weather. And yet, something in her tone was measured. “How could a horn crack like that? Could you try and explain, please?”

    And Twilight did.

    “I-It depends on the ci-circumstances, but a unicorn or in th-this case, alico—” Her sentence was cut short by her own inability to think properly. It was hard. It was hard to think, to breathe, and princesses, for a dark moment, she wished to be back in her library.

    Instinctively, she reached out and held her necklace.

    “It’s okay. We’re here,” Fluttershy continued, moving closer and sitting next to her. Her eyes then landed on Twilight’s hoof. She hesitated for a moment and asked, “Do you want to call Rarity?”

    Yes.

    Yes, she wanted to, desperately so, to have the unicorn take charge and help and explain and comfort her, but… but Rarity had elected to stay away. To go against the unicorn’s wishes now of all times was akin to a cardinal sin.

    Her entire body trembled when she shook her head. “N-No,” she said with some attempt at determination. She did, however, continue holding the necklace, drawing strength from its rose-glow. “I’m fine.”

    Fluttershy presented her with a believing smile. With but a gesture of her hoof, three baby owls landed in front of Twilight and stared back at her with curious eyes.

    “Can you continue explaining to us, please?”

    Twilight nodded. “Ye-Yes.”

    Fluttershy looked back to the painting. “Maybe Princess Sunshine’s horn was damaged in a fight?”

    “N-No. Princess Sunshine’s horn wasn’t attacked,” Twilight managed, the foreign name allowing her to distance herself enough to start to properly examine the situation. It helped that Ginny, Amalthea, and Metis were all completely focused on her. It was imperative they learned proper horn care. “The… The pattern on her horn, the cracks are clean and diagonal. They’re following the grooves on her horn.”

    Fluttershy nodded seriously. “Mh-hm. What does that mean?”

    “We-Well! Well, unicorn magic travels through the grooves, but it’s actually luminescent enough that it creates the illusion of the entire horn glowing,” she explained, and the more words came out, the easier it was. She was even able to briefly look at the painting again. “But magic still has a presence. So, for Princess Sunshine’s horn to be cracked in that way, it means she had to be casting a spell long enough that the magic would not only continually wear away her horn and damage its bone structure, but also prevent her magic from naturally healing it.”

    A small voice chimed in.

    “But why would she do that?”

    Twilight looked around and found the colt from before peering up at her, seeming quite concerned.

    “I… I don’t know,” Twilight confessed.

    She looked back to the painting, stared deep into the black eyes, beseeching for an answer. Why would Princess Celestia have put herself at risk for so long? Why would she sacrifice the structure of her horn?

    A small hoof tugged at her foreleg, followed by the gasp of a mare.

    “Honeycrisp!” his mother whispered urgently, trying to pull back the colt who insistently tugged on Twilight’s coat.

    “Why are her eyes black, Miss?” he asked, carelessly ignoring his mother and her hasty apologies. “Is she bad?”

    No, of course not!

    The words left her mouth with urgent immediacy. Just the thought of it! Princess Celestia was a paragon of benevolence and kindness, the most powerful alicorn in the kingdom, but…

    But…

    What if that was his goal?

    The Princess’s charcoal gaze pierced down on Twilight, drawing her in and drawing out memories Twilight had tried to suffocate and bury. Twilight herself wasn’t evil. Even in the pits of her self-disdain, she could not truly sit there and designate herself as an unkind pony—misguided, yes, very very misguided, but bad? No.

    And yet.

    She moved forward, pushed past the crowd, their chatter forgotten as another voice called in her mind, beckoning her.

    What does he want, Princess?

    The answer is in his very name, Twilight.

    Discord?

    Discord. Disagreement. Conflict. Ponies turned against each other creates disharmony, and where there is disharmony, chaos lurks nearby.

    “Princess…” Twilight whispered, speaking to the portrait itself.

    But the Princess of the Sun did not reply. She simply continued to stare, as she often did when waiting for Twilight to reach conclusions herself.

