“Twilight, how are we supposed to live here?”
“The princess will help me build a library here, Spike. I need to have my books nearby during my research if we want to find a weapon to stop him.”
“But… how are we supposed to hide from him with a library here? He will find it! It isn’t as if we can build a secret library under the tree…”
“…Spike, you just gave me a great idea…”
The history of the Everfree Forest was shrouded in as much mystery as the story of the princess living in its midst. For how long had those trees been the guardians of the library, and how long would it take for the princess’ past to finish seeping out of her words like resin from the forest trees? It had been only two days, but questions howled in Rarity’s mind over and over, like timberwolves never giving up their chase for their prey—or, in her case, answers. Thousands of answers that lay buried within the lost library, and thousands of answers Rarity would soon acquire…
If only I could actually find the blasted library in the first place!
“Rarity, this is the third time we’ve been past this tree…”
“Don’t be silly! We haven’t been near this tree three times,” Rarity insisted, even though they’d walked past it four times already—which, incidentally, was likely the number of hours they’d spent searching for Princess Twilight’s library.
It was destiny, wasn’t it? Fate deciding that, now that Rarity was prepared, finding the library was suddenly akin to trying to find a discount Saddle Arabian fabric during the last day of a Bloominghooves’ sale. Her boots were completely covered in mud, her manestyle was starting to lose its luster, the assorted items in her saddlebag were starting to feel heavier and heavier, and her best friend was beginning to think she was off her rocker… if she hadn’t been thinking that since Rarity had gone to her with her proposal.
She isn’t, surely?
“Fluttershy, you saw the tree!” she exclaimed helplessly, stopping in her tracks and turning to the pegasus. When her friend bit her lip and looked down at the ground, Rarity stamped her hoof on the ground. “And that abandoned house the girls were hiding in? It makes sense! Honestly, what possible reason would I have for making any of this up? I know I have a cat, but that doesn’t make me a crazy old cat lady!”
Fluttershy’s ears clamped down against her head and she reluctantly looked up toward the irate unicorn. “Rarity… can we just go home? Please?” Her apprehension was understandable, especially since she had spent two hours lost in the Everfree Forest with the fillies the other night.
Though Rarity felt guilty that her curiosity allowed Fluttershy to wander off completely alone with two fillies, that same guilt could easily be applied toward the lonely princess. She couldn’t just give up on finding her again, could she? Even if she’d wanted to, she found it impossible to move on. Pretending that Princess Twilight didn’t exist was something she simply couldn’t do. It flowed through her head constantly. Every book she saw, every accidental glance toward the forest, every mention of the royal family…
All of those things would forever be reminders of the secrets she had discovered beneath that hollow oak.
Rarity looked away from Fluttershy’s accusatory gaze. “You… don’t believe me, do you?” she asked quietly, her resignation sounding much more like a hurt accusation. She expected that from anypony else, especially considering Diamond Dusk’s reaction to what she told them, but to see Fluttershy doubt her words… She would be lying if she said it didn’t sting that her most trusted confidant no longer seemed very earnest in holding said position.
“I understand. You clearly share Dusk’s belief that I must have suffered fear-induced hallucinations.”
Her words were much sharper than Fluttershy deserved, and though she immediately regretted them, her frustration far outweighed her instinct to apologize. It didn’t make sense, not a single bit, how difficult it was to find the library. It didn’t help that, for every step they took, for every minute that ticked by, her understanding of why her friend might think she’d lost her mind grew.
“That’s not fair,” Fluttershy replied, her voice loud and clear if a bit hesitant. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe you.”
Rarity looked back to her friend, grinding her teeth and flattening her ears against her head. For Fluttershy to have felt the need to say that, well… “I apologize, Fluttershy,” she said finally, frustration and helplessness dripping from every syllable. She lifted her hoof and rubbed it against her forehead, letting out a drawn-out sigh. “I just… You saw the book, and I— I give you my word I’m not lyi—”
“Let’s look around one more time,” Fluttershy interrupted her softly, an encouraging smile on her lips. She looked around and gulped. “If… if we don’t find it, we can always look again tomorrow, right? Princess…”
“Right,” Fluttershy continued with a nod. “Princess Twilight isn’t going anywhere, is she?” she added with a soft giggle that was fortunately contagious.
Rarity smiled and shook her head. “No, I suppose she isn’t,” she said, giggling as well. “Onwards, then!” More marching through the dark and dismal forest followed her enthusiastic declaration, her eyes scouring the forest for the tree like a hawk. It wasn’t until they reached Zecora’s hut that she stopped briefly to rest.
Not a single light shone inside the herbalist’s house, which was not that surprising considering Zecora had left Ponyville for a week after Seeking Night. It wasn’t unusual for the zebra to leave for weeks on end, but she always made sure to attend important events, if only to help her public image.
“I don’t understand! The tree should be right near here!” Rarity exclaimed, turning away from the window and toward the forest. “Or the house, at the very least! We could see Zecora’s house from there, couldn’t we?”
Fluttershy looked around for a bit before turning to Rarity. “I… I don’t know?” she admitted. She looked toward the forest again, and rubbed her hoof against her mouth. “You just said that the light we saw was Zecora’s house, but the girls and I never actually saw if it was.”
“But it was!” Rarity insisted, even though she herself never went to Zecora’s house that night. “…Wasn’t it? I mean, what else could it have been?” She very much doubted anypony else lived in the Everfree Forest, and unless manticores or other beasts traveled with torches, there wasn’t much else the light could have been. “You’ll see. That house must be nearby,” she insisted, once more trotting off with Fluttershy close behind.
And, as the increasingly aggravating twists of fate would have it, the abandoned house was nowhere to be found. They went back and forth for at least twenty more minutes, and for a moment Rarity worried that maybe she had hallucinated the entire ordeal. She came to a halt and let out a frustrated and unladylike growl, picking up a stray branch with her magic and throwing it against a nearby tree. Well, fine! she thought, throwing the distant darkness a sullen glare. If she doesn’t want to be found, then so be it! I have much better things to do than play hide-and-seek with an oak tree all night.
A low growl pulled her out of her thoughts, and her ears flicked up, suddenly alert. Goodness, she knew they hadn’t had lunch or dinner yet, but that was no reason for Fluttershy to act like that. It was most unbecoming.
“Yes, all right, let’s go home,” Rarity sighed, finally giving in to her friend’s wishes. She turned toward Fluttershy and scolded, “There’s no need to make those noi— Fluttershy?”
Something was wrong. All color had drained from Fluttershy’s face, and her wide eyes were fixed intently on the worried unicorn.
“F-Fluttershy?” she whispered, her own heartbeat accelerating exponentially. “W-what’s wrong?”
“R-R-Rarity, d-don’t l-loo—”
Fluttershy’s stammered warning never reached its conclusion for she suddenly closed her mouth and let out a small, terrified squeak. It was, however, not difficult for Rarity to guess what the rest of her warning was meant to convey. Every single hair on her coat stood on its end, her breathing became quick and shallow, and she slowly turned around to see whatever had made that unearthly sound.
About ten feet away, two narrowed glowing green eyes stared back at her. The wooden wolf-like creature exhaled putrid green fumes from between its sharp bared fangs, and the twigs and leaves that made up its body were dripping with mud and other things Rarity didn’t want to think about.
She carefully took a step away from the timberwolf, not once breaking eye contact with it. “Fluttershy, darling?” she asked, trying to appear calmer and more collected than she actually felt. She received a barely audible squeak in reply. “You remember when Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo roped us into playing hide-and-seek with them? How we had to carefully sneak around the house so they wouldn’t find us?” Another squeak. “Follow my lead, then.”
In perfect terrified synchronization, the two mares stepped back, prompting the timberwolf to give a low growl and take a step toward them. They managed a frankly monumental five steps more, but their fortune ended with a dead branch: the timberwolf answered the crack under their hooves with an earsplitting howl. It jumped toward them, and they could do nothing but—
Without wasting a second, Rarity bolted after Fluttershy. They lost themselves deeper and deeper in the frightening forest and all sense of direction disappeared too. It already felt like they’d been running for hours, and Rarity’s legs quickly started to burn with exhaustion, but the looming threat of the timberwolf’s jaws was, unsurprisingly, very effective in keeping them motivated.