    “She’s possessed,” Twilight said, aloud, and when she turned, she found the colt and Fluttershy had moved to the front of the now attentive crowd. Twilight indicated the black eyes, certain of the answer because she herself had lived it. “The Chaos Magic is possessing her.”

    “Chaos magic?” prompted a nearby stallion.

    Twilight didn’t reply, turning back to the painting. She remembered being consumed by the magic. She remembered it, the suppressed memories coming back to light. She remembered hate consuming her, anger and bitterness and resentment.

    She realized, then and there, how easily she might have been used as a weapon.

    And, if that was the case, did that mean…

    Celestia was protecting herself?

    “This… When was this made?” Twilight urgently asked, turning to the crowd.

    Most of them offered her blank stares, until a mare stepped up, brandishing an informational pamphlet.

    “I work here!” she quickly announced. She cleared her throat, and stated, “This is actually a restoration! It was done about three hundred years ago by the painter Ochre Oil and then reinforced with a preservation spell. However, no information is available on the age of the original, as this is the only signed work of the painter Indigo Glen.”

    Twilight returned her gaze to the painting, moving forward to inspect it in as much detail as she possibly could. As she did so, a tendril of her magic wrapped itself around the guide’s pamphlet and she levitated it over, her mumbled thank you losing itself amidst the ponies chatter.

    Her eyes scanned the information on the paper, the dates and descriptions, but nothing on it actually helped! She didn’t want to know what the composition of the painting was! She wanted to know what it was depicting, what place, what time, what! Honestly, what kind of an informational guide was that, anyway?

    “Uhm… Princess?”

    Twilight looked down at the fidgeting Fluttershy, who glanced uneasily at the many tourists now pointing their camera lenses at the alicorn. Initially, she wondered why they were photographing her. Then, she wondered why Fluttershy seemed smaller. Finally, noticing her cloak on the ground, she realized her desire for detail had quite literally taken flight.

    “Mommy!” the colt whispered urgently. “Mommy! She’s flying but doing magic!”

    The tour guide gawked for a split-second before turning to the crowd, taking a nearby empty box and put it down on the floor. “Ladies and gentlecolts! What a surprise! What thrills! An alicorn-lookalike unlike no other! Brought to you by Granite’s Rest Tours!”

    Immediately, the ponies nodded and hummed appreciatively, some putting bits into the empty box while others resumed their photographing. Twilight frowned at them from above. Considering what happened at Ponyville and now there, it was terribly encouraging to see that ponies would still look for the word gullible if told it was written on the ceiling.

    I can’t think of this now.

    She returned her scrutiny to the painting. “What are you doing…?” she asked again, her eyes burning into the Princess’s cracked horn, hoping her mind would present her with some sort of epiphany.

    Was… Is she trying to contain the chaos magic? Is she fighting possession? And why is Discord there? Is he waiting? Did he give up?

    Wait.

    What if…

    What if he gave up on trying to have Princess Celestia possessed?

    What if he gave up, and tried a different approach, or… a different target!

    “Fluttershy!” She landed in front of the pegasus, trotting forward as the pegasus stepped back. “Fluttershy, when was the last recorded sighting of Discord?! Not with Rarity, but before that! Before she met me.”

    Her friend gave her a stare more owlish than that of the owls themselves. “Uhm… I… I don’t know, Princess,” she replied apologetically, ears folding. “I’m sorry…”

    “What? No! Why are you sorry? Don’t you understand what that means?!” Twilight asked, a smile sweeping across her face.

    “Uhm…”

    Fluttershy looked lost, which was perfectly fine, because Twilight was going to explain in a moment, anyway.

    “If Discord had appeared before Rarity met me, if he’d done anything, Equestria would know! Cadance would know! But he didn’t! And now he suddenly led Rarity to me so that we’d fight and the chaos magic would possess me!”

    “But… But why wait until now?” Fluttershy asked, and to that, Twilight had no immediately smart reply.

    Why wait until now?

    “I… I…” The words tumbled out Twilight’s mouth, her brain trying to put together some sort of… something. “I don’t know,” she admitted, finally, despite herself. “Maybe he couldn’t…? Maybe something happened? Or maybe he never could until… until Rarity became an opportunity…?”

    And to that, Fluttershy’s eyes widened.

    “The Book Bringer… The real one!” She gasped, her hoof flying to her mouth. “Zecora told him to stay away from the library! She never let anypony near, not even herself!”

    Twilight nodded, her heart hammering in her chest. “But nopony stopped Rarity!” she continued, and a viciously victorious smile plastered itself onto her face. “He tried to use her to get to me, but it didn’t work. His plan failed. He couldn’t control me, and instead, Rarity freed me.”

    She indicated Princess Celestia’s painting, and she could have sworn it was smiling at her.

    “And now we can free the Princess! We can free Princess Luna, and Cadance, and Princess Celestia! I can fix this, Fluttershy!”

    The words again tumbled out her mouth, a nervous thrilled excitement to them because princesses, for once, something was going right. Because Discord had led Rarity there to try and use her against Twilight, but instead, his weapon had become Twilight’s saving grace. Because even after the chaos magic had possessed her, it was Rarity’s impact in her life that ultimately freed her from it.

    Never had she been more acutely aware of the necklace brushing against her chest as she was in that moment. She pressed her hoof against it, biting down a smile. Maybe it was a good thing Rarity hadn’t come, or else…

    A blush flashed across the alicorn’s cheeks.

    Anyway,” she said, eager to move on from the topic in her mind. She picked up her cloak and put it back on, ignoring the tour guide collecting nearby monetary donations for the ‘Alicorn Programmed Event’. “We should go back.”

    “Oh yes.” She cleared her throat, and so did the owls all return to their several positions on top of Twilight. “I’m sure Spike and Rainbow want to hear your thoughts on the matter so we know what to do next.”

    “What to do next…?”

    Though it was obvious Fluttershy had said that innocently—why shouldn’t she? It was logical to assume Twilight would explain all to Spike and Dash—it still managed to jolt the alicorn’s nightmares awake.

    She remembered the last time ponies had listened and followed her theories, and she remembered very vividly living the consequences it brought.

    “Not yet,” she said at once.

    “Not yet?” Fluttershy asked, confused. She cocked her head to the side. “Why not?”

    “I want to think it over more,” she explained, smiling apologetically. “Until Rarity and Cadance are there. We might get a better idea on how to proceed if we all talk about it together.”

    Fluttershy, at least, seemed convinced. “All right.”

    “Let’s go,” Twilight said, throwing the painting one last less-pained glance before trotting off, feeling much more relieved at the prospect of having more time to think and analyze about what came next.

    And yet.

    And yet, no sooner had they taken five steps that Twilight stopped, her eyes landing on a mare walking off with a souvenir bag.

    “Could we stop to buy a souvenir?” she asked. “Maybe Rarity would like something.”

    “Of course! Rarity will be very happy.”

    Twilight licked her lips, and without a second thought, turned around and marched towards the tour guide.

    “Excuse me, some of these are for me,” she said, nonchalantly levitating a hoof-full of bits from inside the now generously filled makeshift donation box. She counted twenty-five whole bits, before looking back into the box and taking five more, which she distributed equally among her owls. “Can’t keep paying with chestnuts.”

    The tour guide gawked at her. “But—! But—!”

    Twilight blinked at her. “You did say I was a professional alicorn lookalike brought by your company, didn’t you?”

    “Well, yes, but—!”

    “Then it’s only fair I get paid for my work!” Twilight replied, offering the tour guide a shamelessly innocent smile. “Thank you!”

    With that, she trotted back towards Fluttershy.

    “Now, we can go!”


    The moonlight shone brightly that night, its soft silver glow draping itself atop the lone building waiting to greet exhausted travelers for a night’s rest. A large glowing sign—neon, Fluttershy explained—announced the place as Journey Repose.