Eventually, the howling dwindled more and more. She focused on the pony in front of her, and failed to notice the small hole she was running toward. With a high-pitched eek!, Rarity fell into the hole and landed on her right hoof.
Said hoof, still not completely recovered from the ordeals Princess Twilight had imposed on it, was not in the most healthy of states, so when she landed on it and twisted it completely, she could only let out an agonized shriek at the stinging pain that shot up her foreleg. She collapsed to the ground, tears running down her face, and looked up to Fluttershy.
“R-Rarity!” Fluttershy exclaimed, trotting toward her. She tried helping the unicorn back to her hooves, but stopped in fright when the timberwolf emerged once more from the trees.
Rarity looked at it, and then turned to Fluttershy and tried pushing her away, already presuming herself dead. “Go! Run!” she yelled, not wanting her friend to die as well in such a miserable state and place. She was very moved when Fluttershy responded by clinging to her in an awkward attempt at protection. Looking back to the fearsome beast that stalked closer, Rarity thought of Princess Twilight and desperately wished she were here to blast the timberwolf away.
And that’s when she heard the hoot of an owl.
Before the timberwolf could turn them into its evening feast, a familiar black owl flew down from the branches of a tree and started pecking away at the timberwolf’s face. The valiant attack was enough to distract the beast from the two mares, and he turned his attention toward the small owl instead.
Had… had the princess sent her familiar to save them?
Themis continued pecking at the timberwolf, flapping his wings wildly and eventually resorting to scratching at its green eyes with his sharp claws, giving Fluttershy enough time to help Rarity up, while the timberwolf viciously snapped and swatted at Themis.
Though the bird was quick, he wasn’t quick enough. Much to the horror of the two mares, the timberwolf’s frenzied swatting finally paid off, and Themis was hurled toward the bark of a tree. He slammed against it with a thud, falling to the ground and lying motionless at the base of the tree.
Oh no! Rarity thought helplessly. Is he…?
Anger boiled up inside of her, and she suddenly felt willing to take on the timberwolf—but her plans were preempted by a second hoot, much angrier than the first. Seconds later, a white owl shot out from another tree and began to viciously peck at the timberwolf. The timberwolf tried the same tactic that had worked so well on the black owl, but the white one was much faster, noisily flapping her wings and flying in circles around it.
Without warning, the owl took off into the forest and the timberwolf chased after her. It wasn’t until the growling faded away completely that Fluttershy went back to helping Rarity stand up. Despite the intense pain when she put weight on her hoof, she had other concerns. Fluttershy seemed to share one of them: a little owl that was groggily stumbling about. Once he had regained some amount of balance, he flew up a few feet, fell down, successfully tried again, and slowly and unsteadily flew off into the depths of the forest.
“W-wait!” called Rarity, trying to run after him but not getting very far with her injured hoof. He was probably going back to the library, and that might be the only chance she had of ever finding the place again. She turned back to Fluttershy. “Come on! We might still be able to catch him!” Her ears dropped when Fluttershy made no move to follow. “Fluttershy? Those are the princess’ owls! We need to—”
“Fluttershy!” she half-exclaimed, half-whined, looking back and forth between the long-gone owl and her friend, gesturing wildly at the same time. “But—! You—! The owl—! And the princess—! What do you mean ‘no’?!” she demanded, receiving a meek but firm “no” in reply again. “Fluttershy!” she screeched, forgetting about her injured hoof until the moment she unconsciously slammed it against the ground in annoyance and then gave out a pained yelp.
Of all the times for Fluttershy to be assertive, why did it have to be now?! Rarity might have been proud of her friend if only she didn’t want to stomp off in a huff and follow the owl herself. “But, Fluttershy, he’s injured! Even if we don’t find the princess, we can’t just let him fly around like that!” she shot back, stomping her healthy hoof on the floor for emphasis.
Fluttershy winced slightly, her ears lowering. “He’s injured because of us, and because we didn’t leave before the timberwolf found us,” she pointed out. “I… I don’t like leaving the little owl injured like that, but it’s night already, and you’re injured too.”
Fluttershy merely sighed and offered a small smile. “Let’s go home, please?” she said, still phrasing it as a question with an option even after everything Rarity had put her through. “We’ll try again when you’re better.”
Rarity observed her for a moment, part of her still deeply wanting to go after the owl, but she eventually relented and nodded her head. With a few shaky and painful steps, she went toward her friend and followed her home.
Without looking back, Rarity took a deep breath and told herself that she didn’t want to see Princess Twilight again.
Days later, she would miserably realize she had been technically right. It wasn’t that she wanted to see Princess Twilight again, it was that she needed—and that was a very strong needed—to see her again.
The constant sound of her hooves against wood served as the clock ticking down her descent into madness as she paced around her workroom for yet another hour. Her physical appearance did wonders accentuating the frazzled state of her mind: disheveled mane with strands of hair sticking out, constant chewing on her lip when she wasn’t busy mumbling, and the little twitch her eyes did whenever she stepped with her bandaged hoof.
Rarity was losing it, and she was well aware of that fact. Even other ponies were quite curious about the entire affair. Gossip and rumors spread like wildfire, and the entire town knew Rarity had gone into Everfree Forest during Seeking Night. There was also the fact that even though he hadn’t said what she’d rambled about, Diamond Dusk had mentioned to three dozen ponies that Rarity had been acting “odd” after they found her.
She wasn’t surprised the entire town was dying to know what she had seen in that forest, but if even Fluttershy didn’t believe her, then she couldn’t possibly expect other ponies to do so.
“I need to see her again, Opal. I fear that I’ll go mad if I don’t.”
For the cat curled up on her master’s chaise longue, the constant pacing might have been rather soothing and a perfect hypnosis into dreamland, but it was difficult to doze off when Rarity kept talking out loud to herself. Opal meowed out in reply, stretching herself for a minute before curling back up into a ball. While her meow was more a yawn than an answer, ponies sadly did not excel in understanding the intricate language of cats, and Rarity was free to interpret the answer as she wished.
“I’m not crazy, Opalescence!” she shrieked, stamping her good hoof against the floor and glaring at her pet, who replied by flattening her ears against her head and hissing at the unicorn’s shrill shrieks. Rarity harrumphed and went back to her definitely not delirious mumbling. “I don’t need to see her again!” she claimed. “I do need to see her again,” she confessed. “No, I don’t!” she exclaimed.
Did someone care about Princess Twilight? Not her, that’s for sure.
She didn’t care when she went back with Fluttershy, nor did she care the other six times she tried sneaking back into the forest. “Tried” was the key word because it was rather difficult to actually get in the forest when Fluttershy kept dropping by to check in on her. She knew Fluttershy wanted her to rest, but honestly, couldn’t a mare be left to sneak out of her house in peace?
Princess Twilight Sparkle didn’t matter. She most certainly wasn’t a thought that never went away and made it difficult to think of something else, because how can one think of something else if the thought never pauses and goes away like a fast-paced sentence with almost no punctuation whatsoever, just word after word that consumes thoughts and doesn’t let one breathe and—
“Her book!” she retorted to an unasked question, levitating the weighty tome she had borrowed and showing the first page to her thoroughly uninterested feline. “It says ‘Property of Twilight Sparkle’! See?!” She put the book down on the couch and levitated Opalescence over to her, pressing the cat against her chest. “They think I’ve lost my sanity, but they’re wrong!” She pulled Opalescence back and lifted her, their faces so close together that Opalescence could easily take a swipe at her. “You believe me, don’t you, darling?! Don’t you?!”
When her beloved cat and sole true friend in that dark and dreary world of despair and distrust merely yowled at her, a realization came crashing down upon Rarity with the force of a thousand scratching and sharpened claws.
Oh my stars, I really am turning into a crazy cat lady!
And if that was to be her destiny, then she would willingly embrace it.
“If Princess Twilight is to be my madness, then so be it!” she proclaimed, throwing her poor cat back onto the fainting couch. It didn’t matter that Opal fled the room, or that there was no cheering audience to feel inspired by her declarations; all that mattered was that her mind was set, and she’d find that forsaken princess even if she had to fight another timberwolf, no matter the cost.
And then, once the princess was found, all Rarity would need was an instant camera for instant proof of her permanent sanity. Ah, Rarity, you are a genius; misunderstood in your time. With a dazzling picture of the princess, no one would be able to refute her claims! Plus, she had plans to go to Canterlot in a fortnight so she could take them to Princess Denza herself! It was a fool-proof plan!
Chuckling to herself over what was a brilliant plan, if she did say so herself, she rushed into the foyer and donned her saddlebag. With a spark of magic, Princess Twilight’s book appeared in front of her and she quickly stuffed it into the bag. I’ll buy a camera, then go and find the princess, return her book and take the pictures, she told herself, trotting out of her boutique.
It was only midday, and a quick trip to Ponyville’s shopping area would land her in Flitter Shutter’s shop where she’d purchase the best instant camera available. Could cameras even take pictures of ghosts? She didn’t suppose there was such a thing as a guide on how to take paranormal pictures, was there? Maybe Flitter might have something of the sort.
So lost was she in her fantasy of being lauded as the “mare who found Princess Twilight” that she failed to notice the odd looks ponies gave her as she passed them by. Their whispers went unheard, drowned out by the sound of fast-paced trotting and her own loud thoughts. She could already see her beautiful vintage camera—
—and the pictures of Princess Twilight. Speaking of Princess Twilight, Rarity wondered what she would look like with her mane tied up; she imagined the princess would look rather fetching. Was it even possible to tie her mane up? Surely some kind of makeover could be done. After that, she’d take zillions of photographs, one for every resident of Equestria so then everypony would know without a shadow of a doubt that Rarity wasn’t off her rocke—
“Huh?” She turned around, snapped out of her thoughts, and saw an orange mare right behind her. “Oh, Applejack!”
The earth pony and her family were Ponyville’s resident farmers. Granny Smith, Applejack’s grandmother, was long rumored to be the oldest inhabitant of Ponyville. Though Rarity and Applejack did not share much in common, they got along well enough.
Applejack smiled and shook her head. “Land sakes, Rarity, I’ve been hollerin’ at you for at least five minutes. I was about ready to give up!”
“Oh? Have you?” Rarity felt her cheeks grow hot. She cleared her throat and adjusted her saddlebag.
Applejack smiled wider. “Sure as sugar. Been meaning to talk to ya, but I couldn’t find the time… ’til now, that is. I’ve… been hearin’ some things about ya.”
Rarity held her breath. “O-oh? Have you now?” she asked as nonchalantly as she could, which turned out to be not at all. “Good things, I hope?”
Applejack’s smile turned sheepish and she rubbed the back of her neck with a hoof. “Well, not as such… A lot about what happened to ya on Seekin’ Night… I just wanted ta say tha—”
Sweet heavens above, did everypony believe she’d gone crazy?! She knew that she hadn’t been herself lately, but this was ridiculous! Oh, she couldn’t wait until she had those pictures to throw them at all their disbelieving faces!
“Applejack,” she interrupted, smiling thinly and taking a deep breath. “I don’t know what Diamond Dusk has gone around saying about me, but I insist you hear my version before believing his. Honestly, the Everfree Forest is a terrifying place, maybe he’s the one who got hypnotized, hm? And you know how he loves gossip, he might as well join the local gossip club!”
“Whoa there, sugarcube,” Applejack said, holding up a hoof to forestall any more ranting. “I was just gonna say I thought it was very brave that you went into Everfree all by your lonesome, especially to save your sister.” She looked to her left where the gloom of the forest loomed on the horizon. “Apples’ve been here since the town was founded, and in all that time, as many ponies dared go into that forest as I’ve got hooves. So…” She looked back and grinned. “Yer either brave or foolhardy, but I like that.”
Rarity smiled, drawing herself up a bit taller. She had been rather courageous, had she not? “Ah, yes, well I couldn’t just leav— Wait,” she interrupted herself, and tilted her head. “You… Your family! They’ve been here since Ponyville’s founding?” she asked, excitement bubbling up inside her. If that was true, then it would mean that one of Applejack’s ancestors must have met Princess Twilight and her library before she was trapped!
“Sure as sugar!” Applejack replied cheerfully. “Granny Smith’s grandaddy’s papa founded Ponyville, as a matter of fact!”
Rarity’s heart started beating wildly in her chest. This… This meant that the Apple Family must have had books, scrolls, information about Equestria before Twilight was trapped, all of it hidden away in their barn! Perhaps even a clue as to how to find the library again!
“Yep,” Applejack continued proudly, seeming lost in the story of her family’s role in the founding of the town. “He moved here with his lil’ struggling family, and since nopony had built anythin’ near the Everfree Forest, he decided to build his barn, and then other travelers settled in, and—”
Wait a second.
The Everfree Forest?
That couldn’t be right! The legend said the Spirit grew the Everfree Forest around Princess Twilight’s library! Even that house with that tree growing through it confirmed it! Didn’t it?
“Stop, stop, darling!” Rarity interrupted hastily, trying to keep her breathing steady. “You… You mean to tell me that the Everfree Forest was already there before Ponyville’s founding?” she said carefully, articulating every word as if talking to a foal.
Applejack nodded. “My great-great-grandaddy discovered the secret to Zap Apple Jam and figured he’d build the farm near the forest.”
“A-and did he build houses inside the forest?! Surely he must have!” Rarity said, her voice becoming increasingly desperate with every answered question. “A library, perhaps?”
Applejack merely snorted at that. “Don’t talk nonsense! Why would he—or anypony—want to live in the Everfree Forest?” she asked, shaking her head. She then took on a much less amused expression and continued, “That place ain’t safe, Rarity. My great-great-uncle Apple Crumble got himself killed by timberwolves. Then there’s all kinds of dangerous critters, not to mention them endless sinkholes. Nopony except for Zecora’s ever lived the—”
“No!” Rarity exclaimed, stamping her hoof against the ground. “No, no, no, no! It doesn’t make sense!” Without warning, she started trotting in circles around Applejack, rambling on relentlessly. “He couldn’t have built it after the Everfree Forest! Don’t you see?! The plaque on the library! It said ‘Ponyville Public Library’!” She stopped and turned to Applejack, breathing heavily. “How do you explain the plaque?! How?!”
Applejack looked completely at a loss for words. “Rarity, you ain’t making a lick of sen—”
“Applejack, I’m not crazy! I saw the tree, I saw the plaque!” she insisted helplessly, covering her face with her hooves and groaning with frustration. After a moment, she let them fall, sighing as she looked up and… found a small white owl flying in circles above them, carrying something in its claws.
“Elara…?” she whispered, her eyes going wide and her heart starting to beat at what was certainly an unhealthy rate. Oddly enough, it also felt as though time had stopped while her eyes stuck to Elara as if she was a ghost. She survived the timberwolf attack! But… had she come looking for Rarity? Had Princess Twilight sent her? Did this mean Rarity could find the library again?
Applejack looked up as well. “Wouldja look at that! I thought owls were night critters, but this one’s out in plain daylight!” she exclaimed, following Elara’s flight pattern with her eyes. She narrowed her eyes. “What’s it carrying?”
Before either of them could hope to figure out what Elara had, the owl suddenly looked down at Rarity and flew off toward the distance. Rarity panicked at the sight, realizing the only other creature in Ponyville who’d seen Princess Twilight was getting away. Without another word to Applejack, she ran off after Elara, pain shooting up her leg with every stride.
“Ra-Rarity?!” Applejack called, prompting the unicorn to glance back.