    Behind it, Twilight saw shadows of the trail leading up the mountain, all the way up to the golden city looking down on the Kingdom. Artificial golden light shone from Canterlot, illuminating its swirling towers and meshing with the moon’s own light.

    For the first time in a thousand years, Twilight found herself a stone’s throw away from home.

    A home that had long ago forgotten her, save for the Princess waiting in the topmost tower.

    She wondered if she could even call it home anymore when everything she knew about it had vanished into fairytales.

    “Princess Twi? You okay?”

    The cold breeze and Rainbow Dash’s voice roused her from her thoughts. She’d been following her pegasi friends down the winding path, and only then did she realize she’d trailed behind.

    She nodded, even if it wasn’t altogether the truth. She was fine, certainly and technically, but emotionally… It had been a long day to cap off two even longer days.

    “I…”

    “Princess Twilight…?” Fluttershy asked, catching the Princess’s eyes. A silent exchange passed between them, a quiet understanding akin to the one they had earlier shared with the painting, and Fluttershy nodded almost imperceptibly. “We’ll go ahead.”

    Rainbow hesitated. “Well… If you’re sure,” she said, later turning around and trotting off towards the motel.

    Once their backs were turned and she was alone, her muscles loosened yet did not relax. Did that make sense? It was an odd sensation, to be clear. She didn’t relax as much as she resigned herself to…

    To a search for home and a place in this new Equestria.

    Another deep breath of air, the chilled air in her lungs awakening her body. She returned her gaze towards the motel and resumed her walk. Ponies lingered outside, some with bags and other affairs, and some sitting down by the dimly lit tables set outside. She noticed what looked like a couple sharing a meal together; a group of friends, their laughter and chatter filling the night air; a mare with a thin black cape, sketching or writing on something; and a few others, going about with their life.

    She observed them for a moment, and her eyes lingered on the dark silhouette of the sketching mare, seemingly lost in her own world as she had often seen Rarity do when drafting out new designs.

    A smitten smile made itself a home on her lips as she remembered her earlier realization and the wave of affection that had overtaken her. Once more, she was aware of the necklace on her chest, and yet—

    “A watched pot never boils.”

    She tore her eyes away from the couple, setting them instead on the pegasi disappearing in the distance. She broke into a gallop, catching up to the two mares and asking them to stop, her voice barely audible against the chatter of the group of friends nearby.

    “What’s up, Princess?” Rainbow asked. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

    Twilight nodded. “I have a question,” she said, and yet when it came time to voice it, a jarring feeling visited her.

    Rarity had deferred her necklace to Pinkie Pie, and now did Twilight question if she really wanted to know the motivation behind the action.

    “…Okay?” Rainbow asked, blinking at the mare. “What’s the question?”

    She tried to reply in some roundabout way, to pass off as unimportant what had for so long defined her relationship to Rarity, but she failed rather miserably. “Why has Pinkie been wearing Rarity’s necklace?”

    The question rushed out of her mouth, and two different reactions to the question collided with each other. Rainbow replied with startled confusion, hastily asking how did Twilight even know that. Fluttershy, however, who’d been present to the scene from days before, replied with a sudden seriousness to her expression.

    “I-I asked Rarity why, and she told me it was because a watched pot never boils,” she elaborated. “What did she mean by that?”

    “It’s an idiom,” Fluttershy replied after a moment’s thought. “It’s referring to how something we’re impatiently waiting for seems to take a very long time.”

    The Princess’s voice fell to a whisper. “Oh.”

    That feeling, she understood very well. She’d been subjected to it during the harrowing weeks Rarity had been cursed; the phantom pains in her chest as she waited by the door for a unicorn that may or may not ever come back.

    And she’d subjected Rarity to two years of that.

    “But why was Pinkie wearing it?” Twilight asked again.

    “Well… sometimes,” Fluttershy continued, “we’re waiting for that thing to happen so badly, we just wait for that and stop doing anything else.”

    Oh.