“We’ll resume this conversation at a later time! We need to talk!”
That said, Rarity looked back toward Elara, who made a sudden sharp turn and disappeared around the corner of a house. Oh no you don’t, Rarity thought, chasing after the owl and dodging ponies as she ran.
Every so often, the owl would turn back for a moment, almost as if making sure Rarity was following. After the third or fifth turn, she suddenly sped up tremendously, and Rarity panicked when she lost sight of her completely. Turning the corner of a house, Rarity reached a small commercial plaza with a fountain in the middle. Some ponies were trotting around, talking and eating, and others were looking at the displays of the plaza’s many shops. To Rarity’s great dismay, Elara was nowhere to be seen. She had been so close, and now her only chance to find Princess Twilight had literally flown away—possibly forever.
She looked around at the storefronts, hoping to find the owl perched on one of the buildings. She trotted past the fabrics shop, the grocery, the home goods store, and finally stopped in front of Inky Owl’s Quills & Scrolls. The outside of the shop was decorated with an owl motif, the wooden frame of the door carved with drawings of different kinds of night birds. On the other side of the window was a display of multicolored quills, as well as a large assortment of crystal inkwells shaped like owls.
Exactly like the one she’d seen in Princess Twilight’s library.
On the outside of the shop was a large blue cauldron filled almost to the brim with some sort of black liquid, and upon closer inspection, she realized it was black ink. Not only that, but placed right beside the cauldron was a single owl-shaped inkwell. Unlike the ones inside the shop, this one looked old and dirty, traces of ink still present inside it. The glass had scratch-marks, as well. Is this what Elara was carrying? she thought, gingerly taking the inkwell in her hoof to take a closer look.
“Put that back!” a voice suddenly hissed at her. “Put it back, I said!”
She immediately looked around and noticed a black unicorn stallion standing under the frame of the shop door, frantically waving down with his hoof. His foreleg had been replaced with a peg leg, and Rarity wasn’t sure she wanted to know what accident had made that necessary. “Oh, excuse me!” she said, quickly putting the inkwell back on the ground. “I thought…”
He harrumphed and trotted toward her, levitating the inkwell and taking out the cork. He then carefully dipped it inside the cauldron and filled it up with ink. Once filled, he cleaned it up, put the cork back on, and returned it to its former place on the ground. “Those owls have been coming for centuries, and I’m not letting a nosy mare be the first one to stop them,” he said, turning around and going back inside his shop, leaving Rarity alone with the inkwell. Did that mean it really did belong to the princess?
Rarity looked from the inkwell to the shop, eyes wide. They’ve been coming for centuries?! Centuries’ worth of owls… doing heavens knows what, and he’s never questioned it? Never wondered where or why they were coming?! Or… Or was she perhaps not the only one who knew of Princess Twilight’s existence?
“Wait a minute, please!” she called, rushing inside the shop.
Dimly lit magical light bulbs illuminated the somber-looking shop, the scent of ink and parchment filled her nose, and the entire wooden owl-themed decor made for quite the sight. Small cauldrons filled with ink of all colors were scattered around, and Rarity couldn’t help but think that all it needed was a cat for the place to look like a witch’s house. As she made her way toward the end of the shop, she passed by shelves and shelves of assorted calligraphy items: fountain pens, quills, inkwells, parchment of all colors—some of them boasting prices that were almost absurd.
She finally found Inky Owl bending down behind a wooden black counter, looking for something at his hooves. On the wall behind him hung a frame, and inside it was what looked like an elegant yet minimalistic drawing of a baby dragon. The parchment inside the frame was old and worn-out, and had small rips here and there. The word “Solar” was written on top of the dragon.
“What do you need?” Inky Owl asked, straightening up and placing a jar filled with chestnuts on the table. He tapped his forehoof impatiently against the counter, not bothering to hide Rarity’s unwanted presence. “Be quick, it’ll be back for the ink soon.”
“‘It’ will be back for ink?” Rarity asked. “The owl, you mean? And they’ve been coming for centuries?”
Inky Owl nodded and flashed a proud smile. “They’ve been coming ever since my great-grandfather started his business. Very first day, a brown owl landed on that very cauldron outside and my great-grandfather gave it his very first owl-shaped inkwell for good luck. Ever since then, owls have been coming to get ink and leaving a chestnut as payment.” He gave the jar a fond look. “My father used to say we were blessed by the owls.”
…Blessed by the owls? Really?
“But, don’t you know where they’re taking the ink? Or who’s sending them? Or why?” Rarity asked, not understanding how Inky Owl or any of his ancestors hadn’t asked themselves those questions before. “Haven’t you tried following them before?”
Inky Owl smiled thinly. “Oh, of course, I’ve tried following them. All the way into the Everfree Forest, as a matter of fact.” He lifted his peg leg and it landed on the table with a thud. “The timberwolves weren’t so happy to see me there, though. Must admit the only reason I’m alive is those owls found me and started pecking at the beast.
“I suspect they must keep coming out of habit,” he continued, looking toward the wall and using his magic to float down the framed illustration. He carefully took the parchment out of the frame and presented it to Rarity. “The first owl brought several of these to my great-grandfather; most were lost, but this one survived thanks to a preservation spell. According to my grandfather, every one of the messages was just a drawing and a title, probably done by the owner of the owls. I assume they must have passed away since the messages stopped coming one day.”
Rarity inspected the drawing, though it was a bit difficult to examine properly due to bad lighting.
If Princess Twilight had sent those messages after her imprisonment, their content didn’t make sense. Why not send a message for help? Why just… drawings? She turned it around and found the other side equally empty of any clues.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me…” Inky Owl took the jar with his magic, trotting away from the counter and toward the entrance, clearly forgetting he’d just entrusted a complete stranger with a relic passed down through his family’s generations. “It’s already been three weeks I’ve missed it, and the poor thing left a mess trying to fill up its inkpot by itself.”
Rarity watched him go before turning back to the parchment. She squinted her eyes, trying to find some other type of clue to no avail. If only the light were better. She looked around and saw a lit candle on top of one of the stands. She levitated the candle off the stand, brought it over to the drawing, and just as she started illuminating it with the candlelight, it… changed?
One by one, letters started appearing on the parchment until a shocked Rarity was left staring at a string of random glowing letters. “A… code?”
Wanting a better look, she put the candle on the table, but the second the flame moved away from the parchment, the letters immediately disappeared. “What in heavens is…” She blinked and moved the candle back toward the parchment, watching as the letters immediately reappeared. After repeating the actions several times, she felt her heart beat wildly in her chest. Princess Twilight had hidden a message in her letters, after all!
But why code them?
She looked around the counter for parchment and a quill, but just as she found them and started writing down the code, the illustration disappeared from her hooves. “Wh-what?! Wait, where did it—”
“Leave the drawing alone and hurry! It’s back, it’s back!” Inky Owl called, his face pressed against the shop window and the dragon illustration floating next to him. When Rarity joined him, pressing her face against the window, he continued, “See? The chestnut!”
Elara had returned and now stood on the ground next to the cauldron, pushing a chestnut toward the inkwell.
“They never stay,” Inky Owl continued in a hushed voice. “They just pick up the inkwell, leave the nut, and then take off. If I try going outside, they fly away immediately.”
Rarity bit her lip. She wanted to go out, but if that meant the owl would fly away, then…
All of a sudden, Elara looked up at the two ponies staring at her on the other side of the window. Her gaze rested on Inky Owl for a few seconds, and she then turned to look at Rarity. She flapped her wings and flew up into the air, digging one claw into the cork of the inkwell and wrapping the other around the glass.
Rarity took a step toward the door, watching the owl carefully.
Once the inkwell was secure in her claws, Elara flew to Rarity and hovered on the other side of the window. Inky Owl’s surprised gasp went unheard by the unicorn; her mind was completely focused on the owl. They stared at each other for a moment before Elara finally hooted loudly and took off.
It was apparent she wanted Rarity to follow her, but did the unicorn dare? Did she give in to the curiosity—or was it dark desire she had been suppressing for over a week? Yes, that’s what it was: a dark, irrational desire to go back and see this ghost that consumed her thoughts and her dreams. Her curiosity was leading her straight into the mouth of the timberwolf and she…
And she rushed out of the shop and galloped after Elara, not bothering to say goodbye to the shocked shopkeeper, ignoring the throbbing pain in her forehoof, ignoring the fact that she didn’t have the camera, and leaving behind what would have been a life of peace and quiet.
JOURNAL ENTRY № 23
I have finally found a lead, and I cannot wait to show it to Princess Celestia. I have already talked with my brother and Cadance, and they’re a bit worried, but I think they’ll always be worried about me—especially Shining Armor. He still treats me as if I were a filly!
I found an old oak tree in a valley, and I think that might be the best place to build my library and start my research. With Princess Celestia’s assistance, it shouldn’t be too difficult to build the library under it, and hopefully he won’t find it. Iron and his family have been posing as farmers, as well, to avoid suspicion.
Spike will be coming with me, as I hoped. He seems a little bit too excited about the prospect of “adventure.” “Twilight Sparkle the unicorn and Spike the dragon against the god of chaos!” he said. I think he is so happy because he doesn’t know yet that most of the adventure will be reading books. I can’t wait to see his face when he realizes life will be no different than back at the castle!
I will miss Canter Capital, though. My new library won’t be nearly as vast as the one in the castle, and I won’t have anypony to talk to except for Spike. I am not sure how much more he can take of my lectures on magical astrology! Although, if my suspicions are proven right, I won’t be away from home for much longer.
Spike and I met with the cryptographer Mister Vigenere a few hours ago. He has recently invented a cipher and taught it to Spike and me. It is a fascinating process, involving a key code and an alphabetical chart. Spike found it somewhat complicated, however. In any case, I do not doubt somedraconequus will try to read our letters and messages, so I believe we should have a way to make it more difficult for that to happen. I will also make sure to find a way so that only Spike can read the messages.
Princess Celestia believes that I can help stop Discord, and I refuse to let her down. She, Princess Luna, Cadance, Shining Armor… everypony is counting on me.
I will not let them down.
The dead leaves cracked under her hooves, her ears reacted repeatedly to the distant howling of timberwolves, and her heart pounded against her chest in sync with her trotting as she followed the owl through the forest. This is crazy, she thought over and over, crazily enough still not having the slightest desire to turn back toward Ponyville.
She noticed Elara flew at a constant pace, never stopping to look at where she was or take a break. She would only stop every so often to look back and make sure Rarity was still following, before hooting and continuing on her path. Elara seemed to know exactly where she was, whereas Rarity was sure she’d be lost for days if she lost sight of the owl.
Fifteen minutes in, Rarity heard a nearby growl, and she froze up immediately. Another timberwolf! she thought, panicking. Elara, however, didn’t seem fazed one bit by the nearby presence of the creature, even after what had happened a few days ago. She quickly flew over to Rarity, placed the inkwell at Rarity’s hooves, and then perched herself on the pony’s muzzle, using her wing to cover Rarity’s mouth. Does she want me to be quiet?
Her question was soon answered when Elara flew back up and into the forest, hooting loudly. Rarity almost ran after her, but stopped when she heard the timberwolf running away in the same direction as the distant hooting. Minutes later, when the forest had grown quiet and Rarity’s terror had tripled, she heard a blissful hoot and saw Elara flying toward her.
“Oh, thank goodness, you’re back!” Rarity exclaimed, receiving another hoot in reply.
Elara took back the inkwell and soared up into the air, hooting a third time at Rarity and flying off. Sometime later, after more twists and turns, they finally reached their coveted destination.
When Rarity saw the great oak tree in the distance, she fell short of breath. Elara went ahead of her and toward the open window, taking the inkwell with her while Rarity dropped down into the hole and stared at the daunting old oak.
She wasn’t crazy! She almost wanted to scream in joy, and rush back to Ponyville to rub it in all their faces.
Taking a deep breath, she trotted toward the trapdoor and magicked it open, peering down the staircase. Carefully, she stepped inside and made her way down, illuminating her way with a wisp of light from her horn. She stopped right before the entrance, remembering the barrier that had appeared before. She waved a tentative hoof across the door, and when no barrier appeared, she trotted inside the pitch black room.
Elara was nowhere to be seen, and Rarity assumed she was probably with the princess. Her mind drifted toward Themis, and how he’d been so brutally attacked by the timberwolf. Had he survived?
“Princess?” she called out with hesitation, trying to catch a glimpse of the alicorn amidst the darkness. How was one even supposed to summon a ghost? Lay down books and candles in the shape of pentagram while chanting the Star Swirl Decimal System?
Rarity looked around and noticed a familiar blue candelabra on a nearby table. She made her way over and noticed it still had the same raspberry glow. “Er… Pardon me?” she asked, feeling very silly talking to a candelabra.
Awoken from its slumber, the four candles lit up and the candlestick holder floated up and began circling her. It almost reminded her of an excited puppy. Still, as much as having a candelabra helped her search, she would no doubt find the princess faster if the entire room was illuminated. What did she say to get it to transform?
“Starlight, please?” she ventured, only for the candelabra to stop for a brief moment before resuming its never-ending circling. A few unsuccessful tries later and she decided she might as well continue her search.
She went up and down the hallways of bookcases to no avail. Am I really this keen on finding her? Maybe this is destiny telling me I should go back home? Rarity let out a frustrated sigh. Had she truly come all that way to go back home just like that? Was she not destined to partake in a glorious adventure like Daring Do?
“Well, fine!” she exclaimed indignantly, flipping her mane and stomping her hoof against the floor. What, now that Rarity actually came back again out of her own free will, suddenly the princess was too busy with ghostly affairs to stalk her around the library? Well, maybe Rarity didn’t actually want to see her, either! Hmph!
“Some ghost,” she muttered, sitting down and scowling at the candelabra and its increasingly annoying floating. She noticed a small stack of books nearby and in her frustration whacked them with her hoof, watching the books clatter to the floor and glaring at them for a minute until she decided perhaps it was time to go. She flipped her mane, stood up, turned around, came face to face with an also-scowling princess, screeched out loud, and fell backward on her rump.
After an entire week consumed with the need to see the princess again, she found that perhaps she shouldn’t have been quite that eager in the end. Princess Twilight looked down at her with a very unimpressed expression, which looked quite terrifying under the light of the candelabra.
This is how I die, Rarity thought, swallowing hard.
One day, centuries in the future, somepony would find the library and the unicorn’s wilted body. It would be a handsome and incredibly intelligent detective from Manehattan, wearing a trenchcoat and a grey fedora. After a thrilling and suspenseful investigation, he’d find out who killed her and then dramatically declare: ‘It was Princess Twilight Sparkle in the enchanted library with the extended edition of Star Swirl the Bearded’s Memoirs!’
“Those were in alphabetical order,” Princess Twilight pointed out, waking Rarity from her pre-mortem reveries.
“I… I apologize… I…” Rarity squeaked.
The princess trotted past Rarity and used her magic to re-organize the books that had been unceremoniously thrown to the ground. Once the deed was done, she turned back to the unicorn, opening her mouth to presumably continue her scolding.
But it never came.
She stared at Rarity for a moment, closing her jaw and suddenly trotting very closely to her in what was surely a violation of the personal space a ghost should give a living being.
“It’s you again…” Her expression had softened quite a bit, and her tone was not one of anger or irritation, but disbelief. She looked baffled by Rarity’s mere presence.
Princess Twilight took a few steps back, allowing Rarity to shakily get up under her careful gaze.
Rarity laughed nervously, dusting herself off. “Ah, yes! It is me again,” she stammered, smiling and hoping her frantically beating heart would calm down soon. “I was the pony who stayed, and now I’m the pony who came back. Fancy that!”