    Rainbow must have noticed Twilight’s expression at Fluttershy’s implication, because she swiftly stood by the Princess’s side, wrapping a foreleg around her.

    “Hey, it’s okay, Princess!” she said, the encouragement in her voice appreciated even if it was doing little for Twilight’s spirit. “Don’t let it get you down! You’re here now, right? You’re not going anywhere again.”

    Twilight met her and Fluttershy’s warm gazes, and even if it was more difficult than she imagined, returned their gestures with a grateful smile and a shake of her head.

    “No,” she said firmly, to herself or to them, she didn’t really know. “I’m not.”

    “That’s the attitude!” Rainbow exclaimed.

    She lifted her hoof and presented it to Twilight, an action which honestly confused her somewhat. She stared at it for a second before awkwardly shaking the pegasus’s hoof, drawing a delighted giggle from Fluttershy.

    “No, Princess, it’s a hoof-bump,” Rainbow said, shaking Twi’s hoof off and presenting her own again. “You have to, you know, bump your hoof against mine!”

    “…Why?”

    “Because that’s what cool ponies do when they’ve said something awesome!” Rainbow exclaimed. “You can do it! Just bump mine!” she insisted, and when Twilight gently bumped her hoof against hers, the pegasus grinned.

    The future was so strange.

    “We should hurry,” Fluttershy said, moving along. “It’s very late.”

    They made their way towards the motel, stepping through the doors and into the brightly lit lobby. As with outside, a few ponies meandered about, and yet the one that caught her and her companion’s attention was the orange earth pony mare waving her hat at them from the front desk.

    “Applejack?” they said in unison, and no sooner had the words left Twilight’s mouth did panic settle itself everywhere.

    Why is Applejack here? she thought in a frenzy, followed by a much more terrifying question. Where’s Rarity?

    “Howdy, y’all!” Applejack greeted when Twilight practically tripped over herself running to her. “Took you long enough to get here! ‘Fraid my hide was going to go sore from sittin’ here waiting for you.”

    “Applejack, what are you doing here?” Rainbow asked. Her face twisted in horror. “Please don’t tell me Rarity actually sent you here to check that the Princess slept in a motel.”

    Applejack waved her off. “Don’t be silly, filly. Rarity knew you’d keep your promise,” she said. “But don’t start getting ahead of me now.” She turned to Twilight, and her expression sobered. “How’re you holding up, Princess? You saw the painting today, didn’t you?”

    “Where’s Rarity?” Twilight asked, determined on solving much more pressing matters before engaging in trivial conversation. “Is she all right? Why isn’t she here with you? I don’t see he—”

    “Now, now, don’t get your apples in a bunch! Rarity’s fine an’ dandy,” Applejack said with a laugh. She put a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder and squeezed. “I promised you I’d keep her safe, and I ain’t breaking that promise anytime soon. We just came down here because she delivered her dresses on time. Since Pinkie’s busy with somethin’ in the city, Rarity got a bit antsy just the two of us, and well…” She cleared her throat. “Insisted we meet you halfway.”

    Immeasurable relief pulsed through Twilight’s very being, so much so she might actually need to sit down just to sigh.

    “She was waitin’ here with me about an hour ago, but I sent her off before she carved a darn groove in the floor,” she continued. “Told her I’d give her ten bits if she managed to draw the whole city before you came.”

    Twilight’s heart jumped.

    The mare sketching outside!

    “So, you feelin’ all right?” Applejack repeated. “You know we’re here for you if you want to talk.”

    “I am,” Twilight said, trying her best to focus on Applejack.

    “That’s good!” Applejack replied. “Where’d you gals leave Spike and the owls?”

    “Spike is going to sleep in the outskirts of town,” Twilight replied quickly. “The owls, as well.”

    “Figures they would. Would’ve been mighty difficult to get a dragon to sleep here!” She laughed at her own remark and then continued. “So, what’d you think of Granite’s Rest? Lots of good folk running the place. Fun, wasn’t it? ”

    Twilight stared. “It was all right.”

    “Bit of tourist trap, though. Did you buy anything? Some souvenirs? They had nice keychains last time we went.”

    “Uh-huh.”

    Applejack nodded, rubbing her mouth. “You know, the mugs are good, too. Bought one for Granny Smith to use for cider season, and the darn thing hasn’t broken even after she’s—”

    “Applejack?” Twilight cautiously interrupted.

    Applejack blinked. “Huh? Yes, Princess?” Her eyebrows furrowed. “You want me to stop yammerin’ so you can go find your marefriend, don’t you?”

    “Uhm.” A bright red tinge decorated Twilight’s cheeks. “Yes, please.”

    Applejack rolled her eyes, smiling at the laughs of the two other mares. “Fine, fine. I swear, you and Rarity are like a couple of newlyweds.” She turned towards the nearby counter and gestured to a mug. “At least bring her some coffee. Don’t want her freezing her cutie mark right off .”

    Levitating the mug into the air, Twilight thanked Applejack and the others before rushing off, heart hammering in her chest. She stepped outside and quietly walked towards the tables. She saw Rarity in the distance, a light shawl draped over her shoulders, still immersed in her drawing.

    Twilight crept up behind her, careful not to be seen. She stood up on the tip of her hooves, admiring the hasty pencil sketch under the glow of a nearby candle. It was beautiful, Twilight thought, and in some strange way, it made her want to be home more than the sight of the actual city itself.

    Without a word, she placed the mug on the table; action which Rarity did not seem to acknowledge until she spoke up.

    “Thank you, Applejack,” she said, moving on to sketch out one of the castle’s east towers. She stopped briefly to adjust her shawl. “Goodness, it’s such a cold night. I hope Twilight is using the blankets I packed for her.”

    She paused her drawing for a moment, tapping her pencil against her chin, still oblivious to the alicorn behind her.

    “I still don’t know what I’m going to tell her! If they even get there that is,” she continued, returning to her task as quickly as the words left her mouth. “Maybe you were right! I made such a show out of not going with her, and now here I am, unable to stay away for even three days! Do you think Rainbow will come with her? I hope not. She’ll never let me live it down! I can hear her calling me needy already! And maybe I am!” A long theatric sigh followed, after which she levitated her drawing and turned around. “What do you thi—”

    There they stood, gazing at each other, a mortified unicorn and an absolutely shamelessly delighted alicorn.

    “Well,” Rarity said shortly. She put the drawing down. “Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

    “Lady Rarity,” Twilight replied, the upwards curve of her lips almost villainous.

    “Fancy meeting you here.”

    “I could say the same.”

    “So you could.” Rarity folded her hooves on the table. “Did you hear everything I said?”

    “Every word, yes.”

    “I see.” She cleared her throat. “And do tell, how are you? I trust the trip was pleasant?”

    Twilight’s smile vanished. “Mostly. There was one problem.”

    Sudden worry marred Rarity’s face. “There was?” She lifted her hoof, cautiously placing it on Twilight’s chest. “Darling… Was it the… Was it the painting?”

    “No,” Twilight replied, and a very smitten smile decorated her face as she put her hoof on Rarity’s. “It was that you weren’t there.” She then giggled maliciously and leaned down. “Lucky for me you’re so needy.”

    Rarity’s giggling matched Twilight’s, her eyes sparkling with what Twilight knew to be unrestrained adoration–if only because her own eyes mirrored the feeling.

    “Oh, be quiet, Miss Smartypants,” Rarity chastised, and earning herself an apologetic kiss from Twilight in return.

    When they pulled apart, both mares sighed in much-needed relief, and Twilight settled herself next to Rarity, not caring if anypony saw her shamelessly nuzzling her significant other. She closed her eyes and, after making sure it was hidden under the cloak, unfurled a wing and wrapped it around Rarity, intent on keeping her close and warm.

    “I missed you,” she said.

    “I missed you, too,” Rarity echoed. She let out a soft laugh and craned her neck to nuzzle the alicorn. “I think I might have missed you a bit too much. It might be a problem.”