Princess Twilight turned to the candelabra, still hovering around Rarity. “Star, stop that and go up.” At her command, the candelabra floated up to the ceiling and transformed into the chandelier. Once the room was lit, Princess Twilight turned back to Rarity.
The two mares stared at each other in complete silence. As the seconds passed and Rarity realized she didn’t know what to say, the silence settling between them felt even more awkward than ever before.
“Did you bring my book?” Princess Twilight asked, impassive.
“Oh!” Rarity quickly opened her saddlebag and took out the book on gemstones. “As promised, Princess,” she said, hoofing over the book.
Princess Twilight’s eyes widened, gingerly taking the book with her magic and staring at it with wonder. “You… You did bring it back…”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Rarity asked, closing her saddlebag and smiling at Princess Twilight. “Library books should be returned, should they not?”
Princess Twilight stared at Rarity as if suddenly Rarity were the supernatural being. She then nodded quickly in agreement, bearing a striking resemblance to an excited foal. A spark of magic shot out from her horn, and the box with library cards appeared next to her. A quill followed soon after, and Princess Twilight levitated the library card pertaining to Rarity’s book and wrote something down.
“Thank you for returning it,” she said, the cards and book disappearing with another spark of magic. “I…” She looked back toward the end of the hallway of bookcases. “I took good care of your bo—” She shook her head. “Magazine.” She paused and she suddenly looked somewhat distressed when she turned back to Rarity. “Did you come back to take it already?”
“Oh, well, I…”
Princess Twilight didn’t even wait for a reply and trotted off. “It’s over this way.”
Rarity followed after her amidst the rows and rows of bookcases, the silence no longer awkward but still present. Thousands of questions raced through her mind, but there was no proper way to ask them. She couldn’t very well just ask “so, Princess Twilight, how did you end up here forever?”, could she? She remembered the princess implying she thought the Spirit had been defeated. What did she think was going on outside her library? Why wasn’t she asking Rarity questions? Wasn’t she curious? The more Rarity thought about it, the more questions surfaced, but she still did not have the courage to just up and ask them.
Eventually, they reached the entrance of the library and Princess Twilight headed toward one of the tables scattered about. Rarity followed behind and saw her magazine opened on the table, lying next to a parchment with an unfinished text. Several old books on fashion were scattered on the table, as well. Had Princess Twilight been comparing the fashion from her time to the modern one? That would actually be quite a fascinating analysis to read.
Before Rarity could sneak a peek at the scroll, Princess Twilight rolled it up and put it next to one of her books. She then took Rarity’s magazine and levitated it over to the unicorn. “I didn’t have time to finish making notes about it,” she admitted, looking at the magazine with a bit of regret.
“…Was a week not enough time?” Rarity would have thought that judging by how eager the princess had been to read it a week ago, she would have read it forward and backward fifty times by then.
“It would have been, but…” She glanced toward the table where her scroll was and looked somewhat embarrassed. “I… assumed you would not be coming back so I thought I had more time to finish.”
Rarity sat down and took the magazine between her forehooves. “Oh, well, do you think you’ll need much more time?” she asked, rifling through the pages. “If not, I don’t mind at all letting you borrow it for a few more hours.”
Not only would the princess be happy, but that would give Rarity a few extra hours to finish exploring the library. She was still curious about what could be found on the floor below, and possibly even below that. She waited for the princess to reply, but when no answer came, she looked up.
To her surprise, Princess Twilight looked uncomfortable. No, that’s not it. She looks… guilty? Her ears were pressed against her skull, and following her line of sight, Rarity realized the princess was staring at her bandaged hoof.
“Oh! Princess, that’s not because of you…”
“I apologize…” Princess Twilight said, looking at Rarity remorsefully. “I have a spell… If you want…”
Rarity smiled kindly, pulling back her hoof. Though she now doubted the princess would actually attack her, she wasn’t sure she wanted to come in contact with the princess’ magic just yet. “There’s no nee—”
Rarity turned around and felt immense relief at seeing Themis waddling over to them, his left wing completely wrapped with a cloth that came more and more undone with each step. The small owl seemed excited to see Rarity, hooting several times in her direction.
“Themisto!” Princess Twilight scolded, levitating the little owl and putting him on the table. She used her magic to re-adjust the cloth. When she finished and Themis hooted joyfully, she sighed and sternly shook her head. “You can’t move around until your wing is better. What if you get injured again? I won’t be able to go out and help you.”
Suddenly, Rarity felt terribly guilty. The way Princess Twilight looked at Themis, how she’d been excited to share the magazine with Elara… Those owls were her only friends, and Rarity nearly got them both killed because of her actions. Her guilt only doubled when Themis disobeyed the princess and flew up to his favorite spot on Rarity’s head, stumbling about and holding onto her horn for support.
“Themis, stop that,” Princess Twilight scolded, levitating him down to the floor. “Go to your nest, or I’ll have Elara make you stay there.” Once he’d hooted his disappointment and waddled off, she turned to Rarity. “…Did my book help you?” she asked, and seemed pleased when Rarity nodded. Honestly, she just didn’t have the heart to tell the princess she hadn’t gotten past the first page. “Would you like to borrow another one?”
Before Rarity could even open her mouth, the princess answered for her. “Would you be interested in a book on personal appearance?”
Rarity blinked. “On fashion, you mean? If you’ll let me borrow one, I can’t say I’d be against it.”
Princess Twilight nodded. “Please wait a moment, then. I have to go get them downstai—”
“Downstairs?” Rarity interrupted almost immediately, smiling widely. Finally! The perfect excuse to take a look at the floor below. “May I come with you? I’d like to see what other books you have!”
Princess Twilight suddenly seemed a bit hesitant. “I… Downstairs? I suppose it would be all right, but… it is—” She paused and bit her lip. “—a bit of a mess.”
“Oh, I don’t mind in the slightest!” Rarity insisted, smiling brightly.
Princess Twilight observed her for a moment before turning toward the stairs in the distance. “All right…”
Admittedly, the floor below wasn’t all that impressive considering she couldn’t see a single thing. She followed Twilight down the spiral staircases, reaching a barely illuminated balcony overlooking the second floor.
Should we have brought the candelabra? Rarity wondered, looking down from the balcony into the darkness below.
“Swirl!” Princess Twilight called. “Light, please!”
All of a sudden, Rarity noticed a dim light flicker below. After a minute, the light got closer and closer until she could make out the shape of one of Twilight’s apparently many enchanted candelabras. Unlike the one in the floor above, this one wasn’t remotely interested in Rarity and instead kept floating up toward the ceiling. Once there, it transformed into a beautiful chandelier.
Now that the entire room was lit, Rarity looked down at the floor below and felt her jaw go slack. As she imagined, there were indeed several dozen bookcases, but instead of orderly rows like on the first floor, they had been shaped into an enormous and complicated circular maze. Though it was quite the impressive design, it certainly didn’t look practical at all.
“Why did you choose that design for your bookcases, Princess?”
Princess Twilight snorted. “Me? I’m not responsible for that,” she said, throwing the maze a dirty look before going down the stairs.
Odd. If she hadn’t done it, then…
“Was it the Spirit?” Rarity pressed, remembering that the legend mentioned he liked making a mess out of things. “The Spirit of Chaos, I mean.”
Princess Twilight stopped in her tracks and glanced over her shoulder at Rarity, eyes half-narrowed. “‘The Spirit of Chaos’?”
Rarity raised her eyebrow. “Well, yes,” she said as if it were obvious, which it was. How could Princess Twilight not know who the Spirit was? “The Spirit who… forced you to stay here,” she elaborated, feeling that was a much nicer way to put it rather than “imprisoned you here for eternity.”
Princess Twilight merely stared at Rarity for another minute and then continued her descent down the stairs without another word. Rarity quickly followed behind, realizing she had probably prodded at a sore spot for the princess. Where is your tact? she scolded herself, well aware that she wasn’t going to get in the princess’ good graces like that.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Princess Twilight quietly led Rarity around the outer wall of the maze until they finally reached the single entrance. The princess took a deep breath and glanced back and forth between the maze and Rarity. “Are you sure you want to go inside? I can find the books you need.”