    Twilight echoed her earlier words, injecting them with more intent than ever. “I’m here now,” she said, tightening her grip around Rarity. “I’m not going away.”

    Gentle silence danced between them, both beginning to wander towards their different thoughts.

    “Did you manage to deliver your dresses?” Twilight asked.

    Rarity nodded, taking the pencil anew and tracing a few lines. “I did! Silver Heart was very pleased indeed, particularly seeing I was able to make some on-site adjustments.”

    Twilight smiled, her tail swishing under her cloak. She shared in Rarity’s accomplishments, and it made her feel better about Rarity having gone to know it had been for the best.

    Rarity fidgeted beside her. “Twilight, I…” Her statement cut off, drifting off into silence and meshing with the sound of charcoal scratching against the paper. Twilight was about to try and encourage Rarity to speak up but before she could do so, Rarity put the pencil down and leaned against her.

    “I’m sorry wasn’t there for you.”

    “You needed time,” Twilight gently reminded.

    The pencil levitated again, and a tower sharply began to gain color. “I know that, but…”

    Again, she trailed off, and the pencil flipped upside-down, erasing the harsh lines before flipping again and filling the blank space with softer strokes.

    She turned her head for a moment, enough that their eyes met.

    “Are you all right? Was that… Was it her?”

    Twilight nodded. “I’m nearly a hundred percent sure it was.”

    Rarity looked crestfallen. “Oh, sweetest… I’m sorry…”

    Twilight shook her head. “No! It’s not a bad thing. I mean, it is, but… but it’s something that can help us.” She leaned down and nuzzled Rarity again, wanting to relieve some of her worry. “I’m fine. I just need time to think and gather my thoughts.”

    Rarity’s laugh filled the air. “Why! Doesn’t that sound familiar?”

    “It does!” Twilight replied, and though she tried to join in on Rarity’s mirth, another thought forced itself way out. She needed to ask. “And did you? Gather any thoughts?”

    She braced herself for Rarity to freeze up, as she had often before, but instead, the unicorn merely sighed dramatically.

    “I did, yes,” she answered. “Not all thoughts, but some thoughts.”

    Twilight nodded. “And…?”

    “And I think, for now, I want us to be close,” she said, emphasizing her words by pressing her body against Twilight’s.

    “Tired of waiting for the pot to boil?” Twilight ventured, and what a winning sensation enveloped her when Rarity snorted in a very unladylike manner, enough to set Twilight off in a string of giggles.

    “Perhaps,” Rarity murmured in a musical voice. “Perhaps.”

    Twilight turned her attention back to the drawing, and Rarity’s own gaze followed shortly after.

    “I suppose there’s no point in finishing this now,” she remarked. “I won’t be winning ten bits anymore.”

    “I want you to finish it. But before that…” Twilight said, opening her bag with a tendril of magic and taking out the souvenir she’d bought: a purple bitbag inlaid with several multicolored gemstones. “ Here. It’s for you.”

    “Darling! This is adorable!” Rarity exclaimed, taking it in her hooves. “Wherever did you get this?”

    “I bought it,” Twilight quickly said. “Do you like it?”

    “I do, I do! But… You bought this? How? Don’t tell me somepony actually accepted Elara’s chestnuts as currency!”

    “What? No!” Twilight exclaimed, aghast. “I paid for it with bits, silly!”

    Rarity giggled. “Oh, good. We’ll have to pay Fluttershy back later, then.”

    Twilight frowned. “Pay her back? Why? I paid for that with my earnings. I hope it’s okay I stored them in the bitbag for now.”

    Rarity moved away so she might see Twilight. “Pardon me? Your earnings?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

    Twilight grinned. “From my new job.”

    “Your new job?!” she sputtered. “You have a job? Well! This is quite—! I mean—! I’m impressed! I’m glad you’ve been able to so quickly integrate yourself into the working forces, dearest. Are you going to invite me for a spot of tea at your brand new house next? I’m dying to find out how this all happened.”