Rarity nodded. “Quite sure.”
Twilight looked back toward the entrance of the maze. “You were right. The Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony turned the bookcases on this floor into a maze.”
“I can see why that would be a drag.”
Princess Twilight shook her head. “Oh, he did much more than just turn it into a maze. If you are sure you want to look for the book inside, I’d recommend you step inside before I do.”
Rarity furrowed her brow and cautiously did as told. Once inside, she held her breath in anticipation, but when nothing happened, she gave Princess Twilight a questioning look. Princess Twilight only took a deep breath, and when she trotted inside the maze, the ground started to shake.
A light yellow magic enveloped the maze, and the bookcases floated up off the ground. Princess Twilight looked more annoyed than anything, whereas Rarity stared in awe as the bookshelves started rearranging themselves. Books floated out from the shelves and inserted themselves in different ones, and a bookcase appeared in the spot where they’d come in, effectively trapping them inside the maze.
After a moment, when the magic dissipated and the bookcases returned to the ground, Princess Twilight took a deep breath. “We have approximately twenty minutes to find the section we want, get the book, and exit the maze,” she instructed, trotting off toward the left and looking at the numbers on the bookcases. “We need to find the social sciences classification, so please look for the number three hundred and ninety.”
“How will we know how much time we have left?” Rarity asked, trotting behind the princess and reading the numbers. It seemed like finding the correct section would be an arduous task considering section seven hundred and forty was in between sections one hundred and twenty and five hundred and fifty.
“I’ve been counting the seconds since we entered the maze,” Princess Twilight replied. She turned on the first left corner she saw, and continued, “My magic is blocked in here, so I am unable to teleport or summon the book.” She took a turn on the first right. “How do you know so much about me?”
The question caught Rarity off guard. “Wh-what?” she asked, looking away from the bookcases and trotting next to the princess. “What do you mean?”
“You seem—four—to know—three—why—two—I’m here. One.” She came to a halt and raised her hoof. “Stop, please.” Rarity did as instructed just in time for the ground to shake again, and several bookcases disappeared and opened new paths as consequence. “Seventeen minutes left,” Princess Twilight announced, starting along one of the paths. “You have yet to ask me why I am here, because you already know…” She stopped and turned to Rarity, eyes narrowed. “Don’t you?”
“I—Well, you see—”
The princess took another step toward Rarity, who stepped back in turn. “And the only one who could know about that is the Spirit of Chaos himself.” Another step. “And you too, it seems.”
Rarity shook her head, backtracking against the wall of the maze. “Pr-princess, I’m not him! I can expl—”
“I never said you were,” Princess Twilight interrupted, drawing herself up and turning around to continue her path. “Not this time. Sixteen minutes.”
They kept trotting for a minute until a bookcase suddenly appeared in front of them, blocking their path. Or, blocking Rarity’s path, since Princess Twilight trotted right through the bookcase, separating the two of them.
Rarity pressed her hooves against the bookcase, trying to get it to move to no avail. “Er, Princess Twilight?” she called, and when she received no reply, turned back to find another way to the princess. Several more minutes went by, Rarity trying to find her way back toward the princess.
“What is the ‘Legend of the Four Princesses’?”
Rarity stopped and looked around, but found nopony in sight.
“The first time you came to my library, you said, ‘The Legend of the Four Princesses is not real.’ What is it?” The princess’ voice carried clearly throughout the room, despite sounding as if she was on the other side of the maze already. “What is the tale about?”
“It’s about four princesses who lived long ago,” Rarity loudly explained, coming to a dead end and turning back, using the princess’ voice as a guide. “They got into battle with a Spirit of Chaos, and he scattered the weapons able to defeat him. Three of the princesses went out to look for the weapons but… he trapped them.”
“Ten minutes,” announced the princess in the distance. “Where? Where did he trap them?”
A bookcase next to Rarity disappeared, and she stepped into another area of the maze. “He trapped the Sun Princess near a waterfall, the Princess of the Moon inside a mountain, and the Princess of Wisdom inside a…” Another bookcase next to her disappeared, but this time she found Princess Twilight in the adjacent hallway.
The princess looked ahead, totally ignoring Rarity. “An underground library,” she completed with a hollow voice. She looked at Rarity and asked: “They lived long ago? How long ago?”
Rarity looked up, trying to remember an exact number. “The legend is over a thousand years old, Princess…” she said, watching as Princess Twilight’s ears fell and her eyes widened.
“Over a thousand years old?” the alicorn asked, looking down at the floor.
How terrible it must have been, to realize everything she’d ever known and loved had been long buried with the passing of time. Rarity couldn’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like. She felt the need to console the disheartened alicorn and made a move to cross over to the other hallway.
Before Rarity could reach her, however, the bookcase reappeared and hid the princess from sight. “Shoot,” she muttered, stamping her hoof against the floor and trotting off toward the right. Why did it feel like the princess was purposefully avoiding her?
Once more, Rarity was completely alone in the undecipherable labyrinth. She started to tire of all the dead ends, of the changing bookcases, and of feeling so lost when it came to the princess.
“What about the Spirit?” Princess Twilight asked, her voice echoing through the room. The hints of hurt and sadness in her voice had vanished, replaced instead with a cold tone. “He was defeated, correct?”
Rarity made a right, then trotted several yards and made a left, trying to stall before answering the question. “No,” she finally said, for once glad she couldn’t see the princess, see her find out the one responsible for her fate was never punished. “According to the legend, he trapped the Princess of the Sun, then the Princess of the Moon, then… then you, and after that, he left Equestria.”
As if reacting to Princess Twilight’s outburst, the entire maze lifted itself two feet into the air and came crashing back down with a loud boom. Several bookcases then lifted themselves at least ten feet in the air, creating a hallway of sorts through which Rarity could see the princess on the other side of the labyrinth.
“He ‘left’ Equestria?!” Princess Twilight asked, stomping her hoof on the floor. “Impossible! He was defeated! He had to have been. He didn’t have the power to defeat the princess!” The bookcases fell to the floor again, but Princess Twilight’s voice only grew louder. “It’s all wrong. Your ancestors didn’t do a very good job passing down Equestria’s history.”
Sounds like somepony is in denial.
“Princess Twilight, I mean no offense,” Rarity said carefully, knowing it was law that what followed would certainly offend, “but you’ve made it clear that you had no idea what happened after your imprisonment. You have no way of knowing if what the legend says is wrong.”
A silence that ironically screamed in Rarity’s ears as, for the longest time, Princess Twilight simply didn’t reply. How many minutes went by? Rarity slowed her pace until she came to a full stop, her heart beating rapidly in her chest. Had she crossed a line?
“Do you have nightmares?” the princess asked at length.
“Nightmares? Of course,” Rarity replied in confusion. “Everypony has nightmares.”
She’d actually had at least three nightmares in the past week, and they all involved her being trapped as a spirit for eternity inside Carousel Boutique.
“In the past… before I was trapped in here, nightmares did not exist,” Princess Twilight continued. As she spoke, her voice moved around the room, and Rarity once again started her search. “Luna…” Her voice halted for a moment. “I mean, the Princess of the Moon would enter dreams and make sure nopony woke up unless they were well-rested and content. Before my imprisonment, I only ever had one nightmare.” A pause. “The night before I would never be able to sleep again.”
“Do you have somepony you care for like a brother or sister?” Princess Twilight asked, swiftly changing the topic of conversation.
“I have a younger sister,” Rarity replied, coming to a stop in front of yet another dead-end. She thought of Sweetie, and how thrilled the filly would be at knowing the princess was real. “Sweetie Belle.”
“What if your first nightmare was seeing Sweetie Belle attacked, and you were helpless to stop it?” Twilight continued. Rarity didn’t even want to think about it, but Princess Twilight seemed intent on creating the visual image. “What if that was to be your last dream? Seeing somepony you cared about hurt by a monster, every second of the dream haunting your every waking moment thereafter?”