    Twilight rolled her eyes. “Pffft.” She took the bitbag in her magic and opened it, retrieving two five-bit coins and placing them on the table. “It’s a long story, and you have a drawing to finish.”

    Rarity took the pencil. “How lucky for me that it’s a big castle, then.”

    She settled herself comfortably in Twilight’s winged-embrace, and Twilight quietly watched her draw, as transfixed by the lines and the castle coming to life before her as she constantly was by Rarity herself. For the briefest moment, she glanced back up at Canterlot City, remembering her earlier sensation, her longing for a home.

    “Well?” Rarity’s voice caressed her ears. “Your adoring crowd is waiting for a story, Your Highness.”

    And as she began to talk, Twilight wondered if maybe home wasn’t so much a place as it was a pony to be with.


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    1. A Deer
      Apr 3, '23 at 3:56 am

      You know Twilight’s fond of you when she takes apart your appliances. I love you so I disassembled your toaster.

      I really enjoy the moments of humor and how they mix in with the heavier moments. It’s done very well and flows nicely. Also loved the end with Rarity and Apple jack showing up. The set up from the beginning of the chapter for their unexpected arrival helped deliver the moment. I enjoyed this chapter a lot. The way it’s structured intrigues me.

      I’m about to fall asleep so I hope I didn’t make typos – I must remain a beacon of perfection. It’s easy to do since I erase all my mistakes from memory.

    2. Zanna Zannolin
      Oct 10, '22 at 10:21 pm

      this chapter was SO COOL like. i don’t know how you do it but you just constantly manage to blow my mind with your worldbuilding and your plot and when they come together like they did in this chapter!!! a match made in heaven, truly. i’m not kidding and i’m not saying it lightly when i say i think this series may be my favorite plot of any fic i’ve ever read. it’s so well-constructed and engaging and fun ohhh man it’s great.

      okay down to business. twilight my beloved, already taking apart rarity’s appliances….all is right with the world. honestly any time rarity and twilight get a moment to be soft™ i start screaming they’re just so. they’re SO. you know??? i mean obviously you know you converted me to this ship. but my god. the vision.

      the entire concept of the weeping mare painting is fucking brilliant. it’s a lot like the statues in canterlot, these pieces of history that people don’t necessarily realize are even history; works of art that take on a whole new level of meaning when someone with the right information looks at them. it’s just so fun and fascinating to look at them through the lens of knowledge hidden in plain sight. am i making sense? i don’t know, i love it and it gives me chills. and the explanation about how unicorn magic works with the grooves on the horn? BRILLIANT. not to mention how that all ties in to the plot like??? oh my god she’s fighting the possession and discord is actively trying to possess princesses? WHY? surely there were other things he could have done. if he just wanted equestria in chaos, he already subdued all the princesses! he could have just gone back to chocolate milk rain and whatnot…but he DIDN’T and that makes me very very worried. the thought that maybe he’s been wearing celestia down all this time….”there is no hope for us” by the way what the fuck this bit gave me actual chills. i feel like i need to be tacking red thread to a corkboard right now i’m SO interested in what’s going on here. rattles discord like a maraca. WHAT ARE YOU UP TO.

      twilight and her earnings was very funny to me btw like i couldn’t stop giggling. it was a great contrast to twilight’s grief about all she’s missed, and how we’re seeing in flashes and snippets how she’s so painfully unsure of herself now, not just because she’s basically displaced in time, but because she still blames herself for landing them all in this mess and she’s afraid to trust her theories and ideas because well look how the elements of harmony ended up?? <- speaking of the elements. don't think i've forgotten the wisp in rarity's saddlebag in tel. i think about you daily, wisp in rarity's saddlebag. tell me your secrets. what are you up to.

      and then just :((( raritwi quiet moment…rarity sketching by candlelight and twilight bringing her coffee….the image is just so lovely, with rarity wondering if twilight is using the blankets she sent with her. it's so soft and sweet and loving and i'm Fineeeeeee.

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