“Luna was like a sister to me. She cared for me, and I cared for her in return, even when she thought her own real sister didn’t.” Silence settled itself again. All of a sudden, Princess Twilight trotted right in front of Rarity, not bothering to turn to look at the unicorn as she passed through another bookcase. “In my nightmare, he did to me what I had planned on doing to him. He turned me to stone, punishment for what I had done.”
“Punishment for what you did?” Rarity asked, looking back at the numbers on the bookcases. She might as well try and actually find the books they needed before time ran out. She didn’t exactly know how much time was left and she didn’t dare ask the princess.
Princess Twilight reappeared again, and she started trotting down a path where the living could follow. Rarity sped up her pace and trotted alongside the princess, watching her carefully while avoiding smashing into the labyrinth’s walls when the princess made sharp turns.
The alicorn still stubbornly kept her gaze away from Rarity as she spoke. “He attacked her, and I couldn’t do anything but watch from my granite prison. I… Being turned to stone…” She stopped trotting and looked up. “I wonder sometimes if being trapped in the library isn’t almost the same in some ways.”
“Princess…” Rarity lifted her hoof, intending to offer a comforting pat on the shoulder. It wasn’t until the chilling moment her hoof went right through the princess that she was brought back to reality. She quickly took her hoof back and pressed it against her chest, her coat standing on end.
Princess Twilight closed her eyes, gritted her teeth, and walked right into one of the bookcases, leaving Rarity all alone.
“Wait, Princess!” Rarity said despairingly, regretting her actions. “I didn’t mean to…” She let out a frustrated sigh and buried her face in her hooves. Why is this so difficult?
“Then I woke up.”
Rarity uncovered her face, her ears flicking up.
“I told myself Luna must have been hiding, that she couldn’t watch over dreams that night. I told myself that we had hidden ourselves well and he would never find us. Even I didn’t know where the others were. I lied to myself because the idea that… that something had gone wrong… I had already hurt so many and… as long as there was no tangible, real proof that she had been attacked, I believed myself. But then he came the next day”—her voice had taken on a bitterly angry tone—“wearing Luna’s black tiara on his head while taunting me with its ‘delightful’ qualities.”
Rarity’s eyes widened. “Black tiara…?” Her mind went back to Seeking Night, and the dirty rusty tiara she’d found discarded next to the tree. No wonder she thought I was the Spirit when she saw me with the crown!
“That is why I know the story you told me is wrong.”
Rarity turned around to find Princess Twilight sitting behind her, her gaze fixated on the books neatly arranged in front of her.
“He got to her first, then he came for me… and he must have gone down with Princess Cele…” She closed her eyes and let out a long, weary sigh. “Zero.”
Once more, the yellow magic permeated every single bookcase and rearranged the maze into a new design. Unlike the last time, Rarity couldn’t be bothered to stand around and watch because she was too busy looking at the princess.
Princess Twilight had finally turned to look at Rarity, and though her expression was impassive, her eyes showed wholly different emotions: desolation and resignation. Once the maze finished moving around, she looked at the bookcase behind Rarity and said, “Oh. The ‘costume and personal appearance’ section.”
Rarity glanced around and noticed the number three hundred and ninety-one marked on the bookcase behind her. Her eyes briefly traveled down the books until she realized she didn’t care about them one bit. “But, Princess Twilight, they’re out there—”
“If they really are trapped somewhere out there, there is nothing that can be done about it,” Princess Twilight said, clamping her ears against her head. “I can’t help them, or find them, because I’m trapped here.”
The princess had barely finished her sentence before Rarity spoke up, “But I am not.”
Two pairs of eyes widened as both mares realized the underlying implication in Rarity’s words. Had she just offered to do what she’d just offered to do?
Princess Twilight shook her head. “No, you can’t. If he really did trap the others, then I doubt his intention was for anypony to find them.”
“Yet here I am, aren’t I?” Rarity replied. “I found you. Twice, as a matter of fact. Perhaps I’ll have similar luck with the other princesses.”
“But…” Princess Twilight looked completely baffled. “But you—But—You want to find—Why?” she stammered, blinking at Rarity. “Why would you want to…?”
“Well, why not?” Rarity continued, finding it hard to stop now that the idea had been put on the table, even if part of her protested going on a glorified treasure hunt. She ran her hoof through her mane and frowned. “It’s not entirely unreasonable, really, particularly now that you can assist me from here. And somepony must have found the other princesses, too. Actually…” She bit her lip. “My friend Fluttershy and I are going to Canterlot in a few weeks, and we could ask Princess Denza for assistance!”
Of course! If she took the pictures of Princess Twilight, she could take them to the princess herself! And hadn’t Princess Twilight hinted at Denza being a descendant of the original fourth princess? Surely, Denza didn’t believe the tale was fictional, did she?
Awoken from her thoughts, Rarity blinked at the princess. “…No?”
Princess Twilight sighed and looked away. “I… I don’t want more innocent ponies put in danger because of… this. If there truly was a way to free us, somepony would have found it much sooner.” She turned back to Rarity and her expression softened. “I… I already got more than I asked for with you coming back here.”
Rarity opened and closed her mouth several times. That’s it? She’s giving up that easily? Why? she asked herself, feeling as if the princess was hiding something from her. But, then again, there were probably millions of things the princess had no intention of divulging.
“If you say so,” she relented, albeit reluctantly.
Princess Twilight relaxed visibly and nodded. “I think you should pick the book you would like to take,” she suggested, looking toward the bookcase behind Rarity. “We don’t have much time to find our way out of here before the maze rearranges itself.”
Considering Rarity had taken fifteen minutes deciding what book she wanted, and Princess Twilight had spent another fifteen explaining why another book was a much better choice, the two mares had unwittingly triggered another maze rearrangement and actually left the maze much later than intended. Even so, Rarity had no desire to leave the library.
Instead, she’d settled herself down next to one of the main entrance tables to read while the princess finished writing her analysis on the magazine. By that time, Rarity felt much more at ease in the library, and she admittedly enjoyed answering all of the princess’ questions.
It wasn’t until two more hours and at least sixty questions had gone by that Rarity finally decided to take her leave.
“Very well, I ought to go home before Fluttershy has an entire armada of animals searching for me,” she said, closing her book on ancient fashion and returning it to her saddlebag. “I’ll leave my magazine with you, then?”
Princess Twilight looked up from the magazine, nodded, and then added, “And please remember the return date is in five days.”
“Five days it is! That should be enough time,” she said. Enough time to buy an instant camera, as well as some other supplies she realized the princess sorely needed. She’d also bring along her own copy of the fairy tale, just as the princess had quietly asked for after they’d exited the maze.
She’d also need a map of Equestria, and more information on the legend if she wanted to have a chance at finding the two lost princesses, as well as the lost books. Since the princess couldn’t leave the library, she would never find out Rarity had… lied about not looking for them, right? Just because the princess had given up so easily didn’t mean that she would do the same.
How could she, anyway? How could she live with herself knowing there were two other ponies helplessly trapped alone somewhere? It would be outright cruel to just pretend she didn’t know of their existence, let alone not rescue them.
Rarity turned toward the table. “Farew—”
She drifted off, discovering Princess Twilight had already left. She shook her head and continued toward the tunnel. Perhaps I ought to bring her a book on proper etiquette while I’m at it.
Rarity came to a stop right in front of the tunnel. She turned around and found the princess standing a few feet behind her, looking unsure of herself.
“When you offered to look for the others. Whether you meant it or not, I wanted to say…” She paused for a moment before looking Rarity straight in the eyes. “Thank you.”
Rarity gave the princess her most dazzling smile. “You are most welcome, Princess Twilight.”
The princess nodded and vanished once more. Rarity stared for a minute at the spot where the princess had been before, still smiling, then turned around and stepped through the tunnel.
It’ll be my pleasure finding them.